TRAVELLERS

It was not until the evening that Sylvester entered the library again.
His father was still unconscious, likely to remain so for many hours.
Matthew’s ordinary medical adviser had consulted with Sylvester. A
trained nurse telegraphed for from London had just arrived. At present
nothing more could be done. Possibly the stricken man might recover. But
the case was grave.

Sylvester had been puzzled all day. What could have induced the stroke?
A moment or two before, his father had been in the best of spirits,
talking with an enjoyment that had been very rare of late. Generally,
when the heart is weak, it is some sudden shock that paralyses. But
here the theory of sudden shock was untenable. Perhaps it was simply the
reaction of the high spirits following depression.

Miss Lanyon and himself had dined together,–a cheerless meal. The
gentle lady wept and conjectured feebly as to causation, implored
Sylvester, as indeed she had done all day, to pronounce favourably on
the patient’s condition. They did not eat much. The cook had sent up
tearful apologies for the spoiling of a dish, on the ground that she was
too upset. But they would not have noticed. The parlour maid’s eyes were
red. She had been some years in the house, and the personal charm that
endeared Matthew to all who came in contact with him had gained the
girl’s affection. Miss Lanyon used to say that Matthew spoiled the
servants. Matthew replied that he hated perfection, and liked them
spoiled; they were more human. At any rate, his sudden illness spread
consternation and dismay through the household. The news had gone
abroad, and anxious inquiries had been made at the door by all kinds and
conditions of folk. Amongst them was Mr. Usher, who had shuffled up to
hear news of his dear friend in affliction. Sylvester had sent him a
curt reply by the servant. He disliked Mr. Usher cordially, and had
rejoiced over the strained relations that had kept him away from the
house. Dinner was over, and Sylvester went into the library to smoke.
The room was more or less as he had left it that morning. Matthew’s
pass-book lay on the table, and three or four passed cheques lay upon
the book. He filled and lit his pipe, and sat down in the writing-chair
to think over the case. Suddenly, the room recalling associations, he
remembered the cheque he had seen flutter from his father’s fingers.
Almost idly he looked down to see if it was still on the floor. His
eye fell upon it underneath the armchair, whither it had probably been
kicked during the bodily removal of his father from the room. He picked
it up. But a glance was enough to make him start back with an oath. It
was a passed cheque for £3,000 made payable to and indorsed by Roderick
Usher, and signed “Matthew Lanyon.” At first he could not comprehend it.
Why should his father have paid to Roderick so amazing a sum? And having
paid it, why should he have received such a shock on seeing the cheque?
He brought it nearer the lamp that stood on the table; and then,
suddenly, a suspicion smote him, like a great blow. There were
variations from his father’s writing. His signature, so simple as to
be roughly imitated with the greatest facility, had yet certain strong
characteristics which were missing here. Sylvester looked at the numbers
of the cheques on the table; they were consecutive. The three thousand
pound cheque bore a number from a totally different series. The pink
colour, too, was slightly faded. Where was the book from which the
cheque had been torn? His glance fell upon his father’s bunch of keys,
depending from one in the lock of the writing-table drawer. An idea
struck him. He remembered that his father, most methodical of men,
kept the stubs of his cheque-books ranged along a shelf of an old press
between the fireplace and the window. For a moment he hesitated. He had
never looked at one of his father’s papers in his life. His intention
seemed almost criminal.

“I beg your pardon, my dear, but I must,” he said, half aloud, and then
finding the key he opened the cupboard. A rapid examination showed him
the stub he wanted. The dates on the counterfoils were of three years
back. With trembling fingers he ran through the numbers. The counterfoil
of Roderick’s cheque was missing.

Mechanically he replaced the stub and locked the cupboard. And then he
stood for a while, fierce-eyed, shivering with a horrible certainty.
Roderick had forged the cheque, and the shock of discovery had nearly
killed his father.

The whole man was white-hot with fury. In such accesses of anger, stern,
reserved men have killed their enemies mercilessly. Instead of confusing
their judgment, their anger burns it to crystal clearness. Every action
is that of sublimated reason. Sylvester remained for a few moments
motionless; then he picked up a railway time-card from the table,
glanced at it, and consulted his watch. He turned down the lamp and left
the room. In the hall he was met by Simmons, the doctor. The latter was
by far the more outwardly perturbed of the two.

“Well, how are things?”

“As satisfactory as can be expected,” replied Sylvester. “Come and see.”
They went together slowly up the stairs, discussing the symptoms, and
entered the sick chamber. There was very little change. Unconsciousness
would still last for many hours. That at least was certain. Meanwhile
they could do nothing but await events. Before leaving the room,
Sylvester bent down and kissed his father’s face, that looked shrunken
in the dim light, and never had he felt such yearning love for him.
Downstairs, he drew Simmons into the library.

“I am going to London to-night,” said he.

Simmons stared at him. “To London?” he queried.

“And leave my father in this condition? Yes, I am summoned on a matter
of life and death.”

The other was puzzled by the non-professional phrase. “An urgent case”
would have been intelligible. But he made no comment. Neither of the
Lanyons was a man to discuss his private concerns with his acquaintance.
Sylvester continued,–

“I am more than satisfied to leave him in your hands, Simmons. You know
that. But you would be doing me a good turn if you sent me two or three
telegrams to-morrow. I hope to get back at night.”

“Willingly,” replied Simmons; and after a few more words, the two men
shook hands and parted. Miss Lanyon, whose simple gospel it was that
whatever Matthew or Sylvester did was right, demanded no explanations
when Sylvester announced his intention of going to London; but when he
was gone, she cried a bit to herself in a sympathetic feminine way.
Men were unaccountable beings in her eyes. They represented mysterious
forces which she had been brought up, in her young days, to regard with
respectful awe. There was a trace of orientalism in the attitude of our
grandmothers towards the male sex. It lingers still in old-fashioned,
sequestered places.

It was late when Sylvester’s cab stopped at his house in Weymouth
Street. He attempted to open the door with his latch-key, but the
chain was up, and he had to ring and wait in the drizzling rain until a
shivering and tousled servant came down. At another time he would have
felt a chill of desolation at entering the dark and fireless house, so
cold in its unwelcome. But to-night he was strung to a high pitch;
and the loneliness of his surroundings failed to touch the usually
responsive chord. He went upstairs to his room, dominated by a fixed
idea. He would stop the marriage, thus tardily doing his father’s
bidding, and have Roderick arrested on a charge of forgery. If his
father died, his murder would thus, at least, be avenged.

Early the next morning he went to Roderick’s chambers. The servant, who
was setting the breakfast table, informed him that Mr. Usher had not yet
been called.

“Wake him and say that Dr. Lanyon particularly wishes to see him,” said
Sylvester.

The servant retired and returned a few moments afterwards with a request
that he would wait for Mr. Usher in the studio. She conducted him
thither and having put a match to the fire, departed. The room was bare,
the hangings taken down, the knick-knacks packed in cases lying untidily
about the floor, the pictures stacked against the walls,–all in
preparation for the coming change in Roderick’s way of living.

Presently a door opened, and Roderick appeared in dressing-gown and
slippers. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes bloodshot. He looked like
a man hag-ridden. He drew a quick, short breath at the first sight of
Sylvester’s threatening face. All his jauntiness had gone. He went a
step or two towards his visitor and said curtly,–

“Well?”

“You have forged my father’s name to a cheque for £3,000,” said
Sylvester.

“Can I see it?”

Sylvester drew the cheque from his pocketbook and held it up for the
other’s inspection.

“I perceive the bankers have honoured it,” said Roderick. “Mr. Lanyon
will not repudiate it.”

“He will not have the chance. _I_ repudiate it. He is lying
unconscious,–perhaps at the point of death. By God! if he dies you will
have killed him.”

“You are talking rank folly,” said Roderick, leaning against the jamb
of the window, his hands in his dressing-gown pockets. “Mr. Lanyon as
my solicitor sold out certain of my investments and sent me a cheque for
the total amount.”

“A cheque to which there is no counterfoil, taken from a cheque-book in
use three years ago?”

Sylvester laughed harshly and buttoned his overcoat, which he had opened
so as to get at the cheque. Roderick grew white and passed his hand
across his forehead. There was a moment’s silence.

“As a matter of elementary justice,” said Sylvester, “I came here first
for your explanation. As you can give none, I will now put the matter in
the hands of the police, and in an hour or two there will be a warrant
out for your arrest.”

He moved towards the door. Roderick staggered away from the window and
drew his hand hard across his face in a gesture of utter weariness.
The strain of the past week had been too much. Always thriftless and
reckless in money matters, he had hitherto stopped short of unredeemed
rascality. The burden of a crime had crushed his self-assurance.

“Stop a moment,” he said hoarsely. “There are other considerations.”

“I have them in view,” replied Sylvester, icily. He turned again.
Roderick hurriedly interposed himself between him and the door.

“For God’s sake, man, think of what you are doing! I don’t deny it.
There! I can’t. It is more than I can bear. I have been in hell for the
past week, devoured alive, with the flames licking my soul. I was driven
to it, to save myself from disgrace. I was desperate. I would have
replaced the money. By Heaven! I would. It was my only chance to avert
sudden crash and to marry the woman I love.”

“You love!” sneered Sylvester.

“Yes, the woman I love and crave and worship, for whose sake I’d commit
a thousand crimes. I was pushed hard, I tell you, with my back against
the wall. I had to. Go back to Ayresford and tell your father I’ll repay
it,–every penny. I swear to God I will.”

“With Miss Defries’s money. Rob Peter to pay Paul. Let me pass.”

“You are going to have me arrested?”

“Certainly.”

“But–Sylvester–good God!” cried Rod’ erick, in incoherent agony.
“Think of what it means–our old friendship–we were young together–we
have grown old together–years ago, when you too were marrying a sweet
woman, I stood by your side–”

“Your damned hand has been in every tragedy of my life,” exclaimed
Sylvester, kindled into a sudden flame of anger. “And a damned woman’s!
If it had not been for a woman, you would not have killed my father.”

In the midst of his frantic anxiety, it was suddenly revealed to
Roderick that in alluding to Sylvester’s marriage he had touched the
man’s hidden wound. He hastened to repair his blunder.

“I am not pleading for myself alone,” he said, drawing himself up
and speaking in a more dignified voice. “You can disgrace me, but my
disgrace will fall on another–whom your father loves. If you arrest me,
the marriage will be broken off by a miserable, horrible scandal,–one
that will poison a woman’s whole existence. It would be more than pain
to your father if such hurt happened to Ella Defries.”

“You certainly don’t propose that I should let this marriage take place
to-morrow?” said Sylvester, recovering his cold scorn of manner. But he
was somewhat checked in his purpose by Roderick’s argument, and Roderick
saw that he had gained a point.

“I happen to know,” said he, “that you would be carrying out your
father’s wish in preventing my marriage. I undertake to break it off.
The day I marry her you can arrest me.”

Again Sylvester laughed harshly. “You know very well you would be safe
then, as Ella Defries’s husband.”

He turned and walked to the window and looked out in deep thought.
He hated the man, clung fiercely to the revengeful joy of seeing him
stamped out of decent existence. Compromise was wormwood, and yet
compromise there must be. Roderick remained by the door straining
haggard eyes at his judge, a strange figure, with his gorgeous
dressing-gown and dishevelled hair, in the midst of the dismantled and
rubbish-strewn room. Sylvester’s last words had sent the thrill of a
forlorn hope through his veins and he waited with throbbing heart for
the other to speak.

At last Sylvester faced him again.

“I will give you a day’s grace,” he said stonily. “You will leave
Liverpool Street tonight at 8.30 for the Hook of Holland; one way of
getting to the Continent is as good as another, and I happen to choose
this one. You can take what steps you like to inform Miss Defries that
you cannot marry her tomorrow or any other time. Those are my terms. I
shall have a warrant ready. If you shuffle out of them, I shall put it
in force and proceed against you without mercy.”

“Mercilessness is a dangerous game when a creature is driven to bay,”
said Roderick.

“What could you do?” asked Sylvester, contemptuously.

Roderick drew his shoulders together and turned away. “Nothing,” he said
in a low voice. “No, damn it! nothing.”

Somehow he could not utter the threat that rose to his lips. His soul
revolted. It is one of the strangest facts in human psychology that
there is no man so vile but that there is one thing he cannot and
will not do: sometimes the thing is a hideous crime, sometimes only a
comparatively trivial act of dishonour; but whatever may be its relative
importance, there is always one virtuous principle to which the human
soul must cling. Roderick had blackmailed the father,–for that is what
his forgery came to,–but he could not blackmail the son. Nor could he
drag his own father, hoary scoundrel though he knew him to be, down with
him in his disgrace. So he kept silent as to the mysterious relations
between the two old men, and–unutterable pathos of poor humanity–his
silence was a salve to his conscience.

Sylvester turned the handle of the studio door.

“Do you accept my terms?”

“Yes,” said Roderick, suddenly.

“Good,” said Sylvester, and he closed the door behind him and went
downstairs into the street. There he took a cab and drove to Scotland
Yard.

He was not the man to utter idle threats. Before dictating conditions to
Roderick, he had coldly calculated upon the power that he could wield.
Like that of every London specialist, his practice was socially varied
to a curious extent. Among his patients was a high official at Scotland
Yard, who, he knew, without dereliction of duty, would courteously carry
out the arrangements he intended to suggest. The official received him
as he had anticipated. In order to avoid a painful scandal in society,
it would be better to let the culprit fly the country. Of course there
would be no talk of extradition. In the mean time, a warrant could be
issued and put in force whenever Dr. Lanyon gave the word. Sylvester
went home grimly satisfied with his morning’s work. He found awaiting
him a telegram from Simmons to the effect that his father’s condition
was unchanged.

Roderick went into his dining-room, as dismantled and cheerless as the
studio, and drank a cup of coffee. He tried to eat, but the food choked
him. He was crushed, beaten, ruined. Utter dejection was in his attitude
as he sat in the straight-backed chair, staring helplessly in front of
him. Even in his crimes he had failed. He had deferred paying in the
forged cheque to the very last moment possible for the cheque he had
written for Urquhart to be honoured by his own bankers. He had reckoned
on clearing-house delay, on the half-day of Saturday, on the intervening
_dies non_ of Sunday, in fact, on the cheque not coming under Matthew’s
notice until after the wedding. But the cheque had passed from bank to
bank with diabolical expedition, and, like the curses in the Spanish
proverb, it had come home to roost with a vengeance.

What was to become of him? He could scarcely realise his sentence. Exile
from England meant a bitter struggle with poverty; and yet exile was
his irremediable lot. In eight or nine hours he must start. There was no
escape. He knew Sylvester of old, as hard as iron and as cold as ice, a
man to carry out his purpose relentlessly. To-night–to leave this dear
world of London behind him; tomorrow–to be in the aimless solitude of
some foreign hotel, when, if fortune had been kind, he would have been
standing at the altar with the woman whom he desired above all women
that had ever entered his life. It was like the blank future of the man
condemned to death.

Thoughts of his own misdoing, of his banishment, faded into a vague
heaviness at the back of his brain, while the pang of a great hunger
gripped him. He flung his arms on the table and buried his head and
clutched his hair in both hands.

“My God, my God! I can’t give her up!” he cried. Now that she was torn
from him, he craved her with the awful passion of the man no longer
young. A picture of her ripe lips and her fresh, eager face, so quick to
flush, floated maddeningly before his closed eyes. Last night on parting
he had held her close and kissed her. He felt the yielding softness of
her bosom against his breast, could almost feel now the throb of her
heart. He bit through his sleeve into his arm.

The paroxysm passed. He must think. The wedding must be postponed.
Sylvester had intrusted him with that duty, out of regard for Ella. See
her he could not; his soul shrank from it. A cowardly letter to reach
her too late for questions to be asked, giving no reasons, simply
stating that he was summoned away that night for an indefinite period?
It must be written. He grovelled in his self-abasement.

Suddenly he raised his head and stared up, with panting breath and
trembling body. A wild, mad idea had sprung from a recrudescence of the
forlorn hope with which Sylvester’s words had inspired him. He sprang to
his feet with a quavering, hysterical laugh.

“By Christ! I’ll carry it through,” he cried, and he walked about the
room, swinging his arms in great gestures.

The room was in a state of bewitching confusion. Trunks, half filled,
yawned open on the floor. On the bed were piles of white garments in
the midst of which here and there a pink or blue ribbon peeped daintily.
Cardboard boxes and tissue paper pervaded space. Hats small and hats
immense lay about in unconsidered attitudes upon chintz-covered chairs
and other resting-places. A pearl-coloured ball-dress, all gauze and
chiffon and foamy nothingness, hung over the bed-rail. A thousand odds
and ends–veils, hatpins, mysterious smooth wooden boxes, and cut-glass
phials–were strewn on the tables. And the pale morning sunshine
streamed in a friendly way into the room.

Ella was superintending her packing. Her maid having gone out for a
moment, she sat on the edge of the bed (leaving, with feminine sureness
of pose, the dainty piles of garments aforesaid unscathed), and gazed
critically at a hat which she held on outstretched fingers thrust into
the crown. In a dark silk blouse and a plain skirt, and with her auburn
hair somewhat ruffled, she looked very simple and girlish. Lady Milmo,
occupying the only vacant chair opposite, also regarded the hat with
the eye of experience. The examination had, however, come to an end,
for Ella, after flicking the great bows with the finger-tips of her
disengaged hand, threw the confection lightly on the top of the pile,
and putting her hands in her lap resignedly, turned to her aunt.

“I am sure Josephine will disappoint me with the blue dress.”

“Oh, no, my dear,” said Lady Milmo, “kingdoms may fall and empires may
decay, but Josephine never fails. A woman of her word, my dear. Don’t
you know what she did for La Guira, the singer? La Guira ordered
four dresses to take away with her to Patagonia or somewhere. It was
impossible to finish them before the morning of departure. Josephine
herself raced with them to Waterloo in a hansom just in time to see the
train with La Guira in it steam out of the station; and that woman took
a special there and then, and chased the train and got the dresses on
board all right. Josephine is a marvellous woman.”

Ella laughed. She did not care very much. Her life at that moment was
too full.

“It’s quite sweet of the sun to come in and see me, isn’t it?” she said.

“Provided he keeps up his good behaviour to-morrow,” said Lady Milmo.

“Oh, I sha’n’t mind what he does tomorrow; I shall have too many things
to think of.”

“But what about us poor unfortunates who are not going to be married?”

“You could be married now, fifty times over, auntie, if you chose,” said
Ella, out of her lightness of heart.

“The Lord preserve me!” replied Lady Milmo, vivaciously. “When poor
Howgate died I vowed that when we met in heaven, if there is one, no
other man should stand between us.”

As the late Sir Howgate Milmo, Bart., had been a notoriously evil liver,
Ella did not think there was much chance of her aunt escaping forsworn,
even on her hypothesis.

“One can love heaps of times, you know,” she said, stretching out her
limbs girlishly and looking at the tips of her shoes.

“Love your husband once and for all, my dear,” said her aunt,
sententiously.

Ella rose to her feet and crossed over to her aunt’s chair and sat on
the arm, and kissed Lady Milmo. A spontaneous caress like that was rare
with her, and the recipient looked up in pleased surprise. But Ella had
grasped her fate in both hands and felt mistress thereof, and all seemed
right with the world. She had compelled herself into entire happiness.

“Of course I do–or I shall,” she replied. “Do you think I could marry a
man to whom I did not feel I could give all that is in me?”

“It is the fate of women to give,” said Lady Milmo, who was in a
moralising mood.

“We must do something to justify our existence,” laughed Ella. “Women
can’t do much. I used to think differently when I was young. Men do all
the real work in the world, but somehow they seem to want something from
women. And it’s a great thing to help on the big world by giving oneself
body and soul to a man.”

“Cook his food and wash his clothes and see that there is a proper
supply of Salutaris water when he comes home after a city dinner That
was the whole duty of woman in your grandmother’s time, child.”

“I think women are very much the same all through the ages,” said Ella.
“At least,” she added reflectively, “that’s the only way the
riddle seems to be solved. A man does, wants, compels. A woman
yields–otherwise–why, well–”

She rose, confused at’ her half-confession, and re-examined the hat.

“Otherwise why should I be wanting to meet poor dear Howgate in heaven,”
finished Lady Milmo, coming to her assistance with a humorous curl of
the lip. “Anyhow,” she continued with some irrelevance, “I’m glad you’re
going to stay in a decent Christian country, where you can wear your
pretty frocks.”

“So am I, auntie–now,” replied Ella. “But I didn’t think I should be.”

Ella’s maid came in, and the work of packing was resumed. Her mistress
tried on the much-considered hat before the pier-glass, while Lady Milmo
arranged the rumpled hair beneath, so that the hat should produce its
due effect. Then one of the bridesmaids came, ostensibly to see if
she could help; really to feast her innocent eyes upon the articles of
attire everywhere displayed. The time slipped by pleasantly. At twelve
o’clock the parlour-maid tapped at the door and entered with the
announcement that Mr. Usher was downstairs and desired to see Miss Ella
on most urgent business.

Lady Milmo threw up her hands. What could he want? Men were a positive
nuisance at weddings! They ought to be chained up for days before and
only let loose at the church door.

“I’m in such a mess,” cried Ella. But she sent down a message to
Roderick that she would see him directly.

The servant smiled and departed. Ella gave herself those anxious
feminine tidying touches before her glass, whose effect the eternal
irony decrees shall never be noticed by man, and ran happily down the
stairs to meet her lover. She turned the handle of the morning-room door
and stood before him, in the heyday of her youth and her charm. All the
anxieties of the past year had fallen from her. Her cheeks flushed a shy
welcome. Her eyes, honest and clear, smiled upon him. She moved quickly
forward, her lips already parted in happy speech, when suddenly she felt
him come upon her and encircle her with strong, resistless arms and rain
passionate kisses upon her mouth and cheeks.

“Oh, my God, I love you, I love you!” he murmured hoarsely. “I can’t let
you go. You are soul of my soul and blood of my blood. No, Ella, no,” he
continued, as, confused and blushing, she strove to release herself; “I
must keep you here. Heaven knows when I may hold you in my arms again.
Listen, something terrible has happened,–a thing that may part our
lives. Are you strong enough to bear it? Brave and strong and heroic,
like the woman I think you?”

He relaxed his clasp and stood with hands on her shoulders, forcing
her to look at him. She met his passion-filled eyes fearlessly, but her
colour had gone.

“Part our lives! I don’t understand what you mean, Roderick.”

“Are you brave enough to face a terrible calamity?”

“I shall not faint, if you mean that,” she replied. “What is it?”

“I must leave England to-night,” he said in a quick voice. “How long
I shall have to stay away, I do not know. It may be weeks, it may be
months, it may be years.”

She looked at him with perplexed brows and a dawning fear in her eyes.

“But to-morrow–” she began.

“There will be no to-morrow–for me. Unless—-”

“Unless what?”

He turned away and paced across the room and back again. He had
thrown off the gold pince-nez, and now they swung by the cord over his
waistcoat, and his small blue eyes, usually obscured by them, glowed
strangely and the pupils were dilated. Where the actor, the inveterate
_poseur_, ended and the man began, it were impossible to tell. He was
playing a part, but playing it in desperate earnestness. The words, the
gestures, were false; but the yearning folly of love that vibrated in
his voice was as real a thing as had ever entered into the man’s life.

“I must be plain with you, Ella. It’s as much as my life, my honour,
your fair happiness, is worth for me to stay in England over to-night.
There can be no wedding to-morrow. I have done all that a man could do
to avert things. The suspense has been a torturing agony above words.
But the inevitable, the inexorable, has come. Oh, God, Ella, if you knew
what living hell it is to me to tell you this!”

She put her hands before her face, feeling dazed and sick, and when
she drew them away, her face was very white. Like every pure woman, her
thoughts of late had been absorbed by the sweet vanities of the morrow’s
ceremony, with just a warm, tremulous sub-consciousness of the beyond.
The sudden fall about her ears of this structure of vanities bewildered
her. Her brain seemed to be an avalanche of telegrams and letters. Faces
of bidden guests swam lurid before her. Roderick, a long way off, faded
into infinite mist. A pang of disappointment, humiliation, she knew not
what, ached in her breast. She scarcely heard or heeded what the man was
saying. He stopped, seeing her so white, and looked at her, breathless.
Then suddenly a cloud seemed to roll away before her, and she was
conscious of him standing there with haggard eyes and features drawn
in pain. Scorn of her first imaginings drove them into the limbo of all
vain things; the thrill of a proud courage nerved her; she drew herself
up and faced realities. And the first reality was a rush through her
being of yearning pity for the man so stricken. With an impulse of
consolation she went up to him, and again his arms closed swiftly round
her. He murmured burning incoherences. He could not live without her
love, the crown and joy of earthly things. Life would be a purgatorial
flame. He loved her. He worshipped her, so brave, so loyal, so adorable.
His voice was vibrant with elemental passion.

A woman, young and ardent, with rich blood running through her veins,
is, above all things, a primitive human being. It were an ill day for
the pride and vigour of the race if she were not. There are moments when
the world’s music surges like the roar of the sea in her ears, and the
heart within her is lifted to her lips; when her limbs are as water, and
her body is carried in the unfaltering arms of a god through illimitable
space. She has yielded, is swept away by the man’s passion, deliriously
lost.

As in a dream, standing there in his embrace, she heard him whisper:–

“There is one way–to scoff at destiny–to rise triumphant above it–to
be married tomorrow in spite of all things. Not here. In Holland where
I am summoned–I have the license–we can explain the urgency of our
flight–the English Consul or Chaplain at Amsterdam will marry us. Come
with me tonight–Ella–for God’s sake, Ella, say that you will.”

She smiled up at him without replying. The mad proposal seemed at
the dreamy moment the sweetest of sanities. He continued in hurried
intensity,–

“All will be so easy. You can say you are going to Ayresford–what more
natural?–to stay here would be pain–there is a train for Ayresford
about the time–half-past eight at Liverpool Street. I will meet you
there with a ticket,–and then we shall be carried off to happiness–you
and I–alone together–to conquer the world…. There–it must be.”

He took her hands, kissed them both, and released her. She stood for
a while with downcast eyes and heaving bosom, recovering her mental
balance.

“You have not yet told me,” she said presently, in a calmer voice, “why
there should be this upheaval. I have said perhaps I might help you.
Why do your life and honour and my happiness depend upon your leaving
England to-night, Roderick?”

The supreme moment had come. He braced every nerve to meet the
inevitable question. Summoning up an extraordinary dignity subtly tinged
with sadness, he said with grave deliberation,–

“I cannot tell you.”

Ella recoiled involuntarily, staggered by the unexpectedness of the
reply. She could only regard him in mute but anxious questioning.

“You must trust me, child,” he said. “It is another’s secret.”

“So grave as to be withheld even from me?”

“Even so,” he replied. “I know,” he continued gravely, “I am asking you
the ultimate thing a man can ask a woman,–blind trust. It is a thing
that only the great soul, like you, can give. Put your hand in mine and
trust in me!”

“Let me think,” she said in a low voice.

She sat down on a couch, baffled. If she looked up, she met the man’s
burning eyes fixed upon her, and the depths of her being were stirred.
If she looked away, her life seemed fragmentary chaos, unrealisable,
incomprehensible. She breathed fast from a heaving bosom. Roderick’s
mystery hovered between the grotesque and the tragic. To run away
clandestinely with the man to whom she was to have been married with all
the pomp of publicity on the morrow was an idea of comic opera. On the
other hand, the blind trust required raised the proceeding to the heroic
plane. Again, Nature within her shrank from mystery; she was a
child appalled by the dark, and fear was upon her. But the sensitive
gentlewoman felt the appeal to honour in every fibre of her pride.
Generosity swelled against doubt. A strange physical coldness enwrapped
her. To start to-night, with Roderick, surrendering herself utterly;
the maiden in her piteously sought refuge from the thought. She glanced
tremulously up at him, and her face flamed pink, and warmth entered her
heart. She covered her cheeks with her hands and shrank into the corner
of the couch.

“Oh, could I not join you afterwards?” she moaned. He fell at her feet
and clasped her knees, broke into impassioned pleading. It was a
matter of life or death. His unbalanced artistic temperament burst all
restraints of conventional forms of speech. He raved of his consuming
need. He was less a man than a shaking passion.

The eternal mystery to woman is man’s desire of her. It transcends her
thought, it looms immense, inscrutable, and irresistible before her. She
is the everlasting Semele beneath the fiery glory of Zeus. It is
decreed that when brought face to face with it (a chord within her
being responsive, be it understood), she shall lose all sense of the
proportion between it and the infinite passions of the universe. Life
resolves itself into an amazement that she, with a whisper, a touch of
her hand, can raise a man from hell to heaven. In the piteous, glorious,
tragi-comedy of life, which has been played on millions of stages for
millions of years, this elemental fact is so commonplace that it escapes
our notice. We are apt to judge from externals, from the results of
adherence to ethical systems, from social conventions; and when the
actions of men and women are not provided for in artificial canons, we
are baffled or are shocked by a sense of the immoral, the abnormal, or
the preposterous. But men will desire and women will yield till the end
of the human race.

And Ella yielded. She bound herself to meet him that evening and go with
him into the darkness, whithersoever he should lead; and Roderick
left the house, holding his head high, exultant in the sense of having
conquered destiny.

But when he had gone, Ella threw herself face downwards on the couch in
all the abandonment of exhaustion. For a while she could not think; she
could only be conscious of the flow and ebb, and again the flow and ebb,
and once more the flow of emotion, during the past hour. She had entered
the room in light-hearted happiness; there had come the shock of an
awful dismay. Then she had been lifted in the tide of the man’s passion;
there had followed the cold numbness of doubt; again passion had swept
away reason. Now was reaction. She felt physically prostrated, and her
body ached as if it had been beaten. Her eyelids burned. She would have
liked to cry miserably, but she could not. She suffered the woman’s
torment of unshed tears. Suddenly she rose and drew herself together,
despising her weakness. She had pledged herself to do a certain thing.
It was to be done, and practical commonplaces had to be faced. First
was the breaking of the news to Lady Milmo. The girl’s heart was smitten
with pity for the kindly lady who had entered so wholeheartedly into
these wedding preparations. It would be a keen disappointment to
countermand the feast, put off the guests, make lame excuses. And that
would not be the end. There would be the scandal of her flight, of which
Lady Milmo would have to bear the brunt. It was cruel to treat her so.
She went to the window and looked out at the sunny houses on the other
side of Pont Street; wondered whether they all were cages for women
bound as she was in invisible chains. Her course had been marked out
with scrupulous exactness; to deviate from it a hair’s breadth would be
not only breaking a solemn pledge, but perhaps endangering the life or
honour, she knew not how, of the man she was to marry. Yet her frank
soul rebelled against the deception. The hour of Roderick’s departure
was to be kept secret; her elopement with him not to be whispered of.
She was to give out a journey to Ayresford, to escape from the painful
associations of the house in Pont Street, filled with all the vain
preparations for the morrow. She had never lied barefacedly in her life,
and for a moment she hated Roderick for compelling her to falseness. But
then the lingering echoes of his voice hummed in her ears, and the blood
rushed back into her cheeks, and she felt strong for the sacrifice of
her honour.

Did she love him? She answered the self-put question with a passionate
affirmative. Else why was she doing this preposterous thing? Was not
the blindness of her trust the very banner of her love? A phrase of
Roderick’s crossed her mind. “Life is merely the summation of moments
of keen living.” She caught at it as a plank with the drowning man’s
thrill. She was living keenly; that alone was sufficient to justify
everything. She was defying the set uses of the tame world. “Each man
must batter down for himself the doors that hide life’s inner glory” was
another of his sayings. Was she not even now battering at the door?
Her soul clutched at every supporting straw. Yet, in spite of these
aphoristic comforts, it was with a strange, dull sense of fatality that
she saw herself sitting by Roderick’s side in the train that night,
being carried away further and further into the inscrutable darkness.

*****

The first part of her task was over. She had told Lady Milmo. It had
been an interview of pain and self-reproach. Lady Milmo had gasped,
wept, waxed indignant. All her kindly woman’s motherliness had poured
itself out upon the girl, whom she considered infamously treated. It
was in vain for Ella to plead the matter of life and death that called
Roderick away. Lady Milmo had her prejudices. She had cordially approved
of Ella’s immediate retirement to Ayresford. How could the poor child
stay in the house where every surrounding would be a pain to her? She
had sent Ella off to lie down in peace upon her own bed, away from the
half-packed litter of finery in the girl’s room; and while Ella lay
there with a splitting headache, helplessly counting the slow hours,
Lady Milmo sat heroically before her writing-table immersed in lists and
telegraph forms.

The slow hours passed. A little difficulty arose. Lady Milmo had taken
it for granted that Ella’s maid would accompany her to Ayresford. Ella,
alarmed, announced her intention of leaving her behind. She did not even
wish her to come to the station to see after the luggage. She had
to insist that solitude was essential. Lady Milmo yielded the point
reluctantly. At last the time came. Ella’s luggage had been placed on
the fourwheeled cab. The door was open; the white-capped maid stood on
the pavement. Ella turned with a sudden rush of emotion and kissed Lady
Milmo, who had come with her to the hall.

“If I ever hurt you, dear, God knows it’s because I cannot help it,” she
said. But before the other could reply, a telegraph boy entered with
a telegram. Name of Defries. Ella tore it open, with a spasm of
anticipation, half fear, half hope, that it came from Roderick. But it
ran:–

“_Your coming a joy. Your uncle dangerously ill. Is crying
for you. Agatha._”

Speechless she handed the paper to her aunt. Lady Milmo glanced at it.

“Doesn’t it all work out for the best, dear?” she said gently. “Agatha
Lanyon would not have wired if to-morrow’s affair had not been broken
off.”

“How did she know?” asked Ella, with white lips.

“Why, I sent them a message,” said Lady Milmo.

Ella bade her good-bye again. The parlour maid shut the cab-door and
gave the word “Waterloo” to the driver. The cab drove off, and then
Ella, spreading out the crumpled telegram, broke for the first time into
a flood of passionate tears.

But some moments later she called to the driver,–

“I fancy the servant made a mistake. It is Liverpool Street I want to go
to.”

And to Liverpool Street was she driven.

A misty evening had followed the sunshine of the day. The lights in
Liverpool Street, in shop-windows, street-lamps, and the lamps of a
thousand crossing and recrossing vehicles, flared red and large through
the slight fog. Luggage-laden cabs clattered down the flagged incline of
the station, sounding a hard treble to the thundering bass of the street
and city above. Down the sides of the incline streamed the throng of
work people and belated clerks hurrying to their trains. The station
portico beyond seemed a dark vortex into which this seething life was
sucked with irresistible swiftness. There, in the uncertain light, was
the bustle of porters unloading cabs, the quick rattle of trucks and
barrows, the ceaseless patter of feet, the din of voices. It was an
eddying whirl of vague shapes appearing for a moment from the fog and
vanishing after a flash of passage.

Roderick stood by the wall, gazing anxiously at each cab as it stopped
and deposited its fare. He had taken the two tickets, registered his
luggage through to Amsterdam, and now was waiting in feverish suspense
for Ella. Would she come? He looked at his watch. It was only five
minutes past eight, and he had been watching for her since the quarter
to the hour. He threw away a cigarette barely commenced, and a moment
afterwards lit another. By the light of the match his fingers could have
been seen to shake nervously. At last a cab stopped, a porter opened the
door, and Roderick’s heart gave a leap of relief and joy as he saw the
familiar girlish figure emerge. He sprang to her side.

“Oh, thank God you have come, dear, thank God!” he whispered.

“I keep my word,” said Ella, remotely. Roderick gave some directions to
the porters, and turned to her.

“I will show you straight into our carriage. I have reserved one for
ourselves.”

He led the way through the booking offices to the great glass-covered
station, with its blue glare of electric light and babel of sounds.

“My heroic Ella,” he murmured. She raised her eyes somewhat appealingly.
Then he saw she had been crying; her lashes were still wet.

“Those tears are the last you shall ever shed,” he whispered, bending
down to her ear. In reply she held out the crumpled ball of paper which
she had kept in her hand. He stood by the platform gate and read, and
looking at the telegram, reflected. The instinct of the self-indulgent
man prompted a reply. A dry-eyed woman, be she never so beloved, was a
pleasanter travelling companion than a tearful one. He handed her back
the telegram with a smile.

“It’s the dear elderly lady’s exaggeration. Mr. Lanyon is kept to his
room by a slight cold. That is all. I saw Sylvester this afternoon,
and he had only left Ayresford this morning. Make yourself quite easy,
dearest.”

She followed him through the gate, along the platform where the Harwich
train stood waiting.

“You take a great weight off my mind,” she said earnestly. “I have felt
it was wicked and selfish of me to leave him.”

“My poor child,” said Roderick, tenderly.

The guard hurried up and unlocked the door of the reserved carriage. The
porter, who had followed them, stowed Ella’s hand-baggage and wraps in
the rack. Ella entered and took her seat, while Roderick hastened away
to see to the registration of her heavy luggage. Tears of a great relief
filled her eyes. However much she hated Sylvester, she knew that he
would not have spoken lightly to any one of his father’s illness; nor
would he have left his father’s bedside if anything serious were the
matter with the old man. Roderick’s confident report reassured her.
She felt almost happy. If only her, head were not aching, and a strange
heaviness were lifted off her heart!

Presently Roderick returned, took the seat opposite, and closed the
door. His face had lost the haggardness that had troubled her during the
past week and wore an aspect of conquering pride. He had looked thus in
the few golden moments when she had cared for him most. His bright air
of confidence gave her strength. Her pulses quickened a little. He was
worthy of her blind trust. The instinct of the woman to satisfy herself
that the plank on which she walks is the solid earth brought swift
apotheosis of the man. She was humble, little, of no account; he was
strong and great, with the artist’s noble grip upon life. And he loved
her passionately. She leaned forward, touched his arm, and with the
first smile for many hours she asked him whether he was content. He
vowed his utter happiness.

“You will never have cause to regret this step to the day of your
death,” he said fervently.

At that moment the face of a man appeared at the window, and Roderick
threw himself back with a stifled exclamation.

“Sylvester!” cried Ella, involuntarily.

Sylvester looked from one to the other in silence.

“I did not expect to see you here, Miss Defries,” he said at last.

Ella drew herself up haughtily. “I am the sole mistress of my actions,”
she said. “What I choose to do is not your concern, Dr. Lanyon.” For
the moment indignation checked natural wonder at his presence. Sylvester
regarded her sternly. His dark face seemed chiselled out of wood.

“Unfortunately, it is of vital concern to me,” he replied. “But I
apologise a thousand times for interrupting you.” He turned to Roderick,
over whose face a pallor was spreading. “A friend of mine would like to
speak to you for a few moments.”

“I am sorry I am not at his disposal,” returned Roderick, with a forced
laugh.

“You would hardly care to discuss the matter with him here,” said
Sylvester.

Roderick consulted his watch. The spark of hope died out. There were
still ten minutes before the train would start.

“Remember our compact,” said he. “You guaranteed I should be annoyed no
further. This is a breach of faith.”

Ella leaned before the window, obscuring Roderick from the other’s view.

“How dare you intrude in this unwarrantable manner?”

“Miss Defries,” said Sylvester, coldly, “please do not interfere in the
very grave affairs of men.”

She sank back in her corner, cut to the quick by the rebuke, and
quivering with baffled indignation. Sylvester again addressed Roderick.

“Your presence here with Miss Defries is a breach of faith, and renders
our compact void. Once more, for Miss Defries’s sake, I beg that you
will come on to the platform and discuss the matter with my friend.”

He opened the door. Roderick got out of the carriage and went a few
paces along the platform with Sylvester. A decently dressed man took off
his hat as they approached him.

“This is a police officer,” said Sylvester, quietly. “He has a warrant
for your arrest. You were wrong in thinking me such a fool as to trust
you. My object in coming here was to make certain that you had left by
this train. If you had not, the police would have been on your track
immediately. If you had been leaving alone, I should have told the
officer you were not here, and you would have gone scot free, and the
matter would have been hushed up. As it is, you have played me false,
prevailed by some devilish lie upon Miss Defries to elope with you; and,
by God! I’ll have no pity on you. Mr. Wigram, this is the gentleman I
was speaking of.”

The police officer, on being summoned, drew near, and again touching his
hat stated his errand with due formality and explained that he had no
wish to create any unpleasantness in a public place, and that if Mr.
Usher would walk quietly by his side to the cab rank, they could drive
away unnoticed. A little knot of people saying farewell to friends by an
open carriage door, and one or two hurrying passengers, eyed Roderick’s
ghastly face with some curiosity. The guard of the train bustled up.

“Now, sir, perhaps you had better take your seat.”

“I am prevented, at the last moment, from travelling with you,” said
Roderick, with bitter cynicism.

The guard saluted and passed on. Roderick’s eyes followed him and rested
on Ella looking anxiously from the carriage window. He turned away with
a sob. 4

“Come on, if I must go,” he said hoarsely; “you will pay for this
outrageous blunder, Dr. Lanyon.”

He walked away defiantly with the police officer, and Sylvester went
up to Ella. The guard was just fitting the key in the door to lock it.
Sylvester laid a detaining touch upon his arm.

“The lady is getting out.”

The door was thrown open. Sylvester took Ella’s travelling-bag from the
rack.

“Your companion is not going abroad this evening,” said he, pausing
with the bag on the seat. “And it will be scarcely worth your while
to go to Amsterdam alone.”

The girl’s white, questioning face made him relent for a moment.

“Forgive me,” he said more kindly. “But what has happened was
inevitable. I have only saved you from the hands of a scoundrel.”

“How dare you call him that?” she whispered with trembling lips.

He did not reply, but handed the bag and wraps to a porter whom he
summoned, and descending from the carriage stood in readiness to assist
Ella to the platform. She obeyed his sign involuntarily, but as soon as
she stood opposite him, she turned upon him with flashing anger.

“Now tell me at once what all this means,” she said in a low,
concentrated tone. “I am not a child to have things hidden from me. I
have lived too many hours to-day in darkness. What does it mean? Why
are you here, coming between me and the man I am to’ marry? Where has
Roderick gone? Tell me. I must know.”

“I should like to spare you the knowledge,–at all events, for the
present.”

He made a motion of his hand to indicate the public place. His glance
fell upon the porter standing expectant with the bag. Giving the man a
shilling, he bade him take the things to a cab and await him there. Then
he turned to Ella.

“Perhaps we might find a more suitable place.” he added. But Ella
stamped her foot impatiently.

“No. Here, at once! What is this mystery? Where has Roderick gone?”

The guard’s whistle blew, the engine shrieked, there was a flutter back
of loungers from the carriage doors, and the train steamed out of the
station, carrying neither Roderick nor his fortunes, carrying only, with
the grotesque irony that accompanies most of the tragic issues of life,
the registered luggage of Ella and himself.

Sylvester waited until the commotion had subsided. Then he spoke in his
cold, unemotional way,–

“He has been arrested by the police for forgery, at my instance.”

The girl’s eye closed for a few tremulous seconds, and reeling she put
her hand to her heart; but she waved Sylvester away when he came forward
to prevent her from falling.

“I am not going to faint–I said so before today–it is a hideous
lie–he is shielding some one else–he told me it was another’s secret.
It is some horrible revenge of yours–you always hated him. An honorable
gentleman to do such a thing–it is ridiculous, inconceivable! It is
you that have trapped him.”

The lowered tones in which the girl spoke contrasted strangely with the
shrieking hubbub of the glaring station. Through her veil he could see
her features distorted with anger. He waited until she had ended her
invective.

“He forged my father’s name to a cheque for three thousand pounds,” he
said with cutting distinctness. “The shock of discovery yesterday has
brought my father to the point of death.”

Ella swung her head contemptuously.

“You told Roderick yourself to-day that Uncle Matthew had only a slight
cold.”

“The lying devil!” cried Sylvester, with one of his rare blazes of
anger. “Read that.”

He drew a telegram from his pocket, and handed it to her.

“_Mr. Lanyons condition critical. May not live through
night. For God’s sake come back at once and bring Miss
Defries with you. Simmons_

She returned it without a word, and stood with both hands pressed
closely to her temples, in an awful convulsion of soul. Roderick’s lie
blazed before her eyes in letters of fire. It was blazoned upon the
walls of the station. It reddened the pale glare of the electric light.
It was a magnesium flame illuminating the innermost darkness of the
man’s heart. Roderick’s mystery was a mystery no longer.

“Let us go,” she said at last faintly.

They walked silently, side by side, to the end of the platform. There
was the same eternal scurrying of eager feet. A train had just arrived
at another platform, and the crowd of passengers were streaming through
the gate on to the open space. Nothing in the outer world had changed
during the past hour. But Ella was filled with a vague wonder that
universal chaos did not prevail around her. She followed Sylvester in a
state of dream, to be aroused to practical effort by his voice.

“This is your cab. Where would you care to be driven to?”

She collected her faculties. Pride rose in arms against betrayal of
weakness.

“I suppose there is no train to Ayresford to-night?” she asked steadily.

“Yes. The ten o’clock. A fast train. I am going down by it.”

“You would have no objection to my accompanying you?”

“That my father needs you is enough for me to entreat you to come.”

“Very well. I shall drive to Waterloo and wait there until the train
starts.”

“And I in the mean time must do some necessary business.”

He gave the direction to the driver and the cab drove off. He hailed
another and was carried rapidly westward.

When the time came for taking her seat at Waterloo in the Ayresford
train, she mechanically followed a porter to an empty first-class
carriage and sat down in a further corner, broken with trouble. She
was only awakened to a sense of surroundings by the door being thrown
violently open as soon as the train began to move, and a man whom she
recognised as Sylvester leaping into the compartment. He sat for a
moment breathless, then moved up the seat.

“I did not mean to intrude on you,” he said, when he had recovered; “but
I nearly missed the train, and this was the first carriage to hand.”

She looked out of the window into the whirling darkness.

“It does not matter,” she murmured.

“Nothing much matters now.”

Sylvester lay back in his corner with an air of utter fatigue, and
closed his eyes. They travelled thus in silence for a long time. To Ella
the world seemed to have come to a disgraceful end. The dying state of
the old man to whom she was hurrying was in keeping with the general
finality of things. She suffered a horrible humiliation too deep for
coherent thought. Gradually, however, the sight of Sylvester opposite,
cold and stern, acted upon her like an irritant. At one moment she was
seized with an hysterical impulse to scream. She mastered it, fighting
with scornful violence. Resentment began to burn within her, first dull,
then increasing in intensity to fierceness. The flame fed a smouldering
horror scarcely as yet realised. Roderick was in a police cell that
night. He would be tried on a disgraceful charge. The result would be
imprisonment.. Clearer and clearer grew the significance of the term. As
a woman in touch with the thinking world, she had interested herself in
contemporary social problems. Our prison system had been among those
in which she had played the pretty part of amateur reformer. As the
Honorary Secretary of a society which had rapidly burned itself out
with excessive zeal, she had learned many of the hateful facts. For a
fortnight the fate of the tenderly nurtured gentleman condemned to the
unutterable torture of imprisonment had been a nightmare. Her aunt had
rediscovered a teacher of music, once a well-known singer, now voiceless
through illness, Yvonne Latour, who had married a man called Joyce,
a cultivated gentleman who deservedly had passed through the wintry
sorrows of the gaol, and Yvonne had told her what they meant. Her own
troubles, the Walden Art Colony, her relations with Roderick, had put
the subject out of her mind; but now the recollection of these things
grew more vivid every moment. Her own benumbing sense of humiliation
was lost in the new shudder. Liar she knew Roderick to be; that he was
a forger, reason forbade her to doubt. Yet by her yielding to his kisses
that day, she had given him, as it were, some share of her flesh, and
her own flesh quivered at the contaminating touch of the gaol.

The train thundered on. The windows of the carriage were opaque with
steam. Opposite sat Sylvester like a sphinx, his cap drawn over his
eyes, so that she could not see whether they were open or shut. Suddenly
the brake grated and the wheels dragged beneath the carriage, and
the train stopped with a jerk at a little, vaguely lighted station.
Sylvester looked up mechanically and found the girl’s eyes, deep and
dark behind her veil, fixed upon him. She felt impelled to speak, yet
altered her appeal at the instant the prearranged words were about to
leave her lips. Instinctively she sought to wound him.

“If Uncle Matthew is dying, how could you leave his side? I thought you
at least loved him.”

He stared at her for a moment without replying. It seemed incredible
that any one should not perceive his torture of anxiety. He forgot the
iron will whereby he had kept it hidden. To sit idly hour after hour,
as he had done that day, poignantly conscious of every train that might
have taken him to that one spot on the earth whither every fibre of his
being was drawn, to disregard the piteous appeals made to him from
time to time, to come and comfort the dying man whom he loved so
passionately, had been an effort of almost superhuman strength. The
inability of his questioner to realise his suffering bewildered him. At
that instant of time it was his whole existence.

“A man’s duty is above love or death,” he said coldly, after a pause.
“I can’t discuss it with you, for you would not understand. At least, I
have served him in delivering you.”

She gripped the arms of the seat and for a while said nothing. Then as
the train moved on, she spoke somewhat huskily, forcing herself to her
point.

“Are you going to carry out your intentions–as regards–_him?_”

“Certainly.”

“Has he not been punished enough already?”

“I don’t understand you,” said Sylvester. “He has broken the law. He has
murdered my father. What punishment has he had yet? He shall have his
deserts,–whatever term of penal servitude the judge thinks fit to give
him.”

“For God’s sake have mercy, Sylvester!” cried the girl, leaning forward
in her seat, so that her voice should reach him above the rhythmic
clatter and the creaking of the train. “If that happened to him, it
would kill me. The awful horror of it,–have you thought?”

“I have been trained for years to think deeply before acting, even in
trivial matters,” he replied.

“Heaven knows what awful temptation he may have had,” said Ella.

“A man who cannot resist temptation is better out of the world.”

Ella’s eyes flashed. The encounter braced her nerves. “Have you always
resisted temptation?” she cried in sharp scorn.

“I have lived my life a stainless and an upright man,” he replied
sternly.

“So did Christ; but he had pity.”

“I am not Christ. I am mortal, and have my limitations. Listen. This man
admitted his forgery. Out of regard for you, I was weak enough to
allow him a chance of escape, on certain definite conditions. These
he violated, like the scoundrel he is. To let him loose now on society
would be a crime on my part.”

“To pardon the man who has wronged you would be the higher action,” said
Ella.

“It would be mere weakness,” replied Sylvester.

Ella threw out her hands in a gesture of despair, and flung herself back
against the cushions. Then suddenly she bent forward again, and laid a
hand upon his knee.

“For my sake, Sylvester! To save me from the shame and disgrace of it.
To save me from the endless horror of what he will be suffering. My God!
Do you think that he was nothing to me? That a man can be snatched from
a woman’s life to degradation without her feeling it? Do you think I
am bloodless marble like you? Oh, I could not live with the thought of
it…. It is not that I love him still. I hope never to see his face
again. God knows whether I ever really loved him. But if this happens
I could not live. I could not live, I tell you! You cannot do it. You
shall not do it. You owe me a reparation–yes, you,” she continued
passionately. “You said just now you had lived a stainless and upright
life. It is a lie. It is not an upright thing to win a girl’s love and
then cast it aside.”

“Stop, Ella,” interrupted Sylvester; “you are talking of things you do
not understand.”

“I not understand? Does the man who is lashed not understand the pain?
You made me love you two years ago. I gave you my heart, a young girl’s
heart, fresh and whole. You kissed me. You said in looks and all but
spoken words that you were going to ask me to be your wife. For a whole
day I lived like a tremulous fool waiting for you. You never came. You
never spoke again. I put away my woman’s pride and offered myself–that
evening. You rejected me with cold cynicism. You wronged me cruelly. You
owe me reparation. Give it to me now,–this man’s freedom. I claim it as
a right from you.”

She was reckless in her self-revelation. Words came now too readily. She
continued. What she said, she did not remember afterwards. Only that she
had sunk on her knees before him, pleading passionately for Roderick,
and that he had remained unmoved.

But as she knelt there, clutching his clothes, she looked exceedingly
beautiful. With an impatient gesture she had thrust up her veil, and the
sight of her young, noble face lit with terrible earnestness was a shock
of strange temptation to the man. She pleaded for Roderick. A spasm of
disgust, similar to that which had shaken him a month or two back when
he had seen her yield to Roderick’s caress, passed through him and held
him speechless.

Another stoppage of the train broke the situation. Ella shrank back
into the corner of her seat. Sylvester rose and crossing to the further
window opened it, and looked out upon the platform. As soon as they
moved on, he drew up the glass again and turned to her, his heart
hardened tenfold.

“I did all that was possible,” he said. “I thought I cared for you. I
found to my regret you were utterly indifferent to me. To have asked you
to marry me would have been impossible.”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake say no more!” cried the girl, shrinking.

“Perhaps it is best,” replied Sylvester. “My determination is absolute.”

And so they sat silent, facing each other, as the train carried them
onwards through the darkness.

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