AT BAY

Considering that he had gained his heart’s desire, Hench should have
returned to his lodgings in the highest spirits. Instead of doing so,
he arrived in a rather disturbed frame of mind. It seemed to him,
after due reflection, that he was not treating Gwen straightforwardly,
since as yet she was quite unaware of the relationship between them.
Nevertheless, as he argued, he would never have been able to win her
had she known at the outset that he was the heir to the estate and her
cousin. So far he had acted honestly enough in masquerading as a
disguised prince, but he should not have compelled her to acknowledge
her love before making himself known. Aware of the truth, she could
make her choice of marrying the man she loved, or of dismissing the
cousin whom her father had taught her to detest. Hench felt decidedly
uncomfortable.

This being the case, he was unable to stay in the poky little rooms,
as he felt too restless to sit down, and too excited to read. His foot
was now so much better that he could walk with considerable ease,
although he had some sort of twinge every now and then. But it was
certainly not well enough to permit his taking a long walk. Yet Owain,
feeling hipped, did so, and strolled a long way into the country. The
result was that he felt the old pain coming on again, and his ankle
being yet somewhat weak, there was danger that he might twist it.
Luckily, a carrier’s cart came along the road when he was some miles
from Cookley, and the offer of a shilling procured Hench a drive back
to the village. When he alighted at Mrs. Bell’s door he felt that his
foot was again swollen and painful, and cursed his folly, as he
hobbled into his sitting-room. He would have to rest that evening, as
he fully recognized, and as the lover’s desire was to see Gwen, such
enforced absence from her presence did not please him. With a groan he
wondered how he would get through the dull hours until bed-time.

But Fate had already provided him with an interesting companion. While
Hench sat down and removed his boots and stroked his ankle, a tall
figure appeared at the door of the bedroom, which opened into the
sitting-room. After an astonished pause, Hench fell back on the sofa
and gasped.

“Jim!” he cried. “Who would have thought of seeing you here?”

“I thought I would surprise you,” said Vane complacently, and
advancing into the parlour. “I arrived three hours ago and found that
you had gone out for a walk. Therefore, I looked up my aunt, as I
intend to put up with her for the night, and then came back to lie on
your bed and pass the time in sleep until you turned up. Humph! You
don’t look like a joyful lover.”

“What do you know about that?” asked Hench tartly. “Has Gwen—-”

“No, she hasn’t,” interrupted Vane promptly. “But Aunt Emma hinted
that she wished to bring about a marriage between you and your cousin,
so that the family quarrels should end. From your words rather than
your looks, it seems that you have settled the matter and accomplished
Aunt Emma’s desire.”

Hench groaned. “We can talk of that later. Meantime, I apologize for
lying on the sofa; but I foolishly went for a long walk and my ankle
is aching again.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” replied the barrister, lighting a cigarette.
“Aunt Emma told me of your rescuing Miss Evans and that your ankle was
better. Why the deuce have you made it worse?”

“I couldn’t sit down here after meeting Gwen this morning, and went
for a walk. This is the result,” and Hench pointed to his ankle. As he
had removed his sock, Vane saw that it was much inflamed.

“Silly ass,” said Jim, fumbling near the fireplace for the bell-rope.
“Better bathe it in cold water and lie up for the evening.”

“I intend to, and I daresay it will be all right in the morning.
Mrs. Bell”–the delicate-looking landlady entered as he spoke her
name–“just bring me a basin of cold water and my sponge.”

Mrs. Bell threw up her hands at the sight which met her eyes. “Won’t I
send for the doctor, Mr. Hench?”

“No. Bathing will reduce the swelling and rest will put everything
else right, Mrs. Bell. Don’t worry. Sorry I’m an invalid, Vane, and
can’t entertain you.”

“Oh, I shan’t let you off inviting me to dinner, Owain,” said the
barrister, as Mrs. Bell disappeared to fetch the basin of water. “I’ve
come down to see you especially. Later I go on to sleep at my aunt’s
place.”

“What do you wish to see me about?” asked Hench uneasily.

“That can wait until I have some food. Don’t be inhospitable.”

Owain laughed and began to bathe his ankle in the cold water which
Mrs. Bell had just brought in. He thought that Vane’s news could not
be anything very unpleasant since he so calmly postponed telling it.
So the two men chatted on various frivolous subjects while the
landlady laid the cloth and made the dinner ready. By the time Hench
finished doctoring his foot and was feeling less pain, the meal was
before them. Vane pushed the table near to the sofa so that Owain
could eat without sitting in a chair. He partook of the viands in the
dining attitude of an ancient Roman, leaning on one elbow, and being
hungry, managed to make an excellent meal. Then Mrs. Bell brought in
the coffee, and after clearing the table, left the two men to their
own devices. Vane sat near the window smoking, while Owain remained
comfortably on his sofa. The casement was open, and the scent of the
homely cottage flowers came into the room, which was filled with the
coming shadows of the night. Hench felt so tired that he did not begin
the conversation, and would have much preferred slumber. But Vane gave
him no chance. He began to chat immediately, and on a subject which
was already worrying his friend considerably.

“So you are in love with your cousin and she with you,” he remarked,
after a puff or two. “I am going by what Aunt Emma said, remember. It
seems quick work to me–a kind of five minutes’ wooing.”

“Jim, I fell head over heels in love with Gwen the moment I saw her.”

“The deuce! Yet the last time we met, you told me that you didn’t know
what love meant.”

“That was quite true. I didn’t. My liking for Zara Alpenny was one of
simple admiration. But Gwen! Oh, Jim, you don’t know how I adore her.”

“I’ll take it for granted that you do,” said Vane dryly. “But I can’t
say that your newly-born passion makes you very happy. You have
groaned two or three or four times since you arrived.”

“It’s my ankle giving me pain.”

“Oh, shucks!” cried the barrister, after a purely American fashion,
“it’s your heart, man. You aren’t the chap to yowl over a twisted
sinew, as I know jolly well. Come along and unburden your mind to your
father-confessor.”

“It will be a relief,” admitted Hench, with a fifth groan. “The fact
is I am not quite sure if I have acted rightly in stealing a march on
Gwen.”

“What do you mean by your stealing a march?”

“Well, you see she knows me as Hench, and hasn’t the least idea that I
am her cousin who inherits the property.”

“What of that? You came here with the idea of masquerading.”

“So I did. But I didn’t intend to go too far.”

“And you have?”

“Yes!”–another groan. “We went to the Grange this morning, and when I
found myself alone in the garden with her I proposed to her.”

“So she said to Aunt Emma.”

“But, Jim, you told me that she had said nothing?”

“I did. It was a fib, I admit. But I wanted to hear your version of
the proposal, Owain,” said Vane shamelessly. “You didn’t intend to go
too far, nor did your cousin. But as you were swept off your feet by
passion, so was she, as she admitted to Aunt Emma, with tears. Miss
Evans intended to keep you at arm’s length until she knew more about
you. But this passion took you both off your feet, so there’s no doubt
of its being genuine on both sides.”

“On my side, certainly. But on hers—-?”

“The same. I hope you don’t mind Aunt Emma telling me of what took
place; she has your interest very much at heart.”

“I am glad that Mrs. Perage broke the ice,” said Hench dolefully.
“It makes it easier for me to talk. You see, Gwen loves me as a
stranger—-”

“Can a girl love a stranger?”

“I mean she thinks that I am only Owain Hench. When she learns that I
am Owain Evans she will throw me over.”

“Why should she, seeing that she loves you?”

“Love may turn to hate, and her dislike for my father’s son has been
carefully fostered by her father.”

“Well,” said Vane with an air of finality, “it seems to me that she
should be jolly glad to get back her old home by marriage with a
decent chap such as her cousin is.”

“She doesn’t believe that I am a decent chap,” cried Hench irritably.

“Then you must prove that you are by explaining matters,” insisted Jim
coolly. “Bless you, Miss Evans will look upon your masquerading as a
romance.”

“I’ve got my doubts about that. She may resent being deceived.”

Vane remained silent for a few moments and lighted a fresh cigarette.
“As a bachelor I don’t pretend to understand women,” he said at
length, “and it is just on the cards that she may cut up rough. Still,
if she loves you really and truly, as Aunt Emma assured me she does,
she will forgive your innocent deception. After all, by concealing the
truth you only gave yourself a fair chance of being judged on your
merits.”

Hench nodded wearily. “That of course was my idea of masquerading, and
it was a right idea, seeing how strongly her father has prejudiced her
against me. I am a kind of monster in her eyes in my capacity of
heir”–Hench turned restlessly–“I must tell her, I suppose.”

“You must, and as soon as possible,” advised his mentor firmly. “If
you don’t, the information may come from a less pleasant quarter.”

“Now, what do you mean by that?” asked Hench, startled.

“Madame Alpenny—-?”

“You don’t know her.”

“Oh yes, I do. I am not aware if Aunt Emma told you, but I went down
to Bethnal Green for a day or so.”

“She told me last night, when I dined at her house. I was wondering
why you went there?”

“Where are your wits?” asked Vane in a surprised tone. “Of course, I
went in your interest to that boarding-house and stopped for a couple
of nights.”

“In my interest?” Hench raised himself on his elbow and stared at Vane
with an uneasy look in his eyes.

“Of course. You don’t suppose that any business of my own took me down
there, do you? So far as regards this murder of your uncle, you are
not out of the wood yet, so I wanted to learn what I could to help
you.”

“You’re a real good fellow, Jim,” said Owain gratefully.

“Pfui! In the absence of briefs which don’t come my way, it gives me
something to do. Besides, if there is a row over the business you can
engage me as your counsel, and then I’ll make a big name straight
away.”

“Oh, hang it”–Hench moved uneasily–“don’t speak of that even in
jest.”

“I’m not in jest, but in dead earnest,” insisted Vane seriously. “I
tell you Madame Alpenny is on the warpath.”

“What?”

“There! there! Don’t get excited, you silly ass. Let me begin at the
beginning and end at the end.” Vane blew a ring or so of smoke and
went on talking. “I stayed at The Home of the Muses to see if Spruce
knew anything about that advertisement, as I dreaded him rather than
the old woman. Of course, he knew me as a pal of yours at the old
school, and was very curious to know where you had got to.”

“You didn’t tell him, I hope?”

Vane shook his head. “Is thy servant an ass that he should do so? Of
course I lay low like Brer Rabbit, and let Spruce babble on. He
doesn’t know anything about your real name, or the advertisement, or
your accession to fortune, or anything else. He’d have let the
information slip had he known. So far as Spruce is concerned you can
set your mind at rest. I’m glad such is the case, Owain, for he’s a
dangerous monkey.”

“Humph!” said Hench meditatively. “If he is ignorant why does he wish
to know where I am?”

“Because, having made London too hot for him over that card affair,
with which I charged him, by the way, he wants to seek fresh fields
and pastures new. He had an idea–I think you told him–that you were
going away into the lands at the back-of-beyond, so thought he’d like
to come with you.”

“I wouldn’t have him as a gift as a companion,” said Hench with
disgust.

“So I told him, and he wasn’t exactly pleased. At all events, since I
ostensibly didn’t know where you were he shut up, and gave me the cold
shoulder on account of my nasty manner towards him with regard to the
cheating. I do think,” finished Vane calmly, “that he’s the most
abject Gadarene swine I have ever met.”

Owain drew a long breath of relief when Vane finished, for he also
mistrusted the meddlesome little man. Had Spruce understood the
situation it was very certain that he would have attempted to make an
income out of the same by blackmail, particularly now that Hench had
money in large quantities. But as he was quite ignorant of everything
there was nothing to be feared. “Then it’s not from that quarter the
information about my real name is to come to Gwen?”

“No! Set your mind at rest so far. Madame Alpenny is the lady likely
to queer your pitch.”

“But she doesn’t know where I am.”

“Oh yes, she does. Mrs. Bell’s cottage in Cookley, Essex, was the
address she gave me as one likely to find you.”

Hench swore under his breath. “How did she find out?”

“Hurry no man’s cattle, my son,” said Vane sagely. “You must be
introduced to the subject gradually, so that you may admire my
diplomatic skill. I came to Mrs. Tesk’s establishment to ask for you,
as that–according to my story–was the address you gave me. Mrs. Tesk
didn’t know where you had gone to, so I paid civil attentions to
Madame Alpenny and confessed that I was your very good friend. Then
she told me–when we became better acquainted, mind you–that you were
her very good friend, and would shortly be her very good son-in-law.”

“Nothing of the sort,” cried Hench violently. “I proposed to Zara, and
she refused me as she loves Bracken.”

“Zara said nothing about that proposal or her Bracken engagement to
Madame Alpenny, as she’s a deuced sight too much afraid of the old
hag. Madame Alpenny told me that she had given you permission to marry
Zara whenever you got the cash. She mentioned that, as you were the
nephew of Squire Evans who had been murdered, you were now rich.”

“How did she know that?” asked Hench, remembering the visit paid by
the Hungarian lady to his deceased uncle.

“Oh, she told me that your father, some twenty years ago, wished to
marry her, and gave a sketch of his family history.”

“I know. It was the word ‘Rhaiadr’ he mentioned which revived her
recollection and led to the advertisement being inserted.”

“The deuce!” said Vane curiously. “She told me nothing of that.”

“No, she wouldn’t,” growled Hench impatiently. “Go on. I can speak
later.”

“Well, then,” proceeded the barrister, “Madame Alpenny knew that you
inherited the estate; also your real name and all the rest of it.”

“My father told her.”

“Exactly, and she frankly confessed that she had refused him because
the estate was going to you and not to your father. She never bothered
any more about the matter until she met you at The Home of the Muses.
Then the name ‘Rhaiadr’ revived her memory, and she wished you to
marry Zara when you became rich. After seeing the death of your uncle
in the newspapers she was certain that you had entered into your
kingdom, and is coming down to see if you will keep your promise and
marry Zara.”

“Did she say that she could make it hot for me if I didn’t?”

“No. She’s a wary old bird. She was all smiles and amiability,” said
Vane significantly. “There was no word of the murder or of the
advertisement, or anything which led me to understand that she had a
card up her sleeve. All she knows–according to her own showing–is
that you are Squire Evans’ heir and are engaged to her daughter.”

“It’s a lie. I’m not. How did she learn where I was?”

“Oh, she confessed that as she had no reason–so she said–to conceal
it. A page called Bottles told her.”

Hench slipped off the sofa and swore again. “I guessed as much. I saw
Bottles’ brother, who is a page at your aunt’s. He recognized me, as
his brother had written telling him all about me. I had half a mind to
tell him to hold his tongue as to my whereabouts but didn’t like to.”

“It would have been too late,” said Vane quickly. “The page must
have written whenever he heard your name as that of a gentleman
staying in the village. At all events, Madame Alpenny knew all about
you being here the day before yesterday. Peter–I know the brat at my
aunt’s–wrote to Simon, surnamed Bottles, and Bottles gave you away to
Madame Alpenny.”

“Hang him! I did think that I could trust Bottles.”

“You can’t trust any one in this wicked world,” commented the
barrister philosophically. “Madame Alpenny knew that the boy was a
hero-worshipper and adored you, so she made inquiries. I daresay a few
shillings made him talk.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Hench doubtfully. “Peter hinted that
everything was right, so I believe Bottles has some card up his sleeve
which has to do with all this mystery.”

“But I don’t see—-”

“No more do I,” said Hench, cutting Vane short. “We’re in the dark,
and until some light is thrown on the subject we will remain in the
dark. As to Madame Alpenny, she is at the bottom of the business, I am
sure.” And then Owain went on to tell his friend about the visit paid
by the woman to the Squire. “She has engineered the whole plot, I’m
certain.”

“Queer,” admitted Vane, staring absently out into the shadowy garden.
“Do you think she murdered the Squire?”

“How do I know. She might have done so in order to place me in
possession of the money at once. There is certainly a motive.
Perhaps,”–Hench’s face grew less gloomy,–“perhaps that is why she
hasn’t moved in the matter so far.”

“How did you expect her to move?”

“Well, she must have guessed that I would keep the appointment, and
when she saw that my uncle was murdered she naturally would accuse me.
Instead of doing this she has held her tongue.”

“Only for a time, old son. Believe me, she may turn up here any day.
Naturally she wouldn’t queer her pitch by telling the police of what
she knows. My impression is that she will try and make you marry Zara
by threatening to give you away unless you come up to the scratch.”

“I shan’t come up to the scratch, then,” muttered Hench sullenly.

“In that case Madame Alpenny will have the game in her own hands.”

“She won’t, Jim, if I can prove her guilty.”

“That won’t be an easy job,” said Vane doubtfully. “The woman is as
cunning as a fox, and as dangerous as a tigress. Besides, we can’t be
sure that she _did_ get rid of your uncle. Anyhow,”–the barrister
rose to stretch himself,–“I advise you to make friends with Mammon by
telling Gwen who you are, and getting over the trouble before Madame
Alpenny turns up to put her fingers in the pie. She intends to do
that, you know.”

“She’ll burn her fingers, then.”

“I said a pie, not a fire,” retorted Jim dryly. “She intends to eat
your pudding, not to burn herself.”

“Well, what is best to be done under the circumstances?” asked Hench
crossly.

“Tell Gwen who you are, and explain how you saw the body of her father
in Parley Wood,” rejoined the barrister promptly.

“No! No! No! She would believe me to be guilty. You know how the
supposed tramp who went to the Bull Inn is suspected. If I confessed
that I was the man—-”

“I see, I see,” interrupted Vane, wrinkling his lean face. “It’s a bit
difficult, isn’t it, old man? But if Miss Evans loves you she’ll never
believe a word against you. That’s a woman all over.”

“I tell you she is prejudiced against her cousin Owain,” said Hench
sullenly. “And when she learns that I am that cousin she will merge
her love in hate.”

Vane shook his head. “I doubt it. But if she does by any ill chance,
you have a friend in my aunt. She likes you no end, and will stand by
you. As you may guess, she has a strong influence over Miss Evans.”

“Mrs. Perage is a very clever and sensible woman,” mused Owain
thoughtfully. “And I really think it would be wise for me to tell her
everything.”

“I agree!” cried Vane emphatically. “Bachelor as I am, I always
believe in asking a woman’s advice. The sex has more intuition than
ours has. Let her be the person to deal with Madame Alpenny–one woman
against another. Then,” added the barrister cynically, “you’ll see the
fur fly.”

“I won’t tax Mrs. Perage’s friendship so far, Jim. My ankle will be
all right to-morrow, so if you will ask Gwen to meet me near the old
Saxon Cross in the churchyard I can reveal who I am. When I settle
matters with her I shall see Mrs. Perage and relate the whole story.”

“Relate it to Miss Evans also,” advised Vane strongly.

“No. I shall only tell her who I am, and give her time to get over
that before I tell more. It’s dangerous to give her too big a dose at
once. Also, when I tell your aunt about my adventure I wish to be
guided by her advice. She may suggest my keeping the same a secret
from Gwen until the truth becomes known.”

“Well, do as you think best, Owain. But how is the truth to become
known?”

“I shall wait until I see Madame Alpenny before forming an opinion.”

Vane wheeled round. “Do you mean to accuse her of the murder?”

“Not unless she accuses me. It’s a case of pull devil, pull baker. Now
you’d better out along to your aunt’s and make my excuses for not
turning up. Meanwhile I shall think over things, and a pleasant night
I shall have.”

“The way of the transgressor is hard,” laughed Vane cheerfully.

“Transgressor be hanged! I’m more sinned against than sinning.”

Vane laid a friendly hand on his friend’s shoulder. “All right, old
man, don’t get your hair riz. I’ll tell Aunt Emma that your ankle kept
you from paying your respects to her, and will request Miss Evans to
meet you to-morrow near the Cross. At what time, by the way?”

“Three o’clock in the afternoon. And don’t come along in the morning,
Jim. I wish to think out matters alone. I shall see you in the
afternoon.”

Vane put on his hat and prepared a cigarette. “Don’t overdo it,” he
advised at the door. “And remember that two heads are better than
one.”

“Quite so. That is why I intend to see Gwen. All the same, I’m
afraid.”

“Nonsense! Use that very eloquent tongue of yours and show her that
the devil is not so black as he is painted. Miss Evans, being very
much a woman, may cut up rough at the outset, but when—-”

“When what?”

“When she knows that you are in danger of arrest she will stand by you
through thick and thin.”

“I have my doubts,” said Hench dolefully.

“I haven’t. Women are contrary animals. As her prosperous cousin she
may hate you. As an innocent man, in danger of being hanged, she will
love you.”

“May you be a true prophet,” said Hench fervently, and Vane went away
laughing.

Vane faithfully delivered both messages, and Gwen was as pleased with
the churchyard appointment as Mrs. Perage was annoyed by Hench’s
folly. That he should walk for miles on a weak ankle proved what a
fool he was, and she said as much to her nephew next morning at
breakfast.

“You men are all babies, Jim, silly, obstinate and weak.”

“Not me,” retorted the barrister. “I haven’t been fooling with my
ankle.”

“You know quite well what I mean,” fumed Mrs. Perage, who was in her
work-a-day attire, and who looked particularly fierce. “It’s not only
his ankle, it’s his masquerading.” She rubbed her nose irritably. “I
tell you there will be the deuce to pay. Gwen is Welsh.”

“Well, what does her nationality matter?”

“It matters everything. The Welsh are a particularly fiery nation,
and have the pride of Old Nick. As a poor man Gwen loves her
cousin–he is the fairy prince who has come into her life. But when
she learns the truth—-”

“She’ll forgive him if she loves him.”

Mrs. Perage shook her head and scowled. “You don’t know woman, Jim.
Her very love may make her resent his not having treated her quite
honestly.”

“Aren’t you taking the matter too seriously, Aunt Emma?” expostulated
Vane with a shrug. “After all, Miss Evans must see that Owain could
only give himself a fair chance by masquerading as he has done. If he
had turned up _in propria persona_, she would have disliked him on the
spot.”

“Hum!” boomed Mrs. Perage doubtfully. “Perhaps. But not if he had
saved her life. That act would have excused everything had it been
done as Owain Evans.”

“What do you mean by excusing everything?”

“I mean as regards the reputation of Owain Evans. Of course Madoc was
always a liar, as I know, and Gwen didn’t get on over-well with him.
As a _deus ex machina_, Gwen would have disbelieved her father’s
stories of her cousin’s wickedness.”

“But the poor chap isn’t wicked at all. He’s the whitest man I know.”

“Madoc’s lies would have smirched the whiteness of an angel,” retorted
the old lady sharply. “But Gwen would have either forgiven or would
have disbelieved had Hench come as her cousin. As it is she may throw
him over if he tells her who he really is.”

“Oh, he intends to tell her right enough, and this very day, somewhere
about three o’clock,” said Vane coolly. “She may cut up rough for the
minute, but when Owain gets into trouble she’ll find out that she
loves him all right.”

“Trouble!” Mrs. Perage looked up suddenly. “What trouble?”

“I’m not at liberty to say, Aunt Emma. Owain intends to tell you
himself. But there’s a big trouble coming along.”

“Hum! Can’t it be averted?”

“So far as I can see, it can’t.”

“Well, Jim,”–the old dame rose from the breakfast table and brushed
the crumbs from her apron,–“I’ll wait to hear the young man’s
explanation. But I am quite sure that he is honest and kind and a
well-bred gentleman. Nothing will ever make me change my opinion of
him.”

“Wait till you hear what the trouble is.”

“Do you know all about it?” demanded Mrs. Perage imperatively.

“Yes, I do.”

“And you still can call Hench your friend?”

“I can. He’s a rattling good chap.”

“Then why the dickens should I change my opinion when I learn the
truth?” said Mrs. Perage vigorously. “It can’t be anything
dishonourable or you would not champion Hench. Do you think you are
talking to a fool, Jim Vane?”

“Oh Lord, Aunt Emma, don’t get on to me. My nerves are weak.”

“Your head is,” retorted Aunt Emma smartly. “I wish you hadn’t hinted
at this trouble, Jim. I’m horribly inquisitive, and will be on
tenterhooks until I know what it’s all about.”

“I don’t expect you’ll have to wait long,” said Vane gloomily. “There
will be the devil to pay if—-”

Mrs. Perage closed her ears and hurried to the door. “Not another
word. You are only making me more and more curious. But I tell you
what, Jim, I am going to stand Hench’s friend in any case.”

“You’re a brick, Aunt Emma.”

“I’m an old fool,” snapped Mrs. Perage, who was more upset by the
implied mystery than she chose to admit. “My wisest plan would be to
wash my hands of the whole business, known and unknown. But instead of
doing so I am just going to strengthen Gwen’s love for Owain, so that
it may not fail her when he makes his revelation.”

Mrs. Perage held to this determination, and twice or thrice during the
morning she exchanged words with Miss Evans on the subject of Hench.
The girl for the time being had lost sight of her mission of clearing
her name by discovering the name of the assassin, and was wholly taken
up with love dreams. She was passionately devoted to the young man, as
his attitude tended to increase her belief in the nobility of his
nature. He had saved her life as it was, and now, in the face of the
rumours which credited her with the death of her father, he was
willing to marry her. No man but the noblest who ever breathed would
act in so gloriously honourable a fashion. She said this and much more
to Mrs. Perage in the seclusion of her bedroom, when she was putting
on her prettiest frock and hat to keep the appointment. And all the
time Mrs. Perage was rubbing her beaky nose irritably.

“Don’t build the pedestal too high, Gwen,” she advised dryly. “Your
idol may have feet of clay and come toppling over.”

“No,” said the girl firmly. “Nothing will ever make me believe that
Mr. Hench is not the best of men. What is his Christian name, Mrs.
Perage? It is strange that he did not tell me yesterday.”

Mrs. Perage was much too wary to give the name, lest it should lead to
uncomfortable questions and forestall Owain’s explanations. “How the
deuce should I know the man’s name?” she asked crossly and evasively.
“I never met him until you introduced him to me as your hero.”

“And he is a hero, isn’t he?”

“Hum! I suppose so! The rescue was rather flamboyant–a kind of
playing to the gallery.”

“How unjust,” cried Gwen, flaming up, which was exactly what Mrs.
Perage wanted her to do. “As if he could help the way in which my
rescue took place. I am quite sure that he is the most modest of men.”

“Pooh! No man is modest; they are all as conceited as pigs.”

“I never knew that pigs were considered vain, Mrs. Perage,” said Gwen
coldly. “And I don’t see why you should compare Mr. Hench to one.”

“I spoke generally. Don’t be silly.”

“Ah, you call me silly because I’m in love.”

“Are you really and truly in love?” asked the old lady doubtfully.
“Mind you, I don’t mean that easy romantic passion which seems
everything and means nothing. But real love, true love, staunch love,
the sort which will hold to its object in the face of all detraction.”

“I wouldn’t believe a word against Mr. Hench, if that is what you
mean. But I don’t know why you should use the word detraction.”

“I don’t know myself,” said Mrs. Perage grimly. “Unless it is that I
find most men are broken cisterns. There, there, child, go away and
meet your Prince. I don’t wish to be your Jeremiah and prophesy woe.”

“I wouldn’t believe you if you did,” said the girl very decidedly.
“All my woe was undergone with the death of my father and the loss of
my old home. I am sure that there is nothing but sunshine ahead.”

Mrs. Perage sniffed and thought anxiously about Vane’s hints. But it
was not her business to give chapter and verse for her forebodings.
And, at all events, she had somewhat strengthened Gwen’s love for the
young man by depreciating him in a hinting kind of way. When the girl,
flushed with love, and looking as pretty as a picture, set forth to
keep the appointment, Mrs. Perage stood at the window and breathed a
prayer that all would be well. It was a bright warm day, but clouds
were drifting across the sky. Even as the old dame prayed a cloud
concealed the brightness of the sun and Mrs. Perage shuddered. It was
an omen of ill, she thought; but when a few moments later the cloud
passed and the glow of the sunshine reasserted itself, she cheered up.
It seemed to her that trouble was coming, but would pass without being
of any great duration. She fervently hoped so, and went about her
daily business calling herself hard names for being so superstitious.

Meantime, Gwen, with a smiling face and a light heart, was walking
swiftly towards the place of meeting. Every moment spent away from
Hench, now that he had declared himself, seemed to be wasted, and she
promised herself three or four golden hours with her lover. They would
talk in the churchyard for a time, and then would take a long walk, in
any direction, for whatever path they chose would lead to the Elysian
Fields. Then he would tell her how much he loved her, and she would
respond coyly to his caresses, until earth and sea and sky would be
transfigured, and they would be blessed above all lovers who ever were
or who ever would be. Afterwards would come marriage, and they would
enter into the kingdom of heaven to remain there for ever and ever.
Gwen rather blushed at the extravagance of her thoughts when she
entered the churchyard, and blushed still more when she came suddenly
upon the ancient Saxon Cross, against which the man of men was
leaning. She thought for a single nervous moment that he looked rather
pinched and worried, but had no cause to complain of the warmth of his
greeting. Once she was in his arms with only the jackdaws for
spectators, it seemed as though he would never let her go. All the
poetry of Romeo and Juliet was in his embrace. And those lovers met in
a vault at the last which was even more weird than meeting in a
churchyard.

“Though I’m not sure if I like it,” murmured Gwen following the course
of her thoughts, as they sat down on a flat tombstone.

“Like what?” inquired Hench fatuously; “me?”

“I wasn’t thinking of you at the moment.”

“Oh, Gwen!” This was breathed with an air of reproach.

“I deserve that, I deserve that,” she cried penitently. “But really I
was thinking that a churchyard is rather a dismal place to meet in.”

“Any place is Paradise where you are,” Hench assured her. “But we can
go away for a walk in a few minutes.”

“Into Parley Wood?”

Hench shivered. “No. I don’t like Parley Wood–on your account,” he
added in a hasty manner. “For there—-”

“Yes, I know.” Gwen stopped him and shivered also. “I didn’t think of
what I was saying. But we can’t stay here amongst the tombs.”

“Why not? Have you any sad recollections about these tombs? Your
father is not buried here, I know.”

“He is buried at Rhaiadr, in Wales, where his ancestors lie,” said the
girl in an altered tone. “But I wish you would not speak of my father.
He was so cruel to me that I wish to forget all about him for the time
being. We will have to talk of him later, when it is necessary to
learn who killed him. Meantime, let us have our golden hour. But
no”–she made a gesture of despair–“we have lost that as it is.”

“Why so?”

“Because you have called up the spectre of my father,” said Gwen
sadly. “You have reminded me that I am looked at askance by the
villagers.”

“Dear, you are quite wrong about that. Mrs. Bell speaks of you in the
highest terms of respect. I think you are making a mistake.”

“No, I am not,” said Gwen decisively. “I don’t say that any one has
openly declared that I have anything to do with the–the crime”–her
breath came and went quickly–“but people look and people talk
secretly.”

“What does it matter so long as they don’t talk openly?” said Hench,
soothing her gently.

“I wish they would,” she cried vehemently. “For then I could meet the
rumours better. As it is I am fighting in the dark–and all alone,
too.”

“No! No!” Hench gathered her into his strong arms. “You have me to
fight for you now. Be calm, dearest; everything will be put right
now.”

“Eh, my faith, but that is most true,” said a voice immediately behind
them, and the lovers jumped up in dismay to find that they were
observed.

The speaker had suddenly emerged from behind a tall tombstone near at
hand, and stood staring hard at them–a dumpy little woman with a
swarthy face and big black eyes now filled with anger. It did not
require the orange-spotted dress, the shabby bead-trimmed mantle and
the picture hat to inform either of the young people who the spy was.
Hench recognized Madame Alpenny at once, and Gwen beheld the unknown
visitor who had called at the Grange. To a woman the dress was
sufficient to fix the identity.

“You are the woman who came to see my father,” said Gwen, turning
white, for the sight of this visitor revived her recollections of the
painful days before Squire Evans was murdered.

“Yes, I am the woman. Very clever of you, Mademoiselle, to remember
me.”

“I remember your dress. Who are you?”

Madame Alpenny nodded suavely towards the silent Hench. “Ask him.”

Gwen turned round and looked hard at her lover’s colourless face. “Who
is this woman?” she asked almost inaudibly. “Do you know her?”

“None better,” snapped the Hungarian lady. “Come, Mr. Hench, say who I
am, and then I shall tell Mademoiselle who you are.”

“Tell him who he is; tell me who he is,” stuttered Gwen incoherently.
“What do you mean?”

“Ask him,” said Madame Alpenny once more. “Mr. Hench—-”

“Ah”–the Hungarian lady broke into a hard laugh–“then he has not
told you his Christian name.”

“I will tell her now,” said Hench, taking Gwen’s cold hand, and
speaking with an effort. “This lady is Madame Alpenny, who lived in
the same boarding-house as I did in Bethnal Green.”

“But what had she to do with my father, and what has she to do with
you?”

“I think your Christian name will explain all in one word,” remarked
Madame Alpenny, looking up at the blue sky.

“I intended to tell you myself, Gwen, this very morning,” cried Hench,
striving to preserve his calmness, which was sorely shaken.

“Tell me what?” said Gwen, who was very white and unstrung.

“That my Christian name is–Owain.”

“Owain—-?”

“Owain Evans,” said Madame Alpenny sharply. “Let there be an end to
his deceit, Mademoiselle. He is your cousin, the same who has robbed
you of your heritage, the same who has—-”

“Hold your tongue!” interrupted Hench fiercely. “It is for Miss Evans
to speak and not you.”

“_Miss_ Evans,” sneered the woman, with sparkling eyes. “Why so, when
you called her by her Christian name lately, as she can now call you
by yours? Oh, it is very well, very well indeed, this bal masque of
lies and wickedness.”

By this time, Gwen, who had been staring silently at Hench, spoke in a
low tone, but in so absolutely unemotional a manner that he could not
tell what her feelings were. “Are you really my cousin?”

“Yes! I knew that you were prejudiced against me owing to the false
stories told to you by your father, therefore I wished to make your
acquaintance under the name my father took when he was sent away from
home. Until a few weeks ago I believed it was my true name. Don’t
blame me over-much, Gwen,” he implored. “After all, I wouldn’t have
had a fair chance had I come as your cousin.”

“Perhaps not,” she said softly, and a touch of colour came into her
face. “And after all, you saved my life.”

“No! No! Let us put all obligation out of the question!” cried Hench
resolutely. “I wish to be judged on my merits.”

“That will be difficult, seeing what a hero you are,” said Madame
Alpenny in a hatefully smooth voice.

“Hold your tongue!” cried Gwen, turning on her just as Hench had done.
“You came down here to make mischief this time, as you came before to
make mischief. How you succeeded before you best know yourself,
although I truly believe that your last visit had something to do with
my father’s death.”

“It is a lie!” said Madame Alpenny fiercely, and stepped forward.

Gwen did the same, and the two were face to face, very close indeed to
one another. “I believe that it is the truth. But of that we can talk
later. As to making mischief this time, you shan’t succeed. I quite
understand why my cousin wished to give himself a chance of being
judged fairly. And, after all, he came under the name his father used
for many years.”

“Oh, Gwen”–Hench caught her hand–“do you forgive me?”

“You silly fellow, there is nothing to forgive,” she replied gently.
“You were right, as I was greatly prejudiced against you by my father.
But now—-”

“Now?” he asked, looking at her anxiously.

“I believe you to be honourable and honest, and—-”

“Ah”–Madame Alpenny broke in with a snarl, since things were not
going as she desired–“honourable, honest. Oh, it is very fine; most
excellent, I call it. Do not be sure, Mademoiselle, that he is what
you call him.”

“I _am_ sure”–Gwen stamped–“and to prove the truth of my belief, I
am ready to marry him, as my cousin, Owain Evans. There!”

“Oh, Gwen! Oh, Gwen!” said Hench, scarcely believing his ears.

“Ah, it is so,” taunted the marplot. “Do you marry him for the
heritage you have lost by his coming?”

“I marry him because I love him, as he loves me,” said Gwen quietly,
and placing her hand in that of her lover, she faced Madame Alpenny
steadily.

“What a comparison”–the woman threw up her hands–“when he loves you
not in the least little bit.”

“I love her with all my heart and soul!” cried the young man
furiously.

“Ah, and so did you speak to my daughter, Zara.”

Gwen pulled her hand away from that of Owain, and looked from him to
the scoffing woman. “My daughter, Zara,” she repeated. “And who is
she?”

“Do I not speak English?” questioned Madame Alpenny mockingly. “Ah,
then I do pray your forgiveness, as I am what you call–yes–an
alien.”

“It is nonsense you are talking,” said Hench angrily. “Your
daughter—-”

Then she turned on him furiously, letting her temper flame out for the
first time during the interview. “Yes, my daughter. You dare to stand
there and declare that you do not love her. She is heart-broken, poor
girl, because you have deserted her. I came here bearing a message,
and when I visited where you are staying, your landlady told me you
had gone to this place. I followed quietly and hid myself there”–she
flung out an arm towards the tall tombstone–“to hear what?–you
making love with another girl. But it shall not be so, I tell you.
Zara, my daughter, you shall marry, and not this–this—-”

“Stop!” cried Hench, finally managing to stay this torrent of words.
“If you begin to call names you will be sorry for it. I do not love
your daughter–I never loved your daughter. It is true that I admired
her, but she told me how she desired to marry Bracken.”

“You false one!” raged Madame Alpenny. “Zara told me you did ask her
hand in marriage.”

“That is true,” acknowledged Hench boldly. “But I—-” he paused, for
a low cry of pain broke on his ear. He turned impetuously to reassure
Gwen of his devotion, only to see her gliding up the path towards the
gate with surprising swiftness. Evidently his foolish admission had
given her to understand that Madame Alpenny’s accusation was true, and
without waiting to hear any explanation, she had slipped away in
despair. “Gwen! Gwen!” cried the young man in hoarse tones, and
hastening after the girl. “Wait; wait; it is not what you think, my
dear; it is—-” his voice broke, as Gwen, without turning her head,
reached the gate and ran along the road.

“Ah, but no. You shall not go after,” hissed a bitter voice at his
elbow, and Madame Alpenny grasped his arm firmly. “Here you stay to
speak with me.”

“You old fiend!” cried Hench, turning on her furiously, for he saw
that it was useless to follow Gwen and explain at the present moment.

“As you please,” retorted the Hungarian lady, releasing him. “Names do
not do harm, my friend. I can afford to laugh, and I do.”

While she was laughing, Hench suddenly became quite cool. He saw that
he was in both a dangerous and uncomfortable position, as the woman
had chosen her time excellently to complicate matters. Gwen had
pardoned his masquerade, but she was far too feminine, as he believed,
to pardon his proposing to another woman. In a moment Hench determined
to settle Madame Alpenny and then go at once to enlist Mrs. Perage on
his side. “Well,” he said calmly to the marplot, “you have found me
and you have done your worst. What now?”

“Don’t say that much, Monsieur,” said Madame Alpenny shrilly. “Done my
worst, do you declare? Ah, but no. Not yet have I said what I came to
say.”

“I know what you have come to say,” retorted Hench, taking the bull by
the horns, which was the best thing to do. “You mean to accuse me of
murdering my uncle.”

Madame Alpenny looked rather taken aback by this cool defiance, but
accepted the situation with a vicious pluck. “And is it not so?”

“It isn’t worth my while to reply to so ridiculous a question,” said
Hench, shrugging his square shoulders. “You accuse me. On what
grounds, pray?”

“Plenty of grounds, Monsieur; plenty of grounds. You obeyed that
advertisement and met your uncle to murder him and get the property.”

“When I didn’t know that he was my uncle, or that I would inherit any
property in the event of his death?”

“You did know that he was your uncle,” said the woman furiously.
“Those papers at your lawyers’—-”

“I did not see them until nine days later,” interrupted the young man.

“_You_ say so,” she sneered, “How can you prove that?”

“My lawyers can prove it.”

“Ah, what folly!” Madame Alpenny brushed away this defence with a
gesture. “It was Mr. Evans who told you in that wood how he was your
uncle—-”

“He did not. I never met him while he was alive.”

“_You_ say so—-” began Madame, again, only to be cut short.

“Hold your tongue and listen,” said Hench in a peremptory tone. “You
are very clever and cunning, Madame, and have trapped me by means of
that advertisement in the hopes that you can force me to marry your
daughter. I absolutely decline to do so.”

“Then I tell the policemen that you are a murderer,” she retorted
quickly. Hench laughed. “Oh no, you won’t. You would have done that
long ago, but that you wished to blackmail me. But I refuse to be
blackmailed also. And you, Madame, will have to explain why you came
down here to request my uncle to insert that advertisement, instead of
writing to me openly. Stop”–Hench waved his hand, as she was about to
speak–“I have no time to enter into details now. On another occasion
we can speak.”

Madame Alpenny looked at him sullenly, as she was unprepared for this
defiance and saw the need of gaining time. “I will wait for one week
and then come to you again,” she said savagely. “But you marry Zara,
or you hang!”

“I shall do neither,” said Hench calmly, and turned on his heel with
contempt.

“One week,” called out the woman furiously; “in one week I come
again!”

Now that the long-expected blow had fallen, Hench was surprised to
find how lightly he had been struck. Madame Alpenny having come at an
inopportune moment for him, had made mischief, and for the time being
it looked as though she was triumphing. But Owain felt certain that
she was afraid; he had seen fear in her eyes when he met her so
defiantly. If she had been quite sure of her position, she would not
have given him a week to consider matters. It was not difficult to
understand why she had done so. For the murder of Evans the woman
cared very little, save as a means to force the man she accused to do
what she wanted. Her aim was to secure a wealthy son-in-law, and she
could only do that by threatening to tell the police about his fatal
visit to Cookley. But if he refused to do her bidding and she did tell
the police, then, so far as she was concerned, everything was at an
end. She would certainly get him into trouble, but she would not have
him as her daughter’s husband, nor would she get any money. Unwilling
to push things too far, Madame Alpenny had therefore compromised by
giving Hench seven days of grace.

Of course, at the end of that time, the young man knew that his answer
to her would be the same, and then she might revenge herself by
acquainting the authorities with her plausible story. But it was
questionable if she would do so even then, as the fear in her eyes
hinted that she knew more about the crime than she dared to admit. If
anything was made public, Hench had an idea that Madame Alpenny might
be placed in the dock instead of himself. He could not be sure of
this, as even though she had called on Evans to set the advertisement
trap, there was nothing to show that she had come to Cookley on the
evening of the murder. In that case it would be difficult for her to
prove that he had really kept the appointment in Parley Wood. But, as
Hench recognized, the fact of the advertisement being addressed to
him, together with the undoubted fact that he benefited to the extent
of ten thousand a year by the death of his uncle, would undoubtedly
throw suspicion on him. The girl at the Bull Inn might remember his
voice as that of the tramp; and then the fact of his shaving off his
beard would suggest that he had some reason to escape the accusation.
On the whole, it was tolerably certain that if Madame Alpenny _did_ go
to the police, there would be trouble out of which it would not be
easy to emerge scathless. But, owing to his belief that Madame Alpenny
knew more about the matter than she would admit, Hench felt sure she
would not seek the assistance of the authorities. And in any case he
was absolutely safe for one whole week. Much could be done in that
time.

It was best, meanwhile, to explain things to Gwen, so that she might
be sure of his love. When she learned exactly how he had come to
propose to Zara, then she would understand that his desire to marry
the dancer had only been the longing of a lonely man for home and
companionship. With comprehension of this fact, as Hench devoutly
hoped, the love of Gwen would return, and she would stand by him in
the coming trouble. He needed all the friends he could gather round
him to face things, and particularly felt that having his cousin to
defend him would brace him up to defend himself. Without her love the
young man felt that it would not be worth while to fight. Ten thousand
a year and a clearance of his name from suspicion would not make up
for the loss of the girl, who was now all in all to him. Therefore the
first thing to do was to win back Gwen’s heart; after that the deluge
could come, so far as Hench was concerned.

He returned to his lodgings, and glancing through the window, saw
Madame Alpenny waddling along the street on her way to the station.
She cast one vengeful look on the cottage of Mrs. Bell, but did not
attempt to enter, which was another sign that she did not feel herself
strong enough to go into details. And, as a matter of fact, such was
the case. Madame Alpenny had hoped to dominate Hench immediately, and
his defiance had taken her entirely by surprise. Therefore, she had
wisely retreated in order to collect herself, and intended to descend
on him at the end of seven days with overwhelming proofs of his guilty
deed. Hench was relieved when he saw her pass by the cottage, as he
did not wish her to enter and make trouble. Also he was relieved
because he saw in her passing a confession of weakness. Therefore did
he feel much more cheerful and hopeful than he had done for many a
long day.

Mrs. Bell explained that a lady had called to see her lodger and that
she had sent her on to the churchyard, whither Hench had intimated he
was going. She hoped that she had not done wrong. Owain told her that
the visitor had only come down to see him on business; that the
business had been easily dispatched; that the lady had returned to
London, and that Mrs. Bell had acted quite judiciously.

The little pale woman accepted the explanation in all good faith, and
then went to open the door for the entrance of another lady. Hench,
busy with his afternoon tea, was not surprised when Mrs. Perage
entered, full of wrath. He had rather expected she would come, as it
occurred to him that Gwen’s unexpected return from the churchyard
would lead to questions and explanations. From the very first remark
of Mrs. Perage, it was certain that she knew all about the matter.

“Well,” said the fierce old lady, who looked something like Meg
Merrilees in her half-masculine, half-feminine garb, “this is a nice
state of affairs, young man. Gwen goes to meet you with her heart full
of love, and returns with that same heart broken into little pieces.
Your work.”

“Sit down, Mrs. Perage, and let us talk quietly,” said Hench
entreatingly.

“Talk quietly!” echoed Mrs. Perage, sitting down nevertheless. “Why,
I’m seething with rage, and want to break things–you amongst them.”

“Then you doubt me?”

Mrs. Perage looked at him with a softer eye, and remembered how she
had been prepared to stand by him whatever was said. She had declared
as much to Jim Vane, and could do nothing else but fulfil her
declaration. “Perhaps you have some excuse, young man?” she said
truculently.

“I have no excuse, but I have an explanation,” said Hench dryly.

“Then you _did_ propose to that other girl!” shrieked Mrs. Perage
furiously.

“Yes. I told you that I—-”

“You didn’t; you didn’t.” Mrs. Perage would not give him time to
finish his remark. “You told me that you admired another girl, but
that she loved some one else, so you went away. Pfui! Do you think
that my memory has gone with age?”

“What you say is quite true—-”

“That my memory has gone with age?” demanded the old lady acidly.

“No! No! No! But your recollection of what I said about my former—-”

“Love-affairs!” interpolated Mrs. Perage, who declined to be
suppressed.

“No! No! No!” cried Hench again and earnestly. “I never was in love
until I met Gwen. I told you so. But I did say that I admired another
girl.”

“You didn’t say that you had proposed to her,” said Mrs. Perage
grimly.

“No, I didn’t, because—-”

“Because you loved her.”

“I didn’t!” cried Owain, thoroughly exasperated by these constant
interruptions. “As I have already stated, I didn’t know the meaning of
the word love until I met with Gwen.”

“Then why did you propose to this Zara creature? One doesn’t propose
unless love has something to do with the matter.”

“Has your experience of life only taught you that much, Mrs. Perage? A
man proposes for the sake of money.”

“Was this Zara creature rich?”

“No. She was very poor.”

“Then you didn’t propose to her on that account. Come”–Mrs. Perage
spoke in her roughest manner–“don’t waste my time. _Why_ did you
propose?”

“Because I was a lonely man and wanted a home and a comrade. I had
been wandering all over the world by myself, and found life dismal in
the extreme. I didn’t love Zara Alpenny one little bit. But I admired
her as a thoroughly good woman—-”

“Oh”–Mrs. Perage rubbed her nose–“she was a good woman, was she?”

“A thoroughly good woman,” repeated Hench, again emphasizing his
remark. “And when I asked her to be my wife, she told me that I didn’t
love her, but only wanted a home, adding that she loved some one else.
I recognized the truth of her statement with regard to my own
feelings, and therefore I went away from Bethnal Green. I still
respect her, Mrs. Perage, and if I can forward her marriage with the
man of her choice in any way, I will do so. After all, Madame Alpenny
wants a rich son-in-law, and I am wealthy enough to smooth matters
over in that way for Ned Bracken.”

“Who is he?”

“The man Zara loves. And that you may know the worst, let me tell you
that she is a dancer at a Bethnal Green music-hall.”

“Hum!” said Mrs. Perage, smiling grimly. “And by mentioning her
profession and position you think that I will have a bad opinion of
her. Fudge! I have met with dancers much better as regards morals than
many a woman received at Court. Don’t be a fool and think you are
talking to an inexperienced girl.”

“Well, I did talk to an inexperienced girl,” said Hench rather
bitterly, “and she has turned on me.”

“Why not? You gave her no explanation.”

“How could I, when she ran away while I was speaking? I couldn’t
follow quickly enough, as my foot is yet weak.”

“Your ankle, you mean–be careful in your speech.” Mrs. Perage rubbed
her nose again and her eyes grew calmer. “I’ll have a cup of tea if
you will have the decency to give me one.”

Owain rang for a fresh cup and saucer. “I thought you wouldn’t
condescend to eat and drink with a pariah.”

“Fudge!” said Mrs. Perage again, and very sharply. “Who said you were
a pariah, you silly fellow? That’s merely hurt vanity on your part.”

“How can I help being hurt, when I am so misjudged?”

“Look here.” Mrs. Perage bent forward and shook his shoulder. “Are you
a man or a twopenny-halfpenny school-girl?”

“I’m an ass,” confessed Owain, ashamed of his petty outbreak. “But I
have an attack of nerves, I think, owing to my dreadful position.”

“Hum!” Mrs. Perage rubbed her nose, received a cup and saucer from
Mrs. Bell, who had just entered the room, and sent that fragile person
out again. “Jim hinted at trouble. It seems he was right.”

“Jim knows all about it.”

“Well, then, I don’t. Wait till I fill my cup and then you can tell
me.”

“Tell you what?”

“Drat the man, you know. It’s more than this trouble with Gwen you
have to tell me about.”

“I think that I had better tell you about the trouble with Gwen
first.”

“What’s the use of beginning at the wrong end? Relate the story from
start to finish and then I’ll understand more about this interview in
the churchyard with this ridiculous old woman.”

“Madame Alpenny.”

“Hum! The name fits her. Go on.”

“I have already told you most of my life—”

“And have left out the most interesting part, apparently. See here,
Hench, or rather, I should say, Owain.” Mrs. Perage drank some of her
tea and continued slowly. “I am an old woman with a romantic heart. I
love Gwen and I have taken a fancy to you. Both you and Gwen come of a
bad stock, as old Mynydd Evans was a miser, Owain Evans was a
profligate, and Madoc Evans was a scoundrel, fit for any deed of
wickedness. You two children are the best of the bunch, and I expect
get your decent morals from your mothers. I want to see you happy and
married. Now, don’t disappoint me.”

“I certainly won’t, if Gwen won’t,” said Owain promptly.

“Hum! Gwen is a more difficult person to manage. However, if you leave
it to me, I think in some way things will be put right.”

“Oh, I shall leave everything to you, with pleasure,” said Hench
eagerly. “And I thank you for the trouble you are taking. Your
advice—-”

“Cannot be given further until I am in possession of facts,”
interrupted Mrs. Perage, and finishing his sentence in a different
way. “I know that you are Owain’s son and inherit the property. I know
that you love Gwen, and that it is possible, in spite of existing
circumstances, that you will marry her. Also I am aware that Madoc was
murdered–by that tramp, I presume.”

“No!” said Hench sharply, and ready to make a clean breast. “I am the
tramp.”

“Ha!” exclaimed the old lady in a tone of surprise. “You are the
tramp? Well, I withdraw my accusation, as I am sure you are innocent
enough. But what I was coming to when you interrupted me was that I
wish to know more. Jim says you are in trouble.”

“In very great trouble. And if you will help me—”

“Bless the man, what I came here for was to help. But I can’t do that
on half-confidences. You must speak plainly. Now, no more talk.
Begin.” Hench did as he was ordered, and in a very short time Mrs.
Perage was in possession of all facts connected with the
advertisement; with the keeping of the appointment and the discovery
of the body; and with the schemes of Madame Alpenny. Her strong old
face did not betray much emotion, although she was inwardly astonished
at the revelations, but she kept her eyes on Owain until he ceased
speaking, and then rubbed her nose, as was her custom when perplexed
or annoyed. As she made no remark, Hench did so. “What do you think?”

“Hum!” said Mrs. Perage, starting from the brown study in which she
was involved. “You’ve brought your pigs to a pretty market, young man.
Well, well, we must see what is best to be done.”

“You don’t believe me to be guilty?”

“Would I be still sitting here if I did? Don’t be a fool. Not that I
blame the person who got Madoc out of the way very much. He was such a
disagreeable person, that I often thought I’d be hanged for killing
him myself.”

“Mrs. Perage!”

“It sounds dreadful, doesn’t it?” she said good-humouredly. “But then
you see I am a dreadful person in the eyes of many milk-and-water
people, because I have my own decided opinions and go my own way. I
suppose it’s wrong to say a word against the dead, although I don’t
see why we should talk of nothing but virtues they never possessed
while alive. Well, let the man rest; he did a lot of harm when he was
alive, and wherever he has gone to, he’s making mischief. You didn’t
murder him, anyhow?”

“I certainly did not,” answered Hench, smiling. “But the question is,
who did?”

“Ah”–Mrs. Perage kilted up her dress and folded her hands on her
knees–“a very difficult question to answer. But Madame Alpenny
didn’t, although you seem to have some idea that she is the guilty
person.”

“She knew my uncle and all about the disposal of the property through
the confidence made to her by my father twenty years ago.”

“That doesn’t prove that she murdered Madoc. She wanted you to marry
her daughter undoubtedly after she laid hold of the clue which led her
to learn that you were likely to inherit ten thousand a year. But why
should she put her neck in a noose?”

“She might have wished me to get possession of the property at once,
and have murdered my uncle in the hope that I would go to the spot and
then run the risk of being arrested. I believe myself that it was all
a plot to get me under her thumb. I _did_ go to the rendezvous and I
_am_ implicated. Well?”

Mrs. Perage rubbed her nose again. “The devil’s in it for trouble,”
she muttered. “Perhaps I am premature in assuming that this woman is
innocent, but it seems incredible that she should run such a risk. I
shall have to see her first before I make up my mind. She’s clever.”

“In a foxy sort of way.”

“Hum! The fox doesn’t do things on a big scale in the way of killing.”

Hench answered flippantly, as the conversation was getting on his
nerves. “What about hen-roost massacres?”

Mrs. Perage rose, and was about to rebuke him when she saw, as
Gwen had seen earlier, the white pinched look on his face. “You’re
over-wrought, my friend. I want you to promise me two things.”

“Yes. What are they?” asked the young man wearily.

“In the first place do not make any move in these matters until I give
you leave. I have a plan in my head.”

“What is it?”

“I shan’t tell it until it is carried out. In the second place do not
come to my house until to-morrow afternoon.”

“But Gwen will believe more than ever that I am—-”

“What she thinks you are in a moment of rage on her part,” finished
Mrs. Perage. “That’s just it. If you see her now you will spoil all.
Wait until I tell you that it is safe to come.”

“Very well. But I can’t let you take my burden on your shoulders and
stay here doing nothing. It’s not cricket.”

“You’ll get all the cricket you require, I promise you,” said Mrs.
Perage as she took her departure. “I don’t mind telling you,” she
added, glancing back, “that it interests me to have something exciting
of this sort to do. Life is rather dull hereabouts.”

“I only hope it will not prove too exciting.”

The old lady laughed and stepped briskly out of the cottage, while
Owain remained where he was kicking against the pricks. He wished to
see Gwen, but as he had promised to wait for instructions he could not
do so. Like the lady who had just left, he found life in Cookley
intolerably dull at the moment. But then, as Gwen was not beside him,
he would have found it equally dull had he been alone in Paris or
London. It was Gwen who made up his existence, and nothing else
mattered particularly. To such lengths does the passion of love lead
ordinarily sensible human beings.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Perage walked home briskly, turning over certain plans
in her very capable mind. She did not seek out Gwen, who was weeping
in the retirement of her bedroom, since all explanations at the
present moment were futile. But Mrs. Perage decided that when the girl
grew calmer a very positive explanation, which could not be mistaken,
should be made to her by the right person. To bring about this
necessary event she looked up her nephew, whom she found dawdling in
the garden with a cigarette and a French novel. Vane lay on the grass
under a shady tree clothed in white flannels, and looked rather
alarmed when his aunt appeared. The day was hot, and Mrs. Perage was
so uncommonly active that she was scarcely a desirable companion for a
lazy man. His anxiety was therefore natural.

“Sit up and listen,” said Mrs. Perage, getting to work at once. “I’ve
seen our young friend, and I now know as much as you do.”

Jim sat up cross-legged, resigned to the worst, and Mrs. Perage seated
herself on the rustic bench under the tree with the air of a judge
trying a particularly vicious criminal. “Need we discuss matters
just now?” he asked in a bored tone. “I’m so comfortable. Peter is
bringing me some tea, I have a book and a case of cigarettes, so on
the whole—-”

“Don’t be an ass, Jim. You can be busy enough if you like.”

“That’s just it, Aunt Emma,” remonstrated the barrister, clutching his
ankles. “I don’t like. There’s nothing to be done at present. I’ll see
Owain this evening and hear how he settled with that old woman.”

“He has settled nothing. But he managed to get her to leave him alone
for seven days. In that time much can be done.”

“Very probably. I’m sure I wish to do all I can. And Gwen?”

“She’s crying in her bedroom. She will continue to cry until she is
assured that Owain really loves her and not this other girl. You know
what I mean?”

“Well, as you related what took place in the churchyard and as Gwen
repeated the story to me, I must admit that I do know. I say, Aunt
Emma, you don’t think Miss Evans minds me calling her Gwen, as I—-”

“Oh, don’t talk rubbish,” interrupted Mrs. Perage quickly. “We have
more important things to speak about. This evening you must go to town
by the seven train,”–she glanced at her watch. “That will give you
time to have dinner comfortably, as you needn’t dress.”

“But, I say,”–Vane looked rather disgusted,–“I don’t want to go to
town.”

“You must,” said his aunt impressively. “Go to Bethnal Green, and
bring down with you to-morrow Mademoiselle Zara.”

“What for?”

“Bless the man, can’t you understand? Only this Zara creature can set
Gwen’s mind at rest. She can explain that Hench never really loved her
and only offered himself to her to gain a home and a companion.”

“Can’t Owain tell Gwen that?”

“He might tell it to her fifty times and she would not believe him,”
said Mrs. Perage shrewdly. “But when this girl speaks everything will
be put right straight away. Then we can consider what is best to be
done about the other and more serious business. But you must see, Jim,
that it is first necessary to adjust matters between Gwen and Hench.”

“Well, Aunt Emma, you understand your own sex better than I do, so I
suppose it is best for me to bring Zara Alpenny down.”

“I am quite positive it is.”

“Good! I’ll enjoy my dinner and then go to town by the train you
mention. I can bring Mademoiselle Zara to your house about two o’clock
to-morrow. Now that’s all right.” Vane yawned and rose. “Ah, here
comes Peter with the tea.”

Mrs. Perage looked rather grimly on the freckled page who carried on a
tray the beverage which Mr. Vane desired. Hench had told her how
Madame Alpenny had learned his whereabouts through Simon, _alias_
Bottles, and the same could have only acquired the knowledge through
Peter.

“Here!” she said sharply. “Do you write to your brother in town and
tell him all the gossip of the village?”

“Me, mum? No, mum,” said Peter, rather alarmed by her peremptory tone.

“Don’t tell lies, boy,” said his mistress sternly. “You told your
brother that Mr. Hench was staying at Mrs. Bell’s cottage.”

“I know I did, mum.” Peter began to whimper. “But I hope I didn’t do
no harm, mum. Simon, he thinks no end of Mr. Hench, so I thought as
I’d tell him. But it’s all right, mum. Simon knows what he’s about.”

“What do you mean by that?” questioned Vane quickly, for the page
spoke in a very significant tone. Peter shuffled and wriggled
uncomfortably. “Simon will tell you, sir, when the time comes,” he
replied evasively.

“Tell what?”

“What Simon knows, sir.”

“And what does Simon know?”

“I can’t tell you, sir. Simon’s clever. He knows a thing or two.”

“And so do I,” said Mrs. Perage sternly. “And one is that you are not
to write gossiping letters from my house.”

“No, mum, I won’t!” And Peter went away as quickly as he could lest he
should be questioned further. “Now what does that mean?” asked Mrs.
Perage shrewdly. “Is this brat and his brother mixed up in this
dangerous business?”

“It seems like it,” replied Jim, stirring his tea meditatively. “But
Peter may have written in all innocence, knowing how Bottles adores
Owain.”

“Bottles, as you call him, didn’t tell Madame Alpenny in all
innocence,” she snapped.

“Hum!” said Vane, quite in his aunt’s style, “we’ll look into the
matter.” And he did so on the morrow when he went to Bethnal Green.

Gwen was thoroughly miserable. On returning from the churchyard she
had shut herself up in her bedroom, after a sobbing description to
Mrs. Perage and Vane of what had taken place. In this seclusion she
remained, speaking little, eating less, and only sleeping occasionally
when exhausted Nature insisted upon having her own sensible way. The
trouble Gwen was now undergoing seemed ever so much worse than that
which she had already undergone. The death of her father had been
dreadful, but he had been such a tyrant that–to speak plainly–his
loss had not broken her heart. But now she felt certain that her heart
was really and truly broken, as the idea of losing Owain was like a
nightmare. The girl by this time fully recognized that she loved her
cousin dearly, even though that love had grown as rapidly and
unexpectedly as Jonah’s gourd. Perhaps, like the same, it would perish
as quickly. Gwen attempted to assure herself of this, but could not
self-hypnotise herself into such a belief. Her passion was too
genuine, too strong, too overwhelming, to be got rid of so easily.

Yet–she asked herself this question frequently–how could she believe
that Owain loved her, when she had heard from his own lips that he had
proposed to another girl? Gwen considered that she had been very
generous in forgiving his masquerading, although she admitted that
under the circumstances the assumption of a false name had been
pardonable. But that he should have loved some one else, and should
have proposed to that some one, seemed to her to be monstrous. It was
impossible for her to forget or forgive such a thing. She assured
herself that self-respect demanded the adoption of this merciless
attitude, but the cause of it–which she would not admit–was really
jealousy. But whatever it was the feeling made her wretched, and for
long hours the poor child tossed and turned and shivered and wept, as
she wondered what her future was likely to be. She had youth, she had
beauty, she had money, but all these desirable things were as dust and
ashes, lacking the companionship of the man she loved. And as he had
condemned himself out of his own month she could not see how the
position of things was to be altered.

In her bluff way, Mrs. Perage was very sorry for the girl, as she saw
how truly genuine was her suffering. The old lady strongly sympathized
with that despairing feeling of youth which believes that the world
has come to an end because things do not turn out as expected. Not
that she believed Gwen’s world had ended, but understood easily enough
how the girl thought so. To put matters right, Mrs. Perage set herself
to work in the hope of proving that the sun was merely obscured for
the moment. For a day and a night she left the sufferer alone, so that
she might get over the first stage of misery and anger. Then the old
dame entered the bedroom and proceeded to develop her scheme, which
she hoped would put the crooked straight.

“Well, my dear,” she said in a brisk and heartless manner, as she
seated herself on the bed, “have you overcome your fit of self-pity?”

“Oh, how unkind you are,” wailed Gwen, who did not expect such a
speech. “My heart is broken.”

“No, my dear, your vanity is hurt.”

“Vanity? I have no vanity.”

“Well, well, we will call it pride, self-respect, dignity, or any
other pretty name which appeals to you,” said Mrs. Perage
complacently. “Anyhow, you can’t lie here amongst the ruins of your
life. Have some breakfast and get up.”

“I can’t eat and I can’t drink. How can you expect me to?” cried Gwen,
who was intensely exasperated by this matter-of-fact speech. “You will
make me angry, Mrs. Perage.”

“I want to, since anger will make you see things in a more sensible
light. You can’t live on air, you know, my dear, or on love either,
especially as this last is nonexistent.”

The spirit of contradiction, begotten by anger, made the invalid
resent this last remark. “Love isn’t nonexistent,” she declared
crossly. “I love Owain still, although he doesn’t deserve my affection
in the least. I call it a shame for him to come here and save my life
and make me love him, when all the time he is engaged to another
girl.”

“Who told you that he was?” inquired Mrs. Perage dryly, and very well
satisfied with the result her conversation was producing.

“He told me so himself, and I told you how he was,” said Gwen
incoherently. “He admitted that he had proposed to the nasty daughter
of that horrid woman.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Perage coolly, “a young man must gain experience
somehow.”

“Owain shan’t gain any at my expense,” retorted Gwen viciously. “After
all, I don’t think that he is worth troubling about.”

“Of course he isn’t,” said Mrs. Perage, wishing to emphasize this
opinion. “So lie down and go to sleep and forget all about him. You
can’t eat, you know.”

“Yes, I can.” Gwen rose in the bed angrily. “I shall have my breakfast
and get up and go about things just as if nothing had happened.”

Mrs. Perage shook her old head wisely. “You have not the strength.”

“I have–I have. Ring the bell and order some tea and toast.”

“Peter is bringing up some sort of a meal, my dear. Ah, there is his
knock. I will take the tray,” and Mrs. Perage went to the door to do
so, chuckling at the way in which she was dealing with the situation.
“Give it to me, Peter; now you can go. By the way, Gwen, shall I send
him for the doctor?”

“No. I’m quite well,” said the girl indignantly. So Peter was
dismissed and the tray was placed on the bed. “Leave me to eat, Mrs.
Perage, and you can come back after I have dressed.”

“Foolish! Foolish!” said the old dame, leaving the room. “You are
attempting too much.” And she departed, still chuckling to think how
easily this somewhat difficult young lady had fallen into the trap.

Gwen, quite ignorant that she was acting exactly as Mrs. Perage
desired, sipped the tea and nibbled at the toast. Pride speedily
came to her aid, and when the meal was finished she felt much better.
Self-pity was now merged in a sense of anger that Owain had dared to
treat her so shamefully, therefore she dressed herself in her
prettiest frock with the intention of proving to him that she felt
his treachery less than he might have expected. When she walked
into the drawing-room, Mrs. Perage looked up to see a smartly dressed
young lady with sparkling eyes and a fine colour, in place of the
white-faced invalid she had left. So far the result of the experiment
was distinctly good.

“And of course,” suggested the old lady artfully, “you have quite
decided to throw Owain overboard.”

“What else would you have me do?” demanded Gwen revengefully.

“Hum!” said Mrs. Perage in a meditative manner. “I think I should ask
for an explanation.”

“There can be no explanation likely to satisfy me.”

“That entirely depends upon my common-sense way of looking at things,”
said Mrs. Perage dryly. “Or on your common-sense, if you come to that.
By the way, that girl is coming down here this afternoon–she will
arrive in an hour.”

“What girl?”

“Hum!” Mrs. Perage skirted round the subject and did not give an
entirely direct reply. “Your breakfast has been your luncheon, for it
is now two o’clock, so such a queer exchange of meals must have upset
you. Perhaps you had better not be present.”

“What girl are you talking about?” asked Gwen, her colour coming and
going, although she knew perfectly well what was meant. “And I am in
quite enough good health to see any girl. How dare she come here?”

“Ah!”–Mrs. Perage chuckled,–“you guess what I mean, I see. Well, my
dear Jim was rather put out about your quarrel with Hench, so he
suggested at my desire that it would be as well for him to go to town
and bring Mademoiselle Zara with him down here to explain matters.”

“I don’t require any explanation,” said Gwen, holding her head very
high.

“Bless the girl, did I say so? This Zara woman is coming to explain to
me. I may as well be plain, Gwen. It was I who told Jim to go to town
and fetch her, since it is necessary that I should learn what a rascal
Hench is.”

“He’s not a rascal; I’m sure he’s not a rascal.” Gwen stamped her foot
and grew very red.

“Oh yes, he is, my dear. To propose to one girl and to make love to
another is not right. I must inquire into his character, you know, so
as to see if he is a decent man to know. Now Mademoiselle Zara can
tell us the truth. But I don’t want you to be present.”

“But I shall!” cried Miss Evans, with another stamp. “It is my right
to be present. The explanation concerns me more than any one else.”

“Oh, well, if you insist upon being pleasant, I have no more to say.”
Mrs. Perage shrugged her shoulders, and making a wilful mistake. “Did
you say ‘present’ or ‘pleasant’?”

“Pleasant. You must be pleasant to Mademoiselle Zara, as, after all,
you do not care anything for your cousin.”

“I do. All the same I am angry with him. I shall be present and be
pleasant just as I please. And now I shall take a walk in the park so
as to calm my nerves. I’m sure Owain has upset them enough.” And Gwen
hastily departed, while Mrs. Perage chuckled more than ever.

“Fiery little Welsh temper she has,” murmured the old lady. “I don’t
envy Hench when he makes her his wife. Hum! So that’s settled. Let us
hope good will come of the interview.” She rubbed her nose. “Gwen’s a
handful to manage, but by contradiction I fancy that I have secured my
own way.”

Of course this was quite true, although Miss Evans, walking in the
park, was perfectly sure that she was acting contrary to Mrs. Perage’s
wishes. By this time the girl was in a fine temper, ready to quarrel
with any one about anything. In fact she felt very much inclined to
fight for what she considered were her rights, so far as concerned her
cousin. In some queer way, Gwen arrived at the conclusion that by
saving her life Hench had given her some sort of claim over him. Of
course, she would never marry him; nothing would ever induce her to
marry such a faithless person. But she intended to hint at her
fantastic claim by ordering him to make Zara his wife. Then, on
further reflection, she did not like him to marry the dancer, as she
loved him herself. Still, as he was unworthy of her love, perhaps it
would be as well to allow him to carry out his proposal to Madame
Alpenny’s daughter. He would certainly be miserable, which would serve
him right, as Zara was bound to be a minx and a cat and several other
disagreeable things. In this incoherent way Miss Evans thought, while
working off her anger as best she could by walking at top speed up one
path and down another. She did not know whether to laugh or to cry, to
rage or to fret; all she did know was that everything seemed to be
wrong, and that the bottom had fallen out of creation.

When Gwen again ventured into the house, she found the drawing-room
tenanted by Mrs. Perage, her nephew, and two visitors. One of these
was a handsome, untidily dressed young fellow, who wore his hair
rather long after the manner of musicians; the other was a tall girl,
gaunt, striking-looking, with something of the gipsy in her
appearance. She wore a red velvet hat and a long red velvet mantle,
the violent hues of which harmonized well with her somewhat sallow
complexion and bold dark eyes. When Gwen entered, this girl was
laughing and showed a row of very white teeth, which added to her
handsome looks.

“Mademoiselle Zara, this is Miss Evans,” said Mrs. Perage, rising to
make a rapid introduction. “Gwen, this is Madame Alpenny’s daughter,
and Mr. Bracken, to whom she is engaged.”

“Engaged?” Gwen started back and gasped. “But I don’t understand.”

“Mademoiselle Zara will explain,” said Mrs. Perage swiftly, and
collecting the two men with her eyes. “Mr. Bracken, I must show you my
garden, as I am sure you take an interest in flowers. Come with me.
You also, Jim, as you must go to Mrs. Bell’s and bring Hench here.”

“I don’t wish to see him,” called out Gwen hurriedly, but Mrs. Perage
took no notice of the speech, as she had already conducted the two men
out of the room, leaving the two girls alone.

Gwen eyed Zara and Zara eyed Gwen with great curiosity, and used their
intuitions with so much skill that in two minutes each girl knew all
about the nature of the other girl. Miss Evans could not deny but what
the dancer was handsome enough to attract any one, even the most
fastidious, while Zara thought that Gwen was one of the most charming
young ladies she had ever seen.

“I’m sure he will be very happy with you,” she said abruptly.

“Who?” asked Gwen, sitting down and getting ready to fence.

Zara laughed meaningly. “My dear, there is only one ‘he’ in the world
for you.”

“So I thought, until I found him out,” retorted Miss Evans sharply.

“Oh, I understand all about your finding him out. Mr. Vane gave me a
full description of my mother’s meddling. But if you had waited to
hear what took place after your departure from the churchyard there
would have been no need for me to come down.”

“I did not ask you to come down,” said Gwen pointedly.

“You did not. Mrs. Perage did, however, as she was anxious for your
mistake to be corrected. I am anxious, also, else I would not have
troubled to take this long journey.”

“Why did you undertake it, then?”

“Because I have the greatest respect for Mr. Hench.”

“The greatest love, you mean.”

“Indeed, I mean nothing of the sort,” said Zara candidly. “I have no
more love for Mr. Hench than I have for that table. Didn’t you hear
Mrs. Perage say that I was engaged to Mr. Bracken?”

“Yes! I suppose you are,” admitted Gwen reluctantly. “But there is
always one who loves and one who is loved, you know.”

“Heine, the German poet, said that, Miss Evans. I congratulate you on
the wide range of your reading. It shows that you are not narrow, and
not being narrow, I trust that you will do Mr. Hench justice.”

“He proposed to you. I heard him say so myself.”

“My dear,” said the dancer, after the lenient fashion of an elder
sister, “Mr. Hench at that time would have proposed to any woman of
decent character and decent looks. Your Heine quotation implied that
although I did not love him, he loved me. There you are entirely
wrong. He admired me, certainly, but—-”

“But he proposed to you,” interrupted Miss Evans doggedly.

Zara’s cheeks grew crimson and her voice became sharper. “We are two
women talking together,” she said decisively. “Therefore, it is
useless for us to skirt about the bush as we would do with men. Mr.
Hench never loved me; he had no conception of love when he proposed,
and I told him so. Can’t you understand how a lonely man must wish for
a home and a comrade, so that he may have some centre in life? I used
those very words to him. Mr. Bracken gives me that true love which is
more than admiration, which was all Mr. Hench had to offer. He could
not give me his heart because he did not know that he possessed one.
Since coming here he has made the discovery that he has a heart and he
has given it to you.”

“Have you seen him; did he tell you so?”

It took Zara a moment or so to quell her rising anger, and she felt
inclined to shake this silly little girl who was not to be convinced
by common-sense explanations. “I have not seen Mr. Hench, nor if you
wish it will I see him.”

“Oh, it’s nothing to me,” said Gwen with an air of finality.

“Then it ought to be. Mr. Vane told me what Mr. Hench told him.”

“What is that?”

“You know quite well,” retorted Zara tartly. “It is that Mr. Hench
loves you better than you deserve.”

“How can you tell what I deserve?”

“I am only going by what I see of you now,” said the dancer patiently.
“You really love Mr. Hench, and you are fighting against your
feelings, because you believe that he loves me, which is not the case.
As you can see that I am speaking the truth, it is unworthy of you to
speak as you do. Therefore, I say that Mr. Hench loves you better than
you deserve. I don’t know,” cried Zara, becoming exasperated, “why you
force me to make so unnecessary an explanation, as you are quite aware
of what I mean.”

Gwen was so impressed by the dancer’s earnest speech that she became
much more reasonable. “I am a pig, I know,” she murmured rather
inelegantly. “But it isn’t pleasant to love a man and then to hear
from his own lips that he proposed to another woman.”

“Pooh! You are making a mountain out of a molehill,” said Zara
contemptuously. “If Mr. Hench had proposed to me after he met you,
then there might be some sense in your attitude. But I tell you he did
not know the meaning of love when he proposed to me, and would have
proposed to any other woman just as readily. His first acquaintance
with love was when he saved your life. He is heart and soul devoted to
you. My dear”–Zara rose, and bending over Gwen, took her hand–“don’t
be foolish and throw away a love which will make you the happiest
woman in the world.”

“Can you swear that Owain loves me?” asked Gwen, more and more
impressed.

“Personally, I cannot. But from what Mr. Vane has told me I certainly
can declare that Mr. Hench adores you.”

“Yes.” Miss Evans stared hard at nothing. “I believe he does.”

“Then why are you making all this trouble?”

“You are a woman and ask me that?”

Zara laughed. “It is absurd, I know. But I am anxious to put things
right. My mother made trouble and I came down to make peace. Don’t
send me away with my errand unaccomplished.”

Gwen jumped up and kissed the dancer. “No, I won’t. I am quite
satisfied with your explanation. I have been very silly and have made
myself quite ill in worrying over things. And if Owain comes—-”

“Owain is coming,” interrupted Zara quickly, as she glanced out of
the open French window of the room. “Yonder he is with Mr. Vane, who
was sent to bring him by Mrs. Perage. My dear”–she kissed Gwen’s
cheek–“I will slip out to join Mrs. Perage and Ned in the garden. You
stay here and make it up with Mr. Hench. No half-measures, mind. Be
generous and loyal.” And with a smiling nod the dancer flitted through
the window just as the footsteps of Owain were heard in the hall.

“Oh!” said Gwen, drawing a long breath, “how nearly I have lost him.”

Vane had sense enough not to enter along with his friend, as he
thoroughly understood the saying about two being company and three
none. In a most loyal fashion he obliterated himself, and Owain walked
into the room by himself. The young man looked worn and ill, so that
Gwen’s heart was touched, and she felt ashamed of her conduct, which
was responsible for his wilted appearance. Almost without thought she
flew into his arms.

“I’m a horrid creature,” she murmured. “Do forgive me and I’ll be
good.”

“Oh!”–Owain’s pale face flushed suddenly and his brown eyes
sparkled–“then you don’t believe—-”

“I believe that you love me. Mademoiselle Zara has explained
everything.”

“Thank God for that. Where is she?”

“Do you wish to see her?” asked Miss Evans jealously.

“Only to thank her. But that can come later. Meantime”–he bent and
kissed her three or four times–“oh, Gwen, how could you think that I
loved any one in the world but you–you–you?”

“I was silly and wicked and–and—-”

“No! No! There was some cause for your anger, as Madame Alpenny told
so skilful a lie. It wasn’t all a lie, of course, as I did propose to
Zara.”

“I know you did, and I know why you did. But you will be much happier
with me than with her,” said the girl na├»vely.

“Than with any one, Gwen,” cried the young man fervently. “Oh, my
dear, to think how nearly I have lost you.”

“I said that to myself about you, just before you entered,” whispered
Gwen in a penitent tone. “Do forgive me.”

“On condition that you forgive me,” pleaded Owain fondly.

“Dear, there is nothing to forgive,” said the girl, abasing herself.
“It is all my fault–all my fault. I’m a nasty little jealous animal.”

“Just the kind of animal I like.” Owain pressed her hard in his arms.
“I’ll never, never let you go again, and now that we are together and
you are on my side, I am prepared to face the worst.”

“Face what?”

“Ah, I forgot; you don’t understand. I have a long explanation to
give.” Hench paused and looked nervous, as he drew Gwen to a chair and
sat down to take her on his knee. “You won’t hate me, or doubt me?”

“Never! Never!” Gwen positively. “I’ll never doubt you again.
What is the matter?”

“Murder is the matter!”

“What?” She started back and stared at his perturbed face. “The murder
of—-”

“Yes! The murder of your father. You know that tramp you suspect?”

“The one who asked the way to the Gipsy Stile? Yes.”

“I am that tramp.”

“It’s impossible.”

“It is quite true. I have explained matters to Vane and to Mrs.
Perage. Now I must explain them to you. Having admitted that I am the
tramp you suspect—-”

Gwen stopped him by laying her hand over his mouth.
“I don’t suspect the tramp, now that you are he,” she said vehemently.
“You are innocent, I am sure.”

“How can you be sure?” asked Hench sharply. “Because you saved my
life,” replied Gwen in a truly feminine fashion. “No one who saved a
person’s life would commit a murder.”

“Well, I can scarcely admit the logic of that reasoning,” said Hench,
unable to refrain from a smile, in spite of the desperate situation.
“But I am glad that you so far trust me.”

“I trust you to the death.”

“Darling!”–he kissed her–“that gives me the courage to tell you
all!” And he did tell her all then and there, from the time of the
conversation with Madame Alpenny down to the moment when she accused
him in the churchyard. “So you see, Gwen,” he concluded in a
melancholy tone, “that although perfectly innocent, this woman has the
power to have me arrested.”

“You shall not be arrested,” said Gwen, with sparkling eyes and red
cheeks.

“Then you don’t believe me to be guilty?”

“What a silly question to ask.” This time it was Gwen who kissed. “Is
it likely that I would still be sitting on your knee if I thought you
killed my father? Of course, the whole thing is difficult and
mysterious, but I am on your side, Owain, and we will fight it out
together.”

“Yes! Yes!” Hench rose and swung her off her feet right into his arms.
“I am not afraid now. Your love will give me strength to conquer my
enemies. But it will be an ordeal for you.”

“An ordeal which will prove the depth of my love, dear. And I deserve
such an ordeal. I doubted you once; but I’ll never, never, never,
never doubt you again. Owain, darling, everything will come right.
There is Mr. Vane and Mrs. Perage and myself and you. Against us is
only that horrid old woman.”

“She holds a strong hand in the game, though,” murmured the young man
doubtfully. “We hold a stronger. Right will always prevail against
might.”

“Gwen! Gwen! You are a tower of strength. You put new life into me.
Yes, we will fight; we will fight, fight to the end.”

“And win!” cried Gwen. “Oh, never doubt, Owain. We must win!”