|Chapter Number||1. XI|
|Newspaper Title||Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Whatsoever a Man Soweth|
WHATSOEVER A MAN" SOWETH.
BOOK I.—WHEAT AND TARES. CHAPTER XL —f Concluded.)
BEECE MEADOWSERE'S CHBISTMAS EVE. Meanwhile Reece was foraicg his way hrough the dense crowds whioh thronged the city. His mood had ohanged, and the air of alf-stupefied, silent despair he had previously worn had now given place to an intense ervous exoitement, which seemed to increase t every step. The mention of Stornhill's name bad recalled that person to his mind, nd the story which followed had the effect of eading his thoughts into a somewhat different groove. He had been previously occupied in thinking over his own past relations with Hilda Kemorsque, and of the wrong which he had suffered an her hands. Now all this was orgotten, and his instincts were alive to the dangers and possibilities of the future. A father naturally has a strong aversion to his children associating with persona of ill-repute, and in the same way a sensitive man having reapeot for any woman will experience regret and pain at seeing her brought into ::ontact with men unworthy of her. But when this feeling of respeot has deepened into one of love, then it is that the whole inner nature of a man rises to proteot and cherish the honour of his loved one. He loves her for her purity; let her lose this and she is dead to him for ever. It tortures him to see her surrounded by the hawks of fashion, ready to pounce down upon her. It is not altogether a fear that she will become their prey, for if he have faith iu her he will feel confident that their arts will fail; but his love protests against their very nearness to her. She iB his; the one being in the world he oalls his own; and she is sacred to him. Such were the feelings of Reece Meadowsere, knowing as he did the utter baseness of Stornhill's character, his sensuality, and his contempt for the laws of morality. Knowing how lightly he regarded the honour of women, how he stopped at nothing where the gratification of his animal passions was concerned, it was small wonder that Reece should experience a feeling akin to modnesB when the belief dawned upon him that Stornhill was his rival and that he was indebted to him for the treatment he had that day received from Hilda. What did it all mean? Where would it ell end? Such questions as these Reeoe asked himself as he dashed wildly along. But he oould find no answer to them, and at times his frenzy proved almost ungovernabie. His steps would quicken to a run ; he would clench his hands convulsively, and he even struck out fiercely with his fists, as if attacking some imaginary foe. He had left the city far behind him, and by degrees his despairing reokleBsness was displaced by the old attitude of semi-stupefaction. His pace slaokeneci, and he gradually fell into the meohanical stride whioh had adapted itself to his mood during that lonely walk in the afterneon. Reaohing a bridge, he paused, and gazed down at the river beneath. The sky above was clearing, but dark heavy clouds still hung about the horizon, and even now a low murmur of thunder was occasionally heard, preceded by vivid flashes of lightning. It waa as a flash more brilliant than usual illuminated all about him that Reeoe suddenly raised hiB eyes, and saw at some distance from him tho figure of a woman on the bank of the river. Impelled as it were by some unseen power he at once crossed the bridge, and although unable to see more than a few yards ahead, unhesitatingly made for the spot where the woman had stood revealed. As he approached ho heard a splash, yet be did not quicken his footsteps. But now he felt rather than saw a dark form stealing past him. He stretched out his hand, and grasped the soft arm of a woman, who ottered a low cry of fear. "Do not be afraid,"he said. "Why are you here?" His tone was monotonous, and his voice wholly devoid of curiosity. The woman shrank away, but did not answer, and Meadowsere repeated his question in the same mechanical, indifferent manner. " Nothing,"said the woman. She hardly spoke above a whisper, yet her voice sounded sweet, and there was evident refinement in it. "I heard a splash," continued Reeoe. "What was that?" The arm he held trembled, but there was no reply. " What was it?" he demanded, speaking a little harshly. "A child," was the whispered rejoinder. " A oliild !" repeated . Reece, aB if hardly understanding. " Was it dead ?" " Yes! Yes !" cried the woman eagerly, and she sank on her kneessobbing bitterly. *' We were starving, the ohild and I; and this morning it died. I had no money with which to bury it, so I brought it here. I waa going to jump iuto the river so that we might notxbe parted; but it looked eo dark, and—and I threw my baby in, but—but couldn't go myself —J couldn't go myself—I was a ooward—a coward—a ooward. Kill me if you like, but do not take me to prison ; do not disgrace me further. I have suffered enough—God knows 1 I have." Reece was touched. His own troubles were for 3 mofaent forgotten, and he said tenderly, "What is your name, my poor girl?" The woman wore a dark oloak which almost oovered her face, for she had thrown it aoross her head. As Resce asked this question she drew the cloak more tightly round her, yet looked up, and strove to read his faoe in the darkness. A faint ray of light from a distant lamp fell upon him, and her wish was gratified. He looked very handsome, very sad and Btern. The orouching figure saw a faoe she would never forget; one that haunted her dreams in after life, and that was ever with her in her waking moments. What she saw seemed to satisfy her, for she answered softly, "Grace Arkoyd." Meadowsere stood as though transfixed. "Grace Arkoyd !" be muttered ; and then he laughed—yes—laughed with great bitterness. How many more of Stornhili's victims was he to cams across ? Could he be expected to play the "Good Samaritau" to them all? This thought seemed to amuse him for a moment. "Grace Arkoyd !" he said mockingly, and he looked down at her. Grace lay orouohisg at hie feet. His cynical tone appeared to have crushed her, and in an instant his feeling of sympathy returned. He was ashamed of his cruel taunting words, and bitrerly reproached himselt. Stooping down he raised Grace from the ground with gentle firmness, saying tenderly— "Forgive me, Miss Arkoyd, if you oan; I shall never forgive myself. But I have suffered too, and this made me thoughtless for an instant. Being fellow-sufferers we should help each other. I have beard of you and of Stephen Stornhill; I heard of it by accident only this afternoon. My pity is yours, and my heartfelt ayiapithy. Perhaps it is wrong of me to epsak like this —I have no right; but beware of Stephen Stornhill ! You say you are starving! Here is my purse. It contains a litLie money, and if you should require more write to me; this is my oard with my address, and you vviil not apply to me in vain. Do not let your pride stand in the way ; this is not a time for that. Take what I offer and leave Melbourne. If ever we should meet again I trust it viil bs under happier circumstances. Good night •" He bowed respectfully and left her; but at once returned. "I did not ask, "he said, "whether you know of lodtrings where you can sperd the night. Have you a place of any sort to go to; somewhere quiet and respectable?"' "Yes," she answered faintly, "I left a house a few weeks ago. heoause I had no money with which to pay my board. I will return there." "Is it far';" " Yes; but a tram oasaoa close by." "You feel safe? You have no fear?" "Nono whatever, sir. Oh! how can S thank you?—how can I thank you?" And her sobs almost choked her. " L5y r.-.ising yourself again to the position you have lost. 1 shall wait on the bridge tiil you hava safely reached tho road, for this path is dangerous. Goodnight, M'S^ Arkoyd.'' He had no. seen hsr face, nor had he tried to. Il^i kiiew nothing of her life, save what he bai heard that afternoon, and hs had not enquired as to her manner of living since leaving llallowton. He felt no desire to pry invo her secrets. Whether she had followed Kate's example or not was a matter which did not concern hiin. Ha believed her to be sincere. and this was esouga. As he had promised, so he waited until Grace had emerged from the dark shadow that enveloped th» river's bank. Then he went his way. This moid^nt restored him to hia ordinary state of mind: and for the first time siaoe leaving Mrs. Remcrsque's house he thought of his mother. What would she imagine had bec-ome of him ? She would be anxioi.s, and, in her weak condition, anxiety was dangerous to her. He was far from home, and his selfreproaoh was terrible. An undefinable sense of draaa seized hold of hio, and, starting off, he ran at full speed till he could run no longer. Then he walked slowly to regain hiB breath, and aqain made all the haste he could. Byr.nd-by a oab dashed past going citywards, lie hailed it, the horses were turned round, and he Boon reached home. Tho hall door stood open, no doubt on account of the heat, and Reece noticed a dim light burning in his mother's room. Margaret met him as ht> entered the gate, and her presence struck a obill to his heart. " How is she, Margaret ?" he enquired eagerly. But Mararares only said— "Thank God you have come, sir! I was afraid you had met with an acoiaeut." " No! no ! I am all right. Bub my mother, Margaret, how is she?" he asked impatiently, as they entered tho hall.
For answer Margaret drew him into the study, and Reeoe saw that her faoe was white and sad. "What is it?" he asked in a whisper. "Why don't you speak, Margaret?" But Margaret turned from him sobbing, and he under* tood. "She is dead," he murmured, "dead!" Then he spoke cruelly and harshly. " Why did you not send for me? Why did you let her die, and leave me in ignorance of her danger?" " I did send for you, Mr. Reece; everywhere I could think of. But it was of nd use; you could not be fonnd," said Margaret eaeerly, and she clung to bis arm. But Reeoe shook ber off angrily, and went to his mother's room. Yet at the door he paused. Gould he go into the preaence of the dead with anger in bis heart? Could he face hiB gentle mother, lifeless though she was, after speaking so unjustly to the faithful Margaret? He was ashamed, and returned to the study. Margaret sat with her face hidden : she was sobbing bitterly. Reeoe saw the grey head bowed; he heard the ohoking sobs, and kneeling by her chair he said, "I waB oruel, Margaret. I forgot myself ; but have come to ask your forgiveness—my dear old nurse. You will not refuse it, Margaret'! You will return good for evil ?" Margaret drew him olose as though he had been a babe, and kissed him. " You are all I have left now. my faithful old Margaret," said Reece, mournfully. "There is the lady who will take your mother's place," Margaret reminded him, in a gentle voice. But Raece shook bis head. " That is over now, Margaret; we will not spnak of it. Tell me of my mother, and—and when the end cam?." Margaret did not fully understand his allusion to Miss Remsrsque, but she felt that here was the key whioh supplied the meaning of hia long absence. She went on to tell him of his mother's death. "It was this afternoon," she said, "that your mother complained of being worse than usual. She felt that all would soon be over, and asked continually for you. I sent to the newspaper office, but you bad gone. Then to Mrs. Remersque's, but you had left there also, and no one knew anything of your intentions. We waited anxiously, and every moment your mother grew weaker; but she bore up bravely. As the end came she grew very quiet, and said—'I shall never see my boy again on earth, Margaret. Remain with him, and tell him from me to follow in his father's footsteps and we shall meet hereafter. Good-by, Margaret! Good-by, Reece! It is hard that I cannot kiss my boy before I die.' " "She said no more, sir; but she did not seemed to think that any harm had befallen you. It did not appear to strike her when she was dying that there was anything strange in your absenoe, and the end was very peaoeful." " I am glad of that, Margaret. Would to God that I had been at home." His eyes were full of teare, and then he began to pour out his heart to Margaret. He told her of the wrong whioh had been dealt him; told her where he had been, and what he had been doing; and as a mother comforts a child so Margaret comforted him. Master aud servant they were, yet at that moment Margaret was more to him than any one on earth. At length he rose. "It is late," he said. "You had better go to bed, Margaret. I will go to my mother." " There is a lamp burning in the room, sir," she answered respectfully, seeing that he was now composed. " I did not care to leave my mistress in darkness, even though it makes no difference now." There was a tremor in her voice, and, as waB his custom, Reeoe kisaed her good-night, though with more than ordinary tenderness. He held the door open for her, and she passed out to her own room, and then he went to his mother. He was welcomed by a low whine, and looking down he saw Carlo, the mastiff, who wagged his tail feebly, and brushed gently against his master, at the same time gazing upwards with hia great solemn eyes as if enquiring the meaning of all this strangeness. Reece patted his head and spoke a few words to him, and Carlo lay down again at the foot of the b6d, motionless. And now Reece saw before him ail that remained of the woman who had lived but for him alone. Her faoe was oalm and very beautiful. The lines and wrinkles whioh age and care had wrought were no longer visible. They had vanished, even as the mists of the vailey melt away as the day advanoes. The pensive sadness which, like a veil, had overshadowed her iife was replaced by a peaoeful smile that seemed to play about the lips, lending to the sweet features an almost lifelike expression. The dark valley was crossed; she had entered into her eternal rest. Reeoe fell on his knees by the bedside, and kisaed the cold lips. '* Mother ! mother !" he moaned; but no mother answered. Then was the stillness broken by the sobs of a strong man in his agony. Carlo crept tup to his master, and thrust his cold noBe into the tear-stained face, whining piteously. And Reece threw his arms round the dog's neck, and presently grew calmer. Rising quietly, he went to the window and raised the sash. A soft, sighing breeze fanned hia cheek, and the soent of many flowers floated into the room. Suddenly the sound of a clock striking waa borne through the silent night, and Reeco listened. It was the hour of midnight— Christmas Day had come. He closed the window softly, drew down the blind, and returned to his mother's side. With great oalmness ha kissed the marble brow, and spreading a rug on the floor by the side of the bed he lay down, and with Carlo nestling close beside bim slept until the day broke. CHAPTER XII. A SPIRIT OP BEVEXGE. " Peace on earth—goodwill towardsmen,"is the sentiment we bear expressed at Christmastime. It is regarded as a season of gladness, of rejoicing; but how many there are to whom it brings uo feelings of happiness, but rather sorrow, and grief, aud bitterness. We can well understand that to Reece Meadowsere and Margaret that Christmas Day must have proved inexpressibly sad. With Hilda Remersque tbe preponderating feeling was perhaps one of intense bitterness. Nor had Stephen Stornhill found the day one of unmixed pleasure. He had spent Christmas Eve in a drunken debauch, as was his custom, and as so many others do; but hn oould not wholly rid himself of thoughts of Hilda Remeresque; and his anxiety prevented him from enjoying to the full the "spicy" enecdotes and disgusting songs of his companions. He had called at Mrs. Remersque's house that afternoon, but Hilda had remained invisible. He was aware, however, of the manner in which Meadowsere had been treated, and this afforded him eome satisfaction ; but there waa still that forged marriage certificate to cause him uneasiness, and he cursed Kate iu his heart for her foliy. It was lato on Ohristmas morning when Stornhill heard of Mrs. Meadowsere's death. Tho news did not lessen his hatred towards Rseue, however ; and when he realized that M-nriowasre had lost both his mother and Hilda on the self-some day he smiled grimly, and could not forbear an exclamation of delight. In the afternoon he paid a visit to Mra. Remersque; but saw nothing of Hilda, who waB still indisposed. On che following' afternoon, however, he was mere fortunate. Hilda entered the room in which he and Mra. Remersque were eitting, looking very pale it is true, but also cool and ooraposed. Her manner towards Stornhill was somewhat oold, and puzzled him accordingly ; neither did Hilda herself know why she treated him thua. She had as yet coma to no definite decision with regard to him, although Mrs. Remerscua had repeatedly urged her to accept the offer that Stornhill would most assuredly make before long. She was wavering between two opinions—her desire for revenge could be best gratified by marrying Stornhill; yet she shrank from doing this, ai hfir anger towards Reece had somewhat abated Binoe husricg of his mother's death, aad she had no real likic? for Stornhill. It was his great wealth more than anything else that had attracted her. But Hilda's moods, as we have seen, were variable, and in thinking of Meadowsere's treatment of her she would at times be so blinded by passion that all e'.so would be lost sight of in this mad, uncontrollable craving for revenge—a craving, moreover, encouraged by her mother. Stornhill iva9 beginning to find Mrs. Remersque's conversation rather tiresome whan Hilda appeared upon tbe scane. Her entrance, however, did not improve matters. Shn had very little to scy, and it seemed to cost her an effort to speak at all, so that Stornhill soou rose to take hia leave. Before doin£ so, howevar, he announced his intention of giving a small picnio at some distance from town on tho following Tuesday, aad expressed a desire that Mra. R-^mersque and her daughter would atteiid. "Oaiyasmall party of friends were invited," he eaid, and if Mrs. Remersque would permit him he would be pleased to drive her and Hilda to the place of meeting." Mrs. ttemersque graciously accepted the invitation, and Hilda also appeared to view the project with favour. The day arrived, and found Mrs. Remersque suffering from a severe headache, which prevented her from keeping her engagement. She would not hear of Hilda remaining at home, however. "It would bean act of unpardonable rudeneas for them both to disappoint Mr. Stornhill after all the trouble he had taken." Hilda saw no way out of the difficulty, and drove off alone with Stornhill. She understood her mother's little ri-.se, and was genuinely annoyed with her, but her annoyance soon wore off, as Stornhill, when he chose, could be an agreeable companion, aud to-day he exerted himself to the utmostin this direction. The drive, moreover, behind a pair of fast and spirited horses proved exhilarating.
Hilda's appearance at the picnio so soon after Mra. Meadowsere'a death, and with Stephen Stornhill of all men, created no little astonishment, and her aotion was freely oritioised Hilda knew this, and resented the comments paBsed upon her, many of wh.ch reached her ears and were by no means complimentary. Her reception, too, was far from cordial, and she began to realize how exceedingly unpleasant was her present position. She grew irritated, angry, and more bitterly incensed than ever against the man who had attempted her ruin. Meanwhile Stornhill exhibited great tact in all that he did, and would have driven Hilda home at any moment, or arranged lor some one else to undertake this duty, if it so pleased her. But Hilda was determined to remain where she was, and in striving to appear perfectly at ease and natural sberatber over-acted her part. It was »n immense relief to her when at length the day drew to a close and the picnic broke up. , A week passed. That Miss Remersque s engagement to Reeoe Meadowsere had come to an abrupt termination was a fact well known in society. Nothing had been seen of Reeoe since his mother's funeral. Miss Remersque, on the oontrary, was eesn everywhere, and, seemingly, she was enjoying heraelf immensely. But it was only seeming. Though determined to treat Reece with the utmost contempt, she was not altogether prepared for the calm way in whioh he had accepted hie dismissal. She had half-expected that he would make some attempt to see her, or that he would write and demand an explanation. He did nothing of the kind, however, and his silenoo exasperated Hilda almost beyond endurance. Then again it had been rumoured that Reece had grown tired of her, and Hilda's desire to convince the world that this was not so ; that she eared nothing for Reeoe and never had oared for him, was daily growing stronger. She did not wish people to imagine she had been jilted ; nor would it have pleased her, had the facts of the case beoome known. By marrying Stephen Stornhill she might perhaps silonoe the tongues which were busy with her name, and also be revenged on Reeoe Meadowsere. Hilda felt that when Stornhill ohoae to make hie offer she would be prepared to accept it, and is was not long before she was given an opportunity of doing so. In a secluded part of Mrs. Remersque's garden there was an old well which, though never used, had not been filled in. This spot was a favourite of Miss Remersque's, and here she had oome one afternoon with Stephen Stornhill. Out of idle curiosity Stornhill threw baok the cover of the well, and leaning against the half-rotten windlass, stared downwards. Hilda, with a ory of alarm, caught his arm and drew him back. "It is not safe Mr. Stornhill, really it is'nt," she exolaimed. Stornhill laughed lightly. " Were you afraid that I would fail iu? It would not have be6n very pleasant had I done so; but still, a man might just as well die in one way as another." "No, no; death is horrible not matter in what shape it comes; but such a death as that—" and she shuddered. " To some men death oomes as a happy release from all their troubles." " But you are not one of these men; you have no troubles." "Have I not?" "I should hardly think BO; you do not appear to have a care in the world. You are your own master; you live where and how you please. What more oan a man want ?" " Many things, and among them—a wife." Hilda turned away her face. " You ought to experience no difficulty in finding a wife, Mr. SEornhilL" " Perhaps not; but there is only one woman living who oould make me really happy, and you are that woman." Stornhill waited for Hilda to speak, bat she remained silent, and he continued :— " It is, I know, hardly a time in whioh to address you in euuh terms, but when I see you betrayed—when I see you suffering as you do— I cannot hide my love from you . Whilst you were pledged to another I was silent; I loved you from afar off; I worshipped at adistanoe. But now that this other can never be your husband—now that he is nothing to you—I speak wbat is in my heart. Forgive me if I say that it iB useless grieving over the past. I kuow that you oannot at once forget the man who has wronged you; I do not expect it—do not ask it. I only plead that you will pledge your word to be mine—some day— when the memory of your firBt love has died a way." Stornhill had not exhibited any great amount of passion. He had spoken quietly, earnestly, and respectfully. He felt, that if Hilda were likely to be actuated by a feeling of outraged pride, it would be weli for him not to show that he suspected the motive which would most likely lead her to respeot his offer. Therefore he did not attempt to magnify Meadowsere's treachery; did not seek to score a point by dilating upon the advantages she would reap by becoming his wife. And in this he did wisely, although Hilda's next words undoubtedly surprised him. "You wiBh me," she said, with a slight tremour in her voice, "to become your wife?" " I do—it is the wish of my life." "Then," and Hilda threw back her head proadly, " I shall sapak honestly and oandidly to you, and if after I have spoken you 6tiU wish to marry me, I am yours to the end of time. To this man, who has dealt me this cruel blow, I gove my whole heart—I loved him. Yet would I heap contempt upon him, and by marrying you I might aocomplieh this end, and I should also please my mother, who has long desired that this marriage should taks place. You see, I have no desire to aot falsely. Though I respect you. Mr. Stornhill, I do not love you, and it is right that you should know this. There, that is all. If you care to renew your proposal I will accept it; if not I shall not blame you. Nay, I trust that our friendship will still continue." Stornhill was staggered. Such oandour was more than he could understand ; neither did he relish it. He knew that if Hilda accepted him at all it must bs for some such reason as she gave; in fact, he had relied upon her jealouBV and her desire to be revenged upon Meadowsere for the success of his plot. But it was not pleasant to hear the truth from Eilda's own lips, and Stornhill rather shrank from entering into an engagement with a woman who could tell him so frankly that she simply used him to repay the debts of vengeance. Hilda watched him in suspense, and, seeing his look of indecision, noting hia hesitation, she appeared to be relieved. In her fits of passion she had looked forward to the time when Stornhill would ask her to beoome his wife; and yet, at this supreme moment, the very thought of marrying him was repulsive to her, even though she deaired to show Meadowsere that she had not suffered through his treachery. Her vanity would have been wounded ; in a way she would have been disappointed if Stornhill had drawn baok from hio proposal; she was even more bitterly disappointed when he said firmly :— "I still wiah you to link your life with mine, and I will trust to time to bring me both love and happineBS." Hilda shivered. WaB it that she saw for a moment into the dim, misty future? That ahe realized the fate awaiting her ? Who can tell ? She noticed Stornhill bend as if to kisa her, and raised her face to meet his kiea. There lips met, and Stornhiil drew baok. He had no wish to repeat the experiment. "And. now," said Hilda, with a feeble laugb, " I have a favour to ask." "It is already granted," answered Stornhill. " You are not on friendly terms with Mr. Meadowsere, I know; he aeeuis to dislike you," continued Hilda, taking no notice of his interruption, if such it could be called. "I have hero a ring—the one he gave me," and her voice faltered as she took from her purse the ring that h&d been the innocent cause of much suffering, and handed it to Stornhill. "Give this to Mr. Meadowsere when next you see him. There will be no need to say anything ; he will understand, more espeoially as ic comes through you. It is because of hie hatred of you that I ask you to be the bearer of hia ring. If he possesses any capacity of feeling at all he cannot fail to understand the contempt for his actions which has led me to pursue this course." As Stornhill took the ring a look, almost of exultation, came into his eyes. The duty asnigued to him gave unmixed satisfaction and pleasure. Here at last was a chanco of humbling Meadowsere's pride to the dust. "I shall carry out your instructions to the letter," he answered, bowing. " But your mother informed me of a marriage certificate which Meadowsere's wife had forgotten. Would it not be advisable to give me this also, and I oould hand it to Air. Meadowsere together with the ring ?" "No !" said Hilda sharply. "It belonged to hie wife; not to him. When she ohoses to call for it she shall have it. Until then—I intend keeping it myself." " What if she ahould write for it?" "She would not get it. How could I tell whether the certificate would fall into the hands of its rightful owner? You may, perhaps, consider this a foolish whim of mica, but I am desirous that Mr. Meadowsere should never know I have discovered the fact of his marriage. He will never learn from ma why he has bean dismissed so ignominiously. So uutil the woman oomeB I hold the certificate." Stornhill began to breathe freely. He saw that there was little fear of the forgery being detected, and hoped that, when once his marriage was an accomplished fact, he would experience no difficulty in getting the certificate into his own hands. So he gave himself up to the pleasure of lovemaking. In this, however, he met with but soant sucoess. Hilda proved cold, and even badtempered. She WAS indifferent to the pictures of wedded bliss with which he tried to beguile har. She intended marrying him for purposes of her own. She had told him so, and now gave him to understand that she had meant what she said. Stornhill, being a shrewd man, quickly adapted himself to her mood, and he decided to take his leave leet he should outstay his welcome.
But suddenly » long, dark .hadow fell straight aoross the windlass. Hilda gave a low ory, and Stornhill turned round uneasily. Reece Meadowsere was advanoing towarda them. In approaching the house he had caught a glimpse of a white dress through the trees, and being aware of Hilda's partiality for this spot he bad turned aside in the hope of finding ber there. He exhibited no surprise at the sight of Stephen Stornhill, bat hu eyes flashed ominously, and his expression, though Btrangeiy stern, became even aterner and more haughty. Raising his hat to Miss Remersque he addressed her in oold, measured tones. "Pardon my intrusion, MisB Remereqne. I came hoping to find you alone. Seeing, however, that you are engaged at present I will retire. I desire to speak with you far ft few moments privately, and if it is convenient to you I will go on to the boose and wait till you are at liberty to see me. Or, if you would prefer it, I will oall again »t any time yoa may appoint." "If you went on to the hoase,"«aid Hilda rudely, " yoa would not be admitted. If ever you call again yoa will share the same fate, Mr. Meadowsere." " I am to understand then, that yoa refuis me a private interview ?" " A mind less dense than yours would have arrived ftt that oonoluBion long ago," and Hilda rose from the rustic seat on whioh she had been resting, and stifled an assumed yawn. Meadowsere looked at her proudly, contemptuously. There was nothing' of the exposed villain about him, and Hilda, although feeling that the right was all on her side, oould not but acknowledge that she was appearing altogether ftt a disadvantage. Meadowsere's look of quiet soorn was burning into her brain, and turn where she would she could not escape that piercing gaze. She bent her head, and stared at the ground, but instead of the earth at her feet ahe saw only two dark, and, to her overwrought imagination, mocking eyes. With ft gesture of impatience, Bhe said almost petulantly— "If you hava anything to say—say it before Mr. Stornhill." " What I have to say is well knowa to you. I am here to demand an explanation of your oonduct towards me." "Indeed; you have displayed no violent hurry in seeking this explanation," and Miss Remersque's tone betrayed ft faint Baspioion of pique. "I have sustained a heavy loss," said Reece simply, "and my trouble—but I beg you* pardon: I am not here to speak of that. I have asked you a question, and it is one I am justified in expecting you to answer." "I should hardly imagine that any explanation was necessary. Bat if yoa d*esir« one, no doubt Mr. Stornhill will oblige you." " I am addressing you, not Mr. Stornhill," said Reeoe ooldly. "Miss Remersque gives me the right of speaking for her,"observed Stornhill, with a sneer. "Allow me to return to you ftn article whioh I think yon value highly. I olaim no reward for being the means of your regaining possession of it." Meadowsere turned on him fiercely, but aa his eyes fell upon the ring the fierce look djed away, and he eaid softly to himself, though the others heard him—" It was my mother's ring; the one my father gave her—and ehe loved it." Then he exclaimed harshly, "Threw it down the well." "Eh ?" eaid Stornhill, only half understandinp. " Throw it down the welL Stephen Stornhill was not doing himself justice. This meeting had proved unexpteted, and he felt nervous and confused. The triumph be had promised himself upon returning Meadowsere's ring seemed likely to turn out a disappointment. He was in the presence of a man who was his superior morally, mentally, and physioally, and he knew it. Muttering in his confusion, "Certainly! oertainly!" he did ae Meadowsere had commanded him. The ring as it fell struck against a stone, and gave forth a dear, ringing sound. There followed a faint, far-off splash, and—silenoe. Meadowsere waited a moment, as if listening for some other sound. But none oame, and, raising his hat courteously, he shot at Hilda a glance of withering contempt and was gone. Hilda heard his footBteps on the gravel, and she looked up and followed his retreating form with burning eyes. The olick of a olosing gate was borne to her ears, and with a onrt word of farewell to Stephen Stornhill she retained to the houBe. END OF BOOK L