Chapter 815780

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Chapter NumberXX (CONTINUED)
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article815780
Full Date1881-03-05
Page Number4
Corrections6
Word Count8060
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Last Corrected2018-05-24
Newspaper TitleThe Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)
Trove TitleThe Conspiracy
article text

FICTION.

(From English, American, and other Periodicals.)

THE CONSPIRACY.

CHAPTER XX. -- (Continued.)

"It is not a notion, as you term it; it is a question of the most vital importance, and one which will affect our whole future. Do you think I could live to see the finger of scorn pointed at you -- you, whom I glory in as above all other men? Do you think I could bear the looks of pity, the sneers and shrugs, which would everywhere follow you, if you should marry me? Your father would not wish it; auntie would not like it, and I could not bear to bring this trouble on those whom I love best In the world. No, Ray, it must not be."

She could have sacrificed her life for him, but she could never let his fair fame suffer on her account.

"Sibyl, hear me," Raymond returned, following her closer, while his face had grown like a piece of sculptured marble. "I do not care what the world says. It may sneer and scoff to it heart's content. You may reason as you will regarding this matter; it is all sophistry and vanity to me. I love you my darling, and the circumstances of your birth, let them be what they may, can never affect the soul of the woman whom I honor above all others, and have chosen to be my wife. There is no other in this wide world who could fill your place in my heart, and without you I should be the most miserable

man in existence. And now listen to me, love. I mean what I say, and to prove it, I shall send for good old Dr. Edgeworth to-morrow. I shall procure a special license, and you will be my wife before an other day has passed. If you cannot claim an honorable name I will give yon one, and I will shield you all your life."

She know that he meant every word he uttered. She knew that his heart was true to her to its very centre. She had only to be passive in his hands, and the greatest joy she could ask in life would borne to her without any effort of her own.

The knowledge thrilled her with a deep happiness, and the memory of it would sweeten her whole after life; but -- it did not move her from her purpose notwithstanding.

"It is very noble in you, Ray," she said, with a wan little smile that smote his heart with keenest pain. "My soul glories in you for your fidelity; but I cannot accept it from you."

"Sibyl, just as sure as the sun rises to-morrow morning I shall send for Dr. Edgeworth to come and marry us," he answered, the veins standing out like cords on his forehead.

"Then I shall have the added pain of telling him

'no' also."

"You would not dare, Sibyl!"

"Ray, I would dare anything for your sake. I can even dare to crush out every atom of joy from my own life, and turn my back upon the blessedness which you held out to me. But, oh! my love, it is hard. I can never tell you how hard, nor make you know how dear you are to me. Do not think I am yielding you lightly, Ray. Your love is the most precious gift God ever bestowed upon me, and yet He has shown me that we must part."

She laid her cheek against his; she twined her fair arms about his neck, and dry, tearless sobs

heaved her bosom.

Ah! it was a sight to have moved the stoniest

heart.

"Never!" cried Raymond though his set teeth, "We shall not part. I will never yield you while I live. Do you hear me, Sibyl? You are my betrothed wife. I will never release you from your vows to

me."

"Not if I wish it, Ray?" she pleaded, with white face and quivering lips.

It was so hard, when her whole soul was yearning to do as he wished, and stern duty utterly forbade

it.

"You do not wish it," he said, crushing her passionately to him. "Every fibre of your being is reaching out to me with a mighty love that will never die. God does not demand such an unnatural sacrifice. He would never have given us to each other only to have parted thus; but wait -- "

He put his fingers into his vest pocket, and drew forth a tiny morocco case, and his face was as set and immovable as the mountains themselves, which were visible through the windows opposite which they sat.

"I thought to give you this before, but have not been able to find what I wanted until to-day; and now with this I bind you anew to the troth which you have plighted to me."

While he was speaking he had slipped a ring upon her finger, and his eyes searched her face eagerly to see whether she would recognize this

new bond.

It was a circlet of diamonds, the stones all of a size, and set close upon one another in a delicate line of gold just sufficient to keep them together.

It was a lovely and costly jewel, and Sibyl would have been charmed with its beauty and happy in its significance, had it but been placed upon her hand two days earlier.

As it was, the sight of it only added to her grief, and made the task she had set herself doubly hard to accomplish.

She had resolved that she could never be Raymond Prescott's wife, with that stain upon her birth always staring her in the face, with that inheritance of shame to follow her as long as she lived. She could never speak the words that would give the world a right to sneer and scoff, or turn the cold shoulder upon him. No breath or taint of evil should ever touch him through her.

On the other hand, however, she saw that he was equally firm and relentless in his purpose, as she in

hers.

He meant to marry her in spite of herself or the world, and protect her from every ill or sorrow, which would otherwise come near her.

She could not take that ring -- that symbol of bondage to him -- from her finger herself, and yet she could not bring her mind to wear it, and thus tacitly acknowledge their engagement unbroken.

"Ray," she said, trying her powers of persuasion, "my mother is very poor, and it will not become me to wear such things as this now. Take it off, please," and she held her hand toward him.

"No, Sibyl, as my wife it will become you to wear anything that I may choose to give you. To-morrow I shall bring you another to bear it company, and until a stronger seal is set upon you, this must be the thrall that binds you to me."

"Darling," he added, with infinite tenderness in his look and tone, "do you see the line of light it forms about your finger? It is not brighter than I will make your life as long as we both shall live -- it is not brighter than will be the glory which shall crown my days, with you ever at my side."

He raised her hand and laid his lips against the finger that wore the ring, then he drew her nearer, and kissed again and again the lips that quivered painfully beneath his caress.

Without giving her time to reply to his last words, he began to plan what they would do, and where they would go, and talked of a hundred things, to keep her from putting into words the look of stern resolve that still shone in her eyes

Ah, how hard it was! She listened in a sort of stony despair-sea was dumb before his great and mighty love, which was so eager to shield her from every evil; but she knew all the same that it never

could be.

CHAPTER XXI.

"RAY, IT CANNOT BE."

When at last Raymond heard his mother's voice below, he arose, saying tenderly:

"Sibyl, I am going down to tell my father and mother what you have just told me -- you are not strong enough to repeat it again, and I want you to lie here and rest until I come back to you. My princess -- my darling! do you know how very dear you are to me ? No power on earth shall ever take you from me."

He took her face between his hands, and pressed kiss after kiss upon her pale lips, trying all the while not to see the fixed purpose which still shone in her eyes.

Then placing her gently back upon the soft cushions, he left her, and went down to tell her sad tale.

Pen cannot describe the consternation which his news created. Lady Prescott was shocked beyond measure, and nearly as heart-broken as Sibyl herself, over the humiliation that had come to her darling.

Sir Athelstone, however, at first indignantly refused to believe a word of the cunningly constructed

tale.

"But, father," Raymond protested, "what possible object could the woman have had in telling Sibyl such a story, if it was not true ?"

"She is doubtless some poor creature, who wants to spend her days in ease and comfort, and has doubtless taken this way to do it."

"But think how exactly her story corresponds with Sibyl's, and then that necklace."

"Only a singular coincidence," persisted Sir Athelstone, with a frown, "or possibly the woman is in league with those people down at Flamborough head, who have taken this way to get money out of

us."

"But the necklace, how do you account for that?" again demanded Raymond.

"It is doubtless paste, or some other clever imitation. You know they had that ornament which Sibyl wears, for years, and they could easily have had a necklace made to match that," he argued, stubbornly, yet very cleverly.

Raymond's heart leaped.

It might be only a cleverly contrived plot to get money out of them after all, and he would have been only too glad to accept his father's theory.

But too many objections arose in his mind to allow him to do so, Mrs. Stillman's story had been too clear in all its points, and his heart became again oppressed with the inward belief that it was all

true.

"What possible object could she have had, then," he asked, thoughtfully and doubtfully, "in telling such a story of shame? Surely she could not expect that would help her to gain either money or protection."

This argument seemed unanswerable, and Sir Athelstone was silenced, although he bitterly rebelled against every stern fact.

Lady Prescott stole away after awhile, to comfort Sibyl, and found her burning with fever, and sadly in need of both sympathy and attention.

Raymond and his father discussed the matter until after midnight, without settling what was best to be done.

Sir Athelstone declared that he would not part with Sibyl -- she should never be allowed to drop into disgrace and obscurity. They would provide well for the woman, and pay her handsomely to keep silence upon the subject of her birth, but Sibyl should never go to live with her.

But Raymond saw the fallacy of this reasoning -- he knew that the tender-hearted, conscientious girl would overrule any arrangement of the kind; he knew that now she had found her mother, she would never consent to be separated from her while she lived, notwithstanding the want of congeniality

between them.

This view of the matter he communicated to his father, and then told him of his resolve to marry Sibyl at once and thus effectually protect her from any unpleasant results which might otherwise arise if the stigma upon her birth should ever be dis- covered. He noticed his start at this information, and was much surprised when, after a long and thoughtful pause, Sir Athelstone only very quietly replied:

"Do not be too rash, Ray; wait a day or two, and to-morrow I will myself pay this woman a visit, and judge of the probability of her story."

And thus the matter was left. Sir Athelstone was too wise a man to openly oppose his son in so darling a project as the one be was contemplating.

He knew very well Raymond's strength of will from many previous experiences, and was well aware that a diplomatic course would better serve his purpose, and be far more available than strong reasoning or opposition.

But in his heart he had resolved that if there indeed proved to be a stain on Sibyl's birth, dearly as they all loved her, and innocent as she was in her

self, it would never do for her to become his son's

wife.

No taint had ever rested upon their proud name, and -- "never should, while he lived to prevent it,"

was his mental assertion.

The next morning Sibyl was too ill to arise, but Raymond and his father paid an early visit to Mrs.

Stillman.

She had expected them, and was accordingly prepared upon every point which they brought up.

They found her sitting up, and looking very com- fortable and rather attractive in her spotless cap and lace kerchief, and both acknowledged she must have been fine-looking in her younger days, although neither of them could trace any points of resemblance between her and Sibyl, save that both had very black hair and eyes.

She told her story calmly, and in a very concise manner. It was exactly the same as she had related to Sibyl the day before, and no amount of cross- questioning could make her contradict herself, and both her visitors were compelled to acknowledge that her story had every appearance of being true. She showed them the necklace, and Sir Athelstone's theory regarding its being an imitation fell to the ground at once; for he saw that it was composed of gems of the most costly nature, and must have been purchased by a person of unlimited wealth.

On one subject alone she utterly refused to en- lighten them.

She would not tell them who had been the father of her children, and no amount of reasoning or entreaty could bring her to the point of confession.

In vain Sir Athelstone promised that justice should be done her, even at that late day -- the man should either be compelled to marry her, or provide handsomely for her in the future. She grew sullenly silent, and they had to relinquish all hope of ever learning that secret, and left the place with sad faces

and heavy hearts.

"I shall marry Sibyl at once -- she shall never leave us to suffer the scandal of such a revelation," Raymond said, on their way home.

"Wait, wait, my boy -- if you marry her in such a hurry as this everybody will imagine that something is wrong; for many have been, and still are very curious regarding the circumstances of her birth.

I am not going to give up all hope that this is a cunning lie yet; I shall run down to Scarborough tonight, and see if I can find that family who took care of Madam Stillman during the sickness that followed her injuries."

Raymond gladly caught at this straw, and saw the

wisdom of his father's advice.

Sir Athelstone was as good as his word.

He left his patients and went himself to make the inquiries that he spoke of, and thorough business he made of it, too.

But everything he learned only went further to confirm the story he had already heard.

He could not find the family with whom Mrs. Stillman professed to have spent so many weeks ; they had moved away many years previous, and no one knew where they were ; but there were some living there yet who remembered a tall, dark, handsome woman, with black hair and eyes, who had been injured and remained there sick some time, and who had become nearly frantic, on being restored to health, at the loss of her child.

He then sought the farm, where she had said she spent a number of weeks to regain her health before

the accident.

He found it, but the man and his wife who had owned it at that time were both dead, and no one remained but a younger daughter, who had just married and settled there. The elder children had all gone away.

She remembered the beautiful lady with her little girl, and the nurse, but had forgotten their names entirely, and so Sir Athestone went back to Dumfries with a very heavy heart, but convinced beyond a doubt that Sibyl's sad history was true.

Raymond knew, as soon as he saw his face, that his journey had only served to confirm everything.

"It is all true, Ray," Sir Athelstone said, with a heavy sigh.

"I feared it, but I shall make her my wife at once, and no one will dare abuse her then," was the brave and steady answer.

"Well, well, my boy, we will go and talk with her about it," his father answered, and together they sought the young girl.

She was still weak from the excitement which she had endured and had not yet been able to go to Algeria-street; but Lady Prescott had sent around every day to see how Mrs. Stillman was, and the messenger had returned with the welcome news that she was "better and very comfortable."

Sibyl had hoped nothing from Sir Athelstone's journey, and was therefore not disappointed in the

result.

She received Ray and his father quietly, and was as sweet and gentle as it was possible for any one to be, but to all Raymond's entreaties she was as one

deaf.

He argued, begged, and pleaded in vain. Her answer was ever the same. " Ray, it cannot be."

To his reiterated assertion that he should obtain a special license, and send for Dr. Edgeworth, she only said, with a look of pain:

"That would only make it so much harder for me, dear; I could not bear it I am afraid."

"Do you mean, love, that you would refuse in Dr. Edgeworth's presence to be Raymond's wife?" asked Sir Athelstone, wondering at her resolution.

"Yes," she answered, but her face was deathly

white.

"It will not do Raymond to press the matter now," he said, in an aside to his son. "It would take but very little to throw the child into a fatal brain fever. Wait awhile until she is calmer, and then perhaps she will be more reasonable."

Raymond saw the wisdom of this advice, without suspecting the personal interest which prompted it, and reluctlantly yielded.

The next few days were full of pain and anxiety

for the whole household.

Sibyl was so prostrated that they feared it would take her a long time to rally, but her will was very strong, and at the end of a week she began to mend and make preparations for removing to Algeria-

street.

Sir Athelstone had a long talk with her upon this determination, and proposed all manner of ways to bridge over the difficulty, but she remained firm, and all arguments availed nothing, and hard as it was for him to give up the beautiful girl who had been the light of his home for so long, he was yet relieved that she would not yield.

It would be far better, he reasoned, that she and Raymond should be separated and at once under

the circumstances.

He was wise enough, however, to hide all such feelings, and only expressed deepest regret over her

sad fate.

With Lady Prescott and Raymond, Sibyl's task was much harder; it was like breaking her ladyship's heart to thus give up the child of her love and care, and her grief made the young girl very

wretched indeed.

"Sibyl, can you love me and yet persist in this thing?" Raymond cried, in despair, on the last day that she was to be with them.

"You know that I love you, Ray, better than all

else in the world."

"Not better than your duty, princess," he replied reproachfully.

"Duty! is it easy to love one's duty, Ray, do you think?" she asked, with dropping head and tightly clasped hands.

It was so hard to fight this double battle with her own heart and his dear love.

"It seems to have more power over you than aught else," he answered, bitterly.

"Ah! but duty is not of this world, Ray -- it comes from a higher authority than either your will or mine, and I have no right to disobey."

"Will nothing make you yield? Be my wife, and I will take you and your mother anywhere -- to the ends of the earth if you say, where you can have no fear of the world's scorn for me," he pleaded, in agony, as the last trunk was strapped, and the carriage drove to the door to take her away.

He wound his arms about her as if determined she should not go; he bowed his head upon her bright hair and shed such tears as a man can only

shed once in a life-time.

But the answer came sweet and low, though firm, while the slight frame shook like a reed :

"Nothing, my beloved! and God give you comfort. Oh, Ray!" she added, nearly breaking down now that the moment of parting had come ; "try not to think unkindly of me -- try to believe that nothing but my great love for you, and the knowledge that it is right and best for you, could ever have given me strength for this hour."

"Sibyl, my darling, I know it; I know that you are sacrificing yourself and all your future hopes Co a mistaken idea that it is for my good; but, love, you will see things differently by and by, and,-- taking the hand that still had the diamond circlet on it, for he would not consent to have it removed --

"remember I do not release you from your promise! to me; I shall never release you until you tell me you have ceased to love me; and this is the seal that I have set to it. If I cannot have the right of a husband to care for you, I will still remain true to

you as your betrothed, and as long as we both do live we belong to each other. You will not forget

my words?"

"I could not forget of I would. Oh, Ray! Ray!" and she went forth from her happy home with a nearly breaking heart.

Lady Prescott accompanied her; she had been there before several times during the last few days had hired two more rooms adjoining those occupied by Mrs. Stillman, and had them furnished with all the beautiful things which had been in Sibyl's own rooms at Sir Athelstone's -- her piano, her books, pictures, ornaments, and a hundred things that had grown very dear to her.

Everything that love could do had been done to deaden the poignancy of parting, and though Mrs. Stillman watched jealously all these proceedings, and Ada Therwin scoffed at all this "silly fuss made over the sentimental chit," yet to Sibyl's sensitive, grateful heart, it was sweetest balm, and she did not feel so utterly desolate and miserable as she had expected, when on her arrival in Algeria-street these familiar objects greeted her eyes.

Sir Athelstone, deeply agitated at her departure, had taken her in his arms and blessed her, calling her his "dear child still," and when he at last let her go and hurried away to hide the tears in his fine eyes, he left a package in her hands.

She afterward found it to contain a bank-book, showing upon its pages a sum of money put at interest for her that would yield her an income of four hundred pounds yearly.

Thus Sibyl's trust that "some way would be pro¬ę vided," had been verified.

CHAPTER XXII.

A STRANGE VISITOR.

The spring following Sibyl's departure from the fisherman's inn at Flamborough Head, a strange woman was seen for several days prowling around in that vicinity.

She passed the inn again and again, peering curiously in at the wide door, stretching her neck to look in at the windows, and even slyly visited the stables, prying into every stall and corner with restless, eager eyes, and great anxiety of manner.

Then she was seen hovering about the one school- house of the place, and when school was dismissed,

she marched to the door and stood gazing anxiously into every face, as the pupils came forth from their temple of learning.

But evidently her search was not at all satisfactory, for, after visiting the place three days in succession, and going through with the same proceedings each time, she at last shook her head sadly, and with a deep-drawn sigh, turned away and walked with firm, decided tread directly to the inn.

She was small of statue, thin of flesh, and very peculiar in appearance.

Her form was somewhat bent, her face hollow and wrinkled, her features sharp, her skin sallow, and her expression one of ceaseless anxiety.

Her hair was liberally streaked with gray, and her eyes, which were a deep, dark blue, were set far beneath overhanging brows, and peered restlessly and habitually about her, as if searching for something or some one whom she had lost.

She was clad in a gown of some coarse, dark brown stuff, made to clear the ground; a mantle of the same material was wrapped about her shoulders, and she wore black stockings with bow shoes, and gray cotton mitts, while in her hands she carried a little black bag, exceedingly rusty and worn with constant service. A dark bonnet of coarse straw covered her head.

After leaving her post by the school-house door, she had gone directly to the inn, as before stated.

Arriving there, she raised her hand to the heavy

brass knocker, and then, in sudden thought she rested it there, and bent her head in a listening

attitude.

All was silent within, except the clatter of dishes

in some unknown region of the house, and with a look of keenest anxiety on her withered face, the strange creature then lifted the knocker and let it fall sharply three times.

A young lady of rather dilapidated appearance, and of perhaps eighteen summers, presented herself in answer to this emphatic summons.

"Landlady in?" was the curt inquiry made by the qneer-looking stranger, while she regarded the girl with a disappointed air.

"Yes, mum ; walk in and hi'll call 'er," was the response, while the girl stared at the new-comer with wide and curious eyes.

The woman entered, and without waiting to be shown the way walked directly to the receiving room, and seated herself in one of the stiff-backed chairs, with as much assurance and composure as if she were accustomed to coming there every day in the year.

After one quick, searching look around, she kept turning her bead from side to side in a listening attitude, while her lips moved continually, and her eyes had a strained, yearning look in their clear depths.

Presently Nell Sloane made her appearance, looking much the same as at the opening of our story, only perhaps a little more obese in her proportions and not at all improved in the tidiness of her attire or personal aspect.

"Well," she said, planting herself in the middle of the door-way, her hands on her broad hips, and looking her visitor over with her keen, bright eyes "Jane said ye wanted me."

"And so I do, Mistress Sloane; how do you do after all these years?" the stranger returned, coolly

removing her bonnet, and turning her face square upon the landlady.

Mrs. Sloane gave a sudden start, bent forward to

take a closer scrutiny, then with a coarse laugh she remarked with the utmost sang froid :

"Well said! Ye hain't grown handsome since ye

cut sticks from here."

"I've come for the child -- where is she?" was the next startling remark from the stranger.

Nell's face grew dark.

"A pretty time this, to come far the young one ye left squalling on my hands near about eleven years ago. Did ye expect to find her here, I sh'd like to

know?"

A gray pallor overspread the woman's face, and , her eyes filled with fear.

"Is she dead -- did she die?" she gasped.

"Die! I guess not; she lived to be the spunkiest laziest brat that ever drew breath; and a pretty

penny she cost me, too, mooning around here from morning till night with a book in her hand for ten long years."

"Ten? It's going on eleven now -- isn't she here now?" and the strange creature caught her breath quickly.

"No, she ain't -- and glaguy glad I was to get rid of her, too."

"What have you done with her -- where is she? Tell me, for I must find her," and the woman became violently agitated.

"Well, now, that's cool! Did ye expect ye could go off and leave a young one like that, and then come back all these years, and put yer hand right on her again?" Nell demanded, with an ugly sneer, as she sank into a chair near the door.

"I could not help it -- I did not know what I was about. That knock on my head took all my senses away."

"Where have ye been all this time?" demanded Nell, with considerable curiosity.

"Sick; stretched on my bed with inflammatory rheumatism, in a foreign country, for nine years."

"Ye might have writ."

"I could not hold a pen in my hand. See!" and she held up her right hand all cramped and drawn

out of shape.

"Well, ye might have got some one to write for

ye then."

"Nobody believed my story; they thought I was crazy; they did not speak the same language, and besides, I could not remember your name, nor where you lived," the stranger explained in trembling

tones.

"How did ye find the place then now?"

"I knew where that dreadful accident happened, and as soon as I could get on my feet, I went to work to earn money to take me there. I had some idea of how this place looked, and for three weeks I've been tramping around to find it. Day before yesterday

I stumbled upon the place, and I've been looking around trying to see if I could find the child, and not daring to ask lest they should tell me she was dead. I went to the school-house and looked at every child, but there was no face among them all

that looked like hers."

"Did ye expect to know her now even if ye had

seen her?"

"Yes, yes, I could tell her among thousands. The years could not change her so that I should not know her. Oh I tell me, please tell me, where I can find

her," Nancy Crawford -- for she it was -- cried out

with eager pain.

"That's more than ye've any right to know, after deserting a little innocent like that," said Nell, cruelly.

"I know, I know ; but I could not help it ; tortures would not have compelled me to do it if I had been in my right mind," wailed Nancy, with streaming

tears.

"Well, then, I can tell ye this much, a gentleman and lady came and took her away lost November."

"A gentleman and lady! What was their name?"

gasped Nancy, eagerly.

"That's my secret. I've had trouble enough about

the brat first and last, and I can't afford to give too much information free," Nell returned, with a

greedy look at the little black bag, which her visitor

held in her lap.

"Oh!" she cried, "I'd gladly give you any amount of money if I had it, but I've only enough to get me home from here, and then I'll have to earn more to

start out again; for I must find my darling, I shall never know rest or peace again, until she is found

and restored to her mother."

"Who is her mother ?" demanded Nell, cunningly. "You can't expect that I am going to tell you that, then you refuse me the simple thing I ask," retorted Nancy, indignantly.

"Well, well, don't get mad and I'll tell you all I know about it, which is precious little, since I have never heard a word, nor set eyes on any of them since they went away from here," Nell said, somewhat subdued.

"As I was telling ye, a great Iady and gentleman

came here, and had to stop over a day or two on account of a great storm; and they were so taken with the gal's pretty face and fine ways, that they wanted

to take her away and edicate her, they said. You may believe I was glad of any chance to get rid of her, for she never earned her salt, and so I let her go."

"If she never earned her salt why didn't you send

her to the poor house?" demanded Nancy shrewdly. Nell appeared rather staggered at the question, but after a moment's hesitation said :

"Well, ye see, there is a little bit of feeling inside

me, if I am rough on the outside, and so I never could bring my mind to do that."

Nancy's lip curled at this monstrous story, but she quiietly asked again.

"Who was this lady and gentleman?"

"Well, I can't just remember the name now?" Nell replied with a well assumed air of perplexity.

"Now you are lying, Mistress Sloan," Nancy said sharply.

"Well, I ain't a proper hand at remembering names, but she writ it on a card for me, and it's

packed away, somewhere among my things -- perhaps I can find it before you go," Nell answered with [?].

[?] that her visitor which said she thought she might

[?] any too sane even now, and that it would be [?] to anger her.

"Where do they live ?" was the next eager question. That was on the card, too. My memory don't

serve me, I tell ye," Mrs. Sloan returned, then added: "But what's your name? The [?] always called you Nannie, but I could [?] her to tell me any more."

[?] the darling -- the precious! how could I have been so wild as to have gone away and

[?] here?" Nancy cried, wringing her hands, glancing first at the repulsive woman opposite then about the cheerless apartment.

A moment later she added, more calmly:

"My name is Nancy Crawford, and I had been the [?] nurse ever since she was born."

"Nancy Crawford -- if that is your name -- if

[?] belonged to any of the quality, which I

[?], I must say ye did a fine day's work [?] walked off that fine morning and left her in

[?]

"I know it -- don't I know as well as you can

[?] And now I must find her again!" she [?]

[?], ye mean,'' put in Nell, viciously.

[?] and her if she is living -- I know I shall. [?]ch the world over, and spend my last [?] quest, before I will give it up. Ah! if [?] only give me that card, it will not be long [?] shall be successful, and I can restore her to her mother.

[?] do ye know that she is living?"

'[?] taken care to find out about that since I

came back to England; but I can never let her know that I live until I can carry her news of her lost child. Will you give me that card?"

[?] think about it first, and talk with my

[?] Ye hain't told me yet who her folks be."

"Would you give the lady who took her the child's [?] and that jewel?" Nancy suddenly asked; and [?] Nell's last remark.

"The child's clothes indeed! Do ye think I took

trouble to save them old rags, if they were all

[?],tucks, and 'broidery? And what ye mean by talking about jewels is more than I know; I guess your brain ain't just right yet," Nell returned, with

[?]ent uneasiness.

"You are very foolish not to save her clothing, for you might have realised something handsome for it," Nancy said, severely; then, with her eyes fixed full

on her companion's disagreeable face, she continued: "[?] the child had a very valuable jewel in her [?] when I brought her here -- it belonged to a necklace of her mother's; I had sense enough to remember that, and it is the last thing that I do remember distinctly: but I know she had it after she [?] here, for it was the only thing that would keep

her quiet and let me rest when my head ached so. What have you done with it?"

"What have I done with it indeed!" Nell retorted

[?] her head defiantly. "Ye must have taken it with ye yerself, if there was any such thing, there ain't anything like it in this house now."

Mrs. Sloan had no idea how truthfully she was speaking for once in her life.

"Then you have sold it, for I tell you I know I left

it here with the child."

"Where did ye go when ye went away from here?" Nell asked, anxious to change the subject, as well as feeling some curiosity about the matter.

"As near as I can find out, I wandered to Hull, where, confused, exhausted, and ill, I crawled on board a trading vessel which plied between there

and Holland.

"I was not discovered until the vessel was well out to sea, and being very sick then, I could tell them nothing, so they were obliged to take me along with them. The captain's wife was on board, and I am told she gave me every care; but I had a severe attack of brain fever, which left my mind very weak for many months afterwards, and therefore I did not recover sufficiently to tell my story before they were obliged to go to another voyage; they left me at a hospital in Amsterdam, from where I was

afterward carried to the alms-house.

"Before I had fully recovered from the brain fever inflammatory rheumatism set in in its worst form, and for years I lay upon my bed, a miserable and helpless cripple. In a strange country, and among strange people, of course I could not understand their language, nor they mine; and, when I at last managed to learn enough to make myself understood, everybody laughed at my story, and said I

was cracked.

"It is a wonder that I ever got well; but I did, or at least able to hobble about and help myself; I don't suppose the cramps will ever all leave me, or that my hands will ever get straight again, but I can manage to do a good deal of work as it is.

"Well, I left that miserable place, and glad enough I was, too, to get away. I went to work to get money enough to pay my passage to England, with the one hope of finding my little Sibyl, if she was yet alive, and restore her to her parents, if they had not been so fortunate as to have already found her.

"That's all I have to tell you, Mistress Sloan, and you will perceive that I'm not over rich, and have no money to pay you for any information regarding the child. But if you will put me on her track, and I find her, I can promise you something handsome as she is restored to her parents."

"I suppose ye are going to tell me who her folks be?" Nell said, again recurring to the one subject of the most importance to her.

Her one desire, ever since Sibyl had been left on her hands, had been to find out who her parents were, and use that knowledge to "feather her nest with," so to speak.

"I shall tell you nothing until I see that card which you say you have in your possession," Nancy replied, firmly.

Evidently she had not much confidence in Mistress Sloan, and was determined not to commit herself any further than was absolutely necessary.

Nell saw that she would gain nothing more from her without some concessions on her part, and after pondering a few minutes, she arose, saying:

"Well, I will see if I can find the card."

"You'd better bring the jewel, too ; it will be better for your future peace of mind if you give it up," Nancy observed, laconically.

"I tell ye I don't know what ye're talking about, and I wish ye'd hold yer tongue about that nonsense," Nell retorted, angrily.

"All right ; you know best, perhaps. But while you are looking for that card, I think I will eat my supper, for I begin to feel hungry."

And Miss Crawford deliberately laid aside her bonnet and mantle, and drew off her mitts.

"Can ye pay for a supper?" demanded Nell, cautiously, and with a suspicious look at the little black bag.

"Oh, yes, Mistress Sloan; I can afford to satisfy the demands of my appetite, if I cannot afford to bribe you for the information I desire," was the

somewhat scornful retort.

"Well, come on, then."

And Nell led the way to the same room where

Raymond Prescott and his mother had been served,

on that gloomy night, six years previous.

Mrs. Sloan set out a plain though substantial meal, and while her strange guest was eating, she went up to her chamber to take a look at the "jewel," which she had not seen since the night before Sibyl's departure, and to find the card which Lady Prescott had given her.

She had no notion of yielding up either article to Nancy, but her sudden reappearance had created a strong desire to refresh her own memory regarding them, and take another look at her hidden

treasure.

Fifteen minutes later she came flying back into the room where Nancy Crawford sat quietly eating her supper, in a towering passion.

"You've been and stole it!" she cried, shaking her fist in the astonished woman's face.

"Stole what -- the card ? If I could have done that, Mistress Sloan, believe me, I should never have troubled you to-night," Nancy said, after a minute as she composedly resumed her eating.

"The card -- goodness, no! but the di'mend with them white things all around it. Give it up, I say, or it will be the worse for ye!" and the angry termagant approached nearer.

Nancy's eyes gleamed with sudden fire.

"The diamond with the white things around it, is the jewel to which I referred a while ago. I thought you had never seen it, Mistress Sloan," she remarked, shrewdly, as she turned and faced her

enemy.

Nell stopped, aghast.

She saw that, blinded by passion, she had revealed the very thing that she had been most anxious to conceal; but this knowledge now only made her

more furious and unreasonable.

"Give it up, I say! Ye said ye'd been prowling about here for a day or two, and I know ye must

have took it."

"I know nothing about it, although, I am willing to confess, I wish I had been able to obtain possession of it," Nancy remarked, without flinching.

"I don't believe a word ye say. Ye must have took it, for no one would ever have thought of it if they

had not known it was here."

"Did no one know you had it but yourself, Mistress Sloan?" Nancy demanded, looking her full in

the eye.

"No; nobody but -- Jem --"

She caught her breath quickly and stopped, as it suddenly flashed upon her that Jem might have been

the thief, after all.

She remembered his admiration of the jewel when they had last looked at it, his remarks regarding its

value, and his desire to sell it.

Her face flushed almost a purple, and then paled with passion; and without another word to her guest, she darted from the room.

A few minutes later Miss Crawford heard fierce, angry words in the back kitchen between the husband and wife.

But Jem again and again protested his entire innocence in the matter, and appeared so greatly disturbed upon learning of the jewel's disappearance that Nell was obliged to be convinced that he spoke

the truth, and forthwith returned to her attack upon

Miss Crawford.

But Nancy was nowhere to be found.

A piece of silver lay beside her plate, upon a half sheet of paper, on which was written:

"For my supper. But, Mistress Sloan I know nothing about the jewel, and as I cannot be detained in my work by useless questions and abuse, I bid you a quiet good-by. Nancy Crawford.

A thorough search was instituted for the woman who had disappeared so suddenly and mysteriously, but they never saw her again.

Nancy had feared that if Nell in her passion should have her arrested for the theft, it would be very hard to prove her innocence, and great trouble and delay might result from it.

So she very quietly took her departure during the husband's and wife's dispute, and the matter of the missing treasure waa a mystery to both as long as they lived, though Nell stoutly declared that if that Crawford woman had not stolen it Jem had.

Not a suspicion ever entered her mind that Sibyl could have been the one to take it, for she did not believe the child knew of its existence, since she had taken possession of it immediately after Nancy's desertion of the child, years before. The trunk in which she had kept it only contained a few articles which she considered valuable, and which were scarcely ever used. She had not had occasion to go to it for anything since Sibyl went away, consequently had only just now discovered that it was gone.

She did not get over her loss for many a long day, for she had built many an air-castle with a lavish imagination, and now she had nothing with which to prove her story, if by any good fortune she should ever discover who Sibyl's parents were.

"I know where the young one is, thank goodness, and it will take a pretty penny to make me tell that secret," was the one remaining morsel of consolation which she continued to hug to her heart, in the greedy hope of getting a well-filled purse in return.

But she never found a customer for her treasured

information, and so the years slipped by one by one.

(To be continued.)