Chapter 817408

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Chapter NumberXLII (CONTINUED)
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article817408
Full Date1881-05-21
Page Number4
Corrections12
Word Count9180
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-07-24
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 XLII. - (Continued.)

"I never could call that woman anything but mother, and hardly that, even when I thoroughly believed her to be such: she always repelled me, except at the very last," said Sibyl, touching her lips

to the countess' soft cheek.

"Poor dear! what a sad life my darling has had; but the future shall be brighter for you, love. But have you that link by which you thought your identity

proved?"

"No, and there is a mystery about it which I could never fully understand, though, of course, I have entertained certain suspicions. After Mrs. Stillman, or Judith Hoffman, told me her story, making me believe I was her child, and said that the necklace which she had shown me to prove it had been given to her by that man, who, she said, was my father, but not her husband" -- Sibyl shuddered at the remembrance -- "I could not bear the sight of it, and one day I put it back into the case with the

necklace."

"You did!" cried Lady Shirley, with a start, and sitting suddenly erect, her brow contracted with

painful thought.

"Yes; I never said anything to her about it, for those were things I never could bear to speak of; but after she died, in putting her things in order, I could not find it anywhere, and it troubled me exceedingly. She told me, just before she died, that the initials upon that link were really my mother's, and I know if that was the case those concerned in the plot against me must have become possessed of the necklace by some treachery, and it must have been returned again where it belonged. Did you have such a necklace? have you it now?" Sibyl

asked, anxiously.

"Yes, dear," Lady Shirley answered, very gravely,

as she folded her again in her arms.

"Then there can be but one solution to the mystery. I think -- I understand --"

"My child, there is much that will yet have to be explained and accounted for, and much that will make us sad despite our present joy, I fear," interrupted the countess with a sigh.

Then, after a moment of thought, she resumed:

"Although you have very kindly refrained from calling a certain name, of course I cannot fail to know who has so nearly ruined your life, and who has repaid with treachery and ingratitude the kindness she has ever received. I know that it must be Ada who made you believe Judith Hoffman was your mother, or rather introduced you to her, and coined for her use the cunning tale which you could not fail to believe, and I can explain all about the necklace. While she was in Dumfries, she wrote me that there was to be a grand masquerade ball there, and that having worn all her own into company several times, she feared she would be recognised by them if she wore them at the masquerade. She asked me if I would lend her my necklace and pendants of pearls and diamonds, since she wished to make herself as fine as possible, and she promised to be very careful of them, knowing how very much I prized them. I sent them to her, and never dreamed but that she wanted them for the purpose she mentioned, and she must instead have given them to Judith Hoffman to prove her vile tale. Oh, what a wretched plot it was from beginning to end, and what a return for all our care! The necklace Ada brought back with her when she returned, consequently she must have got it again from Judith before you went to Barmouth; but the missing link she must have retained in her own possession, and doubtless has it at this moment. Why Heaven should permit such wickedness I cannot understand," concluded Lady Shirley, bitterly.

"It has been very hard," Sibyl returned, softly, while her face assumed a lofty look of faith, "but shall we not acknowledge that there has been great wisdom in it notwithstanding ?"

"It seems a strange kind of wisdom that could keep a child from its own mother for seventeen long years, while that mother cherished the viper that was to sting her so sorely."

Lady Shirley's face wore a look of stern, almost

angry resolve

Sibyl gently touched her lips with the tips of her fingers, as if to stay the bitter words. It was a way she had when any one said anything that she deemed

not just right.

"The Man of Sorrows," she said, reverently, "was kept from Heaven just twice seventeen years to redeem the fallen. Do you not see that poor Judith must have been lost. Her life would have been wasted and lost and gone out in utter darkness at last, if help had not been sent to her ? We cannot weigh the worth of a soul! and with all my sorrow, with all my pain, and longing for the dear mother who gave me birth, I cannot regret, I cannot even say I would have it otherwise, when I think that God allowed me -- as I feel he has -- to be the one to guide her into the light. She died peacefully and happily -- she died blessing me for the comfort I had brought to her, and I was thankful and content, even while knowing how I had been wronged and duped."

"Dear child! is your faith so strong as that?" said the countess, regarding her with something of

awe.

"It is strong enough, I trust, to discern the hand that has guided me. Think of what Judith's early life was, so full of sin, willfulness, defiance, and wrong, that embittered all her after years. My own early experiences were calculated to make me sympathize with her, and all unfortunate ones, and after Lady Prescott made life so beautiful for me, I was continually wishing for some work to do to prove my gratitude. It was sent to me, and how glad I am that I did not shrink from it! But I am none the less glad and happy on this blessed day.

I hope -- I trust I may believe that at last I have found my mother," Sibyl concluded, earnestly, her face glowing with joy.

Lady Shirley's eyes were again full of tears. She marvelled at the beautiful spirit Sibyl manifested. There was no rebellion or bitterness in her heart for the wrongs and sorrows of the past ;but instead, a holy joy, that she had been allowed to lead a soul

to God!

"My precious child," she said, fondly, "I think -- indeed I am quite sure there can be no doubt about it. I, at least, am satisfied that you are mine."

"My lady," interposed Nancy, suddenly, "do you remember me telling me that there was one thing by which you would be able to recognize Miss Sibyl

anywhere in the world?"

Lady Shirley started, and then turned quickly to Sibyl agoin, though she grew very pale.

"Yes, there is one test that will prove it beyond the possibility of doubt," she said, "though it did

not occur to me before."

Sibyl held her breath, while her heart bounded with sudden fear, and the countess continued:

"When my child was nine months old, the smallpox broke out in our neighborhood, and my husband insisted that she should be vaccinated, and called in the physician to do it. I rebelled at first, I had such a fear of inoculating some disease into her system, but they both thought it would be very unsafe not to do it. I would not have her little arms disfigured and though they laughed at me for my folly, I wilfully persisted, and at last the doctor performed the operation on the inside of the right limb, just above the knee. It took nicely, and left a large

clear sear. Sibyl -- "

And Lady Shirley turned her anxious face upon

the beautiful girl.

For answer she wound her arms again about the fair woman's neck, as she sobbed:

"My own dear mother! how glad I am of that test. That scar is as clear to day as it ever was, and on just the spot you mention. There can be no

doubt now."

"No, no; my wilfulness for once has proved itself of inestimable value. My beautiful daughter, is it any wonder that my heart went out to Lady Allstone's protegee ?" the countess asked, kissing away her tears, her own face radiant with love and

happiness.

"And mine to her substitute?" added Sibyl, smiling; then she asked: "Were you very severely injured in the railway accident? Was it all just as

Judith told me?"

"Yes, dear, I was ill for several weeks from bruises and lameness, caused, I suppose, by that falling timber that so near proved your death; and when

recovered, they all said, doubtless you had been buried in one of those nameless graves, and I was wild with grief. Yes, Ada knew the story only too well. There is a heavy account against her to be

settled."

"And did you advertise, offering large rewards for the missing link?"

"Yes, after your father's return. He was away at that time on some state mission. My health was so poor I could not accompany him, and he sent me down to Scarborough, to the sea, for a change. I was delirious during my sickness, after the accident, and there was no one who knew me, so he received no news of our trouble until I myself was able to send a telegram to him. It was a bitter blow to him, for we had lost three beautiful boys before that, and all our hopes were centred in you. Now is everything clear to you?"

"Yes -- only I cannot understand why I have never received an answer to a letter which I wrote to Ray."

Sibyl stopped with a bright blush, then added : "But of course you can know nothing of that."

"I told you, dear, that there is much yet to be explained, and that is doubtless one thing," Lady Shirley said, sternly; then she continued, archly: "Would it distress you very much if I should tell you that the young gentleman is a guest of mine?"

"Raymond here!" cried Sibyl, growing weak at the thought, as she remembered what the Duc d'Aubigne had told her.

"Yes, here in this very house. Sir Athelstone and Lady Prescott also."

"Is he -- is he going to marry Ada?" the white lips asked.

It was a hard question, but she was bound to

know the worst at once.

"No, a thousand times no!" Lady Shirley said, emphatically, and she realised something of Sibyl's deep love, as she noticed the light of joy which sprang into her eyes at the denial.

"Auntie and Sir Athelstone here, too!" she said, joyfully. "I am afraid this is almost too much happiness for one day -- my father, too, I long to see

him."

"It is time I think that we let him into our blessed secret," was the reply of the countess, tears springing again to her eyes as she thought of the joy in store for her husband; and ringing the bell she dispatched a messenger to summon him, together with Sir Athelstone and Lady Prescott.

CHAPTER XLIII.

INGRATITUDE.

The count fearing that his wife might be ill, for he had missed her from the salon, hastened immediately on receiving her summons to the east reception-room, followed by Sir Athelstone and Lady

Prescott.

The scene that greeted him as he opened the door was one which he never forgot, and often in after years he was wont to relate it to the dark-eyed, beautiful grandchildren that sat upon his knees. He saw his wife and a lovely young lady sitting upon the velvet couch clasped in each other's arms, their faces shining with the new-born joy in their hearts, while a strange-looking woman with a brown, wrinkled face, and clad in cheap and homely garments, stood by regarding them, laughing, weeping , and talking to herself all in one breath, and in the most eccentric manner imaginable.

As he stood a moment in the door, his face expressing his surprise, Lady Shirley gently disengaged herself from Sibyl's clasping arms and went to him.

But Lady Prescott, after one searching look into the sweet, thin face, rushed forward to the child she had so loved, and clasped her to her heart in an ecstasy of thankfulness.

Sir Athelstone was not long in following her example, and while Sibyl answered their eager questions she could not refrain from every now and then glancing slyly and with something of anxiety at the tall, noble man by the door, who was listening with a white, excited face to what his wife was telling

him.

In the fewest possible words she gave him the principal facts of her history, and then with a grave gentleness that thrilled Sibyl with a deep and tender affection, he come to her, gathered her in his arms, and putting back the dark hair from her brow, gazed eagerly and silently in her face.

The rich blood mounted to her forehead beneath his look, but the little tremulous smile about her lips showed that his earnest scrutiny was not unpleasant, and when his deep, rich tones fell upon her ear in tender blessing, her whole soul went out to her father as it had done to her mother.

"Bless you, my precious treasure," he said, with deep emotion; "this face and these eyes are too

much like your mother's for me to doubt for one moment that God has given me back my own. But my heart is exceedingly bitter over the long years of sorrow," and his voice shook with a sob.

"And yet this is better, my father," how sweetly the words came from her lips, " than what you really believed of me; our sorrow and longing instead of continuing is turned into joy," Sibyl answered,

gently.

"True, darling; you shame my ingratitude. We will endeavor to forget the sad past in the bright present," and lifting her beautiful face he kissed her tenderly.

While the count had been greeting his child, Lady Prescott said something in a low tone to her hus- band, and with a smile of assent he left the room.

Returning to the salon, he found Raymond still stretched upon the sofa where he had thrown himself, his face full of pain and anxiety, his heart in a fever of impatience and longing. He looked up in surprise at his father's agitated face.

" My son, I want you to come with me," Sir Athelstone strove to say with calmness.

Raymond instantly sprang to his feet.

" What is it?" he cried, excitedly, "is there more misery in store for me? I cannot bear very much

more, father."

"No, no, just the reverse, I hope, my boy. But

come."

He led the way back to the east reception-room, and opened the door, holding it for him to pass in.

Sibyl was standing by her father's side, her face uplifted to his, answering some question regarding her past life.

She had not heard the door open, and did not know that Raymond was so near.

One glance, however, was sufficient for him. A low, intense cry broke from him, as with a single bound he cleared the space between them, and without a thought of the presence of others, he clasped her to him, and bowing his head upon hers, his long-tried heart and overwrought nerves asserted themselves in the strong, deep sobs which shook his manly form to its very centre.

But in her weakened condition this sudden greeting, with all the previous excitement, was too much for Sibyl, and she lay limp and white on her lover's

bosom.

She had fainted dead away.

But it was not for long. Under the loving care which ministered to her she was soon restored to consciousness; and while they left her alone with Raymond to rest and enjoy the blessed reunion, the others went away to rehearse the strange events of the last seventeen years.

[?] over again and every item thoroughly investigated, and Sibyl's identity was at last established beyond the possibility of a

doubt.

"What is your whole name, dear mamma?" Sibyl asked the next morning as Lady Shirley, in her exceeding happiness, came early to her bedside, and hovered over her, performing tender little services

for her.

"It is just like your own, dear," she returned,

smiling.

"And what is my own? I don't really know the whole of it, old as I am," Sibyl answered, with her clear silvery laugh.

"Sibyl Hortense Shirley."

"S. H, S. Those are the initials that were on the link," Sibyl said, musingly.

"Yes, dear; I intended to have explained that to you last night, but there were so many other things to talk about that I forgot it. It belonged to your father's grandmother, who was a distant connection and a very dear friend of my mother, who named me 'Sibyl Hortense,' after her, little thinking then that I should ever bear the whole name. But when I was married, old Lady Shirley gave me the necklace, and some beautiful ear pendants to match, which I had always admired, and told me I must name my first daughter also after her and myself and let them descend to her. But my first daughter did not come until I had laid away three beautiful boys, and Lady Shirley had gone to her rest also. But I gave you the name, as she had desired, and we called you Sibyl because I had always been called

Hortense."

"Will yon let me see the necklace again?" Sibyl asked, wistfully. She remembered how she had hated the sight of it the lost time she had looked upon it; but now, with all those painful associations dispelled, she felt that she could enjoy the beautiful jewels, and she longed to see them once more.

Lady Shirley instantly left the room, but soon returned with the well-known purple velvet case in

her hands.

"There, dear," she said, giving it to her, "I trust your former aversion has all disappeared, for this precious heir-loom is to be yours henceforth. It was presented by the Duke of Wellington to your great grandmother upon her wedding-day, and I should be sorry to have it remain an object of repulsion to you."

"It will not," Sibyl replied, quickly, as she bent her admiring gaze upon the beautiful gems; "it was only that I was made to believe that shame and disgrace were attached to them. I wish I had kept the other link," she added, with a sigh of regret.

"I think there is no doubt about our finding it," Lady Shirley answered, with a frown; then, with a look of unutterable tenderness, she added :

"But if we never do, we shall have recovered the missing link in our family, and will rejoice over that all the days that are before us."

"What did those figures, '2.21.1800,' engraved on the clasp, mean?" Sibyl asked, remembering how they had puzzled her.

"That was the date of Lady Shirley's wedding, which occurred the second month, twenty-first day of the year 1800," the countess explained.

"Oh, mamma! how i love to say it -- the long, long years that I have wanted and needed you. Dear auntie was everything she could be to me, but my heart always cried out for its own," Sibyl said, laying down the jewels, and winding her arms

around her mother's neck.

And Lady Shirley could only echo, as she returned

the embrace:

"Oh! the long, long years!"

There was great rejoicing in Shirley House that day, and Sibyl was the centre of attraction in the family, while Nancy -- honest, faithful Nancy -- was no less so in the servants' department.

The events of the last seventeen years were rehearsed again and again; and, as Nancy had intimated to the Due d' Aubigne, the wondrous history was duly chronicled in the newspapers, and that gentleman learned to his dismay who Sibyl was, and who he had so insulted and persecuted.

He did not, however, wait to be interviewed upon the matter; for, like all selfish, tyrannical natures, he was a coward at heart, and he did not feel safe to remain longer upon English soil, and hastened to put distance and the Channel between him and the righteous indignation which he feared might overtake him when Count Shirley should learn of his rascality.

He accordingly repaired to one of his estates in France, where for several years he lived a comparatively secluded life.

Aristocratic Belgravia was somewhat astonished, shocked, and disappointed upon hearing that the brilliant wedding between Mr. Raymond Prescott

and Miss Therwin would not transpire as announced; but a flutter of curiosity and expectation ensued upon learning that Count Shirley's long lost daughter had been that young gentleman's betrothed before his acquaintance with Ada. Accordingly they might reasonably expect a wedding before very long, only it was a pity, many affirmed, with a shrug of their stately shoulders, that the brilliant Miss Therwin's dazzling prospects should be so sadly

blighted.

There was much of romance and mystery about it, to those who could not know all the facts; but since Miss Shirley proved to be wondrously beautiful, and in every way fitted for her position, she was everywhere enthusiastically received, petted, feted, and caressed in a manner exceedingly gratifying to

her fond parents.

As for Ada herself, on recovering from her swoon,

she found that she was being kindly cared for by Mrs. Brummel, the housekeeper; but the pain, mortification, anger, and bitterness which overwhelmed her as she remembered all that had transpired, rendered her for the time neatly insane.

She saw that she had disgraced herself beyond repair, in the eyes of Raymond and all who had that day learned of her treachery, and that all her bright

hopes and prospects were forever crushed.

She tore off that beautiful robe, that she had worn with so much pride and grace, and whch, from the lack of a pocket, had proved her ruin, rent it into shreds and trampled it under her feet.

"Oh!" she nearly shrieked, "I knew when they sent for Melissy that something would happen. The little wretch! How I would like to tear her tongue out by the roots for betraying me. Ah! if it had only been three days later I would not have cared so much, and I would have made him love me is

time. But now ---"

She knew, of course, that Raymond would imme- seek Sibyl; he would marry her if he found her, and then all her greater wickedness, all her plotting and scheming to ruin her, would be revealed. How could she meet it and face the injured girl's parents ?

She did not doubt that Judith had told her, as she had written her she should, all the truth, and con- fessed all the plot, and probably the girl already knew to whom she belonged; but if such was the case, and she was in London, why had she not made herself known to her parents before, and where had she been during all the months they had supposed

her dead?

Here was a mystery that puzzled and annoyed her but she was soon to learn the whole.

During the following day, as soon as she could bring her mind to the task, Lady Shirley went to her and informed her of all the strange events that had occurred, and of her knowledge of her own part

in the matter.

"What could you be thinking of, Ada, to do as you have done, and keep these things from us?"

she asked.

"I had my own reasons for so doing," was the

sullen and defiant answer.

"I cannot conceive of any justifiable reasons." "Perhaps not."

"Surely, you must have known that after having given you a daughter's place in our hearts and home for so many years, we would gladly have allowed you still to share with our child."

"Share with your child! mine is a disposition that could share with no one," Ada answered with a sneer. "Are you so selfish, so heartless?"

"Call it what you will, it matters not now," was the moody answer.

"Then that was your object in sinking to ruin her life, that pure, beautiful girl, who had done you no wrong, but who instead trusted you as a dear friend. You wanted everything that was rightfully hers, and now I'm afraid, if you continue to cherish this disposition,

you will lose everything," Lady Shirley said, sadly.

"I suppose so, for I hate her, she dared to come between me and the only man I could love," Ada replied, passionately.

"Say, rather that you dared to come between two faithful, loving hearts, and nearly ruined two lives, by your heartless wickedness," her ladyship returned, sternly.

"Of course," she continued, after thinking for a few minutes, "we can all see now that you employed Judith Hoffman to assist you in carrying out your vile plot, you put her in possession of all the facts regarding Sibyl's early history, you coined the name she bore for the time, to correspond with my initials and gave her the necklace, which you pretended you wanted for another purpose, in order to complete the deception. Sibyl tells me that after learning Judith's story of shame, and believing herself to be the child of the man who had lavished rich gifts upon her and then betrayed her, the link, which she had previously worn with so much love, became hateful to her, and she returned it to the case with the necklace. When you gave it to me there was nothing of the kind there, therefore, I suppose, you retained it in your own possession. Am I right ?"

"Yes."

"Then I desire you to give it to me at once," the countess said, with quiet authority,

Ada shot a glance of defiance at her at this command, but she saw she would brook nothing from her; so rising, she opened a private drawer in her jewel case, took from it the missing link, and tossed

it into her lap.

Lady Shirley was deeply agitated upon seeing it; it brought back so forcibly that dreadful night when, holding her little child in her arms, she had felt the tiny hand creep into her bosom and grasp the clasp that had always been such a source of amusement to her. Ten minutes later the horrible crash had come, the necklace had parted in the little one's hold when Nancy snatched her from her lap, and she had never looked upon the link since until now.

"Have you no regret, no sorrow, for the wrong you have done?" she asked, lifting her tearful eyes to the cold hard face opposite her.

And the icy answer cleft the air:

"None!"

"Think, Ada -- the future can only bring you pain and misery if you cherish such a spirit; I pray you to relent -- in my joy and thankfulness over my lost one restored, I am ready and willing to forgive

much."

"I ask no forgiveness -- I want no forgiveness."

"You will want it some time, my child; think of your mother, she was a good woman --"

"But my father was a bad man! I am like my father," was the laconic answer.

The countess sighed heavily.

It seemed as if all the years of tender care and love which she had bestowed upon this orphan girl

had been worse than wasted.

How strange are the ways and influences of life!

she thought.

This child had been shielded from every sorrow and evil all her life ; she had received every advantage that wealth could afford, she had been daintily fed and clothed, her every whim gratified; she had been surrounded by refining influences, by every luxury and beauty of earth, and she had grown up selfish, cruel, and hard-hearted as adamant.

On the other hand, Sibyl had known so much of sorrow, unkindness, and trial; she had been the abused servant of a brutal woman; she had not had clothing sufficient to cover her, nor proper

[?] nourish her body; she had slept upon the floor in a garret; for years she had never received a kind word or look; she had been the victim of [?] duplicity, and treachery -- and yet her life

developed into exceeding beauty and loveliness -- she was like some aromatic plant, at all times

sweetness, but when bruised by the hand of

[?] the beautiful spirit had exhaled a richer [?and] abundant fragrance.

"Ada, can nothing win you to a better life?" the

[?] pleaded, in despair.

[?] I was made, 'Can the Ethiopian

[?change] his skin or the leopard his spots?"' quoted [?], irreverently and bitterly.

Something of disgust and indignation swept over Lady Shirley's face, at the reply. Then she said,

regretfully:

"I see that it is useless to seek to turn you, but I can never tell you half the bitterness and disappointment I feel at the course you have adopted, and which the discoveries of yesterday and to-day have caused me. You have been with me many years, and I have tried -- yes, Ada, I have tried faithfullyl -- to fill a mother's place toward you. In looking back over the past I cannot accuse myself of having failed in any way in my duty to you, unless it was

being too kind and indulgent to you. I have made you in all respects a daughter, and even now, had you required my affection and care in a proper manner, and showed a proper spirit of repentance

over the wrong you have done, I would gladly make you an equal sharer with my own child from this time forth. But you say you hate her, you are de[?] hardened, ungrateful, and it is my painful duty to tell you that this can no longer be your home. My dear Sibyl has been restored to me after long years; her past, much of it, has been saddened by unkindness and sorrow, but her future must be as bright as it is possible for me to make it; no shadow must darken our home or cause a cloud upon her life. Ada, I will provide for you handsomely for the sake of your mother, but your home for the future must be elsewhere."

Lady Shirley's voice was full of tears as she

concluded.

She would have forgiven the wilful girl even then

if she had betrayed the least sign of sorrow, and promised to help to make Sibyl happy in the days

to come.

But she sat silent, with frowning brow and compressed lips, revolving the prospect before her.

She would have to give up her luxurious home, that was settled, for she could never bring her proud spirit to bend before the girl she had injured; but if she was well provided for, she could enjoy herself in her own way without the fear of restrictions,

and the prospect rather pleased her than

otherwise.

"As you please," she said, coldly, without raising her eyes or even thanking her ladyship for the promise

of future support. "I will make my arrangements to leave Shirley House as soon as possible; in the meantime, if you please, I will take my meals in

[?], my own rooms."

Without another word she arose, and with a haughty bow to her companion, swept into her bedroom

and shut the door.

Two days later she departed, without a word of farewell to anyone except the count, who sought an interview with her for the purpose of explaining the

settlement he had made upon her.

Her eyes sparkled angrily, and her cheeks glowed with fire, as he named the sum -- three hundred pounds annually. It was less than the peach-colored robe which she had worn upon that fatal day had

cost. But it was sufficient to give her a comfortable living, and more than she deserved, he thought.

She received the papers without a word of thanks, and then went forth into the world to comment upon

the "contemptible meanness" of those who, from her childhood, had given her every joy and luxury that

she had ever known.

A few months later she married a wealthy antediluvian, who settled his fortune upon her, and dying soon after, left her to a life of frivolity and

fashion.

She never relented; she never ceased to hate Sibyl, and, on her account, those who had done so much

for her in the past.

There was not a particle of gratitude in her nature. She was totally selfish, and considered herself the most ill-used person living. She argued that she had never sought the countess's care or protection; she need not have bestowed it upon her if she had not chosen, consequently she was free from any

responsibility.

She sometimes met the family in company, and

was outwardly courteous to them; but she never neglected an opportunity to speak evil of them, or inspire others with something of her own jealous

bitterness toward them.

Such base ingratitude ! Horresco referens !

CHAPTER XLVI.

VIRTUE REWARDED.

The hot month of July -- the sultry weeks of August -- the golden, glorious days of September, were [?] by the two happy families at Ventnor, on the

isle of Wight, in their luxurious villa overlooking

the sea.

Sibyl had been so delicate upon her restoration to her friends, that Lady Shirley had insisted that perfect quiet and the bracing sea air were indispensable to her for awhile ; and Sir Athelstone concurring in her opinion, they had all repaired to Ventnor. All but Sir Athelstone, who returned to Dumfries, to see

how matters were progressing there.

He found the season unusually healthful, and that

his assistant was abundantly able to take charge of his patients, so he concluded to prolong his holiday, and returned; and a happier party could not be found in all her majesty's fair domains than those [?] spending the summer and the first of autumn so

quietly on the Isle of Wight.

Here Sibyl regained perfect health, and her glorious

beauty; her cheeks assumed their former rounded outline, her form its graceful curve, her rich color came back, the brightness returned to her eyes, the wonted smile to her lips, and her clear laughter rang out even more sweetly than in the old happy days at Dumfries.

Lady Shirley and her beautiful daughter were almost inseparable. The former seemed to grow young again with her great new happiness, and she appeared more like an elder sister than the mother

of the queenly girl.

Both father and mother were charmed more and more with their lovely child, and their hearts were full of gratitude to Lady Prescott for the care and love which she had bestowed upon her, and which had made, or helped to make, her what she was.

"Only to think what she might have been!" said the count with a shudder, for the hundreth time, as he thought of her life with Nell Sloan. "Lady Prescott, I can never cease to be grateful to you."

It annoyed Lady Prescott to see him feel under such deep obligations to her, for Sibyl had contributed so much toward her own happiness and enjoyment as she had toward her culture and the development

of her character.

To-day she laughed lightly, as she said;

"How perversely blind you are, sir count. Can you not see that I do not deserve all your compliments \and professions of gratitude, for have I not been educating my son's bride-elect to suit myself?

I can assure you that very few mothers-in-law have

that advantage."

"Well, well," exclaimed the count, with a hearty laugh in return, "that is really a very clever way to turn the tables upon me; but allow me to say that I am truly very proud and happy to give my beautiful daughter to your noble son."

Lady Prescott smiled her thanks for this tribute to Raymond, while her cheeks flushed with pleasure.

Raymond himself, who had been standing in the large bay-window at the other end of the room with Sibyl, and an amused listener to the above remarks, now came forward, leading his companion somewhat reluctantly with him.

"In that case," he said, addressing the count, with a sparkle in his eyes, "I think it is about time I had something to say. Do you not consider that I have waited about long enough for the gift?"

"Young man, I supposed that you were so deeply engrossed out yonder that you had neither eyes nor ears for anything else, or I am not sure that I should have given such free expression to my contemplated generosity," answered the count, with assumed dig- nity, but with a mischievous glance at Sibyl's very pink cheeks.

"Cannot you afford to increase your munificence, and allow me to claim my princess at an early day?"

"Raymond," returned the count, now really grave, "I am, as I said, very proud and glad to give you my child, but I cannot afford to lose my daughter again so soon; indeed, I do not feel willing to part with her at all. I have been thinking this matter over for some time past, and intended talking it over with you ere this. I suppose it may as well be settled now, however, as at any time. What are your own plans for the future?"

"I incline to a political career, sir, but have as yet arrived at no definite conclusion regarding the subject," Raymond replied, thoughtfully.

"That is just what would please me, and I think my influence would greatly assist you to make an auspicious beginning. In case you decide upon this, we could easily arrange it so that our family would remain unbroken. Lady Shirley I know would be very unwilling to part with Sibyl. But what is your opinion?" Count Shirley concluded, turning to Sir Athelstone.

"Lady Prescott has been trying for some time to persuade me to give up my practice and retire from active business, with an eye to this very thing. I must confess that my own inclination points that way also, and that I might appear to yield gracefully to the havoc these very arbitrary young people seem bound to make in our families, I have already made arrangements with my assistant to take my practice off my hands, and have also had some negotiations with a party in London regarding a place of residence," Sir Athelstone said, looking as if he was rather glad the secret was out at last.

Raymond looked his surprise and pleasure at this

announcement, and said:

"That arrangement will bring us all together, and be very agreeable also; and sir, I think you can now consent to let me name the day that will consummate my happiness."

"That is the bride's privilege, I believe," retorted the count; "what do you say, Princess of the House of Shirley?" he added, drawing Sibyl down upon his

knee.

"I am afraid I shall shock you all if I speak my mind," she answered, with a sly glance at Raymond, and a very brilliant colour.

"We are ready to be galvanized : proceed," said

her father.

She shot a shy mischievous glance at him, as she replied:

"I shall say, let it be whenever Raymond chooses. I think he deserves to have his own way about it."

A shout of laughter greeted this reply.

"This is a conspiracy," cried the count; "you two are in league against me, and to punish you I shall take the whole affair into my own hands, and put you both upon probation until the twenty-fifth of October. How will that suit you, my valiant

suitor ?"

"If it is your will, it certainly will be my pleasure," Raymond returned, with a fond glance at Sibyl.

"Why, Egbert, that will be the twenty-fifth anniversary of our own wedding-day," exclaimed Lady Shirley, with pleased surprise.

"I am aware of that fact, my love, and I thought it a fitting time for celebration and rejoicing all round. Can you arrange it without too much inconvenience to yourself ?" he asked.

"Yes, indeed; but in that case we must return to London without delay."

This conversation occurred the last week in September, and a few days after the party returned to London, well, happy, and full of bright anticipations

for the future.

The rich October days glided by like a beautiful dream, and the twenty-fifth at length dawned most gloriously; it was so lovely, so perfect a day, that it almost seemed as if it had been set apart sacred to beauty and peace, and for the great event that was to crown the month and two lives with joy.

Everything that fondest love could suggest had been done to make the occasion perfect in every way, but a detailed account of everything would be

wearisome.

Sibyl's robe alone was a marvel of richness and elegance.

It was of rich ivory Lyons satin, having a long train exquisitely brocaded with silver; the front was also adorned with the same superb material, and quaintly finished with elegant drooping tassels of white silk. The corsage was made high at the back, with a square-necked front, filled in with rare filmy

laces.

She wore with it the wondrous necklace, to which the original clasp had been attached, and the ear pendants to match, that had been presented to the first Lady Sibyl Hortense Shirley four generations back. The fine Mechlin veil, very full and long, thrown over all, gave a very beautiful effect to the

costume.

Lilies of the valley were arranged in Sibyl's dark glossy hair, and boutonnières of the same flower confined the veil in position upon the train.

Lady Shirley and Lady Prescott were no less elegantly attired, the one in a silver-grey satin, richly embroidered in raised vines and flowers, and ornamented with sprays of finest Italian filagree work in silver; the other in black velvet point lace,

and diamonds.

The occasion was claimed to be the most brilliant wedding and reception within the remembrance of

fashionable Londoners.

Behind a huge marbre pillar of the church, and half concealed by its shadow, there might have been seen a richly-clad, though closely-veiled, figure, who watched with breathless attention the noble looking bridal party while the solemn ceremony was being performed; and when the words were spoken which made Raymond Prescott and Sibyl Shirley husband and wife, she had bowed her head upon her hands, while those nearest her saw shudder after shudder shake her frame.

It was none other than Madam Reckor, nee Ada Therwin, and her love for Raymond had been the one real passion of her life.

The wedding breakfast abounded with every luxury, and defied the criticism of the most epicurean

taste; and this dispatched, the happy party departed for Shirley Court, in Lancashire, where they were to spend the hunting season with a brilliant party of friends.

Nancy, the fa[?] of course accompanied them.

Henceforth her life was to be one of ease and comfort; she had become a privileged character in the family, and considered it only too much happiness to live in the house with and wait upon her dear lady and Miss Sibyl whenever they would permit her

to do so.

Little more remains to be told.

Poor Judith's body was removed from its temporary resting-place at Barmouth, and laid beside her children, where Count Shirley caused three simple marble shafts to be erected to mark the graves.

Melissy, thoroughly repentant, was, at Sibyls earnest request, given an opportunity to redeem her treachery, and proved herself faithful ever after.

"Virtue brings its own reward," and with one more look at Sybil we must go our way.

Ten years have passed since her marriage, years full of blessedness and peace, and she has become a stately and graceful matron, with four lovely children to gladden her heart and beautify her home.

Two sons bear the impress of their mother's beauty; two daughters bespeak the Prescott blood, and Shirley Court was wont to ring with their happy laughter and gay sports; and Raymond, now a respected M.P., was never so content as when the little tyrants laid siege to him, and impressed him into

their ranks.

One day a stranger drove to Shirley Court, and requested an interview with the fair young Lady

Prescott.

Much surprised at such a message, and that the gentleman should send no card by the servant who came to summon her, Sibyl descended to the drawing-room, and found herself in the presence of a tall, white-haired man, of gentle and venerable appearance, having kind blue eyes, and wearing a genial though rather sad smile upon his lips. She did not know him, and yet there was something strangely familiar in his countenance.

He saluted her reverently as she entered, and presented his card, as he said, deprecatingly:

"I trust you will pardon this intrusion, Lady Prescott, when I explain the errand upon which I

have come."

She took the card, a vivid color overspread her face, and she drew a quick astonished breath, as

she read :

"ARTHUR D'AUBIGNE" with a coat of arms in one corner.

Instinctively she drew her stately form haughtily erect, while her grave, surprised eyes asked what possible excuse there could be for such an intrusion.

But Sibyl was a thorough gentlewoman, and never forgot that courtesy was due to the stranger within her gates, be he friend or foe; and although she could not invite him to be seated in her presence, she stood quietly, after a moment's thought, awaiting an explanation of his strange visit, and wondering at the marvellous change which the past ten years had wrought in the Due D'Aubigne,

"My lady," he began, speaking with deferential respect. "I should never have dared enter your presence again had I not had tidings to bring you which I know will give you pleasure. I offer no

excuses for the past, for nothing could ever atone for the injury I did you so long ago ; but I wish to say that I have never ceased to regret and deplore it

for the last seven years."

He seemed agitated and deeply embarrassed for a moment; then he continued:

"Doubtless you have not forgotten our lost interview that night when I found you in that miserable

street in London, and when you gave me such a vivid glimpse of my own character, and appealed to my manhood, telling me I was missing all the higher and

nobler aims in life. You asked me to strive for greater things than the gratification of my own selfishness and pleasure; you said it 'grieved you to see a nature and talents capable of so much, wasted and poured out like water upon sand.' You asked me if I ever stopped to think that those talents and opportunities could never be gathered up again -- once lost they were gone forever; and you bade me remember that when the great book of the future was opened, my account and God's would not balance! Do you remember it, my lady?" he asked, with mournful gentleness.

Sibyl bowed assent.

Too well she remembered the painful events of that interview, and the almost insane fury of the man she had thwarted. But she wondered more and more at the change in him, and toward what all this tended.

"Let me crave your mercy for a few moments longer," he said, "and then I will say farewell to you for ever; but I could not rest until I had come to you to tell you that that appeal saved me! I had never in my life before stopped to consider what a serious thing it was to live; I was bent only upon my own desires and pleasures, determined, as you said, ' to achieve everything that I happened to wish for, whether it was good or evil.'

"You perceive, Lady Prescott," he continued, with a sad smile, "that I have remembered every word you uttered at that time; they have never ceased to ring in my ears, and day and night, like the knell of doom, that one sentence, 'when the great book of the future is opened, your account and God's will not balance,' nearly crazed me with its solemn warning.

"For three long years I resisted it; I fought against it with all the power of my will; but it was of no use, I was conquered at last. I bowed my proud heart, I humbled my selfish will, and yielded myself from that time to be guided by the hand of Him to whom you had pointed me.

"Do not think it was an easy thing for me to do," the duke said, growing very white at the remembrance; "do not imagine that the struggle was not a mighty one, for it seemed as if all the furies in the universe were set in battle array against me; but the remembrance of your earnest face, your earnest words, was like an angel's hand and an angel's message sent to save me.

"That was seven years ago, and during that time I have had much of real happiness in endeavouring to devote my all, as far as I was able, to the work of redeeming the years that I wasted. They cannot be redeemed -- I should not say that, and I realize now that once lost they can never be regained; but I trust that all my future may at least testify to the sincerity of my repentance.

"I do not ask you to forgive me -- although your pardon would lift a heavy weight from my heart; but I knew it was but right that you should know of the good that has been accomplished through you. You will wonder perhaps, why I have delayed so long to tell you; many times I thought to come, or write it, but my courage failed me. To-day, however, I was in this vicinity on business, and the desire to see you once more was too strong to be resisted."

Again he paused and cast an anxious glance at Sibyl, but she was still too completely amazed to utter a word, and he continued with downcast eyes :

"I have heard of your prosperity and happiness: I am glad your life is so complete, and I trust that the future will have still more in store for you,

while I shall never cease to bless the day -- although bitterly deploring the pain I caused you -- that your words arrested me, and drew me back from the precipice on which I was standing."

He took up his hat, and turned as if to depart, but Sibyl had at last regained something of composure.

With flushed cheeks and tearful eyes she drew nearer him and spoke :

"My lord," she said, "I cannot fail to perceive the stamp of truth and sincerity upon your face and the ring of it in your words. I am amazed at what you have told me, and awed by the result of the words, which, though earnest and sincere, were spoken upon the impulse of the moment. To say that I will not forgive you for the past, so deeply deplored, would be rankest ingratitude on my part, after the wonderful tidings that you have brought me to-day. I do forgive you, freely, heartily, and rejoice in the great good that has come to you, though so late in life. May the future be full of peace for you."

She went up to him and frankly held out her hand, a beautiful smile on her tremulous lips, her whole face shining.

"I am not worthy to take it," he said, humbly, and with deep emotion; "but whatever my future may be, it will always be the brighter for those blessed words of yours. Farewell."

Before she could answer him, or realized what he was about, he was gone!

Greatly excited, and overcome by the strange interview, she sank into a chair, her tears flowing freely, her heart deeply moved by the great change in the man who had so cruelly wronged her, and by the account of the prodigal returned.

She took pains soon after to ascertain something more regarding the wonderful news of which she had heard, and found that he had spoken but a very small part of the truth. His time, his life, his fortune had all been devoted to the good of those around bim: to the uplifting of the fallen, the encouragement of the weak and erring, and the relief of the poor; and his life was irreproachable.

And here we, too, must take leave of our beautiful Sibyl, bidding her farewell, and believing with that old Latin proverb, that Finis coronat opus. (The end crowns the work).

[THE END.]

OUR NEW TALE. -- This issue of the "Mercury" contains the last chapters of the interesting tale "THE CONSPIRACY." Next week we shall begin the publication of "A MYSTERY," a story, the title of which promises ample entertainment for our readers. That promise will be abundantly

fulfilled.