THE REFUGE AMONG THE LEAVES
At this moment there issued from a side door a tall man, apparently built in jointed sections like a fishing-rod, and close behind him a little smooth-faced woman drifted in, with the sharpest and chilliest eyes in the world — the keen acrid blue of a mountain lake when the wind blows fretfully from the north. Abandoning Idalia, Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy ran to them and clasped the tall man about the neck. He bent to receive her embrace with the conscious simper of a spoiled beauty who receives an expected compliment. Then loosening her arms as swiftly, she turned and kissed the woman of the acrid eyes. She, however, only submitted like a sphinx, looking at Ione over Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy's shoulder all the while.
"Oh you loves — you dears," palpitated, at once asthmatically and ecstatically, the Lady Principal of Rayleigh Abbey; "what a blessed time you have given us! Truly the Power was manifested this night!"
The tall man came forward with blandly beaming smile and outstretched hand; but the little woman stood still and fixed her eyes keenly and piercingly upon each of the party in succession. They dwelt longest upon Ione, and it was to her that she spoke first.
"My dear," she said, in the mystical jargon affected on all occasions by the inhabitants of Castle Gimcrack, "have you also come to be cured and anointed? Alas! I fear there is not oil sufficient to heal and sanctify you in all the City of Palm Trees."
Ione took the little chill outstretched hand, but only smiled in answer. The words of the Seeress, though spoken in a singularly quiet and incisive tone, sounded to her not a whit wiser or more connected than the howling of the wild women in the hall.
Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy turned upon her, adjusting her shawl upon her shoulder for the fiftieth time. She observed with indignation Mrs. Howard-Hodge holding Ione's hand.
"You mistake," she said; "that is not my daughter-in-law. Let me introduce to you my de-e-ar daughter, the wife of my only son Marcus, of whom you have heard me speak. Doubtless during your American tours you have met with my daughter's dear, de-e-ar father, Mr. John Cyrus Judd, the great American millionaire!"
Marcus flushed hotly at hearing his own description thus repeated.
"I have never had the great felicity of meeting your father, ma'am," said the tall man to Idalia, speaking for the first time. His wife said nothing, contenting herself with shaking hands with Idalia and Marcus, and immediately turning again to Ione.
"You have suffered," she said softly, keeping the cold blue eyes fixed intently upon her; "you have lost a near relative. And you must yet suffer more. Fate is written large on your face. Even the Power itself could not help you. For in suffering only will you work out your soul's perfection, and come out of the furnace like gold seven times refined."
At that moment Marcus effected a welcome diversion.
"My dear mater" he said, "Idalia and Miss March are tired with their journey. You will let up on them till morning."
“If you mean by such language that you wish to retire to your apartments, I can only kiss my dear daughter and submit," said the lady. "But where Is your friend Keith? I understood he was to be with you!"
She uttered these last words with the first gleam of interest she had shown in anything outside herself and the Cause.
"Oh, Keith - " returned her son, "he is coming the day after to-morrow — that is, if he is well enough to travel. He has been jolly ill for the last six weeks — very nearly croaked, did poor old Keith — would too, but for - "
"Marcus!" interjected his wife suddenly, "if you don't come right now, I shall drop from sheer hunger and thirst!"
"What," shrilled Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, "Keith Harford has been ill and I have not known! My Guardian Spirit has been strangely remiss. Why have I had no warning — no presentiment? But when once he comes to this blessed tabernacle in the wilderness we will tend him. He will soon receive the POWER. We will organise special services of anointing and healing in the Temple."
"The Temple?" queried Marcus.
"Yes, the Temple of the Universal Healing Power, set up in the wilderness of Hampshire like — like — like a pearl among swine!" said Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, waving her hands; "when I still sat in darkness and was ignorant of the true potency of curative faith, it was called the 'chapel.' But now it is the First Temple of the New Dispensation — so worthily presided over by our de-e-ar friends, Mr. and Mrs. Howard-Hodge." And she simpered somewhat oozily at the Seer and Seeress, like a butter-cask set in the sun.
"Good-night, mater" cried Marcus; "see you in the morning. Come on, girls!"
"Good-night, then, if it must be!" cried the dark-browed Martyria Evicta, impressively, once more lifting up the recalcitrant shawl from the floor. "Ah, we are about to have such a beautiful After-meeting — restricted to a few saints — to bewail the sins of this age and the inefficiency of ordinary physicians. I am to give the address in person, and the Admiral is going to burn the British Pharmacopӕia — also, what is worse, Squire's Companion! If you only could be persuaded to stay, your souls would assuredly be blessed!"
"But, mother, after all, we must get something to eat, you know!" cried Marcus, stamping cheerily down the stairs after giving his mother a hasty peck on the cheek.
Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy was left speaking with her hands uplifted, a stout and rotund Cassandra of the New Faith.
"Ah, young people, young people," she called after them from the iron girder above, "would that I could make you see of what small avail is the meat which perisheth, in comparison with the POWER which enables us to do without bread, or at least - " (she added the last words, gently swaying her eighteen stone of well-nourished girth to and fro in an ecstasy of devotion), "to prefer the POWER to any pampering of this frail tabernacle of sin."
She rang a bell for the servant, who appeared with ready deference from an ante-room.
"Has Tranter taken the tray and cover up to my bedroom?" she asked.
"I don't know, madam; but I will go and see."
"Thank you," said the lady, "and tell him to make it a quart instead of a pint to-night, and to ice it well — I've been so dreadfully upset!"
"Yes, 'm!" responded the servitor submissively.
Then Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy picked up her red shawl once more, and rearranged it over her shoulders with the meek and ascetic self-abnegation of the accredited martyr of a great Cause.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Marcus was clattering downstairs and racing along passages with the boyishness which only comes to those who have escaped from school. Idalia and Ione hastened after him. He took a key from his pocket and undid a little iron wicket-door, which opened unexpectedly out of a long passage, whitewashed like a prison corridor.
"Now, girls," he said, standing aside for them to pass, "give me your hands. We are going outside a bit, and it's as dark as my hat. I sent Caleb word last week to have the little old Garden House put in order. I used to sleep and take my meals there, whenever things got too blessedly sultry up here in the Abbey. I could not conscientiously approve of more than three changes of religion in a week. It affected my digestion. One end of the cottage is directly over the coach-house, and smells a little of harness through the cracks of the floor. But to square that, nobody can get at us without going a dozen miles round by the garden-gate — and that's always locked, anyway. I see to it myself!"
So, taking hands like children, the three ran across a gloomy paved court. It felt exactly like escaping from prison. Marcus unlocked another door, which as carefully he locked again behind him. Then Ione found herself stumbling through a mat of ivy into a broad garden walk, which led among cucumber-frames and under orchard trees to the creeper-covered gable-end of a long straggling cottage. A range of steps led up apparently into a nest of leaves.
"Oh, this is just lovely," cried Idalia, clapping her hands; "it is like storming an ogre's castle, and being captured, and then in the last chapter escaping from his clutches with the fairy prince. I vote we have a private orgie all to ourselves!"
"Wait here till I open the door and get a lamp," said Marcus. "The steps are not all they should be, but I don't want them repaired. For if I did, some of that vile crew would be sure to come and hang up their hats, if they suspected there was a snug shop of this sort down here. So I've got man-traps and spring-guns all about to keep them away. And those who do get caught, or shot, I fling their bones down the well. Oh, I've thought of everything!"
Ione and Idalia stood hand in hand in the darkness at the foot of the stairs. Marcus went upward and disappeared.
"Oh," cried his wife, suddenly clutching Ione, after a moment of awe-stricken silence, broken only by muttered imprecations from above, where Marcus was struggling with the key, and by the fluttering of bats disturbed among the ivy, "suppose this is a real haunted castle, and he never comes back any more. Marcus, Marcus — I'm coming up after you right now. Do you hear, I'm not going to wait. No, Marcus Hardy — if you think you are going to play with the young affections of Idalia Judd, and then leave her to moulder in a melon-frame, you’ll get left, sure!"
Marcus appeared just in time to catch his wife in his arms at the narrow leaf-surrounded landing-place, from the further side of which the rail had dropped away.
"Idalia, you wicked girl," he exclaimed, more soberly than was his wont, "do you know you might have broken your neck over there. Why couldn't you have waited?"
"Well, I got thinking you weren't ever coming back, and Ione and I were two such lone lorn females down there! Besides, I heard just regular armies of cockroaches creeping and scuttling all about! You might have thought, Marcus! You can't love me a bit — not a little bit. And I think you are horrid. I wish I had married Washington Alston. He wouldn't have teased me so, nor gone and left me all alone up to my knees in fertilizer in the backyard of a lunatic asylum! And, besides, he has a much nicer nose than you."
"Never mind my nose, little woman," said the good-humoured giant; "come inside, and see if you don't think I 've got some good points as well as Mr. Washington Alston. Ione, give me your hand!"
So in a trice the wandering trio found themselves in the sweetest and cleanest little nest of rooms. In the first and largest of these a supper-table was laid, shining with silver and the whiteness of napery. With a pleased smile of anticipation upon his hitherto immobile face, old Caleb stood ready at the door to welcome his master's guests. He was still attired in his coachman's boots and leggings, but his red waistcoat was partly covered by an ancient blue dress-coat with broad brass buttons stamped with an anchor. As the three passed in he saluted each in a stiff manner with his right hand and elbow, as if his fingers still held the butt end of a whip. From the warm-smelling oak-panelled corridor three rooms opened a little further on, and Ione fell into a chair in the first and began to laugh helplessly. Something in the note of her voice brought Idalia flying in from her own bedroom with a smelling bottle.
"What is the matter, Ione? Quick, out with it!" cried Idalia, becoming fiercely peremptory all at once.
"Nothing," said Ione, still half sobbing, half struggling with a wild desire to laugh, “only it seemed so funny to come through the desert of Sahara and the wilds of Colney Hatch, and find your things all arranged neatly on the bed, your dressing case open, and hot water in a tin can in the basin — and if it hasn't got a gardener's watering-rose on the spout! Ha—ha—ha! It is so funny. I can't help it!"
This time Idalia knitted her brows and shook her friend by the shoulder. The case was growing serious.
"If you don't stop, I’ll tell Keith Harford you nursed him — now!"
Ione stopped instantly, the mirth stricken from her face.
"No, you must not!" she said pleadingly.
"Well, you behave then!"
All this while Marcus was rapping steadily on the door. "Can I come in?" he said, his maligned nose peeping through the crack. "Why, what's the matter?"
"Nothing — do go away!" commanded his wife; "or no — be useful for once, and bring a spoonful of brandy."
In a moment Marcus was back with a small glass of Hennessy XO.
"Had too much of it up there, Ione?" he said. "Well, you shan't be troubled with that galvanised-iron Inferno any more. I’ll see to that."
"No," answered Ione, touched by his kindness; "it wasn't that. I've not been quite up to the mark lately, I think — and — and that garden-rose on the hot-water can set me laughing."
Marcus went to the door.
"Caleb, you old fool," he cried, "what on earth made you put these things on the hot-water cans?"
Caleb, with suddenly lengthened face, came to the door, touched his finger half way to his brow for manners, and then after a pause carried it further, till of its own accord it began to rub the side of his grey crop-head in perplexity.
"Well, the way of it was, sir, that I 'ad to ask Larkins the gardener for one or two of his waterin' pots — there not being none in the bloomin' place, not countin' the one your honour busted with throwing at the cat."
"Bless my soul, so I did!" cried the cheery Marcus, contritely. "Well, come on, and let us see if you have forgotten how to cook."
"Supper is served, ladies and your honour!" said Caleb gravely, standing at his usual half-cock salute as they filed past him.
The supper was a high approven success. The sweetbreads were cooked to a turn, and delicately smothered in white sauce.
The mushrooms on toast were a further joy as they grew less hungry, and the game pleased one sense without offending another.
"Why, Caleb," said Idalia, “I declare you cook better than the stuck-up Antoine, my father's cordon bleu!”
"Thank you. Miss!" said Caleb impassively, making once more his curious jerk of his elbow which represented the butt of an imaginary whip.
“Look here, Caleb, you mustn't say 'Miss' to this young lady. I told you before she was my wife," cried Marcus.
"Beg 'ee pardon, sir," said Caleb, saluting as before; "of course she is — if you say so. I’ll endeavour to remember, sir!"
"Caleb is of the world's opinion — that you can't be a man's wife, if your hair curls naturally," laughed Idalia. "But this is the ring, Caleb, and I've got the certificates here in my ulster pocket, if you 'd like to look at them — all stamped and ready fixed for pappa when he pulls alongside with his rights of a father, and all that!"
* * * * *
As Ione laid her head on the pillow that night, the cold blue eyes of the High Priestess of the new religion seemed to search her soul through and through. And more than once she woke with a start, under the belief that Mrs. Arminell Howard-Hodge was standing by her bedside.
THE LADY OF THE RED SHAWL
The hum of humanity now waxed louder and nearer. The scattered lights grew more concentrated, the air became more stifling, and they entered a gallery, long-vistaed like those of a museum. Here many people were waiting about, some in evening dress, others in the ordinary tweeds of unconventional life, one or two in decent black which suggested the respectable Scot in Sunday attire. The majority of these were strolling about like day-trippers on a pier, while a few looked listlessly over a kind of balcony, as from the boxes of a theatre one may look down on a disturbance in the pit. Not a soul took the slightest notice of the travellers or appeared to recognise in the young man the future owner of this strange house.
Marcus went forward to where there was a break in the ranks and looked over the iron rail. Then, after a glance, he beckoned the girls forward.
"Now please just pinch yourselves to make sure that you are alive, and then look!" he said.
Ione came to the balustrade and did as she was bidden. Directly beneath her, where the pit of a theatre would be, there appeared a dusky chapel enveloped in a blue haze of incense smoke, and scantily illuminated by lamps let down from the ceiling, which glimmered, mere points of twinkling fire, here and there in the gloom. The chapel-like ground-floor was shaped like the deck of a ship. The back part of it was filled with pews of the most ordinary design, wherein many people sat crowded together.
The upper end, corresponding pretty closely to the choir of an ordinary church, was dotted all round with little points of light at about mid-way its height, making a complete circle of flame which cast a subdued straw-coloured radiance upon semi-prostrate forms and deep blue hangings.
The figures appeared to be kneeling, and were arranged in a semi-circle as at a communion rail, while two others, clad in priestly robes of spotless white, went to and fro as if administering a rite. Ione fairly gasped, and began to fear, either that her mind must be giving way, or that she had unwittingly set foot in a mad-house. Then her eyes, growing accustomed to the gloom, distinguished two great chairs enthroned on either side of the choir, on which (and directly opposite to each other) sat an elderly lady and gentleman. The lady wore a low-necked evening gown, and held a vinaigrette in one hand, while with the other she continually rearranged a huge red shawl about her head and shoulders, which as persistently managed to slip down again as soon as she had got it to her mind.
Occasionally, when the white-robed figures came near in the performance of the function, this lady nodded and smiled to them in a friendly and encouraging way like a past master familiar with all mysteries. The other throne was occupied by a fine-looking old man in full evening dress, who sat dangling one foot over the other knee, a glimpse of red flowered stocking showing coquettishly on his shrunk shank, and his ten fingers triangled in front of him, precisely in the attitude most affected by the respectable old gentlemen who come down to the House of Peers to support Her Majesty's Government every time the constitution is in danger.
"That's the mater and my uncle the Admiral on the judge's stand down there," whispered Marcus, irreverently; "but I can't make out what these Johnnies in the centre are up to — oiling up, or anointing, or something, it seems to me!"
As he spoke one of the kneeling figures at the rail, immediately on having some liquid dropped on the parting of her hair ("exactly like sweetening a bicycle bearing," said Marcus) leaped up and shouted, "Thank the Lord, I'm cured."
"Praise the Lord — our sinful sister is healed!" rejoined a chorus of twenty or thirty people from the gloom of the chapel, prompt as an echo.
"Stand up and give praise to the Healer," said a deep, stern voice, which proceeded from the taller of the white officiating figures.
The woman who had been anointed rose and began a chant, strange, high, strident — a howl rather than a song — which rose and fell and diminished, and then again took on volume till many of those who had been languidly perambulating the balcony were attracted to the rail of the balustrade.
"Praise the Lord!" Ione heard one white-bearded man say, "she has got IT. Jane Grace Tomlins is speaking with tongues."
Marcus for the first time grew somewhat uneasy.
"This is quite a new dodge," he murmured — "how that woman howls! It is worse than the kennels on a moonlight night. I should just like to go down and stop the noise with a dog-whip."
Then one by one, leaping up unexpectedly here and there, like the hammers of a disfronted piano when you play without watching the keys, men and women rose from the kneeling circle, crying out that they had found "healing" or "grace." Then they joined the horrible swaying medley of discord till the chorus began to affect all in the chapel, while some even among the promenaders on the gallery fell on their knees and showed hysterical symptoms as the wild barbaric chant rose and swelled beneath them. Tears dropped down bearded faces. Apparent strangers clasped one another round the neck, and the torrent of sound rose and swirled dismayingly among the weird iron arches and gaunt, black, cobwebby network of beams overhead, till the roof itself seemed in danger of being rent off by the explosion of pent-up emotion.
"O Marcus, take me away; I cannot stand this! Do you hear? Why did you bring me to such a horrible place?" cried Idalia, suddenly clutching her husband by the arm, "I know I shall scream the next moment, or jump over the edge of the gallery."
Marcus Hardy looked very grim, and took his wife firmly by the wrist.
"This is a game I knew nothing about — quite a fresh deal since my time. But you shan't see it again, little girl! Just wait a moment to shake hands with the mater for decency's sake, and then I’ll take you to more respectable quarters."
Even as he spoke the turmoil stilled itself as if by magic. Ione, perhaps owing to the feeble state of her health, was thoroughly fascinated, and could not take her eyes off the pair of veiled, white, officiating figures. They had retired into the deep blue gloom, and now stood with hands above their heads, illuminated duskily by the circle of pale willow-leaves of fire which flickered in a semi-circle around them.
"All things are possible to them that believe," intoned the slow, stern voice of the taller officiant; "only have faith and your diseases do not exist. Give praise to the Healer and He will heal you. Those to whom He has given power are but instruments in his hands. Praise them not."
The lights went out as on a set scene. The white figures vanished into the darkness behind, and from the body of the chapel there came up the ordinary sounds of an audience dispersing.
"Come on," said Marcus hastily, "let us go and trap the mater before she goes to bed, or else we won't see her till goodness knows when."
And with his wife still clinging distressfully to his arm, and Ione more impressed than she cared to admit even to herself, Marcus Hardy descended a narrow iron winding-stair, which led to a different part of the castle. Ione was growing faint for want of something to eat, while her journey, the drive through the shrewd winterish air, and her strange abrupt entrance upon this place of horrors, mockeries, and incantations had almost deprived her of the powers of thought and speech.
Marcus moved like one who desires to get an unpleasant duty over, and Ione followed him thinking her friend's husband more of a man than ever she had done before.
"Honour thy father and thy mother," she said to herself— "it was never harder to do!"
As the three crossed a dimly-lighted corridor, they saw before them a hall covered with thick Indian matting. The lady and gentleman who had been seated on either side of the choir in the chapel, were walking up and down arm in arm.
"Mother!" said Marcus, going up hastily to the woman of the red shawl.
The lady turned and looked at her son. She was tall, dark, and had been strikingly handsome. Her straight thick eyebrows almost met over her close-set eyes. At this time the lady's weight must have reached eighteen stones. Her nose was prominently hooked, the lower part slightly pendulous, as if her habit of perpetually caressing it with the fingers had given to the point a permanent droop.
"My son!" cried Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, opening her arms, "you are restored to me — you have returned to Grace. Tranter, see that Master Marcus has a mustard footbath in his room! Prodigal, I welcome you! Why did you not send me word, and I would have come out and - "
"Yes, mother, I know," said Marcus; "fallen on my neck and kissed me — with new effects and dresses, also a brand new fatted calf. But the fact is, I'd rather not — on the station platform at least. But, I say, you're looking pretty fit, mater!"
"I have at last found peace, my son," returned the tall dark lady, impressively, "this time, indeed, undoubtedly so. I have had THE SECRET revealed to me. There is no more left to discover. These blessed angels, Mr. and Mrs. Arminell Howard-Hodge, have completely solved the mystery of life. The Millennium itself has begun at Rayleigh Abbey. Yes, indeed; and it is such a privilege! So precious! We have had such a beauu-tiful meeting — so refreshing, was it not. Admiral? It would have greatly benefited your soul, my poor dear unbelieving boy. But who are these two ladies?"
"One of them is my wife, mother!" said Marcus, abruptly. "Idalia, come and kiss your mother!"
It was somewhat of the suddenest. But the blood of Cyrus Judd was capable of anything. Idalia ran forward with a little gesture of self-renunciation, as if, in her husband's interest, she had been about to fight with all the beasts of Ephesus. As she went she sent one glance up at Marcus which said as plain as print, "See what I am ready to do for your sake!"
But Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy fended her off adroitly with one hand.
"Avaunt, woman!" she said haughtily, her eyebrows raised almost to the roots of her hair, "think not to come near me. My son has doubtless been in the far country, and has been spending his substance - ahem - among the usual sort of people!"
"Mother!" said Marcus warningly.
The lady of the eyebrows stopped. Clearly she had her own reasons for being afraid of her son.
"Well," she continued in a milder tone, "remember, if you are really married you have made your bed, and you must lie on it. And if you and this woman are a pair of paupers, don't come whining to me and thinking that I will do anything for you! As you know, my little money is all embarked in the sacred service of the Cause. You won't get a penny beyond your allowance so long as I am alive! So I warn you!"
And she hitched her red shawl over her head, and glowered, like an elderly Fate of a determined frame of mind, down upon the rash couple.
But Marcus, like Pet Marjorie's duck, was more than usual calm. He knew his mother.
"Mater,'' he said, nonchalantly, "I told you that this was my wife. Her maiden name was Idalia Judd, and she is the daughter of Mr. John Cyrus Judd, the great American millionaire."
It was the first time and the last in his life that Marcus used the substantive and attributive adjectives to describe his father-in-law.
Now on this occasion Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy proved herself a woman of quick capacities and a sympathetic heart. No sooner had she heard the distinguished and world-famous (or, according to the point of view, infamous) name, than she flew towards Idalia, who in her turn submitted with a good grace to be enfolded and temporarily lost to sight in that capacious maternal embrace.
“My beloved daughter!" she cried, with the beautiful impulsiveness born of a lifetime of prescribing mustard and water, "I was prepared to love you from the first moment. One glimpse of your sweet face, and nothing more was needed! It was as if it had been revealed. But who may this be? Your sister? So like you; your very image, indeed! I love and welcome her too for your sake! Such an acquisition as you will both be! We shall hold a thanksgiving service at once. Tranter, go and ask Mr. and Mrs. Arminell Howard-Hodge to come to me!"
"This is Miss March, a friend my wife brought with her as a companion! "interposed Marcus, hastily, just in time to save Ione from sharing the fate of Idalia. He saw from Ione's face that in her present frame of mind, she could not stand that infliction.
"Oh, a companion!" ejaculated Martyria Evicta Lucretia, instantly checking her enthusiasm and promptly losing interest.
She turned to Idalia.
"But tell me about yourself, my love! Is your dear, de-e-ar father with you ? Or your charming mother — your mother, I suppose, is living? They might both be of immense use to us in the Cause, if they could only be brought to see the light. I hope you will be instrumental, my dear!"
"Thank you," said Idalia, "my father and mother are both quite well. They are unfortunately not with us."
Then she added to Marcus in a lower tone unheard by Martyria, "But I bet a bright new dollar they're after us!"
Rayleigh Abbey in the county of Hants, was as a city set on a hill, conspicuous near and far, taking the eye of the wayfarer from sea and plain, by valley and down. Its massive towers apparently betokened reverend age. Its gateways of rough hewn stone were fitted to withstand the battering elements of a thousand years. A square Norman keep rose in the centre, indented dark and solemn against the sky, a cliff-like wall of stone and lime like those of Loches or Threave. Battlements and towers cinctured it about, vast in their proportions, built apparently of overawing and pretentious masonry. Thus shone Rayleigh Abbey from a distance.
A nearer view, however, showed all this magnificence to be but the "insubstantial pageant of a dream."
The massive walls were relatively no thicker than pasteboard, the flanking towers mere shells, the grand square of the lofty keep was iron-framed with windows uncompromising as those of a factory. While from an interior view the great castle, cynosure of travellers' eyes and a landmark from afar, became a mere "Crystal Palace" set-piece, involving only so many thousand square feet of frontage and a wilderness of ungainly props and struts behind. Its future owner, Marcus Hardy, for once happily inspired with words, had named it Castle Gimcrack. In the meantime, it was life-rented by his mother, Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, and Marcus and his wife were received only as guests, little more favoured indeed than countless others who flocked thither like unclean birds from the four quarters of heaven.
Rayleigh Abbey had been designed, founded, and completed— so far at least as so gaunt a jest in iron and stone can ever be said to be completed — by one Theophrastus Wiseman Hardy, the grandfather of Marcus, and the inventor of the Body-and-Soul Water-and-Mustard-Plaster Mind Cure, applicable to all diseases that flesh is heir to.
Theophrastus Hardy had made a fortune in slave-running from the Gold Coast to the Southern States of America early in the century, and, while yet comparatively a young man, had retired upon an ample competence, an uncomfortable conscience — and a new religion. His only son, Aldebaran January Hardy, had sunk into a too early grave under the unjust burdens of his name and of the wife imposed upon him by his father. Soon after assisting at the preliminary horoscope of his only son Marcus, he laid down the double burden, and became indeed but a name, a bust, and an inscription in carven marble on the chapel wall of Rayleigh Abbey. Thus ran his memorial: --
Here does not lie aught that is mortal of
ALDEBARAN JANUARY HARDY,
only son of
THEOPHRASTUS WISEMAN HARDY
and Beloved Co-partner of
MARTYRIA EVICTA LUCRETIA FORSAKER-HARDY
of Rayleigh Abbey, Hants.
His Ashes, being passed through the Fire, were
Scattered over the Wide Sea.
His Soul, recomposed and reinvested,
as Angel or Jelly-fish,
SOMEWHERE AWAITS THE ETERNAL
No one could deny a certain extraordinary eclectic vigour to Theophrastus Wiseman Hardy, the original inventor of the Body-and-Soul Water-and-Mustard-Plaster Mind Cure, nor yet a striking executive capacity to Martyria Evicta Lucretia, his daughter-in-law and successor in that thriving curative establishment. All creeds had gone to the making of the Psychophysical Regenerative Religion, as, alternatively, its founder delighted to call it. Theophrastus, a white-haired, keen-faced, venerable man, mostly attired sailor-wise in a blue coat and a stemmed officer's cap like that of a mate in the mercantile marine, had long been dead; but he lived on nevertheless in various pictures and engravings generously dispersed throughout almost every room of the Abbey. Theophrastus had been a man without culture, lacking even (to begin with) the elements of an ordinary education. Yet afterwards he had read all manner of books at first hand, without any of that scholastic piloting which polarises their meaning to most of us. Then, with the assistance of scissors and paste, he had selected and arranged from each what seemed best suited to his purpose, as ruthlessly as in his time he had taken the finest buck negroes out of the slave pens of Bonny, in spite of the wailing of forsaken wives and the desperately clinging arms of orphaned children.
Theophrastus Hardy possessed a vast library in the square halls of the keep, stored mostly according to subject, and the marks of his scissors were through them all. Here and there pages had been riven clean out. Further on a paragraph had been neatly snipped away. Blue, red, and yellow underscorings ran across the pages, and radiated in all directions to the desecrated margins, like the railway map of a flat country or Signor Schiaparelli's chart of the Martian canals. One of the most characteristic volumes was a copy of the Christian scriptures, Grangerised, "improved," and spiced to the taste of Theophrastus Hardy by additions from the astrology and black-stone scrying of Dr. Dee, and from the word-cunning, wet-bandaging, and primitive leechdom of the Elizabethan herbalists.
It is said that when searching for a catchword to give some unity and coherence to his olla, Theophrastus hesitated long between Christ and Buddha, and only decided upon the Nazarene on account of the rooted ignorance of a public which (in these pre-Theosophist days) declined to distinguish between Buddha and Confucius, and was apt to take it for granted that all such curious names represented different varieties of tea.
But under the new dispensation of Martyria Evicta Lucretia, the elastic system of the founder had suddenly become mawkishly spiritualistic, and now manifested itself chiefly in the Healing of the Hands of Faith, the Anointing with Oil, the Presence and Manifestations of Spirits good and Spirits evil — and, above all, in the necessity for all mankind to conform to the gospel (as it happened to be at the time) according to Martyria Lucretia, decked in the apocalyptic red shawl, and spiced by an extempore prayer sandwiched between each course at dinner.
All this made the English Mecca of the new eclectic religion a strange place for Ione and Keith to build up their bodies in, and "minister to minds diseased."
But at least the air was pure at Rayleigh Abbey. It stood on the coast at a lonely spot overlooking the waters of the English Channel, set high above the crumbling gravel banks of the southern coast line. Opposite, the purple-grey cliffs of the Needles stood up like shadowy ninepins deserted after a stirring game by dead giants. From the misty water, ten miles away, the Isle of Wight heaved its blue shoulders out of the brine. While to the left the long curlew's beak of Hurst Castle promontory pecked perpetually at the tawny breakers of the Solent.
"You don't need to mind the mater" pleaded Marcus; "there’ll be no end of rum people about, but you can always get a quiet smoke behind the stables."
So with this to look forward to, Ione agreed willingly enough to accompany them, especially as Keith Harford, being now convalescent, was soon to follow; and, in the meanwhile, could very well be left to the motherly care of Mrs. Adair and the tart and caustic encouragements of Jane Allen. For Ione had been insensibly drifting into a condition of constant severe headaches, accompanied by strange lassitude, which often ended in vertigo and chronic dizziness. This had begun so subtly that she could not recall any particular time as the beginning of her illness, the more serious developments of which, however, probably dated from the shock of her father's death.
After Keith Harford's return to consciousness, Ione had but seldom gone into his room, leaving the actual nursing to the capable kindly hands of Mrs. Adair. Indeed, she straitly charged both of her friends that they were on no account to divulge her share in Keith Harford's transference to Audley Street; and both, with the natural alacrity of women to guard each other's secrecies, faithfully promised what she asked.
It was in the dusk of a November evening that Ione and Idalia, with Marcus carrying wraps and dressing bags, found themselves at the little wayside station upon whose platform they had been dropped off the Bournborough express, with an immense pile of buildings looming dimly up above them, and crowning the seaward cliff.
To Ione, looking upward from beneath, Rayleigh Abbey seemed to rise into the very skies. Along the south and west the chill yellow of the sunset still lingered, and as they rumbled dully through the bedraggled woods, the Channel wind drove in their faces in gusts which sent the blood stirring sharper through the veins, and whipped the tingling cheeks of the three voyagers as with tangible thongs of bitter air.
They were driven by an immobile ancient coachman, who had indeed saluted with the well-bred passivity of his race when his young master came out of the station, but who afterwards had devoted himself entirely to watching his horses' ears and to the maintenance of his personal self-respect.
Marcus cast his eye knowingly along the horses' legs from the right front.
"Grey's near fore going rather stiff, Caleb?" he said.
"Yessur — I daresay, sir," returned the coachman with a slight cough of apology. "It's that hold Hadmiral, sir! Well, 'tis a wonder as all the grey's legs ain't broke to flinders — 'im ride to meet!"
"Any more up at the house?"
"Lor', Lor' — such a mixed pack they do be, Master Marcus, begging your pardon! There's two o' them broadcloth gypsies — making so bold, as we calls them 'ere mediums — tellin' fortin's an' a-pourin' oil an' a-holding of their hands afore folk's eyes to make 'em better o' what they never was took ill o'! Just the same old gammon done in a new way, interferin' wi' proper doctors and decent droogists wi' licenses from the Queen — God bless 'er! And some there is, that thinks no more o' theirselves than to pertend they's got a summat the matter wi' their insides, and be took into chapel to get anointed all over wi' a slobber o' hoil. And then they sucks up to the Hadmiral and let's on as how they have got the Healing Blessing! Hup there, will 'ee!"
All this Caleb the coachman delivered with his eyes and his whip directed between his horses' heads, and without a muscle of his face altering or (apparently) his lips moving. He did not so much seem to answer Marcus as to confide the matter in hand to his horses, which all the while stood perfectly well drilled and gently restive, with ears alternately laid back to ascertain Caleb's intentions and set forward to be ready for the wild-whooping, incomprehensible stallions which went ramping past upon the iron way.
"We’ll have a fine time, Ide; Bedlam ain't in it," Marcus said to his wife as he swung after them into the front seat of the open victoria, and the horses settled into their long, clean, eight-mile-an-hour gait. "There's just packs and packs of lunatics up there. You’ll have to learn to smoke, Ide. The back of the stable's the only place I know of."
"Oh, shoot!" cried his wife, turning up her nose, "I guess, if it comes to that, I can smoke just as well as the next man. Why, when I was — I mean, there was once a handsome young Spaniard on board the Aurania who made the most lovely cigarettes - "
Ione turned upon her quickly with inflated nostril.
"And you don't mean to say, Idalia, that the Spaniard was another?"
"No, I don't — not any more than usual, that is," answered Mrs. Marcus Hardy calmly. "I only mean that he taught Astoria to smoke, and — well, I got not to mind it so very much!"
"I see," said Ione, seeing very clearly indeed, for with marriage had come discretion, and the pith of Idalia's remarks lay not so much in what she said as in what she omitted.
Caleb, sitting square and immovable aloft as one of the towers of the Abbey itself, at this moment drove through a great gate across an open space within high bounding walls, and finally stayed the horses within a covered courtyard exactly like a railway terminus with the rails left out.
Glimpses of brilliantly lighted staircases were seen on either hand, but no monk of orders grey or brown came forth to bid welcome to the arriving guests at this curious Abbey.
"So long, Caleb!" cried Marcus; "take our traps round. We’ll be at the garden house for dinner in an hour, and then I’ll get you to coach me as to the particular breed of vampire we are hatching now. You are the only soul in this mad place who has got his head screwed on straight. Lord, won't I just make a clearance here if ever - Ah!"
And Marcus ground his teeth as he looked about him at the ghastly, glass-roofed cave of the winds which served for an entrance hall.
"Well, come on, girls," he cried, affecting a more cheerful tone. "Let's find the mater and get it over!" he said. "There's all the marks of a big carnival on to-night. We're in luck, Idalia. On the first night of our coming to Bedlam, to drop in for a boss A1 Tarantella show of bounding idiots!"
The journey had somehow given Ione little singing pains in her head, and now the feeling that all this huge bulk about her could be no more than a hollow painted masque came over her. There was a curious smell on the staircase and through all the lower corridors which she could not account for — an odour apparently compounded of stale wet straw and paraffin oil. Marcus explained it in one word, which, however, failed to bring any satisfaction to the girls, who after that walked on tiptoe, lifting contumelious skirts.
"Cockroaches! Millions on 'em!" he said unctuously. "Wait till night, though; then they come out in earnest to guard the palace from the enemy. Napoleon himself dare not charge over their prostrate bodies."
Idalia gripped her husband's arm.
"Marcus," she cried in a horrified tone, "I shan't sleep a wink in this place. You must take me away this very instant! I’ll have hysterics on the spot — I feel them coming on — if I so much as catch a sight of one of the horrid beasts."
"They don't come upstairs, Idalia," said Marcus, soothingly; "and in a day or two you won't mind the smell or even think of it, except as the attar of all true Body-and-Soul Water-and-Mustard-Plaster religionaries."
After this explanation Idalia and Ione lifted their skirts yet a little higher, and walked more gingerly and with still more delicate particularity. At the top of the wide iron stairs they came upon a long array of lights in shaded lamps. They heard also the distant sound of voices, but no human beings appeared either to stay or welcome them. They seemed, however, to leave the musty underground smell of wet straw and paraffin altogether beneath them as soon as they reached this upper floor.
"The recreation hall is to the right, the chapel to the left," said Marcus. "I guess, if it's a big 'do,' it will be held in the chapel. Let's draw that cover first."
The walls of the passage were covered with a curious kind of decoration. Patches of paper faintly yellow occupied the centre of the panels. Ione looked narrowly at one. It seemed to be an ordinary print covered with some kind of varnish, and the whole decorated with garish colours, like a child's first attempt at painting.
"That's English history," said Marcus, with the air of a showman. "We are somewhere about the Wars of the Roses here, I think. My grandfather used to stick up pictures like that out of histories issued in sixpenny numbers. The worse the pictures were, the better they pleased him. He used to work at colouring them himself on wet days, and say that the Spirit revealed to him exactly what the people were like. For instance, Warwick the Kingmaker was always dressed in green with a red nose, and Queen Elizabeth habitually came out all over different coloured spots, like those you see when you look too long at the sun. As for Adam and Eve, you should look in the dining-room behind the sofa - "
"Marcus!" cried Idalia, warningly.
The next morning Ione and Jane Allen were again at the door of the dirty house in Tarvit Street. Ione had wished to go first to Mrs. Vincent Harford in order to enlist her aid. But she had not got half through the account of her interview with that lady when Jane Allen shut authoritatively down on that project.
"I wouldn't trust a pet white rat to a toad like that!" was the unscientific but clear and unmistakable formula in which she expressed her dislike of the selfishness of Mrs. Vincent Harford. So Ione pressed the matter no more.
Jane began the day by going to the manager of the Gopher & Arlington Company, who was opening his day's mail in the little mahogany-panelled office in King William Street. She demanded a whole holiday, which the manager willingly accorded to one of his best and most regular workers. Down a long vista of typewriting tables he saw the slim figure of Ione, who was standing looking at an instruction book. With a sudden increase of interest he said to Jane Allen, "Is that your friend Miss March, who left us some time ago? I heard that her father was dead. I wonder if she wouldn't like to come back to us now."
Jane, however, shook her head. She felt that it was not the time to make such a proposition to Ione, and so presently the two girls found themselves stemming the strong morning tide of humanity running eastward and cityward along Fleet Street.
Having arrived at number 9, Tarvit Street, W. C., Ione rang the bell. This produced no effect whatsoever, so with a quick and sure hand she knocked loudly upon the rusty unblacked knocker, so that the echo came back at once from roof and basement.
"How is Mr. Harford to-day?" asked Ione with a quiet aplomb, which was made more stern and determined by the presence of Jane Allen, in whom she felt there resided an invaluable reserve of power and language in case of a first repulse.
It was the same grimy unwashed serving-maid who answered the door.
"Muster Harford, mum? Why, 'e ain't no better."
"Can we see him?"
The serving-maid glanced over her shoulder.
"I think as 'ow I could manage to slip 'e oop when missus goes for the neck of mutton."
She leaned over towards the girls with a grimly confidential look upon her face.
"She's that 'orrid mean — she goes out every day to buy the very cheapest stuff to feed 'em on. She’ll be gone in ten minutes, and she’ll stop a whole hour, nosin' round and cheapenin'. I’ll sneak you up then, mum, an' no one never the wiser."
She nodded to Ione with a knowing twinkle in her eyes. Evidently she had conceived a low opinion of Jane Allen on the spot, for she added, pointing to Ione's companion, "'Er can stop below along o' me!"
But Ione had imbibed a new spirit, which forbade her to be dependent upon the good offices of a lodging-house Abigail.
"Thank you," she said; "you are very kind, and I shall not forget it. But I would like to see Mr. Harford now."
"Bless you, miss," said the girl, "I daren't! 'E goes on just hawful—'E's fairly off is chump — an' 'as bin for three days. And missus, she won't let 'im go because she 'as collared 'is trunk, an' - No, ma'am, I ham sorry that you can't see Mr. 'Arford to-day. 'E is not receiving no visingtors to-day."
The abrupt change in the manner of the servant girl was produced by the appearance of Mrs. Horehound, the landlady of the Tarvit Street mansion at the head of the stairs, with an expression of such fixed and deadly hatred on her face that Ione, left to herself, would have precipitately retired, but for the strong reserve behind her in the shape of Jane Allen.
"No," grated Mrs. Horehound, from her coign of vantage, "and you can't see Mr. Harford, an' you shan't see Mr. Harford. This is a respectable boardin' house for young gentlemen, and I can't be admittin' young women promiscuous-like off the street, as it were."
"But I must see Mr. Harford," said Ione firmly; "I hear he is very ill. He may need to be removed to a hospital."
"He will not be removed till the arrears of his rent is paid in full. Nor yet until a doctor certifies that he is to be moved to a place where he can be better taken care of, than by a humble but respectable person in my sphere in life."
"You have called in a doctor, then?" queried Ione.
"And, pray, what business may that be of yours whether I 'ave or whether I 'aven't? " retorted Mrs. Horehound. "I suppose I am responsible for my own lodgers?"
Then, with her nose in the air, the landlady became exceedingly ironical. "Perhaps, miss, you are the young gentleman's wife or his sister?"
"Neither," returned Ione promptly. "I am only one of his friends."
"His friend — yes — friends often come to see my young men. But I'm not going to be took in by you nor the like of you. I've seen too many o' your sort — minxes!"
Jane Allen stepped to the front.
“We have come to take Mr. Harford away," she said, "and get him into a hospital. Try to stop us at your peril. If he dies you will be taken up for manslaughter, if not murder?"
"Is this another ‘friend’?" sneered the grim-visaged landlady, making a final rally.
"I am what it does not concern you to know. Let us see Mr. Harford, or we will go away and come back with a policeman and the County Council doctor. They’ll see to it that you are prosecuted for having a case of contagious disease in your house without reporting it. You can get two years for that!"
It was an arrow shot at a desperate venture into the air, but the joints of Mrs. Horehound's armour were many and wide.
"I dunno' as 'tis any case of infectious disease," she grumbled, "but perhaps you had better bring a doctor. But mind you, I don't let a thing belonging him pass out of my house till I am paid every penny of my just dues!"
She retreated up the stairs without a word more, and led the way to Keith's room. After the first landing the wax-cloth was worn into holes, and the feet of the girls felt the steps uneven beneath. Up and up they went, turning after turning, and at each the floor grew more uneven and broken, the staircase narrower and meaner. All pretence of wax-cloth ceased at the beginning of the third flight and even the banisters began to show blanks in their serried array.
As they ascended they became conscious of a voice speaking continuously and very fast, while sometimes an ironic laugh, that seemed hardly human, pealed through the house. Again the softest and most moving accents of adoration and entreaty reached their ears, causing Mrs. Horehound to look to either side, to make sure that the doors leading into the lower rooms were tightly closed.
"Ione March — I beg your pardon. Miss March, but you make me forget myself — you know you are so kind to me. You are not going to marry that rascal! I do know him to be a rascal, Marcus. Hold your tongue! You were angry with me in the Court at Grindelwald, Miss March, but you will forgive me now — now — before I die."
There was a pause, and the voice began again when they were almost at the door:
"Marcus, I did not tell you before that I loved that girl; but I do. I loved her from the very first day I ever saw her. With all my heart's heart I loved her. I would die to save her finger from aching. What do you know about it? You've been in love with twenty girls. I never loved but her; yet she will never know it, Marcus. I would not touch her sweet young life with the shadow of my failure. An old-young man and in love — ha, ha! Forty next year, and the grey already running through the black! Well, both will be laid away for repairs among the worms, deep under the roots of the churchyard grass!"
At this point a feeble elricht voice burst into song:
“’John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonny brow was brent;
But noo your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw,
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson my jo."
''Ha! ha! ha! ha!"
A strange cackling laugh, like that of a parrot, rang out as the door was opened.
And there before them, on a dingy London bed, under a common coverlet, lay Keith Harford, his eyes open and brilliant with fever, turning his head slowly from side to side with the wearying iteration of a chained wild animal.
He had been staring fixedly at the ceiling, but he paused a moment and looked fixedly at the incomers.
"Is that you, Mrs. Horehound? No, Bloodhound, I mean — sired by Vulture out of Horseleech! Ha, ha! Good! The top of the morning to you, Mrs. Bloodhound! Did you happen to see my Sylvia pass this way? If you did, I hope you told her to meet me at the churchyard gate."
Then pausing, he sang, still in that dreadful voice:
“’Great King Pandion, he is dead;
All his friends are lapt in lead!’”
Ione bent down and laid her cool ungloved hands upon the pale and burning brow.
"Keith!" she said softly, with her face immediately above his.
He turned upon her eyes that were vacant of all sight. They seemed to look through and beyond and behind her.
"Hush!" he said impressively, raising his hand and pointing upward; "they told me she was dead. But they lied. I knew she would cheat them. She comes to see me when they are all gone. I heard her voice just now. Once she laughed, softly and sweetly. But I wish she would not play bo-peep with Mr. Sweel behind the curtains. I think it is a little unkind, when I am going to die so soon. But still — I am glad to see her in such excellent spirits. Young lady! — You with the smut on your nose and the hair in curl-papers — prithee tell me — did you happen to see my Sylvia pass this way?"
And he smiled as he tirelessly reeled off his wandering sentences; yet he spoke the words themselves as clearly as if he had been delivering a lecture in class.
"They took her money, the scoundrels. But I sent it back. Ha, ha! that was good — eh, Marcus? She could never guess how. And I did not want the books anyway, though the man that bought them was a rogue and cheated me damnably. What should a dying man want with books? But they need not have sent me to prison — for all the time I had to live. I am glad, though, it did not get in the papers; so she will never know. A pauper's funeral! Ha, ha! I say, Marcus, I wrote up one years ago, when I was on the Dispatch. It made all the women cry, so they said. But they never paid me for it, all the same. I nearly cried myself when I was writing it. But I can't cry now, when I'm going to have a pauper's funeral myself. Perhaps some luckier chap will write up mine, and get paid for it! Don't let that woman come near me! (vehemently). I don't want to see her. — Well, if I have to, I’ll go through with it. She has a sweet little girl — too good for such a harpy — and after all she was my brother's wife. I must not forget that. By the way, when I get along There, I must look up old Lyall. He used to mend salmon rods rather well!"
Keith's voice altered again. It grew restrained and conversational.
"My dear sister," he said, "I am so glad to see you. I am sorry I have no money besides the quarter's allowance which I have already sent you. I cannot put you into a better house, I have no money even for myself, nor can I beg from my friend Mr. Hardy, who has gone to America — for the present at any rate."
Ione's steady hand was cooling his brow. She had taken her handkerchief and wetted it at a water-bottle, greasy and green from lack of internal cleaning, which stood on the bare round table by the young man's bed.
Presently he looked up again.
"I do not know who you are," he said softly, his eyes were very large and dark in their deadly purple sockets, "but it was good of you to send her away. That woman wearies me, and I have no more money to give her. That other harpy downstairs — but I will not rant like a fool! Of course the woman takes what is her due. And she can't help it if her name is Horehound. With a headpiece like that to support in respectability she ought to have married an honest man named Smith or Jones. Thomson is good name, too, though more uncommon. What o'clock do they wake a fellow up when they are going to hang him — daybreak, isn't it? Well, if they would only put up the gallows somewhere else than just outside the window, I would not care. The strokes of the hammers ring through my head all the time, and I can't get any sleep. I declare I shall write to the Times upon 'The Rights of Englishmen about to be Hanged.' What a capital subject for the silly season!"
And so without a minute's pause Keith wandered on and on and ever on. Ione looked up to Jane Allen, who stood with clasped hands and anxious brow at the foot of the bed.
"Jane," she said, "we must get him out of this, to a place where he can be properly nursed and cared for."
"Not a foot till my just debts is paid in full!" said Mrs. Horehound, determinedly.
"Let me see your account!" said Ione.
"Don't you do anything of the kind, Ione; she can't help you taking him to an hospital."
"I'm going to take him home to Audley Street if the doctor will allow it," said Ione. "Do you fetch him, and I will settle with the woman."
Jane went swiftly and silently downstairs. She knew where there was the office of an insurance doctor close by. She would bring him if he happened to be in.
"I do not practise in the neighbourhood," said Doctor Spencer Bateson, a tall, stout man, of genial aspect, beaming down upon the anxious girl; "it is not etiquette; but if there is any danger or need, I will go. Is the gentleman a friend of yours?"
"He is a friend of a friend of mine," said Jane. "She is with him now. Come this way at once, please!"
While she spoke the doctor had been getting his hat, and slipping a small case of remedies and another of instruments into his pocket.
They returned together to the high grimy room in Tarvit Street. The landlady was standing on the lower step of the stair with a dazed kind of look on her face. She had emerged signally worsted from her financial conflict with Ione. For that practical young woman had insisted upon her displaying the vouchers for all her alleged extra purchases. While by comparison with other weeks for which the account had been settled, the fact was established that for the last fortnight she had charged her lodger three times the real rent of the room. Driven from post to pillar, Mrs. Horehound had at last written a receipt for the amount of her account after full deductions, and this was now safe in Ione's pocket as she sat calmly beside Keith Harford, waiting for Jane's return.
Doctor Spencer Bateson possessed such a majestic carriage and such a commanding and sonorous voice that, from his first entrance, he fairly appalled Mrs. Horehound.
"Where is your patient, madam?" he demanded, as soon as he came within the outer door. "I hope you have him in a clean and airy room, or else I cannot answer for the consequences."
And he sniffed all the way up the stairs in a most discomposing manner.
Arrived in the room in which Keith lay, he made a hasty diagnosis, stood awhile in thought, then tapped with his pencil on his hand.
"The patient is suffering from congestion of the brain, with marked delirious symptoms. The disease is probably the result of worry and mental strain, which has ended in nervous breakdown. He ought to be moved at once to some place where he can have pure air and ample attention."
"We will take him home and nurse him there!" she said.
The doctor fought a good fight for the public hospital, but something in Ione's eyes mastered him. Besides, he could not help noticing the purposeful and decided way in which she moved about the sick room.
"You have had experience," he said quickly, as she shifted Keith's head a little higher on the pillow.
"A little," said Ione quietly. "I was only three months in training, but I have been through a season's cholera in an Italian city."
The doctor said no more.
"I will bring an ambulance waggon at once," he said, "if you will have the patient ready for removal. I will go down with you myself!"
In this way Keith Harford was taken to 33, Audley Street, Battersea, where he was laid in Ione's own room, and tended daily by Doctor Spencer Bateson — who, curiously enough, found that it was wholly convenient to take Battersea on his way from Hampstead to his office in the Strand.
From the first the symptoms pointed to a somewhat prolonged illness. It was not till the fifth day that Keith began to recover his consciousness. Then the quick over-activity of the brain and the constant and wearying pour of words gave way to a sleepy unconsciousness, from which he only waked at intervals to resume his mental wanderings. Sometimes Ione would go out for a turn in the noble park, the southern entrance of which was within a few minutes' walk of Audley Street, and on these rare occasions she seemed to float light-headed in a new chill world of phantoms and unrealities.
One day as she came rapidly round a corner from the direction opposite to that by which she had gone out, she almost stumbled upon a young man. He seemed to be gazing ardently in the direction of No. 33, while the rest of his body was clapped as close to the brick wall as if he had been crawling along its base like some foul, creeping thing. His attitude suggested that he was exceedingly anxious not to disclose his identity. Something familiar about the hock-bottle slope of the neck and narrow shoulders caused Ione to turn quickly round.
She found herself almost face to face with H. Chadford Eaton, late confidential clerk to Mr. Nathaniel Shillabeer.
The youth, finding that he was recognised, suddenly withdrew his head, and pulling out his cigarette-case, he began with an obvious assumption of careless ease to light up, keeping however his eyes persistently averted from Ione's face. She proceeded slowly to the door of number 33. Tom Adair was just going out to meet Jane Allen — as he had got into the habit of doing, ostensibly because in these days of trouble and sick-nursing Jane generally carried home ice and all manner of dainties and medicaments, which could be more cheaply obtained at Billingsgate or Covent Garden than in the suburbs.
"Tom," cried Ione, eagerly, "the fellow who followed us before is at the corner. I wish you would - "
Ere she had finished her sentence Tom Adair was off. He never paused save to thrust his best new "bowler" more firmly down on the back of his head. But Mr. H. Chadford Eaton knew that the district of Battersea would be warm for him, and as soon as Ione passed he had taken to his heels riverwards.
When Tom reached the first corner he was already disappearing at the end of the street. Tom gave the view hallo, and redoubled his exertions. But H. Chadford knew his pursuer, and did not wish to repeat his experiences of the yard gates.
The confidential clerk ran straight for the nearest underground station. He battered up the long approach to the Albert Bridge. He dived into the intricate maze of small streets and courts which lies to the south of King's Road, and finally just as Tom Adair was close upon him, he ran across an open square and plunged unexpectedly down the steep descent of an underground station. A train passed up the platform at the same moment with a growling creak of brakes and a whirl of escaping steam.
Tom almost had his enemy that time, but H. Chadford was through before him. All ticketless, he burst past the guardian of the gates. Tom was about to follow, but the gate porter was not to be caught twice. Slam came the heavy postern in his face. "Too late, sir! Next train in five minutes!"
And before the words were out of his mouth the guardian was at his work of securing doors, and crying in some unknown tongue the name of the station.
H. Chadford passed slowly opposite his pursuer as the train slid groaning and hissing out. As he did so he made that ancient gesture of contempt and defiance whose origin is lost in solar myth, but whose practise to this day arouses passion and excites language of quite different origin.
"Oh, wait —just wait, young man!" gritted the irate Tom Adair between his teeth, as he slowly remounted the stairs — so angry as to be all unconscious that Jane Allen had arrived by the same train which had borne away his triumphant foe. They mounted almost parallel on the stairs. Jane walked a little behind Tom, complacently smiling. She did not speak till they had almost reached the top.
Then she said, "Oh, Tom, I did not think you could be so mean — to let me carry all these heavy parcels up those long stairs!"
Whereupon neither Tom Adair's remorse nor his profuse explanations and apologies availed him anything.
When Ione went into the sick-room one Sunday Keith Harford looked up at her with a new intelligence raying from his eyes.
"Do you know," he said confidentially, "that you very distinctly remind me of some one who did a great deed of kindness for me. Once, long ago, I was condemned to die, and a girl took my punishment and died instead for me."
“She must have loved you!” said Ione softly.
Keith Harford leaned forward. He was so weak that he could not even raise his hand, but the eager boyishness of his face was accentuated by the pallor of a brow from which the Alpine sunburn had quite faded.
"No," he said, "she did not love me — she could not. But it was her fate, and she could not help it. Don't you think it is mean to live on and to let a girl die for you? Would you like to know her name? It was Ione March!"
And as he spoke Ione felt a chill shadow creep over her as if he had indeed spoken the truth, and she was in reality doomed to die instead of Keith Harford.
And she remembered the words of the epistle she had heard that morning in church.
“Yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.”
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.