NOT DEATH, BUT LIFE
It was the dull and sullen daybreak of a snowy March morning more than a year after Ione's marriage. She had lain long awake leaning upon her elbow, looking down through the chill grey dawn of a London morning at her sleeping husband. Sobs, half suppressed, convulsed her frame.
"Oh, my lad! my lad!" she whispered over and over to herself. " How will you bear it?"
Keith Harford slumbered peacefully, with a happy smile on his lips, his dark hair falling across his brow.
"I can't tell him! I can't! I can't! At least, I will let him sleep a little while first. There is no use going to the doctor so early. Besides, he must have worked very late last night to have finished all that copy."
And, slipping into her dressing-gown, with the quick expert method of the private secretary she arranged the tumbled pile of manuscript, which lay about the floor as it had dropped, sheet by sheet, from her husband's hands. She went on to correct slips in spelling, and to insert synonyms in place of duplicated verbs and adjectives. She examined the tops and bottoms of the pages for connecting words. And when at last she had got the whole to her mind, she ran a brass clip through the left-hand top corner before finally numbering the sheets and putting them into one of the long blue envelopes used by the literary contributors of all self-respecting magazines.
Then, after a long look at the sleeping man, she stole on tiptoe to the bedside and kissed his forehead softly. Keith stirred, moaned a little contentedly, half opened his eyes, murmured "Ione," and then went back to sleep again like a child.
The tears stole warm and soft down the girl's cheek as she looked at her husband, but she had stilled her sobbing at the first unconscious movement.
"It will be very hard for him," she said, low to herself. "It will almost kill my lad, if it is to be as the doctor said. Dear Keith, at least I have guided him through the worst, past the Slough of Despond. He has made his reputation, and even jealousy cannot take that away from him now. His position is secured. And I — well, I think he will not forget me. He will go on loving me, his wife, to the end.
"He is not the man to love twice. And besides — why should I mourn? Have I not lived through such a year of perfect happiness as no woman ever had. Gladly and proudly would I barter my life for it, were it all to do over again! We have known love and poverty and the beginning of success together, he and I. It is not given to men and women to be happier than that. And no one helped him in his trouble, but I alone. Is not that enough?"
With a glance at the clock she bent to awake the sleeper, but again refrained, retracting her hand after it had touched his shoulder.
"My bairn," she murmured very pityingly, "you can walk alone now. And though you will miss me — sorely, sadly, in dreary days and lonely nights, I think you will not be quite broken down. The memory of our love will uphold you!"
Keith turned on the pillow and murmured some lightest tendernesses, smiling as he did so. Hearing his voice Ione stole farther away and drew the curtains closer. Noiselessly she placed a tea-making apparatus, a box of matches, a plate of bread and butter, fresh cut and covered with a napkin, all on a little round table by his bedside. Then, sitting down at his desk, she scribbled a hasty note.
''Dearest" (she wrote) "I am going out for an hour, and you were sleeping so soundly that I had not the heart to disturb you after your hard work. Be sure you make your tea when you wake. The bread is under the cloth to keep it moist. I have corrected the copy and shall post it on m y way to Town. So that is all right. I kissed you before I went. — IONE."
Then by the bedside the young girl kneeled down for full five minutes with her brow against the pillow, and the tired man's regular breathing faintly stirred her hair.
After that she stole out on tiptoe, closing the door behind her.
She took her way to Brook Street, where she had made a second appointment with Sir Everard Torrance. In a little while her allotted span of fifteen months would be ended, and though it was hard to part with life just when it had grown so dear, yet she felt that in a measure she had made a bargain at barter or exchange with God. She had accepted a year of happiness for herself, crowned with success for her beloved — in exchange for her life. And Ione was far too brave a girl to draw back from suffering, or even death.
Yet she could not convince herself that she felt conspicuously worse. Indeed, some of the old dizzy symptoms came to her far less frequently, and though she tired more easily, it seemed strange and impossible that she should be going about under sentence of death, when she was looking only a little paler than the crowd of healthy people about her. Indeed, the ivory transparent pallor of her skin of a year ago had disappeared and left only a clear and living brown in its place, so that her husband often called her his Nut-Brown Maid — and she named herself "Massa Keith's Niggah Lady."
In the great formal house in Brook Street, Sir Everard was waiting to receive her. Ione had never visited him in the interval, and had contented herself with taking the arsenic which he had prescribed at less and less frequent intervals, for there had grown up within her a firm conviction of the uselessness of medicine. So it was no wonder that the busy, harassed physician did not recognise the daughter of his old friend Governor March, under the unknown style and title of Mrs. Keith Harford. For she had sent up one of her husband's cards with only the addition of an "s" added in manuscript.
But when Sir Everard recognised her he came forward with a grave face and looked into her eyes.
"My poor girl," he said, "why did you never come back to see me?"
"Because I did not wish to trouble you when I knew you could do nothing for me!"
"You are married?" he said, touching the card and looking fixedly at her.
"I was married three or four days after I saw you!" she answered.
"And you told your husband what I told you?"
Ione shook her head, smiling a strange pale smile, which left her eyes dead and sorrowful.
"Not even this morning when I was coming back to see you. I have had my year of joy. I have done my appointed work. And now — now — well, there remains no more than just to say, 'Goodnight.'"
But in the meantime Sir Everard had been attentively observing Ione's complexion, the red that went and came through the clear brown of her cheek. Gently he turned her face about, and examined the white of her eye in the pale winter sunlight. As he looked he seemed to grow more and more astonished.
"The colour is natural — the adipose tissue healthy!" he murmured, as after a pause for examination, he settled once more the tell-tale speck of liquid red under his microscope. Ione watched him a little languidly, waiting quietly for the form to be over. The sentence had long been pronounced. She had acquiesced in her fate, and now she was ready. After five minutes the Doctor rose from his observing stool by the window. He appeared to be labouring under great excitement. He paced the room with his hands behind him, muttering to himself.
"What if my diagnosis were wrong? What if it were not 'Pernicious Anӕmia' after all? Yet I was never wrong in my judgment of a case before. Pray God, I may be this time!"
He faced his patient again, almost fiercely.
"Take off your jacket!" he commanded abruptly; "I must go thoroughly into this!"
* * * * *
The smooth professional hand of Sir Everard Torrance trembled and his eyes were suffused with joy, as, this time of his own accord, he helped Ione on with her coat. And as he pushed home the last rebellious shoulder flounce, he bent quickly and kissed her on the brow.
"My dear," he said, "I am an old man. I have seen much sorrow in this world, and some joy. But I never was happier in fifty years of practice than I am to tell you to-day that Love has conquered Science — yes, beaten it clean off the field. At the end of the span of time which I, in my ignorance, set for you, you may confidently look not for Death — but for Life — for the sacred mystery of another new Life to be born into the world!"
* * * * *
When Ione came in, her husband rose to greet her from the table at which he had been writing. But Keith Harford stood transfixed as Ione appeared in the doorway, fairly transfigured by the sudden mighty joy within her soul. Her eyes were misty and glorious, shining by their own inner light. Her lips were red and parted. Her bosom heaved, and her whole slight figure seemed suddenly to have grown fuller, riper, more womanly. And, indeed, this might well be, for the yearlong dread had been removed, and she who had been under sentence of death, was now beating from head to heel with the passionate pulse of a new and more perfect Womanhood.
"What has happened, Ione? What have you been doing?" said Keith, speaking anxiously and tenderly, as he flung down his pen and came quickly towards her.
She spread out her arms gropingly as if she could not see him clearly, for indeed his image seemed to waver before her. He caught her just in time to keep her from falling.
"My husband, my husband," she sobbed, through burning tears, "I went out to bring you back sorrow and Death. And instead I have brought you back Life and Joy! — Yes — and God's own promise to men and women who love one another!"
SATURDAY NIGHT MARKETING
“It’s a new sentiment and perilously original," said Ione, one Saturday night as they stood on the step of their cottage; "but I don't think any two people were ever so happy as we are!"
Then Ione tried the handle to see if the door were really locked. Keith, with great content, was carrying the market-basket on his arm, while Ione, with a well-accustomed working housewife's air pocketed the key, and noted that the front window hasp was duly fastened.
"Now," said Ione to her husband, "just deliver up all the coppers. I can't have you tipping the tram conductors and butcher's salesmen as you did last Saturday. It's very bad for their morals. Besides which, they think we are rich, and overcharge us promptly. No, sir; you don't! Turn round and let me feel in your ticket pocket! There! I knew it! Reptile, you were concealing all of threepence-halfpenny from your legally married wife! Just think of the incalculable harm you might have done with that threepence-halfpenny! Ain't you shamed?"
They were going slowly riverwards as she talked. "Now," she continued, for Keith was too busy watching her to speak, too proud and happy also; "I think we shall get some lovely bargains along Paul's Road. I saw the loveliest scrubbing-brushes, only fivepence-farthing each for cash at a shop up near the World's End." So with little money in their pockets, but much happiness in their hearts, they went along the crowded bustling streets shoulder to shoulder like the good comrades they were.
"What nice inkstands!" cried Ione presently; "and what a lovely blotter! Why, it's only eleven-pence. Keith! I can't resist that! Your birthday is not for three months yet, but I tell you what, I’ll give you these and a fender for a birthday present."
"Thank you, dearest," said Keith meekly. "And while I think of it, I’ll buy you a pipe-rack, and a pound tin of ‘Golden Rose Mixture ' for your birthday! Then we shall be quits!"
"Do, dear," returned Ione promptly; "that will be so nice. I know a shop where they trade tobacco for beautiful toilet soap. Yes, and hairpins, or almost anything. And then, you know, there's always our dear Uncle just over the way!"
The woman in the brush shop was kind-hearted and sympathetic, and as they edged their way in between the serried walls of bright tin-plate kitchen utensils she smiled down on them, and exclaimed, "Out of the way, Johnny," to a grubby but happy child of three, who was playing with a sorely stricken go-cart or rather won't-go-cart) right in the fair-way of traffic.
Keith and Ione left the shop poorer by two shillings and threepence, but Keith's basket was heavier by a writing apparatus, a paint can, a ball of twine, a scrubbing brush, a paste-pot, and a pair of strong scissors.
Next they came to a part of the street which had been turned into an open-air market. Shop-men were standing at doors lighted by a strong flare of gas hissing and blowing above the glassless window. Each was vociferating more loudly than the other, and holding up pieces of rather purplish beef and dim-coloured suet.
“Prime beef, fourpence-halfpenny a pound! Cheaper than the beast can be bought for in Australy, ma'am! Going at an enormous sacrifice, it being Saturday night!"
"Don't look quite so hungry, Keith," said Ione; "or the man will certainly throw it at us as a present. And we are ever so much too high-toned for that! Besides, we are going to buy our Sunday beef farther on at a shop which does not advertise by human lung power, and which disposes of all its left-over stuff to a respectable cat's-meat man. There's going to be nothing second-class about us — now that Forgan has paid up."
So in due time they bought beef. They loaded their basket with vegetables. A turnip came next, then parsnips, and last of all, a delightful baby cauliflower.
"No; not onions, Keith," said Ione decisively. "Onion is — well — bad for the complexion, so, at least, I've always heard!"
At a large shop near the Albert Bridge they bought creamy curtains for the "orielette," as Ione persisted in calling the small bay window of their home, because it was not yet a grown-up oriel.
“No sage-green and dusty crimson for you and me, Keith," she said; "but plain lace curtains that fall straight down, only cream-coloured, because of the smuts! We are working-folk, and I'm going to have a working-man's window curtains."
The lace curtains were wrapped in paper and laid on top of the vegetables, it must be confessed, somewhat to Keith's secret relief.
Presently they turned homeward, the cries of the vendors echoing emptily after them. Keith had never felt so strong in his life, nor yet so happy. Even the Matterhorn, he thought, would scarcely be a breather to him now.
Presently they were attracted by a little crowd at a shop where silver plate sparkled at the window.
"Come on, Keith," his wife said, "let's look! As Seth would say, this is as good as a free lunch, with crackers. We can't afford to go to the theatre, so let us see all the sights we can for nothing."
It was indeed a marvellous exhibition for the district — plated spoons, no two the same; claret jugs, in a region which drank only beer; sugar tongs, where all used, in continental fashion, their fingers, or else contented themselves with brown sugar dug out of a paper-bag with a spoon.
Keith was specially attracted by a lemon-squeezer. It was most ingenious. He returned again and again to it, marvelling at the simplicity of its mechanism. He would have gone in and looked at it, but Ione waxed anxious for the remaining shillings in her purse.
"Better pay last quarter's rent and settle with the gas collector before you think of buying lemon-squeezers!" she said, loud enough for the little crowd about the window to hear. These all turned round and stared indignantly at the spendthrift husband who had made such a rash suggestion.
Keith stalked away from the window with a most haughty expression on his face, and Ione walked beside him in demure pretended penitence for having uttered such an unseemly speech.
But they made it up presently. At the dark part of Ely Street she took tight hold of his arm.
"Are you very cross?" she whispered; "you see I had to get you away, or you would have spent all my money. And you know we don't need to squeeze a lemon once a year."
When they were on their doorstep, she turned to her husband again.
“Keith, dear," she said, "I never was so happy in my life. I just didn't begin to know before what happiness meant!"
"Nor I," said Keith devoutly, setting down the market basket within the open door, and kissing his wife before they turned up the gas, which somehow gave it the flavour of stolen waters.
But Ione said to herself, "And there are still thirteen months like these two!"
THE NICEST WEDDING IN THE WORLD
Ione and Keith were married in the little old parish church on the north side of the river, past which the barges creep and the swift penny boats shoot on their way to Putney and Hampton Court.
"Let's spend our last dollar on a special license, and do the thing in style," said Ione.
"Well, you know, there's the house furniture, since we are too high and mighty to go into lodgings!" Keith suggested, perceiving for the first time in his life that he was becoming practical.
"Well, I do admire to hear you grumbling," echoed Ione, with the joyous mood which sat so well on her these days; "much you have to do with this wedding! You ain't a-running of this show, not as I knows on — not even taking the money at the door. So don't go stirring up the animals and making it hard sledding for the Lion Queen. All the furniture you need is just a table, a chair, a pennyworth of ink, a quill, and some writing paper. Then you sit yourself down and write about candle-ends and beeswax like a little man till I get back. And that's what you've got to do, Mr. Man!"
And so he did. And Keith's essay on "Candle-ends, considered from a moral standpoint," was the first of a series of charming and popularly illustrated articles in the Red Magazine.
It could hardly be called a quiet wedding either, for Idalia and Marcus were there, and (by special request of the bride) Seth Livingston was best man. He had, for purely decorative purposes as he affirmed, brought his mother. Of course Jane Allen was bridesmaid, no other being possible. Tom Adair brought her, and never once looked at the bride. Near the door stood Mrs. Adair all in a fluttering fervour of admiration, which made up for the discourtesy of her son.
The service itself was staid and decorous, some said even dull. The old clergyman muttered and murmured, lost his place and found it again, till, as the bridegroom confessed afterwards, he stood in mortal terror lest the bride should forget where she was and prompt him.
"And I declare I should have done it too, if I could have remembered the words," said Ione viciously. "Slow old thing! I thought I was never going to be real downright sure of you!"
"Were you in such a hurry to be married, Ione?" said Keith tenderly.
"Of course I was," she answered with postnuptial freedom; "you were such a dear desirable old thing, you see, that I wanted you all for my very own, right then! And I'm noways ashamed of it neither."
But all the time her heart within her was thudding low to itself, "Eighteen months! Eighteen months! Can I make up to him for all the after pain in eighteen months? Can I make him great in eighteen months?"
“Do you know, folks, I think this is the very nicest wedding I was ever at! And Keith he thinks so too," affirmed Ione, as soon as the party found themselves back again on the pavement, and the chill wind from the river whipped the colour back into their faces.
"I think so too," cried Idalia, breaking through her new-found sedateness. "It's certainly better than running away and being married in an old dominie's study, with the cat on the hearthrug and the hired buggy horse eating off the top of the minister's golden-rod one minute, and trying to pull up stakes and run home the next. Marcus, do you remember undertaking the solemn vows with one eye squinting out of the window to see what that beast was after? ‘I, Marcus Hardy, take thee -- whoa, you brute, where are you coming to! — Idalia Judd to be my true and — oh, hang that horse, it will have that old post down in a couple of shakes!'"
At this Marcus smiled, and intimated that the scene owed something to his wife's well-known preference for works of the imagination.
"Now for the wedding breakfast," said Ione. "We had just five-and-eight left to do it on, so please think of that, all you greedy people. But I know a milk shop, the nicest place. It's just round the corner. We can get Scotch scones almost as good as yours, Mrs. Adair — do you remember, Jane?"
Jane Allen nodded happily. Time was when she had scoffed at marriage and the faithfulness of men, but like all women she softened when the hated ceremony approached her in the person of her dearest friend. Also, it was pleasant to have Tom Adair bring her — though, of course, it was dreadfully silly of him to look all the time at her, and never at Ione, who was so much prettier!
"Good-morning, Mrs. Dunn," said Ione to the woman in the shop. "Can you let us have some milk, and brew a pot or two of tea? What lovely scones and butter! Help yourselves — call for anything you like, ladies and gentlemen. And if it isn't here — why, then you must do without it, unless you go out and get it. But with the aforesaid five-and-eightpenny limitation, the world of the milkshop is yours!"
It was very simple fooling, but not too simple for happy people.
But Idalia looked a little concerned sometimes, and glanced once or twice meaningly at her husband. She had never seen Ione in such spirits, and somehow the mood seemed unnatural. After a time she could not help telling her friend frankly of her wonder.
"Well," Ione answered with equal frankness, "you know, you've never seen me married before. That's the way it takes me. It has made you grave and matronly." (Here Idalia made a grimace of disclaimer.) "You never flirt - "
Marcus's tea choked him at this point.
"You have, in fact, given up all frivolity of every sort, and there are to be no more Aurania Tommies and City-of-Paris Jonathans. Now with me it acts the other way. I am going to run the frivolity branch of this business, while Keith stays at home and scrubs floors."
Then Ione turned quickly on Seth Livingston.
"I am sorry to see that you have fallen into bad company."
"Bad company! On the contrary, I never was in better in my life. Mother and I are at your wedding," said the prompt Seth.
"Well, I saw you going down Northumberland Avenue the other day, arm in arm with Forgan of the Red Magazine."
"Well, what's the matter with Forgan? He's all right, ain't he? His cigarettes are, anyway."
"Right? Well, not much!" retorted Ione, as promptly. "Why, he owes my husband nearly two hundred pounds, and has owed it him for nearly a year. And I saw you go into a club with him, too — drinking, I wager; helping that man to throw away my hard-earned money at a bar — like as not!"
Seth Livingston scratched his head in humorous perplexity.
"Well," he said slowly, "I guess the Red Magazine ain't exactly a gold mine; nor the financing of it on all fours with a picnic."
"It would be if they had the sense to print my husband's stories every month."
"Ione!" ventured Keith reproachfully. He was blushing with happy shame in which mingled an intense secret joy. Never (he thought) had he seen his wife so daringly bewitching. He wished that the others would go away in order that he might tell her so.
"Now, Keith," she went on, nodding at him fiercely, almost as if she had absorbed the former manner of Mrs. Marcus Hardy; "be good enough to sit tight and say nothing! You've been a whole year without collecting a penny of that money. But to-morrow, having a family to support, your wife is going after it. Now you tell your friend, Forgan, Mr. Livingston, that if he doesn't pay up smart, I'm coming right along to interview him. See this!" Suddenly she displayed a tiny revolver. "Cylinder jammed, trigger won't act, pencil wads up the barrel, generally 'Willie won't work'; but for all that, the finest weapon in the world. Now you tell your editing man that Ione Harford is a little Texas Wonder with the six-shooter, and that she is out looking for him!"
"I guess that's about the last thing in the world to make Forgan pay up," commented Seth. "To tell him a pretty girl is coming to call on him if he don't! All the same, I’ll see to it that you get your money from the Red Magazine. I'm a sort of director, anyway!"
"Yes; and besides, he has to take ever so many more things that we are going to write. We are starting in full speed to-morrow morning. Keith is to work in the parlour. I'm going to honeymoon in the kitchen, playing with the new range!"
The party now adjourned, but even then Ione's spirits did not desert her.
“Does any lady at this marriage breakfast say 'Champagne Cup'? Any gent fancy 1800 Cognac? Because if so, there's the Buckingham Hotel just across the way, and they can have them by paying! "
The company smiled upon this most unconventional of brides.
"Nobody; then that's all right!" she went on. “Now let's go and view the new house."
Idalia and Ione walked together ahead of the others, and their talk grew whispered and mysterious. Nothing but Ione's last words have been preserved.
"No, dear; I can't let you. It wouldn't be good for either of us. Let us fight it through on this line. It will do us both all the good in the world. If I need really, I'll come and borrow from you like a shot."
And with this conditional acceptance Mrs. Marcus Hardy had perforce to rest content.
The wedding guests reached the new house. Ione took the key from her pocket and unlocked the door with pride. It was a plain workman's dwelling, similar to the Adair's, but somewhat smaller. It stood at the corner of the street next but three to Battersea Park.
"We are poor, but so far honest," said Ione. "We can't give you chairs all round — not just yet. There's only one each for us, and the coal-box for visitors. But as to that we have spared no expense, and had it specially imported. The overflow meeting can stand around anywhere, or go into the bedroom and sit on the bed. But I present to you this remarkable table. Do look at that table! Now at this little table the greatest works of the century are going to be written. And up there on the wall is where the tablet is to be placed in after years by the 'Society for the Commemoration of Famous Men.' Gracious, what a nice article it will make! I think you must write it up now, Keith, and send it to the Red Magazine. Just fancy, the lovely chapter headings, 'So happy and so poor!' 'The Struggles of Genius'; 'He Sleeps in the Scullery'; 'He Red-bricks the Lobby Tiles!' 'He Sweeps the Front Steps while his Wife goes to the Bake-house for the Four-pound Cottage Loaf, and Rows the Baker if it ain't properly riz!' That's rather long, but the rest are all right!
"Now," continued Ione, after they had seen everything upstairs and down. "You've all got to go home, for Keith and I are going on our wedding-trip. It wouldn't be nice of you to come along. It is in a 'bus all the way to the British Museum, where I am going to watch Keith look up some stuff to help along the masterpiece of fiction we are going to begin to-morrow at nine sharp."
But when the mistress of the house said good-bye to her guests at the door, some of the latter were perilously near tears, and even Idalia grew distinctly pathetic. Ione, however, waved her hand gaily, and cried as a last word, "Say, folks, hasn't this been the nicest wedding you were ever at? I think so, and Keith — well, he'd better think so, too!"
Yet, when Harford closed the door and turned to kiss his wife for the first time in their own home, there were tears in her eyes, and she was swallowing down a hard lump in her throat.
“Ione,” he said anxiously; "what is the matter, dearest? You are tired?"
"Nothing," she said; "only they never put down any red cloth for us at the church door, and there will be no list of the wedding presents in the Morning Post. That's why I am crying just the least little bit!"
The forenoon of the next day after the night journey from Rayleigh Abbey, found Ione March on the doorstep of that very distinguished physician Sir Everard Torrance. He had known her father, and had indeed been his guest years ago at Newport. Ione, as we know, was by no means morbidly imaginative, and she did not lay great stress on the words of the Seeress of Rayleigh Abbey. But all the same, during these last months, and especially since her father's death, she had been increasingly conscious of a subtle weariness, which sometimes grew upon her till it culminated in that dreadful feeling of utter depression and desolation for which there is no word in any language.
So now she took courage and went to Sir Everard, who, in the tall young lady in the serviceable plain black dress, could not be expected to recognise the little girl he had ridden upon his knee as he looked down upon the pebbles and sand of the Newport beach.
The kindly baronet listened with gentle patience to Ione's story, before beginning his searching ordeal of personal examination and diagnosis. As he proceeded with this he grew more and more grave.
"You have had a shock," he said, after a long and thoughtful pause. "Your father's death, your fight with the world, the discovery that it is a rougher place than you anticipated — these, and perhaps other factors unknown to me, have undoubtedly had a grave effect upon a constitution never naturally strong. I do not conceal from you that the greatest care will be needed. You must go abroad at once. You must cease from all work."
"Sir Everard," broke in Ione piteously, "it is quite impossible for me to do either. Believe me, I have a reason, and a weighty one."
"Be honest with me, my dear; remember that I was your father's friend. Tell me what is that reason," said the physician.
"There is a man whom I love," Ione answered him, without a moment's hesitation. "I would marry him if I could. It is, I think, the only chance for his life or for his success in his calling. He has been completely shattered by a recent severe illness."
"You are not making that commonest and most terrible of mistakes — marrying a man in order to reform him?"
Ione smiled a little and shook her head. Keith's reformation did not need to go beyond compelling him to remember to take his meals, to put on dry socks, and to see that his editors paid within a reasonable time.
"The man whom I love," she said slowly, after a pause, "is noble, honourable, great. But without my help I do not think he will ever be successful. I could make him so — or, at least, I believe I could."
Sir Everard was silent; bending his grey heavy eyebrows downwards and frowning fiercely as he looked at his patient.
The girl spoke again, in the same quick brave voice:
"Do not be afraid to tell me if this weakness is serious, Sir Everard," she said — "if you think it will grow upon me. Tell me even the very worst. It is far more than life or death to me to know just what is before me, so that I may make my plans."
Sir Everard measured Ione with his eye. Fearlessly she gave him back glance for glance. He rose and put his hand on her shoulder.
"You are a brave lass," he said; "I will tell you what I think. But remember, I do not know. In a case like this there is no absolute certainty. I hope I may be wrong, but, from the test under that microscope there, I fear that you are suffering from Pernicious Anӕmia."
The technical words conveyed nothing to Ione March. She found her eyes straying from the compact, straight-tubed, experimenting microscope of foreign pattern, under the lens of which there was a little speck of blood, back to the kindly features of the great Doctor, grown weightily sober with the burden of what he had to say.
"It is not usual — it is, in fact, hardly professional — but I tell you my opinion, because you have in you the heart of a brave man — or, that which is infinitely more and better, the heart of a brave woman."
"That little speck in the hollow glass means Death, then!" said Ione, looking at the single-tubed microscope with a strange impersonal interest, as if it had been a curiosity in a museum to which her attention had been called.
The Doctor was silent, but he did not remove his straight regard from hers. The little shake of his head meant, "I think so!"
"How long?" She spoke now in a slightly harder tone, yet withal very sweetly and gently.
"I cannot tell," Sir Everard answered gravely. "I should think from fifteen to eighteen months, but it may be more. With ordinary chances, and no further shock, certainly not less."
Instantly Ione rose to her feet.
"It is worth it," she said, half to herself; and then again, "I will do it."
She turned upon the old Doctor, who, his back to the fire-place, was standing with moist eyes regarding her. Many strange things had happened to him in forty years' practice of his profession, but few that had ever touched him like this.
Ione's fawn-coloured jacket lay on the table.
She took it up and stood with it a little while in her hand, fingering it. She could hear her own heart beating thickly. "Sentence of death!" it said. "Sentence of death!" But she must let him see nothing of what she felt. Instead, she smiled at Sir Everard brightly and sweetly.
"Will you help me on with this?" she said. "It is surely growing dark outside. I think there is going to be a fog."
The good Doctor's fingers trembled as they had not done at many a famous operation, while he lifted up the coat, fragrant with suggestions of its owner's sweet girlhood.
Ione turned upon him with a smile that shone gloriously through the strange misty look in her eyes.
"Thank you," she said; "but you have forgotten to tuck in the sleeves at the shoulders."
The great Doctor did as he was bidden with some difficulty, because of the curious mist which had suddenly fogged his spectacles.
* * * * *
It was a transfigured Ione who returned to 33, Audley Street. She had gone out doubtful, tired anxious; she returned with a light and buoyant step. All her difficulties seemed cleared away; her path became plain. Now she knew.
"Sentence of death! Sentence of death!" thudded her heart.
"Eighteen months! Eighteen months!" she retorted, and put the matter from her.
Mrs. Adair, from her post in the little back-kitchen where she was "doing the wash," heard a light foot come down the silent street, from which the chilly December breeze had swept both loafers and foot-passengers. It was a step quick, elastic, full of springing life. She heard it turn buoyantly into the narrow brick-paved walk from the sparred cast-iron gate of the little cottage house. With a hop and a skip it came within the portal and sprang up the two narrow steps to the door.
Mrs. Adair came out with steaming hands from "dollying" the clothes, to make sure that her ears had not deceived her.
"Wi' lassie, what's gotten intil ye?" she cried; “'ye come in like a licht-fit ten-year-auld bairn — are ye ‘fey’?"
"I think I am," smiled Ione. And, indeed, the old Scottish word for the high spirits which come to a foredoomed person, defined her position and feelings exactly.
"Where is Mr. Harford? I want to see him," said Ione, with simple directness.
"How should an auld wife like me ken that, lassie?" answered Mrs. Adair. "He slippit oot some whilie since, and I 'm jalousin' that he gaed awa' to look for yoursel'!"
"Tell me which way he went, and I will go and meet him," said Ione smiling. "I have something to say to him."
Mrs. Adair watched the swift lithe gladness of the girl's figure, as she went down the street in the direction of the park.
"If he's no a dullard, he will surely hae something to say to you, gin ye look up at him like that," she said to herself. "I'm thinkin' he'll hae pittin' his pride in his pooch and spoken to the lassie, to gar her skip sae croose. Wae's me, there’ll be a room to let, and decent lodgers are nane sae easy to get in this pairt of the country!"
Even in her childhood, or when she first came home from school, Ione had never before felt such elation of spirits. Something of Idalia's gay irresponsibility rose insurgent to her head. Anӕmia — why her blood fairly sang, her heart leaped! Ill, dying — fifteen months — eighteen! It seemed an idle tale, a period that would never end. And when it did — well, at least she would have lived!
Here at last was Keith, standing looking down a vista of leafless trees. He had a note-book and a pencil in his hands, and Ione knew that, according to his custom, he was setting down the thoughts which came to him.
"I could bet I know what will put the note-book to rout," she said to herself; and the look in her face was a fresh and radiant one — that of a young girl, innocently conscious of her own beauty and charm.
Keith did not hear her coming till she was quite at his side, and had put her hand lightly on his shoulder.
"Please let me look," she said. "Poetry — may I read? 'Carpe diem' for a title. That means 'A bird in the hand,' does it not? Well, I'm the bird. Please don't shut up the book!" And Ione read aloud with a dying fall, like the overword of a song, these lines:
“'Ere the bursting bud be grown
To a rose nigh over-blown,
And the wind of the autumn eves
Comes blowing and scattering all
The damask drift of the dead rose leaves
Under the orchard wall.'
"Why, Keith, that's sad; and when I have come all this way to meet you, too!" she said, smiling up at him. "Do you know, I did not think there was any sad thing in all God's universe to-day!"
When Keith looked at her he fairly started back, amazed and puzzled at the radiant beauty of her face, the smile that was upon her lips, the light that dwelt in her eyes.
The knowledge of how happy she was going to make the man she loved, showed in each thought, word, action. She gave a little skip of pure delight, and with the motion of a cheerful comrade who would change a companion's gloomy mood, she caught his arm impulsively.
"Come, let us go for a walk," she said. So straightway she took him off through the park, and the grey London sky brightened before her as she went, so bright and fair and young a thing she seemed.
"Do you know," she said, "I came out seeking you? Does not that make you vain? Or, having been an invalid, do you take all that as your due?"
"I take it," he said gravely, "as the kindest and most beautiful thing that ever was done to me in all my life!"
His eyes smiled seriously down into her dark and brilliant ones, now sparkling and electric with inward excitement.
She made him a curtsey, which seemed to Keith Harford more than half the sportive frisk of a young thing bubbling over with the joy of life. Ione marvelled at herself.
"Have you forgotten the Abbey and yesterday?" he said, suddenly thinking of her transformation.
"All but one thing — something you said!" she made answer, nodding brightly, almost defiantly.
"And what was that?" Keith spoke earnestly. His world depended on her answer.
"Why, ever since I knew you, you never said but one thing worth saying. I declare it is I who have to say all the nice things. Was there ever such a silly stupid Keith?"
"But dear!" she added in her heart. For she could not bear to speak lightly of so true a man, even in words and to his face.
"Ione, if I thought myself in the least worthy - " Keith Harford was beginning in his deep earnest tones, when all at once he heard a sound which caused him to stop. Ione was humming softly as she walked along. He drew himself up.
"John Anderson, my jo, John,
When we were first acquent."
The swift dainty notes flowed low and liquid, mellow as a blackbird's warble, through all the mazy grace-notes of a Scots tune sung according to the right ancient fashion.
"Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonny brow - "
Suddenly the tune changed. Now it was "Did you see my Sylvia pass this way?" Ione's eyes seemed to be looking up at him, though her lashes were drooped dark upon the white of her cheek. Her warm fingers were upon his arm, and the grey November dusk was already closing unheeded around them. But as he listened, wider and warmer horizons were opening upon Keith Harford's shy reluctant soul. He turned his head down, and when he had once looked, he could not remove his gaze from the radiant gladness of love in the young girl's face.
Then she stopped singing, and spoke in a kind of recitative: "'Ione March! Ione March!'" she chanted softly, as if recalling words well known to her. "'I love you — I loved you from the first time I ever saw you. With all my heart's heart I love you, and yet you shall never know it. I will never tell you. Who am I that I should touch your young life with the shadow - '"
"Oh, you witch!" cried Keith, suddenly understanding at last, the barriers of his self-distrust breaking like summer gossamer. They had stopped under the great leafless elms before they turned towards the cottages by the Park gates. Keith Harford would never be a simpleton any more. He caught the girl quickly in his arms, drew her to him, and for a moment the world whirled away from them in seething billows.
* * * * *
The newly-plighted lovers walked home. As they turned into Audley Street, Ione gave Keith's arm a pull of possessive happiness.
"Well," she said, "it's unmaidenly, I know. But since I have had to do all the rest — make all the love, help you out of all your stupid difficulties, encourage you with a bunch of carrots before your nose like — well, like the animal that dotes on carrots; in a word, since you have made me propose to you — I may as well ask you when you would like to be married."
Here she clasped her hands with mock earnestness.
"Keith Harford," she continued, looking at him with a world of mischief in her eyes, "name the day — and I will buy the ring. I know I shall have to do that also, when it comes to the point. Why, Keith, you would either blush yourself away as soon as you opened the door of the shop, or else forget what it was you had come for. And when the man said, 'What can I do for you, sir?' you would most likely answer, 'A pennyworth of fish-hooks!' Then, after that, I should have to lock you up while I went and interviewed the parson, or you would be sure to be gone when I came back, and I should never find you any more."
"Ione," said Keith Harford, struggling to win her back into seriousness, "you are not doing this thing out of pity —are you?"
"Why yes, of course — entirely!" said Ione, with a new and defiant sauciness. "I don't love you a bit. You are only a great silly fellow. But then, so dreadfully dear. I can say it out loud now. And such a baby! Keith, you do so want to be taken care of! But you've found the very girl to do it, and so you'll find to your cost, Mr. Man!"
THE BOAT TRAIN
When Keith Harford, betrayed by his over-anxiety into taking a wrong turning and becoming entangled in the rusty iron labyrinths under Rayleigh Abbey, at last reached the outer court, he could not find Ione anywhere. She had, in fact, escaped through the smaller door with the key Marcus had given her. Bareheaded, Keith ran round the house this way and that, but still could obtain no glimpse of the young girl. Finally, in his desperation, he climbed the garden wall, launched himself into the branches of a pear-tree which the wind was swaying in the direction of the coping, and letting himself quickly down at the expense of a torn sleeve and bruised knee, he reached the Garden House, where he found Caleb calmly laying the table for Ione's frugal supper.
"Has Miss March not returned?" he said, gazing about him wildly.
Caleb looked at Keith in reproachful surprise, for a branch of the pear-tree had scratched his brow, his hair was over his eyes, and he wore neither hat nor overcoat.
“Mr. Harford," he answered sedately, "the young lady has gone to the service in the chapel, what they calls the Temple, by special invitation of the missus."
"I know," said Harford, "she was there! But she has been denounced and insulted by wild beasts, and while I was facing them, she slipped out into the night, and I cannot find her anywhere."
"That old she-tiger! I thought it would come to summat like this," ejaculated Caleb, letting a dish slip from his hand and splinter unregarded on the hearth.
Keith was going out again without a word, but Caleb caught him by the arm. "Wait till I put one of master's overcoats on you! And for God's sake don't go out bareheaded, and you just fresh rose up from a bed of sickness!"
As if he had been putting the harness on his horses, Caleb made his preparations in a few seconds with his usual quiet decision. Then pulling a cap down over Keith Harford's head, he fastened the straps under his chin, as a nurse does to a child.
But before he could finish buttoning the thick overcoat, Keith was stumbling down the steps into the wet and buffeting wind, leaving Caleb vainly calling after him to wait till he could come and help.
"Oh, if master had only been here, this wouldn't never have happened as it 'as happened," he groaned; "the old hag wouldn't have dared to let out her spite and jealousy if young master 'ad bin 'ere! But that is the reason why she encouraged him to go away up to London this mornin'!"
It was with anger burning hot in his heart that Keith plunged into the night, to seek for the girl whom he had acknowledged for his affianced wife before the evil-minded pack assembled in Rayleigh Abbey.
Whither could she have gone — a delicate girl abroad on such a night, and in a strange country? Keith beat his way through the wet leathery leaves of the shrubbery, and emerged with aromatic drops spraying down upon him from laurel and holly.
What shelter could she find? He knew her wounded pride too well to think that she would abide a moment longer anywhere near that accursed habitation of asps and cockatrices.
"Ione! Ione!" he shouted, calling the beloved name aloud, as he ran headlong down the dark avenues. But the winds swept away the syllables as if his shouting had been no louder than the cry of a storm-driven bird forwandered in the night.
Keith Harford grew wild and desperate. He felt that if Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy or her accomplices met him at that moment, he would certainly slay them with his hands. And his fingers tightened upon the palms of his hands as if they were already at the throats of Mr. H. Chadford Eaton and his late coadjutor in Department Z.
So in distress and darkness he wandered about he knew not whither. Instinct more than intention took him inland away from the sea.
He looked back and shook his fist at the long cliff-like wall of Rayleigh Abbey, with its gloomy machicolations and serried tiers of lights. Had he belonged to a former time he would have uttered against its towers a set and formal curse. As it was, he contented himself with a promise to make Ione March's enemies remember that night if ever it should be his hap to meet them again.
So Keith Harford wandered on, now on the streaming road, now brushing the wet from the sides of narrow footpaths where the weight of rain drooped the long, wet grasses thwartwise across like fallen corn. Anon he went swishing and creaking with water-logged boots across flooded meadows — till before him all suddenly shone up the cheerful lights and spick-and-span newness of a railway station.
It came upon him with a quick surprise, that he had not remembered before that the express passed up from the Channel Islands' boat at twenty minutes past midnight, and that it stopped at the station upon being signalled for, in order to convey through passengers for London.
Keith leaped the wire fence, and ran along the line till he came to the platform. A smoky lamp, deserted on a barrow and apparently in the last stages of extinction, was here the sole illuminant, but within the station itself the lights were burning brightly. The ticket-window was already open, and a slim girlish figure, wrapped in a mackintosh, bent before the pigeon-hole, purse in hand. In the most matter-of-fact way possible, Ione was taking a ticket for Town. Nay more, she was counting her change as calmly as if she had only been coming home from arranging her flowers at the Hotel Universal.
Without pausing to speak to her, Keith made sure from a question which Ione asked of the sleepy clerk that she was going to get out at Clapham Junction. Then, stepping quietly before her as she stood aside to put her purse into her pocket, he bend down and asked for a ticket to the same place.
Still with the pasteboard in his hand he turned, pale and worn with anger and fatigue. He stretched out his hand impulsively.
"Thank God, I have found you!" he said hoarsely, after a long pause, during which both stood staring. And even more than his words, his burning eyes and choked and trembling utterance pleaded for him.
Yet even then Keith Harford remained shy, reticent, self-distrustful beyond the wont of men. He had held love at a distance all his life, and now that it had come to him for the first time when he was verging on forty years of age, he knew not what to do with it.
Ione and Keith walked up and down the little platform without speaking. The train was late, and the porter, tired of his vigil, had set himself down on the seat of the waiting-shed near the fire, and slumbered peacefully, folding his arms on his breast and leaning his chin upon them. At the third turning Ione spoke.
"Why have you come?" she said, without looking at him.
Now doubtless Keith Harford ought to have answered, "Because I love you!" Marcus would have answered thus. The average man, both good and bad, the strong man, the confident man, the wise man even, would have answered so. And the average man would have been right. But Keith Harford was neither an ordinary nor yet an average man. His self-distrust, his lack of the excellent quality of business push, led him to put himself aside and belittle himself — than which there is nothing more fatal in the things of love.
"Why did you come?" Ione repeated her question.
Keith was silent a moment longer, then he spoke.
"How could I stay?" he said at last; "how could I remain among those ravening wolves and sty-fed swine, out of whom the devils of foulness and evil speech have not been cast. But tell me, Ione, did you hear what I said to them?"
"Yes, Mr. Harford, I heard what you said!"
"Do not call me that!" said he, wincing at her tone; "say 'Keith' as you used to do when I was ill. You heard what I said, and you are not angry?"
"Why should I be angry," said Ione softly. "Circumstances make these things necessary at times. It is like telling the servant to say one is not at home."
"Then you are angry — for you do not any longer call me 'Keith.' Speak kindly to me if you can. Remember, I have no friend in all the world but you."
"Keith Harford, I declare I could shake you, for a great silly gaby!" That was what Ione said within her heart. But aloud she answered, sighing a little, "I am not angry, Keith. But I fear you will take cold. You should not have come away like this without some protection after your illness."
She looked down at his wet feet. She could hear the water creaking in his boots as he walked.
The train was certainly very late. Ione went and interviewed the man behind the wicket. He was a nice young man — a stationmaster, recently promoted upwards from clerkdom. He stared at the young lady from nowhere in particular, who was travelling at the dead of night without any apparent luggage. But Ione's smiles, even more than her open purse and quick air of practicality, won their well accustomed victory. She came back to Keith with a pair of dry socks, and some brandy in a flask.
"Go and change before the fire," she bade him peremptorily, "and drink this now."
So like a scholar who is chidden by his master Keith meekly obeyed. And when he had finished, Ione added, as seriously as a physician prescribing, "Now I will take a little myself."
At last the train came along, shouldering its way with difficulty eastward right in the eye of the storm. Ione and Keith found an empty "third," with Waterloo above the door in large letters. And all the while Keith Harford was raging at his own impotence. Where were his nerve, his coolness, his determination, tested on a score of mountain-peaks, and a hundred passes? So that Alt Peter had said, half in earnest, if also half in jest, "Do not write books any more, if, as the Herr Marcus says, no one will buy them. Come and be a high-mountain guide like us. We will get you a Führer-buch at the next court!"
But now he dared not even speak to the woman he loved. Why, every slim counter-jumper who sat with an arm about his sweetheart on a seat by the park-gates, had more courage than he. He thought wistfully and enviously of hare-brained Marcus, who, through all their wanderings had known the word to bring the smile to a girl's lips and the pretty coquettish turn to her head. Whereas he, Keith Harford, like a sullen stupid draff-sack, could only sit silent while the bright eyes of maidens looked over his head and Love himself passed scornfully by.
And now when he was in the presence of the woman for whom he would gladly have died — this in sober truth, and as no mere figure of speech — he could find no word to speak to her. At last, however, he managed to begin his perilous tale.
"Ione," he said, falteringly, "I have a word to say to you. Yet somehow I know not how to speak it. I am ill at finding speech wherewith to tell you of my love. But the thing itself is deep in my heart, deep as the roots of my life. I have, indeed, no right to say that I love you. For spoken to a woman that ought to mean, that I am ready to ask you to be my wife. And so much I have not the right to say — I cannot say it. You are too wondrously precious for Keith Harford to ask you to link your bright fortunes, your youth, your beauty, with the failure, complete and absolute, of a middle-aged broken-down man. Ione, I tell you that after I paid my ticket to-night, I had not a shilling of my own in the world that I could count upon. I know not even where I shall lay my head to-night when I reach London."
Ione moved uneasily in her seat, and struck her hands one into the other with the quick impatient movement characteristic of her when she was thinking quickly.
Keith stopped all at once with instant appreciation of her irritation, but with his usual blindness he wholly mistook its cause.
"No, I do not tell you this to move your pity," he said. "I only pray that God may send some better, happier man to find that which I have no right to ask for. Ione, you are stronger than I, brighter, altogether of the younger day. I will never let myself be a burden upon your opening life. That which I said to-night, I spoke only for the ears of the canting crew up there, and for the hasty words I crave your pardon."
For a space of time, which to Keith Harford seemed hours, Ione was silent as the train rushed along, roaring through tunnels, and plunging again with a certain gladness of relief into the clean dense blackness of the night.
"Keith," at last the girl spoke low and gently, "I am tired to-night. I am not so strong as you think. I cannot bear any more. Do not speak to me just now. I will answer you to-morrow when I have rested. But you will come to Audley Street to-night, and sleep in your old bed where you lay so long. Jane Allen will be glad to share hers with me."
She reached over and gently touched the back of his hand twice, so that he might not be very heart-sore at her silence. And Keith, feeling her words to be the best vindication of his hasty speech at Rayleigh Abbey, leaned back and looked at her, marvellously eased at heart.
So the boat-express sped steadily north-eastwards through the night, leaving Rayleigh Abbey far behind glooming huge and sinister over the gusty surges of the Channel.
THE PURIFYING OF THE PECULIAR PEOPLE
Ione had neither seen nor heard of her hostess since the inauspicious encounter in the garden. It was therefore with some relief and surprise that she received the following missive from Caleb at the door of the Garden House:--
“Congregation of the Peculiar People,
"Rayleigh Abbey, Rayleigh.
“First Day of the Twefth Month of the
“The POWER will be manifested at eight to-night. Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy has the honour to invite Miss March to be present. The trumpet will be blown from the walls and the boundaries of Zion purged. 'Without are dogs!' Tea and silent prayer at seven-thirty sharp."
Ione was alone in the Nest-among-the-Leaves, of which Caleb was sole ministering angel. Idalia and Marcus had gone up to town early in the morning — for a "let-up" as the former irreverently phrased it. Ione had refused to accompany them, being of the judicious opinion that the young people had better be left to their own resources for a few days. Also, by returning with them to London, as they had urged her to do, she seemed to be putting an additional barrier between herself and Keith Harford.
So she remained at Rayleigh Abbey, and spent the day with a book in the garden. The early morning interview with the Seeress had somewhat shaken her nerves, and the curious humming sound in her ears which had haunted her for some weeks seemed to have greatly increased. Ione had been feeling faint and ill all day, but in spite of this she resolved to accept the invitation of her lady hostess for that evening. The folly would serve to arouse her, she thought. She owed something to the hospitality she was accepting, and besides — she might see Keith Harford.
Tea and silent prayer were already over when, under the guidance of Caleb, Ione reached the great iron staircase which led to the balcony of the chapel. Caleb had insisted upon Ione partaking of the excellent little dinner which he had prepared for her, alleging as an excuse his master's anger if he permitted Ione "to go and bust herself on that there swill."
It still rained, though in more sedate fashion than in the morning. So Ione had taken with her on her passage through the dark garden her water-proof and a red sailor hat with a black silk band, which, as with inevitable womanly forethought she admitted, "would take no harm whatever happened."
As Ione looked down from the place which had been kept for her in the front of the balcony, she saw the body of the chapel already darkened. The elevated stage or choir was bare and empty while from beneath there came the hum and hushed rustle of many people seated closely and waiting with no ordinary interest. There were but few looking down from the balcony that night, or walking to and fro. The pit seemed to have monopolised the faithful. It was obvious that trumpeting and purgation were important functions among the devotees of the New Religion.
The service began in the usual way. Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, with magnificent dignity, which was slightly marred by the red shawl dropping midway, stalked to her elevated throne upon the right of the platform. But on this occasion a new figure attended her. Mr. H. Chadford Eaton it was who picked up the shawl, and conducted the Lady Principal to her seat — indubitably Mr. Eaton, more resplendent than ever in fine frock-coat of broadcloth and the most fashionable of ties and gaiters. Ione could hardly believe her eyes when she saw him take up his position on the seat formerly occupied by the Admiral.
Thereafter Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, rising with immense dignity, delivered a sort of introductory homily upon the latest phase of the New Religion. This, like all new Truth (with a capital T), ran on somewhat antiquated lines. Water and fire together gave power, she said — the power which connected continent with continent, and enabled the Bournborough express to bring fresh devotees from the centre of the world's darkness to the Treasure-house of the World's Light, whence illumination would presently flash forth upon the Universe. She referred to Rayleigh Abbey. Water and fire were the primordial cleansing elements. They must be applied to the spiritual community before the POWER could be liberated. They must apply them fearlessly — however painful the application for the individual or to their own feelings. There must be no Achans in the camp, and there should be none after that night.
At this announcement a deep-toned "Amen" burst from the multitude of the faithful in the darkened chapel beneath.
Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy went on with renewed confidence. These were her words:--
"Before denunciations of unfaithfulness are made, it will stir the hearts of all true believers who know that there is a very distinguished person amongst us to-night — one who has come with a truly inquiring mind — and who, having in the course of his business, searched out all earthly wisdom, has now become convinced of the wisdom which is beyond and above the earth, as it is revealed by means of the New Religion. I refer to Mr. Chadford Eaton, Late Manager of the World's Wisdom Emporium. Not for years has the Truth received so distinguished a convert, and one too, who was not only a true believer himself, but is prepared to spend his life and ability in the furtherance of the Great Cause, the germ of which, thirty-two years ago, was delivered to the founder of Rayleigh Abbey in the gospel of Mustard and Water!"
Then, after Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy sat down, there ensued a most impressive pause. The choir seemed momentarily to grow gloomier. The willow-leaf lamps shone one by one more clearly out of the gathering darkness. A hush fell upon the audience till even Ione was impressed. Then, without warning, in their stoles of white the Seeress and her husband appeared standing together at the top of the platform. Their hands were raised as if beseeching the Power to descend upon them.
"Let the sinful and the sick, the evil of heart and the sinful of life, the halt, the maimed, the diseased and the dying come forward. All pain is ignorance. All suffering is sin. The purified, the trusting do not suffer. To them is given the Power, and they are healed!"
It was the sonorous voice of Mrs. Howard-Hodge speaking in a rapid recitative, and in short, distinct sentences, clearly heard by every one in the hall.
"Come to the anointing oil. Escape the casting out. There is yet time. The Power can cleanse. The Power can heal. All sin is soul-disease. All disease is bodily sin. The Power cleanses both equally. Have you guilt on your soul? The anointing oil can cleanse and heal. Have you pain and disease in your body? That also (under the new dispensation) is sin. Get healed. Now is the time. Come!"
And starting up here and there among the audience, first one by one, and then in little knots and driblets, men and women came and flung themselves down by the railing. The unseen folk in the dusky chapel beneath accompanied the incantation with a low murmur, which broke ever and anon into a sort of gloomy outburst of thanksgiving, as this or that well-known figure made its way to the front.
"Come in your sin — come in your sickness. Leave the earthly physician. Come to the Power!" cried the Seeress.
"Amen! Amen! We will come to the Power!" responded the faithful.
"Cast your drugs to the moles and the bats! Throw away your crutches! Cast behind you your rags and bandages. Come and receive the anointing oil, which has power to heal all that believe!"
"Amen, it cleanses! — Amen, it heals!" came again the answering echo.
“Bring your children — ye that believe. From the fever that burns, from the decline that wastes, from the anguish of the head, the heart, the limb, deliver your babes and sucklings! All can be cured if you only believe."
The rail was now full. The officiating pair went round and round with the anointing oil, muttering incantations. After they had gone twice about the circle, a man suddenly rose up, and in a piercing falsetto cried aloud, "I believe. Great is the Power! I came with a palsied right hand. Now I can move it. I came in bandages. I have thrown them away. And now, behold, I can lift up my hand in sight of you all!"
And certainly he was as good as his word. Hastily he unwrapped and extended a limb which, though still stiff, indubitably moved in all its parts.
"Great is the Power. Amen!" thundered the faithful out of the dark.
Then, as the Seer and Seeress went their rounds, ever quicker and louder came the confessions of healing, of complete or partial recovery, and ever deeper and more sonorous grew the thanksgivings of the elect.
At last all was over. The last man had given his testimony. The final sick woman had been dismissed with her pining child, strong in the belief that now the oil of new health had been poured into the expiring lamp of its life.
The platform was bare. Seer and Seeress had vanished together. Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy rose again. There was a sheaf of papers in her hand.
"Now," she said, "after this noble manifestation of the Power, we arrive at a stern and unpleasing, but highly necessary part of our work. It is the purifying of the Peculiar People. Let the lights be raised, that we may look upon the countenances of the evil-doers — and, recognising, learn henceforth to shun them."
At her word the lights were suddenly enlarged from willow-shaped, flickering blades to the broad glow of ordinary gas jets.
Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy took the first paper and glanced at it.
"Charity Attenborough — accused of speaking against the Lady Principal of this Abbey. Stand up and say what you have to say in answer. Charity Attenborough!"
A round-faced, merry-eyed girl rose uncertainly and like one utterly surprised, from a front bench. The people about drew themselves away from contamination with the garments of the accused, and the whole auditory settled to a minute and self-satisfied attention.
“Please, I never did, ma'am!" said Charity, bridling indignantly beneath the stare of so many unfriendly eyes. "I brought my father here, and it's done him a heap o' good. I never said nothin' else."
"Sub-warden Griggs of D Flat in the Convalescent Annex, rise and give your testimony!" cried Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy sternly.
A slouching man, with his head abnormally to one side, and clad in the uniform of the attendants at the cheap boarding-house connected with the Abbey, rose from the side of the chapel.
"If your ladyship pleases, I heard this girl a-sayin' to another girl in the room next but one in D Flat that you was all a pack of swindlers, chargin' two pound a week for what didn't cost you five bob!"
"I never did!" interjected Charity Attenborough, "that Griggs is a white-haired old liar!"
Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy held up her hands in horror. "Who was that other girl?" she asked the witness, her eyes turned to heaven in a permanent kind of meek resignation.
"Mary Jane Parr!" responded the man promptly.
"Well, and what did Mary Jane Parr answer?"
"She said you was all swindlers, but that your ladyship was a starcher!"
A low moan of horror burst from the audience, as if forced from them by such diabolical sentiments.
"What shall be done to these evil-speaking ones?" cried the Lady Abbess, turning up her eyes yet more, and bringing her fat hands piously together like a marble knight upon a tombstone.
"Let them be cast out!" thundered the chorus with one voice, as if accustomed to the formula.
Several attendants, apparently equally well versed in their duties, promptly advanced upon the culprits, and took them by the arms.
"You will find your boxes packed outside the door," said Mrs. Hardy, with a grand gesture. "The dustman will convey you and them to the station for a consideration."
Then there ensued other cases — first and worst, one Herman Kent, who had failed to pay his week's fees for board, lodging, and baths. Kent rebelliously and publicly declared that the accommodation would have been dear at "nuthin-at-all." Another, Gilbert Greatorix by name, had maligned the Seer, and stated how much coin of the realm he would take (an inconsiderable sum) to knock his ugly nose in.
These, and other similar cases being summarily settled, there ensued silence, and Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy stood a long time quite still with a paper in her hand. At last she spoke, in a sepulchral tone fitted to express the terrible communication she had to make to the Peculiar People.
"Now I come to the most painful duty of all. 'If your right hand offend you, cut it off; or your right eye, pluck it out.' All unsuspecting we have been cherishing a viper amongst us, my friends and fellow-believers. And though this serpent has been warmed in the bosom of those near and dear to me, yet for the sake of the flock and the people committed to me, I shall proclaim, and purge, and spare not. Ione March, stand up!"
A bombshell bursting at her feet could not have stunned Ione more. She felt unable to speak or think. Every eye was turned upon her, and as she sat alone in the lighted front of the gallery, opposite the platform, she seemed to be in a kind of dock.
"This young woman," said Mrs. Hardy in a strident voice, pointing at her with her finger, "came here as companion to my dear and only son's wife—the daughter, as you are all aware, of a very distinguished and — ah — wealthy citizen of America. She came and was received with honour as a modest and reputable person. But alas! how easily and how grievously are the innocent and unsuspecting deceived! She has had an accomplice in guilt — one, too, highly favoured, which makes his infamy the more wicked. I publicly name a sometime dependent, Keith Harford, once tutor to my son. I have long suspected — yesterday I fully discovered their treason. And to-day there has been put into my hand a paper which proves that this woman, under cover of nursing a pretended sickness, removed the misguided young man from the care and tendance of a respectable widow (who is present with us to testify to the fact!) and kept him for five weeks at her own lodgings, in a low and disreputable part of the city. Shall such persons company with the purified and elect? Susanna Horehound, stand up!"
But it was Keith Harford who stood up in the front of the gallery to the right, his face white and tense with anger and surprise.
"Who dares to say this thing?" he cried. "Who dares bring into this place the names of two people neither of whom have ever had the smallest connection with your sect of liars and hypocrites?"
"Blasphemy and defamation hurt us not," responded Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, "and we have always claimed the right to oversee the conduct of all who sojourn under this roof. We may be a little Zoar amid so many mighty Sodoms and flourishing Gomorrahs, but at least we have always kept our skirts free from pollution."
Meanwhile Mrs. Horehound, holding a scent-bottle to her nostrils, and her heavy face more full of malice than ever, had been standing ready to give her evidence.
"Yes," she said, as soon as she got an opening, "I testify that this here is the shameless woman wot come to my house and took away my lodger, that was paying me twenty-five shillings for as good a bedroom, and as well looked after — what with hot bottles and mustard plasters to his feet — as ever could be. Had he been my own son, as the saying is, I couldn't have done more. She and another that was worse, they come, and cruel hard they spoke against me, that has been a decent woman and much respected in the neighbourhood all my days. And there and then they took the young man away, though he was not in his right mind, but talked nonsense and that continuous."
Thus far Mrs. Horehound, lodging-house keeper, of Tarvit Street.
Then, as to what happened afterwards, it appeared that there were two reputable witnesses — Mr. Chadford Eaton, the new and distinguished adherent of the Faith, and his coadjutor in the Private Intelligence department of the World's Wisdom Emporium, Mr. Polydore Webster.
But before these worthy gentlemen could give their testimony, Keith Harford had leaped upon the platform.
"Listen," he cried, his face white and rigid with emotion, "this young lady, whose name is too sacred and worthy to be spoken even once in the hearing of such filthy and currish ears, is my affianced wife. Let any man speak against her at his peril. He will find that he must reckon with me — as by Heaven he shall. Neither she nor I have any connection with your drivelling superstitions. We own none of your laws, and we depart with gladness from a sect so obscene, and a place made so offensive by low scandal-mongering and peeping slander."
While Keith was speaking, a great disgust of her surroundings had come over Ione. Dazed and blinded she arose, and walking like one in whose eyes a too bright light has shined, she went uncertainly towards the stairway, feeling her way with her hand. Keith, seeing her depart, abruptly quitted the platform, and sought the nearest way out that he might meet her. And behind them, thus expelled with ignominy from the full college of the elect, pursued the thundered formula with which the faithful ratified the dread sentence of their superior:
"Let the wicked be cast out, and let them no more return!"
A LIFE FOR A LIFE
It was a stormy morning some weeks after these occurrences and the wind was careering and rioting up the Channel. Seen from the cliffs above Rayleigh the sea looked all silver-grey like frosted glass, so closely did the short chopping waves follow each other, and so thin, gauzy and almost invisible was the sea mist which was being driven shoreward in fleecy streams. The wind now whooed and now trumpeted in the stout Scotch firs, which Grandfather the Founder had with happy forethought planted along the edge of the down to withstand the first breaking fury of the gale.
Ione had put on her cloak, and as the fashion of woman is, had fastened a soft cap on her head by transfixing it with a pin great and perilous. She had no fear of the wet, and a certain dull ache in her brain produced after a while a feeling of intolerable restlessness and oppression indoors. So she went out and walked upon the cliffs, following the wind-swept paths, her hands fully occupied in restraining the manœuvres of her flapping and billowy mackintosh. Sometimes the rain dashed riotously in her face, and then a feeling of resistance and struggle strengthened her soul.
She loved Keith Harford — she acknowledged it even to herself now. Keith Harford loved her, that she had known long ago. She did not argue about either fact, for she was persuaded that though their loves might find little expression, they loved each other once and for ever, with a love that was far beyond Jane Allen's strenuous self-sacrifice or Idalia's pretty nestling petulances. With such thoughts in her heart Ione was waging a good warfare with the Channel gusts upon the path nearest the cliff edge, when she became aware that some one was approaching from the opposite direction. She caught glimpses of a tall form bearing down upon her through the swaying branches of the trees. As the man came nearer, she looked up, and there before her was Mr, H. Chadford Eaton. His small eyes were fixed upon her with a hideous sneer, a look at once of thwarted vengeance and concentrated hatred. The seaward path was narrow. Ione, though her heart was beating fast, kept firmly to it. She grasped her unopened umbrella with one hand and put the other into the pocket of her waterproof to keep it tight about her. Eaton glanced once over his shoulder as if to see if he were observed. A woman was approaching at right angles through the woodland pathways. With a growl almost like that of a baffled beast, the dismissed clerk turned aside and strode away through the pines in the direction of the village which nestled in the hollow behind the cliffs on which towered the vast wind-beaten bulk of the Abbey.
As he passed Ione he gave her one look so ugly and hateful that her knees trembled under her. The girl's heart rose in thankfulness as she looked towards the woman whose opportune arrival had saved her from (at least) an unpleasant interview.
It was Mrs. Arminell Howard-Hodge, the High-Priestess of the latest New Religion, presently supreme at Rayleigh Abbey.
She approached slowly, seeming instinctively to avoid the trees and the little inequalities of the path, and keeping her eyes fixed on those of Ione with a certain curious persistence. Her face, even in the fitful morning sunshine which alternated with the gusty blasts of driving rain, was grey and colourless. The salt scourge of the wet sea-wind did not whip the blood into her cheek. The lips scarcely showed of any other colour than that of the sallow dried-up skin about them.
As the woman came near Ione felt the brisk forcefulness of the description of Marcus, who constantly averred that only to glance at Mother Hodge gave him the crawls down his spine. "She looked," he cried, "as if she had been buried three days, and had gone about ever since regretting she had been dug up." On the present occasion Mrs. Howard-Hodge came and held out a hand to Ione, in which there was a curious tingling power — some electric force which Ione felt resentfully yet was obliged in some measure to submit to.
"Miss March," said the Seeress, "I have been wishing for a chance to speak to you for some days. It was with that purpose I ventured out into this brutal turmoil of the elements. Your face has dwelt with me ever since I saw it. The others are as nothing to me. No tragedy hides behind their brows. You are soulful. You possess the deep eyes of one for whose spirit the gods and demons are at wrestle. You have had strange sorrows and sad experiences."
"If you mean that I am a girl alone in the world, earning her own living — of course I have," said Ione, striving to keep this dangerous woman on a more ordinary level of conversation.
Mrs. Arminell Howard-Hodge smiled, and laid her hand on the girl's arm impressively.
"Come," she said, "better trust me. You are hemmed in here. I will be your best friend, if you will let me. I know that a friend and an enemy are both here — the man who loves you and the man who hates you. Is it not so? You are silent. Did not the one slink past you with a fiend's grimace only a moment or two ago? Did you not come hither with the hidden hope in your heart that you might meet the other?"
Ione walked on without speech — half in astonishment, half in annoyance. It was certainly strange, yet after all the woman might have found out so much by casual gossip or acute observation.
"You do not trust me — you do not believe! Well, you shall hear yet more, and then you will know that I am your friend. I see the crisis of your life fast coming upon you. You cannot escape from it — the day that shall test whether you are of gold like those rare ones, alas! too few, or dross like the common multitude."
She paused for a moment. Her eyelids drooped, her eyes turning inwards, as if in intense self-communion.
"You have nursed the man you thought to meet to-day. You have sat beside his pillow. You have hearkened to the words of his passionate love. Do not deny it! I can see you sit there with joy and sacrifice in your heart. I can hear the prayer which you thought only the Power-giver listened to in the silence of the night. ‘Take my life for his!' so you prayed. 'Take my life for his!' Girl, your prayer was answered. In your face, when first I saw you, I read the Doom written. There is no escape, and, to do you justice, you desire none. You shall die in his stead!"
Ione was pale now to the lips. She could no longer deny to the woman a certain strange knowledge. How much she might have obtained from information, how much guessed by keen intuition, she did not stop to disentangle. The woman had certainly spoken her very soul, spelling it out, as it were, letter by letter.
Mrs. Howard-Hodge went on again, keeping her chill blue eyes all the time vigilantly upon Ione.
“Ah, you believe me now! You are willing to trust me. Your prayer then is answered. It remains only for you to pay the price. Death and falling on sleep — what are they? A light thing, the ceasing of a breath, a slave's emancipation. But yet there remains a time, and a time, and half a time. Take and enjoy every golden hour — they are milled coin from the mint of the gods; days of perfect love they shall be, for which many lonely and loveless ones would give their immortal souls."
And so, leaving Ione standing there in the streaming mist which came boiling up from below and hissing over the cliff-edge, the Seeress abruptly vanished among the red boles of the trees, leaving them gleaming wet and spectral amid the salt sea-smother.
With her nerves shattered by this strange communication, Ione turned towards the garden-gate, still hoping to see Keith Harford on her way. Nor was she again to be disappointed. It was not long before she saw him come towards her with a new spring and alertness in his gait. It seemed indeed as if, the bargain of life for life once struck and acknowledged, the Fates were henceforth to be favourable.
He held out his hand frankly and boyishly, yet with some of the old quickly vanishing shyness in his eyes.
"I am glad to see you walk like that," said Ione, smiling back at him. "I have not seen anything like that stride since Grindelwald. How long ago that seems!"
Keith ranged himself close at the girl's elbow, and looked fondly and yet wistfully down at the thinness of her oval cheek. He went on to admire the crisp curls of her hair, which, being natural, the wind and wet had divided and multiplied into a thousand glistening ringlets.
He would have given all that he possessed (so he said to himself) for the right to touch the least of these circlets with his hand. But the next moment he laughed within him to think how little he had to give. As for him, he could only look and long.
Meanwhile Ione spoke not at all, the mystery of the unknown oppressing her. Her feet seemed shod with leaden clogs. Her heart felt unaccountably weary and old. A sense of on-coming and irresistible Doom for the first time in her life daunted her. She longed to be alone that she might cast herself on her bed and forget in unconsciousness the sick disappointment and the dull incessant ache.
Keith Harford could no more follow a woman's mood than he could read the secret of the stars or commune with such intelligences as may inhabit them. He was one of the unfortunate and unsuccessful men who reverence women so much that they never understand them.
"Goodbye," said Ione, without holding out her hand, as they came to the foot of the ivy-grown staircase; "I am going in now. And you oughtn't to be out in a day like this, you know."
Whereupon to be avenged for his disappointment at her swift departure, Keith Harford went and walked long upon the cliff-edge, thinking of Ione amid the drumming of the tempest and the thresh of the rain, until he was wet through from head to foot.
But Ione lay on her narrow hospital bed, and communed hopelessly with her own soul. For she knew not that Keith and she were as two electric clouds that cannot be united till after the bursting of the storm, till the levin bolt has flashed and the answering thunder diapasoned between them.
THE PLEASANT PURPLE PORPOISE
Idalia was lying with her ankles crossed over the brass rail at the foot of her bed. She was reading a novel and yawning portentously as she turned the pages.
"Whee-ooh," she whistled, curling and uncurling herself luxuriously like a disturbed kitten. "This is dull as New Jersey," she said. "I must get off soon, or, as I tell Marcus, I shall have to run away all over again with somebody else — anybody, in fact, who will give me a more amusing mother-in-law."
"If you had seen the lady just now — you could not have wished for more or better," said Ione.
"Du tell! Want t'know!" cried Idalia with instant interest, speaking, as she often did, in the dialect of an old summer landlady of hers in the White Mountains.
"Well," said Ione, throwing herself on the opposite end of the bed and leaning an elbow on the brass bar which Idalia had indicated with the gesture of a man offering another a cigar. Idalia obligingly slid her feet further along to make room.
"I met Mr. Harford by accident in the garden - "
“By accident in the garden! Yes, I know! Go on," said Idalia breathlessly, taking her pretty slippered feet down from the bar and gathering them under her with excitement. "Was he making love to you? How nice! I thought it would come to that — high time too! Say, does he do it nicely?"
Ione smiled reflectively.
"Well, no — if it comes to that, he doesn't!" (Idalia looked disappointed.) "In fact, to tell the truth, if there was any love in the vicinity, it was I who was making it."
Idalia nodded with the air of a connoisseur. Her lips smiled slightly and daintily at a remembered deliciousness — like one who tastes old memories and finds them good.
"Yes, that's nice too," she agreed, her eyes still mistily reminiscent. "I didn't think you had it in you, Ione. There's more than one kind of man who needs to be made speak. They mean well, but somehow can't make the riffle. Let me see — there was Mortimer Kitson, he was that kind, and Billy Pitt — no, he wasn't, quite the contrary in fact. But go on, Ione; don't let me interrupt the progress of this romantic ghost illusion. For when it came to solid spooning, I guess the pair of you would be about as warm as a couple of average spectres on a chilly night. In fact you both look like 'haunts' as it is. It's about time you made it up — if that's what concealment does to your four damask cheeks. Why, look at me, I'm getting as fat as a little porpoise — "
She burst into gay song :--
"A sweetly perfect porpoise,
A pleasant purple porpoise,
From the waters of Chili!"
"Oh!" cried Idalia, her ideas darting off at a tangent on the track of something new, "did you ever try to say that second line over in different ways? First seductively, 'A pleasant purple porpoise' — as if the dear beast was before you and you were quite determined to take your hair out of curl-papers and produce your best impression on him? Then tragically with your hands in the air, thus, — 'A pleasant purple porpoise, from the waters of Chili!' Doesn't it sound as if all your friends were dead and you yourself were doomed to an early grave — like that tiresome 'poor little Jim.' Or blubberingly, like sour butter-milk gurgling out of a tin dipper at the old farm up in the mountains. Oh, do you remember that funny calf they had, and Zeke the farm-boy, who fell in love with me?"
Idalia was sitting up now with her feet tucked under her, heedless alike of skirts and lace frilleries in her heady excitement.
"No," commented Ione with severity; "I don't want to hear either about 'pleasant purple porpoises,' or yet of farm hands whom you tried to break the hearts of. Lady Clara Vere de Vere at third hand makes me tired. For, you see, I wasn't at that farm. It was some other gooseberry who aided and abetted. All the same, I don't doubt you proved yourself the same little fiend you always were, Mrs. Marcus Hardy. On the contrary, if you will attend for a moment I will tell you that Mr. Harford and I had the honour to meet your esteemed mother-in-law in the garden walk, and so it came about, that just when she was almost upon us — she saw him- "
“No; you don't say," cried Idalia, clapping her hands joyously. "Good for Keith, excellent good! I never thought he had the spirit."
"I don't know what you mean, Idalia Judd," said Ione with dignity, "nor yet how your inspired cowherds out Salem way were in the habit of behaving. But, as a matter of fact, Mr. Harford was kissing my hand."
"Mff!" came with a sniff contemptuous from the Paris wrapper, "that all? My — what a fuss about nothing! Why, any young men I’d have had anything to do with always did that the second day on the steamer trip, or sometimes when we were just losing sight of the lighthouse, if the ship was a racer!"
"Idalia, I’ll tell Marcus if you talk nonsense like that; I will, for true!"
"Oh, shoot!" cried the married lady, recklessly. "I don't care for a crate of Marcuses. He is a dear old slow-coach anyway, and I had to love him better than the lot of them — I just couldn't help it somehow. But he knows all about it pretty well, I guess. Only, as for me, I've quite given up the follies of my youth. And now for the rest of my life I'm going to devote myself to seeing that Marcus does not flirt — nor kiss my dearest friends in corners — that is, when they are as pretty as some one I know."
"Set a thief to catch a thief!" smiled Ione, willing for the time being to let herself be carried out of her own troubles by the gay irresponsibility of her friend.
"Exactly," cried Idalia, unabashed; "but come, you have not told me all. Reveal the dark secret of your crime. Keith Harford kissed your hand, did he? Well — so far good. It is often enough a fair enough opening, and after that I've frequently mated in four moves. But, after all — it is only the gong before dinner — the question is, 'What next?' sez I to myself, sez I."
"Why, then," said Ione calmly, taking no notice at all of this persiflage, "we looked up, and there was Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy standing tragically on the path before us, like Lady Macbeth done up in a red shawl. And that was all!"
"Come now, Ione March," said Idalia, fixing her friend with a hooked index finger, "look me in the eye! Say, 'Hope-I-may-die,' and then tell me that was all she saw! "
"Well," said Ione slowly, as if trying to recall the infinitely remote, "perhaps he was going to - "
"I knew it — I said it," cried Idalia, clapping her hands, "you can always feel it coming miles before it arrives. What a shame! It would have come all right in another moment but for that crazy old woman. And now — why, it mayn't happen for ever so long. O it's too bad! Keith Harford is just the kind to give up easily when he's crossed — sort of shut off steam sudden-like just when his pressure gauge is registering 160! What an old wretch! Talk about the Scarlet Woman! We must have him here, and then when he is reading us poetry — Tennyson and those things — (he reads poetry beautifully, Marcus says), I’ll pretend that I hear Marcus calling me, and I’ll slip out! See! I've got a lovely collection in the blue and gold series — 'Gems of Love ' it is called. We'll give him that — not a miss-fire from cover to cover — all prizes and no blanks, roses and raptures right through from beginning to end!"
Ione laughed happily. There seemed so few things to laugh about these days that the sound of her own mirth quite startled her.
"Your methods are excellent but crude, Idalia dear," she said; "you might just as well say to Mr. Harford when he comes, as I have heard my father tell of an old negro mammy, at a house where he visited when he was young, 'Go on courtin', honeys! — Doan’ ye mind ole Sally! Ole Sally's bin dar her own self! Shu-ah!'"
Then Ione went out, and Idalia sped off to find her husband. But, strange to relate, Marcus did not laugh.
"You don't know the mater" he said, dolefully shaking his head. "She will stick at nothing once she gets started. I'm deuced sorry we ever thought of bringing Ione here!"
And for once in his life Marcus Hardy looked grave for five minutes at a time.
THE NINTH WAVE
That night Keith dined alone with his hostess — as had indeed been that lady's intention from the first. Idalia and Marcus were to come up afterwards. Nothing was said about Ione.
"Better let the mater have her fling," commented the dutiful son, as his wife and he were passing through the garden, "it will be all the easier sledding for Harford after. The more mother sees of him just at first, the sooner she'll let up on him."
Ione did not accompany Marcus and Idalia. For that night she was infinitely weary and, as it seemed to herself, she had done with life. Instead she stretched herself upon one of the little low beds, like hospital cots, which garnished the ascetic guest chambers of the Garden-House. These had indeed been originally furnished with an eye to the needs of certain Gentile and unregenerate bachelor friends of Marcus, rather than for the guests to whom at present they gave domicile and harbourage.
It was therefore well over in the next afternoon before it was the hap of Keith Harford to meet Ione. They found each other in a still and enclosed garden fastness, made apparently for lovers' converse and security. Even at this late season it was fragrant with blossom, and sonorous with the song of birds welcoming a fallacious spring in the short and fitful sunshine of an English Indian summer.
The girl had suddenly come upon her lover as she loitered listlessly round a curve of the green privet wall. Whereupon Keith had run to her, eager and impulsive as a boy.
“Ione—Miss March,” he cried, “forgive me for calling you that. But when a man owes his life to a friend, he does not stand upon ceremony with him. Tell me of yourself. Do you know you are looking quite pale and ill? I fear what you suffered for me has proved too much for you."
He seized her hand and held it firmly in both of his, gazing meantime into her face as a condemned man might upon that of an angel of mercy suddenly alighted before him with a message of love and hope from another world.
"Thank you," said Ione brightly, removing her hand and putting it for safety into the side pocket of her housewife's morning apron (for she had been helping Caleb with his cookery). "But really I am quite well, and enjoying myself hugely."
"Why then are you so pale — so thin? The wind on these cliffs will blow you away if you venture up there!"
"Oh, as to that," she answered," I always was a rake. There's no putting good flesh on ill bones, as my father used to say. But you — I think the fine sea air straight from France must be doing you good already! Can't you almost smell the patois in it, the blue houses, the white tilted carriers' carts (how I love them!), the maid-servants with their wide goffered caps? — Oh, there is no country in the world like France - "
"And yet you have chosen England!"
"To make my living in—yes, certainly," said Ione wistfully, "but not to live in — not to holiday-make in. Fancy the delight of a walking tour in France - "
"A walking tour," said Keith, sighing a sigh of melancholy remembrance. "I don't feel as if ever I could walk again. I am exactly like the gentleman of your ancient national 'chestnut' who was ‘born tired’!"
"Exactly," cried Ione, glad to see his spirits brightening; "yet I can fancy a walking tour with you as guide — "
"Can you?" ejaculated Keith, with his heart beating rarely and a new light shining in his eyes.
"Why, yes," said Ione, stoutly declining to be drawn into frivolous side issues; "I can fancy you as the leader of a walking party — elsewhere, of course, than among your beloved Alps. You would have all the knapsacks beautifully arranged. We arrive at the station. We disembark on the platform. But, alas, there, ranged at the 'Sortie' are carriages, voitures, victorias, what you will!
"'Let us get in,' you say; 'Providence has manifestly sent us these as the reward of merit. We shall begin our walking-tour when the horses give out.' There — is not that your idea of a walking tour? It is pretty much mine!"
"At present I fear it is something like it. But you — you look ill and tired. Ione, I know what wonderful things you did for a man sick unto death. Oh, if I were truly a man and not a broken-down weakling, I might thank you. As it is — as it is, I can only kiss your hand."
And before she could resist, even if she had wished, gently and very respectfully (much too respectfully) Keith raised Ione's hand to his lips.
Now there is no woman who desires an overplus of deference in the man she loves. He may reverence, in the antique phrase, the very ground she treads on. He may kiss (though the good custom has become obsolete with the evanescence of the ‘princess robe,’ that most becoming of all dresses for a woman with a figure) the hem of her garment. But these are the early stages. When the tide rises to flood and like an overflowing reservoir suddenly let loose, his love takes its way, she desires no deference or holding back.
Rather, like a besieged city, she chooses to be taken by storm and to make an end amidst the fierce delight of battle, not to be sapped by mine and countermine or dominated by slow circumvallation. And with all her yearning for work and freedom Ione was a woman. Keith, on the other hand, was a man adept in many things, but ignorant of the very A B C of love. He had explored the mysteries of pure reason. But the heart of a woman, in which (thank God) is almost always purity but very rarely reason, remained shut to him. He had not even approached its intimate fastnesses. He had not explored its hidden ways. So now, instead of clasping Ione in his arms and taking vehement possession of her love for time and eternity, discreetly and coldly he kissed her hand.
Ione stood a moment irresolute, leaving the hand in his keeping. Then with a certain quick returning self-possession as cold and firm as his own, she drew it in to her again, and looked at the man for whom almost she had laid down her life.
"Not yet," she thought, "is it fitting that he should know all."
Yet better than most women she could appraise exactly the delicate reserve of his withdrawal. She knew that Keith's scrupulous honour was a finer and rarer thing than a stronger man's most insistent passion. But she was a woman like others, and in her heart of hearts she desired to be wooed, not by formal observance or delicate restraint, but impetuously, directly, almost as the soldier-citizens of Rome wooed their Sabine brides. This man with his reverence, his high ideals as to what a man ought to possess before asking a woman to share his lot, appealed strongly to her. But chiefly with pity for the blindness that could not see the equal-glowing love which had grown up in her heart — and with something of contempt too for the weakness which could not take advantage of the yielding in her eyes.
Ione knew that Keith Harford's heart was all hers. What else indeed (save the secret of her own) had she learned during those weariful head-tossing nights when she had sat and watched him? What else had she listened to in the days when the gates of life were drawn back and all the cords of a man were unloosed. She smiled as she looked into Keith's eyes. They seemed to worship her as a divinity set far off. She wondered, with that irritant perversity of mind which comes to women in desperate situations, what would happen if she were to say "Keith — Keith Harford, listen. I, Ione March, love you. I have loved you ever since the first day I saw you!"
But she resisted the temptation to say these words aloud and walked on. Keith followed at her side, slowly growing conscious of the fact that it was now her mood not to be spoken to. Yet he had a sense that something tremendous was about to happen.
Suddenly, as if she had been alone, she began to hum very low the words of the song he had sung on his bed of delirium.
"John Anderson, my jo, John,
When we were first acquent" --
At the first bar Keith Harford stopped and looked at her. The words came to his ear with a strange indeterminate familiarity, bringing with them also the perfume of a woman's most intimate presence. Where had he heard them before, he asked himself? Why should they lie so close to his heart?
“Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonny brow was brent."
Then a belated breaker from the great sea of unconsciousness, the ninth wave of the tide of love swept over him. In a moment he had taken Ione's hand and drawn her to him. Words of ferventest devotion rose unbidden to his lips. In a moment more he would have pleaded his love face to face unashamed and unafraid. But there, at a turning of the path within a few feet of them, stood Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy with a countenance red as any peony. All her eighteen stone of ascetic adipose quivered with indignation like a shaken jelly. At first she could not speak for agitation. Growing slowly almost purple with indignation, she stood brow-beating the two culprits on the path before her. Keith's arm dropped disgustedly from Ione's waist. The effect of the interruption upon the girl was characteristically different. A flush of irritation, mingled with an irresistible smile at the humour of the situation, rose and flushed Ione's cheek and brow. Her lips curled, and in another moment she would have laughed outright.
But Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy turned slowly away with a stamp of her foot, muttering explosively certain words which sounded like "Toad! Snake! Viper! Traitor!" Then she marched majestically out of the garden, and locked the private door behind her.
THE LITTLE BIRD
Two days later Keith Harford arrived. Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy adjusted the red shawl once more, securing it fore, aft, and centre with safety pins capable of holding a second-class cruiser. Then she set a wonderful bird-of-paradise hat rakishly over one eye, ordered her own private team of piebald ponies, and finally drove down to the station to meet her favourite guest.
Marcus smiled a quiet smile as he watched her depart.
"The mater thinks no end of poor old Keith," he confided to his wife. "I am afraid though, he is in for a shocking bad time. But I expect he knows!"
Usually the lady of the house paid no attention to the exits and entrances of her visitors, contenting herself with summoning them to her chamber to be interviewed whenever she desired their presence. Many of those who most regularly attended the séances, were lodged in a rambling unattached barracks built in the early days of the water-cure, and now made self-sustaining by an impost of two guineas a week levied upon those adepts who could afford it — and upon neophytes whether they could afford it or not.
The vast stone and iron alleys of the castle itself were honeycombed with bedrooms like a rabbit warren, but the servants attended to none of the guests, excepting a few who dwelt in Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy's own private wing, and were under her immediate protection. The rest shifted for themselves in the intervals between the three regulation meals in hall, of which all partook in common.
At these the lady of the house ate little, claiming ascetic privileges, and (apart even from the society of her intimates) making her truly sustaining meals in the privacy of her own chamber.
Marcus and his guests continued to occupy their fortress in the garden wing, and enjoyed there a delightful combination of runaway match and picnic, which was particularly agreeable to the feelings of the newly-married pair.
"I never thought a Home for Cranks could be so interesting," said Idalia. "Do you know, Ione, I actually saw a man to-day who looked as if his clothes had been made for himself, and a woman who seemed to have got into her gown right side first."
It was a shy, pale, shattered Keith Harford who stood on the Rayleigh station platform that night and looked out eagerly for his friend Marcus. He turned to give some directions concerning his luggage, and when he faced about again he found himself almost smothered in the portly eighteen-stone embrace of Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy.
"Mr. Harford, Marcus is at home. But it is I who am the little bird to welcome you. I could not rest till I had told you the first news of the dear place, and of us all!" cried the widow romantically as she shook his thin hand. "But bless my life, dear, de-e-ar friend, how pale you look! Marcus told me that you had been ill, but had the little bird known how ill you really were — well — I will not confess, but perhaps — perhaps she would have flown to you. No matter, it is all over now. The breezes of the Channel, and the manifestations of the healing POWER will soon restore you again. For now the little bird can watch over and cherish you all by itself!"
Keith, upon whose faculties the journey and the weakness had acted disastrously, could not achieve anything more sentimental in reply to this, than a spasmodic and semi-articulate ejaculation that he must go and look after his luggage.
"Oh, the servants will assuredly have attended to that already!" said Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, promptly checkmating this move. "But if, like a naughty, unkind, fidgetty man, you are set on going—why, the little bird will come too!"
At this point she gave a skip intended to represent the charming innocence of her birdlike nature but which was more suggestive of a sportive circus elephant privately practising on tubs, or of a haycock which late in life had taken to step-dancing.
It was as his companion had predicted. Keith's shabby old travelling bags, rescued by Ione from the tender mercies of Mrs. Horehound, were already being driven away in the luggage cart towards the vast bulk of the Abbey, which rose against the sky like a veritable St. Michael's Mount, its lighted windows in serried array, tier above shining tier.
The lady life-renter of Rayleigh and the financial mainspring of all these mysteries, conveyed Keith to the carriage by means of a tender compelling pressure upon his arm. The sleek piebalds stood twitching their long tails at the white-painted gates. The lamps were lighted, and shed a soft radiance forward upon shining harness and well-groomed horseflesh. A trim-buttoned tiger held the door, while Caleb himself sat immovable on the low box looking his woodenest into the darkness.
“Now confess,” whispered Martyria Evicta, archly, "wasn't this a sweet surprise to you? You thought it would be Marcus or someone else — instead of me!"
She cooed the last words like a turtle-dove coquetting with its mate, and bent rapturously over so that she might look into Keith's eyes. By this time they had started, and already the carriage was passing swiftly and evenly over fine roads of hard sand upwards to the Abbey. The lamps shone on the swinging gait of the ponies, whose sides flashed out and in alternately white and tan as the lights from the burnished reflectors and the shadows of the trees fell upon them. Invincibly fixed in his place, as if stanchioned to the seat with iron rods, sat Caleb the sphinx, and beside him Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy's tiger folded his arms inscrutably like one of the junior divinities upon Olympus, or, perhaps, (more exactly) a party-leader at question time.
Presently the widow laid a plump soft hand on the back of Keith's buckskin glove, with an enticing pressure which made the favoured swain wince as if he had accidentally trodden upon a toad in the heather.
"Is Marcus quite well?" he said lamely, to break the silence. Then he laughed to himself. The question reminded him of the homecomings of boyhood in vacation time. For when he met his father at the station, he could never think of anything to say all the way home, except "Is mother quite well?" "I have been quite well." "Is Charlie quite well?" "Thomson Major is quite well." "Is Mary the cook quite well?" "Is old Snoggins still quite well?"
"Do not trouble about Marcus," replied the widow, smiling, "he will answer for himself, all in good time. But tell me about your illness. How came you to be so poorly, and never to write and tell me? You know that there is nothing I would not have done for you. I would have brought you here at once, and if you had been too weak to come, I should have brought the POWER to you, and nursed you myself."
Her hand was stroking the back of his glove undisguisedly now, and making him as jumpy and nervous as if a steam-roller had been playing with it as a cat plays with a mouse.
"Miss March is with you, is she not?" he ventured at last. For his heart cried out, shy and reticent lover though he was, for news of the Beloved.
"Miss March," said the lady, evidently puzzled, but with a colder strain apparent in her voice, "I don't know Miss March. Is she a patient at the Abbey? There are scores I do not know even by name or sight. But Mrs. Howard-Hodge will doubtless be able to inform you."
"She is the young lady who came with Marcus and his wife," explained Keith, with a certain indignation that any one should profess ignorance of a girl so remarkable as Ione March.
"Oh, the tall pale-faced companion!" cried Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy. "Yes, I remember now — I believe I did see her. She looks rather like a lamp-post rigged out in an umbrella cover, doesn't she? Poor thing! Mrs. Howard-Hodge tells me she is not long for this world. Her position must be a very trying one. It is so hard to be dependent on the charity of others. She was at the same school as my daughter-in-law, I think — who is, you know, the daughter of the famous John Cyrus Judd, the American millionaire. It is very good of Mrs. Marcus Hardy to countenance her. For she does look dreadfully like a monitor, or a charity scholar, or something of that kind."
"I assure you. Miss March is the daughter of one of the best - " Keith began, indignantly, and then paused. He felt that he had no right to inform his hostess of facts which Ione might wish to keep concealed, and of which, at all events Marcus knew quite as much as he.
"Come, Keith," murmured the widow, "do not let us talk of Miss March or any one else! Tell me all about yourself! That is the only subject of real interest between us."
The time was short and the lady was anxious to bring the conversation back to legitimate lines.
"Oh, it was nothing much," said Keith. "I have had a serious illness, but I have been well looked after."
"Ah," said Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, "the usual doctors I suppose — mere ignorant butchers. And such nasty flirting nurses as they have in common hospitals — not women of Grace and Power!"
"Well," smiled Keith, "my doctor was an M.D. of Edinburgh, with three stars after his name in the calendar — before he was twenty-eight. And as to nurses - "
"All the worse — the more wedded to their despicable superstition," interrupted the widow decidedly. "In the coming manifestation of the True POWER, all surgical instruments of every kind will be banished from the land under the pain of death. Nothing but prayer and the application of God's bountiful provision of cold water, mustard plasters, and anointing oil on suitable linen dressings, will be permitted in all cases. An M.D. of Edinburgh, dear Mr. Harford, will no more be tolerated than a mad dog which runs the streets inoculating rich and poor alike with the froth of his own rabies!"
The widow was quoting now from one of the addresses of Mrs. Arminell Howard-Hodge upon the physical manifestations of the POWER.
"At all events I had the best of nursing!" said Harford. For alas! Jane Allen had not been quite as discreet as Ione might have wished. And as he glanced up at the gloomy embrasures of the battlements of the Abbey, and then at the lighted windows ranged below, he wondered behind which flake of light was the dear and shapely head of the girl who had saved his life. Ah, if only he were well and a success in life — instead of a wreck and a failure! But what had he to offer to such a girl!
With an easy movement of C springs and rubbered tires, the carriage rolled smoothly into the courtyard, and round under the arches of iron and glass, till it stopped at Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy's private entrance to her own wing of the Abbey of New Religions.
The well-buttoned wasp-waisted tiger was at the door obsequiously touching his scalloped hat. Mrs. Hardy descended with the tread of a festive buffalo.
"You shall have all the privileges of illness," she said, smiling, "the little bird will be your nurse — and guardian! And a greater power — a dearer and a sweeter, I might say, than that of any M.D. of Edinburgh — will have the felicity of sustaining your wearied steps."
And she cast her eyes upward as if she had been singing one of the especial hymns of the new cult. For Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy had had a choir of orphan girls trained, who sang at all the fairs and harvest festivals for miles round — and who were expected to pay the cost of their keep by the fees and gratuities they received. Each of these choristers was conspicuously placarded on the back with her name as follows:--
received on the
"Come to my own rooms, dear Mr. Harford," said the enamoured widow, "a little confection awaits us there, just a trifle of beef-tea, and, ah — sparkling wine — nothing more. The latter is not generally partaken of in this establishment, because — ahem — I hold (as did my dear father before me) somewhat strict views on the subject. But in cases of necessity like yours and mine, dear Keith — I mean Mr. Harford — some allowance must surely be made."
"Certainly, certainly! I — I should like to see Marcus," Keith began, with a nervous dread of any further tête-à-tête manifestations of interest.
"Marcus is very well. Your friendly anxiety does you credit!" replied the widow, patting his arm affectionately, "but in the meantime you and I are much better company by ourselves. Who came and met you at the station — Marcus or I? Who brings you to our home (she dwelt lovingly upon the pronoun), Marcus or I? Which — ahem — respects you most, Marcus or I?"
"You are very kind," stammered the unfortunate Keith, as they found themselves in the privacy of the boudoir of Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy, hung with white and gold, cosy and radiant with light and the glitter of silver ranged on the board. "You are too kind, Mrs. Forsaker-Hardy!”
"Ah," yet more softly cooed the widow leaning her head towards her victim, "call me by a dearer, a sweeter name! Call the little bird by her own pet name — say 'Tiny.' Call me 'Tiny ' — dear Keith!'
And with a sigh of amorous content eighteen stone of devotion (and ‘Tiny’) laid its head upon Keith Harford's shoulder.
First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.