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A Phyllis of the Sierras by Bret Harte

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"As these ladies are rather short-handed in their domestic service,
you know, perhaps you'd better not stay to luncheon or dinner, but
go on to the Summit House--it's only a mile or two farther--and
come back here this evening. I shan't want you until then."

"Certainly!" stammered Richardson. "I'll just take leave of the
ladies!"

"It's not at all necessary," said Mainwaring, quietly; "you would
only disturb them in their household duties. I'll tell them what
I've done with you, if they ask. You'll find your stick and hat in
the passage, and you can leave the veranda by these steps. By the
way, you had better manage at the Summit to get some one to bring
my traps from here to be forwarded to Sacramento to-morrow. I'll
want a conveyance, or a horse of some kind, myself, for I've given
up walking for a while; but we can settle about that to-night.
Come early. Good morning?"

He accompanied his thoroughly subjugated countryman--who, however,
far from attempting to reassert himself, actually seemed easier and
more cheerful in his submission--to the end of the veranda, and
watched him depart. As he turned back, he saw the pretty figure of
Louise Macy leaning against the doorway. How graceful and refined
she looked in that simple morning dress! What wonder that she was
admired by Greyson, by Johnson, and by that Spaniard!--no, by Jove,
it was SHE that wanted to marry him!

"What have you sent away Mr. Richardson for?" asked the young girl,
with a half-reproachful, half-mischievous look in her bright eyes.

"I packed him off because I thought it was a little too hard on you
and Mrs. Bradley to entertain him without help."

"But as he was OUR guest, you might have left that to us," said
Miss Macy.

"By Jove! I never thought of that," said Mainwaring, coloring in
consternation. "Pray forgive me, Miss Macy--but you see I knew the
man, and could say it, and you couldn't."

"Well, I forgive you, for you look really so cut up," said Louise,
laughing. "But I don't know what Jenny will say of your disposing
of her conquest so summarily." She stopped and regarded him more
attentively. "Has he brought you any bad news? if so, it's a pity
you didn't send him away before. He's quite spoiling our cure."

Mainwaring thought bitterly that he had. "But it's a cure for all
that, Miss Macy," he said, with an attempt at cheerfulness, "and
being a cure, you see, there's no longer an excuse for my staying
here. I have been making arrangements for leaving here to-morrow."

"So soon?"

"Do you think it soon, Miss Macy?" asked Mainwaring, turning pale
in spite of himself.

"I quite forgot--that you were here as an invalid only, and that we
owe our pleasure to the accident of your pain."

She spoke a little artificially, he thought, yet her cheeks had not
lost their pink bloom, nor her eyes their tranquillity. Had he
heard Minty's criticism he might have believed that the organic
omission noticed by her was a fact.

"And now that your good work as Sister of Charity is completed,
you'll be able to enter the world of gayety again with a clear
conscience," said Mainwaring, with a smile that he inwardly felt
was a miserable failure. "You'll be able to resume your morning
rides, you know, which the wretched invalid interrupted."

Louise raised her clear eyes to his, without reproach, indignation,
or even wonder. He felt as if he had attempted an insult and
failed.

"Does my cousin know you are going so soon?" she asked finally.

"No, I did not know myself until to-day. You see," he added
hastily, while his honest blood blazoned the lie in his cheek,
"I've heard of some miserable business affairs that will bring me
back to England sooner that I expected."

"I think you should consider your health more important than any
mere business," said Louise. "I don't mean that you should remain
HERE," she added with a hasty laugh, "but it would be a pity, now
that you have reaped the benefit of rest and taking care of
yourself, that you should not make it your only business to seek it
elsewhere."

Mainwaring longed to say that within the last half hour, living or
dying had become of little moment to him; but he doubted the truth
or efficacy of this timeworn heroic of passion. He felt, too, that
anything he said was a mere subterfuge for the real reason of his
sudden departure. And how was he to question her as to that
reason? In escaping from these subterfuges--he was compelled to
lie again. With an assumption of changing the subject, he said
calmly, "Richardson thought he had met you before--in Menlo Park, I
think."

Amazed at the evident irrelevance of the remark, Louise said
coldly, that she did not remember having seen him before.

"I think it was at a Mr. Johnson's--or WITH a Mr. Johnson--or
perhaps at one of those Spanish ranches--I think he mentioned some
name like Pico!"

Louise looked at him wonderingly for an instant, and then gave way
to a frank, irrepressible laugh, which lent her delicate but rather
set little face all the color he had missed. Partially relieved by
her unconcern, and yet mortified that he had only provoked her
sense of the ludicrous, he tried to laugh also.

"Then, to be quite plain," said Louise, wiping her now humid eyes,
"you want me to understand that you really didn't pay sufficient
attention to hear correctly! Thank you; that's a pretty English
compliment, I suppose."

"I dare say you wouldn't call it 'philandering'?"

"I certainly shouldn't, for I don't know what 'philandering'
means."

Mainwaring could not reply, with Richelieu, "You ought to know";
nor did he dare explain what he thought it meant, and how he knew
it. Louise, however, innocently solved the difficulty.

"There's a country song I've heard Minty sing," she said. "It
runs--

Come, Philander, let us be a-marchin',
Every one for his true love a-sarchin'
Choose your true love now or never. . . .

Have you been listening to her also?"

"No," said Mainwaring, with a sudden incomprehensible, but utterly
irrepressible, resolution; "but I'M 'a-marchin',' you know, and
perhaps I must 'choose my true love now or never.' Will you help
me, Miss Macy?"

He drew gently near her. He had become quite white, but also
very manly, and it struck her, more deeply, thoroughly, and
conscientiously sincere than any man who had before addressed her.
She moved slightly away, as if to rest herself by laying both hands
upon the back of the chair.

"Where do you expect to begin your 'sarchin''?" she said, leaning
on the chair and tilting it before her; "or are you as vague as
usual as to locality? Is it at some 'Mr. Johnson' or 'Mr. Pico,'
or--"

"Here," he interrupted boldly.

"I really think you ought to first tell my cousin that you are
going away to-morrow," she said, with a faint smile. "It's such
short notice. She's just in there." She nodded her pretty head,
without raising her eyes, towards the hall.

"But it may not be so soon," said Mainwaring.

"Oh, then the 'sarchin'' is not so important?" said Louise, raising
her head, and looking towards the hall with some uneasy but
indefinable feminine instinct.

She was right; the sitting-room door opened, and Mrs. Bradley made
her smiling appearance.

"Mr. Mainwaring was just looking for you," said Louise, for the
first time raising her eyes to him. "He's not only sent off Mr.
Richardson, but he's going away himself to-morrow."

Mrs. Bradley looked from the one to the other in mute wonder.
Mainwaring cast an imploring glance at Louise, which had the
desired effect. Much more seriously, and in a quaint, business-
like way, the young girl took it upon herself to explain to Mrs.
Bradley that Richardson had brought the invalid some important news
that would, unfortunately, not only shorten his stay in America,
but even compel him to leave The Lookout sooner than he expected,
perhaps to-morrow. Mainwaring thanked her with his eyes, and then
turned to Mrs. Bradley.

"Whether I go to-morrow or next day," he said with simple and
earnest directness, "I intend, you know, to see you soon again,
either here or in my own home in England. I do not know," he added
with marked gravity, "that I have succeeded in convincing you that
I have made your family already well known to my people, and that"--
he fixed his eyes with a meaning look on Louise--"no matter when,
or in what way, you come to them, your place is made ready for you.
You may not like them, you know: the governor is getting to be an
old man--perhaps too old for young Americans--but THEY will like
YOU, and you must put up with that. My mother and sisters know
Miss Macy as well as I do, and will make her one of the family."

The conscientious earnestness with which these apparent
conventionalities were uttered, and some occult quality of quiet
conviction in the young man's manner, brought a pleasant sparkle to
the eyes of Mrs. Bradley and Louise.

"But," said Mrs. Bradley, gayly, "our going to England is quite
beyond our present wildest dreams; nothing but a windfall, an
unexpected rise in timber, or even the tabooed hotel speculation,
could make it possible."

"But I shall take the liberty of trying to present it to Mr.
Bradley tonight in some practical way that may convince even his
critical judgment," said Mainwaring, still seriously. "It will
be," he added more lightly, "the famous testimonial of my cure
which I promised you."

"And you will find Mr. Bradley so sceptical that you will be
obliged to defer your going," said Mrs. Bradley, triumphantly.
"Come, Louise, we must not forget that we have still Mr.
Mainwaring's present comfort to look after; that Minty has basely
deserted us, and that we ourselves must see that the last days of
our guest beneath our roof are not remembered for their privation."

She led Louise away with a half-mischievous suggestion of maternal
propriety, and left Mainwaring once more alone on the veranda.

He had done it! Certainly she must have understood his meaning,
and there was nothing left for him to do but to acquaint Bradley
with his intentions to-night, and press her for a final answer in
the morning. There would be no indelicacy then in asking her for
an interview more free from interruption than this public veranda.
Without conceit, he did not doubt what the answer would be. His
indecision, his sudden resolution to leave her, had been all based
upon the uncertainty of HIS own feelings, the propriety of HIS
declaration, the possibility of some previous experience of hers
that might compromise HIM. Convinced by her unembarrassed manner
of her innocence, or rather satisfied of her indifference to
Richardson's gossip, he had been hurried by his feelings into an
unexpected avowal. Brought up in the perfect security of his own
social position, and familiarly conscious--without vanity--of its
importance and power in such a situation, he believed, without
undervaluing Louise's charms or independence, that he had no one
else than himself to consult. Even the slight uneasiness that
still pursued him was more due to his habitual conscientiousness of
his own intention than to any fear that she would not fully respond
to it. Indeed, with his conservative ideas of proper feminine
self-restraint, Louise's calm passivity and undemonstrative
attitude were a proof of her superiority; had she blushed overmuch,
cried, or thrown herself into his arms, he would have doubted the
wisdom of so easy a selection. It was true he had known her
scarcely three weeks; if he chose to be content with that, his own
accessible record of three centuries should be sufficient for her,
and condone any irregularity.

Nevertheless, as an hour slipped away and Louise did not make her
appearance, either on the veranda or in the little sitting-room off
the hall, Mainwaring became more uneasy as to the incompleteness of
their interview. Perhaps a faint suspicion of the inadequacy of
her response began to trouble him; but he still fatuously regarded
it rather as owing to his own hurried and unfinished declaration.
It was true that he hadn't said half what he intended to say; it
was true that she might have misunderstood it as the conventional
gallantry of the situation, as--terrible thought!--the light banter
of the habitual love-making American, to which she had been
accustomed; perhaps even now she relegated him to the level of
Greyson, and this accounted for her singular impassiveness--an
impassiveness that certainly was singular now he reflected upon it--
that might have been even contempt. The last thought pricked his
deep conscientiousness; he walked hurriedly up and down the
veranda, and then, suddenly re-entering his room, took up a sheet
of note-paper, and began to write to her:--

"Can you grant me a few moments' interview alone? I cannot bear
you should think that what I was trying to tell you when we were
interrupted was prompted by anything but the deepest sincerity and
conviction, or that I am willing it should be passed over lightly
by you or be forgotten. Pray give me a chance of proving it, by
saying you will see me. F. M."

But how should he convey this to her? His delicacy revolted
against handing it to her behind Mrs. Bradley's back, or the
prestidigitation of slipping it into her lap or under her plate
before them at luncheon; he thought for an instant of the Chinaman,
but gentlemen--except in that "mirror of nature" the stage--usually
hesitate to suborn other people's servants, or entrust a woman's
secret to her inferiors. He remembered that Louise's room was at
the farther end of the house, and its low window gave upon the
veranda, and was guarded at night by a film of white and blue
curtains that were parted during the day, to allow a triangular
revelation of a pale blue and white draped interior. Mainwaring
reflected that the low inside window ledge was easily accessible
from the veranda, would afford a capital lodgment for the note, and
be quickly seen by the fair occupant of the room on entering. He
sauntered slowly past the window; the room was empty, the moment
propitious. A slight breeze was stirring the blue ribbons of the
curtain; it would be necessary to secure the note with something;
he returned along the veranda to the steps, where he had noticed a
small irregular stone lying, which had evidently escaped from
Richelieu's bag of treasure specimens, and had been overlooked by
that ingenuous child. It was of a pretty peacock-blue color, and,
besides securing a paper, would be sure to attract her attention.
He placed his note on the inside ledge, and the blue stone atop,
and went away with a sense of relief.

Another half hour passed without incident. He could hear the
voices of the two women in the kitchen and dining-room. After a
while they appeared to cease, and he heard the sound of an opening
door. It then occurred to him that the veranda was still too
exposed for a confidential interview, and he resolved to descend
the steps, pass before the windows of the kitchen where Louise
might see him, and penetrate the shrubbery, where she might be
induced to follow him. They would not be interrupted nor overheard
there.

But he had barely left the veranda before the figure of Richelieu,
who had been patiently waiting for Mainwaring's disappearance,
emerged stealthily from the shrubbery. He had discovered his loss
on handing his "fire assays" to the good-humored Bradley for later
examination, and he had retraced his way, step by step, looking
everywhere for his missing stone with the unbounded hopefulness,
lazy persistency, and lofty disregard for time and occupation known
only to the genuine boy. He remembered to have placed his knotted
bag upon the veranda, and, slipping off his stiff boots slowly and
softly, slid along against the wall of the house, looking carefully
on the floor, and yet preserving a studied negligence of demeanor,
with one hand in his pocket, and his small mouth contracted into a
singularly soothing and almost voiceless whistle--Richelieu's own
peculiar accomplishment. But no stone appeared. Like most of his
genus he was superstitious, and repeated to himself the cabalistic
formula: "Losin's seekin's, findin's keepin's"--presumed to be of
great efficacy in such cases--with religious fervor. He had
laboriously reached the end of the veranda when he noticed the open
window of Louise's room, and stopped as a perfunctory duty to look
in. And then Richelieu Sharpe stood for an instant utterly
confounded and aghast at this crowning proof of the absolute infamy
and sickening enormity of Man.

There was HIS stone--HIS, RICHELIEU'S, OWN SPECIMEN, carefully
gathered by himself and none other--and now stolen, abstracted,
"skyugled," "smouged," "hooked" by this "rotten, skunkified, long-
legged, splay-footed, hoss-laughin', nigger-toothed, or'nary
despot" And, worse than all, actually made to do infamous duty as
a love token"--a "candy-gift!"--a "philanderin' box" to HIS,
Richelieu's, girl--for Louise belonged to that innocent and vague
outside seraglio of Richelieu's boyish dreams--and put atop of a
letter to her! and Providence permitted such an outrage! "Wot was
he, Richelieu, sent to school for, and organized wickedness in the
shape of gorilla Injins like this allowed to ride high horses
rampant over Californey!" He looked at the heavens in mute appeal.
And then--Providence not immediately interfering--he thrust his own
small arm into the window, regained his priceless treasure, and
fled swiftly.

A fateful silence ensued. The wind slightly moved the curtain
outward, as if in a playful attempt to follow him, and then
subsided. A moment later, apparently re-enforced by other winds,
or sympathizing with Richelieu, it lightly lifted the unlucky
missive and cast it softly from the window. But here another wind,
lying in wait, caught it cleverly, and tossed it, in a long curve,
into the abyss. For an instant it seemed to float lazily, as on
the mirrored surface of a lake, until, turning upon its side, it
suddenly darted into utter oblivion.

When Mainwaring returned from the shrubbery, he went softly to the
window. The disappearance of the letter and stone satisfied him of
the success of his stratagem, and for the space of three hours
relieved his anxiety. But at the end of that time, finding no
response from Louise, his former uneasiness returned. Was she
offended, or--the first doubt of her acceptance of him crossed his
mind!

A sudden and inexplicable sense of shame came upon him. At the
same moment, he heard his name called from the steps, turned--and
beheld Minty.

Her dark eyes were shining with a pleasant light, and her lips
parted on her white teeth with a frank, happy smile. She advanced
and held out her hand. He took it with a mingling of disappointment
and embarrassment.

"You're wondering why I kem on here, arter I sent word this morning
that I kelkilated not to come. Well, 'twixt then and now suthin' 's
happened. We've had fine doin's over at our house, you bet!
Pop don't know which end he's standin' on; and I reckon that for
about ten minutes I didn't know my own name. But ez soon ez I got
fairly hold o' the hull thing, and had it put straight in my mind,
I sez to myself, Minty Sharpe, sez I, the first thing for you to do
now, is to put on yer bonnet and shawl, and trapse over to Jim
Bradley's and help them two womenfolks get dinner for themselves
and that sick stranger. And," continued Minty, throwing herself
into a chair and fanning her glowing face with her apron, "yer I
am!"

"But you have not told me WHAT has happened," said Mainwaring, with
a constrained smile, and an uneasy glance towards the house.

"That's so," said Minty, with a brilliant laugh. "I clean forgot
the hull gist of the thing. Well, we're rich folks now--over thar'
on Barren Ledge! That onery brother of mine, Richelieu, hez taken
some of his specimens over to Jim Bradley to be tested. And
Bradley, just to please that child, takes 'em; and not an hour ago
Bradley comes running, likety switch, over to Pop to tell him to
put up his notices, for the hull of that ledge where the forge
stands is a mine o' silver and copper. Afore ye knew it, Lordy!
half the folks outer the Summit and the mill was scattered down
thar all over it. Richardson--that stranger ez knows you--kem thar
too with Jim, and he allows, ef Bradley's essay is right, it's
worth more than a hundred thousand dollars ez it stands!"

"I suppose I must congratulate you, Miss Sharpe," said Mainwaring
with an attempt at interest, but his attention still preoccupied
with the open doorway.

"Oh, THEY know all about it!" said Minty, following the direction
of his abstracted eyes with a slight darkening of her own, "I jest
kem out o' the kitchen the other way, and Jim sent 'em a note; but
I allowed I'd tell YOU myself. Specially ez you are going away
to-morrow."

"Who said I was going away to-morrow?" asked Mainwaring, uneasily.

"Loo Macy!"

"Ah--she did? But I may change my mind, you know!" he continued,
with a faint smile.

Minty shook her curls decisively. "I reckon SHE knows," she said
dryly, "she's got law and gospel for wot she says. But yer she
comes. Ask her! Look yer, Loo," she added, as the two women
appeared at the doorway, with a certain exaggeration of
congratulatory manner that struck Mainwaring as being as artificial
and disturbed as his own, "didn't Sir Francis yer say he was going
to-morrow?"

"That's what I understood!" returned Louise, with cold astonishment,
letting her clear indifferent eyes fall upon Mainwaring. "I do
not know that he has changed his mind."

"Unless, as Miss Sharpe is a great capitalist now, she is willing
to use her powers of persuasion," added Mrs. Bradley, with a slight
acidulous pointing of her usual prim playfulness.

"I reckon Minty Sharpe's the same ez she allus wos, unless more
so," returned Minty, with an honest egotism that carried so much
conviction to the hearer as to condone its vanity. "But I kem yer
to do a day's work, gals, and I allow to pitch in and do it, and
not sit yer swoppin' compliments and keeping HIM from packin' his
duds. Onless," she stopped, and looked around at the uneasy,
unsympathetic circle with a faint tremulousness of lip that belied
the brave black eyes above it, "onless I'm in yer way."

The two women sprang forward with a feminine bewildering excess of
protestation; and Mainwaring, suddenly pierced through his outer
selfish embarrassment to his more honest depths, stammered quickly--

"Look here, Miss Sharpe, if you think of running away again, after
having come all the way here to make us share the knowledge of your
good fortune and your better heart, by Jove! I'll go back with you."

But here the two women effusively hurried her away from the dangerous
proximity of such sympathetic honesty, and a moment later Mainwaring
heard her laughing voice, as of old, ringing in the kitchen. And
then, as if unconsciously responding to the significant common sense
that lay in her last allusion to him, he went to his room and grimly
began his packing.

He did not again see Louise alone. At their informal luncheon the
conversation turned upon the more absorbing topic of the Sharpes'
discovery, its extent, and its probable effect upon the fortunes of
the locality. He noticed, abstractedly, that both Mrs. Bradley and
her cousin showed a real or assumed scepticism of its value. This
did not disturb him greatly, except for its intended check upon
Minty's enthusiasm. He was more conscious, perhaps,--with a faint
touch of mortified vanity,--that his own contemplated departure was
of lesser importance than this local excitement. Yet in his
growing conviction that all was over--if, indeed, it had ever
begun--between himself and Louise, he was grateful to this natural
diversion of incident which spared them both an interval of
embarrassing commonplaces. And, with the suspicion of some
indefinable insincerity--either of his own or Louise's--haunting
him, Minty's frank heartiness and outspoken loyalty gave him a
strange relief. It seemed to him as if the clear cool breath of
the forest had entered with her homely garments, and the steadfast
truth of Nature were incarnate in her shining eyes. How far this
poetic fancy would have been consistent or even coexistent with any
gleam of tenderness or self-forgetfulness in Louise's equally
pretty orbs, I leave the satirical feminine reader to determine.

It was late when Bradley at last returned, bringing further and
more complete corroboration of the truth of Sharpe's good fortune.
Two experts had arrived, one from Pine Flat and another from the
Summit, and upon this statement Richardson had offered to purchase
an interest in the discovery that would at once enable the
blacksmith to develop his mine. "I shouldn't wonder, Mainwaring,"
he added cheerfully, "if he'd put you into it, too, and make your
eternal fortune."

"With larks falling from the skies all round you, it's a pity YOU
couldn't get put into something," said Mrs. Bradley, straightening
her pretty brows.

"I'm not a gold-miner, my dear," said Bradley, pleasantly.

"Nor a gold-finder," returned his wife, with a cruel little
depression of her pink nostrils, "but you can work all night in
that stupid mill and then," she added in a low voice, to escape
Minty's attention, "spend the whole of the next day examining and
following up a boy's discovery that his own relations had been too
lazy and too ignorant to understand and profit by. I suppose that
next you will be hunting up a site on the OTHER SIDE of the Canyon,
where somebody else can put up a hotel and ruin your own prospects."

A sensitive shadow of pain quickly dimmed Bradley's glance--not the
first or last time evidently, for it was gradually bringing out a
background of sadness in his intelligent eyes. But the next moment
he turned kindly to Mainwaring, and began to deplore the necessity
of his early departure, which Richardson had already made known to
him with practical and satisfying reasons.

"I hope you won't forget, my dear fellow, that your most really
urgent business is to look after your health; and if, hereafter,
you'll only remember the old Lookout enough to impress that fact
upon you, I shall feel that any poor service I have rendered you
has been amply repaid."

Mainwaring, notwithstanding that he winced slightly at this fateful
echo of Louise's advice, returned the grasp of his friend's hand
with an honest pressure equal to his own. He longed now only for
the coming of Richardson, to complete his scheme of grateful
benefaction to his host.

The banker came fortunately as the conversation began to flag; and
Mrs. Bradley's half-coquettish ill-humor of a pretty woman, and
Louise's abstracted indifference, were becoming so noticeable as to
even impress Minty into a thoughtful taciturnity. The graciousness
of his reception by Mrs. Bradley somewhat restored his former
ostentatious gallantry, and his self-satisfied, domineering manner
had enough masculine power in it to favorably affect the three
women, who, it must be confessed, were a little bored by the finer
abstractions of Bradley and Mainwaring. After a few moments,
Mainwaring rose and, with a significant glance at Richardson to
remind him of his proposed conference with Bradley, turned to leave
the room. He was obliged to pass Louise, who was sitting by the
table. His attention was suddenly arrested by something in her
hand with which she was listlessly playing. It was the stone which
he had put on his letter to her.

As he had not been present when Bradley arrived, he did not know
that this fateful object had been brought home by his host, who,
after receiving it from Richelieu, had put it in his pocket to
illustrate his story of the discovery. On the contrary, it seemed
that Louise's careless exposure of his foolish stratagem was
gratuitously and purposely cruel. Nevertheless, he stopped and
looked at her.

"That's a queer stone you have there," he said, in a tone which she
recognized as coldly and ostentatiously civil.

"Yes," she replied, without looking up; "it's the outcrop of that
mine." She handed it to him as if to obviate any further remark.
"I thought you had seen it before."

"The outcrop," he repeated dryly. "That is--it--it--it is the
indication or sign of something important that's below it--isn't
it?"

Louise shrugged her shoulders sceptically. "It don't follow. It's
just as likely to cover rubbish, after you've taken the trouble to
look."

"Thanks," he said, with measured gentleness, and passed quietly out
of the room.

The moon had already risen when Bradley, with his brierwood pipe,
preceded Richardson upon the veranda. The latter threw his large
frame into Louise's rocking-chair near the edge of the abyss;
Bradley, with his own chair tilted against the side of the house
after the national fashion, waited for him to speak. The absence
of Mainwaring and the stimulus of Mrs. Bradley's graciousness had
given the banker a certain condescending familiarity, which Bradley
received with amused and ironical tolerance that his twinkling eyes
made partly visible in the darkness.

"One of the things I wanted to talk to you about, Bradley, was that
old affair of the advance you asked for from the Bank. We did not
quite see our way to it then, and, speaking as a business man, it
isn't really a matter of business now; but it has lately been put
to me in a light that would make the doing of it possible--you
understand? The fact of the matter is this: Sir Robert Mainwaring,
the father of the young fellow you've got in your house, is one of
our directors and largest shareholders, and I can tell you--if you
don't suspect it already--you've been lucky, Bradley--deucedly
lucky--to have had him in your house and to have rendered him a
service. He's the heir to one of the largest landed estates in his
country, one of the oldest county families, and will step into the
title some day. But, ahem!" he coughed patronizingly, "you knew
all that! No? Well, that charming wife of yours, at least, does;
for she's been talking about it. Gad, Bradley, it takes those
women to find out anything of that kind, eh?"

The light in Bradley's eyes and his pipe went slowly out together.

"Then we'll say that affair of the advance is as good as settled.
It's Sir Robert's wish, you understand, and this young fellow's
wish,--and if you'll come down to the Bank next week we'll arrange
it for you; I think you'll admit they're doing the handsome to you
and yours. And therefore," he lowered his voice confidentially,
"you'll see, Bradley, that it will only be the honorable thing in
you, you know, to look upon the affair as finished, and, in fact,
to do all you can"--he drew his chair closer--"to--to--to drop this
other foolishness."

"I don't think I quite understand you!" said Bradley, slowly.

"But your wife does, if you don't," returned Richardson, bluntly;
"I mean this foolish flirtation between Louise Macy and Mainwaring,
which is utterly preposterous. Why, man, it can't possibly come to
anything, and it couldn't be allowed for a moment. Look at his
position and hers. I should think, as a practical man, it would
strike you--"

"Only one thing strikes me, Richardson," interrupted Bradley, in a
singularly distinct whisper, rising, and moving nearer the speaker;
"it is that you're sitting perilously near the edge of this
veranda. For, by the living God, if you don't take yourself out of
that chair and out of this house, I won't be answerable for the
consequences!"

"Hold on there a minute, will you?" said Mainwaring's voice from
the window.

Both men turned towards it. A long leg was protruding from
Mainwaring's window; it was quickly followed by the other leg and
body of the occupant, and the next moment Mainwaring come towards
the two men, with his hands in his pockets.

"Not so loud," he said, looking towards the house.

"Let that man go," said Bradley, in a repressed voice. "You and I,
Mainwaring, can speak together afterwards."

"That man must stay until he hears what I have got to say," said
Mainwaring, stepping between them. He was very white and grave in
the moonlight, but very quiet; and he did not take his hands from
his pockets. "I've listened to what he said because he came here
on MY business, which was simply to offer to do you a service.
That was all, Bradley, that I told him to do. This rot about what
he expects of you in return is his own impertinence. If you'd
punched his head when he began it, it would have been all right.
But since he has begun it, before he goes I think he ought to hear
me tell you that I have already OFFERED myself to Miss Macy, and
she has REFUSED me! If she had given me the least encouragement, I
should have told you before. Further, I want to say that, in spite
of that man's insinuations, I firmly believe that no one is aware
of the circumstance except Miss Macy and myself."

"I had no idea of intimating that anything had happened that was
not highly honorable and creditable to you and the young lady,"
began Richardson hurriedly.

"I don't know that it was necessary for you to have any ideas on
the subject at all," said Mainwaring, sternly; "nor that, having
been shown how you have insulted this gentleman and myself, you
need trouble us an instant longer with your company. You need not
come back. I will manage my other affairs myself."

"Very well, Mr. Mainwaring--but--you may be sure that I shall
certainly take the first opportunity to explain myself to Sir
Robert," returned Richardson as, with an attempt at dignity, he
strode away.

There was an interval of silence.

"Don't be too hard upon a fellow, Bradley," said Mainwaring as
Bradley remained dark and motionless in the shadow. "It is a poor
return I'm making you for your kindness, but I swear I never
thought of anything like--like--this."

"Nor did I," said Bradley, bitterly.

"I know it, and that's what makes it so infernally bad for me.
Forgive me, won't you? Think of me, old fellow, as the wretchedest
ass you ever met, but not such a cad as this would make me!" As
Mainwaring stepped out from the moonlight towards him with extended
hand, Bradley grasped it warmly.

"Thanks--there--thanks, old fellow! And, Bradley--I say--don't say
anything to your wife, for I don't think she knows it. And,
Bradley--look here--I didn't like to be anything but plain before
that fellow; but I don't mind telling YOU, now that it's all over,
that I really think Louise--Miss Macy--didn't altogether understand
me either."

With another shake of the hand they separated for the night. For a
long time after Mainwaring had gone, Bradley remained gazing
thoughtfully into the Great Canyon. He thought of the time when he
had first come there, full of life and enthusiasm, making an ideal
world of his pure and wholesome eyrie on the ledge. What else he
thought will, probably, never be known until the misunderstanding
of honorable and chivalrous men by a charming and illogical sex
shall incite the audacious pen of some more daring romancer.

When he returned to the house, he said kindly to his wife, "I have
been thinking to-day about your hotel scheme, and I shall write to
Sacramento to-night to accept that capitalist's offer."

CHAPTER V.

The sun was just rising. In two years of mutation and change it
had seen the little cottage clinging like a swallow's nest to the
rocky caves of a great Sierran canyon give way to a straggling,
many-galleried hotel, and a dozen blackened chimneys rise above the
barren tableland where once had stood the lonely forge. To that
conservative orb of light and heat there must have been a peculiar
satisfaction in looking down a few hours earlier upon the
battlements and gables of Oldenhurst, whose base was deeply
embedded in the matured foundations and settled traditions of an
English county. For the rising sun had for ten centuries found
Oldenhurst in its place, from the heavy stone terrace that covered
the dead-and-forgotten wall, where a Roman sentinel had once paced,
to the little grating in the cloistered quadrangle, where it had
seen a Cistercian brother place the morning dole. It had daily
welcomed the growth of this vast and picturesque excrescence of the
times; it had smiled every morning upon this formidable yet quaint
incrustation of power and custom, ignoring, as Oldenhurst itself
had ignored, the generations who possessed it, the men who built
it, the men who carried it with fire and sword, the men who had
lied and cringed for it, the King who had given it to a favorite,
the few brave hearts who had died for it in exile, and the one or
two who had bought and paid for it. For Oldenhurst had absorbed
all these and more until it had become a story of the past,
incarnate in stone, greenwood, and flower; it had even drained the
life-blood from adjacent hamlets, repaying them with tumuli growths
like its own, in the shape of purposeless lodges, quaintly
incompetent hospitals and schools, and churches where the
inestimable blessing and knowledge of its gospel were taught and
fostered. Nor had it dealt more kindly with the gentry within its
walls, sending some to the scaffold, pillorying others in infamous
office, reducing a few to poverty, and halting its later guests
with gout and paralysis. It had given them in exchange the dubious
immortality of a portrait gallery, from which they stared with
stony and equal resignation; it had preserved their useless armor
and accoutrements; it had set up their marble effigies in churches
or laid them in cross-legged attitudes to trip up the unwary, until
in death, as in life, they got between the congregation and the
Truth that was taught there. It had allowed an Oldenhurst
crusader, with a broken nose like a pugilist, on the strength of
his having been twice to the Holy Land, to hide the beautifully
illuminated Word from the lowlier worshipper on the humbler
benches; it had sent an iconoclastic Bishop of the Reformation
to a nearer minster to ostentatiously occupy the place of the
consecrated image he had overthrown. Small wonder that crowding
the Oldenhurst retainers gradually into smaller space, with
occasional Sabbath glimpses of the living rulers of Oldenhurst
already in railed-off exaltation, it had forced them to accept
Oldenhurst as a synonym of eternity, and left the knowledge of a
higher Power to what time they should be turned out to their longer
sleep under the tender grass of the beautiful outer churchyard.

And even so, while every stone of the pile of Oldenhurst and every
tree in its leafy park might have been eloquent with the story of
vanity, selfishness, and unequal justice, it had been left to the
infinite mercy of Nature to seal their lips with a spell of beauty
that left mankind equally dumb; earth, air, and moisture had
entered into a gentle conspiracy to soften, mellow, and clothe its
external blemishes of breach and accident, its irregular design,
its additions, accretions, ruins, and lapses with a harmonious
charm of outline and color; poets, romancers, and historians had
equally conspired to illuminate the dark passages and uglier
inconsistencies of its interior life with the glamour of their own
fancy. The fragment of menacing keep, with its choked oubliettes,
became a bower of tender ivy; the grim story of its crimes,
properly edited by a contemporary bard of the family, passed into a
charming ballad. Even the superstitious darkness of its religious
house had escaped through fallen roof and shattered wall, leaving
only the foliated and sun-pierced screen of front, with its rose-
window and pinnacle of cross behind. Pilgrims from all lands had
come to see it; fierce Republicans had crossed the seas to gaze at
its mediaeval outlines, and copy them in wood and stucco on their
younger soil. Politicians had equally pointed to it as a
convincing evidence of their own principles and in refutation of
each other; and it had survived both. For it was this belief in
its own perpetuity that was its strength and weakness. And that
belief was never stronger than on this bright August morning, when
it was on the verge of dissolution. A telegram brought to Sir
Robert Mainwaring had even then as completely shattered and
disintegrated Oldenhurst, in all it was and all it meant, as if
the brown-paper envelope had been itself charged with the electric
fluid.

Sir Robert Mainwaring, whose family had for three centuries
possessed Oldenhurst, had received the news of his financial ruin;
and the vast pile which had survived the repeated invasion of
superstition, force, intrigue, and even progress, had succumbed to
a foe its founders and proprietors had loftily ignored and left to
Jews and traders. The acquisition of money, except by despoilment,
gift, royal favor, or inheritance, had been unknown at Oldenhurst.
The present degenerate custodian of its fortunes, staggering under
the weight of its sentimental mortmain already alluded to, had
speculated in order to keep up its material strength, that was
gradually shrinking through impoverished land and the ruined trade
it had despised. He had invested largely in California mines, and
was the chief shareholder in a San Francisco Bank. But the mines
had proved worthless, the Bank had that morning suspended payment,
owing to the failure of a large land and timber company on the
Sierras which it had imprudently "carried." The spark which had
demolished Oldenhurst had been fired from the new telegraph-station
in the hotel above the great Sierran canyon.

There was a large house-party at Oldenhurst that morning. But it
had been a part of the history of the Mainwarings to accept defeat
gallantly and as became their blood. Sir Percival,--the second
gentleman on the left as you entered the library,--unhorsed, dying
on a distant moor, with a handful of followers, abandoned by a
charming Prince and a miserable cause, was scarcely a greater hero
than this ruined but undaunted gentleman of eighty, entering the
breakfast-room a few hours later as jauntily as his gout would
permit, and conscientiously dispensing the hospitalities of his
crumbling house. When he had arranged a few pleasure parties for
the day and himself thoughtfully anticipated the different tastes
of his guests, he turned to Lady Mainwaring.

"Don't forget that somebody ought to go to the station to meet the
Bradleys. Frank writes from St. Moritz that they are due here
to-day."

Lady Mainwaring glanced quickly at her husband, and said sotto
voce, "Do you think they'll care to come NOW? They probably have
heard all about it."

"Not how it affects me," returned Sir Robert, in the same tone;
"and as they might think that because Frank was with them on that
California mountain we would believe it had something to do with
Richardson involving the Bank in that wretched company, we must
really INSIST upon their coming."

"Bradley!" echoed the Hon. Captain FitzHarry, overhearing the name
during a late forage on the sideboard, "Bradley!--there was an
awfully pretty American at Biarritz, travelling with a cousin, I
think--a Miss Mason or Macy. Those sort of people, you know, who
have a companion as pretty as themselves; bring you down with the
other barrel if one misses--eh? Very clever, both of them, and
hardly any accent."

"Mr. Bradley was a very dear friend of Frank's, and most kind to
him," said Lady Mainwaring, gravely.

"Didn't know there WAS a Mr. Bradley, really. He didn't come to
the fore, then," said the unabashed Captain. "Deuced hard to
follow up those American husbands!"

"And their wives wouldn't thank you, if you did," said Lady
Griselda Armiger, with a sweet smile.

"If it is the Mrs. Bradley I mean," said Lady Canterbridge from the
lower end of the table, looking up from her letter, "who looks a
little like Mrs. Summertree, and has a pretty cousin with her who
has very good frocks, I'm afraid you won't be able to get her down
here. She's booked with engagements for the next six weeks. She
and her cousin made all the running at Grigsby Royal, and she has
quite deposed that other American beauty in Northforeland's good
graces. She regularly affiche'd him, and it is piteous to see him
follow her about. No, my dear; I don't believe they'll come to any
one of less rank than a Marquis. If they did, I'm sure Canterbridge
would have had them at Buckenthorpe already."

"I wonder if there was ever anything in Frank's admiration of this
Miss Macy?" said Lady Mainwaring a few moments later, lingering
beside her husband in his study.

"I really don't know," said Sir Robert, abstractedly: "his letters
were filled with her praises, and Richardson thought--"

"Pray don't mention that man's name again," said Lady Mainwaring,
with the first indication of feeling she had shown. "I shouldn't
trust him."

"But why do you ask?" returned her husband.

Lady Mainwaring was silent for a moment. "She is very rich, I
believe," she said slowly. "At least, Frank writes that some
neighbors of theirs whom he met in the Engadine told him they had
sold the site of that absurd cottage where he was ill for some
extravagant sum."

"My dear Geraldine," said the old man, affectionately, taking his
wife's hand in his own, that now for the first time trembled, "if
you have any hope based upon what you are thinking of now, let it
be the last and least. You forget that Paget told us that with the
best care he could scarcely ensure Frank's return to perfect
health. Even if God in his mercy spared him long enough to take my
place, what girl would be willing to tie herself to a man doomed to
sickness and poverty? Hardly the one you speak of, my dear."

Lady Canterbridge proved a true prophet. Mrs. Bradley and Miss
Macy did not come, regretfully alleging a previous engagement made
on the continent with the Duke of Northforeland and the Marquis of
Dungeness; but the unexpected and apocryphal husband DID arrive.
"I myself have not seen my wife and cousin since I returned from my
visit to your son in Switzerland. I am glad they were able to
amuse themselves without waiting for me at a London hotel, though I
should have preferred to have met them here." Sir Robert and Lady
Mainwaring were courteous but slightly embarrassed. Lady
Canterbridge, who had come to the station in bored curiosity,
raised her clear blue eyes to his. He did not look like a fool, a
complaisant or fashionably-cynical husband--this well-dressed,
well-mannered, but quietly and sympathetically observant man. Did
he really care for his selfish wife? was it perfect trust or some
absurd Transatlantic custom? She did not understand him. It
wearied her and she turned her eyes indifferently away. Bradley, a
little irritated, he knew not why, at the scrutiny of this tall,
handsome, gentlemanly-looking woman, who, however, in spite of her
broad shoulders and narrow hips possessed a refined muliebrity
superior to mere womanliness of outline, turned slightly towards
Sir Robert. "Lady Canterbridge, Frank's cousin," explained Sir
Robert, hesitatingly, as if conscious of some vague awkwardness.
Bradley and Lady Canterbridge both bowed,--possibly the latter's
salutation was the most masculine,--and Bradley, eventually
forgetting her presence, plunged into an earnest, sympathetic, and
intelligent account of the condition in which he found the invalid
at St. Moritz. The old man at first listened with an almost
perfunctory courtesy and a hesitating reserve; but as Bradley was
lapsing into equal reserve and they drove up to the gates of the
quadrangle, he unexpectedly warmed with a word or two of serious
welcome. Looking up with a half-unconscious smile, Bradley met
Lady Canterbridge's examining eyes.

The next morning, finding an opportunity to be alone with him,
Bradley, with a tactful mingling of sympathy and directness informed
his host that he was cognizant of the disaster that had overtaken
the Bank, and delicately begged him to accept any service he could
render him. "Pardon me," he said, "if I speak as plainly to you as
I would to your son: my friendship for him justifies an equal
frankness to any one he loves; but I should not intrude upon your
confidence if I did not believe that my knowledge and assistance
might be of benefit to you. Although I did not sell my lands to
Richardson or approve of his methods," he continued, "I fear it was
some suggestion of mine that eventually induced him to form the
larger and more disastrous scheme that ruined the Bank. So you see,"
he added lightly, "I claim a right to offer you my services."
Touched by Bradley's sincerity and discreet intelligence, Sir Robert
was equally frank. During the recital of his Californian
investments--a chronicle of almost fatuous speculation and imbecile
enterprise--Bradley was profoundly moved at the naive ignorance of
business and hopeless ingenuousness of this old habitue of a cynical
world and an intriguing and insincere society, to whom no scheme
had been too wild for acceptance. As Bradley listened with a
half-saddened smile to the grave visions of this aged enthusiast,
he remembered the son's unsophisticated simplicity: what he had
considered as the "boyishness" of immaturity was the taint of the
utterly unpractical Mainwaring blood. It was upon this blood, and
others like it, that Oldenhurst had for centuries waxed and
fattened.

Bradley was true to his promise of assistance, and with the aid of
two or three of his brother-millionaires, whose knowledge of the
resources of the locality was no less powerful and convincing than
the security of their actual wealth, managed to stay the immediate
action of the catastrophe until the affairs of the Sierran Land and
Timber Company could be examined and some plan of reconstruction
arranged.

During this interval of five months, in which the credit of Sir
Robert Mainwaring was preserved with the secret of his disaster,
Bradley was a frequent and welcome visitor to Oldenhurst. Apart
from his strange and chivalrous friendship for the Mainwarings--
which was as incomprehensible to Sir Robert as Sir Robert's equally
eccentric and Quixotic speculations had been to Bradley--he began
to feel a singular and weird fascination for the place. A patient
martyr in the vast London house he had taken for his wife and
cousin's amusement, he loved to escape the loneliness of its autumn
solitude or the occasional greater loneliness of his wife's social
triumphs. The handsome, thoughtful man who sometimes appeared at
the foot of his wife's table or melted away like a well-bred ghost
in the hollow emptiness of her brilliant receptions, piqued the
languid curiosity of a few. A distinguished personage, known for
his tactful observance of convenances that others forgot, had made
a point of challenging this gentlemanly apparition, and had
followed it up with courteous civilities, which led to exchange of
much respect but no increase of acquaintance. He had even spent a
week at Buckenthorpe, with Canterbridge in the coverts and Lady
Canterbridge in the music-room and library. He had returned more
thoughtful, and for some time after was more frequent in his
appearances at home, and more earnest in his renewed efforts to
induce his wife to return to America with him.

"You'll never be happy anywhere but in California, among those
common people," she replied; "and while I was willing to share your
poverty THERE," she added dryly, "I prefer to share your wealth
among civilized ladies and gentlemen. Besides," she continued, "we
must consider Louise. She is as good as engaged to Lord Dunshunner,
and I do not intend that you shall make a mess of her affairs here
as you did in California."

It was the first time he had heard of Lord Dunshunner's proposals;
it was the first allusion she had ever made to Louise and
Mainwaring.

Meantime, the autumn leaves had fallen silently over the broad
terraces of Oldenhurst with little changes to the fortunes of the
great house itself. The Christmas house-party included Lady
Canterbridge, whose husband was still detained at Homburg in
company with Dunshunner; and Bradley, whose wife and cousin
lingered on the continent. He was slightly embarrassed when Lady
Canterbridge turned to him one afternoon as they were returning
from the lake and congratulated him abruptly upon Louise's
engagement.

"Perhaps you don't care to be congratulated," she said, as he did
not immediately respond, "and you had as little to do with it as
with that other? It is a woman's function."

"What other?" echoed Bradley.

Lady Canterbridge slightly turned her handsome head towards him as
she walked unbendingly at his side. "Tell me how you manage to
keep your absolute simplicity so fresh. Do you suppose it wasn't
known at Oldenhurst that Frank had quite compromised himself with
Miss Macy over there?"

"It certainly was not known 'over there,'" said Bradley, curtly.

"Don't be angry with me."

Such an appeal from the tall, indifferent woman at his side, so
confidently superior to criticism, and uttered in a low tone, made
him smile, albeit uneasily.

"I only meant to congratulate you," she continued carelessly.
"Dunshunner is not a bad sort of fellow, and will come into a good
property some day. And then, society is so made up of caprice,
just now, that it is well for your wife's cousin to make the most
of her opportunities while they last. She is very popular now; but
next season--" Seeing that Bradley remained silent, she did not
finish the sentence, but said with her usual abruptness, "Do you
know a Miss Araminta Eulalie Sharpe?"

Bradley started. Could any one recognize honest Minty in the
hopeless vulgarity which this fine lady had managed to carelessly
import into her name? His eye kindled.

"She is an old friend of mine, Lady Canterbridge."

"How fortunate! Then I can please you by giving you good news of
her. She is the coming sensation. They say she is very rich, but
quite one of the people, you know: in fact, she makes no scruples
of telling you her father was a blacksmith, I think, and takes the
dear old man with her everywhere. FitzHarry raves about her, and
says her naivete is something too delicious. She is regularly in
with some of the best people already. Lady Dungeness has taken her
up, and Northforeland is only waiting for your cousin's engagement
to be able to go over decently. Shall I ask her to Buckenthorpe?--
come, now, as an apology for my rudeness to your cousin?" She was
very womanly now in spite of her high collar, her straight back,
and her tightly-fitting jacket, as she stood there smiling.
Suddenly, her smile faded; she drew her breath in quickly.

She had caught a glimpse of his usually thoughtful face and eyes,
now illuminated with some pleasant memory.

"Thank you," he said smilingly, yet with a certain hesitation, as
he thought of The Lookout and Araminta Eulalie Sharpe, and tried to
reconcile them with the lady before him. "I should like it very
much."

"Then you have known Miss Sharpe a long time?" continued Lady
Canterbridge as they walked on.

"While we were at The Lookout she was our nearest neighbor."

"And I suppose your wife will consider it quite proper for you to
see her again at my house?" said Lady Canterbridge, with a return
of conventional levity.

"Oh! quite," said Bradley.

They had reached the low Norman-arched side-entrance to the
quadrangle. As Bradley swung open the bolt-studded oaken door to
let her pass, she said carelessly,--

"Then you are not coming in now?"

"No; I shall walk a little longer."

"And I am quite forgiven?"

"I am thanking you very much," he said, smiling directly into her
blue eyes. She lowered them, and vanished into the darkness of the
passage.

The news of Minty's success was further corroborated by Sir Robert,
who later that evening called Bradley into the study. "Frank has
been writing from Nice that he has renewed his acquaintance with
some old Californian friends of yours--a Mr. and Miss Sharpe. Lady
Canterbridge says that they are well known in London to some of our
friends, but I would like to ask you something about them. Lady
Mainwaring was on the point of inviting them here when I received a
letter from Mr. Sharpe asking for a BUSINESS interview. Pray who
is this Sharpe?"

"You say he writes for a BUSINESS interview?" asked Bradley.

"Yes."

Bradley hesitated for a moment and then said quietly, "Perhaps,
then, I am justified in a breach of confidence to him, in order to
answer your question. He is the man who has assumed all the
liabilities of the Sierran Land and Timber Company to enable the
Bank to resume payment. But he did it on the condition that you
were never to know it. For the rest, he was a blacksmith who made
a fortune, as Lady Canterbridge will tell you."

"How very odd--how kind, I mean. I should like to have been civil
to him on Frank's account alone."

"I should see him on business and be civil to him afterwards." Sir
Robert received the American's levity with his usual seriousness.

"No, they must come here for Christmas. His daughter is--?"

"Araminta Eulalie Sharpe," said Bradley, in defiant memory of Lady
Canterbridge.

Sir Robert winced audibly. "I shall rely on you, my dear boy, to
help me make it pleasant for them," he said.

Christmas came, but not Minty. It drew a large contingent from
Oldenhurst to the quaint old church, who came to view the green-
wreathed monuments, and walls spotted with crimson berries, as if
with the blood of former Oldenhurst warriors, and to impress the
wondering villagers with the ineffable goodness and bounty of the
Creator towards the Lords of Oldenhurst and their friends. Sir
Robert, a little gouty, kept the house, and Bradley, somewhat
uneasy at the Sharpes' absence, but more distrait with other
thoughts, wandered listlessly in the long library. At the lower
angle it was embayed into the octagon space of a former tower,
which was furnished as a quaint recess for writing or study,
pierced through its enormous walls with a lance-shaped window,
hidden by heavy curtains. He was gazing abstractedly at the
melancholy eyes of Sir Percival, looking down from the dark panel
opposite, when he heard the crisp rustle of a skirt. Lady
Canterbridge tightly and stiffly buttoned in black from her long
narrow boots to her slim, white-collared neck, stood beside him
with a prayer-book in her ungloved hand. Bradley colored quickly;
the penetrating incense of the Christmas boughs and branches that
decked the walls and ceilings, mingled with some indefinable
intoxicating aura from the woman at his side, confused his senses.
He seemed to be losing himself in some forgotten past coeval with
the long, quaintly-lighted room, the rich hangings, and the painted
ancestor of this handsome woman. He recovered himself with an
effort, and said,

"You are going to church?"

"I may meet them coming home; it's all the same. You like HIM?"
she said abruptly, pointing to the portrait. "I thought you did
not care for that sort of man over there."

"A man like that must have felt the impotence of his sacrifice
before he died, and that condoned everything," said Bradley,
thoughtfully.

"Then you don't think him a fool? Bob says it was a fair bargain
for a title and an office, and that by dying he escaped trial and
the confiscation of what he had."

Bradley did not reply.

"I am disturbing your illusions again. Yet I rather like them. I
think you are quite capable of a sacrifice--perhaps you know what
it is already."

He felt that she was looking at him; he felt equally that he could
not respond with a commonplace. He was silent.

"I have offended you again, Mr. Bradley," she said. "Please be
Christian, and pardon me. You know this is a season of peace and
goodwill." She raised her blue eyes at the same moment to the
Christmas decorations on the ceiling. They were standing before
the parted drapery of the lance window. Midway between the arched
curtains hung a spray of mistletoe--the conceit of a mischievous
housemaid. Their eyes met it simultaneously.

Bradley had Lady Canterbridge's slim, white hand in his own. The
next moment voices were heard in the passage, and the door nearly
opposite to them opened deliberately. The idea of their apparent
seclusion and half compromising attitude flashed through the minds
of both at the same time. Lady Canterbridge stepped quickly
backward, drawing Bradley with her, into the embrasure of the
window; the folds of the curtain swung together and concealed them
from view.

The door had been opened by the footman, ushering in a broad-
shouldered man, who was carrying a travelling-bag and an umbrella
in his hand. Dropping into an arm-chair before the curtain, he
waved away the footman, who, even now, mechanically repeated a
previously vain attempt to relieve the stranger of his luggage.

"You leave that 'ere grip sack where it is, young man, and tell Sir
Robert Mainwaring that Mr. Demander Sharpe, of Californy, wishes to
see him--on business--on BUSINESS, do ye' hear? You hang onter
that sentence--on BUSINESS! it's about ez much ez you kin carry, I
reckon, and leave that grip sack alone."

From behind the curtain Bradley made a sudden movement to go
forward; but Lady Canterbridge--now quite pale but collected--
restrained him with a warning movement of her hand. Sir Robert's
stick and halting step were next heard along the passage, and he
entered the room. His simple and courteous greeting of the
stranger was instantly followed by a renewed attack upon the "grip
sack," and a renewed defence of it by the stranger.

"No, Sir Robert," said the voice argumentatively, "this yer's a
BUSINESS interview, and until it's over--if YOU please--we'll
remain ez we air. I'm Demander Sharpe, of Californy, and I and my
darter, Minty, oncet had the pleasure of knowing your boy over
thar, and of meeting him agin the other day at Nice."

"I think," said Sir Robert's voice gently, "that these are not the
only claims you have upon me. I have only a day or two ago heard
from Mr. Bradley that I owe to your generous hands and your
disinterested liberality the saving of my California fortune."

There was the momentary sound of a pushed-back chair, a stamping of
feet, and then Mr. Sharpe's voice rose high with the blacksmith's
old querulous aggrieved utterance

"So it's that finikin', conceited Bradley agin--that's giv' me
away! Ef that man's all-fired belief in his being the Angel
Gabriel and Dan'l Webster rolled inter one don't beat anythin'! I
suppose that high-flyin' jay-bird kalkilated to put you and me and
my gal and yer boy inter harness for his four hoss chariot and he
sittin' kam on the box drivin' us! Why don't he tend to his own
business, and look arter his own concerns--instead o' leaving Jinny
Bradley and Loo Macy dependent on Kings and Queens and titled folks
gen'rally, and he, Jim Bradley, philanderin' with another man's
wife--while that thar man is hard at work tryin' to make a honest
livin' fer his wife, buckin' agin faro an' the tiger gen'rally at
Monaco! Eh? And that man a-inter-meddlin' with me! Ef,"
continued the voice, dropped to a tone of hopeless moral
conviction, "ef there's a man I mor'aly despise--it's that finikin'
Jim Bradley."

"You quite misunderstand me, my dear sir," said Sir Robert's
hurried voice; "he told me you had pledged him to secrecy, and he
only revealed it to explain why you wished to see me."

There was a grunt of half-placated wrath from Sharpe, and then the
voice resumed, but more deliberately, "Well, to come back to
business: you've got a boy, Francis, and I've got a darter,
Araminty. They've sorter taken a shine to each other and they want
to get married. Mind yer--wait a moment!--it wasn't allus so. No,
sir; when my gal Araminty first seed your boy in Californy she was
poor, and she didn't kalkilate to get inter anybody's family
unbeknownst or on sufferance. Then she got rich and you got poor;
and then--hold on a minit!--she allows, does my girl, that there
ain't any nearer chance o' their making a match than they were
afore, for she isn't goin' to hev it said that she married your son
fur the chance of some day becomin' Lady Mainwaring."

"One moment, Mr. Sharpe," said the voice of the Baronet, gravely:
"I am both flattered and pained by what I believe to be the kindly
object of your visit. Indeed, I may say I have gathered a
suspicion of what might be the sequel of this most unhappy
acquaintance of my son and your daughter; but I cannot believe that
he has kept you in ignorance of his unfortunate prospects and his
still more unfortunate state of health."

"When I told ye to hold on a minit," continued the blacksmith's
voice, with a touch of querulousness in its accent, "that was jist
wot I was comin' to. I knowed part of it from my own pocket, she
knowed the rest of it from his lip and the doctors she interviewed.
And then she says to me--sez my girl Minty--Pop,' she sez, 'he's
got nothing to live for now but his title, and that he never may
live to get, so that I think ye kin jist go, Pop, and fairly and
squarely, as a honest man, ask his father to let me hev him.'
Them's my darter's own words, Sir Robert, and when I tell yer that
she's got a million o' dollars to back them, ye'll know she means
business, every time."

"Did Francis know that you were coming here?"

"Bless ye, no! he don't know that she would have him. Ef it kem to
that, he ain't even asked her! She wouldn't let him until she was
sure of YOU."

"Then you mean to say there is no engagement?"

"In course not. I reckoned to do the square thing first with ye."

The halting step of the Baronet crossing the room was heard
distinctly. He had stopped beside Sharpe. "My dear Mr. Sharpe,"
he said, in a troubled voice, "I cannot permit this sacrifice. It
is too--too great!"

"Then," said Sharpe' s voice querulously, "I'm afraid we must do
without your permission. I didn't reckon to find a sort o' British
Jim Bradley in you. If YOU can't permit my darter to sacrifice
herself by marryin' your son, I can't permit her to sacrifice her
love and him by NOT marryin' him. So I reckon this yer interview
is over."

"I am afraid we are both old fools, Mr. Sharpe; but--we will talk
this over with Lady Mainwaring. Come--" There was evidently a
slight struggle near the chair over some inanimate object. But the
next moment the Baronet's voice rose, persuasively, "Really, I must
insist upon relieving you of your bag and umbrella."

"Well, if you'll let me telegraph 'yes' to Minty, I don't care if
yer do."

When the room was quiet again, Lady Canterbridge and James Bradley
silently slipped from the curtain, and, without a word, separated
at the door.

There was a merry Christmas at Oldenhurst and at Nice. But whether
Minty's loving sacrifice was accepted or not, or whether she ever
reigned as Lady Mainwaring, or lived an untitled widow, I cannot
say. But as Oldenhurst still exists in all its pride and power, it
is presumed that the peril that threatened its fortunes was
averted, and that if another heroine was not found worthy of a
frame in its picture-gallery, at least it had been sustained as of
old by devotion and renunciation.

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