Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Colonel Quaritch, V.C. by H. Rider Haggard

Part 4 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"Oh, Mr. Cossey," said Ida, in affected surprise, "why, I thought you
never missed /anything/."

"Everybody misses sometimes," answered that gentleman, looking
uncommonly sulky. "I shall do better this afternoon when it comes to
the driven partridges."

"I don't believe you will," went on Ida, laughing maliciously. "I bet
you a pair of gloves that Colonel Quaritch will shoot more driven
partridges than you do."

"Done," said Edward Cossey sharply.

"Now, do you hear that, Colonel Quaritch?" went on Ida. "I have bet
Mr. Cossey a pair of gloves that you will kill more partridges this
afternoon than he will, so I hope you won't make me lose them."

"Goodness gracious," said the Colonel, in much alarm. "Why, the last
partridge-driving that I had was on the slopes of some mountains in
Afghanistan. I daresay that I shan't hit anything. Besides," he said
with some irritation, "I don't like being set up to shoot against
people."

"Oh, of course," said Edward loftily, "if Colonel Quaritch does not
like to take it up there's an end of it."

"Well," said the Colonel, "if you put it in that way I don't mind
trying, but I have only one gun and you have two."

"Oh, that will be all right," said Ida to the Colonel. "You shall have
George's gun; he never tries to shoot when they drive partridges,
because he cannot hit them. He goes with the beaters. It is a very
good gun."

The Colonel took up the gun and examined it. It was of about the same
bend and length as his own, but of a better quality, having once been
the property of James de la Molle.

"Yes," he said, "but then I haven't got a loader."

"Never mind. I'll do that, I know all about it. I often used to hold
my brother's second gun when we drove partridges, because he said I
was so much quicker than the men. Look," and she took the gun and
rested one knee on the turf; "first position, second position, third
position. We used to have regular drills at it," and she sighed.

The Colonel laughed heartily, for it was a curious thing to see this
stately woman handling a gun with all the skill and quickness of a
practised shot. Besides, as the loader idea involved a whole afternoon
of Ida's society he certainly was not inclined to negative it. But
Edward Cossey did not smile; on the contrary he positively scowled
with jealousy, and was about to make some remark when Ida held up her
finger.

"Hush," she said, "here comes my father" (the Squire had been counting
the game); "he hates bets, so you mustn't say anything about our
match."

Luncheon went off pretty well, though Edward Cossey did not contribute
much to the general conversation. When it was done the Squire
announced that he was going to walk to the other end of the estate,
whereon Ida said that she should stop and see something of the
shooting, and the fun began.

CHAPTER XXII

THE END OF THE MATCH

They began the afternoon with several small drives, but on the whole
the birds did very badly. They broke back, went off to one side or the
other, and generally misbehaved themselves. In the first drive the
Colonel and Edward Cossey got a bird each. In the second drive the
latter got three birds, firing five shots, and his antagonist only got
a hare and a pheasant that jumped out of a ditch, neither of which, of
course, counted anything. Only one brace of birds came his way at all,
but if the truth must be told, he was talking to Ida at the moment and
did not see them till too late.

Then came a longer drive, when the birds were pretty plentiful. The
Colonel got one, a low-flying Frenchman, which he killed as he topped
the fence, and after that for the life of him he could not touch a
feather. Every sportsman knows what a fatal thing it is to begin to
miss and then get nervous, and that was what happened to the Colonel.
Continually there came distant cries of "/Mark! mark over!/" followed
by the apparition of half-a-dozen brown balls showing clearly against
the grey autumn sky and sweeping down towards him like lightning.
/Whizz/ in front, overhead and behind; bang, bang; bang again with the
second gun, and they were away--vanished, gone, leaving nothing but a
memory behind them.

The Colonel swore beneath his breath, and Ida kneeling at his side,
sighed audibly; but it was of no use, and presently the drive was
done, and there he was with one wretched French partridge to show for
it.

Ida said nothing, but she looked volumes, and if ever a man felt
humiliated, Harold Quaritch was that man. She had set her heart upon
his winning the match, and he was making an exhibition of himself that
might have caused a schoolboy to blush.

Only Edward Cossey smiled grimly as he told his bearer to give the two
and a half brace which he had shot to George.

"Last drive this next, gentlemen," said that universal functionary as
he surveyed the Colonel's one Frenchman, and then glancing sadly at
the tell-tale pile of empty cartridge cases, added, "You'll hev to
shoot up, Colonel, this time, if you are a-going to win them there
gloves for Miss Ida. Mr. Cossey hev knocked up four brace and a half,
and you hev only got a brace. Look you here, sir," he went on in a
portentous whisper, "keep forrard of them, well forrard, fire ahead,
and down they'll come of themselves like. You're a better shot than he
is a long way; you could give him 'birds,' sir, that you could, and
beat him."

Harold said nothing. He was sorely tempted to make excuses, as any man
would have been, and he might with truth have urged that he was not
accustomed to partridge-driving, and that one of the guns was new to
him. But he resisted manfully and said never a word.

George placed the two guns, and then went off to join the beaters. It
was a capital spot for a drive, for on each side were young larch
plantations, sloping down towards them like a V, the guns being at the
narrow end and level with the points of the plantations, which were at
this spot about a hundred and twenty yards apart. In front was a large
stretch of open fields, lying in such a fashion that the birds were
bound to fly straight over the guns and between the gap at the end of
the V-shaped covers.

They had to wait a long while, for the beat was of considerable
extent, and this they did in silence, till presently a couple of
single birds appeared coming down the wind like lightning, for a
stiffish breeze had sprung up. One went to the left over Edward
Cossey's head, and he shot it very neatly, but the other, catching
sight of Harold's hat beneath the fence, which was not a high one,
swerved and crossed, an almost impossible shot, nearer sixty than
fifty yards from him.

"Now," said Ida, and he fired, and to his joy down came the bird with
a thud, bounding full two feet into the air with the force of its
impact, being indeed shot through the head.

"That's better," said Ida, as she handed him the second gun.

Another moment and a covey came over, high up. He fired both barrels
and got a right and left, and snatching the second gun sent another
barrel after them, hitting a third bird, which did not fall. And then
a noble enthusiasm and certainty possessed him, and he knew that he
should miss no more. Nor did he. With two almost impossible exceptions
he dropped every bird that drive. But his crowning glory, a thing
whereof he still often dreams, was yet to come.

He had killed four brace of partridge and fired eleven times, when at
last the beaters made their appearance about two hundred yards away at
the further end of rather dirty barley stubble.

"I think that is the lot," he said; "I'm afraid you have lost your
gloves, Ida."

Scarcely were the words out of his mouth when there was a yell of
"mark!" and a strong covey of birds appeared, swooping down the wind
right on to him.

On they came, scattered and rather "stringy." Harold gripped his gun
and drew a deep breath, while Ida, kneeling at his side, her lips
apart, and her beautiful eyes wide open, watched their advent through
a space in the hedge. Lovely enough she looked to charm the heart of
any man, if a man out partridge-driving could descend to such
frivolity, which we hold to be impossible.

Now is the moment. The leading brace are something over fifty yards
away, and he knows full well that if there is to be a chance left for
the second gun he must shoot before they are five yards nearer.

"Bang!" down comes the old cock bird; "bang!" and his mate follows
him, falling with a smash into the fence.

Quick as light Ida takes the empty gun with one hand, and as he swings
round passes him the cocked and loaded one with the other. "Bang!"
Another bird topples head first out of the thinned covey. They are
nearly sixty yards away now. "Bang!" again, and oh, joy and wonder!
the last bird turns right over backwards, and falls dead as a stone
some seventy paces from the muzzle of the gun.

He had killed four birds out of a single driven covey, which as
shooters well know is a feat not often done even by the best driving
shots.

"Bravo!" said Ida, "I was sure that you could shoot if you chose."

"Yes," he answered, "it was pretty good work;" and he commenced
collecting the birds, for by this time the beaters were across the
field. They were all dead, not a runner in the lot, and there were
exactly six brace of them. Just as he picked up the last, George
arrived, followed by Edward Cossey.

"Well I niver," said the former, while something resembling a smile
stole over his melancholy countenance, "if that bean't the masterest
bit of shooting that ever I did see. Lord Walsingham couldn't hardly
beat that hisself--fifteen empty cases and twelve birds picked up.
Why," and he turned to Edward, "bless me, sir, if I don't believe the
Colonel has won them gloves for Miss Ida after all. Let's see, sir,
you got two brace this last drive and one the first, and a leash the
second, and two brace and a half the third, six and a half brace in
all. And the Colonel, yes, he hev seven brace, one bird to the good."

"There, Mr. Cossey," said Ida, smiling sweetly, "I have won my gloves.
Mind you don't forget to pay them."

"Oh, I will not forget, Miss de la Molle," said he, smiling also, but
not too prettily. "I suppose," he said, addressing the Colonel, "that
the last covey twisted up and you browned them."

"No," he answered quietly, "all four were clear shots."

Mr. Cossey smiled again, as he turned away to hide his vexation, an
incredulous smile, which somehow sent Harold Quaritch's blood leaping
through his veins more quickly than was good for him. Edward Cossey
would rather have lost a thousand pounds than that his adversary
should have got that extra bird, for not only was he a jealous shot,
but he knew perfectly well that Ida was anxious that he should lose,
and desired above all things to see him humiliated. And then he, the
smartest shot within ten miles round, to be beaten by a middle-aged
soldier shooting with a strange gun, and totally unaccustomed to
driven birds! Why, the story would be told over the county; George
would see to that. His anger was so great when he thought of it, that
afraid of making himself ridiculous, he set off with his bearer
towards the Castle without another word, leaving the others to follow.

Ida looked after him and smiled. "He is so conceited," she said; "he
cannot bear to be beaten at anything."

"I think that you are rather hard on him," said the Colonel, for the
joke had an unpleasant side which jarred upon his taste.

"At any rate," she answered, with a little stamp, "it is not for you
to say so. If you disliked him as much as I do you would be hard on
him, too. Besides, I daresay that his turn is coming."

The Colonel winced, as well he might, but looking at her handsome
face, set just now like steel at the thought of what the future might
bring forth, he reflected that if Edward Cossey's turn did come he was
by no means sure that the ultimate triumph would rest with him. Ida de
la Molle, to whatever extent her sense of honour and money
indebtedness might carry her, was no butterfly to be broken on a
wheel, but a woman whose dislike and anger, or worse still, whose
cold, unvarying disdain, was a thing from which the boldest hearted
man might shrink aghast.

Nothing more was said on the subject, and they began to talk, though
somewhat constrainedly, about indifferent matters. They were both
aware that it was a farce, and that they were playing a part, for
beneath the external ice of formalities the river of their devotion
ran strong--whither they knew not. All that had been made clear a few
nights back. But what will you have? Necessity over-riding their
desires, compelled them along the path of self-denial, and, like wise
folk, they recognised the fact: for there is nothing more painful in
the world than the outburst of hopeless affection.

And so they talked about painting and shooting and what not, till they
reached the grey old Castle towers. Here Harold wanted to bid her
good-bye, but she persuaded him to come in and have some tea, saying
that her father would like to say good-night to him.

Accordingly he went into the vestibule, where there was a light, for
it was getting dusk; and here he found the Squire and Mr. Cossey. As
soon as he entered, Edward Cossey rose, said good-night to the Squire
and Ida, and then passed towards the door, where the Colonel was
standing, rubbing the mud off his shooting boots. As he came, Harold
being slightly ashamed of the business of the shooting match, and very
sorry to have humiliated a man who prided himself so much upon his
skill in a particular branch of sport, held out his hand and said in a
friendly tone:

"Good-night, Mr. Cossey. Next time that we are out shooting together I
expect I shall be nowhere. It was an awful fluke of mine killing those
four birds."

Edward Cossey took no notice of the friendly words or outstretched
hand, but came straight on as though he intended to walk past him.

The Colonel was wondering what it was best to do, for he could not
mistake the meaning of the oversight, when the Squire, who was
sometimes very quick to notice things, spoke in a loud and decided
tone.

"Mr. Cossey," he said, "Colonel Quaritch is offering you his hand."

"I observe that he is," he answered, setting his handsome face, "but I
do not wish to take Colonel Quaritch's hand."

Then came a moment's silence, which the Squire again broke.

"When a gentleman in my house refuses to take the hand of another
gentleman," he said very quietly, "I think that I have a right to ask
the reason for his conduct, which, unless that reason is a very
sufficient one, is almost as much a slight upon me as upon him."

"I think that Colonel Quaritch must know the reason, and will not
press me to explain," said Edward Cossey.

"I know of no reason," replied the Colonel sternly, "unless indeed it
is that I have been so unfortunate as to get the best of Mr. Cossey in
a friendly shooting match."

"Colonel Quaritch must know well that this is not the reason to which
I allude," said Edward. "If he consults his conscience he will
probably discover a better one."

Ida and her father looked at each other in surprise, while the Colonel
by a half involuntary movement stepped between his accuser and the
door; and Ida noticed that his face was white with anger.

"You have made a very serious implication against me, Mr. Cossey," he
said in a cold clear voice. "Before you leave this room you will be so
good as to explain it in the presence of those before whom it has been
made."

"Certainly, if you wish it," he answered, with something like a sneer.
"The reason why I refused to take your hand, Colonel Quaritch, is that
you have been guilty of conduct which proves to me that you are not a
gentleman, and, therefore, not a person with whom I desire to be on
friendly terms. Shall I go on?"

"Most certainly you will go on," answered the Colonel.

"Very well. The conduct to which I refer is that you were once engaged
to my aunt, Julia Heston; that within three days of the time of the
marriage you deserted and jilted her in a most cruel way, as a
consequence of which she went mad, and is to this moment an inmate of
an asylum."

Ida gave an exclamation of astonishment, and the Colonel started,
while the Squire, looking at him curiously, waited to hear what he had
to say.

"It is perfectly true, Mr. Cossey," he answered, "that I was engaged
twenty years ago to be married to Miss Julia Heston, though I now for
the first time learn that she was your aunt. It is also quite true
that that engagement was broken off, under most painful circumstances,
within three days of the time fixed for the marriage. What those
circumstances were I am not at liberty to say, for the simple reason
that I gave my word not to do so; but this I will say, that they were
not to my discredit, though you may not be aware of that fact. But as
you are one of the family, Mr. Cossey, my tongue is not tied, and I
will do myself the honour of calling upon you to-morrow and explaining
them to you. After that," he added significantly, "I shall require you
to apologise to me as publicly as you have accused me."

"You may require, but whether I shall comply is another matter," said
Edward Cossey, and he passed out.

"I am very sorry, Mr. de la Molle," said the Colonel, as soon as he
had gone, "more sorry than I can say, that I should have been the
cause of this most unpleasant scene. I also feel that I am placed in a
very false position, and until I produce Mr. Cossey's written apology,
that position must to some extent continue. If I fail to obtain that
apology, I shall have to consider what course to take. In the
meanwhile I can only ask you to suspend your judgment."

CHAPTER XXIII

THE BLOW FALLS

On the following morning, about ten o'clock, while Edward Cossey was
still at breakfast, a dog-cart drew up at his door and out of it
stepped Colonel Quaritch.

"Now for the row," said he to himself. "I hope that the governor was
right in his tale, that's all. Perhaps it would have been wiser to say
nothing till I had made sure," and he poured out some more tea a
little nervously, for in the Colonel he had, he felt, an adversary not
to be despised.

Presently the door opened, and "Colonel Quaritch" was announced. He
rose and bowed a salutation, which the Colonel whose face bore a
particularly grim expression, did not return.

"Will you take a chair?" he said, as soon as the servant had left, and
without speaking Harold took one--and presently began the
conversation.

"Last night, Mr. Cossey," he said, "you thought proper to publicly
bring a charge against me, which if it were true would go a long way
towards showing that I was not a fit person to associate with those
before whom it was brought."

"Yes," said Edward coolly.

"Before making any remarks on your conduct in bringing such a charge,
which I give you credit for believing to be true, I purpose to show to
you that it is a false charge," went on the Colonel quietly. "The
story is a very simple one, and so sad that nothing short of necessity
would force me to tell it. I was, when quite young, engaged to your
aunt, Miss Heston, to whom I was much attached, and who was then
twenty years of age. Though I had little besides my profession, she
had money, and we were going to be married. The circumstances under
which the marriage was broken off were as follow:--Three days before
the wedding was to take place I went unexpectedly to the house, and
was told by the servant that Miss Heston was upstairs in her sitting-
room. I went upstairs to the room, which I knew well, knocked and got
no answer. Then I walked into the room, and this is what I saw. Your
aunt was lying on the sofa in her wedding dress (that is, in half of
it, for she had only the skirt on), as I first thought, asleep. I went
up to her, and saw that by her side was a brandy bottle, half empty.
In her hand also was a glass containing raw brandy. While I was
wondering what it could mean, she woke up, got off the sofa, and I saw
that she was intoxicated."

"It's a lie!" said Edward excitedly.

"Be careful what you say, sir," answered the Colonel, "and wait to say
it till I have done."

"As soon as I realised what was the matter, I left the room again, and
going down to your grandfather's study, where he was engaged in
writing a sermon, I asked him to come upstairs, as I feared that his
daughter was not well. He came and saw, and the sight threw him off
his balance, for he broke out into a torrent of explanations and
excuses, from which in time I extracted the following facts:--It
appeared that ever since she was a child, Miss Heston had been
addicted to drinking fits, and that it was on account of this
constitutional weakness, which was of course concealed from me, that
she had been allowed to engage herself to a penniless subaltern. It
appeared, too, that the habit was hereditary, for her mother had died
from the effects of drink, and one of her aunts had become mad from
it.

"I went away and thought the matter over, and came to the conclusion
that under these circumstances it would be impossible for me, much as
I was attached to your aunt, to marry her, because even if I were
willing to do so, I had no right to run the risk of bringing children
into the world who might inherit the curse. Having come to this
determination, which it cost me much to do, I wrote and communicated
it to your grandfather, and the marriage was broken off."

"I do not believe it, I do not believe a word of it," said Edward,
jumping up. "You jilted her and drove her mad, and now you are trying
to shelter yourself behind a tissue of falsehood."

"Are you acquainted with your grandfather's handwriting?" asked the
Colonel quietly.

"Yes."

"Is that it?" he went on, producing a yellow-looking letter and
showing it to him.

"I believe so--at least it looks like it."

"Then read the letter."

Edward obeyed. It was one written in answer to that of Harold Quaritch
to his betrothed's father, and admitted in the clearest terms the
justice of the step that he had taken. Further, it begged him for the
sake of Julia and the family at large, never to mention the cause of
his defection to any one outside the family.

"Are you satisfied, Mr. Cossey? I have other letters, if you wish to
see them."

Edward made no reply, and the Colonel went on:--"I gave the promise
your grandfather asked for, and in spite of the remarks that were
freely made upon my behaviour, I kept it, as it was my duty to do.
You, Mr. Cossey, are the first person to whom the story has been told.
And now that you have thought fit to make accusations against me,
which are without foundation, I must ask you to retract them as fully
as you made them. I have prepared a letter which you will be so good
as to sign," and he handed him a note addressed to the Squire. It ran:

"Dear Mr. de la Molle,--

"I beg in the fullest and most ample manner possible to retract the
charges which I made yesterday evening against Colonel Quaritch,
in the presence of yourself and Miss de la Molle. I find that
those charges were unfounded, and I hereby apologise to Colonel
Quaritch for having made them."

"And supposing that I refuse to sign," said Edward sulkily.

"I do not think," answered the Colonel, "that you will refuse."

Edward looked at Colonel Quaritch, and the Colonel looked at Edward.

"Well," said the Colonel, "please understand I mean that you should
sign this letter, and, indeed, seeing how absolutely you are in the
wrong, I do not think that you can hesitate to do so."

Then very slowly and unwillingly, Edward Cossey took up a pen, affixed
his signature to the letter, blotted it, and pushed it from him.

The Colonel folded it up, placed it in an envelope which he had ready,
and put it in his pocket.

"Now, Mr. Cossey," he said, "I will wish you good-morning. Another
time I should recommend you to be more careful, both of your facts and
the manner of your accusations," and with a slight bow he left the
room.

"Curse the fellow," thought Edward to himself as the front door
closed, "he had me there--I was forced to sign. Well, I will be even
with him about Ida, at any rate. I will propose to her this very day,
Belle or no Belle, and if she won't have me I will call the money in
and smash the whole thing up"--and his handsome face bore a very evil
look, as he thought of it.

That very afternoon he started in pursuance of this design, to pay a
visit to the Castle. The Squire was out, but Miss de la Molle was at
home. He was ushered into the drawing-room, where Ida was working, for
it was a wet and windy afternoon.

She rose to greet him coldly enough, and he sat down, and then came a
pause which she did not seem inclined to break.

At last he spoke. "Did the Squire get my letter, Miss de la Molle?" he
asked.

"Yes," she answered, rather icily. "Colonel Quaritch sent it up."

"I am very sorry," he added confusedly, "that I should have put myself
in such a false position. I hope that you will give me credit for
having believed my accusation when I made it."

"Such accusations should not be lightly made, Mr. Cossey," was her
answer, and, as though to turn the subject, she rose and rang the bell
for tea.

It came, and the bustle connected with it prevented any further
conversation for a while. At length, however, it subsided, and once
more Edward found himself alone with Ida. He looked at her and felt
afraid. The woman was of a different clay to himself, and he knew it--
he loved her, but he did not understand her in the least. However, if
the thing was to be done at all it must be done now, so, with a
desperate effort, he brought himself to the point.

"Miss de la Molle," he said, and Ida, knowing full surely what was
coming, felt her heart jump within her bosom and then stand still.

"Miss de la Molle," he repeated, "perhaps you will remember a
conversation that passed between us some weeks ago in the
conservatory?"

"Yes," she said, "I remember--about the money."

"About the money and other things," he said, gathering courage. "I
hinted to you then that I hoped in certain contingencies to be allowed
to make my addresses to you, and I think that you understood me."

"I understood you perfectly," answered Ida, her pale face set like
ice, "and I gave you to understand that in the event of your lending
my father the money, I should hold myself bound to--to listen to what
you had to say."

"Oh, never mind the money," broke in Edward. "It is not a question of
money with me, Ida, it is not, indeed. I love you with all my heart. I
have loved you ever since I saw you. It was because I was jealous of
him that I made a fool of myself last night with Colonel Quaritch. I
should have asked you to marry me long ago only there were obstacles
in the way. I love you, Ida; there never was a woman like you--never."

She listened with the same set face. Obviously he was in earnest, but
his earnestness did not move her; it scarcely even flattered her
pride. She disliked the man intensely, and nothing that he could say
or do would lessen that dislike by one jot--probably, indeed, it would
only intensify it.

Presently he stopped, his breast heaving and his face broken with
emotion, and tried to take her hand.

She withdrew it sharply.

"I do not think that there is any need for all this," she said coldly.
"I gave a conditional promise. You have fulfilled your share of the
bargain, and I am prepared to fulfil mine in due course."

So far as her words went, Edward could find no fault with their
meaning, and yet he felt more like a man who has been abruptly and
finally refused than one declared chosen. He stood still and looked at
her.

"I think it right to tell you, however," she went on in the same
measured tones, "that if I marry you it will be from motives of duty,
and not from motives of affection. I have no love to give you and I do
not wish for yours. I do not know if you will be satisfied with this.
If you are not, you had better give up the idea," and for the first
time she looked up at him with more anxiety in her face than she would
have cared to show.

But if she hoped that her coldness would repel him, she was destined
to be disappointed. On the contrary, like water thrown on burning oil,
it only inflamed him the more.

"The love will come, Ida," he said, and once more he tried to take her
hand.

"No, Mr. Cossey," she said, in a voice that checked him. "I am sorry
to have to speak so plainly, but till I marry I am my own mistress.
Pray understand me."

"As you like," he said, drawing back from her sulkily. "I am so fond
of you that I will marry you on any terms, and that is the truth. I
have, however, one thing to ask of you, Ida, and it is that you will
keep our engagement secret for the present, and get your father (I
suppose I must speak to him) to do the same. I have reasons," he went
on by way of explanation, "for not wishing it to become known."

"I do not see why I should keep it secret," she said; "but it does not
matter to me."

"The fact is," he explained, "my father is a very curious man, and I
doubt if he would like my engagement, because he thinks I ought to
marry a great deal of money."

"Oh, indeed," answered Ida. She had believed, as was indeed the case,
that there were other reasons not unconnected with Mrs. Quest, on
account of which he was anxious to keep the engagement secret. "By the
way," she went on, "I am sorry to have to talk of business, but this
is a business matter, is it not? I suppose it is understood that, in
the event of our marriage, the mortgage you hold over this place will
not be enforced against my father."

"Of course not," he answered. "Look here, Ida, I will give you those
mortgage bonds as a wedding present, and you can put them in the fire;
and I will make a good settlement on you."

"Thank you," she said, "but I do not require any settlement on myself;
I had rather none was made; but I consent to the engagement only on
the express condition that the mortgages shall be cancelled before
marriage, and as the property will ultimately come to me, this is not
much to ask. And now one more thing, Mr. Cossey; I should like to know
when you would wish this marriage to take place; not yet, I presume?"

"I could wish it to take place to-morrow," he said with an attempt at
a laugh; "but I suppose that between one thing and another it can't
come off at once. Shall we say this time six months, that will be in
May?"

"Very good," said Ida; "this day six months I shall be prepared to
become your wife, Mr. Cossey. I believe," she added with a flash of
bitter sarcasm, "it is the time usually allowed for the redemption of
a mortgage."

"You say very hard things," he answered, wincing.

"Do I? I daresay. I am hard by nature. I wonder that you can wish to
marry me."

"I wish it beyond everything in the world," he answered earnestly.
"You can never know how much. By the way, I know I was foolish about
Colonel Quaritch; but, Ida, I cannot bear to see that man near you. I
hope that you will now drop his acquaintance as much as possible."

Once more Ida's face set like a flint. "I am not your wife yet, Mr.
Cossey," she said; "when I am you will have a right to dictate to me
as to whom I shall associate with. At present you have no such right,
and if it pleases me to associate with Colonel Quaritch, I shall do
so. If you disapprove of my conduct, the remedy is simple--you can
break off the engagement."

He rose absolutely crushed, for Ida was by far the stronger of the
two, and besides, his passion gave her an unfair advantage over him.
Without attempting a reply he held out his hand and said good-night,
for he was afraid to venture on any demonstration of affection, adding
that he would come to see her father in the morning.

She touched his outstretched hand with her fingers, and then fearing
lest he should change his mind, promptly rang the bell.

In another minute the door had closed behind him and she was left
alone.

CHAPTER XXIV

"GOOD-BYE, MY DEAR, GOOD-BYE!"

When Edward Cossey had gone, Ida rose and put her hands to her head.
So the blow had fallen, the deed was done, and she was engaged to be
married to Edward Cossey. And Harold Quaritch! Well, there must be an
end to that. It was hard, too--only a woman could know how hard. Ida
was not a person with a long record of love affairs. Once, when she
was twenty, she had received a proposal which she had refused, and
that was all. So it happened that when she became attached to Colonel
Quaritch she had found her heart for the first time, and for a woman,
somewhat late in life. Consequently her feelings were all the more
profound, and so indeed was her grief at being forced not only to put
them away, but to give herself to another man who was not agreeable to
her. She was not a violent or ill-regulated woman like Mrs. Quest. She
looked facts in the face, recognised their meaning and bowed before
their inexorable logic. It seemed to her almost impossible that she
could hope to avoid this marriage, and if that proved to be so, she
might be relied upon to make the best of it. Scandal would, under any
circumstances, never find a word to say against Ida, for she was not a
person who could attempt to console herself for an unhappy marriage.
But it was bitter, bitter as gall, to be thus forced to turn aside
from her happiness--for she well knew that with Harold Quaritch her
life would be very happy--and fit her shoulders to this heavy yoke.
Well, she had saved the place to her father, and also to her
descendants, if she had any, and that was all that could be said.

She thought and thought, wishing in the bitterness of her heart that
she had never been born to come to such a heavy day, till at last she
could think no more. The air of the room seemed to stifle her, though
it was by no means overheated. She went to the window and looked out.
It was a wild wet evening, and the wind drove the rain before it in
sheets. In the west the lurid rays of the sinking sun stained the
clouds blood red, and broke in arrows of ominous light upon the
driving storm.

But bad as was the weather, it attracted Ida. When the heart is heavy
and torn by conflicting passions, it seems to answer to the calling of
the storm, and to long to lose its petty troubling in the turmoil of
the rushing world. Nature has many moods of which our own are but the
echo and reflection, and she can be companionable when all human
sympathy must fail. For she is our mother from whom we come, to whom
we go, and her arms are ever open to clasp the children who can hear
her voices. Drawn thereto by an impulse which she could not have
analysed, Ida went upstairs, put on a thick pair of boots, a macintosh
and an old hat. Then she sallied out into the wind and wet. It was
blowing big guns, and as the rain whirled down the drops struck upon
her face like spray. She crossed the moat bridge, and went out into
the parkland beyond. The air was full of dead leaves, and the grass
rustled with them as though it were alive, for this was the first wind
since the frost. The great boughs of the oaks rattled and groaned
above her, and high overhead, among the sullen clouds, a flight of
rooks were being blown this way and that.

Ida bent her tall form against the rain and gale, and fought her way
through them. At first she had no clear idea as to where she was
going, but presently, perhaps from custom, she took the path that ran
across the fields to Honham Church. It was a beautiful old church,
particularly as regards the tower, one of the finest in the county,
which had been partially blown down and rebuilt about the time of
Charles I. The church itself had originally been founded by the
Boissey family, and considerably enlarged by the widow of a de la
Molle, whose husband had fallen at Agincourt, "as a memorial for
ever." There, upon the porch, were carved the "hawks" of the de la
Molles, wreathed round with palms of victory; and there, too, within
the chancel, hung the warrior's helmet and his dinted shield.

Nor was he alone, for all around lay the dust of his kindred, come
after the toil and struggle of their stormy lives to rest within the
walls of that old church. Some of them had monuments of alabaster,
whereon they lay in effigy, their heads pillowed upon that of a
conquered Saracen; some had monuments of oak and brass, and some had
no monuments at all, for the Puritans had ruthlessly destroyed them.
But they were nearly all there, nearly twenty generations of the
bearers of an ancient name, for even those of them who perished on the
scaffold had been borne here for burial. The place was eloquent of the
dead and of the mournful lesson of mortality. From century to century
the bearers of that name had walked in these fields, and lived in
yonder Castle, and looked upon the familiar swell of yonder ground and
the silver flash of yonder river, and now their ashes were gathered
here and all the forgotten turmoil of their lives was lost in the
silence of those narrow tombs.

Ida loved the spot, hallowed to her not only by the altar of her
faith, but also by the human associations that clung around and
clothed it as the ivy clothed its walls. Here she had been christened,
and here among her ancestors she hoped to be buried also. Here as a
girl, when the full moon was up, she had crept in awed silence with
her brother James to look through the window at the white and solemn
figures stretched within. Here, too, she had sat on Sunday after
Sunday for more than twenty years, and stared at the quaint Latin
inscriptions cut on marble slabs, recording the almost superhuman
virtues of departed de la Molles of the eighteenth century, her own
immediate ancestors. The place was familiar to her whole life; she had
scarcely a recollection with which it was not in some way connected.
It was not wonderful, therefore, that she loved it, and that in the
trouble of her mind her feet shaped their course towards it.

Presently she was in the churchyard. Taking her stand under the
shelter of a line of Scotch firs, through which the gale sobbed and
sang, she leant against a side gate and looked. The scene was desolate
enough. Rain dropped from the roof on to the sodden graves beneath,
and ran in thin sheets down the flint facing of the tower; the dead
leaves whirled and rattled about the empty porch, and over all shot
one red and angry arrow from the sinking sun. She stood in the storm
and rain, gazing at the old church that had seen the end of so many
sorrows more bitter than her own, and the wreck of so many summers,
till the darkness began to close round her like a pall, while the wind
sung the requiem of her hopes. Ida was not of a desponding or
pessimistic character, but in that bitter hour she found it in her
heart, as most people have at one time or another in their lives, to
wish the tragedy over and the curtain down, and that she lay beneath
those dripping sods without sight or hearing, without hope or dread.
It seemed to her that the Hereafter must indeed be terrible if it
outweighs the sorrows of the Here.

And then, poor woman, she thought of the long years between her and
rest, and leaning her head against the gate-post, began to cry
bitterly in the gloom.

Presently she ceased crying and with a start looked up, feeling that
she was no longer alone. Her instincts had not deceived her, for in
the shadow of the fir trees, not more than two paces from her, was the
figure of a man. Just then he took a step to the left, which brought
his outline against the sky, and Ida's heart stood still, for now she
knew him. It was Harold Quaritch, the man over whose loss she had been
weeping.

"It's very odd," she heard him say, for she was to leeward of him,
"but I could have sworn that I heard somebody sobbing; I suppose it
was the wind."

Ida's first idea was flight, and she made a movement for that purpose,
but in doing so tripped over a stick and nearly fell.

In a minute he was by her side. She was caught, and perhaps she was
not altogether sorry, especially as she had tried to get away.

"Who is it? what's the matter?" said the Colonel, lighting a fusee
under her eyes. It was one of those flaming fusees, and burnt with a
blue light, showing Ida's tall figure and beautiful face, all stained
with grief and tears, showing her wet macintosh, and the gate-post
against which she had been leaning--showing everything.

"Why, Ida," he said in amaze, "what are you doing here, crying too?"

"I'm not crying," she said, with a sob; "it's the rain that has made
my face wet."

Just then the light burnt out and he dropped it.

"What is it, dear, what is it?" he said in great distress, for the
sight of her alone in the wet and dark, and in tears, moved him beyond
himself. Indeed he would have been no man if it had not.

She tried to answer, but she could not, and in another minute, to tell
the honest truth, she had exchanged the gate-post for Harold's broad
shoulder, and was finishing her "cry" there.

Now to see a young and pretty woman weeping (more especially if she
happens to be weeping on your shoulder) is a very trying thing. It is
trying even if you do not happen to be in love with her at all. But if
you are in love with her, however little, it is dreadful; whereas, if,
as in the present case, you happen to worship her, more, perhaps, than
it is good to worship any fallible human creature, then the sight is
positively overpowering. And so, indeed, it proved in the present
instance. The Colonel could not bear it, but lifting her head from his
shoulder, he kissed her sweet face again and again.

"What is it, darling?" he said, "what is the matter?"

"Leave go of me and I will tell you," she answered.

He obeyed, though with some unwillingness.

She hunted for her handkerchief and wiped her eyes, and then at last
she spoke:

"I am engaged to be married," she said in a low voice, "I am engaged
to Mr. Cossey."

Then, for about the first time in his life, Harold Quaritch swore
violently in the presence of a lady.

"Oh, damn it all!" he said.

She took no notice of the strength of the language, perhaps indeed she
re-echoed it in some feminine equivalent.

"It is true," she said with a sigh. "I knew that it would come, those
dreadful things always do--and it was not my fault--I am sure you will
always remember that. I had to do it--he advanced the money on the
express condition, and even if I could pay back the money, I suppose
that I should be bound to carry out the bargain. It is not the money
which he wants but his bond."

"Curse him for a Shylock," said Harold again, and groaned in his
bitterness and jealousy.

"Is there nothing to be done?" he asked presently in a harsh voice,
for he was very hard hit.

"Nothing," she answered sadly. "I do not see what can help us, unless
the man died," she said; "and that is not likely. Harold," she went
on, addressing him for the first time in her life by his Christian
name, for she felt that after crying upon a man's shoulder it is
ridiculous to scruple about calling him by his name; "Harold, there is
no help for it. I did it myself, remember, because, as I told you, I
do not think that any one woman has a right to place her individual
happiness before the welfare of her family. And I am only sorry," she
added, her voice breaking a little, "that what I have done should
bring suffering upon you."

He groaned again, but said nothing.

"We must try to forget," she went on wildly. "Oh no! no! I feel it is
not possible that we should forget. You won't forget me, Harold, will
you? And though it must be all over between us, and we must never
speak like this again--never--you will always know I have not
forgotten you, will you not, but that I think of you always?"

"There is no fear of my forgetting," he said, "and I am selfish enough
to hope that you will think of me at times, Ida."

"Yes, indeed I will. We all have our burdens to bear. It is a hard
world, and we must bear them. And it will all be the same in the end,
in just a few years. I daresay these dead people here have felt as we
feel, and how quiet they are! And perhaps there may be something
beyond, where things are not so. Who can say? You won't go away from
this place, Harold, will you? Not until I am married at any rate;
perhaps you had better go then. Say that you won't go till then, and
you will let me see you sometimes; it is a comfort to see you."

"I should have gone, certainly," he said; "to New Zealand probably,
but if you wish it I will stop for the present."

"Thank you; and now good-bye, my dear, good-bye! No, don't come with
me, I can find my own way home. And--why do you wait? Good-bye, good-
bye for ever in this way. Yes, kiss me once and swear that you will
never forget me. Marry if you wish to; but don't forget me, Harold.
Forgive me for speaking so plainly, but I speak as one about to die to
you, and I wish things to be clear."

"I shall never marry and I shall never forget you," he answered.
"Good-bye, my love, good-bye!"

In another minute she had vanished into the storm and rain, out of his
sight and out of his life, but not out of his heart.

He, too, turned and went his way into the wild and lonely night.

An hour afterwards Ida came down into the drawing-room dressed for
dinner, looking rather pale but otherwise quite herself. Presently the
Squire arrived. He had been at a magistrate's meeting, and had only
just got home.

"Why, Ida," he said, "I could not find you anywhere. I met George as I
was driving from Boisingham, and he told me that he saw you walking
through the park."

"Did he?" she answered indifferently. "Yes, I have been out. It was so
stuffy indoors. Father," she went on, with a change of tone, "I have
something to tell you. I am engaged to be married."

He looked at her curiously, and then said quietly--the Squire was
always quiet in any matter of real emergency--"Indeed, my dear! That
is a serious matter. However, speaking off-hand, I think that
notwithstanding the disparity of age, Quaritch----"

"No, no," she said, wincing visibly, "I am not engaged to Colonel
Quaritch, I am engaged to Mr. Cossey."

"Oh," he said, "oh, indeed! I thought from what I saw, that--that----"

At this moment the servant announced dinner.

"Well, never mind about it now, father," she said; "I am tired and
want my dinner. Mr. Cossey is coming to see you to-morrow, and we can
talk about it afterwards."

And though the Squire thought a good deal, he made no further allusion
to the subject that night.

CHAPTER XXV

THE SQUIRE GIVES HIS CONSENT

Edward Cossey did not come away from the scene of his engagement in a
very happy or triumphant tone of mind. Ida's bitter words stung like
whips, and he understood, and she clearly meant he should understand,
that it was only in consideration of the money advanced that she had
consented to become his wife. Now, however satisfactory it is to be
rich enough to purchase your heart's desire in this fashion, it is not
altogether soothing to the pride of a nineteenth-century man to be
continually haunted by the thought that he is a buyer in the market
and nothing but a buyer. Of course, he saw clearly enough that there
was an object in all this--he saw that Ida, by making obvious her
dislike, wished to disgust him with his bargain, and escape from an
alliance of which the prospect was hateful to her. But he had no
intention of being so easily discouraged. In the first place his
passion for the woman was as a devouring flame, eating ever at his
heart. In that at any rate he was sincere; he did love her so far as
his nature was capable of love, or at any rate he had the keenest
desire to make her his wife. A delicate-minded man would probably have
shrunken from forcing himself upon a woman under parallel
circumstances; but Edward Cossey did not happen to fall into that
category. As a matter of fact such men are not as common as they might
be.

Another thing which he took into account was that Ida would probably
get over her dislike. He was a close observer of women, in a cynical
and half contemptuous way, and he remarked, or thought that he
remarked, a curious tendency among them to submit with comparative
complacency to the inevitable whenever it happened to coincide with
their material advantage. Women, he argued, have not, as a class,
outgrown the traditions of their primitive condition when their
partners for life were chosen for them by lot or the chance of battle.
They still recognise the claims of the wealthiest or strongest, and
their love of luxury and ease is so keen that if the nest they lie in
is only soft enough, they will not grieve long over the fact that it
was not of their own choosing. Arguing from these untrustworthy
premises, he came to the conclusion that Ida would soon get over her
repugnance to marrying him, when she found how many comforts and good
things marriage with so rich a man would place at her disposal, and
would, if for no other reason, learn to look on him with affection and
gratitude as the author of her gilded ease. And so indeed she might
have done had she been of another and more common stamp. But,
unfortunately for his reasoning, there exist members of her sex who
are by nature of an order of mind superior to these considerations,
and who realise that they have but one life to live, and that the
highest form of happiness is /not/ dependent upon money or money's
worth, but rather upon the indulgence of mental aspirations and those
affections which, when genuine, draw nearer to holiness than anything
else about us. Such a woman, more especially if she is already
possessed with an affection for another man, does not easily become
reconciled to a distasteful lot, however quietly she may endure it,
and such a woman was Ida de la Molle.

Edward Cossey, when he reached Boisingham on the evening of his
engagement, at once wrote and posted a note to the Squire, saying that
he would call on the following morning about a matter of business.
Accordingly, at half-past ten o'clock, he arrived and was shown into
the vestibule, where he found the old gentleman standing with his back
to the fire and plunged in reflection.

"Well, Mr. de la Molle," said Edward, rather nervously, so soon as he
had shaken hands, "I do not know if Ida has spoken to you about what
took place between us yesterday."

"Yes," he said, "yes, she told me something to the effect that she had
accepted a proposal of marriage from you, subject to my consent, of
course; but really the whole thing is so sudden that I have hardly had
time to consider it."

"It is very simple," said Edward; "I am deeply attached to your
daughter, and I have been so fortunate as to be accepted by her.
Should you give your consent to the marriage, I may as well say at
once that I wish to carry out the most liberal money arrangements in
my power. I will make Ida a present of the mortgage that I hold over
this property, and she may put it in the fire. Further, I will
covenant on the death of my father, which cannot now be long delayed,
to settle two hundred thousand pounds upon her absolutely. Also, I am
prepared to agree that if we have a son, and he should wish to do so,
he shall take the name of de la Molle."

"I am sure," said the Squire, turning round to hide his natural
gratification at these proposals, "your offers on the subject of
settlements are of a most liberal order, and of course so far as I am
concerned, Ida will have this place, which may one day be again more
valuable than it is now."

"I am glad that they meet with your approval," said Edward; "and now
there is one more thing I want to ask you, Mr. de la Molle, and which
I hope, if you give your consent to the marriage, you will not raise
any objection to. It is, that our engagement should not be announced
at present. The fact is," he went on hurriedly, "my father is a very
peculiar man, and has a great idea of my marrying somebody with a
large fortune. Also his state of health is so uncertain that there is
no possibility of knowing how he will take anything. Indeed he is
dying; the doctors told me that he might go off any day, and that he
cannot last for another three months. If the engagement is announced
to him now, at the best I shall have a great deal of trouble, and at
the worst he might make me suffer in his will, should he happen to
take a fancy against it."

"Umph," said the Squire, "I don't quite like the idea of a projected
marriage with my daughter, Miss de la Molle of Honham Castle, being
hushed up as though there were something discreditable about it, but
still there may be peculiar circumstances in the case which would
justify me in consenting to that course. You are both old enough to
know your own minds, and the match would be as advantageous for you as
it could be to us, for even now-a-days, family, and I may even say
personal appearance, still go for something where matrimony is
concerned. I have reason to know that your father is a peculiar man,
very peculiar. Yes, on the whole, though I don't like hole and corner
affairs, I shall have no objection to the engagement not being
announced for the next month or two."

"Thank you for considering me so much," said Edward with a sigh of
relief. "Then am I to understand that you give your consent to our
engagement?"

The Squire reflected for a moment. Everything seemed quite straight,
and yet he suspected crookedness. His latent distrust of the man,
which had not been decreased by the scene of two nights before--for he
never could bring himself to like Edward Cossey--arose in force and
made him hesitate when there was no visible ground for hesitation. He
possessed, as has been said, an instinctive insight into character
that was almost feminine in its intensity, and it was lifting a
warning finger before him now.

"I don't quite know what to say," he replied at length. "The whole
affair is so sudden--and to tell you the truth, I thought that Ida had
bestowed her affections in another direction."

Edward's face darkened. "I thought so too," he answered, "until
yesterday, when I was so happy as to be undeceived. I ought to tell
you, by the way," he went on, running away from the covert falsehood
in his last words as quickly as he could, "how much I regret I was the
cause of that scene with Colonel Quaritch, more especially as I find
that there is an explanation of the story against him. The fact is, I
was foolish enough to be vexed because he beat me out shooting, and
also because, well I--I was jealous of him."

"Ah, yes," said the Squire, rather coldly, "a most unfortunate affair.
Of course, I don't know what the particulars of the matter were, and
it is no business of mine, but speaking generally, I should say never
bring an accusation of that sort against a man at all unless you are
driven to it, and if you do bring it be quite certain of your ground.
However, that is neither here nor there. Well, about this engagement.
Ida is old enough to judge for herself, and seems to have made up her
mind, so as I know no reason to the contrary, and as the business
arrangements proposed are all that I could wish, I cannot see that I
have any ground for withholding my consent. So all I can say, sir, is
that I hope you will make my daughter a good husband, and that you
will both be happy. Ida is a high-spirited woman; but in my opinion
she is greatly above the average of her sex, as I have known it, and
provided you have her affection, and don't attempt to drive her, she
will go through thick and thin for you. But I dare say you would like
to see her. Oh, by the way, I forgot, she has got a headache this
morning, and is stopping in bed. It isn't much in her line, but I
daresay that she is a little upset. Perhaps you would like to come up
to dinner to-night?"

This proposition Edward, knowing full well that Ida's headache was a
device to rid herself of the necessity of seeing him, accepted with
gratitude and went.

As soon as he had gone, Ida herself came down.

"Well, my dear," said the Squire cheerfully, "I have just had the
pleasure of seeing Edward Cossey, and I have told him that, as you
seemed to wish it----"

Here Ida made a movement of impatience, but remembered herself and
said nothing.

"That as you seemed to wish that things should be so, I had no ground
of objection to your engagement. I may as well tell you that the
proposals which he makes as regards settlements are of the most
liberal nature."

"Are they?" answered Ida indifferently. "Is Mr. Cossey coming here to
dinner?"

"Yes, I asked him. I thought that you would like to see him."

"Well, then, I wish you had not," she answered with animation,
"because there is nothing to eat except some cold beef. Really,
father, it is very thoughtless of you;" and she stamped her foot and
went off in a huff, leaving the Squire full of reflection.

"I wonder what it all means," he said to himself. "She can't care
about the man much or she would not make that fuss about his being
asked to dinner. Ida isn't the sort of woman to be caught by the
money, I should think. Well, I know nothing about it; it is no affair
of mine, and I can only take things as I find them."

And then he fell to reflecting that this marriage would be an
extraordinary stroke of luck for the family. Here they were at the
last gasp, mortgaged up the eyes, when suddenly fortune, in the shape
of an, on the whole, perfectly unobjectionable young man, appears,
takes up the mortgages, proposes settlements to the tune of hundreds
of thousands, and even offers to perpetuate the old family name in the
person of his son, should he have one. Such a state of affairs could
not but be gratifying to any man, however unworldly, and the Squire
was not altogether unworldly. That is, he had a keen sense of the
dignity of his social position and his family, and it had all his life
been his chief and laudable desire to be sufficiently provided with
the goods of this world to raise the de la Molles to the position
which they had occupied in former centuries. Hitherto, however, the
tendency of events had been all the other way--the house was a sinking
one, and but the other day its ancient roof had nearly fallen about
their ears. But now the prospect changed as though by magic. On Ida's
marriage all the mortgages, those heavy accumulations of years of
growing expenditure and narrowing means, would roll off the back of
the estate, and the de la Molles of Honham Castle would once more take
the place in the county to which they were undoubtedly entitled.

It is not wonderful that the prospect proved a pleasing one to him, or
that his head was filled with visions of splendours to come.

As it chanced, on that very morning it was necessary for Mr. Quest to
pay the old gentleman a visit in order to obtain his signature to a
lease of a bakery in Boisingham, which, together with two or three
other houses, belonged to the estate.

He arrived just as the Squire was in the full flow of his meditations,
and it would not have needed a man of Mr. Quest's penetration and
powers of observation to discover that he had something on his mind
which he was longing for an opportunity to talk about.

The Squire signed the lease without paying the slightest attention to
Mr. Quest's explanations, and then suddenly asked him when the first
interest on the recently-effected mortgages came due.

The lawyer mentioned a certain date.

"Ah," said the Squire, "then it will have to be met; but it does not
matter, it will be for the last time."

Mr. Quest pricked up his ears and looked at him.

"The fact is, Quest," he went on by way of explanation, "that there
are--well--family arrangements pending which will put an end to these
embarrassments in a natural and a proper way."

"Indeed," said Mr. Quest, "I am very glad to hear it."

"Yes, yes," said the Squire, "unfortunately I am under some restraints
in speaking about the matter at present, or I should like to ask your
opinion, for which as you know I have a great respect. Really, though,
I do not know why I should not consult my lawyer on a matter of
business; I only consented not to trumpet the thing about."

"Lawyers are confidential agents," said Mr. Quest quietly.

"Of course they are. Of course, and it is their business to hold their
tongues. I may rely upon your discretion, may I not?"

"Certainly," said Mr. Quest.

"Well, the matter is this: Mr. Edward Cossey is engaged to Miss de la
Molle. He has just been here to obtain my consent, which, of course, I
have not withheld, as I know nothing against the young man--nothing at
all. The only stipulation that he made is, as I think, a reasonable
one under the circumstances, namely, that the engagement is to be kept
quiet for a little while on account of the condition of his father's
health. He says that he is an unreasonable man, and that he might take
a prejudice against it."

During this announcement Mr. Quest had remained perfectly quiet, his
face showing no signs of excitement, only his eyes shone with a
curious light.

"Indeed," he said, "this is very interesting news."

"Yes," said the Squire. "That is what I meant by saying that there
would be no necessity to make any arrangements as to the future
payment of interest, for Cossey has informed me that he proposes to
put the mortgage bonds in the fire before his marriage."

"Indeed," said Mr. Quest; "well, he could hardly do less, could he?
Altogether, I think you ought to be congratulated, Mr. de la Molle. It
is not often that a man gets such a chance of clearing the
encumbrances off a property. And now I am very sorry, but I must be
getting home, as I promised my wife to be back for luncheon. As the
thing is to be kept quiet, I suppose that it would be premature for me
to offer my good wishes to Miss de la Molle."

"Yes, yes, don't say anything about it at present. Well, good-bye."

CHAPTER XXVI

BELLE PAYS A VISIT

Mr. Quest got into his dog-cart and drove homewards, full of feelings
which it would be difficult to describe.

The hour of his revenge was come. He had played his cards and he had
won the game, and fortune with it, for his enemy lay in the hollow of
his hand. He looked behind him at the proud towers of the Castle,
reflecting as he did so, that in all probability they would belong to
him before another year was over his head. At one time he had
earnestly longed to possess this place, but now this was not so much
the object of his desire. What he wanted now was the money. With
thirty thousand pounds in his hand he would, together with what he
had, be a rich man, and he had already laid his plans for the future.
Of Edith he had heard nothing lately. She was cowed, but he well knew
that it was only for a while. By-and-by her rapacity would get the
better of her fear and she would recommence her persecutions. This
being so, he came to a determination--he would put the world between
them. Once let him have this money in his hand and he would start his
life afresh in some new country; he was not too old for it, and he
would be a rich man, and then perhaps he might get rid of the cares
which had rendered so much of his existence valueless. If Belle would
go with him, well and good--if not, he could not help it. If she did
go, there must be a reconciliation first, for he could not any longer
tolerate the life they lived.

In due course he reached the Oaks and went in. Luncheon was on the
table, at which Belle was sitting. She was, as usual, dressed in
black, and beautiful to look on; but her round babyish face was pale
and pinched, and there were black lines beneath her eyes.

"I did not know that you were coming back to luncheon," she said; "I
am afraid there is not much to eat."

"Yes," he said, "I finished my business up at the Castle, so I thought
I might as well come home. By-the-by, Belle, I have a bit of news for
you."

"What is it?" she asked, looking up sharply, for something in his tone
attracted her attention and awoke her fears.

"Your friend, Edward Cossey, is going to be married to Ida de la
Molle."

She blanched till she looked like death itself, and put her hands to
her heart as though she had been stabbed.

"The Squire told me so himself," he went on, keeping his eyes
remorselessly fixed upon her face. She leaned forward and he thought
that she was going to faint, but she did not. By a supreme effort she
recovered herself and drank a glass of sherry which was standing by
her side.

"I expected it," she said in a low voice.

"You mean that you dreaded it," answered Mr. Quest quietly. He rose
and locked the door and then came and stood close to her and spoke.

"Listen, Belle. I know all about your affair with Edward Cossey. I
have proofs of it, but I have forborne to use them, because I saw that
in the end he would weary of you and desert you for some other woman,
and that would be my best revenge upon you. You have all along been
nothing but his toy, the light woman with whom he amused his leisure
hours."

She put her hands back over her heart but said no word and he went on.

"Belle, I did wrong to marry you when you did not want to marry me,
but, being married, you have done wrong to be unfaithful to your vows.
I have been rewarded by your infidelity, and your infidelity has been
rewarded by desertion. Now I have a proposal to make, and if you are
wise you will accept it. Let us set the one wrong against the other;
let both be forgotten. Forgive me, and I will forgive you, and let us
make peace--if not now, then in a little while, when your heart is not
so sore--and go right away from Edward Cossey and Ida de la Molle and
Honham and Boisingham, into some new part of the world where we can
begin life again and try to forget the past."

She looked up at him and shook her head mournfully, and twice she
tried to speak and twice she failed. The third time her words came.

"You do not understand me," she said. "You are very kind and I am very
grateful to you, but you do not understand me. I cannot get over
things so easily as I know most women can; what I have done I never
can undo. I do not blame him altogether, it was as much or more my
fault than his, but having once loved him I cannot go back to you or
any other man. If you like I will go on living with you as we live,
and I will try to make you comfortable, but I can say no more."

"Think again, Belle," he said almost pleadingly; "I daresay that you
have never given me credit for much tenderness of heart, and I know
that you have as much against me as I have against you. But I have
always loved you, and I love you now, really and truly love you, and I
will make you a good husband if you will let me."

"You are very good," she said, "but it cannot be. Get rid of me if you
like and marry somebody else. I am ready to take the penalty of what I
have done."

"Once more, Belle, I beg you to consider. Do you know what kind of man
this is for whom you are giving up your life? Not only has he deserted
you, but do you know how he has got hold of Ida de la Molle? He has,
as I know well, /bought/ her. I tell you he has bought her as much as
though he had gone into the open market and paid down a price for her.
The other day Cossey and Son were going to foreclose upon the Honham
estates, which would have ruined the old gentleman. Well, what did
your young man do? He went to the girl--who hates him, by the way, and
is in love with Colonel Quaritch--and said to her, 'If you will
promise to marry me when I ask you, I will find the thirty thousand
pounds and take up the mortgages.' And on those terms she agreed to
marry him. And now he has got rid of you and he claims her promise.
There is the history. I wonder that your pride will bear such a thing.
By heaven, I would kill the man."

She looked up at him curiously. "Would you?" she said. "It is not a
bad idea. I dare say it is all true. He is worthless. Why does one
fall in love with worthless people? Well, there is an end of it; or a
beginning of the end. As I have sown, so must I reap;" and she got up,
and unlocking the door left the room.

"Yes," he said aloud when she had gone, "there is a beginning of the
end. Upon my word, what between one thing and another, unlucky devil
as I am, I had rather stand in my own shoes than in Edward Cossey's."

Belle went to her room and sat thinking, or rather brooding, sullenly.
Then she put on her bonnet and cloak and started out, taking the road
that ran past Honham Castle. She had not gone a hundred yards before
she found herself face to face with Edward Cossey himself. He was
coming out of a gunsmith's shop, where he had been ordering some
cartridges.

"How do you do, Belle?" he said, colouring and lifting his hat.

"How do you do, Mr. Cossey?" she answered, coming to a stop and
looking him straight in the face.

"Where are you going?" he asked, not knowing what to say.

"I am going to walk up to the Castle to call on Miss de la Molle."

"I don't think that you will find her. She is in bed with a headache."

"Oh! So you have been up there this morning?"

"Yes, I had to see the Squire about some business."

"Indeed." Then looking him in the eyes again, "Are you engaged to be
married to Ida?"

He coloured once more, he could not prevent himself from doing so.

"No," he answered; "what makes you ask such a question?"

"I don't know," she said, laughing a little; "feminine curiosity I
suppose. I thought that you might be. Good-bye," and she went on,
leaving Edward Cossey to the enjoyment of a very peculiar set of
sensations.

"What a coward!" said Belle to herself. "He does not even dare to tell
me the truth."

Nearly an hour later she arrived at the Castle, and, asking for Ida,
was shown into the drawing-room, where she found her sitting with a
book in her hand.

Ida rose to greet her in friendly fashion, for the two women, although
they were at the opposite poles of character, had a liking for each
other. In a way they were both strong, and strength always recognises
and respects strength.

"Have you walked up?" asked Ida.

"Yes, I came on the chance of finding you. I want to speak to you."

"Yes," said Ida, "what is it?"

"This. Forgive me, but are you engaged to be married to Edward
Cossey?"

Ida looked at her in a slow, stately way, which seemed to ask by what
right she came to question her. At least, so Belle read it.

"I know that I have no right to ask such a question," she said, with
humility, "and, of course, you need not answer it, but I have a reason
for asking."

"Well," said Ida, "I was requested by Mr. Cossey to keep the matter
secret, but he appears to have divulged it. Yes, I am engaged to be
married to him."

Belle's beautiful face turned a shade paler, if that was possible, and
her eyes hardened.

"Do you wonder why I ask you this?" she said. "I will tell you, though
probably when I have done so you will never speak to me again. I am
Edward Cossey's discarded mistress," and she laughed bitterly enough.

Ida shrank a little and coloured, as a pure and high-minded woman
naturally does when she is for the first time suddenly brought into
actual contact with impurity and passion.

"I know," went on Belle, "that I must seem a shameful thing to you;
but, Miss de la Molle, good and cold and stately as you are, pray God
that you may never be thrown into temptation; pray God that you may
never be married almost by force to a man whom you hate, and then
suddenly learn what a thing it is to fall in love, and for the first
time feel your life awake."

"Hush," said Ida gently, "what right have I to judge you?"

"I loved him," went on Belle, "I loved him passionately, and for a
while it was as though heaven had opened its gates, for he used to
care for me a little, and I think he would have taken me away and
married me afterwards, but I would not hear of it, because I knew that
it would ruin him. He offered to, once, and I refused, and within
three hours of that I believe he was bargaining for you. Well, and
then it was the old story, he fell more and more in love with you and
of course I had no hold upon him."

"Yes," said Ida, moving impatiently, "but why do you tell me all this?
It is very painful and I had rather not hear it."

"Why do I tell you? I tell you because I do not wish you to marry
Edward Cossey. I tell you because I wish /him/ to feel a little of
what /I/ have to feel, and because I have said that he should /not/
marry you."

"I wish that you could prevent it," said Ida, with a sudden outburst.
"I am sure you are quite welcome to Mr. Cossey so far as I am
concerned, for I detest him, and I cannot imagine how any woman could
ever have done otherwise."

"Thank you," said Belle; "but I have done with Mr. Cossey, and I think
I hate him too. I know that I did hate him when I met him in the
street just now and he told me that he was not engaged to you. You say
that you detest him, why then do you marry him--you are a free woman?"

"Do you want to know?" said Ida, wheeling round and looking her
visitor full in the face. "I am going to marry him for the same reason
that you say caused you to marry--because I /must/. I am going to
marry him because he lent us money on condition that I promised to
marry him, and as I have taken the money, I must give him his price,
even if it breaks my heart. You think that you are wretched; how do
you know that I am not fifty times as wretched? Your lot is to lose
your lover, mine is to have one forced upon me and endure him all my
life. The worst of your pain is over, all mine is to come."

"Why? why?" broke in Belle. "What is such a promise as that? He cannot
force you to marry him, and it is better for a woman to die than to
marry a man she hates, especially," she added meaningly, "if she
happens to care for somebody else. Be advised by me, I know what it
is."

"Yes," said Ida, "perhaps it is better to die, but death is not so
easy. As for the promise, you do not seem to understand that no
gentleman or lady can break a promise in consideration of which money
has been received. Whatever he has done, and whatever he is, I /must/
marry Mr. Cossey, so I do not think that we need discuss the subject
any more."

Belle sat silent for a minute or more, and then rising said that she
must go. "I have warned you," she added, "although to warn you I am
forced to put myself at your mercy. You can tell the story and destroy
me if you like. I do not much care if you do. Women such as I grow
reckless."

"You must understand me very little, Mrs. Quest" (it had always been
Belle before, and she winced at the changed name), "if you think me
capable of such conduct. You have nothing to fear from me."

She held out her hand, but in her humility and shame, Belle went
without taking it, and through the angry sunset light walked slowly
back to Boisingham. And as she walked there was a look upon her face
that Edward Cossey would scarcely have cared to see.

CHAPTER XXVII

MR. QUEST HAS HIS INNINGS

All that afternoon and far into the evening Mr. Quest was employed in
drafting, and with his own hand engrossing on parchment certain deeds,
for the proper execution of which he seemed to find constant reference
necessary to a tin box of papers labelled "Honham Castle Estates."

By eleven that night everything was finished, and having carefully
collected and docketed his papers, he put the tin box away and went
home to bed.

Next morning, about ten o'clock, Edward Cossey was sitting at
breakfast in no happy frame of mind. He had gone up to the Castle to
dinner on the previous evening, but it cannot be said that he had
enjoyed himself. Ida was there, looking very handsome in her evening
dress, but she was cold as a stone and unapproachable as a statue. She
scarcely spoke to him, indeed, except in answer to some direct remark,
reserving all her conversation for her father, who seemed to have
caught the contagion of restraint, and was, for him, unusually silent
and depressed.

But once or twice he found her looking at him, and then there was upon
her face a mingled expression of contempt and irresistible aversion
which chilled him to the marrow.

These qualities were indeed so much more plainly developed towards
himself than they had been before, that at last a conviction which he
at first rejected as incredible forced itself into his mind. This
conviction was, that Belle had disbelieved his denial of the
engagement, and in her eagerness for revenge, must have told Ida the
whole story. The thought made him feel faint. Well, there was but one
thing to be done--face it out.

Once when the Squire's back was turned he had ventured to attempt some
little verbal tenderness in which the word "dear" occurred, but Ida
did not seem to hear it and looked straight over his head into space.
This he felt was trying. So trying did he find the whole entertainment
indeed that about half-past nine he rose and came away, saying that he
had received some bank papers which must be attended to that night.

Now most men would in all human probability have been dismayed by this
state of affairs into relinquishing an attempt at matrimony which it
was evident could only be carried through in the face of the quiet but
none the less vigorous dislike and contempt of the other contracting
party. But this was not so with Edward Cossey. Ida's coldness excited
upon his tenacious and obstinate mind much the same effect that may be
supposed to be produced upon the benighted seeker for the North Pole
by the sight of a frozen ocean of icebergs. Like the explorer he was
convinced that if once he could get over those cold heights he would
find a smiling sunny land beyond and perchance many other delights,
and like the explorer again, he was, metaphorically, ready to die in
the effort. For he loved her more every day, till now his passion
dominated his physical being and his mental judgment, so that whatever
loss was entailed, and whatever obstacles arose, he was determined to
endure and overcome them if by so doing he might gain his end.

He was reflecting upon all this on the morning in question when Mr.
Quest, looking very cool, composed and gentlemanlike, was shown into
his room, much as Colonel Quaritch had been shown in two mornings
before.

"How do you do, Quest?" he said, in a from high to low tone, which he
was in the habit of adopting towards his official subordinates. "Sit
down. What is it?"

"It is some business, Mr. Cossey," the lawyer answered in his usual
quiet tones.

"Honham Castle mortgages again, I suppose," he growled. "I only hope
you don't want any more money on that account at present, that's all;
because I can't raise another cent while my father lives. They don't
entail cash and bank shares, you know, and though my credit's pretty
good I am not far from the bottom of it."

"Well," said Mr. Quest, with a faint smile, "it has to do with the
Honham Castle mortgages; but as I have a good deal to say, perhaps we
had better wait till the things are cleared."

"All right. Just ring the bell, will you, and take a cigarette?"

Mr. Quest smiled again and rang the bell, but did not take the
cigarette. When the breakfast things had been removed he took a chair,
and placing it on the further side of the table in such a position
that the light, which was to his back, struck full upon Edward
Cossey's face, began to deliberately untie and sort his bundle of
papers. Presently he came to the one he wanted--a letter. It was not
an original letter, but a copy. "Will you kindly read this, Mr.
Cossey?" he said quietly, as he pushed the letter towards him across
the table.

Edward finished lighting his cigarette, then took the letter up and
glanced at it carelessly. At sight of the first line his expression
changed to one of absolute horror, his face blanched, the perspiration
sprang out upon his forehead, and the cigarette dropped from his
fingers to the carpet, where it lay smouldering. Nor was this
wonderful, for the letter was a copy of one of Belle's most passionate
epistles to himself. He had never been able to restrain her from
writing these compromising letters. Indeed, this one was the very same
that some little time before Mr. Quest had abstracted from the pocket
of Mr. Cossey's lounging coat in the room in London.

He read on for a little way and then put the letter down upon the
table. There was no need for him to go further, it was all in the same
strain.

"You will observe, Mr. Cossey, that this is a copy," said Mr. Quest,
"but if you like you can inspect the original document."

He made no answer.

"Now," went on Mr. Quest, handing him a second paper, "here is the
copy of another letter, of which the original is in your handwriting."

Edward looked at it. It was an intercepted letter of his own, dated
about a year before, and its contents, though not of so passionate a
nature as the other, were of a sufficiently incriminating character.

He put it down upon the table by the side of the first and waited for
Mr. Quest to go on.

"I have other evidence," said his visitor presently, "but you are
probably sufficiently versed in such matters to know that these
letters alone are almost enough for my purpose. That purpose is to
commence a suit for divorce against my wife, in which you will, of
course, in accordance with the provisions of the Act, be joined as
co-respondent. Indeed, I have already drawn up a letter of instruction
to my London agents directing them to take the preliminary steps," and
he pushed a third paper towards him.

Edward Cossey turned his back to his tormentor and resting his head
upon his hand tried to think.

"Mr. Quest," he said presently in a hoarse voice, "without admitting
anything, there are reasons which would make it ruinous to me if such
an action were commenced at present."

"Yes," he answered, "there are. In the first place there is no knowing
in what light your father would look on the matter and how his view of
it would affect your future interests. In the second your engagement
to Miss de la Molle, upon which you are strongly set, would certainly
be broken off."

"How do you know that I am engaged?" asked Edward in surprise.

"It does not matter how I know it," said the lawyer, "I do know it, so
it will be useless for you to deny it. As you remark, this suit will
probably be your ruin in every way, and therefore it is, as you will
easily understand, a good moment for a man who wants his revenge to
choose to bring it."

"Without admitting anything," answered Edward Cossey, "I wish to ask
you a question. Is there no way out of this? Supposing that I have
done you a wrong, wrong admits of compensation."

"Yes, it does, Mr. Cossey, and I have thought of that. Everybody has
his price in this world and I have mine; but the compensation for such
a wrong must be a heavy one."

"At what price will you agree to stay the action for ever?" he asked.

"The price that I will take to stay the action is the transfer into my
name of the mortgages you hold over the Honham Castle Estates,"
answered Mr. Quest quietly.

"Great heavens!" said Edward, "why that is a matter of thirty thousand
pounds."

"I know it is, and I know also that it is worth your while to pay
thirty thousand pounds to save yourself from the scandal, the chance
of disinheritance, and the certainty of the loss of the woman whom you
want to marry. So well do I know it that I have prepared the necessary
deeds for your signature, and here they are. Listen, sir," he went on
sternly; "refuse to accept my terms and by to-night's post I shall
send this letter of instructions. Also I shall send to Mr. Cossey,
Senior, and to Mr. de la Molle copies of these two precious epistles,"
and he pointed to the incriminating documents, "together with a copy
of the letter to my agents; and where will you be then? Consent, and I
will bind myself not to proceed in any way or form. Now, make your
choice."

"But I cannot; even if I will, I cannot," said he, almost wringing his
hands in his perplexity. "It was on condition of my taking up those
mortgages that Ida consented to become engaged to me, and I have
promised that I will cancel them on our wedding. Will you not take
money instead?"

"Yes," answered Mr. Quest, "I would take money. A little time ago I
would not have taken it because I wanted that property; now I have
changed my ideas. But as you yourself said, your credit is strained to
the utmost, and while your father is alive you will not find it
possible to raise another thirty thousand pounds. Besides, if this
matter is to be settled at all it must be settled at once. I will not
wait while you make attempts to raise the money."

"But about the mortgages? I promised to keep them. What shall I say to
Ida?"

"Say? Say nothing. You can meet them if you choose after your father's
death. Refuse if you like, but if you refuse you will be mad. Thirty
thousand pounds will be nothing to you, but exposure will be ruin.
Have you made up your mind? You must take my offer or leave it. Sign
the documents and I will put the originals of those two letters into
your hands; refuse and I will take my steps."

Edward Cossey thought for a moment and then said, "I will sign. Let me
see the papers."

Mr. Quest turned aside to hide the expression of triumph which flitted
across his face and then handed him the deeds. They were elaborately
drawn, for he was a skilful legal draughtsman, quite as skilful as
many a leading Chancery conveyancer, but the substance of them was
that the mortgages were transferred to him by the said Edward Cossey
in and for the consideration that he, the said William M. Quest,
consented to abandon for ever a pending action for divorce against his
wife, Belle Quest, whereto the said Edward Cossey was to be joined as
co-respondent.

"You will observe," said Mr. Quest, "that if you attempt to contest
the validity of this assignment, which you probably could not do with
any prospect of success, the attempt must recoil upon your own head,
because the whole scandal will then transpire. We shall require some
witnesses, so with your permission I will ring the bell and ask the
landlady and your servant to step up. They need know nothing of the
contents of the papers," and he did so.

"Stop," said Edward presently. "Where are the original letters?"

"Here," answered Mr. Quest, producing them from an inner pocket, and
showing them to him at a distance. "When the landlady comes up I will
give them to her to hold in this envelope, directing her to hand them
to you when the deeds are signed and witnessed. She will think that it
is part of the ceremony."

Presently the man-servant and the landlady arrived, and Mr. Quest, in
his most matter-of-fact way, explained to them that they were required
to witness some documents. At the same time he handed the letters to
the woman, saying that she was to give them to Mr. Cossey when they
had all done signing.

Then Edward Cossey signed, and placing his thumb on the familiar wafer
delivered the various documents as his act and deed. The witnesses
with much preparation and effort affixed their awkward signatures in
the places pointed out to them, and in a few minutes the thing was
done, leaving Mr. Quest a richer man by thirty thousand pounds than
when he had got up that morning.

"Now give Mr. Cossey the packet, Mrs. Jeffries," he said, as he
blotted the signatures, "and you can go." She did so and went.

When the witnesses had gone Edward looked at the letters, and then
with a savage oath flung them into the fire and watched them burn.

"Good-morning, Mr. Cossey," said Mr. Quest as he prepared to part with
the deeds. "You have now bought your experience and had to pay dearly
for it; but, upon my word, when I think of all you owe me, I wonder at
myself for letting you off at so small a price."

As soon as he had gone, Edward Cossey gave way to his feelings in
language forcible rather than polite. For now, in addition to all the
money which he had lost, and the painful exposure to which he had been
subjected, he was face to face with a new difficulty. Either he must
make a clean breast of it to Ida about the mortgages being no longer
in his hands or he must pretend that he still had them. In the first
alternative, the consideration upon which she had agreed to marry him
came to nothing. Moreover, Ida was thereby released from her promise,
and he was well aware that under these circumstances she would
probably break off the engagement. In the second, he would be acting a
lie, and the lie would sooner or later be discovered, and what then?
Well, if it was after marriage, what would it matter? To a woman of
gentle birth there is only one thing more irretrievable than marriage,
and that is death. Anyhow, he had suffered so much for the sake of
this woman that he did not mean to give her up now. He must meet the
mortgages after marriage, that was all.

/Facilis est descensus Averni/. When a man of the character of Edward
Cossey, or indeed of any character, allows his passions to lead him
into a course of deceit, he does not find it easy to check his wild
career. From dishonour to dishonour shall he go till at length, in due
season, he reaps as he has sown.

CHAPTER XXVIII

HOW GEORGE TREATED JOHNNIE

Some two or three days before the scene described in the last chapter
the faithful George had suddenly announced his desire to visit London.

"What?" said the Squire in astonishment, for George had never been
known to go out of his own county before. "Why, what on earth are you
going to do in London?"

"Well, Squire," answered his retainer, looking marvellously knowing,
"I don't rightly know, but there's a cheap train goes up to this here
Exhibition on the Tuesday morning and comes back on the Thursday
evening. Ten shillings both ways, that's the fare, and I see in the
/Chronicle/, I du, that there's a wonnerful show of these new-fangled
self-tying and delivering reapers, sich as they foreigners use over
sea in America, and I'm rarely fell on seeing them and having a
holiday look round Lunnon town. So as there ain't not nothing
particler a-doing, if you hain't got anything to say agin it, I think
I'll go, Squire."

"All right," said the Squire; "are you going to take your wife with
you?"

"Why no, Squire; I said as I wanted to go for a holiday, and that
ain't no holiday to take the old missus too," and George chuckled in a
manner which evidently meant volumes.

And so it came to pass that on the afternoon of the day of the
transfer of the mortgages from Edward Cossey to Mr. Quest the great
George found himself wandering vaguely about the vast expanse of the
Colinderies, and not enjoying himself in the least. He had been
recommended by some travelled individual in Boisingham to a certain
lodging near Liverpool Street Station, which he found with the help of
a friendly porter. Thence he set out for the Exhibition, but, being of
a prudent mind, thought that he would do well to save his money and
walk the distance. So he walked and walked till he was tired, and
then, after an earnest consultation with a policeman, he took a 'bus,
which an hour later landed him--at the Royal Oak. His further
adventures we need not pursue; suffice it to say that, having started
from his lodging at three, it was past seven o'clock at night when he
finally reached the Exhibition, more thoroughly wearied than though he
had done a good day's harvesting.

Here he wandered for a while in continual dread of having his pocket
picked, seeking reaping machines and discovering none, till at length
he found himself in the gardens, where the electric light display was
in full swing. Soon wearying of this, for it was a cold damp night, he
made a difficult path to a buffet inside the building, where he sat
down at a little table, and devoured some very unpleasant-looking cold
beef. Here slumber overcame him, for his weariness was great, and he
dozed.

Presently through the muffled roar and hum of voices which echoed in
his sleep-dulled ears, he caught the sound of a familiar name, that
woke him up "all of a heap," as he afterwards said. The name was
"Quest." Without moving his body he opened his eyes. At the very next
table to his own were seated two people, a man and a woman. He looked
at the latter first. She was clad in yellow, and was very tall, thin
and fierce-looking; so fierce-looking that George involuntarily jerked
his head back, and brought it with painful force in contact with the
wall. It was the Tiger herself, and her companion was the coarse,
dreadful-looking man called Johnnie, whom she had sent away in the cab
on the night of Mr. Quest's visit.

"Oh," Johnnie was saying, "so Quest is his name, is it, and he lives
in a city called Boisingham, does he? Is he an off bird?" (rich)

"Rather," answered the Tiger, "if only one can make the dollars run,
but he's a nasty mean boy, he is. Look here, not a cent, not a stiver
have I got to bless myself with, and I daren't ask him for any more
not till January. And how am I going to live till January? I got the
sack from the music hall last week because I was a bit jolly. And now
I can't get another billet any way, and there's a bill of sale over
the furniture, and I've sold all my jewels down to my ticker, or at
least most of them, and there's that brute," and her voice rose to a
subdued scream, "living like a fighting-cock while his poor wife is
left to starve."

"'Wife!' Oh, yes, we know all about that," said the gentleman called
Johnnie.

A look of doubt and cunning passed across the woman's face. Evidently
she feared that she had said too much. "Well, it's a good a name as
another," she said. "Oh, don't I wish that I could get a grip of him;
I'd wring him," and she twisted her long bony hands as washerwomen do
when they squeeze a cloth.

"I'd back you to," said Johnnie. "And now, adored Edithia, I've had
enough of this blooming show, and I'm off. Perhaps I shall look in
down Rupert Street way this evening. Ta-ta."

"Well, you may as well stand a drink first," said the adored one. "I'm
pretty dry, I can tell you."

"Certainly, with pleasure; I will order one. Waiter, a brandy-and-soda
for this lady--/six/ of brandy, if you please; she's very delicate and
wants support."

The waiter grinned and brought the drink and the man Johnnie turned
round as though to pay him, but really he went without doing so.

George watched him go, and then looked again at the lady, whose
appearance seemed to fascinate him.

"Well, if that ain't a master one," he said to himself, "and she
called herself his wife, she did, and then drew up like a slug's
horns. Hang me if I don't stick to her till I find out a bit more of
the tale."

Thus ruminated George, who, be it observed, was no fool, and who had a
hearty dislike and mistrust of Mr. Quest. While he was wondering how
he was to go to work an unexpected opportunity occurred. The lady had
finished her brandy-and-soda, and was preparing to leave, when the
waiter swooped down upon her.

"Money please, miss," he said.

"Money!" she said, "why you're paid."

"Come, none of that," said the waiter. "I want a shilling for the
brandy-and-soda."

"A shilling, do you? Then you'll have to want, you cheating white-
faced rascal you; my friend paid you before he went away."

"Oh, we've had too much of that game," said the waiter, beckoning to a
constable, to whom, in spite of the "fair Edithia's" very vigorous and
pointed protestations, he went on to give her in charge, for it
appeared that she had only twopence about her. This was George's
opportunity, and he interfered.

"I think, marm," he said, "that the fat gent with you was a-playing of
a little game. He only pretinded to pay the waiter."

"Playing a game, was he?" gasped the infuriated Tiger. "If I don't
play a little game on him when I get a chance my name is not Edith
d'Aubigne, the nasty mean beast--the----"

"Permit me, marm," said George, putting a shilling on the table, which
the waiter took and went away. "I can't bear to see a real lady like
you in difficulty."

"Well, you are a gentleman, you are," she said.

"Not at all, marm. That's my way. And now, marm, won't you have
another?"

No objection was raised by the lady, who had another, with the result
that she became if not exactly tipsy at any rate not far off it.

Shortly after this the building was cleared, and George found himself
standing in Exhibition Road with the woman on his arm.

"You're going to give me a lift home, ain't you?" she said.

"Yes, marm, for sure I am," said George, sighing as he thought of the
cab fare.

Accordingly they got into a hansom, and Mrs. d'Aubigne having given
the address in Pimlico, of which George instantly made a mental note,
they started.

"Come in and have a drink," she said when they arrived, and
accordingly he paid the cab--half-a-crown it cost him--and was ushered
by the woman with a simper into the gilded drawing-room.

Here the Tiger had another brandy-and-soda, after which George thought
that she was about in a fit state for him to prosecute his inquiries.

"Wonderful place this Lunnon, marm; I niver was up here afore and had
no idea that I should find folks so friendly. As I was a saying to my
friend Laryer Quest down at Boisingham yesterday----"

"Hullo, what's that?" she said. "Do you know the old man?"

"If you means Laryer Quest, why in course I do, and Mrs. Quest too.
Ah! she's a pretty one, she is."

Book of the day: