Part 4 out of 5
did either Bubbles or Bill Donnington.
The doctor recalled a certain terrible day, rather over a year ago, when
Varick had broken down utterly! It was the afternoon that poor Milly was
being put into her coffin; and, by sheer good luck he, Panton, happened
to call in. He had found Varick sitting alone, looking very desolate, in
the dining-room of the commonplace little villa, while from overhead
there came the sounds of heavy feet moving this way and that.
All at once there had come a loud knock at the front door, and Varick,
starting up, had uttered a fearful cry. Then, sitting down again, he had
begun trembling, as if he had the ague. He, Panton, had been so
concerned at the poor fellow's condition that he had insisted, there and
then, on taking him along to his own house, and he had kept him there as
his guest till the day of Mrs. Varick's funeral.
As these memories came crowding on him, the door of his room opened
quietly, and the man who was filling his mind walked in.
Varick was already dressed for dinner, and, not for the first time, the
doctor told himself what a distinguished-looking man his friend and host
"Panton," said Varick abruptly, "I have something on my mind."
The doctor looked up, surprised. "What is it, my dear fellow?" he asked
"I can't help thinking that in some inexplicable way I pushed Bubbles
Dunster over the edge of that embankment. Has she said anything to you
Dr. Panton got up and came over to the speaker. He put his hand heavily
on Varick's shoulder, and almost forced him down into the chair from
which he had himself risen.
"Look here," he exclaimed, "this won't do at all! Pull yourself
together, man--you mustn't get such fancies into your head. That way
madness lies. Still, you may as well try and get it off your chest once
for all. Tell me exactly what _did_ happen? Begin at the beginning--"
As Varick remained silent, the doctor went on, encouragingly: "I will
start you by reminding you that Miss Bubbles was wearing the most
absurd high-heeled shoes. Young Donnington spoke to her about them, and
that drew my attention to her feet as we came out of the gate. She even
tripped when we were just past the bridge. Do you remember that?"
"No, I didn't notice her at all."
"Well, tell me exactly what happened just before she fell over the edge
of the embankment?"
"I don't know that there's very much to tell." Varick was now staring
into the fire, but at last he began in a strained, tired voice:
"Donnington had just shouted out that we were walking rather too near to
the edge, and so I took hold of her arm. But you know what Bubbles is
like? She's a queer kind of girl, and she tried to wrench herself free.
Then I gripped a little harder and--well, I don't know exactly what did
happen! I suppose her foot turned, for I suddenly felt her weight full
on me, and then, and then--"
"Yes," said Dr. Panton soothingly, "I know exactly what happened. You
instinctively straightened yourself to try to put her on her feet again,
but she'd already lost her balance--"
"I suppose that's what did happen," said Varick in a low voice.
"--And her foot turning again, she rolled down the steep embankment,"
concluded the doctor firmly. "You did nothing, my dear chap, absolutely
nothing, to bring the accident about! Put that idea, once and for all,
out of your mind."
"I would," said Varick painfully, "I would, but that I'm afraid--in
fact, I feel sure--that she thinks I pushed her in. She turned the most
awful look on me, Panton, as she fell over the edge. I shall never
"That look had nothing to do with you," said the doctor decidedly. "It
was simply the terrified look of a human being on the brink of a
"You're a good friend," muttered Varick, getting up. "I'll leave you to
"Wait a moment!" exclaimed Panton; "there's one thing about Miss
Bubbles' accident which does trouble me, I admit. It puzzled me at the
time; and I can see it is puzzling young Donnington too."
Varick, who was already at the door, stayed his steps and turned round.
There had come back into his face the strained look which had softened
away while he listened to his friend's sensible remarks. "Yes," he said
impatiently, "yes, Panton? What is it that puzzles you?"
"I wish I knew exactly how long Miss Bubbles was in the water. She was
very, very far gone when that boy managed to clutch hold of her. Did you
see her go down again, and come up again twice? Forgive me, my dear
fellow, I'm afraid I'm distressing you."
"You asked me that downstairs," said Varick, "and I told you then
that--that I didn't know."
"I thought," said Dr. Panton, "that you remembered so clearly all that
had happened--by what you said just now."
"Yes, up to the moment when she fell in, I remember everything. But once
she was in the water everything became blurred. All I can say is that it
seemed as if hours drifted by before I saw you all come running up
"Come, come," said Panton, a trifle impatiently. "As a matter of fact
it can't have been more than three minutes. Still, it was long enough
for the girl to go as near the Great Divide, as a friend of mine calls
it, as I've ever known a human being go."
"I suppose," said Varick slowly, "that if you hadn't been there Bubbles
would now be dead?"
"Well, yes, I'm afraid that's true," said the doctor simply. "I should
have expected that clever, intelligent Miss Farrow, to say nothing of
Miss Brabazon, to know something about First Aid. But neither of them
know anything! The only person who was of the slightest use was young
Donnington; and I suspect--" he smiled broadly.
"What do you suspect?" asked Varick rather quickly.
"Well, I suspect that he's in love with Miss Bubbles."
"Of course he is." Varick's contemptuous tone jarred a little on Panton.
"But Bubbles intends to become Mrs. Tapster."
"I should be sorry to think that!"
"Why sorry? The modern young woman--and Bubbles is a very modern young
woman--knows the value of money," said Varick dryly.
He waited a moment. "I'll leave you now, Panton, and I'll see that the
dinner-bell isn't rung till you're quite ready."
"All right. I won't be ten minutes--"
But Varick lingered by the door. "Panton," he exclaimed, "you've been a
good friend to me! I want to tell you that I shall never forget it. As
long as there's breath in my body I shall be grateful to you."
As the doctor dressed he told himself again that Varick had never
really recovered from the strain of his wife's long illness. Under that
rather exceptionally calm, steadfast-looking exterior, the man was
extraordinarily sensitive. How upset, for instance, Varick had been
about Miss Pigchalke's crazy advertisement. He, Panton, had felt quite
sorry that he had said anything about it.
While putting on his tie, he told himself that what the dear fellow
wanted now was a good, sensible second wife. And then, as he formulated
that thought to himself, the young man--for he was still quite a young
man--stopped what he was doing, and rubbed his hands joyfully. Why, of
course! What a fool he had been never to think of it before--though to
be sure it would really have been almost indecent to have thought of it
before. Helen Brabazon? The very woman for Lionel Varick! Such a
marriage would be the making of his highly-strung, fine-natured friend.
As he hurriedly finished dressing, Panton plumed himself on his
cleverness. With all his heart he hoped the day would come when he would
be able to say to Varick: "Ages before _you_ thought of her, old chap,
_I_ selected Miss Brabazon as your future bride!" He hoped, uneasily,
that Sir Lyon was not seriously in the running. But he had noticed that
Sir Lyon and Miss Brabazon seemed to have a good deal to say to one
another. Women, so he told himself ruefully, like to be "My lady." But
she was certainly fond of Varick--she had been fond of him (of course,
only as a woman may be of a friend's husband) during those sad weeks at
* * * * *
As the doctor came out of his room he decided to go in for a moment and
see Bubbles Dunster. Somehow he did not feel quite easy about her. He
wondered, uncomfortably, if there could be anything in Varick's painful
suspicion. After her aunt and Helen Brabazon between them had put her to
bed, and he had come in, alone, to see how she was, she had said
abruptly: "I wonder if it's true that doctors can keep a secret better
than most men?" And when he had made some joking answer, she had asked,
in a very serious tone: "You're a great friend of Lionel Varick, eh?" He
had answered: "Men don't vow eternal friendships in the way I'm told
young ladies do; but, yes, I hope I am a great friend of Lionel
Varick's. I've a high opinion of him, Miss Bubbles, and I've seen him
under circumstances that test a man."
She had looked at him fixedly while he said these words, and then she
had opened and shut her eyes in a very odd way. He now asked himself if
it was probable--possible--conceivable--that she blamed Varick for her
accident? He, Varick, evidently thought so.
And then, as he walked along the darkened corridor, there came over Dr.
Panton a most extraordinary feeling--_a feeling that he was not alone._
He stayed his steps, and listened intently. But the only sound he heard
was the ticking of a clock. He walked on, and all at once there came a
word repeated twice, quite distinctly, almost as if in his ear. It was a
disagreeable, an offensive word--a word, or rather an appellation, which
the clever young doctor had not heard applied to himself for a good many
years. For, twice over, was the word "Fool!" repeated in a mocking
voice, a voice to whose owner he could not at the moment put a name, and
yet which seemed vaguely familiar.
Then he remembered. Why, of course, it was the voice of that crazy,
unpleasant old woman who had called on him last spring! But how had Miss
Pigchalke found her way into Wyndfell Hall? And where on earth was she?
He looked round him, this way and that; and his eyes, by now accustomed
to the dim light thrown by a hanging lamp, saw everything quite
distinctly. He was certainly alone in the corridor now. But Miss
Pigchalke had as certainly been there a moment ago. He wondered if she
could have hidden herself in a huge oak chest which stood to his right?
Nay, there she could not be, for he remembered having been shown that it
was full of eighteenth-century gala gowns.
And while he was looking about him, feeling utterly perplexed and
bewildered, through a door which was ajar there suddenly passed out
"Is anyone in there?" asked the doctor sharply.
Varick started violently. "You did startle me!" he exclaimed. "No,
there's no one in there--I came up to look for a book. But as I told
them to delay dinner yet a little longer, would you mind if we went in
and saw Bubbles together on our way downstairs? I feel I should rather
like to get my first interview with her over--and with you there."
"I don't see why you shouldn't." But there was a doubtful ring in Dr.
Panton's voice. He would, as a matter of fact, have very much preferred
that Varick should not see the girl to-night, especially if there was
the slightest truth in the other's suspicion that Bubbles believed him
to have been in any way instrumental, however accidentally, in making
her fall into the water.
His mind worked quickly, as minds are apt to work when faced with that
sort of problem, and he decided that on the whole he might as well let
Varick do as he wished.
"You'd better not say very much to her. Just say you hope she's feeling
all right by now--or something of that sort."
But when they came to the closed door of the girl's room he turned and
said: "I'll just go in and prepare her for your visit--if you don't
* * * * *
Bubbles was lying straight down in bed, for, at her own request, the
bolster had been taken away. Her head was only just raised up on the
pillow. By the light of the one candle he could see her slender form
outlined under the bed-clothes. Her eyes were closed, her features
pinched and worn. There was something almost deathly in the look of her
He wondered if she was asleep--if so, it would be rather a relief to him
to go outside the door and tell Varick that she mustn't be disturbed.
But all at once she opened her eyes widely, and there even came the
quiver of a smile over her face.
"Doctor?" she said plaintively. "Doctor, come nearer, I want to ask you
"Yes?" he said. "What is it, Miss Bubbles?"
"I want to ask you," she said dreamily, "why you brought me back? I was
beginning to feel so much at home in the grey world. There were such
kind people there, waiting to welcome me. Only one friend I felt sad to
"Tut-tut!" he said, a little startled. "You were never anywhere near
leaving us, Miss Bubbles."
"I know I was, and you know it, too. But you called me back. Confess
that you did!"
"I'll confess nothing of the sort," he answered a little shortly.
There was a little pause, and then he went on, "There's someone outside
the door who wants to see you; someone who's feeling most awfully
miserable about you."
A look of unease and of anxiety came over her face. "D'you mean Mr.
Tapster?" she said hesitatingly.
"Good heavens, no!" He was surprised, and a little disgusted. "Can't you
guess who it is?"
He saw the look in her face grow to shrinking fear. "I can't guess at
all," she said weakly. "You won't allow Bill to get up--I know that
because he sent me a message. Bill's the only person I want to see."
"He'll come soon enough," said Dr. Panton, smiling.
"It was really Bill who saved me," she went on, as if speaking to
"Of course it was Bill!" he spoke now with hearty assent. "You've a
splendid friend in that young man, Miss Bubbles, and I hope you're
properly grateful to him?"
"I think I am," she said slowly. "I'm trying to be."
"And the other friend who wants to see you--may he come in for a
"The other friend? Do you mean Sir Lyon?"
"No, no--of course not!" He spoke with a touch of impatience now.
"Mr. Tapster," said Bubbles, nervously flying off at a tangent, "wants
me to marry him, Dr. Panton. He asked me--was it yesterday morning, or
this morning?" She knitted her brows. "Of course, I had to help him out.
The moment he'd said it, he began to hope that I'd say 'No'--so I
thought I'd punish him, by leaving him in suspense a bit."
"He was very distressed at your accident," said the doctor rather
stiffly. Bubbles' queer confidence had startled him.
"Most men only really want what they feel is out of their reach," she
whispered. "When he thought me gone, he wanted me back again. He's like
that. He'll make a much nicer widower than he will a husband!"
She looked up and smiled, but he felt as if she was keeping him at arm's
"It's Mr. Varick who's outside the door and who wants to come in and see
you," he said suddenly, in a matter-of-fact voice.
Bubbles turned her head away quickly. "Not to-night, doctor; I'm too
tired." She spoke very decidedly, and in a stronger voice than she had
yet used. "I'd rather wait till I get up before seeing Mr. Varick."
"He only wants to come in for a minute--do see him."
Dr. Panton spoke persuasively, but he told himself that Varick was
right--Bubbles _had_ got that extraordinary, horrible notion into her
head. "He's very much upset," he went on, "he thinks that unconsciously
he may have given you some kind of push over the edge of the
He saw her face change. It crimsoned darkly.
"Has he told you that?" she muttered.
"Yes, he has; and he's awfully upset about it, Miss Bubbles."
"I suppose I had better see him. I shall have to see him some time."
She said the words between her teeth, and, making an effort, she sat up
Dr. Panton went to the door, and opened it.
"Come in," he called out; "but don't stay long, Varick. Miss Bubbles is
very tired to-night."
Varick came in slowly and advanced with curiously hesitating, nervous
steps, towards the bed. "Well, Bubbles," he exclaimed, "I'm glad you're
no worse for your ducking!"
She looked at him fixedly, but said nothing. Dr. Panton began to feel
"I hope you'll be quite all right to-morrow," went on Varick.
"I think I shall, thank you."
Bubbles seemed to be looking beyond her visitor--not at him. She seemed
to be gazing at something at the other end of the room.
"You've brought someone in with you," she said suddenly. There was a
curious tone--almost a tone of exultation--in her voice. "Who is it?"
she asked imperiously. "Tell me who it is--Lionel."
She very rarely called Varick "Lionel."
He wheeled round with a startled look. "There's no one here," he
answered, "but Dr. Panton and myself."
"Oh yes, there is." Bubbles spoke very positively. "There's a woman
here. I can see her quite distinctly in the firelight. She's got a fat,
angry face, and untidy grey hair. Hullo, she's gone now!"
Bubbles fell back on to her pillow and closed her eyes. It was as if she
was dismissing them.
Varick turned uneasily to the doctor. "Is she delirious?" he whispered.
The doctor shook his head. He also was startled--startled more than
surprised. For in just Bubbles' words would he have described the odious
woman who had come to see him last spring, and whose voice he had heard
within the last few minutes.
He now had no doubt that Miss Pigchalke had been in the corridor, or,
more likely, in some room opening out of it, and that she had followed
Varick into this darkened room and then, noiselessly, slipped out again.
Bubbles opened her eyes.
"I'll come up after dinner for a few minutes," said Dr. Panton. Bubbles
made no answer; her eyes were now following Varick out of the door.
The doctor lingered for a moment. "You're _sure_ there was someone
there?" he asked.
"Of course I'm sure." Bubbles spoke quite positively. "I'm sure"--and
then he saw a change come over her face--"and yet I don't know that I am
quite sure," she murmured dreamily.
As Dr. Panton went down the shallow oak staircase he felt in a turmoil
of doubt and discomfort. To his mind there was no reasonable doubt that
Miss Pigchalke had somehow effected an entrance to Wyndfell Hall. She
had lived there for long years; she must know every corner of the
strange old house.
When he reached the hall where the whole party was gathered together, he
went up to Blanche Farrow. "May I speak to you a moment?" he whispered.
"What is it?" she asked anxiously. "Isn't Bubbles so well?"
"Oh, yes; Miss Bubbles is going on all right. But, Miss Farrow? I want
to tell you something that, if possible, I should like to keep from
"Yes--what is it?"
"Someone who has a grudge against him, a tiresome old woman who was
companion to Mrs. Varick for many years, has somehow got into this
house. She spoke to me just as I came out of my room. I didn't see her,
but I heard her voice quite distinctly. And when Varick and I went into
Miss Bubbles' room for a moment, on our way downstairs, she followed us
in--Miss Bubbles described her exactly. Then suddenly she disappeared. I
am sure she's hiding in one of the bedrooms."
"What a horrid idea!" exclaimed Blanche.
"Now comes the question--can we manage to hunt her out, and get her away
from the house, without Varick knowing?"
"But why shouldn't he know?" asked Blanche hesitatingly.
"Look at him," said the doctor impressively. And Blanche, glancing
quickly across the room, was struck by Varick's look of illness.
"There's no reason for telling him anything about it," she admitted.
"But hadn't we better wait till after dinner before doing anything?"
"Perhaps we had."
Dinner was a curious, uncomfortable meal; even Sir Lyon and Helen
Brabazon felt the atmosphere charged with anxiety and depression.
Miss Burnaby alone was her usual placid, quietly greedy self. She had
expressed suitable regret at all that had happened, but most of the
party realized that she had not really cared at all.
When the ladies passed through into the white parlour, Blanche slipped
away. She got hold of her firm ally, the butler, and explained in a very
few words what she thought had better be done. Accompanied by Pegler,
they went into every room, and into every nook and cranny of the house,
upstairs and down--but they found no trace of any alien presence.
Miss Pigchalke, so much was clear, had vanished as quietly and silently
as she had come.
One--two--three--four--five--six--Bubbles heard the clock in the dark
corridor outside her room ring out the harmonious chimes, and she turned
restlessly round in her warm, comfortable bed.
It was very annoying to think she would have to wait two hours for a cup
of tea, but there it was! She had herself told Pegler she didn't want to
be disturbed till eight o'clock. She still felt too "done," too weak, to
get up and try to find her way to the kitchen to make herself some tea.
She lay, with her eyes wide open, longing for the daylight, and looking
back with shrinking fear to a night full of a misty horror.
Again and again she had lived through that awful moment when Varick had
pushed her over the edge of the embankment, to roll quickly, softly,
inexorably, into the icy-cold water.
She knew he had pushed her over. To herself it was a fact which did not
admit of any doubt at all. She had seen the mingled hatred and relief
which had convulsed his face. It was with that face she would always see
Lionel Varick henceforth.
There had been a moment when she had thought she would tell Dr. Panton;
then she had come to the conclusion that there was no good purpose to be
served by telling the strange and dreadful truth.
Some noble lines of Swinburne's which had once been quoted to her by a
friend she loved, floated into her mind--
"But ye, keep ye on earth
Your lips from over-speech,
Loud words and longing are so little worth;
And the end is hard to reach.
For silence after grievous thing's is good,
And reverence, and the fear that makes men whole
And shame, and righteous governance of blood,
And Lordship of the Soul.
And from sharp words and wits men pluck no fruit,
And gathering thorns they shake the tree at root;
For words divide and rend,
But silence is most noble till the end."
As she lay there, feeling physically so ill and weak, while yet her mind
worked so clearly and quickly, she set herself to solve a painful
puzzle. Why had Varick tried to do her to death? She admitted to herself
that she had never liked him, but she had never done him any harm. And
they had been on good terms--outwardly--always.
For hours, amid fitful, nightmarish snatches of sleep, and long, lucid
intervals of thought, Bubbles had wrestled with the question.
And then, lying there in the early morning, Bubbles _suddenly knew_.
Varick hated and feared her because she had unwittingly raised his wife
from the dead. And, believing that if he killed her, he would lay that
sinister, vengeful, unquiet ghost, he had deliberately planned
yesterday's expedition in order to do that which he had so nearly
succeeded in doing.
Bubbles gave an eerie little chuckle which startled herself. "I'd have
haunted him!" she muttered aloud. "He'd have found it more difficult to
get rid of me dead than alive."
Even as she murmured the words, the door opened, and she heard a voice
say, hesitatingly, "Then you're awake, Bubbles? Somehow I felt you were
awake, and I thought you might like a cup of tea."
It was Bill Donnington, with a lighted candle in one hand, and a cup of
tea in the other.
How glad she was to see him! How very, very glad! Yet he only looked his
usual sober, unromantic self, standing there at the bottom of her pretty
old walnut-wood bed, looking at her with all his wistful, faithful soul
in his eyes.
Bill was fully dressed, and Bubbles burst out laughing, feebly.
"You _are_ an early bird!" she exclaimed. "And a very proper bird, too.
I suppose you thought you mustn't come into my room in a dressing-gown?"
"I haven't slept all night," he said stiffly. "So I got up an hour ago.
I came and looked in here, as a matter of fact, on my way to the
bathroom. But you were asleep. And then, after I was dressed, I went
down to the kitchen, and made myself a cup of tea. I thought I'd make
one for you, too, just on chance."
He came up close to her, and Bubbles, shaking back her short curly hair,
took the cup from him. "This _is_ delicious! You _are_ a good sort,
He sat down on the end of her bed while she thirstily, greedily, drank
the tea he had brought her. In all her gestures there was something
bird-like and exquisite. Even when she was greedy Bubbles was dainty
"I do hope you're feeling none the worse"--he began.
And she mimicked him, gleefully, speaking in a low whisper. "None the
worse, thank you! It's a comfort, sometimes, to be with a person who
always says exactly what you might expect he would say! I'm always sure
of that comfort with you--old thing."
"Are you?" He smiled his slow, doubtful smile, and Bubbles said
suddenly: "You've gone and left the door open."
He stood up, irresolute. "I suppose I ought to go away," he said
She exclaimed: "No, no, Bill! I won't have you go away! I don't want you
to go away! I want you to stay with me. But you must shut the door, for
it's very cold."
"D'you think I'd better shut the door?" he asked.
And then Bubbles seized his lean, strong hand. "Oh! I see what you
mean!" she exclaimed. "You actually think your being in here is more
proper if the door is open? But it isn't a bit--for everyone in the
house but us two is fast asleep! Still, that won't go on long. So shut
the door at once! I've something very important to say to you--something
which I certainly don't want Pegler to hear me say to you. Pegler may
come down any moment--she's such a good sort, under that stiff, cross
manner. It's so queer she should disapprove of me, and approve of my
Aunt Blanche, isn't it?"
He got up, and going to the door, shut it.
"Lock it!" she called out. "Lock it, Bill! I don't want to be
disturbed;" she repeated in an odd voice, "I've something very important
to say to you."
But this time he did not obey her, and as he came back towards the bed
he said anxiously, "D'you still feel _very_ bad, Bubbles?"
There was a tone of great tenderness and solicitude in his voice.
"Of course I do. So would you, if you'd died and come to life again."
"You didn't do that," he said in a low voice. "But you were very nearly
drowned, Bubbles. However, we must try to forget it."
Again she mimicked him: "'We must try to forget it.' I was waiting for
you to say that, too. As if we should ever forget it! But we won't think
about it just now--because we've got to think of something else that's
much more to the present purpose."
"Yes," he said soothingly. "Yes, Bubbles?"
Poor Bill felt very uncomfortable. He did not wish prim Miss Pegler to
come in and find him sitting on Bubbles' bed, when no one was yet up in
the house. These modern, unconventional ways were all very well, and he
knew they often did not really mean anything, but still--but still ...
"Did you ever hear of the King's Serf?" asked Bubbles suddenly.
"The King's Serf?" he repeated, bewildered.
"When the rope which was hanging some poor devil of a highwayman
broke--when the axe was too blunt to cut a robber rascal's head
off--when a man being condemned to death survived by some extraordinary
accident--well, such a man became thereafter the King's Serf. He
belonged to the King, body, soul, and spirit, and no one but the King
could touch him. He lost his identity. He was above the law!"
Bubbles said all this very, very fast--almost as if she had learnt it
off by heart.
"What a curious thing," said Bill slowly.
Bubbles had so many queer, out-of-the-way bits of knowledge. She was
always surprising him by the things she knew. It was the more curious
that she never seemed to open a book.
"Come a little nearer," she ordered. "You're so far away, Bill!"
She spoke with a touch of imperious fretfulness, and he moved a little
further up the bed.
"Nearer, nearer!" she cried; and then she suddenly sat up in bed, and
flinging her arms round him, she laid her dark, curly head on his
faithful heart. "I want to tell you," she whispered, "that from now
onward I'm Bill Donnington's Serf--much more than that poor brute I've
told you of was ever the King's Serf. For, after all, the King hadn't
cut the rope, or blunted the edge of the hatchet----"
"Bubbles!" he exclaimed. "Oh, Bubbles, d'you really mean that?"
"Of course I mean it! What I gave I had, what I gained I lost, what I
lost I gained."
"What do you mean, darling?" he whispered.
"I mean that the moment that stupid doctor allows me to get up--then you
and I will skip off by ourselves, and we'll say, 'Hullo, here's a
church! Let's go in and get married.'"
She waited a moment, but Bill Donnington said nothing. He only held her
closer to him.
"In the night," went on Bubbles, "I was wondering if we'd be married in
that strange old church near here, our church, the church with the
animals. And then I thought no, we wouldn't do that, for I am not likely
to want ever to come back here again. So we'll be married in London, in
a City church, in the church where John Gilpin and his family went to
what I suppose they called 'worship.' It's there you will have to say
you worship me, Bill!"
She lifted her head, and looked into his face. "Oh, Bill," she said, her
voice trembling a little, "you do look happy!"
"I am happy, but I--I can't quite believe it," he said slowly; "it's too
good to be true."
"I hope you'll go on being happy," she said, again pressing closer to
him. "But you know that sometimes, Bill--well, I _shall_ dine at
Edmonton while you do dine at Ware. It's no good my trying to conceal
that from you."
"I--I don't understand," he stammered out. What did Bubbles mean by
"You'll know soon enough," she said, with that little wise look of
hers--the little look he loved. "But whenever I'm naughty or
unreasonable, or, or selfish, Bill--I'm afraid I shall often be _very_
selfish--then you must just turn to me, and say: 'You know, Bubbles,
when all's said and done, you're my Serf; but for me you wouldn't be
Bill Donnington looked at her, and then he said solemnly and very
deliberately: "I don't feel that you ought to marry me out of gratitude,
She took her hands off his shoulders, and clapped them gleefully. "I was
waiting for that, too!" she exclaimed. "I wonder you didn't say it at
once--I quite thought you would."
He said seriously: "But I really mean it. I couldn't bear to think that
you married me just because I dragged you out of the water."
"I'm really marrying you, if you want to know," she exclaimed, "because
of Mr. Tapster! During the last few days--I wonder if you've noticed it,
Bill?" (he had, indeed)--"that man has looked at me as if I was _his_
serf--that's a polite way of putting it--and I don't like it. But I've
got a friend--you know Phyllis Burley? I think she'd do for him exactly!
It would be so nice, too, for she's devoted to me, and we should have
the use of one of their motors whenever we felt like it."
Bill shook his head decidedly. "We never should feel like it," he said;
"even if Phyllis did marry Mr. Tapster, which I greatly doubt she'd even
think of doing."
"I'm going to tell him to-day," she went on, "that he's got to marry
her. There's nothing indelicate about my saying that, because they've
never met. But it'll work in his brain, you see if it doesn't, like
yeast in new bread! Then I'll bring them together, and then, and then--"
"And then," said Bill deliberately, "you'll never, with my goodwill, see
him again. So find him a wife whom you don't like, Bubbles."
She looked at him meditatively. "Very well," she said. "That will be my
first sacrifice for you, Bill. I'll save him up for Violet Purton. She's
a horrid girl--and won't she make his money fly!"
He was smiling at her rather oddly.
"Bill!" she exclaimed, startled. "Bill! I do believe you're going to be
And then she flung her arms again round his neck. "Kiss me," she
commanded, "kiss me, Bill. And then you must go away, for it isn't
proper that you should be here, at this time of the morning, now that
That same morning, but a good deal later, Blanche Farrow woke with a
start to find Pegler standing at her bedside with just one letter in her
Pegler was smiling. It was not a real smile, but just a general
softening of her plain, severe face.
Pegler knew that her lady had been rather "put out" at not having
received her usual Christmas letter from Mr. Mark Gifford. She had
spoken of it twice to Pegler, once lightly, on December 27, and then
again, in a rather upset way, on the 29th. After that she had pretended
to forget all about it. But Pegler felt sure Miss Farrow did
remember--often. And now here was the letter--a much fatter letter than
Pegler, of course, said nothing. It was not her place to know the
hand-writing of any of the gentlemen who wrote to her mistress.
Miss Farrow took the letter, and there came a faint, a very faint, flush
over her face. She said: "I hope Miss Bubbles has had a good night. Have
you been in to her yet, Pegler?"
"Yes, ma'am. She looks rather excited-like. But as you know, ma'am,
that's a good sign with her."
"Yes, I think it is, Pegler."
Pegler slipped noiselessly away, and then Blanche opened the envelope
containing Mark Gifford's long-delayed Christmas letter.
"Home Office, "_December 23rd_.
"MY DEAR BLANCHE,
"'How use doth breed a habit in a man!' Well anyhow, as you know, it
is my custom, which has now attained the dignity of a habit, always
to write you a letter for Christmas. Hitherto I have always known
where it would find you, but this year is an exception, for I really
have no idea where you are.
"This year is an exception in another respect also. Hitherto, my
dear Blanche, I have, with a tact which I hope you have silently
appreciated, always managed to keep out of my Christmas letter any
reference to what you know I have never given up hoping for even
against hope. But this time I can't keep it out because I have had a
really good idea. Even a Civil Servant may have a good idea
sometimes, and I assure you that this came to me out of office
hours--as a matter of fact it came to me when I was sitting in that
funny little old Westminster churchyard where we once spent what
was, to me, the happiest of half-hours.
"I know you have thought me unsympathetic and disapproving about
that which holds for you so great a fascination. Disapproving, yes;
I can't help disapproving of gambling, especially in a woman; but
unsympathetic, no--a thousand times no. Sympathy is understanding,
and, believe me, I do understand, and therefore I propose this plan.
"If you will do me the honour of marrying me, I propose that once or
even twice every year you should go off to Monte Carlo, or wherever
else you like, and play to your heart's content. I promise never to
reproach you, above all never to administer those silent reproaches
which I think are always the hardest to bear. Yes, I will always
play the game, I pledge myself to that most faithfully.
"Forgive me for referring to something which makes my plan easier to
carry out. This year two accidents, the death of one colleague, and
the premature retirement of another, have pushed me up the ladder of
promotion, and, in addition, there has been a legacy. The English of
that is that for our joint _menage_ we shouldn't want your income at
all; we could quite well do without it, and you would be perfectly
free to use it in whatever way you like.
"There! That is my plan. Now, dearest of women, say yes and make us
both happy, for you would make me so happy that I couldn't help
making you happy too. I wish I had any idea where you will be when
you read this letter, on which hangs all my hopes. Perhaps you will
read it at Monte, out on the Corniche Road. Don't let the fact that
you have been lucky at play make _me_ unlucky in--you know what!
"Yours ever (this is no figure of speech),
Blanche Farrow sighed and smiled, as she deliberately read the long
letter through twice. Somehow it warmed her heart; and yet would she
ever be able to give up the life which in many ways suited her so well?
If she married Mark--dear, kind, generous-hearted Mark--various
friendships which, even if they did not mean so much to her as they
appeared to do, yet meant a good deal in her present lonely life, would
certainly have to be given up. To take but one instance. It had almost
been an instinct with her to keep Lionel Varick and Mark Gifford apart.
In the old days she had been disagreeably aware of how absolutely
Gifford had always disapproved of Varick, and of Varick's various ways
of trying, often successfully, to raise the wind. Of course, everything
was now different with regard to this particular friend. Varick had
become--by what anyone not a hypocrite must admit had been a fortunate
circumstance--a respectable member of society; but, even so, she knew,
deep in her heart, that he and the man whose letter she held in her hand
would never like one another.
And yet she was tired--so tired!--of the sort of life she led, year in
and year out. Her nerves were no longer what they had once been. For
instance, the strange series of happenings that had just taken place
here, at Wyndfell Hall, had thoroughly upset her; and as for the
horrible thing that had occurred yesterday, she hadn't been able to
sleep all night for thinking of it. Nothing that had ever happened in
her now long life had had quite the effect on Blanche Farrow that
Bubbles' accident had had. She had realized, suddenly, how fond she was
of the girl--how strong in all of us is the call of the blood! As she
had stood watching Dr. Panton's untiring efforts to restore the
circulation of the apparently drowned girl there had gone up from
Blanche's heart a wild, instinctive prayer to the God in whom she did
not believe, to spare the child.
Perhaps just because she had not broken down before, she felt the more
now all that had happened in the way of the strange, the sinister, and
the untoward during the last fortnight. And all at once, after reading
yet again right through the quiet, measured letter of her old friend
and constant lover, Blanche Farrow suddenly burst into a passion of
And then it struck her as funny, as even absurd, that she should cry
like this! She hadn't cried for years and years--in fact, she could
hardly remember the day when she had last cried.
She jumped out of bed and put on her dressing-gown, for it was very
cold, and then she went and gazed at her reflection in the one
looking-glass in the room. It was a beautiful old Jacobean mirror fixed
over the dressing-table.
Heavens! What a fright she looked! Do tears always have that disfiguring
effect on a woman? This must be a lesson to her. She dabbed her eyes
with a wet handkerchief, and then she went over to the writing-table and
For the first time in her life Blanche Farrow wrote Mark Gifford a
really grateful, sincere letter. She said, truly, how touched she was by
his long devotion and by all his goodness to her. She admitted, humbly,
that she wished she were worthy of it all. But she finally added that
she feared she could never find it in her heart and conscience to say
that she would do what he wished. She had become too old, too set in her
Yet it was with a heavy heart that she wrote her long letter in answer
to his, and it took her a long time, for she often waited a few moments
in between the sentences.
How strange was her relationship to this man of whom she saw so little,
and yet with whom she felt on close, intangible terms of intimacy! His
work tied him to London, and of late years she had not been much in
London. He knew very little of her movements. Why, this very letter had
been sent to her, care of her London club, the club which had its
uses--principally--when she wanted to entertain Mark Gifford himself to
lunch or dinner.
His letter had wandered to yet another address--an address she had left
at the club weeks ago, the only address they had. From thence it had
reached the last house where she had been staying before she had come to
Wyndfell Hall. The wonderful thing was that the letter had reached her
at all. But she was very glad it had come, if only at long last.
After her letter was finished, she suddenly felt that she must put in a
word to account for the delay in her answer to what should have received
an immediate reply. And so she added a postscript, which, unlike most
women's postscripts, was of really very little importance--or so the
This unimportant postscript ran:
"Your letter had followed me round to about half-a-dozen places.
Bubbles Dunster and I have been spending Christmas in this
wonderful old house, Wyndfell Hall, our host being Lionel Varick.
He struck oil in the shape of an heiress two years ago. She died
last year; and he has become a most respectable member of society.
I know you didn't much like him, though he's often spoken to me
very gratefully of the good turn you did him years ago."
Blanche hesitated, pen in hand. Of course, it was not necessary that she
should mention the name of her host. She might rewrite the last page of
her letter, and leave the postscript out. It was unfortunately true
that Mark had taken a violent prejudice against the man he had
befriended to such good purpose years and years ago. She had been still
young then--young and, as she was quite willing to admit now, very
foolish. In fact, she looked back to the Blanche Farrow of those days,
as we are sometimes apt to look back at our younger selves, with
amazement and disapproval, rather than sympathy. But there was a streak
of valiant honesty in her nature. She let what had been written stand,
only adding the words:
"The party is breaking up to-morrow; but Bubbles, who had a
disagreeable accident yesterday, will stay on here for a few days
with me. All the same, I expect we shall be in London by the ninth;
and then, perhaps, you and I might meet."
It was by Bubbles' special wish--nay, command, that her engagement to
Bill Donnington was publicly announced that very morning, at breakfast,
by her aunt. Everyone was much interested, and said the usual
good-natured, rather silly, civil things; hence Blanche was glad Bill
Donnington had breakfasted early, and so was not there.
Helen Brabazon was extremely excited and delighted at the news. "I
suppose it happened yesterday morning!" she exclaimed. "For, of course,
they haven't seen one another alone since then. If they were already
engaged, what awful agony poor Mr. Donnington must have gone through
while you were trying to bring her to life again?"
She turned to Panton, and he answered thoughtfully, "I could see he was
most terribly upset. Don't you remember how he refused to go up to the
house and change his wet clothes?"
Blanche couldn't help glancing furtively from behind the teapot and high
silver urn at James Tapster. His phlegmatic face had become very red.
Almost at once he had got up and gone over to the dresser, and there,
taking a long time about it, he had cut himself some slices of ham. She
noticed, with relief, that he came back with a huge plateful, which he
proceeded to eat with apparent appetite.
"And when is the wedding to take place?" asked Helen.
"Almost at once," replied Blanche smiling. "Bubbles never does anything
like anybody else! She's set her heart on going to town the very moment
Dr. Panton allows her to get up. Then they're to be married without any
fuss at all in one of the old City churches."
"What a splendid idea!" cried Helen. "That's just how _I_ should like to
"I, too," said Sir Lyon, in his pleasant voice. "To me there's always
been something barbaric in the ordinary grand wedding."
But Blanche Farrow shook her head. "Perhaps because I'm so much older
than all of you," she said good-humouredly, "I think there's a great
deal to be said for an old-fashioned wedding: white dress (white satin
for choice), orange blossoms, St. George's, Hanover Square, and all! I
even like the crowd of people saying kind and unkind things in whispers
to one another. I don't think I should _feel_ myself married unless I
went through all that--"
And then, at last, James Tapster said something. "Marriage is all rot!"
he said, speaking, as was his unpleasant custom, with his mouth full.
"There are very few happy married couples about."
"That may be your experience," said Varick, speaking for the first time
since Blanche had told the great news. "I'm glad to say it isn't mine. I
think marriage far the happiest state--for either a man or a woman."
He spoke with a good deal of feeling, and both Panton and Helen Brabazon
felt very much touched. He had certainly made _his_ marriage a success.
Meanwhile, Blanche suspected that Dr. Panton had just had a letter
containing disturbing news. She saw him read it twice over. Then he put
it carefully in a note-book he took out of his pocket. "I shall have to
go to-morrow, a day earlier than I thought," he observed. "I've got an
appointment in town on Thursday morning."
Then Mr. Tapster announced that _he_ was going to-day, and though Varick
seemed genuinely sorry, everyone else was secretly glad.
There are days in life which pass by without being distinguished by any
outstanding happenings, and which yet remain in the mind as milestones
on the road of life.
Such a day, at any rate to Blanche Farrow, was the day which saw the
first disruption of Lionel Varick's Christmas house party. Though Mr.
Tapster was the only guest actually to leave Wyndfell Hall, all the
arrangements concerning the departures of the morrow had to be made.
Miss Burnaby, Helen Brabazon, and Sir Lyon Dilsford were to travel
together. Dr. Panton was going by a later train, as was also Bill
Donnington. Blanche herself, with of course Bubbles, was leaving on the
As the day went on Blanche realized that Varick much desired that Helen
Brabazon should also stay on till Saturday. But she, Blanche, thought
this desire unreasonable. Though she had come to like her, she found the
good, thoughtful, conscientious, and yet simple-minded Helen "heavy in
hand"; she told herself that if Helen stayed on, the entertaining of the
girl would fall on her, especially if, as Dr. Panton insisted, Bubbles
must not get up till Friday at dinner-time.
Looking back, Blanche Farrow told herself that that day had been full of
curious premonitions. Yet it had opened, in a sense happily for her,
with the coming of Mark Gifford's quaint, characteristic letter. Then
had come the shock, and it had been a shock, of Bubbles' engagement, and
of the girl's insistence on its being announced to the rest of the house
party at once--at breakfast.
The only outstanding thing which happened, and it was indeed a small
thing compared to the other two, was the departure of James Tapster.
Blanche felt sorry for him--genuinely sorry. But she philosophically
told herself that no amount of money, even had Bill Donnington never
existed, could have made Bubbles even tolerably happy tied to such a
After Mr. Tapster had gone they all breathed the more freely. Yet
Blanche somehow did not feel comfortable. What was wrong, for instance,
with Lionel Varick? He looked ill at ease, as well as ill physically.
Something seemed also to be weighing on Dr. Panton's mind. Even Sir Lyon
Dilsford was unlike his pleasant easy self. But Blanche thought she knew
what ailed _him_.
Her only sheet anchor of comfort during that long, dull afternoon and
evening was the thought that Bubbles' life was set on the right lines at
last ... and that Mark Gifford had not changed.
"HONBLE. BLANCHE FARROW--Wyndfell Hall--Darnaston--Suffolk--Very
private--Meet me outside Darnaston Church at twelve o'clock,
midday, to-morrow, Wednesday--MARK GIFFORD."
Blanche sat up in bed and stared down at the telegraph form. What on
earth did this mean? But for the fact that she knew it to be out of the
question, she would have suspected a foolish and vulgar practical joke.
She noted that the telegram had been sent off at 9.30 the night before
(just after Mark must have received her letter). She also saw that it
had been inscribed for morning delivery. That was like Mark Gifford. He
was nothing if not careful and precise with regard to everything of a
Then she began asking herself the sort of rather futile questions people
do ask themselves, when puzzled, and made uneasy by what seems an
inexplicable occurrence. How would Mark get to Darnaston by twelve
o'clock to-day? Surely he could only do so by starting before it was
light, and motoring the whole way from London?
She gazed at the words "very private." What did they portend? Quickly
she examined her conscience. No, she had done nothing--nothing which
could have brought her into contact, even slightly, with the law. Of
course, she was well aware that Mark had never forgotten, even over all
these years, the dreadful scrape into which she had got herself by going
to those gambling parties in the pleasant, quiet, Jermyn Street flat
where she and Varick had first become acquainted. But that had been a
sharp lesson, and one by which she had profited.
She next took a rapid mental survey of her family, all so much more
respectable and prosperous than herself. The only person among them
capable of getting into any real scrape was poor little Bubbles.
Bubbles was now practically well again. She had written out the
announcement which was to appear in the _Times_ and the _Morning Post_,
and had insisted on its being sent off.
Donnington had been somewhat perturbed by the thought of their
engagement being thus at once made public. But Bubbles had observed
cheerfully: "Once people know about it, I shan't be able to get out of
it, even if I want to!" To that Bill had said, sorely, that if she
wanted to give him the chuck she should of course do so, even on the
altar steps. Bubbles had laughed at that and exclaimed: "I only said it
to tease you, old thing! The real truth is that I want father to
understand that I really mean it--that's all. He reads the _Times_ right
through every day, and he'll think it true if he sees it there. As for
his tiresome widow, she'll see it in the _Morning Post_--and then she'll
believe it, too!"
Blanche Farrow told herself that this mysterious and extraordinary
message might have something to do with Bubbles; and as she got up, she
went on thinking with increasing unease of the unexpected assignation
which lay before her.
It was a comfort to feel that that disagreeable man, James Tapster, was
gone, and that the rest of the party, with the exception of herself and
Bubbles, were going to-day.
Something had again been said about Miss Burnaby and her niece staying
on, and she had heard Varick pressing them earnestly to do so; but the
old lady had been unwilling to break her plan, the more so that she had
an appointment with her dentist. Then Varick had asked why Miss Brabazon
shouldn't stay on till Saturday? There had been a considerable
discussion about it; but Blanche secretly hoped they would all go away.
She felt tired and unlike herself. The events of the last few days had
shaken her badly.
What an extraordinary difference a few moments can make in one's outlook
on life! Blanche Farrow was uncomfortably aware that she would never
forget what had happened to her on New Year's Eve. That strange and
fearful experience had obliterated some of her clearest mental
landmarks. She wished to think, she tried very hard to think, that in
some mysterious way the vision she had seen with such terrible
distinctness had been a projection from Bubbles' brain--Bubbles' uncanny
gift working, perchance, on Lionel Varick's mind and memory. She could
not doubt that the two wraiths she had seen so clearly purported to be a
survival of the human personalities of the two women who each had borne
Varick's name, and had been, for a while, so closely linked with him....
Yet long ago, when quite a young woman, she had come to the deliberate
conclusion that there was no such survival of human personality.
Taking up Mark Gifford's mysterious telegram, and one or two
unimportant letters she had just received, she went downstairs, to see,
as she came into the dining-room, that only Varick was already down.
He looked up, and she was shocked to see how ill and strained he looked.
He had taken poor little Bubbles' accident terribly to heart; Blanche
knew he had a feeling--which was rather absurd, after all,--that he in
some way could have prevented it.
But as he saw her come in his face lightened, and she felt touched. Poor
Lionel! He was certainly very, very fond of her.
"I do hope Helen Brabazon will stay on with you and Bubbles," he said
eagerly. "I think I've nearly persuaded Miss Burnaby to let her do so.
Do say a word to her, Blanche?"
"I will, if you like. But in that case, hadn't we better ask Sir Lyon to
stay on, too?"
"Dilsford!" he exclaimed. "Why on earth should we think of doing that?"
Blanche smiled. "Where are your eyes?" she asked. "Sir Lyon's head over
heels in love with Helen Brabazon; and I've been wondering these last
few days whether that quiet, demure girl is quite as unconscious of his
state as she pretends to be!"
And then, as she began pouring out a cup of tea for the man who was now
looking at her with a dismayed, surprised expression on his face, she
went on composedly: "It would be rather amusing if two engagements were
to come out of your house-party, Lionel--wouldn't it?"
But he answered at once, in a harsh, decided tone, "I think you're quite
mistaken, Blanche. Why, they've hardly exchanged two words together."
Blanche put down the tea-pot. She began to laugh--she really couldn't
help it. "You must have been deaf as well as blind!" she exclaimed.
"They've been together perpetually! I admit that that's been his
doing--not hers. For days past I've seen right into his mind--seen, I
mean, the struggle that has been taking place between his pride
and--yes, the extraordinary attraction that girl seems to have for him.
He's no fortune-hunter, you know; also, he wants so little, the lucky
man, that I think her money would be a positive bother to him."
Lionel Varick stared at Blanche Farrow. She had a way of being right
about worldly matters--the triumph of experience over hope, as she had
once observed cynically. But this time he felt sure she was wrong.
The feminine interest in a possible, probable, or even improbable
love-affair always surprises the average man--surprises, and sometimes
annoys him very much.
"Do you go so far as to say she returns this--this feeling you attribute
to him?" he asked abruptly. He was relieved to see Blanche shake her
"No; I can't say that I've detected any response on her part," she said
lightly. "But she's very old-fashioned and reserved. She certainly
enjoys Sir Lyon's rather dull conversation, and she likes
cross-examining him about the life of the poor. She's a very good girl,"
went on Blanche musingly. "She's a tremendous sense of duty. One can
never tell--but no, I don't think the idea that Sir Lyon's in love with
her has yet crossed her mind! And I should say that she really prefers
you to him. She has a tremendous opinion of you, Lionel. I wonder why?"
He laughed aloud, for the first time since Bubbles' accident. He knew
that what Blanche said was true, and it was a very pleasant, reassuring
bit of knowledge.
"Old Burnaby would not think of allowing her to marry a penniless
baronet," he said smiling.
Blanche looked across at him quickly. "Good and obedient as she is to
both those old things, I don't think they'd be able to influence Helen
Brabazon in such a thing as marriage."
"Well, you may be right," said Varick, doubtfully.
He felt strongly tempted to take Blanche into his confidence; to tell
her, frankly, that he wished to marry Helen. Yet some obscure instinct
held him back. Women, even the most sensible women, are so damned
sentimental! So he told himself. Lately he had had the unpleasant,
disconcerting feeling that whenever Helen looked at him she thought of
"Still, I don't envy Sir Lyon his wooing," went on Blanche. "Helen is a
girl who'll take a long time to make up her mind, and who will weigh all
the pros and cons."
"Then you don't think," said Varick in a low tone, "that she would ever
be swept off her feet?"
At one time he had felt sure she would be.
"By a grand passion? My dear Lionel, what an absurd idea! But hush--"
The door opened, and the object of their discussion came in. Helen
Brabazon always looked especially well as breakfast. It was her hour.
"How's Bubbles this morning?" she asked.
And Blanche felt rather guilty. She hadn't been into Bubbles' room; her
mind had been too full of other things. "She's going on very well," she
answered composedly. "I think she might get up to-morrow, in spite of
Dr. Panton." And then, for she felt Varick was "willing" her to say it:
"I do hope that you are going to stay on till Saturday, even if your
aunt has to go away this afternoon."
"Yes," said Helen, and the colour deepened a little in her cheeks. "Yes,
I've persuaded Auntie to let me stay on till you and Bubbles come up to
London. It's only two days, after all."
"I _am_ glad." There was a genuine thrill of satisfaction in Varick's
voice. This meant that he and the girl would be practically alone
together all to-morrow and Friday.
"I think Sir Lyon could manage to stay on too, if you ask him." Helen
smiled guilelessly at her host. "I saw him just now. He and Dr. Panton
were taking Span round to the kitchen, and when I said I was staying on,
Sir Lyon said he thought he could stay on too, just till Saturday
Blanche could not forbear giving a covert glance of triumph at Varick's
surprised and annoyed face. "Of course," she said quickly, "we shall be
delighted to have Sir Lyon a little longer. I thought by what he said
that he was absolutely obliged to go away to-day, by the same train as
you and Miss Burnaby."
"He certainly said so," observed Varick coldly.
And then, for Blanche Farrow was above all things a woman of the world,
when the other two men came in she made everything quite easy for Sir
Lyon, pressing him to stay on, as if she had only just thought of it.
But she noticed, with covert amusement, that he was very unlike his
usual cool, collected self. He actually looked sheepish--yes, that was
the only word for it! Also, he made rather a favour of staying. "I shall
have to telegraph," he said; "for I'd made all my arrangements to go
back this afternoon."
"As for me," said Dr. Panton, "I must leave this afternoon, worse luck!
But there it is." He turned to Varick. "I've got an appointment in
London to-morrow morning--one I can't put off."
Donnington came in at last. He looked radiant--indeed, his look of
happiness was in curious contrast to the lowering expression which now
clouded Varick's face.
"Bubbles is nearly well again!" he cried joyfully. "She says she'll get
up to-morrow, doctor or no doctor!" He looked at Panton; then, turning
to Blanche, in a lower tone: "Also, she's shown me the most wonderful
letter from her father, written to her before Christmas. I always
thought he disliked me: but he liked me from the very first time we
met--isn't that strange?"
"Very strange," said Blanche, smiling.
They all scattered after breakfast, but Miss Farrow noticed that Varick
made a determined and successful attempt to carry off Helen Brabazon
from Sir Lyon, who had obviously been lying in wait for her.
"What dogs in the manger men are!" she said to herself. And then she
remembered, with a little gasp of dismay, her mysterious appointment
with Mark Gifford. She knew him well enough to be sure that he would be
in good time; but, even so, there was more than an hour to be got
through somehow before she could start for Darnaston.
She went up to Bubbles' room. Yes, the girl looked marvellously
better--younger too, quite different!
There came a knock at the door while she was there, and Donnington came
"If you'd been wise," said Bubbles, looking up at him, "you'd have made
up to Helen Brabazon, Bill. She's like an apple, just ready to fall off
"What _do_ you mean?" asked Blanche.
"Just what I say. She's tremendously in love with love!"
"D'you really think so?"
(If so, Sir Lyon's task would be an easy one.)
"I know it," said Bubbles positively. "I've made a close study of that
girl. I confess I didn't like her at first, and I will tell you why,
though I know it will shock Bill."
"I've always liked Miss Brabazon," he said stoutly, "why didn't you like
"Because when she arrived here I saw that she was in love with Lionel
"Don't talk nonsense," said her aunt reprovingly. "You know I don't like
that sort of joking."
And as for Bill, he turned and walked towards the door. "I've got some
letters to write," he said crossly.
"Don't go away, Bill. It isn't a joke, Blanche--and I'm going really to
shock _you_ now--unless, of course, you're only pretending to be
"What d'you mean?" said Blanche.
"I think Helen fell in love with Lionel Varick before his wife died."
Bill said sharply: "I won't have you say such disgusting things,
Bubbles!" And he did indeed look disgusted.
"What a queer mind you've got," said Bubbles reprovingly. "I mean, of
course, in quite a proper way; that is, without the poor girl knowing
anything about it. But I thing _he_ knew it right enough."
Blanche remained silent. Bubbles' words were making her feel curiously
uneasy. They threw a light on certain things which had puzzled her.
"Lionel Varick marked her down long ago," went on Bubbles slowly. "On
the evening that she arrived I saw that he had quite made up his mind to
marry her. But as the days went on I began to hope that he wouldn't
succeed." She uttered these last words very, very seriously.
Her aunt looked at her, surprised at the feeling she threw into her
voice. As for Donnington, he was staring at her dumbly and, yes,
angrily. At last he said: "And why shouldn't Varick marry her, if they
both like one another?"
"You wouldn't understand if I were to tell you. You're too stupid and
too good to understand."
Donnington felt very much put out. He did not mind being called stupid,
but what on earth did Bubbles mean by saying he was too good?
"I'm sure Lionel's dead wife has been haunting Helen," went on Bubbles
rapidly, "quite, quite sure of it. And I'm glad she has! I should be
sorry for any nice girl--for any woman, even a horrid woman--to marry
Lionel Varick. There! I've said my say, and now I shall for ever hold my
They both stared at her, astonished by the passion and energy with which
she uttered the curious words.
Bill looked down at the girl, and, though he felt hurt and angry with
her, his heart suddenly softened. Bubbles looked very frail and tired
"Bill," she said, "come here," and he came, though not very willingly,
closer to her.
She pulled him down. "I only want to tell you that I love you," she
whispered, and his anger, his irritation, vanished like snow in the sun.
Blanche was already at the door. She turned round. "Well, I must be off
now to see the _chef_, and to make all sorts of arrangements. Sir Lyon
is staying on--rather unlike him to change his mind, but he's done
so--at the last moment."
"I wish _I_ could get a few more days' holiday," said Bill ruefully. "My
number's up this afternoon."
The letters he had to write could go to blazes--of course he meant to
spend each of the precious minutes that remained in the next few hours
"You'll be able to escort old Miss Burnaby to town, for Helen's staying
on," went on Blanche.
"Helen staying on?" exclaimed Bubbles. "I'm glad of that! Oh, and Sir
Lyon's staying on, too?"
She suddenly gave one of her funny, eerie little chuckles; but she made
no other comment.
"Yes," called out Blanche. "And Dr. Panton's going--so I've a good many
little things to see to."
Bill sprang to the door, and opened it for her.
As it shut she heard Bubbles' voice, and it was a voice Blanche Farrow
hardly knew. "Are you really sorry you're going away from your little
Blanche sighed sharply. After all, so she told herself, there is
something to be said for love's young dream.
It marked ten minutes to twelve on the tower of the ancient chantry
church of Darnaston as Blanche Farrow walked across the village green
and past the group of thatched cottages composing the pretty hamlet
which looks so small compared with its noble house of God. But, though
she was early, the man she was to meet was evidently already there, for
a big, mud-stained motor-car was drawn up in the lane which runs to the
left of the church.
Feeling more and more apprehensive, she knew not of what, she walked up
the path between the graves, and then suddenly she saw Mark Gifford--his
spare, still active-looking figure framed in the stone porch, his plain,
but pleasant, intelligent-looking face full of a grave welcome.
He stepped out of the porch and gripped her hand in silence.
She felt that he was deeply stirred, stirred as she had never known him
to be--excepting, perhaps, on that occasion, years and years ago, when
he had first asked her to be his wife.
Still holding her hand in that strong grasp, he drew her within the
porch. "I'm so grateful to you for having come," he said. "I hope you
didn't think what I did very odd?"
"I did think it just a little odd."
She was trying to smile--to be her usual composed self.
"I couldn't come to Wyndfell Hall," he said abruptly, "for a reason
which you will soon know. But I had to see you, and, by a bit of luck, I
suddenly remembered this splendid old church. I passed by here once on a
walking tour, years and years ago. It's the sort of place people come a
long way to see; so, if we are found here together--well, we might have
met by accident."
"As it is, we have met by appointment," she said quietly.
She was feeling more and more frightened. Mark now looked so set, so
"Would you rather stay out here," he asked, "or shall we go into the
"I'd rather stay out here. What is it, Mark? Don't keep me in suspense."
They were standing, facing one another; he had let go her hand at last.
"What I've come to tell you will give you, I fear, a great shock," he
began slowly, "for it concerns someone to whom I believe you to be
He looked away from her for the first time.
"Then it _is_ Bubbles!" she cried, dismayed. "What on earth has the
He turned and again looked into her face, now full of a deeply troubled,
questioning anxiety. "Bubbles Dunster?" he exclaimed. "Good heavens, no!
It's nothing to do with Bubbles."
A look of uncontrollable relief came over her eyes and mouth.
"Who is it, Mark? You credit me with a warmer heart than I possess--"
But he remained silent, and she said quickly: "Come! Who is it, Mark?"
"Can't you guess?" he asked harshly. And, as she shook her head, he
added, in a slow, reluctant tone: "I've always supposed you to be really
attached to Lionel Varick."
Lionel? That was the last name she expected to hear!
"I don't know exactly what you mean by 'attached,' Mark," she said
coldly. "But yes, I've always been fond of him--in a way I suppose you
might call it 'attached'--since that horrid affair, years ago, when you
were so kind both to him and to me."
"Don't couple yourself with him," he said sternly, "if, as I gather, you
don't really care for him, Blanche." And then, almost inaudibly, he
added: "You don't know the tortures of jealousy I've suffered at the
thought of you and that man."
"Tortures of jealousy?" she repeated, astonished, and rather touched.
"Oh, Mark--poor Mark! Why didn't you ask me? I've never, never cared for
him in--in that sort of way. How could you think I did?"
"Yet you're here, in his house," he said, "acting (so you said in your
letter) as hostess to his guests? And surely you've always been on terms
of what most people would call close friendship with him?"
"Yes, I suppose I have"--she hesitated--"in a way. I've always felt
that, like me, he hadn't many real friends. And, of course, in old days,
ages ago, he was very fond of me," she smiled. "That always pleases a
"Does it?" he asked, probingly; and as only answer she reddened
There came a little pause, and then Blanche exclaimed:
"I'm sorry, very sorry, if he's got into a new scrape, Mark; and I'm
surprised too. Some two years ago he married a rich woman; she died not
long after their marriage, but she was devoted to him, and he's quite
well off now."
"Did you know her?" asked Mark Gifford, in a singular tone.
"No, I never came across her. I was away--in Portugal, I think. He wrote
and told me about his marriage, and then, later, when his wife fell ill,
he wrote again. He was extremely good to her, Mark."
"D'you know much about Varick's early life?" he asked.
"I think I know all there is to know," she answered.
What was Mark getting at? What had Lionel Varick done? Her mind was
already busily intent on the thought of how disagreeable it would be to
have to warn him of impending unpleasantness.
It was good of Mark to have taken all this trouble! Of course, he had
taken it for her sake, and she felt very grateful--and still a little
frightened; he looked so unusually grave.
"What _do_ you know of Varick's early life?" he persisted.
"I don't think there's very much to know," she answered uneasily. "His
father had a place in Yorkshire, and got involved in some foolish, wild
speculations. In the end the man went bankrupt, everything was sold up,
and they were very poor for a while--horribly poor, I believe. Then the
elder Varick died, and his widow and Lionel went and lived at Bedford. I
gather Lionel's mother was clever, proud, and quarrelsome. At any rate,
she quarrelled with her people, and he had a very lonely boyhood and
"Then you know very little of how Varick lived before you yourself met
him? How old would he have been then, Blanche?"
"I should think four or five-and-twenty," she said hesitatingly.
"I suppose," and then Mark Gifford looked at her with a troubled,
hesitating look, "I suppose, Blanche--I fear I'm going to surprise
you--that you were not aware that he'd been married before?"
"Yes," she said eagerly, "I did know that, Mark."
What on earth was he driving at? That woman, Lionel Varick's first wife,
was surely dead? She, Blanche, had had, by a curious accident, someone
else's word for that. And then--there rose before her the vision of a
ghastly-looking, wild, handsome face; quickly she put it from her, and
went on: "He married, when he was only nineteen, a girl out of his own
class. They separated for a while; then they seem to have come together
again, and, fortunately for Lionel, she died."
"She died murdered--poisoned."
Mark Gifford uttered the dread words very quietly. "Almost certainly
poisoned by her husband, Lionel Varick."
A mist came over Blanche Farrow's eyes. She turned suddenly sick and
She put out her hand blindly. Gifford took it, and made her sit down on
a stone bench.
"I'm sorry," he said feelingly, "very, very sorry to have had to tell
you this dreadful thing, Blanche."
"Never mind," she muttered. "Go on, Mark, if there's anything else to
As he remained silent for a moment, she asked, in a dull, tired tone:
"But if this awful thing is true, how was it found out, after so many
"It's a peculiar story," he answered reluctantly. "The late--I might say
the last--Mrs. Varick, whose name, as you of course know, was Millicent
Fauncey, had first as governess, and then as companion, an elderly woman
called by the extraordinary name of Pigchalke. This Julia Pigchalke
seemed to have hated Varick from the first. She violently disapproved of
the engagement, quarrelled with Miss Fauncey about it, and the two women
never met after the marriage. But Miss Pigchalke evidently cared deeply
for poor Mrs. Varick; I've seen her, and convinced myself of that."
"What is she like?" asked Blanche suddenly.
"Well, she's not attractive! A stout, stumpy, grey-haired woman, with a
very red face."
Blanche covered her eyes with her hands. "Go on," she said again, "go
on, Mark, with what you were saying."
"Where was I? Oh, I know now! When Mrs. Varick died, within less than a
year of her marriage, Miss Pigchalke suspected foul play, and she
deliberately set herself to track Lionel Varick down. She made it her
business to find out everything about him, and but for her I think we
may take it that he would have gone on to the end of the chapter a
respectable, and in time highly respected, member of society."
There was a pause. Blanche was staring before her, listening.
"About five weeks ago," went on Mark Gifford quietly, "Miss Pigchalke
got into touch with the head of our Criminal Investigation Department.
She put before him certain--one can hardly call them facts--but certain
discoveries she had made, which led to the body of the first Mrs. Varick
being exhumed." Blanche Farrow uttered a stifled exclamation of
surprise, and Gifford went on: "I may add that Miss Pigchalke behaved
with remarkable cunning and intelligence. She found out that the doctor
at Redsands--the place where her poor friend died--was a firm friend of
Varick's. She thinks him an accomplice, but of course we regard that as
nonsense, for we've found out all about the man, and he is coming to see
our toxological expert to-morrow."
(Then that was Dr. Panton's urgent appointment in town.)
"And now, Blanche, comes the curious part of the story! The doctor who
had attended the first Mrs. Varick years and years ago _had_ suspected
foul play. He's a very old man now, and he retired many years ago, but
he happened to come across an advertisement which Miss Pigchalke put
into one of the Sunday papers asking for information concerning Lionel
Varick's past life. _He answered the advertisement_, with the result
that his one-time patient was exhumed. It was then found beyond doubt
that the woman had been poisoned; and a few days ago the second Mrs.
Varick's body was exhumed."
Blanche looked up, and in answer to her haggard look, he said: "Though
perhaps I oughtn't to tell you so, there isn't a shadow of doubt that
she also was foully done to death, and rather more intelligently than
the other poor soul, for in _her_ case the process was allowed to take
longer, and the doctor attending her was quite taken in."
"How horrible!" muttered Blanche. "How very, very horrible!"
"Yes, horrible indeed! But why I've come here to-day, Blanche, is to
tell you that to-morrow Lionel Varick will be arrested on the charge of
murder. I have come to say that you and Bubbles must leave Wyndfell Hall
Blanche hardly heard what he was saying. She was absorbed in the horror
and in the amazement of the story he had just told her, and in what was
going to happen to-morrow to the man who had been for so long her
"It is an immense relief to me to hear that you never even saw the late
Mrs. Varick." Mark Gifford went on: "I was afraid that you might have
been mixed up with this dreadful business; that he might have used you
in some way."
Blanche shook her head, and he went on, musingly: "There were two ladies
living next door to the house at Redsands where the poor woman was done
to death. They, I expect, will have to give evidence, at least I know
that one of them will, a certain Miss--Miss--?"
"Brabazon?" supplied Blanche quickly.
"Yes, that's the name! A certain Miss Brabazon was a great deal with
Mrs. Varick. She seems to have been an intimate friend of both the
husband and wife. She used to go out with Varick for motor drives. Has
he ever spoken to you of her?"
"Miss Brabazon is here, now, at Wyndfell Hall," exclaimed Blanche. "You
must have heard of her, Mark? She's the owner of some tremendously big
"Oh, I don't think it can be that girl!"
Mark Gifford looked surprised and perturbed.
"But I know it's that girl. She's become quite a friend of mine, and of
Bubbles. Oh, Mark, I do _hope_ Helen Brabazon won't be brought into this
dreadful business--d'you think that will be really necessary?"
"I don't know," he said slowly. "But some of our people think that
Varick may put up a fight. British criminal law is much too kind to
murderers. Even if there's evidence enough to hang a man ten times over,
there's always a sporting chance he may get off! There is in this case."
Blanche turned suddenly very pale. The full realization of what those
words meant rushed upon her. He feared she was going to faint.
"Forgive me," she muttered. "It's stupid, I know; but you must remember
that--that I've known Lionel Varick a long time."
"I'm not a bit surprised that you are so distressed," he said
And then something happened which did surprise Mark Gifford! He was
supposed to be a clever, intelligent man, and there were many people who
went in awe of him; but he knew very little about women. This, perhaps,
was why he felt utterly astounded when Blanche suddenly burst into
tears, and began rocking herself backwards and forwards. "Oh, Mark!" she
sobbed. "Oh, Mark, I'm so unhappy,--I'm so miserable--I'm so frightened.
Do--do help me!"
"That's just what I came to do," he said simply. But he was very much
troubled. Her face was full of a kind of agonized appeal....
Greatly daring, he bent down over her, and gathered her into his arms.
She clung to him convulsively; and, all at once, there came insistently
to Mark Gifford, George Herbert's beautiful saying: "There is an hour in
which a man may be happy all his life, can he but find it." Perhaps that
hour, that moment, had come to him now.
"Blanche," he whispered, "Blanche--darling! You didn't really mean what
you wrote yesterday? Don't you think the time has come when two such old
friends as you and I might--"
"--make fools of themselves?"
She looked up at him, and there came a quivering smile over her
disfigured face. "Yes, if you really wish it, Mark. I'll do just as you
"D'you really mean that?" he asked.
And she said firmly: "Yes, Mark--I really do mean it." And he felt her
yielding--yielding in spirit as well as in body--in body as well as in
"I suppose you couldn't come back with me to London, now?" he asked a
little shyly. "We could get the woman at the post office down there to
send up a letter to Bubbles, explaining that you had to go away
unexpectedly, and telling her to follow you to town to-day."
It was rather a wild proposal, and he was not surprised when he saw her
shake her head. "I can't do that," she said. "But oh, Mark, I wish I
could! Bubbles is in bed. There was an accident--it's too long to tell
you about it now. But, of course, I'll manage to get her away to-day."
And then the oppressive horror of it all suddenly came back to her.
"When did you say they were going to arrest Lionel?"
She uttered the words slowly, and with difficulty.
"They're going to arrest him to-morrow, Friday, in the early afternoon,"
he said in a low voice. "By God's mercy," he spoke simply, reverently,
"I got your letter in time, Blanche."
He looked at her anxiously. "I'm afraid even now you will have some
difficult hours to live through," and, as he saw her face change, "I
trust absolutely to your discretion," he said hesitatingly.
"Of course," she gave the assurance hurriedly. "Of course you can do
Without looking at her, he went on:
"As a matter of fact, the house has been watched for some days. If he
tries to get away he will destroy the--the sporting chance I mentioned
"I must be going back," she said, getting up. "Several of the party
were, in any case, leaving this afternoon, and I must manage to get
everybody else away as well."
Her mind was in a whirl of conflicting feelings and emotions. And then,
all at once, she was moved, taken away from the dreadful problem of the
moment, by what she saw in Mark Gifford's face. It was filled with a
kind of sober gladness. "Mark," she exclaimed, "what a selfish brute
I've always been to you--never giving--always taking! I'll try to be
She held out her hand; he took it and held it closely. "When shall I see
you again?" he asked. "May I come and meet you and Bubbles at Liverpool
"Yes--do. That will be a great comfort!" And then, acting as she very
seldom did, on impulse, Blanche rather shamefacedly held up her face to
Again and again, as Blanche Farrow walked slowly back to Wyndfell Hall,
she went over the meagre details of the strange story she had just been
told. Again and again she tried to fill in the bare outlines of the
Lionel Varick a murderer? Her mind, her heart, refused to accept the
Suddenly there came back to her a recollection of the curious, now many
years old, circumstances which had attended her knowledge of Varick's
Someone, she could not now remember who, had taken her to one of the
cheap foreign restaurants in Soho, which were not then so much
frequented by English people as they are now. She had been surprised,
and rather amused, to see Lionel Varick at a neighbouring table,
apparently entertaining a middle-aged, rather prim-looking lady, whom he
had introduced to her, Blanche, rather unwillingly, as "my friend, Miss
Then had come the strange part of the story!
When on her way to stay with some friends in Sussex a few days later,
she found herself in the same railway carriage as Miss Weatherfield;
and, during the course of some desultory talk, the latter had mentioned
that she was daughter to the Chichester doctor who had attended Lionel
Varick's wife in her last illness.
_Lionel Varick's wife_? For a moment Blanche had thought that there
must be some mistake, or that her ears had betrayed her. But she very
soon realized that there was no mistake, and that she had heard aright.
Successfully concealing her ignorance of the fact that their mutual
friend was a widower, she had ventured a few discreet questions, to
which had come willing answers. These made it clear why Varick had
chosen to remain silent concerning what had evidently been a sordid and
melancholy episode of his past life.
Miss Weatherfield told her pleasant new acquaintance that the Varicks,
when they had first come to Chichester, had been very poor, the wife of
an obviously lower class than the husband. But that Varick, being the
gentleman he was, had not minded what he did to earn an honest living,
and that through Dr. Weatherfield he had obtained for a while employment
with a chemist, his work being that of taking round the medicines, as he
was not of course qualified to make up prescriptions.
While Miss Weatherfield had babbled on, Blanche had been able to piece
together what had evidently been a singularly painful story. Mrs. Varick
had been a violent, disagreeable woman, and the kindly spinster had felt
deeply sorry for the husband, himself little more than a boy. But she
admitted that her father, while attending Mrs. Varick, had acquired a
prejudice against the husband of his patient, and she added, smilingly,
that it was without her father's knowledge or consent that she had given
the young man, after the death of his wife, a valuable business
Miss Weatherfield evidently flattered herself that this introduction had
been a turning-point in Varick's life, and that what appeared to her his
present prosperity was owing to what she had done. In any case, he had
shown his gratitude by keeping in touch with her, and on the rare
occasions when she came to London, they generally met.
Blanche Farrow, even in those early days, was too much a woman of the
world to feel as surprised as some people would have been. All the same,
she had felt disconcerted and a little pained, that the man who was fond
of telling her that she was his only real friend in the world had
concealed from her so important a fact as that of his marriage.
After some hesitation she had made up her mind to tell him of her
new-found knowledge, and at once he had filled in and coloured the
sketchy outlines of the picture drawn by the rather foolish if kindly
natured Miss Weatherfield. Yes, it was true that he had been a fool,
though a quixotic fool--so Blanche had felt on hearing his version of
the story. At the time of the marriage Varick had been nineteen, his
wife five years older. The two had soon parted, but they had made up
their differences after a separation which lasted four years. Varick's
fortunes had then been at their lowest ebb, and the two had drifted to
Chichester, where Mrs. Varick had humble, respectable relations. After a
while the woman had fallen ill, and finally died. Blanche had seen how
it had pained and disturbed Varick to rake out the embers of the past,
and neither had ever referred to the sad story again.
* * * * *
And now, from considering the past, Blanche Farrow turned shrinkingly to
In common with the rest of the world, she had at times followed the
course of some great murder trial; and she had been interested, as most
intelligent people are occasionally interested, in the ins and outs of
more than one so-called "poisoning mystery."
But such happenings had seemed utterly remote from herself; and to her
imagination the word "murderer" had connoted an eccentric, cunning,
mentally misshapen monster, lacking all resemblance to the vast bulk of
human kind. She tried to realize that, if Mark Gifford's tale were true,
a man with whom she herself had long been in close sympathy, and whose
peculiar character she had rather prided herself on understanding, had
been--nay, was--such a monster.
Blanche felt a touch of shuddering repulsion from herself, as well as
from Varick, as she now remembered how sincerely she had rejoiced when,
reading between the lines of his letter, she had guessed that he was
marrying an unattractive woman for her money. It was now a comfort to
feel that, even so, she had certainly felt a sensation of disgust when
it had come to her knowledge that Varick had assumed, with regard to
that same unattractive woman, an extravagant devotion she felt convinced
he did not--could not--feel. It had shocked her, made her feel
uncomfortable, to hear Helen Brabazon's artless allusions to the
tenderness and devotion he had lavished on "poor Milly."
Helen Brabazon? A sensation of pain, almost of shame, swept over Blanche
Farrow. Were Helen to appear as witness in a _cause celebre_ the girl's
life would henceforth be shadowed and smirched by an awful memory. And
then there rose before her mind another dread possibility. Was it not
possible--nay, probable--that she, Blanche Farrow, would be sucked into
She remembered a case in which the prisoner had been charged with the
murder of a relation through whose death he had received considerable
benefit, and how four or five men and women of repute had been called to
testify to his high character, and to the kindness of his heart. But
their evidence had availed him nothing, for he had been hanged.
Blanche quickened her footsteps as, in imagination, she saw herself in
the witness-box speaking on behalf of Lionel Varick.
She argued with herself that, after all, it was just possible that he
might be innocent! If so, she would fight for him to the death, and
that, however much it distressed and angered Mark Gifford that she
should do so.
Absorbed in the dread and terrible thing he had come to tell her, she
had not given him, the man who loved her, and whose wife she was to be,
one thought since their solemn, rather shamefaced, embrace. Yet now the
knowledge that, however, much he disapproved, Mark would stand by her,
gave her a wonderful feeling of security, of having left the open sea of
life for a safe harbour--and that in spite of the terrible hours,
perhaps the terrible weeks and months, which now lay before her.
* * * * *
Turning the sharp angle which led to the gate giving admittance to the
gardens of Wyndfell Hall, she suddenly met Helen Brabazon face to face,
and for one wild moment Blanche thought that Helen _knew_. The girl's
usually placid, comely face was disfigured. It was plain that she had
been crying bitterly.
"I'm going to the village," she exclaimed; "I've got to go home to-day,
and I must telegraph to my uncle."
"I hope you haven't had bad news?" said Blanche mechanically.
She was telling herself that it was quite, quite impossible that Helen
knew anything--but as Helen, who had begun crying again, shook her head,
Blanche asked: "Does Lionel know that you want to leave to-day?"
"Yes; I have told Mr. Varick," and then all at once she exclaimed: "Oh,
Miss Farrow, I feel so utterly miserable! Mr. Varick has just asked me
to be his wife, and it has made me feel as if I had been so treacherous
to Milly. Yet I don't think I did anything to make him like me? Do you
think I did?"
She looked appealingly at Blanche.
It was plain that what had happened had given her an extraordinary
shock. "I am sure, now," she went on falteringly, "that Milly--poor,
poor Milly--haunts this house. I have felt, again and again, as if she
were hovering about me. I believe that what I saw in the hall, on that
awful afternoon, was really _her_. Yet Mr. Varick says that Milly would
be very pleased if he and I were to marry each other. Surely he is
"Yes," said Blanche slowly, "I think he is."
"I feel so miserable," went on the girl, still speaking with a touch of
excitement which in her was so very unusual. "What happened this morning
has spoiled what I thought was such a beautiful friendship! And then I
feel frightened--horribly frightened"--she went on in a low voice.
"What is it that frightens you, Helen?" asked Blanche.
These confidences seemed at once so futile, and yet also so sinister,
knowing what she now knew.
"I'm afraid that Mr. Varick will 'will' me into thinking I care for
him," the girl confessed in a low voice. "He says that he will never
give up hope, and that, although he knows he isn't worthy of me, he
thinks that in time I shall care for him. But I don't want to care for
him, Miss Farrow--I'm sure that Milly is jealous of me; yet at Redsands,
when she was dying, it made her happy that we were friends."
"I don't think you need be afraid that Lionel will ever ask you to marry
him again," said Blanche firmly. "And, Helen? Let me give you a word of