Part 5 out of 5
daily admiring the cleverness of Phyllis Ayrton when she had the punt
pole in her hands. He also admired the gradual tinting of her fair
face, through the becoming exertion of taking the punt up the lovely
backwater or on to the placid reaches beyond. Sometimes the punt
contained three or four of the party in addition to Herbert, but twice
he was alone with her, and shared his admiration of her with no one.
YOU MAY TRUST MR. COURTLAND.
Mrs. Linton was greatly amused--she certainly was surprised. The
surprises were natural, but the amusement was not quite logical. It
was, however, quite natural that her guests--two of them excepted--
should be amused when they observed her surprise.
Could anything be funnier, one of these guests asked another in a
whisper, than Mrs. Linton's chagrin on finding that her own particular
Sir Lancelot had discovered an Elaine for himself?
Of course the guest who was so questioned agreed that nothing could
possibly be funnier; and they both laughed in unison. If people cannot
derive innocent fun from watching the disappointment of their hostess,
in what direction may the elements of mirth be found?
It was agreed that Mrs. Linton had invited Herbert Courtland up the
river for her own special entertainment--that she had expected him to
punt her up the river highways and the backwater by-ways, while
Phyllis Ayrton and the rest of her guests looked after themselves, or
looked after Mrs. Linton's husband; but it appeared that Herbert
Courtland had not been consulted on this subject, the result being
that Mrs. Linton's arrangements had been thrown into confusion.
The consensus of opinion among the guests was to the effect that Mrs.
Linton's arrangements had been thrown very much awry indeed. But then
the guests were amused, and as it is getting more and more difficult
every year to amuse one's guests, especially those forming a house-
party at a season when nothing lends itself to laughter, Mrs. Linton
would have had every reason to congratulate herself upon the success
of her party, had she been made aware of the innocent mirth which
prevailed for some days among her guests.
She would possibly have been greatly diverted also at the
overshrewdness of her guests, who were, of course, quite ignorant of
the conversation regarding Phyllis Ayrton which had immediately
preceded her invitation to Herbert to spend a few days on the river.
But though Ella had undoubtedly given Herbert to understand that she
was anxious to have him at The Mooring while Phyllis was there, in
order that he might have an opportunity of seeing more of her, and to
obtain his agreement that her theory that the man who truly loves a
woman should be ready to marry that woman's dearest friend, still it
must be confessed that she was surprised to observe the course adopted
by both Phyllis and Herbert. She had expected that all her tact and
diplomacy would be required in order to bring the young people--with
all the arrogance of the wife of twenty-six years of age she alluded
to a girl of twenty-three and a man of thirty-two as the young people
She had had visions of sitting in the stern of an out-rigger built for
two, remonstrating with Herbert--he would of course be at the oars--
for choosing to paddle her up the river while he allowed some of the
other men to carry off Phyllis in, say, the Canadian canoe. A picture
had come before her of the aggrieved expression upon the face of
Herbert when she would insist on his going out by the side of Phyllis
to feed the peacocks on the terraces in the twilight; and she had more
than once seemed to hear his sigh of resignation as she, with a
firmness which she would take pains to develop, pleaded a headache so
that he and Phyllis might play a game of billiards together.
She soon found out that her imagination had not been prophetic.
Immediately after drinking tea--it was a few minutes past six--on the
evening of the arrival of Herbert, she went out of doors to find him
and give him a lecture on the need there was for him to refrain from
waiting about the garden far from the other guests until she, Ella,
could go on the river with him for a quiet drift before dinner; the
other guests would certainly think him worse than rude, she was ready
to explain. The explanation was not needed; she learned that Mr.
Courtland had just taken Miss Ayrton out in one of the punts.
Of course she was pleased--after an hour by the side of her husband to
perceive that Herbert had lost no time in making an effort to prove to
her how amply he recognized her object in asking him to The Mooring.
But at the same time, if pleased, she was also surprised. At any rate,
she would take good care that he did not lapse in his attentions to
Phyllis; as she knew lovers are but too apt to lapse, especially when
they begin well. She would, for instance, send him from her side in
the garden after dinner, to walk with Phyllis up to the woods where a
nightingale was said to be in the habit of singing when the lovely
summer twilight had waned into the lovely summer night. With the
nightingale's song in their ears, two ordinary young persons with no
preconceived theories on the subject of love, have been known, she was
well aware, to become lovers of the most aggressive type. Yes, she had
great hopes of the nightingale.
So, apparently, had Herbert Courtland.
After dinner there was smoking in the garden, some feeding of the
peacocks on the terraces, while the blackbirds uttered protests
against such an absorption by foreign immigrants of the bread that was
baked for native consumption. Then there was some talk of the
nightingale. One man suggested that it was a nightingale attached to a
music box which the enterprise of a local inn had hired for the summer
months, sending a man to wind it up every night for the attraction of
visitors. Then it was that Mr. Courtland said he knew a spot where a
nightingale had been in the habit of singing long ago, when his
explorations of the Thames River had preceded those of the Fly River.
He found three persons who expressed their willingness to accept his
guidance on the spot, if it were not too far away. One of these was
Phyllis, the other two were notorious lovers. Off they started without
hats or caps.
This Ella heard when she returned to the garden, whence she had been
called away for ten minutes to interview a man who had an electric
launch for sale.
The news, communicated to her by her husband in answer to her inquiry,
had surprised her. That was why she had given a little laugh with a
tone of derision in it when she had said:
"A nightingale! How lovely! I hope they may find it. It shouldn't
prove so arduous as the quest of the meteor-bird. I do hope that those
children will not catch cold. It is a trifle imprudent."
"Going off that way with nothing on their heads."
"Or in them. Happy children!" cried a moralizing novelist, who was
smoking an extremely good cigar--it had not come from his own
"We can't all be novel-writers," said one of the women.
"Thank the Lord!" said one of the men, with genuine piety.
In three-quarters of an hour the members of the quest party returned.
They had been fully rewarded for their trouble; they had been
listening to the nightingale for nearly twenty minutes, they said; it
had been very lovely, they agreed, without a single dissentient voice.
It probably was; at any rate they were very silent for the rest of the
"You have begun well," said Ella to Herbert, when they found
themselves together in the drawing room, later on, shortly before
midnight. Someone was playing on the piano, so that the general
conversation and yawning were not interfered with. "You have begun
well. You will soon get to know her if your others days here are like
to-day. That nightingale! Oh, yes, you will soon get to know her."
He shook his head.
"I doubt it," said he, in a low tone. His eyes were turned in the
direction of Phyllis. She was on a seat at an open window, the
twilight of moonlight and lamplight glimmering about her hair. "I
doubt it. It takes a man such as I am a long time to know such a girl
as Phyllis Ayrton."
That was a saying which had a certain amount of irritation for Ella.
He had never said anything in the past about her, Ella, being beyond
the knowledge of ordinary men.
"That's a very good beginning," said she, with a little laugh that
meant much. "But don't despair. After all, girls are pretty much
alike. I was a girl once--it seems a long time ago. I thought then
that I knew a great deal about men. Alas! all that I have learned
since is simply that they know a great deal about me. Am I different
from other women, I wonder? Am I more shallow--more transparent? Was I
ever an enigma to you, Bertie?"
"You were always a woman," he said. "That is why----"
"That is why----"
"That is why I am here to-night. If you were not a true woman I should
be far away."
"You are far away--from me, Bertie."
"No, no! I am only beginning to appreciate you--to understand you."
"I am to be understood through the medium of Phyllis Ayrton? Isn't
that like looking at happiness through another's eyes?"
He did not appear to catch her meaning at once. He looked at her and
then his eyes went across the room to Phyllis. At the same instant the
performance on the piano ceased. Everyone said "Thanks, awfully good,"
and there were some audible yawns.
There was a brandy and soda yearning in the men's eyes.
"We'll get off to bed; someone may begin to play something else,"
whispered the hostess to one of her lady guests.
The men looked as if they had heard the suggestion and heartily
approved of it.
The next evening Ella was fortunate enough to get beside Herbert once
again--she had scarcely had an opportunity of exchanging a word with
him all day. He had been with Phyllis alone in the Canadian canoe. It
only held two comfortably, otherwise---- But no one had volunteered to
put its capacity to the test. Ella had gone in one of the punts with
four or five of her guests; but the punt never overtook the canoe. It
was those of the guests who had been in the punt that afterward said
it was very funny to observe the chagrin of Queen Guinevere when she
found that her Sir Lancelot had discovered an Elaine.
"You have had a delightful day, I'm sure," said Ella. She had found
him at the bottom of the garden just before dinner. It was not for her
he was loitering there.
"Delightful? Perhaps. I shall know more about it ten years hence," he
"You are almost gruff as well as unintelligible," said she.
"I beg your pardon," he cried. "Pray forgive me, Ella."
"I'll forgive your gruffness if you make yourself intelligible," said
she. "You frighten me. Ten years hence? What has happened to-day?"
"Oh, nothing whatever has happened! and as for ten years hence--well,
in ten years hence I shall be looking back to this day either as one
of the happiest of my life, or as Francesca looked back upon her
"Oh, now that you get into a foreign language you are quite
intelligible. You have not spoken?"
"Spoken? I? To her--to her? I have not spoken. I don't believe that I
shall ever have the courage to speak to her in the sense you mean."
Ella smiled as she settled a rose on the bodice of her evening dress--
its red petals were reposing in that little interspace that dimpled
the soft shell-pink of her bosom. The man before her had once kissed
She smiled, as she knew that he was watching her. She wondered if he
had forgotten that kiss.
"Why should you lose courage at this juncture?" she asked. "She
hasn't, up to the present, shown any very marked antipathy to you, so
far as I can see. She is certainly not wanting in courage, if you
"Ella," he cried, but in a low voice, "Ella, when I look at her, when
I think of her, I feel inclined to throw my bag into a trap and get
back to town--get back to New Guinea with as little delay as
"You would run away?" said she, still smiling. She had begun to work
with the rose in her bosom once more. "You would run away? Well, you
ran away once before, you know."
She could not altogether keep the sneer out of her voice; she could
not quite deprive her words of their sting. They sounded to her own
ears like the hiss of a lash in the air. She was amazed at the amount
of bitterness in her voice--amazed and ashamed.
He stood before her, silently looking at her. There was no reproach in
"Oh, Bertie, Bertie, forgive me!" she said, laying her hand on his
arm. "Forgive me; I don't know what I am saying."
There was some piteousness in her voice and eyes. She was appealing to
him for pity, but he did not know it. Every man thinks that the world
was made for himself alone, and he goes tramping about it, quite
careless as to where he plants his heavy feet. When occasionally he
gets a thorn in one of his feet, he feels quite aggrieved. He never
stops to think of all the things his foot crushes quite casually.
Herbert Courtland had no capacity for knowing how the woman before him
was suffering. He should have known, from the words he had just heard
her speak. He should have known that they had been wrung from her. He
did not know, however; he was not thinking of her.
"Bertie," she said again, "Bertie, you are not angry? I did not know
what I was saying."
"You are a woman," he said gently, and it was just by reason of this
gentleness that there seemed to be a reproach in his voice. He
reproached her for being a woman.
"I am a woman--just as other women, just as other women." Her voice
sounded like a moan. "I thought myself different, stronger--perhaps
worse than other women. I was wrong. Oh, Bertie! cannot you see that
she loves you as I loved you long ago--oh, so long ago? And someone
has said that there is no past tense in love! No, no! she does not
love you as I loved you--guiltily; no, her love is the love that
purifies, that exalts. She loves you, and she waits for you to tell
her that you love her. You love her, Bertie?"
There was a long pause before he said:
"Do you not?"
And it was at this point that Phyllis came up. Was there no expression
of suspicion on her face as she looked at them standing together?
If there was, they failed to notice it.
"I came out to get a rose," she said. "How quickly you dressed, Ella!
Ah, you have got your rose--a beauty! Your gardener is generous; he
actually allows you to pluck your own roses."
"Mr. Courtland will choose one for you," said Ella. "You may trust Mr.
"To choose me a rose? Well, on that recommendation, Mr. Courtland, I
think I may safely place myself in your hands. I will accept a rose of
And she did.
LET THEM BOTH GO TOGETHER TO PERDITION.
There could be no doubt whatever that, after all, he had not proposed
That was what Herbert Courtland's fellow-guests said when they learned
that he had left for London by an early train on Monday morning.
And the way she had thrown herself at his head, too!
Of course she pretended not to feel his departure any more than the
rest of the party; and equally as a matter of course, Mrs. Linton
protested that Mr. Courtland had disappointed her.
And perhaps he had, too, some of the guests whispered to one another.
Mr. Linton shrugged his shoulders and remarked that business was
Everyone agreed with the general accuracy of this assertion, but it
was not one that required much boldness to make, and what it had to do
with Mr. Courtland's hurried departure no one seemed quite able to
The general idea that had prevailed at The Mooring on the subject of
Mr. Courtland was that he would remain at the house after all the
other guests--Miss Ayrton only excepted--had left.
During Monday several were to return to town, and the remainder on
Tuesday, including Miss Ayrton. She required to do so to be in time
for a grand function at which Royalty was to be present on that night.
Mrs. Linton herself meant to return on Wednesday afternoon.
It was late on Sunday night when Herbert had gone to Ella's side and
told her that he found it necessary to leave for town early in the
morning instead of waiting until Tuesday evening.
"Good Heavens!" she cried; "what is the meaning of this? What will
people say? You do not mean to tell me that she--she---- Oh, no; that
would be impossible!"
"Nothing is impossible," said he. "Nothing--not even my running away."
"You have told her----"
"I have told her nothing. I am not sure that I have anything to tell
her. I am going away to make sure."
"Oh! very well. But I must say that I think you are wrong--quite
wrong. There is that Mr. Holland; he is coming into greater prominence
than ever since that article of his appeared in the /Zeit Geist/.
Stephen says he will certainly have to leave the Church."
"What has Mr. Holland got to say to----"
"More than meets the eye. You must remember that three months ago she
was engaged to marry him. Now, though I don't mean to say that she
ever truly loved him, yet there is no smoke without fire; it is very
often that two persons who have become engaged to be married love each
other. Now, if Phyllis ever had a tender feeling for Mr. Holland, and
only threw him over because his theories are not those of Philistia,
in the midst of which she had always lived, that feeling is certain to
become tenderer if he is about to be made a martyr of. Would you like
to see her thrown away upon George Holland?"
Herbert looked at the woman who could thus plead the cause--if that
was not too strong a phrase--of the girl whom he had come to love. He
felt that he was only beginning to know something about woman and her
"I must go," he said. "I must go. I am not sure of myself."
"You had best make sure of her, and then you will become sure of
yourself," said Ella.
"That would be to do her an injustice. No. I feel that I must go," he
And go he did.
Those of the guests who remained during Monday did their best to find
out how Phyllis was disposed to regard his departure; and there was a
consensus of opinion among them that she seemed greatly mortified,
though she made a splendid fight, trying to appear utterly
There was, however, no ignoring the circumstance that Ella was elated
at his departure; some of her guests even went so far as to suggest
that she had accelerated his departure, giving him to understand that,
however a young woman might throw herself at his head,--and didn't
Phyllis just throw herself at his head?--he had no right to give her
all his attention; a hostess has a right to claim some of his spare
It was not until Tuesday, when Mr. Linton had left for London, and
Phyllis was alone with Ella for an hour before lunch, that the latter
endeavored to find out what she thought of Herbert Courtland.
"Has Stephen been speaking to you about George Holland?" she inquired.
She thought that the best way to lead Phyllis to talk about Herbert
would be by beginning to talk about George Holland.
"Oh, yes!" said Phyllis. "He appears to be greatly interested in Mr.
Holland. He thinks that he must leave the Church."
"That would be very sad," remarked Ella. "It would seem very like
persecution, would it not?"
"I cannot see that there would be any injustice in the matter," said
Phyllis. "If a man chooses to write such things as he has written, he
must take the consequences. I, for my part, intend keeping away from
the church as long as Mr. Holland remains in the pulpit."
She did not think it necessary to refer to the remarks made by Mr.
Holland upon the occasion of his last visit to her, though these words
might not be without interest to Ella.
"But it seems hard, doesn't it, to deprive a man of his profession
simply because he holds certain views on what is, after all, an
abstract subject--the patriarchs, or the prophets and things of that
sort?" said Ella.
"Lady Earlscourt said that he should be forgiven, because he really
didn't hold the views which he had preached," laughed Phyllis. "She
also said that he should not be regarded as an atheist, because he
believed not only in one God, but in two."
"I wonder how many Herbert Courtland believes in," said Ella. "You
told me he talked to you on that topic the first night you met. Was it
about God you and he have been talking lately?"
"I'm afraid it was not."
"Oh! you found a more interesting topic, and one of more importance to
two people in the bloom of youth?"
"Oh, my dear, I don't mean anything dreadful. Only, you know as well
as I do that a healthy man and a healthy woman will never talk, when
they are alone together, about God, when they can talk about each
other. I think Herbert Courtland is about the healthiest man I know,
and I'm sure that you are the healthiest girl. You and he are most
sympathetic companions. You are not at all stupidly coy, my sweet
"I like Mr. Courtland, and why should I be coy?"
"Why, indeed? I wonder what the people who have just left us will say
"About it? About what!"
"You coyness--or absence of coyness. Will they say that you threw
yourself at his head?"
(As a matter of fact, as is already known, that is just what the
majority of the guests did say about her.)
Phyllis reddened and seemed--for a moment or two--almost angry. Then
she made a little gesture, expressive of indifference, as she cried:
"After all, what does it matter what they said? I don't care about
them. It is for you I care, Ella--you, only you."
"Heavens! how seriously you say that!" cried Ella. "There's no cause
for seriousness, I hope, even if you do care a great deal for me,
which I know you do. If you said so much to a man,--say, Herbert
Courtland,--it would be quite another matter. There would be
sufficient cause for seriousness then. But you didn't say so much to
him. He ran away before you could say it."
"Oh, Ella! please don't talk in that way. It is not like yourself to
talk in that way."
"How do you know what is like myself and what is not? You have only
seen one side of me, and I don't think that you have understood even
what you have seen. Great Heavens! how could I expect that you should.
Not until within a few months ago had I myself any idea that my nature
was made up of more than one element. Do you fancy now that you will
always be in the future as you have been in the past? The same placid,
sweet English girl, with serious thoughts at times about your own soul
and other people's souls? a maiden living with her feet only touching
the common clay of this earth? Wait until your hour comes--your hour
of love; your hour of fate; your hour of self-abandonment, and pray to
your God that you may come through it as well as I came through mine."
"Ella, dearest Ella!"
"You know nothing of that hour--that terrible hour! Wait until it
comes to you before you think a word of evil against any woman that
lives in the world. Wait until your hour of jealousy comes--wait until
you find that your hair is turning gray. The most tragical moment in a
woman's life is when she finds that the gray hairs will not be kept
back. That is the time when she thinks of Heaven most seriously. I
have not yet found a single gray hair in my head, but I have suffered
all else; and I have been an astonishment to myself--as I have been to
you more than once before now, and as I certainly am to you at the
She had spoken at first with quivering lips, her fingers interlaced,
her eyes flashing. She had sprung from her seat and had begun to pace
the room just as she had paced Phyllis' drawing room on that night
when she had missed the performance of "Romeo and Juliet," but she
ended with a laugh, which was meant to make a mock of the seriousness
of her impassioned words, but which only had the effect of emphasizing
her passion in the ears of the girl.
While she was still lying back, laughing, in the chair into which she
had thrown herself once more, Phyllis went to her and knelt at her
feet, taking her hands just as Herbert had taken her hands in the
evening when he had knelt at her feet in her own house after the
little dinner at Mr. Ayrton's.
"Ella, Ella," she whispered, "I also am a woman. Oh, my dearest! I
think that I can understand something of your heart. I know a little.
Oh, Ella, Ella! I would do anything in the world to help you--anything
"Would you?" cried the woman. "Would you do anything? Would you give
up Herbert Courtland in order to help me?"
She had grasped Phyllis by the wrists and had bent her own head
forward until her face was within an inch of Phyllis'. Their breaths
mingled. Their faces were too close to admit of either of them seeing
the expression that was in the eyes of the other.
"Dearest Ella, you will not break my heart!" said the girl piteously.
"Will you give him up for your love of me?" the woman cried again, and
Phyllis felt her hands tighten upon her wrists.
"I will forget that you have said such words," said the girl.
The woman flung away her hands after retaining them for a few moments
in silence, and then throwing herself back in her chair, laughed loud
Phyllis rose to her feet.
"You poor dear!" cried Ella. "It was a shame--a shame to play such a
jest upon you! But I felt in a tragic mood, and the line between
comedy and tragedy is a very fine one. Forgive my little freak, dear;
and let us be human beings once more, living in a world that cannot be
taken so seriously. Don't go by the evening train, Phyllis; stay all
night with me. I have so much to say to you. I want to talk to you.
How can you leave me here all alone?"
Phyllis could have told her that how she could leave her all alone was
because Herbert Courtland had left for London on the previous day. She
did not make an explanation to her on this basis, however; she merely
said that it would interfere with her plans to remain longer at The
Moorings. She had to attend that great function with her father that
Ella called her very unkind, but showed no desire to revert to the
topic upon which they had been conversing, when she had thought fit to
ask her that jocular question which Phyllis had said she would forget.
But Phyllis did not keep her word. On the contrary she thought of
nothing else but that question all the time she was in the railway
carriage going to Paddington.
It was a terrible question in Phyllis' eyes for a woman with a husband
to put to her girl-friend.
More than once during the week Phyllis had been led to ask herself if
she was quite certain that her terrible surmise regarding the
influence which dominated Ella's recent actions was true. Now and
again she felt an impulse to fall upon her knees and pray, as she had
once before prayed, that the sin of that horrible suspicion might be
forgiven her. How could it be possible, she thought, that Ella should
forget all that a true woman should ever remember!
But now--now, as she sat in the train on her way back to London, there
was no room left in her mind for doubt on this matter. The tragic
earnestness with which Ella had asked her that question, tightening
her fingers upon her wrists? "/Will you give up Herbert Courtland in
order to help me?/"--the passionate whisper, the quivering lips--all
told her with overwhelming force that what she had surmised was the
She felt that Ella had confessed to her that her infatuation--Phyllis
called it infatuation--had not passed away, though she had been strong
enough upon that night, when her husband had so suddenly returned, to
fly from its consequences. No, her infatuation had not died.
But Herbert Courtland--what of him? He had also had strength--once.
Would he have strength again? He had told her, while they were
together in one of the boats drifting down the placid river, that he
believed in the influence which a woman could exercise upon a man's
life being capable of changing his nature so completely as if a
miracle had been formed upon him. She had not had the courage to ask
him if he had any particular instance in his mind that impressed this
belief upon him.
Had he been led to cast that infatuation--if he had ever been
subjected to it--behind him, by reason of her influence over him since
she had repeated to him the pathetic words of Mrs. Haddon, and he had
gone straight aboard the yacht on that strange cruise?
She could scarcely doubt that he was ready to acknowledge how great
had been her influence upon his life. He had shown her in countless
ways that she had accomplished all that she had sought to achieve. She
had had no need to throw herself at his head--the phrase which Ella
suggested her fellow-guests would probably employ in referring to the
relative positions of Phyllis and Herbert. No, she had ever found him
by her side, and it did not need her to exercise much cleverness to
keep him there.
But then, why had he so suddenly hurried away from that pleasant life
beside the still waters?
This was the question which was on her mind as the train ran into the
station at Paddington. She got out of the carriage, and while her maid
went to look after the luggage, she glanced down the platform for the
footman. He came up to her in a moment and took her dressing-bag and
"The brougham is here, I suppose?" she said, as she walked down the
It was at the entrance to the station, he told her.
She paused for a moment, and glanced back to see if there had been
much luggage in the train which she had left--if her maid would be
likely to be kept waiting for long. At that instant a porter, with a
portmanteau on his shoulder and a Gladstone bag in his hand, hurrying
up by the side of the train which was ready to depart from the next
platform, shouted to a group of Eton boys who were blocking the way:
"By your leave, gents!"
She started and took a step to one side, and that instant was
sufficient to make her aware of the fact that the portmanteau carried
by the porter to the train which was about to leave for Maidenhead was
Herbert Courtland's. There was no mistaking it. It bore on one end his
initials and his private sign.
She took a few steps nearer the train by which she had come, and
followed the porter with her eyes.
He put the portmanteau into the luggage van, and then returned with
the Gladstone bag to the side of a compartment. She saw him place it
in the network, and touch his cap as he received his /douceur/ from
the passenger who sat at the door with an evening paper in his hand.
She saw that that passenger was Herbert Courtland.
She told the footman who stood beside her to take her bag and case to
the brougham and then return to help her maid with the rest of the
luggage. He followed her down the platform.
In a short time she was being driven home, her maid following with the
luggage in another vehicle.
She did not begin to change her traveling dress immediately on
retiring to her room. She did not even take off her hat. She stood at
the window looking out over a scene very different from that which had
been before her eyes every day during the previous week. After a
quarter of an hour's listlessness at the window, she spent another
quarter of an hour sitting motionless in a chair. Then she rose and
looked at herself in a mirror that showed her herself from head to
foot. She examined her feet with curious deliberation, and then looked
with a critical side glance at the reflection of her face. (She could
not fail to have noticed that it was unusually pale.) She removed her
hat, surveyed herself once more, then, turning away with an
exclamation of impatience, she crumpled up her hat with both her hands
and flung it, just as a wicked child would have flung it, across the
"Let them both go together to perdition--to perdition--to perdition!"
she said with a bitterness that had never previously been in her
voice. "Let them go together. I have done my best for them--for her--
for her. I give them up now for evermore."
After a minute or two of statuesque passion she went across the room
and picked up her bruised hat. She looked at it, turning it round in
her hands. Then she dropped it suddenly, and flung herself upon the
sofa, crying out in a whirlwind of tears:
"Oh, Ella, Ella, I would have saved you--I meant to save you, indeed!
I would have done everything to save you--everything!"
I WONDER IF I EVER LOVED YOU UNTIL THIS MOMENT.
It was a rather tedious evening for Ella Linton after Phyllis had
taken her departure. Why on earth, she asked herself, had she been
such a fool as to lay out her plans to have this lonely evening? Then
she remembered that two of her guests had meant to stay until
Wednesday morning, but had received a letter necessitating their
departure for town on Monday night. But this fact should not have
condemned her to a solitary evening, Ella reflected. She should have
been thoughtful enough to change her own plans to correspond with the
change in the plans of her guests. A nice, quiet, contemplative
evening beside the still waters may suit the requirements of some
temperaments, but it was not just what Ella regarded as most
satisfying to her mood of the hour. It was a long time since she had
spent a lonely evening, and although she had now rather more food for
contemplation than at any other period of her life, she did not feel
Then it suddenly occurred to her to ask herself why, after all, should
she be condemned to a contemplative evening? What was there to hinder
her taking a train to town after she had dined? Once in town she knew
that all prospect of contemplation would be at an end.
She rang her bell and told her maid that she had changed her mind in
regard to staying another night at The Mooring; she would leave after
dinner; wasn't there a train about nine from Maidenhead?
It was when she was about to go down to dinner that she heard the
sound of wheels upon the gravel walk. Was it possible that her newly
made plans might also be deranged? Was this a fresh visitor arriving
by a fly from Maidenhead--she saw that the vehicle was a fly.
There was no one in the room to hear the cry of delight that she gave
when she saw Herbert at the porch of the house, the driver having
deposited his portmanteau and Gladstone bag at his feet.
He had returned to her--he, whom she fancied to be far away; he who
had forsaken her, as she thought, as she feared, as she (at times)
hoped, forever. He had returned to her. There was no one now to stand
between them. He was all her own.
She flung off the dress which she was wearing,--it was her plainest
evening gown,--and had actually got on another, a lovely one that she
had never yet worn, before her maid arrived at her dressing room.
"Louise," she said, "send a message downstairs to show Mr. Courtland
to his room, and mention that he will dine with me. Come back at once.
I have got so far in my dressing without you; I can't go much further,
In a quarter of an hour she was surveying herself in her mirror just
as Phyllis had been doing an hour sooner; only on her face was a very
different expression from that which Phyllis had worn. Her eyes were
brilliant as they never had been before, except once; her face was not
pale, but full of soft color, as if she were standing beneath the
shadow of a mighty rose-leaf with the sunlight above. Her neck and
arms were of the same delicate tinge. Her smile she gave as she
surveyed herself was a smile of triumph, very different from the
expression on poor Phyllis' features as she flung her hat across the
"Mine, mine, mine!" she whispered, nodding with a smile at the lovely
thing so full of warm life that faced her with a smile. "He is mine--
he has come back to me, I will keep him. I shall be able to keep him,
She had scarcely entered the drawing room before he was beside her,
and he had scarcely entered before a servant announced that dinner was
served. They were seated at the dinner table before they had exchanged
half a dozen words--before she had time to ask him why he had
And at the table, with a servant at each end, what could they say?
Well, she gave in detail, with the accuracy of a railway time-table,
the hours of the departure of the various guests, down to the last
departed guest, who chanced to be Miss Ayrton. Yes, she was obliged to
go up to town to be present at that important function which was to be
given in the presence of Royalty, though, she, Mrs. Linton, was
convinced that Phyllis would much prefer remaining in the midst of
that exquisite quietude which seemed to be found only up the river.
She had wanted her dear Phyllis to stay until the morrow, but poor
Phyllis' sense of duty had been, as unfortunately it always was, too
great for her inclination.
"Unfortunately?" said Herbert.
"Did I say unfortunately?" she cried. "How funny! I meant of course,
unfortunately for her friends--for myself in this particular case.
But, after all, we had a delightful week together. It has done us all
"Why the 'even'?" he asked, with a laugh.
"Oh, well, because you are not expected to feel the fatigues of a
London season. And then you must remember that you had a yachting
cruise which must have done you a world of good," she added, with a
smile born of the mood which was on her--a mood of joy and laughter
and daring. She felt that she could say anything she pleased to say to
him now; she could have referred with a laugh to his running away on
that strange cruise of his.
"Yes," he said, "it did me a great deal of good."
He spoke slowly, and her quick ear detected a tone of gravity in his
voice. What could he mean? Oh, yes.
"I hope that that last phase of the mine will soon be settled," said
she. "It was that which curtailed your cruise, you will remember."
"I certainly do remember."
"I hope the business will soon be settled one way or another. I don't
think this running to Paris so frequently is good for Stephen. Haven't
you noticed how poorly he has been looking of late?"
"He didn't seem to me to be particularly robust. But I think that he
pulled himself together while he was here. Oh, yes! another week will
see us free from this business."
"And with an extra million or so in your pockets."
"Well, something in that way."
That was how they talked while the servants were present--about
business and money and matters that may be discussed in the presence
Then they went together into the drawing room. It was not yet dark
enough for the candles to be lighted. The exquisite summer twilight
was hanging over the river and the banks opposite, wooded from the
water's edge to the summit. It was the hour of delicate blue touched
with pink about the borders. The hour of purple and silver stars had
not yet come.
She threw open one of the windows on its hinges, and in a moment the
room was flooded with the perfume of the roses of the garden. She
stood in the opening of the window and seemed to drink in the garden
scents before they floated into the room. Then from some secret
nestling place in the dark depths of the clipped hedge there came the
even-song of a blackbird. It was replied to from the distance; and the
silence that followed only seemed to be silence. It was a silence made
vocal by the bending of a thousand notes--all musical. The blackbirds,
the thrushes, the robins made up a chorus of harmony as soothing to
the soul as silence. Then came the cooings of the wood pigeons. The
occasional shriek of a peacock was the only note out of harmony with
the feeling breathed by the twilight.
She stood at the open window, her back turned to him, for some time.
He felt slightly embarrassed. Her attitude somehow suggested to him an
imprisonment; he was captured; she was standing between him and the
open air; she was barring his passage.
Suddenly she turned. With her movement there seemed to float into the
room a great breath of rose-scent. It was only that the light showed
him more clearly at that moment the glowing whiteness of her neck and
shoulders and arms.
"Why have you come back?" she cried, almost piteously.
"Surely you know why, Ella," said he.
"I know nothing: a man is one thing one day and quite the opposite the
next day. How can I know anything of what is in your mind to-day--in
your heart to-day?"
"I came back thinking to find her here still--I fancied that you said
she would stay until you were returning to-morrow."
"You came back for her?"
"I came back to see her--I find that I cannot live without seeing
"You have only found that out since you left here yesterday morning?"
"Only since I left here. I told you that I was not sure of myself.
That is why I went away."
"You went away to make sure of yourself, and now you return to make
sure of her?"
"Ah, if I could but think that! If I could only be as sure of her as I
am of myself. But what am I that I should dare to hope? Oh, she is
above all womankind--a crown of girlhood! What am I that I should ask
to wear this crown of girlhood?"
"You are a king of men, Bertie. Only for the king of men is such a
She laughed as she stood looking at him as she leaned against the half
open door of the window, one hand being on the framework above her
"Ella, you know her!" he cried, facing her. She began to swing gently
to the extent of an inch or two, still leaning on the edge of the
hinged window. She was looking at him through half-closed, curious
eyes. "Ella, you know her--she has always been your friend; tell me if
I should speak to her or if I should go back to the work that I have
begun in New Guinea."
"Would you be guided by me, Bertie?" she asked, suddenly ceasing her
movement with the window and going very close to him indeed--so close
that he could feel the gracious warmth of her face and bare neck and
shoulders. "Would you be guided by me, I wonder?"
"Have I not been guided by you up to the present, Ella?" said he.
"Should I be here to-night if it were not for your goodness? I laughed
some time ago--how long ago it seems!--when you told me--you said it
was your dearest wish--I did not then believe it possible----"
"And do you fancy that I believed it possible?" she asked, with some
sadness in her voice.
"Great Heavens! Ella, do you mean to tell me that you---- Oh, no, it
is impossible! You knew me."
"I fancied that I knew you, Bertie. I fancied that I knew myself."
"Ella, Ella, for God's sake don't let us drift again. Have you no
recollection of that terrible time through which we both passed--that
ordeal by fire. Ella, we were plucked from the fire--she plucked us
from the very fire of hell itself--oh, don't let us drift in that
He had walked away from her. He was beginning to recall too vividly
the old days, under the influence of her gracious presence so close to
him--not so close as it had been, but still close enough to bring back
"Come here and stand beside me, Bertie," said she.
After a moment's hesitation he went to her, slowly, not with the
rapture of a lover--not with the old passion trembling in his hands,
on his lips.
He went to her.
She put her hands behind her and looked at him in the face for a long
time. The even-songs of the birds mixed with the scent of the roses;
the blue shadow of the twilight was darkening over the trees at the
foot of her garden.
"Do you remember the oleanders?" she said. "I never breathe in such a
twilight as this without seeing before me the oleanders outlined
against its blue. It was very sweet at that old place on the Arno."
"Ella, Ella--for God's sake----"
"You told me that terrible secret of your life--that you loved me. I
wonder if I knew what it meant, Bertie? I told you that I loved you:
that was more terrible still. I wonder if you knew what that meant,
He did not speak.
The bird's songs outside were becoming softer and more intermittent.
She gave a sudden cry as if stung with pain, and started away from the
window. She threw herself down on the couch, burying her face in the
pillows--he could see through the dim room the whiteness of her arms.
She was breathing convulsively; but she was not sobbing.
He remained beside the open window. He, too, was not breathing so
regularly as he had breathed a short time before.
He heard the sigh that came from her as she raised her head from the
Then she said:
"I wonder if you ever really loved me, Bertie."
"Oh, my God!"
"I wonder if you ever loved me; and I wonder if I ever loved you until
There was a silence. Outside there was a little whisper of moving
wings, but no voice of bird.
There was a silence, and out of it a low voice cried softly, softly:
"Bertie, Bertie, my love, come to me."
He took a step toward her, a second step--and then he stood, rigid,
breathless, for he heard another soft voice that said:
"/His honor is the honor of his mother and his sister, upon which no
stain must come./"
He heard that voice, and with a cry he covered his face with his
hands, and turning, fled through the open window into the garden.
She lay there on her couch, that lovely white creature who had been
saved so as by fire. There are two fires: the one is the fire that
consumes the heart until all that is left of it is the dust of ashes;
the other is the fire that purifies the soul even unto its salvation;
and yet both fires burn alike, so that men and women know not which is
burning within them.
Did she know that she was saved so as by fire?
She laughed as though he could still hear her; but after her laugh
there came a few moments of overwhelming bitterness that sent her on
her knees by the side of the couch in self-abasement.
"Kill me--kill me, O God!" she wailed. "Kill me, for I am not fit to
But she was spared.
After a time she found strength to rise. She seemed surprised to find
that the room was in darkness. She struck a light, and in a few
minutes a dozen candles were flaring round the walls; and then she
went mechanically to close the window. One side she had just fastened
when it seemed to her that she heard the sound of voices approaching.
She listened, her head bent forward through the side of the window
that remained unclosed.
Yes, their voices were sounding clearly through the still night--his
voice and--what trick was being played upon her by her hearing?
Phyllis' voice? How could it be Phyllis' voice? Phyllis had returned
to London. Oh, it was some trick! Her nerves were playing some trick
upon her--they were out of order, they were beyond her control.
Phyllis' voice---- Great Heavens! it was Phyllis herself who was
walking through the garden by his side!
Ella stood at the open side of the window staring out at them. They
stood at the foot of the half dozen steps that lead up to the window.
Phyllis laughed,--was there a trace of mockery in her laugh?--but he
"I don't wonder at your fancying that I am a ghost, Ella," cried the
girl. "I feel that I deserve to be treated as discourteously as most
poor ghosts are treated when they visit their friends. You never yet
heard of a ghost being asked to stay to dinner, did you, Mr.
Courtland? But a ghost may fairly claim to be asked to enter the house
of her dearest friend, especially after a double railway journey."
Ella had not moved from her place at the open space of the window
while Phyllis was speaking, but the moment that the girl's laugh
sounded, she too laughed. She ran down the steps and put her arms
about Phyllis, kissing her on the face.
"This is more than the most exacting of ghosts could reasonable look
for," cried Phyllis. "Oh, Ella! I'm so glad that I followed my own
impulse and came back to you. I thought you were here all alone--how
could I know that Mr. Courtland would return in the meantime to
complete his visit?--and when I looked out on the dust and the smoke
of the town and thought of this--this--this exquisite stillness,--you
can just hear the water of the weir,--this garden, this scent of
roses, but chiefly when I thought of you sitting in your
loneliness---- Well, is it any wonder that I am here now?--you
implored of me to stay, you know, Ella."
"It is no wonder indeed, being what you are--a good angel, my good
angel, Phyllis," cried the woman. "Oh, dearest, you are welcome! Why
did you leave me Phyllis? Why did you leave me? Oh, the good angels
can never be trusted. You should not have left me to myself, dear. I
am only a woman. Ah, you don't yet know what a woman is. That is the
worst of angels and men; they don't know what a woman is. Come into
the house, Phyllis. Come in, Herbert. How did you manage to meet?"
"You know I went out to the garden----" said the man.
"Yes; I knew that--you left me alone," said the woman, and she gave a
"I strolled from the garden to the road--I had to ask the people at
the Old Bell to keep a room for me, of course."
"And just outside the inn I came face to face with Miss Ayrton's fly.
Miss Ayrton was good enough to get out and walk with me, sending the
fly on with her maid. I told the man to wait in order to take my
portmanteau to the inn. It must be at the hall door now. We entered by
the garden gate."
"Nothing could be simpler," said Ella. They had by this time walked up
the steps into the drawing room. "Nothing could be simpler." Then she
turned to Phyllis. "But how did you contrive to evade the great
"Papa did not feel very well," said Phyllis, "and I know that he was
only too glad of an excuse to stay at home."
"And you forsook your sick father to come to me? Oh, my dear Phyllis,
what have you done?"
"If you ask me in confidence I should say that papa is not quite so
ill as to stand in need of a nurse," she whispered. "Oh, no! Make your
mind easy. I have neglected no duty in coming to you."
"Except your duty to yourself; you could not have had time to take any
dinner at home. I shall have you a servants' hall supper in ten
"Please get nothing for me. I had a capital sort of dinner at home.
But I should dearly like a cup of tea."
"It will be ready for you the moment you return from taking off your
hat. I'll go up with you to your room; Mr. Courtland knows that even I
make myself at home in this house. He will pardon us."
"I mustn't keep the fly waiting for my portmanteau," said Mr.
Courtland. "If you will allow me, I shall look to it now, and say
"What! Oh, you mustn't think of running off in this way," said Ella.
"What reason had you for returning at all if you run off at this
"It is getting quite late. I mustn't keep the good people of the Old
Bell up on my account," said he. "Besides, a man represents a certain
inharmonious element upon such an occasion as this. Miss Ayrton
returned expecting to be with you alone. I know the disabilities of a
man quite well. Yes, I must say good-night."
"Nonsense! Pray talk to him, Phyllis," cried Ella. "You may make him
amenable to reason."
But Phyllis stood mute with her hand on the handle of the door; she
only smiled, and there is neither reason nor argument in a smile.
"Good-night!" said he.
"Oh, well, if you really have nothing to say to either of us,--to
either Phyllis or me,--you had better go, I suppose," said Ella,
giving him her hand, but she did not look at him in the face while his
hand was touching hers.
Curiously enough, neither did Phyllis look at him as was her wont.
And so he left them that night.
GIVE HIM BACK TO ME--GIVE HIM BACK TO ME!
They seemed to have been parted for months instead of hours, so much
had they to say to each other, and so rapidly did they say it.
Rapidly?--feverishly rather. Phyllis had only to remove her hat and
smooth her hair at places, disordering it at others, in order to be
all right; but half an hour had gone by before they went downstairs,
arm in arm, after the manner of girls who have been talking feverishly
and kissing every now and again.
It was madness for Phyllis to think of tea at that hour of the night,
Ella declared; but she knew Phyllis' fancies in the past--she knew
that what would set other girls' nerves in motion, would only have the
effect of soothing hers. So Phyllis drank her tea and ate her cake in
the drawing room, and Ella lay back on the sofa and watched her with a
curious interest in her eyes.
"I am so glad that we are spending together in this way the last night
of our delightful week," said Phyllis. "What a lovely week it has
been! and the charm of it is, of course, to be found in the fact that
it has been stolen from the best part of the season. In another month
it would not be nearly so delightful--everyone will be hurrying off to
the river or elsewhere."
"Such a week is one of the incidents that a person plans but that
rarely comes off according to one's views," said Ella. "I told you
when I set my heart upon Hurley what my idea was."
"And you have certainly realized it during this week. What a pity it
is that this is our last night together!"
"Do you know, Phyllis, the way you said that suggested to me that you
meant 'What a pity it is that Herbert Courtland is not one of our
Ella was still lying on the broad pillows of the couch, her hands
clasped at the back of her head. She was still watching Phyllis
through her half-closed eyes.
"I was not thinking about Mr. Courtland in the least when I spoke. How
can you fancy that I should be so insincere? I say it is delightful
for us, you and me only, mind, to be together to-night, because we can
say just whatever occurs to us--I thought we could, you know; but
since you made that horrid suggestion I think I must take back all
that I said. It is, after all, not nearly so nice to be alone with you
as one would imagine."
"That was, I'm afraid, the conclusion that Herbert Courtland came to
some time ago," said Ella. "He was alone with me here--yes, for some
minutes; but he left me--he left me and found you."
"It was so funny!" cried Phyllis. "Who would have thought of seeing
such a figure--bareheaded and in evening dress--on the road? I knew
him at once, however. And he was walking so quickly too--walking as if
"As if the devil were behind him--that's how men put it," said Ella.
"It would never do for us to say that, of course, but in this
particular case we might venture on it for the sake of strict
accuracy; the devil was behind him. He escaped from it by the aid of
his good angel. Didn't he call you his good angel once, my Phyllis?"
"Yes, he called me so once," said Phyllis. "But why should we talk
about Mr. Courtland? Why should we talk about anybody to-night?
Dearest Ella, let us talk about ourselves. You are of more interest to
me than anyone in the world, and I know that I am of more interest to
you than to anyone else. Let us talk about ourselves."
"Certainly we shall talk about ourselves," said Ella. "To begin, I
should like very much to know if you were aware that Herbert had
returned to this house after his day or two in town."
Phyllis undoubtedly colored before she said, with a laugh:
"Didn't you promise to talk solely about ourselves? I decline to talk
on any other topic."
She arose from where she had been sitting before a cup of tea at a
little table that also held cake, and threw herself back in a fanciful
seat shaped like a shell.
"That being so, I should like very much to know how you learned that
he meant to return," pursued Ella.
"You are becoming quite horrid, and I expected you to be so nice,"
said Phyllis, pouting very prettily.
"And I expected you to confide in me," said Ella reproachfully. "I
have been watching you for some time--not merely during the past week,
but long before; and I have seen--what I have seen. He could not have
told you that he meant to return--you must have crossed each other in
the trains. How did you know, my dear girl? Let me coax it out of
Phyllis made no answer for some time; she was examining, with a newly
acquired, but very intense interest, the texture of the sheen of the
blouse which she was wearing. At last she raised her eyes, and saw how
Ella was looking at her. Then she said slowly:
"I saw him in the train that was leaving when our train arrived."
"Heavens! that is a confession!" cried Ella quite merrily.
"You forced it from me," said Phyllis. "But why should there be any
mystery between us? I'm sure I may tell you all the secrets of my
life. Such as they are, you know them already."
"They are safe in my keeping. My dear Phyllis, don't you know that it
has always been my dearest hope to see you and Herbert Courtland--
well, interested in each other? I saw that he was interested in you
long ago; but I wasn't sure of you. That is just why I was so anxious
for you to come down here for the week we have just passed. I wanted
to bring you both together. I wanted to see you in love with each
other; I wanted to see you both married."
"I wanted it, I tell you, not because I loved you, though you know
that I love you better than anyone in the world."
"Not because I knew that you and he would be happy, but because I
wished to snatch my own soul from perdition. I think it is safe now--
but oh, my God! it is like the souls of many other mortals--saved in
spite of myself! Phyllis, you have been my salvation. You are a girl;
you cannot understand how near a woman may go to the bottomless pit
through the love of a man. You fancy that love lifts one to the heaven
of heavens; that it means purity--self-sacrifice. Well, there is a
love that means purity; and there is a love that means self-sacrifice.
Self-sacrifice: that is, that a woman is ready to sacrifice herself--
her life--her soul--for the man whom she loves. I tell you--I, who
know the truth--I, who have been at the brink. It is not that the pit
is dear to us; it is that the man is dear to us, and we must go with
him,--wherever he goes,--even down into hell itself with him."
"Oh, Ella, Ella! this is the love of the satyr. It is not the love of
the one who is made in the image of God."
"Let it be what it is; it is a power that has to be reckoned upon so
long as we remain creatures of the earth, earthy."
"It is a thing that we should beat into the earth from which it came."
The girl had sprung to her feet, and was speaking with white face and
clenched hands. "Down into the earth"--she stamped upon the floor--
"even if we have to throw our bodies into the grave into which we
trample it. Woman, I tell you that the other love,--the love which is
the truth,--is stronger than the love of the satyr."
"Is it? is it, Phyllis? Yes, sometimes. Yes; it was a word that you
spoke in his hearing that saved him--him--Herbert--and that saved me
that night when I came to you--when I waited for you--you did not know
anything of why I came. I will tell you now--"
"No, no, no! Oh, Ella! for God's sake, tell me nothing! I think I know
all that I want to know; and I know that you had strength given to you
by God to come to me that night. I had not to go to you. But I have
come to you to-night. We are together, you and I; and we are the same
as when we were girls together--oh, just the same! Who shall come
between us, Ella?"
"Who? Who? You came here to save me. I knew it. But you had saved me
before you came. Phyllis, in this very room I was alone with him. I
was mad--mad with jealousy at the thought of losing him--though I knew
that I had lost him--I was mad! The passion breathed from the roses--
the twilight full of the memories of the spring we spent together in
Italy--all took possession of my heart--my soul. I whispered to him to
come to me--to come to me. And he came."
The cry the girl gave, as she covered her face with her hands and
dropped back into her chair, was very pitiful.
"He came to me--but only one step--one little step, Phyllis; then
there came before his eyes a vision of your face--he felt your hand--
cool as a lily--upon his wrist--he heard your voice speaking into his
ear; he turned and fled--fled through that window--fled from the demon
that had taken possession of this room--I said so to you."
"Thank God--oh, Ella, thank God!"
"That is my cry--thank God--thank God; and yet--and yet--God help me!
I feel ready to throw myself at your feet and say 'Give him back to
me! Give him back to me!' "
She had stood with her hands clasped above her head at her first
utterance of that imploration--"Give him back to me!" Then she threw
herself on her knees and passionately caught both the girl's hands in
her own, crying, "Give him back to me!"
Phyllis flung her arms about her neck, and bowed her own head down to
the shoulder of the woman whom she loved and pitied.
Then through the silence of the house--the hour was almost midnight--
there sounded the loud and continuous ringing of a bell.
It was only the usual visitors' bell of the house; but its effect at
that hour was startling--shocking!
The two women were on their feet, waiting in silence, but with wildly
beating hearts, for what was coming--they felt that something terrible
was coming. The bell had an ominous jangle. They heard the footsteps
of the one servant who remained up to put out the lights, going to
answer the summons of the bell--they heard a man's voice speaking in a
low tone in the hall--they heard a man's steps approach the door of
their room. The door opened, and Mr. Ayrton appeared before them.
He closed the door slowly, and stood there staring not at his
daughter, but at Ella Linton. On his face was an expression that
Phyllis had never seen on it before. It frightened her. She could not
He stood there, with his eyes fixed upon Ella Linton--rigid--silent as
a figure that symbolizes Death.
The silence became appalling.
"For God's sake speak, if you are living!" cried Ella in a whisper
tremulous with terror.
He did not speak--he stood there, staring at her.
"What does he mean? What does he mean?" said the woman, after another
dreadful pause. "Why does he stand there, Phyllis, staring at me?
Why---- Oh, my God! I see it--I see it on his face--my husband--
Stephen--dead--he is dead--you came to bring the news to me. Look,
Phyllis, he cannot say 'No'--he would say 'No' unless I had guessed
the truth--he would say it--he would have some pity. Is it the truth?
Man--speak--say yes, or no--for God's sake! for God's sake!"
She had taken half a dozen rapid steps to him and grasped him by the
arm, gazing into his face.
He bowed his head.
She flung his arm from her, and burst into a laugh.
"Ah, Phyllis! I see it all now. He was the man I loved--I know it now
--he was the man I loved. It was for him I cried out just now--'Give
him back to me--give him back to me!' "
The wild shriek with which she cried the words the second time rang
through the house. She fell upon her knees, clutching at Phyllis' hand
as before, and then, making a motion as if about to rise, she fell
back and lay with her white face turned to the ceiling, her white arms
stretched limply out on each side of her like the arms of a crucified
Servants came with restoratives.
IF GOD WOULD ONLY GIVE ME ANOTHER CHANCE!
"Poor creature! Poor creature!" said Mr. Ayrton. He had just returned
from the room to which they had carried Ella. Phyllis was lying on the
sofa with her face down to the pillow. "Poor creature! No one could
have had any idea that she was so attached to him! She will be one of
the richest women in England. He fell down in the club between nine
and ten. His heart. Sir Joseph was not surprised. He said he had told
him a short time ago that he had not six months to live. He cannot
have let his wife know. Well, well, perhaps it was for the best. His
man came to me in a terrible state. How was it to be broken to her? I
just managed to catch the last train. He must have been worth over a
million. She will be one of the richest women in England. Even in
America a woman with three-quarters of a million is reckoned
moderately well off. Poor creature! Ah! the shorn lamb!--the wind is
tempered. 'In the midst of life--' Dear Phyllis! you must not allow
yourself to break down. Your sympathetic nature is hard to control, I
know, but still--oh, my child!"
But Phyllis refused to be comforted. She lay sobbing on the pillow,
and when her father put his arm about her and raised her, she put her
head on his shoulder, crying:
"He is gone from me forever--he is gone from me forever! Oh, I am the
cruelest woman on earth! It is not for her terrible blow that I am
crying, it is because I have lost him--I see it--I have lost him!"
Her father became frightened. What in the world could she mean by
talking about the man being gone from her? He had never heard of a
woman's sympathy extending to such limits as caused her to feel a
personal deprivation when death had taken another woman's husband.
"Oh, I am selfish--cruel--heartless!" sobbed Phyllis. "I thought of
myself, not of her. He is hers; he will be given back to her as she
prayed--she prayed so to me before you appeared at the door, papa.
'Give him back to me! Give him back to me!' that was her prayer."
"My dearest child, you must not talk that way," said the father.
"Come, Phyllis, your strength has been overtaxed. You must go to bed
and try to sleep."
She still moaned about her cruelty--her selfishness, until the doctor
who had been sent for and had been with Ella in her room, appeared in
order to let them know that Mrs. Linton had regained consciousness.
The blow had, of course, been a terrible one: but she was young, and
Nature would soon reassert herself, he declared, whatever he meant by
that. He thought it strange, he said, that Mrs. Linton had not been
aware of her husband's weakness. To him, the physician, the condition
of the unfortunate gentleman had been apparent from the first moment
he had seen him. He had expected to hear of his death any day. He
concluded by advising Phyllis to go to bed and have as long a sleep as
possible. He would return in the morning and see if Mrs. Linton might
travel to London.
Phyllis went to her room, and her father went to the one which had
been prepared for him. For a minute or two he remained thoughtful.
What could his daughter have meant by those self-accusations? After a
short time, however, he smiled. The poor thing had been upset by the
shocking news of the death of the husband of her dearest friend. She
was sympathetic to quite a phenomenal degree. That sympathy which felt
her friend's loss as though it were wholly her own was certainly not
to be met with every day.
In the morning Phyllis showed traces of having spent a bad night. But
she spoke rationally and not in the wild way in which she had spoken
before retiring, and her father felt that there was no need for him to
be uneasy in regard to her condition. He allowed her to go to the side
of her friend, Ella, and as he was leaving them together in each
other's arms, he heard Ella say:
"Ah, Phyllis, I know it now. He was the man who had all my love--all--
all! Ah, if God would only give me another chance--one more chance!"
Mr. Ayrton had heard that passionate appeal for another chance upon
more than one previous occasion. He had heard the husband who had
tortured his wife to death make a passionate appeal to God to give him
another chance. He knew that God had never given him another chance
with the same wife; but God had given him another wife in the course
of time--a wife who was not made on the spiritual lines of those who
die by torture; a wife who was able to formulate a list of her own
rights, and the rights of her sisters, and who possessed a Will.
The man who wanted another chance had no chance with such a woman.
He had heard the wife, who had deserted her husband in favor of the
teetotal platform, cry out for another chance, when her husband had
died away from her. But God had compassion upon the husband. She did
not get him back.
He pitied with all his heart the poor woman who would be one of the
richest women in England in the course of a day or two, and he said so
to Mr. Courtland when he called early in the morning. Mr. Courtland
did not remain for long in the house. It might have been assumed that
so intimate a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Linton's would be an acceptable
visitor to the widow; but Mr. Courtland knew better. He hurried away
to town without even asking to see her. He only begged of Mr. Ayrton
to let him know if he could be of any use in town--there were details
--ghastly; but he would take care that there was no inquest.
Phyllis went up to town with poor Ella, and remained by her side in
that darkened house through all the terrible days that followed. Mr.
Linton's death had an appreciable influence upon the quarter's revenue
of the country. The probate duty paid by the executors was a large
fortune in itself, and Ella was, as Mr. Ayrton had predicted she would
be, one of the richest women in England. The hundred thousand pounds
bequeathed to some unostentatious charities--charities that existed
for the cause of charity, not for the benefit of the official staff--
made no difference worth speaking of in the position of Mrs. Linton as
one of the richest women in England.
But the codicil to the will which surprised most people was that which
placed in the hands of Mrs. Linton and the Rev. George Holland as
joint trustees the sum of sixty thousand pounds, for the building and
endowment of a church, the character and aims of which would be in
sympathy with the principles recently formulated by the Rev. George
Holland in his book entitled "Revised Versions," and in his magazine
article entitled "The Enemy to Christianity," the details to be
decided by the Rev. George Holland and Mrs. Linton as joint trustees.
The codicil was, of course, a very recent one; but it was executed in
proper form; it required two pages of engrossing to make the
testator's desires plain to every intelligence that had received a
thorough training in legal technicalities. It was susceptible of a
good deal of interpretation to an ordinary intelligence.
When it was explained to Mrs. Linton, she also was at first a good
deal surprised. It read very like a jest of some subtlety: for she had
no idea that her husband had the slightest feeling one way or another
on the subject of the development of one Church or another; and as for
the establishment of an entirely new Church--yes, it struck her at
first that her solicitor was making a bold and certainly quite an
unusual attempt to cheer her up in her bereavement by bringing under
her notice a jest of the order /pachydermato/.
But soon it dawned upon her that her husband meant a good deal by this
codicil of his.
"I am getting to understand him better every day," she said to
Phyllis. "He knew that I loved him and him only. He has given me this
work to do, and with God's help I will do it thoroughly. You did not
believe in the value of George Holland's doctrines. Neither did I: I
never thought about them. I will accept my husband's judgment
regarding them, and perhaps I may think about them later on. Our
Church will be the most potent influence for good that the century has
yet seen. Yes, I will throw myself heart and soul into the work. After
all, it must be admitted that the Church has never done its duty as a
Phyllis said nothing.
But the Rev. George Holland had a good deal to say on the subject of
the codicil, when he was alone with Mrs. Linton, a few days later. He
had by no means made up his mind to sever his connection with the dear
old mother Church, he said. He could not see that there was any need
for his taking so serious a step--an irrevocable step. It was his
feeling at that moment, he declared, that he might be able to effect
the object of his life--which was, of course, the reform of the Church
--better by remaining within its walls than by severing himself from
it. He must take time to consider his position.
He left Mrs. Linton greatly disappointed. It had been her belief that
Mr. Holland would jump at the chance--that was the phrase which she
employed in expressing her disappointment to Phyllis--of becoming the
founder of a brand-new religion.
She was greatly disappointed in Mr. Holland. If Buddha or Edward
Irving, or some of the other founders of new religions had had such a
chance offered to them in early life, would they not have embraced it
eagerly? she asked.
And it was to be such a striking Church! She had made up her mind to
that. It was to be a lasting memorial to the largeness of soul of her
husband--to his appreciation of the requirements of the thinking men
and women of the age. She had made up her mind already as to the
character of the painted windows. The church would itself, of course,
be the purest Gothic. As for the services, she rather thought that the
simplicity of the Early Church might be effectively combined with some
of the most striking elements of Modern Ritualism. However, that would
have to be decided later on.
But when the bishop heard of the codicil he had another interview with
George Holland, and imparted to that young cleric his opinion that he
should avail himself of the opportunity offered to him of trying what
would undoubtedly be a most interesting experiment, and one to the
carrying out of which all true churchmen would look forward most
hopefully. Who could say, he inquired, if the larger freedom which
would be enjoyed by an earnest, sincere, and highly intellectual
clergyman, not in immediate contact with the Establishment, might not
avail him to perfect such a scheme of reform as would eventually be
adopted by the Church?
That interview was very helpful to George Holland in making up his
mind on the subject of the new Church. He resigned his pastorate,
greatly to the regret of the churchwardens; though no expression of
such regret was ever heard from the bishop.
But then a bishop is supposed to have his feeling thoroughly under
This happened three weeks after the death of Stephen Linton, and
during these weeks Herbert Courtland had never once asked to see Ella
MARRIAGE IS THE PICTURESQUE GATEWAY LEADING
TO A COMMONPLACE ESTATE.
So soon as Phyllis Ayrton had returned home, she got a letter from
Herbert Courtland, asking her if she would be good enough to grant him
an interview. She replied at once that it would please her very much
to see him on the following afternoon--she was going to Scotland with
her father in a week, if Parliament had risen by that time.
He came to her. She was alone in the drawing room where she had always
received him previously.
The servant had scarcely left the room before he had told her he had
come to tell her that he loved her--to ask her if he might hope to
have some of her love in return.
He had not seated himself, nor had she. They remained standing
together in the middle of the room. He had not even retained her hand.
"Why have you come to me--to /me/?" she asked him. Her face was pale
and her lips, when he had been speaking to her, were firmly set.
"I have come to you, not because I am worthy of the priceless gift of
your love," said he, "but because you have taught me not merely to
love you--you have taught me what love itself is. You have saved my
"No, no! do not say that; it pains me," she cried.
"I cannot but say it; it is the truth. You have saved me from a
degradation such as you could not understand. Great God! how should I
feel to-day if you had not come forward to save me?"
He walked away from her. He stood with his back turned to her, looking
out of the window.
She remained where he had left her. She did not speak. Why should she
He suddenly faced her once again. The expression upon his face
astonished her. She had never before seen a man so completely in the
power of a strong emotion. She saw him making the attempt to speak,
but not succeeding for some time. Her heart was full of pity for him.
"You--you cannot understand," he managed to say. "You cannot
understand, and I cannot, I dare not, try to explain anything of the
peril from which you snatched me. You know nothing of the baseness,
the cruelty, of a man who allows himself to be swayed by his own
passions. But you saved me--you saved me!"
"I thank God for that," she said slowly. "But you must not come to me
to ask me for my love. It is not to me you should come. It is for her
who was ready to sacrifice everything for you. You must go to her when
the time comes, not now--she has not recovered from her shock."
"You know--she has told you?"
"I knew all that terrible story--that pitiful story--before I heard it
from her lips."
"And yet--yet--you could speak to me--you could be with me day after
"Oh, I know what you would say! You would say that I led you on--that
I gave you to believe that I loved you. That is what you would say,
and it would be the truth. I made up my mind to lead you on; I gave
you to understand that I cared for you. But I confess to you now that
I did so because I hoped to save her. You see it was a plot on my part
--the plot of one woman anxious to save her sister from destruction. I
succeeded. Thank God for that--thank God for that!"
"You succeeded--you succeeded indeed." He spoke slowly and in a low
tone, his eyes fixed upon her burning face. "Yes, you led me on--you
led me from earth to heaven. You saved her--you saved me. That is why
I am here to-day."
"Oh, it is not here you should be, Mr. Courtland." She had turned
quickly away from him with a gesture of impatience and had walked to
the other end of the room. There was more than a suspicion of
indignation in her voice. "You should be with the woman whom you
loved; the woman who showed you how she loved you; the woman who was
ready to give up everything--honor--husband--God--for you. Go to her--
to her--when the numbness has passed away from her, and there is no
barrier between you and her. That is all I have to say to you, Mr.
"Is it indeed all, Phyllis?" he said. "But you will let me speak to
you. You will let me ask if Ella alone was ready to sacrifice herself?
You say that you led me to love you in order to save her. How did you
lead me on? By giving me to understand that you were not indifferent
to me--that you had some love for me. Let me ask you if you were
acting a lie at that time?"
"I wanted to save her."
"And you succeeded. Were you acting a lie?"
She was silent.
"You were willing to save her?" he continued. "How did you mean to
save her? Were you prepared to go to the length of marrying me when I
had been led on to that point by you? Answer me, Phyllis."
"I will not answer you, Mr. Courtland--you have no right to ask me to
answer you. One terrible moment had changed all the conditions under
which we were living. If she had been free,--as she is now,--do you
fancy for a moment that I should have come between you--that I should
have tried to lead you away from her? Well, then, surely you must see
as clearly as I do at the present moment that now our relative
positions are the same as they would have been some months ago, if
Ella had been free--if she could have loved you without being guilty
of a crime? Oh, Mr. Courtland do not ask me to humiliate myself
further. Please go away. Ah, cannot you see that it would be
impossible for me to act now as I might have acted before? Cannot you
see that I am not a woman who would be ready to steal happiness for
myself from my dearest friend?"
"I think I am beginning to see what sort of woman you are--what sort
of a being a woman may be. You love me, Phyllis, and yet you will send
me away from you lest you should do Ella a wrong?"
"I implore of you to go away from me, because if Ella had been free a
month ago as she is to-day, she would have married you."
"But she fancied that she loved me a month ago. She knows that she
does not love me now. You love me--you, Phyllis, my love, my beloved;
you dare not say that when you led me to love you, you were not led
unthinkingly to love me yourself. Will you deny that, my darling?"
He had strode passionately up to her, and before she could resist he
had put his arms about her and was kissing her on the face. For a
moment only she resisted, then she submitted to his kisses.
"You are mine--mine--mine!" he whispered, and she knew that she was.
She now knew how to account for the brilliant successes of the man in
places where every other civilized man had perished. He was a master
of men. "You love me, darling, and I love you. What shall separate
With a little cry she freed herself.
"You have said the truth!" she cried; "the bitter truth. I love you! I
love you! I love you! You are my love, my darling, my king forever.
But I tell you to go from me. I tell you that I shall never steal from
any sister what is hers by right. I would have sacrificed myself--I
did not love you then--to keep you from her; I am now ready to
sacrifice myself--now that I love you--to give you to her. Ah, my
love, my own dear love, you know me, and you know that I should hate
myself--that I should hate you, too, if I were to marry you, now that
she is free. Go, my beloved--go!"
He looked at her face made beautiful with tears. "Let me plead with
you, Phyllis. Let me say--"
"Oh, go! go! go!"
He put out his hand to her.
"I am going!" he said. "I am leaving England, but from day to day I
shall let you know where I am, so that you can send to me when you
want me to return to you. Write on a paper, 'Come to me,' and I will
come, though years should pass before I read those words. I deserve to
suffer, as I know I shall suffer."
He held out his hand. She took it. Her tears fell upon it. She did not
speak as he went to the door. Then she gave a cry like the cry of a
wounded animal. She held out her hands to him.
"Not yet! Not yet!" she said.
She flung herself into his arms, kissing him and kissing him, holding
him to her with her arms about his neck.
"Good-by! Good-by, my darling, my best beloved. Oh, go! Go, Herbert,
before I die in your arms. Go!"
She was lying along the floor with her head on the sofa.
He was gone.
She looked wildly around the room, wiping the tears from her eyes. She
sprang to her feet, crying:
"Come back! Come back to me, my beloved! Oh, I was a fool! Such a fool
as women are when they think of such things as heaven and truth and
right! A fool! A fool!"
An hour afterward Ella called to say good-by to her. She was going to
Switzerland first, she said, to a quiet spot that she knew, where she
might think out some of the details of the Church. Mr. Holland would
meet her in Italy in the winter to consider some of the architectural
When the hour of her departure was at hand she referred to another
matter--a matter on which she spoke much more seriously than she had
yet spoken on the subject of the Church.
"I could not go, my dear Phyllis," said she, "without telling you that
I know Herbert Courtland will come to you."
"No!" said Phyllis. "He will not come to me. He has been with me. He
is now gone."
"Gone? That would be impossible!" cried Ella. "You would not send him
away. He told you that he loved you."
"Yes, he told me that."
"And yet you sent him away? Oh, Phyllis, you would not break my heart.
I know that you love him."
"You do love him. Oh, my Phyllis, I told him months ago that it was
the dearest wish of my heart to see you married to him. At that time
he laughed. Oh, it is horrible to me to recall now how he laughed.
Shall I ever forget that terrible dream? But now he loves you. I know
it. What! you think him unworthy of you because of--of that dream
which was upon us? Phyllis, don't forget that he fought with the sin
and overcame it. How? Ah! you know how. He overcame the passion that
is of earth by the love that is of heaven. It was his pure love for
you that gave him the victory. Why should you send him away?"
"He knows. He understands. He is gone."
"But I do not understand."
She held Phyllis' hand and looked into her face. She gave a sudden
start--a little start.
"Oh, surely, my Phyllis, you don't think that I--I---- Oh, no! you
cannot think that of me. Oh, my darling, if you should be so foolish
as to think that I--that I still---- Ah, I cannot speak about it.
Listen to me, Phyllis: I tell you that as he conquered himself by the
love which is of heaven, so have I conquered by the same Divine Power.
The love which is in heaven--the love which is mine--has given me the
victory also. Dear Phyllis, that man is nothing to me to-day. I tell
you he is nothing--nothing! Ah, I don't even hate him. If I should
ever speak to him again it would be to send him back to you."
Phyllis said nothing, and just then her father came into the room, and
after a few minutes' conventional chat Ella went away.
Mr. Ayrton remarked to Phyllis that her dearest friend was looking
better than she had looked for many months, and then he laughed.
Phyllis did not like his laugh. She looked at him--gravely--
"Pardon me, my dear," said he; "but I was only thinking that--well--
that she---- Ah, after all, what is marriage?"
Phyllis did not reply. She saw by his eyes that he had found another
phrase. What were phrases to her?
"Marriage is the most honorable preliminary to an effective
widowhood," said he.
She went out of the room.
During the next eight months Phyllis received many letters from Ella--
some from Switzerland, some from Italy, and one from Calcutta. Ella
had gone to India to make further inquiries on the subject of
Buddhism. At any rate, no one whose heart was set upon building up a
New Church could afford, she said, to ignore Buddhism as a power.
Mr. Holland agreed with her, she said. He had gone through India with
She returned to England in April, and of course went to see Phyllis
without delay. Some men had wanted to marry Phyllis during the winter,
as everybody knew, but she had been pleasantly irresponsive. Some of
her closest friends (female) laughed and said that she had found out
how silly she had been in throwing over Mr. Holland.
It was not, however, of these suitors that Ella talked to her. It was
of Herbert Courtland.
Had she heard from him? she asked.
Yes; he occasionally sent her his address, Phyllis said--that was all.
"You will write to him to come back to you, Phyllis?" said Ella
Phyllis shook her head.
"Dearest child," continued Ella, "I know the goodness of your heart. I
know the high ideal of honor and faith which you have set before you.
I saw Herbert when our steamer stopped at Port Said. He had been in
Abyssinia--you know that?"
"I knew that."
"I talked with him for an hour," said Ella. "He told me a great deal
about you--about your parting from him. You will write those words to
him before I leave this room."
Phyllis shook her head.
"Oh, yes, you will, when I tell you what I did not tell him--when I
tell you that George Holland and I have agreed that our positions as
joint trustees of the New Church will be immeasurably strengthened if
we are married."
Phyllis had risen.
"We are to be married in three months. The matter is, of course, to
remain a secret--people are so given to talk."
Phyllis fell into her arms and kissed her tearfully--but the tears
were not all her own.
"Now you will write those words," said Ella.
Phyllis ran to a little French escritoire and snatched up a sheet of
"Come to me, my beloved," she wrote upon it; then she leaned her face
upon her arm, weeping happily.
Ella came behind her. She picked up the paper and folded it up. She
pressed the bell.
"Please give that to Mr. Courtland in the study," she said to the
Phyllis sprang up with a cry.
"I forgot to tell you, my dearest, that I brought back Herbert
Courtland in that steamer with me, and that he came with me to-day. He
is coming to you--listen--three steps at a time."
And that was just how he did come to her.
"Bless my soul!" cried Mr. Ayrton, ten minutes later. "Bless my soul!
I always fancied that---- Ah, after all, what is marriage?"
"Oh!" cried Phyllis.
"The last word that can be said regarding it is that marriage is the
picturesque gateway leading to the commonplace estate."
"Oh!" cried Phyllis