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The Broad Highway by Jeffery Farnol

Part 10 out of 11

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to hide her fear, and heaped me with bitter scorn; but I only
shook my head and smiled. And now she struggled to break my
clasp, fiercely, desperately; her long hair burst its fastenings,
and enveloped us both in its rippling splendor; she beat my face,
she wound her fingers in my hair, but my lips smiled on, for the
hammer in my brain had deadened all else.

And presently she lay still. I felt her body relax and grow
suddenly pliable and soft, her head fell back across my arm, and,
as she lay, I saw the tears of her helplessness ooze out beneath
her drooping lashes; but still I smiled.

So, with her long hair trailing over me, I bore her to the
cottage. Closing the door behind me with my foot, I crossed the
room, and set her down upon the bed.

She lay very still, but her bosom heaved tumultuously, and the
tears still crept from beneath her lashes; but in a while she
opened her eyes and looked at me, and shivered, and crouched
farther from me, among the pillows.

"Why did you lie to me, Charmian; why did you lie to me?" She
did not answer, only she watched me as one might watch some
relentless, oncoming peril.

"I asked you once if you ever saw men hereabouts--when I was
away, do you remember? You told me, 'no,' and, while you spoke,
I knew you lied, for I had seen him standing among the leaves,
waiting and watching for you. I once asked you if you were ever
lonely when I was away, and you answered 'no',--you were too
busy--'seldom went beyond the Hollow'--do you remember? And yet
--you had brought him here--here, into the cottage he had looked
at my Virgil--over your shoulder--do you remember?"

"You played the spy!" she whispered with trembling lips, yet with
eyes still fierce and scornful.

"You know I did not; had I seen him I should have killed him,
because--I loved you. I had set up an altar to you in my heart,
where my soul might worship--poor fool that I was! I loved you
with every breath I drew. I think I must have shown you
something of this, from time to time, for you are very clever,
and you may have laughed over it together--you and he. And
lately I have seen my altar foully desecrated, shattered, and
utterly destroyed, and, with it, your sweet womanhood dragged in
the mire, and yet--I loved you still. Can you imagine, I wonder,
the agony of it, the haunting horrors of imagination, the bitter
days, the sleepless nights? To see you so beautiful, so
glorious, and know you so base! Indeed, I think it came near
driving me mad. It has sent me out into the night; I have held
out my arms for the lightning to blast me; I have wished myself a
thousand deaths. If Black George had but struck a little harder
--or a little lighter; I am not the man I was before he thrashed
me; my head grows confused and clouded at times--would to God I
were dead! But now--you would go! Having killed my heart,
broken my life, driven away all peace of mind--you would leave
me! No, Charmian, I swear by God you shall not go--yet awhile.
I have bought you very dear--bought you with my bitter agony, and
by all the blasting torments I have suffered."

Now, as I ended, she sprang from the bed and faced me, but,
meeting my look, she shrank a little, and drew her long hair
about her like a mantle, then sought with trembling hands to hold
me off.

"Peter--be sane. Oh, Peter! be merciful and let me go--give me
time--let me explain."

"My books," said I, "have taught me that the more beautiful a
woman's face the more guileful is her heart; and your face is
wonderfully beautiful, and, as for your heart--you lied to me

"I--oh, Peter!--I am not the poor creature you think me."

"Were you the proudest lady in the land--you have deceived me and
mocked me and lied to me!" So saying, I reached out, and seized
her by each rounded arm, and slowly drew her closer. And now she
strove no more against me, only in her face was bitter scorn, and
an anger that cast out fear.

"I hate you--despise you!" she whispered. "I hate you more than
any man was ever hated!"

Inch by inch I drew her to me, until she stood close, within the
circle of my arms.

"And I think I love you more than any woman was ever loved!" said
I; "for the glorious beauty of your strong, sweet body, for the
temptation of your eyes, for the red lure of your lips!" And so
I stooped and kissed her full upon the mouth. She lay soft and
warm in my embrace, all unresisting, only she shivered beneath my
kiss, and a great sob rent her bosom.

"And I also think," said I, "that, because of the perfidy of your
heart, I hate you as much as you do me--as much as ever woman,
dead or living, was hated by man and shall--forever!"

And, while I spoke, I loosed her and turned, and strode swiftly
out and away from the cottage.



I hurried on, looking neither to right nor left, seeing only the
face of Charmian, now fearful and appealing, now blazing with
scorn. And coming to the brook, I sat down, and thought upon her
marvellous beauty, of the firm roundness of the arms that my
fingers had so lately pressed. Anon I started up again, and
plunged, knee-deep, through the brook, and strode on and on,
bursting my way through bramble and briar, heedless of their
petty stings, till at last I was clear of them, being now among
trees. And here, where the shadow was deepest, I came upon a
lurking figure--a figure I recognized--a figure there was no
mistaking, and which I should have known in a thousand.

A shortish, broad-shouldered man, clad in a blue coat, who stood
with his back towards me, looking down into the Hollow, in the
attitude of one who waits--for what? for whom?

He was cut off from me by a solitary bush, a bramble, that seemed
to have strayed from its kind and lost itself, and, running upon
my toes, I cleared this bush at a bound, and, before the fellow
had realized my presence, I had pinned him by the collar.

"Damn you!--show your face!" I cried, and swung him round so
fiercely that he staggered, and his hat fell off.

Then, as I saw, I clasped my head between my hands, and fell

A grizzled man with an honest, open face, a middle-aged man whose
homely features were lighted by a pair of kindly blue eyes, just
now round with astonishment.

"Lord!--Mr. Peter!" he exclaimed.

"Adam!" I groaned. "Oh, God forgive me, it's Adam!"

"Lord! Mr. Peter," said he again, "you sure give me a turn, Sir!
But what's the matter wi' you, sir? Come, Mr. Peter, never
stare so wild like--come, sir, what is it?"

"Tell me--quick!" said I, catching his hand in mine, "you have
been here many times before of late?"

"Why--yes, Mr. Peter, but--"

"Quick!" said I; "on one occasion she took you into the cottage
yonder and showed you a book--you looked at it over her

"Yes, sir--but--"

"What sort of book was it?"

"A old book, sir, wi' the cover broke, and wi' your name writ
down inside of it; 'twas that way as she found out who you was--"

"Oh, Adam!" I cried. "Oh, Adam! now may God help me!" And,
dropping his hand, I turned and ran until I reached the cottage;
but it was empty, Charmian was gone.

In a fever of haste I sought her along the brook, among the
bushes and trees, even along the road. And, as I sought, night
fell, and in the shadows was black despair.

I searched the Hollow from end to end, calling upon her name, but
no sound reached me, save the hoot of an owl, and the far-off,
dismal cry of a corncrake.

With some faint hope that she might have returned to the cottage,
I hastened thither, but, finding it dark and desolate, I gave way
to my despair.

O blind, self-deceiving fool! She had said that, and she was
right--as usual. She had called me an egoist--I was an egoist, a
pedant, a blind, self-deceiving fool who had wilfully destroyed
all hopes of a happiness the very thought of which had so often
set me trembling--and now--she had left me--was gone! The world
--my world, was a void--its emptiness terrified me. How should I
live without Charmian, the woman whose image was ever before my
eyes, whose soft, low voice was ever in my ears?

And I had thought so much to please her! I who had set my
thoughts to guard my tongue, lest by word or look I might offend
her! And this was the end of it!

Sitting down at the table, I leaned my head there, pressing my
forehead against the hard wood, and remained thus a great while.

At last, because it was very dark, I found and lighted a candle,
and came and stood beside her bed. Very white and trim it
looked, yet I was glad to see its smoothness rumpled where I had
laid her down, and to see the depression in the pillow that her
head had made. And, while I stood there, up to me stole a
perfume very faint, like the breath of violets in a wood at
evening time, wherefore I sank down upon my knees beside the bed.

And now the full knowledge of my madness rushed upon me in an
overwhelming flood; but with misery was a great and mighty joy,
for now I knew her worthy of all respect and honor and worship,
for her intellect, for her proud virtue, and for her spotless
purity. And thus, with joy came remorse, and with remorse--an
abiding sorrow.

And gradually my arms crept about the pillow where her head had
so often rested, wherefore I kissed it, and laid my head upon it
and sighed, and so fell into a troubled sleep.



The chill of dawn was in the air when I awoke, and it was some
few moments before, with a rush, I remembered why I was kneeling
there beside Charmian's bed. Shivering, I rose and walked up and
down to reduce the stiffness in my limbs.

The fire was out and I had no mind to light it, for I was in no
mood to break my fast, though the necessary things stood ready,
as her orderly hands had set them, and the plates and cups and
saucers twinkled at me from the little cupboard I had made to
hold them; a cupboard whose construction she had overlooked with
a critical eye. And I must needs remember how she had insisted
on being permitted to drive in three nails with her own hand--I
could put my finger on those very nails; how she had tapped at
those nails for fear of missing them; how beautiful she had
looked in her coarse apron, and with her sleeves rolled up over
her round white arms--how womanly and sweet; yet I had dared to
think--had dared to call her--a Messalina! Oh, that my tongue
had withered or ever I had coupled one so pure and noble with a
creature so base and common!

So thinking, I sighed and went out into the dawn; as I closed the
door behind me its hollow slam struck me sharply, and I called to
mind how she had called it a bad and ill-fitting door. And
indeed so it was.

With dejected step and hanging head I made my way towards
Sissinghurst (for, since I was up, I might as well work, and
there was much to be done), and, as I went, I heard a distant
clock chime four.

Now, when I reached the village the sun was beginning to rise,
and thus, lifting up my eyes, I beheld one standing before "The
Bull," a very tall man, much bigger and greater than most; a wild
figure in the dawn, with matted hair and beard, and clad in
tattered clothes; yet hair and beard gleamed a red gold where the
light touched them, and there was but one man I knew so tall and
so mighty as this. Wherefore I hurried towards him, all
unnoticed, for his eyes were raised to a certain latticed
casement of the inn.

And, being come up, I reached out and touched this man upon the arm.

"George!" said I, and held out my hand. He turned swiftly, but,
seeing me, started back a pace, staring.

"George!" said I again. "Oh, George!" But George only backed
still farther, passing his hand once or twice across his eyes.

"Peter?" said he at last, speaking hardly above a whisper; "but
you 'm dead, Peter, dead--I killed--'ee."

"No," I answered, "you didn't kill me, George indeed, I wish you
had--you came pretty near it, but you didn't quite manage it.
And, George--I'm very desolate--won't you shake hands with a very
desolate man?--if you can, believing that I have always been your
friend, and a true and loyal one, then, give me your hand; if
not--if you think me still the despicable traitor you once did,
then, let us go into the field yonder, and if you can manage to
knock me on the head for good and all this time--why, so much the
better. Come, what do you say?"

Without a word Black George turned and led the way to a narrow
lane a little distance beyond "The Bull," and from the lane into
a meadow. Being come thither, I took off my coat and neckerchief,
but this time I cast no look upon the world about me, though indeed
it was fair enough. But Black George stood half turned from me,
with his fists clenched and his broad shoulders heaving oddly.

"Peter," said he, in his slow, heavy way, "never clench ye fists
to me--don't--I can't abide it. But oh, man, Peter! 'ow may I
clasp 'ands wi' a chap as I've tried to kill--I can't do it,
Peter--but don't--don't clench ye fists again me no more. I
were jealous of 'ee from the first--ye see, you beat me at th'
'ammer-throwin'--an' she took your part again me; an' then, you
be so takin' in your ways, an' I be so big an' clumsy--so very
slow an' 'eavy. Theer bean't no choice betwixt us for a maid
like Prue she allus was different from the likes o' me, an' any
lass wi' half an eye could see as you be a gentleman, ah! an'
a good un. An' so Peter, an' so--I be goin' away--a sojer--
p'r'aps I shan't love the dear lass quite so much arter a bit
--p'r'aps it won't be quite so sharp-like, arter a bit, but
what's to be--is to be. I've larned wisdom, an' you an' she
was made for each other an' meant for each other from the
first; so--don't go to clench ye fists again me no more, Peter."

"Never again, George!" said I.

"Unless," he continued, as though struck by a bright idea,
"unless you 'm minded to 'ave a whack at me; if so be--why, tak'
it, Peter, an' welcome. Ye see, I tried so 'ard to kill 'ee--so
cruel 'ard, Peter, an' I thought I 'ad. I thought 'twere for
that as they took me, an' so I broke my way out o' the lock-up,
to come an' say 'good-by' to Prue's winder, an' then I were
goin' back to give myself up an' let 'em hang me if they wanted

"Were you, George?"

"Yes." Here George turned to look at me, and, looking, dropped
his eyes and fumbled with his hands, while up under his tanned
skin there crept a painful, burning crimson. "Peter!" said he.

"Yes, George?"

"I got summ'at more to tell 'ee--summ'at as I never meant to tell
to a soul; when you was down--lyin' at my feet--"

"Yes, George?"

"I--I kicked 'ee--once!"

"Did you, George?"

"Ay--I--I were mad--mad wi' rage an' blood lust, an'--oh, man,
Peter!--I kicked 'ee. Theer," said he, straightening his
shoulders, "leastways I can look 'ee in the eye now that be off
my mind. An' now, if so be you 'm wishful to tak' ye whack at
me--why, let it be a good un, Peter."

"No, I shall never raise my hand to you again, George."

"'Tis likely you be thinkin' me a poor sort o' man, arter what
--what I just told 'ee--a coward?"

"I think you more of a man than ever," said I.

"Why, then, Peter--if ye do think that, here's my hand--if ye'll
tak' it, an' I--bid ye--good-by!"

"I'll take your hand--and gladly, George, but not to wish you
goodby--it shall be, rather, to bid you welcome home again."

"No," he cried. "No--I couldn't--I couldn't abide to see you
an'--Prue--married, Peter--no, I couldn't abide it."

"And you never will, George. Prue loves a stronger, a better man
than I. And she has wept over him, George, and prayed over him,
such tears and prayers as surely might win the blackest soul to
heaven, and has said that she would marry that man--ah! even if
he came back with fetter-marks upon him--even then she would
marry him--if he would only ask her."

"Oh, Peter!" cried George, seizing my shoulders in a mighty grip
and looking into my eyes with tears in his own, "oh, man, Peter
--you as knocked me down an' as I love for it--be this true?"

"It is God's truth!" said I, "and look!--there is a sign to prove
I am no liar--look!" and I pointed towards "The Bull."

George turned, and I felt his fingers tighten suddenly, for
there, at the open doorway of the inn, with the early glory of
the morning all about her, stood Prue. As we watched, she began
to cross the road towards the smithy, with laggard step and
drooping head.

"Do you know where she is going, George? I can tell you--she is
going to your smithy--to pray for you--do you hear, to pray for
you? Come!" and I seized his arm.

"No, Peter, no--I durstn't--I couldn't." But he suffered me to
lead him forward, nevertheless. Once he stopped and glanced
round, but the village was asleep about us. And so we presently
came to the open doorway of the forge.

And behold! Prue was kneeling before the anvil with her face
hidden in her arms, and her slender body swaying slightly. But
all at once, as if she felt him near her, she raised her head and
saw him, and sprang to her feet with a glad cry. And, as she
stood, George went to her, and knelt at her feet, and raising the
hem of her gown, stooped and kissed it.

"Oh, my sweet maid!" said he. "Oh, my sweet Prue!--I bean't
worthy--I bean't--" But she caught the great shaggy head to her
bosom and stifled it there.

And in her face was a radiance--a happiness beyond words, and
the man's strong arms clung close about her.

So I turned, and left them in paradise together.



I found the Ancient sunning himself in the porch before the inn,
as he waited for his breakfast.

"Peter," said he, "I be tur'ble cold sometimes. It comes
a-creepin' on me all at once, even if I be sittin' before a roarin'
fire or a-baskin' in this good, warm sun--a cold as reaches down
into my poor old 'eart--grave-chills, I calls 'em, Peter--ah!
grave-chills. Ketches me by the 'eart they do; ye see I be that
old, Peter, that old an' wore out."

"But you're a wonderful man for your age!" said I, clasping the
shrivelled hand in mine, "and very lusty and strong--"

"So strong as a bull I be, Peter!" he nodded readily, "but then,
even a bull gets old an' wore out, an' these grave-chills ketches
me oftener an' oftener. 'Tis like as if the Angel o' Death
reached out an' touched me--just touched me wi' 'is finger,
soft-like, as much as to say: ''Ere be a poor, old, wore-out
creeter as I shall be wantin' soon.' Well, I be ready; 'tis
only the young or the fule as fears to die. Threescore years
an' ten, says the Bible, an' I be years an' years older than
that. Oh! I shan't be afeared to answer when I'm called, Peter.
''Ere I be, Lord!' I'll say. ''Ere I be, thy poor old servant'
--but oh, Peter! if I could be sure o' that theer old rusty
stapil bein' took first, why then I'd go j'yful--j'yful, but--
why theer be that old fule Amos--Lord! what a dodderin' old
fule 'e be, an' theer be Job, an' Dutton--they be comin' to
plague me, Peter, I can feel it in my bones. Jest reach me
my snuff-box out o' my 'ind pocket, an' you shall see me smite
they Amalekites 'ip an' thigh."

"Gaffer," began Old Amos, saluting us with his usual grin, as he
came up, "we be wishful to ax 'ee a question--we be wishful to
know wheer be Black Jarge, which you 'avin' gone to fetch 'im,
an' bring 'im 'ome again--them was your words."

"Ah!" nodded Job, "them was your very words, 'bring 'im 'ome
again,' says you--"

"But you didn't bring 'im 'ome," continued Old Amos, "leastways,
not in the cart wi' you. Dutton 'ere--James Dutton see you come
drivin' 'ome, but 'e didn't see no Jarge along wi' you--no, not
so much as you could shake a stick at, as you might say. Speak
up, James Dutton you was a-leanin' over your front gate as Gaffer
come drivin' 'ome, wasn't you, an' you see Gaffer plain as plain,
didn't you?"

"W'ich, me wishin' no offense, an' no one objectin'--I did," began
the Apology, perspiring profusely as usual, "but I takes the
liberty to say as it were a spade, an' not a gate--leastways--"

"But you didn't see no signs o' Jarge, did ye?" demanded Old
Amos, "as ye might say, neither 'ide nor 'air of 'im--speak up,
James Dutton."

"W'ich, since you axes me, I makes so bold as to answer--an' very
glad I'm sure--no; though as to 'ide an' 'air, I aren't wishin'
to swear to, me not bein' near enough--w'ich could only be
expected, an' very much obliged, I'm sure."

"Ye see, Gaffer," pursued Amos, "if you didn't bring Jarge back
wi' you--w'ich you said you would--the question we axes is--wheer
be Jarge?"

"Ah!--wheer?" nodded Job gloomily. Here the Ancient was
evidently at a loss, to cover which, he took a vast pinch of

"'Ow be we to know as 'e bean't pinin' away in a dungeon cell wi'
irons on 'is legs, an' strapped in a straitjacket an--"

Old Amos stopped, open-mouthed and staring, for out from the
gloom of the smithy issued Black George himself, with Prue upon
his arm. The Ancient stared also, but, dissembling his vast
surprise, he dealt the lid of his snuffbox two loud, triumphant

"Peter," said he, rising stiffly, "Peter, lad, I were beginnin'
to think as Jarge were never comin' in to breakfus' at all. I've
waited and waited till I be so ravenous as a lion an' tiger--but
'ere 'e be at last, Peter, 'ere 'e be, so let's go in an' eat
summ'at." Saying which, he turned his back upon his discomfited
tormentors, and led me into the kitchen of the inn.

And there were the white-capped maids setting forth such a
breakfast as only such a kitchen could produce. And, presently,
there was Prue herself, with George hanging back, something
shamefaced, till the Ancient had hobbled forward to give him
welcome. And there was honest Simon, all wonderment and hearty
greeting. And (last, but by no means least) there were the
battered cutlasses, the brass jack, and the glittering pots and
pans--glittering and gleaming and twinkling a greeting likewise,
and with all their might.

Ah! but they little guessed why Prue's eyes were so shy and
sweet, or why the color came and went in her pretty cheeks;
little they guessed why, this golden-haired giant trod so
lightly, and held his tall head so very high--little they dreamed
of the situation as yet; had they done so, surely they must, one
and all, have fallen upon that curly, golden head and buried it
beneath their gleaming, glittering, twinkling jealousy.

And what a meal was that! with those deft, whitecapped maids to
wait upon our wants, and with Prudence hovering here and there to
see that all were duly served, and refusing to sit down until
George's great arm--a very gentle arm for one so strong and big
--drew her down beside him.

Yes, truly, what a meal that was, and how the Ancient chuckled,
and dug me with one bony elbow and George with the other, and
chuckled again till he choked, and choked till he gasped, and
gasped till he had us all upon our feet, then demanded indignantly
why we couldn't let him "enj'y hisself in peace."

And now, when the meal was nearly over, he suddenly took it into
his head that Prue didn't love George as she should and as he
deserved to be, and nothing would content him but that she must
kiss him then and there.

"An' not on the forr'ud, mind--nor on the cheek, but on the place
as God made for it--the mouth, my lass!"

And now, who so shy and blushing as Prue, and who so nervous, for
her sake, as Black George, very evidently clasping her hand under
the table, and bidding her never to mind--as he was content, and
never to put herself out over such as him. Whereupon Mistress
Prue must needs turn, and taking his bead between her hands,
kissed him--not once, or twice, but three times, and upon "the
place God made for it--the mouth."

O gleaming Cutlasses! O great Brass Jack and glittering Pots and
Pans! can ye any longer gleam and glitter and twinkle in doubt?
Alas! I trow not. Therefore it is only natural and to be
expected that beneath your outward polish lurk black and bitter
feelings against this curly-headed giant, and a bloodthirsty
desire for vengeance. If so, then one and all of you have, at
least, the good feeling not to show it, a behavior worthy of
gentlemen--what do I say?--of gentlemen?--fie! rather let it be
said--of pots and pans.



It is a wise and (to some extent) a true saying, that hard work
is an antidote to sorrow, a panacea for all trouble; but when the
labor is over and done, when the tools are set by, and the weary
worker goes forth into the quiet evening--how then? For we
cannot always work, and, sooner or later, comes the still hour
when Memory rushes in upon us again, and Sorrow and Remorse sit,
dark and gloomy, on either hand.

A week dragged by, a season of alternate hope and black despair,
a restless fever of nights and days, for with each dawn came
hope, that lived awhile beside me, only to fly away with the sun,
and leave me to despair.

I hungered for the sound of Charmian's voice, for the quick,
light fall of her foot, for the least touch of her hand. I
became more and more possessed of a morbid fancy that she might
be existing near by--could I but find her; that she had passed
along the road only a little while before me, or, at this very
moment, might be approaching, might be within sight, were I but
quick enough.

Often at such times I would fling down my hammer or tongs, to
George's surprise, and, hurrying to the door, stare up and down
the road; or pause in my hammerstrokes, fiercely bidding George
do the same, fancying I heard her voice calling to me from a
distance. And George would watch me with a troubled brow but,
with a rare delicacy, say no word.

Indeed, the thought of Charmian was with me everywhere, the
ringing hammers mocked me with her praises, the bellows sang of
her beauty, the trees whispered "Charmian! Charmian!" and
Charmian was in the very air.

But when I had reluctantly bidden George "good night," and set
out along lanes full of the fragrant dusk of evening; when,
reaching the Hollow, I followed that leafy path beside the brook,
which she and I had so often trodden together; when I sat in my
gloomy, disordered cottage, with the deep silence unbroken save
for the plaintive murmur of the brook--then, indeed, my
loneliness was well-nigh more than I could bear.

There were dark hours when the cottage rang with strange sounds,
when I would lie face down upon the floor, clutching my throbbing
temples between my palms--fearful of myself, and dreading the
oncoming horror of madness.

It was at this time, too, that I began to be haunted by the thing
above the door--the rusty staple upon which a man had choked out
his wretched life sixty and six years ago; a wanderer, a lonely
man, perhaps acquainted, with misery or haunted by remorse, one
who had suffered much and long--even as I--but who had eventually
escaped it all--even as I might do. Thus I would sit, chin in
hand, staring up at this staple until the light failed, and
sometimes, in the dead of night, I would steal softly there to
touch it with my finger.

Looking back on all this, it seems that I came very near losing
my reason, for I had then by no means recovered from Black
George's fist, and indeed even now I am at times not wholly free
from its effect.

My sleep, too, was often broken and troubled with wild dreams, so
that bed became a place of horror, and, rising, I would sit before
the empty hearth, a candle guttering at my elbow, and think of
Charmian until I would fancy I heard the rustle of her garments
behind me, and start up, trembling and breathless; at such times
the tap of a blown leaf against the lattice would fill me with a
fever of hope and expectation. Often and often her soft laugh
stole to me in the gurgle of the brook, and she would call to me
in the deep night silences in a voice very sweet, and faint, and
far away. Then I would plunge out into the dark, and lift my
hands to the stars that winked upon my agony, and journey on through
a desolate world, to return with the dawn, weary and despondent.

It was after one of these wild night expeditions that I sat
beneath a tree, watching the sunrise. And yet I think I must
have dozed, for I was startled by a voice close above me, and,
glancing up, I recognized the little Preacher. As our eyes met
he immediately took the pipe from his lips, and made as though to
cram it into his pocket.

"Though, indeed, it is empty!" he explained, as though I had
spoken. "Old habits cling to one, young sir, and my pipe, here,
has been the friend of my solitude these many years, and I cannot
bear to turn my back upon it yet, so I carry it with me still,
and sometimes, when at all thoughtful, I find it between my lips.
But though the flesh, as you see, is very weak, I hope, in time,
to forego even this," and he sighed, shaking his head in gentle
deprecation of himself. "But you look pale--haggard," he went
on; "you are ill, young sir!"

"No, no," said I, springing to my feet; "look at this arm, is it
the arm of a sick man? No, no--I am well enough, but what of him
we found in the ditch, you and I--the miserable creature who lay
bubbling in the grass?"

"He has been very near death, sir--indeed his days are numbered,
I think, yet he is better, for the time being, and last night
declared his intention of leaving the shelter of my humble roof
and setting forth upon his mission."

"His mission, sir?"

"He speaks of himself as one chosen by God to work His will, and
asks but to live until this mission, whatever it is, be
accomplished. A strange being!" said the little Preacher,
puffing at his empty pipe again as we walked on side by side, "a
dark, incomprehensible man, and a very, very wretched one--poor

"Wretched?" said I, "is not that our human lot? 'Man is born to
sorrow as the sparks fly upward,' and Job was accounted wise in
his generation."

"That was a cry from the depths of despond; but Job stood, at
last, upon the heights, and felt once more God's blessed sun, and
rejoiced--even as we should. But, as regards this stranger, he
is one who would seem to have suffered some great wrong, the
continued thought of which has unhinged his mind; his heart seems
broken--dead. I have, sitting beside his delirious couch, heard
him babble a terrible indictment against some man; I have also
heard him pray, and his prayers have been all for vengeance."

"Poor fellow!" said I, "it were better we had left him to die in
his ditch, for if death does not bring oblivion, it may bring a
change of scene."

"Sir," said the Preacher, laying his hand upon my arm, "such
bitterness in one so young is unnatural; you are in some trouble,
I would that I might aid you, be your friend--know you better--"

"Oh, sir! that is easily done. I am a blacksmith, hardworking,
sober, and useful to my fellows; they call me Peter Smith. A
certain time since I was a useless dreamer; spending more money
in a week than I now earn in a year, and getting very little for
it. I was studious, egotistical, and pedantic, wasting my time
upon impossible translations that nobody wanted--and they knew me
as--Peter Vibart."

"Vibart!" exclaimed the Preacher, starting and looking up at me.

"Vibart!" I nodded.

"Related in any way to--Sir Maurice Vibart?"

"His cousin, sir." My companion appeared lost in thought, for he
was puffing at his empty pipe again.

"Do you happen to know Sir Maurice?" I inquired.

"No," returned the Preacher; "no, sir, but I have heard mention
of him, and lately, though just when, or where, I cannot for the
life of me recall."

"Why, the name is familiar to a great many people," said I; "you
see, he is rather a famous character, in his way."

Talking thus, we presently reached a stile beyond which the
footpath led away through swaying corn and by shady hopgarden, to
Sissinghurst village. Here the Preacher stopped and gave me his
hand, but I noticed he still puffed at his pipe.

"And you are now a blacksmith?"

"And mightily content so to be."

"You are a most strange young man!" said the Preacher, shaking
his head.

"Many people have told me the same, sir," said I, and vaulted
over the stile. Yet, turning back when I had gone some way, I
saw him leaning where I had left him, and with his pipe still in
his mouth.



As I approached the smithy, late though the hour was (and George
made it a rule to have the fire going by six every morning), no
sound of hammer reached me, and coming into the place, I found it
empty. Then I remembered that to-day George was to drive over to
Tonbridge, with Prudence and the Ancient, to invest in certain
household necessities, for in a month's time they were to be

Hereupon I must needs contrast George's happy future with my
dreary one, and fall bitterly to cursing myself; and, sitting on
the Ancient's stool in the corner, I covered my face, and my
thoughts were very black.

Now presently, as I sat thus, I became conscious of a very
delicate perfume in the air, and also, that some one had entered
quietly. My breath caught in my throat, but I did not at once
look up, fearing to dispel the hope that tingled within me. So I
remained with my face still covered until something touched me,
and I saw that it was the gold-mounted handle of a whip,
wherefore I raised my head suddenly and glanced up.

Then I beheld a radiant vision in polished riding-boots and
speckless moleskins, in handsome flowered waistcoat and
perfect-fitting coat, with snowy frills at throat and wrists;
a tall, gallant figure, of a graceful, easy bearing, who stood,
a picture of cool, gentlemanly insolence, tapping his boot
lightly with his whip. But, as his eye met mine, the tapping
whip grew suddenly still; his languid expression vanished, he
came a quick step nearer and bent his face nearer my own--a
dark face, handsome in its way, pale and aquiline, with a
powerful jaw, and dominating eyes and mouth; a face (nay, a
mask rather) that smiled and smiled, but never showed the man

Now, glancing up at his brow, I saw there a small, newly healed

"Is it possible?" said he, speaking in that softly modulated
voice I remembered to have heard once before. "Can it be
possible that I address my worthy cousin? That shirt! that
utterly impossible coat and belcher! And yet--the likeness is
remarkable! Have I the--honor to address Mr. Peter Vibart--late
of Oxford?"

"The same, sir," I answered, rising.

"Then, most worthy cousin, I salute you," and he removed his hat,
bowing with an ironic grace. "Believe me, I have frequently
desired to see that paragon of all the virtues whose dutiful
respect our revered uncle rewarded with the proverbial shilling.
Egad!" he went on, examining me through his glass with a great
show of interest, "had you been any other than that same virtuous
Cousin Peter whose graces and perfections were forever being
thrown at my head, I could have sympathized with you, positively
--if only on account of that most obnoxious coat and belcher, and
the grime and sootiness of things in general. Poof!" he
exclaimed, pressing his perfumed handkerchief to his nostrils,
"faugh! how damnably sulphur-and-brimstony you do keep yourself,
cousin--oh, gad!"

"You would certainly find it much clearer outside," said I,
beginning to blow up the fire.

"But then, Cousin Peter, outside one must become a target for the
yokel eye, and I detest being stared at by the uneducated, who,
naturally, lack appreciation. On the whole, I prefer the smoke,
though it chokes one most infernally. Where may one venture to
sit here?" I tendered him the stool, but he shook his head, and,
crossing to the anvil, flicked it daintily with his handkerchief
and sat down, dangling his leg.

"'Pon my soul!" said he, eyeing me languidly through his glass
again, "'pon my soul! you are damnably like me, you know, in

"Damnably!" I nodded.

He glanced at me sharply, and laughed.

"My man, a creature of the name of Parks," said he, swinging his
spurred boot to and fro, "led me to suppose that I should meet a
person here--a blacksmith fellow--"

"Your man Parks informed you correctly," I nodded; "what can I do
for you?"

"The devil!" exclaimed Sir Maurice, shaking his head; "but no
--you are, as I gather, somewhat eccentric, but even you would
never take such a desperate step as to--to--"

"--become a blacksmith fellow?" I put in.


"Alas, Sir Maurice, I blush to say that rather than become an
unprincipled adventurer living on my wits, or a mean-spirited
hanger-on fawning upon acquaintances for a livelihood, or doing
anything rather than soil my hands with honest toil, I became a
blacksmith fellow some four or five months ago."

"Really it is most distressing to observe to what depths Virtue
may drag a man!--you are a very monster of probity and rectitude!"
exclaimed Sir Maurice; "indeed I am astonished! you manifested not
only shocking bad judgment, but a most deplorable lack of thought
(Virtue is damnably selfish as a rule)--really, it is quite
disconcerting to find one's self first cousin to a blacksmith--"

"--fellow!" I added.

"Fellow!" nodded Sir Maurice. "Oh, the devil! to think of my
worthy cousin reduced to the necessity of laboring with hammer
and saw--"

"Not a saw," I put in.

"We will say, chisel, then--a Vibart with hammer and chisel
--deuce take me! Most distressing! and, you will pardon my
saying so, you do not seem to thrive on hammers and chisels; no
one could say you looked blooming, or even flourishing like the
young bay tree (which is, I fancy, an Eastern expression)."

"Sir," said I, "may I remind you that I have work to do?"

"A deuced interesting place though, this," he smiled, staring
round imperturbably through his glass; "so--er--so devilish grimy
and smutty and gritty--quite a number of horseshoes, too. D'ye
know, cousin, I never before remarked what a number of holes
there are in a horseshoe--but live and learn!" Here he paused to
inhale a pinch of snuff, very daintily, from a jewelled box. "It
is a strange thing," he pursued, as he dusted his fingers on his
handkerchief, "a very strange thing that, being cousins, we have
never met till now--especially as I have heard so very much about

"Pray," said I, "pray how should you hear about one so very
insignificant as myself?"

"Oh, I have heard of good Cousin Peter since I was an imp of a
boy!" he smiled. "Cousin Peter was my chart whereby to steer
through the shoals of boyish mischief into the haven of our Uncle
George's good graces. Oh, I have heard over much of you, cousin,
from dear, kind, well-meaning relatives and friends--damn 'em!
They rang your praises in my ears, morning, noon, and night. And
why?--simply that I might come to surpass you in virtue,
learning, wit, and appearance, and so win our Uncle George's
regard, and, incidentally, his legacy. But I was a young demon,
romping with the grooms in the stable, while you were a young
angel in nankeens, passing studious hours with your books. When
I was a scapegrace at Harrow, you were winning golden opinions at
Eton; when you were an 'honors' man at Oxford, I was 'rusticated'
at Cambridge. Naturally enough, perhaps, I grew sick of the name
of Peter (and, indeed, it smacks damnably of fish, don't you
think?)--you, or your name, crossed me at every turn. If it
wasn't for Cousin Peter, I was heir to ten thousand a year; but
good Cousin Peter was so fond of Uncle George, and Uncle George
was so fond of good Cousin Peter, that Maurice might go hang for
a graceless dog and be damned to him!"

"You have my deepest sympathy and apologies!" said I.

"Still, I have sometimes been curious to meet worthy Cousin
Peter, and it is rather surprising that I have never done so."

"On the contrary--" I began, but his laugh stopped me.

"Ah, to be sure!" he nodded, "our ways have lain widely separate
hitherto--you, a scholar, treading the difficult path of
learning; I--oh, egad! a terrible fellow! a mauvais sujet! a sad,
sad dog! But after all, cousin, when one comes to look at you
to-day, you might stand for a terrible example of Virtue run
riot--a distressing spectacle of dutiful respect and good
precedent cut off with a shilling. Really, it is horrifying to
observe to what depths Virtue may plunge an otherwise well-balanced
individual. Little dreamed those dear, kind, well-meaning
relatives and friends--damn 'em! that while the wilful Maurice
lived on, continually getting into hot water and out again, up
to his eyes in debt, and pretty well esteemed, the virtuous
pattern Peter would descend to a hammer and saw--I should say,
chisel--in a very grimy place where he is, it seems, the
presiding genius. Indeed, this first meeting of ours, under
these circumstances, is somewhat dramatic, as it should be."

"And yet, we have met before," said I, "and the circumstances
were then even more dramatic, perhaps,--we met in a tempest, sir."

"Ha!" he exclaimed, dwelling on the word, and speaking very
slowly, "a tempest, cousin?"

"There was much wind and rain, and it was very dark."

"Dark, cousin?"

"But I saw your face very plainly as you lay on your back, sir,
by the aid of a Postilion's lanthorn, and was greatly struck by
our mutual resemblance." Sir Maurice raised his glass and looked
at me, and, as he looked, smiled, but he could not hide the
sudden, passionate quiver of his thin nostrils, or the gleam of
the eyes beneath their languid lids. He rose slowly and paced to
the door; when he came back again, he was laughing softly, but
still he could not hide the quiver of his nostrils, or the gleam
of the eyes beneath their languid lids.

"So--it was--you?" he murmured, with a pause between the words.
"Oh, was ever anything so damnably contrary! To think that I
should hunt her into your very arms! To think that of all men in
the world it should be you to play the squire of dames!" And he
laughed again, but, as he did so, the stout riding-whip snapped
in his hands like a straw. He glanced down at the broken pieces,
and from them to me. "You see, I am rather strong in the hands,
cousin," said he, shaking his head, "but I was not--quite strong
enough, last time we met, though, to be sure, as you say, it was
very dark. Had I known it was worthy Cousin Peter's throat I
grasped, I think I might have squeezed it just--a little--tighter."

"Sir," said I, shaking my head, "I really don't think you could
have done it."

"Yes," he sighed, tossing his broken whip into a corner. "Yes, I
think so--you see, I mistook you for merely an interfering
country bumpkin--"

"Yes," I nodded, "while I, on the other hand, took you for a fine
gentleman nobly intent on the ruin of an unfortunate, friendless
girl, whose poverty would seem to make her an easy victim--"

"In which it appears you were as much mistaken as I, Cousin
Peter." Here he glanced at me with a sudden keenness.


"Why, surely," said he, "surely you must know--" He paused to
flick a speck of soot from his knee, and then continued: "Did she
tell you nothing of--herself?"

"Very little beside her name."

"Ah! she told you her name, then?"

"Yes, she told me her name."

"Well, cousin?"

"Well, sir?" We had both risen, and now fronted each other
across the anvil, Sir Maurice debonair and smiling, while I stood
frowning and gloomy.

"Come," said I at last, "let us understand each other once for
all. You tell me that you have always looked upon me as your
rival for our uncle's good graces--I never was. You have
deceived yourself into believing that because I was his ward that
alone augmented my chances of becoming the heir; it never did.
He saw me as seldom as possible, and, if he ever troubled his
head about either of us, it would seem that he favored you. I
tell you I never was your rival in the past, and never shall be
in the future."

"Meaning, cousin?"

"Meaning, sir, in regard to either the legacy or the Lady Sophia
Sefton. I was never fond enough of money, to marry for it. I
have never seen this lady, nor do I propose to, thus, so far as I
am concerned, you are free to win her and the fortune as soon as
you will; I, as you see, prefer horseshoes."

"And what," said Sir Maurice, flicking a speck of soot from his
cuff, and immediately looking at me again, "what of Charmian?"

"I don't know," I answered, "nor should I be likely to tell you,
if I did; wherever she may be she is safe, I trust, and beyond
your reach--"

"No," he broke in, "she will never be beyond my reach until she is
dead--or I am--perhaps not even then, and I shall find her again,
sooner or later, depend upon it--yes, you may depend upon that!"

"Cousin Maurice," said I, reaching out my hand to him, "wherever
she may be, she is alone and unprotected--pursue her no farther.
Go back to London, marry your Lady Sefton, inherit your fortune,
but leave Charmian Brown in peace."

"And pray," said he, frowning suddenly, "whence this solicitude
de on her behalf? What is she to you--this Charmian Brown?"

"Nothing," I answered hurriedly, "nothing at all, God knows--nor
ever can be--" Sir Maurice leaned suddenly forward, and,
catching me by the shoulder, peered into my face.

"By Heaven!" he exclaimed, "the fellow--actually loves her!"

"Well?" said I, meeting his look, "why not? Yes, I love her." A
very fury of rage seemed suddenly to possess him, the languid,
smiling gentleman became a devil with vicious eyes and evil,
snarling mouth, whose fingers sank into my flesh as he swung me
back and forth in a powerful grip.

"You love her?--you?--you?" he panted.

"Yes," I answered, flinging him off so that he staggered; "yes
--yes! I--who fought for her once, and am willing--most willing,
to do so again, now or at any other time, for, though I hold no
hope of winning her--ever--yet I can serve her still, and protect
her from the pollution of your presence," and I clenched my

He stood poised as though about to spring at me, and I saw his
knuckles gleam whiter than the laces above them, but, all at
once, he laughed lightly, easily as ever.

"A very perfect, gentle knight!" he murmured, "sans peur et sans
reproche--though somewhat grimy and in a leather apron. Chivalry
kneeling amid hammers and horseshoes, worshiping Her with a
reverence distant and lowly! How like you, worthy cousin, how
very like yon, and how affecting! But"--and here his nostrils
quivered again--" but I tell you--she is mine--mine, and always
has been, and no man living shall come between us--no, by God!"

"That," said I, "that remains to be seen!"


"Though, indeed, I think she is safe from you while I live."

"But then, Cousin Peter, life is a very uncertain thing at best,"
he returned, glancing at me beneath his drooping lids.

"Yes," I nodded, "it is sometimes a blessing to remember that."

Sir Maurice strolled to the door, and, being there, paused, and
looked back over his shoulder.

"I go to find Charmian," said he, "and I shall find her--sooner
or later, and, when I do, should you take it upon yourself to
--come between us again, or presume to interfere again, I shall
--kill you, worthy cousin, without the least compunction. If
you think this sufficient warning--act upon it, if not--" He
shrugged his shoulders significantly. "Farewell, good and worthy
Cousin Peter, farewell!--or shall we say--'au revoir'?"



"Peter," said George, one evening, turning to me with the troubled
look I had seen so often on his face of late, "what be wrong wi'
you, my chap? You be growing paler everyday. Oh, Peter! you be
like a man as is dyin' by inches--if 'tis any o' my doin'--"

"Nonsense, George!" I broke in with sudden asperity, "I am well

"Yet I've seen your 'ands fall a-trembling sometimes, Peter--all
at once. An' you missed your stroke yesterday--come square down
on th' anvil--you can't ha' forgot?"

"I remember," I muttered; "I remember."

"An' twice again to-day. An' you be silent, Peter, an' don't
seem to 'ear when spoke to, an' short in your temper--oh, you
bean't the man you was. I've see it a-comin' on you more an'
more. Oh, man, Peter!" he cried, turning his back upon me
suddenly, "you as I'd let walk over me--you as I'd be cut in
pieces for--if it be me as done it--"

"No, no, George--it wasn't you--of course not. If I am a little
strange it is probably due to lack of sleep, nothing more."

"Ye see, Peter, I tried so 'ard to kill 'ee, an' you said
yourself as I come nigh doin' it--"

"But then, you didn't quite manage it," I cried harshly--"would
to God you had; as it is, I am alive, and there's an end of it."

"'Twere a woundy blow I give 'ee--that last one! I'll never
forget the look o' your face as you went down. Oh, Peter! you've
never been the same since--it be all my doin'--I know it, I know
it," and, sinking upon the Ancient's stool in the corner, Black
George covered his face.

"Never think of it, George," I said, laying my arm across his
heaving shoulders; "that is all over and done with, dear fellow,
and I would not have it otherwise, since it gained me your
friendship. I am all right, well and strong; it is only sleep
that I need, George, only sleep."

Upon the still evening air rose the sharp tap, tap of the
Ancient's stick, whereat up started the smith, and, coming to the
forge, began raking out the fire with great dust and clatter, as
the old man hobbled up, saluting us cheerily as he came.

"Lord!" he exclaimed, pausing in the doorway to lean upon his
stick and glance from one to the other of us with his quick,
bright eyes. "Lord! theer bean't two other such fine, up-standin',
likely-lookin' chaps in all the South Country as you two chaps
be--no, nor such smiths! it du warm my old 'eart to look at
'ee. Puts me in mind o' what I were myself--ages an' ages
ago. I weren't quite so tall as Jarge, p'r'aps, by about--say
'alf-a-inch, but then, I were wider--wider, ah! a sight wider
in the shoulder, an' so strong as--four bulls! an' wi' eyes big
an' sharp an' piercin'--like Peter's, only Peter's bean't quite
so sharp, no, nor yet so piercin'--an' that minds me as I've
got noos for 'ee, Peter."

"What news?" said I, turning.

"S'prisin' noos it be--ah! an' 'stonishin' tu. But first of all,
Peter, I wants to ax 'ee a question."

"What is it, Ancient?"

"Why, it be this, Peter," said the old man, hobbling nearer, and
peering up into my face, "ever since the time as I went an' found
ye, I've thought as theer was summ'at strange about 'ee, what wi'
your soft voice an' gentle ways; an' it came on me all at once
--about three o' the clock's arternoon, as you might be a dook
--in disguise, Peter. Come now, be ye a dook or bean't ye--yes
or ne, Peter?" and he fixed me with his eye.

"No, Ancient," I answered, smiling; "I'm no duke."

"Ah well!--a earl, then?"

"Nor an earl."

"A barrynet, p'r'aps?"

"Not even a baronet."

"Ah!" said the old man, eyeing me doubtfully, "I've often thought
as you might be one or t' other of 'em 'specially since 'bout
three o' the clock 's arternoon."

"Why so?"

"Why, that's the p'int--that's the very noos as I've got to tell
'ee," chuckled the Ancient, as he seated himself in the corner.
"You must know, then," he began, with an impressive rap on the
lid of his snuffbox, "'bout three o'clock 's arternoon I were
sittin' on the stile by Simon's five-acre field when along the
road comes a lady, 'an'some an' proud-looking, an' as fine as
fine could be, a-ridin' of a 'orse, an' wi' a servant ridin'
another 'orse be'ind 'er. As she comes up she gives me a look
out o' 'er eyes, soft they was, an' dark, an' up I gets to touch
my 'at. All at once she smiles at me, an' 'er smile were as
sweet an' gentle as 'er eyes; an' she pulls up 'er 'orse. 'W'y,
you must be the Ancient!' says she. 'W'y, so Peter calls me, my
leddy,' says I. 'An' 'ow is Peter?' she says, quick-like; ''ow
is Peter?' says she. 'Fine an' 'earty,' says I; 'eats well an'
sleeps sound,' says I; ''is arms is strong an' 'is legs is strong,
an' 'e aren't afeared o' nobody--like a young lion be Peter,'
says I. Now, while I'm a-sayin' this, she looks at me, soft an'
thoughtful-like, an' takes out a little book an' begins to write
in it, a-wrinklin' 'er pretty black brows over it an' a-shakin'
'er 'ead to 'erself. An' presently she tears out what she's
been a-writin' an' gives it to me. 'Will you give this to Peter
for me?' says she. 'That I will, my leddy!' says I. 'Thank
'ee!' says she, smilin' again, an' 'oldin' out 'er w'ite 'an' to
me, which I kisses. 'Indeed!' says she,' I understand now why
Peter is so fond of you. I think I could be very fond of 'ee
tu!' says she. An' so she turns 'er 'orse, an' the servant 'e
turns 'is an' off they go; an' 'ere, Peter--'ere be the letter."
Saying which, the Ancient took a slip of paper from the cavernous
interior of his hat and tendered it to me.

With my head in a whirl, I crossed to the door, and leaned there
awhile, staring sightlessly out into the summer evening; for it
seemed that in this little slip of paper lay that which meant
life or death to me; so, for a long minute I leaned there,
fearing to learn my fate. Then I opened the little folded square
of paper, and, holding it before my eyes, read:

"Charmian Brown presents" (This scratched out.) "While you
busied yourself forging horseshoes your cousin, Sir Maurice,
sought and found me. I do not love him, but-- CHARMIAN.

"Farewell" (This also scored out.)

Again I stared before me with unseeing eyes, but my hands no
longer trembled, nor did I fear any more; the prisoner had
received his sentence, and suspense was at an end.

And, all at once, I laughed, and tore the paper across, and
laughed and laughed, till George and the Ancient came to stare at

"Don't 'ee!" cried the old man; "don't 'ee, Peter--you be like a
corp' laughin'; don't 'ee!" But the laugh still shook me while I
tore and tore at the paper, and so let the pieces drop and
flutter from my fingers.

"There!" said I, "there goes a fool's dream! See how it
scatters--a little here, a little there; but, so long as this
world lasts, these pieces shall never come together again." So
saying, I set off along the road, looking neither to right nor
left. But, when I had gone some distance, I found that George
walked beside me, and he was very silent as he walked, and I saw
the trouble was back in his eyes again.

"George," said I, stopping, "why do you follow me?"

"I don't follow 'ee, Peter," he answered; "I be only wishful to
walk wi' you a ways."

"I'm in no mood for company, George."

"Well, I bean't company, Peter--your friend, I be," he said
doggedly, and without looking at me.

"Yes," said I; "yes, my good and trusty friend."

"Peter," he cried suddenly, laying his hand upon my shoulder,
"don't go back to that theer ghashly 'Oller to-night--"

"It is the only place in the world for me--to-night, George."
And so we went on again, side by side, through the evening, and
spoke no more until we had come to the parting of the ways.

Down in the Hollow the shadows lay black and heavy, and I saw
George shiver as he looked.

"Good-by!" said I, clasping his hand; "good-by, George!"

"Why do 'ee say good-by?"

"Because I am going away."

"Goin' away, Peter--but wheer?"

"God knows!" I answered, "but, wherever it be, I shall carry with
me the memory of your kind, true heart--and you, I think, will
remember me. It is a blessed thing, George, to know that, howso
far we go, a friend's kind thoughts journey on with us, untiring
to the end."

"Oh, Peter, man! don't go for to leave me--"

"To part is our human lot, George, and as well now as later

"No, no!" he cried, throwing his arm about me, "not down theer
--it be so deadly an' lonely down theer in the darkness. Come
back wi' me--just for to-night." But I broke from his detaining
hand, and plunged on down into the shadows. And, presently,
turning my head, I saw him yet standing where I had left him,
looming gigantic upon the sky behind, and with his head sunk
upon his breast.

Being come at last to the cottage, I paused, and from that place
of shadows lifted my gaze to the luminous heaven, where were a
myriad eyes that seemed to watch me with a new meaning, to-night;
wherefore I entered the cottage hastily, and, closing the door,
barred it behind me. Then I turned to peer up at that which
showed above the door--the rusty staple upon which a man had
choked his life out sixty and six years ago. And I began, very
slowly, to loosen the belcher neckerchief about my throat.

"Peter!" cried a voice--"Peter!" and a hand was beating upon the



She came in swiftly, closing the door behind her, found and
lighted a candle, and, setting it upon the table between us, put
back the hood of her cloak, and looked at me, while I stood mute
before her, abashed by the accusation of her eyes.

"Coward!" she said, and, with the word, snatched the neckerchief
from my grasp, and, casting it upon the floor, set her foot upon
it. "Coward!" said she again.

"Yes," I muttered; "yes, I was lost--in a great darkness, and
full of a horror of coming rights and days, and so--I would have
run away from it all--like a coward--"

"Oh, hateful--hateful!" she cried, and covered her face as from
some horror.

"Indeed, you cannot despise me more than I do myself," said I,
"now, or ever; I am a failure in all things, except, perhaps,
the making of horseshoes--and this world has no place for
failures--and as for horseshoes--"

"Fool," she whispered. "Oh, fool that I dreamed so wise! Oh,
coward that seemed so brave and strong! Oh, man that was so
gloriously young and unspoiled!--that it should end here--that it
should come to this." And, though she kept her face hidden, I
knew that she was weeping. "A woman's love transforms the man
till she sees him, not as he is, but as her heart would have him
be; the dross becomes pure gold, and she believes and believes
until--one day her heart breaks--"

"Charmian!--what--what do you mean?"

"Oh, are you still so blind? Must I tell you?" she cried,
lifting her head proudly. "Why did I live beside you here in the
wilderness? Why did I work for you contrive for you--and seek to
make this desolation a home for you? Often my heart cried out
its secret to you--but you never heard; often it trembled in my
voice, looked at you from my eyes--but you never guessed--Oh,
blind! blind! And you drove me from you with shameful words
--but--oh!--I came back to you. And now--I know you for but
common clay, after all, and--even yet--" She stopped, suddenly,
and once more hid her face from me in her hands.

"And--even yet, Charmian?" I whispered.

Very still she stood, with her face bowed upon her hands, but she
could not hide from me the swift rise and fall of her bosom.

"Speak--oh, Charmian, speak!"

"I am so weak--so weak!" she whispered; "I hate myself."

"Charmian!" I cried "--oh, Charmian!" and seized her hands, and,
despite her resistance, drew her into my arms, and, clasping her
close, forced her to look at me. "And even yet?--what more--what
more--tell me." But, lying back across my arm, she held me off
with both hands.

"Don't!" she cried; "don't--you shame me--let me go."

"God knows I am all unworthy, Charmian, and so low in my
abasement that to touch you is presumption, but oh, woman whom I
have loved from the first, and shall, to the end, have you
stooped in your infinite mercy, to lift me from these depths--is
it a new life you offer me was it for this you came to-night?"

"Let me go--oh, Peter!--let me go."

"Why--why did you come?"

"Loose me!"

"Why did you come?"

"To meet--Sir Maurice Vibart."

"To meet Sir Maurice?" I repeated dully--"Sir Maurice?" And in
that moment she broke from me, and stood with her head thrown
back, and her eyes very bright, as though defying me. But I
remained where I was, my arms hanging.

"He was to meet me here--at nine o'clock."

"Oh, Charmian," I whispered, "are all women so cruel as you, I
wonder?" And, turning my back upon her, I leaned above the
mantel, staring down at the long-dead ashes on the hearth.

But, standings there, I heard a footstep outside, and swung round
with clenched fists, yet Charmian was quicker, and, as the door
opened and Sir Maurice entered, she was between us.

He stood upon the threshold, dazzled a little by the light, but
smiling, graceful, debonair, and point-device as ever. Indeed,
his very presence seemed to make the mean room the meaner by
contrast, and, as he bent to kiss her hand, I became acutely
conscious of my own rough person, my worn and shabby clothes, and
of my hands, coarsened and grimed by labor; wherefore my frown
grew the blacker and I clenched my fists the tighter.

"I lost my way, Charmian," he began, "but, though late, I am none
the less welcome, I trust? Ah?--you frown, Cousin Peter? Quite
a ghoulish spot this, at night--you probably find it most
congenial, good cousin Timon of Athens--indeed, cousin, you are
very like Timon of Athens--" And he laughed so that I, finding
my pipe upon the mantelshelf, began to turn it aimlessly round
and round in my twitching fingers.

"You have already met, then?" inquired Charmian, glancing from
one to the other of us.

"We had that mutual pleasure nearly a week ago," nodded Sir
Maurice, "when we agreed to--disagree, as we always have done,
and shall do--with the result that we find each other agreeably

"I had hoped that you might be friends."

"My dear Charmian--I wonder at you!" he sighed, "so unreasonable.
Would you have us contravene the established order of things? It
was preordained that Cousin Peter should scowl at me (precisely
as he is doing), and that I should shrug my shoulders, thus, at
Cousin Peter--a little hate with, say, a dash of contempt, give a
zest to that dish of conglomerate vapidity which we call Life,
and make it almost palatable.

"But I am not here on Cousin Peter's account," he went on,
drawing a step nearer to her, "at this moment I heartily wish
him--among his hammers and chisels--I have come for you,
Charmian, because I love you. I have sought you patiently until
I found you--and I will never forego you so long as life lasts
--but you know all this."

"Yes, I know all this."

"I have been very patient, Charmian, submitting to your whims and
fancies--but, through it all; I knew, and in your woman's heart
--you knew, that you must yield at last--that the chase must end
--some day; well--let it be to-night--my chaise is waiting--"

"When I ran away from you, in the storm, Sir Maurice, I told you,
once and for all, that I hated you. Have you forgotten?--hated
you!--always and ever! and tried to--kill you--"

"Oh, Charmian! I have known such hate transfigured into love,
before now--such love as is only worth the winning. And you are
mine--you always were--from the first moment that our eyes met.
Come, my chaise is waiting; in a few hours we can be in London,
or Dover--"


"Never is a long time, Charmian--but I am at your service--what
is your will?"

"I shall remain--here."

"Here? In the wilderness?"

"With my--husband."


"I am going to marry your cousin--Peter Vibart."

The pipe slipped from my fingers and shivered to pieces on the
floor, and in that same fraction of time Sir Maurice had turned
and leapt towards me; but as he came I struck him twice, with
left and right, and he staggered backwards to the wall. He stood
for a moment, with his head stooped upon his hands. When he
looked up his face was dead white, and with a smear of blood upon
it that seemed to accentuate its pallor; but his voice came
smooth and unruffled as ever.

"The Mind Feminine is given to change," said he softly, "and--I
shall return--yes, I shall come back. Smile, madam! Triumph,
cousin! But I shall come between you yet--I tell you, I'll come
between you--living or dead!"

And so he turned, and was gone--into the shadows.

But as for me, I sat down, and, leaning my chin in my hand,
stared down at the broken fragments of my pipe.


"You are safe now," said I, without looking up, "he is gone--but,
oh, Charmian! was there no other way--?"

She was down beside me on her knees, had taken my hand, rough and
grimy as it was, and pressed it to her lips, and so had drawn it
about her neck, holding it there, and with her face hidden in my

"Oh--strong man that is so weak!" she whispered. "Oh--grave
philosopher that is so foolish! Oh--lonely boy that is so
helpless! Oh, Peter Vibart--my Peter!"

"Charmian," said I, trembling, "what does it mean?"

"It means, Peter--"


"That--the--Humble Person--"


"Will--marry you--whenever you will--if--"


"If you will--only--ask her."



Now, as the little Preacher closed his book, the sun rose up,
filling the world about us with his glory.

And looking into the eyes of my wife, it seemed that a veil was
lifted, for a moment, there, and I read that which her lips might
never tell; and there, also, were joy and shame and a deep

"See," said the little Preacher, smiling upon us, "it is day and
a very glorious one; already a thousand little choristers of
God's great cathedral have begun to chant your marriage hymn. Go
forth together, Man and Wife, upon this great wide road that we
call Life; go forth together, made strong in Faith, and brave
with Hope, and the memory of Him who walked these ways before
you; who joyed and sorrowed and suffered and endured all things
--even as we must. Go forth together, and may His blessing abide
with you, and the 'peace that passeth understanding.'"

And so we turned together, side by side, and left him standing
amid his roses.

Silently we went together, homewards, through the dewy morning,
with a soft, green carpet underfoot, and leafy arches overhead,
where trees bent to whisper benedictions, and shook down jewels
from their dewy leaves upon us as we passed; by merry brooks that
laughed and chattered, and gurgled of love and happiness, while
over all rose the swelling chorus of the birds. Surely never had
they piped so gladly in this glad world before--not even for the
gentle Spenser, though he says:

"There was none of them that feigned
To sing, for each of them him pained;
To find out merry, crafty notes
They ne spared not their throats."

And being come, at length, to the Hollow, Charmian must needs
pause beside the pool among the willows, to view herself in the
pellucid water. And in this mirror our eyes met, and lo! of a
sudden, her lashes drooped, and she turned her head aside.

"Don't, Peter!" she whispered; "don't look at me so."

"How may I help it when you are so beautiful?"

And, because of my eyes, she would have fled from me, but I
caught her in my arms, and there, amid the leaves, despite the
jealous babble of the brook, for the second time in my life, her
lips met mine. And, gazing yet into her eyes, I told her how, in
this shady bower, I had once watched her weaving leaves into her
hair, and heard her talk to her reflection--and so--had stolen
away, for fear of her beauty.

"Fear, Peter?"

"We were so far out of the world, and--I longed to kiss you."

"And didn't, Peter."

"And didn't, Charmian, because we were so very far from the
world, and because you were so very much alone, and--"

"And because, Peter, because you are a gentle man and strong, as
the old locket says. And do you remember," she went on
hurriedly, laying her cool, restraining fingers on my eager lips,
"how I found you wearing that locket, and how you blundered and
stammered over it, and pretended to read your Homer?"

"And how you sang, to prevent me?"

"And how gravely you reproved me?"

"And how you called me a 'creature'?"

"And how you deserved it, sir--and grew more helpless and ill at
ease than ever, and how--just to flatter my vanity--you told me
I had 'glorious hair'?"

"And so you have," said I, kissing a curl at her temple; "when
you unbind it, my Charmian, it will cover you like a mantle."

Now when I said this, for some reason she glanced up at me,
sudden and shy, and blushed and slipped from my arms, and fled up
the path like a nymph.

So we presently entered the cottage, flushed and panting, and
laughing for sheer happiness. And now she rolled up her sleeves,
and set about preparing breakfast, laughing my assistance to
scorn, but growing mightily indignant when I would kiss her, yet
blushing and yielding, nevertheless. And while she bustled to
and fro (keeping well out of reach of my arm), she began to sing
in her soft voice to herself:

"'In Scarlet town, where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwellin',
Made every youth cry Well-a-way!
Her name was Barbara Allen.'"

"Oh, Charmian! how wonderful you are!"

"'All in the merry month of May,
When green buds they were swellin'--'"

"Surely no woman ever had such beautiful arms! so round and soft
and white, Charmian." She turned upon me with a fork held up
admonishingly, but, meeting my look, her eyes wavered, and up
from throat to brow rushed a wave of burning crimson.

"Oh, Peter!--you make me--almost--afraid of you," she whispered,
and hid her face against my shoulder.

"Are you content to have married such a very poor man--to be the
wife of a village blacksmith?"

"Why, Peter--in all the world there never was such another
blacksmith as mine, and--and--there!--the kettle is boiling

"Let it!" said I.

"And the bacon--the bacon will burn--let me go, and--oh, Peter!"

So, in due time, we sat down to our solitary wedding breakfast;
and there were no eyes to speculate upon the bride's beauty, to
note her changing color, or the glory of her eyes; and no healths
were proposed or toasts drunk, nor any speeches spoken--except,
perhaps by my good friend--the brook outside, who, of course,
understood the situation, and babbled tolerantly of us to the
listening trees, like the grim old philosopher he was.

In this solitude we were surely closer together and belonged more
fully to each other, for all her looks and thoughts were mine, as
mine were hers.

And, as we ate, sometimes talking and sometimes laughing (though
rarely; one seldom laughs in the wilderness), our hands would
stray to meet each other across the table, and eye would answer
eye, while, in the silence, the brook would lift its voice to
chuckle throaty chuckles and outlandish witticisms, such as could
only be expected from an old reprobate who had grown so in years,
and had seen so very much of life. At such times Charmian's
cheeks would flush and her lashes droop--as though (indeed) she
were versed in the language of brooks.

So the golden hours slipped by, the sun crept westward, and
evening stole upon us.

"This is a very rough place for you," said I, and sighed.

We were sitting on the bench before the door, and Charmian had
laid her folded hands upon my shoulder, and her chin upon her
hands. And now she echoed my sigh, but answered without

"It is the dearest place in all the world."

"And very lonely!" I pursued.

"I shall be busy all day long, Peter, and you always reach home
as evening falls, and then--then--oh! I sha'n't be lonely."

"But I am such a gloomy fellow at the best of times, and very
clumsy, Charmian, and something of a failure."

"And--my husband."

"Peter!--Peter!--oh, Peter!" I started, and rose to my feet.

"Peter!--oh, Peter!" called the voice again, seemingly from the
road, and now I thought it sounded familiar.

Charmian stole her arms aboat my neck.

"I think it is Simon," said I uneasily; "what can have brought
him? And he will never venture down into the Hollow on account
of the ghost; I must go and see what he wants."

"Yes, Peter," she murmured, but the clasp of her arms tightened.

"What is it?" said I, looking into her troubled eyes. "Charmian,
you are trembling!--what is it?"

"I don't know--but oh, Peter! I feel as if a shadow--a black and
awful shadow were creeping upon us hiding us from each other. I
am very foolish, aren't I? and this our wedding-day!"

"Peter! Pe-ter!"

"Come with me, Charmian; let us go together."

"No, I must wait--it is woman's destiny--to wait--but I am brave
again; go--see what is wanted."

I found Simon, sure enough, in the lane, seated in his cart, and
his face looked squarer and grimmer even than usual.

"Oh, Peter!" said he, gripping my hand, "it be come at last
--Gaffer be goin'."

"Going, Simon?"

"Dyin', Peter. Fell downstairs 's marnin'. Doctor says 'e can't
last the day out--sinkin' fast, 'e be, an' 'e be axin' for 'ee,
Peter. 'Wheer be Peter?' says 'e over an' over again; 'wheer be
the Peter as I found of a sunshiny arternoon, down in th' 'aunted
'Oller?' You weren't at work 's marnin', Peter, so I be come to
fetch 'ee--you'll come back wi' me to bid 'good-by' to the old:

"Yes, I'll come, Simon," I answered; "wait here for me."

Charmian was waiting for me in the cottage, and, as she looked up
at me, I saw the trouble was back in her eyes again.

"You must--go leave me?" she inquired.

"For a little while."

"Yes--I--I felt it," she said, with a pitiful little smile.

"The Ancient is dying," said I. Now, as I spoke, my eyes
encountered the staple above the door, wherefore, mounting upon a
chair, I seized and shook it. And lo! the rusty iron snapped off
in my fingers--like glass, and I slipped it into my pocket.

"Oh, Peter!--don't go--don't leave me!" cried Charmian suddenly,
and I saw that her face was very pale, and that she trembled.

"Charmian!" said I, and sprang to her side. "Oh, my love!--what
is it?"

"It is--as though the shadow hung over us--darker and more
threatening, Peter; as if our happiness were at an end; I seem to
hear Maurice's threat--to come between us--living or--dead. I am
afraid!" she whispered, clinging to me, "I am afraid!" But, all
at once, she was calm again, and full of self-reproaches, calling
herself "weak," and "foolish," and "hysterical"--"though,
indeed, I was never hysterical before!"--and telling me that I
must go--that it was my duty to go to the "gentle, dying old
man"--urging me to the door, almost eagerly, till, being out of
the cottage, she must needs fall a-trembling once more, and wind
her arms about my neck, with a great sob.

"But oh!--you will come back soon--very soon, Peter? And we know
that nothing can ever come between us again--never again--my
husband." And, with that blessed word, she drew me down to her
lips, and, turning, fled into the cottage.

I went on slowly up the path to meet Simon, and, as I went, my
heart was heavy, and my mind full of a strange foreboding. But I
never thought of the omen of the knife that had once fallen and
quivered in the floor between us.

"'Twere 'is snuff-box as done it!" said Simon, staring very hard
at his horse's ears, as we jogged along the road. "'E were a-goin'
upstairs for it, an' slipped, 'e did. 'Simon,' says he, as I
lifted of 'im in my arms, 'Simon,' says 'e, quiet like, 'I be
done for at last, lad--this poor old feyther o' yourn'll never go
a-climbin' up these stairs no more,' says 'e--'never--no--more.'"

After this Simon fell silent, and I likewise, until we reached
the village. Before "The Bull" was a group who talked with
hushed voices and grave faces; even Old Amos grinned no more.

The old man lay in his great four-post bed, propped up with
pillows, and with Prue beside him, to smooth his silver hair with
tender fingers, and Black George towering in the shade of the
bed-curtains, like a grieving giant.

"'Ere I be, Peter," said the old man, beckoning me feebly with
his hand, "'ere I be--at the partin' o' the ways, an' wi' summ'at
gone wrong wi' my innards! When a man gets so old as I be, 'is
innards be like glass, Peter, like glass--an' apt to fly all to
pieces if 'e goes a-slippin' an' a-slidin' downstairs, like me."

"Are you in pain?" I asked, clasping his shrivelled hand.

"Jest a twinge, now an' then, Peter--but--Lord! that bean't
nothin' to a man the likes o' me--Peter--"

"You always were so hale and hearty," I nodded, giving him the
usual opening he had waited for.

"Ay, so strong as a bull, that I were! like a lion in my youth
--Black Jarge were nought to me--a cart 'orse I were."

"Yes," said I, "yes," and stooped my head lower over the feeble
old hand.

"But arter all, Peter, bulls pass away, an' lions, an' cart
'orses lose their teeth, an' gets wore out, for 'all flesh is
grass'--but iron's iron, bean't it, Peter--rusts it do, but 'tis
iron all the same, an' lasts a man out--even such a 'earty chap
as I were?"

"Sometimes," said I, without looking up.

"An' I be very old an' tired, Peter; my 'eart be all wore out wi'
beatin' an' beatin' all these years--'tis a wonder as it didn't
stop afore now--but a--a--stapil, Peter, don't 'ave no 'eart to
go a-beatin' an' a-wearin' of itself away?"

"No, Ancient."

"So 'ere be I, a-standin' in the Valley o' the Shadow, an'
waitin' for God's Angel to take my 'and for to show me the way.
'Tis a darksome road, Peter, but I bean't afeared, an' there be a
light beyond Jordan-water. No, I aren't afeared to meet the God
as made me, for 'the Lord is merciful--and very kind,' an' I
don't s'pose as 'E'll be very 'ard on a old, old man as did 'is
best, an' wi' a 'eart all tired an' wore away wi' beatin'--I be
ready, Peter only--"

"Yes, Ancient?"

"Oh, Peter!--it be that theer old stapil--as'll go on rustin'
away an' rustin' away arter the old man as watched it so is laid
in the earth, an' forgot about--"

"No," said I, without looking up, but slipping my hand into my
pocket; "no, Ancient--"

"Peter--Oh, Peter!--do 'ee mean--?"

"I mean that, although it had no heart, the staple was tired and
worn out--just as you are, and so I brought it to you," and I
slipped the rusty bit of iron into the old man's trembling palm.

"O Lord--!" he began in a fervent voice, "O dear Lord!--I got
it, Lord--th' owd stapil--I be ready to come to Thee, an' j'yful
--j'yful! an' for this mercy, an' benefit received--blessed be Thy
name. Amen!"

He lay very quiet for a while, with the broken staple clasped to
his breast, and his eyes closed.

"Peter," said he suddenly, "you won't 'ave no one to bring you
noos no more--why, Peter! be 'ee cryin'--for me? 'Tis true 't
were me as found ye, but I didn't think as you'd go to cry tears
for me--I be goin' to tak' t' owd stapil wi' me, Peter, all along
the road--an', Peter--"

"Yes, Ancient?"

"Be you quite sure as you aren't a dook?"

"Quite sure."

"Nor a earl?"

"No, Ancient."

"Not even a--barrynet?"

"No, Ancient."

"Ah, well!--you be a man, Peter, an' 'tis summ'at to ha' found a
man--that it be."

And now he feebly beckoned us all nearer.

"Children," said he, "I be a old an' ancient man I be goin' on
--across the river to wait for you--my blessin' on ye. It be a
dark, dark road, but I've got t' owd stapil, an' there--be a
light beyond--the river."

So, the Ancient sighed, and crossed the dark River into the Land
of Light Eternal.



Night, with a rising moon, and over all things a great quietude,
a deep, deep silence. Air, close and heavy, without a breath to
wake the slumbering trees; an oppressive stillness, in which
small sounds magnified themselves, and seemed disproportionately

And presently, as I went upon my way, I forgot the old man
sleeping so peacefully with the rusty staple clasped to his
shrunken breast, and thought only of the proud woman who had
given her life into my keeping, and who, henceforth, would walk
with me, hand in hand, upon this Broad Highway, over rough
places, and smooth--even unto the end. So I strode on, full of a
deep and abiding joy, and with heart that throbbed and hands that
trembled because I knew that she watched and waited for my

A sound broke upon the stillness--sudden and sharp--like the
snapping of a stick. I stopped and glanced about me--but it had
come and gone--lost in the all-pervading calm.

And presently, reaching the leafy path that led steeply down into
the Hollow, I paused a moment to look about me and to listen
again; but the deep silence was all unbroken, save for the
slumberous song of the brook, that stole up to me from the
shadows, and I wondered idly what that sudden sound might have
been. So I began to descend this leafy path, and went on to meet
that which lay waiting for me in the shadows.

It was dark here among the trees, for the moon was low as yet,
but, every now and then, she sent a kindly ray through some
opening amid the leaves, so that as I descended the path I seemed
to be wading through small, limpid pools of radiance.

But all at once I stopped--staring at something which lay at the
edge of one of these pools--a white claw--a hand whose fingers,
talon-like, had sunk deep and embedded themselves in the turf.
And, beyond this gleaming hand, was an arm, and beyond that
again, something that bulked across my path, darker than the

Running forward, I stood looking down at that which lay at my
feet--so very still; and stooped suddenly, and turned it over
that I might see the face; and, seeing it, started back in
shuddering horror. For, in those features--hideous with blood,
stained and blackened with powder, I recognized my cousin--Sir
Maurice Vibart. Then, remembering the stick that had snapped, I
wondered no more, but a sudden deadly faintness came upon me so,
that I leaned weakly against a tree near by.

A rustling of leaves--a shuddering breath, and, though I did not
raise my head, I knew that Charmian was there.

"Oh, Peter!" she whispered, "oh, Peter!" and that was all, but,
moved by something in her tone, I glanced up. Her eyes were wide
and staring--not at me, but at that which lay between us--her
face was pallid; even her lips had lost their color, and she
clasped one hand upon her bosom--the other was hidden in the
folds of her gown hidden as I remembered to have seen it once
before, but now it struck me with a horrible significance.
Wherefore I reached out and caught that hidden hand, and drew the
weapon from her nerveless fingers, holding it where the light
could play upon it. She started, shivered violently, and covered
her eyes, while I, looking down at the pistol in my hand, saw
that it had lately been discharged.

"He has kept his word!" she whispered; "he has kept his word!"

"Yes, Charmian--he has kept his word!"

"Oh, Peter!" she moaned, and stretched out her hands towards me,
yet she kept her face turned from that which lay across the path
between us, and her hands were shaking pitifully. "Peter?" she
cried with a sudden break in her voice; but I went on wiping the
soot from the pistol-barrel with the end of my neckerchief.
Then, all at once, she was beside me, clasping my arm, and she
was pleading with me, her words coming in a flood.

"No, Peter, no--oh, God!--you do not think it--you can't--you
mustn't. I was alone--waiting for you, and the hours passed--and
you didn't come--and I was nervous and frightened, and full of
awful fancies. I thought I heard some one--creeping round the
cottage. Once I thought some one peered in at the lattice, and
once I thought some one tried the door. And so--because I was
frightened, Peter, I took that--that, and held it in my hand,
Peter. And while I sat there--it seemed more than ever--that
somebody was breathing softly--outside the door. And so, Peter,
I couldn't bear it any more--and opened the lattice--and fired
--in the air--I swear it was in the air. And I stood there--at
the open casement--sick with fear, and trying to pray for you
--because I knew he had come back--to kill you, Peter, and, while
I prayed, I heard another shot--not close, but faint--like the

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