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Behind A Mask, Or A Woman's Power by A. M. Barnard

Part 3 out of 3

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appeared there as Sir John's safety was made known did not change to
grief or horror at poor Edward's possible fate. The smile died on her
lips, but her voice did not falter, and in her downcast eyes shone an
inexplicable look of something like triumph. No wonder, for if this
was true, the danger which menaced her was averted for a time, and the
marriage might be consummated without such desperate haste. This sad
and sudden event seemed to her the mysterious fulfilment of a secret
wish; and though startled she was not daunted but inspirited, for fate
seemed to favor her designs. She did comfort Bella, control the
excited household, and keep the rumors from Mrs. Coventry all that
dreadful night.

At dawn Gerald came home exhausted, and bringing no tiding of the
missing man. He had telegraphed to the headquarters of the regiment and
received a reply, stating that Edward had left for London the previous
day, meaning to go home before returning. The fact of his having been at
the London station was also established, but whether he left by the
train or not was still uncertain. The ruins were still being searched,
and the body might yet appear.

"Is Sir John coming at noon?" asked Jean, as the three sat together in
the rosy hush of dawn, trying to hope against hope.

"No, he had been ill, I learned from young Gower, who is just from town,
and so had not completed his business. I sent him word to wait till
night, for the bridge won't be passable till then. Now I must try and
rest an hour; I've worked all night and have no strength left. Call me
the instant any messenger arrives."

With that Coventry went to his room, Bella followed to wait on him, and
Jean roamed through house and grounds, unable to rest. The morning was
far spent when the messenger arrived. Jean went to receive his tidings,
with the wicked hope still lurking at her heart.

"Is he found?" she asked calmly, as the man hesitated to speak.

"Yes, ma'am."

"You are sure?"

"I am certain, ma'am, though some won't say till Mr. Coventry
comes to look."

"Is he alive?" And Jean's white lips trembled as she put the question.

"Oh no, ma'am, that warn't possible, under all them stones and water.
The poor young gentleman is so wet, and crushed, and torn, no one
would know him, except for the uniform, and the white hand with the
ring on it."

Jean sat down, very pale, and the man described the finding of the poor
shattered body. As he finished, Coventry appeared, and with one look of
mingled remorse, shame, and sorrow, the elder brother went away, to find
and bring the younger home. Jean crept into the garden like a guilty
thing, trying to hide the satisfaction which struggled with a woman's
natural pity, for so sad an end for this brave young life.

"Why waste tears or feign sorrow when I must be glad?" she muttered, as
she paced to and fro along the terrace. "The poor boy is out of pain,
and I am out of danger."

She got no further, for, turning as she spoke, she stood face to face
with Edward! Bearing no mark of peril on dress or person, but stalwart
and strong as ever, he stood there looking at her, with contempt and
compassion struggling in his face. As if turned to stone, she remained
motionless, with dilated eyes, arrested breath, and paling cheek. He did
not speak but watched her silently till she put out a trembling hand, as
if to assure herself by touch that it was really he. Then he drew back,
and as if the act convinced as fully as words, she said slowly, "They
told me you were dead."

"And you were glad to believe it. No, it was my comrade, young Courtney,
who unconsciously deceived you all, and lost his life, as I should have
done, if I had not gone to Ascot after seeing him off yesterday."

"To Ascot?" echoed Jean, shrinking back, for Edward's eye was on her,
and his voice was stern and cold.

"Yes; you know the place. I went there to make inquiries concerning you
and was well satisfied. Why are you still here?"

"The three days are not over yet. I hold you to your promise. Before
night I shall be gone; till then you will be silent, if you have honor
enough to keep your word."

"I have." Edward took out his watch and, as he put it back, said with
cool precision, "It is now two, the train leaves for London at half-past
six; a carriage will wait for you at the side door. Allow me to advise
you to go then, for the instant dinner is over I shall speak." And with
a bow he went into the house, leaving Jean nearly suffocated with a
throng of contending emotions.

For a few minutes she seemed paralyzed; but the native energy of the
woman forbade utter despair, till the last hope was gone. Frail as that
now was, she still clung to it tenaciously, resolving to win the game in
defiance of everything. Springing up, she went to her room, packed her
few valuables, dressed herself with care, and then sat down to wait. She
heard a joyful stir below, saw Coventry come hurrying back, and from a
garrulous maid learned that the body was that of young Courtney. The
uniform being the same as Edward's and the ring, a gift from him, had
caused the men to believe the disfigured corpse to be that of the
younger Coventry. No one but the maid came near her; once Bella's voice
called her, but some one checked the girl, and the call was not
repeated. At five an envelope was brought her, directed in Edward's
hand, and containing a check which more than paid a year's salary. No
word accompanied the gift, yet the generosity of it touched her, for
Jean Muir had the relics of a once honest nature, and despite her
falsehood could still admire nobleness and respect virtue. A tear of
genuine shame dropped on the paper, and real gratitude filled her heart,
as she thought that even if all else failed, she was not thrust out
penniless into the world, which had no pity for poverty.

As the clock struck six, she heard a carriage drive around and went down
to meet it. A servant put on her trunk, gave the order, "To the station,
James," and she drove away without meeting anyone, speaking to anyone,
or apparently being seen by anyone. A sense of utter weariness came over
her, and she longed to lie down and forget. But the last chance still
remained, and till that failed, she would not give up. Dismissing the
carriage, she seated herself to watch for the quarter-past-six train
from London, for in that Sir John would come if he came at all that
night. She was haunted by the fear that Edward had met and told him. The
first glimpse of Sir John's frank face would betray the truth. If he
knew all, there was no hope, and she would go her way alone. If he knew
nothing, there was yet time for the marriage; and once his wife, she
knew she was safe, because for the honor of his name he would screen and
protect her.

Up rushed the train, out stepped Sir John, and Jean's heart died within
her. Grave, and pale, and worn he looked, and leaned heavily on the arm
of a portly gentleman in black. The Reverend Mr. Fairfax, why has he
come, if the secret is out? thought Jean, slowly advancing to meet them
and fearing to read her fate in Sir John's face. He saw her, dropped his
friend's arm, and hurried forward with the ardor of a young man,
exclaiming, as he seized her hand with a beaming face, a glad voice, "My
little girl! Did you think I would never come?"

She could not answer, the reaction was too strong, but she clung to him,
regardless of time or place, and felt that her last hope had not failed.
Mr. Fairfax proved himself equal to the occasion. Asking no questions,
he hurried Sir John and Jean into a carriage and stepped in after them
with a bland apology. Jean was soon herself again, and, having told her
fears at his delay, listened eagerly while he related the various
mishaps which had detained him.

"Have you seen Edward?" was her first question.

"Not yet, but I know he has come, and have heard of his narrow escape. I
should have been in that train, if I had not been delayed by the
indisposition which I then cursed, but now bless. Are you ready, Jean?
Do you repent your choice, my child?"

"No, no! I am ready, I am only too happy to become your wife, dear,
generous Sir John," cried Jean, with a glad alacrity, which touched the
old man to the heart, and charmed the Reverend Mr. Fairfax, who
concealed the romance of a boy under his clerical suit.

They reached the Hall. Sir John gave orders to admit no one and after a
hasty dinner sent for his old housekeeper and his steward, told them of
his purpose, and desired them to witness his marriage. Obedience had
been the law of their lives, and Master could do nothing wrong in their
eyes, so they played their parts willingly, for Jean was a favorite at
the Hall. Pale as her gown, but calm and steady, she stood beside Sir
John, uttering her vows in a clear tone and taking upon herself the vows
of a wife with more than a bride's usual docility. When the ring was
fairly on, a smile broke over her face. When Sir John kissed and called
her his "little wife," she shed a tear or two of sincere happiness; and
when Mr. Fairfax addressed her as "my lady," she laughed her musical
laugh, and glanced up at a picture of Gerald with eyes full of
exultation. As the servants left the room, a message was brought from
Mrs. Coventry, begging Sir John to come to her at once.

"You will not go and leave me so soon?" pleaded Jean, well knowing why
he was sent for.

"My darling, I must." And in spite of its tenderness, Sir John's manner
was too decided to be withstood.

"Then I shall go with you," cried Jean, resolving that no earthly power
should part them.

_chapter IX_


When the first excitement of Edward's return had subsided, and before
they could question him as to the cause of this unexpected visit, he
told them that after dinner their curiosity should be gratified, and
meantime he begged them to leave Miss Muir alone, for she had received
bad news and must not be disturbed. The family with difficulty
restrained their tongues and waited impatiently. Gerald confessed his
love for Jean and asked his brother's pardon for betraying his trust. He
had expected an outbreak, but Edward only looked at him with pitying
eyes, and said sadly, "You too! I have no reproaches to make, for I know
what you will suffer when the truth is known."

"What do you mean?" demanded Coventry.

"You will soon know, my poor Gerald, and we will comfort one another."

Nothing more could be drawn from Edward till dinner was over, the
servants gone, and all the family alone together. Then pale and grave,
but very self-possessed, for trouble had made a man of him, he produced
a packet of letters, and said, addressing himself to his brother, "Jean
Muir has deceived us all. I know her story; let me tell it before I read
her letters."

"Stop! I'll not listen to any false tales against her. The poor girl has
enemies who belie her!" cried Gerald, starting up.

"For the honor of the family, you must listen, and learn what fools she
has made of us. I can prove what I say, and convince you that she has
the art of a devil. Sit still ten minutes, then go, if you will."

Edward spoke with authority, and his brother obeyed him with a
foreboding heart.

"I met Sydney, and he begged me to beware of her. Nay, listen, Gerald! I
know she has told her story, and that you believe it; but her own
letters convict her. She tried to charm Sydney as she did us, and nearly
succeeded in inducing him to marry her. Rash and wild as he is, he is
still a gentleman, and when an incautious word of hers roused his
suspicions, he refused to make her his wife. A stormy scene ensued, and,
hoping to intimidate him, she feigned to stab herself as if in despair.
She did wound herself, but failed to gain her point and insisted upon
going to a hospital to die. Lady Sydney, good, simple soul, believed the
girl's version of the story, thought her son was in the wrong, and when
he was gone, tried to atone for his fault by finding Jean Muir another
home. She thought Gerald was soon to marry Lucia, and that I was away,
so sent her here as a safe and comfortable retreat."

"But, Ned, are you sure of all this? Is Sydney to be believed?" began
Coventry, still incredulous.

"To convince you, I'll read Jean's letters before I say more. They
were written to an accomplice and were purchased by Sydney. There was
a compact between the two women, that each should keep the other
informed of all adventures, plots and plans, and share whatever good
fortune fell to the lot of either. Thus Jean wrote freely, as you
shall judge. The letters concern us alone. The first was written a few
days after she came.

_"Dear Hortense:

"Another failure. Sydney was more wily than I thought. All was going
well, when one day my old fault beset me, I took too much wine, and
I carelessly owned that I had been an actress. He was shocked, and
retreated. I got up a scene, and gave myself a safe little wound, to
frighten him. The brute was not frightened, but coolly left me to my
fate. I'd have died to spite him, if I dared, but as I didn't, I
lived to torment him. As yet, I have had no chance, but I will not
forget him. His mother is a poor, weak creature, whom I could use as
I would, and through her I found an excellent place. A sick mother,
silly daughter, and two eligible sons. One is engaged to a handsome
iceberg, but that only renders him more interesting in my eyes,
rivalry adds so much to the charm of one's conquests. Well, my dear,
I went, got up in the meek style, intending to do the pathetic; but
before I saw the family, I was so angry I could hardly control
myself. Through the indolence of Monsieur the young master, no
carriage was sent for me, and I intend he shall atone for that
rudeness by-and-by. The younger son, the mother, and the girl
received me patronizingly, and I understood the simple souls at
once. Monsieur (as I shall call him, as names are unsafe) was
unapproachable, and took no pains to conceal his dislike of
governesses. The cousin was lovely, but detestable with her pride,
her coldness, and her very visible adoration of Monsieur, who let
her worship him, like an inanimate idol as he is. I hated them both,
of course, and in return for their insolence shall torment her with
jealousy, and teach him how to woo a woman by making his heart ache.
They are an intensely proud family, but I can humble them all, I
think, by captivating the sons, and when they have committed
themselves, cast them off, and marry the old uncle, whose title
takes my fancy."_

"She never wrote that! It is impossible. A woman could not do it," cried
Lucia indignantly, while Bella sat bewildered and Mrs. Coventry
supported herself with salts and fan. Coventry went to his brother,
examined the writing, and returned to his seat, saying, in a tone of
suppressed wrath, "She did write it. I posted some of those letters
myself. Go on, Ned."

_"I made myself useful and agreeable to the amiable ones, and
overheard the chat of the lovers. It did not suit me, so I fainted
away to stop it, and excite interest in the provoking pair. I
thought I had succeeded, but Monsieur suspected me and showed me
that he did. I forgot my meek role and gave him a stage look. It had
a good effect, and I shall try it again. The man is well worth
winning, but I prefer the title, and as the uncle is a hale,
handsome gentleman, I can't wait for him to die, though Monsieur is
very charming, with his elegant languor, and his heart so fast
asleep no woman has had power to wake it yet. I told my story, and
they believed it, though I had the audacity to say I was but
nineteen, to talk Scotch, and bashfully confess that Sydney wished
to marry me. Monsieur knows S. and evidently suspects something. I
must watch him and keep the truth from him, if possible.

"I was very miserable that night when I got alone. Something in the
atmosphere of this happy home made me wish I was anything but what I
am. As I sat there trying to pluck up my spirits, I thought of the
days when I was lovely and young, good and gay. My glass showed me
an old woman of thirty, for my false locks were off, my paint gone,
and my face was without its mask. Bah! how I hate sentiment! I drank
your health from your own little flask, and went to bed to dream
that I was playing Lady Tartuffe--as I am. Adieu, more soon."_

No one spoke as Edward paused, and taking up another letter, he read on:

_"My Dear Creature:

"All goes well. Next day I began my task, and having caught a hint
of the character of each, tried my power over them. Early in the
morning I ran over to see the Hall. Approved of it highly, and took
the first step toward becoming its mistress, by piquing the
curiosity and flattering the pride of its master. His estate is his
idol; I praised it with a few artless compliments to himself, and he
was charmed. The cadet of the family adores horses. I risked my neck
to pet his beast, and_ he _was charmed. The little girl is romantic
about flowers; I made a posy and was sentimental, and_ she _was
charmed. The fair icicle loves her departed mamma, I had raptures
over an old picture, and she thawed. Monsieur is used to being
worshipped. I took no notice of him, and by the natural perversity
of human nature, he began to take notice of me. He likes music; I
sang, and stopped when he'd listened long enough to want more. He is
lazily fond of being amused; I showed him my skill, but refused to
exert it in his behalf. In short, I gave him no peace till he began
to wake up. In order to get rid of the boy, I fascinated him, and he
was sent away. Poor lad, I rather liked him, and if the title had
been nearer would have married him._

"Many thanks for the honor." And Edward's lip curled with intense scorn.
But Gerald sat like a statue, his teeth set, his eyes fiery, his brows
bent, waiting for the end.

_"The passionate boy nearly killed his brother, but I turned the
affair to good account, and bewitched Monsieur by playing nurse,
till Vashti (the icicle) interfered. Then I enacted injured virtue,
and kept out of his way, knowing that he would miss me, I mystified
him about S. by sending a letter where S. would not get it, and got
up all manner of soft scenes to win this proud creature. I get on
well and meanwhile privately fascinate Sir J. by being daughterly
and devoted. He is a worthy old man, simple as a child, honest as
the day, and generous as a prince. I shall be a happy woman if I win
him, and you shall share my good fortune; so wish me success._

"This is the third, and contains something which will surprise you,"
Edward said, as he lifted another paper.


"I've done what I once planned to do on another occasion. You know
my handsome, dissipated father married a lady of rank for his second
wife. I never saw Lady H----d but once, for I was kept out of the
way. Finding that this good Sir J. knew something of her when a
girl, and being sure that he did not know of the death of her little
daughter, I boldly said I was the child, and told a pitiful tale of
my early life. It worked like a charm; he told Monsieur, and both
felt the most chivalrous compassion for Lady Howard's daughter,
though before they had secretly looked down on me, and my real
poverty and my lowliness. That boy pitied me with an honest warmth
and never waited to learn my birth. I don't forget that and shall
repay it if I can. Wishing to bring Monsieur's affair to a
successful crisis, I got up a theatrical evening and was in my
element. One little event I must tell you, because I committed an
actionable offense and was nearly discovered. I did not go down to
supper, knowing that the moth would return to flutter about the
candle, and preferring that the fluttering should be done in
private, as Vashti's jealousy is getting uncontrollable. Passing
throught the gentlemen's dressing room, my quick eye caught sight of
a letter lying among the costumes. It was no stage affair, and an
odd sensation of fear ran through me as I recognized the hand of S.
I had feared this, but I believe in chance; and having found the
letter, I examined it. You know I can imitate almost any hand. When
I read in this paper the whole story of my affair with S., truly
told, and also that he had made inquiries into my past life and
discovered the truth, I was in a fury. To be so near success and
fail was terrible, and I resolved to risk everything. I opened the
letter by means of a heated knife blade under the seal, therefore
the envelope was perfect; imitating S.'s hand, I penned a few lines
in his hasty style, saying he was at Baden, so that if Monsieur
answered, the reply would not reach him, for he is in London, it
seems. This letter I put into the pocket whence the other must have
fallen, and was just congratulating myself on this narrow escape,
when Dean, the maid of Vashti, appeared as if watching me. She had
evidently seen the letter in my hand, and suspected something. I
took no notice of her, but must be careful, for she is on the watch.
After this the evening closed with strictly private theatricals, in
which Monsieur and myself were the only actors. To make sure that he
received my version of the story first, I told him a romantic story
of S.'s persecution, and he believed it. This I followed up by a
moonlight episode behind a rose hedge, and sent the young gentleman
home in a half-dazed condition. What fools men are!"_

"She is right!" muttered Coventry, who had flushed scarlet with
shame and anger, as his folly became known and Lucia listened in
astonished silence.

"Only one more, and my distasteful task will be nearly over," said
Edward, unfolding the last of the papers. "This is not a letter, but a
copy of one written three nights ago. Dean boldly ransacked Jean Muir's
desk while she was at the Hall, and, fearing to betray the deed by
keeping the letter, she made a hasty copy which she gave me today,
begging me to save the family from disgrace. This makes the chain
complete. Go now, if you will, Gerald. I would gladly spare you the pain
of hearing this."

"I will not spare myself; I deserve it. Read on," replied Coventry,
guessing what was to follow and nerving himself to hear it. Reluctantly
his brother read these lines:

_"The enemy has surrendered! Give me joy, Hortense; I can be the
wife of this proud monsieur, if I will. Think what an honor for the
divorced wife of a disreputable actor. I laugh at the farce and
enjoy it, for I only wait till the prize I desire is fairly mine, to
turn and reject this lover who has proved himself false to brother,
mistress, and his own conscience. I resolved to be revenged on both,
and I have kept my word. For my sake he cast off the beautiful woman
who truly loved him; he forgot his promise to his brother, and put
by his pride to beg of me the worn-out heart that is not worth a
good man's love. Ah well, I am satisfied, for Vashti has suffered
the sharpest pain a proud woman can endure, and will feel another
pang when I tell her that I scorn her recreant lover, and give him
back to her, to deal with as she will."_

Coventry started from his seat with a fierce exclamation, but Lucia
bowed her face upon her hands, weeping, as if the pang had been sharper
than even Jean foresaw.

"Send for Sir John! I am mortally afraid of this creature. Take her
away; do something to her. My poor Bella, what a companion for you! Send
for Sir John at once!" cried Mrs. Coventry incoherently, and clasped her
daughter in her arms, as if Jean Muir would burst in to annihilate the
whole family. Edward alone was calm.

"I have already sent, and while we wait, let me finish this story. It is
true that Jean is the daughter of Lady Howard's husband, the pretended
clergyman, but really a worthless man who married her for her money. Her
own child died, but this girl, having beauty, wit and a bold spirit,
took her fate into her own hands, and became an actress. She married an
actor, led a reckless life for some years; quarreled with her husband,
was divorced, and went to Paris; left the stage, and tried to support
herself as governess and companion. You know how she fared with the
Sydneys, how she has duped us, and but for this discovery would have
duped Sir John. I was in time to prevent this, thank heaven. She is
gone; no one knows the truth but Sydney and ourselves; he will be
silent, for his own sake; we will be for ours, and leave this dangerous
woman to the fate which will surely overtake her."

"Thank you, it has overtaken her, and a very happy one she finds it."

A soft voice uttered the words, and an apparition appeared at the door,
which made all start and recoil with amazement--Jean Muir leaning on the
arm of Sir John.

"How dare you return?" began Edward, losing the self-control so long
preserved. "How dare you insult us by coming back to enjoy the mischief
you have done? Uncle, you do not know that woman!"

"Hush, boy, I will not listen to a word, unless you remember where you
are," said Sir John with a commanding gesture.

"Remember your promise: love me, forgive me, protect me, and do not
listen to their accusations," whispered Jean, whose quick eye had
discovered the letters.

"I will; have no fears, my child," he answered, drawing her nearer as he
took his accustomed place before the fire, always lighted when Mrs.
Coventry was down.

Gerald, who had been pacing the room excitedly, paused behind Lucia's
chair as if to shield her from insult; Bella clung to her mother; and
Edward, calming himself by a strong effort, handed his uncle the
letters, saying briefly, "Look at those, sir, and let them speak."

"I will look at nothing, hear nothing, believe nothing which can in any
way lessen my respect and affection for this young lady. She has
prepared me for this. I know the enemy who is unmanly enough to belie
and threaten her. I know that you both are unsuccessful lovers, and this
explains your unjust, uncourteous treatment now. We all have committed
faults and follies. I freely forgive Jean hers, and desire to know
nothing of them from your lips. If she has innocently offended, pardon
it for my sake, and forget the past."

"But, Uncle, we have proofs that this woman is not what she seems. Her
own letters convict her. Read them, and do not blindly deceive
yourself," cried Edward, indignant at his uncle's words.

A low laugh startled them all, and in an instant they saw the cause of
it. While Sir John spoke, Jean had taken the letters from the hand which
he had put behind him, a favorite gesture of his, and, unobserved, had
dropped them on the fire. The mocking laugh, the sudden blaze, showed
what had been done. Both young men sprang forward, but it was too late;
the proofs were ashes, and Jean Muir's bold, bright eyes defied them, as
she said, with a disdainful little gesture. "Hands off, gentlemen! You
may degrade yourselves to the work of detectives, but I am not a
prisoner yet. Poor Jean Muir you might harm, but Lady Coventry is beyond
your reach."

"Lady Coventry!" echoed the dismayed family, in varying tones of
incredulity, indignation, and amazement.

"Aye, my dear and honored wife," said Sir John, with a protecting arm
about the slender figure at his side; and in the act, the words, there
was a tender dignity that touched the listeners with pity and respect
for the deceived man. "Receive her as such, and for my sake, forbear all
further accusation," he continued steadily. "I know what I have done. I
have no fear that I shall repent it. If I am blind, let me remain so
till time opens my eyes. We are going away for a little while, and when
we return, let the old life return again, unchanged, except that Jean
makes sunshine for me as well as for you."

No one spoke, for no one knew what to say. Jean broke the silence,
saying coolly, "May I ask how those letters came into your possession?"

"In tracing out your past life, Sydney found your friend Hortense. She
was poor, money bribed her, and your letters were given up to him as
soon as received. Traitors are always betrayed in the end," replied
Edward sternly.

Jean shrugged her shoulders, and shot a glance at Gerald, saying with
her significant smile, "Remember that, monsieur, and allow me to hope
that in wedding you will be happier than in wooing. Receive my
congratulations, Miss Beaufort, and let me beg of you to follow my
example, if you would keep your lovers."

Here all the sarcasm passed from her voice, the defiance from her eye,
and the one unspoiled attribute which still lingered in this woman's
artful nature shone in her face, as she turned toward Edward and Bella
at their mother's side.

"You have been kind to me," she said, with grateful warmth. "I thank you
for it, and will repay it if I can. To you I will acknowledge that I am
not worthy to be this good man's wife, and to you I will solemnly
promise to devote my life to his happiness. For his sake forgive me, and
let there be peace between us."

There was no reply, but Edward's indignant eyes fell before hers. Bella
half put out her hand, and Mrs. Coventry sobbed as if some regret
mingled with her resentment. Jean seemed to expect no friendly
demonstration, and to understand that they forbore for Sir John's sake,
not for hers, and to accept their contempt as her just punishment.

"Come home, love, and forget all this," said her husband, ringing the
bell, and eager to be gone. "Lady Coventry's carriage."

And as he gave the order, a smile broke over her face, for the sound
assured her that the game was won. Pausing an instant on the threshold
before she vanished from their sight, she looked backward, and fixing on
Gerald the strange glance he remembered well, she said in her
penetrating voice, "Is not the last scene better than the first?"

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