The Spanish Necklace

Chapter I

Shalesmoor Grange

“Yes, he is gone at last!”

A trim hospital nurse withdrew the mirror she was holding to the lips of her patient as she made this announcement to a country girl at the further side of a low bed.

The form which had so recently ceased to breathe was that of an elderly man wasted and shrunken by protracted illness; his sallow features were aquiline and austere, and the mouth, now for ever silent, still proclaimed invincible pride, as well as weary suffering. Ambrose Forde was indeed dead, and so far neither sigh nor tear had attended his passing. The countenances of the two women were grave and thoughtful, and as their eyes met the servant exclaimed:

“Aw, well, he had not much of a life; the last five years were no good to him or nobbut!”

“His daughter must be told at once,” said the nurse—a woman with a thin pale face and steady eyes.

“Aye, she is lying down—just wore out, poor thing! She has had a sore time—he being so long bedridden.”

“And the housekeeper, Miss Jubber, where is she?”

“She’ll be in a rare taking. Her sister Liza is laid up with the brown-kitties, and she’s a-waiting on her. To think of his going so sudden in the end, and at four in the afternoon—such an awk’ard time!”

“There is no fixed hour for death,” remarked the other, as she straightened the pillow. “He passed away quietly in his sleep.”

“Aye,” agreed the girl with a nod, “an’ I wonder where he be now?”

“Where we will all be some day,” answered the nurse with low-toned emphasis. “What is this?”—drawing out from under the bolster a substantial locked volume.

“’Tis his bank-book, I take it; the key will be on him. He was main fond of the brass.”

“There is a good deal to be done,” resumed Nurse Dixon—“message to the doctor—telegrams to be sent to the undertaker, and relations, and friends.”

“That’s all right about the undertaker—Toll of Starborough does us—there’s no friends, and as for relations, Miss Hester has not one in the world that ’ud speak to her, much less come here.”

“You don’t say so!” ejaculated the other. “That is strange!”

“Yes, ye see, it all coom of his runnings away,” explained the girl, as she looked down at the clearly cut grim face—”first fro’ his home, and then with his missus——”

“What! That old gentleman!”

“Aye, just that very owd gentleman!”

The nurse’s face expressed a suddenly awakened interest.

“Ah, I see there is a story,” she said slowly, then turned to the low windows, and stretched out her hand to pull down the blinds.

Mary Dixon stood high in her profession, being experienced, sympathetic, and firm; like Mr. Forde’s orphan daughter, she was entirely alone in the world. Her chief relaxation was novel-reading; many a long night she had wiled away, and as the slow hours struck, and the patient slept, the nurse forgot the cold, her aching bones, her little worries, once she was transported to that land of enchantment, the regions of Romance.

A story appealed to her immediately, not that she was a gossip or inquisitive, but simply that she loved a narrative for its own sake.

Buxom Fanny Tootle was by no means a clever girl, yet she intuitively divined the other woman’s thoughts, and said:

“Well, we have our hands full just now, but by-and-by, if you will be down in the little brown parlour to your supper, I will tell ye summat of ta queer tale of this house.”

*  *  *

This death, conversation, and promise, took place in a front room of Shalesmoor Grange, an ancient mansion, standing aloof from a remote village in “the Clays.” A certain part of the low-lying country between Nottingham and Lincoln bears this singularly depressing name; it borders the river Trent, and is a flat, almost treeless tract, intersected by fine roads, which run through rich marly fields, and, at long intervals, straggling villages, whose red-roofed houses and tall church towers break the dead monotony of the landscape. Although Shalesmoor lay within three miles of a railway station, it derived but scant advantage from its opportunities, and seemed the most forlorn and crestfallen of all the hamlets in the district. There were a few gabled cottages, whose windows, blazing with scarlet geraniums, overlooked trim little gardens all roses and hollyhocks. There was still the old White Stag, so famous in coaching days; an inn where the stages changed teams, and which stabled a hundred horses at a time; now the stalls were roofless, the coffee-room was a flour-store, and most of the upper windows had been boarded up.

Though its glory had departed—along with the merry horn and clattering hoofs—yet the battered old sign, with its ghostly white stag, still hung over the entrance, and creaked its desolation to the heartless winds.

With the decay of coaching and the ruin of the Steir family the village of Shalesmoor had sunk into obscurity. Monuments of “the great folk” were still to be seen within the fine old grey church, with its machicolated tower. Formerly the Steirs had been people of note; huge marble erections to their honoured memory covered considerable portions of the sacred walls, and beneath busts of dames, cavaliers, and statesmen, were long inscriptions in the Latin tongue. Otherwise the Steirs were now as extinct as the dodo, or the White Stag inn. Shalesmoor Grange—their ancestral home—a rust-coloured Jacobean mansion, sheltered by a few copper-beech and yew trees, situated at the end of a lane, in a remote hollow, enjoyed an isolation that was almost monastic. Entrenched behind a high wall, its rows of prim windows overlooked a small gravelled courtyard; the demesne being now shrunken to a kitchen garden and a few meadows. Once upon a time the lands of Shalesmoor had stretched to the Trent itself, the avenue reached to the village, and, if all tales were true, many a passenger by coach and post-chaise had made his way to the jovial mansion, where as guest of the Steir family he shared in the best of good cheer, good wine, and high play. The last of their line, an aged spinster, had died in straitened circumstances, and the property had been disposed of for the traditional “mere song” to a Sheffield manufacturer named Ambrose Forde.

Apparently, the Grange resented its fallen condition; outside its boundary there was freshness and sunlight, bright meadows, and cool streams; but it wore a gloom and morose expression, as if it disliked and despised its present inmates, and the copper-beach and funereal yews which flanked its walls merely added to its air of invincible gloom.

It was a warm afternoon in June; a fragrant scent from the neighbouring beanfields was wafted into the walled inclosure, the trees were motionless in the still sunshine, bees boomed heavily among the damask roses in the great round bed, and swallows darted about the eaves—but nothing seemed to lighten the cloud which hung over Shalesmoor Grange. Then suddenly, as if to intensify its aspect of profound melancholy, an unseen hand went from window to window and deliberately pulled down every blind, for the master of the house—like its former glory—had passed away.

*  *  *

The hushed bustle throughout the Grange, stealthy steps, and closing doors had ceased, and Nurse Dixon and Fanny Tootle sat alone over a frugal supper in the wainscoted or Brown parlour.

“And about the story of this house, Fanny?” said the nurse, as she stirred her second cup of cocoa.

“Aye—sure! It was nigh going out of me head! I’ll tell you as much as I know, and that’s as much as is known in ta village.”

“So there is no secret about it, is there?” remarked her companion ironically.

“No—nobbut this being such a lone soort ov hole-in-corner place, the talk and the happenings never spread far; we are not even printed in the Clayborough newspaper, seeing we’ve no cricket or flower shows, and but a small parcel of voters—most of the folk being widow women——”

“Yes—but about the Fordes?” urged the nurse, with a faint touch of impatience.

“Well, it is true that the owd gentleman come of gude stock—Derbyshire way, or South—and his father wor rich, but a fearful tyrant. When he coom into a room all his children had to rise to their feet; he would send grown folk from the table, and beat big lasses and boys with a stick, and shut them up in the cellars if they went agen him, seeing as they were his body and soul. He was allus talking of eternal punishment, and hell fire, and the worm, and kep’ his family half the time on their knees. This Ambrose, one of the young ones, broke out in rebellion and cast off his father, and swore before them all on the Bible that he’d never own him whilst the life was in him. There was an awful stingo, and he wor locked up and beaten; but he managed to run away, and wandered through the country, doing odd farmers’ jobs—he was a fine strong lad o’ sixteen—till he found himself in Sheffield, and, being real clever and stiddy, got took on in a foundry, and educated himself. Of course, he had had schooling, and Latin and Greek and a’ that—but he learnt figuring and useful things.”

“Yes, yes,” interrupted Nurse Dixon hastily; “I know, the old story—and became a partner at last!”

“Better nor that! He had his own works! It took years of striving and brains; but when he was a gude bit over thutty he was a master, and one summer, when on his holiday, he saved a young lady from drowning, and that was a nice easy sort o’ beginning to a love affair, she being both young and handsome. Her family were one of the grandest on the Border, and terribly proud, but they made much of Mr. Forde, seeing as he was well-to-do and well looking. When it came to talk of his folk and belongings, he just told them that he was Forde o’ the firm of Forde and Pallas, and that was his whole pedigree. He stuck to it, even when it meant the young lady. Of course, a man of no family was not good enough for her, who had high birth and fortune, so the Bothwells shut the door on him.”

“And he climbed over the wall?” supplemented Nurse Dixon. A sustained course of novel-reading had pointed to this conclusion.

“He did, but not for a long time; she was faithful, and when her sisters were going off she remained single for his sake, though she was the greatest beauty of them all. However, at last he coom along with a carriage and pair and run her away, and they were married by special license; but her family dropped her from that day. So now you see how it comes that Miss Hester has no relations whatever.”

“Yes,” assented her listener, with a grave nod, “I can understand.”

“Miss Jubber was lady’s-maid, and coom with her mistress to Sheffield, where Mr. Forde had a fine house. She says they two were always like lovers, wanting no society but their own, and kept no company. Mrs. Forde was tall and dark, with carved features, and a sort o’ grand air. She was main fond of books and playing the piano, and never seemed to find the time dull. It was in Sheffield Miss Hester was born, and a terrible delicate child; by-and-by the town air disagreed with Mrs. Forde, being country reared, and they searched for a quiet place not too far from the works, and after a bit bought this Grange. ’Tis eighteen years since the family coom here, and they liked it well. The garden was kep’ up lovely, and Mrs. Forde had a carriage and two big shiny horses, and used to fetch him from the station most days. She made no show of visiting, but was friendly at the parsonage. The Byngs were in it in those days. He was a splendid preacher, too good for us, and got shifted. He had a nice wife and three children——” she paused.

“But the Fordes?” persisted her auditor.

“Before the Byngs left, Mrs. Forde died sudden-like. She was never a strong lady, but no one thought she’d be took off like that! It made a real stir her death, she was so good to every one and the poor. He was just crazy and demented, and the little girl, who was about seven, nearly killed herself crying. After a bit, the horses were sold—the carriage is rotting in t’ coach-house—the gardeners and servants sent away. He put Miss Hester to a grand school in Harrogate and went and lived in rooms in Sheffield, leaving Miss Jubber to manage the Grange—and she has been mistress ever since; Mr. Forde and Miss Hester only coming for holidays, and every year him getting queerer and more shut up in himself—and extraordinarily saving! Folk used to put it down to Miss Jubber, who has an awful grip on the money, and ’is housekeeper; but it was him, too. Eight years ago he coom back to live, going to and fro to t’ station on a rusty old tricycle; half the rooms shut up, and the garden anyhow. Miss Jubber sent for her sister Liza and got in a girl to help, for you’d never believe in the dust there wur in this old house! and, whatever Jane Jubber is, she likes to see things clean, and the yearly turn-out is a great rave!”

“I suppose Mr. Forde lost his money?” observed her companion.

“No one knows the reets o’ that; he is out of the works this long while—since the day he had the stroke, and Miss Hester was fetched from school; she has been here ever since. Some do say Mr. Forde was a miser and rich; others, that he is—I mean was—terribly poor, and could hardly keep the house over his head. They never had more than one joint a week, and Miss Hester, to my knowledge, has been wearing the same hat this two years. Happen when the will is read folk will be wiser.”

“It is a pity there are no young people around—it must be lonely for Miss Forde.”

“You may say so! And he wouldn’t let her have a bike, and couldn’t abide the piano. He kep’ her awful tight—she never had no pleasuring.”

“What did she do with herself all day?”

“She read him books and the newspapers, and played chess—he was properly mad on chess, and would stick to it for hours and hours. Oh aye, Miss Hester was a real good angel to him, and he was mostly peevish and nattering, and took up all of her time. Ye see, she minded him—and Miss Jubber minded the house.”

“How old is Miss Forde?” enquired the nurse.

“A good bit over twenty, I suppose.”

“Has she ever had a love affair or a lover?”

“Lover! No, never! Lads don’t grow on trees hereabouts! I doubt if Miss Hester has ever spoken to a single gentleman in all her born days.”

“You don’t say so!”

“Yes, she has had no fun and no youth. Her biggest pleasuring is a bazaar or a school treat. She has been shut oop with a paralytic this five years—enough to give un the blues. My woord, if it were me, I should go silly!”

“She is delicate, I fancy,” suggested Nurse Dixon.

“No, she has gotten that look just like a bleached bone you would find in the fields. It’s from sittin’ indoors chess-playing, and gettin’ no sun or exercise, beyond walking up and down the lane, or round the meadows—he couldn’t abear her out of his sight. When I see her I can’t help thinking of a flower that has always been kep’ in a cellar.”

“Poor girl,” exclaimed the listener, “what an untold tragedy! Just a martyr to her duty.”

“Aye, and Miss Jubber she don’t hode the light to her ever, and forgets she is not a child in a pinny, but scolds and rules as if she were the mistress. Yes, it’s a dog’s life—many a dog has twice as much fun.”

“And you have no dog, I notice?”

“No, you see the cats would not allow that; the house be rare owd and musty and chock full o’ mice. We have a cat apiece.”

“So you are well supplied. Surely this old grange should have a ghost.”

“Yes, we have gotten that, o’ course,” acknowledged Fanny, with obvious complacency.

“Not really?” said Nurse Dixon, sitting suddenly erect.

“Yes, and truly. In the harvest time, a lady in silks comes rustling oop and doon the middle passage; she stops outside the door of the bow room, and her sighs would ice you!”

“I’m sure they would,” acquiesced the nurse, with a little shiver.

“I have often heard her myself,” declared Fanny. “She was a Mistress Ursula Steir, and they do say as her brother killed her lover in the bow room.”

“Has anyone ever seen her?”

“Not I, God be thanked! But others have; old Nanny Lovelock in the village saw her one summer evening. She says she is awful slender, and pale, and has her hand up to her throat like this—A—a—ah!”

The story ended in a stifled shriek, as the door was gently opened, and a slender and very pale young woman appeared on the threshold.

Chapter II

The Heiress

It was not the apparition of Ursula Steir, but the living presence of Hester Forde, who confronted the startled women—Hester, tall and fragile, wearing a dingy black gown, which intensified the ghastly whiteness of her thin visage. Her features were delicate, her eyes a purplish grey; great masses of auburn hair were tightly drawn away from her temples, and with her pallid colour, and tragic face, she looked the unhappy ghost of her own youth.

Ghost-like she stood motionless, gravely surveying the occupants of the little parlour. Ghost-like she drifted from the room, and, without once opening her lips, noiselessly drew the door after her.

Nurse Dixon glanced from the door to her companion, from her companion to the door. At last she exclaimed—

“She is queer! Does she often come and look at you like this?”

“Aye, she caps owt with her strange ways! I expect she is beginning to feel that she is alone in the world. I think that’s what gives her that wild soort o’ gaze.”

“I must see after her,” declared the nurse, rising and pushing back her chair. “I’ll make her have something to eat, and go to bed, and treat her as my patient—she wants nursing.”

“Nay, I don’t know how she’ll take it,” said Fanny, “all her days nursing others—well,” rising, “now I must clear the things and fettle up.”

It happened that Miss Forde accepted the offices of Nurse Dixon with gratitude, not unmixed with surprise that any one should “fash” about wan looks and want of sleep, and, thanks to her offices, she gained sufficient strength and nerve to support the ordeal of the Rector’s call and long prayers, an interview with the undertaker, and the funeral.

The obsequies of Ambrose Forde offered a pitiful contrast to the trains of important mourners who had attended to their last home the gay and spendthrift members of the house of Steir.

The coffin on the present occasion was borne by eight labourers, and accompanied by most of the villagers on foot.

Directly behind it walked Miss Forde alone—the sole relative—a slight, pathetic figure in crêpe, with the long hanging veil thrown back from a rigid and tearless face. Was she grieving for her father? For years he had suffered, and for the last three months he had been speechless. Or was she not mourning for herself? What hold had she on existence? What was the good of life to such a forlorn and friendless creature?

She looked as if she were following to the tomb the remains of every hope.

When Ambrose Forde had been laid by the one love of his life, the funeral party dispersed—all but the Rector, the doctor, and the family lawyer, who returned to the Grange in order to inaugurate a serious business—the opening of the will.

In the front sitting-room—a low and panelled apartment—Jane Jubber had set forth the scanty funeral meats—a decanter of wine and a shilling seed cake, and, after the three men had swallowed a glass of indifferent sherry, they adjourned to the opposite parlour, where was a table with an inkstand; and assembled on a row of chairs, as if awaiting family prayers, sat Liza and Jane Jubber, Fanny Tootle and the old gardener, Luke Backhouse. Aloof on a sofa at some distance was Hester, supported by Nurse Dixon, whom she had implored to be present as a special favour.

The reading of the will proved to be a tedious business. The document appeared to bristle with technicalities and strange words, but the listeners gathered that the late Ambrose Forde had had no need for his painful economies, and was, on the contrary, a wealthy man.

The sisters Jubber, with downcast eyes, pursed up lips, and folded hands, presented the embodiment of unctuous attention.

Hester Forde, sitting there with her long thin fingers interlaced in her lap, her face cold and expressionless as stone, was an heiress, and each syllable that fell from the lips of Mr. Lewin seemed but to add to her possessions.

The Grange and its contents, numerous investments in consols—in American trusts and rails, in foreign bonds, in shipping and in mines—all were hers.

There were legacies of one hundred pounds a year apiece to Eliza and Jane Jubber in acknowledgment of faithful services, and they were accorded house-room at the Grange as long as they should desire to live there. Fanny Tootle, the old gardener, the church, and the county infirmary had also been remembered.

When the voice of Mr. Lewin had ceased, there ensued an expressive silence. The four legatees, seated in a row, were each engrossed in individual speculations. Fanny, with fifty pounds in her pocket, already hailed a husband and a home! Old Luke, on the other hand, beheld the dreaded workhouse receding from his fears. Jane and Liza had also their agreeable anticipations.

“Of course,” resumed the lawyer, “there are the death duties, and there will be some considerable delay in paying the legacies.”

“The personalty is large, I presume?” said the Rector, who had risen, and stood beside him. “I am not familiar with legal terms,” he added in a low voice, “but I gather that Mr. Forde has left a considerable amount of money.”

“Considerable!” repeated Mr. Lewin, rubbing his hands as he spoke. “My dear sir, I think I am understating the matter when I say that our lamented friend has left behind him an immense fortune.”

“An immense fortune!” echoed Mr. Cave, startled out of his cautious whisper into a loud echo, “an immense fortune!”

Mr. Lewin nodded his head as he began carefully to collect sundry stiff documents. He was preparing to address Miss Forde, who sat staring at him speechless and stunned.

Overwhelmed by the shock, and amazement at the avalanche of wealth, the words of “an immense fortune” mounted slowly and steadily into her brain like a swelling tide. Fasting, sleeplessness, a long agitating day and unusual excitement, had already done their work. It needed but the stroke of an overpowering announcement to sweep the mind into unconsciousness. The heiress rose, staggered for a moment, and then fell back on the sofa in a dead faint.

*  *  *

Tidings of the contents of the will ran, so to speak, open-mouthed about Shalesmoor, and old Forde’s fortune increased with every hour—half a million—one million—two millions—surely never had this unfamiliar word been more thoroughly hard-worked and enjoyed!

Mrs. Lovelock, the dairyman’s wife, buried (temporarily) an ancient feud with Widow Stock at the shop, on the strength of all the money that was coming to their village. They took tea with Mrs. Jaggers, the sexton’s wife, and, after a hearty meal of rabbit pie and soda cake, discussed the news till night fell.

“What would Miss do with it?” inquired Mrs. Jaggers. “She never was one to ‘laik’ (play), and was like a settled married woman!”

“Happen she’ll stay on in Shalesmoor, and keep up a good house,” suggested Mrs. Lovelock.

“More like she’ll marry,” suggested the widow. “I would an I were her!”

“Nay, she’s not that gaate—she’s never yet been tewed up wi’ men! Happen Jane Jubber’ll be looking out, now she has savings and brass.”

“Nay, though she has gotten great savings she mayn’t get note,” declared the widow with jealous emphasis.

“Is ta sure?” said Mrs. Jaggers; “when I hear of Jane having savings, and everything so pinched there, I am fair put to school!”

“Yees, sure,” replied Mrs. Stock, “pinched she may be—but she lends money oot!”

“The legacies won’t be handled till back end of year,” announced Mrs. Lovelock—”so old Luke says. He’s feared to die afore ever he gets at hissen.”

The commotion in the village was not reflected in the Grange, where the usual household routine had resumed its monotonous round—the blinds had been drawn up, save in one room where the heiress lay in a dim light, with eau-de-Cologne bandages on her forehead.

In a day or two she was sufficiently restored to be downstairs; she had wrestled with herself, and done her best to clear her torpid brain and grant an interview to Mr. Lewin, who had come from Sheffield on purpose to confer with his wealthy client.

He was a brisk, clean-shaven, elderly man, who, remembering his own houseful of merry and ill-dowered girls, felt a certain amount of pity for the friendless and desolate heiress. She seemed almost like a wraith, so thin, hallow-eyed, and white was she.

After a little commonplace conversation, he entered upon business.

“Your father’s wealth must have come as a great surprise to you, Miss Forde?”

“Indeed, yes,” she answered. “I always understood that we could barely make two ends meet!”

“For the last fifteen years Mr. Forde has put aside and invested almost the whole of a large income; he was lucky too, besides being shrewd; all he touched seemed to turn to gold. Six years ago he disposed of his interest in the works for a large sum—he has shares in it still—and it brings into the estate four thousand a year.”

“I can scarcely realize it,” she murmured, looking round the dark low parlour, with its scanty old-fashioned furniture—once the property of Miss Steir—where a bowl of roses, and her own shining hair, were the only notes of colour in the room.

“He had become very saving of late years—it grows on a man, you know,” imparted Mr. Lewin with a confidential nod.

“Yes, he used even to turn his envelopes, and write on half-sheets—it was these little economies he enjoyed. Once, when I put a penny stamp on a paper instead of a halfpenny, he was upset for days.”

“And now, if you were to stamp your papers with five-pound notes, you would not feel it. Have you made any plans, Miss Forde?” inquired Mr. Lewin, as he crossed his legs and steadily surveyed her through his gold pince-nez.

“No—I suppose I shall remain here.”

“For a time, at least, I should recommend that; whilst we get the estate into working order. You know that under the will Mr. Cave and I are trustees, and that I am to continue to manage your affairs—till—er—you marry?”—and again he looked at her with fixity.

Miss Forde’s sole response was a faint blush.

“I must trouble you for your signature to some papers. You have never had much to do with business, I conclude, or money matters?”

“Oh no, Jane always manages the housekeeping, and keeps the keys and house-money.”

“And you had your own allowance?” His tone was paternal as he added: “What was the amount?”

“Twelve pounds a year,” she replied, with a touch of reluctance; “but I am thrifty, and made it do.”

“I presume you will want some money now, so I have brought you a cheque-book and a stylographic pen.”

“But I don’t know anything about cheques,” she protested; “I’ve never drawn one.”

“Have you any funds in hand?” he asked, when he had explained to her how the cheque should be filled in.

“Yes, I think so,” and she produced and opened a shabby little purse—“two shillings and three halfpence.”

“Two shillings and three halfpence!” echoed Mr. Lewin, and his smile was superior. “Please sign here—Hester R. Forde. I’ve filled it in for £300—just to go on with, you know.”

“Three hundred pounds! Oh, Mr. Lewin! What could I do with all that money?”

“Why, it’s only a drop in the ocean, my dear young lady. Your income is close on ten thousand a year.”

“How awful!” she exclaimed. “How could I ever, ever spend it?” and she gazed at him piteously.

“You need not be uneasy on that score; the capacity will develop. Use your money prudently—travel, enjoy life. Of course, wealth is a heavy responsibility.”

“And I am not equal to it,” she declared, and her voice shook uncontrollably. “No, I’m not fit. I am afraid of strange faces and strange people. I’ve no experience; I’ve not been more than three miles from Shalesmoor within the last five years. I’m like a child or a fool!”

“I grant that your life has been unusually—er—secluded, Miss Forde, but you are well-educated, well-read, still young, and I am given to understand—er—a brilliant musician.”

“Yes, but of late years father disliked the piano—he said it worried him, and sent it away; he would not allow a novel in the house. It seems strange, but he latterly adopted the methods of his own early training, and the strict discipline of my grandfather.”

“It is surprising how some men cherish their first impressions,” said Mr. Lewin, rising as he spoke. “Well, you must allow me to send you over a piano and a supply of amusing books. My girls are great readers, and will be delighted to make a selection.”

“You are very kind,” she faltered.

“And you, Miss Forde, will, I hope, cheer up! I will arrange the housekeeping business; you shall have no trouble. And now, as I must have a few words with Miss Jubber, I will bid you good-bye;” and Mr. Lewin effected a brisk departure, leaving his client standing in the middle of the room, with a cheque to “self” for three hundred pounds in her hand, and a bewildered expression upon her face.

Chapter III

“The Long, Long, Weary Day”

A fortnight had elapsed since the funeral of Mr. Forde, and Nurse Dixon, with her modest luggage, stood in the front garden, awaiting Job Jakes, the local carrier, whose aged horse and curious vehicle (half cart, half phaeton) conveyed passengers to Tellforde railway station. In her purse, Nurse Dixon had a cheque, the first Miss Forde had ever drawn, and, in spite of her protestations, the amount was for double her fee.

Miss Forde herself, bare-headed, with scissors in hand, was busily cutting roses, pink, crimson, yellow, not to speak of old York and Lancaster, to make a bouquet for the parting guest.

As she flitted from bush to bush, the trained eye of Mary Dixon followed her critically; how white and frail she looked! Unless she had a change of scene and surroundings, this gentle, unassuming heiress would undoubtedly have a bad breakdown.

“I am so sorry you are going away, Nurse,” said Hester, straightening herself, after adding a handful of mignonette to her nosegay.

“Generally people are only too thankful to get rid of one!” she answered with a short laugh. “I wish, Miss Forde, that you were going away yourself—you want a change. May I ask how long it is since you spent a night from home?”

“A night from home!” she repeated. “Oh, let me think!—not for this last six years.”

“Are you not tired of Shalesmoor—would you not like to see something fresh?”

“Yes, the first year after I came from school, I often pined to get away. I used even to cry at night—to cry myself to sleep.”

“I am not surprised at that! The old house”—and she looked back at it—“is gloomy and stuffy; those big trees suck all the vitality out of the air; I think the place most depressing—in fact, I suspect that it is unhealthy. You have no society here; I mean, of your own age—young people.”

Miss Forde gave a short hysterical laugh, and said, as she snipped off a rose, “That is no matter, for I feel as old as the hills.”

“But seriously, Miss Forde, you ought to think of your health; you are not over-strong.”

“I’m really not a bit delicate,” she answered, confronting her adviser with a face that flatly contradicted her words; “sitting up at night lately, and the heat, have made me look washed-out. I’m as strong as a horse; as to going away, I have no place to go to.”

“Take a friend with you to Switzerland.”

“Switzerland? Yes, I believe it is a revelation. How I should like to see the Alps!”—she paused—“but I have no friends.”

“Dear me!” exclaimed the nurse, aghast. “Surely you had schoolfellows?”

“Oh, yes; dozens.”

“And what of them?”—and the speaker looked at her interrogatively.

“Oh, when I first came home they were constantly asking me to go and stay with them, but, of course, I could not leave father, and it was impossible to invite them here; so by-and-by they ceased to write, and they have all forgotten me years ago. I have, however, one friend—Nancy Byng—Mr. Byng was our rector before Mr. Cave, and she and I were at school together; she corresponds with me still—she lives in Kent now. I had a letter from her yesterday.”

“Then, why not ask her to come and see you? I am sure it would cheer you up.”

“Yes, it would be a great pleasure. But I must consider the old servants. Oh, they would hate to have a stranger in the house—or to be put out of their ways.”

“Still, you are the mistress, are you not?” urged the nurse, who had taken a particular dislike to Miss Jubber, with her prim manner and grim assumption of authority.

Hester gave a little choked laugh, as she replied, “No, indeed; Jane is mistress, of course.”

“I hope you won’t think me too bold, Miss Forde, if I say, that I think it is time you took over the keys.”

The girl shook her head without raising her eyes from tying up the nosegay.

“My mother gave them to her,” she said gravely; “Jane has always been housekeeper—and mistress.”

“Then, I suppose I must say no more!”

“It is so kind of you to be interested in me,” said Hester, “and you have helped me over some bad days; I shall always remember that.”

“Have you made any plans?”

“Yes, I shall remain here for some time. You see, there is my year of mourning.”

“But surely that need not tie you to Shalesmoor?”

“There is much business to be arranged—my father was so helpless lately that his affairs are in some confusion. Mr. Lewin thinks it will take a long time to straighten them. There are quantities of papers to sign——”

“The papers might be sent after you—that could easily be managed; Miss Forde, do you realize that you are a very rich woman?”

“I believe I am,” she assented with a sigh; “I don’t understand money, I’ve never had any. I have no idea what to do with it, my head feels so light and empty, and goes whirling round at times. Here—though it is dull, and isolated, and stagnant—I know where I am; but in the world I should be like a lost dog; for all my experience of life is from books, and besides——” She paused.

“Yes?” said her listener interrogatively.

“Eliza and Jane are rooted here, and I must consider them.”

The rumble of the carrier’s cart now made itself evident, coming up the lane.

“You should consider yourself, Miss Forde,” urged the other woman, with indignant emphasis. (She had caught sight of two grim faces watching her from a window on the second floor.) “You are young, and they have had their day. If you do not take my advice, and leave this place and its monotony, you will sink into a state of apathy. Now that you have no occupation, you will feel lethargy creeping over you, and fall into a condition of mental atrophy and ill-health.”

Here the gate slowly opened, and an old man in a smock stood whip in hand, and said—

“Where’s ta ba an, miss?”

“Tellforde,” she answered; then to Hester, “You’ve been so kind to me, Miss Forde, and all I can give you in return is my best professional advice; never mind the mourning, the papers, or the old servants, but—go away.”

Hester merely shook her head and silently followed Nurse Dixon to the cart; but as she handed her the nosegay, and said “Good-bye” it seemed to old Jakes’s fare that there was a suspicion of tears in the grave grey eyes.

As she was being jolted down the rough uneven lane, the nurse glanced back—there was still the slim black figure standing outside the iron gateway; as it waved a hand, she heaved a sign of profound commiseration for the lonely girl in that gloomy house—a captive in the thrall of sentiment and of two old servants.

*  *  *

Jane Jubber, the real mistress of Shalesmoor Grange, was an active, hardy woman of fifty-four; her fuzzy dark hair was slightly powdered with white, she had a fixed colour in her cheeks, keen black eyes, and thin pinched lips. Nevertheless, she was by no means ill-looking; her figure (which resembled a deal board) was always set off to the best advantage in trim cotton gowns, and on Sundays, by marvellous réchauffés of the late Mrs. Forde’s wardrobe, in which Jane always contrived to look smart, and even fashionable. To tell the truth, a certain black velvet jacket trimmed with fur had secured her the respect of Shalesmoor, and the serious consideration of a well-looking small farmer, whose inches were out of all proportion to his holding, and who rejoiced in the name of Jonah Tudgoose. Twenty-seven years ago Jane had been a member of the Bothwell household, and, as Miss Bothwell’s confidential attendant, had followed her into what she considered exile. For her mistress’s family she had the most profound respect. The Bothwells, like the King, could do no wrong (all people and manners and customs were measured by their standard). Their high birth, estate, good looks, and pride were extolled by Jane, when she condescended to drink tea with her satellites in the village. Of the Fordes she had secretly but a mean opinion. What were they, but just Puritans and Psalm-singers? and that Hester should be fair, and favour them, had been a sore trial. (Certainly, she had her mother’s delicate profile, and the Bothwell foot; but who ever saw the head of a Bothwell covered with red hair?) The child was quiet and bookish, and had a meek temper—the Bothwells’ blaze was no loss!—yet, if she had been dark and fiery, Jane Jubber might have loved her. As it was, she barely tolerated the little pale creature. After the death of Mrs. Forde, Jane became the chief ruler of the house; her master valued her for his wife’s sake; she was faithful, shrewd, and managing. He was alive to the fact that his establishment could not be in better hands, and she had reigned until his death. But, unfortunately, power and prosperity had produced a hardening effect on Miss Jubber, who, from being a mild and even retiring abigail, had now become not merely a law unto the Grange, but also to the entire village. She was parsimonious (was the weakness infectious?), sharp-tongued, and arbitrary; and had long cast behind her every trammel of authority. Who was there over her? she asked herself. Only a bedridden old man, who consulted her about most things, and his nurse—a pale-faced, nervous girl. “Oh, he was wise to leave everything in her hands, for she was a just woman, and never did wrong!” Such was her amazing and shameless boast! Years previously, she had installed her elder sister Liza as cook and companion; Eliza was a stout, querulous individual, with prominent teeth and a weak digestion, who grumbled through life, and took little upon her beyond baking and boiling, and the care of the cats. The brunt of the housework fell upon the broad and capable shoulders of Fanny Tootle, niece of the parish clerk.

In spite of the money that was coming to Miss Hester, Jane the despot saw no reason for an immediate change in her circumstances; “another girl in the house, and maybe a man in the garden, would answer until things were settled, and people knew where they were; Miss Hester was never a gadabout—she had had a grand education, and would have her books and piano, and content herself, perhaps, altogether, the same as her own mother!”

One important step was taken by Miss Jubber: she made a formal circuit of the village in her new mourning, and sharply silenced the talk of millions. Was ever such foolishness heard? Millions, indeed! No doubt Miss Hester would be well off, when affairs were righted up, and she was not denying her own legacy, nor Eliza’s, but folk must be short for talk when they took to teems of money and fairy tales. If the gossip oozed further, and got abroad, there might be no end to the relations coming to make friends with the heiress, cropping up from unexpected directions, and arriving to carry her off. Naturally all such anticipations were distasteful to Jane Jubber. Hester was her property and perquisite—she did not actually put this claim into words—nevertheless, she was determined to keep her, and just see how things turned out; indeed, if Jane were to have her way (and she generally succeeded in obtaining it), Hester Forde would always remain under her exclusive care—cloistered in cheerless solitude.

*  *  *

The Rector’s family is usually the mainspring of a small community; but at Shalesmoor the parsonage was almost as empty and secluded as the Grange. It was a fine old Georgian house, within a stone’s-throw of the venerable church, and overlooked its mounds and crumbling gravestones. The big red mansion had evidently been intended for a large household, but now most of the rooms were closed, and given over to spiders and mice. The Reverend Edward Cave was an Oxford Fellow, a man of culture, and an old bachelor; also a bibliophile, and, in his way, a mild misogynist. His weekdays’ mind was abandoned to rare editions—to Elzevirs and Aldines—and there was no space in his thoughts for the pale heiress, his neighbour.

On Sunday he preached two short literary sermons, far above the heads of his flock—his language was not theirs, and for the most part they did not understand him—and as the clerk read the lessons, the Rector peered over his glasses to note, with leisured gaze, who were and who were not present (many of his parishioners frequented a neighbouring “Bethel,” where they were addressed in their own tongue, with their own colloquialisms and rugged accent, and where even their slow blood was stirred by the impassioned shouts and transports of the preacher). But whoever Mr. Cave might miss, there were always three black figures in the Grange pew—Miss Forde, supported by the sisters Jubber.

The Reverend Edward Cave was that uncommon individual, a wealthy parson; he was good to the poor, liberal-minded, and generous; it never dawned on him that Forde’s wan, silent daughter was an object of charity, secretly pining for companionship and sympathy. He and her father had had little in common. Mr. Forde was at heart a Nonconformist (early impressions are ineradicable, and stick). The plainness and lack of adornment in his home, the simple, austere, and secluded life, were not the result of poverty, but the outcome of an innate Puritanism; also, he had no taste for the books that were to the Reverend Edward Cave as his children and idols. He had never heard of the great Sutherland sale, much less of the Psalmorum Codex 1459, or the “Valdarfer Boccaccio.” Ambrose Forde’s “books” were chiefly dedicated to figures, and the word “books” straightway transported him to the counting-house. The Rector had known Hester since she was a lanky schoolgirl, spending her holidays at the Grange; in those days he had entered into playful conversations, and offered her chocolates and jujubes. Now she was grown up, and seemingly another individual; her silence and reserve daunted and alarmed him. Occasionally he had ventured to visit her: was he not her pastor and trustee? But she seemed so cold and remote as they sat together in the gloomy parlour, and discussed the weather, the flowers, and the various village ailments. It had struck him that the girl looked faded and unhappy, and he was sincerely anxious to help her in any way; he would have even lent her one of his precious first editions bound by Grolier, if it would have afforded her pleasure or interest. Vainly he endeavoured to cheer her with anecdotes and scraps of local gossip. Had she heard that Farmer Wade had called his twelfth and latest infant “Finis,” and that Widow Timms had deplored the ill behaviour of her boys in spite of his kind “distruction”; and that recently in Sunday School, when he had asked a class, What was an epistle? one little girl, after a long silence and much painful thought, had answered: “Please, sir, the wife of an Apostle!”

Hester listened politely and nodded her head, but no smile dawned upon her severely cut lips; apparently, the wretched young woman lived in an atmosphere of mental gloom, never to be penetrated by the feeblest ray of humour. Before he took his departure her visitor earnestly exhorted her to go somewhere for a change, threw out various suggestions, and was eloquent respecting the benefit of sea air.

“I am off, myself, to the Tyrol,” he said. “What would you think of a month at Whitby? You see, it’s August now—capital time there!”

But to this appeal Miss Forde merely replied: “I could not go alone; I am all right here, thank you very, very much.”

*  *  *

The Rector departed to the Tyrol, Mr. Lewin and family to Scarborough; even Dr. Marsh snatched a holiday; but Miss Forde still remained at Shalesmoor, enjoying her own company.

The Jubbers, now women of social importance, were much fêted in the village. Miss Jane had relaxed her purse-strings (and the hearts of the butcher and the grocer were glad within them). A girl and a gardener had been added to the retinue, and she talked openly of a carriage and pair. Jonah Tudgoose, the small farmer, had proffered his photograph and asked for a kitten! Events were marching. Even Fanny, thanks to her fortune, had secured a swain—a young man who came in the evenings, grinned at her through the gate, and passed her certain conversational lozenges which excited her ecstatic giggles.

And presently the fate that Nurse Dixon had prophesied began to overtake Hester. The dark, low-lying Grange, with its creaky boards and dusky corners, held two closed death-chambers; these she frequently visited when the house was still. Often she paced the watermeadows and the fields (for she shrank from strange faces and the new gardener), standing or strolling as one in a dream by the tufted sedges and silent pools, or making a black blot amidst the grey green spaces, the foaming meadowsweet, the butterflies, and the sunshine. At night she slept badly, lying awake for hours, and listening with a thumping heart to the awful whispers of her imagination, hearing, as plainly as the lazy clock-tick, soft, timid footsteps outside her door, accompanied by silken rustlings and long-drawn shuddering sighs.

Hester was in a curiously apathetic condition; her lassitude was accepted for pure contentment, and a gentle resignation to her lot. Her fellow-inmates never discerned that the girl was failing in mind and body; that idleness and solitude were eating into her very soul. Often she looked pitifully into the eyes of Jane and Liza in search of a sympathy which was not there. “She was just pale and quiet,” they remarked to one another; “it was Miss Hester’s way, and she liked to be left to herself and her books.”

But sometimes Hester’s spirit awoke, and her heart was filled with a bitter revolt against her solitary, purposeless existence, and the inevitable monotony of her life. On these occasions her thoughts turned to Nancy Byng. If Nancy would but come to her! But what would Jane say to the visitor? Never had the Grange received one, and there was no spare room. Jane was so violently opposed to all outsiders or change, that she had even grumbled at the new piano.

But why should she fear Jane? Truly, because she had feared her always—it was the ineradicable habit of years; as a little child she had shrunk from Jane’s sharp slaps; she shrank from her stinging tongue now that she was a woman.

“Furniture could be brought from Sheffield,” urged a bold voice; “there was that little bright corner-room—where no one had died; certainly she would invite one friend who would possibly extend a hand to draw her out of a quagmire into which she was hourly sinking.”

As she paced the lane (and the garden after hours), Hester composed the courageous sentences in which she would open her wishes to Jane, but when, at supper-time, she was face to face with that formidable personage (who now took her meals in the dining-room), her heart failed and her valour evaporated.

The meals were eaten in silence. Miss Jubber’s mind was much preoccupied, dwelling on her bank-book and Jonah Tudgoose; Fanny, who waited, was meditating her young man; and Hester was telling herself how she dreaded the coming night.

At last, in sheer desperation, she summoned up courage to speak, and tremulously blurted out:

“Jane, I wish to ask Miss Byng to stay here—I hope you—won’t mind.”

“Miss Byng here!” she repeated, setting down her untasted cup. “Now, what put that maggot in your head?”

“I feel lonely—I’ve nothing now to fill up my time, and I want a companion,” faltered the girl. “I have written to her, but the letter is not posted.”

“Noa! an’ it won’t be posted,” cried Jane, with a spark in either eye; “so that I tell ye. It’s not seemly asking strangers, and yer father not a bare three months dead, and you an orphan. Yo’ better be quiet wi’ yo’.”

“But Nancy is no stranger,” protested the cowed creature in a faint voice, “and I’ve no one to speak to.”

“You have me!” declared her tyrant. “I was good enough for yer mother, a Bothwell, and I’m better still for you, a Forde. The fortune has turned yer head, and filled yer brain wi’ notions.”

“I have no longer any brain, I think! As for my money, I hate it! What has it done but give me trouble? Where am I, in any way, the better for it?”

“Anyhow, there is no spare room,” said Jane, cleverly eluding the question, “and next week is the feast-week here, yer know; after that there will be lots of things to rightle, and a sight of work.”

Miss Hester was getting up in herself, and must be put down with a strong hand.

“But, Jane, we can easily arrange a spare room.”

“Noa, we won’t,” she interrupted; “if yo’ are going to begin and manage, just say so, and me and Liza is off!” A pause—to enable Hester to digest this awful threat. “And we have no style or up-keep for grand ladies, and mebbe their maids, and from first to last I’ll not have it,” she concluded with fierce self-importance. “So yo’ may just put yer letter behind the kitchen fire.” And having issued this mandate, Miss Jubber, in a muttering and stormy mood, quitted the room.

The end of September brought the holiday people home. The Reverend Edward Cave, who had returned full of health and vigour, noted over his glasses Hester Forde in her usual place—or was it her wraith?

His eyes wandered to her repeatedly; his heart was filled with remorse. The unhappy girl looked as if she were falling into a decline; animated by real anxiety, he made a point of speaking to her that same afternoon.

As he looked into her sharpened features—the blank white face that spoke of a life without interest, an outlook which held no hope—and realized her listless languor, the Reverend Edward Cave became seriously alarmed.

The first thing on Monday morning the Rector dispatched a telegram to Mr. Lewin and Dr. Marsh, bidding them to lunch, and to discuss an affair of importance; and when the two somewhat bewildered gentlemen arrived, he said—

“I want you to go together on some made-up excuse to the Grange, and ask to see Miss Hester. I don’t know what your opinions may amount to, but, for my own part, I think the girl is dying!”

*  *  *

The subsequent verdict of the visitors was not so alarming, but Dr. Marsh frankly admitted that he was shocked by Miss Forde’s appearance. The girl was anaemic, nervous, and altogether out-of-sorts.

“If she goes on as she is doing,” he said, “she will develop consumption or melancholia—if not both.”

“Is there any reason why she should go on as she is doing?” demanded Mr. Cave with heat. “What is the good of the girl’s thousands, if she is allowed to die among us of sheer neglect! As to those two old Jubbers, with their sour selfishness, and savings, and schemes, I have no patience with them. She must be got out of their claws, and at once! Come, Lewin, you are my co-trustee—exert yourself!”

After a solemn conference it was decided that Miss Hester must be sent away to a milder climate as soon as a fitting chaperon could be discovered. Mr. Lewin knew a lady, a connection of his wife’s, who went abroad each winter, and who he fancied might be inclined to chaperon a young lady—for a consideration. She was about forty, a widow, bright, energetic, and popular. He would make inquiries that very night. Meanwhile, Dr. Marsh ordered the invalid a tonic, and commanded her to extend her constitutionals beyond the fields.

Jane Jubber was much ruffled by the visitation, and furious with the doctor who had spoken his mind; but the villagers declared that it was time something was done for the poor young lady—who was seemingly going queer! People in the fields had heard her talking to herself, and “she was certainly getting a bit ‘gaumless’ (silly).”

Towards the middle of October all arrangements had been completed by Miss Forde’s trustees, and in spite of the warlike protestations and angry denunciations of the Jubbers, and the wretched girl’s own obvious reluctance, she was carried off by her chaperon to the South of France.

Chapter IV

“A Useful Companion”

It was a wild, blustering morning; the turbulent Biarritz waves were breaking over the rocky outposts of La Grande Plage, and sweeping up to the very door of the Casino Municipal itself; a cold Atlantic gale had driven the sardine boats from the sea, and scattered stinging sand in the faces of people ashore.

In one of the windows of a large reception-room in a popular hotel three people were sitting, abusing the weather and discussing their neighbours. These were the Honourable Mrs. Mac James, fashionable and exclusive, with a high profile, a double eye-glass, and an extravagant endowment for curiosity. Clothed in formidable reserve, she, nevertheless, contrived to be acquainted with all that was going on around her, the names of other guests—who they were, why they were in Biarritz, and for how long.

Outside the hotel, her information was immense; she collected news as others collect foreign postage-stamps and autographs—and this without trouble or outlay beyond a few civil speeches and an occasional cup of tea. Beside her sat little Mrs. Britten, an attractive widow of forty, endowed with a pair of crafty black eyes, a remarkably gay smile, and indomitable social ambition. The lady wore a tailor-made gown of purple cloth, which displayed to advantage her well-moulded figure; her burnished brown locks were elaborately waved, and puffed out in fashionable style around a plump, well-featured face. Fine turquoise earrings, a studded chain, and brilliant rings were the artistic trifles which completed her toilette. Everything about Mrs. Britten gave the impression of finish and outlay, and from her well-arranged coiffure, and her polished finger-nails, to her smart shoes, she altogether presented an attractive appearance. If there was a fault to be found, the hypercritical might say that both face and air were a little artificial; and there was no question of the fact that she was striving to capture the good opinion of her two companions, and, as far as the man was concerned, her efforts were crowned with unmistakable success.

This gentleman, Admiral Sir Peter Potts, K.C.B., was a short, square old bachelor, clean-shaven, and precisely dressed; he had a shock of white hair, the largest nose in the hotel, and was a formidable bridge-player.

It was the private opinion of Mrs. Britten that Sir Peter would make her a suitable husband, and at the moment she was listening with an enchanted expression to his description of a rubber at the club the previous afternoon.

“We only wanted four to get out, d’ye see,” he explained, “and I made it clubs—I always like to be on the safe side.”

Mrs. Britten nodded emphatically; it was also her own standpoint.

“Well, when my partner put down his hand,” Sir Peter went on, “he had eight hearts—ace, king, queen, knave, ten, and three others! He gave me a furious look, got up, and walked straight out of the card-room. What do you say to that?”

“I say that it was unpardonably rude,” replied Mrs. Britten with an air of indignation; “I should never play with him again; in fact, I should feel inclined to cut him dead.”

“For my part, I don’t agree with either of you,” interposed Mrs. Mac James. “I certainly would have left it. Think of it; five honours in hearts! You ought to give your partner the credit of having something.”

“And supposing he had a spade hand?” demanded the Admiral, and his tone was fierce.

“Oh, yes!” cried Mrs. Britten, anxious to please both parties; “but even so, you would have brought it off, Sir Peter; play does tell in the long run!”

“That friend of yours looks as if she’d had a long run!” muttered Sir Peter, as a young lady came stumbling towards them, laden with parcels, her hat blown to one side of her head, her hair shockingly dishevelled.

She was a tall, slight girl, in deep mourning, neither plain nor pretty, neither well-dressed nor shabby, neither young nor old—a combination of negatives. Here was, in fact, our former acquaintance, Hester Forde, late of Shalesmoor.

As the new-comer approached the group, they ceased talking; apparently Sir Peter and Mrs. Mac James were unknown to her, for she coloured with shyness as she accosted Mrs. Britten.

“I’ve brought the three books from the library,” she faltered. “‘The Adventuress’ is out, but they will keep it, and I’ve got the other things at the Bon Marche,” putting down a good-sized parcel as she spoke.

“My dear, your hat is over your left ear; you never beheld such a guy as you are!” was Mrs. Britten’s ungrateful rejoinder. “Do look at yourself!” and she indicated the large mirror between the windows.

The girl glanced at her reflection, and became crimson as she realized her ludicrous appearance with her crooked head-gear and her wild elf-locks. When she had hastily straightened her hat, she resumed—

“I went up to the golf-links to ask for your parasol; they could not find it in the club-house—some one must have taken it by mistake,” she stammered apologetically. “There is such a wind, I was nearly blown away!”

“Oh, it wouldn’t be so easy to blow you away,” retorted Mrs. Britten with a sharp derisive glance. “I discovered the parasol behind a chair in my room just after you had gone, but the walk will do you good. Was there any one on the links?”

The messenger merely shook her head.

“Well, I think you had better hurry off and make yourself presentable,” continued Mrs. Britten; “the first gong has sounded—and oh, by the way, as you’re going up, you might just leave these books and parcels in my room.”

And Miss Forde, having collected the volumes and parcels, promptly departed, with an air of meek obedience.

“Now, do tell me who she is?” demanded Mrs. Mac James, as she put down her glasses; “she always sits beside you, I know, and she never opens her lips to a soul—that is all I have discovered about her.”

“There is not much to discover,” rejoined Mrs. Britten with a laugh; “she is just one of the commonplace herd of Englishwomen who are born, brought up, and die in a groove.”

“Yes?” ejaculated the other lady. The “yes” was interrogative, inquisitive, imperious. She desired further information, and Mrs. Britten, who had but recently been noticed by her companion, felt that it was an honour to be in a position to supply her with intelligence.

“Of course, I can tell you all about her, if you like,” she began with affectionate candour. “Her father, a great invalid, died six or seven months ago, and left his only child almost alone in the world. He had few relations, and with those he had quarrelled, and the girl lived such a miserable, monotonous life in an old house in an old garden in an old village that she made no acquaintances; in fact, the poor thing has never been young—never seen the world.”

“And you, dear, kind little lady, have brought her out to Biarritz for a change!” broke in the gallant knight, who had been listening attentively. “How more than good-natured of you! Now, a lively girl, who could dance, and play bridge and golf, would have been your appropriate companion.”

“Well, Sir Peter,” lowering her eyes, in bashful acceptance of his compliment, “it was just like this!—and I could not well get out of it. I happened to be staying with my cousin, who lives near this girl’s home, and was asking her if she knew of any one who would go abroad with me, for I cannot endure an English winter; and although I am—well, not in the springtime of my youth—still—still——” she hesitated.

“No, no, no, the summer, mid-summer—mid-summer’s Eve,” amended Sir Peter with unctuous empressement.

“And people talk so much, as you know, dearest Mrs. Mac James, and, unfortunately, a poor little widow is always a target for malicious tongues; and Charlotte Lewin said that this young lady was ordered abroad by her doctor, as she wanted sunshine, and change of scene, and variety. She assured me that she was quiet and amiable, steady as old Time, and would be just the very person for me. At first I said ‘No,’ but Charlotte—that’s my cousin, Mrs. Lewin—was most urgent, and, indeed, rather insistent; she declared it would be a charity to take the poor creature under my wing, and that I should find her unobtrusive and useful. And she was right, as usual. We came out together two months ago, and suit one another remarkably well.”

“On the principle that ‘extremes meet,’ for one thing; you are a great contrast,” said Sir Peter. You see, you are so bright—and she is so dull!”

“Perhaps she feels dull,” remarked Mrs. Mac James, who was secretly jealous of the other lady’s good fortune in securing an invaluable companion, and foil, on such ridiculously easy terms. “I have never seen her at the Casino,” she continued, “nor on the golf links, nor at any of the teas or dances. My maid, Mitchell, has a far better time.”

“Oh, but, dear Mrs. Mac James, your maid likes to be gay and to talk to people,” protested Mrs. Britten, with an unbecomingly heightened colour. “Now, Hester Forde is painfully shy—she shrivels up if a stranger speaks to her. She has not been accustomed to mix in any society. She doesn’t play golf, or bridge, or dance—her father brought her up so strictly. She has the most narrow ideas imaginable—even to look on at gambling she would consider a mortal sin.”

“Poor thing!” ejaculated Mrs. Mac James.

“And she is too nervous to drive or motor,” continued Mrs. Britten, as if anxious to thoroughly exculpate herself in the eyes of her listeners. “Naturally, I always urge her to make friends with other girls; but she is unaccustomed to young people, and dislikes them. So I let her go her way, I go mine—and we are both happy; Miss Forde devours novels by the dozen, she takes long walks, she gazes at the waves, or into the shop windows; she buys bread for starving dogs, flowers for herself, and is acquiring a fine supply of ozone, and health, and new ideas. She would loathe my daily round, and I should abhor hers. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

“Yes, yes,” briskly agreed Sir Peter; “and talking of meat, there goes the second gong for the déjeuner, a welcome break in this miserable day.”

“I am afraid there will be no going out with such a wind,” said Mrs. Britten. “Will you play bridge at three, Sir Peter, if I can get the General and Miss Spiller?”

Sir Peter was on the point of refusing, but a glance from Mrs. Britten’s eloquent eyes induced him to hesitate.

“All right,” he agreed rather ungraciously; “but, mind you, tell the General that I play five francs a hundred. I believe he likes to play for love—I prefer money.”

“Oh, yes, I will arrange all that,” declared the lady; “personally”—here she gave Sir Peter one of her most killing looks—“I am for both.”

“I don’t see how that can be,” he argued, as they walked together towards the door.

“Oh, don’t you?” she echoed airily; “surely you can play for money—with one you love?”

For a moment Sir Peter glared at the speaker in startled silence. He was a wary old gentleman, who, much as he enjoyed the society of charming ladies, was easily alarmed by any advances on their side; but no, of course, this was just Mrs. Britten’s way of talking; the pretty, gay widow was never serious (this fact was, in his opinion, one of her chief attractions). As she rustled along the passage a little ahead of him, he noticed her trim figure, her beautifully fitting gown, her wealth of (false) admirably arranged hair, and as he recalled her reputed fortune and her undeniable fascinations he said to himself, “Gad, my boy, you might do worse!”

Chapter V

A Little Bird Tells Tales

As Hester Forde hurried along the wide corridor, humbly conscious of her battered appearance, she encountered a number of people whom the weather had compelled to remain in doors—pretty girls walking arm-in-arm discussing a dance, chattering children, disappointed golfers (talking golf or politics), friendly matrons exchanging confidences; but not one of these cast her a nod, and but few a glance. Miss Forde had no acquaintances—no, not even an hotel acquaintance—for she was painfully shy, and unluckily her shyness was interpreted for stiffness (so few people are shy nowadays), and as she was silent and apparently fond of her own company, the little world of the Bellevue abandoned her to its undiluted enjoyment. Besides, she was not a girl who “did” anything; she could not make up a foursome at golf, or take a hand at bridge, and seemed to possess but one accomplishment—the faculty of being able to hold her tongue.

Society is ever ready to smile on those who endeavour to win its good graces; but if folk withdraw within themselves, who can blame Society if it streams gaily by without glance or salutation?

Hester was relieved to gain the refuge of the lift (for everyone in the hotel seemed to be about to-day), and was soon wafted up to the first floor, where she and Mrs. Britten occupied adjoining apartments. Undoubtedly, Mrs. Britten looked like a first-floor lady; but, judging by her appearance and air of shrinking humility, judging by her hat, her gloves, and her ill-fitting black tailor-made costume, Miss Forde’s proper place was a small north room on the fifth étage. She opened the door of her chaperon’s apartment, put down her load, and gazed about her. The occupant had evidently left it in haste. A blouse lay on a chair, two hats were on the bed, a feather boa and a pair of slippers—these apparently kicked off—were in the middle of the room. The dressing-table was a tangle of brushes, powder-puffs, scent-bottles, veils, and hairpins.

Hester stooped to pick up the boa, she put the shoes away, and was folding up the blouse, when, struck by a sudden thought, she threw it down, and said aloud, as if addressing some one—and her tone was distinctly defiant—“After all, why should I?” No answer, mental or verbal, was forthcoming. Two months at Biarritz were beginning to tell; ozone was producing its vitalizing effect. Mrs. Britten’s meek provincial companion had sounded (to herself only) the first blast on the trumpet of revolt! It was perfectly true that she found her present surroundings a delightful change from her former narrow existence. The sea itself was a novelty, an ever-delightful, endless interest. She liked the black-eyed Basque people and their cheery ways; and the fact of residing in a foreign country, of witnessing the, to her, amazing life in a great cosmopolitan hotel—all this had more than filled her shallow cup of enjoyment.

Up to the present, Hester had been a silent spectator of other people’s lives, of seascapes and landscapes, and scenes; she had amassed a store of mental photographs, sufficient to brighten and speed many a dull and solitary hour. Now, Miss Forde was beginning to wish to be something more than a useful companion, a mere looker-on, and was consumed with a burning desire to take a hand in the great game! Yet she was so pitiably shy, so humble-minded, that she strove hard to crush and stifle this audacious craving; assuring herself that she, Hester Forde, who had lived nearly all her days in Shalesmoor village, had already seen and done ten times more than many of her contemporaries. Why was she not contented? She could not answer this question. A new life, a penetrating sense of daring and liberty, had crept into her heart, and refused to be either smothered or silenced. This bold inmate said, “Hester, you are your own mistress, answerable to no one. Snatch some pleasure out of your youth before it passes away; dare to enjoy yourself, as you see others do. Open die door of your personality, and allow the unhappy craven creature to be seen and known.”

Since Hester had come to Biarritz she had read many books, chiefly novels and poetry; modern and absorbing love-tales were responsible for the planning and building of several fine castles in the air—Hester the silent, the dowdy, the demure, had actually begun to think of a lover! She had caught no breath of his coming, but her heart was awaiting him. This girl with the frost-bitten, stunted life now walked into her own room, the smaller of the two apartments. It was exquisitely neat, not to say old-maidish, in appearance; no smart frocks, hats, or silver toilet things were here to be seen, only vases crammed with flowers, piles of new books and magazines, and on the chimney-piece the framed photographs of two people—a handsome, distinguished-looking woman in an old-fashioned gown, and a stern, elderly man, with a clever face and beetling brows.

Hester stared at herself in the looking-glass before she removed her ugly black hat, trimmed with lumps of black satin ribbon. If some people endeavour to make the best of their appearance, she seemed to have determined to make the worst of hers. An expensive but ill-cut coat gave her the effect of being high-shouldered, she wore no touch of white at her neck, her hat came down far over her eyes and hid them—the best feature in her face. Her hair, a deep mahogany, was drawn away tightly behind her ears, and screwed into one thick knob at the nape of her neck, precisely as if it were ashamed to be seen. And there was truth in this suspicion, for Hester was extremely sensitive with regard to its colour. Shalesmoor was so far out of the world, so much behind the times, that the unfortunate girl had never heard that red hair was the height of the fashion, and her own particular colour the most expensive shade of all.

When she had removed her toque and jacket she still stood staring at herself for a moment, and then exclaimed aloud, “Oh, why am I so ugly?” and she actually shook her fist at her reflection in the mirror. But Miss Forde was not really ugly; indeed, for an heiress she was good-looking. A little colour, a lady’s-maid, some smart frocks, and assurance, would soon transform her into a beauty. She was a tall, slight girl, with regular features and expressive eyes. As we know, the eyes were sunken, the face was thin, and the complexion pallid—the result of years spent in the unwholesome atmosphere of a sickroom; but if Hester had led the normal life of a girl of her age, her face would have been beautiful; at present it was wan and colourless, merely the face to “pass in a crowd.” Oh, these narrow escapes!—these pitiless little “buts.”

After her astonishing outbreak Hester seemed to pull herself together, and was presently walking downstairs, a meek, insignificant person, the picture of demure, self-possessed propriety.

Outside the salle-à-manger Mrs. Britten awaited her companion with angry impatience; the girl had made but one stipulation, and it was this: that she need never enter that immense dining-room and walk its formidable length alone. No; sooner than that she would starve! To-day she was a moment late, and received what was not very far from a scolding ere she followed Mrs. Britten into the vast apartment. It was a magnificent room, capable of holding five hundred people—beautifully decorated, hung with great chandeliers, and at present crowded with guests. Some sat at the centre tables, others at smaller ones for families or for couples; all were gay with flowers, and the light blouses and dresses of the ladies, the clatter of forks and knives, the babble of many voices, combined to furnish a most animated scene.

Mrs. Britten’s place was towards the end of a long table, between Hester and her own special friend Mrs. Cox (a roving matron, into whose ears she poured all her schemes, her triumphs and her sorrows). She also carried on an animated conversation with the people who sat opposite, but rarely spoke to Hester—except to ask her to pass the menu or the salt—and as Hester’s other neighbour was a stone-deaf old gentleman, she was rarely called upon to open her lips. Once a lady, her vis-à-vis, had addressed her and said, “It is a fine day,” and she had stammered, “Yes;” “Have you been up to the golf-links?” and she had faltered, “No;” and there all conversation across the table had ended for ever. Hester was too timid to follow up the opening, and had thereby lost an opportunity, and perhaps a friend.

Mrs. Tudor was one of the annual habitués of Biarritz and the Bellevue. She occupied her own rooms year after year; every one who was any one knew Mrs. Tudor, Mrs. Tudor knew every one and any one; she was a personage in Society, and moved with equal ease in the English, French, and Spanish sets. A childless widow, wealthy and peculiar, she had an extraordinary knack of getting her own way; accomplishing with success feats that other people dated not attempt, and obtaining a considerable amount of satisfaction and savour out of her life. In appearance Mrs. Tudor resembled the traditional fairy godmother; she was small and wore high-heeled shoes. Over a cushion her snow-white hair was drawn off her face: it was a resolute old face, with deep-set blue eyes and a pointed chin. Mrs. Tudor generally dressed in black, in the evening many diamonds glittered about her person, and at all times she carried herself with imposing dignity. Well-connected and rich, bold to speak and prompt to act, the English widow was a power in the land. To-day a traveller, her nephew, had lunched with her—an officer, on his way through to Gibraltar—and as they sat together in the corridor, drinking coffee, they watched the great exodus from the dining-room pass by; two and two, or three and four; for most of these Madame had a gay word or a nod. As Mrs. Cox and Mrs. Britten went chattering along, followed by the lagging and indifferent Hester, Captain Tudor stared hard, took his cigar out of his mouth, and exclaimed—

“Hullo, Aunt Laura, so I see you have the heiress here!”

“Heiress!” she repeated. “I should hope we have more than one in such a large hotel. Whom do you mean by the?”

“I allude to the red-haired girl in black, who went by just now.”

“Oh, Miss Forde! She is only companion to a lady; a little dressy, scheming woman, who is rather in the fast set. She brought her out with her, I suppose, to play propriety. The girl does propriety! and Mrs. Britten—plays——”

“And Miss Forde pays; yes, I see!” supplemented the young man, who was evidently impressed by the brilliancy of his discovery.

“But what do you mean, Freddy?” demanded the old lady; “come—have another cigar—and tell me all about it. This sounds delightfully promising and mysterious.”

“Well,” said Captain Tudor, carefully selecting and lighting another Havana, “you know Tom Colson? He has some capital shooting on the borders of Lincolnshire, and Shalesmoor is his village. When I was shooting round there last September, partridge-driving, Mrs. Tom told me this tale, which I will pass on to you—you can make any use of it you please.”

“Yes, yes,” urged his aunt impatiently, “but get on, get on. How I hate a preface!”

“It seems that an old fellow called Forde had lived in Shalesmoor Grange for twenty years. He married a handsome North-countrywoman, who, in the teeth of her relations, endowed him with £10,000 and herself. She died after a while, leaving one child—this girl here—and from that time he seemed to freeze up and go in for money-grubbing heart and soul. He slaved all his life, and never gave himself or any one a holiday.”

“And now he is gone, I suppose this is his daughter’s holiday?” interrupted Mrs. Tudor. “Not exactly my own idea of one, but—well, never mind, proceed.”

“Miss Forde—she must be five- or six-and-twenty—has had a deadly life; all her days shut up in the old Grange—I cannot tell you whether it is moated or not—but Mariana had a far livelier time; at any rate, she had a lover!”

“How do you know that Miss Forde has not one?”

“Bah!”—contemptuously—“why, you have only to look at her! I don’t suppose she has exchanged two words with a young man ever since she was born.”

“I would not be so sure of that, Freddy.”

“Oh, but I am! Old Forde was most peculiar, and his servants were more peculiar! The girl was strictly brought up; no dancing, cards, or company; indeed, by all accounts, she had not much time, being drudge and nurse to her pater, who latterly was paralytic. She lived inside a wall, and was never visible except at church—that is where I saw her.”

“What an existence! Poor creature, no wonder she looks so limp and sat-upon.”

“The old boy quarrelled with his relatives, and there was an impression that he was poor; so naturally he was let alone!”

“Come, come! Don’t try to be cynical, Freddy!”

“Well, he died last summer, and when his affairs came to be examined, it was found that he had left the girl an immense fortune—something like a quarter of a million!”

Mrs. Tudor suddenly pushed away her coffee cup and sat up.

“Yes, I can tell you that it made every one thereabouts sit up, Aunt Laura! They were misled by shabbiness and economy.”

“No wonder he was rich—all saving and no spending,” she exclaimed.

“No spending, certainly! I believe the girl was as much astonished as if some one had given her a bang on the head.”

“She was stunned, eh?”—and a faint smile flitted across the old lady’s lips.

“I should think so; being dismissed fatigue-duty in a sick-room, and not having to ask leave for every blessed thing, not to speak of owning tons of money, nearly turned the poor creature’s brain, and, like birds who have been long in captivity, she refused to flutter her wings or leave her cage, and there she hung on with the old servants—living precisely as before.”

“Good gracious!”

“You see, all her life she had been among old people and treated as a child, and she had not the courage to lift the latch of the nursery door and walk out.”

“But she presumably has walked out,” argued Mrs. Tudor. “Did any one befriend her?”

“Mrs. Colson motored over once to see her. She said she seemed like a thing that had been kept on ice, and the Grange was enough to give any one the blue devils; the girl seemed afraid of her own voice and terrified of the old servants. She escorted Mrs. Colson round the garden—the usual country-visit treat. Such a place!—all box and dead fruit-trees—and they slunk about it together, as if they were trespassing. Mrs. Colson asked the girl to spend a couple of days with her, but, of course, she never did, and after that she fell ill, and the ancient retainers called in a doctor—anyway, some one did—and he frightened them properly, and said the heiress was in a bad way; sort of general breakdown, would slip through their fingers if they did not look out, and ordered her complete change and sunshine; talked of consumption and melancholia.”

“I am not surprised!” ejaculated his aunt. “I wonder she was not in Earlswood long ago!”

“Then there was no end of jawing, havering, and consulting—the lawyer, doctor, and parson were all in it! Who was to undertake the charge of the patient, show her the sunny south, and give her a good time?”

“Well, who?” asked Mrs. Tudor.

“The lawyer suggested a chaperon who spent half the year on the Continent—a charming widow, most highly suitable in every respect—in short, a member of his own family. She was fond of Society, and devoted to young people, but unhappily without funds to gratify her tastes! The lady was sounded, and gave her cordial assent to the plan; it was arranged through her lawyer and agent that Miss Forde was to accompany her to Biarritz, paying all travelling and hotel expenses, also a further sum of £20 a month for the glory and honour of Mrs. Britten’s society.”

“A capital bargain for Mrs. Britten!” exclaimed his aunt.

“It is. Of course, I have no means of judging; but I may mention that Shalesmoor village is exceedingly anxious to hear how its own particular heiress is getting on, and if there is any prospect of her—getting off?”

“I should say not, judging by the little I have seen of her; I fancy she never speaks to a soul except Mrs. Britten.”

“But surely Mrs. Britten——” began Captain Tudor.

“Knows all the people in the hotel, and half the villa residents. She has her own fish to fry.”

“Do you mean that she neglects her charge?”

“Charge, indeed! I like the expression! Up till now, I thought the charge was her paid companion.”

“What?” exclaimed Captain Tudor slowly, laying down his cigar, and staring at his aunt with his wide-apart, unblinking eyes.

“Certainly; most people are under the same impression. Appearances are deceitful. This girl knows no one, goes nowhere, is shrinking, silent, and peculiar. I am afraid, my dear Fred, you have let an enormous cat out of the bag—a cat that Mrs. Britten thought she had effectually sat upon and smothered.”

“Well, all I’ve got to say is, that I consider the woman is receiving money under false pretences,” protested the young man. “I call it a confounded shame.”

“But if the girl is satisfied—what do you call it then? Her wants are few; she enjoys going down to the Plage or the Virgin Rock, and watching the big waves; she likes a quiet nook and a new book, or staring into the curiosity-shops.”

“Oh, I dare say! But unless I am mistaken, she will outgrow these pleasures. She is no fool. By all accounts, old Forde’s daughter could never be that. She sees other girls here”—nodding towards a charming group—“and she will soon begin to wish for her share! Oh, she will come off the ice, I will take you any odds. When we next meet in town I shall expect you to tell me of some strange happenings.”

“Possibly of the marriage of Mrs. Britten,” remarked Mrs. Tudor.

“Mrs. Britten does not interest me in the least. She is posing as the heiress—the jackdaw in borrowed plumes. She is a little painted-up impostor!”

“I don’t know that; she gives dinners at Ritz’s, has a smart carriage or a motor, and takes people about with her.”

“And it all goes down in the bill!”

“I am sure I cannot say,” rejoined his aunt cautiously; “I know nothing about the woman’s money affairs.”

“Shall you tell every one what I have told you, Aunt Laura?”

“No; for the present I prefer to remain a well-informed spectator.”

“Well, I call it beastly hard lines on the girl, I must say! I think some one ought to give her a leg-up!” said Captain Tudor, rising, and beginning to look round for his hat. “I declare, if she wasn’t so sad and so sallow, I might go in for her myself.”

Chapter VI

The First Meeting

When most of the inmates of the Bellevue had flocked down to the Casino, or were comfortably established at Bridge, Hester decided to brave the elements once more. The wind had abated, and she battled her way to her favourite coign of vantage, a wooden seat on the Falaise; a post which commanded a capital view of both the bays. To the left lay the Grande Plage, lined with palatial hotels, and terminating in the Phare. Directly below her was the Côte des Basques, along which mountainous waves hurried to dash themselves against the jagged rocks. Beyond this bay rose the blue Pyrenees and the outline of the Spanish coast. This was Hester’s favourite view; here she would sit musing for an hour at a time, inhaling the keen salt breeze, and dreaming of Spain, proud Spain, chivalrous Spain: its name and its history had always held a fascination for her. Now she was gazing at its frontier and mountains with her very own eyes.

Captain Tudor had not been altogether correct in his rapid sketch of the history of Miss Forde. She had, as we know, one woman friend, with whom she had always corresponded. Miss Byng, in spite of Jane Jubber’s opposition, had paid Hester a flying visit before she went abroad, and as they paced the dreary leaf-strewn garden, she said to her friend—

“Oh, Nancy, I do wish I were not going away—I know I shall hate Biarritz! I lie wake at nights and dread it and cry.”

“Nonsense; it will do you all the good in the world,” responded Miss Byng; “and I hear Mrs. Britten is rather an agreeable little person.”

“I am not sure that I shall like her,” said Hester dubiously.

“My dear Hessie, you are never sure of anything; yourself, your plans, your friends. You require not merely change of air, but change of disposition. You want an object in life; hitherto your father supplied the object; he also made up your mind for you. Now you must really endeavour to walk alone.”

“Yes, that would be easy if I were like you, Nancy—so clever, and energetic, and practical.” Then, after a reflective pause, “I think I should like to be a nurse!”

“Whoever heard of a nurse with ten thousand a year?” exclaimed her friend with a laugh. “Besides, you have had enough of nursing, and must take a holiday. Mrs. Britten will teach you—she has been holiday-making all her life. Once in the sun, you’ll expand.”

“Well”—looking at her thin hand and wrist—“I suppose I ought to be a little stouter, but besides growing fat, please tell me what am I to do?”

“Write to me often, for one thing; visit strange places, pick up pretty things—you have no ornaments, no jewellery.”

“No—my mother had none—only her rings and watch and cameo brooch.”

“Pooh! those are scarcely jewels: and you can make friends.”

“That is so difficult to me—almost impossible.”

“Well, then, make enemies—it will afford you plenty of excitement.”

“Oh, dear, Nance, it is wrong to talk like that!”

“Not a bit, you prim, prudish Hetty! You will certainly find acquaintances, maybe friends—and possibly your—affinity.”

Hester coloured vividly; in all her life she had never had the ghost, the glimpse of a love affair.

“No, no, Nance—I am not in my teens; you must not make fun of me; I am too old for romance.”

“Not at all; you are younger than I am; and, pray, have you ever known a red-haired woman who was an old maid?”

“Well, I feel as if I were sixty years of age, and I’ve scarcely ever met a red-haired woman; but I should think they were all old maids—I hate my hair!”

“There you are foolish—it is beautiful. Someone will tell you so yet; but, dear, simple, twelve-year-old Hetty, please don’t let a gay good-looking deceiver marry you for your money.”

“Oh, no—I shall never marry—gay deceiver or otherwise.”

“I should like to see you the wife of a good man. I am sure you’d make him happy. You have an enormous store of love hidden away in your heart—it has never been really drawn upon, but when it is—whoever discovers it will find a treasure.”

“Now, Nance, you are talking nonsense,” exclaimed Hester; “you would make out that I did not love father and my dear mother.”

“Oh, yes, in a certain way—this will be entirely different. I know instinctively that the force is there, and if once it stirs, will carry you far, far out of yourself,” she laughed. “Oh, yes, and a good thing too! But, my dear—I hope you will love the right man!”

“I am positively certain that I shall never love any man at all—and that no man will ever love me!” rejoined Hester with unusual emphasis. “Now it is getting very damp and cold, and you know how cross Jane will be if we are late for tea.”

*  *  *

Hester sat on her favourite bench meditating on a novel she had recently finished. As she watched a stream of amethyst clouds trailing along the horizon she felt indescribably sad. It was her birthday, and she was twenty-five; the spring of her youth had departed, her best years were behind her, and she had never had one real experience of happiness; although she had nourished hopes. Everything in her thoughts had been a preparation for a paradise which was always coming some day; and while she dreamt, her early days had departed. Hitherto her experiences had been at second-hand; she had contemplated life through books, or through the narrow old windows of the gloomy Grange. She had plodded on, nursing, playing chess, dusting, reading, sewing; looking back, she traced her uneventful years from seventeen to twenty-five; what did they all amount to? Now she had both money and freedom, and seemed to be incapable of making use of either; she was conscious of possessing the prim ideas of Jane Jubber, her tyrant—and the heart and the experiences of a child of fifteen.

She knew nothing whatever of love; no man had ever looked at her twice, or ever would. “Well,” said an inner voice, “there are hundreds of women wasted like yourself.” After all, she had health, her reason, and £10,000 a year. Stirred by the joy-seeking impulses of recovered vigour, she mentally declared, “I shall begin to amuse myself! I shall commence a new life from today; at any rate, I shall spend money; and the first thing I will do will be to buy myself a beautiful birthday present—yes, a necklace! I intend to have it”—and, with this decision burning in her mind, she rose briskly from her seat, hurried down the Falaise by the short cut, and into the town. The evening was fine, and the streets were full of little victorias, of motors, of people strolling or standing in groups; boys were selling “Le Gironde,” women were crying “Sardines,” the flower girls were doing a brisk trade.

Miss Forde walked in a business-like manner by them all, and directed her steps to a certain curio shop which was famous for its stock of Spanish “Antiguedades.” Here were the fruitful results of many toilsome expeditions over the border and into the far South! Journeys to old towns, villages, and castles aloof from the beaten track; pilgrimages undertaken in search of articles which poverty and dire necessity forced many a proud, impoverished owner to dispose of secretly. Spain, from the highest to the lowest class, was suffering from the disastrous effects of the late war. Here in this shop was displayed the harvest of the enterprising collector; pictures, lace, ancient brasiers and bureaux, beautiful tapestries, fans, silk draperies, crucifixes, statues, chairs in stamped leather—and jewelry.

This was exhibited on velvet in cases in the window; and before a certain case Hester came to a halt. To impart a secret, she visited this particular treasure every day; and never passed the shop without admiring a certain necklace, which, if it could have been really devoured by her eyes, would have disappeared long ago. This ornament was displayed on a board covered with black velvet, and was composed of four chains of pearls caught in festoons by diamond and enamelled clasps; in the centre was a pendant exquisitely executed in diamonds and enamel. When Hester first noticed this necklace she had entered the establishment, and, in faltering French, had timidly inquired the price.

“Dix mille francs,” was the prompt reply. “About four hundred pounds, and not less—it was a great occasion!”

But the would-be customer had withdrawn, startled out of her wits; those were early days. She had never yet ventured to expend a large sum of money—the habit of years of economy had eaten into her bones.

Juan Dominguez, the Spanish proprietor, and his daughter were now well accustomed to the pale English face which gazed into a particular window at least once a day. Sometimes the lady entered and bought a trifling article—a pearl-headed hatpin, a little old china figure, a bit of blonde lace—but never the necklace.

“Oh, she will buy it yet,” declared Concha to her father; “it has got upon her mind—she will never leave it behind her.”

“Bah! what talk is that?” he declared. “She has not the money.”

“There you are wrong, padre mio. I believe she is rich. These Englishwomen have many strange habits.”

“How do you know that she is rich?”

“Never mind,” she replied with a shake of her head, “but it is true. Paciencia-y barrajar!” (Patience, and shuffle the cards.)

Once Hester had introduced the necklace to Mrs. Britten and timidly invited her opinion, and that lady had brusquely declared that “she did not admire it in the least, and the price was too utterly ridiculous.”

“I grant that it is quaint,” she admitted, “but no show for the money. Now, I always like show for my money, and those Paris imitation diamonds in a shop higher up look far more real and imposing. Don’t be so idiotic as to buy it! Besides, if you had it, what would you do with it? You know you would never wear it!”

“Well, I think it is beautiful—so old and so Spanish,” rejoined Hester.

“That sort of beauty doesn’t appeal to me,” sneered Mrs. Britten; “as for being so old and so Spanish, the same description applies to that ancient hawker at the corner, who is selling skins,” and Hester felt crushed and silenced.

All the same, she never failed each day to visit the object of her adoration, and was painfully making up her mind to its purchase. Why, it was not more than a fortnight’s income, and she did not possess a jewel in the world. To-day she descended from the Falaise, resolved to take the immense step, but, finding the shop crowded with customers, was much too shy to enter, and passed on to a flower-stall. Here she bought herself a quantity of the choicest blooms; the selection afforded her a real and almost childish delight; it was her birthday treat, and, with a huge bouquet in her hand, she at last turned towards the Bellevue.

Suddenly, at the corner of a street, she came into violent collision with a young man in a desperate hurry, who dashed her beautiful nosegay out of her hand, and all her precious flowers were scattered about the footpath. The gentleman, with a muttered apology, immediately stooped and began to gather them. As he held out a handful, Hester glanced at him, and saw that he was dark—evidently a Spaniard—and extraordinarily handsome. His was a truly beautiful face, somehow recalling the days of chivalry and knighthood; olive-skinned, with black hair and a small moustache; the expression of profound melancholy in the dark eyes, and the thin, delicately-cut features, were preserved from effeminacy by an exceedingly firm chin. His movements were grace itself as he collected the remnants of the birthday bouquet, and, having presented them with a low bow, lifted his cap, and was gone.

Hester walked slowly onwards as one in a dream; still in a dream, she regained her own room and flung herself into a chair. How she was haunted by that handsome dark face! That vision of chivalrous perfection was a new and soul-awakening experience. Poor Hester, already she was wondering whether she should ever see him again. Her heart leapt at the thought, and urged her to find out his name. But she was far too reserved to ask questions. No doubt Mrs. Britten would know; and yet, how dare she venture to open such a subject? The flowers he had gathered must not be left to wither. Hester rose with nervous haste and began to arrange them in various glasses. The foolish, friendless creature took an immense time over this labour of love; had not his fingers touched them? She specially remembered a certain pink camellia; it had blown across the road, and he had gathered it separately. Oh, happy flower! She resolved to wear it that same evening, and she (who never adorned herself) arranged it with hot and tremulous fingers in the front of her dowdy black gown. Miss Forde actually felt as if she were taking some wonderful step, a bold step, and that possibly all the world might guess she was wearing a flower that the handsome Spaniard had offered her in the street. The mind has a powerful effect on the body, and Hester really looked different, and almost animated, as she stole into her place beside Mrs. Britten, who exclaimed with wide-open eyes—

“Why, what have you been doing to yourself? I declare, you are quite smart!” Then her glance fell on the camellia. “Who gave it to you?”

Hester blushed to the colour of the flower as she answered in a faint voice—

“I bought it!”

“So I supposed,” rejoined the other, as, with a little mocking laugh, she turned to her more congenial supporter, Mrs. Cox.

Hester, thanks to her deaf neighbour, was almost as isolated as if she were dining alone. Her vis-à-vis felt no interest in the silent, possibly stuck-up, and certainly dull young woman—and she was left entirely to herself.

However, if her tongue was idle her eyes were well employed. She watched various pretty girls trooping in, all more or less charmingly dressed; smart married women, tall Englishmen—in fact, all sorts and conditions of folk; bright faces, bright toilettes, and the strains of a string band constituted her lively surroundings. As a rule, Hester sat and marvelled who the different people might be. She made up for her own amusements stories of their lives; but to-night her thoughts no longer circled around her fellow-guests; they were flying away in pursuit of the dark-eyed Spanish caballero.

Miss Forde, unknown to herself, had suddenly stepped out of one world into another, and had entered the land of romance and daydreams, of hopes and fears, of aching miseries and bitter-sweet joys, and never again would she be the same Hester Forde, never till the coffin-lid had closed down upon her. What Nancy Byng had said of her friend was true. Her feelings, all her life, had been severely repressed; yet an immense store of sentiment—yes, and passion—lay dormant within her. Now, at a sudden call, this had sprung to life; a glance from a pair of expressive eyes, a winning smile, an easy grace, had summoned Hester’s inner self, and her heart, which had been slumbering, was awake at last!

Love at first sight may appear amazing, incredible, impossibly foolish, and yet such an experience is not uncommon. Hester no longer pondered as to whether the tall, bald-headed man was the pretty woman’s husband or no? if the couple at the table under the window were brother and sister? or if the little lady in sky-blue was really the mother of those great big girls? Now, she had something else on which to speculate—who was he? when should she see again? would he recognize her?—and bow?

Alas! my dear, simple Hester (as you sit aloof in the background of the drawing-room, dreaming of an adventure, whilst others play cards), what a pity it is, you cannot know that already your hero has forgotten it—and you!

He is not the man to cast a second thought to the small act of courtesy paid to a dowdy, awkward “Anglaise.” Paul de Sarazin, the eldest son of a Spanish grandee, is thoroughly alive to his importance. You are by no means the only woman in whose eyes he has found favour; indeed, through all his thirty years he has been spoiled and adored by your sex! Paul enjoys every moment of his life, his spirits are extravagant—notwithstanding his melancholy eyes—and in spite of his conquests, men remain his friends; for de Sarazin, though a celebrated cotillion leader and a guitar-player of unusual ability, is a man who can both ride and fight.

His mother, La Duquesa de San Telmo, occupies for her health’s sake a villa in Biarritz, and drives about in a magnificent carriage, looking a duchess indeed. She is extremely pious, and invariably attends the nine o’clock Mass of a morning; but when she receives her friends three evenings a week, they frequently gamble until dawn!

Paul de Sarazin, who was educated in England, has many acquaintances. He belongs to the club, he hunts, he plays golf—he also plays the fool. As Hester Forde reclines in an armchair, gazing through

“. . . Charmed magic casements opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in fairyland forlorn,”

he is down below in the Casino, seated at the baccarat table beside a notoriously fast Spanish woman, seeking his reflection in her lustrous eyes, during the intervals of play.

Chapter VII

Monsieur Le Marquis

Before going to bed, Hester carefully put the sacred pink camellia into water. It was the last thing her eyes fell upon as she turned the switch of the electric light. Strange to say, her sleep was sweet and dreamless; no vision of “him” disturbed her repose; indeed she was completely worn out from battling with the gale of the previous day, and the storm of an unexpected emotion. The following morning Mrs. Britten came to her with a long list of errands—one to the dressmaker, another to the hairdresser, a third, a note to be left at a villa at some distance.

The little adventuress was conscious for the first time of an expression of reluctance on the girl’s face, and said in her sharpest key—

“Of course, you needn’t go if you’d rather not!”

“I am perfectly aware of that,” rejoined Miss Forde quietly; “but I will take your messages for this once.”

The manner and the tone with which this was announced astonished Mrs. Britten, and for the first time in their acquaintanceship she respected Hester Forde. Moreover, she began to tell herself that she must exercise caution, and not absolutely ignore or forget (as frequently happened) that this girl’s purse supplied all her wants and luxuries, and that only for Miss Forde she would not be enjoying such a capital time in Biarritz—or indeed anywhere! By nature a bully, she was acting on the principle of “the more you beat them, the better they be.” At first she had consulted her companion and said, “May I?” “shall we?” but familiarity, and the girt’s excessively humble opinion of herself, had encouraged her to encroach. When she suffered the heiress to sit next to her at meals, and accompany her to morning service on Sunday, Mrs. Britten considered that her duties were nobly fulfilled, and went her own way.

There was an extraordinary high tide that afternoon at three o’clock—the highest, it was said, for one hundred years! The sea had not abated, and a number of people (including Hester) went down to the Virgin’s Rock and thereabouts, in order to watch the great Atlantic waves.

They advanced from afar, with towering white heads; nearer and nearer they approached, till, with a crash over the end of the pier, the roar of a cataract, and a mountain of salt spray, they deluged the unwary. Other waves fled past, and flung themselves on the rocks and into caves and passages beneath the ground, where they raved, shrieked, and sobbed. Three little French children, bare-legged, in sand-shoes, accompanied by their bonne, waited as near the end of the pier as they dared venture, and, when they saw an enormous Atlantic roller looming in, raced it as if for their lives. Sometimes they were caught and drenched; sometimes those inoffensive people who were merely looking on, received an unexpected douche. It was a mountainous sea, a magnificent sight. Hordes of sightseers now came pouring from the town, streaming under the arch “La Roche Percée” and out upon the iron pier; among the crowd was Hester’s hero! She felt her face flame suddenly. He was accompanied by a lady, a Frenchwoman, with a superb figure, and a plain face that had somehow contrived to make itself attractive; and the lady seemed full of pretty graces and animation as she tripped beside her escort. He wore a long grey coat, for the day was chilly to his warm Spanish blood, a grey cap, and brown boots. There was nothing picturesque about him but his handsome dark face. He looked at Hester with the quick indifferent glance she received from all his sex, then turned his back upon her, and began to point out some sight to his companion. Hester felt almost giddy with the force of her own emotion—wild with an insane desire to attract the attention—yes, and admiration—of this man!

Oh, if a catastrophe would only happen! if one of the children were to be swept off into the waves! willingly would she leap into the boiling surf—although she could not swim!

Of course, she would lose her life, but what of that, since he would be a witness? He would be compelled to admire and acclaim her, perhaps attend her funeral, and remember, as long as he lived, the English girl who had sacrificed herself at the Virgin’s Rock!

Meanwhile she furtively watched him, as he turned about, lit a cigarette, and sauntered off to another point of view. Then he and his friend halted at the little booth under the arch, where a woman sold postcards; having examined several, they laughed, made a purchase, and passed on toward the Plage. Hester rose as the pair disappeared, and, hurrying to the woman who had still a selection of cards in her hand, pointed, and gasped out—

Pour moi!”

The seller nodded, and slowly began to count them over; and then the strange lady, indicating with her finger the last customer, muttered (and her face was scarlet)—

“The name of ce monsieur?”

“Mon Dieu, oui,” she assented; “all the world knows the Marquis de Sarazin—Paul de Sarazin. Il est très joli garçon, n’est-ce-pas?”

“Does he live here?” continued Hester, and her voice was unsteady, turning over some toys as she spoke, and guiltily avoiding the woman’s eye—it was an impudent eye.

“Yes, for the season, with his mother, Madame la Duchesse.”

(Then he was unmarried!)

“And the lady?” she faltered.

“Oh, grâce à Dieu, je ne sais pas! He knows so many ladies, ce brigand!”

For information thankfully received, Hester pulled out a big five-franc piece, and hurried away without either toys or cards, in spite of the vendor’s shrill expostulations. Oh, well, were they mad, these English? or was that one only mad about Paul, poor wretch! At any rate, she was five francs the better for this madness, and she laughed aloud as she pocketed her fee.

Hester was horribly ashamed of herself; her inborn shyness and her Puritan blood cried out upon her: “You are disgraced for life; you are a bold, bad, immoral woman!” but the other, a new, wild self, was singing: “I am my own mistress; I intend to please myself at last, to live as a human being, not as a mummy. I know his name, and it is a beautiful name! If it is true that what a woman wills the gods will, I shall call him by it yet, and speak to him face to face.”

Precisely as she came to this conclusion, she arrived at the end of the wooden bridge which connects the Virgin’s Rock with the land, and here she encountered one of the great wandering waves, which swept up suddenly yards into the air, and deluged her and a dozen others, amid the shrieks of delight from the spectators. Not ill-natured jeering, but pure, light-hearted joy; half of them had suffered likewise. A tall, dark lady, who stood near Hester, openly sympathized, and said—

“Oh, dear me, you are wet,” and whilst Hester emptied the pool from the rim of her hat, she shook out her boa; “you have had enough of the waves for one day, have you not?” and she showed her faultless teeth.

“Yes,” said Hester, “I think I had better go home,” and she beckoned to one of the waiting victorias.

“I, too, will also depart,” said the stranger, and Hester, who had now broken the ice, said impulsively—

“Then, may I give you a lift to the town?”

“No, thank you very much. I live a long way off in a villa, and, besides, I believe my carriage is somewhere about.”

Hester became suddenly conscious of a paralyzing sense of her own insignificance, although the lady’s manner was perfectly civil; she was evidently a foreigner and a grande dame, who spoke English fluently, with a pretty accent. The stranger had a pair of piercing black eyes, which seemed to look one through and through; had she seen or heard her making inquiries from the postcard woman? A cloud of sudden misgiving descended upon Hester, and a sickening sense of shame. She felt as if she should crumble to pieces with horror and abasement. Murmuring a faint “good-bye,” she proceeded to crawl into her victoria, from which she presently emerged on the steps of her hotel in the condition of that truly humbling spectacle—a drowned rat.

Chapter VIII


It was a beautiful afternoon on the day succeeding the storm, and Mrs. Tudor, who had been disappointed with regard to a carriage, descended from her own sitting-room in order to see what was going on in the other regions of the hotel. She desired to have a little chat with some of her acquaintances; however, it happened that the great reception rooms were vacant. A game of pelote, the golf links, and a large “at home” had emptied the Bellevue; but crouched in a chair in front of the fire, reading a book, she descried a black figure crowned by a mop of red hair—the heiress! Here was indeed a piece of luck. The old lady immediately came forward, drew up a fauteuil, and commenced to knit vigorously.

She was manufacturing a shapeless white mass with enormous wooden needles; as she knitted she now and then glanced over her spectacles and stealthily contemplated her companion—a pale, thin face, delicate features, a delicate skin, and heaps of hair—why was she not better looking? Why had she such a lifeless, tame appearance? Who would believe that this girl was probably the richest woman in the Bellevue? Well, she would try an experiment, and see if ten thousand a year would obey her, and stoop at her command? If she did, so much the better. It might lead to an agreeable acquaintance. Presently a fat ball of white wool rolled out of the old lady’s lap, and, so to speak, ran away to some distance.

“Pick it up,” said Mrs. Tudor in a clear, authoritative tone.

“Were you speaking to me?” inquired Hester, slowly raising her head.

“Who else is there to speak to?” rejoined the experimenter. “I asked you,” here she indicated the ball of wool, “to pick it up.”

Without a word the girl rose obediently, laid down her book, and fetched the desired article. She did it with an air of one accustomed to such errands, who had enjoyed the advantage of a disciplined past, and yet not without a touch of dignity.

“Thank you; but I did not say please, did I?” said the old lady, as she received her property with a smile.

Hester made no reply as she resumed her seat.

“Did I?” she reiterated persistently.

“No!” stammered the girl, and her face became quite pink, as if she had been the culprit.

“I am an unmannerly old witch, am I not? Tell me, young lady, why are you not out enjoying yourself this lovely afternoon?”

Hester laid down her book with a stifled sigh as she replied—

“I really don’t know! I went for a long walk this morning.”

“All alone?”

“Yes; I always walk alone.”

“But are you not here with a friend?”

“With Mrs. Britten, yes—but she plays golf and hates walking; she prefers to drive or motor.”

“Driving and motoring are expensive amusements. I wonder she doesn’t treat you to an excursion now and again?”

“Treat me!” repeated the girl, and then was silent.

Mrs. Tudor was delighted; she resolved to pretend that the heiress was a pauper.

“Have you been to any of the sights?” she continued—“Fuente-rabia, San Sebastian, and so on?”

“No, but I have been to Bayonne in the steam tram, and seen the cathedral and fortifications, and”—with a smile—“the cheap-hat shop—that is all.”

“Dear me!” ejaculated her companion, “you must find it rather dull sitting at home whilst your companion is away all day.”

“I”—a pause—“well, perhaps it is. It never occurred to me before, but Mrs. Britten has numbers of friends here, and I know no one. She thinks motoring would be bad for me, and driving—I might take cold; you see, I am here for my health.”

“For that matter, we are all here for the same purpose! I feel confident that driving would suit you as well as it does me. I cannot imagine a girl coming to a place and not seeing anything beyond the streets and the sea. Do you know that this is a most interesting part of the world?”

“Yes, I have been reading about it,” and she held out “Fuente-rabia.”

“Oh, yes, two birds with one stone—information and French. You speak it, of course?”

“Yes; some people would call it murder. I learnt French at school, but that was ages ago, and I have never had the chance of speaking it until now. I have picked up a few sentences from the chambermaids, and I can make myself partly understood in the shops, and that’s about all.”

“Have you ever been to the Casino, young lady?”

“No!—oh, never!” she answered with emphasis.

“Or the theatre?”

Hester stared in the fire, and shook her head.

“May I ask why? Are you afraid of taking cold?”

“No, indeed; but I was brought up to think that theatres and gaming were wrong.”

“Where were you brought up, my good girl? Do tell me a little about yourself,” and Mrs. Tudor edged her chair a few inches nearer to her neighbour. “I must inform you that I always get on well with my juniors. I am fond of young people—they interest me.”

“But I am not young, Mrs ——”

“Tudor. I believe your name is Forde?”

“Yes, Hester Forde. I was twenty-five yesterday.”

“I call that quite young! My dear Miss Forde, you have, if you choose, life and possibilities before you—they are all behind me. I am seventy-two—forty-seven years your elder. Now that we have commenced by telling one another our ages—usually the last confidence that people make—pray favour me with a few more particulars.”

“It is very kind of you to take an interest in me, ma’am,” said Hester, who had coloured with surprise; “what would you care to know?”

“Whatever you care to tell me,” was the brisk reply.

Ably assisted by the crafty questions and hints of this clever old woman, Hester gradually emerged from the cloud of diffidence which enwrapped her, and soon Mrs. Tudor was in possession of a short, rough sketch of this quaint girl’s life.

Her quick intuitive brain filled in many gaps; a halting sentence, a blush, afforded her ample clues, and in a surprisingly short space of time the questioner’s mental eyes beheld the dull, isolated village; the Grange, with its two sour tyrants; the kindly but preoccupied parson.

Also the stern parent of Miss Forde, with his own unfettered youth and overbearing age; the secrecy, the aloofness, the money-love. He had evidently flung off the creed of Calvin—but the manner remained. Calvinism was bred in the bone, and no doubt he was gloomy, dogged, and mystical. The storing up of riches was his passion, and he had robbed this poor girl beside her of at least eight years of her youth, for he belonged to the middle ages, and undoubtedly held the doctrine that the child—especially the daughter—had no individual life, must obey blindly, and live in subjection, even when elderly and grey-haired! The modern gospel of the divine right of self-development had never reached his ears.

It was cruel to leave this ignorant, unworldly, dreamy creature to face the wild, pitiless world, with the mind of a child and the purse of a millionaire; and oh, what an easy prey for some prowling fortune-hunter!

Even now, was she not the prey of a designing little husband-hunter, Mrs. Britten? This observant and discriminating old lady was already contemplating a rescue; at least, she resolved to undertake an interesting social experiment.

“I see,” she said, settling herself comfortably in her chair; “you and your father were all in all to one another; when he was pretty well, you helped him round the garden, read the papers, played chess, had family prayers, and went to bed at ten—that was all in the day’s work.”

Hester nodded her head.

“And when he was ill, you attended him entirely; yes, you were a good daughter; and when your father died, he left you a large fortune?”

The girl started and looked nervously at her companion as she faltered—

“Oh, how did you guess that?”

“I certainly should never have guessed,” rejoined the old lady, with significance; “but I was told of it by a little bird of passage who flew through here en route to Spain.”

“It is true,” admitted Hester with a sigh; “I am rich, and I really don’t know what to do with all my money.”

“Then why not take a lesson from your friend, Mrs. Britten? She gets enjoyment out of her fortune.”

Hester looked down fixedly at the book in her lap. She could not explain that it was her purse which supplied that lady’s wants, and that all her expenses, even her very postage-stamps, were entered in the bill. No one out of the Bureau was aware that Mrs. Britten’s weekly “compte” was invariably settled by the demoiselle her friend.

“Tell me,” resumed the old lady, “where did you pick up Mrs. Britten, your gay little chaperon?”

“She is related to our lawyer’s wife; the doctor ordered me abroad, and Mr. Lewin kindly arranged everything.”

“Oh, I see.” After a moment’s reflection, she added: “Well, my dear, you have interested me greatly, and I hope we shall be good friends. Let us seal our acquaintance with a cup of tea.” As she spoke she rang the bell.

“Thank you, I shall be only too glad. But I cannot imagine why you should take an interest in me, Mrs. Tudor,” and she gazed at the old lady with grave interrogative eyes.

“Well, then, I will tell you: I am an idle woman; I enjoy other people’s lives—it keeps me going. I have no near kindred, I like your looks, and I shall be anxious to see what you will make of your life. You have great possibilities for good or evil!”

“You mean the money?” said the girl in a low voice.

“Only partly—I mean the coming years.”

“I think the best years of my life are already spent.”

“Do not say that, and do not think it; would you have your past days to live over again? Come, now, answer me honestly?”

Hester sighed and gazed into the fire for a long time before she replied—

“I hope I am not heartless to say it, but no, those long, dreary, colourless years are passed—let them be dead and buried.”

“Now will you trust yourself to me for a little worldly pleasure? Will you come to the theatre this evening and see ‘Les Cloches de Comeville’?”

Hester gave a gasp. “The theatre!” she repeated.

“Yes; you know, you must begin some time; so come along and take a plunge with me! I will not lead you into mischief or harm. You really should see a little of life before you decide that everything amusing and pleasant is—wicked!”

“That is quite true,” responded Hester thoughtfully.

“Possibly your Calvinistic grandfather had been a rake in his youth, sown a fine crop of wild oats, and subsequently repented, and compelled his unfortunate descendants to repent in sackcloth and ashes! Well, now it is all settled—we will go to the theatre; I will order tickets and the carriage. Yes, you can pour out the tea! I am old-fashioned; give me two lumps of sugar.”

“But, Mrs. Tudor, I cannot go to the theatre,” protested her new friend; “what am I to do for a dress? I have only my black evening gown.”

“Oh, you wear a hat and a boa!—have you a nice smart hat?”

“No, I am afraid I cannot say that my hat is—smart,” and she smiled back in her companion’s face.

“That shall be seen to to-morrow! I know a first-class milliner. You really must not wear these sort of things, my dear,” and she took hold of the girl’s sleeve with two contemptuous fingers.

At this moment a crowd of people entered the room; foremost among them was Mrs. Britten, wearing a cap, a fur motor-coat, and a most becoming blue veil tied under her chin. She was immediately followed by Sir Peter and Mrs. Cox. When she beheld the tea-party by the fireplace she came to an astonished halt. Here was the Forde girl actually hobnobbing with Mrs. Tudor! How had that come about? She was particularly averse from Hester forming any acquaintance, and the heiress’s reserve and desperate shyness had hitherto proved a most effectual safeguard! But now that the ice was broken, where would it end? One intimacy might lead to many; the girl would be getting to know numbers of people, and no longer contented with the shops and the sea.

“Oh,”—she came forward and then paused impressively—“so I see you have been enjoying yourself, Hester?”

“And you?” inquired Mrs. Tudor, and her bright eyes surveyed the group.

“Yes, we have had a splendid time—been over to San Sebastian on a motor, had déjeuner, and explored; then came back at a ripping pace, racing another motor—we killed two dogs!”

“Indeed! I am afraid we have nothing half so exciting to relate,” said Mrs. Tudor; “but I have persuaded your young friend to accompany me to the theatre this evening.”

“How sweet and dear of you! But, of course, my young friend is not to be persuaded,” said Mrs. Britten, with anxious predominance. “Miss Forde was never in a theatre in her life!”

“But better late than never, don’t you think, Mrs. Britten?” and she looked up at her with a curious smile on her sharp little face.

“You don’t mean to say that you intend to go?” cried Mrs. Britten, turning to Hester with an expression of angry incredulity.

“Oh yes,” she replied, “I have accepted Mrs. Tudor’s invitation. I rather want to see what a theatre is like.”

“Indeed!” making a desperate struggle to be calm and appear gracious. “Well, my dear, please yourself! If my people had been of the same way of thinking as your people, I must say I could never have brought myself to do it; but I hope you will enjoy yourself all the same!” and swinging her kodak jauntily in her hand, Mrs. Britten turned and went out of the room.

Chapter IX

“Hester Sees Life”

“Will you lend me your white boa, if you are not going to the Casino this evening?”

As Miss Forde entered her companion’s room with this bold request, Mrs. Britten, who was studying the effect of a new toque in a hand-glass, turned her head and stared at her steadily. What a dowdy object she looked in her country-made black gown—of excellent material but villainous cut; the only touch of colour to enliven the toilette was a rather shrivelled pink camellia.

“Pray, how did you scrape acquaintance with old mother Tudor?” was her sole answer to the girl’s question.

“I picked up her ball of wool and she spoke to me.”

“Dear me, how dramatic! and so she picked you up,” remarked Mrs. Britten, still gravely contemplating a back view of her head. “Do you think the lady has her ‘ideas,’ and has taken a fancy to you for yourself, or for les beaux yeux de votre cassette? Has any one been talking, do you suppose?” and she suddenly put down the hand-glass, and confronted her companion.

Hester remembered the little bird who had flown into Spain, and blushed vividly. It was terrible to have such a tell-tale and treacherous complexion.

“Ah ha! I see they have!” exclaimed Mrs. Britten, in a tone of suppressed passion. “Now, you have broken your promise to me!”

When crossing the Channel, and feeling miserably ill—in fact, almost at the point of death—Hester’s cheery and robust escort had implored her, as a favour, to keep her heiress-ship a secret, “otherwise it will be so unpleasant for you and me,” declared this bold Sapphira; “you will be beset by the most awful people, and,” with a helpless gesture, “who am I to defend you?”

Hester the seasick, the ignorant, the provincial, meekly gave a promise, and Mrs. Britten from that moment invested herself in the lion’s robe, the peacock feather, or whatever may indicate the role of a superior condition.

“I assure you that I have never opened my lips about the money!—indeed, Mrs. Tudor is actually paying for the tickets and carriage,” pleaded the supposed culprit.

“I am glad she does not know!” exclaimed Mrs. Britten, who was evidently relieved by this intelligence. “I should hate to be taken for the heiress’s bear-leader.” (The ruder she had hitherto been, the meeker and meeker her charge had become—it paid to be insolent.)

“I do not think there is much of the bear about me!” said Hester stiffly.

“The manners only—--”

“You mean, that I forbear?”

“How witty! What a blaze! I declare, you’ll extinguish the electric light!” Here there was a knock at the door.

“Madame Tudor is awaiting mademoiselle.”

“Coming,” she said. Then turning to her paid companion: “And the boa?”

(The boa would be just the thin end of the wedge, similar to this visit to the theatre. Hester’s social tendencies called for immediate suppression.)

“No, I’m really sorry I can’t adorn you,” said Mrs. Britten with a sneer; “it’s at the cleaner’s. Anyway, you cannot be too quietly dressed at the Casino. I wonder, I must confess, that you can go, considering all things. You should be more consistent! Tell me, what would your father have said?”

“My father was not subject to his parents—he ordered his life as he pleased. Now that he is dead I intend to do the same with mine,” and having made this bold and staggering avowal, Miss Forde went out and shut the door.

Mrs. Tudor, beautiful in lace and feathers and chiffon, awaited her in the carriage, and five minutes later they were at the Casino.

The Casino was brilliantly illuminated; crowds of well-dressed visitors were flocking in; the sound of a delicious string band was audible. After passing the vestibule the two ladies entered the salle de jeu, en route to the theatre. Here were tables dedicated to les petits chevaux, and about these a crowd had gathered. Hester noticed various familiar faces as the horses skimmed round and round and very gradually came to a standstill. Money was raked in by the croupiers, or paid out, and then began the usual cry: “Messieurs, faites vos jeux!” Many francs and solid five-franc pieces were put down on the numbers here and there, and Mrs. Tudor, pushing into an empty seat, said—

“We are ten minutes too early. I am going to play a little—see!” and she put a franc on numbers 2, 6, 8. “If one of those numbers turns up, I double my money. If I put on a single number, as I now do on 5, I get five times my stake.”

As she spoke she leant across and deliberately placed several francs and one five-franc piece.

”Le jeu est fait messieurs, rien ne va plus,” and again the little horses careered round and round.

“I declare I shall win on the five—the grey is first, and he is stopping!” cried Hester’s chaperon with juvenile eagerness.

Numéro cinq,” bawled the croupier, and directly afterwards five five-franc pieces were hastily showered towards Mrs. Tudor.

“How lucky!” and she laughed as she said: “I shall not risk my winnings—they will pay for our amusement. Now you must put on a franc. Come, don’t be so narrow-minded. If you win, drop it in the poor-box.”

“But I have nothing but a ten-franc piece!” protested her companion.

“Very well, put that on eight—it is my lucky number.”

Hester, feeling convinced that every eye at the table was steadily fixed on her, leant over and placed the bit of gold on eight; but her fingers were shaking, and it rolled away to three.

“Leave it, leave it!” urged Mrs. Tudor excitedly; “it may be the right number.”

Again the horses whirled round, and as Hester’s eyes followed them, her heart actually beat fast and gave a violent lurch when the croupier’s sonorous and guttural “Numéro trois!” announced her first success.

Ultimately her gains in the form of five-franc pieces were so considerable, that she was obliged to tie them up in her handkerchief, her purse being too small to contain her good fortune.

“I declare we have done splendidly!” cried her chaperon exultingly. “You have brought me luck. Now let us go and take our places for the play.”

The pretty little theatre was full as the two ladies passed to their seats in the balcony, and here again Hester recognized many familiar faces, known to her by sight in the hotel and on the Plage. Such pretty toilettes, such smart hats, and, above all, such jewels! She had a secret passion for precious stones—no doubt the legacy of some bygone ancestress—and knew most of the ornaments in the shop windows by heart; yet her cautious Yorkshire nature held her back; when she would have entered to buy, her heart failed her.

The play was, of course, musical, and exceedingly gay and animated. Hester could not make out half the plot, but her good-natured chaperon explained it to her. The actors acted and sang with a spirit and gaiety that were infectious, and Hester, shaking off prejudices along with dull care, began to smile and look about her. Presently, in a box near the entrance door, she descried Paul de Sarazin. The mere fact of his presence added a new sensation to the evening, and she was conscious of a strange tingling excitement; sitting far above him, Hester cast many stealthy glances in his direction. Paul gave the chief part of his attention to his companion and the audience. How good-looking he was, how noble his air! Secretly she studied his smile, his laugh, his various expressions, grave and gay—usually gay. Every one seemed to know him; undoubtedly he was a general favourite. Presently he rose and sauntered out, and as he passed them women smiled and the men nodded a greeting. It was the end of the act, and most of the audience also departed, and were subsequently absent about five-and-twenty minutes.

“Yes, it is a tiresome habit,” explained Mrs. Tudor; “but they all swarm out to gamble. Next time we, too, will go, and I will take you into the baccarat room, where you will see real play, and where people lose thousands and thousands and thousands.”

“What sort of people?” inquired Hester, opening her eyes to their widest extent.

“Oh, all sorts—French, Spanish, Russian, and English. I believe the old Spaniards and the young English are the most inveterate of any. I can show you a young fellow who has cleared £5000 between these rooms and Pau, and a Spanish Duchess who must have lost as much. She is incorrigible. The Duchesse de San Telmo comes here by way of benefiting her health, but in reality to play baccarat—such an awful example to her sons!”

“Do they accompany her?”

“Yes; the Due never leaves Spain. He is a proud man, three times a grandee, with the bluest of blood in his veins; but one of the sons accompanies his mother every season.”

“Does he play too?”

“With hearts only. He is a celebrated lady-killer, Paul de Sarazin.”

Hester could hardly control her voice to ask the next question—oh, such a vital question!

“Do you know him?”

“Oh, yes, since he was in jackets. Always a naughty boy, but irresistibly good-looking. He is supposed to be here on guard over his mother. Set a thief to catch a thief.”

“Is he—is he——?” The question stuck in Hester’s throat.

“Oh, he is wild, but not bad-hearted. He has been terribly spoiled by women ever since he could smile—I won’t even say speak—fond of dancing and fencing and practical jokes. It is such a pity that he has no career. I believe he was once at an Embassy, but his pranks were found to be insufferable. However, to be the heir of the Due de San Telmo is considered a sufficiently splendid career for any young man.”

“Do you visit his mother?” asked the girl, with her eyes fixed on the drop-scene.

“Very rarely—I don’t approve of her; but I go to the receptions of the Duchesse de Soriano; she is his aunt, the Due’s sister, a really great lady, and very stately and pious. She has a beautiful villa, the Villa Flora. Her sister-in-law has a much smaller establishment—the Villa Andalousia; her money disappears at the tables here and at Monte Carlo—I believe she is frightfully in debt, and has half ruined the Due. Paul will be compelled to marry a South American heiress, and,” with a sagacious shake of her wise old head, “I shall be sorry for her.”

“Oh, Mrs. Tudor, but why?”

“Ah! from the tone of your voice, my dear young lady, I gather that you have seen Paul! I grant you his good looks, his good manners, and his good nature, but you might as well try to cage a swallow, or the west wind, as Paul de Sarazin! Come, the curtain is going up again; that was a tiresome wait.” To her, but not to her fascinated listener, who would have gladly prolonged the conversation for hours.

After the next act Mrs. Tudor rose with alacrity, and said—

“Now come along, Miss Forde; follow me, and mind the step at the corner.”

Together they descended the stairs, passed through the room where the little horses were still whirling, and onward to another apartment. Here two large tables were closely invested by an immense crowd.

“Keep close to me,” urged Hester’s conductor, “and presently you will get a peep—oh, here is an opening; I will squeeze in, and you, who are so tall, can look over my head.”

Hester looked, and beheld a large oblong table covered with green cloth. There were no numbers; in the middle at one side, in a peculiar round chair, a gentleman was seated with a pack of cards in his hands. Opposite him was a croupier, before whom were piles of coloured counters—red and white and green. These he gathered or distributed with a wooden wand resembling an immense paper-knife. The banker (the man in the round chair) dealt two cards to each side of the table—after the stakes were made—then two to himself. When all three pairs were turned up, the nearest to nine won. It was evidently a simple game. On the present occasion the banker turned up a five and a four, and the croupier’s long paper-knife scooped in a quantity of coloured counters.

“The red ones are worth twenty francs,” explained Mrs. Tudor, “the larger ones one hundred francs, the green ones five hundred francs.”

“See,” said Mrs. Tudor, as the banker rose, and the “fin de la taille” was announced by the chef des jeux, “that is over; now the bank will be put up to auction, and go to the highest bidder.”

“There! Already it has gone to the Count Alcaros—he plays for big stakes,” and she indicated a slight, dark man, who had taken his seat, and pushed a roll of notes over to the croupier.

Le banque est adjugée à quatre cent louis,” he called out; “Quatre cents louis à la banque!”

“Now you will see some high stakes,” continued Mrs. Tudor. “Do observe this prim little Englishwoman putting on ten louis—she looks like a parson’s wife.”

Hester glanced round and noticed people adventuring large stakes, others merely one counter. Here were men of all ages, yes, and matrons, and mere girls. Some looked perfectly collected, others hollow-eyed and haggard. A handsome young Englishwoman, with a great feathered hat, staked two large green pieces. (Hester made a mental note that these two pieces represented £40.) She had also a heap of winnings before her. Close by, an elderly woman, with dyed red hair and the remains of splendid beauty, was languidly extracting counters from a gold bag. Hester noticed that her hands were exquisite—a blaze of rings. The lady wore an air of complete insouciance, and held a cigarette at the corner of her mouth.

“The Duchesse de San Telmo; she has just lost one hundred louis,” whispered Mrs. Tudor.

Hester drew in her breath, and stared with all her eyes. She noticed the Duchesse’s elaborate French hat, her ornaments, her jewelled cigarette case, and, above all, her face. There were hard lines by her mouth, and pouches under her eyes, which were dark, proud, and sleepy, and yet had the air of seeing everything around her. Hester watched her eagerly, and feverishly hoped that she would win—for she was Paul’s mother.

The interest she developed in the lady’s cards was absorbing, but, alas for her good wishes, the Duchesse lost, and lost, and lost; always with a most complete equanimity, always with a cigarette in the corner of her mouth. Hester was so deeply engrossed in her fortunes, that she scarcely glanced at any one else; but once, when she did raise her eyes, she was not a little surprised to behold Mrs. Britten at the opposite end of the table—Mrs. Britten wearing the white boa, and accompanied by her friend Sir Peter Potts. The lady was so occupied with him and her game, that she had apparently not noticed Hester; so much the better—it might only have led to awkward explanations. There was a good old proverb, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

It was with manifest reluctance that Miss Forde eventually left the card-room. She had found the baccarat even more attractive than the play! For here were real people doing real things. She had now obtained a glimpse of gay society at Biarritz, and she realized the painful fact that she was dowdy, ill-dressed, and altogether badly turned out—a very crow among the peacocks! Those French and Spanish ladies wore exquisite toilettes; so suitable, so well-fitting, so something she could not explain; and as for their superb ornaments, their strings of pearls, long chains of precious stones, their flashing diamond brooches and buckles, she had never seen anything like them, no, not even in the shop windows.

“Do you think they are real?” she whispered to her companion, as she indicated a short stout lady wearing a shimmering black gown and a magnificient pearl chain.

“Certainly they are; that is the Marquise de Saragossa—those pearls are no doubt heirlooms. The Spaniards have most costly jewels, counting back to the time of the Moors and the treasures of the Incas. No doubt some few have been sold since Spain has fallen on evil days, but the rest remain in the land. The very last thing a Spanish nobleman will do is to part with his heirlooms—it would be worse than selling the bones of his ancestors!”

“I suppose so,” sighed Hester; “and I have neither ancestors nor heirlooms.”

“My dear, in that case you must purchase jewelry, and become an ancestress yourself. Now, here is the carriage. I hope you have enjoyed your little peep into this wicked world?”

“Oh, so much, thank you,” she responded eagerly, “so very, very much. I have enjoyed everything—the play, and seeing the people—and——”

“The gambling?” suggested her companion.

“Yes, I suppose it is all very wrong, but I was immensely interested in that too.”

“I don’t mind you being interested; but I shall not allow you to play,” said the old lady with a tap of her fan. “I am engaged all to-morrow, but the next day will you come for a drive with me? I will take you to St. Jean de Luz, or out to Arconne.”

“Thank you, I shall be delighted.” Then as Mrs. Tudor got into the lift, she added: “Good night! and a thousand thanks.”

Hester Forde had assimilated so much food for reflection that for hours she was unable to sleep. The country mouse was discovering how entirely different she was from other girls and young women. Fervently she wished that she were like them; wished that some of the charming damsels she often passed in the corridors, or who sat near her in the reception-rooms, would speak to her. She realized that she was Early Victorian in her ideas, and old for her age, and determined to endeavour to dress herself with more care, to learn to do her hair differently, and to make the most of her appearance—such as it was. Yes, she would buy the necklace at once; and with this intention firmly implanted in her mind, she finally fell asleep.

Chapter X

“The Curiosity Shop”

Concha, the handsome, swarthy daughter of Juan Dominguez, dealer in antiguedades, sat erect in an ancient state-chair, superintending her parent as he examined and priced a number of delicate fans, formerly the shields and weapons of dark-eyed and bewitching donas. It was evident that the connoisseur was keenly interested in his task; the age, workmanship, and degree of each dainty article was carefully noted; and as he laid them separately on the counter, his expression indicated not merely the complacency of one who had made a capital bargain—it also bore testimony to affection and respect. His daughter, however, was sordidly curious as to the condition and probable market value of a long-hoarded collection which had been purchased by her father for a mere bagatelle.

Dominguez, an experienced judge, who loved his antiguedades for their own sake, and imported the dangerous element of sentiment into his business, was a little shrivelled man, in whose face, worn by ill-health, flamed the eyes of the romancist and enthusiast. Concha, on the contrary, a hard-headed practical young woman, secretly despised her father’s historical treasures, was profoundly ignorant of their lore, and would have poked the fire with Excalibur itself! Nevertheless, a capable and persistent saleswoman, who spoke French fluently, English intelligibly, and kept the books and the keys, as well as all the trade’s little secrets.

“Padre mio!” she exclaimed, suddenly extending a protesting finger, “two hundred francs for that is a foolish price—is it not on chicken’s skin? Ask six hundred. The Russian Princess will give more—she is crazy about old fans. See, there is the Señorita Inglesa—she is looking for the necklace!” and Concha laughed derisively as she glanced at Dominguez, and quoted: “The fool makes up his mind when the market is over!”

Yes, it was certainly the face of Hester Forde which was visible between the fans and chains exhibited in the window. Inspired by a desire to purchase what might become an heirloom, and resolved to possess the long-coveted necklace, Hester had arrived at her destination in a state of unusual excitement and exaltation. Before entering the shop, she paused to cast a glance at her choice, but, strange to say, the ornament was no longer displayed on its accustomed square of black cotton velvet. It had been removed—and why? With a half-defined fear she turned the handle of the door, and stood in the presence of Dominguez and his daughter.

“Good-day, Señorita,” said the former, doffing his skull-cap, while Concha rose and abdicated her chair.

“Where is the necklace?” asked Hester breathlessly, turning to point to its empty place.

“I am sorry, if the Señorita is sorry,” replied Dominguez with a bow, “but the necklace is sold. A customer bought it this morning.”

Bought what was in her mind already her own property! Miss Forde stood transfixed, staring at the Spaniard with an expression of grave incredulity. Then she slowly subsided into the old Cordovan chair, and struggled to conceal the magnitude of her disappointment.

“But,” she said at last, “it has been in the window for weeks—I always intended to have it—I came to buy it now.”

“Truly it has been in the window for a long time, Señorita, and behold in one day come two customers! It is ever so; as we say, ‘When my daughter is married, sons-in-law are plentiful!’”

“And is it really gone?”

“Oh yes,” put in Concha. “It was a beautiful piece of work—a rare bargain. The Señorita should not have waited—when one waits too long, things go by.”

“That is true,” assented the English girl. “I put off the purchase, and now I have lost the necklace.”

She actually felt as if fate had deprived her of a treasured possession. Gazing at the ornament day after day, she had become deeply attached to what, after all, was the property of Juan Dominguez. Her eyes wandered vaguely round the shop in quest of some article to replace her loss. They rested in turn on pieces of armour, on ancient tapestry, on painted doors tom from a despoiled monastery, figures of the Holy Family, inlaid cabinets, and embroidered priests’ robes, dim with the age of centuries.

“Where did you collect all these things?” she asked at last.

“Señorita, I go into Spain,” Dominguez answered confidentially, leaning over the counter as he imparted the information. “Yes, every three or six months—not to the big towns, but to out-of-the-way places. I search where others come not, in neighbourhoods where noble families are sorely in need of money. They are proud still; sometimes they have scarcely enough food, and yet their jewels are worth—Santos Dios! when I think of them my head swims!”

“I must confess I respect people for not parting with their treasures,” declared the disappointed customer.

“True,” agreed Dominguez; “I know one great house so miserable now that they live only on bread and soup; nevertheless, every evening at five o’clock their gates are thrown open, and they drive forth as always in a splendid carriage with horses and servants. God knows what it costs them! Sometimes the pinch is so terrible that these grandees are forced to sell—even a little. Behold that silver and ebony cabinet—it belonged to Charles Quint, who gave it to a queen; now it has come to Dominguez!”

“You have not much jewelry—only pictures and cabinets and large things.”

“No, jewels are dangerous to carry, for even the gendarmes are of flesh and blood. Ah, Señorita, you should have bought the necklace.”

“Of course I should,” she answered with a touch of impatience; “I shall always, always regret it, especially as you have no other;” and she looked at him interrogatively.

In answer to this question he shook his head, but Concha, who had been listening to this dialogue with folded arms and an air of sullen disapproval (el padre was so romantic, and wasted his days in talk), now approached, and said something in a low voice in her own tongue. Hester caught the words: “Madrid” and “Americano,” as Dominguez shuffled out from behind the counter, and followed his daughter into a dark little room beyond the shop. For nearly ten minutes Hester Forde remained alone, in sole charge of all the antiguedades, whilst from the inner apartment came voices raised in argument and expostulation.

“Well, I cannot sit here all the afternoon,” she said to herself, as she rose from a fourteenth-century chair; “at least I have had a lesson—I must learn to make up my mind,” and she was preparing to take her departure.

“Espère-U-Señorita!” cried Dominguez, re-entering with haste, “grant but one second.” Hester closed the door quickly, and turned about to face him. “Listen to me,” he continued excitedly; “if you are rich, I offer you a necklace fit for a queen.”

His customer’s interest was instantly awakened, and her eyes kindled at the news.

“Truly this wonderful prize arrived but yesterday,” he resumed; “if you will pay the price, it is yours; if not, it goes to Paris.”

“May I see it?” she asked eagerly.

“Certainly, Señorita—but elsewhere. You will then agree that it is not an article for the public gaze or the shop window.” His air as he spoke was that of a conspirator.

“Has it been stolen?” she asked gaily.

“No, no, I never deal with such wickedness,” he answered with irritation. “This ornament comes to me from one of the oldest firms in Madrid. It was sent on approval for an American, a likely purchaser who had seen it in Spain. The gentleman called this morning, but though he talked much and bargained long, he would not give the price.”

“And,” interrupted Hester, “he bought instead, the one I wished to have?”

“Well, it is an ill wind that blows no one good,” replied Dominguez with a faint smile; “I sold my necklace, and the firm in the Calle Alcala have yet to find a purchaser for theirs; but it is only a matter of a week—such an ornament has but to be seen. Ah!” and he threw up his eyes rapturously, “once seen, never forgotten. To-morrow I forward it to an agent in Paris, who will dispose of it to Russia or India. One thing is certain—the Spanish heirloom will never return to Spain!”

“Heirloom!” repeated Hester. “How do you know it is one?”

“Señorita,” with an expressive gesture of his wasted yellow hands, “I know nothing, only I have my ideas.” Then in answer to her look of eager interrogation: “I believe it is an historical jewel which has been in one House for centuries. Doubtless those who sold it were sorely pressed for money, for to part with such—the glory and history of a noble line—is surely worse than death. Naturally the family desire silence; if the purchaser would carry the necklace to the end of the world, he would earn their eternal gratitude.”

“But all this is foolish talk,” interposed his daughter in a business-like tone; “living among old things has made my father romantic; truly he sees a tale in each; is it not so, padre mio? And now doubtless the Señorita would like to view the necklace?”

Chapter XI

“The Necklace”

“Please to follow me, Señorita,” said Dominguez, and he preceded her into a low dark room, which was crammed with ancient chests, frameless pictures, and decrepit furniture. “It is here,” he continued, as he unlocked a rusty safe, and presently produced a flat case of shabby scarlet leather. This he brought forward to the light, but the window was narrow and dirty. “Tiens!” he muttered, as he touched an electric switch, and threw back the lid of the morocco case.

“Oh!” ejaculated Hester, startled out of her habitual self-possession and reserve.

She was gazing at a necklace composed of four rows of great pearls, of the same pattern as her lost treasure; but as the sun to a star was the difference between them. These pearls were large, round, and flawless—not the ordinary baroque specimens. The clasps were set in brilliants, the pendant was magnificent. A cross of emeralds in the centre, surmounted by a diamond crown, rested on a crescent of the same dazzling stones. The execution of this, the chief glory of the ornament, was marvellous; cross, crown, and crescent, being blended together with matchless workmanship. Hester, who had never seen or dreamt of anything so splendid, turned to the old Spaniard and said—

“Surely this is no common necklace—did it belong to royalty?”

“No—at least, not for centuries.” He hesitated for a moment, and then added: “I believe it is a noted heirloom; only desperate difficulties could have brought it into the market; but since it is to be sold, I offer the Señorita the chance of her life.” The Señorita continued to stare at the necklace, fascinated and silent. “Oh yes, it is superb,” he resumed. “A queen of Spain—in fact, Isabella the Catholic—gave it”—he paused—“well,” throwing back his head, “at least it is five hundred years old, and the price is only four thousand pounds.”

“Only four thousand pounds?” repeated the customer, mechanically.

“Yes, and worth twelve thousand; but the money was urgently wanted, for they sold it at a small price. Oh,” and he groaned aloud, “it is a calamity that such a jewel should be lost to Spain! Well Señorita, what think you? Will you see it on my daughter?”

Hester nodded her head in eager assent, and his wrinkled fingers dexterously fastened the clasp. The necklace looked infinitely better out of the case, even on a dark stuff gown. The stones blazed, the emeralds seemed pools of liquid fire, and the shimmering sheen on the pearls was perfect.

“The pearls alone are worth the money,” declared the Spaniard, scrutinizing the ornament with the narrowed eyes of a connoisseur; “and now what does the Señorita say? I press her not to purchase—the sale of such a jewel is easy to me.”

Hester reflected, with her gaze steadily fixed on the necklace. Never in her life had she been confronted with such a terrible temptation. All sorts of strange thwarted instincts clamoured within her. Its price was the price of a property, but she was not spending more than a tenth of her income. What was she doing with her money? Was it to be hoarded and never enjoyed, like her petrified early youth? The necklace would be a magnificent investment, or heirloom, but for whom? Well, at least she could leave it to some museum or charity.

“You will never dare to wear it,” stormed the puritan within her, the heritage of her father.

“Why not?” rejoined her new-born-over self. “I shall wear it often—I will not lose this necklace as I did the other,” and turning to the Spaniard she said in a sharp, decided tone—

“Yes, I will take it, and give you a cheque on Coutts for the money.”

All the time she felt as if a stranger was speaking. Could it be possible that she, Hester Forde, who used to think twelve shillings a large sum to expend on a hat, was actually parting with thousands of pounds in a breath? Dominguez glanced significantly at his daughter. So she was right when she had declared that this Englishwoman was rich! Apparently, the more you ask these foreign folk the more they will pay.

“The Señorita is an honourable lady,” said Dominguez with a low bow, “and I beg her to grant me one small favour—one promise.”

“Yes, what is it?” she asked, in a tone of faint surprise.

“That you will never wear the necklace in Biarritz,” he replied, as he surveyed his customer with piercing, deep-set eyes.

After a moment’s reflection she said: “This is a strange request, particularly as you say the sale is honest and above-board.”

“Honest, certainly—but not to be talked of. The Señorita’s kind heart would never give pain to a great family. There is no house without its ‘Hush, hush!’”

“Then this particular house is in Biarritz?”

“No, but the Señorita will pardon me if I say no more.”

“Very well, then—I promise you I will not wear the necklace here.” After all, the promise would cost her but little. “And now please tell me how I shall give you the cheque?”

Once more Dominguez glanced furtively at his daughter, and she answered promptly—

“If the Sefiorita pleases, we will take the price in French money—meaning no disrespect to the illustrious lady. A cheque on England for a large sum—well,” with a shrug, “would be awkward for us. You see, we are foreign, and we forward the money, less commission, to Madrid.”

“But how shall I manage?” inquired the purchaser with a brilliant flush. “I have no experience in these transactions.”

“The hotel people will make it simple for the Señorita,” responded Concha; “and when it pleases her, I will take the necklace to her room any time the gracious lady may command.”

Hester gazed at the girl in puzzled silence.

“A telegram to the Illustrissima’s bankers will bring the money here in a few hours.”

“Then in that case I shall expect you on Thursday evening at half-past six o’clock. The number of my room is 52.”

Bueno! Then on Thursday I will wait on the Señorita. She will never regret her purchase. When she wears the pearl necklace, her ladyship will be the wonder of every eye.”

“Truly, yes, the wonder of every eye,” echoed Dominguez, as he bowed his customer to the door.

“She would have given more,” declared Concha, as her gaze regretfully followed the retreating figure.

“No, no,” said Dominguez; “we have done well: ‘Those brooms can be sold cheapest that are stolen ready-made.’ Believe me, there will yet be back trouble for some one in regard to this superb jewel. Unless I am a fool, this is the famous ‘Luck of the Sarazin’s’, the most notable heirloom in Spain!”

Dios de mi alma!” ejaculated Concha, suddenly subsiding into the old armchair.

“But not a word—not a whisper, my daughter,” said Dominguez, as he tenderly replaced the necklace in its case, and carried it back to the dusty safe.

*  *  *

Meanwhile the future “wonder of every eye” made her way up to her favourite seat on the Falaise, where she remained for more than an hour gazing on the Spanish coast, and alternately thinking of her purchase and of Paul de Sarazin, but—let us be honest, and tell the truth—chiefly of Paul de Sarazin.

*  *  *

As Hester entered the Bellevue, she glanced into the Bureau in passing, and noticed that it held but one occupant—her friend Mademoiselle Gracieuse, a handsome Basque, who kept the books, and with whom she was on terms of acquaintance. Mademoiselle would help her with regard to the money, and with this idea in her mind she entered the office, looked cautiously around her, and said—“I want you to do something for me, please—it is about a cheque.”

“Why, certainly, with pleasure, Mademoiselle Forde.”

“I have to pay a large sum here in Biarritz.”

“Oh, yes, I understand perfectly. You wish me to cash you a cheque—why, of course.”

“But, Mademoiselle Gracieuse,” said Hester, “it is for a large sum.”

“That will be all right,” responded the other, remembering how this girl paid considerable weekly bills, and was evidently prosperous. “How much is it?” she asked, opening her desk.

“One hundred thousand francs.”

Ciel!” ejaculated Mademoiselle Gracieuse, letting fall the lid with a crash. “Why, it is a fortune!”

“It is,” assented the English girl; “and I must have the money on Thursday without fail.”

The bookkeeper rose slowly from her chair, and surveyed her companion in grave astonishment. What did she want the money for? And within so short a time? Still waters run deep! Had this demure-looking, timid demoiselle been gambling?

“Is it,” she stammered—“has Mademoiselle been so unlucky at the Casino?”

“No, I do not play.”

“Are Mademoiselle’s friends aware of this spending?” lowering her voice till it was almost a whisper.

Hester merely shook her head.

“Does she understand what she is doing?”

“Yes!” turning on the speaker with sudden vehemence. “For once, Mademoiselle is going to please herself!”

“Ah-h-h!” drawing a long breath, “we all like to do that! Truly I am sorry I cannot cash such a sum—I was thinking of five hundred or a thousand francs.”

“But at least you can advise me?” pleaded Hester. “I have only to draw it from my bankers in London—the money is there. I believe I should telegraph.”

“Yes,” assented the other, still a prey to curiosity.

Then a flash of inspiration moved Hester to add: “If you can keep my secret, I will tell it to you.”

“Keep a secret! Why, of course I will,” and her fine eyes sparkled.

“I have just bought a splendid necklace from Dominguez. I long wanted one that was in his window, but it is sold, and I took this instead—which is of ten times its value—but ten times more beautiful. I can afford it really, though it seems horribly selfish to spend such a sum on myself. When it is paid for, you shall see my necklace. I promise you that it is worth looking at. There is some mystery about it—I believe it was once a crown jewel.”

“Dominguez is an honest man, and he collects wonderful things,” admitted Mademoiselle; “there is a ready sale here to rich Russians and Americans, but mon Dieu! for one hundred thousand francs you must have bought something extraordinary!”

“You shall judge for yourself, Mademoiselle Gracieuse,” replied Hester, “and you will help me to have the money transferred from England, won’t you?”

Before Miss Forde ascended to her room, her friend in the Bureau had explained and smoothed away all difficulties, and promised to overcome every financial obstacle.

*  *  *

At half-past six on Thursday, as Hester was dressing for dinner, a quick knock came at the door, and the Spanish girl, wearing a mantilla over her head, immediately walked in. She carried in her hand the case and its precious contents. The price was in readiness, a roll of stiff clean notes on the Bank of France.

“Here is the money,” said the purchaser; “please count it.”

“And here is the necklace,” said Concha, handing over the ornament as she spoke; “you should be a happy lady. Will you wear it?”

“Yes.” Carried away by a sudden impulse, Hester tore off her dressing-jacket, and revealed her beautiful white neck—the complement to her ruddy hair.

“Ah, Dios!” ejaculated the other, with genuine admiration; “permit me;” and she opened the case, carefully lifted out the necklace, and clasped it around the white satin throat.

The effect was supreme! Surely they had been destined for one another—that throat and that jewel!

“Ah, Señorita, it is beautiful, and so are you!” cried the dusky Southerner with uplifted hands.

Undoubtedly it made an immense difference! The necklace seemed to light up her dull, inanimate appearance. Positively for once Hester could not remove her eyes from her own reflection. When Concha Dominguez had counted and pocketed the notes, she raised a warning finger and said—

“No talk—no little, little whisper—no show ever in Biarritz—or trouble may come.”

“I must show it to one friend,” rejoined Hester; “but I will never wear it in public.”

“But why show it to any one?”

“Because I have bought this necklace, and it is mine. I have given one promise, and I think I have done my part.”

There was a look of sternness about the young lady’s lips that astonished the Spaniard. Oh, then, she was not so easy and quiet as she had supposed! After all, it was a little hard that the Señorita could not wear what was certainly her own property; so, with many smiles and graceful bowings, Dominguez’s daughter glided to the door, and went her way. As Hester sat gravely admiring herself in the mirror, she suddenly heard a well-known step, and had barely time to throw on her dressing-jacket, and fasten it at the throat, when the door of her room opened, and, without any preliminary knock, Mrs. Britten entered.

“Oh, such a day as I have had!” she exclaimed, sinking into a chair; “all round the men’s links with Sir Peter—he got stuck in that horrid hole 15, and it made him perfectly frantic—as cross as a bear. It was not all plain sailing by any means, and really at times his temper is absolutely childish; one might have supposed that I had cast some malignant spell over the hole! Well, and what have you been doing?”

Hester hesitated, and fumbled with a hair-brush; she could not say “buying a jewel fit for royalty, signing away a cheque for thousands,” so she prevaricated, and replied—

“Oh, just the usual thing.”

“Looking at the sea?”

“Yes, I was up on the Falaise for a long time.”

“This place seems to have done you no end of good; you have actually got a colour the last few days. Still, I have no doubt you find it dull enough. What do you say to coming on to Pau for a bit?”

“Pau!” she repeated. “Oh, no, thanks; I am contented where I am.”

“But Pau is much more interesting,” urged Mrs. Britten; “so historical—you can go to see Lourdes, and the old palace of Henry II.”

A pause. Hester made no reply. She infinitely preferred to see Paul de Sarazin. (What secrets she was keeping! How suddenly she had developed mysteries! Little did her companion guess that a young man was in the girl’s heart, and a splendid necklace was round her throat.)

Mrs. Britten was resolved that Hester should accompany her to Pau—Sir Peter was off for a week, and she dared not lose sight of him.

“My dear, I do wish you would get out of your groovy ways!” she exclaimed peevishly.

“I think I have got out of them,” was the amazing rejoinder.

“I will believe it when I see it! Now do, like a good girl, come with me to Pau,” she urged in a wheedling voice, as if coaxing a naughty child. “We shall have great fun there.”

“But why Pau all of a sudden?” asked Hester sharply.

“Why not all of a sudden? These hastily made-up plans are always the pleasantest.”

“But I have heard people say that Pau is so relaxing,” objected Hester.

“Relaxing! What nonsense! At any rate, we shall only be away for a week, so do come.”

Mrs. Britten was thinking of Sir Peter; Hester, on the other hand, had Paul de Sarazin in her mind as she replied—

“No, thank you, I prefer to remain in Biarritz; it suits me.”

“And it never occurs to you that it may not suit me,” cried the other lady, suddenly losing her temper. “How selfish you are!”

“Possibly I am selfish,” rejoined the girl composedly; “but it is the first time I have ever been told so. If you want so very much to see Pau, why not go alone?”

“Perhaps you will tell me what is to become of you? Pray, where is your chaperon?” demanded Mrs. Britten angrily. It was evident that this girl had recently contracted an offensive habit of self-assertion.

“Oh, I can manage all right; and I really think at my age I may stay for a few days alone at an hotel, without outraging Mrs. Grundy—if Mrs. Grundy lives at Biarritz.”

“Mrs. Grundy does live at Biarritz, I can assure you—and Mrs. Grundy’s grandmother, and Mrs. Grundy’s daughters and sisters are all here too—as I know to my cost!” cried the other viciously. “You cannot take tea with a man alone at Mirabont’s without setting the whole place talking! And as for a walk round the Côte des Basques”—-here she paused as if the recollection was too painful for utterance; presently she resumed, “But if I do go, what about my room here?”

“You can keep it on if you wish.”

Mrs. Britten looked fixedly at the floor, and seemed to meditate before she replied—

“Very well, then, if you are sure that you don’t want to see Pau, I will ask Mrs. Cox to accompany me.”

“Is any one else to be of the party?” inquired Hester.

“No—certainly not. Do you take me for a Cook’s tourist?”

“Then you are not going with Admiral Potts, who told Mrs. Tudor that he wished to spend a week there, and was starting to-morrow?”

“Oh dear, no,” becoming rather red; “what could have put such a ridiculous idea into your head? I have been longing to go over to Pau ever since I came out. My great friends, the Beaufort-Dobsons, are staying there at present. Well, then, it is all settled,” rising as she spoke; “I shall be away for the inside of a week—perhaps a day or two longer. Take care of yourself; mind you don’t get into mischief. Why, there goes the first gong, and I must fly!”

When Mrs. Britten had flown, with much rustling of her fine feathers, Hester rose and deliberately locked the door. Once more she removed her dressing-jacket, and contemplated herself in a looking-glass. Her neck certainly was white! She had never worn a low dress in her life; now she thought she would like to possess one. Presently she unfastened her great plaits, and began to pile her hair on her head, after the prevailing fashion of the hour. It effected an extraordinary change; her beautiful hair and neck—not to mention the necklace—completely transformed Miss Forde.

“Oh, if Jane and Eliza were to see me!” she murmured, and she smiled at her own reflection, “perhaps something could be done with me after all. Who knows but I may be an ugly duckling! Duckling, indeed!” she repeated, still looking at herself; “you are nothing more or less than a big white goose.” Having made this declaration, she rose and locked up her treasure, and actually entered the dreaded salle-à-manger alone.

“I began to think you were not going to have any dinner,” said Mrs. Britten in a querulous key, as she slipped into her place beside her; “I waited for you outside the door for five minutes; I do detest waiting at a door before meals, it makes one look such a fool.”

“I am sure you could never look like a fool,” was the girl’s imperturbable reply; “I am sorry you had to wait for me.”

“But what kept you? Something very interesting, eh?”

“Well, yes, it was rather interesting,” admitted the girl.

“What was it? a letter?”

“No, only a transformation. And she smiled, as if to herself.

“A transformation!” repeated Mrs. Britten, raising her eyebrows. “No one could accuse you of false hair. I suppose you mean some stupid old book?”

Hester merely shook her head, and her eyes sparkled.

“Oh, well, if you will speak in riddles I give it up—I never guessed one in my life!” And, with a little scornful shrug, Mrs. Britten turned away.

Chapter XII


As Mrs. Tudor, having secured her own special landau, drove out with her young protégée along the sea road to St. Jean de Luz, she assured herself that she would try to throw a little sunshine into this poor starved life beside her; she would endeavour to give the unlucky creature some pleasure, and rescue her out of the clutches of a detestable little parasite, who had seized on all the good things that were obtainable, and left her companion the mere shells and husks. Mrs. Tudor had discovered that Mrs. Britten was so sure of Hester that she never took any pains to please, much less flatter, her; and when the girl was laid up with neuralgia, scarcely went near her.

“And so your chaperon is going to Pau, I hear?” she began abruptly.

“Yes, only for a few days.”

“Will you accept me meanwhile as her substitute?”

“Indeed I will, Mrs. Tudor, with pleasure.”

“I believe I can help you to enjoy life, my dear; shall I try?”

“With all my heart!”—and the girl looked at her with the softened eyes of confidence and gratitude.

“Then, in the first place, you must abandon the rôle of poor relation and old maid.”

Hester laughed a little hysterically, as she replied, “I am afraid it is second nature.”

“And you must cease to live aloof, reserved and dumb,” continued Mrs. Tudor.

“But no one ever speaks to me,” protested the girl.

“Do you ever speak to them?”

“No, I am afraid to. They generally snub me.”

With a burning face Hester suddenly recalled how she had once made timid overtures to a little sharp-nosed girl who sat near her in the drawing-room, and whom she heard addressed as “Miss Bothwell,” and how savagely she had been repulsed.

Miss Bothwell, whose family were suburban, had, with her sister, recently succeeded to an unexpected legacy, and was spending the winter on the Continent for the first time. She was astonished when Mrs. Britten’s companion, a cowering red-haired creature, actually presumed to address her.

“I heard your name—Bothwell,” stammered Hester. “It is uncommon”—she quailed under the insolent stare of two small black eyes; but boldly added, “my mother was a Bothwell, and perhaps we—may be—distant connections?” Her voice died away under the arrogance and hard scrutiny of her listener’s gaze.

“I don’t think it is the least likely,” said Miss Bothwell, looking her over with great scorn.

“But she came from Northumberland,” urged Hester despairingly.

“Oh, did she?”—a sniff. “Never heard of Bothwells from that part of the world”—two sniffs.

Wretched Hester, who had understood from Jane that her mother’s family were the Bothwells whose pedigree extended from the Picts and long before the Norman Conquest!

“Where do your family come from?” she ventured to inquire.

“It does not concern you,” replied little Miss Bothwell, drawing up her thin neck, and confronting Hester with a pair of malignant eyes. “Who are you? You have never been introduced to me—I have no wish for your acquaintance.” (“A companion trying to tack herself on to us!” she said, when subsequently boasting of Hester’s defeat and collapse. “The idea!”)

“Snub you! what nonsense!” exclaimed Mrs. Tudor. “At any rate, I shall introduce you to numbers of people, and I hope you will talk, and not merely say, ‘How do you like Biarritz? How long have you been here? At what hotel are you staying?’—the usual conversation. And above all, you must dress. At present, I can only call you clothed. You see, my dear, I am a terribly plain-spoken old woman.”

“But what you say is true,” said Hester; “I know I am a frightful scarecrow, but unfortunately I have no taste, or what is called ‘the dress sense.’”

Mrs. Tudor glanced at the waterproof coat, the ugly top-heavy hat, the hideous black and grey necktie, and sighed, as she replied—

“But Mrs. Britten knows all about it—she ought to have taken you to a dressmaker the very hour you arrived. Now, if you will place yourself in my hands, I will accompany you to Madame Guise, and order you some frocks at once.”

“Thank you—you are too kind to take all this trouble for me,” said the heiress gratefully.

“Not at all, my dear; I am just an idle old woman—indeed, many people think me most meddling and officious. Frankly, it will amuse me to see what dress can do for you. You will soon find a great difference; to feel well turned-out acts like a tonic, and gives surprising confidence. A badly dressed woman, especially in a short skirt, will slink into a room to hold an important interview, with a sense of helpless inferiority and uneasiness; whilst another in a fine toilette will sail in armed with courage, self-appreciation, and decision—and probably carry all before her. But I grant you that these soignés costumes run away with a great deal of time and money. Besides frocks, you will require hats, parasols, wraps, frills, and all sorts of things. What was good enough for Shalesmoor will never do for Biarritz.”

“Yes, I know that,” humbly assented her companion.

For some moments there was a dead silence, broken only by the clip-clop of the horses’ hoofs as they trotted along the road past Hester’s favourite resort, the Falaise—and out into the open country, with the sea on the right hand and the Pyrenees in the distance.

Presently Mrs. Tudor continued her lecture: “And besides being well-dressed, you must begin to realize your position, and not live in a hugger-mugger fashion, stealing about the hotel and the Plage as if you were ashamed to be seen.”

“To tell you the truth, I am afraid to be noticed; I am so plain, so gauche and insignificant; I am indeed. I have no remarkable accomplishments; I cannot even talk amusingly like other people.”

“It is not so easy to ‘talk amusingly’ as you suppose,” rejoined Mrs. Tudor; “but, at any rate, you can always listen; it is a great accomplishment to listen sympathetically—especially to men. As a rule, a man likes to talk about himself; it is to him an unfailing source of interest; but as soon as you begin to talk of yourself—unless he is in love with you—he immediately becomes bored.”

“Then, from what you tell me, conversation with men is not very difficult.”

“Well, it depends a good deal upon the man. Can you dance?”

“Yes, I had lessons at school—that is, ten years ago; I loved waltzing, but I have never been to a dance in all my life.”

“Gracious powers!” ejaculated Mrs. Tudor; “then I shall take you to your first party, and I’ll introduce you to the Loftus girls at once. They often dance of an evening in the little Salon, with half a dozen friends—they are really charming.”

“Oh, Mrs. Tudor, I am much too staid for those pretty young things! I am nothing but a dull nonentity. I believe you will be heartily sorry if you bring me into prominence; I shall only do something shocking and uncouth, and cover you with disgrace!”

“No, no, you won’t; I am not afraid. Your affairs will take me out of myself, and keep me from dwelling on age and aches; they will give me a fine stimulus; your career will interest me enormously—yes, and do me credit too. Will you promise to place yourself unreservedly in my hands, and not, so to speak, interfere or kick?”

Hester laughed—quite a young, merry laugh.

“Well, in the first place—” resumed Mrs. Tudor, leaning back a little further in the carriage, and clearing her throat.

“Yes, in the first place,” repeated the girl, “what are your commands?”

“You must abolish Mrs. Britten; she is doing you no good; get rid of her immediately.”

“Oh, I’m afraid that will be impossible,” rejoined Hester, with an air of conviction.

“Not at all. She will, unless I am greatly mistaken, soon find another companion.”

“Do you mean that she will marry some one?”

“Clever girl! Well, another important step will be, to engage a coiffeur to dress your hair every day, and make it look like what it really is—beautiful.”

“Beautiful—my hair beautiful! Now, Mrs. Tudor, you are making fun of me. Why, my hair is red.”

“It is; and I promise that in one week you will scarcely know yourself—that is, if you will give me carte blanche.”

“I am sure you are only too kind to trouble yourself about me.”

“Which means ‘yes.’ Very well, there is no time like the present,” and she called out to the driver, who pulled up his horses while he received her directions in fluent French, and, in accordance with these, turned his steeds homewards. “I am always a woman of action,” she explained, “and we will merely drive round by the Bois de Boulogne, and get back in time to interview Madame Guise and buy you a respectable hat—that thing on your head may be thrown away; not a lady’s-maid in the hotel would be seen in it!”

Madame Guise was delighted to receive such a good old customer as Mrs. Tudor. She was small, spare, and voluble, and certainly expended none of her art on herself. Madame wore a scanty black gown, a little woollen shawl, and her hair was scraped back in a nob no bigger than a golf-ball. As far as appearances were concerned, the celebrated modiste might have been a femme de ménage; she was nevertheless a great artist. Several beautiful confections were disposed on chairs and sofas in the salon, and as she talked to Mrs. Tudor, Madame drew vivid word-pictures of gowns of supreme elegance. Whilst she spoke, her deft little hands were busy with chiffon and lace, illustrating her designs in an admirable manner. Mademoiselle’s measure was taken with care, and for Mademoiselle was ordered a black crêpe de Chine evening gown with jet and velvet on the bodice, a lace ball-gown, a white mousseline de soie garnished with silver, a white serge for the golf-grounds, and an everyday morning costume.

“Now, you mustn’t be frightened at the bill,” said Mrs. Tudor, as they groped down the narrow stairs and reentered the carriage. “Remember, you are buying a new personality: you will have to pay for another and much smarter Miss Forde.”

“Oh, I shall not be the least frightened at the bill,” returned Hester recklessly. (Had she not recently paid away four thousand pounds, and that for an article she might never wear in Biarritz?)

“Your gowns will be perfect. Madame’s cut is marvellous. The evening dress for dinner she has promised in two days,” said Mrs. Tudor; “and now we are going to the hairdresser’s.”

Here, again, the old lady took the matter entirely into her own hands. Hester soon found herself enveloped in a white wrapper, having her hair pulled down, and put up, and pulled down again, according to Mrs. Tudor’s directions, and arranged as it seemed to suit her face.

At the end of half an hour she sat staring at a Miss Forde with her abundant locks arranged in numerous soft rolls, and piled in huge coils on the top of her head.

“Such hair!” cried the old lady; “enough for three. I really cannot imagine where you have hidden it,” and she contemplated her protégée with an air of profound satisfaction, the coiffeur murmuring his felicitations. He was unaffectedly proud of his handiwork.

“I certainly seem to have an immense quantity,” said Hester, surveying herself with an air of grave contemplation. “I am sure every one who now sees me will say that this,” and she touched the coils and rolls, “is all false!”

“Let them! If they do, it will be merely envy,” declared her new chaperon. “Put on your hat and come along.”

To place the despised hat on the summit of this wonderful erection was a somewhat difficult business, and the general effect proved ridiculous. A fashionable lady with a pantomine on her head—oh, no!

“We must drive straight to the hat shop,” said Mrs. Tudor; “for when I look at you now, I really cannot keep my countenance.”

Luckily, the milliner’s was close at hand, and in a short time Hester’s wonderful hair was appropriately crowned by a large black hat, gracefully decorated with sweeping black plumes. It proved marvellously becoming, and the price was only one hundred francs. Emboldened by her success, Mrs. Tudor ordered another of the same shape, a toque, parasols, and, placing a lovely white feather boa over the girl’s shoulders, inquired—

“Now what do you think of Miss Forde?”

Hester’s face broke into smiles. She could scarcely believe that this fashionable and really quite presentable lady in the mirror was herself. What a power is dress!

“I think this pretty blouse will fit you,” continued her mentor, taking up a filmy lace and silk arrangement; “just measure the neck and the waist. You know, you dine at my table in future, and you can wear this to-night very well.”

Hester nodded gaily. She thoroughly enjoyed making such experiments and ordering these fine feathers.

“Madame will send back your old hat,” continued Mrs. Tudor, “and,” with a peremptory movement of her hand, “you must keep on the new one—the boa too. Other things can follow to-morrow—and the bill. I think myself we have done a capital afternoon’s work, and as I am a little tired, shall we go home?”

People who were loitering about the hotel entrance and in the hall, at first entirely failed to recognize the elegant young lady who drove up in the carriage seated beside Mrs. Tudor—a girl with splendid hair and a picturesque black hat. Could it possibly be that Miss Forde? What had she been doing to herself? What had effected such a change? She was not merely good-looking, but distinguished! Mrs. Tudor had evidently been enacting the part of a fairy godmother: she had touched her companion with the wand of fashion, and had effected a marvellous and complete transformation.

Chapter XIII

Miss Forde, the Heiress

Miss Forde was no longer to be found beside the deaf gentleman; she had disappeared at the same time as her chaperon, and, to speak candidly, had left no lamentable void. But another Miss Forde had risen upon the horizon—a girl who sat at Mrs. Tudor’s little table, and was conspicious for her elegant appearance and her truly magnificent hair. Soon it began to be whispered that this young lady was rich!—an orphan with thousands and thousands a year—in short, a great heiress; and people were now prepared to credit her with grace, brains, beauty, and every good quality as well.

Hester scarcely recognized herself under the present circumstances. She had engaged a smart maid by order of Mrs. Tudor, who declared that for a woman of her importance to dress herself, mend her gloves, and go upon her own messages was almost indecent. So Hester’s privacy was somewhat circumscribed by the adroit and clever Marietta, who turned out her young lady with admirable finish three times a day. She had also, in looking over her mistress’s boxes, made a dazzling discovery—she had found the Spanish necklace! This splendid possession had raised Mademoiselle to the level of a countess in her maid’s estimation, and she had immediately suggested that her young lady should wear it one night at the Casino—it would create a sensation! There was nothing like it in the whole of Biarritz, for Marietta was a Basque born, and she knew the jewels of most of the great ladies. This was magnifique, vavissant superbe; but Mademoiselle had said no, no, no! and after gazing at it affectionately for about five minutes, had locked it away in a drawer.

Miss Forde had made a number of agreeable acquaintances since she had effected a new début under the wing of the well-known Mrs. Tudor. The Loftus girls were her constant associates up at the golf-links, where she played croquet and sipped tea—at games after dinner, and now and then at an impromptu dance, when half a dozen men and a dozen girls waltzed to the strains of a wandering band which visited each hotel in turns. Hester found, with private practice, that she could dance—she was straight, graceful, and light on her feet—and she and Ella Loftus often waltzed together for half an hour. And she had other partners as well as Ella—young men in the hotel who, without any ulterior ideas, rather liked the heiress; she was so unaffected, and put on no side—or frills.

Mrs. Tudor frequently accompanied her charge for a drive into the country or to receptions at villas, joined her at tea on the golf-links, introduced her to various smart people and not a few eligibles; but alas, alas! not to Paul de Sarazin! Once, at a ball in a neighbouring hotel, Hester not only saw him, but actually had the overwhelming joy of dancing about fifty steps with her hero. The ball was a brilliant affair: half of Biarritz was present—that is to say, the dancing half—and the whole thing was carried out with great liberality and taste. The ballroom and the floor were perfect, the band and the cotillion favours corresponded. Hester, feeling certain that he would be present, had taken extraordinary pains, and spent quite an hour over her toilette, which was black chiffon and velvet—the velvet in dazzling contrast to her snowy shoulders. In her hair glimmered a shining black aigrette; in her hand she held a Spanish fan (an exquisite old specimen painted on chicken skin). Several lovely bouquets had been left for No. 52; but No. 52 dared not venture to make any invidious distinctions, and Marietta had put them in water, where, around Miss Forde’s sitting-room (yes, Mrs. Tudor had insisted on this), the four neglected offerings, so to speak, glowered at one another from various jugs.

As Hester flung off her beautiful fluffy wrap, and entered the social arena in the wake of a small upright figure in black velvet, she felt a conviction that she was looking her best, for she noticed that men stared hard, and she encountered the astonished eyes of several women. Oh, if Mrs. Tudor would only be kind and introduce Paul de Sarazin to her, what an evening it would be—marked for life with a white stone!

But Mrs. Tudor did nothing of the sort; she had her own ideas. It is superfluous to add that she was an enthusiastic matchmaker. The kindly matron sincerely liked Hester, and honestly wished for her welfare. The girl was straight, unselfish, and a lady undoubtedly. There was good old blood in her veins, despite the Calvinistic grandfather; one had only to notice the turn of her head and her small taper hands. Now, here was a chance for some impecunious younger, or indeed elder, son! This £10,000 a year must not be thrown away, or wasted in undeserving channels. Mrs. Tudor’s keen blue eyes were searching all over Biarritz in quest of a suitable suitor for her protégée. It was essential that he should be of good family, with a good record; also he must be youngish, agreeable, and not ill-looking. No, she would have nothing to do with the foreign element, such as the Count de Cassecou, Baron Borrodino, or, above all, Paul de Sarazin!

When Paul sauntered up and accosted the old lady, Hester, who sat beside her, felt a little tremor of self-consciousness creeping over her. She studied her fan closely, then stole a swift glance. How lithe and distinguished he looked in his evening dress!—the scarlet hunt-coat well became his dark Spanish face; and with what grace he stooped and kissed the hand of her chaperon! In Hester’s eyes he was a preux chevalier of the olden times come once more to revisit the glimpses of the moon. Callous, hard-hearted Mrs. Tudor did not present this enchanting acquaintance to her companion, and he scarcely glanced at her as he moved away.

“How graceful he is!” observed a lady who sat within earshot.

“And disgraceful too! His flirtations are notorious,” responded her neighbour, and her tone was spiteful.

Presently Hester was besieged with partners: she loved dancing, and she danced well. Amid the changes and chances of the evening she had the extraordinary good fortune to find herself in the same set of Lancers as Paul de Sarazin: she thought he looked at her; she hoped that he had asked who she was. When he and his partner duly visited her, to her very low curtsey he made a still lower bow. But unhappily this did not constitute an acquaintance! For the cotillion after supper she was engaged to Mrs. Tudor’s pet parti, Gussie Belford, a fine tanned specimen of an average young Briton; a capital oarsman and cricketer, a rattling good fellow, the only son and heir of a needy viscount. Here, in the opinion of Mrs. Tudor, was the ideal husband for Hester Forde. The young couple duly took their seats in the wide inner circle. Spectators and wallflowers crowded the outer row right up to the windows, a lady and her cavalier who were to lead the cotillion had already begun operations. This couple were Paul de Sarazin and an Italian princess. Hester stealthily watched his tall, slim figure as he moved about issuing directions. There was a fund of nervous activity under all the repose of that graceful carriage; every movement was rapid and effective. The leaders danced with wonderful “go” and élan, and presently the cotillion was in full swing.

To impart the honest truth, Gussie Belford found his partner, if light of foot, somewhat heavy on hand. She had not a word to throw to a dog, and Gussie—who was himself of a taciturn nature—had been in the habit of allowing his lady friends to do the talking and to amuse him. But a girl with ten thousand a year evidently considered that it was his business to entertain her! He glanced at her, as she sat beside him motionless, with her hands loosely folded. No, she was not bad-looking; she had a ripping skin and hair, but she was about as dull as ditchwater! How little one half of the world knows of what the other half is thinking. Hester was watching—as she believed unnoticed—every movement of Paul de Sarazin, leader of the cotillion, and best dancer in Biarritz. As he passed he tossed her favours, the same as to other ladies, and these favours were to her neither more nor less than sacred treasures—a paper cap, a flag, a bouquet, a ribbon and bells, which she wore in turn, and then hid away under her chair. As she sat breathless, watching the revolving panorama of gay faces, paper caps, and brandishing banners, they passed as a mere cloud, out of which she only distinguished one person. Then came the supreme climax! In a figure in which the row of ladies and the row of men dash from opposite ends of the room, and meet with a crash, amid the pell-mell she found herself in the arms of Paul de Sarazin! It was only a happy accident, but oh! the whirling exaltation of the moment! For a few bars of the waltz he skimmed round with her in his graceful swallow-like flight, then hastily restored her to her seat, and, without a glance, went his way—went to a stout handsome French countess in a shimmering dress and wonderful diamonds, who welcomed him with a happy laugh. Well, Hester had at least danced with her hero—would she now die happy? Oh, no; for on searching for her hidden store beneath her chair she discovered that her treasures were gone! Who had taken them—the banner, the bouquet, the box? All that was left to her was the cap and bells! She could have wept with mortification—yes, real salt tears; but tears would not restore them. Some greedy wall-flower who had never danced had no doubt seized upon them, and carried them away to exhibit later as her own trophies! And all that remained to Hester was her fool’s cap and bells; following the example of another girl, she placed the cap upon her head—of course, an heiress may do odd things—at any rate, it was safe in its present position, and mightily it became her. In fact, Paul de Sazarin, sitting at an adjoining supper-table, asked his stout partner “Who was the charming Folly with the cap on her head?” and she answered—

“Oh, the Englishwoman with the big fortune—she is as dull as an English dinner.”

“But I fancy she has ideas, all the same,” he rejoined; and as his eyes met those of Hester, he sent her one of his most deadly glances, a glance that threw Hester into such confusion that she helped herself to jelly along with her plate of cold tongue. The folly cap now took the place of a long-defunct pink camellia, and was certainly a most suitable insignia of the unfortunate young woman’s state of mind. Fortunately, not a soul dreamt of her infatuation—even Mrs. Tudor had no suspicion of the true state of affairs. She had been much gratified and complimented by the success of her protégée, and the next afternoon invited her to tea in her own sitting-room, in order that they might talk things over, and discuss the ball and the events of the evening. Surely this subsequent “talking over” is not the least of a ball’s attractions!

“Well, my dear, I am a crumbling ruin to-day,” announced the old lady, as Hester made her appearance, “and did not get up till one o’clock. Four in the morning is a dreadful hour for a poor old woman to seek her bed. You are quite fresh, I see.”

“Yes,” assented Hester, “and ready for another dance to-night;” at which her companion piously exclaimed—

“God forbid! You are enjoying yourself! Ah, what it is to be young and good-looking! You are lucky.”

“I lucky?”

“Yes, you have youth and good looks. ‘Il ne sert de rien d’être jeune sans être belle, ni d’être belle sans étre jeune,’ so says Rochefoucauld. I wish he had lived in my day, and that I’d known him! What an amusing companion he must have been! what a piercing eye for the foibles of poor humanity! what salt in his sayings! what naked and unashamed truth! Well, and so I see you have brought the wonderful necklace to show me at last.”

“Yes, I have always forgotten it till now,” said Hester, as she spoke opening the case, and proudly displaying her treasure.

“Dear me!” exclaimed Mrs. Tudor, rearranging her glasses; then she took them off, rubbed them vigorously with her handkerchief, put them on once more, and gravely inspected the ornament. “This is not an article that could well be forgotten,” she remarked, as her eyes travelled slowly over the pearls, the emeralds, and the brilliants; “and I have an idea that I have seen it somewhere before!” She paused to rack her brains, then shook her head and said: “No, it’s no use; certainly my memory is decaying. Perhaps I may only have heard of the necklace, and had it described to me. If you ask my opinion, Hester,” now taking it out of the case and giving her glasses a hitch, “you have come by a wonderful bargain! This is undoubtedly the heirloom of some great family—Spanish, I should imagine. Oh, it is old—just look at this exquisite gold work. I know a little about such things. That art died three hundred years ago. I confess I am rather sorry for the unfortunate people who were compelled to part with this; it must have seemed like cutting off, or rather selling, a limb; but since it had to be sold, I am glad you possess it, Hester. It is a royal ornament—you must wear it at your wedding.”

“Oh, I shall never be married,” she answered, with a little laugh.

“That is the stock speech of most unmarried women; and of course you will be married—I hope, to some good, worthy fellow. Come now,” suddenly shutting up tiie case, and pushing it aside, “what do you say to Gussie Belford? I noticed that you and he danced the cotillion.”

“What do you mean—as a partner, Mrs. Tudor?”

“Yes, my dear, a partner for life.”

“Oh, no, no!—a hundred thousand times no!”

“But why no, no? He is a really good fellow, and thoroughly well brought up; his mother is a saint—I know that you would love her!”

“Maybe; but I could never love her son!”

“Come, come, Hester, don’t make up your mind too quickly. I know that he admires you greatly.”

“Now, Mrs. Tudor”—here Hester rested her elbows on the table and her chin on her hands, and, looking full at the old lady, said—“you and I always speak the truth to one another, the plain, blunt truth. Please tell me, do you think he would admire me if I had, say, fifty pounds a year?”

“No, my dear, he dare not. The property is so frightfully impoverished by those wicked death-duties, that he must marry a fortune.”

“I sincerely hope he may; but I could never marry unless I loved. I know that I seem to talk like a sentimental fool, and I am positive that I shall be an old maid, but in excellent company.”

“Very well, then, we will say no more about Gussie Belford. But there is that nice young parson, Hubert Talbot, so good-looking and intellectual—though rather delicate in health. You and he seemed to get on together at the croquet match.”

“The only match we could ever unite in!”

“And then there is Sir Rupert Lovelace, certainly a widower, but——”

Hester laughed and shook her head. “But proud as Lucifer. Oh, how angry he would be if he could hear you! You will not get me off as easily as you think!”

Mrs. Tudor was silent for a short time; then suddenly transfixing her companion with her little steel blue eyes, she said—

“Come, Hester! As you say, we always speak the naked truth to one another, and the truth will out”—a pause—“there is some one!”

Hester, so unexpectedly accused, became confused; the colour slowly mounted to her hair. She endeavoured to prevaricate and to ward off the attack of her worldly-wise companion.

“Some one?” she stammered. “What a funny idea! Oh, no, no—pray, who could it possibly be?”

But, in spite of her disjointed disclaimers, her face had betrayed her, and Mrs. Tudor, having guessed thus far, was now fully determined to know all!

Chapter XIV

Exit Mrs. Britten

It is a considerable time since we have heard anything of Miss Forde’s attractive chaperon. Mrs. Britten remained at Pau for a whole fortnight, whence she despatched letters of excuses to her companion—excuses chiefly based on ill-health; in fact, they might be called bulletins. But the little widow was really in excellent case, and the true reason for her prolonged absence was to be summed up in the word “Peter.” Sir Peter liked Pau; he had as much bridge as he could manage, had found several congenial old friends, and was disinclined to budge; so, what was poor Mrs. Britten to do? She was afraid to trust him out of her sight now that she saw the goal within reach. On several occasions, chiefly after dinner, he had become confidential, and even affectionate; had talked of his sisters and nieces, his investments, and his will—all these were encouraging topics; and once—oh! great moment!—he had pressed her hand and said: “You always understand me, you dear little lady!” Also he had given her flowers and some views of Lourdes. The end was now so near, that it would be madness to relax the pursuit. But it was a weary and expensive chase, for she had not only to defray her own hotel expenses, but also those of her friend Mrs. Cox. However, it was well known that the Admiral was wealthy: he was beginning to feel the hand of Time. Before long the day must dawn when he would require some one to take care of him. There was no reason why Mrs. Britten should not be that person, and she was confident that she could manage him admirably; she was intimately acquainted with all his little foibles. Well, they were not particularly little—he was mean, quarrelsome, and selfish. However, he was a member of a good old family, his income was sufficiently large for two, and one cannot expect everything!

So, with her mind full of high hopes and deep designs, Mrs. Britten still remained at Pau for her health’s sake, and anxiously awaited developments.

*  *  *

“When is Mrs. Britten returning?” asked Mrs. Tudor; “or has she departed for good?”

“I really do not know,” responded Hester. “She is still keeping on her room here; she talks of coming over next week.”

“And meanwhile you are paying forty francs a day for her apartments, and the anticipation of her company—is that not a fact?”

“I wonder how you guessed?”

“Easily. Why, all the world—I mean, the people who come here like myself—are aware that little Mrs. Britten is not well off; in fact, she was always bewailing her poverty, and inducing friends to give her drives and tickets, and so on, on that plea. Formerly, she had a cheap room in a cheap hotel; so, how could she afford to keep on two sets now—here and at Pau? No, no, my dear, simple Hester, you need not expect me to believe that you are not paying.”

“Well, after all, it is only for a short time.”

“It is a sheer waste of good money,” said Mrs. Tudor, with a movement of irritation. “I wonder your thrifty Yorkshire nature does not revolt. Now, look here; you must write to her to-day and ask if she is returning, otherwise you will give up the rooms. The hotel is crammed, and it is really not fair to the proprietor.”

“Very well, then, I will see about it,” agreed Hester; “but now I must go and get ready for this big tea-picnic with the Loftus girls and the Herberts. What is to be the end of all these gaieties, I wonder?” and she stretched out her arms with a little yawn.

“I can easily tell you that in one word.”

Hester let fall her arms and glanced at the speaker, who uttered the word “Marriage.”

“No, no, no!” protested the girl, with a laugh—“for others, not for me,” and she shook her head and ran out of the room. As Hester was putting the finishing touches to her toilette there was an imperative knock at the door, and to her surprise Mrs. Tudor entered.

“I came,” she said, “to ask you to write that little note before you go out, and so catch the evening post; why waste another forty francs? If it comes to that, give it to the poor.”

“But I really don’t know what to say,” replied Hester; “it seems rather rude, does it not?”

“It seems, as if you would so very much rather have her room than her company, eh? Look here, my dear, I am not a bad hand at writing notes, agreeable and otherwise. I flatter myself that I can scribble a disagreeable-agreeable note with any old woman in Biarritz! Come, I see you have a writing-table here,” pointing to the sitting-room, “and I will just make you a nice little copy; then you can send it off at once. May I?”

“Certainly you may. It is very kind of you to undertake a rather difficult composition. You will find everything in there. Please make yourself quite at home.”

Whilst Hester, busy at the glass, pinned on her hat, the old lady entered the adjoining sitting-room, opened the blotter, selected a half-sheet of paper—she was economical in little things—and sat down to write. Just as she had indicted “Dear Mrs.” she discovered something uncomfortable under the blotting paper, and, turning over to see what it was, discovered, with curiously mixed feelings, the wished-for truth! Here was a photograph group, bought no doubt out of a shop window. It represented three young Spaniards in fancy dress. The middle and most prominent figure was a jaunty reproduction of Paul de Sarazin in the garb of a matador, with his hand on his hip and a dare-devil smile on his good-looking face. So, that was it!

Alas! hapless Hester was another of Paul’s victims! Her case was probably hopeless, and she herself had so pointedly avoided Paul, and all his belongings—to what good? The discomfited old lady hurriedly turned back the leaf, and set about the copy of an ultimatum to Mrs. Britten, saying to herself—

“If this girl, to whom I have taken a fancy, has taken a fancy to Paul de Sarazin, of what good will all my plans avail me?”

Presently Hester entered, gloves and parasol in hand, and while she copied the note, Mrs. Tudor stood behind her, staring round the room, possibly seeking for further signs of the miserable girl’s infatuation. The apartment was exceedingly neat. There were quantities of flowers and books, a few ornaments, and on the chimney-piece, in the place of honour, the ball programme and the cap of Folly—a fatal and melancholy token of the owner’s condition. When her protégée had driven away, Mrs. Tudor retired to her own apartment and sat for a long time ostensibly reading the newspaper, but in reality she scarcely glanced at it. The active-minded old person was meditating fresh schemes, and preparing to inaugurate a new plan of campaign.

After all, if Hester were seriously interested in this hare-brained Spaniard, why should she not marry him? He would not be always feather-brained and wild. If he could be separated from his reckless associates, from his mother and her entourage, he might become, like his father, one of the first and finest gentlemen at the Spanish Court. Hester Forde, of nowhere in particular, would be one day the Duchesse de San Telmo. The old lady grinned to herself as her active imagination sketched-in the picture. Hester, the shy, at the formal Court of Madrid, closely surrounded with state and ceremonies! Was it not the hereditary privilege of the Duchesse de San Telmo to hold the Queen’s fan?

Well, perhaps the affair might work satisfactorily; the arrangements and pourparlers would afford her an immense amount of interest, excitement, and gratification.

If Hester was deeply in love with Paul, and Paul would only consent to be lured into matrimony and to steady down, all would be well. “Yes, undoubtedly it is these warm interests in other people’s lives which keep one young,” said the old lady, as she extended her hand and rang the bell for tea.

*  *  *

The “disagreeable-agreeable” little note had the effect of bringing Mrs. Britten over from Pau the very next day. As she drove up to the hotel she passed Hester on foot walking with another girl, and could scarcely believe the evidence of her own eyes. What a marvellous change in a little more than a fortnight! That dainty figure, with silken frills, high-heeled shoes, and an obviously French frock!

“Well, so I’ve come back, you see!” she began, the moment Hester entered the hall. “On revient toujours, etc.”

“Yes, and I hope you have enjoyed yourself?”

“Enormously! There is no place like Pau.”

“Shall we go up in the lift to my sitting-room?”

“Your sitting-room!” she repeated, with raised eyebrows; “what a plunge you have made! Oh yes, by all means!”

“And your luggage?” suggested Hester.

“I have not brought it with me. I am going back to-night; I only rushed over to see you.” Then, as the door closed upon them, surveying her with a frank and not over-friendly curiosity, she added, “Why, I declare I should scarcely know you, you are so smart! Where did you get the dress?”

“Here, in Biarritz,” replied Hester quietly. “Won’t you sit down?”

“What has happened to the girl?” the chaperon asked herself, for it was not only her appearance, but her manners, that were transformed. She spoke in a cool and almost distant tone! Mrs. Britten, having selected the most comfortable chair she could find, now proceeded to compose a quarrel.

“I see you have been having a good time!” she remarked; “your name in the papers, at the balls, and the bazaar. Of course, it all comes of giving out that you are an heiress—it makes a wonderful difference, does it not?”

“Yes, I suppose so; but I never, as you call it, ‘gave out’ that I was an heiress.”

“Come, come, Hester; why, of course you did!” contradicted Mrs. Britten, with a touch of her bullying manner; “and I always thought you were so superior to that sort of thing, and only cared for——”

“Excuse me,” interrupted her listener stiffly, “but you are mistaken. A cousin of Mrs. Tudor’s, who had seen me at Shalesmoor, recognized me when he was passing through Biarritz, and told her who I was.”

“Yes, and she immediately took you up, and thrust me aside!” said Mrs. Britten. “Now I understand why I am left out in the cold!”

“I really don’t know how you can say so, when you went away to Pau of your own accord.”

“I went to Pau for a most necessary change, and I particularly wished to take you with me. Perhaps you will kindly remember that you came out here under my charge.”

“Yes, I can remember that,” rejoined Hester, with a faint smile; “but I think you must allow that I have not been much of a responsibility.”

“What are your plans?” demanded Mrs. Britten abruptly. “Are you coming over to Pau?”

“No, I shall remain at Biarritz until the middle of April, and then possibly go into the Pyrenees or to Spain.”

“Oh, indeed! Well, I suppose that I am quite de trop now; apparently you can manage your affairs without me.” Dead silence. “I can see but too plainly,” continued Mrs. Britten, gurgling in her throat, “that somebody has been making mischief and setting you against me. You are completely changed. I am sure I don’t know what Tom Lewin will say, when I tell him!”

“Mr. Lewin is my solicitor,” replied Hester, with unexpected hauteur; “he is not concerned in my travelling arrangements. As for any one having made mischief between us, you are mistaken. I have gained a little experience, and seen something of the world—that is all.”

“Seen something of the world!” repeated Mrs. Britten, with a derisive laugh. “Let me warn you that you will find it an awful mistake to mix with people who are out of your own station in life. Of course, they only run after you for your money—any fool can see that—and half of them are paupers and sharpers, who flatter you before your face, and laugh at you behind your back! Anyway, after such smart society, you will find it a terrible change when you return to Shalesmoor.”

“Perhaps I may, if I ever do return, which is doubtful.”

“But where else will you live? What are you going to do?” inquired Mrs. Britten, with blazing eyes. Was she about to lose her sinecure?

“Enjoy life a little, I hope, and do some good with my money.”

“Then I gather, that you no longer require my services?”

Hester bowed her head. She really was afraid to look at her companion.

“Ah! So Mrs. Tudor has taken my place! Well, at any rate, she is cheap,” declared Mrs. Britten, with a bitter sneer. “I must say I consider that I have been disgracefully treated. I bring you out an almost helpless invalid—in fact, a mental case”—laying a vindictive emphasis on the words—“to this charming hotel. I wish you to go on to Pau with me, solely for your health and a change, but you flatly refuse, and insist on remaining here alone. You get into the fastest set in Biarritz, have your head turned, and then order me to go about my business.”

Hester made no answer; she was staring straight past Mrs. Britten and out of the window; her expression was strained, her cheeks were crimson, and indignation quivered on her lips. Certainly this was a most unpleasant experience; but one bracing fact supported her—it would be the last interview with her present companion.

“Are you going to pay my way back?” demanded this harpy, raising her voice.

“Oh, with pleasure!” said the girl, relaxing the tension of her attitude.

“Sleeping car, restaurant car, first-class all through to London—it will be nearly twenty pounds, you understand?”

“Very well,” said Hester, and, rising, she went to a drawer in search of her cheque-book. Anything, any money, to bring to an end this exceptionally bad quarter of an hour!

“And, of course, I must have a month’s notice—like other servants—that will be twenty pounds more, and, as I am fearfully hard up, you may as well make it fifty pounds. It would be——” a pause.

“A stupid thing for me to do,” reflected Hester; “but I shall have got rid of Mrs. Britten.”

“I suppose I still have my room, and can go and fix myself up there?” continued the little adventuress.

“Oh, yes, it is vacant, and here is a cheque for fifty pounds,” said Hester, moving towards her as she spoke. “No doubt you must want something to eat. Shall I order it in the restaurant, or will you have it here in my sitting-room?”

“Oh, in your sitting-room, please. I must catch the three o’clock train back to Pau.”

“Then I will send up the waiter with the menu, and you can select what you please. I am sorry you think you have been hardly treated, Mrs. Britten, but I don’t honestly believe you have any grounds for complaint; and now I wish you good-bye.”

“I suppose I must not grumble,” rejoined that lady, thrusting the fifty-pound cheque into her glove; “you have found out your own value—it had to come some day! Well, I suppose we part friends?”—and, with heightened colour, she extended her empty hand.

Hester took it, and said, “I will wish you good-bye now, and I hope you will have a pleasant journey; and as I am going out to lunch, perhaps we may not meet again.”

When she had departed Mrs. Britten made a close inspection of the room, but discovered nothing either remarkable or suspicious. Then she rang the bell, ordered up a recherché meal, including a pint of champagne and black coffee. When she had disposed of this, and rearranged her hat and hair, she swaggered downstairs, stepped into a waiting victoria, and was driven away to the Négresse station. On her progress through the streets she encountered a few of her former acquaintances, who stared and nodded, but did not seem particularly anxious to accost her. Old Mrs. Tudor had been talking, no doubt; the days of her popularity in Biarritz had evidently set. Well, at any rate, she was not without resources; her friends at Pau were numerous, and there was always Sir Peter! Still, as she bowled down the hill towards the station, the little widow’s heart was full of amazement, anger, and spite; and if she ever found an opportunity to requite Miss Forde for her cool reception, and still cooler dismissal, she resolved that she would not let it slip.

Subsequently, in answer to the sympathetic inquiries of the Admiral and Mrs. Cox, she related her grievous experience, and presented herself in the character of the down-trodden worm, who had turned at last!

Chapter XV

The Introduction

The day after Mrs. Britten had departed without social drum-beat or any special farewells, Mrs. Tudor resolved that she would take Hester (now her sole charge) for a long tête-à-tête drive, probe her heart, admonish her, and deliver a serious lecture!

Hester, who happened to be free for the afternoon, accepted the invitation with alacrity, and came down prepared to start at three o’clock. The carriage they always employed was not immediately forthcoming, but in its place an elegant landau, with a pair of fine chestnut horses, dashed up under the porch. The driver wore the usual becoming coachman’s dress, the glazed hat with white band, black jacket with white braid, scarlet facings, cuffs, and waistcoat ornamented with silver buttons; he looked particularly smart and well set-up. Hester could not see his face, but she noticed as she followed her friend into the carriage, that he made an impudent signal to two individuals who were standing close by; therefore she was less surprised than her companion at his subsequent behaviour. The Basques are excellent drivers, and, on the whole, merciful to their cattle; but this Basque drove like Jehu, the son of Nimshi; he whirled round the street corners regardless of consequences; he cracked his whip, and fled, so to speak, up the long hill leading out of Biarritz, down the other side full speed to the Négresse, where he thundered across the railway lines, regardless of how the two ladies were tossed as shuttlecocks in the carriage behind him.

“Look here, I don’t like this man’s driving at all!” cried Mrs. Tudor, as they reached the open country; “certainly, the carriage is most luxurious; but I believe our driver is either mad or drunk!”

“Or both,” suggested Hester, with a laugh. “And, joking apart, you need not be at all uneasy, dear; these coachmen are really trustworthy, and never come to grief.”

“But if this fellow is a lunatic? Did you see him taking off his hat to those ladies in the victoria?”

“No! How dared, he?”

“How indeed! Well, watch the next carriage,” said Mrs. Tudor grimly.

Sure enough, the next carriage they encountered, the coachman saluted with his whip. Then they passed a dog-cart driven by two girls; to these he actually kissed his hand!

“Tell him to turn round, Hester,” said Mrs. Tudor passionately. “I really won’t have this! I never experienced such impudence. I’ll certainly report him to his master. Can you see his number?”

“No; I don’t believe he has one!”

“Then, poke him in the back with your parasol.”

Hester stood up and poked him (gently) as requested. No notice was vouchsafed by the cocher; no, no more than if a fly had touched him.

“Give him a good dig—here, let me have the parasol;” but the effect was precisely the same, save that at the third and really violent assault the driver burst into a yell of laughter. The two ladies now collapsed on the seat, and stared into one another’s faces in blank consternation.

Cocher! cocher! arrêtez! arrêtez!” screamed Mrs. Tudor in her thin old falsetto, with the sole result that he drove faster and yet faster. Were they being carried off into the Pyrenees by a crazy coachman? Caves, brigands, ransoms, flitted through the mind of Mrs. Tudor, who was also in momentary terror of being upset, for they were taken up hill, down dale, and round corners at a truly break-neck pace. Another landau was ahead of them; this they rapidly overtook, and when alongside of it, their lunatic driver exchanged loud salutations and chaff with the other cocher, and eventually challenged him to a chariot race. But this competition was altogether too much for the chestnuts, who, from a furious trot, suddenly sprang into a gallop and bolted. Their crazy driver, instantly sobered, endeavoured to stop the runaways by might and main. He dragged, he yelled at them, he also cursed them vehemently in a string of sonorous Spanish oaths; but, in spite of all his exertions, the frantic horses tore along with the speed of a millrace. Naturally, everything they encountered scrambled out of their way—men, carts, oxen, and motors, and oh, what hair-breadth escapes! Mrs. Tudor sat with a rigid countenance, her eyes tightly closed, clinging to the hand-strap and saying her prayers. At any moment now the catastrophe must be accomplished!

Well, she was an old woman, and had lived her life; but the poor girl beside her had never lived at all! In a few minutes they reached the top of a long incline, at the foot of which ran the railway and a level crossing; a train was evidently due, for the gates were closed. With the fall of the hill, the carriage gained increased impetus; it was now no more than a band-box at the heels of the horses, and rocked from side to side in a manner that compelled Mrs. Tudor to open her eyes. Yes, they were galloping towards destruction: they must crash into the great railway gates. As they thundered down headlong, the coachman ceased his impotent execrations, half turned, and shouted something which was unintelligible. But the gate was opening, not a second too soon. The flag-woman, a brave Basque, had seen the approaching runaways, and, although the whistle of a train was in her ears, risked the chance—the chance of lives—and the landau swept through in a storm of dust. Another moment and the gates were closed, and the gatekeeper ejaculated a breathless “C’est ça!”

The career of the chestnuts began to slacken as they started to ascend a long, steep hill; half-way up this the coachman got a pull at them, and in a short time the pair were brought to a sober standstill, after an adventurous career of four miles. Where they had halted, outside a great farm, a man came running forth, and seized the horses’ heads; the pair were trembling all over, and in a lather from head to tail: evidently, they had had about enough! And so had poor Mrs. Tudor, who was more dead than alive—her small face looked strangely white and shrunken. Hester hastily opened the carriage door, and carefully assisted her to descend, which she did in a feeble and tottering fashion.

“What an escape!” she exclaimed. “Oh, my dear, we cannot be too thankful; but I feel,” and she caught her breath—“I feel completely shattered. We shall have to walk back, or go on a market cart. I believe we are miles from Biarritz!” and as she spoke her eyes wandered vaguely over the undulating hills and the red-tiled farmhouses, which indicated the real Basque country. At this moment the coachman—who had flung himself off the box, walked round, and deliberately inspected his panting horses—came forward, hat in hand.

“What! Paul de Sarazin!” shrieked the old lady. “Well, I might have guessed it! Do you know that you have nearly killed me? Not that you care!”

“Dear lady,” he began, “I am most awfully sorry; it was these diables of horses; they belong to my aunt.”

“What, the carriage and horses of the Duchesse de Soriana!” and Mrs. Tudor looked at him incredulously.

“Even so. Pardon me, and I will make you my confession. Really and truly on my knees do I implore you and this charming demoiselle to forgive me.”

“I never will!” cried the old lady, and her voice rose excitedly—“no, never, as long as my name is Laura Tudor. Let me tell you that your soft speeches are altogether wasted on an old woman! How dared you do it?”

“It was for a bet—a joke,” he replied with humility.

“Play to you, and death to us!”

“Please listen; it was like this. Last night at the club two or three men and I made jokes and wagers, and they wagered me I would not get a carriage, go to an hotel incognito, take two ladies, or three—or anybody—for a drive. They bet me one hundred louis, and I said: ‘Oh yes, I will do it with pleasure,’ and I did, you see!

My aunt Mercédès has gone to San Sebastian for three days. Her coachman is my very good friend. I borrow his clothes, his horses, and his carriage; I look quite all right.” Here he glanced down at his livery with a complacent smile. “I drive up to an hotel; no one recognizes me, except my friends who await me there. Two ladies get into the carriage, and everything is correct, until, unfortunately, these devils of horses being too well fed, they want to gallop. Yes, we were nearly smashed up on the railway—but for that excellent woman—I shall give her a five louis—if she had not opened the gate—pouf!” and he touched his lips with his fingers; “good-bye to Madame Tudor, good-bye to Paul de Sarazin, good-bye to Mademoiselle!” he paused and looked interrogatively at Mrs. Tudor.

“Forde,” supplemented the old lady, and he bowed profoundly, hat in one hand, whip in the other. (The farmer’s people were busily rubbing down the horses whilst the driver was protesting and making his excuses.)

“And now I should be glad to know how we are to get home,” demanded Mrs. Tudor, with a gesture of despair.

“Why, in the carriage, of course,” said Paul, with incredible assurance. “Cela va sans dire!”

“I wonder you dare to mention it! I shall certainly tell your aunt of the outrageous liberties you take with her—and other people.”

“No, no, no! dear Mrs. Tudor, you are good”—here he placed his slim brown hands together in an attitude of appeal—“you are kind, you are charming, you have known me since I was a child; I have been wrong, and very foolish.”

“You have indeed,” she assented sharply; “it is your normal state.”

“But you will never tell my aunt Mercédès—oh, you could not do it. Cosa que no tiene remedio olvidar la es lo mejor” (What cannot be remedied is best forgotten). “And you will come back in the carriage with me. Yes, on the word of honour of a Spanish gentleman, I will take you home, and the young lady, as safely as in—what you call it—a bath-chair.”

Mrs. Tudor deigned no reply, but rising stiffly to her feet, turned her back upon the insinuating culprit, and moved towards the farmhouse, followed by Hester. As the latter passed the coachman he said—

“You will persuade her to pardon me, Mademoiselle, will you not?”

“I will try,” she murmured faintly.

“And will you, too, forgive me?” he whispered. His voice and his eloquent dark eyes would have melted the heart of a stone.

Hester coloured, and in a low voice answered “Yes.”

“What has that impudent madman been saying to you?” demanded her companion, who had remarkably sharp ears.

“He was begging me to ask you to forgive him.”

“Oh, yes, I dare say! after making me the victim of a practical joke and a bet, and nearly frightening me to death! I shall do nothing of the sort. I shall tell his aunt, and we will hear what she has got to say. She is fond of Paul, I’m aware; but no woman likes to have her smart turn-out hacked about on hire! Yes, I shall certainly tell the Duchess,” and with this announcement on her lips Mrs. Tudor entered the farmhouse.

This was a comfortable Basque abode with a wide-eaved tiled roof. In the kitchen was a quaint old dresser covered with blue plates, also a huge carved press, and some solid chairs and tables. A good-looking woman, wearing a funny little black silk cap on her black hair, offered coffee, wine, and bread. (Butter is scarce near the Pyrenees.) Coffee and bread were acceptable, and the two ladies sat down at the bare table and began to ask one another how they were to reach home.

They were revived by the coffee, and feeling considerably better, when Paul de Sarazin entered, and, like the coachman he pretended to be, seated himself afar off, with a lump of bread and a glass of sour wine.

Over Mrs. Tudor’s bonnet this audacious fellow raised his eyebrows interrogatively, and looked a question at Miss Forde. In reply she shook her head, and was instantly pounced upon by her companion.

“Oh ho! so you are making signs!”

“Yes,” she boldly confessed. “He wants to know whether you have forgiven him, and I signed to him no; that was all.”

Possibly the proverbial contrariness of feminine human nature had something to do with Mrs. Tudor’s next speech, for, wheeling round in her chair, she called across the kitchen to her supposed “cocher”—

“Paul de Sarazin, you know you are a wild and worthless young scamp, and a shocking example to others.”

Paul instantly put down his bread, rose to his feet, and bowed with the courtesy of his race.

“Oh yes, you may bow, and bow, and bow! Now, I will inform you of what I will do. I will overlook this atrocity, and I will not tell your aunt Mercédès that you hired out her carriage “

Paul was now radiant.

“Oh, you need not smile, for I haven’t done with you yet! Listen! You must hand me over that one hundred louis for the poor of Biarritz; it was nearly being the price of our lives.”

“Delightful lady,” exclaimed he, coming forward, “it is yours,” and, suddenly sinking on one knee, he kissed her not altogether reluctant hand.

“May I kiss the other lady’s hand?” he asked, with a glance of appeal.

“Certainly not,” rejoined Mrs. Tudor sternly; “she is totally ignorant of your terrible Spanish etiquette, and you know perfectly well, that it would be highly improper! I wonder you venture to suggest it! Your audacity is matchless.”

“As it was she who obtained me your pardon, I will venture to do this”—and, sinking again on one knee, he touched with his lips the hem of Hester’s dress, and murmured, “A los pies de V. Señorita,” then backed away, in the direction of his own meagre refreshment.

The old lady, who was undoubtedly mollified, exclaimed—

“He is mad! He can never be serious, but he is as generous as a prince—far more so than many princes—and at least our terrible experience will lead to some good; I can manage much with one hundred louis.”

“Yes, as a thank-offering,” assented Hester, who was secretly agitated by her hero’s unexpected homage. “May I add another hundred?”

Mrs. Tudor was silent. Was this really a pious thank-offering? or did the girl wish, even in a remote way, to be associated with Paul de Sarazin?

“I will think it over, my dear,” she answered, with unwonted hauteur, and then lapsed into a prolonged silence. At last she said, “I suppose, after all, we must go back with him in the carriage, and trust ourselves to his honour!” She paused, and continued: “I have always avoided introducing Paul de Sarazin to you, but, you see, that other old woman, Fate, has taken the affair out of my hands!”

“Why did you not wish me to know him?” asked Hester, glancing towards the cocher’s now empty place.

“Because you are so impressionable at present—‘wax to receive, but marble to retain!’ You are really but seventeen—and I did not wish to make you unhappy.”

“Does he make people unhappy?” inquired Hester faintly.

“Women, yes. Can you look at him, and doubt it? And yet he has some excellent qualities—he is generous, brave, kind-hearted, and——”

At this moment the subject of her eulogy presented himself once more, bearing two bunches of primroses, one in either hand.

“I gathered them myself,” he explained as he advanced; “they are my peace-offerings,” and he tendered them with a bow of exaggerated deference. “The carriage awaits the ladies, and I am their humble servant. I promise them a pleasant evening drive and a steady cocher. When they descend at their hotel they will say—The best coachman, the best carriage, and the best horses in all Biarritz!”

As he concluded, he conducted them, ceremoniously and hat in hand, to the landau. The drive homewards proved an agreeable contrast to the drive out, and in every way delightful, as they were borne sedately along the smooth Basque roads behind a pair of steady horses and a conscience-stricken coachman.

The surrounding country looked lovely, with the tints of the setting sun, the vivid wild flowers, the budding trees, and the blue line of the distant Pyrenees. Mrs. Tudor and her companion were driven in a dignified manner down the streets of Biarritz; but just as they were entering the town the cocher had lent back and said with the air of a confederate—

“Ladies, when you descend, you must pretend to give me a pour-boire! Otherwise the Bellevue people may suspect me, in spite of my hat and wig.”

When they did arrive at the hotel door, Mrs. Tudor, who was really much exhausted, muttered—

“I have no small change, Hester; do you give him something, anything—a sou will answer the purpose; he doesn’t even deserve that!” With this remark she descended heavily from the carriage and toiled up the steps. But Hester, before she followed her friend, placed not a sou, but a five-franc piece, in Paul’s ready palm.

“You are three times nice,” he murmured, and thanked her, as he well knew how, with an eloquent glance from his expressive eyes, then whipping up the chestnuts, he galloped out of the courtyard of the Bellevue.

Chapter XVI

Mrs. Tudor’s Little Move

On the afternoon succeeding her sensational drive, Mrs. Tudor, still feeling considerably shattered, was keeping to her sitting-room, when the door opened, and the servant said—

“Madame peut-elle recevoir Monsieur le Marquis de Sarazin?”

“Madame” nodded a brisk assent, and instantly Paul entered, clad in a cool grey suit, carrying in one hand a superb bouquet, in the other he held his panama hat upon his heart. Even in her prejudiced eyes, he looked a remarkably handsome, gallant fellow.

“Oh, so it is you!” cried his hostess; “have you brought me the money?”

“Do I ever fail a lady?” he exclaimed, laying down his hat and offering the flowers.

“They say you do, Paul! You are a sadly fickle creature. Yes, I see these roses are exquisite—now let me see my hundred louis, my little fine.”

“It is here,” he said, drawing out a leather pocketbook. “Oh, unbelieving friend!” and as he spoke he handed her notes. “I give it to you just as it came to me.”

“Yes,” running over the bundle with her keen eyes, “this will be a boon to many poor here. I know some dying people; this will brighten their last days. I am doing well, for the young lady who was with me is adding the same sum to my quête, as a thank-offering for our merciful escape.”

“Oh, then, she is both charitable and rich?” he said indifferently.

“Very rich. I suppose, among all your escapades, this is the first time you have run away with an heiress?”

“I suppose it is.” He paused, and looked at her fixedly as he asked, “What is your idea of an heiress, dear Madame?”

“Ten thousand pounds a year, solidly invested,” replied Mrs. Tudor; “and she has no relations.”

“Fortunate demoiselle!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, and an amiable demoiselle too. Some day she will make some good man happy.”

“No doubt,” he assented, “or a bad man good.” A pause, and then the visitor added in a grave voice: “My father wishes that I would marry.”

“He is by no means the only one who wishes that,” replied Mrs. Tudor, with deadly significance.

“Ah, bah! but you jest, and I am serious. My brother Léon has chosen a lovely donzella, without a single peseta! She is as poor as a homeless dog. Now, therefore, I must choose—otherwise.”

“Oh, must you?” said the old lady, dryly.

“Yes; la Duquesa is expensive. God knows where she gets the money, and how it goes! But it goes! There is, see—I tell to you as an old friend—her suite, her villa, her Monte Carlo, her dresses, her fêtes, and——”

“Her cards!” added his listener in a tone of contemptuous irritation.

“Yes, and my father—poor, good man!—has no wants. A little glass of wine, a cup of coffee, a cigarette—that is all he cares for, besides his ancestors and his historical heirlooms.”

“Ah, his heirlooms! Yes, the Luck of the Sarazins—it is his amulet, and sacred as some holy relic!”

“It represents our honour, fame, and good fortune, Madame! Well,” after a long pause, and heaving a profound sigh, “I suppose soon I must marry.”

“I shall sincerely pity the poor bride,” remarked Mrs. Tudor bluntly.

“No, no! but you must pity poor Paul, who gives up so much.”

“In marriage you Spanish give up nothing,” she answered impatiently. “I know you well.”

“What did you say was the name of this young lady?” he inquired, after several minutes’ complete silence.

“Forde—Hester Forde. She is of good birth.”

At this moment the door again opened, and the heiress, carrying some books, made her appearance. She gave a slight start as she caught sight of Paul de Sarazin; but came forward at once, bowed, and sat down.

“He has been paying for his pranks,” explained Mrs. Tudor, patting the notes with her wrinkled hand.

“I hope Mademoiselle is none the worse?” he inquired; and he looked at her as he spoke with grave, measuring eyes. It was possible that he was contemplating the future Duquesa de San Telmo!

She was at least young, tall, ladylike—so much he had gathered the previous day. Her features were good, her colour pale, her hair splendid—she had pretty hands; but, if her feet were large—Caramba! there was an end to her prospects of a ducal coronet.

“Not at all, thank you,” she replied, as she lifted her eyes to his, and quickly dropped them under their piercing scrutiny.

“Will you take these roses, dear, and put them into the big green vase?” said Mrs. Tudor; “this room is so hot, they will wither. Bring them back again.”

To Hester the errand seemed unnecessarily cruel; but she obediently rose and carried off the flowers, returning in a remarkably short time, vase in hand. Coming carefully through the room, she pushed aside a hassock with her foot. Dios! it was a pretty foot, with a high instep, and delicately shod; it might have been the instep of an Andalusian! What a relief!

“Mademoiselle,” he said, as he watched her rearrange the roses, “my poor flowers are indeed honoured.”

“Hester, you need not mind all Monsieur le Marquis says,” declared Mrs. Tudor; “to ladies his language is invariably flowery.”

“Dear Madame, why are you so unkind to me?” he protested—“you, who have known me since I swam my little boat, and had a spade on the Plage! Now, I want you to be gracious, and permit me to escort you and Mademoiselle to the match of La Pelote to-morrow.”

“What is La Pelote?” inquired Miss Forde, speaking at last with an effort.

“It is the national game of Spain. Have you been here long?”

“Ten weeks.”

“Ciel!”—throwing out his hands in protest—“and never seen or heard of the great Basque game, one of the finest in the world. Why, here it is played up in the Rue de Pyrenees every Sunday!”

“Ah, but you see I am English, and on Sundays I go to church.”

At this announcement he shrugged his graceful shoulders and added—

“Well, to-morrow will be Thursday, and not Sunday; so there is nothing to hurt the conscience of Mademoiselle. Would you not like to see it? It will be such a match! It is between the French and the Spaniards. I am on the committee, and am naturally all for Spain. Will you come, Madame,” addressing Mrs. Tudor, “and bring Miss Forde?”

“Oh, I really don’t know, thank you. Your Pelote begins at such an odd hour—three o’clock; and twisting and turning my head after the ball gives me a headache, and you all get so excited and shout so much.”

“I will promise not once to shout, and you shall have the best seats in the Pavilion; and I will also, if you will permit me, come and fetch you in a carriage.”

“Your aunt’s again?” and Mrs. Tudor burst into a laugh. “Thank you—no.”

“Nevertheless, you will honour me. Let me persuade Mademoiselle”—and he turned directly to Hester; he was well aware of the power of his own personality, and never hesitated to give it active exercise. “The game is superb. You should see it—golf, tennis, racquets, what are they to La Pelote? Let me persuade Mademoiselle, and Mademoiselle will persuade Madame.”

“I should like to see La Pelote,” said Hester, with an air of soft decision. She was determined to accept the invitation, even had she to go alone.

“Oh, very well; you may expect us,” said the old lady, with a weary sigh. “But I will find my own carriage and coachman.”

“Mrs. Tudor and Mademoiselle will flatter me by wearing my—the Spanish colours?”

“Given an inch, you take an ell. What would our French friends say to that?” inquired Mrs. Tudor imperiously.

“That all is fair in love and war,” was his audacious reply. “La Pelote is a little war, is it not? and you will be my allies.”

How quickly this hot-blooded Spaniard had thrown himself into his well-known rôle of cavalier and courtier! The pose was his second nature; but this time there should be no shuffling, no make-believe. He must take the situation seriously for once. Hester should not be trifled with. Ten thousand pounds a year should command at least sincerity and respect.

When the Marquis de Sarazin had kissed his hostess’s hand, and bowed himself out with the incomparable grace of a Spanish gentleman, he walked slowly down the hotel staircase, lost in thought.

The girl would do. She was rather pretty; she already liked him, and she was very rich. If he did not decide and make up his mind promptly, some one else would gather this golden fruit. And what of his other loves, too numerous to count—and forgotten! There was Dolores, his cousin—Dolores de Los Cantales, at present in Tangiers. Well, once he was mad about her, certainly. But she had no mind and no sense; but what eyes—what grace! To see her use a fan, smoke a cigarette, or walk across a room! Above all, to see her dance the Spanish fandango!

She was amazing, she was dangerous, she went to his head like aguardiente.

For a mistress, yes—but a wife! The tall girl with the red hair would be better for the family, and, unless he was mistaken, she was in love with him already. Undoubtedly, it would be all plain sailing. His mother was holding a reception in a few days. She would send cards to Mrs. Tudor and party. His aunt Mercédès, too, must see the young lady. He had great faith in her judgment; and meanwhile, there was to-morrow, and La Pelote.

When the visitor had taken his departure, Hester walked across the room and stood in the window. She did not really intend to watch the visitor leave the courtyard, but she could not avoid seeing him. Nor did she wish to talk to Mrs. Tudor. She wanted to be alone, to feast greedily upon her thoughts; and yet did not choose, or rather venture, to abruptly retire. Surely good fortune was coming towards her—happiness was looking in her direction; but—but—he was, by all accounts, just as pleasant to every one. She was nothing to him, but a stiff, red-haired English Protestant!

“Well, Hester,” said a well-known voice, “come over here and let me look at you.”

Hester turned about with obvious reluctance.

“Now that you have seen this Marquis de Sarazin in his everyday clothes and everyday manners—pray, how do you like him?” and a slight, irritating smile played round the old lady’s lips.


“Yes, I need not ask—you do. Well, I’ve made one little move in the game.”

Hester looked up like a frightened child; hitherto her eyes had been bent on the floor.

“I’ve told him you are rich—an heiress.”

“And what did he say?” she asked in a low voice.

“That you were fortunate. I said that I hope you would make some good man happy.”


“And he suggested that you might make a bad man good! A significant speech! Do you realize what it means?”

“Is he—a—bad man?” The question was so low that the words seemed just breathed into the air.

“As men go—no. He is reckless, extravagant, scatter-brained, and inconstant; but he neither drinks nor gambles, and, putting aside his notorious flirtations, I have never heard of his doing a dishonourable action.”

“You mean that he is dishonourable only to women?”

“Well, he is not a plaster saint! Women spoil him; they throw themselves at his head. He is one of the handsomest young men in Spain! His looks are as celebrated as if he were some beauty. He accepts people’s hearts. He flirts furiously with a girl for a week or two, and then he goes away and forgets her very face—so they say; but she never forgets him! He is the indirect cause of many troubles to his own sex—women avenge themselves bitterly. Would you marry such a character?”

“It is no question of marriage,” she answered tremulously.

“It may be,” rejoined Mrs. Tudor, looking at her fixedly.

“Oh, please don’t!”—and she put her hands to her burning cheeks—“to talk like this is—wrong—and—and—unlucky.”

“Unlucky! Ah! I see what is in your mind. Well, what will be will be. At any rate, Hester, whatever happens, I am always your friend.”

“You are indeed, and my best one.”

“Tell me—what is your definition of a friend?”

“The one who first comes in when the whole world has gone out. You cannot realize how desolate I felt until you spoke to me five weeks ago, and I shall never know how to thank you.” Then she stooped down, laid on the old lady’s wrinkled cheek a kiss of deep suppressed feelings, and hastily effected her escape.

Mrs. Tudor sat motionless, staring at the closed door with an expression of puzzled discontent. It seemed incredible that this quiet, self-contained north-country girl should be irresistibly attracted by a character and personality so opposite to her own.

Chapter XVII

La Pelote

The vicinity of the Pelote was indicated by an enormous crowd and a long line of vehicles. All Biarritz—gentle, simple, native, and foreign—was assembled in force, except, perhaps, a dozen or two of English who, in spite of every attraction that offered, still remained faithful to their idol—golf.

Paul de Sarazin awaited his guests at the entrance, and piloted them inside the “frontones,” or enclosure, and in a short time they found themselves seated beside him, in the centre of a fine pavilion, each decorated with a rosette of red and yellow ribbon (the Spanish colours). Two sides of a court, or concha, seventy yards long, were packed with people. At one end was a high white wall, marked with a line across it, and two zeros—one in red and one in blue—were hung up on a board at either side.

“There are five thousand spectators to-day,” explained the Marquis de Sarazin. “It is the great match of the year—Spanish against French. Ladies, I trust your hearts are with my countrymen? After all, Mrs. Tudor, your sister is the widow of a Spanish Don!”

“And you think that constitutes a claim?”

“Why, of course. Ah, here they come!”

A bell rang as he spoke, and six young men in white—the pelotari—filed in two and two, and bowed to the assembly. The French wore blue sashes and flat caps—the Spaniards red, and to each man’s hand was strapped his christera. The six competitors were evidently perfect athletes; their step, springy and panther-like, spoke of an extraordinary reserve of muscle and force.

Also they were all undoubtedly in hard condition, and looked as resolute as gladiators and as active as monkeys.

“Now I will explain to you,” said Paul, in his full, deep voice, as he placed a programme in Miss Forde’s little white-gloved hand. “The score is 60; the side who first makes it wins. It is like fives—you have seen fives, of course?”

“Oh, never.” (Where would she see games?)

“Well, they serve the ball at the wall there, and play alternate strokes—red and blue; whichever side lets the ball fall, loses, and the other is in. You think it seems simple; but it is terribly hard work, especially for the two who stand back. Yes, it is a sport for good men! a sport the saints themselves would not despise!” And he leaned forward and looked at her. “Do you know, that some years ago a monk—yes, a holy man—was the strongest player in all Spain!”

She looked up in surprise. “A monk!”

“He was of my mind. To me, Pelote is the most exciting game in the world.”

And he glanced at Hester with a pair of glowing eyes.

“Those long basket-work things in the shape of the guard of a carriage wheel, are called christera; they are strapped to their hands. It is with them they catch the ball, as you will see. The match is, of course, between France and Spain; our men are picked. That one there is El Chiquito, a champion; he has been to Brazil and Monte Video to play—yes, and to win. The little curly-headed boy is Pablo, my namesake; he comes from San Sebastian, and is made of steel wire. The third is Braulio, a Spanish Basque—one of the best. Mademoiselle, you must not even look at the French. But I tell you that the little thick-set fellow with the dark face comes from St. Jean Pied du port, and is most dangerous; he serves so low, his balls are hard to take. Now see; they begin!”

“Ninguno alguien” (love all), cried the Basque scorer by the lower wall, and the game commenced.

The rules of pelote are like the English game of fives; but otherwise it resembles no game on earth! The skill and activity displayed by the six players are usually amazing.

A player had walked up near the wall, slung his christera (or basket scoop); the ball hit the wall with a loud smack, and instantly rebounded. Precise as clockwork, it was caught by a man at the far end of the court; it fell into the basket with a clack. Then he took two quick little steps and swung it back with all his force; it struck the wall, rebounded, and was caught by one of the blues, who sent it again flying with mechanical precision. Difficult as it appeared, the players rarely missed the ball; and it was marvellous how they never got in one another’s way, although all six seemed to be everywhere at once. Their activity and dexterity were surprising, and also their mode of swinging the christera with a few preliminary cat-like steps. By-and-by a ball fell; the little black Frenchman served low, a Spaniard missed, and there were yells of “Bien, bien!” and one scored to the blues.

After this a long and hard-fought rally, in which both sides seemed to outdo themselves. Now and then it looked as if a ball must fall; but back it went amid roars of applause and yells of “Oh la—la—la!” “Bravo!” and “Olle, olle, olle, olle!”

Hester was intensely interested. What were lawn-tennis rallies at school compared with pelote—compared to this game, in which two nations were competing? The Marquis de Sarazin was so entirely absorbed that he seemed almost oblivious of the presence of his guests. Once he glanced at Hester; she was leaning forward, her chin resting on both hands, her lips parted. She might have been a Basque! Indeed, Paul forgot not alone his surroundings, but his promise, and shouted encouragement and enthusiastic bravos in Spanish. Occasionally his voice was heard crying “Alza-mutilla!” (“Pick it up, my boy”) or “Dios, arriba!” (“Hard, in Heaven’s name”) as if his very existence depended on the success of the stroke.

Only those who have witnessed this game can realize the extraordinary accuracy with which the ball is caught, returned against the wall, caught by the other side, and volleyed again. Now the French led, now the Spanish, and the melancholy sing-song of the scorer announced blues 38, reds 35. Then came an interval for rest.

Paul, who had not failed to notice the interest exhibited by “La Rubia”(as he called Hester), quitted the ladies with a brief excuse; he wished to advise, exhort, and encourage his compatriots. In ten minutes he returned, and the six competitors recommenced the struggle. There were many stakes on the result of the match, and the spectators were almost delirious. As the game proceeded point by point, and the score crept up to 50, the players became maddened with excitement, and skimmed about the court like men possessed, whilst the yells and exclamations of their backers grew more and more loudly emphatic. As one man or other missed or hit, shrieks of delight broke from the people, and competitors were called on by name, for each had his own admirers.

“Oh, we shall win, I hope!” said Paul—his face was actually white. “Give your good wishes, Mademoiselle, to Spain.”

“It has them all,” she answered, without moving her eyes from a hot rally.

Oh, this was life! What a contrast to those long, solitary afternoons on the water meadows at Shalesmoor! Here, indeed, was another world—the world!

“Although we are one behind,” continued Paul, “I will ask you to look at Pablo; his dash is wonderful. He is made of wire, his heart is in pelote. If he wins, I will give him such a gift—and he knows it. Not that he cares—he plays for Spain! The little French boy is nearly done! Ah! it is now 59 all, and the blues to serve”—and he drew in his breath hard, and pulled off his hat, which he held tightly in both hands. It is undoubtedly a critical moment, and as it lengthened, increased to a scene of wild and frenzied excitement, for they were now in the midst of the last and most deadly rally.

Even Hester’s heart beat fast. Oh, she was for the moment Spaniard to its core! Suddenly one of the blue team smashed the ball hard above the outer line, which marked the depth of the limit. It whizzed along the edge of the asphalt ten feet from the wall—and there was no red near the ball. The game was to the blue! You might have heard a pin drop. All at once there was a flash of red—a jar. Pablo gave a quick glance round and cracked the ball hard against the wall. Two of the blues dashed for the unexpected return, both missed it, and rolled together in a heap—the reds had won!

Paul de Sarazin instantly tossed his hat into the court; and it was all Hester could do not to fling hers after it.

The public now poured down into the arena, wildly cheering. Paul de Sarazin was beside himself with triumph; his Spanish blood was afire. Outwardly he was composed; but his eyes were sparkling. Moved by the spell of Hester’s responsiveness he said—

“Mademoiselle, you have brought good fortune, and I have won a big wager from Prince Ratovski—the Russian over there. Well, we’ll get out now; and, if you will honour me, we will go to Miramont’s and have some tea.”

Mrs. Tudor (who had been dozing behind her parasol) suddenly awoke. She hated pelote; it bored her to death, and she witnessed the game with measureless indifference. She had outlived such scenes of enthusiasm, and preferred to sit at home with a novel, and enjoy her cup of tea in peace. The exclusive and fastidious chaperon detested the fashionable crowd who flocked to Miramont’s; but was sacrificing herself for Hester Forde. In for a penny, in for a pound; and she graciously offered their host a seat in her own carriage.

Paul encountered many congratulations and salutations as he made way for the ladies in his charge. What a popular fellow he was, thought Hester. What numbers of friends he had! What a contrast to herself!

As he took his seat with his back to the horses, he remarked audaciously—

“This is not so comfortable as my aunt Mercédès’s carriage, Mrs. Tudor—now, is it?”

“I really wonder you are not ashamed to recall it,” she answered. “I am certainly the most forgiving woman in Biarritz.”

“As you are the kindest and most charming.”

“Come, Paul, keep your pretty speeches for young ladies; never mind the old ones!”

“There are no old ladies now. I do not know one—only elderly angels.”

As he was talking to her, he was continually raising his hat to various staring friends, who looked not a little surprised to see the gay Marquis so evidently at home in Mrs. Tudor’s equipage. What had become of the red Mercédès motor? Was this brilliant butterfly about to settle at last?

As the little world of Biarritz flocked into the confectioner’s, they beheld the Marquis de Sarazin presiding at a table in the window, administering chocolate and the celebrated “sucés” cakes to the two ladies. Paul was playing the host; was he also playing the lover? The young lady was très comme il faut and rich. Was Paul, the scatterbrained, about to “ranger” himself? To behold him seated at Miramont’s, between a demoiselle and her chaperon, almost amounted to a public announcement. It looked as if old Mrs. Tudor had “caught” de Sarazin for her protégée—an incredible achievement Some of his men friends sought Paul’s eye and smiled. Some of his lady friends also sought his glance; but these did not smile. They stared very hard at Miss Forde, and mentally decided that she was distinguée, but not handsome, and that red-haired people were delicate and ill-tempered.

But, for her part, Miss Forde was so agitated that she could not eat. And when tea was concluded, and they had bidden their host farewell, she went away alone to her favourite seat on the Falaise. Here she rested in an atmosphere of rapturous calm. Hester was one of those who must always be out of doors, when they are deeply moved; and for once, she was tasting the very salt of existence as she suffered her thoughts to review this supreme afternoon, and eagerly recalled each word that Paul had addressed to her—his looks she dared not dwell on. As she sat with her gaze fixed on the Spanish coast, and a knot of the Spanish colours in her lap, the expression on her face was the afterglow of a great happiness.

Chapter XVIII

La Duquesa’s Reception

“Here is an invitation from La Duquesa de San Talmo for her reception to-morrow evening,” said Mrs. Tudor, holding up a card—“‘Mrs. Tudor and party.’ You, I presume, are the party, Hester, Should you like to go?”

“Yes, very much; but I don’t know one word of Spanish.”

“The Duchess speaks English. Her mother was a beautiful American with a huge fortune, which her daughter has scattered to the four winds!”

“What kind of a reception will it be?”

“Possibly very dull—at least, for me,” said Mrs. Tudor with a sigh; “I do not see much of the Duchess. Her sister-in-law, whose carriage we hired, is my acquaintance—a Spanish lady of the best type.”

“I suppose my white crêpe de Chine will do?” said Hester, after long meditation.

“Perfectly. What a pity you are pledged not to wear the necklace. Why, you have nothing but a little gold chain and a twopenny-ha’penny locket. I will lend you my diamond pendant.”

“Oh no, I can buy something.”

“Certainly not. What, just for one occasion—all in a hurry!—and borrowed things are lucky; I know you are superstitious.”

“I am, and I cannot think why.”

“Perhaps because you are born to be a Spanish Duchess!”

“No, indeed,” blushing to her hair; “but I hate one magpie, and I would not wear an opal, and I never praise a thing without touching wood—all relics of barbarism, but a wonderful relief to my mind, which, as you may observe, is small.”

“Oh no! However, I will not lend you my peacock brooch, but will send you over a diamond heart,” the old lady answered, with a nod of significance. “It will be time enough if we start at ten.”

It was precisely ten minutes after ten when Mrs. Tudor and Miss Forde drove up to the Villa Andalusia. It was not a large one in great grounds, like that of the Duquesa Mercédès, but was brilliantly illuminated, and there were a number of men-servants about the hall and vestibule. The two ladies were conducted into an ante-room and then into a drawing-room, already full of guests—chiefly Spanish and French.

La Duquesa, seated alone on a sofa, rose slowly, shook hands with Mrs. Tudor, and bowed to her companion.

She was magnificent in white satin, and wore a chain of pearls: her face was still handsome, but her hair was dyed, her eyebrows darkened, and she had a distinct double chin. Shooting one swift glance at Hester, she began to talk to Mrs. Tudor in fluent English.

“Ah, but you never come to see me now. Oh, you naughty little person; so you give up your old friends!”

“I am an old woman, Duquesa, and visiting becomes wearisome to old bones,” protested the guest.

“Visiting only some, is it not?” rejoined la Duquesa pleasantly; and she gave her former friend a playful tap with her fan. Oh, they thoroughly understood one another.

Mrs. Tudor disapproved of la Duquesa de San Telmo’s gambling and extravagance; but for the sake of the English girl, her protégée, she was prepared to overlook much. Whilst, for her part, la Duquesa, with the prospect of a wealthy daughter-in-law, was willing to ignore many seasons of neglect. Then la Duquesa turned to Hester and asked the usual questions.

“How do you like Biarritz, Miss Forde?”

“Very much indeed,” she answered shyly.

“Have you been here some time?” resumed la Duquesa, looking her over with cold and dominant eyes, and taking in every item of her toilette and appearance.

“About three months.”

“Shall you stay much longer?”

“I am not sure—I—we—have no plans. I’ve—I’ve not thought about it yet.”

“Well, if you do remain, I hope you will come and see me. I like the English,” and she smiled and turned her attention to another group.

Mrs. Tudor was already deep in conversation with an old French Marquis, a particular but long-lost intimate, and Hester felt an amused conviction that in former days her chaperon had been an accomplished flirt; at the same itime she found herself rather stranded. As she was standing by the wall, looking at the fine paintings, the heavy chandeliers, the gaily-dressed, chattering crowd, she was approached by a stately lady who seemed strange and yet familiar.

She was tall, slender, very dark, with aquiline features and quantities of wavy black hair; not young, but still handsome, and dressed with great magnificence.

“I think we have already met—under a wave,” she began; “do you remember how wet you were?”

“Yes, I do, indeed—and your assistance.” It was the lady who had dried her boa, and refused a seat in the little victoria.

“You are Miss Forde,” she said. “I am the Duquesa de Soriano; the hostess is my sister-in-law, and I think my nephew Paul has the honour to know you?”

“Yes,” and Hester blushed vividly. “He was kind enough to take us to the pelote,” she said; then her thoughts flew to the excursion in this lady’s carriage.

“I am fond of Paul—he is not a bad fellow,” continued his aunt, “though a little gay.”

Hester could not combat this assertion, and she cast her eyes down. As she did so, she realized the lady’s dress—an oyster-coloured satin; the two front seams were outlined with chains of pearls as thick as a man’s thumb, caught at intervals with knots of brilliants. It was a superb ornament, and of the same pattern as her own necklace. What must it not be worth? These chains fell to the edge of the gown; the necklace worn with this, the earrings and stomacher, were all to match. The Duquesa’s costume must represent thousands—doubtless old Spanish jewels, jewels of the golden age in Spain, when the treasures of the Incas and the silver fleet were poured into the country.

“Ah, I see you are looking at my pearls,” she exclaimed. “I hope you admire them? They have been in our family for centuries—since the days of Ferdinand and Isabella. They are not mine; I am only their keeper.”

“They are extraordinary,” said Hester; “most splendid!”

“Yes, the old trimming is curious, is it not? You know, long ago, in the days of the riches in the New World, the Spaniards had quantities of precious stones, and so they wore them everywhere—on their caps, their horses, their gowns, and their shoes. My brother has wonderful jewels too—heirlooms. My sister-in-law wears the Queen’s pearls. She has many beautiful ornaments, but, above all, a necklace. It has been in the family for generations, and is called ‘The Luck of the Sarazins.’ As long as they keep it, all is well—their lands and estates remain. You have the same ideas in your own country.”

“Yes, I believe we have.”

“The necklace belonged to Queen Isabella the Catholic. She gave it to a cadet of San Talmo, who, during the siege of Granada, crept along an aqueduct, and with his dagger pinned a parchment with the words ‘Ave Maria’ to the door of the great mosque—a hare-brained act—just what Paul would do! However, the jewel has had some narrow escapes. Once it was stolen; once a lady of the family lost her head over a bull-fight, and threw it to the matador, who had killed five bulls. Oh, he was a great man—Romanes. However, he relinquished the necklace for a sum. Twice it has come back. If I am superstitious, I say the third time it goes—and never returns.”

“How much I should like to see it! What is it like?” inquired Hester eagerly.

“Oh, diamonds and pearls and emeralds—all very fine and rare! My sister-in-law will bring it here out of Spain, though my brother says no, no, no. She is not wearing it, of course; but it is in this house. If you would care to look at it, I am sure la Duquesa will be charmed to exhibit it. It is matchless—a jewel once seen, never forgotten.”

“What are you talking of?” inquired the hostess, sweeping down on them at this moment. She was anxious to cultivate the English girl, and find out her tastes. If she played cards, what a blessing!

“Strange to say, of you, and of the necklace, dear Maria,” responded her relative. “I have been telling the story to this demoiselle. Perhaps she might see it?”

La Duquesa’s face changed suddenly; it became old and rigid, and the pouches under her eyes were quite remarkable as she said—

“Yes, my sister; but not to-night.”

“Perhaps, then, another time. ‘Mañaña,’” turning to Hester, “meaning to-morrow, is the watch-word in Spain! I, too, would see it—the good luck of my father’s house.”

“Never has it brought good luck to me!” cried la Duquesa with emphasis. “It likes not strangers, and, to tell the truth, I like it not. Ah, here come Paul and Léon!” and she beckoned with her fan. “They have been dining out. Léon, you do not know Miss Forde?—Miss Forde, my son Léon de Sarazin.”

Hester was now surrounded by a group of San Telmos. Although somewhat fluttered at being the centre of observation, she was not insensible to the consideration she was receiving at the hands of Paul’s family.

Léon, an officer in the Spanish army, resembled Paul, but was shorter and stouter; he had a swarthy face and a merry eye. As he bowed himself over her hand, he murmured, “It is a pleasure,” and then made room for his elder brother, who took a seat beside his aunt with graceful deliberation, and said—

“I am glad to see you here, Mademoiselle. I hope it is not too stupid?”

“Not at all. I enjoy looking at the people.”

“Our Spanish functions are so dull and formal, as a rule; the men herding at one side of the room, the women at the other. Shall I tell you who they are? Do you see that man with the fair hair and beard? He is the most accomplished swordsman in all Spain. The tall lady next to him is the Marquesa Catasparra. She is unhappy—so jealous of her husband!”

“And if she has reason—why not?” asked Hester quickly.

“Oh! and you, too, would be jealous, Mademoiselle?” and he smiled, as if infinitely amused.

“Very—very jealous!” and she smiled also.

“Well”—with a light laugh—“that is something to know! The old man with the decorations was once Prime Minister at Madrid. The stout lady in spangles is the Princess Cataluna; and the little young man is not her son.”

“No—who then? Her grandson?”

“Her third husband. And here come the singers. Let me find you a good place in the corner.”

The singers—two men and two women with guitars and mandolins—gave some capital music; Spanish songs and serenades, with the odd lilt in them. One singer, with an expressive face and rich mellow contralto voice, sang a penetrating French chanson with such moving effect that Hester, the impressionable, felt a lump in her throat; her hands and lips were actually trembling. It seemed to her that this girl was striking the very chords of her heart! Did Paul guess at her emotion? Oh no; he looked upon her as cold, English, and immovable, and was wondering how he could steal away to enjoy a cigarette.

After the songs, and a stolen smoke, the Marquis de Sarazin returned, and escorted Hester to the refreshment-rooms. The refreshments were light—merely coffee, lemonade, orangeade, chocolate, and cakes, according to Spanish custom.

As Hester—who felt that she was engrossing more than her share of the host’s attention—sipped her orangeade, he leant against the wall watching her. They were alone in the room, and he presently said—

“Mademoiselle, would you not like to see Spain?”

“Yes,” she answered; “we have thought of going to San Sebastian for a week, and Burgos—perhaps Madrid.”

“Oh, I don’t mean globe-trotting, but the real country, and our people; none are so misunderstood as Spaniards. Of course they are drones—some of them; they have a flair for pleasure and shows. You know the saying, ‘They rest six days, and on the seventh go to a bull-fight’! All they want is ’Pan y toros,’ ‘Bread and bulls.’ But the American blood in my veins rebels fiercely. Why live upon our past and our traditions? Oh, Spain is still capable of great things if she would but try!”

“Spain has fallen on evil days—and I am truly sorry,” said Hester gently.

“Thank you, Mademoiselle; you are mu simpatica. Were you to see our ancient town and palace of Torillo—once a great place, now dead without a stir—you would say to yourself, ‘There is the silence of the tomb, the solitude that attends misfortunes, and the calm of fate itself.’”

“You speak quite poetically! Can nothing be done? What does the country want to rouse it?”

“Education, energy—and, above all, money!”

“And Spain was once so rich!”

“But so extravagant! Still, there remain possessions that cannot be carried away or sold, as some do their lands and jewels—Burgos Cathedral, the Alhambra—and, above all, Toledo. I should like to show you Toledo myself. Toledo is a museum—the crown of Spain—built on a high rock; and to see it from the Vega below at sunset is a sight—the grandest in the world!”

He spoke with such suppressed enthusiasm that his listener was amazed. Here was another side to this volatile, handsome Lothario! He talked to her eagerly of plans, undertakings, reforms; it was plain that the subject interested him profoundly. His thin brown hands expressed nearly as much as his speech, as they pointed, clenched, shook, or expanded.

“Oh, I see you love Spain!” she exclaimed, when he abruptly ceased.

“So much that I would die for her; but alas, what can I do but talk! I would act! Revolution after revolution has swept over her. Miserable wretches have pilfered and betrayed her; her glories are gone, her power is broken. And yet, even so, she is the aged queen of nations!”

As he spoke his eyes burned; he seemed transfigured.

“What will happen when the younger generation awakes?” she asked.

“Perhaps a revolution—perhaps a republic—who knows? I am, of course, a Royalist of Royalists, like all my house. Well, this is strange talk for a young lady’s ears; but it is a subject near my heart, and therefore I show it to you.”

“Thank you,” she murmured. “But why?”

“Because you are near my heart also.” And he took the glass from her hand with a bow.

Hester coloured faintly. She was vividly aware that such a speech meant less than nothing from Paul de Sarazin.

“Ah, here you are!” said Mrs. Tudor, as she entered with la Duquesa. “I have been searching for you to take you home, my dear.”

“I hope we shall meet again, Miss Forde,” said her hostess graciously. “Pray do come soon to see me.” A pause. “You and I have hair the same colour. Do you notice?” The Duquesa’s hair was boldly dyed, and her remark was audacious. “We might”—and her smile was significant—“almost be mother and daughter! I have bridge on Sunday afternoon. Do you play cards?”

“No, not at all.”

“What, never a little baccarat?” she asked, with an eager expression in her made-up eyes.

“Never anything but ‘Beggar my neighbour’ to amuse a sick child.”

“Oh well, we all play that, you know, to amuse ourselves! It is a great game. Then, au revoir!” And she shook hands with her. “I hope I shall see you soon. I am at home at nine o’clock on Sunday, and every Tuesday at five.”

Paul escorted Mrs. Tudor and her companion out to the carriage, and, having handed them in, stood and watched them depart.

Then he sauntered away to his own quarters to enjoy a series of cigarettes, whilst most of the assembled company discussed in whispers and surreptitiously, the English señorita that the volatile Paul had undoubtedly selected for his future Duquesa.

Chapter XIX

Miss Forde Pays a Call

Two or three days after the reception at the Villa Andalusia, Miss Forde drove there in the afternoon to pay her promised call. “The Duquesa was at home, and would receive her,” was the message. And she followed the manservant into a somewhat gloomy, overcrowded boudoir, and there discovered the lady of the house in a splendid tea-gown which had seen its best days. The Duquesa looked tired and flabby, as if she had been sitting up for several nights; the air was close, and laden with the scent of hyacinths and patchouli.

The lady seemed bored and out of spirits, and Hester felt instinctively that she had come at a bad moment. Conversation was not easy. They discussed the recent ball, the weather, la Señora Duquesa’s health, and the health of her pet dog.

“The little darling is being washed,” she announced, “or I would show her to you. She is such a beauty! I am so proud of her! She only weighs two pounds!”

“Would you”—Hester hesitated—“would you show me instead your celebrated necklace. I admire old things, especially jewels. I should like so much to see it.”

At the word “necklace” the lady’s face changed; instead of being placidly civil it became suspicious and almost fierce.

“No, no!” she answered quickly; “that I really cannot do! I am sorry to disappoint you, but it is not here.”

Had this girl cast some evil spell over her? Certainly she had reminded Mercédès of the jewel. Mercédès had been worrying about it but yesterday; she was as much attached to the “Luck of the Sarazins” as if she had not married out of the family! Now, here was this red-haired girl again asking to see it! Curse upon her! Little did she imagine that the necklace was in that very girl’s possession; no more than did Hester suppose she was the present owner of the celebrated “Luck of the Sarazins.” In a moment of desperate money difficulties, and possessed with the demon of play, the Duquesa, half frantic and beside herself, had sent the jewel to a confidential jeweller in Madrid. He had purchased it, and the money was already gone! In all her reckless life this was Maria de San Telmo’s most daring deed; but she trusted to luck. Luck was her idol! The necklace was never worn; it was only kept as a fetish to be worshipped, and was not glanced at. From year’s end to year’s end the case remained unopened. Well, the case was still there! Should her husband discover the loss, naturally she would lay it upon thieves. Should he die ignorant of its sale, Paul would come after him. He knew her straits; he was not old-fashioned. Debts of honour must be paid, and Paul would forgive her. But if this white-faced Englishwoman began to remind the entire family of the much-prized necklace, and Mercédès asked questions, and put ideas into the head of Gaspar, her brother, great trouble would arise. Gaspar, when he was roused, had the mediaeval temper, which is ready to punish, banish, imprison, or even put to death. He would ransack Europe for the jewel, once he was told the truth. At present his emotions and suspicions slumbered. He believed the “Luck” to be in the safe with her other valuables. Oh, he would never dream that it could be elsewhere. Hester’s unfortunate question had the effect of turning the Duquesa’s easy good-will into a sudden and violent animosity. Fear is a powerful factor in altering people’s plans.

As Hester sat here, wondering why the Duquesa seemed so cold and irresponsive to-day, she little dreamt that this sleepy-looking, much-powdered lady had just made up her mind that “La Rubia” (so she was nick named by the Spanish set) was the last woman in the world to marry her son Paul. And when Miss Forde made her somewhat timid adieu, and was driven back to the hotel, she felt a disagreeable conviction that, for some unexplained reason, the visit had not been a success.

Chapter XX

The Duel

The growing intimacy between Mrs. Tudor, Hester Forde, and the Marquis de Sarazin had been the means of bringing together two old friends, Marietta—Hester’s maid—and Pedro—Paul’s trustworthy valet—a Spanish Basque of five-and-forty, with a bullet head, shrewd, deep-set eyes, blue chin, and a powerful square-shouldered form. His arms were seemingly too long for his body, his hands were generally plunged into his pockets, and the eternal cigarette smouldered between his lips. Pedro’s individuality was sharp, and his humour occasionally sardonic. Marietta was also a Basque, but from St. Jean Pied du port. She had a plain, dark, animated face, fine teeth, and a slight figure. No matter when Marietta was summoned, she was always to be found trim, quick, talkative, and resourceful. Indeed, her self-possession and worldy wisdom were the boast and admiration of her circle. She liked nothing better than a little gossip; and this she now enjoyed each morning when her old admirer, Pedro Yotti, brought her flowers for the ladies, and generally a note for one—not her mistress.

A day or two after Hester’s visit to the Villa Andalusia found Pedro and Marietta conferring together within a doorway in the courtyard of the hotel. She held in her hands two exquisite offerings of violets and camellias which Pedro had just made over to her with a letter, and now he proceeded to lounge in his accustomed attitude against the wall.

“Well, how goes it, Pedro?” inquired Marietta, with a smile that showed all her fine teeth. “Mademoiselle visited Madame la Duchesse on Tuesday all alone.”

Alors, ça commence à marcher,” he answered, knocking the ash off his cigarette with his little finger; then he closed his eyes.

“If I were Mademoiselle Forde, with her millions, I would not look at your gay Marquis,” declared Marietta scornfully.

“Why not?” demanded Pedro, speaking with closed eyes. “But of course you would. Valga me Dios! He is the handsomest Caballero in Spain.”

“Bah! Looks don’t go far. What a life he will lead her! He is a worthless bargain.”

“Well, if the fool did not go to the market, the bad stuff would not be sold,” muttered Pedro. “Not that he is bad—he is of the best.”

“Yes—to men, I dare say.”

“He plays with the women, I’ll allow; but they won’t leave him alone!”

“He will play no tricks with my lady,” asserted Marietta. “Mrs. Tudor knows him too well.”

“Ah, Madame is sharp—like a dog who has one eye on the frying-pan, the other on the cat.”

“Don Pablo has no mind to marry, they say,” resumed Marietta, sniffing one of the bouquets. “But the Duque, his father, commands him to take a wife; and it were well he should, before he breaks his neck in some mad prank. You know his last?”

Pedro suddenly raised his eyelids and looked at her.

“What?” he asked gruffly.

“Why, dressing up as a cocher and nearly killing my two ladies!”

“Ah, yes, a joke; but that was weeks ago.”

Marietta reflected in silence, then she said: “What has he been doing now? Something is on your mind. Yes, come, I see it in your face, Pedro mio.”

“Then, you see nothing but Pedro’s ugly countenance.”

“No, you have a secret, my friend—a secret about your master, or between you and him. Tell it to your old friend little Marietta, who is so prudent.”

“Nay, and if there were a matter, you know our proverb: ‘A secret between two is God’s secret; a secret between three belongs to the world.’ Well,” rousing himself and straightening his back, “now I will tell Marietta something: I think her young lady will be the Duquesa chosen by my master; and I hope so.”

“Why?” demanded Marietta sharply.

“Because then I shall see you always.”

“Bah! with your compliments, Pedro—give me one honest reason?”

“Well, God knows, he has talked with many; but lately I have heard him sing as he dresses—

‘Me gustan todas,
Me gustan todas
Me gustan todas las demas
Pero Aquella Rubia—Aquella Rubia,
Aquella Rubia—me gusta mas.’

Which, as you know, means: ‘I love them all three times, but the red-haired one the best.”

“He does not care a straw for her or her hair—it is the money.”

“God knows it is sorely needed! La Duquesa is pouring away the fortune of the Sarazins with both hands.”

“Nothing has yet been said about the marriage?”

“No, my master is sensible; he knows that to the loosened stone and spoken word there is no return.”

“Bah! you and your old proverbs! He has spoken to hundreds. What of the Italian girl last year?”

“They quarrelled about something.”

“And—Doña Dolores?” Here Marietta looked at him with an interrogative smile not wholly good.

“Ah, she was his cousin; anyhow, she is married.”

“And a widow, Pedro. Am I a fool? You know he was crazy about her once.”

“I know it was the other way; she was wild about him, like others. Dios de mi Alma! he would be a happy man if the women would leave him alone. It is his handsome face.”

“And false heart,” supplemented Marietta.

“No; but a good heart. Truly, I know of many, many things.”

“Oh, I’ll be bound you do!” with angry significance.

“I do not deny that my master likes a pretty girl, and plays the fool. But he is honourable—most honourable.”

“To men!” amended Marietta.

“Honourable to all; and he neither gambles nor drinks; he is a caballero to be proud of. May God send him a good wife!” he added piously.

“Ah, may he be a good husband!”

Pedro stood erect, his cigarette finished. He was about to depart, when she interposed—

“Is it true that the Señora Duquesa lost eight thousand francs last night to some one?”

“It may be,” he rejoined imperturbably.

“Aye, she is like a girl in her toilettes, too!” cried Marietta, with professional indignation. “Such white dresses! such young airs!—and she must be over fifty. Why does not your master, Monsieur le Marquis, keep her in hand? It is said that she will listen only to him.”

“Dios! what can he do?” said Pedro testily. “She has no sense! At times she is possessed of devils; and, anyhow, she will be young always—’tis like a leek onion: a grey head and a green tail. Well, now, Marietta, mon ami, I must leave you,” and, doffing his hat, he took an abrupt departure; whilst Marietta carried the two bouquets upstairs, and left them with the note in Madame Tudor’s sitting-room.

*  *  *

Hester had spent the morning and lunched on the golf-links. Mrs. Tudor, who had been sitting on the Plage imbibing ozone, had not seen her since déjeuner, and was on the point of ascending in the lift to enjoy an afternoon siesta, when in the hall she espied Dr. Dubois, who was attending a critical case in the hotel. He was talking eagerly to Mrs. Mac James, as she approached to inquire for the invalid.

“Oh, Monsieur Dubois, how is Mrs. Fuller?” she inquired,—“going on well, I hope?”

He bowed his head and answered: “Aussi bien que possible, Madame.”

“You”—and she turned to Mrs. Mac James—“have also come for the latest news?”

“The latest news indeed!” she answered, with the pursing of her lips. “I suppose you have not heard this shocking story of Paul de Sarazin?”

“Oh, there are so many stories of Paul,” said Mrs. Tudor, with a movement of impatience. Mrs. Tudor, in her old battered heart, had secretly reserved a corner for the fascinating Spaniard ever since he had wielded a spade on the Plage.

“But nothing to equal his last exploit,” resumed Mrs. Mac James, mistress of the situation. On one hand she detained Dr. Dubois with her eye, on the other she held her enemy, Mrs. Tudor, by her arm. She was about to give that old matchmaker a lesson.

“And what is the exploit you wish to exploit?” asked the old lady, with suppressed irritation.

“Merely to tell you, as an act of friendship, that this morning, at dawn, he fought a duel beyond La Négresse station with that wretched young Guichard—a mere boy!”

“Oh, if you call twenty-eight a boy,” corrected Mrs. Tudor, with a shrug. “Well?”

“But it is not well,” pursued Mrs. Mac James, in an aggravating manner. “They fought with foils. He ran him through the arm and sliced a piece off his nose!”

“Truly an improvement for which Guichard should be grateful.”

“Mrs. Tudor, you are incorrigible!” protested Mrs. Mac James, in a tone of exasperation. “You would make jests in”—she hesitated—“in——”

“Well, call it Hades,” said the other. “But what was the duel about? Who was she?”

“Aye, that is the question; the Marquis has so many friends,” declared Mrs. Mac James, with venomous significance. “However, the matter has been hushed up; but the doctor here confided it to me,” and she glanced at Dr. Dubois, who was conversing with a former patient. “Paul de Sarazin is not now in Biarritz; they say he left by the twelve o’clock for Paris, accompanied by—her,” resumed Mrs. Mac James, in a tone of confident authority, “and I felt that under any circumstances you must be told, on account of Miss Forde, your protégée;” and the smile of Mrs. Mac James was quite a thing to see.

“How can a woman of fortune be any one’s protégée?” inquired Mrs. Tudor, with an air of cool inquiry. “The expression is absurd. But, all the same, I am deeply grateful to you for the thought, and hope it may be in my power one day to do as much for you. I suppose there is no mistake?—you did not get the story from our special editor of the Biarritz Daily Scandal?”

“Oh dear, no; Dr. Dubois will tell you that. He was on the spot, and is attending Monsieur Guichard in his rooms,” and she beckoned to the doctor with an imperious pince-nez. Mrs. Mac James was an influential resident, and had obtained him numbers of English patients; he was, therefore, in her debt.

“I have been telling Mrs. Tudor your piece of news,” she said, lowering her voice; “and Mrs. Tudor cannot believe her ears.”

“Of course it will go no further?” he said, looking round uneasily; “and indeed, Mrs. Mac James, I strained a point in telling you; but we know that Mrs. Tudor is discretion itself.”

“Then, there was a duel?” she said sharply.

“Certainly, my dear Madame—at five o’clock this morning. I was present. The whole affair was mere child’s play to such a noted swordsman as the Marquis.”

“Only just one of his little jokes,” amended Mrs. Mac James, who hated him bitterly, since he had ignored the advances of a plain niece.

“His point seemed everywhere at once—such a wrist!” resumed Dr. Dubois. “He could have killed his man at the second pass; but he just amused himself, and spared him. Of course, a duel is an affair of honour with——”

“Regard to the honour of a lady,” supplemented Mrs. Tudor. “What a piece of excitement! A duel—why, it takes one back a hundred years!”

“Well, Madame, you will be prudent, will you not? It will never do to have this little affair the talk of the place.”

“I am, as you were good enough to say, discretion itself,” rejoined Mrs. Tudor stiffly. “I suppose Monsieur Guichard is en retraite; and where is the Marquis de Sarazin?”

“Ah!”—what an expressive shrug of his broad shoulders—“Madame asks the impossible. But he is not in Biarritz.”

Mrs. Mac James had already moved away; and Mrs. Tudor, with a gracious bow, took leave of the doctor, who had many patients, and now hurried out to his coupé. For a moment the old lady seemed buried in thought, as she gazed out into the sunny courtyard; then she turned about briskly, rang for the lift, and ascended to her own sitting-room. Here she discovered a note and bouquet on the centre table, and Hester sitting in the window, with her chin in her hands, idle, staring out upon the sardine boats.

It struck Mrs. Tudor, from her attitude, that her friend had something on her mind. Could it be possible that she already knew? The face turned to hers was ghastly. Yes, to Hester the spell had indeed vanished from the sea, and the sunshine from the air.

Mrs. Tudor walked over to the table and deliberately opened the note—a few lines from Paul in his firm, clear writing, to say that urgent business had called him away from Biarritz for ten days, and he desired to make his temporary adieu to her and to Mademoiselle Forde.

“The hypocrite!” she muttered to herself, as she put down the note and took up the bouquet. With her face half buried in it she said in an everyday voice—

“I suppose you had one too, Hester?”

(She must approach the subject delicately and by degrees.)

“From the Marquis de Sarazin? Oh yes,”—rising to her feet—“and I threw it out of the window.”


“Mrs. Tudor, I am sure you know why,” she answered steadily. “It fell on a man’s head; he picked it up, and seemed delighted. I am certain he thought I meant it for him,” and she gave a little hysterical laugh.

“And not as an affront to Paul de Sarazin?”

“Affront or not, I will never accept any more of his flowers.”

“Ah, I see you know. Who told you?” asked Mrs. Tudor, removing her bonnet; and in her fur coat, a black silk skull-cap, she now looked like a little old man.

“Mrs. Mac James whispered it to me on the staircase as I came in from golf.”

“Ah, she is generally the tale-bearer!”

“She told me about the duel—and its cause.”

“We really know nothing of the cause, Hester. The effect is, that Monsieur Guichard is laid up and unpresentable.”

“I would never have believed it of him,” exclaimed the girl inconsequently. “Fancy his fighting a duel!”

“Oh, I’d believe almost anything of Paul de Sarazin,” rejoined Mrs. Tudor; “it is by no means his first affair.”

Hester gave an involuntary gasp; she had suddenly become strangely pale, and her lips were trembling. “I see you have a note?” she remarked, and she eyed it greedily.

“Yes,” and Mrs. Tudor tossed it over to her.

“To take leave for ten days! You have never been favoured with his billets-doux. At least you were spared that,” she said bitterly. Mrs. Tudor was deeply wounded in her pride, and greatly incensed against her favourite. “No one knows better how to serve up his heart on a sheet of notepaper than our Marquis.”

“He is nothing to me,” declared Hester, folding up the thick crested paper and replacing it in its envelope. Then she was suddenly seized with a wild fear, of what she might be tempted to say.

“I thought he had turned over a new leaf,” resumed the old lady. “I hoped that for once he was serious. Why, he is close on thirty years of age. This escapade is not known in Biarritz—only to Mrs. Mac James, the receiver of stolen secrets.” After a long reflective silence she said: “Hester, what do you say?—shall we go away for a little change?”

“Very well,” she answered. Oh, she could leave Biarritz now; yes, and the sooner the better, she reflected, as she reviewed the situation with surprising self-control.

“Shall we run into Spain for Easter? Ten days or a fortnight will do; and you will like to see a bit of the world? You know, my sister-in-law, who married a Spaniard, lives at Cordova. I’ve often told you about Doña Luisa?”

“Oh, yes.”

“She has invited me several times lately, and I’ve not been to Cordova for some years. Luisa is a widow; I’m rather attached to her; so we will pay her a little visit, and you shall see Spain from the domestic side, and stay in a Spanish house. Here I will give out that I’ve always meant to spend Easter in Spain; I’ll write to-night, and we will start the day after to-morrow.”

“Just as you like,” agreed the girl listlessly.

“You will like it too. I feel that we must do something. Will one maid between us be sufficient? At least, we will take Marietta—she speaks Spanish—and a courier to keep us from getting stolen, eh, Hester?” and rising, she went over and took the girl’s white face in her two hands, and looking down into it said: “My dear, don’t let me suppose that that handsome good-for-nothing has stolen the best part of you—your heart!”

Hester smiled and shook her head, but tears slowly rose and filled her grey eyes. Unfortunately, what Mrs. Tudor “supposed” was painfully and intolerably true.

Chapter XXI

Over the Border

Mrs. Tudor, Miss Forde, maid and courier were among those departures from the Bellevue who elected to spend Easter in Spain. Their trip occasioned no surprise, for it was known that the elder lady had relations over the border, and her movements were notoriously erratic.

The party travelled by the familiar route, across the Bidassoa, past picturesque Fuente-rabia and gay San Sebastian, then over the wild and breezy slopes of the Pyrenees, by high, bare uplands, mountain torrents groves of oaks and chestnuts, past flat-roofed farmhouses, ox-carts and flocks, to Burgos, the home of the “Cid,” the Spanish champion. Here they halted for one day in order to visit the cathedral, and then resumed their journey. Arrived at Madrid, Mrs. Tudor put up at an hotel on the Puerta del Sol where she was well known, and declared her intention of remaining for a week in order to visit old friends, whilst Hester, accompanied by Marietta, could enjoy new sights to her heart’s content.

The hurrying life of the city and the wonderful animation on the Plaza below the hotel windows, with its ten converging streets, swarming trams, crowds of foot passengers, and splendid equipages, proved an unfailing source of interest to the country mouse. Although Hester was unspeakably unhappy, she kept her feelings out of sight, and her chaperon congratulated herself that the girl had so easily extinguished her unfortunate infatuation for the faithless Paul. In spite of many engagements, the old lady managed to accompany her charge to the “Museo del Prado.” She wished to witness her ecstasies, and also desired to renew her own memories with respect to one of the most splendid picture-galleries in the world.

Hester, who had never entered a picture-gallery in her life, felt overwhelmed and bewildered, but scarcely had she begun to admire the beauty of one chef d’oeuvre, before her chaperon hurried her off to see another. Rubens, Raphael, Titian, Claude Lorraine—above all, Murillo and Velasquez. Even her untrained eye acknowledged the Master. Whilst her friend sat and rested, and the incorrigible Marietta flirted with the courier, Hester remained in the Velasquez Salon lost in admiration, wandering from “Las Meninas” to “The Surrender of Breda,” and from “The Surrender of Breda” to the noted equestrian portraits; then away to the Murillo collection, to have one last look at “The Children and the Shell.” Miss Forde of Shalesmoor was receiving an extraordinary medley of new impressions; her eyes were dazzled, and her mind entranced.

“I only want to see a few,” she protested to Mrs. Tudor, as they wandered down the great central gallery, “and try to impress them on my memory, to remember always—always.”

“And have you a retentive memory?” asked the old lady, with a quick glance.

“Yes—I think so.”

“It is by no means a blessing, in my humble opinion.”

“At least for some things,” corrected the girl—“books I have read, music I have heard.”

“Perhaps also for honeyed words and handsome faces,” supplemented her chaperon with acrid significance. “Pray do not cultivate memory, my dear. I do not believe in its pleasures for young people,” and she took her seat in the waiting carriage as she spoke, and said “Home.”

Another expedition was to the Royal Palace, built on the site of the Moorish Alcazar, a truly imposing edifice, which is of the city yet not in it, overlooking the shrunken Manzanares and the great park of “Casa del Campo.” The general effect of its massive white walls is dignified and impressive. There is no danger of this palace ever being mistaken for a railway-station or a jail; it looks what it assumes to be—the abode of kings.

The world-renowned armoury was visited, a collection ranging over three hundred years, founded by Charles the Fifth, and increased by every one of his successors. Hester, on this occasion, was attended by Marietta and the courier; the latter pointed out to her, as a compliment to her nationality, the tattered banner of Mary of England and Spain. On entering the great hall, the squadron of mailed knights in full panoply on armed and caparisoned war horses, recalled to Hester her beloved “Ivanhoe” and “the gentle and joyous lists of Ashby de la Zouch.”

How these splendid shining figures fired her romantic imagination! She gazed at them in admiration; they appealed to her even more forcibly than the pictures in the Prado—mailed martial forms wearing the very armour of the days of chivalry. Here were tournament suits of Charles V, Philip the Handsome, Philip II, and the Emperor Maximilian; consecrated swords presented by various Popes for doughty deeds against the infidel; the turban and weapons of a celebrated Turkish pirate, Haireddin; Visigothic jewellery, the sword of Gonsalvo de Cordova (El Gran Capitan), the pall of Ferdinand of Castille, and the State sword of the Catholic kings.

Within the tent of Francis I, captured at the battle of Pavia, Hester stood as in a dream. The glamour of historical achievements was in the atmosphere, the trophies of heroic feats encompassed her on all sides. After a long and protracted reverie, the impatience of Marietta (who saw nothing in the Almeria but the results of unnecessary polishing) compelled her to depart, and with a sigh of profound regret she took leave of the groups of stately equestrian knights in closed visors. Here, in truth, was the heart and soul of Spain’s proud chivalry. Alas! alas!

“We will now go and visit the stables, or the Royal Chapel,” urged the courier briskly.

“The chapel first,” Hester replied.

But unfortunately there was no admittance—it was a holy day and the Court was at Mass. Presently the courier, who had left them, returned, and said: “There is a special service, the Royal family are there; but,” he continued pompously, “I have influence, and if you will follow me up to the corridor you will see them pass from the chapel.”

By some mysterious process (possibly not unconnected with pesetas) the party were conducted up a side staircase (not the great marble one celebrated by Napoleon), and after a whispered colloquy were admitted into a covered carpeted corridor, which ran round four sides of an open court, and was lined by halberdiers, and spectators standing two or three deep. Among these Hester and Marietta thankfully subsided, a little in the background, but they were tall, and here they waited patiently whilst lackeys of the Palace stroked to and fro. At last there was a movement; people ceased to whisper and fidget; an official in gorgeous uniform went briskly by; strains of an exquisite slow march became faintly audible.

“It is the Court,” announced the courier; “they are coming from the chapel—see!”

And, behold, a number of men were advancing in time to the band, all wearing splendid uniforms. There was a pause, a slight cessation in the procession, and the courier whispered: “Look, look! here are the grandees of Spain!”

And then approached, in stately measure, a body of gentlemen in Court suits—gold-embroidered velvet coats, knee breeches, and silk stockings. They wore many decorations and orders; each carried in his right hand a long-headed tortoiseshell cane—young, middle-aged, and old they were—and most of them remarkably handsome, undoubtedly of the purest blue blood, with thin aquiline profiles, dark-eyed and distinguished. The grandees bore themselves with impressive dignity, and it was altogether a grave and splendid pageant.

Never in her life had Hester witnessed so proud and so patrician a procession, and as they moved by, four abreast, she gave a little gasp. Among them was a man of the same type, and extraordinarily like Paul de Sarazin. Oh, undoubtedly she had Paul on the brain! This noble man wore the collar of some order, walked with his head erect, looking straight before him with an abstracted and impassive expression. Slowly he passed with others, and then came the tall young King—alone, boyish, and yet dignified, with quick, searching, smiling eyes. After him his sister and his aunt, wearing mantillas and trains, and accompanied by their suite. Another pause in the procession. No, it was not yet ended; the music continued, and a crowd of courtiers and several prelates came into view—then the Queen Christina—alone, tall and slender, wearing a long close-fitting velvet gown, a crown, and mantilla. She looked truly regal, and, though not handsome, of a commanding, gracious presence—a Queen indeed.

Her ladies followed her, also various members of the household, and the Capello Publico was over.

Hester stood immovable, listening to the distant music, thrilled and agitated by the spectacle in a manner that amazed her. Why this queer catch in her throat? Were they not human beings like herself?

“Ah, you enjoyed that,” said the courier complacently; “you saw it well?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“The grandees were in numbers, and there were the ministers;” and he rattled off the names of at least a dozen Duques and Counts.

“Was the Duque de San Telmo among them?” she brought herself to ask.

“I would not know—I have never seen him, but I will inquire of my friends in the Palace.”

“Oh, no, no!” she said nervously; “it is of no consequence; it does not matter.”

“Now, shall we go to the Royal Stables?” he suggested, “and see the Andalusian horses and the State carriages—what do you say?”

“No—no!” she replied, to his deep disappointment.

“I have seen enough for to-day.”

“But only the Almeria (the Armoury) and the procession,” he cried. “Why, that is nothing at all; and so much to do; we are losing good time!”

And in spite of her reluctance, and desire to meditate over the great scene, and distinguish her impressions, the energetic courier carried Miss Forde off to the Museo National, and Academia de Bellas Artes.

The following afternoon Mrs. Tudor accompanied her young friend round the principal curiosity-shops or “Antiguedades” in Madrid, beginning at the Calle Alcalá, and ending with the rag-market. They purchased lace and fans; pictures, tapestries, and cabinets, the spoil of many ruined houses, tempted Hester sorely, for, like her chaperon, she loved old things; but what could she do with these articles at Shalesmoor? The gold-emblazoned banners and brocaded priests’ robes, the tapestries and portières would only be eaten by the mice, and she wished them a better fate. Needless to say, she took a keen interest in the display of jewels—roughly cut diamonds, rubies, and emeralds sparkling in collars, earrings, and stomachers. Such barbaric settings—thick clusters of stones massed lavishly together; but among all the strange and valuable articles she turned over, Hester found nothing to compare with her own purchase. It had been, indeed, as Dominguez had said, “just a chance.”

As Hester was dressing for a dinner-party that evening, she casually asked Marietta “what she had been seeing that day?”

“Oh, Mademoiselle,” she cried rapturously, “I have been to the Bull-ring!”

“The Bull-ring!” repeated her mistress, aghast.

“Yes, and I was taken all over it—it was empty.”

“Ah, well, as long as it was empty!” said Miss Forde. “I suppose it was like a great amphitheatre—seats all in tiers, and open to the sky?”

“Yes, it holds fifteen thousand people. In the middle, on the sand, a man was exercising a horse. It is big like a circus.”

“Is it?” said Hester indifferently.

“And they showed us the dreadful black dens where the bulls are kept, divided from one another by wooden shutters, drawn up with ropes and pulleys. As one bull goes out, another is moved on, until all are—ended! Oh, such horrible dark places! They keep them there for hours to make them savage—no food, no water, and when at last the shutter is lifted, and they dash into the sun,, there is no green sierra—but just the ring and death!”

“Poor beasts!” exclaimed her listener.

“I also saw where they kept all the big peaked saddles, and old bridles, and the lances and sharp things, banderillos, and flags; also the collars and long traces for the mules, who drag out the dead horses and bulls. In the stables were many horses—oh, such poor creatures! so old and thin—waiting for the next bull-fight, and their last day, which will be soon. Oh, Mademoiselle,” suddenly clasping her hands in ecstacy, “it is so interesting!”

“There, there, Marietta!” she interrupted, “don’t tell me any more. Give me my gloves; I must be going.”

Chapter XXII

The Luck of the Sarazins

“Are you ready?” inquired Mrs. Tudor, who, in a wonderful amethyst toilette, had immediately followed her knock. “Um, yes,” she muttered doubtfully, as she surveyed Hester’s slim black figure, “but, my dear, I think you want something to brighten you up a bit; this is a rather special occasion. If you had an ornament—why, how stupid I am! Of course, there is the necklace—did you bring it with you?”

“Yes.” The word had scarcely left Hester’s lips before Marietta was unlocking a trunk. “You know I promised that I would never wear it in France, but there was not a word about Spain; do you think I might put it on?”

“Why, of course,” rejoined Mrs. Tudor, with some asperity; “what else is it for?”

By this time the ornament had been taken out of its case, and was being clasped around Miss Forde’s throat by Marietta’s firm and eager fingers.

“Dear me, what a difference it makes!” exclaimed Mrs. Tudor, standing back a step. “Now you really are en grande toilette. I never saw anything more splendid.”

“Yes,” agreed Hester, “it is quite magnificent, isn’t it? Are you sure it is not too much?”

“No, not for a rich young woman,” rejoined the old lady with emphasis; “the odd thing is, that you were requested not to wear it in France, when any one can see with half an eye that it is really Spanish! I should have thought Spain was the country to ban.”

“But perhaps Juan Dominguez never dreamt that I should come here. I never supposed it either.”

“Ah, possibly not; and if you were to be prevented from wearing the necklace in half the countries of Europe, it would not be much good to you, would it?”

Mrs. Tudor surveyed it critically; never in her long life had she seen such a truly royal jewel,and on Hester’s white neck (which the pearls matched so admirably) the great deep emeralds shone, and the flashing diamonds sparkled, as if things of life, conscious of their own importance.

“Well, my dear, we cannot waste our time gaping at your necklace,” exclaimed the old lady; “we must be off at once, or we shall be late.”

As they drove to the Castejar Palace Mrs. Tudor remarked—

“This will not be a large party—only the Marquis and Marquesa de Castejar, their son Don Fernando and his wife; possibly the old Duquesa de Balenga and one or two more. None of them speak a word of English, so you must air your French.”

“Oh, but I really dare not,” said Hester. “It is altogether too atrocious.”

“All you want is practice—practice,” said Mrs. Tudor; “if you don’t talk, I’m afraid you will find it stupid. However, I can promise you a good dinner, and you will see an historical Spanish family, and a Spanish interior, such a quaint rambling old place—miles of rooms, and the stables under the dining-room. These Castejars are of the bluest of blue blood, and lead—the women, anyway—such terribly dull, formal lives, for a Castejar must live up to a famous past.”

“That at least is one disagreeable that is spared me,” said Hester. “I am, in a way, my own ancestor. I know nothing of my forebears or their past.”

“Your forebears were gentlefolk,” said Mrs. Tudor—“your mother a Bothwell of Burnley! Oh, you cannot shuffle off your ancestors so easily, and pretend to be a nobody, and anyway, if you did no one would believe you.”

“Especially when I am wearing my splendid necklace,” rejoined Hester, with a laugh.

There was no courtyard to the Palace de Castejar, merely an immense studded door opening to the street, and above it an imposing coat of arms. Within a circular hall the ladies were received by several men-servants, ushered up a winding stone staircase, through an impressive suite of gloomy apartments, hung with ancient and ugly blue and green tapestry, and lined with strange old cabinets, bureaux, and high carved chairs. At last the family was discovered, in a modern chamber at the end of the suite—the Castejars, their son Don Fernando and his wife, all dark, stately, and Spanish, also several other guests, including the Duquesa de Balenga, a stout old lady with wonderful black eyes, said in her day to have been the most beautiful woman in Spain.

Mrs. Tudor, the latest arrival, was well known to most of the party; this was by no means her first visit to Madrid. Presently she entered, a little upright figure, followed by her companion, a tall, slight girl, in black, with a wonderful skin—it looked like white marble—and on her neck, Dios! what a magnificent necklace! The company stared—they were so amazed that they almost forgot their fine formal manners, and felt, at least the Castejars and the Duquesa, absolutely stupefied, for this English señorita, unconscious of her dignity, was actually wearing that famous Spanish heirloom, “The Luck of the Sarazins”!

Hester could not fail to notice the immediate attention her ornament was accorded. When people addressed her, their gaze seemed riveted, not on her face, but on her necklace. Well, she honestly preferred that her necklace should receive more admiration than herself!

As dinner was announced, the company formed a solemn procession through the ante-rooms, and proceeded below stairs, again passing through a long suite. The meal was served in a room hung with full-length portraits of the Castejar’s ancestors, which included two notable Velasquez.

The table was decorated with flowers and some wonderful ancient gold candlesticks, and the dinner was most recherché; the only dish that seemed at all peculiar was one of “caracoles,” or edible snails (served with a kind of salad); they were something like shrimps, and greatly appreciated by the Spanish people, as well as by Mrs. Tudor.

By degrees Hester ventured into French, and talked a little to her supporters on either side, men who were agreeable and fluent, and admired the English señorita, but their eyes constantly strayed to the necklace—indeed, it continued to be a magnet to most of the party. Hester caught glances right and left, and sometimes these eyes met others and exchanged whole volumes. Conversation was brisk, especially in Spanish; the ladies knew no tongue but their own, and could not communicate with Miss Forde save by gracious little signs, and the language of the eye. Yet it seemed to her, when she encountered their dark glances across the golden candlesticks, that there was something indefinable behind their smiles—an expression of wonder, and was it disapproval, or—disdain?

But to the best of Hester’s knowledge she had never seen these handsome haughty women in her life; why their glances of imperious interrogation? Did they suppose she had stolen the necklace? For their gaze flashed from her throat to her face, her face to her throat, with an expression of sarcastic wonder. The gentlemen, her neighbours, talked to her of motoring, golf, and polo. “Oh yes, indeed they play golf and polo at Madrid, and why not?” and for their part they questioned her respecting Biarritz and her impressions of Spain so far. Did she propose to make a long stay? Was she going to Toledo and the Escorial?

Mrs. Tudor chatted away, now in Spanish, again in French, and was enjoying herself mightily. Nevertheless, she took an early departure, and Hester noticed with the deepest interest how the gallant gentlemen bent over her chaperon’s hand and raised it to their lips; while to her they accorded the most courtly and deliberate inclinations.

As soon as several of the guests had followed Mrs. Tudor’s example, the Castejar family, the Duquesta, and an old Cardinal went, so to speak, “into committee” on the necklace, and found exquisite relief in long-suppressed speech.

“The Luck of the Sarazins,” cried the Duquesa—“the Sarazin necklace—that girl was wearing it!”

“No doubt about it,” agreed the Marquis; “and if the Duque had been able to accept, as we hoped, I expect we should have had a scene! You know his temper.”

“It would have killed him,” cried the Marquesa, “or he would have killed her. Why, he holds the necklace as sacred as a holy relic; it scarcely ever sees the light; and to come in in an ordinary way to a little dinner parly worn—by—an English girl! Dios de mi alma!”

“How could she obtain it?” demanded the Cardinal—“an ornament that can only be worn—by—a Duquesa de San Telmo?”

“I have an idea,” said Don Fernando. “We have heard a rumour that our gay Paul has been paying court to a very rich girl—English, fair, with reddish hair; without doubt, she is the same lady who was here to-night wearing The Luck of the Sarazins round her beautiful throat. Paul—has given it to her!”

“Never!” burst out his father with an angry emphasis; “it is not his, no more than it is mine. Paul, mad as he is, has a certain amount of respect for his ancestors and his heirlooms.”

“Paul de Sarazin is mad enough to do anything,” rejoined the younger man. “I don’t mean dishonourable; but I expect he borrowed the necklace for his señorita to see—’tis enough to tempt any woman, even were she a saint”

“Oh, Paul himself is equal to that,” declared the Duquesa. “If I were a girl, I should be wildly in love with him—Dios, what eyes!”

“I think he has probably lent this necklace, and displayed it on the lady for a bet,” resumed Don Fernando.

“And I am sure he has not,” contradicted his father with vehemence, “though certainly the young lady wore it as if she had a right to do so. It is all a riddle.”

“A riddle we will not offer to the Duque de San Telmo,” remarked the Duquesa, with a laugh.

“No, God forbid!” returned the Marquis piously, “but a riddle we had better keep to ourselves—otherwise there will be black trouble.”

Sunday was “El Domingo de la Resurrection” (Easter Day), and had been specially set apart for a notable bullfight The “Corrida de Torros” had been placarded about the streets for weeks. From two o’clock in the afternoon, trams and vehicles all travelled in but one direction, towards the huge “Plaza de Toros.” Sitting in her window Hester beheld open carriages filled with gay ladies, all wearing flowers and white mantillas, as if going to a fête. Closed carriages, humble carts, omnibuses, and little battered diligences were hurrying to the same goal, and it almost seemed to her excited imagination that several emaciated horses ridden towards the Calle de Alcala were, did they but know it, making their last journey. By-and-by Mrs. Tudor ordered a landau and set forth for a drive with Hester in the Bueno Retiro Park. On their way there—which is also the route to the Bull-ring—an open carriage dashed by, drawn by four great mules, decorated with gay woollen tassels; it contained three solemn-looking young men wearing gold-laced jackets and Toreador caps.

“Los Matadores!” explained the coachman excitedly; “Bombito, Chiquito, and Fuentes!” and he looked and spoke as if he were alluding to the greatest men in Spain.

The two English visitors, as they drove round the park, congratulated one another on the vast crowds they saw there.

“So they are not all at the bull-fight!” said Hester; “that is one good sign.”

“Perhaps because they could not get in,” suggested Mrs. Tudor; “still, I believe the bull-ring is declining, and I will not damp your hopes.”

When the ladies returned at seven o’clock it was dusk, and the bull-fight was over for the day. Hester found Marietta in her room laying out her gown, dragging at drawers and hunting in boxes, in a condition of repressed and feverish excitement.

“Oh, Marietta, there is no hurry,” said her mistress; “what a fuss you are in—where have you been?”

“Mademoiselle, I have been to the bull-fight,” she announced with bright, excited eyes. “A valet took me, and we had a good place, though it was crowded. I saw the procession enter on horseback with music. Oh, it was truly fine—such splendid dresses. When they were all assembled they saluted the President, and he threw a key into the ring to unlock the door of the ‘Toril,’ and then it commenced—the bull-fight. I stayed all the time; yes, all the time,” she repeated triumphantly.

“Oh, Marietta, how could you?” exclaimed her mistress in a tone of horror.

“Yes, but I did. I was not like the five Englishmen who left at once, quite green and sick and very angry. I saw six bulls killed. Number one was such a stupid fellow, who just walked out and stared about him; he was so quiet, that in the end they used fire crackers, ‘De fuego,’ which burnt his flesh and drove him mad, and then—O mon Dieu! mon Dieu! Other bulls were as fierce, and wanted nothing but to kill. I saw horses killed—oh, many times. At first it was horrid, especially if they were white,” and she gave a little shudder. “But after two or three I did not mind. Mademoiselle, there is another bullfight to-morrow, just as good; it is a thing for you to see.”

“Marietta,” interrupted Hester, who had been vainly attempting to stem this torrent of fluency and exultation, “Marietta, you are a savage. Yes, you should have come out when the first horse was killed, like those men, instead of sitting there gloating, and you—a woman! I shall never think the same of you again, never.”

”Mais je suis faite comme ça, voilà!” declared Marietta, with a shrug; “and it is the custom of the country.”

“It is shocking, barbarous, cruel!” replied Hester in a voice throbbing with indignation.

“Every one goes, all the same,” protested Marietta—“the Court, the Princesses, ah!” she added, with a sagacious shake of her head, and as if speaking to her own thoughts, “no, no, no, no! One sees that it would never do for Mademoiselle—to marry a Spanish gentleman!”

Chapter XXIII


At dawn, Mrs. Tudor and her companion left Madrid for Cordova, the city of the Moors. It was a long journey south; by gradual degrees the barren plains of La Mancha gave place to the fertile province of Andalusia. Hester (an eager and impressionable traveller) sat motionless in a window, gazing on the scenery, whilst the older woman—who knew the route by heart—read or, though she denied the fact, slept.

Here indeed was Spain, Hester said to herself. Spain—his country. Naturally, everything was his; Madrid, the palace, the pictures, the armoury! Yes, and all these sweeping stretches of green crops, olive groves, and fields of beans to boot.

How Eastern it seemed, too; the dusty cactus hedges which lined the railway, the flocks of lean, dark sheep, so unlike English sheep, the goats also in droves, the shepherd, with his sombrero and straw shoes.

Every mile brought some novelty to her observant and delighted eyes: old towns, castles, bridges, and aqueducts—the farther they journeyed south, the more interesting the scene became.

At the infrequent stations were groups of merry, dark girls, with red flowers in their hair; stout, leisurely Moors, wrinkled beggars, guardias civiles, and, alas! lean and famishing dogs, among whom she distributed her lunch. Sometimes for many miles, no human figure was to be seen, save a woman holding a flag at a crossing, or a child herding goats. Towards sundown they passed into the delicious land of orange-groves and white acacias. The air was laden with their fragrance, and Mrs. Tudor began to rouse herself from her siesta, peevishly protesting that “she had been awake all the time, and merely resting her eyes.”

“How dark the people are!” remarked Hester, as they rolled out of a station; “their faces seem to be of an Eastern type.”

“And, pray, why not?” said her companion. “Do you not know that the Moors were eight hundred years in Spain? Dear me, I wish they were here now,” she grumbled; “they understood good roads, and irrigation, and prosperity. After all, it is a country for an Oriental nation, and there is a good deal of the East in it still. I dare say there are few of the old families, especially round Cordova, without a touch of Moorish blood.”

“Really!” exclaimed Hester. “How much I should like to see them!”

“No doubt your wish will be gratified,” said Mrs. Tudor. “Heavens! what a journey this is! Everytime I make it I declare that it is positively for the last time.”

“To me it has all been delightful,” said Hester, with enthusiasm. “I could spend days gazing out of the carriage window—it is all so strange and so interesting. Oh, do look at that little boy driving his pigs with a great bough of orange-blossom!”

“Yes, orange-blossom is cheap here—and so is sentiment! You are like a child, and I am a blasée old woman. Well, thank goodness, we have only two more stations to Cordova,” and once more the old lady closed her eyes and indulged in forty winks.

Hester’s mind was charged with romantic memories; gleanings from history and guide-books filled her imagination with brilliant pictures of Cordova, the capital of the Moors, the Mecca of the west, the home of Romans and Visigoths. Her reverie was disturbed by flashing lights, and the expectation of mosques and palaces was brought down to the reality of a commonplace railway station, with porters, barrows, and trucks. Here Mrs. Tudor was received by a dignified servant in livery, who assisted her stiff limbs to the platform, and then preceded her to where a fine equipage was in waiting. After a short delay the travellers were being rapidly carried over a rough, ill-kept road, and through the equally ill-paved streets of a brilliantly illuminated town; for although its thoroughfares were of the Middle Ages, Cordova boasted electric light. It was nearly nine o’clock, the shops and cafes were open—all the world seemed to be out of doors.

After clattering over many cobble-stones, the carriage drew up outside a gateway in the outer wall of an imposing grey mansion. The ladies and their maids descended, and walked along a stone passage into a great open courtyard, or patio, with a fountain, surrounded by palms, orange-trees, and pillars, clustered with climbing-roses and passion-flowers; above were tiers of galleries, reached by a marble staircase, and at the foot of this, a dumpy little lady in a mantilla threw herself upon Mrs. Tudor and kissed her rapturously.

“At last, Laura!” she exclaimed. (Kiss.) “At last!” (Kiss.) “It does me good to see you!”

As soon as Laura had extricated herself from the embrace of her demonstrative kinswoman, she said—

“And here is my young friend, Miss Forde. Hester, this is Doña Luisa Molina.”

“You are very welcome,” said Doña Luisa, taking her hand. “I do like to see my own country-people, otherwise I become too Spanish,” and she smiled. She had a delightful smile, and pretty eyes.

“We are both dead, Luisa!” announced Mrs. Tudor. “What! do I see Freddy?” she exclaimed as a figure rapidly descended the stairs.

“Yes. Is not this a nice surprise for you?” said his aunt. “He had a touch of Rock fever, and has come to me for a change.”

Captain Tudor, who appeared to be in excellent health, and looked remarkably spruce, well-groomed, and ready for supper, greeted the new arrivals with empressement.

“You are half an hour late,” resumed Doña Luisa. “We have waited—such a proof of affection! Freddy and I are so hungry—we could eat you!”

“You’d find me rather tough,” said the old lady, laboriously beginning to ascend the stairs. “You’d better have a slice off Miss Forde, who is young and tender; but she is starving, too! She threw all her lunch out of the window to some dogs!”

“Come, I’ll show you your rooms,” said Doña Luisa, preceding Hester with the activity of a girl of twenty. “Laura, you are in your old quarters. Miss Forde, you are in here,” and, opening a tall door off a corridor on the first gallery, she ushered her guest into a large and lofty chamber, furnished like a drawing-room. Here were thick carpets and curtains, sofas, a great chandelier suspended over a central table, armchairs, mirrors, pictures; behind a screen was a piled-up pillowed bed and an immense armoir, and on a little table that English welcome, a vase of fresh flowers.

Hester felt almost lost in the great apartment; the distances were vast; it was a walk from the wardrobe to the door, from the window to the dressing-table. When she had made a hurried toilet, she opened the door into the gallery, and, leaning over the marble balustrades, looked up at the stars above, then down on the patio below, where, reflected in the water, they twinkled like diamonds. The court, with its marble pavement and fountain, palms, climbing jessamine, and sweet orange-flowers, seemed like the interior of some fairy palace.

“Come along, come along!” said Mrs. Tudor, suddenly joining her and taking her arm. “It’s fine, is it not? This was once the old palace of the Arevalos. Now mind you don’t let me fall on the marble! Supper is downstairs.”

Supper proved a pleasant meal, well served and well cooked. To Hester the only strange dish was a delicious “Dulce de Azahar,” a sweetmeat made of orange-flowers; it seemed almost profane to taste it! The long, low room was panelled with gloomy portraits of bearded dark men, and undressed and over-jewelled ladies, who had departed this life within the last three centuries.

Doña Luisa had much to say and more to hear. Captain Tudor, a tanned little officer, with wide-apart blue eyes and a fair moustache, exerted himself to entertain his aunt’s guest. He looked at the heiress with critical attention. She was decidedly good-looking, and had even an air of distinction, now that she was set off by self-confidence and smart clothes, but, although totally unaffected, she seemed to be tired and out of spirits. He wondered if she realized, if she even knew, that it was he who had set her life moving—he, Freddy Tudor, who had discovered her wealth to an amazed and incredulous community.

Yes, Hester was aware that she was dull; they talked of Shalesmoor and of the Colsons, and then she really could not think of any other topic. During painful gaps in the conversation, the fountain sounded like falling rain; she could see the palms through the open door, and the stars shining down into the courtyard. It was all so strange, so foreign, and so enchanting.

After supper, coffee and cigarettes were served in the patio. Mrs. Tudor kept Doña Luisa in countenance, and, to Hester’s amazement, smoked three cigarettes; and shortly afterwards the travellers retired.

The following morning Mrs. Tudor, pleading age and fatigue, despatched Hester in charge of her nephew to stroll about Cordova and explore the town.

Indeed, Miss Forde was rather glad of the new escort, for he would probably suffer her to loiter and examine things she wished to see, instead of being compelled to stare at objects that had no interest for her, but for her chaperon; and being ruthlessly driven along precisely as Mrs. Tudor pleased, for she was a peremptory and tyrannical cicerone. Besides, the little she had seen of Captain Tudor she liked; he was agreeable, and very English, the only person she had met abroad that knew Shalesmoor and her surroundings. Not that she loved either, but still it constituted a tie, and she was neither shy nor frightened, but felt at her ease in his company.

When the young people had departed on foot the two elders sat themselves down to discuss comfortably the most recent family news, and other engrossing topics—such as wills, money, and marriages.

“And so you have taken this girl under your wing, Laura?” said her sister-in-law. “She seems ladylike, and is striking-looking —but is she not a terrible responsibility?”

“Not at all,” replied Mrs. Tudor sharply. “She never gives an atom of trouble or uneasiness.”

“I mean her money,” rejoined Doña Luisa. “So many thousands—what a fortune for some needy foreigner! Is she impressionable? For here we have several handsome young Caballeros of very old family, but without a peseta.”

“Oh, well, as to that,” responded Mrs. Tudor, “there were plenty of poor caballeros in Biarritz! She could have married almost any one, but the girl has set her heart on a most hopeless parti—such a handsome, faithless fellow. I name no names.”

“No!” exclaimed Doña Luisa, and there was a note of disappointment in her voice. “And why not? To me, at least?”

“Maybe I shall tell you some day! He has behaved abominably, oh, shockingly! And I have just taken this little jaunt to see you for one thing, and to endeavour to put him out of the girl’s mind for another.”

“Easier said than done, if he is, as you say, so handsome,” remarked wise Doña Luisa.

“Her pride is touched,” replied Mrs. Tudor; “and though I firmly believe she cares for him, she will never forgive him—never!”

“Laura, my dear,” and Doña Luisa suddenly put her fat little beringed hand on her knee, and looked into her eyes—“what a chance for Freddy! It really seems as if Providence had arranged it.” A pause. “Freddy will have it all his own way,” she resumed. “Such a magnificent opportunity.”

“Yes, that is true,” assented Mrs. Tudor, after a moment’s reflection. “And it is only human nature that you should like to see that quarter of a million in the Tudor family, but I declare to you, Luisa, I never thought of it before. However, Hester Forde is a curious, tenacious sort of girl—she is reserved in some ways, and I dare say is capable of an immortal constancy. I believe it will take her a long time to forget the other—if she ever does!”

“Oh, there is no fear of that!” said Doña Luisa, with conviction, and she suddenly lighted a cigarette. “Freddy”—puff—“is not exactly”—puff—“handsome—but he is well set-up, young, and agreeable. He will be a baronet some day; the title wants money sadly. Laura, you and I must help him. Come, do be sympathetic, and you can do much—you are so clever.”

“Cordova in April, with a full moon, has its possibilities,” she said; “and a girl is often caught at the rebound; you know that!”

“Yes, indeed, Laura, and I sincerely hope that Freddy will catch Miss Forde.”

“It is possible; but if she dreamt for one second that you and I were laying our heads together like this, she would be off to-morrow morning!”

“But surely it is all for her good!” protested Doña Luisa.

“And—Freddy’s,” added Mrs. Tudor, with an emphatic nod, accompanied by a rather bitter little smile. You see, she had not been born a Tudor.

Chapter XXIV

A Day of Pleasure

It might or it might not have been the result of the conversation between the two ladies—possibly it was accidental; but the next day Hester was escorted by Captain Tudor to visit “La Mezquita,” the renowned Mosque of Cordova. Discreetly chaperoned by Marietta and the courier, they walked through labyrinthine streets or ill-paved passages, along the calle Jesus Maria, with high whitewashed walls and windows many yards above the ground, quite in the Harem style. The little sporting officer, who cared not a straw for history or romance, was amazed by his companion’s fund of information. She knew far more about Cordova than he, who had visited it repeatedly.

“You see, I have read a good deal,” she explained, as an apology for mentioning such an out-of-date topic as the Visigoths who had preceded the Moors. “I have, as you know, lived in a very, very quiet country place, and most of my pleasure came from books. My father disapproved of novels, and so I fell back on history and poetry as my light literature.”

“I’m a shocking duffer at history,” he confessed, with a laugh. “William the First, 1066—that about exhausts my stock.”

“Oh, I’m sure that is a libel on yourself,” she protested.

“Well, there was Henry the Eighth, that chap with six wives, or was it Henry the Sixth—with eight?”

“Now you are assuming an ignorance you don’t possess. Henry the Eighth had a Spanish wife—Catherine of Arragon, you know.”

“No, I don’t; but I’d like to learn history from you.”

“Oh, how can you be so silly?” she protested, with a laugh. “But in old days there was a good deal of trouble about our Spanish Queen; and her daughter Mary married her cousin, a Spanish King. We had a certain amount of anxiety with respect to him too. Then Charles the First went as a Prince to the Court of Spain to woo the Infanta; but somehow the match did not come off.”

“And she got left; yes, he married the little French flirt! Oh, I remember that,” said Captain Tudor eagerly; “he saw her at a ball in Paris.”

“Why, you are becoming brilliant,” cried Hester. “I think he would have escaped many troubles if he had married the Infanta. Henrietta was not a good influence.”

“Perhaps the Infanta might have been worse. After the troubles you mention with a Spanish Queen and a Spanish King, he was wise to give the Spanish match the go-by. I say! what a learned talk we are having! How did we start?”

“With Spain,” said Hester. “I’ve always been interested in Spain.”

“Oh, have you?—and built a castle in the country, I’ll lay odds!”

Hester blushed faintly as she answered, “I believe we all do that. Here we are—this must be the Cathedral,” she exclaimed, as a high embattled wall came into sight. And in a few moments they were standing before an immense gate, covered with copper plates inscribed in Arabic, and surmounted by a horseshoe arch.

“This is the Puerta de Las Palmas,” explained the courier, bustling forward. “The inscription means ‘The Lordship belongs to Allah, and his protection.’ Once there were twenty-two gates, now many are closed, and here”—as they passed through a dim entrance into blazing sunshine—“is the celebrated court of oranges”—a large paved enclosure with fountains and rows of trees in flower, overhung on one side by the Cathedral and its tower.

“I say, this is awfully jolly, isn’t it?” said Captain Tudor, who secretly hated sight-seeing; still, ten thousand a year was a consideration.

“Jolly!” she repeated; “it does not strike me as that. It is grand!”

To Hester it was the embodiment of a dream, and the strangeness and the thrill of it seemed to have passed into her being. There was an unexpected scene of space and sunshine and repose—despite a few tourists armed with guide-books, and not a few beggars assembled round the gate of Pardon (the chief entrance to the Mosque itself). Half a dozen ragged but gentlemanly old men extended their empty hands to Hester, and in one she placed a five-peseta piece. The recipient made no attempt at thanks, but instantly hurried away at a shuffling run, in order, it transpired, to get change, whilst the remaining five poured on the charitable lady their sonorous promise: “Dios lo pagara” (“God will repay you”).

After a short delay, Hester and her companions entered the great Mosque. How dim it seemed after the outside glare, and what a forest of columns! As the girl stood breathless and overawed, Captain Tudor exclaimed—

“Isn’t it ripping? What a place for hide-and-seek!”

“The largest Mosque in the world,” announced the courier; “that is, after the Caaba at Mecca. The third Mirab or holy place is the chief thing to see. The ceiling is of one piece of marble, shaped like a shell, and the floor is worn hollow by the knees of pilgrims.”

Hester greatly preferred to see and search for herself; but she was in awe of the courier, who held her Baedeker tightly under his arm, and desired to expound his own information. By-and-by the sightseers came to the great choir, built by Charles V, a Christian Cathedral surrounded by a Mosque. The carvings of the stalls were wonderful (the finest example of woodwork in Spain). Here were splendid old choir-books, and an enormous silver chandelier. The Treasury was also visited, and its costly contents displayed—processional crosses, reliquaries, paxes, priestly robes, and magnificent jewels worn by the Virgin on great festivals.

They passed through the maze of pillars in jasper, porphyry, and marble, brought, it was said, from the ruins of Carthage. On their way back to the Court of Oranges they were detained to see the cross scratched on a column by a Christian captive with his nail; also the column by which he was subsequently garotted. Marietta found these two items more to her taste than all the rest, and absorbed the ancedote with greedy satisfaction.

After the Cathedral the Bishop’s Palace was inspected, and then the indefatigable courier took them down to see the ancient Moorish bridge which spans the Guadalquivir below the north gate; and from here they returned to the Casa Molina—having, as Captain Tudor informed his aunt, inspected the Cathedral, kit and all, and put in “a really hard day’s work.”

But Hester corrected him, and said: “It has been a day of never-to-be-forgotten pleasure.”

Undoubtedly, this was a good hearing!

Chapter XXV

Miss Forde Makes a Purchase

Marietta was privately enjoined to amuse the courier and engage his attention, whilst her mistress proceeded to inspect the sight of Cordova at her own time and in her own fashion. She liked the life in the Casa Molina; there was no formality and much simple enjoyment. She rambled alone in the morning to the Cathedral, or the gardens of the Alcazar—a thicket of flowers, orange-trees, ruins, and baths; in the afternoon there was always a drive into the country; in the evening cards and music. Hester played well at sight. Captain Tudor had a nice little baritone voice, and over the songs they had become great friends; and the sight of the two figures at the piano gratified the chaperons. Occasionally some of Doña Luisa’s circle came in after dinner, and there were coffee, cigarettes, iced drinks, and Spanish conversation. Miss Forde was learning eagerly and quickly, with the help of Doña Luisa and her nephew, and could string together quite a number of phrases, and make known her wants for hot water or coffee or ink. She was so enthusiastically interested in her surroundings, that her hostess declared it did her good to see her. The girl seemed so happy exploring the picturesque old town, and absorbing its splendid history.

“I feel proud, that you are pleased with Cordova,” said Doña Luisa. “La flor de saber y de caballeria. Would you like to inspect a very, very ancient house, that has a story?”

“Yes, I certainly should of all things,” she answered.

“Very well, then; this afternoon, when Mrs. Tudor and I go for a drive, you, Marietta, and Freddy shall visit the Casa del Marques de Quebrada. It’s all tumbling down; but it was once the mansion of a noble and celebrated family, now all but extinct. Two old Condesas live there with one servant, so poor they are almost starving—so proud, that none may help them. The maid accepts fees on the sly for showing the house to strangers; and, upon my word, I believe that is all they have to live upon! One, however, can live on so little in Cordova—some bread and beans and coffee. I would thankfully assist them, and go and visit them; but they no longer receive.”

“Oh, what a tragic story!” exclaimed Hester. “I am so sorry for them.”

“Yes, there are other cases—Spain is now so poor. These proud old women have the best blood in the land in their veins. That ruined castle we passed yesterday was the home of their race. Well, as we drive out presently, we will drop you near the Casa del Marques de Quebrada.”

Yet, in spite of Doña Luisa’s offer, most of the expedition was made on foot. The street was too narrow for carriages—so narrow, that one could place a hand on either wall—it was a street where the paved footway and white walls had echoed for centuries with the tramp of Moorish feet—the holes and the cobble-stones made unpleasant walking. The calle Romana wound and twisted, and then suddenly turned into an open square, one side of which was filled by a dignified grey building—not by any means a ruin—with a carved stone front, with mullioned windows and a massive entrance; above the door was an elaborate coat of arms, which displayed the motto, “Fortune Infortune.” This was the house of the Marques de Quebrada.

Marietta rang the bell; it was unexpectedly large and powerful, and clanged far. Presently a thin, elderly woman appeared, and her melancholy face brightened when she beheld the visitors.

“To see the house?” she asked eagerly.

“If you please,” said Marietta.

“Certainly,” and she led the way through an arch, past a stone mounting block, into a great entrance-hall, vaulted and empty, through another where there were broken chairs and several ancient sofas without seats, various marble and carved tables, a number of gloomy pictures; others, which had fallen out of their frames, stood piled against the wall. From this dilapidated salon they were piloted into an open court, with the usual stone stairs and galleries, but instead of orange-trees here were only a few dead plants; instead of the fountain, an ancient draw-well, on which was carved a coat of arms—a man’s head with closed visor, a battle-axe, and the date 1430.

Beyond the court was a lofty pillared room with columns of white marble and lined with Moorish glazed tiles, the celebrated “Azulejos” of exquisite colouring in tints of sapphire and other shades of blue, all in fair preservation. After this came the ruins. The little party, led by the Spanish woman, picked their way over broken stone floors, by choked-up staircases, darkly mysterious nooks, and cavernous chambers without windows; then to chambers with roofs all but open to the sky. Finally she ushered them into what was once a garden, but was now a mass of blocks of masonry, fallen statues, old orange-trees, sword-blue aloes, scarlet cactus, jasmine and rubbish, Probably it had been one of those Cordovan gardens, the glory of sun-steeped Andalusia, dating from the days when the Saracens carried the art of irrigation to perfection, and the first Omeyyard Sultan of Cordova had despatched messengers all over Europe to collect rare plants, trees, and flowers. This melancholy enclosure still retained one beauty—its prospect. Time and neglect were powerless to impair that; and from this miserable remains of a pleasaunce, one obtained a magnificent view of the river and the Sierras.

Whilst Hester feasted her eyes, the lugubrious servant was volubly talking to Marietta; and when Hester questioned her as to the subject, Marietta replied—

“She says the eldest Condesa had lately lost her wits, and thinks everything is as grand as it was, when she was young, eighty years ago, and keeps ordering the carriages and the servants, when it’s all they can do to get bread and onions. The younger one is distracted; now they will not even see the priest.”

“May we not offer her money?” suggested Hester—“give it for them secretly?”

“Aye, a few pesetas will be a charity—but how to help them? The heirlooms went years ago, the jewels and silver——”

“There are still some pictures; I saw them in the salon.”

“Only those which they will not sell.”

“Try, Marietta, and I will buy one; do ask the woman.”

Captain Tudor, who was secretly bored by this aimless rambling among dusty ruins, went out and sat on a broken step in the garden, selected a cigar, and patiently awaited Miss Forde’s good pleasure. Meanwhile, he meditated.

Miss Forde was a charming girl, unaffected and simple, and she understood the compass of his voice to a T—the best accompanist he had ever had; she was handsome, too. Well, yes, he meant to have a good try—fortune favours the bold!

Left to their own devices, Marietta and her mistress returned through the patio to the desolate salon, and looked around them in search of a suitable purchase.

“Here is one,” said Hester. “There, up in the corner. No, I don’t want a Holy Family or a martyr, but this”—and she indicated a small half-length portrait of a dark cavalier in a feathered hat. As she spoke, she climbed up on one of the rickety chairs and gazed into the bold, proud face; it seemed to her that it had a look of Paul!

Paul! He was in everything—the procession, this picture—he was like Mr. Dick, and the head of King Charles!

“Romantic idiot!” cried the Puritan over-self; “as if the Marquis de Sarazin ever gave you a second thought! You have lost your senses, and you know it.” All the same, Hester, despite her mental mentor, resolved that she would buy this picture, if only the old Condesa could be induced to sell it.

When the Spanish woman entered, she pointed to her selection, and made energetic signs.

But the servant slowly shook her head, and continued to shake it from side to side, whilst Marietta interpreted—

“It is an ancestor—that says all!”

“Ask her—ask her,” urged Hester eagerly; and she brought out a few broken sentences, and actually prevailed on the Spaniard to go and interview her mistress.

After a wearisome delay the woman returned and said: “Come, the Condesa will see you for a moment.”

“See me!” repeated Hester, much astonished. “Then, Marietta, you must come too, for I cannot speak to her;” and she followed the servant back into the patio, and up a wonderfully carved stone staircase into a corridor, and ultimately to a lofty bare room overlooking the square.

Here, in a high leather chair, surmounted by a crown, sat the ghost of an old Spanish lady, dressed in rusty black, with a shabby mantilla pinned over her head. Oh, such a wrinkled face! Oh, such cavernous black eyes! The long pointed yellow hands, resting on the chair, were merely skin and bone. Except for a few seats, a table, and some faded pictures, the room was empty; but from one adjoining came sounds of peals of cracked laughter, and then a thin imperious voice evidently issuing commands.

As Hester entered, the old Condesa rose stiffly, bowed to her, and signed to her servant to close the adjoining door. Then she began to speak in Spanish, addressing herself exclusively to Hester, who gathered a word here and there. At its conclusion, Marietta glibly interpreted the entire speech.

The Condesa says, she has not seen a woman of her own class for five years; but her poverty is now greater than her pride. Her sister is insane; she must have attendance, food, and a doctor. The Condesa is deeply ashamed to receive you, or any one, in this ruin of the palace of the Quebradas; but she is helpless and aged, and your money means life and reason. If her sister were well, she would never admit a soul, her spirit was so high; but she, the Condesa, is weak—and different, and it is for her sister’s sake.”

As Marietta interpreted, the old lady sat with her eyes steadily fixed upon the Englishwoman, and never did misery speak more plainly from a human face.

“Yes, I understand, and I am obliged to her for receiving me,” said Hester, with suppressed emotion.

“You wish the portrait of Don Miguel de las Basayas?” she asked.

“Yes, if she pleases. I should like to have it.”

“He was an ancestor, brave, renowned, and killed in battle; but he was also a bad man. Therefore she will sell him. La Condesa knows nought of the value; but the picture is at least three hundred years old. To you, Signora, with your gracious permission, she leaves the price!”

Hester pondered. She cast a furtive glance round the empty room—no comfort, no ease for the poor unhappy lady of a once famous line. She heard the gibbering and laughing maniac through the panel; she gazed into the anxious face of the Spanish servant, and moved by a tremor of feeling, replied—

“I will give two hundred pounds for it.”

“’Tis too much,” muttered Marietta, in a sharp aside—“far too much.”

“And if it proves to be valuable, I will add whatever is just; besides, if it is of no value, I like it—and that’s sufficient.”

“Five thousand pesetas!” cried the servant, clasping her bony hands. “Here, indeed, is fortune at last!—truly, the Saints have heard us.”

The amount, however, made no impression on the impassive old Condesa, who said—

“If Ysabelle were to know, she would sooner burn the picture; but I accept the money.” Then she rose and curtsied formally to Hester, thus conveying to her that the audience was ended.

As they went downstairs, the ways and means of payment and delivery were eagerly discussed by Marietta and the Spaniard, whose volubility was now surprising.

Captain Tudor, hearing voices, lounged back into the patio, saying—

“Well, I suppose you’ve seen everything? You might have bought the whole house in the time.”

“I have bought a picture,” announced Hester. “Come and look at it;” and she led him into a corner, and exhibited her purchase with some pride.

“Rather a fine face,” he said; “but a ruffian, no doubt! I don’t expect it’s much of a painting, eh?—dark and dauby!”

“What do you think it’s worth?” she asked.

“Oh, these old things are half of them faked—a couple of sovereigns, eh?”

“And I have offered to give two hundred pounds for it!”

“Good Lord!” he cried, startled out of his equanimity. “I’d get you the best old master in Gibraltar for twenty pounds. You are not really going to throw away two hundred sovereigns on that thing?”

“Yes, I am,” she said smilingly; “and I think I shall never regret it.”

“Oh, well,” as a light burst upon him, “I dare say you know all about it.”

Miss Forde was an extraordinarily well-informed girl; she had antiquities and Spanish history at her fingers’ ends. No doubt she was a connoisseur in old pictures, and had hit upon a good thing.

His respect for the heiress was sensibly increased, and he made no further remonstrance.

The two old ladies were vastly interested when, over the dinner-table, the story of the interview and the purchase was related.

“I know Hester has bought it for charity,” said her chaperon. “She cannot bear to see starvation, and threw all her lunch out of the window to a wretched dog the day we travelled here.”

“Dear Mrs. Tudor, you never, never will forget that,” protested Hester, with a laugh. Five hundred pesetas had been transmitted to the Casa Quebrada as a deposit until arrangements for a cheque could be settled. “The poor people must have money at once,” said Hester to Marietta, who despatched the courier. His face was eloquent of horror when he heard of the transaction, and the outlay, without his sanction.

By the time dinner was over, the painting had arrived, and was immediately brought up into the drawing-room, and there placed on exhibition.

“Yes, it is certainly a fine thing,” said Mrs. Tudor, examining it through her pince-nez; “one of the Quebrada ancestors. They are descended from the oldest families in Andalusia.”

“Now let me have a glimpse, my dear,” said Doña Luisa, coming forward and putting on her spectacles. “I believe it is a good old picture, and I should say valuable—possibly a Juan de Valdes. He painted many of the nobility here; but”—standing a little back—“it has a look of some one I know! See, Laura, surely you can find the likeness?”

“Likeness!” repeated Mrs. Tudor; “what likeness?”

“And it is not at all to be wondered at, the families being nearly connected,” continued Doña Luisa. “Don’t you think that this picture Miss Forde has bought from the poor old Condesa de Quebrada, has a remarkable resemblance to Paul de Sarazin?”

Chapter XXVI

On the Bridge of Calahorra

The great Bridge across the Wal ul Kàbir is, after the Mosque, the most remarkable sight in Cordova. Originally erected by the Romans, its sixteen arches still remain on their ancient foundations, and connect the town with its suburb. From the middle of the bridge there is a fine view of the old Moorish water-mills and of the Mosque, which, with its lofty tower and belfry, is clearly projected against a background of the blue sierras. On the end of the bridge farthest from the town is the famous and massive Calahorra gateway, at the beginning of the road to Seville. The bridge was Hester’s constant resort, and when returning from the daily drive she invariably descended and crossed it on foot. It was rugged, ancient, and commanded a panorama of the winding river and the water-mills, precisely as they had been in the time of the Saracens.

One evening at sunset, Hester and Captain Tudor were leaning over the parapet together, watching people fishing in the silent, gleaming Guadalquivir, and arguing about the Spanish character. He was attacking, she resisting and defending.

“You won’t deny that they are indolent, false, and vain,” he said, in order to draw her; “simply hidebound in customs of the dark ages.”

“Oh, I grant you they are conservative,” she answered, “and indolent—it is the Oriental climate; but they are not vain, only self-appreciative; and why not? Look at their history and their great deeds! Think of the days of Isabella and Columbus——”

“Deeds! yes, of their forefathers. They are living on their past, like some painted old celebrity, or a bear on his paws.”

“They are all gentlemen,” she continued, “even the very beggars.”

“I give in to one thing,” said her companion; “they are fine horsemen, and this is the country for horses. I rather want to pick up a nag to take to Gib.; for from Andalusia, most of the cavalry are mounted. I believe some of the nobility and gentry own immense horse farms right up in the hills; a Spaniard likes a good horse.”

“Though he often treats it as if he hated it,” she supplemented.

“Yes, so he does,” agreed Captain Tudor. “Did you notice the splendid turns-out in Madrid when you were there? A Madrilena would sooner go without her shoes than her carriage.”

“Oh, I’d much prefer the shoes. I was never born to run barefoot—and think of the cobble-stones.”

“But a carriage conveys dignity and position. I believe a Spanish lady rarely puts her foot to the ground outside of her own house. The men ride, and, to give the beggars their due, they can sit a horse. Have you noticed them?”

“I must confess I have not.”

“I suppose you don’t ride yourself, do you?” he asked, as if struck by a sudden thought.

“No, I’ve never been on the back of any animal except a donkey.”

“Well, they take a good bit of riding—sometimes.”

“Yes; I can answer for that. I was ignominiously kicked off! All the same, I have always had a most unaccountable craving for a horse and a habit. I cannot imagine why, but it’s there. I’ve seen nothing of horses and horse-women, except now and then a distant vision of the Clayborough harriers.”

“You must learn to ride at once,” he said, straightening himself with an air of decision, “and I shall be delighted to teach you. If you have it in you, you’ll ride in a week.”

“Pray, how and when am I to learn?” she asked with a smile; “up and down the Calle de la Plata on one of the huge carriage horses—the shying one for choice?”

“You are not bound to return by a certain day and hour to Biarritz, are you?”

“No; and, honestly, I don’t very much mind if I never see Biarritz again,” was her unexpected reply.

“All right, then; you cannot leave Spain without doing Seville. I suppose you will allow that? You’ll be jolly well laughed at if you do. Not that I care for Seville myself. I’d rather see a good race, than forty old cathedrals. Still, you know every one will say to you: ‘Well, what did you think of Seville?’”

“I should describe it from Baedeker,” she answered with composure.

“You could not be such a sneak, and you’d certainly be found out. Now, listen! Cordova is only four hours’ run from Seville; when you’re at Seville you may say you’re at Ronda. From Ronda you just drop down to Gib. D’ye see?”

“Yes, it all sounds delightfully simple.”

“You will see the Fleet and English garrison, the Rock—lots of things. I’d take you and Aunt Laura all round, and give you a rattling good time. We might even run over to Tangiers. You could put up at an hotel in Gib. for a few weeks, and I’ve a ripping little grey Barb that will carry you like a bird. I know where I can borrow a side-saddle; our master tailor would run up a skirt in a day! Come, now, what do you say to my scheme?”

“I think it is most tempting,” she answered; “yes, I should enjoy it immensely—but what about Mrs. Tudor?”

“Oh, I’ll easily square Aunt Laura; you leave her to me. So we will just mature our plans, and consider the expedition settled. I say, talking of horses, look at those two gallant Caballeros prancing through the Calahorra gate! Observe how they hold themselves. By Jove, did you see that? The black is a handful!”

But Hester was leaning over watching a man land a fish, and mentally exploring Seville and Gib. Yes, it was an excellent opportunity; she longed to visit Seville, if she could only persuade her chaperon to accompany her.

The sound of clattering hoofs and a loud, sonorous voice, caused her to turn her head—the riders were now within a few yards, their figures and horses sharply silhouetted against a glorious red sunset. On the near side, an erect old man, with piercing eyes and a snow-white beard, was talking emphatically to his companion, who rode an excited black horse, covered with flecks of foam—a handsome young cavalier, with a kingly presence. It was—Paul de Sarazin! Yes, certainly it was Monsieur le Marquis de Sarazin, for as his eyes met Hester’s they first expressed incredulity, then pleasure. He smiled, swept off his hat, and reined in his frantic steed. The moment was critical and the charm of surprise is potent; for a moment Hester’s heart cried—“Joy—joy—joy!” in the next, she met his look with an icy gravity, made an almost imperceptible movement of the head, and then deliberately turned away, and resumed her interest in the fishing-folk. “How dared he smile at her as if nothing had happened?” she asked herself angrily—“he who had recently fought a duel for another woman!”

Paul de Sarazin was far too practised a man of the world to appear in the least disconcerted; only he—and the lady—knew how coolly she had acknowledged him. Inwardly he was furious; why had “La Rubia” all but cut him? What was she doing in Cordova alone with an Englishman who looked like a soldier? With these inflammatory questions clamouring in his brain, he managed to maintain an impassive front and to ride proudly on. Even his cousin, the old Condé de Trubia, was not aware that the irresistible Paul had just received a severe check. At the Cordova end of the bridge, they encountered the two old ladies—who were also old friends—but the reception Mrs. Tudor accorded the Marquis was undeniably frosty. In an instant, he had flung himself out of the saddle, and with the reins over his arm impetuously accosted her, whilst his cousin entered into animated conversation with Doña Luisa. He began abruptly, speaking in English—

“It is plain that I have had the great misfortune to offend you in some way, also Miss Forde—she turned her back on me just now. Is it permitted to inquire the reason?” The words were courteous, but the tone was peremptory.

“I am sure you can guess,” rejoined Mrs. Tudor combatively.

“Do you mean the duel?” he asked, after a pause. “And that—that old idiot Dubois has talked? Well?” and he drew a long breath.

Mrs. Tudor made no answer, but her blue eyes gleamed with a look of steely hardness.

“And after the duel?” he persisted with his accustomed audacity.

“Oh!”—speaking at last—“after the duel,” with a little shrug, “of course the reward of valour! You went to Paris with the lady.”

The young man burst into a sudden angry laugh.

“Santa Maria! what lies!” he exclaimed. “At any rate, you can see for yourself that I am neither in Paris nor with a lady,” and he glanced at his white-haired companion.

Mrs. Tudor nodded, her grim face relaxed, she was beginning to thaw—as she invariably did where this scapegrace was concerned. After all, the Paris story was, on the face of it, impossible; she was prepared to listen to reason.

“Oh yes, I grant that you are at this moment not in Paris!” she admitted, and her expression denoted leniency.

“No, but at Las Veraldes, on my father’s business. El Duque has been ill, so I was obliged to come here in his place, and am staying with the Condé de Trubia.”

Hearing his name, the Condé turned about and addressed himself to Mrs. Tudor.

“Dear lady,” he said, “what a pleasure to see you! What happy fortune has sent you to Spain?”

Mrs. Tudor, who could not tell him the truth and say, “I have fled to escape from scandal—and your cousin,” replied, “Oh, I wanted to see my dear Doña Luisa—I came for ten days.”

“And I have Paul with me, also on a flying visit. He returns to Biarritz the day after to-morrow. I wonder if he has an attraction there?” and he smiled at the young man, who, with his back to them, was talking to Doña Luisa, and quieting his horse.

“You will both dine with us,” Doña Luisa was saying. “Of course that is settled.”

“No, no, a million thanks,” said the Count. “We dine with the Vallados, and after that we go to see the dancers from Seville, at the Cafe d’Oriente.”

“Oh, the dancers!” she exclaimed. “I had forgotten them; I adore the Andalusian dancing—we will go also; so we shall meet again, señores.”

The ladies had entered the waiting carriage, and the men now mounted their horses.

“And Mademoiselle?” said Paul, suddenly addressing her chaperon, and glancing significantly at the two distant figures on the bridge.

“Mademoiselle prefers to walk,” replied Mrs. Tudor stiffly, as she arranged her feather boa. “Mademoiselle is quite happy.”

Paul, with an abrupt change of manner, suddenly leant over, and uttered several rapid sentences in a low voice.

The coachman turned his head and waited. Doña Luisa turned her head and wondered; then all at once the Marquis drew back, with the gesture of one shaking off a load, nodded imperiously to the driver, and suffered the great carriage to pass on. As it thundered up the slope, it was accompanied by the two gentlemen, and the tail of the plunging black stallion was the last object to be seen as the little cortège swept round the corner.

Hester had lagged and loitered on purpose; something implacable and hard within her, some strange, inexorable force—of which she was a little afraid—forbade her to seek, or to speak to, Paul. It strangled the soft and passionate impulse that cried out for one word, or even a glance. It was this foolish impulse that invariably made excuses for, and pardoned, all Paul’s shortcomings; but on the present occasion an inward opponent had held it in an iron grip and quelled its struggles.

“I see you know that fellow, the Marquis de Sarazin,” said Captain Tudor. “I suppose you met him at Biarritz?”

“Yes, we knew him there,” she answered with an effort.

“A tremendous lady-killer, by all accounts!”

To this she made no reply beyond a quick compression of the lips.

“Upon my word, I cannot understand any Englishwoman fancying that sort of chap; can you?”

“Oh, I”—and she hesitated—“don’t know.”

“His father, the Duque de San Telmo, has a big estate near this. I suppose he is looking after it?”

“I suppose so—most likely he is.”

“It is managed by the old boy with the white beard—the Condé de Trubia, the Duque’s cousin, who lost every blessed stiver in Cuba, like many another Spaniard.”

“Oh, did he?” she murmured.

“Yes; he lives out on the property, Las Veraldes; a beautiful place. There is capital boar and deer-shooting in the mountains behind it. Next time I come I must ask Aunt Luisa to get me a few days’ sport—she is very chummy with the de Trubias. Well, I will sound Aunt Laura about Gib. this very evening—my leave is up on Saturday—no time to lose, eh?”

“No, I suppose not.” Her air was abstracted; it seemed difficult to engage her reluctant attention. Miss Forde was evidently tired, and not disposed for conversation. He recollected that she had made a long expedition that morning, but it never occurred to Captain Tudor to connect that lady’s silence, and her lack of interest in the Gibraltar scheme, with that brilliant caballero, El Marques de Sarazin.

*  *  *

As Hester was taking off her hat Mrs. Tudor bustled into her room, and, making a sign of dismissal to Marietta, said—

“I have something important to say to you.”

“Yes, I suppose so—I saw you speaking to him,” answered the girl, turning a white face and a pair of half-frowning eyes.

“He rode up as nonchalant as usual, and I immediately taxed him with the duel. Of course, he could not deny that; but he laughed the sequel to scorn—Paris and the lady. Then he told me in confidence, and said that I might tell you, who the lady was.”

Hester’s grey eyes flashed.

“She was his mother,” announced Mrs. Tudor impressively. An eloquent pause.

The news filled Hester with a glow, such as that produced by the sudden cessation of physical pain. She now rose to her feet, and with an effort forced down her desperate agitation.

“Yes, it was all owing to some gambling debt, and young Guichard. ‘I could not,’ he said, ‘permit any man to insult my mother; I have not come to that; and I have given Monsieur Guichard something to think about, to keep him quiet, and to make him remember me!”

“Oh, so it was all about the Duquesa?” said Hester slowly.

“Yes. He says it is hard, when he is doing his filial duty, undertaking his father’s affairs and his mother’s quarrels, that people should destroy his reputation. I said: ‘Give a dog a bad name!’ but he refused to joke, and really seemed hurt that we should have harboured such a bad opinion of him!”

“When is he leaving?” she asked, under her breath.

“The day after to-morrow, but we shall all meet tonight at the Café—at least, you may if you care to see the Spanish dancers?”

“Yes, I should very much,” she answered eagerly.

“But listen to me, my dear,” continued Mrs. Tudor; “although this time you have had your heart-smart for nothing, and he is innocent, be warned by me; there will be a time—yes, and many a time—when Paul de Sarazin will give you good reason to be jealous!”

Hester laughed a queer laugh. She felt both light-headed and light-hearted.

“Oh, it is the face of a hero, I grant you; and he has brains and courage, is a magnificent horseman and swordsman; his manners are only too attractive; but what is the good of it all when he is as inconstant as the wind? Now, my nephew by marriage is not handsome or graceful, but a good honest little gentleman, who would make you a far better husband, and adore you all his life. Believe me, I am not saying this because he is my nephew, Hester,” she added, and then she smiled as she looked at Hester’s crimson cheeks, and said: “But where the heart is concerned, what young woman ever listened to an old woman’s advice? Well, you must dree your weird,” and nodding her head, Mrs. Tudor returned to her own room, whilst Hester, with tremulous haste, looked out her most becoming evening gown and her last remaining pair of long white gloves. No, unfortunately, it was not a fitting occasion for her to wear the necklace!

Chapter XXVII

The Andalusian Dancers

There were sounds of music and the twanging of guitars from the Salon d’Oriente in the Callé Trujara when Doña Luisa and her party arrived. They were late, and the place was already full. The Café was spacious and low, supported by many red iron pillars, and furnished with numbers of tables, chairs, and a large platform in front of a gaudy Moorish curtain. The assembled company seemed to be a mixed multitude of all grades, from the hidalgo to the muleteer. There was a larger proportion of men than of women, and the latter wore the mantilla. Indeed, Hester, as she entered, realized that hers was the only hat present. Cigarettes were universal, and each little table was supplied with coffee or orangeade, or even plain cold water, and circulating among the crowd were boys and women selling lottery tickets and sweets.

“It’s not very exclusive or smart,” explained Doña Luisa, pushing her way in front, “but it’s great fun; I think Laura was foolish not to come.”

Doña Luisa Molina was a personage in Cordova, and room was courteously made for her to pass, followed by her two guests. The last to bring up the rear was Captain Tudor, who looked about him with a grim stare. He was by no means certain that it was the sort of entertainment to which one should introduce one’s womenfolk. There was his barber, supremely at his ease, with a cup of coffee in his hand; as he put it down, he accorded his patron a graceful bow, for in Spain the humblest individual considers himself a caballero, and expects to be treated as such. There, too, were the Marquis de Sarazin and Count Trubia not far from the platform, eagerly offering their places to Doña Luisa and Miss Forde.

The Marquis procured more chairs, another table and coffee, and Hester noticed how light, quick, and decisive were his movements; in a second almost she found herself supplied with a seat, a footstool, and a yellow paper programme. As she heard him issuing orders, and giving directions in his own tongue, it came home to her for the first time that Paul was a Spaniard; although she had always known the fact, she had never realized it till tonight. Presently he approached and seated himself by her, and leaning his elbow on the table, asked in a low, deliberate voice—

“Is it now permitted to speak to Miss Forde?”

She blushed vividly and nodded acquiescence.

“I was surprised to see you on the bridge this evening; I nearly fell off my horse.”

“It would not be easy for you to do that,” she said, with a smile.

“Oh, El Cid is a handful; he killed a rough rider last winter—ran away and threw him, and broke the poor fellow’s bones.”

“Then he ought to be shot.”

“No! Why? It was not really his fault; the ‘Remonta’ could not ride, and was afraid of him.”

“And you can manage him?”

“Yes, and he is afraid of me. Does not that seem strange?” he added, with his charming smile. “You cannot imagine anything being afraid of me, can you?”

She laughed, but her laugh dropped to silence under his look.

“And so some one has been telling tales!—and you believed the lies! Oh, Miss Forde!” and he surveyed Hester with a world of reproach in his dark eyes—an expression of sad unrequited confidence. “I may smoke, may I not?” producing a cigarette as he spoke.

“Of course—-certainly.”

“You do not smoke yourself—as yet?”

She shook her head.

“Oh, but it will come; how much I should like to teach you! Permit me to welcome you to Spain.”

“Thank you. We arrived ten days ago.”

“Then my goodwill is a little late; but it is, unfortunately, my first opportunity. I had no idea that you contemplated this journey. We might almost have travelled together, only you thought I had gone—elsewhere;” here he paused significantly. “I wish I could show you some of our sights; but I am returning to Biarritz the day after to-morrow.”

“Oh, are you?” said Hester, and a sensitive ear might have detected a note of disappointment in her voice.

“You see, my mother is alone.”

“She does not live much in Spain, I believe?”

“No; for her it is too dull and formal; there is too much etiquette. Now, El Duque, on the other hand, is miserable out of Spain; so there it is, you see,” and he knocked the ash off his cigarette.

“I see,” and she nodded.

“My mother likes Biarritz, as do many of our people; it is to them but a barrio or suburb of Madrid!”

“Yet the distance is considerable,” argued Hester.

“Only a night in the train. And now, Mademoiselle, that you see us at home,” and he made a little gesture with his cigarette, “what do you say? I hope you favour us. Do you?”

“Yes, I like Spain—’the land of sun and chivalry!’ Although I know but little of the people, merely seeing them in the streets and shops, they strike me as courteous, and grave. They do not laugh much.”

“No, certainly they do not laugh, since life for many of them is a serious affair. They are poor, the wolf is often at the door; still, their wants are small—a little soup, a few white beans.”

“And always the cigarette,” she added with a smile; “do not leave out the cigarette. I saw some small children on the bridge this evening—all were smoking.”

“Ah, the bridge,” suddenly changing his lounging attitude to one of alert interest; “I thought that was your double leaning on the parapet this evening; I have been picturing you in Biarritz all the time.”

“And I,” she rejoined, “believe I saw your double in Madrid.”

“Oh, so you have been in Madrid?”

“Yes, and was in the Palace during the State procession; there was some one so like you among the Grandees.”

“No one could be more like me, dear Mademoiselle,” he rejoined with a laugh; “it was myself. Did you approve of the procession, the Capello Publico?”

“Yes, it was most imposing; indeed, more than imposing—it was impressive.”

“We are conservative here, and keep up all the old traditions and customs. I hope this entertainment will amuse you—the real old Andalusian dances; and there is singing, too. Ah, here they come.”

A man with a guitar in his hand, accompanied by a small boy, now appeared on the platform. They drew up chairs and gravely sat down side by side in the front of the stage. After a short delay the man began to play a droning, monotonous air, which he repeated over and over again; the boy, meanwhile, remaining motionless.

“Why is the boy sitting there?” whispered Hester.

“You will soon hear something strange.”

For what seemed ages, the man with the guitar continued to thrum its tiresome tune; then suddenly a loud piercing wail broke from the lips of the boy—oh, such a weird, barbaric, melancholy chant. Now the notes were pitched loud and high, then they fell as if carried away on a sobbing wind. Again they rose, shriller and wilder, to sink in a sigh of despair. This song, lament, or declamation, was totally different from anything Hester had ever heard; it gave her no pleasure; it seemed harsh, savage, and defiant; but when the last long-drawn cadence had ceased there was a hushed, delighted silence, followed by an outburst of frantic applause. She glanced at Captain Tudor—oh yes, he was bored to death. Her eyes wandered to Paul—how his handsome head stood out among the crowd! His expression denoted complete enjoyment, and turning to her he said—

“The Zarzuela, I dare say, may strike you as ugly and unmusical, but it is beautiful to me and, as you see, to most of the audience; it is our legacy from the Saracens; the Prayer Song appeals to us, and we respond to it, because we all have Moorish blood in our veins.”

“Really! I should not have guessed it!” said Hester.

“Yes, and I am proud of my ancestors—Moslem knights, who were celebrated for piety, valour, courtesy, and marvellous skill with horse and lance.”

The lady made no remark, but her eyes shone.

“You know that Cordova was once the metropolis of a Caliphate?”

“What awful rot this fellow is talking,” said Captain Tudor to himself; but Hester replied—

“Oh, yes, I have read about it. I have always been interested in Spain!”

“Thank you, Mademoiselle,” he murmured in a low voice.

The boy, encored to the echo, was once again brooding beside his accompanist, preparing when the spirit moved him to burst into his wild Oriental chant.

“It is exactly like the drone of a native of India,” remarked Captain Tudor, leaning over to Hester—“the sort of thing he sings to keep off devils when he is frightened and travels the jungle alone. I can’t say that I appreciate it, do you? If he is encored again, I believe I shall clear.”

Yet, when the boy was encored a third time, Captain Tudor merely made a gesture of agony, but did not carry out his threat. He had resolved that he was not going to let the Spanish fellow have it all his own way, and submitted to the infliction with an air of angry endurance.

The Moorish song was succeeded by the Andalusian dancers, six women and two men, all with castanets. The women were young and handsome, and wore flounced skirts and white mantillas, or the ever-popular manilla shawl, with long silk fringe. The music was supplied by guitars, castanets, and a piano. At first they danced in couples, a man and a woman, or two women, then a woman alone. Their movements were light, swift, and graceful, with much lazy undulation of the body, swaying of the figure, and waving of the arms, accompanied by the snap of fingers and the castanets.

“Observe that the dancing is Eastern, too,” said Paul; “slower and statelier than your galops and reels. But you have to keep the blood warm in your cold countries; here it is hot enough, God knows!” and he laughed; then he proceeded to give the different names of each dance: “El Ole,” “La Perla de Sevilla,” “La Flamenca.” They were all delightful to watch, but the one Hester preferred was the intoxicating and insolent Fandango, said to have compelled the applause of holy men! Wearing a man’s hat thrown to her by one of the audience, a handsome dark girl stalked and strutted with her arms akimbo, then she flung the hat on the ground, and sped round it. By degrees she increased her movements to a headlong whirl, and flared about the stage like a crazy creature, throwing into her dance of defiance and abandon, the most spirited display of the evening.

“It is Carmen Oranda,” said the Marquis; “she is the best of all;” and he tossed her a roll of notes.

The music, the piquant strangeness of the scene, the presence of Paul, now restored to his pedestal, affected Hester with a passionate sense of new life. The very atmosphere seemed charged with happiness; there was something electric and ineffable in the air.

She was rather surprised to see the dancers come down singly at intervals and circulate among the audience, presenting a handkerchief to various specially favoured gentlemen.

Paul had no fewer than three offered to him, and these he kept before him on the table—poor little flimsy, cheap things.

“Why do they give you these?” asked Hester.

“You will see presently; they are only just a little hint—and a loan.”

“Captain Tudor has not one. Why is that?”

“Because they see that he is English, and he may not know the custom, and simply think it a tribute to his good looks, put it in his pocket, and walk off.”

Captain Tudor, sitting silent and apart from his aunt (who was engaged in ceaseless conversation with Condé de Trubia and the Valdollanas), realized that his light was extinguished. Miss Forde and the handsome Marquis were evidently old friends, and a sharp jealousy invaded him. Was the girl one of this Lothario’s victims? Would she be such a fool as to marry him?—a man whose language she could not speak, a Catholic, as dark as a Moor!

True, he was a Grandee of Spain, and would one day be “El Duque,” but what of that? Freddy Tudor, with a long pedigree of his own, cherished a secret contempt for foreign nobilities. Hester Forde was charming and sweet-tempered—nothing like being in the house with a girl for seeing her as she is, especially at breakfast. She would not set the Thames or anything else on fire, but he believed he was almost in love with her, and she would have made a most admirable and valuable wife.

As the little officer pulled at his Havana, he glanced over at Paul de Sarazin with a look of scarcely veiled hostility—is not antagonism to a rival a universal law? Miss Forde looked brilliant to-night; she had removed her hat, and her shining hair crowned shining eyes; her colour was dazzling—a tinge of shell-pink on her flawless skin. People cast not a few curious glances at the handsome English girl to whom El Marques was talking so continuously. Dios! what a couple!

And Paul himself began to experience something more stimulating than mere complacency with a fate which offered him the chance of wedding a woman with the particular shade of hair he admired, as well as many millions of pesetas. To-night, this cold and northern maid looked beautiful; yes, she was really and truly the lady of his heart! Possibly a little prick of uncertainty, her friendly intimacy with the English soldier, had awakened his jealousy, and disturbed his confidence. Miss Forde had seemed too much at ease with the fellow on the bridge; he was her countryman; he was Mrs. Tudor’s nephew. Dios! she had arranged it all; what a crafty, false old person! Nevertheless, he swore to himself, la Rubia should be his; to-night she was enchanting, so happy, so radiant, and so sympathetic to Spain!

“You have seen a Spanish town house,” he was saying, “in the Casa Morilla. Now you must visit a country villa. My cousin, the Condesa de Trubia, has charged me with messages: we hope you will come out to Las Veraldes to-morrow afternoon and dine; it is but an hour’s drive, and there is a moon.”

“I should like it immensely,” said the girl, flushing a little; “but you must ask Doña Luisa.”

“We will take no refusal; is it not so?” turning to his cousin, who, in broken but intelligible English, declared that his wife would be sad to know that her old friend, Señora Tudor, had been in Cordova, and she had not heard the news. “She will say, she will never forgive her, if she does not come to-morrow, and bring the Señorita too, now that Paul is with us—his last day.”

The entertainment had ended, and the spectators were scattering, when Hester learned the meaning of the mysterious handkerchiefs. The owners assembled by the doorway, and to each was restored her loan, along with a tribute in the shape of money.

The Casa Morelia was not far from the Café, and as it was a clear moonlight night, the party returned there on foot. Paul and his cousin escorted the ladies home, in order to secure Mrs. Tudor’s acceptance of the next day’s programme.

As she stumbled down the Callé, over the rough stones, in her best evening shoes, Hester was accompanied by Captain Tudor. Not in vain had he attended various autumn manoeuvres.

“Beastly slow, wasn’t it?” he grumbled. “I wonder you were not poisoned with the smoke.”

“I believe I’m getting used to it,” she answered gaily. “Perhaps I may take to it myself. People say that it is most soothing and delightful.”

“Oh, I hate to see a girl with a cigarette in her mouth,” said her escort; “and English woman’s nerves don’t want soothing, eh?”

“And what about the men?” she asked, with a quick glance.

“Oh, I’m not a heavy smoker, but to-night it was in self-defence. You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife; and as to the howling of that boy, it was like a dog baying at the moon! I don’t think, myself, that it was quite a place for ladies—a regular café chantant!”

“Well, I enjoyed it, I must say,” she boldly confessed.

“Perhaps, just for once,” he added, relenting. “But I did not notice many of the upper ten there.”

“We were the upper ten! All the Valdollanas, as well as Count and Countess Morio and——”

“Last, not least, a marquis, eh? That fellow is as swarthy as an Indian. ’Pon my soul, if he were out there, I’d swear he was a half-caste,” and he nodded at the tall lithe figure walking a few yards in front, with Doña Luisa on his arm. “You won’t forget about Gibraltar, will you?—that’s a bargain, eh?”

“What about Gibraltar?” she asked. “Oh, of course—yes, of course; but I don’t think you will be able to persuade Mrs. Tudor. She is grumbling at the heat as it is; but, at least, you can try.”

“Certainly, I shall have a good try; and mind, Miss Forde, you back me up,” he added with significance; and this sentence brought them to the door of the Casa Morella.

Chapter XXVIII

Las Veraldes

At four o’clock the next afternoon the big landau, containing three ladies, was crossing the Calahorra bridge (to Hester the bridge of smiles), and turning into the road leading to the Sierra Morena and the Campo de Verdad, en route to Las Veraldes. At the eleventh hour Captain Tudor had manufactured an excuse, “a touch of the Rock fever,” and had settled down comfortably in the patio with the Field, the Naval and Military, and the Pink ’Un.

Freddy Tudor had not much ear for music, and no ambition to play on that despised instrument known as second fiddle! Nor had he any desire to enter into competition, on his own ground, with the too-accomplished Spaniard.

Dona Luisa pointed out as they drove along, every feature of interest; the various ruined castles, the ancient convent of St. Jerome, built with the remains of a celebrated Moorish Palace, which Abderrahman III had constructed for his favourite Az-Zahra—a palace so splendid that its wonders of art and luxury were said to have surpassed by far those of the Alhambra, and its cost to have been fifty millions.

“Now, on its site,” said Doña Luisa, “is an old convent, which has been turned into an asylum for the insane—what a contrast!”

As the road wound uphill, overlooking the rugged banks of the Guadalquivir, they came among vast enclosures of pastures, where were bred horses, and bulls for the ring. These latter, a fierce black race, could be seen herded within in great corrals, or dotted in numbers over the hillsides. Near the foot of the slope, among trees and orangegroves, a large white villa came into sight.

“This is Las Veraldes,” said Mrs. Tudor. “I’ve not been here for years—not since the time of the Duchess; and it was closed for a long time.”

“Yes,” said Doña Luisa, “until the de Trubias were installed.”

“Why did the Duchess leave it?” asked Hester.

“Oh, she got tired of it. After she had made it beautiful—and she has wonderful taste—and had spent a fortune on it, and could not think of anything else it lacked, she shut it up and went away. She is a capricious lady, feverishly restless, and always craving for some new excitement.”

“It is certainly remote,” said Mrs. Tudor; “but oh, what a beautiful spot!”

The grounds, as they ascended the winding avenue, were a wonder of rare shrubs, trees, and flowering creepers from South America. It was evident that no expense had been spared to beautify the whim of a woman with an extravagant imagination, and a full purse.

In the portico the visitors were welcomed by Paul, the Condé and Condesa—a stout, handsome lady—and el Condé’s niece, Casilda de Trubia, a pretty girl with an oval face and arched dark brows, who made the two elder ladies the most sweeping of curtsies, and kissed their hands with enchanting grace.

La Condesa carried them away to prepare for dinner, and the girl took eager charge of Hester, being warmly interested in this particular guest.

Casilda was educated at school at a convent in England, and spoke the language with fluency.

“Please come to my room,” she said, “and take off your hat, and then we will show you the villa,” and she led the way up a flight of wide, shallow stairs, and into what Hester supposed was the typical bedroom of a Spanish girl.

It was cool, lofty, and beautifully furnished; on the floor, cane matting and rugs; on the bed lay an open fan and a knot of ribbons in the Spanish colours; a glass of lemonade and some vases of carnations stood on a centre table; on a chair lay a guitar; in a little recess was a prie-Dieu; whilst over the looking-glass there hung a rosary.

“It is untidy,” said Casilda. “Oh, you will be shocked! I know how everything is kept in England—oh, so neat! I am glad you came,” she chattered on. “I’ve heard of you from cousin Paul.”

Hester made no reply; but, turning away to the glass, began to take the pins out of her hat.

“You think him handsome, don’t you?” continued the vivacious Señorita.

“Yes,” she answered, “I think he is.”

“Dios! what hair!” exclaimed the girl, as Hester removed her best hat. “It is beautiful!”

“I do not like it myself,” she said, gazing at her reflection with a little frown.

“Ah, then you have no taste! It is Paul’s colour,” added his cousin, with a flash of wickedness.

“Well, it is the same shade as his mother’s; no doubt that is the reason!”

Casilda burst into a ringing laugh. “Why, la Duquesa’s real hair is as black as mine.”

“What a lovely view! Do you live here?” inquired Hester, walking over to the windows, being nervously anxious to divert the conversation.

“I am at Las Veraldes a good deal; I keep my aunt and uncle company, but my home is in Madrid. Uncle Trubia lost so much money—he is now very poor. El Duque has been good to him, and Paul so thoughtful; but he is that always.”

“In Spain, I suppose,” suggested the stranger, with a smile. “But it is not his character in France; they think he is thoughtless.”

“Ah, yes, he flirts, does he not? and dances, and plays golf, and makes love? Oh, it is not a serious life—no—but what has he to do? He is obliged to live there with la Duquesa. She cannot ever be alone. Léon is in the Army, and Paul is his mother’s favourite; he has influence with her. No one else has that!” and she held up a pin.

“She is a little peculiar, I suppose?”

“Peculiar—she is mad!” Casilda put her finger to her pretty lips, and said: “Please do not say I said so, but I think she should be shut up in the convent at St. Jerome, with all the other mad people!”

“Oh no; why, she is as sane as I am.”

“She is mad on one subject—money; it is such an expensive craze. She has nearly ruined the family.”

“That is dreadful.”

“You see, it touches me. Look, now, I will tell you a little secret.”

Hester felt embarrassed, and coloured vividly. What had she said or done to deserve this stranger’s ready confidence? The girl already trusted her as an old friend.

“I am going to be married to Léon,” announced Casilda, and she nodded her head triumphantly.

“Oh, are you? I met him once, and I thought him charming.”

“Not so handsome as Paul; but he suits me, and I him. We have known one another always; when I went to England to the convent, Léon did not eat for two days, and he was such a greedy boy—that speaks volumes. Well, now, el Duque has given his consent; but there is no money,” and she held out her pretty hands. “And so we must wait. If Paul were to marry an heiress”—here she stopped suddenly and became painfully red—“I do chatter on and say foolish things. Paul will never marry any woman for her money—never, unless he loves her.”

“What are you two girls doing?” inquired Doña Luisa, pushing open the door. “Casilda, you chatterbox, what have you been holding forth about?”

“We have been talking of la Duquesa and other people,” she answered demurely.

“Well, you can talk downstairs; indeed, you talk upstairs, downstairs, and in my lady’s chamber!”—and she stroked the girl’s pretty rounded cheek with her two taper fingers.

In the drawing-room—a spacious arched apartment with delicately tinted walls, and carpet, Empire furniture, splendid china in cabinets, and fine pictures—they found the rest of the company, and Mrs. Tudor making her nephew’s excuses to the Condé and Condesa.

“Let me show you some of our treasures,” said Paul, approaching Hester; “though our special ones are in Madrid, and the heirlooms at Torello. There—would you believe it?—we have rows of our ancestors in white marble; they stand in the great hall, and when I pass through it at night, I tremble—I feel as if they would all come running after me, and turn me into stone like themselves. Here we have my mother’s treasures—her collection. Look, these are a set of Sèvres, that once belonged to Marie Antoinette.”

“How delicate and dainty! I wonder if the poor Queen ever used them?”

“Why, of course; see, some are cracked. This lacquered screen came from China, and these silver idols from Peru.”

“Yes, I see the Duchess has gathered from China to Peru.”

And, entering another apartment, Paul continued:

“Here is the tapestry-room. The tapestry is after Goya and very old—the same as in the Palace at Madrid—and priceless. An American gentleman who visited here one day offered £14,000 for it.”

“Oh, what a sum!”

“But my father was furious; he would not sell—he never sells—he would sooner die, than part with an heirloom!”

“How much I should like to see your wonderful necklace! I’ve heard of it from several people,” said Hester.

“Yes, it is heard of, but not often seen; however, I can promise you a view of it. My mother never produces it now—she dislikes it, for some reason; and there is an unwritten law, that it can only be worn by a Duquesa de San Telmo.”

“I wonder the Duquesa can live in that Villa Andalousie in preference to this delightful place,” said Hester, as her eyes travelled down the suite of rooms, with their delicate colouring and treasures, and into the beautiful grounds with masses of roses, bougainvillaea, and orange-trees, and the background of far-away blue plains.

“Oh, my mother likes change and constant variety. She is restless; it is the fashionable complaint,” said Paid. “Ah, there is the dinner-gong; you must be starving.”

The dining-room was an imposing apartment, dignified by white marble pillars at either end; everywhere was the same display of great costliness; the exquisite china and glass were all marked with a little gold ducal coronet; the centre-piece, full of roses, was a priceless work in crystal. Three stately men waited with noiseless despatch. It was a pleasant, merry meal; every one talked spontaneously—Casilda enough for two. The dessert included dishes of Alpine strawberries, which came from the Sierras, and were hailed with almost childish delight by Mrs. Tudor and Doña Luisa.

“We will have coffee outside, shall we?” suggested the Condesa; “it will be nice and cool after six o’clock on the terrace.”

As they rose, Hester caught sight of a portrait which hung directly behind her place; this had been painted twenty-five years previously, and represented a most beautiful woman.

La Duquesa wore a white satin evening dress cut low, and on her neck an elaborate and magnificent ornament.

“There it is!” said Paul, coming and standing beside the visitor; “you are now resting your eyes on the celebrated ‘Luck of the Sarazins.’”

That the “Luck”! It bore a most remarkable likeness to her own necklace; the patterns seemed identical.

“Why,”—she paused and caught her breath—“do you know that I happen to have a necklace very much like it?”

“You?” he repeated, with a glance of amusement tempered with derision. “Surely you must be making a mistake, Mademoiselle, for in the whole wide world there is not either its copy or its match. Do not think me uncourteous, I beg of you. I am confident that your necklace is superb; but we are all painfully sensitive about our ‘Luck’; it is our pet superstition, and sooner than suppose that its double existed, I would submit to having my teeth drawn—my hair shorn—my head cut off!”

Hester smiled; she did not venture to argue. Yet she was of a tenacious nature, and looked round for Mrs. Tudor, hoping that she would bear witness to the extraordinary resemblance between the two necklaces; but Mrs. Tudor had already quitted the room. All had left but Paul, Casilda, and herself.

“Oh, what a beautiful portrait of some one!” she exclaimed, as she passed to the door.

Hester had paused before the half-length picture of a young brunette with dark eyes and a radiant glance. There was a witchery, a suggestiveness of mischief in the expression, and withal a depth of passion in the eyes; an eager Cupid was depicted flying towards the lovely vision, and about to place a wreath upon her brow.

“How alive she looks! What a fascinating face!” exclaimed Hester.

“Fascinating indeed,” repeated Casilda, with significance. “That is our cousin Dolores—La Belle Dolores de los Cantalles. If you want to know more about her, you must ask Paul!”

But Paul was already holding the door for them to pass out, and apparently had not heard Casilda’s suggestion.

Chapter XXIX

“Who Is Dolores?”

Out in the entrance-hall, Paul was promptly captured by Mrs. Tudor; she particularly wished to see some special Mexican tree, and after a moment’s conversation they descended together into the exquisite gardens, followed by Hester and Casilda. Here were marble ponds with gold-fish, long walks bordered with flowers, hedges of geraniums, immense bushes of heliotrope and jasmine. It was like fairyland; the place seemed to be bathed in silent enchantment.

“Who is Dolores?” inquired Hester suddenly, as she strolled down a slope with the Spanish girl.

“Ah! you should not ask me,” she replied, with a hasty gesture, “for I detest her, and she hates me. Indeed, she never likes any woman—only men, and they all adore her!”

“Indeed! do they—and why?”

“Because she is extraordinarily handsome. She has such charm, she is so seductive, and oh, so wicked!”

Hester stood still for an instant and surveyed her companion, aghast.

“Yes, she is; though she does not commit crimes, she tells shameless untruths, and flirts furiously with women’s husbands and fiancés, and breaks their hearts—just for amusement. She has no heart at all; she dances like a dream, and sings ‘aye di mi’! and goes to the head of every man under seventy, just like mescal!”

“What is that?” asked the stranger.

“A terrible intoxicant —a maddening drink. El Duque cannot bear her, nor Léon; but la Duquesa likes her—she is her trap. Men come to see Dolores—and they stay and play cards.”

“Oh, Casilda—I don’t know your other name—please do not say such terrible things,” urged her companion, with a horror-stricken face.

“Yes, call me always Casilda; but I say only the truth! Dolores is married; she married a rich old man; he died, and did not leave her a great fortune. That was a surprise—a sorrow; still, she has enough. She is in Tangiers at present; may she never return!”

“Then she has been here, I suppose?”

“Yes, often as a girl. I wonder if half the summer houses have not been consecrated to her memory by——” and she laughed.

“By whom?” asked Hester, and she caught her breath painfully.

“Oh, some one. Ay, but he was only a boy, and she jeered at him. They have long, long forgotten those days.”

As Casilda talked she led the way down steps into the grounds, a maze of dim walks, marble-lined ponds, grottoes, rockeries, and forest trees from the Brazils, embanked in ferns or jungles of brilliant geraniums.

“This”—pointing to a flat grass glade, surrounded by magnolias and myrtles—“is the out-of-door theatre; that terrace is the stage. At one time la Duquesa had a mania for acting, and Dolores was her prima donna. Oh, she can act! El Condé de las Candales, a funny old mummy, was also very experienced about theatricals. He came here, and it was in that grotto—which looks as if it would be a nice place for a murder!—that he proposed for Dolores—or rather, that she caught him! You see, he was of the best family, and rich.”

“So he is dead, and she is a widow?” There was a faint note of interrogation in Hester’s remark.

“Yes, and a thousand times more dangerous than ever. She always was so clever, and took out the sardine with some one else’s hand—that is our saying. Now she boasts that she can make any man adore her, and carry off a girl’s lover—yes—under her very eyes.”

“May I ask where are you two wandering?” inquired Paul, suddenly emerging from a side pathway. “I have been searching for you. We are all going to sit on the terrace. It is delightful there—all orange-blossoms, moonshine, and nightingales. Send for your guitar, Casilda, and put them to shame.”

“Very well,” she said. “We shall have a concert—a café chantant. I will bring yours too”—and she ran off.

“The terrace is this way,” said Paul, walking beside Hester. “What do you think of Las Veraldes?”

“It might be a place seen in some wonderful glowing dream,” she replied; “I imagine it is like the Garden of the Hesperides.”

“Only here we have no Dragon! I wish——” he paused, looked at her for an instant, and hastily turned away. “Is not this a lovely view?” and he pointed to a vista between two great trees.

“Yes, it was most beautiful. But what were you going to wish?” she asked gaily. “For the Dragon?”

“Mademoiselle, I will tell you another time,” he answered, with a faint inscrutable smile. “See, they have all arranged themselves on the terrace; is it not picturesque?”

The terrace was of white marble, with a long, low balustrade. It overlooked the silent garden and the distant plains now bathed in moonlight. Behind it was a high wall tapestried with trained bougainvillaea, heliotrope, yellow roses, and passion-flowers, which made a becoming background to the company already assembled in rustic chairs around a coffee-table. Everywhere there were roses—showers of roses; but dominating above all was the fragrant orange-blossom—the flower of the South.

“Quite a Watteau group, I declare,” said Paul, as he and his companion joined them.

“Yes, it only wants some one to pipe and dance,” added Mrs. Tudor.

“I can’t promise about dancing; but Casilda will sing, so will aunt Theresa,” announced Paul, with an air of bland confidence.

“And so will Paul,” she said, tapping him on the arm with her fan.

“Well, as for that, we will see. It is too soon yet; and Miss Forde has had no coffee.” He brought her a chair, and seated himself beside her.

Every one but Hester was smoking cigarettes; and cigarettes appeared to promote conversation, which ranged over many topics, and presently was swelled by a visitor—Señor Valdollana, who, in Spanish fashion, had driven out in the cool of the evening to wait upon la Condesa and take leave of his friend el Marques.

The subjects touched upon were various. The Condé spoke English, and talked well. As for Paul, he was one of those who expressed as much with his hands as another man with his tongue—as much with his eyes as the speech of any two people. Politics, foreign affairs, local news, the Court, had each been dealt with, and at last the subject settled down on bull-fights; and into this topic every one rushed headlong, ladies and all.

“In Spain, I suppose, one must not say much,” said Hester, as discussion raged; “but I think a great deal, and I am surprised at you.”

“No doubt, Señorita,” assented the Condé Valdollana; “and we are surprised at your sport—fox-hunting—one wretched little creature like a red dog, and all the countryside after it—men, women, and children. Oh, I have been in England! I know what I am talking about.”

“I cannot argue—at least, only in a lame, impotent fashion,” she answered. “I know that it is cruel; but the fox has had his own hunting, and good hunting, in his day, and he very often escapes. Now, I ask you, does one of your horses or bulls, once doomed, ever escape?” and she faced him with eyes eloquent of tragedy.

“The Señorita is earnest. But she has never seen Los Toros. Many people are indignant like her; then they go—yes, Englishmen—they go again and again; they love it!”

“Well,” broke in Doña Luisa, “I can answer for one who does not love it. I have been to the bull-fights when my husband was alive; he wished me to accompany him; but I always sat with my back to the ring. No”—with a little gesture of her hand—“I would never look!”

“I went once,” added Mrs. Tudor, “and I have a horse’s scream in my ears still.”

Hester turned white and shivered. As she met Paul’s glance he said playfully—

“No, no, Miss Forde, you must not shudder at me. I never go to bull-fights, although my father’s bulls are famous—we breed them here, you know. Of course, I have been to corridas at Madrid, Seville, and San Sebastian; but not for years.”

“Valga me Dios! You astonish me, Pablo mio!” exclaimed the Condé Valdollana. “Why so?”

“Because it is all so one-sided; we know what will happen. It is not sport. The horses have no chance.”

“Nor the bulls either,” muttered Doña Luisa.

“Ah, Doña Luisa, English to the backbone!” exclaimed the Condé de Trubia, with a smile.

“The bulls have a good life on the sierras for five years—we never sell them younger; and a bull has to be eaten some day.”

“What price does he fetch?” inquired Mrs. Tudor, the ever practical.

“One thousand pesetas or more. It is a trade. All the best come from Andalusia; and you know Cordova”—with a jerk of his hand—“has furnished the prince of bull-fighters in Raphael Guerra, who killed 225 bulls in one season. Bull-breeding is an important business; some vacadas, such as ours, have a great name, and when the animals charge into the ring, they wear the badge of their owner.”

“Sport has declined,” said Paul. “Once it was the prerogative of the aristocracy. A mounted man simply encountered the bull with a lance, and he thought it a high honour to fight the bull before his king. Sometimes he was killed; indeed, often he was killed. Now, bravery is done by proxy; there is an immense difference between that and personal courage. What do you say, Mademoiselle?”

“I say,” she answered, with unexpected energy, “that the very thought of the bull-ring makes me shiver, and that I agree with every single word you have uttered.”

“If the topic makes the Señorita shiver, surely we must change it,” said el Condé de Valdollana, with grave politeness; “the Señorita is, it is seen, fond of animals” (a great dog was resting with his head against her knee).

“Yes, for they have sense and affection and constancy.”

“Some dogs, no doubt, are the friends of man; but as for other animals, what have you to say to—well, pigs?”

“What can I say? I know nothing. I have never yet cultivated the friendship of a pig; but I’ve no doubt there are possibilities.”

“I heard a story of a monkey the other day,” said Casilda, who had been unusually silent. “Shall I tell it to you or not? Of course you will all laugh.”

“Then let us laugh, my dear,” said Doña Luisa. “Let us laugh, by all means.”

“Well, at least it is short,” she said, and began without further preamble.

“A friend of father’s brought home from Rio a monkey and a dog. They were young; they suffered in concert and endured horrors at sea; sympathy is in friendship a great tie.”

“Yes, yes, yes!” assented several voices.

“Then they lived in Spain so happily together for three years, till the dog ate poison accidentally—was very ill. He lingered for some time, nursed by his comrade, and eventually expired in his arms.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Paul, with a groan of simulated anguish.

“Well, kind people,” she resumed, “I need not assure you that the monkey was disconsolate, his grief human, but expressionless. The dog was buried, the survivor left alone. Some hours later, one went to the stable to see poor Jacko and console him; but, behold! he, too, was dead! In a transport of grief, he had hanged himself!” and with this last peroration Casilda flung the end of her cigarette among the orange-trees, and turned and faced her audience. “Now, what do you say?”

“I say, my dear Casilda, that you related your little tragedy very nicely,” said Doña Luisa.

“Yes, Casilda mio,” added PauL “I believe you would have a career in a—menagerie.”

“Oh, you laugh, of course! Well, it was true. Tell me, what man would do as much for a friend?”

“There you are right,” said Paul. “I know no man for whom I would hang myself; but I will not deny that, under desperate provocation, I might do so, for one of your enchanting sex.”

“I do not wish to cast any doubt upon your admirable story, Señorita,” said el Condé de Valdollana; “but it is my opinion that the devoted monkey—unemployed—was fooling with the rope, and had an accident!”

Casilda gave a little stamp, and made a gesture of mock fury.

“Come, come!” exclaimed la Condesa, “do not let us quarrel. What do you say to some music, my friends?”

“And you will sing, Condesa?” urged Doña Luisa. “Oh, what a pleasure, dear friend; do let me again hear ‘La Cubanita’!”

La Condesa, once a famous singer, and even now a delightful artist, took up a guitar without further hesitation, struck a few chords, and sang in her rich, soft contralto the well-known song.

When the murmur of applause had died away she said—

“Now, Casilda, child, let us hear you.”

Casilda received her be-ribboned guitar, and after a few preliminary bars, her sweet young soprano broke into a melodious seguidilla of exquisite plaintiveness, the chorus of which was taken up by la Condesa and all the men. The effect of their voices in the soft, still night in that enchanted garden, seemed to Hester like the earthly echo of some heavenly strains.

“Now, Paul, your turn,” said Casilda. “There is your own guitar,” and she handed it to him with empressement.

Paul, with a careless shrug of his shoulders, seated himself on the balustrade—where his figure was thrown into picturesque distinctiveness by the moon—and in a delicious tenor gave a melting Brazilian love-song.

Hester, listening eagerly, her pulse beating time to the romantic air, felt the extraordinary magnetism of the singer’s voice, and the spell of his dark face. When the last note had faded away, dissolved, as it were, among the flowers and moonbeams, she said almost under her breath—

“Oh, I’m sorry I could not follow all the words.”

“Then, Mademoiselle, it is only fair that you should hear one little English ballad,” said Paul—“one that can be understood by you. I will attempt a serenade by Stacey,” and tuning his guitar to another key, and with a glance of flashing significance, he nodded to her, and began—

“The wind is falling on the lonely sea,
And daylight dies in magic clouds of gold;
The birds no longer sing upon the tree,
And summer flowers their many petals fold.

“But in a garden ’mid the sleeping roses
Still I must wander in the evening light,
And ’neath the window where my love reposes
Sing to her gently with the winds of night

“Sleep, love, sleep, no danger shall betide thee,
Long though the night, and thronged with doubt and fear;
Sleep on, sleep, for I will stay beside thee,
Singing ‘I love thee’ till morn is near.

“The wind is falling o’er the lonely sea,
The waves are hushed that beat upon the shore;
A thousand stars look down all silently,
Like heavenly guards that watch till night is o’er.

“Sleep, love, sleep, no danger shall betide thee.
Long though the night, and thronged with doubt and fear;
Sleep on, sleep, for I will stay beside thee.
Singing ‘I love thee’ till morn is near.”

In the air was a lilt, which stirred the blood, and it would be difficult to describe the exquisite expression of the music and the voice, with its rich, haunting sweetness. Here, indeed, was the typical lover of romance, endowed with a golden tongue!

When the song ceased, and the singer had thrown aside his guitar, there was a silence, a murmur, and a faint clapping. Swift thoughts came to the audience. Had el Marques sung this serenade especially for the English Señorita, or was it just his ordinary nonsense? At any rate, it was the swan-song of the entertainment. Doña Luisa and Mrs. Tudor seemed suddenly to awake from their respective reveries, and began to chatter briskly of chills, rheumatics, old age, and to declare that, although they had never spent so delightful or romantic an evening, they must bring their pleasure to a close, and depart forthwith.

Every one now stood up, and began to talk at once. A gradual move was made towards the villa; chairs and guitars were abandoned, and the company trooped up the steps.

For some reason which she could not explain to herself, Hester did not wish to talk to Paul; she hung back, and walked beside Casilda.

“What a voice you have!” she said. “What pleasure you can give! How I envy—and thank you.”

“Ah,” rejoined the Spanish girl, “it is so good of you to praise me, and you are three times nice, as we say here; but you should hear Dolores!”

“I don’t think I want to hear her—or see her,” rejoined Hester; “from your description, I am not impressed, and to me your voice is so young and fresh and, if I may say it to you, so good.”

“Yes, I know what you mean. I am no siren. I hope”—pausing on the plateau on which the villa stood—“that you will not forget me, Miss Forde, and that we may meet again,” and she held out a rose with a smile.

“I shall never forget you, Casilda,” she answered, accepting it and placing it in her bodice; “and I shall always remember this evening.”

Ices, sherbets, and refreshment were awaiting the guests in the dining-room; but el Marques was nowhere to be seen. However, as the visitors had made their adieux and were getting into their carriage, he reappeared, mounted on his black horse.

“I am to be your escort, ladies,” he announced, “if you will accept me, and will ride with you to the entrance of the town.”

“But it is not at all necessary,” declared Doña Luisa. “We have two men-servants. How like you!—you enjoy a gallop at night, I know.”

“Dear Señora, you are not gracious. Do you realize that you will not see me again for months? I am leaving to-morrow for the Villa Andalusia;” and he rode beside the carriage, talking and laughing, till they reached the Calahorra bridge. Here he said good-bye, and, halting, waved them a farewell with his hat.

For a moment he presented a fine equestrian figure in the moonlight; then he suddenly wheeled his horse and galloped off.

“Certainly his methods are always dramatic,” exclaimed Mrs. Tudor, with a faint, gratified sigh; “and there is something attractive about Paul de Sarazin—do what he will, one cannot help liking him.” To which pronouncement Doña Luisa nodded an emphatic assent.

The little party found Captain Tudor sitting up awaiting them in the patio; it was evident that he was excessively bored with his own company.

“Well, so here you are!” he said, rising to receive them with a stifled yawn. “What sort of a show was it?”

“Delightful!” replied Hester, and her eyes shone. “We sat out on the terrace after dinner, and had the most enchanting songs!”

“Dear me, how truly romantic! And I suppose that Sarazin fellow sang? He is just the sort of chap one sees in a picture on the back of a musical serenade—twanging a guitar.”

“He has a beautiful voice,” said Hester coldly.

“And he presented you with that beautiful rose, eh?”

“No, you are absolutely wrong. This rose,” and she took it out and looked at it, “was given to me by a girl.”

“A girl!” he echoed. “Well, I am astonished. I see that, in spite of his reputation, Paul de Sarazin is beneath his opportunities.”

“Captain Tudor,” she said gaily, “I see that your own company does not agree with you. Why are you so cross and disagreeable?”

“Am I? Well, if I am, forgive me. I’ve had a hideously dull time, and bored myself into a bad humour.”

“And how is the Rock fever?”

“Oh, that’s all right. I say, I wonder if we shall get Aunt Laura to make a start next Saturday? You’ll do your best, eh?”

Hester nodded. It might have been a promise, it might have been a casual good-night; and, in answer to a summons, she went upstairs.

Chapter XXX


A few days after the expedition to “Las Veraldes” brought Mrs. Tudor’s visit to Spain to a close. In spite of the joint entreaties of Captain Tudor and Doña Luisa, nothing would induce this obstinate woman to penetrate farther south; she declared that the heat would kill her. She had already seen both Seville and Gibraltar.

“And Miss Forde, who had travelled so little,” protested Captain Tudor—“what an opportunity she will miss!”

“I am not so certain of that,” said his aunt decisively. “Later, on another occasion, she may return to Spain; at present, it is my wish that she should accompany me to Biarritz.”

Captain Tudor then privately fell back on his ally—but was she his ally? He began to have his misgivings when, after painting Gibraltar and its fascinations in the most seductive colours in his power, he seemed to fail in raising her enthusiasm to an active pitch, and she merely said that “Of course it was very, very kind of him, but that she must do whatever Mrs. Tudor wished; and perhaps it was getting a little too warm to venture farther south.”

“Why, the middle of April is the best time of all,” he declared.

To this Miss Forde made no reply, and he realized that it is one thing to praise a place and recommend its delights, another to prevail on a young lady, who has something else in her mind, to visit it.

*  *  *

Mrs. Tudor had heralded her return to Biarritz by a telegram; but when she and her party drove up in the Bellevue omnibus, a sore disappointment was awaiting them. The proprietor, with profound bows, regrets, and apologies, informed Madame that “the rooms she generally occupied were engaged, and would not be vacant for a fortnight.”

Mrs. Tudor had not retained her apartments, and yet had never for a moment dreamt of this complication.

“There is not one room in the hotel suitable for Madame at present. If we had but known three days ago!” said the proprietor; “but see,” indicating a pile of letters, “all of these are asking for rooms, and we have to say ‘no’.”

“Then there is nothing for it but Cambo!” declared the old lady, sitting down in the hall. “We will drive out there after déjeuner, and put in the fortnight in the country. Cambo,” turning to Hester, “is delightful at this time of year, and will be so quiet and restful after out rattling about in Spain. What do you think?”

Hester remained silent, but her glances expressed demur and resistance. At last she said—

“Why not go to the Hotel Mazarin? I’m sure they could take us in there.”

“Take us in, no doubt; but the only hotel I ever patronize in Biarritz is the Bellevue. We will telephone for rooms, and start for Cambo at two o’clock. Yes,” added the wise old woman, “I know you are thinking of visitors; but they can come out and spend a day—it is just a nice motor run—only about thirty kilometres from here; a most delicious spot on the river Nive, at the base of the Pyrenees. The mountain air will do you good, the song of the river will lull me to sleep; the walks around are romantic, the scenery exquisite; a quiet little green nook will be a change after the glare and glamour of Spain.”

And so the matter was settled, rooms were available, and after déjeuner it was arranged that the ladies and their maids should flit to Cambo.

Meanwhile they encountered various hotel friends, who welcomed their return, and these included Mrs. Mac James, who was exceedingly interested in their reappearance in the drawing-room.

“Well,” she said, rustling over and seating herself in an arm-chair facing the travellers, “so here you are again! Pray, what have you been doing with yourselves in Spain?”

“Sight-seeing,” briefly rejoined Mrs. Tudor.

“Oh, was that all!”

“All, my dear lady; how much more would you have? Pray, what has been going on here? What is the new sensation? How has Biarritz been conducting itself?”

“The newest sensation is the return of Paul de Sarazin,” said Mrs. Mac James, “who appeared a week ago, apparently in his usual spirits; he is flirting abominably with a fascinating Austrian widow, just as if nothing had happened.”

“What did happen?”

“Oh, my dearest Mrs. Tudor,” cried Mrs. Mac James, drawing herself up and assuming her most pontifical air, “surely,” and she glanced at Hester, “I need not go over all that story again?”

“No; for the most of it, the sensational part, was fiction—there was no Paris and no lady,” and she looked up at her with a grim smile. “We happened to meet Paul de Sarazin in Spain.”

“In Spain?” repeated Mrs. Mac James, blankly staring at her informant, and suddenly filled with a tormenting curiosity as to the how, when, and why.

Was it possible that this intriguing old Tudor woman had laid a network of plans, and would ultimately crown herself with fame and triumph, by marrying the red-haired girl to the heir of the Duque de San Telmo?

“Well, I am glad he is reinstated in your good graces; but he did not remain with you long,” she added, with vindictive emphasis, looking straight at Hester, who reddened under her glance. “Now he is devoting himself to this Austrian Countess—they say an old friend, and a magnificent horsewoman.”

“Dear me, is he?” ejaculated Mrs. Tudor. “Really, Mrs. Mac James, I do not know what you would do without this poor unfortunate Paul de Sarazin and his affairs—they seem to furnish you with endless occupation. You do not like him, but you are always au fait in his doings and his plans and intentions.”

“One of his intentions, at any rate, is public property, in spite of his money-hunting father. The Marquis will never marry; this I know for a fact. With all his gay ways, there is an air of quiet melancholy in his face; he is most hopelessly attached to his cousin.”

“Possibly,” said Mrs. Tudor, receiving the shaft with equanimity, “and yet maybe not; your information may again be inaccurate, the same as the news of the mythical lady and Paris.”

“I had it from the best authority,” declared the other, with considerable heat.

“The carriage awaits Madame,” announced the concierge, entering; “the luggage and maids have gone to the station.”

“Then come along, Hester,” said Mrs. Tudor briskly; “the sooner we are off the better,” and with a most gracious farewell to her adversary the old campaigner fared forth.

*  *  *

It was nearing the end of April, the banks were covered with primroses, birds were singing, the sky was cloudless, Cambo was looking its best. The new arrivals took up their quarters in the old-fashioned hotel close to the Nive. It boasted a large piazza, and faced a building where the Cambo spring was taken, and behind which lay a charming sort of park beside the Nive. Here a great avenue of fine lime-trees, planted close to the water, led to a rustic gate opening into the woods which overhung the rushing river, where, between two steep hills, it wound and twisted on its way from its home in the Pyrenees. Truly, it would be difficult to find a more romantic spot than the banks of the Nive for some miles above Cambo.

After tea, it being a warm evening (a hot south-west wind was blowing from Spain), Hester left her chaperon with her feet on a chair and a paper in her hand, and went forth to explore the vicinity. She walked across the road into the opposite enclosure, and entered the grassy avenue. The trees were just shaded with green, and through their branches she saw the neighbouring hills covered with flocks, with brushwood, or boldly bare. The ravine, in which the river lost itself, was clothed in verdure; its banks were yellow with primroses. She sat down on a log and gazed at the running water of a once famous salmon river, the opposite pasture green as velvet, and the old red-roofed Basque farmhouse on the side of the hill; and as she rested in the still April evening, the peace of the place sank into her very soul, and she wondered if the past months were not all a dream, and Paul the mere hero of a book she had been reading. Would she wake from this present abstraction and discover that it was a vision?—that she was once more in her bedroom at the Grange, gazing on the garden wall,—on which one of Jane’s many cats was bird-catching,—and listening to the scolding voice of Jane herself, harrying some victim?

She sprang to her feet at the idea and stamped her foot. No, she was alive and here—free! The long drive had made her drowsy. Whatever happened, she would never return to that life; a life of meals and sleep—the existence of a domestic animal. Better be dead!

Hester slept the sleep of the weary and the just that same evening, and realized the next day that already she was becoming attached to Cambo and the Basques. She had strolled over the suspension-bridge below the hill, paid her penny, and made friends with the bridge dog—an important fox-terrier who considered it his business to conduct every one across. She viewed the river from the opposite side, inspected the weird water-wheel which turned in perpetual motion, hoping to catch the now wary salmon, wandered on to the tiny station, had a conversation with the station-mistress, and inquired about the trains—merely an idle question, of course; but perhaps he would come out that day.

At twelve o’clock, as Mrs. Tudor and her charge were seated at déjeuner in the open piazza, a “toot-toot” was heard, and a scarlet motor thundered up to the gate; it contained only the chauffeur and Paul de Sarazin. When Hester caught sight of him her hand trembled so that she could hardly hold her fork. She had not seen him since he had waved her a dramatic adieu on the Calahorra bridge.

The visitor accosted the two ladies with his usual easy charm; he had heard of their return from Spain only that morning, and had come out to see how they liked their quarters. It was unfortunate that they could not get into the Bellevue.

“Well, I am not sorry to be here,” said Mrs. Tudor; “and as for Miss Forde, she will now have a little leisure to arrange her ideas and impressions, which must be all in a jumble. She saw too much of Spain in such a short time.”

“But the general impression was favourable, I hope?”

“Oh yes,” and she smiled at him gaily, though all the time the Austrian Countess was rankling in her mind.

The Marquis de Sarazin had déjeuner with his friends, and talked of all that was going on—the fête of flowers, the golf-matches, and the fancy ball. He discoursed of Las Veraldes, too, the de Trubias, and Casilda. Those two days in Spain had undoubtedly strengthened their intimacy; they (he and Hester) seemed now to have a number of topics in common. When the Marquis de Sarazin had smoked a certain number of cigarettes, he rose and said he must depart; he had an appointment on the golf-links at four o’clock, and had just run out to look them up; would come again shortly, and bring them some books and all the latest papers.

Two days later he reappeared in the afternoon, and accompanied the ladies, who were about to set out for a stroll by the river.

“I know every yard of this place since I was a boy,” he remarked. “I used to come to fish. There, by that tree, I once overbalanced and fell in, and was nearly drowned. That old farm on the opposite side was where Wellington had his headquarters. There was a good deal of fighting all round here. You see, we are close to the Spanish frontier.”

“I never realized that!” exclaimed Hester.

“Do you know that your people, the English, occupied this country for three hundred years, and built the Cathedral of Bayonne; the Black Prince lived out here for a long time. Am I not well posted in local history?”

“Yes; and history makes all this part of the world most interesting to me.”

“It may interest you still more to learn some modern facts,” he continued. “Cambo is celebrated for its chocolate, its asparagus, and for being the residence of Rostand, the great French author. Some of the best chocolate even bears his name. Now, there is fame for you!”

By this time the three had entered the wood; the wide gravelled promenade had given place to a steep footpath; the mountains had come close together, and the angry river boiled between.

“I can go no further,” said Mrs. Tudor, sitting down on a bench (the French are so thoughtful in this respect).

“But only to the corner,” urged Paul. “There is the great view; you command the bend of the river and the mountains. Come! I will help you!” and he held out his hand invitingly.

“You cannot help my seventy-two years. No, you two may go; I will remain here, and later on listen to your raptures.”

Paul de Sarazin hesitated; a Spanish gentleman and his lady-love never walked unattended, it is not etiquette; but Hester was English, he had English blood in his veins, and an American grandmother. Here, too, was his chance. He recalled the old proverb: “God cannot help a man who despises opportunity!” Moreover, he believed that Mrs. Tudor had purposely arranged this tête-à-tête. What a clever, long-headed old woman! Certainly, it was easier and more agreeable to make love among the wild flowers on the hillside than in the bustle of gay Biarritz, where one never seemed alone. It was a lovely afternoon; the wind seemed laden with every spring scent. To Hester the day was a dream of joy, life itself an intoxication, as Paul sauntered beside her in almost dead silence, merely helping her over places where a trickling stream crossed the path.

Undoubtedly, she had a beautiful foot—the foot of a Spanish lady; also splendid hair, a good heart, and a great fortune.

Paul was smoking furiously for him; he was making up his mind to speak now. Words had been burning on his lips in the moonlit garden of Las Veraldes, and he had choked them back; it had seemed to him unchivalrous to propose to the girl almost under his own roof. But here, on a spur of the wild Pyrenees, was the fitting place, and the appropriate moment.

At last they reached the high point over the gorge; on one hand lay the woods, beneath them the river, beyond it the uplands, and the bold outline of the blue mountains—indeed, there was a touch of their presence in the air.

As Hester stood panting a little from her late exertions, and gazing up towards “La Rune,” her cavalier suddenly jerked his cigar away, and said—

“Mademoiselle, I wish to ask you an important question!”

The intensity of his tone startled her; she turned and looked at him quickly, and her heart beat fast.

“Do you think you would find it too hard to love me?”

His listener could summon no words to reply; the crisis had come upon her with a rush. Alas, she might have answered with truth, that to loye him was unhappily too easy!

“Because,” he resumed in a low voice, and his eyes were fixed upon her, “I love you, and I ask you to do me the great honour to become my wife.”

There was a long silence before the girl spoke; the river thundered below, a chaffinch twittered close by.

At last she said, and she was white to the lips: “You have paid me a high honour, but——”

(“Dios! Had he been too certain? Was this cold-blooded northern woman about to refuse him, Paul de Sarazin?”)

“But,” she continued in a louder and firmer key, “I am not sure—and you are not sure. If you really do care for me, and it is not just a passing fancy, I admit that I would gladly accept your love. To possess it truly, would make me unspeakably happy; but you have only known me a short time—I am not of your race or your religion. You cannot be certain!”

“Pardon me, Mademoiselle, I am quite certain,” he interposed with decision, and there was a touch of hauteur in his air.

“Certain now,” she repeated. “But how will it be in a month’s time?—in a year? Oh, I have had such a starved life!” and her eyes filled with tears. “Love means so much to me—-more than you could believe! If you will only be kind—truly kind—and tell me, as it were, soul to soul—could you always care for me, or would you, as they say of you, forget me in a day?”

“How can one forget one’s wife in a day?” he asked.

“Aye, but before she is your wife!” (Hester’s jealous thoughts ranged from Dolores to the Austrian Countess, who both doubtless outshone her in every respect but money.) “Oh, if this were to happen to me, it would mean the end of everything in the world! And before we go further, I would say, is it not better to remain as we are—friends?”

“No, no, no!” he answered vehemently.

“Yes; I shall always have this one hour to think of, and be satisfied; and you will go away, and marry one of your own nation.”

“But I shall not be satisfied!” he cried impetuously. “Do you think I am a young fool, and do not know my own mind? If you go away, I shall follow you to the world’s end, for I love you,” and at the moment he spoke the honest truth.

“Then, if you do love me,” and her voice trembled, “for God’s sake be faithful to me!” and her white face was lit up by an expression that amazed a man well accustomed to his own fiery and emotional countrywomen. This girl’s love was a serious thing—it meant her life, her very soul; if she had given it to him, it behoved him to step warily.

“I swear I will love you!” he declared, his dark eyes aglow with emotion—“you only—to the end, till death claims love and me.”

Hester leant back against the tree trunk and put her hand over her face, which was working convulsively. He saw the tears trickling fast under her pretty ungloved fingers.

Paul de Sarazin had taken part in various love-scenes, but never in one approaching this. He had held tender interviews in dim rooms, behind large fans, on moonlight nights, on terraces, in corners of conservatories, even in the daytime on a motor-car; but on no occasion had he experienced anything of a similar description—a lady receiving his vows in a storm of tears.

“Will you not trust me? Will you not believe me?” he pleaded. “I swear I will be true. Of course, I have been wild and foolish—all the world knows that; but I will turn over a new page, and you, beloved lady, will make me good.” As he spoke he took her disengaged hand in his. “What do you say? Speak to me.”

“I will speak—I do love you”—her voice was half a sob. “Oh, you know that! But I am afraid.”

She hesitated, her mind filled with the poignant memory of the anguish of jealousy this handsome lover had already occasioned her; of the mysterious story of the duel, a fiction—yet it had hurt as sharply as a fact—the vague whispers that went round Biarritz, his unknown past, including the siren Dolores, the unknown future, and its pitfalls.

“I am afraid,” she repeated. “Let us wait a month—so as to know one another better.”

“And to prove me your true knight always!”

She made no reply for sometime. At last she said: “Let us remain unbound in any way, and at the end——”

“The end,” he interposed, “will be the beginning of my happiness. But, dear lady, you have told me that you care for me; this I cannot forget; this fact, though it binds you not, binds me to you for ever.”

And as he spoke he stooped down bareheaded, and kissed her hand.

“Tell me one thing,” he asked, after a silence. “Why should we wait? What is it that you fear?”

“I am afraid of myself,” she answered tremulously,—“yes, and of you! I am jealous. When Mrs. Tudor told me of the duel, I was secretly distracted. Yes, I was, and we left Biarritz at once.”

Madre Santissima!” he exclaimed. “Was that what sent you into Spain?” And he pressed her hands tightly in his.

“It was,” turning away her face. “I realized then how horribly, horribly jealous I could be.”

“And yet you had no reason—you know that?”

(Oh, what a charm in the low, vibrating voice!)

“No,” and she drew away her hand and met his eyes steadily. “But I warn you—it must be all or nothing.”

“It is all! Surely you will believe me? Tell me how I shall prove it to you? What can I offer, or promise, on my knees?”

“Prove it by waiting for one month before we are pledged to one another—before all the world knows. Grant me this favour.”

“I see, you wish for a term of probation, the purgatory before Heaven!” He paused, struck by the pale intensity of her face. “Well, then, have it so!”

“Yes, I will have it so,” she murmured, as she slowly dried her eyes. “Now we will return to Mrs. Tudor, she will be wondering——” She could not complete the sentence.

“May I inform her?” he asked gravely.

“That you are free, of course.”

“No, for I hold myself pledged to you—you have told me something that binds me to you, till the end of my life.”

“No, no,” said Hester, invaded by a spirit of perversity she could not analyze. “There is no pledge yet—we are both free.”

Her companion received her verdict in disapproving silence; and in silence the two descended the woods to where a blue parasol marked the limit of their tête-à-tête. The girl’s mind was a tumult of conflicting and self-torturing thoughts. Wretched, cowardly creature, surely she had done wrong not to snatch at this chance of happiness—perhaps her only chance! Why had she refused and thrust away with her own hand her heart’s desire? Why not enjoy one little hour? To be steeped for years in the black gulf of misery! combated her sterner self, that dour puritan nature, with its old-world claims; the same that had held her in its grip on the bridge of Calahorra.

Oh yes, happiness was worth waiting for, and, after all, how little they knew of one another! La Pelota, his mother’s reception, a dance, casual meetings in the streets or on the links, and those two happy days in Cordova, was the sum total. Now they were bound to at least meet and talk daily—heart-stirring prospect!

For his part, Paul was reflecting, “So this English girl is aware of her own value; like all red-headed people, she is jealous—she has been hearing some tales of me. At least, I am the first man who has made love to her—one sees that, and I will wait. I will be good to her. I will marry her all the same.” But in his heart Paul, the irresistible, was conscious of a certain sense of resentment—in short, he was both nettled and hurt.

If she had been a Spaniard, instead of weeping, making objections and difficulties, and talking jealousy and delay, she would have thrown herself into his arms with impassioned abandon. However, she was not a Spaniard, but an English girl.

Mrs. Tudor, sitting alone, was busy, too, with more complacent reflections. How furious some people would be if her matchmaking—a match forced upon her—was crowned with success! To think of the poor, shrinking creature she had befriended some months ago blossoming into the fashionable and important Marquesa de Sarazin!

Well, Hester, of course, had always been secretly in love with Paul, and “ce que femme veut, Dieu veut!” Ah! here they came at last! But Paul was looking unusually solemn, and Hester had undoubtedly been crying. Was Paul responsible for her tears?

With a murmured excuse about a telegram, Hester left the others alone, and turned towards the hotel, whilst Mrs. Tudor and her suitor followed her at their leisure.

The Marquis de Sarazin at once placed his companion in the position of parent to his future wife, although there was as yet to be no public or formal betrothal, and in his tone was a faint echo of disappointment and regret.

“No, we are not engaged,” he concluded gravely.

“Oh, you can make love so well without being engaged, Pablo mio!” muttered the old lady, as she peered up at him with her sharp blue eyes.

He assured her of his father’s hearty sanction to the marriage, deplored the lady’s invincible reluctance to bind herself to him at present, but declared that he knew she would eventually be his wife.

“And why are you so certain?” asked Mrs. Tudor.

“Because I venture to think that she loves me. She is cold and she is formal, but she truly does care. And—so do I.”

“Now, I cannot imagine why she won’t allow the engagement to be un fait accompli. I suppose the fact is, she has been scared by your reputation as a flirt. She wishes to be sure that you are in earnest.”

“I am certainly in earnest. By-and-by, I shall inform my father and family of my hopes, and at the end of my probation we will go to England, or to Spain, and be married. I do not believe in putting things off!”

“No?” And she raised her eyebrows with an incredulous expression.

“There, you see, I am not a true Spaniard,” he added, with his charming smile, “for you know our saying, ‘Mañana—es otro dia’—‘There is always to-morrow!’”

Chapter XXXI

The Unaccepted Lover

Paul de Sarazin came daily to Cambo, and Hester surrendered herself to the enjoyment of the fulfilment of her brightest dreams. He brought flowers and books, he also brought a fine ring, composed of one magnificent black pearl; but this the lady refused to wear, being for the present satisfied with a certain knot of ribbon and a bunch of dead primroses. Mrs. Tudor, therefore, took temporary charge of the proffered pledge, and acted, so to speak, as chaperon, adviser, and referee; but in private she remonstrated with Hester in no measured terms.

“My dear,” she said, “you are behaving in a most idiotic manner! I really thought you had more sense! You are fond of Paul—honestly, you care for him very much—at last you have your heart’s desire, he asks you to marry him, and he is attached to you, as one can see, yet you put him off—there must be a period of waiting, of probation! Why are you playing with fate in this way?”

“Because I am afraid my happiness may not be real—may not stand the test of time.”

“Fiddlesticks! Test of time, indeed! I think Paul, the spoiled darling of various nations, is not a little astonished and hurt by your reluctance to believe him. He cannot understand your attitude—you won’t be engaged now, but some day! Have you heard the Spanish proverb—‘By the street of By-and-by, one comes to the house of Never.’ Take care!”

“I am taking care,” she murmured.

“Take care!” repeated Mrs. Tudor. “You may be sorry for yourself yet. I know you are jealous. If you think you can pin a man down to never looking at or speaking to another woman, the sooner you divest yourself of that illusion the better. Paul will always be attracted—and attract. I expect the story of a demi-semi-engagement has already filtered out in Biarritz—people will know that the much-in-request Marquis de Sarazin does not give up all his engagements and come out to Cambo for nothing. He has been here four times this week—he is here”—and she pointed to the red motor—“now.”

Hester kept her suitor at a distance; he was never permitted to claim the privileges of an engaged man. A flower, a look, a faint allusion to the future, was bliss sufficient for her; and if there are songs without words, there are also looks without speech, and in this accomplishment the Marquis de Sarazin was, even as a child, unrivalled.

Although Mrs. Tudor disliked motoring, she dissembled her dislike, and accompanied Hester on various excursions in the red Mercédès car. What sacrifices was she not making for the girl!—her afternoon snooze, her little local drives, her correspondence—and yet there was a certain amount of stirring excitement in whirling through the country, goggled and veiled, in company with her interesting associates.

They visited the Pas de Roland and the quaint old Basque town of Saint Jean Pied du Port, built at the foot of a hill crowned by a fort. Here they lunched and inspected the primitive market, with its varied stock, the herds of cattle, lambs, goats, and mules, and the black- browed dealers: true Basques, with their funny short jackets and hardy physique. They also penetrated to Roncevaux, and saw the old convent and the relics of Charlemagne. This was a long excursion, and Mrs. Tudor felt, as a consequence, very tired and cramped; so the following afternoon they contented themselves with a short drive, which they concluded in the village of Upper Cambo. There is a straight shady road on the hill above the river; at the farther end is Old Cambo, with its convent, steep streets, and ancient Basque church, surrounded by a cemetery—the latter was one blaze of Spanish iris in blue and purple splendour. They bloomed on every grave, and had a wonderful effect, as the three visitors moved about, scanning headstones, and reading out the strange Spanish and Basque names. Here were Lecagnoa, Gastel Hobia, Maria Hastoy, Noblia Antichuberria.

“Antichuberria was certainly my countryman,” said Paul. “I suppose he came over the border, and settled here. Now, shall we go below the church to the platform which overlooks the river?” And he gave his hand to Mrs. Tudor and piloted her carefully down a few steps.

Here the trio halted high above the shining Nive, gazing on a valley which literally seemed to smile beneath them. There on the water was a boat, and a man fishing; in the fields beyond, great cream-coloured oxen were working; a drove of small ponies were being driven over the bridge with the Basque cry of “Hu la! Hu la! Hu la!” a big dog and a small calf were coupled together—it was all so primitive, pastoral, and peaceful. What a contrast to the glittering, restless world to which the three spectators belonged!

“Now let us see the church!” said Hester, after a silence. “I like these old Basque churches with their galleries—the men above, the women below.”

“It is not flattering,” remarked Mrs. Tudor. “I asked the reason, and was informed that the women must always be beneath the men’s feet. Such an exploded, mediaeval idea!”

“That is so!” agreed Paul. “Truly no one knows it better than myself.”

“Yes,” muttered the old lady slyly. “You are never happy unless at the feet of some fair one! Well, here we are”—and she stepped down into the cool, dark church.

The edifice was ancient, weather-beaten, and poor; with nothing distinctive about it except the carved galleries, carved pulpit, and carved stone font. After the glories of Burgos and Cordova it seemed mean indeed.

As they advanced up the centre aisle, Hester realized for the first time that Paul was a Catholic, for when they approached the altar, he bowed and crossed himself, and in passing the holy water he dipped his fingers and touched hers.

“It will do you no harm,” he murmured, with a smile.

Outside once more, in the full evening light, the sun was setting, cows were coming home with the dogs, the great oxen in carts had accomplished their last journey, and the red Mercédès was awaiting its owner, and panting with impatience.

“I must be off, I am sorry to say,” said Paul, looking at his watch; “I am dining out; but in two days you return, is it not so? I will fetch you in the motor.” Then he sprang up beside the driver, and, waving his handkerchief, was whirled away, till at a sudden bend he was lost to sight.

Mrs. Tudor, who felt chilly, moved a few steps homewards, but Hester stood still. The air seemed suddenly to have become cold—the warm, pink tints of the sun had faded on hill-side and river; and as she remained staring down the long white track which led to Biarritz—the road which lay before her departing lover—a magpie suddenly and leisurely walked across it.

Her superstitious heart gave a throb of fear. Was this a bird of ill-omen?

As they proceeded slowly homewards Hester said, “Mrs. Tudor, do you believe in perfect happiness?—perfect happiness even for one week?”

“No, my dear, there is always just one little hard pea in the down bed—that is my experience. Pray, what is yours—how do you define the word?”

“I believe it is an echo who answers but does not approach! This is not my own idea—I have read it somewhere.” After a somewhat prolonged silence she continued, “It may seem strange, though of course I ought to have known it; but I never realized till just now in the chapel that Paul de Sarazin is a Roman Catholic.”

“Why, of course he is!” rejoined her companion. “And his uncle is a cardinal. When you become Marquesa de Sarazin, you also will belong to his church.”

“I? No, that I will never do!” said Hester, with decision; the Puritan in her blood was aflame, and inarticulate generations looked from her eyes.

“What? You are not in earnest?” cried Mrs. Tudor, coming to a standstill.

“But of course I am.”

“Then, my dear young friend, I fear you have much trouble in store for you.”

“Have I? Well, even so, I would sooner give up Paul than abandon my faith; and yet I love him better than——” And the end of the sentence died on her lips.

“Dear child, I had no conception that you were so religious!” exclaimed Mrs. Tudor, once more pausing to survey her.

“I am afraid I am not. I must not let you get hold of a wrong impression; but the Protestant faith is in my very blood, and although I do not go to church or read the Bible as often as I might, yet I believe in God with all my heart. It is Him I have to thank for my present happiness, and I do thank Him,” she said fervently.

Mrs. Tudor smiled grimly. Did this queer girl propose to make a votive offering in return for the battered heart of Paul de Sarazin?

“What is your creed?” she asked abruptly.

“My creed is very simple. Be good, do good, and love God.”

“Oh, well, you can become a Catholic and still believe in God and be grateful,” said Mrs. Tudor, with decision.

“Yes, I am aware of all that,” rejoined the girl; “but it would not be the same to me. I am sure there are many truly excellent people in the Roman church who are given to faith, self-denial, and good works; but I shall always live and die a Protestant.”

“Your children, however, will live and die Catholics!” retaliated Mrs. Tudor.

Hester’s face took the shade of the sunset. She was about to speak, but evidently changed her mind; and setting her lips fast, walked down the hill, at a pace that tried her companion’s capabilities to the utmost.

Chapter XXXII

He Cometh Not

The long expedition to Roncevaux had proved too much for Mrs. Tudor, who had caught a chill, and was confined to her room for a whole week. Hester was secretly miserable, and consumed by a sudden inward restlessness. It seemed to her sensitive mental barometer, that something had happened to Paul. Already he was changed; he had only come out twice to inquire for the invalid, and remained but for half an hour, sitting in the piazza, smoking cigarettes and talking with his usual mixture of deference and delightful audacity—precisely like an everyday friend! Hour after hour her uncertainty and apprehension became more acute.

Well, it was her own doing! She had had her way; but Hester Forde was not aware, that, according to strict Spanish etiquette, Paul, in her chaperon’s absence, had no business to visit her at all. However, she was conscious of one thing, that his interest in other pretty women was by no means dead.

Cambo is always gay in the afternoon, and as it was particularly attractive in lovely April weather, crowds of people arrived from Bayonne to déjeuner, or English folk from Biarritz for tea. Many motors and victorias stopped at the river-side hotel, and Paul watched with keen interest and undisguised admiration the coming and going of a party of pretty girls in a motor. He was acquainted with one, and went and talked with her for ten whole minutes.

“If he really cared for me, would he do this?” Hester asked herself furiously; and then, “If you are so jealous, so hurt by such a little thing, as a man simply speaking to a girl he knows, what will become of you when you are his wife? Oh, what agonies are in store for you!” Alas! a real agony was in wait for her that hour.

In a short time Paul had taken his departure, with many hopes, regrets, and a lingering hand-pressure, and Hester retreated alone into a corner of the piazza. During the previous week the colours of the world had appeared very bright to her; now, as she sat alone, gazing across the river on the quiet pastures, the outlook filled her with depression. How dull it all seemed—how wanting in the glow of life! Was this because Paul had withdrawn his countenance, and in her heart she felt her hold on him was weakening?

Two ladies who had driven out from Biarritz were seated at a little table taking tea, close to Hester—so close, indeed, that she might easily have been included in the conversation—and she heard each word they uttered, almost as if it had been addressed to herself. A name caught her ear.

“So that was the celebrated Paul de Sarazin who went off in the motor just now?” said the lady in the black hat, to the lady in the mauve toque. “What a good-looking fellow he is! I could fall in love with him myself. No wonder he is such a heart-breaker! What is he doing in Cambo—do you know?”

“I am sure I cannot tell you,” replied she of the mauve toque; “probably what he is doing in Biarritz—making love to a girl.”

“Oh, you mean the Spaniard, the Condesa de Las Candalles. She is his cousin—amazingly handsome, but what a bold, arrogant expression! I saw him with her on the links.”

“Yes,” rejoined the lady in the toque, “and you may see them at the Casino, and you may see them motoring together. He is in her pocket all day long; I believe it is an old affair.”

“Oh, he has so many old affairs!” rejoined the other, with fretful emphasis. “What was the story about the English girl? People said he wanted to marry that rich Miss Forde!”

“To many, yes; but he can still amuse himself. Cela n’empêche pas!” and the other laughed. “Did you ever see the heiress?”

“No, but I hear she is quite nice-looking, carries herself well, but is pitiably shy. She has ten thousand a year—a good thing for de Sarazin, who, by all accounts, is drowned in debt!”

“You mean,” corrected the lady in the black hat, “that his mother is—de Sarazin does not gamble; he has,” and she laughed, “only one weakness.”

“Which runs away with money too!” interposed her companion.

“Oh, I don’t know that, where he is concerned! La Duquesa, his mother, is a headstrong person, incredibly extravagant. She has ruined the family. I believe el Duque is expected next week, and he will carry her off to Madrid.”

“Easier said than done! La Duquesa is a woman of a violent and uncontrollable temper, and does as she pleases.”

“And this Spanish beauty is her relative, I am sure; she has such a wicked face!”

Hester, who was nearly choked with her feelings, could listen no longer. Wedged in a corner behind the two gossips, she now rose hastily, and, in spite of their frowns and muttered “Oh dear me!” pushed herself abruptly past them, and hurried away to her friend the river. Here, alone, she sank upon a seat, and held her hands tightly over her heart; it was beating as if it would burst. So Dolores had returned! and Paul had not been able to withstand her sorceries, or to submit to the test of absence, which mad fools declared made the heart grow fonder! She had had her chance, and put it aside for a caprice—she had tempted fate, and invited catastrophe. The old rhyme came into her head with poignant significance—

She that will not when she may,
When she wills, it may be nay.”

On behalf of Paul de Sarazin an extenuating statement must be made. La Duquesa was determined to break off the match between him and “La Rubia.” Alarming hints and congratulations had reached her from Madrid and Las Veraldes, where the girl had actually been entertained, and Paul had appeared most devoted. She therefore immediately bethought her of Dolores, the irresistible, as an antidote, and hastily summoned her from Tangiers. Of course, a marriage between Dolores and Paul was not to be thought of. Still, Dolores was a Spaniard, a Catholic, and of her kin; with her, she would be at ease, and Paul would be amused. Therefore, one afternoon, on his return from golf, Paul was surprised to find already installed at the villa his beautiful cousin the Condesa. She was the same as ever, and full of life and grace and diablerie. She flattered him delightfully, smoked with him, chattered to him in his own tongue, and sang to him as he and his mother sat on the verandah after dinner.

“And this talk of an English wife, Pablo mio?” she asked suddenly. “What means it?”

“Nothing,” put in la Duquesa. “She is an ugly red-haired Protestant. It is only her money!”

Mio madre, you are wrong!” protested Paul. “It is herself. She is very handsome; she has a foot as small as yours, and but one fault—she is too good for me.”

“Ah, Paul,” broke in Dolores, with a mocking laugh and a wicked look in her splendid eyes, “I cannot see you, married to an English ‘mees,’ a heretic and ugly. Dios mio! what a fate for the gay Marques! Sooner than that,” and she blew a cloud, “I would rescue him myself.”

Dolores was born with the instincts of a siren—not in their grosser sense, but in the utmost refinements of seduction—beautiful, bewitching, versed by art and nature in every fascination that appealed to a hot-blooded Spaniard, she acted in a short time as an intoxicant on Paul’s senses. There is so much in propinquity: the ties of the same race and tongue, the bonds of old times and pleasures, the thrall of a pair of too eloquent eyes.

Paul was now to be seen driving with his mother and cousin in the big ducal carriage—motoring with la Condesa, escorting her to the theatre; and people exclaimed—

“Ah, the fickle Marquis has forgotten Miss Forde—out of sight, out of mind!”

His aunt, Mercédès, however, had a more retentive memory, and el Duque, his father, who had received intelligence of his son’s fine prospects, arrived from Madrid in order to be presented to the lady, and to arrange matters financial; for his race and its interests was in his very bones.

El Duque de San Telmo was one of the thinnest and most gentlemanly men alive. As soon as you saw him you realized what was conveyed by the terms “Spanish grandee,” “a grandee of Spain.” He held his meagre figure superbly, his emaciated features were proud, patrician, and expressive, his eyes shone forth from two caverns on either side of a singularly well-cut nose. El Duque was a domestic despot, but his manners were chivalrous and courteous; he was sixty years of age, dressed with extreme care, and always carried a cane. When he arrived at the Villa Andalusia, to his amazement, the good match was no longer discussed. His wife shrugged her ample shoulders, Dolores laughed, Paul smoked in silence. When they were alone, he asked his son, and his tone was blunt—

“Is the marriage broken off?”

“Well, sir, it was never a formal engagement, though I am ready to marry Miss Forde to-morrow. My mother is against the match.”

“Why?” demanded el Duque fiercely.

“Because the lady is not of our Church. She is a Protestant.”

“Bah! And was she not a Protestant two months ago, when your mother wrote and declared that she would now die happy?”

“She has changed her mind since then.”

“Your aunt, too, wrote and gave the lady much praise.”

“Yes, she is all goodness—too good for me——”

“And the other is too bad for you.”

“What do you mean, sir?” and his eyebrows went up.

“I mean your cousin—that intriguing, lying, gambling, handsome devil Dolores.”

“Sir, she is our guest!”

“Your mother’s guest—not mine, for I know her. She is also your mother’s tool. Well, we will say no more. I have come on a fool’s errand—if the other affair is ended.”

To this question his son could give no reply. What was he to say? Was it really ended? Was he going out to Cambo to see La Rubia again—the too-cautious English girl who hesitated to pledge herself or accept his ring? Her tears and avowal had meant nothing; if she had really cared, she would have said “yes” without demur. He was still free—free to amuse himself a little longer, to play the bon camarade with Dolores, and maybe marry La Rubia after all!

He would write out to Miss Forde and make his excuses. Alas! It was true what Mrs. Tudor said, that in the art of serving up his heart on a sheet of notepaper, few could rival el Marques de Sarazin.

The Duke paid a long visit to his sister in the magnificent Villa Flora. He dined with her tête-à-tête, and bewailed the plans and plots of Dolores, who had reft from him a rich and amiable daughter-in-law.

“I dare say Paul will never marry—he knows his own mind for five minutes, no more; and Léon is, as you are aware, betrothed to Casilda, a dear child, a sunbeam, but so poor!”

By-and-by the brother and sister discussed other topics, and she inadvertently mentioned the great treasure, the Sarazin necklace.

“Maria has it with her,” she declared, “for I saw the case; but she will not suffer any one to open it.”

“What can be the reason for that?” he asked, assuming an attitude of sudden attention.

El Duquesa was silent.

“Ah, I see you have your thoughts!” he said hoarsely.

“No, none whatever. Dios, Gaspar, do not excite yourself!”

Volga me Dios, I have ideas!” he thundered. “I see the necklace before the night is out.”

“No, no, my brother,” putting her hand on his arm. “The necklace is safe. Make no scenes.”

“But you know Maria,” he protested, “and her debts—her gambling!”

“True, but of late she has had great luck.”

Ojala! my accounts do not show it; her bills are enough to break my heart.”

“Ah, you spoiled her, Gaspar, in her young days.”

El Duque leant his head on his hand, sighed profoundly, and was silent. He was recalling the beautiful, slim, fascinating Maria de Ferrano. What had she in common with this heavy, painted woman, with the tongue of a scold and the tastes of a sultana?

“And the English girl, Mercédès?” he inquired.

“Yes, I know and like her. She is young, handsome, rich and good, and would be a worthy wife for Paul. All was going well——” She paused expressively.

“Yes.” El Duque lit a fresh cigarette. “All, you say, was going well——” he echoed.

“Till Dolores came,” continued his sister. “Maria summoned her; she has taken, God knows why, a sudden and uncontrollable hatred to the other, La Rubia. Dolores is of Paul’s own kin; she is attractive to men. She has the go and diablerie so much to Paul’s taste; her dancing—Ah!” and she raised her eyes expressively, “yes, she has everything the heiress lacks, and that says all!”

“But it does not say enough, my sister!” protested el Duque, with passion in his voice. “I wish to know, or see, what is behind all this mystery, and why la Duquesa dislikes this girl of whom she once wrote to me in raptures.”

“Ah, I cannot tell you, Gaspar mio, only it is one of Maria’s caprices.”

“But where money is in question—so much money—Maria has no caprices; she is ever constant to a purse!”

“Well, Gaspar, it is beyond me; but it is unfortunate, for I am sure Paul likes this girl, and she, of course, adores him!”

“He is not pledged in any way, is he?” inquired el Duque, sternly.

“No; Paul is, of course, a man of honour. There was no engagement, only an understanding.”

Dios de mi Alma! Paul’s understandings! He has a woman who understands him in every city. Still, Theresa de Trubia told me that, in her eyes, the girl was handsome, and that it looked like a real love affair. What do you say? Theresa is a clever woman.”

“I say, it may all come right yet” and la Duquesa Mercédès stroked her brother’s transparent hand, and reached for another cigarette.

Chapter XXXIII

Between the Two

Meanwhile Hester remained at Cambo, ostensibly attending on Mrs. Tudor, but secretly nursing a frantic desire to get away to Biarritz and learn her fate. Paul had ceased to visit her; but one day he would send a bouquet, another a note about nothing, written with his characteristic charm.

These occasions afforded Pedro, the mercury, an opportunity of talking to his old friend Marietta.

One afternoon she met him as he was crossing the fields, on his return to the little station, en route for Biarritz.

“Ah, so you have brought good news, Pedro mio!” she exclaimed, “you sing!”

He had been humming in a deep, bumble-bee tone a gay gipsy love-song.

“Why do you sing?” she repeated, as they came face to face.

“The day is fine,” he replied, “I have met Marietta! I sing now, whilst I have the wish, as you say, in case it should happen that I may cry to-morrow.”

“And what fine new clothes, Uncle Pedro! Look! I will walk back with you to the station. I have just been up to St. Jean Pied du Port, to visit my mother. One would say Pedro Yotti was going to a wedding!”

“I would I were,” and he took off his cap and slowly scratched his head, “if thou wert to be my bride.”

Marietta flung him a scornful glance, and threw up her chin.

“As to clothes,” he resumed, “what does an old mule with new trappings? These were a gift from Don Pablo.”

“To be worn at his marriage, eh ? Why does he not come here himself, Pedro mio?” and Marietta halted and gravely confronted him, with her hands on her hips.

Pedro slowly shook his head, and shrugged his square shoulders, but made no answer.

The pair stood on the pathway for some seconds, gazing at one another in silence. At last Marietta burst out—

“From a dog who does not bark, and a man who does not talk, deliver me! See, I give you back one of your own miserable sayings, Pedro mio. You have lost your tongue!”

“No, only my heart,” he interrupted.

“Bah!” she cried, with a passionate gesture. “It is easy to see that all is ended! Why trouble to bring flowers and notes and foolish lies, Uncle Pedro? My poor lady is a child in worldly wisdom—she should never have trusted that vaurien out of her sight, till they were married.”

“And it would be too late to mend matters! Oh ho! So that is your wisdom! Marietta, for a clever woman, you now and then say foolish things. Listen to me: it is all the Duquesa and Doña Dolores—Doña Dolores, who sits in the verandah of a night, singing love songs to my master, and fooling him, like one of those evil witches with fishes’ tails that swim in foreign seas. Well, ‘Man is fire, woman is tow—then comes the Devil with the bellows.’” And Pedro raised his shoulders until they almost touched his ears.

“Ah, but la Duquesa—is she not all for the rich daughter?”

“La Duquesa has destroyed us! She hates the English Señorita, the saints alone know why, for we want money badly. La Duquesa gives out that la Rubia is unlucky—child’s talk! Doña Dolores cannot marry el Marques herself, God be thanked! but she will not suffer him to wed another. ‘The gardener’s dog neither eats greens nor suffers any one else to eat them!’ Yet I swear that, for all his gallantries with Dolores, my master likes your Señorita. Truly, there is something at the back of things that puzzles even old Pedro Yotti.”

“Well, Uncle Pedro, when you have found out the riddle, you will come and tell me—eh? Soon we shall be going into Biarritz ourselves—the sooner the better.”

“But what is the use of going now?” objected Pedro, with a melancholy shake of his head. “‘When the house is burnt you bring water’!”

“We may save something yet,” rejoined Marietta, “who knows?”

Pedro heaved a sigh and shook his head as they reached the entrance to the little station.

“You will keep all this talk to yourself, my good little Marietta? Here is the train coming.”

“Truly, yes—I would not shame my young lady, who is so silent and so proud—and you, Tio Pedro?”

“Oh, as for me,” he answered with a gesture, “I am always silent—as still as a pig in a bean-field! ’Tis only to you, my Marietta, that I open my heart,” and he shambled into a third-class carriage, and, waving his hand to his late companion and confidante, was presently trundled away.

“So it was true what people said of Paul!” Hester reflected. “In one day he forgot!”

The dull ache of misery and suspense at last melted her reserve; flesh and blood could endure no longer, and she shared her news and fears with Mrs. Tudor. That lady, now convalescent, was sitting at the window of their little salon overlooking the river, and gazing across at the opposite side with eyes of drowsy satisfaction. Hester’s information had a startling effect—it acted as an immediate tonic and restorative.

“Pray, how long is it since you have heard this?” she demanded, turning sharply round.

“It was the last time he was here—a week ago,” said Hester faintly.

“And you held your tongue till now? Why, the Spartan boy and the fox was nothing to this! Well, I am not going to permit you to sacrifice your prospects for me. I am fit to travel, and there is not an hour to be lost. Go down at once and telephone to the hotel that we return to-morrow, and order a carriage with three horses for ten o’clock. Go now,” she added impatiently; “too much precious time has been wasted as it is.”

“But do listen, Mrs. Tudor, for one moment,” pleaded Hester; “you are not fit to travel.”

“I am, and will, and must!” she argued forcibly.

“If Paul de Sarazin is already tired of me, why should I return at all?” urged the girl. “Please let me stay here until I can arrange some other plan. At first I was miserable, and I will confess that every carriage and motor from Biarritz made by heart jump. I was so wretched that I could not rest, I walked the river-bank for miles and miles; but now there is an end of that, and I should like to get away to England as quickly as possible.”

“Nonsense, nonsense! I never heard such madness!” cried Mrs. Tudor petulantly. “Permit me to enlighten you in one direction. When a chaperon is not on active duty, a Spanish gentleman does not visit his young lady—it is not etiquette. I know that well, and Paul knows it too.”

“But he is not really bound to me, Mrs. Tudor—you will remember that there is no engagement yet.”

“Is that his fault? Have I not the ring in my dressing-case? He was willing enough, but you held back. My dear, stupid Hester, let me once again remind you that ‘By the street of By-and-By you come to the house of Never.’”

“A Spanish girl is naturally more attractive,” protested Hester, arguing against herself; “and it is better so. I will return to Shalesmoor, to Jane and Eliza, and”—with an hysterical laugh—“the cats. My romance is ended.”

“What stuff!” protested Mrs. Tudor angrily. “Now listen, and I will tell you my plans. We return to Biarritz to-morrow, and give Paul every opportunity of seeking you and making explanations.”

“No need, dear Mrs. Tudor; I understand everything perfectly. The explanation is—Dolores.”

“What! jealous of a girl you’ve never even seen? Hester, you are a great fool! So, for a bit of idle gossip, you would wreck your life?”


“Oh, pray, do let me speak!” protested Mrs. Tudor, in a peevish voice. “We will attend the great fancy ball at the Casino on Thursday. You must have a dress—you shall carry your head high. If, after this big social event, nothing results, ‘The fine weather will be over’ in every sense. You shall accompany me to London at once; then we will consult and make plans for the future—not in Biarritz, no, no, the atmosphere there is much too exciting! Now ring the bell, please, before you go. I must set the maids to pack at once.”

That evening Hester took her last stroll by the river. The primroses were gone, the roses were blowing, graceful lilac wisteria draped the walls of the bath-house.

“Here I must brace myself,” she said, as she paced to and fro, “and be prepared to face society, curiosity, pity, and Paul!”

*  *  *

Arrived at Bellevue, Mrs. Tudor and Miss Forde were hailed with pleasure by those of their acquaintance who were still its guests. They heard all about the fancy ball for the good reason that people could talk of nothing else, and what every one was going to wear or was not going to wear. Gussie Belford was to appear as the Black Prince, and Sir Rupert Lovelace as Cardinal Richelieu; the Loftus girls as Spring and Summer, Captain Jarvis as a coachman, and Mrs. Mac James oh, they would never guess what she was going to be! Such fun!

“The White Cat?” suggested Mrs. Tudor promptly.

“Or perhaps Winter?—the East Wind!”

“No, indeed,” said Nancy Loftus, “she is going as The Press. Some satirical person suggested that she should represent The News of the World, and she simply flung herself on the idea!”

“And how will she carry it out?” inquired Hester.

“Oh, the names of the papers cut out and sewn all over her black satin dress—Daily Telegraph, Morning Post, Standard, Daily Mail, Chronicle, and The Times—as a sort of fichu! She will have a pen in one hand and an ink-pot in the other, and on her head——”

“A quire of foolscap!” interrupted Mrs. Tudor.

“No, indeed; but a stuffed owl, to represent Minerva! That is to say, if in all Biarritz a stuffed owl is to be found.”

“Good gracious! How glad I am that I came back,” said the old lady. “I would not have missed this for anything! I declare the Press should have her up for libel! Now we have to go and furbish up our own costumes, and there is not much time.”

“But do not go before you hear our great piece of news,” urged Mrs. Loftus eagerly.

Hester’s heart almost stopped beating.

“The Admiral is engaged to Mrs. Britten. They have gone off to London together to buy the trousseau!”

Mrs. Tudor merely threw up her hands and moved towards the door, saying—

“Well, they will get no wedding present from me!”

It was with Hester not a question of what she would wear at the ball—a matter of vital interest to her chaperon—but, would Paul come?—and when?

Yes, he drove up the next afternoon in his red motor, and pressed the ladies to accompany him to the golf-links to witness the finals of the Pau and Biarritz match.

They had no engagement, and accepted the invitation. There was perhaps a slight constraint in Paul’s manner, yet, as he assisted Hester to descend from the motor, he whispered as he pressed her hand—

“Remember the time will be up in ten days.”

What did he really mean? Was all she had heard and feared a fable? She felt as if a load of lead had suddenly been lifted from her heart. Alas! The load was quickly replaced by the approach of a gentleman and a handsome dark Spanish girl, wearing a red motor cap on her black locks, and a veil tied coquettishly under her chin—Dolores de las Candalles, niece to the Duquesa, a glittering creature, all frivolity, extravagance, and selfishness.

“Where have you been?” she asked in Spanish, as she poised her golf-club on her hands and gazed up at Paul.

“To fetch the ladies from the hotel,” and in a moment Mrs. Tudor and Hester were making the acquaintance of la Condesa Dolores.

After a little conversation about the weather, Paul and Mrs. Tudor moved on, and Dolores, abandoning her own companion, fell behind with Hester; her English was broken, and her manner arrogant, not to say brusque.

“So you know no one here!” she remarked—“I mean, in the best society?” studying Hester with insolent coolness.

“I know some English,” she answered quietly.

“Do you?” and she shrugged her shoulders. “The English! They are in every one’s country nowadays!”

“And every one in theirs!” retorted Hester, with rising antagonism.

Ah, so she could answer back again, this red-haired prude! Well, she did not care.

“So you know Paul—my cousin?” continued the Spaniard, looking curiously into her eyes.

“Yes, I know him rather well.”

“What, in so short a time! No! Impossible to know him well. But he is charming, is he not? And my very good friend—always, all my life. He makes me his confessor—his what you call confidante. Paul is a wild, giddy fellow, whose heart is in sixty pieces.”

“Then he cannot be heartwhole,” remarked Hester. How could she jest with this human panther!

“No, he is a butterfly—never constant to any one for more than a week. Oh, he will never marry!” and she surveyed her companion with mocking eyes. “Are you coming to the ball at the Casino to-morrow?”

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Really?” in affected surprise. “Then you don’t think it wicked? But I heard you were so goody-good!” and a faint glimmer of sarcasm played about her red lips.

“Oh, no, I am just like the rest of the world!”

Here some old friends eagerly accosted Mrs. Tudor and Hester, and, to her great chagrin, insisted on carrying them off to wait at a certain putting-green in order to witness an exciting finish; but Paul and his cousin excused themselves and disappeared—she never saw them again that day.

The evening of the great ball arrived. About five hundred subscribers took part in the dance, which was for local charities—with an eye to the local entertainment.

Fancy dress was de rigueur, elderly people might go poudré; but that was the sole exception. Mrs. Tudor wore poudré and black velvet, Miss Hester Forde was a Puritan—and looked the part.

The Casino was most brilliantly illuminated. The great concert-hall was decorated and cleared for dancing. Hundreds of gilt chairs had been removed, and only a certain number remained to accommodate the wall-flowers. The splendid string band was already playing a sort of dreamy invitation to the waltz, and all the world, especially Hester Forde, anticipated a delightful evening.

Hester, in her Puritan dress, looked remarkably well; it was surprising how the white cap, handkerchief, and soft grey gown suited her. Of course, a little white cap becomes most people; but it seemed peculiarly becoming to this daughter of Puritans, and added to her face just the touch of piquancy that it lacked. When she entered the ballroom many were struck by the soft radiance of her eyes and her really dazzling complexion, and for the first two hours Miss Forde was considered to be one of the stars of the night.

Hester and her chaperon were early arrivals, and secured seats near the door, in order to watch the entrée of the other costumes; and as they sat these flocked in, amidst much laughter and applause.

Léon de Sarazin, as a Polar bear with his keeper; la Duquesa, his mother, as a Moorish lady of the fifteenth century; la Duquesa de Soriana, her sister-in-law, splendid as Isabella the Catholic, with jewels of the period; there was a tall, stout dame, professing to be “an Amazon,” wearing an immense mane of coarse red hair, and some scanty leopard skins, and still more scanty petticoats. She was the sensation of the evening, and, as a partner, in enormous request. Of course, there was the inevitable Sancho Panza, several cooks, jockeys, and golf-caddies; America, extremely smart in stars and stripes; Henry IV conducting a beautiful décolletée lady, soldiers, nuns, friars, flower-girls, Spanish girls in flowered skirts and gay manilia shawls, with bunches of flowers in their hair. Among the last to enter was Paul in the dress of a matador, with his cloak over his shoulder. He was accompanied by Dolores, a brilliant Gitana, with castanets, scarf, and embroidered skirts. Their joint appearance was exceedingly effective; a low murmur greeted them, and if the Amazon was the sensation, the Marquis de Sarazin and his partner were the admiration of the ballroom.

Then dancing began; band and floor were alike perfect, and the scene was both brilliant and inspiriting. Paul came over immediately to Hester, and claimed a waltz. Strange to relate, it happened to be ”Quand l’amour meurt.” He danced with the grace and verve of the true-born Spaniard, and the Puritan lady managed to acquit herself creditably; but she had not the abandon or the practice of others. There was but little time for conversation: a few breathless sentences about Cambo and his flowers, and criticism of some of the other characters. The Press and the Amazon tickled Paul immensely.

“What will you give me if I dance with The Press?” he demanded.

“She would not dance with you, for one thing,” declared Hester; “and, for another, she is too flimsy—she would tear!”

“Then, the Amazon? She is not flimsy, and there is not much to tear!” and he contemplated the nude and brawny figure with dancing eyes. “Shall I?” and he laughed. “Do you dare me?”

“No; if you do,” she answered in the same vein, “I will never speak to you again.”

“Then, that settles it!” As he led her back he said: “You will spare me another later on, won’t you, and go in to supper with me?” and he gave her hand an ardent pressure.

“Oh! yes, with pleasure,” she murmured.

With this prospect before her, Hester was entirely happy. She brightened, and began to enjoy herself amid this gay and animated scene. She had numerous partners, so had Paul; but she noticed with jealousy that he waltzed twice with the Gitana, and gradually the radiance died out of her face.

At twelve o’clock all the chairs were arranged round close to the wall, and the room was cleared for the great feature of the night, the cotillon. Paul had not asked Hester for it; but then, as leader, he required a really first-rate partner; and he had it in Doña Dolores, who, light as a snowdrift, graceful as an antelope, swam round in his arms, to the strains of “L’Espana.” Hester watched them with reluctant fascination. Once her eyes met those of the Spanish girl, and in them was a look of indescribable exultation, as she made her a malicious little signal.

Many were the figures, for the two leaders were unusually efficient. To Hester were tossed bells and flags, and flowers and favours. She laughed in spite of herself as six men on footstools scrambled in a race their way across the room to where six girls were seated awaiting them—and of these damsels for a partner the winner had the choice. Hester had been prominent in several figures; the slim and graceful Puritan was admired and in request, and it was not pour les beaux yeux de sa cassette.

Mrs. Mac James, a truly ludicrous object in the owl head-dress, sat huddled in a corner contemplating the scene, and suffered nothing to escape her vigilance. As a part of her outfit, she had a useful notebook in one hand, and occasionally made entries; for instance, that Miss Talbot was wearing a Japanese kimono which belonged to Mrs. Forbes (and yet she had heard that the Talbots and Forbes had quarrelled). There was the old Tudor woman, in her velvet and diamonds; she was sitting beside the Duchess of Soriano—well, much good might it do her! Paul de Sarazin had only danced once with the heiress, after all the talk—there was a decided coolness there; he was engrossed with the Gitana, a truly dazzling creature, and the good lady made a note that he had waltzed with her three times—besides going up to the gallery!

Among the other cotillon figures was the well-known one where a girl, seated between two cavaliers, makes her selection; and a man has a similar opportunity with regard to two ladies. By an amazing coincidence, Paul found himself placed between Hester and his cousin Dolores. Of course, he would choose Hester, for after all, in his heart, she was his choice, despite her aloofness and reserve. “Yes,” said Hester to herself, “in the eyes of all Biarritz, he must decide betwen us! I shall accept this as a sign; whatever he may do now will determine everything for me.” (So declared that inner voice—a strange, inexorable voice of judgment.) Her heart thumped wildly, her hands felt like ice; she dared not raise her eyes. As she sat with downcast gaze, she presented a delightful picture of a pretty and demure Puritan, thrown into marked distinction by her picturesque and gorgeous companions. But if Hester’s gaze was on the floor, it was otherwise with Dolores; she suddenly raised her magnificent eyes and flashed a quick challenge to Paul. Yes, their glance met in a fellowship in which the English girl had no share.

“Well, why not?” he said to himself; “it was only a waltz! Dolores, as a partner, was divine!”

There was a brisk rustle beside Hester, and when she looked up the two chairs were vacant. She sat alone in the middle of the great ballroom, whilst Paul and la Condesa gracefully floated and circled round her. So he had made his choice, and put her aside! All the world would know and understand—all the world! Oh! if she could only escape, and hide her humiliation, her sense of despair and utter defeat! but, luckily for appearances, a partner now seized upon the pretty Puritan, and she was whirled away from the scene of her misfortune.

Paul, the faithless, never approached her for another dance; evidently she was forgotten, and he was in his element. Indeed, the cotillon represented the end of all things, except the excellent supper supplied by Ritz. Not far from her, Hester noticed her recreant lover and his fascinating companion eating, drinking, and making merry together. They sat at a little table apart; as she glanced at the couple, she caught Paul’s roving eye. He raised his glass to her, and she bowed her head in smileless acknowledgement

It was, did he but know it, her farewell.

Chapter XXXIV

In Possession

Mrs. Tudor had witnessed the triumph and apotheosis of Dolores; with her own eyes she beheld that mortifying spectacle, the attentions of the Marques to the brilliant Spaniard, the most notable character at the fancy ball. If Paul was in love (as he had pretended) with her young friend, if his intentions were serious, how dared he thus flaunt his preference for another in the face of full-dressed assembled Biarritz? Oh, it was unpardonable! She would retreat in earnest with all her guns and siege-train; it was absurd to reflect that this was actually the second occasion on which the love-affairs of this gay gallant had driven her from the field!

Immediately after her rout, with the plea of “urgent business,” she started for London, accompanied, of course, by Miss Forde; it was merely another of the old lady’s sudden whims. (At times it is convenient to have acquired the character of being erratic.) Arrived at Buckingham Gate, Mrs. Tudor’s permanent residence, a fine, roomy old Georgian house, she exerted all her powers—and she could be eloquent—to prevail on Hester to remain with her.

“You shall pay if you like,” she said. “You shall be paying guest, and I will charge you for Marietta and everything: yes, the electric light, water rate, and taxes, if you will only be reasonable and remain!”

But even this bait proved of no avail. Hester had so far maintained a brave front, though her heart was sore and her pride was shattered; but it had been a terrible struggle; the fox of jealousy whom she had petted and cherished was now eating her very heartstrings, and she yearned and craved for solitude and Shalesmoor to a degree that almost amounted to a fever, an agonized longing that a month ago would have seemed to her preposterous, and impossible. Yes, she would return to her village in the Clays, and there, figuratively, inter herself, and her sorrows.

Late on a certain afternoon in May, accompanied by Marietta, Miss Forde arrived, bag and baggage (the former was small, the latter on a large scale), at Clayborough station, which is within five miles of Shalesmoor, and superior to Tillford, in that it boasts of several musty and rickety flys.

Hester had duly announced her arrival to Jane, and was formally received at the iron gate by the sisters Jubber, in their best black silk gowns.

“How are you?” she said, springing out of the conveyance, and offering them her hand in turn. “I hope you are both well?”

“Thank you, Miss Hester,” said Jane. “We are, but, Lord above! I’d never have known you! I thought you were some grand, new-fangled Madam that had lost her way.” And she surveyed her mistress from her French hat down to her French shoes.

“Really! Well, at any rate, Jane, I should know you anywhere.”

“What a lot of big boxes—trunks; wherever shall we put them all!” said Jane, in a despairing key.

“In the house, of course; I know there’s lots of room,” said Hester. “This is my maid, Marietta Erguy; I hope you can find room for her too?”

“A maid!” echoed Jane, darting a sharp glance at the trim and completely self-possessed Frenchwoman.

“Will she be staying?”

“Oh, yes, certainly she will.”

“But,” urged Jane in a lowered key, “sure you never had no call to a maid before, Miss Hester; and this is a foreigner woman, and may cut our throats—they do!” she concluded, with tragic conviction.

“I have what you call ‘a call’ to a number of things now, Jane. This is an educated woman, and as to cutting our throats,” she laughed—she was about to add “Marietta is not bloodthirsty, but she was. Hester had not forgotten the bull-ring. “Well, Jane, we must not stand here talking!” she exclaimed. “Please tell the men to carry in the luggage. Come, Marietta, you have my jewelcase?” and she turned towards the house.

Jane remained stationary, glaring after the pair with an air of high displeasure.

“My! what grand clothes does! What airs, and what a way of speaking and giving her orders!” she said, turning to her sister, whose attitude was negative, and who, with folded arms, resembled a Burmese idol, with prominent teeth and a red face.

“Ah! it’s only Miss Hessie, after all,” said Liza, “just cocked up in new clothes. We know the length of her foot.”

“But was ever the like seen? She is totally changed. I never saw such doings!” cried Jane. “A maid and a jewel-case! I won’t have the maid here, and that’s sure; we want no black-faced foreign women in Shalesmoor,” and with a few words to the flyman, she turned and stalked indoors.

Hester had already entered the old house, as silent as the grave, ascended to her own room, where she removed her hat and gloves. She might be changed, but the room was unaltered. There were the two china sheep on the mantelpiece, the faded pink pincushion on the dressing-table, the great crack in the ceiling—all precisely as she had seen them last. She walked over to the window and looked out on the gravel court, the elms, the church-tower, and the fields; a faint perfume of the bean-flowers came into the room—it was almost a year since her father had died! Gazing out with abstracted eyes, she thought of the past, the poignant, suffering past, with all its burning sweetness! She saw Biarritz, Cordova, Cambo, float before her mental vision; she had quitted her cage, and spread her wings, and here she was home again, under the old roof-tree, as if it had all been a dream. Her reflections were interrupted by Marietta, who entered, hot and excited.

“Oh, Mademoiselle!” she began in a high, expostulating key, “the old woman says that there is no room for me, no place for your dresses and no afternoon tea!” and she clasped her hands, and looked at Hester as she added: “And what are we to do?”

“Oh, you need not mind Jane, who is only odd and old-fashioned, and cannot understand anything out of the way.”

Mais oui!” agreed Marietta. “Je le crois bien! but a cup of tea is not old-fashioned—a bed is not out of the way!”

“I will see about a bed, Marietta, and a wardrobe too. For once we must manage without tea—we will make it up at dinner.”

“There will be no dinner, Mademoiselle! only a thing they call a meat tea! Ciel! a meat tea!”

“Well, for once we must eat it!” said Hester good-humouredly.

“This is not, then, the house of Mademoiselle?” inquired Marietta.

“Yes; but Jane has always been housekeeper, and had the keys and given orders.”

“Orders!—that animal! Mademoiselle knows that I love her, that I follow her far from my own country—first to Spain, and then to England; but if I am to take orders from that old woman, please”—and she shrugged her shoulders, and threw out her hands—“I go.”

“Please only have a little patience, and do not think of deserting me,” pleaded her mistress, who, in spite of her bull-ring proclivities, was fond of Marietta. “I will do my best for you.”

“You will not get much out of those people; they say it is as much their home as yours—and they won’t have strangers.”

Hester coloured vividly, but made no reply.

“But I will stand by Mademoiselle,” declared Marietta fervently. “She is the mistress, and to please you, Mademoiselle, but not ces autres, I will sleep on the very floor or even in the garden.”

“I hope it won’t come to that,” rejoined Miss Forde with a smile; but she clearly saw trouble ahead.

After an exasperating delay, a room and a bed were found for Marietta, dresses were unpacked, and hot water was grudgingly supplied.

At seven o’clock a meat tea was served in the dining-room, and Jane entered and took her place, as formerly, at the table, very compressed about the lips, and red about the cheek-bones.

Hester had previously wandered round the garden. It was as gloomy as ever, but kept in good order; the jungle of weeds had been dispersed, and the dark walk by the black currants was no longer impassable with moss and nettles. She still had a lingering dread of the spot; as a child she had believed that a witch lived there, and she had always avoided the neighbourhood. There seemed to be a fair supply of fruit and vegetables, and an amazing number of stray but well-to-do cats. At a sharp turn she was suddenly confronted by a young man in a straw hat and shirt-sleeves, who stared at her with hard, aggressive eyes.

“Who are you?” she asked sharply.

“I’m Jukes, the helping man here. What’s yer business?”

“Oh—I see; you don’t know who I am?”

“Noa, I doan’t!” surveying her stolidly.

“Well, I am your employer, the mistress here. Kindly bear it in mind,” and she moved on, leaving him standing open-mouthed, gazing after her.

Here was a stiff one, indeed! and it was giv’ out that Miss Forde was a softy, and Miss Jubber was the boss! Anyhow, she took it on her!

Eight months of undisputed power—eight months of crown and sceptre—had only strengthened Jane in her belief that she was the autocrat of the Grange, and she openly spoke of herself as “poor Miss Hessie’s guardian!”

It never dawned upon her, that that humble, timid creature would ever return to dispute the throne.

“The girl was not all there!” Jane Jubber had made no secret of the fact; now she began to fear that she was all there! It had been most satisfactory to receive Mr. Lewin’s monthly cheques for up-keep, wages, and the housekeeping bills of the Grange; it was a really comfortable home—she and Eliza fully realized the fact. Fanny Tootle was married, and they had replaced her with a niece—a heavy, lumpish, sullen girl—who had been endowed with the ill-fitting name of “Clarice.” It was a nice little family party (with a strong boy to do the heavy work) who occupied the premises; and the Jubbers had now an assured position, and visited and entertained the upper class of tradesfolk and farmers. They even subscribed to foreign missions, and attended bazaars! Jonah Tudgoose, the farmer, had all but declared himself, and playfully hinted that the Grange was a good enough place for any man to hang his hat up, and that it would be a sin to disturb Miss Jane in such a snug nest; but “a single man was easily moved!” he added, with a laugh.

Farmer Tudgoose made a point of dropping in and sharing their Sunday dinner, and enjoyed a subsequent pipe in Mr. Forde’s special elbow-chair.

Under these circumstances, the return of Miss Forde was not only unexpected, but inconvenient. Jane had always cherished a hope, that her mistress would spend her days rambling indefinitely about foreign countries, just spending money and seeing life; and here she was all of a sudden sitting opposite to her, in a beautiful lilac linen costume, with her hair grandly done up, rings on her fingers, and a sort of cool, settled look in her eyes.

The high tea proved to be of a most meagre description, and consisted of a cold fowl—of a certain age and yellow complexion—a small shape of rennet, bread-and-butter and tea.

“The place seems just the same, Jane,” said Hester, struggling with a cast-iron wing.

“Aye!” with sour significance. “There’s not much change about us,” and Jane pinched in her lips.

“I see you have a number of new cats.”

“Yes,” she answered sourly; “a good few.”

“I think I saw dozens in the garden. Is Mr. Cave quite well?”

“Oh yes, he’s as usual; happen he’ll be up to see you—ahem!” clearing her throat, sure preliminary to a nasty speech. “We was told that you and Mr. Lewin’s cousin had fell out.”

“Oh no; but as I no longer required her companionship, I sent her back to England.”

“You sent her away!” fixing on Hester an incredulous stare.

“Yes, I had no occasion for her as chaperon.”

“She gave out it was the other way round, and she gave you notice.”

“Well, I cannot help that; but it was not the case. However, it is of no consequence.”

“Not to her, seeing she is about to marry a titled gentleman; but if she says one thing square and you another, what’s one to believe, eh?” demanded Jane, and her face was full of aggression.

“I should hope you would believe me, Jane,” said Hester, who, by the force of a habit of years, still feared this malevolent and avaricious woman.

What a change was here! What a difference in her surroundings! She, who might have been the wife of a grandee of Spain, sat at table with her own servant, enduring the insolence of one who was the daughter of a labourer on her grandfather’s estate.

Taking her courage in both hands, she added, in a rather tremulous voice—

“Please do not speak to me in this way, Jane; I am not accustomed to it.”

“I’ll speak to you as I like,” cried Jane, her face pallid with passion—“you that I reared!”

“Oh no, indeed; I had a nurse, you remember!” protested Hester. “You were my mother’s maid.”

“I was always over you, Miss Hessie; I think you want some one to speak to ye,” continued Jane, “and for your good. Ye will not deny that I’ve known ye from an infant.”

“But you never liked children; you have often said so—you did not care for me.”

“Oh yes, I did, just as much as I do now,” protested Jane with truth. “These grand friends and clothes and gewgaws have made ye strange-looking; but I know you, to yer bones, and well I know I need never look to ye fer gratitude, or thanks fer all my care, and giving up my life to ye! And, Miss Hester, I’d have ye to remember that I was your mother’s friend, and that in his will, as may be seen, yer father left me and Liza a share in his house, as much as yourself; and here ye come, without by yer leave, landing in a strange maid, and telling me—me, Jane Jubber—how I am to talk to ye and how I’m not! Now, I’ll have ye know, that there is plain living here, same as ye have all yer days—no teas at extraordinary hours—such ways! Early dinner always, and no Sunday cooking!”

While Jane was recovering her breath after this demonstration, Hester said—

“Would you kindly open the window? This room is suffocating.”

“No, these windows are never opened,” snarled Miss Jubber.

“But why?”

“Because of the cats, since ye must know. If the windows are open, the outside cats get in, and that’s never allowed of a night—and the inside cats get out—so we are obliged to keep all fast.”

Overawed by Jane’s air of grim hostility, Hester presently withdrew into the murky and stuffy drawing-room, to scribble a line to Mrs. Tudor, and report her arrival at home.

Chapter XXXV

Civil War

In the morning Hester awoke to find Marietta standing, erect and tall, at her bedside.

“Oh, Mademoiselle!” she began, “such a fight as I have had to make your tea, and I believe I will never get your bath-water—hot water, I mean—they say you always had it cold, even in winter! Oh, I had a nice scene with those old women! No morning tea before breakfast in this house; but here it is!” setting down the tray with a clatter of triumph; “see, I had to bring the hot water in a shaving-pot, and I stole the sugar; she chased me, but it was no good—I shut the door in her face.”

“Well, Marietta, at any rate you are victorious,” said Hester. “Why, here is actually bread-and-butter!”

“I should think so! In Mademoiselle’s own house!”

“The Jubbers never heard of early morning tea, you know.”

“Well”—drawing a long breath—“they have heard of it now! And, oh! they put me last night to eat with the fat girl and boot-boy in the kitchen; the old woman with the teeth had her dinner in a room apart. Now, Mademoiselle, I am not troublesome, am I? and to please you, I would eat anywhere; but you are rich, and will no doubt one day be a great lady, and I, too, have my position, and it is not convenable that Marietta Erguy is to eat with the shoe-boy—now, is it?”

In a short time certain grave matters were arranged. Marietta’s meals and a moderate supply of hot water were granted; but whenever Hester ventured to ask for what she deemed necessities—for more table-linen, more appetizing food, and fewer cats—she was invariably confronted by her late parents.

“What was good enough for your mother, a Bothwell, and your father, who made all the money,” declared Jane, “is surely good enough for you. Clean towels every day—I never will give in to it!”

Hester hated a struggle; she was still in her heart mortally afraid of Jane, and having obtained some concessions, she relinquished the conflict.

Hester had returned home in search of peace, like a wounded animal that seeks its lair, and if ever there was a place of unbroken quiet, surely it was Shalesmoor! Here she desired to repose her weary heart and mind, to surrender herself to thronging memories, and dream of the happy days at Cordova and Cambo that were no more—the days before Dolores de los Cantalles had come into her life!

But, to her dismay and discomfort, here, instead of peace, was war! An uncivil, internecine war raged between the Jubbers and their niece on one side, and Marietta and herself on the other. Marietta was an active foe—her bold and combative Basque nature seemed to discover her enemies’ weak points; she found a potent weapon in the cats, and many a time she opened the lower windows and let the inside cats out, and the outside cats in! For this enormity she would suffer in the matter of no milk for her coffee, no candles for her room, and in many other ways devised by the fertile brain of Jane Jubber.

Marietta was an incorrigible and attractive flirt; she soon made friends with Jukes, the gardener, who, although a most unpromising subject, became her slave, and secretly supplied her with strawberries, and even early pears. When Jonah Tudgoose appeared on Sunday, in spite of Jane’s vigorous opposition, Marietta forced herself,as Jane declared, into his notice and his company; and the bold, brazen-faced hussy actually carried him round the garden, and ultimately away into the meadows “for one little Sunday walk,” and to show her the country! The Frenchwoman was gay, vivacious, had a splendid figure, a smart gown, wonderful teeth, and wonderful ways! She besieged poor Jane’s irresolute swain, and easily effected his capture. She endowed him with a flower; and from a window the sisters, with their own four eyes, beheld the Freach frog sticking a rose into Jonah’s coat, “and the poor fellow looking so shy and awkward too!”

Marietta assured him that he was un bel homme,” a splendid man, and worthy a handsome wife, such, she modestly implied, as herself, and not to be chased and caught by an old woman with a figure like a stick and the face of a lemon!

Marietta bragged of her own savings, and of the swarms of her dear friends—servants of the mighty; she talked glibly of princes and even kings, and how she had once with those very hands—displaying them as she spoke—dressed the hair of a royal lady—and dressed it well, too!

“You don’t say so!” gasped the farmer. He had lived a dull, remote life, and the foreigner’s talk of grand people and the gay world was a revelation to his slow, unimaginative nature. The stranger almost took away his breath; he was transported by her notice of him; and when Tudgoose came slouching round the Grange every other evening, Marietta waylaid him, carried him off to show her the pretty English country, and flattered him till he scarcely knew what he was doing! She also imparted malicious stories of the Jubber sisters—of Liza’s gin-bottle and Jane’s false teeth.

Oh, it would be useless to deny that Marietta had claws; she was an unscrupulous, a dangerous, and a fearless antagonist.

The feelings of Jane may be imagined, but could not fitly be described; and her face and the face of Clarice, her fat niece, were studies, as they watched from a landing-window the foreigner gaily promenading in the garden, supported on either hand by their faithless admirers, Tudgoose and Jukes!

“She must be got out of this house,” said Jane fiercely, “that is certain, if we have to burn it over her head!”

Nor was it only with the farmer and gardener that the French maid was so successful; she carried the village by storm. Mademoiselle was a novelty, so affable, so pleased with everything, and so good-natured. She offered professional advice as to the making of gowns, the patterns and style; she even trimmed hats and bonnets. Mademoiselle was invited out to tea, and sang strange Basque songs in a shrill voice, and boasted extravagantly of her mistress, who could, had she chosen (so Marietta swore), have married a Marquis and been a Duchess if she pleased!

*  *  *

Miss Forde visited among the cottagers in Shalesmoor, who now looked upon her with the deepest awe and respect; there was nothing “gaumless” about this handsome, dignified lady, who held her head so high, had a generous hand, and did much for the aged and the poor.

Hester had held several interviews with Mr. Lewin, and touched but delicately on Mrs. Britten’s services; he was a wise man, and understood the art of silence. Mrs. Britten, soon to be Lady Potts, was nothing to him—indeed, he disliked her; whilst, on the other hand, Miss Forde, the amazingly improved heiress, was his most important client!

“I see you managed to lay out a good deal, after all,” he observed with a smile. “You remember how you thought you never could spend money; one of your cheques was for a large sum, nearly £4,000.”

“Yes, I bought a beautiful ornament.”

“Oh, did you!” (“Four thousand pounds for an ornament,” he said to himself, “was a smart price.”)

“And I also bought a painting, which is now being cleaned in London. I am fond of old things. At least,” correcting herself, as her eye caught sight of Jane chasing an outside cat, “of some old things. My father gave the Jubbers permission to remain here all their lives, did he not?” she asked inconsequently.

“Yes; a most unwise permission in my opinion,” replied Mr. Lewin, “and I hinted as much. I find they take a great deal on themselves, and have actually come, by some strange mental process, to regard the Grange as their own—property.”

“That seems to be the case,” replied Hester; “and it is not particularly comfortable for me, as you may suppose.”

“Of course, when you leave, as I presume you will, there will no longer be any occasion to provide for them as heretofore, and I should suggest a sale of the furniture.”

“Don’t you think that would be rather mean?”

“Not if they drive you out of your own house; and they have two hundred a year—an unusually handsome pension.”

“Certainly, they are oddities,” she said, “and they will quarrel with my French maid, It is most unpleasant; but, still, I think I shall remain on for a time—at least for some months.”

“But if the place does not agree with you, Miss Forde, and the Jubbers disagree with your maid?”

“Well, Mr. Lewin, we shall see.”

Hester and Mr. Cave visited one another constantly, and interchanged hospitalities; she took tea with him, he lunched with her. He now found her a charming and intelligent companion. Could it really be the same girl? She was able to tell him a good deal about Spain, and various illuminating facts with regard to old missals and choirbooks. Indeed, she wrote out to a famous anticuario, and procured several valuable specimens, as an offering from herself.

Miss Forde had acquired good looks, self-confidence, and the use of her tongue, yet in one way (though she did not show it) she was more unhappy than when she left Shalesmoor in order to see the world, and the sun. She had seen the world and the sun, and had returned home to spend the rest of her days in darkness? No! Hester refused to allow herself to brood; she recalled the strange spirit which had taken possession of her in that very house—a spirit of depression, apathy and despair—and busied herself incessantly. She took up her music with energy, and practised for hours; she read, she gardened, and went for long walks; she wrote—she had now some correspondents—and sent despatches about the weather and the flowers to 300, Buckingham Gate, S.W. In her heart she was sincerely sorry that she had not remained there, but no hint of regret was evident in her letters.

The feud in the household developed, and reached the pitch of slamming doors and of sullen black silences, which entailed a certain awkwardness for Hester. Marietta found warm allies in Jonah, Jukes, and the village; but within the gates of the Grange the stranger was single-handed, and her enemies did not fail to punish her, and stooped to every description of petty revenge.

Poor Marietta was compelled to fetch her own meals from the kitchen, and sometimes an almost hand-to-hand conflict ensued. Fish was denied to her on Fridays, letters were withheld (they would have been opened and read, but that they were written in an unknown tongue), her bed was never made, and on two or three occasions she was actually locked out, and, only for Hester’s intervention, must have passed the night in the lime-avenue, or in some friendly quarter in the village. The position was becoming more and more unendurable; keys were mislaid, coals ran out, bells were not answered, the perfume of onions and cabbage-water was evidently “manufactured on the premises,” dust and cobwebs accumulated, the sole attendant was red-eyed and sulky, and the meals were uneatable. Hester might have procured a staff of servants; but, even so, the Jubbers would soon disperse them! She began to realize that she was living in a state of siege in her own house.

Chapter XXXVI

“Cold Corned Beef”

As there are generally two sides to a question, we must now consider the situation from Jane Jubber’s point of view. Even in her youth she was egotistical, obstinate, and grasping; years of independence had but developed these characteristics and hardened them into an iron framework for her narrow mind. Jane, in her own opinion, had been for years a martyr to her duty and devotion to a family (which she had ruled since the death of Mrs. Forde). Now she was about to enjoy the fruits of her labours. Her savings amounted to over one thousand pounds. She had “collected” a goodly store of linen, blankets, and other articles, and drew a regular income of one hundred a year.

Jonah Tudgoose was a big, ruddy-cheeked rustic, with a slow, undecided manner and a pleasant laugh; he was undeniably younger than herself, but his land was poor, and times were bad. If he did not see his luck staring him in the face, he deserved to be sold up! Jane had brought her laggard suitor almost to the point—it was precisely as if she had played a fish for weary hours, and was just about to introduce him to the landing-net, when an unknown poacher had suddenly interfered, and cut the line!

Therefore her feelings towards Marietta Erguy were not, perhaps, unreasonably bitter.

*  *  *

Miss Hessie and her maid had been five weeks at the Grange—five interminable weeks to Jane Jubber, who lived in a condition of suppressed antagonism; five long weeks to Hester, who now sorely repented of her inflexible determination to forfeit London delights and attractions for country pleasures and peace.

She had one resource, her piano, and early one lovely morning she was seated at it, practising diligently. Twice she had played the “Rhapsodie Hongroise,” Number Two; it was almost perfect, but the effort had been exhausting, and she rested her fingers on the keys for a short space. Presently they involuntarily and unconsciously wandered into a waltz—“Espana.” The stirring air summoned a vivid picture before Hester’s mind’s eye: two figures in costume, floating round a ball-room; she saw the woman’s bold malicious eyes, and the man’s dark good looks. The vision was suddenly dispelled by the appearance of Clarice in the doorway, hot and panting.

“There’s folk a-cooming up the road here, in a Clayborough fly!” she announced abruptly.

Folk—could it be? No, a visitor at eleven o’clock—impossible! Hester rose and hurried out to the iron postern, and there, nearly lost in the body of a great musty fly, sat little Mrs. Tudor!

“Oh!” cried Hester, her face aglow, rushing to the door and opening it. “Here is indeed an unexpected pleasure. How delighted I am to see you!” and she almost lifted the old lady out of her carriage. “What good wind has blown you here?”

(A letter from Marietta to Mrs. Tudor’s maid Augustine had impelled the maid, Marietta’s friend, to drop just a little word into Mrs. Tudor’s ear as she arranged her lady’s hair.) But the mendacious visitor merely replied—

“I wanted a week-end—so fashionable, you know—and a breath of the real country. I am at the Clayborough Arms, and I’ve left Augustine there.”

“But you will send for her, and you will stay here, of course,” said Hester, leading her in. “You shall have my room.”

“Well, dear, it is good to see you—though you are a bit pale and peaky. Where are the roses of Biarritz? I will not allow them to fade!—and who is this?”—as an elderly woman, thin-lipped and bitter-mouthed, wearing a large checked apron, confronted them in the doorway.

“Oh, this is Jane Jubber!” explained Hester. “You have often heard me speak of her. She has been with us since I was born. Jane, here is my friend Mrs. Tudor.”

Jane nodded grimly. Something in the old lady’s glance suddenly provoked a sudden deep hate.

“She is at the Clayborough Arms—her maid is there. We can put them up, can we not?” The girl’s manner was humble and appealing—a crafty submission to the higher power, yet all in vain!

“Well, I don’t see how that can be done, Miss Hessie; we have no spare rooms, and never had. Your father saw no company; ye understand, ma’am,” turning sharply to Mrs. Tudor, “we live in a plain way, and are not used to visitors.”

“It is of no consequence,” rejoined Mrs. Tudor stiffly; “I have accommodation at Clayborough. I only came over to see Miss Forde; my fly is in the village.”

“Here is the drawing-room,” said Hester, opening the door. “Come in, come in.”

“Will the lady be for dinner?” inquired Jane, detaining Hester with her hand, and speaking in an audible aside.

“Of course—certainly; and oh, be sure and have something nice!” and she followed her guest into the low, dark apartment.

“I don’t think I ever saw a more ungracious face than that of your household treasure! To me, she looks like a domestic bully!” Mrs. Tudor was standing in the middle of the room, gazing round all the time, with her glasses to her eye. “She could not put me up—and I am very sure that I could not put up—with her.”

“No, I am certain you would not,” rejoined Hester, with a laugh; “but I am a miserable coward—and then, she was my mother’s maid.”

“Dear me! wool mats!” exclaimed the visitor, who was still making a tour of inspection, “and antimacassars—crochet! Why, this”—holding it up—“recalls the happy days of childhood!”

“You see, Jane makes them,” explained Hester, “and she insists on their being what she calls ‘shown off’!”

“I’d show them all into the fire,” said Mrs. Tudor, sitting down. “I gather that Mrs. Jubber’s accomplishments don’t keep pace with the times.”

“No, Jane does not keep up with the times in any way.”

Mrs. Tudor looked round the low room, with its small leaded windows and dark oak-panelled walls. Certainly, it was anything but cheerful. Impossible, incredible, that in old days this gloomy apartment had rung with jovial laughter and merry voices. An open piano, a bowl of roses, and some books were, however, some relief to her feelings.

“I am glad to see a piano, and Charles Lamb and Emerson; but”—stretching out her hand—“you don’t mean to tell me that you are reading Don Quixote?”

Hester blushed as she replied: “Pray, why not? It is a classic.” Then suddenly putting her hand on Mrs. Tudor’s arm, “Oh, I am so glad to see you again!” she exclaimed, with unusual demonstration.

“And I you—I have missed you dreadfully; no one now to tell me if my bonnet is straight, or to read me the paper. And so many Biarritz people are in town, all asking for Miss Forde—I’ve had piles of the most tempting invitations. You really must come back with me, Hester. I’ve crept down like an Israelite, to spy out the land, and I can’t say that it seems to be flowing with either milk or honey, or appears to offer you any great inducement to remain here. You have none of the small felicities which really contribute to the joys of life!”

“No, that is true; but if I were to go to town, I have no frocks!”

“That is so easily arranged. Come, now, and you must take me round the house. I really want to see where you have spent your life.”

And the active and inquisitive old lady was accordingly conducted upstairs into Hester’s chamber, where her quick eyes presently discovered a small but faithful photograph of Paul de Sarazin. She penetrated into the two death-rooms, the corner room, the very attics, then descended to the dining-room, the Jubbers’ sanctum—a comfortable, sunny den—where were collected the best armchairs, a grandfather clock, and a valuable old bureau. Here they found “Liza” in a hazy condition, blinking out on the world, with a cat reposing on her ample lap.

From the sanctum to the kitchen was but a step. Mrs. Tudor, full of zeal and questions, asked permission to inspect the dairy and larder.

“There be no dairy,” said the sulky Clarice, “and nought in the larder but t’ bread crock!”

“‘And when they got there the cupboard was bare!’” quoted Mrs. Tudor, in an aside to Hester. “Now you must take me to the garden.”

Arm-in-arm with Hester, the visitor slowly paced the walks, which were punctuated at intervals with the saucers of the outdoor cats. She was shown the old sun-dial, with an inscription—so unsuitable for its locality—“I only mark the sunny hours,” and the thicket of blackcurrant-bushes, past which, as a child, Hester had fled in fear of her life, and of a witch, which lay in wait to steal her.

“I think you have a couple of witches indoors,” remarked the guest. “Dear me! I cannot imagine why, in old days, people always built in a hollow, facing north,” she observed, standing still and surveying the Grange. “It is a good solid edifice, and old; but if I lived here, I should go mad! Happy thought! why not let it for a private lunatic asylum? The house is substantial, and the walls are high and safe.”

Hester merely laughed, and said, “I must admit that the Grange is not cheerful; indeed, the very leaves seem to tremble, and the trees to sigh.”

“Well, and so you’ve been thinking of Paul?” observed the old lady unexpectedly.

“No, no!” colouring to her hair at this sudden attack.

“But certainly! You have nothing else to do! You don’t paint, or write, or compose. You have no society—but he is here with you all day long. Of course, the ideal Pauli Oh, you need not deny it! Well, you must come away with me, and put the faithless Paladin out of your head and heart—yes.”

“I suppose he is still at Biarritz?” asked Hester timidly.

“I am not sure, and I am not interested. The Duquesa has departed; there is an idea that she was ill, or there was some family fracas, no doubt, her debts! Ah, there is a bell! My eight-mile drive has made me ferociously hungry; I declare I have quite a country appetite.”

When the ladies entered the dining-room, they found Jane already established, carving away at a piece of cold corned beef, in shape resembling the rock of Gibraltar.

Clarice, bare-armed, was in attendance; in one hand she held a dish of potatoes, in the other, one of yellow cabbage.

As Mrs. Tudor seated herself, she cast an anxious glance around—was this all the fare? She was by no means a greedy old woman, but her appetite was small and delicate! Accustomed to dainty food and French dishes, she had cherished visions of a real country feast—tender young chickens, sweet boiled bacon, peas, new potatoes, followed by a fruit tart, and quantities of thick, rich cream. But this menu was meagre indeed!—the beef so hard, it might have been wood; the potatoes old, and soapy.

As Clarice filled her glass with water, Hester said apologetically—

“I am so very sorry I have nothing to offer you—no wine—I don’t take it, you know; and there is nothing to drink in the house.”

The old lady, accustomed to her glass of claret, glanced over at Miss Jubber, and said—

“There you are mistaken, my dear Hester; when we were in the Miss Jubbers’ sitting-room, I noticed several bottles of gin—Hollands or Geneva, you know!”

“My poor sister is in weak health,” said Jane, firing up, “and the doctor has ordered her stimulants—her circulation is so bad.”

“Really!” asserted Mrs. Tudor, in a polite tone; then turning to Hester, in a confidential aside, “Of course, that will account for her complexion—it recalls a Spanish sunset!”

Jane Jubber was at a loss to understand this comparison. Being an ignorant woman, she feared to make some blunder; for all she knew, a Spanish sunset might be white, or blue, or yellow. In England it was red. Of one thing she was confident, that this sharp-faced, spying, prying old body intended to be rude.

Jane measured the intruder with her eye, and summed her up as a poor hanger-on of Hessie’s. She wore a mushroom hat tied under her chin with wide strings, a plain black gown with a little cape, on her white wrinkled hands merely a wedding-ring, and one of plain carnelian, her only ornament—a gold eye-glass—seldom out of her eye!

So, here was the home, and the woman who had crushed the effervescence of poor Hester’s naturally expansive nature, and blighted her youth! Mrs. Tudor was saying to herself. Oh, the pity of it! Mrs. Tudor also noted and envied the excellent appetite of Miss Jubber, to whom the corned beef seemed delectable! Well, her own hopes, and possibly those of Hester, were based on the sweet—here it came! She felt a shock sweep through her when a much-burnt, gluey tapioca-pudding made its appearance—a thing she never touched! As the little hungry lady sat stiffly at the board, with her clean plate before her, her heart sank and her indignation rose. At last she said—

“I cannot compliment you on your cook, my dear Hester! May I presume on the privilege of an old friend, and inquire if this is the kitchen dinner?”

“Be good enough to put your questions to me,” said Jane, helping herself violently to half the pudding. “I never knew that it was considered manners for company to pass remarks on their vittles!”

“Oh, I really beg your pardon!” rejoined the guest, with exquisite politeness. “Of course, I forgot! I suppose you are the cook?”

“No, certainly I am not,” Jane answered angrily.

“Oh, then the housekeeper, I conclude? Hester, my dear, if you think of living here, you must procure a new staff of servants—you look as if you did not get enough to eat!”

“Why, she’s drinking tea and eating bread-and-butter all day long!” cried Jane. “As to a new staff, there will be no new servants here in my time,” she announced, with acrid self-assertion.

“But is not this Miss Forde’s house?” inquired the old lady, in a dulcet voice.

“Part of it only; her father left it also to my sister and me—for life.”

“Indeed! and may I ask who pays the wages and the bills?”

“Well, you are a rare one for asking questions! but I don’t mind saying that Mr. Lewin pays the wages, and allows six pounds a week for the house-bills.”

“Six pounds a week for this!” repeated Mrs. Tudor, with a little scream, pointing a tragic finger at the blackened pudding. “Well, some one must be pocketing a fortune.”

“Some one pocketing—do you mean that for me?” burst out Jane in a fury. “Miss Hessie, you sit there like a stuck pig, and listen to this talk! What do you mean by bringing such folk into your father’s house? First the French baggage; now this insulting, crazy old woman—nice people you do pick up, that I will say! And as to fortunes, I’ll lay anything this here old party”—glaring at the electrified lady—“has tacked on to you for your money, and has come chasing after it and you, and belittling your father and mother’s home. Oh, if they could see these goings-on, they’d turn in their graves! Well, she way’ent get note.”

“Jane, be silent,” said Hester; “you forget yourself—you must be out of your mind, to speak in this way.”

“No, no—it’s not me that was ever out of my mind, but you yourself,” she declared, with a glance of antagonism and hate. “Sure, you were real silly, that time after your father’s death; and Mr. Lewin and Mr. Cave talking and consulting about having you put up! Yes”—turning to Mrs. Tudor—“when she left this last October, I tell you, she was as near a madhouse as any one could be—tramping by herself in the middles with her head down, looking like a boggart in a bean-field; aye, and she will go that way yet!”

Hester, unable to stem this torrent, had risen to her feet, with two bright spots on her cheeks; no one could call her pale now.

“Well, Hester,” said Mrs. Tudor, turning her back on the virago, “I have had a lesson; never again will I sit below the salt—even with you! An empty platter—abuse of myself—a libel on you, has been my portion. Your maid, Marietta, is here; please send her into the village to order the fly at once.”

“Oh, I’ll do that!” cried Jane, with rude alacrity; “the sooner you go the better—and if you like to take Miss Hessie with you, there will be no tears here!”

“What a shocking woman!” exclaimed Mrs. Tudor, seating herself in the drawing-room and gasping for breath. “Really, what scenes, Hester! Between your Paul de Sarazin and this Jane Jubber, you have shortened my days by years! Pray lock the door; I feel as if I were in the house with a wild beast.”

“Oh, dear Mrs. Tudor,” said Hester in tears, and kneeling down beside her, “I am so ashamed, and so sorry, to think of your being starved and insulted in my house!”

“But it seems that it is not your house, my poor child! How you have stood this tyranny for years I cannot imagine;” and presently she added, “Surely you will no longer consent to live in this squalid manner, in a gloomy barrack, simply because it has already blighted so many years of your life?”

“I was brought up to this life; and I had no means of comparing my home with others.”

“Well, after to-day, I suppose you will realize that your home is with me, my dear—with me until you marry, and even then my house will be your home?”

“Oh, dear Mrs. Tudor, you are too good to me!”

“No, I’m good to myself too; I am fond of you, Hessie, and I’ve no belongings. Well, will you come away—now? Just tell Marietta to put a few things together, and get your hat.”

“No, but I’ll leave to-morrow; please send a fly—and a cart for my luggage. I must say good-bye to Mr. Cave, and to my father and mother’s graves—for—for——” and she put her arm round the old lady and kissed her—“you are my home, you are my second mother, and I will never return here.”

There was a loud authoritative rap on the door, a futile turning of the handle, and a shrill voice announced—

“The fly is come now!”

And with many injunctions, and a warm embrace, Mrs. Tudor took her departure, completely ignoring a rigid figure which waited aggressively in the hall, but she said to Hester as she walked to the cab—

“If that woman were in London, I should hand her over to the police for intimidation! Remember this, the fly will be here for you at ten o’clock to-morrow—without fail.”

After the visitor had driven off, Hester went upstairs and gave her orders to Marietta (who was wildly jubilant), wrote a letter to Mr. Lewin, and then, putting on her hat, went over to take leave of Mr. Cave.

The rector was concerned to hear that he was about to lose his parishioner, but added—

“I know your life down here has been a burthen to you—Lewin says those women want the place to themselves, and will try and turn you out of your own home. Well, I have your London address, and will not, please God, lose sight of you.” He accompanied her to the Grange gate, where they said good-bye.

“So you have been over at the Parson’s a-telling tales, have you?” cried Jane, waylaying her in the hall, with arms akimbo, and the light of battle in her face.

“Jane,” said Hester, facing her with unflinching eyes, “I am going away to-morrow for ever; you have driven me out of my father’s house; you have always treated me badly—ever since my mother died, and I was a little child.”

Here Jane would have loudly interrupted.

“No, pray listen to me—you say you were my mother’s friend—impossible to credit that; for if you had been, you would have befriended me. I’ve no doubt you were once a faithful servant; for years you have been a hard and tyrannical mistress—my mistress. I was cowed and afraid of you; but that is all over. After to-morrow, I will never see or, I hope, hear of you again.”

And Hester, the emancipated, walked up the stairs, leaving her tyrant on the hall-mat, a quivering prey to impotent passion.

Chapter XXXVII

The Great Loss

The morning after the ball, Paul de Sarazin, who had slept till midday, awoke—not with the traditional headache, but a sense of oppression, and a curious ache in his mind. What had happened? He stretched himself lazily and summoned memory. When memory returned, bringing with her her cousin disquietude, he recalled the last evening—his wild abandonment to the pleasures of the moment, the music, the waltzing, the spell of Dolores; he remembered the wistful, furtive glances of the grey-garbed Puritan, and the strangely white face which she had worn at supper. Oh yes, undoubtedly he had neglected Hester, but he had been swept from her side by his uncontrollable rage for dancing; it was a passion, a national weakness, and nothing else! The perfect floor, the perfect partner—with her sympathetic Spanish blood—had borne him along on a current of mad delirium. He had had his play, and now he must pay like a gentleman. He would go down to the Bellevue immediately after déjeuner, offer the ladies a motor ride, and make Hester the amende honorable. As for her cold, delicate reserve, he would soon transform and change it!

When he entered the courtyard of the Bellevue, the notable Marquis de Sarazin was eagerly accosted and waylaid by numerous acquaintances—all brimming over with the ball, the costumes, the piquant little anecdotes and scathing sketches incidental to such an occasion. At last he arrived in the hall of the hotel, and delivered his card to the heavy-browed concierge, a man who spoke six languages.

Pour Madame Tudor?” removing his cap; “mais elle est partie ce matin pour Londres.”

For a moment Paul stood transfixed; then, with his air of usual serenity, he inquired—

Et Mademoiselle?”

Mais Mademoiselle aussi, cela va sans dire! I have something for you, Monsieur le Marquis,” he added, bustling over to his bureau; “I was just going to send it up the villa—here it is.”

As he spoke he emerged with a note and a small white parcel in his hand. Paul knew instinctively what it contained; he was about to receive the ring. Oh, he had certainly played the fool last night; he had been seen, tried, and condemned to banishment.

“Yes, it’s all right!” he said, pocketing both with his unparalleled sangfroid, and, throwing a nod to the concierge, he strolled down to the club, where, in a retired corner by the window, he broke the seal of Mrs. Tudor’s missive. It was an everyday matter to see Paul de Sarazin reading little notes in a feminine hand; but surely some unpleasant and important news was conveyed on this occasion, for his fine black brows were knitted together as he perused the contents of the dainty sheet. Let us see, what was written in the little lilac note—

“Dear Marquis de Sarazin,

“I am returning the ring which you confided to my care, and I know that you will not be surprised to hear that, in consequence of your studied neglect of the lady for whom you designed it, she will never be induced to accept either the ring or you.

“I remain, faithfully yours,

“Laura Tudor.”

“This is a nice business!” he muttered to himself, when he had read over the note no less than three times. La Rubia had warned him solemnly that she was jealous; “All or none” was her motto; and a few dances with Dolores had cost him a girl who was fond of him, and ten thousand a year. Mrs. Tudor was evidently furious; she could also be implacable. The Marquis de Sarazln stood staring out of the window, with his hands in his pockets, in a rage with himself and fate. He was sensible that he had played the part of—well, a cad, and he was receiving the punishment he richly deserved; he had certainly been piqued by the girl’s reluctance to seize the brilliant position offered to her, not merely as the wife of him, Paul de Sarazin, but an alliance with one of the first houses in Spain. Then there was Mrs. Tudor’s illness, which was unfortunate for many reasons. Next came Dolores, with her witcheries, her magnetic personality, and her overbearing determination to bend every one to her will. It was her will that they should motor, drive, and dance together; and he was far too well amused to combat it, or offer her any resistance. It was Dolores who had arranged that her costume was to be the pendant to his own at the fancy ball. Most people knew of his realistic matador dress, but he had no idea that Dolores intended to present herself as his partner, till she had joined him in the vestibule of the Casino, flung aside her wraps, and taken his arm to enter the ballroom.

Well, he would have done with Dolores; undoubtedly, she had been his mother’s tool; and now that her task was accomplished, she was leaving for San Sebastian to visit friends.

That same evening at the Villa Andalusia the departure of Mrs. Tudor was discussed with unconcealed jubilation on the part of the Duquesa and her niece; the latter bantered Paul, with audacious frivolity, on his solemn face and his glum silence. Was it possible that he cared for the girl, after all? she asked herself; certainly, the fortune was a loss; but, then, her aunt Maria was so passionately determined that there should be no marriage. For her own part, she had enjoyed flirting with Paul; but money—good solid English money—is a power. Paul had made a clean breast of it to his aunt Mercédès, and from her he had obtained Mrs. Tudor’s London address. To this he immediately despatched two letters, written in his most touching and impassioned style—he was ever most successful in the rôle of penitent; but on the present occasion Paul was in earnest—sincerity was stamped on each line. Many, many days elapsed, and he received no reply. Then the Marquis de Sarazin had visions of following Miss Forde to England; naturally he cared for her more than ever, now that she seemed far beyond his reach! She was good and beautiful, pure and innocent; her heart was as white as her hand—could more be said? Honestly, it was not her money that he sought; but if he started in pursuit his friends would say, “Paul de Sarazin is a fortune-hunter!”

The truth was, that Mrs. Tudor, having read his epistle of charming contrition, had torn it up, and cast it with scorn into the waste-paper basket; and, after a few seconds’ hesitation, the note enclosed, and unopened, also torn across and across, followed suit!

The episode was ended. Paul had been granted every chance; if he had been her own son she could not have done more for him. She thought bitterly of her motor-rides, her numerous excursions and exertions; and he had flouted both her and her protégée—oh, it was just his way! Hester would forget him; for the sake of her peace, she was acting as her truest friend in withholding this letter. The unusual air of depression which seemed to envelop Paul was not lost upon his brother Léon. What had become of his buoyant spirits? One evening, as they sat smoking together in their den, he said suddenly—

“Paul, my good friend, what is it? What is the matter with you? Tell me in one word—is it debt?”

“No,” rejoined his brother curtly.

“Then, of course, it is the usual thing,” said Léon, watching a ring of cigarette-smoke; “I mean—a woman.”

“Yes,” and Paul heaved a sigh, as he flung his cigarette into the fire. “I behaved like a beast to that girl!”

“Which of them?” asked Léon, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Oh, you know—La Rubia, the English one.”

“I am truly sorry, for I liked her—and so did Casilda.”

“Well, you see, I asked her to marry me—yes, I did, out at Cambo, and she actually put me off for a month to think it over—and find out if I was in earnest.”

“And you were not,” interrupted Léon. “You never are!”

Paul made a gesture of impatience as he resumed: “And whilst I awaited a verdict, Dolores came—you know the rest.”

“Truly I do!” said Léon, rising as he spoke. “Miss Forde and her chaperon were at the ball—they saw you. The pleasures of illusion and blindness were not for them. Yes, they witnessed your infatuation, and not making allowances for your spirits and your temperament, my brother, they have said to you ‘Adios!’ and departed. Behold, now you are penitent; but you cannot have your cake and eat it—amuse yourself with one lady and keep a hold on another! Dios!”—starting. “What is all this uproar in the drawing-room? They are fighting—listen!”

Paul sat erect, then sprang to his feet. “Yes—it is el Duque’s voice; he is doubtless angry with my mother. Of course, they are talking of her debts. Shall we go?”

He paused, irresolute. As he hesitated, the door was thrown open, and their father, with a corpse-like face and flaming eyes, stood on the threshold. He was evidently labouring under intense excitement, as he said in a high, hoarse voice—

“Paul and Léon, my sons—come here!”

*  *  *

La Duquesa Mercédès had been dining at the villa; she, Dolores, el Duque and his wife were playing cards, when suddenly, in the most unexpected way, the conversation turned to the necklace; a joke about “good luck” had brought it on the tapis.

“Maria,” said her husband abruptly, “the ‘Luck’ is here, is it not?”

She nodded quickly, and hastily pushing the cards towards him, said—

“It is you to deal, Gaspar.”

His black eyes surveyed her sharply; a hasty decision was formed in his mind.

“Then, bring the necklace, Maria,” he said, thrusting away the cards and leaning back in his chair. “I would refresh my eyes with the sight of the most precious thing in our possession.”

“Dios! Gaspar!” she protested. “Most of the servants have gone to bed—the places are locked—and my keys——”

“Never mind the servants,” he interrupted fiercely, “but get it now.” Suspicion was dawning, and in his voice was a threat.

“Oh yes, Tia Maria,” chimed in Dolores, with a caressing gesture; “may we not all see the ‘Luck’? and I want the ‘Luck’ to see me, and give good fortune.”

“No more talk,” said el Duque roughly, “but let it be brought.” With this command his lips closed.

La Duquesa, pale and secretly shaking, without a word left her seat and the room. She was absent for a long time, whilst her husband, with folded arms, remained as impassive as a stone statue.

“Shall I go and find out what is keeping her?” asked Dolores, looking from one to the other of her companions with her restless black eyes.

“No,” thundered her uncle; “sit still!”

After another quaking silence, there was a groping sound at the door, which was pushed open, and la Duquesa entered, seemingly in a half-fainting condition, carrying in her hand an open empty case.

“I have been robbed!” she screamed, as she flung it on the table, and cast herself into a chair in wild hysterics.

El Duque was momentarily stunned; with trembling hand he turned over the red morocco case, and for some seconds there was a silence that had in it something sinister—like the sudden pause when the wind drops before a cyclone. Then his passion broke loose. He raved, he stormed in a voice that was thick and hoarse; he swore the necklace must be found, or terrible would be the consequences to his family—above all, to la Duquesa. For years she had had her way, and carried the priceless jewel where she would, and now, Dios! she came and told him that it was stolen.

At this juncture el Duque, who was almost incoherent, had burst open the door of the smoking-room, and imperiously summoned his sons. When they entered the salon, what a scene met their eyes! On a sofa lay their mother, her hair dishevelled—a prone, limp figure uttering long, gasping cries, whilst her sister-in-law, Mercédès, vainly endeavoured to silence and soothe her. There stood their father, speechless, evidently in the grip of some uncontrollable emotion; there was Dolores, her black eyes dancing with excitement, and on the table beside the cards an empty jewel-case.

“It is gone! “announced Dolores, as she pointed dramatically to the case; “the ‘Luck’ has been stolen!”

Paul and Léon, born de Sarazins, deeply imbued with the true sense of ancestry, were almost as much overwhelmed as their father. La Duquesa was too prostrated to answer any questions, and was presently carried away to her own apartments; then the Major Domo was summoned, also the lady’s-maid.

“Oh no!” she declared; “she had not touched or opened the case for twelve months. La Duquesa never permitted it.” The woman had been in her service for twenty years. The Major Domo, too, was an old and trusted retainer. Ultimately all the household were paraded before el Duque, whilst Paul set out on foot, running to the police office. Here he put himself into communication with a celebrated detective, and announced that a huge reward would be given for the return of the Sarazin necklace. But, in spite of extraordinary exertions, and the tireless activity of the police, the necklace could not be traced. Paris, Amsterdam, Monte Carlo, and St Petersburg were ransacked in turn—and in vain.

For six long days, la Duquesa remained cloistered in her own room, dumb and obstinate—she would answer no questions; and whilst the Duke urged, prayed, threatened—and it was even said, wept—she still maintained a sulky, staring silence. Oh, for the good old days of the thumbscrew and the rack! thought her distracted consort, for then her secret could be wrested from her. Finally, he made up his mind—the mind of an all-powerful, infuriated autocrat—that la Duquesa had sold the necklace; but how, when, and where? Until it was restored, he swore on the crucifix that Doña Maria should never again live under his roof, but retire for her sins to the Convent of Noble Ladies at Burgos. The Villa Andalusia would be closed—on the plea of Her Excellency requiring change of air—the Duke would disperse her establishment, and return to Madrid, attended by his eldest son.

A few days before the family left for Spain, when most of the furniture was already sheeted, and boxes and packing-cases stood about the lobbies, the Duchess sent for Paul.

He found her in her dressing-room, wearing an elaborate blue negligée and enormous diamond earrings. Her face looked swollen and flabby, despite the pearl-powder and rouge.

“Pablo mio,” she said, offering a scented cheek, “listen to me now; I am going to tell you the truth—but first see that the door is closed.”

“Yes, it is shut,” he answered, taking a seat.

“You know Carvalho, the jeweller, in Madrid—the shop in the Calle Alcala? Well, he has the necklace.”

“How long has it been in his possession?”

“Oh, more than ten months—perhaps a year. You see, my dear boy, I was forced to get money to settle my card-debts to the two Zorillas and the Count de Bastro. You know, if I had not paid the wretches I should have been dishonoured and the family disgraced. I had a frightful run of ill-luck—week after week my purse was empty; yet I dared not ask the Duke, for he had given me a big sum which I had lost—yes, it was all gone, all gone!” and she held up her taper hands. “I was in despair, I was nearly mad; at night I could not close my eyes; and then, I thought of the necklace!”

“Ah, so you thought of the necklace!” echoed Paul, in a low voice, and his eyes glowed.

“Yes; it was a great temptation,” boldly confessed the Duchess. “You see, it was never looked at from year to year, and might not be missed till I was dead! After all, my son, what is it but a silly superstition? Surely my honour and credit come before an old fifteenth-century string of pearls?”

Paul gazed at his mother fixedly, but made no reply; evidently the look stung her sensibilities, for she continued in a sharper key—

“What is it but an old jewel! To look at you and your father one would suppose that a kingdom had fallen! I believe it is my American blood, and my modern ideas; but it seems to me so childish, so contemptible, and so out-of-date, for an entire family to be distracted and a home scattered—all for a sentiment! The Duke is as one who has lost his reason.”

“His heart is broken,” said Paul. After this, there was a long silence.

“You go with him to Madrid?” said the Duchess, suddenly drawing out her gold cigarette-case.

“Yes; and the first thing I shall do, when I arrive there, will be to call on Carvalho—he may have the necklace still.”

“Of course—why, who would purchase it?” said the Duchess, carelessly striking a match as she spoke; “besides, he promised me not to sell it for ages—I fully intended, if I had luck, to buy it back.” Here she lit a cigarette. “He also agreed, that he would never offer it to a Spanish customer. Oh yes, you will recover it, my son, and at once, and we will soon forget all this misery! It was that devilish wicked Dolores who would talk of the necklace, in spite of my signs; she has been the real cause of all this trouble.” La Duquesa blew rings of smoke, which she followed with languid eyes. “Yes, you will find the heirloom, and when you do, pray remember your unhappy mother in the hideous, dismal convent, where there is never a card or a cigarette. If I am left too long with the sisters, I warn you that I shall corrupt those holy women! Now go, my best beloved boy—you can tell the Duke the true story, and set his poor mad mind at rest!”

When the true story was carried to el Duque, no pen could describe his fury. And so his worst fears were confirmed!—the heirloom had been sold—boldly, openly, shamelessly, in their own capital—and was now doubtless broken up and scattered to the ends of the earth. In a frenzy of denunciation, he repeated that, until it was restored, he would never see his wife again; moreover, he would sequester her dower and compel her to end her days in seclusion. Then he proceeded to deliver sentence on his eldest son.

“Dios!” he cried, “what a man to come after me! Thirty years of age, with the character of a boy. No strength, no sense, no more than a lad in his teens—dancing, singing, love-making—bah! You had the chance of a rich and charming wife, and I am told you threw her away for a couple of waltzes. I trusted to you to control your mother—you are her favourite—to restrain her extravagance, to guard our good name; and you play, as always, the fool, whilst la Duquesa sells for card-debts our great heirloom. Dios de mi Alma, I shall certainly lose my reason!”

“The heirloom is much to me, sir,” interposed Paul. “I never dreamt that my mother——”

“Bah!” cried his father; “is a gambler like other people? A gambler will stake his soul! Now, listen to me, and attend. Until that jewel is found, I swear that I will never see your mother; I shall take from her every valuable, and send them to my bankers. Santa Maria! is the house of de Sarazin to be stripped for the Casino? I will make an allowance, and she shall remain in the convent. Your uncle the Cardinal will see to this, and be discreet. I wonder what he will say when the news reaches him? for if he is a priest, he is also a de Sarazin! As for you,” and he paused and considered his son and heir, to whom he was really attached, “you have had your chances, God knows, and your gay life. Now, day by day, it will be your business to search for the great necklace, even if you have to seek it in a Russian palace or an Indian court—the one as likely as the other. If you find it, so much the better for you—if you fail, you come after me as a Duke de San Telmo, and to you will belong the remaining heirlooms; but your brother Léon shall succeed to all else—the Palace in Madrid, the Torello, the estates near Cordova—so you are warned!”

“Well, sir, I will do my best.”

“If not, I shall do my worst—you understand?”

“I understand perfectly.”

“Whatever was paid for the necklace by the purchaser, I will refund—aye, should it cost the price of Torello itself; but God knows if it is not already broken up in Amsterdam!—and I shall go down to posterity as the Duke, whose Duchess sold the Sarazin heirloom!”


An Address in Fifth Avenue

The de Sarazins were a family who never sent their linen to the public laundry, and the domestic cataclysm attending the disaster was a secret confined to themselves and their household. The servants naturally knew all about the recent loss, but being old retainers and Spaniards, nothing was divulged to their French associates—the honour of their master’s house was the bulwark of their own importance.

Pedro, who adored his employer, was deeply concerned on his account; the once gay Marquis looked careworn and distrait—no wonder; he was the diplomatic agent between el Duque and la Duquesa, and much of his time was occupied in despatching letters and telegrams, or holding alternate interviews with his parents. As Pedro moved about his duties, he muttered a proverb, in order to cheer his own gloomy mind; he had a habit of talking to himself. As he laid out a shirt, he murmured: “In a hundred years we shall all be bald!” when he unfolded a dinner-coat, he repeated: “In a hundred years we shall all be bald!” again, as he poked up the log-fire, he said aloud: “This will pass—and in a hundred years we shall all be bald!”

*  *  *

“After all, it is merely a question of money!” said the Marquis de Sarazin to himself, as he entered the premises of the well-known jewellers in the Calle Alcala; “three, four, or even five thousand pounds—of course Carvalho must make his profit—and profit by his silence.”

Carlo Carvalho, a distinguished-looking old man, with fine manners and a keen eye, received the Marquis de Sarazin in his private office with considerable ceremony. The visitor sat down, took off his hat, and, placing it on the table before him, instantly opened the subject.

“I am sure you know what has brought me here, Señor,” he said. “I come in quest of our heirloom, the Sarazin necklace, which twelve months ago, as I understand, passed into your hands.”

“That is true,” assented Carvalho, with a bow.

“This loss was discovered but recently. My father the Duke has requested me to see you, and arrange to repurchase the jewel without a single day’s delay.”

A pause ensued; then Carvalho, with a gesture of deprecation, replied—

“Certainly, it would be so—if the power lay with me; but, unfortunately, the necklace is sold.”

“Sold!” exclaimed Paul, and he drew in his breath hard. “But you can trace it, of course?”

“I fear it will be difficult, illustrissimo.”

Dios de mi Alma!” rising to his feet and surveying Carvalho with a pair of haughty eyes; “is the Sarazin heirloom so small a thing, that it is lost sight of like a boot-lace?”

“Your Excellency knows that we will do all that is possible, since you wish to recover it.”

“Wish to!” echoed Paul. “I tell you, Carvalho, we must recover it!”

“Our house served your honour’s noble family for nearly two hundred years; the de Sarazins have bought many jewels—aye—and I speak with all proper respect—have sold them here.”

“Sold jewels—you are mad!”

“La Duquesa, your gracious mother, has, like many noble ladies, parted with her pearls—aye, and her diamonds. What the illustrissima now wears are——” and he gave a little dry cough.

“Not paste?” with a motion of indignant contempt.

“Paste—yes, the best imitation,” replied Carvalho, with obvious reluctance. “I myself arranged for the models, which are admirable. I have done this on several occasions; but when la Duquesa brought me the great heirloom—ah! that was another affair, and I, knowing the traditions of the family, held back for many days. However, Señor Marques, I ask you if it was for me to withstand la Duquesa de San Telmo? No,” with a shrug and a gesture with both hands, “it was impossible! Of course, there were conditions—to which I agreed; and I paid two thousand eight hundred pounds for the necklace—much less than half its value; but money was scarce. Nevertheless, I kept the jewel locked up for months. I waited for a word. I wrote to Her Excellency—there was no answer. Then a collector of antiquities called here—an American. He saw the necklace, and raved over it. He offered three thousand pounds, which we refused; so, after long bargaining and much talk, he went away, saying he would write. He telegraphed to us from Biarritz, and we sent the necklace to our agent there on approval. You may know Dominguez? he sold it to the American for our price—four thousand pounds, less commission. Dominguez is since dead, and——”

“And the American—” broke in Paul, “where is he? and what is his name?”

“I am not sure,” responded Carvalho; “but I believe I have his card somewhere.”

“And you had, of course, his cheque?”

“No, he paid in notes on the Bank of France.”

“In notes!” repeated his visitor reflectively. “Do you think he has taken the necklace to America?”

“Surely he has, Señor; do not most of our treasures go there? He told me that he was in the trade, and came to Europe yearly to collect lace and jewels. Money flows as water over in the States, and he said he would sell the necklace out West at a great profit.”

“How long is it since he purchased it?”

“About two months.”

“So the necklace has two months’ start of me!” said Paul, suddenly taking up his hat. “You will find me that card, Carvalho, will you not? it is of the last importance!”

“I will search now,” beginning, as he spoke, to turn out a drawer. “It may seem extraordinary that so little is known of the sale, but Dominguez, who managed it, died immediately afterwards, and, naturally, that upset his business; the shop is closed, and his daughter has left Biarritz.”

“I suppose the American is sure to have returned home by now?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“And if I would trace the ‘Luck of the Sarazins,’ there is not an hour to spare.”

“Truly, one can see that,” assented Carvalho gravely. “I wish your honour success; it is a misfortune that such a great heirloom should be lost to Spain! I will look for that card at once;” and with civil thanks and a formal salutation, Paul took leave of Carvalho, and walked back to the San Telmo Palace, buried in thought.

He must start immediately for the States, taking Pedro with him; telegraph for passages, and sail in a liner from Liverpool. What a task had been set him! It seemed like one of the labours of Hercules—to search a whole continent for an old pearl necklace.

The dining-room of the Palacio de San Telmo was vast, dignified, and dull—a magnificent state apartment, with a lofty carved roof, Cordovan leather hangings, and priceless pictures; it wore a grave ecclesiastical air, and was altogether too formal and austere for a tête-à-tête meal. At a round table, laden with massive silver plate, Paul and his father were seated opposite to one another, making believe to dine, whilst eight men in gorgeous liveries hovered to and fro amidst the surrounding dusk, ministering to their wants. For, whatever licence might be permitted in a mere villa, at the Palacio de San Telmo the family dignity and appanage was never suffered to relax. The Duke was silent and preoccupied; his haggard face wore a mask of impenetrable gloom. Dish after dish was dismissed with a wave of his delicate hand. When the coffee and cigarettes appeared, a note was brought to Paul, who glanced at it and then tore it open without apology.

Within the envelope he found a card, on which was inscribed—

Louis Le Vey,
4008, Fifth Avenue,
New York City.

Raising his head, he encountered his father’s deeply-set eyes; they were fixed upon him with an expression of keen, even desperate, interrogation.

“If I fail to trace the necklace, the disappointment will kill him!” Paul said to himself; then, in answer to the look: “Yes, sir, it is an address—a most important clue,” and he handed the card across the table. “I must go to New York immediately.”

“Ah!”—examining the card through his glasses—“so you think it is there?” Then he paused for a moment, and added: “Alas! my son, you will never recover it now. The necklace is precisely what those people want—a rare treasure of extraordinary beauty—it has a noble past! Heavens and Earth!”—suddenly flinging down the card—“why, it is older than their national existence! Ah! well, the necklace is lost, and you, my poor boy—I would not lose you too—I am growing feeble, and America seems to me another world!”

“But only a seven days’ journey—I shall be back before you know that I am gone!”

“And you are not a man of business,” persisted the Duke; “you are ignorant of affairs—your affair has been dancing, playing the guitar, and singing seguidillas.”

“I hope I can do more than dance and sing,” protested Paul. “I am not quite such an idiot, as I look! And, believe me, sir, it will not be my fault if I do not return from New York bringing with me the necklace. Wish me luck to find our ‘Luck’!” and he raised his glass.

“No, it is gone!” repeated the Duke in a husky voice, making a visible effort to master his emotion. “My son, our glory has departed.”

Then he got up and moved slowly away in the direction of his own apartments, and, as he watched him, it seemed to Paul that his father had suddenly stepped down into old age—he was a broken man.

Chapter XXXIX

The Quest

The eight o’clock night mail from Madrid to Paris, drawn up by the platform in the Delicias station, was due to start in five minutes.

Paul de Sarazin, equipped for a journey, stood at the door of his compartment, exchanging last words with his brother Léon, who had obtained leave in order to speed the traveller. Léon, a keen soldier, looked well in his uniform, which was that of an officer in the Halberdiers.

“I see Pedro has taken his seat,” he said; “your luggage is labelled, your rugs and bags are all in the carriage; yet it is not too late to change your mind and stay at home.”

“I never change my mind,” said Paul curtly.

Léon stared at his brother, and gave a low, incredulous laugh.

“In serious matters, at least—Léon, you know that.”

“I know that you have never changed to me, my brother. Pablo mio, I entreat you to give up this journey, this folly. As for el Duque’s threat, long may he live, but I will never, never touch one peseta of your fortune—the Sarazin estates go with the title. To search for a necklace in America—think of it! Why, it is a fairy tale. Spare yourself the journey; you will never find the heirloom.”

“I mean to have a good try,” said Paul gravely; “and I swear to you that I will never rest till I trace the ‘Luck of the Sarazins.’”

“Then, alas! my dear brother, I fear you will have no peace in this life.”

“Probably not,” assented Paul, as he took his seat in the railway carriage. Then, leaning forward, he added: “I am as anxious to recover it as el Duque himself.”

“Ah! well, in that case,” said Léon, with his hand on the door, “there is no more to be said, but to wish you good fortune and a speedy return.”

*  *  *

The big White Star liner, bound for New York, made her majestic progress down the Channel one fine May afternoon, carrying a large number of homing Americans who had been evading the rigours of their own winter in Egypt and the South of France. Among the names to be found in the neatly printed list of passengers was that of “P. V. de Sarazin and valet.” Not one word respecting the lost heirloom had ever passed between master and man; but Pedro knew as well as his employer the true reason of his extraordinary voyage. He was by instinct a landsman, but ever made the best of circumstances, laid in a store of cigarettes, became friendly with the stewards, and presently instructed some of his fellow-passengers in the games of poker and monte. His cheery personality, his funny broken English, his proverbs and his songs, soon made him popular, and before the coast of Ireland had disappeared below the horizon, Pedro Yotto had become a leader in the pantry set.

For the first day or two the sea, as described by a child, was beautifully flat, and the Baltic, like an immense hotel, throbbed ahead at the rate of eighteen knots an hour. Not a few passengers now began to brag of their seagoing qualities, and disdainfully declined the eleven o’clock chicken-broth which was daily proffered by the stewards. The promenade deck resembled some smart local function, with its double line of chairs filled with animated occupants, and thronged by a gay and complacent company, many of whom were well acquainted, and eagerly compared notes of travel, business in stocks, fashionable news, and, last, but not least, wonderful European bargains.

Paul de Sarazin held studiously aloof from the library and the ladies, contenting himself with the smoke-room and the company of his own sex. However, it was not to be supposed that, even on a crowded ship, the distinguished personality of el Marques would pass unnoticed.

Mrs. Sherry-Shayne, relict of a multi-millionaire, reclined luxuriously in her steamer chair, with a becoming red silk cushion behind her grey head and the novel she had recently finished in her lap. Her mind and her eyes were languidly searching for some fresh interest, and so far their quest had been fruitless. The lady was fifty-five years of age, yet still took elaborate pains with her appearance; her beautifully waved hair, her faultlessly fitting cloth gown, were due to the credit of two notable maids. This matron with the clear-cut face and expressive black eyes had (perhaps thanks to these) never known a want in her life. A friend lay extended beside her—a fashionable woman, with a sallow, delicate face and masses of snow-white locks—buried in a book: she was apparently lost to all sense of her surroundings.

Mrs. Shayne’s dreamy eyes had been languidly studying the passing crowd; suddenly she projected a jewelled hand across the pages of her companion’s novel.

“Lucinda!” she exclaimed, “do you see that dark man in the grey overcoat, coming this way with James P. McWilliam?”

Lucinda raised her eyes and nodded a response.

“Now, isn’t he just too fine for words? Well, Lucinda Webber, I’ve got to tell you that he is the Marquis de Sarazin—I knew him well by sight at Biarritz.”

“You don’t say!” exclaimed the other, now closing her novel. “My! he is good-looking!”

“And a social celebrity too. You should have seen him at the fancy ball dressed as a bull-fighter—he was just splendid!”

“Do you know him?” leaning a little forward.

“Only by sight; and I have seen his mother, the Duchess, driving about in a fine carriage, with black horses, or at the Casino a blaze of diamonds.”

“Well, I’m real sorry you are not acquainted,” murmured Mrs. Webber, in a tone of regret. “Seems to me he looks a bit lonely.”

“Oh, don’t you go to think he’s scared of women, Lucinda, for he is a well-known heart-breaker. Now, I should like to know what’s bringing him over to the States?”

“Perhaps he is looking for a rich wife. A young Marquis, with a face like an old picture, is bound to have a good time over there—you can bank on that!”

“And the lady is bound to have dollars, blue blood, and beauty,” rejoined Mrs. Shayne—“you can bank on that. She must also be a Roman Catholic.”

“Well, I don’t expect he will be so easily suited,” said Mrs. Webber. After a reflective silence she added: “There is Miss Gadder in the state-room next yours, and they do say she has eight million dollars.”

“I call her very homely—just a rack for fine clothes. No, she would never do. See, I shall ask James McWilliam to bring up the Marquis and present him to us, and then I will find out what is bringing him over.”

Afternoon tea was a refreshment taken standing, or, in bad weather, clinging or sliding about the upper deck. According to certain marine Mede and Persian laws, teacups were excluded from the library; certainly, there was the alternative of descending four storeys and enjoying a pot of tea in the saloon, but most people preferred to remain above-board and run certain risks.

As Paul de Sarazin lounged against a doorpost, sipping the best Ceylon mixture, Mr. McWilliam suddenly accosted him, and said—

“I say, Marquis, I want to introduce you to a lady who knew you at Biarritz—by sight”—and before he could expostulate or escape, Mr. McWilliam was muttering: “Mrs. Sherry-Shayne, may I present the Marquis de Sarazin? Mrs. Webber, the Marquis de Sarazin,”—and he found himself launched on a new acquaintance.

After a little talk about the weather and the run, “Won’t you come right away and sit with us, and have a chat?” said Mrs. Shayne, handing him her empty cup. “I am devoted to Biarritz, and we are sure to have some mutual friends.”

“No doubt,” he answered, with a low bow, and he followed the ladies to their special sheltered nook, and assisted them to arrange their rugs and cushions, with a dexterity that betokened long practice.

After some desultory talk about Biarritz, golf, and various entertainments, Mrs. Shayne proceeded, in a delicate and subtle fashion, to question her new acquaintance with respect to his plans. She touched on money investments, trusts, and matrimony; but Paul adroitly parried all inquiries, and the sharp-witted American widow found that she could make nothing of the gallant but elusive Spaniard. He remained an agreeable mystery; nevertheless—or perhaps on account of this fact—he became exceedingly popular with his new friends. He was cultivated, charming, and attractive; so were they. The ladies lured him into the library to play bridge—twenty-five cents a hundred—introduced him to various pretty girls, promenaded the deck in his company, took him into their set and under their wing—in short, petted him to his heart’s content. This, needless to say, was no new experience for Paul de Sarazin.

But, alas! when within three days of New York, that capricious termagant the Atlantic flew into a sudden fury; she rose and scattered the clever ladies who played bridge, emptied the steamer chairs, separated Paul from his charming friends, and left him to pace the deck in meditative solitude. The weather was bad, and Paul had the promenade more or less to himself: many of the men were playing cards in the smoke-room—or prostrate elsewhere.

As Paul paced the long expanse with his hands in his pockets and the inevitable cigarette in his mouth, he had ample leisure for reflection. Here there was nothing to distract his attention, beyond the angry storm-clouds and the tumbling expanse of heaving, grey seas. He was alone in mid-ocean, entirely cut off from the world—his own world; and here he could ponder without interruption on his future and on his past. His was not a retrospective mind; hitherto life had been too full and too crowded; one event had ever come treading on the heels of another, and compelled him to forget certain affairs and overlook certain people. But no mad elbowing or thrusting had ever succeeded in driving La Rubia entirely from his thoughts; it had not needed Mrs. Shayne’s probing questions respecting the handsome red-haired English girl, to recall her to his memory. He winced inwardly as he realized that his conduct had been indefensible; no reasoning could disperse this conviction. She had solemnly warned him of her particular failing—jealousy, and she had not exaggerated her weakness. It was true that she had, by her own act, released him because he had openly set her aside in favour of his cousin Dolores; subsequently La Rubia had ignored his existence, and cast him out of her life for ever. Nevertheless, he had a sure intuition that she loved him. This girl from the north was proud and sensitive, there was something reserved and even stern in her nature; but a man of Paul’s enormous experience could see beneath the surface. La Rubia adored him, although she held him inflexibly at arm’s length. She would walk with him, sympathize with him, open her heart to him, and even weep to him; but he had never once kissed her. How few pretty women of his acquaintance could make this boast!

Hers was the deeply-set love of a naturally cold nature, and Paul, despite the deadly breach, and the distance which yawned between them, was confident that her heart belonged to him. Yet, such was her disposition and her pride, the chances were that he would never look upon her face again. His experience of other women had misled him. Hitherto he had believed that he had but to raise his hand and beckon them back; but, for once, he had found himself tragically mistaken.

The melancholy reflections of the Marquis de Sarazin were brusquely disturbed by the cheerful strains of the adjacent dinner bugle, and, to the envy of many, he hurried below in order to prepare for the meal.

The notorious banks were skirted without fog or incident, and it was the last day on board. The weather was better, so were many invalids, who once more reappeared on deck—not a few of the ladies in brand-new frocks, worn to qualify for the Customs. Cards were freely exchanged, bridge accounts were settled, and cabin-boxes studded the long passages.

Paul de Sarazin’s chief friends, restored to society, gave him a warm invitation to visit them at St. Louis, and, after the ship had passed Nantucket lighthouse, did the honours of their country with pride. They indicated various interesting scenes—the forts, Coney Island, the Statue of Liberty—last, but not least, the skyscrapers.

It was altogether a busy, lively outlook; ocean steamers passed them, and ferry-boats, shaped like Noah’s arks, darted across under the very bows of the liner. At last the Baltic arrived alongside her berth, where a great crowd had assembled to welcome the travellers. The unparalleled bustle of the Customs, the celebrated draughts in the windy shed, the conscientious manner in which the luggage was examined—none of these facts had been exaggerated. Here Paul took leave of his pleasant smoking-room acquaintances and his two lady friends. These parted from him with palpable reluctance, urging him, in a hospitable duet, not to fail to visit them at St. Louis. He placed them in a big carriage, carefully handed in their small effects and jewel-cases, then, hat in hand, saw them depart. Paul liked them both, especially Mrs. Shayne. Was this because she had assured him that she adored Grenada as much as her countryman Washington Irving? or was it because she declared that “she admired the red-haired girl—to death!”

The Marquis de Sarazin and his valet had a long and weary wait under the letter “S,” but at last they were free to drive to the Hotel Waldorf, where rooms had been secured; and, although crammed with people, the hotel seemed a quiet haven of repose and refuge after the din of Broadway, with its electric cars and ponderous street traffic.

“Un Palacio!” murmured Pedro to himself, as they surveyed the great marble staircase, pillars, floors, and statues, the palm-trees and the pictures.

When his master entered the parlour to scribble a letter for the outgoing mail, he was astonished to notice on a four-faced clock the actual time, not only in New York, but in Madrid, his native city. What a bustling, lively place it was!—the gaily-dressed, chattering throng, streaming along the corridors en route to the restaurants, the hurrying pages, porters, messengers, the rattle of the elevators; whilst above the hum and buzz of the crowd penetrated the delicious strains of a fine string-band. However, Paul de Sarazin had not come to New York merely to look and listen—he desired to act; and as soon as he had despatched his letter, he proceeded to the palm-room, which was already crowded with people, including numbers of smartly-dressed girls wearing marvellous feathered hats and expensively simple summer gowns; and magnificent matrons, superb in embroideries and crêpe de Chine. His critical eye immediately recognized the studied finish of their toilettes, and as he glanced round from table to table he said to himself: “So, here is America at home!”

Presently he set out in search of 4008, Fifth Avenue. It proved to be a small but superior establishment, merely displaying in the window a few choice articles of jewelry and some lengths of old lace. He entered without delay, and found that here was no sudden, hawk-like pouncing on the customer; he had ample leisure to look about before he was accosted and asked if he wished to be served?

“I would like to see the proprietor,” he said; “my business is urgent.”

The proprietor presently appeared—a clean-shaven, middle-aged man, with mobile features.

“I have come to America on purpose to call on you, Mr. Le Vey,” said the customer.

Mr. Le Vey looked faintly surprised.

“It is with respect to a necklace you purchased at Biarritz from the agent of a firm in Madrid.”

“Well, that is so,” assented Le Vey; “I bought a necklace at Biarritz, that’s sure.”

“Of pearls, with a large pendant?”

“That’s right,” agreed the tradesman; “rather a nice thing.”

Rather a nice thing! Here was a description of the pride of the Sarazins!

“Have you got it still?” inquired Paul.

“Oh no; that class of article goes at once—picked up like hot cakes. Of course, one has to be mighty cautious over the buying in Europe; there is such a lot of faked goods, and some of the dealers would just soak you! You are interested, I surmise?”

“I am,” assented Paul; “the necklace is an heirloom in our family, and we wish to recover it”

“Ah-h-h!” drawing a long breath. “I guess you’ll have trouble along of that. I doubt if the purchaser will do a deal.”

“May I ask to whom you sold it?”

“Why, certainly. I sold it about three weeks ago to a Mrs. Van Booss—her friends live up Central Park way. She has a keen eye for old things. I’m real sorry you have had your journey for nothing,” and his glance expressed commiseration.

“I hope not. Will you favour me with the lady’s address?”

“She lives out West,” said Mr. Le Vey, scribbling on a card, “but spends a good while with her friends along Fifth Avenue. I guess she’s here now. I may tell you this—that if she sells the necklace, the price will be fierce! You might drive up”—handing the card as he spoke—“and see her right away.”

Chapter XL


With the intention of visiting Mrs. Van Booss, Paul de Sarazin re-entered his hansom, and was presently bowling up Fifth Avenue, past that architectural master-piece, the new library; past Delmonico’s the celebrated, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

He found that his destination was a solid brown-stone house, not very far from the golden statue of General Sherman. A portly black man-servant opened the door, and in reply to a question said—

“Yes, sah—no, sah. Mrs. Van Booss not at home.”

“Is any one here at present?”

“Yes, sah, two young ladies—the Miss Lisks, sah.”

“Then, please take up my card and ask if they will receive me.”

“All right, you come along with me, sah,” and the visitor followed the bustling coloured butler up a polished staircase into a lofty room, beautifully furnished in the most correct Empire style. He entered immediately behind the servant, and saw a young girl, luxuriously extended on a sofa, reading a book; another, a tall, slim figure, was gazing out of the window with her hands loosely locked behind her. Sambo went forward as she turned, muttered something, and offered her the card.

Miss Lisk glanced at it hastily, and crushed it in her hand, for the stranger was already in the room, and she moved to receive him. Mary Lisk was a slender, elegant girl, wearing her abundant fair hair rolled high from a pretty, delicate face. She was beautifully dressed in a diaphanous white gown.

“I must offer a thousand apologies,” said Paul, addressing her with the grace of his nation; “but I have called to see Mrs. Van Booss, on a matter of great importance.”

“Mrs. Van Booss went home a few days ago—she lives in Chicago,” replied the young lady. As she paused and looked at him interrogatively, she noticed that his face fell.

“I think she recently bought a necklace from Mr. Le Vey,” he said—“a sixteenth-century jewel.”

“That is very possible; at present, old things are her craze.”

Meanwhile, the girl on the sofa had hastily assumed a sitting posture, patted her hair, and pulled down her waist. Miss Cora Lisk was about eighteen years old, and remarkably pretty, with a bright colour and lively brown eyes.

“Will Mrs. Van Booss be soon returning to New York?” inquired Paul.

“Well, no, she only went home on Saturday,” replied Miss Lisk. “She was here for quite a spell.” As the visitor stood irresolute, she added: “Perhaps we could help you in some way?”

“I’m afraid not, thank you. I must see Mrs. Van Booss herself on business.”

Business!—this young man who looked like a prince in a fairy tale! But she merely replied—

“Oh, is that so? Well, then, I am afraid you will just have to go to Chicago; it’s twenty-four hours on the cars.”

“And that’s nothing at all,” added the girl on the sofa, now speaking for the first time. “Why, I know folk who have gone to Chicago for a dinner-party, and come back the same night!”

“Well, anyhow, you can’t start till to-morrow,” said the elder Miss Lisk; “won’t you sit down and have a cup of tea, English fashion?” and she moved towards a little table, where a silver kettle was presiding over an appetizing tray.

“Thank you,” said Paul, enchanted to find himself once more in congenial society, and suddenly stifling his disappointment. “But I am not English—I am a Spaniard.”

“Really?” and Miss Lisk looked at him with surprise.

“Yes; but my grandmother was an American.”

“You don’t say!” she ejaculated.

“Miss Virginia Hurstbrook from Richmond.”

“My! The Hurstbrooks are mighty fine folk and one of the first F.V.’s. Have you come over about property? I believe there has been a lot of law.”

“No, I am in search of an heirloom which has been sold by mistake.”

“Now, isn’t this just right-down interesting?” said Miss Lisk, turning to appeal to her sister on the sofa.

“Mr. Le Vey brought it over and sold it to Mrs. Van Booss,” explained the stranger.

“Oh yes, Aunt Dossie is crazy about old things!” declared Cora Lisk. “She is mighty rich, and came from Denver City. Her people bought land in San Francisco once on a time, and now,” with a gesture of her pretty hands, “the land is gold.”

“I expect she paid a big price for your old heirloom—she often goes a splurge in jewels; I shouldn’t wonder if I had seen it.”

Paul rose, moved a few steps closer, and looked at the speaker interrogatively.

“All pearl chains, is it, caught with clasps and a big pendant—just lovely! I asked her to give it to me. She isn’t my aunt at all, nor any relation, but she’s my godmother.”

As Cora chattered, her sister stole a glance at the crumpled card in her hand, and read: “El Marques de Sarazin.”

“I hope she will allow me to have it,” said Paul, hastening to hand a teacup.

“Well, I want to tell you, that I don’t expect she will ever sell it, being so very set on ancient jewels and curios—it’s her particular craze. You see she comes of a real old Royalist stock, and has a sort of sentiment about heirlooms, especially jewels and miniatures. It’s my opinion, she says her prayers to her family miniatures, night and morning.”

Paul de Sarazin looked at the pretty chatterbox with a puzzled air, and her sister said apologetically—

“I expect Cora surprises you—she is just a wild schoolgirl.”

“But I am going to College this year,” protested Cora, with a touch of dignity, “Aunt Theodosia has been real good to me; last season, I went with her to Atlantic City, and had a dandy time—I was just as happy as a little Clam!”

“Is there a Mr. Van Booss?” inquired the visitor.

“No, he died some years ago, and left Aunt Dossie every cent he had, and he was mighty rich—people wonder she has not married again, for she is an elegant woman, with beautiful eyes that look as if they had a story in them. They do say Aunt Dossie had a love affair long, long ago, in the blue grass country, but being poor, her folk——”

“What do you think of New York?” interrupted Miss Lisk, suddenly snapping the thread of her sister’s revelations. “I suppose you have been around quite a good deal?”

“I only arrived in New York this morning.”

“So it’s rather too soon for you to have any impressions.”

“Oh, but he is sure to have some!” declared Cora. “What are they? Oh, do please say!”

“Well, if I must say, so far—noise, and size, and pretty—” he was going to add “girls,” but changed his mind, and said—“hats.”

“It’s not a good season of the year to visit the city,” said Miss Lisk; “every one is going away to the seashore or the country. Momma has gone to Maine, to fix up our country house, and we shall be following shortly.”

Here the door opened, and a tall, elderly man appeared. He had a keen, clever face, and thick snow-white hair.

“Oh, here is poppa!” exclaimed Miss Lisk. “Poppa, this is the Marquis de Sarazin, a Spanish gentleman, who has travelled all the way from Spain in search of a family jewel which has been brought by Aunt Dossie.”

“Very pleased to see you, sir,” said Mr. Lisk, offering his long hand. “I think you arrived in the Baltic to-day? You had a pretty big crowd on board.”

“Yes, there was not much room to spare.”

“A friend of mine, Mr. McWilliam, was speaking of you just now; he told me you had got real well acquainted coming out, and he was anxious to keep his eye upon you and show you around.”

“It is very kind of him, I am sure.”

“I suppose you are at the Waldorf—it’s an amusing place.”

“If you want to see sights, you should sit in the Peacock Walk,” said Cora, “and watch all the folk go by.”

“I’m afraid I have no time for that sort of thing. I want to accomplish my errand.”

“And so you have come over after a piece of jewelry?” said Mr. Lisk, surveying him, with his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat.

“Yes; my father and I are most anxious to recover it.”

“I am greatly afraid,” rejoined the other, smiling at his daughters, “that there is a poor chance of recovering anything from Mrs. Van Booss—she gets set on things.”

“So that young lady”—looking at Cora—“has been telling me, and preparing me for difficulties.”

“Ah, I shouldn’t wonder if my little schoolgirl has been giving you a conversational variety turn?” Is there any one so partial and so proud as an American father? “We shall be glad if you will dine with us this evening.”

“You are too kind; but I must make arrangements for an early start to-morrow for Chicago.”

“Oh, well, in that case, all I can do, is, to wish you good luck.”

“There’s the motor outside, poppa,” said the elder girl, rising. “I wonder if the Marquis de Sarazin would care to take a turn in the Central Park, and see something of our city? It’s a lovely afternoon.”

Paul declared that he would be only too happy to avail himself of such a delightful opportunity, and not long after he and the two pretty Americans were whirling round the park, talking and laughing as though they had known one another for years.

The young ladies pointed out to him the principal sights—not forgetting the tame, up-sitting squirrels. They questioned him closely about Spain, bull-fighting, Spanish songs and dances, and were by no means indifferent to his fascinating personality. Nor did his conversation diminish the impression he had produced; indeed, he seemed to them to radiate romance.

After an enjoyable two hours’ ride, which included Bronx Park, the charming Miss Lisks reluctantly deposited their companion at the Waldorf.

“We shall be here for a week longer,” said the elder, “and when you return, you must come and dine, and bring the necklace with you and let us see it.”

“Yes, and tell us all about Aunt Dossie,” added her sister. “Give her my love, and tell her she must part with the necklace, much as she loves it!” In another moment the two radiant faces had rolled away up Fifth Avenue.

Paul de Sarazin, having consulted a time-table and Pedro, turned into the flower department, and chose two large bouquets of American Beauty roses. To him this responsibility, the selection of floral offerings, was a familiar and congenial task; and presently the flowers, carefully packed, were delivered to a messenger-boy, who was also entrusted with a card on which was inscribed—

“To Miss Lisk and Miss Cora Lisk, with the homage of P. de Sarazin.”

Chapter XLI

The Clue

The expedition to Chicago proved futile. When the Marquis de Sarazin called on Mrs. Van Booss, he was informed that she had gone to Washington to attend a wedding. He now began to fear that this woman was an ignis fatuus, and returned immediately to New York. From New York he journeyed to Washington—at least he was spared hotel life—he lived in the cars! His mind was a prey to anxiety and impatience, and the chill of delay had begun to settle on his spirits. As he was borne along, he noted indifferently the log-houses, the great woods, the wide stretches of water, especially where the shining Susquehanna winds inland like an arm of the sea, and the train crosses the water on a low embankment or bridge of trestles, which conveys the impression of being aboard ship in a railway carriage.

Arriving at Washington, the traveller drove direct to Willard’s Hotel, and inquired for Mrs. Van Booss. He was informed that Mrs. Van Booss was spending the day at Mount Vernon, but would be back to dinner. Her pursuer proceeded to establish himself at the hotel; at any rate, he and the purchaser of the necklace would be under the same roof! After lunch he set out to visit the Capitol, a truly noble building; next he visited the splendid Library of Congress; then he walked leisurely back down Pennsylvania Avenue in order to pass the lagging hours; but it was only six o’clock, and as yet there was no sign of the return of Mrs. Van Booss; so he went and found a seat in the pretty green square, opposite the White House. There he smoked many cigarettes, and he made up his mind that, once he had secured the prize, he would cable home and return by the first steamer. On the present occasion he had come to fetch the necklace—and not to visit the States. The lofty dining-room at the Willard, with its green marble pillars, green hangings and palms, was crowded when the Marquis de Sarazin was ushered to a place.

During the course of an elaborate menu, his eyes roved from table to table in eager search of “Aunt Dossie,” a stout lady “with hair like scrambled eggs.” There were various convivial parties, but he could not identify her, though he had been assured that she was now in the hotel. Later on, as he sat in the long corridor, watching people pass to and fro, he requested a waiter to take his card to Mrs. Van Boess. After a considerable delay the man returned, and said—

“Please to come this way,” and he found himself conducted towards a large and animated circle, who were drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes; enthroned among them as hostess, sat a graceful woman no longer young, with large dark blue eyes, a sensitive mouth, and quantities of black hair, slightly powdered with silver. She wore a clinging black gown, richly embroidered, and a chain round her neck, from which depended several immense, flawless turquoises—a striking and barbaric ornament; once the property of some squat Thibetan beauty.

As Paul de Sarazin approached, there was a momentary pause in the buzz of conversation, and every gaze was centered on the stranger. Mrs. Van Booss glanced at the card, and then at its owner, “El Marques de Sarazin.”

“You are the Marquis de Sarazin?” she enquired in a full rich voice. The words seemed to part reluctantly from her well-cut lips—she spoke with a delicious drawl.

He bowed with an air of knightly courtesy.

“And you wish to see me—is that a fact?”

“Yes. If you will honour me with a few moments* conversation.”

“Certainly, with pleasure. Won’t you be seated?”

“You are very good, Madam; but my business is a private matter. I will not detain you five minutes.”

“Then shall we go up to my parlour? Mrs. L’Estrange and Mrs. Prioleau, I hope you will excuse me,” and Mrs. Van Booss rose, and trailed away towards the elevator, a slim and graceful figure, in soft crêpe-de-Chine draperies.

Two minutes later found them at the door of a luxurious sitting-room, and as the lady switched on the light, she turned and looked at her companion with interrogative expression in her wonderful black-lashed eyes.

“What,” she asked herself, “could be his errand? Had this handsome, and possibly penniless, young nobleman heard of her millions? and was he yet another suitor for her hand?”

Her experiences since she had become a widow were so various and extraordinary, that she was now incapable of surprise. This stranger was good-looking, well dressed, and undoubtedly a foreigner of distinction.

“I have come,” he said, seating himself in answer to her gesture, “all the way from Spain, in search of something which I believe is in your possession.” A pause, then he added, “It is an old-fashioned necklace, composed of strings of pearls, with clasps and pendant.”

“Yes,” nodding her head, “I know the one you mean, delightfully old and quaint—I saw it at Le Vey’s, and took a fancy to it on the spot. Was it stolen?”

“No, it was disposed of, I regret to say, by a member of my family. We are extremely anxious to recover it”

“No doubt.”

“Will you permit us to purchase it from you?”

“Since you have come so far in its quest, and are so attached to the necklace—I must of course say ‘yes.’ But I too am attached to it; I must tell you quite frankly, I love old things, and this ornament looks to me, as if it had a romantic history.”

“That is true.”

“Then in exchange for my treasure trove, will you tell me its tale—it is all I ask,” and she smiled into his face.

“Madam, your request is a command. I will do my best, but I am a poor story-teller.”

Edging a little nearer to the lady, and resting his elbow on the table, he began; and by gradual degrees, and in picturesque and vivid language, related the history of the well-known Luck of the Sarazins. He talked well, he talked impressively, whilst Mrs. Van Booss sat wondering and enthralled; her delicate Vandyke hands loosely locked in her lap, her eyes fastened on the animated historian. She felt herself summoned to the company of Kings and Queens; to jousts, duels, and stately ceremonials: to all of these, the Luck of the Sarazins ushered her romantic imagination, and the moving recital was most ably seconded by this handsome young man’s expressive eyes. He was so well favoured, ardent and eloquent, that he might have been one of her own cavalier ancestors.

“Well,” she said at last, “what you have told me has just been thrilling, and now, I will go and fetch the necklace. I am so glad to have it in my power to restore it to you—and to Spain. Oh, what a possession! What an heirloom. I am a good deal set on heirlooms myself. I have one miniature of my great, great, great grandfather, Rupert Lascelles, that I would sooner die than be parted from, so you see, I understand your feelings, and can sympathize from my heart.”

With the last word, she left the room, and Paul with a throbbing pulse, was aware of her movements in the next apartment, where there was a sound of steps, and a pulling out of drawers. At last the lady returned, carrying in her hand a shabby round red case.

“Now here it is,” she announced with her gentle drawl, “here is your precious historical relic.”

Paul received the case in silence, and spread on the table a necklace with pearl chains, and a pendant, but it was one he had never seen before. The ‘Luck of the Sarazins’ was still to seek; it eluded him like a will o’ the wisp. Surely it was possessed of the demoniac spirit, attributed by Goethe to certain inanimate objects.

“What—what is the matter?” asked his companion, as she caught sight of his ghastly face.

“Is this what you bought from Le Vey?” he stammered, and drops of perspiration stood upon his forehead as he spoke.

“Why yes—is there any mistake—what is the trouble?”

“Great trouble to me, madam—this is not our necklace.”

“Why, you don’t say! Well, I’m real sorry for you, but glad for myself. Whoever this belonged to, it’s a rare old thing,” picking up the necklace, which had hung in Dominguez’s window. As he did not speak, she continued, “Now what will you do?”

“Return home at once,” he replied with an effort, drawing out as he spoke a handkerchief, to wipe his forehead.

“Ah,” she exclaimed, “I see you have had a great shock, and I’m truly sorry for you—you have been on the wrong trail, but I hope you will find the heirloom yet.”

“Never,” he groaned, “never. My father was right, the Luck of the Sarazins is lost!”

“I feel truly grieved for you,” she said, laying her fragile hand on his coat sleeve, “I do—I sympathize—I know what it means. If you must return, there’s a train to-night to New York, and a boat to Liverpool to-morrow. But why not stay a little, I should like to show you round.”

“You are too kind, Mrs. Van Booss, but I must leave at once. I am sorry to have troubled you for nothing. Please tell the Miss Lisks, who were so interested—that my search has been fruitless,” and with repeated apologies and thanks, the Marquis de Sarazin effected his departure.

When Pedro was summoned by his master immediately after the interview, and heard him say: “We start tonight at eleven o’clock for New York, and sail to-morrow morning,” he realized without further explanation that the long journey had been in vain—the quest had failed! The necklace seemed to Pedro to be now the Curse, and no longer the Luck, of the Sarazins. Oh, what a stir, what a fury, and what madness, over just a woman’s trinket!

*  *  *

The Marquis de Sarazin had spent exactly seven days in the States, and returned to Europe in a condition of the deepest depression. Constant railway travelling and continual anxiety had upset his health, and the Paul who landed in Liverpool was a hollow-eyed, haggard spectre of himself. What a tale to carry to his father! what a puzzle to disentangle! Where was the necklace? Carvalho swore—and he was an honest man—that he had sold it to Le Vey, and yet the article in New York was a mere ordinary sixteenth-century ornament! As he travelled nearer to his native land, his reflections became gloomier and yet gloomier. Ponder as he might, he could see no ray of light in any direction; his thoughts, however, were distracted at St. Sebastian by the welcome sight of an old comrade, who entered the luncheon-car and hailed him with joy. Paul and Count Ramon de Sarreno had been schoolfellows at Harrow, and were fast friends.

“What have you been doing with yourself, Pablo mio?” inquired the newcomer, as he seated himself the other side of the little table and took a momentary survey of his friend.

“I have been travelling.”

“And where have you been, may I ask?”

“To America.”

The other threw up his hands. “Is it a wife?”

“Oh no!”

“Then, what is the trouble? for there is trouble, one can see.”

“It is a family affair.”

“Family affairs do not agree with Paul,” rejoined Count Ramon; “he will soon be an old man at this rate! Why, my friend, since I last saw you in Madrid, you have added ten years to your life! Well, see, here is lunch—that, at least, will cheer you. We will have a bottle of Rioja; you have not tasted it for some time.”

“I don’t want any lunch,” replied the other, “and it would take more than a bottle of our country wine to cheer me. I will, however, do myself the pleasure of admiring your appetite.”

Later on, after they had broached many topics, and the dusk fell, Paul opened his heart to his old friend. Ramon was safe; to speak would relieve his brain, which felt like lead.

“Listen, Ramon,” he said, suddenly leaning over and putting down his cigarette, “you are one of us—and can keep silence. I feel as if I must speak or die!”

“Then, speak, my friend—-speak!” responded his schoolfellow with emphasis.

“You know our jewel—the ‘Luck of the Sarazins’?”

“Who does not?”

“Only lately we discovered our loss, but it disappeared months ago. My father is beside himself. We have searched all the big cities in vain; then we heard that it had been sold to America. I went there myself, I may say, within an hour of this news; tracked it from place to place, and found—what do you think?—another necklace! Carvalho—you know him—swore to me that this, which he had sold to New York, was ours. He has made a fool of me, and I think I shall kill him; anyway, I shall wring the truth out of him, though I believe that our heirloom is gone—our luck is following it! for my father is failing—el Condé de Trubia has broken his leg. Oh yes!”—angrily—“you laugh—laugh—laugh! I admit that we are a superstitious family.”

“I am not laughing at your misfortunes, Paul; but at something else. What you sought across the Atlantic is under your very eyes.”

“Under my very eyes! For God’s sake, explain yourself, Ramon!”

“Now, listen! Last spring the Castejars gave a little dinner in Madrid for an English friend—one Mrs. Tudor. She was accompanied by a tall Señorita who was actually wearing the ‘Luck of the Sarazins’! Yes, just think of it—the superb, the celebrated, the sacred necklace! Oh, such a secret commotion as it created! But all the Spanish present agreed to hold their tongues, and not to spread the fact, being afraid of your father’s anger and a lawsuit. However, Elma de Varro told my wife—naturally, my wife told me, and now, Pablo mio, it is my good fortune to tell you.” He paused, and studied his companion with complacent eyes.

“Had the young lady who wore the necklace reddish hair?” he asked at last.

“Yes; and they said she was very handsome, but cold and stupid. Also she wore the necklace with absolute self-possession; precisely as if it were her family jewel, and she were a born de Sarazin!”

Paul sat and stared fixedly at his friend for some moments. No, Ramon was perfectly serious; at last he exclaimed—

“Dios! it is impossible.”

“So many things seem impossible—and are not. Ask Léonora—she will tell you.”

Then Paul suddenly recalled a scene in the dining-room at Las Veraldes, and how Hester had declared that she, too, had a necklace which resembled one in the picture.

“If this tale is true, Ramon,” he said at last, “believe me, I am in your debt till the end of my life. And yet I had almost rather lose the necklace than ask a favour from that red-haired girl!”

*  *  *

The Duke de San Telmo was profoundly relieved to see his eldest son, although he had returned empty-handed, and his own craving for the heirloom remained agonized and unquenchable.

“Yes, sir,” said Paul; “you were right—my journey was all in vain, a wild-goose chase!”

“I know it,” said the Duke. “Let us talk of something else—our heirloom is broken up long ago!”

“But since I have reached home a clue has been placed in my hands.”

“Bah!” exclaimed his father; “what are clues? Where is the necklace?” he demanded with harsh insistence.

“I have reason to know, for a fact beyond dispute, that it was worn here in Madrid within the last two months by a young lady.”

Sanctus Dios!” ejaculated the Duke, rising to his feet.

“Yes,” continued Paul, “by a lady who had undoubtedly bought it. Mrs. Tudor and Miss Forde dined at the Castejars, and it may seem an unfortunate coincidence, but Miss Forde was actually wearing the ‘Luck of the Sarazins’!”

“Wearing the ‘Luck of the Sarazins’!” screamed the Duke, and his eyes flamed; “the girl you were to marry! Dios de mi Alma! why, this is worse than all!”

“Certainly, it is bad,” admitted his son; “evertheless, I shall start for London within the week.”

“I wish you joy of your errand, my boy,” said his father grimly. “The English Señorita will now avenge, not only herself, but all your victims! Fate has put the scourge into her hands, and she will surely use it on you—and me!”

Chapter XLII

Two Invitations

Hester had been established at Buckingham Gate for some weeks, and, relieved from the nervous tension and physical discomfort of the Grange, was being borne along on the rapid current of an unusually gay season. Mrs. Tudor, believing that constant change would distract her mind from Paul de Sarazin, had introduced to her several admirable samples of the English young man—as he is at home.

To please her friend, Hester assumed a gaiety which she did not feel; but, undoubtedly, here was a far more agreeable existence—a totally different life from the awful one at Shalesmoor; never, she hoped, would she see it again.

Miss Forde had been driven out of her old home for her good; the Jubbers remained conquerors, and in possession, but it should prove to be but a Pyrrhic victory. By Mrs. Tudor’s advice, Mr. Lewin had been summoned to London. That crafty old lady, having provided him with a most appetizing lunch, took the field in person against Jane and Eliza Jubber.

With sharply cut sentences and considerable emphasis, she related the persecutions of her friend—how these two women, for their own ends, had harried Hester and made her life intolerable.

“And now,” she concluded, “you must deal with them.”

“By the letter of the law,” he said, “they can reside in the house as long as they please.”

“Yes, but there is no word of ‘upkeep’—wages or furniture—is there?”

“No, not a word. I suggested a sale to Miss Forde, and she would not permit it.”

“Is there mention of any stranger sharing the roof with them?”

“No, certainly not.”

“So the house, and their own company, is all they can legally claim?”

“That is correct.”

“Very well, Mr. Lewin, Miss Forde has authorized me to act in this matter,” said Mrs. Tudor. “And you will please cease from to-day all wages and expenses, and outlay for water-rate or taxes; I mean to be thorough. You will hold an auction of the furniture, not there, but in Clayborough. I do not wish those harpies to get bargains on the premises.”

“Yes, Mrs. Tudor; I will attend to all that with pleasure.”

“Also, kindly arrange that no other individual is allowed to share the house—no one.” She was thinking of the farmer. “And then we will find out if the two Miss Jubbers will be as comfortable and as complacent as formerly.”

The result of Mr. Lewin’s drastic operations brought a flight of furious letters to Hester; but these she handed over for the solicitor to deal with.

The Jubbers, shorn of importance, furniture, and a comfortable allowance, made a terrible outcry; a storm of invective against ingratitude, underhand dealing and meanness, shook the village from end to end.

After living on in the Grange for a few months, these tenants for life departed. Jane eventually married Jonah Mills, and endowed him with one hundred pounds a year and large savings; Liza, her sister, accompanied her as “paying guest”; the cats were scattered, and the Grange was sold.

Miss Forde, the heiress, was vastly admired by Mrs. Tudor’s friends; and now began to be sought by an astonishing number of relatives. The Bothwells lost no time in realizing the fact that a charming girl, with a large fortune, moving in the best society, was their first cousin, the daughter of their poor Aunt Hester who had made a runaway match, and had not, as it seemed, done so badly for herself after all! Hester, too, wore the most magnificent jewels—such a necklace! Could it by any chance have been an heirloom in the Forde family? The Bothwells of Burnley rented a house in town for the season; they had two bright, pretty girls—Bertha and Ella—and there was a strong family resemblance between them and their wealthy relative. Hester saw a good deal of them, as well as of her connections on her father’s side, the Fordes, who had likewise discovered her. These were the sons and daughters of her father’s eldest brother, Mr. William Forde. They owned a fine place in the Midlands, and kept racehorses (notable horses), and frequented race-meetings and Monte Carlo. No trace of the Calvanistic grandfather in this branch! Besides her relatives and Mrs. Tudor’s friends, Hester came across not a few acquaintances she had made at Biarritz; for a particular and private reason, she was always delighted to see them, cherishing a faint hope that one of them might mention him, and give her news for which her soul was starving!

But not a breath respecting Paul de Sarazin escaped these kind, good people; there was a general yet indefinable impression that the fascinating Marquis had not behaved well to the red-haired heiress.

One evening in the middle of July, Mrs. Tudor and Hester were sitting in the park near Stanhope Gate; it was an agreeable resort; a relief from noise and dust, and almost every chair was occupied. Among the slowly moving crowd which ebbed and flowed in front of them, were two men strolling together; the nearest, in spite of his unfamiliar garb of tall hat and long coat, strongly resembled el Marquis de Sarazin; his quick eyes were evidently roaming about in search of some one. Suddenly he caught sight of Mrs. Tudor, stepped over the low iron border, and bowed himself before her, hat in hand.

Certainly, Paul de Sarazin was a man of extraordinary courage—none had ever disputed that fact. Supposing Mrs. Tudor refused to see him, to recognize him—what then?

But fortunately the old lady was in a plastic frame of mind, and she said in a tone of frigid politeness—

“Dear me, Monsieur le Marquis, what brings you to London?”

“Business for my father”—and he glanced at Hester, who accorded him a grave inclination. She looked remarkably handsome—that soft mauve gown suited her colouring; but her face seemed a little stern—yes, and worn. Had she cared? Had she taken his defection so much to heart?

“It is odd to hear of you in connection with the word business!” remarked Mrs. Tudor—“you who are so emphatically a man of pleasure.”

“There is such a thing as duty,” he said; then, after a moment’s hesitation, he added: “I was coming to call on you, Mrs. Tudor.”

“Indeed!” with raised brows. “It is flattering to be remembered, but I will absolve you from that ceremony.”

“My Aunt Mercédès gave me your address,” he continued, with superb courage.

“How is la Duquesa?” and then pointedly, “I always liked her.”

“I am aware of that;” and, coolly drawing a chair in front of her and seating himself, he added with inconceivable audacity—“and once you liked me.”

“Ah, that was twenty years ago, when you were in jackets!”

“I will wear a jacket to-morrow if it will make you like me once more.”

“Nothing will ever make me do that,” she answered in Spanish; “the truth is best—and you never hear it—you are incorrigible! I have done with you!”

“Señora, you are very cruel!” he murmured in his own tongue.

“And you are a very humbug!” she retorted bitterly.

During this colloquy Miss Forde had sat apart, silent and motionless, and the nervous aloofness of her attitude was not lost on Paul.

“Well, we must be going,” said Mrs. Tudor, rising; “it is late, and we are dining out. Good-bye!” and she swept him a bow.

No, he dared not offer to escort the ladies; but, standing where they had abandoned him, he watched them step into a splendid equipage, which rapidly whirled them out of the park.

Then he sat down again, drew out his cigarette-case, and began to smoke. He was not much nearer to the necklace! The girl’s face had looked proud and rigid—she might refuse to sell it. After all, it was her own property. At first he decided to watch Mrs. Tudor’s house, her comings and goings, to waylay her, and see if the old lady would remain implacable, and the young lady dumb—or if they would relent.

But, no, a Marquis de Sarazin, with an exalted sense of honour, could never become a private detective! He must look up his London friends, attend parties and the theatres; in this way he was bound to come across them once more—and his presentiment was justified.

At the production of “Monsieur Beaucaire” at the Imperial Theatre he happened, after the curtain had risen, to slip into the very stall next to Hester Forde. Here was indeed the “Luck of the Sarazins”!

The young lady was so deeply engrossed in the play that she never glanced at her neighbour until the end of the act, when the darkened house was once more illuminated. Mrs. Tudor’s sharp eyes had been busy; she bent over and nodded, and then said to herself: “Here again is fate!”

For one tumultuous moment Hester became alternately white and red; almost before she was aware of it she had put out her hand.

“Will you ever speak to me?” he murmured, and there was a curious accent in his voice. “It is more than I deserve, yet I have come all the way from Madrid to see you.”

“But why?” she protested. “What is the good of it!” A great deal of good would accrue to him, if she would be persuaded to restore the heirloom.

“I know I seem to have sinned past forgiveness,” he resumed, speaking with difficulty. “Will you be friends—even half-friends?”

The lady made no answer, but looked down at her fan; and it seemed to him that a resolute negative breathed through her silence.

But Paul was determined; he had a marvellous skill in adapting himself to delicate conditions.

When, as the curtain rose on the second act, the lights were low and they sat once more in semi-darkness, he leant towards her and whispered—

“At least, you might have answered my letter!”

“Letter!” she repeated, also in a whisper. “What letter?”

“I wrote it the morning after the fancy ball, and enclosed it in one to Mrs. Tudor.”

“Ah! well, I never received it;” then, with an effort, “I suppose she put it in the fire, and—I believe she did what she thought was best for me.”

“And what about me, Mademoiselle?” and his voice was seduction itself.

“Oh! you can take excellent care of yourself, Monsieur le Marquis.”

“So you are still jealous!—always, always jealous?”

“Oh no!” throwing back her head, “not now.”

After this there was a long silence; the attention of both was presumably concentrated on the action of the piece. Under cover of that plaintive melody “Chant des Voyageurs,” he presently murmured—

“Mademoiselle, is the error of one hour to be the sorrow of a life?”

*  *  *

During the succeeding interval Mrs. Tudor noticed the couple talking together with ease and animation. Paul had exercised all his charm of voice and eye and gesture. Undoubtedly his fascination was wonderful!—she had experienced it herself.

And he was so daring, too! Here was the girl whom he had almost jilted, and publicly slighted, accepting the loan of his glasses with a radiant smile and listening to what he was saying with an air of charmed attention.

“When may I see you again?” he inquired, as the last act drew to a close. “To-morrow? To-morrow will be Sunday, and it is such a dull day in London for a foreigner, you know. May I come to tea?”

Hester, in a state of highly wrought impressionability, reflected for a moment. Mrs. Tudor’s anger crossed her thoughts. Nevertheless, she resolved to brave her, and replied—

“Oh, you can come if you please. I dare say we shall be in—some time in the afternoon.”

It was not a particularly gracious invitation, but Paul was sensible that he had made an immense stride in the direction of the heirloom. When the ladies rose to depart he helped them with their wraps, escorted them upstairs, called their carriage, and handed them into it. As they drove off, an old dowager, to whom Mrs. Tudor had offered a seat, exclaimed—

“Dear me, Laura, who is your handsome cavalier? Why, he is like a picture!”

“He is a Spaniard,” she replied—“the Marquis de Sarazin, who has come over to London on business.”

“He does not give me the idea of a business man.”

“Nor is he—he is one of the best dancers and horsemen in Spain.”

“And I dare say a bit of a lady-killer too, eh, Miss Forde?” and she gave Hester a little playful poke with her fan.

“Yes, I dare say,” she answered mechanically.

“I don’t intend to see much of him!” declared Mrs. Tudor, with an air of determination. “He is a dangerous flirt. I will not be responsible for introducing him to girls.”

“I have asked him to tea to-morrow,” announced a faint voice.

“What! Oh, not really, Hester! If the truth were known, I feel confident that he invited himself.”

“Well, it was a little like it, I must confess,” she answered, with a laugh of relief.

The afternoon call went off harmoniously. Paul de Sarazin was made welcome in Mrs. Tudor’s refined and luxurious home; he encountered no gibes or hard knocks, but sauntered round the drawing-room with his hostess, criticising her pictures with considerable intelligence, bantering her about her Spanish curios, and complimenting her on her bargains. He admired her large Persian cat, ingratiated the creature, and altogether made himself agreeably at home. Before he took his departure, he said in a casual way—

“On Tuesday I have a few friends dining with me at the Carlton—some of the Legation, the Sevanos,” and, looking at Mrs. Tudor, “old Prince Zorki, a flame of yours, dear lady. Will you and Miss Forde honour me?—and afterwards I will take you to the opera to hear Calve in Carmen. I have a box.”

Mrs. Tudor was beginning an elaborate excuse, but with a protesting gesture he silenced her.

“Dear madam, I have dined with you in France, you have dined with me in Spain; no, surely you will not refuse me the favour in your own country. Think of it again—you know you like the Spanish—you will say ‘Yes’—the Feast will be as a fast without you—and Miss Forde.”

“Go away,” said the old lady playfully. “I am sure you want to get something out of me.” (No—not from her!)

“You will say ‘Yes’?” he urged, his fine eyes eloquent and persuasive, his hand on hers.

“Oh, very well, then—I suppose I must.”

“A million thanks; at eight o’clock I shall await you.”

And lifting Mrs. Tudor’s fingers to his lips, and with a bow to Hester, he went away.

As soon as Paul de Sarazin had gained the street he said to himself—

“It will be a smart affair—they will understand that—and perhaps she may be tempted to wear the necklace!”

Chapter XLIII

The Wearer of the Necklace

On Tuesday, at eight o’clock, the Marquis de Sarazin awaited his guests in the already thronged hall of the Carlton Hotel. And here they came at last, as an electric brougham glided to the door. After a momentary greeting, the ladies swept into the dressing-room, in order to dispose of their wraps; meanwhile, Paul remained hard by, for once in his life a prey to the most anxious suspense. Would she wear it, or not? A passing acquaintance nodded to him, and noticed with surprise that de Sarazin looked strangely grave and preoccupied. Now they were coming! first Mrs. Tudor, en grande tenue, with diamonds and feathers in her tulle cap; followed by Hester in a white satin gown, heavily embroidered in silver. His heart gave a violent lurch; on her white satin neck lay and sparkled the “Luck of the Sarazins!” For a moment he almost lost hold upon his usual sangfroid and self-possession. Yes, there was the great heirloom, which he had not seen for years, and on the restoration of which so much depended. The dinner was remarkably well arranged, the company proved congenial, and Mrs. Tudor and old Prince Zorki enjoyed themselves conspicuously.

Paul noted how many an outside wandering eye settled on the beautiful fair girl with the superb ornament. Later, as they sat together in the front of the opera-box, he ventured to notice it.

“I’ve seen so many people admiring your necklace, Miss Forde, and no wonder,” he said. “It seems familiar to me.”

“That is because it is Spanish, I think,” she answered. “I love it more than everything I possess; not that I possess very much.”

“You possess much, Mademoiselle, that is better than money or jewels.”

To this compliment she turned a deaf ear, her expression changed, and she took up her glasses to survey the house.

Her companion, not a whit abashed, continued: “The necklace is Spanish—and something more—it is very ancient, and has a notable history.”

“Oh!” hastily putting down the opera-glasses. “I was sure of that. Do you know it?—is there a story about it?”

He nodded his head.

“Are you going to tell it to me?” she asked.

“I will, with pleasure, but not here; it is too long a tale. You paid a large sum for it, did you not?”

“Yes,” and she shifted her fan uneasily, “I did.”

“May I come and relate the history of the necklace to-morrow?”

“And may Mrs. Tudor listen to it too?”

“Certainly, I shall be honoured!”

“Then, will you come, please, at five o’clock?”

“All right then, that is settled.”

“I am longing for the chronicle of the necklace,” confessed the lady. “I have a theory that it has only been worn by good and noble people—till now.”

“Till now!” he repeated; “and now, are you not both?” he asked, in a low voice.

To this question there was no reply.

“Have you often worn it?” he persisted.

“Only a few times; it seems too—too magnificent for an unmarried woman. I believe people think so.”

“Mademoiselle has it in her power to remedy that—to-morrow.”

“I wore it once in Madrid,” coolly ignoring his remark, “and I assure you it made me quite nervous—the Spanish ladies looked at me so strangely! and, for once, I realized what it means to be ‘devoured by people’s eyes.’”

“That must be an everyday experience!” he assured her, as he met many glances directed at the box—and no wonder! The Marquis de Sarazin and Miss Forde were a pre-eminently handsome couple.

“Don’t!” she cried with unexpected vehemence. “I am not la Condesa Dolores!” then she became scarlet, and could have bitten her tongue out.

“No—you’re not!” he assented expressively. “She is about to be married again. Oh, not to me! There is only one that I shall ever marry—the lady of Cambo.”

A pause. Hester’s fan slid through her trembling fingers; as she received it from her companion she would not meet his eyes. No, he should not assert his old power; yet, resistance was ebbing fast, and she was sensible of an intoxicating sense of recovered happiness.

Presently her attention was caught by a little sallow face staring up at her with eyes of keen recognition. It was the little Bothwell, who had snubbed her so mercilessly at Biarritz. The suburban Miss Bothwell had never before been to the opera, and was not only filling her ears, but her eyes. There above her, in a box, splendidly dressed, and wearing jewels fit for a regalia, sat the red-haired girl who used to slink about the corridors of the Bellevue!

“Yes, is she not superb?” said her friend, following her gaze. “That is Miss Forde, a great heiress! The old gentleman who is bending over to speak to her is Prince Zorki.”

“Oh, indeed!” rejoined the small person with the pinched lips. “I know her slightly; I—er—met her in Biarritz; her mother was a Bothwell, and a cousin of ours! I must make my people go and call,” she added languidly. “I suppose she is in the Red Book?”

*  *  *

At five to the minute, Mrs. Tudor’s sleek butler announced “The Marquis de Charabang!” and Paul found himself once more in Mrs. Tudor’s pretty, cool drawing-room; a charming room, full of flowers and books, and an air of tasteful friendliness that seemed somehow to enfold you and make you feel at home; but, save for the cat, the apartment was empty. Presently, Miss Forde entered; in one hand she carried a red morocco case, the other she offered to the visitor, as she said—

“Mrs. Tudor is engaged, but she will be here directly; I am to make tea, and I have brought the necklace for you to look at and tell me whether you really have ever seen it before.”

Paul took the case; no, this was not emblazoned with the arms of the Sarazins, it was a modern makeshift. He opened it, and gazed upon the lost heirloom for some moments in reverent silence; then he resolved to speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, as became a Sarazin and a gentleman.

“Mademoiselle,” he said, “I am going to tell you a strange thing,” and there was something so unusual in his voice that she looked up, and suddenly set down the teapot. “This necklace belonged to our family for five hundred years—it is called ‘The Luck of the Sarazins’!”

“What do you mean?” she asked, aghast “Why, I bought it at a curiosity-shop in Biarritz.”

“You bought it, certainly; but a Queen gave it to my ancestor, a de Sarazin, for some mad deed, and as long as it is in our possession we keep our lands, our title, and our luck, so says the legend; but once it leaves us, they all depart.”

“And how came it to leave you?” she inquired, rising.

He made no reply for a moment, but, closing the case with a snap, gave it into her hand.

“It is hard to tell you,” he said, “but it must be told. My mother, unhappily, is not wise about money—she gambles—it is in the Ferrano blood. To raise a sum for which she was cruelly pressed, she sold the necklace secretly in Madrid—sold it to an old jeweller who knew her well, and held his peace—sold it for a quarter of its value. By a most amazing coincidence you purchased it; it fell into your friendly hands, and fortunately went no further.”

“No!” said Hester; “and now I understand why la Duquesa was so vexed with me for teasing her to let me see the necklace!”

“And all the time you had it yourself! It was never worn, and rarely looked at—my mother felt safe; but one day ‘The Luck’ was suddenly asked for, and was not forthcoming. My father nearly lost his reason. Oh, the outcry!—No, I cannot describe it; but el Duque would sooner part with his right arm, or a son, or his life, than the necklace. He is distracted, poor man, and worn with misery and anxiety; it is killing him. I am sorry to say, he blames me——”

“Oh! why? How unjust!” she interrupted.

“Well, although I am innocent as your cat, he thinks I should have, somehow, restrained my mother; as if I would knowingly permit the ‘Luck’ to be sold—I, who am proud to be a Sarazin, and value it as much as el Duque himself! Nevertheless, I was to blame, for I am foolish and feather-brained, and carried away by my own interests—I have been slack. Anyhow, my father has gone to Madrid—my mother is in a convent, in retreat—he swears he will never see her again unless the necklace is restored; as for me—and he is fond of me—still, I am to be disinherited. Oh, when el Duque is angry, I tell you it means something; it is, as we say in Spain, as when the south wind blows!” and he paused for a moment; then he continued: “After much searching and writing and interviewing, telegraphing, and going to Paris and Amsterdam—after I had crossed the Atlantic and followed the false trail to New York, Chicago, and Washington, the necklace was traced to you, Mademoiselle. You had worn it in Madrid; and by the malice of fate there only remained for me the terrible and painful task of appealing to you, whom I had so deeply offended, and”—he hesitated, the words seemed to be uttered with effort—“to implore you to have mercy, and to restore to me, with your own hand, our family peace—and my inheritance.”

He paused again, and speaking with still more difficulty, and a suppressed force of feeling, he continued—

“Is it too much to ask of you, Mademoiselle?”

La Rubia made no audible reply; she remained perfectly motionless, with her eyes on the floor; but he could see that she was trembling.

“Of course, I have the money with me; my father is prepared to offer any sum; but I am aware that it is not of the money you will think. You have a weapon in your hand, and you can strike—if you will—and I deserve it. Yes! Only, I would plead for the poor old Duque—his health is feeble, he adores his heirlooms; the loss of this necklace has aged him by years;” unconsciously he drew himself up as he continued, “and now, Mademoiselle, you behold Paul de Sarazin a beggar before you. Yes—in the very dust!” he added with low vehemence. “It remains but for you to speak!”

Hester did not utter a word. As she looked at him, she was startled by the pallor of his face; she felt the desperate agitation in him penetrating through an almost iron self-control, and, slowly moving nearer to him, she placed the case containing the necklace in his hand; as she raised her eyes to his, he saw that they were swimming in tears.

“I can never thank you,” he said tremulously—“never, never, never!”

“For once, I entirely agree with you!” said Mrs. Tudor, who had been listening to part of the conversation from a door behind him. “So, this was the ‘business’ which brought you to London! Oh, Paul!” and then in a lower voice she added, as if to herself: “On pardonne tant que l’on aime! Well, now, I suppose, your business being concluded, you will be off?”

“Yes,” he said. “I must return to Spain; my father will not believe without seeing—though I shall telegraph to him this hour. The money, if I may be permitted to speak of it, will be paid to-morrow, and I will take the necklace to el Duque, to whom days are as years.”

“I have no doubt he is distracted!” said Mrs. Tudor. “I know I should be, if I were in his place; when Hester showed it to me, it somehow seemed curiously familiar. Hester, my dear, do let us have a cup of tea!”

Hester, with shaking hands, poured out some for Mrs. Tudor, but Paul declined; he was still profoundly agitated.

Looking from Hester to Mrs. Tudor, and from Mrs. Tudor to Hester, he said—

“I receive the necklace so generously restored; and if Mademoiselle will condescend to accept it one day, it will again be hers. Alas! she, with good reason, mistrusts me—but I swear here on this jewel, so sacred to us, that while I live no woman shall wear it but Hester Forde, for I will marry none else.”

As he concluded, he stooped and reverently put his lips to the little cross of brilliants.

“I do not ask for an answer now,” raising his head, “but I may perhaps venture to write?”

“Not more than once a week!” protested Mrs. Tudor.

“Ah! cruel friend,” turning to her, “and so you put my poor little letter in the fire! In three months’ time I will return, if I may, and”—he paused, glanced at Hester, and added with low significance—“learn my fate!”

Then he suddenly saluted the astonished chaperon on the cheek, raised Hester’s fingers to his lips, and with a valedictory gesture, clasping his precious parcel, ran downstairs, and so vanished.

“Heavens! what a fellow!” cried Mrs. Tudor. “I declare, I feel in a state of utter collapse. And to think of you of all people buying the great Sarazin necklace! Well, well, well! wonders will never cease!”

“Yes, I am glad I had it in my power to restore it to them,” said the heiress, who had become very white.

“Oh yes, for a time—it will be yours still! And now, Miss Hester, don’t contradict me: Paul has had a lesson, as he says. So have you—you and your probation, indeed! Strike whilst the iron is hot, is my motto, and it saves trouble; if I’d kept Montagu shilly-shallying for four weeks, I’d never have been Mrs. Tudor. Certainly, Paul made an idiot of himself with Dolores; he has done with her, I believe. She and he quarrelled about you; and, anyway, she is going to marry a paper-headed young Condé, who is five years her junior, but enormously rich!”

*  *  *

It was a mild evening late in October. Mrs. Tudor and her companion, who had recently returned from a sojourn in the Highlands, were sitting in the warm, flower-scented drawing-room; the soft, rose-shaded lamps revealed quantities of chrysanthemums scattered in high vases; the old lady busy with her piece of woollen knitting (for the fishermen) and Hester reclining in a low chair, her pretty feet crossed before her, a white Persian cat in her lap, her thoughts far away, possibly in a castle in Spain. Upstairs in her jewel-box were a number of paper treasures. Yes, and inside the bodice of her low black tea-gown were two delightful letters signed “Paul.”

“How long is it since you last heard from Madrid?” inquired Mrs. Tudor, who was patiently hunting for a dropped stitch.

“A week yesterday,” said the girl, half turning. “Dear! let me do that”—upsetting the dignified and reluctant cat, and taking the knitting in her hands. “El Duque is seriously ill—sinking, I fear, and Paul is with him all day, for he cannot bear him out of his sight.”

“You don’t wonder at that, do you?” said Mrs. Tudor, with a sharp upward glance. “Eh—do you remember that it is just this day three months—July the 24th—that he came here, and you gave him the necklace? He said he would come back.”

“And so he will,” declared Hester, with decision.

“Ah! you trust him now,” said the old lady; “and when he is out of sight too?”

“Of course I do! And if he does not come, even if weeks elapse, I shall be patient; I would never be so horribly selfish as to appropriate him and take him away from his father. Indeed, I wrote and said so.”

“Oh, well, his father, by all accounts, may not be with him long, and he will have you always.”

“I hope so!” she answered with fervour; “but I trust el Duque may rally; and, after all, he is only sixty-three.”

“Nothing in these days, is it? Good gracious! there is a ring at the door!” exclaimed Mrs. Tudor fretfully. “If it’s the Lockharts come in for a game of bridge, I’m too sleepy; I should revoke or go ‘no trumps’ on a spadehand and ruin my reputation. I wonder if there is time to run and tell Belton to say I’ve gone to bed?”

“Oh fie! you naughty old lady! Why should poor Belton have to tell such a shocking fiction, when you are as wide awake as I am? See, here is your knitting,” and she resumed her seat.

There was a sound of steps coming through the anteroom, and suddenly Belton announced in a loud, flustered voice: “The Duke of San Telmo.”

Hester sprang to her feet. The old Duque!—What could have brought him? and he so ill! But the individual who quickly entered was not the father, but his son Paul—Paul in deep mourning. Hester hurried towards him with outstretched hands; he took them both in his and pressed them.

“Paul!” she said breathlessly. “Oh, Paul, what is it?”

“My father died six days ago,” he replied. “I came away immediately after the funeral to keep my tryst, and to bring you this!” and from the breast-pocket of his greatcoat he hastily produced the well-known case, which she had handed to him in that room three months previously.

He opened it carefully, took out the necklace, and looked at her with curious intensity as she stood before him.

“Here is my pledge,” he continued. “Allow me to put it on its future wearer.”

And round her white throat his deft brown fingers snapped the clasp; then, in the presence of Mrs. Tudor and the cat, he kissed her.

Thus in the end, as Pedro remarked to Marietta, “The Gloria was chanted!”

And although, at one time, there was supposed to be a hitch—a difficulty—el Duque married the English heiress after all! It is said that the gay Paul has fulfilled the old proverb, and proved an admirable and devoted husband. Also that endowed with her wonderful hair, complexion, and jewels, there is no more striking figure at the stately court of Spain than the young Duquesa de San Telmo.

The End