Her Hero by Ethel M. Dell
THE AMERICAN COUSIN
"My dear child, it's absurd to be romantic over such a serious matter as
marriage—the greatest mistake, I assure you. Nothing could be more
suitable than an alliance with this very eligible young man. He plainly
thinks so himself. If you are so unreasonable as to throw away this
magnificent chance, I shall really feel inclined to give you up in
The soft, drawling accents fell with a gentle sigh through the perfumed
silence of the speaker's boudoir. She was an elderly woman, beautiful,
with that delicate, china-like beauty that never fades from youth to
age. Not even Lady Raffold's enemies had ever disputed the fact of her
beauty, not even her stepdaughter, firmly though she despised her.
She sat behind the tea-table, this stepdaughter, dark and inscrutable, a
grave, unresponsive listener. Her grey eyes never varied as Lady
Raffold's protest came lispingly through the quiet room. She might have
been turning over some altogether irrelevant problem at the back of her
mind. It was this girl's way to hide herself behind a shield of apparent
preoccupation when anything jarred upon her.
"I need scarcely tell you what it would mean to your father," went on
the soft voice. "Ever since poor Mortimer's death it has fretted him
terribly to think that the estates must pass out of the direct line.
Indeed, he hardly feels that the present heir belongs to the family at
all. The American branch has always seemed so remote. But now that the
young man is actually coming over to see his inheritance, it does seem
such a Heaven-sent chance for you. You know, dear, it's your sixth
season. You really ought to think seriously of getting settled. I am
sure it would be a great weight off my mind to see you suitably married.
And this young Cochrane is sure to take a reasonable view of the matter.
Americans are so admirably practical. And, of course, if your father
could leave all his money to the estates, as this marriage would enable
him to do, it would be a very excellent arrangement for all concerned."
The girl at the tea-table made a slight—a very slight—movement that
scarcely amounted to a gesture of impatience. The gentle drone of her
stepmother's voice was becoming monotonous. But she said nothing
whatever, and her expression did not change.
A faintly fretful note crept into Lady Raffold's tone when she spoke
"You're so unreasonable, Priscilla. I really haven't a notion what you
actually want. You might have been a duchess by this time, as all the
world knows, if you had only been reasonable. How is it—why is it—that
you are so hard to please?"
Lady Priscilla raised her eyelids momentarily.
"I don't think you would understand, Charlotte, if I were to tell you,"
she said, in a voice of such deep music that it seemed incapable of
"Some ridiculous sentimentality, no doubt," said Lady Raffold.
"I am sure you would call it so."
A faint flush rose in the girl's dark face. She looked at her stepmother
no longer, but began very quietly and steadily to make the tea.
Lady Raffold waited a few seconds for her confidence, but she waited in
vain. Lady Priscilla had retired completely behind her shield, and it
was quite obvious that she had no intention of exposing herself any
further to stray shots.
Her stepmother was exasperated, but she found it difficult to say
anything more upon the subject in face of this impenetrability. She
could only solace herself with the reflection that the American cousin,
who had become heir to the earldom and estates of Raffold, would almost
certainly take a more common-sense view of the matter, and, if that were
so, a little pressure from the girl's father, whom she idolised, would
probably be sufficient to settle it according to her desires.
It was so plainly Priscilla's duty to marry the young man. The whole
thing seemed to be planned and cut out by Providence. And it was but
natural that Ralph Cochrane should see it in the same light. For it was
understood that he was not rich, and it would be greatly to his interest
to marry Earl Raffold's only surviving child.
So Lady Raffold reasoned to herself as Priscilla poured out the tea in
serious silence, and she gradually soothed her own annoyance by the
"Come," she said at length, breaking a long silence, "I should think
Ralph Cochrane will be in England in ten days at the latest. We must not
be too formal with him as he is a relation. Shall we ask him to luncheon
on the Sunday after next?"
Priscilla did not at once reply. When at length she looked up, it was
with the air of one coming out of a reverie.
"Oh, yes, if you like, Charlotte," she said, in her deep, quiet voice.
"No doubt he will amuse you. I know you always enjoy Americans."
"And you, my dear?" said Lady Raffold, with just a hint of sharpness in
"I?" Again her stepdaughter paused a little, as if collecting her
thoughts. "I shall not be here," she said finally. "I have decided to go
down to Raffold for midsummer week, and I don't suppose I shall hurry
back. It won't matter, will it? I often think that you entertain best
alone. And I am so tired of London heat and dust."
There was an unconscious note of wistfulness in the beautiful voice, but
its dominant virtue was determination.
Lady Raffold realised at once to her unspeakable indignation that
protest was useless.
"Really, Priscilla," was all she found to say, "I am amazed—yes,
amazed—at your total lack of consideration."
But Priscilla was quite unimpressed.
"You won't have time to miss me," she said. "I don't think any one will,
except, perhaps, Dad; and he always knows where to find me."
"Your father will certainly not leave town before the end of the
season," said Lady Raffold, raising her voice slightly.
"Poor dear Dad!" murmured Priscilla.
THE ROMANCE OF HER LIFE
"And so I escaped. Her ladyship didn't like it, but it was worth a
Priscilla leaned back luxuriously in the housekeeper's room at Raffold
Abbey, and laughed upon a deep note of satisfaction. She had discarded
all things fashionable with her departure from London in the height of
the season. The crumpled linen hat she wore was designed for comfort and
not for elegance. Her gown of brown holland was simplicity itself. She
sat carelessly with her arm round the neck of an immense mastiff who had
followed her in.
"I've cut everything, Froggy," she declared, "including the terrible
American cousin. In fact, it was almost more on his account than any
other that I did it. For I can't and won't marry him, not even for the
sake of the dear old Abbey! Are you very shocked, I wonder?"
Froggy the housekeeper—so named by young Lord Mortimer in his schoolboy
days—looked up from her work and across at Priscilla, her brown,
prominent eyes, to which she owed her sobriquet, shining lovingly
behind her spectacles. Her real name was Mrs. Burrowes, but Priscilla
could not remember a time when she had ever called her anything but
Froggy. The old familiar name had become doubly dear to both of them now
that Mortimer was dead.
"I should be very shocked, indeed, darling, if it were otherwise," was
And Priscilla breathed a long sigh of contentment. She knew that there
was no need to explain herself to this, her oldest friend.
She laid her cheek comfortably against the great dog's ear.
"No, Romeo," she murmured. "Your missis isn't going to be thrown at any
man's head if she knows it. But it's a difficult world, old boy; almost
an impossible world, I sometimes think. Froggy, I know you can be
sentimental when you try. What should you do if you fell in love with a
total stranger without ever knowing his name? Should you have the
fidelity to live in single blessedness all your life for the sake of
Froggy looked a little startled at the question, lightly as it was put.
She felt that it was scarcely a problem that could be settled offhand.
And yet something in Priscilla's manner seemed to indicate that she
wanted a prompt reply.
"It is a little difficult to say, dear," she said, after brief
reflection. "I can understand that one might be strongly attracted
towards a stranger, but I should think it scarcely possible that one
could go so far as to fall in love."
Priscilla uttered a faint, rueful laugh.
"Perhaps you couldn't, Froggy," she admitted. "But you know there is
such a thing as loving at first sight. Some people go so far as to say
that all true love begins that way."
She rose quietly and went to her friend's side.
"Oh, Froggy, it's very difficult to be true to your inner self when you
stand quite alone," she said, "and every one else is thinking what a
fool you are!" The words had an unwonted ring of passion in them, and,
having uttered them, she knelt down by Froggy's side, and hid her face
against the ample shoulder. "And I sometimes think I'm a fool myself,"
she ended, in muffled accents.
Froggy's arms closed instantly and protectingly around her.
"My darling, who is it, then?" whispered her motherly voice.
Priscilla did not at once reply. It was a difficult confidence to make.
At last, haltingly, words came:
"It was years ago—that summer we went to New York, Dad and I. He was
from the South, so I heard afterwards. He stayed at the same hotel with
us, one of those quiet, unobtrusive, big men—not big physically,
but—you understand. I might not have noticed him—I don't know—but one
day a man in the street threw down a flaming match just as I was coming
out of the hotel. I had on a muslin dress, and it caught fire. Of
course, it blazed in a moment, and I was terrified. Dad wasn't there.
But the man was in the balcony just overhead, and he swung himself down,
I never saw how, and caught me in his arms. He had nothing to put it out
with. He simply threw me down and flung himself on the top, beating out
the flames in all directions with his hands. I was dreadfully upset, of
course, but I wasn't much hurt. He was—horribly. One of his hands was
"He carried me back into the hotel and told me not to be frightened. And
he stayed with me till I felt better, because somehow I wanted him to.
He was so strong, Froggy, and so kind. He had a voice like a woman's.
I've thought since that he must have thought me very foolish and
uncontrolled. But he seemed to understand just how I felt. And—do you
know—I never saw him again! He went right away that very afternoon, and
we never found out who he was. And I never thanked him even for saving
my life. I don't think he wanted to be thanked.
"But I have never forgotten him. He was the sort of man you never could
forget. I've never seen any one in the least like him. He was somehow so
much greater than all the other men I know. Am I a fool, Froggy? I
suppose I am. They say every woman will meet her mate if she waits long
enough, but it can't be true. I suppose I might as well marry the Yankee
heir, only I can't—I can't!"
The low voice ceased, and there fell a silence. Froggy's arms were
folded very closely about the kneeling girl, but she had no words of
comfort or counsel to offer. She was, in fact, out of her depth, though
not for worlds would she have had Priscilla know it.
"You must just follow your own heart, dearest," she said at last. "And I
think you will find happiness some day. God grant it!"
Priscilla lifted her head and kissed her. She knew quite well that she
had led whither Froggy could not follow. But the knowledge did not hurt
She called Romeo, and went out into the summer sunshine, with a smile
half tender and half humorous at the corners of her mouth. Poor Froggy!
THE PICNIC IN THE GLEN
"I think we will go for a picnic, Romeo," said Priscilla.
It was a Saturday afternoon, warm and slumbrous, and Saturday was the
day on which Raffold Abbey was open to the public when the family were
away. Priscilla's presence was, as it were, unofficial, but though she
was quite content to have it so, she was determined to escape from sight
and hearing of the hot and dusty crowd that thronged the place on a fine
day from three o'clock till six.
Half a mile or more from the Abbey, a brown stream ran gurgling through
a miniature glen, to join the river below the park gates. This stream
had been Priscilla's great delight for longer than she could remember.
As children, she and her brother Mortimer had spent hours upon its mossy
banks, and since those days she had dreamed many dreams, aye, and shed
many tears, within sound of its rushing waters. She loved the place. It
was her haven of solitude. No one ever disturbed her there.
The walk across the park made them both hot, and it was a relief to sit
down on her favourite tree-root above the stream and yield herself to
the luxury of summer idleness. A robin was chirping far overhead, and
from the grass at her feet there came the whir of a grasshopper.
Otherwise, save for the music of the stream, all was still. An
exquisite, filmy drowsiness crept over her, and she slept.
A deep growl from her bodyguard roused her nearly an hour later, and she
awoke with a start.
Romeo was sitting very upright, watching something on the farther side
of the stream. He growled again as Priscilla sat up.
She looked across in the same direction, and laid a hasty hand upon his
What she saw surprised her considerably. A man was lying face downwards
on the brink of the stream, fishing about in the water, with one arm
bared to the shoulder. He must have heard Romeo's warning growl, but he
paid not the slightest attention to it. Priscilla watched him with keen
interest. She could not see his face.
Suddenly he clutched at something in the clear water, and immediately
straightened himself, withdrawing his arm. Then, quite calmly, he looked
across at her, and spoke in a peculiar, soft drawl like a woman's.
"You'll forgive me for disturbing you, I know," he said, "when I tell
you that all my worldly goods were at the bottom of this ditch."
He displayed his recovered property as if to verify his words—a brown
leather pocketbook with a silver clasp. Priscilla gazed from it to its
owner in startled silence. Her heart was beating almost to suffocation.
She knew this man.
The water babbled on between them, singing a little tinkling song all
its own. But the girl neither saw nor heard aught of her surroundings.
She was back in the heat and whirl of a crowded New York thoroughfare,
back in the fierce grip of this man's arms, hearing his quiet voice
above her head, bidding her not to be frightened.
Gradually the vision passed. The wild tumult at her heart died down. She
became aware that he was waiting for her to speak, and she did so as one
in a dream.
"I am glad you got it back," she said.
His brown, clean-shaven face smiled at her, but there was no hint of
recognition in his eyes. He had totally forgotten her, of course, as she
had always told herself he would. Did not men always forget? And
yet—and yet—was he not still her hero—the man for whose sake all
other men were less than naught to her?
Again Romeo growled deeply, and she tightened her hold upon him. The
stranger, however, appeared quite unimpressed. He stood up and
contemplated the stream that divided them with a measuring eye.
"Have I your permission to come across?" he asked her finally, in his
soft Southern drawl.
She laughed a little nervously. He was not without audacity,
notwithstanding his quiet manner.
"You can cross if you like," she said. "But it's all private property."
He paused, looking at her intently.
"It belongs to Earl Raffold, I have been told?"
She bent her head, and her answer leapt out with an ease that astonished
her. She felt it to be an inspiration.
"It does. But the family are in town for the season. I am staying with
the housekeeper. She is allowed to have her friends when the family are
It was rather breathlessly spoken, but he did not seem to notice.
"I see," he said. "Then one more or less can't make much difference."
With the words he took a single stride forward and bounded into the air.
He landed lightly almost at her feet, and Romeo sprang up with an
outraged snarl. It choked in his throat almost instantly, however, for
the stranger laid a restraining hand upon him, and spoke with soothing
"It's an evil brute that kills a friend, eh, old fellow? You couldn't do
it if you tried."
Romeo's countenance changed magically. He turned his hostility into an
ardent welcome, and the girl at his side laughed again rather
"It's a good thing you weren't afraid. I couldn't have held him."
"I saw that," said the Southerner, speaking softly, his face on a level
with the great head he was caressing. "But I knew it would be all right.
You see, I—kind of like dogs."
He turned to her after a moment, a faintly quizzical expression about
"I won't intrude upon you," he said. "I can go and trespass elsewhere,
Priscilla was not as a rule reckless. A long training in her
stepmother's school had made her cautious and far-seeing in all things
social. She knew exactly the risk that lay in unconventionality. But,
then, had she not fled from town to lead a free life? Why should she
submit to the old, galling chain here in this golden world where its
restraint was not known? Her whole being rose up in revolt at the bare
idea, and suddenly, passionately, she decided to break free. Even the
flowers had their day of riotous, splendid life. She would have hers,
wherever its enjoyment might lead her, whatever it might cost!
And so she answered him with a lack of reserve at which her London
friends would have marvelled.
"You don't intrude at all. If you have come to see the Abbey, I should
advise you to wait till after six o'clock."
"When it will be closed to the public?" he questioned, still looking
She looked up at him, for the first time deliberately meeting his eyes.
Yes it was plain that he did not know her; but on the whole she was
glad, it made things easier. She had been so foolish and hysterical upon
that far-off day when he had saved her life.
"I will take you over it myself, if you care to accept my guidance," she
said, "after the crowd have gone."
He glanced at his watch.
"And you are prepared to tolerate my society till six?" he said. "That
is very generous of you."
She smiled, with a touch of wistfulness.
"Perhaps I don't find my own very inspiring."
He raised his eyebrows, but made no comment.
"Perhaps I had better tell you my name," he said, after a pause. "I am
in a fashion connected with this place—a sort of friend of the family,
if it isn't presumption to put it that way. My name is Julian Carfax,
and Ralph Cochrane, the next-of-kin, is a pal of mine, a very great pal.
He was coming over to England. Perhaps you heard. But he's a very shy
fellow, and almost at the last moment he decided not to face it at
present. I was coming over, so I undertook to explain. I spoke to Lady
Raffold in town over the telephone, and told her. She seemed to be
rather affronted, for some reason. Possibly it was my fault. I'm not
much of a diplomatist, anyway."
He seated himself on a mossy stone below her with this reflection, and
began to cast pebbles into the brown water.
Priscilla watched him gravely. What he had told her interested her
considerably, but she had no intention of giving herself away by
There was a decided pause before she made up her mind how to pursue the
"I had no idea that an American could be shy," she said then.
Carfax turned with his pleasant smile.
"No? We're a pushing race, I suppose. But I think Cochrane had some
excuse for his timidity this time."
"Yes?" said Priscilla.
He began to laugh quietly.
"You see, it turned out that he was expected to marry the old maid of
the family—Lady Priscilla. Naturally he kicked at that."
Priscilla bent sharply over Romeo, and began to examine one of his huge
paws. Her face was a vivid scarlet.
"It wasn't surprising, was it?" said Carfax, tossing another pebble into
the stream. "It was more than enough, in my opinion, to make any fellow
Priscilla did not answer. The colour was slow to fade from her face.
"I wonder if you have ever seen the lady?" Carfax pursued. "She was out
of town when I was there."
"Yes; I have seen her."
Priscilla spoke with her head bent.
"You have? What is she like?"
He glanced round with an expression of amused interest. Priscilla looked
"She is quite old and ugly. But I don't think Mr. Ralph Cochrane need be
afraid. She doesn't like men. I am rather sorry for her myself."
"Sorry for her? Why?"
Carfax became serious.
"I think she is rather lonely," the girl said, in a low voice.
"You know her well?"
"Can any one say that they really know any one? No. But I think that she
feels very deeply, and that her life has always been more or less of a
failure. At least, that is the sort of feeling I have about her."
Again, but more gradually, the colour rose in her face. She took up her
basket, and began to unpack it.
Carfax turned fully round.
"You go in for character-study," he said.
"A little," she owned. "I can't help it. Now let me give you some tea. I
have enough for two."
"I shall be delighted," he said courteously. "Let me help you to
Priscilla could never recall afterwards how they spent the golden hours
till six o'clock. She was as one in a dream, to which she clung closely,
passionately, fearing to awake. For in her dream she was standing on the
threshold of her paradise, waiting for the opening of the gates.
ON THE THRESHOLD
Raffold Abbey was huge and rambling, girt with many memories. They spent
nearly two hours wandering through the house and the old, crumbling
"There is a crypt below," Priscilla said, "but we can't go down without
a lantern. Another day, if you cared——"
"Of course I should, above all things," declared Carfax. "I was just
going to ask when I might come again."
Their intimacy had progressed wonderfully during those hours of
companionship. The total absence of conventionality had destroyed all
strangeness between them. They were as children on a holiday, enjoying
the present to the full, and wholly careless of the future.
Not till Carfax had at length taken his leave did Priscilla ask herself
what had brought him there. Merely to view his friend's inheritance
seemed a paltry reason. Perhaps he was a journalist, or a writer of
guide-books. But she soon dismissed the matter, to ask herself a more
personal question. Was it possible that he knew her? Had he found out
her name after the New York episode, and come at last to seek her? She
could not honestly believe this, though her heart leapt at the thought.
That affair had taken place four long years before. Of course, he had
forgotten it. It could have made no more than a passing impression upon
him. Had it been otherwise, would he not have claimed her at once as an
Yes, it was plain that her first conviction must be correct. He did not
know her. The whole incident had passed completely from his memory,
crowded out, no doubt, and that speedily, by more absorbing interests.
She had flashed across his life, attaining to no more importance than a
bird upon the wing. He had saved her life at a frightful risk, and then
forgotten her very existence. She had always realised it must be so,
but, strangely, she had never resented it. In spite of it, with a
woman's queer, inexplicable faithfulness, she yet loved her hero, yet
cherished closely, fondly, the memory that she doubted not had faded
utterly from his mind.
She went to the village church with Froggy on the following day, though
fully alive to the risk she ran of being pointed out to the ignorant as
Lady Priscilla from the Abbey. She knew by some deep-hidden instinct
that he would be there, and she was not disappointed. He came in late,
and stood quite still just inside the little building, searching it up
and down with keen, quiet eyes that never faltered in their progress
till they lighted upon her. She fancied there was a faintly humorous
expression about his mouth. His look did not dwell upon her. He stepped
aside to a vacant chair close to the door, and Priscilla, in her great,
square pew near the pulpit, saw him no more. When she left the church at
the end of the service he had already disappeared.
Froggy went out to tea that afternoon with much solicitous regret, which
Priscilla treated in a spirit of levity. She packed her tea-basket again
as soon as she was alone, selecting her provisions with care. And soon
after three, accompanied by Romeo, she started for the glen, not
sauntering idly, but stepping briskly through the golden sunshine, as
one with a purpose. She felt as if she were going to a trysting-place,
though no word of a tryst had passed between them.
He was there before her, bareheaded and alert, quite obviously awaiting
her. He did not express his pleasure in words as he took her hand in
his. Only there was an indescribable look in his brown eyes that made
her very glad that she had come. He had brought an enormous basket of
strawberries, which he presented with that drawling ease of manner which
she had come to regard as peculiarly his own, and they settled down to
the afternoon's enjoyment in a harmony as complete as the summer peace
No spoken confidences passed between them. Their intimacy was such as to
make words seem superfluous. Both seemed to feel that the present was
Only once did Priscilla challenge Carfax's memory. The impulse was
irresistible at the moment, though she regretted it later. He was
holding out to her the biggest strawberry he could find. It lay on a
leaf on the palm of his hand, and as she took it she suddenly saw a
long, terrible scar extending upwards from his wrist till his sleeve hid
it from view.
"Why," she exclaimed, with a start; then, seeing his questioning look,
"surely that's a burn?"
"It is," said Carfax.
He turned his hand over to hide it. His manner seemed to indicate that
he did not wish to pursue the subject. But Priscilla, suddenly reckless,
ignored the hint.
"But how did you do it?" she asked.
Carfax hesitated for a second, then:
"It was years ago," he said, rather unwillingly. "A lady's dress caught
fire. It fell to me to put it out."
"How brave!" murmured Priscilla. Her eyes were shining. Had he looked up
then he must have read her secret.
But he did not look up. For the first time he seemed to be labouring
under some spell of embarrassment.
"It wasn't brave at all," he said, after a moment. "I could have done no
There was almost a vexed note in his voice. Yet she persisted.
"What was she like? Wasn't she very grateful?"
"I don't know at all. I don't suppose she enjoyed the situation any more
than I did."
He plucked a tuft of moss and tossed it from him, as if therewith
dismissing the subject. And Priscilla felt a little hurt, though not for
worlds would she have suffered him to see it.
It fell to him to break the silence a few seconds later, and he did so
without a hint of difficulty.
"When am I going to see the crypt?"
Priscilla laughed a little.
"Are you writing a book about the place?"
He laughed back at her quite openly.
"Not at present. When I do, it will be a romance, with you for heroine."
"Oh, no; not me!" she protested. "I am a mere nobody. Lady Priscilla
ought to be your heroine."
He raised his eyebrows. She had begun to associate that look of his with
protest rather than surprise.
"I have yet to be introduced to Lady Priscilla," he said. "And as she
doesn't like men, I almost think I shall forego the pleasure and keep
out of her way."
"Perhaps I have given you a wrong impression about her," Priscilla said,
speaking with a slight effort. "It is only the idle, foppish men about
town she has no use for."
"She is fastidious, apparently," he returned, lying down abruptly at her
"Don't you like women to be fastidious?" Priscilla demanded boldly.
He lay quite motionless for several seconds, then turned in a leisurely
fashion upon his side to survey her.
"You are fastidious?" he asked.
"Of course I am!" Priscilla's words came rather breathlessly. "Don't you
think me so?"
Again he was silent for seconds. Then, in a baffling drawl, his answer
"If you will allow me to say so, I think you are just the sweetest woman
I ever met."
Priscilla met his eyes for a single instant, and looked away. She was
burning and throbbing from head to foot. She could find naught to say in
answer; no word wherewith to turn his deliberate sentence into a jest.
Perhaps in her secret heart she did not desire to do so, for a voice
within her, a voice long stifled, cried out that she had met her mate.
And, since surrender was inevitable, why should she seek to delay it?
But Carfax said no more. Possibly he thought he had said too much. At
least, after a long, quiet pause, he looked away from her; and the spell
that bound her passed.
THE OPENING GATES
That evening Priscilla found a letter from her stepmother awaiting
her—a briefly worded, urgent summons.
"Your cousin has not arrived, after all," it said. "Your father and I
are greatly disappointed. Would it not be as well for you to return to
town? You can scarcely, I fear, afford to waste your time in this
fashion. Young Lord Harfield was asking for you most solicitously only
yesterday. Such a charming man, I have always thought!"
"That—chicken!" said Priscilla, and tossed her letter aside.
Later, she went up to the top of the Abbey, and out on to a part of the
roof that had been battlemented, to dream her dream again under the
stars and to view her paradise yet more closely from before the opening
It was very late when she returned lightfooted to Froggy's sitting-room,
and, kneeling by her friend's side, interposed her dark head between the
kind, bulging eyes and the open Bible that lay upon the table.
"Froggy," she whispered softly, "I'm so happy, dear—so happy!"
And so kneeling, she told Froggy in short, halting sentences of the
sudden splendour that had glorified her life.
Froggy was greatly astonished, and even startled. She was also anxious,
and showed it. But Priscilla hastened to smooth this away.
"Yes, I know it's sudden. But sometimes, you know, love is like that.
Don't be anxious, Froggy. I am much more cautious—but what a ridiculous
word!—than you think. He doesn't know who I am yet. I pretended to him
that I was a relation of yours. And he isn't to know at present. You
will keep that in mind, won't you? And in a day or two I shall bring him
in here to tea, and you will be able to judge of him for yourself. No,
dear, no; of course he hasn't spoken. It is much too soon. You forget
that though I have known him so long, he has only known me for two days.
Oh, Froggy, isn't it wonderful to think of—that he should have come at
last like this? It is almost as if—as if my love had drawn him."
WITHIN HER PARADISE
Priscilla's reply to her stepmother's summons, written several days
later, was a highly unsatisfactory epistle indeed, in the opinion of its
recipient. She found it quite impossible to tear herself away from the
country while the fine weather lasted, she wrote. She was enjoying
herself immensely, and did not feel that she could ever endure the whole
of a London season in one dose again.
It was not a well-thought-out letter, being written in a haste that made
itself obvious between the lines. Carfax had hired a motor-car, and was
waiting for her. They went miles that day, and when they stopped at last
they were in a country that she scarcely knew—a country of barren downs
and great sunlit spaces, lonely, immense.
"This is the place," said Carfax quietly, as he helped her to alight.
Priscilla walked a few paces and stood still. She knew exactly why he
had chosen it. Her heart was beating wildly. It seemed to dominate all
her other faculties. She felt it to be almost more than she could bear.
Those moments of unacknowledged waiting were terrible to her. She knew
she had taken an irrevocable step, and her free instinct clamoured
loudly against it. It amounted almost to a panic within her.
There came a quiet step on the turf behind her. She did not turn, but
the suspense became suddenly unendurable. With a convulsive movement,
she made as if she would go on. At the same instant an arm encircled
her, checked her, held her closely.
"So, sweetheart!" said Julian Carfax, his voice soothing, womanly, but
possessing withal a note of vitality, of purpose, that she had never
heard in it before.
She suffered his hold with a faint but desperate cry.
"You don't know me," she said, with a gasping effort. "You don't—" The
words failed. He was pressing her to him ever more closely, and she felt
his fingers gently fumbling at her veil. With a sudden passionate
movement she put up both hands, and threw it back.
"There!" she said, with a sound, half laugh, half sob, and turned
herself wholly to him.
The next instant, as his lips pressed hers, all the anguish of doubt
that had come upon her was gone like an evil spirit from her soul. She
knew only that they stood alone together in a vast space that was filled
to the brim with the noonday sunshine. All her heart was flooded with
rejoicing. The gates had opened wide for her, and she had entered in.
BACK TO EARTH
Priscilla never quite realised afterwards how it was that the whole of
that long summer day slipped by and her confession remained still
unspoken. She did make one or two attempts to lead round to the subject,
but each seemed to be foredoomed to failure, and at last she abandoned
the idea—for that day, at least. It seemed, after all, but a paltry
thing in face of her great happiness.
They sped homeward at length in the light of a cloudless sunset,
smoothly and swiftly as if they swooped through air.
"I will take you to the edge of the park," Carfax said; and when they
reached it he took her in his arms, holding her fast, as if he could not
bear to let her go.
They parted at last almost in silence, but with the tacit understanding
that they would meet in the glen on the following day.
Priscilla walked home through the lengthening shadows with a sense of
wonderment and unreality at her heart. He had asked for no pledge, yet
she knew that the bond between them was such as might stretch to the
world's end and never break. They belonged to each other irrevocably
now, whatever might intervene.
She reached the Abbey, walking as in a maze of happiness, with no
thought for material things.
Romeo came to greet her with effusion, and an air of having something to
tell her. She fondled him, and went on with him into the house. They
entered by a conservatory, and so through the shrouded drawing-room into
the great hall.
The girl's eyes were dazzled by the sudden gloom she found there. She
expected to meet no one, and so it was with a violent start that she saw
a man's figure detach itself from the shadows and come towards her.
"Who is it?" she asked sharply; and then in astonishment: "Why, Dad!"
Her father's voice answered her, but not with the gruff kindliness to
which she was accustomed. It came to her grim and stern, and she knew
instinctively that he hated the errand that had brought him.
"I have come down to fetch you," he said. "I do not approve of your
being here alone. It is unusual and quite unnecessary. You are quite
"Yes, I am well," Priscilla said. "But why should you object to my being
She stood still, facing him. She knew who had inspired this
interference, and from the bottom of her soul she resented it. Her
father did not answer. Thinking it over calmly later, she knew that he
"Be ready to start from here in half an hour," he said. "We shall catch
Priscilla made no further protest. Her father had never addressed that
tone to her before, and it cut her to the heart.
"Very well," she said; and turned to go.
Her deep voice held no anger, and only Romeo, pressed close against her,
knew that the hand that had just caressed him was clenched and
HER SIMPLE DUTY
Priscilla left a hastily scribbled note for Carfax in Froggy's keeping.
In it she explained that she was obliged to go to town, but that she
would meet him there any day before noon at any place that he would
appoint. Froggy was to be the medium of his communication also.
She made no mention of Carfax to her father. He had hurt her far too
deeply for any confidence to be possible. Moreover, it seemed to her
that she had no right to speak until Carfax himself gave her leave.
She did not see her stepmother till the following day. The greeting
between them was of the coolest, though Lady Raffold, being triumphant,
sought to infuse a little sentiment into hers.
"I am really worn out, Priscilla," she said. "It is my turn now to have
a little rest. I am going to leave all the hard work to you. It will be
such a relief."
Three days later, however, she relinquished this attitude. Priscilla was
summoned to her room, where she was breakfasting, and found her in great
"My dear child, he has arrived. He has actually arrived, and is staying
at the Ritz. He must come and dine with us to-morrow night. It will be
quite an informal affair—only thirty—so it can easily be managed. He
must take you in, Priscilla; and, oh, my dear, do remember that it is
the great opportunity of your life, and it mustn't be thrown away,
whatever happens! Your father has set his heart upon it."
"Are you talking about Mr. Cochrane?" asked Priscilla.
"To be sure. Who else? Now don't put on that far-away look, pray! You
know what is, after all, your simple duty, and I trust you mean to do
it. You can't be going to disappoint your father in this matter. And you
really must marry soon Priscilla. It is getting serious. In fact, it
worries me perpetually. By the way, here is a letter for you from
Raffold. It must have got among mine by mistake. Mrs. Burrowes's
handwriting, I imagine."
She was right. It was directed by Froggy, but Priscilla paled suddenly
as she took it, realising that it contained an answer to her own urgent
Alone in her own room she opened it. The message was even briefer than
hers had been: "Sweetheart,—At 11 A.M., on Thursday, under the
dome of St. Paul's Cathedral.—I am thine, J. C."
Priscilla stood for long seconds with the note in her hand. It had
reached her too late. The appointment had been for the day before. She
turned to the envelope, and saw that it must have been lying among her
stepmother's correspondence for two days. Doubtless he had waited for
her at the trysting-place, and waited in vain.
Only one thing remained to be done, and that was to telegraph to Froggy
for Carfax's address. But Froggy's answer, when it came, was only
"Address not known. Did you not receive letter I forwarded?"
Reluctantly Priscilla realised that there was nothing for it but
patience. Carfax would almost certainly write again through Froggy.
That he had not her address she knew, for Froggy was under a solemn vow
to reveal nothing, but she would not believe that he would regard her
failure to keep tryst as a deliberate effort to snub him, though the
fear that he might do so haunted and grew upon her all through the day.
She went to a theatre that night, and later to a dance, but neither
entertainment served to lift the deadening weight from her spirits. She
was miserable, and the four hours she subsequently spent in bed brought
her no relief.
She rose at last in sheer desperation, and went for an early ride in the
Park. She met a few acquaintances, but she shook them off. She wanted to
When she was returning, however, her youthful admirer, Lord Harfield,
attached himself to her, refusing to be discouraged.
"I met your cousin at the Club yesterday," he told her.
"What is he like?" Priscilla asked, without much interest.
"Oh, haven't you seen him yet? A very queer fish, with a twang you could
cut with a knife. Don't think you'll like him," said Lord Harfield, who
was jealous of every man who so much as bowed to Priscilla.
Priscilla smiled faintly.
"I don't think so, either," she said. "You are coming to dine with us
to-night, aren't you? He will be there too."
"Will he? I say, what a bore for you! Yes, I'm coming. I'll do my best
to help you," the boy assured her eagerly.
And again Priscilla smiled. She was quite sure that she would be bored,
whatever happened, though she was too kind-hearted to say so.
THE COMING OF HER HERO
"I wonder why Priscilla has put on that severely plain attire? It makes
her look almost ugly," sighed Lady Raffold. "And how dreadfully pale she
is to-night! Really, I have never seen her look more unattractive."
She turned with her most dazzling smile to receive the American
Ambassador, and no one could have guessed that under her smile was real
anger, because her stepdaughter was gracing the occasion in a robe of
All the guests had arrived with the exception of Ralph Cochrane, the
heir-apparent, as Priscilla styled him, and Lady Raffold chatted with
one eye on the door. It was too bad of the young man to be late.
She was just giving him up in despair, and preparing to proceed to the
dining-room without him, when his name was announced. Lord Raffold went
forward to meet him. Priscilla, sitting on a lounge with Lord Harfield's
mother, caught the sound of a soft, leisurely voice apologising; and
something tightened suddenly at her heart, and held its beating. It was
a voice she knew.
As through a mist, she looked across the great room, with its many
lights, its buzz of careless voices. And suddenly, it seemed to her, she
was back in the little village church at Raffold, furtively watching a
stranger who stood in the entrance, and searched with level scrutiny
quite deliberately and frankly till he found her.
Their eyes met, and her heart thrilled responsively as an instrument
thrills to the hand of a skilled player.
Almost involuntarily she rose. There was some mistake. She knew there
must be some mistake. She felt that in some fashion it rested with her
to explain and to justify his presence there.
But in that instant his eyes left her, and the magnetism that compelled
her died swiftly down. She saw him shake hands with Lady Raffold, and
bow to the Ambassador.
Then came her stepmother's quick, beckoning glance, and she moved
forward in response to it. She was quivering from head to foot,
bewildered, in some subtle fashion afraid.
"My dear, your cousin. He will take you in. Ralph, this is Priscilla."
It was sublimely informal. Lady Raffold had rehearsed that introduction
several times. It was half the battle that the young man should feel
himself one of the family from the outset.
Priscilla grabbed at her self-control, and managed to bow. But the next
instant his hand, strong, warm, reassuring, grasped hers.
"Curious, isn't it?" the quiet voice asked. "We can't be strangers, you
The grip of his fingers was close and intimate. It was as if he appealed
for her support.
With an effort she forced herself to respond:
"Of course not. It must be quite five years since our first meeting."
He looked at her oddly, quizzically, as he offered his arm.
"Why, yes," he drawled, as they began to move towards the door. "Should
auld acquaintance be forgot? It is exactly five years ago to-day."
THE STORY OF A FRAUD
"Funny, wasn't it, sweetheart?"
The soft voice reached her through a buzz of other louder voices.
Priscilla moved slightly, but she did not turn her head.
"You will have to explain," she said. "I don't understand anything yet."
"Nor I," came the quiet retort. "It's the woman's privilege to explain
first, isn't it?"
Against her will, the blood rose in her face. She threw him a quick
"I can't possibly explain anything here," she said.
He met her look with steady eyes.
"Let me tell you the story of a fraud," he said; and proceeded without
further preliminary. "There was once a man—a second son, without
prospects and without fame—who had the good fortune to do a service to
a woman. He went away immediately afterwards lest he should make a fool
of himself, for she was miles above his head, anyway. But he never
forgot her. The mischief was done, so far as he was concerned."
He broke off, and raised his champagne to his lips as if he drank to a
Priscilla was listening, but her eyes were downcast. She wore the old,
absent look that her stepmother always deprecated. The soft drawl at her
side continued, every syllable distinct and measured.
"Years passed, and things changed. The man had belonged to a cadet
branch of an aristocratic British family. But one heir after another
died, till only he was left to inherit. The woman belonged to the older
branch of the family, but, being a woman, she was passed over. A time
came when he was invited by the head of the house to go and see his
inheritance. He would have gone at once and gladly, but for a hint at
the end of the letter to the effect that, if he would do his part, what
the French shamelessly call a mariage de convenance might be arranged
between his cousin and himself—an arrangement advantageous to them both
from a certain point of view. He didn't set up for a paragon of
morality. Perhaps even, had things been a little different, he might
have been willing. As it was, he didn't like the notion, and he jibbed."
He paused. "But for all that," he said, his voice yet quieter and more
deliberate, "he wanted the woman, if he could make her care for him.
That was his difficulty. He had a feeling all along that the thing must
be an even greater offence to her than it was to him. He worried it all
through, and at last he worked out a scheme for them both. He called
himself by an old school alias, and came to her as a stranger——
"You're not eating anything, sweetheart. Wouldn't it be as well, just
for decency's sake? There's a comic ending to this story, so you mustn't
be sad. Who's that boy scowling at me on the other side of the table?
What's the matter with the child?"
"Never mind," murmured Priscilla hastily. "He doesn't mean anything.
Please go on."
He began to laugh at her with gentle ridicule.
"Impatient for the third act? Well, the scheme worked all right. But
it so chanced that the woman decided to be subtle, too. She knew him
for an old friend the instant she saw him. But he pretended to have
forgotten that old affair in New York. He didn't want her to feel in
any way under an obligation. So he played the humble stranger, and
she—sweetheart—she played the simple, country maiden, and she did it
to perfection. I think, you know, that she was a little afraid her name
and title would frighten him away."
"And so he humoured her?" said Priscilla, a slight quiver in her deep
"They humoured each other, sweetheart. That was where it began to be
funny. Now I am going to get you to tell me the rest of the story."
She turned towards him again, her face very pale.
"Yes; it's very funny, no doubt—funny for the man, I mean; for the
woman, I am not so sure. How does she know that he really cared for her
from the beginning; that he was always quite honest in his motive? How
can she possibly know this?"
Again for a moment their eyes met. There was no hint of dismay in the
man's brown face.
"She does know it, sweetheart," he answered, with confidence. "I can't
tell you how. Probably she couldn't, either. He was going to explain
everything, you know, under the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. But for
some reason it didn't come off. He spent three solid hours waiting for
her, but she didn't come. She had found him out, perhaps? And was
"Perhaps," said Priscilla, her voice very low.
Again he raised his glass to his lips.
"We will have the end of the story presently," he said; and deliberately
turned to his left-hand neighbour.
THE END OF THE STORY
A musical soirée was to follow that interminable dinner, and for a
time Priscilla was occupied in helping Lady Raffold to receive the
after-dinner guests. She longed to escape before the contingent from the
dining-room arrived upstairs, but she soon realised the impossibility of
this. Her stepmother seemed to want her at every turn, and when at
length she found herself free, young Lord Harfield appeared at her
It was intolerable. She turned upon him without pity.
"Oh, please," she said, "I've dropped my fan in the dining-room or on
the stairs. Would you be so kind——"
He departed, not suspecting her of treachery; and she slipped forthwith
into a tiny conservatory behind the piano. It was her only refuge. She
could but hope that no one had seen her retire thither. Her need for
solitude just then was intense. She felt herself physically incapable of
facing the crowd in the music-room any longer. The first crashing chords
of the piano covered her retreat. She shut herself softly in, and sank
into the only chair the little place contained.
Her mind was a chaos of conflicting emotions. Anger, disappointment, and
an almost insane exultation fought together for the mastery. She longed
to be rational, to think the matter out quietly and impartially, and
decide how to treat it. But her most determined efforts were vain. The
music disturbed her. She felt as if the chords were hammering upon her
brain. Yet when it suddenly ceased, the unexpected silence was almost
harder to bear.
In the buzz of applause that ensued, the door behind her opened, and a
She heard the click of the key in the lock, and turned sharply to
protest. But the words died on her lips, for there was that in his
brown, resolute face that silenced her. She became suddenly breathless
and quivering before him, as she had been that day on the down when he
had taken her into his arms.
He withdrew the key, and dropped it into her lap.
"Open if you will," he said, in the quiet voice, half tender, half
humorous, that she had come to know so well. "I am closely followed by
the infant with the scowl."
Priscilla sat silent in her chair. What could she say to him?
"Well?" he said, after a moment. "The end of the story—is it written
She shook her head dumbly. Curiously, the throbbing anger had left her
heart at the mere sound of his voice.
He waited for about three seconds, then knelt quietly down beside her.
"Say," he drawled, "I kind of like Raffold Abbey, sweetheart. Wouldn't
it be nice to spend our honeymoon there? Do you think they would let
us?" He laid his hand upon both of hers. "Wouldn't it be good?" he said
softly. "I should think there would be room for two, eh, sweetheart?"
With an effort she sought to withstand him before he wholly dominated
"And every one will call it a mariage de convenance!"
"Let them!" he answered, with suppressed indifference. "I reckon we
shall have the laugh. But it isn't so unusual, you know. Americans
always fall in love at first sight."
He was unanswerable. He was sublime. She marvelled that she could have
ever even attempted to resist him.
With a sudden, tremulous laugh, she caught his hand to her, holding it
"Not Americans only!" she said. And swiftly, passionately, she bent and
pressed her lips to the red, seared scar upon her hero's wrist.