The Lady of the Pool, by Anthony Hope

CHAPTER I

A FIRM BELIEVER

"I see Mr. Vansittart Merceron's at the Court again, mamma."

"Yes, dear. Lady Merceron told me he was coming. She wanted to consult him about Charlie."

"She's always consulting him about Charlie, and it never makes any difference."

Mrs. Bushell looked up from her needlework; her hands were full with needle and stuff, and a couple of pins protruded from her lips. She glanced at her daughter, who stood by the window in the bright blaze of a brilliant sunset, listlessly hitting the blind-cord and its tassel to and fro.

"The poor boy's very young still," mumbled Mrs. Bushell through her pins.

"He's twenty-five last month," returned Millicent. "I know, because there's exactly three years between him and me."

The sinking rays defined Miss Bushell's form with wonderful clearness. She was very tall, and the severe well-cut cloth gown she wore set off the stately lines of her figure. She had a great quantity of fair hair and a handsome face, spoilt somewhat by a slightly excessive breadth across the cheeks; as her height demanded or excused, her hands and feet were not small, though well shaped. Would Time have arrested his march for ever, there would have been small fault to find with Nature's gifts to Miss Bushell; but, as her mother said, Millie was just what she had been at twenty-one; and Mrs. Bushell was now extremely stout. Millie escaped the inference by discrediting her mother's recollection.

The young lady wore her hat, and presently she turned away from the window, remarking:

"I think I shall go for a stroll. I've had no exercise to-day."

Either inclination, or perhaps that threatening possibility from which she strove to avert her eyes, made Millie a devotee of active pursuits. She hunted, she rode, she played lawn-tennis, and, when at the seaside, golf; when all failed, she walked resolutely four or five miles on the high-road, swinging along at a healthy pace, and never pausing save to counsel an old woman or rebuke a truant urchin. On such occasions her manner (for we may not suppose that her physique aided the impression) suggested the benevolent yet stern policeman, and the vicar acknowledged in her an invaluable assistant. By a strange coincidence she seemed to suit the house she lived in—one of those large white square dwelling's, devoid of ornament, yet possessing every substantial merit, and attaining, by virtue of their dimensions and simplicity, an effect of handsomeness denied to many more tricked-out building's. The house satisfied; so did Millie, unless the judge were very critical.

"I shall just walk round by the Pool and back," she added as she opened the door.

"My dear, it's four miles!"

"Well, it's only a little after six, and we don't dine till eight."

Encountering no further opposition than a sigh of admiration—three hundred yards was the limit of pleasure in a walk to her mother—Millie Bushell started on her way, dangling a neat ebony stick in her hand, and setting her feet down with a firm decisive tread. It did not take her long to cover the two miles between her and her destination. Leaving the road, she entered the grounds of the Court and, following a little path which ran steeply down hill, she found herself by the willows and reeds fringing the edge of the Pool. Opposite to her, on the higher bank, some seven or eight feet above the water, rose the temple, a small classical erection, used now, when at all, as a summer-house, but built to commemorate the sad fate of Agatha Merceron. The sun had just sunk, and the Pool looked chill and gloomy; the deep water under the temple was black and still. Millie's robust mind was not prone to superstition, yet she was rather relieved to think that, with the sun only just gone, there was a clear hour before Agatha Merceron would come out of the temple, slowly and fearfully descend the shallow flight of marble steps, and lay herself down in the water to die. That happened every evening, according to the legend, an hour after sunset—every evening, for the last two hundred years, since poor Agatha, bereft and betrayed, had found the Pool kinder than the world, and sunk her sorrow and her shame and her beauty there—such shame and such beauty as had never been before or after in all the generations of the Mercerons.

"What nonsense it all is!" said Millie aloud. "But I'm afraid Charlie is silly enough to believe it."

As she spoke her eye fell on a Canadian canoe, which lay at the foot of the steps. She recognized it as Charlie Merceron's, and, knowing that approach to the temple from the other side was to be gained only by a difficult path through a tangled wood, and that the canoe usually lay under a little shed a few yards from where she stood, she concluded that Charlie was in the temple. There was nothing surprising in that: it was a favorite haunt of his. She raised her voice; and called to him. At first no answer came, and she repeated:

"Charlie! Charlie!"

After a moment of waiting a head was thrust out of a window in the side of the temple—a head in a straw hat.

"Hullo!" said Charlie; Merceron in tones of startled surprise. Then, seeing the visitor, he added: "Oh, it's you, Millie! How did you know I was here?"

"By the canoe, of course."

"Hang the canoe!" muttered Charlie, and his head disappeared. A second later he came out of the doorway and down the steps. Standing on the lowest, he shouted—the Pool was about sixty feet across—"What do you want?"

"How rude you are!" shouted Miss Bushell in reply.

Charlie got into the canoe and began to paddle across. He had just reached the other side, when Millie screamed:

"Look, look, Charlie!" she cried. "The temple!"

"What?"

"I—I saw something white at the window."

Charlie got out of the canoe; hastily.

"What?" he asked again, walking up to Miss Bushell.

"I declare I saw something white at the window. Oh, Charlie! But it's all——"

"Bosh? Of course it is. There's nothing in the temple."

"Well, I thought—I wonder you like to be there."

"Why shouldn't I?"

The mysterious appearance not being repeated, Millie's courage returned.

"I thought you believed in the ghost," she said, smiling.

"So I do, but I don't mind it."

"You've never seen it?"

"Supposing I haven't? That doesn't prove it's not true."

"But you're often here at the time?"

"Never," answered Charlie with emphasis. "I always go away before the time."

"Then you'd better come now. Put the canoe to bed and walk with me."

Charlie Merceron thrust his hands into his pockets and smiled at his companion. He was tall also, and just able to look down on her.

"No," he said, "I'm not going yet."

"How rude—oh, there it is again, Charlie! I saw it! I'm—I'm frightened," and her healthy color paled a trifle, as she laid a hand on Charlie's arm.

"I tell you what," observed Charlie. "If you have fancies of this kind you'd better not come here any more—not in the evening, at all events. You know people who think they're going to see things always do see 'em."

"My heart is positively beating," said Miss Bushell. "I—I don't quite like walking back alone."

"I'll see you as far as the road," Charlie conceded, and with remarkable promptitude he led the way, turning his head over his shoulder to remark:

"Really, if you're so nervous, you oughtn't to come here."

"I never will again—not alone, I mean."

Charlie had breasted the hill with such goodwill that they were already at the road.

"And you're really going back?" she asked.

"Oh, just for a few minutes. I left my book in the temple—I was reading there. She's not due for half an hour yet, you know."

"What—what happens if you see her?"

"Oh, you die," answered Charlie. "Goodnight;" and with a smile and a nod he ran down the hill towards the Pool.

Miss Bushell, cavalierly deserted, made her way home at something more than her usual rate of speed. She had never believed in that nonsense, but there was certainly something white at that window—something white that moved. Under the circumstances, Charlie really might have seen her home, she thought, for the wood-fringed road was gloomy, and dusk coming on apace. Besides, where was the hardship in being her escort?

Doubtless none, Charlie would have answered, unless a man happened to have other fish to fry. The pace at which the canoe crossed the Pool and brought up at its old moorings witnessed that he had no leisure to spend on Miss Bushell. Leaping out, he ran up the stops into the temple, crying in a loud whisper:

"She's gone!"

The temple was empty, and Charlie, looking round in vexation, added:

"So has she, by Jingo!"

He sat down disconsolately on the low marble seat that ran round the little shrine.

There were no signs of the book of which he had spoken to Millie
Bushell. There were no signs of anybody whom he could have meant to
address. Stay! One sign there was: a long hat-pin lay on the floor.
Charlie picked it tip with a sad smile.

"Agatha's," he said to himself.

And yet, as everyone in the neighborhood knew, poor Agatha Merceron went nightly to her phantom death bareheaded and with golden locks tossed by the wind. Moreover, the pin was of modern manufacture; moreover, ghosts do not wear—but there is no need to enter on debatable ground; the pin was utterly modern.

"Now, if uncle Van," mused Charlie, "came here and saw this—!" He carefully put the pin in his breast-pocket, and looked at his watch. It was exactly Agatha Merceron's time; yet Charlie leant back on his cold marble seat, put his hands in his pockets, and gazed up at the ceiling with the happiest possible smile on his face. For one steeped in family legends, worshipping the hapless lady's memory with warm devotion, and reputed a sincere believer in her ghostly wanderings, he awaited her coming with marvellous composure. In point of fact he had forgotten all about her, and there was nothing to prevent her coming, slipping down the steps, and noiselessly into the water, all unnoticed by him. His eyes were glued to the ceiling, the smile played on his lips, his ears were filled with sweet echoes, and his thoughts were far away. Perhaps the dead lady came and passed unseen. That Charlie did not see her was ridiculously slight evidence whereon to damn so ancient and picturesque a legend. He thought the same himself, for that night at dinner—he came in late for dinner—he maintained the credit of the story with fierce conviction against Mr. Vansittart Merceron's scepticism.

CHAPTER II

MISS WALLACE'S FRIEND

In old days the Mercerons had been great folk. They had held the earldom of Langbury and the barony of Warmley. A failure of direct descent in the male line extinguished the earldom; the Lady Agatha was the daughter of the last earl, and would have been Baroness Warmley had she lived. On her death that title passed to her cousin, and continued in that branch till the early days of the present century. Then came another break. The Lord Warmley of that day, a Regency dandy, had a son, but not one who could inherit his honors, and away went the barony to a yet younger branch, where, falling a few years later into female hands, it was merged in a brand-new viscounty, and was now waiting till chance again should restore it to an independent existence. From the Mercerons of the Court it was gone for ever, and the blot on their escutcheon which lost it them was a sore point, from which it behooved visitors and friends to refrain their tongues. The Regent had, indeed, with his well-known good nature, offered a baronetcy to hide the stain; but pride forbade, and the Mercerons now held no titles, save the modest dignity which Charlie's father, made a K.C.B. for services in the North-West Provinces, had left behind him to his widow. But the old house was theirs, and a comfortable remnant of the lands, and the pictures of the extinct earls and barons, down to him whose sins had robbed the line of its surviving rank and left it in a position, from an heraldic point of view, of doubtful respectability. Lady Merceron felt so acutely on the subject that she banished this last nobleman to the smoking-room. There was, considering everything, an appropriateness in that position, and he no longer vexed her eyes as she sat at meat in the dining room. She had purposed a like banishment for Lady Agatha; but here Charlie had interceded, and the unhappy beauty hung still behind his mother's chair and opposite his own. It was just to remember that but for poor Agatha's fault and fate the present branch might never have enjoyed the honors at all; so Charlie urged to Lady Merceron, catching at any excuse for keeping Lady Agatha. Lady Merceron's way of judging pictures may seem peculiar, but the fact is that she lacked what is called the sense of historical perspective: she did not see why our ancestors should be treated so tenderly and allowed, with a charitable reference to the change in manners, forgiveness for what no one to-day could hope to win a pardon. Mr. Vansittart Merceron smiled at his sister-in-law and shrugged his shoulders; but in vain. To the smoking-room went the wicked Lord Warmley, and Lady Agatha was remarkably lucky in that she did not follow him.

Mr. Vansittart, half-brother to the late Sir Victor, and twenty years younger than he, was a short thick-set man, with a smooth round white face, and a way of speaking so deliberate and weighty that it imparted momentousness to nothings and infallibility to nonsense. When he really had something sensible to say, and that was very fairly often, the effect was enormous. He was now forty-four, a widower, well off by his marriage, and a Member of Parliament. Naturally, Lady Merceron relied much, on his advice, especially in what concerned her son; she was hazy about the characters and needs of young men, not knowing how they should be treated or what appealed to them. Amid her haziness, one fact only stood out clear. To deal with a young man, you wanted a man of the world. In this capacity Mr. Vansittart had now been sent for to the Court, the object of his visit being nothing less than the arrangement and satisfactory settlement of Charlie's future.

Mr. Vansittart approached the future through the present and the past. "Yon wasted your time at school, you wasted your time at Oxford, you're wasting your time now," he remarked, when Charlie and he were left alone after dinner.

Charlie was looking at Lady Agatha's picture. "With a sigh he turned to his uncle.

"That's all very well," he said tolerantly, "but what is there for me to do?"

"If you took more interest in country pursuits it might be different.
But you don't hunt, you shoot very seldom——"

"And very badly."

"And not at all well, as you admit. You say you won't become a magistrate, you show no interest in politics or—or—social questions. You simply moon about."

Charlie was vividly reminded of a learned judge whom he had once heard pronouncing sentence of death. His uncle's denunciation seemed to lack its appropriate conclusion—that he should be hanged by the neck till he was dead. He was roused to defend himself.

"You're quite wrong, uncle," he said. "I'm working hard. I'm writing a history of the family."

"A history of the family!" groaned Mr. Vansittart. "Who wants one?
Who'll read one?"

"From an antiquarian point of view—" began Charlie stoutly.

"Of all ways of wasting time, antiquarianism is perhaps the most futile;" and Mr. Vansittart wiped his mouth with an air of finality.

"Now the Agatha Merceron story," continued Charlie, "is in itself—-"

"Perhaps we'd better finish our talk tomorrow. The ladies will, expect us in the garden."

"All right," said Charlie, with much content. He enjoyed himself more in the garden, for, while Lady Merceron and her brother in law took counsel, he strolled through the moonlit shrubberies with Mrs. Marland, and Mrs. Marland was very sympathetically interested in him and his pursuits. She was a little eager woman, the very antithesis in body and mind to Millie Bushell; she had plenty of brains but very little sense, a good deal of charm but no beauty, and, without any counterbalancing defect at all, a hearty liking for handsome young men. She had also a husband in the City.

"Ghost-hunting again to-night, Mr. Merceron?" she asked, glancing up at
Charlie, who was puffing happily at a cigar.

"Yes," he answered, "I'm very regular."

"And did you see anyone?

"I saw Millie Bushell."

"Miss Bushell's hardly ghost-like, is she?"

"We'll," said Charlie meditatively, "I suppose if one was fat oneself one's ghost would be fat, wouldn't it?"

Mrs. Marland, letting the problem alone, laughed softly.

"Poor Miss Bushell! If she heard you say that! Or if Lady Merceron heard you!"

"It would hardly surprise my mother to hear that I thought Millie Bushell plump. She is plump, you know;" and Charlie's eyes expressed a candid homage to truth.

"Oh, I know what's being arranged for you."

"So do I."

"And you'll do it. Oh, you think you won't, but you will. Men always end by doing what they're told."

"Does Mr. Marland?"

"He begins by it," laughed his wife.

"Is that why he's not coming till Saturday week?"

"Mr. Merceron! But what was Miss Bushell doing at the Pool? Did she come to find you?"

"Oh, no; just for a walk."

"Poor girl!"

"Why—it's good for her."

"I didn't mean the walk,"

"I'd blush if there was light enough to make it any use, Mrs. Marland."

"Oh, but I know there's something. You don't go there every evening to look for a dead lady, Mr. Merceron."

Charlie stopped short, and took his cigar from his mouth.

"What?" he asked, a little abruptly.

"Well, I shall follow you some day, and I shouldn't be surprised if I met—not Agatha—but——"

"Well?" asked Charlie, with an uncertain smile.

"Why, poor Miss Bushell!"

Charlie laughed and replaced his cigar.

"What are we standing still for?" he said.

"I don't know. You stopped. She'd be such an ideal match for you."

"Then I should never have done for you, Mrs. Marland."

"My dear boy, I was married when you were still in Eton collars."

They had completed the circuit of the garden, and now approached where
Lady Merceron sat, enveloped in a shawl.

"Charlie!" she called. "Here's a letter from Victor Button. He's coming to-morrow."

"I didn't know you'd asked him," said Charlie, with no sign of pleasure at the news. Victor had been at school and college with Charlie, and often, in his holidays, at the Court, for he was Sir Victor's godson. Yet Charlie did not love him. For the rest, he was very rich, and was understood to cut something of a figure in London society.

"Mr. Sutton? Oh, I know him," exclaimed Mrs. Marland. "He's charming!"

"Then you shall entertain him," said Charlie. "I resign him."

"I can't think why you're not more pleased to have him here, Charlie," remarked Lady Merceron. "He's very popular in London, isn't he, Vansittart?"

"I've met him at some very good houses," answered Mr. Vansittart. And that, he seemed to imply, is better than mere popularity.

"The Bushells were delighted with him last time he was here," continued
Lady Merceron.

"There! A rival for you!" Mrs. Marland whispered.

Charlie laughed cheerfully. Sutton would be no rival of his, he thought; and if he and Millie liked one another, by all means let them take one another. A month before he would hardly have dismissed the question in so summary a fashion, for the habit of regarding Millie as a possibility and her readiness as a fact had grown strong by the custom of years, and, far as he was from a passion, he might not have enjoyed seeing her allegiance transferred to Victor Sutton. Certainly he would have suffered defeat from that hand with very bad grace. Now, however, everything was changed.

"Vansittart," said Lady Merceron, "Charlie and I want to consult you (she often coupled Charlie's hypothetical desire for advice with her own actual one in appeals to Mr. Vansittart) about Mr. Prime's rent."

"Oh, at the old farm?"

"Yes. He wants another reduction."

"He'll want to be paid for staying there next."

"Well, poor man, he's had to take lodgers this summer—a thing he's never done before. Charlie, did you know that?"

"Yes," said Charlie, interrupting an animated conversation which he had started with Mrs. Marland.

"Do you know who they are?" pursued his mother, wandering from Mr.
Prime's rent to the more interesting subject of his lodgers.

"Ladies from London," answered Charlie.

"Rather vague," commented Mr. Vansittart. "Young ladies or old ladies,
Charlie?"

"Why does he want to know?" asked Mrs. Marland; but chaff had about as much effect on Mr. Vansittart as it would have on an ironclad. He seemed not to hear, and awaited an answer with a bland smile. In truth, he thought Mrs. Marland a silly woman.

"Young, I believe," answered Charlie, in a careless tone.

"It's curious I've not seen them about," said Lady Merceron. "I pass the farm almost every day. Who are they, Charlie?"

"One's a Miss Wallace. She's engaged to Willie Prime."

"To Willie? Fancy!"

"H'm! I think," remarked Mr. Vansittart, "that, from the point of view of a reduction of rent, these lodgers are a delusion. Of course she stays with Prime if she's going to many his son."

"Fancy Willie!" reiterated Lady Merceron. "Surely he can't afford to marry? He's in a bank, you know, Vansittart, and he only gets a hundred and twenty pounds a year."

"One blessing of the country is that everybody knows his neighbor's income," observed Mr. Vansittart.

"Perhaps the lady has money," suggested Mrs. Marland. "But, Mr.
Merceron, who's the other lady?"

"A friend of Miss Wallace's, I believe. I don't know her name."

"Oh, they're merely friends of Prime's?" Mr. Vansittart concluded. "If that's all he bases his claim for a reduction on—-"

"Hang it! He might as well have it," interrupted Charlie. "He talks to me about it for half an hour every time we meet."

"But, my dear Charlie, you have more time than money to waste—at least, so it seems."

His uncle's sarcasm never affected Charlie's temper.

"I'll turn him on to you, uncle," he replied, "and you can see how you like it."

"I'll go and call on him tomorrow. You'd better come too, Charlie."

"And then you can see the ladies from London," added Mrs. Marland.
"Perhaps the one who isn't young Mr. Prime's will be interesting."

"Or," said Charlie, "as mostly happens in this woeful world, the one who is."

"I think the less we see of that sort of person at all, the better," observed Lady Merceron, with gentle decision. "They can hardly be quite what we're accustomed to."

"That sort of person!"

Charlie went to bed with the phrase ringing in his horror-struck ears. If to be the most beautiful, the most charming, and the most refined, the daintiest, the wittiest and prettiest, the kindest and the sweetest, the merriest and most provoking creature in the whole world—if to be all this were yet not to weigh against being 'that sort of person'—if it were not, indeed, to outweigh, banish, and obliterate everything else why, the world was not fit to live in, and he no true Merceron! For the Merceron men had always pleased themselves.

CHAPTER III

ALL NONSENSE

On the evening of the next day, while the sun was still on the Pool, and its waters, forgetful of darker moods and bygone tragedies, smiled under the tickling of darting golden gleams, a girl sat on the broad lowest step of the temple. She had rolled the sleeves of her white gown above her elbow, up well-nigh to her shoulder, and, the afternoon being sultry, from time to time dipped her arms in the water and, taking them out again, amused herself by watching the bright drops race down to her rosy fingertips. The sport was good, apparently, for she laughed and flung back her head so that the stray locks of hair might not spoil her sight of it. On either side of this lowest step there was a margin of smooth level grass, and, being unable as she sat to bathe both arms at once, presently she moved on to the grass and lay down, sinking her elbows in the pond and leaning her face over the edge of it. The posture had another advantage she had not thought of, and she laughed again when she saw her own eyes twinkling at her from the depths. As she lay there a longing came upon her.

"If I could be sure he wouldn't come I'd dip my feet," she murmured.

As, however, he had come every evening for a fortnight past the fancy was not to be indulged, and she consoled herself by a deeper dive yet of her arms and by drooping her head till her nose and the extreme fringe of her eyelashes were wetted, and the stray locks floated on either side.

Presently, as she still looked, she saw another shadow on the water, and exchanged with her image a confidential glance.

"You again?" she asked.

The other shadow nodded.

"Why didn't you come in the canoe?"

"Because people see it."

It struck her that her attitude was unconventional, and by a lithe complicated movement, whereof Charlie noticed only the elegance and not the details, she swept round and, sitting, looked up at him.

"I know who she was," she observed.

"She very nearly knew who you were. You oughtn't to have come to the window."

"She thought I was the ghost."

"You shouldn't reckon on people being foolish."

"Shouldn't I? Yet I reckoned on your coming—or there'd have been some more of me in the water."

"I wish I were an irregular man," said Charlie.

She was slowly turning down her sleeves, and, ignoring his remark, said, with a question in her tones:

"Nettie Wallace says that Willie Prime says that everybody says that you're going to marry that girl."

"I believe it's quite true."

"Oh!" and she looked across the Pool.

"True that everybody says so," added Charlie. "Why do you turn down your sleeves?"

"How funny I must have looked, sprawling on the bank like that!" she remarked.

"Awful!" said Charlie, sitting down.

She looked at him with uneasiness in her eye.

"Nothing but an ankle, I swear," he answered.

She blushed and smiled.

"I think you should whistle, or something, as you come."

"Not I," said Charlie, with decision.

Suddenly she turned to him with a serious face, or one that tried to be serious.

"Why do you come?" she asked.

"Why do I eat?" he returned.

"And yet you were angry the first time."

"Nobody likes to be caught ranting out poetry especially his own."

"I believe you were frightened—you thought I was Agatha. The poetry was about her, wasn't it?"

"It's not at all a bad poem," observed Charlie.

"You remember I liked it so much that I clapped my hands."

"And I jumped!"

The girl laughed.

"Ah, well," she said, "it's time to go home."

"Oh, dear, no," said Charlie!

"But I've promised to be early, because Willie Prime's coming, and I'm to be introduced to him."

"Willie Prime can wait. He's got Miss Wallace to comfort him, and I've got nobody to comfort me."

"Oh, yes. Miss Bushell."

"You know her name?"

"Yes—and yours—your surname, I mean; you told me the other."

"That's more than you've done for me."

"I told you my name was Agatha."

"Ah, but that was a joke. I'd been talking about Agatha Merceron."

"Very well. I'm sorry it doesn't satisfy you. If you won't believe me—!"

"But your surname?"

"Oh, mine? Why, mine's Brown."

"Brown!" re-echoed Charlie, with a tinge of disappointment in his tone.

"Don't you like it?" asked Miss Agatha Brown with a smile.

"Oh, it will do for the present," laughed Charlie.

"Well, I don't mean to keep it all my life. I've spent to-day, Mr. Merceron, in spying out your house. Nettie Wallace and I ventured quite near. It's very pretty."

"Rather dilapidated, I'm afraid."

"What's the time, Mr. Merceron?"

"Half-past six. Oh, by Jove!"

"Well? Afraid of seeing poor Agatha?"

"I should see nobody but you, if you were here. No. I forgot that.
I've got to meet someone at the station at a quarter-past seven."

"Oh, do tell me who?"

"You'd be none the wiser. It's a Mr. Victor Sutton."

"Victor Sutton!" she exclaimed, with a glance at Charlie which passed unnoticed by him. "Is he a friend of yours?"

"I suppose so. Of my family's, anyhow."

"Good-by. I'm going," she announced.

"You'll be here to-morrow?"

"Yes. For the last time."

She dropped this astounding thunderbolt on Charlie's head as though it had been the most ordinary remark in the world.

"The last time! Oh, Miss—-" No: somehow he could not lay his tongue to that "Miss Brown."

"I can't spend all my life in Lang Marsh," said she.

"Agatha," he burst out.

"No, no. This is not the last time. Sha'n't we keep that?" she asked, with a provokingly light-hearted smile.

"You promise to be here to-morrow?"

"Oh, yes."

"I shall have something to say to you then," Charlie announced with a significant air.

"Oh, you never lack conversation."

"You'll be here at five?"

"Precisely," she answered with mock gravity; "and now I'm gone!"

Charlie took off his straw hat, stretched out his right hand, and took hers. For a moment she drew back, but he looked very handsome and gallant as he bowed his head down to her hand, and she checked the movement.

"Oh, well!" she murmured; she was protesting against any importance being attached to the incident.

Charlie, having paid his homage, walked, or rather ran, swiftly away.
To begin with, he had none too much time if he was to meet Victor
Sutton; secondly, he was full of a big resolve, and that generally
makes a man walk fast.

The lady pursued a more leisurely progress. Swinging her hat in her hand, she made her way through the tangled wood back to the high-road, and turned towards Mr. Prime's farm. She went slowly along, thinking perhaps of the attractive young fellow she had left behind her, wondering perhaps why she had promised to meet him again. She did not know why, for there was sure to happen at that last meeting the one thing which she did not, she supposed, wish to happen. However, a promise is a promise. She heard the sound of wheels behind her, and, turning, found the farmer's spring-cart hard on her heels. The farmer was driving, and by his side sat a nice-looking girl dressed in the extreme of fashion. On the back seat was a young man in a very light suit, with a fine check pattern, and a new pair of brown leather shoes. The cart pulled up.

"We can make room for ye, Miss," said old Mr. Prime.

Nettie Wallace jumped tip and stood with her foot on the step. Willie Prime jumped down and effected her transfer to the back seat. Agatha climbed up beside the farmer and stretched her hand back to greet Willie. Willie took it rather timidly. He did not quite 'savvy' (as he expressed it to himself); his fiancée's friend was very simply attired, infinitely more simply than Nettie herself. Nettie had told him that her friend was 'off and on'(a vague and rather obscure qualification of the statement) in the same line as herself—namely, Court and high-class dressmaking. Yet there was a difference between Nettie and her friend.

"Anybody else arrived by the train?" asked Agatha.

"A visitor for the Court. A good-looking gentleman, wasn't he, Willie?"

Nettie was an elegant creature and, but for the 'gentleman' and that slight but ineradicable twang that clings like Nessus' shirt to the cockney, all effort and all education notwithstanding (it will even last three generations, and is audible, perhaps, now and then in the House of Lords), her speech was correct and even dainty in its prim nicety.

"Ah!" said Agatha.

"His name's Sutton," said Willie; "Mr. Charles—young Mr.
Merceron—told me so when he was talking to me on the platform."

"You know young Mr. Merceron?" asked Agatha.

"Why, they was boys together," interrupted the old farmer, who made little of the refinements of speech. In his youth no one, from the lord to the laborer, spoke grammar in the country. "Used to larn to swim together in the Pool, didn't you, Willie?"

"I must have a dip there to-morrow," cried Willie; and Agatha wondered what time he would choose. "And I'll take you there, Nettie. Ever been yet?"

"No. They—they say it's haunted, don't they, Willie?"

"That's nonsense," said Willie. London makes a man sceptical. The old farmer shook his head and grunted doubtfully. His mother had seen poor Agatha Merceron; this was before the farmer was born—a little while before—and the shock had come nigh to being most serious to him. The whole countryside knew it.

"Why do you call it nonsense, Mr. Prime?" asked Agatha.

"Oh, I don't know, Miss—-"

"Miss Brown, Willie," said Nettie.

"Miss Brown. Anyway, we needn't go the time the ghost comes."

"I should certainly avoid that," laughed Agatha.

"We'll go in the morning, Nettie, and I'll have my swim in the evening."

Agatha frowned. It would be particularly inconvenient if Willie Prime took his swim in the evening.

"Oh, don't, Willie," cried Nettie. "She—she might do you some harm."

Willie was hard to persuade. He was not above liking to appear a daredevil; and the discussion was still raging when they reached the farm. The two girls went upstairs to the little rooms which they occupied. Agatha turned into hers, and Nettie Wallace followed her.

"Your Willie is very nice," said Agatha, sitting on her bed.

Nettie smiled with pleasure.

"And now that you've other company I shall go."

"You're going, Miss?"

"Not Miss."

Nettie laughed.

"I forget sometimes," she said.

"Well, you must remember just over tomorrow. I shall go next day. I must meet my grandfather in London."

Nettie offered no opposition. On the contrary, she appeared rather relieved.

"Nettie, did you like Mr. Sutton's looks?" asked Agatha after a pause.

"He's too black and blue for my taste," answered Nettie.

Willie Prime was red and yellow.

"Blue? Oh: you mean his cheeks?"

"Yes. But he's a handsome gentleman all the same; and you should have seen his luggage! Such a dressing-bag—cost fifty pounds, I daresay."

"Oh, dear, me," said Agatha, "Yes, Nettie, I shall go the day after to-morrow."

"Mr. Merceron asked to be introduced to me," said Nettie proudly. "And he asked where you were—he said he'd seen you at the window."

"Did he?" said Agatha negligently; and Nettie, finding the conversation flag, retired to her own room.

Agatha sat a moment longer on the bed.

"What a very deceitful young man," she exclaimed at last. "I must be a very strict secret indeed. Well, I suppose I should be."

CHAPTER IV

A CATASTROPHE AT THE POOL

Mr. Vansittart Merceron was not quite sure that Victor Sutton had any business to call him "Merceron." He was nearly twenty years older than Victor, and a man of considerable position; nor was he, as some middle-aged men are, flattered by the implication of contemporaneousness carried by the mode of address. But it is hard to give a hint to a man who has no inkling that there is room for one; and when Mr. Vansittart addressed Victor as 'Mr. Sutton' the latter graciously told him to "hang the Mister." Reciprocity was inevitable, and the elder man asked himself, with a sardonic grin, how soon he would be "Van."

"Coming to bathe, Merceron?" he heard under his window at eight o'clock the next morning. "We're off to the Pool."

Mr. Vansittart shouted an emphatic negative, and the two young fellows started off by themselves. Charlie's manner was affected by the ceremonious courtesy which a well-bred host betrays towards a guest not very well-beloved, but Victor did not notice this. It seldom occurred to him that people did not like him.

"Yes," he was saying, "I'm just twenty-nine. I've had my fling,
Charlie, and now I shall get to business."

Charlie was relieved to find that according to this reckoning he had several more years 'fling' before him.

"Next year," pursued Victor, "I shall marry; then I shall go into
Parliament, and then I shall go ahead."

"I didn't know you were engaged."

"No, I'm not, but I'm going to be. I can please myself, you see; I've got lots of coin."

"Oh, yes, but can you please the lady?" asked Charlie.

"My dear boy," began Victor, "when you've seen a little more of the world——

"Here we are," said Charlie. "Why, hullo! Who's that?"

A dripping head and a blowing mouth were visible in the middle of the
Pool.

"Willie Prime by Jove! 'Morning Willie;" and Charlie set about flinging off his flannels, Victor following his example in a more leisurely fashion.

Willie Prime was a little puzzled to know how he ought to treat Charlie. 'Charlie' he had been in very old days—then Master Charlie (that was Willie's mother's doing)—then Mr. Charles. But now Willie had set up for himself. He had played billiards with a lord, and football against the Sybarites, and, incidentally, hobnobbed with quite great people. It is not very easy to assert a social position when one has nothing on, and only one's head out of water, but Willie did it.

"Good-morning—er—Merceron," said he.

Victor heard him, and put up his eyeglass in amazement; but he, in his turn, had only a shirt on, and the hauteur was a failure. Charlie utterly failed to notice the incident.

"Is it cold?" he shouted.

"Beastly," answered Willie. The man who has got in always tells the man who is going to get in that it is "beastly cold."

"Here goes!" cried Charlie; and a minute later he was treading water by
Willie's side.

"Miss Wallace all fit?" he asked.

"Thank you, yes, she's all right."

"And her friend?"

"All right, I believe."

"And when is it to be, old fellow?"

"Soon as I get a rise."

"What?" asked the unsophisticated Charlie, who knew the phrase chiefly in connection with fish.

"A rise of screw, you know."

"Oh, ah, yes—what a fool I am!" and Charlie disappeared beneath the waves.

When they were all on the bank, drying, Willie, encouraged by not being discouraged (save by Sutton's silence) in his advances, ventured further, and asked in a joking tone:

"And aren't you marked off yet? We've been expecting to hear of it for the last twelve months."

"What do you mean'?"

"Why, you and Miss Bushell."

Charlie struggled through his shirt, and then answered, with his first touch of distance:

"Nothing in it. People've got no business to gossip."

"It's damned impertinent," observed Victor Sutton in slow and deliberate tones.

Willie flushed.

"I beg pardon," he said gruffly. "I only repeated what I heard."

"My dear fellow, no harm's done," cried Charlie. "Who was the fool?"

"Well—in fact—my father."

The situation was awkward, but they wisely eluded it by laughter. But a thought struck Charlie.

"I say, did your father state it as a fact?"

"Oh no; but as a certainty, you know."

"When?"

"Last night at supper."

Charlie's brow clouded. Miss B—that is, Agatha, was certain to have been at supper. However, all that could be put right in the evening—that one blessed evening left to him. He looked at Willie and opened his mouth to speak; but he shut it again. It did not seem to him that he could question Willie Prime about the lady. She had chosen to tell him nothing, and her will was his law. But he was yearning to know what she was and how she came there. He refrained; and this time virtue really had a reward beyond itself, for Willie would blithely have told him that she was a dressmaker (he called Nettie, however, the manager of a Court modiste's business), and that would not have pleased Charlie.

It was all very well for Charlie to count on that blessed evening; but he reckoned without his host—or rather without his guests.

The Bushells came to lunch, Millie driving her terrified mother in a
lofty gig; and at lunch Millie recounted her vision of Agatha Merceron.
She did not believe it, of course; but it was queer, wasn't it? Victor
Sutton rose to the bait at once.

"We'll investigate it," he cried. "Merceron," (he meant the patient Mr. Vansittart), "didn't yon once write an article on 'Apparitions' for Intellect?"

"Yes, I proved there were none," answered Mr. Vansittart.

"That's impossible, you know," remarked Mrs. Marland gently.

"We'll put you to the proof this very evening," declared Mr. Sutton.

Charlie started.

"Are you game, Miss Bushell?" continued Victor.

"Ye—yes, if you'll keep quite near me, answered Millie, with a playful shudder. Charlie reflected how ill playfulness became her, and frowned. But Millie was pleased to see him frown; she enjoyed showing him that other men liked to keep quite near to her.

"Then this evening we'll go in a body to the Pool."

"I shall not go," shuddered Mrs. Marland.

"An hour after sunset!"

"Half an hour. She might be early—and we'll stay half an hour after.
We'll give her a fair show."

"Come," thought Charlie. "I shall get an hour with Agatha."

"You'll come, Charlie?" asked Victor.

"Oh, all right," he answered, hiding all signs of vexation. He could get back by six and join the party. But why was Mrs. Marland looking at him?

The first step, however, towards getting back is to get there, and Charlie found this none so easy. After lunch came lawn-tennis, and he was impressed. Mr. Vansittart played a middle-aged game, and Victor had found little leisure for this modest sport among his more ambitious amusements. Charlie had to balance Millie Bushell, and he spent a very hot and wearying afternoon. They would go on: Victor declared it was good for him, Uncle Van delighted in a hard game (it appeared to be a very hard game to him from the number of strokes he missed), and Millie grew in vigor, ubiquity, and (it must be added) intensity of color as the hours wore away. It was close on five before Charlie, with a groan, could throw down his racquet.

"Poor boy!" said Mrs. Marland.

"Charlie, dear," called Lady Merceron, who had been talking comfortably to Mrs. Bushell in the shade, "come and hand the tea. I'm sure you must all want some. Millie, my dear, how hot you look!"

"She never will take any care of her complexion, complained Mrs.
Bushell.

"Take care of your stom—your health—and your complexion will take care of itself," observed Mr. Vansittart.

"Charlie! Where; is the boy?" called Lady Merceron again.

The boy was gone. He was flying as fast as his legs would take him to the Pool. Where was that cherished interview now? He could hope only for a few wretched minutes—hardly enough to say good-by once—before he must hustle—yes, positively hustle—Agatha out of sight. He had heard that abominable Sutton remark that they might as well start directly after tea.

He was breathless when he burst through the willows. But there he came to a sudden, a dead stop, and then drew back into shelter again. There on the bank, scarcely a dozen feet from it, sat two people—a. young man with his arm round a young woman's waist. Willie Prime and Nettie Wallace, "by all that's damnable!" as Sir Peter says! Charlie said something quite as forcible.

He felt for his watch, but he had left it with his waistcoat on the lawn. What was the time? Was it going quickly or slowly? Could he afford to wait, or must he run round to the road and intercept Agatha? Five minutes passed in vacillation.

"I'll go and stop her," he said, and began a cautious retreat. As he moved he heard Willie's voice.

"Well, my dear, let's be off," said Willie.

Nettie rose with a sigh of content, adjusted her hat coquettishly, and smoothed her skirts.

"I'm ready, Willie. It's been beautiful, hasn't it?"

They came towards Charlie. Evidently they intended to regain the road by the same path as he had chosen. Indeed, from that side of the Pool there was no choice, unless one clambered round by the muddy bank.

"We must make haste," said Willie. "Father'll want his tea."

If they made haste they would be close on his heels. Charlie shrank back behind a willow and let them go by; then, quick as thought, rushed to his canoe and paddled across—up the steps and into the temple he rushed. She wasn't there! Fate is too hard for the best of us sometimes. Charlie sat down and, stretching out his legs, stared gloomily at his toes.

Thus he must have sat nearly ten minutes, when a head was put round the
Corinthian pilaster of the doorway.

"Poor boy! Am I very late?"

Charlie leapt up and forward, breathlessly blurting out joy tempered by uneasiness.

Agatha gathered the difficulty of the position.

"Well," said she, smiling, "I must disappear, and you must go back to your friends."

"No," said Charlie. "I must talk to you."

"But they may come any moment."

"I don't care!"

"Oh, but I do. Charlie, what's the matter? Oh, didn't I ever call you 'Charlie' before? Well, Charlie, if you love me (yes, I know!) you'll not let these people see me."

"All right! Come along. I'll take you to the road and come back.
Hullo! What's that?"

"It's them!" exclaimed the lady.

It was. The pair dived back into the temple. On the opposite bank stood
Millie Bushell, Mr. Vansittart, and Victor Sutton.

"Hullo, there, Charlie, you thief!" cried Victor. "Bring that canoe over here. Miss Bushell wants to get to the temple."

"Hush! Don't move!" whispered Agatha.

"But they know I'm here; they see that confounded canoe."

"Charlie! Charlie!" was shouted across in three voices.

"What the devil—," muttered Charlie.

"They mustn't see me," urged Agatha.

Victor Sutton's voice rose clear and distinct,

"I'll unearth him!" he cried. "I know the way round. You wait here with
Miss Bushell, Merceron."

"Oh, he's coming round!"

"I must chance it," said Charlie, and he came out of hiding. A cry greeted him. Victor was already started, but stopped. Charlie embarked and shot across.

"You villain! You gave us the slip," cried Uncle Van.

Miss Bushell began quietly to embark. Uncle Van followed her example.

"Oh, Mr. Merceron, you'll sink us!" cried Millie.

Charlie sat glum and silent. The situation beat him completely.

Uncle Van drew back. Millie seized the paddle and propelled the canoe out from the bank.

"You come round with me, Merceron," called Sutton, and the two men turned to the path. "No," added Victor. "Look here, we can climb round here," and he pointed to the bank. There was a little narrow muddy track, but it was enough.

The canoe was half-way across; the two men—Victor leading at a good pace—were half-way round. Charlie glanced at the window of the temple and caught a fleeting glance of a despairing face. "If you love me, they mustn't see me!"

"Here, give me the paddle!" he exclaimed, and reached forward for it.

"No, I can do it," answered Millie, lifting the instrument out of his reach.

Charlie stepped forward—rather, he jumped forward, as a man jumps over a ditch. There was a shriek from Millie; the canoe swayed, tottered, and upset. In a confused mass, Millie Bushell and Charlie were hurled into the water. Victor and Uncle Van, hardly five yards from the steps, turned in amazement.

"Help! help!" screamed Millie.

"Help!" echoed Charlie. "I can't hold her up. Victor, come and help me!
Uncle Van, come along!"

"The devil!" murmured Uncle Van,

"Quick, quick!" called Charlie; and Victor, with a vexed laugh, peeled off his coat and jumped in. Mr. Vansittart stood with a puzzled air. Then a happy thought struck him. He turned and trotted back the way he had come. He would get a rope!

As he went, as Victor reached the stragglers in the water, a slim figure in white, with a smile on her face, stole cautiously from the temple and disappeared in the wood behind. Charlie saw her go, but he held poor Millie's head remorselessly tight towards the other bank.

And that was the last he saw of the Lady of the Pool.

Millie Bushell landed, her dripping clothes clinging round her. Victor was shivering, for the evening had turned chilly. Uncle Van had a bit of rope from the boat-shed in his hand, and a doubtful smile on his face.

"We'd best get Miss Bushel home," he suggested, and they started in gloomy procession. Charlie, in remorse, gave Millie his arm.

"Oh, how could you?" she murmured piteously. She was cold, she was wet, and she was sure that she looked frightful.

I—I didn't do it on purpose, "Charlie blurted out eagerly.

"On purpose! Well, I suppose not," she exclaimed, bewildered. Charlie flushed. Victor shot a swift glance at him.

Half-way home they met Mrs. Marland and the whole affair had to be explained to her. Charlie essayed the task.

"Still, I don't see how you managed to upset the canoe," observed Mrs.
Marland.

"No more do I," said Victor Sutton. Charlie gave it up.

"I'm so sorry, Millie," he whispered. "You must try to forgive me."

So, once again, the coast was left clear for Agatha Merceron, if she came that night. But, whether she did or not, the other Agatha came no more, and Charlie's great resolve went unfulfilled. Yet the next evening he went: alone to the temple, and he found, lying on the floor, a little handkerchief trimmed with lace and embroidered with the name of "Agatha." This he put in his pocket, thanking heaven that his desperate manoeuvre had kept the shrine inviolate the day before.

"Poor Millie!" said he. "But then I had to do it."

"I hear," remarked Lady Merceron a few days later, "that one of Mr.
Prime's friends has left him—not Willie's young lady—the other."

"Has she?" asked Charlie.

No one pursued the subject, and, after a moment's pause, Mrs. Marland, who was sitting next to Charlie, asked him in a low voice whether he had been to the Pool that evening—.

"No," answered Charlie. "I don't go every night."

"Oh, poor dear Miss Bushell!" laughed Mrs. Marland; and, when Charlie looked inquiringly at her, she shook her head.

"You see, I know something of young men," she explained.

CHAPTER V

AN UNFORESEEN CASE

"I wish to goodness," remarked the Reverend Sigismund Taylor rubbing the bridge of his nose with a corner of the Manual, "that the Vicar had never introduced auricular confession. It may be in accordance with the practice of the Primitive Church, but—one does meet with such very curious cases. There's nothing the least like it, in the Manual."

He opened the book and searched its pages over again. No, the case had not been foreseen. It must be included in those which were "left to the discretion of the priest."

"It's a poor Manual," said Mr. Taylor, throwing it down and putting his hands in the pocket of his cassock. "Poor girl! She was quite distressed, too. I must have something to tell her when she comes next week."

Mr. Taylor had, in face of the difficulty, taken time to consider, and the penitent had gone away in suspense. To represent oneself as a dressmaker—well, there was nothing very outrageous in that; it was unbecoming, but venial, to tell sundry fibs by way of supporting the assumed character—the Manual was equal to that; but the rest of the disclosure was the crux. Wrong, no doubt, was the conduct—but how wrong? That made all the difference. And then there followed another question: What ought to be done? She had asked for advice about that also, and, although such counsel was not strictly incumbent on him, he felt that he ought not to refuse it. Altogether he was puzzled. At eight-and-twenty one cannot be ready for everything; yet she had implored him to consult nobody else, and decide for her himself. "I've such trust in you," she had said, wiping away an incipient teardrop; and, although Mr. Taylor told her that the individual was nothing and the Office everything, he had been rather gratified. Thinking that a turn in the open air might clear his brain and enable him better to grapple with this very thorny question, he changed his cassock for a long tailed coat, put on his wide awake, and, leaving the precincts of St. Edward Confessor, struck across Park Lane and along the Row. He passed several people he knew, both men and women: Mrs. Marland was there, attended by two young men, and, a little farther on, he saw old Lord Thrapston tottering along on his stick. Lord Thrapston hated a parson, and scowled at poor Mr. Taylor as he went by. Mr. Taylor shrank from meeting his eye, and hurried along till he reached the Serpentine, where he stood still for a few minutes, drinking in the fresh breeze. But the breeze could not blow his puzzle out of his brain. Was it a crime, or merely an escapade? What had she said to the young man? What had her feelings been or become towards the young man? Moreover, what had she caused the young man's feelings to be for her? When he came to think it over, Mr. Taylor discovered, with a shock of surprise, that on all these distinctly material points the confession had been singularly incomplete. He was ashamed of this, for, of course, it was his business to make the confession full and exhaustive. He could only plead that, at the moment, it had seemed thorough and candid—an unreserved revelation. Yet those points did, as a fact, remain obscure.

"I wish I knew a little more about human nature," sighed Mr. Taylor: he was thinking of one division of human nature, and it is likely enough that he knew next to nothing of it.

A hand clapped him on the shoulder, and, with a start, he turned round. A tall young man, in a new frock-coat and a faultless hat, stood by him, smiling at him.

"What, Charlie, old fellow!" cried Taylor; "where do you spring from?"

Charlie explained that he was up in town for a month or two.

"It's splendid to meet you first day! I was going to look you up," he said.

Sigismund Taylor and Charlie had been intimate friends at Oxford, although Charlie was, as time counts there, very considerably the junior. For the last two or three years they had hardly met.

"But what are you up for?"

"Oh, well, you see, my uncle wants me to get called to the Bar, or something, so I ran tip to have a look into it."

"Will that take a month?"

"Look here, old fellow, I've got nothing else to do—I don't see why I shouldn't stretch it to three months. Besides, I want to spend some time with my ancestors."

"With your ancestors?"

"In the British Museum: I'm writing a book about them. Queer lot some of them were, too. Of course I'm specially interested in Agatha Merceron; but I suppose you never heard of her."

Mr. Taylor confessed his ignorance, and Charlie, taking his arm, walked him up and down the bank, while he talked on his pet subject. Agatha Merceron was always interesting, and just now anything about the Pool was interesting; for there was one reason for his visit to London which he had not disclosed. Nettie Wallace had, when he met her one day, incautiously dropped a word which seemed to imply that the other Agatha was often in London. Nettie tried to recall her words; but the mischief was done, and Charlie became more than ever convinced that he would grow rusty if he stayed always at Langbury Court. In fact, he could suffer it no longer, and to town he went.

For a long while Sigismund Taylor listened with no more than average interest to Charlie's story, but it chanced that one word caught his notice.

"She comes out of the temple," said Charlie, in the voice of hushed reverence with which he was wont to talk of the unhappy lady.

"Out of where?" asked Mr. Taylor.

"The temple. Oh, I forgot, the temple is—" and Charlie gave a description which need not be repeated.

Temple! temple! Where had he heard of a temple lately? Mr. Taylor cudgelled his brains. Why—why—yes, she had spoken of a temple. She said they met in a temple. It was a strange coincidence: the word had struck him at the time. But then everybody knows that, at a certain period, it was common enough to put up these little classical erections as a memorial or merely as an ornament to pleasure-grounds. It must be a mere coincidence. But—Mr. Taylor stopped short.

"What's up?" asked Charlie, who had finished his narrative, and was now studying the faces of the ladies who rode past.

"Nothing," answered Mr. Taylor.

And really it was not much—taken by itself, entirely unworthy of notice; even taken in conjunction with the temple, of no real significance, that he could see. Still, it was a whimsical thing that, as had just struck him, Charlie's spectre should be named Agatha. But it came; to nothing: how could the name of Charlie's spectre have anything to do with that of his penitent?

Presently Charlie, too, fell into silence. He beat his stick moodily against his leg and looked glum and absent.

"Ah, well," he said at last, "poor Agatha was hardly used: she paid part of the debt we owe woman."

Mr. Taylor raised his brows and smiled at this gloomily misogynistic sentiment. He had the perception to grasp in a moment what it indicated. His young friend was, or had lately been, or thought he was likely to be, a lover, and an unhappy one. But he did not press Charlie. Confessions were no luxury to him.

Presently they began to walk back, and Charlie, saying he had to dine with Victor Button, made an appointment to see Taylor again, and left him, striking across the Row. Taylor strolled on, and, finding Mrs. Marland still in her seat, sat down by her. She was surprised and pleased to hear that Charlie was in town.

"I left him at home in deep dumps. You've never been to Langbury Court, have you?"

Taylor shook his head.

"Such a sweet old place! But, of course, rather dull for a young man, with nobody hut his mother and just one or two slow country neighbors."

"Oh, a run 'll do him good."

"Yes; he was quite moped;" and Mrs. Marland glanced at her companion. She wanted only a very little encouragement to impart her suspicions to him. It must, in justice to Mrs. Marland, be remembered that she had always found the simplest explanation of Charlie's devotion to the Pool hard to accept, and the most elaborate demonstration of how a Canadian canoe may be upset unconvincing.

"You're a great friend of his, aren't you?" pursued Mrs. Marland. "So I suppose there's no harm in mentioning my suspicions to you. Indeed, I daresay you could be of use to him—I mean, persuade him to be wise. I'm afraid, Mr. Taylor, that he is in some entanglement."

"Dear, dear!" murmured Mr. Taylor.

"Oh, I've no positive proof, but I fear so—and a very undesirable entanglement, too, with someone quite beneath him. Yes, I think I had better tell you about it."

Mr. Taylor sat silent and, save for a start or two, motionless while his companion detailed her circumstantial evidence. Whether it was enough to prove Mrs. Marland's case or not—whether, that is, it is inconceivable that a young man should go to any place fourteen evenings running, and upset a friend of his youth out of a canoe, except there be a lady involved, is perhaps doubtful; but it was more than enough to show Mr. Sigismund Taylor that the confession he had listened to was based upon fact, and that Charlie Merceron was the other party to those stolen interviews, into whose exact degree of heinousness he was now inquiring. This knowledge caused Mr. Taylor to feel that he was in an awkward position.

"Now," asked Mrs. Marland, "candidly, Mr. Taylor, can you suppose anything else than that our friend Charlie was carrying on a very pronounced flirtation with this dressmaker?"

"Dressmaker?"

"Her friend was, and I believe she was too. Something of the kind, anyhow."

"You—you never saw the—the other person?"

"No; she kept out of the way. That looks bad, doesn't it? No doubt she was a tawdry vulgar creature. But a man never notices that!"

At this moment two people were seen approaching. One of them was a man of middle height and perhaps five-and-thirty years of age; he was stout and thick-built; he had a fat face with bulging cheeks; his eyes were rather like a frog's; he leant very much forward as he walked, and swayed gently from side to side with a rolling swagger; and as his body rolled, his eye rolled too, and he looked this way and that with a jovial leer and a smile of contentment and amusement on his face. The smile and the merry eye redeemed his appearance from blank ugliness, but neither of them indicated a spiritual or exalted mind.

By his side walked a girl, dressed, as Mrs. Marland enviously admitted, as really very few women in London could dress, and wearing, in virtue perhaps of the dress, perhaps of other more precious gifts, an air of assured perfection and dainty disdain. She was listening to her companion's conversation, and did not notice Sigismund Taylor, with whom she was well acquainted.

"Dear me, who are those, I wonder?" exclaimed Mrs. Marland. "She's very distinguée."

"It's Miss Glyn," answered he.

"What—Miss Agatha, Glyn?"

"Yes," he replied, wondering whether that little coincidence as to the
'Agatha' would suggest itself to anyone else.

"Lord Thrapston's granddaughter?"

"Yes."

"Horrid old man, isn't he?"

"I know him very slightly."

"And the man—who's he?"

"Mr. Calder Wentworth."

"To be sure. Why, they're engaged, aren't they? I saw it in the paper."

"I'm sure I don't know," said Mr. Taylor, in a voice more troubled than the matter seemed to require. "I saw it in the paper too."

"He's no beauty, at any rate; but he's a great match, I suppose?"

"Oh, perhaps it isn't true."

"You speak as if you wished it wasn't. I've heard about Mr. Wentworth from Victor Sutton—you know who I mean?" and Mrs. Marland proceeded to give some particulars of Calder Wentworth's career.

Meanwhile that gentleman himself was telling Agatha Glyn a very humorous story. Agatha did not laugh. Suddenly she interrupted him.

"Why don't you ask me more about it?"

"I thought you'd tell me if you wanted me to know," he answered.

"You are the most insufferable man. Don't you care in the least what I do or where I go?"

"Got perfect confidence in you," said Calder politely.

"I don't deserve it."

"Oh, I daresay not; but it's so much more comfortable for me."

"I disappeared—simply disappeared—for a fortnight; and you've never asked where I went, or what I did, or—or anything."

"Haven't I? Where did you go?"

"I can't tell you."

"There, you see! What the dickens was the good of my asking?"

"If you knew what I did I suppose you'd never speak to me again."

"All right. Keep it dark then, please."

"For one tiling, I met—No, I won't."

"I never asked you to, you know."

They walked on a little way in silence.

"Met young Sutton at lunch," observed Calder. "He's been rusticating with some relations of old Van Merceron's. They've got a nice place apparently."

"I particularly dislike Mr. Sutton."

"All right. He sha'n't come when we're married. Eh? What?"

"I didn't speak," said Miss Glyn, who had certainly done something.

"Beg pardon," smiled Calder. "Victor told me rather a joke. It appears there's a young Merceron, and the usual rustic beauty, don't you know—forget the name—but a fat girl, Victor said, and awfully gone on young Merceron. Well, there's a pond or something——"

"How long will this story last?" asked Miss Glyn with a tragic air.

"It's an uncommon amusing one," protested Calder. "He upset her in the pond, and——"

"Do you mind finishing it some other time?"

"Oh, all right. Thought it'd interest you."

"It doesn't."

"Never knew such a girl! No sense of humor!" commented Calder, with a shake of his head and a backward roll of his eye towards his companion.

But it makes such a difference whether a story is new to the hearer.

CHAPTER VI

THERE WAS SOMEBODY

Two worlds and half a dozen industries had conspired to shower gold on Calder Wentworth's head. There was land in the family, brought by his grandmother; there was finance on the paternal side (whence came a Portuguese title, carefully eschewed by Calder); there had been a London street, half a watering-place, a South African mine, and the better part of an American railway. The street and the watering-place remained; the mine and the railway had been sold at the top of the market. About the same time the family name became Wentworth—it had been Stripes, which was felt to be absurd—and the family itself began to take an exalted place in society. The rise was the easier because, when old Mr. Stripes-Wentworth died, young Mr. Calder S. Wentworth became the only representative; and a rich young bachelor can rise lightly to heights inaccessible to the feet of less happily situated folk. It seemed part of Providence's benevolence that when Lady Forteville asked how many 'Stripes women' there were, the answer could be 'None'; whereupon the countess at once invited Mr. Calder Wentworth to dinner. Calder went, and rolled his frog's eyes with much amusement when the lady asked him to what Wentworths he belonged, for, as he observed to Miss Glyn, whom he had the pleasure of escorting, his Wentworths were an entirely new brand, and Lady Forteville knew it as well as if she had read the letters patent and invented the coat-of-arms.

"Mr. Wentworth—Mr. Merceron," said Victor Sutton, with a wave of his hand.

"I believe I know an uncle of yours—an uncommon clever fellow," said
Calder, unfolding his napkin and glancing round the dining-room of the
Themis Club.

"Oh, Uncle Van? Yes, we consider him our——"

"Leading article? Quite so. I've heard a bit about you too—something about a canoe, eh?"

Charlie looked somewhat disturbed.

"Oughtn't Sutton to have told me? Well, it's too late now because I've told half a dozen fellows."

"But there's nothing to tell."

"Well, I told it to old Thrapston—you don't know him, do you? Cunningest old boy in London. Upon my honor, you know, I shouldn't like to be like old Thrapston, not when I was getting old, you know. He's too——"

"Well, what did he say?" asked Victor.

"He said what you never had the sense to see, my boy; but I expect Mr.
Merceron won't be obliged to me for repeating it."

"I should like to hear it," said Charlie, with necessary politeness.

"Well, it's not me, its old Thrapston; and if you say it's wrong, I'll believe yon. Old Thrapston—hang it, Victor, that old man ought to be hanged! Why, only the other day I saw him——"

"Do stick to the point," groaned Victor.

"All right. Well, he said, 'I'll lay a guinea there was a'—and he winked his sinful old eye, you know, for all the world like a what-d'ye-call-it in a cathedral one of those hideous—I say, what is the word, Victor? I saw 'em when Agatha took me—beg pardon, Merceron?"

Was the world full of Agathas? If so, it would be well not to start whenever one was mentioned. Charlie recovered himself.

"I think you must mean a gargoyle," he said, wondering who this Agatha might be.

"Of course I do. Fancy forgetting that! Gargoyle, of course. Well, old Thrapston said, 'I'll lay a guinea there was a woman in that dashed summer house, Calder, my boy.'"

Victor Button's eyes lighted with a gleam,

"Well, I'm hanged if I ever thought of that! Charlie, you held us all!"

"Bosh!" said Charlie Merceron. "There was no one there."

"All right. But there ought to have been, you know—to give interest to the position."

"Honor bright, Charlie?" asked Victor Sutton.

"Shut up, Sutton," interposed Calder, "He's not in the Divorce Court,
Let's change the subject."

Charlie was in a difficulty, but the better course seemed to be to allow the subject to be changed, in spite of the wink that accompanied Calder's suggestion.

"All right," said Victor. "How is Miss Glyn, Wentworth?"

"Oh, she's all right. She's been in the country for a bit, but she's back now."

"And when is the happy event to be?"

Calder laid down his knife and fork and remarked deliberately:

"I haven't, my dear boy, the least idea."

"I should hurry her up," laughed Sutton.

"I'd just like—now I should just like to put you in my shoes for half an hour, and see you hurry up Agatha."

"She couldn't eat me."

"Eat you? No, but she'd flatten you out so that you'd go under that door and leave room for the jolly draught there is all the same."

Sutton laughed complacently.

"Well, you're a patient man," he observed. "For my part, I like a thing to be off or on."

It came to Charlie Merceron almost as a surprise to find that Victor's impudence—he could call it by no other name—was not reserved for his juniors or for young men from the country; but Calder took it quite good-humoredly, contenting himself with observing, "Well, it was very soon off in your case, wasn't it, old fellow?"

Sutton flushed.

"I've told you before that that's not true," he said angrily.

Calder laughed.

"All right, all right. We used to think, once upon a time, Merceron, you know, that old Victor here was a bit smitten himself; but he hasn't drugged my champagne yet, so of course, as he says, it was all a mistake."

After dinner the three separated. Victor had to go to a party. Calder Wentworth proposed to Charlie that they should take a stroll together with a view to seeing whether, when they came opposite to the door of a music-hall, they would 'feel like' dropping in to see part of the entertainment. Charlie agreed, and, having lit their cigars, they set out. He found his now friend amusing, and Calder, for his part, took a liking for Charlie, largely on account of his good looks; like many plain people, he was extremely sensitive to the influence of beauty in women and men alike.

"I say, old fellow," he said, pressing Charlie's arm as if he had known him all his life, "there was somebody in that summer-house, eh?"

Charlie turned with a smile and a blush. He felt confidential.

"Yes, there was, only Victor——"

"Oh, I know. I nearly break his head whenever he mentions any girl I like."

"You know what he'd have thought—and it wasn't anything like that really."

"Who was she, then?"

"I—I don't know."

"Oh, I don't mean her name, of course. But what was she?"

"I don't know."

"Where did she come from?"

"London, I believe."

"Oh! I say, that's a queer go, Merceron."

"I don't know what to think about it. She's simply vanished," said poor
Charlie, and no one should wonder if his voice faltered a little.
Calder Wentworth laughed at many things, but he did not laugh now at
Charlie Merceron. Indeed he looked unusually grave.

"I should drop it," he remarked. "It don't look—well—healthy."

"Ah, you've never seen her," said Charlie.

"No, and I tell you what—it won't be a bad thing if you don't see her again."

"Why?"

"Because you're just in the state of mind to marry her."

"And why shouldn't I?"

Mr. Wentworth made no answer, and they walked on till they readied
Piccadilly Circus. Then Charlie suddenly darted forward.

"Hullo, what's up?" cried Calder, following him.

Charlie was talking eagerly to a very smart young lady who had just got down from an omnibus.

"By Jove! he can't have found, her!" thought Calder.

It was not the unknown, but her friend Nettie Wallace, whom Charlie's quick eye had discerned; and the next moment Willie Prime made his appearance. Charlie received them both almost with enthusiasm, and the news from Lang Marsh was asked and given. Calder drew near, and Charlie presented his friends to one another with the intent that he might get a word with Nettie while Calder engrossed her fiances attention.

"Have—have you heard from Miss Brown lately?" he was just beginning, when Calder, who had been looking steadily at Nettie, burst out:

"Hullo, I say, Miss Wallace, we've met before, haven't we? You know me, don't you?"

Nettie laughed.

"Oh, yes, I know you, sir. You're—-"

She paused abruptly, and glanced from Charlie to Calder, and back from
Calder to Charlie. Then she blushed very red indeed.

"Well, who am I?"

"I—I saw you at—at Miss Glyn's, Mr. Wentworth."

"'Course you did—that's it;" and, looking curiously at the girl's flushed face, he added: "Don't be afraid to mention Miss Glyn; Mr. Merceron knows all about it."

"All about it, does he, sir?" cried Nettie. "Well, I'm glad of that. I haven't been easy in my mind ever since."

Calder's conformation of eye enabled him to express much surprise by facial expression, and at this moment he used his power to the full.

"Awfully kind of you, Miss Wallace," said he, "but I don't see where your responsibility comes in. Ever since what?"

Nettie shot a glance of inquiry at Charlie, but here too she met only bewilderment.

"Does he know that Miss Glyn is—-" she began.

"Engaged to me? Certainly."

"Oh!"

Willie stood by in silence. He had never heard of this Miss Glyn.
Charlie, puzzled as he was, was too intent on Miss Brown to spend much
time wondering why Miss Glyn's affairs should have been a trouble to
Nettie.

"You'll let me know if you hear about her, won't you?" he asked in a low voice.

Nettie gave up the hope of understanding. She shook her head.

"I'll ask her, if I see her, whether she wishes it," she whispered back; and, with a hasty good-night, she seized Willie's arm and hurried him off. Charlie was left alone with Calder.

"What the deuce did she mean?" asked Calder.

"I don't know," answered Charlie.

"Where did you meet her?"

"Oh, down at home. The fellow she was with is a son of a tenant of ours; she's going to marry him."

"She's a nice little girl, but I'm hanged if I know what she meant."

And, as the one was thinking exclusively of Agatha Glyn, and the other spared a thought for no one but Agatha Brown, they did not arrive at an explanation.

One result, however, that chance encounter had. The next morning Miss
Agatha Glyn received a letter in the following terms:

"Madam:—I hope you will excuse me intruding, but I think you would wish to know that Mr. Charles Merceron is in London, and that I met him this evening with Mr. Wentworth. As you informed me that you had passed Mr. Merceron on the road two or three times during your visit to Lang Marsh, I think you may wish to be informed of the above. I may add that Mr. Merceron is aware that you are engaged to Mr. Wentworth, but I could not make out how far he was aware of what happened at Lang Marsh. I think he does not know it. Of course you will know whether Mr. Wentworth is aware of your visit there. I should be much obliged if you would be so kind as to tell me what to say if I meet the gentlemen again. Mr. Merceron is very pressing in asking me for news of you. I am to be married in a fortnight from the present date, and I am, Madam, yours respectfully, Nettie Wallace."

"In London, and with Calder!" exclaimed Agatha Glyn. "Oh dear! oh dear! oh dear! What is to be done? I wish I'd never gone near the wretched place!"

Then she took up the letter and reread it.

"He and I mustn't meet, that's all," she said.

Then she slowly tore the letter into very small pieces and put them in the waste-paper basket.

"Calder has no idea where I was," she said, and she sat down by the window and looked out over the Park for nearly ten minutes.

"Ah, well! I should like to see him just once again. Dear old Pool." said she.

Then she suddenly began to laugh—an action only to be excused in one in her position, and burdened with her sins, by the fact of her having at the moment a peculiarly vivid vision of Millie Bushell going head first out of a canoe.

CHAPTER VII

THE INEVITABLE MEETING

The first Viscount Thrapston had been an eminent public character, and the second a respectable private person; the third had been neither. And yet there was some good in the third. He had loved his only son with a fondness rare to find; and for ten whole years, while the young man was between seventeen and twenty-seven, the old lord lived, for his sake, a life open to no reproach. Then the son died, leaving a lately married wife and a baby-girl, and Lord Thrapston, deprived at once of hope and of restraint, returned to his old courses, till age came upon him and drove him from practice into reminiscence. Mrs. Glyn had outlived her husband fifteen years and then followed him, fairly snubbed to death, some said, by her formidable father-in-law. The daughter was of sterner stuff, and early discovered for herself that nothing worse than a scowl or a snarl was to be feared. On her, indeed, descended a relic of that tenderness her father had enjoyed, and Agatha used to the full the advantages it gave her. She knew her own importance. It is not every girl who will be a peeress in her own right, and she amused her grandfather by calmly informing him that it was not on the whole a subject for regret that she had not been a boy. "You see," said she, "we get rid of the new viscounty, and it's much better to be Warmley than Thrapston."

The fact that she was some day to be 'Warmley' was the mainspring of that hairbrained jaunt to Lang Marsh in company with Nettie Wallace. Nettie was the daughter of Lord Thrapston's housekeeper, and the two girls had been intimate in youth, much as Charlie Merceron and Willie Prime had been at the Court; and when Nettie, scorning servitude, set up in life for herself, Agatha gave her her custom and did not withdraw her friendship. In return, she received an allegiance which refused none of her behests, and a regard which abolished all formality between them, except when Nettie got a pen in her hand and set herself to compose a polite letter. The expedition was, of course, to see the Court—the old home of the Warmleys, for which Agatha felt a sentimental attraction. She had told herself that some day, if she were rich (and, Lord Thrapston not being rich, she must have had some other resource in her mind), she would buy back Langbury Court and get rid of the Mercerons altogether. There were only a widow and a boy, she had heard, and they should have their price. So she went to the Court in the business-like mood of a possible purchaser (Calder could afford anything), as well as in the romantic mood of a girl escaped from every-day surroundings and plunging into a past full of interest to her. Had not she also read of Agatha Merceron? And in this mixed mood she remained till one evening at the Pool she had met 'the boy', when the mood became more mixed still. She dared not now look back on the struggles she had gone through before her meeting with the boy became first a daily event, and then the daily event. She had indulged herself for once. It was not to last; but for once it was overpoweringly sweet to be gazed at by eyes that did not remind her of a frog's, and to see swiftly darting towards her a lithe straight figure crowned with a head that (so she said) reminded her of Lord Byron's. But alas! alas! why had nobody told her that the boy was like that before she went? Why did her grandfather take no care of her? Why did Calder never show any interest in what she did? Why, in fine, was everybody so cruel as to let her do exactly what she liked, and thereby get into a scrape like this?

One thing was certain. If that boy were in London, she must avoid him. They must never meet. It was nonsense for Mr. Sigismund Taylor to talk of making a. clean breast of it—of a dignified apology to Charlie, coupled with a no less dignified intimation that their acquaintance must be regarded as closed. Mr. Taylor knew nothing of the world. He even wanted her to tell Calder! No. She was truly and properly penitent, and she hoped that she received all he said in that line in a right spirit; but when it came to a question of expediency, she would rather have Mrs. Blunt's advice than that of a thousand Mr. Taylors. So she wrote to Mrs. Blunt and asked herself to lunch, and Mrs. Blunt, being an accomplished painstaking hostess, and having no reason to suppose that her young friend desired a confidential interview, at once cast about for some one whom Agatha would like to meet. She did not ask Calder Wentworth—she was not so commonplace as that—but she invited Victor Sutton, and, delighting in a happy flash of inspiration, she added Mr. Vansittart Merceron. The families were connected in some way, she knew, and Agatha certainly ought to know Mr. Merceron.

Accordingly, when Agatha arrived, she found Victor, and she had not been there five minutes before the butler, throwing open the door, announced "Mr. Merceron."

Uncle Van had reached that state of body when he took his time over stairs, and between the announcement and his entrance there was time for Agatha to exclaim, quite audibly, "Oh!"

"What's the matter, dear?" asked Mrs. Blunt; but Uncle Van's entrance forbade a reply, and left Agatha blushing but relieved.

Was she never to hear the end of that awful story? It might be natural that, her hereditary connection with the Mercerons being disclosed, Mr. Vansittart should discourse of Langbury Court, of the Pool, and of Agatha Merceron; but was it necessary that Victor Sutton should chime in with the whole history of the canoe and Miss Bushell, or joke with Mr. Merceron about his nephew's 'assignations'? The whole topic seemed in bad taste, and she wondered that Mrs. Blunt did not discourage it. But what horrible creatures men were! Did they really think it impossible for a girl to like to talk to a man for an hour or so in the evening without——?

"You must let me bring my nephew to meet Miss Glyn," said Uncle Van graciously to his hostess. "She is so interested in the family history that she and Charlie would get on like wildfire. He's mad about it."

"In fact," sniggered Victor (Miss Glyn always detested that man), "so interested that, as you hear, he went to meet Agatha Merceron every evening for a fortnight!"

"You'll be delighted to meet him, won't you, Agatha? We must arrange a day," said Mrs. Blunt.

"Calder knows him," added Victor.

"He's an idle young dog," said Uncle Van, "but a nice fellow. A little flighty and fanciful, as boys will be, but no harm in him. You mustn't attach too much importance to our chaff about his meetings at the Pool, Miss Glyn; we don't mean any harm."

Agatha tried to smile, but the attempt was not a brilliant success. She stammered that she would be delighted to meet Mr. Charles Merceron, swearing in her heart that she would sooner start for Tierra del Fuego. But her confession to Mrs. Blunt would save her, if only these odious men would go. They had had their coffee, and their liqueurs, and their cigarettes. What more, in Heaven's name, could even a man want to propitiate the god of his idolatry?

Apparently the guests themselves became aware that they were trespassing, for Uncle Van, turning to his hostess with his blandest smile, remarked, "I hope we're not staying too long. The fact is, my dear Mrs. Blunt, you're always so kind that we took the liberty of telling Calder Wentworth to call for us here. He ought to have come by now."

Mrs. Blunt declared that she would be offended if they thought of going before Calder came. Agatha rose in despair: the confession must be put off. She held out her hand to her hostess. At this moment the door-bell rang.

"That's him," said Victor.

"Sit down again for a minute, dear," urged Mrs. Blunt.

There was renewed hope for the confession. Agatha sat down. But hardly had she done so before the strangest presentiment came over her. She heard the door below open and shut, and it was borne in upon her mind that two men had entered. How she guessed it, she could not tell, but, as she sat there, she had no doubt at all that Charlie Merceron had come with Calder Went worth. Escape was impossible, but she walked across to the window and stood there, with her back to the door.

"Mr. Wentworth!" she heard, and then, cutting the servant short, came
Calder's voice.

"I took the liberty—-" he began: and she did not know how he went on, for her head was swimming.

"Agatha! Agatha, dear!" called Mrs. Blunt.

Perforce she turned, passing her hand quickly across her brow. Yes! It was so. There he stood by Calder's side, and Calder was saying, "My dear Agatha, this is Charlie Merceron."

She would not look at Charlie. She moved slowly forward, her eyes fixed on Calder, and bowed with a little set smile. Luckily people pay slight attention to one another's expressions on social occasions, or they must all have noticed her agitation. As it was, only Calder Wentworth looked curiously at her before he turned aside to shake hands with Uncle Van.

Then she felt Charlie Merceron coining nearer, and, a second later, she heard his voice.

"Is it possible that it's you?" he asked, in a low tone.

Then she looked at him. His face was pale and his eyes eagerly straining to read what might be in hers.

"Hush!" she whispered. "Yes. Hush! hush!"

"But—but he told me your name was Glyn?"

"Yes."

"And he says you're engaged to him."

Agatha clasped her hands, and Calder's voice broke in, between them:
"Come along, Merceron, we're waiting for you."

"They've got into antiquities already," smiled Mrs. Blunt. "You must come again, Mr. Merceron, and meet Miss Glyn. Mustn't he, Agatha?"

Agatha threw one glance at him.

"If he will," she said.

Charlie pulled himself together, muttered something appropriate, and shuffled out tinder his uncle's wing. Mr. Vansittart was surprised to find him a trifle confused and awkward in society.

Outside the house, Charlie ranged up beside Calder "Wentworth, leaving
Uncle Van and Sutton together.

"Well, what do you think of her?" asked Calder.

Charlie gave no opinion. He asked just one question:

"How long have you been engaged to her?"

"How long? Oh, let's see. About—yes, just about a year. I never knew that there was a sort of connection between you and her—sort of relationship, you know. I ain't strong on the Peerage."

"A sort of connection!" There was that in more senses than the one Calder had been told of by Uncle Van. There was a connection that poor Charlie thought Heaven itself had tied on those summer evenings by the Pool, which to strengthen and confirm forever he had sallied from his home, like a knight in search of his mistress the world over in olden days. And he found her—such as this girl must be! Stay! He did not know all yet. Perhaps she had been forced into a bond she hated. He knew that happened. Did not stories tell of it, and moralists declaim against it? This man—this creature, Calder Wentworth—was buying her with his money, forcing himself on her, brutally capturing her. Of course! How could he have doubted her? Charlie dropped Calder's arm as though it had been made of red-hot iron.

"Hullo!" exclaimed that worthy fellow, unconscious of offence.

Charlie stopped short. "I can't come," he said. "I—I've remembered an engagement;" and without more he turned away and shot out of sight round the nearest corner.

"Well, I'm hanged!" said Calder Wentworth, and, with a puzzled frown, he joined his other friends.

CHAPTER VIII

THE MORAL OF IT

Left alone with Mrs. Blunt, Agatha sank into the nearest chair.

"A very handsome young man, isn't he?" asked the good lady, pushing a chair back into its place. "He'll be an acquisition, I think."

Agatha made no answer, and Mrs. Blunt, glancing at her, found her devouring the carpet with a stony stare.

"What on earth's the matter, child?"

"I'm the wretchedest wickedest girl alive," declared Agatha.

"Good gracious!"

"Mrs. Blunt, who do you think was in the summer-house when Mr. Merceron went there?"

"My dear, are you ill? You jump about so from subject to subject."

"It's all one subject, Mrs. Blunt. There was a girl there."

"Well, my dear, and if there was? Boys will be boys; and I'm sure there was no harm."

"No harm! Oh!"

"Agatha, are you crazy?" demanded Mrs. Blunt, with an access of sternness.

"Could I fancy," pursued Agatha, in despairing playfulness mimicking Uncle Van's manner, "how Miss Bushell looked, and how Victor looked, and how everybody looked? Could I fancy it? Why, I was there!"

"There! Where?"

"Why, in that wretched little temple. I was the girl, Mrs. Blunt.
I—I—I was the milkmaid, as Mr. Sutton says. I was the country wench!
Oh dear! oh dear! oh dear!"

Mrs. Blunt, knowing her sex, held out a bottle of salts.

"I'm not mad," said Agatha.

"You're nearly hysterical."

Agatha took a long sniff.

"I think I can tell you now," she said more calmly. "But was ever a girl in such an awful position before?"

It is needless to repeat what Mrs. Blunt said. Her censures will have been long ago anticipated by every right-thinking person, and if she softened them down a little more than strict justice allowed, it must have been because Agatha was an old favorite of hers, and Lord Thrapston an old antipathy. Upon her word, she always wondered that the poor child, brought up by that horrid old man, was not twice as bad as she was.

"But what am I to do about them?" cried Agatha.

'Them' evidently meant Calder and Charlie.

"Do! Why, there's nothing to do. You must just apologize to Mr.
Merceron, and tell him that an end had better be put—"

"Oh, I know—Mr. Taylor said that; but, Mrs. Blunt, I don't want an end to be put to our acquaintance. I like him very very much. Oh, and he thinks me horrid! Oh!"

"Take another sniff," advised Mrs. Blunt, "Of course, if Mr. Merceron is willing to let bygones be bygones, and just be an acquaintance——"

"Oh, but I know he won't. If you knew Charlie

"Knew who, Agatha?"

"Mr. Merceron," said Agatha, in a very humble voice. "If you knew him at all, you'd know he wouldn't do that."

"Then you must send him about his business. Oh, yes, I know. You've treated him atrociously, but Calder Wentworth must be considered first; that is, if you care two straws for the poor fellow, which I begin to doubt."

"Oh, I do, Mrs. Blunt!"

"Agatha, you shameless girl, which of these men—-?"

"Don't talk as if there were a dozen of them, dear Mrs. Blunt. There are only two."

"One too many."

"Yes, I know. You—you see I'm—I'm accustomed to Calder."

"Oh, are you?"

"Yes. Don't be unkind, Mrs. Blunt. And then Charlie was something so new—such a charming change—that——"

"Upon my word, you might be your grandfather. Talk about heredity, and
Ibsen, and all that!"

"Can't you help me, dear Mrs. Blunt?"

"I can't give you two husbands, if that's what you want. There, child, don't cry. Never mind me. Have another sniff."

"I shall go home," said Agatha. "Perhaps grandpapa may be able to advise me."

"Your grandfather! Gracious goodness, girl, you're never going to tell him?"

"Yes, I shall. Grandpapa's had a lot of experience: he says so."

"I should think he had!" whispered Mrs. Blunt with uplifted hands.

"Good-by, Mrs. Blunt. You don't know how unhappy I am. Thanks, yes, a hansom, please. Mrs. Blunt, are you going to ask Mr. Merceron here again?"

Mrs. Blunt's toleration was exhausted.

"Be off with you!" she said sternly, pointing a forefinger at the door.

By great good fortune Agatha found Lord Thrapston at home. Drawing a footstool beside his chair, she sat down. Her agitation was past, and she wore a gravely business like air.

"Grandpapa," she began, "I have got something to tell you."

"Go ahead, my dear," said the old gentleman, stroking her golden hair.
Her father had curls like that when he was a boy.

"Something dreadful I've done, you know. But you won't be very angry, will you?"

"We'll see."

"You oughtn't to be, because you're not very good yourself, are you?" and she first glanced up into his burnt-out old eyes and then pressed her lips on his knotted lean old hand.

"Aggy," said he, "I expect you play the deuce with the young fellows, don't you?"

Agatha laughed softly, but a frown succeeded.

"That's just it," she said. "Now, you're to listen and not interrupt, or I shall never be able to manage it. And you're not to look at me, grandpapa."

The narrative—that thrice-told tale—began. As the comments of Mr. Taylor and Mrs. Blunt were omitted, those of Lord Thrapston may well receive like treatment, more especially as they tended not to edification; but before his granddaughter had finished her story the old man had sworn softly four times and chuckled audibly twice.

"I knew there was a girl in that temple, soon as Calder told me," said he.

"But you didn't know who it was. Oh, and Calder doesn't?"

"Not he. Well, you've made a pretty little fool of yourself, missie.
What are you going to do now?"

"That's what you've got to tell me."

"I? Oh, I dare say. No, no; you got into the scrape and you can get out of it. And—-" He suddenly recollected his duties. "Look here, Agatha, I must—hang it, Agatha, I shouldn't be doing my duty as—as a grandfather if I didn't say that it's a monstrous disgraceful thing of you to have done. Yes, d——d disgraceful;" and he took a pinch of snuff with an air of severe virtue.

"Yes, dear; but you shouldn't swear, should you?"

Lord Thrapston felt that he had spoilt the moral effect of his reproof, and, without dwelling further on that aspect of the subject, he addressed his mind to the more practical question. The outcome, different as the source was, was the same old verdict.

"We must tell Calder, my dear. It isn't right to keep him in the dark."

"I can't tell him. Why must he be told?"

"Well," said Lord Thrapston, "it's just possible, Aggy, that he may have something to say to it, isn't it?"

"I don't mind what he says," declared Agatha.

"Eh? Why, I thought you were so fond of him."

"So I am."

"And as you're going to marry him

"I never said I was going to marry him. I only said he might be engaged to me, if he liked."

"Oho! So this young Merceron——"

"Not at all, grandpapa. Oh, I do wish somebody would help me!"

Lord Thrapston rose from his seat.

"You must do what you like," he said. "I'm going to tell Calder."

"Oh, why?"

"Because," he answered, "I'm a man of honor."

Before the impressive invocation of her grandfather's one religion,
Agatha's opposition collapsed.

"I suppose he must be told," she admitted mournfully. "I expect he'll never speak to me again, and I'm sure Mr. Merceron won't;" and she sat on the footstool, the picture of dejection.

Lord Thrapston was moved to enunciate a solemn truth.

"Aggy," said he, shaking his finger at her, "in this world you can't have your fun for nothing." But then he spoilt it by adding regretfully, "More's the pity!" and off he hobbled to the club, intent on finding Calder Wentworth.

For some time after he went, Agatha sat on her stool in deep thought. Then she rose, sat down at the writing-table, took a pen, and began to bite the end of it. At last she started to write:

"I don't know whether I ought to write or not, but I must tell you how it happened. Oh, don't think too badly of me! I came down just because I had heard so much about the Court and I wanted to see it, and I came as I did with Nettie Wallace just for fun. I never meant to say I was a dress-maker, you know; but people would ask questions and I had to say something. I never, never thought of you. I thought you were about fifteen. And you know—oh, you must know—that I met you quite by accident, and was just as surprised as you were. And the rest was all your fault. I didn't want to come again; you know I refused ever so many times; and you promised you wouldn't come if I came, and then you did come. It was really all your fault. And I'm very, very sorry, and you must please try to forgive me, dear Mr. Merceron, and not think me a very wicked girl. I had no idea of coming every evening, but you persuaded me. You know you persuaded me. And how could I tell you I was engaged? You know you never asked me. I would have told you if you had. I am telling Mr. Wentworth all about it, and I don't think you ought to have persuaded me to meet you as you did. It wasn't really kind or nice of you, was it? Because, of course, I'm not very old, and I don't know much about the world, and I never thought of all the horrid things people would say. Do, please, keep this quite a secret. I felt I must write you just a line. I wonder what you're thinking about me, or whether you're thinking about me at all. You must never think of me again. I am very, very unhappy, and I do most earnestly hope, dear Mr. Merceron, that I have not made you unhappy. We were both very much to blame, weren't we? But we slipped into it without knowing. Good-by. I don't think I shall ever forget the dear old Pool, and the temple, and—the rest. But you must please forget me and forgive me. I am very miserable about it and about everything. I think we had better not know each other any more, so please don't answer this. Just put it in the fire and think no more about it or me. I wanted to tell you all this when I saw you to-day, but I couldn't. Good-by. Why did we ever meet?"

"Agatha Glyn."

She read this rather confused composition over twice, growing more sorry for herself each time. Then she put it in an envelope, addressed it to Charlie, looked out Uncle Van in the Directory, and sent it under cover to his residence. Then she went and lay down on the hearth-rug, and began to cry, and through her tears she said aloud to herself,

"I wonder whether he'll write or come."

Because it seemed to her entirely impossible that, in spite of her prayer, he should put the letter in the fire and let her go. Surely he too remembered the dear old Pool, and the temple, and—the rest!

CHAPTER IX

TWO MEN OF SPIRIT

"The fact is," observed Lord Thrapston complacently, "the girl very much resembles me in disposition."

Calder's eyes grew larger and rounder.

"Do you really think so?" he asked anxiously.

"Well, this little lark of hers—hang me, it's just what I should have enjoyed doing fifty years ago."

"Ah—er—Lord—Thrapston, have you noticed the resemblance you speak of in any other way?"

"That girl, except that she is a girl, is myself over again—myself over again."

"The deuce!"

"I beg your pardon, Calder; I grow hard of hearing."

"Nothing. Lord Thrapston. Look here, Lord Thrapston——"

"Well, well, my dear boy?"

"Oh, nothing; that is—"

"But she'll be all right in your hands, my boy. You must keep an eye; on her, don't you know: she'll need a bit o' driving; but I really don't see why you should come to grief. I don't, 'pon my soul. No. With tact on your part, you might very well pull through."

"How d'ye mean tact, Lord Thrapston?"

"Oh, amuse her. Let her travel; give her lots of society; don't bother her with domestic affairs. Don't let her feel she's under any obligation. That's what she kicks against. So do I; always did."

Calder pulled his mustache. Lord Thrapston had briefly sketched the exact opposite of his ideal of married life.

"The fact is," continued the old man, "the boy's an uncommon handsome boy. She can't resist that. No more can I; never could."

There chanced to be a mirror opposite Calder, and he impartially considered himself. There was, he concluded, every prospect of Miss Glyn resisting any engrossing passion for him.

"It's very good of you to have told, me all about it," he remarked, rising. "I'll think it over."

"Yes, do. Of course, I admit she's given you a perfectly good reason for breaking off your engagement if you like. Mind that. We don't feel aggrieved, Calder. Act as you think best. We admit we're in the wrong, but we must stand by what we've done."

"I shouldn't like to give her any pain—"

"Pain! Oh, dear me, no, my dear boy. She won't fret. Make your mind easy about that."

Calder felt a sudden impulse to disclose to Lord Thrapston his secret opinion of him, and he recollected, with a pang, that in the course of so doing he would have to touch on more than one characteristic shared by the old man and Agatha. Where were his visions of a quiet home in the country, of freedom from the irksome duties of society, of an obedient and devoted wife, surrounded by children and flanked by jampots? He had once painted this picture for Agatha, shortly after she had agreed to that arrangement which she declined to call a promise of marriage; and it occurred to him now that she had allowed the subject to drop without any expression of concurrence. He took leave of Lord Thrapston and went for a solitary walk. He wanted to think. But the position of affairs was such that other persons also felt the need of reflection, and Calder had not been walking by the Row very long before, lifting his eyes, he saw a young man approaching. The young man was not attired as he ought to have been: he wore a light suit, a dissolute necktie, and a soft wideawake crammed down low on his head. He had obviously forsworn the vanities of the world and was wearing the willow. He came up to Calder and held out his hand.

"Wentworth," he said, "I left you rudely the other day. I was doing you an injustice. I have heard the truth from Mrs. Blunt. You are free from all blame. We—we are fellow-sufferers."

His tones were so mournful that Calder shook his hand with warm sympathy, and remarked, "Pretty rough, on us both, ain't it?"

"For me," declared Charlie, "everything is over. My trust in woman is destroyed; my pleasure in life is—"

"Well, I don't feel A1 myself, old chap," said Calder.

"I have written to—to her, to say good-by."

"No, have yon, though?"

"What else could I do? Wentworth, do you suppose that, even if she was free, I would think of her for another moment? Can there be love where there is no esteem, no trust, no confidence?"

"I was just thinking that when you came up," said Calder.

"No, at whatever cost, I—every self-respecting man—must consider first of all what he owes to his name, to his family, to his—Wentworth, to his unborn children."

Calder nodded.

"You, of course," pursued Charlie, "will be guided by your own judgment. As to that, the circumstances seal my lips."

"I don't like it, you know," said Calder.

"As regards you, she may or may not have excuses. I don't know; but she wilfully and grossly deceived me. I have done with her."

"Gad, I believe you're right, Merceron, old chap! A chap ought to stand up for himself, by Jove! You'd never feel safe with her, would you, by Jove?"

"Good-by," said Charlie suddenly. "I leave Paddington by the 4.15."

"Where are you off to?"

"Hell—I mean home," answered Charlie.

Calder beat his stick against his leg.

"I can't stay here either," he said moodily.

Charlie stretched out his hand again.

"Come with me," said he.

"Eh? what?"

"Come with me; we'll forget her together."

Calder looked at him.

"Well, you are a good chap. Dashed if I don't. Yes, I will. We'll enjoy ourselves like thunder. But I say, Merceron, I—I ought to write to her, oughtn't I?"

"I am just going to write myself."

"To—to say good-by, eh?"

"Yes."

"I shall write and break it off."

"Come along. We'll go to your rooms and got the thing done, and then catch the train. My luggage is at the station now."

"It won't take me a minute to get mine."

"Wentworth, I'm glad to be rid of her."

"All—oh, well—so am I," said Calder.

Late that evening the butler presented Miss Agatha Glyn with two letters on a salver. As her eye fell on the addresses, she started. Her heart began to beat. She sat and looked at the two momentous missives.

"Now which," she thought, "shall I read first? And what shall I do, if they are both obstinate?"

There was another contingency which Miss Glyn did not contemplate.

After a long hesitation, she took up Charlie's letter, and opened it.
It was very short, and began abruptly without any words of address:

"I have received your letter. Your excuses make it worse. I could forgive everything except deceit. I leave London to-day. Good-by.—C. M."

"Deceit!" cried Agatha. "How dare he? What a horrid boy!"

She was walking up and down the room in a state of great indignation. She had never been talked to like that in her life before. It was ungentlemanly, cruel, brutal. She flung Charlie's letter angrily down on the table.

"I am sure poor dear old Calder won't treat me like that!" she exclaimed, taking up his letter.

It ran thus: "My dear Agatha:—I hope you will believe that I write this without any feeling of anger towards you. My regard for you remains very great, and I hope we shall always be very good friends; but, after long and careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the story Lord Thrapston told, me shows conclusively what I have been fearing for some time past—namely, that I have not been so lucky as to win a real affection from you, and that we are not likely to make one another happy. Therefore, thanking you very much for your kindness in the past, I think I had better restore your liberty to you. I shall hear with, very great pleasure of your happiness. I leave town to day for a little while, in order that you may not be exposed to the awkwardness of meeting me.

"Always your most sincerely,

"Calder Wentworth."

Agatha passed her hand across her brow; then she reread Calder's letter, and then Charlie's. Yes, there, was not the least doubt about it! Both of the gentlemen had well, what they had done did not admit of being put into tolerable words. With a little shriek, Agatha flung herself on the sofa.

The door opened and Lord Thrapston entered.

"Well, Aggy, what's the news? Still bothered by your two young men?
Hullo! what's wrong?"

"Read them!" cried Agatha, with a gesture towards the table.

"Eh? Head what? Oh, I see."

He sat down at the table and put on his glasses. Agatha turned her face towards the wall; for her also everything was over. For a time no sound was audible save an occasional crackle of the note-paper in Lord Thrapston's shaking fingers. Then, to Agatha's indescribable indignation, there came another sort of crackle—a dry, grating, derisive chuckle—from that flinty-hearted old man, her grandfather.

"Good, monstrous good, 'pon my life!" said he.

"You're laughing at me!" she cried, leaping up.

"Well, my dear, I'm afraid I am."

"Oh, how cruel men are!"

"H'm! They're both men of spirit evidently."

"Calder I can just understand. I—perhaps I did treat Calder rather badly—-"

"Oh, you go so far as to admit that, do you, Aggy?"

"But Charlie! Oh, to think that Charlie should treat me like that!" and she threw herself on the sofa again.

Lord Thrapston sat quite still. Presently Agatha rose, came to the table, and took up her two letters. She looked at them both; and the old man, seeming to notice nothing, yet kept his eye on her.

"I shall destroy these things," said she; and she tore Calder's letter into tiny fragments, and flung them on the fire. Charlie's she crumpled up and held in her hand.

"Good-night, grandpapa," she said wearily, and kissed him.

"Good-night, my dear," he answered.

And, whatever she did when she went upstairs, Lord Thrapston was in a position to swear that Charlie's letter was not destroyed in the drawing-room.

CHAPTER X

THE INCARNATION OF LADY AGATHA

"She's such a dear good girl, Mr. Wentworth," said Lady Merceron.
"She's the greatest comfort I have."

It was after luncheon at Langbury Court. Lady Merceron and Calder sat on the lawn: Mrs. Marland and Millie Bushell were walking up and down; Charlie was lying in a hammock. A week had passed since the two young men had startled Lady Merceron by their unexpected arrival, and since then the good lady had been doing her best to entertain them; for, as she could not help noticing-, they seemed a little dull. It was a great change from the whirl of London to the deep placidity of the Court, and Lady Merceron could not quite understand why Charlie had tired so soon of his excursion, or why his friend persisted with so much fervor that anything was better than London, and the Court was the most charming place he had ever seen. Of the two Charlie seemed to feel the ennui much the more severely. Yet, while Mr. Wentworth spoke of returning to town in a few weeks, Charlie asseverated that he had paid his last visit to that revolting and disappointing place. Lady Merceron wished she had Uncle Van by her side to explain these puzzling inconsistencies. However, there was a bright side to the affair: the presence of the young men was a godsend to poor Millie, who, by reason of the depressed state of agriculture, had been obliged this year to go without her usual six weeks of London in the season.

"And she never grumbles about it," said Lady Merceron admiringly. "She looks after her district, and takes a ride, and plays tennis, when she can get a game, poor girl, and is always cheerful and happy. She'd be a treasure of a wife to any man."

"You'd better persuade Charlie of that, Lady Merceron."

"Oh, Charlie never thinks of such a thing as marrying. He thinks of nothing but his antiquities."

"Doesn't he?" asked Calder, with apparent sympathy and a covert sad amusement.

"Mr. Wentworth," said Mrs. Marland, approaching, "I believe it's actually a fact that you've been here a week and have never yet been to the Pool."

At this fateful word, Calder looked embarrassed, Charlie raised his head from the hammock, and Millie glanced involuntarily towards him.

"We must take you," pursued Mrs. Marland, "this very evening. You'll come, Miss Bushell?"

"I don't think I care very much about the Pool," said Millie.

"We won't let Mr. Merceron take you in his canoe this time."

Charlie rolled out of the hammock and came up to them.

"You must take us to the Pool. I don't believe you've been there since you came back. Poor Agatha will quite—-"

"Agatha?" exclaimed Calder.

"Agatha Merceron, you know. Why, haven't you heard—-?"

"Oh, ah! Yes, of course. I beg your pardon."

"I hate that beastly Pool," said Charlie.

"How can you?" smiled Mrs. Marland. "You used to spend hours there every evening."

Charlie glanced uneasily at Calder, who turned very red.

"Times have changed, have they?" Mrs. Marland asked archly. "You've got tired of looking in vain for Agatha?"

"Oh, all right," said Charlie crossly, "we'll go after tea."

Anything seemed better than this rallying mood of Mrs. Marland's.

Presently the two young men went off together to play a game at billiards; but after half a dozen strokes Charlie plumped down in a chair.

"I say, Calder, old chap, how do you feel?" he asked.

Calder licked his cigar meditatively.

"Better," said he at last.

"Oh!"

"And you?"

"Worse—worse every day. I can't stand it, old chap. I shall go back."

"What, to her?"

"Yes."

"That's hardly sticking to our bargain, you know."

"But, hang it, what's the good of our both cutting her?"

"Oh, I thought you did it because you were disgusted with her. That was my reason."

"So it was mine, but—-"

"Probably she's got some other fellow by now," observed Calder calmly.

"The devil!" cried Charlie. "What makes you think so?"

"Oh, nothing. I know her way, you see."

"You think she's that sort of girl? Good heavens!"

"Well, if she wasn't, I'd like to know where you'd be, my friend. I shouldn't have the honor of your acquaintance."

Charlie ignored this point.

"And yet you wanted, to marry her?"

"I dare say I was an ass—like better men before me and—er—since me."

"Hang it!" cried Charlie. "I'm sick of the whole thing. I'm sick of life. I'm sick of all the nonsense of it. For two straws I'd have done with it, and marry Millie Bushell."

"What! Look here, Charlie—"

Calder left his sentence unfinished.

"Well?" said Charlie.

"If," said Calder slowly, "there are any girls, either down here or in London, whom you're quite sure you'll never want to marry, I should like to be introduced to one of 'em, Charlie, if you've no objections."

"What do you mean?"

"Why, in fact, during this last week, Charlie, I have come to have a great esteem for Miss Bushell. There's about her a something—a solidity—-"

"She can't help that, poor girl."

"A solidity of mind," said Calder, a little stiffly.

"Oh, I beg pardon. But I say, Calder, what are you driving at?"

"Charlie! Charlie!" sounded from outside. "Tea's ready."

Calder rose and took Charlie by the arm.

"Should I be safe," he asked solemnly, "in allowing myself to fall in love with Miss Bushell, or are you likely to step in again?"

"You mean it? Honor bright, Calder?"

"Yes."

"Where's Bradshaw? By Jove, where's Bradshaw?"

"Bradshaw? What the devil has Bradshaw——?"

"Why, a train, man—a train to town."

"I don't want to go to town, bless the man—-"

"You! No, but I do. To town, Calder—to Agatha, you old fool."

"Oh, that's your lay?"

"Yes, of course. I couldn't go back on you, but if you're off—-"

"Charlie, old fellow, think again."

"Go to the deuce! Where's that—-?"

"Charlie, Charlie! Tea!"

"Hang tea!" he cried; but Calder dragged him off, telling him that to-morrow would do for Bradshaw.

At tea Charlie's spirits were very much better, and it was observed that Calder Wentworth paid marked attention to Millie Bushell, so that, when they started for the Pool, Millie was prevailed upon to be one of the party, on the understanding that Mr. Went worth would take care of her. This time the expedition went off more quietly than it had previously, but at the last moment the ladies declared that they would, be late for dinner if they waited till it was time for Agatha Merceron to come.

"Oh, nonsense!" said Calder. "Come over to the temple, Miss Bushell. I won't upset the canoe."

"Well, if you insist," said Millie.

Then Mrs. Marland remarked in the quietest voice in the world—-

"There's some one in the temple."

"What?" cried Millie.

"Eh?" exclaimed Calder.

"Nonsense!" said Charlie.

"I saw a face at the window," insisted Mrs. Marland.

"Oh, Mrs. Marland! Was it very awful?"

"Not at all, Millie—very pretty," and she gave Charlie a look full of meaning.

"Look, look!" cried Millie in strong agitation.

And, as they looked, a slim figure in white came quietly out of the temple, a smile—and, alas! no vestige of a blush—on her face, walked composedly down the steps, and, standing on the lowest one, thence—did not throw herself into the water—but called, in the most natural voice in the world, "Which of you is coming to fetch me?"

Charlie looked at Calder. Calder said,

"I think you'd better put her across, old man. And—er—we might as well walk on."

They turned away, Millie's eyes wide in surprise, Mrs. Marland smiling the smile of triumphant sagacity.

"I was coming to you to-morrow," cried Charlie the moment his canoe bumped against the stops.

"What do you mean, sir, by staying away a whole week? How could you?"

"I don't know," said Charlie. "You see, I couldn't come till Calder——

"Oh, what about Calder?"

"He's all right."

"What? Miss—the girl you upset out of the canoe?"

"I think so," said Charlie.

"Ah, well!" said Agatha. "But how very curious!" Then she smiled at Charlie, and asked, "But what love can there be, Mr. Merceron, where there is deceit?"

Charlie took no notice at all of this question.

"Do you mind Calder going?" he whispered.

"Well, not much," said Miss Glyn.

Thus it was that the barony of Warmley returned to the house of Merceron, and the portrait of the wicked lord came to hang once more in the dining-room. So the curtain falls on the comedy; and what happened afterwards behind the scenes, whether another comedy, or a tragedy, or a mixed half-and-half sort of entertainment, now grave, now gay, sometimes perhaps delightful, and again of tempered charm—why, as to all this, what reck the spectators who are crowding out of the theatre and home to bed?

But it seems as if, in spite of certain drawbacks in Agatha Merceron's character, nothing very dreadful can have happened, because Mr. and Mrs. Wentworth, who are very particular folk, went to stay at the Court the other day, and their only complaint was that Charlie and his bride were always at the Pool!

And, for his own part, if he may be allowed a word (which some people say he ought not to be) here, just at the end, the writer begs to say that he once knew Agatha, and—he would have taken the risks. However, a lady to whom he has shown this history differs entirely from him, and thinks that no sensible man would have married her. But, then, that is not the question.