It was rather early on the next morning when Agnes Mowbray was visited by Sir Percival Hope. Cyril, who had returned home late on the previous night, and had not gone to bed for nearly an hour after entering the house, was not yet downstairs; but his sister was in her garden when her visitor arrived.

Sir Percival Hope was one of the latest comers to the county. He was the younger son of a good family—the baronetcy was one of the oldest in England—and had gone out to Australia very early in life. In one of the southern colonies he had not only made a fortune, but had won great distinction and had been twice premier before he had reached the age which in England is considered young enough for entering political life. On the death of his father—his elder brother had been killed when serving with his regiment in the Soudan campaign of 1883—he had come to England, not to inherit any estate, for the last acre of the family property had been sold before his birth, but to purchase the estate of Branksome Abbey in Brackenshire, which had once been in his mother's family. He was now close upon forty years of age, and it was said that he was engaged in the somewhat arduous work of nursing the constituency of South Brackenshire. There were few people in the neighbourhood who were disposed to think that when the chance came for him to declare himself he would be rejected. It was generally allowed that he might choose his constituency.

He was a tall and athletic man, with the bronzed face of a southern colonist, and with light-brown hair that had no suggestion of grey about it. As he stood on the lawn at The Knoll by the side of Agnes, and in the shade of one of the great elms, no one would have believed that he was over thirty.

“I got your letter,” said Agnes when she had greeted him with cordiality, for though they had known each other only a year they had become the warmest friends. “I got your letter an hour ago—just when you must have got mine, which I wrote last night. I hope you are able to give me as good news as I gave you.”

“You were able to tell me of the saving of the bank; I hope I can tell you of the saving of a soul,” said Sir Percival.

“I hoped as much,” she cried, her face lighting up as she turned her eyes upon his. “Your sister must be a good woman—as good a woman as you are a man.”

“If you had waited for half an hour when you came to see me yesterday, I could have told you what I come to tell you now,” said he. “But you were in too great a hurry.”

“I had need to make haste,” laughed Agnes. “Every moment was worth hundreds of pounds—perhaps thousands.”

“And the good people were perfectly satisfied with my cheque? Well, they are a good deal more confiding than the colonists to whom I was accustomed in my young days: they would have laughed at the notion of offering them a cheque when they looked for gold, although in the bush cheques are current. Oh no; when they make a run on a bank nothing but gold can satisfy them.”

“I knew what I could do with those people yesterday. They only needed some one to arrest their panic for a moment, and then like sheep they were ready to go off in the opposite direction.”

“And you saved the bank?”

“No, not I. You saved it: the cheque was yours. And now it is through you that that poor girl is to be saved. How good you are. What should we do without you in this neighbourhood?”

“The neighbourhood did without me for a good many years. Never mind. I have come to tell you that my sister will be glad to take your young protégée under her roof and to give her a chance of—well, may I say, redeeming the past? You are not one of the women who think that for one sin there is no redemption. Neither is my sister. She is, like you, a good woman—not given to preaching or moralising in the stereotyped way, but ever ready to lend a helping hand to a sister, not to push her back into the mire.”

“After all, that is the most elementary Christianity. Was there any precept so urged by the Founder as that? Christianity is assuredly the religion for women.”

“It is the only religion for women—and men. My sister will treat the girl as though she knew nothing of her lapse. There will be no lowering of the corners of her mouth when she receives her. She will never, by word or action, suggest that she has got that lapse forever in her mind. The poor girl will never receive a reproach. In short, she will be given a real chance; not a nominal one; not a fictitious one; not a parochial one.”

“That will mean the saving of her soul. Her father has behaved cruelly toward her. He turned her out of his house, as you know, because she refused to say what was the name of her betrayer.”

“You mentioned that to me. All the people in the neighbourhood seem to be most indignant with the poor girl because of her silence on this point. They seem to feel that their curiosity is outraged. They do not appear to be grateful to her for having stimulated their imagination. And yet I think it was hearing of this attitude of the girl that caused my sister to be attracted to her. That's all I have to say on this painful matter, my dear friend.”

Agnes Mowbray gave him her hand. Her eyes were misty as she turned them upon his face. Several moments had passed before she was able to speak, and then her voice was tremulous. A sob was in her throat.

“You are so good—so good—so good!” she said.

He held her hand for a minute. He seemed to be at the point of speaking as he looked earnestly into her face, but when he dropped her hand he turned away from her without saying a word.

There was a long silence before he said:

“We have been very good friends, you and I, since I came back to England.”

His words were almost startling in their divergence from the subject upon which they had been conversing. The expression on Agnes's face suggested that she was at least puzzled if not absolutely startled by his digression.

“Yes,” she said mechanically, “we have indeed been good friends. I knew in an instant yesterday that it was to you I should go when I was in great need. I knew that you would help me.”

He looked at her gravely and in silence for some moments. Then he suddenly put out his hand to her.

“Good-bye,” he said quickly—unnaturally; and before their hands had more than met for the second time he turned and walked rapidly away to the gate, leaving her standing under the shady elm in the centre of the lawn.

For a moment or two she was too much surprised to be able to make any move. He had never behaved so curiously before. She was trying to think what she had said or what she had suggested that had hurt his feelings, for it seemed to her that his sudden departure might be taken to indicate that she had said something that jarred upon him.

She hastened across the lawn and through the tennis-ground, to intercept him on the road. Only a low privet hedge stood between the road and the gardens of The Kroll, and she reached this hedge and looked over it before he had passed. She saw him approaching; his eyes were upon the ground.

It was his turn to be startled as she spoke his name, looking over the hedge. He looked up quickly.

“Did I say anything that I should not have said just now?” she asked. “Why did you hurry away before our hands had more than met?”

“Shall I come back?” he said, after looking into her eyes with a curious expression in his. “Will you ask me to return?”

“I will—I will—I will,” she cried. “Please return and tell me if I said anything that hurt you. I would not do so for the world. Nothing but gratitude and good feeling for you was in my heart. Oh yes, pray return.”

“If I were wise I should not have returned when you made use of that word 'gratitude,'” said he when he had come beside her, through the small rustic gate which she opened for him from the inside. “Gratitude is the opposite to love, and I love you.”

With a startled cry she took a step or two back from him, and held up her hands as if instinctively to avert a blow.

“I have startled you,” he said. “I was rude; but indeed I do not know of any way of saying that I love you except in those words. I have had no experience either in loving or in confessing my love. I came here this morning to say those words to you, but when I looked at you standing beside me under the elm—when I saw how beautiful you were—how full of God's grace, and goodness, and tenderness, and charity, I was so overcome with the thought of my own unworthiness to love such a one as you, that”—

“Oh no, no; for God's sake, do not say that—do not say that,” she cried, holding out her hands to him in an appealing attitude. “Alas! alas! that word love must never pass between us.”

“Why should not the word pass, when my heart and soul”—

“Ah, let me implore of you. I fancied that you knew all—all my story. I forgot that it happened so long ago that people in this neighbourhood had ceased to speak of it years before you came here.”

“Your story? I will believe nothing but what is good of you.”

“My story—my life's story is that I have promised to love another man.”

He gave a gasp. His head fell forward for a moment. Then he clasped his hands behind him and looked at her in all tenderness and without a suggestion of reproach.

“I had a suspicion of it yesterday,” he said. “The man who is more fortunate than I is Richard Westwood.”

“No, not Richard Westwood, but Claude Westwood,” she replied, in a low tone, and with her eyes fixed upon the ground.

A puzzled look was on his face.

“Claude Westwood—Claude Westwood?” he said. “But there is no Claude Westwood. Was not Claude Westwood the African explorer killed years ago—it must be nearly ten years ago—when trying to reach the Upper Zambesi?”

“Claude Westwood is the man to whom I have given my promise,” said she in an unshaken voice—the voice of one whose faith remains unshaken. “He is not dead. He is alive and our love lives. Ah, my dear friend”—she put out both her hands frankly to Sir Percival and he took them, tenderly and reverently—“my dear friend, you may think me a fool; you may think that I am wasting my life in waiting for an event that is as impossible as the bringing of the dead back to life; but God has brought the dead back to life, and I trust in God to bring the man whom I love back to my love. At any rate, whatever you may think, I cannot help myself; it is my life, this waiting, though it is weary—weary.”

She had turned away from him and was looking with wide, wistful eyes across the long sweep of country that lay between the road and the Abbey woods.

He had not let go her hands. He held them as he said:

“My poor Agnes! my poor Agnes. I had some hope—yes, a little—when I first saw you. I had never thought of loving a woman before, but then... ah, what is the good of recalling what my thoughts were—my hopes? I am strong enough to face my fate. I am strong enough to hope with all my heart that happiness may come to you—that—that—he may come to you—the man who is blessed with such a love as has blessed few men. You know that I am sincere, Agnes?”

“I am sure of it,” she said, and now it was her hand that tightened on his. “Ah, my dear, dear friend, I know how good you are—how true! If I were in trouble it is to you I would go for help, knowing that you would never fail me.”

“I will never fail you,” he said. “There is a bond between us. You will come to me should you ever be in trouble.”

“I give you my promise,” she said.

Her eyes were overflowing with tears as she put her face up to his. He kissed her on the forehead very gently, and without speaking a good-bye turned slowly away to the little gate.

While he was in the act of unlocking it, he started, hearing a cry from the spot where they had been standing a dozen yards away.

He looked round quickly.

Agnes was being supported by a servant. He saw that her face was deathly white, and in her hand that fell limply by her side there was an oblong piece of paper. A telegraph envelope had fluttered to the ground.

He rushed back to her.

“What has happened?” he asked the servant.

“A telegram, sir; I brought it out to her—it had just come, and knew that she was out here. She read it and cried out—I was just in time to catch her. I don't think she has quite fainted, Sir Percival.”

The maid was right. Agnes had not fainted, but she was plainly overcome by whatever news the telegram had conveyed to her.

She opened her eyes as Sir Percival put his arm about her, supporting her to a garden chair that stood at the side of the tennis lawn.

“I think I can walk,” she murmured; and she made an effort to step out, but all her strength seemed to have departed. She would have fallen if Sir Percival had not supported her.

“You are weak,” he said; “but after a rest you will be yourself again. Let me help you.”

“You are so good!” she said, and with his help she was able to take a few steps. But then she gave a sudden gasp and became rigid when she caught sight of the telegram which was crumpled in her hand. She raised it slowly and stared at it. Then she cried out:

“Ah, God is good—God is good! It is no dream. He is safe—safe! Claude Westwood is alive.”

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