She felt better for the girl's coming before the girl had come. Her household was not on so large a scale as to make it unnecessary for her to busy herself with preparations to receive a guest; and this business prevented her from dwelling upon her own position. She had no time left even to consider what steps, if any, she should take to further her design of winning back to herself the love which she had once cherished.

Before she went to sleep on the next night it seemed to her that the time when Claude Westwood loved her was very far off; and before she woke it seemed to her that the time when she loved Claude Westwood was more remote still.

She wondered if her maid and the housemaid would notice the disappearance of the miniature which had stood upon her table. With the thought she glanced in the direction of the drawer in which the fragments were laid—only for a moment, however; she had no time for further reflections.

So far as the servants were concerned she might have made her mind easy. The housemaid had, when brushing out the room, come upon some small splinters of glass and ivory, and it did not require the possession on her part of the genius of a Sherlock Holmes to enable her to associate such a discovery with the disappearance of the only object of glass and ivory that had been in the room.

There was a good deal of innuendo in the comments made in the kitchen upon the housemaid's discovery. The parlour-maid shook her head and turned her eyes up to the ceiling. The housemaid said that if she wished to say something she could say it. The cook, however, scorning all innuendo, made the far-reaching statement that all men are brutes, and challenged her auditors to deny it if they could.

They could not deny it on the spur of the moment, though subsequently, when the cook was absent, they compared experiences, and came to the conclusion that the statement should be modified in order to be wholly accurate.

The next day Agnes was overtaken in the village by Sir Percival Hope. She could not understand why it was that her face should flush on seeing him; it made her feel uncomfortable for a few moments, and then the strange thought crossed her mind that he was about to tax her with having told him that she and Claude Westwood were to be married. Sir Percival had certainly looked narrowly at her for some time. But then he had begun to talk upon some general topic of engrossing local interest—the curate's health, or something of that sort. (The curate lived on the reputation of having a weak chest, and every autumn his chest became a topic in the neighbourhood.)

It was not until Sir Percival had walked back with her almost to the entrance to The Knoll that he said very quietly:

“I wonder if you are happy now.”

Again she felt her face flushing.

“Happy—happy?” she said, interrogatively.

“Happy in the prospect of happiness,” said he. “I suppose that is the simplest way of putting the matter.”

She was silent for a long time, until she came to perceive that the silence meant far more than she intended. That was why she cried rather quickly:

“You have seen him—Claude—you have conversed with him?”

“Yes. He came to see me yesterday,” replied Sir Percival. “Great heavens! What that man has gone through. He deserves his happiness—the greatest happiness that any man dare hope for.”

“Ah, I meant that he should be so happy,” she cried, and there was something piteous in her tone.

“And you will make him happy,” said her companion. “When a woman makes up her mind on this particular point, a man cannot help himself. His most strenuous efforts in the other direction count for nothing. He will be made happy in spite of himself.”

She turned her eyes upon him inquiringly.

“You heard him speak—you heard the way he talks on that terrible matter?”

“Yes; that was how it came about that he visited me. He wanted me to tell him all that I knew on the subject—he was anxious to have the scene in the Assize Court described to him by some new voice. He wished to know if I signed a petition for the reprieve of the murderer, and when I told him no petition had been signed, but that the Home Secretary had reprieved the man after, I supposed, consultation with the judge who tried the case, and with the law officers for the Crown, he seemed to be overcome with astonishment and indignation.”

“That's The most terrible thing,” said Agnes, with an involuntary shudder. “He regards the granting of his life to that man as a worse crime than the one for which he was condemned. I cannot understand that hunger for revenge—that thirst for the blood of a fellow-creature.”

“You cannot understand it because you are a Christian woman,” said Percival. “But for my part I must say that I have the widest sympathy for all people; and no passion, however strange it may seem to others, is quite unintelligible to me. I have lived long enough in queer places to have become impressed with the fact that the civilisation which we profess to regard as a part of ourselves is but the thinnest of veneers—nay, of varnishes. The best of us is but a savage with all the passions—all the nature—of a savage glowing beneath a coat of varnish. My dear Miss Mowbray, we should pray that we may not find ourselves in the midst of such circumstances as put a strain on our civilisation—upon our Christianity.”

She gave another little shudder, she knew not why, and turned her wondering eyes upon him.

“My sympathy with savages is unlimited,” continued Sir Percival. “One should not judge Claude Westwood from the standpoints to which we have accustomed ourselves. It must be remembered that he has lived for years among the worst savages known in the world; and that he has been obliged to struggle for his life after the most savage, that is the most natural, fashion. Nature regards a single life very lightly, and the worst of Nature is that she regards the life of a man as no more sacred than the life of a brute.”

“But we have our Christianity.”

“Thank God that we have that! Pray to God that we may be able to hold the shield of Christianity between ourselves and our nature. I have talked all this cheap philosophy to you—this elementary evolution—only to help you in your hour of need. I take it upon me to advise you unasked, and I would say to you, Do not judge too hastily a man who has lived for so long among barbarians—a man who was compelled to fight for his existence, not with the weapons of civilisation and Christianity, but with the weapons of savagery. In a short time he will once again have become reconciled to the principles of civilisation. He will learn once more to forgive. For the present, pity him.”

He spoke in a low voice, putting out his hand to her. She took his hand, and pressed it. When he turned and went away from her in the direction of his own gates she remained motionless in the road, looking after him. All her thought regarding him took the form of one thought—that he was the noblest man that lived. He sought only her happiness—so much was sure; he had done his best to reconcile her to the man who was his rival, because he believed that she loved that man.

And he had not pleaded in vain. She felt that she had been selfish and inconsiderate in regard to Claude. She had expected him to come to her just as he had left her—to take her into his arms just as he had done on the evening when they had parted. She had been intolerant of his indifference to her on his return—of his thirst for the blood of the man who had taken the life of his brother.

When she entered her house she went to the drawer where she had placed the fragments of his picture. She looked at these evidences of her impatience for a long time, and when she closed the drawer she was consolidated in her resolve to win him back to her—to wait patiently until he chose to return to her; she knew no better way of winning an errant love than by waiting for it to return.

The newspapers, however, were by no means disposed to adopt the policy of patience in respect of a distinguished African explorer who declined to give them any information regarding his travels. They had never found such a desire for retirement to be among the most prominent characteristics of African explorers, and they could not believe that Claude Westwood was sincere in objecting to give any of the representatives of the great organs of public opinion a succinct account of the past nine years of his life—as much copy as would make a couple of columns.

The great obstacle in the way of their enterprise was, of course, the handsome income enjoyed by Mr. Westwood. The splendid offers which they made to him produced no impression on him; nor did the assurance that they were not desirous of getting any information from him that might prejudice the sale of his forthcoming volume or volumes—they assumed that a volume or volumes would be forthcoming—no, their desire was merely to give him an opportunity of telling the public just enough to whet their curiosity for his book.

He replied that he had no intention of writing a book, and that he did not seek for publicity in any way.

This was very irritating to the representatives of the newspapers, who came down to Brackenhurst with such frequency during the first few days after Mr. Westwood's return. But they revenged themselves upon him in another way; for, as he refused to tell them anything about Central Africa, they told their readers everything about Brackenshire. They gave occasional photographs of Westwood Court: “Westwood Court—North View,” “Westwood Court—The Queen's Elms,” “Westwood Court—The Trout Stream.” One newspaper representative surpassed all his brethren by obtaining an excellent photograph of the interior of the dairy at the Home Farm.

This was how matters stood in regard to Mr. Westwood and the outer world when Agnes awaited the arrival of the girl whom she had invited to visit her for an indefinite period. The period was necessarily an indefinite one: Agnes could not tell how long she should have to wait for the return of the love that had once been hers.

She got a letter from Clare Tristram, in reply to her invitation, thanking her for her kindness, and suggesting a certain train by which she hoped to travel to Brackenhurst, if its arrival was at an hour that suited Miss Mowbray's convenience.

She arrived by that train. Agnes sent her brougham and her maid to meet her at the station, and she herself was waiting at the open door of the house when the visitor arrived.

She was a tall girl—quite as tall as Agnes—and with very dark hazel eyes; her hair was brilliantly golden, with a suggestion of coppery red about it in some lights. Her face possessed sweetness rather than beauty of shape or tint, and the curve of her mouth suggested the expression of a smile when seen from one direction. Looked at from the front its expression seemed one of sadness.

Agnes saw both the smile and the sadness as she gave her hand to the girl, and led her into one of the drawing-rooms.

“You must have some tea before changing your dress,” she said. (She had not failed to notice that the girl's travelling dress was extremely well made, and that her hat was in perfect taste. She knew that most women are to be known by their hats.) Then she stood in front of the girl, looking into her face tenderly. “I should know you in a moment from your likeness to your mother,” she continued.

“Ah, you did not see her recently,” said Clare, with a little sob.

“I did not see her since you were born,” said Agnes. “But still I recollect her face distinctly. I can see her before me when I look at you now. Poor woman! She suffered; but she had you. No one could take you from her.”

“That may have been a consolation to her long ago,” said Clare, “but I am afraid that during her last illness the thought of my future was a great burden to her. You see, we had no relations in the world; at least, none to whom I could be sent.”

“I feel that it was kind of your mother to think of me,” said Agnes, as they seated themselves and drank their tea.

“She used to speak daily of you, Miss Mowbray,” said the girl. “She told me how attracted she had been to your mother until—Ah, I heard the sad story. Believe me, she was bitterly punished.”

“Poor creature! I knew that she had been unhappy. Your father—I have been trying to recollect his name during the past few days, but I have not been successful.'

“I never heard what his name was. My mother kept it from me from the first. She said she never wished to hear it again. It was not until I was fifteen that I learned that she bore her maiden name, and not my father's. I fear he was—well, he cannot have been a good man.”

“We need not refer to him again. I have no curiosity on the subject, I assure you.”

“I have long ago lost any that I once had. I hope I am not an unnatural daughter, but I have no wish to hear anything about my father.”

“Instead of talking about him, my dear, we will talk together about your mother. I feel that in entrusting you to me she paid me the greatest compliment in her power. I am sure that we shall be friends—sisters, Clare.”

“How good you are! Ah, we shall be sisters. My dear mother knew you; though I feared—I told you so in my letter—that you would consider the claim made upon you a singular one. I did not say so to her; I did not wish her last days to be worried with doubts, so I promised her to go to you, and she gave me a letter which was to introduce me. She desired me to put it into your hand. I do so now, though there is no need for it, is there?”

“None whatever,” said Agnes, smiling, as she took the sealed letter which the girl handed to her. “I shall read it at my leisure. Oh no; you do not need any letter of introduction to me.”

“I was afraid to come here directly on landing,” said Clare; “yes, even though I bore that letter; so I thought it better to write to you from London, stating my case.”

She had risen, laying her tea-cup on the table. Agnes rang the bell for her maid to show Miss Tristram to her room.

So soon as she was alone Agnes clasped her hands and said:

“Thank God!—thank God! I feel that she has been sent here to comfort me.”

She was led to wonder what the girl would have done if she had come to Brackenhurst and found her, Agnes, on the eve of being married to Claude Westwood. How desolate the poor thing would have felt—almost as desolate as Agnes herself had felt a few days before!

She thought that Clare was the sweetest girl she had ever seen. She felt better for her coming already; and with this thought on her mind she picked up the letter which she had laid on the table. She broke the seal and began to read the first page. Before she finished it her eyes were tremulous. The words that the dying woman had written committing her daughter to her care, seemed full of pathos. She laid down the letter, she could not read it on account of her tears. Some time passed before she picked it up once more; but before she had read half-way down the second page she gave a start and a little cry. With her head eagerly bent forward and her eyes staring she continued reading, half articulating the words in a fearful whisper. The hand that was not holding the letter was pressed against her heart. Then she gave another cry, and almost staggered to a chair into which she dropped. The letter fell from her hands; she stared straight in front of her, breathing heavily.

“My God!” she cried at last. “My God! to think of it! To think of her in this house! Oh, the horror of it!”

Her words came with a shudder, and she covered her face with her hands. The next instant, however, she had started up and was gazing eagerly toward the window; the sound of a foot that she knew came from the gravel of the drive.

She stood there with one hand clutching the back of a chair, the other still pressed against her side. She was listening eagerly for the ringing of the bell.

The ring came. She rushed across the room to where the letter was lying, and hastily thrust it into her pocket. When Claude Westwood entered the room she was seated with a book in front of the fire.

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