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ItOBBED OF A CRIME; Oil, LADY ELG All'S CHILD. CHAP rut xi.iii-, Con t'riued). ^Varnecl you!" lie ecliocd. "Of what could ehf warn you, Thella ? Thella. iie.sitattd. A look of alarm began to cloud the marquis's brow. My dearest, you must tell me lie cried anxiously. There must be no secrets between us Secrets ?" echoed Thella, looking up at him with clear, truthful eyes. Oh, not for the world It is only that I dislike to-" She broke olr there, and instantly gave a concise account of Rachel Bartrain's extraordinary cuiiduct and wurds. As she proceeded, Lord Courtney's brow grew more and more troubled. When she ceased lie frankly acknowledged his anxiety, The countess must be told 1" he said. At those grave, emphatic words, Thella uttered a cry of dismay, Oh, no Oh, no she exclaimed. Lord Courtney persisted. There is something very siuister in the words in which she concluded her warning. Thella. The icomati tcho calls kersi /f P, (t,,h, I B, The new Lady Alice! That much of the wanling must, in juttiee to Lady Elgar, be reported. That much and no more. There should be no question as to the identity of the Lady Alice, and the fact that this woman has virtually raised it fills me with alarm Has the couniess been deceivedâimposed upon ?" Thella answered, fervently, in two fervent words. "Heaven forbid she cried. Lord Courtney as fervently echoed the words, They were still on his lips when he suddenly lifted his hat. What better time tha<t the present?" he ex- claimed, the next moment. See the countess is coming to meet us I will tell her, my darling." Lord Courtney was right. t hi the return of the empty carriage Lady Beverly retired to her dressing-room with the emphatically expressed opinion that the marquis and theluneheon would make their appearance together. L idy Elgar, more hopeful, waited, occasionally stepping from the morning-room to the colon- 11<L<:e to look for the laggards. It was on one of these excursions that she caught sight of the pair. Returning to the hall she took a white lace scarf ft out the rack, and, throwing it over her head, went Uti to meet thcm. T ie shrubbery was thick in that direction, and th path well shaded with ornamental trees, and it w.is nut until she was close upon them that her il.JI"¡O ,eh was observed. fiie marquis and Thella instantly quickened their 3t- ney met beside a thickly embowered summer- he..is, burltttl i« »fi.-work of native aii(i iiioiiiter cacti in monster vases. gay, cordial greetings exchanged, Lady Elgar ql at ouee looked in BUutled inquiry from one Startled face to the other. Both, in their ditlerent ways, betrayed that something extraordinary had happe-ned. Lord Courtney seized Thella's hand and drew her plOtedilwiv to his side. Before he could utter the words trembling on his lips, and glowing in his eyes, Lady Elgar spoke. Is it possible 1" she exclaimed. "My sweet Thella." With those ejaculations she suddenly extended her arms to the blushing, trembling girl. Thella flew to the embrace, and the countess folded her tenderly to her bosom. "My darling cliild I she murmured. "May Heaven's choicest blessings rest upon you for evei 1 1 all1110 less delighted than surprised She released the girl, and turned to Lord Court- ney with suffused eyes. "Neville," she cried," if she were my own child I could wish her no happier fate than to be your wife But come," she added, hastily and smilingly leading the way into the summer-house, luncheon mu t be deferredâ1 must hear the whole of this romantic story Of course it is a case of love at- first sight!" The marquis had not yet concluded his impas- sioned account- when a stealthy figure crept noise- lessly from one of the winding paths and crouched among the shrubbery heavily shading the one window of the summer-house. It was Martha Gregory. She had witnessed the first appearance of the lovers, and the subsequent meeting with Lady Elgar. The entrance into the summer-house afforded her an opportunity to inform herself by ear, as well as eye, and she took instant advantage of it. Beyond the fierce jealousy it excited, the marquis's story possessed very little interest for her. It was not till Lady Elgar gave the signal to return to the house by rising from her chair that Martha felt in any wise repaid for her trouble. Th vi Lord Courtney gave a brief account of the singular warning Thella had received. To his astonishment Lady Eigar's counten- ance, which had at his first words expressed the keenest alarm, brightened into a sudden amuse- ment. "My dear Neville," she smiled, "the woman is not accountable for her words. She is insane." Martha Gregory smiled grimly in her retreat. Lord Courtney and Thella looked at the countess in the greatest amazement. Lord Courtney was about to combat the opinion when Lady Aigar turned and addressed Thella. "The woman who accosted you, my love, was the woman who was taken ill in my boudoir yesterday morning." Before Thella could express the surprise she felt, Lady Llgal" continued, the amused smile breaking over her face once more "I see you are questioning my judgment, Neville. Let me briefly mention one circumstance in support of it On rising this morning the poor creature entreated that she might be admitted to mv presence before leaving Cromlech. She was admitted. Her business was speedily made known. Wiiat do you think it was? No; you cannot imagine. She attempted to cunningly impose upon mc, as a production of her own, a document which had claimed her attention yesterday morning by falling from my desk to her fe't. and which she restored only to repossess herself of when my back was turned. Do you call that the act of a sane woman, Neville ? Lord Couitney admitted that it was not. Still," he went on, I should not imagine her a mail woman from her appearance. Her mental balance may not be quite pet feet, b ;t yoll have seen her, then?" interposed Lady Elgar, in surprised tones. Thella answered with eager pride and im- Pttllll ili, "She prove0, dear madam, to bo the woman whose life lie so heroically saved a few days ago. Your lady.-kip will rememberâ' Ves cried Lidy Elgar, Warmly. It was a noble act, Xvvido Lord Courtney shook bis head in mock rebuke at Tliclla, atid got rid of his own praises by asking the question from which he had been temporarily diverted, How did this woman accept the exposure that neees-arilyT followed?" he inquired. Just as a mad woman might be expected to do. neees-arily followed?" he inquired. Just as a mad woman might be expected to do. She looked at the penmanship, and in a wild tit of passiun tore the paper in two, and declared that Sonio one ha.) copied her words." Lord Courtney, looked cqu illy perplexed and inteiestcd, After a moment he so-Ue. Is your ladyship quite sure t ai no one played a prank upon the woman ?' I e as-ked. Q.iitc. The poor cicature iaintod in my bou- doir, and while they were carrying her away to a beol.clw.ml,or Aliec cJos('ll alld ¡"eI\t,l lilY dc",k. From that moment till this morning t e key lias never been out of my possession, nor the desk un- locked. dining that, day and evening such a then would liavo been abso- lutely impossible. Dining the night the gallery doors were all looked, and every meansâ' At that point a hushed ejaculation broke from Thella. L uly Eigar stopped and looked at her. What is itshe asked, hurriedly. Thella answered, slowly, anuucdly Dear madam, the boudoir was not locked last night." V- -⺠⢠CHAPTER xtrv. FURTHER DISCLOSURES. Martha Gregory, crouching in her leafy hiding- place, had listened to the foregoing conversation with a maddening dread of each successive word that no pen could describe. With the utterance of the fatal truth she rose to her feet, her wild eyes burning like two live coals, her lips drawn back from her white, cruel-looking teeth, and her sallow skin blanched to the hue of death. Like some demon let loose upon earth, she stood glaring toward the window, even the breath that she drew hushed to a dread, ominous stillness. Lady Elgar had been scarcely less startled by Thella's words than Martha Gregory. For an instant she looked at the girl with wide inquiring eyes. The next she said, calmly, slowly Not locked ? What do you mean Thella ?" Promptly Thella's reply thundered in Martha's straining ears: 1 thought your ladyship was aware of the fact that it was open," answered the girl, a keen and growing anxiety in her voice and face. "Rachel Bartram was in the boudoir at midnight." Lady Elgar sank pale and mute into the chair from which she had just risen. Wrapped in an amazement and vague terror too profound for speech, she sat gazing at Thella in the motionless, breathless stillnes of an image of stone. Half-maddened by the dead silence, Martha Gregory pressed fiercely to the window. The clus- tering branches rustled dangerously under her rude hands, but she thought not of that danger. With bated breath, she thrust her livid face close to the screening leaves. One swift, baleful glance swept the scene, and then fastened itself immov- ably upon Lady Elgar. At that moment the countess spoke. She uttered one word. Impossible I" she breathed. Thella silently and anxiously shook her head. But how could it be? I know that the door was locked I KNOW it The couutess repeated that statement with a singular blending of severity and anguish, her lovely blue eyes fastened with a hungry eagerness upon Thella's face. Lord Courtney looked from one to the other with breathless interest. The unseen listener at the window smiled a tieeting smile of triumph. Thella answered "There is some strange mistake," she said, in troubled tones. "Rachel told me she had visited the room by your command." Once more a dead silence filled the summer-house -a silence in which the tinkling murmur of the fountains and the soft rush of the wind among the leaves sounded in Lady Elgar's ears with the deafening loar of thunder. Alarmed at her ghastly pallor, Lord Courtney and Thella simultaneously sprang towards her. She waved them back with a faint, sickly smile. It is nothing," she said, a little uneasily. "I onlv cannot quite understand it all." She ad- dressed herself to Tliella You saw her, my dear, and you spoke to her, you say ? Yes, dear madam. But pray do not let my communication distress you. It can doubtless be explained by Rachel to your entire satisfaction, should you deem it advisable to question her." Thella spoke hopefully in the desire to calm the countess's evident agitation but deep in her own heart she was conscious that the vague anxiety of the previous night had returned with tenfold power. Lady Elgar answered in three words Tell me all," she said hoarsely. At that command Thella went back to the mo- ment of her rising to lock the door, giving the whole story, even to Martha's words and her own, with the strictest accuracy. Lady Elgar listened in an unbroken silence, her eyes never once swerving from the girl's face. Martha Gregory listened, her eyes immovably fixed on Lady Elgar. With the utterance of the last word both sud- denly moved. Martha turned and stole swiftly from the covert. It has to be met!" she muttered, hoarsely, through her white lips. 11 1 sce it in her face But woe woe woe to you, Thella Erlit 1" She turned, shook her fist menacingly at the summer house, and vanished among the shrub- bery. As Thella ceased speaking, Lady Elgar, still very pale, but perfectly composed, abandoned her seat, and led the way out and back to the house. She said little, and that little briefly to the effect that she should inquire into the matter. Lord Courtney refrained from volunteering any remaik, but he was deeply anxious-far more anxious than when lie broached the subject of Rachel Bartram. In his own mind he was becoming more and more fearful that the countess had been cruelly made the victim of a dreadful fraud. Arrived at the house, L!ldy Elgar caused Lord Courtney to be conducted to the rooms in full readiness for him, and then, accompanied by Thella, proceeded to her own. "Come with me, my love," she said, as Thella was turning to her own door, I wish to speak with you a moment." She led the way to her boudoir. But as she turned the know and entered the room Thella involuntarily hesitated. There, seated upon a low, pink satin couch, directly in front of the door, sat Ellen, radiant in beauty and happiness, only the deeper Hush on her cheeks hinting at the story she had just heard from Martha. Oh, mamma, dearest," she cried, springing to her feet, what a naughty laggard you are Luncheon ought to be on the table this minute Lady Elgar looked at her, forced a wan smile, an(I tlicti turned lia,tily to Tliella. "Come in, come in, my dear," she said, in strangely faint, sick tones. "Alice's presence need make no dilference." No, indeed:" cried Ellen, brightly, whirling around with slow grace as she spoke. "Do come in, Miss Erht. 1 want to consult your taste as to the success of this pretty luncheon dress. It is mamma's selection, and I think perfect in its adaptability to the occasion. The nice line be- tween the simple breakfast garb and the elaborate dinner attire has beenâ" There Lady Elgar interposed. Never mind the dress now, Alice," she said, in the same faint, tick tones iu which shu had before spoken. I wish to speak of a more important matter. Miss Erht has just informed me of a fact which distiesses me indescribably." Ellen, who had inst aitly brought both her vol- uble address and her dainty pirouetting to an end, elevated her brows at that statement, but offered no other expression of surprise. Lady Elgar continued with increased emotion. I had not," she said, "intended to speak of the matter till later but my dreadful anxiety impels me to seek all immediate explanation. And now that Miss Erht is heâ" At tint point she suddenly broke off and sud- denly caught Ellen's arm. ()I,, lily cl)il(l I my child she cried, chok- ingly, her lovely blue eyes questioning the girl's face with anguished intentness. "Oh, my child, you did lock the boudoir door last night ?" There was an instant's silence, in which the girl's eyes opened wide in an inuocent surprise upon the Countess. The next she ails wered. Mamma 1" she cried. Th tt reply, in its slow, amazed reproach, went straight to the countess's heart. In a passion of joy she threw her arms about the girl, and strained her almost wildly to her breast. Thank ILaveti Thank Heaven she ejacu- lated, te irfully, exclaiming the next moment, as ehe pressed a tremulous kiss upon her lips: "Oh, pardon me, my dialing, for having for one inscaat even doubted your angelic truth:" A-iain there was a little silence, and again Ellen broke it;. I tohl yon I locked it, mamma she said, in tones of keenest reproach. "But," she added the next moment, haughtily erecting her head and looking at Thellaâ" but how is it that Miss Erht has presumed so far as to shake your confidence in your own child 7" Miss Erht has in no way presumed, said the countess, hastily, a slight flush rising to her cheek a Ellen's imperious tone. With the words she removed her embracing Iarm from the girl's waist and stepped to the belL Miss Erht," she went on, as she touched the pull, "has very properly informed me of a fact which I am about to summon Rachel Bartram to explain." Then turning to Thella, who stood pate ami proudly composed at a little distance, she said gently: Be seated, my dear I have a choice in ycur being present when I speak to Rachel. I may need to have my memory refreshed." "What charge has Miss Erht been bringing against Rachel ? interposed Ellen, with all her former hauteur. Before Lady Elgar could reply the footman ap- peared. She gave the necessary order and then turned to Ellen. Her answer to the girl's inquiry was briefly, gravely, and almost severely to the point. Miss Erht has informed me that Rachel Bart. ram entered this room last night at twelve o'clock. As you locked the door, and, of course, left the key in the lock, her entrance must have been effected by means of pincers." Ellen raised both white hands and rolled up her eyes. Monstrous charge!" she cried, slowly. Then, as suddenly dropping hands and eyes, she exclaimed, incredulously What could bring Rachel to your boudoir at midnight, mamma ?" She gave the countess no opportunity for her to reply. As the words left her lips she all at once flew to the gallery door. She snatched the key from the lock, looked at it, laughed scornfully, and moved swiftly back to the countess. "If this room had been entered there would have been unmistakable marks upon the key. There are none. See The countess then looked, and instantly fell back a pace, with a wildly inquiring glance at Thella. Till that moment Thella had never stirred from the position she had taken on entering the room. But at Lady Elgar's look a slight flush rose to her pallid cheeks, and a slight trace of emotion showed itself in the proud composure of her manner. She left the chair on which she had been lightly ""1" one hand, and moved eagerly towards the countess. She instantly drew herself bacJ-, her face a shade paler, and her air a tiifle more imperially com- posed. Ellen had suddenly tossed the key aside with another scornful laugh, and suddenly burst out in a haughty, passionate defence of Martha. "I love Rachel Bartram t d." cried, her eyes --a i.ci tones trembling, "and I will not stand by and hear her so foully aspersed without raising my voice in her vindication More, I know Rachel Bartram; and I do not know Miss Erht I "onsequently nothing but the unanswerable proof of Rachel's own lips will ever make me believe she sntered this room last night And more than that, mamma," she hurried passionately on, turning the defiant gaze she had fixed upon Thella back to Lady Elgar-" more than that, I accuse Miss Erht of meanly striving to ingratiate herself with you by traducing my maid She knows you don't like my dear Rachel Bartram, mamma CIlAr rEP. XLV, THELLA-S WORD, OR KLLEN'S ? In vain Lady Elgar had sought to arrest the hot flow of Ellen's insulting speech. The girl said what she had to say to the last word. Like some beautiful fury, she stood there in her mostly attire, and like some young duchess, Thella unpen illv faced her. The contrast sickened Lady Elgar to the soul. She thought And this is my own child I" TheUa would have left the room at the first out- burst, but not for one instant would she entertain the iika of disregarding Lady Elgar's expressed wishes. There was no opportunity for reply of any kind. At the very moment that Ellen's voice ceased, a tight tap sounded on the door, and, the second time that day, Martha Gregory entered the room. Her heavy-lidded eyes passed mildly from face to face, and then fixed themselves upon Lady Elgar. Her air was respectfully composed, and her mind reassured. That glance had placed her in quiet possession of all she needed to know, and, in fact, dl that she desired to know. She viewed the battle as won. Lady Elgar instantly addressed her. Without piefatory words she made a concise statement of Thella's charge, ouce or twice appealing to the girl in regard to its entire correct- ness. Martha listenel, not only to the statement, but to the questions and affirmative replies, with an tir of blank, speechless amazement that made a most effective counterfeit of inuocence. As Lady Elgar paused she claimed slowly, dazedly I hardly know how to answer your ladyship. I am so completely dumbfounded! I never wasâ" There there suddenly broke in Ellen, I knew it â " As she spoke the words she cast a glad, defiant glance at Thella. co But Thella scarcely heard them, and never saw the look. Her eyes were fixed upon Martha in a questioning incredulity and astonishment that for ¡.!ie time held her spell-bound. Lady Elgar silenced Ellen with a glance, and agitatedly commanded Martha to proceed. "1 was about to say my lady," resumed the woman, in the same astonished toiies,- I was about to SaV, my lady, that I never was in the gallery last night 1 never saw Miss Erht! I never entered the boudoir Miss Erht is the victim of some wild hallucination ?" Having delivered that opinion, she turned and nxed her sleepy gaze on Thella with an odd mixture of quiet wonder, indignation, and in- quiry. Tiitlla met the gaze with her clear, truthful eyes, but the woman never blanched. Ellen's voice broke the momentary silence before either Lady Elgar or Thella could speak. Mamma she cried, casting one haughtily exulting glance at Thellaâ" mamma, you must, by ioi.s time, see for yourself, that Miss Erht has, for her own base purposes, most shamefully viliii'. d Rachel You must either admit that, or accuse your own child of falsehood. You-" Lady Elgar interposed with a low, sharp cry, suddenly lifting both hands as if to silence the girl. At the moment that Martha ceased speaking she had fastened her eyes upon Thella's beautiful young face, so pale and so pure in its mute horror, as it turned slowly from Martha to Ellen, and bach. But at that word falsehood," she quivered as if pierced by a venomed arrow, and with that low, pained cry, transferred her gaze to Ellen. Don't, don't she cried piteously you break my heart, Alice But I must, mamma persisted the girl, I know you have foolishly doted upon Miss Erht, but it is better to acknowledge her unworthiness and be done with her than to continue your mis- placed trust." Once more Lady Elgar raised her hands and piteous voice. Alice Alice Alice she moaned. Thella, now watching the countess with fixed, anguished eyes, all at once turned to Ellen. But before she could utter the passionate entreaty parting her lips, the girl returned ruthlessly to the charge. Dear mamma she cried, caressingly, scarcely able to conceal her joyous exultation, "one moment, and I am done. Let me, for both our sakes, call your special attention to three facts which may have escaped your careful notice. Mamma, I, your am child, locked the boudoir door before retiring last night I, your own child, unlocked it this morning As you have seen, the plated key is unmarred by so much as a scratch Mamma, the inference is plain I Mamma, you cannot pronounce Rachel Bartram guilty without accusing your own child Mamma, which is to be believed? Your own child, or an unscrupulous hireling ?" At those crafty words, Lady Elgar turned her gaze from Alice's glowing face t:) Thella. "Leave iiie leave me!" she murmured hoarsely, looking sorrowfully into the girl's miserable eyes and unconsciously waving her away. "Go to your dressing-room, It is time- quite time.