THE FORGE OF LIFE,|1900-01-13|The Montgomery County Times and Shropshire and Mid-Wales Advertiser - Welsh Newspapers Online
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THE FORGE OF LIFE,

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[PUBLISHED BY SPECIAL ARBANGEMENT.] THE FORGE OF LIFE, BY J. MONK FOSTER, Author of A Pit-Brow Lassie," "The Cotton Kin! Slaves of Fate," The Watchman of Orsden Moss," In Red Snow Written," Judith Saxon," The Queen of the Factory," &c., &c. COPYRIGHT. Thus at the flaming forge of life Our fortunes must be wrought, And on its sounding anvil shaped Each burning deed and thought." Longfellow. CHAPTER XLVI. To BE OR NOT TO BB Since her arrival at Braxholmc Park Miss Ashbourne had had it-maid of her own. This arrangement was owing to no desire of Molly's, either expressed or im- plied but was wholly due to Lady Russell-Wentworth's kindness and sense of the fitness of things. It appeared so iiiiicl,, itiol-P in hooping with Miss Ashbourne's posi- tion HH the affianced bride of the son of the house and so it had come about that the Pentonmoor lass, Hester Thomson. had been chosen for thnt position. It w: < the morning following Russell-Weutwortli's flying visit to Braxholme, and Molly was again wander- ing somewluit aimlessly through the extensive tract of park-hkgrounds surrounding the big mansion. Every waking Lour since her plighted lover's unexpected ap- pearance on the previous afternoon had been taken up in the contemplation of the question he had asked then, and the answer she had half-reluctantly given. For many months she had dreamed of the high honour of becoming the wife of a man who could not only give her all those things which wealth could purchase, but would give her the right to call herself Lady Russell- Went worth soma day fultl lmt was surely enough to set the wits of any erstwhile factory maid aglow with unbounded delight and self-glory. But from the very beginning there had been one bitter drop in her cup of joy. Even at the moment when she had cast one lover aside to accept the other she had realised that the humbler wooer was the lord of her heart; and the many kindnesses of Lady Russell- Wentworth, the considerate toleration of her husband, and the unswerving adoration of the son, could not tear from her heart one imago imprinted there. Often enough Molly had bitterly reproved herself on account of her inability to fling- Frank Ellesmere wholly Out of her life and thoughts. She wanted to forget liini—-to remember no more that they had been more than mere friends, and her woman's nature refused to be dominated by her woman's will. She loved him, felt that she must ever lovo him, and at timero she was con- scious that she was not one woman but two women-ono of whom was hungering for riches and high places, the other one who merely desired peace, love, and simple contentment as a loved man's wife. Then had come the agony of remorse and knowledge born of that last meeting with Frank. She had heard of hi arrest on the very eve of flight had read of his trial and his committal to the Assizes had learned with a kind of wondering1 awe and admiration that he had practically convicted himself of the abominable charge of which lie was accused, by absolutely refusing to say where he was at the moment the thunderous reports of the explosions rang- forth on the midnight air. Too well she knew why he was silent. His love for her had sealed his lips. Rather than incriminate her he was prepared to go to penal servitude. What a won- drous thing ft man's love must be to make him act so. He loved her madly; had but to utter half a dozen words, and she would be banished from Braxholme in disgrace, and he would be free. Yet even to spite and overthrow his own rival he would not betray her. The realisation of all this rankled in her soul like venom. Then she comprehended how vile a thing she was. and how noble a man was this she had discarded. She ban treated him with the most utter cruelty and contempt, had trampled under foot all his highest and holiest feelings, and his only retaliation was to treat her as if she were an angel, willing to endure all shame and tortures rather tuan make a scoff of her name. Even the serving--iniis, Hester Thompson, bad put her young mistress to shame. She had urged Molly to tell the truth and save her old lover from prison had begged of her to tell Lady Russell-Wentworth where Frank Ellesmere had been that night—had urged her even to quit Braxholme and make a clean breast of the business to the proper authorities at homo. But Molly had refused to do bad implored her maid to keep inviolate the secret she possessed had promisea to heap upon her all sorts of rewards in return, and so far the j>'irl had been swayed to her mistress's wishes. Yet a grim haunting fear that ever lurked in the background that some day. any day, the maid might break her promise, divulge the truth, and shatter Mody's ambitious dreams to pieces. To speak the truth now, when Frank Ellesmere had chosen to suppress it. would plunge her into a very gulf of trouble. She could only do so at the risk of losing all, for what could all the Russell-Wentworths—father, mother, son—think of the woman who had met an old sweetheart at midnight within the very precincts of her affianced husband's home Nay, more. was she even certain of winning Frank back after her treachery to him ? By offering her evidence at the very outset it would have been an easy matter to have proved an alibi on the accused man's behalf. Her own word and that of Miss Thompson would have been sufficient to stay proceed- ings against him. But to speak now after such a long absence would be to set the whole of Pentonmoor ablaze with curiosity. She and Hester would be forced into the witness-box would have to stand a close cross- examination all, the incidents of that evening and night would have to be set forth in detail; the notes passed between herself and Frank would have to be sworn to by Hester the midnight meeting also and then with the sneers, scorn, and prurient laughter of all who knew her in her ears, Russell-Wentworth would repudiate the woman whose love and fidelity he bad every right to suspect. Such thoughts as these were passing through Molly Ashbourne's active brain as she strolled slowly along the broad gravelled avenues, under the bourgeoning trees of Braxholme Park. And above all other thoughts one thought stood out insistently. She was within touch almost of her goal at last. At that moment her betrothed lover was in London, seeking a special licence in order to consummate their speedy union. wi any h°urt she might hear from him now. What must she do when the summons came? Would she be glad or sorry to have this trying ordeal over? She could not tell even then. She feared to take that irrevocable step which would bind her to Ilussell-Went- worth for the remainder of her days, and yet she hesi- tated to face the storm her re-appearance in Penton- moor would create if she went back as the saviour of Frank. Torn by conflicting fears, hopes, desires, she knew not what to do. Of one thing alone did she seem certain. She had erred grievously in coming away from home. After all was not a honest man's love worth all the world besides? A marriage for the sake of worldly considerations might have been forgiven— might have been tolerable even—had her heart been free. But her heart, her soul, her life, were in the keeping of one she had basely deserted and allowed to go to prison for the sake of keeping her good name untarnished. A little cry behind her—a woman's voice raised to attract her attention—caused Molly to turn suddenly. Then she saw Hester Thompson speeding towards her, one arm uplifted, and waving a letter in her hand. She turned on her heel, went back towards her maid, and soon they were face to face, the mistress outwardly quite calm now. What is it, Heater ?' A telegram for you, Miss Ashbourne. It came only a few minutes ago, and thinking it might be some- thing of importance I thought it best to run after you with it.' I am glad you did so, Hester, for I think I know ,hat it is about,' 1\Iolly auswerecl. Then she tore off the cover with trembling fingers, and read the message. It ran :—■'From Russell-Wentworth. Langham Hotel, London to Mary Ashbourne, Braxholme Park, Sussex. Make necessary excuses and join me here with your maid as soon as possible. All arrangements made for special licence. Marriage can take place in a few days. Have engaged rooms for you and servant. You need not wire back. Come at once. Am waiting. Russell-Wentworth.' White-faced aud agitated Molly turned to her com- panion. At last she felt glad that she was called upon to act definitely, nt once, in some way. She thrust the message in the girl's hand and bade her read. What does it mean, Miss AsliboLiriie P the maid asked as she glanced over the telegram. It means that we are to go to London at once, where I am to be married.' That was why the young master came yesterday, and you to]d me to say nothing of his visit?' 1 Yes. it was,' Molly murmured, her eyes filling- with tears. Are You going-and Frank Ellesmere in prison?' the lllaid demalHletl. ,„ .i I 1 (10 not know what to do the agitated woman cried lilit I promised, and he is waiting. Oh, Hester Hester how I wish I had never left Frank I am miserable here, and the thought of Frank is nearly killing me. Whatever must I do ? Go back to Pentonmoor at once the sensible maid cried firmly. Go hack home if you are miserable here, and speak the words which will help to prove Frank Ellesmere innocent. You ought to have openei your lips sooner, knowing what you do; but, thank heaven, it is not yet too late It I leave here now I leave for ever, Hester Moby cried. What of that ? There's an honest lad eating out his heart in prison for your sake, and you love Iiiiii, vet hesitate as to what you should do. I know wlmt I would do, and what a hundred honest wenches would do, too. Choose London if you will, but I am going back to Pentonmoor! So there. Molly Ashbourne 1. ^es^er, I will go too—we will go together tnis very 'fi i '*0:' forgive me for my selfish weakness, but I win hesitate no longer. I do not care for Russell- entwoi-th. au;} j wJJJ ]lo{. m;irry Inm. I will save oan evefl if he throws me off, too, I can go wm-l t2c. milL Go<* bless you. Hester for those ( s- It is not too late for us to save him yet CHAPTER XLVIL—THE WOMAN'S TRUE HEART. tlinti/lLtrP''8!8 from London to the North had just form w-io H..e Nation at Pentonmoor, and theplat- P'ISSPRXROI.^1 ^^ting the usual scene of bustling activity, so t\Yf>ni (+ie- ^'S'^hig to the number of a dozen or y r thirty travellers were looking after seats, and stationmaster, porters, men, women and children waiting for other trains, completed the picture. Among the few others who had left the express were Molly Ashbourne and Hester Thompson. Both were quietly dressed, were neat-looking and composed, and those who knew them seemed to think that the pair of' handsome lasses had simply come back to their native town after a holiday in the south. It was between three and four in the afternoon, and on leaving the station Molly and her companion set their feet towards the centre of the thriving town. The thoroughfare was busy enough, for the day was fine, and the vast majority of the ironworkers were still un- employed and as the girls went along not a few curious eyes followed the handsomer one. or You are still resolved not to go home first, Molly, before you see the Chief Constable ? Miss Thompson queried, as they turned into the street leading to the Police Court. Quite determined on that point, Hester,' the other replied- emphatically. I dare not face my mother before I have said what I have come to say. If she knew I was here, and what purpose had brought me, she would try to prevent me speaking at all costs. But afterwards I shall tell my dear father everything and throw myself upon his mercy. He loves me he never liked the idea of my throwing Frank np, even to marry young Russell- Wentworth and I'm sure of his forgiveness and bless- ing for doing this act of common justice.' Collie -tloiig then I'm ift-lti(I of nobody. Even if I lose my place there's plenty of others. But see. Molly; there's Frank's father on the other side. Why not "peak to him ? So I will. Be quick before we miss him.' Instantly the lasses quickened their steps soon they were at Simon Ellesmere's heels, presently they were by his side, and Molly was uttering his name. He turned quickly, recognised Frank's old sweetheart immediately, and at once a look of the blackest and bitterest aversion shadowed his dark face. What do you want with me lie cried, scowlingly. 1 I should have thought shame would have kept you away now You need not speak so bitterly,' she answered, lowly. You have reason to despise me, I know but I have come to save Frank at last.' Save him How ? Do that and I will forgive you all.' Come then with us. We are going to see the Chief Constable, Captain Walters. It was through me that Frank came to be suspected, but Hester here and I can prove where he was that night the outrages were com- mitted.' Ha he cried, and a flash of inspiration lit up his dark features. He was with you then ? I ought to have guessed that! And the poor, fond, honest-souled young fool was prepared to martyr himself for the sake of a woman who had cast him off to marry a puppet who was merely rich Spare me that. Mr Ellesmere she pleaded with downcast eyes as they walked along. I am not quite so black and base as you think. Hester, dear, tell him, please, how I happen to be here.' Simon turned to the other girl sharply, but with a more kindly expression of countenance. He scanned Hester's comely face closely for a moment, and she encountered his eyes without flinching. I know your face well enough, but not your name,' Simon said. I have seen you several times at Moor- hurst. But tell me how you and Miss Ashbourne happen to be here, since she wishes me to know., Since Miss Ashbourne went to Braxliolmo Park I have been her maid, 31r. Ellesmere and yesterday afternoon wo chanced to be walking through the grounds there when young Russell-Wentworth joined us quite unexpectedly, for we thought he was here at Pentonmoor. I fell behind, of course, and left Miss Ashbourne and the young master together. But I after- wards learned that he had come in lniste to urge an im- mediate marriage upon my mistress.' Without his parents' knowledge or consent?' Simon asked. Of course for he never visited the house at all. and urged Miss Ashbourne to keep his visit secret. Then he rushed away to London, and this telegram reached Braxholme only this morning between eleven and twelve.' The maid placed Russell-Wentworth's telegram in Simon's hands, and he read it with a curious smile playing round the corners of his eyes and mouth. When lie glanced at Molly again a newly-awakened interest was visioia in his manner. 'And iu y I ask, Miss Ashbourne, what caused you to rush buck to Pentonmoor when your affianced lover desired you to join him in London ? I can understand Mr Russell-Wentworth's haste, but I cannot under- stand your reluctance to consummate the marriage which you and your mother have schemed for so long.' I had become utterly ashamed of and disgusted with myself, sir,' Molly answered, almost in tears. 'At the last moment I found that life with that man would be intolerable, and so I came back to speak the words I I ought to have spoken long ago. I know how despicable I am in your eyes, and I deserve it all but so Ion.- as I save Frank I do not care what becomes of myself.' He glanced at the girl's pale face and his own softened in a wonderful way. And at that moment there flashed across his memory some bitter words he had spoken to Frank many months before. Unvoiced, they yet rolled Over his silent tongue:— Let her go her way. If she is a good woman she will come back to you, rich or poor if she is worthless let her drift in her own fashion to the Bottomless Pit! A few minutes later they were all standing in the private room of Captain Walters. He knew Miss Ashbourne, and as his eyes rested a moment on her beautiful face he wondered why she had come there. Without waste of words or time Ellesmere proceeded to business. Captain Walters,' he began curtly, these ladies have come to speak to you on a matter of great moment to us all. They have just come from Sir Russell- Wentworth's place in Sussex I chanced to meet them in the street, and they desired me to accompany them. Miss Ashbourne you know, I believe; and this other lady is Miss Thompson, until lately a servant at Moor- hurst. Their business I leave them to explain.' 'Why do you wish to see me, Miss Ashbourne?' the chief began suavely, his appreciative glance again fixed on his visitor's face. I wish to tell you the truth respecting Frank Elles- mere's doings on the night when the Pentonmoor Iron- works were blown up,' Molly said firmly. All along I have known, and Miss Thompson has known also, that the accused man is innocent. I know that I ought to have offered my evidence before this, but the position in which. I was placed closed my mouth and Miss Thompson was silent aa well because I urged her to say nothing.' What do you know of the case, Miss Ashbourne ? If you are prepared to prove that Frank Ellesmere is guiltless I shall be delighted to hear your evidence.' I can prove that he was with me at Moorhurst when the explosions were heard. I had met him secretly, and Miss Thompson wasrfjresent then. She it was who brought me Frank's note begging me to see him a few minutes before be went away, perhaps for ever, and she also took my answer to him arranging the appoint- ment. This is the note lie sent me. I kept it, never dreaming that I should dare to show it to anyone.' The Chief took the note Molly had drawn from her pocket, and read it carefully. When he had persued it he handed it back, saying At what time did you receive that note ?' Shortly after dusk at Moorhurst from Miss Th(, 1:1PSOll.' And when did you, Miss Thompson, receive it from Frank Ellesmere?' the chief went on. Te, I minutes or so before I delivered it,' the girl answered. He was loitering near the entrance to the Moorhurst grounds, and he was there still when I returned with the answer from Miss Ashbourne.' But how was it that neither of you offered evidence at the hid The evidence you offer now would have saved him at once.' It was all my fault,' Molly cried. I was engaged to Russell-Wentworth, and I could not tell the truth without putting myself to shame. If the world had known that I was meeting my old lover clandestinely at the very moment when the outrages were ringing out what would have been thought of me ? So I held my tongue and allowed him to take his chance. If he wouldn't speak, why should I ?' I understand now why Ellesmere would not speak. That hid must be the very soul of honour the "Chief Constable exclaimed. And may I ask if you are pre- pared to swear to all this at the forthcoming Assizes ?' I n,ra! That is why I am here. I will tell the truth now no matter what the world thinks of me was Molly's instant response. 'And you, Hester, will do the same f' Willingly. As you know, Miss Ashbourne, I was ready to do so all along,' the maid said, readily. Captain Walters was about to make some observa- tion when a low tapping was heard on the closed door. Instantly the chief called out Come in,' and when the door swung back one of the inspectors of police entered. What is it, Ruddick ? Walters demanded of his subordinate. 'A gentleman to see you—Mr Bardeslev, the vicar of St Mark's,' the inspector replied. I told him that you were engaged, but lie said that his business was of the utmost importance. He says that he must see you for a few moments, as he has just come from the hospital where the injured man, Carl Hermann, is lying. You must excuse me for a few minutes,' said the chief, as he rose. But do not go before I return. I will be back as soon as possible.' Chief Constable and officer disappeared, and as the door swung to behind them Simon Ell", mere turned to Molly Ashbourne, remarking in a kindlier manner than that lie had hitherto used I itlil glad, Miss Ashbourne, that you have proved yourself a true woman even at this late hour. It would have been better, perhaps, had you seen justice done earlier, but, thank God, it is not yet too late. But your reticence has had the effect of precipitating one thing which will astonish the town some day—and very soon." I know, Mr Ellesmere,' Molly answered, almost in tears, that I have shown myself very heartless and selfish in my dealings with your son. But it is some consolation to know that in trying to save Frank I have saved myself as well from a much worse fate. And after all I shall be the greatest sufferer, for I shall never dare to look your son in the face again. My God what must he think of me now ?' She dropped her face in her hands and cried a little in silence. When she was calmer and looked into Simon Ellesmere's face he was smiling that old inscru- table smile, only it was one of perfect content now. • My son 1' he said softly, with his eyes on her appeal- ill" face. Frziiil,. Ellesmere is not my son. Mary Ash- bourne. I have tried to be a father to him, he has been to me more than a son, but there is no tie of kin- ship between us.' Mr. Ellesmere she burst out m amaze, Frank not your son ? Who then can- 'Hush!' he said, with an uplifted hand, 'Cap' ttin Walters is returning. Who Frank Ellesmere is I will tell you later—perhaps to-day.' The next moment the Chief Constable re-entered the room, and with him his reve-end visitor, the vicar of the leading church in the town. The Rev. Charles Bardesley was nearly seventy now, but hula and hearty still; his white hair hung on his coat collar and a snowy sheaf of beard swept his breast. The reader may re- member him as the clergyman who had snubbed young Russell-Wentworth so merciless!}', and praised Frank Ellesmere quite as warmly, that evening on the bank of the river when the latter saved the little bather from drowning. Mr Ellesmere How glad I am to meet you and the old gentleman crossed the room and shook Simon most heartily by the hand. I T congratulate you, sir, with all my heart on your son's indisputable innocence. I know him, sir !• I know him and I never could bring myself to believe that he was in any way connected with such an atrocious outrage.' And ag-nin the reverend servant of God shook Simon's hand warmly. I thank you very much, Air Bardesley. for your kind words,' Ellesmere said lowly, more stirred now than anyone there had ever seen him before. I sup- pose Captain Walters has told you that these young ladies can prove his innocence These ladies prove his innocence the cleric cried. I know nothing of that, sir. But I do know that he is clear of all stain in this matter. I have just come from the bedside of a (Iviiig man who with his last words declared Umt be and others were guilty, but your son was innocent.' The German Carl Hermann? Simon demanded. That is so. I have placed his dying confession, witnessed by myself and others, in the chief's hands. That is why I came here. Will you let Mr Ellesmere read it, Captain Walters ? The Chief Constable handed Simon a folded sheet of paper, and, after a pause to clear his voice, Ellesmero proceeded to read the following- brief declaration The Royal Hospital, Pentonmoor. Ayril-, 1f). 1, Carl Hermann, being of sane mind and knowing I shall soon be called upon to face my Maker, hereby declare, in the presence of the witnesses whose names are appended, that I and Tone Rafferty, Mike Fyans, and others whom I refuse to name. were solely responsible for the dynamite outrages at the Penton- moor Ironworks. And I further declare, and call God to witness the truth of my dying statement, that the yonng man Frank Ellesmere now under arrest is absolutely innocent of the crime with which he stands charged. He had neither knowledge of the con- spiracy nor hand in its execution. This I declare before God to be the whole truth. Signed.— Carl Hermann. Witnesses,— Charles Bardeslev, D.D. Geo. B. Whatmough, M.D. Janet Gough, Nurse. Thank heaven for that Simon Ellesmere cried huskily, as he handed the document back to Captain Walters. Now that the suspicion is cleared away I am content.' Turning to the chief he added, I may write to Frank at once. I suppose, to tell him of this ?' Certainly, if you wish, sir!' the other cried amiably. But why write at all ? Telegraph the glad tidings to him as soon as possible. To-morrow he will be free.' A few minutes later Simon and Molly were walking homeward together. Hester Thompson had hurried away to her own relatives to spread the great news. As they neared the post office, where Simon was to despatch the telegram to Frank, Molly queried, almost timidly. 'And Frank—Mr Ellesmere? You say he is no relation of yours. May I know who he is ?' I will tell you. He is the half-brother of the man who is waiting for you in Lontlou-Qr looking for you by this at Braxholme Park. He is the elder sou of Sir Russsell-Wentworth. by his first wife. That is the truth, so help me God And all the world will know it in a few days' time. For the present I must ask you to keep it to yourself.' She gasped audibly, and her face turned deathly pale. When he looked at her she was drawing her veil to hide the falling tears. Take courage, little woman,' he whispered warmly. After all, you came through the ordeal well.' [To BE CONCLUDED.] FIRST INSTALMENT NEXT WEEK. The title of our New Story is Tho Crown- inz of Esther." This story won the First Prize of £ 100 in an Open Competition instituted by the proprietors of the Newcastle Chronicle for the best serial submitted, and experts consider it to be a remarkable work, exhibiting- rare dramatic instinct and power of construction iu its author, together with unusual insight into character and a sympa- thetic imagination.

----AN EXTRAORDINARY NOVEL*

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