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Charlie Holt's Sacrifice.…


Charlie Holt's Sacrifice. BY DOROTHY BAIRD. Author of By the Path of the Storm," Audrey's Old Man," &c., &c. There is no fun in you t6-day, Marcia I shall go home-" The words were spoken with a playful affec- tation of petulance, and suiting the action to the words, the young man rose from his very comfortable garden chair, and made as if he would hurry away. Marria Graham laughed, but not very mirthfully. Don't be so absurd," she said. You must stay and help me with those stupid people who are corning to tennis later on." Charlie Holt sauntered back to her, and stood with his hands in his pockets looking down at her critically. She was very pale, for her, and her face bore a strained, worn expres- sion as if she were suffering. You aren't exactly gay, are you ?" he said. f Are you ill ?" No-no," she answered hurriedly. I am -,mte all right, I am indeed." He sat down on the rustic seat beside her, 8tilllooking anxiously into her face. Then something's happened-something more than usually detesrtable, and it worries yoo-" Her fine, straightforward blue eyes dropped before his gaze- Yes," she said quietly. Then, I think you might tell me. Marcia," burst out Charlie impetuously. We've been such friends, and I've told you all the beastly things that ever happened to me. and you've helped me such a jolly lot, I'd like to help you a bit in exchange." Marcia had turned away her head, and it was along time before she spoke. Charlie fidgetted uncomfortably. It must be something pretty bad, our Marcia would have spoken long ago. .She was a girl who generally went straight to the point, without any beating about the bush. Yes," she said at last. it's nothing that you can help me in-it only affects me, and I shall have to battle through somehow. But Fou'll have to know—everybody will know and would rather tell you myself, though it isn't easy to tell anyone." Her full red lips, usually is firmly pressed to- gether were trembling pitifully and tears were brimming in her eyes. She was so obvi- ously one of those strong self-reliant women who seem sent into the world to bear other people's burdens, soothe other people's way in life, that it was doubly disconcerting to find her In distress of her own. Charlie felt himself tmcomfortably unequal to the situatiou. M Oll. don't-I say don't," he murmured dis- tressfully. I can't bear to see you like that. Buck up What the deuce can have upset 'you like this ?" Marcia smiled. She was fast regaining control of herself, and she did not mean to give way •gain. I saw Mi Cranley this morning," she said, speaking very calmly—so calmly, indeed, that the boy had very little idea of the effort it cost her to do so. And our engagement is at an end." Charlie looked at her for some minutes in open-mouthed astonishment. Marcia's engage- ment had been proverbial for its happiness, its suitability. She and Philip Cranley had been so completely devoted to one another. The breach seemed inexplicable. Your engagement at an end he repeated Stupidly. Why ?" Oh, the usual thing," replied Marcia Casually. 14 Mutual consent." Her tone was bitter, and Charlie had seen too mnch of her distress to be deceived. That won't do, Marcia," he said. Please tell me the real reason. If I am to be your triend-the sort of friend you are to me, I think I deserve that you should trust me, and "Confide in me." I can't tell you any more, Charlie, dear. Don't ask me." Her voice was full of uncontrollable pain. Charlie got up and walked a few paces off. For few minutes he stood lost in thought, then he came back and sat beside her again. Marcia, you must forgive me for asking, and you must answer for the sake of the friend- ship, the confidence, the affection between us. Did Philip throw you over because of me ?" Marcia hesitated. She never meant Charlie to Y' <úW what her saving friendship for him ha-' cost her. She sh- ank from telling him n, but his gaze, b attitude, his affection d-f -V nded a -jtraightforward answer. It was pex aps, only fair that e should have one. 44 j'hilip misunderstands—our friendship," she said slowly. a'n Charlie began pacing backwards and for. wards on the edge of the velvety lawn. It was unjust, intolerable, that Marcia, who had been an angel to him Marcia who had dragged him out ot the most awkward fix, the most serious entanglement ot his life, should suffer like this for his sake. Was Philip blind that he could not see that the girl loved him with all the force of her strong, passionate nature, and that the friendship and affection she accorded to Charlie and to boys like unto him, were but crumbs of sympathy from a nature deep in ..n all-absorbing passion, were outcomes of the eternal motherhood in her, nobly seeking to jesve those whose moments of weakness led them into paths of folly and destruction ? Charlie knew it, had learned it in the early stages of their friendship, when full of grati tede, and a new reverence for womanhood, he had fallen, as he believed, violently in love with her. Her calm, strong fiiendship had soon put him right. Now the mire and pitfalls of his former days were put way, cleansed out of his life by the companionship and confidence of a good woman. He looked back in as. tonishment and loathing to the days when he had fallen an easy prey to any designing woman, and had wasted his substance in riot- ous living. He had been a young iool then, and he remembered the day when she had aksed for an introduction as the turning point in his life. Now he was sane, elevated morally and physically. He was getting on in the world, morever. he was in love, sincerely, honestly in Jove with a girl nearer his own age, and more suitable in every way than Marcia Graham, who had so mercilessly, yet so kindly, laughed away his boyish infatuation. The love was his secret at present. He had not even told Marcia about it yet. He had meant to con- fide in her that very afternoon, but now, per- haps, he had better not do so. In rendering him fit to make love to a girl like Dora McQueen, she had wrecked her own life. It would be pitiful, weak, heartless, to flaunt his happiness in her face. But now what could he say to her ? How express the grief, and shame, and compunction which had taken possession of him ? He felt himself so utterly unworthy of all that she had done for him. Marcia, Marcia," he cried, standing still in front of her. What can I say to you ? I can't bear that you should have this to face. You made me ashamed enough of myself in the past, but I am down in the very dust now. I shall n ever-" 44 Don't Charlie, don't. The thing cannot be helped. It is irrevocable. Even if it were not, I couldn't have acted differently during the past months." 44 Marcia, you are an angel," cried the boy Impetuously, but the words choked in his throat. There was silence for a moment, and then Charlie's anger and resentment got the upper hand of him. The dunderhead I" he cried. The blind Idiot Can't he see that you are just friends with me ? Can't he understand that but for ^rou I should be in the mire now ? Can't 44 Bush said Mircia. Be reasonable. Remember how much we have been together the past few weeks. Put yourself in Philip's place, and try to think what you would have felt if you had seen your promised wife con- tinually going about with another man." 44 I am only a boy," protested Charlie with the air of one who thinks himself a man. 44 Not too youthful to imagine yourself in flove with me," laughed Marcia. 44 Oh, Marcia, don't joke," cried the lad in despair. Couldn't he trust you ? Doesn't he see that but for you that horrible Mrs Trawler would have ruined me, body and aooL" "J hopehe would understand," replied Marcia softiv. I have been open with him all along. But one must allow for a natural Jealousy- Love can't always be reasonable. Philip thinks he has found out that I have grown fond of you over this business. He is not the man to marry a woman if he thinks øome other fellow has a. share of her affections. And I am fond of you, you know, Charlie." 44 Fond of me Yes fond of me in the same way as you're fond of that silly little Maggie Bennett whom you saved from being married to an ogre! If Philip thinks your heart isn't large enough to hold all these small fry as well as himself, he's jolly well mistaken. It's down- right selfish and ungenerous of him to expect you to shut in your sympathies 44 Hush said Marcia again. You must remember that our friendship has looked like a violent flirtation all the time. I quite see that I ought to give more consideration to what is due to him. We often put him in a very awk- ward position. You can't expect a man to put up with all that. It isn't reasonable." 44 A man ought to put up with anything for yevu, Marcia." But Marcia would not listen. It is all over and done," she said. And talking will not mend matters. And, Charlie, I regret nothing, nothing but the fact that I have neglected, joined, and hurt him." Charlie could stand no more. I'm goiug," be said. I can't stay and play tennis and make myself agreeable to all those people with that beastly affair worrying me. I shall have to get used to it before I can face the com- munity again." 44 Well, then, good-bye," said Marcia, hold- ing out her hand. Get quickly used to the I Inevitable, and then come and see me again. iloball need cheering in these davs," she added. Charlie strode away, white nd mute, con-, 1 fronted by a problem more momentous than any which he had ever before encountered. From the first he had fully made up his mind that Marcia must not sacrifice herself like that. The estrangement must be patched up, the en- gagement must be renewed. The whole position at present was disgusting and loathsome to him, and be felt he should brealc his heart if it continued. No, it must be remedied, but how—all, how ? He turned away from the town when he emerged from the gateway of the Graham's honse, and for an hour or more he strode the leafy lanes and flowery meadows trying to deaden uncomfortable emotions by physical action. But at last he came to a halt in the depths of a cool and shady wood, a,nd flung himself down on the grass. Thoughts that had remained in abeyance while he was walk- ing now arose and confronted him and would not be put aside. Here he must think his problem out. His brain was clearer now, and he could think more lucidly, able to put aside the misery of realising Marcia's grief in order to review the matter clearly. How could he hope to convince Philip Cranley that Marcia's love was his, whole and undivided, that her happiness was inseparably bound up in his ? No words of his would avail. If Philip had not believed Marcia he would certainly give no credence to Charlie's tale. It was by actions and actions alone that the thing could be proved and the lie given to Philip s suspicion. Suppose he, Charlie, went straight to Dora McQueen and asked her to be his wife. His engagement would surely be proof positive that no love existed betweeen him and Marcia. But then, he could not do that. Up to a day or two ago he had not been in a position to offer himself to Dora. He had been brought up by an uncle, who, enraged at his folly and dissi- pation in the early part of the year, had cut him off with a shilling and forbidden all further communication with him. Until he had re- ceived an offer of the a gency to Lord Maxwell's estates he knew he should not be justified in paying attention to a girl in her position, and the offer had only come a week ago. He was convinced that Dora's heart was as yet untouched. Proposal at the end of a few days' limited courtship would be reckoned an impertinence; allowing for the fact that she would probably regard Charlie's friendship with Marcia in the same way that Philip regarded it, she might almost consider his declaration as an insult. That way out was impossible. It was true that he might stay and carry on his courtship with Dora at his leisure, as he had at first intended, but in that case he would still be thrown a good deal in Marcia's way. Philip would have time to brood over his wrongs, and would read into each of their casual meetings a meaning sinister to Marcia. Also, the boy shrank from seeing her often. There could be none of the old camaraderie between them if he had to pause at every turn to think how this or that would look in the eyes of Philip Cranley. That plan would not do. What then remained ? Nothing save flight. The boy's miserable face paled again as he thought of what it meant. It meant giving up a friendship that had been so dear as to save him from himself it meant giving up a love which he knew to be honest and sincere, the first that had really held him and drawn out all that was good in him. In leaving the place he would say good-bye, a last good-bye, to Marcia and to Dora. Also in refusing Lord Maxwell's offer, he would fling away his one chance of doing well in the world. What probability was there of his obtaining lucrative employment as a stra.ngerin a strange place? He had no capital, his breach with his uncle was final and irre- vocable. He had idled away his time both at Marlborough and Oxford. His education would be of no use to him. What remained ? No- thing but that refuge for cast-off black sheep- the Army. He had talked wildly of enlisting in the old days when things went especially ill with him. But to talk recklessly of it then, when his life seemed a hopeless and worthless tangle, was quite a different thing to con- sidering it seriously now, when everything was going smoothly and his life bade fair to be a success. Calmly and dispassionately he thought it all out. He would ruin his career. He had no particular gift for the Army, and even if solid hard work brought him promotion, even a commission in time, the time lay so far ahead that it was hardly worth while to reckon with it at all. It would mean complete and utter separation from every friend he had, from all who had known him in his former life, from the two girls be loved best in the world. But on the other band, he was quite free to act as he chose. He had no parents who would grieve for him, no one depending on him. Marcia would grieve if she knew, but he intend- ed her to know nothing more than that he had. left the place suddenly, leaving no clue behind him. Dora would think nothing of it, except, perhaps, to wonder Tng-nely what had happened to the young man who sometimes made himself so agreeable. No, his life was his own, to make or mar, as he liked, and he was going to mar it. Yes, it came to that. Having once hit upon a. reasonable plan for demonstrating to Philip Cranley that Marcia was perfectly heart-whole as far n.s he was concerned. Charlie never dreamed of putting it from him. It must be carried out—and at once. It was ruining his life, as he very well knew, but Marcia had cheerfully risked ruining her happiness for him, and he would not lag behind her in generosity. Directly he had thought out his plans he rose, and set his face towards the town. He made a wide detour to avoid passing the Graham's house. He could not bear to meet Marcia again. She would see that all was not well with him, and she would make it harder for him to go. But, Dora—yes, he thought he might see her again, and wish her good-bve. He found her sitting out in the garden, quietly enjoying the coolness which came with the twilight, together with the rest of the family. They thought him quiet and pre- occupied, not so merry as usual. The merciful gloom' bid his face, and they did not see the expression with which he gazed upon the girl, trying to imprint the picture of her sweet fea. tures upon his memory for all time. The occu- pation was absorbing, and made him a dull com- panion. They were almost relieved when he rose to go. Shall we see you at the Graham's picnic on I Thursday ?" asked Mrs McQueen as she shook hands. 44 No-I think not," he answered hurriedly. 44 I—I have another engagement." Then for one single, precious instant he held in his grasp the slim fingers of the girl he loved, and so he went away. 44 How funny of him to turn up at this time and to be so-so quiet and queer," commented Mrs McQueen as they watched his tall figure disappear in the gloom. 44 Perhaps he has quarrelled with Marcia," suggested Dora meekly. 44 And high time, too snorted her mother- "The way they have been carrying on is simply disgraceful. I wonder Mr Cranley puts up with it. The cancelling of Marcia's engagement was not yet public property. That night Charlie wrote three letters-one to Lord Maxwell courteously refusing his offer one to his uncle, curtly apprising him of the fact that be was going away and would trouble his;relative no more and one to Philip Cranley. The last cost,him much anxious thought, and he wrote manty copies before he penned any thing to his satisfaction. 111 I am gciing away (it ran) in the ardent hope that my absence will help you to realise that Marcia. cares, and has cared, for no other man but you. I shall drop out of her life, and yours, completely and easily. Some day, when you have made her happy once more. will you tell her that I will always keep straight, and that I will do nothing to disgrace the life she so generously risked all to save. If you can, will you ask her to think well of me ? He spent the night sorting, packing, destroy- ing. He took with him only the barest neces- sities and a few odds and ends to remind him of happier days. When all was done there was still an hour before he must start for his train. And then, with the sad grey dawn creeping into the room, he faced and passed the darkest hour of his misery. His window commanded a good view of the towruand as the growing light gave shape and distinctness to familiar objects he looked to them lovingly in a perfect agony of farewell. He had been so happy in this bright little Midland town, and it held so much that was dear. For a, brief time his whole being rose in protest. He would not go, he could not—could not bear to do what he had planned to do-it was too much—more than he could endure. Then, quickly regaining mastery of himself he pulled down the blind and sat down, with features wan and drawn, and watched the lagging hands of the clock till they pointed to the hour for action. It waS-some months before Philip, bumbled imploring, brought happinness back to Marcia. In those months he had watched her narrowly, learning, as was inevitable, more of the com- plete nobility of her character, the wideness of her sympathies, the wholeness of her love for him. He was an upright, honourable man, too conscientious to do anything until he was convinced that he was doing what was right but when once he felt assured he had been in the wrong, he was generous enough to own it and to plead forgiveness. And so, amid tears and explanations, and prayers for pardon, Marcia came into her own again, feeling that if anything, their love had been deepened, their trust strengthened by the bteach. She was trying to tell Philip some- thing of this one day, when he showed her Charlie's letter. 44 We owe it to him," he said quietly. He held her close as she read it, and soon he could feel that she was quivering with sobs. We must find him and make up," she said, brokenly. 44 We owe him a debt that we can never pay." But they never found him. Charlie had enlisted in a distant, town under an assumed I name, and at that very time was learning his drills in the dreary barrack square. How he hated it all, save for the comfort of hoping for Marcia's happiness and when he saw the announcement of her wedding in the paper and knew his sacrifice had not been in vain, he was almost content. Years afterwards Marcia was reading the morning paper when suddenly she gave a little cry. 44 What is it ?" asked her husband, looking up. Her eyes were full of tears, and she could not sneak but she pointed to a paragraph relating to a minor war which had recently been brought to a successful close. We regret to announce (it ran) the death of Col Howe, V.C., D.S.O., by whom the cam- paign has been s ) admirably conducted, and who has bronrjht it to so glorious an issue. He was on his way home when a low fever caused by his injuries and the hardships he has undergone laid him low, It is well known that the gallant officer rose from the ranks and held a distinguished record for valour. From papers found after his death it is found that his real name was Holt, and that he was the nephew of the late Gordon Holt, Esq., of Elderknowe Hall. Whatever may have been his reasons for hiding his name in the past, his record is such that we do not hesitate to publish it now. He was unmarried and had no near relations, but he was universally beloved by officers and men alike, and his death removes an upright and honourable gentleman from the Army. 44 How fine exclaimed Philip, but his voice trembled. Marcia looked up with brimming eyes. 44 I am glad to know," she whispered, brokenly. It removes the only cloud- And Philip, clasping her hand, understood.

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