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ALICE AND HER HUSBAND. "No, Mr. Wickham, I did not anticipate seeing you. And candidly, at this date, I am surprised that you should have sought me out." The speaker's steely blue eyes surveyed her visitor, and noted the shabbiness of his garments and the patch on his right boot. I haven't forgotten that your bank- ruptcy was the result of your neglect of business, nor that you left me to battle witjh the consequences, and hampered with a child. Apart from which, after ten years' silence, you might have had the decency to have stayed away altogether." Had it not been for my longing to see Alice, I should have done so," he muttered. Your longing will be ungratified. She believes you to be dead. And you might have been in your grave for any good you've been to her." It is not for you to upbraid me, Agnes. Let the past go. Heaven ki.ows I did my best. And it wasn't my fault that ill-luck pursued me across the seas. At first I failed in everything I turned my hand to. And when in the end-" Explanation is needless," Mrs. Wickham inter- posed. Failure is written large all over you. And I can't afford to help you." See Alice I must—and will. The joy it will be to fold her in my arms and hear her sweet voice again!" The same fond fool as ever, Dick," sneered his wife. "Bethink yourself. The little child you basely deserted is a woman now. Alice would shrink from you with loathing." If you have poisoned her against me- But you wouldn't dare. Once more I demand to see her." Persist in your determination, and you will be the destroyer of her happiness. She is engaged, and her fiancte is fastidious to a degree. An out-cast father-in-law, and foisted on him at the eleventh hour I can imagine his horror." "Trying, perhaps," he grimly conceded. Trying! Reveal yourself to Geoffrey Hamilton, Mid Alice's life will be blighted." Mr. Wickham started. Geoffrey'.Hamilton," he repeated. She is wrapt up in him," his wife continued, un- heedful of the interruption. He's the best fellow in the world, and rich besides. Oh, it would be ter- rible if he were to learn of your existence. Be rea- sonable, Dick." I'm a disreputable-looking object," he admitted, queer smile lighting up his hollow eyes as he gazed in the mirror facing him. Were you in a position to resume your former place in society it woulu have been different, of course," she said deprecatingly. Very much so. Poverty is the finest test of friendship I know. With a due regard for Alice's future, obliteration is evidently the sole atonement open to me," and he rose. Dick was weak and yielding as of yore. Mrs. Wickham's upper lip curved scornfully. You have photographs of her, I suppose, Agnes ?" he hinted, lingering. With some impatience, she unlocked a cabinet and presented him with one recently taken. The same beautiful face, but little changed, which had haunted his dreams the same tender, sensitive mouth and steadfast eyes. Studying his daughter's pictured semblance, Mr. Wickham's mood softened. Presently he glanced round the room. A refined taste was conspicuous in the simple elegance of the furniture and the prevailing harmony. And it was to her mother that Alice was indebted for surroundings. On a sudden be clasped his wife's hands. Must we part, Agnes ?" he asked in a smothered voice. Have the days when we were all in all to one another no hold on you ?" None whatever," she rejoined emphatically. My struggle for bread has robbed me of sentiment. You must excuse me prolonging the interview. Re- miniscence is too painful. Good-bye. I am sorry for you, I am indeed, Dick. But- You will be sorrier for yourself later." With a laugh that grated on her he strode to the door. ° < At his last bachelor party prior to his marriage, Geoffrey Hamilton was entertaining a select few of his friends when a Mr. Gooding was announced. My brother's Australian chum. He's the man who rescued him from the clutches of the rogue who would have ruined him, and enabled Fred to give me a start," he explained. "So that indirectly he is the founder of my fortunes. He was not due until to-morrow," he added, but his arrival is opportune. I'll bring him in." I have been telling Mr. Gooding that as the family benefactor he is not unknown to my friend," he said, on introducing his unexpected guest. And I trust to you, gentlemen, to second my endeavours in giving him a welcome befitting gratitude and his return to his native land." Mr. Gooding was an elderly man with grizzled hair, and his worn and sunken features and bent, gaunt frame betrayed indifferent health. The warmth of his reception rather overcame him.. Out of conside- ration for his manifest weakness, the other guests departed early. Gooding and his host, however, sat talking until the small hours. It was late when Geoffrey came down to breakfast. And to his consternation he was informed that his visitor was ill and had requested that medical aid might be summoned. Reascending the stairs, he tapped gently at Mr. Gooding's door. The blood- shot eyes that stared at him were blank, the hand he took burning hot, and the sick man tossed rest- lessly. The doctor bad not been sent for too soon, he decided. Dr. Wilton, who pronounced Mr. Gooding to be suffering from brain fever, had come and gone, leav- his patient in charge of his young host, who, assi- duous in his ministrations, throughout the day turned a deaf ear to his ravings. But in the dead silence of the. night the disjointed sentences which fell from the unconscious lips stirred Geoffrey strangely. What does it all mean, what can it mean ?" he asked himself at length, sinking back into the luxuri- ous chair he had drawn to the bedside, as, every sense quickened, he tried to piece the broken utter- ances together. There he is again." Alone with the stars in the bush the dreams poor Dick dreamt. And the door shut in his face. Good- for-nothing Dick! The sooner the sod covers him- not yet. Agnes isn't a woman, she's a fiend. Great Heaven! the stars have all gone! The sky is black!" Gooding shrieked. Dick Wickham, you're done for. Robbed of his litile girl—his darling—his all. Ha, ha! he's wide awake now. Perhaps Hamilton but Alice wouldn't own her father. That's a lie! Fetch her, you Jezebel, fetch her, I say 1" Fairly ex- hausted, he dozed for awhile. Geoffrey's cogitation were of the gloomiest. Suppos- ing, as he believed, that the Dick Wickham to whom he had referred was Mrs. Wickham's husband, and that he was still living, Mr. Gooding's ramblings were contradictory of her representations that shortly after abandoning ner she had received an intimation of his death. And, in that case, Alice must have combined with her mother to deceive him. With what object? What lay behind? If I could only question the poor old boy 1" he groaned. But 'there was little likelihood of Mr. Gooding affording him enlightenment at present. And for his future peace of mind he resolved to institute inde- pendent inquiries. Within the week Geoffrey had traced out a former acquaintance of the Wickhams, from whom he learned that Mr. Wickham was not the worthless scamp he had begun to fear, and that his wife had been held mainly responsible for his failure and sub- sequent disappearance. He went to Australia, and may be dead for aught I know. But Mrs. Wickham is an unscrupu- lous woman," his informant further said. "The money she wheedled out of poor Dick-ostensibly for household expenbes-raoney that was wanted in the business. But, unknown to him-it's a fact— she invested the 'greater portion judiciously-and stuck to it when the crash came-an example of how creditors are defrauded—posing, too, as the sup- porter of herself and child, as if the fees of half-a- dozen music pupils would maintain them t" His opinion of Mrs. Wickham confirmed, Geoffrey agreed with Mr. Budden. Nevertheless, but for the doubts of Alice that tortured him he would have re- turned home with a light heart. But Mr. Gooding's attack was subsiding: in a few days he hoped that he would be sufficiently recovered to unwind the tangled skein that -defied him and restore his faith in her. Meanwhile, Alice ascribed her lover's fitful temper to anxiety for his guest. And one evening—Geoffrey lived in the next street-she pleaded hard to be allowed to relieve his close attendance on him. My post is a sinecure now,' he ausured her un- graciously. But the old boy has been dull all day if you like I'll take you round." They were not long in reaching the house. I'll tell Mr. Gooding you are here," Geoffrey said in the hall. He may not care for visitors." And on his intimating that Miss Wickham awaited his pleasure below, his patient started up in bed as if electrified. Agnes has relented, eh ? But I'm forgetting that I am 'Mr. Gooding' to you, Geoffrey. Your brother has kept my secret loyally." "I can guess it. The ass I've been! You're Mr. Dick Wickham—Alice s father." Yes, I discarded my rightful name in Australia. Only Fred knew it. Never mind that now. Bring me my girl," he implored hoarsely. I'w just hun- gering for a sight of her. She has been led to believe me dead," he cautioned him. Geoffrey took the stairs nearly at a bouad. "A joyful revelation is in store for yon, Alice. JSr. Gooding is no other than your father!" he panted, kissing the astonished girl rapturously. I more misunderstandings, darling." Hand in hand they entered the invalid's room. "Oh, you bad, wicked father," she sobbed, hugging him, to hide yourself all these years, and not even to come to us when you landed!" There you are wrong, Alice. But your mother made a mistake this time, despite her cleverness. If she had divined that Charles Gooding, millionaire- I earned the title at the gold-fields-and outcast Dick Wickham were identical I should have met with different treatment, I suspect." To conceal your visit from me!" she cried indig- nantly, quick to grasp the truth. The cruelty of it!" Her head drooped. Forgive her, daddy dear," she murmured, laying her cheek against his, in her old childish fashion. She has always been good to me." Tut! I bear her no malice. But she must be taught that selfishness is seldom the best policy, even from a wordly point of view-my experience at all events. She can't complain if I spring a little sur- prise on her. No, I won't be hard on her, child, not very hard. But until after the wedding I'm Mr. Gooding,' and I forbid you to expose my identity- least of all to your mother." The happy day had arrived, the bridal party were at the altar, the reading of the service had com- menced but Mr. Gooding, who was to give the bride away, had not yet put in an appearance. Who giveth this woman to be marr ied to this man ?" The officiating clergyman paused. The bride- groom glanced towards a red-curtained pew, and when Mr. Wickham, his fine figure no longer bent, set off to advantage by a smart tailor, briskly emerged, his wife was near to fainting. But Dick himself was seeminly unmoved, and on the conclusion of the ceremony offered her his congratulations as if she were a stranger to him, after which he drove back to the hotel where he was now sojourning, chuckling hugely. Geoffrey Hamilton, however, was not reluctant to explain Mr. Wickham's presence, nor to impart the particulars of his struggles, and of the wealth which had rewarded them, watching his mother-in-law's agonised countenance the while with keen enjoy- ment. Through his daughter's intervention after a time Mr. Wickham was reconciled to his wife. But he likes to spend the greater part of the year with Alice and her husband.





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