Skip to main content
Hide Articles List

6 articles on this Page

A GIRL OF THE PEOPLE.

News
Cite
Share

( CopyrigAt. ) A GIRL OF THE PEOPLE. By MRS. C. N. WILLIAMSON, Author of "The Barn Stormers," "Fortune'* Sport," "Miss Nobody," "Her Royal High- ness," "Lady Mary of the Dark House," &o. SUMMARY OF PRECEDING CHAPTERS: Sheila Cope is taken by her mother to the theatre, and there sees two people who'interest her strangely. One is a young man in the pit, to whom she ia indefinably drawn, and the other a woman in the stalls. The latter catches Sheila's eye, and deliberately exposes a purple scar on her arm. Sheila is startled, for a similar scar on her mother's arm has been a mystery to her since childhood. When Lady Cope notices the woman with the, scar she hastily leaves the theatre, putting Sheila into a cab and bidding her drive back to the hotel. Instead, the girl orders her driver to follow a four-wheeler containing the Woman with the scar. She gets near enough to the vehicle to see her mother and the woman seated within, but her driver, who is intoxicated, manages to lose it. Sheila leaves the cab, and has an encounter with a lurking thief, who tries to rob her, but is prevented by the arrival of the young man of the Lyceum pit. When Sheila reaches the hotel her mothei is not there, but presently arrives in a dying condition, with her rIght arm horribly scarred, and a fresh burn where the scar had been. Murmuring incoherently of "the scar-after all these years—revenge," and "the West Wing," Lady Cope dies of heart disease. It is noticed that she was wearing a black opera-cloak instead of the yellow one in which she went out. Sheila instinctively con- nects this with the woman of the scar. Next day Sheila goes down to Arrish Mell Court, her Dorsetshire home, where her mother is buried. Her cousin, Roger Cope, accompanies her, but leaves after the funeral. He is to return to business next day, Sheila resolves to carry out her mother's dying wish, and investigates the West Wing. Passing through picture gallery and octagon-room (once used by Ladv Cope as a writing room) the girl arrives at a door which leads into an apartment known as "the priest's room." As she grasps the handle of the door she hears a faint stirring on the other side. CHAPTER V. A MIDNIGHT SEARCH. I paused, and my pulses gave a quickened throb. Who could be in the octagon room at this time of night ? I thought that I saw the tall form of a priest, in a long black robe, standing at the escritoire, hIS back to me, and, brave as I fancied myself to be, I grew cold with a chill more subtle than the sudden current of damp air could have struck into my blood. I remembered the legend of the priest, and for the first time in my life felt the prickling shudder of superstit ious fear. I had brought with me no matches, even if I could have found presence of mind to use them and, as a soft sound of footsteps began pattering nearer to me and to the door, I turned and ran. In the darkness I stumbled against i0."?e object unseen, and dropped the candlestick with a loud crash, that went echoing through 11 the silent house but I did not stop. Knowledge 0 every passage, step, and turning, carried me instinctively at last to the baize door, and beyond that there was light. In each corridor of that part of the house most lived in, a lamp btirnt faintly through the night, and it was like waking from a dream of terror, to come back into the peaceful twilight. Suddenly, I was afraid no more, and I was lamed of myself that I had been afraid. To test my courage, I determined that I would go °i °Wn room> little reading-lamp w iich stood on a table by the bedside, and returnto the octagon room. I was sure now that only my imagination Conjured up the image of the tall "black priest^ and as for the violent draught of cold th" lc'i extinguished my candle, possibly rp.e st°rni had blown open one of the windows, 'e reading-lamp was shaded with a globe, and I thought that its flame might be proof against an attack of swooping wind. But the nearer I came to the door of the octagon room th.e more possible did it begin to seem that, after all, there might be a foundation of truth for old ghost stories. Still, I would not be driven back by nervous terrors, and once more I laid my fingers on the door handle. This time there was not a sound within, and, strangely enough, the air on the other side was no longer disturbed. My lamp did not even flame as I crossed the threshold. This seemed the more peculiar, as [ had hardly been ten minutes away. My first thought was to examine the windows. All were closed and tightly fastened, but my lamp shewed me that the bare, polished floor under the one nearest the escritoire was wet. I wondered if it would be possible, in such a gale as raged to-night, for a window not only to blow open but to blow ahut again. li carr'°d my lamp from room to room, but *11 was quiet. Only the shadows flickered on the curtains that hung down over the quaint bedstead where the treacherous priest had killed iniself, and made them look as if they moved 'ghtly to and fro. But I knew that this was J an °Pt'cal illusion, and I went back to the udy and the escritoire, which I unlocked with one of raY mother's keys. thought that there might be a letter ad- to me, to be opened in case of my ther's death, or perhaps a diary, which might give me an inkling of the thing she had so rdently desired to say at the last. But 1 could 9 nothing of the sort in the escritoire, me f *° c^0 £ e the escritoire in disappoinfc- rjn. at length, still with her agonised appeal soii^r?g *n.my memory. So thrilling was the hea only the ears of my soul could an(jr' ^"at. I made further search in every nook cunl Cranny the octagon room, the quaint &n °lrf^ "ie deep fireplace, the drawers of ajl(j bookcase, an inlaid chest from India, toon n!i6 or ^wo °ther places where it seemed irtfif* ^iat objects of value, relative or in8ic, might have been kept. But the search was a failure, and I went Into the bedchamber adjoining, wondering if 11 roo 1110 r ever used it and the dressing- ihir?1 ftS places in connection with tho B y which she had been so fond. I *nt° a c^est °f drawers, to find it 0 Pv and in the dressing-room beyond I HbkIl a. huge wardrobe, and explored its dusky tea t'ie "gown hung there, which I remembered had"!? my mother wear a year or two ago. It iff n Ter7 smart in its best days, but •rwards she had used it carelessly. the >u<j}den impulse bade me find and search con^°? .> and just as my fingers had come in •ou rf with some small object there a slight &1a behind me caused me to give a start and nce wide-eyed over my shoulder. b-» Cou'd see nothing that I had not. seen T re\ y«t I tingled with the impression that Wv, S watchc<3- uiirr found in the pocket was a bfeln'l* ^7' which might almost have It '° °f doll's furniture so tiny Suddenly, when I had withdrawn the key and me the wardrobe, I remembered that, behind hail m direction whence the faint noise DrivCf0tUe' Was door which opened on the «nja 8 'tiiircase. Summoning all my resolution, i, n8 before it could die away, I hurried dooi.8 cu*'ta'n tapestry which draped the Wer 8 n ^r'ed to turn 1 he handle. If anything hamiir y there I wanted to see it. But the ConniWo»ld not move, and I had at last to talr 1 door was locked and the key T" awa3'- If tl Cr<i Wa* •'us'' onc comfort in this theory. loofc1 01 was fastened nothing could have 6 °ut at me, and my imagination must ftiatt P'ayed me another trick, as it had in the the priest—that was all. °»ood was up now, however, and, dimly faiipi j away from the place where I had bcled sch strange thing¡¡, 1 visited every other room U1 the West wine. it was on.' o'cl'-ck when I returned to my own room. I had been tw> h uirs a\\ ay, and I In s no wirr thnn I had been when I started. ,riloIittle key from the pocket of the tea- gown I laid on the dressing-table. I would not ose it, because it had been my mother's and because it. might yet prove able to unlock some receptacle which I had not discovered. I did not attach any importance to it, however. If my mother had valued it, or anything connected with it, it appeared unlikely that the key should have lain neglected in the pocket of an old tea- gown scarcely ever worn of late. The battle of the storm went on throughout the night. I was thankful when morning came, bleak and grty, with no feeling of soft April in the air, and a splashing of rain upon the window panes. "Perhaps Roger won't come for his business talk," I thought. Put the hope was faint. It took a great deal to turn Roger from any purpose lie had formed. "Oh, miss, what a dreadful night it's been I" exclaimed Swift, when she appeared to dress me. "It's a queer thing they were snying down- stairs last evening-tilar, there's always a storm like this when one of the old family dies. It either comes on the night of the death or of the funeral, sometimes one and sometimes the other. I just passed Mrs. Ewarts "-Ewarts was the housekeeper, who had been a grown-up woman and in service at An'ish Alell Court when my mother was a child—"and she said she'd scarcely had a wink of slwep for the queer noises about the house. You know what they do say happens, don't you, miss"—and Swift's voice fell to a tone of mystery- "when there's been a death at this place ? "No. What do they say?" I asked, curiously, as Swift made ready my bath and hung the great soft bath towel to dry before the newly-lighted fire. "They say that then the priest walks, not only in his own rooms but through the house. And Mrs. Ewart was almost sure she heard footsteps moving about in the middle of the night. She was up and at her door once or tw:eí, the noises all about the place were so weird." "1 was in the West Wing looking through some old papers, and so on, of Lady Cope's, from eleven to one," I said. "Perhaps she heard me. I daresay she could in her room and once I dropped a candlestick." "It couldn't have been that," objected Swift, "for Mrs. Ewarts looked at her watch the last time she was up, and it was past two o'clock." "Oh "I ejaculated, thoughtfully, "But it was nothing, of course. A storm can make strange sounds come about an old house- especially at night." e "I suppose 'twas nothing, really," the maid assented. "Mrs. Ewarts was sure it wasn't burglars, or she'd have given an alarm." After my own experiences in the night, Swift's words impressed me far more than they "ould otherwise and I asked myself if it were wsible that the restless spirits of those who ad sinned on earth did indeed ever come back io the old haunts, allowing themselves to be heard or seen by those who were still earth- boimd. At hulf-past ten, on the very stroke of the appointed hour, news of Roger's arrival was brought, to me. I was in the picture gallery when the word came, for a curious fascination had drawn me back to the West Wing, the moment after I had breakfasted; and I had just finished a futile exploration of the down- tui, s rOOlns, unvisited last night, when I was told that Sir Roger Cope wished to see me. I went to a room known as the Indian boudoir, where he awaited me, and in silence we shook hands. I looked up at him rather timidly, for some- how I was dreading the hour before me-R.oger's tone in asking me to spare it him had beer; so more than usually grave. It struck me now as our eyes met how exceedingly handsome he was, and I wondered why I did not admire him more than I did. Roger was thirty-six years old, though he did not look his age by ten years and he had been only eighteen when he had come into his title at my iather's death. He was fair-skinned, with very light hair, which fell in a thick wave over his forehead, like a boy's. His eyebrows were almost black, and might have been care- fully pencilled by an artist, in the saintly arcb which they described. The lashes, too, were back, and, as they were long and perfectly straight, they shadowed his curiously pale blua eyes, making them seem much darker than they really were. It was only when the light streamed full into Roger's eyes that one saw they held sea cely any colour save in the violet rim that circled the iris. His oval face was clean shaven, and a sedentary London life had drained his clear-cut features of blood, so that his thin red lips contrasted with his white skin almost as sti ikingly as the dark brows and lashes with the ash-blonde hair. If Roger had been a woman he would hart been considered a great beauty, and it spemed strange to think that this remarkable-looking man, who might have sat as model for a picture of Lucifer before his fall, was only a London solicitor, who had to ignore his title and work like an ordinary mortal. His manner was invariably gentle, his way of speaking slow—"soothing," my mother had called it, and "restful but it was not so for me. "Poor little cousin he said, kindly, as h. released my hand. "You have had a bad night, I'm afraid. Your face is very white, and your eyes very big this morning. Was it the storm that kept you from sleeping, or was it your own sad thoughts ?" As he asked the two questions in one his gaze was fixed very keenly upon me, as if he meant my expression to answer him candidly, even if my tongue tried to keep a secret. "Both, perhaps," I answered, and I was vexed to feel my colour rise. I was thinking of you a great deal all night," he went on "for neither was I able to sleep. I even grew superstitious, with that wild storm raging at, the windows of the inn; and I wondered if the priest walked at Arrish Mell Court." "You always made fun of ghost stories," I said. "Did I? Well, as I grow older I'm not so cock-sure of everything as I used to be. I've begun to realise that there may really be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Last night I don't think I should have denied the priest, if I had been up here instead of at Lull. I always had the feeling (why, I could not have explained) that Roger had motives for everything he said that he never spoke on impulse like other people, but skilfully "worked up subjects with a particular end in view and now I was curious to know why he had brought in that of the priest. With a spirit of con- trariness, which I often felt with Roger, I determined to thwart his design, whatever it might be. "Let's talk of something else," I explaimed, abruptly. "You say that oddly!" he persisted. "I believe, Sheila, that you had a fright last night. "I'm not at all snperstitious," I answered, evasively. Mother brought me up to think that sort of thing ridiculous. Nobody seems to have rested very peacefully last night; but I feel quite well enough this morning for that business talk which you said we must have." Roger's eyes had never left my face, yet I hoped it had not given him much satisfaction. He saw at last that there was one subject which I was resolved not to discuss; and he knew that I could be just as determined as he, when I chose. "Very well, to business, then," he said. "Aren't you going to sit down, and ask me to sit down ? Thanks Sheila, did your mother ever tell you anything about your birth ? CHAPTER VI. A SECRET DIYPLGHD, I stared at my cousin, mrpmed at such < strange beginning. "I hardly know what you mean," I stam- mered. "What was there to tall-except that I was born abroad ? Roger looked down at a book he had taken up from the table. "I thought that Aunt Emiyntrude might have told you some par- ticulars," he said; "perhaps—the night, she died. You did not seem to wish me to know what passed behvenr., you in that last scene. And I thought she might "She said nothing coherent at all," I broke in. "She only murmured a few strange words which I could not understand. Are you-going to tell me anything, Roger ? "By-and-bye," he said, smiling faintly. His face had brightened as 1 answered his ques- tion. Evidently, if he had anything of im- portance to tell, he was glad that my mother had not forestalled him. "Before we come to that I have certa;n things to ask. Sheila, you were eighteen a month ago, weren't you ? "Yes," I replied. And my mind strayed back to my birthday. How happy I had been then I We had just gone up to London, and the world had seemed like fairyland. "You are almost a child still, my poor little cousin. Yet Aunt Ermyntrude was married before she wa, many months older. Did she ever speak to you about the time when you would marry ? "Oh, yes, she spoke of it vaguely sometimes. I suppose all mothers do." I had reasons of my own for wishing to hurry away from ttiu subject but Roger kept me to it. "And the man you would one day marry ? Had she anything to say of him ? I felt myself grow scarlet. "I don't see that you have any right to ask me such things," I said. "They were between mother and me." "I think I am answered, Sheila!" he exclaimed. "Well—you know what her wishes were, and you won't be surprised to hear that mine are the same. I have always loved you, and wanted you, dear, since I saw you growing from a bewitching child into a beautiful young woman. Roger had been sitting in a chair opposite the sofa where I had taken a seat; but he rose, and, coming to me, went down on one knee, not in a theatrical, lover-like way, but as a big brother might do with a little sister. And very gently he laid his hand over my two, that were clasped tightly together in my lap. Altogether his manner was considerate and reassuring. But, then, Roger's manner invariably was perfect in every emergency. "You are so young, such a child still," ho went on, before I could speak, and resisting my efforts to draw my hands from under his, "that you need someone to take care of yon. t-wanttobethatone.dear. And she who is gone desired it, as you know. If it were not for that I would not have spoken yet. But she would not have wished me to delay. Little girl, what have you to say to me ? You have lost the- one you loved best on earth; but here is onp who loves you even more than she did. Will you take me for a lover instead of a cousin ? "0 Roger, I can't—I can't I" I exclaimed. "How 1 wish you hadn't said it! You are very kind, but we must go on being cousins, and— nothing more." His handsome face hardened a little. Why ? he persisted. "You don't dislike me ? "No-o," I responded, dubiously. "But 1 don't love you." "I don't expect love at first—not the sort of love I feel for you," he said. "Why, you are almost too young to know what love means. Trust yourself to me, dear, and trust me to teach you its mEaning." I shook my head, and I was beginning to grow impatient, "You couldn't," I said. "1 know enough about love, by instinct, to be sure that you could never teach it to me. You might on try for a hundred years, and it would be just the same at the end as it is now." "That's a hard answer," lie ejaculated, flushing. It's your youth that speaks. Perhaps; after all, I ought to have waited. But dear Aunt Ermyntrude "It's no use waiting," I interrupted him with almost fierce decision. "Since you began this, Roger, we must finish it now, and not speak of it again ever—ever, if we are to remain friends. You've always been very good and very nice to me, and I've tried to be fond of you-not in the way you mean, but just as a cousin, because I knew that it was mother's wish. Yet I couldn't make myself do it. 1 ve never been comfortable with you, Roger, or happy^ in your society. It's better to tell you all Vhe truth now, so that you will quite understand that it couldn't be different." He was still on one knee by my side, though he had released my hands now, and he was looking straight into my eyes with a very strange look. "I'm thirty-six, Sheila, and you're eighteen," he said, slowly. "I've seen girls change who thought they never could." "You will not see this one ebangel" I cried, almost crossly, for I thought that he ought in manliness to take me at my word without attempting further argument. "0 Roger, I do think it cruel of you to have brought up this to-day You said there was business which could not wait, and yet this is ail "This is not all," Itoger- repeated, taking the words out of my mouth. "It is only the begin- ning. You don't understand yet, but you will by-and-bye, and you will think very differently of me then. Instead of anger there will be, I am sure, a more kindly emoti, n in your heart. You will see that I pleaded with you, as for the greatest boon that a woman can grant a man, while I might have begun in another way more gratifying perhaps to my own pride, and more likely to prove successful. But I preferred to sue as a subject, to his queen, rather than play King Cophetua." "King Cophetua?" I opened my eyes and gazed at him haughtily. "I do not see the appropriateness of the simile." "I told you that you did not understand now. But I won't keep you in suspense." To my relief he rose from his humble posture and stood before me, looking down, veiled excitement in his face. "Speaking of King Cophetua," he went on. "reminds me of a story—the story of a beggar maid. Once upon a time there was a man who had been poor all his life. And there was a girl who had been rich. Suddenly they changed places, though she was left in ignorance. The man loved the girl, who was very beautiful and so indifferent in her manner to him that he, who was not used to indifference from other women, was piqued into desiring to win her even more ardently than he would otherwise. He had wanted her when he believed himself poor and the girl rich. But when the change came, lie loved her just as much. And to shew his love, instead of saying: 'You have lost- everything. Come to me, who can give it all back,' he would have concealed the truth, if she would have let him, for a time at least, until she had grown accustomed to the idea that the best happiness of her life must come from him. Do you think that he was a man of honour or a quixotic fool ? "He might have been—neither one nor the other," 1 answered, firmly, though my heart had begun to b?at very fast. "Perhaps he was only—posing." "You are a cynic, my child, "Roger said, calmly. But his beautifully arched brows drew together in a frown. What has your story to do with me ? I askfd, "Everything, with both you and me." I looked up quickly our eyes met and dwelt. A slight shiver ran through my body. What was coming now? I felt as if I was standing on the edge of a precipice, knowing that Roger would push ms over and I should not be able to resist. You are serious ? "Most serious. This is what was in my mind when I asked if Aunt Ermyntrude had spoken at the last of the circumstances of your birth. This was in her mind, perhaps, when she told you it would make her happy if you could learn to CAn for me. "j "JJlease don't try to break it gently, Roger," I said, my lips very dry. "Tell me everything you know—straight out." ° "I will, if you can bear it. You lia-ve been brought up to believe that you were born abroad. That is not, the case." "Oh, well, it is not important." "My cousin, Sir Vincent Cope, was not your father." was iiiy iiiotlier twice married, then ? My Aunt Ermyntrude was not your mother." 1 sprang up with a faint, choking cry. "It is not true I panted. "It is true, and it can easily be proved. I am in t, the. only one who knows it. There are other witnesses in whose mouths the truth shall be establiglied.. There is not a drop of Cope blood in your veins, poor little desolate Slieiln." "Desolate, indeed!" I bitterly echoed. "If it be true—oh, I will grant it true, if you choose!—why was I never told befoie ? Why was I left, to hear it from you ? "Why should I not be the one to tell )-oil, as tenderly as such a hard thing can be told ? Had Aunt Ermyntrude lived you would have been kept in ignorance at least until your marriage. Then it would have been as your husband thought best. Ah, Sheila, how I would have protected and shielded you if you would have let me! Even yet it's not too late. Look Ill. me I'm holding out my arms to you. Don't go away into the worid homeless, penniless. Stay in this shelter and you will not miss any- thing that. was ever yours." Ifoineless- I)eiiii i less I echoed, dazedly. "I don't understand." "If Aunt Ermytrude had left a will, she "vould, doubtless, have provided for you as a daughter," Roger went on, slowly. "Had she done so I JUust. have known it, for I was her lawyer, and managed all business matters for her, as you are probably aware. Once or twice, thinking of some such difficulty as this, I ventured to advise her to make" a will. But she always evaded me and put it off. This place was her property. She was a rich woman, with an income of ten or twelve thousand pounds a year and had you been her daughter by ties of blood as well as affection, everything must have gone to you in the aqsence of a will, as you would have been the natural heir. No one else could have claimed an acre or a penny. But as it is you are not a relation at alt, and you will get nothing. Everything goes by law to the next-of-kin, Aunt Ermyntrude's one living relative." "Yourself! I exclaimed. 11 Exact I v. Don't blame me, Sheila. I did not make the law." "No, but- "But what ? "Nothing," I said, dully. I had been on the point of crying out "You might refuse to accept, what the law gives." But I stopped just in time. I would have died sooner than ask or receive favours from Roger Cope. I never trusted or liked him. Now, almost numbed as I was by the blow with which he had struck nie, I saw him as he was-a hypocrite, a poseur; vain, utterly selfish, utterly unscrupulous in gaining his own ends. I had lost everything mother, home, and means of support, but I would have nothing from him. I could not yet fully realise what the revelation of this morning must mean for me. So f; r I only felt the pain uf knowing that the beautiful 9 woman I had worshipped and feared had neTer belonged to me at all. And in my misery, like some wretched little animal caught in a trap, my impulse was to bite the hand nearest. I turned on Roger. (To be contimud.)

Colliery Officials' Dinner.

Fatal Accident at Ton.j

Advertising

Advertising

Colliery Officials' Dinner.