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[Att inGXTS fizsmmroj AT THE ELEVENTH HOUR. By HAROLD BINDLOSS, Bitter rain scourged the Wychope valley, Which winds, deep sunk, among the northerrf moors. A swollen beck filled it with its roar, brown peat water splashed down the ravines, and as the Jord-s N, dangerous, Lawyer IveviiiM-n, who had driven over earlier in the resigned himself to spend- ing Christmas at Wyehope Hall. He had managed the affairs of the Wyehope Bells for o- v yo; and ii vvss no fault of hie that they were liopele .,iy involved. His warnings had proved, use- for the Bells were a reckless, headstrong folk. Now he eat in the dark-knelled '.biwry, while old Heron Bell lay, c-i opied o nit gout, in a big j chair opposite, loo king ruin in the face. Nevinson was sorry for the man, whose troubles li.,(i been addod to by spend- thrift son. Ronald Bed, who had arrived unexpectedly after dark on the previous evening, leant agsusua the mantel in evening dress, with an anxious frown upon his dissi- pated countenance. "So," raid Ii- ron, grimly, "there is nothing to be done You can't negotiate an- other mortgage, and the bank won't allow an overdraft.? They would go as far M five hundred pounds." "A drop in the bucket! Well, I've .had my fling, and now I suppose I must pay for it." .VHi-on, know ddu ,1. ost oi the old rake's extravagance would fall most heavily upon his daugiuer; but the Bolls had never taken much thought for their women folk. Heron turned glo-j.oiiy towards his son. r If I'd done my duty by this whelp when he was young and laehed some sense into him, I'd be less e.oatTt-ssoa to-day." He II was aileiii a lew mo'Uv.ns, and then re- sumed: "There's my .sor.rj in old lead mine. Will none of the L-or:d-).; eoaipauv floaters give a ttou-artd or two for it? The other partners nocid be giad to clear out, and lead is going up." "I saw some ol the leiuling people when I was in town, but they wouldn't consider the thing, lou're making a -serious loss with a handful of urcn v.ork: o„- "Then, since you can't help me, I needn't keep you You Knew my friends, and have, no doubt, assisted some of them to lock up their family ekelei, ns." Nevinson was gad to withdraw. There were guests at Wyehope, for the Bells were i given to hospitality, and when the lawyer went down to s'o:a lieron looked con- temptuousiy at his von. If you d had a gram of pluck, you wouldn't have come skuiidng home, he said, Are there no steamers sailing for America? Even if I could hav bought a ticket-, what could I have done there without money? orl, rejoined his father. "Though it woulu have been aii-e w experience, it I wouldn t have killed you. You're strong enough in body; it's your brain that's weak." Ronald faced him with a sickly e. You miss the point, sir. Suppose 1 had got away? The men wh j hold the bill would have come down on you. They know you'd make a sacrifice to hush the matter up, and gave me r few days to find the money." Yes," said Heron, there's the rub We have nothing to be ,od of; but this is the first time a Bell has stooptd to forgery," Then he blazed up with fierce anger: "Out of my sight, before 1 uo something we')l both regret! lioiitkld left him, and lighted a cigarctte outside the library door. As he went down to the big hall he met his sister, who gave him an eager glance; but he shook his head. "No hope! Nevinson can do nothing!" Hilda Bell's anxious face grew pale, and turning back v iih him, she stopped where a curtain cut them off from the hall. A dance was going on, but the .i,<:{ht waltz music and beat of sliding feet maddened the girl. Her brother stood awkwardly silent, toying with his cigarette. << we must face the worst," she said. It s my due that you should tell me what thar. i6." "A warrant for my arrest. Though the old man s pretty hard, the stir the thine would make would come near killing him." iilda gazed at him with a hunted look in £ <r <7<?s. She was very pxetty and daintily aii.sed, but tuere was a hint of strength and courage in her bearing. "Yes)" she 6aid, he has at least been honourable. You have been indulged at the expense 01 your mother and myself. But. that M a way of ours; the women do not count. ow, i/t is not for your sake but my paranta' 1 must pay again." "I knew you wouldn't fail us, and the matter lies in your hands. After all, Fro- bisli,er is a very good sort." "Too good to come near us," she cried. u a,n man, and I've one brother ■who had to leave the Army and another who's a thief." The blood crept into Ronald's face. > "You hit hard, but you don't understand. How could I foresee the confounded panic on the stock-market or that the rogue of a jockey would pull the horse I backed?" "Well," said Hilda, "for the 6ake of the last shred of the family credit, I suppose you I must be saved." • past him, and, crossing the pol- ished floor, found a man with a strong, cold face and some grey in hia hair looking out for her. ° ihe last dance was ours," he said. lou can have the next," she answered, and Piobisiher smiled as she glanced at the watch in her bracelet. "Ten o'clock; I can't hope it's slow," be remarked. "You have two hours left." "It's right to the minute. Time has some value to me to-night." Though her worda hurt him, he quietly held out his arm, and as th-ey 6wung through a dreamy waltz she studied him. F-rolbisher was twenty years older than her- self, but he was still a vigorous, man, and danced well. What was more, he was rich and willing to come to her father's aid. A-a soon as his terms, were agreed to he could be relied upon, for he was one who exacted all that was his due but never broke his word. When the dance was over she let him lead her into a conservatory, where a few coloured lamps burnt among the flowers. Finding her a seat-, he leant againsit a pillar and regarded her with a smile. Hilda was unusually pretty to-night, but she had a tragic, half rebellious look. It hurt and moved him to pity, because be knew he was to some extent the cause of it. He had admired her since she came home with honours won at a famous college to help her harassed mother in her struggle with financial difficulties. Hilda had brains and oourage, and he knew What she had suffered on her father and brother\s account. Twelve months ago Bell had approved of him as a suitor, but Hilda had, for once, defied tier parente, and demanded a year's grace, and Frobisher promised to wait until Christmas Day. He had, however, engaged to relieve Bell of be; moot, pressing -emhr.rrassancnta as soon as Hilda was betrothed to him. Must I wait for my answer until the last minute?" he asked. "Yes," she said, with, shrinking; "I can't speak until then." Ah he cried, why are you so cold to me? I will be honest. You &re staunch and upright, a man to trust; but one cannot force affection, and in buying my consent from my father you have done a cruel thing." "It looks so; but think! You are unhappy 1 at Wychope, and if left to themselves your people cannot escape disaster. You muet -z. rebel and deaert t&em or they wOl-marry- you to the first rich man who comes &long. His character von,t oount-yoo had one n&r- row escape." Hilda knew it, for ebe had been sougbit by a worn-out libertine; but she asked with a flash of anger, What ia that, to you? Well," be answered, quietly, though Well," he answered, quietly, though I'm not a romantic figure, I have loved you for some time. If I can do nothing else, I can protect you and banish your troubles. I am patient, and love may come." "Yes," she said, "one would be safe with you; but have you counted the cost? You are a man of honour; we can hardly escape open shame." "I think that's not impossible. In fact, in return for your promise, I'll engage to clear your brother." "Then you know the worstT "I have strong suspicions." "If eo, are you not afraid to marry me?" "You," he said, "are different. You have lived in tainted surroundings, but they could not injure you. I should be a foo! if I did not realise the courage and high-rnindedness vou have eh own. As my wife you would be free of your .sordid troubles, and I think I can promise you a cleaner air." Hilda was touched by his earnestness. If there were no escape—and none seeined to offer—she must marry him, and she might have been forced to take a worse husband, but she shrank from the course as a wrong to both. Leaning back in the shadow of a palm, she made no reply, and her thought turned upon the one touch of romance that had brightened her dreary life. It had proved transitory, for her father had promptly nipped it in the bud. Heron Bell, who had often sailed dangerously near the wind and had seen his worst failings reproduced in his sons, had nevertheless a keen family pride. The Bells never married beneath them, so far a.s wealth and station went, but personal character did not count. The Thwaites, who lived on the edge, had been tshe-epf,armors and tenants of Wyehope for generations, and the father of the pr- sent Thwaites had always touched his hat to Heron- Young Georg-, however, had spent ten years in Australia, and made money there, boishVs acquiring the easy manners of a travelled man. Returning home, he had rented another tract of moor from one of Heron's neighbours and bought up a mort- gage of the Bell's, so that he now owned part of his large holding. By degrees people of local importance had. recognised him, but the Beils stood out. Meeting Hilda by chance, Thwaites fell in love with her. The man, who had learnt much in his travels, was handsome, modest, and resolute, and the girl felt drawn to him. Her father, however, issued his ultimatum, and, knowing that if she re- belled she must break with her harassed mother too, Hilda submitted. The sheep- farmer gravely told her that he would wait, and if ever she needed a friend she could count on him. She needed one badly j now, but she had sent George Thwaites no word, and the time in which help could avail was rapidly slipping away. I think we had better go back to the hall," she said. Frobisher bowed, and on rejoining the company Hilda, who was claimed for a dance, took part in it with reckless gaiety. Hope had gone, but she must meet her fate with courage. Her eyes had a feverish glitter, her lips were dry, but her laugh rang clearly, and she matched her partner's jests. Then, as the music stopped, there was a stir near the door, and a man moved up tha middle of the hall, while the dancers gazed at him. His long boots were miry, his clothes were wet. and a trail of water marked his progress across the polished floor. "George Thwaites said a man near Hilda. He must have swum the Wanda beck Turning with heightened colour and startled eyes, the girl held out her hand to the newcomer. "Why are von she asked. "How did you cross the ford? "I've crossed it on. a woree night; grey Dalesman faces water well. Then I had a notion that you needed me." Hilda saw that everybody was watching them, and that her mother would interfere as soon as she could do so wiih-our causing a scene; but she bore the curious scrutiny with nrond <■urn. A h tie said but how did you know? Should I no1' know of anything that troubled you, and are secrets kept in the dale? But I'll own that I only guessed how hard you might be pressed when I heard that Ronald had slunk home." You forget that you are speaking of my brother." "No; hut that you. have srch a brother i lias -always astonished me. Still, this is no rime for fencing; you have a choice to make, and all you have been taught at Wychope will pull hard against the farmer." Oh! Rhe said. with fluttering heart, "you ai h good men." He L, with quiet grace. "I have nothing against my rival. What I feel for you you know; I had once the honour of t-elling you. Now mv first business is with your father His curtnes* did not upon the girl, be- cause it was justified by the likelihood of interruption. He hri come to deliver her; but a pervnr- humour, spring:ng from the reaction of relief, prompted her to mock him. "So yon will r>]<-o m-ike a bid?" "I'm forced," he t)¡a her gravely. "But I onlv m<Miu to buy your rbertv When your brother's e^oane is arranged for, you must ohoo-o vonr heart speaks." She colot-?'] t.) the roois of her hair. This was not lire kind of offer Frobisher had made; but seeing her mother approaching, Thwaites b>ft, h+r. Heron riell was sitting bv the hearth in the library, w.tb his foot upon a cushion, and looked up sharply as his v: came in. "After whnf passed at our I-o-t meeting. I hardly expected this favour," 11, remarked. Things have changed th^n. Be- sides. the season is supposed to be one of goodwill." "In that sense yon are wel,• -TVC. As long as we are able we keep open house; but if you have anv business with me you can come I' to the point." "I mea t to. I'm here to r.-> vou an offer. You could find a use f->r three thou- sand poind. ? Bell starfd. but recovered his rather grim composure. T can't (lp- ly it hut what do you ask in return ? I "Your share in the lead mine and your partners' consent to leave its management to me." "ThaL could be arrarn^d. They'd jumn at a chance of getting their money back; but as you know the rnine doesn't pav. your offer, no doubt, covers ()me other consideration." ) It, does." Thwaites answered, eoollv. j "You ar-" badlv. in need o!' r<<wlT • but I j make no hid for your daughters romd. I cannot- place Miss Bell in such humiliating j position." j Bell flushed ho^r. It was time a Wvehon-e tee-am bad sr>oken in fl, ^i„ (\ 11im. | You \\1\h to apjiearanrwe T hfid not I expected web f-stidiousneAs." he -.nswered, witli a. ,r, "Yotr eye-pctafionfl don't > -e.I worked as n ^ook-duller on "or1 ,rq of I Western Ans ~a!;a, and was .r■■-=-,■ --vos for- tunate in «/>me nrospeetiner. v after see- ing the drifts bv fbe favour of foreman, I'm mv the mine can made to pav. W-3'1' that go. I make one condition—if we ro. to terms, Miss Bell j l),<J be free to m- whom she pleases, and vou must bind yonre-alf to put no pressure on her." "Tiat to ■ t, o s -she must be free -■ T •>, ,TV n The pleases. 1 eaves her at lihPrtv to reject me." Bell gave him a ««<irch;ng yn .qnit,& of his%nF. eo.r-. r r. PPT. tain admiration for the mi spoke and bore himself wel] • he had brains, and a man who could raise thre^ thousand and a man who could raise three thousand yioun-dis on the sr-ur ^f the meo ->-or to be despised. Moreover. Bell believed hLI; daughter had a tenderness for Thwaites, and his conscience had ooi>a/onallv pricked him for forcing her marriage with Frobisher. "Well." he said, "before I can consider a bargain with you. T must cry off another. W;ll vou ring the bell, and then sit down? A few minutes afterwards Frobisher came I in and glanced keenly at his wet and muddy rival. A b be said. with cool con t-em-pt for his host. I think T understand. This ia j to be something of the nature of an auction." ] "Hard vor(is are out of place," Bell re- joined. You didn't show much mercy when you offered me certain terms, bat now Mr. Thwaites seems more liberal I wish to be fair. If you are to keep your promises, yoa demand my daughter's hand? "My offer holds as I made it." "Tli.n," said Bell, with bitter humour, "since we are using the language of the sale- room, Mr. Thwaites goes one better. He will take over my embarrassments and leave my daughter free." Frobisher raised his eyebrows in surprise. II "If that is so, you can take it that my generosity does not equal his but there are reasons. I am a man of Miss Bell's station, and I can give her the life she was train-ed to' lead; my friends apd tastes are hers. I ven- ture to believe all this should make for her happiness. Is my rival in the same position? Signing to Thwaites to be eilent, Bell an- swered Frobisher: My views on the point are yours; but after all it seems to me that Hilda is best fitted to decide how far the things you name should count. "Then," retorted Frobisher, "you have obviously changed your mind." Circumstiiiccs alter cases," Bell said, drily. I, however, see no wav out of the difficulty except by calling my daughter in." Hilda entered looking verv bite and strained, and when the two mo) rose Bell turned to her. ill" I, in going to place you in an onibarrase- ing position, but it can't be he-l*d, he said. Ihese gentlemen have both done me the honour of asking for your hand, and, as I shall be placed under an obligation to one of them, it seems better that they ohould know you have made a voluntary choice. But, thanks to Mr. Thwaite's generosity, you are free to refuse both." Neither cf them spoke, and the girl grew crimson, but in a few moments her colour faded and she turned to Thwaites with pride In her eyes. If he does not shrink from me after whh-i he has and seen, my choice is made." Try hi mand see," Bell s dd: drily, as Thwaites came forward. Now perhaps the best thing would be for you to make your peace with your mother. Mr. Thwaites is at liberty to assist- you as far as he can." They went out together, and Bell turned to Frobisher with a smile. I suppose you are satisfied? I'm forced to be resigned, though it Kits me hard. There's one small co-noolatio-n-the fellow she has chosen is at least a man." I've seen gentlemen behave much worse," said Haron Bell. [THS 9".1



Brecon Schools' League.

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