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[All Bights Reserved.] THE…


[All Bights Reserved.] THE FLOWER OF THE SUN. BY JULIAN ASHTON. AUTHOR OF SiThe Temptation of Adrian Norreys" Love's Reward" A Spirit's Curse," &c., &c. CHAPTER XI. I CAN! I OUGHT I WILL! „ ONLY a shaded lamp in one corner threw a soft light over the room, except, indeed, a dull glimer from the red. cumbers of the fire. It was the chamber where Gordon Tranby lay dying. For the doctors had warned Meta that her husband might not live through the night, and that, at the longest he could not survive another twenty-four hours. Every comfort, every luxury, which could relieve the monotomy of sickness, or lighten its painful burden-if, ever so slightly—was there. Costly hothouse iruits, ice, champagne of rare vintage, ex- quisite orchids—at which the invalid gazed lovingly, for were they not of his own raising ? —stood on a table near the foot of the large, sumptuously canopied bed. Wealth, profuse and lavish; the evidences of it were on every side. The door opened softly, and Meta entered. The nurse rose at her approach, and merely whisper- ing, I shall be in the next room, madam. Call me if I am needed," left the room. Meta was calm and composed, but her face bore traces of recent weeping, and her hand trembled as she affectionately took her husband's. It lay on the silken coverlet, passive and feeble. His eyes had been closed hitherto, but he opened them at her touch, and smiled lovingly as she seated her- self close beside him. "I am glad you have come, my dear," he whispered. I feel as if my voice may fail me at any minute, and I wanted to tell you something. You know that the doctors can do nothing more ?" Meta bowed her head, and her tears fell fast. One dropped upon his hand. I am not afraid to die, my wife but I am so grieved to part with you. We have only been married six months, and they have been such happy ones to me." He waited for a moment to collect his weak energies for another effort, and then went on: 1 knew that I could not expect a young and beautiful girl like you, dear-and you are beauti- ful, and I have taken such a pride in it-to love a middle aged husband like me as devotedly as you might have loved a younger man. I did not look for impossibilities. But I hoped I could make you fairly happy; I tried to, and for myself, I never knew what real happiness was till I married you. .And you have been the best of wives to me, Meta. And would have continued so if we had been spared to live many years together. I am sure of that; for I know your goodness now. So listen, dear. But first give me a little of something to drink." She held the champagne glass to his lips, and he continued— My will was made this afternoon, Meta. It is properly drawn up, and witnessed. I have left Cecil Archdall five thousand pounds; he is my only surviving relative after you. There are a few small bequests to friends and servants. Everything else is left to you." Gordon, dear husband, do not speak of this now. I don't care to hear it: and you have so little strength to talk, that I would far rather we spoke of other things. And I don't want what—what you said just now. If I have enough to live quietly on, somewhere, I shall be quite contented. I don't think I have any right to all your money, I don't indeed." No one else has so good a right as my own loved wife," he said with a faint smile, and cer- tainly no one else deserves it so well. It is all yours, dear Meta, a rent roll of some eight thou- sand ji year, Tranby Hall, and—after these legacies are paid, a balance at the Bank of England of twenty-two thousand pounds. And, my dear wife He paused a minute, and looked at her affection- ately. It is left quite unconditionally, Meta. I would not fetter it with any condition. My solicitor urged me to make it depend on your remaining un- married. I would not listen to him. It would be an insult to you, and a complete contradiction of my love for you. No, Meta you are mine while I live; but I have no right to control your freedom after I die. It may be, dear, that some time in the future you may find someone who would brighten life for you and give you a true love in exchange for your own. If that time ever comes, all I ask is: be prudent, choose wisely, and sometimes give a kinctly remembrance to the old one who loved you with all his heart and soul." Gordon, I won't hear another word on such a subject. It wounds me, I can't bear it. I have loved you more than you know, for all ytfur kind- ness to me." "That is welcome' news, dear wife. Now I am very tired, and can sleep a little, I think. One kiss, Meta." She gave him many, and still holding his hand watched him sink into a heavy, troubled sleep. As she sat there, in the silence of the dimly lit room her thoughts came thick and fast. Was she wholly to blame if she let her musings wander to her strangely changed fortunes. A few months be- fore, a poor girl; now, the uncontrolled mistress of a great fortune, a large estate, a splendid house. She was touched by the unstinted generosity of her husband; she looked affectionately at him sleeping there. What brought that thought into her mind at such an instant ? Who can explain the strange mysterious workings of our mental faculties ? Cecil Arehdall; oh, why had his presence come before her just then ? He loved her still; he had all but told her so. He was coming to England to find her, and ask her to be his wife, when he unexpectedly met her; met her, a bride lost to him. He had not been faith- less; it was a cruel decree of fate which had .parted them for ever. For ever? No; surely not. Would he not ask her again ? Some day, in a fitting time. And the joy of giving him herself and her wealth, to prove how she loved him He could not doubt it then. Stay, she cannot, must not let her mind wander in such a direction as this. It is wrong; it is wicked, while her husband still lingers lingers beyond the reach of hope, of help. A few hours only of life are left to him, and then- Meta Tranby sprang up suddenly, and clasped her hands tightly together. How could she have forgotten ? how strange it should have been not recalled by memory before this. The Elixir of Life the Flower of the Sun. There, in that very room, it was at that moment hidden in a secret drawer of her locked dressing case, the tiny glass phial which could bring him back from the edge of the grave. It was not too late. She crossed the room to open her dressing case, but the door opened softly, and Cecil Arehdall entered. Noiselessly he approached the bed and looked at his uncle. Pity, genuine pity, was clearly evident on his face. With a sigh, he turned to Meta and whispered, Is there no hope ?" She forced herself with a great effort to reply. "The doctors say there is none." He nodded, and turned to go. But at the door he gave her one look a look in which was strangely blenclecl-passionate love and the smile of confi- dent hope. She read it clearly. The door closed, and he was gone. Then began one of those fierce, desperate battles between the Devil's urgings, and Duty's peremp- tory demands such a struggle as takes place every day between "I ought," and" I would;" secret struggles unknown to all except the All-Seeing Eye; sometimes won; sometimes lost. What was it to be now ? How would the contest end ? "Can you hesitate for an instant?" said that still, small voice, which whispers within each one of us. The voice deeply implanted within us: Conscience. Quick, before it is too late. Restore him to life and strength again. You can and you Jmow-you feel-you ought." 'But how can I tell whether I ought ?" urged the other voice which ceaselessly wars against Con- science the voice of Selfish Desire. It is wrong, surely, to interfere with the orderings of Provi- dence and natural law. Who am I that I should arrest the hand of Death again and again in this unhallowed way ? Is it not most sinful presump- ,tion. Did you reason thus when for your own curiosity you brought Rose Flinton back from the very edge of the grave sternly demanded Conscience, with a persistency which would not be denied. No; you had no such invented scruples then." But I resolved in my own mind never to use this terrible power again. I saw my rash folly, my impious daring, and determined to renounce this awful responsibility. How can I break a vow which I know was right ?" Had you never met Cecil Archdall, would you have hesitated for a moment," thundered the voice which champions the right. "You know, you dare not deny it even to yourself, that he alone is the one cause of your wavering. If you let that_ man die, you—with the powers to restore him—will be a murderess. And you will have done this foul deed of utter selfishness, that you may ultimately marry your lover, and endow him with your wealth. Now; now, you cannot refuse to recognise the issue. Choose: and choose quickly. And at any sacrifice, at any cost, choose the path of duty. Before you lie two ways; the way of peace of mind and conscious integrity and tha other the way of guilty shame and secret crime. Now choose." And then the storm-tossed, convulsed girl flung herself on her knees and prayed. Gordon, drink this," and Meta raised him gently as she spoke, while with trembling hands and white face she placed a small glass to his lips. Why did you wake me ?" he murmured, I was sleeping so well. You should have let me rest, Meta." Drink it, my husband," she said tenderly, and he drained one tiny draught, while his wife watched him anxiously as he lay wearily back. Suddenly a strong shudder passed over his frame, and he gasped for breath. Then the face grew ashy pale and though he could not speak he fixed his eyes on his wife'with a painful look of mourn- ful reproach. But Meta, watching him with breathless intensity, saw a faint trace of colour re turning to his pallid face and the breathing became easier and more regular. Presently he found, voice to ask feebly, "What have done ? It is strange: I think I feel stronger. What does it mean ?" Do not speak now, dearest husband, my own Gordon," she said, kissing him gently. "Try to sleep again I believe you will recover now, and that we may live in each other's love for some years to come." And Gordon Tranby did recover, to the (almost incredulous) surprise of the learned physicians who had attended him, and who declared they had never known such a marvellous rally of the vital powers from an almost pulseless state of enfeeble- ment. But neither they, nor their patient, ever knew the secret of that recovery. Persistently as he questioned his wife, he never elicited the slightest information from Meta. "You are restored; I did it. Let that suffice: except this one solemn truth, that deeply as I love you (and I love you, my hus- band, more than I ever did, more than you will ever know), I could never do it again, however much I might desire." For Meta Tranby wisely destroyed that old manuscript of Yussuf the Arabian. The Flower of the Sun the Elixir of Life, was not, she saw, a power that weak, misjudging mortals may wield. That can be rightly exercised by Infinite Wisdom and Love, and by IT alone. [THE END.]




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