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I The Voice of the Charmer.…


The Voice of the Charmer. I [ By Mrs. L. T. MEADE, I Authoress of "The Medicine Lady," A World of Girls," "Wild Kitty," Wheels L of Iron," The Cleverest Woman in England," cfc., chc. k CHAPTER XXXIV. A FORTRESS WON. THESE was a narrow path across this field which led direct to the high road from Sidminster. Mar- got now walked down this, path feeling breathless ana agitated. She had put a considerable distanoa between herself and Joshua. It was no longer necessary for her to run to get away from him, but breathless as she was, she still walked quickly. In her agitation she had taken the wrong turning, and was now going away from the Red Lodge. This fact scarcely troubled her. She had much to think over, and did not care to meet either Ward. or Patty until her thoughts were arranged, and her brain ceased to swim in dizzy wonder. Presently she reached the high road. It lay white and dusty to the right of her and left of her. A breeze had sprung up that stirred the dust, and blew it into her face. She was too much excited to notice this small discomfort. At last," she said to herself, my fears may really rest. At last all is made plain, and Patty, my dear, my darling friend, is completely and for ever exonerated. I suppose I am glad-yes, I am very glad. It was dreadful to be told the truth by such a horrid personage as that Joshua Day; still I must look upon this chance meeting with him as a direct interposition of Providence. Yes, of course, I'm very glad to know the truth. All my suspicions must now die for ever. When I see Mr. Ward I must apologise for having doubted him and Patty, and I must sue to him—yes, I must humbly sue to him to keep my secret, and never to tell Patty of my doubts. How bitterly I regret now that he drew some of my real feelings from me two days, ago." 9 Margot still walked fast; she turned a corner, and saw a dogcart coming to meet her. A tall man in a tweed suit was driving, the groom sat behind. Margot felt her heart give a glad bound. At sight of her Dering pulled up quickly, he flung the reins to the groom, jumped off the cart, and came at once to her side. How lucky this is," he. exclaimed. Is it possible that you have been coming to meet me ?" No," answered Margot. "1 had not an idea that you were expected." You don't mean to say that Ward never told you. I have come down to the Red Lodge to-night on purpose to see you." Your name was not mentioned to me," answered Margot. She leant against the hedge as she spoke. Her interview with Joshua had tired her. Some of her defiant spirit was laid low. The contrast between Joshua and Dering was so great that she could not help experiencing a sense of pleasure and safety in the presence of the latter. The feeling in her heart was reflected on her face. Dering saw it; something emboldened him to seize the opportunity, and, if possible, to take the citadel by storm. It doesn't greatly matter whether you knew I was coming or not," he said. I am here, and so are you. Now you have got to hear me out." Margot coloured. We have no time for conversation now," she said, "if we mean to get back to the Red Lodge for dinner." Dinner is not of the slightest consequence," said Dering. I want you to come for a walk with me. We are not far from the pine wood. Come with me there, I have something to say, and you must hear me." I would rather go back." But I should prefer that you stayed with me for a little. Please remember that I have come to the Red Lodge for the express purpose of talking to you. You may as well listen to me first as last." Dering had never been so bold before. Margot raised her eyes and looked at him timidly; some- thing ia t-he gaze he gave her caused her to lower her black eyelashes. Come," he pleaded. "We shall have shade in the wood, and be alone." She turned with him without a word. "Why did she do it-what was the matter with her?" she asked herself this question many times. Several times she halted, too, and opened her lips as if to speak, but a glance at Dering kept her silent. There was an altogether new look about him; his lips were set in a hard, firm line. The determination in his blue eyes gave them a quality and depth which Margot had never before noticed in them. When they found themselves in the shade of the wood, Dering turned abruptly and faced Margot. You are not well," he said. What is the matter ?" "I am quiet well," she answered. She pulled herself together with an effort. You are very pale," he replied. I say again that you are not well." "Yes I am. I have been working hard lately, o,nd-I have been in considerable trouble." I thought as much," said Dering. His tone took a deep note. He came a little nearer. But my trouble is over," said Margot bravely; only the getting rid of it has startled me. I met a disagreeable man just now; he frightened me rather. That is probably why I look pale and tired." Who can have dared to frighten you?" Oh, it doesn't matter. It was only a rough person of the name of Joshua Day. He persisted in walking with me, and he talked disagreeably. I wanted to get rid of him, and had just done so when I met yoq. I was glad to meet you." Dering's eyes flashed. Margot noticed the look. Again she glanced done uneasily. We ought to go home now," she said, speaking I without her usual decision. Patty said they were to dine at eight. They will be surprised if we do not appear." What does that matter ? Ward and his wife are happy people-intensely happy. They can live through an anxious half-hour, even if we cause it them, which I doubt. Now, Margot-yes, I will call you Margot-you have got to hear me out." If I must, I must," answered Margot. Sho turned a little away. I want to know if you will marry me." I told you some time ago that I would not." Some time ago is not now. I ask you now again—again, for the last time. If you reject me now, you must give me your reasons." Margot was silent. Dering looked at her. Do not reject me ?" he asked. I wish you would not speak to me on this sub- ject, Sir Wilfred. I told you some months ago that my mind was fully made up." That has nothing whatever to do with the pre- sent moment. Is your mind now fully made up to reject me?" I——" Dering interrupted her eagerly. No, it isn't," he said, and there was a joyful sort of conquering ring in his voice. You need not say any more. I defy you to say to my face that you do not like me a little; I defy you to look full at me and tell me, that because of what I did i* did TrJ^U ai? implaeable and unforgiving. What iinloeispdfnii ^consideration for you. 1 have M f J,• do not intend to apologise any ¥ymlatther and your father wished us to T IM to sTnr/v°Uj fu"y aware of the fact; I The seaueT nr em*?arrassrc>ent by acting as Idld. I he sequel proved that I did wrong. Well, we've spoken enough about this. I^id wrong-I acknowledge it. Let us now drop that Dart of the subject for ever I loved you, Margot-dfyou love me ? That is the question of questions-an- swer it. Look at me while you answer it." I never knew that you loved me," 8aid Margot. Didn't you ? Well, know it now. I iove you with all my heart and soul. I have loved you for months. I am your lover. Will you have me for ¡ your faithful lover and husband for all the rest of '■ You are very good," said Margot. Don't say that. I am a man pleading for the dearest thing in all the world. If you reject me I < shan't die, nor do anything extraordinary, but I shall be miserable. If I love you and you love me, why should we both be miserable ?" I never said I loved you." I think you do-nay, I am sure of it. You do love me-yes, I know it. Tell me so with your own lips." Dering put his arm round Margot's waist; he drew her close to him. "I am poor; I am unfit for you," she sud, making a struggle to keep back the fast-yielding citadel. What does that matter ? Who cares about money in a supreme moment like this ? Say Yes or 'No,' Margot. Remember "-here Dering re- moved his arm, pushed her away, and looked in- tentlyat her-" remember that if you say No' now I will believe you. I will never ask you again —never. I love you, and you love me. Can you dare to make us both wretched ?" No, no; only-" You love me, Margot f 1-yes, I think I do." You will marry me P" "If you wish it." Do you wish it, Margot?" Yes, yes, Wilfred"—here she laid her flushed face against his arm-" yes, yes. I am weak, I am overcome. I yield-I yield utterly. Yes, I do love you-I have loved you for a long time. I would not dare say it even to myself until now; but I know it now." My darling! Margot, you are the sweetest girl in all the world. When sh&U we be married ?" As soon as you like." J CHAPTER XXXV. I I A CONFESSION. I No one made any remark when Margot and Dering returned to the Red Lodge quite an hour late for dinner. They were received by Ward and his wife as if nothing in the least extraordinary had hap- pened. Margot ran up at once to her room. She shut the door and locked it; then she flung off her hat, pushed back her hair from her brow, and stood tor a moment by the wide-open window re- flecting on the change which had suddenly come into her life. Yes, she acknowledged it now. A beautiful thing had happened to her. She was crowned by the love of a good, a very good man. The love he gave her she fully returned. All the harsh, hard thoughts—all the futile struggling against an unkind fate—had departed. She was happy; she loved and was beloved. I loved him all the time, but I was too proud to say it—I was too proud to admit it," she mur- mured to herself. Yes, I loved him all the time. I am the happiest woman in all the world now." In the golden light of love, Margot had no time yet to think of the strange reversion which this half hour in the pinewood had wrought in her worldly circumstances. She and her mother had lost the Red Lodge but Sir William Dering was the richest man in his county, and Margot as his wife would have more money than she knew what to do with. Margot's mother would have the dream of her life fulfilled, and be happy and victorious and gracious and sweet as of old. When the cloud was lifted from Margot, it would also be lifted from Mrs. Fletcher; but Margot thought of none of these things just now. Her heart was singing a song, and she could think of nothing but the air to which the song was set, and the words of the melody itself. She changed her dress for a white one, and went shyly and softly downstairs. Dinner was waiting for the lovers in the great dining-room, but Margot had little appetite to eat. 0 When she took her place at the table, Ward, who had been standing by the open window, turned and looked at her. He hadn't asked Dering a word as yet, but he knew perfectly well what had happened. He also was quite con- tented, and did not want to hurry the young folks into telling him what he already knew. He left them after a time, and went back to Patty, who was lying on a sofa in one of the drawing- rooms. Well? she said, looking up at him eagerly. It is as I expected," he answered. They are the happiest pair of young fools in the world. We won't bother them with questions to-night." "I want to kiss Margot and bless her," said Patty. Say nothing to her to-night, dearest," an- swered Ward, unless she happens to speak to you. She is lifted up into a sort of lovers' para- dise, and her feet scarcely touch common earth. This is a very delightful sensation to her, but it is uninteresting to bystanders. Wait until she has slept on her bliss. Then you may say anything to her that you like." Patty promised somewhat reluctantly. She was most anxious to give Margot that sort of kiss which one woman will give another whom she dearly loves, on an occasion like the present. She and Margot were the same age, but she felt motherly towards her to-night. She could not help judging from her own past experience, and feeling certain that Margot was longing to pour out her heart to her. The evening passed away, however, in the ordinary manner, and Patty being tired and weak, went up to her room rather earlier than usual. She had scarcely done so before a knock at the door announced the arrival of Margot. Patty instantly guessed that she had come to confide in her. She told her maid that she would not want her services again that evening, and called to Margot to come in. "Have you come to brush your hair here?" asked Patty. I am very glad if you have, for although I have come up to bed in obedience to John's mandate, I do not feel the least bit sleepy." Margot had put on her white dreasing-gown, and her rippling black hair fell far below her waist. "I have come to see you on the excuse of brushing my hair," she said. In reality, I want to tell you Here she paused and coloured vividly. You have guessed? she exclaimed, eagerly. Oh, yes, Margot, darling exclaimed Patty. I have guessed. You don't know how glad I am. Come here, Margot; let me kiss you. My dear little sister, you have indeed made me happy to-night. God bless you, Margot. Yes, He will bless you for you are very good." No, I am not good," answered Margot; but I am very happy." Sit down on this hassock at my feet," said Patty, and tell me all about it; and first of all, answer a question which I am burning to ask: Why did you not make yourself happy long ago? Because I didn't know my own heart." But you know it now? Yes, I assuredly do." You love that dear fellow as much as he deserves to be loved?" I don't know as to that, Patty. I love him very much. I love him so deeply that I can't even talk about it. The wonderful and extra- ordinary thing is that I didn't know that I really 1 loved him until he spoke to me to-night in the pinewood." "The pinewood!" said Patty, with a queer sort of a sigh. So you came to a decision there? It has been destined of late to hear many lovers' vows. Well, you are going to be very happy, Margot; and I say again that I congratu- late you from my heart. How delighted your mother will be! Now, of course you will give up that preposterous idea of going as a nurse to St. Thomas's?" Don't speak of it like that, Patty. It would have been a very good life for me, had it been my duty to enter upon it. Now, of course all thai sort of thing is at an end." When are you going to write to your mother, Margot? "I am going back to her to-morrow mcming, Patty." Oh, that is cruel! exclaimed Patty. Won't you stay witn usl There couldn't be a sweeter place for lovers than the Red Lodge, with a pi ie- wood close by." I must go back to-morrow," said Margot. We shall probably be married soon." That is delightful." I can't realise all these details yet," said Mar- got but the main facts must, of course, be told to mother, and I should like to tell her my- self. I am the happiest girl in the world. Yes, I fully admit it." Here she stood up, went close to the window, clasped her hands tightly together, and looked out. I don't deserve my happiness," she said, look- ing full at Patty. I wrapped myself in my pride like a cloak, and I made mother miserable." You have puzzled me a good bit too, Mar- got," answered Patty. But, never mind, it's all right now. I think we both are especially lucky. I am already married to the man whom I She paused. She did not go on her face sud- denly paled; her eyes grew misty; her full red lips trembled. "Whet is it, Patty?" asked Margot, with anxiety. I have a pain here often," said Patty, press- ing her hand to her heart—" an extraordinary pain, not physical (I have had that too. I don't want to think of it) but I have a pain, an ache, just here, just by the breastbone, which depresses me. It feels like a sort of haunting fear. It tells me that love like mine-like mine-so deep, so passionate, so terribly self-forgetful, cannot last, and I have staked my all on its lasting. Take warning by me, Margot. Don't ever love Sir Wilfred as I love John—but there," she added, yon couldn't. It isn't in you." What do you mean? answered Margot, star- tled and half-offended. I think I can love as well as anybody. Why do you hint that my love must fall short of yours? Dearest, not because I disparage you," ex- claimed Patty, laying her long white hand on Margot's arm; but because, though good, your circumstances are different. You will be bright and happy. When I think of the saint-like sort of life you and Sir Wilfred can lead, I almost envy you." There you are again, Patty, as mysterious as ever," replied Margot. Why can't you and your John take your happiness quietly like other mortals? Oh, yes I know you are quiet enough before people. I never say anyone with so much self-repression as Mr. Ward. But you are neither of you really natural." Natural! answered Patty. Do you notice that we are not natural ? Of course I do. How could anyone who really loved you as I love you, Patty, fail to notice that all too patent fact? You, at least, are always in a state of strain. It must be dreadful to love in your way. I wouldn't do it for all the world." And I wouldn't change with any human be- ing exclaimed Patty. "I glory in the love which gives me pain. Who wouldn't who really knew John as he is? Patty lay back in the deep chair into which she had thrown herself. Her face was as white as the white dressing-gown which she wore; her eyes looked big and dark, there were black shadows under them the lower part of her face looked slightly worn, pathetically old, as though her life was lived twice as fast as most people's. You look feverish and ill," said Margot. You must not agitate yourself. But the fact is I have never understood you." Pattv looked up and smiled at her; there was something infinitely pathetic in the smile. I expect to be misunderstood," she said "it doesn't matter. You are going to be as happy as May sunshine. Your weather will always be the fresh bright weather of June, but I, I dwell in late August, when the earth is languid with heat, and the world is drowsy because it has had so much happiness. We are different, and most people would prefer your lot to mine, but I wouldn't change with you nor with any human bein- that ever breathed." Well, well, I can only say again that I don't understand you," said Margot, "but I love you I love you with all my heart, and now that I am beginning a new life I want to say something to you-I want my soul to be purified by confession to-niffht." Wh at can you possibly have to confess ? asked Patty. Ever since the day we lost this property," said Marprot, "I have been sinful, hard, and wicked. My cloak of pride covered me from bead to foot, and slowly and gradually the hand of pride began to ossify my very heart itself. A few hours ago I didn't think anything would induce me to tell you what I now mean to say; but now, as I dare look at you, I feel that I dare not deceive you, Patty. Pattv, my darling, beau- tiful sister, my loving friend to whom all my heart has gone out, I thought badly of you. I thought shame, shame of you, Patty; I must con- fess to you, and you must forgive me before I lie down to-night." Margot now knelt by Patty's chair. She lowered her head until it rested on the arm of the chair her hands were clasped. A curious startled look of alarm filled Patty's eyes. I don't want you to confess to me," she said. Thoughts which have never been spoken-" But they have been spoken. I told Mr. Ward." You told John? What did you tell him? That I suspected you." Patty suddenly pressed her hand to her heart; she gave a faint laugh. Margot started upright, and faced her. I'll tell you," she said. If you were another you'd never forgive me, but being yourself you will, and I must wash my soul white. I was guilty of a base, base thought. Patty, I will tell it to you." » Dearest, believe me, I don't wish to hear it." It is dend," replied Margot, and it must be decently buried I will bury it for ever in your presence. Patty, do you remember the night when you walked in your sleep, when you went up the secret stairs to the octagon room, and when vou took the will out of its resting- place? Patty did not reply; her eyes, wide open and almost fixed in their stare, were raised full to Margot's face. Margot, intent on her humiliat- ing confession, did not even notice them. I followed you," she said. "You knew that before, didn't you? That part was told you at the time." Yes, yes. Why should we rake up that old storv? "Because I must tell vou all. When you came back to your room, Pntty, you threw your 1 y hands above your head. and you said, oh, with such passion, The will is false I have sold my- self to the devil! Pattv suddenly sprang to her feet. TTow cold it is," she said. Let us shut the window." "Cold." interrupted Margot. "The night is intenselv hot." "No. I shiver; there is a fog coming on. one of our dreadful Devonshire foiz,; ,tf,ocrtba,tebills to the bone, that gives vou a sort of ague." 0 Margot looked out of the window in surprise. The moon was shining brightly in the dark blue summer skv. The air that came in was soft, warm, and balmy. "You are ill, Pattv," she said. "I oughtn't to trouble you with all these details." "You repeated something that I said in mv sleep," said Patty. How" I hate the thought of that night, and all the dreadful time before I became John's wife Her voice shook she went across the room, opened a drawer, took out a large white woollen shawl, and wrapped it ronnd her. "Your teeth are chattering. Have you really got a touch of ague? said Margot. Oh, no; I am only cold. It is the fog coming on." "Patty, darling, there Is no fog. Look out at the summer night. Could anything be sweeter or clearer?" Yes, but the fog will soon he on us. Do you not see how motionless the trees are? Margot, please say good-night' now. I am tired I must go to bed." I will leave you in a minute," said Margot, But I have not yet confessed." Margot, I hate being confessed to. I must tell you. You must know me as I am. I believed you guilty. Patty.' Guilty," said Patty, with a ghastly smile. She shivered. "How I wish we might have a fire," she added inconsequently. Yes, 1 thought the will was false. Patty, who had half risen, slipped down again in her armchair. Try as I would," continued Margot, absorbed in her own reflections, and not specially noticing her friend. Try as I would, I could not banish the thought. The will is false,' I said to myself, and Patty had sold herself to the devil.' The thought used to come to me in my dreams it used to follow me about all day; it turned me into a cold calculating, cruel woman. I could not forgive I did not want to look you in the face. Oh, Patty no wonder you look white, no wonder you can't glance at me. Oh, my darling how could I doubt one like you? But I did, I did. Two days ago I could not help telling Mr. Ward what I thought." And what did he say?" asked Patty. She wrapped her shawl tighter about her as she spoke. He was pained and shocked; no wonder. He said that your face-your sweet, sweet face- would best kill these cruel doubts. He warned me not to mention them to you. I promised." You ought to have kept your word." "I meant to keep it; I would have done so. but all is now completely changed; the doubt is dead for ever. Listen to me, Patty. When I went out this evening I little knew how mu:h was to happen. My cruel doubt was to be slain, my cloak of pride torn to tatters, and love, beau- tiful love, was to crown me and fill my heart with rejoicing. In the first part of my walk I had an unpleasant and yet delightful experience. I met a man of the name of Joshua Day." A man; I didn't catch the words," said Patty, in a faint voice. "A man, a queer man, called Joshua Day. Do you know him? Yes." Patty, are you faintt" No go on, Margot." I met Joshua Day, and he told me that h. witnessed the will." He told you that?" said Patty, suddenly rising to her feet, flinging back her white shawl, and gazing full at Margot. "What did you say he told you? That he witnessed the will. He described the whole scene-the morning room, Miss Rhodes, your old nurse Joan, and the London lawyer. He spoke as such a person might speak but he set my doubts at rest for ever. What did you say, Patty? The scoundrel! cried Patty, with passion then her voice broke and changed. Oh, Margot, I can't see the room is turning round hold me, I don't want to fall." What is this?" said Ward's authoritative voice. He entered the ream quickly at thit moment. What is the matter? What have you done to Patty, Margot? Do take her, Mr. Ward," said Margot, ter- rified in her turn. She wants brandy. See how white she is." But what have you done to her?" sail Ward. Have you been saying anything to upset her? I was only confessing to her-confessing my doubts." Ward's face, in spite of all his self-control, wore an ugly look. Leave us now," he said abruptly. (To be continued.)






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