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[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.] THE DARK HOUSE BY THE POND. BY C. J. HAMILTON, Author of A Poisoned Life," Cut to the Heart," A Flash of Youth," æc. die. CHAPTER XXI. "YOU AND I." I WHEN I reached the house, I saw ladders against the side of it, and a thick cloud of smoke issuing from the upper windows. The fire had been put out, and all danger of its spreading was over. The alarm had been given in time, and the only damage done was to the lum ber-room, where the fire had begun. It was easy to see how it had originated. Mrs. Monfcaubon had taken the paraffin lamp up with her, and had set it down on a small table, while she rummaged her trunks. She had taken out her jewel-case, and had put on her sapphire and diamond necklace to see the effect of it over some old lace. Turning round suddenly, she overturned the lamp, her light crepon dress, which was saturated with the oil, caught fire, and blazed up. Wild with terror, she rushed downstairs. The rapid movement and the wind that blew from the open windows, fanned the flames. Her liztireaught fire, the lace round her neck, the ruffles on her arms, till she was, as I first saw her, a globe of living flame. Nothing, then, could have been done to save her. She was a doomed woman. Next day, as I sat in the darkened house, I heard quick steps coming to the door, and a voice, saying, "Is anyone here ?" I knew the voice, it was Mr. Montaubon's. Yes," I whispered, opening the door, "I am here." You!" he cried, seizing both my hands How good of you How did you come ? How did you bear ? I came with her. She brought me. Oh! it has been terrible." Yes, I know. Somehow, I always ex- pected she would have a tragic end." "She has had one indeed!" I told him how I had met her, and how we had come to the fateful house, almost against her will, and how the accident had happened, the very evening of our arrival. And you—you—I thought you were in Norway? I added. I came back last night," was his answer. "Oh, Margaret," he added, reproachfully, "Why didn't you answer my letter ?" What letter?" The letter I wrote to you the day you left last October." I never got any letter from you." "You never got a letter I wrote asking you to be my wife ? "Certainly not." And then it flashed across me that I had seen Ali bring in a letter, and that Mrs. Montaubon had taken it, had read it, and had torn it in a hundred pieces. Ah! I cried, that was my letter that she opened. I thought there was something wrong. God forgive her "Yes, God may forgive her. I hope He will. I know she has caused me many an anxious hour. I could not think why you did not write, why the message was sent back to say there was no answer." I never sent it." "But I could not guess that. I know what Selina's motive was. She was always jealous of other people's happiness. She was jealous of ours. Margaret, give me my answer now, it is eight months late, but never mind that, give it to me now." "I will-I will What is it?" "You know what it is. There is no one else in the world for me, but you." "My Margaret—that is an answer worth waiting for! As we sat there, side by side, in that darkened house there seemed to be only one love, one life between us, my being was merged in his; his masterful deep-blue eyes read into my soul, and saw himself reflected there. "Ah, Margaret, if you only knew how I have wearied for you!" And I, how I have wearied for you through the long dusty days and weary wakeful nights." Can you forgive her who kept us so long from each other ? "Yes, I can forgive her now." And will you be able to put up with such a rough, abrupt bear as I am, a regular woman-hater, too?" "Yes, I must, I cannot help myself. We are just you and I.' We must make the best of each other." And so, God helping us, we will! That was a blessed betrothal, though it was plighted in a house of death. We walked together through the fields in the cool of the evening, gazing into each other's eyes, and whispering all sorts of things that we had never dared to speak of before. The stars came out to look at us. The perfume of new-mown hay was blown across the meadows the far blue peak of Penmaen- mawr seemed to tell of distance, of some- thing sweet, something exquisite that awaited us in the dim future, and as we thought of it, the sound of joy bells was wafted to us from a little church far away amongst the hills. CHAPTER XXII. THE STORY OF MRS. MONTAUBON'S LIFE. AFTER Mrs. Montaubon's poor mutilated remains were laid in the churchyard at, Llanbryn, Reginald took possession of all her papers. She bad made no will, and he was her next of kin, and her legal represen- tative. One evening, as he was turning over the contents of a tin box, he came across some closely written sheets of paper. They were tied together with a black ribbon, and outside was written in Mrs. Montaubon's uneven, straggling hand, The Story of my Life." "Now, perhaps, we shall hear how my poor brother came to his death," said Regi- nald. I always knew there was something that none of us quite fathomed, and that Selina never told." He drew his chair to the lamp, and read as follows: This is the night before I leave Caer Newydd, and I have an irresistible desire to write down the story of my life. Perhaps, I may tear up what I am going to say before I die, but no matter, I will, I must, deliver my soul. The wind is howling round the house, and rattling against the windows, like an evil spirit crying out, and demanding some confession from me, so I will make a clean breast of everything, once for all, and perhaps God may have mercy on me in this world, if not in the next. After all I am not so very much to blame. I was not judiciously brought up, in fact, my uncle, generally known as ()I,]. Sam Griffith,' did his best to spoil me. He adopted me when I was quite a small child, and brought me here to live with him. He allowed me to tyrannise over my nurses and governesses, and when they complained, he only laughed, and said, 'I had the true Griffith spirit, that had descended to them from King Llewyllyn, our ancestor.' "I had been several years at Caer Newydd, when another little girl was sent to be my companion. She was five years younger than I, and her name was Sabina, Sabina Griffith. She was my first cousin, the daughter of my uncle's youngest brother, who had been accidentally killed in South Africa. The moment I saw Sabina, I hated her, yes hated her with all the strength of my being. I could not help saying she was prettier than I was, much Prettier. Instead of red hair. like mine. hers was dark and curly, and her deep violet eyes were beautiful, quite beautiful, quite different from any eyes I had ever seen before. She was lightly and gracefully made, too, while I was rather broad. We began to quarrel at once, and we quarrelled more and more every day, till my uncle was at his wit's end to know what to do with us. The worst of Sabina was, that when I was rough with her, she only cried, she never hit me back she knew she was no match for me. But still she often got her own way. If I mel ted her prettiest doll in the fire, she had such taking ways that she was sure to get; another from someone. Everybody liked her, and this added to my dislike. Even my uncle took her part. The cry, Poor little Sabina 'Pretty little Sabina,' 'Dear, sweet little thing,' always grated on my ears. I often lay awake at nights planning how I could get rid of her, but my plans always failed. She was fated to be my torment through life. So things went on, till we two children grew up to be girls. "When Sabina was eighteen and I was twenty-two, Sydney Montaubon came to stay with his brother at Llanbryn. They were both young men. It was Reginald's first curacy, and their father had been a great friend of my uncle's. Sydney was remark- ahly;handsome-we thought he was the hand- somest man we had ever seen—and as he wn, home from India on leave and had nothing to do, he almost lived at Caer Newydd. Hu was in and out of the house all day, and both Sabina and I were head over heels in love with him. Sometimes, he seemed devoted to me, and sometimes to Sabina. No one knew which of us he liked best, for he flirted equally with both of us, and we were both frightfully jealous. Sabina was away during part of his first visit to Llanbryn, but she was at home during his second visit. I began to be mortally afraid that he liked her better than he did me. He talked to me more, but he looked at her. Ah these looks, I could not bear to see them, and when I saw Sabina blushing and looking prettier every day, I felt as if I could have murdered her. And yet Sydney never spoke of love to her nor to me. Some said he was not in a posi- tion to marry. However, he went back to India without anything more decided than eloquent glances, soft pressures of the hand, presents of Indian jewels and curios, and tender lingering'good-bye's.' And these were given to both of us. A year and a half passed by. Sabina had gone on a visit, when an Indian letter arrived with the address in Sydney's illegible handwriting 'Miss S. Griffith.' Now both of us were 'Miss S. Griffith,' for an old aunt had come to live with us, who was Miss Griffith, par excellence. There was, there- fore, every reason why I should open the letter, at least, so it seemed to me. I did open it, and this was what I made out:— "'My own darling' (that might be for either of us), 'I have at last succeeded in getting a staff appointment, and I have now a right to ask you to be my wife. I entreat you to come out to me as soon as you can. The minutes seem hours till I see your dear face. We understood each other so well during those blissful summer days at Caer Newydd, that surely we had no need for words. We read each other's hearts, did not we, my angel ? HoW I longed to tell you what I felt, but I had made a vow that I would not, till I could offer youa home, and now I can-thank God, I can 'Dear, dear Sabina' (it might be Sabina or Selina, the name was so hastily scrawled as to be almost undecipherable), 'don't delay, but come at once to your faithful and devoted Sydney. Wire to me what steamer you will come by, aud I will meet you. I have friends at Bombay to receive you, and our wedding can take place from their house.' "That was the letter. I read it over and over again. There was just a possibility that it might be for Sabina (I klew in my heart that it was), but I could not bear to hand it over to her. Besides, it might be for me. Why not? Sydney had often spoken very soft words to me, and I—I loved him so well. Sabina could not love him as I did. His least word was music to me and the sound of his step an unspeakable delight. And she had so many admirers and I had only him I would not give him up to her, and see her packing up and starting off to join him. No, I could not! I rapidly resolved what to do. I wrote to Sabina, saying that I had received a letter from Captain Montaubon asking me to be his wife, and that I was going to India by the next steamer from Southampton. I hurried on my preparations. I bought an elaborate wedding dress, and took my pas- sage in the Melampus. I had some money of my own, so I had not to ask anyone to help me with either money or advice. When I had fairly started, I began to wonder how I should be received. How dreadful it would be if I were sent back I was certain, however, that Sydney Mon- taubon had a chivalrous dislike to hurting other people's feelings. I had often seen him go out of his way to avoid doing so, and I had a sort of confidence that this pecu- liarity of his would now stand my friend and then I would meet him with such abandon, such eager delight that he could hardly fait to respond! "Never, never can I forget the blank look of dismay in his face as I came up on deck. "Wliy-wliy, Selina, it is you/' "I answered by flinging myself into his arms. 'Yes, yes I set off as soon as I got your letter. Dearest Sydney, what a joy to be with you again Ah we did understand each other at Caer Newydd.' 'But—but, what about Sabina?' "'Oh! she is away at Chester, staying with the Egertons and flirting with aU the officers. I expect we shall soon hear of her engagement with Captain Egerton. It is talked about a good deal already.' I saw his countenance fall, the eager look of expectation vanished from it. TI)en, she didn't get the letter? Sabina didn't get it?' "'Do you mean your letter to mel Of course not, I am Miss S. Griffith, our old aunt is Miss Griffith.' Ah I see, I forgot. How unfortunate "There was no more said just then. But it turned out as I expected. Sydney accepted the position into which I had thrown him. He did not send me back to England, he had not the heart to do it, and our marriage took place in two days. His new appointment obliged him to go off to the hills at once, so there could be no delay. Everything had been arranged forthe wedding, only!—I could not help knowing—the bride was not the right one. "For the first year 1 was happy. I bad triumphed over Sabina. I had taken her lover from her, the lover whom I had always coveted for myself. He accepted my caresses, but; he seldom volunteered of his own; and occasionally when I saw a puzzled, wistful expression steal over his face, I knew he was thinking of Sabina, and then I hated her more than ever. Could it not be possible for me to win his love away from her? Would not my devotion be rewarded? "About two years after our marriage a letter came from Reginald to say that Sabina's nervous system had given way, that she had fallen into a state of melan- choly mania, and was under a doctor's care. I shall never forget my husband's look as he put down the letter and said My poor little Sabina! This would never have happened if she had been my wife, as I always intended her to be. What an un- fortunate mistake it was that divided us from one another. How different our lives would have been!' "'What do you mean?' I cried angrily. I have your own letter to show.' It is no use talking about it now,' he answered, 'the thing is done. But surely, Selina, you must have known that letter was never meant for you ?' I burst into a flood of tears. 1 stormed, I reproached him with cruelty, and he only answered by saying, 'You deceived me about Sabina. You said she did not care for me, and now she cares so much that she is out of her mind. You have deceived me all along, and you know you have.' "After this, the thought of Sabina was poison to me. Any love my husband seemed to have for me, faded quite away. Our first child died as soon as it was born, and now the son that I had hoped would draw us closer together, was still-born. Sydney never kissed me of his own free will. He was civil, attentive, hut, oh so cold. His coldness stung me to the heart. "After eight years of vain struggling to conquer his love, I returned to England, and then the idea came of writing a novel, which would make him proud of me. I would show him that I was capable of something. I wrote away eagerly, I was delighted to see how rapidly the pages grew, and then within a month or two of his arrival from India, invention suddenly failed, for I saw Sabina! "Then I advertised for some one to finish my novel, and Margaret Bailie came. She was not the mild, ordinary sort of person I expected. She w,as tall, almost handsome, and, as I saw, extremely attractive. I longed to get rid of her, but I was persuaded to keep heron, and then Sydney returned three weeks before he was expected. The secret of the novel could not be kept much longer from him. At last, I thought why should Ikeep it a secret. Why not show it, to him, and hear his surprise, his admiration, his delight? The day the party went to Gwydir, I had him all to myself, and. as we sat together under the trees, I said 'Sydney,I have written a novel while you were away, and I want to show it you. Here it is, Miss Bailie typed the end, but all the rest is in my own handwriting.' 'Ah I see. All your own composition ? Yes, all; you must read it. I think you will be very much interested.' "He smiled and took the manuscript. I left him reading it. I felt happier than I had done for a long time. He would surely come back and say, o Selina, I am proud of you! You are cleverer than I ever thought you were. You will make a name with this manuscript.' "But no such thing happened. After waiting for two hours, I went to meet him, he was in the walk under the poplars. "'Well I what do you think of it ?' j 'Think of it! Wliy that it is a great pity you wasted your time over such nonsense. I am sure Lhe end is Miss Bailie's, it is far too good to be yours, and yet you told me you had written it all. It's only another proof that you can't tell the truth about any- thing.' "A wave of passion rushed over me. I pushed him away with both hands, pushed him towards the edge of the pond. "Suddenly, a change came over him: be turned ghastly pale, his eyes closed and he fell back down, down into the pond, still grasping the manuscript in his hand. "Just then I looked up and saw Sabina coming along the path What was she doing there ? Coming to pry at us ? She rushed over to the edge of the pond, and tried to pull the senseless form towards her, but it was no use. Though the water was only four feet deep, no power could lift him out of it, and when I looked at his face, I knew he was dead! I ran to the house. I left him to Sabina. It was better to let people think that it was she who had thrown him in. She was out of her senses and I—I—was his widow I had a right to mourn for him, and she had not. U I am not guilty of his death. They say he died from natural causes, that he might have died at any time, and yet how is it that at times, I feel a mortal terror stealing over me? The sight of that manuscript is like the touch of a dead hand on mine. Does anyone really suspect me? Sometimes, they seem to do, but I will live down all suspicion. I will be merry, gay, if 1 can. Was that a tapping at the window? Ah ah! that hateful pond. I will have it filled up. I will sell Caer Newydd. I will-go-to some amusing, entert aining place. I will get all tbe the enjoyment I can from life. The world is wide. I will try what society will do for me. Only, I wish I did not see Sydney's face looking at me from under the water so often. And Sabina,. that odious Sabina, when she taunted me with being a murderess, how I shrank from her How I shrink from her now But who cares for a poor mono- maniac, shut up under a doctor's charge? I don't think I need fear retribution. After all, I have done nothing so very, very dreadful." Here the writing ended. The story of Mrs. Montaubon's life had suddenly broken off. God have mercy on the miserable woman said Reginald, as he laid down the last sheet. "She deceived herself to the very last." I could make no defence for her. But if she did sin deeply towards others the pun- ishment meted out to her has indeed been terrible. (To be continued.) j





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