The Treasure of Heaven - A Romance of Riches
by Marie Corelli
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For an answer she brought him a little cup of nourishing broth tastily prepared and bade him drink it—"every drop, mind!"—she told him with a little commanding nod. He obeyed her,—and when he gave her back the cup empty he said, with a keen glance:

"So I am your father's friend, am I, Mary?"

The blood rushed to her cheeks in a crimson tide,—she looked at him appealingly, and her lips trembled a little.

"You were so very ill!" she murmured—"I was afraid you might die,—and I had to send for the only doctor we have in the village—Mr. Bunce,—the boys call him Mr. Dunce, but that's their mischief, for he's really quite clever,—and I was bound to tell him something by way of introducing you and making him take care of you—even—even if what I said wasn't quite true! And—and—I made it out to myself this way—that if father had lived he would have done just all he could for you, and then you would have been his friend—you couldn't have helped yourself!"

He kept his eyes upon her as she spoke. He liked to see the soft flitting of the colour to-and-fro in her face,—- her skin was so clear and transparent,—a physical reflection, he thought, of the clear transparency of her mind.

"And who was your father, Mary?" he asked, gently.

"He was a gardener and florist,"—she answered, and taking from the mantelshelf the photograph of the old man smiling serenely amid a collection of dwarf and standard roses, she showed it to him—"Here he is, just as he was taken after an exhibition where he won a prize. He was so proud when he heard that the first prize for a dwarf red rose had been awarded to James Deane of Barnstaple. My dear old dad! He was a good, good man—he was indeed! He loved the flowers—he used to say that they thought and dreamed and hoped, just as we do—and that they had their wishes and loves and ambitions just as we have. He had a very good business once in Barnstaple, and every one respected him, but somehow he could not keep up with the demands for new things—'social sensations in the way of flowers,' he used to call them, and he failed at last, through no fault of his own. We sold all we had to pay the creditors, and then we came away from Barnstaple into Somerset, and took this cottage. Father did a little business in the village, and for some of the big houses round about,—not much, of course—but I was always handy with my needle, and by degrees I got a number of customers for lace-mending and getting up ladies' fine lawn and muslin gowns. So between us we made quite enough to live on—till he died." Her voice sank—and she paused—then she added—"I've lived alone here ever since."

He listened attentively.

"And that is all your history, Mary? What of your mother?" he asked.

Mary's eyes softened and grew wistful.

"Mother died when I was ten,"—she said—"But though I was so little, I remember her well. She was pretty—oh, so very pretty! Her hair was quite gold like the sun,—and her eyes were blue—like the sea. Dad worshipped her, and he never would say that she was dead. He liked to think that she was always with him,—and I daresay she was. Indeed, I am sure she was, if true love can keep souls together."

He was silent.

"Are you tired, David?" she asked, with sudden anxiety,—"I'm afraid I'm talking too much!"

He raised a hand in protest.

"No—no! I—I love to hear you talk, Mary! You have been so good to me—so more than kind—that I'd like to know all about you. But I've no right to ask you any questions—you see I'm only an old, poor man, and I'm afraid I shall never be able to do much in the way of paying you back for all you've done for me. I used to be clever at office work—reading and writing and casting up accounts, but my sight is failing and my hands tremble,—so I'm no good in that line. But whatever I can do for you, as soon as I'm able, I will!—you may depend upon that!"

She leaned towards him, smiling.

"I'll teach you basket-making,"—she said—"Shall I?"

His eyes lit up with a humorous sparkle.

"If I could learn it, should I be useful to you?" he asked.

"Why, of course you would! Ever so useful! Useful to me and useful to yourself at the same time!" And she clapped her hands with pleasure at having thought of something easy upon which he could try his energies; "Basket-making pays well here,—the farmers want baskets for their fruit, and the fishermen want baskets for their fish,—and its really quite easy work. As soon as you're a bit stronger, you shall begin—and you'll be able to earn quite a nice little penny!"

He looked stedfastly into her radiant face.

"I'd like to earn enough to pay you back all the expense you've been put to with me,"—he said, and his voice trembled—"But your patience and goodness—that—I can never hope to pay for—that's heavenly!—that's beyond all money's worth——"

He broke off and put his hand over his eyes. Mary feigned not to notice his profound emotion, and, taking up a paper parcel on the table, opened it, and unrolled a long piece of wonderful old lace, yellow with age, and fine as a cobweb.

"Do you mind my going on with my work?" she asked, cheerily—"I'm mending this for a Queen!" And as he took away his hand from his eyes, which were suspiciously moist, and looked at her wonderingly, she nodded at him in the most emphatic way. "Yes, truly, David!—for a Queen! Oh, it's not a Queen who is my direct employer—no Queen ever knows anything about me! It's a great firm in London that sends this to me to mend for a Queen—they trust me with it, because they know me. I've had lace worth thousands of pounds in my hands,—this piece is valued at eight hundred, apart from its history—it belonged to Marie Louise, second wife of Napoleon the First. It's a lovely bit!—but there are some cruel holes in it. Ah, dear me!" And, sitting down near the door, she bent her head closely over the costly fabric—"Queens don't think of the eyes that have gone out in blindness doing this beautiful work!—or the hands that have tired and the hearts that have broken over it! They would never run pins into it if they did!"

He watched her sitting as she now was in the sunlight that flooded the doorway, and tried to overcome the emotional weakness that moved him to stretch out his arms to her as though she were his daughter, to call her to his side, and lay his hands on her head in blessing, and to beg her to let him stay with her now and always until the end of his days,—an end which he instinctively felt could not be very long in coming. But he realised enough of her character to know that were he to give himself away, and declare his real identity and position in the world of men, she would probably not allow him to remain in her cottage for another twenty-four hours. She would look at him with her candid eyes, and express her honest regret that he had deceived her, but he was certain that she would not accept a penny of payment at his hands for anything she had done for him,—her simple familiar manner and way of speech would change—and he should lose her—lose her altogether. And he was nervously afraid just now to think of what her loss might mean to him. He mastered his thoughts by an effort, and presently, forcing a smile, said:

"You were ironing lace this morning, instead of mending it, weren't you, Mary?"

She looked up quickly.

"No, I wasn't ironing lace—lace must never be ironed, David! It must all be pulled out carefully with the fingers, and the pattern must be pricked out on a frame or a cushion, with fine steel pins, just as if it were in the making. I was ironing a beautiful muslin gown for a lady who buys all her washing dresses in Paris. She couldn't get any one in England to wash them properly till she found me. She used to send them all away to a woman in Brittany before. The French are wonderful washers,—we're not a patch on them over here. So you saw me ironing?"

"I could just catch a glimpse of you at work through the door," he answered—"and I heard you talking as well——"

"To Mrs. Twitt? Ah, I thought you did!" And she laughed. "Well, I wish you could have seen her, as well as heard her! She is the quaintest old soul! She's the wife of a stonemason who lives at the bottom of the village, near the shore. Almost everything that happens in the day or the night is a sign of good or bad luck with her. I expect it's because her husband makes so many tombstones that she gets morbid,—but, oh dear!—if God managed the world according to Mrs. Twitt's notions, what a funny world it would be!"

She laughed again,—then shook her finger archly at him.

"You pretended to be asleep, then, when I came in to see if you heard us talking?"

He nodded a smiling assent.

"That was very wrong of you! You should never pretend to be what you are not!" He started nervously at this, and to cover his confusion called to the little dog, Charlie, who at once jumped up on his knees;—"You shouldn't, really! Should he, Charlie?" Charlie sat upright, and lolled a small red tongue out between two rows of tiny white teeth, by way of a laugh at the suggestion—"People—even dogs—are always found out when they do that!"

"What are those bright flowers out in your garden just beyond the door where you are sitting?" Helmsley asked, to change the conversation.

"Phloxes,"—she answered—"I've got all kinds and colours—crimson, white, mauve, pink, and magenta. Those which you can see from where you sit are the crimson ones—father's favourites. I wish you could get out and look at the Virginian creeper—it's lovely just now—quite a blaze of scarlet all over the cottage. And the Michaelmas daisies are coming on finely."

"Michaelmas!" he echoed—"How late in the year it is growing!"

"Ay, that's true!" she replied—"Michaelmas means that summer's past."

"And it was full summer when I started on my tramp to Cornwall!" he murmured.

"Never mind thinking about that just now," she said quickly—"You mustn't worry your head. Mr. Bunce says you mustn't on any account worry your head."

"Mr. Bunce!" he repeated wearily—"What does Mr. Bunce care?"

"Mr. Bunce does care," averred Mary, warmly—"Mr. Bunce is a very good little man, and he says you are a very gentle patient to deal with. He's done all he possibly could for you, and he knows you've got no money to pay him, and that I'm a poor woman, too—but he's been in to see you nearly every day—so you must really think well of Mr. Bunce."

"I do think well of him—I am most grateful to him," said David humbly—"But all the same it's you, Mary! You even got me the attention of Mr. Bunce!"

She smiled happily.

"You're feeling better, David!" she declared—"There's a nice bright sparkle in your eyes! I should think you were quite a cheerful old boy when you're well!"

This suggestion amused him, and he laughed.

"I have tried to be cheerful in my time,"—he said—"though I've not had much to be cheerful about."

"Oh, that doesn't matter!" she replied!—"Dad used to say that whatever little we had to be thankful for, we ought to make the most of it. It's easy to be glad when everything is gladness,—but when you've only got just a tiny bit of joy in a whole wilderness of trouble, then we can't be too grateful for that tiny bit of joy. At least, so I take it."

"Where did you learn your philosophy, Mary?" he asked, half whimsically—"I mean, who taught you to think?"

She paused in her lace-mending, needle in hand.

"Who taught me to think! Well, I don't know!—it come natural to me. But I'm not what is called 'educated' at all."

"Are you not?"

"No. I never learnt very much at school. I got the lessons into my head as long as I had to patter them off by heart like a parrot,—but the teachers were all so dull and prosy, and never took any real pains to explain things to me,—indeed, now when I come to think of it, I don't believe they could explain!—they needed teaching themselves. Anyhow, as soon as I came away I forgot everything but reading and writing and sums—and began to learn all over again with Dad. Dad made me read to him every night—all sorts of books."

"Had you a Free Library at Barnstaple?"

"I don't know—I never asked,"—she said—"Father hated 'lent' books. He had a savings-box—he used to call it his 'book-box'—and he would always drop in every spare penny he had for books till he'd got a few shillings, and then he would buy what he called 'classics.' They're all so cheap, you see. And by degrees we got Shakespeare and Carlyle, and Emerson and Scott and Dickens, and nearly all the poets; when you go into the parlour you'll see quite a nice bookcase there, full of books. It's much better to have them like that for one's own, than wait turns at a Free Library. I've read all Shakespeare at least twenty times over." The garden-gate suddenly clicked open and she turned her head. "Here's Mr. Bunce come to see you."

Helmsley drew himself up a little in his chair as the village doctor entered, and after exchanging a brief "Good-morning!" with Mary, approached him. The situation was curious;—here was he,—a multi-millionaire, who could have paid the greatest specialists in the world for their medical skill and attendance,—under the supervision and scrutiny of this simple herbalist, who, standing opposite to him, bent a pair of kindly brown eyes enquiringly upon his face.

"Up to-day, are we?" said Mr. Bunce—"That is well; that's very well! Better in ourselves, too, are we? Better in ourselves?"

"I am much better,"—replied Helmsley—"Very much better!—thanks to you and Miss Deane. You—you have both been very good to me."

"That's well—that's very well!" And Mr. Bunce appeared to ruminate, while Helmsley studied his face and figure with greater appreciation than he had yet been able to do. He had often seen this small dark man in the pauses of his feverish delirium,—often he had tried to answer his gentle questions,—often in the dim light of early morning or late evening he had sought to discern his features, and yet could make nothing clear as to their actual form, save that their expression was kind. Now, as it seemed for the first time, he saw Mr. Bunce as he was,—small and wiry, with a thin, clean-shaven face, deeply furrowed, broad brows, and a pleasant look,—the eyes especially, deep sunk in the head though they were, had a steady tenderness in them such as one sees in the eyes of a brave St. Bernard dog who has saved many lives.

"We must,"—said Mr. Bunce, after a long pause—"be careful. We have got out of bed, but we must not walk much. The heart is weak—we must avoid any strain upon it. We must sit quiet."

Mary was listening attentively, and nodded her agreement to this pronouncement.

"We must,"—proceeded Mr. Bunce, laboriously—"sit quiet. We may get up every day now,—a little earlier each time, remaining up a little later each time,—but we must sit quiet."

Again Mary nodded gravely. Helmsley looked quickly from one to the other. A close observer might have seen the glimmer of a smile through his fuzzy grey-white beard,—for his thoughts were very busy. He saw in Bunce another subject whose disinterested honesty might be worth dissecting.

"But, doctor——" he began.

Mr. Bunce raised a hand.

"I'm not 'doctor,' my man!" he said—"have no degree—no qualification—no diploma—no anything whatever but just a little, a very little common sense,—yes! And I am simply Bunce,"—and here a smile spread out all the furrows in his face and lit up his eyes; "Or, as the small boys call me, Dunce!"

"That's all very well, but you're a doctor to me," said Helmsley—"And you've been as much as any other doctor could possibly be, I'm sure. But you tell me I must sit quiet—I don't see how I can do that. I was on the tramp till I broke down,—and I must go on the tramp again,—I can't be a burden on—on——"

He broke off, unable to find words to express himself. But his inward eagerness to test the character and attributes of the two human beings who had for the present constituted themselves as his guardians, made him tremble violently. And Mr. Bunce looked at him with the scrutinising air of a connoisseur in the ailments of all and sundry.

"We are nervous,"—he pronounced—"We are highly nervous. And we are therefore not sure of ourselves. We must be entirely sure of ourselves, unless we again wish to lose ourselves. Now we presume that when 'on the tramp' as we put it, we were looking for a friend. Is that not so?"

Helmsley nodded.

"We were trying to find the house of the late Mr. James Deane?"

Mary uttered a little sound that was half a sob and half a sigh. Helmsley glanced at her with a reassuring smile, and then replied steadily,—

"That was so!"

"Our friend, Mr. Deane, unfortunately died some five years since,"—proceeded Mr. Bunce,—"And we found his daughter, or rather, his daughter found us, instead. This we may put down to an act of Providence. Now the only thing we can do under the present circumstances is to remain with our late old friend's daughter, till we get well."

"But, doctor,"—exclaimed Helmsley, determined, if possible, to shake something selfish, commercial and commonplace out of this odd little man with the faithful canine eyes—"I can't be a burden on her! I've got no money—I can't pay you for all your care! What you do for me, you do for absolutely nothing—nothing—nothing! Don't you understand?"

His voice rang out with an almost rasping harshness, and Mr. Bunce tapped his own forehead gently, but significantly.

"We worry ourselves,"—he observed, placidly—"We imagine what does not exist. We think that Bunce is sending in his bill. We should wait till the bill comes, should we not, Miss Deane?" He smiled, and Mary gave a soft laugh of agreement—"And while we wait for Bunce's bill, we will also wait for Miss Deane's. And, in the meantime, we must sit quiet."

There was a moment's silence. Helmsley felt a smarting moisture at the back of his eyes. He longed to pour out all his history to these two simple unworldly souls,—to tell them that he was rich,—rich beyond the furthest dreams of their imagining,—rich enough to weigh down the light-hearted contentment of their lives with a burden of gold,—and yet—yet he knew that if he spoke thus and confessed himself, all the sweetness of the friendship which was now so disinterested would be embittered and lost. He thought, with a latent self-contempt and remorse, of certain moods in which he had sometimes indulged,—moods in which he had cynically presumed that he could buy everything in the world for money. Kings, thrones, governments, might be had for money, he knew, for he had often purchased their good-will—but Love was a jewel he had never found in any market—unpurchasable as God! And while he yet inwardly mused on his position, Bunce bent over him, and taking his thin wrinkled hand, patted it gently.

"Good-bye for the present, David!" he said, kindly—"We are on the mend—we are certainly on the mend! We hope the ways of nature will be remedial—and that we shall pick up our strength before the winter fairly sets in—yes, we hope—we certainly may hope for that——"

"Mr. Bunce," said Helmsley, with sudden energy—"God bless you!"


The time now went on peacefully, one day very much like another, and Helmsley steadily improved in health and strength, so far recovering some of his old vigour and alertness as to be able to take a slow and halting daily walk through the village, which, for present purposes shall be called Weircombe. The more he saw of the place, the more he loved it, and the more he was enchanted with its picturesque position. In itself it was a mere cluster of little houses, dotted about on either side of a great cleft in the rocks through which a clear mountain stream tumbled to the sea,—but the houses were covered from basement to roof with clambering plants and flowers, especially the wild fuschia, which, with one or two later kinds of clematis and "morning glory" convolvolus, were still in brilliant bloom when the mellow days of October began to close in to the month's end. All the cottages in the "coombe" were pretty, but to Helmsley's mind Mary Deane's was the prettiest, perched as it was on a height overlooking the whole village and near to the tiny church, which crowned the hill with a little tower rising heavenward. The view of the ocean from Weircombe was very wide and grand,—on sunny days it was like an endless plain of quivering turquoise-blue, with white foam-roses climbing up here and there to fall and vanish again,—and when the wind was high, it was like an onward sweeping array of Titanic shapes clothed in silver armour and crested with snowy plumes, all rushing in a wild charge against the shore, with such a clatter and roar as often echoed for miles inland. To make his way gradually down through the one little roughly cobbled street to the very edge of the sea, was one of Helmsley's greatest pleasures, and he soon got to know most of the Weircombe folk, while they in their turn, grew accustomed to seeing him about among them, and treated him with a kindly familiarity, almost as if he were one of themselves. And his new lease of life was, to himself, singularly happy. He enjoyed every moment of it,—every little incident was a novel experience, and he was never tired of studying the different characters he met,—especially and above all the character of the woman whose house was, for the time being, his home, and who treated with him all the care and solicitude that a daughter might show to her father. And—he was learning what might be called a trade or a craft,—which fact interested and amused him. He who had moved the great wheel of many trades at a mere touch of his finger, was now docilely studying the art of basket-making, and training his unaccustomed hands to the bending of withes and osiers,—he whose deftly-laid financial schemes had held the money-markets of the world in suspense, was now patiently mastering the technical business of forming a "slath," and fathoming the mysteries of "scalluming." Like an obedient child at school he implicitly followed the instructions of his teacher, Mary, who with the first basket he completed went out and effected a sale as she said "for fourpence," though really for twopence.

"And good pay, too!" she said, cheerfully—"It's not often one gets so much for a first make."

"That fourpence is yours," said Helmsley, smiling at her—"You've the right to all my earnings!"

She looked serious.

"Would you like me to keep it?" she asked—"I mean, would it please you if I did,—would you feel more content?"

"I should—you know I should!" he replied earnestly.

"All right, then! I'll check it off your account!" And laughing merrily, she patted his head as he sat bending over another specimen of his basket manufacture—"At any rate, you're not getting bald over your work, David! I never saw such beautiful white hair as yours!"

He glanced up at her.

"May I say, in answer to that, that I never saw such beautiful brown hair as yours?"

She nodded.

"Oh, yes, you may say it, because I know it's true. My hair is my one beauty,—see!"

And pulling out two small curved combs, she let the whole wealth of her tresses unwind and fall. Her hair dropped below her knees in a glorious mass of colour like that of a brown autumn leaf with the sun just glistening on it. She caught it up in one hand and knotted it all again at the back of her head in a minute.

"It's lovely, isn't it?"—she said, quite simply—"I should think it lovely if I saw it on anybody else's head, or cut off hanging in a hair-dresser's shop window. I don't admire it because it's mine, you know! I admire it as hair merely."

"Hair merely—yes, I see!" And he bent and twisted the osiers in his hands with a sudden vigour that almost snapped them. He was thinking of certain women he had known in London—women whose tresses, dyed, waved, crimped and rolled over fantastically shaped "frames," had moved him to positive repulsion,—so much so that he would rather have touched the skin of a dead rat than laid a finger on the tinted stuff called "hair" by these feminine hypocrites of fashion. He had so long been accustomed to shams that the open sincerity of the Weircombe villagers was almost confusing to his mind. Nobody seemed to have anything to conceal. Everybody knew, or seemed to know, all about everybody else's business. There were no bye-roads or corners in Weircombe. There was only one way out,—to the sea. Height at the one end,—width and depth at the other. It seemed useless to have any secrets. He, David Helmsley, felt himself to be singular and apart, in that he had his own hidden mystery. He often found himself getting restless under the quiet observation of Mr. Bunce's eye, yet Mr. Bunce had no suspicions of him whatever. Mr. Bunce merely watched him "professionally," and with the kindest intention. In fact, he and Bunce became great friends. Bunce had entirely accepted the story he told about himself to the effect that he had once been "in an office in the city," and looked upon him as a superannuated bank clerk, too old to be kept on in his former line of business. Questions that were put to him respecting his "late friend, James Deane," he answered with apparent good faith by saying that it was a long time since he had seen him, and that it was only as a "last forlorn hope" that he had set out to try and find him, "as he had always been helpful to those in need." Mary herself wished that this little fiction of her "father's friend" should be taken as fact by all the village, and a curious part of her character was that she never sought to ask Helmsley privately, for her own enlightenment, anything of his history. She seemed content to accept him as an old and infirm man, who must be taken care of simply because he was old and infirm, without further question or argument. Bunce was always very stedfast in his praise of her.

"She ought—yes—she ought possibly to have married,—" he said, in his slow, reflective way—"She would have made a good wife, and a still better mother. But an all-wise Providence has a remarkable habit—yes, I think we may call it quite a remarkable habit!—of persuading men generally to choose thriftless and flighty women for their wives, and to leave the capable ones single. That is so. Or in Miss Deane's case it may be an illustration of the statement that 'Mary hath chosen the better part.' Certainly when either men or women are happy in a state of single blessedness, a reference to the Seventh Chapter of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, will strengthen their minds and considerably assist them to remain in that condition."

Thus Bunce would express himself, with a weighty air as of having given some vastly important and legal pronouncement. And when Helmsley suggested that it was possible Mary might yet marry, he shook his head in a strongly expressed negative.

"No, David—no!" he said—"She is what we call—yes, I think we call it—an old maid. This is not a kind term, perhaps, but it is a true one. She is, I believe, in her thirty-fifth year,—a settled and mature woman. No man would take her unless she had a little money—enough, let us say, to help him set up a farm. For if a man takes youth to his bosom, he does not always mind poverty,—but if he cannot have youth he always wants money. Always! There is no middle course. Now our good Miss Deane will never have any money. And, even if she had, we may take it—yes, I certainly think we may take it—that she would not care to buy a husband. No—no! Her marrying days are past."

"She is a beautiful woman!" said Helmsley, quietly.

"You think so? Well, well, David! We have got used to her in Weircombe,—she seems to be a part of the village. When one is familiar with a person, one often fails to perceive the beauty that is apparent to a stranger. I believe this to be so—I believe, in general, we may take it to be so."

And such was the impression that most of the Weircombe folks had about Mary—that she was just "a part of the village." During his slow ramblings about the little sequestered place, Helmsley talked to many of the cottagers, who all treated him with that good-humour and tolerance which they considered due to his age and feebleness. Young men gave him a ready hand if they saw him inclined to falter or to stumble over rough places in the stony street,—little children ran up to him with the flowers they had gathered on the hills, or the shells they had collected from the drift on the shore—women smiled at him from their open doors and windows—girls called to him the "Good morning!" or "Good-night!"—and by and by he was almost affectionately known as "Old David, who makes baskets up at Miss Deane's." One of his favourite haunts was the very end of the "coombe," which,—sharply cutting down to the shore,—seemed there to have split asunder with volcanic force, hurling itself apart to right and left in two great castellated rocks, which were piled up, fortress-like, to an altitude of about four hundred or more feet, and looked sheer down over the sea. When the tide was high the waves rushed swirlingly round the base of these natural towers, forming a deep blackish-purple pool in which the wash to and fro of pale rose and deep magenta seaweed, flecked with trails of pale grassy green, were like the colours of a stormy sunset reflected in a prism. The sounds made here by the inflowing and outgoing of the waves were curiously musical,—like the thudding of a great organ, with harp melodies floating above the stronger bass, while every now and then a sweet sonorous call, like that of a silver trumpet, swung from the cavernous depths into clear space and echoed high up in the air, dying lingeringly away across the hills. Near this split of the "coombe" stood the very last house at the bottom of the village, built of white stone and neatly thatched, with a garden running to the edge of the mountain stream, which at this point rattled its way down to the sea with that usual tendency to haste exhibited by everything in life and nature when coming to an end. A small square board nailed above the door bore the inscription legibly painted in plain black letters:—

ABEL TWITT, Stone Mason, N. B. Good Grave-Work Guaranteed.

The author of this device, and the owner of the dwelling, was a round, rosy-faced little man, with shrewd sparkling grey eyes, a pleasant smile, and a very sociable manner. He was the great "gossip" of the place; no old woman at a wash-tub or behind a tea-tray ever wagged her tongue more persistently over the concerns of he and she and you and they, than Abel Twitt. He had a leisurely way of talking,—a "slow and silly way" his wife called it,—but he managed to convey a good deal of information concerning everybody and everything, whether right or wrong, in a very few sentences. He was renowned in the village for his wonderful ability in the composition of epitaphs, and by some of his friends he was called "Weircombe's Pote Lorit." One of his most celebrated couplets was the following:—

"This Life while I lived it, was Painful and seldom Victorious, I trust in the Lord that the next will be Pleasant and Glorious!"

Everybody said that no one but Abel Twitt could have thought of such grand words and good rhymes. Abel himself was not altogether without a certain gentle consciousness that in this particular effort he had done well. But he had no literary vanity.

"It comes nat'ral to me,"—he modestly declared—"It's a God's gift which I takes thankful without pride."

Helmsley had become very intimate with both Mr. and Mrs. Twitt. In his every-day ramble down to the ocean end of the "coombe" he often took a rest of ten minutes or a quarter of an hour at Twitt's house before climbing up the stony street again to Mary Deane's cottage, and Mrs. Twitt, in her turn, was a constant caller on Mary, to whom she brought all the news of the village, all the latest remedies for every sort of ailment, and all the oddest superstitions and omens which she could either remember or invent concerning every incident that had occurred to her or to her neighbours within the last twenty-four hours. There was no real morbidity of character in Mrs. Twitt; she only had that peculiar turn of mind which is found quite as frequently in the educated as in the ignorant, and which perceives a divine or a devilish meaning in almost every trifling occurrence of daily life. A pin on the ground which was not picked up at the very instant it was perceived, meant terrible ill-luck to Mrs. Twitt,—if a cat sneezed, it was a sign that there was going to be sickness in the village,—and she always carried in her pocket "a bit of coffin" to keep away the cramp. She also had a limitless faith in the power of cursing, and she believed most implicitly in the fiendish abilities of a certain person, (whether male or female, she did not explain) whose address she gave vaguely as, "out on the hills," and who, if requested, and paid for the trouble, would put a stick into the ground, muttering a mysterious malison on any man or woman you chose to name as an enemy, with the pronounced guarantee:—

"As this stick rotteth to decay, So shall (Mr, Miss or Mrs So-and-so) rot away!"

But with the exception of these little weaknesses, Mrs. Twitt was a good sort of motherly old body, warm-hearted and cheerful, too, despite her belief in omens. She had taken quite a liking to "old David" as she called him, and used to watch his thin frail figure, now since his illness sadly bent, jogging slowly down the street towards the sea, with much kindly solicitude. For despite Mr. Bunce's recommendation that he should "sit quiet," Helmsley could not bring himself to the passively restful condition of weak and resigned old age. He had too much on his mind for that. He worked patiently every morning at basket-making, in which he was quickly becoming an adept; but in the afternoon he grew restless, and Mary, seeing it was better for him to walk as long as walking was possible to him, let him go out when he fancied it, though always with a little anxiety for him lest he should meet with some accident. In this anxiety, however, all the neighbours took a share, so that he was well watched, and more carefully guarded than he knew, on his way down to the shore and back again, Abel Twitt himself often giving him an arm on the upward climb home.

"You'll have to do some of that for me soon!" said Helmsley on one of these occasions, pointing up with his stick at the board over Twitt's door, which said "Good Grave-Work Guaranteed:"

Twitt rolled his eyes slowly up in the direction indicated, smiled, and rolled them down again.

"So I will,—so I will!" he replied cheerfully—"An I'll charge ye nothin' either. I'll make ye as pretty a little stone as iver ye saw—what'll last too!—ay, last till th' Almighty comes a' tearin' down in clouds o' glory. A stone well bedded in, ye unnerstan'?—one as'll stay upright—no slop work. An' if ye can't think of a hepitaph for yerself I'll write one for ye—there now! Bible texes is goin' out o' fashion—it's best to 'ave somethin' orig'nal—an' for originality I don't think I can be beat in these parts. I'll do ye yer hepitaph with pleasure!"

"That will be kind!" And Helmsley smiled a little sadly—"What will you say of me when I'm gone?"

Twitt looked at him thoughtfully, with his head very much on one side.

"Well, ye see, I don't know yer history,"—he said—"But I considers ye 'armless an' unfortunate. I'd 'ave to make it out in my own mind like. Now Timbs, the grocer an' 'aberdashery man, when 'is wife died, he wouldn't let me 'ave my own way about the moniment at all. 'Put 'er down,' sez 'e—'Put 'er down as the Dearly-Beloved Wife of Samuel Timbs.' 'Now, Timbs,' sez I—'don't ye go foolin' with 'ell-fire! Ye know she wor'nt yer Dearly Beloved, forbye that she used to throw wet dish-clouts at yer 'ed, screechin' at ye for all she was wuth, an' there ain't no Dearly Beloved in that. Why do ye want to put a lie on a stone for the Lord to read?' But 'e was as obst'nate as pigs. 'Dish-clouts or no dish-clouts,' sez 'e, 'I'll 'ave 'er fixed up proper as my Dearly-Beloved Wife for sight o' parson an' neighbours.' 'Ah, Sam!' sez I—'I've got ye! It's for parson an' neighbours ye want the hepitaph, an' not for the Lord at all! Well, I'll do it if so be yer wish it, but I won't take the 'sponsibility of it at the Day o' Judgment.' 'I don't want ye to'—sez 'e, quite peart. 'I'll take it myself.' An' if ye'll believe me, David, 'e sits down an' writes me what 'e calls a 'Memo' of what 'e wants put on the grave stone, an' it's the biggest whopper I've iver seen out o' the noospapers. I've got it 'ere—" And, referring to a much worn and battered old leather pocket-book, Twitt drew from it a soiled piece of paper, and read as follows—

Here lies All that is Mortal of CATHERINE TIMBS The Dearly Beloved Wife of Samuel Timbs of Weircombe. She Died At the Early Age of Forty-Nine Full of Virtues and Excellencies Which those who knew Her Deeply Deplore and NOW is in Heaven.

"And the only true thing about that hepitaph,"—continued Twitt, folding up the paper again and returning it to its former receptacle,—"is the words 'Here Lies.'"

Helmsley laughed, and Twitt laughed with him.

"Some folks 'as the curiousest ways o' wantin' theirselves remembered arter they're gone"—he went on—"An' others seems as if they don't care for no mem'ry at all 'cept in the 'arts o' their friends. Now there was Tom o' the Gleam, a kind o' gypsy rover in these parts, 'im as murdered a lord down at Blue Anchor this very year's July——"

Helmsley drew a quick breath.

"I know!" he said—"I was there!"

"So I've 'eerd say,"—responded Twitt sympathetically—"An' an awsome sight it must a' bin for ye! Mary Deane told us as 'ow ye'd bin ravin' about Tom—an' m'appen likely it give ye a turn towards yer long sickness."

"I was there,"—said Helmsley, shuddering at the recollection—"I had stopped on the road to try and get a cheap night's lodging at the very inn where the murder took place—but—but there were two murders that day, and the first one was the worst!"

"That's what I said at the time, an' that's what I've allus thought!"—declared Twitt—"Why that little 'Kiddie' child o' Tom's was the playfullest, prettiest little rogue ye'd see in a hundred mile or more! 'Oldin' out a posy o' flowers to a motor-car, poor little innercent! It might as well 'ave 'eld out flowers to the devil!—though my own opinion is as the devil 'imself wouldn't 'a ridden down a child. But a motorin' lord o' these days is neither man nor beast nor devil,—'e's a somethin' altogether onhuman—onhuman out an' out,—a thing wi' goggles over his eyes an' no 'art in his body, which we aint iver seen in this poor old world afore. Thanks be to the Lord no motors can ever come into Weircombe,—they tears round an' round by another road, an' we neither sees, 'ears, nor smells 'em, for which I often sez to my wife—'O be joyful in the Lord all ye lands; serve the Lord with gladness an' come before His presence with a song!' An' she ups an' sez—'Don't be blaspheemous, Twitt,—I'll tell parson'—an' I sez—'Tell 'im, old 'ooman, if ye likes!' An' when she tells 'im, 'e smiles nice an' kind, an' sez—'It's quite lawful, Mrs. Twitt, to quote Scriptural thanksgiving on all necessary occasions!' E's a good little chap, our parson, but 'e's that weak on his chest an' ailing that 'e's goin' away this year to Madeira for rest and warm—an' a blessid old Timp'rance raskill's coming to take dooty in 'is place. Ah!—none of us Weircombe folk 'ill be very reg'lar church-goers while Mr. Arbroath's here."

Helmsley started slightly.

"Arbroath? I've seen that man."

'Ave ye? Well, ye 'aven't seen no beauty!" And Twitt gave vent to a chuckling laugh—"'E'll be startin' 'is 'Igh Jink purcessions an' vestiments in our plain little church up yonder, an' by the Lord, 'e'll 'ave to purcess an' vestiment by 'isself, for Weircombe wont 'elp 'im. We aint none of us 'Igh Jink folks."

"Is that your name for High Church?" asked Helmsley, amused.

"It is so, an' a very good name it be," declared Twitt, stoutly—"For if all the bobbins' an' scrapins' an' crosses an' banners aint a sort o' jinkin' Lord Mayor's show, then what be they? It's fair oaffish to bob to the east as them 'Igh Jinkers does, for we aint never told in the Gospels that th' Almighty 'olds that partikler quarter o' the wind as a place o' residence. The Lord's everywhere,—east, west, north, south,—why he's with us at this very minute!"—and Twitt raised his eyes piously to the heavens—"He's 'elpin' you an' me to draw the breath through our lungs—for if He didn't 'elp, we couldn't do it, that's certain. An' if He makes the sun to rise in the east, He makes it to sink in the west, an' there's no choice either way, an' we sez our prayers simple both times o' day, not to the sun at all, but to the Maker o' the sun, an' of everything else as we sees. No, no!—no 'Igh Jinks for me!—I don't want to bow to no East when I sees the Lord's no more east than He's west, an' no more in either place than He is here, close to me an' doin' more for me than I could iver do for myself. 'Igh Jinks is unchristin,—as unchristin as cremation, an' nothin's more unchristin than that!"

"Why, what makes you think so?" asked Helmsley, surprised.

"What makes me think so?" And Twitt drew himself up with a kind of reproachful dignity—"Now, old David, don't go for to say as you don't think so too?"

"Cremation unchristian? Well, I can't say I've ever thought of it in that light,—it's supposed to be the cleanest way of getting rid of the dead——"

"Gettin' rid of the dead!"—echoed Twitt, almost scornfully—"That's what ye can never do! They'se everywhere, all about us, if we only had strong eyes enough to see 'em. An' cremation aint Christin. I'll tell ye for why,"—here he bent forward and tapped his two middle fingers slowly on Helmsley's chest to give weight to his words—"Look y'ere! Supposin' our Lord's body 'ad been cremated, where would us all a' bin? Where would a' bin our 'sure an' certain 'ope' o' the resurrection?"

Helmsley was quite taken aback by this sudden proposition, which presented cremation in an entirely new light. But a moment's thought restored to him his old love of argument, and he at once replied:—

"Why, it would have been just the same as it is now, surely! If Christ was divine, he could have risen from burnt ashes as well as from a tomb."

"Out of a hurn?" demanded Twitt, persistently—"If our Lord's body 'ad bin burnt an' put in a hurn, an' the hurn 'ad bin took into the 'ouse o' Pontis Pilate, an' sealed, an' kept till now? Eh? What d'ye say to that? I tell ye, David, there wouldn't a bin no savin' grace o' Christ'anity at all! An' that's why I sez cremation is unchristin,—it's blaspheemous an' 'eethen. For our Lord plainly said to 'is disciples arter he came out o' the tomb—'Behold my hands and my feet,—handle me and see,'—an' to the doubtin' Thomas He said—'Reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless but believing.' David, you mark my words!—them as 'as their bodies burnt in crematorums is just as dirty in their souls as they can be, an' they 'opes to burn all the blackness o' theirselves into nothingness an' never to rise no more, 'cos they'se afraid! They don't want to be laid in good old mother earth, which is the warm forcin' place o' the Lord for raisin' up 'uman souls as He raises up the blossoms in spring, an' all other things which do give Him grateful praise an' thanksgivin'! They gits theirselves burnt to ashes 'cos they don't want to be raised up,—they'se never praised the Lord 'ere, an' they wouldn't know 'ow to do it there! But, mercy me!" concluded Twitt ruminatingly,—"I've seen orful queer things bred out of ashes!—beetles an' sich like reptiles,—an' I wouldn't much care to see the spechul stock as raises itself from the burnt bits of a liar!"

Helmsley hardly knew whether to smile or to look serious,—such quaint propositions as this old stonemason put forward on the subject of cremation were utterly novel to his experience. And while he yet stood under the little porch of Twitt's cottage, there came shivering up through the quiet autumnal air a slow thud of breaking waves.

"Tide's comin' in,"—said Twitt, after listening a minute or two—"An' that minds me o' what I was goin' to tell ye about Tom o' the Gleam. After the inkwist, the gypsies came forward an' claimed the bodies o' Tom an' 'is Kiddie,—an' they was buried accordin' to Tom's own wish, which it seems 'e'd told one of 'is gypsy pals to see as was carried out whenever an' wheresoever 'e died. An' what sort of a buryin'd'ye think 'e 'ad?"

Helmsley shook his head in an expressed inability to imagine.

"'Twas out there,"—and Twitt pointed with one hand to the shining expanse of the ocean—"The gypsies put 'im an' is Kiddie in a basket coffin which they made theirselves, an' covered it all over wi' garlands o' flowers an' green boughs, an' then fastened four great lumps o' lead to the four corners, an' rowed it out in a boat to about four or five miles from the shore, right near to the place where the moon at full 'makes a hole in the middle o' the sea,' as the children sez, and there they dropped it into the water. Then they sang a funeral song—an' by the Lord!—the sound o' that song crept into yer veins an' made yer blood run cold!—'twas enough to break a man's 'art, let alone a woman's, to 'ear them gypsy voices all in a chorus wailin' a farewell to the man an' the child in the sea,—an' the song floated up an' about, 'ere an' there an' everywhere, all over the land from Cleeve Abbey onnards, an' at Blue Anchor, so they sez, it was so awsome an' eerie that the people got out o' their beds, shiverin', an' opened their windows to listen, an' when they listened they all fell a cryin' like children. An' it's no wonder the inn where poor Tom did his bad deed and died his bad death, is shut up for good, an' the people as kept it gone away—no one couldn't stay there arter that. Ay, ay!" and Twitt sighed profoundly—"Poor wild ne'er-do-weel Tom! He lies deep down enough now with the waves flowin' over 'im an' 'is little 'Kiddie' clasped tight in 'is arms. For they never separated 'em,—death 'ad locked 'em up too fast together for that. An' they're sleepin' peaceful,—an' there they'll sleep till—till 'the sea gives up its dead.'"

Helmsley could not speak,—he was too deeply moved. The sound of the in-coming tide grew fuller and more sonorous, and Twitt presently turned to look critically at the heaving waters.

"There's a cry in the sea to-day,"—he said,—"M'appen it'll be rough to-night."

They were silent again, till presently Helmsley roused himself from the brief melancholy abstraction into which he had been plunged by the story of Tom o' the Gleam's funeral.

"I think I'll go down on the shore for a bit,"—he said; "I like to get as close to the waves as I can when they're rolling in."

"Well, don't get too close,"—said Twitt, kindly—"We'll be havin' ye washed away if ye don't take care! There's onny an hour to tea-time, an' Mary Deane's a punctooal 'ooman!"

"I shall not keep her waiting—never fear!" and Helmsley smiled as he said good-day, and jogged slowly along his favourite accustomed path to the beach. The way though rough, was not very steep, and it was becoming quite easy and familiar to him. He soon found himself on the firm brown sand sprinkled with a fringe of seaweed and shells, and further adorned in various places with great rough boulders, picturesquely set up on end, like the naturally hewn memorials of great heroes passed away. Here, the ground being level, he could walk more quickly and with greater comfort than in the one little precipitous street of Weircombe, and he paced up and down, looking at the rising and falling hollows of the sea with wistful eyes that in their growing age and dimness had an intensely pathetic expression,—the expression one sometimes sees in the eyes of a dog who knows that its master is leaving it for an indefinite period.

"What a strange chaos of brain must be that of the suicide!" he thought—"Who, that can breathe the fresh air and watch the lights and shadows in the sky and on the waves, would really wish to leave the world, unless the mind had completely lost its balance! We have never seen anything more beautiful than this planet upon which we are born,—though there is a sub-consciousness in us which prophesies of yet greater beauty awaiting higher vision. The subconscious self! That is the scientist's new name for the Soul,—but the Soul is a better term. Now my subconscious self—my Soul,—is lamenting the fact that it must leave life when it has just begun to learn how to live! I should like to be here and see what Mary will do when—when I am gone! Yet how do I know but that in very truth I shall be here?—or in some way be made aware of her actions? She has a character such as I never thought to find in any mortal woman,—strong, pure, tender,—and sincere!—ah, that sincerity of hers is like the very sunlight!—so bright and warm, and clean of all ulterior motive! And measured by a worldly estimate only—what is she? The daughter of a humble florist,—herself a mere mender of lace, and laundress of fine ladies' linen! And her sweet and honest eyes have never looked upon that rag-fair of nonsense we call 'society';—she never thinks of riches;—and yet she has refined and artistic taste enough to love the lace she mends, just for pure admiration of its beauty,—not because she herself desires to wear it, but because it represents the work and lives of others, and because it is in itself a miracle of design. I wonder if she ever notices how closely I watch her! I could draw from memory the shapely outline of her hand,—a white, smooth, well-kept hand, never allowed to remain soiled by all her various forms of domestic labour,—an expressive hand, indicating health and sanity, with that deep curve at the wrist, and the delicately shaped fingers which hold the needle so lightly and guide it so deftly through the intricacies of the riven lace, weaving a web of such fairy-like stitches that the original texture seems never to have been broken. I have sat quiet for an hour or more studying her when she has thought me asleep in my chair by the fire,—and I have fancied that my life is something like the damaged fabric she is so carefully repairing,—holes and rents everywhere,—all the symmetry of design dropping to pieces,—the little garlands of roses and laurels snapped asunder,—and she, with her beautiful white hands is gently drawing the threads together and mending it,—for what purpose?—to what end?"

And here the involuntary action of some little brain-cell gave him the memory of certain lines in Browning's "Rabbi Ben Ezra":—

"Therefore I summon age To grant youth's heritage Life's struggle having so far reached its term; Thence shall I pass, approved A man, for aye removed From the developed brute; a god, though in the germ. And I shall thereupon Take rest ere I be gone Once more on my adventures brave and new— Fearless—and unperplexed When I wage battle next, What weapons to select, what armour to indue!"

* * * * *

He turned his eyes again to the sea just as a lovely light, pale golden and clear as topaz, opened suddenly in the sky, shedding a shower of luminant reflections on the waves. He drew a deep breath, and unconsciously straightened himself.

"When death comes it shall find me ready!" he said, half aloud;—and then stood, confronting the ethereal glory. The waves rolled in slowly and majestically one after the other, and broke at his feet in long wreaths of creamy foam,—and presently one or two light gusts of a rather chill wind warned him that he had best be returning homeward. While he yet hesitated, a leaf of paper blew towards him, and danced about like a large erratic butterfly, finally dropping just where the stick on which he leaned made a hole in the sand. He stooped and picked it up. It was covered with fine small handwriting, and before he could make any attempt to read it, a man sprang up from behind one of the rocky boulders close by, and hurried forward, raising his cap as he came.

"That's mine!" he said, quickly, with a pleasant smile—"It's a loose page from my notebook. Thank-you so much for saving it!"

Helmsley gave him the paper at once, with a courteous inclination of the head.

"I've been scribbling down here all day,"—proceeded the new comer—"And there's not been much wind till now. But"—and he glanced up and about him critically; "I think we shall have a puff of sou'wester to-night."

Helmsley looked at him with interest. He was a man of distinctive appearance,—tall, well-knit, and muscular, with a fine intellectual face and keen clear grey eyes. Not a very young man;—he seemed about thirty-eight or forty, perhaps more, for his dark hair was fairly sprinkled with silver. But his manner was irresistibly bright and genial, and it was impossible to meet his frank, open, almost boyish gaze, without a desire to know more of him, and an inclination to like him.

"Do you make the seashore your study?" asked Helmsley, with a slight gesture towards the notebook into which the stranger was now carefully putting the strayed leaflet.

"Pretty much so!" and he laughed—"I've only got one room to live in—and it has to serve for both sleeping and eating—so I come out here to breathe and expand a bit." He paused, and then added gently—"May I give you my arm up to Miss Deane's cottage?"

"Why, how do you know I live there?" and Helmsley smiled as he put the question.

"Oh, well, all the village knows that!—and though I'm quite new to the village—I've only been here a week—I know it too. You're old David, the basket-maker, aren't you?"

"Yes." And Helmsley nodded emphatically—"That's me!"

"Then I know all about you! My name's Angus Reay. I'm a Scotchman,—I am, or rather, I was a journalist, and as poor as Job! That's me! Come along!"

The cheery magnetism of his voice and look attracted Helmsley, and almost before he knew it he was leaning on this new friend's arm, chatting with him concerning the village, the scenery, and the weather, in the easiest way possible.

"I came on here from Minehead,"—said Reay—"That was too expensive a place for me!" And a bright smile flashed from lips to eyes with an irresistible sunny effect; "I've got just twenty pounds in the world, and I must make it last me a year. For room, food, fuel, clothes, drink and smoke! I've promptly cut off the last two!"

"And you're none the worse for it, I daresay!" rejoined Helmsley.

"Not a bit! A good deal the better. In Fleet Street the men drank and smoked pretty heavily, and I had to drink and smoke with them, if I wanted to keep in with the lot. I did want to keep in with them, and yet I didn't. It was a case of 'needs must when the devil drives!'"

"You say you were a journalist. Aren't you one now?"

"No. I'm 'kicked off'!" And Reay threw back his head and laughed joyously. "'Off you go!' said my editor, one fine morning, after I had slaved away for him for nearly two years—'We don't want any canting truth-tellers here!' Now mind that stone! You nearly slipped. Hold my arm tighter!"

Helmsley did as he was told, quite meekly, looking up with a good deal of curiosity at this tall athletic creature, with the handsome head and masterful manner. Reay caught his enquiring glance and laughed again.

"You look as if you wanted to know more about me, old David!" he said gaily—"So you shall! I've nothing to conceal! As I tell you I was 'kicked off' out of journalism—my fault being that I published a leaderette exposing a mean 'deal' on the part of a certain city plutocrat. I didn't know the rascal had shares in the paper. But he had—under an 'alias.' And he made the devil's own row about it with the editor, who nearly died of it, being inclined to apoplexy—and between the two of them I was 'dropped.' Then the word ran along the press wires that I was an 'unsafe' man. I could not get any post worth having—I had saved just twenty pounds—so I took it all and walked away from London—literally walked away! I haven't spent a penny in other locomotion than my own legs since I left Fleet Street."

Helmsley listened with eager interest. Here was a man who had done the very thing which he himself had started to do;—"tramped" the road. But—with what a difference! Full manhood, physical strength, and activity on the one side,—decaying power, feebleness of limb and weariness on the other. They had entered the village street by this time, and were slowly walking up it together.

"You see,"—went on Reay,—"of course I could have taken the train—but twenty pounds is only twenty pounds—and it must last me twelve solid months. By that time I shall have finished my work."

"And what's that?" asked Helmsley.

"It's a book. A novel. And"—here he set his teeth hard—"I intend that it shall make me—famous!"

"The intention is good,"—said Helmsley, slowly—"But—there are so many novels!"

"No, there are not!" declared Reay, decisively—"There are plenty of rag-books called novels—but they are not real 'novels.' There's nothing 'new' in them. There's no touch of real, suffering, palpitating humanity in them! The humanity of to-day is infinitely more complex than it was in the days of Scott or Dickens, but there's no Scott or Dickens to epitomise its character or delineate its temperament. I want to be the twentieth century Scott and Dickens rolled into one stupendous literary Titan!"

His mellow laughter was hearty and robust. Helmsley caught its infection and laughed too.

"But why,"—he asked—"do you want to write a novel? Why not write a real book?"

"What do you call a real book, old David?" demanded Reay, looking down upon him with a sudden piercing glance.

Helmsley was for a moment confused. He was thinking of such books as Carlyle's "Past and Present"—Emerson's "Essays" and the works of Ruskin. But he remembered in good time that for an old "basket-maker" to be familiar with such literary masterpieces might seem strange to a wide-awake "journalist," therefore he checked himself in time.

"Oh, I don't know! I believe I was thinking of 'Pilgrim's Progress'!" he said.

"'Pilgrim's Progress'? Ah! A fine book—a grand book! Twelve years and a half of imprisonment in Bedford Jail turned Bunyan out immortal! And here am I—not in jail—but free to roam where I choose,—with twenty pounds! By Jove! I ought to be greater than Bunyan! Now 'Pilgrim's Progress' was a 'novel,' if you like!"

"I thought,"—submitted Helmsley, with the well-assumed air of a man who was not very conversant with literature—"that it was a religious book?"

"So it is. A religious novel. And a splendid one! But humanity's gone past that now—it wants a wider view—a bigger, broader outlook. Do you know—" and here he stopped in the middle of the rugged winding street, and looked earnestly at his companion—"do you know what I see men doing at the present day?—I see them rushing towards the verge—the very extreme edge of what they imagine to be the Actual—and from that edge getting ready to plunge—into Nothingness!"

Something thrilling in his voice touched a responsive chord in Helmsley's own heart.

"Why—that is where we all tend!" he said, with a quick sigh—"That is where I am tending!—where you, in your time, must also tend—nothingness—or death!"

"No!" said Reay, almost loudly—"That's not true! That's just what I deny! For me there is no 'Nothingness'—no 'death'! Space is full of creative organisms. Dissolution means re-birth. It is all life—life:—glorious life! We live—we have always lived—we shall always live!" He paused, flushing a little as though half ashamed of his own enthusiasm—then, dropping his voice to its normal tone he said—"You've got me on my hobby horse—I must come off it, or I shall gallop too far! We're just at the top of the street now. Shall I leave you here?"

"Please come on to the cottage,"—said Helmsley—"I'm sure Mary—Miss Deane—will give you a cup of tea."

Angus Reay smiled.

"I don't allow myself that luxury,"—he said.

"Not when you're invited to share it with others?"

"Oh yes, in that way I do—but I'm not overburdened with friends just now. A man must have more than twenty pounds to be 'asked out' anywhere!"

"Well, I ask you out!"—said Helmsley, smiling—"Or rather, I ask you in. I'm sure Miss Deane will be glad to talk to you. She is very fond of books."

"I've seen her just once in the village,"—remarked Reay—"She seems to be very much respected here. And what a beautiful woman she is!"

"You think so?" and Helmsley's eyes lighted with pleasure—"Well, I think so, too—but they tell me that it's only because I'm old, and apt to see everyone beautiful who is kind to me. There's a good deal in that!—there's certainly a good deal in that!"

They could now see the garden gate of Mary's cottage through the boughs of the great chestnut tree, which at this season was nearly stripped of all its leaves, and which stood like a lonely forest king with some scanty red and yellow rags of woodland royalty about him, in solitary grandeur at the bending summit of the hill. And while they were yet walking the few steps which remained of the intervening distance, Mary herself came out to the gate, and, leaning one arm lightly across it, watched them approaching. She wore a pale lilac print gown, high to the neck and tidily finished off by a plain little muslin collar fastened with a coquettish knot of black velvet,—her head was uncovered, and the fitful gleams of the sinking sun shed a russet glow on her shining hair and reddened the pale clear transparency of her skin. In that restful waiting attitude, with a smile on her face, she made a perfect picture, and Helmsley stole a side-glance at his companion, to see if he seemed to be in any way impressed by her appearance. Angus Reay was certainly looking at her, but what he thought could hardly be guessed by his outward expression. They reached the gate, and she opened it.

"I was getting anxious about you, David!"—she said; "you aren't quite strong enough to be out in such a cold wind." Then she turned her eyes enquiringly on Reay, who lifted his cap while Helmsley explained his presence.

"This is a gentleman who is staying in the village—Mr. Reay,"—he said—"He's been very kind in helping me up the hill—and I said you would give him a cup of tea."

"Why, of course!"—and Mary smiled—"Please come in, sir!"

She led the way, and in another few minutes, all three of them were seated in her little kitchen round the table and Mary was busy pouring out the tea and dispensing the usual good things that are always found in the simplest Somersetshire cottage,—cream, preserved fruit, scones, home-made bread and fresh butter.

"So you met David on the seashore?" she said, turning her soft dark-blue eyes enquiringly on Reay, while gently checking with one hand the excited gambols of Charlie, who, as an epicurean dog, always gave himself up to the wildest enthusiasms at tea-time, owing to his partiality for a small saucer of cream which came to him at that hour—"I sometimes think he must expect to pick up a fortune down among the shells and seaweed, he's so fond of walking about there!"—And she smiled as she put Helmsley's cup of tea before him, and gently patted his wrinkled hand in the caressing fashion a daughter might show to a father whose health gave cause for anxiety.

"Well, I certainly don't go down to the shore in any such expectation!" said Reay, laughing—"Fortunes are not so easily picked up, are they, David?"

"No, indeed!" replied Helmsley, and his old eyes sparkled up humorously under their cavernous brows; "fortunes take some time to make, and one doesn't meet millionaires every day!"

"Millionaires!" exclaimed Reay—"Don't speak of them! I hate them!"

Helmsley looked at him stedfastly.

"It's best not to hate anybody,"—he said—"Millionaires are often the loneliest and most miserable of men."

"They deserve to be!" declared Reay, hotly—"It isn't right—it isn't just that two or three, or let us say four or five men should be able to control the money-markets of the world. They generally get their wealth through some unscrupulous 'deal,' or through 'sweating' labour. I hate all 'cornering' systems. I believe in having enough to live upon, but not too much."

"It depends on what you call enough,"—said Helmsley, slowly—"We're told that some people never know when they have enough."

"Why this is enough!" said Reay, looking admiringly round the little kitchen in which they sat—"This sweet little cottage with this oak raftered ceiling, and all the dear old-fashioned crockery, and the ingle-nook over there,—who on earth wants more?"

Mary laughed.

"Oh dear me!" she murmured, gently—"You praise it too much!—it's only a very poor place, sir,——"

He interrupted her, the colour rushing to his brows.

"Please don't!"

She glanced at him in surprise.


"Don't call me 'sir'! I'm only a poor chap,—my father was a shepherd, and I began life as a cowherd—I don't want any titles of courtesy."

She still kept her eyes upon him thoughtfully.

"But you're a gentleman, aren't you?" she asked.

"I hope so!" And he laughed. "Just as David is! But we neither of us wish the fact emphasised, do we, David? It goes without saying!"

Helmsley smiled. This Angus Reay was a man after his own heart.

"Of course it does!"—he said—"In the way you look at it! But you should tell Miss Deane all about yourself—she'll be interested."

"Would you really care to hear?" enquired Reay, suddenly, turning his clear grey eyes full on Mary's face.

"Why certainly I should!" she answered, frankly meeting his glance,—and then, from some sudden and inexplicable embarrassment, she blushed crimson, and her eyelids fell. And Reay thought what a clear, healthy skin she had, and how warmly the blood flowed under it.

"Well, after tea I'll hold forth!" he said—"But there isn't much to tell. Such as there is, you shall know, for I've no mysteries about me. Some fellows love a mystery—I cannot bear it! Everything must be fair, open and above board with me,—else I can't breathe! Pouf!" And he expanded his broad chest and took a great gulp of air in as he spoke—"I hate a man who tries to hide his own identity, don't you, David?"

"Yes—yes—certainly!" murmured Helmsley, absently, feigning to be absorbed in buttering a scone for his own eating—"It is often very awkward—for the man."

"I always say, and I always will maintain,"—went on Reay—"let a man be a man—a something or a nothing. If he is a criminal, let him say he is a criminal, and not pretend to be virtuous—if he is an atheist, let him say he is an atheist, and not pretend to be religious—if he's a beggar and can't help himself, let him admit the fact—if he's a millionaire, don't let him skulk round pretending he's as poor as Job—always let him be himself and no other!—eh?—what is it, David?"

For Helmsley was looking at him intently with eyes that were almost young in their sudden animation and brilliancy.

"Did you ever meet a millionaire who skulked round pretending he was as poor as Job?" he enquired, with a whimsical air—"I never did!"

"Well no, I never did, either!" And Reay's mellow laughter was so loud and long that Mary was quite infected by it, and laughed with him—"But you see millionaires are all marked men. Everybody knows them. Their portraits are in all the newspapers—horrid-looking rascals most of them!—Nature doesn't seem to endow them with handsome features anyway. 'Keep your gold, and never mind your face,'—she seems to say—'I'll take care of that!' And she does take care of it! O Lord! The only millionaire I ever saw in my life was ugly enough to frighten a baby into convulsions!"

"What was his name?" asked Helmsley.

"Well, it wouldn't be fair to tell his name now, after what I've said!" laughed Reay—"Besides, he lives in America, thank God! He's one of the few who have spared the old country his patronage!"

Here a diversion was created by the necessity of serving the tiny but autocratic Charlie with his usual "dish of cream," of which he partook on Mary's knee, while listening (as was evident from the attentive cocking of his silky ears) to the various compliments he was accustomed to receive on his beauty. This business over, they rose from the tea-table. The afternoon had darkened into twilight, and the autumnal wind was sighing through the crannies of the door. Mary stirred the fire into a brighter blaze, and drawing Helmsley's armchair close to its warm glow, stood by him till he was comfortably seated—then she placed another chair opposite for Reay, and sat down herself on a low oaken settle between the two.

"This is the pleasantest time of the day just now,"—she said—"And the best time for talking! I love the gloaming. My father loved it too."

"So did my father!" and Reay's eyes softened as he bent them on the sparkling fire—"In winter evenings when the darkness fell down upon our wild Highland hills, he would come home to our shieling on the edge of the moor, shaking all the freshness of the wind and the scent of the dying heather out of his plaid as he threw it from his shoulders,—and he would toss fresh peat on the fire till it blazed red and golden, and he would lay his hand on my head and say to me: 'Come awa' bairnie! Now for a bogle story in the gloamin'!' Ah, those bogle stories! They are answerable for a good deal in my life! They made me want to write bogle stories myself!"

"And do you write them?" asked Mary.

"Not exactly. Though perhaps all human life is only a bogle tale! Invented to amuse the angels!"

She smiled, and taking up a delicate piece of crochet lace, which she called her "spare time work," began to ply the glittering needle in and out fine intricacies of thread, her shapely hands gleaming like alabaster in the fire-light reflections.

"Well, now tell us your own bogle tale!" she said—"And David and I will play the angels!"


He watched her working for a few minutes before he spoke again. And shading his eyes with one hand from the red glow of the fire, David Helmsley watched them both.

"Well, it's rather cool of me to take up your time talking about my own affairs,"—began Reay, at last—"But I've been pretty much by myself for a good while, and it's pleasant to have a chat with friendly people—man wasn't made to live alone, you know! In fact, neither man nor beast nor bird can stand it. Even a sea cormorant croaks to the wind!"

Mary laughed.

"But not for company's sake,"—she said—"It croaks when it's hungry."

"Oh, I've often croaked for that reason!" and Reay pushed from his forehead a wayward tuft of hair which threatened to drop over his eye in a thick silvery brown curl—"But it's wonderful how little a fellow can live upon in the way of what is called food. I know all sorts of dodges wherewith to satisfy the greedy cravings of the vulgar part of me."

Helmsley took his hand from his eyes, and fixed a keenly observant look upon the speaker. Mary said nothing, but her crochet needle moved more slowly.

"You see," went on Reay, "I've always been rather fortunate in having had very little to eat."

"You call it 'fortunate'?" queried Helmsley, abruptly.

"Why, of course! I've never had what the doctors call an 'overloaded system'—therefore I've no lading bill to pay. The million or so of cells of which I am composed are not at all anxious to throw any extra nourishment off,—sometimes they intimate a strong desire to take some extra nourishment in—but that is an uneducated tendency in them which I sternly repress. I tell all those small grovelling cells that extra nourishment would not be good for them. And they shrink back from my moral reproof ashamed of themselves—and become wiry instead of fatty. Which is as it should be."

"You're a queer chap!" said Helmsley, with a laugh.

"Think so? Well, I daresay I am—all Scotsmen are. There's always the buzzing of the bee in our bonnets. I come of an ancient Highland stock who were certainly 'queer' as modern ways go,—for they were famous for their pride, and still more famous for their poverty all the way through. As far back as I can go in the history of my family, and that's a pretty long way, we were always at our wit's end to live. From the days of the founder of our house, a glorious old chieftain who used to pillage his neighbour chieftain in the usual style of those glorious old times, we never had more than just enough for the bare necessities of life. My father, as I told you, was a shepherd—a strong, fine-looking man over six feet in height, and as broad-chested as a Hercules—he herded sheep on the mountains for a Glasgow dealer, as low-down a rascal as ever lived, a man who, so far as race and lineage went, wasn't fit to scrape mud off my father's boots. But we often see gentlemen of birth obliged to work for knaves of cash. That was the way it was with my father. As soon as I was old enough—about ten,—I helped him in his work—I used to tramp backwards and forwards to school in the nearest village, but after school hours I got an evening job of a shilling a week for bringing home eight Highland bull-heifers from pasture. The man who owned them valued them highly, but was afraid of them—wouldn't go near them for his life—and before I'd been with them a fortnight they all knew me. I was only a wee laddie, but they answered to my call like friendly dogs rather than the great powerful splendid beasts they were, with their rough coats shining like floss silk in the sunset, when I went to drive them home, singing as I came. And my father said to me one night—'Laddie, tell me the truth—are ye ever scared at the bulls!' 'No, father!' said I—'It's a bonnie boy I am to the bulls!' And he laughed—by Jove!—how he laughed! 'Ye're a wee raskell!' he said—'An' as full o' conceit as an egg's full o' meat!' I expect that was true too, for I always thought well of myself. You see, if I hadn't thought well of myself, no one would ever have thought well of me!"

"There's something in that!" said Helmsley, the smile still lingering in his eyes—"Courage and self-reliance have often conquered more than eight bulls!"

"Oh, I don't call it either courage or self-reliance—it was just that I thought myself of too much importance to be hurt by bulls or anything else,"—and Angus laughed,—then with a sudden knitting of his brows as though his thoughts were making hard knots in his brain, he added—"Even as a laddie I had an idea—and I have it now—that there was something in me which God had put there for a purpose of His own,—something that he would not and could not destroy till His purpose had been fulfilled!"

Mary stopped working and looked at him earnestly. Her breath came and went quickly—her eyes shone dewily like stars in a summer haze,—she was deeply interested.

"That was—and is—a conceited notion, of course,"—went on Angus, reflectively—"And I don't excuse it. But I'm not one of the 'meek who shall inherit the earth.' I'm a robustious combustious sort of chap—if a fellow knocks me down, I jump up and give it him back with as jolly good interest as I can—and if anyone plays me a dirty trick I'll move all the mental and elemental forces of the universe to expose him. That's my way—unfortunately——"

"Why 'unfortunately'?" asked Helmsley.

Reay threw back his head and indulged in one of his mellow peals of laughter.

"Can you ask why? Oh David, good old David!—it's easy to see you don't know much of the world! If you did, you'd realise that the best way to 'get on' in the usual way of worldly progress, is to make up to all sorts of social villains and double-dyed millionaire-scoundrels, find out all their tricks and their miserable little vices and pamper them, David!—pamper them and flatter them up to the top of their bent till you've got them in your power—and then—then use them—use them for everything you want. For once you know what blackguards they are, they'll give you anything not to tell!"

"I should be sorry to think that's true,"—murmured Mary.

"Don't think it, then,"—said Angus—"You needn't,—because millionaires are not likely to come in your way. Nor in mine—now. I've cut myself adrift from all chance of ever meeting them. But only a year ago I was on the road to making a good thing out of one or two of the so-called 'kings of finance'—then I suddenly took a 'scunner' as we Scots say, at the whole lot, and hated and despised myself for ever so much as thinking that it might serve my own ends to become their tool. So I just cast off ropes like a ship, and steamed out of harbour."

"Into the wide sea!" said Mary, looking at him with a smile that was lovely in its radiance and sympathy.

"Into the wide sea—yes!" he answered—"And sea that was pretty rough at first. But one can get accustomed to anything—even to the high rock-a-bye tossing of great billows that really don't want to put you to sleep so much as to knock you to pieces. But I'm galloping along too fast. From the time I made friends with young bulls to the time I began to scrape acquaintance with newspaper editors is a far cry—and in the interim my father died. I should have told you that I lost my mother when I was born—and I don't think that the great wound her death left in my father's heart ever really healed. He never seemed quite at one with the things of life—and his 'bogle tales' of which I was so fond, all turned on the spirits of the dead coming again to visit those whom they had loved, and from whom they had been taken—and he used to tell them with such passionate conviction that sometimes I trembled and wondered if any spirit were standing near us in the light of the peat fire, or if the shriek of the wind over our sheiling were the cry of some unhappy soul in torment. Well! When his time came, he was not allowed to suffer—one day in a great storm he was struck by lightning on the side of the mountain where he was herding in his flocks—and there he was found lying as though he were peacefully asleep. Death must have been swift and painless—and I always thank God for that!" He paused a moment—then went on—"When I found myself quite alone in the world, I hired myself out to a farmer for five years—and worked faithfully for him—worked so well that he raised my wages and would willingly have kept me on—but I had the 'bogle tales' in my head and could not rest. It was in the days before Andrew Carnegie started trying to rub out the memory of his 'Homestead' cruelty by planting 'free' libraries, (for which taxpayers are rated) all over the country—and pauperising Scottish University education by grants of money—I suppose he is a sort of little Pontiff unto himself, and thinks that money can pacify Heaven, and silence the cry of brothers' blood rising from the Homestead ground. In my boyhood a Scottish University education had to be earned by the would-be student himself—earned by hard work, hard living, patience, perseverance and grit. That's the one quality I had—grit—and it served me well in all I wanted. I entered at St. Andrews—graduated, and came out an M.A. That helped to give me my first chance with the press. But I'm sure I'm boring you by all this chatter about myself! David, you stop me when you think Miss Deane has had enough!"

Helmsley looked at Mary's figure in its pale lilac gown touched here and there by the red sparkle of the fire, and noted the attentive poise of her head, and the passive quietude of her generally busy hands which now lay in her lap loosely folded over her lace work.

"Have we had enough, Mary, do you think?" he asked, with the glimmering of a tender little smile under his white moustache.

She glanced at him quickly in a startled way, as though she had been suddenly wakened from a reverie.

"Oh no!" she answered—"I love to hear of a brave man's fight with the world—it's the finest story anyone can listen to."

Reay coloured like a boy.

"I'm not a brave man,"—he said—"I hope I haven't given you that idea. I'm an awful funk at times."

"When are those times?" and Mary smiled demurely, as she put the question.

Again the warm blood rushed up to his brows.

"Well,—please don't laugh! I'm afraid—horribly afraid—of women!"

Helmsley's old eyes sparkled.

"Upon my word!" he exclaimed—"That's a funny thing for you to say!"

"It is, rather,"—and Angus looked meditatively into the fire—"It's not that I'm bashful, at all—no—I'm quite the other way, really,—only—only—ever since I was a lad I've made such an ideal of woman that I'm afraid of her when I meet her,—afraid lest she shouldn't come up to my ideal, and equally afraid lest I shouldn't come up to hers! It's all conceit again! Fear of anything or anybody is always born of self-consciousness. But I've been disappointed once——"

"In your ideal?" questioned Mary, raising her eyes and letting them rest observantly upon his face.

"Yes. I'll come to that presently. I was telling you how I graduated at St. Andrews, and came out with M.A. tacked to my name, but with no other fortune than those two letters. I had made a few friends, however, and one of them, a worthy old professor, gave me a letter of recommendation to a man in Glasgow, who was the proprietor of one of the newspapers there. He was a warm-hearted, kindly fellow, and gave me a berth at once. It was hard work for little pay, but I got into thorough harness, and learnt all the ins and outs of journalism. I can't say that I ever admired the general mechanism set up for gulling the public, but I had to learn how it was done, and I set myself to master the whole business. I had rather a happy time of it in Glasgow, for though it's the dirtiest, dingiest and most depressing city in the world, with its innumerable drunkards and low Scoto-Irish ne'er-do-weels loafing about the streets on Saturday nights, it has one great charm—you can get away from it into some of the loveliest scenery in the world. All my spare time was spent in taking the steamer up the Clyde, and sometimes going as far as Crinan and beyond it—or what I loved best of all, taking a trip to Arran, and there roaming about the hills to my heart's content. Glorious Arran! It was there I first began to feel my wings growing!"

"Was it a pleasant feeling?" enquired Helmsley, jocosely.

"Yes—it was!" replied Angus, clenching his right hand and bringing it down on his knee with emphasis; "whether they were goose wings or eagle wings didn't matter—the pricking of the budding quills was an alive sensation! The mountains, the burns, the glens, all had something to say to me—or I thought they had—something new, vital and urgent. God Himself seemed to have some great command to impose upon me—and I was ready to hear and obey. I began to write—first verse—then prose—and by and by I got one or two things accepted here and there—not very much, but still enough to fire me to further endeavours. Then one summer, when I was taking a holiday at a little village near Loch Lomond, I got the final dig of the spur of fate—I fell in love."

Mary raised her eyes again and looked at him. A slow smile parted her lips.

"And did the girl fall in love with you?" she asked.

"For a time I believe she did,"—said Reay, and there was an under-tone of whimsical amusement in his voice as he spoke—"She was spending the summer in Scotland with her mother and father, and there wasn't anything for her to do. She didn't care for scenery very much—and I just came in as a sort of handy man to amuse her. She was a lovely creature in her teens,—I thought she was an angel—till—till I found her out."

"And then?" queried Helmsley.

"Oh well, then of course I was disillusioned. When I told her that I loved her more than anything else in the world, she laughed ever so sweetly, and said, 'I'm sure you do!' But when I asked her if she loved me, she laughed again, and said she didn't know what I was talking about—she didn't believe in love. 'What do you believe in?' I asked her. And she looked at me in the prettiest and most innocent way possible, and said quite calmly and slowly—'A rich marriage.' And my heart gave a great dunt in my side, for I knew it was all over. 'Then you won't marry me?'—I said—'for I'm only a poor journalist. But I mean to be famous some day!' 'Do you?' she said, and again that little laugh of hers rippled out like the tinkle of cold water—'Don't you think famous men are very tiresome? And they're always dreadfully poor!' Then I took hold of her hands, like the desperate fool I was, and kissed them, and said, 'Lucy, wait for me just a few years! Wait for me! You're so young'—for she was only seventeen, and still at school in Brighton somewhere—'You can afford to wait,—give me a chance!' And she looked down at the water—we were 'on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond,' as the song says—in quite a picturesque little attitude of reflection, and sighed ever so prettily, and said—'I can't, Angus! You're very nice and kind!—and I like you very much!—but I am going to marry a millionaire!' Now you know why I hate millionaires."

"Did you say her name was Lucy?" asked Helmsley.

"Yes. Lucy Sorrel."

A bright flame leaped up in the fire and showed all three faces to one another—Mary's face, with its quietly absorbed expression of attentive interest—Reay's strongly moulded features, just now somewhat sternly shadowed by bitter memories—and Helmsley's thin, worn, delicately intellectual countenance, which in the brilliant rosy light flung upon it by the fire-glow, was like a fine waxen mask, impenetrable in its unmoved austerity and calm. Not so much as the faintest flicker of emotion crossed it at the mention of the name of the woman he knew so well,—the surprise he felt inwardly was not apparent outwardly, and he heard the remainder of Reay's narration with the most perfectly controlled imperturbability of demeanour.

"She told me then," proceeded Reay—"that her parents had spent nearly all they had upon her education, in order to fit her for a position as the wife of a rich man—and that she would have to do her best to 'catch'—that's the way she put it—to 'catch' this rich man as soon as she got a good opportunity. He was quite an old man, she said—old enough to be her grandfather. And when I asked her how she could reconcile it to her conscience to marry such a hoary-headed rascal——"

Here Helmsley interrupted him.

"Was he a hoary-headed rascal?"

"He must have been," replied Angus, warmly—"Don't you see he must?"

Helmsley smiled.

"Well—not exactly!" he submitted, with a gentle air of deference—"I think—perhaps—he might deserve a little pity for having to be 'caught' as you say just for his money's sake."

"Not a bit of it!" declared Reay—"Any old man who would marry a young girl like that condemns himself as a villain. An out-an-out, golden-dusted villain!"

"But has he married her?" asked Mary.

Angus was rather taken aback at this question,—and rubbed his forehead perplexedly.

"Well, no, he hasn't—not yet—not that I know of, and I've watched the papers carefully too. Such a marriage couldn't take place without columns and columns of twaddle about it—all the dressmakers who made gowns for the bride would want a mention—and if they paid for it of course they'd get it. No—it hasn't come off yet—but it will. The venerable bridegroom that is to be has just gone abroad somewhere—so I see by one of the 'Society' rags,—probably to the States to make some more 'deals' in cash before his wedding."

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