The Treasure of Heaven - A Romance of Riches
by Marie Corelli
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"You know his name, then?"

"Oh yes! Everybody knows it, and knows him too! David Helmsley's too rich to hide his light under a bushel! They call him 'King David' in the city. Now your name's David—but, by Jove, what a difference in Davids!" And he laughed, adding quickly—"I prefer the David I see before me now, to the David I never saw!"

"Oh! You never saw the old rascal then?" murmured Helmsley, putting up one hand to stroke his moustache slowly down over the smile which he could not repress.

"Never—and don't want to! If I become famous—which I will do,"—and here Angus set his teeth hard—"I'll make my bow at one of Mrs. Millionaire Helmsley's receptions one day! And how will she look then!"

"I should say she would look much the same as usual,"—said Helmsley, drily—"If she is the kind of young woman you describe, she is not likely to be overcome by the sight of a merely 'famous' man. You would have to be twice or three times as wealthy as herself to move her to any sense of respect for you. That is, if we are to judge by what our newspapers tell us of 'society' people. The newspapers are all we poor folk have got to go by."

"Yes—I've often thought of that!" and Angus rubbed his forehead again in a vigorous way as though he were trying to rub ideas out of it—"And I've pitied the poor folks from the bottom of my heart! They get pretty often misled—and on serious matters too."

"Oh, we're not all such fools as we seem,"—said Helmsley—"We can read between the lines as well as anyone—and we understand pretty clearly that it's only money which 'makes' the news. We read of 'society ladies' doing this, that and t' other thing, and we laugh at their doings—and when we read of a great lady conducting herself like an outcast, we feel a contempt for her such as we never visit on her poor sister of the streets. The newspapers may praise these women, but we 'common people' estimate them at their true worth—and that is—nothing! Now the girl you made an ideal of——"

"She was to be bought and sold,"—interrupted Reay; "I know that now. But I didn't know it then. She looked a sweet innocent angel,—with a pretty face and beautiful eyes—just the kind of creature we men fall in love with at first sight——"

"The kind of creature who, if you had married her, would have made you wretched for life,"—said Helmsley. "Be thankful you escaped her!"

"Oh, I'm thankful enough now!" and Reay pushed back his rebellious lock of hair again—"For when one has a great ambition in view, freedom is better than love——"

Helmsley raised his wrinkled, trembling hand.

"No, don't say that!" he murmured, gently—"Nothing—nothing in all the world is better than love!"

Involuntarily his eyes turned towards Mary with a strange wistfulness. There was an unspoken yearning in his face that was almost pain. Her quick instinctive sympathy responded to his thought, and rising, she went to him on the pretext of re-arranging the cushion in his chair, so that he might lean back more comfortably. Then she took his hand and patted it kindly.

"You're a sentimental old boy, aren't you, David!" she said, playfully—"You like being taken care of and fussed over! Of course you do! Was there ever a man that didn't!"

He was silent, but he pressed her caressing hand gratefully.

"No one has ever taken care of or fussed over me," said Reay—"I should rather like to try the experiment!"

Mary laughed good-humouredly.

"You must find yourself a wife,"—she said—"And then you'll see how you like it."

"But wives don't make any fuss over their husbands it seems to me," replied Reay—"At any rate in London, where I have lived for the past five years—husbands seem to be the last persons in the world whom their wives consider. I don't think I shall ever marry."

"I'm sure I shan't,"—said Mary, smiling—and as she spoke, she bent over the fire, and threw a fresh log of wood on to keep up the bright glow which was all that illuminated the room, from which almost every pale glimmer of the twilight had now departed—"I'm an old maid. But I was an engaged girl once!"

Helmsley lifted up his head with sudden and animated interest.

"Were you, Mary?"

"Oh, yes!" And the smile deepened round her expressive mouth and played softly in her eyes—"Yes, David, really! I was engaged to a very good-looking young man in the electrical engineering business. And I was very fond of him. But when my father lost every penny, my good-looking young man went too. He said he couldn't possibly marry a girl with nothing but the clothes on her back. I cried very much at the time, and thought my heart was broken. But—it wasn't!"

"I should hope it wouldn't break for such a selfish rascal!" said Reay, warmly.

"Do you think he was more selfish than most?" queried Mary, thoughtfully—"There's a good many who would do as he did."

A silence followed. She sat down and resumed her work.

"Have you finished your story?" she asked Reay—"It has interested me so much that I'm hoping there's some more to tell."

As she spoke to him he started as if from a dream. He had been watching her so earnestly that he had almost forgotten what he had previously been talking about. He found himself studying the beautiful outline of her figure, and wondering why he had never before seen such gracious curves of neck and shoulder, waist and bosom as gave symmetrical perfection of shape to this simple woman born of the "common" people.

"More to tell?" he echoed, hastily,—"Well, there's a little—but not much. My love affair at Loch Lomond did one thing for me,—it made me work hard. I had a sort of desperate idea that I might wrest a fortune out of journalism by dint of sheer grinding at it—but I soon found out my mistake there. I toiled away so steadily and got such a firm hold of all the affairs of the newspaper office where I was employed, that one fine morning I was dismissed. My proprietor, genial and kindly as ever, said he found 'no fault'—but that he wanted 'a change.' I quite understood that. The fact is I knew too much—that's all. I had saved a bit, and so, with a few good letters of introduction, went on from Glasgow to London. There, in that great black ant-hill full of crawling sooty human life, I knocked about for a time from one newspaper office to another, doing any sort of work that turned up, just to keep body and soul together,—and at last I got a fairly good berth in the London branch of a big press syndicate. It was composed of three or four proprietors, ever so many editors, and an army of shareholders representing almost every class in Great Britain. Ah, those shareholders! There's the whole mischief of the press nowadays!"

"I suppose it's money again!" said Helmsley.

"Of course it is. Here's how the matter stands. A newspaper syndicate is like any other trading company, composed for the sole end and object of making as much profit out of the public as possible. The lion's portion naturally goes to the heads of the concern—then come the shareholders' dividends. The actual workers in the business, such as the 'editors,' are paid as little as their self-respect will allow them to take, and as for the other fellows under the editors—well!—you can just imagine they get much less than the little their self-respect would claim, if they were not, most of them, so desperately poor, and so anxious for a foothold somewhere as to be ready to take anything. I took the first chance I could get, and hung on to it, not for the wretched pay, but for the experience, and for the insight it gave me into men and things. I witnessed the whole business;—the 'doctoring up' of social scandals,—the tampering with the news in order that certain items might not affect certain shares on the Stock Exchange,—the way 'discussions' of the most idiotic kind were started in the office just to fill up space, such as what was best to make the hair grow; what a baby ought to weigh at six months; what food authors write best on; and whether modern girls make as good wives as their mothers did, and so on. These things were generally got up by 'the fool of the office' as we called him—a man with a perpetual grin and an undyingly good opinion of himself. He was always put into harness when for some state or financial reason the actual facts had to be euphonised or even suppressed and the public 'let down gently.' For a time I was drafted off on the 'social' business—ugh?—how I hated it?"

"What did you have to do?" asked Mary, amused.

"Oh, I had to deal with a motley crowd of court flunkeys, Jews, tailors and dressmakers, and fearful-looking women catering for 'fashion,' who came with what they called 'news,' which was generally that 'Mrs. "Bunny" Bumpkin looked sweet in grey'—or that 'Miss "Toby" Tosspot was among the loveliest of the debutantes at Court.' Sometimes a son of Israel came along, all in a mortal funk, and said he 'didn't want it mentioned' that Mrs. So-and-So had dined with him at a certain public restaurant last night. Generally, he was a shareholder, and his orders had to be obeyed. The shareholders in fact had most to do with the 'society' news,—and they bored me nearly to death. The trifles they wanted 'mentioned' were innumerable—the other trifles they didn't want mentioned, were quite as endless. One day there was a regular row—a sort of earthquake in the place. Somebody had presumed to mention that the beautiful Mrs. Mushroom Ketchup had smoked several cigarettes with infinite gusto at a certain garden party,—now what are you laughing at, Miss Deane?"

"At the beautiful Mrs. Mushroom Ketchup!" and Mary's clear laughter rippled out in a silvery peal of purest merriment—"That's not her name surely!"

"Oh no, that's not her name!" and Angus laughed too—"It wouldn't do to give her real name!—but Ketchup's quite as good and high-sounding as the one she's got. And as I tell you, the whole 'staff' was convulsed. Three shareholders came down post haste to the office—one at full speed in a motor,—and said how dare I mention Mrs. Mushroom Ketchup at all? It was like my presumption to notice that she had smoked! Mrs. Mushroom Ketchup's name must be kept out of the papers—she was a 'lady'! Oh, by Jove!—how I laughed!—I couldn't help myself! I just roared with laughter in the very faces of those shareholders! 'A lady!' said I—'Why, she's—— ' But I wasn't allowed to say what she was, for the shareholder who had arrived in the motor, fixed a deadly glance upon me and said—'If you value your po-seetion'—he was a Lowland Scot, with the Lowland accent—'if you value your po-seetion on this paper, you'll hold your tongue!' So I did hold my tongue then—but only because I meant to wag it more violently afterwards. I always devote Mrs. Mushroom Ketchup to the blue blazes, because I'm sure it was through her I lost my post. You see a shareholder in a paper has a good deal of influence, especially if he has as much as a hundred thousand shares. You'd be surprised if I told you the real names of some of the fellows who control newspaper syndicates!—you wouldn't believe it! Or at any rate, if you did believe it, you'd never believe the newspapers!"

"I don't believe them now,"—said Helmsley—"They say one thing to-day and contradict it to-morrow."

"Oh, but that's like all news!" said Mary, placidly—"Even in our little village here, you never know quite what to believe. One morning you are told that Mrs. Badge's baby has fallen downstairs and broken its neck, and you've scarcely done being sorry for Mrs. Badge, when in comes Mrs. Badge herself, baby and all, quite well and smiling, and she says she 'never did hear such tales as there are in Wiercombe'!"

They all laughed.

"Well, there's the end of my story,"—said Angus—"I worked on the syndicate for two years, and then was given the sack. The cause of my dismissal was, as I told you, that I published a leading article exposing a mean and dirty financial trick on the part of a man who publicly assumed to be a world's benefactor—and he turned out to be a shareholder in the paper under an 'alias.' There was no hope for me after that—it was a worse affair than that of Mrs. Mushroom Ketchup. So I marched out of the office, and out of London—I meant to make for Exmoor, which is wild and solitary, because I thought I might find some cheap room in a cottage there, where I might live quietly on almost nothing and write my book—but I stumbled by chance on this place instead—and I rather like being so close to the sea."

"You are writing a book?" said Mary, her eyes resting upon him thoughtfully.

"Yes. I've got a room in the village for half-a-crown a week and 'board myself' as the good woman of the house says. And I'm perfectly happy!"

A long pause followed. The fire was dying down from a flame to a dull red glow, and a rush of wind against the kitchen window was accompanied by the light pattering of rain. Angus Reay rose.

"I must be going,"—he said—"I've made you quite a visitation! Old David is nearly asleep!"

Helmsley looked up.

"Not I!" and he smiled—"I'm very wide awake: I like your story, and I like you! Perhaps you'll come in again sometimes and have a chat with us?"

Reay glanced enquiringly at Mary, who had also risen from her chair, and was now lighting the lamp on the table.

"May I?" he asked hesitatingly.

"Why, of course!" And her eyes met his with hospitable frankness—"Come whenever you feel lonely!"

"I often do that!" he said.

"All the better!—then we shall often see you!"—she answered—"And you'll always be welcome!"

"Thank-you! I believe you mean it!"

Mary smiled.

"Why of course I do! I'm not a newspaper syndicate!"

"Nor a Mrs. Mushroom Ketchup!" put in Helmsley.

Angus threw back his head and gave one of his big joyous laughs.

"No! You're a long way off that!" he said—"Good-evening, David!"

And going up to the armchair where Helmsley sat he shook hands with him.

"Good-evening, Mr. Reay!" rejoined Helmsley, cheerily; "I'm very glad we met this afternoon!"

"So am I!" declared Angus, with energy—"I don't feel quite so much of a solitary bear as I did. I'm in a better temper altogether with the world in general!"

"That's right!" said Mary—"Whatever happens to you it's never the fault of the world, remember!—it's only the trying little ways of the people in it!"

She held out her hand in farewell, and he pressed it gently. Then he threw on his cap, and she opened her cottage door for him to pass out. A soft shower of rain blew full in their faces as they stood on the threshold.

"You'll get wet, I'm afraid!" said Mary.

"Oh, that's nothing!" And he buttoned his coat across his chest—"What's that lovely scent in the garden here, just close to the door?"

"It's the old sweetbriar bush,"—she replied—"It lasts in leaf till nearly Christmas and always smells so delicious. Shall I give you a bit of it?"

"It's too dark to find it now, surely!" said Angus.

"Oh, no! I can feel it!"

And stretching out her white hand into the raining darkness, she brought it back holding a delicate spray of odorous leaves.

"Isn't it sweet?" she said, as she gave it to him.

"It is indeed!" he placed the little sprig in his buttonhole. "Thank-you! Good-night!"


He lifted his hat and smiled into her eyes—then walked quickly through the tiny garden, opened the gate, shut it carefully behind him, and disappeared. Mary listened for a moment to the swish of the falling rain among the leaves, and the noise of the tumbling hill-torrent over its stony bed. Then she closed and barred the door.

"It's going to be a wet night, David!" she said, as she came back towards the fire—"And a bit rough, too, by the sound of the sea."

He did not answer immediately, but watched her attentively as she made up the fire, and cleared the table of the tea things, packing up the cups and plates and saucers in the neat and noiseless manner which was particularly her own, preparatory to carrying them all on a tray out to the little scullery adjoining the kitchen, which with its well polished saucepans, kettles, and crockery was quite a smart feature of her small establishment. Then—

"What do you think of him, Mary?" he asked suddenly.

"Of Mr. Reay?"


She hesitated a moment, looking intently at a small crack in one of the plates she was putting by.

"Well, I don't know, David!—it's rather difficult to say on such a short acquaintance—but he seems to me quite a good fellow."

"Quite a good fellow, yes!" repeated Helmsley, nodding gravely—"That's how he seems to me, too."

"I think,"—went on Mary, slowly—"that he's a thoroughly manly man,—don't you?" He nodded gravely again, and echoed her words——

"A thoroughly manly man!"

"And perhaps," she continued—"it would be pleasant for you, David, to have a chat with him now and then especially in the long winter evenings—wouldn't it?"

She had moved to his side, and now stood looking down upon him with such a wistful sweetness of expression, that he was content to merely watch her, without answering her question.

"Because those long winter evenings are sometimes very dull, you know!" she went on—"And I'm afraid I'm not very good company when I'm at work mending the lace—I have to take all my stitches so carefully that I dare not talk much lest I make a false knot."

He smiled.

"You make a false knot!" he said—"You couldn't do it, if you tried! You'll never make a false knot—never!"—and his voice sank to an almost inaudible murmur—"Neither in your lace nor in your life!"

She looked at him a little anxiously.

"Are you tired, David?"

"No, my dear! Not tired—only thinking!"

"Well, you mustn't think too much,"—she said—"Thinking is weary work, sometimes!"

He raised his eyes and looked at her steadily.

"Mr. Reay was very frank and open in telling us all about himself, wasn't he, Mary?"

"Oh yes!" and she laughed—"But I think he is one of those men who couldn't possibly be anything else but frank and open."

"Oh, you do?"


"Don't you sometimes wonder,"—went on Helmsley slowly, keeping his gaze fixed on the fire—"why I haven't told you all about myself?"

She met his eyes with a candid smile.

"No—I haven't thought about it!" she said.

"Why haven't you thought about it?" he persisted.

She laughed outright.

"Simply because I haven't! That's all!"

"Mary,"—he said, seriously—"You know I was not your 'father's friend'! You know I never saw your father!"

The smile still lingered in her eyes.

"Yes—I know that!"

"And yet you never ask me to give an account of myself!"

She thought he was worrying his mind needlessly, and bending over him took his hand in hers.

"No, David, I never ask impertinent questions!" she said—"I don't want to know anything more about you than you choose to tell. You seem to me like my dear father—not quite so strong as he was, perhaps—but I have taken care of you for so many weeks, that I almost feel as if you belonged to me! And I want to take care of you still, because I know you must be taken care of. And I'm so well accustomed to you now that I shouldn't like to lose you, David—I shouldn't really! Because you've been so patient and gentle and grateful for the little I have been able to do for you, that I've got fond of you, David! Yes!—actually fond of you! What do you say to that?"

"Say to it!" he murmured, pressing the hand he held. "I don't know what to say to it, Mary!—except—God bless you!"

She was silent a minute—then she went on in a cheerfully rallying tone—

"So I don't want to know anything about you, you see! Now, as to Mr. Reay——"

"Ah, yes!" and Helmsley gave her a quick observant glance which she herself did not notice—"What about Mr. Reay?"

"Well it would be nice if we could cheer him up a little and make him bear his poor and lonely life more easily. Wouldn't it?"

"Cheer him up a little and make him bear his poor and lonely life more easily!" repeated Helmsley, slowly, "Yes. And do you think we can do that, Mary?"

"We can try!" she said, smiling—"At any rate, while he's living in Wiercombe, we can be friendly to him, and give him a bit of dinner now and then!"

"So we can!" agreed Helmsley—"Or rather, so you can!"

"We!" corrected Mary—"You're helping me to keep house now, David,—remember that!"

"Why I haven't paid half or a quarter of my debt to you yet!" he exclaimed.

"But you're paying it off every day,"—she answered; "Don't you fear! I mean to have every penny out of you that I can!"

She laughed gaily, and taking up the tray upon which she had packed all the tea-things, carried it out of the kitchen. Helmsley heard her singing softly to herself in the scullery, as she set to work to wash the cups and saucers. And bending his old eyes on the fire, he smiled,—and an indomitable expression of energetic resolve strengthened every line of his features.

"You mean to have every penny out of me that you can, my dear, do you!" he said, softly—"And so—if Love can find out the way—you will!"


The winter now closed in apace,—and though the foliage all about Weircombe was reluctant to fall, and kept its green, russet and gold tints well on into December, the high gales which blew in from the sea played havoc with the trembling leaves at last and brought them to the ground like the painted fragments of Summer's ruined temple. All the fishermen's boats were hauled up high and dry, and great stretches of coarse net like black webs, were spread out on the beach for drying and mending,—while through the tunnels scooped out of the tall castellated rocks which guarded either side of the little port, or "weir," the great billows dashed with a thunderous roar of melody, oftentimes throwing aloft fountains of spray well-nigh a hundred feet in height—spray which the wild wind caught and blew in pellets of salty foam far up the little village street. Helmsley was now kept a prisoner indoors,—he had not sufficient strength to buffet with a gale, or to stand any unusually sharp nip of cold,—so he remained very comfortably by the side of the fire, making baskets, which he was now able to turn out quickly with quite an admirable finish, owing to the zeal and earnestness with which he set himself to the work. Mary's business in the winter months was entirely confined to the lace-mending—she had no fine laundry work to do, and her time was passed in such household duties as kept her little cottage sweet and clean, in attentive guardianship and care of her "father's friend"—and in the delicate weaving of threads whereby the fine fabric which had once perchance been damaged and spoilt by flaunting pride, was made whole and beautiful again by simple patience. Helmsley was never tired of watching her. Whether she knelt down with a pail of suds, and scrubbed her cottage doorstep—or whether she sat quietly opposite to him, with the small "Charlie" snuggled on a rug between them, while she mended her lace, his eyes always rested upon her with deepening interest and tenderness. And he grew daily more conscious of a great peace and happiness—peace and happiness such as he had never known since his boyhood's days. He, who had found the ways of modern society dull to the last point of excruciating boredom, was not aware of any monotony in the daily round of the hours, which, laden with simple duties and pleasures, came and went softly and slowly like angel messengers stepping gently from one heaven to another. The world—or that which is called the world,—had receded from him altogether. Here, where he had found a shelter, there was no talk of finance—the claims of the perpetual "bridge" party had vanished like the misty confusion of a bad dream from the brain—the unutterably vulgar intrigues common to the so-called "better" class of twentieth century humanity could not intrude any claim on his attention or his time—the perpetual lending of money to perpetually dishonest borrowers was, for the present, a finished task—and he felt himself to be a free man—far freer than he had been for many years. And, to add to the interest of his days, he became engrossed in a scheme—a strange scheme which built itself up in his head like a fairy palace, wherein everything beautiful, graceful, noble, helpful and precious, found place and position, and grew from promise to fulfilment as easily as a perfect rosebud ripens to a perfect rose. But he said nothing of his thoughts. He hugged them, as it were, to himself, and toyed with them as though they were jewels,—precious jewels selected specially to be set in a crown of inestimable worth. Meanwhile his health kept fairly equable, though he was well aware within his own consciousness that he did not get stronger. But he was strong enough to be merry at times—and his kindly temper and cheery conversation made him a great favourite with the Weircombe folk, who were never tired of "looking in" as they termed it, on Mary, and "'avin' a bit of a jaw with old David."

Sociable evenings they had too, during that winter—evenings when Angus Reay came in to tea and stayed to supper, and after supper entertained them by singing in a deep baritone voice as soft as honey, the old Scotch songs now so hopelessly "out of fashion"—such as "My Nannie O"—"Ae fond kiss"—and "Highland Mary," in which last exquisite ballad he was always at his best. And Mary sang also, accompanying herself on a quaint old Hungarian zither, which she said had been left with her father as guarantee for ten shillings which he had lent to a street musician wandering about Barnstaple. The street musician disappeared and the ten shillings were never returned, so Mary took possession of the zither, and with the aid of a cheap instruction book, managed to learn enough of its somewhat puzzling technique to accompany her own voice with a few full, rich, plaintive chords. And it was in this fashion that Angus heard her first sing what she called "A song of the sea," running thus:

I heard the sea cry out in the night Like a fretful child— Moaning under the pale moonlight In a passion wild— And my heart cried out with the sea, in tears, For the sweet lost joys of my vanished years!

I heard the sea laugh out in the noon Like a girl at play— All forgot was the mournful moon In the dawn of day! And my heart laughed out with the sea, in gladness, And I thought no more of bygone sadness.

I think the sea is a part of me With its gloom and glory— What Has Been, and what yet Shall Be Is all its story; Rise up, O Heart, with the tidal flow, And drown the sorrows of Long Ago!

Something eerie and mystical there was in these words, sung as she sang them in a low, soft, contralto, sustained by the pathetic quiver of the zither strings throbbing under the pressure of her white fingers, and Angus asked her where she had learned the song.

"I found it,"—she answered, somewhat evasively.

"Did you compose it yourself?"

She flushed a little.

"How can you imagine such a thing?"

He was silent, but "imagined" the more. And after this he began to show her certain scenes and passages in the book he was writing, sometimes reading them aloud to her with all that eager eloquence which an author who loves and feels his work is bound to convey into the pronounced expression of it. And she listened, absorbed and often entranced, for there was no gain-saying the fact that Angus Reay was a man of genius. He was inclined to underrate rather than overestimate his own abilities, and often showed quite a pathetic mistrust of himself in his very best and most original conceptions.

"When I read to you,"—he said to her, one day—"You must tell me the instant you feel bored. That's a great point! Because if you feel bored, other people who read the book will feel bored exactly as you do and at the very same passage. And you must criticise me mercilessly! Rend me to pieces—tear my sentences to rags, and pick holes in every detail, if you like! That will do me a world of good!"

Mary laughed.

"But why?" she asked, "Why do you want me to be so unkind to you?"

"It won't be unkind,"—he declared—"It will be very helpful. And I'll tell you why. There's no longer any real 'criticism' of literary work in the papers nowadays. There's only extravagant eulogium written up by an author's personal friends and wormed somehow into the press—or equally extravagant abuse, written and insinuated in similar fashion by an author's personal enemies. Well now, you can't live without having both friends and enemies—you generally have more of the latter than the former, particularly if you are successful. There's nothing a lazy man won't do to 'down' an industrious one,—nothing an unknown scrub won't attempt in the way of trying to injure a great fame. It's a delightful world for that sort of thing!—so truly 'Christian,' pleasant and charitable! But the consequence of all these mean and petty 'personal' views of life is, that sound, unbiased, honest literary criticism is a dead art. You can't get it anywhere. And yet if you could, there's nothing that would be so helpful, or so strengthening to a man's work. It would make him put his best foot foremost. I should like to think that my book when it comes out, would be 'reviewed' by a man who had no prejudices, no 'party' politics, no personal feeling for or against me,—but who simply and solely considered it from an impartial, thoughtful, just and generous point of view—taking it as a piece of work done honestly and from a deep sense of conviction. Criticism from fellows who just turn over the pages of a book to find fault casually wherever they can—(I've seen them at it in newspaper offices!) or to quote unfairly mere scraps of sentences without context,—or to fly off into a whirlwind of personal and scurrilous calumnies against an author whom they don't know, and perhaps never will know,—that sort of thing is quite useless to me. It neither encourages nor angers me. It is a mere flabby exhibition of incompetency—much as if a jelly-fish should try to fight a sea-gull! Now you,—if you criticise me,—your criticism will be valuable, because it will be quite honest—there will be no 'personal' feeling in it——"

She raised her eyes to his and smiled.


Something warm and radiant in her glance flashed into his soul and thrilled it strangely. Vaguely startled by an impression which he did not try to analyse, he went on hastily—"No—because you see you are neither my friend nor my enemy, are you?"

She was quite silent.

"I mean,"—he continued, blundering along somewhat lamely,—"You don't hate me very much, and you don't like me very much. I'm just an ordinary man to you. Therefore you're bound to be perfectly impartial, because what I do is a matter of 'personal' indifference to you. That's why your criticism will be so helpful and valuable."

She bent her head closely over the lace she was mending for a minute or two, as though she were making a very intricate knot. Then she looked up again.

"Well, if you wish it, I'll tell you just what I think," she said, quietly—"But you mustn't call it criticism. I'm not clever enough to judge a book. I only know what pleases me,—and what pleases me may not please the world. I know very little about authors, and I've taught myself all that I do know. I love Shakespeare,—but I could not explain to you why I love him, because I'm not clever enough. I only feel his work,—I feel that it's all right and beautiful and wonderful—but I couldn't criticise it."

"No one can,—no one should!" said Reay, warmly—"Shakespeare is above all criticism!"

"But is he not always being criticised?" she asked.

"Yes. By little men who cannot understand greatness,"—he answered—"It gives a kind of 'scholarly importance' to the little men, but it leaves the great one unscathed."

This talk led to many others of a similar nature between them, and Reay's visits to Mary's cottage became more and more frequent. David Helmsley, weaving his baskets day by day, began to weave something more delicate and uncommon than the withes of willow,—a weaving which went on in his mind far more actively than the twisting and plaiting of the osiers in his hands. Sometimes in the evenings, when work was done, and he sat in his comfortable easy chair by the fire watching Mary at her sewing and Angus talking earnestly to her, he became so absorbed in his own thoughts that he scarcely heard their voices, and often when they spoke to him, he started from a profound reverie, unconscious of their words. But it was not the feebleness or weariness of age that made him seem at times indifferent to what was going on around him—it was the intensity and fervour of a great and growing idea of happiness in his soul,—an idea which he cherished so fondly and in such close secrecy, as to be almost afraid to whisper it to himself lest by some unhappy chance it should elude his grasp and vanish into nothingness.

And so the time went on to Christmas and New Year. Weircombe kept these festivals very quietly, yet not without cheerfulness. There was plenty of holly about, and the children, plunging into the thick of the woods at the summit of the "coombe" found mistletoe enough for the common need. The tiny Church was prettily decorated by the rector's wife and daughters, assisted by some of the girls of the village, and everybody attended service on Christmas morning, not only because it was Christmas, but because it was the last time their own parson would preach to them, before he went away for three months or more to a warm climate for the benefit of his health. But Helmsley did not join the little crowd of affectionate parishioners—he stayed at home while Mary went, as she said "to pray for him." He watched her from the open cottage door, as she ascended the higher part of the "coombe," dressed in a simple stuff gown of darkest blue, with a prim little "old maid's" bonnet, as she called it, tied neatly under her rounded white chin—and carrying in her hand a much worn "Book of Common Prayer" which she held with a certain delicate reverence not often shown to holy things by the church-going women of the time. Weircombe Church had a small but musical chime of bells, presented to it by a former rector—and the silvery sweetness of the peal just now ringing was intensified by the close proximity of the mountain stream, which, rendered somewhat turbulent by recent rains, swept along in a deep swift current, carrying the melody of the chimes along with it down to the sea and across the waves in broken pulsation, till they touched with a faint mysterious echo the masts of home-returning ships, and brought a smile to the faces of sailors on board who, recognising the sound, said "Weircombe bells, sure-ly!"

Helmsley stood listening, lost in meditation. To anyone who could have seen him then, a bent frail figure just within the cottage door, with his white hair, white beard, and general appearance of gentle and resigned old age, he would have seemed nothing more than a venerable peasant, quietly satisfied with his simple surroundings, and as far apart from every association of wealth, as the daisy in the grass is from the star in the sky. Yet, in actual fact, his brain was busy weighing millions of money,—the fate of an accumulated mass of wealth hung on the balance of his decision,—and he was mentally arranging his plans with all the clearness, precision and practicality which had distinguished him in his biggest financial schemes,—schemes which had from time to time amazed and convulsed the speculating world. A certain wistful sadness touched him as he looked on the quiet country landscape in the wintry sunlight of this Christmas morn,—some secret instinctive foreboding told him that it might be the last Christmas he should ever see. And a sudden wave of regret swept over his soul,—regret that he had not appreciated the sweet things of life more keenly when he had been able to enjoy their worth. So many simple joys missed!—so many gracious and helpful sentiments discarded!—all the best of his years given over to eager pursuit of gold,—not because he cared for gold really, but because, owing to a false social system which perverted the moral sense, it seemed necessary to happiness. Yet he had proved it to be the very last thing that could make a man happy. The more money, the less enjoyment of it—the greater the wealth, the less the content. Was this according to law?—the spiritual law of compensation, which works steadily behind every incident which we may elect to call good or evil? He thought it must be so. This very festival—Christmas—how thoroughly he had been accustomed by an effete and degenerate "social set" to regard it as a "bore,"—an exploded superstition—a saturnalia of beef and pudding—a something which merely served as an excuse for throwing away good money on mere stupid sentiment. "Stupid" sentiment? Had he ever thought true, tender, homely sentiment "stupid"? Yes,—perhaps he had, when in the bold carelessness of full manhood he had assumed that the race was to the swift and the battle to the strong—but now, when the shadows were falling—when, perhaps, he would never hear the Christmas bells again, or be troubled by the "silly superstitions" of loving, praying, hoping, believing humanity, he would have given much could he have gone back in fancy to every Christmas of his life and seen each one spent cheerily amid the warm associations of such "sentiments" as make friendship valuable and lasting. He looked up half vaguely at the sky, clear blue on this still frosty morning, and was conscious of tears that crept smartingly behind his eyes and for a moment dimmed his sight. And he murmured dreamily—

"Behold we know not anything; I can but trust that good shall fall At last—far off—at last, to all— And every winter change to spring!"

A tall, athletic figure came between him and the light, and Angus Reay's voice addressed him—

"Hullo, David! A merry Christmas to you! Do you know you are standing out in the cold? What would Miss Mary say?"

"Miss Mary" was the compromise Angus hit upon between "Miss Deane" and "Mary,"—considering the first term too formal, and the last too familiar.

Helmsley smiled.

"Miss Mary has gone to church,"—he replied—"I thought you had gone too."

Reay gave a slight gesture of mingled regret and annoyance.

"No—I never go to church,"—he said—"But don't you think I despise the going. Not I. I wish I could go to church! I'd give anything to go as I used to do with my father every Sunday."

"And why can't you?"

"Because the church is not what it used to be,"—declared Reay—"Don't get me on that argument, David, or I shall never cease talking! Now, see here!—if you stand any longer at that open door you'll get a chill! You go inside the house and imitate Charlie's example—look at him!" And he pointed to the tiny toy terrier snuggled up as usual in a ball of silky comfort on the warm hearth—"Small epicure! Come back to your chair, David, and sit by the fire—your hands are quite cold."

Helmsley yielded to the persuasion, not because he felt cold, but because he was rather inclined to be alone with Reay for a little. They entered the house and shut the door.

"Doesn't it look a different place without her!" said Angus, glancing round the trim little kitchen—"As neat as a pin, of course, but all the life gone from it."

Helmsley smiled, but did not answer. Seating himself in his armchair, he spread out his thin old hands to the bright fire, and watched Reay as he stood near the hearth, leaning one arm easily against a rough beam which ran across the chimney piece.

"She is a wonderful woman!" went on Reay, musingly; "She has a power of which she is scarcely conscious."

"And what is that?" asked Helmsley, slowly rubbing his hands with quite an abstracted air.

Angus laughed lightly, though a touch of colour reddened his bronzed cheeks.

"The power that the old alchemists sought and never could find!" he answered—"The touch that transmutes common metals to fine gold, and changes the every-day prose of life to poetry."

Helmsley went on rubbing his hands slowly.

"It's so extraordinary, don't you think, David,"—he continued—"that there should be such a woman as Miss Mary alive at all?"

Helmsley looked up at him questioningly, but said nothing.

"I mean,"—and Angus threw out his hand with an impetuous gesture—"that considering all the abominable, farcical tricks women play nowadays, it is simply amazing to find one who is contented with a simple life like this, and who manages to make that simple life so gracious and beautiful!"

Still Helmsley was silent.

"Now, just think of that girl I've told you about—Lucy Sorrel,"—proceeded Angus—"Nothing would have contented her in all this world!"

"Not even her old millionaire?" suggested Helmsley, placidly.

"No, certainly not! Poor old devil! He'll soon find himself put on the shelf if he marries her. He won't be able to call his soul his own! If he gives her diamonds, she'll want more diamonds—if he covers her and stuffs her with money, she'll never have enough! She'll want all she can get out of him while he lives and everything he has ever possessed when he's dead."

Helmsley rubbed his hands more vigorously together.

"A very nice young lady," he murmured. "Very nice indeed! But if you judge her in this way now, why did you ever fall in love with her?"

"She was pretty, David!" and Reay smiled—"That's all! My passion for her was skin-deep! And hers for me didn't even touch the cuticle! She was pretty—as pretty as a wax-doll,—perfect eyes, perfect hair, perfect figure, perfect complexion—ugh! how I hate perfection!"

And taking up the poker, he gave a vigorous blow to a hard lump of coal in the grate, and split it into a blaze.

"I hate perfection!" he resumed—"Or rather, I hate what passes for perfection, for, as a matter of fact, there's nothing perfect. And I specially and emphatically hate the woman that considers herself a 'beauty,' that gets herself photographed as a 'beauty,' that the press reporter speaks of as a 'beauty,'—and that affronts you with her 'beauty' whenever you look at her, as though she were some sort of first-class goods for sale. Now Miss Mary is a beautiful woman—and she doesn't seem to know it."

"Her time for vanity is past,"—said Helmsley, sententiously—"She is an old maid."

"Old maid be shot!" exclaimed Angus, impetuously—"By Jove! Any man might be proud to marry her!"

A keen, sharp glance, as incisive as any that ever flashed up and down the lines of a business ledger, gleamed from under Helmsley's fuzzy brows.

"Would you?" he asked.

"Would I marry her?" And Angus reddened suddenly like a boy—"Dear old David, bless you! That's just what I want you to help me to do!"

For a moment such a great wave of triumph swept over Helmsley's soul that he could not speak. But he mastered his emotion by an effort.

"I'm afraid,"—he said—"I'm afraid I should be no use to you in such a business,—you'd much better speak to her yourself—"

"Why, of course I mean to speak to her myself,"—interrupted Reay, warmly—"Don't be dense, David! You don't suppose I want you to speak for me, do you? Not a bit of it! Only before I speak, I do wish you could find out whether she likes me a little—because—because—I'm afraid she doesn't look upon me at all in that light——"

"In what light?" queried Helmsley, gently.

"As a lover,"—replied Angus—"She's given up thinking of lovers."

Helmsley leaned back in his chair, and clasping his hands together so that the tips of his fingers met, looked over them in almost the same meditative businesslike way as he had looked at Lucy Sorrel when he had questioned her as to her ideas of her future.

"Well, naturally she has,"—he answered—"Lovers have given up thinking of her!"

"I hope they have!" said Angus, fervently—"I hope I have no rivals! For my love for her is a jealous love, David! I must be all in all to her, or nothing! I must be the very breath of her breath, the life of her life! I must!—or I am no use to her. And I want to be of use. I want to work for her, to look upon her as the central point of all my actions—the very core of ambition and endeavour,—so that everything I do may be well done enough to meet with her praise. If she does not like it, it will be worthless. For her soul is as pure as the sunlight and as full of great depths as the sea! Simplest and sweetest of women as she is, she has enough of God in her to make a man live up to the best that is in him!"

His voice thrilled with passion as he spoke—and Helmsley felt a strange contraction at his heart—a pang of sharp memory, desire and regret all in one, which moved him to a sense of yearning for this love which he had never known—this divine and wonderful emotion whose power could so transform a man as to make him seem a very king among men. For so Angus Reay looked just now, with his eyes flashing unutterable tenderness, and his whole aspect expressive of a great hope born of a great ideal. But he restrained the feeling that threatened to over-master him, and merely said very quietly, and with a smile—

"I see you are very much in love with her, Mr. Reay!"

"In love?" Angus laughed—"No, my dear old David! I'm not a bit 'in love.' I love her! That's love with a difference. But you know how it is with me. I haven't a penny in the world but just what I told you must last me for a year—and I don't know when I shall make any more. So that I wouldn't be such a cad as to speak to her about it yet. But—if I could only get a little hope,—if I could just find out whether she liked me a little, that would give me more energy in my work, don't you see? And that's where you could help me, David!"

Helmsley smiled ever so slightly.

"Tell me how,"—he said.

"Well, you might talk to her sometimes and ask her if she ever thinks of getting married—"

"I have done that,"—interrupted Helmsley—"and she has always said 'No.'"

"Never mind what she has said—ask her again, David,"—persisted Angus—"And then lead her on little by little to talk about me—"

"Lead her on to talk about you—yes!" and Helmsley nodded his head sagaciously.

"David, my dear old man, you will interrupt me,"—and Angus laughed like a boy—"Lead her on, I say,—and find out whether she likes me ever so little—and then——"

"And then?" queried Helmsley, his old eyes beginning to sparkle—"Must I sing your praises to her?"

"Sing my praises! No, by Jove!—there's nothing to praise in me. I don't want you to say a word, David. Let her speak—hear what she says—and then—and then tell me!"

"Then tell you—yes—yes, I see!" And Helmsley nodded again in a fashion that was somewhat trying to Reay's patience. "But, suppose she finds fault with you, and says you are not at all the style of man she likes—what then?"

"Then,"—said Reay, gloomily—"my book will never be finished!"

"Dear, dear!" Helmsley raised his hands with a very well acted gesture of timid concern—"So bad as all that!"

"So bad as all that!" echoed Reay, with a quick sigh; "Or rather so good as all that. I don't know how it has happened, David, but she has quite suddenly become the very life of my work. I don't think I could get on with a single page of it, if I didn't feel that I could go to her and ask her what she thinks of it."

"But,"—said Helmsley, in a gentle, argumentative way—"all this is very strange! She is not an educated woman."

Reay laughed lightly.

"No? What do you call an educated woman, David?"

Helmsley thought a moment. The situation was a little difficult, for he had to be careful not to say too much.

"Well, I mean,"—he said, at last—"She is not a lady."

Reay's eyes flashed sudden indignation.

"Not a lady!" he ejaculated—"Good God! Who is a lady then?"

Helmsley glanced at him covertly. How fine the man looked, with his tall, upright figure, strong, thoughtful face, and air of absolute determination!

"I'm afraid,"—he murmured, humbly—"I'm afraid I don't know how to express myself,—but what I want to say is that she is not what the world would call a lady,—just a simple lace-mender,—real 'ladies' would not ask her to their houses, or make a friend of her, perhaps—"

"She's a simple lace-mender,—I was a common cowherd,"—said Angus, grimly—"Do you think those whom the world calls 'ladies' would make a friend of me?"

Helmsley smiled.

"You're a man—and to women it doesn't matter what a man was, so long as he is something. You were a cowherd, as you say—but you educated yourself at a University and got a degree. In that way you've raised yourself to the rank of a gentleman—"

"I was always that,"—declared Angus, boldly, "even as a cowherd! Your arguments won't hold with me, David! A gentleman is not made by a frock coat and top hat. And a lady is not a lady because she wears fine clothes and speaks one or two foreign languages very badly. For that's about all a 'lady's' education amounts to nowadays. According to Victorian annals, 'ladies' used to be fairly accomplished—they played and sang music well, and knew that it was necessary to keep up intelligent conversation and maintain graceful manners—but they've gone back to sheer barbarism in the frantic ugliness of their performances at hockey—and they've taken to the repulsive vices of Charles the Second's time in gambling and other immoralities. No, David! I don't take kindly to the 'ladies' who disport themselves under the benevolent dispensation of King Edward the Seventh."

Helmsley was silent. After a pause, Reay went on—

"You see, David, I'm a poor chap—poorer than Mary is. If I could get a hundred, or say, two hundred pounds for my book when it is finished, I could ask her to marry me then, because I could bring that money to her and do something to keep up the home. I never want anything sweeter or prettier than this little cottage to live in. If she would let me share it with her as her husband, we should live a perfectly happy life—a life that thousands would envy us! That is, of course, if she loved me."

"Ay!—that's a very important 'if,'" said Helmsley.

"I know it is. That's why I want you to help me to find out her mind, David—will you? Because, if you should discover that I am objectionable to her in any way, it would be better for me, I think, to go straight away from Weircombe, and fight my trouble out by myself. Then, you see, she would never know that I wanted to bother her with my life-long presence. Because she's very happy as she is,—her face has all the lovely beauty of perfect content—and I'd rather do anything than trouble her peace."

There followed a pause. The fire crackled and burned with a warm Christmas glow, and Charlie, uncurling his soft silky body, stretched out each one of his tiny paws separately, with slow movements expressive of intense comfort. If ever that little dog had known what it was to lie in the lap of luxury amid aristocratic surroundings, it was certain that he was conscious of being as well off in a poor cottage as in a palace of a king. And after a minute or two, Helmsley raised himself in his chair and held out his hand to Angus Reay, who grasped it warmly.

"I'll do my best,"—he said, quietly—"I know what you mean—and I think your feeling does you honour. Of course you know I'm only a kind of stranger here—just a poor old lonely man, very dependent on Miss Deane for her care of me, and trying my best to show that I'm not ungrateful to her for all her goodness—and I mustn't presume too far—but—I'll do my best. And I hope—I hope all will be well!" He paused—and pressed Reay's hand again—then glanced up at the quaint sheep-faced clock that ticked monotonously against the kitchen wall. "She will be coming back from church directly,"—he continued—"Won't you go and meet her?"

"Shall I?" And Reay's face brightened.


Another moment, and Helmsley was alone—save for the silent company of the little dog stretched out upon the hearth. And he lost himself in a profound reverie, the while he built a castle in the air of his own designing, in which Self had no part. How many airy fabrics of beauty and joy had he not raised one after the other in his mind, only to see them crumble into dust!—but this one, as he planned it in his thoughts, nobly uplifted above all petty limits, with all the light of a broad beneficence shining upon it, and a grand obliteration of his own personality serving as the very cornerstone of its foundation, seemed likely to be something resembling the house spoken of by Christ, which was built upon a rock—against which neither winds, nor rains, nor floods could prevail. And when Mary came back from Church, with Reay accompanying her, she found him looking very happy. In fact, she told him he had quite "a Christmas face."

"What is a Christmas face, Mary?" he asked, smiling.

"Don't you know? A face that looks glad because other people are glad,"—she replied, simply.

An expressive glance flashed from Reay's eyes,—a glance which Helmsley caught and understood in all its eloquent meaning.

"We had quite a touching little sermon this morning," she went on, untying her bonnet strings, and taking off that unassuming head-gear—"It was just a homely simple, kind talk. Our parson's sorry to be going away, but he hopes to be back with us at the beginning of April, fit and well again. He's looking badly, poor soul! I felt a bit like crying when he wished us all a bright Christmas and happy New Year, and said he hoped God would allow him to see us all again."

"Who is going to take charge of the parish in his absence?" asked Reay.

"A Mr. Arbroath. He isn't a very popular man in these parts, and I can't think why he has volunteered to come here, seeing he's got several parishes of his own on the other side of Dunster to attend to. But I'm told he also wants a change—so he's got some one to take his duties, and he is coming along to us. Of course, it's well known that he likes to try a new parish whenever he can."

"Has he any reason for that special taste?" enquired Reay.

"Oh yes!" answered Mary, quietly—"He's a great High Churchman, and he wants to introduce Mass vestments and the confessional whenever he can. Some people say that he receives an annual payment from Rome for doing this kind of work."

"Another form of the Papal secret service!" commented Reay, drily—"I understand! I've seen enough of it!"

Mary had taken a clean tablecloth from an oaken press, and was spreading it out for dinner.

"Well," she said, smilingly, "he won't find it very advantageous to him to take the duties here. For every man and woman in the village intends to keep away from Church altogether if he does not give us our services exactly as we have always been accustomed to them. And it won't be pleasant for him to read prayers and preach to empty seats, will it?"


And Angus, standing near the fire, bent his brows with meditative sternness on the glowing flames. Then suddenly addressing Helmsley, he said—"You asked me a while ago, David, why I didn't go to Church. I told you I wished I could go, as I used to do with my father every Sunday. For, when I was a boy, our Sundays were real devotional days—our preachers felt what they preached, and when they told us to worship the great Creator 'in spirit and in truth,' we knew they were in earnest about it. Now, religion is made a mere 'party' system—a form of struggle as to which sect can get the most money for its own purposes. Christ,—the grand, patient, long-suffering Ideal of all goodness, is gone from it! How can He remain with it while it is such a Sham! Our bishops in England truckle to Rome—and, Rome itself is employing every possible means to tamper with the integrity of the British constitution. The spies and emissaries of Rome are everywhere—both in our so-called 'national' Church and in our most distinctly un-national Press!"

Helmsley listened with keen interest. As a man of business, education, observation, and discernment, he knew that what Reay said was true,—but in his assumed role of a poor and superannuated old office clerk, who had been turned adrift from work by reason of age and infirmities, he had always to be on his guard against expressing his opinion too openly or frankly.

"I don't know much about the newspapers,"—he said, mildly—"I read those I can get, just for the news—but there isn't much news, it appears to me——"

"And what there is may be contradicted in an hour's time,"—said Angus—"I tell you, David, when I started working in journalism, I thought it was the finest profession going. It seemed to me to have all the responsibilities of the world on its back. I considered it a force with which to educate, help, and refine all peoples, and all classes. But I found it was only a money speculation after all. How much profit could be made out of it? That was the chief point of action. That was the mainspring of every political discussion—and in election times, one side had orders to abuse the other, merely to keep up the popular excitement. By Jove! I should like to take a select body of electors 'behind the scenes' of a newspaper office and show them how the whole business is run!"

"You know too much, evidently!" said Mary smiling—"I don't wonder you were dismissed!"

He laughed—then as suddenly frowned.

"I swear as I stand here," he said emphatically, "that the press is not serving the people well! Do you know—no, of course you don't!—but I can tell you for a fact that a short time ago an offer was made from America through certain financial powers in the city, to buy up several of the London dailies, and run them on American lines![1] Germany had a finger in the pie, too, through her German Jews!"

Helmsley looked at his indignant face with a slight imperceptible smile.

"Well!" he said, with a purposely miscomprehending air.

"Well! You say 'Well,' David, as if such a proposition contained nothing remarkable. That's because you don't understand! Imagine for a moment the British Press being run by America!"

Helmsley stroked his beard thoughtfully.

"I can't imagine it,"—he said.

"No—of course you can't! But a few rascally city financiers could imagine it, and more than that, were prepared to carry the thing through. Then, the British people would have been led, guided, advised, and controlled by a Yankee syndicate! And the worst of it is that this same British people would have been kept in ignorance of the 'deal.' They would actually have been paying their pennies to keep up the shares of a gang of unscrupulous rascals whose sole end and object was to get the British press into their power! Think of it!"

"But did they succeed?" asked Helmsley.

"No, they didn't. Somebody somewhere had a conscience. Somebody somewhere refused to 'swop' the nation's much boasted 'liberty of the press' for so much cash down. I believe the 'Times' is backed by the Rothschilds, and managed by American advertisers—I don't know whether it is so or not—but I do know that the public ought to be put on their guard. If I were a powerful man and a powerful speaker I would call mass meetings everywhere, and urge the people not to purchase a single newspaper till each one published in its columns a full and honest list of the shareholders concerned in it. Then the public would have a chance of seeing where they are. At present they don't know where they are."

"Well, you know very well where you are!" said Mary, interrupting him at this juncture—"You are in my house,—it's Christmas Day, and dinner's ready!"

He laughed, and they all three sat down to table. It had been arranged for fully a week before that Angus should share his Christmas dinner with Mary and "old David"—and a very pleasant and merry meal they made of it. And in the afternoon and evening some of the villagers came in to gossip—and there was singing of songs, and one or two bashful attempts on the part of certain gawky lads to kiss equally gawky girls under the mistletoe. And Mary, as hostess of the haphazard little party, did her best to promote kindly feeling among them all, effacing herself so utterly, and playing the "old maid" with such sweet and placid loveliness that Angus became restless, and was moved by a feverish desire to possess himself of one of the little green twigs with white berries, which, looking so innocent, were apparently so provocative, and to try its effect by holding it suddenly above the glorious masses of her brown hair, which shone with the soft and shimmering hue of evening sunlight. But he dared not. Kissing under the mistletoe was all very well for boys and girls—but for a mature bachelor of thirty-nine and an "old maid" of thirty-five, these uncouth and calf-like gambollings lacked dignity. Moreover, when he looked at Mary's pure profile—the beautifully shaped eyes, classic mouth, and exquisite line of neck and shoulder, the very idea of touching those lips with a kiss given in mere lightness, seemed fraught with impertinence and irreverence. If ever he kissed Mary, he thought,—and then all the powers of his mind galloped off like wild horses let loose on a sun-baked ranch—if ever he kissed Mary! What a dream!—what a boldness unprecedented! But again—if ever he kissed her, it must be with the kiss of a lover, for whom such a token of endearment was the sign of a sacred betrothal. And he became so lost and abstracted in his musings that he almost forgot the simple village merriment around him, and only came back to himself a little when the party broke up altogether, and he himself had to say "good-night," and go with the rest. Mary, while giving him her hand in farewell, looked at him with a sisterly solicitude.

"You're tired, Mr. Reay,"—she said—"I'm afraid we've been too noisy for you, haven't we? But one can't keep boys and girls quiet!"

"I don't want them kept quiet,"—said Reay, holding her hand very hard—"And I'm not tired. I've only been thinking."

"Ah! Of your book?"

"Yes. Of my book."

He went then, and came no more to the cottage till a week later when it was New Year's Eve. This they celebrated very quietly—just they three alone. Mary thought it somewhat imprudent for "old David" to sit up till midnight in order to hear the bells "ring out the Old, ring in the New"—but he showed a sudden vigorous resolution about it which was not to be gainsaid.

"Let me have my way, my dear,"—he implored her—"I may never see another New Year!"

"Nonsense, David!" she said cheerily—"You will see many and many a one, please God!"

"Please God, I shall!" he answered, quietly—"But if it should not please God—then—"

"There!—you want to stay up, and you shall stay up!" she declared, smiling—"After all, as Mr. Reay is with us, the time won't perhaps seem so long for you."

"But for you,"—put in Angus—"it will seem very long won't it!"

"Oh, I always sit up for the coming-in of the New Year,"—she replied—"Father used to do it, and I like to keep up all father's ways. Only I thought David might feel too tired. You must sing to us, Mr. Reay, to pass the hours away."

"And so must you!" he replied.

And she did sing that night as she had never sung to them before, with a fuller voice and more passion than she had hitherto shown,—one little wild ballad in particular taking Reay's fancy so much that he asked her to sing it more than once. The song contained just three six-line stanzas, having little merit save in their suggestiveness.

Oh love, my love! I have giv'n you my heart Like a rose full-blown, With crimson petals trembling apart— It is all your own— What will you do with it. Dearest,—say? Keep it for ever or throw it away?

Oh love, my love! I have giv'n you my life, Like a ring of gold; Symbol of peace in a world of strife, To have and to hold. What will you do with it, Dearest,—say? Treasure it always, or throw it away?

Oh love, my love! Have all your will— I am yours to the end; Be false or faithful—comfort or kill, Be lover or friend,— Where gifts are given they must remain, I never shall ask for them back again!

"Do you know that you have a very beautiful voice, Miss Mary?" said Angus, after hearing this for the second time.

"Oh, I don't think so at all,"—she answered, quickly; "Father used to like to hear me sing—but I can only just give ballads their meaning, and pronounce the words carefully so the people may know what I am trying to sing about. I've no real voice."

"You have!" And Angus turned to Helmsley for his opinion—"Hasn't she, David?"

"Her voice is the sweetest I ever heard,"—replied Helmsley—"But then I'm not much of a judge."

And his thoughts went roving back to certain entertainments in London which he had given for the benefit of his wealthy friends, when he had paid as much as five or six hundred guineas in fees to famous opera singers, that they might shriek or warble, as their respective talents dictated, to crowds of indifferent loungers in his rooms, who cared no more for music than they did for religion. He almost smiled as he recalled those nights, and contrasted them with this New Year's evening, when seated in an humble cottage, he had for his companions only a lowly-born poor woman, and an equally lowly-born poor man, both of whom evinced finer education, better manners, greater pride of spirit, and more resolute independence than nine-tenths of the "society" people who had fawned upon him and flattered him, simply because they knew he was a millionaire. And the charm of his present position was that these two, poor, lowly-born people were under the impression that even in their poverty and humility they were better off than he was, and that because fortune had been, as they considered, kind to them, they were bound to treat him in a way that should not remind him of his dependent and defenceless condition. It was impossible to imagine greater satisfaction than that which he enjoyed in the contemplation of his own actual situation as compared with that which he had impressed upon the minds of these two friends of his who had given him their friendship trustingly and frankly for himself alone. And he listened placidly, with folded hands and half shut eyes, while Angus, at Mary's request, trolled forth "The Standard on the Braes o' Mar" and "Sound the pibroch,"—varying those warlike ditties with "Jock o' Hazledean," and "Will ye no come back again,"—till all suddenly Mary rose from her chair, and with her finger to her lips said "Hark!" The church-bells were ringing out the Old Year, and glancing at the clock, they saw it wanted but ten minutes to midnight. Softly Mary stepped to the cottage door and opened it. The chime swung melodiously in, and Angus Reay went to the threshold, and stood beside Mary, listening. Had they glanced back that instant they would have seen Helmsley looking at them both, with an intensity of yearning in his pale face and sad old eyes that was pitiful and earnest beyond all expression—they would have seen his lips move, as he murmured—"God grant that I may make their lives beautiful! God give me this peace of mind before I die! God bless them!" But they were absorbed in listening—and presently with a deep clang the bells ceased. Mary turned her head.

"The Old Year's out, David!"

Then she went to him and knelt down beside him.

"It's been a kind old year!"—she said—"It brought you to me to take care of, and me to you to take care of you—didn't it?"

He laid one hand on hers, tremblingly, but was silent. She turned up her kind, sweet face to his.

"You're not tired, are you?"

He shook his head.

"No, my dear, no!"

A rush and a clang of melody swept suddenly through the open door—the bells had begun again.

"A Happy New Year, Miss Mary!" said Angus, looking towards her from where he stood on the threshold—"And to you, David!"

With an irrepressible movement of tenderness Helmsley raised his trembling hands and laid them gently on Mary's head.

"Take an old man's blessing, my dear!" he said, softly, "And from a most grateful heart!"

She caught his hands as he lifted them again from her brow, and kissed them. There were tears in her eyes, but she brushed them quickly away.

"You talk just like father!" she said, smiling—"He was always grateful for nothing!"

And rising from her kneeling attitude by Helmsley's chair, she went again towards the open cottage door, holding out her two hands to Reay. Looking at her as she approached he seemed to see in her some gracious angel, advancing with all the best possibilities of life for him in her sole power and gift.

"A Happy New Year, Mr. Reay! And success to the book!"

He clasped the hands she extended.

"If you wish success for it, success is bound to come!" he answered in a low voice—"I believe in your good influence!"

She looked at him, and whatever answer rose to her lips was suddenly silenced by the eloquence of his eyes. She coloured hotly, and then grew very pale. They both stood on the threshold of the open door, silent and strangely embarrassed, while the bells swung and clanged musically through the frosty air, and the long low swish of the sea swept up like a harmonious bass set to the silvery voice of the chimes. They little guessed with what passionate hope, yearning, and affection, Helmsley watched them standing there!—they little knew that on them the last ambition of his life was set!—and that any discovery of sham or falsehood in their natures would make cruel havoc of his dearest dreams! They waited, looking out on the dark quiet space, and listening to the rush of the stream till the clamour of the bells ceased again, and sounded no more. In the deep stillness that followed Angus said softly—

"There's not a leaf left on the old sweetbriar bush now!"

"No,"—answered Mary, in the same soft tone—"But it will be the first thing to bud with the spring."

"I've kept the little sprig you gave me,"—he added, apparently by way of a casual after-thought.

"Have you?"

Silence fell again—and not another word passed between them save a gentle "Good-night" when, the New Year having fully come in, they parted.

[Footnote 1: A fact.]


The dreariest season of the year had now set in, but frost and cold were very seldom felt severely in Weircombe. The little village lay in a deep warm hollow, and was thoroughly protected at the back by the hills, while in the front its shores were washed by the sea, which had a warming as well as bracing effect on the atmosphere. To invalids requiring an equable temperature, it would have been a far more ideal winter resort than any corner of the much-vaunted Riviera, except indeed for the fact that feeding and gambling dens were not among its attractions. To "society" people it would have proved insufferably dull, because society people, lacking intelligence to do anything themselves, always want everything done for them. Weircombe folk would not have understood that method of living. To them it seemed proper and reasonable that men, and women too, should work for what they ate. The theory that only a few chosen persons, not by any means estimable either as to their characters or their abilities, should eat what others were starved for, would not have appealed to them. They were a small and unimportant community, but their ideas of justice and principles of conduct were very firmly established. They lived on the lines laid down by their forefathers, and held that a simple faith in God, coupled with honest hard labour, was sufficient to make life well worth living. And, on the whole they were made of that robust human material of which in the days gone by there was enough to compose and consolidate the greatness of Britain. They were kindly of heart, but plain in speech,—and their remarks on current events, persons and things, would have astonished and perhaps edified many a press man had he been among them, when on Saturday nights they "dropped in" at the one little public-house of the village, and argued politics and religion till closing-time. Angus Reay soon became a favourite with them all, though at first they had looked upon him with a little distrust as a "gentleman tow-rist"; but when he had mixed with them freely and familiarly, making no secret of the fact that he was poor, and that he was endeavouring to earn a livelihood like all the rest of them, only in a different way, they abandoned all reserve, and treated him as one of themselves. Moreover, when it was understood that "Mis' Deane," whose reputation stood very high in the village, considered him not unworthy of her friendship, he rose up several degrees in the popular estimation, and many a time those who were the self-elected wits and wise-acres of the place, would "look in" as they termed it, at Mary's cottage, and pass the evening talking with him and with "old David," who, if he did not say much, listened the more. Mr. Bunce, the doctor, and Mr. Twitt, the stonemason, were in particular profoundly impressed when they knew that Reay had worked for two years on a London newspaper.

"Ye must 'ave a ter'uble knowledge of the world, Mister!" said Twitt, thoughtfully—"Just ter'uble!"

"Yes, I should assume it must be so,"—murmured Bunce—"I should think it could hardly fail to be so?"

Reay gave a short laugh.

"Well, I don't know!" he said—"You may call it a knowledge of the world if you like—I call it an unpleasant glimpse into the shady side of life. I'd rather walk in the sunshine."

"And what would you call the sunshine, sir?" asked Bunce, with his head very much on one side like a meditative bird.

Honesty, truth, belief in God, belief in good!"—answered Angus, with some passion—"Not perpetual scheming, suspicion of motives, personal slander, and pettiness—O Lord!—such pettiness as can hardly be believed! Journalism is the most educational force in the world, but its power is being put to wrong uses."

"Well,—said Twitt, slowly—"I aint so blind but I can see through a wall when there's a chink in it. An' when I gets my 'Daily' down from Lunnun, an' sees harf a page given up to a kind o' poster about Pills, an' another harf a page praisin' up somethin' about Tonics, I often sez to myself: 'Look 'ere, Twitt! What are ye payin' yer pennies out for? For a Patent Pill or for News? For a Nervy Tonic or for the latest pol'tics?' An' myself—me—Twitt—answers an' sez—'Why ye're payin' for news an' pol'tics, of course!' Well then, I sez, 'Twitt, ye aint gettin' nothin' o' the sort!' An' t' other day, blow'd if I didn't see in my paper a long piece about ''Ow to be Beautiful'—an' that 'adn't nothin' to do wi' me nor no man, but was just mere gabble for fool women. ''Ow to be Beautiful,' aint news o' the world!"

"No,"—said Reay—"You're not intended to know the news of the world. News, real news, is the property of the Stock Exchange. It's chiefly intended for company gambling purposes. The People are not expected to know much about it. Modern Journalism seeks to play Pope and assert the doctrine of infallibility. What It does not authorise, isn't supposed to exist."

"Is that truly so?" asked Bunce, solemnly.

"Most assuredly!"

"You mean to say,"—said Helmsley, breaking in upon the conversation, and speaking in quiet unconcerned tones—"that the actual national affairs of the world are not told to the people as they should be, but are jealously guarded by a few whose private interests are at stake?"

"Yes. I certainly do mean that."

"I thought you did. You see," went on Helmsley—"when I was in regular office work in London, I used to hear a good deal concerning the business schemes of this, that and the other great house in the city,—and I often wondered what the people would say if they ever came to know!"

"Came to know what?" said Mr. Bunce, anxiously.

"Why, the names of the principal shareholders in the newspapers,"—said Reay, placidly—"That might possibly open their eyes to the way their opinions are manufactured for them! There's very little 'liberty of the press' in Great Britain nowadays. The press is the property of a few rich men."

Mary, who was working very intently on a broad length of old lace she was mending, looked up at him—her eyes were brilliant and her cheeks softly flushed.

"I hope you will be brave enough to say that some day right out to the people as you say it to us,"—she observed.

"I will! Never fear about that! If I am ever anything—if I ever can be anything—I will do my level best to save my nation from being swallowed up by a horde of German-American Jews!" said Reay, hotly—"I would rather suffer anything myself than see the dear old country brought to shame."

"Right, very right!" said Mr. Bunce, approvingly—"And many—yes, I think we may certainly say many,—are of your spirit,—what do you think, David?"

Helmsley had raised himself in his chair, and was looking wonderfully alert. The conversation interested him.

"I quite agree,"—he said—"But Mr. Reay must remember that if he should ever want to make a clean sweep of German-American Jews and speculators as he says, and expose the way they tamper with British interests, he would require a great deal of money. A very great deal of money!" he repeated, slowly,—"Now I wonder, Mr. Reay, what you would do with a million?—two millions?—three millions?—four millions?"—

"Stop, stop, old David!"—interrupted Twitt, suddenly holding up his hand—"Ye takes my breath away!"

They all laughed, Reay's hearty tones ringing above the rest.

"Oh, I should know what to do with them!"—he said; "but I wouldn't spend them on my own selfish pleasures—that I swear! For one thing, I'd run a daily newspaper on honest lines——"

"It wouldn't sell!" observed Helmsley, drily.

"It would—it should!" declared Reay—"And I'd tell the people the truth of things,—I'd expose every financial fraud I could find——"

"And you'd live in the law-courts, I fear!" said Mr. Bunce, gravely shaking his head—"We may be perfectly certain, I think—may we not, David?—that the law-courts would be Mr. Reay's permanent address?"

They laughed again, and the conversation turned to other topics, though its tenor was not forgotten by anyone, least of all by Helmsley, who sat very silent for a long time afterwards, thinking deeply, and seeing in his thoughts various channels of usefulness to the world and the world's progress, which he had missed, but which others after him would find.

Meanwhile Weircombe suffered a kind of moral convulsion in the advent of the Reverend Mr. Arbroath, who arrived to "take duty" in the absence of its legitimate pastor. He descended upon the tiny place like an embodied black whirlwind, bringing his wife with him, a lady whose facial lineaments bore the strangest and most remarkable resemblance to those of a china cat; not a natural cat, because there is something soft and appealing about a real "pussy,"—whereas Mrs. Arbroath's countenance was cold and hard and shiny, like porcelain, and her smile was precisely that of the immovable and ruthless-looking animal designed long ago by old-time potters and named "Cheshire." Her eyes were similar to the eyes of that malevolent china creature—and when she spoke, her voice had the shrill tone which was but a few notes off the actual "me-iau" of an angry "Tom." Within a few days after their arrival, every cottage in the "coombe" had been "visited," and both Mr. and Mrs. Arbroath had made up their minds as to the neglected, wholly unspiritual and unregenerate nature of the little flock whom they had offered, for sake of their own health and advantage, to tend. The villagers had received them civilly, but without enthusiasm. When tackled on the subject of their religious opinions, most of them declined to answer, except Mr. Twitt, who, fixing a filmy eye sternly on the plain and gloomy face of Mr. Arbroath, said emphatically:

"We aint no 'Igh Jinks!"

"What do you mean, my man?" demanded Arbroath, with a dark smile.

"I mean what I sez"—rejoined Twitt—"I've been stonemason 'ere goin' on now for thirty odd years an' it's allus been the same 'ere—no 'Igh Jinks. Purcessin an' vestiments"—here Twitt spread out a broad dirty thumb and dumped it down with each word into the palm of his other hand—"candles, crosses, bobbins an' bowins—them's what we calls 'Igh Jinks, an' I make so bold as to say that if ye gets 'em up 'ere, Mr. Arbroath, ye'll be mighty sorry for yourself!"

"I shall conduct the services as I please!" said Arbroath. "You take too much upon yourself to speak to me in such a fashion! You should mind your own business!"

"So should you, Mister, so should you!" And Twitt chuckled contentedly—"An' if ye don't mind it, there's those 'ere as'll make ye!"

Arbroath departed in a huff, and the very next Sunday announced that "Matins" would be held at seven o'clock daily in the Church, and "Evensong" at six in the afternoon. Needless to say, the announcement was made in vain. Day after day passed, and no one attended. Smarting with rage, Arbroath sought to "work up" the village to a proper "'Igh Jink" pitch—but his efforts were wasted. And a visit to Mary Deane's cottage did not sweeten his temper, for the moment he caught sight of Helmsley sitting in his usual corner by the fire, he recognised him as the "old tramp" he had interviewed in the common room of the "Trusty Man."

"How did you come here?" he demanded, abruptly.

Helmsley, who happened to be at work basket-making, looked up, but made no reply. Whereupon Arbroath turned upon Mary—

"Is this man a relative of yours?" he asked.

Mary had risen from her chair out of ordinary civility as the clergyman entered, and now replied quietly.

"No, sir."

"Oh! Then what is he doing here?"

"You can see what he is doing,"—she answered, with a slight smile—"He is making baskets."

"He is a tramp!" said Arbroath, pointing an inflexible finger at him—"I saw him last summer smoking and drinking with a gang of low ruffians at a roadside inn called 'The Trusty Man'!" And he advanced a step towards Helmsley—"Didn't I see you there?"

Helmsley looked straight at him.

"You did."

"You told me you were tramping to Cornwall."

"So I was."

"Then what are you doing here?"

"Earning a living."

Arbroath turned sharply on Mary.

"Is that true?"

"Of course it is true,"—she replied—"Why should he tell you a lie?"

"Does he lodge with you?"


Arbroath paused a moment, his little brown eyes sparkling vindictively.

"Well, you had better be careful he does not rob you!" he said. "For I can prove that he seemed to be very good friends with that notorious rascal Tom o' the Gleam who murdered a nobleman at Blue Anchor last summer, and who would have hung for his crime if he had not fortunately saved the expense of a rope by dying."

Helmsley, bending over his basket-weaving, suddenly straightened himself and looked the clergyman full in the face.

"I never knew Tom o' the Gleam till that night on which you saw me at 'The Trusty Man,'" he said—"But I know he had terrible provocation for the murder he committed. I saw that murder done!"

"You saw it done!" exclaimed Arbroath—"And you are here?"

"Why should I not be here?" demanded Helmsley—"Would you have expected me to stay there? I was only one of many witnesses to that terrible deed of vengeance—but, as God lives, it was a just vengeance!"

"Just? You call murder just!" and Arbroath gave a gesture of scorn and horror—"And you,"—he continued, turning to Mary indignantly—"can allow a ruffian like this to live in your house?"

"He is no ruffian,"—said Mary steadily,—"Nor was Tom o' the Gleam a ruffian either. He was well-known in these parts for many and many a deed of kindness. The real ruffian was the man who killed his little child. Indeed I think he was the chief murderer."

"Oh, you do, do you?" and Mr. Arbroath frowned heavily—"And you call yourself a respectable woman?"

Mary smiled, and resuming her seat, bent her head intently over her lace work.

Arbroath stood irresolute, gazing at her. He was a sensual man, and her physical beauty annoyed him. He would have liked to sit down alone with her and take her hand in his own and talk to her about her "soul" while gloating over her body. But in the "old tramp's" presence there was nothing to be done. So he assumed a high moral tone.

"Accidents will happen,"—he said, sententiously—"If a child gets into the way of a motor going at full speed, it is bound to be unfortunate—for the child. But Lord Wrotham was a rich man—and no doubt he would have paid a handsome sum down in compensation——"

"Compensation!" And Helmsley suddenly stood up, drawing his frail thin figure erect—"Compensation! Money! Money for a child's life—money for a child's love! Are you a minister of Christ, that you can talk of such a thing as possible? What is all the wealth of the world compared to the life of one beloved human creature! Reverend sir, I am an old poor man,—a tramp as you say, consorting with rogues and ruffians—but were I as rich as the richest millionaire that ever 'sweated' honest labour, I would rather shoot myself than offer money compensation to a father for the loss of a child whom my selfish pleasure had slain!"

He trembled from head to foot with the force of his own eloquence, and Arbroath stared at him dumb-foundered.

"You are a preacher,"—went on Helmsley—"You are a teacher of the Gospel. Do you find anything in the New Testament that gives men licence to ride rough-shod over the hearts and emotions of their fellow-men? Do you find there that selfishness is praised or callousness condoned? In those sacred pages are we told that a sparrow's life is valueless, or a child's prayer despised? Sir, if you are a Christian, teach Christianity as Christ taught it—honestly!"

Arbroath turned livid.

"How dare you—!" he began—when Mary quietly rose.

"I would advise you to be going, sir,"—she said, quite courteously—"The old man is not very strong, and he has a trouble of the heart. It is little use for persons to argue who feel so differently. We poor folk do not understand the ways of the gentry."

And she held open the door of her cottage for him to pass out. He pressed his slouch-hat more heavily over his eyes, and glared at her from under the shadow of its brim.

"You are harbouring a dangerous customer in your house!" he said—"A dangerous customer! It will be my duty to warn the parish against him!"

She smiled.

"You are very welcome to do so, sir! Good-morning!"

And as he tramped away through her tiny garden, she quickly shut and barred the door after him, and hurried to Helmsley in some anxiety, for he looked very pale, and his breath came and went somewhat rapidly.

"David dear, why did you excite yourself so much over that man!" she said, kneeling beside him as he sank back exhausted in his chair—"Was it worth while?"

He patted her head with a tremulous hand.

"Perhaps not!" And he smiled—"Perhaps not, Mary! But the cold-blooded way in which he said that a money compensation might have been offered to poor Tom o' the Gleam for his little child's life—my God! As if any sort of money could compare with love!"

He stroked her hair gently, and went on murmuring to himself—

"As if all the gold in the world could make up for the loss of one loving heart!"

Mary was silent. She saw that he was greatly agitated, and thought it better to let him speak out his whole mind rather than suppress his feelings.

"What can a man do with wealth!" he went on, speaking more to himself than to her—"He can buy everything that is to be bought, certainly—but if he has no one to share his goods with him, what then? Eh, Mary? What then?"

"Why then he'd be a very miserable man, David!" she answered, smiling—"He'd wish he were poor, with some one to love him!"

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