The Treasure of Heaven - A Romance of Riches
by Marie Corelli
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"We should not be happy without you, David!" declared Mary. "Can't you, won't you understand that we are both fond of you?"

"Fond of me!" And he smiled. "Fond of a useless old wreck who can scarcely earn a day's wage!"

"That's rather wide of the mark, David!" said Reay. "Mary's not the woman—and I'm sure I'm not the man—to care for any one on account of the money he can make. We like you for yourself,—so don't spoil this happiest day of our lives by suggesting any separation between us. Do you hear?"

"I hear!"—and a sudden brightness flashed up in Helmsley's sunken eyes, making them look almost young—"And I understand! I understand that though I am poor and old, and a stranger to you,—you are giving me friendship such as rich men often seek for and never find!—and I will try,—yes, I will try, God helping me,—to be worthy of your trust! If I stay with you——"

"There must be no 'if' in the case, David!" said Mary, smiling up at him.

He stroked her bright hair caressingly.

"Well, then, I will put it not 'if,' but as long as I stay with you," he answered—"as long as I stay with you, I will do all I can to show you how grateful I am to you,—and—and—I will never give you cause"—here he spoke more slowly, and with deliberate emphasis—"I will never give you cause to regret your confidence in me! I want you both to be glad—not sorry—that you spared a lonely old man a little of your affection!"

"We are glad, David!"—and Mary, as he lifted his hand from her head, caught it and kissed it lightly. "And we shall never be sorry! And here is Charlie"—and she picked up the little dog as she spoke and fondled it playfully,—"wondering why he is not included in the family party! For, after all, it is quite your affair, isn't it, Charlie? You were the cause of my finding David out on the hills!—and David was the cause of my knowing Angus—so if it hadn't been for you, nothing would have happened at all, Charlie!—and I should have been a lonely old maid all the days of my life! And I can't do anything to show my gratitude to you, you quaint wee soul, but give you a saucer of cream!"

She laughed, and springing up, began to prepare the tea. While she was moving quickly to and fro on this household business, Helmsley beckoned Reay to come closer to him.

"Speak frankly, Mr. Reay!" he said. "As the master of her heart, you are the master of her home. I can easily slip away—and tramping is not such hard work in summer time. Shall I go?"

"If you go, I shall start out and bring you back again," replied Reay, shaking his head at him determinedly. "You won't get so far but that I shall be able to catch you up in an hour! Please consider that you belong to us,—and that we have no intention of parting with you!"

Tears rose in Helmsley's eyes, and for a moment he covered them with his hand. Angus saw that he was deeply moved, and to avoid noticing him, especially as he was somewhat affected himself by the touching gratefulness of this apparently poor and lonely old man, went after Mary with all the pleasant ease and familiarity of an accepted lover, to help her bring in the tea. The tiny "Charlie," meanwhile, sitting on the hearth in a vigilantly erect attitude, with quivering nose pointed in a creamward direction, waited for the approach of the expected afternoon refreshment, trembling from head to tail with nervous excitement. And Helmsley, left alone for those few moments, presently mastered the strong emotion which made him long to tell his true history to the two sincere souls who, out of his whole life's experience, had alone proved themselves faithful to the spirit of a friendship wherein the claims of cash had no part. Regaining full command of himself, and determining to act out the part he had elected to play to whatever end should most fittingly arrive,—an end he could not as yet foresee,—he sat quietly in his chair as usual, gazing into the fire with the meditative patience and calm of old age, and silently building up in a waking dream the last story of his House of Love,—which now promised to be like that house spoken of in the Divine Parable—"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock." For as he knew,—and as we all must surely know,—the greatest rains and floods and winds of a world of sorrow, are powerless to destroy love, if love be true.


Three days later, when the dawn was scarcely declared and the earliest notes of the waking birds trembled on the soft air with the faint sweetness of a far-off fluty piping, the door of Mary Deane's cottage opened stealthily, and David Helmsley, dressed ready for a journey, stepped noiselessly out into the little garden. He wore the same ordinary workman's outfit in which he had originally started on his intended " tramp," including the vest which he had lined with banknotes, and which he had not used once since his stay with Mary Deane. For she had insisted on his wearing the warmer and softer garments which had once belonged to her own father,—and all these he had now taken off and left behind him, carefully folded up on the bed in his room. He had examined his money and had found it just as he had placed it,—even the little "surprise packet" which poor Tom o' the Gleam had collected for his benefit in the "Trusty Man's" common room, was still in the side-pocket where he had himself put it. Unripping a corner of the vest lining, he took out two five-pound notes, and with these in a rough leather purse for immediate use, and his stout ash stick grasped firmly in his hand, he started out to walk to the top of the coombe where he knew the path brought him to the verge of the highroad leading to Minehead. As he moved almost on tip-toe through Mary's garden, now all fragrant with golden wall-flowers, lilac, and mayblossom, he paused a moment,—looking up at the picturesque gabled eaves and latticed windows. A sudden sense of loneliness affected him almost to tears. For now he had not even the little dog Charlie with him to console him—that canine friend slept in a cushioned basket in Mary's room, and was therefore all unaware that his master was leaving him.

"But, please God, I shall come back in a day or two!" he murmured. " Please God, I shall see this dear shrine of peace and love again before I die! Meanwhile—good-bye, Mary! Good-bye, dearest and kindest of women! God bless you!"

He turned away with an effort—and, lifting the latch of the garden gate, opened it and closed it softly behind him. Then he began the ascent of the coombe. Not a soul was in sight,—the actual day had not yet begun. The hill torrent flowed along with a subdued purling sound over the rough stones and pebbles,—there had been little rain of late and the water was shallow, though clear and bright enough to gleam like a wavering silver ribbon in the dimness of the early morning,—and as he followed it upward and finally reached a point from whence the open sea was visible he rested a moment, leaning on his stick and looking backward on the way he had come. Strangely beautiful and mystical was the scene his eyes dwelt upon,—or rather perhaps it should be said that he saw it in a somewhat strange and mystical fashion of his own. There, out beyond the furthest edge of land, lay the ocean, shadowed just now by a delicate dark grey mist, which, like a veil, covered its placid bosom,—a mist which presently the rising sun would scatter with its glorious rays of gold;—here at his feet nestled Weircombe,—a cluster of simple cottages, sweetly adorned by nature with her fairest garlanding of springtime flowers,—and behind him, just across a length of barren moor, was the common highroad leading to the wider, busier towns. And he thought as he stood alone,—a frail and solitary figure, gazing dreamily out of himself, as it were, to things altogether beyond himself,—that the dim and shadowy ocean was like the vast Unknown which we call Death,—which we look upon tremblingly,—afraid of its darkness, and unable to realise that the sun of Life will ever rise again to pierce its gloom with glory. And the little world—the only world that can be called a world,—namely, that special corner of the planet which holds the hearts that love us—a world which for him, the multi-millionaire, was just a tiny village with one sweet woman living in it—resembled a garland of flowers flung down from the rocks as though to soften their ruggedness,—a garland broken asunder at the shoreline, even as all earthly garlands must break and fade at the touch of the first cold wave of the Infinite. As for the further road in which he was about to turn and go, that, to his fancy, was a nearer similitude of an approach to hell than any scene ever portrayed in Dante's Divine Comedy. For it led to the crowded haunts of men—the hives of greedy business,—the smoky, suffocating centres where each human unit seeks to over-reach and outrival the other—where there is no time to be kind—no room to be courteous; where the passion for gain and the worship of self are so furious and inexhaustible, that all the old fair virtues which make nations great and lasting, are trampled down in the dust, and jeered at as things contemptible and of no value,—where, if a man is honourable, he is asked "What do you get by it?"—and where, if a woman would remain simple and chaste, she is told she is giving herself "no chance." In this whirl of avarice, egotism, and pushfulness, Helmsley had lived nearly all his life, always conscious of, and longing for, something better—something truer and more productive of peace and lasting good. Almost everything he had touched had turned to money,—while nothing he had ever gained had turned to love. Except now—now when the end was drawing nigh—when he must soon say farewell to the little earth, so replete with natural beauty—farewell to the lovely sky, which whether in storm or calm, ever shows itself as a visible reflex of divine majesty and power—farewell to the sweet birds, which for no thanks at all, charm the ear by their tender songs and graceful winged ways—farewell to the flowers, which, flourishing in the woods and fields without care, lift their cups to the sun, and fill the air with fragrance,—and above all, farewell to the affection which he had found so late!—to the heart whose truth he had tested—to the woman for whose sake, could he in some way have compassed her surer and greater happiness, he would gladly have lived half his life over again, working with every moment of it to add to her joy. But an instinctive premonition warned him that the sands in Time's hour-glass were for him running to an end,—there was no leisure left to him now for any new scheme or plan by which he could improve or strengthen that which he had already accomplished. He realised this fully, with a passing pang of regret which soon tempered itself into patient resignation,—and as the first arrowy beam of the rising sun shot upwards from the east, he slowly turned his back on the quiet hamlet where in a few months he had found what he had vainly sought for in many long and weary years, and plodded steadily across the moor to the highroad. Here he sat down on the bank to wait till some conveyance going to Minehead should pass by—for he knew he had not sufficient strength to walk far. "Tramping it" now was for him impossible,—moreover, his former thirst for adventure was satisfied; he had succeeded in his search for "a friend" without going so far as Cornwall. There was no longer any cause for him to endure unnecessary fatigue—so he waited patiently, listening to the first wild morning carol of a skylark, which, bounding up from its nest hard by, darted into the air with quivering wings beating against the dispersing vapours of the dawn, and sang aloud in the full rapture of a joy made perfect by innocence. And he thought of the lovely lines of George Herbert:—

"How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean Are Thy returns! Ev'n as the flowers in Spring, To which, besides their own demean, The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring; Grief melts away Like snow in May, As if there were no such cold thing.

"Who would have thought my shrivell'd heart Could have recover'd greenness? It was gone Quite under ground; as flowers depart To see their mother-root, when they have blown, Where they together All the hard weather, Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

"These are Thy wonders, Lord of power, Killing and quick'ning, bringing down to Hell And up to Heaven in an hour; Making a chiming of a passing bell. We say amiss This or that is; Thy Word is all, if we could spell!"

"If we could spell!" he murmured, half aloud. "Ay, if we could learn even a quarter of the alphabet which would help us to understand the meaning of that 'Word!'—the Word which 'was in the beginning, and the word was with God, and the word was God!' Then we should be wise indeed with a wisdom that would profit us,—we should have no fears and no forebodings,—we should know that all is, all must be for the best!" And he raised his eyes to the slowly brightening sky. "Yet, after all, the attitude of simple faith is the right one for us, if we would call ourselves children of God—the faith which affirms—'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him!'"

As he thus mused, a golden light began to spread around him,—the sun had risen above the horizon, and its cheerful radiance sparkled on every leaf and every blade of grass that bore a drop of dew. The morning mists rose hoveringly, paused awhile, and then lightly rolled away, disclosing one picture after another of exquisite sylvan beauty,—every living thing took up anew its burden of work and pleasure for the day, and "Now" was again declared the acceptable time. To enjoy the moment, and to make much of the moment while it lasts, is the very keynote of Nature's happiness, and David Helmsley found himself on this particular morning more or less in tune with the general sentiment. Certain sad thoughts oppressed him from time to time, but they were tempered and well-nigh overcome by the secret pleasure he felt within himself at having been given the means wherewith to ensure happiness for those whom he considered were more deserving of it than himself. And he sat patiently watching the landscape grow in glory as the sun rose higher and higher, till presently, struck by a sudden fear lest Mary Deane should get up earlier than usual, and missing him, should come out to seek for him, he left the bank by the roadside, and began to trudge slowly along in the direction of Minehead. He had not walked for a much longer time than about ten minutes, when he heard the crunching sound of heavy wheels behind him, and, looking back, saw a large mill waggon piled with sacks of flour and drawn by two sturdy horses, coming leisurely along. He waited till it drew near, and then called to the waggoner—

"Will you give me a lift to Minehead for half a crown?"

The waggoner, stout, red-faced, and jolly-looking, nodded an emphatic assent.

"I'd do it for 'arf the money!" he said. "Gi' us yer 'and, old gaffer!"

The "old gaffer" obeyed, and was soon comfortably seated between the projecting corners of two flour sacks, which in their way were as comfortable as cushions.

"'Old on there," said the waggoner, "an' ye'll be as safe as though ye was in Abram's bosom. Not that I knows much about Abram anyway. Wheer abouts d'ye want in Minehead?"

"The railway station."

"Right y' are! That's my ticket too. Tired o' trampin' it, I s'pose, aint ye?"

"A bit tired—yes. I've walked since daybreak."

The waggoner cracked his whip, and the horses plodded on. Their heavy hoofs on the dusty road, and the noise made by the grind of the cart wheels, checked any attempt at prolonged conversation, for which Helmsley was thankful. He considered himself lucky in having met with a total stranger, for the name of the owner of the waggon, which was duly displayed both on the vehicle itself and the sacks of flour it contained, was unknown to him, and the place from which it had come was an inland village several miles away from Weircombe. He was therefore safe—so far—from any chance of recognition. To be driven along in a heavy mill cart was a rumblesome, drowsy way of travelling, but it was restful, and when Minehead was at last reached, he did not feel himself at all tired. The waggoner had to get his cargo of flour off by rail, so there was no lingering in the town itself, which was as yet scarcely astir. They were in time for the first train going to Exeter, and Helmsley, changing one of his five-pound notes at the railway station, took a third-class ticket to that place. Then he paid the promised half-crown to his friendly driver, with an extra threepence for a morning "dram," whereat the waggoner chuckled.

"Thankee! I zee ye be no temp'rance man!"

Helmsley smiled.

"No. I'm a sober man, not a temperance man!"

"Ay! We'd a parzon in these 'ere parts as was temp'rance, but 'e took 'is zpirits different like! 'E zkorned 'is glass, but 'e loved 'is gel! Har—ar—ar! Ivir 'eerd o' Parzon Arbroath as woz put out o' the Church for 'avin' a fav'rite?"

"I saw something about it in the papers," said Helmsley.

"Ay, 'twoz in the papers. Har—ar—ar! 'E woz a temp'rance man. But wot I sez is, we'se all a bit o' devil in us, an' we can't be temp'rance ivry which way. An' zo, if not the glass, then the gel! Har—ar—ar! Good-day t' ye, an' thank ye kindly!"

He went off then, and a few minutes later the train came gliding in. The whirr and noise of the panting engine confused Helmsley's ears and dazed his brain, after his months of seclusion in such a quiet little spot as Weircombe,—and he was seized with quite a nervous terror and doubt as to whether he would be able, after all, to undertake the journey he had decided upon, alone. But an energetic porter put an end to his indecision by opening all the doors of the various compartments in the train and banging them to again, whereupon he made up his mind quickly, and managed, with some little difficulty, to clamber up the high step of a third-class carriage and get in before the aforesaid porter had the chance to push him in head foremost. In another few minutes the engine whistle set up a deafening scream, and the train ran swiftly out of the station. He was off;—the hills, the sea, were left behind—and Weircombe—restful, simple little Weircombe, seemed not only miles of distance, but ages of time away! Had he ever lived there, he hazily wondered? Would he ever go back? Was he "old David the basket-maker," or David Helmsley the millionaire? He hardly knew. It did not seem worth while to consider the problem of his own identity. One figure alone was real,—one face alone smiled out of the cloudy vista of thoughts and memories, with the true glory of an ineffable tenderness—the sweet, pure face of Mary, with her clear and candid eyes lighting every expression to new loveliness. On Angus Reay his mind did not dwell so much—Angus was a man—and as a man he regarded him with warm liking and sympathy—but it was as the future husband and protector of Mary that he thought of him most—as the one out of all the world who would care for her, when he, David Helmsley, was no more. Mary was the centre of his dreams—the pivot round which all his last ambitions in this world were gathered together in one focus,—without her there was, there could be nothing for him—nothing to give peace or comfort to his last days—nothing to satisfy him as to the future of all that his life had been spent to gain.

Meantime,—while the train bearing him to Exeter was rushing along through wide and ever-varying stretches of fair landscape,—there was amazement and consternation in the little cottage he had left behind him. Mary, rising from a sound night's sleep, and coming down to the kitchen as usual to light the fire and prepare breakfast, saw a letter on the table addressed to her, and opening, it read as follows:—

"MY DEAR MARY,—Do not be anxious this morning when you find that I am gone. I shall not be long away. I have an idea of getting some work to do, which may be more useful to you and Angus than my poor attempts at basket-making. At any rate I feel it would be wrong if I did not try to obtain some better paying employment, of a kind which I can do at home, so that I may be of greater assistance to you both when you marry and begin your double housekeeping. Old though I am and ailing, I want to feel less of a burden and more of a help. You will not think any the worse of me for wishing this. You have been so good and charitable to me in my need, that I should not die happy if I, in my turn, did not make an effort to give you some substantial proof of gratitude. This is Tuesday morning, and I shall hope to be home again with you before Sunday. In the meanwhile, do not worry at all about me, for I feel quite strong enough to do what I have in my mind. I leave Charlie with you. He is safest and happiest in your care. Good-bye for a little while, dear, kind friend, and God bless you! DAVID."

She read this with amazement and distress, the tears welling up in her eyes.

"Oh, David!" she exclaimed. "Poor, poor old man! What will he do all by himself, wandering about the country with no money! It's dreadful! How could he think of such a thing! He is so weak, too!—he can't possibly get very far!"

Here a sudden thought struck her, and picking up Charlie, who had followed her downstairs from her bedroom and was now trotting to and fro, sniffing the air in a somewhat disconsolate and dubious manner, she ran out of the house bareheaded, and hurried up to the top of the "coombe." There she paused, shading her eyes from the sun and looking all about her. It was a lovely morning, and the sea, calm and sparkling with sunbeams, shone like a blue glass flecked with gold. The sky was clear, and the landscape fresh and radiant with the tender green of the springtime verdure. But everything was quite solitary. Vainly her glance swept from left to right and from right to left again,—there was no figure in sight such as the one she sought and half-expected to discover. Putting Charlie down to follow at her heels, she walked quickly across the intervening breadth of moor to the highroad, and there paused, looking up and down its dusty length, hoping against hope that she might see David somewhere trudging slowly along on his lonely way, but there was not a human creature visible. Charlie, assuming a highly vigilant attitude, cocked his tiny ears and sniffed the air suspiciously, as though he scented the trail of his lost master, but no clue presented itself as likely to serve the purpose of tracking the way in which he had gone. Moved by a sudden loneliness and despondency, Mary slowly returned to the cottage, carrying the little dog in her arms, and was affected to tears again when she entered the kitchen, because it looked so empty. The bent figure, the patient aged face, on which for her there was ever a smile of grateful tenderness—these had composed a picture by her fireside to which she had grown affectionately accustomed,—and to see it no longer there made her feel almost desolate. She lit the fire listlessly and prepared her own breakfast without interest—it was a solitary meal and lacked flavour. She was glad when, after breakfast, Angus Reay came in, as was now his custom, to say good-morning, and to "gain inspiration,"—so he told her,—for his day's work. He was no less astonished than herself at David's sudden departure.

"Poor old chap! I believe he thinks he is in our way, Mary!" he said, as he read the letter of explanation which their missing friend had left behind him. "And yet he says quite plainly here that he will be back before Sunday. Perhaps he will. But where can he have gone to?"

"Not far, surely!" and Mary looked, as she felt, perplexed. "He has no money!"

"Not a penny?"

"Not a penny! He makes me take everything he earns to help pay for his keep and as something towards the cost of his illness last year. I don't want it—but it pleases him that I should have it——"

"Of course—I understand that,"—and Angus slipped an arm round her waist, while he read the letter through again. "But if he hasn't a penny, how can he get along?"

"He must be on the tramp again," said Mary. "But he isn't strong enough to tramp. I went up the coombe this morning and right out to the highroad, for I thought I might see him and catch up with him—because I know it would take him ever so long to walk a mile. But he had gone altogether."

Reay stood thinking.

"I tell you what, Mary," he said at last, "I'll take a brisk walk down the road towards Minehead. I should think that's the only place where he'd try for work. I daresay I shall overtake him."

Her eyes brightened.

"Yes, that's quite possible,"—and she was evidently pleased at the suggestion. "He's so old and feeble, and you're so strong and quick on your feet——"

"Quick with my lips, too," said Angus, promptly kissing her. "But I shall have to be on my best behaviour now you're all alone in the cottage, Mary! David has left you defenceless!"

He laughed, but as she raised her eyes questioningly to his face, grew serious.

"Yes, my Mary! You'll have to stay by your own sweet lonesome! Otherwise all the dear, kind, meddlesome old women in the village will talk! Mrs. Twitt will lead the chorus, with the best intentions, unless—and this is a dreadful alternative!—you can persuade her to come up and play propriety!"

The puzzled look left her face, and she smiled though a wave of colour flushed her cheeks.

"Oh! I see what you mean, Angus! But I'm too old to want looking after—I can look after myself."

"Can you?" And he took her into his arms and held her fast. "And how will you do it?"

She was silent a moment, looking into his eyes with a grave and musing tenderness. Then she said quietly—

"By trusting you, my love, now and always!"

Very gently he released her from his embrace—very reverently he kissed her.

"And you shall never regret your trust, you dear, sweet angel of a woman! Be sure of that! Now I'm off to look for David—I'll try and bring him back with me. By the way, Mary, I've told Mr. and Mrs. Twitt and good old Bunce that we are engaged—so the news is now the public property of the whole village. In fact, we might just as well have put up the banns and secured the parson!"

He laughed his bright, jovial laugh, and throwing on his cap went out, striding up the coombe with swift, easy steps, whistling joyously "My Nannie O" as he made the ascent. Twice he turned to wave his hand to Mary who stood watching him from her garden gate, and then he disappeared. She waited a moment among all the sweetly perfumed flowers in her little garden, looking at the bright glitter of the hill stream as it flowed equably by.

"How wonderful it is," she thought, "that God should have been so good to me! I have done nothing to deserve any love at all, and yet Angus loves me! It seems too beautiful to be real! I am not worthy of such happiness! Sometimes I dare not think too much of it lest it should all prove to be only a dream! For surely no one in the world could wish for a better life than we shall live—Angus and I—in this dear little cottage together,—he with his writing, which I know will some day move the world,—and I with my usual work, helping as much as I can to make his life sweet to him. For we have the great secret of all joy—we love each other!"

With her eyes full of the dreamy light of inward heart's content, she turned and went into the house. The sight of David's empty chair by the fire troubled her,—but she tried to believe that Angus would succeed in finding him on the highroad, and in persuading him to return at once. Towards noon Mrs. Twitt came in, somewhat out of breath, on account of having climbed the village street more rapidly than was her custom on such a warm day as it had turned out to be, and straightway began conversation.

"Wonders 'ull never cease, Mis' Deane, an' that's a fact!" she said, wiping her hot face with the corner of her apron—"An' while there's life there's 'ope! I'd as soon 'a thought o' Weircombe Church walkin' down to the shore an' turnin' itself into a fishin' smack, as that you'd a' got engaged to be married! I would, an' that's a Gospel truth! Ye seemed so steady like an' settled—lor' a mussy me!" And here, despite her effort to look serious, a broad smile got the better of her. "An' a fine man too you've got,—none o' your scallywag weaklings as one sees too much of nowadays, but a real upright sort o' chap wi' no nonsense about 'im. An' I wishes ye well, Mary, my dear,"—and the worthy soul took Mary's hand in hers and gave her a hearty kiss. "For it's never too late to mend, as the Scripter tells us, an' forbye ye're not in yer green gooseberry days there's those as thinks ripe fruit better than sour-growin' young codlings. An' ye may take 'art o' grace for one thing—them as marries young settles quickly old—an' to look at the skin an' the 'air an' the eyes of ye, you beat ivery gel I've ivir seen in the twenties, so there's good preservin' stuff in ye wot'll last. An' I bet you're more fond o' the man ye've got late than if ye'd caught 'im early!"

Mary laughed, but her eyes were full of wistful tenderness.

"I love him very dearly," she said simply—"And I know he's a great deal too good for me."

Mrs. Twitt sniffed meaningly.

"Well, I'm not in any way sure o' that," she observed. "When a man's too good for a woman it's what we may call a Testymen' miracle. For the worst wife as ivir lived is never so bad as a bad 'usband. There's a suthin' in a man wot's real devil-like when it gits the uppermost of 'im—an' 'e's that crafty born that I've known 'im to be singin' hymns one hour an' drinkin' 'isself silly the next. 'Owsomever, Mister Reay seems a decent chap, forbye 'e do give 'is time to writin' which don't appear to make 'is pot boil——"

"Ah, but he will be famous!" interrupted Mary exultantly. "I know he will!"

"An' what's the good o' that?" enquired Mrs. Twitt. "If bein' famous is bein' printed about in the noospapers, I'd rather do without it if I wos 'im. Parzon Arbroath got famous that way!" And she chuckled. "But the great pint is that you an' 'e is a-goin' to be man an' wife, an' I'm right glad to 'ear it, for it's a lonely life ye've been leadin' since yer father's death, forbye ye've got a bit o' company in old David. An' wot'll ye do with David when you're married?"

"He'll stay on with us, I hope," said Mary. "But this morning he has gone away—and we don't know where he can have gone to."

Mrs. Twitt raised her eyes and hands in astonishment.

"Gone away?"

"Yes." And Mary showed her the letter Helmsley had written, and explained how Angus Reay had started off to walk towards Minehead, in the hope of overtaking the wanderer.

"Well, I never!" And Mrs. Twitt gave a short gasp of wonder. "Wants to find employment, do 'e? The poor old innercent! Why, Twitt would 'a given 'im a job in the stoneyard if 'e'd 'a known. He'll never find a thing to do anywheres on the road at 'is age!"

And the news of David's sudden and lonely departure affected her more powerfully than the prospect of Mary's marriage, which had, in the first place, occupied all her mental faculties.

"An' that reminds me," she went on, "of 'ow the warnin' came to me yesterday when I was a-goin' out to my wash-tub an' I slipt on a bit o' potato peelin'. That's allus a sign of a partin' 'twixt friends. Put that together with the lump o' clinkers as flew out o' the fire last week and split in two in the middle of the kitchen, an' there ye 'ave it all writ plain. I sez to Twitt—'Suthin's goin' to 'appen'—an' 'e sez in 'is fool way—'G'arn, old woman, suthin's allus a-'appenin' somewheres'—then when Mister Reay looked in all smiles an' sez 'Good-mornin', Twitt! I'm goin' to marry Miss Mary Deane! Wish us joy!' Twitt, 'e up an' sez, 'There's your suthin', old gel! A marriage!' an' I sez, 'Not at all, Twitt—not at all, Mister Reay, if I may make so bold, but slippin' on peel don't mean marriage, nor yet clinkers, though two spoons in a saucer does convey 'ints o' the same, an' two spoons was in Twitt's saucer only this very mornin'. Which I wishes both man an' woman as runs the risk everlastin' joy!' An' Twitt, as is allus puttin' in 'is word where 'taint wanted, sez, 'Don't talk about everlastin' joy, mother, 'tis like a hepitaph'—which I answers quick an' sez, 'Your mind may run on hepitaphs, Twitt, seein' 'tis your livin', but mine don't do no such thing, an' when I sez everlastin' joy for man an' wife, I means it.' An' then Mister Reay comes an' pats me on the shoulder cosy like an' sez, 'Right you are, Mrs. Twitt!' an' 'e walks off laughin', an' Twitt 'e laughs too an' sez, 'Good luck to the bridegroom an' the bride,' which I aint denyin', but there was still the thought o' the potato peel an' the clinker, an' it's come clear to-day now I've 'eerd as 'ow poor old David's gone!" She paused to take breath, and shook her head solemnly. "It's my opinion 'e'll never come back no more!"

"Oh, don't say that!" exclaimed Mary, distressed. "Don't even think it!"

But Mrs. Twitt was not to be shaken in her pronouncement.

"'E'll never come back no more!" she said. "An' the children on the shore 'ull miss 'im badly, for 'e was a reg'lar Father Christmas to 'em, not givin' presents by any manner o' means, 'avin' none to give, but tellin' 'em stories as kep' 'em quiet an' out of 'arms way for 'ours,—an' mendin' their toys an' throwin' their balls an' spinnin' their tops like the 'armless old soul 'e was! I'm right sorry 'e's gone! Weircombe 'll miss 'im for sartin sure!"

And this was the general feeling of the whole village when the unexpected departure of "old David" became known. Angus Reay, returning in the afternoon, reported that he had walked half the way, and had driven the other half with a man who had given him a lift in his trap, right into Minehead, but had seen and heard nothing of the missing waif and stray. Coming back to Weircombe with the carrier's cart, he had questioned the carrier as to whether he had seen the old man anywhere along the road, but this inquiry likewise met with failure.

"So the only thing to do, Mary," said Angus, finally, "is to believe his own written word,—that he will be back with us before Sunday. I don't think he means to leave you altogether in such an abrupt way,—that would be churlish and ungrateful—and I'm sure he is neither."

"Oh, he's anything but churlish!" she answered quickly. "He has always been most thoughtful and kind to me; and as for gratitude!—why, the poor old dear makes too much of it altogether—one would think I had given him a fortune instead of just taking common human care of him. I expect he must have worked in some very superior house of business, for though he's so poor, he has all the ways of a gentleman."

"What are the ways of a gentleman, my Mary?" demanded Angus, gaily. "Do you know? I mean, do you know what they are nowadays? To stick a cigar in one's mouth and smoke it all the time a woman is present—to keep one's hat on before her, and to talk to her in such a loose, free and easy fashion as might bring one's grandmother out of her grave and make her venerable hair curl! Those are the 'ways' of certain present-time 'gentlemen' who keep all the restaurants and music-halls of London going—and I don't rank good old David with these. I know what you mean—you mean that he has all the fine feeling, delicacy and courtesy of a gentleman, as 'gentlemen' used to be before our press was degraded to its present level by certain clowns and jesters who make it their business to jeer at every "gentlemanly" feeling that ever inspired humanity—yes, I understand! He is a gentleman of the old school,—well,—I think he is—and I think he would always be that, if he tramped the road till he died. He must have seen better days."

"Oh yes, I'm sure of that!" said Mary. "So many really capable men get turned out of work because they are old——"

"Well, there's one advantage about my profession," interrupted Angus. "No one can turn me out of literature either for young or old age, if I choose to make a name in it! Think of that, my Mary! The glorious independence of it! An author is a law unto himself, and if he succeeds, he is the master of his own fate. Publishers are his humble servants—waiting eagerly to snatch up his work that they may get all they can for themselves out of it,—and the public—the great public which, apart from all 'interested' critical bias, delivers its own verdict, is always ready to hearken and to applaud the writer of its choice. There is no more splendid and enviable life!—if I could only make a hundred pounds a year by it, I would rather be an author than a king! For if one has something in one's soul to say—something that is vital, true, and human as well as divine, the whole world will pause to listen. Yes, Mary! In all its toil and stress, its scheming for self-advantage, its political changes, its little temporary passing shows of empires and monarchies, the world will stop to hear what the Thinker and the Writer tells it! The words of old Socrates still ring down the ages—the thoughts of Shakespeare are still the basis of English literature!—what a grand life it is to be among the least of one of the writing band! I tell you, Mary, that even if I fail, I shall be proud to have at any rate tried to succeed!"

"You will not fail!" she said, her eyes glowing with enthusiasm. "I shall see you win your triumph!"

"Well, if I cannot conquer everything with you by my side, I shall be but a poor and worthless devil!" he answered. "And now I must be off and endeavour to make up for my lost time this morning, running after David! Poor old chap! Don't worry about him, Mary. I think you may take his word for it that he means to be back before Sunday."

He left her then, and all the day and all the evening too she spent the time alone. It would have been impossible to her to express in words how greatly she missed the companionship of the gentle old man who had so long been the object of her care. There was a sense of desolate emptiness in the little cottage such as had not so deeply affected her for years—not indeed since the first months following immediately on her own father's death. That Angus Reay kept away was, she knew, care for her on his part. Solitary woman as she was, the villagers, like all people who live in very small, mentally restricted country places, would have idly gossiped away her reputation had she received her lover into her house alone. So she passed a very dismal time all by herself; and closing up the house early, took little Charlie in her arms and went to bed, where, much to her own abashment, she cried herself to sleep.

Meanwhile, David himself, for whom she fretted, had arrived in Exeter. The journey had fatigued him considerably, though he had been able to get fairly good food and a glass of wine at one of the junctions where he had changed en route. On leaving the Exeter railway station, he made his way towards the Cathedral, and happening to chance on a very small and unpretending "Temperance Hotel" in a side street, where a placard intimating that "Good Accommodation for Travellers" might be had within, he entered and asked for a bedroom. He obtained it at once, for his appearance was by no means against him, being that of a respectable old working man who was prepared to pay his way in a humble, but perfectly honest fashion. As soon as he had secured his room, which was a curious little three-cornered apartment, partially obscured by the shadows of the many buttresses of the Cathedral, his next care was to go out into the High Street and provide himself with a good stock of writing materials. These obtained, he returned to his temporary lodging, where, after supper, he went to bed early in order to rise early. With the morning light he was up and dressed, eager to be at work,—an inrush of his old business energy came back on him,—his brain was clear, his mental force keen and active. There happened to be an old-fashioned oak table in his room, and drawing this to the window, he sat down to write the document which his solicitor and friend, Sir Francis Vesey, had so often urged him to prepare—his Will. He knew what a number of legal technicalities might, or could be involved in this business, and was therefore careful to make it as short, clear, and concise as possible, leaving no chance anywhere open of doubt or discussion. And with a firm, unwavering pen, in his own particularly distinct and characteristic caligraphy, he disposed of everything of which he died possessed "absolutely and without any conditions whatsoever" to Mary Deane, spinster, at present residing in Weircombe, Somerset, adding the hope that she would, if she saw fit to do so, carry out certain requests of his, the testator's, as conveyed privately to her in a letter accompanying the Will. All the morning long he sat thoughtfully considering and weighing each word he used—till at last, when the document was finished to his satisfaction, he folded it up, and putting it in his pocket, started out to get his midday meal and find a lawyer's office. He was somewhat surprised at his own alertness and vigour as he walked through the streets of Exeter on this quest;—excitement buoyed him up to such a degree that be was not conscious of the slightest fatigue or lassitude—he felt almost young. He took his lunch at a small restaurant where he saw city clerks and others of that type going in, and afterwards, strolling up a dull little street which ended in a cul de sac, he spied a dingy archway, offering itself as an approach to a flight of equally dingy stairs. Here a brass plate, winking at the passer-by, stated that "Rowden and Owlett, Solicitors," would be found on the first floor. Helmsley paused, considering a moment—then, making up his mind that "Rowden and Owlett" would suit his purpose as well as any other equally unknown firm, he slowly climbed the steep and unwashed stair. Opening the first door at the top of the flight, he saw a small boy leaning both arms across a large desk, and watching the gyrations of two white mice in a revolving cage.

"Hullo!" said the boy sharply, "what d' ye want?"

"I want to see Mr. Rowden or Mr. Owlett," he replied.

"Right y' are!" and the boy promptly seized the cage containing the white mice and hid it in a cupboard. "You're our first caller to-day. Mr. Rowden's gone to Dawlish,—but Mr. Owlett's in. Wait a minute."

Helmsley obeyed, sitting down in a chair near the door, and smiling to himself at the evidences of slack business which the offices of Messrs. Rowden and Owlett presented. In about five minutes the boy returned, and gave him a confidential nod.

"You can go in now," he said; "Mr. Owlett was taking his after-dinner snooze, but he's jumped up at once, and he's washed his hands and face, so he's quite ready for business. This way, please!"

He beckoned with a rather dirty finger, and Helmsley followed him into a small apartment where Mr. Owlett, a comfortably stout, middle-aged gentleman, sat at a large bureau covered with papers, pretending to read. He looked up as his hoped-for client entered, and flushed redly in the face with suppressed vexation as he saw that it was only a working man after all—"Some fellow wanting a debt collected," he decided, pushing away his papers with a rather irritated movement. However, in times when legal work was so scarce, it did not serve any good purpose to show anger, so, smoothing his ruffled brow, he forced a reluctantly condescending smile, as his office-boy, having ushered in the visitor, left the room.

"Good afternoon, my man!" he said, with a patronising air. "What can I do for you?"

"Well, not so very much, sir," and Helmsley took off his hat deferentially, standing in an attitude of humility. "It's only a matter of making my Will,—I've written it out myself, and if you would be so good as to see whether it is all in order, I'm prepared to pay you for your trouble."

"Oh, certainly, certainly!" Here Mr. Owlett took off his spectacles and polished them. "I suppose you know it's not always a wise thing to draw up your own Will yourself? You should always let a lawyer draw it up for you."

"Yes, sir, I've heard that," answered Helmsley, with an air of respectful attention—"And that's why I've brought the paper to you, for if there's anything wrong with it, you can put it right, or draw it up again if you think proper. Only I'd rather not be put to more expense than I can help."

"Just so!" And the worthy solicitor sighed, as he realised that there were no "pickings" to be made out of his present visitor—"Have you brought the document with you?"

"Yes, sir!" Helmsley fumbled in his pocket, and drew out the paper with a well-assumed air of hesitation; "I'm leaving everything I've got to a woman who has been like a daughter to me in my old age—my wife and children are dead—and I've no one that has any blood claim on me—so I think the best thing I can do is to give everything I've got to the one that's been kind to me in my need."

"Very right—very proper!" murmured Mr. Owlett, as he took the offered document from Helmsley's hand and opened it—"Um—um!—let me see!——" Here he read aloud—"I, David Helmsley,—um—um!—Helmsley—Helmsley!—that's a name that I seem to have heard somewhere!—David Helmsley!—yes!—why that's the name of a multi-millionaire!—ha-ha-ha! A multi-millionaire! That's curious! Do you know, my man, that your name is the same as that of one of the richest men in the world?"

Helmsley permitted himself to smile.

"Really, sir? You don't say so!"

"Yes, yes!" And Mr. Owlett fixed his spectacles on his nose and beamed at his humble client through them condescendingly—"One of the richest men in the world!" And he smacked his lips as though he had just swallowed a savoury morsel—"Amazing! Now if you were he, your Will would be a world's affair—a positively world's affair!"

"Would it indeed?" And again Helmsley smiled.

"Everybody would talk of it," proceeded Owlett, lost in rapturous musing—"The disposal of a rich man's millions is always a most interesting subject of conversation! And you actually didn't know you had such a rich namesake?"

"No, sir, I did not."

"Ah well! I suppose you live in the country, and people in the country seldom hear of the names that are famous in towns. Now let me consider this Will again—'I, David Helmsley, being in sound health of mind and body, thanks be to God, do make this to be my Last Will and Testament, revoking all former Wills, Codicils and Testamentary Dispositions. First I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping and believing, through the merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour, to be made partaker of life everlasting'—Dear me, dear me!" and Mr. Owlett took off his spectacles. "You must be a very old-fashioned man! This sort of thing is not at all necessary nowadays!"

"Not necessary, perhaps," said Helmsley gently—"But there is no harm in putting it in, sir, I hope?"

"Oh, there's no harm! It doesn't affect the Will itself, of course,—but—but—it's odd—it's unusual! You see nobody minds what becomes of your Soul, or your Body either—the only question of importance to any one is what is to be done with your Money!"

"I see!" And Helmsley nodded his head and spoke with perfect mildness—"But I'm an old man, and I've lived long enough to be fonder of old-fashioned ways than new, and I should like, if you please, to let it be known that I died a Christian, which is, to me, not a member of any particular church or chapel, but just a Christian—a man who faithfully believes in the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The attorney stared at him astonished, and moved by a curious sense of shame. There was something both pathetic and dignified in the aspect of this frail old "working man," who stood before him so respectfully with his venerable white hair uncovered, and his eyes full of an earnest resolution which was not to be gainsaid. Coughing a cough of nervous embarrassment, he again glanced at the document before him.

"Of course," he said—"if you wish it, there is not the slightest objection to your making this—this public statement as to your religious convictions. It does not affect the disposal of your worldly goods in any way. It used—yes, it used to be quite the ordinary way of beginning a Last Will and Testament—but we have got beyond any special commendation of our souls to God, you know——"

"Oh yes, I quite understand that," rejoined Helmsley. "Present-day people like to think that God takes no interest whatever in His own creation. It's a more comfortable doctrine to believe that He is indifferent rather than observant. But, so far as I'm concerned, I don't go with the time."

"No, I see you don't," and Mr. Owlett bent his attention anew on the Will—"And the religious preliminary being quite unimportant, you shall have it your own way. Apart from that, you've drawn it up quite correctly, and in very good form. I suppose you understand that you have in this Will left 'everything' to the named legatee, Mary Deane, spinster, that is to say, excluding no item whatsoever? That she becomes the possessor, in fact, of your whole estate?"

Helmsley bent his head in assent.

"That is what I wish, sir, and I hope I have made it clear."

"Yes, you have made it quite clear. There is no room for discussion on any point. You wish us to witness your signature?"

"If you please, sir."

And he advanced to the bureau ready to sign. Mr. Owlett rang a bell sharply twice. An angular man with a youngish face and a very elderly manner answered the summons.

"My confidential clerk," said Owlett, briefly introducing him. "Here, Prindle! I want you to be witness with me to this gentleman's Will."

Prindle bowed, and passed his hand across his mouth to hide a smile. Prindle was secretly amused to think that a working man had anything to leave worth the trouble of making a Will at all. Mr. Owlett dipped a pen in ink, and handed it to his client. Whereat, Helmsley wrote his signature in a clear, bold, unfaltering hand. Mr. Owlett appended his own name, and then Prindle stepped up to sign. As he saw the signature "David Helmsley," he paused and seemed astonished. Mr. Owlett gave a short laugh.

"We know that name, don't we, Prindle?"

"Well, sir, I should say all the world knew it!" replied Prindle.

"All the world—yes!—all except our friend here," said Owlett, nodding towards Helmsley. "You didn't know, my man, did you, that there was a multi-millionaire existing of the same name as yourself?"

"No, sir, I did not!" answered Helmsley. "I hope he's made his Will!"

"I hope he has!" laughed the attorney. "There'll be a big haul for the Crown if he hasn't!"

Prindle, meanwhile, was slowly writing "James George Prindle, Clerk to the aforesaid Robert Owlett" underneath his legal employer's signature.

"I should suggest," said Mr. Owlett, addressing David, jocosely, "that you go and make yourself known to the rich Mr. Helmsley as a namesake of his!"

"Would you, sir? And why?"

"Well, he might be interested. Men as rich as he is always want a new 'sensation' to amuse them. And he might, for all you know, make you a handsome present, or leave you a little legacy!"

Helmsley smiled—he very nearly laughed. But he carefully guarded his equanimity.

"Thank you for the hint, sir! I'll try and see him some day!"

"I hear he's dead," said Prindle, finishing the signing of his name and laying down his pen. "It was in the papers some time back."

"But it was contradicted," said Owlett quickly.

"Ah, but I think it was true all the same," and Prindle shook his head obstinately. "The papers ought to know."

"Oh yes, they ought to know, but in nine cases out of ten they don't know," declared Owlett. "And if you contradict their lies, they're so savage at being put in the wrong that they'll blazon the lies all the more rather than confess them. That will do, Prindle! You can go."

Prindle, aware that his employer was not a man to be argued with, at once retired, and Owlett, folding up the Will, handed it to Helmsley.

"That's all right," he said, "I suppose you want to take it with you? You can leave it with us if you like."

"Thank you, but I'd rather have it about me," Helmsley answered. "You see I'm old and not very strong, and I might die at any time. I'd like to keep my Will on my own person."

"Well, take care of it, that's all," said the solicitor, smiling at what he thought his client's rustic naivete. "No matter how little you've got to leave, it's just as well it should go where you want it to go without trouble or difficulty. And there's generally a quarrel over every Will."

"I hope there's no chance of any quarrel over mine," said Helmsley, with a touch of anxiety.

"Oh no! Not the least in the world! Even if you were as great a millionaire as the man who happens to bear the same name as yourself, the Will would hold good."

"Thank you!" And Helmsley placed on the lawyer's desk more than his rightful fee, which that respectable personage accepted without any hesitation. "I'm very much obliged to you. Good afternoon!"

"Good afternoon!" And Mr. Owlett leaned back in his chair, blandly surveying his visitor. "I suppose you quite understand that, having made your legatee, Mary Deane, your sole executrix likewise, you give her absolute control?"

"Oh yes, I quite understand that!" answered Helmsley. "That is what I wish her to have—the free and absolute control of all I die possessed of."

"Then you may be quite easy in your mind," said the lawyer. "You have made that perfectly clear."

Whereat Helmsley again said "Good afternoon," and again Mr. Owlett briefly responded, sweeping the money his client had paid him off his desk, and pocketing the same with that resigned air of injured virtue which was his natural expression whenever he thought of how little good hard cash a country solicitor could make in the space of twenty-four hours. Helmsley, on leaving the office, returned at once to his lodging under the shadow of the Cathedral and resumed his own work, which was that of writing several letters to various persons connected with his financial affairs, showing to each and all what a grip he held, even in absence, on the various turns of the wheel of fortune, and dating all his communications from Exeter, "at which interesting old town I am making a brief stay," he wrote, for the satisfaction of such curiosity as his correspondents might evince, as well as for the silencing of all rumours respecting his supposed death. Last of all he wrote to Sir Francis Vesey, as follows:—

"MY DEAR VESEY,—On this day, in the good old city of Exeter, I have done what you so often have asked me to do. I have made my Will. It is drawn up entirely in my own handwriting, and has been duly declared correct and valid by a legal firm here, Messrs. Rowden and Owlett. Mr. Owlett and Mr. Owlett's clerk were good enough to witness my signature. I wish you to consider this communication made to you in the most absolute confidence, and as I carry the said document, namely my 'Last Will and Testament,' upon my person, it will not reach your hands till I am no more. Then I trust you will see the business through without unnecessary trouble or worry to the person who, by my desire, will inherit all I have to leave.

"I have spent nearly a year of almost perfect happiness away from London and all the haunts of London men, and I have found what I sought, but what you probably doubted I could ever find—Love! The treasures of earth I possess and have seldom enjoyed—but the treasure of Heaven,—that pure, disinterested, tender affection, which bears the stress of poverty, sickness, and all other kindred ills,—I never had till now. And now the restless craving of my soul is pacified. I am happy,—moreover, I am perfectly at ease as regards the disposal of my wealth when I am gone. I know you will be glad to hear this, and that you will see that my last wishes and instructions are faithfully carried out in every respect—that is, if I should die before I see you again, which I hope may not be the case.

"It is my present intention to return to London shortly, and tell you personally the story of such adventures as have chanced to me since I left Carlton House Terrace last July, but 'man proposes, and God disposes,' and one can be certain of nothing. I need not ask you to keep all my affairs going as if I myself were on the scene of action, and also to inform the servants of my household to prepare for my return, as I may be back in town any day. I must thank you for your prompt and businesslike denial of the report of my death, which I understand has been circulated by the press. I am well—as well as a man of my age can expect to be, save for a troublesome heart-weakness, which threatens a brief and easy ending to my career. But for this, I should esteem myself stronger than some men who are still young. And one of the strongest feelings in me at the present moment (apart altogether from the deep affection and devout gratitude I have towards the one who under my Will is to inherit all I have spent my life to gain) is my friendship for you, my dear Vesey,—a friendship cemented by the experience of years, and which I trust may always be unbroken, even remaining in your mind as an unspoilt memory after I am gone where all who are weary, long, yet fear to go! Nevertheless, my faith is firm that the seeming darkness of death will prove but the veil which hides the light of a more perfect life, and I have learned, through the purity of a great and unselfish human love, to believe in the truth of the Love Divine.—Your friend always, DAVID HELMSLEY."

This letter finished, he went out and posted it with all the others he had written, and then passed the evening in listening to the organist practising grave anthems and voluntaries in the Cathedral. Every little item he could think of in his business affairs was carefully gone over during the three days he spent in Exeter,—nothing was left undone that could be so arranged as to leave his worldly concerns in perfect and unquestionable order—and when, as "Mr. David," he paid his last daily score at the little Temperance hotel where he had stayed since the Tuesday night, and started by the early train of Saturday morning on his return to Minehead, he was at peace with himself and all men. True it was that the making of his will had brought home to him the fact that it was not the same thing as when, being in the prime of life, he had made it in favour of his two sons, who were now dead,—it was really and truly a final winding-up of his temporal interests, and an admitted approach to the verge of the Eternal,—but he was not depressed by this consciousness. On the contrary, a happy sense of perfect calm pervaded his whole being, and as the train bore him swiftly through the quiet, lovely land back to Minehead, that sea-washed portal to the little village paradise which held the good angel of his life, he silently thanked God that he had done the work which he had started out to do, and that he had been spared to return and look again into the beloved face of the one woman in all the world who had given him a true affection without any "motive," or hope of reward. And he murmured again his favourite lines:—

"Let the sweet heavens endure, Not close nor darken above me, Before I am quite, quite sure That there is one to love me! Then let come what come may, To a life that has been so sad, I shall have had my day!"

"That is true!" he said—"And being 'quite, quite sure' beyond all doubt, that I have found 'one to love me' whose love is of the truest, holiest and purest, what more can I ask of Divine goodness!"

And his face was full of the light of a heart's content and peace, as the dimpled hill coast of Somerset came into view, and the warm spring sunshine danced upon the sea.


Arriving at Minehead, Helmsley passed out of the station unnoticed by any one, and made his way easily through the sunny little town. He was soon able to secure a "lift" towards Weircombe in a baker's cart going half the way; the rest of the distance he judged he could very well manage to walk, albeit slowly. A fluttering sense of happiness, like the scarcely suppressed excitement of a boy going home from school for the holidays, made him feel almost agile on his feet,—if he had only had a trifle more strength he thought he could have run the length of every mile stretching between him and the dear cottage in the coombe, which had now become the central interest of his life. The air was so pure, the sun so bright—the spring foliage was so fresh and green, the birds sang so joyously—all nature seemed to be in such perfect tune with the deep ease and satisfaction of his own soul, that every breath he took was more or less of a thanksgiving to God for having been spared to enjoy the beauty of such halcyon hours. By the willing away of all his millions to one whom he knew to be of a pure, noble, and incorruptible nature, a great load had been lifted from his mind,—he had done with world's work for ever; and by some inexplicable yet divine compensation it seemed as though the true meaning of the life to come had been suddenly disclosed to him, and that he was allowed to realise for the first time not only the possibility, but the certainty, that Death is not an End, but a new Beginning. And he felt himself to be a free man,—free of all earthly confusion and worry—free to recommence another cycle of nobler work in a higher and wider sphere of action, And he argued with himself thus:—

"A man is born into this world without his own knowledge or consent. Yet he finds himself—also without his own knowledge or consent—surrounded by natural beauty and perfect order—he finds nothing in the planet which can be accounted valueless—he learns that even a grain of dust has its appointed use, and that not a sparrow shall fall to the ground without 'Our Father.' Everything is ready to his hand to minister to his reasonable wants—and it is only when he misinterprets the mystic meaning of life, and puts God aside as an 'unknown quantity,' that things go wrong. His mission is that of progress and advancement—but not progress and advancement in base material needs and pleasures,—the progress and advancement required of him is primarily spiritual. For the spiritual, or Mind, is the only Real. Matter is merely the husk in which the seed of Spirit is enclosed—and Man's mistake is always that he attaches himself to the perishable husk instead of the ever germinating seed. He advances, but advances wrongly, and therefore has to go back upon his steps. He progresses in what he calls civilisation, which so long as it is purely self-aggrandisement, is but a common circle, bringing him back in due course to primitive savagery. Now I, for example, started in life to make money—I made it, and it brought me power, which I thought progress; but now, at the end of my tether, I see plainly that I have done no good in my career save such good as will come from my having placed all my foolish gainings under the control of a nature simpler and therefore stronger than my own. And I, leaving my dross behind me, must go forward and begin again—spiritually the wiser for my experience of this world, which may help me better to understand the next."

Thus he mused, as he slowly trudged along under the bright and burning sun—happy enough in his thoughts except that now and then a curious touch of foreboding fear came over him as to whether anything ill had happened to Mary in his absence.

"For one never knows!"—and a faint shudder came over him as he remembered Tom o' the Gleam, and the cruel, uncalled-for death of his child, the only human creature left to him in the world to care for. "One can never tell, whether in the scheme of creation there is such a being as a devil, who takes joy in running counter to the beneficent intentions of the Creator! Light exists—and Darkness. Good seems co-equal with Evil. It is all mystery! Now, suppose Mary were to die? Suppose she were, at this very moment, dead?"

Such a horror came over him as this idea presented itself to his mind that he trembled from head to foot, and his brain grew dizzy. He had walked for a longer time than he knew since the cart in which he had ridden part of the way had left him at about four miles away from Weircombe, and he felt that he must sit down on the roadside and rest for a bit before going further. How cruel, how fiendish it would be, he continued to imagine, if Mary were dead! It would be devil's work!—and he would have no more faith in God! He would have lost his last hope,—and he would fall into the grave a despairing atheist and blasphemer! Why, if Mary were dead, then the world was a snare, and heaven a delusion!—truth a trick, and goodness a lie! Then—was all the past, the present, and future hanging for him like a jewel on the finger of one woman? He was bound to admit that it was so. He was also bound to admit that all the past, present, and future had, for poor Tom o' the Gleam, been centred in one little child. And—God?—no, not God—but a devil, using as his tools devilish men,—had killed that child! Then, might not that devil kill Mary? His head swam, and a sickening sense of bafflement and incompetency came over him. He had made his will,—that was true!—but who could guarantee that she whom he had chosen as his heiress would live to inherit his wealth?

"I wish I did not think of such horrible things!" he said wearily—"Or I wish I could walk faster, and get home—home to the little cottage quickly, and see for myself that she is safe and well!"

Sitting among the long grass and field flowers by the roadside, he grasped his stick in one hand and leaned his head upon that support, closing his eyes in sheer fatigue and despondency. Suddenly a sound startled him, and he struggled to his feet, his eyes shining with an intent and eager look. That clear, tender voice!—that quick, sweet cry!


He listened with a vague and dreamy sense of pleasure. The soft patter of feet across the grass—the swish of a dress against the leaves, and then—then—why, here was Mary herself, one tress of her lovely hair tumbling loose in the sun, her eyes bright and her cheeks crimson with running.

"Oh, David, dear old David! Here you are at last! Why did you go away! We have missed you dreadfully! David, you look so tired!—where have you been? Angus and I have been waiting for you ever so long,—you said in your letter you would be back by Sunday, and we thought you would likely choose to-day to come—oh, David?—you are quite worn out! Don't—don't give way!"

For with the longed-for sight of her, the world's multi-millionaire had become only a weak, over-wrought old man, and his tired heart had leaped in his breast with quite a poor and common human joy which brought the tears falling from his eyes despite himself. She was beside him in a moment, her arm thrown affectionately about his shoulders, and her sweet face turned up close to his, all aglow with sympathy and tenderness.

"Why did you leave us?" she went on with a gentle playfulness, though the tears were in her own eyes. "Whatever made you think of getting work out of Weircombe? Oh, you dissatisfied old boy! I thought you were quite happy with me!"

He took her hand and held it a moment, then pressed it to his lips.

"Happy!" he murmured. "My dear, I was too happy!—and I felt that I owed you too much! I went away for a bit just to see if I could do something for you more profitable than basket-making——"

Mary nodded her head at him in wise-like fashion, just as if he were a spoilt child.

"I daresay you did!" she said, smiling. "And what's the end of it all, eh?"

He looked at her, and in the brightness of her smile, smiled also.

"Well, the end of it all is that I've come back to you in exactly the same condition in which I went away," he said. "No richer,—no poorer! I've got nothing to do. Nobody wants old people on their hands nowadays. It's a rough time of the world!"

"You'll always find the world rough on you if you turn your back on those that love you!" she said.

He lifted his head and gazed at her with such a pained and piteous appeal, that her heart smote her. He looked so very ill, and his worn face with the snow-white hair ruffled about it, was so pallid and thin.

"God forbid that I should do that!" he murmured tremulously. "God forbid! Mary, you don't think I would ever do that?"

"No—of course not!" she answered soothingly. "Because you see, you've come back again. But if you had gone away altogether——"

"You'd have thought me an ungrateful, worthless old rascal, wouldn't you?" And the smile again sparkled in his dim eyes. "And you and Angus Reay would have said—'Well, never mind him! He served one useful purpose at any rate—he brought us together!'"

"Now, David!" said Mary, holding up a warning finger, "You know we shouldn't have talked in such a way of you at all! Even if you had never come back, we should always have thought of you kindly—and I should have always loved you and prayed for you!"

He was silent, mentally pulling himself together. Then he put his arm gently through hers.

"Let us go home," he said. "I can walk now. Are we far from the coombe?"

"Not ten minutes off," she answered, glad to see him more cheerful and alert. "By the short cut it's just over the brow of the hill. Will you come that way?"

"Any way you like to take me," and leaning on her arm he walked bravely on. "Where is Angus?"

"I left him sitting under a tree at the top of the coombe near the Church," she replied. "He was busy with his writing, and I told him I would just run across the hill and see if you were coming. I had a sort of fancy you would be tramping home this morning! And where have you been all these days?"

"A good way," he answered evasively. "I'm rather a slow walker."

"I should think you were!" and she laughed good-humouredly. "You must have been pretty near us all the while!"

He made no answer, and together they paced slowly across the grass, sweet with the mixed perfume of thousands of tiny close-growing herbs and flowers which clung in unseen clumps to the soil. All at once the quaint little tower of Weircombe Church thrust its ivy-covered summit above the edge of the green slope which they were ascending, and another few steps showed the glittering reaches of the sunlit sea. Helmsley paused, and drew a deep breath.

"I am thankful to see it all again!" he said.

She waited, while leaning heavily on her arm he scanned the whole fair landscape with a look of eager love and longing. She saw that he was very tired and exhausted, and wondered what he had been doing with himself in his days of absence from her care, but she had too much delicacy and feeling for him to ask him any questions. And she was glad when a cheery "Hillo!" echoed over the hill and Angus appeared, striding across the grass and waving his cap in quite a jubilant fashion. As soon as he saw them plainly he exchanged his stride for a run and came up to them in a couple of minutes.

"Why, David!" he exclaimed. "How are you, old boy? Welcome back! So Mary is right as usual! She said she was sure you would be home to-day!"

Helmsley could not speak. He merely returned the pressure of Reay's warm, strong hand with all the friendly fervour of which he was capable. A glance from Mary's eyes warned Angus that the old man was sorely tired—and he at once offered him his arm.

"Lean on me, David," he said. "Strong as bonnie Mary is, I'm just a bit stronger. We'll be across the brae in no time! Charlie's at home keeping house!"

He laughed, and Helmsley smiled.

"Poor wee Charlie!" he said. "Did he miss me?"

"That he did!" answered Mary. "He's been quite lonesome, and not contented at all with only me. Every morning and every night he went into your room looking for you, and whined so pitifully at not finding you that I had quite a trouble to comfort him."

"More tender-hearted than many a human so-called 'friend'!" murmured Helmsley.

"Why yes, of course!" said Reay. "There's nothing more faithful on earth than a faithful dog—except"—and he smiled—"a faithful husband!"

Mary laughed.

"Or a faithful wife—which?" she playfully demanded. "How does the old rhyme go—

'A wife, a dog, and a walnut tree, The more you beat 'em, the better they be!'

Are you going to try that system when we are married, Angus?"

She laughed again, and without waiting for an answer, ran on a little in front, in order to be first across the natural bridge which separated them from the opposite side of the "coombe," and from the spot where the big chestnut-tree waved its fan-like green leaves and plumes of pinky white blossom over her garden gate. Another few steps made easily with the support of Reay's strong arm, and Helmsley found himself again in the simple little raftered cottage kitchen, with Charlie tearing madly round and round him in ecstasy, uttering short yelps of joy. Something struggled in his throat for utterance,—it seemed ages since he had last seen this little abode of peace and sweet content, and a curious impression was in his mind of having left one identity here to take up another less pleasing one elsewhere. A deep, unspeakable gratitude overwhelmed him,—he felt to the full the sympathetic environment of love,—that indescribable sense of security which satisfies the heart when it knows it is "dear to some one else."

"If I be dear to some one else, Then I should be to myself more dear."

For there is nothing in the whole strange symphony of human life, with its concordances and dissonances, that strikes out such a chord of perfect music as the consciousness of love. To feel that there is one at least in the world to whom you are more dear than to any other living being, is the very centralisation of life and the mainspring of action. For that one you will work and plan,—for that one you will seek to be noble and above the average in your motives and character—for that one you will, despite a multitude of drawbacks, agree to live. But without this melodious note in the chorus all the singing is in vain.

Led to his accustomed chair by the hearth, Helmsley sank into it restfully, and closed his eyes. He was so thoroughly tired out mentally and physically with the strain he had put upon himself in undertaking his journey, as well as in getting through the business he had set out to do, that he was only conscious of a great desire to sleep. So that when he shut his eyes for a moment, as he thought, he was quite unaware that he fell into a dead faint and so remained for nearly half an hour. When he came to himself again, Mary was kneeling beside him with a very pale face, and Angus was standing quite close to him, while no less a personage than Mr. Bunce was holding his hand and feeling his pulse.

"Better now?" said Mr. Bunce, in a voice of encouraging mildness. "We have done too much. We have walked too far. We must rest."

Helmsley smiled—the little group of three around him looked so troubled, while he himself felt nothing unusual.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "I'm all right—quite all right. Only just a little tired!"

"Exactly!" And Mr. Bunce nodded profoundly. "Just a little tired! We have taken a very unnecessary journey away from our friends, and we are suffering for it! We must now be very good; we must stay at home and keep quiet!"

Helmsley looked from one to the other questioningly.

"Do you think I'm ill?" he asked. "I'm not, really! I feel very well."

"That's all right, David, dear!" said Mary, patting his hand. "But you are tired—you know you are!"

His eyes rested on her fondly.

"Yes, I'm tired," he confessed. "But that's nothing." He waited a minute, looking at them all. "That's nothing! Is it, Mr. Bunce?"

"When we are young it is nothing," replied Mr. Bunce cautiously. "But when we are old, we must be careful!"

Helmsley smiled.

"Shake hands, Bunce!" he said, suiting the action to the word. "I'll obey your orders, never fear! I'll sit quiet!"

And he showed so much cheerfulness, and chatted with them all so brightly, that, for the time, anxiety was dispelled. Mr. Bunce took his departure promptly, only pausing at the garden gate to give a hint to Angus Reay.

"He will require the greatest care. Don't alarm Miss Deane—but his heart was always weak, and it has grown perceptibly weaker. He needs complete repose."

Angus returned to the cottage somewhat depressed after this, and from that moment Helmsley found himself surrounded with evidences of tender forethought for his comfort such as no rich man could ever obtain for mere cash payment. The finest medical skill and the best trained nursing are, we know, to be had for money,—but the soothing touch of love,—the wordless sympathy which manifests itself in all the looks and movements of those by whom a life is really and truly held precious—these are neither to be bought nor sold. And David Helmsley in his assumed character of a man too old and too poor to have any so-called "useful" friends—a mere wayfarer on the road apparently without a home, or any prospect of obtaining one,—had, by the simplest, yet strangest chance in the world, found an affection such as he had never in his most successful and most brilliant days been able to win. He upon whom the society women of London and Paris had looked with greedy and speculative eyes, wondering how much they could manage to get out of him, was now being cared for by one simple-hearted sincere woman, who had no other motive for her affectionate solicitude save gentlest compassion and kindness;—he whom crafty kings had invited to dine with them because of his enormous wealth, and because is was possible that, for the "honour" of sitting at the same table with them he might tide them over a financial difficulty, was now tended with more than the duty and watchfulness of a son in the person of a poor journalist, kicked out of employment for telling the public certain important facts concerning financial "deals" on the part of persons of influence—a journalist, who for this very cause was likely never more to be a journalist, but rather a fighter against bitter storm and stress, for the fair wind of popular favour,—that being generally the true position of any independent author who has something new and out of the common to say to the world. Angus Reay, working steadily and hopefully on his gradually diminishing little stock of money, with all his energies bent on cutting a diamond of success out of the savagely hard rock of human circumstance, was more filial in his respect and thought for Helmsley than either of Helmsley's own sons had been; while his character was as far above the characters of those two ne'er-do-weel sprouts of their mother's treachery as light is above darkness. And the multi-millionaire was well content to rest in the little cottage where he had found a real home, watching the quiet course of events,—and waiting—waiting for something which he found himself disposed to expect—a something to which he could not give a name.

There was quite a little rejoicing in the village of Weircombe when it was known he had returned from his brief wanderings, and there was also a good deal of commiseration expressed for him when it was known that he was somewhat weakened in physical health by his efforts to find more paying work. Many of the children with whom he was a favourite came up to see him, bringing little knots of flowers, or curious trophies of weed and shells from the seashore—and now that the weather was settled fine and warm, he became accustomed to sit in his chair outside the cottage door in the garden, with the old sweetbriar bush shedding perfume around him, and a clambering rose breaking into voluptuous creamy pink blossom above his head. Here he would pursue his occupation of basket-making, and most of the villagers made it their habit to pass up and down at least once or twice a day in their turns, to see how he fared, or, as they themselves expressed it, "to keep old David going." His frail bent figure, his thin, intellectual face, with its composed expression of peace and resignation, his soft white hair, and his slow yet ever patiently working hands, made up a picture which, set in the delicate framework of leaf and blossom, was one to impress the imagination and haunt the memory. Mr. and Mrs. Twitt were constant visitors, and many were the would-be jocose remarks of the old stonemason on David's temporary truancy.

"Wanted more work, did ye?" And thrusting his hands deep in the pockets of his corduroys, Twitt looked at him with a whimsical complacency. "Well, why didn't ye come down to the stoneyard an' learn 'ow to cut a hepitaph? Nice chippy, easy work in its way, an' no 'arm in yer sittin' down to it. Why didn't ye, eh?"

"I've never had enough education for such work as that, Mr. Twitt," answered David mildly, with something of a humorous sparkle in his eyes. "I'm afraid I should spoil more than I could pay for. You want an artist—not an untrained clumsy old fellow like me."

"Oh, blow artists!" said Mr. Twitt irreverently. "They talks a lot—they talks yer 'ed off—but they doos onny 'arf the labour as they spends in waggin' their tongues. An' for a hepitaph, they none of 'em aint got an idee. It's allus Scripter texes with 'em,—they aint got no 'riginality. Now I'm a reg'lar Scripter reader, an' nowheres do I find it writ as we're to use the words o' God Himself to carve on tombstones for our speshul convenience, cos we aint no notions o' feelin' an' respect of our own. But artists can't think o' nothin', an' I never cares to employ 'em. Yet for all that there's not a sweeter, pruttier place than our little cemetery nowheres in all the world. There aint no tyranny in it, an' no pettifoggin' interference. Why, there's places in England where ye can't put what ye likes over the grave o' yer dead friends!—ye've got to 'submit' yer idee to the parzon, or wot's worse, the Corporation, if ser be yer last go-to-bed place is near a town. There's a town I know of," and here Mr. Twitt began to laugh,—"wheer ye can't 'ave a moniment put up to your dead folk without 'subjectin'' the design to the Town Council—an' we all knows the fine taste o' Town Councils! They'se 'artists,' an' no mistake! I've got the rules of the cemetery of that town for my own eddification. They runs like this—" And drawing a paper from his pocket, he read as follows:—

"'All gravestones, monuments, tombs, tablets, memorials, palisades, curbs, and inscriptions shall be subject to the approval of the Town Council; and a drawing, showing the form, materials, and dimensions of every gravestone, monument, tomb, tablet, memorial, palisades, or curb proposed to be erected or fixed, together with a copy of the inscription intended to be cut thereon (if any), on the form provided by the Town Council, must be left at the office of the Clerk at least ten days before the first Tuesday in any month. The Town Council reserve to themselves the right to remove or prevent the erection of any monument, tomb, tablet, memorial, etc., which shall not have previously received their sanction.' There! What d' ye think of that?"

Helmsley had listened in astonishment.

"Think? I think it is monstrous!" he said, with some indignation. "Such a Town Council as that is a sort of many-headed tyrant, resolved to persecute the unhappy townspeople into their very graves!"

"Right y' are!" said Twitt. "But there's a many on 'em! An' ye may thank yer stars ye're not anywheres under 'em. Now when you goes the way o' all flesh——"

He paused, suddenly embarrassed, and conscious that he had perhaps touched on a sore subject. But Helmsley reassured him.

"Yes, Twitt? Don't stop!—what then?"

"Why, then," said Twitt, almost tenderly, "ye'll 'ave our good old parzon to see ye properly tucked under a daisy quilt, an' wotever ye wants put on yer tomb, or wotever's writ on it, can be yer own desire, if ye'll think about it afore ye goes. An' there'll be no expense at all—for I tell ye just the truth—I've grown to like ye that well that I'll carve ye the pruttiest little tombstone ye ever seed for nothin'!"

Helmsley smiled.

"Well, I shan't be able to thank you then, Mr. Twitt, so I thank you now," he said. "You know a good deed is always rewarded, if not in this world, then in the next."

"I b'leeve that," rejoined Twitt; "I b'leeve it true. And though I know Mis' Deane is that straight an' 'onest, she'd see ye properly mementoed an' paid for, I wouldn't take a penny from 'er—not on account of a kindly old gaffer like yerself. I'd do it all friendly."

"Of course you would!" and Helmsley shook his hand heartily; "And of course you will!"

This, and many other conversations he had with Twitt and a certain few of the villagers, showed him that the little community of Weircombe evidently thought of him as being not long for this world. He accepted the position quietly, and passed day after day peacefully enough, without feeling any particular illness, save a great weakness in his limbs. He was in himself particularly happy, for Mary was always with him, and Angus passed every evening with them both. Another great pleasure, too, he found in the occasional and entirely unobtrusive visits of the parson of the little parish—a weak and ailing man physically, but in soul and intellect exceptionally strong. As different from the Reverend Mr. Arbroath as an old-time Crusader would be from a modern jockey, he recognised the sacred character of his mission as an ordained minister of Christ, and performed that mission simply and faithfully. He would sit by Helmsley's chair of a summer afternoon and talk with him as friend to friend—it made no difference to him that to all appearances the old man was poor and dependent on Mary Deane's bounty, and that his former life was, to him, the clergyman, a sealed book; he was there to cheer and to comfort, not to inquire, reproach, or condemn. He was the cheeriest of companions, and the most hopeful of believers.

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