Chapter XXVI.
 

Mrs. Staines made one or two movements--to stop Lord Tadcaster-- with her hand, that expressive feature with which, at such times, a sensitive woman can do all but speak.

When at last he paused for her reply, she said, "Me marry again! Oh! for shame!"

"Mrs. Staines--Rosa--you will marry again, some day."

"Never. Me take another husband, after such a man as I have lost! I should be a monster. Oh, Lord Tadcaster, you have been so kind to me; so sympathizing. You made me believe you loved my Christopher, too; and now you have spoiled all. It is too cruel."

"Oh! Mrs. Staines, do you think me capable of feigning--don't you see my love for you has taken you by surprise? But how could I visit you--look on you--hear you--mingle my regrets with yours; yours were the deepest, of course; but mine were honest."

"I believe it." And she gave him her hand. He held it, and kissed it, and cried over it, as the young will, and implored her, on his knees, not to condemn herself to life-long widowhood, and him to despair.

Then she cried, too; but she was firm; and by degrees she made him see that her heart was inaccessible.

Then at last he submitted with tearful eyes, but a valiant heart.

She offered friendship timidly.

But he was too much of a man to fall into that trap. "No," he said: "I could not, I could not. Love or nothing."

"You are right," said she, pityingly. "Forgive me. In my selfishness and my usual folly, I did not see this coming on, or I would have spared you this mortification."

"Never mind that," gulped the little earl. "I shall always be proud I knew you, and proud I loved you, and offered you my hand."

Then the magnanimous little fellow blessed her, and left her, and discontinued his visits.

Mr. Lusignan found her crying, and got the truth out of her. He was in despair. He remonstrated kindly, but firmly. Truth compels me to say that she politely ignored him. He observed that phenomenon, and said, "Very well then, I shall telegraph for Uncle Philip."

"Do," said the rebel. "He is always welcome."

Philip, telegraphed, came down that evening; likewise his little black bag. He found them in the drawing-room: papa with the Pall Mall Gazette, Rosa seated, sewing, at a lamp. She made little Christie's clothes herself,--fancy that!

Having ascertained that the little boy was well, Philip, adroitly hiding that he had come down torn with anxiety on that head, inquired with a show of contemptuous indifference, whose cat was dead.

"Nobody's," said Lusignan crossly. Then he turned and pointed the Gazette at his offspring. "Do you see that young lady stitching there so demurely?"

Philip carefully wiped and then put on his spectacles.

"I see her," said he. "She does look a little too innocent. None of them are really so innocent as all that. Has she been swearing at the nurse, and boxing her ears?"

"Worse than that. She has been and refused the Earl of Tadcaster."

"Refused him--what! has that little monkey had the audacity?"

"The condescension, you mean. Yes."

"And she has refused him?"

"And twenty thousand a year."

"What immorality!"

"Worse. What absurdity!"

"How is it to be accounted for? Is it the old story? 'I could never love him.' No; that's inadequate; for they all love a title and twenty thousand a year."

Rosa sewed on all this time in demure and absolute silence.

"She ignores us," said Philip. "It is intolerable. She does not appreciate our politeness in talking at her. Let us arraign her before our sacred tribunal, and have her into court. Now, mistress, the Senate of Venice is assembled, and you must be pleased to tell us why you refused a title and twenty thousand a year, with a small but symmetrical earl tacked on."

Rosa laid down her work, and said quietly, "Uncle, almost the last words that passed between me and my Christopher, we promised each other solemnly never to marry again till death should us part. You know how deep my sorrow has been that I can find so few wishes of my lost Christopher to obey. Well, to-day I have had an opportunity at last. I have obeyed my own lost one; it has cost me a tear or two; but, for all that, it has given me one little gleam of happiness. Ah, foolish woman, that obeys too late!"

And with this the tears began to run.

All this seemed a little too high-flown to Mr. Lusignan. "There," said he, "see on what a straw her mind turns. So, but for that, you would have done the right thing, and married the earl?"

"I dare say I should--at the time--to stop his crying."

And with this listless remark she quietly took up her sewing again.

The sagacious Philip looked at her gravely. He thought to himself how piteous it was to see so young and lovely a creature, that had given up all hope of happiness for herself. These being his real thoughts, he expressed himself as follows: "We had better drop this subject, sir. This young lady will take us potent, grave, and reverend seignors out of our depth, if we don't mind."

But the moment he got her alone he kissed her paternally, and said, "Rosa, it is not lost on me, your fidelity to the dead. As years roll on, and your deep wound first closes, then skins, then heals--"

"Ah, let me die first--"

"Time and nature will absolve you from that vow; but bless you for thinking this can never be. Rosa, your folly of this day has made you my heir; so never let money tempt you, for you have enough, and will have more than enough when I go."

He was as good as his word; altered his will next day, and made Rosa his residuary legatee. When he had done this, foreseeing no fresh occasion for his services, he prepared for a long visit to Italy. He was packing up his things to go there, when he received a line from Lady Cicely Treherne, asking him to call on her professionally. As the lady's servant brought it, he sent back a line to say he no longer practised medicine, but would call on her as a friend in an hour's time.

He found her reclining, the picture of lassitude. "How good of you to come," she drawled.

"What's the matter?" said he brusquely.

"I wish to cawnsult you about myself. I think if anybody can brighten me up, it is you. I feel such a languaw--such a want of spirit; and I get palaa, and that is not desiwable."

He examined her tongue and the white of her eye, and told her, in his blunt way, she ate and drank too much.

"Excuse me, sir," said she stiffly.

"I mean too often. Now, let's see. Cup of tea in bed, of a morning?"

"Yaas."

"Dinner at two?"

"We call it luncheon."

"Are you a ventriloquist?"

"No."

"Then it is only your lips call it luncheon. Your poor stomach, could it speak, would call it dinner. Afternoon tea?"

"Yaas."

"At seven-thirty another dinner. Tea after that. Your afflicted stomach gets no rest. You eat pastry?"

"I confess it."

"And sugar in a dozen forms?"

She nodded.

"Well, sugar is poison to your temperament. Now I'll set you up, if you can obey. Give up your morning dram."

"What dwam?"

"Tea in bed, before eating. Can't you see that is a dram? Animal food twice a day. No wine but a little claret and water; no pastry, no sweets, and play battledore with one of your male subjects."

"Battledaw! won't a lady do for that?"

"No: you would get talking, and not play ad sudorem."

"Ad sudawem! what is that?"

"In earnest."

"And will sudawem and the west put me in better spiwits, and give me a tinge?"

"It will incarnadine the lily, and make you the happiest young lady in England, as you are the best."

"I should like to be much happier than I am good, if we could manage it among us."

"We will manage it among us; for if the diet allowed should not make you boisterously gay, I have a remedy behind, suited to your temperament. I am old-fashioned, and believe in the temperaments."

"And what is that wemedy?"

"Try diet, and hard exercise, first."

"Oh, yes; but let me know that wemedy."

"I warn you it is what we call in medicine an heroic one."

"Never mind. I am despewate."

"Well, then, the heroic remedy--to be used only as a desperate resort, mind--you must marry an Irishman."

This took the lady's breath away.

"Mawwy a nice man?"

"A nice man; no. That means a fool. Marry scientifically--a precaution eternally neglected. Marry a Hibernian gentleman, a being as mercurial as you are lymphatic."

"Mercurial!--lymphatic!"--

"Oh, hard words break no bones, ma'am."

"No, sir. And it is very curious. No, I won't tell you. Yes, I will. Hem I--I think I have noticed one."

"One what?"

"One Iwishman--dangling after me."

"Then your ladyship has only to tighten the cord--and he's done for."

Having administered this prescription, our laughing philosopher went off to Italy, and there fell in with some countrymen to his mind, so he accompanied them to Egypt and Palestine.

His absence, and Lord Tadcaster's, made Rosa Staines's life extremely monotonous. Day followed day, and week followed week, each so unvarying, that, on a retrospect, three months seemed like one day.

And I think at last youth and nature began to rebel, and secretly to crave some little change or incident to ruffle the stagnant pool. Yet she would not go into society, and would only receive two or three dull people at the villa; so she made the very monotony which was beginning to tire her, and nursed a sacred grief she had no need to nurse, it was so truly genuine.

She was in this forlorn condition, when, one morning, a carriage drove to the door, and a card was brought up to her--"Mr. Reginald Falcon."

Falcon's history, between this and our last advices, is soon disposed of.

When, after a little struggle with his better angel, he rode past his wife's gate, he intended, at first, only to go to Cape Town, sell the diamonds, have a lark, and bring home the balance: but, as he rode south, his views expanded. He could have ten times the fun in London, and cheaper; since he could sell the diamonds for more money, and also conceal the true price. This was the Bohemian's whole mind in the business. He had no designs whatever on Mrs. Staines, nor did he intend to steal the diamonds, but to embezzle a portion of the purchase-money, and enjoy the pleasures and vices of the capital for a few months; then back to his milch cow, Phoebe, and lead a quiet life till the next uncontrollable fit should come upon him along with the means of satisfying it.

On the way, he read Staines's letter to Mrs. Falcon, very carefully. He never broke the seal of the letter to Mrs. Staines. That was to be given her when he had broken the good news to her; and this he determined to do with such skill, as should make Dr. Staines very unwilling to look suspiciously or ill-naturedly into money accounts.

He reached London; and being a thorough egotist, attended first to his own interests; he never went near Mrs. Staines until he had visited every diamond merchant and dealer in the metropolis; he showed the small stones to them all but he showed no more than one large stone to each.

At last he got an offer of twelve hundred pounds for the small stones, and the same for the large yellow stone, and nine hundred pounds for the second largest stone. He took this nine hundred pounds, and instantly wrote to Phoebe, telling her he had a sudden inspiration to bring the diamonds to England, which he could not regret, since he had never done a wiser thing. He had sold a single stone for eight hundred pounds, and had sent the doctor's four hundred pounds to her account in Cape Town; and as each sale was effected, the half would be so remitted. She would see by that, he was wiser than in former days. He should only stay so long as might be necessary to sell them all equally well. His own share he would apply to paying off mortgages on the family estate, of which he hoped some day to see her the mistress, or he would send it direct to her, whichever she might prefer.

Now the main object of this artful letter was to keep Phoebe quiet, and not have her coming after him, of which he felt she was very capable.

The money got safe to Cape Town, but the letter to Phoebe miscarried. How this happened was never positively known; but the servant of the lodging-house was afterwards detected cutting stamps off a letter; so perhaps she had played that game on this occasion.

By this means, matters took a curious turn. Falcon, intending to lull his wife into a false security, lulled himself into that state instead.

When he had taken care of himself, and got five hundred pounds to play the fool with, then he condescended to remember his errand of mercy; and he came down to Gravesend, to see Mrs. Staines.

On the road, he gave his mind seriously to the delicate and dangerous task. It did not, however, disquiet him as it would you, sir, or you, madam. He had a great advantage over you. He was a liar--a smooth, ready, accomplished liar--and he knew it.

This was the outline he had traced in his mind: he should appear very subdued and sad; should wear an air of condolence. But, after a while, should say, "And yet men have been lost like that, and escaped. A man was picked up on a raft in those very latitudes, and brought into Cape Town. A friend of mine saw him, months after, at the hospital. His memory was shaken--could not tell his name; but in other respects he was all right again."

If Mrs. Staines took fire at this, he would say his friend knew all the particulars, and he would ask him, and so leave that to rankle till next visit. And having planted his germ of hope, he would grow it, and water it, by visits and correspondence, till he could throw off the mask, and say he was convinced Staines was alive: and from that, by other degrees, till he could say, on his wife's authority, that the man picked up at sea, and cured at her house, was the very physician who had saved her brother's life: and so on to the overwhelming proof he carried in the ruby ring and the letter.

I am afraid the cunning and dexterity, the subtlety and tact required, interested him more in the commission than did the benevolence. He called, sent up his card, and composed his countenance for his part, like an actor at the Wing.

"Not at home."

He stared with amazement.

The history of a "Not at home" is not, in general, worth recording: but this is an exception.

On receiving Falcon's card, Mrs. Staines gave a little start, and colored faintly. She instantly resolved not to see him. What! the man she had flirted with, almost jilted, and refused to marry--he dared to be alive when her Christopher was dead, and had come there to show her he was alive!

She said "Not at home" with a tone of unusual sharpness and decision, which left the servant in no doubt he must be equally decided at the hall door.

Falcon received the sudden freezer with amazement. "Nonsense," said he. "Not at home at this time of the morning--to an old friend!"

"Not at home," said the man doggedly.

"Oh, very well," said Falcon with a bitter sneer, and returned to London.

He felt sure she was at home; and being a tremendous egotist, he said, "Oh! all right. If she would rather not know her husband is alive, it is all one to me;" and he actually took no more notice of her for a full week, and never thought of her, except to chuckle over the penalty she was paying for daring to affront his vanity.

However, Sunday came; he saw a dull day before him, and so he relented, and thought he would give her another trial.

He went down to Gravesend by boat, and strolled towards the villa.

When he was about a hundred yards from the villa, a lady, all in black, came out with a nurse and child.

Falcon knew her figure all that way off, and it gave him a curious thrill that surprised him. He followed her, and was not very far behind her when she reached the church. She turned at the porch, kissed the child earnestly, and gave the nurse some directions; then entered the church.

"Come," said Falcon, "I'll have a look at her, any way."

He went into the church, and walked up a side aisle to a pillar, from which he thought he might be able to see the whole congregation; and, sure enough, there she sat, a few yards from him. She was lovelier than ever. Mind had grown on her face with trouble. An angelic expression illuminated her beauty; he gazed on her, fascinated. He drank and drank her beauty two mortal hours, and when the church broke up, and she went home, he was half afraid to follow her, for he felt how hard it would be to say anything to her but that the old love had returned on him with double force.

However, having watched her home, he walked slowly to and fro composing himself for the interview.

He now determined to make the process of informing her a very long one: he would spin it out, and so secure many a sweet interview with her: and, who knows? he might fascinate her as she had him, and ripen gratitude into love, as he understood that word.

He called, he sent in his card. The man went in, and came back with a sonorous "Not at home."

"Not at home? nonsense. Why, she is just come in from church."

"Not at home," said the man, evidently strong in his instructions.

Falcon turned white with rage at this second affront. "All the worse for her," said he, and turned on his heel.

He went home, raging with disappointment and wounded vanity, and-- since such love as his is seldom very far from hate--he swore she should never know from him that her husband was alive. He even moralized. "This comes of being so unselfish," said he. "I'll give that game up forever."

By and by, a mere negative revenge was not enough for him, and he set his wits to work to make her smart.

He wrote to her from his lodgings:--

DEAR MADAM,--What a pity you are never at home to me. I had something to say about your husband, that I thought might interest you.

Yours truly,

R. FALCON.

Imagine the effect of this abominable note. It was like a rock flung into a placid pool. It set Rosa trembling all over. What could he mean?

She ran with it to her father, and asked him what Mr. Falcon could mean.

"I have no idea," said he. "You had better ask him, not me."

"I am afraid it is only to get to see me. You know he admired me once. Ah, how suspicious I am getting."

Rosa wrote to Falcon:--

DEAR SIR,--Since my bereavement I see scarcely anybody. My servant did not know you; so I hope you will excuse me. If it is too much trouble to call again, would you kindly explain your note to me?

Yours respectfully,

ROSA STAINES.

Falcon chuckled bitterly over this. "No, my lady," said he. "I'll serve you out. You shall run after me like a little dog. I have got the bone that will draw you."

He wrote back coldly to say that the matter he had wished to communicate was too delicate and important to put on paper; that he would try and get down to Gravesend again some day or other, but was much occupied, and had already put himself to inconvenience. He added, in a postscript, that he was always at home from four to five.

Next day he got hold of the servant, and gave her minute instructions, and a guinea.

Then the wretch got some tools and bored a hole in the partition wall of his sitting-room. The paper had large flowers. He was artist enough to conceal the trick with water-colors. In his bed- room the hole came behind the curtains.

That very afternoon, as he had foreseen, Mrs. Staines called on him. The maid, duly instructed, said Mr. Falcon was out, but would soon return, and could she wait his return? The maid being so very civil, Mrs. Staines said she would wait a little while, and was immediately ushered into Falcon's sitting-room. There she sat down; but was evidently ill at ease, restless, flushed. She could not sit quiet, and at last began to walk up and down the room, almost wildly. Her beautiful eyes glittered, and the whole woman seemed on fire. The caitiff, who was watching her, saw and gloated on all this, and enjoyed to the full her beauty and agitation, and his revenge for her "Not at homes."

But after a long time, there was a reaction: she sat down and uttered some plaintive sounds inarticulate, or nearly; and at last she began to cry.

Then it cost Falcon an effort not to come in and comfort her; but he controlled himself and kept quiet.

She rang the bell. She asked for writing paper, and she wrote her unseen tormentor a humble note, begging him, for old acquaintance, to call on her, and tell her what his mysterious words meant that had filled her with agitation.

This done, she went away, with a deep sigh, and Falcon emerged, and pounced upon her letter.

He kissed it; he read it a dozen times: he sat down where she had sat, and his base passion overpowered him. Her beauty, her agitation, her fear, her tears, all combined to madden him, and do the devil's work in his false, selfish heart, so open to violent passions, so dead to conscience.

For once in his life he was violently agitated, and torn by conflicting feelings: he walked about the room more wildly than his victim had; and if it be true that, in certain great temptations, good and bad angels fight for a man, here you might have seen as fierce a battle of that kind as ever was.

At last he rushed out into the air, and did not return till ten o'clock at night. He came back pale and haggard, and with a look of crime upon his face.

True Bohemian as he was, he sent for a pint of brandy.

So then the die was cast, and something was to be done that called for brandy.

He bolted himself in, and drank a wine-glass of it neat; then another; then another.

Now his pale cheek is flushed, and his eye glitters. Drink forever! great ruin of English souls as well as bodies.

He put the poker in the fire, and heated it red hot.

He brought Staines's letter, and softened the sealing-wax with the hot poker; then with his pen-knife made a neat incision in the wax, and opened the letter. He took out the ring, and put it carefully away. Then he lighted a cigar, and read the letter, and studied it. Many a man, capable of murder in heat of passion, could not have resisted the pathos of this letter. Many a Newgate thief, after reading it, would have felt such pity for the loving husband who had suffered to the verge of death, and then to the brink of madness, and for the poor bereaved wife, that he would have taken the letter down to Gravesend that very night, though he picked two fresh pockets to defray the expenses of the road.

But this was an egotist. Good nature had curbed his egotism a little while; but now vanity and passion had swept away all unselfish feelings, and the pure egotist alone remained.

Now, the pure egotist has been defined as a man who will burn down his neighbor's house to cook himself an egg. Murder is but egotism carried out to its natural climax. What is murder to a pure egotist, especially a brandied one?

I knew an egotist who met a female acquaintance in Newhaven village. She had a one-pound note, and offered to treat him. She changed this note to treat him. Fish she gave him, and much whiskey. Cost her four shillings. He ate and drank with her, at her expense; and his aorta, or principal blood-vessel, being warmed with her whiskey, he murdered her for the change, the odd sixteen shillings.

I had the pleasure of seeing that egotist hung, with these eyes. It was a slice of luck that, I grieve to say, has not occurred again to me.

So much for a whiskied egotist.

His less truculent but equally remorseless brother in villany, the brandied egotist, Falcon, could read that poor husband's letter without blenching; the love and the anticipations of rapture, these made him writhe a little with jealousy, but they roused not a grain of pity. He was a true egotist, blind, remorseless.

In this, his true character, he studied the letter profoundly, and mastered all the facts, and digested them well.

All manner of diabolical artifices presented themselves to his brain, barren of true intellect, yet fertile in fraud; in that, and all low cunning and subtlety, far more than a match for Solomon or Bacon.

His sinister studies were pursued far into the night. Then he went to bed, and his unbounded egotism gave him the sleep a grander criminal would have courted in vain on the verge of a monstrous and deliberate crime.

Next day he went to a fashionable tailor, and ordered a complete suit of black. This was made in forty-eight hours; the interval was spent mainly in concocting lies to be incorporated with the number of minute facts he had gained from Staines's letter, and in making close imitations of his handwriting.

Thus armed, and crammed with more lies than the "Menteur" of Corneille, but not such innocent ones, he went down to Gravesend, all in deep mourning, with crape round his hat.

He presented himself at the villa.

The servant was all obsequiousness. Yes, Mrs. Staines received few visitors; but she was at home to him. He even began to falter excuses. "Nonsense," said Falcon, and slipped a sovereign into his hand; "you are a good servant, and obey orders."

The servant's respect doubled, and he ushered the visitor into the drawing-room, as one whose name was a passport. "Mr. Reginald Falcon, madam."

Mrs. Staines was alone. She rose to meet him. Her color came and went, her full eye fell on him, and took in all at a glance--that he was all in black, and that he had a beard, and looked pale, and ill at ease.

Little dreaming that this was the anxiety of a felon about to take the actual plunge into a novel crime, she was rather prepossessed by it. The beard gave him dignity, and hid his mean, cruel mouth. His black suit seemed to say he, too, had lost some one dear to him; and that was a ground of sympathy.

She received him kindly, and thanked him for taking the trouble to come again. She begged him to be seated; and then, womanlike, she waited for him to explain.

But he was in no hurry, and waited for her. He knew she would speak if he was silent.

She could not keep him waiting long. "Mr. Falcon," said she, hesitating a little, "you have something to say to me about him I have lost."

"Yes," said he softly. "I have something I could say, and I think I ought to say it; but I am afraid: because I don't know what will be the result. I fear to make you more unhappy."

"Me! more unhappy? Me, whose dear husband lies at the bottom of the ocean. Other poor wounded creatures have the wretched comfort of knowing where he lies--of carrying flowers to his tomb. But I-- oh, Mr. Falcon, I am bereaved of all: even his poor remains lost,-- lost"--she could say no more.

Then that craven heart began to quake at what he was doing; quaked, yet persevered; but his own voice quivered, and his cheek grew ashy pale. No wonder. If ever God condescended to pour lightning on a skunk, surely now was the time.

Shaking and sweating with terror at his own act, he stammered out, "Would it be the least comfort to you to know that you are not denied that poor consolation? Suppose he died not so miserably as you think? Suppose he was picked up at sea, in a dying state?"

"Ah!"

"Suppose he lingered, nursed by kind and sympathizing hands, that almost saved him? Suppose he was laid in hallowed ground, and a great many tears shed over his grave?"

"Ah, that would indeed be a comfort. And it was to say this you came. I thank you. I bless you. But, my good, kind friend, you are deceived. You don't know my husband. You never saw him. He perished at sea."

"Will it be kind or unkind, to tell you why I think he died as I tell you, and not at sea?"

"Kind, but impossible. You deceive yourself. Ah, I see. You found some poor sufferer, and were good to him; but it was not my poor Christie. Oh, if it were, I should worship you. But I thank you as it is. It was very kind to want to give me this little, little crumb of comfort; for I know I did not behave well to you, sir: but you are generous, and have forgiven a poor heart-broken creature, that never was very wise."

He gave her time to cry, and then said to her, "I only wanted to be sure it would be any comfort to you. Mrs. Staines, it is true I did not even know his name; nor yours. When I met, in this very room, the great disappointment that has saddened my own life, I left England directly. I collected funds, went to Natal, and turned land-owner and farmer. I have made a large fortune, but I need not tell you I am not happy. Well, I had a yacht, and sailing from Cape Town to Algoa Bay, I picked up a raft, with a dying man on it. He was perishing from exhaustion and exposure. I got a little brandy between his lips, and kept him alive. I landed with him at once: and we nursed him on shore. We had to be very cautious. He improved. We got him to take egg-flip. He smiled on us at first, and then he thanked us. I nursed him day and night for ten days. He got much stronger. He spoke to me, thanked me again and again, and told me his name was Christopher Staines. He told me that he should never get well. I implored him to have courage. He said he did not want for courage; but nature had been tried too hard. We got so fond of each other. Oh!"--and the caitiff pretended to break down; and his feigned grief mingled with Rosa's despairing sobs.

He made an apparent effort, and said, "He spoke to me of his wife, his darling Rosa. The name made me start, but I could not know it was you. At last he was strong enough to write a few lines, and he made me promise to take them to his wife."

"Ah!" said Rosa. "Show them me."

"I will."

"This moment." And her hands began to work convulsively.

"I cannot," said Falcon. "I have not brought them with me."

Rosa cast a keen eye of suspicion and terror on him. His not bringing the letter seemed monstrous; and so indeed it was. The fact is, the letter was not written.

Falcon affected not to notice her keen look. He flowed on, "The address he put on that letter astonished me. 'Kent Villa.' Of course I knew Kent Villa: and he called you 'Rosa.'"

"How could you come to me without that letter?" cried Rosa, wringing her hands. "How am I to know? It is all so strange, so incredible."

"Don't you believe me?" said Falcon sadly. "Why should I deceive you? The first time I came down to tell you all this, I did not know who Mrs. Staines was. I suspected; but no more. The second time I saw you in the church, and then I knew; and followed you to try and tell you all this; and you were not at home to me."

"Forgive me," said Rosa carelessly: then earnestly, "The letter! when can I see it?"

"I will send, or bring it."

"Bring it! I am in agony till I see it. Oh, my darling! my darling! It can't be true. It was not my Christie. He lies in the depths of the ocean. Lord Tadcaster was in the ship, and he says so; everybody says so."

"And I say he sleeps in hallowed ground, and these hands laid him there."

Rosa lifted her hands to heaven, and cried piteously, "I don't know what to think. You would not willingly deceive me. But how can this be? Oh, Uncle Philip, why are you away from me? Sir, you say he gave you a letter?"

"Yes."

"Oh, why, why did you not bring it?"

"Because he told me the contents; and I thought he prized my poor efforts too highly. It did not occur to me you would doubt my word."

"Oh, no: no more I do: but I fear it was not my Christie."

"I'll go for the letter at once, Mrs. Staines."

"Oh, thank you! Bless you! Yes, this minute!"

The artful rogue did not go; never intended.

He rose to go; but had a sudden inspiration; very sudden, of course. "Had he nothing about him you could recognize him by?"

"Yes, he had a ring I gave him."

Falcon took a black-edged envelope out of his pocket.

"A ruby ring," said she, beginning to tremble at his quiet action.

"Is that it?" and he handed her a ruby ring.