A Slip or a Fall
Thomas Le Breton
JOHN ROMALEES was starving. A man of education, by no means a fool, not thirty years of age, tall and well looking, he was walking London’s streets for the third day since his last meal.
He had tried to enlist, but his eyesight was defective; he had tried the labor exchanges, but no one wanted a man who could merely speak four languages and write B.A. after his name. He assured employers of labor that he was physically capable of doing manual work. They looked at him disapprovingly. They felt sure that there must be something wrong about such a man. They told him that the supply of casual labor far exceeded the demand.
He had been brought up to expect a fortune. He was in the wilds of Turkestan when his father died, and he discovered that all the money had been muddled away. Therefore lie came to London, probably the most foolish thing a penniless man could have done. He received a considerable amount of sympathy from those who might have helped him, but nothing more, and he was too proud to disclose his real position. Then he had a belief that a man willing to turn his hand to any kind of work would never starve. Since then he had found out his mistake.
He passed up the busy Strand, leg weary and sick at heart, wondering how long his tough frame would hold out against death. What he most feared was
that he might fall from weakness and be taken to the workhouse, and this for his proud nature would be worse than death. So he decided to tramp into the country while he had still strength to walk. There were woods he knew of where a man might die decently and in privacy.
Languidly he noticed a young fellow stop and stare at him, and he flushed angrily. He tried to hold up his head and to walk erect. Already, he thought, he was attracting attention. The man was about his own age, and apparently a gentleman. Perhaps, thought Romalees, he wanted to give him a shilling, and the thought urged him away.
He passed Trafalgar Square and the Haymarket, and going up Regent Street reached Oxford Street. He felt that he was reeling like a drunken man now, so that he was forced to rest for a minute. The stream of the traffic turned him round, and then he saw the young fellow who had stared at him so brutally in the Strand. He, too, was stopping and watching him.
Forcing his dragging limbs to move again, he marched proudly on, and would not look back. At last the Park was reached, and he could only just stagger to the first disengaged seat. He almost fell upon it, for he was so dazed with faintness that he could hardly see or stand, i In five minutes he was better, and glancing up he saw his persecutor walk past, then turn and walk back, hesitatingly and evidently undecided about something. Of a sudden he came across and sat down beside Romalees, who rose at once, feebly, but in protest.
“One minute,” the other man cried eagerly. ‘‘Do excuse me, but I've been looking for you for seven weeks, so do give me a minute to explain.”
The man’s tone was not offensive, Romalees judged. He also acknowledged to himself that his present position was making him super-sensitive. He sat down again without replying.
“Thank you awfully,” the stranger said heartily, and then added, half laughingly, “Do you see how wonderfully like you I am? Might be your twin. Just have a look at me.”
Romalees looked. He saw a frank, smiling face, deep-set blue eyes, a certain boyishness of expression that was very attractive, and a mouth that was almost womanly in its sweetness. A want of firmness and strength of character were expressed, but kindliness was shown in abundance. He was certainly very like the reflection that John Romalees had so often seen in his shaving-glass.
“Yes, you are undoubtedly like what I was,” he acknowledged stiffly. He was still suspicious of the stranger.
“I expect I'm still more like you when you’re all right; but you look a bit run down now,” the stranger said apologetically. “Don’t think me a bounder if I say you look look as if you'd had a rough time.”
“You are mistaken, sir.” Romalees answered angrily, and then, seeing a look of distress on the other’s face, he changed his tone. “I’m the bounder,” he said, “'to hug my pride like that, I am right down on mv luck. I want work, and I want it badly.”
“My name’s Havithang.” said the stranger, introducing himself. “My dad’s cousin and heir to the Earl of Tancaster. I’m in a hole, and I’m coming to you. a stranger, to help me out. Will you let me explain the affair? It might help you out at the same time.”
“I’m in no hurry,” Romalees said, coldly. That last sentence hurt his pride again, sore wounded as it was.
“That’s good of you,” Havithang went on briskly, “for it must seem like cheek on my part; yet I hope you'll forgive that later. I followed you right from the Strand. I wanted to speak to you all the time and funked it. Here I've been looking out for a chap resembling myself for
seven weeks, and then when I d spotted him at last, I funked it.”
“I'm not much to funk." Romalees said, bitterly. It was not so long ago when he was this man’s equal in society and now he spoke of helping him.
“You know a bounder when you see one, the same as I do,” observed the other, “and I could see that you thought me one, and perhaps I am. P’raps you’ll think worse of me when I've told you all. But if you'll listen I've got to take my chance.”
He was so ingenuous, so boyish, that Romalees smiled. “Go ahead." he said.
“Well, it's like this,” Havithang began with some embarrassment. “My dad wasn't always heir to Tancaster. He was a younger son, and next door to being a beggar. He’s an swfully good sort, the very best and dearest old chap in the world; and he’d been brought up to spend money; and when he hadn’t got any he went on spending it all the same. Savvy?”
“He must be cleverer than I am,” said Romalees laughingly. He felt more at ease now with his strangely acquired companion.
“But, of course, it's the sort of thing that can't go on forever,” Havithang thought fit to explain, "and the dad. some years ago. got into the deuce of a hole. It was such a hole that I don't like to think about it. I never asked him exactly what it was. and lie’s never told me; but yon may take it from me that it was a black hole.
“Then he got into the clutches of a bounder reeking with money. He’s a Mr. Oliver Raynor, of Bradford. I don’t know how he did it. because I don't like to ask: but he did. Old Raynor was the son of poor parents. You know the sort. One room for a whole family affair. But he grubbed on somehow and made a pile. He was awfully keen on being connected with the aristocracy. Xot much to hanker after, but that was his hobby.
“So he. told the dad that he'd got a niece, and if I would marry her when she became nineteen he'd give the dad back a lot of papers that the dear old chap is just dying to handle. They're something that will ruin him if they get into anyone else’s hands, and so he must destroy them. The dad told me all this, years back, but
I’d forgotten all about it until two months ago, and then he showed me a letter from Raynor, saying that his niece Olive is now nineteen, and he'd better send me to Bradford to complete the contract.”
“Is she a nice girl?” asked Romalees, with a show of interest.
“Don't know—never saw her,” Havithang answered with a laugh. “The old bounder knows me, but she doesn’t. He always stops with the dad when he comes to London. However, whether she's nice or not she’s not for me, for fact is,” he laughed uneasily, “I’m married. Yes! Got spliced to the joiliest little girl in the world, and daren’t tell the dad because of this bother.”
Romalees had an idea of what was coming. Havithang was hesitating, so he gave him a lead.
“You think I might be mistaken for you?” he said.
“That’s it,” answered Havithang eagerly. “That’s just it. Now, if you are not married—” He waited for a reply, and Romalees assured him that he was single.
“That’s good,” he said happily. “I dare say the girl’s all right, and if you could take her off my hands, and get back the papers, on the wedding day as promised, I’ll settle just as much of my allowance on you as you like. I’ve three thousand a year, but now I’ve got such a jolly little wife, I can live on less.” He looked anxiously at Romalees, making figures on the gravel with his stick.
“So you want me to impersonate you,” the other man said, thoughtfully, “and marry a girl who would think me a better man? Sounds criminal.”
“Not it,” cried Havithang heartily. “You’re a better man than ever I was, because—well, I’m so easily led. Now you look a good sort who would make a girl happy, and so she’d gain by the exchange. And then you’d defeat the ends of a confounded old blackmailer who’d ruin the dearest old chap in the world. I’m asking you now for his sake. If you knew old Raynor you’d do it. If you knew my dad you’d do it. Perhaps, if you knew Miss Raynor you would. Who knows?”
. “Since you’ve been so frank with me,” Romalees said with a sigh. “I may as well
tell you that it’s that or starvation with me. Starvation plays the deuce with conscience," he added bitterly.
“Good heavens, man !” cried the other, genuinely shocked. “I didn’t think it was as bad as that. What a brute I am! Come and have dinner with me. Athome," he added, with a glance at his companion’s shabbiness; “and then I can fix you up. You'll have to use my tailor, you see. Old Raynor knows my style.”
And so John Romalees dined with hfS newly-made acquaintance and the jolliesi little wife in the world, and after dinner finally agreed to the adventure, so that the Egyptian might be spoiled.
A week was to be given to the study of John Perci val Havithang and his family and connections, with illustrations from sundry albums. At the end of that time the real John Percival Havithang journeyed to an out-of-the-way corner of Lorraine, and the imposter took train for Bradford.
That same afternoon a slim, brightfaced girl entered the room where Oliver Raynor was entertaining the proposed bridegroom. Masses of dark, curly hair were piled above a smiling, oval face, looking fairer even than it was because of the contrast of big brown eyes with almost black lashes and lips that were scarlet,
“She’s coming down,” Raynor had told his guest a moment before, “and you must go a bit shy with her. If she was to think we'd fixed it up for you to marry her, she’d be off like a bird. She’s got to be courted properly and all that,”
“My friend, Mr. Havithang, the son of Colonel Havithang. with whom I stay when I am in London, you know,” was the introduction, as Romalees came forward. The girl offered her hand frankly, and as he took it Romalees trembled. He liad expected, from what Havithang had told him. to find her as vulgar as her uncle, and as setupon the match. In that case, he had decided she deserved to be taken in ; butthe sight of this innocentgirl swept away the last excuses for his
conduct which he had been laying to heart. Then his hopes rallied again. Appearances are often deceitful, he told himself.
“I am glad to see you,” she said, a little shyly; “we don’t often see London people here.” Small, even white teeth showed as she smiled, and he thought her expression charming.
“You know London, of course?” he asked her, already wondering how he was to get out of this dreadful scrape without prejudicing the Havithangs.
“I have been at school in Belgium until lately,” she answered, “and have never been to London. From what uncle tells me it must be like fairyland compared with Bradford.”
“I am afraid you would not think so,” he told her, with a shivering recollection of his own experiences. “It is a place so big that misery can hide itself, and it is full of poverty and sorrow.”
“Oh ; come now, Havithang,” Oliver Raynor’s coarse voice broke in. “Don’t go setting my niece against London. It’s
the best place in the world for them as has money; and if she’s a good girl to her old uncle she’ll never want for nothing.”
“It must be dreadful to be "poor,” the girl said, with a sigh. “I’m afraid I have never realized it. But what an opportunity the rich people of London have!”
Romalees laughed so bitterly that the girl looked curiously at him as he replied.
“Rich folk don’t know of one-tenth part of the misery about them, and they don’t care.”
“They can’t be all alike,” she said, “and I suppose you’ve only read about this. At least I hope so.”
Romalees thought of a possible return to his poverty and this very soon. The long days without food, the cold nights that seemed endless. It was still very real with him.
“You may well hope so,” he said gravely, “only I do know that things are worse than you could possibly imagine.” “Now then, Havithang!” cried Mr. Raynor irritably. “What’s wrong with
you? You ain’t a bit like yourself. At your time of life I never thought o’ talking horrors to young ladies.”
“Pardon me,” Romalees said, turning to Miss Raynor, “but the thoughts of London brings back to me many scenes I wish I could forget.”
“But I like to know the truth,” she cried earnestly. “Perhaps, some day— I don’t know—but perhaps I shall be able to do some good in the world.”
“Here ! let’s have dinner,” Raynor broke in quickly. “You give me the blues, Havithang. Blest if I ever thought you were that sort. Here ! Olive, you ask him about the theatres. That’s more in his line.”
Boon after dinner Mr. Raynor found that business demanded his attention, and Romalees was left alone in the big drawing-room with Olive. At her uncle’s request she sang a few songs in an unaffected style, and then, turning round, she faced the visitor.
“I can’t sing well,” she said, laughingly; “only it pleases uncle.”
“It pleased me,” he said, and smiled. Then, seeing her frank eyes looking straight into his, shame overcame him, and he moved away.
“You hear such good singing in London,” she said, “and I am sure you are TOO honest to flatter. I haven’t a good voice for singing, have I?”
“You have a nice voice for speaking,” he told her, smiling again, and then she laughed. It was impossible to be dull in her presence.
“There! that is honest,” she declared in her unconventional way. “If you had insisted that I sang well I should not have trusted you again. Because uncle tells everyone that I shall be rich, I feel that people are not generally honest with me. It is a dreadful thought. I wish I could trust someone.”
Romalees was on the point of telling her that she could trust him, and then the recollection of his mission silenced him. Already he saw that he had undertaken the impossible. Now he had to get out of the tangle the best way he could.
“Do tell me more about London and its poor people,” she asked, breaking a moment’s silence. “I am so interested. I know so little of the world. At school we are only told what our teachers con-
sider is nice for us to know. They think poverty horrid.”
Romalees had thought her beautiful directly he saw her. He began to think her more beautiful than he had thought at first. As she sat upon the music-stool, her slim white hands crossed over one knee, her eyes, deep and full of light, shining with her earnestness, he believed that he say a mind as beautiful as her outward self.
He described London as he had seen it in his days of want. Somehow he began to tell the tale of his own trouble, speaking of it as though it was that of some man whom he had come across. Then he suddenly stopped.
“But there is a bright side,” he said abruptly. “London has others than the miserable.”
“I can guess the bright side,” she said with a sigh; “so do please tell me more about the poor fellow you spoke of. Is he still so poor? And a gentleman too! Couldn’t I help him without his knowing it? Oh! do let me do so through you.”
A gush of tears came into his eyes, so that he had to rise and turn away and furtively dry them. He despised emotional men, and yet for once in his life he could not control his feelings.
“Ah! I believe you’ve done it!” she cried enthusiastically. “Somehow, I can see that it is just what you would do. Do you know that you are quite different from what uncle described you? I thought you’d be rather frivolous.”
“I don’t think I’m frivolous; I’m learning,” he said slowly. “I’m still learning a lot about myself that I never knew before, and what I’m learning—” He stopped abruptly, and went to the window.
There were gardens beyond, laid out in small beds cut out of velvety lawns, and these were gay with flowers. The sun was just setting, and peace was coming with the night, but it had no balm for his troubled spirit.
He must escape at once, he decided, for it was sufficient degradation that he had consented to become an impostor. In the morning he would make an excuse and disappear.
The horrors of the inhospitable streets came freshly to his mind, but now they did not daunt him. The memory of Olive
Raynor would help him to bear his trials, and, besides, he was strong again now. Perhaps in this part of the country he might obtain work on a farm, or, as he knew something of horses, he might become a groom. If ever he met Olive again it should be as an honest man.
He told her more about London, since she was persistent in her inquiries. He described the miseries of the arches on a wet night, with the wind driving in among the ill-clad refugees there. He told her of the crowded streets, and of sympathetic policemen forced to unpleasant duties. He was still full of the subject when Mr. Raynor came in, and it had to be shelved.
“How are you getting on, my boy?” Raynor asked, after Olive had retired for the night. “She’s all right, ain’t she?”
“She deserves the best of husbands,” Romalees answered shortly. “You will have some trouble in finding one good enough.”
“Oh I I’ve found him right enough,” the elder man cried boisterously, slapping his guest on the back. “And it strikes me she’s of the same opinion already.” He laughed boisterously, his coarseness making Romalees wince.
He kept up this style of conversation until bedtime brought relief, and then Romalees was glad to be alone with his thoughts. He decided that it would not be fair to Havithang to tell Raynor the truth. If he did so Colonel Havithang would certainly suffer, and he thought that Raynor could be very hard on a man when it pleased him to be so. So he settled to write and inform Havithang that he must throw up the business, and at the same time he meant to explain that Olive was not the sort of girl Havithang believed her to be.
But what of Olive’s future, he wondered. Would she find a husband who would thoroughly appreciate her as he was sure he would have done? Her uncle would never understhand her nature. He thought too much of money. He would probably compel her to marry some fortune-hunter. The thought was maddening, but it would not leave him. All night long he lay awake, planning and scheming, and always to find a way by which Olive should not be the worse because of his deceit.
He was up early next morning, tired and hopeless. Life seemed harder than ever now. He realized that he had had a glimpse into paradise, and that, being unworthy, he could never enter therein.
The mist was rising from the hills, and settling over the valleys like a great white sea of moving billows, when he went into the garden, to try once more to think out an excuse for leaving that morning. He would receive no post, and the only chance he saw was to go to the village post office and there to make belief to ’phone to town, and to find himself recalled.
He strolled in to the long straight road, and began walking down it, with eyes lowered, as he pondered miserably over his fall. In the days when he was starving he was an honest man. What would Olive think of him now, if she knew the truth? And he would give anything so that he might win her good opinion.
He was still looking down drearily when he heard her speak.
“Why, Mr. Havithang,” she cried in surprise, “you are out early this morning.” A basket was on her arm, and she blushed prettily as her eyes met his. She had been on an errand of mercy, and was confused to think that he had discovered it.
“You have your poor here as well as in London, I can see,” he said as he stopped to talk to her; and she nodded assent, laughing a little.
“There’s an old woman here who would starve if I did not help her. And yet I know she has money, but won’t spend it. Of course, she says she has none. Oh! Mr. Havithang, I do haie deceit. Don’t you?” And her frank eyes sought his.
He flushed like a schoolboy, with the knoweldge of his own deceit heavy upon him. It was cruel that he had met her under circumstances which must for ever divide them. Fate had not yet done with her tortures for him, he thought bitterly.
“You hate deceit, don’t you?” she repeated her question, a little surprised at his silence. Then he made an effort.
“I do,” he said with feeling. “I loathe and detest it. Those who deceive such as you are unspeakable criminals.”
She was surprised at the tone of his speech. There was something about him
that she could not understand. He was so different from what her uncle had led her to expect; but better—much better.
They walked in silence for a little way. He dreaded to show himself in his true colors. He was not brave enough to encounter her scorn, and yet she must sooner or later know everything. Those honest eyes of hers would then turn away from the man who had sold his soul for bread. He gave up the idea of going to the post-office and making pretence to be called to town. It seemed to him that he could not tell this lie to her without her finding it out, and then she would learn that he was full of lies. Therefore he walked back with her, and postponed his flight until some happy opportunity enabled him to get away without more deceit.
So the day passed, and another and another ; and although he determined that each one must be the last, yet he lingered on, unable to tear himself away, and dreading the parting more and more.
On the tenth morning he rose earlier than usual and packed his portmanteau. He was desperate now, and his departure could no longer be stayed. He decided not to say good-bye to Olive or to make any excuse. They must think what they liked about him, and whatever they thought would not be as bad as he deserved. At least, there should be no more deceit—that he had settled with himself.
When he reached the hall the first servants, only just come down, were starting dusting and sweeping. They hardly noticed him as he opened the front door and went out. He knew that he had left all happiness behind him now, but he did not falter. He was half-way down the garden when from an upper window Olive called to him. His first impulse was to run, but his training compelled courtesy. He turned and raised his hat. Olive was dressed for walking, looking fresh and charming as she stood there framed by the window.
“Are you going way?” she asked, seeing his portmanteau.
“I must,” he answered; and her look of dismay aroused in him a feeling of satisfaction which he found it impossible to suppress.
“Won’t you say good-bye to me? I’m coming down.”
She disappeared, and he wondered whether he ought not to run away while there was yet time; but before he could make up his mind she was by his side.
“You did not tell me you were going,” she said, a little show of fear in her eyes. “Why didn’t you want me to know?”
“Because-” He hesitated for a
moment, and then a sudden impulse forced a confession from him. “Because I am here under false pretences,” he blurted out. “Because I came here on a disgraceful mission.”
“A disgraceful mission?” she repeated, paling. He saw her lips tremble and her hands clench upon a stick that she was carrying. “I can’t believe that. What do you mean?”
He steadied himself now, knowing that there was no escape. He began by explaining that he was the man whom he had described to her as starving in the streets of London. He saw her sympathy in her eyes, and encouraged by it he went on to tell her of his temptation, making little of his desire to help Colonel Havithang. He tried to slur over this matter, lest she should fear her uncle; yet he felt that he must mention it in order that she might be upon her guard.
“Surely my uncle would not be so cruel?” she said brokenly at last. She had questioned him so that he had been compelled to tell more than he had meant to.
“It is probably a mere threat,” he answered. They walked on through the garden in silence, and turned into the road. He hardly dared to look at her now ; he felt his shame so deeply.
“I should not have told you about your uncle,’’ he said at last, “only I feared that you might be tricked into marrying someone unworthy of you.”
“There must be some truth in it,” she said, after another pause; “for once I heard my uncle say that he had Colonel Havithang under his thumb. I thought
it a joke then, but now-” She pressed
her handkerchief to her eyes, but in a moment she was mistress of herself again.
#“I feel sure that you wouldn’t have tried to deceive me had you not wanted to save the colonel,” she said quietly. She
was quite calm now, but Romalees could guess some of the emotions that disturbed her.
“I cannot even adopt that excuse,” he answered, still afraid to look straight at her. “I was starving and mad. I did not know then that there are worse things than starvation.
They were well down the road by this time, and of a sudden she stopped.
“You mustn’t go from here yet,” she said earnestly. “I must find a way to save the colonel first. Now that I know all, there can be no hurry for you.”
“I will do what you tell me to,” he replied sadly. “That is the least thing I can do. Yet my shame will make my stay a heavier punishment than I have ever borne before.”
She sighed, and made no answer, and as he followed her back to the house they did not speak again.
The day passed drearily. The millowner’s jests jarred upon Romalees and the girl, and Olive’s attempt to conceal her trouble would have been noticed by anyone less self-satisfied than Mr. Raynor.
After dinner he ostentatiously left the young people together in the drawingroom, where Olive sat at the piano, playing some plaintive melody which sounded inexpressibly sad to the man who knew that he had put a gulf between them.
He noticed that she had been weeping, and he longed to make atonement, but he had nothing to offer. He had sinned, and his sin had found him out.
At last she turned upon the stool and faced him. She was very pale, but her eyes were steady now, and they looked straight into his.
“I have been questioning uncle,” she said, choking back a little sob, “and I find that he has some papers which give him a hold over Colonel Havithang. I hope—I think—that his threat to use them would never be carried out”—she held up a slim hand warningly. “Please let me think so, at any rate, and don’t tell me otherwise.”
“I am glad you think so,” he answered. “I hope and trust you are right.”
“He has been very good and kind to
me,” she went on, catching her breath, “and if he would do wrong it is with the mistaken idea of benefiting me. Still, the colonel must not remain under such dread as oppresses him now. If it was not that uncle wants me to marry well, there would be no trouble, I am sure. It is horrible enough without that. It is terrible to think that I was to be foisted on a man who never wanted me, and who would regard me as a burden.” She clenched her hands as she spoke, and her face flushed angrily. “Could anything be more degrading for a woman?” she cried, panting in an agony of grief.
“If only-,” he began, and then was
silent. For a moment he had forgotten that he had placed himself outside the pale.
“And so-,” she continued, and then
stopped as suddenly as he had done. There was silence for a minute, and he bent his head so that he might not see her face when she gave her verdict. “The anxiety must be blighting the colonel’s life,” she added with a sigh.
“I should say it was,” he replied, echoing her sigh.
“There is only one way out, so far as I can see,” she said, almost in a whisper, turning the stool so that she looked away from him. “I must marry you.”
He sprang to his feet with a cry, but she motioned him to sit down again.
“Wait,” she said faintly, as though the scene was overpowering her, “wait until I have explained all. I do not see any other way to get the papers, and they must be got, not only for the colonel’s sake, but also to save uncle from doing so wicked a thing as he has threatened. He will give up the papers the morning we are married, and then we shall say goodbye.” He watched her struggle to appear composed, not daring to speak.
“If ever you should want money then
-” she began, but he sprang to his
feet and interrupted her.
“Do not think me as mean as that,” he said, hoarse with emotion.
“You will have to obtain a special licence,” she told him, calming herself by an effort, “and we shall be obliged to get married without telling uncle, because of your name. I shall leave you to make all necessary arrangements.”
“I will do everything,” he agreed quietly. She glanced at him quickly and then looked down again.
‘T will write to you in about a month. I want you to go away now. I will tell uncle we are engaged. I am sure you will make it all as easy for me as you can. Good-bye.”
She gave him her hand ; it was cold and lifeless. Half an hour later he had left the house without having to bid farewell to his host.
A month later he met her at a little church near Bradford. No confidences passed between them, and their meeting had more formality about it than when he had gone out the first morning after he had seen her and found her in the road near her uncle's house. They walked straight up to the altar, and two witnesses were sent for.
Then began the solemn service that was to make the twain one, and his heart seemed to swell and swell until he could hardly breathe. His sin had reached a climax, now that this mockery was forcing her, whom he had learned to love so dearly, to tell lies that must be for ever recorded against her. He glanced at her, and saw how pale her face was. Her lips were set, and he could not see into her eyes. Her hand trembled when he held it, with the ring upon it, which should have given them endless happiness.
The clergyman, an old man, gave them some good advice before they rose, and every word cut into John Romalees’ heart-, and was graven there. A motorcar was in waiting, and Mr. Raynor had been warned, so that when they reached his house they found him radiant with delight and quite ready to excuse the secrecy that had been practised.
“Young folks have their whims and fancies these days,” was all he said. “And, after all, so long as it’s done proper, what does it matter? Olive, my dear, I’m a very happy man. Now I know you’ve got a husband to look after you as will never forsake you, whatever happens. I’ve something for him.” He tinned away abruptly and went to his study, while Romalees asked his young wife for guidance.
“Tell me what I am to do next.” he asked in desperation, “and forgive me before we part.”
“I am coming as far as London with you,” she answered, still keeping her face away from him. “I shall write to uncle from there and confess. He will forgive me, I am certain.”
He did not dare to comment lest he betrayed his feelings, nor was he sure whether he would have the blow of parting fall at once or whether he was glad to have it postponed. Then Mr. Raynor came hurriedly in and placed a bundle of papers in his hand. His face was flushed and his eyes moist, so that he seemed little like a villain.
“Give these to the dad, my boy,” he said, “and just call his attention to the fact that I cut off his signatures long ago. Tell him that it was only because I wanted to make sure of my girl marrying a gentleman that I kept them at all, and didn’t tell him they were harmless. Ask him to forgive and forget for his new daughter’s sake. She’s worth it, my boy ; she is indeed.” He blew his nose violently, and Romalees wished a thousand times that he had never deceived the old fellow. His own love for Olive made Raynor's fault less in his eyes, for he was sure that he would híive done anything in his power to make her happy, even though he sinned against others in so doing.
There was no breakfast after this strange marriage. Olive made an excuse that they had a train to catch, and half an hour later they were again in the motor hurrying to the railway station. They did not speak, and Ramalees sat watching the treasure that had been lent to him for so short a time, trying to make up his mind to accept the inevitable without delay. The train was just coming in, and by this time he had quite made up his plans. He obtained a ticket for Olive, saw her comfortably placed in a corner seat, and then waited on the platform for the end of all things, so far as hope and happiness were concerned.
“Aren't you coming in?'’ she asked, looking frightened.
“No: I am going back to tell your uncle what a blackguard I am,” he answered. trying to show a calmness that he was far from feeling. “Then he will go after you and take care of you. Wire where he can find you.”
She sprang from her seat, and, opening the carriage door with nervous hands.
jumped out just as the train was moving. He had to catch her in his arms to save her from falling.
“I am coming back with you,” she declared shakily, nor could his arguments alter her decision. The journey by road was again passed in silence until they had almost reached the house.
“I want you to stay while I see him first,” she said.
He bowed his head gravely; he had no further arguments to offer. Then he sat in the car while she went indoors, and added to his torments as only a repentant man can. It seemed hours before Raynor came to the door and quietly asked him to come in.
“I am the chief one to blame,” the millowner said, when they were within the library. “Olive has told me all. It’s hurt me more than I can tell you, and the kindest thing that you can do for me is to say nothing.”
“But Olive 1” Romalees said. “I have ruined her life.”
“She’ll speak for herself,” was the reply. “And now you and me can shake hands,” and he offered his hand.
Romalees took it mechanically, his thoughts centred on the wife who was ever to be a stranger to him.
Then Raynor left, and Olive slowly came into the room. She looked anxious, and yet not as sad as she had done.
“Husband,” she whispered. He started, moving a little way toward her, and then stopping, lest he had mistaken. “John, we are forgiven,” she said, and with a cry of joy ran to his arms, and sobbed while he held her to him as though he were afraid of losing her.
“I never meant to leave you,” she said softly, “but I did so want you to beg me not to go from you.”
Then he told all that he had with such efforts kept to himself, and she was satisfied.