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B. L. (Benjamin Leopold) Farjeon.

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important manner, that she had something to impart, and with a small
exercise of cunning he extracted the letter from her.

The mere receipt of it filled him with alarm. He hurried to his
cellar, with Sally at his heels.

"I wouldn't open it before the neighbours," he said to Sally, "for the
Duchess's sake. They're only too ready to talk, and take away a girl's
character."

With this he opened the letter. The words were few:

"I have gone away, and perhaps shall never come back. I will try and
pay you and Sally for all your kindness to me. Don't blame me; I
cannot help what I am doing. When you see me again, I shall be a lady.
Goodbye."

They looked at each other with white faces.

"It has come," said Seth, in a pathetic voice, "What we dreaded has
come. Our child has deserted us. God send that she is not being
deceived; but I fear - I fear!" He paced the cellar for some moments in
anxious thought, and Sally, with all her soul in her eyes, followed
his movements. Presently he straightened himself with the air of a man
who has a serious task before him. "I am going straight to my duty,"
he said. "Kiss me, my dear. Whatever a man can do, I intend to do,
without fear of consequences."

"Let me go with you, Daddy," implored Sally.

"Come along, then; it will be as well, perhaps."

No further words passed between them, and as quickly as it could be
accomplished, the shutters were put up to Seth's stall, and he and
Sally were riding to Mr. Temple's house. On his arrival there Seth
demanded to see Mr. Temple.

The servant conveyed the message to Mr. Temple, coupling it with the
information that the visitor was the person who had lately been turned
from the house by Mr. Temple's orders. Mr. Temple ordered the servant
again to expel him; but the man returned, saying that Seth Dumbrick
declared he must have an interview, and promised that he would not
detain Mr. Temple. The secret of this lay in the servant having been
bribed by Seth.

"The person is not alone, sir," said the servant; "he has a woman with
him."

"Let him come in," said Mr. Temple; "and you yourself will remain
within call."

"Now," said Mr. Temple haughtily, the moment Seth and Sally entered,
"without a word of preamble, the reason of this intrusion. You are,
perhaps, aware that I could have you locked up for forcing your way
into my house."

"In that case," said Seth firmly, "I should be compelled, in the
magistrate's court to make certain matters public. The press is open
to a man's wrongs."

"Clap-trap," exclaimed Mr. Temple. "Come at once to your business with
me."

Seth handed to Mr. Temple the note left by the Duchess with Mrs.
Preedy. Mr. Temple read it in silence, and returned it with the words,

"How does this affect me?"

"My child has fled," said Seth.

"How does _that_ affect me?"

"Your son is with her."

"Twill satisfy you," said Mr. Temple, with a frown, "that you are
labouring under a gross error." He touched the bell; the servant
answered it. "Go to Mr. Arthur Temple, and tell him I desire to see
him."

"He is not in the house, sir."

"Has he been long absent?"

"Not long, sir," replied the man who, through a fellow-servant, was
enabled to give the information. "He left in great haste for the
railway station to catch a train, I heard."

"For what place?"

"For Sevenoaks, sir."

Mr. Temple was aware that Seth's lynx eyes were upon him, and that it
would give the common man an advantage if he exhibited surprise.

"Send Richards to me."

"Richards left the house with your son, sir."

Throughout his life Mr. Temple had proved himself equal to
emergencies.

"You have nothing further to say to me, I presume," he said,
addressing himself to Seth.

"Nothing that your own sense of honour and justice does not dictate,"
was the reply.

"It dictates nothing that you can have a claim to hear. There is the
door."

Seth had his reasons now for not wishing to prolong the interview.

"I will not trouble you any longer, sir. I know what kind of justice I
might expect from you in such a matter as this. From this moment it is
for me to act, not to talk. I have but this to say before I leave. If
my child comes to grief through your son - if he inflicts a wrong upon
her - I will devote my life to exposing both him and you."

He quitted the room upon this, and, giving instructions to the
cab-driver, bade Sally jump in.

"Where are you going now, Daddy?" asked Sally.

"To Sevenoaks. We may yet be in time."


The same train which conveyed him and Sally to Sevenoaks, conveyed
Mr. Temple also. The men did not see each other. Mr. Temple rode
first-class, Seth and Sally third.

The snowstorm showed no sign of abatement; steadily and heavily the
white flakes fell.

The links which fate weaves around human lives were drawing closer and
closer around the lives of the actors in this story; every yard that
was traversed by the train, conveying Seth and Mr. Temple,
strengthened the threads which for years had been so far distant from
one another, that nothing but the strangest circumstance could have
prevented them from eventually breaking. As Seth gazed from the window
upon the falling snow, he prayed that he might be in time to save the
child of his love, or to assure himself that she was on the right
track. To Mr. Temple the heavy snowfall brought the memory of a night
long buried in the past, when he had stood hidden near a quaint old
church, while strangers' hands were saving from death the woman he had
betrayed. And an uneasy feeling crept into his mind at the thought
that the church was within a mile of the place towards which he was
wending his way.




CHAPTER XXVIII.


The thoughts which occupied the mind of Mrs. Lenoir and the Duchess
when they met at the railway-station were of too disturbing a nature
to allow of conversation. Only a few words were exchanged. Mrs.
Lenoir, who was the first to arrive, accosted the Duchess immediately
she entered the waiting-room.

"You are the young lady I am to accompany to Sevenoaks?"

The uttermost power of her will could not prevent her voice from
trembling.

The Duchess glanced at the speaker, but her agitation prevented her
from closely observing Mrs. Lenoir. She saw, however, that Mrs.
Lenoir's dress and manner were those of a lady.

"Mr. Temple told me I should meet a lady here," said the Duchess.

"I saw him to-day," returned Mrs. Lenoir, "and it was arranged that I
should come to you."

The gentle voice acted soothingly upon the Duchess.

"I have the tickets; the train starts at a quarter to seven. What a
dreadful night it is! We must be quick, or we shall miss the train."

"We have ample time," said Mrs. Lenoir, looking at the clock; "it is
not half-past six. You look faint and weary, my dear; have you had
tea?"

"No."

"Come into the refreshment-room, and, drink a cup. It will do you
good."

Every nerve in Mrs. Lenoir's body quivered as the girl placed her hand
in hers; they went together to the refreshment-room, where they drank
their tea, and then, hurrying to the train, they entered a first-class
carriage. The journey was made in silence; the carriage was full, and
such converse as they could hold could not take place in the presence
of strangers. The Duchess leant back upon the soft cushions and closed
her eyes, and Mrs. Lenoir watched her with silent love. She saw in the
Duchess's face so startling a likeness to her own when she herself was
a girl, that words were scarcely needed to prove to her that her child
was sitting by her side. But that she knew that all her physical and
mental strength was required to compass the end she had in view, she
could not have restrained her feelings.

In due time they arrived at Sevenoaks, and Mrs. Lenoir inquired
whether they were to wait at the station.

"Oh, no," said the Duchess, handing a paper to Mrs. Lenoir. "Mr.
Temple has written what we are to do."

Mrs. Lenoir read the instructions, to the effect that when they
reached Sevenoaks they were to take a fly and drive to an hotel, the
"Empire," where, in accordance with a telegram he had sent to the
proprietor, they would find rooms prepared for them.

"Stay here a moment, my dear," said Mrs. Lenoir.

She went to a porter, and asked him whether the "Empire" was a
respectable hotel.

"It's one of the best in Sevenoaks," was the reply. "Shall I get you a
fly?"

"If you please."

She quickly decided that the best course to pursue was to go at once
to the hotel, where she could unravel the plot to the Duchess; events
would determine what was to follow. Before she rejoined the Duchess
she walked to a young man and woman, who were standing on the platform
a little apart from the throng, and spoke to them. This couple had
travelled third-class from London by the same train; Mrs. Lenoir had
seen them at Ludgate Hill Station, but it had been understood between
them that they should not appear to know each other.

"You have proved yourselves good friends to me," she said to them
hurriedly; "we are going to an hotel called the 'Empire.' Follow us at
once, and be ready to come to me if I want you there."

They signified by a gesture that they understood and would obey her,
and then Mrs. Lenoir and the Duchess walked to the fly, and drove to
the "Empire."

They found the rooms ready, and the landlady herself led them up the
stairs. A bright fire was burning, and everything presented a cheerful
appearance. The Duchess took off her gloves, and Mrs. Lenoir assisted
her to remove her hat and cloak, and removed her own hat and veil.
Then, for the first time on that night, the girl saw Mrs. Lenoir's
face in full, clear light. She started back, with an exclamation of
alarm.

"I have seen you before!"

"Yes, my dear - but do not avoid me; I implore you to listen to me! It
is not I who am deceiving you - indeed, indeed, it is not! I am here
for your good."

"I do not understand," said the Duchess, looking vaguely around. "Mr.
Temple said that a lady-relative would meet me at the station. Are you
not a relative of his?"

"I am not in any way related to the man who has been paying his
addresses to you - - "

"Of the gentleman, you mean," interrupted the Duchess, with a pride
that was made pitiable by the doubt and suspicion that was mingled
with it.

"As you will, my child. I will speak of him presently. There is
something nearer to my heart, which will break if you do not listen to
what I have to say."

"I cannot listen," said the Duchess, "until you prove in some way that
you are not deceiving me."

"Thank God, I have the proof with me. On the night you saw me lying
senseless in the snow, this gentleman you call Mr. Temple was with
you."

"Yes, and when I left you he promised to help you home."

"He kept his promise, and learned where I live. I had never seen him
before, nor had he ever seen me; we were utter strangers to each
other. Yet to-day, this very morning, he came to me, and proposed that
I should enter into a plot to betray you! He proposed that I should
present myself to you as his aunt, as a lady who was favourable to his
elopement with you, and that in this capacity I should accompany you
here. For your good I consented - to save you I am here. Say that you
believe me."

"Part of what you say must be true; but you said you have the proof
with you - what proof, and what are you going to prove?"

"That this man is no gentleman - that he is a villain - and that his
name is not Temple. On my knees - on my knees! - I thank God that it is
in my power to save you from the fatal precipice upon which you are
standing! Trust me - believe in me; I am a woman like yourself, and my
life has been a life of bitter, bitter sorrow!"

She was on her knees before the Duchess, clasping the girl's hands,
and gazing imploringly into her face. Her strange passion, the
earnestness of her words, her suffering gentle face, were not without
their effect upon the frightened girl; but some kind of stubbornness
to believe that her hopes of becoming a lady were on the point of
being overturned rendered her deaf to the appeal in any other way than
it affected herself. The threatened discovery was so overwhelming as
to leave no room for pity or sympathy for the woman kneeling before
her.

"Where is your proof?" asked the Duchess.

Mrs. Lenoir started to her feet, and ringing the bell, gave a
whispered instruction to the maid who answered it. In a few moments
Lizzie and Charlie entered the room. They were the persons who came
third-class from London, by the same train which conveyed Mrs. Lenoir
and the Duchess to Sevenoaks; with some vague idea that she might need
Charlie's testimony, Mrs. Lenoir had begged Lizzie to ask him to come.

"Lizzie," said Mrs. Lenoir, "will you tell this young lady what you
know of me?"

"I know nothing but good, Mrs. Lenoir," replied Lizzie, taking her
hand, and kissing it; "there isn't a man or woman in our neighbourhood
who hasn't a kind word for you."

"My dear," said Mrs. Lenoir, addressing the Duchess, "this is a girl
who lives in the same house as I do, and who has known me for years.
What is the matter with you, Lizzie?" For the girl was gazing at the
Duchess with a look of wild admiration and interest.

"I beg your pardon," said Lizzie, "but is the young lady your daughter
that you spoke to me of last night - - "

Lizzie was stopped in her speech by a sob from Mrs. Lenoir, who hid
her face in her hands, and turned from them, hearing as she turned, a
whisper from the Duchess:

"What does she mean? Your daughter! Oh, my God! Let me look at you
again."

But Mrs. Lenoir kept her face hidden from the girl, and said, with
broken sobs:

"Let me have my way a little, my dear. I will speak more plainly
presently, when we are alone. Give me your hand - - "

She held the pretty fingers which the Duchess gave her, with a
clinging loving pressure which caused the girl's heart to thrill with
hope and fear.

"Hear what Lizzie has to say first. Lizzie, you were in my room this
morning when a gentleman called to see me?"

"Yes, Mrs. Lenoir."

"You heard him inquiring for me?"

"Yes."

"Did he give any name?"

"After he left, I heard that he called himself Mr. Temple."

While these words were spoken, Mrs. Lenoir, finding herself unable to
stand, sank into a chair, and the Duchess, sinking to her knees, hid
her face in her lap, holding Mrs. Lenoir's hand.

"Describe the man, Lizzie," said Mrs. Lenoir.

Lizzie did so in a graphic manner; the portrait she presented was
truthful and unmistakable. Every word that was being uttered was
carrying conviction to the Duchess's soul.

"When he left the house," said Mrs. Lenoir, "Charlie and you - Charlie
and Lizzie are engaged, my dear, and will soon be married," - this to
the Duchess - "Charlie and you were in the passage, and he passed you."

"Yes."

"Charlie, you saw his face?"

"I did, ma'am."

"And recognised it?"

"As sure as anything's sure, though a good many years have gone by
since I saw it last."

"Was his name Temple?"

"Not by a long way."

"Tell me his name again, Charlie."

"Ned Chester his name was, and is," added Charlie positively.

At the mention of the name a shudder passed through the Duchess's
frame.

"What character did he bear when you knew him?"

"A precious bad one; not to put too fine a point upon it, he was a
thief."

"That will do, Charlie. Good night; good night, Lizzie."

"Good night, Mrs. Lenoir, God bless you."

"Thank you, my dears."

In another moment Mrs. Lenoir and the Duchess were again alone.

The questions had been asked by Mrs. Lenoir with the distinct purpose
of convincing the Duchess that she was acting in good faith and for
the girl's good. She felt that she was on her trial, as it were, and
out of the teachings of her own sad experience she gathered wisdom to
act in such a way as to win confidence. On the Duchess the effect
produced was convincing, so far as the man whose attention she had
accepted was concerned; but a dual process of thought was working in
her mind - one associated with the lover who would have betrayed her,
the other associated with the woman who had stepped between her and
her peril.

"My dear," said Mrs. Lenoir, after an interval of silence, during
which the Duchess had not raised her head, and Mrs. Lenoir was
strengthening herself for the coming trial, "will you give me what
information you can concerning yourself which will help to guide us
both in this sad hour?"

A pressure of her fingers answered her in the affirmative.

"Keep your eyes from me till I bid you rise," continued Mrs. Lenoir,
with heaving bosom. "Where do you live?"

"In Rosemary Lane."

"Have you lived all your life there?"

"Since I was a very little child."

"You were not born there?"

"Oh, no; I do not know where I was born - - " Mrs. Lenoir's eyes
wandered to the window which shut out the night. She could not see it,
but she felt that the snow was falling; "and," said the Duchess in a
faltering voice, "I cannot remember seeing the face of my mother."

"Tell me all you know, my dear; conceal nothing from me."

In broken tones the girl told every particular of her history, from
her introduction into Rosemary Lane, as the incident had been related
to her by Seth Dumbrick, to the present and first great trial in life.

"Look up, my dear."

The Duchess raised her eyes, almost blinded with tears. Mrs. Lenoir
tenderly wiped them away, and placed in the girl's hand the miniature
portrait of herself, painted in her younger and happier days.

"It is like me," murmured the girl.

"It is my picture when I was your age." She sank to her knees by the
side of the Duchess. "At this time and in this place my story is too
long to tell. You shall learn all by-and-by, when we are safe. I had a
child - a daughter, born on such a night as this, in sorrow and
tribulation. My memory is too treacherous, and the long and severe
illness I passed through was too terrible in its effects upon me, to
enable me to recall the circumstances of that period of my life. But I
had my child, and she drew life from my breast, and brought gleams of
happiness to my troubled soul. I have no recollection how long a time
passed, till a deep darkness fell upon me; but when I recovered, and
my reason was restored to me, I was told that my child was dead. I had
no power to prove that it was false; I was weak, friendless,
penniless, and I wandered into the world solitary and alone. But
throughout all my weary and sorrowful life, a voice - God's
voice - never ceased whispering to me that my child was alive, and that
I should one day meet her, and clasp her to my heart! In this hope
alone I have lived; but for this hope I should have died long years
ago. Heaven has fulfilled its promise, and has brought you to my arms.
I look into your face, and I see the face of my child; I listen to
your voice, and I hear the voice of my child! God would not deceive
me! In time to come, when you have heard my story, we will, if you
decide that it shall be so, seek for worldly proof. I think I see the
way to it, and if it is possible it shall be found."

She rose from her knees, and standing apart from the wondering weeping
girl, said, in a low voice, between her sobs:

"In my youth I was wronged. I was innocent, as God is my judge! My
fault was, that I trusted and believed; that I, a young girl
inexperienced in the world's hard ways, listened to the vows of a man,
whom I loved with all my soul's strength; whom I believed in as I
believe in Eternal justice! That was my sin. I have been bitterly
punished; no kiss of love, no word of affection that I could receive
as truly my right, has been bestowed upon me since I was robbed of my
child. I have been in darkness for years; I am in darkness now,
waiting for the light to shine upon my soul!"

It came. Tender arms stole about her neck, loving lips were pressed to
hers. In an agony of joy she clasped the girl to her bosom, and wept
over her. For only a few moments did she allow herself the bliss of
this reunion. She looked, affrighted, to a clock on the mantelpiece.

"At what time did that man say he would be here to meet us?" she asked
in a hurried whisper.

"At eleven o'clock," was the whispered reply.

"It wants but five minutes to the hour. We must go, child; we must fly
from this place. No breath of suspicion must attach itself to my
child's good name. Come - quickly, quickly!"

The Duchess allowed Mrs. Lenoir to put on her hat and cloak, and
before the hour struck they were in the street, hastening through the
snow.

Whither? She knew not. But fate was directing her steps.




CHAPTER XXIX.


They did not escape unobserved, and within a short time of their
departure from the hotel, were being tracked by friend and foe. The
ostler attached to the hotel saw the woman stealing away, and noted
the direction they took; and when Ned Chester drove to the "Empire"
and heard with dismay of the flight, the ostler turned an honest penny
by directing him on their road. He turned more than one honest penny
on this - to him - fortunate night. Richards, who had made himself fully
acquainted with Ned's movements, arrived at the hotel, in company with
Arthur Temple, a few minutes after the runaway thief left it, and had
no difficulty in obtaining the information he required.

"Two birds with one stone, sir," he said to Arthur; "we shall catch
the thief and save the girl."

"We may be too late if we go afoot," said Arthur; "every moment is
precious. Now, my man," to the ostler, "your fastest horse and your
lightest trap. A guinea for yourself if they are ready without delay;
another guinea if we overtake the persons we are after."

"I'll earn them both, sir," cried the ostler, running to the stable
door. "You go into the hotel and speak to the missis."

No sooner said than done. Before the horse was harnessed, the landlady
had been satisfied.

"My name is Temple," said Arthur to her in a heat, after the first
words of explanation. "Here is my card, and here is some money as a
guarantee. It is a matter of life and death, and the safety of an
innocent girl hangs upon the moments."

His excitement communicated itself to the landlady, who was won by his
good looks and his enthusiasm, and she herself ran out to expedite the
matter. They were soon on the road, but not soon enough to prevent Ned
Chester from having more than a fair start of them.

Richards, who held the reins, needed no such incentive to put on the
best speed as his young master's impatience unremittingly provided. As
rapidly as possible the horse ploughed its way through the heavy snow.
Their course lay beyond the railway station, and as they passed it the
few passengers by a train which had just arrived were emerging from
the door. To Arthur Temple's surprise Richards, whose lynx eyes were
watching every object, suddenly pulled up in the middle of the road.

"Hold the reins a moment, sir," he said jumping from the conveyance;
"here's somebody may be useful."

He had caught sight of two faces he recognised, those of Sally and
Seth Dumbrick.

"Have you come here after the Duchess?" he asked, arresting his steps.

"Yes. Oh! yes," answered Sally, in amazement. Richards pulled her
towards the conveyance, and Seth followed close at her heels.

"Jump in," said Richards, who by this time was fully enjoying the
adventure. "I'll take you to her. Don't stop to ask questions; there's
no time to answer them."

Seth hesitated, but a glance at Arthur's truthful, ingenuous face
dispelled his doubts, and he mounted the conveyance with Sally, and
entered into earnest conversation with the young man.

Mrs. Lenoir, when she stole with the Duchess through the streets of
Sevenoaks, had but one object in view - to escape from the town into
the country, where she believed they would be safe from pursuit.
Blindly she led the way until she came to the country. Fortunately at
about this time the snow ceased to fall, and the exciting events of
the night rendered her and the Duchess oblivious to the difficulties
which attended their steps. So unnerved was the Duchess by what had
occurred that she was bereft of all power over her will, and she
allowed herself unresistingly, and without question, to be led by Mrs.
Lenoir to a place of safety and refuge. They encouraged each other by
tender words and caresses, and Mrs. Lenoir looked anxiously before her
for a cottage or farmhouse, where they could obtain shelter and a bed.
But no such haven was in sight until they were at some distance from
the town, when the devoted woman saw a building which she hoped might


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