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journey's end, and that on the other side of it
was .... %vhat ^

For a moment she hesitated, covering her
face with her hands, then, softly turning the
handle, she found herself in a narrow bare
room, lit by a skylight, through which there
showed the sapphire of God's sky, while by
the light of a dimly burning lamj) she dis-
cerned the outline of a rude pallet, upon wliich
was stretched the body of a lifeless woman
with a dead infant lying on her breast.



.h^:^—2





CHAPTER X.

"Xight will strew
On the damp grass myriads of lingering leaves.
And with them shall I die ; nor much it grieves,
To die, when summer dies on the cold sward."

ITH a terrible cry the girl fell on
her knees beside the pallet, and
"O^^^t^s^,^^ flung her arms about the inani-
mate forms of mother and child.

A shiver ran through her at the contact of
the babe's chill body, but in Muriel the spark
of life still flickered, for as Mignon called
upon her in a thousand wild and tender
words of love and pity, two dark eyes opened
slowly in the corpse-like face, and stared
fixedly at her, with an a^nful mingling of
horror, fear, and a something not far re-



HEART. -245



moved in its expression from chiirlisli unwel-
come.

Feebly seeking to free herself from tliat
close, importunate embrace, Muriel's head
recoiled sideways on the pillow, and thus
lying with half-averted face, she flung one
wasted arm across her eyes, while with the
other she clutched at, and drew upw^ards, the
ragged sheet, as though to hide from her
sister's eyes that which lay upon her breast.
That averted face, that significant gesture
. . . . they told Mignon all, and hope and
she had done with each other for ever when
she stooped and laid her lips against that
thin and toil-worn hand.

Hope was dead, but love remained : love
that could be turned aside by no shame or
sin in the creature beloved, and that dumbly
expressed itself in the passionate strength
with which the o^irl's arms closed once more
about that unresponsive, silent form.

'' Muriel ! my love, my darling !" cried
Misrnon in a voice of ansfuish, " look at
me .... speak to me .... It is your little
sister .... your Gabrielle . . . ."



246 " CHERRY RIPE !"

Slowly, sullenly, Muriel cbew from her eyes
the ann that shielded them, and, still with
that hard look of unwelcome in her eyes^
said :

"You can kiss me .... You can put
your arms about me .... Do you know
what I am ? A lost woman, an outcast ....
a mother who is no wife .... A mother
.... Dare I even claim that title ? Bonald
says, N^en croyez pas les romans — il faut etre
epoiise 2^oitr etre mere . . . ."

Appalled by her sister's words, her tone..
Mimon drew back, tremblino-. Was this the
sweet-voiced sister of her love, whose nature
had been all gentle, and good, and tender ?

"You should not have come," went on
Muriel in that unfamiliar voice ; " your
coming gives me no joy, and adds but one
more pang to my death-bed. It was my one
prayer, my one deshe, to die as I have lived —
alone."

Her great hollow eyes strayed upwards
to the blue patch of sky above her head,
where shone those dazzling points of bright-
ness, of which a little child once said that



HEART. 247



*' they were gimlet-holes made by God to let
the gioiy through."

'' Smce I could not come back to you as I
had promised — honest — I swore that I would
never come back to you at all. From my
place out in the cold and the darkness I have
watched you in the sunlight, happy and inno-
cent ; and my one joy has been that you did
not know, that you never would know, the
truth."

"And you call that love 1" said Mignon,.
with a very bitter cry. '' Ah ! had you
longed for me as I for you, you would have
heeded nothing ; you would have come to me
straight .... for how could the sin of a bad
man turn my love from you, or make you any
other to me than what you have ever been T

" Think you I had no pride," cried Muriel,
*' that I Avould have mingled my ruined,
smirched life with that happy, pure one upon
the threshold of which you were standing ?
My sin and shame were my own, their
shadow should never rest upon you, and since
it is in the nature of all things to forget, I
knew that tune would heal the wound mv



248 ■' CHEI^R V RIPE r

loss inflicted upon you. But now .... now
I die, enduring the inconceivable misery of
beholding you. You are acquainted, in all its
wTetched details, with the story of my degra-
dation, and — for I know your heart — long
after I am gone you will remember, and
sufier .... suffer . . . ."

With the last words her voice had changed,
had faltered, and now slow, painful tears
rolled down her cheeks and fell on the hand
that still held the sheet below her chin.

She lifted this hand, and held it before her
eyes.

'' Tears !" she said. '' How long is it since
my woes have been so light as to enable me to
weep ? When one's heart is breaking one does
not weep, one prays ; when it has broken, and
God has hid His face from us, one neither
weeps nor prays ; one breathes, lives, is a curse.
To the woman who lives, the hand of every
man against her, save when to serve his own
vile ends he offers her a tainted kindness ;
to struggle daily and hourly in the teeth of
every obstacle to support the life that she
desires only to see annihilated, with a memory



HEART. 249



that not for one moment permits forgetfulness,
but rather stings her through and through
to intensest consciousness, think you so human,
so easy, a rehef as tears is permitted T

" It is all over now !" said Mignon wildly.
'' You Avill grow strong and well ; you will
come away Avith me, and once together, we
will forget the past . . . ."

" Well .... happy !" repeated Muriel ; the
words leaving her lips mth a strange intona-
tion, as though unfamiliar alike to her ears
and lips.

No need for Mignon to paint alluring
pictures of the future, all the loud-voiced
renunciation in the world could not preach so
stern, so brief, so pitiful a homily as did the
tone in which Muriel had uttered those two
words. For her was no possibility of health
of body or soul on this side the grave ; and
something of this fact was borne in upon Mig-
non's mind as she looked upon her sister's face.

*' And he " she exclaimed, involuntarily.

^^ Is there a God in heaven that he goes his
way unpunished while 3^ou are — thus ?"

^' He lives," cried Muriel, every trace of"



250 " CHERR V RIPE /"

softness vanisliinof from her voice and manner,
" absolutely indifferent to my fate, with heart,
brain, soul, possessed by love of a woman,
who, living or dying, has my deepest curse,
my undying hatred, a woman but for whom,
and her theft of that which was mine, I should
be happy with you now, and to whom I owe
all, all that in these past miserable months
has befallen me. For every misery I have
endured, every degradation through which I
have passed, for every cruel pang of hunger
and sting of cold that have assailed me, I thank
her, and pray that even such may she endure
a hundred-fold, and may her last end be even
as mine !"

She paused, livid as the little shrouded face
that lay on her breast, and utterly exhausted
by the fearful energy with which she had
uttered the above words.

" She may not have known," said Mignon,
in a very low voice, and staring straight be-
fore her, " but he .... 0\ my God Mie . . . .
I have heard of such men, I have been told
that such as he existed, but I did not
believe it until now. ..."



HEART. 251



" It was not liis fault," cried Muriel s^^dftly,
and somehow, she could not have told why,
Mignon knew then that whatever this man
may have been, her sister had once, nay, still,
loved him. "It was hers, she must have
known liis stoiy, all the world knew it, and
she should have scorned to steal him from a
poor creature who had lost all for his sake . . .
Any other lover would have done as well for
her ; there was only one man on earth who
could enable me to retrieve ra]] past . . . ."

"Do not blame Aer," said Mignon, her youngs
stem face lifted as though in invocation of
God's veno'eance to heaven, " blame him , . .
teU me his name. That I may seek liim out,
that I may bring him face to face with the
ruin he has worked, that li^dng and d}dng its
memory may be a curse to prevent and follow
him, that he may never know happiness with
any woman living, but be shunned and ab-
horred by all who value honour and truth ..."

But Muriel made no reply, a deatlily pallor
had spread over her wasted face, and as Mig-
non, believing her to be d}dng, chafed her
cold hands, the door opened, and a middle-



*2 5 2 '• CHERR V RIPE /"

aged man entered the garret, who looked
scnitinisingly at the sick gu4. He shook
his head as he sat down beside her, then took
that slender wiist in his hand, and shook his
head for the second time.

" She will die ?" exclaimed Mignon 2^as-
sionately. He had not thonoiit so vouno- a
voice could exj)ress such dei^ths of misery ; he
looked from the one sister's face to the other
with a profound pity, perceiving that some
tragedy Avas being played out here ; then he
rose and beckoned her to follow him.

Without the door, Mignon's question took
another form of vehement appeal.

'' She will live T she cried.

*' She may live till morning," he said reluc-
tantly, '' beyond that, I can encourage you
to hope nothing."

Cowering beneath the surgeon's words,
Mignon leant against the wall, her hands
raised and pressing her ears, as though to
shut out by sheer force the intelligence just
•conveyed to her.

The great bell of St. Paul's hard by rang
<out its solemn note ; it had at intervals



HEART. 253



sounded in her ears for the past hour, but now
it seemed to fall on her heart with dull and
dreadful meaning, to toll for the spirit so soon
to set forth on its last awfid journey alone !

She could not have told how or when the
surgeon departed, only her senses seemed to
come back to her when once more kneeling*
down by Muriel's side, she laid her arms about
her neck. The real parting between the sisters
was then, not later, and as their eyes met, all
the stubborn piide and the fierceness died out
of Muriel's, and the two poor creatures clung
together in an embrace in which the bitterness
of death strove to, yet could not, cast out all
the sweetness of love.

Side by side their heads lay on the pillow,
as they had so often lain in the days when, as
little children, they had dwelt in love together,
and, though in thought each was living
over again the cruel years that they had been
divided, no word was spoken between them,
for heart spoke unto heart, and the nmte
language of eye, and lip, and body, told their
own tale only too eloquently.

Yet was not the meed of their ano-uish



254 '^ CHERR V RIPE /"



equal, for on the heart of the one ah'eady lay
the numbing shadow of death, while that of
the other, being vigorous with the ^^ulses of
life, was keen to suffer, strong to endure ; and
something of this, Muriel perhaps understood,
as she laid her thin hand on her young sister's
■shining hair, and smoothed it from her brow.

" My little one . . . my heart ..." she
said tenderly, '' and must we part so soon T

" Take me with you," cried Mignon, pas-
sionately. " O ! my love, my love, take me
with you !"

" No," said Muriel ; " you cannot come
with me, little sister, and you would not, even
if you could, for you have other ties, other
hopes than these that have been blighted in
me, and the love of a sister is not so deep and
close as is the love of a husband."

Miofnon covered her face Avith her hands,
confounded, ashamed, stricken dumb with a
sense of disloyalty that showed in the light
of a crime, for, even as Muriel spoke, the
moment of revelation had come, the moment
that told her how, not in the sister here dying
before her, was her life centred, but in one



HEART. 255



whom, until now, she could not be said to
have consciously loved.

She slipped to the ground and knelt there,
her face hidden, but on her head Muriel's
hand still moved gently to and fro. Did the
poor hardened heart take an added bitterness
at finding how, of no love on earth, not even
that of her sister's in its entirety, did she die
the possessor %

" I have seen him," said Muriel, after a
short pause, " I have even heard his voice,
and, myself hidden, watched his features,
weighed his words, and I thank God that
you are in hands so strong to protect and
guard you as are his. And he being what he
is, you do well to love him with your whole
heart and soul, though were he false or bad, I
would say, charm his fancy, delight his senses,
but never give him that hold over you that
your love, once irrevocably given, will afford
to him !"

The bitterness had returned to her voice,
the hardness to her eyes and lips ; it was as
one who thinks aloud that Mignon lifting her
head exclaimed, " You loved — him T



256 *' CHERR V RIPE r

" Can you understand a love," said the
dying woman, turning the restless fire of her
dark eyes upon the white misery of her
sister's face, '' that tortures, embitters, shames
the giver, that is so dark and harsh, and
strange a potion to the receiver, that he
turns from it with hatred and loathing ? It
was thus that I loved him when the first head-
long passionate impulse of pity and tenderness
that I had felt for him vanished, when I
found that whereas he had been the one man
the earth held for me, I had been but one out
of many women to liim, and that not out of
love, but for the pui-pose of freeing himself
from the Avife he so hated, had he taken me
away with him, and that though he meant to
abide by the vow he had sworn to me, it
would be from a sense of honour, not love,
that he would fulfil it !"

Mignon started and looked around, as one
who in a dream hearkens to the sound of words
that she has with her actual ears heard but a
short time before.

Surely she had heard this story some-
where, or one strangely like it . . . she tried



HEART. 257



to remember where and when, but some-
thing seemed to hold her back, and prevent
her.

" He came into my Hfe Hke a storm- wind,
in a moment he seemed to turn the dull sands
of my life to gold, he swept me oflP my feet
on the tide of his bold impetuous wooing, and
for the sovereign charm that was in him, and
for the great pity I bore him, and for that I
was so young and inexperienced in the ways
of men, I was undone, and never pausing to
think, forgetful of my God, myself, all, my
love for you being faint and chill (since there
is not room for two human idols in one heart),
when he beckoned to me, I went, and in the
selfsame hour repented.

" A woman who gives all, leaves herself for
ever a beggar, and henceforth, love as she will,
her hand is empty of good to the man for
whom she has stepped off her pedestal of
purity.

" And so it came to pass that when the first
girlish passion that so sweetly fed his vanity
had passed, to be replaced by that bitter, tor-
menting love of which I have spoken, he

VOL. III. 57



258 " CHERR V RIPE /"

ceased to care for me, and even believed me
to have wearied of him, as rapidly as he had
done of me. I did not undeceive him, I
scorned to pray for that which I could not
win, and so we went from bad to worse, till
our existence side by side daily became more
and more unendurable, and neither dared to
look ahead at the future we seemed doomed
to drag out together. One joy in the future
at least, I possessed; he coidd look forward
to none. Mine was that once the period of
waiting was past, and his vow to me re-
deemed, I should be free to go to you, my
sister — rehabihtated. I was dwellinof near
you, I was eagerly anticipating the day, now
not far distant, when I should be able to visit
you not by stealth, but openly, when I made
two discoveries.

"The first" . . . she shuddered, her eyes tra-
velling downwards to that shrouded outline
on her breast. "The second . . . that the man
for whom I had yielded up all, the man who
had sworn to make me his wife when he
should be free, not only loved another woman,
but had resolved to break that vow, since



HEART. 259



thus, and thus alone, could he be happy with
— her,

"Not all at once did this latter knowledge
dawn upon me. The first w^arning came when
I heard him murmurino^ over and over aorain
in his sleep some w^oman's name, and the
fashion of his utterinof it convinced me that
this was no passing caprice, but that he loved
her. It was his custom to keep a diary, safely
secured under lock and key, and to this,
durino^ his absence in town on the eve of his
divorce suit, I found access, and beginning
with a certain entry in May, I read straight
throuQ^h to the last line, written no lono^er ao^o
than the night before.

" I saw myself condemned to everlasting
shame. I saw the strano-er snatchino- from
me my last hope of redemption, and I lifted
my brows to heaven, and called down God's
heaviest curse upon this woman who cast
me out to perdition, who sundered me for
ever from the sister who, but an hour ago,
had at length seemed to be within my grasp.

" Never pausing to think, only wishful to
escape the degradation of the offer of money

57—2



260 " CHERR Y RIPE /"

that he would inevitably make, I left his house,
and came to London, alone, penniless, my
face, the beauty of which I loathed, since it
had been so powerless to bind him to me, at
once a source of help and danger. I obtained
employment, I lost it ; at every turn I found
false friends and abundant enemies ; my hand
was against every man and woman, as their
hands were against me, and by successive
stages of poverty and misery I have come to
— this.

" Yesternight I laid down the work upon
which depended the morsel of bread that
would keep body and soul together, for some
instinct told me that my time of peril was
nigh at hand, and I would see you if possible
once more ; so on foot I made my way to you,
and, as though in answer to my j)rayer, you
came to your bedroom-window, and looked
out.

" I returned here at daybreak, and then
.... and then . . . ." she shuddered, and
looked downward, " this poor, blighted child
of sin, prematurely born, saw the light ....
It just breathed and died, and I bade them



HEART. 261



lay it in my arms and leave us in peace, and
that thus we might be buried together."

" And you were near me last night," cried
Mignon. "You saw — you heard me ....
you could turn away from the home that so
long has waited for you, to endure your
agony alone . . . ."

" To die would have been no such great
thing," said Muriel faintly, her brow damp
and chill with the dews of exhaustion; "more
bitter to mo than any approaching pang of
death was the thought of your presence at my
side, my sister . . . but now, thank God for
this little space that we have had together, and,
in the days to come, perhaps you will be able
to forget all the sin and the shame, and think
of Muriel as she . . . used to be . . ."

Her head fell back, the beautiful wan face
took a greyer pallor, the dark eyes closed,
she had slipped away into unconsciousness.

In vain Mignon cried, with every fond,
foolish word of love her heart could fashion,
upon her sister to speak, to awaken. Muriel
lay quite still and silent : on brow and lip the
foreshadowing of that peace which comes to



262 " CHERR Y RIPE /"

all in the hour of death. Presently the
garret-door was pushed gently open, and the
woman of the house entered. She came to
the side of the bed, and stood, an uncouth and
slovenly figure, looking down, with a shake
of the head, and a sigh, at the dying girl.

"She'll not last till morning," she said,
" and mayhap she'll be pleased to go, for 'ti&
a hard and wearifu' life she's lived, and an
honest, all but for the sin o' one bad man ;
and I guess that won't be reckoned agin her
up yon where she's goin' safe enough."

A tear rolled down her dirty, raddled
cheek, then another and another ; she wiped
them away as though ashamed at displaying
so much emotion, and added :

" Him as you come with, he's down below,
and just wild to know how she is — and
will she live or die ? — and I'm to take him
word, though I told him what the doctor
said, and how there worn't nothing as even
the Queen herself could do, if she wished it
ever so, for the poor creature."

" Him .^" repeated Mignon, staring at the
woman with her miserable blue eyes. " I



HEART, 263



don't know who you mean ; but yes, yes . . .
I remember .... Tell him .... tell him
. ..." (a sob rose in her throat and seemed
to strangle her) " that she is dying. And go
away," she added feverishly ; '' let me have
her all to myself for the little time that is left
to us. . . ."

A hoarse shout of tipsy laughter from some
place below ascended the stairs, and came in
at the open door. At sound of it, the woman,
with one backward glance at Muriel, went
quickly away.

The dying girl opened her eyes as the door
closed.

''The man below — is your husband," she
said, a burning blush covering her face, for a
moment cheating Mignon's eye with the
bright hues of returning health.

''My husband I No," said Mignon, colouring
in her turn. " He does not know .... he
is away in Scotland .... He who brought
me (God bless him for it !) is one who has been a
friend to both you and me, Muriel ; indeed,
but for him, my darling, I should not be with
you now . . . ."



264 " CHERR Y RIPE r

" And how came this stranger to know . . .
that I was your sister ?" said Muriel slowly.
*' How came he to know where to find me,
hidden as I have been here T

" I cannot tell," said Mignon sadly ; " only
I made him promise me once that if ever he
should meet you he would come straight away
and fetch me to you; he knew how I had been
longing and ivearying after you . . . ."

" Do you tell to all men the story of your
sister's shame ?" cried Muriel, with a passion
beneath which her weak frame trembled.

" God forbid !" said Mignon swiftly. " So
far as I could understand, he knew but little
of you ; and yet . . . and yet ... he brought
me here," she added thoughtfully.

" And his name ?" said Muriel, ^' is it possi-
ble that out of all the world I have one friend?"

*^ His name is Philip La Mert," said
Mignon gently ; '^ and indeed he is your
friend, as he has been mine always "

She paused, terrified, for Muriel's weak
hand had closed upon her arm with a clutch
so strong, so unexpected, as to chill the very
blood in her veins.



HEART, 265



'^ You are mad !" said Muriel, '' mad ! Do
you know what you are saying % Philip La
Mert ! You are mad ! mad !"

She nipped the girl's arm close, flung
it from her, laughing harshly the while, then
cried :

"Who taught you to say that name so
glibly, child ? It is a pretty one, is it not ?
You are mad, I say, mad !" she muttered ;
*' or did my ears play me a trick, and was it
some other name you spoke T

" But he is here," said Mignon, trembling.
*' Did you not hear what the woman said %
how anxious he was about you, how miser-
able . . . ."

But Muriel only stared at the girl like a
woman bewitched, then waving her back, cried:

"And you have let me tell you my wretched
story when you . . . knew it already ....
when you had made him promise that when he
should have found me, he should bring you to
me . . . ."

"He promised," said Mignon, "because
. . because he was so sorry for me, and
. . and for you . . . ."



266 *' CHERRY RIPE /"

"He is sorry for me/' repeated Muriel
below her breath, her haggard eyes uplifted
to the stars ; "and he is my friend .... my
friend and yours .... Go to him," she
cried, sitting suddenly erect, her right arm
holding the dead child to her breast, " and say
that ''Muriel would like to hid her friend, and
her sister sfnend, good-bye."

" You would see him ?" said Mimon, A^dth-
drawing a step in her amazement, "Aere f . . .
in this room ..." Involuntarily her glance
had fallen upon the dead child, and Muriel
caught and intei-preted her meaning.

" Ay ! I will see him here," said Muriel,
sternly, " and at once, or it mil be too late. . . .
Go ! dehver the exact words I told you, and
do not return ^\dthout him. Unless cowardice
be added to liis other ^dces, he will obey my
summons, as you A\ill my command."

As Mignon still hesitated — shocked and
amazed — scarcely believing the evidence of her
ears, Muriel lifted her hand and pointed to the
door, through which the girl slowly and un-
willingly passed.

There was to Mignon, a profound indelicacy


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