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" for something tells me that this is the last
time I shall watch for thee, and that the end
is near." She rose, drew her poor drenched



74 "CHERRY RIPE/



clothes closer around her Jooking upwards once
more. '' Thank God she will never know ....
never know . . . ." then she went slowly away,
and never by summer nor winter, in springtide
or autumn, came the footsteps of the poor
wanderer thither again.




CHAPTER XX.

0, limed soul, that struggling to be free
Art moie engaged !"




LL that night Phihp La Mert
wandered abroad, a man pursued
of devils, neither knowing nor
caring whither his steps might lead him.

What was this thing that had overtaken
him, that had added curse to curse, retribution
to retribution, in sheer wantonness of cruelty,
until this last, this unimagined evil had come
to place the last link in the chain of horror ?

He had sinned— ay, but other men had
sinned also, and they had gone lightly on
their way, neither dreaming of nor being
overtaken by punishment of any sort or



76 ''CHERRY RIPE



description. He had committed a Avrong,
which he had meant to repair ; he had been
so dishonomably weak as to turn back from
that resolve, but verv quickly he had re-
verted to it, and he was not to blame if it
had never been carried out. From that first
sin, that the world would call venial, had
sprung a succession of circumstances that had
combined to render him the shuttlecock of
fate, the plaything of chance, until the climax
had come to him — to-day.

To-day, when there had fallen to his hand
a gift that once had been precious exceedingly,
that he had longed for, sinned for, even in his
own wild fashion prayed for, but that now
was the most terrible, unwelcome guest that
ever knocked at the heart of man.

God knew that he had long ago given up
coveting it; that when he had talked with
her it had been Avith anguish to his heart, no
thoufjht of Avinninof her love, that it had never
once entered into his wildest imao-inations
that the thing once so sweet and natural,
now so monstrous and horrible, should come
to pass, that Mignon should — love him.



FRUIT. 77



The thought pursued him hke an avenging
fiend ; it drove him on and on through the
stormy night, and at length, after hours of
wandering, he found himself back again almost
at the point whence he had btarted, standing
beneath the trees in Bushey Park, looking up
through the swaying interlacing boughs at
the sky overhead, hearkening to the sough-
ing and complaining of the night winds as
they whirled, and twisted, and beat about
the tops of the giant trees, every now and
then scattering a handful of brown and
yellow leaves on the lonel}^ watcher
below. He shivered, tried to collect his
thoughts, to argue, to reason, but whatever
fresh train of thought he began, it always
came back to this — that Mi onion loved
him.

She loved him. And at any moment the
summons mio^ht come throuo^h one of the
<ireatures who kept vigilant watch for Muriel,
that would compel him, in observance of his
vow, to go straight to Mignon and tell her
that he had joined her long-lost sister . . .
this was his fate, this the errand on which he



78 CHERRY RIPE f



had pledged himself to go to the woman who
.... loved hnn.

To see the love in her blue eyes turn to
deepest loathing, to stand before her the man
accursed, who had destroyed her sister, body
and soul, to be revealed to her as he was, he
whom she had reckoned as friend, this was
what he had sworn to do — this was the scene
that enacted itself before his eyes as he stood,
his arms folded, steadily looking upwards.

He had vowed a vow once, and had broken
it. To just such another trusting, loving
girl as this he had vowed, and he had
broken it.

Whither were his thous^hts leadino- him ?
He pulled himself together, tried to take a
fresh grasp of his wandering wits, leant his
back against a tree, and resumed his stare at
the sky.

Whose voice was it that had said to him,
and that not so very long ago, '' No matter
what the time may be, whether by day or
night, you have only to say to me, ^ Come !'
and I will follow you, if needs be, to the
world's end ?"



FRUIT. 7^



Mignon had said it, and Mignon .... loved
him. Was he faUing asleep or dreaming?
How bitter cold the night was, how eerie and
wild the wind ! And as a man dreams, and
wakens, and falls asleep again to dream dif-
ferently, he found himself reviewing his
position from the point of view that would be
taken of it by any average man of the world.
He had sinned, as had others ; he had been
unfortunate as few men ever are. He had
been undone by an accident — by the accident
that had made two women sisters ; but w^as
that his fault, and was he never to know peace
or happiness again because Fate had served
him so ill a turn ?

Still regarding the matter strictly with the
eyes of another man, he called shame upon
himself for a Quixotic fool, laughing long and
loud as the absurdity of his own qualms and
scruples struck him, and his laughter, travel-
ling far abroad on the night air, startled and
sobered him, starting his thoughts off on a
new track.

Her husband, this jDaltry, pitiful fellow
who left her alone while he amused himself



80 ''CHERRY RIPE r



^at a distance, what consideration did he de-
nser ve at Mignon's hands or at .... Mh'^

He had stolen her, this man, hke a thief
in the night, but he could not keep what he
had obtained, or win her heart, and was it not
his own fault if that same heart went out to
another, who would know how to value and
guard it better ?

She had never cared for the man whom
she had married .... was not his own face
wet with her tears when he awakened from
that deathly swoon upon her wedding morning,
nay, might she not have loved him even then,
■although she had given her vows to Adam ?

His mood changed, a wild delirious gladness
burned in his veins, that for a time intoxicatd
him .... come what might, let the future
hold what store of wretchedness it would,
this one night was his ; for this one hour,
though snatched from him the next, Mignon's
love, the first, the only love that she had ever
given to man, belonged neither to her hus-
band nor to any other man living, but to
Mm.

For to-night, only to-night ! Yet a thing



FRUIT. 81



that is once bestowed is bestowed for ever :
nor powers of heaven nor hell can destroy or
take away the fact that it once has been.

Then began the dark hour of his tempta-
tion, then the fiercest, supremest temptation
of his hfe assailed him, and there racked within
him a mortal battle between the devils that
so long had had possession of him, and the
good angel whose pinions were as yet so weak,
and whose promptings he had ever found so
hard and difficult to follow, that many times
his feeble feet had faltered, and he had groaned
and sweated as he sought to pursue the toil-
some path she pointed out to him.

And since the good within him was as yet
so faint of life, while the evil had grown with
his growth, strengthened with his strength,
one would have said that the chances were
small but that the evil would win the day.

It is always the strongest natures that sin
the most deeply, even as under other circum-
stances they attain to heights of virtue that
they of smaller, feeble mould never reach ;
and if the minds of the latter be so gently and
evenly balanced as to be incapable of a crime,

VOL. III. J^6



82 " CHERRY RIPE /"

they are oftener than not also incapable of any-
thing truly ^-eat. '^ Effeminacy and wicked-
ness were correlative terms in the Greek and
Latin, as were courage and virtue," says
Landor. And De Maistre remarks that '' ce
fut avec une profonde sagesse que les Ro-
mains appellerent du meme nom lei force et la
vertu. II n'y a eu effet point de vertu pro-
prement dite, sans victoire sur nous-memes ;
et tout ce qui ne nous coute rien, ne vaut
rien." Do Ave not now and again witness,
side by side with instances of the most start-
ling depravity, a noble deed, an heroic in-
stance of self-sacrifice, that we might look for
in vain from a man or woman who has never
flagrantly sinned at all ?

Let no man dare to pry into the secrets of
another man's heart, or seek to gauge it by
his own. Difierent natures have different
standards of right and wrong, and cannot be
judged the one by the other.

All that night Phihp La Mert ^^Testled
with the tempter ; all night the battle raged,
of which the issue grew each moment more
doubtful, until daybreak came, when, drenched



FRUIT. 83

with night-dews, he returned to his home,
flung himself upon his bed, and far into the
day slept the deathly, profound sleep of utter
exhaustion.

'' Are you expecting any one this evening,
may I ask T inquired Flora, glancing up
from her novel at Mignon, who had been
flitting about the room, looking alternately
at the window, the clock, and the door, seem-
ingly possessed by a demon of restlessness
and excitement.

"Perhaps," said Mignon absently, and
putting on her little cloak as she spoke.
'' Hark ! did you not think you heard the
:SOund of wheels T

" I hear nothinof but the w^ind," said Flora
placidly ; " who would be likely to be coming
here at this time of night T

''Have you ever felt," said the girl, ap-
j)roaching Flora and her comfortable entourage
of reading-lamp, fruit, and coffee, '' that some-
thing out of the common was going to happen
to you ; that steps were coming nearer and
nearer ; that a voice was calling you from a

4G— 2



84 ''CHERRY RIPE :'^



great Avay off, that ^vould ]:>resently groi\'
clear and distinct, and that tliougli you Avould
oive the world to cut short the unbearable
period of waiting, you must just patiently
wait until whatever it was — came /"

"iVo," said Flora, withdrawing her hand
from the little burning one that Mignon had
just laid upon its coolness, " I can't say I ever
have, neither do I remember hearing of any
one but you who did ! You are feverish, my
dear, and the sooner you go home and to bed
the better !"

" I am going," said the girl, in a somewhat
calmer tone; then, much to that young matron's
astonishment, she stooped and pressed her lips
for about the second time in her life against
Flora's peach-like cheek. " Good-night !"

'' Oh ! good-night," said Flora, who was
not used to making formal greetings or fare-
wells to her family. " Why, one would think
you were making your last dying dei)osition,
to judge by your countenance ! I suppose we
shall see you to-morrow morning 'V

The o'irl had reached the door ; she turned,
the handle in her grasp.



FRUIT. 85



^^\ suppose so/' she said, "unless . . . ."
She went away without finishing the sentence,
as was remembered — after.

The moon has washed one-half of the world
aJl over with liquid pearl ; it has made broad
shining walks of dull and ignoble places, and
it has dignified into beauty the homely old
garden in Avhich Mignon restlessly paces to
and fro, backwards and forwards, her every
nerve and pulse strung to highest pitch of
expectation — expectation of she knows not
what, yet which some unerring instinct tells
her is making its way to her through the
night !

She starts at her own shadow that follows
her, black and lonof, in everv devious twist
and turn that she takes.

Hark ! what is that sound that comes
nearer and nearer, that rings so loudly in her
ears that it beats on them as blows upon
iron ; Avhat is that sharp beat of horses' hoofs
that seems to fill the air with their thunder,
and to outrace the mad beating of a heart
that gallops even as they ;



8G "CHERRY RIFEf

They draw nigh, they slacken, they stop
altogether. And does not her heart stand still
also, and can she not feel the hot breath of
the horses on her cheek, as though they were
one yard, not a hundred, away ?

Some one has arrived, some one is coming ;.
his hurrying steps have passed the outer
garden, they have crossed the threshold of
the door that divides it from the other, they
are here ....

She takes a step forward, looks, shrinks
back, the next moment her hands are caught
in Philip La Mert's, and, as face to face they
stand in the moonlight, he utters but three
words : '' Come, Mignan, come r

" Where is Prue T cries her mistress, en-
tering hastily from the garden, her blue eyes
blank and dull, her face white as the dead.
Alas ! at this turning- j)oint of her httle mis-
tress's destiny Prue is absent ; not once in a
month is she from home at this hour, but to-
night she is absent !

'^ I cannot wait," said the girl, wringing
her hands ; '' but when she comes back tell



FRUIT, 87



her that I have gone with Mr. La Mert, and
that I will let her know where she is to come
to me, that I will write "

And then, as though every moment were
of pure gold, she ran down the steps, like one
possessed, as the woman afterwards said, and
so to the carriage that stood without, plainly
visible in the moonlight, its lamps mocked
and put out by those brighter beacons that
shone above.

Servants were running briskly to and fro,
the door of the coach was already open, the
girl sprang quickly in, Mr. La Mert took his
place beside her, the man shut the door to
with a bang, then quick as lightning sprang
to his place by the coachman's side ; the
latter touched his horses, they stretched
fleetly out into a gallop, another moment and
all have vanished, and the woman is left on
the doorstep staring after them, and asking
herself is she dreaming, or was there ever
such a miraculous moonlight flitting seen
upon earth as iliis one before ?

END OF BOOK II.




BOOK III

HEART.



CHAPTER I.

" He entered in his house, his home no more,
For without hearts there is no home,
And felt the solitude of passing his own door
Without a welcome."

YOUNG man came springing up,
three at a time, the steps that led
to his home, looking as handsome,
healthy, and happy as bountiful fresh air,
sunshine, and three weeks of outdoor life
could make him. The tone had returned to
his nerves, the stoutness to his heart, he had
flung all his morbid doubts and fears over-
board, and was ready, ay, and determined




HEART. 89



to make a gocd fight for his own, and it
should go hard with liim, he thought, if he
did not obtain it.

A pleasant thrill of excitement and master-
fulness (for he possessed just then that feeling
or quality almost impossible to describe, that
usually guides men straight to success) quick-
ened his pulses as he noiselessly inserted his
latchkey and crossed his own threshold.

It had been his fancy to come upon
Mignon thus, unlooked for, unannounced,
and now he wondered to himself how he
should find her — talking to Prue, or strug-
gling with the butcher's book, or perhaps,
who could tell? actually engaged in waiting
to him the letter that he had been half-
expecting ever since he had gone away from
her.

It was not yet dusk, there was plenty of
light yet by which to find her, and so think-
ing, he softly pushed open the drawing-room
door and looked around. No, she was not
there, for the litter that usually marked her
track was conspicuous by its absence ; her
very work-box was shut (he never remem-



90 " CHERR V RIPE /"



bered seeing it closed before), and set severely
against the wall, while the chairs, the piano,
the very books had that drearily unused look
that a room left to itself so quickly assumes.

He went into the dinino^-room ; that too
was empty, and preternaturally neat.

She must be in her bedroom ; he walked
upstairs, then, resolved to begin as he meant
to go on, he first knocked at her door, and,
receiving no reply, boldly entered.

Surely a ver}^ demon of order had entered
into his little Mignon during his absence, for
here as below, there was not the smallest
token of her presence, not so much as a
ribbon, a trinket, or a glove ; nay, the very
flowers on the mantelpiece drooped for lack
of air and water, and the groundsel in her
bullfinch's cage Avas dry and withered.

Can any one ^^ the precise moment in
which is borne in upon him the conviction
(before it is possible that proof can have
come to him) that a terrible misfortune has.
befallen him \

To his dying day Adam could not have
told whether his first forebodino: of evil came



HEART. 91



to hini as he looked at the drooping flowers
or at the neglected cage, but most assuredly
it was in his heart as he crossed the room to
his Avife's dressing-table .... it fulfilled
itself as, looking downwards, he saw on the
centre of the china tray before him a plain
gold wedding-ring. He stood for a few
seconds lookino- at it without stirrino-, then he
lifted the tiny circlet, and fitted it on the
first joint of his little finger. Yes, there
could be no mistake about it, it was the
ring that he had placed upon Mignon's hand
nigh upon four months ago.

^^At her old careless tricks again," he said
aloud ; but his voice sounded strange even in
his own ears, then he slowly and carefully put
the ring away in his breast-pocket and Avent
downstairs.

He met no one by the way, every one
seemed to be asleep or absent, opened the
hall-door and passed out into the garden.
He would find her there of course, or, if not
there, with Flora and the children. And —
and what ailed him, that he shivered as
thouofh with cold as he went ?



92 ''CHERRY RIPE f



The dusk had fallen rapidly that night.
As he entered the inner garden he could
not distinctly make out distant objects, but
nevertheless instinct rather than eyesight in-
formed him that somebody besides himself
was present, that Mignon's chair was occupied,
and by whom should this be but Mignon's
self?

What a fool he had been, he said to him-
self, as he went forward ; nevertheless, I
think that the shadow of his doom was upon
him, and that he knew it, as he traversed
those few steps, and that he would have
found Mignon there with more wonder than
that which he really did discover.

Was that huddled-u}) mass that crouched
^upon the ground, burying its face in the seat
of the old wooden chair, that writhed and
twisted, and rocked itself to and fro, like a
poor dumb creature to whom the unutterable
relief of expression of its agony is denied —
Mignon ?

Adam shivered no longer, but something,
and I think it was the best part of his youth,
and perhaps of his life, died out of him for



HEART. 93



ever as he stood looking down upon the-
woman. Something had happened, some-
thing had come to his httle sweetheart
in his absence, but — what ? He stooped^
laid his hand upon Prue's arm, but as
though his touch were something expected,
yet horribly dreaded, she started, swerved
violently away from it, but neither spoke
nor turned.

" Where is your mistress T he said.

But the Avoman only shrank farther away
from him, her arms released their hold of the
chair, she lay almost at his feet, a dumb, un-
certain outline.

*' She is dead," he said, shaking her by the
arm, for what but the last, the extremest
calamity that could befall her mistress would
have power to affect Prue thus ? A strong
shudder passed through the woman's body ;
she seemed to gather herself together by a
supreme effort, rose, and stood before her
master.

''And if 'twas that I'd got to tell you,'^
she said hoarsely, "then 'tis a happy
woman I should be this night, reckoned



94 ''CHERRY RIPE r

with what I am now, for oh ! master . . .
master ..."

No need for hhn to ask another question ;
no need for him to ask who was the instru-
ment of his degradation ... in a flash of
time he understood, acknowledged, accepted
the situation.

'' When did she go ?" he said cahnly.

'^ Yester eve."

" She went — alone T

'^ Oh ! poor Miss Mignon — poor Miss Mig-
non !" said the woman, '' my poor bit little
mistress, that was never quite like other folks,
she went because she was fetched^ but what
breaks my heart is, she seemed to go as . . .
as if she was willin' . . . with him as she
never fancied when she was free to fancy him,
but always seemed to like other folios so much
better ..."

"He came for her," said Adam; ''he
fetched her from here — from my house V*

'' He came," said Prue, lifting her haggard
face to the sky, '^ at about nine of the clock,
in his own coach, and with his own horses and
servants, and he must have gone to her



HEART. 95

straight in the garden, for Dorothy, who waf<
looking out, says the coach had but scarce
stopped, when Miss Mignon come in from the
garden caUing out for me, and, said she, ' Tell
her I couldn't stop, but I'm gone away with
Mr. La Mert, and I'll write to her or send
. . .' and with that she ran down the steps,
and before you could count ten, says Dorothy,
they was gone. . . . and I come back half
an hour afterwards."

So the whole thing was premeditated, she
was dressed and waiting for her lover, while
she had already removed and placed in a con-
spicuous place her wedding-ring, leaving it to
tell its own story.

''Only half an hour . . . ." said Prue,
wrino^ino^ her hands, '' and if I'd ha' been here
she never would have gone, I'd have clung to
her, followed her, but go with that black-
hearted villain she never should. . . . You
got my telegram this morn, sir V

" No, I started at daybreak. How often
has that man visited here in my absence T

' '' Till last night," said Prue, '' he never come
inside the gates ; I'd no cause to misdoubt me



96 ''CHERRY RIPE /"

that something was wrong, though she've been
restless and strange-hke in her ways, never
keeping five minutes to one thing, and asking
me odd questions hke, of love and sich, and
there 'd come sich a beautiful colour into her
cheeks, and at last she seemed to get down-
right happy, jest as she used to be, for, oh !
master — master — I guessed 'twas because her
thoughts was full o^ you, and jest in watching
her I got nigh as happy as she was."

'' And while you played in this fool's para-
dise," he said, with a sudden leap of stern
fury in his voice that made her cower before
him, '' your mistress was drifting to her de-
struction. What opportunities would she have
had of meeting this man but for your wanton
disregard of your duty, and why did not you,
who are well acquainted with the character of
this man, at once inform me of his presence
here T

'' I never knew it," said Prue, sadly ;
*' p'r aps she was afraid I'd tell you ; and she
were never out alone, unless may be once or
twice with the children. 'Twas at Mrs.
Dundas's they met."



HEART. 97



*' At Mrs. Dundas's '?" repeated Adam, re-
coiling as though from a blow, and then he
knew that the instinct that had warned him
to keep his wife from Flora's society had
been a true one, and he cursed himself for
the folly that had left her dependent upon it.
At his sister's house had Miofnon met this
man, at his sister's hands would he require
her.

He turned and left Prue without another
word ; he would deal with her later.

Flora, whose attention had never in the
whole course of her life been distracted from
herself for so long a period before, had by this
time got over the feelings of disgust, amaze-
ment, and anger produced in her by the news
of Mignon's elopement, and was now settling
down again into the normal state of affec-
tionate reg:ard for her own self and comforts
that was her one abiding characteristic.

Therefore, as she sate buried in the depths
of a favourite easy- chair, drawn close to a
blazing wood fire, her slippered feet resting
on a fender stool, and a new novel in her
hand, she looked, with the pleasant back

VOL. III. 4.7



08 ''CHERRY RIPE



ground of tlie gaily-lit, flower-scented room^
the very picture of ease and comfort.

Into this quiet interior of light, fragrance,
and luxury there strode, without announce-
ment of any kind, the tall figure of her brother.

Flora laid her book down and looked up,
Xow was her hour of triumph ; now was her
opportunity for richly revenging herself upon
him for the many slights he had offered her,
for the many wounds he had given to her
vanity, for the superior airs he had been
pleased to assume, and the cold, steady dis-
approbation of herself and her wa3's that he
had so invariably displayed.

Nevertheless, as she looked at him, there
\vas that in his face which made her colour
fade, her eyes sink, nay, her very heart beat
with sick apprehension, as crossing over to
her he bent that terrible face to hers, and
grasping her wrist, said in even, quiet tones :

'^ I have come to you for my wife. She
was left in your charge ; at your hands I


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