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The sweetest ou its thorny tree ;
But my fause love has sto'en the rose,
And left the thorn behind wi' me."

Once more Adam gazed around as may
VOL. III. 50



146 ''CHERRY RIPE r

one who doubts when he A\'ill see it all again ^
then he went slowly away, and re-entered
the house.

For two hours he busied himself in his-
study, sorting and arranging books and papers.
and writing certain letters and instructions.

At eight o'clock his breakfast and letters
were brouo'ht to him. Of the former he ate ;
the latter, contrary to his rule of the past few
days, he opened and began to read mthout
exception. There was no news from Scotland
Yard, but he had given up expecting any.
He had made up his mind that if this man
were to be found, then that he, and he alone,
Avould find him, and he was athirst to be
gone on his quest.

'^ I am Sony," wrote his father, "" that you
have expressed so decidedly your refusal to
see or communicate with any member of your
family, and you will pardon my remarking
that there is an obduracy in the way you
have received this chastening blow of Provi-
dence that strikes me as being in the highest
degree impious and unbecoming. Instead
of viewing the late lamentable occurrence



HEART. 147



as you do, you may fairly congratulate
yourself on your good fortune in being rid of
the extremely forward and improper young
person whom, in an impulse of mistaken
kindness, you made your wife.

'' You will, of course, sue for a divorce im-
mediately, and time and change of scene will
doubtless assuage the natural concern you
may experience at so very abrupt and dis-
reputable a termination of your first ex-
perience of matrimony."

Adam smiled bitterly as he laid the letter
down. He knew the thouQ^hts that had been
in his father's mind when he penned that
letter, as well as if they had been set in black
and white before liim. Once this luckless,
guilty wife were put away, and what w^as to
hinder the long-desired match between the
houses of Dundas and McClosky from being-
brought about %

A divorce . . . Adam lauo-hed as^ain, and
even more harshly, at the thought of it.
Let this search of his, uj)on which he was
bound, be successful, and there would either
be none to sue, or none to respond. Even

50—2



148 '^ CHERRY RIPE f

if this man escaped his vengeance, were his
o^Yn hands so clean, his conscience so pure, as
to enable him to put her away for what, after
all, was mainly due to his own neglect of her '?

He rose, went to a bookshelf hard by, took
down a volume, and read the following :
'^ The law imposes upon the husband the
duty of watching over the society, conduct,
and habits of his wife, and holds him answer-
able for every act aud omission of his that
may expose her purity to hazard, or render
her the more easy prey to the seducer. . . .
A husband is bound to give his wife some
superintendence when she is placed in dan-
gerous situations."

He replaced the book, and resumed his
seat before the rest of the unopened letters.

Had he not left her exposed to every risk ?
More than this, had he not omitted to warn
her and those around her, against the possible
dano'er she was in from Mr. La Mert ? He
had given her no superintendence ; on the
contrary, his very neglect had laid her open
to the hazardous situations that had ended in
her ruin. And even if he were not to blame.



HEART. 149



he still would not sue for a divorce. What I
enable the foul traitor to make eternal the
link that bound him to his victim, so that he
would be furnished with legal authority over
her, so that he w^ould even be able to compel
her to go back to him, even if she escaped
from his side on discovering who and what
he was ?

That triumph at least Mr. La Mert should
not have, and, as he had said to Flora, Mig-
non should never be wife to two men. He
turned to his letters. The next that he
opened was in a woman's handwriting, and
a somewhat familiar one. For a moment,
recognising, yet not knowing it, he drew back,
half-thinking that it might be from Ifiev, with
some childish, pitiful plea for forgiveness that
would move him to very pity and self-scorn
that he could have loved so poor a thing.
The next moment he saw that it was from
— PhilHs.

In aU his life before, though he had seen
her handwriting many times, he had never
received a letter from her. What could she
possibly have to say to him now %



150 ''CHERRY RIPE f

" I have dared, at the risk of displeasing
you," she said, " to write you one line, to beg
of you not to believe this story about your
Mignon until you have heard more ; there
may, there must be, some explanation, for if
she is all that you told me she was, though she
might be heedless and wilful, that she could so
deceive you I never will believe .... She may
have thought he was taking her to you, or he
may have beguiled her by some falsehood ; he
is a bad man, and she is so young and simple
.... only if you beheve harm of her, some
day you will be bitterly sorry .... and I am,
your friend,

" Phillis."

His heart failed him a little as he read the
simple, romantic, girlish letter .... after all,
had he been too hasty, had he condemned
his wife unjustly ?

But no, reviewing all the circumstances,
his momentary doubts faded .... noble,
pure-hearted Phillis, who judged all women
by herself, how could it be expected that she
would understand ? She would never have 8o



HEART, 151



acted .... why had he not loved and wooed
her instead of the girl whose weak hands had
failed beneath the weight of her husband's
honour ?

He separated this letter from the rest, and
placed it in his breast-pocket. The others he
glanced through and destroyed.

At ten o'clock he left the house, and was
absent about an hour. On his return he sent
for Prue. She came quickly, believing that
the morning's post had at last brought news
of her mistress ; but her hopes fell at the
sight of her master's face.

" Prue," he said, " I am leaving here to-
day, and before my departure it is necessary
that certain directions should be given and
arrangements made."

" You're going away, sir T she said, twist
ing her fingers restlessly together ; '' and
won't you take me with you, since 'tis
after her, I'm thinking, that you're going ?
For oh ! my heart will break if I sit waiting
here for her much longer."

" No," he said sternly, ''I do not go in
search of your mistress, but of — him."



152

She caught her breath, drawing back a
step — something in his face making his errand
clear to her, as it had done to Flora.

'' God grant ye may find him," she said,
some of the old dark colour flashing into her
pale cheek ; " God grant ye may punish him
as "

He held up his hand as though impatient
of her words, then w^ent on again.

'* You wdll discharge the two other servants
to-day," he said, "but you will remain here."

She made a gesture of surprise and despair,
but he took no heed.

'^ For you to go in search of her," he went
on, ^' Avould be Avorse than folly ; but if you
desire to do her o-ood service, vou will wait
quietly for her here, where sooner or later, it
may be almost immediately, it may not be for
a long while, she will return."

Prue looked at him as though stunned, then
a glance of intense relief spread over her
features — relief mingled with surprise, and
perhaps, who knows, a little womanly con-
tempt for her master.

" She will return," he said calmly, readings



HEART. 15a

the thought in her mind, '' but not to me.
Henceforth I shall not reside here, but this
house and all within it will remain precisely
as it is, and until other and permanent money
arrangements are made, I shall deposit with
you a sum of money for your maintenance,
and for hers, should she arrive unexpectedly."

*' And you say she may come soon, sir T
said Prue, her brain still in a whirl, but hold-
ing on fast to the thought that there was a
definite chance of once more beholding her
adored little mistress.

*' She may come at any time, at any hour
even. So soon as certain facts come to her
knowledge, she will 2^1'obably make her
way liither, as being the only place in the
world to which she can turn, therefore see
that you are always at hand to receive her.
As my movements will be uncertain for some
time, I can give 3^ou no address, but I shall
deposit in your hands a sum of money for
your own use and hers, and a hundred pounds
(that I have this morning drawn out of the
bank in your mistress's name), which is abso-
lutely and entirely her own, having been



154 ''CHERRY RIPEf

bequeathed to her by the late Miss Sorel.
All my personal belongings, books, papers,
clothes, will be fetched from here this after-
noon by a person Avhom I shall send for them.
I think that is all."

'' And yom' letters, sir," said Priie timidly,
*' what shall I do with them '?"

" I shall make provision against them," he
said, '' and none ^\dll be sent here. You are
not hkely to have anything to communicate
to me save the intelligence that your mistress
has returned, and in the event of her doing
so, I shall probably be aware of the fact as
quickly as yourself If my father comes here
asking for my address, you will say that you
do not know it."

He would not be pursued everywhere, he
said to himself, by letters of condolence, of
pity, of advice, therefore his safest plan was
to let no one, not even Prue, know his future
whereabouts.

''And if she comes . . . ." said Prue,
trembling and turning aside, " I'm to teU her,
master . . . ."

" Tell her," he said, " that the shelter of



HEART. 155



tills roof and home is open to her always,
that she may live out a lifetime here, ay, and
repent of her sin at her leisure, if she so wills.
Tell her also that if she seek me out, or ever
forces her way into my presence, that she wdll
compel me to leave England, and thus debar
me from the honourable toil that from the
day she disgraced me is the one thing left to
me in life. Tell her that henceforth we are
as much strangers to each other as though we
had never met, but that I forgive her, because
I feel that the guilt of her Avi'ong-doing lies
as heavily upon my head as upon her own."

In the pause that followed his last words,
Prue crept a step nearer.

"■ And not one little word, sir," she said,
*•'' (she being so young, and led away by a bad
man and all), to ease her poor, breaking
heart T

" Not one word," he said, " not one syl-
lable. The words that I have spoken to you
are the last that will ever pass from me to
her, for should we come face to face with each
other (as I pray God we never may) she will
be to me as one dead — and the living ex-



156 ''CHERRY RIPE



change not words with the dead. You will
teU her this."

An hour later and he had left the house.

Towards evening a man came and took
away all his belongings, opposing to Prue's
questions as to whither he was taking them, an
impenetrable silence that entirely baffled her.

On the following morning (this being the
second exodus of servants from the house in
the space of four months) the cook and house-
maid departed, and Prue was left alone, to
watch and wait, to start, shuddering at every
sound, to wander restless through the shrouded
and deserted rooms, to hear strano-e voices
wailing with every gust of wind that arose,
strange footsteps coming and going on the
walks without, to ask herself if the Avatchine
for this sister was to be as long and di^eary as
had been that of the other — nay, to feel her
heart stand still as the thouoiit struck her
that perhaps, after all, it would be Muriel
who would return first, and to whom the
story would have to be told of why the little
sister who had so long and patiently waited
for her was — missing.





CHAPTER IV.

" Xo azure vein
Wandered on fair-sjjaced temples ; no soft bloom
Misted the cheek ; no passion to illume
The deep, recessed vision ; all was blight."

IGNON'S moonlight flitting had
fallen on a Friday night ; the de-
parture of Adam had taken place
on the following Tuesday.

On the very next day, Prue, sitting be-
low in the kitchen, her work lying unheeded
in her lap, heard, at about six of the clock,
the sound of footsteps, light, uncertain, and
slow, ascending the stone steps that led to the
house.

She did not stir, but her head turned
slowly, her eyes remaining fixed with horrible



158 " CHERRY RIPE /"

intensity on the o]3en door. Whose were
those footsteps, and on what errand did they
come ? It was incredible that her mistress
should return thus early, therefore, some
instinct telling her that they were not those
of a stranger, it must be — Muriel.

Muriel .... and she would have to be
told the truth. Even as the one sister had
been told the story of the other one's j)robable
shame, so must the elder now be acquainted
with the certain ruin that had befallen the
younger.

The hall-door was open, Prue had no fear
of robbers, and she distinctly heard those
wavering footsteps cross the threshold and
hall, pause at the dining-room door, turn the
key in its lock, and pass in.

A few moments later they sounded again
on the tiles of the hall, and after another short
pause entered the drawing-room. Again the
patter recommenced, and this time Mr. Mont-
rose's former study was visited, and here there
Avas a longer halt than there had been at the
other rooms ; then they recrossed the hall and
went noiselessly up the carpeted stairs.



HEART. 159



All this time Prue had sat like a woman
bewitched, absolutely mastered by one of
those purely unreasoning fits of terror that
now and again have held men and women
powerless when they know a murderer to be
creeping upon them, while there actually
remains to them time to escape.

All the expression of her body seemed con-
centrated in her eyes, and these were fixed
upon the open kitchen-door.

She faintly heard those uncanny steps mov-
ing about far above her, heard doors open and
shut, once even fancied that a A\dndow was
raised, then they came down again, ever so
slowly and lightly, and sounded again in the
hall.

They advanced to the top of the stairs, and
the sweat broke out upon her brow, as, still
mastered by that perfectly unreasoning horror,
a moment later she felt rather than heard
some one coming down the stairs.

With that the power of movement returned
to her, and throwing herself upon her knees,
she flung her apron over her head in an agTie-
fit of fear.



160 " CHERR V RIPE /"

The steps came nearer to her, ceased, a hand
touched her on the shoulder, a voice that she
had surely never heard before said — ^' Prue !"
The woman slowly drew the apron from
before her face, and saw standing before her
— Miofnon.

" Where is your master ?" said the girl, still
in that odd starved voice — the voice of one
from whose life has been withdrawn every
influence that goes to nourish and support it.

But Prue, dumb as the dead, made no
reply, only fell back before the new-comer, all
her superstitious fears cast out by a fear in-
finitely greater.

This tiling that stood before her, that
had stolen Mignon's features, but not her
voice, her garments but not her expression,
this was not her mistress ; rather would one
say that it was a body that had once lived
and died, and being suddenly recalled to life
had, with all its horrible experiences yet upon
its eyes and Hps, been set free to wander for a
space among once familiar scenes and people
that abeady had grown strange to it.

The blood curdled in Prue's veins as she



HEART. 161



looked at her .... besides the sin and the
shame, what had come to the girl in the brief
space of this one week ?

'^ Where is your master ?" said Mignon
patiently, and still in that same lifeless,
strange tone. Yet there was a ring of com-
mand in it to which Prue's natural instinct of
obedience responded.

" He's gone away," she said fearfully ;
"- but oh ! Miss Mignon, Miss Mignon
. ..." all her great yearning loye expressed
itself in those few words, they meant a whole
w^orld of things, but the girl to whom they
were addressed, neither heeded nor understood,
only looked at the woman as from a great way
off and said —

'' And why did he do that ? I suppose you
mean that he has not returned from Glen-
luce r

Prue passed her hand over her forehead,
and rubbed her eyes. Was she asleep oi-
bewitched ? But no, the substantial kitchen
surroundings were no figments of the brain,
and that was her mistress, or her mistress's
MTaith, standing before her, in soiled, draggled

VOL. III. 51



162 ''CHERRY RIPE f

clothes that looked as though she had not
taken them off for many days and nights.

'^ I thought he would have come back
before this," said the girl, finding that she
received no answer, and fixino- her blank
e3^es — eyes that suggested the idea that they
had become thus throuo'h lono^ o^azino- at some
terrible sight — fixed upon Prue.

'' He'll never come back any more," said
Prue, with a gasping, long-drawn sob,
" because .... because .... oh ! Miss
Mignon, Miss Mignon !" — and the poor crea-
ture held out her arms — '' I don't love you a
bit the less .... you'll never be anything to
Prue but her own darling little mistress,
and she'll stay mth you all your life
long, for p'r'aps you'll find her better nor
nobody . . . ."

She had folded the girl's passive form to her
faithful breast, and was Aveeping and sobbing
over her, kissing her hair and uttering the
broken words of love that come rugged and
unpolished straight from the heart.

The girl gently withdrew herself from the
woman's clinging arms.



HEART. 163



" And why will he never come back T she
said.

" Miss Mignon," said Prue, turning aside
and growing desperate, " can't you guess —
don't you know wliy master's gone away ....
and how could he ever come back when ....
when . . . ."

" I must go to him," said the girl monoton-
ously ; '' if he is still in the Highlands I will
go to him, for I must see him, and that at
once."

The first sign of life that had appeared in
her voice, appeared as she uttered the last few
words.

" 'Tis not in the Highlands you'll find him,"
said Prue sadly, " no, nor any other place
at all that you can go to liim, Miss
Mignon .... He's just gone out in the
wide world to look for them as deserves to
be killed for what they've done, and God
gTant, say I, that he may come up with them,
and ofive them their deserts . . . ."

A flame of fear seemed to be suddenly
kindled in Mignon's eyes, her hand suddenly
clutched the woman's arm as in a vice ; it

51—2



164 " CHERRY RIPE /"

was as though a corpse had been suddenly
galvanised into life, Prue shrank from her
as she cried :

"He has gone after him to .... to Vill
him T

" Ay," said Prue doggedly, " he's gone to
do even that."

'' To kill him . . . ." said Mignon in a
whisper, relaxing her grasp of Prue, and
looking straight before her, as though she
saw some deadly scene being enacted. '' To
km him . . . ."

" When did he go ?" she cried.

" The day before yesterday."

'^ He left a message for me f

" Ay/"' said Prue, hanging her head, " but
don't ask me for it ; I'd best not give it you
to-night- -not yet awhile."

'' You will teU it me now," cried the girl,
seizing the woman's arm again, " this instant,
quick .... quick . . . ."

" He bade me tell you," said Prue slowly,
*' how he'd left me here to take care of the
house, so as when you should be wanting a
home to creep back to, as he feared you'd be



HEART. 165



wantino' one afore lono- you'd always have
tliis one to come to."

" Yes, yes," cried Mignon impatiently, ''go
on."

" Also how he'd left in my charge a sum of
money to pa}^ our way, for the house and sich,
and for your own use a hundred pounds that
was all your own to do as you liked with,
'cause Miss Sorel left it to you."

"" All this is no message," cried Mignon
wildly, and shaking Prue's arm; ''what did
he say for me T

'^ Don't ask me," cried Prue, trembhng and
turning pale, " leastways not to-night, not to-
night . . . ."

" Do you wish to drive me mad T said the
girl, in her eyes so strange a look that Prue
dared trifle ^A\h her no lono-er.

" He bade me say .... that if ever you
sought him out or tried to get speech with
him in any way, he'd leave the country and
never set foot in it ao^ain, for vou was stran
gers to each other now till you died, and if
ever you come face to face with each other,
'twould be as if you was already dead, and



IGG ''CHERRY RIPE



live folks, says he, exchanges no words with
the dead."

Oh ! why did not Prue pause ere it was yet
too late, ere the last stroke was given that
sent the already tottering mind off its balance 1
Why could she not read the signs of that
ghastly, terrible, young face looking into her
own, aright ?

'' And he hoped you'd repent of your sin
at your leisure," said Prue, " and he blamed
himself sore for all that had happened, for he
reckoned his guilt was nigh about equal to
yours."

"• His guilt equal to mine," repeated the
girl slowly, '' and I should have time to re-
pent of my sin."

" Ay, your sin," said Prue solemnly ; " for
your sin in loving Mr. La Mert better than
master, for your sin in forsaking master for
him" .... the woman paused, arrested in her
speech by the expression upon Mignon s face.

" Because I loved him better than my hus-
band," she said in a low intense whisper —
'' Mm . . . . O my God !" She tossed her
arms above her head, breaking out into a peal



HEART, 167



•of horrible laughter, stopped in it abruptly,
gazed around as though frightened, pressed
her hands hard against her head .... then
something seemed to snap in her brain, her
rigid arms relaxed and hung by her sides, a
foolish smile gathered slowly about her lips,
she sighed and looked downwards, plucking
with restless fingers at her soiled, disordered
dress.

'' It is a fine spring morning, Muriel," she
said, " and the wind-flowers will all be creep-
ing out .... let us go out into the fields and
have a merry day together,"




CHAPTER V.




" Cease, no more.
You smell this business with a sense as cold
As is a dead man's nose."

It is not spring-time, Miss Mignon,""
said Prue, trembling violently ;
" it is night, little mistress. See,
how dark it grows ! — 'tis only by the firelight
I can see yom' face . . . ."

The girl looked vacantly around her,
shivered, moved her head about restlessly,
then took to plucking again at her poor
soiled cloak.

" Yes," she said, '^ it is cold .... but not sa
culd as out there where the leaves are falling,
always — always — and at night the rain will
come and soak through . . . ."



HEART. lGi>



She looked down at her hands, rubbing
them stiffly over each other, then, seeming
to miss somethino' from the left one, she held
it up close to her eyes, seemed to puzzle over
it, knitted her brows, shook her head and
sighed.

•'A ring!" said Prue, supplying the thought
for which the disordered wits were groping.
"You used to wear one; is that what you
mean, little mistress V

'' A ring !" said Mignon, catching at the
woman's words. " I lost it — a long, long
while ago. I put it away somewhere, but
I can't remember."

She lifted her hand to her head so piteously,
that Prue, to whom had come the courage with
which some women are gifted in an emergency,
almost lost her self-command in tears.

" We will go and look for it," she said,
having the sense to humour the girl's fancy,
then, taking a light with her, she led her-
mistress upstairs, pausing by the way to bolt
and bar the door that need be set open no
longer, either by day or night, for the ex-
pected guest.



170 ''CHERRY RIPE I



When they reached Mignon's bedroom, the
girl wandered aimlessly about for some time,
but at last came to the dressing-table, with
its pink china tray in the centre. On this
latter she looked down fixedly, then lifting her
finger pointed at it, and again seemed strug-
gling to remember something. Prue, too,
drew near and looked, and the sioiit of the
tray recalled something to her mind that she
had forgotten. She had seen the wedding-
ring lying there after her mistress's flight, it
had disappeared on the day her master re-
turned, evidently some memory of it was
workino^ in and troublino* her mistress's mind.

" We will seek it by-and-by," said Prue
soothingly^ and drew the unresisting girl down
into a seat, then with loving hands proceeded
to draw off the dusty boots, to remove
cloak, hat and gloves, to bathe her face, hands


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