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Hearts to Win


EALL RIGHTS P.Egl]&VID.] Hearts to Win Ðy EDITH STEWART DREWB-Y, Author of Old Jem's Saint," On Dangerodl Ground," Tv, -) Gamblers," &c. CHAPTER I. THE NEW LANDLORB. Doctor Lance Vernon stood with the open letter in his hand—stood like a man turned into stone, his dark eyes fixed on the paper witk a look of deadly despair, his fine face get and colourless as marble. Then he sud- denly dropped the chair beside him at the table. "They cannot, shall not, do it!" he mut- tered between hid teeth, "it is that agent's doing. Great Heaven! only a week. Put in an execution for the half-year's rent owing. It is ruin—utter ruin I must, and will, see the new landlord myself." A hard—ah! such a hard and bitter task for a proud, upright, struggling man, 'Ist getting his head abore water—only thirty-two or three. Five years before he had taken this house, a good one, in a good street in Kensington, and if sometimes rather behind with the rent had paid up. A year ago the f>roperty had passed to a new landlord—or ady—who had only recently returned from Italy, and was as yet a stranger to her tenants. He knew her name, and where she now lived in Kensington—that was all, but his resolve was taken, it was his only hope. If she, too, were hard and obdurate—he shivered as he rose up, tall, erect, brave, for it was worse to face a woman than a man on such an errand —worse, a thousand-fold. He went his rounds as usual, and in the afternoon set forth on his painful visit. He had only a mile to walk before he was at the house, and asking, "If Miss Fairfax was at home and disengaged?" The trim housemaid took his card, showed him into the dining-room and departed. In » few seconds she returned, and took him into a small back dining-room, evidently the •tudy. "Miss Fairfax will be down directly, sir," she said, and left him alone. Now he won- dered what sort of a person this Miss Fairfax was-old or young, kindly or not. Did she guess his errand? Doubtless, yes, when she saw his name. Why else should her tenant call? Then the door gently opened and shut, and the very reverse of all Vernon had vaguely conjectured was in the room-a slight, hand some woman, barely five and twenty, with a face remarkable for its firmness and intelli- gence. She came forward at once, holding out a slender hand. "Doctor Vernon?" she said, in a rich, low- toned voice, "I am pleased to make one of my tenants' acquaintance-you have only fore- stalled me." She had all the grace and ease of a thoroughly well-bred woman, all the aplomb of a woman of the world, and of one who, above all, who treats men and women alike— not an atom of the flirt about her-and one who is quicker than a man in detecting this virtue in a woman. Lance Vernon recognised it at once. "I should have been honoured by your call, Miss Fairfax," he said in the soft, musical tone that had soothed many a sufferer. "For me, I must first apologise for this abrupt visit-only the urgency of the business can be my excuse. Of course, you know that your agent "Stay, sit down, please," interposed Nina Fairfax, taking a chair, and pointing to another, "my agent, yes?" Her tone and manner were business-like now, her clear, grey eyes met his straight. Did she, he thought bitterly, think that he had brought her rent. "I owe you half-a-year's rent, as you know," he said in a bard, suppressed way, tand of course you require and demand 4oar dues." "Yes she said again, as he paused. "I should certainly be glad of it. 11 I am not • rich, and have lost much lately." "I am sorry for that, Miss Fairfax, but- surely you have paused before ordering your agent to take such steps as will be absolute ruin to me-utter ruin," said Vernon. "Ruin What steps? What do you mean, Doctor Vernon?" asked Nina, quickly. The man's hand gripped the arm of his chair—his blood leaped for a moment! What if that letter was not by her order? "I mean, an execution within a week," he said, "there is the letter." Ninp started up with flashing eyes, and the red, angry blood sweeping to her face. "What!" she said. "an execution! Bevan dared to threaten such a step at my order! Give me the letter, please She almost snatched it as Vernon held it out. The next minute it was torn in half and flung into the fire. "The insolence of the fellow," she said, "when, too, he knew that I wrote from Italy that he was to collect any overdue rents, but only to be sovere if anyone could but would not pay up. He can scarcely pretend that my late cousin's tenant of five years was in that category. She walked twice through the room before she sat down again. "It was right of you—brave of you to come to me," she 0 said warmly. "I know what it is to a man, a gentleman, to do it. I honour you for it, and if I could afford, to simply cancel the debt I would do it." "But I would not accept, Miss Fairfax. I only came to ask for a little more iime. I have fought—I am still fighting-a hard battle, like most professional people. I have more owing that I dare not press for-" "I know-I know what it all is," Nina in- terposed impulsively, "and you must not risk losmg patients by worrying too much about this £ s. d. Pay me as you can-I am sure I can trust you." "Miss Fairfax, how can I thank you for your generosity?" Lance's firm lips and voice were unsteady in spit of himself, as she noted, and woman- like, came to his aid. "Fellow feeling, Doctor," she said. "Now everything is settled up, I shall sack Bevan at once. Let's leave business and go up to the drawing-room for a friendly cup of tea. This way, please." Vernon followed her in a kind of bewil- dered dream. Was he the same man who had left No. 10, Lander-street an hour ago? He felt like somebody else, and how lovely, how eweet, she was. CHAPTER II. THE GAME BEGINS—UNCONSCIOUSLY. Could Vernon ever forget that tea-the hour that sliq by all too quickly, as happy hours generally do. They talked on many subjects, of travel, art, literature, y-olitics- and in all were at one it seemed. Nina some- how drew him out of himself—drew out gold from the rich mine of the man's inner self— a grain here-a grain there. She made him forget that he was her debtor, *org*>t time till the clock striking in startled him. "Forgive me—what a visitation I have made 1" he exclaimed, rising quickly. "You have made the time so pleasant, Miss Fair- fax." Nina laughed merrily. "Do you good," said she, as they shook hands. "I like to be friends with my new tenants, those of my own class, if I can. Come in next Thursday evening if you can. I am at and we shall be having several nice musical and artistic people. You will come, won't you?" "Thank you—yes, indeed, if possible," Ver- non answered, and took leave. Had the world changed—or had he-since the morning? Why, he felt as if he had known Nina for years, he could see her face, hear her voice now, as he stood in his solitary room. How frankly she had spoken of her own troubles as a vocalist. The close economy —for her parents could only leave her very small means—to save money for good train* ing, snd when that was finished the difficulty ot obtaining a hearing. She had eung at a few concerts abroad with success, but had some home on the death of a relative who had left her a few houses. "So now," she said, with a shrug, "because I don't actually need it, I shall get to sing at some good concert." "That is- usually the way, Miss Fairfax j success* makes success, money makes money," Vernon answered. "I shall certainly hear you when you do sing." How fee longed for Thursday to come! How solitary and gloomy his house seemed-and he would not ask himself why. Only the next day he chanced to see her near Kensington- gardensy but she was walking with a hand- some, well-dres-sed young man, so Vernon merely exchanged hows, and pursued his way —with an odd, jealous pang at his heart, and wondering' what she was saying to her com- panion. "Who is that? Why, a tenant of mine, Wal- ter—Doctor Vernon. Very clever, I hear, and certainly handsome and charming. I'll intro- duce you on Tirarsday. Nora isn't in town yet, then?" "No, dear, noi till after Easter," said Wal- ter. Well, now I must be off, so ta-ta," and whilst Nina went one way, the young man hailed a hansom and drove off eastwards. When on the Thursday evening Lance Ver- non was alnounced at the door of Nina's pretty drawing-room,. a certain number of guests were already present a dozen, at least, but the beautiful hostess went forward at once to greet him with a bright smile and frank pleasure. How good of you to come I" she said. I feared some tiresome patient might turn up to prevent your coming. Do you know any- one here?" No," his keen dark eyes went over the room, "two or three by sight—musical people-" And one he did not mention—the Walter he had seen with her. "Ah, yes, I'll introduce you to several, then," said she, putting her fingers within his arm, and also—come here, Walter- Doctor Lance Vernou-iny cousin, Mr. Sey- mour." Both bowed, expressed polite pleasure, and the three of them chatted a little. Nina then drew Vernon on to the other groups, present- ing him to several people of both stTxes-i, here a rising artist, there a writer of some note, and so forth. But now Nina sent someone to the piano, and thus set the ball rolling. She kept it rolling too, for sheiwas an ideal hostess. Ver- non thought so as he watched her. She was here and there just at the right moment, let- ting no one monopolise her. not even, Lance noticed, her cousin Walter. Was he only cousin, or something more? Certainly no- thing in her manner, or even in his, looked like lovers, but then—then—and there Ver- non wrenched himself from the thought for here she was asking, or rather asserting, Yon sing, doctor, so come along. You said the other day that you had taken lessons some years ago. I am sure to have some- thing you know," she added, so come along, please. Vernon followed her to the now vaer ted piano, where Nina put before him a copy of Blumenthal's lovely Message," set for a tenor, and seated herself to play the accom- panrrnewt He had a rich, fiim-toned tenor voice, well cultivated, and he sang as if he were musical to the core. It was a treat in truth too, the song; the words came from his very heart, and when the song ended there was an outburst of applause, but more than all was Nina's look and low Thank you." But yon must sing now," he said, smil- ing, we all want the treat, I know," glanc- ing round the group nearest, and Seymour exclaimed, Of course we do. Sing Nina, please. Perhaps Herr Rosenberg will play for you." The young pianist eagerly responded, and Nina selected one of Schubert's lovely songs set for a contralto. The full, mellow tones swelled through the rooms, thrilling the sin- ger's hearers-holding them silent, spell- bound to the end. Then came the applause again and again. Once succeed in getting the hearing and you must succeed," Vernon said. She looked up and met his eyes, and a vague, strange thrill went through her being—an odd, dim sense of golden brightness that was quite new to her; the sense remained all the even- ing, after all were gone, and she was alone once more, v I CHAPTER III. HEARTS TO WIN. Dame Fortune, in playing her magic with I Lance Vernon's fate, chose to deal, at pre- I sent. at any rate, in accordance with his very heart's unacknowledged wish. Ihat next Sunday morning, coming out of church, who should he maeat-altio coming out—but Nina Fairfax. "How jolly T* said she, shaking hands with frank cordiality, and if there was an inward, vague joy that quickened her pulse as their hands met, she did not quite know it. "Are you alone?" he asked; "or perhaps your cousin is here?" "Oh, no. Walter went up to the North on Saturday, to his father's place, and will not return for 'some weeks," she answered. Her tone, her manner, were indifferent, and a sense of relief went through him. May I see you home, then?" he said. "Well, I was going to take a stroll in the g- i-dens Nina returned, "but if you care to come-" "If I caref Lance repeated quickly; then added, "such a lovely, spring-like day, too! Of course I care." So they went, and for an hour he was in Elysium. So was Nina. only the man knew why now, and the woman did not. She only thought that-weII, one must be civil to one's tenant poor, lonely fellow; she certainly liked him. When at 'her own door they shook hands, Nina said: "By-the-faye, I've done with Bevan now; I'll have ass more agents. I have only five houses left me, and H think I can manage those myself. Agents are an expensive nui- sance. Well, good-bye, Doctor Vernon. Re- member that Sunday afternoon I am at home' to friends." "Thanks, Miss Fairfax. I am not likely to forget such a welcome carte blanche- Lance answered, and went his way, with quickened pulses. How horribly lonely and dull his own house looked! Bah What a fool he was! How could he dare to think of-of- any woman, least of all one who had money, whether a great or a moderate amount. How could he marry, when so much had to go in keeping up appearances, when it was such a fight to get on. Heavens Was he not in her debt! No, he must keep away from her— plead "no time"—still, he had accepted that free invitation, and Nina would think it celli, perhaps, if he kept away. She might, too, think it was that money, and be wounded No, he must drop in sometimes. So he did "drop in" that Sunday, and though two or three other people came also, still, she was present, and-that very objectionable cousin, Walter, was far away-a pleasant reflection to Vernon. j So two or three weeks went by, and be- | tween business matters, regarding repairs Nina was ordering for her houses, and I chance meetings out, and calls, the physician and the young singer often met. Perhaps her heart beat faster at his step and voice, as his did at hers, only the woman could guard her secret under the mask of plain, frank friendship, whilst he-well, what deeply-pas- sionate lover can quite hide his love from the woman's keen intuition. Nina knew that Vernon loved her, but she knew, too, that he would keep silent, because of his position as to fortune, or the lack of it. "You are looking—-well, not yourself," she I said to him one day, meeting hin by chance out; she said it in her pretty, direct way, "you looked worried, and you haven't called for a week. I do believe you are worrying about that horrid money." "Natarally, it does, and must worry me, I Miss Fairfax, Vernon answered with a smile, then added quickly, "I had hoped-" I "I don't want it," interposed Nina impul- sively. Her cheek flushed, her eyes glowed. "I don't want it. I won't have it, Doctor Ver- non"—she had nearly said "from you." "You are not to think about it." "But I must. I "Bother the money!" she said with a laugh 0 that had tears behind it, "forget it all. If you send a cheque I'll send it back. By-the- bye, I've a chance to sing at a Philharmonic concert. I'll tell you when I know for cer- | tain. Good-bye." And she hurried away, leaving him iTl a curious tumult of emotion, a wild hope, a fear!—there had been an almost passionate note in her rejecting of the debt, a note of utter pain, that set his blood throbbing. Did it—did it hurt her so much, then, to take money from him ? He threw himself into his work with yet more vigour that day, striving in the battle between pride heart, and then it was that Dame Fortune played her last card— threw it in his lace, as it were, and awaited the result. One evening, after a heavy day's work, Vernon sat down and took up a morning paper to glance at some items of news he had not had time to read at breakfast; he had looked at it so cursorily then that he had missed a musical item, "We understand that a young contralto singer of great promise, Miss Nina Fairfax, will sing at an early Philharmonic concert." But another para- graph among the "Fashionable Intelligence" he also saw-read twice—three times: "We are authorised to state that a mar- riage is arranged between Walter Seymour, only son of Sir George Seymour, Bart., and his cousin, Miss N. Fairfax." The paper fell—the man's face dropped on to his hands. "God help me!" he muttered, "it is all over then—for me. Oh, Nina, Nina, my only love! My darling!" Oh! the bitter anguish of these lonely hours of heartbreak; it shook the strong man like a reed. Ail was blank now-da.rk, hopeless blank. Poor Lance He scarcely slept that night—his only prayer was that she might be happy. How could lie meet her? came the bitter question next day. He must, of course, do so. He must congratulate her, or-or she would wonder-guess. Yes, he must do it, and do it soon; why not that morning and get the agony over, since it had to be. And so, that evening, as Nina sat alone thinking of Lance, the man himself was an- nounced. Nina rose quickly with a flush of gladness on her cheek. "I thought—I so hoped you would come in!" she said eagerly. "I would not tell you till I was sure. Did you see it in the paper yesterday, then? But-" suddenly inter- rupting herself as he dropped her hand, "how ill you look! How——" "Never mind me. I am tired—that it all," Vernon said, desperately keeping himself in hand. "Yes, I-I saw it announced, so I called in to congratulate you, and wish you all the happiness you deserve She looked at him, a little puzzled at tha I words. "Thank you. I am lucky to have got an introduction to the conductor of the Philhar- monic- The Philharmonic!" broke in Lance with a start. "I was alluding to your cousin-" "What!" the blood swept over cheek and brow; her eyes sparkled. "I see the mis- take! That means Nora Fairfax—not me." "Nina! Nina! Not you!" The sudden re- vulsion was too much for control, and the passionate cry broke from the man's very heart. His hands caught both hers. Every- thing was swept aside save his love. Tell me again, tell me again you are—that I may try to win yon-my love, my darling! Ah Nina!" For she suddenly hid her face on his breast with a half sob. "Oh! Lance, Lance," came from her, as he passionately folded her to him; "you ilev-,r guessed, then, that—that I loved you?" Heart's dearest —now he drew her be- side him on to the sofa—" how should I ever dream of such happiness?" "Poor fellow," said Nina tenderly, a little wickedly, too; "what you must have suffered since yesterday—all because Nora is Walter's cousin and mine, you see." Vernon kissed the dear smiling lips. "Never mind. You must come to me be- fore the concert," he said. "Promise me, Nina." "If—if you wish it, Lance." "Thank you. da fling. Ah, Dame Fortune has played .1 her cards well for me indeed, my Nina—with hearts to win."

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--...-..' FUN AND FANCY.I…