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The Voice of the Charmer.…


The Voice of the Charmer. t By Mrs. L. T. MEADE, :J Authoress of The Medicine Lady" A World of Girls," Wild Kitty," "Wheels of Iron," The Cleverest Woman in England," &c., due. ¡' CHAPTER XXXVI. RESULT. Ward helped Patty to get into bed. She was trembling exceedingly. He had to stay with her for some time before she becam. at all calm or 111 the least like herself. At last certain restora- tives produced the usual effect-her face lost its srigid, white lines, the colour returned to her lips Und cheeks, and the light to her eyes. She yielded herself up once again to the fascination pf her husband's presence. Hold my hand," she said, giving it to him as she spoke. He took it between both of his, and sat down pn the edge of the bed. I want to tell you what Margot said," she lbegnn, after a long pause. I don't wish to hear what she said, Patty. it know all abou, it." Patty gave a faint sigh, and turned her head fcligh tiv away. Ward held her hand firmly. It was as hot now as it had been cold. He could feel the full {julses bounding in the slim wrist. He gave a ong and anxious glance at the face on the pillow. JWearing lines of care and sorrow iilready discernible upon it. Have I made a mistake? he said to him- self. Is she in reality not strong enough for pay purpose-not great enough to be magnifi- cently wicked? Is goodness too much for her? is it really and truly so completely her native lement that she cannot live outside the pale? Voor sweet womfl" Mine, too-all mine. Am to lose her in the end? Is she too good for me? )Can she love as she does, and yet really be too good for me ? Patty had dropped into a doze; she uttered la heavy sigh. I must mesmerise her into calm," said Ward '4o himself. "My power over her must not be jweakeiied by such a futile thing as goodness. Wi e are on the high road now to a long life of perfect joy: that is, if Patty doesn't spoil it. he shall not. I will make her more completely (one with me than ever." As these thoughts came fco Ward, he bent for- psrard and touched his wife's brow and cheeks jOTith that light, magnetic movement which his lingers always possessed. Shc, opened her eyes at t" touch and smiled jSBrt him drowsily. Look at me for a moment before you sleep, Pea rest," he said to her. She obeyed him, still drowsily. Suddenly full wave of intensely bitter thoughts swept ver her. She roused herself with energy on her fiillow, threw out her arms, and said in a voice of jdespair— Oh, John, I am in torture-my conscience Will never die. It is true what Margot told ma Po-night-I have sold myself to the devil." Hush, hush!" said Ward. You know how fcad all this excitement is for you. If you don't take care, Patty, you will become one of those etestable creatures—a woman all nerves and laches and fancies. Do you think that is the sort jof wife I want to help me in my career? Is that he sort of wife who will help to gather at our feet ,at our feet, Patty—all the good things of life— iriches, power, fame, love." Love is sufficient," said Patty, her eyes beginning to shine as she once again submitted $ierself to his power. Not without the others," he answered not jtenough to me without all the others. I have gaot staked everything on one grand coup you have joined me in the stake. You dare not fail laae: you must keep strong for my sake. You snust keep calm for my sake all untiring for my (Bake and for my sake also, my poor, tired, beau- jtiful darling, you must now sleep. See, I will Wpu to sleep soundly, dreamlessly. Look at me, iPatty; take my hands. Now, hush! hush! (Obey me—go to sleep." Ward looked intently into Patty's blue eyes. JAt first they returned his gaze with a bright, feverish intelligence, then the eyes assumed the misty, dreamy, half-blind expression which they had worn when she came to him in his London lodgings. When they looked like that, Ward put put one hand and gently closed the lids. He passed his hand once or twice across the whits fcrow. Patty had sunk into a deep mesmeric Bleep. "She shall rest for at least twelve hours," SFard said to himself. He covered her over gently, turned down tha light, saw that her face was in shadow, and left the room. As he did so, he glanced towards the yrindow. The fog which Patty had prophesied about had teome on; it folded the world like a heavy -^blanket. The air was stifling: there might be thunder by-and-by. But even a thunderstorm .would not awaken Patty now from this sleep prhich she was enjoying. Ward left the room and went downstairs. Paring was waiting for him in the smoking-room. Dering was impatient to tell his news. moment Ward entered the room he flung a half-consumed cigar into the grate, and came to meet his friend. Spare me," said Ward, putting out his hand *<I know all you would .ayi-you are engaged to Wiss Fletcher. ° Yes," replied Dering, astonished at his friend's tone. The news seems to displease wou," he continued!. How have you heard it? •j a who had been suffering from a con- aiderable amount of irritation, recovered himself Il the instant. "Forgive me," he said, "my thoughts ara anuch occupied) with Patty just now-she is ill fraa nervous. But enough of my fears. You ask ,ome how I heard the news, old man. Are you not .Iaware of the fact that a face like yours resembles 4he open pages of a book? Your rapture was legIbly written on brow and lip; it shone in your ílYos, and was reflected in the tones of your jroice. Of course, I knew all about it when you joame home with Margot Fletcher this evening. in jOf course, I congratulate you. When is the jwadding to be? It is all wonderful, Ward," said Dering. She has yielded absolutely. She confessed j&o-night that she loved me all the time; nay, t must not repeat her words." wjf you will not," muttered Ward to him- •rwf™ k«Brrreld?(i1on point," continued w^ole ,think is so amazing that I can scarcely realise it. I presaed for an early /wedding, and she agreed to it. I think shi ■would have named the very day if I had not forborne to presume upon her softened and gracious mood." Her mood," said Ward, with a half sneer She is in love. She has been in love with you Almost from the first. Well, take my congratula- tions. I believe Miss Fletcher will make you an admirable wife." "Does Mrs. Ward know?" asked Dering. wad told he*8 Fietc3ier went to ^er r00IQ to"nigh* Shf .rei°iced, doubtless?" said Dering. iwis&k 8fn+p3°+i!re(i,>>. replied Ward; and in her T foun(j },L was too much for her. yes, she will be Si exha £ 8tedr;oh' of other things to-ffiorrow' Now let u" You look worried t that expression on your brow" se* "You mistake, I am w' • T „ allow small frets to affect me u before my time if I did. I am a +Sr°iW of theory, but of practice. I beliavn^w y axhausts the tissues of life like worry tWf g I never indulge in it. Anzi^bouttS ,would not cure her; I am not anxious Sha hS gone through a considerable time of strain, and ,will be better presently. She ha longed for wour marriage and the preparations for it, and 4he actual event, when it does take place, will Q her infinite good. Now, Dering, I sholuld like to say a word or two with regard to your own future. Doubtless, when you afe married, you will take up life seriously." What do you mean? You will become a public man; no citizen fully does his duty who, if the means are his, does not take part in the government of that city to which he belongs." I belong to the Hind," said Dering, after a pause; and the government of a small city is doubtless as much as I am fit for. With you, Ward, things are different; you are meant to govern—in fact, you govern, without helping it, every man and woman whom you come across." I mean to govern in the larger sense," said Ward. At the next general election I mean to stand for Sidminster." In what interest? Ward looked up. In my own,' he replied with a light laugh. What an extraordinary fellow you are! I never thought you had any politics." Nor have I in one sense, but I shall stand in the Conservative interest when I do stand; for I thoroughly believe that each man most completely fuffils his duty in life, when he does the best he can for himself." And that is your idea of Conservatism," said Dering, his eyes flashing somewhat angrily. Undoubtedly; the true Conservative con- serves all possible rights to himself. He upholds the old traditions above all things, he clings firmly to the lands of his forefathers. Upon this creed, as old as time, I shall graft some peculiar ideas which will arouse the interest of certain men of influence in the House. You may be quite certain of one thing, Dering, that when I do take my seat, I shall not be a silent member." I believe you have splendid oratorical powers," said Dering. Well, of course, I wish you luck, old fellow." Thanks; the elections are almost upon us. Sidminster returns two Conservative members. Why should you not be the other? "Because the thing is not the least in my line but your cause is my cause, Ward, and if you want money, command me." Thanks," said Ward; I will accept your offer, if necessary." The two young men talked a little longer, then they bade each good-night. As Ward went upstairs, he saw Margot stand- ing by one of the windows on the first landing. Her long hair was still streaming down he;" back; she wore a white dressing-gown, anl looked ghostly in the light which strugglej through the thick fog. There," she exclaimed, when she saw Ward there is the fog that Patty prophesied about. How could she know it was coming? Most Devonshire people know the signs of their own climate," answered Ward in his cold incisive tones. Do you know it is very late, Miss Fletcher? You ought to be in bed." I waited up to see you," said Margot. You were angry with me just now for talkiJg tc Patty." "I was more than angry, I was amazed; I fully believed you to be a woman of your word. You had passed your word to me not to speftk to Patty on the subject on which I found you con- versi; That is perfectly true. I didn't altogether forget my promise; but I admit, had I been sufficiently thoughtful, I would have spoken to you before I broke it. My reason for breaking it, however, was this—the doubts of which I complained to you were, I thought, slain for ever. I was very happy, and I had the wish to confess my past injustice to my dearest friend to-night." "You are just like all other women, and I gave you credit for more control," muttered Ward. Margot's dark eyes flashed angrily. Sha turned fully now and faced the master of the Red Lodge. I don't repent of what I have done," she said my impulse was in the main correct. I will tell you quite frankly why I spoke to your wife on the subject of the will to-night. When I went out to-day I was followed by a very repulsive and disagreeable man, who called him- self Joshua Day. He was a profane sort of person; he quoted religion at every turn, and appeared to me to be in the fullest sense a Pharisee. I tried to shake him off, for his presence was most distasteful to me, but I found that he was determined to stay with me until he had unburdened his mind of a certain story." Yes," said Ward. He was interested, intensely interested, in spite of himself. Margot, who was standing very upright, gave him a glance as keen as any she had ever bestowed upon him. I listened to this man," she continued, and soon the subject of his story aroused my fullest attention. He spoke of the will under which Patty inherits this place. He told me about the day when the will was signed, and described graphically his own position as one of the witnesses. His story seemed to bear the impress of truth upon it, and when I left him, I was ashamed of the doubts I had entertained towards my friend." I am glad you met the man," said Ward. I told you—did I not?—that your doubts bad no foundation, and that the time would come when you would be oppressed by a sense of ghama for having entertained them ? You did, Mr. Ward; I was ashamed, I felt my shame bitterly. When I sat with Patty to-night and told her of the happiness which was to be mine in the future, the memory of the old doubts rushed over me I forgot my promise to you, and confessed fully to her. What do you think happened ? I cannot say," answered Ward; my wife was in no state for any exciting conversation; I should have told you that, had you had the grace to consult me." On the whole, I am glad I didn't consult you. Patty received the news in the strangest way; she was visibly agitated from the first,quite out of proportion to the occasion. When I mentioned the name of Joshua Day, her agita- tion became excessive and when I had told ner what he had said to me, her surprise and indig- nation were too real to be feigned. The scoundrel!' she cried, and then she nearly fainted away." Here Margot paused, and looked full at Ward. Ward had folded his arms after his invariable fashion when he did not wish to express the least emotion. He was absolutely silent. "Do you know what Patty has done?" said Margot. How can I answer you? he replied, briefly. Well, she has revived my doubts." "How so?" Because she spoke the truth when she spoke of Day as a scoundrel; because the truth was too great for her, and she could not control her emotion. Yes, my doubts are revived; I wish to tell you so quite frankly. I will do nothing to injure Patty, but I wish you to know what I really feel. Now, I will say 'Good-n,.glit!' 1 waited up to tell you this." Good-night," said Ward. He held out his hand; it was as cold as the hand of a dead person. When he reached his wife's room he had made up his mind on one point. After all, Dering shall not marry that girl," he said to himself. CHAPTER XXXVII. I MARGOT'S SECRET. I MARGOT went back to town, confided her happy secret to her mother, and preparations for the wedding began. Dering wished it to take place immediately, but Margot opposed him in this. She was content to be engaged, but did not wish for an immediate marriage, one suggested that their wedding might take place about Christmas they could then start immediately for the south, and escape some of the dreary winter weather. Her manner towards Sir Wilfred was full of great and real affection, and although he was annoyed at her not yielding to his wishes for an immediate marriage, he could not very well refuse to accede gracefully to her desires. The wedding was at last fixed for an early date in January, although even then no day was ab- solutely named for the auspicious event. In January, however, delay came from an un- expected source—the whole country was in the whirl and excitement of a general election. Ward, according to his intention, stood as one of the Conservative candidates for Sidminster. Dering was deeply interested. He helped his friend with all that influence and money could do, and Margot found it easy to drop the subject of the wedding for yet a little longer. She owned to herself in the privacy of her own room that she was glad of this. She was happy, but not quite happy. Much of the old Iau^hter^ the old brightness, the old sweetness had°come back to her, but she knew that somewhere behind it still lurked a shadow. She carried a secret in her heart which she dared not look at. Her real objection to marrying Sir Wilfred lay in the fact that, dearly as she loved him, she could not confide to him her secret dread. Mrs. Fletcher was a very happy woman again, and Margot was loving and gentle as of old to her mother, but even to her mother she could not talk of the shadow that stood between her and absolute con- tentment. Dering spent most of his time at Sidminster, and Margot was glad to remain quietly in Lon- don. Ward had by no means overrated his powers of fascination. He was a stranger to the Sidminster people; nevertheless, he appeared amongst them with a certain cachet which in- duced them to receive him well. His wife was the owner of the Red Lodge. The Rhodeses had always been popular as landlords, and among them all no one had been more beloved than Miss Rhodes and her beautiful niece. Patty Neville took hearts by storm wherever she appeared, and Ward, as her husband, carried the best of good credentials. When he made his maiden speech to his supporters it was listened to with profound interest. Soon the powerful voice, the personal note in the man aroused enthusiasm; before his first speech was over it was unnecessary for Ward to bring any credentials to win him favour but those which Nature had given him. The power in his eyes, the depth and richness of his voice, the sarcasm mingled with kindly humour, the in- cisive argument which never missed a point, and above and beyond all this the magnetic influence which the man himself possessed so strongly over all with whom he came in contact, told mightily in his favour. On the day of the election be was returned by a large majority, and took his seat in the House early in February. And now I can get married," said Dering, on the day he saw his friend and his friend's wife duly installed in a beautiful house in Mayfair. He was in high spirits at the result of the elec- tion, and went off to see Margot, feeling wonder- fully light of heart. Margot greeted him with smiles and loving words. He spoke at once of their marriage. "We are in February," he said all prepara- tions have been made. Let us have a special licence, and be married next week." I should like to wait until March," she said. Mother finds the long evenings dull; let me stay with her until the spring really comes, Wil- fred-it is only a few weeks off now." Theze you are, making an excuse whenever our wedding is spoken of," said Dering im- patiently. She coloured, sighed, and looked down. Is it possible that, after all, you don't love me? he said, gazing at her gloomily. I love you better every day," she answered, and this was true. He put his hand suddenly under her chin, and lifting up her pretty dark face, looked at it at- tentively. Margot, are you well? You look old for your years." I am perfectly well," replied Margot, a faint irritation coming into her voice. You don't look it," replied Dering. Why have you got those black shadows under you eyes, and these lines here?"—he touched the neigh- bourhood of her pretty lips as he spoke. You are a happy girl, Margot; you are going to marry the man you love, and who loves you, God knows how dearly. You ought not to look careworn." No lot is without its worries," said Margot, but I didn't know that I showed mine in my face." Tell me your worries, dearest; let me smooth them away for you." I have nothing that I can tell you, Wilfred." "But something worries you? Well, perhaps, but don't let us speak of it." Have you a secret that you won't tell me, Margot? Is it possible that you are really hiding something from me? She coloured when he said this. The shadow which clouded her seemed to gain substance and press against her heart her heart stirred re- belliously, giving her a sharp sense of pain. I can't tell you a lie," she, said. Then you are hiding something from me; you have a secret, a secret which makes your face look old? Is that the reason why you constantly defer our happiness? Wilfred, I will confess something; I have a sorrow—it troubles me now and then, but it has nothing whatever to do with either you or me." Nevertheless, darling, it makes you pale one moment and red the next; it worries you and adds to your years. You ought to tell it to me a husband and wife should have no secrets one from the other." "I know," she answered in a low tone, and-" "That is why you hesitate to become my wife? said Sir Wilfred. Yes." "Well, get rid of the objection by making a full confidence to me now." I cannot. The matter which vexes me does not concern us. It would do you no good to know. I can't tell you; you must not press me." Margot, my darling, do you really mean this? Do you really mean to say that in the end you will marry me and keep something deliberately from me? You say it is of no importance, but it worries you, it ages you. I love you far better than I love my own life. I have vowed solemnly before Heaven to devote all the best that is in I me to your service. Tell me your secret care, dearest: let us bury it together." She looked up at him when he said this. He was all that was lovable and beautiful in her eyes; he was her perfect ideal of young man- hood. She believed him to be, what in truth he was, one of the best of men. He was surrounded at present, too, with that halo of romance with which most good and innocent girls invest their heroes and lovers. The worry of her secret, the worry of her strange intolerable doubt, was eat- ing like a canker into her soul, and for a brief moment the thought of confiding in Dermg-of getting Dering, who was strong, manly, noble, to help her to bear her burden, of letting him see deep down into her inmost heart was a sore temptation-but a moment's quick reflection told her that it would never do. Dering was vy ard s friend. Could he be really his friend in the future if he knew of this? A woman, even tne best woman, has a curious power of disguising her real feelings Dering had no power of con- cealing what he really felt. Margot dared not i tell him. Ought she, after all, to marry him? As his wife she might some day be tempted to re- veal to him her secret fears. There is treachery, there is treachery," she might cry to him some day, and then that which she would die rather than tell would be noised abroad. It is true," sher said gently, putting her hand into his, and looking up at him, sadly. It is true that I have a secret. I will never tell it to anyone; I have vowed to be silent, and I will keep my vow before Heaven. As such is the case, am I the fit wife for you? The sweetness of her manner, the pathos in ner voice completely melted the sense of annoyance in Sir Wilfred's breast for the time. He kissed her witJn passion, and told her that secret or no secret she was the only wife tor him. I won't say any more now," he answered; perhaps before the ceremony really takes place you will confide in me." Margot smiled without replying; her smile was through tears. The wedding was fixed for the tenth of March. Soon afterwards Dering took his leave and went to see Ward in his little house in Mayfair. Ward was not in, but Dering ran up to the drawing-room, where he found Patty. Well," she said, coming eagerly to meet him; "what news? How soon are we to prepare for the wedding? "We are to be married on the tenth of March," he replied. 'After some difficulty I have got Margot to fix a date at last." He sank down into a chair as he spoke, and looked gloomilv in front of him. The knowledge that Margot held a secret which fretted her was returning to worry him. "What is the matter!" said Patty. You ought to be the happiest man in the world. What is vexing you ? You know Margot very well, don't you? said Dering. I think I do." Well, she is fretting about something, and won't tell me what it is. Do you believe in a husband and wife starting a long life together, and the wife keeping an important fact from her husband's knowledge? In Margot's case I should not mind," said Patty. Margot is imaginative; she may not really have a secret at all; she may imagine some- thing which does not exist." Patty's lips turned white as she said these words and as her fashion was when the least bit agitated, she pressed her hand to her left side. There I have upset you," said Dering. I don't believe you are a bit strong yet, although Ward says that you are miles better than you were last summer." I am really quite well," said Patty. But to return to Margot; if I were you, Sir Wilfred-" What would you do if you were me? asked Sir Wilfred. I should ignore the fact that Margot con- fesses to a secret; it is in all probability a shadow which she has conjured up to cloud her great happiness. Will you entrust the matter to me ? I will go and see her to-morrow I will talk to her, and get her to confide in me. Oh, she will make you the noblest of wives, the most loving, the most true. Perhaps that which wor- ries her may be dissolved into air after we have had a little conversation. The cloud may pass, the secret may no longer exist. Yes, I will go and speak to her." Patty's words were uttered to the accompani. ment of kindling eyes and flaming cheeks. She looked lovely, with the ethereal beauty which those not destined for a long life so often possess. At this juncture Ward came into the room. Dering jumped up and came to meet him. We are to be married on the tenth of March," he said. I congratulate you," answered Ward in his inscrutable fashion. There was not a scrap of feeling in his icy voice; his grey eyes, cold in their expression, were fixed on Dering's glowing face; his thin lips wore a faint, almost imper- ceptible, sneer. Patty turned away and began to arrange some photograph on the mantelpiece. Dering continued to stand. Won't you sit down?" said Ward. You'll stay to dinner, of course? No, thanks, I must be off; I have a great deal to sea too. Are you going to the House to-night, Ward? I shall look in later-after dinner; there is nothing special on this evening. I will walk witn you to your diggings if you like, Dering. A moment later the two young men found themselves in the street together. What do you think of my wife? was Ward's first remark to his friend. She is the most beautiful creature I ever saw," answered Dering-, with enthusiasm. Bless you, old man, I don't ask you about her looks. You have not seen her for some weeks. Do you think she is in better health? I'm not sure; she flushes easily, and a trifle upsets her. Frankly, Ward, I don't think her strong at all. Havje you consulted a doctor about her?" I have not," answered Ward. Doctors can't help a case like Patty's. You are right, Dering, she is not strong. I will give you a confidence: Patty, if she lives, will be a mother in a few months' time." I congratulate you," answered Dering. Ward frowned. Don't," he interrupted. This is not, in my opinion, a matter for congratulation. I don't know that I'm at all fitted to play the role of father. But to turn from this matter to your own personal affairs. I am glad your wedding-day is fixed. Miss Fletcher has shown strange reluct- ance in coming to the point. By the way, what were you saying about her to my wife when I came in? I saw by Patty's face that she was a good deal excited." Your wife is full of sympathy," answered Dering. That which concerns others gives her immeasurable interest. I was only telling her that Margot's and my wedding-day is finally fixed." Well, I hope you won't put it off again. Take my congratulations. You, Dering, are the sort of man who ought to make a good thing out of the vast lottery called marriage." I hope so." "Why do you speak in that desponding tone? Have you any doubts on the subject?" I ought not to have any; and yet I am doubtful. Margot is the best girl that ever lived; but at the present moment something is worrying her, and she won't confide in me." I thought as much," answered Ward. You thought so? You perceived that some- thing was making Margot hipped and good for nothing? Has she spoken to you on the sub- ject ? By no means, my dear fellow. I looked at her when last I saw her, and perceived by her face that she possessed a secret." Dering turned and stared hard at Ward; Ward's expression was wooden. Would you marry a wife with a secret ? asked Dering, suddenly. "Undoubtedly," answered Ward, "provided she revealed it to me." But Margot positively refuses to tell me." Ward shrugged his shoulders. Women are unfathomable," he remarked. Perhaps Miss Fletcher has really nothing to confide. Some women are fond of mysteries. Imagination with them conjures a shadow into a solid and terrible mountain." Margot is not one of those girls," replied Dering. Perhaps not; well, I can't advise you. Here's ray club. I will say Good-night,' I want to look at the last edition of the Pall Mall" before I go to the House." (To be Continued),


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