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[ALL HIGHTS RESERVED.] THE SEED OF A SIN. BY C. J. HAMILTON, Author of A Flash of Youth," dec. II CHAPTER XVI. FOTND AMIDST THE FLAMES. MEANWHILE Hartley Netterville had reached .1 Jthe :'C'.lIe 01 dl:;i1,stel'. The the brigade had just dashed up with their noisy engines, and a solid, compact mass of tet-i-ified men and shrieking, struggling women were still pouring out of the theatre doors. At present it seemed a case of more frightened than hurt, but the large flakes of burning wood that fell from the roof into the street showed that the fire was still raging within. "Th' manager be keeps on sayin there s nought th' matter," said a brawny Yorkshire man, as lie elbowed his way out. 66But happen he wants to quiet th' fowk down a bit. Was it on the stage that the fire began ? nked Dr. Netterville. Ya-as, ya-as, mon, on the stage. Just as yon actress woman as does the best part came on, a curtain caught fire. My word, it did blaze up is she safe ?—Miss Branksome I mean." That I can't tell thee. lv'e had (-DOW to do to get my missus here out. She nigh falllted on the stairs, I just had to drag her along. Dost happen to know if there's a doctor about any wlieres ? I am a doctor; I'll see to her." Dr. Netterville had brought a few simple restoratives with him, and after he had seen to the pale, shrinking little 'woman, he pushed his way on to the booking office. Here he found a fat, cheery elderly man, wlic appeal ed to be taking the lead, and pointing bo the best exits. He was wiping his hot brows with a red handkerchief when Dr. Netterville accosted him. Are the performers all safe? Is there anyone in the dressing-rooms?" Not that I know of," was the curt reply. The firemen have got the hose playing on the roof now; the fire will soon be got under. It's more a panic than anything else. There never was any danger." No danger, mon cried a voice in the crowd. I. You'd better go in and see for yourself. It's just like the pit of hell—like the fiery furnace that you read about in the book of Daniel. Dang me, if I ever go inside a theatre again as long as I live 1 Not till the next time, measter," answered a shrill feminine voice. Outside the principal entrance Hartley Netterville noticed the words, Stage door." He remembered it now. It was in 4iere he had gone the night before in search of Rose Branksome. If she had not already escaped; it was probable that she would be here, in the very room, before which be had stood in such anxious suspense, till he was turned away by the obnoxious manager, Oswald Phillips. Down the long passage he went, half-blinded by the suffocating smoke that seemed to be everywhere, penetrating mouth, nostrils and eyes. The door of Rose Brank- some'a dressing-room was half open, he pushed it back, and went in, but she was not there! Dresses and mantles were strewn about, even rings that seemed to be of value were lying on the table, but there was no sign of their owner. Hartley did not wait long, lie hurried out again into the passage, d turning to the left through a side door, he suddenly found himself before the stage. "What a sight met his eyes Water was being poured down from the roof on the velvet seats of the dress circle and the boxes, a huge chandelier had just fallen and. was lying smashed in a thousand pieces, and over all was the unmistakable roar of the still unexting-uished flames, which, though baffled, seemed to be yearning after their prey. The audience had dispersed— boxes, pit, and gallery were empty. Only a few officials were to be seen, shouting orders and directions which nobody seemed to mind. Amongst them Hartley recognised the short, squat figure of Oswald Phillips. He heard some one say to him The fair Rose is all right I suppose ? And the answer came, 1 heard she had igone to her lodgings with her dresser. I'm going thereto make sure, as soon as I can get away. Here, hold tight there! Don't take them things through that door, the staircase is on fire. Give a shout to the in- spector to come here as quick as blazes Hartley turned to make his way out, but he soon grew bewildered amongst the flies* -and the strange little passages that seemed to lead nowhere. Turning down one of them he found himself before a closed door, which seemed to be locked. He was just going away when a low moan fell on his startled ear. "My God! Is there anyone inside?" he shouted, as he pounded at the door. Yes 1 came the faint reply. I am here, Rose Branksome. I can't get out. The door has been locked from the outside. Can you open it No key was visible, and though Dr. Netter- j ville shook the door with all his strength, it did not give way. Andtlieflre-siirelyitwa.% spreading this way-, for the terrible hissing seemed to be coming nearer and nearer. Half frantic with despair, Hartley Netter- ville flew to the end of the passage. An iron curtain bar caught his eye, and seizing it he made his way back and drove it against one of the panels which yielded at; last to the re- peated blows. The other panel was soon smashed in. and Hartley rushed into the room through the gap. He found Rose with her back to the window .and her hands clasped. "You have come! you have come I" she sobbed hysterically. I-I thought I was left here to die alone." "Yes, yes, I have come. You are not going to die. We two shall be saved to- gether." He took both her hands in his and for the first time gazed earnestly into the dark depths of her eyes, the eyes that had so often looked at him in his dreams. The red glow from the burning roof, and the falling embers that bounded against the window-panes, lit up the small room with a lurid light, and coloured the two figures, as they stood close to each other, hand in hand, and face to face. 11 Who—who are you ? she murmured faintly. I don't remember to have seen you, and yet it seems as though I know you ,quite well." "We must have met in the land of spirits," he answered, clasping her hand closer in his. And I have seen you act. I have seen your photograph, too. I have often longed to see yourseii. 1 have something to tell you. I wanted to tell it to you last night, when I was sent away. "Tell it to me now she gasped. Her warm breath touched his cheek a loose wave of her soft hair gave him an electric thrill. It was heaven to stand there with her, even though death in its most terrible form, might be at hand. He knew thai- here was the one Nyomaii in the 41iole world for him, and he Was content to let everything else go. Tell me, tell me all! she murmured again. But this time her glorious eyes sank beneath the stead fastness of his gaze. My name is Netterville, Hartley Netter- ville," he began. "Iam a doctor; I nad a practice in Ireland. I was with your husba,nd When he died, he spoke to me of-you, his last thought was of you. I TeJl Rose, he said, and now I am telling you. I have more to say some other time, but you ought to know you are free, if- I am not going to marry that wretch, that beast of a Phillips," she cried. He need not think it. Oh, my poor Rupert," •he continued. Why—why was I not M with him ? He loved me so well-so well He died —you say, but how ?—where ? "He died from a cycling accident. He suffered no pain, lie only spoke a few words. We could not find out his name or address, that was why you did not hear." And—and you were with him ? "Yes. I did what I could for him, I closed his eyes." "God bless you for it! God bless you a thousand limes Hartley Netterville felt as thought knife had stabbed him. Stay, stay he stammered, there is more to tell. 1-1- His child, our little Rosamund," inter- rupted Rose. I am sure he thought of her." "You have a child," cried Dr. Netterville, jealously. Yes, I have her to live for, I)tif; she has been sent away from me. Oh, I have suffered et-uelly-c)-ttelly. But we must not stand talking here. Look out. Can we make our way through the passage ? No, that was impossible. A wave of flame had caught some inflammable scenery, and was crackling it in its fiery maw. "The only thing to do," cried Hartley, is to stand at the window, and call for the fire escape, someone will be sure to see us or hear us." He caught Rose in his arms, and lifted her up to the window seat, which was some distance from the ground. He wrapped a heavy velvet mantle that was lying on the floor round her bare neck and arms. •'You are trembling," he said, in a voice that vibrated with tenderness. You are trembling, itxiy poor "No, no," she cried. "Not now. bee, the firemen have heard you shout to them, there is one of their brass helmets, they are coming! I hear them say they are coming. Only for you I should have been burnt to death I She shuddered, and drew closer to him. How did you come to be in such a trap ? When the fire began, my dresser, Lucy, brought me in here, and ran for help. Erery- one must have thought I had left. There is some valuable scenery stored here, and someone-Mr. Phillips, I expect—must have turned the key in the lock and taken it away with him. That is how I came to be locked in. 011, how glad and thankful I was to see you How can I ever reward you for what you have done ? He looked at her as though the look was their last. The fire escape was coming nearer. It was just at the window. He saw it. Kiss me once," he whispered in her ear. "Just once, and say that whatever I have done in the past you forgive me." I do—I do she cried. Her full red lips met his in one soft, sighing, caress. The next minute be had lifted her on to the fire escape at the window, and she was slowly descend- ing the ladder. The shouts of the crowd below announced that the rescue had been safely carried out, and now it was Dr. Netter- ville's turn to follow. But the flames bad made more rapid pro- gress, and fragments of the burning roof were falling fast. One of them caught the sleeve of his coat, and be was badly burnt before he had reached the ground. He remembered no more till he found him- self in the ward of an hospital, having his arm dressed by the house surgeon. You'll do now," were the first words lie heard. Take a drop of tbis, and you'll be able to get home, the air will do you good." As Hartley slowly moved to the door he heard the church, clock close by, strike three —three in the morning. And this was his wedding night! He remembered it all now, and the hotel where he and Vida. were stop- ping. Did he feel a traitor to her ? Much more he felt a traitor to Rose, for she, he knew, was his true mate—the woman who was born for him alone! ] I- CHAPTER XVII. -1 I VIDA BECOMES SUSPICIOUS. VIDA was not of a resentful disposition, and yet she deeply resentedthe strange behaviour of iiei: husband on the evening of their marriage. The thought of it rankled within her like a poisoned dart. When next morn- ing she read the sensational head-lines in the local paper HEROIC CONDUCT OF A DOCTOR THE LIFE OF A POPULAR ACTRESS SAVED THROUGH HIS EXERTIONS her lip curled, and a frown darkened her face. She and Hartley were alone in a first- class railway carriage, bound for their honey moon at Felixstowe. His right arm was in a sling, and his cheek showed red marks where the fire had touched him the night before. What on earth you went to busy your- self looking after that actress—that Rose Branksome—it passes me to conceive," grumbled Vida. "Such Quixotic, ridiculous nonsense* I never heard of I Surely there must have been people at the theatre to mind her—people of her own rank. She is, of course, a low, common person." She is nothing of the sort," interrupted Hartley, sharply. "Her husband belonged to one of the best county families in Eng- land." Really! You do surprise me. It does not seem very likely that such a distinguished personage as that would be acting with the Myers-Millington Company. I saw the manager of it standing at the hotel bar—a coarse, vulgar-looking man of the name of Phillips, and I was told that he is going to marry this wonderful Rose Branksome." She is not going to marry him, I know that I So she has acquainted you already with all her private affairs, has she ? cried Vida, viciously. What friends you must be Let us have no more of this, Vida," ex- claimed Hartley, in his most decided tone. I decline to discuss this subject with you^ and I must request you not to mention Rose Branksome s name again—at any rate, in my hearing." Vida bit her lips. She knew that when Hartley spoke like this, she would have 1o give in, but, in her heart of hearts, she cursed the woman who had come between them. How, how could she have her re- venge? With a woman s vanity, she looked down on her pretty tailor-made blue gown that was so eminently becoming, on her natty, beautifully-fitting grey gloves. She touched the exquisite tulle hat, which even Madame Claudirie considered a creation, and she • thought with bitterness that all these glories were quite thrown away on her newly-made husband, for he never once glanced at them or at her. He had kept his word, he had houghi- a practice, he had married her, he was givinghera home, and that was enough! There was none of the proud satisfaction, the gratified sense of ownership that a bride- groom generally feels for his bride. The next fortnight was got over somehow. There were hours of intense boredom, days of weariness and ennui, so that both bncte and bridegroom were heartily glad when t ey were well over. The weather changed, too, and it became chilly and dull, so that t»r. Netterville proposed returning to Bourne- mouth a week earlier than had been at hrsc uri-ai)ged. There were so many things to settle about the house, lie said, and Vida eagerly agreed. She thought that when she made herself useful to him, he would appreciate her more. Many marriages, she argued, that did not begin with a great burst of happiness, ended far better as time went on. But sometimes, as she looked at Hartley's pre-occupied face, a great longing rushed over her to know what he was thinking of, and if he had any commllniea,tion with Rose Branksome, that horrid designing creature, who must have planned that fire just to steal him away from me. Some days afterwards, when Vida was Hacking up to go to her new home, she lifted one of her husband's coats trom the tloor ana I felt something crackle in the pocket. It was a letter, addressed in a lady's handwriting. I Vida had not the smallest scruples in unfold- ing and reading it. Her curiosity became very much quickened when she saw that the name at the end was Rose Branksome." The letter was as follows: York, Monday, Oct. 8th. "DEAR DR. NETTERVILLE,—I was very sorry not to haveseen you the morning you called after the fire, but strict orders had been given that I was not to be disturbed by anyone, as complete rest was necessary after such a severe shock as I had gone through. All the same, I regret not to have seen you. I wished to ask you about my husband's sad end, and also to thank you again with all my heart for saving my life on that terrible night. Any words of mine seem too poor to express my gratitude. Mr. Phillips still makes himself very objectionable to me, but I am helpless, as without him, I should have to give up all hope of getting on in my pro- fession. I fancy there is some mystery con- nected with his early life. I wish I could discover what it is, I might then be able to escape his most unwelcome attentions. I believe he comes from Poole, not far from Bournemouth, where I am told, you are going to live. Perhaps you could find out more about him. Somehow, I think you and I will meet again somewhere. Till then,— Yours sincerely, ROSE BRANKSOME." A spasm of jealous fury crossed Vida's face as she finished this letter. So that was where he went the morning after the fire she exciaimed. He was two hours away. He said he went to have his arm dressed at the hospital. I know now he went to see this odious creature, this detest- able woman, who has forced herself between him and me. But I will show her that he is my husband. Mine by law and right, mine absolutely, and that she can have no claim on him." There was a pile of illustrated papers on the table beside her. She took the one that came uppermost. It contained a full account of the fashionable wedding which had taken place at Nether- ford Hall, with portraits of the bride and bridegroom, and minute details of the dresses and wedding presents. There that will open her eyes," thought Vida, as she scored the column heavily with a blue pencil, and directed it to 11 Mrs. or Miss Rose Branksome, Myers-Millington Company, Theatre Royal, York." "I Imve no doubt she thinks Hartley is an unmarried man, and that she may entrap him. Actresses are so artful. I should like to see her face when she finds my portrait as Mrs. Hartley Netterville 1 I am sure I am a great deal prettier than she is." Vidit was not satisfied till she had taken the paper to the pillar-box and posted it her- self. She did so with a sensation of triumph. She had only just returned when Hartley came into the room, apparently looking for something. He pushed down the pile of papers from the table, knocked down the sofa cushions, and upset the music stand. Vida eyed him curiously. What are you looking for ? she cried. Only for a letter. I can't think how it went astray." "Was it from anyone in particular?" asked Vida. From no one that you know." Was it from a woman—a lad y ?" "What do you want to know for? Yes, it Was. Will that satisfy you ? I can tell you what it is, Vida," he cried, turning at her almost fiercely, "I will not have you prying and spying into my private affairs." Oh, won't you? You forget that, as your wife, I have a rlight to know everything that concerns you." "I am not so sure of that. And there are some chapters in your own life that don't quite bear to be dragged to the light. What about that episode with Sir Charles Camp- bell ? You don't care to hear that touched upon, I think ? "Of course not!" exclaimed Vida, colour- ing. "It was just the man's silly vanity that made him mention it. He wanted to make himself of importance. I never cared for him." I am not so sure of that. He said he had your letter offering to marry him. He kept it in case of contingencies." Disgbsting little fool. He always was a fool. Only for his being a, baronet, and tolerably well off, no girl would he bothered with him. Why will you talk of such disa- greeable things?" cried Vida, putting up her slim hand, as though to ward them off. If you really wish for us each to have a clean slate, I may as well tell you that I found that letter you had from that shame- less hussey, Rose Branksome." "Youfoundit? Where is it ? Give it to me at once "Not so fast, please. I found it, and I read it, and this is how I treat it!" She caught up the letter, tore it into a hundred pieces and flung them in Hartley's face. "Leave the room directly," he muttered, in a. hoarse whisper, or I might forget my- self." And do what ? she cried, trying to ap- pear at her ease. "And strike you he added, with a look that sunk into her soul. Awe-stricken, she passed out of the room silently. After she had gone, he sank back in a chair, and covered his face with his hands. God forgive me lie groaned. Some- times I almost hate her The seed of his sin was indeed springing up. fast and strong. He saw it multiplying around him, and he knew that it was now helpless to keep the crop down. He must reap as he bad sownl (To be continued.)




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