George Fenn.

Blind Policy

Fred ought to have been only too proud to have won such a girl, cried Laura, sharply, but her visitor shook her head.

It was only a brief fancy of his, dear, and as soon as the right woman came across his path he forgot me. Well, I am patient if I am not proud, for I cannot resent it, dear, only try to bear it, for I loved him very dearly; but it is very hard for the little romance of ones poor homely life to be so soon brought to an end.

It was cruel cruel in the extreme, cried Laura, angrily. I would not have believed that my brother, whom I almost worshipped, could have behaved so ill.

These things are a mystery, said Isabel, gently; and perhaps it is better that it should have happened now than later on when we were married. But tell me about him, dear. Has he settled down to seeing his patients again? You wrote to me saying that he was neglecting everything.

So he is, nearly everything, now. Bel dear, I will not be so hard upon him any more. You must be right, that he cannot help himself, or he would never have behaved so ill. He must be mad.

Isabel clung to her with a startled look in her eyes.

It is the only way in which I can account for the change, continued Laura, for I will not believe what Aunt Grace says, that all men are bad at heart. If they are, women must be as wicked too.

Isabel shivered slightly.

Tell me about what he does now.

I cant, dear, cried Laura, piteously. I seem to know so little. Only that he goes out soon after breakfast, and does not come back till dinner-time, and so wet sometimes that he must have been walking about the streets for hours.

Isabel sighed.

Ive tried oh, how Ive tried! to win his confidence; but he says nothing, only turns away, and goes out. It is just as if he had lost something of which he is always in search, and every day he grows more moody and strange.

Then he is ill mentally ill, cried Isabel, excitedly. I knew that there must be some excuse for his strange behaviour. Laura dear, my heart has misgiven me from the first. It is all so directly opposed to his nature and character. I will not believe that he could be so false to everything that he has said to me.

Laura was silent again, and Isabels careworn face flushed once more.

You are not sisterly and true, she cried. The world is censorious enough without those who are nearest and dearest to us turning away and becoming our enemies.

I am not Freds enemy, Bel, said Laura, gently.

Then why are you so hard against him?

Because I feel that by his conduct he has put us all to shame.

Yes, all to shame all to shame, my dear, cried Aunt Grace, who had entered the room unnoticed. Its a wicked, wicked world; but its very good of you to come and see us, my dear, heart-broken as we are. You have come to stop a few days, of course?

I? Oh, no no, no. We are staying in town, said Isabel, hurriedly, and I must go directly.

I am sorry to hear that, said Aunt Grace in rather an offended tone.

I did not think you would turn away from us in our trouble, Isabel; I thought better of you.

I turn away from you and Laura, Aunt Grace? Oh no, no, no.

Im glad to hear it, my dear, because if you would stay we should be very glad.

Oh, auntie! whispered Laura, impossible.

It is not impossible, Laura, cried the old lady; and I beg that you will not interfere. Isabel, my child, I shall be very glad indeed if you will stay, and you need not be at all afraid of meeting that dissolute, dissipated young man.

Mrs Crane began Isabel, agitatedly, but she was interrupted at once.

No, no, no, my dear; pray dont apologise and make excuses. Laura and I would be very pleased, and we see nothing whatever of Frederick now from breakfast-time to dinner. I dont know where he spends his days, but he is after no good.

Aunt dear, I really must interfere once more, cried Laura, warmly. It is, as I said, impossible for Isabel to stoop to meet Fred again; and as to staying in the house my dear aunt, of what can you be thinking?

That we are beginning to live in evil times, Laura, cried the old lady, indignantly, when little girls so far forget the respect due to their elders as to speak as you did just now. I ought to be the best judge, miss, of what is correct, if you please.

Pray say no more, Mrs Crane, cried Isabel, earnestly. I must go back to the hotel where we are staying. It would indeed be impossible for me to visit here now.

Oh, very well, my dear, very well, cried the old lady, drawing herself up. I can see very plainly that you have allowed yourself to be impressed by what Laura has said. Young people will hold together, and think that they are wiser than their elders. There is one comfort, though, for us old folk: you all find out your mistake.

Good-bye, dear Mrs Crane, said Isabel, advancing with open hands.

Good-day, Miss Lee, said the old lady, frigidly, as she held out her fingers limply.

But Isabel did not take them. She laid her hands upon her shoulders, and, with tears in her eyes, kissed her affectionately twice.

There was magic in the touch, for in an instant she was snatched to the old ladys breast and kissed passionately again and again.

Oh, my dear, my dear! was sobbed; I didnt think I was such an ill-tempered, wicked old woman. Pray, pray forgive me. I dont know what comes to me sometimes. And you in such sorrow and pain! Oh, that wicked, miserable, faithless boy! Something will come upon him some day like a judgment.

Oh no, no, no! cried Isabel, wildly. Dont pray dont say that.

But I have said it, my dear. Ah, well, I wont think it, then, any more, for I dont see what greater judgment could fall upon him than losing you.

Isabel could not trust herself to speak, but hurried out of the room and downstairs with Laura.

Dont speak to me, dear; let me go now, whispered the poor girl, faintly. I am weak and ill, and can bear no more now. I ought not to have come, but the impulse was too strong. Good-bye, dear sister, good-bye!

The two girls were locked in a loving embrace, and then, with Isabel turning sick with dread, they sprang apart, for there was the rattle of a latch-key at the door, it was thrown open, and Chester strode in.

He stood for a few moments aghast, as he saw Isabel recoil from him. Then, drawing down her veil, she tottered out, and was half-way to the brougham, drawn up by the kerb, before he recollected himself and sprang after her to open the door and try to hand her in. But she shrank from him as if in dread, and gathering her veil closely over her white, drawn face, she sank back in the carriage, and her betrothed stood gazing after her as she was rapidly driven away.

Chapter Thirteen.
Workers at a Train

Of course, Orthur, the different grades in this service have to be kept distinct, and the inferiors have to look up to their superiors just as it is in the army.

Oh yes, sir, of course, said the gentleman addressed, squeezing his left eyelids together slightly, unseen by the pompous individual addressing him; but you cant say as I havent always been respectful and kept my place.

Always, Orthur, always, and thats why I come down a little to you and meet you on equal terms when we are alone, for I have always found you a very respectable, intelligent young man. Whats that chap staring at?

Us, seemingly, Mr Roach, sir, said the younger man, with a grin. Book canvasser, thats what he is; been taking orders of the old chap next door, but didnt like the look of us, and didnt try it on. I had a peep through the open door there one day, and it was packed full o books like a warehouse, sir.

Yes, yes, but never mind that, said the butler, impatiently. But as I was saying, Ive always found you a very respectable young man, Orthur, and Im disposed to trust you. Service is all very well, Orthur, but theres no saving money; and when one sees these bookmakers coarse, beefy-faced butcher or publican sort of fellows keeping their broughams and driving their phe-aytons, it is tempting.

Tempting, Mr Roach, said the young footman in a quick whisper; it gives me the agonies. Look at the guvnors. Why, I met a young chap as I used to know when he was a page in buttons hes a six-footer now. Well, he says he knowed our people ten years ago when they were regular hard up. His people used to visit em. And now look at em. Theyre on with some of the knowing ones, and putting money on all the good things. Always winning, they must be. Why, if you and me, Mr Roach, was to put the pot on as they do we should be rich men in five years.

Dont talk so loud, Orthur; some of the women may be up at the windows.

All right, sir. But dont you see?

Yes, I see; its right enough, Orthur, when you win; but I look at the risks.

Warnt much risk over that last flutter, sir. Put down five shillings a-piece and took up each of us a tenner.

Yes, Orthur, that was very nice; but it mightnt always happen so.

Why not, sir? They always win, and all we have to do is to back the same as they do take their tips, and its as safe as safe.

Hm! Well, they do always seem to win, Orthur, said the butler, slowly, and he indulged in a pinch of snuff as he stood on the step.

Seem, sir? They do. I believe if it warnt for the odds theyd be as poor as church mice.

But how are we to get the tips, my son?

Keep our ears open when were waiting table, sir, or another way.

The same as you got that last one?

Thats it, sir. Dont do them any harm, and if a gent leaves his betting-book in the breast-pocket of the coat as has to go down to be brushed, I dont see anything in it. Taint robbery.

Hm! coughed the butler, glancing behind him; no, it isnt robbery, Orthur.

Lor! Mr Roach, sir; its as easy as easy, whispered the footman, eagerly. I cant think what weve been about I beg pardon, sir what Ive been about all these months not to have put a little money on here and there. Want o capital mostly, sir, but with all doo respect to my superiors, sir, if you and me was to make a sort o Co. of it, and I was to tell you all I heard and found out by accident like, and you was to do the same with me, then we could talk it over together in the pantry, and settle how much wed put on the race.

The butler frowned, shook his head, and looked dissatisfied.

I know its asking a deal of you, Mr Roach, sir, but it would only be like business and I should never presume, you know.

I must think about it, Orthur; I must think about it, said the butler, importantly.

Do, sir; and I wouldnt lose no time about it. You see, we cant do much when were down at The Towers, and the Randan Stakes is on next week.

Hm, yes, said the butler, relaxing a little, and condescending to a smile. Orthur, Ive got a sovereign on the favourite.

You have, sir? What! on Ajax?

Thats right, my lad; and I advise you to put half-a-crown or five shillings on im too. Theres a tip for you.

Yah! ejaculated the footman in disgust. I wouldnt put the price of a glass of ale on that orse.

Eh, why? cried the butler, looking startled.

Cause Ajax wont run.

What? How do you know?

I heard the guvnor tell the little un so last night, and that he was to back Ducrow.

Phew! whistled the butler.

Put two quids on Ducrow, sir, and itll be all right. Ive got ten shillings on, and Id have made it two tens if Id had a friend whod ha lent me the coin.

Orthur, whispered the butler, effusively; youre a good lad, and Ill lend you the money.

You will, sir? And go on as I said?

The butler nodded.

Carriage, sir, said the footman, sharply, and they both drew back into the hall ready for the brougham which was driven up, and from which two ladies descended.

Chapter Fourteen.
Face to Face Again

Thats the house, said Chester to himself; I can swear to it. Highcombe Street, Number 44.

He laughed in his excitement an unpleasant, harsh laugh which startled him; for as a doctor he had had to deal with strange patients beside the one at the mysterious house, and he knew pretty well how a man acted who had been overwrought and whose nerves were in that state which borders upon insanity.

This will not do, he muttered. I must be careful, and, trying to pull himself together and make his plans in a matter-of-fact way, his startled feeling grew into a sensation of alarm, and he awakened fully now to the fact that the strain from which he had suffered had been too great.

I must pull up short, he said to himself. This last month I have been acting like a madman. Well, love the real passion is a kind of madness, and I could not have acted otherwise with the horror of the position in which I left her upon my mind.

As he walked home, though, he grew cooler, and made up his mind to watch the house until he obtained an interview with Marion.

He shrugged his shoulders as he entered his own door, and shut himself in his consulting-room, to sit for an hour trying to grow calmer; but there was a wild throbbing in his excited brain which he could not master, and try how he would, even to the extent of taking a sedative, he could not keep down the feeling of mad exultation at having at last discovered the place.

I shall see her again, he muttered; I shall see her again!

A pair of soft dark eyes in a sweet, pale face seemed to rise reproachfully before him, but he mentally turned from the piteous look.

I cannot help it. Fate fate, he muttered; and at last, after mastering the intense desire to rush off and try and bribe the servants into speaking, he grew calmer, and obeyed the summons sent by the maid, joining his aunt and sister in the drawing-room, and afterwards formally taking the old lady down to the silent meal.

Poor Aunt Graces plan was not succeeding.

Dont speak to him, Laura, she had said. It will show how we despise him for his disgraceful conduct, and make him the sooner come creeping to our knees in sackcloth and ashes.

But the days had glided on, and Chester had bought no sackcloth and had not told the cook to sift him any ashes. For the perfect silence with which he was treated was the one great satisfaction now of his life.

That night he found his sister watching him once, and as he met her eyes there was for the moment a feeling of uneasiness akin to remorse; but it passed off directly, swept away by the exciting thought that he had at last attained the goal of his desires, and must now sooner or later encounter Marion.

A week then passed, and he was still no farther, when one evening as he turned into Highcombe Street, he saw a carriage at the door; and a minute later three ladies in evening dress came and stepped in, the footman mounted to his place, and the horses sprang off.

The brougham I was fetched in, muttered Chester, and hailing a cab he said sharply, Follow that carriage at a short distance till I tell you to stop.

He was not surprised at the direction taken by the carriage in front, which was kept just in sight till it turned into Bow Street, when Chester signed to his driver to stop, and sprang out, turning the corner just in time to see the carriage slowly passing in its turn through the gateway leading under the portico of the opera.

He followed to find that the occupants had alighted, and upon entering the lobby he caught sight of the back of Marions dress as she swept through one of the great baize-covered doors.

Here there was a check. The door-keeper held out his hand for the customary ticket, and Chester turned impatiently away, to go to the box-office, when for the first time it struck him that he was not in evening dress, and could not pass into the stalls.

He stood biting his lips, and hesitating as to whether he should take a cab back home, to dress, and return, but he felt that he could not do that. A dozen things might happen to prevent his catching sight of Marion again; and snatching at the first idea that came, he took a ticket for the upper part of the house, hired an opera-glass and then climbed nearly to the top.

Here upon taking a seat he came out again in despair. Even with the aid of the glass he found he could not get a glimpse of a third of the house, and feeling that at all costs he must get into the stalls in as central a position as possible, he descended again to the box-office, and secured a stall nearly in the centre of the third row.

Having made sure of his seat, he hurried back to Raybeck Square calculating that he could be back within an hour.

Bidding the cabman wait, he sprang up to his room, conscious of the fact that Aunt Grace was watching; and after his hurried change he knew by the ajar door of the drawing-room that she was there watching still.

But this passed almost unnoticed in the excitement, and once more he was in the cab, eager and with his imagination running riot.

What an idiot I was not to ask the number of their box, he said to himself.

He did ask as soon as he reached the opera house, and found it was almost central on the grand tier; but after taking his place he had no opportunity for turning round till the end of the act in progress, and he sat trembling with excitement and wondering whether Marion had recognised him as he entered.

The stage, the music, the house crowded with a fashionable assembly, were non-existent to Chester, as he sat there gazing in imagination at a face the face of the woman who from their first encounter seemed to have taken entire possession of his faculties, enchaining his spirit so that he seemed to live and breathe for her alone.

Will this wretched singing never end? he said to himself, as one of the great Italian singers filled the vast place with the clear, vibrating tones of her voice. The fools! The idiots! he muttered angrily as the plaudits rang out at the end of the scene; and then he sat waiting till at last the drop scene descended and, lorgnette in hand, he rose and, to avoid the air of being too sudden, he slowly swept the grand tier of boxes, beginning on his right near the stage, feeling that Marion must be watching him, and profoundly unconscious of the fact that scores to right and left were doing the same.

When the field of his glass drew nearer to the box upon which he sought to focus it, he grew slower in his movements, as if desirous of delaying the supreme delight for a few moments longer, but at last he stopped short, gazing with every fibre thrilling at the beautiful, imperious face which held him as if fascinated.

The faces of her companions were to right and left, each occupying a corner of the box, while Marion was seated a little back, looking dull and preoccupied, while she slowly waved a large black fan, which threw her face into partial shadow from time to time.

For the first minute, as he drank in the various beauties of the countenance which seemed to be so near, Chester felt that she must be seeing him, but directly after he knew that she was looking dull and listless, and as if she felt the scene before her wearisome in the extreme.

There could be no mistake. It was she. There was not such another face in the wide world; and yet he hesitated to go round to the box, asking himself whether he could whether he had any right to force himself upon the notice of those who had plainly enough their reasons for wishing to cut all connection with him as soon as his patient was out of danger.

They may wish to, but she cannot. It is impossible. She must be ready to place her hand in mine. Perhaps even now that dull, weary look may be connected with our sudden parting. Who knows? Yes, come what may, I will go.

Chester passed slowly along the row and out into the entry, went up the broad stairs, and with his heart increasing its pulsations rapidly, he stopped at last at the door of a box, drew a deep breath, and then tapped lightly.

There was no reply and he tapped again.

This time there was a movement within, the catch was drawn back, the door thrown open, and a deep voice exclaimed

How late you are! Hallo!

Chester had been in the act of stepping in, but paused on the threshold, completely taken aback at finding a gentleman in the box, while the speaker, who had not risen, but leaned back, balancing himself on two legs of his chair, fell over side-wise in his astonishment, but saved himself by catching at the partition.

He sprang up the next moment, as Chester recovered himself and advanced, but neither of the three ladies, who had turned, made the slightest movement towards acknowledging him, and left it to their companion to speak.

May I ask whom you wish to see, sir?

Certainly, replied Chester, quietly, Mrs James, Mrs Dennis, Miss Clareborough

No one moved. He might have been addressing so many statues, as he went on

And Mr Dennis Clareborough.

You seem to have our names right, sir, said the stalwart young fellow, shortly, but I have not the pleasure of knowing you.

Indeed! said Chester. Is your memory so short, sir? May I ask after your cousins wound?

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