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LI E) R,AR.Y 

OF THE 

UNIVLR.SITY 

Of ILLINOIS 

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ii 



A STKP ASIDE." 



''A STEP ASIDE," 



BY 

GWENDOLEN DOUGLAS GALTON 

(Mes. Trench Gascoigne), 

AUTHOR OF "la FENTOX." 



" O ye wha are sae gude yoursel', 
Sae pious and sae holy, 
Ye've nought to do but mark and tell 
Your neebor's fauts and folly ! 

Then gently scan yoiu- brother man, 
Still gentler sister woman ; 

Tho' they may gang a kennin wrang, 
To Step Aside is human." — Burns. 



IN THREE VOLUMES. 
VOL. III. 



LONDON: HORACE COX, 
WINDSOE HOUSE, BREAM'S BULLDESTGS, E.G. 

1893. 

{All rights reserved.] 



LONDON. PRINTED BY HORACE COX, WINDSOR HOUSE, 
BREAM'S BUILDINGS, B.C. 






" I DEDICATE THIS STORT TO 

IN MOST AFFECTIONATE REMEMBRANCE 

OF 

ALL HIS KIND INTEREST 

IN MT WORK." 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2010 with funding from 

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 



http://www.archive.org/details/astepaside03gasc 



CONTENTS. 



Pace. 

Chapter I. . . . . . . 1 

Chapter II 39 

Chapter III 59 

Chapter IV 75 

Chapter Y 99 

Chapter VI Ill 

Chapter VII 129 

Chapter VIII 159 

Chapter IX 193 

Chapter X 219 



A STKP ASIDE. 



3>*JC 



CHAPTEE I. 

Palazzo Eicasoli was en fete. Lights streamed 
from the ^\4ndows, and the soft strains of a 
band floated in dulcet cadence down the broad, 
stately staircase, and Avelcomed the arriying 
guests. The crhne de la creme of Florentine 
society were assembled in those spacious mag- 
nificent apartments, where costly bric-a-brac, 
perfumed exotics, and delicate hued draperies 
made a fit background to the fair company who 
were grouped in gay and social converse. 

The Devereux's had retui'ned from San 
Giovanni a few days previously, and were 
among the bidden guests. Xancy's one happy 

VOL. III. B 



2 A STEP ASIDE. 

delightful week was over ; the fortnight had 
sped, and yet she had had no tidings of Lord 
Bingley. She was in a feverish state of misery, 
every hell which rang, every post which came, 
sent a horrible apprehension to her heart. 

Guy had returned with them to Florence, 
but he had made the excuse that the villa was 
too far off for sight-seeing, and he consequently 
had installed himself at a hotel in the town. 

Nancy had not seen him since their return ; 
she wondered if he would come to-night ; she 
dreaded, and yet she yearned to see him. A 
moment later, and her suspense was at an end, 
as he walked slowly mto the room. She felt, 
rather than saw him shake hands with Olive. 
She felt, rather than saw, that he was pale, 
and nervous, and that he whispered something 
quickly to Sir Eustace, and then took him into 
a corner, where they remained for some time. 

Nancy thought that she caught tlie words, 
" dreadful, terrible end," but at that moment 



A STEP ASIDE. 3 

she Avas whirled off to dance, and heard no 
more. She danced madly to-night. The 
motion seemed to relieve the weight at her 
heart, and the excitement made her forget her 
fears, though her eyes still watched the door 
with nervous dread, but as each guest arrived, 
and Lord Bingiey was not among them, a 
sense of secm-ity came over her, and she felt 
almost content, till her eyes met Guy's with 
their cold yet pitiful expression. He had not 
spoken to her, but what need was there for 
speech? She knew that he accused her of 
beino" a hard, selfish flirt, and she could not 
refute the stigma ; she would never be able to 
tell him that it was untrue, all her life he 
would despise her, hate her, and how was she 
to bear it ? 

She gave him one beseechmg glance, but he 
turned coldly away, and a fierce pang shot 
through her heart. She whispered to her 
partner, "Come, let us dance; why do 



4 A STEP ASIDE. 

we stand here ? Let us dance all tlie 
time? " 

" Signorina, you are very energetic," he 
replied. " One would almost think that you 
desire to run away from some one, for we 
never cease dancing for one minute." 

" I would run away from myself," murmured 
the girl under her breath, "from my own 
thoughts," and they whirled round and round 
till the music ended, and they were obliged to 
stop. 

" Come out on to the balcony," she said, 
restlessly, "it is stifling in here." 

He bowed, and they walked slowly through 
a beautiful cinque -cento room, out on to a large 
loggia, which overlooked the garden, and from 
which the scent of roses floated up. The sky 
was tinted to the softest modulations of blue, 
and the stars hung like lamps in the glistening 
firmament. 

Two figures stood in the shadow conversing 



A STEP ASIDE. 5 

in loAv tones, but Xancy heeded them not. She 
sank into a low chair, and fanned herself 
feyerishlj, and then made a sudden dart at a 
lucciola, as it flitted by. 

" Catch it for me ! " she cried pettishly to 
her partner, a young Italian, who had wor- 
shipped very humbly at her shrine for the last 
tvro months. 

" Do you know what a lucciola means, 
Signorina ? " he inquired eagerly ; " will you 
really accept it from my hands ? " 

Before she could answer the two figm'es had 
moved out of the shadow, and a stream of light 
from the open window fell full upon the 
nearest one, and Xancy saw that it was Gruy. 
She did not answer the Italian's question, she 
sat motionless : her fan dropped to the ground 
with a little thud, and the lucciola floated awa}^ 

He came u'p to her, and, bending down, he 
whispered hoarsely in her ear, " Have merc}^ 
upon him. Is not the breaking of one heart 



6 A STEP ASIDE. 

sufficient for yoii ? " and lie walked silently on 

into the lionse. 

iji ^i -^ ^ ^ 

Olive looked jDassing fair to-niglit in the 
palest chartreuse coloured go^Mi. Her hair 
was caught up and arranged high upon her 
head, and a delicate tiara of diamonds crowned 
those golden tresses. 

The Florentmes admired Lady Devereux's 
beauty, but they complained that she was 
cold, not " s}Tiipatica " like the Signorina 
Nancy. She was too serious for them, too 
much imbued with certain odd English ideas 
of conventionality. But, notwithstanding, 
the men hung around her ; they like to gaze 
on that perfect face and figure, and with the 
love of the '' impossible " they strove to awake 
a flash from her eyes, and call up a flush on 
her cheeks. She sat surrounded by a little 
court, who vied with each other for a smile or 
a glance. 



A STEP ASIDE. 7 

Sir Eustace stood in a door-way, silent and 
alone. His arms were folded upon his breast, 
and liis face betrayed the unrest of liis soul. 
He was angry at seeing liis mfe thus sui*- 
rounded. Why should other men feast their 
eyes on her charms, when she belonged to him 
alone ? His face was dark, and he scowled at 
the little group. 

" Look at the marito of Lady Devereux ! " 
exclaimed a lauo-hina* voice near to him 
" Dio mio ! how fierce he looks ! Quite 
Othello like. Thank goodness Guiseppe is 
not jealous, and does not watch me like that. 
Poverinal I am sorry for her," and the sjDeaker 
passed on. 

Sir Eustace ground his teeth with rage, as 
he listened to the careless words. He knew 
that his conduct was ridiculous ; if he could 
only take a dispassionate view of himself, how 
absurd it would seem. 

He began to move away, but as he turned 



8 A STEP ASIDE. 

to go, Corio went up to Olive, and, bending 
over lier whispered, " Just nn tour de waltz, 
Signora, only one." 

Slie refused at first, but the Italian's face of 
disappointment touched her, and she rose 
slowly and put her hand upon his arm. She 
brushed against her husband as she passed 
through the door-way, and a few loose hairs 
touched his face, but she did not perceive him, 
and a moment more she was whirled into the 
throng of merry dancers. Sir Eustace stood 
gazing at them, as they floated round the room, 
their figures swaying gently to the rhythmical 
measure of the waltz, and their feet chasing 
each other on the shining parquet. 

'•' Charming scene ! " exclaimed a voice in 
his ear, and Mr. Grairs put his hand familiarly 
on Sir Eustace's shoulder, " but I guess you 
don't look real festive and well pleased this 
evening. Don't care about seeing that hand- 
some wife of yours dancing with the Marchese 



A STEP ASIDE. g 

Corio ; ell ? dangerous man, no doubt ; all 
Italians are dangerous." 

Sir Eustace moved angrily away, without 
answering. 

Olive and Corio had stopped dancing, and 
he was fanning her gently, and whispering 
something, and she was laughing gaily. 

" Do you know," exclaimed ]\Ir. Grairs, 
following Sir Eustace, " this ball reminds me 
of one at Brisbane just after I was engaged to 
Eose Majmard, and she made me mad with 
jealousy. I stood in the doorway just as you 
are doing, and — " 

Sir Eustace expressed a very uncompli- 
mentary wish concerning Mr. Grairs, and 
Brisbane, and then he pushed rudely past the 
American, and walked out on to the Ijalcony. 

Was that name ever to ring in his ears ? 
He leant on the balustrade, and muttered an 
oath under his breath. Was it for this that 
he had sacrificed truth and honour ? For this 



lo A STEP ASIDE. 

that lie had chosen the broad path of sin ? He 
covered his face with his hands ; he wanted to 
shut out the sight of Olive floating round in 
that willowy dance. He longed to stifle Mr. 
Gair's words, hut it was useless. 

The nightingale in the garden below seemed 
to sing them in long tremulous cadence, and 
the strains of the hand wove them into the 
swinging measm-e. He had given up all for 
hapj3uiess, and yet that beautifully j)hnnaged 
bird eluded his touch. It sang him some 
sweet lay, and enticed him on, away from the 
path of duty, and then left him in the shadow 
of death. 

Was there no way of entrapping that will o' 
the wisp ? Was there no way of gaining 
happiness ? Only one — and that — Sir Eustace 
bent his head lower, and listened, for the 
answer seemed to be spoken to him by some 
unseen voice. The words pierced his heart. 
" Those who would possess me must lose self 



A STEP ASIDE. n 

in the interests and joys of others," and he 
had thought only of his own unhiwful wishes 
and desires, only of his present delight, not of 
the possible dark future which might be in 
store for Olive. He had sacrificed the woman 
he loved for his own selfish passion. He 
forgot even his jealousy in those awful 
thoughts. 

How long he stood there he knew not, it 
might have been five minutes, or it might have 
been a hundi-ed years ; but he was aroused from 
his reverie by a low sob near to him ; and as 
his eyes pierced the darkness, he beheld a little 
white figure crouchmg in the shadow. He 
went softly up to it, and then started as he 
recognized Nancy. 

" Wliat is the matter? " he asked tenderly, 
" Why are you here all alone ? Are you 

m?" 

" No," she whispered, " not ill, only ever so 
miserable." 



12 A STEP ASIDE. 

She could not restrain herself; the words 
came unbidden from her lips. 

'' Miserable," he repeated ; " what is your 
trouble ? Tell me about it, child," and he 
put his hand gently upon hers. 

" Fellow feeling makes us wondrous kind," 
and Sir Eustace was touched by Nancy's woe- 
begone little face. She choked back the tears 
which rose at his words, she must tell him ; 
she could bear this terrible secret no longer. 
Since Guy's cruel words, she had sac there 
alone. She had told her j^artners that she was 
faint and tired, and that she wished to rest. 
And there she remained nursing her misery ; 
in the distance she heard the ringing laughter, 
and the buzz of happy voices mingling with 
those joyous strains which sounded to her like 
a dreary funeral dirge. 

" Why are you miserable ? " repeated Sir 
Eustace, " tell me, Nancy, and let me help 
you." 



A STEP ASIDE. 13 

" Because, because — but you cannot help 
me ; no one can help me, and it is all my own 
fault. It is about — about — " 

" Signorina, I have been looking for you 
everywhere," cried Corio, stepping suddenly 
out on to the loggia. " The cotillon is just 
going to commence." 

Nancy tried to forge an excuse, but no lie 
being ready, she rose mechanically, and walked 
wdth Corio into the house. 

Sir Eustace's eyes followed her; what was 
her trouble ? Could she have heard about — ? " 

" Will these chairs do, Signorina ? " inquired 
Corio, " I thought that you Avould prefer the 
front row, it is more amusing." 

Nancy acquiesced and glanced behind at a 
dark unknown man and woman who were 
sitting there, and then a shiver passed through 
her, as she perceived Guy standing a few paces 
off. Why had she come so close to him ? 
She longed to fly, but it w^as too late. 



s 
14 A STEP ASIDE. 

The cotillon began, and Nancy found her- 
self chosen out for one or two figures, whirled 
round the room, and again deposited in her 
23lace. She sat listlessly, gazing at the other 
people ; she was not obliged to talk, as Corio 
was occupied in helping to lead the cotillon, 
and so left her a good deal to herself. She sat 
listening aimlessly to the conversation of the 
dark man and woman behind her. 

At first it w^as not particularly interesting, 
but at length a name caught her ear, which 
rivetted her attention, and sent a thrill of 
terror to her heart. The dark man said, 

" You have heard about Lord Bingley, I 
suppose? Quite a tragic fate, the boat was 
capsized and found floating bottom up." 

Nancy turned suddenly, and encountered 
Ouy's eyes fixed upon her. She saw that he 
too was listening; her heart beat to suffocation. 
"Tragic story," "Boat capsized." What 
€Ould it mean ? 



A STEP ASIDE. 15 

" Signorina, Avill you accept these roses ? " 
said a voice close to lier, and before she could 
refuse, a glorious bouc[uet was thrust into her 
hand, and she was whirled again into the 
mazy throng. 

When she returned to her seat the woman 
was saying : 

''It is terrible, but is it quite certain that 
he is cb'owned ? " 

Nancy sat petrified, she could not move. 
There was a moment's pause in the dance, 
while fresh flowers were being- broug-ht. She 
watched the men enter the room bearing long 
sticks, over which hung the most ravishing 
boas composed of flowers. 

Even at that moment no detail escaped her ; 
she saw the deep pink carnations nestling 
against the lilies of the valley, while another 
boa of dark pansies shaded into one of pale 
lilac. The room looked like fairy-land ; baskets 
and bouquets of flowers were throA\ai upon the 



i6 A STEP ASIDE. 

ground in abandoned profusion. Eoses and 
lilies decked the fair company, and while they 
danced, the delicate garlands, which were 
wound round their necks, floated out like gay 
pennons as they rushed swiftly through the 

air. 

" Could it be suicide ? " inquired the dark 
w^oman. A boa of pink carnations was thrown 
about Nancy's neck, and Corio said, 

" You will give me one turn, Signorina." 

As one in a dream, she felt herself borne 
asrain into the mazy dance. As one in a dream, 
she found herself again in her seat, with the 
scent of the flowers rising around her. Should 
she ever smell that subtle perfume, without 
thinking of that a\\^ul moment ? 

" You say it was not suicide ? " the dark 
woman was repeating in a hard . conventional 
voice, as Nancy returned to her place, " But it 
looks odd, and at Monte Carlo too," and Nancy 
felt that the Avoman w^as looking volumes. 



A STEP ASIDE. 17 

" Tliey say," replied the man, lowering his 
voice, "that he was trying to escape." 

" Escape I " exclaimed the lady for once 
startled out of her conventional society voice ; 
"and why?" 

"Because" replied the man in a half whisper, 
" he had forged a cheque ! " 

Nancy uttered a faint cry of hoiTor, but it 
was so low that no one heard it, excepting 
Guy, who looked at her white di-awn face with 
rage and misery in his heart. She must love 
this man to make her look Hke that. Then it 
was true she had only been flirting with hun, 
and he had been fool enough to believe in her. 
He could not bear the sight of her agonized 
countenance, and he walked quickly towards 
the door. 

Nancy longed to call him back, but she felt 
like one in some ghastly nightmare, who 
struggles to move or S2)eak, but is bound by 
some unknoT\^i force. As he passed Sir 

VOL. III. c 



i8 A STEP ASIDE. 

Eustace, she saw him stop and say something, 
and then he strode on, and was lost to her 
view. 

Lord Bingley dead. The words drove them- 
selves into her heart with desperate, over- 
whelming force. Dead — dead ! The strains 
of Straus's valse seemed to take up the 
refrain, and repeat it higher and higher, and 
the voices of the people seemed to shriek it till 
it became one ^whil roaring discord. Her 
brain was on fire, a rush of many voices 
swept through her ears, and than came black 
awful darkness. 

When she regained consciousness, she was 
lying on her bed at the Villa delle Eose. The 
room was dark, except for a shaded candle, and 
one struggling ray of daylight, which had 
crept in through the green Persiennes. 

Olive was seated near to the bed, tenderly 
bathing her brow. 



A STEP ASIDE. 19 

" What lias happened ? " Nancy whispered, 
" Have I been ill ? " 

" Hush, dear, you must not talk. I will tell 
you all when you are stronger. You fainted 
at the ball ; try and sleep again ; " and she 
smoothed the pillows gently. 

"I cannot sleep," exclaimed Nancy, excitedly, 
" I must know. I remember somethmg of 
what happened. It was in the cotillon, they 
were giving boas of flowers, — such flowers," 
slie murmm-ed dreamily — " lilies and lilac and 
carnations, and Corio had j)ut one round my 
neck, when some one said that it was suicide. 
Whose suicide was it? I cannot remember," 
and then a flush rose to her cheek, and she 
grasped Olive's hand convulsively, and asked, 

"Was it Lord Bingley? Tell me quick. 
I recollect they said that he was dro^vned. 
The boat was found floating bottom upwards, 
" and she stopped exhausted ; and then she 
went on breathlessly, 

c 2 



20 A STEP ASIDE, 

" They said, I remember it all now, that lie 
was trying to escape, because — " and she 
stopped and faltered — " because he had forged 
a cheque," and she sank back, white and 
trembling. 

Olive put her arms about her little sister, 
and said in her calm, sweet voice, 

"Nancy, dear, it is true, quite true;" and 
then she continued, " If you will promise to be 
still, I will tell you the dreadful details, but 
first tell me one thing, my dearest. Tell me 
that you did not love this man. I have been 
so much to blame, Nancy ; I have been so 
selfish, so T^T^-apped up in my own great happi- 
ness, that I have seen nothing outside it. I 
have left you too much alone, thrown you 
carelessly into Lord Bingley's company ; can 
you forgive me, darling ? " 

Nancy threw her arms round her sister's 
neck, and drew her head down close to hers, 
and then she whispered all the terrible story 



A STEP ASIDE. 21 

of her engagement. Olive's face grew dark 
with imger. 

" How could he dare to frighten you like 
that? But child," and her voice quivered 
with emotion," why did you not tell me about 
it?" 

" Because," and Xancy hesitated, and toyed 
nervously with the white coverlet, '' because, 
you see, Olive, your ideas of honour are so high 
and — and — well I thought you would blame 
me, for, you see, it was my fault at first. I 
did flirt Vv'ith him at Dinglehurst. I thought 
I loved him there, but, — well you see I found 
that I did not, it was all a mistake." 

The tears rushed to OHve's eyes. 

"Child, why did you think me so hard?" 
she said. " But it has been my own fault," 
she continued bitterly, " for having been so 
selfish as to think only of my own hapj^iness, 
and not to notice that you were suffering. Do 
you remember the night before my wedding?" 



22 A STEP ASIDE. 

she continued, "when I asked you about Lord 
Bingley? but your words disarmed me, I 
thought it was only a passing flirtation." 

" I should have told you then," whispered 
Nancy, " only Aunt Prudence came in, and 
interrupted us, and then you married and went 
away, and somehow I thought that things 
would right themselves. I thought that he 
would forget me, and that I should never really 
have to marry him. And then, when he came 
out here, I tried to tell you, but you were 
always with Eustace, and somehow I seemed 
so far away from you ; you seemed to have got 
into another world, and to have left me behind." 

" Nancy ! " exclaimed Olive, in a broken 
voice, " I can never forgive myself. My little 
sister, I ought to have taken more care of you. 
It is I who have brought this trouble uj^on 
you ; what can you think of me ? " 

" JSTo," returned Nancy shaking her head; 
''No; it was not your fault, Olive; it was all 



A STEP ASIDE. ' 23 

my own. I never tliouglit about tlie future. 
You see when I am happy and amused, I never 
can tliink of anything but the present mo- 
ment, and this has been my j)unishment — and 
an awful pmiishment, but it is over now; he 
is dead, you say, dead " — she repeated. " I 
cannot believe it yet, are you quite sure, 
tell me how it happened." 

Olive took the little trembling hands in hers, 
and began slowly to repeat the terrible circum- 
stance, — 

" The day that we started for San Giovanni, 
Lord Bingley, it apjDears, went to Monte 
Carlo." 

" Yes," put in Nancy ; " he told me that he 
was going." 

" He had been playing very high at the 
Club here," continued Olive, " and he had lost 
a great deal of money. Before going to 
Monte Carlo, he wrote a cheque for a large 
amount, and " — she stopped for a moment, and 



24 A STEP ASIDE. 

looked at Nancy's white face — " and he forged 
the name of a distant cousin. He succeeded in 
cashing the cheque, and it was not till two 
days ago that the forgery was discovered, and 
a warrant issued for his apprehension. They 
imagine now that he received j)rior informa- 
tion of the discover}^, as the day before the fact 
was made public, he went out in a small boat, 
and was never seen alive again. A storm came 
on that evening, and the next mornmg the 
boat was found floating bottom upwards near 
Alassio, and Lord Bingley's body was washed 
ashore at San Eemo. AYliether it was suicide, 
or whether he was tr^dng to escajDC by rowing 
down the coast to Genoa, where he hoped to 
get on board some vessel bound for America, 
must ever remain a mystery." 

There was a long silence — IS'ancy could not 
speak. She clasped Olive's hand tightly in 
hers. It was so awful ; she had longed to be 
free, longed to get away from Lord Bingley, 



A STEP ASIDE. 25 

and now God had given her freedom by taking 
him suddenly and mysteriously. 

The day-light had grown bolder, and was 
casting long arms of light across the ceiling, 
and a few flickering rays danced in and out 
on the tiled floor. The candle had burnt very 
low, and at last went out with a dismal 
splutter. Olive leaned over Nancy ; she was 
so quiet that she thought that she slept, 
and with stealthy tread she softly left the 
room. 

Nancy lay with closed eyes ; she was glad 
to be alone, glad to have those tender watchful 
eyes taken from her. She wanted to think, 
to realize all that she had heard. It had come 
so suddenly ujdou her that her brain could not 
grasp it. She opened her eyes, and gazed round 
the large, rather bare room. It all looked 
as it had done. The dressing table with its 
stiff white petticoat stood out ghostlike in 
the centre. The little iron washing-stand 



26 'A STEP ASIDE. 

filled the same modest corner, and the large 
exasperating chest of drawers with no handles, 
only a key, that always refused to open them 
when you were in a hurry. 

There they stood, just as they had done for 
all those three weary months. Nothing was 
changed excepting herself. She was appalled 
at the sense of joy and elation which filled 
her heart. How could she be so wicked as to 
rejoice at Lord Bingley's death? She could 
not reason with herself, she was free ! that 
blessed word seemed written all round the 
room. Free — only — and a cold hand seemed 
suddenly laid upon her heart — freedom had 
come too late, and she buried her face in 
the jDillow and wept. 

Olive walked sadly down upon the terrace. 
She had not been to bed, and her head and 
heart ached with fatigue and remorse. She 
drew in a long breath as she reached the air. 
It was a morning when the soft heat mists 



A STEP ASIDE. 27 

hune over tlie mountains in delicate fantastic 
shapes, and the air was full of the sound 
of awakening life. The bells from the 
little hill-side villages were calling to each 
other with sonorous voices, while the roll 
of the mule carts, and the guttural excla- 
mations of the drivers mingled in crude 
unison. 

Olive walked to the end of the terrace, and 
gazed j)ensively down upon Florence. How 
exquisite it looked in this morning light ! 
A little golden mist hovered round it, like the 
delicate threads of some gossamer veil. It 
looked like a j)liantom city rising out of a 
burnished, molten sea, from which the dazzling 
Campanile lifted its aerial form, and the 
Duomo was traced with sombre hue against 
the glorious light. 

What is it about that Tuscan city which 
winds such tendrils of affection around our 
hearts. Olive felt it so strongly this morning. 



28 A STEP ASIDE. 

The view had become her clear familiar friend. 
It helped her, it cheered her, it encouraged 
her. She had come out with such a heavy- 
laden heart, and now a weight seemed lifted, 
and a soothing peace fell upon her. She 
gazed at the city and then away past the 
golden mist \\p that shining thread of the 
Arno, on to where the pale airy outline of 
the Carrara mountains lay against the blue 
horizon. 

'' Olive ! " 

She started from her reverie, and turned to 
her husband. 

" At last you have come," he said. I have 
waited so long," and he looked lovingly into 
her face. 

" Is she better? " he continued. 

"Yes, better, and asleep," replied Lacly 
Devereux, as she walked by Sir Eustace's side 
down the long flight of stone steps into the 
garden. There they paced slowly up and 



A STEP ASIDE. 29 

dovni amons: the orano-e and lemon trees, while 
she told him Kancy's stoiy. 

" Poor child ! " he murmured. " But how 
could she he so foolish as to imagine that we 
should wish her to marry Bingley. It is really 
ahsurd, ridiculous ; I thought that the girl 
had more sense." 

" Eustace, you forget how young she is ; and 
it was my fault," exclamied Olive, " my fault. 
You see we have never quite understood each 
other," and she laid her hand affectionately on 
her husband's arm. " I have been so happy 
that I have seen nothing beyond, outside that 
happiness. You have made my life so fair, 
that I have forgotten that there is any 
trouble," and she rested her eyes on the 
silver, rustling olives, through which the 
breeze was humming. 

Sir Eustace pressed the hand on his arm 
lovingly, and a great gladness filled his 
heart. 



30 A STEP ASIDE. 

" Will it be necessary to delay our journey 
on account of Nancy?" he asked anxiously, 
after a few moments' silence. " Will she be 
well enough to travel? " 

" Oh, yes," replied Olive; " she will be quite 
strong enough. It is the mind which is sick, 
not the body, and the change will do her 
good." 

" That is well," he re23lied, with a sigh of 
relief. 

" You want to go," questioned Olive. 

" Yes, my dearest," he said, " I want to see 
you installed at ' The White Ladies ; ' I want 
to have you in my own home ; for I feel that 
when you are there, you will be more really 
mine, and I shall have you more entirely to 
myself," and he looked yearningly into her 
face. 

Olive sighed ; it was always the same 
refrain, written in different keys, but the 
burden was the same ; that she must yield 



A STEP ASIDE. 31 

herself more entirely to liim. It was sAveet to 
feel that his love was so strong, that he could 
never have enousfh of her, and vet — and vet — 
it was hard to satisfy such jealous craving for 
undivided supremacy. 

She gathered a spray of orange-blossom 
from a tree near, and slowly pulled it to 
pieces ; the wdiite petals fluttered down one by 
one on to the gravel path. She felt weary of 
continually assuring her husband that he was 
her first object, that he came before all the 
universe. ^^^ly could he not believe her, 
and be satisfied ? But after all. this jealousy 
w^as only a little cloud on her horizon ; 
at present it had not really dimmed their 
happiness. 

" I must go back to Xancy now," she said 
at length, after lingering some half hour by 
Sir Eustace's side, " she may wake and want 
me, and, Eustace, I have neglected her. In 
future it must not be so." 



32 A STEP ASIDE. 

Sir Eustace's face darkened for a minute, 
and tlien he controlled himself, and said, 
gently: 

"Stay a little longer, Olive; it is such 
happiness to have you, and I have some- 
thing to tell you. Something that I must 
tell you. I had a letter from Mr. Jones 
this morning." 

" Mr. Jones," repeated Olive, " why did 
he write ? Does he mention the Aunts ? 
It is so long since Aunt Prudence has 
written." 

" Yes," replied Sir Eustace, gravely; "his 
letter is entirely about them," and he handed 
it to her half hesitatingly, and then, before 
putting it into her hand, he said, 

" Olive, Miss Prudence is not well." 

" Not well," repeated Olive faintly, " is it 
serious ? " 

" I am afraid that it is," he replied slowly, 
" but read Mr. Jones' words." 



A STEP ASIDE. 33 

She unfolded tlie letter quickly, and read 
the foUowmg : 

*' Dingleliurst, 

20th May. 
"Dear Sir Eustace, 

•• I feel that you and Lady Devereux ought to be 
informed of the illness of Miss Prudence LaTendercombe, 
Miss Hannah either does not appear to take in the gravity 
of her sister's malady, or she wishes to deceive herself, and 
therefore she has not written to you herself. Miss Prudence 
had a very bad attack of cold in the winter, from which she has 
never entirely rallied, and on my return from a short holiday, 
I find her much weaker than before my departure. Her 
unselfishness is the cause of her not writing herself to tell 
you of her illness, as she could not bear to spoil your time 
abroad by casting any shadow over it. 

" I pray you to forgive my seeming interference in the 
matter, but I feel that I should not be doing right if I failed 
to let you know how seriously ill I think her, 

" Believe me, yours sincerely, 

"Harold Jones." 



The tears rushed into Olive's eyes, as she 
slowly folded uj^ the letter. 

" Why did Aunt Hannah not write ? " she 
murmured. " If she had only given us a hint. 
Eustace, is it not terrible ? We must go back 

VOL. III. D 



34 A STEP ASIDE. 

directly. Think of all the precious time that 
has gone, and I might have been with her," 
and the dear tender face rose up before Olive's 
vision, and the srniny landscape was blm-red 
by tears. 

" If I were only at home," she whispered in 
a broken voice, " I conld be with her every 
day, and try and repay a little all her love and 
kindness to us." 

Sir Eustace listened to the words with a 
hard, angry feeling. Was he never to have 
Olive to himself ? Was there always to be 
some other call ? He had pictured her at 
" The White Ladies " ever at his side, and 
now he saw that her mind was engrossed by 
Miss Prudence, and that she would spend all 
her time at the Cottage with her Aunt ; 
and he told himself bitterly that she put 
every claim before his ; and the jealousy 
returned with double force, and the fiend 
whispered, 



A STEP ASIDE. 35 

" After all, you liave no real legal power 
over lier ; she is free, even to depart." 

Would the memory of that dream never 
leave him? He let his wife walk away in 
silence ; he could not even bring himself to 
speak one word of sympathy, though she 
looked so pitifully and pleadingly into his 
face. He felt angry and aggrieved with Miss 
Prudence for being ill. His whole view was 
distorted, and for the moment he could not 
reason. 

He watched Olive move slowly and dejectedly 
away, under the palms and oranges ; he watched 
her mount the steps w^earily, and he saw her 
turn and give him one beseeching glance ere 
she entered the house, and then he walked 
fiercely away. 

He wandered out of the gate, down the 
little steep, narrow road flanked by high walls, 
said to have been built by Michael Angelo, 
and through the small village of Eicorboli, 

D 2 



36 A STEP ASIDE. 

out on to the grand " Yiale dei Colli." He 
went on hardly noticing whither his steps led 
him. A few peasants passed him, and 
wondered vaguely why the Signore Inglese 
always looked so melancholy. By degrees the 
rapid motion calmed his ire ; it died away and 
repentance and remorse rushed upon him. 
How bitterly he reproached himself for having 
allowed Olive to leave him without one little 
word of sympathy ! How could he have 
borne to have seen her pleading face, and not 
have tried to help her. 

" Oh, God ! " he cried, " have you not 
punished me sufficiently for my sin, by making 
me suffer the torments of jealousy ? " and he 
gazed up at the Paulonias, which, in their 
purple magnificence, waved overhead. He 
walked slowly on again after a minute, past 
San Miniato, and up to the Piazzone, where 
the David rose up like some colossal giant, 
standing in silent loneliness. He stood for a 



A STEP ASIDE. 37 

moment under the statue, half awed by the 
majestic dignity of that wonderful work, and 
then he leaned on the parapet, and let his eyes 
wander over that marvellous panorama. The 
mist had vanished, and the mountains, the 
city, the Yal d'Arno, lay bathed in translucent 
sunlight. Could he ever forget that view of 
Morence ? Tlie deep sapphire sky, the glisten- 
ing white marble of the Duomo and Campanile, 
the golden thread of the Arno floating away 
past the green shades of the Cascine, and the 
mountains tinted to every shade of airy mauve 
and deep wistful ^^iolet. The bells were 
chiming the hour of nine, and the din of the 
city rose up like some distant echo of an 
unseen world. 

How many hopes, vows, and resolutions 
have been made whilst gazing down on that 
historic city ! 

Sir Eustace felt sti'angely moved as he stood 
there ; and his repentance and his resolutions 



38 A STEP ASIDE. 

for the future were real and sincere. His own 
miserable jealousy sank away, and lie looked 
with horror upon his vam senseless doubts. 
How he loathed himself, and his own weak 
nature. To be jealous of his wife's old aunt ! 
The idea was absolutely laughable ; it was 
preposterous, unexampled madness, and yet — 
madness or no — it was there ; and the explana- 
tion of this des23icable passion — the explana- 
tion — 

" Ah ! " Sir Eustace buried his face in his 
hands, and muttered, " If she were only my 
Tvdfe — only my wife ! " 



A STEP ASIDE. 39 



CHAPTEE II. 

"Well! and so you have returned to civili- 
sation at last ! " exclaimed Mrs. Lopes, as she 
greeted her brother. She had a greater air of 
prosperity about her than ever. 

Mr. Lopes' ventm-es on the turf had been 
very successful lately, and they had entertained 
all the royalties and lions of the season, so 
that Mrs. Lopes' worldly little heart was 
amply satisfied, and she was quite ready to 
be condescending and kind to her brother, 
principally, it must be allowed on account of 
the Manor House. 

She wanted to get rid of the children for the 
summer, and thought The Manor the most 



40 A STEP ASIDE. 

satisfactory place for them. Of course, she 
reflected, relations are rather a bore in the 
season, when one wants to ask all one's smart 
friends — I mean acquaintances ; but, after all, 
Guy was very presentable. He was so nice 
looking that she might invite him to meet any 
one. So she was quite eifusive in her demon- 
stration of affection. 

" My dear boy," she said, "you know I am 
so rejoiced to see you back, and so it was 
exaggerated about the business ; it is all right 
again." 

"1^0, it was not exaggerated," he replied, 
" but I hope in time to put things straight. I 
am going out again in the autumn." 

That was rather a bore, because she wanted 
the children to remain at Dinglehurst till 
November, but she said nothing of her plans 
yet. She only murmured sweetly, 

" You will come and dine with us to-night, 
dear ; we have a very nice party, and you can 



A STEP ASIDE. 41 

go ^^it]\ me afterwards to Lady Darner's 
ball.' 

GiiY shook his head. 

"ISiO, thank you, Eleanor; I do not feel 
much in part}' trim ; and also I hate London 
society. People fill their houses with seething 
masses of humanity. They always remind me 
of the man in the Bible, who gave a great 
supjDer, and who sent his servants out into the 
highways and hedges to comj^el people to come 



in." 



Mrs. Lopes laughed. 

" You are incorrigible ; but this is a new 
phase. You used to love your fellow crea- 
tures." 

"I do not feel in the humom- for them now," 
returned Guy; " and, besides, I am off to Dingle- 
hurst this afternoon. Miss Prudence is very 
ill, I had a letter from Mr. Jones at Florence, 
and so I came back at once." 

" Poor old thing," remarked Mrs. Lopes, 



42 A STEP ASIDE. 

serenely ; " I am sony. But, really, Gruy, you 
do make sucli an absurd fuss about that old 
woman." 

" Fuss ! " repeated Guy, his face flushing 
with anger ; " fuss about a person who has 
been the same as a mother to me ! Have you 
absolutely no feeling, Eleanor?" he exclaimed, 
sternly. " I know that it is not the fashion to 
have a heart, and you were always fond of 
being in the fashion." 

Mrs. Lopes looked a trifle ashamed, and 
then changed the subject by asking airily, 

" Tell me about Florence, and Lord Bingley. 
Cyril wrote and told me about his death ; it is 
really very sad, and I hear that he was en- 
gaged to Nancy Lavendercombe. He told me 
that she was madly in love ^\ith. him ; and I 
encouraged him to marry her, as much as I 
could, as I thought it would be such a good 
thing for him." 

" And I suppose you never thought about 



A STEP ASIDE. 43 

lier," remarked Guy, in cold, stinging tones. 
He had walked to tlie window during this 
recital, and was gazing stonily out into the 
street. 

" But it would have been an excellent 
marriage for her," replied his sister. 

" Excellent marriage ! " he repeated, " to 
such a blackguard as that?" 

" But think of the position," exclaimed 
Mrs. Lopes; "he would have been Lord 
Grrimworth, and Americans love a title. And, 
after all, my dear Gruy, it is absm'd to have 
these very moral ideas. Few men are saints, 
and I thought it was a lucky chance for her, 
and so I encouraged it as much as possible. 
Of course, you know, she is a nice little thing ; 
but she is not very — well — how shall I j)ut it 
— very refined. Don't you think there is 
always something just a little second-rate 
about Americans ? " 

Mrs. Lopes watched her brother carefully. 



44 A STEP ASIDE. 

as she made these remarks. They were spoken 
with a purpose ; she wished to see how deep 
his affection for Nancy had gone. She had 
been very much alarmed by his evident admira- 
tion for the girl, and she had consequently 
done all in her power, in a quiet, underhand 
way, to promote Lord Bingley's suit. She 
wanted her brother to make a good marriage ; 
it would help her to climb the steep, slippery 
ladder of society, on wdiich she laid such 
store. 

Guy answered nothing. He kept his eyes 
rivetted on the house opposite. He thought 
that he knew his sister's character fairly well, 
but what she said about Lord Bingley and 
Nancy startled him considerably. He was 
disgusted beyond measure at her worldliness. 
Could she willingly hurl a girl into such a 
marriage for no reason that he could see, 
except the jDleasure of match-making. 

It never occurred to him that his sister was 



A STEP ASIDE. 45 

trying to init Xancy out of his reach. He 
thought that his love for her had been so well 
concealed that no one had guessed it, except, 
perhaps, Miss Prudence ; and now, though his 
sister's words pained him unutterably, he 
strove not to betray his feelings. But Gruy 
was not a good actor, he was too honest 
and straightforward, and Mrs. Lopes read 
a good deal more in his face than he was 
aware of. 

"I supjDOse, as you do not answer," she con- 
tinued, '' you do not agree with me ; but," she 
added carelessly, " how stupid I am to ask 
you. Of course I quite forgot that you used 
to be one of Miss Lavendercombe's devoted 
admirers. Perhaps you are still ? " — and she 
looked full at him. 

A deep flush dyed Guy's bronze cheeks, and 
he rejDlied, in a cold, stiff voice, 

"Eleanor, I would j^refer not to discuss the 
subject," and he rose to depart. 



46 A STEP ASIDE. 

Mrs. Lopes was annoyed with herself, and 
with him, hut she kissed him with much 
effusion, and then said in a sweet, persuasive 
tone, 

"Gruy, dear, I have a favour to ask. Would 
you let me send the children down to the 
Manor for a few weeks ? " 

" I am sorry, Eleanor, hut it is impossible 
this year, as I am only going to be there for a 
fortnight or so, and the house is shut uj)." 

Mrs. Lopes hit her lip, and fell to examin- 
ing her nails. This really was very provoking; 
what was she to do wdth those troublesome 
children ? 

" Eeally, Guy," she said crossly, "I think 
that you might have obliged me, so far ; it is 
not much to ask." 

" I am very sorry," he replied, " but the 
truth is that I cannot afford to open the 
Manor this year ; I am going to stay at Wilks' 
farm." 



A STEP ASIDE. 47 

"You are really very tiresome, C-luy," she 
exclaimed ; "' you are so shortsighted to your 
own mterests. If you had only taken my 
advice last year, and married Lady Gertrude 
Wyndham, all this ridiculous economy might 
have heen avoided." 

" And the children would have been able to 
spend the summer at the Manor," returned 
Gruy sarcastically. He could not refrain from 
this thrust ; his sister's jDlans for herself were 
so obvious. 

" You are very unkind," she rejDlied coldly. 
" You know that I only suggested the idea for 
your own sake." 

" Doubtless," returned Guy ; " but you see, 
Eleanor; I have got the shocking habit of 
liking to arrange my own matrimonial affaii's. 
Good-bye," and he touched her cheek with his 
lips, but this time she did not respond. 

She only called after him, 

" I hope that you do not intend to tlirow 



48 A STEP ASIDE. 

yourself away on that little second-rate 
American girl." 

Guy's heart was hot within him. He 
generally came away from his sister's ruffled, 
but to-day her words had sent daggers into his 
heart. It was owing to her, then, that Lord 
Bingley had proposed to Nancy. His own 
sister had ruined his chance of happiness ; her 
last words had 023ened his eyes a little ; he was 
making more discoveries in regard to Mrs. 
Lopes — but she had said that Nancy had been 
in love with Lord Bingley — madly in love — 
and that was last summer when he had thought 
that she cared for him. Could it all have been 
flirting? And then, as if to confirm his 
opinion, he recalled Nancy's words in the 
cloister at San Giovanni, and her white, set 
face at Palazzo Eicasoli, as she overheard the 
story of Lord Bingley's death. 

Should he ever forget that scene ? The 
whirling, joyous crowd, the soft strains of 



A STEP ASIDE. 



49 



Straus's waltz, the subtle perfume of the 
flowers, which were cast in luxuriant disorder 
about the room, and Nancy, with her deathly 
face, framed by that garland of deep 
pink carnations. She had deceived him. 
It was not that Lord Bingley had sup- 
planted him in her affections ; she had never 
really loved him, it had always been Lord 
Bingley. 

" Aunt Prue, dear Amit Prue ! " and Gruy 
clasped the old lady in his arms, and looked 
mournfully mto her pale face. " ^^ly did you 
not tell me you were ill ? " and he sat down 
on a stool at her feet, and leaned his head 
upon her knee. 

" Because, dear boy, I could not bear to 
trouble you with my woes, when you were 
already so troubled. I knew that you would 
come in time," and Miss Prudence stroked the 
chesnut curls with the old tender movement, 
Vol. III. E 



50 A STEP ASIDE. 

and looked with sweet content on liis bowed 
head. 

" But, Annt Prne," he cried, j)assionately, 
" don't you know that you are all the world to 
me ? " and his voice broke in a sob. " No one 
has loved me like you have done ; and if there 
is any good in me, it is due to your influence. 
Do you know," he went on, " when I have 
been tempted not to go quite straight, your 
face used to rise up before me, and I felt that 
if I yielded to the evil, I could never come 
and sit here with my head on your knee. I 
could never have looked in your face again." 

A tear dropped on to Guy's curly head, and 
the old lady said, softly, 

" Thank God— thank God ! " 

Guy raised his head after a minute and said 
eagerly, " But, Aunt Prue, you will get strong 
again, now that the spring has come, and the 
hawthorns are beginning to come out. See, 
your tree has already a few pink buds." 



A STEP ASIDE. 51 

The old lady's eyes followed his, but she 
shook her head, and answered softly, 

" Gruy, dear boy, I shall never be better hi 
this world ; I shall live a little longer, till the 
hawthorni s out, or perhaps till it lies on the 
grass like a pink carpet, and then I shall go." 

Guy had watched her silently while she 
spoke, and an unspeakable fear came uj^on 
him, she looked so shadowy already, as if she 
belonged to that fairer world. He caught her 
hands in his, and whispered hoarsely, 

" Aunt Prue, I cannot let you go ; stay 
with us, try and grow strong." 

The old lady shook her head, and a troubled 
look came over the calm face, as she whispered, 
" Dear boy, I am so weary, I yearn to be at 
rest. I have no ^^ain, only I am so tired of 
the strife of this world." And then she 
suddenly roused herself, and said, " Tell me 
about your time at Florence ; I pictured you 
so happy there." 

E 2 



52 A STEP ASIDE. 

'' I was miserable," muttered Guy, in a 
husky tone. 

" Miserable ? " repeated the old lady, 
" miserable ? tell me the reason, l^^erhaps 1 
can help you." 

" No one can help me. Aunt Prue," he 
returned gloomily ; " but I will tell you," and 
then slowly, and with many breaks and pauses, 
he told hei" the story of his love for Nancy. 

Miss Prudence nodded her head softly over 
the first part, she had been so sure about it ; 
but when he came to Nancy's engagement to 
Lord Bingley, his death, and her distress, the 
old lady looked grave and troubled. 

" You see. Aunt Prue, she was only flirting 
with me. She cared for Lord Bingley all the 
time." 

" There is surely some mistake, dear," she 
said. " I am sure Nancy loved you. I 
remember that night when you went away, 
she came down to supper with red rings 



A STEP ASIDE. 53 

round her eyes, unci seemed so sad and dis- 
tressed." 

" But why did slie reject me ? " lie cried. 

" She was engaged to Lord Bingley then," 
answered Miss Prudence. 

" But why marry a man she did not love ? 
Of course," he continued cynically, " it was a 
good marriage. Perhaps she was dazzled by 
the title." 

" Guy, Gruy ! " and the old lady put her 
hand on his mouth, " do not say those hard, 
bitter things ; it is not like you. Be sure that 
there is some mistake ; be patient, and — and — 
now that she is free, ask her again." She put 
her face down to his. 

" ^^ever ! " cried Guy, vehemently. '' She 
deceived me — she made me think that she 
loved me." 

" But perhaps she did," murmured Miss 
Prudence, softly — "perhaps she did," and she 
looked appealingly into his face. 



54 A STEP ASIDE. 

He lingered with her till the shadows began 
to play around the old hawthorn tree, and the 
hush of the evening was falling upon the 
world. He could not tear himself away. 
They talked on and on of happy old days, days 
when he was a bright, mischievous schoolboy, 
and then of the college time, which had been 
flecked with sadness by the death of his father. 
How many " do you remembers " came into 
that tender, dreamy chat, — memories which 
linked the old lady with the youth, and bridged 
over the waste of years. 

He rose at last to depart, and stood gazing 
down on that loved face with a wild impetuous 
sorroAv. 

"You will not go away again?" she 
whispered, " till — till — ," and her voice died 
away. 

" Not till you are quite strong, Aunt Prue, 
and can walk up to the Manor, and sit on your 
own chair under the elm tree, where you used 



A STEP ASIDE. 55 

to sit, just you and I, on the long July even- 
ings when I was home from school. Oh, Aunt 
Prue ! " and he bent doTsm, and kissed her 
lingeringly, " say that you will come there 
again." 

The old lady pressed his face close to hers ; 
she could not answer. 

At that moment Hannah's well-known step 
was heard in the passage, and an instant later 
she entered the room. She held out a bony 
hand to Gruy, and remarked, 

" Well ! so you have returned at last ! " 

" I would have come before, if you had only 
told me that Aunt Prue was ill/' he said 
reproachfully. 

" But she has not been ill till now," snapped 
Hannah, puttmg the medicine bottles straight 
upon the table ; " and what good would you 
have been if she was ill ? Everj-thing has 
been done that could be, only Prudence always 
was the most discontented person." 



56 A STEP ASIDE. 

" No, Hannali, no," said Miss Prudence, 
softly. " I am quite content. You have 
been so good to me. See, Guy," slie said, 
pointing to the window, " Hannah has let 
me have the flower stand up here, w^as it not 
kind?" 

'' I told Prudence, if she did not intend to 
come downstau's and look after the nasty 
things, that they must be moved up here, 
where she could give an eye to them, instead 
of Bridget and I wasting om- time," and she 
moved over to the bed, and began to smooth 
out the counterpane with angry pats. 

Guy smiled. He understood Hannah's 
ungracious apology for her own kind thought, 
and he said, 

" I am sure that you have done everything." 

" Oh ! you believe that, do you ? " retorted 
Hamiah, raismg herself from the counterpane 
worry, and lookmg disdainfully at him. 
Hannah looked at most people, as if they 



A STEP ASIDE. 57 

were noisome insects — " ^"eiy condescending, 
I am sure, of you, to believe it. Most young 
people imagine that tliey are tlie only people 
who can do anything." 

Gruy turned to the door with a sigh. Some- 
how he could not fight with Hannah as of 
old ; his heart was too heavy, and in 
Miss Prudence's gentle presence hard words 
seemed a desecration. He went out silently, 
down the trim garden, where the hyacinths 
and tulips were displaying their gorgeous, 
though rather flaunting, colours, but ere he 
reached the gate he heard a well-known 
ponderous tread behind him, and a bony hand 
was laid on his arm, and Hannah's voice 
asked, 

" How do you think she looks ? " 

He turned, and gazed with astonishment at 

the hard-featured woman ; there was a quiver 

in her voice, and a curious dimness in her 

eyes ; he had never in the long years that he 



58 A STEP ASIDE. 

had known lier, seen her like this. He could 
not answer, the hopeless anguish of her face 
appalled him. 

"Do you think that she will get well?" 
she continued, her voice grown cold with 
the control that she put upon herself. 

"Miss Hannah," he whispered, "I hope 
she may ; but God knows she looks like death 
but while there is life there is hope." 

She made no response, she only stood there 
like a statue. Guy felt that if he lingered he 
must break down. Somehow the grief of this 
hard, stern woman was the most pathetic 
thing he had ever seen. 

He walked slowly away, but when he 
reached the gate he was startled by hearing 
her say in her usual rasping voice, " Have 
the goodness, please, to see that the gate is 
quite latched ; you young men are so 
careless." 



A STEP ASIDE. 59 



CHAPTEE III. 

It is June once more at Dinglehurst. The 
cows are standing knee-deep in a forest of 
yellow buttercups, whisking their tails with 
lazy contentment, and the hawthorns have 
broken forth into warm ])mk bloom. 

The Devereux's have been at the White 
Ladies for nearly thi^e weeks, and every day 
finds Olive at the Cottage, seated by Miss 
Prudence's chair, talking or reading in her 
clear, mellow voice, while Nancy lingers by 
the old lady's side, or stands gazing despon- 
dingly out of the window. The gul's face 
has gro^\m strangely thin and pale, and the 
blue eyes have a weary expression. 



6o A STEP ASIDE. 

Life appears very dark to her just now. 
From time to time slie looks nj) lovingly at 
Miss Prudence, and then back again at the 
June landscap)e, Avhich is blurred and misty 
with her tears. She loves the old lady with 
all her warm young affection, and day by day 
it is being borne in upon her that the frail, 
fairy -like face is growing more frail and 
ethereal looking, and hope is dying gradually 
in fancy's heart. 

It requires a great deal to kill the sanguine - 
ness of youth, but when it is once dead the 
bitterness which follows is more intense than 
that which comes to us in our practical, 
material middle age ! A child's grief is so 
23rostrating because it cannot see beyond, and 
Nancy, in spite of her eighteen summers, in 
spite of her smart trite remarks, was a more 
child. She felt that Avith Miss Prudence all 
her desire for life would be gone. No one 
would want her. Olive had her husband, her 



A STEP ASIDE. 6r 

father was engrossed \vitli liis mines, and Gut 
— he did not care for her now ; he had loved 
her once, and it had been her own fault the 
fading of that affection. 

She had hardly seen him since her return ; 
she tried to avoid him when he came to the 
Cottage. Once they had met on the stairs, 
and he had stood aside to let her pass. She 
had not dared to speak more than the common- 
place greeting, he looked so stem and unyield- 
incr. thoucrh in his heart he was lonoincf to 
catch a sight of her eyes ; but his ire rose as 
he noted her pale cheek, and he imagined in 
his blindness, that her sadness was all for 
Lord Bingley. 

And so things went on, and the June days 
floated away. Sir Eustace had kept the resolu- 
tion which he had made that morning at 
Florence ; he had sti-iven to be unselfish, and 
to overcome the senseless jealousy, and day by 
dav he had watched Olive start off to the 



62 A STEP ASIDE. 

Cottage, witliout a murmur, though the hours 
when she was away appeared to have weights 
tied to them. But after the brief space of a 
fortnight, he gradually grew restless and im- 
patient, and the old jealousy re-asserted itself. 

He began by grumbling a little, and then 
he tried to dissuade her from going so often, 
but she pleaded vdth him, " Eustace, let me 
go ; it is for such a little while longer, and 
the days with her are becoming so few." 

Truly the sand in the hour-glass was running 
out quickly. 

Each day found Miss Prudence a little paler 
and a little weaker. The hawthorns were 
begiiming to be a trifle tarnished and shrivelled, 
and a few pink blossoms had fluttered down 
on to the green turf, and the old lady watched 
them thoughtfully, and said, stroking Olive's 
golden hair, "You must bury me at the 
corner of the church -yard where the haw- 
thorn spreads its branches over the hedge, and 



A STEP ASIDE. 63 

then in the springtime the flowers will fall 
gently upon my grave." 

Olive only pressed her hand. They were 
alone this afternoon, Nancy had gone ont on 
an errand to the village, and had not returned. 

" Olive," the old lady said, at length, " are 
you quite happy, child? you look a little 
troubled sometimes." 

*' Yes, yes, quite happy. Aunt Prudence ; I 
have everything I can desire, except one 
thing," and her voice grew low and tender, 
*' and that is coming." 

" I should like to live to see you a mother, 
dear," said the old lady, dreamily, "but it can- 
not be ; I am going so soon, child ; see " — and 
she pointed to the haAvthorn tree — '' the 
blossoms are beginning to fall, and I shall go 
with them." And then, after an instant, she 
said, " Olive, will you try and comfort Hannah 
when I am gone ? She is so good, so good, 
no one can say what she has been to me. 



64 A STEP ASIDE. 

Look at all the flowers wliicli she lets me have, 
and when the nurse spilt my soup the other 
day over the new chintz she scarcely made a 
complaint. She used to be a little hard to 
understand sometimes, and we used," and the 
old lady turned the old diamond ring round on 
her thin finger, " we used to have little differ- 
ences sometimes ; but it was mostly my fault. 
You see, I Avas so careless and tiresome, and 
that annoyed dear Hannah ; but it is quite 
right now, and I am sure that she is a little 
sorry that — " and the old lady pulled up the 
web-like mittens which covered her hands — 
" sorry that I am going to leave her ; it will 
be lonely for her by herself. Will you 
promise me, child, to come and look after 
her?" and she looked beseechingly mto Olive's 
face. 

" I promise," Olive answered in a broken 
voice ; " but, oh I Aunt Prudence, must you 
go ? Will not Clod let you stay with us ? " 



A STEP ASIDE. 65 

And she threw her arms round the old hidy 
and clasped her, as if striyhig to hold her back 
from death. 

There was a long silence between them after 
that. Miss Prudence leaned back and closed 
her eyes. The Avindow was open, and the 
light breeze floated in, and ruffled her soft, 
white hair, and the glad voices of children 
mingled with the tuneful song of the birds. 

Outside all the world rejoiced. It seemed 
awakening, and throbbing with a new, strong 
pulse of happiness, while inside — and Olive 
sighed as she glanced at the delicate form at 
her side, out of which the life was slowly 
but sui-ely ebbmg. How^ plainly the blue 
veins showed on her waxen forehead, and 
w^hat deep purple shadows lay under the sunken 
eyes. 

She was so quiet that Olive almost feared 
that the spii'it had flown, but after a moment 
Miss Prudence said softly, " Olive, there is 

VOL. III. F 



66 A STEP ASIDE. 

one more person that I want to talk about — 
Nancy. Tell me about that unfortunate en- 
gagement. Did she care for Lord Bingley ? " 

" No, it was all a terrible mistake. She 
was flattered at flrst, and then, j)ooy child, 
she was foolish, and he was utterly unscru- 
pulous ; and I, Aunt Prudence, I was very 
much to blame." 

"You, dear?" asked the old lady; "how 
could that be ? " 

" Because," replied Olive bitterly, " I was 
so wrapped up in my own happiness that I 
never thought of anyone else ; " and then she 
told the story of Nancy's entanglement, and 
her fear of breaking off her engagement on 
account of what the world would say ; and her 
fright of confessing it. 

" Poor child," whispered the old lady, but 
with a glad light in her eyes, " poor child ! 
Yes, it was very foolish, very ; but thank God 
that she did not marry him. I feared that 



A STEP ASIDE. 67 

site must have liked liim, she looks so sad ; 
and it cannot be all on mj accomit," and a 
mischievons smile hovered for a moment on 
the old lady's worn face. She was so glad, so 
very very glad, and she nodded her head com- 
placently, and thought of Gruy. 

At that moment Hannah came in. She 
stalked across the room in her usual dissatisfied 
way, as if she was expostulating vrith every 
piece of furniture, and, closing the ^^indow 
with a bang, she remarked tartly to Olive, 
'' You might have thought of shutting the 
window ; it is much too late to have it oj^en ; 
you will have Prudence catching her death of 
cold." 

" I Avas not cold, Hannah dear; I liked the 
air," put in Miss Prudence. 

" You always did like foolish things," 
returned her sister, " that is nothing new, and 
3^our illness has not made you more sensible," 
and she fell to her usual emj^loyment oi 

F 2 



68 A STEP ASIDE. 

arranging the medicine bottles and glasses on 
the tray at her sister's side. 

A little pink Hush came into Miss Prudence's 
face, and she said nervously, " That will do, 
Hannah dear, will it not ? Please leave them 
alone." 

But Hannah paid no heed to her request 
until the bottles were in the exact rows that 
she desired, and then she said grimly, 
" Your friend Mr. Jones is below\. asking if he 
may come up. I expect if this nonsense con- 
tinues much longer, I shall have to buy a new 
stair-carpet. This everlasting tramping up 
and doAvn, like people on a tread-mill, is 
enough to wear the very boards through," and 
she walked out into the passage, and before 
Miss Prudence could stop her, she had called 
to Mr. Jones to come in. 

The old lady had turned suddenly white, 
and she gazed anxiously towards the door. 
An instant later, and Mr. Jones was on the 



A STEP ASIDE. 69 

threshold ; he looked at Miss Prudence, and 
then he gave a start as he beheld Olive 
standing beside her. 

He had never seen Lady Devereux since her 
return ; it was the first meeting, and his heart 
throbbed painfully, and the wedding-day and 
all the agony of that service returned swiftly 
to his mind, and he felt the old thrill of 
misery pass through him. He had been so 
sure of his own strength, so sure — and now — 
now that he was before her that strength for- 
sook him, and his head felt dizzy with the old 
longing ; but it was only for a moment, and 
then he recovered himself, and came forward 
and greeted Olive quietly and deferentially. 
He felt the blood singing in his ears as he 
touched her hand, and made a few common- 
place remarks, but outwardly he was calm and 
collected. 

"Can you bear it?" asked Miss Prudence 
gently, a few minutes later, when Olive had 



70 A STEP ASIDE. 

departed, and tliey were alone. " Are you 

wise to stay ? — not that I would have you 

go," she continued hurriedly, " for what would 

the j)oor do without you ? but — if the j)ain is 

too great — " 

" But it is not. Miss Prudence," he replied 

in a low, hoarse voice ; "it was only the first 

sight which brought it back ; it will be easier 

in the futui'e, I shall be prepared," and then 

he took the Bible olf the table and began to 

read to her. 

***** 

Olive walked slowly down into the garden, 
and then her heart bounded with pleasure as 
she saw Sir Eustace waiting for her at the 
gate. 

" I came to fetch you, dear," he said, " you 
\^ere so long, and it is such a lovely evening 
that I thought we might walk, if you are 
not tired." 

She made a sign of assent, and they 



A STEP ASIDE. 71 

wandered on slowly. The breeze had died 
away, and the sea rippling along the sand 
made a harmonions melody. 

" She is no better, I suppose," remarked 
Sir Eustace, at length. 

" No," replied Olive, " each day she grows 
weaker ; we camiot keep her much longer," 
and the tears rushed to her eyes for a 
moment, and she looked away at a white sail 
that glistened on the horizon. "What shall 
we do without Aunt Prudence ? " she said, 
passionately ; " she seems to fill up with her 
sympathy all the miserable shortcomings in 
ourselves. Oh, Eustace ! I ^^ish that we had 
not been so long away ! If I could only have 
been with her through the Tsdnter." 

" I am sorry too, dearest, if you regret it," 
he said kindly, " but we did not know till 
Jones wrote." 

" Ko," replied Olive, dreamily. " By the 
bye, Eustace, I saw Mr. Jones just now. It 



72 A STEP ASIDE. 

was the first time that we had met since our 
wedding day. How thin and pale he has 
grown." 

" He has been working too hard, I expect ; 
old ShnffleoTit never stirs from his study if he 
can help it, and in the Church of England a 
man is unfortunately not legally compelled to 
do his duty," replied Sir Eustace. 

" But he keeps a curate," answered Olive, 
'' and—" 

" Or rather the curate is kept for him," 
interrupted her husband. 

" Kept for him ! " exclaimed Olive, " what 
do you mean ? " 

" Only this, that things were in such a bad 
plight, he refused to christen a dying infant, 
because he said that he could not bear the 
sight of a suffering child, and that the doctor 
could baptize it instead ; besides sundry other 
neglects of like nature ; so that Gruy's father, 
Mr. Tremaine, and your Aunt Prudence put 



A STEP ASIDE. 73 

their heads together, and managed to collect 
sufficient money to pay a curate — hence Mr. 
Jones' presence. But why should we discuss 
this tiresome subject, Olive ? What does the 
world or an}i:hing matter as long as I have 
you ? " At that moment he regretted nothing 
of the past. 

The sun glinted through the trees, and 
Olive's eyes seemed to have caught a sunbeam 
as she whispered, " AAliat have I done to 
deserve such happiness ? My life is so full 
of love, ^dth yours, and with that which is 
coming." 

Sir Eustace felt a cold shiver run through 
him at her last words. Why could his love 
not satisfy her ? Why should she desire any- 
thing more ? Would the child come between 
them and rob him of j^art of her love ? At 
that thought the jealousy revived and 
maddened him, and then came the aw^ul 
knowledge that the child would not be He 



74 A STEP ASIDE. 

could not finish, reproach and remorse for his 
sin took possession of him, and he walked 
gloomily on. Olive did not notice his sudden 
silence. She was dreaming of the future, of 
the little child who was to fill so much of 
her life, and she pictured its soft arms round 
her neck, and its cooing voice in her ears. 

They reached the garden with its cool, 
green grass plots, and trim yew hedges. The 
splash of the fountains and cry of the peacocks 
mingled well with the mellow tones of the 
cuckoo. 

"Is it not beautiful ? " Olive whispered. 
" How could you bear to have been away from 
this place for so many years ? " 

" It was lonely, dearest, and I was sad by 
myself," he answered evasively, " but it has 
put on a new face since you have come. 
You make all the sunshine for me. If you 
love ' The White Ladies,' we wdll give up 
wandering and stay here always." 



A STEP ASIDE. 



75 



CHAPTEE lY. 

Nancy walked slowly home from the village. 
She Imgered as she reached the little blue bay 
where the trees strayed down to the water's 
edge and the brown sea -weed clung to the 
grey rocks. The water was a liquid amber, 
with swiftly changing iridescent lights. It 
was so lovely that she stayed her ste]3s and 
gazed down meditatively, and then she slowly 
descended the steep path which led to the 
shore, and sank down on a smooth flat rock. 

Was it only a little more than a year ago 
since she had sat there and wondered, and 
planned, and thought, and — and — met Gruy ? 
Only such a short time ago ! What meaning- 



76 A STEP ASIDE. 

less tilings are months and weeks, what a poor 
measurement of time compared to that inner 
consciousness of ours which tells us that a 
whole life has been thrust into a year, or a 
year lengthened into many lives ! 

Nancy shuddered as she went over the past 
months ; she seemed to have lived through so 
many joys and sorrows, and to have grown 
quite old in the process ; and then she watched 
the little waves ripple in, and the gulls float 
gracefully on those luminous waters, till a 
patter of little feet stai-tled her, and a moment 
later a cold nose w^as pushed into her hands, 
and two paws were placed on her knee. 

"Oh, Crib ! Crib ! " she cried, throwing her 
arms round the dog, " you have not forgotten 
me, you love me still, dear old boy," she 
whispered ; " you have not changed, like — 
like — someone else. Dogs are much more 
faithful than men ; but you see, Crib, it was 
my fault partly, and he thought I was only 



A STEP ASIDE. jj 

trifling," and she kissed the animars head, 
and he looked up pityingly in her face, as if 
he would fain give her a little comfort. 

Guy was mooning along ; he had just left 
the cottage, where he had paid his daily visit 
to Miss Prudence ; she had looked very weary 
this evening, and there was an expression in 
her face which made him tremble. 

She had held his hand so long in hers, and 
had stroked his hair m her old loving way, 
and then, just as he rose to go, she had drawn 
his head down to hers, and whispered, " Gruy, 
I was right, dear, about Nancy. She did not 
really love Lord Bingley, it was all a mistake. 
Do not be hard on her, dear ; remember she is 
very young, and — Guy, we are not all perfect 
— we expect perfection in others, and are very 
indulgent to ourselves," and she pressed his 
hand eagerly in hers, and said, " Let me see it 
all right between you before I go," and he had 
answered nothing, he had only kissed her, and 



78 A STEP ASIDE. 

then walked out silently into the soft June 
sunset. 

He wanted to think, and he strayed down 
on to the smooth yellow sands. He had 
known ever since the first day of his return 
home that Miss Prudence was dying, but 
to-day he felt that it was coming very near. 
A change had come over her face, a fore- 
shadowing of that great eternity to which she 
was approaching. Guy felt an awful desola- 
tion come over him. Miss Prudence had 
filled so much of his heart ; she seemed the 
hackground of his whole existence, the anchor 
which had saved him from drifting on to many 
a rocky shoal ; and now, what was to become 
of him, and he hit savagely at the rocks with 
his stick. There was no one to live for. His 
sister was not sympathetic to him ; she put 
too great a stress on the world and society ; 
and Nancy, — Nancy was false. He had loved 
her, but she had played with him. 



A STEP ASIDE. 79 

" Wliat did Aunt Prudence mean?" he 
miittered to himself, " about her not loving 
Lord Bingley?" Perhaps it was true, but 
that did not mean that she loved him. 
'' AVomen are incomprehensible, the world is a 
miserable place. I don't see the good of 
living. All the people one cares about die, or 
— or — " but the thought did not finish itself, 
for he started as he turned the corner of the 
promontory, and j^erceived Xancy, with Crib 
clasped in her arms. 

It was too late to retreat, so he raised his 
hat, and said in a studiously cold voice, " You 
had better put the dog down, he is very 
wet and dirty ; " and then he continued, 
" Tliis is the last place I expected to 
meet you. Miss Lavendercombe, as you in- 
formed me that you particularly disliked the 
sea-shore." 

" And so I do," replied Nancy, putting Crib 
gently on to the ground, and then she added 



8o A STEP ASIDE. 

half fiercely, '" Shall I tell you the reason 
why I hate it ? " 

A sudden resolution came to her that she 
would tell him the story of her engagement ; 
she would make one effort to vindicate herseK, 
one effort to regain his good opinion. 

Guy was standing with his back towards 
her, idly throwing pebbles into the sea, 
making a long line of ducks and drakes. 

"Very obliging of you," he replied in the 
same unemotional voice, " but I need not trouble 
you, for I think I can distinctly remember 
your reasons. You told me that the water 
spoilt your frocks, and the sand got into your 
shoes, and the noise of the waves was melan- 
choly, and — " 

" But that is not true ; it was not the real 
reason," cried Nancy hotly, the blood rushing 
into her face, and the blue eyes darting a look 
of passionate resentment at Guy's unconscious 
back. " It was the sea-shore, which was the 



A STEP ASIDE. 8i 

cause of all my misery. It was on the 
seashore that I promised to marry — Lord 
Bingley," the last word was whispered. 

Guy stopped in the act of flinging another 
stone, the last was still hopping away with a 
pleasing splash. He turned round sharply. 
Wliy did Nancy torture him like this? 

*' It was a very unlucky business for yon," 
he said stiffly, " I am sorry that you cared so 
much for snch a worthless man." 

" But I did not care for him," cried Nancy, 
stamping her foot on the sand. 

" Qnite f?? de siecle'' murmured Guy to 
himself. 

"Will you never understand?" she ex- 
claimed. " I thought I liked him, and he 
worked upon my feelings ; he told me that I 
was the only person who could influence him, 
and save him from his wicked life." 

Guy laughed satirically. 

" And when I begged him to release me," 

VOL. III. G 



S2 A STEP ASIDE. 

continued Nancy, lier voice trembling with 
agitation, " before going to San Giovanni, be 
refused. He said tbat it was impossible — that 
— that I had compromised myself with him." 

" Scoundrel ! " broke from Guy. 

'' I know," she went on, " that it is ever so 
wicked to break an engagement, but — but you 
see, I was so dreadfully miserable," and her 
head sank in her hands, and a few tears 
trickled through her fingers. Crib came, and 
softly licked her face, and Guy stood silent 
and morose, looking gloomily out at the 
horizon. 

He hated to see a woman cry, most of all 
Nancy, and he longed to comfort her, but he 
was sore and angry. The question would 
recur, why had she allowed him to go to San 
Giovanni ; and drift back into the old happy 
converse? It was cruel, heartless, to make 
him think that she cared for him, and he 
began to walk slowly away, but as he reached 



A STEP ASIDE. 83 

the corner of tlie little bay, he said in a hard, 
unrelenting voice, "You had better be quite 
sure of your own mind in future. It is an 
uncomfortable thing to engage yourself to the 
wrong man ; and they may not all be so con- 
siderate, and die off as conveniently as this 
one has done." 

Guy's heart smote him as he uttered these 
stinging words. Nancy sat huddled up upon 
the rock, a great dejection displaying itself in 
her attitude, her hands were clasped round her 
knees, and her eyes were gazing out seaward, 
with an aw^ul despondency. She made no 
response to his bitter words ; she sat there 
motionless till he had disappeared, and then 
she flung herself upon the sand, and a storm 
of tears burst from her. 

" It is no good," she wailed, " no good ! 
There is no happiness, it is all a hateful sham; 
and Aunt Hannah is quite right, no man 
remembers, they all forget, or else they are 

G 2 



S4 A STEP ASIDE. 

revengeful and never forgive. I wish I was 
dead. I think I will turn Eoman Catholic, 
and become a nun, or go out and nurse the 
lepers — anything to get away from this horrible 
place," and she glanced angrily round at the 
soft purj^le downs, and gleaming sea. 

Crib did not follow his master. He sat on 
his haunches in front of [N'ancy, peering 
anxiously into her tear-stained face. He was 
striving hard to understand what was happen- 
ing; but human creatures are difficult to com- 
prehend, and distinctly peculiar in their actions, 
and he thought it unkind of his master to go 
off in such a huff, and his good opinion of him 
diminished considerably. 

Guy walked round the corner of the bay, 
and then sat down. He felt miserable and 
angry, partly with himself, but more with 
Nancy. He told himself over and over agam 
that she was only a flirt, and not worth caring 
about ; but, somehow, he could not bring him- 



.4 STEP ASIDE. 85 

self to believe liis own assertions, and Miss 
Prudence's words would return to him : — 

" Do not be hard upon her. I am sure she 
loves you." Could it be so? Could the words 
which he had dreamed that she had uttered on 
the mountain have been true ? She had told 
him that it was only a dream, but she had 
looked so strange while she said it, and — Gruy 
began to see light — at that period she had 
been bound to Lord Bingley. It was different 
now, she was free ; he had half a mind to ask 
her again, only he had behaved so unkindly 
in speaking those harsh words. He had been 
very hard upon her, :*n spite of Aimt Prue's 
pleading. 

'' What a brute I am ! " he muttered. " I 
will go and tell her that I am sorry, and that 
I did not mean it," and he Avalked slowly 
back, over the soft wet sand. As he turned 
the promontory he beheld Xancy with her 
face buried in a bunch of yelloAv sea-weed, and 



86 A STEP ASIDE. 

her poor little shoulders shaking with the 
long-drawn sohs. 

Guy was frightened, and then a strange joy 
came to him. Would she have cared so much 
about his hasty words, if — if — ? Crib sat 
silently contemplating Nancy's quivering form, 
with his ears cocked, and a piteous expression 
in his round eyes. He looked coldly at his 
master, who he felt was somehow the cause 
of this trouble. 

" Miss Lavendercombe," said Guy, in a 
trembling voice, " wdiat is the matter ? Please 
don't cry. I came back to say that I am very 
sorry that I spoke so roughly just now ; I did 
not mean it really, only I was cross and angry ; 
and — will you forgive me ? " and he sat down 
beside her. 

She raised her little red, tear-stained face, 
with a festoon of sea-weed still sticking to her 
hair, and murmured, in a choked voice, " Then 
you don't think me quite as bad as you said ? 



A STEP ASIDE. 87 

I have been ever so foolish, I know, but I did 
not mean to do wrong — indeed I did not. It 
was all a liorrible mistake," and a fresh cascade 
of tears followed this remark. 

" I know, I know," said Guy, getting des- 
perate ; " I will believe an}i:hing, if you will 
only stop crying and tell me that — " and he 
hesitated, and looked at the little bowed head, 
^\dth its rough, yellow hair. How could he 
ever have been cross to her ? 

AYliile he hesitated, she raised her eyes, 
drenched with tear-drops, to his face, and said, 
" Tell you what ? " 

" Tell me," whispered Gruy, " if those words 
were really a dream, w^hich I thought you 
spoke on the mountain, coming back from 
Gubbio. I will forgive you anything, if you 
only tell me, Xancy, that they were true." 

The little head went down into her hands, 
and the answer was so low that no one who 
had not abnormally good hearing could possibly 



88 A STEP ASIDE. 

have caught it, but Guy's ears were peculiarly 
sharp, and, to judge by his actions, the answer 
was eminently satisfactory. 

" Are you quite sure that it is right this 
time, Nancy darling ? " he asked, after a long 
silence filled up in the way most pleasing to 
lovers; "because I do not feel inclined to go 
out in a boat and get drowned." 

"Don't talk about it!" she cried. "Oh 
Guy ! what should I have done if it had been 
you, or if you had been hurt that night on the 
mountain? " 

" You would have told the truth then, 
dearest, and saved all this misery. But 
Nancy," he continued, " why did you let 
me go to San Giovanni? Why did you 
not tell me at Florence about your engage- 
ment ? " 

" Because I was a coward, and selfish, and 
because I wanted to have just one free, happy 
week with you before — and, Guy, it was a 



A STEP ASIDE. 89 

bad reason/' she said, with a retiu'ii of 
her old mischievous manner, " hut I loved 
you so." 

He made no answer in words, hut his 
response was very complete, and Crih began 
to find his position of third a little awkward 
and uncomfortable. He felt quite left out in 
the cold, and he thought it hard that he, who 
had remained all the while by ]N^ancy's side 
trying to comfort her, should reap no reward, 
while his master, who had been distinctly to 
blame, should have all the caresses. It 
certainly was a very odd world, he thought, 
and human creatures were most unstable and 
undependable, and Crib trotted sullenly off, 
determined to drown his woes in a good rabbit 
hunt. 

Guy and Xancy sat on regardless of time — 
regardless of all except the blissful knowledge 
that they loved each other. 

" I thought it such a horrid world an hour 



90 A STEP ASIDE. 

ago," exclaimed Nancy at last ; " and now it 
is all just lovely and hap]3y, except — " and 
she stopped — " except Aunt Prudence. Oh 
Gruy ! will she not be pleased ? " 

" It was her doing," murmured the young 
man softly, " she has been my good angel all 
my life ; it was the memory of her face which 
has kept me from many a sin, and now she 
has given you to me ; " and he stooped and 
kissed the girl gravely. 

" How do you mean? " asked Nancy; "she 
has not given her consent yet, and Aunt 
Hannah — she never did approve of matrimony ; 
she will be just mad." 

" Never mind her," rej)lied Guy ; "it was 
Aunt Prue who bade me ask you again. 
Come let us go and tell her." 

The lovers entered the cottage softly, and 
stole up the little steep stands. 

Miss Prudence was leaning back with her 
eyes closed, and Hannah sat stiff and rigid in 



A STEP ASIDE. 91 

a corner, her bony hands folded in her lap, and 
deep Imes traced on her forehead. 

" Aunt Prne," said Guy, bending over the 
old lady with an anxious glance. 

Hannah made a half movement, and then 
changed her mind, and sat like some stern and 
dismal fate. 

"AuntPrue." 

The old lady opened her eyes and looked up 
in his face half bewildered, and then she 
murmured, '' You must bear it, dear ; it is very 
hard, but it will be all put right in heaven." 

" She is wandering," whispered Guy, and 
then he put his hand softly on the old lady's, 
and said, " Aunt Prue, listen. It is all right 
here ; Xancy has j^romised to be my wife. 
Will you give us your blessing?" and he 
knelt do^vn by her chair, and drew the girl 
down beside him. 

A gleam of recognition and joy passed over 
the old ladv's face, and then she mumim-ed. 



92 A STEP ASIDE. 

"' God bless you both, and grant that you may 
' so pass through things temporal, that you 
finally lose not the things eternal.' I am so 
glad, riuy, dear boy, so glad — God has been 
very good to me. He has let me see that 
which I have prayed for before I die. I am 
ready now, quite ready, and it is time, for, see, 
the pink hawthorn blossoms are lying on the 
grass, and I am so weary — so weary." 

* * * ^p: * 

That was the last day that Miss Prudence 
sat in her chair by the window. During the 
days which followed, she lay in her small 
dimity -curtained bed, very silent and peaceful. 
She spoke little, but she always had a bright 
loving smile for those around. Hannah rarely 
left her ; she sat in a corner with her hard face 
grown more grim and stern by the grief which 
consumed her. 

Miss Prudence's eyes often wandered 
towards her sister, and she would strive to 



A STEP ASIDE. 93 

speak some words of comfort. At last a day 
came wlien slie was more weak and still. She 
lay all day half unconscious, but towards 
evening she roused herself and said, " Hannah, 
dear, it is coming very near now ! I am going 
to leave you, but, before I go, I want to hear 
you say that you forgive me all the times I 
vexed you. If I could live over again, I 
would try to be more jDarticular, dear, about 
the carpets and things, and I would try and 
not care so much about having the flowers 
in the house, for they do make a mess." 

Hannah stood by the bed silent, her face 
working strangely. " Prudence," she said, and 
her rasping voice seemed to have caught a 
sweetness from her sister, — " Prudence, I have 
been harsh and unkind to you, especially at 
that time when, he, Edward Mashingham, went 
away. I was jealous of your comeliness and 
of your sweet nature. I am sorry for it now, 
but I came into the world with a bitter taste 



94 A STEP ASIDE. 

in my mouth, and that seems to have tainted 
everything. I wish I had been iDetter to yon, 
but it is too bite, now, too bite ! " and a sharp 
spasm contracted her face, and the bony 
fingers strained themselves tightly round the 
iron of the bed. She longed to cry aloud in 
her pain, but the wall of reserve and coldness 
was too strong to be broken down, and she 
stood there silent and stricken by her grief. 

" Hannali, dear, do not speak like that," 
whispered Prudence ; " we have been very 
happy together ; we never quarrelled, dear ; the 
differences only sprang from your being so 
much cleverer than me, I was always stupid, 
you see, and it was difficult to be patient 
with me." 

Hannah could not answer, a gasping sob 
rose in her throat, and tears trickled slowly 
over her cheeks. She turned away and drew 
the curtain back from the Avindow, and let in a 
long streak of sunlight which fell upon the 



A STEP ASIDE. 95 

bed and then crept up and illumined Prudence's 
dying face. 

" Hannah," she whispered, after a minute, 
*' give me his old letters and the miniature, I 
want to look at them once more, and then — " 
and she stopped to recover her breath — " and 
then you will put them with me into the 
coffin. Promise me, promise me to do that." 

Hannah bowed her head as she placed the 
faded yellow packet on the bed, and watched 
the thin white fingers wander tenderl}^ over it. 

" I cannot read them now, Hannah dear, 
my eyes are growing dim. Will you read 
them to me ? " and Hannah sat down beside 
the bed, and read the old love letters in a 
trembling broken voice. 

They were bright, boyish letters, full of hope 
m his profession and of love for her to whom 
they were addressed. Hannah folded them up 
again as she finished, and laid them gently 
on the bed, and the two sisters remained there 



96 A STEP ASIDE. 

silent. Their thoughts had wandered back to 

their own youth, and the fifty years which 

had passed seemed as nothing. 

Prudence had a sweet smile on her thin 

face, as she thanked her sister, and then she 

whispered, " I shall see him so soon now ; I 

have kept my faith. It has been such a long 

waiting, but it is over now," and she sank 

back exhausted by the emotion. 

***** 

A little later and they knelt round her bed, 
while Mr. Jones prayed. A holy calm was 
upon her face, and she whispered a loving 
farewell to each in turn. 

" Gruy, dear boy," she said, " do not grieve 
for me. Clod has given you I*^ancy to com- 
fort you." 

" Aunt Prue, Aunt Prue ! " he cried, 
passionately, " I cannot let you die ; what 
shall we do without you ? " 

" You have each other," mm-mured the old 



A STEP ASIDE. 97 

lady, " and you will not forget me. You ^^dll 
talk of me sometimes when you sit under the 
elm tree." 

" And Harold," she said, " good-bye. God 
help you in your work, and in youi' trouble. 
Wish the old people farewell for me, and tell 
them that it is blessed to enter into His rest." 

" Childi-en," she said, drawing Olive and 
Nancy close to her, " I would that I had had 
you for a little longer ; you have made my life 
very bright. God grant that your lives may 
be so also. Be patient, both of you, and 
remember that life is not all brightness ; and 
when the shadows come, may He be with you. 
And, Xancy," she whispered very low, " be 
good to Guy, he is my own dear boy ; 
remember he is my legacy to you." 

The girl could not answer. She bmied her 
face in the bed, and sobbed her heart out. 

" Hannah, dear," said Miss Prudence after 
a few minutes, " please come and hold my 

VOL. III. H 



98 A STEP ASIDE. 

hand, my eyes are getting so dim, I cannot 
see youi' face, and the letters — let me feel 
them. Yes, that is right," as Hannah placed 
them in her hands. " The room is so bright 
now, and there is singing, such sweet singing, 
and it is coming nearer and nearer, and there is 
a scent of hawthorn bloom. Do yon not hear 
the music ? " she cried, raising herself up, and 
looking round at them. '' And there are angel 
faces, and glistening white robes, and — and — " 
Her face seemed suddenly transfigured by a 
glorious light, and she whispered, "I see his 
face, that long loved face ! " and, sinking 
back into Hannah's arms, that gentle, tender 
spirit passed to its eternal rest. 



A STEP ASIDE. 



99 



CHAPTEE y. 

They laid her to rest in the corner of the 
churchyard where the hawthorn peeped over 
the hedge, and shed a shower of pink blossoms 
in the spring time. 

The graveyard was crowded with the poor 
village folk, who stood in a mournful group 
and watched the last rites performed over their 
best -beloved friend. 

The coffin was borne by six stalwart fisher- 
men, who had all loved and reverenced her 
during her life and had begged, with tears, to 
be allowed to bear her to her last rest. 

The grave was covered with flowers, wreaths 
woven by kindly hands. There were glorious 

H 2 



loo A STEP ASIDE. 

orcliids, pure white eucliaris, and warm red 
roses, and iDeside them lay the gifts of poorer 
friends, one of late cowslips, another of ox-eyed 
daisies, and, lastly, one of hawthorne. No one 
save Bridget knew whence that wreath came. 
She alone had seen Hannah steal out at night, 
and pick a branch from the old tree, and then 
weave it into a garland and lay it on her dead 
sister. She alone had seen the bitter tears 
which fell on the green leaves, and heard the 
passionate, remorseful words which came from 
those stern lips. 

Mr. Jones' voice trembled audibly as he read 
the Bui'ial Service, and there was many a 
suppressed sob from those around. 

Hannah stood by the grave, statue-like in 
her grief, her face might have been cast in 
stone, it was so immobile. Nancy cried gently, 
and Guy was dazed by sorrow and desjjair. 
Was it a dream? Should he never see that 
sweet face again? Never feel her fingers 



A STEP ASIDE. loi 

smooth his hair, never hear that voice which 
had calmed and soothed him in so many 
boyish troubles ? 

He started as Mr. Jones' voice ceased, and 
as he saw the j^eople begin to move slowly 
away, and he grasped Nancy's hand in his and 
whispered, 

" My darling, we must try and comfort one 
another." 

Mr. Jones walked home with a heavy heart, 
and feeling an utter sense of desolation. He 
had no one left. His mother, his sister, and 
now she who had been his dearest, his best 
friend, was taken, and for a moment a feeling 
of intense bitterness rose in his heart. 

Sir Eustace was putting Olive tenderly into 
the can'iage. Nancy was walking away with 
Guy, and even Hannah had Bridget at her 
side, as she stalked silently dovm the path. 
Why should they all have some one to cling 
to, some one to comfort them, and he alone be 



I02 A STEP ASIDE. 

solitary. How lie envied Miss Prudence ! she 
had crossed the dark river of death ; she had 
left this weary disappointing world, and had 
reached the land w^here there are no partings ; 
she knew all, she understood all. 

He lingered at the gate of the churchyard. 
How many memories the place possessed for 
him ! some tender, some sweet, but all sad, and 
one, ah ! one bitter recollection which seemed 
to rise up and overcloud all the others — the 
memory of that one awful marriage service. 
Would he ever forget the agony of that time ? 
The sharp, frenzied pain had passed now, he 
had so far conquered his love for Olive that he 
could bear to see her, bear to be with her, but 
in his heart he knew that his love was only 
slumbering. He could not tear it out ; the 
roots had woven themselves so strongly into 
his being. 

As he reached the door of the little red- 
brick cottage Mrs. Haiden bustled round a 



A STEP ASIDE. 103 

corner, determined upon a chat ; lie knew 
the signals well, and that it was little 
use resisting when she was in one of 
her voluble moods, so he resigned himself 
with a sigh, and leaned wearily against the 
porch. 

"It did go off just beautiful-like, Sir," 
she began, resting her hands on her 
ample figui'e ; "I don't know as ever I 
saw a nicer done funeral, so comfortable 
like, there wasn't a thing as I'd 'ave 
'ad altered. I could not a-help thinking 
all the time. Sir, how pleased she'd 'ave 
been with it all, especially with the way 
as they carried of her, no jolting about 
and jerking, all so nice and in step. Dear, 
dear, but it do seem a pity as she should 
have been took ; it be desperate sad, des- 
perate sad I There be precious few like her, 
precious few. Folks mostly now thinks only 
of theirselves ; there ain't the kindness in 



I04 A STEP ASIDE. 

the world as there used to be when I was 
a girl." 

" There is more than we think, perhaps, 
Mrs. Haiden," put in the clergyman ab- 
sently. 

" Aye, sir, perhaps there be, perhaps there 
be ; but I reckon we'll all miss her kindness," 
and she wiped her eyes with the corner of her 
apron. " But it were a blessed privilege to 
know her, sir, and it ought to make us a 
deal better, I'm thinking, a deal better," and 
Mrs. Haiden bustled tearfully away. 

" A privilege to have known her, and it 
ought to make us a deal better." Yes, that 
was the way to look at it, and he had only 
thought of his present sorrow, and not of all 
those years of blissful converse which he had 
held with Miss Prudence. He sat down on 
the little hard, horsehair sofa, and took him- 
self severely to task for his ingratitude, and 
then fell into a dream of those sweet bygone 



A STEP ASIDE. 105 

days, and prayed that he might be a " deal 
better" for those happy hours. 

Hannah walked home in stony silence, her 
face betraying none of the anguish which 
inwardly consumed her. Bridget looked fur- 
tively at her mistress once or twice, but she 
dared not intrude by words upon her grief. 
Hannah entered the cottage, and walked 
fu'mly upstairs into the little dimity- cuiiained 
bed room, and closed the door. 

What a rush of memories assailed her, as 
she stood on the threshold, and gazed around • 
The recollections were overwhelming, and 
she bent her head, as one bows before some 
scathing blast. 

The room was untouched, imaltered, except 
for the absence of that fair presence. The 
arm chair stood in its accustomed place by the 
window, and beside it reposed the little round 
table with her books and knick-knacks. The 
small black satin bag hung over a corner of 



io6 A STEP ASIDE. 

the chair, filled with the last spills which she 
had made, and some long strips of paper still 
lay ready for use on the table, while the wire 
flower-stand was basking in sunlight, resplend- 
ent with crimson geraniums, purple cinerarias 
and soft feathery, maiden-hair. 

Hannah looked round dry-eyed at the 
familiar objects, and a sense of prostrating 
desolation and remorse came over her, the 
awful feeling that she could never make up to 
her sister for all her harsh words and looks, 
never plead for her forgiveness for her unkind 
actions. 

Hannah's conscience smote her sorely, her 
sister was dead, and she had made her life 
more or less unhappy by her waspish tongue. 
She had been cruel to her at the time when 
she should have been most tender. When 
her lover had not returned she had twitted her 
with his unfaithfulness. And, later, through 
those long patient years which had followed, 



A STEP ASIDE. 107 

had she not wearied her day by day with her 
senseless fads ? 

And now, ahis ! the self-reproach came too 
late ; she could never make reparation, and she 
sank upon her knees by the arm-chair, and 
long, heart-rending sobs broke fi'om her, 
sobs which seemed to shake her being to its 
foundations. She tried to pray, but the words 
refused to come, and heaven's door seemed 
closed against her. 

She rose at length, stiff and desolate, and 
looked blankly round the room. As she did 
so her eyes fell on the flowers rejoicing in the 
sunlight, which ebbed in through a chink of 
the closed blinds. They were the flowers 
which her sister had loved and tended ; she 
w^ould tend them now for her sake. It was 
the only atonement that she could make, the 
only token of love which she could offer, and 
she took the little stand up carefully, and can'ied 
it tenderly down into the drawing-room. 



io8 A STEP ASIDE. 

Half an hour later, Bridget peeped in, 
and saw lier still standing beside it, and heard 
her murmur, 

'' I will cherish them for your sake, Prudence ; 
you loved them, and they are all that is left 
to me of you," and then Bridget had stolen 
away again on tip -toe and an hour later when 
she answered the bell, her eyes were red and 
swollen with weeping — tears which she had 
shed more for the desolate remorseful woman 
left, than for the gentle holy spirit that had 
flown. 

And so those days of sadness rolled away. 
The sorrow and anxiety had been too much 
for Olive, and she lay for several weeks on 
the sofa, white and weary, and Sir Eustace 
hung over her in an agony of fear and 
apprehension, till he saw her beginning 
to revive, and then came calm and peace- 
ful days — days in which the husband and 
wife drew very near to each other. There 



A STEP ASIDE. loy 

was no cause for jealousy and so it 
slumbered. 

At last his dream was realized — he had Olive 
to himself, and he was happy, yes, blissfully 
hap23y. Day by day he would draw her in a 
Bath chair, or carry her on to a sofa in a 
distant corner of the lawn, and there they 
would S23end those long July days in sweet 
and tender converse, till the sun grew weary 
of his life, and sank slowly into the blue 
rippling sea. 

He yielded himself up to the charm of those 
halcyon hours ; he felt no remorse for the past, 
he steadfastly put those thoughts away, and he 
troubled not about the future. He imagined 
that at length he had gained that delusive 
phantom of happiness, for which he had longed 
and craved ; and for which he had sacrificed 
everything. 

He saw not the gathering clouds rise on 
that smiling sky ; he remembered not that a 



no A STEP ASIDE. 

passion which shmibers gathers strength, and 
that when the moment comes it will rise up 
with renewed powers and master ns. He 
thought of naught as he lingered by Olive's 
side, listening to the silvery splash of the 
fountains, naught but that at last he possessed 
her entirely, completely, and for the moment 
liis soul was satisfied. 



A STEP ASIDE. n 



CHAPTEE VI. 

" And so jour brother is really going to marry 
Miss Lavendercombe. Let me offer you my 
sincerest condolences," and Cpdl Fitzgerald 
sank into the most comfortable chair in the 
room, and looked sympathisingly into Mrs. 
Lopes' face. 

"It is most annoying," she said, "really 
most annoying ; but Gruy always was as 
obstinate as — well — as a man can be." 

" It was very unfortunate about Lord 
Bingley, and when we had worked so hard," 
continued C}Til. " I assure you, dear Mrs. 
Lopes, I did what I could in Florence, I 
urged him on, I — well, I drew a little on my 



112 A STEP ASIDE. 

imagination about lier father's wealth, as you 
suggested, and I spread as many reports about 
them as I could." 

" I am sure, Cyril, you did all that was 
kind, " returned Mrs. Lopes ; " but what is 
the use of wasting one's energies over people 
who have no wish to get on in the world — 
who are as blind as bats to their own interests. 
It is not of the least consequence to me if 
Gruy chooses to marry a little second-rate 
American." 

" But the house was nice," said Cyril in his 
purring voice ; "it was convenient for the 
children." 

Mrs. Lopes looked up, not jDcrfectly sure 
that he Avas not laughing at her, but Cyril's 
face was as expressionless as usual, he was 
smoothing his elegant white hands, and 
changing a large gold rmg from one finger to 
the other. 

" ()f course, it was most useful," she 



A STEP ASIDE. 113 

answered ; '' Lut if lie had only chosen to 
marry Lady Gertrude WjTidhani, as I sug- 
gested, I should not have cared about that." 

" Ah ! you suggested that, did you ? " said 
Cyril, changing his position a little ; " but your 
brother did not see it ? " 

"No," replied Mrs. Lopes, flushing angrily; 
" he never could see anything which was 
for his good ; he absolutely laughed at the 
idea." 

" Well, she is not very attractive looking," 
went on Cyril. " I painted a miniatui'e of her 
last year, and she is a little old — 23erhaps 
fifty, but that is the merest detail, of com-se — 
it is quite the fashion now to marry an 
'Ancestor.' " 

" Miss Hannah, may I come in for a 
minute ? " inquired Gruy, as he leaned over the 
gate, and contemplated Hannah^s angular 
form, stalking to and fro in the garden, 

VOL. III. I 



114 ^ STEP ASIDE. 

superintending Solomon (who was gardener as 
well as flyman) cutting a few shrubs. 

She had aged much in the last two months. 
Her straight figure was bent, and she moved 
more slowly, and with none of the sharp 
distinctly expostulating movements as of 
old. She made a sign of assent, and Gruy 
unlatched the gate, and followed her to 
the door. 

She glanced down as of old at his boots, 
and said, 

" Please jump over the door-step, it has 
just been washed," and then marshalled him 
silently into the drawing-room. 

How lonely and desolate it looked without 
Miss Prudence ; There was none of the 
pleasant litter of womanly occupation which 
had always hovered round her. All was stiff, 
cold, and uncompromising. 

Hannah stood beside the little flower-stand. 
Her bony fingers were encased in gardening 



A STEP ASIDE. 115 

gloves, and lier black dress looj)ed some way 
above ber ankles. 

"I came to say good-bye, Miss Hannah," 
said Gruy, hesitatingly. He had paid the old 
lady many visits since Miss Prudence's death, 
but he had always found her in the garden, 
and this was the fii'st time that he had been 
in the little drawing-room without Miss 
Prudence. 

A pang went through him as he looked at 
the empty chair, and the stool where he had 
sat so often, and poui'ed out all his woes to 
that tender, sympathising ear. 

How many memories crowded upon him ! 
They seemed to rise up on all sides, and cry to 
him of the days that were gone. How well 
he remembered the last time he had come to 
say good-bye before going to the West Indies, 
when he had sat there in the firelight, and she 
had given him courage and hope. 

The scene came so vividly before him. He 

I 2 



ii6 A STEP ASIDE. 

seemed to hear the sound of the ram-drops 
pattering on the window-panes, and the rustle 
of the paper, as Miss Prudence folded the 
spills and slipped them into the well-known 
black satin bag ; and he saw the firelight 
flickering over the room, and that dear, grace- 
ful figure seated in the old arm-chair. He 
drew a long laboured breath, and he could with 
difiiculty restrain his emotion ; but Hannah's 
hard, rasping voice brought him back to the 
prosaic present, and wdth an effort he strove 
to answer calmly. 

''It is a pity that you do not settle quietly 
at the Manor, instead of rushing off to the 
other end of the world ; but young people are 
as restless as kittens, they get tired of a ball 
of wool before they have unwound half of it." 

" But we should much rather stay at home, 
Miss Hannah," he replied, " but I am forced 
to go about that tiresome business." 

" What your father was thinking about 



A STEP ASIDE. 117 

when lie put money into such a concern, I am 
sure I do not know." 

" It jDaid well then/' murmui'ed Guy, 
apologetically. 

" Yes, and that's about all that people care 
for now — more money and more pleasui'e. 
Xever a morsel of stahihty or seriousness in 
any of them." 

Guy made no response. He was weary of 
arsruinsf, and how he missed that sweet, o^entle 
voice, which had always striven to throw a 
kindly light upon every subject. 

" You have left her flowers here," he said 
at last gently. 

" Yes," returned Hannah, "I left them ; they 
make a dreadful mess, but Bridget attends 
to them," and then her voice grew suddenly 
tender as she added, " and I like to have them, 
she loved them so," and the hard face softened 
strangely, and the bony hands touched the 
flowers lovingly. 



ii8 A STEP ASIDE, 

Guy made no answer. A sob seemed to 
stop his utterance, and tlie June sunshine was 
blurred and mistj. 

" I must be off," he said in a husky voice. 
" Grood-bye, Miss Hannah," and he held out 
his hand. 

The old lady glanced sharply at him, and 
then she put her fingers into his, and said, 

" I ho]3e that you will be happy, Guy, but 
matrimony is a great venture, and Nancy is 
rather flighty, I am afraid," and then she 
loosed his hand, and he walked silently to the 
door. As he reached it Hannah's voice 
arrested him. 

" Wait a minute," she said, " there is some- 
thing that I want to give you before you go, 
something — " and she stopped and gazed out 
of the window — '' something of hers," and 
she went past him, out into the hall, and up 
the stairs. 

Guy remained where he was, his eyes 



A STEP ASIDE. 119 

rivetted on the dear familiar room. How 
many times lie had vaulted in through the 
window, and had sat by Miss Prudence, 
recounting some boyish scrape or dilating 
upon some hard won cricket -match. 

" Ah, Aunt Prue ! Aunt Prue ! " he mur- 
mured, " what should I have done without 
you?" 

At that moment Hannah returned and put 
a small gold locket into his hand. How well 
he knew it ; Miss Prudence had always worn 
it, and it contained a portrait of his mother, 
with a curl of her hair. 

"She would have liked you to have it," 
said Hannah, and there was a quiver in her 
hard voice; "and this," and she opened a 
small red case, " this is the old diamond ring 
she used to wear ; she wished Nancy to have 
it. Will you give it to her? I meant to 
have done it myself — but — " and she turned 
away, and pulled up the blind with her old 



120 A STEP ASIDE. 

bustling, restless way — " but, I cannot bear to 
talk about her yet — by and bye perhaps, but 
not now," and a tear fell on the little red case 
in her hand, and then she thrust it into Guy's 
fingers, and hastily turned away. 

Guy stood a moment looking down upon 
the ring, and then he stole softly out of the 
room, and down the little drive, somehow the 
brightness of the garden jarred upon him. 
The flowers were positively rioting in their 
glad joyousness of life. The sunflowers seemed 
to exult in their golden splendour, and the 
phloxes and pinks rampaged over the borders 
in glorious abandonment. Did they not know 
that she was dead, that she would never walk 
among them again, never tend them as of 
yore ? 

Guy walked on slowly; as he passed the 
churchyard he lingered, and looked tenderly 
down at the new-made grave with the plain 
marble cross at its head. 



A STEP ASIDE. 121 

As lie turned to pursue his way, he felt a 
hand on his arm, and Nancy said : 

" Wait for me, Guy ; I have brought these 
roses. It is the last time for so long that I 
shall put them on her," and she knelt down, 
and placed a cross of pale pink blossoms on 
the green mound. 

" Nancy," said Guy softly, " I have some- 
thing for you — something Miss Hannah sent 
you," and he di'ew the little case from his 
pocket, and slijDped the old-fashioned diamond 
ring on to the girl's finger. 

" Aunt Prue wished you to have it, darling," 
he said, stooping down and looking wdstfully 
into her face. " You are to wear it always for 
her sake." 

" But I am not worthy ! " she exclamied, 
suddenly. " Oh, Guy, dearest ! I am not 
worthy. If I could only grow more like her ! 
I have prayed so hard that God would help me 
to follow in her footsteps and make me a good 



122 A STEP ASIDE. 

wife to you. She left yon to me as her legacy, 
and somehow I feel that one day she will ask 
how I have fnlfilled her trust ; and if well she 
will smile at me with the dear old smile, and 
kiss me as she used to when I sat by her side 
through those long winter evenings," and the 
girl paused, and looked dreg^mily away at the 
distant streak of sea. 

" She talked of you so much, Gruy, then,*' 
she continued after a minute, " I think she 
guessed that I loved you," and Nancy looked 
tenderly into his face. 

He did not answer in words, but he drew 
her close to him and kissed her long and 
lovingly. 

* * * ^"c * 

The summer had faded, and October had 
come. The elms had donned their golden 
garments, and the maples were resplendent in 
crimson and yellow. 

Nancy and Guy are married, and on their 



A STEP ASIDE, 125 

way to the West Indies, and at " The '\Aliite 
Ladies" there is a little Eustace born ^dth a 
soft baby face, and his father's dark eyes. 

At first Sir Eustace looked at Olive and the 
boy with joy and pride, and then mingling^ 
with that happiness came horror and reproach. 
The child seemed to make his sin stand ont in 
more ghastly colours, and it hurt him to see 
Olive bend over it in such glad content. 

" If she only knew," the fiend whispered, 
"the disgrace you have brought upon her, only 
knew that the child was not — " 

Sir Eustace tried to drown the voice, but it 
rang persistently in his ears, and the image of 
his son confronted him like some stern Nemesis. 
And so it came to pass that the child, which 
should have brought love, brought bitterness, 
remorse, misery. And then the old jealousy 
which had slumbered, revived with renewed 
force. It maddened him to see Olive's intense 
love; it di'ove him distracted to watch her 



.124 A STEP ASIDE. 

caresses, and lie gradually began to loatlie liis 
own child. 

At first he fonght against the terrible 
feeling with horror and dismay ; he strove 
to battle with this awful thought, but, 
alas ! he had made his choice of the downward 
path, and this was only another link in that 
chain, which was dragging him into that limit- 
less abyss of evil. 

For a time Olive did not notice Sir Eustace's 
jealousy, and discontent. She was so wi-apped 
up in that tiny morsel of humanity, that for 
the moment her husband was a little put on 
one side. It was not exactly that she loved 
him less, but the child seemed to monopolise her 
every thought, and she was a woman in whom 
the maternal instincts were strongly em- 
phasized. 

Her first awakening to his state of mind 
came some three months after the child's birth. 
Sir Eustace had controlled himself hitherto. 



A STEP ASIDE. 125 

He had possessed his anger in silence, but each 
day it grew and strengthened, and at length it 
broke out in a burst of unmeasured petulance 
and rage. 

It had been arranged that Olive was to 
accompany him ujDon a visit to some old 
friends who had taken a house in the neigh- 
bourhood. The visit had been postj^oned 
several times owing to Olive's unwillingness 
to leave the child, but at last a day had been 
finally settled ; when on the morning of their 
departure Olive came to her husband and said — 

" Eustace, I cannot leave the child to-day ; 
he has been so poorly all night, you must go 
alone." 

Sir Eustace did not answer ; for a moment,, 
he hesitated, and then his anger burst forth. 

" Am I to be sacrificed for ever to the 
child ? " he said in a voice quivering with 
rage. '' Do you exjDcct me to be satisfied wdth 
the beggarly crumbs of love which you can 



126 A STEP ASIDE, 

spare from the child P If your affection is 
dead, have you no feeling of duty towards 
me ? " And he looked sternly at her, his eyes 
flashing with a hard scornful light. 

Olive was startled by his words, and 
then a weary feeling came over her, she 
was so tired of battling with this eternal 
jealousy. 

" Eustace," she pleaded, " do not look at 
me like that. You know that my love is 
the same for you. But you cannot," and 
she hesitated, "be jealous of your ow^n 
child ! " 

The words fell from her almost unawares, 
and their awful purport seemed to thrill her 
with horror. 

Sir Eustace did not answer ; he stood gazing 
moodily out of the window, his face dark, and 
his hands working restlessly. He did not 
.answer her question ; he only said — 

" Will you come with me ? If your love is 



A STEP ASIDE. 127 

as strong as you say, you will hardly sacrifice 
my pleasure for a mere caprice." 

"But it is not a mere caprice," cried Olive, 
passionately; "the child is ill, and suppose 
that he should become worse while I am 
away." 

" Nonsense ! it is a mere childish indispo- 
sition," he exclaimed. " The child will be well 
enough ere you retm-n. Too well, perhaps," 
he muttered under his breath, and then he 
shuddered at his own thought. AA^iat a fiend 
lie was becoming ! To what extremes was his 
sin and jealousy leading him, that he should 
even desire the death of his OA^^l child ! He 
shivered with hoiTor at the ghastly thought, 
and then he turned to his w^ife, and said 
pleadingly, 

" Come with me, Olive. Do not refuse 
me; it is my great love for you which 
makes me jealous ; come with me just this 
time." 



128 A STEP ASIDE. 

Still she hesitated. She could not bear to 
say him nay, and yet, the child — how could 
she leave it ? 

He saw her hesitation, and he turned coldly 
away, and began arranging some papers. 

" Eustace," she said, " if I came I should 
be miserable. Do not ask me ; " and she laid 
her hands imploringly on his arm. 

He looked at her for one brief moment, and 
a spasm of agony crossed his face, and then he 
silently unloosed her fingers, and left her 
without a word. His jealousy of the child 
increased tenfold. He had been supplanted 
by it, put aside, and his request calmly refused. 
And yet Olive had said that her love for him 
was unchanged. 

Yain words ! For the future he must come 
second, he must see the child on his throne, 
basking in the smiles and caresses that should 
have been his, and a savage bitterness and 
misery took possession of him. 



A STEP ASIDE. 129 



CHAPTER YII. 

And so the days and weeks passed by, and 
almost imperceptibly Olive and Sir Eustace 
drifted fai-ther and farther apart, away from 
their sweet tender converse. There had been 
no A^olent ruj^ture, no tearing away of old 
ties, no rending asunder by harsh words. The 
change had come slowly and insidiously. The 
first touch had been the conversation recorded 
in the last chapter. 

Olive had been hurt and angry at her 
husband's behaviour ; she had thought him 
unreasonable, cruel to wish her to leave the 
child, and he, in his tm-n, had been furious 
with jealousy at her choosing to remam with 
VOL. III. K 



I30 A STEP ASIDE. 

the baby rather than to accompany him, and 
so that first little breach had widened until 
a gulf seemed to have opened between them, 
and the old happy intercourse was clouded and 
dimmed. 

Sir Eustace's love for his wife was as 
intense as ever, his yearning to possess her 
entirely for himself had become stronger by 
opposition. He suffered tortures during those 
weary months. 

Outwardly he made no sign, he preserved a 
calm, cold mien, while inwardly he was con- 
sumed with a wild jealousy and despair. He 
would walk up and down the library in pas- 
sionate misery. He told himself that she was 
cold, heartless, that she had never really loved 
him, or else the presence of the baby could not 
have changed her so completely, and he would 
go back to those sweet summer days when she 
had been his wholly and entirely, and he 
wished, aye, wished with fierce intensity, that 



A STEP ASIDE. 131 

the cliilcl liacl never come to destroy that 
blissful time. 

Olive did not realize the fires which were 
smouldering in her husband's breast. She was 
angry with him because he did not share her 
intense love for the child, and she was losing 
patience wdth his jealousy. She forgot in her 
maternal duties that she somewhat neglected 
those which she ow^ed to him. The early 
morning walk with her husband was aban- 
doned for her visit to the nursery, the evening 
talk m the library while he smoked was dis- 
continued, because she must see that all was 
right with her child, and instead, she would 
linger by the cradle, and watch the tiny hands 
grasp hers, and listen to the soft cooing voice. 

And, so the months rolled on. Sir Eustace 
would absent himself all day shooting or 
hunting. He was not a keen sportsman ; at 
school and college he had cultivated his brains 
rather than his muscles ; but he hated to be 



132 A STEP ASIDE. 

at home, to see Olive near him, and jet to feel 
that in reality she was so far off. 

" Perhaps if I am away she will miss me," 
he said, "and be glad when I return." But 
alas ! she never uttered a word of regret at 
his absence, or of pleasure at his return. She 
only told him some story of the little Eustace, 
and his heart grew more hard and bitter 
within him, and his anger against the child 
gathered force. 

The spring had come at last ; a few snow- 
drops and hepaticas had pushed up their 
heads, and "a soft mist of green" hovered over 
the woods. Sir Eustace tried to feel a little 
hope grow up in his heart as he gazed at the 
awakening of nature. The spring contains 
such glorious possibilities. All seems within 
our grasp, those fanciful Elysian dreams 
appear almost to be ours, and no aspiration 
seems too high for us to reach. 

But such hopefulness did not come to Sir 



A STEP ASIDE. 133 

Eustace. The sun and the brightness gave 
him no comfort ; rather did they make him 
more sad and dejected, for they reminded him 
of his lost happiness, and his jealousy grew 
with overwhelming rapidity. 

There had been a few quite warm days at 
the beginning of March — days which made you 
wonder if the summer had made a mistake, or 
had taken compassion and come to cheer us 
before its time after the long, cold winter. 

The child was nearly seven months old, it 
had gro\^m, but had not strengthened ; it was 
a fragile little thing, with its dark liquid eyes, 
and soft golden hair. It had been languid 
and peevish dm-mg the warm spring days, but 
the nurse had said it was only the spring time 
which made it feverish — nothing more. 

But, alas I there was a deeper cause than 
the warm days and the spring time, for one 
morning the child grew suddenly worse, and 
lay feverish and breatliless. 



134 A STEP ASIDE. 

The doctor looked grave when he came, 
and then uttered that one terrible word — 
" Diphtheria." 

The illness had been in the village hovering 
about like an evil spirit, and now it had 
swooped down upon that one precious treasure. 

Olive stood white as a sheet as she listened 
to the doctor's words. "Was there any hope? " 
she asked at last, in a hard metallic voice. 

The doctor looked at her in surprise ; the 
tone was so cold ; there was no outward sign 
of emotion except that the hand which grasped 
the rail of the little crib trembled, and the 
veins in her tlu'oat stood out visibly. 

"We doctors are not infallible, Lady 
Devereux," he replied; "while there is life 
there is hope, but, my dear lady," and the old 
man looked kindly into Olive's face, " I must 
not disguise from you that it is a grave case ; 
the child is so 3'oung and delicate." 

'' I know, I know," gasped Olive, hoarsely ; 



A STEP ASIDE. 135 

" but it cannot die — it shall not, it shall not," 
and she threw herself down beside the cot, 
and caught the baby passionately in her arms, 
and then she rose and said, half wildly, 

" Send for another opinion, do not delay, I 
beseech you ; send at once." 

The doctor acquiesced willingly, but as he 
watched Sir Eustace write the telegram he 
whispered, 

''It is useless. Xothing less than a miracle 
can save your child." 

Sir Eustace sat staring in front of him after 
the doctor had left. Nothing short of a 
miracle can save the child ; it was going to 
die, and at first a feeling of pity and remorse 
came into his heart. He had hated it, wished 
it dead, and now God was going to take it ; 
and Olive, how would she bear it ? what 
would she do ? She had loved it with such 
an adoring love ; what would she do without 
it? She would have nothing left — nothing 



136 A STEP ASIDE. 

but — but — and a sudden vivid light flashed 
into his face and a feeling of exultant joy 
thrilled through him — nothing but himself. 
She would return to him, love him as of 
yore, and the joy seemed nearly to intoxicate 
him. 

He sat for some minutes, lost in a happy 
dream, and then he rose and went softly 
upstairs into the sick room. 

Olive knelt by the cot, she did not notice 
his entrance ; her eyes were ri vetted upon the 
child, who lay with flushed cheeks in a 
troubled slumber. 

Sir Eustace's heart smote him for the joy 
that he had felt, as he looked at that little 
pinched, fever- stricken face. How could he 
have been so merciless, so wanting in all 
human love, as to rejoice at the death of his 
own child ? It was awful, unnatural, and yet, 
his eyes turned again to Olive kneeling in her 
dark dress, her golden hair pushed from off 



A STEP ASIDE, 137 

her forehead, and a look of agonised tenderness 
in her eyes. 

The child was the price that must be paid 
for this woman's love, and again the passion 
revived, and again he felt that an^iihing was 
worth sacrificing, no matter what, provided he 
regained her love. 

Olive looked up as he approached. 

" Eustace, I am so tired," she said faintly, 
" will you take my place for a little, and 
watch by him ? You must paint his throat 
every half hour. Can you do it ? remember 
it means life or death. I would not ask you," 
she added coldly, " but the nurse is lying 
down, and — ^^I am so Aveary," and then as she 
reached the door she turned, and cried 
imploringly, 

"You will be careful, and in an hour I shall 
return, I Avill not be longer," and then she 
tottered into the next room, and threw herself 
upon the bed. 



138 A STEP ASIDE, 

Sir Eustace took lier place beside tlie crib. 
The baby bad awakened, and looked at 
him with wild, delii'ious eyes, and then 
moaned softly and rolled uneasily from side 
to side. 

Why had Olive spoken so coldly to him ? 
While the child lived she would never come 
back to him, and a dark, aw^ful thought shot 
through his heart. Wliat devil suggested 
such fiendish wdckedness ? Supposing the 
child recovered ; Olive's love was lost for ever. 
As the child grew^ her love for it would grow, 
and each year would make her more engrossed, 
wdiile, if it died — she would be his once more. 
There w^ould be no one to stand between them, 
no one to rob him of her love ; and he held 
the child's life in his hands. He was alone 
wdth it. IS^o one would know if he failed to 
remove the membrane, and, after all, the doctor 
had said that there was no hope. It was 
simply a matter of hours. It w^as not murder. 



A STEP ASIDE. 139 

for the cliild must die in any case ; it onl}' 
meant shortening the pain. 

He looked at the clock ; the time was draw- 
ing near when he should insert the brush. 
The child's breathing became more laboured, 
Sir Eustace turned his face resolutely away ; 
he could not bear to see the struggles ; he 
looked out at a dark cloud, which was empt}^- 
ing itself in a cool shower. The drops were 
flinging themselves against the window with a 
joyous patter, and then the rain ceased sud- 
denly, and the peacocks began to screech. 

Sir Eustace rose and jDaced the room with 
restless strides. It reminded him of the after- 
noon he had spent at Mr. Jones' side, listening 
with desperate horror to his ravings. The 
child was quieter ; it had fallen into a kind of 
stupor. It wanted three minutes yet to the 
time ; he took out his watch, and compared it 
with the clock, and then he peeped into the 
next room where Olive lay in a deep slumber. 



I40 A STEP ASIDE. 

Her hair had become unloosened, and fell 
about her like a cloud of gold, and there was a 
peaceful smile upon her face. 

Sir Eustace leaned over her, and then he 
drew back in horror; how could he dare to 
press his lips to hers with that crime upon 
his soul ? How could he ever dare to meet 
her eyes vvdth the knowledge that he had let 
the child die, and she had trusted him, 
fearing nothing. He glanced again at her 
sleeping form, and while he looked she moved 
slightly, and murmured, 

" Be sure you remember, it is life or death." 
The battle raged fiercely for one long 
agonizing minute, and then the better part of 
Sir Eustace's nature gained the victory. No, 
not even to gain her love could he succumb to 
this awful temptation. He went swiftly back 
into the child's room, It had awoke, and was 
battling for breath with a piteous convulsive 
movement. He took the brush, and quickly 



A STEP ASIDE. 141 

and skilfully did as lie had been instructed, 
and then he sank down on the chair, overcome 
by the fierceness of the struggle. His face 
was deathly, and cold beads of perspiration 
poured fi'om his brow. 

When Olive returned she found him still 
sitting in the same position, his head bent in 
deep abasement. 

Now that the heat of the moment had 
passed he shuddered with horror and loathing 
at his own thought, where would this passion 
lead him ? He had committed one heinous 
act for its sake, and now he had been about to 
take murder upon his soul. He dared not 
look at Olive ; he stole out of the room, and 
out of the house on to the wild open moorland, 
and there he wandered hour after hour. 

The fickle March sunshine had departed,, 
and the air felt chill, and dark snow clouds 
drifted sullenly up from the horizon, and still 
he wandered on and on. He was hoiTor-struck 



142 A STEP ASIDE. 

by the enormity of his own thought, and he 
longed to make reparation. 

When he re-entered the house it was four 
o'clock, and the London doctor had arrived ; 
but even his skill was powerless to stem 
the tide wdiich was sweeping that young life 
away. 

The great man onl}^ shook his head, and 
repeated Dr. Eccles' words. 

But still Olive refused to believe that her 
darling was doomed. She sat with the child 
on her lap, speechless with a great despair, 
and looking like some wan, beautiful Niobe. 
She heard and saw naught around her save 
the tiny drawn face with the wistful, imploring 
eyes. 

" Olive darling I " Sir Eustace whispered, 
" you will wear yourself out. Give the child 
to me for a little time." 

To see her suffer was torture. At that 
moment he would have laid down his life to 



A STEP ASIDE. 143 

save lier pain. But lier words smote him with 
agony. 

"No," she moaned; "you do not love him. 
Let me keep him while I can, and afterwards, 
what matter? afterwards, when he is dead 
there is nothing — nothing — left." 

Sir Eustace turned away, a deep, wild anger 
rising in his heart. Why did she speak those 
cruel words to him ? Had the child stolen all 
her affection ? And the demon of jealousy 
returned, and he sat silent and moody, nursing 
the passion which threatened every moment to 
hreak forth. If she only knew the truth, 
would she mourn, he muttered. Would she 
not rather rejoice that the seal of her disgrace 
was gone ? 

An hour sped by and Dr. Eccles returned. 

" It is sinking fast," he said, " the struggle 
cannot last much longer. The j^oison is so 
malignant." 

"Is there no hope?" wailed Olive, "Can 



144 ^^ S'TEP ASIDE, 

nothing more be done ? Oh, I beseech you, 
save his life ! Oh, for the love of heaven ! " 
and the tears broke from her eyes, and a 
convulsive sob shook her frame. 

The old man hesitated. 

" There is one last resource, but in this case, 
Lady Devereux, it is useless to try it." 

" No, no ! " cried Olive, " Try anything, 
anything." f 

" But it is risking the life of another," 
replied the doctor, looking round hesitatingly 
at Sir Eustace, who rose, and said in clear 
incisive tones, 

" You mean the operation of tracheotomy, 
and then sucking the poison from the child's 
throat." 

" Yes," replied the doctor, " the operation I 
am ready to perform, but sucking the poison 
from the child's tliroat is too perilous to life. 
I cannot risk it." 

" Olive," said Sir Eustace, bending again 



A STEP ASIDE. 145 

over his wife. " I am ready to do this if you 
wish it." 

A sudden impulse came to him. In this 
way he could make reparation for that awful 
thought, and if he could save the child's life, 
he might regain her love. 

Olive made no answer. 

" But it is so deadly, Sir Eustace," argued 
the doctor, " it is ten chances to one that you 
take the illness, and in this case to rmi the 
risk would be all but useless." 

" Olive," whispered Sir Eustace, " say, do 
you wish it ? " 

For a moment there was silence except for 
the laboured breathing of the child and the 
rhythmical tick of the clock. 

" Lady Devereux, do not allow your husband 
to sacrifice his life ! " exclaimed the doctor. 
" I tell you it is dangerous, terribly danger- 



ous." 



Olive made no answer. She looked in a 

VOL. III. L 



146 A STEP ASIDE. 

dazed way from one to the other, and then she 
broke into long passionate weepmg. 

Sir Eustace took the child resolutely from 
her arms, and beckoned to the doctor to follow 
him into the adjoining room. 

" I am determined to try the operation," he 
murmured, quickly and decisively ; and then 
he added under his breath, 

" If I give you back the child, Olive, darling, 
will you not give me back your love ? " 

***** 
The operation had been tried, but in vain. 

For an hour the child had rallied a little, and 

then it had sunk into a stupor. 

It was six o'clock. The curtains were 
drawn, and a shaded lamp cast a pale light 
over the sick room. Olive still held the little 
unconscious burden. 

Sir Eustace stood watching her, a mad 
despair possessing him. He had done all 
that was possible for her sake to save the 



A STEP ASIDE. 147 

child, and yet she had not given him one kind 
word, one tender glance of gratitude. 

She had allowed him to do this thmg 
which was perilous to his life ; she was so 
wrajDped up in the child that she never thought 
of him. He told himself that she cared not if 
he lived or died provided the child was saved. 

If she only knew the truth ! and a T\dld 
evil desire came to him to tell her, to do 
anything to take her love from the baby. 
His head throbbed, and his blood seemed 
rioting through his veins with this mad desire, 
and some overwhelming force appeared to be 
spurring him on. He could bear an}i:hing 
rather than see her love for the child. 

An hour passed, and the clock struck seven. 
Each stroke vibrated and echoed through the 
silent room. The ^\ind had risen and was 
whistling round the house, and the fire was 
emitting a little hissing noise as if snow were 
falling down the chimney. 

L 2 



148 A STEP ASIDE. 

Suddenly the child seemed to awake from 
its stupor. It opened its eyes and stretched 
out its arms and tried to raise itself, and then 
with one long convulsive shiver, it fell hack 
dead. 

Olive uttered a low, piercing cry, and 
pressed it to her breast with agonized despau'. 

"It is dead," whispered Sir Eustace, 
hoarsely, trying to take it from her ; but she 
struggled, and cried : 

" No, no ! Let me keep it ! It is all that 
is left to me," and a spasm seemed to come 
in her voice, and she broke into loud piteous 
weeping, rocking herself backwards and for- 
w^ards in her agony. 

Sir Eustace was desperate, and he cried, 

" Olive, you have me left. Can you not be 
comforted ? Is not my love more to you than 
the child? " and he took the little dead body 
resolutely from her arms, and laid it on 
the bed. 



A STEP ASIDE. 149 

" No," she wailed, hardly knowing what 
she said. " ^o, it is my baby that I want, not 
your love. Grive him back to me, give him 
back." 

Sir Eustace, clenched his hands. A frenzy 
overpowered him. She had said that his love 
was nothing compared to the child. She had 
told him that there was nothing left to her, 
and a storm of bitterest jealousy overwhelmed 
his reason. She should know the truth ; she 
would not then mourn for the child. The 
passion mounted to his head ; for the moment 
he was distraught. He forgot the fearful 
consequences, he forgot all, save one mad 
desire, that she should not grieve for the child. 
The words burst from him like some raging 
torrent that Avill not be stemmed, and they 
seemed to rend the air with their awfulness. 

" Why moui-n ? " he cried. " You should 
rather rejoice, for the child was but an emblem 
of your disgrace. You are not my wife ! " 



I50 A STEP ASIDE. 

The fatal words were uttered. They had 
gone forth, and there was no recalling 
them. 

The instant they were spoken Sir Eustace 
realized the ghastliness of his position ; he 
saw in one frightful agonized moment that by 
his senseless passion he had lost all, ruined 
his life. 

They stood facing each other, the dead 
child between them, dividing them in death 
as it had done in life, its small calm face 
contrasting strangely with the wild passionate 
countenances of the man and woman who 
confronted one another. 

There was a dead, awful silence, broken 
only by the ticking of the clock, and the 
hissing fire. Olive's face was grey as stone, 
and her voice seemed to come from far away. 

"Not your wife!" she repeated. "Are 
you mad ? " 

And then suddenly a strange thing happened. 



A STEP ASIDE. 151 

A wave of memory flashed through her 
mind — 

The scene in the drawing-room at San 
Giovanni came ^d^ddly hefore her, and then 
Sir Eustace's emotion when she had asked 
for more details of the man Bryant. The 
room reeled, and the dead child's face seemed 
to rise from the bed and mock her, and then 
with one awful shriek she cried, 

" Are you Bryant ? the man whom the 
woman raved about that day in the cottage ? 
Speak ? " she muttered hoarsely, grasping the 
rails of the little crib, " speak, I adjure you ! " 
Her breast heaved, and her eyes seemed 
flames of fire. 

Sir Eustace cowered before her words. He 
was li^ad with agony, the passion had died 
from his face, and the lamp shed a ghastly 
pallor upon it. He tried to speak, but the 
words refused to be uttered. He put his 
hand to his tlii'oat as if he would draw them 



152 A STEP ASIDE. 

forth, but nothing came but a long, gasping 
Dreath. 

" For God's sake, speak ! " cried Olive, 
leaning across the crib, and gazing at him 
with eyes dilated, and mouth quivering with 
despair and agony. 

As she gazed he lifted his eyes to her, 
and for one long minute they looked 
down into each other's hearts, and then 
Olive's hands relaxed their hold of the 
little crib, and with one desperate wail 
of agony, she sank back utterly over- 
whelmed by the awfulness of her position. 
In that one terrible moment she had read 
the truth. 

Sir Eustace gazed silently at her with the 
bitterness of death encompassing him, and 
then he tlirew himself on his knees by her side 
and pleaded vehemently with her. 

" Olive," he gasped, " have mercy upon me ; 
say that you forgive me." 



A STEP ASIDE. 153 

Slie looked up, her face grown suddenly old 
and haggard. 

" Forgive/' she repeated in a hard, strained 
voice. " Forgive the man who has ruined my 
life." 

" But it was my great love, oh, listen," and 
the words came pouring forth in a wild 
despairing stream. 

" My great love. Ah ! will you not under- 
stand ? will you not believe ? I fought against 
the temptation at first. I meant to go away, 
but that night — when we went out in the life- 
boat — you came to me and begged me not to 
go, and — and — I knew then that it was too 
late to flee, that I had gained your love, and — 
I was weak — I could not resist such temptation. 
No one knew about her. I brought no open 
disgrace ujoon you ; before the world you were 
my wife, the other happened so long ago, and 
she was mad, hopelessly mad. Have you no 
forgiveness, no pity ? It was through my 



154 A STEP ASIDE. 

great love that I fell, Olive ! Olive, have 
mercy upon me ! " and he stretched out his 
arms to her. 

But she sat, stern and unrelenting, her face 
stony, and her eyes fixed with a dull, dazed 
expression on the dead child. 

She rose as he finished, and withdrew her- 
self from his touch. And then she said, in 
low passionate tones, 

" You call it love which could drag down 
the object to such depths. You call it love 
which could oblige the loved one to live a 
life of sin. You can desecrate the name of 
love by daring to give that holy name to 
your miserable passion. Day by day you 
have made my life a lie, a base, despic- 
able lie. You had no compassion on my 
innocence, no remorse for the sin that you 
were making me commit ; nothing but your 
oyni selfish desire, and I — " and she broke 
into an awful, reckless laugh, which 



A STEP ASIDE. 155 

echoed and re-eclioed in the silent chamber 
of death — 

" I, my God ! I believed in you — loved 
you — thought you ' Sans peur et sans re- 
proche.' " And then her voice broke into a 
wail of anguish, and she cried fiercely, " How 
dared you do this awful thing ? How dared 
you live with me day by day, knowing that I 
was not your wife ? How could you be so 
base, so A^ile ? And the child — I understand 
now why you had no love for it. It could 
never have borne your name. It was ever 

there as a rebuke and reproach for your 

J) 
sm. 

" Olive," he cried, " have mercy on me ! I 

know my wickedness, but it was for love of 

you. I could not live without you ; you 

were my life, my all. Have you no pity ? 

Think what I suffered durmg those years tied 

to a mad woman, my life ^Tecked and lonely, 

and then suddenly brought under your sweet 



156 A STEP ASIDE. 

inflnence. Have you no comj^assion for me ? 
The temptation was overwhelming — and — the 
child — the reason I did not love it was the 
same, because it stole your love from me. I 
wanted it all, and each day you grew more 
cold, and drifted farther and farther from me, 
and I became desperate, and in my madness 
and jealousy the secret broke from me," and 
he sank into a chair, and buried his face in 
his hands. 

Olive stood still by the little crib. The 
child's face was so peaceful. Death had 
smoothed away the lines of suffering, and it 
looked like an angel, with the soft yellow locks 
making an aureole round its head, and the 
little hands clasped on its breast. 

She did not move as Sir Eustace finished. 
She stood like a statue, her face cast from 
iron, and her hands locked in each other, and 
then slowly she turned and walked towards 
the door. 



A STEP ASIDE. 157 

Sir Eustace sprang up, and planted himself 
in front of her. 

" You shall not go ! " he cried, in low, 
intense tones. 

" Let me pass," she said, her eyes cold as 
steel ; " YOU have no power to detain me. 
Eemember I am not bound to you by holy 
vows. I am free to depart, to go where I 
will." 

He fell back, with a low, stifled cry. His 
dream was realised, those awful words ; his 
face was ashen. 

"Have mercy, Olive," he gasped, in a harsh, 
broken voice, " for the love of Grod, have 
mercy ! Say that you forgive me," and 
he stretched out his hands again implor- 
mgly. 

" Forgive ! " and she turned to him, a fierce 
light glittering in her eyes, and then she added 
in hard, flint -like tones, " I can never forgive 
— never — never — ," and then she turupd once 



158 A STEP ASIDE. 

more to the little crib, and stood gazing down 
on the dead child. 

Sir Eustace shrank away before her scathing 
words ; he dared not approach her, and the 
chamber of death was silent. The fire hissed 
recklessly, and the clock struck eight slowly 
and deliberately, and the wind wailed, and 
then rushed against the window in hard, angry 
gusts. 

Olive stood for one long minute, contem- 
plating the angel face, and then she turned, 
and without one word, one glance, swiftly left 
the room. 



A STEP ASIDE. 159 



CHAPTEE YIII. 

She stood for a minute outside tlie door 
stunned, dazed by the suddenness of the blow, 
and then she fled downstairs. The one feeling 
which possessed her was that she must flee 
away, far, far away, no matter where, providing 
she escaped from liim, and fi'om this house of 
sin. 

As she passed through the hall she caught 
up a hat and shawl, and flung them hastily 
on her, and then she made her way to the 
drawing room, from whence she could reach 
the garden. 

She paused for an instant as she entered the 
room. It looked so bright, so homelike. The 



i6o A STEP ASIDE. 

fire threw wavering shadows over the pictures 
and the quamt old furniture. 

Was it possible that this awful thing could 
be a reality ? Could it be true ? Her hus- 
band, her child, both lost to her. Was it 
not some horrible nightmare, some frightful 
delirium ? She looked wildly round, and then 
her glance fell on the picture of " The Path of 
Life." J^ 

A lamp threw a lurid glow upon it, and 
the figures seemed to stand out in strong weird 
prominence. The man appeared to hesitate no 
longer, she seemed to see him turn down the 
pleasant easy path of sin, and then, like a flash, 
the memory of that summer afternoon returned 
to her, when Sir Eustace had asked her to be 
his wife, and his words beat upon her brain, 
" Must we not sacrifice all for the sake of 
love?" 
' She understood them now, and a shiver 
ran through her, and then the perfume of 



A STEP ASIDE. i6i 

roses and white lilac floated towards her, and 
seemed to saturate the air, and mock her with 
its sweetness. Was it real or imaginary the 
subtle scent w^hich brought that scene so vividly 
before her ? She glanced around, and there on 
a small table stood a bunch of early Marechal 
Niels framed by white lilac. Olive tore the 
flowers from the vase, and trampled them 
savagely under her feet, and then sped out into 
the dark stormy night. 

She paused for a moment, and looked up at 
the black pile of building, with its little turret 
towers, and the lights streammg from the 
windows. She had been so happy there — so 
happy, and a hard sob rose in her throat, and 
then she rushed on. A cold shower of hail 
dashed against her face, but she cared not. 
She saw, she felt nothing, but the quivering, 
desperate pain which seemed to burn, and 
throb, and tear her very heart out. 

She had left the park and garden behind ; 

VOL. III. M 



i62 A STEP ASIDE. 

she was out now on the wild, desolate cliffs. 
On she went, mile after mile, once she heard 
voices near to her, and she withdrew behind 
the shadow^ of a bnsh until they had passed. 
They were only villagers — a youth and a girl ; 
she heard their words, and they sent a fierce 
agony to her heart. 

The man whispered, " Good night, Mary, 
to-morrow, darling, you will be my wife." 

The word was torture, and she caught her 
shawl more tightly round her, and sped on 
into the darkness, whither she cared not. 

She was alone, absolutely alone. There was 
not a creature she could go to now, except 
Aunt Hannah ; Nancy was miles away, and 
Aunt Prudence was dead, and a dry, gasping 
sob broke from her, as the awfulness of her 
position overcame her, and she sank down in 
her loneliness, and buried her face in her hands. 

The wind rushed on its headlong course, 
and the hurrying clouds covered the sky with 



A STEP ASIDE. 163 

murky blackness, and below tlie cliffs the 
waves roared, as they flung themselves upon 
the rocks and then recoiled with a long, 
hissing voice. 

She w^as alone, and she cowered down in 
her misery, and a reckless despair came upon 
her. Why should she go on living ? Why 
not cast herself over the cliff ? It w^ould be 
so quick, and — afterwards — it would be end- 
less sleep or oblivion. There was no God. 
There could be no God to allow such terrible 
suffering. 

She could not live wdth this awful disgrace 
upon her. She was no better now than the 
jDOor, fallen creatures fi'om whom she had 
shrunk with horror and disgust ; and the man 
who had brought this ruin upon her was he 
whom she had trusted with all her heart, and 
had thought upright, honourable, " sans jDeur 
et sans reproche," and she bm-st into mad, 
hysterical laughter. 

M 2 



1 64 A STEP ASIDE. 

She had almost forgotten the child, the 
other pain seemed to have engulfed her, but 
now the little white figure rose up before her 
eyes. The soft, golden hair was blown about 
by the wind, and the face wore an expression 
of piteous anguish. One hand was raised, and 
appeared to her fevered imagination to point 
over the cliffs. She staggered to her feet, and 
tottered a few steps towards the vision with 
outstretched arms, but, as she approached, the 
figure moved to the edge of the precipice, 
and vanished, and she stood there alone on 
that awful brink, gazing down into that black, 
limitless abyss. 

She heard the waves' mighty roar, as they 
thundered upon the shore, and then the 
clouds divided, and for an instant a pale 
ray of moonlight fell on those boiling, 
seething waters. She saw the whirling tide, 
the cruel curling crests, the white lapping 
tongues of foam, and the sharp, black 



A STEP ASIDE. 165 

rocks lying like evil monsters waiting for 
their prey. 

She drew a long, laboured breath, it would 
be over so soon, she must go, only one 
moment, and then rest. The waters seemed 
calling to her, a thousand voices rang in her 
ears ; the dark rocks, the white spray, the pale, 
sickly moonlight appeared to mingle in one 
blurred mass, and — then — she felt strong arms 
about her, and Mr. Jones' voice said, '' Lady 
Devereux ! " 

She struggled to free herself from his 
grasp. 

" Let me go!" she cried; "I tell you it' 
will only be a moment's suffer mg — and then 
— rest — rest — f orgetf ulness . ' ' 

"Are you mad?" he whispered, looking 
with agony into her white, set face. 

" Mad ! No," she murmured, " Xo, she 
was mad — the other one, not I, — not I. But 
let me go," she implored, trying to free her- 



i66 A STEP ASIDE. 

self, " the pain is killing me, and there," and 
she pointed over the cliff, " there I shall 
forget. It will only be cold for a minute, — 
and afterwards — peace . ' ' 

Mr. Jones gazed at her with terrified eyes. 
How came she here alone ? What frightful 
thing had happened to overset her reason ? 

He pleaded with her gently. " Come," he 
said, " let me take you home. It is too rough 
for you to be out." 

"Home ! " she shrieked. "Home! I have 
none. I am alone — an outcast upon earth." 

" Lady Devereux," he answered, sternly ; 
" you have your husband — your child." 

" Husband ! Child ! " she cried, mock- 
ingly ; "I have neither. The child is dead, 
and — and — he was not my husband. Do 
you know? Do you understand?" and she 
grasped his arm. " I am not mad, only 
desperate." 

Mr. Jones's face grew ashen, and his breath 



A STEP ASIDE. i6f 

came fast. Sir Eustace not her Imsband ! 
Wliat had brought this awful delusion ? 

" Listen," she whispered, hoarsely. " Do 
you remember that day in the cottage last 
year? The woman I went with you to see, 
w^ho raved about a man named Bryant?" She 
stopped to gain breath. 

Mr. Jones uttered an exclamation of dismay. 

" That man and Sir Eustace were the same 
person. He was married out m Australia 
long ago, but she went mad. Do you 
understand? " 

Mr. Jones stood paralyzed with horror, and 
the word " Scoundi'el ! " broke from his lips. 
Could it be true, this ghastly story, or was it 
merely the fabrication of her fevered brain? 
But she stood there so calm ; the passion had 
expended itself, and the wild look had left her 
eyes. 

'' Ask him if you do not believe," she mut- 
tered low. " You will find him there with 



i68 A STEP ASIDE. 

the body of the child. Go and ask him ;" and 
then the sense of her own loneliness came over 
her, and she said, "but do not leave me yet." 

" I Avill not leave you," he said, vehemently. 
" Let me take you to some place of shelter." 

" But where can we go ? " wailed Olive. 
*' I cannot go to Aunt Hannah with this 
shame and disgrace. I am alone. Oh ! take 
me far, far away from him. You saved my 
miserable life, but for what good, what good?" 
and her voice broke into passionate, uncon- 
trolled weeping. 

Mr. Jones stood by her silently, his heart 
was too full for speech, and he feared himself ; 
the temptation was so sore. He was alone 
with the woman he worshipped, adored, and she 
craved his help — pleaded for his protection. 
He had fought with this love that night 
before her wedding, and crushed it down, and 
now again it rose up and re-asseiied itself. 
It told him that the world would be well lost 



A STEP ASIDE. 169 

with her at his side ; that at this moment in 
her agony he could gain her consent to any- 
thing. But it was only for one minute that 
those evil thoughts flashed through his brain, 
and then he put it from him with loathing 
and horror, and he turned gently to Olive, 
and drew her hand through his arm. 

" Come," he said, " there is one I can take 
you to, who is humble in position, but she has 
the kindest heart, and she need know nothing 
but that you are in trouble. She is my 
mother's old maid, and she lives in Ilchester. 
Her nature is a little like Miss Prudence's." 

" Oh ! if she were only alive ! " whispered 
Olive ; '' but I am alone — alone." 

They spoke little after that ; the strain was 
telling upon Olive, those days and nights of 
anxiety, and at the end that crushing, over- 
whelming blow. She stumbled along, her 
limbs feeling heavy as lead. 

" I cannot go any further," she said at last. 



I70 A STEP ASIDE. 

" Only as far as those lights," he whispered. 
" That is St. Yinyard's. The train leaves there 
at half past nine." 

She staggered on, and a few minutes brought 
them to the little station with its dim flickering 
gas lamps, and small squalid waiting-room. 

Olive shrank into a corner, and gazed 
absently at the flaring advertisements that 
hung round. 

There was one of an excursion train to 
Plymouth, with a gaudy picture of the town, 
and there was another brilliant red placard 
denoting a flower show that was to be held the 
next day. She looked at the words in a 
stupified dull way. She had promised to 
attend the flower show, and help to distribute 
the prizes, and now — and now — She turned 
her face away, and leaned it against the wall. 

A woman came in presently with a baby, 
and began wringing the wet from her clothes 
and from the child's. Olive watched the drops 



A STEP ASIDE. 171 

trickle down from her umbrella into a little 
pond on tlie dirty oilcloth, and then she heard 
the woman say : 

"It be a desperate bad night, and you look 
starved to death." 

She did not answer ; she only shrank more 
into the corner. And then the child stretched 
out its arms and stroked the w^et dress, and 
said softly, " Poor — poor," and its little hood 
fell back, and disclosed a head of golden curls. 

Olive uttered a low cry, and stai-ted to her 
feet. It was so like her own baby, she could 
not bear to see it, and she Avalked hurriedly 
away, and stood by the door, a fierce despair 
thrilling her. VHij should that woman be so 
haj^py, and she so miserable, her life wrecked, 
ruined, disgraced ? and scalding tears started 
to her dry eyes, and the advertisements danced 

and swayed before her. 

«/ 

Mr. Jones came to her at that moment, and 
said gently, " The train is coming," and then 



172 A STEP ASIDE. 

he drew her hand again within his arm, and 
they went out on to the little dripping plat- 
form. 

There was as much bustle as could be made 
by one porter with a hoarse voice and a bell. 
There was a flash of many lights, a shrill 
whistle, and Olive and Mr. Jones found them- 
selves alone in a carriage, ghding swiftly away 
through the darkness. 

Mr. Jones did not speak ; he was terrified by 
her ashen, haggard face. She sat there as one 
paralyzed, her eyes wide open, and staring into 
space, with an expression of utterly hopeless 
despair. 

Once she spoke, in dull hard tones, " Why 
did you prevent me from casting myself over 
the cliff ? Why did you not let me die and 
go into oblivion, and forgetfulness ? Oh, 
God ! " she cried, " must I bear this agony for 
ever? Is there no peace?" and she wrung 
her hands in desperation, and then sat silent. 



A STEP ASIDE. 173 

Mr. Jones uttered no word. He knew how 
futile is speech in mental pain such as hers, 
and that kmdly actions are all that we can 
offer. 

There was a Hash of lights, and a buzz of 
voices, and Olive found herseK being piloted 
through the crowded station at Ilchester. A 
minute more, and they were in the street. 
The gas lamps flickered, and flared in the 
wind ; the gutters were roaring torrents, and 
the pavement streamed with wet. Mr. Jones 
strove to shelter her from the rain ; it was 
only a few steps, and two minutes' walk 
brought them to their destination. 

Olive clutched Mr. Jones' arm as they 
reached the steps, a sudden faintness came 
over her. The door was opened by an old 
woman with a round, sunny face, soft pink 
cheeks, and black cajD with pink ribbons. 

" Law, Mr. Harold ! " she cried, holding up 
her hands, " whatever brings you out on such a 



174 A STEP ASIDE. 

niglit ? " and tlieii, catching sight of Olive, she 
made an exclamation of surprise. 

Mr. Jones whispered something hurriedly 
in her ear, and she led the way into a warm 
-comfortahle little room. 

Olive tottered after her, and then sank down 
half unconscious. 

" Poor lamb ! " said the old woman kindly ; 
" poor lamb, she does look bad ! " and she 
began to chafe Olive's cold hands, and then 
she 230ured her out a cup of tea from a teapot 
which stood on the table. 

But Olive turned away, and sat staring 
vacantly into the fire. Mr. Jones drew Mrs. 
Brandon outside. 

" Jane," he said, " I have a favour to ask, I 
want you to do sometliing for me." 

" I am sure I'll do anything I can to please 
you, Mr. Harold," she answered. 

" That lady," he continued, his voice 
trembling w4th emotion, "is in terrible 



A STEP ASIDE. 175 

trouble, and, for reasons that I cannot explain 
to you she has nowhere to go ; will you keep 
her here for a few days ? until — until — " 
and he broke off feebly. 

" Surely, Mr. Harold, surely I'll keep her ; 
you know I'd do any mortal thing for you, 
and I'll do my best to make the poor thing 
comfortable ; but she seems in a sad plight." 

" Thank you, Jane," he said, taking the old 
woman's hand, and pressing it gratefully ; "I 
knew that you would help me." 

"It is only a pleasure, Mr. Harold, to do 
anything for you," and the woman's eyes 
moistened, and she looked lovuigly into his 
face. 

" I must go now," he said, wearily, turning 
again to the room where Olive was; "to- 
morrow I shall be back." 

As he entered the door she rose from her 
chair, and said, " Must you go ? Cannrot you 
stay with me? I am so alone — alone." 



176 A STEP ASIDE. 

" To-morrow morning I will return," he 
replied, softly ; " and till then Jane will take 
care of you." 

He held her cold hand in his, and looked 
down with terrible agitation into her pleading 
face. How he longed to stay with her — 
comfort her — help her ! 

"Thank you," she said, suddenly; "thank 
you for all — your kindness — and — and — one 
day, perhaps, I may thank you for my life, 
but not now — not now," and she sank back 
again in the chair, her face grey and drawn 
with suffering. 

Mr. Jones paused for a moment when he 
reached the street. Was it a reality, that last 
fearful hour, or was it only a ghastly dream ? 
He put his hand before his eyes, and tried to 
shut out the gruesome sight of Olive upon 
that cliff, her figure poised upon that awful 
brink, preparatory to casting herself into that 
black gulf, one moment more, and he would 



A STEP ASIDE. 177 

have been too late, and he shuddered with 
horror. 

And now what was to be done ? He must 
go to Sh' Eustace, and tell hhn she was safe. 
His face darkened as he thought of him. 
How dared he bring this ruin upon her ? 
And then he thought of the woman's w^ords 
that day in the cottage ; why had he not 
believed them ? Why had he not tried to find 
out Bryant r He had asked Sir Eustace, and 
he had lied to him, and the word " Scoundi-el " 
again broke from his lips. 

How could a man be so Adle, so des- 
picable r and yet — to gain Olive's love he 
almost understood it. Had not wild thoughts 
rushed through his brain that moment on 
the cliff, and who Avas he to judge 
another ? 

He must go to "The White Ladies" to- 
night ; the cathedi'al clock chimed ten ; it 
wanted still five minutes before the last train 

VOL. III. N 



178 A STEP ASIDE. 

left, and lie linrriecl on, and elbowed his way 
into the crowded station. 

^ 7^ v^ y^ T^ 

Sir Eustace sat as one paralysed when Olive 
left him. He was struck down, overwhelmed 
by the awful consequences of his o\\m hasty 
words. How he cursed himself for his mad- 
ness, for his passionate uncontrolled temper ! 
What devil could have possessed him in that 
wild moment ? And he groaned aloud in his 
agony, and writhed in his despair. 

The fire had died down, and the room was 
dark, except for the dim rays of the lamp ; 
which fell with ghostly radiance on the face 
of the dead child. 

Sir Eustace rose and walked to the little 
crib, and looked down on the still, white face 
with the tangled, golden locks. He shivered 
as he gazed. 

" The rebuke, the reproach for my sin," he 
murmured, and then he crept out of the room 



A STEP ASIDE. 179 

clown to the library. He paused as lie passed 
Olive's door ; lie dared not enter ; lie could 
never approach lier again. That beautiful life 
was shattered, and by his own hand, and 
noAv — - she would leave him — but whither 
w^ould she go ? 

She had been mother, and not wife, and the 
disgrace which he had brought upon her 
suddenly overwhelmed him. In his first 
agony he had forgotten her position, but now 
it burst upon him in all its aTv^ulness. He 
knew her too well to dream it possible that 
she would continue that life of falsehood and 
sin, even to save herself from outward shame, 
and he was powerless to help her, powerless to 
make reparation whilst his mad wife lived. 
He had dragged her down wantonly into this 
desperate strait ; he saw the baseness of his own 
actions, the consequences of his own selfish, 
mean desires, and he sank, crushed by the 
blackness of his o^a^i crime. 

N 2 



i8o A STEP ASIDE. 

He was roused at leng'th from his terrible 
thoughts by a knock at the door, and Williams 
the butler came in. He was an old and trusted 
serv^ant, and had been with Sir Eustace ever 
since his return from Australia. 

" I beg pardon, Sir Eustace," he said 
deferentially, " but the postman has just 
brought this letter. It was overlooked this 
morning in the sorting, and as it had 
' immediate ' upon it, they sent it up thinkmg 
as it might be important." 

" Put it down," said Sir Eustace wearily. 

The servant did as desired, and retreated to 
the door. 

Sir Eustace's eyes looked absently at the 
letter, which Williams had laid down beside 
him, and then he uttered an exclamation and 
caught it up. It bore the name of the agent 
who forwarded all the Australian communica- 
tions. His fingers trembled as he opened the 
envelope ; inside was a telegram directed to 



A STEP ASIDE. i8i 

E. Bryant, Esquire. He tore it from its 
covering, and spread it out before him. 

He read the words over and over again, 
before he mastered the sense, and then he 
started up, and cried, " My God ! I am free ! 
But it has come too late — too late ! " and the 
paper fluttered to the ground at his feet, and 
his eyes still rivetted themselves uj)on the 
words, "Rose Bryant died this morning." 
Dead — his mad wife dead. He was free, but 
too late, and he muttered an oath, and sat 
with his haggard face convulsed and livid 
with passion. 

He knew not how long he sat there ; it 
might have been years. The clock chimed 
something, and Bogie began moaning in his 
sleep, when the door opened again, and 
Williams entered. 

'' If you please. Sir Eustace, Mr. Jones 
has called, and wishes to see you most 
particularly." 



1 82 A STEP ASIDE. 

" Mr. Jones," repeated Sir Eustace, in a 
dazed voice, " Mr. Jones ! " 

" Yes, Sir Eustace," and the young man 
pushed past Williams, and walked into the 
room. 

There was a moment's silence as the door 
closed, and the two men found themselves 
alone. 

The memory of that night after his 
accident, when he had asked Sir Eustace 
about Bryant flashed through Mr. Jones' 
mind. He seemed to hear again the mellow 
splash of the fountain outside, and the crash 
of the Sevres vase as it toppled from its 
pedestal. He understood now how the acci- 
dent happened, as he gazed on the man 
who had worked this havoc with Olive's 
life, and a fierce resentment possessed him. 
How dared he have stretched out his 
fettered hand to take her free one ? 
He struggled with the violent agita- 



A STEP ASIDE. 183 

tion that thi'illed liim, and then he said 
sternly — 

" I came to tell you that she is safe." 

'' Safe ! " repeated Sir Eustace. " She is here, 
upstairs." 

" No ! she has left you." 

" Left me ! " the words seemed like the cry 
of a lost soul, so unutterable was the bitter- 
ness and despair that vibrated through them. 

Mr. Jones felt a touch of compassion for 
the wretched man before him, but he said, 
coldly — 

" How could she remain after she knew the 
horrible truth ? " 

" But where has she gone ? " cried Sir 
Eustace, hoarsely, " tell me, I beseech you," 
and he lifted his head and looked with un- 
speakable anguish into the young man's face. 

Mr. Jones started as he met those pang- 
stricken eyes. Could a few hours have 
wrought such a change in a face ? It was 



1 84 A STEP ASIDE. 

grey with anguish, and there were black 
shadows under the eyes, and deep lines round 
the mouth. 

" Tell me," he gasped again, " tell me ; " 
and then, the old wayward passion rising, he 
cried fiercely, " you shall tell me, I have a 
right to know." 

"She is at Ilchester," replied Mr. Jones, 
"but what right have you to know?" and 
then his rage burst out. His compassion for 
the man was drowned in his anger. " You 
who have brought this awful thing upon her 
— you who have acted this dastardly part — 
my God ! how could you do it ? " The 
enormity of the deed suddenly breaking more 
fully upon him. " How could you dare to 
drag that pure soul into such a life — dare to 
come to God's altar, and swear a lie ? Was 
all honour, all truth dead in you ? Had you 
no thought but for your own mean, passionate 
desires ? No thought for the woman you 



A STEP ASIDE. 185 

were obliging to live a life of sin and 
shame ? 

" Do yon remember the night here in this 
room when I asked yon abont Bryant, the 
man about whom the dying woman had 
raved ? Do yon remember your answer ? You 
were standing by that window with the moon- 
light playing on the steps, and the shattered 
vase lying at your feet. I can see it all now, 
and your answer was, ' I never heard the 
name ' — scoundrel that you are ! " 

Mr. Jones' face was flushed, and his voice 
trembled with scorn, as he uttered the last 
words. A sudden sense of his own wrong 
rose up. This man had spoilt his life as well 
as hers ; if it had not been for him, per- 
haps — perhaps — she might have cared for 
himself. 

Sir Eustace cowered before the stinging 
reproaches, and then he muttered, " I loved 
her so. I struggled at first, but — but — the 



1 86 A STEP ASIDE. 

temptation was too strong for me, and I 
fell." 

" And dragged lier down with you," ex- 
claimed Mr. Jones. " And now, what is to 
become of her ? Have you thought of that ? 
The life you have ruined and disgraced, and 
no reparation in your power." 

" But there is a possible reparation ! " cried 
Sir Eustace, a sudden light breaking over his 
face, " read that," and he thrust the telegram 
into Mr. Jones' hand. '' My wife is dead, I am 
free," and he breathed hard, "but it comes too 
late ; she will never come back to me — never — 
it is too late," and he buried his face in his 
arms, and a broken sob burst from him. 

" You can marry her, give her your name ? " 
Mr. Jones asked breathlessly. 

Sir Eustace made a sign of assent, and 
then there was a dead silence, except for his 
long quivering sobs. 

A torrent of feelings swept through Mr. 



A STEP ASIDE. 187 

Jones. This Avoman whom he loved, Avho had 
clung to him in her misery and despair — it 
was his lot to srive her back to the man who 
had wronged her so bitterly. It was awful ; 
and yet, how could he hesitate ? It was the 
only way to save her good name. It must be 
done ; and then the thought flashed through 
him, could it not be arranged without any one 
knowing about this fearful night ? 

" Sir Eustace," he said quickly, " do the 
servants know that — that — she has gone ? " 

" No, they think she is in her room," he 
muttered. 

" Listen ! " cried Mr. Jones, grasping his 
arm. " Can it not be managed so that none 
but ourselves shall know of this awful time ? " 

" How ? " muttered Sir Eustace, looking up. 
"She will not marry me now; she will never 
come back — never — never — " 

" But she shall," exclaimed Mr. Jones. 
" You must make her your wife — give her 



i88 A STEP ASIDE, 

your name, and — and — afterwards?" he 
murmured, " — afterwards God knows what 
you can do, but before the world you must 
save her good name." 

" I will do anything, anything," whispered 
Sir Eustace. 

" Have you any old servant in the house 
that you can trust, really trust ? " 

" Yes, Williams has been with me for 
years." 

"Send for him, then," exclaimed Mr. Jones, 
" and tell him that she has left the house, 
make any excuse ; say that her grief for the 
child had turned her brain a little, and, it is 
true," he continued harshly ; " no one would 
cast themselves over the cliffs who was not 
mad for the moment." 

" Cast herself over the cliffs," gasped Sir 
Eustace, looking wildly into his face. " Is it 
true ? Why did you not tell me ? " 

" Because I could not ; it was too awful," 



A STEP ASIDE. 189 

and Mr. Jones covered his face with his hands. 
" I was only just in time," he muttered, " just 
in time. I was walking home after a long- 
round, and I saw a figure standing on the 
edge of Dead Man's Cavern; the moonlight 
flashed down upon it, and I saw her face white 
and shining, and — " 

Sir Eustace sprang up, and uttered a cry 
which Mr. Jones never forgot, it was ghastly 
in its bitterness, and then he fell back on the 
sofa, unconscious. 

When Sir Eustace recovered, Mr. Jones and 
Williams were kneeling beside him, and he 
whispered feebly to Mr. Jones, " Tell him any- 
thing, only for God's sake save her." 

Mr. Jones took Williams aside, and told him 
of Olive's flight. He put it upon her grief for 
the child's death. " Xo one in the house must 
know of this ; it is of the gravest importance 
that it should remain a secret ; can you arrange 
it?" 



I90 A STEP ASIDE. 

" Yes, sir, I will tell the servants as Sir 
Eustace took my Lady to some friends near, as 
soon as the baby died, as she seemed so wild, 
and they'll none of them know to the contrary, 
for the nnrses were lying down, and her lady- 
ship's maid is away on a holiday. Never fear, 
sir, I'll manage it, I'd do anything to serve 
Sir Eustace and my Lady." 

Mr. Jones gave a sigh of relief, and then he 
turned to Sir Eustace, who had fallen again 
into a half unconscious state ; his face looked 
deathly, and his breath came in laboured 
gasps. 

" Send for Dr. Eccles," he said to Williams; 
"I am afraid your master is seriously ill." 

Sir Eustace opened his eyes once, and said, 
" Do not let me die till — till I have given her 
my name. Send for the — " 

Dr. Eccles shook his head when he came, 
and said, " I hope it is only fatigue and 
anxiety, but — but I fear diphtheria. Sir 



A STEP ASIDE. 191 

Eustace would try to save the child's life by 
sucking the poison from its throat; I told him 
it was dangerous but he insisted." 

" I did it for her sake," whispered Sir 
Eustace to Mr Jones, "for her sake." 

All night he tossed on a bed of pain, and in 
the morning he was worse. Mr. Jones never 
left him ; he watched by him hour after hour 
till the daylight strayed in through the closed 
shutters. It had been a terrible night, as he 
looked back at those hours in after years, he 
wondered at the strength which had been 
vouchsafed to him. As the clock struck eight 
be rose. 

"Are you going? " whispered Sir Eustace. 

" Yes," he answered, " I am going to her." 

A spasm of agony swept over the sick man's 
face, and he gripped the young man's hand, 
and said, "Do not delay the ceremony ; better 
on my death bed than not at all, and it is better 
so perhaps, that I should die, and — and it was 



ic)2 A STEP ASIDE. 

for her sake that I tried to save the child. I 
have brought this evil to her life, but I have 
given mine for her sake," and he tirffied his 
head away on the pillow. -^ 

Mr. Jones' eyes were wet, as he walked 
down the broad staircase, and out into the 
morning air. Once again he was called on to 
perform that ceremony, once again ! But what 
different circumstances attended it! How 
different from that bright September morning! 
And Olive's face rose up before him, as she 
looked in her bridal dress, with all the tender 
possibilities in her eyes, — and then he saw her 
as she looked last night, her figure poised on 
that awful crag, and her face distorted by the 
reckless despair which possessed her. 



A STEP ASIDE. 193 



CHAPTER IX. 

" How is she ? " inquired Mr. Jones eagerly, 
as Mrs. Brandon opened the door to him. 

The old woman shook her head, " Poor 
lamb, she just seems broken-hearted, Mr. 
Harold, just broken-hearted. She sits there 
with her eyes staring at nothing, and a look, 
as if — " and the good woman wiped her own 
eyes — " as if life were all over for her ; it 
breaks my heart to see her, poor dear, and so 
young, so young." 

Mr. Jones entered the room softly. Olive 
w^as sitting as Mrs. Brandon described; 
she did not move or look up as he 
approached till he murmured a greeting, and 

VOL. III. o 



194 A STEP ASIDE. 

then slie raised lier eyes, and held out her 
hand. 

" Yon have come at last," she said wearily ; 
" it seemed so long, so long." 

Mr. Jones sat down hy her side, and looked 
tenderly into the white set face. It appeared 
shrunk and pinched and the eyes burnt with a 
feverish lustre. 

" "What am I to do ? " she wailed piteously. 
" What is to become of me ? Why did 
you save my wTetched life? I should have 
been at rest, and now, this pain it will never 



cease." 



Mr. Jones' heart ached for her suffering, 
and again he felt a passionate resentment rise 
against the man who had dared to bring this 
misery upon her. How could he be his 
ambassador, how could he counsel her to return 
to him ? and yet there was no other course, 
everything must be done to save her good 
name. 



A STEP ASIDE. 195 

" I have seen liim," lie said at last, in a low 
voice. 

She made no answer, but her face hardened, 
and her hands grasped the arms of the chair. 

"He is ill," Mr. Jones continued, watching 
the effect of his words, " the doctor fears that 
he has caught — " 

A sharp spasm contracted her brows, and 
she whispered hoarsely " Not the diphtheria." 

Mr. Jones made a sign of assent. 

"If he should die," she cried breathlessly, 
" it would be my fault ; I could have stopped 
him from making the experiment, but — but — 
the child — the child," and her face relaxed, 
and tears gushed from her eyes. " I loved it 
so — it was a last chance, and — I could think 
of nothing but ni}^ child." 

Mr. Jones sighed, and turned away. He 
had a hard mission to perform, and how was 
he to begin ? He looked round the cheerful 
little room, and strove to j)repare his words. 

o 2 



196 A STEP ASIDE. 

A bright fire blazed in the grate, and two 
kittens lay on the hearth locked in each other's 
embrace, and a cage with a bullfinch hung in 
the window. 

He looked absently from the kittens to the 
bullfinch, and from the bullfinch back to Olive. 
And then he said, 

" I have something very strange to tell you. 
something that concerns your future." 

She made no reply, but she turned her white 
face towards him. 

" Last night," he continued, " after — after 
— you had left Sir Eustace — " her face 
hardened again, and her fingers wound them- 
selves more tightly round the chair. Mr. 
Jones hesitated for a moment, and then he 
proceeded, "Sir Eustace received a telegram 
from Australia." 

She gave a start, and an expression of 
anguish darted into her eyes. 

" The telegram said that — " and his voice 



A STEP ASIDE. 197 

quivered with agitation — " that she — his wife 
— was dead." 

There Avas a silence ; Olive sat rigid ; the 
fire shifted in the grate, one of the kittens 
turned over in his sleep, and the bullfinch's 
little claws made a sharp thud as he jumped 
backwards and forwards from perch to perch. 

" Do you understand ? " he whispered. " He 
is free." The words appeared to linger in the 
air with a long joyous ring. And then Olive 
muttered bitterly, 

" How does his freedom concern me ? The 
past cannot be undone. He deceived me, lied 
to me, dragged me down to an existence no 
better than — than — " and her voice died away 
in a whisper. " He made the holiest part of 
my life a lie, a sin. The evil that he did can- 
not be effaced ; his freedom comes too late — 
too late," and she bowed her head, and looked 
into the fire Avith a drear, desperate despair. 

" But he can make you reparation," 



igH .4 STEP ASIDE. 

whispered Mr. Jones. " Now that he is free 
he can give you his name." 

She started to her feet, her face ablaze with 
passion, and her eyes flashing with anger. 
'' And you would have me go back to him ? " 
she cried, vehemently ; "go back to the man 
who has wrought this destruction to my life, 
brought this shame upon me ! You would 
have me marry him now, after — after — the 
terrible past? " 

Mr. Jones turned and walked to the win- 
dow. A tumult of feelings rushed through 
him ; he could not meet her bitter, scornful 
gaze. In his heart he would not have her 
return to the man who had brought this evil 
upon her, but it must be. By no other means 
could her honour be saved. 

" Do not tell me that I must go back," she 
said imploringly, laying her hand upon his 
arm. " Take me far away, where I shall 
never see him more, and where I may forget." 



A STEP ASIDE. 199 

His lieai't throbbed at her touch, and wild 
thoughts fled through his brain. He hesi- 
tated ; the bullfinch was piping " Home, sweet 
home," and one of the kittens had climbed on 
to the table, and was walking gingerly between 
the ornaments. A home with Olive. The 
thought was rapture, and thrilled him through 
and through. She might grow to love him 
in the future, and they would go away to some 
distant land where the past was not known, 
where — There was a crash ; the kitten had 
knocked down a vase, and it lay shattered on 
the carpet. The s]3ell was broken. Mr. Jones 
recoiled at his own thoughts ; how could he 
let himself dream anything so base ? He who 
had judged Sir Eustace with such severity ; 
was he not meditating something nearly as 
evil ? For the sake of his own desires he 
would sacrifice her good name, he would let 
a slur rest upon it that could never be 
removed. 



200 A STEP ASIDE. 

He turned — a sudden strong resolution in 
his face, and said, in grave incisive tones, " I 
do counsel you to return to Sir Eustace ; let 
him make the reparation which he is willing, 
aye, eager to make." 

Olive looked at him with a wild feverish 
gaze, and then she murmured, 

" Go hack to the old life, the life which is 
dead, which nothing can revive ? Live day 
after day with that past staring me in the 
face. No, never — never — " and she sank 
down again into the chair, and muttered, " Let 
me go away, anywhere, only far away." 

Mr. Jones' face grew stern and set ; the 
task was almost too hard, but it must be 
fulfilled. 

He bent over her, and whispered, " You 
must marry him for the sake of your honour, 
and for your life afterwards," and his voice 
broke, " God will help you." 

Olive sat as one in a dream. The kitten 



A STEP ASIDE. 201 

was hanging on to the table-cloth, and let 
itself down with a dull thud, and the 
bullfinch hopped merrily backwards and for- 
wards. 

" For the sake of your honour ! " The 
words seemed to repeat themselves with 
horrible emphasis. But surely her honour 
was gone, they must all know of her fiight. 
She mui'mured the question. 

No one except myself knows the reason of 
youi' absence," replied Mr. Jones. " They 
have been told that you were so overwrought 
with grief that Sir Eustace took 3'ou away 
quietly that evening to some friends. None 
need ever know, but ourselves. The marriage 
will be by special licence, and your good name 
will be safe, and the secret I will keep faith- 
fully all my life." 

Still she sat silent, her face working with 
agitation. One of the kittens suddenly leaped 
on to her lap, and began playing with a part 



202 A STEP ASIDE. 

of her dress, but she did not appear to 
notice it. 

Mr. Jones stood watching her intently, his 
hands clenched, and his eyes glistening with 
his emotion. There was one other argument 
left, but it was a hard and bitter one for him to 
speak, and yet, if all others failed, he must try 
it. He waited several minutes, the kitten had 
got up on to the back of the chair and was 
rubbing itself softly against Olive's neck ; she 
paid no heed, but sat as one paralyzed. Once 
or twice her lips moved, but no sound issued 
forth, her eyes were stony in their hardness. 
Mr. Jones gave a hardly suppressed groan ; he 
must brace himself to make one more effort. 

Oh ! the irony of fate, that it should fall to 
his lot to plead Sir Eustace's cause ! And then 
with an effort he whispered : 

" Have you no love left for this man ? Is 
all your affection dead ? Have you no forgive- 
ness ? Eemember, though his sin was terrible, 



A STEP ASIDE. 203 

he fell from his great love for you, and — should 
he die — " she uttered a low exclamation — 
"remember he gave his life for the sake of the 
child. He pleads with you now for forgive- 
ness ; he offers you all the reparation that it 
is possible for him to give. Have you no 
mercy, no pity ? " and his voice thrilled with his 
earnestness. " Eemember that we all fall 
short of what God would have us be, and who 
are we to judge another ? How can we say 
that had a like temptation been offered to us 
that we should not have fallen ? " He paused, 
his agitation overcame him for a moment, and 
then he cried aloud, 

" For Grod's sake I beseech you pause, con- 
sider my words ! Your whole future depends 
upon your decision — -" 

"Give me time," she murmured, " time — 
leave me to-day. To-morrow perhaps, to- 
morrow — " 

Mr. Jones leaned against the wall as he closed 



204 A STEP ASIDE. 

the door behind him. His brain reeled, the 
strain had been so great, the fray so fierce, 
the battle with his own feelings so awful, 
and the battle wdth her so hard to win ; 
but he had won. He saw in her face that 
he had conquered ; she had not told him so 
in words, but he had seen the softening 
in her eyes, and heard the tremble in her 
voice. 

"Are you ill, Mr. Harold?" asked Mrs. 
Brandon's voice, close to him, "you look so 
white." 

" No, no, I am not ill," he renlied : " onlv 
tired." 

" You work too hard. Sir ; your landlady, 
Mrs. Haiden, she be quite right ; you young 
gentlemen never think, you just go ahead at 
things so." 

" Xo, Jane, it is not that exactly ; but I 
have been worried," and then suddenly chang- 
ing his tone, he said gravely, 



A STEP ASIDE. 205 

"I want more help from jou, Jane. I know 
you can hold your tongue." 

" Yes, Mr. Harold, I can do that pretty fair, 
I think," replied the woman complacently. 

"I want you to stand witness to a marriage," 
continued Mr. Jones. 

" Not a runaway match, Sir? " inquired the 
old lady, looking startled and rather shocked. 
" No," he replied hesitatingly ; " no ; only a 
marriage in which there was some irregularity, 
and which necessarily has to be performed over 
again." 

"Good gracious! and is it to do with the 
poor thing in there ? " 

Mr. Jones nodded. 

" I'm sure as I'd do any mortal thing to help 
her. When may it take place, Mr. Harold? '^ 

" In a few days," the young man replied, and 
then he put his hands on the old woman's 
shoulders, and said solemnly, 

" Jane, promise me, for my mother's sake,. 



2o6 A STEP ASIDE. 

that you will keep this secret faithfully all 
your life." 

" I promise, Mr. Harold ; I promise as it 
shall never pass my lips." 

Olive sat quite still after Mr. Jones left 
her. She leaned her head back against tlie 
chair, and cried softly. The tears relieved her, 
they took the aching pain from her heart. 

Did she still love Sir Eustace ? Was it 
possible? She had told herself that every 
scrap of affection was dead, that she never 
wished to see his face nor hear his voice again 
— and yet — was it true? Woman's love is 
hard to kill. It clings with firm intensity, 
even where the object is utterly unworthy, and 
Olive, as she probed her heart, felt that under 
all her anger, all her scorn, there yet lingered 
love ; dimmed, tarnished, the first lustre gone, 
the bloom of trust brushed away, but not dead. 
That spark which leaps so suddenly into fiame 
and is so hard to extinguish, it was there, 



A STEP ASIDE. 207 

buried under the weight of despair and shame, 
but still there, in the deepest recesses of her 

heart. 

***** 

Three days passed away, and Sir Eustace 
grew worse rather than better. The doctor 
pronounced the poison of such a malignant 
kind that he feared the patient's strength 
could not hold out. 

On the third day there was a decided change 
for the worse. Sir Eustace lay tossing all the 
night, and in the morning he whispered to 
Mr. Jones, 

" The marriage, it must be to-day. Pray 
her to come, let me do all that lies in my 
power for reparation. Bring her quickly — 
quickly," and he looked with fever- stricken 
eyes at the young man, and then as Mr. Jones 
turned he muttered, " The witnesses. Have 
you thought of that ? " 

" Yes," replied the clergyman ; Mrs. Bran- 



2c)8 A STEP ASIDE. 

(Ion, my mother's old maid, whom she is with, 
and Williams." 

" And what have you told them ? " the sick 
man asked eagerly. 

" Simply that there had been an irregularity 
in your first marriage, and that you wished 
the ceremony performed over again, but as 
secretly as possible, and they have sworn to 
silence." 

" Thank you," Sir Eustace muttered hoarsely. 
" You have been a true friend to me, and I 
can never be grateful enough. When I am 
gone," and he hesitated, " be good to her." 

Mr. Jones could not answer, but he pressed 
Sir Eustace's hand, and hurried from the 
house. 

The last three days had been like an evil 
dream to him, like some ghastly nightmare. 
He had seen Olive once ; it had been a short 
painful interview. She appeared completely 
crushed by the awfulness of her position, 



■A STEP ASIDE. 209 

whicli as each day passed broke more fully 
upon lier. But lie had gained her assent to 
come when he should fetch her. 

" Jane," he said, as the old woman opened 
the door to him, " will you come and fulfil 
your promise ? " 

She nodded assent, and he passed into the 
room where Olive sat. 

" I have come to fetch you," he said, 
simply ; and then very gently and tenderly he 
told her that there was no hope, and that she 
must hasten. 

" And it is I w^ho have killed him ! " she 
cried, rocking herself backward and forward ; 
"he tried to save the baby for my sake. Oh, 
Grod ! forgive me ! It was my fault — my 
fault ! " 

" Hush ! " whispered Mr. Jones ; "he in- 
sisted upon doing it — and the doctor thinks 
that the seeds of the disease were there before, 
and that the experiment on the child only 

VOL. III. p 



2IO A STEP ASIDE, 

accelerated it. But come," he murmured, 
" we waste time, and tlie moments are so 
precious." 

She staggered to her feet, her face ghostlike 
in its pallor. 

" Yes, come," she muttered, " come." 

Tlii'ough the long drive she sat like a statue, 
except for the feverish light which burnt in 
her eyes, and the restless workings of her 
hands. 

Williams opened the door, and she walked 
firmly into the house, and upstairs, and then, 
as she reached his room, she faltered and 
shrank hack. 

" I cannot go in," she whispered to Mr. 
Jones, " that last awful night is before my 
eyes. I see it all as w^e stood there with 
the dead child between us, and now — take 
me away," and she held out her arms to him. 
" Oh ! take me away." 

Mr. Jones caught his breath sharply, and 



A STEP ASIDE. 211 

then be took lier liand kindly but firmly in 
bis, and led ber to tbe door, and pusbed ber 
gently into tbe room. 

" Olive," — tbe voice was so cbanged sbe 
hardly recognized it — " can you forgive me ? 
It is so bard to die without your forgiveness. 
I have sinned against you grievously, but, my 
God, I loved you so ! " 

Sbe bad stood quite still for a moment, and 
then sbe cast herself dovm upon ber knees 
beside the bed, and wept. 

" Eustace," sbe cried, '' it is I who have 
killed you ! I was so selfish, I thought only 
of tbe child, and I let you risk your life, and 
now — now — " 

" Hush ! " he murmured, " it was all my 
own domg. I did it to regam your love. I 
thought that if I saved tbe child's life you 
would be to me as you had been, and then my 
jealous passion drove me mad, and I confessed 
tbe awful thing that I bad done." He took 

p 2 



212 A STEP ASIDE. 

her hand in his hot feverish ones, and 
mnrmured, 

" Have mercy on me, Olive ; let me make 
the only reparation that is possible. Let me 
give you my name. If I had lived I would 
not have troubled you with my presence, I 
would have gone far away ; but now I am 
dying. It is better so, you will be free to 
begin a new life, and God grant that it may 
be a happier one." 

A sob broke from her, and she whispered, 

" There is no new life possible for me. The 
old one was so beautiful till — till — the child 
divided us, and then — " and she buried her 
face in the bed, and cried silently. 

Sir Eustace stretched out his arm and 
drew something from under the coverlet — his 
violin. 

" Olive," he said. " do you remember that 
evening at Florence, when Corio told us the 
story of the Eanieris ? Do you remember 



A STEP ASIDE, 213 

that after they were gone we had some music 
together, you and I, and at the end we played 
' Lohengrin ? ' Do you recollect your words ? 
They have lingered in my ears ever since, ' I 
would forgive you almost anything if you 
played me that air.' " 

Slowly and painfully he raised the vio]in to 
his shoulder, and a few bars of that dream 3- , 
exquisite melody floated through the silent 
room. 

Olive raised her tear-stained face, and looked 
spellbound at Sir Eustace. His countenance 
had a rapt expression, and his eyes flashed 
with a new, strange light. The notes seemed 
wafted on the air like some angelic cadence. 
Each dulcet tone thrilled through the broken 
hearts of the man and woman and soothed 
them with a heavenly peace. The music 
ceased suddenly, and the violin fell from his 
trembling hands. 

Olive put her arms about him, and whispered 



214 A STEP ASIDE. 

words which illumined his dying face, and then 
he murmured, 

" Let the marriage be now, the time is so 
short — so short." 

Very sad and solemn was that little service. 
Mrs. Brandon and Williams stood together a 
little apart, the latter quite overcome by his 
emotion, and the former crying out of 
sympathy. 

Olive knelt beside the bed, her hand clasped 
in Sir Eustace's and his eyes gazing into hers 
with long yearning glances. 

Mr. Jones' voice quivered, as he read those 
beautiful but terrible words which bind two 
souls together in the sacred bonds of matrimony. 
" In sickness and in health, till death us do 
part." How doubly solemn they seemed in 
the presence of the dark angel who was 
hovering round I How doubly awful when 
pronounced over the dying man, and the fair 
young girl, her head bowed down by grief, 



A STEP ASIDE. 215 

and her heart crushed by the agony which 
had fallen upon her. 

The last words were uttered, the blessing 
given, and Sir Eustace and Olive were man 
and wife. Mr. Jones cast a long lingering 
glance at them, and then he turned and 
stole away for the second time, and left 
them alone. 

ile ^ ^ ^ « 

How fleetly did those last hours speedaway ! 

The day faded, the sun sank into the 
golden horizon, and a velvet haze fell softly 
over the landscape. 

Sir Eustace's life was ebbing fast away. 
The greyness of death was overspreading his 
features, and his eyes were growing dim. 

"You will live here, my darling," he 
murmured. " I have made a new will and 
left you everything, and you love ' The 
White Ladies.' We were very happy here 
once," he went on di'eamily ; " so happy that 



2i6 A STEP ASIDE. 

— that — I tlioiiglit heaven itself could not 
be better. Yon forgive me ; say it once 
more. Let me hear it once again." 

For a moment Olive could not speak, the 
tears choked her utterance, and then she cried, 
" Oh, Eustace ! it is I who have killed you. 
I — who — " 

" Hush ! " he interrupted sternly ; " you 
shall not say those words. Listen ! Had you 
wished me not to try the experiment, I would 
still have done it, Olive ; it was my duty. 
When I am gone, promise that you will not 
dwell upon that awful thought ; promise me, 
my wife," and he drew her closer to him, and 
looked pleadingly into her face, and then sank 

back exhausted. 

* * * * ^ 

" It is getting so dark, Olive," he whis- 
pered, stretching out his hands ; " are you 
there ? Call Mr. Jones, I would wish him 
farewell." 



A STEP ASIDE. 217 

She rose mechanically, and went to the 
door, and beckoned to the young man to 
approach. 

" Pray for me," muttered Sh' Eustace, as 
the clergyman bent over him, "and — and — 
I thank you with all my heart, I thank 
you for all that you have done. Be a 
friend to her, take care of her, I beseech you ; 
I leave her in your care." 

A stifled sob broke from the young man, 
and then he knelt and prayed — aye, prayed as 
he had never prayed before. The partition 
that divides us from the great unseen ap- 
peared swept away, and he seemed to stand 
w^ith that departing soul on the very threshold 

of eternity. 

* * * « * 

" Olive, my wife, my wdfe, come near to me. 
It is all dark now except for one little streak 
of light. Your forgiveness, say it once more 
— once more. Let me die with that in my 



2i8 A STEP ASIDE. 

ears, so that the refrain will be with me in the 
dark valley. Farewell, my love — my love. 
I sinned, but it was all for love — for love — of 
you," and he tried to stretch out his arms to 
her, and then, with a faint smile, he sank back, 
and the spirit fled. 



A STEP ASIDE. 



219 



CHAPTEE X. 

Four years have stolen away, bearing with 
them a weight of joy and sorrow. Guy and 
Nancy have returned from the West Indies, 
and are livmg at the Manor. 

All money difficulties have been removed 
from their path, as Arthur Lavendercombe 
has at length realised his long expected for- 
tune, and has bestowed a very generous 
income on both of his daughters. 

The old rooms echo with the glad voices of 
children ; a sturdy- boy of three, and a little 
demure maid of two, trot along the broad 
corridors, and round the old walled garden. 
The boy has his father's name ; and the little 



220 A STEP ASIDE. 

maid is called Prudence, after lier who lies so 
peacefully in the old churchyard. They have 
not forgotten her. Her memory is still fresh 
in their hearts, and when the day is fading, 
and they sit under the old elm tree, her name 
is whispered forth with gentle reverence, and 
they ever recall some tender recollections of 
that beautiful holy life. 

Hannah still lives at Hawthorn Cottage. 
The four years have aged her much, she moves 
slowly, and leaves the blinds and antimacassars 
to shift more for themselves. The little flower- 
stand still remains in the old place, and she 
never forgets to tend her dead sister's 
favourites. 

She touches the flowers lovingly, and mur- 
murs to herself — 

" You chose the better part, Prudence. I 
was troubled about many things, and I let 
the gracious, unselflsh portion of life pass 
me by." 



.4 STEP ASIDE. 221 

There is one person who loves Hannah, and 
whom Hannah loves, the little maiden who 
bears that sweet, never-to-be-forgotten name. 
Little Prudence sits fearlessly on her great 
aunt's lap, and pats the hard wrinkled face, 
and prates to her in soft, baby language, 
until a smile breaks over the grim counten- 
ance, and the long fingers caress the golden 
curls. 

Guy and Nancy are intensely happy. 
Nancy is her old, bright, joyous self, but the 
responsibilities of her new life have put a 
thoughtfulness into her face and manner, 
which w^as wanting before. 

And Olive — what of her? The foui- years 
have borne away the first bitterness and 
misery of that terrible time, but those hours 
of anguish have left the mark of their heavy 
hand. There are silver threads mingling 
among the gold, and there is a look in the 
grey eyes, which makes one shudder for the 



A STEP ASIDE. 



past suffering of which it speaks. But she is 
still beautiful, though her brow is lined, and 
her mouth compressed, as if curbing the 
violent emotion with which she has strug- 



gled. 



No one knows of that awful night, except- 
ing Mr. Jones, and he guards the secret faith- 
fully. He has fulfilled Sir Eustace's trust, for 
he has been her great support and help through 
.all the past years. 

Olive clung to him in her sorrow with wild 
despair. It was his kindly words which 
soothed the first paroxysm of grief ; his un- 
selfish example which helped her to take 
courage and try to piece the broken fragments 
of her life together, and which has shown 
her the narroAv path of self - denial and 
Tioliness. 

If any one could fill Miss Prudence's place, 
Olive had done so. Wherever there was 
sorrow or pain, it was her hand which soothed 



A STEP ASIDE. 223 

the suffering, her voice Avliieli comforted tlie 
broken -hearted. 

Each day found her at HaTs^horn Cottage ; 
she had not forgotten Miss Prudence's words, 
*' Will you try and comfort Hannah when I am 
gone ? " She had tried to cheer the old lady's 
lonely hours, and in the fellowship of pain they 
had grown very near to one another. 

They would sit together in the gloaming, 
and talk of that dear lost one, and Olive's face 
would become less sad, and Hannah's hard 
countenance would soften, and her voice grow 
almost sweet. 

The Eeverend Theophilus Shuffleout has 
been transplanted to another (let us hope a 
better) world, and Mr. Jones is now rector of 
Dinglehurst. 

The ruined church has been restored, and 
the old glass (or what, alas ! was left of it) 
carefully pieced together. The slugs can no 
more hold carnival on the damp mouldy walls. 



224 ^ STEP ASIDE. 

and the green moss has been ruthlessly dis- 
lodged from the arches. There is no longer 
any danger of being gathered to your ancestors 
by falling through the bottom of the pews, and, 
instead of the old table covered with a dirtj^ 
red curtain, there is reared an altar worthy of 
the ser\dce of God. 

It is June once more. The birds are singing 
their hearts out. The fair lush grasses are 
waving in the breeze, and the hawthorns are 
glorious in their sweet pink raiment. 

There are three graves in the now neatly 
kept " God's Acre." Over one, the hawthorn 
bends lovingly, and beside it are two others, 
one small, and one large ! At the head of the 
large one is a plain white cross, and upon it 
are traced the words, 

EUSTACE DEVEREUX 

DIED MARCH IOtH, 18 — 

and below is written, 

" Judge uot that ye be not judged." 



A STEP ASIDE. 225 

Mr. Jones is leaning over the Wych gate, 
gazing down on those three graves. He, too, 
has grown older, but years have dealt kindly 
with him. There is more firmness and strength 
in his face, and the dark eyes have gained a 
deeper tenderness. 

He is thinking of the three who are 
lying there. Miss Prudence with her beauti- 
ful holy life, the little child taken in its 
innocence, and the man who had done that 
e^dl action. 

On eaiih they rest side by side, and in 
heaven are they near to each other? The 
little child, and the holy woman, yes ; but the 
other ? Mr. Jones asked himseK the question, 
and then as if in answer, his eyes strayed again 
to those words, 

'• Judge not that ye be not judged." 

It had been her ^^dsh to place those words 
there. Mr. Jones strove to stifle the sigh which 
would rise in his heart as he thought of the 

VOL. III. Q 



226 A STEP ASIDE. 

terrible past, and tlien a sudden light illumined 
his face as he turned and beheld Olive coming 
towards him. 

She had put off her black dress for the first 
time, and she was arrayed in a soft silvery 
grey, the perfume of spring seemed to hover 
round her, and her face had caught a little 
joyousness. 

She stood silent by his side for a moment, 

and then she whispered, " I want to thank you 

for something to-day — something that I once 

railed at you for saving — my life. For months, 

years, the burden seemed too heavy to be 

borne, but — you have helped me, comforted 

me, and taught me that life, even when bov/ed 

in deepest anguish, is still blessed when it can 

be lived for others. 

« « « « « 

They wandered away under the pink haw- 
thorns by the waving lush grasses and are lost 
to our view. Wliether Mr. Jones' faithfulness 



A STEP ASIDE. 227 

was ever rewarded by more than Olive's friend- 
ship the sun may know, or the birds singing 
their sweet hearts out may be able to tell you 
what happened in years to come, but from me 
— from me, the future is hidden. 



FINIS. 



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