The Soul of Jeannie Duncan
THE SOUL OF
By MARJORIE BOWEN
JAMES HEPBURN returned to Scotland with the sad feelings of an exile who comes back to find everything strange. It was not long, as years went, since he had fled from his country after the Argyll Rising, yet it was long enough to have changed him.
He was largely ruined in fortune, and there seemed little chance that the changed order which had restored him his country would also restore him his estates. He possessed a pittance, stored in Holland before the evil days came, but it was not sufficient to allow of large leisure or ample freedom of action. He had petitioned the new Government for reinstatement in his land; he knew that he could not soon expect this redress from the present chaos of affairs. Meanwhile he was in Edinburgh, idle, strangely dull at heart.
The cause for which he had sacrificed everything had been largely achieved, yet this achievement had not brought him the peace of satisfaction.
The present Prince was, no doubt, a wise choice, but not James Hepburn's man. He had surrendered to death on Tower Hill, and in the present clash of events his name had become obscure and his career of little meaning.
The Protestant religion was secure, and the old tyranny for ever overthrown, yet this consummation did not seem like the triumph imagined in '85. Somehow Mr. Hepburn had dreamed it all very differently.
Perhaps his sense of disillusion, of disappointment, was due to his own inaction, his own uselessness. He had taken no part in the "glorious revolution" which had freed England, but had floated in the wake of other men's achievement and other men's fortune. The old splendid days of plot and counter-plot, intrigue, daring—all the fascinating expeditions of a desperate cause, all the romance of a gallant minority—were over.
Strangely, all his friends had been lost—had drifted from him on the current of tempestuous events—there was no one left of the old band which had left the Netherlands to follow Argyll in the days of the persecutions. And he had had magnificent friends.
His heart ached with longing for those lost days and for one friend in particular, whom he had neither seen nor heard from during the whole time of his exile; and for another, a woman this, dear Jeannie Duncan.
He found that he disliked Edinburgh as much as he had disliked the Hague and Rotterdam; the familiar buildings, the well-known streets, gave him no welcome. They seemed full of an alien atmosphere, full of a bustle and a turmoil that belonged to business not his. He was no longer part of great causes nor connected with high politics; he had served his turn; he was as forgotten as Monmouth and Argyll themselves.
He would leave Edinburgh. In Craigiemuir, his native place, he would find someone who knew him, some shepherd or hind who would remember the fine days, and who would shelter him a little in the chimney corner till he had had time to arrange his derelict fortunes and plan his vague future.
First he would see Jeannie Duncan, if she yet lived in Edinburgh, sweetest of women, kindest of friends, most loyal of partisans.
Twice she had refused to be his wife in the days when he had been able to match her in position. He would not be able to ask her again now, nor did he think she would ever, under any circumstances, have changed her mind. She was a woman of a firm decision—she would never have married save for love.
Mr. Hepburn reflected, with something of a start, that she might very well be married now, however.
Sitting over his dinner in the tavern in Rosamund's Wynd, he pictured Jeannie Duncan. Other faces had pleased an idle fancy, other smiles had eased a lonely heart, other companionship had lightened the empty hours of exile, but he had never asked, never wished, another woman to be his wife.
After five years he could picture her as accurately as if he had seen her yesterday. Most frequently he visioned her as in one terrible scene he had beheld her. The place was a barn at night; she, in a blue lutestring, with a lace scarf over her head, was holding high a candle to light two duellists—himself and an Englishman who had slandered their dear comrade, Francis Mowbray. The Englishman had been slain.
Jeannie Duncan had shown neither grief nor remorse. "He is dead, and his lie with him," she had said.
Francis had kissed her hand as she rose from beside the dead man. Francis had afterwards kissed him; he remembered how clearly he could recall the touch of the cold lips.
Francis Mowbray had reason to be grateful to his champion. Could the odious charge against him have been proved, Argyll himself, who loved him, would have been the first to have called for his hanging. For the young man so swiftly silenced by Mr. Hepburn had declared the beautiful and beloved Francis to be in the pay of the King's men, and to have betrayed to them that Whigs were in hiding in Colonel Duncan's house.
Someone had played the traitor, for the house had been surrounded, and in the ensuing fray Jeannie's brother had been killed. Several other gentlemen had been captured and afterwards duly executed in Edinburgh.
It was during the flight of the survivors that the accusation had been flung. It was in their first shelter, the barn on the moor, full of heather and dried peat, that Mr. Hepburn had silenced the accuser.
He recalled it all so perfectly—the dark, the hasty lights, the comely body of the young Englishman, the gratitude of Francis Mowbray, above all, Jeannie Duncan in her wrath at the slander, in her triumphant protestation of her friend's innocence.
There had been another woman there, Margaret Sinclair, Jeannie's cousin, and betrothed to Francis. He had not taken much notice of her, nor could he now recall her very clearly, except he remembered her sobbing and always in the background. Soon after they had scattered.
The news he had received of his friends had been sparse. Colonel Duncan had gone to France with his daughter, and had died soon after, whereupon she had returned to Scotland. Francis Mowbray, who had relatives at the English Court, had been pardoned on payment of a fine.
Mr. Hepburn supposed that he was married to Margaret that would be an old story now. Well, well, it was strange, how clear it was still, all that mad, sweet time.
It seemed such an eternity ago, yet was only five years. She would be thirty now, and he was but a few years older. Yet to him, rusty with inaction, life seemed to hold nothing more.
He finished his meal and went his way, drifting up and down the streets like a man with no purpose in his soul. He could not bring himself to go and find Jeannie Duncan—he so dreaded to find her gone, or changed, or married.
She might even be dead. He was astonished at the horror this thought gave him, for, in truth, she had been long dead to him.
Now he blamed her for never having written to him; they should have kept in touch. Yet she might have written, and he never have received the letters. Communication had been difficult between the exiles.
He was brooding himself into folly. He would go and find her, and ask her if she knew the whereabouts of Francis Mowbray, for whose sake he had killed a man. Perhaps these five years had a little dulled that ardent friendship, yet he would have liked to know good news of the charming young soldier who had been the darling of the short-lived enterprise of '85.
By the middle of the afternoon he stood before what had been Colonel Duncan's Edinburgh house. His old dread seized him; he feared to ring lest he should hear the name of a stranger as that of the owner of the house.
Yet, while he hesitated, the cloud of his doubts was most gloriously dispelled. A lady passed him and mounted the steps. He sprang forward, to see the face of Jeannie Duncan between the folds of the silk hood. The same instant she knew him, and was in his arms in their mutual gladness. Laughing, clasping hands, asking questions, they went into the dark old house and up the dark old staircase.
But when they reached the little room he knew so well, a certain restraint fell upon them; they loosened from each other's clasp and stood apart, looking each on each. The great joy that he had had in finding her in her father's house sank. He realised that they were strangers now, and that the old days were far off. A foolish embarrassment prevented him from speaking. He looked at her and at the room with an inquiry that was almost wistful.
Little or nothing was changed. In all the comfortable, heavy furnishing he saw but two new objects. Above the shining black bureau, where stood the silver-mounted hour-glass and the parcel-gilt candlesticks, hung a small portrait of Francis Mowbray. The beautiful face, strong and rather sadly smiling, looked out from between the long brown curls with the expression that James Hepburn knew so well. It was a fine painting, smooth and detailed as a miniature, and so perfect a likeness that it was a painful thing to Mr. Hepburn to look upon it.
The other object that he noticed as new was a smooth, polished, round porridge bowl with a silver rim, that stood on a little table by the window. He did not know why he should have observed so small a thing, but his eye had rested there the moment he had entered the room.
Then he looked back at Jeannie. She stood gazing at him with a half tender, half humorous smile. So little had she changed that he wondered that he should feel strange before her.
A hood and cloak of dark blue and green tartan, clasped by a glistening clear yellow stone, was thrown back from her full black gown, which flowed pleasingly round the womanly lines of her figure. The pale curls of her brown locks hung on to her white collar and shaded her open throat; her large eyes, the colour of tarn water, her firm features, very delicately coloured, her mouth, very soft, yet firmly set at the corners—all were unchanged, at least, to his exile's eyes.
It was she who spoke, throwing off the silence that had fallen like a cloud between them. "So it is James Hepburn back again at last!" she smiled.
He glanced above her head, where hung a small diminishing mirror surrounded by a frame of shining black balls. In this he could see himself—a rather lean, shabby figure, with dark hair, none too well dressed, and a dark face a little haggard, a little weary, and disillusioned in expression.
"Not back as I would wish to be, Jeannie," he answered, voicing his inner discontent.
She responded with her quick sympathy.
"Ah, you have lost much—everything?"
"Nearly all; but it is not that."
She understood him; he remembered how quick she had always been at understanding.
"Ah, you sigh for the old days of lost causes, James?"
"I sigh for what has not been achieved," he replied.
"For what we have not achieved," she said eagerly. "But the thing has been done."
"What has been done?"
"Everything." She spoke with energy. "All is as we wished it to be—a Protestant King."
"Not the King of our choosing."
She ignored him.
"Peace, freedom—all we ever wanted, James."
"You are content, then?" he asked grudgingly.
Unaccountably she flushed.
"Your heart has gone out of politics," he accused her.
The blood lingered in her fair cheeks. "Perhaps," she admitted. She took the great tapestry chair by the window, and made him sit on the little needlework stool by her side.
Presently he was going to ask her about herself. The dim hope of one day winning her, after all, was at the back of his thoughts; now they would talk of indifferent things, just to prolong the pleasure of sitting together.
"How did you come to keep the house just the same while you were away?" he asked.
"My father's sister lived here."
"She was not touched?"
"Nor I; they left the women alone."
"Why did you never write to me?"
He expected—hoped—that she would say she had written.
Instead, Jeannie shook her head. "There was nothing to write of."
"Jeannie, there was all the news! And I wanted to hear of you."
"I had nothing to say."
"You know I came to Paris to find you?" he asked.
"And you had just left."
"I came home after my father died."
His glance wandered to the portrait of Francis Mowbray—indeed, it could not long keep away. He did not wish to speak of the picture, yet could not forbear.
"A new painting of Frank," he said.
"How we all loved him!" exclaimed Mr. Hepburn.
"Yes," said Jeannie again.
"The picture?" he questioned her half fiercely, against his own will.
"The picture? It was painted in France. We met him there."
"Why do you keep it here, Jeannie?"
"Why? Did not we all love him, as you have said?"
"Do not look like that," she said, with an uneasy smile. "You seem as if you thought——"
He caught up her hesitation.
"—he was dead," she concluded.
"I feel as if the Frank we loved was dead, as my old self is dead."
"He is alive," answered Jeannie.
"I knew it," said Mr. Hepburn, with a strange bitterness.
"I think he will have a post under the new Government."
"You see him often?"
The reply surprised and irritated him.
"Will not you be glad to see him again?" she asked gently.
"I cannot tell, Jeannie."
"Why should you be doubtful?"
"It is so long ago."
"A few years."
"In matter of emotion, Jeannie, very long ago," he said.
"He loves you, you know."
"And speaks of you so frequently."
"Does he speak of the duel?" asked Mr. Hepburn sharply.
"Sometimes." Her voice sank in her throat. "But I think it is better to forget these things," she added.
"They cannot be forgotten, Jeannie."
"They need not be spoken of. But you killed a man for him, and you have a right to remember," she said reluctantly.
Mr. Hepburn was silent. Jeannie drew herself erect in her chair and looked at him.
"You have never regretted it?" she asked, with an effort.
"That I was his champion?"
"No. Why should I?" he demanded keenly.
"Indeed, indeed, why? It was such a foul, false accusation. Frank! They might as well have accused the Duke himself!"
He was cool before her vehemence. "I wonder who the spy was?" he said.
She shuddered with distaste of the subject. "What is the use of thinking of that now?"
"I have had so little else to think of for these five years."
"I hope it was one of those slain."
"Yes. I wonder who? We all seemed equally honourable, did we not? It was a strange piece of treachery."
"Why strange? Our betrayal was the price of someone's pardon."
"I cannot understand it—treachery!"
Jeannie was silent.
"Whoever it was," he added, "was your brother's murderer."
She stared at him. "It is all over," she whispered.
"Yes, but one thinks of it."
"I have not—for years."
"Not when you see Francis Mowbray?"
"Then least of all." She rose.
"You believe in him, then?"
"Believe in him?" She was amazed, incredulous. "What do you mean? Did you not establish his innocence?"
"I was his champion, certainly."
"But now you are so cold." Her voice was reproachful. "You loved him," she added.
"Loved him, yes. But it is so long ago," he replied, "and I have had so much idleness in which to think."
"If it is so long ago, why cannot you forget about it?"
"One does not forget."
"You must," said Jeannie impatiently.
He rose and moved restlessly about the room. The sun had gone behind the house-tops, and the long spring twilight began to fill the room.
Mr. Hepburn picked up the porridge bowl. "Why do you keep this here, Jeannie?" He looked at her and saw that her eyes were full of tears, although she smiled.
"Do you not remember it?"
"Yes, when you were in hiding, soon after you landed on Craigiemuir, and I used to run out into the heather with the bowl of porridge for you and Francis Mowbray."
Always Francis Mowbray! It seemed as if their talk could have no other subject.
"Was this his or mine?"
"His—Frank's—yours was cracked in the bowl."
He put it down. "Why do you keep it, Jeannie, when you say you want to forget?"
"Some things I like to remember; that is one of them—how I used to come out to you in the kind heather."
"Is that all you care to remember, Jeannie?" he asked sadly.
Her placid brows were troubled. "Why do you dwell on those sad old times?"
"Were they sad?"
"Oh, yes, surely."
"Glorious, rather, Jeannie."
"I do not know."
"You prefer this dull peace?"
"Dull? Is it dull? I am happy."
He was vexed beyond concealment. "Were you not happy then?" he asked impetuously and angrily.
She faced him frankly. "Not so happy."
"How mistaken I was!"
She threw out her hands in a gesture of pleading and defence. "How could one be happy, living so—in constant peril to all one loved?"
"You are a woman, after all, Jeannie, an ordinary woman."
"I made no pretence to be anything else," she said sadly.
"I used to think you a heroine."
Jeannie laughed mournfully. "I always wanted peace," she said wistfully, "and safety for those I loved."
"Ah, well, we have all changed!" He took up his hat. The cry of his delusion broke from him: "Somehow I dreamed it differently."
With an affectionate gesture she took his arm. "You are not leaving me like this? James, why do you dwell on the past? Let us forget it, please; it was so—unhappy."
"This reminded me." He nodded towards the portrait of Francis Mowbray, which to him was the most insistent thing in the room. "How can you keep that there if you wish to forget?"
"Oh, James, you loved him!"
Her eyes were shining; he thought her expression was curious. Something hot within him made him ask a strange question: "He is married to Margaret?"
The little word chilled him. "Why?"
"She—I do not know," said Jeannie, in a distressed voice.
"You do know," he persisted almost roughly. "What was it?"
Her hand dropped from his sleeve. "They quarrelled. She—would not believe in him."
Their eyes met.
"Yes," said Jeannie desperately, "she thought he had betrayed us."
"And said so?"
"I believe she did."
"She had a courage," cried Mr. Hepburn, "that little thing!"
"That little thing—she is married to a man in Ayrshire."
Jeannie looked at him very earnestly. "James, you and I ought to agree in this matter. You championed Francis, and I——"
"You, Jeannie, you?"
"I married him!"
She drew away with a little heartless laugh.
"You married him?"
"I am his wife these two years. I did not tell you at first." She paused to arrange her words. "I thought it would be so pleasant when he came in, but you—somehow you have changed all. Why"—she was rather desperate—"do you look at me like that?"
He shook his head.
In these few seconds she had changed—the old Jeannie had left him. This was a strange woman, another man's wife, the wife of Francis Mowbray.
"What is the matter, James?" She spoke very piteously, and he was sorry for her, yet could say nothing.
"You will stay and meet him?"
"Not now, Jeannie."
"You used to love him." She came back to that.
He had no answer to her words, which were an accusation. "I never thought of this, Jeannie, never dreamt of it."
"Yet is it so strange?" she asked bravely.
"And you live here, in the old house?"
"We live at his place in Fife—his father is dead now—but came here a while ago, when there seemed this chance of his doing something for the Government. Frank is like you, James—he hates to be idle."
She spoke quickly, with a pitiful desire to please, but Mr. Hepburn could not respond.
"Finding you in the old house, I thought that you were unwed," he said.
"I know—it was foolish of me." She sank into the great tapestry chair. "Oh, James, what has happened?"
"It seems to be spoilt—our meeting."
"There was nothing to spoil—that was my mistake, Jeannie."
"Perhaps my coming back at all was a mistake," he said.
She tried to smile. "Because I am married to Frank?"
"Because of my own foolishness, I suppose." He looked again at the brilliant portrait, and then at the little porridge bowl.
She made no attempt to detain him now when he prepared to leave. "You will come back?" she asked.
"Certainly I will come back; I am but a short time in Edinburgh."
"Yet come again and see him—Francis."
He read a challenge in her clear, dark eyes. "Certainly I must see Francis," he replied smoothly, "your husband, Jeannie."
"My husband!" she said gently.
He turned from her look of love. When he was out in the street, he shook himself as a man would do who is recovering from a physical blow, and very slowly he went down the chill, darkening street towards his cheerless lodging. Why had he never thought, he asked himself, of a thing so simple, so obvious? Of course, Margaret Sinclair, small-souled, practical, would have disbelieved the man, and, of course, Jeannie, lofty, devoted, loyal, and romantic, would champion him, even to the gift of herself, pitying him until her compassion blossomed into love. For he had no doubt at all that now she loved Francis.
From his knowledge of human nature and of these two women, he might have known which of them would marry Francis Mowbray. But he had never guessed—he had let the thing happen. He cursed himself for a bitter fool.
Jeannie had done a dreadful thing—Jeannie had made a hideous mistake—and he had been the primary cause.
Her cry, "Did not you establish his innocence?" rang horribly in his heart. From the seed of his acted lie had sprung this dreadful fruit of her marriage. She had believed, in her impetuous goodness, the honour he had so madly championed—championed, knowing the truth, knowing that Francis Mowbray was guilty—guilty as hell—a traitor, and the cause of the death of young Ensign Duncan, Jeannie's brother, cause of the death of those others executed in Edinburgh.
It all seemed to him unreal, as anything of unexpected horror will seem. And through all the horror he felt very clearly the amazement at his own change of attitude towards Francis. For he certainly had loved Francis. Knowing his guilt, he had championed him, and had felt no remorse or regret in so doing, no remorse in killing the Englishman who had spoken the truth. So strong had been his love and loyalty for Francis, so strong the charm and fascination of the young man, that he had rushed forward blindly to silence his accuser, and given no thought to the right or wrong of the thing.
Now these stood out with horrid clearness. Coarse, crude, unsympathetic as the Englishman had been, he had been right, and Francis, the lovable, the gallant, had been wrong.
Mr. Hepburn had always tried to forget the scene in which Francis had been proved guilty; now he recalled it with cruel clearness. It had been early in that fatal night, while the party of fugitives, wet from a passing storm, had stopped at a deserted farm. Francis had been with Mr. Hepburn in the cow byre, when Morton, the Englishman, had rushed in with his accusation.
"You betrayed us, Mowbray! What is this?" And he had held out a paper. "You left this in Colonel Duncan's house—'tis written to the King's men!"
And, before James Hepburn could speak, Francis had snatched the paper and thrust it into his shirt bosom.
"Yes, I wrote it. What else?"
And James, acting on a violent impulse, had struck young Morton over the face. "You always wanted to ruin Mowbray," he said, "but this shall ruin you!"
The other, gasping with fury, tugged at his sword; but there came a quick alarm that the soldiers were after them, and they mounted on the instant and rode through the heather.
During that wild, dark ride Francis had kept close to his friend, "I did it," he had whispered once. "You can denounce me if you like!"
James had affected not to hear.
Again had come the beloved voice: "Will you still fight for me?"
And still Mr. Hepburn had not answered. When all had gathered again in the shelter of the barn, he had acted instantly. "Mr. Morton called Frank the traitor. You know he always hated Frank. I'll silence him now!" And his sword was out, and the two were at it in red earnest.
In such a little while Morton was silenced indeed, and the thing seemed over. Now he knew that it had only just begun—at least, for him, for Jeannie, and for Francis.
He thought of Francis more than he thought of Jeannie. His enthusiasm being quite dead, the behaviour of his friend seemed of an incredible baseness; he had deliberately taken advantage of his falsely established innocence to win a woman who would have scorned him with bitter loathing had she known the truth.
And then there was the brother. He might well be called the murderer of young Duncan and of Morton, too—an ugly thing to be between husband and wife. What kind of man was the fellow to live with that on his conscience?
Prosperous! So she had said. No doubt he was prosperous—probably he had taken the price of his treachery—and now he was in with this Government, a man who would always be on the safe side. And Jeannie adored him, or, rather, she adored the false Francis that he, James, had helped to create.
James wandered towards the Castle. His heart was as chill as the night air that blew on his cheeks and struggled with his cloak. He wondered why he cared so fiercely. He had ceased to love Francis, he had ceased to hope for Jeannie. He had always known that Frank was base, and yet the knowledge of this marriage seemed to have revealed this baseness for the first time, as it had revealed the goodness, the almost foolish nobility of Jeannie.
His thoughts turned to the other woman. He was surprised at her intuition; she had always seemed, even stupid. But the little people were always sharp to discern the low side of others. Jeannie had been blinded by her own loftiness. She had stepped into the trap the common wits of Margaret Sinclair had avoided.
He remembered how magnificently she had borne herself during the duel, holding aloft the candle to light the swords, while Margaret had cowered in a corner weeping. Well, Margaret was out of it, and Jeannie was chained for life to a hideous lie.
"And I," thought Mr. Hepburn, "had better return as I came."
There was no excuse for him to interfere. He believed they were happy, yet he had an obstinate desire to destroy that happiness by telling the truth. He had a desire to make Francis pay at last—a desire that he should lose Jeannie, that he should know the scorn with which she would receive the real man he had masked so long.
Yet he felt that the gratification of such a desire would bring him to the level of Francis, and certainly it would break Jeannie's heart. Between them they would kill her, as between them they had already involved her in the tragedy she now unconsciously acted.
No, he could not tell Jeannie. He would go away again and try to forget—let the years pass over and dim the thing.
But he felt a wish to see and speak with Francis first—a wish to try if the old charm still existed, if, looking upon the man, he would find it easier to forgive him.
With this resolve he turned back to his lodging, and sent a boy with a note to Francis, asking him to see him on the morrow. It was strange to address to Francis at Colonel Duncan's house. His hand shook as he wrote, and he could not wholly control the jealous bitterness that surged up in his heart.
He slept but little that night, and every hour found him in an increasing agitation. There had been no answer to his note, and he took this to mean that Francis would be awaiting him.
He was shown into the room where he had seen Jeannie yesterday. As before, the brilliant portrait held and challenged his gaze. He stared at it, hoping by this means to prepare himself for the vivid personality of the real man, whose fascination he wished most ardently to withstand.
But it was Jeannie who entered. "You thought to see Frank?"
"Yes." He looked at her with great reverence and great tenderness.
"He did not get your letter, James. I opened it. I wanted to see you again before you saw him."
"Yes?" He was a little troubled by her words and by the seriousness of her manner.
She seated herself in the full light of the window, very upright.
"I have not slept all night," said Jeannie deliberately. "I lay awake thinking of your visit and what you said. You were strange, James, but I think I understand—nay, I am sure I understand what you meant to say."
"Nothing—nothing," he stammered.
"Oh, I read you!" she cried. "You think Frank guilty!"
He was too utterly amazed to speak—amazed more at her calm than her words.
"Perhaps you always thought so," she continued—"anyhow, you do now. You believe he was a traitor!"
He sat silent, with a downcast face, startled by the strange weakness of his limbs.
"I thought that might be your belief," said Jeannie. Her glance travelled to the portrait. "During these years I have sometimes wondered if you were really loyal to him."
Now he was stung into speech. "Loyal! I have been dumb—I have been more than loyal!"
"No," said she, "for in your heart you did not believe."
"You reproach me with that?" He was lashed by her injustice.
"Yes, you should have known that he—Frank—was incapable of any baseness. How was it you did not know him better?"
"You never doubted, then?"
"Never. Can you tell me the same?"
"Then I will prove you are wrong."
There was an extraordinary look in her eyes.
He was helpless in his bewilderment. "You cannot prove the truth to be false," he said amazedly.
"You do not know the truth."
"Poor Jeannie!" he cried desperately.
"Nay, listen. Will you hear the truth? I was the traitor!"
He rose and peered at her quite blankly.
"You never thought of that, did you?" she continued desperately. "Not one of you guessed. I told him when I saw the enterprise had failed, and that I had lost the letter to the King's officer. No one but a woman would have been so stupid, would they—stupid to lose the thing even in that confusion? I was frightened. I asked him to save me. Morton found the paper and chose to fix it on the one he had always hated. You know what happened."
His lips moved several seconds before he found two words. "Your brother?"
"I know—I know!"
Again two words—
"Pardon for myself, my father, and Francis. I did it for them. I saw the enterprise was doomed—a stupid woman sees those things. I cared for nothing but saving Francis—I care for nothing but Francis now."
"Yet you put this on him?"
"I was a coward."
"You let Margaret think him guilty?"
"Yes, so he was free to come to me!"
If the sun had sunk into darkness at mid-day, he could not have been more shocked and amazed with horror than he was now by this discovery of the soul of Jeannie.
He stared at her as at a beautiful thing suddenly broken, lying in useless shreds at his feet. She was too low for contempt, even for pity.
"Yet Francis loves you?" he said drearily.
"He loves me!" Her trembling voice was yet triumphant.
"But I," said James, "could not even hate you now."
"I had to tell you."
"I wonder why?"
"I could not bear you should think that Frank was base."
"You do not care what I think of you?"
"Oh, I am only a woman!"
He turned away without saying farewell, nor did she ask this word, though she knew that she would never see him again.
As he left the room, his glance fell on the little porridge bowl. He recalled how she had come to them in the heather, and the tears rushed up to his eyes. A backward look at Jeannie showed her sitting with folded hands, her face averted.
He found himself wandering in the street, amazed at his own grief, astonished at the foolishness of life. As he reached the corner, he saw Frank Mowbray going towards his home. The winning face was unchanged—he looked a happy man.
James stared after him and watched him enter the house. As he did so, he was pierced by a thought that reinstated Jeannie in glory, a thousand times triumphantly in glory. Supposing she had lied to cover Frank's dishonour? He dared not think this true—it was but a sign of his own weakness that he must still try to exalt her even now. And yet—— In any case he could do nothing but leave them to their love.
Copyright, 1910, by Marjorie Bowen, in the United States of America.