THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE RIVALS. A ROMANCE OF ILFRACOMBE. [Continued-] ' ■ And so, ■ after consultation, it was finally settled. It was a busy time at home, and for the : moment Gerald’s presence was essential; but it was at last arranged that, early in June, he should sail for Melbourne. A week before leaving he went to a large dinner parly. He was one of the last to arrive ; and his hostess said ; “ I will introduce you at once, Mr. Mayfield, to the lady you are to take down to dinner,” and Gerald .was led across the room. “ Mrs. Gossett —Mr. Mayfield,” she said, and then turned away to repeat the ceremony elsewheie. Gerald bowed in silence. The shock and the surprise took away all power of speech or of collected thought. “ There was no occasion for an introduction, Mr. Mayfield,” Maud said, gently holding out her hand. “We are old acquaintances, though you did treat us shabbily by running away without saying good-bye.” Gerald touched the hand extended to him, murmured something in reply to the question, and then- fell back a ew steps until it should be time to Coffer his arm.
“ He looks ill,” Maud said to herself. “ It is very awkward, and he is evidently ashamed of himself. Poor fellow, I expect he is very unhappy. What mistakes we all make !” Maud had been married but four months, but she spoke as if she was conscious that she too had made a mistake. In the few minutes which had elapsed before dinner, was announced, Gerald had recovered from the shock -Sat the meeting • had given him, and vas enabled, as he took her down, to talk to her as to an indifferent acquaintance. The party was a large one, and the conversation was not, therefore, general. They chatted together upon indifferent subjects ; the opera, the last new book, the Parliamentary struggle, the Derby which was to be run to-morrow. Not a word ..was said of Ilfracombe. : “ Mr. Gossett is not here, Gerald said, looking round the table. “No; he promised to come, but he is so busy a.t the bank , he could not get away; and as Mrs. Patterson is ‘ a cousin of mine, I was able to come alone.” , When dinner was nearly over, Maud’ said : ~ “ You are not looking well, Mr. Mayfiled.” “I have not been quite well; Mrs. Gossett, for some time. Overwork,' I supposed I am going abroad to Australia next week, probably for some years.” . /, ' i ■ Maud looked up at him. “ For some years, Mr. Mayfield! Do you mean it.? ” ,i “ Yes,.Mrs. Gossett. I have > been restless and unsettled here ■ for some ‘
months, so I am going to open a branch of our business out there. Someone must go, and I am glad to be the one.” “Is Airs. Mayfield here ? Of course she goes with you ? ” “ Mrs, Mayfield ! Do you think I am married, Maud ? ” She did not notice the Christian name. “ Are you not ?” “ Married ! I married ! Who can have told you such a monstrous thing?” For a full minute Maud did not answer. She looked down into her plate, and the color had all died out of her face. “ I heard it mentioned,” she said. “ Certainly someone said so. I suppose it was a mistake. There was nothing monstrous in it.” “It would be monstrous to me,” Gerald said. “ Believe me, Mrs. Gossett, whoever may tell you henceforth that Gerald Mayfield is married, you can tell them it is not so. I shall never marry —never.” For a time no further word was spoken. The color did not return to her cheek. Presently she said, “ I am’ going to ask you a strange question, one I should not ask were it not that you are going away, and that, perhaps—perhaps we shall never meet again. It is as well to clear up misunderstandings. Why did you leave Ilfracomb so suddenly, without even saying good-bye ?” “ May I tell you the truth ?”
Mrs. Gossett bowed her head. “ Becaue I heard—of course there’s no secret now—because I heard from Gossett that you were engaged to him —that you had been engaged to him for months ; and I loved you so I could not trust myself to see you again.” Again she sat silent, and without a vestige of color in her face. There was a slight noise at the head of the table, and a sudden flush leaped into her cheek. “We are going,” she said. “ Don’t come up stairs—don’t 'see me again before you go. Have I your promise?” “ You have,” he said. “ God bless you, my darling, my own lost love ! May you be happy !” As he spoke she rose, gave him her hand, looked full in his face with a wan look of sorrow and love, and was gone. When she returned to her home, she rwent straight into the library, at which her husband was still busy with books and papers. He looked up. “ Bless us, Maud, what is the matter ? You look like a ghost.” “ I have seen Gerald Mayfield,” she said, “ and I know that you lied to us both. You told him we were engaged j you told me he was married. What have you to say?” “Say?” Gossett said, with a light laugh. “Nothing. Everything is fair in'love and war. If we were not engaged, I knew we should be soon; so I was only anticipating the thing a little.”
■ “ Paul Gossett, 1 ’ his wife said, when you asked me to marry you, I told you that I didnotloveyou as a woman should love a man she was going to marry, but that I would give you what love I could, and would do my best to make you a good wife. You were content with the terms, and said that you hoped and believed the love would come. ■ I hoped so too. We have not been married long, but long enough to see that your love is no truer than mine. I should, have no right to complain that you gave no more than I, and I could have gone on with liking and respect. That is over for ever. I find you won me by a lie—that you have neither honor nor generosity. I will not bring scandal upon our names, but at present I cannot live with you. To-morrow I shall go home to my mother; she is ill, and it will appear natural for me to wish to r be with her. After a time I may get over tlie horror I feel, and then I will come back and try to do my duty.” “ And how about Mr, Gerald Mayfield ?” Paul Gossett asked, with, an evil smile.
Maud stepped back a pace, as if she had been struck, and put tier hand to her heart. “ God help me !” she said, “ and I ani married to this man !” And without another word she went out and left him. Gerald Mayfield was sitting in his office at Melbourne, two years after his arrival in Australia, when he heard the shouting Of the newsboys outside, “ Great fraud in England ! Second edition of the Argus/” In another minute a clerk came in. “ Here is the Argus, sir. Another great banking swindle at home.” When Gerald was alone, he opened the paper and read, in large letters : “ Great Fraud and Embezzlement, —The Metropolitan and Suburban Bank has been robbed of upwards of Lroojooo by its manager, Paul Gossett. The frauds have been going on for years. Money lost in Stock Exchange gambling. Gossett still at large. Police on his track. All outward-bound vessels watched.” For a long time Gerald Mayfield sat without moving. “Poor girl!” he said at last, as he put down the paper. “ I never thought the fellow looked honest. I put it down to prejudice, but I; was right afrer all. I wonder what she will do ? I saw that her mother died just after I came out. I suppose her fortune’s safe.” Two days later came another telegram : “ Gossett still at large. His wife has handed over her own fortune of 1,35,000 to bank.” Tlien Gerald Mayfield sent a telegram to his partner: “Find out address of Gossett, the defaulter’s wife. Place LSO to her credit at a bank • adyise her anonymously that an equal sum will be paid in quarterly. Be sure it is done so as to be untraceable. You remember our conversation when I first proposed coming oui here.” It was nearly three months after this that Gerald Mayfield was breakfasting at his club,, chatting with the head of She police. Presently a boy came in with a note for the latter. “ Ah,” he said, glancing over it, “ the Taunton Castle is off the heads; I have been expecting her for some days. By what we hear, -it is possible that Cosset, that fellow who swindled the bank in London; is, on board, and we shall . put our hands on him as he lands. I can’t go myself, for I have a very important case in Cohrt's but we Chall , have him'. 1 ” ■ ‘ >■- ■■■ ■ - ■ - : lh, , ~i ( 7,0 be (Oiiitnuedi) .< M 4
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