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AN INNOCENT JUDAS.

[By Oeubus Proctob.7 (Continued from Wednesday's Issue.) CHAPTER XIV. OTtOTOUCX’S HAPFT THOUGHT. Mark Sampson was seriously concerned out hia amanuensis, and his concern *s« shared to some extent by all the occupants of Albany Studios. The year wasdying; London was grey, damp, and cold i the General Election, with all lie excitement, waa a thing of the past. The party that had previously been the minority was now in power, and Raeburn Chesterton had won a seat; and Marion Lancaster was still employed at Albany Studios as secretary and amanuensis to Mark Sampson. But there was obviously something wrong, and Mark and his friends were genuinely concerned. Time and again, in answer to their anxious inquiries, Marion had protested that she was quite well, and at last Mark and the rest had recognised that their questions and advice annoyed the girl, and Laid ceased to trouble her. Marion seemed to he fading w-th tho year. She did her work as skilfully and intelligently as before, but all the color had faded from her cheeks, and sho looked pinched, thin, and ill. She had striven to forget, to convince herself that she did not care, that the past- was .dead ; but remoroe, regret, and hopeless longing were eating away her young heart, and dull misery had settled on her like a blight. Try as she would, she could not I Brow off her melancholy, could not be her old self, and it was this gradual but unmistakable change that troubled Mark and Iris friends.

They were gathered round the fire now :n Mark’s cosy sitting room—Mark, Uermolt, O'Pourke, and Howland—discussing the matter. Marion had had a slight cold that day, an.l had looked particularly white and ill—so ill, indeed, that Mark bad persuaded her to leave even earlier than usual, although she had protested somewhat warmly that there was nothing the matter. “1 can't make it oul," said Mark, shaking his head and staring gravely into the fire. “ I know that it worries her i{ I appear tot solicitous, and I can't command her to go and see a doctor. She. is so sensitive, too, that I am afraid of giving offence, and she ha* a quiet pride and dignity of her own.” “ Yes, I know your position differs from that of an ordinary employer, Mark,” said Howland; “but, after all, you are the toss, and you could insist upon Miss Lancaster taking a holiday.” “ Oh, yes, I could insist." exclaimed Mark, somewhat irritably. "I did insist a week or so ago. find* Mies Lancaster quietly but firmly declined to accept my salary for the week she was away, and came back looking worse than before.” I arn half iuclured to think the poor girl has consumption,” said Howland, after a pause. “ Nonsense!” ejaculated Mark, startled. “ Don't be absurd Howland. Don’t suggest such a ghastly thing, man.” “ No, my impression is that she has something on ‘her mind,” chimed in Dermott— “pome secret sorrow that is sapping her health and hex energy." •‘I hardly Jike to suggest it, but maybe 'tie a lovo affair,” remarked O’Rourke, sagely. “I remember a pretty girl ia Ballvmaduish who ”

“Hot! No, Pat. I won’t have that at ill!” interrupted Mark. “ Miss Lancaster Is too sensible to eat her heart out over l love affair, I think. Besides, she can't bo more than one-and-twenly, and ” “ Maybe it’s vonr sensational fiction that Is preying on her nind, Mark,” interposed O’Rourke, with a laugh. “It makes me quite ill sometimes. It's nausea the poor girl has got.” “Don't joke about it, Pat,” said Dermott, gravely. “ I can quite understand that Mark is worried about the business.” “So am I, my boy,” said O'Rourke, quickly; “but 1 can be sorry without talking as if I were an undertaker's man. It's heartbreaking to see the poor girl’s white face, and I’d give anything to bring the roses to her cheeks and a real happy, natural laugh to her lips. It’s melancholia, I believe, she hae. She. doesn't appear to have any friends, cor, at least, she doesn’t want them.”

“ Queer that she wouldn’t have anything to do with the relatives who advertised for her," commented Rowland. “The advertisement was in the paper again only last week.” “Oh. that was explained,” said Mark '' They wanted to adopt her. or eomothing of the sort, and she prefers to be independent. I admire her tor it." “Hear, hear!” said Dcrmott. “Well. Mark, what can wo do? lilies Lancaster won't com© to i-ny more of our tea-parties, it seems—why, I don't know—and we’vo got to find soma way of cheering her up. If she were a man we should know howto go about it, but—well, she is a lady, nnd one can’t slap her on the back and shout ‘ Tuck up, old chap! Como and have a drink!’ or something of the son. If w© knew what the trouble was we might do tome thing. As it is, we can ipparently do nothing, lest we should only succeed in offending her and driving her away. And non© of us want to do that, now that w© have all come to regard her as a little pal, eh?” “It’s lonely she is, maybe,” said O’Rourke, quietly, after they had ail smoked in silence for a few minutes; “homesick and no home to go to- I know the feeling. I had it when J left the old tome myself and went to Paris. Days when I’d have given all I possessed—and that wasn’t much—for the sight of a face L knew and for the sound of an Irish roice; days when I felt half inclined to irop myself quietly into the Seine because .-.obody cared. I felt it again when I first camo to London, before I fell in with you boys. It was only my work that saved me There was always that to turn to, always the hope that I would do something, make something of myself after all, and always the thought of what mv dear ould mother ” Ho broke off suddenly, in’s voice husky, and tried to laugh. “It’s talking like one of your sentimental char octets I am, Mark," he concluded, knocking the ash out of his pipe. ‘‘l know what you mean, Pat,” said Mark, slowly, bending forward to poke the fire. “ I too have gone about with the black dog on. my back, and sometimes I felt inclined to take the coward’s way out —suicide. Ugh I It makes me shudder to think of it now. Yes, we have our work, Pat, to turn to, even, if we are producing work that won’t meet with success ; but it must be harder on those who don't create, those without art of any sort.”

“ Fortunately for them, they are not usually burdened with imagination and the artistic temperament/* said Dermott. “And don’t leave the real thing that matters—religion—out of count,” added Rowland. > "I don’t forget that, either,” said Mark, seriously, “ and I regard the man or woman who commits suicide aa a coward; but I do sincerely sympathise with the man or woman who does his or her task bravely and resolutely, despite the fact that they have little nope of promotion or gain in this world. 1 take off my hat to tho folk who do their duty, who lead a humdrum, ordinary, drab, and adventureless life, just woxlong away to the end; and 1 sympathise, as 1 said, with them in their .occasional fits of depression and discontent. Take Miss Lancaster’s case. An orphan, without relatives who care for her —at least, she has never met them—without any friends in London save us, and we are men, and therefore cannot really understand, without a home—she lives in a boarding-house—and with nothing to look forward to except a life of typing other people’s letters and manuscripts.” “But there are thousands in the some position,” protested Rowland. “ 1 know. I am just asking you to sympathise and admire.” “ Well, we haven’t solved tho difficulty we sat down to discuss,” said O’Rourke. **We have stall to fioct what aik Mhw

! “It's futile!” exclaimed Dennott, rising. “We can only wait and see. Mark, if anyone can do anything you’re the man.” He went out, and Howland, after a while, followed Mm, leaving O’Rourke and Mark alone. “ Mark, I have an idea,” said O’Rourke, gravely, after a long silence. “You want to keep Miss Lancaster? You want -to make her happy!" "Yes.” "Marry her! It’s love she wants—and I think you’re the man.” “Nonsense, Pat,” ejaculated Mark, and the color surged to his bronzed face. “Try, my coy, and good luck to you.” said O’Rourke, rising quickly and taking his departure, leaving Mark standing on the hearthrug in a strangely disturbed frame of mind.

“Why not?” soliloquised Mark, storing down at the dying fire and smoking furiously. “ I havo been making romances for other people for ten years; why shouldn't 1 make one for mvseifl This stylo of existence—Bohemianism and all that —is magnificent at twenty-two, but when a man gets to thirty-fivo tho flavor has gone out of it. Thirty-fivo—aye, there’s the rub. Maybe she regards me as old enough to be her father. But I don’t feel thirtyfive, and if 1 thought O'Rourke was right He went to bed at last, still turning the matter over in his mind. He wrestled with it in his dreams, and it was foremost in his thoughts when he greeted Marion on the following morning. Marion bad not been in the place five minutes before he became aware, in some mysterious manner, that she had something of importance to sav. She had glanced at him once cr twice* in an undecided manner, and he wondered what was coming. "1 received a letter from Manchester this morning. Mr Sampson.” she said suddenly, at last, opening her handbag and producing an envelope, “ from a friend, a Mr Atherley, who wan my father’s lawver.” She held out the letter, and Mark took it, looked a question, then read the brief note:- . , , *- My dear Miss Marion, —I shall be in London to-morrow morning about eleven o’clock and will do myself the honor of calling upon you at your place of business. I have something of great importance —great good news —to communicate that wi[l come as a pleasant sur-

prise to you. I know this letter will rouse vonr curiosity, but I have made up my mind to tell the news personally. A most unbusinesslike and unlegal proceeding, eh? With kindest regards.—Yours sincerely, .7ames Atherley. “ A 'most tantalizing letter,” commented Mark, handing it back. “ You have no idea what the good news can be, I suppose?" ‘‘No.” Marion shook her head. I wanted to ask you if you have any objection to my taking an hour_ or so off when Mr Atherley calls. You don't mind his coming here?” “Of course not!” exclaimed 'dark. “ What an extraordinary being I should be to object. You know that you are quite at liberty to bring your friends hero. Miss Lancaster, and can always arrange to spend an hour or two with them. It was hardly necessary to ask.” “ Thank you,” said Marion, gratefully. II You are very kind. I hope Mr Atherley's ‘ great good news ‘ has nothing to do with those advertisements and those unknown relatives who wanted to ‘ adopt me.” ‘‘Perhaps it is the fortune, after all; suggested Mark, smilii' ' r ‘ I don’t know that : utlarly want a fortune, Mr Samsn ued Marion, sitting down at the i ! adjusting a sheet of paper in the .riter carriage. lam quite content a. m. and a fortune would only embarrass me.” She looked up at the big. bronzed man on the hearthrug as site spoke, and her pale, tired face lighted up with a smile. ‘‘You arc not particularly anxious to leave hero, then? 1 ’ asked Mark, going closer to tho table.

“No, of course not.” answered Marion, looking somewhat startled. “Why?" Mark was standing by her side now, gazing at her with a strange expression in his blue eyes. “Little woman, what’s the trouble?" he asked, in a low voice. “ Won’t you tell me? I know that you are unhappy and it is worrying me. I want to help you, want to share your troubles, want to see you happy.” His deep voice was so tender . so earnest and sincere, that a lump rose to Marion’s throat and tears started to her eyes. She tried to speak but the words would not come. Mark Sampson had won her respect from the first, and she had felt instinctively that he was a man whom anyone might be proud to call friend, a man whom anv woman could trust. “ You are lonely and you have been grieving." continued Mark, in a low voice, “ and I can sympathise.. Sometimes I am lonely, too, despite the fact that I have good friends and have won a fair measure of success. Marion, dear little comrade, won’t you take pity on me? You’ve wrought wonders since you have been here. You are tho woman I have been waiting for. Will you let mo try to make you happy, let me share vour troubles from now onwards? You're lonely—l'm lonely; Marion, will vou marry me?” CHAPTER XT, MR ATHERLEY INTERVENES. For some minutes Marion made no answer. Indeed, so greatly was she moved by Mark’s tender, compassionate words—-so completely taken by surprise, tou, by his proposal—that slio dared not trust herself to speak. Bhe sat with eyes downcast, breathing unsteadily, her lips twitching, and her slim hands locked together in her lap. Wont you take pity on mo, Marion?” pleaded Mark, after waiting patiently and vainly fra* some response. “I have’ been making love stories for other folk for years. Won t yon help me to make ono for myself and share it with mo? Believe me, dear little woman, 1 love you, and would make you happy. If only yon ” “Oh, ploaco, please,” gasped Marion, brokenly, rising to her feet and holding out her hands appealingly. " I’m sorry. I never dreamt that you cared—that you ’’

Her voice faltered, broke suddenly, and she covered her lace with her bands and began to cry gaspingly. “Don’t!” exclaimed Mark, in concern. “Marion, nleaso don’t cry. It's all right.” He helplessly at Marion, who was striving vainly to control her sobs, then in sheer desperation took her in his arms and soothed her as he might have soothed £ hurt child, murmuring regrets and words of comfort.

“Forgive me,” he said, remorsefully, as Manon mastered her agitation at last, and began hastily to dry her tears. “I—l suppose I’m a blundering fool, a presumptuous fool, to think that you could care for mo, but I assure you I didn’t mean to give you pain or upset you. Forgive mo, Marion, and try to ‘forget all about it.”

“ I Iwe nothing to forgive,” answered Marion, shakily, with a pitiful attempt to cmilo. “I was foolish to break down. I—l don’t know what I am crying for, and you must think mo an hysterical little idiot.”

She dabbed her eye* again hastily and sat down, nervously wetting her lips with her tongue. "It was your sympathy that made mo break down," she continued, bravely. “ And you took me by surprise. I never suspected that you cared for me.” “And you don’t care for me?” queried Mark Simpson, quietly. “You don’t think that in time, perhaps, you might learn to care?” Once again Marion was silent for % full minute before aho made answer. From the first she had liked and respected Mark Sampson, and the knew him to be sincere, and a gentleman in the best sense of the word. Might she not in time learn to love him? she asked herself. Why should she eat her heart out for love of a man who despised her? Why should she not Imarry Mark Sampson and try to be happy, try to make him happy, and repay him tor all hia kindness! fi l do care for you as a friend,” she answered at last, suddenly deciding that it would be unfair to Mark to be other Avm abaolnteb; hack .with feinr, -s* Jikt,..

[ you, and respect you, but—but I don't care liko that, I—l mean. 1 don’t love you, and—and ” She broke off in confusion, and Mark nodded. “1 understand,” he said, gently. “You like me well enough aa a friend, but you could only rnarrv a man you lovo. But don’t you think that in time, Marion, you might learn to love me?” "How can I tell?”’cried Marion, desperately. “1 don’t think I oould.” “Is there someone else?" “ Yes—at least, there was someone else. Please don’t nek mo anything more, Mr Sampeon.” “As you will,” said Mark, with a sigh. “I hope you are not offended.” “ No, I'm not offended,” Marion responded quickly. “You have done me a great honor, and I am only sorry that I can't do what you .wish. Sony, too, if my refusal pains you." “Pray don't mention it,” said Mark, formally, and began mechanically to fill his pipe. “I say, Marion—Miss Lancaster," ho added, a few moments later. “I hope you won't let this make any difference- 1 promise you 1 won’t refer to tho subject again. Don’t worry about it, and please let ns go on tho o}d footing 1 should hate to think that I had made you feel uncomfortable.” “ Perhaps it would be best for both of i:s if I wero to go," responded Marion, thoughtfully. “ Good heavens ! Don’t suggest such a thing 1” ejaculated Mark, in genuine concern. “Surely there isn't any. need to do anything so drastic. I promise vou I shall not worry you again, and will make no difference. For goodness' sake don’t leave me in the lurch.” “It was of you I was thinking,” said Marion. “ Perhaps it would make things easier for you if I went.” “Nonsense! I should feel that 1 had driven you away, and should never cease to reproach myself. Besides, I knew I

shouldn't be able to do any work, so for purely selfish considerations I want you to slay. Promise that you won’t leave.”

Before Marion had time to answer there •was a knock at tho door, which opened a moment later to admit Mr Atherley. “ Good morning, Miss Lancaster. Good morning, sir," said the lawyer, in his brisk manner, beaming at Marion over his spectacles, and darting quick glances at Mark and round the room. “ 1 trust I am rot intruding?” Not at all.” answered Marion, flushing slightly. "Mr Sampson io a most indulgent employer. Allow me to introduce vou. Mr Sampson, this is Mr Atherley. who was my father’s solicitor.” “Delighted, Mr Sampson,'’ said Mr Atherley. “1 read your books, and am pleased lo meet you.” They chatted for a few minutes, then Mark reached for h:s hat. “ I have to pay a call, Mr Atherley, _ he announced, “and won’t be back until after lunch, so if you care to stay hero and discuss business with Miss Lancaster you are cordially* welcome to do so. Excuse me, won’t you!" ... , . He nodded sirailingly, and hastened out, leaving Mr Atherley and Marion together. ” A °charming man, that,” commented Mr Atherley, settling himself in Mark’s armchair and looking keenly at Marion. ‘•You must find him easy to work for.” “Yes, he is kindness personified,” said Marion. “For example, he has gone out now simply in order to leave me free to spend the forenoon with you. His appointment is a myth.” “ Humph ! Very considerate, but most unbusincss-like; but I suppose one shouldn’t expect an author to be a keen business man. oh? _ You’re not lookingvery. well. M iss Marion, if I may say so.’ “Oh, I’m quite well, thank you, Mr Attyerley. but this dull wintry weather is a little trying,” responded Marion, hastily. “Tm all impatience to hear your wonderful news. Has someone left me a fortune?”

“ Not exactly; but someone Is very anxious to take care of you, and to provide you with everything you wish for,” said Mr Atherley, adjusting his spectacles and taking a bundle of papers from his pocket. “ Are you aware of the fact, my dear Miss Marion, that at intervals during the last few months a firm of solicitors has been advertising for you in the Press?” “ Yes, I know, Mr Atherley,” Marion answered, much to his astonishment. “ I called and saw them in regard to the matter.”

“You called and saw them?” ejaculated Mr Atherley. “But—but they never mentioned that to me, Miss Marion. Really, this is most extraordinary I WTiat did they tell you?” “ A pompous old gentleman explained that someone was anxious to adopt me, and I thanked him for the information, and told him I didn’t want to be adopted. That was all, Mr Atherley.” “ Most extraordinary!” muttered the lawyer again, with a snort. “ Please let me explain, Miss Marion. I happened to see the advertisement, and at once communicated with the firm, I won’t trouble you to read the correspondence which I have here, but will explain exactly how matters stand.”

“If you are going to toll me that some relative I have never seen wishes to adopt me, Mr Athsrley, please don't trouble,” said Marion, as ho paused. “ I prefer to earn my own living rather than be dependent upon the bounty of any relation." “Tut, tut! Don’t squash mo so unmercifully until you have heard the facts of the case,” protested Mr Atherley, taking off his glasses and polishing them vigorously. “ This isn’t a case of anyone offering you charity, rnv dear Miss Marion. Please bear with me for a few minutes.” He replaced bis spectacles on his nose, hastily referred to his papers, and plunged forthwith into explanations. “ I wrote, as I have mentioned, to Messrs Springem and Coasts, and after some correspondence they put me into communication with Captain Rowland Mostyn. Have you ever heard of the gentleman ?’’ “No,” answered Marion, “I don’t think so. Who is he?” “Your uncle by marriage—at least, he is the husband of your father’s half-sieter. Your grandfather, as you may have hoard, was married twice, and had three daughters bv his first wife and two eons by his second.” “It so.inds somewhat complicated.” remarked Marion, with a faint sinife. “This Captain Mostyn, I suppose, is married to a sister of Mrs Arnold-l’ower!” “Exactly, Miss Marion. _ Well, to resume, it appears that Captain Mostyn and his family hav? been abroad for some time, and did not hear of your father’s death until a few montlis ago, when Captain Mostyn and your aunt at once began to make inquiries about von.” “Why?” “I am coming to that. Captain Mostyn called on me in Manchester and explained everything. It appears that Mrs Mostyn was your father’s favorite sister, and, although they seldom met after your father went to Manchester, they kept up an irregular correspondence.” “Strange that my father never mentioned her name to me, Mr Atherley,” commented Marion. “He used to tell me everything, and ret I have no recollection of ever having heard him speak of Mrs Mostyn.”

“Your father was very reticent in soma things, yon will remember, my dear .Miss Marion,” responded Mr Atherley,' “You will remember, for example, that he told you that he had provided for your future, but did not explain how he had done so.” “ Yes. I remember well, Mx Atherley.” “ Well, Captain Mostyn's explanation made it clear how he (your fattier) had made provision for you. It appears that some year’s ago your father gave your aunt 3 Its Mostyn a sum of money, and made her promise that in the event, of his death she would fake charge of yon. give you a home, and treat vpu as if you were her own daughter. He bade her regard it. as a sacred trust, and said that he would arrange that in the event of anything happening to him ohe should be communicated with immediately.” “It seems very strange that my father should have made such arrangements and never mentioned the matter to ma or to you,” commented Marion, looking troubled. “ Possibly he feared to distress you by discussing the details of the arrangements lie bad made for your welfare in the event of Ids death,” sard Mr AthcrJoy. “ Your nmwtml Marion,—.

a most extraordinary man in some ways. He may have intended, to tell mo of the arrangements with Mrs Mostyn and omitted to do so. or ho may— —. But speculation is useless. Tho point is that ho charged his half-sister with the duty of caring for you. gave her money to pay expenses, and evidently meant to tell you to go to her if anything happened to him. ’

“So it is Mrs Mostyn who has been advertising for me?” “ Yes. She instructed her solicitors to make every effort to find you. She was greatly concerned when clio received news of your father’s death, and she went immediately to Manchester, only to find, of course, that you had left for Loudon. After a time she discovered that yon had gone to Mrs Arnold-Power’s, and sire went to her sister, to find that you had left her also, and that your whereabouts were unknown. ho there was nothing for it but to advertise.” “ What does sha want to do?” asked Marion, rather wearily.

“ Carry out the promise she made to your .father,” Mr At hurley answered, promptly. “Take you under her wing, as it were—take a motherly interest in you, and so on. She wants you to make your home with he. and she assures me that you will be welcomed warmly, and treated as an honored member of the family.” “You have seen her?”

“Yes, and found her a very nice, motherly woman, who is evidently eiiice-ro in her desire to do her very best for you, and to carry out the terms of our compact with your father. You will have a monthly allowance, your own rooms, complete freedom, and congenial society. Now, don't von think, Miss Marion, that is good news? Vou see, your father did make provision for you, after all, and 1 know you will be desirous of complying with his wishes.” V “1 don’t know,” said Marion, slowly, “ A year ago I think I should have accepted gladly, but now ” She broke off with a sigh, and Mr Atherky rose to his feet, looking somewhat disappointed. “ I don’t ask you to decide instantly, Miss Marion, but* I have ventured to promise Captain and Mrs Mostyn that you will call upon them this evening and talk matters over. Thev-have a house at Richmond, and are both most anxious to meet you. Now, Miss Marion, promise that you will conic to Richmond with me this evening and see your aunt7’ “ Very well, Mr Atherley, 1 shall go if you think it advisable,” said Marion, with another sigh and a poor smile. “ But I don’t think I want to be adopted.” (To be continued.)

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Bibliographic details

AN INNOCENT JUDAS., Issue 15644, 7 November 1914

Word Count
4,501

AN INNOCENT JUDAS. Issue 15644, 7 November 1914

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