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AN INNOCENT JUDAS.

[By Cauuas Pmocxcm.] (Continued from Wednesday's Issue.) CHAPTER XTTT. yCXBX. "PUITS THX OASEE." Richmond Park is undoubtedly one of London's beauty spots, and the view from Richmond Hill is a thing for poets to rave over; but when one's heart is broken, when one's soul is filled with) bitterness, Vhe fairest spots on God's good earth fail utterly to charm or attract. Marion, after making pretence of eatbig breakfast, after forcing herself, by a supreme effort, lightly to discuss with her •ant and uncle the news of Raeburn's "to Diantic" engagement, had left the house for her usual morning walk. Bernard Mostyn bad offered to accompany her, but bis escort was declined so promptly and decisively that for once he did not attempt to argue. "You know I prefer to be alone in the morning," Marion added, realising that she bad been almost rude. "Thank you all the same, Bernard." Yes, she wanted to be alone—quite alone—away from everyone, out in the open air among the leafless trees, with the cold wind stinging her face. She felt that if she were compelled much longer to hide her feelings, to talk with assumed nonchalance of Raeburn Chesterton and his politic!i, she would go mad. Rapidly, as if hastening to keep an appointment, she breasted the hill and entered the park, breathing quickly, her lin« firmly set and her eyes dark with trouble. Hurriedly she walked on, heedless of the direction she was taking, seeing nothing, conscious only of the fact that she had left the houses behind, and was out in the open—conscious only of that and of a dull, sickening pain at her heart. Hex brain was in a turmoil, and it was not until she had been walking along at » great rate for some time that she began to think clearly. "1 am a fool—a fool—a poor, weak;, miserable fool!" she breathed at last, through set teeth. "I wish—oh, I wish I were dead." A sob rose to her throat, her eyes .filled with unbidden tears, and she dropped weakly down! on a- seat beneath a great tree. For a time she gave way to tears, her whole frame shaken by sobbing, her sweet face contorted; but at length the sound of approaching footsteps brought her back to a sense of her surroundings, and she sprang up hastily and walked on once more.

Her passion of self-pity exhausted itself quickly, leaving her angry with herself, angrily contemptuous of her own weakness, and she dashed away her tears and clenched her thin hands. "Fooll fool! fool!" she reiterated, turning abruptly to retarce her step*. " What did yon expect? Why are you crying? What does Raeburn Chesterton matter to yon?" Realising that she had become almost hysterical, she seated herself again, fighting for self-control, hen hands locked tofather, her eyes gazing unseeingly before er. "Ho never Teally loved me," she breathed at last, dull despair settling down upon her. "I am a fool to care—yes, I know I am a fool, for I would go down on my knees and beg him to take me back if onlv I thought that he loved me! But ha doesn't love me; he only came the other day because be feared that I might betray his secret. And now he is going to marry another woman! I have been breaEng my heart. I thought he cared. And now—now it is all overl"

For a long time she sat very still, staring with sombre eyes across the park; then she rose abruptly with a laugh that had no mirth, but onlv an infinity of bitterness in it, and walked very slowly back toward* the main gate. She was thinking that Fate had treated her cruelly from the first, depriving her in her early girlhood oi her mother, then cutting off her father suddenly when she was blossoming into a woman—the father who had been all in all to hex. Even as if that were not enough, she had found herself —after having been led to expect khat her future was provided far—practically penniless and completely alone on her* father's death. Then came Mrs Arnold-Power, who by her duplicity had robbed. her of Raeburn'e regard and her happiness; then But what was the use of going over all of it yet again? It was the future that frightened her most—the long vista of grey, loveless, purposelesa years. She had given Raeburn Chesterton all her love, and she knew that sb» could never love again, never allow another man to take the place of the one who had won her love, only to cast it aside contemptuously. No, the future held nothing desirable save death. She had almost reached the park gate, and was still walking slowly, her head bent in thought, when she heard her name pronounced, and looked up with a start to find Mark Sampson at her side. "I hope I did not startle you?" said Mark, as he shook hands. " I havo been looking for yon for half an hour." "Looking for me?" Marion was a littlconfused by the .unexpected meeting, and hex voice was not quite steady. " Did you call?"

" No, I didn't call ;, but nevertheless I expected to meet you," explained Mark, with a grave smite. "It was merely surmise on my part, really j but I concluded ss you were livina at Richmond, quite close to Richmond Park, you would most probably be in the habit of taking a walk an the park after breakfast, so I came straight Tiere expecting to meet you." "Indeed?" Marion's manner was still constrained, although she tried to smile. "Quite a piece of Sherlock Holmes's reasoning." "I wanted to talk to you," said Mark. gravely, "and I feared that if I called at your aunt's house I might not have the opportunity of speaking to you in private. That was really why I came here."

" Yes?" Marion Taised her eyebrows elightly > looking ft question, and she saw Mark's face flush deeply. "It may be unconventional," began Mark, in- come embarrassment, somewhat perplexed by Marion's attitude towards him; "but what I have to say is really important, and I believe " " Please dont apologise," said Marion, hastily, flushing in turn. " I hope that I did not give you the impression that I object." " Thank yoa,* e&id Mark, quietly. I don't know it you have eeen the papers tbla morning? Jtfc is about Raeburn Chesterton that I wanted to apeak." "Yea, I have seen the papers," Marion ■aid, quickly, before he could eay more. **And—and I don'* wish to discuss Raeburn Chesterton, Mr Sampson." "Marion, yon must hear me."' Mark Sampson's voice was tense with anxiety, and instinctively he laid his hand on Marion's arm. "I'm not asking you to discuss Chesterton with me, but I must say what I came to eay. I want to play the game, and I have a confession to make.' For a few momenta Marion stood silent, hesitating, looking steadily into Mark's togged face, now rather pale. "I don't know what you can have to aay about Raeburn Chesterton that concerns me." she said at last, in a low voice. He called on me a fortnight ago, and—and I learned from him then Sat he had discussed me with you. What he told you I neither know nor care, Mr Sampson. I have pot him out of my life, and I never wish to hear his name again." "Nevertheless, I think you had better hear what I have to say," responded Mark, Jerkily. "For my sake and your own, you must hear the truth. I shall have no peace of mind until you know." "Very well," said Marion, a little wearily, turning aside. "Shall we eit downr*

They seated themselves on a bench a little way back from the path, and Mark pushed has hat back from his brow, took a long breath, and plunged at once into his story. He related how Raeburn bad called to ask for Marion's address, how he had revealed the fact that there had been an engagement, and finally told his ftfeey oi tha Mtrajal.

"I refused to believe that you were guilty," Mark continued, turning to Marion, who was listening intently, whitefaced and s silent. "I don't believe it now. lb wasn't true, wa» it ?" "We wont discuss that, please, Mr Sampson," answered Marion, without meeting his eyes. "Please go on." " Raeburn came again next day," Mark resumed, with a sigh. "He was in a furious passion; said you were heartless, had ridiculed and scorned him, while he was endeavoring to explain and to show that he still cared."

He stopped abruptly, staring, for Marion suddenly had laughed strangely and half risen from her seat.

"I beg your pardon?" he ejaculated " It is nothing," Marion said, shortly. "Pray go on."

Mark, with a puzzled look, continued, relating what had passed, concealing nothing. " His heart is not in this engagement," he said earnestly. "He has engaged himself to Lady Violet out of bravado, to try to show you that he does not care. He does care, Marion, and you must know it, and has done this thing because ho wants to show you that he does not care."

It was seldom, either when speaking or writing, that Mark Sampson repeated himself, but he did so now, and even again reiterated his last words as Marion sat staring at him with a strange expression in her eyes. "To show that he does nob care!" repeated Marion, after a long pause, with another bitter laugh. "Did ne ask you to tell me this?" " N T o, no!" exclaimed Mark, hastily. " Certainly not! I have not seen him since that night, and my reason for telling you is entirely personal." "Mr Sampson, I don't know your reason for telling me all this, but I think you are wilfully deluding yourself," said Marion, steadily. "If you know Raeburn Chesterton you know that- he pares for nothing but power, that everything is .sacrificed for the sake of his ambition. You have seen by this morning's papers how ho has used even this new engagement to his advantage, to further explain his change of party; and you know that he must be going to marry Lady Violet Vansart because by so doing he will become the son-in-law of the Prime Minister, and so be assured of political advancement."

" Yes, I know all that," admitted Mark, somewhat reluctantly; "but I repeat that the primary reason was to show you that he did not care—to hurt you; and I repeat that he loves you." Marion drew in her breath sharply and mado a gesture of protest; but she said no word, and Mark continued hurriedly : "It is my fault, Marion—all mv fault."

"Your fault?" ejaculated Marion, startled and staring. "Yes, my fault," eaid Mark, bowing his head. " I knew tho truth, and if I had come to you a fortnight ago, had told you all, explained and reasoned, all might have been well, and this engagement would never have taken place. I didn't play the game, Marion. I held my peace, waited—waited with the idea that when Raeburn had carried out his plan, engaged himself to the Premier's daughter to prove that he didn't care, as ho had threatened, I should havo a chance again." " You ? I don't understand."

" I thought if ho was engaged you might be willing to accept me if I asked you again to marrv me," explained Mark, shamefacedly. " i want to play the game, Marion, and it is all my fault." "What nonsense.'" said Marion, shakily, still a little bewildered. "It isn't nonsense," eaid Mark, doggedly. "Is there anything I can do to put matters right? He must know that you care for him; but your scorn drove him frantic, and he swore that he would engage himself to Lady Violet to show you that he did not care." Once again he paused, looking anxiously and expectantly at Marion, who was staring thoughtfully at tho'ground, her face almost expressionless. " I suppose that Mr Chesterton felt some explanation of his action was necessary, after what he had told you about me," said Marion, with almost uncanny calmness, looking up. " You hava nothing whatever .'to treproa-ch yourself with Mr Sampson, and it is unnecessary to take any action. Even if I had known all this a fortnight ago I would have asked you to keep silent and do nothing. And now we will drop the subject for ever." " You are going to let this engagement go on, knowing what you do?" cried Mark. " Certainly. I should not dream of attempting to interfere with Mr Chesterton's career, and he may have persuaded his new fiancee that he loves her," said Marion. " No, it is all past and done with, and we won't refer to the matter again, please. He has shown mo in many wavs that he does not care, and it only remains for me to prove to him that I do not care in order to end everything. And I'll do it!" She rose from her seat, her face white save for a spot of hectic color burning on each cheek, and held out her hand. " Good-bye, Mr Sampson," she said, quickly. " Come and see me soon. I must hurry away now." She felt that if 6he stayed longer she would be in grave danger of breaking down again, and she would have died rathur than reveal what was in her heart.

" He knows I care, and has done this to huTt me, to punish mo, as well as to advance himsell," she moaned, as she hurried down the hill. "To show mo he does not care! Yea, ho ha-s shown mo, but 1 can show him that I do not care. I shall!"

She reached the Cedars, to find Bernard waiting for her in the hall, looking very uncomfortable.

"I say, Marion," he ejaculated, following her into the sitting room, after insisting upon helping her off with her jacket, "you're not cross with me, are you?'' •'So. Why?" " That's all right, then," said Bernard. " You see, as a matter of fact, I—er—l wanted to ask you if you'd thought any more about what I asked you—er—about getting married. I'm awfully keen on it, Marion, you know, and if only you'll say you'll marry me—er " Ho broke off, gasping, gazing half fearfully at Marion, who was staring at him strangely. "Of course——" he resumed, hastily, but Marion held up her hand. "Very well, since you wish it I will marry you, Bernard," she said, with sudden decision. " I don't care for you, but I will marry you." Fate seemed to have thrown Bernard Mostyn in her way at that moment. Sho was going to marry him in order to prove to Raeburn Chesterton that she did not care I CHAPTER XXIII. "THE BEST LilD PLAN'S." " I knew you would be successful If you followed my advice, Bernard," said Mrs Mostyn complacently, beaming at her son, who was lolling on a sofa and smoking a cigarette. Luncheon was over. Marion, after having been kissed and congratulated ad nauseam by her aunt and uncle, had retired to the seclusion of her own room on the plea of a headache, and the Mostyns had seized tho opportunity to hold a family confab.

"I don't know that I followed your advice, really, mater," drawled Bernard, puffing a tiny cloud of smoke ceilingwards. " I— e r—relied more on personality and that sort of thing, don't you know. Managed to convince her that she was on a good thing, «o to apeak. Think I did jolly well to pull it off so soon—what?" ""Well enough," grunted his father. " T knew you wouH bring it off if you did as I told you and kept on proposing. Many a girl accepts a man because she's sick of refusing him." M My idea, as I told you before, was that Marion was in love with Mr Chesterton—or at least that there had been something between them," interposed Mrs Mo*tyn. "That was why, as soon as I read of Mr Chesterton's engagement. I told Bernard to proposo again to-day." "I don't see the idea,".commented Bernard, sitting up. "If she was gone on this Chesterton chap, why -"

" My dear boy, I happen to know something of human nature —feminine human nature," proceeded his mother, quickly. "If there had been something between Marion and Chesterton, Marion would" be keen on retaliating as soon as she heard of Chesterton's engagement.' '

"Retaliating?" » "Yes. lo snow him how little she was affected by the news of his forthcoming marriage. That is probably why she accepted yoa so promptly, Bernard, and it proves that I was right." "Hero, I say! lou don't give a chap much credit," exclaimed Bernard, plaintively, after considering the matter for a few moments. " How do you know that 1 haven't made her fall in love with me I My idea is that she took quite a fancy to mo the first time we met, and you know we've been getting on rippin' together." "It doesn't matter a hang why she accepted you, and it's no use arguing about it, interposed Captain Mostyn, brusquely. " The great thing is that she has accepted you, and now we must all do everything in our power to hurry forward the wedding. Time is flying, and unless you manage to bring on the marriage during the next weok or two we may Be beaten on the post." "Leave it to me, dad," said Bernard, with an air of great resolution. "I'm awfully keen on it myself. But—er—l say, what about the ready—money, you know? Can't ask the girl to gat married at once if I haven't a home to offer her, and all that sort of thing." "Persuade her to go to Switzerland with you for the rest of the wintel. Talk of the fun of winter sports, and so on,'' suggested his mother, promptly. "I have thought it all out, Bernard. Suggest starting almost immediately, and getting married before you go. Toll her that you can get everything she needs when you return; or tell hor that wo are going abroad, and that she can have this house as it 3tands."

"Tell her anything you like, but for heaven's sake persuade her to marry you at once," chimed in the Captain. "Suggest a marriage by special license next week, and a honeymoon trip to Paris and Switzerland, starting at Christmas. That should fetch her."

" Jolly good idea!" said Bernard, jumping up. " I will! We 6hould have a rippin' time. it to me. I'll manage it all 0.K." "What I fear now is that she may go back on her word," remarked Mrs Mostvn, after a paiwo. "If she should have time to reflet she may get scared, and if she should suspect " " Confound it!" snapped her husband. "Don't start anticipating trouble We mustn't give her time to reflect—must rush her into marriage—intimidate her, if need be—get the thing finished at _ all costs. It means ruin if there is any hitch now, for Coventry Lancaster will bo home earlv in the New Year."

"You needn't get angry, Rowland," said Mrs Mostyn, rising with a sigh. "It certainly won't be my.fault if there is any hitch. I will havo a talk with Marion this evening." Her fears were not by any means groundless, for Marion already was half repenting of her hasty step, and was more afraid than ever to think of tho future. "What does it matter who I marry now?" she whispered, bitterly, as she sat, chin in har.d, staring out of the window of her room. "As well Bernard Mostyn as anyone else." Nothing seemed to matter to Marion now that Raeburn Chesterton was engaged to someone else, nothing except that she wanted to show him that she did not care. Was that rot why she accepted Bernard? And now tho new* of her engagement must be sent at once to Raeburn.

"I cannot write to him, but I can writ* to Mark Sampson," murmured Marion, after much thought, and opened her writing case. " Dear Mr Sampson," sho wrote, '' with reference to our interview of this morning; it mar interest you to know that I arri' engaged to be married to my cousin, Mr Bernard Mostyn. Perhaps you will be good enough to advise Mr Chesterton to this effect, in order to still his qualms. —Yours sincerely, Marion Lancaster." Not until next day did it occur to her that her letter might wound Mark Sampson move than Raeburn Chesterton. For had not Mark even-at their Inst meeting confessed that he still bad hopes of winning her love? •The mischief was done, however, and it was impossible to undo it. Marion's heart smote her as she recalled Mark's earnestness, his unfailing friendship and genuine regard, and she realised once again the truoh of the maxim that a w ronjr, like a bomb thrown into the crowd, always hurts others than tho persons aimed at. Had she been able to see Mark's stricken face when he wad the note she would have been overwhelmed with remorse.

As it WR6, she waited anxiously for Mark's reply, wondering if he should pe-r----chance reproach her, wondering what lie was thinking of her. When it cams at length Mark's letter contained no reproaches, a.nd was very brief: "D«ir Mies Lancaster, —Yours to hand. Please accept iny congratulations and good wishes. lam forwarding your note- to Mr Chesterton.—Yours, truly. Mark Sampson." The formal note —so very different from Mark's usual friendly and characteristic jotters— told Marion plainly that Markwas hurt, and for a time she was seized with a desire to write- fully, to explain everything, in order to put herself right IrT the eyes of Mark, whose- regard she valued deeply. But she put the idea out of her head, realising, perhaps, that to explain would but make tho action seem even more inexplicable than ever to Mark. '• Tt doesn't matter," she told herself attain, witK a despairing sigh. " Nothing matters now."

That, for the time being, was her attitude towards life—a sort of reckless despair, a careless disregard for her future. That was her attitude when Bernard Mostvn, the same evening, after much heating about the bush, urged her to sgroo to marry him almost immediately. "I don't see the need for such haste, Bernard," said Marion, a little wearily. " I—T don't want to get married." " Oh, I say, you know !" protested Bernard, and renewed his appeals, urging, persuading, and arguing. "Why are you sn anxious to get married at once?" Marion demanded suddenly, after again listening in silence. "What?"

Bernard looked startled, and his face, crimsoned. Ho feared suddenly that Marion suspected ulterior motive, and all the warnings his father and mother recurred to him instantly.

"You see—er —l want you to—er—to hive a good time," he stammered, when Marion had repeated her question. 11 ■> fidgeted uneasily undeT the steady ga/.o of her clear grey eyes and twisted his clumsy hands together. "It would beer—be awfullv jolly to go abroad for Christmas, and I'm—l'm fearfully in love with vou, Marion." Ho "flushed guiltily again as he nei-ved himself to meet her eyes, but her beauty almost convinced him that ho was speaking truth. "I want to be honest with you. Bernard." Marion responded, after another silence. "' I don't love you, and I only accepted vou because —because—no, I can't explain ; hut it wasi.'t because I cared tor you. Perhaps I had no right to promi.se —perhaps I did wrong " "Here, I say, that'sall bosh, you know:" interposed Bernard, hastfly, looking greatly alarmed. '" I know you couldn't care for » chap like me, but yon will, you know, in time. We'll get along famously, be very happv, and all that sort of thing. For heaven's sake, dont' go back on your promise now, Marion ! He aeemed so very much in earnest that Marion's heart smote her. She had given her word, <ind —well, what did it. matter?

"I will do my best, Bernard." she paid, quietly "Yes." perhaps it would be nice to get away from England at once; 1 should be glad to get away. (Jet the special license, if you wish. The sooner it is all over the better."

"Jolly ffood !" cried Bernard, triumph nntly. ""'lhe mater will be pleased. I'll —et—l'll play the game .stniijjht, and we'll bo jolly happy, Marion."

So it was all settled, and there was much jubilation in the Mostyn household that evening, and long after Marion had retired Bernard and his parents sat discussing plans for the future. " Well, we've brought off the great coup, I fancy," commented Captain Mostyn, in self-satisfied tones, as he rose at last to prepare his "nightcap." "We have nearly three weeks to spare, I think, and I don't see how there can be any hitch now." It is the unexpected that always happens, however, and had the noble Captain read Burns he might have remembered that " the best laid plans o' mice and men gang aft agley." It was while he was seated at the "luncheon table on the following day that the truth of this was forcibly brought home to him. He was in high spirits, and talked volubly to Marion, who was going shopping with ner aumt in the afternoon.

"See that you get everything you need, my dear," he was saying, in his expansive manner, when the door opened suddenly, and a servant appeared, looking rather startled. "If you please, sir," began the girl, "a gentleman " ■" All right my girl; I will announce myself," said a deep voice from behind her, and a big, bronzed, elderly man put the maid aside and stepped into the room. "Thought I would spring a surprise on you," he continued, smiling grimly and darting a keen glance round the table. " Coventry 1" gasped Mrs Mostyn, with a little scream, and the Captain's jaw dropped and his face suddenly went ashy white.

"Coventry Lancaster, at your service." said the new-comer, smiling rather grimly and still gazing at the startled faces of Captain and Mrs Mostyn. "Why are you staring at me as if I wore a ghost?" " My dear Coventry, this is such a surprise," ejaculated Mrs Mostyn, recovering herself and rising hastily. "We didn't expect you for another fortnight at least. Why didn't you let ns know?" "Delighted, my dear fellow !" chimed in the captain, rushing forward with outstretched hand, hut still looking very white about the mouth. "A most delightful surprise. Come and take your things off and lunch with us."

Coventry Lancaster shook hands without enthusiasm, and calmly pat the captain aside.

"This young lady, I suppose, is my niece, Marion.'" he "remarked quietly, intently regarding Marion, who had been eyeing him curiously aind wondering at the sensation his apjjearano? had produced.

"Er—er—yes," etai.%iered Mrs Mostyn, with a smile that was so obviously forced as to appear grotesque. "Marion, my dear, this is vour Unci© Coventry—homo at last. Wo have been/ eagerly expecting you, Coventry, and Marion " " I am delighted to meet you, Marion," said CovoTilrv Laincaster, stepping forward quickly and "holding out his hand. "You were a little girl in short frocks when T saw you last. Yoa know who I am, don't you? Your father's brother." "•My father often spoko of you," saiil Marion, as he gripped her hand.

"And, of course, your aunt and unci" here told you I was comkig home, and howit concerned you?" queried the big man. " Of course. Coventry," began Mrs Mostyn ; but he paid no heed to her interruption. "You know about your fortune':" he asked of Marion, and her look of bewilderment told him the truth before Marion answered.

"No, I'm afraid I don't understand," Marion said, and wondered at the moment at the tense silence that prevailed as sl-v spoke. " Your name has never been mentioned to my knowledge, aind I had no idea you were coming home. As for a fortune—but whau does ail ihie mean.'" She glanced inquiringly from Coventry Lancaster to the captain, who was tugging agitatedly at his drooping moustache and glaring out of the window; at her aunt. who was twisting her plump hands nervously together and gazing at her ;:. mingled anger and appeal; and at Bernard, who was still seated at the tabl-'. statin:; at pellets of bread: which ho. «'as xoLlin? between his fingers. '•What docs it all mean'/'' she :n>kii*i again. (To be continued.)

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Bibliographic details

AN INNOCENT JUDAS., Issue 15656, 21 November 1914

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4,742

AN INNOCENT JUDAS. Issue 15656, 21 November 1914

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