The Nether Millstone
Page Scan Source: Google Books
(The New York Public Library)
THE NETHER MILLSTONE
THE NETHER MILLSTONE
FRED M. WHITE
"THE SLAVE OF SILENCE," "THE CRIMSON BLIND,"
"THE WEIGHT OF THE CROWN," ETC.
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY
By WARD, LOCK, AND COMPANY.
BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.
All Rights Reserved
Published September 1907
S. J. Parkhill & Co., Boston, U.S.A.
|I.||"The Caste of Vere de Vere."|
|IV.||A Leaf from the Past.|
|VI.||A Cruel Misunderstanding.|
|VII.||The Only Way.|
|IX.||The Parting Guest.|
|XI.||The Dowager Lady Dashwood.|
|XII.||Lady Dashwood Sees a Ghost.|
|XIV.||A Fierce Temptation.|
|XV.||Not Quite Too Late.|
|XVI.||The Unfinished Word.|
|XVIII.||A Flaming Sword.|
|XIX.||A Guardian Angel.|
|XXII.||Who Did It?|
|XXIII.||The Silver Clue.|
|XXIV.||A Fresh Calamity.|
|XXV.||Pride or Prejudice.|
|XXVI.||In Reckless Mood.|
|XXX.||The Heir of the House.|
|XXXI.||Under Which Lord?|
|XXXII.||Must This Thing Be?|
|XXXIII.||A Rebel Against Fate.|
|XXXIV.||Mistress Of Herself.|
|XXXV.||A Friend in Need.|
|XXXVII.||The Unexpected Happens.|
|XXXVIII.||The Mystery Deepens.|
|XLI.||The Lesson of Adversity.|
|XLII.||The Courage of Despair.|
|XLIV.||The Dreary Way.|
|XLV.||The Walls of Pride.|
|XLVI.||The Head of the House.|
|XLVII.||"How Long, How Long!"|
|XLVIII.||Face To Face!|
|XLIX.||A Bolt From the Blue.|
|L.||Hard Put To It.|
|LII.||The Spider's Web.|
|LIII.||The Web Tightens.|
|LIV.||"Eyes Clearer Grown----"|
|LVII.||A Clean Breast Of It.|
|LVIII.||"The King is Dead--"|
|LIX.||"Long Live the King!"|
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Page 32 (Frontispiece). "She came slowly down the steps and stood between the two men."
Page 15. "She playfully asked him not to be too long."
Page 272. "Under the shade of a tree Mary laid down and closed her weary eyes."
Page 397. "He has Mary's hand in his."
THE NETHER MILLSTONE
"THE CASTE OF VERE DE VERE"
There were tears in the girl's eyes--tears of futile anger and despair. The danger was so great, and yet safety was so near. If only the black horse would stumble or swerve, if only she could work the bit into that iron mouth and bring him to a standstill altogether. Her gloves were cut to ribands now; the blue veins stood out on the slender white wrists.
And still the horse flew on down the rocky path leading to the lych-gate. He would charge through the gate into the green old churchyard beyond, but no longer with his rider fighting for life on his back. The arch of the lych-gate would sweep her from the saddle with a blow that would crush the life out of her. Mary Dashwood could see that plainly enough; she knew that she had only a few more minutes to live.
She set her teeth and blinked the welling tears from her proud blue eyes. She was not afraid--no Dashwood was ever afraid--but the pity of it! She saw the great beeches rising on either side of the path, she saw the blue sky beyond, the song of the birds came to her ears. And she was only twenty-two, and life was very dear to her.
The moment was coming ever nearer. The black horse was thundering along the straight downward path; the lych-gate was in sight. Mary discarded the idea of throwing herself from the saddle; she would have only been dashed to pieces on the rocks on either side of the road. She had been warned, too, not to take the black horse. She bent low to escape an overhanging bough; her hat was swept away; the shining chestnut hair began to stream from her shapely head.
There was a crackling of sticks in the wood on the right; surely, a hundred yards or so ahead, a face looked over the high fence, the figure of a man was holding on to the overhanging bough of an oak tree. Mary Dashwood wondered if the man realised her danger. Perhaps he did, for he crooked a leg over the bough and hung arms downward over the roadway. He was saying something in a smooth, firm voice.
"Pull to the side of the road," said the voice. It almost sounded like a command. "Drop the reins and clear your stirrup as you near me. And have no fear."
The big horse thundered on. Despite her peril, Mary did not fail to notice how strong and brown and capable the stranger's hands looked. . . . It was all done so quickly and easily as to rob the episode of romantic danger--two hands, warm and tender, and yet firm as a steel trap, grasped the girl's slender wrists, she was floated lightly from the saddle, and in the next instant she was swaying dizzily on her feet in the road. The pride and courage of the Dashwoods availed nothing now--it was but a mere woman who fell almost fainting by the roadside.
She opened her eyes presently to the knowledge that a strong arm was supporting her. A bright blush mounted to her proud, beautiful face. The colour deepened as she saw the look, half admiration, half amusement, on the face of her rescuer.
"Mr. Darnley," she stammered. "I--I hardly expected to see you here. A little over two years ago, in Paris, you saved my life before."
"It is good to know that you have not forgotten it," Ralph Darnley murmured. "And yet the coincidence is not so strange as it seems. I did not come to these parts moved by any unaccountable impulse--I simply had business here. And I was told that a walk through the park would repay me for my trouble. As I was making a start out, through a copse I saw your predicament and hastened to your assistance. A handy tree did the rest. The only strange part of the affair is that you should be here, too."
"Nothing strange about that," the girl smiled, "seeing that the Hall is my home."
It was a commonplace statement of facts, and yet the words seemed to hurt Ralph Darnley as if they had been lashes to sting him. The honest open brown face paled perceptibly under its tan hue. A dozen emotions changed in those clear brown eyes.
"I--I don't quite understand," he remarked. "When we met in Paris two years ago, Miss Mary Mallory----"
"Quite so. Mary Dashwood Mallory. But, you see, the head of the family was alive then. He died nearly two years ago without any children, in fact, his only son died years ago somewhere abroad--it was a rather sad story--and my father came into the title and estates. He is Sir George Dashwood now. You can quite see why he changed his name."
"Of course. Only you can see that I could not possibly know this. What a grand old place it is, and what a grand old house! You must have grown very fond of it."
"I love it," Mary Dashwood cried. The look of haughty pride had faded from her face, leaving it refined and beautiful. "I love every stick and stone of it, it is part of my very life. You see, I have practically lived here always. As my father was in the Diplomatic Service, and my mother died young, it was necessary for somebody to look after me. I spent my childhood here with old Lady Dashwood, who has now gone to the dower house--such a wonderful old body!"
But Darnley did not appear to be listening. He made an effort to recover himself presently. He was like a man who dreams.
"I can quite appreciate your feelings," he said quietly. "I understand that the Dashwoods have ruled here for three hundred years. It is a fine estate; they tell me the heirlooms are almost priceless. And yet I am sorry."
The girl looked sharply up at the speaker.
"Why should you be sorry?" she demanded.
"Because it is the end of a dream," Darnley said. "I rather gathered in Paris that your father was poor. The fact levelled things up a little. It is just possible that you may remember our last evening together in Paris."
"I recollect," Mary said, the delicate colour flushing her cheeks again. "But I thought that we had closed that chapter finally, Mr. Darnley."
"No. That chapter can never be closed for me. I loved you from the first moment that we met, and I shall go on loving you till I die. I asked you to be my wife, and you refused me. The future mistress of Dashwood could not stoop to the son of a Californian rancher, though I happened to be an English gentleman by birth. I hope I took your refusal quietly, though it was a great blow to me. There can be no other woman for me, Mary."
"I am sorry," the girl said, "but see how impossible it is. Perhaps I am a little old-fashioned, perhaps it is the fault of my bringing up. That like must mate with like has always been the motto of the Dashwoods. These new people, with their wealth and noise and ostentation can never cross the threshold of Dashwood Hall. My father is fond of finance, but he never dreams of bringing his City friends here."
Darnley smiled to himself. He recollected the days in Paris, when Mary's father had been hand-in-glove with many a dubious French financier.
"We are wandering from the point," he said. "In any case your strictures do not touch me, for I have no money. My poor father left me comfortably off, as he thought, but my mine of silver is ruined now, ruined by a firm of City swindlers whom I was fool enough to regard as honest men. It was a very bad thing for me when I came in contact with Horace Mayfield."
It was the girl's turn to start guiltily. The beautiful face flushed once more.
"I know Mr. Mayfield," she said. "He is the only one of my father's business friends who comes here. We make an exception in his favour, because he is so well connected. Frankly, I do not like him, but I thought that he-----"
"That he is a cold-blooded and calculating rascal to the core," Darnley said. "I trusted him, and he left me almost penniless. Many people will tell you I am saying no more than what is actually true. And, because I am poor, I came down here thinking to find a little something that belonged to my people years ago. And so I met you, Mary, and discovered that I love you with the same old pure affection, that will go on burning in my heart till I die. It may strike you as strange that a poor man should speak to Miss Dashwood, of Dashwood, like this. Mind you, I am young, and strong, and able, and I shall come into my kingdom again. And love is worth all the rest; it is better far than money, or position, or pride of birth. If I could hear you say that you cared for me now! You are so beautiful; behind all your pride the woman's heart beats true enough. May God grant that you meet the right man when the time