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That was Cousin Geoffrey's name for me, so it attracted

my

attention. I leaned forward, but nothing more was said till a minute after, when, just as they were turning the corner, the other voice replied :

“ Bah, that must be imagination. I tell you I know for a fact, that Geoffrey Verecroft is to marry his cousin, Estelle, in six weeks."

I started back. I felt as if I had been stunned. Why had it never struck me before that Cousin Geoffrey and Estelle might marry? Perhaps it was that I was so inexperienced about love and lovers, that Estelle and Cousin Geoffrey had been lovers all this time without my ever knowing it. The idea pained me intensely. I think it was that I was afraid Estelle would not make him happy, and I felt, too, something like indignation that Cousin Geoffrey had never told me himself. Perhaps he thought me too childish to be trusted with his secret-a secret that all his other friends seemed to know. I had never felt so miserable as I did that night; all my anticipated pleasure had vanished, and I went to bed and lay awake, saying to myself over and over again :

“ Geoffrey Verecroft is to marry his Cousin Estelle in six weeks.”

II.

The next day I avoided Cousin Geoffrey. After breakfast I went upstairs to my own room, and did not go down again till I had seen him get on his horse and ride off, and then I went to the music-room. I had not been there more than a quarter of an hour when Cousin Geoffrey came in.

“Mabel,” he said, “I came back, for I thought, perhaps, you would like to ride with me.”

“No, thank you,” I said, quite coldly.
He looked surprised. “Will you tell me why, little Mabel ?"
“ Because I had rather not,” I replied.

He did not ask me again, but he looked hurt, and went out, shutting the door after him. In a few minutes I heard his horse's feet

pass

the window, and he was gone. It only took me a moment to say what I had said, but it took me all the rest of the day to repent it. I hoped that I should see him at dinner, but I was disappointed, and quite accidentally I heard during the evening that he had sent a message to say that he had been persuaded to remain for a few days somewhere-at the same place, I fancied, where Estelle was staying. That night, when I went to bed, I was so miserable, so much more miserable than I had ever been in all my life, that I cried myself to sleep, and found my pillow all wet with tears in the morning.

For the next three or four days I was entirely left to my own devices. My aunt was always more or less of an invalid, and I only saw her occasionally. I think I fretted more than was good for me ; at all events, I was very unhappy. One afternoon I took up a book and went out to sit in my favourite avenue. It had been oppressively hot all day, and the cool, shady trees were very refreshing. I laid the book on my lap and began to think instead of reading. I don't know how long a time passed, but when I did look up I was startled by seeing Cousin Geoffrey standing before me. I felt so guilty, for I knew that there were tears in my eyes, and I saw that he noticed them.

It was

“What are you unhappy about, little Mabel ?” I laid

my hand upon the book, as if to imply that its imaginary sorrows had been the cause.

He took it from me, and smiled as he turned it towards me. an illustrated botany. I felt my cheeks grow crimson.

“ Never mind, little Mabel,” he said ; “ let us take a turn." And he took my hand and drew it within his arm.

“ You are come back," I ventured to say. He nodded. For good?” I added. “That is to be proved. If you mean to remain-yes." I did not know what to make of Cousin Geoffrey that afternoon, but I knew that I felt very glad to have him back again. We walked up and down almost in silence, and then he said something about its being late, and we turned in the direction of the house, and I then found that Estelle had come back also; so, in reality, except that the house seemed more cheerful, I saw very little of either of them. The next day my aunt sent for me, and asked me if I should not like to be Estelle's bridesmaid, for that she and Cousin Geoffrey were going to be married. I thought that I would much rather not, but I did not like to refuse, so it was settled, and an order given to have my dress got ready. I believe several other

young ladies had been selected by Estelle, but I did not know any of them, and Estelle never mentioned the subject to me herself.

After that day the whole house seemed in a constant bustle of bridal preparation. Estelle's trousseau was evidently intended to be as magnificent as money could make it, and I supposed everything else was to be on the same grand scale. A great many guests were expected, and I heard rumours about a ball

. I wondered if Cousin Geoffrey and Estelle were very happy. I did not think they looked so. Cousin Geoffrey was pale, and he was much quieter than usual, and Estelle's face had an anxious, restless expression.

One day, about a fortnight before the wedding, my dress came home. It was very pretty, I thought—some clear white material with a broad lilac silk sach, and a wreath of white and lilac lilacs. I fancied perhaps my aunt would like to see me in it, so I put it on and went to her room to show myself. As I was returning, I met Cousin Geoffrey, and he started so on seeing me that I thought he did not recognise me, so I said :

“ This is my bridesmaid's dress, Cousin Geoffrey. Do you like it?".

“ Your bridesmaid's dress !” he repeated. And he shaded his face with his hand, as if the light were too strong.

Yes," I replied; “ did you not know that I was to be your bridesmaid-yours and Estelle’s ?"

“God grant, little Mabel,” he said, hastily, “that I may be able to bear it." And without another word he turned away abruptly and left me.

I went back to my own room and laid my finery in a drawer. I felt somehow as if I had vexed Cousin Geoffrey. Perhaps he did not like my mentioning his marriage, as he had never done so himself, and I certainly thought that for the rest of the day he avoided me.

A day or two after this, my aunt sent me with a message to one of the

lodges, and, happening to look out into the high road, I was surprised at seeing Cousin Geoffrey apparently in very earnest conversation with a foreign-looking man, who wore a dark beard and moustache and very shabby clothes. I did not know that Cousin Geoffrey had seen me at all, but he overtook me before I reached the house.

“Mabel,” he said, hurriedly, “ don't mention that you saw me with a stranger just now. I have reasons for not wishing it to be known.”

Of course I promised. “ Thank you,” he said. “I knew I could trust you, little Mabel.”

I thought his manner very singular, more so than I had ever known it, and he left me the moment we reached the hall door. The next morning my aunt told me that he had left Gundringham, and would not, in all probability, be back before the wedding-day. I certainly thought it unkind his not having wished me good-bye, but there was so much I did not understand, that I had almost ceased to wonder.

The bridal preparations still went on, and, to all appearance, Estelle was as brilliant as usual. She received numbers of visitors, and took the greatest apparent interest in everything, but somehow I thought she was not happy. There was a wan, anxious look in her face that I could not understand. Was she not going to marry Cousin Geoffrey—and somehow I felt she loved him-and was not Gundringham her own home now for life?—what more could she want?

The Verecrofts were a very old Roman Catholic family; they had been so for centuries, and there was a chapel attached to the house. I had always been used to saying my prayers in the chapel during my convent life, and at Gundringham I continued to do the same thing. Going down by myself quite early one morning, I was attracted by seeing some faded flowers, which I recognised as having been worn by Estelle the evening before. I took them up, and the thought flashed across me that Estelle visited the chapel after the rest of the household had gone to bed. I did not think Estelle was religious, so that I was the more surprised.

The same night, about twelve o'clock, I crept softly down-stairs, and gently opened the chapel door. Estelle was kneeling before a shrine of the Virgin Mary. There was a perpetual light burning, so that I could just dimly see her figure, her back being towards me. Her hands were folded on her breast, and she swayed backwards and forwards as if in great grief, whilst every now and then something like a moan came from

I shut the door again, and went back to my own room, but I could not sleep. What was the mystery which was hanging over Gundringham and the Verecrofts, the mystery of which I, although I lived in the same house, knew absolutely nothing ?

The next day Estelle seemed the same as usual, and so a week passed by. One evening I was walking in the avenue, when I was startled by hearing footsteps; it was about eight o'clock, and the avenue being a long way

from the house, a kind of nervous terror took possession of me. “ You need not be afraid, little Mabel," a voice said; and in the stranger I recognised Cousin Geoffrey.

“ Cousin Geoffrey !" I exclaimed, “ here-and at this hour

He took my hand, and said, gravely, “I wanted to see you. I have waited to see you all the afternoon, and I fancied you would come here this evening."

her lips.

I wondered why Cousin Geoffrey wanted to see me, and I felt as if something were going to happen.

“ Little Mabel,” he continued, “I know I can trust you—I have trusted you, and I have come here to-night, because I want you to do something for me. Will you promise to do it, and ask no questions?”

I promised. I should have promised to do whatever Cousin Geoffrey asked me.

He drew a sealed packet out of his breast-pocket. “Will you give this to Estelle?" he said. “Will you give it to her to-night, when she is in her own room and alone ?”

I took the packet in my hand. It had no direction. “For Estelle," was simply written

upon

the cover. "I dare not stay any longer,” he said, " and I can offer no explanation now, but I promise, God willing,' that on some future day you shall know the reason for my strange visit here to-night.

Heaven bless you, little Mabel!" And, before I had time to say another word, he was gone.

I went home directly; I felt afraid of being out alone; my life had begun to seem haunted and unreal. I carried the mysterious packet about with me till bedtime, and then I waited in my own room till I thought Estelle would have dismissed her maid, and at about twelve o'clock I went to fulfil my promise.

Estelle's room was in exactly the other side of the house to mine, hers being in one of the wings, and mine in the other. Strange as it may seem, I had never been inside Estelle's room; she had never asked me. I knocked softly at the door, and, in answer to the “Come in,” I entered. What a strange room I thought it. Gundringham was a very old place, but this room looked older than any other part. The walls and bed were hung with faded tapestry, and a curious oak wardrobe stood against the wall; but the most striking thing of all was a large and beautifully carved black crucifix, beneath which was a prie-dieu, the black velvet covering of which seemed worn away by being constantly knelt upon. Estelle was sitting by the fireplace, in which, although the night was hot, the embers of a fire were smouldering. She was wrapped in an embroidered cashmere dressing-gown, with all the masses of her raven hair hanging over her shoulders. She started on seeing me, and said, in a tone of great surprise :

“You, Mabel, and at this hour ?”
I closed the door behind me, and bolted it.

“I have come, Estelle,” I said, “ because I promised to give you this letter, and to give it to you when you were alone."

She seized the packet with trembling fingers, and hurriedly broke the seal. I watched her reading it, for I did not like to go away till she had spoken. I never saw any face change as Estelle’s did. It not only turned white, it became absolutely grey and livid. Her teeth chattered as if from extreme cold; and, when she did look up, her eyes were dilated, as if she had been horror-stricken. She moved her hand to her head as if to recal her senses, and then for the first time she seemed to remember me.

“Who gave you this?" she said, pointing to the letter. I told her how I had received it.

you know nothing of its contents ?” “Nothing," I replied.

66 And

She came across the room and stood before me.

“ Mabel, you must never mention to any living being what you have seen here to-night; do you promise ?”

I promised.
“Now you may go."
“Estelle !" I exclaimed, “ can I do nothing for you

?" Something like a mocking smile came across her ghastly lips as she said : “ Nothing ; you have done your work, Mabel, and done it well.” And she waved her hand in the direction of the door.

I looked back as I went out; Estelle was still standing pointing to the door, and I thought her hair looked unnaturally long and black, contrasting as it did with her ashy face, and involuntarily I shuddered with an undefined feeling of terror, as I crept back to my own room.

I could not go to bed. I was fascinated to watch Estelle's window, which, being in the opposite gable to mine, was well in view. Her lamp never went out, and all night long I saw her shadow passing to and fro. What was the mysterious letter that had been so fatal in its effects ? What was the mystery hanging over the Verecrofts and Gundringham?

The next day I heard that Estelle was ill, but that no one was allowed to go near her except her own maid, who was a Frenchwoman. My Aunt Verecroft sat and cried in her arm-chair, and all the bridal preparations were suspended. I wondered and wondered till I felt my brain turn giddy, but I arrived at no conclusions. Cousin Geoffrey never came, and was never mentioned, and no other visitors were admitted. The wedding-day came, and went by. I supposed all the guests had been put off; but whether it caused any surprise I don't know.

Every day I heard that Estelle was ill, and sometimes I thought she would die, and that unknowingly I had been made the instrument. At last, one evening, my Aunt Verecroft told me that she and Estelle were going away for a time at all events, and that she wished me to remain at Gundringham under the care of the housekeeper.

“I shall write to you, Mabel,” she said ; " and, in the mean time, I wish you not to go beyond the park gate, and to receive no visitors.”

Of course, situated as I was, I could only promise obedience, but I felt more lonely and miserable than ever; and when I saw myself in the glass, I looked so pale and frightened, that I thought the sisters would hardly have recognised the little Mabel Lyndhurst, from whom they had parted when she left them to go into the world only a few months before.

The next day, when I got up, I found that my aunt and Estelle had gone. A fortnight after I received a letter from my aunt, who told me that Estelle had decided upon becoming a pun.

III.

I can hardly recal all the weary miserable weeks and months which passed away before I saw any of them again. I had no companions, and nothing to do, so that I wandered about the place till I felt myself becoming full of sickly fancies, from which I could not get away. One was, that I could see Estelle's lamp burning in her room every night as I looked out of my window, and the shadow pass up and down ; of course it

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