A SHADOW OF THE PAST

Webster recovered from his fainting-fit, but he was weak and ill. It
seemed extraordinary that the sight of a pictured face should have had
such an influence upon him. He himself could give no explanation save
that he had been overcome by a feeling of nausea. So, after an apology,
he went at once to bed. The party broke up, and Ruth retired, wondering
greatly at her lover’s strange indisposition.

Half an-hour later she was seated before her bedroom fire in
dressing-gown and slippers. Having dismissed her maid, she indulged
herself in a reverie with which Neil Webster and her chances of
obtaining her father’s consent to her marriage with him were mainly
concerned.

She was aroused by a knock at the door, and in reply to her invitation
Mrs. Marshall entered the room. At the first glimpse of that iron face
the girl remembered a slip she had made in addressing her lover by his
Christian name.

“You are in love with that violinist,” said the elder woman, sitting
down and fixing her niece with a piercing gaze.

“How do you know that?” asked the girl, coolly. She had been
half-prepared for the question in spite of Mrs. Marshall’s abrupt
entry. In fact, for that very reason she kept on her guard.

“Pshaw!” ejaculated Aunt Inez, with scorn. “Cannot one woman divine the
feelings of another? Your eyes were never off the creature to-night.”

“Mr. Webster is not a creature,” interrupted the girl, angrily.

“Mr. Webster!” sneered the other. “Why not Neil? You called him so
to-night.”

“Yes,” said Ruth, defiantly, throwing off her mask. “And I shall call
him so again. You are right; I do love him. And he loves me.”

“I thought as much. And the end of this mutual passion?”

“Marriage?”

“Humph! I think your father will have something to say to that.”

“My father will deny me nothing that he thinks will conduce to my
happiness.”

“No doubt. But marriage with this violinist creature hardly comes under
that heading. You know nothing about him.”

“I dare say my father does,” retorted Ruth.

“Very probably,” said the elder lady, with venom. “In fact, he may know
sufficient to forbid you entertaining the preposterous idea of becoming
Mrs. Webster. You are a fool, Ruth! Because the man is handsome and
a great musician–I deny neither his looks nor his talents–you have
developed a romantic passion for him. I should not be doing my duty did
I fail to warn your father of this folly. To-morrow Mr. Webster will
leave this house for ever.”

“Oh!” cried Ruth with scorn. “And I, no doubt, will marry Geoffrey
Heron. I know your plans, Aunt Inez. But I’m not for sale, thank you.”

“Don’t be insolent,” cried Mrs. Marshall, with cold fury. “Mr. Heron
loves you.”

“Very probably,” rejoined Miss Cass, carelessly. “But then, you see, I
do not love him.”

“Nevertheless, you will become his wife.”

“I would die first.”

“We shall see,” and walked to the door. “I am going to tell your father
of this infatuation.”

The girl uttered an exclamation of dismay and sprang forward. But Mrs.
Marshall had already closed the door.

“I don’t care,” cried Ruth, clenching her hands. “My love is strong
enough to stand against my father’s anger. I love Neil, and I intend
to marry him. All the fathers and aunts in the world shall not prevent
me.” And in this determined frame of mind she went to bed. Her hot
Spanish blood was aflame at the idea of contradiction and dictation.
Nor for nothing was Ruth Cass the granddaughter of an Andalusian
spit-fire, and as such was her father’s mother traditionally referred
to in the family.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Marshall, equally hot-blooded and determined, took her
way to the library where she knew her brother frequently remained long
after the rest of the household had retired. He was there, sure enough,
sitting before the fire and staring into it with an anxious expression.
At his sister’s entrance he started from his seat. For Inez was the
stormy petrel of the Cass family, and he guessed that her appearance at
this unwonted hour indicated an approaching tempest.

“What is it?” he asked, irritably. “Why are you not in bed?”

“Because I have something to say which must be said to-night.”

“Well, what is is?” He dropped back into his chair with a look of
resignation.

“Who is that man Webster?”

Her brother’s face grow black. “Always the same woman,” he said,
angrily. “You will never leave well alone. Webster is a violinist, and
he comes here, at my request, because I admire his talents.”

“I know all that. But who is he?”

“I refuse to tell you.”

“Will you refuse to tell your daughter?” sneered his sister.

Cass looked up quickly, and something of dismay came over his face.
“Ruth–what has Ruth to do with him?”

“This much. They are in love with one another; they are secretly
engaged. Is that a sufficient excuse for my seeing you to-night?”

“I don’t believe it. Webster would not—-”

“Oh, as to that, I don’t know what hold you have over him.”

“Hold!” repeated Mr. Cass, rising and beginning to pace the room in an
agitated manner. “What do you mean? I have no hold.”

“In that case you should not have thrown him into the society of an
impressionable fool like Ruth. I got the truth out of her to-night,
though I had long suspected it. She loves him; and what’s more she will
defy you and marry him.”

“That she shall never do:” he said vehemently.

“I tell you she will, and without your consent, unless you can talk her
out of this infatuation and marry her to Heron.”

“There will be no need to talk her out of it.” Mr. Cass said, coldly.
“Webster will not marry her.”

“Do you mean that he will refuse?”

“I mean that he will refuse,” he replied with decision.

“And under your influence?”

“Under my influence. Yes.”

“Ah!” Aunt Inez drew a long breath, for her suspicions as to the
identity of Webster were now confirmed. “Then you intend to use the
knowledge of his father’s murder to influence this so-called Webster?”

“What do you mean?” Mr. Cass asked angrily.

“Exactly what I say,” retorted his sister. “I am not a fool, if you
are Sebastian, Webster is the son of Jenner, who was murdered at the
Turnpike House. I remember how his mother used to bring him here to beg
for food. He is just the same nervous creature now as he was then. I
could not recollect where I had seen him before until he recognised his
father in that photograph—-”

“He did not recognize his father.”

“Perhaps he did not knew that the face, the sight of which made him
faint, was that of his father,” replied Mrs. Marshall. “But his
fainting was quite enough for me. I remember Mrs. Jenner; he resembles
her in every way. He is her son. Deny it if you can.”

“I do not deny it,” Cass said sullenly. “But, for Heaven’s sake, Inez,
leave things alone, or harm will come of it.”

“Why, in Heaven’s name, did you bring him down here?”

“I never thought he would fall in love with Ruth. I brought him out of
sheer kindness, because I was sorry for the poor, lonely young fellow.
I will arrange the matter. Rest assured he never marry Ruth.”

“I hope not,” said Mrs. Marshall, preparing to go. “I have done my
duty.”

“No doubt, but I wonder you dare speak as you do.”

Her face grew hard as stone. “I am never afraid to speak,” she said,
haughtily, “or to act. I have set my heart on a marriage between Ruth
and Geoffrey Heron. Webster–as you call him–must go.”

“He shall go,” assented Mr. Cass and, satisfied that all was well, his
sister left him. Then he dropped back into his chair with a sigh and
gazed a again into the fire. He foresaw trouble, which there appeared
no means of averting. It was three o’clock before he got to bed. And by
that time he had determined how to act.

“Webster shall refuse to marry her,” he said, “and he shall go away.
She will soon forget him, and end by becoming Mrs. Heron. With Webster
away all will be well.”

Having made his plans, Mr. Cass proceeded to act upon them. He wished
to see for himself if Ruth was really in love with Neil, and to
learn, if possible, the depth and extent of her feelings. With this
scheme in his mind, he was excessively genial to the young man, and
at the breakfast-table on the following morning placed him next his
daughter–a piece of folly which made Mrs. Marshall open her eyes. Ruth
saw her aunt’s look, and, in sheer defiance, allowed herself to behave
towards Neil with a somewhat ostentatious friendliness. Naturally
enough, Geoffrey Heron became sulky, while Miss Brawn and Mr. Marshall
kept up a continuous chatter.

“Well?” Inez said to her brother as they were preparing for church.

“You are right,” he said. “I have no doubt now of her feeling for him.”

“And you will deal with the matter?”

“You can trust me. I know what to do.”

She was satisfied with this assurance, and set off in a devout frame
of mind, and, taking Geoffrey with her, shewed him very clearly that
she was on his side. Indeed, as they returned to the house after the
Christmas service, he opened his heart to her. Mrs. Marshall told him
that she had seen it all along, and that nothing on her part should
remain undone that would aid in bringing about the marriage.

“But she is in love with that fiddler-fellow,” the disconsolate young
man said.

“Oh, my dear Mr. Heron,” and Mrs. Marshall smiled, “that is only a
girl’s love for the arts. She admires his music, as we all do, and
perhaps she shews her appreciation in rather a foolish way. But I
cannot believe she loves him.”

“At all events she does not care for me.”

“Don’t be too sure of that. The more she cares for you the more likely
she is to try and conceal her feelings.”

“Why, in Heaven’s name?” asked Geoffrey.

Mrs. Marshall laughed. “Because it is the way of women,” she said.

“Do you think, then, that I ought to speak to her?”

“Not just now. Wait till Mr. Webster and his too fascinating violin
have taken their departure. Then she will forget this–this Bohemian.”

“Webster isn’t a bad sort of fellow,” Heron said, apologetically. “In
spite of his long hair, he is something of a sportsman. He has seen a
good deal of the world, too, and he is plucky in his own way. I like
him well enough but, of course, I can’t help feeling jealous. You see,
I love Ruth–I may call her Ruth to you–so much.”

“There is no need for jealousy. Ruth will be your wife. I promise you
that; you have me on your side.”

“I won’t have her forced into the marriage,” he said, sturdily.

Mrs. Marshall brushed the suggestion aside.

Neil’s unhappy state of mind had taken him out into the cold. The quiet
thoughts of the morning had given way to perfect torture, and he could
in no way account for the change. So far, indeed, as his nerves were
concerned, he never could account for anything in connection with them
any more than could the physicians whom he had consulted. He was the
prey of a highly neurotic temperament which tortured his life, and he
had a vivid imagination which made him exaggerate the slightest worries
into catastrophes.

An hour’s brisk walking over the crisp snow brought him to a solitary
place far from every human habitation. The village had vanished, and
Neil found himself in the centre–as it seemed–of a lonely white world
arched over by a blue sky. All around the landscape was buried in
drifts of snow, which, dazzling white in the sunlight, were painful to
look upon. He walked along some disused roads, guiding himself by the
hedges which ran along the sides. Shortly the sky began to cloud over
rapidly, to assume a leaden aspect; and finally down came the snow.

He turned his face homewards, anxious to get back before the night came
on. But as the snow fell thicker he grew bewildered, and began to take
the situation seriously. Suddenly, as he trudged along, a building
loomed up before him through the fallen flakes; it stood where four
roads met, and he guessed at once that it was an old turnpike house. On
a nearer approach he saw that it was empty; the windows were broken,
the door was half open, and it was fenced in by a jungle of bushes like
the palace of the Sleeping Beauty.

“At any rate it will be a shelter,” he thought; “and when the storm
clears off I can get home. Only three o’clock,” he added, looking at
his watch. “I’ll rest a bit.”

He broke his way through the drifts which were piled up before the
door, and stumbled in. The moment his foot touched the threshold a
vague feeling of fear seized upon him; the place was quite empty,
thick with dust and festooned with cobwebs. There was not a stick of
furniture; yet it seemed to him that there should have been a bare deal
table, two deal chairs, and a fire in the grate. “Had he ever been here
before?” he asked himself. But he could find no answer to the question.
Finally, shaking off the feeling of depression which the influence
of this house had brought upon him, he lay down on the bare boards
and tried to sleep away the time. In this way, by the degree of some
mysterious Power, the man was brought back to the room where his father
had been murdered twelve or thirteen years before. And he was ignorant
of the terrible truth.

The snow continued to fall steadily, but there was no wind. The
absolute quiet was soothing to the tired man, and after a time his eyes
closed. For a while he slept peacefully as a child then his face grew
dark, his teeth and hands clenched themselves, and he groaned in agony.
He dreamt–and this was the manner of his dream:

He was still in the bare room, but a fire burnt in the grate. A table
and two chairs furnished the apartment, and made apparent the frightful
poverty. The dreamer was no longer a man, but a child playing with
a toy horse by the fire. Near the table sat a woman sewing. Then a
man entered–the man whose face he had seen in the photograph. A
quarrel ensued between him and the woman; the child–the dreamer
himself–became suddenly possessed of a blind rage against the man.
Then all faded in darkness. He was in bed still a child–again in
darkness. Then once more he was in the room. The window was open; near
it lay the dead body of the man, the blood welling from his heart. At
the door stood the woman, a knife in her hand, a look of terror on her
face. Then came rain, and mist, and cold, and the dreamer felt that he
was falling into a gulf of darkness, never again to emerge into the
light of day. But the woman’s face, with blue eyes looking from under a
crown of fair hair, still shone like a star in the gloom. It smiled on
the dreamer, then it vanished as he awoke with a cry.

Neil Webster sprang to his feet with the perspiration beading his
forehead and shaking in every limb. The dream had been so vivid! Was it
but a dream? Here was the room, here the open window, and here, where
he had seen the dead body of the man, black stains of blood marked the
floor. He started back with a cry as he saw it all, and flung himself
out into the snow which still kept falling in thick flakes. Away from
that house he ran, feeling that he had recovered the memory of his
childhood. His father had been murdered. By whom? That was the question
he asked himself as he sped onwards through the snow.

“Oh Heavens!” he kept murmuring. “What does it all mean? Why was I sent
to that house to learn this terrible truth? Why? Why?”

But the snow fell ever more thickly, and the young man fled along the
road. In the same way had his mother fled with him in her arms, fled
through the mists to escape the horror of the Turnpike House.

Jennie Brawn sat in her bedroom with an agonised took on her face, with
inky fingers and tumbled hair. Miss Brawn was courting the Muse.

As yet she had had but ill success, for the Muse was not in a kindly
mood.

“If, dear, thou should’st unhappy be, Remember me, Remember me!”
murmured the poetess. “I think that will do for a refrain. But how am I
to begin? Ah!” with a sudden inspiration. “Spring in the first verse,
summer and roses in the second, then winter and dying for an effective
finish.” And she began to thresh out the first lines.

“The spring is flowering all the world—-”

“Humph!” she broke off. “That sounds as though spring were a baker! I
must try again.”

But before she could think of an alternative line the door burst open
and Ruth rushed in violently, all on fire with excitement. “Jennie!
Jennie! she cried, plumping down on the bed. I’ve had a proposal!”

“Oh!” Jennie, quite phlegmatic, laid down her pen. “Geoffrey Heron has
you to be his wife?”

“That is the plain English of it, I suppose,” Ruth said, impatiently.
“Of course I said ‘No.'”

“Of course you did,” remarked the prosaic Miss Brawn. For prosaic she
was in ordinary matters, in spite of her poetic gift. “You are in love
with the Master?” She put this in the form of a query.

“Haven’t I told you a thousand times!” cried Miss Cass. “I love him as
dearly as he loves me.”

“That’s a pity.”

“Why is it a pity?” asked the girl, her face flushing.

“Oh. I know you don’t like the truth,” Jennie went on, calmly. “But I
always tell it, even when it is disagreeable. I don’t think you are the
kind of wife to suit the Master. You are too impetuous, too fond of
admiration. You would never be content to take a back seat.”

“I should think not!” cried Miss Cass, indignantly. “Catch me taking
a back seat! I want to admired, to have an ample income and a big
position. I am an individual, not a piece of furniture.”

“Marry Mr. Heron, then,” advised Jennie, “and you will have all you
wish for. He belongs to a good county family, and can give you a
position in society. He has a handsome income, and with your own dowry
as well you would be rich.”

“But I love Neil,” persisted Ruth, piteously.

“Oh, no, you don’t. You think you love him, but you are only attracted
by his charm of manner.”

“I believe you want to marry him yourself,” cried Ruth, pettishly.

Jennie flushed, for, unknown to herself, Ruth had touched upon Miss
Brawn’s romance. She did love Webster, and she would have given many
years of her life had that love been returned. But she saw no chance of
this, and, like a sensible girl, crushed the passion in its birth.

“I never cry for the moon,” she said, quietly “and there is no chance
that the Master, who loves beautiful things, will ever fall in love
with plain me. But if I were to marry him I should be prepared to
make myself his echo–the piece of furniture you so scornfully allude
to. Believe me, my dear, it is better in every way that you should
reconsider your answer to Mr. Heron.”

“I won’t! I don’t deny that I like Geoffrey very much indeed, and he
took his rejection, so kindly, poor fellow, that I did feel very like
changing my mind. But Neil–Neil!” Ruth clasped her hands and raised
her expressive eyes. “Oh, I can’t give him up.”

“Perhaps your father will make you.”

“No, my father can make me do nothing I have not set my heart on. And
when it comes to the point, I’ll defy my father.”

“That is wrong.”

“No, it isn’t. I have to live with my husband, whoever he may be, and I
have a right to choose him for myself. I choose Neil.”

“Humph!” murmured Jennie, shaking her rough head. “You say that now
while all is smooth; but if trouble came, and the Master was proved to
be an ineligible parti, you would your mind.”

“You shall see. Besides, what trouble could come?”

“I merely suggest it. Trouble might come, you know. Life is not
entirely sunshine; clouds will arise. Well, when they do, we shall see
if you really love the Master. At present it is merely a girl’s fancy.”

“Why do you talk to me as if you were a grandmother?” cried Ruth, half
offended.

“I am young a years but old in experience,” said Miss Brawn, with a
sigh. “We are nine in our family, and father, as a Civil Service clerk,
has only a small income. I have a lot of trouble to make both ends
meet, with no mother to help. They all rely on my brain and my fingers,
and the responsibility makes me sober.”

“Poor dear,” said Ruth, kissing the freckled cheek. “I wonder you write
poetry with all your anxieties.”

“I have to, and when you have to you do,” replied Jennie, somewhat
incoherently. “I make a very good income out of my verse, though what
I get is not what it ought to be. Why, some of my songs have made
thousands of pounds, but of course the publisher and composer share
that between them. I only get ten guineas or so.”

“What a shame!”

“Yes, isn’t it. However, I don’t want to talk about myself, except to
thank you for giving me such a perfectly lovely Christmas. As to your
refusal of Mr. Heron, I am sure you are wrong.”

“I don’t think so. But if I were it would be perfectly easy to whistle
him back. At present I intend to marry Neil, and he is going to ask my
father’s consent to-night, or to-morrow. If there is trouble you shall
see how I stand up for him. You write romances, Jennie, I act them.”
And with a rustle of silken skirts Ruth vanished.

Jennie sighed as she once more took up her pen. It did seem hard that
this girl should have all the money, all the looks, and the chance of
becoming the Master’s wife. Mis Brawn was not an envious person, as we
have said, but she could not help grudging Ruth the favours of Fortune
which she seemed to value so little.

The Christmas dinner passed off that night in the orthodox fashion. Mr.
Cass made the usual speech; the usual compliments were exchanged, and
the usual reminiscences indulged in. It was quite a family gathering,
save that Mr. Cass’s eldest daughter was absent. She was married, and
had elected to stay with her husband in London. As a matter of fact,
Mrs. Chisel–such was her name–could not approach her sister in the
matter of looks, and being of a jealous nature did not like–to use an
expressive, if somewhat vulgar, phrase–to take a back seat. Ruth was
always the recipient of all the admiration and all the attention, so
her sister preferred to stay in a circle wherein her own looks could
ensure her a certain amount of queendom. Mr. Cass referred to her
absence, drank her health, and considered that he had done his duty.

But he had yet another duty to perform towards his unmarried daughter.
It was his intention to speak to Neil Webster that night, and, once
and for all, put an end to any hopes that young man might cherish with
regard to Ruth. She was the apple on the topmost bough which he could
not hope to gather; and it would be as well to inform him of this fact
at once. Mr. Cass was, in the main, a kindly man, and, for reasons best
known to himself, was well disposed towards Neil. He hated to make
trouble at this season of peace and goodwill. But the imminence of the
danger forced him on. Besides, he had given a promise to his sister
Inez, and he knew very well she would allow him no rest until he had
done what she desired.

“How dull you are to-night,” whispered Ruth to Neil in the winter
garden after dinner. “What is the matter?”

“Nothing. I went out for a walk to-day and I am rather tired.”

“Were you caught in the snow?”

“Yes, but I managed to get home all right, as you see. I sought shelter
in the old Turnpike House.”

Mrs. Marshall, who had seated herself close at hand, started at the
words. “The Turnpike House!” she said, anxiously. “Did you go in there.”

“Yes, Mrs. Marshall. It was my refuge from the storm.”

“Strange!” she murmured, thinking of the crime which had taken place
there so many years before–the crime in which the parents of this
young man had been concerned. “It has not a good reputation, that
house,” she added.

Webster fixed his eyes on her. “How is that?” he said.

“Oh, don’t you know?” cried Jennie, who had come up to them. “A
dreadful murder was committed there! A man was killed, and the house is
said to be haunted.”

“A man was killed?” repeated Neil, his breath coming quickly. “And who
killed him?”

Before Jennie could make reply Mr. Cass, who had been listening
uneasily, interposed sharply: “Don’t talk of murders, Miss Brawn. The
subject is not fit for Christmas. Come and play for Mr. Webster.”

“Thank you,” the young man said. “I do not think I can play this
evening.”

There was a murmur of disappointment, but Neil was firm. “I am not very
well,” he said, wearily. “My nerves again.”

“Ah!” remarked Mrs. Marshal, in a low voice. “That comes of going to
the Turnpike House.”

“Hush!” rebuked her brother under his breath. “Hold your tongue, Inez,
and leave me to deal with this.”

As there was to be no music, Jennie and Mr. Marshall set to work to
amuse the guests, and even Heron took part in the games. But after a
time Ruth declared that she could play no longer and abruptly went
away. Perhaps Geoffrey’s reproachful looks were too much for her
equanimity. At all events she sought the empty drawing-room and sat
down at the piano. In a few minutes she was joined by Neil.

“Oh! are you here?” she said, coldly enough. “What is the matter?”

“Nothing. I have come to have a few words with you.”

“It is rather late in the day, Neil. You were out ail the afternoon,
and I was left to Mr. Heron.”

“I did not feel well,” he said. “But I daresay you were happy with him.”

“Indeed I was not. Oh. Neil!” she murmured, looking up at him with eyes
shining like stars. “He proposed to me to-day and I refused him.”

“My darling,” he cried, and then drew back. He was thinking of his dream
and wondering if he had the right to hold this girl to her engagement.
Ruth misunderstood him and pouted.

“I thought you would be pleased.”

“I am pleased. I want you all to myself. All the same, perhaps, you do
well to marry Heron.”

“Then you don’t love me?” she burst out, with wounded pride.

“Love you?” he repeated, fiercely. “Heaven knows I love you than my own
soul. But I am beginning to think that I am not a fit husband for you.
My position is so insecure, my nerves are in such a wretched state.
Then again, your father may object. Indeed, I think he will.”

“Why not ask him before you make so certain?” cried the girl, eagerly.

“I will do so to-night, but I tell you frankly, I am prepared for a
refusal.”

“Oh, no, there will be no refusal. I am sure he will not put any bar
between us. Dear Neil, do you not took so sad. I am certain all will be
well, and we shall be married sooner than you think.”

“Well, it all depends upon your father.”

“Indeed, it al depends upon me.” Then she rose from the piano. “If you
were a true lover, Neil, you would not make all these objections. If
you do not care for me I shall marry Mr. Heron.”

“Ah! you like him, then?” cried the young man with a pang.

“I like him, but I–love you!” whispered Ruth, and dropping a kiss on
his forehead she fled away before he could stop her.

But when alone again she began to wonder whether she really did love
him. He was so cold and strange in manner that he sometimes chilled
her, and although he persisted in declaring that he loved her, she
could not help feeling that something had come between them. What
it was she could not think, and his refusal to explain piqued her.
She after all, had a right to share his secrets, and he declined to
trust her. She was a very good-hearted girl and affectionate; but she
thought a great deal of herself, for flattery and adulation had been
her portion all her life. Jennie had divined rightly. What she felt for
Webster was not so much love for the man as admiration for the artist.

“Wait till he speaks to my father,” she said to herself. “If he should
consent, Neil will be once more the affectionate fellow he was.”

That night came young Webster’s opportunity of speaking to Mr. Cass.
They found themselves alone in the smoking-room somewhere after eleven.
Mrs. Marshall had whisked her husband off, intimating that she wished
to speak to him; and as a matter of fact she desired to tell him of her
discovery as to Ned’s identity. The communication, she knew, would not
be a pleasant one for him to hear from his association with the young
man’s father. Besides which, it is not always agreeable to remember
that you have been the friend of a man who has been murdered.

Heron also had left the smoking-room early, so the two who were so
desirous of speaking to each other had their wishes gratified.

“You are not in spirits to-night, Neil,” the elder man, who always
addressed him thus when they were alone. And why not, seeing that
Webster was his protege?

“No,” was the gloomy reply. “I do not feel satisfied with my position.”

“And why not? You have found fame and money, and—-”

“I know all that,” interrupted Neil, “but I am thinking of my parents.
I do not know who they were.”

Mr. Cass was quite prepared for this. Indeed, it was not the first time
the young man had asked him! and his answer now was the same as he had
always made. “I have told you a dozen times that your parents were
Americans and died in the States. I knew them intimately, and so was
the means of bringing you to England. There is nothing for you to worry
about.”

“Why cannot I recollect my childhood?” persisted Neil.

“Because you had a severe illness which affected your memory.”

“Then there is nothing in my past that I need to be ashamed of?”

“Nothing,” if you mean as regards your parents. “As to yourself, my dear
Neil, your life has been most exemplary. I am proud of you.”

“Are you sufficiently proud of me to let me be your son-in-law?”

Mr. Cass tugged at his long moustache. “I cannot truthfully say that I
should like that,” he said. “Does Ruth care for you?”

“Yes; we want to marry–with your consent.”

“That you shall never have.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t approve of the marriage. For your own sake, don’t ask the
reason.”

Neil Webster started to his feet with a look of horror. “Ah!” he cried.
“Then the dream was true. My father was murdered!”

Mr. Cass rose also pale and agitated. “In Heaven’s name who told you
that?” he cried.

“I dreamt it in the Turnpike House—-”

“The very place,” Mr. Cass said, under his breath.

“It was a dream, and yet not a dream,” continued Neil. “Myself I
believe it was a recovery of the memories which you say were destroyed
by illness. Ah! Now I know why you will not let me marry your daughter.
It is because I am the son of a murdered man!”

“No,” was the deliberate answer. “You may as well know the truth. Your
mother is now in prison for the murder of her husband–of your father!”