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Chapter VII 

LATE that evening, when Magdalen and Mrs. Wragge came back from their walk in the dark, the captain stopped Magdalen on her way upstairs to inform her of the proceedings of the day. He added the expression of his opinion that the time had come for bringing Noel Vanstone, with the least possible delay, to the point of making a proposal. She merely answered that she understood him, and that she would do what was required of her. Captain Wragge requested her in that case to oblige him by joining a walking excursion in Mr. Noel Vanstone's company at seven o'clock the next morning. "I will be ready," she replied. "Is there anything more?" There was nothing more. Magdalen bade him good-night and returned to her own room.

She had shown the same disinclination to remain any longer than was necessary in the captain's company throughout the three days of her seclusion in the house.

During all that time, instead of appearing to weary of Mrs. Wragge's society, she had patiently, almost eagerly, associated herself with her companion's one absorbing pursuit. She who had often chafed and fretted in past days under the monotony of her life in the freedom of Combe-Raven, now accepted without a murmur the monotony of her life at Mrs. Wragge's work-table. She who had hated the sight of her needle and thread in old times -- who had never yet worn an article of dress of her own making -- now toiled as anxiously over the making of Mrs. Wragge's gown, and bore as patiently with Mrs. Wragge's blunders, as if the sole object of her existence had been the successful completion of that one dress. Anything was welcome to her -- the trivial difficulties of fitting a gown: the small, ceaseless chatter of the poor half-witted creature who was so proud of her assistance, and so happy in her company -- anything was welcome that shut her out from the coming future, from the destiny to which she stood self-condemned. That sorely-wounded nature was soothed by such a trifle now as the grasp of her companion's rough and friendly hand -- that desolate heart was cheered, when night parted them, by Mrs. Wragge's kiss.

The captain's isolated position in the house produced no depressing effect on the captain's easy and equal spirits. Instead of resenting Magdalen's systematic avoidance of his society, be looked to results, and highly approved of it. The more she neglected him for his wife the more directly useful she became in the character of Mrs. Wragge's self-appointed guardian. He had more than once seriously contemplated revoking the concession which had been extorted from him, and removing his wife, at his own sole responsibility, out of harm's way; and he had only abandoned the idea on discovering that Magdalen's resolution to keep Mrs. Wragge in her own company was really serious. While the two were together, his main anxiety was set at rest. They kept their door locked by his own desire while he was out of the house, and, whatever Mrs. Wragge might do, Magdalen was to be trusted not to open it until he came back. That night Captain Wragge enjoyed his cigar with a mind at ease, and sipped his brandy-and-water in happy ignorance of the pitfall which Mrs. Lecount had prepared for him in the morning.

Punctually at seven o'clock Noel Vanstone made his appearance. The moment he entered the room Captain Wragge detected a change in his visitor's look and manner. "Something wrong!" thought the captain. "We have not done with Mrs. Lecount yet."

"How is Miss Bygrave this morning?" asked Noel Vanstone. "Well enough, I hope, for our early walk?" His half-closed eyes, weak and watery with the morning light and the morning air, looked about the room furtively, and he shifted his place in a restless manner from one chair to another, as he made those polite inquiries.

"My niece is better -- she is dressing for the walk," replied the captain, steadily observing his restless little friend while he spoke. "Mr. Vanstone!" he added, on a sudden, "I am a plain Englishman -- excuse my blunt way of speaking my mind. You don't meet me this morning as cordially as you met me yesterday. There is something unsettled in your face. I distrust that housekeeper of yours, sir! Has she been presuming on your forbearance? Has she been trying to poison your mind against me or my niece?"

If Noel Vanstone had obeyed Mrs. Lecount's injunctions, and had kept her little morsel of note-paper folded in his pocket until the time came to use it, Captain Wragge's designedly blunt appeal might not have found him unprepared with an answer. But curiosity had got the better of him; he had opened the note at night, and again in the morning; it had seriously perplexed and startled him; and it had left his mind far too disturbed to allow him the possession of his ordinary resources. He hesitated; and his answer, when he succeeded in making it, began with a prevarication.

Captain Wragge stopped him before he had got beyond his first sentence.

"Pardon me, sir," said the captain, in his loftiest manner. "If you have secrets to keep, you have only to say so, and I have done. I intrude on no man's secrets. At the same time, Mr. Vanstone, you must allow me to recall to your memory that I met you yesterday without any reserves on my side. I admitted you to my frankest and fullest confidence, sir -- and, highly as I prize the advantages of your society, I can't consent to cultivate your friendship on any other than equal terms. "He threw open his respectable frock-coat and surveyed his visitor with a manly and virtuous severity.

"I mean no offense!" cried Noel Vanstone, piteously. "Why do you interrupt me, Mr. Bygrave? Why don't you let me explain? I mean no offense."

"No offense is taken, sir," said the captain. "You have a perfect right to the exercise of your own discretion. I am not offended -- I only claim for myself the same privilege which I accord to you." He rose with great dignity and rang the bell. "Tell Miss Bygrave," he said to the servant, "that our walk this morning is put off until another opportunity, and that I won't trouble her to come downstairs."

This strong proceeding had the desired effect. Noel Vanstone vehemently pleaded for a moment's private conversation before the message was delivered. Captain Wragge's severity partially relaxed. He sent the servant downstairs again, and, resuming his chair, waited confidently for results. In calculating the facilities for practicing on his visitor's weakness, he had one great superiority over Mrs. Lecount. His judgment was not warped by latent female jealousies, and he avoided the error into which the housekeeper had fallen, self-deluded -- the error of underrating the impression on Noel Vanstone that Magdalen had produced. One of the forces in this world which no middle-aged woman is capable of estimating at its full value, when it acts against her, is the force of beauty in a woman younger than herself.

"You are so hasty, Mr. Bygrave -- you won't give me time -- you won't wait and hear what I have to say!" cried Noel Vanstone, piteously, when the servant had closed the parlor door.

"My family failing, sir -- the blood of the Bygraves. Accept my excuses. We are alone, as you wished; pray proceed."

Placed between the alternatives of losing Magdalen's society or betraying Mrs. Lecount, unenlightened by any suspicion of the housekeeper's ultimate object, cowed by the immovable scrutiny of Captain Wragge's inquiring eye, Noel Vanstone was not long in making his choice. He confusedly described his singular interview of the previous evening with Mrs. Lecount, and, taking the folded paper from his pocket, placed it in the captain's hand.

A suspicion of the truth dawned on Captain Wragge's mind the moment he saw the mysterious note. He withdrew to the window before he opened it. The first lines that attracted his attention were these: "Oblige me, Mr. Noel, by comparing the young lady who is now in your company with the personal description which follows these lines, and which has been communicated to me by a friend. You shall know the name of the person described -- which I have left a blank -- as soon as the evidence of your own eyes has forced you to believe what you would refuse to credit on the unsupported testimony of Virginie Lecount."

That was enough for the captain. Before he had read a word of the description itself, he knew what Mrs. Lecount had done, and felt, with a profound sense of humiliation, that his female enemy had taken him by surprise.

There was no time to think; the whole enterprise was threatened with irrevocable overthrow. The one resource in Captain Wragge's present situation was to act instantly on the first impulse of his own audacity. Line by line he read on, and still the ready inventiveness which had never deserted him yet failed to answer the call made on it now. He came to the closing sentence -- to the last words which mentioned the two little moles on Magdalen's neck. At that crowning point of the description, an idea crossed his mind; his party-colored eyes twinkled; his curly lips twisted up at the corners; Wragge was himself again. He wheeled round suddenly from the window, and looked Noel Vanstone straight in the face with a grimly-quiet suggestiveness of something serious to come.

"Pray, sir, do you happen to know anything of Mrs. Lecount's family?" he inquired.

"A respectable family," said Noel Vanstone -- "that's all I know. Why do you ask?"

"I am not usually a betting man," pursued Captain Wragge. "But on this occasion I will lay you any wager you like there is madness in your housekeeper's family."

"Madness!" repeated Noel Vanstone, amazedly

"Madness!" reiterated the captain, sternly tapping the note with his forefinger. "I see the cunning of insanity, the suspicion of insanity, the feline treachery of insanity in every line of this deplorable document. There is a far more alarming reason, sir, than I had supposed for Mrs. Lecount's behavior to my niece. It is clear to me that Miss Bygrave resembles some other lady who has seriously offended your housekeeper -- who has been formerly connected, perhaps, with an outbreak of insanity in your housekeeper -- and who is now evidently confused with my niece in your housekeeper's wandering mind. That is my conviction, Mr. Vanstone. I may be right, or I may be wrong. All I say is this -- neither you, nor any man, can assign a sane motive for the production of that incomprehensible document, and for the use which you are requested to make of it."

"I don't think Lecount's mad," said Noel Vanstone, with a very blank look, and a very discomposed manner. "It couldn't have escaped me, with my habits of observation; it couldn't possibly have escaped me if Lecount had been mad."

"Very good, my dear sir. In my opinion, she is the subject of an insane delusion. In your opinion, she is in possession of her senses, and has some mysterious motive which neither you nor I can fathom. Either way, there can be no harm in putting Mrs. Lecount's description to the test, not only as a matter of curiosity, but for our own private satisfaction on both sides. It is of course impossible to tell my niece that she is to be made the subject of such a preposterous experiment as that note of yours suggests. But you can use your own eyes, Mr. Vanstone; you can keep your own counsel; and -- mad or not -- you can at least tell your housekeeper, on the testimony of your own senses, that she is wrong. Let me look at the description again. The greater part of it is not worth two straws for any purpose of identification; hundreds of young ladies have tall figures, fair complexions, light brown hair, and light gray eyes. You will say, on the other hand, hundreds of young ladies have not got two little moles close together on the left side of the neck. Quite true. The moles supply us with what we scientific men call a Crucial Test. When my niece comes downstairs, sir, you have my full permission to take the liberty of looking at her neck."

Noel Vanstone expressed his high approval of the Crucial Test by smirking and simpering for the first time that morning.

"Of looking at her neck," repeated the captain, returning the note to his visitor, and then making for the door. "I will go upstairs myself, Mr. Vanstone," he continued, "and inspect Miss Bygrave's walking-dress. If she has innocently placed any obstacles in your way, if her hair is a little too low, or her frill is a little too high, I will exert my authority, on the first harmless pretext I can think of, to have those obstacles removed. All I ask is, that you will choose your opportunity discreetly, and that you will not allow my niece to suppose that her neck is the object of a gentleman's inspection."

The moment he was out of the parlor Captain Wragge ascended the stairs at the top of his speed and knocked at Magdalen's door. She opened it to him in her walking-dress, obedient to the signal agreed on between them which summoned her downstairs.

"What have you done with your paints and powders?" asked the captain, without wasting a word in preliminary explanations. "They were not in the box of costumes which I sold for you at Birmingham. Where are they?"

"I have got them here," replied Magdalen. "What can you possibly mean by wanting them now?"

"Bring them instantly into my dressing-room -- the whole collection, brushes, palette, and everything. Don't waste time in asking questions; I'll tell you what has happened as we go on. Every moment is precious to us. Follow me instantly!"

His face plainly showed that there was a serious reason for his strange proposal. Magdalen secured her collection of cosmetics and followed him into the dressing-room. He locked the door, placed her on a chair close to the light, and then told her what had happened.

"We are on the brink of detection," proceeded the captain, carefully mixing his colors with liquid glue, and with a strong "drier" added from a bottle in his own possession. "There is only one chance for us (lift up your hair from the left side of your neck) -- I have told Mr. Noel Vanstone to take a private opportunity of looking at you; and I am going to give the lie direct to that she-devil Lecount by painting out your moles."

"They can't be painted out," said Magdalen. "No color will stop on them."

"My color will," remarked Captain Wragge. "I have tried a variety of professions in my time -- the profession of painting among the rest. Did you ever hear of such a thing as a Black Eye? I lived some months once in the neighborhood of Drury Lane entirely on Black Eyes. My flesh-color stood on bruises of all sorts, shades, and sizes, and it will stand, I promise you, on your moles."

With this assurance, the captain dipped his brush into a little lump of opaque color which he had mixed in a saucer, and which he had graduated as nearly as the materials would permit to the color of Magdalen's skin. After first passing a cambric handkerchief, with some white powder on it, over the part of her neck on which he designed to operate, he placed two layers of color on the moles with the tip of the brush. The process was performed in a few moments, and the moles, as if by magic, disappeared from view. Nothing but the closest inspection could have discovered the artifice by which they had been concealed; at the distance of two or three feet only, it was perfectly invisible.

"Wait here five minutes, "said Captain Wragge," to let the paint dry -- and then join us in the parlor. Mrs. Lecount herself would be puzzled if she looked at you now."

"Stop!" said Magdalen. "There is one thing you have not told me yet. How did Mrs. Lecount get the description which you read downstairs? Whatever else she has seen of me, she has not seen the mark on my neck -- it is too far back, and too high up; my hair hides it."

"Who knows of the mark?" asked Captain Wragge.

She turned deadly pale under the anguish of a sudden recollection of Frank.

"My sister knows it," s he said, faintly.

"Mrs. Lecount may have written to your sister," suggested the captain:

"Do you think my sister would tell a stranger what no stranger has a right to know? Never! never!"

"Is there nobody else who could tell Mrs. Lecount? The mark was mentioned in the handbills at York. Who put it there?"

"Not Norah! Perhaps Mr. Pendril. Perhaps Miss Garth."

"Then Mrs. Lecount has written to Mr. Pendril or Miss Garth -- more likely to Miss Garth. The governess would be easier to deal with than the lawyer."

"What can she have said to Miss Garth?"

Captain Wragge considered a little.

"I can't say what Mrs. Lecount may have written," he said, "but I can tell you what I should have written in Mrs. Lecount's place. I should have frightened Miss Garth by false reports about you, to begin with, and then I should have asked for personal particulars, to help a benevolent stranger in restoring you to your friends. "The angry glitter flashed up instantly in Magdalen's eyes.

"What you would have done is what Mrs. Lecount has done," she said, indignantly. "Neither lawyer nor governess shall dispute my right to my own will and my own way. If Miss Garth thinks she can control my actions by corresponding with Mrs. Lecount, I will show Miss Garth she is mistaken! It is high time, Captain Wragge, to have done with these wretched risks of discovery. We will take the short way to the end we have in view sooner than Mrs. Lecount or Miss Garth think for. How long can you give me to wring an offer of marriage out of that creature downstairs?"

"I dare not give you long," replied Captain Wragge. "Now your friends know where you are, they may come down on us at a day's notice. Could you manage it in a week?"

"I'll manage it in half the time," she said, with a hard, defiant laugh. "Leave us together this morning as you left us at Dunwich, and take Mrs. Wragge with you, as an excuse for parting company. Is the paint dry yet? Go downstairs and tell him I am coming directly."

So, for the second time, Miss Garth's well-meant efforts defeated their own end. So the fatal force of circumstance turned the hand that would fain have held Magdalen back into the hand that drove her on.

The captain returned to his visitor in the parlor, after first stopping on his way to issue his orders for the walking excursion to Mrs. Wragge.

"I am shocked to have kept you waiting," he said, sitting down again confidentially by Noel Vanstone's side. "My only excuse is, that my niece had accidentally dressed her hair so as to defeat our object. I have been persuading her to alter it, and young ladies are apt to be a little obstinate on questions relating to their toilet. Give her a chair on that side of you when she comes in, and take your look at her neck comfortably before we start for our walk."

Magdalen entered the room as he said those words, and after the first greetings were exchanged, took the chair presented to her with the most unsuspicious readiness. Noel Vanstone applied the Crucial Test on the spot, with the highest appreciation of the fair material which was the subject of experiment. Not the vestige of a mole was visible on any part of the smooth white surface of Miss Bygrave's neck. It mutely answered the blinking inquiry of Noel Vanstone's half-closed eyes by the flattest practical contradiction of Mrs. Lecount. That one central incident in the events of the morning was of all the incidents that had hitherto occurred, the most important in its results. That one discovery shook the housekeeper's hold on her master as nothing had shaken it yet.

In a few minutes Mrs. Wragge made her appearance, and excited as much surprise in Noel Vanstone's mind as he was capable of feeling while absorbed in the enjoyment of Magdalen's society. The walking-party left the house at once, directing their steps northward, so as not to pass the windows of Sea-view Cottage. To Mrs. Wragge's unutterable astonishment, her husband, for the first time in the course of their married life, politely offered her his arm, and led her on in advance of the young people, as if the privilege of walking alone with her presented some special attraction to him! "Step out!" whispered the captain, fiercely. "Leave your niece and Mr. Vanstone alone! If I catch you looking back at them, I'll put the Oriental Cashmere Robe on the top of the kitchen fire! Turn your toes out, and keep step -- confound you, keep step!" Mrs. Wragge kept step to the best of her limited ability. Her sturdy knees trembled under her. She firmly believed the captain was intoxicated.

The walk lasted for rather more than an hour. Before nine o'clock they were all back again at North Shingles. The ladies went at once into the house. Noel Vanstone remained with Captain Wragge in the garden. "Well," said the captain, "what do you think now of Mrs. Lecount?"

"Damn Lecount!" replied Noel Vanstone, in great agitation. "I'm half inclined to agree with you. I'm half inclined to think my infernal housekeeper is mad."

He spoke fretfully and unwillingly, as if the merest allusion to Mrs. Lecount was distasteful to him. His color came and went; his manner was absent and undecided; he fidgeted restlessly about the garden walk. It would have been plain to a far less acute observation than Captain Wragge's, that Magdalen had met his advances by an unexpected grace and readiness of encouragement which had entirely overthrown his self-control.

"I never enjoyed a walk so much in my life!" he exclaimed, with a sudden outburst of enthusiasm. "I hope Miss Bygrave feels all the better, for it. Do you go out at the same time to-morrow morning? May I join you again?"

"By all means, Mr. Vanstone," said the Captain, cordially. "Excuse me for returning to the subject -- but what do you propose saying to Mrs. Lecount?"

"I don't know. Lecount is a perfect nuisance! What would you do, Mr. Bygrave, if you were in my place?"

"Allow me to ask a question, my dear sir, before I tell you. What is your breakfast-hour?"

"Half-past nine."

"Is Mrs. Lecount an early riser?"

"No. Lecount is lazy in the morning. I hate lazy women! If you were in my place, what should you say to her?"

"I should say nothing," replied Captain Wragge. "I should return at once by the back way; I should let Mrs. Lecount see me in the front garden as if I was taking a turn before breakfast; and I should leave her to suppose that I was only just out of my room. If she asks you whether you mean to come here today, say No. Secure a quiet life until circumstances force you to give her an answer. Then tell the plain truth -- say that Mr. Bygrave's niece and Mrs. Lecount's description are at variance with each other in the most important particular, and beg that the subject may not be mentioned again. There is my advice. What do you think of it?"

If Noel Vanstone could have looked into his counselor's mind, he might have thought the captain's advice excellently adapted to serve the captain's interests. As long as Mrs. Lecount could be kept in ignorance of her master's visits to North Shingles, so long she would wait until the opportunity came for trying her experiment, and so long she might be trusted not to endanger the conspiracy by any further proceedings. Necessarily incapable of viewing Captain Wragge's advice under this aspect, Noel Vanstone simply looked at it as offering him a temporary means of escape from an explanation with his housekeeper. He eagerly declared that the course of action suggested to him should be followed to the letter, and returned to Sea View without further delay.

On this occasion Captain Wragge's anticipations were in no respect falsified by Mrs. Lecount's conduct. She had no suspicion of her master's visit to North Shingles: she had made up her mind, if necessary, to wait patiently for his interview with Miss Bygrave until the end of the week; and she did not embarrass him by any unexpected questions when he announced his intention of holding no personal communication with the Bygraves on that day. All she said was, "Don't you feel well enough, Mr. Noel? or don't you feel inclined?" He answered, shortly, "I don't feel well enough"; and there the conversatio n ended.

The next day the proceedings of the previous morning were exactly repeated. This time Noel Vanstone went home rapturously with a keepsake in his breast-pocket; he had taken tender possession of one of Miss Bygrave's gloves. At intervals during the day, whenever he was alone, he took out the glove and kissed it with a devotion which was almost passionate in its fervor. The miserable little creature luxuriated in his moments of stolen happiness with a speechless and stealthy delight which was a new sensation to him. The few young girls whom he had met with, in his father's narrow circle at Zurich, had felt a mischievous pleasure in treating him like a quaint little plaything; the strongest impression he could make on their hearts was an impression in which their lap-dogs might have rivaled him; the deepest interest he could create in them was the interest they might have felt in a new trinket or a new dress. The only women who had hitherto invited his admiration, and taken his compliments seriously had been women whose charms were on the wane, and whose chances of marriage were fast failing them. For the first time in his life he had now passed hours of happiness in the society of a beautiful girl, who had left him to think of her afterward without a single humiliating remembrance to lower him in his own esteem.

Anxiously as he tried to hide it, the change produced in his look and manner by the new feeling awakened in him was not a change which could be concealed from Mrs. Lecount. On the second day she pointedly asked him whether he had not made an arrangement to call on the Bygraves. He denied it as before. "Perhaps you are going to-morrow, Mr. Noel?" persisted the housekeeper. He was at the end of his resources; he was impatient to be rid of her inquiries; he trusted to his friend at North Shingles to help him; and this time he answered Yes. "If you see the young lady," proceeded Mrs. Lecount, "don't forget that note of mine, sir, which you have in your waistcoat-pocket." No more was said on either side, but by that night's post the housekeeper wrote to Miss Garth. The letter merely acknowledged, with thanks, the receipt of Miss Garth's communication, and informed her that in a few days Mrs. Lecount hoped to be in a position to write again and summon Mr. Pendril to Aldborough.

Late in the evening, when the parlor at North Shingles began to get dark, and when the captain rang the bell for candles as usual, he was surprised by hearing Magdalen's voice in the passage telling the servant to take the lights downstairs again. She knocked at the door immediately afterward, and glided into the obscurity of the room like a ghost.

"I have a question to ask you about your plans for to-morrow," she said. "My eyes are very weak this evening, and I hope you will not object to dispense with the candles for a few minutes."

She spoke in low, stifled tones, and felt her way noiselessly to a chair far removed from the captain in the darkest part of the room. Sitting near the window, he could just discern the dim outline of her dress, he could just hear the faint accents of her voice. For the last two days he had seen nothing of her except during their morning walk. On that afternoon he had found his wife crying in the little backroom down-stairs. She could only tell him that Magdalen had frightened her -- that Magdalen was going the way again which she had gone when the letter came from China in the terrible past time at Vauxhall Walk.

"I was sorry to her that you were ill to-day, from Mrs. Wragge," said the captain, unconsciously dropping his voice almost to a whisper as he spoke.

"It doesn't matter," she answered quietly, out of the darkness. "I am strong enough to suffer, and live. Other girls in my place would have been happier -they would have suffered, and died. It doesn't matter; it will be all the same a hundred years hence. Is he coming again tomorrow morning at seven o'clock?"

"He is coming, if you feel no objection to it."

"I have no objection to make; I have done with objecting. But I should like to have the time altered. I don't look my best in the early morning -- -I have bad nights, and I rise haggard and worn. Write him a note this evening, and tell him to come at twelve o'clock."

"Twelve is rather late, under the circumstances, for you to be seen out walking."

"I have no intention of walking. Let him be shown into the parlor -- "

Her voice died away in silence before she ended the sentence.

"Yes?" said Captain Wragge.

"And leave me alone in the parlor to receive him."

"I understand," said the captain. "An admirable idea. I'll be out of the way in the dining-room while he is here, and you can come and tell me about it when he has gone."

There was another moment of silence.

"Is there no way but telling you?" she asked, suddenly. "I can control myself while he is with me, but I can't answer for what I may say or do afterward. Is there no other way?"

"Plenty of ways," said the captain. "Here is the first that occurs to me. Leave the blind down over the window of your room upstairs before he comes. I will go out on the beach, and wait there within sight of the house. When I see him come out again, I will look at the window. If he has said nothing, leave the blind down. If he has made you an offer, draw the blind up. The signal is simplicity itself; we can't misunderstand each other. Look your best to-morrow! Make sure of him, my dear girl -- make sure of him, if you possibly can."

He had spoken loud enough to feel certain that she had heard him, but no answering word came from her. The dead silence was only disturbed by the rustling of her dress, which told him she had risen from her chair. Her shadowy presence crossed the room again; the door shut softly; she was gone. He rang the bell hurriedly for the lights. The servant found him standing close at the window, looking less self-possessed than usual. He told her he felt a little poorly, and sent her to the cupboard for the brandy.

At a few minutes before twelve the next day Captain Wragge withdrew to his post of observation, concealing himself behind a fishing-boat drawn up on the beach. Punctually as the hour struck, he saw Noel Vanstone approach North Shingles and open the garden gate. When the house door had closed on the visitor, Captain Wragge settled himself comfortably against the side of the boat and lit his cigar.

He smoked for half au hour -- for ten minutes over the half-hour, by his watch. He finished the cigar down to the last morsel of it that he could hold in his lips. Just as he had thrown away the end, the door opened again and Noel Vanstone came out.

The captain looked up instantly at Magdalen's window. In the absorbing excitement of the moment, he counted the seconds. She might get from the parlor to her own room in less than a minute. He counted to thirty, and nothing happened. He counted to fifty, and nothing happened. He gave up counting, and left the boat impatiently, to return to the house.

As he took his first step forward he saw the signal.

The blind was drawn up.

Cautiously ascending the eminence of the beach, Captain Wragge looked toward Sea-view Cottage before he showed himself on the Parade. Noel Vanstone had reached home again; he was just entering his own door.

"If all your money was offered me to stand in your shoes," said the captain, looking after him -- "rich as you are, I wouldn't take it!"

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