From that day forward Vanna deliberately
shut her eyes to the barriers which blocked her life,
and gave herself up to the joy of the present.
Piers knew her dread secret, and the knowledge would
surely be sufficient to put any thought of her as
a wife out of his mind, if indeed such a thought had
existed. Her conscience being clear that he
at least would not suffer through a continuance of
their intimacy, she for her own part was ready to
pay the price of future suffering for the rich joy
of the present. The joy would not, could not
last, but it was better, a thousand times better,
to taste the full flavour of life, even if but for
a few short months, than to drag on to old age ignorant
of the deepest experiences which can stir the human
soul. If suffering must come, knowledge would
come with it-comprehension, sympathy, and
to the end of time the memory of golden hours.
Piers’s visits increased in
number, and he was unceasing in his efforts for all
that concerned the welfare of the two inmates of the
Cottage. In his presence Vanna expanded like
a flower in the sun. Love, the magician, worked
his spell upon mind and body, so that beholding her
own likeness in the glass she would often blush again,
as she had blushed on the afternoon of Piers’s
first visit. Her pale cheeks were tinged with
colour, her eyes shone, her very hair showed rich russet
gleams as she wandered bare-headed in the sun.
The sound of her own laugh, the aptness of her own
words, astonished and delighted no one so much as
herself: it was as if a hundred unsuspected beauties
and charms, after lying latent all her life, had sprung
suddenly to birth. There were moments when,
from sheer pride and self-congratulation, she came
near following Gwendoline Harleth’s historic
example, and kissing her own reflection in the glass.
“I am happy!” she told herself triumphantly.
“This is happiness-the best I shall
ever know. I must realise it, enjoy every moment,
enjoy it to the full. I must guard it preciously,
shut my eyes and ears to all the little jars and frets,
and not allow them to interrupt. It is
my golden time. In years to come, I must be
able to look back and remember that I made the most
of it when it was mine. It would be madness
to waste an hour...”
Meanwhile the two old ladies looked
on with silent understanding. Mrs Rendall had
been in her own way an ardent admirer of Vanna in the
earlier days of their acquaintance; but a mother looks
with changed eyes upon a girl whom she suspects her
son of honouring with his love. No one is worthy
of that honour, and it is rarely indeed that an element
of coolness and jealousy does not tinge the former
affection. Mrs Rendall pursed her lips at the
mention of Vanna Strangeways, and no longer pressed
for repetitions of the weekly visits.
To Miggles it was unalloyed joy to
behold the growing attachment between the two young
people whom she loved so dearly. Never by word
or deed did she hint at her desire; but as the months
passed by and her health steadily declined, she hugged
the thought that when her hour came the dear child
who had comforted her last days would find another
and a sweeter home. An ever-increasing feebleness
warned her that her days were numbered, though so
far she had been spared severe suffering. The
local doctor confided in Vanna that such immunity could
not be expected to the end, for in such cases violent
paroxysms of pain were almost inevitable. Vanna
shrank with fear from the prospect; but the God in
whom Miggles so sweetly trusted had decreed an easier
release for His child. Sitting beside an open
window in the second spring of her sojourn at the
Cottage, Miggles contracted a chill, which quickly
developed into bronchitis. The attack did not
appear serious to onlookers; but some premonition
of the end seemed to visit the invalid herself, for
she called Vanna to her bedside, and whispered an eager
“My keys, dear! On the ring! I want
Vanna brought the big, jingling bunch
from its place in the work-basket with its red silk
linings. Miggles had the slavish devotion to
locking up which characterised her time, and it was
seldom indeed that any of her possessions could be
reached without the aid of at least two keys.
Now with feeble fingers she separated two from the
rest, and held them out for the girl’s inspection.
“This big one with the red thread,
that’s for the cupboard in the spare room.
This little one-the smallest but two-that’s
for the bottom drawer inside. If I die this
time-one can never tell-go at
once and open that drawer. At once!
To save you trouble.”
Vanna nodded, and put back the bunch
in the basket. She herself had no fear that
this illness would end fatally, until in the still
hours of the night she crept to the bedside and beheld
on her friend’s face the grey shadow which,
once seen, can never be mistaken. The doctor
was summoned, with Piers Rendall, who by good providence
was staying at the Manor, and the dread sentence was
pronounced in the little sitting-room in which so
many peaceful hours had been spent.
“Slipping away! Heart
failure! The heart is too weak to stand the
extra strain caused by this oppression on the lungs.
She will not last out the day. Don’t
grieve, Miss Strangeways. It’s a merciful
release. If she had lived she would have had
great suffering. We must be thankful for her
Vanna and Piers sat together by the
bedside during the long hours of that morning.
A telegram of warning had been dispatched to Mr and
Mrs Goring, but it was not possible that they could
reach the secluded village before late in the afternoon.
Miggles lay with closed eyes, breathing heavily,
but without further sign of distress. For the
most part she seemed to sleep, but once, when Piers
bent over her, she opened her eyes and essayed to
“How are you now, dear?
How do you feel?” asked the young man anxiously;
and Miggles struggled bravely to reply.
said the feeble voice; and after a moment’s pause-“And
After that she sank ever deeper and
deeper into unconsciousness, while the watchers sat
on either side, watching the still face.
It was just as the clock struck five,
and the sun passing beyond the barrier of the cliff
left the little room grey and dull, that with a movement
of surprise, as if wakened by the touch of an invisible
hand, Miggles suddenly lifted her lids and gazed around.
The heavy, bulging cheeks had wasted away, and the
eyes, which in health had appeared small and insignificant,
now stared out, large and wide from the hollow sockets.
As she looked, the first surprise was superseded by
a great and incredulous joy. She turned her
head from side to side, the faint smile deepening
to rapture, while her panting lips gasped out the same
word-once, a second time, and again a third:
“Angels! Angels! Angels!”
The two who looked on bowed their
heads, and were still. To them it was a small,
dull room, prosaic in furnishing, grey, with the shadow
of night and death, but Miggles’s opening eyes
beheld therein the company of saints.
Piers and the faithful maid turned
Vanna out of the room. She had done enough,
they said. It was not for her to be pained by
the last sad rites. She allowed herself to be
led on to the little landing; but when Piers tried
to lead her downstairs she refused to move. Remembrance
had come to her of Miggles’s request with respect
to the keys, and the search which was to be made “at
once.” She had no idea what she was
to find as she knelt beside that bottom drawer, while
Piers stood watchfully at her side; it was the impulse
of obedience pure and simple which guided her movements.
The first glance brought no illumination, for a strip
of muslin hid the contents from view. With its
removal came the scent of lavender, and there, neatly
ranged in order, lay a pair of fine linen sheets with
pillow cases to match, a nightgown, and a cap with
a border of pleated lace, its muslin strings neatly
folded and secured in place with a pin.
Miggles’s burial clothes! prepared
long since with her own hands, and put aside to “save
trouble” to those left behind. Vanna bowed
her head, and burst into a passion of tears.