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The train glided into the fog-laden London station, and very slowly Agnes Barlow stepped down out of the railway carriage. She felt oppressed by the fact that she was alone. During the last few weeks Ferrier had always been standing on the platform waiting to greet her, eager to hurry her into a cab—to a picture gallery, to a concert, or of late, oftenest of all, to one of those green oases which the great town still leaves her lovers.
But now Ferrier was not here. Ferrier was ill, solitary, in the lonely rooms which he called "home."
Agnes Barlow hurried out of the station.
Hammer, hammer, hammer went what she supposed was her heart. It was a curious, to Agnes a new sensation, bred of the fear that she would meet some acquaintance to whom she would have to explain her presence in town. She could not help being glad that the fog was of that dense, stifling quality which makes every one intent on his own business rather than on that of his neighbours.
Then something happened which scared Agnes. She was walking, now very slowly, out of the station, when a tall man came up to | | 217 her. He took off his hat and peered insolently into her face.
"I think I've had the pleasure of meeting you before," he said.
She stared at him with a great, unreasonable fear gripping her heart. No doubt this was some business acquaintance of Frank's. "I—I don't think so," she faltered.
"Oh, yes," he said. "Don't you remember, two years ago at the Pirola in Regent Street? I don't think I can be wrong."
And then Agnes understood. "You are making a mistake," she said breathlessly, and quickened her steps.
The man looked after her with a jeering smile, but he made no further attempt to molest her.
She was trembling—shaken with fear, disgust, and terror. It was odd, but such a thing had never happened to pretty Agnes Barlow before. She was not often alone in London; she had never been there alone on such a foggy evening, an evening which invited such approaches as those she had just repulsed.
She touched a respectable-looking woman on the arm. "Can you tell me the way to Flood Street, Chelsea?" she asked, her voice faltering.
"Why, yes, Miss. It's a good step from | | 218 here, but you can't mistake it. You've only got to go straight along, and then ask again after you've been walking about twenty minutes. You can't mistake it." And she hurried on, while Agnes tried to keep in step behind her, for the slight adventure outside the station became retrospectively terrifying. She thrilled with angry fear lest that—that brute should still be stalking her; but when she looked over her shoulder she saw that the pavement was nearly bare of walkers.
At last the broad thoroughfare narrowed to a point where four streets converged. Agnes glanced fearfully this way and that. Which of those shadowy black-coated figures hurrying past, intent on their business, would direct her rightly? Within the last half-hour Agnes had grown horribly afraid of men.
And then, with more relief than the fact warranted, across the narrow roadway she saw emerge, between two parting waves of fog, the shrouded figure of a woman leaning against a dead wall.
Agnes crossed the street, but as she stepped up on to the kerb, suddenly there broke from her, twice repeated, a low, involuntary cry of dread.
"Teresa!" she cried. And then, again, "Teresa!" For in the shrouded figure before | | 219 her she had recognized, with a thrill of incredulous terror, the form and lineaments of Teresa Maldo.
But there came no answering cry; and Agnes gave a long, gasping, involuntary sigh of relief as she realized that what had seemed to be her dead friend's dark, glowing face was the face of a little child—a black-haired beggar child, with large startled eyes wide open on a living world.
The tall woman whose statuesque figure had so strangely recalled Teresa's supple, powerful form was holding up the child, propping it on the wall behind her.
Still shaking with the chill terror induced by the vision she now believed she had not seen, Agnes went up closer to the melancholy group.
Even now she longed to hear the woman speak. "Can you tell me the way to Flood Street?" she asked.
The woman looked at her fixedly. "No, that I can't," she said listlessly. "I'm a stranger here." And then, with a passionate energy which startled Agnes, "For God's sake, give me something, lady, to help me to get home! I've walked all the way from Essex; it's taken me, oh I so long with the child, though we've had a lift here and a lift | | 220 there, and I haven't a penny left. I came to find my husband; but he's lost himself—on purpose!"
A week ago, Agnes Barlow would have shaken her head and passed on. She had always held the theory, carefully inculcated by her careful parents, that it is wrong to give money to beggars in the street.
But perhaps the queer illusion that she had just experienced made her remember Father Ferguson. In a flash she recalled a sermon of the old priest's which had shocked and disturbed his prosperous congregation, for in it the preacher had advanced the astounding theory that it is better to give to nine impostors than to refuse the one just man; nay, more, he had reminded his hearers of the old legend that Christ sometimes comes, in the guise of a beggar, to the wealthy.
She took five shillings out of her purse, and put them, not in the woman's hand, but in that of the little child.
"Thank you," said the woman dully. "May God bless you!" That was all, but Agnes went on, vaguely comforted.
And now at last, helped on her way by more than one good-natured wayfarer, she reached the quiet, but shabby Chelsea street where | | 221 Ferrier lived. The fog had drifted towards the river, and in the lamplight Agnes Barlow was not long in finding a large open door, above which was inscribed: "The Thomas More Studios."
Agnes walked timorously through into the square, empty, gas-lit hall, and looked round her with distaste. The place struck her as very ugly and forlorn, utterly lacking in what she had always taken to be the amenities of flat life—an obsequious porter, a lift, electric light.
How strange of Ferrier to have told her that he lived in a building that was beautiful!
Springing in bold and simple curves, rose a wrought-iron staircase, filling up the centre of the narrow, towerlike building. Agnes knew that Ferrier lived high up, somewhere near the top.
She waited a moment at the foot of the staircase. She was gathering up her strength, throwing behind her everything that had meant life, happiness, and—what signified so very much to such a woman as herself—personal repute.
But, even so, Agnes did not falter in her purpose. She was still possessed, driven onward, by a passion of jealous misery.
But, though her spirit was willing, ay, and | | 222 more than willing, for revenge, her flesh was weak; and as she began slowly walking up the staircase she started nervously at the grotesque shapes cast by her own shadow, and at the muffled sounds of her own footfalls.
Half-way up the high building the gas-jets burned low, and Agnes felt aggrieved. What a mean, stupid economy on the part of the owners of this strange, unnatural dwelling-place.
How dreadful it would be if she were to meet any one she knew—any one belonging to what she was already unconsciously teaching herself to call her old, happy life! As if in cruel answer to her fear, a door opened, and an old man, clad in a big shabby fur coat and broad-brimmed hat, came out.
Agnes's heart gave a bound in her bosom. Yes; this was what she had somehow thought would happen. In the half-light she took the old man to be an eccentric acquaintance of her father's.
"Mr. Willis?" she whispered hoarsely.
He looked at her, surprised, resentful.
"My name's not Willis," he said gruffly, as he passed her on his way down, and her heart became stilled. How could she have been so foolish as to take that disagreeable old man for kindly-natured Mr. Willis?| | 223
She was now very near the top. Only a storey and a half more, and she would be there. Her steps were flagging, but a strange kind of peace had fallen on her. In a few moments she would be safe, for ever, in Ferrier's arms. How strange and unreal the notion seemed!
And then—and then, as if fashioned by some potent incantation from the vaporous fog outside, a tall, grey figure rose out of nothingness, and stood, barring the way, on the steel floor of the landing above her.
Agnes clutched the iron railing, too oppressed rather than too frightened to speak. Out in the fog-laden street she had involuntarily called out the other's name. "Teresa?" she had cried, "Teresa!" But this time no word broke from her lips, for she feared that if she spoke the other would answer.
Teresa Maldo's love, the sisterly love of which Agnes had been so little worthy, had broken down the gateless barrier which stretches its dense length between the living and the dead. What she, the living woman, had not known how to do for Teresa, the dead woman had come back to do for her—for now Agnes seemed suddenly able to measure the depth of the gulf into which she had been about to throw herself. . . .
She stared with fearful, fascinated eyes at | | 224 the immobile figure swathed in grey, cere-like garments, and her gaze travelled stealthfully up to the white, passionless face, drained of all expression save that of watchful concern and understanding tenderness. . . .
With a swift movement Agnes turned round. Clinging to the iron rail, she stumbled down the stairway to the deserted hall, and with swift terror-hastened steps rushed out into the street.
Through the fog she plunged, not even sparing a moment to look back and up to the dimly lighted window behind which poor Ferrier stood,—as a softer, a truer-natured woman might have done. Violently she put all thought of her lover from her, and as she hurried along with tightening breath, the instinct of self-preservation alone possessing her, she became more and more absorbed in measuring the fathomless depth of the pit in which she had so nearly fallen.
Her one wish now was to get home—to get home—to get home—before Frank got back.
But the fulfilment of that wish was denied her—for as Agnes Barlow walked, crying softly as she went, in the misty darkness along the road which led from Summerfield station to the gate of The Haven, there fell on her ear the rhythmical tramp of well-shod feet.
She shrank near to the hedge, in no mood to | | 225 greet or to accept greeting from a neighbour. But the walker was now close to her. He struck a match.
"Agnes?" It was Frank Barlow's voice—shamed, eager, questioning. "Is that you? I thought—I hoped you would come home by this train."
And as she gave no immediate answer, as he missed—God alone knew with what relief—the prim, cold accents to which his wife had accustomed him of late, he hurried forward and took her masterfully in his arms. "Oh! my darling," he whispered huskily, "I know I've been a beast—but I've never left off loving you—and I can't stand your coldness, Agnes; it's driving me to the devil! Forgive me, my pure angel——"
And Frank Barlow's pure angel did forgive him, and with a spontaneity and generous forgetfulness which he will ever remember. Nay, more; Agnes—and this touched her husband deeply—even gave up her pleasant acquaintance with that writing fellow, Ferrier, because Ferrier, through no fault of his, was associated, in both their minds, with the terrible time each would have given so much to obliterate from the record of their otherwise cloudless married life.
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