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Title: A Vanished Hand
Author: Sarah Doudney
Release Date: March 1, 2009
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A VANISHED HAND
BY SARAH DOUDNEY
AUTHOR OF "WHERE THE DEW FALLS IN LONDON," ETC.
JAMES NISBET & CO., LIMITED
21 BERNERS STREET
At the Ballantyne Press
SHE PUT THE ROLL OF PAPER INTO HIS HAND
CHAPTER I. IN A BACK ROOM
CHAPTER II. WHAT WAS WRITTEN
CHAPTER III. TAKING COUNSEL
CHAPTER IV. MRS. TRYON
CHAPTER V. MRS. BEATON
CHAPTER VI. HAROLD AND META
CHAPTER VII. MRS. PENN
CHAPTER VIII. LOOKING AT PICTURES
CHAPTER IX. MEETINGS
CHAPTER X. LONELINESS
CHAPTER XI. MRS. VERDON
CHAPTER XII. HIS FIRST VISIT
CHAPTER XIII. IN PORTMAN SQUARE
CHAPTER XIV. RUSHBROOK
CHAPTER XV. WAYNE'S COURT
CHAPTER XVI. GOING TO CHURCH
CHAPTER XVII. THE PICNIC
CHAPTER XVIII. THE ISLAND
CHAPTER XIX. CONCLUSION
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
SHE PUT THE ROLL OF PAPER INTO HIS HAND
"IT WAS A GOOD SPOT FOR A REVERIE."
A VANISHED HAND
IN A BACK ROOM
"For one shall grasp, and one resign,
One drink life's rue, and one its wine,
And God shall make the balance good."
Elsie Kilner had a battle to fight, and it must be fought after her own fashion. It
was the kind of battle which is fought every day and every hour; but the
battlefield is always a silent place, and there is neither broken weapon nor
crimson stain to tell us where the strife has been.
Elsie's battle was fought in a back room in All Saints' Street on an afternoon in
March. It was not a gloomy room; although the window looked out upon walls
and roofs and chimneys, she had a good clear view of the sky. Some pigeons
occupied a little house outside one of the neighbouring windows, and there
was a roof covered with red tiles on which they loved to strut and plume their
feathers in the sunshine.
To a woman country-born the sight of pigeons and red tiles called up visions of
an old home. The memories which came to Elsie in her London room were as
fresh and sweet as the breath of early spring flowers.
She could see again the red manor-house among the Sussex hills, and the old
green garden which winter could never quite despoil. The cherry-tree spread its
boughs close to her window, and seemed to fill the room with the delicate
dewy light of its blossoms; the winds came blowing in, sweet and chill, from
thymy common and "sheep-trimmed down."
Perhaps she had never seen her home so plainly with her bodily eyes as she
saw it now in imagination. Our everyday blessings are too common to be
looked at in their true light; but when time and change have put them far away
from us we see them in all their beauty.
"It makes me feel desperate," she said half aloud to herself.
She had a dark, delicate face, as changeful as an April sky. It was not a happy
face; the dark eyes were restless, the soft lips often quivered. And yet, in spite
of sorrow and unrest, and the experiences of nearly nine-and-twenty years,
there was an extraordinary freshness, almost girlishness, in her appearance,
which did not suffer even from the close proximity of younger women. The
mourning dress, fitting closely to her graceful figure, told its own story of recent
In that old manor-house among the Sussex hills her bright youth had been
calmly spent. Then came her mother's death, and changes began in the home-
life. Her father was growing weak in mind and body. Elsie was the only
daughter, and the household cares and anxieties pressed heavily on her heart
and brain. When Robert, her brother, suggested, with all possible kindliness,
that it would be well if he came with his wife to the Manor and shared her
labours, she welcomed the proposal gladly.
So Robert and Bertha arrived, bringing with them their little girl and her
governess; and the old peace fled away for ever.
For two miserable years Elsie lived on in that altered home, and saw
everything that she had loved sliding gradually out of her hold. Robert
introduced many new plans, all for his father's comfort, as he continually
declared. Bertha took charge of the household, and the simple habits of the
past were given up. Old servants were pronounced incompetent and
dismissed; and when Elsie protested against these changes, her brother and
his wife dropped the mask of civility.
There is no need to go over all the details of the wretched story. Old Mr. Kilner,
growing more feeble every day, suffered himself to be guided entirely by
Robert and Bertha, and Elsie soon found that his heart was turned away from
her. Then came the end. The will was read, and everything was left to Robert
"But Elsie cannot say that she is not provided for," said Bertha to her friends.
"Her godmother—old Mrs. Hardie, you know—left her a hundred and fifty a
year. Quite a fortune, is it not?"
Turned out of the old home, Elsie had come straight to London, and had
sought shelter at a boarding-school where a friend of hers was a teacher.
Then, after a careful search of six months, a friend had directed her to this quiet
house, and she had gratefully settled here. She welcomed solitude as one who
has so many things to think over, that it is indispensable.
There was a letter grasped tightly in her hand, as she stood looking out of the
window. It had come from the rector's wife, who had been her mother's friend
in happy days gone by. The old lady had written to say that there were wild
doings at the Manor, and the country-side was ringing with tales of Robert's
extravagance and dissipation. The Kilners had never been wealthy; there was
just enough to keep up the old house in quiet comfort, and that was all.
"Robert will soon come to an end of everything," wrote the clergyman's wife
with the frankness of long friendship. "We have heard that he was deeply
involved before he came to live at the Manor. Bertha is beginning to look sad
and worn and crestfallen. People have looked coldly on her since you went
away, and if she ever had any influence over her husband, she has lost it now.
The air is full of unwholesome rumours. I am glad that you are no longer here,
my dear child."
The letter had given Elsie a cruel pleasure—a pleasure which was so hideous
that her better self could not endure the sight of it. It was only the darker side
of her nature which could entertain this hateful joy for a moment. And so the
battle began in her heart on that sunny March afternoon.
There were certain outer influences which seemed to act upon that inward
strife. The sky helped her with glimpses of holy blue and faint hints of the
coming spring. Even the spire of a church helped her, although it could only
point a very little way up into the far heaven. She stood quite still, wrestling
silently with that fierce temptation to rejoice over her enemy's downfall.
All Bertha's insulting speeches and unkind actions came back into her mind. It
might be impossible to love her, but it was—it must be—possible to be sorry for
her blighted life and darkened home. Elsie called up a vision of the dressy,
well-to-do Bertha, who had always put herself into a front place, and wondered
how she could play the part of a neglected wife, looked down upon by her
neighbours and forgotten by the world?
The thought of the crushed woman, who had so little in her interior world to
help her, was not without effect. Pity triumphed. Elsie's dark eyes were
suddenly dimmed with tears; she was grieved for Bertha and ashamed of
herself. The fight was over, and a voice within her seemed to say that it would
never have to be so fiercely fought again.
She drew a deep breath of relief as she turned away from the window, putting
the letter into her pocket. The tea-tray, with its solitary cup and saucer, was
waiting on the table, and Elsie poured out tea, congratulating herself that she
was alone. She was not an unsociable woman; but the boarding-school, with
all its noisy, merry occupants, had set her longing for solitude. She had felt far
too weary and dispirited to enter into the fun and prattle of the girls.
While she drank her tea she glanced round the little room, surveying the
decorations which had kept her busy for a day or two. Some relics of her old
home-life were gathered here—a quaint oval looking-glass, some bits of
ancient china, some photographs, and a goodly number of books. Her little
clock ticked cheerfully on the mantelpiece, one or two richly-coloured fans and
screens brightened the walls; there was a faint scent of sandal-wood in the air.
She had not yet unlocked the handsome desk which stood on a table in the
corner, and it occurred to her that she would answer some of her neglected
letters that very evening.
Going to the desk, and opening it, she noticed for the first time the table on
which it had been placed. It stood in the darkest part of the room, and she had
not observed its old-fashioned claw feet and the curiously-wrought brass
handles of its drawer. It was not a sham drawer, but a real one, which opened
easily with a gentle pull, and appeared at first sight to be quite empty.
"It is large enough to hold a good many of my treasures," thought Elsie, putting
in her hand. "And here are some old papers, quite at the back! I will take them
out to make room for other things."
The papers were not old nor discoloured by time, although the dust had settled
upon them pretty thickly. They looked like pages torn out of a diary, and were
covered with writing which struck Elsie with a sense of familiarity. This
handwriting, firm, black, legible, was like her own.
"How interesting!" she said to herself. "I have always flattered myself that mine
was an uncommon hand. But somebody—a woman evidently—has stolen my
e's and b's and g's and y's. I should like to know a little more about her."
She forgot all about the open desk and unanswered letters, and sat down on
the edge of the sofa near the window with the papers on her lap. The shadow
had vanished from the delicate expressive face; the dark eyes had brightened.
Elsie had the happy temperament which is charmed with every little bit of
novelty that it can find. She loved, as she had often said, to investigate things,
and always caught eagerly at the slightest clue which might lead to a delightful
labyrinth of mystery.
The manuscript began abruptly. The first words on which Elsie's glance rested
were these: "If I could only be sure that some one would be kind to little
This sentence was written at the top of the first page, and then came a vacant
space. Lower down, in the middle of the leaf, the writer had gone on: "What a
new life came to me all at once when I met Harold for the first time! The path
was so flowery and bright that I had no fear of the turnings of the way. It
seemed the most natural thing in the world that we should meet, and walk on
together all our lives. No, we did not meet; he overtook me as I was sauntering
along, and looked into my face with that look which a man gives the woman
who is to belong to him for ever and ever."
Elsie paused in her reading and lifted her gaze thoughtfully to the evening sky.
Her face had changed again; the expression of eyes and mouth was wistful
"No man has ever loved me in that fashion," she mused. "I've had lovers, but I
was never meant for them nor they for me. I wonder why this unknown woman
had the joy of finding her spirit-mate when such a joy has been denied to me?
Are they married? Where is she now? I wish I knew her."
No one who had seen Elsie at that moment would have doubted that she had
had lovers. She was very pretty to-day; prettier at twenty-eight than she had
been in the days of girlhood. Some new feeling of peace was creeping into her
heart and hushing all its turmoil into a sweet rest. Some new interest was
beginning to stir in her life; much was quieted within her, and much was
wakening. She felt as if she had roused after an uneasy sleep and tasted the
first freshness of a fair morning.
She sat a little while in silence, thinking about the unknown writer and her
Harold. Although she had read only a few lines, she felt drawn towards this
woman whom she had never seen. It would have been good to have had her
for a friend.
Where was she now? Living somewhere with Harold, perhaps far away in the
country. Elsie could fancy the pair coming homeward through ferny lanes in
the first shade of the twilight. She pictured the woman, dark-eyed and dark-
haired, like herself, and the man tall and fair, with a grave yet gentle face. They
had a great deal to say to each other, as those who are one in spirit often
have. They answered each other's thoughts; there was the fulness of a calm
content in every tone.
And then she turned again to the manuscript.
WHAT WAS WRITTEN
"And Love lives on, and hath a power to bless,
When they who loved are hidden in the grave."
"Every one said that it was a hopeless thing to get engaged to a poor curate,"
the writer went on, "and I was only a poor teacher, so the folly was not all on
one side. We were wonderfully happy in our folly, so happy that we were full of
pity for Mr. Worldly Wiseman when he happened to cross our path with his
contemptuous smile. Even Harold's sister Ellen, with her cold blue eyes, had
no power to chill us in those days. Frigid as Ellen was, I liked her better than
James, her husband, who always pretended to be fond of me. He was a man
of the 'good fellow' type—burly, and loud of voice. But Jamie, dear little lad,
bore no resemblance to his father at all, and was only like his mother in her
best moods. Oh, poor little Jamie!
"I am not writing a novel; I am only telling of things that really came to pass.
"We had been engaged nearly twelve months, when an old man died and left
Harold £2000. I do not expect any one to understand the gladness which that
money gave us. It is enough to say that I began to prepare my wedding
clothes, and Harold went hunting for suitable lodgings in all his spare
moments. The clothes were finished, and the lodgings found, when a terrible
"James had always known all about Harold's affairs. He knew that our money
was lying at the bank, waiting till a good investment was decided upon. He
pretended to have found a safe investment, and he got the money into his own
hands and absconded.
"Ellen confessed afterwards that she had known of her husband's difficulties
for many months. She feigned ignorance of his whereabouts, but I always
believed that she knew more than she told.
"As I said just now, I am not writing a novel; I am telling things in the plainest
way, and in the fewest words. Most people, I daresay, would have survived the
loss of £2000, but our hope was taken from us with the money. Harold was not
strong. He was the kind of man who needs a wife's love and care, and the
thought of our prolonged separation was more than he could endure. He went
about his parish work as usual; no one missed a kind word because his heart
ached, no good deed was left undone because his hands were tired. And yet,
O Harold, how hard it was for you to labour in those days!
"He carried his cross manfully, although he staggered sometimes under its
weight. And he bore his great wrong with that mighty patience which he had
learnt from his Master.
"It was in the early spring that a sickness broke out among the poorest of his
flock, and Harold had but little leisure. One night he was summoned from his
bed to visit a dying man who prayed that he would come. And that night, when
the bitter east wind smote him and the rain beat upon him, he heard the
Master's call to rest.
"Do not think that I am an unhappy woman. I went down with him to the very
brink of the river—that river which has been a terror unto many, but had no
gloom for him. In those last moments I believe he knew that we should not be
parted long; I see now that he had that swift glimpse into the future which is
sometimes granted to a departing saint. How can I be unhappy when I am so
sure that he is watching for me?
"Ellen sent for me to come to her. She says she has got a death-blow. James
has written, telling her that she must never expect to see him again. He has
deserted her for some one else, leaving her to struggle on here in poverty with
her child. She has now confessed that she knew that James meant to get
possession of Harold's money; she was in his confidence from the beginning.
"'We wanted to prevent your marriage with Harold if we could,' she said. 'We
never liked you, Meta; but you are avenged. I sent for you to tell you that you
are avenged on me.'
"Just for a moment my heart cried out that this was as it should be. Within me
there was a struggle, brief and strong. But how could my better nature fail to