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Most, if not all, of the Stirlings would have died of horror if they had known half the things Valancy did in her Blue Castle. At twelve, this lover was a fair lad with golden curls and heavenly blue eyes.

At fifteen, he was tall and dark and pale, but still necessarily handsome. At twenty-five, he had a clean-cut jaw, slightly grim, and a face strong and rugged rather than handsome.

She knew the ugliness of that room by heart--knew it and hated it. Stirling would sulk for days if offended, with the airs of an insulted duchess.

The yellow-painted floor, with one hideous, "hooked" rug by the bed, with a grotesque, "hooked" dog on it, always grinning at her when she awoke; the faded, dark-red paper; the ceiling discoloured by old leaks and crossed by cracks; the narrow, pinched little washstand; the brown-paper lambrequin with purple roses on it; the spotted old looking-glass with the crack across it, propped up on the inadequate dressing-table; the jar of ancient potpourri made by her mother in her mythical honeymoon; the shell-covered box, with one burst corner, which Cousin Stickles had made in her equally mythical girlhood; the beaded pincushion with half its bead fringe gone; the one stiff, yellow chair; the faded old motto, "Gone but not forgotten," worked in coloured yarns about Great-grandmother Stirling's grim old face; the old photographs of ancient relatives long banished from the rooms below. The only thing Valancy liked about her room was that she could be alone there at night to cry if she wanted to.

Valancy had lived spiritually in the Blue Castle ever since she could remember.

She had been a very tiny child when she found herself possessed of it.

Deerwood and the Stirlings had long since relegated Valancy to hopeless old maidenhood. After all, she thought, being an old maid couldn't possibly be as dreadful as being married to an Uncle Wellington or an Uncle Benjamin, or even an Uncle Herbert.

Valancy, so cowed and subdued and overridden and snubbed in real life, was wont to let herself go rather splendidly in her day-dreams.

For that matter, there were a good many things about Valancy that nobody suspected.

But her laughter was very superficial and presently she lay there, a huddled, futile little figure, listening to the rain pouring down outside and watching, with a sick distaste, the chill, merciless light creeping into her ugly, sordid room.

She was twenty-nine, lonely, undesired, ill-favoured--the only homely girl in a handsome clan, with no past and no future.

As far as she could look back, life was drab and colourless, with not one single crimson or purple spot anywhere.

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Valancy never grew older than twenty-five in her Blue Castle, but recently--very recently--her hero had had reddish, tawny hair, a twisted smile and a mysterious past.