an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia

Title: Only a Girl
Author: M. E. Braddon
eBook No.: 2200471h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: Aug 2022
Most recent update: Aug 2022

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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Only a Girl

M. E. Braddon



Only a Girl
A Christmas Visitor
The Longmoney Conspiracy
The Painted Warning
How We Marry
Mrs. Barter’s Bequest
A Christmas Tragedy
True to the Last
For Love or Gold
Out of the Depths
Tried in a Furnace
Across the Foot-Lights

Only a Girl  

Chapter One
“We Play With Light Loves In The Portal”

Mabel Burniston was Lady Burniston’s youngest daughter— youngest and only unmarried daughter; all the others—and there had been four of them—were satisfactorily settled. That Mabel was Lady Burniston’s daughter is said advisedly, for though of course she was Sir John Burniston’s daughter too, no one ever spoke of Sir John as having anything or being anything. He was one of the many nobodies of life. But his wife was far from being nobody. A woman who has brought up five daughters, and married four of them off as each reached the age of nineteen, certainly deserves to be considered somebody among English matrons: especially when it is borne in mind that these four young ladies had not been remarkable for good looks, neither had they any fortunes—at least, none worth speaking of. Now it was Mabel’s turn, and if the first four had done well, she was expected by her mother to do still better; for, unlike her sisters, Mabel Burniston was exceedingly pretty, so pretty that already she was acknowledged as the beauty of the season. She was rather small and very fair; but her figure was as perfect in shape as her face in color. Her hair was of that bright golden hue which is still so uncommon, in spite of all that can be done by “auriferous fluid” and other preparations. She wore this golden hair in a thick fringe on her white forehead, coming down nearly to the delicately penciled eyebrows, beneath which shone out a pair of the most lovely, dazzling blue eyes that ever bewitched mortal man. Very young, very fond of pleasure, full of life and spirits, and an acknowledged belle, it was no wonder, perhaps, that Mabel should be a flirt. Still it was a pity, thought her mother, because it might spoil her prospects; it was a pity, thought her cousin Douglas M’Kenzie, because it might break his heart.

It was a warm afternoon in May, and Douglas, a dark, handsome, grave looking young man, was sitting in his aunt’s London drawing room, nursing his hat and stick, and talking earnestly to Mabel, who was sometimes listening, sometimes teasing her canary bird, whose gilt cage hung amid the flowers in the window.

“And now will you not allow that I had some reason for my ill-temper, and forgive me, and let us be friends again?” said Douglas, getting up and coming over to Mabel, who was occupied with the canary.

“No; I like Captain Maudesley, and he waltzes divinely, and I mean to dance with him as often as I like; and I don’t allow that you have any right to lecture me about it,” spoke Mabel, carelessly.

“No right! Do you mean that, Mabel?” asked Douglas, tenderly and reproachfully.

“Yes, Douglas, I do mean it, if I am to be bothered about every man I am the least bit civil to, and taken to task about every round dance I give to any one except yourself. It’s a bore!” exclaimed the spoiled beauty, pettishly.

A sort of spasm passed over Douglas M’Kenzie’s dark, grave face as he said bitterly, “Then my love is ‘a bore’ to you, Mabel, It has come to that already?”

“Jealousy’s always a bore,” answered his cousin, lightly.

“Jealousy is a part of love,” said Douglas, sadly; “and I must have been more than human,” he added, “if I had not been jealous last night, when you not only could not keep one dance for me, but had not even a word or a smile for me, though there were plenty for those empty-headed fools you chose to flirt with.”

“There, now you are getting angry,” said Mabel, with provoking coolness, sinking down as she spoke, with an air of pretended fatigue, on a low chair.

Then, raising those lovely blue eyes slowly to her cousin’s troubled face, she said:

“If you don’t like my ways, Cousin Douglas, perhaps you had better not bother your wise head any more about me.

“Don’t like your ways! Oh, Mab, Mab, when you know how I worship you!” cried Douglas, suddenly dropping on his knees beside her, and covering her little hands with kisses.

“Don’t, Douglas; suppose mamma were to come in,” said Mabel, with a look of gratified vanity, but otherwise unmoved by the passionate outburst.

“I wish she would come in, and I would tell her the truth— tell her how I love you, and that you have promised to be my wife. I wish you had let me tell her before,” Douglas said.

“If you want everything between us to be at an end, you could not do better than tell her at once,” said Mabel, turning petulantly away; “and, for my part, I give you my permission to do it,” she added carelessly, looking from the window as she spoke.

Douglas M’Kenzie’s face turned very pale. “Are you thinking of what you are saying, Mabel?” he asked very gravely,

“Of course I am; I never speak without thinking,” she replied, with a little affected laugh.

“O God, Mabel! and I thought you loved me!” exclaimed the man, with such a tone of despair in his voice that it moved Mabel for a moment.

“So I do,” she said hastily, “so I do, as my cousin; as my friend, if you like; but—”

“You loved me in a different way once. It is the old love I want, the love you promised me last year. If you are going to tell me that you can no longer be mine, Heaven help me!” He came close to her where she stood by the window, and tried to look into her face, but the blue eyes were bent resolutely on the ground, and she only answered nervously and hastily:

“You do take things so strangely, Douglas, and use such strong expressions; I wish you wouldn’t; and it is no use talking about last year. I was almost a child then, and things are so different now.”

Douglas’s dark, stern face grew darker and sterner,

“That means,” he said, “that now you have experienced a few weeks of a London season, and find that your beauty brings you admirers by the score, you think that you can afford to throw away my honest love as a thing of no worth. My pain is nothing to you. Mabel, upon my soul, I believe you are a heartless flirt.”

“Very well, Mr. M’Kenzie, then perhaps you had better bid me ‘Good-afternoon.’ It would be a pity that you should waste any more of your valuable time talking to such a worthless individual,” his cousin said coolly, though her cheek reddened with anger.

Douglas M’Kenzie looked at her earnestly for a moment, but the pretty face wore a mocking smile. There was no sign of feeling of any kind after that slight flush of anger, and in silence he turned and left the room.

“Poor Douglas, he’ll be dreadfully wretched now,” comfortably observed Mabel to herself when he was gone, “and it is all his own fault. I didn’t want to come to a downright quarrel; but it is just as well perhaps. I shouldn’t wonder but he will come to-night and try to make it up, but I sha’n’t. It would be awkward to have him always spooning after me just now;” and Mabel tripped across the room to a mirror and began trying the effect in her hair of various flowers which she selected from a magnificent bouquet sent her that morning. Mabel was very fond of looking in the glass. Much as she was admired, she had not perhaps among all her adorers so ardent an admirer as herself.

That evening there was a dance at the Burnistons’; not a ball, but a quiet, friendly affair. Lady Burniston was rather famous for this sort of entertainment, and some ill-natured persons had been known to remark that those four daughters who had been settled so well had been “waltzed into matrimony.”

Douglas M’Kenzie, gloomily eating his dinner by himself at his club, and drinking more sherry than was good for him, decided not to go to this party; but almost as soon as he had arrived at this decision, changed his mind, went to his chambers, made an elaborate toilet, put himself into a hansom, and was driven to his aunt’s house.

Almost the first object his eyes lighted on as he entered the drawing-room, which had been partially cleared for dancing, was Mabel, exquisitely dressed, looking distractingly pretty, being whirled round to the sweet strains of the “Soldaten Leider” in the arms of a tall, fair man, the happy possessor of a quite remarkable amber mustache and whiskers, and (so it was said) of about ten thousand pounds per annum. People had begun already to notice that Hugh Chatterton seemed epris with the pretty Mabel, and to-night the flirtation was very obvious indeed. As they waltzed, her head, with its marvelous golden coils, almost rested on his shoulder, and her blue eyes were raised to his in a manner calculated to deprive him in a very short time of any small bit of peace of mind he might have left.

Douglas frowned savagely as he stood for a few moments watching the pair. There was a block in the doorway, and he had to wait for a pause in the dance before he could make his way further into the room.

Presently there came bustling up to him a little red-haired man in spectacles.

“Ah! M’Kenzie, how do?” said this individual, who was generally known as “Tommy Otway.”

Douglas only vouchsafed a growl by way of answer.

“Something up, it appears, between Chatterton there and your fair cousin,” thereat remarked Mr. Otway, glancing through his shining spectacles at the dancers; “that’s the third time they have danced together already this evening.”

“And what does it matter to you with whom my cousin dances?” asked Douglas, fiercely turning round upon the little man.

“Oh, nothing in the world, my dear fellow, nothing in the world! Only a man can’t help using his eyes, you know; and this is a free country.”

“Deuced deal too free,” muttered Douglas, as he moved away.

“Let me introduce you to a partner for the Lancers, Douglas,” said Lady Burniston, whom he encountered in his passage through the room.

“No, thanks; sha’n’t dance to-night,” he answered shortly.

“Tiresome savage!” his aunt said to herself, as, smiling sweetly, she sailed on in her brown velvet and guipure.

A few paces further on Douglas was brought to a stand close behind an ottoman, on which were seated two old ladies.

“Shocking little flirt!” he heard one observe, looking after Mabel, who just then went by on Chatterton’s arm; “shocking little flirt!”

The room was warm, and the lady addressed was stout, and it was in a very spiteful tone that she replied,

“Flirt indeed! The way that girl has been going on this evening is simply disgusting! I’m glad I’m not her mother!” and she fanned herself vigorously.

“Spiteful old cats!” thought Douglas as he moved on; but there was a sharp pain at his heart. He was a man who hated the very name of flirt, and he loved his cousin Mabel very dearly. In vain he tried to get speech of her that night: she would not even see him, and there was generally a little crowd of men about her.

Sad at heart, toward the end of the evening he sauntered into the conservatory, and there he came suddenly upon Mabel and Chatterton. Mabel was giving her partner a rose from her bouquet, and he, as he took it, kissed the hand that gave it, and was not rebuked.

Only three evenings ago she had given a flower to Captain Maudesley under precisely similar circumstances; and yet ere he turned away Douglas heard Chatterton say:

“And so you don’t like Maudesley?”

And Mabel replied:

“No, he is so very military, and I don’t like army men as a rule.”

“And no doubt to-morrow she’ll tell some other fellow just the contrary,” thought Douglas, bitterly: but he was right; she did, or she would, if it had suited her to do so. Mabel pursued her own way, and soon became noted, not only as a reckless flirt, but a most capricious and heartless coquette. Her cousin Douglas was only one sufferer among many.

Chapter 2
“Some Say, Thy Fault Is Youth, Some Wantonness”

“I call ’em the three victims,” said Tommy Otway. He was seated in a luxurious chair in the smoking-room of his club, and addressed himself to a small circle of admiring listeners, mostly very young men.

“Who are the three victims? let’s hear,” said another man, sauntering up.

“Why, Chatterton, Maudesley, and Branston. That little Mabel has played the very devil with them all.”

“Yes, that she has,” observed the new comer. “Chatterton, in a fit of disgust, has gone and proposed to the very plainest girl of the season, and, what’s more to the purpose, he is going to marry her. Maudesley has sold out, and is now somewhere up in the north—has turned hermit or landscape-gardener, or something of the sort; and Branston—well, that is a more serious affair. He blew his brains out, poor fellow, and they say it was her fault. But I don’t believe that; he was always rather weak in the head, and I, for one, don’t blame Mabel in the affair.”

“What! has she bewitched you too, Cameron?” asked Otway.

“No, no, tout au eontraire—that is, quite the reverse,” drawled Cameron.

“That means you have bewitched her, I suppose,” remarked one of the others; and as Cameron was famed for his extreme ugliness, there was a general laugh.

The subject of the merriment took it very good-temperedly; he was used to being laughed at, and when there was silence again he observed coolly, “If you’d like to hear a piece of news I’ll tell you who’s her last conquest, and that is Frere Berkeley. Every one was noticing the affair last night at Lady Wycherly’s.”

“Frere Berkeley! has he come back?” exclaimed two or three together.

“Oh, Frere’s here, is he? Then the Elmers are in town,” said Otway, quietly.

“Right you are, Tommy; the Elmers are in town,” replied Cameron,

 “And how is she looking?”

“I haven’t seen her myself; but, I hear, lovelier than ever.”

“H’m. Supposing what you say about the little Mabel to be true, there are the materials for a very pretty little comedy, or tragedy, as the case may be.”

“Oh! say comedy. We don’t go in for tragedy in these days.”

“Well, whichever it’s going to be. I should like to see the drama played out. Pity the season’s so near over.”

It was near the end of July when the conversation just reported took place in the smoking-room of the not very exclusive club patronized by Mr. Otway. Early in August the Burnistons left town, and the play the little inquisitive red-haired man was interested in was not played out till the following November; but, as it happened, he did witness the gradual unfolding of this drama in high life, for he managed to get himself invited down to Fairbank, the Wycherlys’ place in Hampshire. Lady Wycherly was Mabel’s eldest sister; a plain, but lively and attractive woman, who possessed the art of making her husband’s house very pleasant both to his friends and her own, so Fairbank was always full of visitors. Among the guests on this occasion were Mabel Burniston, Douglas McKenzie, Frere Berkeley, and Mr. and Mrs. Elmer—the dramatis personae of the play which Mr. Otway wished to see played out.

Mr. and Mrs. Elmer were one of those strikingly ill-matched pairs which it makes one indignant to see. He was sour-looking, ugly, and old; she was young and very lovely. In style she was a bright blonde, like Mabel Burniston, but she was far more beautiful. A sweet, gentle creature, of a loving but timid and yielding disposition, not very clever, wholly devoid of selfishness and vanity, Lilian Elmer was a woman whose path in the world ought to have been made smooth for her by kind and helping hands: but it had not been so. Her story was a sad one. Three years ago she had loved Frere Berkeley, and would have married him, but her father had interfered (for Frere was poor then), had sent her lover away, and married her to the old man she now called husband. She did not love him—she would have hated him had she not been of too gentle a nature for that —and Frere Berkeley was always near her—Frere, handsome, young, and loving her only too well. It was a sad story, and people talked, and wondered how it would end. This had been going on now for about two years.

“Of course you know, dear, that there are stories about him and Mrs. Elmer?” said Lady Wycherly to Mabel Burniston. The two sisters were sitting before the fire in Lady Wycherly’s dressing-room, indulging in tea and talk before dinner. Mabel had just arrived.

“What stories?” asked Mabel.

“Oh, she was in love with him before she was married, you know, and he was awfully in love with her, and has gone on being in love with her since, which he should not have done of course, and wherever they go, he goes, and so people talk.”

“Mary, I do think you are rather fond of scandal,” said Mabel, impatiently. “I don’t believe there is anything but friendship between him and Mrs. Elmer.”

“My dear! Did I say there was? I only wished to give you some idea of the sort of man he is, or rather the sort of man people say he is, as he seems to have taken your fancy, Mab.”

“Who told you he had taken my fancy?” asked Mabel, quickly.

“Well, mother did,” said Lady Wycherly, after an instant’s hesitation.

“Then mother has been writing about me! Now tell me what she said,” Mabel cried, imperiously.

“No, her letter was private and confidential,” replied Lady Wycherly, laughing.

“It doesn’t matter. I dare say it was nothing complimentary,” Mabel said carelessly, as she went off to dress.

Lady Wycherly, when she was alone, took from her pocket the letter which had been alluded to, and read one passage in it over again: “He is really immensely rich; I am told so by people who know and whom I can depend on. I trust to you, dear Mary, to manage the affair, for I am tied here by Sir John’s gout, and goodness knows when I shall be able to get away. Of course I know all about the Mrs. Elmer story; but there is not the least doubt but that Mabel may have him now if she likes, and the old affair will soon be forgotten by everybody ”—so it ran.

There was more of it, but Mary Wycherly read no further; she folded the letter with a half sigh, and murmured to herself something about “Belgravian morality,” but she checked the words on her lips, for it was her own mother whom she was judging.

There was at Fairbank, as there is in many houses, a small room opening out of the large drawing-room, a nondescript apartment, furnished in boudoir style, and used largely for flirtations, but for little else. In this room, on that same afternoon, there were two people talking earnestly together in the firelight, which alone illumined the small apartment. It wanted quite three quarters of an hour to dinner time; but both the lady and gentleman were in dinner dress. A dark, handsome man, with a fine aristocratic face; a very beautiful woman, with masses of golden curls piled high above her white neck. She looked very young, but she had been married for three years.

“Lilian, in our position we cannot afford to indulge in small scruples,” said the man.

“But, Frere, I know—oh, I know so well, that I can no longer talk of right and wrong: they exist no more for me! Still, there seems a meanness in this that revolts me,” the woman exclaimed. “Suppose she should get to love you?”

“She loves no one but herself,” was the answer. “You need not fear for her. A woman without a heart can always take care of herself.”

He spoke very coolly, and the fair woman made no further remonstrance.

“Frere,” she whispered presently, looking up at him with a frightened expression in her lovely eyes, “it gets worse and worse. He threatened to strike me to-day!”

“Curse him, the miserable, cowardly scoundrel!” said Frere, his face turning white with rage. “I wish I had been by.”

“I am very glad you were not, Frere. That is what I am more afraid of than anything—you and he quarreling.” And she lookod round nervously toward the door as she spoke.

“Why? He couldn’t hurt me,” said Berkeley, with a contemptuous laugh.

“No, no, but think what he might do to me.”

“By Heaven, if ever he touched a hair of your head—”

“He might do worse than that; he might take me away somewhere and shut me up in some dreadful place. I am in his power.”

She shuddered and trembled violently.

“Don’t, Lilian,” broke out Frere, passionately; “don’t look like that. It makes me mad to think I can’t take you away now, this moment, safe out of his reach forever, Lily, my own—”

The rustle of a silk gown was heard; some one had entered the next room. The young man quietly took up a wide-awake hat and overcoat which lay on a chair near, and in five seconds had disappeared by the way he came, through one of the French windows which opened on to the lawn. Lilian Elmer was alone, and the next minute came forward with a perfectly calm air and a conventional smile, to greet her hostess. Lady Wycherly looked rather surprised.

“You came almost like a ghost out of that little room,” she said, laughingly. “I did not think any one would be down yet. But perhaps it is later than I thought.”

“Oh, no, you are not late, I think.” said Mrs. Elmer.

“I told Simpson not to put much light in that room, but it seems he misunderstood me for he has put none,” said Lady Wycherly.

“The firelight is very nice; I have been sitting there,” said Lilian Elmer, quietly.

People began to come in. There was a little stir as Mabel appeared. She was generally rather over-dressed, and to-night she wore a rich dead-white silk, with a magnificent crimson rose in her hair, and was looking her best—a fact of which she was fully aware. Her cousin Douglas went forward and greeted her eagerly. He had not seen her for two months, and had now come down to Fairbank intending to prosecute his old claims: for Mabel, by her treatment of them, had plainly shown that she cared for none of her London adorers, and Douglas hoped that this might be because she cared for him. He blamed himself now for having been too hard upon her, and was prepared to be very humble.

“It seems an age since I saw you, Mab,” he managed to say in the moment he was beside her.

“It doesn’t to me. But I’m very glad to see you, Douglas,” Mabel answered, brightly; and that and the clasp of the hand she gave him made Douglas happy—for an hour or so.

Frere Berkeley was the last to make his appearance. He had kept them all waiting quite five minutes after dinner was announced, but Frere was used to keep people waiting. He apologized carelessly to Lady Wycherly.

“I rode over to Thornhill this afternoon, and have only just got back,” he said.

“Rather a wet day for so long a ride,” remarked Mr. Otway.

“Eh?” said Berkeley, with a long, cool stare that caused the impertinent little man’s confidence to suddenly desert him, and made him very glad of the bustle of the move toward the dining-room.

When the women were in the drawing-room alone after dinner, Mrs. Elmer went and seated herself by Mabel, and in rather a hesitating manner began to talk to her. Mabel was inclined to be cold and repellent at first, but the evident shyness and nervousness of the other woman soon disarmed her.

“This is a delightful house. I have never been here before,” Mrs. Elmer said.

“Oh, do you like the house?” said Mabel; “I do not care for it; it is so thoroughly modern. I like an old rambling place better.”

“Do you? I cannot endure those long, dark passages and haunted-looking galleries; they make me so nervous,” said Mrs. Elmer, with a slight shiver.

“Why, you turn white only at the thought of them,” exclaimed Mabel, laughing a little.

The other laughed too.

“Yes, I know I am very silly about such things, but I was always such a coward,” she said.

Mabel went on talking to her very graciously, and all the time she was wondering what Frere Berkeley could have seen in that nervous and seemingly silly woman to charm him for so long. Mabel did not doubt but that the old bondage was now at an end; for had not handsome, insouciant Frere become her own slave? She watched anxiously for his appearance in the drawing-room; for she had not sat near him at dinner, and had not spoken to him yet. When he did come in he caught sight of Mabel at once, and came straight across to her.

“How good it was of fate to bring me down here just now, Miss Burniston,” he observed, in the low tone he always used when addressing women.

He had come to a stand behind Mabel, and leaned on the back of the sofa on which she and Mrs. Elmer were seated, as he spoke.

Mabel turned a little and looked up at him with a coquettish air which had become part of her very self, and she answered saucily:

“And why are you so pleased with fate this evening, Mr. Berkeley?”

“Because I have the opportunity of renewing, and I hope improving, my acquaintance with Miss Burniston,” said Frere.

“I am sure that is a very small boon for which to thank fate,” laughed Mabel.

“I do not agree with you,” he said, softly; and he looked into Mabel’s blue eyes, and Mabel blushed as well as smiled.

All this time Frere had seemed quite oblivious of the presence of the lady who still sat beside Miss Burniston. Mabel thought Mrs. Elmer was hurt by this, for she looked pale and distraite, and soon rose and moved away to another part of the room. Frere came round and dropped into the vacated place.

No one knew better how to make himself agreeable to a woman when he liked than Frere Berkeley, and he liked now, and before the evening was over he had managed to establish an excellent understanding between himself and Mabel Burniston.

Douglas M’Kenzie had been seized upon early in the evening by his host, Sir George, and set down to whist with Mr. Elmer and two stout dowagers who were devoted to the game. Douglas had one of the dowagers for a partner, and at his peril was obliged to attend to his cards; yet through the back of his head he seemed to see Mabel, and his quick ears caught much of what passed between her and her new friend: and Douglas wondered miserably whether this were only the beginning of another of Mabel’s reckless flirtations, or whether this visit would see the end of his own last chance. Sour-looking, hard-featured Mr. Elmer glanced now and then at the two and seemed well satisfied.

The days passed. Lady Wycherly’s guests walked, rode, drove, and sometimes amused and often bored each other, as people do at all country houses. Frere Berkeley was devoted to Mabel, and Lady Wycherly, mindful of her mother’s wishes in the matter, did not interfere, except once, when she had thought it necessary to give one little word of warning.

“My dear Mab,” she had then said, sweetly, “are you engaged to Mr. Berkeley?”

“No, Mary; you know I am not,” Mabel had answered.

“Then, dear, I don’t think it quite the thing for you to be continually walking and driving about with him alone. I don’t think mother would approve of it.”

“Yes she would: Frere Berkeley’s rich, and that is all mother wants in a son-in-law,” Mabel answered, with a sneer that was not pretty.

Not noticing the sneer, her sister said:

“But why does he not propose in form, if that is how it is to be?”

“Would you have a man propose before he has known a girl a week?”

“No; but neither would I have a girl always walking and driving about alone with a man to whom she is not engaged, especially a man bearing the character Frere Berkeley does.”

“Uncharitable nonsense!” Mabel had angrily cried at that; and so there had been no more said.

To Mrs. Elmer Mabel had taken a great fancy, and was with her a good deal. Frankly acknowledging, as Mabel did, Lilian Elmer’s great beauty, the fact increased her own sense of triumph, and she was ready to patronize Frere’s old love, whom he had deserted for her. Then her triumph was such a perfectly legitimate one, for had she not religion, morality, and society on her side, all of which were in danger of being outraged till she had come to the rescue?

Mr. Thomas Otway, behind his shining spectacles, watched the play, and for some time he was puzzled; but he watched patiently, and after a while he made one or two discoveries, and then performed the process known as “putting two and two together,” and when he had done that he looked out for some one to whom he could communicate the result.

Chapter 3
“Out Of My Sight, Thou Serpent!”

Nothing was talked of now at Fairbank but the great steeple-chase which was shortly to come off in the neighborhood. Barnston steeplechase was an established affair, there was generally a cavalry regiment quartered at Barnston, and the officers kept up the race. It came off regularly every autumn, and was taken a good deal of notice of in the sporting world. It was this race which had brought Frere Berkeley down to this part of the country now; he was to ride the favorite, a horse named “Moloch,” belonging to Lord Streatfield, a friend of Frere’s.

“Moloch’s safe to win; take my advice, Tommy, and put every penny you’ve got on Moloch,” said Cornet Supple, an excessively military young man, whose mustache was coming on fast, and who therefore considered himself at liberty to patronize his elders to a large extent, his own commanding officer being excepted, of course.

“Thanks—advice is a thing I have long given up taking,” remarked Mr. Otway, dryly, without removing the cigar from his mouth.

He and the young cornet, with two or three other men, were standing out on the steps of the house enjoying their after-breakfast tobacco in the sunshine, which, though it was November, was bright and warm.

“Well, I don’t mind saying that I have backed Moloch pretty heavily too,” said another military man. “I know what the horse can do; and for the rider, there’s not one of the others comes anywhere near Frere Berkeley.”

Douglas M’Kenzie had sauntered up, and had heard the last speaker.

“Weren’t they saying something yesterday in Barnston about Moloch’s temper?” he asked, moodily.

Douglas had been very moody lately—ill-tempered, his friends called him.

“Oh! they are always saying something in Barnston,” cried young Supple. “Don’t you believe it, there is nothing the matter with Moloch’s temper.”

“And if there were, Frere could manage him. There never was a horse beat Frere yet,” said the other young soldier, confidently.

“M’Kenzie,” said Otway, suddenly, “will you take a turn with me? I have a word to say to you.”

Douglas assented rather ungraciously, and they walked off together.

Mr. Otway seemed undecided as to how he should open his communication: he took off his hat and rumpled up his rich hair, put on his head-gear again, a good deal on one side, pulled out his handkerchief and blew his nose, pulled his spectacles upon his forehead and then took them off altogether, only to put them on again directly, with various other proceedings indicative of embarrassment, and looked so mysterious all the time that Douglas soon lost patience. “Speak out, man,” be said, testily; “what is it you have to say?”

“Well, it is about your cousin,” began Otway, looking nervously round, and speaking almost in a whisper.

“I had much rather you did not speak of my cousin, Mr. Otway,” said Douglas, haughtily; and he would have turned away, but the other detained him.

“Look here,” he said, “if you have any regard for your cousin and wish to save her from an unpleasant scrape, you’d better listen to me. M’Kenzie, that Berkeley is an infernal villain!”

“What the devil do you mean?” asked M’Kenzie, turning round upon his friend in a sudden fury. Then, as Otway in a few rapid sentences told him what he meant, Douglas listened in silence, only swearing an oath or two under his breath as the tale went on.

“What is that old fool Elmer about?” he asked, when he had heard all.

“He doesn’t suspect anything, don’t you see? That’s what it has been done for.”

“What an infernal conspiracy,” muttered Douglas; and his hand was clinched hard as he walked on in silence for a minute or so.

“I say, whatever you do in the matter—and I suppose something must be done—for Heaven’s sake don’t go to Elmer. He would half kill her, and there would be an awful row,” said Otway, anxiously.

“I never thought of going to him. The man is a brute and a snob, and would be certain to make a horrible scandal, through his want of self-control. All I’ve got to do is to get Mabel out of this hideous entanglement, if I can; as for the rest of the affair, thank God it is not my business,” in which thoroughly English view of the matter Mr. Otway quite concurred.

The next morning, as Mabel Burniston, dressed for walking was crossing the hall, she was stopped by her cousin Douglas who had evidently been waiting to intercept her.

“Mabel, I must speak to you,” he said, authoritatively. “Come in here;” and he opened the door of the library.

“What a bore, Douglas! What can you have to say? I’m in a hurry,” spoke Mabel, pettishly; but she followed him into the room.

Douglas carefully shut the door. Mabel sat down, and went on putting on her gloves, wondering what was coming.

Douglas came and stood looking down at her. “Mabel,” he said, gently, “you never had a brother. I want you to let me be your brother for the time being. Will you?”

The girl looked quickly at him.

“I am sure you have something dreadfully disagreeable to say,” she said, “or you would not have begun like that.”

“I have something disagreeable to say, and I hardly know how to say it,” replied Douglas, looking, as he felt, extremely uncomfortable.

“Tell me straight out at once, that is the best way,” said his cousin, lightly; adding, in the same tone, “only I warn you if it is anything about Frere Berkeley I sha’n’t listen to it. I am tired of hearing him abused.”

Then Douglas M’Kenzie saw that what he had to say would be difficult indeed in the saying, and he plunged desperately into the subject, not choosing his words.

“Look here, Mabel,” he said, “you are deceived in that man; he is behaving disgracefully. He is making love to another man’s wife, and is using his flirtation with you as a blind.”

“How dare you say such things to me, Douglas?” flashed Mabel, rising from her seat, her face crimson with indignation.

“Because I would save you from being mixed up in a most disgraceful affair,” said Douglas, firmly. “Mabel, take my word for it, and ask no further; but, for Heaven’s sake, have no more to do with that man.”

“What nonsense! I know what you mean—that stupid old story about Mrs. Elmer; but I don’t believe it,” said Mabel.

She spoke rather hesitatingly, for looking at Douglas she could not help seeing that he was very much in earnest, and her heart sunk and her face paled, for Mabel Burniston loved Frere Berkeley as well as it was in her to love anybody—besides herself. She loved him. And now she was told by one whom she could not but believe—for Douglas never lied—that this man had been playing with her, making a tool of her. It was a heavy blow. Douglas saw that it was, and when she said that she did not believe it he saw that she did, so he answered nothing, but stood twirling his mustache nervously and thinking very uncharitable thoughts of Frere Berkeley.

“I don’t believe it,” reiterated Mabel; and then suddenly she threw herself on the sofa and burst into tears.

Douglas was not prepared for this, and, as men do sometimes at the sight of a woman in tears, he “lost his head.”

“Mabel, dearest Mabel,” he cried, falling on his knees beside her, “don’t distress yourself about this affair. I will take care that you shall no longer be insulted by that fellow’s attentions. Oh, if you would only give me the right to protect you, Mab, my darling—if you would promise to be my wife!”

Her head was turned from him and buried in the sofa cushions, but he had her two hands in his. Mabel was sobbing, and hardly heard what he said at first, but at the words, “if you would promise to be my wife,” the hands were suddenly wrenched from Douglas’s grasp, and the girl started to her feet.

“Oh, I see it all now!” she exclaimed, furiously. “You come to me with this scandalous story, thinking to advance your own cause by injuring him in my estimation. You first tell me a—”

“Stop!” said Douglas, sternly. “Do you know what you are saying?”

“Yes, I do know,” Mabel went on, excitedly. “I am saying that I do not believe you, and I do not. I can see it is all a plot. You guessed that I cared for him, and you invented that story, Douglas M’Kenzie—”

“You must not say any more,” interrupted Douglas, very calmly, though his face was white to the lips. “A gentleman does not condescend to answer such accusations as those except in one way, and when they come from a woman he cannot answer them at all. Mabel, just now I asked you to be my wife. Now I tell you that with my will I will never speak to you again!” and before Mabel could answer he was gone.

Douglas M’Kenzie meant what he said: to be accused of telling a deliberate lie was an insult that he could never forgive. He went away desperately hurt and fearfully angry, and yet when he became a little calmer he could not but see that it was partly his own fault; he had brought it on himself by his bad management; and the short time that passed between his unfortunate interview with his cousin and his leaving Fairbank he spent partly in her service.

But Mabel, as she thought of it, made no excuse for him. She only said complacently to herself, as she rearranged her hair, and removed the traces of tears, alone in her own room, “I could not have believed it of Douglas; but it only shows that men will do anything when they are jealous.”

At luncheon time she went down. There were not many assembled round the table, but Frere Berkeley was there, and Mrs. Elmer and Mr. Otway. Douglas M’Kenzie was not to be seen, and Lady Wycherly looked oddly at Mabel when she came in, and directly the meal was over rose and signed to her sister that she wished to speak to her. But just then Frere Berkeley addressed Mabel.

“Miss Burniston,” he said, “it is a lovely afternoon for a drive, and I have ordered my new dog-cart round after luncheon, You promised to try it some day; will you come to-day?”

“I should like it very much,” said Mabel, taking care not to look at Lady Wycherly, who she knew was making signs vigorously.

“Then will you go and put on your hat, for I see the trap is at the door?” said Frere.

Mabel went, and in a very few minutes reappeared, ready for the drive.

“Are you not almost afraid to trust yourself in that rather dangerous-looking vehicle, Miss Burniston?” asked Mr. Otway, who was standing by criticising the new dog-cart.

“If I had not known that it was perfectly safe, do you think I should have asked Miss Burniston so far to honor me?” said Frere, haughtily, and with a look that said very plainly, “Mind your own business.” To Mabel he said:

“The horse is quite enough; you are not afraid?”

“No, not with you,” answered Mabel. Frere pressed her hand as he carefully helped her up, but a momentary look of distress had crossed his face as she spoke.

“A safe return to you!” cried Otway; and Frere scowled savagely at him as he mounted to his place beside Mabel. The groom left the horse’s head, and he dashed away. At first the drive promised to be a silent one. Frere Berkeley’s quiet horse somehow gave him quite enough to do to manage, and Mabel was thinking—thinking in spite of herself and against her will—of what Douglas had told her in the morning, and she did not feel at her ease with her companion. The feeling grew, and her answers when Frere began to talk to her were constrained and cold. When they were nearing Fairbank on their return, Frere said suddenly:

“Your manner has changed to me to-day, Mabel, especially since we have been alone together. Why is it? What have I done?”

“Oh! nothing,” said Mabel, confusedly; “I did not know I was different.”

“But you are, and I think I know why. People have been warning you against me, and you are half inclined to believe them; is not that so?”

His dark, handsome eyes were steadily regarding her face, and Mabel was too much confused to reply.

“You need not speak,” he said; “I see—your face answers me.”

Just then the horse half shied at a freshly painted white gate, and Frere was occupied with his driving for a minute or two. When they were once more going along quietly, he said, with another steady look into the blue eyes of the girl beside him:

“Mabel, I am going to ask you to trust me. I want you to promise to believe nothing that you may hear against me for the next four days. When the race is over it shall all be explained. Will you trust me till then?”

Mabel thought she knew what he meant, and she said that she would trust him.

Frere thanked her, and then they were at the gates of Fairbank.

“Would you mind walking up to the house?” Berkeley asked his companion, as he drew up at the lodge. “I want to take this beast round to the stables myself, and there is not much time before dinner.”

So Mabel walked up the long drive by herself, while Berkeley went rapidly round to the stables. There he did not linger for a moment; but after a hasty glance at his watch took his way to a part of the grounds called the “Shrubbery,” which was near the house, but could be approached by a circuitous path from the stables. He entered the Shrubbery, and coming to a small clear space where there was an old rough garden-seat beneath a solitary laurel, which had grown to an unusual height, he stopped and looked round, as if expecting some one. At the same instant a woman glided from behind the great laurel and came forward. It was Lilian Elmer. She was wrapped in a dark waterproof cloak, but the shapeless garment could not quite hide the grace of her figure, and through her thick black veil the whiteness of her fair face appeared. No greeting passed between the two, but Frere took a small, white, trembling hand in his, and held it as he said:

“Well, is he going?”

“Yes,” was the answer. “And are you to remain here.”


“That is all right then, if only you can keep up your spirits and your strength, Lilian.”

“Oh, Frere, I am so wretched. I feel as if I never could go through with it,” sobbed the unhappy woman.

“Lilian, you have promised me. There can be no going back now?” said Berkeley sternly, and his tone calmed her at once. Lilian Elmer feared many things, but most of all she feared Frere Berkeley’s displeasure.

“I wish the race was to come off two days earlier,” said Frere, meditatively, as he walked back to the stables, while the slight, darkly wrapped figure sped away toward the house, through the gloom of the November evening.

It was all arranged. For nearly three years Lilian Elmer had borne the ill-humor and the worse usage of a detested husband, and often during that wretched time she had struggled hard against her love for him who was not her husband, but she had given way at last. The next few days were to see the end of her bondage. Mr. Elmer was to be away on business for nearly a week, and his young wife was to be left behind; and on the day of the grand steeplechase she was to make her escape. When the race was over, and the party from Fairbank had returned, she was to slip out again. Berkeley’s servant would be waiting with the dog-cart at a little distance from the house. He would drive her into Barnston, where she would meet Frere, and they would then travel together to London. This was now the sixteenth, and the race would not come off till the twentieth. Three long days had to be lived through yet; three days more of hypocrisy and deceit, during which she would have to appear calm and indifferent, while Frere must keep up his role as Mabel Burniston’s favored lover.

Chapter 4
“Now Nothing Left To Love Or Hate”

As Mabel entered the house that evening she was met by her sister.

“Come here directly, Mabel,” she said; “I want to speak to you in my own room.”

Mabel followed her up-stairs and into her dressing-room.

“Now,” said Lady Wycherly, after hastily shutting the door, “now I should very much like to know what you mean, Mabel, by going out driving with that man this afternoon, after what Douglas told you this morning?”

“So Douglas came to you with his absurd story did he?” said Mabel, smiling and calm.

“Mabel, you must be crazy!” cried Lady Wycherly. “Here have I been in a state of agony all this afternoon, knowing this dreadful thing, and unable to imagine what is to be done, and now you talk calmly of an ‘absurd story!’”

“I am not crazy, my dear Mary, but I think poor Douglas is. The fact is, the boy is mad with jealousy. He was determined to make mischief between me and Frere, and so he raked up this story. I saw it all directly.”

“It is impossible,” said Lady Wycherly, “quite impossible that Douglas should behave in such a manner. He believed what he said, I am sure.”

“Possibly, but that does not make it true,” retorted Mabel. “I tell you it is all nonsense, Mary,” she went on. “Frere Berkeley as good as proposed to me this afternoon, and I consider myself engaged to him.”

She looked so happy and confident as she spoke that her sister could only believe her.

“Well.” said Lady Wycherly, resignedly, “I give it all up. Douglas comes to me this morning with a most extraordinary story, and implores me to send you home at once, or your name will be compromised, and all sorts of dreadful things will happen. And you come to me this afternoon and tell me that you are engaged to the very man I was to save you from. I really don’t know what to do!”

“Leave me to manage my own affairs, and don’t listen to slanderous stories,” said Mabel, lightly, and she walked over to a mirror and began admiring the effect of a pretty new hat she wore.

“But I hardly think that Douglas would have spoken as he did unless he thought that he had good reason,” began Lady Wycherly again.

“Somebody has furbished up the old story, then—the story you told me when I first came—and has been entertaining Douglas with it,” said Mabel, quietly, as she continued to admire her pretty face in the glass.

“But it was not the old story. It was Mr. Otway, who, it seems, had heard or seen something, and who told Douglas.”

“Otway!” exclaimed Mabel, in a tone of supreme contempt. “That little red-haired, mischief-making snob is always finding some new wonderment; but no one but a simpleton like Douglas would believe a word he said!”

And Mabel went off, leaving her sister just sufficiently in doubt to prevent her interfering further in the matter.

In the drawing-room, after dinner that evening, Mabel and Frere Berkeley were playing bezique. Sir George came up to them.

“Understand I have to congratulate you, Berkeley,” he said; “and as Miss Mabel must be congratulated too, I suppose, thought I’d get it both done at once, you know, ha, ha! Bless you, my children.”

Mabel colored violently, and Frere looked up rather surprised, but he did not lose his presence of mind for an instant.

“Thank you, Sir George. Very kind of you, I’m sure,” he said, coolly. “Many thanks—for self and partner.”

“Ha, ha! ‘Self and partner!’ Yes, yes, very good, ha, ha!” chuckled Sir George, with whom a small joke went a long way; and, as he spoke very loud, every one in the room heard, and before that evening was over Mabel and Berkeley had been congratulated on all sides.

Mabel was inclined to be vexed at first. “Why did you not contradict Sir George?” she whispered to Berkeley.

“Why should I?” he whispered back, with the look and the smile that before this had conquered Mabel’s foolish, vain little heart; and after that she accepted the position and her friends’ congratulations without protest.

For the next three days Frere Berkeley openly took the place of Mabel Burniston’s accepted lover, and Mabel took no pains to conceal her joy and triumph. She was very much in love and very proud of her lover, and she let every one see it. She seized every opportunity of patronizing Lilian Elmer, who accepted the situation without the least show of resentment, yet was evidently pained by it, and avoided Mabel us much as possible.

Meanwhile Tommy Otway kept his spectacles on and watched the play.

The day of the race came. The morning was cloudy and there was a threatening of rain; but, whether it rained or not, the ladies from Fairbank must be at the race, and at twelve o’clock they were preparing to start.

Mabel, came down, dressed to perfection in a coquettish costume of black velvet and green satin. Black and green were Frere’s colors. She looked charmingly pretty, and the little flutter of anxiety and excitement she was in about the race made her only more fascinating.

“But our horse is sure to win, isn’t he, Mr. Supple?” she said, turning the light of her blue eyes upon that young gentleman.

“Certain, if it were only to please you,” stammered the gallant cornet.

Mabel smiled graciously at him. Then she turned to Sir George Wycherly.

“Oh, George, I hope it is not going to rain,” she said.

“Spoil your fine bonnet if it does, eh?” said Sir George, “Good-morning, Mrs. Elmer: I see you are wise, you are prepared for rain.” And the fussy old baronet eyed with approval Mrs. Elmer’s toilet. Her gown was of some thick, dark material, very plainly made, and her bonnet was chosen to suit the gown. She looked pale and nervous.

“It is a very gloomy morning,” she answered, with a little shiver, as she moved to the window, and looked out on the gray, banked-up clouds.

“Yes, and you ladies would have been far more comfortable in closed carriages, as I said; only nobody ever listens to me,” grumbled Sir George.

“Well, it is too late now, my dear,” said his wife; “the break’s at the door; and we had better start at once if we are to be there by one o’clock.”

It was past one when they arrived at the course, and the horses were already being cantered up to the starting-point. There were five horses. The first that appeared was ridden by a jockey in a scarlet jacket; the next was blue; then a yellow and a pink passed slowly along; and then, after a few moments’ delay, the favorite appeared, a large, fiery-looking black horse, ridden by a green jacket and a black velvet cap. Frere looked very pale, but the way he managed the animal he rode was grace and ease itself. There was a pretty general cheer from the crowd as he took his place with the others, and Mabel, standing up in the carriage, clapped her hands enthusiastically.

“The green’s your color, isn’t it, Miss Burniston?” said an officer of dragoons, who just then sauntered up to the Fairbank break.

“Oh, yes, I am sure he will win,” cried Mabel.

“The odds are six to one on him; take you at six to one in gloves, if you like,” said the dragoon.

“I am quite ready,” laughed Mabel, and some other men came round, and she was busy arranging small bets till the bell rang.

Lilian Elmer sat very still and quiet in her corner of the carriage, only when she heard the shout which told they were “off” she looked up eagerly for a moment as the colors flashed past, and her fair face crimsoned, and then grew pale as before.

The start had been good, and for a few moments the five horses went almost in a line, then three drew ahead—the green, the yellow, and the pink.

“Why does he let those two keep so close to him?” said Mabel, impatiently; “he could leave them behind in a minute, if he chose.”

“Wait a bit, wait a bit,” said Sir George; “we shall see what he can do presently,”

“We shall see no more from this point,” said Lady Wycherly: “let us drive down to the end of the course and see the finish,”

Sir George gave the order, and they drove down and took up a position near the last jump, a breakneck-looking place, being an unpleasant combination of bank, hedge, and ditch.

“Sure to be some pretty tumbles here, and a broken arm or leg or two,” remarked Mr. Otway, with a pleasant grin at Mabel. Mabel was standing up again and looking earnestly through her glass. She took not the slightest notice of Mr. Otway’s observation, but Lilian Elmer turned paler than ever, and clasped her hands tightly on the rail in front of her.

They come on, only three now—the scarlet, the yellow, and the green, the other two far behind. Green was leading, but scarlet was very close, yellow at some little distance; over another fence they came, still in the same order. Then came the water jump! Moloch cleared it gallantly, but the horse ridden by the scarlet jacket came to dreadful grief; he slipped on the bank and rolled into the stream, carrying his unlucky rider with him. Frere’s friends gave a cheer, and Mabel clapped her hands with delight as the green jacket was now seen flying on alone and rapidly nearing the last jump, just beyond which was the winning-post. They reached the place, but the great black horse, instead of clearing it at once as he had the other fences, suddenly swerved aside, and for a moment was quite beyond his rider’s control.

“Confound it,” exclaimed one of the men standing near the carriage, “the beast’s temper has broken out just at the last moment.”

“Never fear; Berkeley will manage him,” said another.

The yellow jacket coming along steadily behind saw his chance, and put on a tremendous spurt; he was quite close when at last the black horse rose at the jump. He rose, but, as if purposely, he failed to clear it; his hind legs dropped and entangled themselves in the hedge, and horse and man fell heavily together, the horse in his struggles rolling over and over his rider; and while an excited crowd gathered round, and with some difficulty the struggling animal was removed, bringing to view Frere Berkeley’s prostrate and motionless figure, the yellow jacket quietly trotted in and won the race.

Mabel had seen the dreadful fall, and, giving a piercing scream, was about to spring from the carriage, but Lilian Elmer was before her. In a second she had darted through the crowd, and was at the fallen man’s side. Raising his head on her lap, and while her tears rained down on the insensible face, the poor woman, regardless of the wonder of the bystanders, poured forth wild and incoherent words of love and grief over the dead body of him for whom she had been about to sacrifice everything.

“Speak to me once more; oh, Frere, my darling, speak to me,” she moaned.

A doctor came up, and she gave place to him, The examination did not occupy more than a moment. The doctor turned to the bystanders and said quietly: “He will never speak again; his neck is broken. Death must have been almost instantaneous.”

Lilian Elmer heard, and with a faint, despairing cry once more threw herself on her knees beside the body.

“Who is the lady?” asked the doctor; “wife, sister—what?”

“She is not his sister, and she is somebody else’s wife, and the girl he is engaged to is sitting in that carriage there,” whispered some one to the medical gentleman, and somehow the story spread, and presently there was a staring crowd round the Fairbank carriage, where Mabel sat slowly recovering from a dead faint. When, thrusting her aside, Lilian Elmer had rushed to the scene of the accident, Mabel, without having time to think or wonder, was about to follow her, but Lady Wycherly laid a restraining hand on her sister’s arm.

“Let me go to him, Mary,” exclaimed Mabel. “Look! she has his head on her lap, she is taking my place. What does she mean by it?—what does it all mean?” she cried, astonished and indignant, and once more she made an attempt to leave the carriage.

Her sister caught her dress.

“Mabel, for Heaven’s sake control yourself,” she said, earnestly. “It is bad enough as it is, but if you cannot keep calm it will be much worse.”

“What does it all mean?” asked Mabel again, in a bewildered tone.

She was very pale, and was supporting herself with difficulty by the side rail of the carriage, as she still kept her eyes fixed on the group assembled close by the fatal last fence.

No one could look upon the frantic grief of the poor woman who was the center figure of that group, and doubt what it all meant to her.

“My poor Mab,” said Lady Wycherly, “I am afraid it means that Douglas was right!”

And then Mabel fainted.

“Who are all these dreadful people?” she whispered, when she came to herself and saw the mob round the carriage. “Oh, Mary, take me away, take me home quick! don’t let any one see me!” she said imploringly.

“Yes, dear, directly. Supple has gone to see if he can get us a close carriage.” said Lady Wycherly.

“Oh, any carriage, only let us get away this instant.”

Just then the young cornet came up with a brougham he had managed to borrow. With a very serious face he helped the ladies in, shut the door, and gave the coachman his orders. No wonder Cornet Supple looked grave. Not only was he in the midst of a tragedy of real life, but he had lost a good deal of money.

During the first part of that drive home Mabel seemed in a sort of stupor, but presently she roused herself, and asked slowly,

“Is he dead?”

“Yes, poor fellow, he is dead,” answered Mary Wycherly, gently.

Then Mabel began to cry hysterically, and this lasted not only till they reached home, but all the evening afterward. Lady Wycherly dismissed the maid, and waited on her sister herself. She brought her some tea and sandwiches after she had undressed her, and made her go to bed.

“Come, Mabel,” she said, “you must eat and drink, or you will be seriously ill, and I shall have to bring the doctor to you.”

“Don’t let any one come near me,” cried Mabel, burying her face in the pillows; “I shall never be able to face any one again as long as I live.”

“What nonsense! you have done nothing wrong,” said her sister.

“But to think that I should be treated so,” sobbed the poor beauty.

“It is the mortification she feels most,” said Lady Wycherly to her husband that night, when Mabel having at last fallen asleep, she had left her to the care of her maid.

“Yes, that would be so,” said Sir George, adding: “By Heaven! I sha’n’t soon forget the agony of that other woman. I can see her now, clinging to the body as they put it on a stretcher to carry it away. It was awful!” and the stout baronet, who was not given to emotion, fairly shuddered.

* * * * * * *

“It was an awful affair, and caused some sensation at the time, I can tell you,” said Cornet, now Captain, Supple, telling the story two or three years afterward; “and what made it worse, as far as the talk went, was the way that old fool Elmer behaved. Instead of keeping it quiet, you know, he told everybody how his wife was about to elope with Berkeley the very day he was killed, showed lots of people the letter the poor thing had left for him, and which it seems he got a day earlier than was intended, for he happened to come back from London that same day. All through he behaved like a cad as he is, and, of course, that made it all the more unpleasant for Mabel.”

“Served her quite right,” growled Otway, who was present.

“Well, I don’t know about that,” said Supple; “but it cured her of flirting, at any rate. She felt it very much, her mother took her abroad, and she only came back a few months since.”

“And now she’s married,” remarked another man.

“Yes, to an elderly widower with half a dozen children. Queer end for her?”

“No queerer than the end of some other ‘belles of the season’ that I have known,” said Otway.

“What became of the other woman, did you say?” asked another of Supple’s listeners.

“Oh, she died; poor thing; fell into a decline, and died in less than a year after.”

“Best thing she could do,” said Otway.

“What’s the matter with you to-night, Tommy?” asked Supple, pleasantly. “You are more spiteful even than usual.”

“I am going to a wedding to-morrow, perhaps that’s it,” said Otway, with a grin.

“A wedding!—whose?”

“Douglas M’Kenzie’s,” replied Otway, shortly.

“Ah, yes,” said Supple, “remember now hearing he was about to take the fatal step. Why didn’t he marry his cousin after all, I wonder?”

“Wasn’t such a fool,” observed Mr. Otway, with much meaning; and the others laughed as he walked off.


A Christmas Visitor

’TWAS Christmas Eve, and the lamps were lit
    And the snow fell thick and fast,
And the wayfarers in the London streets
    All shivered as they went past;
And they thought of the cheery blaze at home
    And the well-spread table there,
And the happy faces that make sweet
    Even the homeliest fare.
She sat in a garret, pallid and wan,
And her face it was fair to look upon,
    In its patient loveliness.

She had numbered but some twenty years,
    Yet the hair had streaks of gray,
And her face was furrowed with the tears
    She had shed for many a day.
Poor girl! poor child! ’tis to many given
    To taste of life’s sweet wine,
But we know—and so doth a pitying Heaven—
    That the dregs alone are thine.
Think of it, ye who have lands and gold,
    Yet would grind the starving poor,
Who would care not if they be hungry and cold,
    But would turn them out at the door;
Think how they suffer, and how their lot
    Must ever a hard one be;
Think of it, think of it, give to them
    A trifling penny fee;
It will blessing bring to ye thus employed,
    Since Heaven wills thus its use;
It will bring ye twentyfold increase,
    As the oil in the widow’s cruse.

The seamstress sits with a yearning look
     On her face, and she sometimes sighs,
Yet never stays she from her work,
    Save to wipe the tears from her eyes.
Is she thinking now how her father died,
    Struck down in his manhood’s prime?
Does she live again in the dear old days
    Of her childhood’s happy time?
Is she thinking now of the rectory vines,
    Of the roots of the old elm-tree,
Of the lilies white upon the porch?
    Ah, well! such things may be
Too dear, too sacred far for words,
    Those thoughts of the bygone years,
But the inmost depths of the heart they stir,
    Till it finds relief in tears.

The snow fell fast, and the biting wind
    Wrestled, and blustered, and blew
In its spiteful wrath, till at last, with a gust,
    Open the casement flew.
Yet in spite of the wind and the falling snow
    There were angels then abroad;
Angels, although of mortal clay,
    True servants of their Lord.

There was one, at least, who the weather braved—
    To-night, and who left her ease,
With a noble heart and a well-filled purse
    To “minister unto these.”
For she knew full well, did that gentle girl—
    That lady of high degree—
Who hath said, “If ye do it unto these,
    Ye do it unto ME.”
A light tap comes at the crazy door,
    And the seamstress lifts her eyes;
Such a vision as that must surely be
    A vision from the skies!

Velvet and sable and costly lace,
    Satin and shimmering silk,
A face as fair as the rosy dawn,
    And a heart as white as milk.
They are sisters. Heaven, thy mysteries
    What human glass can show?
We are brothers and sisters (or should be) all
    In this pitiful world below.

Soft and silvery, soft and low,
    Come the gentle, loving words,
In tones so mellow and clear and sweet
    That they might have been a bird’s:
“Poor girl! I have heard of your spirit brave,
    Of your soul, so steadfast and true;
I have come to cheer you, dear, with these words,
    And to help and succor you.
They tell me you are alone—alone:
    Take comfort, dear—not so;
If man fall off, there is always God
    Who cares for us all below.
Take this—hush!—weep no more, my dear,
    Or I shall have spoken in vain;
Take this, take this. I will come to you
    In a day or two again.”
The fair girl bends, and her noble face
    You would think transfigured now,
As she pressed a kiss, with a sister’s grace,
    On the poor young seamstress’ brow;
And something chinks in the starved girl’s hand,
    And she rises quick from her seat;
So weak, so weak, she can scarcely stand,
    And the ground quakes under her feet,
But the “Good Samaritan” has gone,
    And the room seems lonely and drear,
Though it shone with a halo of light and love
    All the while that she was here.
Then the seamstress raises her poor thin hands,
    And the tears drop fast from her eyes;
On her knees she falls, and she kisses the spot
    Where stood one so good and wise.
Her head low bowed on her close-locked hands,
    Her face with the tear-dew wet;
She murmurs forth from her grateful heart,
     “O God! there are angels yet!”

The Longmoney Conspiracy

Chapter 1
Nurse Makes Up Her Mind

At Longmoney Hall, a handsome mansion on the borders of Middlesex and Herts, there lived seven sisters. Not by themselves exactly, because they had a father and mother, the former of whom was the owner of the house, and of the estate belonging to it, who bore all the expenses of the establishment, and might therefore be considered as its head. But in a sense they did live by themselves, forming within the household a kind of free republic, owning a certain allegiance to, but not amenable to, all the laws of the empire about them.

The eldest of these girls, and the head of the republic, was Mirabel, who was just eighteen. The youngest was Amy, and she was only seven. Mirabel was tall and lithe and fair, with auburn hair and brown eyes, and a sweet, expressive mouth. She naturally assumed a kind of authority over her sisters, as she had been out ever since last winter, and had even had a love affair, although it had not developed itself satisfactorily. This was with young Dunwal Mellon, the eldest son of a neighboring squire; and it had gone on very smoothly at first; indeed in such a regular, humdrum way as slightly to incite the contempt of the schoolroom. It appeared, however, by and by, that there was an obstacle in the way, and then the result became delightfully interesting—all the more that only the echoes of rumors reached the schoolroom, leaving a delightfully open scope for surmise and conjecture. Even Mirabel did not fully know the reasons that induced her father to forbid any continuance of the affair. There had been interviews and discussions without end about it among the old people, as they were called in the schoolroom, but it ended at last in this way: There were to be no visits, no letters, no engagement, and Dunwal was going abroad for a year.

The two young people, however, declared that in spite of all this they should consider themselves bound to each other. Which view of the matter was pooh-poohed by the elders, who, however, as thought is proverbially free, were unable to traverse it effectually, and could only say that the thing was quite impossible, wrong, and very absurd.

That was not the schoolroom opinion of the matter, you may be sure. There, Mirabel took rank at once as a heroine; sympathy flowed freely for her, and her influence over her sisters was much increased.

Marmaduke Glossop, the father of these young people, was a man not quite fifty years old, something of an invalid, and rather soured in temper. His wife was younger, but still nearly forty, a healthy, placid woman, amiable and devout, with a fund of natural cheerfulness that was pleasant to witness, but that hardly infected her companions. She performed all her duties with praiseworthy regularity. Such a time with the housekeeper, such a time in the schoolroom, so long for visits, so many hours devoted to the poor. It was fortunate for Mrs. Glossop that she had so great a power of arranging and making use of her time; else she would have been fidgeted to death by her husband. He was a man of the highest character, and of considerable attainments; but was principally known in his household as a “worry.”

But Mr. and Mrs. Glossop were only the nominal rulers of the house. The real acting potentates were Nurse and Grundy. Nurse ruled through the wife, and Grundy by means of the husband.

Grundy had been in the house in Mr. Glossop’s father’s time, and was deeply attached to the “family.” Nurse had come into the establishment with Mrs. Glossop, and was devoted to the “children.” Grundy was short and slight, with a deeply pockmarked face, and sunken, meaningless eyes. Nurse was a Cumberland woman, tall and hard-featured, with something of a burr in her voice.

Marmaduke Glossop had one brother, the rector of a parish in Kent. They were on tolerably good terms, but they did not see much of one another, and there was no great affection subsisting between them.

Picture to yourself a large white house standing on a gentle slope, a wood behind it, facing to the west. In front of it stretches a goodly park, well timbered, and of pleasant contour. The front of the house is occupied by the apartments of state. The schoolroom, nursery, and girls’ rooms are at the side facing to the north. The south and sunny side is taken up by the private rooms of Mr. and Mrs. Glossop; and here are the gardens and hothouses, and all the warmth and color of the place.

Here Mr. Glossop spent the most of his time. He sketched a little; he wrote a little tolerable prose, and intolerable poetry; thought himself vastly superior to his destiny, but had never seen his way to alter it.

“Do you know, my dear,” said Mr. Glossop to his wife, one bright morning in June, “that I think it will be absolutely necessary for us to winter in Italy. I’ve written, in fact, to Hobegond to put the place into some agent’s hands to let for six months, or twelve, perhaps.”

“I think,” said Mrs. Glossop—with a rising color, and even the suspicion of tartness in her voice; but you will observe that when excited her voice lowers rather than rises in pitch—“that you might have consulted me before you had taken any steps in the matter.”

“So I should, I dare say,” said Glossop, “but you weren’t at home to consult: you can’t have things all ways, you know. You can’t be going about visiting your relations, and yet be consulted about things going on at home too.”

“You know very well, Marmaduke,” said Mrs. Glossop, “that it was only my sister’s illness—”

“Very well, I don’t say anything about that,” interrupted Glossop. “Sister or not doesn’t make any difference; there’s the fact. Mind, I’m not blaming you, or casting any reflections. I only state a fact. You weren’t at home, never mind why,”

“But couldn’t you have waited till I did come home?” said Mrs. Glossop.

“My health,” cried Mr. Glossop; “consider my health. Grundy tells me he distinctly hears an inspiratory murmur as he fastens my flannel waistcoat. I don’t wish to act unkindly, but there is one paramount consideration—health—my health.”

“But my health, too, Marmaduke, requires a little consideration.”

Marmaduke looked at his wife an amazement. “Isabella never has anything the matter with her,” he thought. Then a sudden idea seized him.

“God bless my soul! Is it so?” he cried.

Mrs. Glossop nodded, and blushed.

Marmaduke presently made his way to the library and rang for Grundy, The orders were countermanded for letting the house. The family would winter in England.

Nurse was radiant when she heard this. She hated foreign parts, and she presently waylaid her mistress to congratulate her on the decision. But after she had seen Mrs. Glossop she wasn’t nearly so well satisfied. She walked about the nursery cracking her knuckles and groaning in great anguish.

“Oh, my young leddies! oh, my young leddies! whatever will become of ye?”

Now the expected event that had caused all this pother, was, as you may have guessed, the probable arrival of either another heiress to the Longmoney estate, or of a male heir to be the engrosser of it all.

Now, the first possibility was not a disastrous one.

“It was a very great bother beginning having babies when you’d left off and everything was comfortably settled,” said nurse to herself.

But, after all, whether you divide seven thousand a year by seven or eight, the quotient is a very respectable sum for a girl. But if it were a boy, oh, then it would be ruin for the girls and their prospects. Only five thousand pounds could be raised, under the marriage settlements to portion off the girls; a sum absolutely ridiculous, but that all the parties to the settlement were crazy on the subject of keeping up the estate, except, indeed, the bride, who had been brought up in almost conventual simplicity, and who thought that those who were about her could do the best for the interest of all concerned, without her being required to master the contents of those very crabbed and unpleasantly outspoken law-papers.

So that nobody realized but nurse what there really was depending on this event.

Nurse knew very well why Mirabel had not been permitted to engage herself to young Mellon. Squire Mellon had insisted that if the young people married a suitable portion in land should be settled upon his daughter by Glossop. Mr. Glossop had decidedly objected to entertain the proposal. At his death, he said, Mirabel would be a co-heiress to the whole estate. He would not anticipate that event, nor would he make any alteration in the settlement of the estate, even were it in his power to do it.

Now all this would come right in time if things went on as they had done. Every year put the chances that the girls would eventually be the heiresses to the estate on a better footing. But if now, at the last moment, a young heir came into the world, and the girls were to find themselves almost portionless, what chance would there be of their gaining good settlements among the proudest of the land, as nurse had always secretly prophesied that they would?

There was Grundy, too, so cock-a-hoop about it. There had always been pitched battles between nurse and him on this very subject. Grundy was constantly vaunting the dignity of the Glossops. What a fine family it had been! What a pity that it should be lost among a lot of girls! Nurse had, on the contrary, constantly upheld the superiority of girls over boys, and had gloried in the fact that all her young ladies would have property of their own, and would eventually distribute the Longmoney acres over half a dozen good families in the county.

Now, nurse was almost driven to her wits’ end, and what made it harder to bear was that master and that Grundy were so silly about it.

Mr. Glossop, indeed, had found quite a new life in the excitement of the possible advent of an heir. It had always been a trouble to him that his wife gave him only daughters, a trouble which, as it did not interfere with his personal comfort, he had borne meekly and with submission. But now he was elevated beyond measure. That Providence was favorable to long-settled estates he had not the slightest doubt. It was not likely that Providence would tantalize him with newly awakened hope, merely to deceive him at last. No, he was certain that he should have a son this time.

But nurse was resolved that he shouldn’t, if she could help it. She wouldn’t see those poor girls cheated out of their birthright for some puling little baby that nobody knew anything about. “It shouldn’t be,” she said to herself; but how to help it she didn’t know.

Chapter 2
“Nobody Can Find The Deed”

Henry Glossop, the brother of Marmaduke, was the rector of Whetham, Kent. There is a station called Whetham on the line, whether South-Eastern or London, Chatham, and Dover does not matter. He was not a very clerical man: broad-shouldered, rough, rather like a grazier or a wealthy cattle-dealer than a clergyman. He had a moderately good living, a tiny wife, and seven huge sons, strapping youths, with inordinate appetites, and small capacity for anything but mischief and fun. Henry himself was only a grown-up boy, with nothing to play at. He had some amiable qualities that would have made him agreeable as a country gentleman with a good rent-roll. As a clergyman, struggling with circumstances, and much behind-hand in the world, he felt that life was a failure; but he had sufficient good-humor to prevent him from feeling it acutely. But in his darker moods he often brooded discontentedly over the contrast betwixt his brother’s lot and his own. He felt, too, as if he had suffered a certain wrong in the matter, and, indeed, from his point of view there was something to support that idea. The Longmoney estate had always been settled strictly on the male line, but on his brother’s marriage the entail had been barred, so it was believed, and the estate resettled on the issue of the marriage, to the eldest son, if there were a son, or, failing male issue, equally among the females. Henry Glossop had always called this a swindle. “Here’s Marmaduke,” he would say, “who comes in for this estate as the result of a certain mode of inheritance; he takes advantage of it to collar all the estate, and then throws the principle overboard and chouses me out of my rights. There’s law for it, no doubt. But it is not justice. Let us stick to the hereditary principle, but let us work it fairly.”

Henry felt too that the estate would fare much better in his hands than in his brother’s. Marmaduke was a poor, weak fellow, who enjoyed nothing, and would bring the name of Glossop, as one belonging to the untitled aristocracy, to an untimely end. There would still be Glossops, representatives of the family; “but they would be lawyers’ clerks, tradesmen, cab-drivers even, very likely,” cried Henry, bitterly. “That is about all I can afford to make of them.” And these gathered-together acres, acquired to support the name of Glossop, would go to increase the wealth and influence of other families.

“Here am I,” Henry would say, “fond of field sports, of society, of country life, with seven boys and seven hundred a year; and there’s Marmaduke, with his head always moping about his books, and his verses and faddle, who hasn’t pluck enough to cross a horse’s back, with seven puling girls, and seven thousand a year.”

Providence was not just, although it was his official duty to make out that it was.

Henry Glossop was a good deal in London. He often had business there, chiefly connected with raising money. He loved to lounge about Tattersall’s and the smoking-room of his club; he delighted to throw off his clerical character, and to wear a blue bird’s-eye necktie and a white hat with a black band round it, and clothes cut rather after the fashion of Newmarket than of the apostles. He was very often at the offices of Hobegond & Shortwater, the solicitors, Lincoln’s Inn. Hobegonds had been the family lawyers for a long time, and old Hobegond took sufficient interest in Henry to try to keep his affairs in some kind of order. He would lend him money sometimes, taking care that Henry insured his life for twice the amount of the principal borrowed; so that in this way he had induced him to make quite a respectable provision for his family; but there was terrible work to get the premiums paid, and altogether Hobegond had an amount of trouble in the matter that he would not have taken for anybody but a Glossop.

On one occasion, when Henry was at Lincoln’s Inn, Hobegond produced a deed engrossed on parchment, and placing it before Henry, said:

“Here’s a conveyance we want you to sign. It’s of a plot of land wanted by the Midland, and these railway people are so niggling in their requisitions that they require everybody to join in these conveyances who in the remotest way might ever have an interest in the matter. It’s a mere matter of form.”

But Henry Glossop pushed his chair away from the table, and refused the proffered pen.

“No, no,” he said; “I have always understood that my rights had been extinguished altogether; and if that’s the case there can be no possible reason why I should sign this deed. And if it should turn out that I have any rights, it isn’t likely that I should sign ’em away for my brother’s advantage.”

“Oh, very well,” said Hobegond, carelessly. “It doesn’t matter; we can do very well without you;” but he spoke very stiffly to Mr. Henry after that about sundry outstanding liabilities, and the latter saw pretty clearly that Hobegond was vexed at his refusal.

Henry pondered over this a good deal. It gave him a feeling of hope and expectation to imagine that there was some possible outlet for him—some prospect for the future. Like most men who go lurching through the world with a grievance, he was not very scrupulous in dealing with anybody whom he looked upon as having wronged him. His brother Marmaduke wrote him a sharp letter on the subject of his refusal to sign the formal deed, and Henry had replied with one equally plain-spoken. “Thank God,” he said, “I don’t owe the fellow anything.” And that was to be accounted for by the fact that Marmaduke had persistently refused to lend him any money. It was a family principle, Marmaduke said on one occasion, never to lend money to the younger branches.

Henry Glossop had a faculty for investigation and detection which would probably have raised him to a very high position in the police force had his fate assigned to him that sphere of labor. He would rummage and ransack with indefatigable perseverance till he found out what he wanted. He was entirely without personal hauteur, and would talk and gossip with anybody, and was just as ready to smoke a pipe with a costermonger as with a duke. And this habit of questioning everybody and everything had given him a good deal of varied information, mostly useless. He was not long, consequently, in finding out all about the railway company and the Longmoney estate. They had wanted to purchase a large plot of land to erect a depot, and their lawyer had made some objection to the title, and that had led to his being asked to join in the conveyance.

Henry was very popular with Hobegond’s articled clerks, and with young Hobegond himself, who was quite a different man from his father, and rather inclined to be horsey. One of the young Glossops was articled at Hobegond’s too, and when Hobegond and Shortwater were out of the way, there were often high jinks going on up-stairs. Pots of stout were smuggled up aloft, short pipes were smoked, whist was even known to have been played. In these diversions Henry was often affably disposed to join, and sometimes, when he was in funds, he would treat these jolly young gentlemen in a very handsome manner.

On one of these festive occasions Henry accidentally got the clew he wanted; he found out who investigated the Longmoney title.

This was a very clever, dissipated fellow, named Dewsbury, who was noted for his capacity for getting through work, and was the right-hand man of the high-pressure firm who did the legal business of the eminent contractors, Plusby & Co.

Henry Glossop laid himself out to cultivate the friendship of this Mr. Dewsbury. He found out the tavern he frequented, and took his glass there constantly when he was in town, and making his acquaintance, apparently by accident, they found each other’s conversation so agreeable that Glossop invited him to spend the following Sunday at the rectory. Dewsbury was a gentlemanly fellow, who had taken high honors at Cambridge, but who had disgusted all his friends by his intemperate habits. At Whetham, however, he was on his good behavior and made himself very agreeable.

The rector had good wine in his cellars, wine being a commodity it is not difficult to get on credit, and after dinner they adjourned to the lawn to finish a bottle of Madeira and smoke a cigar. And here the Rev. Mr. Glossop adroitly led the conversation to legal topics, to matters of title, and so on. And Dewsbury, whose tongue was loosened by the wine he had drunk, talked freely on the matter. Among other things he told how adroitly he had put his finger on a blot upon the title of a large estate.

“It was an investigation I undertook for Plusby & Co., our great clients, and was for the purchase of a considerable plot of land. But I’m boring you with my shoppy talk.”

“Not at all,” cried Henry, leaning eagerly forward, “not in the least. I delight in these stories of legal experience. Go on, pray.”

“Well, I forget the name of the people the estate belonged to, and I shouldn’t tell you, of course, if I knew; but the thing being upon a marriage settlement—”

“Hi! Father!” shouted a voice from the drawing-room window, “mother wants you to come and have some tea.”

“Ha! we’d better obey Mrs. Glossop’s behests,” cried Dewsbury, rising a little unsteadily to his feet.

“Not a bit,” cried the rector. “Sit down and finish the bottle; go on—it was a marriage settlement, you said.”

“Yes; I remember well, it would have been right enough if they’d extinguished all the interests first—but they didn’t; or, if they did, nobody can find the deed. Here was the owner of an estate assigning a property he didn’t possess, simply because he hadn’t — or his lawyer hadn’t, rather —taken the simple precaution to extinguish existing rights. Such lawyers ought to be hung, I say.”

“So they ought,” said Henry.

“It isn’t likely that anybody will be the sufferer in this case; but suppose, for instance, that a case occurs in which the original settlement revives, and these poor creatures who’ve been hugging themselves in the idea that they are heiresses—”

“Ah! poor creatures,” said Mr. Glossop.

“Yes, wouldn’t it be pitiable that they should be ousted out of the property they’ve lived upon, and grown up to consider their own, all for some stupid lawyer’s blunder? Hang such lawyers, I say.”

“With all my heart,” cried Mr. Glossop. “Hang ’em all.”

But from that time Mr. Glossop was an altered man. He seemed to have taken a new lease of life. Troubles that had weighed him down before now fell from him like water from a duck’s back. These things were for a time, but at some time or other he would be master of Longmoney Hall.

How often he planned it all out. The rooms he would occupy at the Hall—the horses he would keep—the yacht he would have. How he would restock all the streams with trout, and make the Longmoney estate worth shooting over. There would be good grousing, too, on the hills, if the place were properly looked after.

And how much better for the estate it would be to have an energetic resident proprietor, instead of being parceled out among a lot of girls. Of course, they would be disappointed; but what of that! Women should be educated to bear disappointments: they were their appointed lot in life.

Nothing could be done, of course, till Marmaduke’s death; but that could not be very far off. His lungs were all gone to pieces; he owned himself that he had a hole through one as big as a cheese-plate.

Henry Glossop often heard news of the Longmoney household. Marmaduke’s man, Grundy, and Henry’s factotum were friends and correspondents. The news of the expected event at the Hall was not long before it found its way down to the rectory.

It had a powerful effect upon Henry. To see all his dreams shattered, his chances all gone, his forecastings of an enjoyable existence all falsified. Nothing left for him but a sordid kind of struggle with genteel penury. He felt as if the news would choke him.

“Of course, it’ll be a boy,” he said. “It wouldn’t be my luck if it weren’t.”

Chapter 3
A Flaw In The Settlement

Mrs. Glossop was one of the kindest-hearted souls breathing. There was nothing she would not do for the sake of any one in trouble; and she hated nothing except ill-will. It was a real grief to her that Marmaduke and his brother had quarreled, She blamed herself for it, not knowing the rights of the case, for Glossop never confided business matters to his wife. She had not been so attentive to this Henry Glossop as she ought to have been; she ought to have had the boys down, only they were so rough and troublesome. In some ways she was in fault, and she could not rest till she had made it up.

Marmaduke was very well contented to be on bad terms with Henry. He had come to an age when, perhaps, the delight of a quarrel and a grievance outweighs the disagreeable feeling that somebody thinks ill of you. He was very cold on the subject.

But Mrs. Glossop, who was very low and nervous, poor thing, would not let the matter rest,

“I mayn’t be with you much longer, Marmaduke,” she said; “let me see you reconciled with Henry.”

Marmaduke grumbled, but at last wrote a sort of friendly letter to his brother, asking him to come down and have a few days’ shooting.

Henry was about to write off a curt note of refusal, but he reconsidered the matter.

“I tell you what,” he said; “there’s no villainy these people wouldn’t be guilty of to keep me out of my rights. I will go down there, and look after my own interests, and see how the land lies.”

November saw Henry Glossop on a visit at the Hall. Nobody enjoyed his society much. Even the girls in the schoolroom, to whom their uncle’s visit brought a half-holiday or two, declared that they had rather be in the schoolroom than with Uncle Henry.

The only person in the house who seemed to get on with him was nurse; and that was strange enough, for she had always disliked him. But now, when he came in from shooting, he would stalk into the nursery in his leggings and moleskins, and sit down by the nursery fire and chat with nurse. Nurse had that room pretty much to herself now. The children were mostly in the schoolroom, and the elders had a little sitting-room to themselves, leading out of it, so that the nursery had come to be regarded as nurse’s private chamber.

“It’s a pity we can’t change, nurse,” he said, one night, “my seven boys for your seven girls. They’re no use to me, and here they’d be invaluable.”

“Ay, but no, Mr. Henry,” nurse exclaimed. “I’d a deal rather keep the young leddies, God bless ’em.”

“Poor creatures,” said Henry; “I feel for ’em.”

“And what for, Mr. Henry?”

“This laddie that’s coming.”

“What—you think so!” she cried eagerly. “Eh. but it makes my heart sore to think of it; but it’s coming, sure enow! What will we do, Mr. Henry? I’d dee for the young leddies if I could save them from this trouble!”

“It’s easy enough,” said Henry, casting a glance around him, to assure himself there was nobody in the room.

“What do you mean, Mr. Henry?” cried nurse, turning pale.

“Oh, it’s done every day—when great interests depend upon it. What’s a baby? It makes no difference to them.”

“What!” cried nurse, aghast, as though some evil spirit were putting her unavowed thoughts into words, “ye dinna mean— murder?”

“Pooh! nonsense, what are you thinking about?” and Henry really staggered at the thought that he should have been thus misunderstood. “No, no, Heaven forbid. But look here, nurse. There are lots of babies born every day, and girls as well as boys, and one might be changed for the other. Bless you, it’s done every day. Mind, I wouldn’t sanction such a thing for the world; but still it’s quite possible.”

“But how,” cried nurse, “how could it be done? That’s what’s been puzzling me so sadly?

“And yet you north-country people are generally called clever,” said Henry. “By Jove! Well now, look here, nurse, I’ll just show you—just for fun—how, if anybody were so kicked as to plan such a thing, they could carry it out.”

Henry drew his chair up close to nurse, and began to talk in a low tone, while she listened with breathless attention.

“Anything can be done for money, you see,” he said at last, in a loud, cheerful voice, rising to go away.

“Money!” cried nurse to herself, as he went out. “Ay, it’s well I’ve laid by a bit of siller. I’ll spend it every penny for my darlings.”

Just as the dressing-bell rang a fly drove up to the door, and Hobegond the lawyer sprung out.

“Is your master at home?” he cried to Grundy, who came to see who the new arrival might be.

“Oh! it’s Mr. Hobegond. Yes, he is, sir, and I’ll tell him you’re here. You’ll stop the night, sir, I suppose?”

“I don’t think so, Grundy,” he said. “Tell your master it’s nothing very important, but still I want to see him alone.”

“Hullo, Hobegond!” cried Marmaduke, who received him in his dressing-room, “what brings you here in such a hurry? You’ll stay dinner, of course, and the night? Grundy, ask Mrs. Brown if Mr. Hobegond can have his old room. Will your news keep till after dinner?”

“I’ll just talk it over to you while you’re dressing,” said Hobegond, sitting down by the fire and rubbing his hands. “It isn’t much, perhaps, but I thought it better to see you than to write. It’s that railway business again. I’ve had a notice that the company mean to take possession and bring the purchase-money into court.”

“What, take my land!” cried Marmaduke, “and before they’ve paid me for it! There’s no law so base, notwithstanding these democratic, these infidel times; there can be no law to sanction such—such immorality.”

“I am afraid they know what they’re about. I’m afraid the Land Clauses Consolidation Acts give them that power. You see, they objected to our title.”

“But you said yourself the objection was frivolous.”

“But I’ve been looking into the matter since, and I’m rather afraid that they have hit a blot.”

“It’s infamous!” cried Marmaduke, stalking about the room, “infamous! These public companies going about and peering into land-owners’ title-deeds; hang it, Hobegond, it’s worse than the Inquisition. Where are our liberties that your radical friends are prating about? Eh, Hobegond?”

“Ah, that’s true; but what I want to know is, how we are to mend the matter. I can’t conceal from you that, at your death, which must in the course of nature occur sooner or later—let’s hope it may be a long while first—if your brother Henry were by any means advised of the nature of the flaw in your settlement, he might, very probably—I don’t say necessarily—but he might upset it, and establish the old settlement, under which he inherits after you, failing male issue to you. It’s a very nice case,” cried the lawyer, with professional ardor. “I won’t say that the parties interested in the settlement mightn’t be held to be the purchasers for value—marriage, you know, Glossop, is a valuable consideration—and, in that case, twenty years’ possession would make the title good; at least, I think so.”

“But, good heavens! Hobegond, to hear you talking like that of a country gentleman’s ancestral estate—purchasers for value, marriage, and so on. It’s horrible, Hobegond.”

“But we must meet it, my dear sir. Ah; why can’t you change one of those girls of yours for a boy? That would set the question at rest.”

“The birth of a boy would put an end to the difficulty!”

“Completely,” cried the lawyer.

Mr. Glossop whispered a few words into his ear.

“Upon my word I congratulate you most heartily,” said the lawyer. “I hope it will be as you wish. I shall have more appetite for dinner; for, I assure you, the matter was troubling me a good deal. Not that I had anything to do with the blunder, as you know; but I’ve a real interest in your affairs. Now I’ll go and pay my respects to the young ladies, and be ready for dinner, too; I don’t take as long as you country gentlemen do to put on a tail coat.”

Chapter 4
“I Am A Mere Cipher Here”

Marmaduke Glossop was a very poor creature, and probably thought himself worse than he really was. How his man Grundy had managed to put up with him for all these years was a wonder to everybody. Grundy’s duties were most harassing and constant. He had to dress his master in the morning, and to rub him all over with flannel, during which time Marmaduke would fire into him all the discontent accumulated during the night. Whenever Marmaduke went out Grundy must be in attendance, to see him properly wrapped up, and to carry out his behests, on the drive or walk. In fine, he was nurse, valet, butler, and general odd man. He was very much attached to the family, and that served him in lieu of high wages; for Marmaduke was very stiff upon that point. He never would encourage the feeling of greed in his servants, by increasing their wages on account of length of service.

Grundy was helping his master to dress for dinner after Mr. Hobegond had left him. He was very awkward and preoccupied, and incurred a good deal of wrath from his master in consequence of his clumsiness. For a nice mannered man, Marmaduke was rather rough in his language. He never swore; that he would have deemed wrong. Still, to call a man “an infernal pig,” even when that man is your own body-servant, is irritating, one would think, to his feelings. Grundy was well used to his master; but even he did not like the expression, and threw down the hair-brushes he was wielding.

“If you’d call me a dog, sir, I shouldn’t have minded, but a pig! Mr. Glossop, sir, I wish you’d suit yourself in a month, sir.”

Marmaduke looked about him in blank amazement, tinged with a certain amount of fear. These dreadful modern ideas had crept even into his very household. And he had the bitterness of thinking that, after all, Grundy was far more necessary to him than he to Grundy. There would be no difficulty for Grundy in getting a place: it would be difficult, nay, impossible, for Marmaduke to obtain such another devoted servant.

There is very much, however, in habits of command and subordination. Mutiny is hardly possible unless these have been somewhat relaxed. And Marmaduke reflected that, although he unfortunately had not the power to compel his servant to continue to serve him; although he could not order him so many blows with a stick, or to be shut up and kept on bread and water till the man reflected, yet that he had one very strong hold upon him—he need not give him a character, or might give him a character for impertinence and insubordination. Not that he would have done such a thing. He was at bottom a man of honor, and would have spoken the truth about his servant. But the feeling that he had this irresponsible power gave him a kind of ascendency over him.

“Take up those brushes,” he cried, firmly, “and don’t let me hear another word of this. What! Grundy; you who have been nourished on my very hearth, as it were. Go on, I say.”

Grundy’s eyes filled with tears. The allusion to the family hearthstone, from which be had drawn his early nutriment, affected him powerfully. “Mr. Glossop, if you knew, sir, what’s; made me so occard this day, sir, you wouldn’t call me pig, sir.”

“It was a facon deparler, Grundy,” said his master, mollified.

“Is that French, sir?” said Grundy.


“Well, sir, next time you’re in a temper, please to put it in French—it sounds much pleasanter. Faison deparly—but that’s a very long word for a pig.”

Marmaduke laughed silently, much pleased Grundy had given him an idea. A little garnished, the man’s mistake would serve him for a story for the next round of dinner-parties.

“Well, Grundy,” he said, “and what has happened to put you out of your way?”

“There’s a plot, sir,” cried Grundy, “a plot against you and your family.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll tell you, sir. I ain’t given to heavesdropping, but it does so happen that there’s a brick out of the wall between my pantry and the nursery.”

“I’m astonished, Grundy, I thought you knew better; let the brick be replaced, and don’t let me have any servants’ tattle.’

“It wasn’t tattle, sir; it was talk, serious talk between Mr. Henry and nurse; and you ought to know what it was. It concerns the estate, sir.”

Marmaduke was silent. Mr. Hobegond’s words had occurred to him. “If your brother Henry comes to know of the flaw.” There could be nothing wrong in precaution.

“Well, what did my brother say?”

“He said, sir (if you’ll excuse my mentioning it), what a bad thing it would be for the young ladies if anything happened as there was a heir, sir.”

“Ah! And what did nurse say?”

“She said it mustn’t be so; and then they fell a-whispering, and that was all I heard, except when he went away he says, says be, ‘Money will do anything, nurse.’”

Marmaduke was somewhat staggered. It had occurred to him for the first time that the birth of an heir would make a very serious difference to his daughters. He had never thought of them before otherwise than as “the children.” He had never realized the idea of their being persons having possible eventual rights and present expectations. And then, again, he had not, up to this time, considered his brother as having any possible interest in the “estate.”

These suggestions came upon him suddenly, with possibilities of complications and “bother” that set him all of a whirl. There was one comfort, Hobegond was at hand, on to whom might throw the burden of action.

After dinner he called Hobegond into the library, and told him what Grundy had overheard.

Hobegond wrinkled up his brows. “I think that’s rather too —well, ahem—too sensational a plot for real life; in all probability there was mere idle talk between the two. Still, in this life it’s always well to be on guard. I don’t see how your brother could have found out anything about the title, except from that unfortunate railway business. And a man wouldn’t engage in a dangerous conspiracy of that kind unless he had some sure advantage to obtain. But be on your guard—that’s all.”

“But how, my dear fellow, how can I undertake to be on guard? Consider my health, my infirmities; how could I be dodging about the shrubbery on a wet night, for instance?”

“Oh, I don’t mean anything of that sort,” said Hobegond, laughing; “only this: I’d send nurse away for a holiday when the event was expected, and I’d take care that the nurse hired for the occasion was one perfectly trustworthy. The doctor, I suppose, you can depend upon.”

“As far as integrity goes; but he’s such a blear-eyed, dim kind of a fellow, that any deceit might be practiced upon him with impunity.”

“Then I’d have another. Get some smart young fellow from the hospital in London.”

“My good fellow,” cried Marmaduke, “do this and do that, it’s all very well for you to say; but do you know on whom all these arrangements depend? Not on me, I am a mere cipher here; not on me, but on my wife and this very ‘nurse,’ who is all in all with her.”

“Speak to Mrs. Glossop then; represent how important it is.”

Glossop wrung his hands in despair. He had had some experience of speaking to Mrs. Glossop about matters that were in her jurisdiction. She never interfered with his department in any way, but on the one or two occasions when he had attempted to extend the sphere of his sway over matters that concerned her, he had been made to feel rather small. So he was mightily troubled at this advice of Mr. Hobegond.

“Couldn’t you speak to her?” he suggested at last, in a doleful, doubtful tone.

“No, indeed,” said Hobegond, laughing. “Why, I daren’t speak to my own wife.”

Still, Marmaduke felt there was a difference. Princes and people of distinction often communicated their wishes to their wives by means of third persons, whereas, of course, in a man of Hobegond’s position the thing was absurd. He was a very good fellow, Hobegond, but was just a leetle bit forgetful of his real position.

Well, it was no use looking further to Hobegond. He did not seem alive to the paramount importance of the thing. He would take the matter into his own hands. It was an affair almost of state. He would apply to the Home Secretary to allow a detective officer from Scotland Yard to guard the premises during the ensuing month of December.

On second thoughts he went to London himself and took certain precautions.

Chapter 5
“Mrs. Glossop, Sir—A Daughter”

Peccary Court, the seat of Mr. Mellon, whose son Dunwal, you will remember, was the sweetheart of Mirabel, had in its grounds a very large pond or small lake. This was at the bottom of the slope on which the house stood, where a tiny stream had been dammed up. When there was a long frost, Peccary Pond afforded the best skating in the neighborhood, and almost all the country-side came there. This particular winter happened to be a very severe one. The frost had been keen for more than a week, and no snow had fallen, so that the ice was in capital condition. Mr. Mellon always made a virtue of necessity, and permitted any respectably dressed person to enter his grounds and skate on the big pond, throwing open his gates for the sake of preserving his fences.

“Girls!” cried Mirabel, coming into the schoolroom at Longmoney, “girls, you’re all to have a holiday! Papa has consented, at my solicitation, and we are all going to Mr. Mellon’s pond to skate.”

Six pairs of brows were unbent, six pairs of eyes began to sparkle according to their several degrees of effulgence.

“Oh, that’s very jolly!” cried one; “and as mademoiselle leaves for her holiday to-morrow, good-bye to work. Hurrah!”

Mademoiselle, too, smiled her gladness; and then there was an instant disruption of the bonds of discipline. Books were hurled about, the covers flying in one direction, the contents in another, and sundry slates “shot madly from their spheres,” ceasing to connect themselves any longer with their frames, and becoming from that time forward lost, wandering slates that nobody would own.

Mais, mademoiselles,” ejaculated the governess, “tenez, tenez, ce n’est pas gentil ce bruit la

“Oh, we’re not going to be gentil any more till mademoiselle comes back again,” cried Gertrude, aged eleven. “Amy, make me a back, and see me fly over you!”

But here Mirabel interfered.

“Gertrude, be quiet,” she said. “Leapfrog is not a game that it is serviceable for girls to acquire. Now,” she went on, “run and get your skates, all of you, and let us see which are the wise and which the foolish virgins; who has got straps and everything ready, and who has used up her straps for playing horses?”

Mirabel herself had a dainty pair of new skates hanging to her finger; but the others were of the ordinary wooden sort, and rather old-fashioned in make. Marmaduke had bought a dozen at the sale of a bankrupt iron-monger, and from that time had caused his girls to practice whenever the ice was safe.

“Well, for my part,” cried Lucy, who was rather heavier in features than the rest, and who delighted mostly in having her head in a book, “for my part, I don’t think it’s worth while going in for skating. To learn is such a painful process, and it’s only once in seven years or so that there really is ice fit to skate on.”

“Pray, for how many septennial periods does your experience extend?” cried Mirabel, with an air of superiority. “The fact is, child, you are lazy, and had rather have your head in a book. You will grow up yellow and unhappy if you persist in such ways. We are all to go—every one of us. Papa says so.”

Then there was a great rush to the nursery cupboard for skates. Of course, a great many straps were deficient, and equally of course those girls who had lost their straps had spent their pocket-money also, and wanted to borrow from the others that they might call at the cobbler’s, on their way to the pond, and be refitted. But prudence and generosity are rather incompatible virtues, and some tears were shed over missing heel-straps and other straps that could not be replaced without money; till Mirabel solved the difficulty by promising to pay for all straps that were wanted, the sum expended to be deducted from the next quarter’s allowance. After this, the foolish virgins had rather the best time of it, for there was a good deal of interest in seeing the old cobbler cutting out the straps, and after they were finished they had a glorious race down to the pond; for Mirabel and the four wise virgins had gone on, and left the careless ones to follow.

It was a fine, bright day, and Marmaduke Glossop had ventured out also on the ice, in a bath-chair propelled by the gardener, while Grundy was in attendance at the side. Marmaduke was wrapped up to the nose in furs, and wore a respirator and blue-gauze spectacles, so that it was difficult to catch the expression of his features; but as far as you could judge from the nodding of his head and the waving of his hands, he seemed in great good temper.

All the country-side were on the ice. Rosy young farmers skidding along at their top speed round and round; young lawyers and doctors from the market town twirling about, attempting almost more dexterity than was compatible with grace; the jeunesse doree of the county, who, having nothing else to do but to practice all day long, and every day, had many of them reached a pitch of perfection in standing on one leg in all kinds of attitudes, cutting circles backward and forward, and executing figures of wonderful intricacy and entanglement, that seemed to have neither beginning, middle, nor end.

All this artistic work was done on a square of well-swept ice, that by tacit understanding was kept for skaters of high degree of proficiency. Some one of the skidding young farmers burst through occasionally, and made a spread eagle or two more than was included in the programme of the figures, but on the whole the inclosure was well kept, and was surrounded by a line of lookers-on, many of them mothers and sisters of the youths who were exhibiting within.

If not an exciting, it was at least a solemn scene. The men went through their evolutions with a gravity and seriousness that formed a strange contrast with the lightness of their movements. The cold, gray sky, which the sun could not warm, the frosty rim round the horizon, the smoke rising perpendicularly from the chimneys of the big house, the network of twig and branch,

“Bare, ruined choirs, where once the sweet birds sang,”

the rattle of the skates on the ice, the cracks and groans that rose up ever and again from the chilly flooring, all these gave rise to a feeling of despondency.

But there came a change at last over the scene. A drag arrived on the bank, crowded with scarlet uniforms. It was the band of the — Dragoons, which one of the young Mellons, who was an officer in the regiment, had brought over. Now, music at once relieves the oppression of these cold scenes. The band was established on the bank, after having been plentifully supplied with mulled ale. It struck up a lively air. Everybody began to move about freely, to smile and nod, and beat time to the music.

Presently a quadrille was called for, and a square of ice was cleared, and a dozen couples were ready to begin.

“Another lady wanted,” cried somebody who had constituted himself master of the ceremonies, coming sweeping up to the chair in which Marmaduke Glossop sat, by the side of which Mirabel was resting. “Now, Miss Glossop, if you please. You’re a good hand. Come along.”

“Indeed, I’d rather not, Captain Turner.”

“Nonsense, Mirabel, go,” said her father; and Captain Turner, taking her hand, skated her over to where a young gentleman was discontentedly standing, twirling on his toes for mere melancholy.

Here’s a partner for you, Miss Glossop. Now, Mellon, attention. Miss Glossop, Mr. Dunwal Mellon.”

“I think we’ve met before,” said Mirabel, demurely.

Dunwal stood straight up and looked into Mirabel’s eyes in ecstasy.

“Oh, you dear, good girl,” he cried, “how beautifully you have managed it. Oh! I have a hundred things to say to you, each prettier than the last, and I can’t for the life of me think of one.”

“Don’t talk nonsense, Dunwal,” said Mirabel, severely. “We haven’t too much time together that we should waste it in chaff. I didn’t manage it at all; it was quite an accident.”

“Mirabel,” said Dunwal, “you never come now to the old tree.”

“Papa said we were not to meet.”

“We shouldn’t meet if we kept the tree between us.”

“That would be Jesuitical, Dunwal.”

“It would be very nice, though.”

“What, to have the tree between us?”

“To see you there once more, Mirabel. You don’t know how I hunger for a sight of you—for a touch of your hand.”

“You’ll have the privilege of touching my hand as soon as the quadrille begins—but if you are hungry—”


“I will give you my dogskin glove to gnaw.”

“Will you really? Well, I will have it then.”

“Don’t, Dunwal: people are looking at us.” Mirabel was holding her right-hand glove in her left hand, which hung down by her side, and Dunwal seized it, squeezing her little finger in the process.

“Mamma will scold me for losing my glove,” said Mirabel.

“Then you shouldn’t have tempted me to take it,” cried Dunwal.

Then the band struck up, and away they went. It would have been very nice if they had not known that Father Glossop was glowering at them from one corner, and Mother Mellon from the other, both looking as sour as possible. When they finished one of the figures, and had time to look about them, they became conscious of a sudden change. Glossop had disappeared, and Mrs. Mellon was smiling blandly, and beckoning to Mirabel to come to her. Mirabel started over to her.

“My dear,” she whispered in her ear, “so glad—a sister, a new sister. Give my love to mamma, and tell her I’ll come as soon as it’s proper; there, go back to your dance, dear; how nicely you did that last twirl, you and Dunwal.”

Mirabel was a little bit upset. She didn’t, after all, think it was quite right for mamma to have a baby when she had daughters in the house almost grown up. They didn’t want any more of them at home. It was a kind of invasion of their privileges, to add to their number without consulting the chiefs of the republic. Mirabel thought she would be rather cool with mamma on the subject. But why should Mrs. Mellon be so gracious and smiling about it?

Indeed when the quadrille was over, she found everybody pleased and smiling in a congratulatory mood. Everybody was very glad; everybody liked Mirabel; and there was a general feeling of relief that the girls were not to be disinherited.

“Girls well-bred and with money are such a desideratum in these days, when all our young men are going after the moneybags,” said Mrs. Mellon to a friend.

But to Marmaduke Glossop the news came as a great disappointment and disquietude. When the footman had come up to him with a smiling face, and said: “Mrs. Glossop, sir—a daughter, all quite safely over,” and almost expected a guerdon for the news, Marmaduke felt as if he could knock him down.

He was outwitted, he knew that; his vigilance, his precautions, had been unavailing. He had been robbed of his son and heir.

Chapter 6
“Five Hundred Pounds Reward”

It was only during the last month that Mr. Glossop had set up a hall porter. People had rather laughed at him about it. Such a dignified functionary seemed to be of small use in the unpretending establishment of Longmoney Hall. He was a London man, this new servant, and his wife was a London woman. She had been engaged as laundry maid, but there was no occasion at present for her services in the laundry, and she had been put into the nursery to look after the younger children. “To look after me, I think,” nurse had said, with a shrug; “for she hardly ever keeps her eyes off me, the woman,”

Mrs. Glossop had been very indignant at this increase in the establishment. “As if we hadn’t servants enough, Marmaduke, and the winter likely to be so hard for the poor.” But Marmaduke had his own way in the matter.

Mr. Glossop, when he got home from the lake, immediately called the new servant to him.

“A pretty fellow, indeed, you are, Wilsher, to keep a watch, and to see me cozened under your very eyes. What does your wife say?”

“She doesn’t think it possible, sir, that such a thing should have been brought into the house. It must have been done in the night if it was done at all.”

“Night or day, it was your business to have prevented its being done at all. What are we to do now?”

“Well, sir, as we can’t be positive as nothing was brought into the house, we must take care as they take nothing out.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s quite evident, sir, that if there’s been any namby-pamby work with what you think, sir—if they’ve brought a hinfant into the house, there’s one to go away.”

“That’s true enough,” said Marmaduke. “I didn’t think of that.”

“Well, sir, we’ll look after that sharp enough; there’s me at watch here, and Hemma at the back.”

“But the side, good heavens! the side of the house; the nursery window looks out there, and that’s where the wicked woman would carry out her plans.”

“There’s iron bars there, sir; I tried ’em, and I sticks a screw into the sash to make all safe; oh, don’t you fear, sir.”

“But I do fear; I’ll go and look myself.”

There had been a slight settlement of rime in the night, which, at the north side of the house, where the sun’s rays did not reach, was still unmelted. Mr. Glossop ran along the shrubbery till he came to the window of the nursery. Sure enough, there were footsteps in the white rime going to and coming from the window—heavy masculine footsteps.

Glossop came back pale and excited. “Go and look to the nursery window now. Here, pull those things off; there’s no occasion for disguise any longer.”

The man stripped off his livery coat and cape, and stood out as an evident police officer in plain clothes.

He went round to the nursery window and examined the ground. Then he tried the window. It had been unfastened, and it opened easily. Then he tested each of the bars, which were almost close together. Two of the bars had been unfastened at the end, and could be removed so that an object of some size could be introduced.

“After all, the old gent’s not so mad as I thought he was. Well, if I’d known as there was anything really up, I’d have been a deal sharper.”

The man’s faculties were now roused; his pride was wounded at his having permitted himself to be deceived. He tracked the footsteps over the hedge, and then, after marking the place, he came back to Mr. Glossop.

“What do you think, Wilsher, eh?”

“I think we’ve been done. But the chap, whoever it is, must be close at hand.”

“You think a man is concerned in it?”

“Of course there is, sir. Well, he couldn’t come far with a young hinfant could he, sir?”

“No; he couldn’t.”

“And where he’s brought the one child from, there’s the mother waiting to take the other.”

“My son, my poor little Marmaduke, to be perhaps brought up as a beggar’s brat. Wilsher, if you’ll get me back my boy, you shall have a hundred pounds.”

“Thank you, sir; not but what I’d have worked it out without a reward, for the sake of not being done; still it puts more spirit into one. Now, sir, I’m off; all you’ve got to do is, keep an eye upon things, and don’t let the nurse go out of the house.”

“A hundred pounds,” said Wilsher, as he started off on his quest; “well, that’s worth having, and all for a baby boy as one could get hold of for a fiver. I wish one of mine were young enough for the job. The old gent aren’t the sharpest of coves.” Wilsher followed the footsteps, which led him over the hill.

Presently they brought him into a macadamized road where he lost the trail. However, the footsteps, which were distinguishable on the green border of the road, pointed toward the village of Longmoney.

Wilsher made directly for the little village inn, and walked into the kitchen. “Well, Mrs. Davies,” he said to the landlady, who was warming something over the fire, “the young person with the baby—up-stairs, is she?”

“No, she’s not,” said the woman.

“When did she leave?”

“’Bout five minutes gone; went off in a fly and pair; and the gentleman too.”

Wilsher ascertained where the post-chaise came from, and in which direction it went. He made a guess that it had gone to a station on the Northwestern line, and he found by consulting a “Bradshaw” that he had in his pocket, that, by cutting across to the Great Western, if he drove hard, he would reach London by the Great Western twenty minutes before the cross-country train would arrive at Euston. He took his measures accordingly, ran back to Longmoney Hall, ordered a dog-cart, and the best horse in the stables, and procured a supply of money from Mr. Glossop.

“You’re not going to take your wife, too?” cried Mr. Glossop, as he saw that lady get into the back seat of the dog-cart.

“Yes, sir,” said Mr. Wilsher, “it’s no use watching here now the trick’s done. We’ve got to nail ’em at the other end. I’ll take the huniform coat and cape, too, sir, if you’ll allow me; they’ll come in useful, perhaps.”

“Wilsher!” cried Glossop, in still greater agitation, “five hundred—recover my boy—five hundred pounds on the spot; only bring back my boy!”

“Never fear, sir; get your check ready, sir; I’ll have him back again.

Chapter 7
At Euston Station

The three great termini that cluster so closely together in that long, melancholy road, where a man may perchance see sunning itself in the forecourt of one of the dingy houses the very mortuary slab that is to commemorate his virtues and untimely departure—in that road, sacred to statues and monuments, and uncouth chimney-pots, and fragrant with the memory of the ever-blessed Morrison, these three termini, which may be almost said to form the mighty heart of England, serving as arteries to all the great seats of its manufacturing and mineral wealth, curiously illustrate those phases of thought that have prevailed within the last half-century. There is Euston, showing the last fading influences of the Renaissance, classic, correct, and dull. There is King’s Cross, of the era of 1851, embodying powerful arts, the gospel of trade, glass, and iron, and good-will to men. There is Pancras, rising grandly in all the butterfly hues of the Gothic revival. Below them surges the great world; the world of omnibus and hansom, and pot hats and silk umbrellas; of buying and selling, and chopping and changing; of carriages and powdered flunkies, and seas voluminous of silk and tarlatan; of gin-shops and wretchedness and vice; of civilized, self-glorifying man, dwindling down to the type of the primitive savage, and lower; of a world governed by greed, and unskillfully directed by policemen or peripatetic philosophers. Yes, good sooth, you may moralize in Euston Road, only mind the crossings, and do not miss your train.

The platform of Euston, from which the trains depart, is much as other platforms, but is rather brighter than most, as the carriages are white paneled and cheerful-looking, retaining a little suspicion of the old-fashioned lively coaches. Here they are, all drawn up in line, forming the express for the North; each cluster of coaches the temporary dwelling-place of a community.

But our traveler, who is quickly and yet quietly picking his way among the crowds of passengers and piles of baggage, is not interested in the train just departing, apparently, He is looking the other way, and making for the first-class waiting-room. He peeps in at the door and nods his head, then he makes an imperceptible sign to a woman who is following him, a person well dressed in black silk, who looks like a housekeeper or upper nursemaid.

This female enters the waiting-room in a sharp, decisive manner, and looks round. Three women with babies in their arms, who, much to the disquietude of other frequenters of the room, have been sitting on the side benches for the last half-hour, rise in a sort of questioning way.

“Yes,” says the female, in a quiet, decisive tone, holding up her finger, “you were to meet Lady Brown here.”

“Yes, my lady,” cry the three women simultaneously.

“My lady is not here yet, I am the head nurse, I am Mrs. Laker. You are sent here by the matron of the West-End Hospital?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And which of these children are girls?”

“Mine,” and “Mine,” cry two of the women.

“Very well, then, I sha’n’t want you. Here is a shilling for each of you for your trouble. Go back to Mrs. Crutch, and tell her I’m suited.”

The women went away rather dejected and disappointed.

“I like your appearance,” said Mrs. Laker to the one who remained. “I think you will do; my lady will be here directly. Let me see the infant’s face.”

The woman uncovered the face of a sleeping infant.

“Dear little fellow,” said Mrs. Laker. “But, my dear woman, what a dreadfully dirty little bib; my lady mustn’t see the baby in that state.”

“I haven’t got another, mum.”

“Then you must get one. Here, take this sovereign and run out into the Euston Road, and buy a bib and some ribbon for baby. And you’d better get a little comforter or something of that sort. Don’t spend more than ten shillings, and bring me back the change. Here, I’ll hold baby while you go. Quick, don’t lose a minute, for my lady will be very angry if you’re not here when she comes.”

The woman was overjoyed at having fallen in with such liberal people, and confided her baby to the charge of Mrs. Laker.

As she left the station the bell was ringing for the departure of the train. Mrs. Laker, looking hastily round, ran out on the platform. A man whom we have seen before holds open the door of a second-class carriage. Mrs. Laker jumps in with baby, the man jumps in after her. A whistle sounds. They are off.

The woman, returning in about ten minutes’ time, confused by all the intricacies of the station—she had come there in the first instance with companions who knew the way—became lost in the great hall, wandered into the booking-offices, went on the platform, and, bewildered with the unaccustomed bustle of traffic, seemed to lose her head altogether, and could only wander about, timidly asking any disengaged persons she met if they had seen a lady in a black silk dress, with her baby.

“Where were ye to meet her?” cried a porter, at last.

“Oh! I don’t know, really; some room or other.”

“In the first-class waiting-room?”

“Oh! yes; that was it, sir.”

“Well, here’s the first-class waiting-room; look round and see if you can see her.”

“This is it!” cried the woman, joyously; “this is the place. Here it was where I was sitting; but she isn’t here.”

“Well, she’ll be here presently, I dare say. She’s got your baby, you say?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, it isn’t likely she’ll run away with it; they ain’t so vallyble as all that. I wish some one would run away with one or two of mine.”

The woman sat down and waited patiently, but a little anxiously. As minute after minute passed away and nobody came, she began to feel alarmed. But, then, Lady Brown would be so angry if she made a disturbance, and perhaps she’d lose a good place through it. So she sat on, waiting in great misery, for half an hour.

Then she began to talk to the people about her, telling them in an incoherent kind of way of what had happened to her; but everybody drew away from her. “Yes, indeed!” they said. “Ah!” and went their ways. And this woman, with a great trouble and fear in her heart, of what she hardly knew, and overwhelmed with a sense of her own weakness and want of power of utterance, sank into a passion of bitter weeping.

“What’s the matter, my good woman?” said a sharp, incisive voice; and, looking up, she saw a shrewd, kindly face looking down upon her.

“Oh, sir!” she cried, “they’ve taken away my baby!”

“Ay, ay! Poor creature!” said the man, compassionately. “So you’ve lost your baby. Well, well, you know we all have to endure losses. Where is your husband, eh?”

“Oh, sir! it isn’t that; they’ve stolen him from me!”

“Whew! stolen, eh? That’s a curious thing. Here, I’ve got five minutes to spare, tell me all about it. Gently, now, don’t hurry yourself, and tell me as if you were telling your husband. I’m a married man; with a lot of babes of my own.”

“God bless you, sir,” said the woman; “I haven’t much to tell. Me and two other ladies was sent up here by the matron of the Lynin ’Ospital to meet a lady as wanted a wet nurse. You see, sir, my husband ain’t in work now.”

“Never mind all that; you met some one here?”

“Yes, sir; and says she—”

“Never mind what she said. What did she do? Did she take your baby?”

“Yes, sir; and says she, looking at the child’s bib, as wasn’t over clean p’raps; although you know, sir, with my ’usband being out of work——”

“Tut, tut, what did she do with the baby?”

‘‘Well, sir, says she, giving me a suvrin, which I’ve got the change of in my hand, please sir, and I only spent seven and six—”

“That’ll do. She gave you a sovereign, and held the baby while you went to buy something?”

“Yes, sir; and the difficulty I has to find a shop where they sold babies’ things—”

“Yes, yes, Well, when you came back she was gone?”

The woman nodded, and began to weep again.

“That will do,” he cried. “I am a lawyer; Mr. Hobegond. Come with me to the station-master.”

But on his way he stopped. “Stay,” he said, “we shall only waste time. Now describe the woman who took the baby.”

“She was dressed very handsome—in black silk, with a black bonnet, and a little bit of a white feather in it.”

“Send the platform inspector here,” cried Mr. Hobegond to a porter.

“Now, inspector, I’m Mr. Hobegond, of Lincoln’s Inn. This person has lost a baby, taken away by a woman in a black silk dress, black bonnet, and white feather. How long since, my good woman?”

“About three quarters of an hour.”

“Well, sir, a train went out at 10, at 10:10 A.M., and at 10:15. None since, sir.”

“Let’s have the porters here who attended to those trains.”

A host of porters were soon gathered together. One of the men remembered seeing a lady get into a carriage with a baby; and he had noticed that a man had held the door open for her. A smart-looking man, something like a policeman, he thought. That was by the 10 o’clock express.

“That train don’t stop till Rugby, I think,” said Mr. Hobegond, eagerly.

“Yes, sir, it do now,” cried a porter; “it stops at Willesden Junction.”

“Go to the booking-office with me,” cried Mr. Hobegond to the inspector, “and let us see whether a man of that description took a couple of tickets.”

Yes, the clerk recollected such a man, who took two second-class tickets to Willesden Junction.

Mr. Hobegond dropped his hands. “They have got clean away; doubtless back to London again, depend upon it. You’d better go to a police magistrate and make a complaint, and then the matter will get into the papers. Don’t cry; you’ll get your baby back, I dare say.”

At this moment the inspector came back. “We’ve had a telegram from Willesden. Nobody alighted from the express except two servants for Longmoney Hall, for whom a carriage was waiting.”

“Good graciousl What an extraordinary coincidence!” cried Hobegond. Pray, my good woman, was your baby a male or a female?”

“A boy, if you please, sir.”

“Dear, dear,” said Hobegond, taking a turn or two along the platform, “here’s a pretty go. I can’t suspect my old friend Glossop, and yet—if it had been a girl they’d taken I should have known what it meant. What am I to do? It’s no affair of mine; and yet—no—I can’t leave the woman in the lurch. Look here, I’m going to Willesden, my good woman, by the next train. Come along with me, and we’ll look for your baby.”

Chapter 8
The Young Heir Of Longmoney

Marmaduke Glossop felt at once that his position in his own house was a very awkward one. He was in an attitude of momentary antagonism to all in the household; his only allies had departed. Mrs. Glossop had sent several messages to him, desiring to see him, and he knew not on what pretext to avoid a meeting. Now, to do him justice, he had a very powerful affection for his wife, and his heart was torn at the idea that she was ill and wanting to see him, and that he could not go to her. But that he felt was impossible. He did not harbor the slightest suspicion that his wife was implicated in the conspiracy to deceive him. She, as well as himself, had been cajoled and cheated. But he could not go and visit her, and receive and acknowledge, as he would be called upon to receive and acknowledge, the changeling as his child. On the other hand, it would be impossible to explain the matter now. Such an eclaircissement might be the death of his wife, in her present condition. “I must wait,” said Marmaduke to himself, “wait for the auspicious moment when, with my own boy in my arms, I can restore him to the bosom of his delighted mother. What a moment of joy that will be, compensating for all the sufferings I have undergone—am still undergoing,” said Marmaduke, with a sigh.

The dressing-bell had rung for dinner, and Marmaduke was dreadfully hungry: the keen air of winter had given him a wolfish appetite. He rang for Grundy.

“Grundy,” he said, dolefully, to his man, “I don’t feel well, and must retire to my own room. Let me have some dry toast and gruel, and let a mounted messenger be in readiness to take a telegram to the station. And wait, Grundy; let this note be given to Mrs. Glossop.”

Marmaduke scrawled a hasty billet

“Dearest Isabel,” he wrote—“How grieved I am I cannot see you. I am suffering from incipient fever. I trust nothing serious, but possibly infectious; hence I dare not come near you or the children, but will remain secluded in my own apartment.

“Ever your devoted husband.”

“Oh, dear,” cried Glossop, when his servant had gone, “this playing of a double part, how horrible it is.”

The telegram he subsequently dispatched was to Mr. Hobegond, bidding him repair without an instant’s delay to Longmoney Hall.

Then he took to his bed, and remained there till noon next day, when Grundy rushed in and announced—but we must not anticipate matters.

* * * * * * *

Yes; the moment of Mr. Glossop’s triumph had arrived. He had received a telegram from Wilsher that morning:

“The boy secured! send a trap to Willesden Junction by 10.15, to make all square.”

It was a very long drive to Willesden Junction, and Mr. Glossop did not see why a nearer station had not been selected; but he supposed Wilsher had his reasons.

Mr. Glossop had listened anxiously for the sound of wheels as soon as, by any possibility, the dog-cart might be thought due to return. There had been sundry false alarms, but at last the moment had come; Grundy ran into his master’s room breathless.

“Wilsher has come, sir, and his wife; and there’s a baby with ’em, crying like mad.”

“Bring him here,” cried Glossop, who had been sitting brooding over the fire in his dressing-gown. “Thank Heaven, this suspense is over, and right and I am triumphant.” Big with this thought, he sat down and seized a pen, and wrote a check for five hundred pounds.

A dolorous wailing that at first was indistinct and muffled, now rose into a perfect roar of sound.

“Strong lungs, strong lungs!” cried Glossop, in ecstasy. “Ah! he’ll never suffer as his poor father has.”

Glossop rose when the door opened—rose to receive his son.

Wilsher entered in his robes as hall porter, carrying in his arms an infant, who roared and screamed lustily.

“Well, sir,” said Wilsher, shouting through the tumult, “we’ve got him; but a dreadful job we had. Hunted ’em through all London, sir, but we’ve got him! I’ll go into particulars shortly, sir; but you’d like to take the child to his mother, sir, now?”

“Indeed, yes, Wilsher, and here’s the check. Wait below till you’re sent for.”

“Many thanks, sir, for your munificence,” said Wilsher, disappearing as quickly as he could. He didn’t wait in the hall, however, but jumped into the dog-cart that had met them at Willesden.

“Now for Uxbridge as hard as we can pelt. Sha’n’t want you, John,” he cried to the groom who stood at the horse’s head.

John stared, but did not venture to disobey a person of Wilsher’s importance.

“Now, Grundy,” cried Mr. Glossop, “get me that furred robe that’s hanging up in my room—the scarlet one with the sable round it. Half these things depend on first impressions. The very sight of him must warm his mother’s heart. There, there, Grundy, wrap it round him. Come, come, my darling; this won’t do, all this screaming. I want you to look your very best. Grundy, this is awful. How shall we stop him?”

“Give him something to suck, sir; a paper-knife, a penwiper, or anything.”

“There, there, there, my pretty dearie. Grundy, there’s a wonderful likeness to me; don’t you see? Oh, you’ll hear by and by, Grundy, all about it. Thanks to you a good deal, Grundy; I sha’n’t forget it.”

“If you please, sir,” said nurse, appearing in the passage, “missus sends her love, and wants to know what all this screaming is about. It will wake baby up, she says.”

“Baby, indeed, you wicked woman,” said Glossop, hurrying past her, with a scowl, the boy-baby wrapped up in the scarlet robe, like a young Caesar, lying in his arms. “You’ll see directly-my good woman, the awful effects of your conduct.” So saying, he hurried away, followed by nurse and Grundy, to the gynecium, or women’s apartments.

“Isabel, Isabel!” cried Mr. Glossop from the outer room, which was used for the new baby and its nurse, a room where flannels were hanging to air, and where there was a dainty berceau all hung with blue ribbons, and with costly lace about it. “Isabel, prepare for a joyful surprise!”

“Oh, the baby, sir, the baby; you’ll wake the baby!”

“Here, take that creature away,” he cried, giving the basket a kick with his foot.

Nurse—the monthly one—screamed violently, and ran toward her charge.

“Gracious goodness,” she cried, “the master’s gone mad!”

“Nurse, nurse! what’s all this noise about?” cried a voice from the inner room.

“Take that creature out of the basket, and let it be taken into the kitchen,” cried Glossop. “And now tell Mrs. Glossop that I have brought her the real, her own, her very own darling—the young heir of Longmoney.”

“Do you want to kill my lady?” screamed the nurse. “Oh, thank Heaven, here’s the doctor! Do take the master away, please.”

“Yes, yes; really, my patient must be kept quiet,” cried the doctor, taking Glossop by the arm, and thrusting him out, baby and all, into the passage. He was a determined man, Jenkins, when he was roused.

Glossop tore his hair with rage. Oh, why had he no captain of the guard at hand to whom he might cry, “A moil” and end the dispute by main force? They would deny him next— him, the master of Longmoney Hall; would call him a lunatic, and try to shut him up. Oh, the plot was diabolical. But there was Wilsher! Yes; why didn’t he think of him before. Wilsher was a tower of strength. Armed with the majesty of the law, all the wiles of his enemies would go for naught. What a wonderful piece of wisdom it had proved, his engaging an officer of the law to aid him in unraveling this conspiracy. He would go down into the hall at once and summon him; he wouldn’t trust himself in his own room, he might be locked in; but let him once communicate with Wilsher, and he was safe.

But the baby was such an incumbrance; he was tired of holding it, his arms ached till they were ready to drop off, and how it screamed and roared! surely it would have a fit. From red it became scarlet, from scarlet purple, from purple black.

“Grundy! Grundy!” he cried, “would you mind holding the baby?”

Grundy shook his head. “I ain’t used to them, sir,” he cried.

Yes, even Grundy was deserting him; but if he could only reach the hall with his burden he would be safe. Wilsher’s wife understood babies; she would take him for the moment, until he could be fairly reinstated in his proper position.

A tall footman stood in the hall vacantly gazing about him, wondering what all the hullabaloo was about.

“Here, Fletcher!” cried Glossop. “Where’s Wilsher and his wife?”

“Drove off in the dog-cart, sir! didn’t stop here five minutes, sir!”

Glossop groaned. Wilsher had gone to secure some of the culprits, no doubt; but it was very wrong of him to leave without saying that he was going.

“Fletcher, would you mind holding the baby,” cried Glossop; he was almost in despair and at his wits’ end.

“Rather not, sir,” said Fletcher, drawing himself up; “hadn’t I better fetch the nurse, sir?”

“Then I must put him on the floor. I shall pack all you insolent, disobedient people out of the house to-morrow; but in the meantime I must put him on the floor.”

But here the hall door was flung open, and Hobegond appeared, followed by a woman. She, as soon as she caught sight of the infant, ran and snatched it from Glossop’s failing arms.

“Oh, my pretty popsy,” she cried, folding it to her breast; “oh, my little darling, how could they be so cruel?”

“Come with me,” cried Hobegond, seizing Glossop by the arm, “come to the library. Grundy, see this woman fed and attended to.”

The cries had now ceased; there was once more peace in the household.

“I’m glad you’ve come, Hobegond,” said Glossop. “I want your help to expose this most infernal conspiracy.”

Glossop told the whole story, as far as he knew it, in a confused, incoherent way. Hobegond’s face grew longer and longer as he listened; he shook his head several times during his progress, and when it was finished, he rose and put his hand on his friend’s shoulder.

“It won’t do my dear fellow, it won’t do,” he said; “the story won’t hold water at all. I’m sorry to speak so to an old friend, but I can’t help it. You’re in a very dangerous position; take my advice, and get out of it as quickly as possible. Give this poor woman a ten-pound note, and send her home rejoicing with her brat.”

This was the last drop in poor Glossop’s cup. Everybody had forsaken him. He fairly wept. “Gad, I didn’t think you’d join in it, Hobegond!” he cried.

“Now, look here, Glossop, it’s no use carrying it off in that way. I’ll tell you the whole story my way, gainsay it if you can. You believed that it was of paramount importance that you should have a son and heir. Nobody else knows of the importance, mind you, but you and I. Well, you lay your plans; if a son is born—and you almost make up your mind that you are sure to have one—well and good; if a daughter, then you have your agents ready. One Wilsher, a detective, who, I am informed, was dismissed from the force for malpractices, and set up on his own account.”

“He told me he was in the employment of the government, and specially reserved for such services.”

“Well, that’s as may be,” said Hobegond, doubtfully; “but here he is, at all events, installed in your house on one pretext or another. Very well. The event occurs for which you have been waiting, and does not carry out your hopes. There is a girl instead of a boy. Instantly this agent of yours is dispatched to London. He goes to a lying-in hospital, and requests that wet-nurses may be sent to meet a fictitious person at Euston station. A male child is surreptitiously abstracted from its mother, is brought down here, where your carriage is waiting to receive it; and we next hear of your attempting to foist this child off as the one just born. My dear friend, I’m sorry to say it, but if you were put on trial for that offense I’d defend you as an old friend, although I’m not at all in that way; but the only line of defense that I could suggest would be insanity. Why, the very fact of your having suborned this man at a high price to procure you a male child would damn your case utterly. Now, can you deny that to me, as a friend? Can you put your hand on your check-book and say, ‘Not a penny have I paid for this purpose?’”

Glossop groaned. All the world had turned topsy-turvy, and was dancing about in hideous confusion.

“But you can’t prove it,” he cried at last; “you can’t prove it. The boy is mine—mine, I tell you—I know it.”

“Come this way,” cried Hobegond. “If you are capable of being reasoned with; come this way.”

They were told that the woman and the babe had been taken to the nursery, and there they found them: the woman sitting in high contentment at a table, with a good dinner before her, and a tankard of stout, and, moreover, a cradle on each side of her.

“Are you quite sure as to this being your boy, my good woman?”

“Bless your eyes, sir, there’s no doubt about it. Why, sir, the vaccination marks is enough to show that, sir, because it was done so young. ’Twas that made him so fretful, poor dear!”

The woman drew up the child s frock, and showed the marks on his arm.

Glossop ground his teeth.

“But it’s all right now, sir. The good lady has engaged me as wet nurse, sir; and I’m quite satisfied, sir; and I understand how it was my fault, sir, as was too late for the train, and the young woman was obliged to go.”

“Yes, yes, all right,” cried Hobegond, drawing Glossop away lest he should say anything to disturb this excellent state of things. “Come back to the library.”

“Now, you see,” he said, “how wonderfully well you are out of this scrape. You ought to go down on your hands and knees and thank Providence.”

“Papa,” cried Mirabel, at this moment appearing in the library, “mamma sends her love, and thanks you so much for being so thoughtful about the nurse, and she’s so sorry she was so rude to you when you came to show her nurse’s baby, such a fine little fellow. And our baby takes to nurse wonderfully. Oh, I didn’t see there was anybody here,” she said, drawing back in confusion.

“It’s only Hobey, Old Hobey, as you used to call him,” cried Hobegond, coming forward and giving Mirabel a kiss. “Goodness me, to think of a little dot of a thing I used to jump about on my foot a grown young lady and presented at court; and going to be married too, I dare say, in a jiffy, if one only knew.”

“Here’s Squire Mellon, sir, and Mr. Dunwal, wish to see you, sir,” cried Fletcher, coming to the library door. Mirabel vanished.

“Great powers!” cried Glossop, looking wildly about him, “is it all a delusion, then, this Longmoney Conspiracy?”

But it was not so much of a delusion after all. Nurse confessed it at last on her deathbed. She and Mr. Henry had laid a plan to change the boy for a girl, if one were born. As it happened, a girl was born, and so the plot was needless. Wilsher had caught Mr. Henry and his charge at the station, but finding that the child that was with him was a female, he saw no chance of earning the reward promised except by a little plot of his own.

After all, the deed of release that had been wanting, and that had made Glossop’s marriage settlement invalid, was found in the muniment room at Longmoney, and there is no doubt that the seven Misses Glossop will eventually come in for their appropriate share of that handsome estate. There are still only seven Misses Glossop, as Mirabel married young Mellon last year, on which occasion there were great rejoicings all over the country-side.

Wilsher made his way to America with his five hundred pounds, where, let us hope, he found full scope for his peculiar talents.

The Painted Warning

Chapter 1

Which shall it be? The Rhine? Not again if I know it, as I do, every inch of the journey, where I shall see fresh editions of every familiar group and individual on the route, from St. Katherine’s Dock to Strasbourg—from the unhappy young children, who cause precipitate retreats from the well-supplied table d’hote on board the steamer, by ill-advised announcements that “We are now upon the sea,” to the majestic and reserved family groups of Britons who percolate the fantastic ruins on the banks of the Rhine. No, not the Rhine again. Mont Blanc? No, I thank you. I admire the bravery of the guides, I wonder at the pluck of the Alpine climbers; but I confess to no ambition to figure as a principal in a newspaper paragraph headed “Recent ascent of Monte Rosa—fatal accident to an English tourist;” and as the daily ascent to my chambers on the second floor in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is generally followed by temporary prostration of my vital powers, this experience, as well as the mature prudence of forty years, suggests to my mind some more level form of recreation.

Italy I can hardly embrace in the limit of time which I can allow for relaxation, and I object to the unsatisfactory result of a scampering tour, when all the memories of the varied scenes passed through appear as viewed through a mental kaleidoscope. Norway is nearer, but that land is fast losing its unsophisticated reputation. On every fiord, from Christiania to Lofoden, you may meet with some adventurous Oxonian, abandoning his books, his boating, and his billiards, for fishing-tackle and reindeer sledges; and not being an enthusiastic sportsman, I do not consider that life, in a temperature ever so much below zero, can be compensated for by splendid success in the pursuit of salmon in the icy fiords, or the slaughter of the most gigantic elk that ever trod the Norwegian “fjeldes.” There is left to me Spain. I breathe hard at the words South of Spain. How it was that my excursive ideas had not taken this direction before I cannot divine. Here, to a certain extent, I am not in an over-beaten track; here, where railroads are not as yet (I am speaking of nearly a score of years ago); where locomotion is facilitated by the ass or mule with a dignity unknown to their British brethren; where the orange can be plucked in its native grove, and where the olive is at home. The South of Spain, of course. I have a week before me to study the details of my route, and to post myself up in preliminary information.

I heaved a deep sigh of relief as soon as I had formed my determination, and felt that it would take a great deal of argument to dissuade me from my project. Indeed, I would altogether avoid the necessity for argument by keeping my plans entirely to myself until my traps were ready labeled for my departure; for I had already had experience of that curious perversity in the human mind which induces a friend, however much he may coincide with your views in the generality of your actions, to uniformly suggest every objection that he can muster upon the subject of the projected trip upon which you have set your heart. That spot of your wishes is the worst that you could select. Low fever is decimating the inhabitants. There the east winds have their fixed abode, or the drainage is terribly defective. Why not go to Shingleton-on-the-Ooze? You decide upon Shingleton. “What!” says another friend, to whom you have imparted your change of journey; “my dear fellow, you are mad! The poisonous effluvia from the back-water is expelling visitors by the score; the malaria generated is worse than the Campagna. Try Shellcliffe.” And so you determine on the last, only to encounter more dismal objections from the next partaker of your confidence. In fact, no matter where be the spot upon which you have settled to sojourn, ghosts of all horrors, possible and impossible, are conjured up to warn you off. Knowing all this, I resolved to keep my schemes to myself.

In a week’s time I shall start, the interval being occupied in settling some matters for clients, and giving instructions as to business to be got on with in my absence, and to get forward with my work. I commence at once at my papers, but somehow I cannot apply myself to my task. In vain I took up the draft for Barbara Hookem’s marriage settlement to examine; and equally unavailable was my attempt to get into shape the fresh (tenth) codicil to General Pepnerley’s will. Visions of bullfights, Spanish gypsies, and the Court of Lions in the Alhambra, formed a species of mental dissolving views quite incompatible with the frame of mind which I should bring to bear upon matters of some legal importance. I put aside the settlement and the general’s codicil as not being at present easy of tackling. These were only cases of mild despair; but an attempt to frame the case for counsel’s opinion in a complicated claim for compensation, where Boker’s pigs had broken through Foker’s fences, and Foker’s cow-boy (of weak intellect) had cut off the tails of the aforesaid pigs, and otherwise maimed and ill-treated them, completely floored me.

“This will never do,” I groaned.

“Then don’t do it, old fellow,” observed a voice at my elbow.

I turned round and beheld my old chum, Charles Fawcett, whose entrance I had not noticed.

“Your remark is very just,” I said, shaking him warmly by the hand. “I must not allow a poetical reverie to usurp the place of business reflections.”

“You must possess a wonderful power for mental abstraction,” he replied, “to accomplish such a feat in this bower of musty papers and red tape. That array of tin boxes, like japanned coffins in a family vault of dead clients, is enough to check any attempted flight of fancy.”

He took a chair in his easy way, and for a moment I thought he looked more thoughtful than I had ever seen him before.

“I don’t want to bother you, Tom,” he said, “but I have a little matter of business which I should like to speak to you about.”

The idea of “business” in connection with Charley Fawcett seemed to me to present such an incongruous combination that I evidenced my surprise in my countenance.

“The fact is,” he continued, “you acted in relation to my poor father’s affairs, and are aware of the provision left for my mother’s enjoyment—enjoyment, alas! such as her infirmity permits. The annual sum which she receives I have been in the habit of augmenting, as much as has lain in my power, out of the earnings from my profession; and as the absence of this addition, in the event of my predeceasing her, would necessitate the relinquishment of many little luxuries to which she has been accustomed, I want you to give me your advice as to the best means of securing her against the contingency to which I have referred.”

I showed him how, by payment down in full, or by an annual sum, he might secure at some safe office an annuity for his mother’s life in the event of his dying before her; and from his age, and apparently excellent constitution, I anticipated that no difficulty could possibly arise.

Charley pondered a few minutes.

“The fact is,” he said, “I am such a muff at matters of business that I should be grateful if you would carry the matter through for me. Can it be done soon?”

I referred to the prospectus of an office with which I had had several transactions of a similar nature, and saw that by starting at once we should drop upon the medical examiner and get the proposition in train at once.

Charley gave himself up to my guidance with an air of placid resignation, with the most undefined idea of the processes for the furtherance of his filially affectionate arrangement, and his hesitation in affording the necessary information as to family history and other particulars usual in such cases must, I fear, have proved very trying to the worthy secretary of the assurance company, who was taking down his replies to the printed interrogatories. How vividly the whole scene came back to me some weeks afterward! and how different the memory of the event to the amused feelings which I could not help experiencing when the scene was actually before me!

“How old was my father when he died? What complaint did he die of?” he said, repeating the secretary’s inquiries. “What on earth has that to do with me? I was a child at the time I lost him. I believe that his illness was a short one.” At the question of insanity in the family (one of the ordinary queries), he fairly laughed outright. His answer and its bearing on events to come rushed burning upon my memory since.

‘‘My uncle was an oddity,” he said.

The keen-eyed secretary wanted some information upon this point.

“Was he eccentric?” he asked.

“He was a retired naval captain,” Charley answered; “never would have a bell in his house. Summonses to the servants were facilitated by a boatswain’s whistle; but my father’s family were odd people, I have always heard.”

The secretary jotted down a private memorandum, and after a few more questions were asked and answered, rang in the messenger to conduct Charley to the medical officer. On his return I saw from his manner that there was some sense of the ridiculous, struggling with a suspicion of irritability, as if his unsophisticated ideas upon a process taken as a matter of course by a business man upon a similar transaction had received some shock, and I found that I was correct in my impression when he detailed to me on our way back to my chambers the interview between him and the worthy doctor.

“Confound it,” he said; “I think he must have deemed me mad from the questions he asked me. He said he noticed excitability. As if it could be otherwise when he spent half his time ferreting out every incident relating to my father’s family, not leaving out the diseases of which my infant brothers and sisters died.”

I soon, however, showed him the necessity of the inquiries, which apparently satisfied him; and he was about to leave me, when he suddenly said, “Of course, from this freak of mine, you guess why I am desirous of having one anxiety off my mind?”

“I have formed my own opinion upon the subject,” I replied; “and the conclusion at which I have arrived is that you have seen Miss Eveleigh’s father, and the interview has been satisfactory.”

“Not yet,” he said; “I am to see him to-morrow, Grace feeling with me that the necessity for withholding the fact of our engagement exists no longer. The income which I derive from my profession I think now will amply justify my aspirations in the view of Mr. Eveleigh. I have, as you know, struggled hard for a position in the foremost rank of art, and the brilliant reward which I hoped would crown my efforts has been the main cause of my success, Grace has been most true throughout. She was well aware that the old gentleman’s pride of wealth (represented, by the bye, in dock shares and warehouses) would revolt at the idea of the union of his only daughter with a painter (who, I firmly believe, was associated in his mind with a glazier’s business), and agreed to bide the time until I should gain some success and renown in my profession.”

“Your success has been most well deserved,” I interrupted. “You have certainly been lionized to your heart’s content.”

“I have felt my success the more,” said Charles, “since it has introduced me into circles where I have met Mr. Eveleigh, and with no sense of inferiority.”

Charley was quite correct. He had been taken up unquestionably by the upper set, not merely as a celebrity provided to add to the eclat of conversazione, and in the intervals of the reunions to be unrecognized, but as a welcome and appreciated equal. His high talents were in an eminent degree united with a refinement of mind and ease of manner, and, above all, with a guilelessness and ease of bearing which added a peculiar charm. Devoted to his art, in the pursuit of which he had attained such eminence, so far from his success and the admiration which he had excited having had any other effect upon his mind than that of a simple and honest pride, he was always the first to notice his defects and to acknowledge just criticisms which his friends would deem harsh.

“We both think,” said Charley, “that Mr. Eveleigh may now be a sharer in our confidence. Whatever prejudices he may have entertained against my profession may not operate harshly against me now. As regards my family, I do not anticipate that a comparison of our ancestry would place my antecedents in an unfavorable light. As to the mercenary part, I confess that it does seem audacity in me to ask him to allow his dear girl to resign the splendor in which she has reigned supreme, to share my fortune, which is insignificant in comparison, and the continuance of which is dependent on the steadiness of my hand and an undiminished vigor in my imaginative ideas.”

He looked just a trifle anxious as he spoke, but quickly recovered his usual cheerful manner as he added, “I will look in upon you here, and tell you the result of my interview. I propose seeing Mr. Eveleigh at Wimbledon to-morrow before he starts for town, for I could not give utterance to what I have to say with the ceaseless, jarring sounds of commercial activity in my ears; with everything around him to justify his views upon the sublimity of wealth which they symbolize to him, and I without the rustle of a leaf or the twitter of a bird to support me in my unsubstantialities. ”

He spoke this with a kind of humor, but I could detect an under-current of anxiety which he endeavored to suppress; and the laugh with which he left me, as I told him that it would be his own fault if I had not to congratulate him upon the result of his journey, had something of a shiver in it; but I thought no more of the incident at present.

Chapter 2

I thought more of it the next day when the morning’s post brought me two letters to my private address—one an official-looking affair from the assurance office to me, in my capacity of private referee of Charley on the subject of yesterday’s business; the other from Mr. Eveleigh (who was an old client of mine), inviting me to a fete, which he said his daughter’s programme had arranged should open with croquet and conclude with dancing, intimating at the same time that a whist-table or two would be made up. This invitation I felt it a duty as well as a pleasure to accept. There was a current of high and honorable feeling in Mr. Eveleigh which I had always experienced in my intercourse with him professionally and otherwise, and which had greatly attracted me; and he had an ardent and genuine affection for his only daughter which I could not but admire, contrasting as it did so much with his strict, and, to casual acquaintances, absorbing devotion to mercantile pursuits.

My replies having been dispatched, I took my way from Hampstead (where I lived) to my chambers, and got through a good deal of business in the day. Returning home, I invested in a tourist’s hand-book, which might prove profitable to me in my intended trip—useful it might be, but amusing certainly not. The selection of varied routes was an advantage, but the reading was hardly of the description which might be called light.

There were suggested excursions for the “idler,” the “antiquarian,” the “invalid,” the “military,” or the “artist” traveler. I could not find out that I came strictly into any one of these classes. I nodded over the “general history” of the country. I had a few dozes over the “hints to travelers,” and fairly went to sleep in a chaos of the relative values between English and Spanish weights, distances, and measures. I think that it was in a dreamy and confused attempt to remember that sixteen dollars, eight arrobas, or a hundredweight equaled one English mile, that I finally snored, and had a horrid dream of a sensitive Spanish muleteer, who was attempting to garrote me in an awful “sierra,” because I refused a “cigaretto,” which he offered to me, telling him that his tobacco was vile, and that his cloak would be the better for a washing. When I awoke to the reality of a grip, not upon my throat, but upon my arm, the disturber of my dream revealed itself to me in the person of Charley; but the drearn-terror was trifling when compared with my waking sensation as I gazed upon the altered, despairing countenance of my visitor.

“For Heaven’s sake tell me what has happened?” I exclaimed, as soon as I could recover anything like self-possession.

“Happened?” he repeated. “Oh, Tom, I have hardly the power to tell you the miserable story. Have you any wine?”

I filled a tumbler half full of sherry, which he drank at one gulp, and then sat trembling upon the sofa with his head between his hands. With an effort he spoke again, but his voice had lost all its old careless, joyous tone; it was husky and indistinct, as if his organs of speech had suffered some slight paralysis.

“Oh, what has happened? Objections I might have combated, fancied difficulties, financial or social, I could have surmounted; but rejection, absolute and final, I never could have anticipated.”

“But surely—” I was about to elicit what was the cause assigned, and hesitated from a feeling of delicacy. He divined the reason for my hesitation, and continued:

“All explanation was declined. I pleaded a justification of my hopes in my assurance of his dear girl’s affection for me; but with a result, if possible, more crushing to my feelings.”

He turned round from the sofa and poured out some more sherry, drinking it as before, in the same ravenous style, and then went on:

“Mr. Eveleigh assured me that, however much I may have encouraged my own hopes, he had the full concurrence of his daughter in the answer which he had given me.”

“To me,” I said, in utter astonishment, “whom you have intrusted with your confidence throughout, this is indeed inexplicable.”

“Inexplicable!” he almost shouted out, and starting to his feet paced rapidly the limits of the room. “Do you know that it inspires me with a distrust and horror of myself? Can my past, which seemed to me so happy—happy in its present, happy in its bright hopes for the future—have been but a continued mental delusion? Have the flattery and the approbation which have been lavished upon my endeavors for success been but mockeries? Have I, in my deep devotion to Grace, which gave inspiration to my efforts, misunderstood her feelings—”

I stopped his hand as it was again stretched out toward the decanter.

“No more at present, Charley. Let us talk the matter over quietly, and see what we can make of it. Are you satisfied that Mr. Eveleigh truly expresses Grace’s feelings upon the subject?”

“He said so,” Charley replied; “nay, more, that if I desired it he would furnish me with her written rejection.”

He was up again, and pacing the room as before, when he stopped suddenly.

“Do you know what all this means?” he said. “It means the waste of a youth that has promised more than it has yet performed. It means the blasting of a future which held to view so bright a prospect of happiness. It means the destruction of my mind. It means death!”

I was alarmed, but felt powerless in my wish to pacify him.

I did my best, however, and actually dragged him to the sofa and forced him to sit down.

“Now, Charley, you are generally a sensible fellow. You have had enough to make you miserable, and I cannot expect you to bear what you have gone through with calmness; but try to think as little as you can upon your unhappiness to-night. Although I am risking something in my desire for your comfort, I cannot credit the assertion that Grace participates in the cruel course which her father has chosen to adopt.”

He seized my hand and wrung it, with a glitter in his eye.

“I am going,” I continued, “to Wimbledon to-morrow. I am in Mr. Eveleigh’s confidence, as you know; and if I see my opportunity of serving you in any way, you may rely upon it that I will seize the occasion. Do nothing until you see me again.”

Charley pressed my hand, took his hat, and went to the door.

“What is going on to-morrow?” he said.

“A garden party of some kind,” I answered.

He hesitated a moment, and compressed his ashy lips as if some painful thought was passing through his mind, but he said no more; and as I lighted him out I was pained to see the uncertain and feeble manner of his gait as he walked down the path and pursued his way home.

I turned into bed shortly afterward, and had a wretched night. If I slept for a few minutes, it was only to awake with a sense of some overwhelming calamity about to occur, so much was I attached to Charley, so keenly did I appreciate the pangs which he had suffered.

Chapter 3
A Mystery

The next day, on my way to my chambers, the uncomfortable feelings which had so much oppressed my mind after the departure of Charley came back upon me in great force, and I reproached myself with not having given him a shake-down at my lodgings, or at least having insisted upon accompanying him a part of the way home, seeing, as I had too plainly seen, that he was so shaken, so depressed, and despairing. After dispatching some pressing business, I took a hasty lunch and was about to go out, when my clerk brought me a post letter. It was from the assurance office to which I had introduced Charley, and I concluded that it conveyed the decision of the directors upon his proposition. It was addressed to him to my care (as he had directed), so I slipped it into my pocket, and taking a hansom, was soon spinning along the Bayswater Road to Charley’s studio, where I felt sure I should meet him. The day was showery, gusty, and altogether disagreeable, and the leaden-hued sky gave an indescribable look of dreariness and desolation to every object around; perhaps the depression of my spirits lent greater power to the atmospheric gloom. It was with an uncomfortable feeling that I tapped at the door of the studio, and, hearing no response, I opened it and looked in.

Charley arose dreamily from a sofa, with the air of one who had undergone a long night’s unhappy vigil.

“You have not been home, I fear, Charley,” I said.

“No. I could not go. The shock had quite unmanned me. I was afraid to meet my mother’s look, with my sensation of disgrace and disappointment.”

“Disappointment, indeed, Charley; but no disgrace—at least, on your side.”

“Yes,” he answered, vehemently. “If I have, with the energy inspired by the purest and most honest love God ever vouchsafed to human being, attained a position where such a reward as I had sought was fairly won, and have had my prize denied me, what is it but a bitter reflection upon me, a dismal reproof for my audacity? Oh, Tom, a dark fear has come upon me that I must have had a double life; a visionary existence, and a real but unknown one, which in its deformities must have rendered me abhorrent.”

This showed an ugly and painful phase in the unquiet which had so disturbed his nature. Heaven knows, when such analyses of the mind commence, what fatal effect they may produce in a highly sensitive constitution.

I hastened to distract his thoughts.

“Then you won’t take my advice,” I said, “to rest as calmly as you can to-day, and wait patiently until I have seen Mr. Eveleigh?”

The name seemed to send a shiver through his frame.

Again, to distract him, I handed him the letter which I had received from the assurance office. He took it, opened it dreamily, and had hardly cast his eyes over it when his old mood returned.

“My life is declined,” he said. “What can this conspiracy mean?”

In truth, the surprise was equally mine. His life was considered hazardous; but why so, the confidence of such societies of course precluded any enlightenment. In my opinion he was the healthiest subject I could have selected.

“What can all this plot mean?” he said. “Why, Tom, has not our long friendship taught you to have acquainted me candidly with my delusive existence? I am despised and rejected by all.”

“I will not hear you talk so,” I answered. “In this last matter I am as surprised as yourself. Heaven knows that my testimony, as your referee, if relied upon, had no share in this unexpected decision. Boards are capricious sometimes. I have known cross countrymen, tandem-drivers, and rackety young noblemen welcomed, and artists like yourself refused, as pursuing an unhealthy occupation, the sapient chairman having noticed in some statistical work that painters and plumbers exhibited a remarkable depreciation of life,”

I was glad to see him (as I had intended) smile at this as he said hurriedly, “Well, well, remember your promise to see me after—”

“I will, I assure you,” I interrupted. “I will leave early, and look in upon you to-night.”

“When do you assemble?” he said in a tone, as I fancied, of assumed carelessness.

“I shall go down at six or seven o’clock.”

Taking up my hat to leave, I turned to his large easel, upon which was his new and beautiful subject, “Cymon and Iphigenia,” which critics who had the privilege of seeing the painting in progress prognosticated would eclipse all his former efforts,

Charley came by my side as I was admiring it.

“This will be the next bubble which will burst,” he said. “After the recent events I expect it fully. The art world will brand me an impostor.”

“In this case,” I observed, “your very rivals in art have been enthusiastic in your favor, or in the public papers.”

“So much the greater will be my fall,” he said, with a look almost of horror in his face, “when the time for public estimate of my work arrives. No, Tom, I will not exhibit. By heavens, as I look I see faults every where—the coloring and composition are all false!”

A look of horror was mingled now with one of intense pain.

I had to force him away from the easel, and, having talked him into a calmer frame of mind, made him promise that he would not touch his work until I came back to him, nor see any visitors in the interval. This latter promise I made secure by telling his servant to admit no one.

Heaven knows I anticipated but scant amusement from the gathering at Wimbledon. Croquet was quite out of my line, and out door amusements of every description I have always regarded as delusions and snares under our unsettled skies. It really grieved me to see the groups of elegant and lightly clad ladies, as the evening drew on, energetically maintaining their ground upon a lawn moist with the morning showers. I moved from one part to another in search of my host, and after some time was fortunate enough to find him. He greeted me cordially, but seemed out of spirits. He had a lady with him, to whom he introduced me; and then sent us off to the orchard, where he said his nephew Rupert had taken charge of some sports of an exciting nature, and there was a sly twinkle in Mr. Eveleigh’s eyes as he transferred his fair companion to me. Had he but known the preoccupied condition of my mind, I think he would have appreciated the full force of the infliction he imposed upon me.

Mrs. Deyne was a “blas bleu” of the deepest tint. In matters of theology she crushed her husband, a D.D. of some repute, which was saying a good deal. For inferior mortals she was simply a Nasymth’s steam hammer, without its power of accommodation of force. She would select her victim with the utmost refinement of art; she would lure him on to touch upon some subject of mild and ordinary speculation. Rash mortal! In a few minutes he finds himself plunged in a seething ocean of abstruse philosophy. With the theories of all the sophists of antiquity permeating her veins, with Platonic intricacies and Aristotelian ethics saturating her brain, she would pound away until her unfortunate auditor was reduced, according to his constitution, to a state of utter imbecility or temporary madness.

We left the croquet players, entered a very tastefully arranged flower garden, and, through a handsomely designed gate at the extremity, entered the orchard. Shocking! Rupert had had the audacity to set up some Aunt Sallies, and was superintending the game, which was joined in by a bevy of young ladies in the most recherche toilets.

So far from the exhibition shocking (as I hoped it would) the divine’s wife, as she gazed, a thoughtful smile spread itself over her countenance.

“How forcibly,” she remarked, “comes to my mind the remark of the great philosopher, when Pheseaedo—”

“That was well aimed, was it not?” I interrupted, as a little beauty made a successful hit; but I might have spoken to the wooden head of Aunt Sally with equal chance of attention.

“How true it is,” she proceeded with the quotation, “that objects perceived by the senses induce a reflection upon things comprehended by the mind alone, and which have no sensitive existence.”

“Thank Heaven, here comes Florence to my rescue,” I mentally ejaculated, as the lad’s sister came up with her pretty arms full of sticks for throwing at the figure.

“Won’t you try your skill?” she said to me.

I gave a grateful look; but I was morally handcuffed by the learned woman, and taken off in custody down a secluded walk that bounded the orchard; and I felt like a human fly, in the web of this philosophic female spider.

Again she spoke.

“The giddy group which we have just left, the laughter which even now is ringing in our ears, leads a reflecting mind to speculate whether, in these degenerate days, we are gradually falling into the views of Gicero (in his academics), that pleasure is the boundary of all good things; that the chief object in life is to live agreeably,”

“Excuse me, Mrs. Devne,” I again interrupted; “but there is a caterpillar upon your shawl.”

“Thank you,” she said, as I flicked it off.

“The Greeks have their ‘telos’ to signify the highest and extremest aim—a good and expressive word, is it not?”

“Affectingly so,” I answered, in a state of fast-approaching imbecility. On she went.

“Now Epicurus considered pleasure not to be a mere transitory sensation, but a pure mental enjoyment, far loftier, in his idea, than the Cyrenaics.”

“Surely that was a raindrop, Mrs. Deyne,” I broke in; “I must not let you run the risk of remaining out here.”

A few drops had fallen, and the shower set in. I drew her arm within mine; we retraced our steps, and entered the fernery.

Here we found Grace; the fernery was her own peculiar charge. A very fair botanist, she had collected the rarest and most beautiful of the English species, and had arranged and labeled the specimens with infinite care.

I watched her anxiously as she was directing the attention of the little group around her to some peculiar plants. Her manner, usually expressive of supreme repose, seemed nervous and hurried. She talked rapidly upon her subject, as if she was bent upon an effort to occupy her mind with any matter rather than leave an interval for the recurrence of some unpleasant thoughts, and (as it seemed to me) she was tortured with a consciousness of a cruel wrong she had done, and of a life of promise stricken through her fickleness.

I shook hands with her, and I could feel how feverish was her touch. She knew what a bosom friend I was of Charley’s. She faltered out a reply to some commonplace observation of mine, and turned to her other friends with an effort to reassume her enforced liveliness.

I felt quite shocked at her manner, knowing what a burden was upon my mind, what a wreck I had left behind in London, and how utterly improbable it was that I could do anything to revive the shattered hopes of my friend.

The rain had now increased so much that a general stampede took place across the lawn into the house. I observed Grace to linger behind, saying that she would follow in a few minutes.

Much as I longed for some signal to remain, in the hope that she might afford me some clew to her strange conduct to Charley —some hope that I might be intrusted with a message, precious to him—she gave no response to my glance.

Before we reached the shelter of the house sounds of music told us that dancing was going on, and my philosophic female, who had never left me, was, to my intense relief, carried off by Mr. Eveleigh to complete a whist-table; and on Mr. Eveleigh’s return he thanked me heartily, with a wicked smile, for having taken such care of Mrs. Devne.

“I have certainly escaped with my life,” I said. “My brain has received a shock, but time may restore its equilibrium.”

“Nothing so good for that as a dance,” he answered; “as for me, I will just run into the library for half an hour or so—you know we city men cannot always leave the shop behind in London.”

Here was my opportunity; I would give him a quarter of an hour’s quiet, and then make my way to his sanctum; but I never did. Hardly a minute had elapsed since he left my side before a piercing shriek rang through the garden, and its tones vibrated in the room. For an instant afterward a dead silence prevailed. The music ceased instantly, and the dancers stood motionless. A lady near the piano fainted, and then a movement was made toward the conservatory, which opened from the drawing-room on to the lawn.

I was the first to move, and led the way to the fernery, my brain impressed with a dreadful conviction of some fearful catastrophe, knowing what I did. In the tumult of thought aroused by the sudden cry, the unnatural calmness of Charley’s manner, when he asked me what time the fete was to commence, came into my mind. That he had made his way hither I now felt assured; and in his frenzied state what might not have happened?

We reached the fernery and found Grace lying, a heap of white muslin across the entrance. She was borne in-doors and carried to her own room. I only remained to hear that she had recovered from her swoon, and, seizing my hat, left the house. That Charley had been down was my mental conviction. I resolved to find him, and try what I could do to restore the tone of that nature which had been made so discordant; alas! how little I understood, how little the wisest of us comprehend, the mysterious workings of a mind so wounded.

A train was moving out as I dashed into the Wimbledon station, so that I had to wait for the next one—a long time, it seemed to me; and, although a quick train, the stoppages appeared to me more frequent and longer than ordinary, and the hansom which bore me from the terminus to Bayswater seemed intolerably slow.

At his private house the servant said she had seen nothing of her master for two whole days, so I took my way at once to the studio. The man who admitted me looked scared and anxious.

“I am so glad you have come, sir,” he said, “Mr. Fawcett has been so strange ever since you left.”

‘Is he within?”

“He is in the painting-room; but he has been like a wild creature ever since he came in, about an hour since.”

This expression, as applied to one who was the gentlest of beings, and the very embodiment of an amiable and thoughtful nature, jarred harshly upon my feelings.

“Thank God, he has at least got back,” I mentally ejaculated, as I turned the handle of the door.

Charley seemed quiet enough now, as I beheld him in his old attitude, astride of a chair before his large painting, the pendent lights being concentrated upon the canvas.

His eyes, however, were not scanning his handiwork; they seemed in their intense gaze to pierce beyond the limits of the room into some dream-world.

I laid my hand upon his shoulder, and roused him from his mood.

“I have seen her,” were his first words, “and all now is over —oh! that I could only lay my memory in the grave, where my hopes are buried.”

“Time, Charley,” I said, “will make you think less bitterly upon this great wrong.”

“I have no bitter thoughts regarding her now,” he said; “she is free from me. Her father’s decision was her own choice. The idol is destroyed, and lies among the ruins of my wrecked hopes.”

For some moments he was silent, but I observed his features working. He started up, and thrusting his chair aside, glared upon his masterpiece.

“I now loath the very sight of this vile daub,” he shouted. “By Heaven! I will not let the public have a hand in any farther disgrace to me;” and, seizing a knife from a table near, he slashed the canvas across again and again, until his beautiful work hung down in strips. I had no time to arrest his hand, and I felt as if an act of sacrilege had been committed. The ruin was complete.

I sat with him for two hours, and felt so convinced that an absolute change of scene was necessary to him, that I proposed and urged, his accompanying me on my holiday trip.

The destruction of his handiwork was the last outbreak of feeling which I noticed in him, and from the moment it was effected, he gradually calmed down, and listened like a child to my plans.

He fell in with them, in a listless manner, and assented to my scheme. I tried to persuade him to take with him a portable case of his painting materials, but he objected so strongly that I forbore to persist.

I left him, then, upon his undertaking to go to his house to make the necessary arrangements, and I agreed to meet him there on the morrow. As I was being let out I told his servant to get Charley’s traveling case of materials, and send them on to my address.

I had now strong hopes of seeing Charley the same Charley that he had been before.

I little knew, however, at that time, the extent of the injury he had suffered; I knew little of the working of the wonderful machinery of hidden nature, even in its normal state.

Chapter 4
What The Sketch Foretold

My arrangements were soon completed, and I had plenty of time to see that Charley was equally in traveling order. I was glad to see him back again at his house, and with somewhat of his old cheerfulness. Perhaps this was assumed for the sake of his mother, whom he loved devotedly; for his affectionate instinct was intense, and it was only when we were about to leave, and he embraced the old lady, that the scared look and the painful shiver told of the deep wound which still rankled, and how much he had striven to stifle its pangs.

We started, The day was uncommonly fine, and the bustle of the railway and the confusion and hurry at Southampton assisted to divert thought from dwelling upon unpleasant themes.

The excellent arrangements of the P. and O. steamers are too well known to require any additional testimony from me as to the comfort which we enjoyed in our passage to Gibraltar, which we reached in eight days, and from which point we felt that our real traveling commenced.

In my determination to leave no time unoccupied for opportunity to Charley to brood upon the past, I saw more than I otherwise should. From the garrison library to the signal staff, on the summit of the rock; from O’Hara’s Tower and the excavations, to the shore bastions and the Alameda, we were on the perpetual tramp, and returned, tired enough, to our quarters at Griffith’s Hotel, where Charley soon retired to rest. I then sauntered into the coffee-room, to pick up any hints that might serve us as to the best plan of proceeding upon our trip, and was fortunate enough to meet with the son of an American merchant long established in Gibraltar, and who had made frequent excursions to Grenada. Ascertaining that we merely contemplated a pleasure excursion, he advised us by all means to hire horses; and next morning he selected our steeds, provided us with saddle-bags, and gave useful instructions as to our halting-places. Following his plan, we took the bridle-road along the coast to Malaga, and he accompanied us as far as Estepona, a good day’s ride; a guide went on with us from thence to Malaga, and there we dismissed him.

Beautiful and romantic as was the scenery through which we passed, and entrancing as it ought to have been to the eye of an artist, I was grieved at the indifference and apathy exhibited by Charley. He behaved as if he was passively enduring a set task. As for myself, every object had an interest, from the natural scenery to the groups of peasants, the bronzed “arrieros,” and the well-fed priests.

By an American friend’s advice we put up at Malaga at the Cuatro Naciones, where we met several of our countrymen, and I saw every prospect of our passing a few agreeable days prior to our start for Grenada; but, alas! poor Charley, from listlessness had now sunk down almost to lethargy. He shunned our excursions, he avoided all intercourse with our chatty, pleasant fellow-guests, would have all his meals in his own room, and all our efforts to arouse him to take an interest in the place were unavailing. One day I purposely left Charley’s box of painting materials exposed in our sitting-room, and on my return from an excursion to the beautiful little village of Torremolinos was gratified to observe that it had disappeared, encouraging my hope that he had repented his resolution to abandon his profession. Had then the glorious panorama of wild nature, which I fancied had passed before him unheeded, exercised a benign influence upon a mind so capable of appreciating its glories, and was the dawn about to break of a reviving enthusiasm in his profession? Alas! like many others my hopes were but the offspring of my heartfelt wishes.

I took no notice of what I had seen until we were en route for Alhama, and then the poor fellow seemed cowed when I alluded to the facilities which I had surreptitiously supplied him with for preserving some memorials of his journey. I little knew then what fixed determination was in his brain. I only fancied that some shame at his irresolution had caused him pain. At Velez, Malaga, we breakfasted and baited our animals, and in an hour or two after resuming our road reached the romantic town of Alhama, where we put up for the night at the best “posada.” I cannot say that we slept much, for the accommodation was of the worst class, and fully bore out the description given of it by our Malaga acquaintances.

We arose early the next morning to view the Baths, and to survey the picturesque appearance of the town, and were off again on our descent toward Grenada: through a deep gorge, through the little village of Corein, then an ascent to La Mala, and we enter the Vega of Malaga, surrounded by the Sierra Nevada.

I had provided myself with a note-book, in order that I might jot down such scenes and incidents of the journey as I wished to preserve for reference upon my return. The occurrences of strange travel have to me an interest beyond that afforded by their immediate enjoyment, and the pleasure of musing upon past-viewed scenery, the recalling of objects that have attracted me, has always given me feelings of gratification; but, alas! the anxiety which I felt on my dear friend’s account occupied my mind too much to give me leisure to have recourse to its pages —save to book my expenses, and to enter a few useful sentences, in the Spanish language, which proved on several occasions of some value.

As I anticipated at least a week’s stay in Grenada, we located ourselves at a good hotel, La Armistad, and, after a slight repast, tired as I was and late the hour, I could not resist sallying forth to glance around, while Charley lay down upon the sofa completely done up.

I found, even in the imperfect light, that all my anticipations were realized to the fullest. I could have lingered for hours over the scenery; but anxious that my friend should not be left too much alone, I returned soon to the hotel, and, running up to our apartment, found Charley seated at the table with his sketching materials before him, and a sheet of drawing-paper spread out, upon which he was busily engaged. My entrance disturbed him, and he hastily rolled up his sketch, and closed the tin case which held his colors.

Delighted at the imagined success of my ruse in my attempt to revive his old art-love, I was about to express my feelings, when I noticed a change in his countenance which sent a cold chill to my heart. I am utterly at a loss how to express this change, otherwise than by saying that his physiognomy exhibited a painful alteration; the listlessness and apathy which I had before noticed were now wanting, and the expression was that of cunning and deceit.

Before I had time to recover from the shock which this appearance caused me, he had, without uttering a word, borne his work away, and I saw no more of him that night.

Uneasy, and with a vague, indefinable feeling of disappointment, I retired to my own room, and, thinking over plans and schemes that might tend to restore poor Charley to his normal condition, I fell asleep, my little oil-lamp still burning upon a table at the foot of the bed.

I fancy I must have slumbered for an hour when a slight creaking of the door aroused me, no result following. I dozed again and awoke with an overpowering sensation of trouble. The door was now wide open, and between it and where I lay I saw Charley seated upon a chair assiduously engaged upon sketching me. As my eyes fell upon him he arose silently and glided from the room.

This seemed, indeed, mysterious to me. I had no more sleep that night, my brain was so busy; in endeavoring to account for the strange proceeding morning came. Charley evidently had not slept; I doubt much whether he had even undressed, and the cunning air and cowed look were, if possible, even more painfully obvious.

He was another being; he was not the same Charley of our former days, and I felt it a great relief when I started out alone, and devoted the entire day to the Alhambra.

I have not the heart to describe the glories of that visit; but in the midst of the great trouble which I felt, that I can own to a day of wonder, that I experienced sensations of the most absorbing interest, these sensations testify to the attractions of a place viewed under the depression of anxious feelings, and the sense of vague horror of some calamity, the signs of which loomed oppressively in some not far-off distance. What shape it would assume I could not even guess.

Charley used to be devotedly fond of chess, and having mentioned the fact casually to our host, Don Jose, he snapped him up immediately for a tournament with the medico, Dr, Favargo, who lived next door. Charley, to my surprise, accepted the offer, and I left the two in the patio at the doctor’s house, Charley promising to be home early, as we had to make our plans for the operations of the next day.

I was glad of this opportunity as a mental experiment for my poor friend, and hoped that the combinations of thought in this game would be a beneficial exercise to him. Jose and I smoked a cigar together in his sanctum, and, when alone again, I drew out my note-book to enter up a few arrears of memoranda. Involuntarily the recollection of the mysterious proceedings of the last night came into my mind, and, with it, the old forebodings of calamity, which pressed upon me so heavily that I made up my mind to go to Charley’s room and endeavor to satisfy myself as to the subject of his stealthy sketch.

His saddle-bags lay upon the floor, quite empty; the few things that he had brought with him lay upon a chair, the drawing upon which he had been engaged was nowhere to be seen. Why should he carry it about with him? or, if he had concealed it, what could be his reason for secrecy?

The search in the room was a very simple matter, for the furniture, besides the bed, consisted only of a rickety table, a walnut set of drawers, and three or four cane-seated chairs. The drawers were quite empty. There were three framed engravings upon the walls—a portrait of Queen Isabella, a scene from “Don Quixote,” and a Spanish naval battle. This latter did not lie flat on the wall; and taking hold of the lower portion of the frame to see what was the cause, a rolled-up paper, hitherto confined by the pressure of the picture, fell to the ground. “Here was the mysterious sketch, I thought. In the act of unrolling it a common table-knife fell out of it to the ground. I then had never in my life experienced such a painful shock. Executed in colors, barely dried, was my own likeness, but with the pallor of a corpse, and hideous with a cruel gash across my throat.

Poor fellow! it was not the work of my real Charley. With that mysterious instinct of a disorganized reason which plots the destruction of those whom, in sane moments, it most loves, his hand, with insane assiduity, had pictured the realization of its mad infatuation.

This was the secret of his stealthy work! Perhaps, in the wavering moods of his tottering reason, he had been endeavoring to familiarize himself with the likeness which his morbid feelings convinced himself I must soon assume.

I felt fairly beaten down. My friend’s disease had assumed so terrible, so hopeless a shape. I leaned my head upon the mantelpiece and fairly wept. I looked again at the ghastly painting, to see if any hope could be extracted, and as I placed it before me, holding the oil-lamp to shed its light upon it, I was sensible of a stealthy tread in the room, and a warm breath upon my neck.

I turned round, and was face to face with the painter of this horror. His eyes were dilated to their fullest extent. But one instant he faced me, and then, with a shriek which even now seems to vibrate in my ears, he sprung from me, and, dashing with all his force against the small-paned windows, burst them open, and fell to the ground outside amid a shiver of glass.

I rushed down-stairs and out of the hotel to the spot where I expected to find his crushed body; but, to my unspeakable surprise, he was to be found nowhere.

Don Jose, and a waiter or two, alarmed by the crash, had by this time joined me, and we set out with speed, under the guidance of the don.

We ran up the frightfully paved street, and, passing under a dark and frowning archway within the precincts of the Alhambra, overtook two priests who were gesticulating violently. From them we learned that the unhappy young man had rushed furiously past them a minute or so since, and that the object of our search was lost in the gloom, in advance of them. He was streaming with blood, they said, and staggering in his run. As we continued our way, and almost before Don Jose had finished his interpretation of their words, the foremost priest, who accompanied us, stumbled over an object that lay in his path—the body of my dear friend.

A sad and weary procession we made back to the hotel. Returning life flickered fitfully in the poor maimed body, under stimulants applied by Dr. Favargo, who attended Charley immediately that we carried him to his room; and I heard him indistinctly, as the unmistakable hue of death was falling like a veil upon his features, murmur the name of “Grace,” as if the reason which his great love had cost him reasserted its dominion one brief moment, ere his good and faithful heart had ceased to beat.

Dr. Favargo. who was a fair English scholar, told me, before he took his leave of us, that it was perfectly marvelous how, with the mortal injuries which poor Charley had received, he had accomplished such a flight.

Next day, Don Jose, in the kindest manner, saw to the completion of various documents relative to the unfortunate catastrophe; and under the painful ordeal which I had to undergo before the local authorities. I had the kind sympathy and support of two American travelers, who purposely delayed their journey to Seville to render me all the assistance which their experience, derived from a protracted tour in Spain, could afford; and the day after I started on my return to Malaga, with the body of my poor friend, in a rough vehicle, the only one which I could engage for the entire journey to carry such a burden.

Arrived at Malaga, I placed the remains in the Protestant burial-ground.

I had, in my dismal journey, thought of making such arrangements at Malaga that my friend’s body might be brought to England, should his many admirers feel a wish to pay that posthumous respect and honor due to his eminent talents and his estimable private virtues; but, upon reflection, I felt that such a course might lead to a revelation of circumstances so saddening that I conceived the course which I had adopted was the most judicious.

I packed up the few things which we had brought with us, took a berth in one of the steamers of Lopez & Co., and, reaching Gibraltar, collected the heavier effects which we had left there, and next day was on board a P. and O. steamer, on my way back to England.

I am again at home—a sad enough return to me. The task of breaking the terrible news to Mrs. Fawcett should not be delayed. The shocking details I felt might be passed over in silence. I never had been very intimate with that lady; I believe that since her husband’s death she had given herself up to a stern melancholy, and I often used to think, when I saw her, that the exercise of her rigid ideas upon religious duty might bear tempering somewhat with social conciliations, with a more affectionate yearning toward a son who loved her so devotedly.

She bore the news like a Spartan matron, and her taciturnity spared me the necessity of entering into painful details.

I thought now of the last name uttered by Charley, and felt that before Mr. Eveleigh or his daughter might learn the terrible news through a public channel, it would be well for me to run down to Wimbledon and see him.

I lost no time, and on my arrival went straight to his library.

He arose, and shook me warmly by the hand. I inquired after Grace, and was grieved to see the dejected look which fell upon him, as his eyes filled with tears.

“A sad, sad business,” he said, after a moment’s pause; “but God knows I acted as I deemed for the best.”

“She is ill?”

“Seriously, I fear.”

“I know the story,” I said. “You are aware that I was poor Charley’s dearest friend; we were like brothers.”

“Yes, and a worthy good fellow he is. How does he bear the disappointment?”

“He is past all trouble now. He died in Grenada. Had he lived on we might, with the memory of his lost, bright intellect, have mercifully wished him in the quiet grave wherein I laid him at Malaga.”

Mr. Eveleigh looked inexpressibly shocked at the news, and, laying his hand gently on my arm, said, “Was I not justified, in his interest, in the interest of my dear Grace, in the interest of possible descendants, in my apparently harsh treatment in rejecting his suit for her hand?”

I looked anxiously at him. “But it was that shock which caused the wreck.”

“Not so,” said the old gentleman. “The shock, which I strove by every means in my power to soften, only served to develop the seeds of his malady. Perhaps you never heard of the real facts of his father’s death. He destroyed himself in a fit of insanity. His uncle, kindly spoken of as an eccentric being, was a dangerous lunatic, and for many of the later years of his life was under restraint. A generation further back exhibited similar painful cases.”

I certainly had never heard of these facts. Poor Charley never alluded to his predecessors; and, as regards his father, I had only heard that he had died suddenly, Charley being then but a boy. I had never, during my long, close intimacy with my dear friend, noticed an act incompatible with the best-balanced mind.

I felt, however, now that I had received the information from Mr. Eveleigh, how true it was that a hereditary curse had clung to his race; that the disease which had lain dormant only awaited some disturbing influence to develop itself.

The skillful eye of the medical gentleman, on the occasion of his contemplated scheme for his mother’s comfort, had detected some latent ill, confirmed, no doubt, by information obtained in the usual course from the family doctor; and hence the rejection of his life.

I have little more to add. Grace recovered her health slowly, but she remained single, and true to the memory of the foredoomed lover to whom she had given her young heart.


How We Marry

Christmas at Belletowers, how she had looked forward for it! No wonder either, considering what her life was. Nora’s was not a family where love and harmony softened the thorny point of poverty. A broken-down speculator, and a ci-devant beauty who had never been anything but a beauty, are not promising materials for the manufacture of an edifying elderly couple. A sister whose indifferent disposition had been made detestable by bad bringing up, and by her failure at the competitive examination by the beaux of the county to pass as a belle at the assize ball which it had been settled was to decide her fate; two ne’er-do-well loutish brothers; and, to crown all, a young female demon in short frocks, who, being apparently the only thing her parents loved, took unceasing delight in torturing with precocious ingenuity all those whom they did not love; a houndish form of gratitude—such were Nora Boynton’s family. But she was god-daughter to her second cousin, Lord Belletowers. That good-natured nobleman had long since been cured of any interest he might have taken in the rest of the family. An un-intermittent desire to borrow his money—borrow!—and, worse still, to wash their dirty linen in his presence, had disgusted him with the impecunious brood. He and his wife, however, had taken a fancy to the pretty Nora as a child, and still occasionally sent her a five-pound note to buy herself a birthday or Christmas present.

But Belletowers is in Devon, and the Boyntons vegetate in Yorkshire; so that they seldom or never met, save when his lordship paid his biennial visit to his northern possessions, and then he would send over his housekeeper, some ten miles, in a gig, to fetch the young damsel out for a treat, very coolly, but not unjustifiably, ignoring the rest of the family. As Nora approached womanhood, however, these jaunts well-nigh ceased.

The welcome fivers, too, had become rarer and rarer; for his lordship, in common with most of his noble confreres, was a great sufferer by the hard times the farmers were having. He had, moreover, a large family of his own, and he gradually told himself that justice forbade his indulging to any serious degree in the luxury of a goddaughter whom he had thought, under more affluent circumstances, of providing with a moderate dower.

It had been arranged, however, that Nora was to visit her noble kinsman’s roof in Devon for the first time, in order to assist at the Christmas festivities, which were expected to be more than usually brilliant that year. There was to be a play in the house, in which she was to take a small part, her first attempt in that line.

Whether it was that the distant sunshine from the sponsorial towers had reached and softened her, or that some long-dead progenitor had transmitted to her a gentler nature than the rest, our heroine was certainly a very nice little girl of eighteen; and so everybody thought as she joined the distinguished circle at five-o’clock tea on the day the long-looked-forward-to party assembled. She came quite alone, to be under the chaperonage of Lady Belletowers. Her journey was performed third-class, for, though a ten-pound note had been inclosed with the invitation, for traveling expenses, every spare penny was required to put her very modest wardrobe upon a war-footing; every girl, when she sets sail from her native harbor, being, of course, more or less, on conquest bent.

“Sir Paul, let me introduce you to my cousin, Miss Boynton,” said the hostess, who had kissed Nora quite as a matter of course on her arrival.

The accolade and “my cousin.” the girl thought, gave her rank in the house at once, and removed all dread of the poor-relation reception she had feared might await her.

As Sir Paul is only saying the most commonplace things— though no one says them more pleasantly—we will look at him for a moment instead of listening. He is one of those men to whom grayness is a godsend. There is a distingue twist about those temple locks which may not be quite artless, but their decided gray accentuates, as nothing else could do, the freshness and fine chiseling of a face which has at least seen five-and-forty summers. His figure is elegance itself, and his light-drab traveling suit is of faultless make.

Nora, however, sees none of these perfections. The cursory and inexperienced glance of youth had told her the baronet was an old fogy—forty is so old to eighteen—and it was not to meet such that she had traveled third-class for all those miles in cold December weather. Her family had bade her adieu with an implied, “Don’t come back if you can help it,” in every tone and gesture. Nor was it wonderful that for once she should wish to comply with their behests.

There is a golden-haired young stripling in black velvet, all a-sprawl upon the ottoman, who has already caught her eye.

To quote a real, live, young—very young—lady we heard say it, “he is more the sort of looking man;” and with delightful impudence he is already telling her—though in full parley with a rival beauty—that he loves her, with his eyes.

So familiar are his smiling glances that Nora at first fancies she must have known him somewhere, and is surprised into smiling back. Then she blushes at her mistake; yet cannot, for the life of her, feel angry with him.

And now she overhears an old dowager at her elbow, deliberately ordering her granddaughter to make a dead set at him.

“Heir to a barony, enormous rent-roll, his mother dying for him to marry. Babley, my dear—B-a-b-l-e-y—eh! yes, I know, not a pretty name; stuff and nonsense. How dare you giggle, miss? What do surnames matter, when you have a title like De Porchington?”

Nora was sitting very quietly sipping her tea in a corner near the fire. She was tired from her long journey, moreover a little shy; but nevertheless she was gleaning; and scraps of information from the sheaves of knowledge anent people and things dropped here and there by different members of that aristocratic house might prove very useful in the future.

She looked once more across the room at the future Lord de Porchington, and smiled as she thought, “If he admires me now in my dusty traveling clothes, what will he think of me presently in my white silk with the gladiolus flowers!”

Babley took the smile directly for himself, and getting up from his half-recumbent position beside Miss Chevenix he lounged to the fireplace; by this deliberate act sowing the seeds of hatred in the Chevenix heart toward the fair intruder, making Sir Paul mentally designate him “an impertinent young puppy,” and awakening with intent in Nora’s heart the beginning of her first romance.

Half an hour afterward, when she has been shown her room, and with the assistance of Lady Belletower’s second maid she is unpacking the greatest wealth of earthly possessions she has ever yet known, they already fade into comparative littleness as she pictures to herself the wonderful toilets she may one day display as the wife of the rich Lord de Porchington. But she cannot afford time to build air-castles. She must don the white silk triumph of north-country art, and be ready when Lady Belletowers sends for her, which she has promised to do, in order that she may chaperone her into the drawing-room.

Neither Sir Paul nor Babley are in the room. Still some half-dozen or so of the party have assembled, and Nora feels all her shyness come back when she finds herself in a little knot of women who seem to depress her by the ease of their manners, and their off-hand superiority. Her nervousness reaches its climax when she distinctly hears Miss Chevenix remark to a very plain little Miss Despreaux—the heiress of the party—“that the new cousin is badly dressed, and wants style!” Badly dressed! poor Nora. What severer trial to a girl who has spent all her money and energies for weeks on her toilets, even to not sleeping at nights, in order to plan the dresses for Christmas, than to be told she is badly dressed? Babley came in at this juncture. Miss Chevenix pounced upon him forthwith, with a request that he would sing that divine ballad about “The Curls of Jove” to them after dinner; but he cast an approving look at Nora, as though to say he thought she looked divine. The blood rushed back to her heart, and she was happy: five seconds ago she felt so wretched that she was contemplating flight under pretext of a headache.

Dinner was announced.

“Sir Paul, will you take in my young cousin?”

The baronet seemed nothing loath. Nora looked at Babley presently when they were all seated. He sat, however, a long way from her on the same side of the table; she could not even see him during dinner, so she talked simply and pleasantly to Sir Paul, who thought the new addition to the house-party a very charming one.

The theatricals were to take place on Christmas-eve, to which it still wanted a week; but then every moment till then would be taken up in rehearsals, discussions, trying on dresses, and a dozen other delightful modes of passing time; and Nora, who had never of course been in such a whirl before, was in ecstasies, as she confided to Sir Paul before dinner was half over. It never would have occurred to Nora to fall in love with Sir Paul, but he seemed such a nice, fatherly man, she felt she could tell him everything, and she chatted away about all her hopes and fears in the most natural manner! He had declined to take a part in the theatricals, but had promised to prompt and stage-manage, and make himself generally useful. Of course he would look especially after Nora.

“And then, you know, I shall feel quite safe; for it does make one very shy acting for the first time, does it not?”

“I am sure you will prove the most charming soubrette imaginable. Miss Chevenix is to play.”

“Yes,” said Nora, a sort of cold feeling coming over her when she thought of Miss Chevenix.

“And Babley. He is an accomplished actor; quite an old stager.”

“I am so glad; then he will teach me. I am so horribly ignorant.”

“Delighted, I should imagine:” which was more than Sir Paul looked as he uttered the word.

He was right, however, Babley was delighted; his eyes told it all too plainly, even if his ready tongue had not expressed it, when Nora asked him rather timorously in the drawing-room after dinner, if he would kindly teach her how to act her part. What more legitimate flirting-ground than coaching a pretty girl in amateur theatricals?

So the week ebbed away, ebbed all too rapidly for Nora, who was perfectly, entrancingly happy. Never before in her life had she even dreamed that such utter happiness could be. Never, probably, again in her life would she taste it. This first experience of young love was far too intoxicating to last. Yet Nora imagined it would go on forever. No more monotonous, dull weeks in the moldy north-country town. The whole future would be bright, like that genial, enjoyable Devonshire Christmas. Babley was her slave, and so thoroughly did she feel protected by his attentions that in less than two days she ceased to care about Miss Chevenix’s barbed arrows, sharp though their points undeniably were.

Lady Belletowers noted the flirtation: how could she help it? but she said nothing. She had no fault to find with her young charge, whose behavior was perfectly dignified and maidenly; and if it came to nothing, which, perhaps, from having seen Mr. Babley pass through the throes more than once, she rather expected, yet Lady Belletowers was one of those women of the world who believe that a real honest flirtation is not altogether disadvantageous to a girl’s prospects.

“Time does pass quickly when one is happy,” thought Nora; for Christmas-eve came much too soon, though she had been looking forward to it for weeks. Anticipation in her case, however, did not prove the keener part of pleasure; for was she not in the very seventh heaven? The flowers, the lights, the stage, the music, the lovely bracelet Lord Belletowers had given her for a Christmas-box, the quiet attention of Sir Paul, the adulation of those in the house-party who preferred Miss Boynton to Miss Chevenix (and they were many), above all the tremendous outpouring of Babley worship—if all this was not enough to turn little Nora’s head, unaccustomed as it was to a whirl, it must indeed have been strong.

The acting was a perfect success. Are not all amateur theatricals undeniable successes? Although Miss Chevenix played the leading part, and received the wreath of laurel, Babley himself presenting it on his bended knee, yet Nora was quite satisfied with herself and with Babley’s stray glances when no one was looking. She was not in the least jealous of Miss Chevenix, and went to bed early on Christmas morning perfectly happy, one only regret marring her bliss, that “those beautiful theatricals were over.”

She came down to breakfast on the day of the great festival looking very bright, and when the whole party started for the village church, Nora’s sonsie face, under her little seal-skin hat, was generally voted the fairest there. She walked to church with Sir Paul, and gushed to him of the happiness she had derived from her visit to Belletowers, he listening to every word she uttered with a half-amused, half-sorrowful expression, for which Nora, as she thought of it by and by, when she ought to have been listening to the sermon, could not wholly account.

She walked back from church with Mr. Babley. For a minute or two they talked of their histrionic triumphs on the previous evening; then they lapsed into a tenderer strain; that is, Mr. Babley told her how pretty she had looked last night in her little short soubrette’s dress, but that she looked prettier far this morning, with the bright winter sun falling on her face. There were so few faces, he said, that could meet the glare of daylight and defy it.

And then he told her that he loved her—with his eyes. They were dark-blue, speaking eyes, and they frequently served him instead of speech, thus preventing him from getting into the difficulties words sometimes entail. It was very pleasant to be complimented by Mr. Babley, and to have his great expressive eyes staring into your very soul. At least so Nora thought; but she began, nevertheless, just to wonder whether he never meant to go any further. Time was slipping away, and visions of that third-class railway carriage, and the wretched, half-furnished, half-fed northern home would obtrude themselves. She had only been invited for a fortnight; Lady Belletowers never gave long invitations; and half of that halcyon time was gone.

Nora was ruminating in some such strain, when Mr. Babley said:

“The frost looks as if it were going to yield. Thank goodness, we shall get some hunting.”

“Do you hunt?”

“I should think so—rather. It is the only thing in the world worth living for. All the summer through I dream of hunting, and then when winter arrives there’s a horrid frost, and one is obliged to amuse one’s self with theatricals.”

“Oh, Mr. Babley, I thought you liked theatricals!”

“Of course I do, but I like hunting better. And so would you, had you ever tried it!”

He included her, believing she would participate in his love of sport; but, nevertheless, the statement that he loved hunting better than anything jarred.

“And shall you never give up hunting?” she asked; “never give up hunting? Is it the only thing worth living for?”

“Not till I am too old for life to be worth living,” he answered, with a laugh. “You should see Barley-sugar and Rosie, my two pet hunters. They are beauties, and no mistake.”

Nora gave a little “Oh!” She was more jealous of the hunters than of any attentions she had ever seen Mr. Babley pay to any human divinities.

Christmas-eve she had been at the very flood-tide of happiness. Christmas-day the ebb seemed to have set in. It was not that Babley was less assiduous in his attentions, but Nora was growing tired of attentions which never got any further, and of which she found Barley-sugar and Rosie had by far the greater share; for the frost of the last ten days was succeeded by a rapid thaw, so that little was seen of the heroes of the party, at least during the day. Nora was already beginning to discover that Belletowers was not the Utopia she had believed it to be, and that even in palaces, with riches to command, there were many dull hours to be passed.

New-year’s night there was to be a ball. She had nearly danced her cheap shoes into holes with the amount of dancing that had already been perpetrated; and as for her new dresses, they sadly wanted a maid to furbish them up; but she devoted some of her time to darning and renovating, and looked forward to the New Year being inaugurated by another triumph. On the morrow the party was to disperse; and Nora felt that if Mr. Babley did not come forward to-night she would have to go back to her north-country home more utterly unfit to struggle with its vicissitudes than ever she had been in her life before.

She came out of her room looking lovely. Her deft fingers had done wonders for the draggled tulle, and meeting the plain heiress on the stairs, she hooked her arm in hers, and they went down into the ball-room together. Sir Paul asked her for the first dance; Mr. Babley carried off the heiress. This was not at all what Nora had intended, but she had no doubt things would improve as the evening warmed, and she set herself to talk amiably to Sir Paul, who asked her if she was sorry or glad to be going home so soon.

“Very, very sorry,” she answered, the tears brimming into her eyes; “I have enjoyed myself so much, and my home—”

She stopped and colored up. She had become so used to make a confidant of Sir Paul that she was on the verge of saying too much. He knew all about it, however. He was the intimate friend of the house. Lady Belletowers had but few secrets from Sir Paul. In fact, although he did not tell Nora this, he had danced with her mother when she was accounted the belle of the county. He did not appear to have noticed Nora’s little mistake, but said kindly,

“Perhaps Lady Belletowers will ask you to stay on after the rest of the party has gone.”

“Oh no, I am sure she will not; she was talking about my going home only yesterday. Besides, papa says Lady Belletowers soon gets tired of people. She might get tired of me if I were here all alone. It would not be very lively, would it. Sir Paul smiled; but Nora was looking across the room at Mr. Babley, who at that moment was bringing the full artillery of his eyes to bear on the heiress. Enthusiast that he was about feminine beauty, he did not fail to admire it in the coin of the realm.

Nora’s dance with Sir Paul being over, several young men came up to ask her to let them put her name on their cards; but not Mr. Babley. He did not put in a claim till very late, by which time Nora was almost in tears. Could it be possible that he was only flirting, while she— The idea was almost too dreadful to be thought of; so she called up all her bravery and shook the horrid thought away, especially when at last he asked her for a waltz. At all events she would enjoy herself now. Babley was to leave Belletowers on the morrow; she herself on the following day. Once more dancing with Nora, the future Lord de Porchington seemed to forget the heiress, the hunters, everything but Nora, and till far on in the small hours, when the band played “God Save the Queen,” they lingered in each other’s society, made love, or flirted—and were happy; Sir Paul meanwhile watching these unavowed lovers with more or less of a cynical smile lurking about his well-cut mouth.

The good-nights, or rather good-mornings, were said.

“I am starting very early,” whispered Babley; “the meet is fifteen miles off. My servant takes my things on to Lord Meresals’s, where I dine. God bless you, Miss Boynton. We shall meet again soon, I hope. At all events, I shall look forward to finding you here next winter.”

An ardent look from those wonderful eyes. Nora is swept on by the crowd of ladies hurrying up to bed, and the parting with Babley, so unexpected and so cold, is over. It is nearly six when the disappointed girl is at last alone in her room, but she does not feel in the least inclined to sleep. She pulls up the blind, and looks for a gleam of color in the sky; but there is not even one break, so she sits down in the arm-chair by the fire— not caring now whether her ball-dress is tumbled or fresh—and begins to think, till from thinking she gets to crying, and the large tear-drops fall all about the gauzy attire, bedewing it with a portion of the sadness of which poor Nora’s heart is so full.

It is not that she is so desperately in love with Babley that she feels she can never be happy without him. It is over her own blighted prospects she is lamenting. That Christmas to which she had looked forward as to the turning-point of life! It was all over. The day after to-morrow she must go back to the North, and probably sooner or later she would have to go out as a governess—her mother had said so; that this was her only chance. Oh, how she had awaited it!

And sobs succeeded sobs till Nora looked very pink about the eyes and very pale about the cheeks, and moreover began to shiver and get very cold. So at last she undressed and went to bed, just as the winter’s sun peeped in through the frosted panes. Nora looked at it, and blessed the frost, and wondered if Mr. Babley would really go. After a while she fell asleep, and did not wake till eleven o’clock, when the maid came in to tell her breakfast would be at twelve.

Nora got up wearily and dressed herself very slowly. Her tumbled finery was lying all about the room in hopeless confusion, but she did not attempt to put things straight. She kicked the ill-fated ball-dress, which had cost her so many hours of thought in its arrangement, into a heap in a corner, and went down to breakfast, looking so solemn that Miss Chevenix exclaimed,

“Well, late hours don’t suit you, Miss Boynton. You do look pinched and ill this morning.”

But Nora did not care what she said; she would soon be beyond the reach of her darts now. She looked round the table. Babley was not there. Of course those odious hunters had won him, so that was over.

Everybody was taking of departure; Bradshaw, junctions, luggage were the key-words, till Nora was heartily sick of them. The only complacent-looking individual was Sir Paul. He seemed to be eating his breakfast with so much silent dignity and composure that in the unreasonable state of her mind he irritated her by his sang-froid as much as the other people did by their fussiness. To Nora this breakfast was the very longest meal she had ever experienced at Belletowers; and she was truly thankful when it was over and she was at liberty to return once more to the solitude of her own room.

Oh, that dreadful packing up! How joyfully she had gathered her war accouterments together at the beginning of the campaign! but, like a defeated, heart-broken soldier, she cared but little what became of them now. Marius weeping over the ruins of Carthage could scarcely have looked more disconsolate than poor Nora sitting among her open boxes and the ruins of her once glorious panoply.

For an hour at least she had sat there, and no one came to help her. The maids had long since discovered that Miss Boynton was a poor relation, and neglected her accordingly.

A knock, however, was heard at the door. Could some one really be coming to pack those masses of things?

“Please, Miss Boynton, will you go to her ladyship in the boudoir? Her ladyship wishes to speak to you, and says never mind the packing.”

Nora sprung to her feet, and a sudden rush of feeling brought the blood back to her heart.

“I will come directly.”

“Babley” was the one word that rose to her lips as she paused for a moment before the looking-glass to twist a rebellious curl into its place, and give her immaculate linen collar just the least pretense at arrangement.

“Come and sit down by me here on the sofa, my love,” said Lady Belletowers very kindly and gently (she was a woman with gentle manners, but a determined will), when Nora, a second or two later, entered the room. “I have a matter of a very delicate and responsible nature to talk about.”

She kissed the girl, who was trembling all over, and then went on;

“In the absence of your own mother, especially as she has confided you to me, I feel, my dear child, that you will let me stand in her place. I will strive to fill it honestly, and I hope discreetly.”

“Oh, Lady Belletowers, you are more than kind;” and Nora sought to hide her burning cheeks half in the sofa cushion and half in the folds of Lady Belletower’s dress.

Her ladyship stroked her hair affectionately.

“The fact is, my dear little Nora, I have been selected as an embassadress to propose to you a great alliance,” she said, assuming a playful manner when she saw the girl was really frightened. At this juncture Nora’s face was entirely concealed, only the tips of her very pink ears testified to the exceeding confusion from which she was suffering. Lady Belletowers, however, gently removed her hands from her burning cheeks, and went on: “You are a very lucky girl, my love, since you have won the devotion, not only of a very rich man, holding a high position in the world, but of a kind and noble heart. There is scarcely a girl in our society but would feel flattered at being asked to become the wife of Sir Paul Statfield.”

“Sir Paul Statfield!”

And all the color forsook Nora’s face, leaving it white and ashen in hue. This testimony of her feelings was only what Lady Belletowers had expected. She did not pretend to notice it, however, but said with a smile,

“You may, indeed, be surprised to think that our poor little north-country Nora should be going to make this great match.”

“But I cannot—I cannot. Oh, dear Lady Belletowers, I cannot—”

“Cannot! I do not understand. Explain, child. What do you mean?”

“Oh, I don’t know; I am so startled—so—”

“Well, do not excite yourself, my sweet girl. Compose your nerves, and let us discuss the subject practically.”

“But, dear Lady Belletowers, if I do not love Sir Paul——”

“My dear Nora, don’t begin to talk such nonsense; it is too childish. Sir Paul loves you; he is a man of wealth and position; a courteous, kind-hearted gentleman; while you—do not think me unkind for speaking plainly—you have no future, and a very indifferently comfortable home. You cannot afford to be sentimental.”

Nora sat with clasped hands, looking fixedly at the carpet, but did not speak. “If it had only been Babley!” she thought.

Lady Belletowers continued, like a dexterous surgeon holding the knife with which she meant to cut mischief out at the very root with a firm hand,

“Sir Paul is going to stay on here for a few weeks while some repairs at Statfield Park are being done. I had hoped, my child, that you, too, would have remained with us for a time.”

The color rose in Nora’s face. Remain at Belletowers; not to have to go back to her miserable home! Oh, it would be too delightful! But her joy fell once more to zero when Lady Belletowers said,

“Of course, if you absolutely refuse Sir Paul this will be impossible, as daily meeting a girl who has rejected him would be a painful ordeal, through which I could not condemn him to pass.”

Poor Nora! what conflicting emotions were hers! How heavily she felt the weight of poverty. The idea of the return home weighed upon her as a sort of nightmare. Could she ever bear the taunts of her relations, especially if they learned that she had received a proposal from Sir Paul Statfield. Should she marry him? How could she, when she did not love him? What was she to do? She begged for a reprieve.

“Do not tell him I will never marry him,” she cried; “but ask him to have a little patience. Tell him I am so surprised—so—”

The sentence finished in a sob on Lady Belletowers’s shoulder.

Lady Belletowers kissed and caressed her, begged her not to cry, told her she was a brave little heart; and now, for the first time—wary diplomate that she was—alluded to the love-making with Mr. Babley. She assured Nora that he was a heartless flirt, that he had never meant anything beyond the amusement of the passing hour. “In proof of which, my dear,” she concluded, “he proposed and was accepted by Miss Despreaux last night. She told me so herself this morning. She has a hundred thousand pounds, you know.”

Nora lifted her head from her cousin’s shoulder, and dried her tears forthwith; but her face was deadly pale. This fresh shock to her nerves was a sudden and startling one. Through how many emotions was she to pass this Christmas-tide, she wondered!

“I will leave you, my love, to recover yourself, while I go and speak to Sir Paul. Here is some eau-de-cologne; bathe your face with it, and stay here for a little while, will you?”

Nora promised, and was soon left to her meditations, which were scarcely more lively than when she had sat among her open boxes, envying the very servants, because they had not to leave Belletowers.

It was Babley, not Belletowers, that had made her last week’s sojourn there a Paradise. She knew it full well now; in fact, she thought so much of Babley and his defection, that she forgot all about Sir Paul. How could she be expected to think of him, with her first love-dream lying shattered into a thousand atoms at her feet?

While she still lingers there, looking with sorrowful longing at the broken fragments, the door opens quietly, and before she has time to utter even one little cry, Sir Paul is standing before her. Had it been possible she would have taken instant flight; but before she could make up her mind to do anything Sir Paul is actually sitting beside her in the very place Lady Belletowers quitted not half an hour before. He is looking at her very kindly with his benevolent eyes; but Nora, even in her fright and perplexity, thinks his hair looks more than usually gray, and wishes with all her heart that he were her father or her uncle, and then he would never have asked her to marry him. Not a very promising beginning to his suit, but then, fortunately, he could not read her thoughts.

He took her hand and held it in his own. She did not attempt to draw it away. Since flight was impossible, she resolved to resign herself to circumstances.

“My dear Miss Boynton,” he said, speaking in very low but very distinct tones, “Lady Belletowers tells me that you have kindly consented to stay on for a little while at Belletowers, in order that we may become better acquainted.”

“I never promised anything; indeed I did not. I hope she has not misled you;” and Nora spoke very jerkily, half crying the while.

“Do you know, little one,” he said, still holding her hand and patting it, “if you had accepted me at once, without any consideration, I should not love you half so much?”

“Why not?” asked Nora, opening her eyes very wide as she looked at him.

“Because I cannot expect a sweet little beauty like you to care for an old fellow such as I am now, unless it is because you know that you are all he has in the world to love, and that he means to devote his life to you.”

“Don’t husbands always do that?” asked Nora, ingenuously.

“Certainly not, unless they marry for love; and I love you, sweet Nora, with all my heart. I may call you Nora, may I not?”

“Yes, if you like. I never was called anything else till I came to Belletowers.”

The permission was not very encouraging, but Sir Paul only smiled. He evidently either had an immense belief in his own power of making himself beloved, or conjectured that the assumption of it would have the effect of carrying the citadel he was besieging.

“Well then, Nora,” he went on, “you will answer me one very little question, will you not? You will tell me that you do not hate me very much.”

“Hate you! no. Why should I hate you, Sir Paul? You have always been very kind to me.”

“So long as you do not hate me, I am willing to say no more on the subject for the present; for I see it is one that alarms you, if it is not altogether hateful to you, sweet Nora.”

That night, only a parti carre sat down to dinner at Lord Belletowers, and one of the guests was very silent, leaving all the conversation to her host and hostess and Sir Paul.

In the course of the evening Lady Belletowers asked Nora to sing. It was not perhaps very kind of her under the circumstances; but Lady Belletowers had but little patience with what she considered mere girlish whims. Nora had a sweet, fresh, though uncultivated voice. However, it would have pleased her listeners, who were not hypercritical, if she could only have succeeded in getting to the end of her song; but something in the words—of course it was a love-ditty—reminded her of what she was pleased to magnify into Babley’s cool desertion of her; a great gulp came in her throat; instead of a note a sob was heard, and to Lady Belletowers’s horror, for she hated a scene, this was followed by an hysterical outburst, and Nora was sent off to bed in a sort of silent disgrace.

“She shall go back to her family to-morrow,” said Lady Belletowers, as the door closed on her; “this is too absurd.”

But Sir Paul pleaded: “A week; just one week. If at the end of a week she still says nay, then, Lady Belletowers, I will interfere no more.”

Lady Belletowers consented somewhat unwillingly, feeling rather provoked with a man who could care to marry a girl showing so little regard for him and so little spirit as Nora did.

She failed entirely to see that it was the very ingenuousness and utter want of worldly knowledge about Nora that, in Sir Paul’s eyes, constituted her charm.

For two days nothing of seeming importance occurred, but Nora was anything but happy. Lady Belletowers took every possible opportunity of letting her see she was angry with her, even to looking upon her refusal of Sir Paul as a personal injury. As for Sir Paul himself, he but rarely spoke to her, and poor Nora almost wished herself back in the third-class carriage, journeying to her northern home. She was fully aware that she would be received there with gibes and taunts: but still it was her home, and she had as much right to be there as her overbearing, disagreeable sisters.

She was lying in bed one morning brooding upon her unhappy lot; when the maid brought her a letter in her mother’s handwriting.

Nora trembled as she opened it. She knew so well what it would contain. Mrs. Boynton never wrote letters except thoroughly to the purpose.

“I hear from Lady Belletowers,” the letter said, “that you are throwing away the opportunity of a splendid match. I insist upon your marrying Sir Paul Statfield. If you come back here except as his affianced wife you will not find your life so comfortable as it has hitherto been.”

Comfortable!” murmured Nora. “If it is to be less comfortable now, what will it be?”

Her mother went on:

“You know full well how straitened are our means. I shall discharge our only servant, and shall expect you to wait on me and your sisters!”

Nora fell back on her pillow after reading these lines,

“Oh, Babley, Babley!” she cried, as the tears coursed each other down her cheeks.

At last, however, she composed herself, and got up and dressed.

It was very luxurious and pleasant in the sunny little bedroom at Belletowers, and her gracious surroundings seemed to shed a cheering influence over her while she dawdled there.

Since she had had this peep into a fair, beautiful world it would be very hard to go back and play Cinderella, she thought.

After she had twisted up her pretty hair, she pulled up the blind and looked out on the park, where the sun was shining brightly on the hoar-frosted grass. She watched the scene for a while as she compared it to that dull, close town where she had passed so many miserable days.

While she was thinking how horrible it would be to go back there, some one came slowly through a tiny copse at the bottom of the lawn. It was Sir Paul.

He was old, certainly, Nora thought, as she watched him; but he had a pleasant face, and his slight, straight figure looked very young in his suit of dark-blue serge: besides, he would not make a Cinderella of her. He was not Babley, certainly; but then, Babley! Oh dear, oh dear! life was horribly hard and crooked. Notwithstanding her misery, Nora took a piece of red geranium out of a bouquet of hot-house flowers in a vase on the dressing-table and pinned it coquettishly in her dark-blue frock; then she looked at herself two or three times in the glass, twisting her brown hair into fascinating little curls; and finally she went down into the hall, meeting Sir Paul at the bottom of the stairs.

“Good-morning, Sir Paul,” she said, very cordially. “I hope you have enjoyed your walk. I saw you from my window.”

“It is delightful out-of-doors to-day. Will you come for a stroll? Lady Belletowers is on the terrace talking to the gardener.”

Nora consented, and was speedily wrapped in a large ulster which Sir Paul took down from a peg close by, the hood being thrown over her head instead of a hat.

She looked very bewitching as she stood there laughing; and so Sir Paul thought. He was delighted, too, to see her laugh, for she had been nearer crying than laughing for the last few days.

She was going to marry Sir Paul. She had made up her mind. That word Cinderella had decided it. So it was no use to cry any more, she supposed.

A moment later, and they are strolling beside the frozen lake, on which the defrauded ducks waddle awkwardly.

“Well,” he says, after a silence, and stooping down to her with a kindly, unembarrassed smile, “it is late days with me for pretty speeches, but I can’t help comparing you at this moment to some lovely flowery landscape, over which heavy snow-clouds are suddenly gathered; I, with my gray hair, representing the snow-cloud, of course.”

“You don’t seem at all wintry to me,” she said, encouragingly; for she had made up her mind that since she was to give herself to this man she would not spoil the gift by want of graciousness.

“I feel young at heart, at any rate,” he said, gratefully. “Young at heart when I gaze on you.”

And now she looked down and blushed, and really did for the moment forget his years in the courteous charm of his words and manner.

“And say, then,” he went on, “have you decided? Will you consent to be an old man’s darling?”

“No,” she said, roguishly; “I cannot.” Then, after a little pause, in which she reveled, I am afraid, in the anxiety she was causing, she added, with a glad, sunny laugh, “I cannot; you are not old enough. But I will be your true and loving wife.”

She held up her face to him, and he stooped and kissed those tempting ripe, red lips; nor could he refrain from thinking as he did so, “How they err who declare that rapture dies with youth.”

And when they returned to the house, after wandering together for a while, Lord and Lady Belletowers kissed Nora, and called her a dear little girl.

In fact, every one seemed so pleased that Nora began to think she was pleased herself. At all events, she was grateful that she should not have to go back to her miserable home and play Cinderella after all.


Mrs. Barter’s Bequest

Rumors having come to my ears of some unprecedented troubles that had afflicted the placid-looking little old woman who had been living with her niece for several years in our small Somerset village, and actuated by curiosity to hear her experiences, I called one evening at her tidy cottage armed with an infallible introduction to her confidence in the shape of a pound of tea of unimpeachable character, during the discussion of the infusion of a portion of which I with slight difficulty drew from her the following narrative:

I did not wish to tell about it again to anybody, she commenced, for it has cost me many years of trouble and anxiety, such as I hope may never fall to the lot of any one person again. My poor dear sister married the captain of a merchant vessel which traded at that time—(she hesitated here, and her niece Barbara, seeing the old lady’s forgetfulness, on this least eventful portion of her story, added)—from St. Katharine’s Docks to Singapore.

Ah! well I remember the comforters which I made for her, the mittens and muff of our dear mother which I presented to her toward her outfit; for she would accompany her husband, although she knew that she would be the only woman on board, and, apart from her husband, there were eight of the very roughest-looking crew you could imagine.

It was my sister’s first voyage, and in opposition to the wish of both her husband and myself. But poor Betty was superstitious: she would recollect any dreams that she had: and then refer to her Book of Fate to learn their interpretation. I will not say one way or the other as to my faith. (Which I thought rather an evasive reply to my question as to the extent of her credulity in the matter which elicited her remark.)

Betty’s resolve to go the voyage was suddenly taken, and in this manner: I had engaged some nice and cheerful rooms in a lovely part of Horselydown, where we intended to live together until the captain returned from his voyage, and into which I had moved my little furniture. One night, after we had settled down comfortably, we sat round the supper-table—Captain Barter, Betty, the mate, and I, all as cheerful as possible. What with the songs of Betty, the captain, and mate, riddles and fortune-telling (only by way of joke, ma’am), the evening was quickly spent. The mate left, and as the vessel was to leave the Docks on the morrow, and Barter had to be up early to take final instructions from the owners, we retired to bed immediately.

There have been times when, I dare say, you have felt (without exactly knowing the cause) that there is some trouble about to happen; you have a sensation of a great weight upon your spirits, and the more you try to reason it away from you, the more despondent you become. Such was my case as I lay restless upon my bed until daylight. I used all my endeavors to arouse in me cheerful feelings. I tried to think what a fine thing it would be when the time should come for the return of Betty’s husband, after a successful voyage, and of the happy hours he would spend ashore with her. Perhaps, as I have known other merchant captains do, he would bring home with him some pet things which he had collected abroad for her—a parrot or a porcupine, maybe an opossum or kangaroo, something that during his next trip she might cherish in her bosom, thinking of the donor all the time until he came back to her again. I tried to think of some inestimable pet that poor Betty might, perhaps, show to him, which would make him look forward with a double longing to his return from successive trips. I tried to divert myself with reading, and taking up one of the “Sisters’ tracts,” a few of which I always keep by my bedside in case of wakeful nights, I had read as far in the “Converted Cowboy” as that part where, in his unregenerate days, he set his dog at a district visitor, when I saw my door open slowly and admit Betty, looking as white as a sheet.

“Oh! Susan,” she said, “I have had an awful dream—that David” (that was Barter’s Christian name) “had gone upon his voyage, which was a very short one, and he returned quickly, looking hale and hearty.”

She then opened her little book, and showed that the dream portended a long voyage and doubtful return.

“What words did he say in the dream?” I asked.

“I can only remember.” said Betty, “that he intimated his next voyage would be a shorter one still, and he would take it by himself.”

A fresh reference to the little book gave a terrible interpretation; she knew then that his present voyage would be a very protracted one, and that she must not look for his return.

I saw the poor thing was so overcome with her feelings that I threw on a few clothes, and running down-stairs, brought up some of the Hollands which had been left from our supper, and mixed her a glassful.

I will not weary you with the serious chat which we had together, and which ended in my agreeing with her that she should go out in the vessel with Barter.

The captain, who had been away upon business since five o’clock, came in to breakfast about three hours afterward, and then Betty spoke out her resolve. He tried to reason with her, but, seeing how much she took it to heart, how pale and distressed she appeared, he gave way and determined to take her with him.

“You will have to rough it, Betty,” he said; “for our cargo is a miscellaneous one—woolen goods, iron, copper, and tin, and a deck loading of hardware that will leave very little gangway; and the Dart ain’t quite what she used to be; but it’ll be my last trip in her.”

This was an unlucky speech, for Betty, full of the memory of her dream, looked paler than before, seeing which, Barter added:

“I mean that after this trip she’ll be put on for Hamburg, Rotterdam, and such short voyages. However, I’ll do the best to make you comfortable aboard, little woman.”

To witness the happiness of Betty as we set to work collecting things for the passage was a treat, and then came a slight reprieve, as she could join the ship at Gravesend at noon, which was fortunate, as Barter, on looking over her luggage, ordered in a manner which I thought peremptory that a beautiful lot of bedding, father’s easy-chair, a parrot in a cage, a washing-machine, and an ironing-board, all to be unpacked and left behind.

The next day I went with Betty to Gravesend, and left her on board looking well and happy. The tug weighed anchor and moved off, leaving me to my loneliness.

I felt far more lonely when I returned home, notwithstanding that my friends, knowing how events had turned out, took it in turn to come and sit with me; and among them our minister was unremitting in his calls, generally accompanied with the “Sisters’ Collecting Box,” for he said, when a sister is in affliction she can the more easily sympathize with others in distress.

News came at last, after many weary months of waiting, and sad intelligence it was. (Barbara, who doubtless had heard the narrative many times before, dived into the recesses of an old bureau and produced a discolored and frayed letter, which she read as follows):

“Singapore,—, 18—.

“DEAR SISTER,—After a much-delayed voyage, owing partly to contrary winds, and partly, I fear, to the overloading of the brig, we reached Singapore. I was very ill for several days after leaving England, recovery being delayed by the unhealthy atmosphere created by the bilge-water, the pumps being out of order. I am still far from well, the climate being so different to what I have been used to; but if I can only escape the fever which is so very prevalent here just now, I shall get on very well. I am too weak to give you an account of the place, but must reserve that until we meet. Barter has just come on shore, for the unloading is now completed, and he is busy with the consignees arranging for a return cargo, He has been complaining of dizziness in his head, so I shall keep him in-doors all day tomorrow, for on Saturdays hardly any business is done here save what is connected with dispatch of mails.”

She was then dying, ma’am, of the fever, as you can see from the handwriting; for what follows is hardly legible, and is penned in a weak and straggling manner.

“With kisses to you, my dear sister.” And on the other page, after a blank space: “I am receiving great attention from an Englishwoman, whose husband, a packer at a merchant’s, has just died. She is staying at our lodgings with her infant, born here, she is far from well. The German doctor who visits me says she must go to the English hospital. Again, good-bye until I see you.”

Poor Betty! she did write again, but the letter did not come by mail.

Several months after receipt of her first communication I was sitting in my little parlor, which I had kept so nice and tidy to welcome the absent ones on their return, having just tied my bonnet-strings ready to start for chapel—for it was a Wednesday evening—when there came a loud series of raps at the street door, and on my opening it I saw a rough-looking individual in a pea-coat, who, asking my name and being satisfied as to my identity, said: “I have a letter for you, ma’am, and a—baby.” I could not speak for my agitation, but, taking him by the sleeve, led him into the room, when he handed me the letter, and producing from the shelter of his coat a little morsel of a child, laid it carefully on the sofa. He then passed his hand thoughtfully once or twice over his mouth, and put on such a parched look in general that I approached the bell-handle with a view to ordering some refreshment. “As you’re so obligin’, ma’am,” he said, observing my intention, “I takes rum, and likes the water cold.”

I ran down into the kitchen, sent the girl out for a bottle of the spirit which he indicated, and then perused the letter.

(Barbara was now prepared with the second epistle, which ran thus, in weak, disjointed sentences:)

“DEAR SISTER,—Do not grieve for me; Barty died two days ago; the mate survived him only a few hours, and four of the crew have likewise succumbed to the fever; my nurse, who I mentioned in my last (Mrs. Prebble), was obliged to go into the hospital, left her child with me, was delirious from the time she got there until her death, which, I am told, happened a day or two after admission. Little Jacob will be brought to you by one of our old crew. Pray take charge of him. He has no one belonging to him now alive. I can write no more——”

There was evidently some feeble attempt to write some more words, and some blots, as if caused by the pen falling from her dying hold of it; and on the fourth page, in a different handwriting, I read as follows:

“Ze woman is dead of yellow fever. I zee de Gonzul—she had no booberdies or monies. She died 2 hours before ze brig sdarded, and ze babe is bermidded to be zent on. I write dis as a gumford to you, zeeing ze ledder oben.

“HAHNDAK, Doc.-Med.”

I hardly know how I had courage to read to the end: and when I had concluded I sat for some minutes in a state of stupor. I felt that her first letter was meant to break her impending fate to me. The end had now come, and my future life would be a long sorrow. However, for her sake I would cherish my little ward, knowing that its infant companionship had afforded some brief pleasure to poor Betty. After remaining down-stairs some little time longer in order to compose myself, I re-entered the parlor, and was shocked at beholding the rough fellow who had brought me the sad news sitting in the very chair which Betty had always used, and the girl equally at her ease in my arm-chair, both having evidently partaken freely of the bottle, while the child was lying across the lap of the latter, struggling and choking from the fumes of the strong tobacco from a pipe in which the sailor was indulging. To snatch the little thing out of the hands of the servant and dismiss her upon the spot was the work of a few seconds; to hand five shillings to the man and hold open the door for him to go was the next step; but he apparently liked his quarters too well, for he reseated himself after pocketing the silver, and poured out the remainder of the rum (which fortunately was small), which he began deliberately to sip.

“I thought you’d like to hear the end on her, ma’am,” he said. “She died beautiful. The old Dutchman who doctored her hardly left her when she got bad. She’d got no nurse, for none could be had but Chinese, and they’re wuss than nothing. I nussed her at last, for every one that could make a bolt of it had fled from an infected house. I assure you, ma’am, I never felt so near cryin’ in my life as when she bade me take charge of this young ’un and bring him over to you. He’ll make a fine sailor when he grows up, for he took to the sea wonderful.”

The man had now finished the last drop of spirits, and getting up to go, said reflectively:

“Rum and baccy are fine things to stave off yellow Jack. Your poor sister wouldn’t touch either.”

He then left, and I was alone with the child. Perfectly unused to the management of children, I was compelled to overlook my girl’s behavior in reference to the spirit-bottle, and took her into my confidence, knowing that she had formerly been a nursemaid in the service of a tradesman at Hackney; and she very willingly, in consideration of a small addition to her wages, undertook the management of the little orphan.

With this additional strain upon my slender resources, I was before long compelled to give up the apartments to which I was so much attached, and to search for humbler rooms, which I found at last at Deptford: and cheerful enough in their way; for the landlord’s son kept chickens in the back-yard; a lad living with his father (a foreman in the dock-yard) had rabbits on the landing, which, after running up and down the stairs, afforded great delight to Jacob; while the occupier of the top room, a tailor’s trotter, possessed some wonderful pigeons, which were the delight and admiration of the neighborhood. Besides all these, every organ-man in the place paid our street a visit, while Punch and Judy, acrobats and negro minstrels made an agreeable variety.

Time passed on, and little Jacob began to fill out wonderfully; his little frocks had perpetually to be let out and lengthened, and at the age of three he had all the appearance of a child of seven. Little did I then think that the pride with which I received the congratulations of my neighbors would, ere long, be replaced by feelings of anguish.

But with his growth the liveliness of the child completely faded away; amusements suitable to his years failed to draw a smile from him. In fact, all he did was to sit sulkily alone and —grow, and so marvelously that it soon became the talk of the neighborhood. Indeed, it was hard work to keep out the people, who would almost force their way into the little back parlor and stare at him as he sat moodily in the corner, while, if he went to the front room, no sooner was his presence detected than the street boys clustered around the window and grimaced at him through the panes. Matters went on this way until he was twelve years old. He then far overtopped me; his voice was that of a man; his feet and hands of an enormous size; and yet he was growing taller week after week, as I could observe by the way in which his lower garments gradually receded from his ankles. Reasoning from the rate at which Jacob was lengthening, the height to which he would attain, should he reach the years of discretion, showed so appalling a result that I was quite overpowered by the calculation, and endeavored not to speculate any further upon the question.

Two years later the boy could nearly look over our parlor door when it was open, and still he showed no signs of having reached his limit.

I could now only take him out in the dusk of the evening, and even then we were frequently accompanied on our return by a mob, which cheered and played practical jokes on the way.

The news of the monstrous growth had now spread beyond our locality. A picture-paper gave a paragraph concerning the Giant Boy of Deptford, giving a short history of poor Jacob’s birth and parentage—all a pack of falsehoods, accompanied by a hideous engraving of him, which was equally untrue. I was pestered with offers from circus people and agents for shows, desirous of exhibiting him, and from public-houses and tea-gardens, wanting him as an attraction for customers.

In short, the worry, annoyance. and anxiety which I had been subjected to ended in a nervous illness, which caused me to take to my bed.

An old friend of mine, Mrs. Parminter, came to me and nursed me through a long illness of five months, many days of which in my delirium I was engaged in pursuing the mental calculation as to the ultimate length to which the boy would attain, and which Mrs. Parminter has since assured me I generally settled at two miles and a half.

My kind nurse hardly left me, save to attend to Jacob, and with great consideration excluded him from the room, fearing the effect upon me of the presence of the predisposing cause of my illness. I well remember upon one occasion, between lights, seeing Joanna (that is, Mrs. P.) very busily employed upon some work which she evidently wished to conceal from my observation.

“I am only altering some things for Jacob,” she said, seeing me look inquiringly at her. “It is no use attempting to deceive you,” she continued. “Jacob has outgrown his last fit. I have added pieces above and pieces below, until he looks a perfect object; so I thought with a little management, these which belonged to poor Parminter (he was a sergeant in the Life Guards) will, I fancy, do well for him.”

“Hold them up,” I said, faintly.

Mrs. Parminter was a short woman; and as she got upon her chair and unrolled those trousers, until the bottoms reached the floor, I nearly had a relapse. It was clear that Jacob had gone on growing vigorously during my illness.

A few days after this shock I was about to express my wish to see the lad, thinking that I was sufficiently strong for the interview, when a thick burst of smoke came in at the bedroom door, and Joanna instantly dashed down-stairs. At least an hour elapsed before her return, and when she came back she sat down upon the bed, looking pale and exhausted.

“I must tell you the truth,” she said at last. “Jacob is not the boy he was when I first came here; a perfect change has come over him. Shortly after you took to your bed, he became a very imp of mischief. This is the fourth time he has tried to set the house on fire. Your parlor curtains have been consumed long ago; your sofa-cover has been converted into tinder; two table-covers have been made a bonfire of; the mischievous boy has sawn off the legs of four of your chairs; and he has amused himself with shying your clogs at the chimney ornaments, regardless of the mirror behind them, of which the frame only remains.”

“Go on, Mrs. Parminter,” I moaned.

“And he has turned out as cruel as he is mischievous; he has killed upward of a dozen of the second-floor pigeons; and only a day or two ago I discovered six of the rabbits on the landing stifled in the kitchen oven, where he had deposited them.”

“Go on,” I repeated, faintly; “let me know all.”

“Many a time,” she continued, “have I caught him dropping hot cinders upon the passers-by and sprinkling their clothes in wet weather from the upper window with flour from the dredger.”

“Is there anything else?” I asked, like one in a dream.

“It was but yesterday,” she went on, “that he plastered the head of the washerwoman’s little girl with your pomatum, and then emptied the contents of your red tooth-powder over it, sending her into a fit, from which she is still very ill.”

“Mrs. Parminter,” I then said, “send for my minister. He has always been a kind friend to me, and will advise me what I am to do with the boy.”

The next day Mr. Margetts came, sat down by my bedside, and drew forth his prayer-book. Indeed, it was with some difficulty that I prevented him reading the prayers appointed for those who are in a dying condition, for he evidently concluded that from his hasty summons I was in that state. I then made him acquainted with the facts as regarded the boy. He condoled with me, then reflected a few minutes, and said that he would interview the culprit, and as he returned very shortly, rubbing the back of his head with his hand, and with a look of pain on his face, I have every reason to believe that my clogs, or a polishing-brush, or some other hard but handy missile, coming into collision with his skull, had curtailed his lecture considerably. Alas! what a Job’s comforter Mr. Margetts proved.

“Did you ever go to the waxworks, sister?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“And you may remember a model of the Russian Giant Looseskin.”

The tremendous figure came at once to my remembrance, although it was very many years since I had visited Madame Tussaud’s.

“Well, sister, Master Jacob bids fair to surpass him. If I remember rightly, he was eight feet and a half high when he died, and it was thought he had not attained his full extent. Your friend who summoned me hither, adverting to the wondrous progress of the lad down-stairs, induced me to buy a little book giving a description of the most wonderful giants of modern times, and the extraordinary development of your adopted child conforms remarkably with that of several herein mentioned. Tony Payne, for example, at the age of twelve, was close upon six feet without his shoes. At twenty-one he reached seven feet and a half. He was very powerful, taking up a butcher at Taunton, who insulted him, and throwing him a distance of fifteen feet, thereby dislocating his neck. A gigantic boy at Willingham, above six feet in his fifteenth year, attained seven feet eight inches at the age of eighteen. At an early age his voice was deep and strong, like that of a man.”

At this point Jacob shouted up from the bottom of the stairs some impertinent remarks directed at the minister, whom he evidently regarded as his personal enemy.

“The Voice, you perceive,” continued Mr. Margetts, “corresponds completely with the description of the Willingham youth who, I see further on in the book, could throw a blacksmith’s hammer, weighing twenty pounds, a distance of sixty yards. Now, from personal experience, I can tell you that your adopted child has considerable muscular power in the propulsion of weights.”

I could listen to no further extracts, and snatching the book from the minister, hid it beneath the bolster.

“With all due respect,” I said, “you are giving me no advice as to how I am to act, with the dreadful prospect before me of going to the grave in the constant companionship of a mischievous giant.”

He now began to talk more sensibly, and after much discussion it was agreed that Jacob should be sent down to Kent to a retired spot, where Mr. Margetts had a friend who took charge of refractory pupils, with a view to their being trained into docile characters; and, moreover, he volunteered to take charge of him down, which was effected mainly by the bribe of a peashooter of great power, the only compromise which Jacob’s mischievous spirit would accept in the place of a catapult, an implement, the possession of which by the tailor’s trotter, had excited his envy from its more destructive powers.

I did not see the lad until the morning of his departure, and, although prepared for a great change in him, his growth during the interval of my illness quite appalled me. He stooped, nearly doubling himself, to kiss me, and I watched him going down the street, pea-shooter in full play, at the cost of a dozen squares of glass and a street lamp, which I had to pay for the next day.

As you may imagine, his schooling was a great strain upon my income, but I was able to make both ends meet by Mrs. Parminter coming to stay with me, and so sharing with me the expenses of my rooms.

I think, ma’am, it will save your time if my niece were to read the two letters which I received from the Master (and which she accordingly did, as follows):

“MADAM,—Thanking you for the remittance, I have to inform you that a further sum is due, as per inclosed bill, for lesson books of his own, and those of his fellow-pupils which he has destroyed; and also an account from a tailor, for he has completely outgrown the clothes in which he came down here six months since. Although Mr. Margetts, for whom I have the greatest respect, informed me of the nature of Master Jacob’s disposition, I was not prepared for such an excessive exhibition of mischievous propensities as to have caused a perfect sensation; and I was equally unprepared for such an enormous rapidity of growth, combined with a most preposterous appetite. As regards the former, I am daily expecting demands for compensation for broken windows, slaughtered pets, and other damages, laid, I fear too truly, to his account; and as to appetite, by sheer terrorism he extorts the shares of his companions at meal times, with the result that my boys, who were once noticed by the congregation at the church which they attend for their plump and healthy condition, now cast a reflection on my care respecting their board by their attenuated forms. I have promised, however, to try for another half year what can be done with him.”

The second letter, five months later, ran thus:

“I write immediately to inform you that Master Jacob has run away, and, in spite of inquiries set on foot by the rural police, we have found no clew to his whereabouts. A circumstance which occurred some time since pointed our search in a particular direction. It was the occasion of a fair in the neighborhood to which the boy had been attracted, and where he was found, surrounded by an admiring crowd who took him for a Giant Boy at the fair whom they had an opportunity of seeing gratis. Ere we got to him he was led by a man within the canvas walls of one of the shows, and this person swore that the lad had engaged to go with him on his rounds. Of course, since his disappearance this time, all the fairs in the county have been searched, but it is believed that he has been rapidly transferred to some distant place.”

Mr. Margetts was indefatigable in his endeavors to trace poor Jacob, but in spite of advertisements and police inquiries, he met with no success.

Notwithstanding the worry and anxiety which I had endured, I now only thought of the little Jacob, who, when in his infancy, I hoped would grow up to be a prop and a comfort to me in my old age, and many a cry I have had over the little clothes in which he was first introduced to me, and which I had preserved up to the time of his disappearance.

Years passed on without any sign of the lad. My health began to fail; a temporary change of air was recommended to me, and Mrs. Parminter, who still remained with me, took me to Croydon, where her sister lives, in order to spend a few weeks.

It happened to be at the fair-time, and my friends, in order to distract my thoughts, tried to persuade me to accompany them to the field in which the shows were arranged; but I had not the heart for it, and they left me to brood over my past troubles, wondering about the fate of poor Jacob, whether, as is the habit with those of overgrowth, he had got to be weak at the knees; and again, in my old way, calculating to what length he had at this time attained.

I had not much time allowed for my reflections, for very shortly Mrs. Parminter rushed up to the door in her impetuous way.

“Put on your things quickly,” she said, “and come with me.”

I obeyed mechanically, and in a short time we were at the field, and before a large canvas structure on a platform, before which a repulsive-looking individual was directing the attention of a small crowd to a painting of a gigantic negro youth depicted in the act of making a meal of a huge boa-constrictor.

I knew then, at once, why I had been brought there, and whom I should presently see.

We paid our admission money, and entered. A suspense of a minute or two, and after a short harangue from the showman, there stepped forth from an opening in the canvas, at the back, a black man of tremendous height, holding a hideous-looking snake in either hand.

My eyes were riveted upon the figure—a sight painful in the extreme—tremendous in length, lamentably lean, and meager as to limb, weak and trembling to such an extent that the showman kept close to his side, as much to support him as to exhibit the contrast between the figures.

“The giant Mulatto, of Madagascar,” as he was called, had to make a short speech, and ere a sentence was concluded, I knew at once that it was our long-lost one.

Unable to restrain my feelings, I sobbed out, “Jacob, Jacob, have you forgotten me?” The lad recognized me at once, and tottered forward, but before he made a couple of paces, his strength failed, and he fell heavily forward.

By the aid of the few remaining spectators—the majority had made a rapid exit from the place, accelerated greatly by the escape of the snakes from the giant’s grasp, and which wriggled under the benches—the recumbent form was carried to the back, we accompanying him.

Now that we had found him, my perplexity was how to get him away, and then what to do with him.

Mrs. Parminter again showed herself a tower of strength.

“Your nerves are shook,” she said; “go home quietly. Calm yourself, and leave what is to be done to me.”

I went home as she told me, leaving her at the side of Jacob washing the black off his face, heedless of the savage growling of the showman at this unexpected and damaging interruption to his business.

At a little before twelve at night came a gentle ring at the front door; there was no need to guess the cause, for a face looked down upon me through the fanlight over the door—it was that of my giant ward, who had to bend almost double to pass into the small passage.

Weak and exhausted, he lay upon the sofa in the parlor, which we extended by the addition of three or four chairs; we gave him supper, which he devoured ravenously, and with the aid of blankets made him comfortable for the night.

We then left him, and I learned from Mrs. Parminter the account of his long disappearance, and how she managed to procure his release.

The lad had been decoyed away in the first instance by the man with whom, when at school, he had been seen in communication, and was transferred by night to a caravan, which was proceeding to a distant county. A year or two wore off his novelty, and for a consideration he was made over from one owner to another, until he fell into the hands of the man with whom we discovered him.

Half-starved, his health and spirits broken, he admitted him to be a used up giant, and, if he only got back the ten pounds which he had disbursed for the attraction, he was willing to give him up; and the long interval which elapsed before Mrs. Parminter’s return was necessitated by her rapid flight back to London, to draw out the sum required from her small savings, and so obviate the delay and uncertainty of recourse to law for a delivery up of the lad.

Now that we had Jacob back, the question was what to do with him. A giant in ill-health upon our hands would be a sad trial, and being weak at the knees and generally in a rickety condition, great trouble seemed to loom in the future.

To make matters worse, the news of the affair quickly spread, and our house had a greater crowd around it daily than poor Jacob ever attracted at the fair.

Men, women, and children stormed the place, and made a perfect wreck of the front garden in their efforts to obtain a glimpse of the prodigy; and fearing that the excitement would be redoubled on the discontinuance of the counter-attractions of the fair, we resolved to smuggle our patient into our lodgings in London, and there tend upon him in peace. Mrs. Parminter accordingly arranged with the proprietor of a furniture van, who was going to London, to take him in it, covered over with a tarpaulin. So the next day he was safely installed in a spare room which I was enabled to obtain in the house where we lodged. Days went on, but I could see little improvement, although the doctor, for our comfort, said that Jacob would get well, and that all his old mischief would return with his increasing strength, and Mr. Margetts declared that he was still growing, and that he was good for three feet more in height. All this renewed the anxiety and trouble which I had almost forgotten while ministering to Jacob in his illness.

Every person, it is said, has some skeleton in his cupboard; but to have a living and mischievous giant in a two-pair back seemed to me a far worse evil.

I was sitting one evening meditating upon the future, when a violent pull at the street door bell scattered all my thoughts. I gave admission to the visitor—a tall, gaunt, and bronzed-faced woman, who passed me in an impetuous manner, and strode into my little room.

I heard her ask in a hurried and almost fierce way for Mrs. Barter’s sister, and I had barely time to own my identity, when the stranger flew at me and embraced me. “Excuse a mother’s feelings,” she said, “but give me my little Jacob—my long-lost little angel.”

Mrs. Parminter soothed her in her quiet way, and the woman shortly told her story; how that she, who was the widow of a packer (by the name of Prebble) in the service of a merchant at Singapore, first lost her husband in the terrible epidemic of 18—, and then was herself attacked, leaving her infant in the charge of Mrs. Barter; how, when upon her recovery after an illness of many months’ duration, for a long period of which she had been delirious, she heard that the person with whom her child was left had died; how she could obtain no clew as to how the child had been disposed of; how passenger lists (irregularly kept during the season of visitation) led to no result: how, left without resources, she took service in a family recently arrived, and with whom she continued for several years, until her employer, having made his fortune, returned to England; how that from the many friends she had made out abroad, she looked upon the place as her second home, and entered into another period of service, until the climate began to tell upon her powers, and the undefinable feeling of home-sickness taking possession of her, she resolved to go back to England; how with her savings she left the place which had been her home for so many years; how a conversation with the captain of the merchantman, touching upon the time of the great pestilence, elicited the fact that he took charge of an infant found in possession of the widow of his old master Captain Barter of the Dart, and brought the child over to England; to whom it was consigned, and to whose house she bent her steps as soon as she was able after the arrival of the vessel in England.

It was indeed Jacob’s mother who had called upon me on that eventful evening; but sympathizing as I did with her upon her reunion with her offspring, I dreaded to acquaint her with the facts of the case.

“He has grown very tall,” I said, striving to break the news gradually— “very tall indeed;” and I was pained to see the look of pride with which the poor woman received the news. “Taller,” I continued, “than you could possibly have anticipated,” and here I broke down, leaving her in the hands of Mrs. Parminter.

The latter silently motioned our visitor to follow her up-stairs, and, arrived at the room in which her son lay, stretched upon a mattress on the floor (for no bedstead would accommodate his length of limb), she opened the door just wide enough to exhibit Jacob’s enormous feet.

The mother looked astonished. “Now see his legs ma’am,” said Mrs. Parminter, as she widened the opening.

There was a faint scream from the mother as she sat down and placed the giant’s head in her lap.

It was some time before Jacob realized the fact of the relationship, but when he fully comprehended it he exhibited considerable emotion.

I have little more to tell, save that the furniture van was again brought into request, the doctor advising immediate change of air (a serious relapse having occurred), and he was carried to a little cottage in the outskirts of London, where, after lingering a few weeks, he died quietly.


A Christmas Tragedy

It was Christmas-tide at Greystone Abbey, and a large party had assembled to keep up the festive occasion; all friends and relations of the warm-hearted, generous host, Squire Wintour, who was known and beloved through the county. Among all classes of men he was a favorite; with those of his own rank in life a stanch friend and jovial companion; while the poor never looked for help in vain from his well-filled purse, nor for sound counsel and advice from his keen, good sense, and shrewd, clear judgment. To women he was always courteous, polished, and gentle. A conscientious landlord, a bold rider; loving the whinny of his hunter and the voices of his hounds, as though they were his children. A man of the old school was Sir Edmund Wintour, but though a baronet, it was seldom his title was heard in Blankshire, and as “Squire Wintour” he was known and spoken of by all. He preferred the simple cognomen, and discouraged the use of the more sounding appellation, wishing to be among them, as his father had been before him, an old English gentleman.

At sixty-five years of age he was still hale and hearty, sustaining his position as master of the fox-hounds with credit and pleasure; wherever he went faces smiled and eyes brightened, his kind heart awakening responsive echoes; but no lady reigned at Greystone Abbey, and none had ever so reigned.

Once in the past, long ago, there had been a love-story in the life of Squire Wintour, and it had been his only one. His love-dream had come to him in this wise. Forty years ago he had met a young and beautiful woman: she was all he could desire for a wife; the daughter of an earl, with a fortune which rendered her independent of the handsome settlements which her eager young lover had secured to her. If Lady Rosalind had a fault, it was pride; and upon this point only were the minds of Sir Edmund and his lady-love not in unison.

The Abbey had been prepared for the reception of the bride; nothing that affection and devotion could dictate was wanting. The bells in the old square-towered ivy-clad church of Greystone rang out clear and joyously in honor of the day appointed for the wedding; but the marriage had taken place some twenty miles away, at the residence of the Earl of Showborough, the father of the bride.

At Showborough Towers there is a gay scene: the bells of that village church ring out even more triumphantly than those of Greystone Abbey. Places often take their coloring and manners from the leading people of the neighborhood. The Earl of Showborough and his family never did things on a small scale: all was imposing and grand about them; and upon the occasion of the marriage of the eldest daughter (Lady Rosalind) there was to be a complete gala.

At Greystone things were done more simply, with greater comfort, though far less display.

Sir Edmund had but lately lost his father, and he had begged that the wedding should be a quiet one; but Lady Rosalind would not for a moment hear of such a thing.

“If your father has not been dead a year Edmund, we must wait until that time has expired, if it is to interfere with our doing the thing properly. A month or two one way or the other cannot make much difference to us.”

“It would make a great deal to me my darling,” whispered the lover; “but at any time I should plead for a quiet wedding. It seems to me no fit day for merry-making, but for serious thought. Then I should wish to take my bride home not abroad.”

“I will concede the latter point, Edmund,” replied Lady Rosalind: “we can travel later; but the humdrum wedding is impossible. Papa would not hear of it, and every one would say I am ashamed of my choice. I should not like it at all, and you know the lady does as she pleases before marriage; the gentleman has no voice in such matters.”

So Sir Edmund Wintour was silenced, though not convinced, and the arrangements for the grand occasion went on.

The day before the wedding Lady Rosalind said, “You will have four horses of course to take us home?”

“My dearest,” he answered, playfully, “that will be after marriage; and I have only arranged for a pair.”

“But you will change the order when you know I have set my heart upon a team,” she pleaded, raising her pretty eyes to his. “You have plenty of horses, and you will not refuse your wife her first request, I know.”

He drew her to him, and kissing her white brow, promised that he would do his best to please her, but told her that he had not at that time four horses which had run together.

“Put two of your hunters as leaders,” she replied; “you are never short of those animals.”

“I will have them tried this evening, Rosalind; and if they go well in harness, you shall have your wish.”

The horses went grandly through the quiet park and along the lanes of Greystone, driven by their master himself.

“They are as gentle as lambs,” he remarked. “We will have them to bring us home to-morrow, Simson.”

The stud-groom touched his hat, and the matter was settled. But it is one thing for horses to go quietly where there is nothing to excite or alarm them, and quite another when bells are ringing, a band playing, the voices of the villagers cheering amid hundreds of waving hats, the fluttering of many-hued flags, the incessant movement of a rustic crowd, eager to see all that is going on.

The carriage was hemmed in by a living wall. Some thirty village maidens stood in the front rank, with baskets on their arms, laden with spring flowers.

Every one was waiting, still and expectant.

The bride and bridegroom appeared under the massive stone portal of the Towers.

A shout from the crowd made the untrained leaders plunge.

A volley of flowers from the girls’ baskets did not add to their steadiness Kisses and tears and smiles; smiles and tears and kisses.

The bells clash out, the horses are becoming unmanageable; but the bride is safely seated, and the bridegroom has followed her. The servants have taken their places outside the handsome traveling carriage; the grooms have let go the horses’ heads and are scrambling up behind like monkeys. They have started.

The band crashes out the “Wedding March.” The people cheer. Hats and flags are raised amid a surging sea of men, women, and children, and the sound of many voices.

Shoes strike the terrified animals on one side; on the other a storm of flowers. They start with a rush; and at that unlucky moment the bride remembers some trifle she has left behind. The horses are pulled on their haunches, and Sir Edmund, at his wife’s desire, jumps out, and runs back to do her bidding. It was only a traveling cloak that he had to fetch, but it was not so easy to find as had been expected.

The bells clashed on; the drummer was energetic; the village folks thronged around the carriage. There was a rush; a wild stampede; cries of horror rent the air. The grooms had sprung from their places, but only to be hurled to the ground by the terrified advancing horses. Even yet the driver could have guided them; but Lady Rosalind, losing her presence of mind, jumped from the open carriage-door, and falling heavily, lay there, motionless, upon the ground.

It was her young husband for whom the frightened crowd fell back. He ran swiftly, with a white, set face to the spot. Tenderly he lifted her, tenderly he bore her in his arms to the home of her girlhood. It was the only one she would ever know upon earth: for she was dead!

There was no disfigurement upon the beautiful face, but her neck was broken, and death had been instantaneous.

And so she went back, and the voices which had cheered now mourned her. The bright faces were now pale and awe-stricken; and a great silence accompanied the lifeless bride as she was carried to the house. The waving hats were still, as the men stood, with bent, uncovered heads, to let that sad burden go by. The flags were lowered; the flowers lay crushed beneath their feet; the band was mute: but the bells rang on!

Ah! stop them, stop them! Bid them toll, toll softly and sadly, a passing knell! For the bride has entered an unknown life, and set out on her last solemn journey, alone. So Squire Wintour went back, a solitary man, to the home he had prepared for his bride with such loving care; and for the sake of her who had been his wife only for three short hours, he mourned a lifetime. No woman’s hand smoothed his path: no children’s footsteps pattered through his home, nor awoke its echoes with rippling laughter.

But when the struggle was over, the squire took his place again among his neighbors, and resumed the ancient customs which had ever been kept up in his dear old home, within his memory, and long, long before.

Christmas-tide always saw the Abbey filled with guests. The present Christmas was no exception to the yearly institution.

The carved oak of the dining-hall, which was well-nigh black with age, was decorated with evergreens and bright-berried holly. Nor was the mistletoe forgotten. And this work of garlanding was always done by the visitors.

“Maud,” laughed a good-looking young man (whose great pleasure in life seemed to consist in teasing everybody by turns), “I thought you were a good church woman! How can you go in for such heathenish customs? Do you not know that it was the Druids who began the practice of decorating? They used to deck their houses with greenery in the winter-time for the sylvan spirits to come and shelter in, because it was too cold for the little darlings out-of-doors, with no leaves on the trees in the charming groves. Fie upon you, my cousin, for copying your pagan ancestors!”

“I don’t see why I shouldn’t, Reginald,” replied the timid-eyed girl. “It seems to me that it was very kind of them to provide the poor little wood-sprites with a home when they were in need of one. If there are any left in these days I hope they will shelter here, I am sure. But even if they did, I am afraid they would not be visible to us mortals.”

“Why should they not be visible as well as ghosts, Maudie?”

“Ghosts! Who believes in them in the nineteenth century?”

“Why, every one with any sense does: the wonder is that so few spirits come back, not how many. Why, we are surrounded by spirits, my dear girl; they are brushing against us every hour of the day. Do you not feel a shiver run through you sometimes? Yes! I thought so; just as though some cold water trickled down your back. That is when one of ces messieurs la touches you; the contact with the immortals runs through you like electricity.”

“I wish you would not talk like that, Reginald,” answered the girl, turning very pale. “I suppose I am a little coward, but when people speak of such things I tremble all over. See how I shake! And do you know I think I inherit it from papa; for although he always pretends he does not fear anything or anybody, he sleeps with a loaded revolver under his pillow. No one knows it, I suppose, but he really does.”

Now Maud’s father, Maurice Wintour, was the eldest nephew of Sir Edmund Wintour, and therefore his heir-presumptive, both as regarded his title and his property, which was entailed; whereas his great-nephew, Reginald Montague, was the grandson of his youngest brother, who had gone before him over to the great majority, having left a daughter (Mrs. Montague), Reginald’s mother.

Maurice Wintour had one child only, this fair young daughter, Maud. He was a man of nearly forty years of age, with the same shrinking, large, dark eyes which we have noticed in the daughter.

They were somehow, in the man, not dependable eyes, and gave you the idea of weakness, if not cowardice. For the rest Mr. Maurice Wintour was rather a handsome man than otherwise, with a vast share of assurance of manner, which amounted at times to braggadocio; especially when the gentleman in question gave you an account of his own daring in the Indian jungles, where he professed to have been after large game; and many a fine skin which decorated his rooms was shown by him as the result of his own prowess; though there were people who were unkind enough to say that the great naturalist in Wigmore Street could tell a different story.

Nor were these his only wonderful feats. He had volunteered for service under the “Stars and Stripes” during the civil war in America, and had, according to his own account, greatly distinguished himself. But there were those among his friends who said he had not joined the army at all, and others who vowed he was never seen after the first shots were fired.

One is apt to take a grain of salt with all stories which have crossed the Atlantic; and perhaps the narrations of his own doughty deeds were not more highly colored by Mr. Maurice Wintour than are those of most other men returning from the New World.

With reference to his nephew and heir, the feelings of Squire Wintour were very mixed. As the son of his brother, who, being only a year two his junior, had been the friend and companion of his life, he loved him. But he was far from pleased with the manners of the man.

The blatant stories of his nephew’s adventures by flood and field were repugnant to the squire’s nature, and it was with difficulty he could sit them through; but he was really fond of little Maud, and partly for her sake, and partly for that of his dead mother, Maurice was dear to him. Indeed, the man possessed many good qualities, and the coating of boastfulness was in reality put on to cover his want of courage; of which he was ashamed, but which he had not the strength of mind to overcome.

Between Maud and her cousin Reginald Montague there existed one of those boy and girl affections which so often crop up between cousins in youth and ripen into love in after-years, quarreling and making it up again being a large element in their intercourse, and a vast amount of teasing on the part of the lad, which too often ended in tears upon that of the girl. Reginald Montague had ever been too fond of tormenting his acquaintances; it had been all his life the blot in his character.

Playing tricks upon people was the very breath of his nostrils, and the more annoyed or irritated the victims of his jokes appeared, the more he enjoyed the fun.

Even with those he really loved he carried on this foolish practice, taking a keen pleasure in their vexation or fright; and poor little Maud herself was not spared, though he cared more for her than for any one else in the world.

Upon the present occasion she knew by the twinkle in his merry blue eyes that he was bent on mischief, and shook her glossy head at him reprovingly.

“Reg,” she said, harshly, “you are going to do something you ought not to; I see it in your face. Come, confess now what it is.

“Confess! That’s likely!” he cried. “Why, you would tell every one in confidence all round the house. I know what you girls are.”

Maud grew serious.

“It must be something wrong if you will not tell me,” she said, sadly. “Oh, Reggie, do give up playing tricks upon people. You don’t mean any harm, I know, but one can never tell how these pranks of yours will turn out. People would be much fonder of you if you were less of a torment.” And tears were very near the surface of her tender, timid eyes.

The young man seemed touched for a moment. He came closer to his cousin and patted her with caressing fingers. A flush rose to his cheek, and he leaned over her, and looked into her eyes.

He was very fond of his cousin, but boyhood had so lately been left behind that he scarcely knew his own mind for ten minutes consecutively.

“Would you care more for me, Maudie?” he asked, tenderly.

“I think so, Reg,” she replied, with her eyes cast down, twining a spray of tendriled ivy in and out her slender fingers.

“Then I’ll try,” he began, but his sentence was cut short by the entrance of a gentleman, who made straight toward them.

“Maud, my dear, have you not yet finished these decorations? It is time you dressed for dinner. Remember, it is earlier than usual to-night, for the Mummers in the evening. See, here comes the Yule log to cheer us; and the servants want to get rid of you out of the hall that they may attend to their duties.”

“They will not mind me, papa,” answered the girl, with a smile. “But I will be very quick now.”

“You cannot remain here, my dear, while the domestics are laying the cloth; the squire might not like it.”

“Oh, I will answer for Uncle Edmund,” interrupted Reginald.

But Mr. Wintour ignored his remark, putting him aside with a slight wave of his hand.

“It is a pity, my dear, that you should have wasted your time gossiping here with your cousin: it would have been better had you set him to work and made him useful.”

Reginald’s eyes flashed.

If there was one person more than another who aroused the spirit of antagonism and mischief in him it was his uncle Maurice.

And Maud’s words were forgotten.

That night at dinner the conversation turned upon things ghostly.

“Most old houses have legends attached to them, I fancy, which are handed down from generation to generation,” said Sir Edmund, with his kindly smile. “Not only written ones, however, but tales that are told on Christmas-eve around the blazing fire, and make one feel as if cold water were trickling down one’s spine.”

“Pooh! nonsense, my dear uncle,” said Mr. Wintour. “I cannot believe it of you. As for myself, it must be a horrible story indeed to make me shiver, I can assure you. A man who has been accustomed to walk among the slain on the field of battle would scarcely mind childish stories told round a warm hearth.”

“So much the better, my dear Maurice, as you have the haunted chamber,” laughed the Squire. “Perhaps you were not aware that Greystone Abbey boasted its ghost; and now I come to think of it, Christmas-eve is the very night the specter is said to walk.”

It did not escape the keen eyes of Reginald Montague that Mr. Wintour grew so white as to look almost livid, or that he drained his glass before he replied, or that the hand which lifted it trembled; and he chuckled over the discovery. He determined to draw Sir Edmund out for the benefit of his uncle Maurice.

“I am very thankful you did not select that room for me, sir,” he said, solemnly; “for I have a perfect terror of ghosts. Is this a very horrible nocturnal visitor, sir? Perhaps you will tell us the story.”

“To confess the truth, Reginald, I have never slept in that apartment, so cannot speak from experience; but I have heard that those who have done so awake with a curious feeling of oppression; their senses seem to be leaving them; they fancy that they are chained to their bed; that they are not alone in the room. Some speak of seeing a figure; others declare that the spirit cannot be seen, only felt; that it rustles past them with a chill blast, as though the wind had swept through the room.”

Mr. Wintour’s shifting dark eyes were dilated; he seemed scarcely to have power even to keep up appearances, and his complexion became ashen.

“Uncle Maurice is in a blooming fright,” whispered Reginald to his younger brother. “Tom, we’ll have some fun out of this. Keep up the talk, pile on the agony, my boy.”

Tom, who during the dressing-time had heard about Mr. Wintour’s pistol, now solemnly stated that if he saw a ghost he should shoot him, which caused a great deal of laughter.

“Why, what good would that do?” said Reginald, affecting superior knowledge; “a bullet would not hurt a spirit.”

“Then I’d put in two,” cried the incorrigible Tom; which caused fresh merriment among the guests; but Maud was gazing at her father with a saddened face.

The Mummers came and performed their fooleries, the wassail-cup went round; “Sir Roger de Coverley” had been danced; the “Waits” were singing their carols at the door, and all within Greystone Abbey were clustering around the windows, or gathered in the hall to listen. A hand crept into that of Reginald Montague as he stood beside a heavy curtain, peering out into the darkness.

“Why, Maud, you are just the very person I was wishing to see,” he whispered.

“Am I? That is well, for I want you,” she replied. “I feel nervous to-night. I have a weight upon my spirits. Oh! Reg, I know by your face you are going to do some mischief; will you not tell me what it is? I am always afraid that you will get into some terrible scrape, and it makes me miserable;” and there was a catch in the girl’s voice which told of tears not far off.

“Maudie, my dear little cousin, don’t be foolish. I am only going to get a rise out of a magnificent fish; and you will forgive me for this once; you always do forgive me, Maudie.”

He drew the girl toward him there in the darkness. They were not listening to the Waits, those two; they were listening to the voice of young love.

“Do I vex you very much, dear?” asked the young man. “Well, make it worth my while to become a better sort of fellow, Maudie. Tell me you will be my wife.”

“Am I not too young?” inquired the girl, in a startled voice, yet clinging to him. “Oh! dear Reg, I am sure they will all say so. They will not let me marry you.”

“Not to-day, or to-morrow, little kitten; nor this day week, perhaps; but some day, my Maud. Tell me it shall be—some day.”

“Yes, some day, dear,” answered the girl, with a sigh: “that some day may never come; but I will promise you one thing—”

“And what is that, Maudie?”

“I will never marry any other.”

“Maud, you are a darling: you are my darling,” he cried, kissing her brow fondly. “I must see this bit of fun out. Then, for your sake, I will be as steady as old Time. Kiss me just once, Maudie, and seal the compact.”

* * * * * * * *

It was after midnight.

Two figures crept furtively along the corridor leading to the chamber occupied by Maurice Wintour.

One was tall, and as the moon glittered on it from the old casement in the deep-recessed wall, it looked more like a tenant of the ethereal world than of the real. It was clad in white, and shone with a phosphorescent light.

“Are you sure you drew the charge?” whispered the tall creature, stooping down.

“Sure as eggs are eggs,” answers the other; “and by the same token that the bullets are in my waistcoat pocket. Blest if he must not have been in a blue funk to put in two!”

“Give them to me, Tom. I have an idea: when he fires, I’ll roll them back at him. By Jove! what a fright he will be in. He will tell every one how he has been shot at by a ghost! He’ll never laugh at the genii again.”

A chuckle arose from the smaller figure.

“Hush, Tom; some one will hear you—h-u-s-h: now for it.” Gently he turned the handle of the door, but with no effect.

“Why, he has locked himself in.”

“Impossible; here is the key.”

“Well! I can’t open the door.”

“He must have barricaded it. What’s to be done now?”

“Bother him! after all our trouble, too,” complained the ghost. “But no, I remember something. I have not seen it for years, but I am sure there used to be a secret entrance to that room. There’s some wonderful story attached to it. One of the Royalists was hidden there in the reign of Charles the First. It was his wife who was murdered in that room, because she would not reveal her husband’s whereabouts to the Roundheads. Now, I come to think of it, I am personating that royal lady. We must go back to our room and get a candle. I can’t hit on the spring in the dark.”

They felt their way back to their chamber, and having armed themselves with a light, the curious white figure led the way down a narrow passage. There was a door at the end of it, bolted and barred. He did not attempt to open it, but holding the candle above his head, he passed his disengaged hand along the wall, high up. Presently he stopped.

“I thought so,” he muttered. “Now for the other.”

This time he stooped down, and close to the floor he came upon a tiny knob. He pressed upon it, as he had done a similar one at the top. “Open, Sesame!” he whispered, as a part of the wall slid quietly back.

“‘That beats Banagher!’” exclaimed the astonished boy, with his mouth open. “Why, Reg, you’re a second Aladdin! Where’s your wonderful lamp?”

Without pausing to reply, his brother pushed on into a dark and gloomy passage, which smelt cold and damp.

“Oh, I say, Reg, this is not a pleasant place!” whispered Tom; but the other went on. Again he searched the wall, and once more a way opened before him; and the two stood in a small square apartment, which felt like a well. There was no window, but a skylight in the roof; and looking up, they could see a glimmer of the moon’s rays even through the cobwebbed glass. There was an old oak table in the room, decayed and worm-eaten, and a small oaken bedstead, upon which, probably, the dainty Cavalier had rested when lying perdu from his enemies. Once more the phosphorescent figure felt about the walls.

“Here is the last spring, Tom. Blow out the candle!”

The boy obeyed him.

“What a lark!” he muttered, as the panel slipped back, and they peeped into the room.

“Take care he does not see you.” whispered the white figure. “Why, he actually burns a night-light!”

On glided the supposed apparition, with a rustling sound, as it swept by the foot of the bed, the phosphorus gleaming in the semidarkness.

The man in the bed moved uneasily, hastily pushing the clothes from about his ears; then his dark, terrified eyes rested on the moving figure. He sat up in bed, his eyeballs starting from their sockets, his livid face white and corpse-like in the dim light. Then, with an agonized gesture, he sought under his pillow, and in another instant the flash and report of a pistol went through the room. At the same moment the specter at the bed-foot raised its arm with a menacing gesture, and from its hand rolled across the bed the two bullets which the terrified man believed he had just discharged at the denizen of another world, who, passing on unharmed, vanished through the wall of the room.

The man watched its disappearance with straining eyes, and with a groan fell forward upon the bed.

Gently the panel was closed; quietly the two conspirators crept away.

The man’s terror seemed to have awed them, and neither of the two laughed or spoke till they reached their own room.

“I wish we had not done it, Tom,” said Reginald, regretfully. “Why, he looked like a ghost himself in that glimmering light. He has given me the blues. There, that’s my last practical joke. Tom, I’m going to marry Maud.”

“What will her father say to that arrangement, after the trick you have played on him to-night—eh, Reg?”

“I never thought of that,” replied the other, blankly. “But I don’t see how he is to know that it was a trick; and if so, no one but you could inform him I was the culprit; and I don’t think you will blab, Tom, old boy.”

“Not if they dragged me with wild horses,” answered the lad, clasping his brother’s hand affectionately; “and Maud is a jolly little girl, Reg. I wish you joy with her, old fellow’.”

Then the two bade each other good-night, and jumping into bed, slept soundly.

They did not even hear the knock at their door in the early morning which announced their hot water; nor did they awake until the roll of the time-mellowed gong resounded through the house.

The brothers exchanged a hearty greeting as they hastily took in their cans of water, and tumbled into their baths.

They were laughing and talking and dressing hastily, all at once, when a shadow passed across Reginald’s heart, and his face fell, as he said;

“I wonder how Uncle Maurice is this morning, Tom? What a blessed fright he was in to be sure!”

“It was mighty lucky Maud told you about the pistol, Reg, or he would have spotted you, for a certainty,” replied Tom.

“Yes, it was fortunate you drew that double charge of his,” said Reginald, with a smile.

They went down together, both feeling somewhat sheepish and guilty. Reginald, with a sensation which he could hardly himself understand, that he would rather not meet the timid, fawn-like eyes of his cousin Maud, his almost affianced wife.

“A happy Christmas to you all,” he cried, as he entered the breakfast-room, going the round of the table, with a hearty shake of the hand to each.

“Uncle, this is quite a Christmas of the olden time, frost and snow outside, bright faces and glowing logs within. Only look at those icicles hanging at the windows. A foot long, if they are an inch. Where is Maud? Not down yet?”

“Oh, Maudie is never late, Master Reginald; she has had her breakfast. Look at home for lazybones,” answered the squire, laughing.

“Well, sir, yes! I am afraid Tom and I overslept ourselves. We must apologize for not being down earlier. But what has become of Maud?” he continued, looking round the room in search of her.

“She has gone up to see after her father. Like yourself, he is late this morning.”

Without another word Reginald took his seat at the table, and there was an anxious look upon his face as he and his brother exchanged glances.

In a few seconds Maud entered the room, with a pale, scared countenance.

She came straight up to Sir Edmund, and laid her hand upon his shoulder, as though leaning upon him for strength.

She looked very white, and her timid eyes were distended with fear; and as he gazed at her, Reginald remembered her father’s eyes of the night before; and a spasm of regret shot through his heart, that he should have been led away by his foolish love of mischief and teasing to do anything that could bring a cloud upon the face of the girl he loved.

“Uncle,” she said. “he will not let me in; he will not answer me. I have knocked again and again. He must hear me, but he will not reply. Oh, uncle, he must be ill! What shall I do? what shall I do?”

The squire rose at once and took her hand.

“My dear little Maudie, there is nothing to frighten you. What could possibly be the matter? Your father is sleeping soundly; that is all, you may be sure. Perhaps the ghost disturbed his early slumbers, and he is making up for lost time.”

The face of Reginald Montague had turned very pale; he too feared that the absent man was ill, remembering his look the night before, and as Sir Edmund and Maud left the room together, he rose and followed them.

In vain they knocked. There was no reply from within the closed door.

One by one the guests came up into the old corridor, attracted there by anxiety or curiosity. The idea that “something was the matter” had spread even among the servants. Then the squire’s voice was heard:

“We cannot break open this door; it is too strong. Send for the blacksmith. The lock must be picked.”

“The door is not locked. I took away the key last night for a joke.”

And all eyes were turned on Reginald Montague.

“Oh! Reggie, Reggie,” cried his cousin Maud, with a scared look, “what have you done?”

“God grant I may have done no harm,” he answered, earnestly.

“Reggie,” said the girl, with her white face set and rigid, “if you have harmed my father I will never, never forgive you!” And for once the blue eyes which looked all men so freely in the face fell before those of his cousin.

“The door must be barricaded,” he said, addressing himself to the squire. “Shall we force it open, sir?”

The young men of the party stepped forward at his words. One—two—three; crash—crash—crash; and down went chairs, tables, and boxes; which had been carefully piled against the woodwork; and into the wreck of fallen and broken furniture stepped Maud Wintour—


But the still figure, lying face downward upon the bed, neither stirred nor answered her.

“Oh! papa! papa! speak to me!” she cried, her words rising into a sob.

But there was no voice nor any sound that replied to her piteous cry, as she stood with her white hands clasped, and the horror increasing in her eyes; for they had raised her father, and he was gazing back at her with glazed and distended orbs, which told their own sad tale.

It was Squire Wintour who led her away, white and stricken, with a firm but gentle hand.

It was Reginald Montague who fell upon his knees by the dead man’s side with that exceeding bitter cry: “My God! I have murdered him!”

It was his brother Tom who came and clasped his hand, and tried to comfort him.

“Oh! Reg, it was I as much as you.”

Upon the bed were two bullets.

In the cold, stiff hand a pistol was grasped.

There was no want of courage, either moral or physical, in Reginald Montague. He begged all present to come down-stairs with him and hear the truth; and silently they followed him into the presence of their host. Then, standing before them, he confessed what he had done: he suppressed nothing, palliated nothing.

The whole story was summed up in a few words: he had played a practical joke, with very serious results.

He had personated a ghost, had apparently come through the wall and had frightened a man—and that man his uncle—to death! And the pale faces of all who listened condemned him.

And the holly and the mistletoe were taken down, and the blinds were lowered, and all went softly; for a dead man lay within those walls, and the living mourned him. The inquest was over; the funeral had taken place; the saddened Christmas was passed, and the New Year had come.

“Uncle,” said Reginald, entering Sir Edmund’s study, “I have come to say good-bye. I can bear this life no longer, and I must go away. How you must wish I had never come under your roof! Nothing can undo what my folly has done; nothing can ever bring Maud’s father back to life, and I shall never regain her love! What is there left for me to do but to take myself away, and hope that time may soften her sorrow, and help her to forget?”

“Yes; perhaps it will be better to do so for a little while, my dear boy; but you must not let past mistakes unfit you for future duties. You do not yet realize that your poor uncle’s death has left you my heir.”

“Oh, sir, do not tell me that I am to benefit by my uncle’s death; I could not bear it.”

“You are my nearest male relative, and must take my name, and of course you will inherit my estates. Except by a Royal warrant, the baronetcy would not be yours, but I shall try and arrange that before I die. Reginald, I have no son; you must be one to me. And, my boy, do not let poor Maurice’s death dwell too much on your mind. Remember, he was found to have heart disease to a serious extent, and any sudden excitement or fright might have killed him. Travel for a year, then come back to me, and I will teach you what we Wintours consider a county squire should be.”

Veritable tears rose to the young man’s eyes. “You are too good to me,” he answered, in a broken voice.

Then in silence they clasped hands, and parted.

It was five years after this conversation. Few who had been acquainted with Reginald Montague would have known him again. The look of mischief has died out of his eyes; they are now grave and earnest, with a touch of sadness in their expression. The bright face has changed into one of serious intelligence. He smiles sometimes, a sweet, quiet smile, but the ringing laugh lies on the other side of Maurice Wintour’s grave.

“Maud,” he said, as he leaned toward her with a yearning tenderness, “will your answer ever be the same?”

“Ever,” she replied. “My father stands between us. Anything else I could put aside; but not my father. Still, I will respect my promise.”

“My cousin, I give you back your promise. Marry whom you please; and may you be happy!”

Then he rose to leave her.

“You will never doubt how I have loved you?” she asked, pitifully. “Ah! Reg, Reg, it is hard; but it cannot be.” he held her cold hands; he looked into her eyes; he stooped and kissed her.

“Good-bye, good-bye, my wife!” he murmured. “No other woman shall ever bear that name. May God ever watch between us.”

“It is all over, uncle,” said Reginald Montague, sinking into a chair in his uncle’s study. “Maud will not forgive me. I shall never marry now.”

“Nonsense, my dear old boy!” cried Tom’s hearty voice; “you have a happy life before you yet; you could not be so punished for a boyish frolic. Go back; do not take No for an answer. Believe me, Maud loves you, and is at this moment crying as though her heart would break because you have left her. Strike while the iron is hot, and good-luck to you!” Saying which, Tom took his brother by both shoulders and pushed him out of the room.

Reginald walked slowly through the hall, and stood hesitating at the door of the drawing-room, where he had left Maud.

Yes; he too heard her sobs. Gently he turned the handle and entered.

“Oh, Reginald, my darling! it was the last time: you have gone from me forever! Father! father! I have given up my happiness for your sake. Tell me, show me by some sign whether I have done right. Oh! father, you know how I loved him. I had told you that very night, and you smiled; you said he would be your heir, and you would be glad, when I was older, to see me married to him. Then, when that dreadful day came, I promised you in death that it should never be. I told Reginald I would never forgive him. But, dear father, pardon me, I have forgiven him; and now, only for that old promise sake, I have sent him from me forever—forever! Tell me, have I done right? Show me some sign.”

She was pleading upon her knees, with her face upturned.

Had her dead father indeed led him back to her? he wondered.

He went gently to her, and clasping her cold hands in his, raised her up.

“Maud,” he whispered, “he has sent you a sign. I had left you forever; but I believe he has drawn me back to you. I have heard your words, my darling. Let the mental suffering I have endured for these five years atone for my sin, and let the memory which I must carry through my life of what I have done be my punishment. Believe me, Maud, it is, and will be no light one.

“But somehow to-day I feel that your poor father has forgiven me. Maud, I cannot leave you. See how my hair, young as I am, is already sprinkled with silver. Do not condemn me to a solitary life.”

“You shall never have that, my dear old Reg,” cried a voice at the door; “I for one will stick to you like a leech!”

They both started at the sound, and there before them, looking into the room, they saw Tom and the squire.

“Maud, my dear child,” said the latter, kindly, “Reginald has been punished sufficiently; his looks tell you how he has suffered. See how five years of sorrow have altered him. So long as he lives he will never cease to repent the folly which ended so fatally. Be generous, Maud; let by-gones be by-gones. If you still love him, be his wife; he needs a comforter, believe me.

“Oh! dear uncle, I do indeed love him. But may I break a promise?” she asked, turning her timid eyes upon him.

“A foolish one is better honored in the breach than the observance,” he answered; “and I am sure I am but echoing your father’s wishes.”

“Oh! Reg,” she cried, her tears falling fast, “I have been so miserable.”

Then Sir Edmund placed the hand he still held in that of Reginald Montague; and passing his arm through Tom’s, drew him from the room.


True To The Last

Chapter 1

“Miss Austen, allow me to introduce Colonel Craven.”

A smile—a bow—and the speaker and his partner passed on, Colonel Craven resuming his lounging attitude against the doorway.

A few simple words—the ordinary commonplace words in an ordinary commonplace ball-room, but resulting in the misery of two lives.

Oh! if those words had never been spoken—if that introduction had never been made! This is what we all feel when the blow has fallen—what a little would have averted it, if we had only known!

The scene is a military ball in the old garrison town of Pontham. A new regiment had arrived the week before, and partly to welcome them, partly to return hospitality freely offered, the 160th gave a ball to the principal inhabitants, and several of the county families round—including the Austens of Beechwood Park, some six miles off. (Pontham was a place where the military were “immensely appreciated;” balls, picnics, all amusements were fixed with reference to the soldiers, and the soldiers returned the compliment, many an officer voting Pontham a very jolly place—one of the best quarters in England.)

If ever a girl enjoyed a ball, it was Cicely Austen, the youngest daughter of the Squire of Beechwood. The dancing, the absolute motion, was delightful to her, still more delightful the talking, or as she expressed it, “the fun of a ball-room.”

Cicely was in a certain way a flirt—what you might call an “open flirt;” she never fell in love with her numerous admirers, or pretended to do so; still less did she expect them to fall in love with her; but she liked talking to men in a frank, half-cousinly way, frequently dancing half an evening with one partner, because he was “such a nice fellow,” and amused her. She was the kind of a girl most men like all their lives—make a firm friend and confidante of, but rarely fall in love with: so now, at the age of twenty-one, she was “fancy free.” If, as some assert, every true woman must love once in her life, Cicely Austen’s time had not come yet.

This ball she was, as usual, enjoying immensely, and the evening was half over when, coming from a small tea-room with her partner, who, though one of the newly-arrived regiment, was a cousin, and had known her from childhood—he stopped at the door to speak to a brother officer, and turning to Cicely, said:

“Allow me to introduce Colonel Craven.”

Cicely hardly heard the name—was conscious that a tall man bowed, as he made room for her to pass, and never looked at him—only laughingly turned to George Read.

“That, I suppose, is one of your people? Is that your way, to come to a ball, and lean against the wall the whole time? Perhaps, like the celebrated 10th, you don’t dance.”

Colonel Craven (he was only brevet-colonel, given the brevet with his Victoria Cross for brave deeds during the Indian Mutiny) watched them for a few minutes, thought, “What a bright face; how she enjoys herself,” then troubled himself no more, till, a quarter of an hour later, his musings were interrupted by a voice.

“I say, Craven, I wish you would be more sociable. Why don’t you make yourself agreeable? I introduced you to the jolliest girl in these parts. She’s a first-rate dancer too; and I declare you never took the trouble to ask her. All these people will vote us the slowest set alive.”

“What a bore you are! Can’t you leave a fellow alone? I tell you, Read, when you are my age you’ll think there’s no greater nuisance than this kind of thing. I don’t know why I came. I hate it. I shall go now.”

“No, I say, don’t. I swear the people will be offended. We sha’n’t get an invite to anything if we begin like this. You must stay; they don’t get a Victoria Cross man every day. Go and dance for the credit of the regiment.”

“Bother the regiment! Don’t be a fool, Read; go and do it yourself.”

As he spoke, his eyes involuntarily followed a couple just opposite; and as they moved, he was struck more and more with the peculiar fascination of the lady. She was no regular beauty, had not even well-cut features; yet there were many that thought the dark, expressive eyes, brilliant complexion, and abundant hair—almost too abundant for the small head, so well set on the slender neck—the well-proportioned figure, neither tall nor short, but looking taller than its real height from a certain stately way of moving; above all, the bright, charming manner, so unaffected, yet fully conscious of its own charm—there were many that thought—and as he gazed Charles Craven fully agreed—all these things made Cicely Austen far pleasanter to look upon than many a faultless beauty.

Craven’s eyes followed her, till, the dance being over, she seated herself on a low sofa at the upper end of the room. Then he suddenly left his place, crossed over, and addressed her.

“Miss Austen, if you are not tired, will you give me the next dance?’

Cicely was just beginning a refusal (being engaged for the remaining dances) when she looked up into the dark face—it was a dark, determined, plain, almost disagreeable face—and a feeling came over her, “I should like to dance with him. I don’t know why. I can make it all right with George; he won’t mind missing one dance.” Some unaccountable impulse made her shape her words into a smiling acceptance. She rose, and in a moment they were whirling round to the music of a rattling galop.

In spite of his eight-and-forty years, his six feet of height and broad shoulders, Colonel Craven was a capital dancer, and could make himself very agreeable when he liked. At first his habitual bitter discontent with things in general tinged his words; but gradually Cicely’s bright manner, the intense happiness showing in every action, and the impossibility of making her believe he meant the savage things he was saying—she took them as jokes, laughing merrily at his bitterest sarcasm—so acted upon him that he seemed to shake off the dark cloud that had settled on him for years, the effects of bitter trouble and disappointment acting on a strong and violent temper, capable of much good, but also of much—ay, fearful evil; and he became, for the time, a pleasanter—yes, and a better man. Only every now and then a bitter jest betrayed the hardened man of the world, disgusted with his share in this life, and caring nothing for the life beyond.

Cicely, meanwhile, felt a dreamy fascination stealing over her. A kind of fear, new to her frank, rather daring nature, took possession of her mind. “How different he is from any one I have met before,” she thought, “more like the men one reads of. He must have led a curious life. I don’t think he’s a good man; but I’m sure he’s not so bad as he says; and he seems so unhappy. I wish I knew what makes him so.”

There were only three more dances before the Beechwood carriage was announced, and Mr. Austen was in a great fuss to get his party away; but Cicely danced or sat out these last three dances with Colonel Craven (getting into innumerable scrapes with would-be partners, only promising to make up for it at another ball all were going to next week); and as they two traversed the long corridor to the door where the carriage was waiting, Craven said:

“Many thanks for the pleasantest evening I have spent for many a day. I have not danced like this for years: your good spirits must be infectious. I shall go to the ball next Thursday; no fool like an old fool, you know, Miss Austen. Good-night.”

Chapter 2

After that first ball Cicely Austen and Colonel Craven met constantly. There were many dances that summer in Pontham; and constant tennis and dinner parties at Beechwood Park. Mr. Austen liked his daughters to have plenty of amusement, if he had no trouble about it; the thought never entered his head how often Craven and his youngest daughter were together. Young Read, the cousin, being in the 200th regiment it seemed natural to know his brother officers well.

Mrs. Austen had been dead for years, and the widower—a thorough country gentleman, devoted to amateur farming— never looked after his two remaining daughters (the eldest had married three years before). Whenever they liked he chaperoned them to balls, where he and two or three brother magistrates congregated in a corner, discussing county affairs and experiments in farming, only expecting his girls to be ready when the carriage was announced, so as not to keep the horses waiting.

Those tennis parties at Beechwood, ending with dinner and dancing, were dangerous things, irresistibly impelling falling in love: not that Colonel Craven ever took a racket in his hand, but he walked about talking to Cicely most of the time, trying to persuade her the game was utterly irrational, yet coming day after day to look on, hardly speaking to any other woman.

We all know the fascination of a manner cold, almost contemptuous to every one else, but gentle, tender, protecting to only one. Cicely felt this strongly. He was never harsh with her. All the world might tell her, as many did, that he was a bad, dissipated man; that he never went home to barracks till four o’clock in the morning, that he drank, that he gambled; but she felt from the bottom of her heart that it was only because he had no one to care for—that he lived much apart, making real friends with no one—that she could influence him as no one else could—that with her he was different; and as it gradually dawned upon her that he loved her, she felt with her he would lead a better life; while for her any life with him would be happiness.

With all the power of her strong, sensitive nature, with all the affection that had never been frittered away, or divided among others, she loved him, the only man she had ever given a thought to, the one she would care for to her dying day.

Alas! there was no one to warn her. George Read, who might have done it, went on two months’ leave almost immediately; one or two of the other officers tried to hint that there were circumstances in Colonel Craven’s life few people knew: but Cicely drew herself proudly up, refusing to listen; and she was not a girl men dared speak to against her will.

Craven never said he loved her, but every word, every action implied it. He never spoke of marriage, but he showed plainly she was all the world to him.

So it went on till one day—how that day remained ever after stamped on Cicely’s mind!—there was a tennis party at Beechwood. Colonel Craven was not there; he had gone on three days’ leave, but was to return the following day, and meet the Austen party in the evening at a ball. A Captain and Mrs. Chalmers, of the 200th, came to Beechwood that day for the first time. He had only the week before rejoined his regiment after four months’ sick leave: consequently the Austens had only seen them once during a call.

Cicely never knew whether, having heard some gossip, it was done out of kindness or mischief, in hope of making a scene, or whether it was sheer accident; but, as the party was lounging about the drawing-rooms, driven indoors by a shower, Mrs. Chalmers said to her:

“What a sad thing it is about Colonel Craven and his wife!”

Colonel Craven and his wife! what did she mean? A stunned feeling came over Cicely; the room seemed to whirl round; it was only for a moment, then she thought, “I don’t believe it;” and she said gently,

“What is sad about Colonel Craven and his wife?”

“Did you not know? He has been married twenty years, and is separated from his wife.”

Then it came in full force, she felt it was true—it must be true; but above all was the thought, “They shall never know he did not tell me; no one shall know.” She nerved herself with a strong effort, though an icy chill crept over her, a mist was before her eyes, a shadowy feeling of something awful going to happen; but through all this her face never paled, her voice was steady as ever, and she smiled as she replied.

“Oh, yes; but I thought you meant something new, not that old story.”

Yes, all through that afternoon, till the guests had departed, Cicely Austen spoke and moved as before, never faltering, never giving way, till she could go up to her own room above. Then she realized her sorrow; then locking the door, she sat upon the floor by the bedside, burying her face, feeling her misery, feeling—ah! no words can describe how deeply she had loved, had trusted him; and he had deceived her, had known all the time that she never could be anything to him, that it was wrong her loving him as she did.

She sat there, thinking it over and over again. Had he done it on purpose? He must have known how she liked him. Did he really care for her? or had he been amusing himself? She knew it was wrong; but again and again came the thought, “Does he care for me? I never doubted it before; but now— perhaps he never did, and yet—I’m sure he did, only the day before yesterday, when he wished me good-bye. But ah! he knew he had a wife then: why didn’t he tell me? If I had only known at first we might have been such friends! How shall I meet him to-morrow? I must go, or these people will talk. They will say he has behaved dishonorably. They have no right to say so. They sha’n’t say I look miserable. Oh! how I wish I had never talked about him to Helena. She will be so angry with him. But I felt so happy I could not help it. I wonder what his wife is like? Does she care for him? She can’t, or she would not have left him. Perhaps she didn’t. How confused I am getting: I think I must be going mad! Oh! there is somebody at the door.” Then, as the knock sounded again, she rose, went to the looking-glass, hastily passed a sponge over her eyes, and opened the door.

Her sister came in, put her arm round her.

“Darling, what are you doing? I am so sorry; I can hardly believe it.”

Cicely laid her head on her shoulder, whispering: “Do you think it is true?”

“Yes. dear; I am afraid it is. I don’t see what Mrs. Chalmers said it for if it wasn’t. What a wretch that man must be!”

Her sister instantly raised her head.

“I don’t see that. I don’t see why he should tell us; a man is not bound to tell every one. Why should he?”

“Oh! but, Cicely, it was a shame; he did make you like him.”

“He never made me; it was my own fault. He never said a single word all the world might not have heard. You know he didn’t. I made a goose of myself, but he could not help that.”

“You did not, my darling. Don’t let us talk any more about it. Try and get ready for dinner. Don’t ring for Marian, I’ll dress you.”

“Oh! I can’t go down to dinner; say I have a headache. I’m sure it’s true; the sun was so hot. Let me stay here; only, Helena, don’t let papa fancy anything; pray, don’t.”

“Very well, dear. I hear the gong; I must go. You had better go to bed. Try to forget it, dearest. Don’t cry any more.” And Miss Austen left the room.

All the next day Helena tried to persuade her sister not to go to the ball. It was in vain; Cicely was inexorable.

“I must go—indeed I must. You need not be afraid. Do you think I would make a scene? But—” And her voice sank low. “I want to see him just once again. I can’t rest without. I shall be all right afterward; indeed, dear Helena, I don’t mean to go about broken-hearted, or anything of that sort. You know I don’t believe in broken hearts.”

And she tried to laugh. Finding argument useless, Helena gave up the point, and both sisters went with their father.

Cicely looked very well that night. Her dress, chosen some time before, in anticipation of this ball, was particularly becoming; only Mr. Austen remarked something wanting in her face, and asked if she was tired, and the more observant Helena knew that the bright look of happiness—the look of vivid, joyous life —had gone forever. Ordinary people noticed no difference, and many thought the youngest Miss Austen the handsomest girl in the room; indeed, Helena was the one who seemed nervous, trying hard to look unconcerned. She could not banish a worried expression, and her eyes would follow Cicely with a painful anxiety not to be avoided.

Colonel Craven was not there when they arrived. An hour passed before he came. Cicely was dancing when her sister saw a sort of shiver pass over her face, and, looking across, she saw his tall figure in the doorway. He came toward her, shook hands, then turned to talk to Mr. Austen.

How Helena longed to strike him! She hated to hear his cool, sarcastic tones. A few moments later Cicely and her partner came near. He stepped forward, and, bending his head down, whispered, “Give me the next,” without any other greeting. She bent her head and passed on.

He stayed with Mr. Austen till, the music recommencing, she came back into the ball-room. Then he drew her hand into his, and they began to dance. The smile that never came but when speaking to her, was on his face, as he said,

“I am so glad to get back. How did the tennis go on? You had a showery afternoon; at least there was rain where I was. I thought—”

Then he stopped, looked at her, and said abruptly,

“There’s something the matter with you. what is it? Are you tired? Come with me.”

And he led the way out of the ball-room, along a passage, to a small room used for tea in the early part of the evening, but now deserted. He closed the door, wheeled a low chair to the window for her, drew another close, sat down, and spoke.

“Now tell me all about it. Something has worried you; I know it has. What is it?”

“I am only rather tired,” she began. Then looking in his face—she could not help it (she was savage with herself afterward)—the tears would come into her eyes, but she drove them back, giving a short laugh.

“I have a headache that makes me stupid and look—”

He did not let her finish; he got up, clasped her in his arms, and kissed her passionately.

“My darling, my darling!”

For a moment she stayed—her face crimson, intense happiness in her eyes. Then a shiver shook her from head to foot, she became deadly pale, and whispered,

“I had forgotten. Oh! don’t! don’t!”

He looked astonished; then a savage frown contracted his brow.

“Some one has told you! Who did? Who dared?” Then, seeing her look of fear, “Cicely, my darling, what did they tell you.”

“Don’t be angry. I could not help hearing; besides—”

He interrupted her, his tone bitterly sarcastic:

“Oh, they told you I was married. Don’t you congratulate me? Think how delightful to have had a wife for twenty years —such a treasure, too. Doesn’t some one say women are angels? By Heaven, my wife was one. Do you know what she did? Left me before we had been married six months; said I was too great a brute to live with; told me to my face she only married me to spite some other fellow, who wouldn’t have her—not such a fool as I was! Now you’ve heard it all. I suppose you’ll call me a brute, too. Don’t mind telling me: don’t you think my wife was right?”

And his grasp tightened on her hand till he almost crushed the fingers.

Cicely bent her head till her lips touched his hand.

“You know I don’t; you know I think there never was any one in the world like you.”

“Cicely, my own, do you love me! You will stay with me! Oh, you don’t know what you are to me. You won’t turn from me because people speak against me?”

And his voice grew imploring. She raised her face; the large tears standing on her eyelashes.

“I don’t care what any one says: I know it’s wrong and wicked; but I will say it—I love you, oh, so much. I would kill myself for you just this minute, but, darling, you must listen to me.” She put her arm round his neck, drawing his face close to hers. “We must not do anything wicked; we must never talk like this again; and, dear”—here her voice sank to a whisper, he could scarcely hear, close as he was—“perhaps if we bear this well, and try to be good, we may be happy at last. You know this life is not very long after all.”

“Oh, you mean to give me up now, and talk about meeting in Heaven. That’s the way you good people all talk. Do you think there is much chance of my going to Heaven? Do you call that love? Do you think, if we could change places, I wouldn’t go with you to the end of the world—to anywhere? Talk about being friends! do you think I feel like a friend? What do you think will become of me, if I never see you again? Oh, Cicely, if you want to give me a chance of going to the Heaven you talk about, stay with me. I would do anything for you—go to church—do anything. You might make me good: won’t you try?”

“I can’t, I daren’t. My being wicked could not make you good. Don’t ask me. It is so hard to help doing what you say. Don’t make it harder; we must part—we must. Wish me goodbye, now.”

He made one more effort.

“If you give me up now we shall never see each other again. Remember I shall go to the bad, and it will be your fault;” and his face grew dark and savage.

“I can’t bear it. You should not say such things; you can’t mean it—”

Her voice was cut short by sobs. He changed instantly.

“Darling, I didn’t mean it; don’t look at me like that. There, I will do what you like. I will go; only, Cicely, give me one kiss, and say once more you love me.”

She got up, put both her arms round his neck, kissed him once, a long, lingering kiss, said, slowly and solemnly, “I love you, my darling,” then turned round, putting her face close to the window. There she stood for about five minutes, neither speaking; then he came to her.

“Let me take you back to your sister.” She put her hand on his arm.

“Do I look as if I had been crying?”

He said, gravely, “No, I think not,” and they walked back to the ball-room without another word.

When they reached the Austen party Colonel Craven spoke to Helena.

“I have been telling your sister I am afraid I must bid goodbye to Pontham. I have got my long leave, and start to-morrow. There are a good many things to arrange to-night, so I must go back to Barracks at once.”

He shook hands with her and Mr. Austen, then turned to Cicely, took her hand for one instant, whispered, hoarsely, “Cicely, good-bye;” then walked across the room and disappeared.

The Austens stayed about a quarter of an hour longer, Then Miss Austen pleaded a headache, and they went home.

Chapter 3

A small room, divided from one of the principal wards of a London hospital by a movable partition; an iron bedstead, and on it the form of a tall, powerfully made man, now helpless, horribly wounded in a street row; one arm broken, a ghastly cut across the forehead; but, the worst, a fatal injury to the spine; only shown by the expression of agony on the dark face, and a low moan of pain when no one was there to hear. He had been found when the fray was ended, by the police, unconscious, and had been carried to the nearest hospital, where he had lain for four days, suffering dreadfully, but rarely speaking. Some loose silver, a cigar case, and three cards bearing the name of “Colonel Craven, late of the 200th regiment,” were the only things found upon him.

Alas! who would have recognized the dashing soldier, the well-born gentleman in that form bearing the marks of low dissipation, a life spent in London’s worst haunts?

Charles Craven had gone fearfully to the bad since he parted with Cicely Austen. He left the army, and had lately subsisted by gambling, or languished upon the small pittance still left him, as the last remnant of his once handsome fortune.

Seeing he was a gentleman, the hospital authorities put an account of his accident in the Times, giving the name, but hitherto with no result. They paid him every attention, but his case being hopeless, the surgeons and nurses had too many cases that might be brought round to do more than see that everything was done to alleviate his sufferings, and leave him a good deal to himself.

He had been lying one day for several hours scarcely moving, when, about three o’clock, the door of his room was half opened, and a voice was heard recalling long past days—a voice whose low whisper, “Let me go by myself, do, please!” sent the blood through every vein in an instant.

“It can’t be; I must be delirious,” he thought; but a step advanced, hesitated, advanced again, and Cicely Austen knelt by the bed, burying her face in her two hands clasped over his unwounded arm as it lay on the counterpane.

Utter astonishment, combined with physical weakness, choked Craven’s voice. Only a low moan escaped his lips, and his hand closed tightly over hers; but she misunderstood him.

“I could not help it, indeed—indeed, I could not! I knew it was you. I made papa bring me. Are you very much hurt, my darling? My darling, do speak! I ought not to have come, but—but—”

And she raised her face, flushed with intense excitement, looking for the first time full at him.

Slowly, with a painful effort, every movement a fresh agony, he unclasped his arm, put it round her, drew her to him till her head touched his shoulder, then, in a low voice, said,

“Cicely, my Cicely! then you did care for me? I thought you had forgotten me, darling. How I bless you for this! I am dying, but this makes death easy. I never thought to see you again in this world; and we all know where I am going to in the next—not much chance of meeting there!”

And a harsh laugh broke from him.

“Oh! don’t talk like that. You are not going to die. You will get better—I know you will. A doctor must be able to cure you.”

And she half rose, as if to call one.

“Don’t go—don’t call any one; no one can do any good, dear! All the doctors in the world can’t mend a broken back, and mine is broken. Stay with me! Give me one kiss, darling—before any one comes, for you never gave me but one in the old days. Do you remember? Give me another; it can do no harm now. Ah! if I had only known you years ago—before—”

And now—even now—the savage frown that the thought of his wife always brought on his face convulsed the pallid brow.

“But what’s the good of looking back? Talk to me; tell me what you have been doing since we parted. Don’t ask about me; now I see you again, I hate to think of my life.”

Cicely must have been there an hour—to those two it passed like five minutes—when a knock came at the door; a moment’s pause, and Mr. Austen, with one of the nurses, entered the room.

There was an expression of mingled pity and dislike on Mr. Austen’s face. Loving his daughter as he did, he felt a fierce indignation when he remembered how her life had been wrecked by the man lying there; yet as he gazed, the lifeless form, the pain-stricken face of that Charles Craven, whom he remembered standing before him strong, powerful, daringly defying the world to blame or condemn, above all the look of love for Cicely, melted the ice at the father’s heart. Yes, it was love —strong, enduring love; few men had behaved worse, few had brought more misery on the woman they loved; few had more thoroughly deserved condemnation, yet it was love—love that had endured through everything, that would endure to the last moment of the life so fast ebbing away.

Mr. Austen felt all this; it came upon him irresistibly. He had always thought Craven a great villain; he thought so still, but he wondered no longer at his daughter’s affection. He almost forgave him—almost—he could not quite forgive, but pity softened his voice and manner as he spoke.

“I am sorry to see you like this, Craven. Can nothing be done?”

“Nothing, thank you. My time is nearly up.”

Craven’s voice was low and subdued; how unlike his usual haughty tones.

“Mr. Austen, I do not ask you to forgive me, but shake hands with me once, and grant the last thing I shall ever ask mortal man—leave Cicely here for half an hour. I know she cannot stay longer. I have not forgotten”— here the old sarcastic tone came back— “what the world might say; but it can do no harm; you will be glad you have done it when you come to be, like me, on your death-bed.”

Mr. Austen came to the bedside and took the dying man’s hand in both his.

“God help you, Craven!” and left the room, motioning the nurse to follow.

I cannot describe that half hour. Before it was ended Cicely looked more like dying than he did. She spent most of the time persuading, begging him to try and repent, to be sorry, to ask to be forgiven; and she felt, and will always feel, that she succeeded; that he did repent, that he was sorry, that God—the all-mighty, the all-merciful God—did forgive him.

At last, as Mr. Austen’s step sounded at the door, one long, long kiss, a whisper,

“You will meet me in Heaven—you will—I know you will; God bless you! my darling, my darling! Good-bye;” and Cicely Austen walked slowly but unfalteringly to the door.

Mr. Austen drew his daughter’s hand in his without a word, led her to the carriage, without once looking at her pale face.

It may be very wrong—very unscriptural, as some people assert—to pray for the dead; but there is never a day, hardly an hour, when a prayer for Charles Craven does not rise to Cicely’s lips. And I do not believe she will be judged amiss for that sin at the great Judgment Day.


For Love Or Gold

Turning over a multitude of papers the other day, I came suddenly upon a bundle of letters, neatly tied up and evidently arranged with precision. I opened them, and at the first line I read my memory returned, and I immediately recollected the whole of the little story they contained. I give it to you now just as it stands.

Frank Ripton and I were what is generally termed bosom friends, had been so both at Eton and Cambridge, where we followed each other systematically, and continued to be so without any interval of separation, when Providence and our respective relatives placed us in that station of life in which it was our fate that we must “go.” There was very little “going” on my part, I confess; but Frank was an artist born and bred, and soon showed signs of rising to the top of his ladder. He chose this line of work more from taste than from compulsion, as on his father’s death he had inherited some small property, amounting when all was told to about £1,000 per annum, and as he was making about as much more at his profession was well content with the life he was leading. I was a barrister, with few briefs and great aspirations, living discontentedly enough on barely a quarter of my friend’s income.

It was July, warm and sultry, with scarcely a breath of wind to cool the great London world. All who were worth knowing, so far as money goes, had left their homes to enjoy cool mountain air and warmly nauseous spas in foreign lands. But Frank and I toiled on persistently in our London rooms, deaf to the voice of the charmer: he because his heart was bent on finishing a certain picture destined to make his name a famous one some months later on, and I because I could not help it.

While sitting, then, half baked in my shirt-sleeves one morning, Ripton entered, and lazily sinking into a chair, informed me that he was “Thinking of leaving town for a bit.”

“Are you?” I answered, with a jealous feeling, born of my own intense but fruitless desire to quit the great Babylon. “And what in the meantime is to become of your ‘Santa Maria?’”

“She must do without me,” he said; “I have grown suddenly tired of her. In fact, spite of all my stoicism, I verily believe that London in the dog-days is more than I can stand. My clothes don’t fit me; my hand shakes as though brandy was my chief consoler while I hold my brush over the most important part of the whole picture; I have grown weak and nervous. So as I have the chance, I shall take myself off to the country for a little time.”

“And your chance?”

“Is this,” he said, and held out to me a letter which I forthwith read. It was from a Mr. Fontenoy, begging that Mr. Ripton, of whose artistic talent, etc., etc., he had heard, would do him the honor to spend some weeks at his house for the purpose of painting his wife’s portrait: he being most desirous to possess the same, and she being far too great an invalid to undertake a journey to London.

“So that is what you call resting!” I said. “Why, it is simply undertaking a different labor.”

“Yes,” he answered; “and for that very reason precisely it suits me down to the ground. I could not be idle altogether, you know; and here I shall have just what I require—good healthy air, a little work, and total absence from my ‘Santa.’ Besides, there is a little mystery connected with it that piques my curiosity. I met Prior in the Park yesterday, and it appears he knows this Fontenoy and the Grange where he lives well. A charming place, as he describes it, and charming people, with an only daughter, who is, according to his statement, a man-hater, a very Timon in petticoats, a woman’s-righter for aught I know to the contrary, and who possesses a fortune of £100,000.”

“So, not content with waiting for Fortune, you are going to take her by storm,” I said dryly. “I scarcely expected to hear that. A hundred thousand pounds is a good thing, but inseparably connected with a man-hater, I should rather fancy it would be a dear bargain, even if you do succeed in overcoming the young lady’s prejudices.”

“Nevertheless and notwithstanding, it is a very interesting sum of money,” said my friend, “and not to be despised in this prosaic work-a-day world. However, to ease your mind, if it should turn out that our modern Miss Kilmansegg squints, or has a golden leg, or otherwise misconducts herself, I promise to give up the chase.”

“And you will write regularly, and let me know how you are getting on?” I asked eagerly.

“Yes, I promise that also,” said Ripton, lazily; “so look forward to being done to death with lovers’ raptures. Anything else I can do for you? if not— How beastly hot this weather is! Got any sherry and seltzer?”

* * * * * *

“July 14, 188-.

“MY DEAR STEYNE,—You will be glad to hear I feel better already. It is such a comfortable thing to know that London, and all its smoke and fog, is far behind me. I arrived here so late last night that I went to bed without making myself known to the inhabitants of the household, and consequently slept more soundly, having had no strange faces to agitate my dreams. When I awoke this morning it was with the sound of singing birds and rippling streams dancing through my brain. I rose, tubbed, and looking out beheld—Fairyland. It was broad daylight, with the heavy glistening dew still lingering on leaf and grass, while far before me stretched the park in all the glory of its summer robes. My next picture I am determined shall be Overton Grange; I never knew a landscape attract me so much. Whether it is my over-long sojourn in town this year, or my own overheated imagination, I know not; but certainly it seems to me that never until now have I thoroughly appreciated country scenery. Next year I shall bring you down here to this village, whether you wish it or no, and give you such a surfeit of beauty and fresh breezes as shall suffice to reanimate that ancient body of thine for years to come.

“When I was dressed, and warned by a solemn gong that breakfast was ready, I went down-stairs and into the morning-room, where I found my host and hostess, but not the interesting enemy of all mankind. I was disappointed; my heart died within me. I had almost given way to despair, thinking that perhaps she had seen fit to quit the house on hearing of my arrival, when I was partially revived by a sound outside the door. It was as though a person had sneezed sonorously. Surely a woman interested in ‘rights’ would learn to sneeze just so undisguisedly! The door slowly opened. I glanced toward it cautiously, and found myself eye to eye with a wheezy-looking butler.

“My host is a tall, refined-looking man, with iron-gray hair. His wife is a rather faded specimen of what might once have been termed beauty. Her delicacy evidently consists of ‘knitting on the brain,’ she never does anything else; at least if I am to judge by the persistent manner in which she kept at her needles all this day, ‘from morn till dewy eve.’ She has it badly enough, poor thing! but otherwise looks as healthy as her dearest friends could wish.

“As I have filled as much note-paper as I intended boring you with, I will conclude. I hope my next will contain some news of the heiress. Until the receipt of that, believe me ever yours,

“F. R.”

* * * * * *

“Saturday, 17th.

“I have seen her. They say. ‘See Naples, and die;’ but I have seen Miss Fontenoy—the fairest creature on earth—and have not died. This is how it all happened. For the past two days, while sketching in and preparing madam’s portrait, it had been a matter of wonder to me where the heiress could possibly be, and why I had never heard her name mentioned. Well, this evening, I dressed for dinner, was going along the wide, open corridor that leads to the broad stone staircase, when something came out of a room beyond me that riveted my attention on the spot. It was she—Miss Fontenoy—the possessor of unlimited gold and unaccountable dislikes, the object of my thoughts for the past forty-eight hours. She was dressed in a demi-toilet of pale azure, and without perceiving me would have gone on her way ignorant of my anxiety to behold her face, had not a lucky nail (which the gods reward!) caught in the end of her robe and detained her. I stooped and loosened the hem of her garment, and then she turned and looked at me. At first I thought ‘What a sad little face! How solemn! how like a child’s!’ But just then she smiled, and I at once saw how beautiful she was.

“‘Mr. Ripton, I think?’ she said.

“‘You have guessed correctly, madam,’ I answered, with a low bow.

“‘I am Margaret Fontenoy,’ she then said, completing the introduction with pretty, careless grace; and with a slight but gracious inclination of her small head, passed out of my sight.

“Such a face, my dear Charlie, and such a fortune, to be joined with such unhappy prejudices! Eheu! Eheu!”

* * * * * *

“Sunday, 18th.

“To-day in church I saw her again. When I arrived—somewhat late, as is my wont—she was sitting in the pew a little beyond her father, and neither raised her eyes nor took the slightest notice of my coming. Indeed, I believe she was in complete ignorance of my approach. But during the sermon she partly changed her position and then for a moment her eyes encountered mine. Such eyes as they are, too: so large, so dark such a heavenly blue. It seemed to me, looking at her then, that I had done her but scant justice in my thoughts over-night. When our glances met, I fancied perhaps she would show some recollection of our former meeting, some slight confusion, connected with my unusual presence there. But no; her countenance never altered. She gazed at me fairly for one short minute with the calm, grave expression that characterizes her face, after which she turned her thoughts once more to the preacher; and I am certain not for an instant again during the service did any idea wander, or break loose from holy meditation.”

* * * * * *

“Monday, 19th.

“See how faithfully I keep to my promise! Scarcely has a day passed without my writing to let you know of my proceedings. The fact is, old man, that at this present time you are an unspeakable comfort to me (I give you my honor I did not mean to perpetrate anything so gross as a pun), and without this lucky correspondence to assist me, I hardly know how I should get rid of all the various overpowering sensations that have seized hold upon me.

“To-day—wonder of wonders—Miss Fontenoy made her appearance at dinner-time. She wore the same blue frock in which I had first seen her, while a soft, faint pink rose shone amid the masses of her dark-brown hair. I had noticed it in the conservatory about an hour before dinner, and oddly enough had imagined at the time how charming it would appear in conjunction with her blue eyes. A similar rose, but rather smaller in size, lay against her neck, at the opening of her bodice. As she advanced under the wax-lights of the chandelier I could not help thinking what a very rose of roses she was in herself.

“‘Mr. Ripton—Miss Fontenoy,’ said her father. And I bowed studiously, feeling all the time that the days when I had not known her had never been.

“‘You are sure you are not making too free, darling?’ her mother asked, tenderly, touching her hand as she passed her, while her father said,

“‘Come and sit here, Margaret; you will be out of all draughts in this quarter,’ and drew a chair near to his own at the foot of the table. ‘Your throat better, eh? Feel no pain now?’

“‘None,’ she said. ‘I think I am quite well again at last, and out of all doctors’ hands for the present.’

“‘Forever, I hope,’ put in her mother, with a sigh that taught me at once how that, even before the knitting, her mother loves Margaret.

“I fear I was rather irrelevant in my replies to Mr. Fontenoy’s somewhat heavy remarks during dinner, my thoughts being distracted all the time by the vision of Margaret’s face opposite to me, and with the knowledge I had acquired as to the cause of her absence from the family circle during the first part of my stay here. She has been ill—extremely ill for a long period, with constant colds, sore throats, etc., and is only just now recovering. This also accounts for her excessive pallor at times. I cannot fail to see, by the devotion betrayed in their manner toward her, what an idol she has become to both her parents. Indeed, one has but to look at her to know that she is made to be beloved. Ah! Charlie; were it not for that confounded one hundred thousand pounds, what an idol she might be to me! Yes; I may as well confess it—I am hopelessly, idiotically, miserably in love with this heiress, this abhorrer of men in general; and would give half I possess—nay, all, every farthing I have owned or can own—to feel myself beloved in return. But she is so daintily cold, so sweetly repellant in manner, that I cannot solace myself with even the faintest hope. Why does she so persistently refuse to converse with me? Why all yesterday after church did she keep so religiously to her rooms? Why all this evening after dinner did she scarcely deign even to glance in my direction, and show such distinct disinclination for friendship of any sort? She is always gentle, obliging, well-bred in every way, but nothing more. I almost begin to fancy that she dislikes me; that she has taken some unaccountable ideas connected with me into her head—ideas that I shall never be able, through ignorance of their nature, to successfully combat.

“When I had finished my wine, I went into the drawing-room, when I received a cup of coffee from her hands. Presently, finding that Miss Fontenoy would not speak, and that her mother could not—being well gone on her journey toward the Land of Nod—I began,

“‘What a charming flower that is in your hair!’ I said, in about the same tone as one should say, ‘What a curious buffalo they have now in the Zoological Gardens!’

“She said, ‘Yes, the contrast of pink and blue always pleases me. I have a fancy for the color blue in particular, and I am fonder of this gown than of any other I have yet possessed. Did you ever feel a sort of attachment for any one article of dress above another?’

“I could not remember having ever felt spoony on my clothes, and so I told her.

“She laughed.

“‘It is only women, I suppose, indulge in such absurdities,’ she said. ‘Will you take some more coffee?’

“‘No, thanks.’

“‘Talking of roses, Mr.Ripton,’ broke in Mrs. Fontenoy, coming to life most unexpectedly, ‘did you see that bright yellow in the conservatory? I think it the loveliest I have ever beheld. Now, to my taste, it would have become you, Margaret, much more than that faded pink.’

“‘Don’t you think it just a little too glaring?’ suggested Miss Fontenoy, mildly.

“Mamma didn’t seem to think so at all. ‘Go and show it to Mr. Ripton,’ she said, sleepily; ‘let him decide: artists should be the best judges of coloring.’

“‘Would you care to see it?’ Miss Fontenoy asked, half turning toward me with a listlessness of manner by no means flattering to my self-love. And I said ‘Yes’ with alacrity, glad of any opportunity, however ungraciously accorded, that should give me the chance of becoming more intimately acquainted with her. You may see by this, old friend, how utterly a victim I have fallen.

“She led the way, and I followed her into a warm perfumed atmosphere, where among many others bloomed the flower in question.

“‘No; it would not suit you,’ I said. And indeed the gaudy thing looked sadly out of countenance when compared with the perfect lily standing before it. ‘You are too fair. An olive skin would set it off to more advantage.’

“‘Yes; my face has always been a dead white,’ she answered, composedly by no means overpowered by my compliment. ‘Besides, I hate yellow: it is an ugly color, and there is something unhealthy-looking about it to my mind. Have you ever seen this double white geranium? See, it is slightly tinged with pink in the center. A rarity, I am told.’

“‘Yes, I have seen it once or twice,’ I answered; ‘but I am admiring this myrtle. It is perfection. Such a pale white in such a dark green sea. Does it not remind you of a wedding: of what ought to be the happiest of all events?’

“I put in this last query, I confess, from absolute curiosity; as from all I had heard about her from Prior, I was most anxious to hear what answer she would make.

“‘It ought to be,’ she said; ‘but how often is it quite the reverse? How many marriages do we hear of being “made up,” without the slightest regard to the feelings of those concerned? How can a marriage be a happy event with no love on one, or perhaps either side?’

“‘You are taking the dark view,’ I answered. ‘Let us hope few such loveless unions take place, And—forgive me—surely you are very young, and besides can have no cause to speak so bitterly. At least once, if not oftener, in your life you must have been beloved?’

“Far from taking this rather too outspoken speech of mine in bad part, she smiled, appeared rather amused for a moment, during which time she was apparently occupied in conning over what I had said; then, becoming suddenly grave again, she turned to me.

“‘No,’ said she; ‘there you have made a mistake. Never in all my life have I been loved in the sense that you mean. I believe it is only the very unhappy, or—or the very poor people who ever get much blessed in that way.’

“She uttered this extraordinary opinion with the most thoroughly convinced air in the world,

“‘How can you believe anything so monstrous?’ I said. ‘Why, at that rate, you lay down for every rich and happy individual the loneliest and most miserable of existences. For, without love, what can all the riches in the universe profit a man?’

“‘Ah! what indeed?’ she answered, with a sigh. ‘And yet I hold to my first belief; adversity is necessary to the perfecting of love. Shall we return to the drawing-room? I always sing for father after dinner, and I see he has just arrived. If you wish you can come and listen to me.’

“Of course I wished. And she sang some little French songs with exquisite pathos, and with that utter absence of mauvaise honte which distinguishes all her actions. Soon after we all broke up and went to our rooms, where I am writing this to you. Can it be possible she was in earnest when she said no one has ever loved her? I cannot bring myself to believe this. I ean see that she is morbidly sensitive on the subject of being sought for her wealth, not for herself; and it appears she has been strengthened in this sensitiveness by the conduct of some fellow who proposed for her about a year ago. Ah! Charlie, could you but see her, you would know how very lightly her money would weigh in comparison with her own sweet self. Why has Providence placed such an unattainable treasure in my path?”

* * * * * *

“August 23d.

“It appears a year at least, more or less, since last I wrote you a line. But really so little has happened during the last month to disturb the even tenor of my way that I scarcely thought it worth while to bore you with an account of my prosy, every-day life. Mrs. Fontenoy’s picture is fairly on the road toward completion; and it is merely to record an incident that occurred this morning which will have the effect of detaining me here much longer than I originally intended, that I write at all. Last night I went to bed with the full certainty of seeing you face to face in a week at the furthest; now I cannot well say when I shall have that pleasure. Well, to return to my incident.

“Sitting in my studio to-day, at about one o’clock, with Madame Fontenoy opposite to me, I was thinking deeply of anything but the subject in hand, when a faint rustling at the end of the room disturbed my meditations. I looked up, and perceived Miss Fontenoy standing in the doorway. Such a lovely picture as she made, framed in by the gilded portail, dressed in some soft white floating drapery, with just a suspicion of rose-color somewhere, but whether in her hair or under her chin, or fastened in her waistband, I cannot tell, so entranced was I by the beauty of her face. Never, I think, had I seen her look so charming—her complexion, as usual, very pale, her lips deep rose and slightly parted, her blue eyes large and black in the shadow where she stood.

“‘Mother,’ she said, ‘I want to have my portrait painted.’

“‘My dear!’ exclaimed her mother, evidently startled by this unlooked-for whim.

“‘I want, to have my portrait painted,’ reiterated Miss Fontenoy very distinctly, ‘to hang it beside yours. Father says I may have it done, if I wish; and, if Mr. Ripton will be kind enough to paint me—’ this last with a questioning glance in my direction.

“‘Of course, darling, of course,’ said mamma, willingly

“‘My picture is almost finished, and when it is, you can speak to Mr. Ripton about it yourself.’

“‘Can you spare me the time?’ she asked, fixing her soft, clear eyes on me.

“‘Yes. I will give you my time,’ I answered, ‘gladly.’ As I pronounced the last word with emphasis, I fancied (was it only fancy, I wonder?) that she blushed the very faintest blush conceivable.

“‘Thank you,’ she said, simply, and left the room,

“During all these past five weeks she has taken so little notice of me that this sudden determination on her part to have her beautiful face painted by my hand has almost unsettled my reason. I have asked myself, over and over again, what it can mean? but can come to no satisfactory conclusion on the matter. Is it merely girlish vanity, or a certain curiosity to see her own eyes look back at her out of the crowd of faces that adorn the picture gallery? or can it be— Ah! Steyne, I dare not finish that sentence. Were I to give myself hope now, might I not end in the direst despair? So cold she is, so far away—my pale, fair Margaret.”

* * * * * *

“September 2d.

“For two whole days she has been my model. And now, listen. About two hours ago she came to give me her usual sitting, and came alone. The first day, madame la mere, acting in the character of chaperon, I presume, appeared on the scene; but to-day Margaret came all by her own sweet self. When I had worked assiduously for about ten minutes, during which time no word had been spoken by either of us, she suddenly broke the silence.

“‘What a bad thing it is to be rich,’ she said.

“‘What a bad thing it is to be poor, you mean,’ I answered.

“‘No—rich. I believe it would be better for every man and woman in the world to be born without money. For a man, because he should make his own way without having it carved out for him. For a woman, because—because then she would be quite sure of being loved for herself alone.’

“‘Might not a rich woman be loved for herself alone?’ I asked. (‘Lower your chin slightly. Thanks.’)

“‘No; it is almost impossible. See here, I will give you an example. Take myself, for instance. I have, as you doubtless have heard, £100,000; and never in my life have I had a real lover, No one has ever spoken to me as I feel sure they speak to other luckier women who possess nothing in the world but their own sufficient attractions.’

“‘How do they speak to those other luckier women?’

“‘Well,’ she said, gravely, with a sort of intense wistfulness that somehow made my heart beat with an uncomfortable rapidity, ‘I will be frank with you. When men have proposed for me—and I tell you without vanity (nay, rather, indeed, with shame) that many have done so—they never address me in any way but as “Miss Fontenoy, I hardly presume,” or, “Miss Fontenoy, having spoken to your father on a subject very dear to me,” etc., instead of saying “Margaret,” or “dearest,” or, perhaps, “darling,” as I have read in novels that they generally do.’

“All this she said earnestly, and with such true naivete and innocence of expression, that I was touched to the heart.

“You should not place too much reliance on novels,” I said “They are written to suit the public mind. Real life is widely different at times. A man might love you very dearly, and still shrink from addressing you in a manner so familiar. Will you forgive me if I speak plainly to you, Miss Fontenoy, and tell you that I think you let your thoughts dwell too much on the fact of your being an heiress? It makes you unjust both to yourself and the rest of the world.’

“‘Perhaps so,’ she answered, sadly.

“‘And out of all those you mention as having—admired you,’ I began, as indifferently as I well could, ‘was there no one among them you liked above the others? Were you equally hard-hearted to all? (Raise your eyes a little, please: that will do.) Was there not one for whom—’

“‘Not one!’ she said, decisively, and then there was a pause.

“I acknowledge to you, Charlie, that at that moment I had no more idea what I was doing than you had, sitting so many miles away in your chambers. I could not even have sworn (if put to it suddenly) whose face was growing before me on the canvas.

“Presently Miss Fontenoy began again:

“‘Were you really serious about what you said a moment ago?’ she asked me, earnestly. ‘Do you believe it possible for a man thoroughly in love to address the object of his affection in such measured language as I have described.’

“‘Men differ,’ I said. Then, very slowly—‘but to put a case before you: if I were the man in question, and you were the woman, I should simply say, “I love you

“‘Ah! exactly so,’ she murmured, quietly, and sighed, and turned away her head toward the open window. Had she looked in my eyes they would, without doubt, have betrayed me; but, as it was, the tone of my voice conveyed no impression of the truth to her mind. I had played a trump card—one of my very best; would it stand to me?

“She withdrew her gaze slowly from the outer world, and once more placed it upon me; and as she did so she faltered, became first crimson, then deadly pale, and finally, rising hastily, walked over to the window. When, a minute later, she came back to her first position, it seemed to me there lingered on her long, dark lashes faint traces of recent tears.

“‘I think I will sit no longer to-day,’ she said, quietly. ‘I feel tired. You will excuse me? or, rather, be glad to get rid of me, as I fear I can give you neither the required expression nor passiveness to-day?’

“‘Say rather you feel tired of me and of my company,’ I said, bitterly. I felt at the moment hopeless—despairing.

“‘Shall I say what would be an untruth?’ she asked, reproachfully. ‘Surely you would not wish that. I am tired neither of you nor of your society, only—of myself. It is possible to be bored even by one’s self at times. I must go, and walk the feeling far away from me. Good-bye for the present,’ and she held out her hand as she spoke.

“I became savagely rude on the spot. I would not see the little hand of kindness placed just within mv reach. I turned away, and began busying myself among my miserable paints.

“‘Will you not say “good-bye” to me?’ she said, softly, and laid her hand on mine.

“The touch was more than I could bear.

“‘Margaret, Margaret!’ I cried, passionately, and caught her suddenly to my breast. I had never dreamed how small, how fragile a creature she was until I had her in my arms. She seemed to melt within my tender embrace, to grow slighter each moment I held her to my heart. At that moment I was utterly, inexpressibly happy, and even when I awoke to a sense of what I had done, I assure you, Steyne, it was neither a feeling of fear nor shame that possessed me. On the contrary a sensation of intense gladness stole over me. Surely, I thought, this irresistible outburst of mine will convince her more than all the words that could be spoken how irrevocably my heart and mind and being are wrapped up in her

“When she withdrew herself from my arms, she appeared neither displeased nor frightened—only a little surprised, and very, very pale.

“‘Why have you done this? she asked me.

“‘Because I love you,’ I answered.

“‘Do you love me?’ she said, gazing intently at me.

“‘Yes. Have you not seen it, Margaret? Must you ask me that question, being uncertain of my reply? Surely your own heart must have told you long before this that you are all the world to me.’

“She made no answer to this, but lowered her head a little, and left her hand in mine.

“‘You do not speak,’ I went on, gently, encouraged by the fact of her little fingers lying passive, warm, and close within my clasp, no effort being used to withdraw them.

“‘What shall I say?’ she murmured.

“‘Say that you love me.’

“‘I have not thought of this,’ she said, earnestly. ‘The idea is new to me. I must have time to think—and you also.’

“‘Time!’ I interrupted, impatiently. ‘I want none. From the time of our first meeting in the corridor (you remember it) I knew my heart was yours, I can only tell you in months, in years, nay, in all time to come, what I have told you now—I love you.’

“‘Nevertheless, I can give you no answer until three weeks have gone by,’ she said. ‘And do not think this capricious or unkind, because—’

“Here the door opened, and Mr. Fontenoy’s face appeared on the scene. Naturally he looked rather put out and disconcerted, not to say indignant, at the tableau before him, Miss Fontenoy and I standing hand in hand, indulging in what must have appeared to an uninitiated beholder a decidedly ‘stormy debate.’ Margaret came bravely to the rescue.

“‘Papa,’ she said, ‘this gentleman has just told me that he loves me.’

“‘Humph!’ said papa.

“‘Just so,’ continued Miss Fontenoy a little nervously: ‘and I have just told him that I can give him no answer until I have heard your wishes, and until three weeks have gone over my head. But, in the meantime, you remember, papa, don’t you, the promise you once made me, never to interfere with any arrangement that might lead to my happiness?’

“‘Yes, Margaret,’ returned her father, gravely; ‘always provided it did tend toward your happiness.’

“‘Thank you, dear father,’ she said, and went over to him and kissed him in her own sweet little way.

“There were tears in his eyes when next he looked at me.

“‘Sir,’ he said, ‘you will do me the honor to spare me an hour in my study this evening.’

“I bowed acquiescence, and he, having returned my salute with grave courtesy, went out of the room.

“‘Will you not repent, Margaret?’ I asked, reproachfully, when we were once more alone. ‘Will you not make it one week—seven long days—instead of your first determination? Remember how many weary hours they will contain.’

“‘No’—petulantly; ‘I have said. Three weeks, no more, no less. Be content. Look back on this day last month, and see how short a time it appears to be.’

“‘Well, then,’ I said, with a sigh, ‘I suppose I must rest— dis-satisfied.’

“‘Good-bye,’ she replied.

“‘Good-bye,’ repeated I, and detained her hand. ‘You will kiss me?’

“‘No’—very decidedly—‘certainly not.’ Then, repenting, seeing how her manner saddened me—‘At least, not yet.’

* * * * * *

“September, 8th.

“Nothing new to communicate, beyond the fact that Margaret and I see less and less of each other every day. This is all of her own contriving. My interview with her father passed off better than could have been expected; but had I not been as sincerely and faithfully in love with Margaret as I am, I could scarcely have brought myself to demand an heiress of her father in the cool manner I did. He received me kindly, but formally; and, after half an hour’s conversation, admitted my right to bestow my heart when and where it best pleased me. This was at least something gained; and, on the strength of it, I gathered all my remaining powers of persuasion together, and as the marble clock on the mantelpiece chimed the full hour, I rose triumphantly, with free permission from Mr. Fontenoy to win and wed his daughter, always provided that young lady is willing to be won. At times I scarcely know what to think: she seldom now appears in the mornings, and frequently, when we meet during the day, I can see a disposition on her part to avoid me. Today, however, she honored us with her sweet presence at breakfast hour, coming into the room quietly as usual, and kissing her mother in silence. She is at times capricious. For instance, when passing me, she reserved the gentle smile she is in the habit of bestowing on me, and merely placed the tips of her dainty fingers in my hand by way of compromise.

“‘What will you take?’ I asked her when she was seated, alluding to the numerous dishes on the table before her.

“‘Nothing, thank you,’ she said, briefly.

“‘Nothing!’ reiterated her mother, concernedly.

“‘Well, then, a very little toast, please,’ she said apostrophizing me; and, having taken it, proceeded to play with it abstractedly.

“I felt sure her mind was ill at ease. Mr. Fontenoy began to look unhappy, as he always does when anything—no matter how small—goes wrong with his darling. Seeing which, she made an effort worthy of the Dombeys, and swallowed half the allowance I had given her.

‘“Dear me, Margaret!’ bleated Mamma Fontenoy, ‘it seems to me that every day you only eat less and less.’ At which complaint Miss Fontenoy laughed a little nervous laugh, and made some jesting remark about gourmonds, the meaning; of which I did not catch. I was lost in thought, preoccupied, watching the pretty fragile fingers trifling with the breakfast before her, when the arrival of the post aroused me from my day-dreams.

“‘No letter for you, Margaret,’ said her father. So she rose from her seat, and went over to the window.

“There is little ceremony here, and each one reads his or her letters on the spot. I opened yours, and found the account of the ‘bursting up’ of that mining company (which, by the bye, will be no joke to our friend Jack Wilmot). I had heard Mr. Fontenoy speak of this venture some days before; so I said,

“‘The Smoleshire Lead Mine Company has gone to smash.’

‘“Eh! What?’ said Mr. Fontenoy. I repeated my intelligence. ‘By Jove!’ said he, as though thunderstruck, and then glanced meaningly at his wife.

“‘I always did say those mining companies were unsafe,’ she declared, with placid admiration of her own superior judgment, and drew a long knitting-needle out of her work with a cautious flourish.

“Meanwhile I was looking at Margaret. She had left off drawing designs on the damp window-panes, and was turned toward us. There was a startled expression on her face, which presently gave place to one of thoughtfulness, while a glance as of sudden inspiration lit her eyes. She glanced at me earnestly for a moment.

“‘Is it very bad, papa?’ she asked, alluding to I knew not what. And he said,

“‘Very bad, indeed, I am afraid.’ Whereupon she instantly quitted the room.

“Now having put all this together, I have formed an idea. It is this. That probably, in this precious mining company, some —a great deal—perhaps the whole of her fortune has been invested, and is now lost to her forever. Oh! if it might be so: if all were indeed gone, how much more thankfully, hopefully, could I look forward to the end of this seemingly eternal three weeks. How thoroughly could I then convince her of the depth and sincerity of my affection.”

* * * * * *

“September. 13th.

“Well, it is all over. And now attend to the last account in my small drama. This morning nobody appeared at the breakfast-table except myself and Mr. Fontenoy. My host steadily maintaining all through this unsociable meal a countenance at once severe, uneasy, and miserable, I concluded that somehow or other he had got out of his bed at the wrong side. I had very little time for conclusions, however, as the instant he had finished his repast he rose from his chair and said, gravely,

“‘May I beg, Mr. Ripton, that you will meet me in the library at twelve o’clock to-day?’

“I said, ‘certainly,’ with as much coolness as I could command. After which he immediately went his way.

“Left to myself, all sorts of wild conjectures thronged through my brain. A second interview—and Mr. Ripton—(Frank had been my designation for the week past)—what could be the matter? Something cold as ice fell heavily upon my heart. I could not think; I could imagine no just cause for this line of conduct on the part of Mr. Fontenoy. Not even the faintest idea of what might possibly be going to happen came to enlighten my puzzled mind! Though all around me seemed to be written in letters of fire the one word ‘Margaret.’

“At twelve o’clock to the minute I was at the library door. Opening it I found myself in the presence of Mr., Mrs., and Miss Fontenoy. He—the father—was seated at the center table, the same uneasy, unsettled expression in his face; while his wife lounged near him in an arm-chair, serene as usual, the everlasting knitting between her fingers. And Margaret—she stood at some distance from them, so deep in the shadow of the heavy window-curtains that it was almost impossible to mark the changes of her features from where I stood. It was a somber day, as you may have noticed, but a bright fire burning in the grate took away from the appearance of gloom that pervaded the out-of doors landscape. Margaret was standing—oddly enough, I thought at the time—with her hands clasped on the back of a velvet chair. The covering of the chair was bright crimson, and so the fair white hands and pink nails came out in bold relief on the top of it.

“‘Pray, sit down, Mr. Ripton,’ said my host, in a rather embarrassed tone.

“I sat down.

“He cleared his throat, ominously for me, I began to think, when be spoke again.

“‘I must beg you to remember,’ he said, ‘before I commence, that no binding engagement existed at any time between you and my daughter—Miss Fontenoy.”

“‘It is all up with me.’ thought I.

“‘Mr. Fontenoy,’ I began, despairingly, and with a quick glance in the direction of the window-curtains, when he interrupted me peremptorily with a quick wave of his hand.

“‘You will please allow me to finish what I have to say without comment of any kind,’ he said, hurriedly. ‘I will not keep you long.’

“Here he took a pinch of snuff. I felt I was going mad.

“‘About a week ago,’ he went on, ‘you received a letter from a friend of yours, I think, in which was contained the news of the smash of the Smoleshire Lead Mine Company. Well, sir, in that most iniquitous transaction my daughter’s entire fortune has been made away with.’ A dead pause. ‘And so we think it only right to tell you, that even had there been any engagement (which there was not) between you and my daughter you are now released from it, and perfectly free.’

“‘Free!’ I cried, passionately. ‘Free! What a word to use! Nay, rather, bound forever to unspeakable misery if you cast me off now. Ah! sir, perhaps you think—her own fortune being now a thing of the past—that my income is not sufficient to make her as happy and comfortable as she is here. But you are mistaken. I will work. I will conquer all difficulties. I am rising in my profession, and before next year may, perhaps, have doubled what I am at present in the habit of making, if you will only trust her to me, if—if she will only trust herself.’

“As I finished this disjointed speech, I looked appealingly toward Margaret’s hiding-place, but she uttered no word of encouragement, only I could see the pink nails were no longer pink, they were snow white from the intensity with which she clasped the chair on which she leaned.

“‘You misunderstand me, sir,’ said her father; and I noticed how strangely shaken and husky his voice was as he spoke. ‘You misunderstand me completely. You have my full consent to marry my daughter if she wishes it, but remember’ — he stopped here and then went on slowly and impressively— ‘if you take her you take a wife without one penny.’

“‘I am taking my heart’s love, if she will only come to me,’ I answered.

“And she did come to me. Out of the shadow she came, my darling; her beautiful face pale, but with a light in her soft eyes that all the Old-world painting could never have produced. It was the light of love and happy satisfied content. She came and put her arms around my neck.

“‘Kiss me,” she said. And then with a long sigh: ‘I am so happy.’

“Of course, in spite of father and mother, I kissed her three times right heartily, and out of the utter gladness of my heart.

“After a moment she withdrew herself from my arms, and placing her hands very demurely in mine said:

“‘And now forgive me.’

“I asked, ‘For what?’

“‘Because I have deceived you,’ she answered. ‘Because I have not lost my money at all. Because I have behaved disgracefully.’

“I stared at her in amazement, and then looked to her father to give me a proper explanation of her words.

“‘The fact is, Frank,’ he began, rather shamefacedly, when his daughter interrupted him.

“‘No, papa, I will tell him,’ she said. ‘But first,’ turning to me, ‘you are not angry with me? Say you are not.’

“Of course I said so; as equally of course I should have said the same had she done all the world to injure me, with those wonderful eyes looking imploringly into mine.

“‘Ah! well then,’ she went on, ‘it was not distrust of you, remember. It was not want of love. It was only that I might satisfy myself how well you cared for me for my own sake alone. And when you told us that morning of how the mining company had failed in which Uncle John, father’s brother, had invested (and has lost a great deal of money), it occurred to me that here was a good opportunity of testing the depth of your affection for me. So I persuaded papa to tell you the little fib he told you just now, and which you believed, and which has quite convinced me of your love, and made me happy. Are you angry now? Will you forgive me now?’

“I laughed. I could not help it. I felt I ought to be dignified, and justly indignant, but I could not.

“‘Yes, I am angry now,’ I said, ‘and I won’t forgive you unless you confess you are sorry for what you have done.’

“‘How can I,’ she answered, ‘when I am not? Had I not committed this crime I should never have known how unhappy it would make you to lose me. I found that out by the expression in your eyes when father said something about our engagement coming to an end.’

“‘Forgive me, Frank,’ interposed Mr. Fontenoy at this moment, ‘and believe me when I say that never for one instant did I entertain any doubts of your sincerity. But this child has made me so entirely her slave ever since her birth that I know not now how to refuse her anything,’

“Here Madam Fontenoy rose to the occasion. She got up from her chair, and coming to my side presented a fair though withered cheek for my salute. I saluted her.

“‘My dear Frank,’ she said, with a sigh of satisfaction, ‘I cannot say how really glad I am that Margaret has chosen you, and not one of those horrid military men. Ever since she has been a little girl I have been haunted with a presentiment that some one or other would come and carry her off to India or some such odious, uncivilized clime, And now at last my mind is set at rest.’

“Having finished this little speech, which she evidently had been getting up for my edification, with consummate skill, while seated in the arm-chair, she, with a true touch of womanliness, put her hand upon her husband’s arm and led him out of the room.

“Of course when left alone, the first thing we did was to kiss each other again. Then Margaret said,

“‘Are you happy?’

“‘Perfectly. Entirely. More than happy, my darling!’

“‘Have you nothing left to wish for?’

“‘Nothing. I am utterly content. Is it the same with you?’

“‘Yes. Just the very same,’ she answered.

“‘Margaret,’ I said, ‘do you know that up to this you have never yet said, “I love you?” ’

“‘Have I not? I suppose because I saw no necessity to say in formal words what must be written in my eyes! Well, I will say it now: I love you.’

“At this sweet assurance, so sweetly given, what could I do but kiss the giver of it again?

“‘Another thing,’ I said. ‘Have you forgotten that those three miserable weeks have not expired, and yet you have told me your love is mine, and you have kissed me already?’

“‘Ah! not yet gone by!’ she exclaimed. ‘To me it has seemed a long, long month!’

“‘And to me a year; but yet it is not. And so, you have broken your word, oh, most inconsistent of damsels!’

“‘Well, I will make up for it’—archly—‘and I will let six weeks pass from this hour before I even smile upon you again.’

“‘I hope we shall be married before that,’ I answered; whereupon ensued a somewhat lengthy discussion, the perusal of which I will spare you.

“And that is all. We are to be married in three months; and you, of course, will be my best man. However, I will give no more details in this, as I intend seeing you shortly face to face, having to run up to town in a day or so to arrange some few matters, and give a glance at my neglected picture. My pearl of pearls is leaning over my shoulder as I write these last words, and desires her love to my Fidus Achates.

“Ever yours,—F. R.”

* * * * * *

And that was all: except that the marriage was solemnized some three months later with all the eclat that could be given to it by a bishop and two other clergymen, and eight bride-maids, and a very giant among wedding-cakes. I was best man, and supported my principal with the entire assiduity of which I was capable. So that, altogether, the whole thing passed off as well as such melancholy occasions are generally expected to.

I spent last month with the Riptons, and was so thoroughly impressed during my visit with the serenity of married life, that I have almost made up my mind to offer my hand and heart to the bridemaid with the hazel eyes—with whose beauty my whole being has been saturated ever since that eventful wedding. Such is the force of good example.


Out Of The Depths

We were a merry party, gathered together one bright winter’s morning round the breakfast-table at Everton Grange.

A long, low, wainscoted room, with deep, bay-windows looking out on a smooth, velvety lawn which sloped gradually away to, and was bounded by, a splendid avenue of chestnuts leading to the lodge gates.

Although the trees had lost their foliage and the ground was covered with hoar-frost, everything looked cheerful and comfortable and redolent of genuine old English hospitality, from the fat robin, now a mass of fluff and feathers, who was lazily perched outside on the deep ledge of the window, having regaled himself sufficiently on his daily meal of bread-crumbs, to the interior of the room, the fire blazing in the wide, old-fashioned grate, before which the old house-dog stretched himself, and occasionally summoned up sufficient energy to rub his nose with his fore paw; while my aunt’s bright face beamed on all as she poured out the tea and at times joined in our lively chatter.

We were, I remember, busily discussing the arrival of certain guests, who were expected in the course of the following fortnight to visit the Grange, and the conversation turned on a subject which then appeared trivial enough. Who was to occupy the “Red Room?

“Put me there. Aunt Eleanor,” I said; “no one has a better right to my old play-room than I have myself; and you know I was never afraid of bogies or ghosts, witches or warlocks; so it is not likely I shall begin now.”

My uncle looked up from his paper and gave me an approving smile as I said these words. I knew he held in great contempt all foolish fears regarding the world of spirits; but Aunt Eleanor, I thought, seemed rather grave; and she hesitated for a moment before she answered,

“Well, Nellie dear, like you, I am no believer in—or at any rate I have no dread of ghosts; and when I first came here I often slept in that room without being frightened or having my rest disturbed by supernatural visitors. People in former times have complained, and the servants, as you know, are always talking about it, so I have never liked to offer the room to any visitor. Indeed, it is some years since we have had the house so full as to require it.”

“Well now, auntie, the case is altered. I really wish to sleep there, and we shall be such a large party. You will absolutely want my present apartment for some old dowager or other; so let me have my own way, and I will try at any rate to exist in the ‘ghost’s quarters.’”

“Very well, dear,” said my aunt; “it shall be as you wish;’ and she added, laughing, as she rose to leave the room. “For the present, at any rate, you may consider yourself mistress of the ‘ghost’s domain.’”

“Nellie, how can you be so foolish?” said my cousin Edith, as soon as the door had closed on her mother and the younger children, and Sir John having gone to attend to some magesterial business in the neighboring town, we found ourselves left to our own devices.

“I never say much before mamma,” continued Edith, “because she only laughs and tells me not to be superstitious; but do give up the idea of going to that horrid part of the house, and share my room instead.”

“My dear Edith,” I replied, “my mind is quite made up; besides, I have now a character for bravery to uphold; and to tell you the truth, the spirit of adventure has so completely seized upon me that I actually feel quite a longing to take possession of my new abode.”

My cousin used every endeavor to persuade me to give up my purpose, but in vain. I listened, it is true, to all her arguments, but being very young, high-spirited, and, I fear, rather willful, I was determined to show myself no coward by sleeping in the haunted room.

Before I proceed further with my story I suppose I ought to give my readers a glance at my dramatis personae.

First, as to myself, Eleanor, or, as I was usually called, “Nellie” Charteris. I can hardly imagine now that I am the same Nellie Charteris—the light-hearted, merry girl of more than forty years ago.

It seems rather as if I was writing the history of a dear friend, of one long since dead. And, indeed, such is the case; the Nellie Charteris of those days is dead—has been dead many, many years; and it is but the shadow of that bright face, but the faded resemblance of those laughing hazel eyes I now see when I look in the glass and wonder to myself, “Did the events I am now about to relate ever really happen to me, and can it be possible for one person to live as it were a double life?”

My mother died when I was but a child, leaving no other children, and from the time I left school I kept house for my father, who was a barrister. When he went on circuit, or was obliged for any other reason to leave home, I used to go and stay with my aunt and her husband at their house in Berkshire.

My dear aunt Eleanor had been a mother to me in all but name ever since I could remember. She was my father’s youngest sister, and remained in our house after my mother’s death until Sir John Austen took her away to make another home as bright and happy as she had made ours.

It was a week after Christmas-day when I received a summons from her to join a party of cousins who were all going to the Grange for some Christmas festivities.

I was going to my second home. The weather was real Christmas weather. There were dances and other amusements without end in prospect, and better than all, Charlie was to be there! I ought to have said before that Charlie was the one I loved better than all the world, better even than my own dear father; for Charlie Carruthers and I were engaged, and were to be married in about a year’s time.

I was not quite twenty years of age, and he was a few years older, and a lieutenant on board H. M. S. Hecla.

Charlie had gone to spend a week with his father and mother in Scotland, and was to join us at Everton Grange.

One bright morning, therefore, my father and I left London on our way to Berkshire. It was very, very cold, but the clear, piercing air only sent the young blood dancing more merrily through my veins, until I felt I must sing for very joy, and I was almost sorry when our journey drew to a close, and, driving up the chestnut avenue, we saw the lights in the Grange windows, sparkling like myriads of fire-flies, through the winter twilight.

It was such a dear, cozy old house, partly built in the better years of Charles the Second’s reign, but added to, spoiled, and improved by successive generations of the Austen family. It was built of gray stone, and was long and low, with mullioned windows and solid-looking chimneys.

My uncle always kept both house and grounds in perfect order, which prevented that dreary “moated grange” look so many old places acquire if they are at all left out of repair. One wing alone could be said to look at all ghostly, and this wing contained the so-called “haunted,” or Red Room. It was in fact the oldest part of the building, and its faded, time-stained walls had witnessed the births and deaths of many generations of the Austen family. It was used as my play-room when as a child I came to spend part of my holidays at the Grange, and my toys, I remember, were always kept in a certain deep closet near the old-fashioned fireplace. And oh! with what glee I used to rush up the stairs to my favorite room, and still more favorite closet, and commence overhauling my treasures, especially examining my dolls, to see that they were all in good health, and had been well cared for during my absence.

I made little histories and romances for myself out of my dolls and other toys; in fact, I loved them with the love of an imaginative child who, from being brought up with no brothers or sisters, and few companions of her own age, had made a little world for herself among her wooden playmates. My baby cousins I felt were far less clever than my dolls, and a certain Miss Elizabeth, a doll who occupied the highest shelf in my cupboard, and who rejoiced in a broken nose and various other defects, I believe I considered far superior to the whole of the human race.

From these familiar associations the room lost all its terrors for me, and though I constantly heard the servants talking about the “ghost,” and though none of them with the exception of the old nurse would venture near it after sundown, I did not mind going there at all hours; and, as my aunt and uncle very wisely took (or at any rate pretended to take) no heed of the superstition, I very soon began to look upon the Red Room very much in the same light as I did any other part of the house.

I made nurse Alison tell me its history one night about a year previous to the commencement of this story, when I was paying my usual visit to the Grange.

“Well, Miss Nellie,” began the old woman, as I sat on a low stool at her feet by the fire in the children’s nursery, “now the little ones are gone to bed, I don’t mind telling you all I know about it. Sir John and my lady don’t like it mentioned before them, as it makes them ‘timorsome’-like after dark. My grandmother, she used often to tell the tale how Sir Robert Austen brought home a young wife from ‘foreign parts.’ She remembered seeing them when she was a child. He was a middle-aged man, she said, with lines across his brow, and dark bushy eyebrows, which he had a way of knitting together while he was speaking. She, poor lady, was a delicate-looking little fairy-like thing, barely your age, my dear, when he first brought her here. Everything went smooth enough at first; but he was a moody, ill-tempered man, jealous of everything she set eyes on. Her mother forced the poor soul to marry Sir Robert, I’ve been told, and she had already given her heart away to some young Italian nobleman. Anyhow, Sir Robert led her an awful life, and after her boy was born she had just pined away like a shadow. Then one night (they had some words together, I believe, not long before) she tried to escape through the little glass door which led into the garden. Some said the young Italian lord was to meet her, and they had planned to go away together. Anyhow, Sir Robert—who every one thought was away from home—it seems, had his suspicions, for he followed, and stopped her just as she was going down the pathway by the waterfall that leads to the park. The servants heard the sound of a struggle, and a dull, heavy noise like a blow; and when they came running to see what had happened, they found my lady lying on the bed in the Red Room, looking so white and death-like, and her husband kneeling beside her, chafing her hands. He only said their mistress had had a fall; and they saw by his face they dared ask no more questions. She never spoke a word of sense again, poor dear, but was quite mad till the day of her death, which happened a year or two later. In that room she was kept, and up and down she used to walk, whispering to herself sometimes in English, but oftener in Italian, and looking over her shoulder from time to time in a sudden, scared way, as if some one was following her; then she would walk a great deal quicker, until at last her strength gave way, and she would sleep from sheer exhaustion. There she remained, and there she ended her sad life. Then Sir Robert left England and never returned. His little son was brought up by his guardians until news came of his father’s death, and he became heir to the property. Ah, my dear, that blow killed the poor lady: anyhow, it destroyed her reason, and after her death, people said whoever slept in that room had a warning before they died, or before the death of any one they cared for. I don’t know what they saw, but footsteps were often heard, I’ve been told, though I can’t say I was ever frightened by anything myself.”

So Nurse Alison finished her story; which certainly made some impression on me, and gave me a sort of eerie sensation for a time, and as I passed the Red Room during the next week or two I confess to feeling a dread of looking behind me, and of rather quickening my steps, as I thought of poor, pale Beatrice Austen and her young, sad life ended in such a fearful manner. Still, as I said before, the poor old room had been so familiar to me in my childish days that I soon again got the better of my terrors, and—to return to the commencement of this story—I had become so completely indifferent to all the horror of nurse’s legend that, as I have already said, I was the first to propose myself as an occupant of the ghost’s domains, when Christmas time brought us all once more together at Everton Grange. I felt no fear, no dread of evil. My happiness, I suppose, helped to throw a glamour over everything: in fact, I was very young, and very much in love. We had many happy parties during those few short weeks—weeks so full of perfect bliss—and the Red Room at night looked cheerful and unghostly enough with a bright fire and candles lighting up its old red-painted walls and faded hangings, while a group of merry girls—myself the merriest of the party—chattered and laughed in orthodox girlish fashion, as we discussed the pleasure of the preceding days, and formed plans and made arrangements for other pleasures in the future.

We used to have such dances, too, and the rafters of the old Grange would ring with the tread of many feet and the laughter of many voices. Then, better than all, were the quiet talks Charlie and I often had together; especially during that precious hour, the hour before the dinner-bell rang, when we generally contrived to meet in my aunt’s little sitting-room. There, free from fear of all intruders, we would build such dazzling “castles in the air,” and arrange such plans for the future, for those happy days in store for us which we had promised to share together.

I can see him now, my own dear love, the one figure standing out so bright and clear among the misty shades—getting dimmer now as the years go on—of those I knew and loved at that happy time.

I can see him—oh, so plainly!—standing by my chair in Aunt Eleanor’s little room; his handsome head, with its short, wavy curls, looking golden in the flashes of the firelight as he bends toward me, while I listen with a full heart to his glowing words, as he pictures our happiness in the years that are to come.

He was so good, so brave and true; far too good for me, I often thought: and then I would wonder what he saw in me to make him love me so much.

“It is but a plain face,” I used to say to myself at times when I looked in the glass; but then Charlie did not think me plain, so what did I care?

And so the days wore on, until the time was at last fixed for the breaking up of our party, and for our return to town.

I know my heart sank within me when I said good-bye to the friends and relations with whom I had spent so many happy hours; and when the last morning actually came, and I looked with a loving fondness round my dear old room, whose red walls and queer corners had become so dear to me, and were so filled with happy memories, I felt so completely and so unaccountably miserable that I had to take myself seriously to task for what I then considered morbid feelings.

We were all sitting round the breakfast-table on that morning, the last we were to spend at the Grange, for at any rate another twelvemonth, when Charlie entered. I, who knew so well every expression of his face, saw by the deep, dark look of his blue eyes, and the nervous contraction of his lips, as he tried to smile and make some apology for being so late, that something had happened.

However, he took his accustomed place next to me, and talked and laughed apparently in his usual manner until breakfast was over; then he drew me into Aunt Eleanor’s sitting-room, our dear old trysting-place, and throwing his arms round me, and straining me with passionate force to his heart, he said, in a voice so husky I hardly recognized it,

“Nellie, my own darling, you must be brave: the Hecla has orders to sail immediately.”

I could not speak, my heart was too full: so I only put my head on his shoulder and sobbed, while he kissed me and soothed me as a mother does her child.

“It will only be a short voyage, darling,” he murmured, “and then I shall be with you again, and we shall never more be separated, for you will be my own, my dear little wife,”

I tried to cheer up and to be brave, but it was no use; the idea of losing him even for a year or six months—to know he was far away where I could not go to him—seemed to me more than I could bear, and in spite of my earnest endeavors the tears would come, and even his voice seemed to have lost the power to rouse me from the feeling of despair which made my heart turn cold within me. Charlie himself was completely overcome at last, and then, womanlike, I became the consoler; and when our carriage came to the door, and I felt inactivity to be no longer endurable, we were both more resigned and more hopeful as regarded the future than either of us had thought possible when the sad news first struck our hearts like the dismal toll of some funeral bell.

I was glad we had to travel on that day—glad to have to be busy, to be moving. I felt quietly sitting still would be an impossibility. I could not even think. Those words “the Hecla has orders to sail.” seemed to deaden everything else, and to render every other idea a blank. Charlie was to go with us as far as London, and afterward to join his ship at the port whence she was to sail.

I cannot describe our parting: though it is now so many years ago, it is the one event in my life I dare not dwell upon.

He went, and I saw the vessel gradually recede from my sight, as I stood with my father on the pier, and watched the cold mists of an early February morning gather round the departing ship like a thick white shroud, and hide the huge masts and spars from my aching eyes. Then my father took me home.

And so I lived on in the old daily routine of life; living as so many others have to do, as if I were in a dream, and devouring with eager haste all the shipping news, to see whether the Hecla was mentioned. My patience was at length rewarded, and when I at last heard of its safe arrival, and then when the long-expected letter from Charlie made its appearance, I felt as if the whole world was now nothing to me, and my heart went up in gratitude to God for having preserved him.

I paid a visit to the Grange again during the summer after Charlie’s departure, and again occupied the Red Room. It was called my room now, and even the servants had got to look upon it with far less awe than formerly. I had, in fact, broken the spell.

When I left I promised to repeat my visit at Christmas. But ah! how different that Christmas gathering would appear to the last!

News had arrived in the spring that the Hecla was not to return to England until the following year, in November or December: nearly eighteen long weary months before I could see my darling. “Will the time never go by?” I used to cry in my impatience; as if my longing and wearying could make the hands of Time’s great clock move faster. My only comfort was in my dear one’s letters, which were always with me, and which I literally knew by heart.

Summer waned into autumn, autumn to winter; then to spring and summer again, and the joyful news came at last.

Charlie’s ship might be expected about the end of December; so, early in the month, I went to spend a fortnight at the Grange, intending to return to town a week before the Hecla was due. I had been there about a week, and was counting the days in a state of feverish happiness as they passed slowly but surely by, and the period of my happiness grew nearer and nearer.

It was my birthday, I remember, and in a day or two after I was to leave town. We had a merry party gathered together to celebrate the event, and many were the presents I received, and many were the good wishes showered upon me that evening as they all drunk my health at supper in the old dining-room.

“Ah, Nellie dear,” said Uncle Austen, “we must make the most of you now, for it is the last Christmas you will spend as Miss Charteris, so we had better say good-bye to you now forever, in that character.”

How often since then have I recalled those words—words said in jest, but which were to become so fraught with terrible meaning!

At any rate they were true words: the Nellie Charteris of that night they indeed said good-bye to forever.

My aunt followed me up-stairs, as was her custom, in order that we might have one of our usual conversations before retiring for the night.

We talked longer that night than we had ever done before. I had so much to tell of my future plans and the hopes I expected so soon to see fulfilled,

“How comfortable it all looks,” she remarked, as at length she rose from her chair. “You have certainly ‘laid the ghost,’ Nellie dear, and we ought to be much obliged to you.”

Then we wished each other good night, and she left the room.. After the door had closed upon my aunt, I still sat dreamily gazing into the fire. My spirits appeared suddenly to sink, and I felt strangely cold, as if I had just heard some terrible news. I tried to rouse myself by walking up and down the room. I even laughed, and tried to hum a tune to shake off, as I hoped, my unaccountable nervous feelings; but it was no good. My laughter sounded forced and unnatural, and the song I suddenly recognized as one Charlie was always whistling the last time we were together, and somehow that made me even more dismal. Then I took out his letters and read them one by one—those dear letters which never before failed to give me comfort.

“I shall soon see him; he will be here in less than a fortnight,” I kept on repeating to myself. But somehow the sense of the words did not seem to enter my brain.

Then I arose and went to the window. I drew aside the heavy crimson curtains, and looked out.

The moon was just at the full, and the ground sparkled with snow, while the trees stretched their gaunt, snow-laden branches toward the sky, like frozen skeletons in some wild German legend.

All the earth looked so calm and still, bathed in the soft veil of moonlight; and yet my heart was throbbing against my breast, and I alone felt out of harmony with nature, and without peace.

I waited, heedless of the cold, until I heard the bell of the little village church strike the quarter to twelve, the chimes vibrating in the calm, still air.

Then those happy Christmas words: “Glory be to God on high; and on earth, peace to men of good-will,” came into my heart with the chime of the bells, and I turned from the window, and kneeling beside my bed, prayed earnestly—more earnestly even than usual—for the safety of the one I loved best on earth.

I lay awake some time, watching the firelight flickering on the walls, and lingering more especially, it appeared to me, on my dear mother’s picture, which hung opposite my bed. Her sweet eyes seemed to smile at me as I fell asleep.

How long I remained so I have no idea; but I was awakened by what appeared to me to be footsteps passing through my room, and the feeling as if some one were stooping over me. Closer and yet closer, and then a cold breath passed across my face, and I distinctly heard my name murmured, and then a quick, low, gasping sigh.

Surely it was Charlie’s voice!

My heart stood still; but I sat up in bed and listened, and again I heard that voice calling me, but the tones were lower and more indistinct. I was not dreaming.

Once more my name was uttered in a stifled whisper, as of some one struggling for breath, so close that it seemed in my very ear, and then—all was still.

Oh God! those awful moments, never to be forgotten! I tried to call out, but could not; to pray, but my tongue was unable to form the words. Again I struggled to cry out with all my strength, and then, I suppose, I fainted.

Watson, my aunt’s maid, was beside me when I recovered, bathing my forehead with eau de cologne, and trying to revive me by every means in her power. “Miss Nellie dear,” she said, as soon as I was able to understand her, “why did not you tell me you were ill before? I heard you walking across the room about half an hour ago; but as I thought you were only sitting up later than usual, I did not come to you until I heard you scream.”

Then I knew it was no fancy of mine. Watson had also heard the footsteps. A film seemed to close over my eyes, and again I fainted.

Shall I ever forget that dismal morning, or, indeed, the weeks that followed?—weeks of silent misery and the bitter anguish of suspense. Reason with myself as I would, I felt convinced something had happened, some terrible misfortune was impending. My dear father, my uncle and aunt Austen, all tried to persuade me it was only a dream. I knew better, and I refused to be comforted.

Earnestly I prayed to have strength and grace given me to bear whatever trial was in store for me. And those prayers did strengthen my heart; for when the news came at length, and they told me the Hecla had gone down, and all her crew had perished, in sight of land, on the very night of my supposed dream, the bitterness of death for me had passed, and I never shed a tear.

My heart was withered within me. I only prayed God to let me die; to let me go to him whose last thoughts had been for me, whose last breath I knew had gasped my name.

But God, in His mercy knew best. He let me live; live, I hope, to be less selfish, less wrapped up in human love, than I had been before.

And so now I am waiting for another meeting, which, unlike the last, I know is sure to come. Then “out of the depths” of this world’s troubles my spirit will go to join him I love so well, where there is no parting; where “the weary are at rest.”


Tried In A Furnace

Chapter 1

“Well, mother, I never thought to see you take so much trouble for a lodger!”

“Mr. Mertoun is no common lodger, Prissy,” said Mrs. Ray. “I was famous for getting up fine linen in my youth; and when the gentleman asked me if I could send for Mrs. Bali to do him up a few things in a hurry, ‘Why,’ I said, ‘I’ll just try my hand at them myself,’ as it was only once in a way. You don’t often see a whiter shirt than that,” added the worthy woman, with pardonable pride.

“Well, but, mother,” urged Prissy, “I remember you were vexed when Mrs. Lloyd bid me ask you if you would take the Hall washing; and—”

“This is quite different, Prissy,” replied Mrs. Ray, rather sharply. “I’m nobody’s laundress, nor going to be! As I have told you before, the Rays were once gentlefolks, so your father said when he asked me to marry him. He said he could take no common woman, and I felt I could take no common man, so, though we were cousins, we got married, and we never had cause to rue it, either: but I was going to say Mr. Mertoun seems to know that we’re above the common sort; and he respects us too. ‘Mrs. Ray,’ he said to me yesterday, ‘I couldn’t hear of you slaving yourself over the wash-tub,’ or something like that. It’s a pleasure to work for a gentleman like him, Prissy, so it is. Then he gives no trouble, and finds no fault; and he never has any one with him except his brother, Mr. Rupert—a nice, lively young gentleman; and he takes such pains with the garden too. Hush! here be comes.”

Priscilla Ray looked up with some curiosity to see the new inmate, who had taken up his abode in her father’s house during her absence. The Reverend Laurence Mertoun had been recently appointed to the curacy of Everbury, and had chosen Farmer Ray’s house as the nearest to the parish church where lodgings could be obtained.

On passing the open kitchen door, Laurence exchanged a courteous ‘Good-evening’ with his landlady, and perceiving a second woman, concluded it must be the delicate daughter who was expected home for a change of air, as Mrs. Ray had informed him in the morning. Dull man that he was, he did not observe that she was a singularly pretty girl, really of a refined style of beauty; unlike the ideal farm-house maiden with her full rosy cheeks and plump, rounded figure. Prissy, however, had made an accurate surrey of the curate as he passed the door, and commented favorably on his appearance to her mother as soon as he was supposed to be out of ear-shot. Indeed, the Reverend Laurence Mertoun’s many perfections, moral and personal, formed the chief topic of conversation at Malby Farm that evening.

Meanwhile the unconscious subject of these praises sat busily employed in his little study up-stairs. Sometimes, indeed, he varied the monotony of his writing by turning to the window and watching the effect of the glorious sunset on the beautiful landscape outside. Then, having refreshed himself, he bent again over the pile of papers on the table before him; ever and anon referring to some ponderous-looking volumes at his side, and copying out deeply scored passages selected as bearing upon his subject.

Everbury was a small place, and the majority of its inhabitants were illiterate. A quarter of Laurence Mertoun’s time sufficed for his ministerial work, and the remainder was devoted to literature. He was now engaged upon a “History of Western Creeds,” a book projected in his college days, and now in a fair way toward completion.

Chapter 2

Prissy Ray had a lover; indeed, report said she had had her choice among all the young men of Everbury; but the favored one was a keeper on the estate of Sir Baldwin Blantyre, at Comerford. His name was Rolf Benson, and he was in every way considered a suitable match for the pretty Prissy. His father was a substantial farmer in the neighborhood.

Prissy was a romantic damsel, and well read in sensation literature of a certain class. One story which she had read of German Jagers (Jaggers she called them) had taken her fancy particularly. The hero of this tale was called Rolf; and Prissy’s cousin and particular friend always held that Rolf Benson partly owed his success with the village beauty to his very peculiar and un-English name. True, this name was easily accounted for. It was merely an alteration of the name Ralph, by which he had been baptized. In some districts the l is always sounded in the latter name.

Whatever cause may be assigned for the remarkable fact, Prissy had been constant to Rolf for a whole year, notwithstanding the admiration she called forth in the large town of Grayminster, whither she had been sent to learn sewing-machine work and dressmaking, and where close confinement had threatened materially to injure her health.

Fresh air and country living did much to restore the languid beauty. She was soon able to bear her part in household business, and to resume some of her out-door pursuits. By the time she had been six weeks at home, her languor was a thing of the past, and except for a certain refinement in face and figure, no one could tell that her health had ever given way.

Before these six weeks were over, Laurence Mertoun had in all Everbury no more ardent admirer than pretty Prissy Ray. She regarded him with a sort of veneration as a being of a higher order. Her esteem, too, found vent in various substantial benefits. A steady table with a commodious drawer appeared suddenly in his room. His stiff arm-chair, suggestive of penance, was mysteriously furnished with cushions. His room was continually kept supplied with sweet, fresh flowers; whereas hitherto his sole floral decoration had consisted of a bouquet every Saturday, which sometimes being left untouched for a week, was consequently more conducive to discomfort than pleasure. Best of all, however, while Laurence’s study was systematically “tidied,” his papers were always left untouched. Laurence, though by no means observant, was sensible of various little improvements in his circumstances, but if he bestowed a thought upon the agent, it was to the effect that little Ruth, the maid-of-all-work, was superior to most farm servants. The idea of Miss Ray, with her coquettishly bashful glances, long eyelashes, and creamy complexion, concerning herself practically with his affairs never entered his mind.

One evening, six or seven weeks after Prissy’s return, Laurence stood moodily at his window. His room, as usual, was covered with a student’s litter. Some point had arisen with regard to “Western Creeds” which puzzled him excessively. The difficulty had haunted him while writing his sermon, and now that that duty was ended, and he was at liberty for research again, perplexities seemed to increase upon him, At last, impatiently pushing his books aside, he turned for a moment to admire the lovely landscape, looking fresher and greener than usual from the effects of a passing shower.

“The rain’s over; it’s going to be fine,” a voice was saying below. Watching for the speaker, Laurence saw Rolf Benson coming out, carrying a shawl over his arm. A moment afterward Prissy joined him. There was some half-whispered conversation, and. a little giggling, until finally Prissy took Rolf’s arm, and they walked away together, looking back now and then to nod to some one in the doorway below.

“So that’s the way the land lies, Mr. Rolf, is it?” said Laurence to himself. “That accounts for my meeting that young man about here so constantly of late. Well, they are a fine young couple, and I hope they may be happy.”

By this time the lovers were out of sight, and the curate returned to his lonely work with a sigh.

Poor Laurence! His own love-affairs had not prospered, and he regarded himself as a soured man. Those who knew his history best believed that he had little reason to trust in the truth and fidelity of woman.

Chapter 3

“You can knead the cakes, Prissy; the oven will be heated against I come home.”

Prissy, like a dutiful daughter, set to work immediately. She established herself at the table near the window, perhaps that she might smell the honeysuckles which peeped in through the casement; or perhaps that she might see Mr. Mertoun go out. She saw a more uncommon sight, however, in the arrival of visitors, a lady and gentleman on horseback, attended by a mounted groom.

Prissy knew the strangers well by appearance. They were a son and daughter of Sir Baldwin Blantyre, of Comerford Hall, the owner of the greater portion of Everbury parish. The Blantyre family generally spent two or three months each year at the Hall; and as the country was rather destitute of gentry, young Lewis Blantyre had heard with great pleasure that his old schoolfellow, Laurence Mertoun, was established at Everbury. The young ladies, too, were glad to hear of an addition to their country circle of gentlemen acquaintances. They had met Laurence occasionally in his college days; and now soon after the arrival of the family, Lewis had ridden down to call on his old friend.

Miss Ethel remained discreetly outside, in charge of the groom, and Prissy, deeming herself unseen, had taken an exact inventory of the lady’s riding-dress, and had mentally made some rather uncomplimentary remarks upon her appearance, before the young men came down-stairs.

“Miss Blantyre,’ Laurence began, “I am really very sorry, but I had no idea you were waiting out here all this time.”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Mertoun,” replied Ethel; “I have been quite entertained admiring your beautiful scenery. I never thought the Hall was such a lovely place as it looks among the trees yonder. I have also been lost in admiration of the pretty bakeress inside that trellised window; isn’t she quite a picture, Lewis?”

None of this was overheard by Prissy, fortunately for her vanity. The guests were just about to depart when Lewis Blantyre said:

“By the bye, Ethel, Mertoun has a specimen of ‘Lady Lorton’ in full blow, much better, I say, than Dunscombe’s, that got the prize at the Show—at least, judging from the blossom. Could you show us the plant, Mertoun? My sister is as great  a flower-fancier as yourself.”

“Certainly; that is, if Miss Blantyre would care to come into the garden.” The plant is in my little hot-bed.”

Prissy saw Mr. Mertoun help Ethel to dismount, and directly afterward the group passed the window. It occurred to the farmer’s daughter that as far as appearance was concerned Miss Blantyre would have done better had she remained on horseback. There is about as much difference between a woman mounted in her habit and walking in the same dress as there is between a swan on land and a swan on the river. Ethel Blantyre, indeed, was no beauty at the best of times.

“How provoking!” said Laurence. “The padlock is on the garden gate. Wait a minute. I must go back to the house for it. Mrs. Ray,” he said, looking into the kitchen, “can you let us into the garden, please? The gate is fastened.”

Mrs. Ray, however, was not present, and Prissy turned from her work to speak to him. For the first time in his life Laurence was struck with her rare beauty, as, missing the key from its accustomed nail, she ran out to get it from her father in the stable. “Ah, here comes the beauty,” said Ethel to her brother.

“Did you ever see— She is not a bit like a farm-house girl!”

Laurence was distressed by the look of bold, unrestrained admiration which young Blantyre cast upon Prissy, as with a little courtesy she came forward to open the gate.

“It’s a real beauty of a ‘Lady Lorton’ so it is!” cried Ethel, bending over the pale pink geranium, the fashionable flower of the season. “So rightly named, too, after the dear little woman! No, now, Mr. Mertoun,” she added, as she saw Laurence taking out his penknife, “you positively mustn’t behead her ladyship for me—and then, perhaps, preach on that—what is it?—Nathan’s parable next Sunday! I’m sure he’s quite capable of it; isn’t he, Lewis?”

“There are plenty of buds,” said Laurence, rather coldly, for he greatly disliked a light allusion to his sacred office. As he spoke he cut the fullest blown cluster with a leaf, and presented them to Miss Blantyre. She held them in her hand, admiring them for a minute or two, and then drew them through a buttonhole in her habit.

“Dunscombe will lose his night’s rest when he sees this,” said she, tapping the pale blossom. “I must refer him to you, Mr. Mertoun, for some hints on gardening. I hope you are disengaged on Friday,” she continued, as Laurence helped her to remount.

“Thanks, I have accepted Lady Blantyre’s kind invitation,” replied he, opening the gate for them to ride out.

The visitors were gone, Ethel rather lamenting to her brother that so clever a man as the curate seemed to be should be buried in an out-of-the-way corner of the world like Everbury. Lewis seemed rather sulky, and made no response. At last his annoyance found vent in words.

“What a starched prig that fellow Mertoun is! He sees a chap looking at a pretty girl, and he scowls like a thundercloud! Why, everybody can’t be as owlish as himself.” Laurence, meanwhile, had returned to his study, and was working with redoubled diligence to make up for lost time lost this morning with his guests, and to be lost on Friday at the dinner-party. He was certainly growing rather “owlish” in his solitude. If he bestowed a thought upon the nineteenth century at all, it took the form of a wish that no one might again disturb him at the study of the Eddas, in which he was becoming much interested.

And Prissy went back to her kneading, with a brief glance at the mirror, just to convince herself that after all a short pink jacket, neatly made with half sleeves, just displaying the elbow, was not a very unbecoming dress to a dark-eyed lassie with round white arms. I have met possessors of handsome faces who could look in the glass without seeming conscious that beauty was reflected there; but Prissy was not one of these rare exceptions to the general rule; she was fully alive to the fact of her beauty, and well aware of the influence it gave her. When she had finished her household work, she took her sewing out under the great elm-tree in front of the house, and there she sat persistently for two hours or more until Mr. Mertoun came out; and when he passed with some civil remark about the weather, she wondered to herself whether he thought her prettier than Miss Ethel Blantyre.

Chapter 4

It seemed as if the Fates were against “Western Creeds” that week. On the day following the Blantyres’ visit, Laurence was congratulating himself on wet weather, which seemed likely to secure him an undisturbed forenoon, when a light step was heard on the stairs, and a young man carrying a dripping waterproof coat looked into the study.

“Ha! old bookworm, busy as ever. Not afraid of a damp stranger, I hope. You look as if you hadn’t stirred from that desk these three months. Didn’t expect to see me, eh?”

‘‘Rupert, old fellow, this is an unexpected pleasure. Why, I thought your regiment—”

“Quartered at Gray minster, that’s all,” replied the younger brother. “I shall be just as troublesome to you as I was in the spring, popping in on you on all occasions. Though it was such a downpour of a morning, I took advantage of the first spare minute to run down and see how you were getting on. I didn’t write; I thought to surprise you.”

“And so you did, most agreeably,” replied Laurence, “especially to-day, for if the roads are passable at all, I have a long walk before me after dinner, and shall be very glad of company.”

“At ‘Western Creeds’ still, I suppose?” said Rupert, glancing over the table.

“Yes; it is a great task, and still far from finished. However, I have taken up some more immediately lucrative literary work lately, in writing for magazines. And now that I have got into the way of it, you would be surprised how well it pays.”

“Writing for magazines, eh? Poetry, Philosophy, Fiction, Theology?—what is your particular branch?”

“Theology, chiefly; but I have lately tried fiction. I was rather amused yesterday when looking over the first chapters of my tale in the ‘Grayminster Monthly’ (a new publication in whose success I am interested), to think that some years ago I should have considered it unclerical to read such an effusion, much less to write it.”

“Ah, we get enlarged ideas as we grow older,” replied Rupert, sententiously. “You used to have queer, cramped notions on other subjects besides that; but just proceed instantly to hand me the Grayminster Monthly until I give you my invaluable opinion upon the production. Then I won’t disturb you, as I see you are busy.”

“‘Western Creeds’ may have a holiday for to-day,” said Laurence, replacing his papers in the drawer. “I have just one or two letters that must be written, but they will not keep me long. Now that you have arrived, Rupert, added he, “I hope you can stay, for I dine to-morrow at Comerford; and I am sure the Blantyres will be delighted to see you.”

“Can’t, thank you,” replied Rupert. “I have my return ticket, and must go by the night train. However, I am glad those people are at home, to give you a little society in this ‘up country’ settlement of yours. I hope you make yourself very agreeable to the young ladies, Laurence.”

Laurence winced. It was not a subject on which he approved of jesting. Rupert, however, not being quick to take a hint, went on.

“Really, my dear boy, you ought to think seriously of matrimony. One of the Blantyre girls, I am sure, would suit you nicely, and they have heaps of money too. Look at the advantage you have here—a clear field and no rivals. Surely you are not going to make a hermit of yourself because Helen—”

Please, Rupert, say no more on the subject.”

The words were entreating, the tone was commanding. Rupert was silenced at once, and spoke no more until Laurence introduced some indifferent topic.

The unexpected arrival of Mr. Rupert created considerable excitement down-stairs, though Prissy, having taken a side glance at the young ensign as he took off his coat in the hall, concluded that he was nothing to compare to “our” Mr. Mertoun.

Laurence and his brother sat together after dinner, discussing the events of the three months which had elapsed since they had met, when Prissy knocked at the door with a dish of fresh raspberries which she had just gathered.

“Mother thought, sir, you might like—” she began, hesitatingly, for she was not in the habit of acting waiting-maid to the curate: indeed, she had never before been in his little dining-room while he was there.

Laurence, perceiving her embarrassment, stood up, and took the dish from her hands.

“Oh, thank you, Miss Ray. How very kind and thoughtful! Please tell Mrs. Ray my brother and I are much obliged. I am only sorry you had the trouble of coming up. ”

“Scene from ‘Quentin Durward,’ I declare,” said Rupert, as Laurence returned to the table. “Is that the style of beauties you have in this part of the world, Laurence? Where did she come from? I never saw her before.”

“She is the daughter of the owner of the house, and was absent from home until lately,” replied Laurence, rather coldly.

“No wonder, indeed, you don’t admire the Miss Blantyres or any of our fashionable belles, if that’s the style of thing you see every day! How cross you look for nothing, Laurence! I think your temper is getting spoiled by your hermit life, and you are turning into a very St. Kevin. I declare,” continued Rupert, changing his tone, as he rose and went to the window, “the rain is over, and there’s Jacqueline herself out gathering flowers or cabbages or something. I think I’ll follow the example of a certain industrious insect recommended as a pattern to young England by an eminent divine and poet, and ‘improve each shining hour’ by cultivating the acquaintance of the fair creature.”

“Rupert,” said Laurence, gravely, “listen to me. I will have no nonsense carried on here while I can prevent it. Miss Ray is a most estimable young woman, a Sunday-school teacher, a member of the choir, and I have a very high opinion of her. She is, moreover, engaged to be married to one of the worthiest young men in the parish. She is extremely pretty—dangerously so, I think; and I believe she is quite aware of the fact. Girls are often very silly and conceited, and I do not know what nonsense you might put into her head, or what misery you might bring about, if you were to go down and idle away half an hour now by talking flattery and nonsense to her. You know you are always welcome in any home of mine; but if I find you inclined to take any liberties with my landlady’s daughter, I must ask you to discontinue your visits.”

“You’d think I wanted to take away the girl’s character,” muttered Rupert, sulkily.

“Not at all. I know you to be incapable of anything of the sort. Still, you are aware that ‘evil is wrought by want of thought as well as want of heart.’ If you have this innocent, imaginative young girl looking out for you and thinking you admire her, you may unsettle her mind; besides, I don’t think Rolf Benson would be too well pleased to think that his betrothed was receiving attention from a gentleman.”

“I believe you are right, as usual,” said Rupert, turning from the window. “To revert to the classic before quoted, the carrying out of my suggestion would be more like the occupation found by a certain clever agent for hands destitute of proper employment. Besides, if the beauty goes in for Sunday-school teaching and all that sort of thing, she would be rather too good for me.”

Laurence smiled, and added, “I am glad she is likely to be married soon. Her mother was rather at a loss to know what to do with her. She tried dress-making, but it injured her health. Mrs. Ray once seriously consulted me about an opening which occurred for making the girl a bar-maid. Such infatuation!”

“Oh, tell me where,” said Rupert, the incorrigible, eagerly, “and I’ll frequent that ‘public.’ There, don’t ‘slaughter me with savage looks,’ as our friend Robert Browning says. Really, Laurence, no one would think that, when I was at the university, I was supposed to be nearly as great a bookworm as your studious self. It’s all our ‘surroundings,’ believe me. Now, I never read a line except the newspapers, or a chance novel, until I come into a ‘booky’ atmosphere like this; and then I feel the love of literature stir within me. There, write that letter you threatened before dinner, while I inspect your shelves and upset them for you; and then I think we can get out ”

Chapter 5

Time rolled on, summer had passed, and autumn was drawing to a close. Laurence remained at Everbury, working diligently at his studies and in his parish, the monotony of his time being relieved by an occasional visit from Rupert, who was still at Grayminster.

A change, however, had passed over the family at Malby. It was chiefly perceptible in Prissy, but anything which affected their only child distressed and troubled her parents. The girl’s lightness of heart appeared to have forsaken her. She was nervous and low-spirited, and subject to long fits of depression; her appetite failed, and her step lost its elasticity: her soft color had nearly all faded away, yet her beauty was by no means diminished, rather increased, Ethel Blantyre thought, by the extreme delicacy of her appearance.

Poor Prissy was very miserable. She could neither describe nor account for her state of mind. She was conscious of a feeling of lassitude and distaste for all her former occupations and pleasures. The idea of her marriage, naturally the principal object of her thoughts, was now becoming hateful to her. Rolf was not to her what he had been, though she could detect no change in him except an increased solicitude for her welfare. She scarcely dared to confess to herself that all her interest was concentrated upon one object—Mr. Mertoun. Yet, she sought to argue with herself, she had admired him ever since she had known him, and why this should make her unhappy she could not tell. He certainly had never given her cause by word or look to imagine that he felt any particular regard for her. Had she been well read in Shakespeare she might have applied to herself the words of Helena:

        “Thus Indian-like,
Religious in mine error, I adore
The sun, that looks upon his worshiper,
But knows of him no more.”

Prissy, however, was no Shakespearian, and thus had not the alleviation of quoting the words of the immortal bard with reference to her own case. She went on hating and reviling herself for her folly, yet feeling just as foolish as ever, till health and spirits alike began to give way.

Of course it was very silly, quite ridiculous, and Prissy knew this, and it made her doubly secretive. Sometimes she thought she would ask her parents to send her away, that she might forget her absurdity in strange scenes where she would have to exert herself. Again, at the sound of Laurence’s voice or step, it would seem to her as if she never could leave home while he was there. Mr. Mertoun was so kind, too, always inquiring after her health, and hoping she was better. Prissy’s sense of right bore testimony against her folly. Mr. Mertoun was a gentleman, and she was only a poor girl. Oh, if the Rays had only continued to be gentlefolks still, she thought; but then would they ever have met?

All this time poor Rolf got the worst of it, being subjected to all sorts of capricious tempers. Sometimes Prissy appeared struck with remorse for the way she was treating him, and suddenly became all kindness and affection. Again she would burst into a fit of hysterical crying at his approach, and beg to be only let alone, Mr. and Mrs. Ray were seriously alarmed about her, and spoke to the village doctor. He suggested change of air and variety of occupation. So the father and mother made arrangements for sending her to an aunt who lived at a neighboring watering-place. Matters, however, were brought to a crisis by Rolf Benson. A little farm was vacant, which his father wished to take for him. Rolf himself was tired of game and poachers; and if Prissy would only consent to be married immediately, the offer could easily be accepted. But Prissy, to the amazement of everybody, burst into a fit of nervous sobbing when the marriage was suggested, and with some incoherent words of refusal, rushed off to her own room and bolted the door.

Reflection followed upon excitement. What had she done? Thrown off good, honest Rolf for a piece of folly which she would be ashamed to confess? It was not so bad as this, however. Rolf was far too loyal and true to take a hasty rejection of this kind as final, though his heart sank when he reflected upon many little slights Prissy had lately offered him. How he puzzled his good, honest mind about this change in his darling! Could she prefer any one else to him? He knew she cared for none of the young men in the village. She had rejected one or two good offers while in town for his sake; and latterly, so far as Rolf knew, she had seen no one likely to attract her. He felt himself blush when he thought of Mr. Mertoun. Of course he was a gentleman, and a good man, and would never do or say anything to disturb Prissy’s mind; still, Rolf had often thought that he had rather such a very good-looking young man did not live under the roof with his pretty sweetheart.

However, when Rolf went back to Malby Farm in the evening, Mrs. Ray met him and told him that Prissy was heartily ashamed of herself for the way in which sh had treated him, and that she was very anxious for his forgiveness. The poor girl was not well, Mrs. Ray said, and she couldn’t quite help these crying fits.

So Rolf was appeased; and when he saw Prissy sitting in her arm-chair by the fire, and looking very pale and interesting, he wondered how he could ever be vexed with such a lovely, gentle creature; and then to hear her ask his forgiveness was almost more than he could bear. On one point, however, Prissy was firm. She would not be married that autumn. Rolf could see, she said, how weak she was and unfit to leave her own home.

Perhaps in the spring— And here her voice faltered, and her faithful lover was forced to be content with this vague promise.

Prissy had her own serious doubts as to what she ought to do. At present the idea of marriage at all was distasteful to her. Her father, she knew, could leave her a good property, and first she thought she would live at Malby Farm all the rest of her life, a sort of Lady Bountiful of a lower class. But when it seemed that she had discarded Rolf forever, by her foolish outburst of passion, she felt that her love for him was by no means extinct. “Oh, if he should go off and marry Mary Jenkins or some one else!” was the thought that distressed her; and the active presence of jealousy in her heart warned her that love was still there.

What would a heroine of romance have done in Prissy’s place? Drowned herself, perhaps, but that was far from being the intention of the belle of Everbury. Despite her recent unhappiness, life was too precious to be recklessly flung away.

Chapter 6

“Well, lass, we’re likely to have a sick house. Mother’s laid up with rheumatism, and you—”

“Oh, I’m all right, father,” answered Prissy. “Going to the sea did me a great deal of good, and I’m quite well since I came home. I’m so sorry about mother.” And she went to the invalid with a pang of self-reproach, feeling that perhaps the illness was brought on by over-exertion, and might have been averted by a little timely aid in household matters.

Prissy was much better, both in mind and body, ever since her last reconciliation to Rolf. Mrs. Ray’s illness was short and not severe: still the exertion which it required from Prissy was beneficial to her—keeping her from brooding and castle-building by giving her occupation for her mind.

“I hope Mr. Mertoun does not want for anything when I’m not able to get about as usual,” Mrs. Ray would say, anxiously; but her trouble was allayed by Laurence himself, when he informed her that he had never been more comfortable during all the pleasant months he had spent under her roof. This was understood as a compliment to Prissy’s housekeeping and repeated accordingly.

I think Mr. Mertoun looks better than ever; he seems so happy, too.” said Mrs. Ray, one bright October morning, when she had ventured out for a short walk in the sunshine. Prissy thought she divined the reason of these happy looks. She had noticed that the curate had recently received several letters in a pretty feminine hand; and coupling this with a short absence of his, she drew her own conclusions. Not that any inmate of Malby Farm ever tampered with the lock of Mr. Mertoun’s postbag; but he, careless student that he was, would often leave envelopes and pieces of letters scattered about his room. Once Prissy had seen a letter lying on the table, beginning, “My own dearest Laurence.” Full of shame at the idea of reading unbidden another person’s correspondence, she withdrew her eyes, all her suspicions confirmed. It may be remarked that Prissy was quite wrong. The above is perhaps an uncommon address from a sister to a brother; but then, Grace Mertoun was as sentimental as Prissy herself, and fully concurred with the latter damsel in thinking the Reverend Laurence a model of perfection.

Prissy having built her little castle liked to live in it, and to speculate on what sort of young lady the future Mrs. L. Mertoun would be. How she longed to peep into the photographic album to try and find her out. This, however, she felt would be too great a liberty. Prissy’s fancy for the curate was gradually becoming a thing of the past; Sometimes she almost felt inclined to laugh at her folly; yet the idea of her approaching marriage with Rolf was not wholly palatable.

Chapter 7

“Busy as ever, Laurence; you certainly are a reproach to an idle wretch like me.”

“I never myself believed much in your love for literature, Rupert,” replied Laurence, with a smile.

“Well, well, I hold that is a thing of the past, existed once and died a natural death, like many a better thing belonging to many a better man. But this isn’t anything about ‘Western Creeds,’ is it? No; German, I declare. ‘Egmont.’ Oh, I remember reading that at school. What are you doing with it? Are you thinking of a trip to the Continent, and trying to revive your knowledge?”

“No,” replied Laurence. “My friend Lyster, the publisher, is bringing out a translation of Goethe’s dramas, and has asked me to undertake some of them. I was going to London about that when I wrote to see if you could come with me.”

“Well, commend me to industry. I suppose you are making mints.”

“Indeed, I am very well paid for what is really a pleasure to me; and now, lest I forget it, I want you to take charge of a parcel for me to Grayminster. Here it is. You see it is directed to Hatchell & Wing, my solicitors, in Weston Street, There is some money with which to meet a payment, besides some important papers, and also some sheets of ‘Western Creeds,’ which Luke Hatchell has promised to look over for me. You know he combines the attorney and literary man. I’ll write to him to send to you for them. You see how precious the parcel is; and you won’t let anything happen to it?”

“Oh, I’ll be careful, never fear,” replied Rupert. “By the bye, how is Dulcinea—I mean Jacqueline?”

“Rupert,” said Laurence, seriously, “that is a subject on which I wish very much to speak to you. You remember the story of Egmont, I dare say: I suspect part of it is being reacted here.”

“Why? Who’s going to behead you?” asked Rupert, looking up suddenly.

“What a superficial view you take of things!” said Laurence, pettishly. “I don’t refer to the political part of the drama at all. It is the glimpse into private life to which I wish to draw your attention. Clare has been happy with her burgher, lover, Brackenburg, until Count Egmont comes upon the scene; then there is some short-lived and spurious happiness, ending in despair and death, Rupert, you cannot misunderstand me. Have you been acting the part or Egmont? Have you been poisoning the mind of an innocent girl, and rendering her dissatisfied with her humble lover, once the object of her choice?”

“Really, Laurence,” said Rupert, rising and pushing back his chair with such force that it fell. ‘It is just like the time when we were boys together, and everything that was wrong was Rupert, Rupert, Rupert, over and over again! By some extraordinary right you saw fit to constitute yourself my Mentor, or tormentor rather; and I beg you will remember that I am as much a man as yourself, and not to be twitted in this way.”

“I am sorry to see you so angry, Rupert,” replied Laurence, calmly; “and if I have suspected you unjustly, I beg your pardon; but, recollect, you have not answered my question.”

“Well, then,” said Rupert, whose passion was rapidly cooling, “I give you my solemn word, or my oath if you prefer it, that I never in my life addressed one syllable to Miss Ray, except when you were by; and I believe I once said ‘Thank you’ to her, for which she repaid me with a smile, which—”

“I am most relieved to hear you say so, Rupert,” replied Laurence, interrupting him. I am most thankful my brother is not to blame. Still I cannot but fear that some one has been tampering with that poor girl. She is quite altered in appearance lately. Her mother tells me she is subject to fretting, and will not consent to appoint the time for her marriage. I have seen her about the house more than usual lately, as Mrs. Ray has been ill, and I do observe a change in her. Mrs. Ray, indeed, wanted me to speak to the girl, and try and bring her to reason; but of course I could not interfere.”

“No; unless you set up the confessional. I say, Laurence, you might do worse. I’d like myself to know which of wicked little Blanche Blantyre’s transgressions in the heart-breaking line lie heavy on her conscience; but as to Ethel, I don’t think you could establish much pastoral influence over her.”

“Can you not be serious on any subject, Rupert?” asked Laurence, rather severely. “As I was saying, I wonder who is at the bottom of this business of Miss Ray’s. Perhaps Lewis Blantyre. He comes here pretty often, and I once saw him look at her in a way I greatly disliked.”.

“Well, don’t go and fly at him as you did at me just now, I advise you,” said Rupert; “or, indeed, now that I think of it, you may, provided you address him in exactly the same terms. I suppose his ideas of Goethe’s dramas are about as clear as my notion of the contents of the Shasters, or those delectable-looking Eddas which I found you studying the other day. But see, it’s getting dark already, and I have an engagement in town. I must aim for the half-past five train.”

Rupert had been gone about twenty minutes before Laurence perceived that he had forgotten the important parcel. This was provoking, as it was rather precious to trust to the post, and the payment fell due the next day but one. “Careless fellow,” thought Laurence, “when I kept it on purpose, knowing he would be here to-day. I must take it up to Grayminster myself to-morrow, I suppose; yet I can’t very well, for I have my class and evening service, I shall have to go up by the night train. It’s very provoking!”

Suddenly a happy thought occurred to Laurence. He had heard Farmer Ray say that he was going to Grayminster on Wednesday, The parcel would be quite safe with him, and the solicitors could be directed by the night post to send to another address.

“I’m going up to London, sir, for a few days,” said the farmer, when questioned by Laurence. “But my lass here—I leave her at Grayminster until Saturday; she’ll take charge of anything for you, I’m sure, sir.”

Prissy blushed and smiled, and signified her willingness; and Laurence, having taken down her Grayminster address, and ascertained the train by which she was going, told her he would give her the packet in the morning.

Certainly if Laurence had ever been inclined to question the truth of his landlady’s assertion that “the Rays were once gentlefolks,” all his doubts would have been dispelled when he saw Prissy in her new winter dress standing on the gravel-walk that bright October morning. It was hard to realize that she was only a farmer’s daughter going out for a holiday. And Prissy—she liked to believe that Mr. Mertoun was waiting and watching for her. He must have been watching, for the moment the front door opened he came down, parcel in hand.

“Good-morning, Miss Ray,” he said. “What a lovely day for your journey! I bring you this, which you kindly undertook to convey for me. My careless brother forgot it yesterday. I have told Mr. Hatchell your address, that he may send for the parcel. It is rather valuable, so perhaps you can make room for it in your hand-bag.”

“Certainly, sir,” and Prissy, growing very red, stuffed it in. “I won’t let it out of my sight till it’s sent for.”

“Thank you,” replied Laurence. “I know it is safe with you.”

And then he opened the gate for her as courteously as he had done for Ethel Blantyre, while Prissy colored again with pleasure.

Turning back to the house, Laurence thought that after all his papers would very likely be safer with Prissy than with a heedless youth like Rupert, who was rather famous for mislaying things.

Rolf was waiting outside the gate. “Where’s father?” said Prissy, stopping short, as she saw her lover alone.

“He’s gone on; he bid me wait; what did parson want with you all this time?”

Rolf spoke rather impatiently, for the vague feeling of jealousy was stirring again.

“He gave me a very precious parcel to carry to town. Here, Rolf, what shall I do? Wait a minute. It’s coming out.”

“I’ll carry it. It’s too big for the bag.” said Rolf.

“Oh, no, no. I promised to keep it myself. There, hold the bag open for me,”

As Prissy squeezed the parcel in again, Rolf noticed that it was addressed to

      “Messrs. Hatchell & Wing,
           “Weston Street,

Chapter 8

“There’s Kate on the platform, Prissy,” said Mr. Ray, as the train steamed into Grayminster; and after an affectionate parting, Prissy was consigned to the care of her cousin, Miss Kate Smithwick, superintendent of the millinery department of Messrs, Bell & Boyd.

“Write to mother and tell her you are safe,” shouted Mr. Ray, as the train began to move; and Prissy’s first business on returning to the scene of her former labors was to dispatch a note to Malby Farm.

About eight o’clock the next morning the usual messenger came up to the farm with Mr. Mertoun’s post-bag and Prissy’s letter.

The door was opened by Mrs. Whyte, Prissy’s aunt, who had come in for a few days to keep house for poor Mrs. Ray, still a sufferer from rheumatism.

“Well, Mrs. Whyte,” said Joe, the post-boy, turning over his handful of letters, “it’s well, I say, Miss Ray had come home before this terrible work!”

“Why, what’s the matter?” asked Mrs. Whyte.

“Oh, didn’t you hear?” rejoined Joe, telling his tale with, that satisfaction too often displayed by the bearers of evil tidings. “There’s been a terrible fire last night at Bell & Boyd’s, where Miss Prissy was working at Easter. ‘Fire and rumored loss of life,’ they call it. It’ll all be in parson’s paper. He’ll show it you, I’m sure. We were all saying down at the post this morning how well it was Miss Prissy— But, Mrs. Whyte, ma’am, what’s the matter?”

“Oh, hush—do hush; don’t talk so loud,” said the poor woman, with a distracted air. “Oh, Mr. Joe, don’t say another word about it here. The poor child went to Grayminster only yesterday. Oh, what will her mother do? I never could tell her. Oh, I don’t know what to say.”

* * * * * *

Laurence sat at his breakfast-table about half an hour after the postman had gone. Having looked over his letters, he unfolded his Grayminster Journal and glanced over the leading article. There was nothing particular in it, so he turned to the second side, where the first words that caught his eye were “Destructive Fire and rumored loss of life.”

Laurence had nearly finished the paragraph relating the total destruction of the premises of Messrs. Bell & Boyd, Low Street, before a thought occurred to him which caused him to start up in dismay. Was not this the very address to which his solicitors were to send for his valuable packet? and were all — his money, his family papers, and his manuscript destroyed in the conflagration?

Laurence struck his hand over his forehead in despair. Why had he not foreseen this? Why had he intrusted his valuables to any hand but his own? Hark! What was that sound below? A wild, wailing cry, as of some one in intense agony. Some one else was in as great distress as himself. Surely yes, selfish that he was, he had forgotten for the moment the precious life which had probably been lost with his property in the devouring flames.

Laurence hurried down to the kitchen whence the sounds of sorrow proceeded. Here he found Mrs. Ray sobbing hysterically, while her sister, Mrs. Whyte, vainly trying to command her voice, knelt beside her, offering all sorts of conjectural consolation. Rolf, too, was standing by the table. He had apparently brought in the account, as he held a crushed copy of the Journal in his hand. Mrs. Whyte had not ventured to tell her sister. Rolf was very pale, but calm and collected,

“Oh, Mr. Mertoun, did you hear?” sobbed the unhappy mother. “My child, my poor child. To think that I’ll never see her again!” and the sobs redoubled.

“I trust, Mrs. Ray, it is not so bad as that,” said Laurence, as calmly as he could. “This suspense is hard for you to bear. I have to go up to Grayminster this morning, and I shall make all inquiries for you, and I do hope and trust your fears may prove untrue.”

“Oh, if I could only go myself,” sobbed Mrs. Ray.

“But you can’t, Elizabeth,” said her sister, and indeed the fact was evident, for, although recovering, Mrs. Ray was still too weak to walk up-stairs without help, and no one could tell what effect this shock might have upon her nerves.

“And my poor child’s letter, and the father away, and the child writing to tell me she was so safe and happy, and only the day before she said she wouldn’t go until I was better; and I made her.”

Laurence could bear it no longer. His own loss still weighed heavily on his mind. No one seemed to think of it but himself. How indeed should the others, when, for the present at least, their own sorrow was incomparably greater? Still the girl might be safe, while there was scarcely any chance for the packet. Who could think of such a thing in the hurry and confusion of escaping from a fire? Still there was a shadow of hope. Luke Hatchell might have sent to Low Street over-night. Then Laurence recollected that he had explicitly said it was to be called for on Thursday morning. It seemed as if his evil genius had been at his elbow prompting him. Although his property was probably irretrievably lost, Laurence resolved to go to Grayminster, at first rather from restlessness than any other motive. Now he would have an object in inquiring for the poor girl, whose holiday had been marked by such a disastrous event.

As Laurence walked into the railway-station at about half-past ten, he was surprised to see Rolf Benson there before him.

“Going to Grayminster, Rolf?” he said, as the keeper touched his hat.

“Yes, sir; I couldn’t bear to wait,” said the young man, whose whole appearance seemed changed by the shock of the morning. “It was very good of you, Mr. Mertoun, but I thought somebody nearer might be wanted, perhaps to identify—”

And the speaker seemed on the point of breaking down,

“Oh, cheer up, my good fellow,” said Laurence, in his most encouraging tone. “I’m sure it won’t be so bad as that. Very likely you will bring Miss Ray back with you this evening, little the worse for her fright. I wish—” my papers were as safe, he was going to say, but realizing the utter heartlessness and selfishness of the speech, he forbore to finish it.

At this moment the train came up. Laurence ensconced himself comfortably in the corner of a first-class carriage. By and by, he thought, he might have to retrench in trifles, but he did not care to begin yet. Rolf was not sorry that difference of rank separated him from the curate on the journey, short though it was. The third-class, however, was very crowded, and the poor young man would have been glad that morning to have traveled alone.

Laurence was unaccustomed to come in contact with sorrow and suffering, save in a strictly clerical capacity. He felt bewildered, and unable to speak as he wished. He quite dreaded returning to Malby Farm in the evening, if all was not well with Prissy. He puzzled himself, too, to think whether any steps could be taken to repair his own loss, the precious MS. The money—well, it was gone, but its equivalent might be gained anew. And then the irreparable loss of the legal documents.

“I’ll think no more of it until I consult with Hatchell,” was his determination, as he unfolded his newspaper and glanced over the remaining news of the day.

“Benson is here to make inquiries about the girl, so I can go to Weston Street first,” thought Laurence.

He hurried off to his solicitors, rang the bell with a beating heart, and was admitted into the office, where the first thing he saw was his own packet, directed in his large, legible handwriting, to Messrs. Hatchell & Wing, Weston Street.

Chapter 9

“Well, Mertoun, so there you are!” said Mr. Luke Hatchell, as Laurence stopped for a moment in astonishment. “There’s some mystery about this parcel of yours: I was just going to telegraph to you about it, as soon as I had time to examine the contents. It was left here a short time ago by a Mr.—Mr. Elliott, of Grosvenor Buildings. He left his card and a memorandum about it.”

“Show me,” said Laurence, and with some surprise he read:

“The accompanying packet was put into my hands last night, at the great fire in Low Street, by a young woman, who seemed much agitated, and had apparently escaped from the burning house. I undertook to deliver it this morning at the office of Messrs. Hatchell & Wing.


“Well, I’m thankful to ‘John Elliott,’ whoever he is,” said Laurence, with a sigh of relief. “I sent the packet yesterday by a young woman, a parishioner of mine, who was coming up to stay at that unfortunate shop. I’m glad it’s safe. I thought it was certainly lost; and it would have been a serious matter to me. I see Bell is largely insured. What about the loss of life?”

“Much less than was commonly supposed. Those accounts are always exaggerated at first. People have such a morbid relish for the horrible. The present opinion is that no one was burned. Some of the work-girls are injured, but are expected to recover. You saw by the newspaper that the sufferers were removed to the Ellicott Hospital. So now come in to luncheon; it ought to be ready by this time.”

While Laurence was thus re-assured as to the safety of his papers, Rolf was devoting all his energies to find out whether poor Prissy had survived the dreadful night. The Ellicott Hospital was at the far end of the town from the railway-station; and the way lay directly through Low Street, the scene of the recent fire. Rolf had turned into the street before he was aware of the fact. There was a large crowd gathered about the still smoking premises. A cord had been drawn by the police to keep the by-standers from pressing into danger. The house was completely gutted, and the front wall was hourly expected to fall. The blistered paint on doors and windows at the opppsite side of the street bore witness to the fierce heat of the flames. Rolf gazed and shuddered. As he made his way slowly through the crowd, he heard a man who had seen it all, giving a graphic description of the whole scene, adding, moreover, that it was believed to be a mistake that any one had been burned alive. The rumor originated in the fact that some young women had been in the kitchen, but it seemed they knew of a way of escape, and had been but little injured. Every one from up-stairs was supposed to be safe. This man had heard that Miss Smithwick had been rescued, but he knew nothing of a Miss Ray.

And Rolf went on, sick at heart, until he reached the Ellicott Hospital. Here he met an important, bustling little doctor in the hall.

“Ray? No one of that name here, eh, porter?” said the little man, taking snuff.

A medical student standing by suggested something in an undertone.

“Identification? ay, perhaps,” said the doctor, turning to Rolf; “but their friends have claimed them all,” added he to the student. “No one seems to be missing, thank Providence.”

“Except, sir”—and the student’s words were again inaudible to the by-standers.

“Ay. Exactly,” replied the doctor. “Quite so.” Then addressing Rolf, “What did you call your friend, young man?”

“Priscilla Ray, sir,” replied Rolf, with a sort of vague terror, lest she, the stranger in the house, should have been missed by no one, and left to perish.

“Ray? I’m afraid it won’t do, But how do you spell it? W, isn’t it?”

“R-a-y in this family,” replied Rolf.

“Well, yes, young man—then there is a person answering to this description here. ‘P. R.’ her linen is marked, the nurse tells me; but, I’m sorry to say, for your sake, she’s the worst case from the fire. Not so much burned, indeed, but she’s in brain-fever, in a very precarious state indeed. You don’t mind coming into the fever ward I dare say? Under the circumstances, you can see her if you like, though it’s not generally allowed.”

Mind going into the fever-ward, indeed! Rolf would have rushed through the blazing house itself for Prissy’s sake. In anxious silence he followed the doctor.

Yes, there she lay, on a low, open hospital bed. A good deal of her rich brown hair had been cut away, and the nurse was bathing her head with some cooling lotion.

“She is quieter now,” nurse said to the doctor.

Rolf bent over her. Her eyes were open, but she evidently did not know him.

Suddenly there was a clutching of the hands and a murmuring, and Prissy began to talk volubly and incoherently.

“She was going on all the morning like that, off and on, sir,” said the nurse. “Sometimes its nonsense no one could understand, and then it’s about a packet and some one that was to give it to some one else, and was it safe? Listen—there it is again.”

No; it was only a low wail. Something about mother, and the gentleman, and then incoherency again.

“I think,” said the nurse to Rolf, after the doctor had gone, “that packet is upon her mind. Do you know anything about it, sir?”

Rolf reflected. Could it be Mr. Mertoun’s packet which he had given into her charge? Nurse thought it likely, for the poor girl had used the name Mertoun over and over again.

“If I could only think of the place where it was to go, I’d try to find out about it,” said Rolf. “I can do no good here,” he added, sadly; “I don’t think she even knows me. Bird? was that the name? No. Wing—Wing in Weston Street. I have it now, ma’am. I’ll go and ask about the parcel. But do you think the doctor would let me come back?”

“Are you her brother, sir?” asked nurse.

Cunning woman; she guessed the state of affairs well enough.

“No; I’m her— That is, I was to have been married to her —leastways, I was once; but she wasn’t so kind to me lately. However, if I could only see her well, I wouldn’t care so very much.”

A pass, however, was easily procured for Rolf, and he started off to find Weston Street, convinced, at the same time, that he was on a fruitless errand. Anything, however, was better than forced inertion.

“‘Hatchell & Wing, Solicitors.’ This must be it,” thought Rolf, as he rang at the door.

To his surprise he saw Laurence Mertoun. apparently in the highest spirits, coming out of the door at the end of the hall which lead to the private house.

“Well, Rolf,” said the curate of Everbury, “so it’s all right? Miss Ray acted bravely in saving my papers, and I hear she escaped last night, Did you find her?”

“Yes, sir; in the Ellicott Hospital, in brain fever,” replied Rolf, in a tone of undisguised contempt.

Papers, indeed! What was it to save papers? Poor ignorant Rolf had little or no idea of the value of MSS. of family documents. He might have had a little more respect for checks or bank-notes.

“Brain fever!” cried Laurence, in real concern. “I had no idea. Poor Girl! I was in hopes we could have taken her home this evening.”

Chapter 10

“Would the doctor not think it advisable to remove her?”

The speaker was Laurence Mertoun. This was his first introduction to the interior of an hospital, and it did not strike him at all pleasantly. The comfortless look of the rooms, uncarpeted floors, uncurtained windows, low narrow beds, the oppressive smell of ether, and an occasional groan from the lips of a sufferer, struck a chill to his heart. He could not bear the idea of pretty, carefully nurtured Prissy remaining there. Laurence had never been in the habit of visiting the city poor in their homes, and therefore had no idea of the inestimable blessing of such institutions. His prevalent feeling was that Prissy must be got away as quickly as possible.

“Well, sir,” said the resident pupil, in answer to Laurence’s query, “I don’t myself think she would be fit to be moved for some time. However, if you wish, I can ask Dr. Grubb when he comes this afternoon. He said he would look in again. It seems to me that the chief things she wants are ventilation and careful nursing. And she will probably have both better here than she would at home. You see she hardly knows anything that is going on, and moving would certainly be a risk, if not fatal. For my own part, if I was ill myself, I had far rather be here than trust to willing but unskillful nursing from my own people.”

Laurence felt that the student was right, and having promised to defray any extra expense that might he thought desirable for the poor girl, he left the hospital, feeling that he had done all that could be required of him. It seemed to him that nurse and pupil were cold, almost indifferent in their manner. Yet how, he asked himself, could it be otherwise? when poor Prissy was to them only one of a multitude, to be tended a little while, and then forgotten.

Passing through the hall, Laurence came upon Dr, Grubb in earnest conversation with Rolf. The doctor would not hear of Prissy being stirred. “If she was a princess of the blood, sir, she should stay where she is for the present.” The good man did not seem in the least distressed at the idea that the girl’s mother was ill and could not come to her. “Much better so,” he said. “I can’t have my patients fussed; people coming in and making them homesick and keeping them back. This good fellow’’—turning to Rolf—“will see her whenever he pleases, provided she is fit to see him, and he can report progress.”

“You do not then despair of her life, doctor?” said Laurence, considerably relieved.

“As to her life or death, young man, that is in a higher Hand than either yours or mine. All I can promise is care and attention. Rest assured that all that medical skill can do for her shall be done.”

Laurence left the hospital, feeling rather indignant at being addressed as “young man,” and convinced that the attendants on the sick poor were the most unfeeling people in the world. He would have retracted his harsh judgment had he seen Dr. Grubb five minutes later by the bedside of the suffering girl adjusting her bandages, and soothing her agitation with a skill and gentleness surpassing that of any woman, the peculiar tenderness of a kind-hearted doctor.

“The burns are nothing at all,” said he to the nurse, “but there are symptoms about her I don’t like.”

It was weeks before Laurence heard full particulars of the rescue of his precious papers. The account was contained in a letter from Miss Smithwick to her aunt, Mrs. Ray. It appeared that early hours were kept at Messrs. Bell and Boyd’s and nearly every one in the house was asleep when the fire broke out. It was supposed to have originated below stairs; no one, of course, knew how. Prissy shared her cousin’s room, and she with Miss Smithwick and a few of the work-girls who slept in the house, half dressed, were making the best of their way down-stairs, when suddenly, with some exclamation about a packet, she turned back, and was lost in a cloud of smoke. All gave her up for lost. It was useless to follow her, and the party on the stairs reached the street with some injuries—Miss Smithwick had a fall, and severely strained her right hand. Fire-escapes were put up at the windows, and the firemen mounted to seek the missing girls, and many of those who had in reality made their escape through the lower back premises were supposed to have perished. At length, a few minutes before the staircase fell in Prissy rushed out through the smoke into the street. No one knew how she had escaped with her life. She seemed to have lost all control over herself, and ran about wildly, brandishing a packet above her head. Some policemen on the spot were endeavoring to keep order; they had already taken most of the sufferers to the Ellicott Hospital, and seeing Prissy’s frantic gestures, one of them tried to restrain her, and bring her gently to a place of safety. The poor girl screamed, and shrank away in terror, appealing for protection to a gentleman in the crowd, whom she besought to deliver the packet which she held at its address. He took it with kind soothing words, promising to take charge of it, but even as he spoke the poor girl sank back in a death-like swoon. When she rallied she was lying on a narrow bed in the Ellicott Hospital, and the hand of fever was upon her.

Before Miss Smithwick was able to write, however, Prissy’s health was returning. She was still in the hospital, for she was very weak, and had learned to rely so much upon Dr. Grubb, that she felt she could not dispense with him. She was now an inmate of the convalescent ward, and was surrounded by comforts provided by thoughtful friends.

Now that the fever was quite gone, Dr. Grubb encouraged visitors. Prissy’s father had been to see her several times, and Mrs. Ray had once accomplished the journey; but the effort and excitement had proved too much for her strength, and she was unable to repeat the visit. The Miss Blantyres had called two or three times when they were in the town, bringing some of the choicest produce of the Comerford hot-houses; for the escape of the village beauty had made quite a sensation at Everbury, from the Hall downward. Good-natured Rupert Mertoun had left more than one bouquet of hot-house flowers for Prissy, and the nurse used to rally her often about the smart young officer who seemed so concerned for her recovery. Prissy could smile at jokes of this kind now. She felt in herself that her days of foolish romance were over, for during her illness and tedious convalescence she had been learning a lesson which was to have a practical effect upon her future life.

It is needless to say that during Prissy’s tedious hours of suffering Rolf was constantly at her side. When it was believed she was dying. Sir Baldwin felt for the poor youth, and gave orders that he should be exempted from duty, so that he might be near her: and many a morning Rolf walked the ten miles between Everbury and Grayminster.

There is something very affecting in the tenderness of a strong, rough man to a child or an invalid. The hospital nurse used to say it brought tears to her eyes to see that big man and that poor weak girl, adding to one of her assistants, “It’s my belief if she isn’t kind to him, and won’t have him, she doesn’t know what she’s throwing away.”

When Prissy could walk a few tottering steps, it was Rolfs strong arm that supported her. Indeed, his constant attendance used to amuse the other patients in the convalescent ward. But he was a prime favorite with the doctor, and could go in and out as he pleased.

“You’d think he thought there was no one in the world but her,” said a patient one day to nurse, when Rolf and Prissy were sitting in the garden of the hospital.

Poor girl, she had a lover, too, but he was far across the seas. Perhaps she thought if he had been by her side recovery would have been quicker and pleasanter.

At last the day came when Prissy was pronounced sufficiently well to return home. Kindness followed her still. Sir Baldwin had sent a carriage to Grayminster for repair, and, at the instigation of his daughters, he sent word to Farmer Ray that he might have the use of it, when ready, to drive his daughter home. So Prissy went back to Everbury in state, escorted by her father; and truly glad she was to see Malby Farm again, though she parted with regret from her kind friends at the hospital.

Chapter 11

“Yes, mother, Rolf was very good to me when I was in the hospital. I didn’t deserve it, I know, after the way I treated him; but he never said another word about marrying, and—I’m grown ugly now, and I feel worn out, and I don’t think he really cares about me, since I got better.”

This was now poor Prissy’s deliberate conviction, though it was not uttered without some tears, for it was very painful to her. Rolf had completely won upon her by his gentleness and generosity, but she did not yet fully understand him, or she would have known that his silence on the subject that lay nearest his heart was but another proof of his consideration, fearing a repetition of the distress which he had caused her in the autumn. Prissy, however, was fanciful and foolish, and still weak from recent illness. The fancied loss of her beauty, too, was a cause of distress to her, for with the return of health she discovered that her appearance was not quite a matter of indifference to her. “What a fright!” she had said, pettishly, when she first saw her short hair and prominent cheek-bones in the glass, turning away quite unconsoled by nurse’s friendly suggestion that her face was unmarked by the fire.

During her time in the hospital, Prissy’s feelings had undergone a thorough revulsion. Her very vague and shadowy romance was now like a half-remembered dream; and but for her conduct toward poor Rolf, she could have laughed aloud when she thought of it. The idea of “falling in love” with Mr. Mertoun! It was too absurd! When the subject of her late undefined imaginings came in to see her, with his customary courtesy, hoping she was not too tired of her journey, and expressing lifelong obligation to her, etc., etc., she blushed and looked down, as if she feared he could read her foolish thoughts.

“Douglas’s farm will be vacant about Christmas,” said Rolf the next evening to Mrs. Ray. “I wonder whether Prissy would listen to me now.”

“Try her, my lad. and my blessing be with you,” answered the mother; and Rolf did try, and Prissy said a great deal which made the honest fellow feel very awkward, and a great deal that made him very happy.

The bargain was struck, and Douglas’s farm was taken. However, when Christmas came Prissy was still far from strong, though health was every day returning. Spring was far advanced before all were agreed that she was sufficiently well to take upon herself the onerous duties of housekeeper and farmer’s wife.

“Why, Laurence, I thought you would surely have been in Grayminster yesterday,” said Rupert, one April morning. “There was the Bishop and all the big wigs and little wigs, and St. Thomas’s bells were chiming half the day. I don’t think a parson in the diocese was absent, except yourself, I thought perhaps you were ill, so I just ran down to see, and find you up to the eyes in papers, as usual.”

“I know all about it,” said Laurence, quietly, “and I was sorry not to be in town yesterday; but the fact is, it was the day of Miss Ray’s wedding, and I had promised to officiate, and could not break my appointment.”

“Oh, so Clare’s married at last To Brackenburg, I hope.”

“To Brackenburg; that is Rolf Benson, and a good worthy-fellow he is too. They were the first couple I ever married, though I’ve been ten months in holy orders. I sha’n’t easily forget the wedding.”

“And you never discovered who played the part of Count Egmont?”

“Never, Rupert,” answered the unconscious Laurence. “However, if he ever existed, except in my own fancy, I think she has forgotten him.”

“And now, as we are on the all-absorbing subject of matrimony, may I ask, brother mine, when do you intend to follow good examples?” asked Rupert.

But Laurence, for reply, pointed to the first sheets of “Western Creed” which lay, fresh from the printer, on the table before him.


Across The Foot-Lights

Chapter 1

Five-and-twenty years ago, Helmstone-by-the-Sea was almost as gay and as fashionable a resort as it is now. It was the holiday ground—the lungs of London—just as it is now. Of course it was not so big. The development of gay little Helmstone during the last quarter of a century is in some wise phenomenal. It has grown a new pier, a grand hotel, an aquarium, a colossal and splendid swimming-bath in place of a small and shabby one. It has grown new churches, new streets, new terraces, crescents, club-houses, rinks, concert-rooms, gardens, promenades, winter-drives. All the good things that a sea-side resort can offer to resident or visitor are duly provided by Helmstone. It boasts the prettiest shops, the cleverest doctors and dentists, the keenest lawyers, the blandest riding-masters, the most accomplished professors of music and art that all England can show. Novelties and prettinesses come into being at Helmstone even before they are seen in Bond Street. It is as if they were wafted across the Channel by some magical power. From the Palais Royal to the Queen’s Parade is but a step.

Yes, Helmstone has doubled, trebled, quadrupled itself in wealth and splendor since those old days when “Pam” was a power, and the Indian mutiny was still fresh in the minds of men; when Macaulay’s History and Tennyson’s Idylls were new books. It has swollen and spread itself over the face of the surrounding country; it has swallowed up its own suburbs and green parks, like another Saturn devouring his children; and elderly people look back upon that cozy little Helmstone of a quarter of a century ago with a touch of fond regret.

What a pleasant place it was in those days, with its sparkling parade and narrowest of side streets, its shabby old baths, and (shabby old pier, and old-fashioned hotels—not a table-d’hote in the whole town—private sitting-rooms, stately little dinners, and wax-candles, in the good old Georgian manner—expensive, exclusive, dull. Helmstone had its own Duke—its own resident Duke—in that corner mansion on the cliff at the east end of the town. Helmstone had its single old-established club. Helmstone had still a Royal flavor, as having been, thirty or forty years before, the chosen resort of princes.

To an old fogy it seems as if there were prettier girls marching up and down the Queen’s Parade in those days; better favored, grander-looking men. Every other man one met between four and five on a November afternoon had the air of Life Guards or Hussars. One seemed to hear the clink of spurs and the jingle of sabretache as those tall mustached youths strode by, with golden lockets and fusee-boxes flashing on their waistcoats, clad in peg-top trousers and rough overcoats. All the girls had golden hair shining under pork-pie hats, and dainty little seal-skin jackets, and flounced silk frocks, showing the neat little boot and slender ankle, just revealing at windy corners that portion of the feminine anatomy which French novelists describe as “the birth of the leg.”

It was at this lesser Helmstone, at the old Theater Royal—a smaller, shabbier building than the theater of to-day—that Miss Rosalie Morton appeared as fairy-queen in the pantomime of “Gulliver and the Golden Goose; or, Harlequin Little Boy Blue, and Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” in the New Year of 1860.

Now the role of queen of the fairies in a Christmas pantomime is not the loftiest walk in the British drama. It does not rank among the Portias and Juliets and Lady Teazles. The fairy-queen is apt to be snubbed by the first singing chambermaid who plays “Mary, Mary, quite contrary,” and even to be looked down upon by the premiere danseuse; but still there is a certain dignity about the part which is respected by the gallery, and regarded kindly by boxes and pit.

Above all, the fairy-queen should be young and pretty. A plain or an elderly queen would be a blot upon any pantomime. The first dancer may be as old as she likes, provided her legs are nimble and her petticoats well put on—it is for her steps she is valued; but the queen of the fairies must be young and fair and gracious-looking.

So young, so fair, so gracious, was assuredly Miss Rosalie Morton, the queen of that particular Christmas entertainment of Gulliver and Mary. She was not quite eighteen years of age, and she had only been on the stage just six months. It had been considered great promotion for her when, after trying her young wings, as it were, and familiarizing herself with the glare of the footlights at the little theater in the Isle of Wight, she had been engaged—for the sake of her pretty face, bien entendu—by Mr. de Courtenay, of the Theater Royal, Helmstone.

Mr. de Courtenay was the kindest of men and of managers. His actors and actresses adored him. He was so thoroughly good, so friendly, so honorable, so conscientious, that it was impossible to grumble at anything he did; so as actors and actresses must grumble, they all found fault with the stage-manager, who was a good, honest soul, but not quite so cultivated a person as a stage-manager ought to be, and who cast the pieces in a rough and ready way which was intensely irritating to the artists whose talents and individual rights he so often disregarded.

For once in a way, however, Mr. Badger was right when he cast Rosalie Morton for the part of fairy-queen in the pantomime. She had only about a hundred lines of doggerel to pronounce, doggerel highly spiced with those local and topical allusions which enhance the charm of such dialogue; but she had to occupy the stage for a long time, and her beauty would be of value to the scenes in which she appeared.

“It is the prettiest face Courtenay has picked up for the last three years,” said the leader of the orchestra, who was a critic and connoisseur, and always gave his opinion freely. “She ought to have played Mary, instead of Miss Bolderby, who is as old as the hills, and sings out of tune. I could have taught Miss Morton to sing her half dozen songs in as many lessons. She has a pretty little voice and a capital ear.”

“She can’t act a bit,” said Mr. Badger, “and Bolderby is a roaring favorite with the gallery. Morton will do very well for fairy-queen ”

So Miss Morton played “Cerulia, the queen of the azure fairies in the hyacinthe dell”—that is how she was described in the play-bill. The wardrobe-woman made her a short frock of palest blue tulle, starred with silver, and a silver tissue bodice, which fitted her willowy figure and girlish bust to perfection. She had the prettiest legs and feet in the theater, and her satin shoes and sandals became her to admiration. She had magnificent chestnut hair, with flashes of gold in it, large hazel eyes, a Greek nose, and a mouth of loveliest mold. She was delicately fashioned; of middle height, graceful, refined; altogether charming. Mr. de Courtenay felt that he had secured a prize; and he raised her salary from thirty shillings a week to five-and-thirty without being asked. Theatrical salaries did not range quite so high in 1860 as they do nowadays. Under the present liberal management of the Helmstone theater, so pretty a fairy as Rosalie Morton would count her salary by guineas.

That extra five shillings weekly was a godsend to Miss Morton and Miss Morton’s mamma. The mamma was a clergyman’s widow, whose annual revenue was of the smallest. She had a married daughter among the professional classes in Bloomsbury; fairly, but not wealthily wedded. She had a son in Somerset House, and another son in the colonies, working for their daily bread. And she had this youngest of all her children— her rose of roses—who adored her, had never been separated from her for more than a week, and who had found even a week’s visit to kindest friends a dreary exile from the beloved mother.

Rosalie had cherished a childish passion for play-acting from the days of short frocks and sky-blue sashes, when she had been taken to the York theater by an uncle and aunt who lived in that cathedral city, and with whom she occasionally spent a day and a night. The father’s vicarage was in a rural village between York and Beverley. Rosie had been to the theater about three times in all; but those three nights of enchantment had made the strongest impression on her youthful intelligence. She and her brothers acted plays in the old vicarage parlor, the shabbiest room in the house, given over to the children, but a delightful room for play-acting, since there were two closets and two doors, besides a half-glass door opening into the garden. What tragedies and melodramas Rosalie and her brothers acted in the long winter evenings! The elder sister was too sensible and too busy to waste her time with them. She had an idea of going out as a governess, and had her nose always in an Ollendorf.

Poor little Rosie fancied herself a genius in those days. She mistook her love of dramatic art for capacity, and thought she had only to walk on to a stage in order to become a great actress, like the star she had seen at York. She did not know that the star was five-and-thirty, and had worked laboriously for ten years before audiences began to bow down to her. The vicar had been dead nearly three years when Rosalie was seventeen, and the mother and daughter were existing on a pittance in a dreary second floor in Guildford Street.

Mrs. Melford—the girl’s real name was Melford—was a lady by birth and education, and had no more power of earning money than if she had been a humming-bird.

Rosalie was panting to do something for the beloved mother; to bring home money and shower it into the maternal lap. She had read of Edmund Kean’s London debut, the startling success, the child playing upon the floor of the actor’s lodging, wallowing in gold, the guineas having rolled in so fast that there was no one to pick them up; and she, poor child, thought that she too was a genius, and could delight the town as Portia, just as Kean had as Shylock. She did not recall that other tradition about the great actor, which told how as a lad he had strutted and ranted in a booth, learning the rudiments of his art in the rough and ready school of Richardson’s show, delighting the yokels at country fairs before he thrilled the cognoscenti at Drury Lane.

Much pleading and many long discussions were needed before the mother would consent to her child’s appearance on the boards. The vicar’s widow had heard terrible stories of theaters, and she had to be reminded again and again of the glorious examples of feminine virtue to be seen on the metropolitan stage; and that if there were some shadows on the dramatic profession, there are also spots upon the sun. And then they were very poor, those two, in their shabby London lodging. They had drunk deep of the cup of genteel penury. And the mother could but own that it would be a nice thing if her darling were earning from twenty to thirty pounds a week at the Haymarket or the Lyceum. That dear Mr. Buckstone would doubtless be delighted to secure this lovely young Rosalie for his leading lady, in place of the somewhat mature personage who now filled that position.

So one morning Mrs. Melford gave her consent, and Rosalie tripped off at once to the dramatic agent in Bow Street, and paid him five shillings by way of entrance fee to the mysteries of the drama, and opened her heart to him. The agent smiled at her blandly, with his eyes half shut, looking down at the toes of his varnished boots; and then he swept away all her illusions in a sentence or two. He told her that she would be lucky if she played Portia to a metropolitan audience before she was forty; lucky if she got an engagement of any kind in a London theater within the next ten years. What she had to do was to go to some small country theater, and work hard. She would have to play small parts for the first year or so; anything, everything, general utility; nay, perhaps, at the first, she would have to walk on.

Rosalie had not the least idea what the agent meant by “walking on,” but his manner implied that it was something humiliating. All her high hopes had evaporated by this time; but she was not the less eager to secure an engagement—yea, even to walk on.

“You have a nice appearance,” said the agent, who was too superior a person to be rapturous about anything, and I dare say I can get you an engagement in the country.”

Rosalie had to tramp backward and forward between the Bloomsbury lodgings and Bow Street a good many times before even this modest opening was achieved; but, after some heart-sickening delays, the agent engaged her for the Theater Royal, Ryde, at a salary of a pound a week. Oh, how happy poor little Rosie was when she carried home the first pound after a week’s drudgery! She had played a round of the most humiliating parts in the British drama: Lady Capulet; a black girl in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin;” Maria, in the “School for Scandal;” she had walked on in a cluster of five or six ballet-girls, supposed to represent a seething populace, or a dazzling assembly in high life. But she had seen the footlights; she had heard the sound of her own voice—which was more than the gallery had done —and she had earned a golden sovereign.

It must be owned that Rosalie in this state of her being was something of a stick; but she spoke like a lady, and she was so pretty and graceful that the audience were always pleased to see her. The good old manageress favored her, cast her for parts that were beyond her capacity; and then came Mr. de Courtenay, of the Helmstone theater, which ranked next best in fashion to a London house, and Rosie was speedily transferred from the Isle of Wight to the full blaze of Helmstone-by-the-Sea.

And now all the Helmstone papers had praised the fairy Cerulia’s beauty, and Miss Rosalie Morton had a reception every night. It was not such a reception as greeted Miss Bolderby, from her admirers the gods, when she came dancing on to the stage as “Mary, Mary, quite contrary,” with a very short red petticoat bedizened with silver bells, and a black velvet bodice garnished with cockle-shells, and very decolletee. Rosalie was the favorite of the stalls and the boxes. It was the young military men from the barracks in the Brewis Road, or the Cavalry barracks in the Castle, the Helmstone bucks, and dandies of all professions, who used to applaud the fair girl with the brilliant hazel eyes and gentle girlish voice. Miss Bolderby talked like a clown, and sang like a nigger minstrel.

There was one young cavalry officer who used to occupy a stall at the Helmstone theater night after night during the run of that eminently successful pantomime of “Gulliver and the Golden Goose.” Miss Bolderby thought that he came expressly to hear her sing her topical song, and see her dance her breakdown with Mr. Powter, the low comedian who played Gulliver, afterward clown—the clown being, of course, somebody else and not Mr. Powter. Powter thought it was his gagging and comic singing which attracted cavalry and infantry alike, and charmed and delighted the gallery. But Herr Hopenfeuer, the leader of the orchestra, knew better than Powter and Bolderby, He knew that it was Rosie’s lovely face and sweet manner which held that nice, frank-looking young officer spell-bound. A shrewd observer Herr Hopenfeuer, behind those blue spectacles of his.

Yes, it was Rosie whom Randolph Bosworth came night after night to see. He abhorred Miss Bolderby and her nasal twang; he detested the irrepressible Powter. He seemed only to live when that graceful form of the fairy-queen was before his eyes. He drank in her smiles as if they had been wine. How sweetly she looked as she waved her wand, with that graceful sweep of the round white arm—such a lovely curve of the slim wrist, the drooping hand with its tapering fingers! When she invoked the fairies to come forth from their coral caves and disport upon the golden sands, she looked really the ethereal and immortal being she represented—something too delicate to be of the earth, earthy. What a stalwart, common herd the ballet-ladies looked as they came lumpily bounding from the furthest wing, shaking the stage at every bound!

He was only a lieutenant, very young, very simple-hearted, a thorough gentleman. He was the only son of a wealthy father, and could afford to choose a wife without reference to ways and means. He meant to marry Rosalie Morton, alias Melford, if she would accept him as her husband. No other thought had ever entered his mind in relation to that stage divinity. His mother and father would hardly like the idea of his choosing a wife from the theater. His father was a Devonshire squire, and had all the usual rustic prejudices, and would have liked him to marry a county heiress, some Miss Sticktorights, whose land was conterminous with his own future estate.

“If she is a good girl they will be easily reconciled to her,” Randolph told himself, and he contrived very soon to find out that Miss Morton was a good girl, living with her widowed mother, as secluded as a cloistered nun.

Mother and daughter went for afternoon walks in almost all weathers, but they never appeared on the Queen’s Parade, for the girl to be stared at or followed. They always turned their faces to the country, and went roaming over the downs; capital walkers both of them.

All through that first month of the New Year Randolph was pining to get himself introduced to his divinity, and knew not how to bring the matter about. If he had been more of a man of the world he would have asked Mr. de Courtenay to dinner and would have made an ally of the manager, who would have been glad to help him, once assured that his views were strictly honorable. But Randolph was only twenty-one, and was overpowered with shyness when he tried to speak of his love. At last a happy accident seemed to favor him. He made the acquaintance of a major in the line regiment then stationed in the Brewis Road—a mere casual acquaintance initiated across a billiard-table. Major Disney was a man of the world; had seen a good deal of foreign service; was nearer forty than thirty; quite an old fogy Randolph thought him. But he was a tall, handsome fellow, broad-shouldered, dashing, with a good manner and a fine sonorous voice: altogether a very agreeable man. Mr. Bosworth asked him to dinner at the Old Yacht Hotel, and they swore eternal friendship over a bottle of Mouton.

Soon after eight o’clock the younger man began to grow fidgety, looked at his watch, played with his wine-glass, glanced uneasily at the door.

“I generally drop in at the little theater of an evening,” he faltered. “They’re doing a pantomime; not half a bad thing— almost up to a London pantomime;” and then, with a sudden fervor, blushing like a girl, he asked, “Would you care to go?”

“Certainly, if you like,” answered the major, cheerily. “Provincial pantomimes are rather slow; in fact, I consider the whole breed of pantomimes ineffably stupid; but one hears the children laugh, and one sees the jolly grinning shop-boys in the pit: and that sort of thing is always refreshing. Let’s go by all means.”

“How kind of you!” cried Randolph. “I shouldn’t have liked to miss to-night.” He hurried on his coat, helped his friend into a heavy Inverness, and they went off to the theater.

It was a cold, snowy night, and the audience was thin. There were plenty of vacant stalls when Randolph took his accustomed seat, just behind Herr Hopenfeuer.

The major and he had not been seated five minutes before the band played the melody to which the azure dell opened. “Ever of thee I’m fondly dreaming,” and then Rosalie came on with her pretty gliding step, and her waving arms, like a siren’s.

“A devilish pretty girl,” muttered the major; and the tone and the words sounded like blasphemy in the ears of Randolph the devotee.

Later on in the evening he spoke of the fairy-queen’s beauty. “She is like Heine’s Lorelei,” he said, and then, looking at Randolph, he saw the adoring expression in the frank blue eyes, and knew that this fisher’s bark was in danger.

“She speaks like a lady too,” he went on, presently. “Do you know who she is, and where she comes from? She is not the common stamp of stage fairies.”

Randolph imparted that information which he had gained laboriously from the stage-doorkeeper at the cost of many half-crowns, and more than one half-sovereign.

“Her mother is a Mrs. Melford, you say, a Yorkshire parson’s widow?” exclaimed Major Disney. “Why, what a narrow little world this is in which we live! My eldest sister went to school with that girls mother. Mrs. Melford was Rosa Vincent, the daughter of old General Vincent, who died at Bath just ten years ago; a splendid old fellow; all through the Peninsula with Wellesley, Burgoyne, and the rest of them.”

“You know her mother?” gasped Randolph, breathless with emotion: “then you can introduce me to them; you can take me to see them. I am dying to know them.”

“But to what end?” asked the major, looking at him severely, with penetrating gray eyes. “She is a very pretty girl, and we both admire her. But do you think it would be wise to carry the thing any further?”

“I adore her, and I mean to marry her—if she will have me,” answered Randolph, all in the same agitated whisper. “If you won’t introduce me to her I must find some one else who will.”

“And you are sure that you mean all fair and square?” asked the major, very seriously. “You won’t make love to her and propose to her, and then let your people talk you over and persuade you to jilt her: that kind of thing has been done, you know.”

“Jilt her! not for worlds! If she will have me, I shall consider myself the luckiest young man in England. I am an only son, you know, and I have some money of my own, from an old aunt, that nobody can touch. I can afford to marry to-morrow, with or without my father’s leave. But I shall try to make things pleasant at home; and as Miss Melford is a vicar’s daughter—”

“Well, I’ll call upon Mrs. Melford to-morrow afternoon, and ask leave to present you next day.”

“Can’t I go with you to-morrow?” pleaded Randolph.

“Certainly not. Remember it’s altogether a critical business. I have to introduce myself to the widow, whom I last saw seven-and-twenty years ago, when she was just going to marry her parson, and when I was a mischievous young imp of eleven.”

“You’ll take her some hothouse flowers, some new books from me?” entreated Randolph.

“Take them to the widow?”

“No, no—to Rosalie.”

“Not a fragment,” said the stern major.

Poor Randolph would have sent a truck-load of presents if he had been allowed. He was pining to know the size of his darling’s hand, that he might load her with Jouvin’s gloves. How he would have liked to buy her a seal-skin jacket, instead of the poor little cloth garment he had seen her wear as she walked beside her mother on the windy Downs.

* * * * * *

Mr. Bosworth had to languish for three dreary winter days before he was allowed to cross the sirens threshold. Then, to his infinite delight, he was invited to take tea with the widow and her daughter on Sunday evening. There was no such institution as afternoon tea in that benighted age. Mrs. Melford invited the two gentlemen to repair to her lodgings after their seven-o’clock dinner, and she regaled them with tea, and thin bread-and-butter, and sweet biscuits, at half-past eight, in a neat little drawing-room within a stone’s-throw of the Castle, where the Enniskillens were stationed. Mr. Bosworth had not asked permission of the severe major this time. He carried a large bouquet of camellias and other hot-house flowers, such as those dark ages afforded, and he offered them blushingly to the siren, so soon as he had been introduced to her. He had the satisfaction of seeing the blossoms arranged in an old china bowl by the fair hands of his beloved, but of speech he had but little from her; she, like himself, being overpowered by shyness.

But on the other hand, Mrs. Melford and Major Disney found plenty to say to each other. The widow was delighted to talk of those unforgotten girlish days before the shadow of care had crossed her horizon: her dearest friend Lucy Disney; the finishing school in Lansdowne Crescent; the rapturous gayety of Bath —so superior to any place she had ever known since her courtship; her last visit to the Disneys’ fine old house in Wiltshire, when the major was a lively boy of eleven.

“What ages ago!” exclaimed the widow, “and yet when I look back it seems as if it had all happened yesterday.”

And then with womanly tact, Mrs. Melford led the major on to talk of himself and of his own career. He had not married! How strange! said the widow. He had been through the Crimean War, and he had fought and marched under Havelock in India the other day. In such a career there had been much that was striking, heroic even; and without one word of self-laudation, the major told of many thrilling adventures in which be had been concerned, while the others all hung on his words and encouraged him by their evident interest.

It was a cozy little party round the winter fire in the lodging-house drawing-room. Rosalie sat in a corner by the fireplace, sheltered and shadowed by her mother’s portlier form; and from his seat on the opposite side of the hearth, Randolph Bosworth was able to gaze at her unobserved, as she listened almost breathlessly to the major’s stories.

No, there was no disenchantment in that nearer acquaintance with the “Queen of the azure dell.” Rosalie was as lovely in this little room, between the glow of the fire and the light of the candles, as ever she had seemed to him on the stage, in the glare of the gas, and the glamour of the magnesium lamp. She was such a perfect lady, too, he told himself with delight. No rouge or pearl powder tainted the purity of her complexion. Her dark-brown merino frock and little linen collar were exquisitely neat; her lovely tapering hands were as beautiful as the hands in an old Italian picture. How proud he would be of her, by and by, in the time to come! how delicious to present her to his people, to his friends, and to say, “This is the pearl I found unawares on the beach at Helmstone!”

His heart beat high with joyous pride. He had no fear of failing in his suit, now that he had once obtained an entrance to the siren’s cave. He had hardly exchanged half a dozen sentences with Miss Melford to-night, but he told himself that he could come again to-morrow, and again and again, till he had won her. And in the mean time he was pleased to see her hang upon Disney’s words: it was sweet to see a girl of nineteen so keenly interested in the adventures of a battered old warrior.

He called in Blenheim Place the next day, and the next, finding some fresh excuse for each visit; a basket of hot-house grapes for the widow, at a season when grapes were fourteen shillings a pound; flowers, books, music for Rosie. Mrs. Melford protested against such lavish generosity.

“If you only knew how happy it makes me to come here—to be allowed,” faltered the young man; and the widow did know, and hoped that her Rosie would smile upon the young soldier’s suit.

The major had told her all about his young friend’s prospects, and they were both agreed as to his goodness of heart, his high moral character, and that he would be a splendid match for Rosie. The widow’s heart thrilled at the thought that her youngest and best beloved child might secure to herself such a happy future. In her day-dreams she ruthlessly made away with old Squire Bosworth, who had never done her any harm. She brushed him out of existence as if be had been a withered leaf, so that Rosie should reign sole mistress of Bosworth Manor.

Mrs. Melford and the major put their heads together like a couple of hardened old match-makers, and planned the marriage of the young people; the major with a somewhat mournful air, as of a man who had known heart-wounds, whose part in life was renunciation. Mrs. Melford thought him very kind, but regretted that he was not more cheerful.

When the time came for the mother to talk to her daughter, there was bitter disappointment. Rosalie was as cold as ice at the mention of her lover’s name. She declared that she meant never to marry; at least she thought not. She was quite happy with her mother; she liked her profession; in a word she did not care a straw for Randolph Bosworth. She admitted his manifold virtues, his kindness, his chivalry. The widow put forward his claims, item by item; those grapes at fourteen shillings a pound; that lovely copy of the “Idyls,” bound in vellum; the flowers that transformed their shabby lodging.

“And you would have such things all your life, Rosie. You would have a grand old country house, with twenty-two bedrooms—he admitted that there are twenty-two bedrooms at the Manor, without counting servants’ rooms—and you would have carriages and horses. I used to dream of such a life for my darling, but I never thought to see my dream realized; so quickly too, while my pet is in the first bloom of her beauty.”

“What nonsense you talk, mother dear!” said the girl. “Captain Bosworth has never asked me to marry him.”

“No, love; but he has asked me, and he means positively to ask you, by and by, if you will only give him a little encouragement. He adores you, Rosie, that dear young man. He adored you at first sight. Don’t make light of such a love, dear. You are very pretty, and will have plenty of admirers as you go through life; but true love is not a flower that grows in every hedge.”

“Dear mother, it’s no use talking,” pleaded Rosie, half crying. “I know how good Captain Bosworth is, but—but I don’t care for him, and you wouldn’t have me marry a man I don’t love.”

“Try to love him, Rosie,” urged the mother. “Only try, dear, and the love will come.”

Rosalie shook her head, and gave a low, long sigh; a sigh which might have told a great deal to a shrewder woman than the widow; but Mrs. Melford had not a penetrating mind.

To please the match-making mother Rosalie was very polite and agreeable to the young officer when he called at Blenheim Place. She was particularly grateful for the lovely copy of the “Idyls.”

“She is reading it day and night,” said Mrs. Melford. “I never knew a girl so devoted to a book of poems. I’m sure Mr. Tennyson ought to be flattered.”

“He would be if he knew,” murmured Randolph, fatuously, gazing at Rosalie as if she had been a saint.

He asked her which character she most admired in the “Idyls.”

“Oh, Launcelot,” she answered, clasping her hands and looking up at an imaginary knight, with just the same radiant enthusiasm as might have shone upon the face of the Lily-maid when she worshiped the real Launcelot.

Major Disney was announced at this moment, and the girl flushed crimson; no doubt because he had broken the spell.

The pantomime season was waning fast, and the Theater Royal, Helmstone, would shortly close. There was a talk of Charles Mathews on a starring engagement after the pantomime, and then the theater must inevitably be shut, and Rosalie would have to earn her bread elsewhere. Lovely as she was, no eager London manager had offered to engage her. Perhaps the London managers saw that Rosalie’s gamut hardly went beyond the fairy-queen line of business; and fairies are only wanted at Christmas-tide. Rosalie’s brightest prospect was an engagement at Coketown, in the North, to play first walking lady, and that line of business includes some of the most intolerable parts in the British drama—ay, even Lady Capulet and Sheridan’s Maria.

Mrs. Melford began to be very anxious. Captain Bosworth had been all patience and devotion. He had endured Rosalie’s coldness; he had waited for the dawn of hope. But patience cannot last forever, and the widow felt that this splendid chance must soon be lost unless Rosie relented. She had all manner of little schemes for bringing about tete-a-tetes between the lovers, but so far nothing had come of the tete-a-tetes so planned. She had come back to the little drawing-room after a quarter of an hour’s seemingly enforced absence to find Rosalie and the soldier sitting on opposite sides of the hearth, as prim and as cold as two china figures. There are some young men who cannot propose in cold blood.

One afternoon—a bleak February afternoon, the earth iron-bound with a black frost, the sky leaden, the sea a livid hue— Mrs. Melford proposed a long walk on the Downs. Rosie had been complaining of a headache, she said—nothing so good as a walk to cure a headache. Perhaps Captain Bosworth would like to join them.

Captain Bosworth would have liked to go to Siberia under the same conditions. He snapped at the offer.

“I adore those Downs,” he said.

But Rosalie did not want to walk. She was tired; she had the third volume of a novel that she was dying to finish. She made at least half a dozen excuses. Major Disney was announced just at that moment, and the mother appealed to him.

“Is not a long walk the very best thing for Rosie’s headache?” she asked.

“Of course it is,” answered the major, “and Miss Melford must obey her mother. We will all go. I have been writing letters all the morning, and am sadly in want of oxygen.”

Rosie went off to put on her hat and jacket as meekly as a lamb. It was nearly three o’clock when they started, two and two, Randolph and Rosie in the van, Mrs. Melford and the major in the rear. Just on the opposite side of the gardens in front of Blenheim Place there is a narrow little street almost as steep as the side of a house—a shabby ragamuffin of a street, but it leads straight up to the purity and freshness of the Downs, just as Jacob’s ladder led to heaven.

Randolph and Rosie tripped lightly up that Mont Blanc of Helmstone, but they found very little to say to each other on the way. The major and the widow followed at a good pace, she lamenting Rosalie’s folly, and pouring her maternal griefs into the bosom of her friend.

“It is certainly very strange that she should not care for him,” admitted the major, “for he really is a capital fellow—handsome, too.”

“And young, and rich,” urged the widow. “It is absolute perversity.”

“Do you think there is any one else she cares for?” inquired the major, after a pause.

He spoke with some hesitation, almost falteringly, as if he hardly dared to shape the question.

“My dear major, who else should there be? Think what a child Rosalie is! We were buried alive for the three years after her father’s death, and she never saw a mortal except my son-in-law, Mr. Bignell, who is about as plain a young man as I ever met. And since she went on the stage the only gentlemen who have crossed our threshold are yourself and Captain Bosworth. I call it sheer perversity,” concluded the widow, with an aggrieved air.

The Downs were delightful on that keen winter afternoon. Such bracing air—bracing yet not too bitter; the breath of the sea seemed to temper the north-easter. And how glorious the sea looked from that airy height; and how white and clean and glittering that dear old Helmstone, which everybody loves—ay, even those who pretend to loathe it.

Rosie’s spirits rose as she tripped over the turf and let the wind buffet her. There was no more walking two and two. Major Disney was at her side now, and he and she were talking gayly enough. Her spirits grew almost wild with delight in the wind and sea. “Let us have a race,” she cried, and flew off like Atalanta, the two officers running on either side of her, careful to adjust their pace to hers, till she stopped breathless and laughing at her own folly.

“How lovely it is up here!” she said,

“If we’re not careful we may have to stay here all night!” cried the major; “there’s a sea-fog coming.”

He was right. Drifting across from the ocean there came a great white cloud, which began to wrap them round like a dense veil.

“We had better get back as quickly as we can,” said the major. “Take my arm, Miss Melford, and double quick march.”

And Rosalie took his arm without a word.

“Run on and look after Mrs. Melford,” said the major; and Randolph obeyed, hastening to rejoin the distant figure in the midst of the white cloud. He thought it was not a little unkind of his friend to order him off upon outpost duty, when he might have turned the sea-fog and the lonely height to such good account with his divinity. He felt that he should have had pluck enough to propose to her under cover of that sea-fog. He was still very far from understanding how the land really lay.

He steered Mrs. Melford homeward very skillfully; but Rosie and her guide were an hour later in their return, and Mrs. Melford was devoured by two several apprehensions. First, that her darling should be lost altogether—frozen to death on those windy Downs, or crushed at the bottom of a chalk-pit; secondly, that she should not be home in time to play her part in “Harlequin Gulliver and the Goose with the Golden Eggs.” She and Captain Bosworth sat staring at the little clock on the chimney-piece and counting the minutes till a cab dashed up to the door, and she heard her child’s voice, silver-sweet, in the hall below.

Yes, Rosie and the major had lost themselves upon the misty Downs; they had lost themselves, and had found bliss unspeakable, the beginning of a new life, the threshold of an earthly paradise, as it seemed to both. They had wandered ever so far from Helmstone in that dream of bliss, and had found their way back to the furthest end of the East Cliff, where they luckily encountered a strolling fly, which rattled them gayly to Blenheim Place.

Rosie threw herself into her mother’s arms in the little passage and sobbed out her bliss:

“Oh, mother, I am so proud, so happy!”

And a new’ light dawned upon Mrs. Melford as she saw the major’s radiant smile. She gave him her hand without a word. It was a very poor match for Rosie compared with that other marriage which the girl might have made. But George Disney was a soldier and a gentleman—almost a hero—and Mrs. Melford liked him.

Randolph Bosworth accepted his defeat nobly, although he was very hard hit—as near broken-hearted as a man well can be. He bade Rosie and her mother good-bye next morning, and in his brief interview with the girl he told her how he had loved her from the first moment in which her beauty shone upon him across the Helmstone foot-lights; how he should cherish her image until the end of his life; how he never could care for any one else. And then tenderly, gently, bravely, he bade her goodbye.

“Let me kiss you once,” he said; “let me have something to remember when I am far away.”

She turned her face to him without a word, as simply as a child to a father, and he kissed the pure young brow. It was the kiss of chivalry and high feeling, the pledge of a life-long devotion.

“If ever you need a friend in the days to come, remember me,” he said; “to the last coin in my purse, to the last drop of my blood, I am your servant—your slave.”

And so they parted, Rosalie deeply moved by his devotion. He contrived to get away on leave a few days afterward, and went to Ireland to shoot wild-duck, and before Rosalie’s wedding-day he and the Enniskillens had sailed for India, one of the first regiments to be ordered there under the new dispensation.

Chapter 2

It was the Christmas-tide of 1880, and dear old Helmstone had become Helmstone the new, Helmstone the smart, Helmstone in a state of daily and hourly development. The new pier, the aquarium, the tramway, the monster hotel, the colossal club-house, the new theater were all established facts. The Helmstone of ’58 and ’59, the Helmstone which Thackeray praised and Leech and Doyle drew, was a place to be remembered by old fogies and regretted by middle-aged matrons, who had spent the gayest, brightest hours of their girlhood prancing up and down the Queen’s Parade.

Among those fogies who regretted the days that were gone was a military-looking man who sat at his solitary meal in one of the bow-windows of the Old Yacht Hotel, there where the wind-lashed surges seemed almost to break against the doorstep, so high rose the waves above the sea-wall. It was a blusterous evening just after Christmas, and the soldierly person yonder had only arrived at Helmstone by the four o’clock express from Victoria.

He was bronzed by tropical skies, and he had the look of a man who had been long upon foreign service. He was about forty, tall, broad-shouldered, good-looking, with frank blue eyes, and a kindly smile when he spoke. But the expression of his face in repose was grave almost to sadness. He sighed as he glanced round the old-fashioned coffee-room, where three or four solitary diners, like himself, were dotted about at the neat little tables.

“This house is very little changed within the last twenty years,” he said to the waiter, presently.

“No, sir; we are an old-fashioned house, sir. I don’t think any of our friends would like to see anything altered here. Our house is about the only thing in Helmstone that has not changed during the last twenty years.”

“Indeed. I thought, as I drove from the station, that the town looked much larger. But you seem to have increased in a perpendicular direction. All your houses and streets have gone up into the skies.”

“Where we are limited in space, sir, we mount,” said the head-waiter, who was a superior personage, quite equal to any discussion; “but when you go westward to-morrow, you will see how we can spread. You will find a city of palaces where there used to be a cricket-field.”

“Indeed,” said the soldier, with an absent air.

His eyes had wandered to a play-bill hanging against the wall by the mantelpiece.

“You have your theater, still, I see,” he said; “the same old theater, I suppose?”

“Oh dear no, sir; we have had a new theater for the last ten years. Very fine theater, sir. Very well patronized. Pantomime just out. Very good pantomime. Harlequin Robinson Crusoe. Old Mother Shipton, and the Little Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe.”

The soldier sighed, as if at some sad memory.

“The usual kind of thing, no doubt,” he said; “and there are fairies, I suppose, and dances, and a fairy queen?”

“Oh yes, sir, there is a first-class fairy scene. The Ruby Glade in the Sunset Glen, and there is a fairy queen, and a very pretty girl she is too. I don’t remember ever seeing a prettier girl on the stage.”

“Ah!” sighed the officer, “perhaps you were not in Helmstone twenty years ago?”

“No sir,” replied the waiter, with a superior smile, which implied that he was hardly out of his mother’s arms at that period.

The waiter whisked the last crumb off the table-cloth and left the soldier in silent contemplation of a dish of walnuts and a claret jug.

So there was a pantomime being acted in these latter days, thought Colonel Bosworth, and there were fairies, and dances, and tinseled groves, and sham water-falls, and the glamour of colored lights, and gay music, just as there had been twenty years ago, when he was a young man, and lost his heart in that little theater at Helmstone—a youngster, an untried soldier, almost a boy—and yet very steadfast, very certain of himself, in that first real passion of his life.

He had not overestimated his constancy in those days. When he told Rosalie Melford that he could never care for any other woman, he had made an assertion which after-events had warranted. He had seen much of life since that time. He had seen hard service in India, had marched with Napier in Abyssinia, and had fought with Wolseley in Ashante. He had been courted and thought much of in London society during his brief intervals of foreign service; hunted by match-making mothers, who knew the number of his acres and the excellence of his moral character; but not once during those twenty years had Randolph Bosworth yielded to the fascinations of the fair sex. The one beautiful face which had been the star of his youth was his only ideal of womanly loveliness. He had never met any woman who resembled Rosalie Melford; and he told himself that until he should meet such a one he was secure from all the pains and perils which spring of womankind. He was like a man under a spell.

And in all those years he had heard hardly anything of his lost love. The major had married her directly after Easter, and had carried her off to Canada with his regiment. Six years afterward Disney was stationed at the Cape, and no doubt Rosalie was with him there; and then Randolph heard that he had retired on half-pay, and that he was living with his wife and family in some out-of-the-way Welsh village, a rustic nook hidden among the hills. Randolph would have given much to know more about his darling’s fate—whether she was happy: whether the major was comfortably off—but he had a delicacy in intruding himself upon them in any manner; and then so much of his own life was spent far away. He thought that if Rosalie were in need of a friend’s help, she would be sure to appeal to him.

He sat and sipped his claret for half an hour or so in a dreamy mood, the very sound of the surges recalling old thoughts, old fancies, the old hopes which had been so cruelly disappointed, and then he got up and put on his hat and overcoat, and went to the theater.

He was courting the tender, half sweet, half painful memories which beset him in this familiar place. Yes, he would go to the theater. It was not the same theater, but it stood on the same spot; and the lights, and the music, and the girlish faces would help to recall those old feelings which were to him as a cherished dream.

The new theater was much larger and handsomer than the funny little old house with its stage doors, and its old-fashioned proscenium, audits suggestions of Mr. Vincent Crummies and Miss Snevellicci It had a more metropolitan air, and was better filled than the old house. The pantomime had begun when the bronzed and bearded soldier took his seat in a corner of the stalls. There had been a dark scene in which Mother Shipton and a congress of witches had been interviewed by Crusoe; and now that bold mariner was tossing on the southern ocean in imminent danger of shipwreck from the huge canvas waves which were flapping against his wicker keel, and raising more dust than one would expect to meet with in mid-ocean; and the next scene, as per bill, would be the Ruby Glade in the Sunset Glen, and Diaphanosia, the queen of the water-nymphs, would appear with her fairy court; and Senora Nina Ninez, of the Theater Royal, Covent Garden, would dance her renowned caehuca.

Colonel Bosworth wondered what kind of prettiness that would be which the head-waiter at the Yacht had praised. A vulgar, trivial beauty, no doubt; as different from Rosalie Melford’s poetic loveliness as a double dahlia from a wild rose.

The scene representing a dark, storm-tossed ocean was rolled slowly upward, revealing the Sunset Glen, a glow of rosy light, and sparkling coral, and golden sand, and a background of ultra-marine wavelets. The band played a tender melody—not that old, old ballad, “Ever of thee,” which the soldier remembered so well. It was a newer strain by Sullivan, a song with a waltz refrain, “Sweethearts.” And to the rhythm of the waltz some fifteen or twenty water-nymphs came gliding on to the stage, and after the water-nymphs their queen, with a single star shining on her fair young brow.

Was he mad or dreaming? Was his trip to Helmstone, this scene in the theater, all a foolish dream, and would he awake presently in his bedroom at the British Hotel, and hear the London cabs and ’buses grinding over the stones of Cockspur Street? This was what Randolph Bosworth asked himself as Diaphanosia came slowly forward in the rosy glow, waving her wand with slim round arm, whose graceful curve he remembered so well.

Surely it must be a dream: or time in Helmstone had been standing still for the last twenty years. The fairy of to-night was the fairy of twenty years ago, Rosalie Melford, unchanged, as it seemed to him, since the hour in which his boyish heart first went out to her. And now he was a grave, middle-aged man; yet, as he gazed at the sweet face, with its classic outline and alabaster purity of tint, his heart beat as passionately as it had beaten twenty years ago.

He looked at his programme, tried to collect his senses, to convince himself that he was not dreaming.

“Diaphanosia: Miss R. Morton.”

Yes; it was the old name even. And, it was she herself, the woman he had loved for twenty years of his life—for half his lifetime. He knew every tone of that voice which had been as music in the days gone by. He remembered every movement of the graceful figure, the carriage of the head—every turn, every look.

He sat gazing at her, breathless almost, with all his soul in his eyes. But she gave no sign of having seen or recognized him. She went through her part graciously, with a refined elegance which was altogether charming, and which just suited the colorless, passionless character. So might Titania herself have looked and moved, an ethereal being, free from all taint and stain of human nature. He stayed till the transformation scene, patiently enduring the buffooneries of Crusoe, and the street-boy twang of the lady who played Crusoe’s young woman, and who was evidently the idol of the gallery, just as Miss Bolderby had been twenty years before. He waited and watched, greedily expectant of Diaphanosia’s reappearances, which were of the briefest, and it was not until she had changed Crusoe into clown, and condemned a villainous sailor to the expiatory infamy of pantaloon; it was not until the golden temple and the peacock throne of dazzling gems had been abruptly extinguished by a pork-butcher’s shop in the front grooves, that the colonel rose from his seat, and left the auditorium.

He did not go back to the Old Yacht, but he groped his way along a dark passage which he had known of old, and planted himself close beside the stage door. There was a little stone yard of about ten feet square at the end of the passage, and here he could lurk unobserved.

He had lurked on that spot many a night in that winter of I860, and had waited patiently, just for the brief joy of seeing his beloved go swiftly past him by her mother’s side, two dark figures, thickly shawled and closely veiled, obscure as phantoms in the somber passage.

To-night he was bolder, and meant to accost his old love when she came out of the stage door, to claim the privilege of friendship, and to learn what sad reverses had brought her back to that stage. He did not for a moment believe that it was idle vanity which had impelled her to such a reappearance.

She came out of the door sooner than he had hoped, a tall, slim figure, neatly dressed in black. She wore a cloth jacket, such as he remembered her wearing twenty years before, and a small black straw hat, which fitted close to her head, and left the delicate profile unshadowed.

He came forward bareheaded to greet her.

“I hope you have not forgotten me in all these years, Mrs. Disney,” he said. “My name is Bosworth—Randolph Bosworth.”

“Forgotten you! no, indeed! How could I forget any one who was so kind to my dear mother and me?” she faltered: and he knew from the tone in which she spoke her mother’s name that Mrs. Melford was dead. “I have never forgotten you. Only I should hardly have known you just at first, and in this dark passage, if you had not told me your name. You are much altered.”

“And you not at all,” he answered, tenderly. “It seems miraculous to me to find you after twenty years, as young, as beautiful as when I saw you first.”

“You do not know what you are talking about,” she answered, laughing a little at his enthusiasm. “You have only seen me across the foot-lights. I shall be nine-and-thirty next week, and I am very old for my age. I have seen so much trouble in the last six years.”

“You have had trouble, and you never told me. Then you forgot my parting prayer,” said Randolph, reproachfully.

“No, I did not forget those kind words of yours. But my chief sorrow was beyond human aid. My dear husband’s health broke down; mental and bodily health both gave way. I nursed him for three years, and in all that time he only knew me once —for the last few minutes before he died. Till just that last ray of light his mind had been a blank. It was a sunstroke which he got at the Cape. We brought him home an invalid, and settled in a little out-of-the-way nook in Wales, He was fitful and strange in those days, but we hoped that he was gradually recovering. But he grew worse as time went on, and the doctors discovered that the brain was fatally injured. The last three years were terrible.”

She gave a stifled sob at the recollection, and Colonel Bosworth could find no word of comfort for such a grief.

“Good-night,” she said, offering him her hand.

“Let me see you home,” he pleaded; “I want to know more. Let me walk as far as your lodgings. Are they in the old place?”

“No, we are not in such a nice neighborhood as Blenheim place; and it is further from the theater. I am afraid I shall be taking you too far out of your way.”

“You know that I would walk with you to the end of the world,” he said, quietly; and she made no further objection.

It was such a new thing to her to hear a friend’s voice, and this was a voice out of the old time, when she had been young and happy.

They had walked away from the theater, and the cabs, and lights, and the crowd by this time; and they were in a wide, dark street leading to Prince’s Square, and the sea, and the old-fashioned hotels: stately old houses still extant in this older part of Helmstone.

“You spoke just now as if you were not alone here,” hazarded Colonel Bosworth, presently; “have you any of—of—your family with you?”

He spoke in fear and trembling. He had seen the announcement of a child’s birth long ago in the Times, but the child might have died an infant for all he knew. Mrs. Disney might be a childless widow.

“I have them both with me. My boy and girl are both here,” she answered frankly. “It is a dull life for them, poor children, but they are such a comfort to me.”

“Would you mind telling me what train of circumstances led to your coming back to Helmstone to act?” he asked, presently.”

“That is easily told,” she answered. “When my dear husband died we were left very poor. His terrible illness had swallowed up all our money. There was nothing but my small pension, and I had my two children to provide for. People advised me to go out as a governess, but I am not accomplished enough to earn a large salary in these days when everybody is so clever; and I could not bear the idea of parting from my children. I tried to get employment as a morning governess, and after waiting a long time and spending two or three pounds on advertisements, a lady at Kensington was kind enough to engage me to teach her five children, from half-past nine to half-past one, for a guinea a week. I believe she considered it a rather handsome salary, as I could only teach English, French, Italian, music, singing, and drawing, while what she most wanted for her children was German, the only thing I could not teach them. So I was only a pis aller, you see. It was very hard work, and I was getting dreadfully tired of it last November, when I happened to meet Mrs. de Courtenay, the widow of my former manager. She recognized me directly—I believe I have altered rather less in twenty years than people usually do—and she asked me what I was doing. She is the kindest woman in the world, and when she heard how I had toiled for a guinea a week, she declared she must find me something better than that, and a few days afterward I received a letter from her asking me to play my old part of fairy queen at a salary of four guineas a week. My darlings and I were so rejoiced at this good fortune. It seemed like finding a gold mine. We hurried down here directly my Kensington lady set me free; and my children and I have been as happy as birds in this dear old place.”

“I am deeply wounded to find how slight a value you put upon friendship, Mrs. Disney,” said Colonel Bosworth, gravely. “If you had ever considered me your friend, surely you would have let me come to your aid when your natural protector was taken from you. You knew that I was rich, alone in the world.”

“What would you have thought of a woman who could take advantage of a boyish fancy—a dream of twenty years old?” murmured Rosalie. “I had my own battle to fight, my children to work for. I was not afraid of poverty.”

“It was ungenerous to deprive me of the happiness I should have felt in being useful to you—and to your children,” replied Bosworth, earnestly.

His tones faltered a little when he came to speak of her children. He could not picture her to himself as a widow and a mother. To him she was still the fairy of his youth—his “phantom of delight”—the ethereal vision, the ideal of his boyish dream. They had crossed Prince’s Square, and they were on the broad parade that ascends the East Cliff. A full moon was shining on the sea and the town, steeping all things in a clear and silvery light, and in this soft light Rosalie’s beauty seemed to have lost none of its youthful charm. There were lines perhaps; the gazelle-like eyes were hollower, the oval of the cheek was pinched a little toward the delicately rounded chin. There must needs have been some markings of advancing years in the face of this woman whose nine-and-thirtieth birthday was so near. But to Randolph Bosworth the face was as beautiful as of old—the woman was no less dear than of old.

“It is not a dream of twenty years old,” he said, after a long pause, repeating her own words. “My love for you was a reality then, and is a reality now. It has been the one great reality of my life. Give me some reward for my steadfastness, Rosalie. I claim no other merit; but I have at least been steadfast.”

“You cannot be in earnest, she said. “I am an old woman. The last ten years of my life count double, they have been so full of sorrow. All my hopes of happiness are centered in my children. I live for them, and for them alone.”

“No, Rosalie, you are too young for all womanly feeling, all personal ambition to be extinguished in you. Twenty years ago I was at your feet—young, prosperous, devoted to you. I thought then that I could have made your life happy; your mother thought so too. But it was not to be. You chose an older and a poorer man. Granted that he was worthy of your love—”

“He was more than worthy,” interjected Rosalie; “I am proud of having loved him. I was his fond and happy wife till calamity came upon us. I was his loving wife till death parted us. I have never regretted my choice, Colonel Bosworth. If I had to live my life over again I would be George Disney’s wife.”

“I will not be jealous of his shade,” said Bosworth. “Providence has dealt strangely with us both, Rosalie. Fate has parted us for twenty years only to bring us together again, both free, both lonely. Why should I not win the prize now which I lost then? I could make your fate, and the fate of your children, happier than it is. I could indeed. Rosalie, Houses and lands are gross and sordid things perhaps, but some part of man’s happiness depends upon them. Bosworth Manor is still waiting for its mistress. It shall wait until you go there. Do you remember that picture of the old house which I brought you one day, and which your mother admired so much?”

“My poor mother, yes, she was so fond of you. No, Colonel Bosworth, no, it cannot be. I should be the weakest of women if I were to accept your generous offer. I honor you for having made such an offer; I feel myself honored by it. But I am an old woman. It is all very well for me to play fairy-queen, and to pretend to be a girl again, in order to earn four guineas a week. That means bread for my children; and if there is anything ridiculous in the business, I can afford to ignore it for their sakes. But I cannot forget that I am twenty years older than when you first knew me.”

“And am I not twenty years older, Rosalie?” asked her lover eagerly. “Do you suppose that time has been kinder to me than it has to you?”

“Age does not count with a man. You may find a girl of nineteen who will worship you, just as I worshiped George Disney, loving him for his heroic acts, for the charm of his conversation, for so many qualities which had nothing to do with his age. Why should you choose an old and faded woman, a widow, the mother of grown-up children?”

“Only because she is the one woman upon earth whom I love,” answered Bosworth. “Come, Rosalie, I will not be too importunate. I will not ask you to accept me to-night. I come back to you after twenty years almost as a stranger. Let me be your friend, let me come and see you now and then, as I used in Blenheim Place; and by the time the pantomime season is over you will have discovered whether I am worthy to be loved, whether I am an impostor when I pretend that I can make your life happier than it is.”

“With all my heart,” said Rosalie, with a sigh of relief; “Heaven knows we have need of a friend, my children and I. We are quite alone in the world.”

Anxious though he was to please her, Colonel Bosworth could not bring himself to speak of her children yet awhile. Struggle as he might against a feeling which he deemed unworthy, the idea jarred upon him; there was an instinctive repugnance to the thought of Rosalie’s love for George Disney’s children.

They had arrived at the street in which Mrs. Disney lived. It was the narrowest street in the East Cliff, an old, old street, built in those remote ages when Helmstone began to develop from a fishing village to a fashionable watering-place. The old bow-fronted houses were very small and rather shabby; but that in which Mrs. Disney had taken up her abode was neat and clean-looking, and there were some tamarisk plants in front of the parlor window by way of decoration.

Colonel Bosworth and the widow shook hands on the doorstep. The door was opened before Mrs. Disney had time to knock or ring, and a bright, frank-faced lad welcomed the mother’s return. The colonel walked slowly away as the door closed upon mother and son.

“A nice gentleman-like boy,” he thought, beginning to reconcile himself to his future position as this bright-eyed lad’s stepfather: and then, after five minutes’ musing, he said to himself, “No doubt I could get him an Indian appointment through General So-and-so. I wonder if he has any taste for forestry?”

* * * * * *

Colonel Bosworth spent a sleepless night in his cozy bedchamber at the Old Yacht. He lay broad awake, listening to the sad sea waves, which had nothing better to do all that night than to talk about Rosalie. Yes, it was a strange fatality which had brought him back to that place to find his old love there. How beautiful she had looked in the moonlight! Her countenance was more pensive; but it was even lovelier than of yore— spiritualized; the expression more thoughtful, more intense.

He counted the hours next day until it would be decent to call, and at three o’clock he turned the corner of the narrow street and knocked at Mrs. Disney’s door. He had employed part of his morning in choosing new books and hot-house flowers to send to his divinity. When the door was opened, the house smelt of hyacinths and jonquils. A neat little slavey admitted him and ushered him into the front parlor immediately, feebly murmuring her own particular reading of his name— Colonel Gosswith.

“Rosalie!” he exclaimed, bending over the girlish figure that rose hastily from a seat in front of the window. “No, the moonlight did not deceive me. You are lovelier, younger looking than when we first met.”

A sweet face—Rosalie’s face, and yet not quite Rosalie’s— looked at him with a bewildered air; fair girlish cheeks crimsoned beneath his ardent gaze.

“I think you mistake me for my mother, Colonel Bosworth,” faltered those lovely lips.

“You are—”

“I am Rosa; mother is Rosalie. She looks so wonderfully young that we are often mistaken for sisters.”

“And was it you whom I saw at the theater last night?” exclaimed the colonel, beginning to lose his balance altogether, feeling that he must be going mad.

“No; that was mother,” answered the girl, simply. “She will be here directly. She has been helping my brother with his French. He is capital for Greek and Latin, you know,” which the colonel did not, “but he is not so good at French, and mother helps him. How kind of you to send us those exquisite flowers!”

“It was a great pleasure to me to send them. I knew your mother twenty years ago, Miss Disney.”

“Oh yes; we feel as if you were quite an old friend. Mother has so often talked about you.”

“If she had cared a jot for me she would never have breathed my name,” thought the colonel.

He felt humiliated by the idea that he had been trotted out for the amusement of these children, in the character of a rejected swain. And then he looked at Rosa Disney and tried to reconcile himself with the idea of her as his step-daughter. Surely there could be nothing nicer in the way of step-daughter.

Yes, it was a lovely face, lovelier even than Rosalie’s in her bloom of youth, if there could be lovelier than the loveliest. Colonel Bosworth wanted a new form of superlative to express this younger beauty.

There was a higher intellectuality in the face, he thought—a touch, too, of patrician loftiness, which came from the larger mind, the older lineage of the father. A most interesting girl, and so meekly unconscious of her own charms.

One of the new books was lying open on the table, Browning’s last poem; Rosa had been devouring it, and she and the colonel were discussing it in a very animated way, unconscious that they had been talking nearly half an hour, when Mrs. Disney came into the room.

“That silly servant has only just told me you were here,” said the widow. “I see you have made friends with Rosa already.”

“I had need make friends with her if she is to be my stepdaughter,” thought Colonel Bosworth, ruefully.

He looked at his old love gently, tenderly, in the cold, prosaic light of a December afternoon! Yes, time had been lenient, very lenient, to the fair and classic beauty. The delicate Grecian nose, the perfect modeling of mouth and chin, these were as lovely as of old. But ah! how wide was the gulf between Rosa in the bloom of her girlish freshness and Rosalie after her twenty years of changes and chances, joys and sorrows.

“She was right,” thought Randolph; “time and sorrow must always tell their tale.”

His visit was a long one, for he stayed to take tea with the little household. He made friends with his future step-son—talked about India and forestry, and he escorted Mrs. Disney to the stage door before he went to his dinner. He asked permission to see her home after the performance; but this was refused.

He did not go to the theater that night. He told himself that he did not want to vulgarize his impressions of the Fairy Diaphanosia. He wished to cherish her image as it had flashed upon him last night, a sweet surprise.

He sat by the cozy fire at the Old Yacht, reading Browning and thinking of Rosa; he wanted to accustom himself to the idea of a step-daughter.

Next day was bright and sunny, and Colonel Bosworth went for a walk on the new pier, where he met George and Rosa, his future step-children. They did the pier thoroughly together, and at George’s instigation went to see a Pink Tortoise-shell Cat, the Industrious Fleas, and a cockle-shell boat, which had brought some adventurous souls across the Atlantic, each of these wonders being severally on view at threepence a head. The colonel vowed that it was the pleasantest morning he had spent for years. He was charmed with the pink cat, though its pinkness was only in the proportion of about five per cent, of its normal hue.

Although Colonel Bosworth only parted from his future stepchildren at the corner of the narrow street on the East Cliff at half-past one, he was at Mrs. Disney’s door soon after three, and again he spent the afternoon in the little bow-windowed parlor, talking with Rosa and her brother, while the widow sat by the fire working a grand design in crewels on a sage-green curtain.

“Is that to be hung up at Bosworth Manor by and by?” asked Randolph.

“If you like,” she answered, sweetly; and it seemed to him that in those simple words there was an acceptance of his offer. The threads of their two lives were to be interwoven, like the woof and warp of that curtain.

He was not so elated at his victory as he would have felt the night before last, when he pleaded his cause on the Cliff in the glamour of the moonlight. He was sober as became a man with new responsibilities, a man who was so soon to be a step-father. He stayed to tea as before, and escorted the fairy to the theater. Their talk on the way there was hardly lovers’ talk. It was serious and friendly rather. Mrs. Disney told him of her married life, and how she had brought up her children. He seemed to have a greedy ear for all early traits of character in his future step-daughter. “And had she really shown such an ear for music at two and a half? And did she really rescue a puppy from drowning at the risk of spoiling her pinafore? Heroic child!”

The next day he bought a splendid half-hoop of diamonds in Prince’s Square, and offered it to his affianced wife by way of engagement-ring; but to his surprise she declined it.

“I have an idea that engagement rings are unlucky,” she said. “You shall give me nothing but flowers and books till after your marriage.”

“I—I—wish you would let me buy a seal-skin jacket for Rosa,” he said. “She is to be my step-daughter so soon that it can’t matter. I thought she looked cold yesterday morning on the pier.”

Mrs. Disney thanked him for his thoughtfulness, and consented to this fatherly gift. So the next day they all went to Bannington’s, and Colonel Bosworth bought the handsomest seal-skin coat which the establishment could produce. He would be satisfied with nothing less than the very finest. It clothed Rosa from her chin to her ankles, and she looked lovely in it.

“I shall feel so wicked every time I pass a poor little beggar girl shivering in her ragged frock,” said Rosa.

“Never mind how you feel,” said George; “you look like an Esquimau princess.”

Colonel Bosworth suggested that his betrothed should close her engagement at the Theater Royal before the pantomime was withdrawn from the bills.

“What, break faith with Mrs. De Courtenay, who was so kind to me!” cried Rosalie. “Not for worlds!”

The colonel had urged her to name the day for their wedding. The sooner it should take place the happier he would be. He was getting restless and out of spirits. He had left off walking on the pier of a morning, and had lost all interest in pink cats.

Mrs. Disney hung back a little about the wedding. It could not be until after Lent, she said. It was to be a very quiet wedding. They could decide upon the date at any time.

“Don’t you think it would be an advantage to Rosa to spend a year or two at a first-rate finishing school in Paris, or even with a private family?” said the colonel, rather abruptly, one evening, as he was escorting his betrothed to the theater.

“But why?” asked Mrs. Disney.

“Why—oh, only for improvement. She told me she wanted to improve herself in French.”

“And you would exile my child at the very outset,” exclaimed Rosalie, with deepest reproach. “What a cruel step-father you are going to make!”

A week after this the pantomime came to an end, and Lent began. The widow and her old lover were walking on the East Cliff together after the last performance. The moon was at the full again, just as it had been on that first night they two had walked together. The tall white houses, the wide dark sea, were shining in that silvery light.

“And now, Rosalie,” said Randolph, gently, with a gravity of manner that had been growing upon him of late, “it is time that you and I should come to some definite arrangement about our wedding. When is it to be?”

“Never,” she answered, sweetly, sadly, proudly, looking at him with a steadfast gaze. “You have been good and true, Randolph—true to the shadow of an old dream. You have offered me a fair and happy future— yes, I feel that the life you offer would be full of brightness and delight for me, who have tasted very few of the joys of life. But I am not base enough to take advantage of the generous impulse which prompted you to offer to a widow of nine-and-thirty the love you once gave to a girl of nineteen. It cannot be, dear friend. In years we may be fairly equal, but in heart and mind I am ages older than you; my cares and sorrows should all count for years. You have asked me for bread, and I must not give you a stone. You are still a young man. Your heart is as fresh as when you asked me to be your wife twenty years ago; and only a young fresh heart can give you such love as you desire. Randolph, I know of one young heart, pure, innocent, and childlike in its simple trust, and I think that heart has gone out to you unawares. Can you reciprocate that innocent, half-unconscious love? Will you accept the daughter instead of the mother?”

Would he? His heart was beating so violently that he could not answer. He clutched the iron railing with his broad, strong hand; he heard the roaring of the sea vaguely, as if it had been a tumultuous noise in his own overcharged brain.

“You have guessed my secret,” he said, hoarsely, after a pause.

“Nearly a month ago. I saw how it would be from the beginning. Don’t apologize, Randolph. I am so proud, so happy, for my darling’s sake. I have nothing to regret. Good-night. No, no, pray do not come any further.”

She snatched her hand from his, and walked swiftly to the little street which was not far off. Randolph Bosworth went back to the Old Yacht like a man walking upon air. Oh, what an earthly paradise the world seemed! The mother had not been deceived. Yes, Rosa loved him—this soldier of forty years old —loved him just as fondly as Rosalie had loved her hero in the days gone by. The colonel met his darling on the pier in the breezy winter morning, and they had a happy talk together amid the fresh wind and the briny spray. And in Easter week there was a quiet wedding in one of the smaller churches of Helmstone, and Randolph Bosworth carried his fair young bride to Rome to see the eternal city in its Easter glory, while Mrs. Disney repaired to the Manor to set the house in order for her daughter’s coming.






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