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Title: M. or N. "Similia similibus curantur."
Author: Whyte-Melville, G.J., 1821-1878
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: "Two of the police had now arrived." (_Page_ 295)]



M. or N.

"_Similia similibus curantur_"


By G.J. Whyte-Melville



CONTENTS

CHAP.


I. "Small and Early"

II. "Nightfall"

III. Tom Ryfe

IV. Gentleman Jim

V. The Cracksman's Checkmate

VI. A Reversionary Interest

VII. Dick Stanmore

VIII. Nina

IX. The Usual Difficulty

X. The Fairy Queen

XI. In the Scales

XII. "A Cruel Parting"

XIII. Sixes and Sevens

XIV. The Officers' Mess

XV. Mrs. Stanmore at Home

XVI. "Missing--A Gentleman"

XVII. "Wanted--A Lady"

XVIII. "The Coming Queen"

XIX. An Incubus

XX. "The Little Cloud"

XXI. Furens Quid Fæmina

XXII. "Not for Joseph"

XXIII. Anonymous

XXIV. Parted

XXV. Coaxing a Fight

XXVI. Baffled

XXVII. Blinded

XXVIII. Beat

XXIX. Night-Hawks

XXX. Under the Acacias



M. or N.

"_Similia similibus curantur_"



CHAPTER I


"SMALL AND EARLY"


A wild wet night in the Channel, the white waves leaping, lashing, and
tumbling together in that confusion of troubled waters, which nautical
men call a "cross-sea." A dreary, dismal night on Calais sands: faint
moonshine struggling through a low driving scud, the harbour-lights
quenched and blurred in mist. Such a night as bids the trim French
sentry hug himself in his watch-coat, calmly cursing the weather,
while he hums the chorus of a comic opera, driving his thoughts by
force of contrast to the lustrous glow of the wine-shop, the sparkling
eyes and gold ear-rings of Mademoiselle Thérèse, who presides over
Love and Bacchus therein. Such a night as gives the travellers in the
mail-packet some notion of those ups and downs in life which landsmen
may bless themselves to ignore, as hints to the Queen's Messenger,
seasoned though he be, that ten minutes more of that heaving,
pitching, tremulous motion would lay him alongside those poor sick
neophytes whom he pities and condemns; reminding him how even _he_ has
cause to be thankful when he reflects that, save for an occasional
Levanter, the Mediterranean is a mill-pond compared to La Manche. Such
a night as makes the hardy fisherman running for Havre or St. Valérie
growl his "Babord" and "Tribord" in harsher tones than usual to his
mate, because he cannot keep his thoughts off Marie and the little
ones ashore; his dark-eyed Marie, praying her heart out to the Virgin
on her knees, feeling, as the fierce wind howls and blusters round
their hut, that not on her wedding-morning, not on that summer eve
when he won her down by the sea, did she love her Pierre so dearly,
as now in this dark boisterous weather, that causes her very flesh to
creep while she listens to its roar. Nobody who could help it would
be abroad on Calais sands. "Pas même un Anglais!" mutters the sentry,
ordering his firelock with a ring, and wishing it was time for the
Relief. But an Englishman _is_ out nevertheless, wandering aimlessly
to and fro on the beach; turning his face to windward against the
driving rain; trying to think the wet on his cheek is all from
_without_; vainly hoping to stifle grief, remorse, anxiety, by
exposure and active bodily exercise.

"How could I stay in that cursed room?" he mutters, striding wildly
among the sand-hills. "The very tick of the clock was enough to drive
one mad in those long fearful pauses--solemn and silent as death!
Can't the fools do anything for her? What is the use of nurses and
doctors, and all the humbug of medicine and science? My darling! my
darling! It was too cruel to hear you wailing and crying, and to know
I could do you no good! What a coward I am to have fled into the
wilderness like a murderer! I couldn't have stayed there, I feel I
couldn't! I wish I hadn't listened at the door! Only yesterday you
seemed so well and in such good spirits, with your dark eyes looking
so patiently and fondly into mine! And now, if she should die!--if she
should die!"

Then he stands stock-still, turning instinctively from the wind like
one of the brutes, while the past comes back in a waking dream so akin
to reality, that even in his preoccupation he seems to live the last
year of his life over again. Once more he is at the old place in
Cheshire, whither he has gone like any other young dandy, an agreeable
addition to a country shooting-party because of his chestnut locks,
his blue eyes, his handsome person, and general recklessness of
character; agreeable, he reflects, to elderly _roués_ and established
married women, but a scarecrow to mothers, and a stumbling-block to
daughters, as being utterly penniless and rather good-for-nothing.
Once more he comes down late for dinner, to find a vacant place by
that beautiful girl, with her delicate features, her wealth of raven
hair, above all, with the soft, sad, dreamy eyes, that look so loving,
so trustful, and so good. In such characters as theirs these things
are soon accomplished. A walk or two, a waltz, a skein of silk to
wind, a drive in a pony-carriage, an afternoon church, and behold them
in the memorable summer-house, where he won her heart--completely and
unreservedly, while flinging down his own! Then came all the sweet
excitement, all the fascinating mystery of mutual understanding, of
stolen glances, of hidden meanings in the common phrases and daily
courtesies of social life. It was so delightful for each to feel that
other existence bound up in its own, to look down from their enchanted
mountain, with pity not devoid of contempt on the commonplace dwellers
on the plain, undeterred by proofs more numerous perhaps on the hills
of Paphos than in any other airy region, that

"Great clymbers fall unsoft;"

to know that come sorrow, suffering, disgrace, or misfortune, there
was refuge and safety for the poor, broken-winged bird, though its
plumage were torn by the fowler's cruelty, or even soiled in the storm
of shame. Alas! that the latter should arrive too soon!

Perhaps of this young couple, the girl, in her perfect faith and
entire self-sacrifice, may have been less aghast than her lover at the
imminence of discovery, reprobation, and scorn. When no other course
was left open, she eloped willingly enough with the man she had
trusted--shutting her eyes to consequences, in that recklessness
of devotion which, lead though it may to much unhappiness in life,
constitutes not the least lovable trait of the female character, so
ready to burst into extremes of right and wrong.

Besides, who cares for consequences at nineteen, with the sun glinting
on the waves of the Channel, the sea-air freshening cheek and brow,
the coast of Picardy rising bright and glistening, in smiles of
welcome, and the dear, fond face looking down so proudly and wistfully
on its treasure? Consequences indeed! They have been left with the
heavy baggage at London Bridge, to reach their proper owner possibly
hereafter in Paris; but meantime, with this fresh breeze blowing--on
the blue sea--under the blue sky--they do not exist--there are no such
things!

These young people were very foolish, very wicked, but they loved each
other very dearly. Mr. Bruce was none of those heartless, unscrupulous
Lovelaces, oftener met with in fiction than in real life, who can
forget they are _men_ as well as gentlemen; and when he crossed the
Channel with Miss Algernon, it was from sheer want of forethought,
from mismanagement, no doubt, but still more from misfortune, that she
was Miss Algernon still.

To marry, was to be disinherited--that he knew well enough; but
neither he nor his Nina, as he called her, would have paused for this
consideration. There were other difficulties, trivial in appearance,
harassing, vexatious, insurmountable in reality, that yet seemed
from day to day about to vanish; so they waited, and temporised, and
hesitated, till the opportunity came of escaping together, and they
availed themselves of it without delay.

Now they had reached French ground, and were free, but it was too
late! That was why Mr. Bruce roamed so wildly to-night over the Calais
sands, tortured by a cruel fear that he might lose the treasure of his
heart for ever; exaggerating, in that supreme moment of anxiety, her
sufferings, her danger, perhaps even her priceless value to himself.

To do him justice, he did not think for an instant of the many galling
annoyances to which both must be subjected hereafter in the event of
her coming safely through her trial. He found no time to reflect on a
censorious world, an outraged circle of friends, an infuriated family;
on the cold shoulder Mrs. Grundy would turn upon his darling, and the
fair mark he would himself be bound to offer that grim old father, who
had served under Wellington, or that soft-spoken dandy brother in
the Guards, unerring at "rocketers," and deadly for all ground
game, neither of whom would probably shoot the wider, under the
circumstances that he, the offender, felt in honour he must stand at
least one discharge without retaliation, an arrangement which makes
twelve paces uncomfortably close quarters for the passive and
immovable target. He scarcely dwelt a moment on the bitter scorn with
which his own great-uncle, whose natural heir he was, would calmly and
deliberately curse this piece of childish folly, while he disinherited
its perpetrator without scruple or remorse. He never even considered
the disadvantage under which a life that ought to be very dear to him
was now opening on the world: a life that might be blighted through
its whole course by his own folly, punished, a score of years hence,
for unwittingly arriving a few weeks too soon. No! He could think
of nothing but Nina's anguish and Nina's danger; could only wander
helplessly backwards and forwards, stupefied by the continuous gusts
of that boisterous sea-wind, stunned by the dull wash of the incoming
tide, feeling for minutes at a time, a numbed, apathetic impotency;
till, roused and stung by a rush of recurring apprehensions, he
hastened back to his hotel, white, agitated, dripping wet, moving
with wavering gestures and swift, irregular strides, like a man in a
trance.

At the foot of the staircase he ran into the arms of a dapper French
doctor, young, yet experienced, a man of science, a man of pleasure,
an anatomist, a dancer, a philosopher, and a dandy--who put both hands
on his shoulders, and looked in his face with so comical an expression
of congratulation, sympathy, pity, and amusement, that Mr. Bruce's
fears vanished on the instant, and he found voice to ask, in husky
accents, "if it was over?"

"Over!" repeated the doctor. "Pardon, my good sir. For our interesting
young friend it is only just begun. A young lady, monsieur, a
veritable little aristocrat, with a delicate nose, and, my faith,
sound and powerful lungs! I make you my compliment, monsieur. I am
happy to be the first to advertise you of good news. It is late. Let
madame be kept tranquil. You will permit me to wish you good-night. I
will return again in the morning."

"And she is safe?" exclaimed Bruce, crushing the doctor's hand in a
grasp like a vice.

"Safe!" answered the little man. "Parbleu--yes--for the present, safe
as the mole in the harbour, and likely to remain so if you will only
keep out of the room. Come, you shall see her for one quiet little
moment. She desires it so much. And when I scratch at the door thus,
you will come out. Agreed? Enter, then. You shall embrace your child."

So the good-natured man turned into the hotel again, to conduct Mr.
Bruce back to the door from which he had fled in anguish an hour or
two ago, and was thus five minutes too late for another professional
engagement, which could not be postponed, but went on indeed very well
without him, the expectant lady being a person of experience, the wife
of a Calais fisherman, and now employed for the thirteenth time in her
yearly occupation. But this has nothing to do with Mr. Bruce.

That gentleman stole on tiptoe through the darkened room, catching a
glimpse, as he passed the tawdry mirror on the chimney-piece, of a
very pale and anxious face strangely unlike his own, while from behind
the half-drawn bed-curtains he heard a quiet placid breathing, and a
weak, faint voice with its tender whisper, "Charlie, are you there?
My darling, I begged so hard to see you for one minute, and--Charlie
dear, to--to show you _this_."

_This_ was a morsel of something swathed up in wrappings, round which
the young mother's arm was folded with proud, protecting love; but I
think he had been too anxious about the woman to feel a proper elation
in his new position as father to the child. The tears came thick to
his eyes once more, while he caught the pale, fragile hand that lay so
weary and listless on the counterpane, to press it against his lips,
his cheeks, his forehead, murmuring broken words of endearment, and
gratitude, and joy.

She would have kept him there all night: she would have talked to him
for an hour, feeble as she was, of that little being, in so short a
time promoted to its sovereignty of Baby (with a capital B), in which
she had already discovered instincts, qualities, high reasoning
powers, noble moral characteristics: but the doctor's tap was heard,
"scratching," as he called it, at the door, and Bruce, too happy not
to be docile, had the good sense to obey his summons without delay.

"Let them sleep, monsieur," said the Frenchman, struggling into his
great-coat, and hurrying down-stairs. "It will do them more good
than all your prevision and all my experience. I will return in the
morning, to inquire after madame and to renew my acquaintance with
mademoiselle--I should say with 'your charming mees.' Monsieur, you
are now father of a family--you should keep early hours. Good-night,
then--till to-morrow."

Bruce looked after him with a blessing on his lips, and a fervent
thanksgiving in his heart to the Providence that had spared him
his treasure. For the moment, I believe, he completely forgot that
important personage with whom originated all their anxiety and
discomfort. To men, indeed, there is so little individuality about
a Baby, that, I fear, it has to be weaned and vaccinated, and to go
through many other processes before it ceases to be a thing, and
rather an inconvenient one. No; Bruce went to his own sitting-room,
with his heart so full of his Nina, there was scarcely place for other
considerations; therefore, instead of going to bed, he kicked off
his wet boots, turned on a brilliant illumination of gas, and threw
himself into an arm-chair--to smoke. After the excitement he had
lately passed through, the first few whiffs of his cigar were soothing
and consolatory in the extreme, but reflection comes with tobacco, not
less surely than warmth comes with fire; and soon he began to see the
crowd of fresh difficulties which the events of to-night would
bring swarming round his devoted head. How he cursed his foolish
calculations, his ill-judged caution, his cowardly scruples, thus to
have postponed the ceremony of marriage till too late. How impossible
it would be now, to throw dust in the eyes of society as to dates and
circumstances! how fruitless the reparation which should certainly be
put off no longer, no, not a day! It seemed so hard that he, of all
the world, should have injured the woman who loved him, the woman whom
he so devotedly loved in return. He almost hated the innocent baby for
its inopportune arrival; but remembering how that poor little creature
too must bear the punishment of his crime, he flung the end of his
cigar against the stove with a curse, and for one moment--only one
bitter, painful moment--found himself wishing he had never met, never
loved, his darling; had left the lamb at peace in its fold, the rose
ungathered on its stalk.

The clock did not tick twice before there came a reaction. It seemed
so impossible that they should be independent of each other. He would
not be himself without Nina! and the flow of his affection, like
the back-water of a mill-stream, returned only the stronger for its
momentary interruption. After all, Nina was everything, Nina was the
first consideration. Something must be done at once. As soon as she
could bear it, that ceremony must be gone through which should have
been performed long ago. He was young, he was impatient, he would fain
be at work without delay; so he turned to his writing-table, and began
opening certain letters that had already followed him into France, but
that he had laid aside without examination, in the excitement of the
last few hours.

They were not calculated to afford him much distraction. A circular
from a coal company, a couple of invitations to dinner, a tailor's
bill, and a manifesto from the firm, calling attention to the powers
of endurance with which their little account had "made running" for a
considerable period, while promising a "lawyer's letter" to enforce
payment of the same. Next this hostile protocol lay a business-like
missive bearing a Lincoln's Inn look about it not to be mistaken, and
which Bruce determined he would leave unopened till the morning, when,
if Nina had slept, and was doing well, he felt nothing in the world
could make him unhappy.

"Serves me right, though," he yawned, "for deserting Poole. _He_
wouldn't have bothered me for a miserable pony at such a time as
this;" and flinging off his clothes, in less than five minutes he was
as fast asleep as if he had never known an anxiety in the world, but
was lulled by the soothing considerations of a well-spent past, an
untroubled conscience, and a balance at his banker's!

So he slept and dreamed not, as those sleep who are thoroughly
out-wearied in body and mind, waking only when the sun had been up
more than an hour, and the stormy night had given place to a clear,
unclouded day.

The Channel was all blue and white now; the rollers, as they subsided
into a long heaving ground-swell, bringing in with them a freight
of health and freshness to the shore. The gulls were soaring and
screaming round the harbour, edging their wings with gold as they
dipped and wheeled in the morning light. Everything spoke of hope and
happiness and vitality. Bruce opened his window, drew in long breaths
of the keen, reviving air, and stole to listen at Nina's door.

How his heart went up in gratitude to heaven! Mother and child were
sleeping--so peacefully, so soundly. Mother and child! At that early
period the dearest, the sweetest, the holiest link of human love--the
gold without the dross, the flower without the insect, the wine
without the headache, the full fruition of the feelings without the
wear and tear of the heart.

He could have kissed the antiquated French chambermaid, dressed like
a Sister of Mercy, who met him in the passage, and wishing "Monsieur"
good-morning, congratulated him with tears of honest sympathy in her
glittering, bold black eyes. He _did_ give a five-franc piece to the
alert and well-dressed waiter, who looked as if he had never been in
bed, and never required to go. It may be this impulse of generosity
reminded him that five-franc pieces were likely to be scarce with him
in future, and an unpleasant association of ideas brought the lawyer's
letter to his mind. There it lay, square and uncompromising, between
his watch and his cigar-case. He opened it, I am afraid, with a truly
British oath.

He turned quite white when he read it the first time, but the blood
rushed to his temples on a second perusal, and he flung himself
down on his knees at the windowsill, thanking Providence, somewhat
inconsiderately, for the benefits that only came to him through
another man's death.

This letter, indeed, though the composition of a lawyer, had not been
written at the instance of his long-suffering tailor, but was from the
solicitor who conducted the business of his family. It advised him, in
very concise language, of his great-uncle's sudden "demise," as it was
worded, "intestate"; informing him that he thus became heir, as next
of kin, to the whole personal and real property of the deceased, and
concluded with sincere congratulations on his accession to a fine
fortune, not without a hope that their firm might continue to manage
his affairs, and afford him the same satisfaction that had always been
expressed by his late lamented relative, etc. The surprise staggered
him like a blow. From such blows, however, we soon "come to time,"
willing to take any amount of similar punishment. He gave himself
credit for self-denial in not waking Nina on the instant to tell
her of their good fortune. Still more, he plumed himself on his
forethought in resolving to ask her doctor's leave before he entered
on so exciting a topic with the invalid. He longed to tell somebody.
He was so happy, so elated, so thankful! and yet, amidst all his joy,
there rankled an uncomfortable sensation of remorse and self-reproach
when he thought of the little blighted life, the little injured
helpless creature nestling to its young mother's side in the next
room.



CHAPTER II


"NIGHTFALL"


It is more than twenty years ago, and yet how vividly it all comes
back to him to-night!

The sun has gone down in streaks of orange and crimson over the
old oaks that crown the deer-park sloping upward to the rear of
Ecclesfield Manor. Mr. Bruce walks across a darkened room to throw the
window open for a gasp of fresh evening air, laden with the perfume of
pinks, carnations, and moss-roses in the garden below. _Her_ garden!
Is it possible? Something in the action reminds him of that bright,
hopeful morning at Calais. Something in the scent of the flowers
steals to his brain, half torpid and benumbed; his heart contracts
with an agony of physical suffering. "My darling! my darling!" he
murmurs, "shall I never see you tying those flowers again?" and
turning from the window, he falls on his knees by the bedside with
a passionate burst of weeping that, like blood-letting to the body,
restores the unwelcome faculty of consciousness to his mind. When
he raises his head again he knows well enough that the one great
misfortune has arrived at last--that henceforth for _him_ there may
come, in the lapse of long years, resignation, even repose, but hope
and happiness no more.

Even now, though he wonders at his own callousness, he can bear to
look on the bed through a mist of tears; and, so looking, feels
his intellect failing in its effort to grasp the calamity that has
befallen him.

There she lies, like a dead lily, his own, his treasure, his beloved;
the sweet face, calm and placid, with its chiselled ivory features,
its smooth and gentle brow, has already borrowed a higher, a more
perfect beauty from the immortality on which it has entered. Not
fairer, not lovelier did she look that well-remembered evening when he
first knew her pure and priceless heart was his own, though she has
borne him a daughter--nay, two daughters (and he winces with a fresh
and different pain)--the younger as old as she was then. Her raven
hair is parted soft and silky off those pale, delicate temples; her
long black lashes rest upon the waxen cheek. No; she never looked as
beautiful, not in the calm sleep he used to watch so lovingly; and now
the deep, fond eyes must open on his own no more. She was so gentle,
too, so patient, so sweet-tempered, and O, so true. He had been a man
of the world, neither better nor worse than others: he knew women
well; knew how rare are the good ones; knew the prize he had won, and
valued it--yes, he was sure he always valued it as it deserved.
What was the use? Had she not far better have been like the
others--petulant, wilful, capricious, covetous of admiration, careless
of affection, weak-headed, shallow-hearted, and desirous only of that
which could not possibly be her own? Such were most of the women
amongst whom he had been thrown in his youth; but O, how unlike her
who was lying dead there before his eyes.

  "For men at most differ as heaven and earth,
  But women, worst and best, as heaven and hell."

He felt so keenly now that she had been his better angel for more than
twenty years; that but for her he might long ago have deteriorated to
selfishness and cynicism, or sunk into that careless philosophy which
believes only in the tangible, the material, and the present.

A good woman's lot may be linked to that of a bad man; she may even
love him very dearly, and yet retain much of her purer, better nature
amidst all the mire in which she is steeped; but it is not so with us.
To care for a bad woman is to be dragged down to her level, inch by
inch, till the intellect itself becomes sapped in a daily degradation
of the heart. From such slavery emancipation is cheap under any
suffering, at any sacrifice. The lopping of a limb is a painful
process, but above a gangrened wound experienced surgeons amputate
without scruple or remorse.

On the other hand, a true woman's affection is of all earthly
influences the noblest and most elevating. It encourages the highest
and gentlest qualities of man's nature--his enterprise, courage,
patience, sympathy, above all, his trust. Happy the pilgrim on whose
life such a beacon-star has shone out to guide him in the right way;
thrice happy if it sets not until it has lured him so far that he will
never again turn aside from the path.

Such reflections as these, while they added to his sense of loss and
loneliness, yet took so much of the sting out of Mr. Bruce's great
sorrow, that he could realise it for minutes at a time without being
goaded to madness or stunned to apathy by the pain.

There had been no warning--no preparation. He had left her that
morning as usual, after smoking a cigar in her society on the lawn,
while she tied, and snipped, and gathered the flowers of her pretty
garden. He had visited the stable, ordered the pony-carriage, seen the
keeper, and been to look at an Alderney cow. It was one of his idle
days, yet, after twenty years of marriage, such days he still liked to
spend, if possible, in the company of his wife. So he strolled back to
write his letters in her boudoir, and entered it at the garden door,
expecting to find her, as usual, busied in some graceful feminine
employment.

Her work was heaped on the sofa; a book she had been reading lay open
on the table; the very flowers she gathered an hour ago had the dew on
them still. He could not finish his first letter without consulting
her, for she kept his memory, his conscience, and his money, just
as she kept his heart, so he ran up-stairs to her bedroom door and
knocked.

There was no answer, and he went in. At the first glance he thought
she must have fainted, for she had fallen on her knees against a
high-backed chair, her face buried in its cushions, and one hand
touching the carpet. He had a quick eye, and the turn of that grey
rigid hand warned him with a stab of something he refused persistently
to believe. Then he lifted her on the bed where she lay now, and sent
for every doctor within reach.

He had no recollection of the interval that elapsed before the nearest
could arrive, nor distinct notion of any part of that long sunny
afternoon while he sat by his Nina in the death-chamber. Once he
got up to stop the ticking of a clock on the chimney-piece, moving
mechanically with stealthy footfall across the room lest she should
be disturbed. The doctors came and went, agreeing, as they left the
house, that he had answered their questions with wonderful precision
and presence of mind; nay, that he was less prostrated by the blow
than they should have expected. "Disease of the heart," said they--I
believe they called it "the _pericardium_"; and after paying a tribute
of admiration to the loveliness of the dead lady, discussed the
leading article of that day's _Times_ with perfect equanimity. What
would you have? There can be but one person in the world to whom
another is more than all the world beside.

This person was sitting by Nina's bed, except for a few brief minutes
at a time, utterly stupefied and immovable. Even Maud--his cherished
daughter Maud--whose smile had hitherto been welcome in his eyes as
the light of morning, could not rouse his attention by the depth of
her own uncontrolled grief. He sat like an idiot or an opium-eater,
till something prompted him to open the window and gasp for a breath
of fresh evening air. Then it all came back to him, and he awoke to
the full consciousness of his misery.

There are men, though not many, and these, perhaps, the least inclined
to prate about it, who have one attachment in their lives to which
every other sentiment is but an accessory and a satellite. Such
natures are often very bold to dare, very strong to endure, very
difficult to assail, save in their single vulnerable point. Force
that, and the man's whole vitality seems to collapse. He does not even
make a fight of it, but fails, gives in, and goes down without an
effort. Such was the character of Mr. Bruce, and to-day he had gotten
his death-blow.

The stars twinkled out faintly one by one, the harvest-moon rose broad
and ruddy behind the wooded hill, and still he sat stupefied at the
bedside. The door opened gently to admit a beautiful girl, strangely,
startlingly like her dead mother, who came in with a cup of tea and a
candle. Setting these on the chimney-piece, she moved softly round
to where he sat, and pressed his head, with both hands, against her
breast.

"Dearest father," said she, "I have brought you some tea. Try and
rouse yourself, papa, dear papa, for _my_ sake. You love _me_ too."

The appeal was well chosen; once more the tears came to his eyes, and
he woke up as from a dream.

"You are a good girl, Maud," he answered, with a vague, distracted
air. "I have my children left--I have my children left! But all the
world cannot make up to me for what I have lost!"

She thought his mind was wandering, and tried to recall him to
himself.

"We must bear our sorrows as best we may, papa," she answered, very
gently. "We must help each other. You and I are alone now in the
world."

A contraction, as of some fresh pain, came over his livid face. He
raised his head to speak, but, stopping himself with an obvious
effort, looked long and scrutinisingly in his daughter's face.

Maud Bruce was a very beautiful girl even now, in the extremity of
her sorrow. She had been crying heartily; no wonder, but her delicate
features were not swollen, nor her dark eyes dimmed. The silky
hair shone smooth and trim, the muslin dress was not rumpled nor
disarranged, and the white hands, with which she still caressed her
father's sorrow-laden head, neither shook nor wavered in their office.

With her mother's beauty, Miss Bruce had inherited but little of her
mother's character; on the contrary, her nature, like that of
her father's ancestors rather than his own, was bold, firm, and
self-reliant to an unusual degree. She was hard, and that is the only
epithet properly to describe her--manner, voice, appearance, all
were lady-like, feminine, and exceedingly attractive; but the
self-possession she never seemed to lose, would have warned an
experienced admirer, that beneath the white bosom beat a heart not to
be reduced by stratagem, nor carried by assault; that he must not hope
to see the beautiful dark eyes veil themselves in the dreamy softness
which so confesses all it means to hide; that the raven tresses
clinging coquettishly to that faultless head were most unlikely to be
severed as a tribute of affection for any one whose conquest would not
be a question of pride and profit to their owner. Tenderness was the
one quality Maud lacked, the one quality which, like the zone of
Venus, completed all her mother's attractions, with an indefinable and
irresistible charm.

There is a wild German legend which describes how a certain woodman, a
widower, gave shelter to a strangely fascinating dame, and falling in
love with her, incontinently made his guest lawful mistress of hearth
and home; how, notwithstanding his infatuated passion, and intense
admiration for her beauty, there was yet in it a fierceness which
chilled and repelled him, while he worshiped; how his children could
never be brought to look in the fair face of their stepmother without
crying aloud for fear; and how at last he discovered, to his horror
and dismay, that he had wedded a fearful creature, half wolf, half
woman, combining the seductions of the syren with the cruel voracity
of the brute. There was something about Maud Bruce to remind one of
that horrible myth, even now, now at her gentlest and softest, while
she clung round a sorrowing father, by the death-bed of one, whom, in
their different ways, both had very dearly loved.

It was well that the young lady preserved her presence of mind, for
Bruce seemed incapable of connected thought or action. He roused
himself, indeed, at his daughter's call, but gazed stupidly about him,
stammered in his speech, and faltered in his step when he crossed
the room. The shock of grief had evidently overmastered his
faculties--something, too, besides affliction, seemed to worry and
distress him--something of which he wished to unbosom himself,
but that yet he could not make up his mind to reveal. Maud, whose
quickness of perception was seldom at fault, did not fail to observe
this, and reviewing the position with her accustomed coolness, drew
her father gently to the writing-table, and sat down.

"Papa," said she, "there is much to be done. We must exert ourselves.
It will do us both good. Bargrave can be down by the middle of the
day, to-morrow. Let me write for him at once."

Bargrave and Co. were Mr. Bruce's solicitors, as they had been his
great-uncle's: it was the same firm, indeed, that had apprised him of
his inheritance at Calais twenty years ago. How he rejoiced in their
intelligence then! What was the use of an inheritance now?

A weary lassitude had come over him; he seemed incapable of exertion,
and shook his head in answer to Maud's appeal; but again some
hidden motive stung him into action, and taking his seat at the
writing-table, he seized a pen, only to let it slip helplessly through
his fingers, while he looked in his daughter's face with a vacant
stare.

Maud was equal to the occasion. Obviously something more than sorrow
had reduced her father to this state. She sat down opposite, scribbled
off a note hastily enough, but in the clear unwavering hand, affirmed
by her correspondents to be so characteristic of the writer's
disposition, and ringing the bell, desired it should be dispatched on
the instant. "Let Thomas take the brougham with the ponies; the doctor
is sure to be at home. He can bring him back at once."

Then she looked at her father, and stopped the lady's-maid, who,
tearful and hysterical, had answered the familiar summons, which but
this morning was "missis's bell."

"While they are putting to," said she calmly, "I will write a
telegraphic message and a letter. Tell him to send word when he is
ready. I shall give him exactly ten minutes."

Once more she glanced uneasily at Mr. Bruce; what she saw decided her.
In half-a-dozen words she penned a concise message to her father's
solicitor, desiring him to come himself or send a confidential person
to Ecclesfield Manor, by the very first train, on urgent business; and
wrote a letter as well to the same address, explaining her need of
immediate assistance, for Mr. Bargrave to receive the following
morning, in case that gentleman should not obey her telegram in
person, a contingency Miss Bruce considered highly probable.

The ten minutes conceded to Thomas had stretched to twenty before he
was ready; for so strong is the force of habit among stablemen, that
even in a case of life and death, horses cannot be allowed to start
till their manes are straightened and their hoofs blacked. In the
interval, Miss Bruce became more and more concerned to observe no
signs of attention on her father's part--no inquiries as to her
motives--apparently no consciousness of what she was doing. When the
brougham was heard to roll away at a gallop, she came round and
put her arm about his neck, where he sat in his chair at the
writing-table.

"Papa, dear," she said, "I have told them to get your dressing-room
ready. You are ill, very ill. I can see it. You must go to bed."

He nodded, and smiled. Such a weary, silly smile, letting her lead him
away like a little child. He would even have passed the bed where his
wife lay without a look, but that his daughter stopped him at the
door.

"Papa," said she--and the girl deserved credit for the courage with
which she kept her tears back--"won't you kiss her before you go?"

It may be some instinct warned her that not in the body was he to look
on the face he loved again--that those material lips were never more
to touch the gentle brow which in a whole lifetime he had not seen
to frown--that their next greeting, freed from earthly anxieties,
released from earthly troubles, must be exchanged, at no distant
period, in heaven.

He obeyed unhesitatingly, imprinting a caress on his dead wife's
forehead with no kind of emotion, and so left the room, muttering
vaguely certain indistinct and incoherent syllables, in which the
words "Nina" and "Bargrave" were alone intelligible.

Maud saw her father to his room, and consigned him to the hands of
his valet, to be put to bed without delay. Then she went to the
dining-room, and forced herself to eat a crust of bread, to drink
a single glass of sherry. "I shall need all my strength to-night,"
thought the girl, "to take care of poor papa, and arrange about the
funeral and such matters as he cannot attend to--the funeral! O,
mother, dear, kind mother! I wasn't half good enough to you while you
were with us, and now--but I won't cry--I won't cry. There'll be time
enough for all that by and by. The first thing to think of is about
papa. He hasn't borne it well. Men have very little courage when they
come to trial, and I fear--I fear there is something sadly wrong with
him. Let me see. Three-quarters of an hour to get to Bragford--five
minutes' stoppage at the turn-pike, for that stupid man is sure to
have gone to bed--five minutes more for Doctor Skilton to put on his
greatcoat, forty minutes for coming back--those ponies always go
faster towards home. No, he can't be here under another hour. Another
hour! It's a long time in a case like this. Suppose papa should have
a paralytic stroke! And I haven't a notion what to do--the proper
remedies, the best treatment. Women ought to know everything, and be
ready for everything."

"Then there's the lawyer to-morrow. I don't suppose papa will be able
to see him. I must think of all the business--all the arrangements. He
can't be here till ten o'clock at the earliest, even if he starts by
the first train. I shall write my directions for _him_ in the morning.
Meantime, I'll go and sit with poor papa, and see if I can't hush him
off to sleep."

But when Miss Bruce reached her father's room, she found him lying in
an alarming state of which she had no experience. Something between
sleeping and waking, yet without the repose of the one, the
consciousness of the other. So she took her place by his pillow, and
watched, listening anxiously for the brougham that was to bring the
doctor.



CHAPTER III


TOM RYFE


At half-past eight in the morning Mr. Bargrave's office in Gray's Inn
was still empty. It had been swept, indeed, and "straightened," as he
called it, by a young gentleman, whose duty it was to be in attendance
at all hours from sunrise to sunset, when nobody else was in the
way, and who fulfilled that duty by slipping out on such available
occasions to join the youth of the quarter in sports of clamour,
strength, and skill. Just now he was half-a-mile off in Holborn,
running at full speed, shouting at the top of his voice, with no
apparent object but that of exercising his own physical powers and
the patience of the general public in his exertions. It was not,
therefore, the step of this trusty guardian which fell sharp and
quick on the stone stair outside the office, nor was it his hand,
nor pass-key, that opened the door to admit Mr. Bargrave's nephew,
assistant, and possible successor in the business, Tom Ryfe.

That gentleman entered with the air of a master, looked about him,
detected the absence of his young subordinate as one who is disgusted
rather than surprised, and lifted two envelopes lying unopened on the
table with an oath. "As usual," he muttered, "telegram and letter,
same date--same place. Arrive together, of course! Chances are, if
there is any hurry you get the letter before the telegram. Halloa!
here's a business. Bargrave's sure to be an hour late, and that young
scamp not within a mile. If I had my way--Hang it! I _will_ have my
way. At all events I must manage _this_ business my way, for it seems
there's not a moment to spare, and nobody to help me. Dorothe-a!"

The dirtiest woman to be found, probably, at that hour in the whole of
London, appeared from a lower storey in answer to his summons. Pushing
her hair off a grimy forehead with a grimier hand, she listened to
his directions, staring vacantly, as is the manner of her kind, but
understanding them, nevertheless, and not incapable of remembering
their purport: they were short and intelligible enough.

"Tell that young scamp he is to sleep in the office tonight. He
mustn't leave it on any consideration while I'm away. I'm going into
the country, and I'll break his head when I come back."

Tom Ryfe then huddled the letter into his pocket for perusal at
leisure, hailed a hansom, and in less than a quarter of an hour was in
his uncle's breakfast-room, bolting ham, muffins, and green tea, while
his clothes were packed.

Mr. Bargrave, a bachelor, who liked his comforts, and took care to
have them, was reading the newspaper in a silk dressing-gown, and a
pair of gold spectacles. He had finished breakfast--such a copious
and leisurely repast as is consumed by one who dines at six, drinks a
bottle of port every day at dessert, and never smoked a cigar in his
life. No earthly consideration would hurry him for the next half-hour.
He looked over the top of his newspaper with the placid benignity of a
man who, considering digestion one of the most important functions of
nature, values and encourages it accordingly.

"Sudden," observed Mr. Bargrave, in answer to his nephew's
communication. "Something of a seizure, no doubt. Time is of
importance; the young lady's telegram should have come to hand last
night. Be so good as to make a note on the back. Three doctors, does
she say? Bless me! They'll never let him get over it. Most unfortunate
just now, on account of the child--of the young lady. You can take the
necessary instructions. I will follow, if required. It's twenty-three
minutes' drive to the station. Better be off at once, Tom."

So Tom took the hint, and was off. While he drives to the station we
may as well give an account of Tom's position in the firm of Bargrave
and Co.

Old Bargrave's sister had chosen to marry a certain Mr. Ryfe, of whom
nobody knew more than that he could shoot pigeons, had been concerned
in one or two doubtful turf transactions, and played a good hand at
whist. _While_ he lived, though it was a mystery _how_ he lived, he
kept Mrs. Ryfe "very comfortable," to use Bargrave's expression. When
he died he left her nothing but the boy Tom, a precocious urchin,
inheriting some of his father's sporting propensities, with a certain
slang smartness of tone and manner, acquired in those circles where
horseflesh is affected as an inducement to speculation.

Mrs. Ryfe did not long survive her husband. She had married a scamp,
and was, therefore, very fond of him: so before he had been dead a
year, she was laid in the same grave. Then her brother took the boy
Tom, and put him into his own business, making him begin by sweeping
out the office, and so requiring him to rise grade by grade till he
became confidential clerk and head manager of all matters connected
with the firm.

At twenty-six years of age, Tom Ryfe possessed as much experience
as his principal, joined to a cunning and sharpness of intellect
peculiarly his own. To take care of number one was doubtless the
head clerk's ruling maxim; but while thus attending to his personal
welfare, he never failed to affect a keen interest in the affairs
of numbers two, three, four, and the rest. Tom Ryfe was a "friendly
fellow," people declared; "a deuced friendly fellow, and knew what he
was about, mind you, better than most people."

"Every great man," said the Emperor Nicholas, "has a hook in his
nose." In the firmest characters, no doubt, there is a weakness
by which they are to be led or driven; and Tom Ryfe, like other
notabilities, was not without this crevice in his armour, this breach
in his embattled wall. He had shrewdness, knowledge of the world,
common sense, and yet the one great object of his efforts was to be
admitted into a class of society far above his own, and to find there
an ideal lady with whom to pass the rest of his days.

"I'll marry a top-sawyer," he used to say, whenever his uncle broached
the question of his settlement in life. "Why, bless ye, it's the same
tackle and the same fly that takes the big fish and the little one.
It's no more trouble to make up to a duchess than a dairymaid. I'll
pick a real white-handed one, you see if I don't. A wife that can
_move_, uncle, cool, and calm, and lofty, like an air balloon; wearing
her dresses as if she was made for them, and her jewels as if she
didn't know she'd got them on; looking as much at home in the Queen's
drawing-room as she does in her own. That's my sort, and that's the
sort I'll choose! Why, there's scores of 'em to be seen any afternoon
in the Park. Never tell me I can't go in and take my pick. 'Nothing
venture, nothing have,' they say. I ain't going to venture much. I
don't see occasion for it, but I'll _have_ what I want, you see if I
won't, or I'll know the reason why."

Whereon Bargrave, who considered womankind in general as an
unnecessary evil, would reply--

"Time enough, Tom, time enough. I haven't had much experience with the
ladies myself, except as clients, you know. The less I see of 'em, I
think, the more I like 'em. Better put it off a little, Tom. It can be
done any day, my boy, when you've an hour to spare. I wouldn't be in
a hurry if I was you. There's a fresh sample ticketed every year; and
they're not like port wine, you must remember, they don't improve with
keeping."

Tom Ryfe had plenty of time to revolve his speculations, matrimonial
and otherwise, during his journey to Ecclesfield Manor by one of those
mid-day trains so irritating to through-passengers, which stop at
intermediate stations, dropping brown-paper parcels, and taking up old
women with baskets. He reviewed many little affairs of the heart in
which he had lately been engaged, without, however, suffering his
affections to involve themselves too deeply for speedy withdrawal. He
reflected with great satisfaction on his own fastidious rejection of
several "suitable parties," as he expressed it, who did not quite
reach his standard of aristocratic perfection, remembering how Mrs.
Blades, the well-to-do widow, with fine eyes and a house in Duke
Street, had fairly landed him but for that unfortunate dinner at which
he detected her eating fish with a knife; how certain grated-looking
needle-marks on Miss Glance's left forefinger had checked him just in
time while in the act of kissing her hand; and how, on the very eve of
a proposal to beautiful Constance de Courcy, whose manner, bearing,
and appearance, no less than her name, denoted the extreme of
refinement and high birth, he had sustained a shock, galvanic but
salutary, from her artless exclamation, "O my! whatever shall I do? If
here isn't pa!"

"No," thought Tom, as he rolled on into the fair expanse of down
country that lay for miles round Ecclesfield, "I haven't found one yet
quite up to the pattern I require. When I do I shall go in and
win, that's all. I don't see why my chance shouldn't be as good as
another's. I'm not such a bad-looking chap when I'm dressed and my
hair's greased. I can do tricks with cards like winking. I can ride a
bit, shoot a bit--'specially pigeons--dance a bit, and make love to
'em no end. I've got the gift of the gab, I know, and I stick at
nothing. That's what the girls like, and that's what will pull me
through when I find the one I want. Another station, and not there
yet! What a slow train this is!"

It was a slow train, and Tom, arriving at Ecclesfield, saw on the face
of the servant who admitted him that he was too late. In addition to
the solemn and mysterious hush that pervades a house in which the dead
lie yet unburied, a feeling of horror, the result of some unlooked-for
and additional calamity, seemed to predominate; and Tom was hardly
surprised, however much he might be shocked, when the old
butler gasped, in broken sentences, "Seizure--last night--quite
unconscious--all over this morning. Will you take some refreshment,
sir, after your journey?"

Mr. Bruce had been dead a few hours--dead without time to set his
house in order, without consciousness even to wish his child good-bye.

She came down to see Mr. Bargrave's clerk that afternoon, pale, calm,
collected, beautiful, but stern and unbending under the sorrow against
which her haughty nature rebelled. In a few words, referring to a
memorandum the while, she gave him her directions for the funeral and
its ceremonies; desired him to ascertain at once the state of her late
father's affairs, the amount of a succession to which she believed
herself entitled; begged he would return with full information that
day fortnight; ordered luncheon for him in the dining-room; and so
dismissed him as a bereaved queen might dismiss the humblest of her
subjects.

Tom Ryfe, returning to London by the next train, thought he had never
felt so small; and yet, was not this proud, sorrowing, and beautiful
young damsel the ideal he had been seeking hitherto in vain? It is
not too much to say that for twenty miles he positively _hated_ her,
striving fiercely against the influence, which yet he could not but
acknowledge. In another twenty, his good opinion of his best friend
Mr. Ryfe reasserted itself. He had seen something of the world, and
possessed, moreover, a certain shallow acquaintance with human nature,
not of the highest class, so he argued thus--

"Women like what they are unaccustomed to. The Grand Duchess of
Gerolstein makes love to a private soldier simply because she don't
know what a private soldier is. This girl must have lived amongst a
set of starched and stuck-up people who have not two ideas beyond
themselves and their order. She has never so much as seen a smart,
business-like, active fellow, ready to take all trouble off her hands,
and make up her mind for her before she can turn round--young, too,
and not so bad-looking, though I dare say she's used to good-looking
chaps enough. The man's game who went in for Miss Bruce would be
this: constant attention to her interests, supreme disregard for her
feelings, and never to let her have her own way for a moment. She'd be
so utterly taken aback she'd give in without a fight. Why shouldn't I
try my chance? It's a good spec. It must be a good spec. And yet,
hang it! such a high-handed girl as that would suit _me_ without a
shilling. It dashed me a little at first; but I like that scornful way
of hers, I own. What eyes, too! and what hair! I wonder if I'm a fool.
No; nothing's impossible; it's only difficult. What! London already?
Ah! there's no place like town."

The familiar gas-lamps, the roll of the cabs, the bustle in the
streets, dispelled whatever shadows of mistrust in his own merits
remained from Tom's reflections in the railway carriage; and long
before he reached his uncle's house, he had made up his mind to "go
in," as he called it, for Miss Bruce, morally confident of winning,
yet troubled with certain chilling misgivings, as fearing that _this_
time he had really fallen in love.

Many and long, during the ensuing week, were the consultations between
old Bargrave and his nephew as to the future prospects of the lady in
question. Her father had died without a will. That fact seemed pretty
evident, as he had often expressed his intention of preparing such an
instrument, but had hitherto moved no farther in the matter.

"Depend upon it, Tom," said his uncle, that very evening over their
port wine, "he wouldn't go to anybody else. He was never much of
a business man, and he couldn't have disentangled his affairs
sufficiently to make 'em clear, except to me. It's a sad pity for many
reasons, but I'm just as sure there's no will as I am that my glass is
empty. Help yourself, Tom, and pass the wine."

"Then she takes as next of kin," said Tom, thinking of Maud's dark
eyes, and filling his glass. "Here's her health!"

"By all means," assented Bargrave. "Her very good health, poor girl!
But as to the succession I have my doubts; grave doubts. There's a
trust, Tom. I looked over the deed while you were down there to-day.
It is so worded that a male heir might advance a prior claim. There
_is_ a male heir, a parson in Dorsetshire, not a likely man to give in
without a fight. We'll look at it again to-morrow. If it reads as I
think, I wouldn't give a pinch of snuff for the young lady's chance."

Tom's face fell. "Can't we fight it, uncle?" said he, stoutly,
applying himself once more to the port; but Bargrave had drawn his
silk handkerchief over his face, and was already fast asleep.

So uncle and nephew went into the trust-deed, morning after morning,
arriving in its perusal at a conclusion adverse to Miss Brace's
interest; but then, as the younger man observed, "the beauty of our
English law is, that you can always fight a thing even if you haven't
a leg to stand on."

It was almost time for Tom Ryfe's return journey to Ecclesfield, and
a coat ordered for the express purpose of captivating Miss Bruce had
actually come home, when the post brought him a little note from
that lady, which afforded him, as such notes often do, an absurd and
overweening joy. It was bordered with the deepest black, and ran as
follows--


DEAR SIR,

('_Dear_ sir,' thought Tom, 'ah! that sounds much sweeter than plain
sir')--I venture to trouble you with a commission in the nature of
business. A packet, containing some diamond ornaments belonging to me,
will be left by the jeweller at Mr. Bargrave's office to-morrow. Will
you kindly bring it down with you to Ecclesfield?

Yours, very obediently,

"Maud Bruce."


Tom kissed the signature. He was very far gone already, and took care
to be at the office in time to receive the diamonds. That boy was
out of the way, of course! So Tom summoned the grimy Dorothea to his
presence.

"I shall be busy for an hour," said he; "don't admit anybody unless he
comes by appointment, except it's a man with a packet of jewelry. Take
it in yourself, and bring it here at once. I've got to carry it down
with me to-night by the train. Do you understand?"

"Is it a long journey as you're a-goin', sir?" asked Dorothea. "I
should like to clean up a bit while you was away."

"Only to Bragford," answered Tom; "but I might not be back for a day
or two. Mind about the parcel, though," he added, in the exuberance
of his spirits. "The thing's valuable. It's for a young lady. It's
jewels, Dorothea. It's diamonds."

"Lor!" said Dorothea, going back to her scrubbing forthwith.

The jeweller being dilatory, Tom had finished his letters before that
artificer arrived, thus saving Dorothea all responsibility in the
valuable packet confided to his charge, for Mr. Ryfe received it
himself in the outer office, whither he had resorted in a fidget to
compare a time-table with a railway-map of England. He fretted to set
off at once. He had finished his business; he had nothing to do now
but eat an early dinner at his uncle's, and so start by the afternoon
train on the path of love, triumph, and success, leaving the boy,
coerced by ghastly threats, to take charge of the office in his
absence.

We have all seen a bird moulting, draggled, dirty, woebegone, not to
be recognised for the same bird, sleek and glossy in its holiday-suit
of feathers, pruning its wing for a flight across the summer sky. Even
so different was the Dorothea of the unkempt hair, the soapy arms, the
dingy apron, and the grimy face, from a gaudy damsel who emerged in
the afternoon sun out of Mr. Bargrave's chambers, bright with all the
colours of the rainbow, and scrupulously dressed, according to the
extreme style of the last prevailing fashion but two.

She was a good-looking woman enough now that she had "cleaned
herself," as she expressed it, but for a certain roughness of hair,
coarseness of skin, and general redundancy of outline, despite of
which drawbacks, however, she attracted many admiring glances from
cab-drivers, omnibus-conductors, a precocious shoeblack, and the
policeman on duty, as she tripped into Holborn and mingled with the
living stream that flows unceasingly down that artery of London.

Dorothea seemed to know where she was going well enough, and yet the
coarse red cheek turned pale while she approached her goal, though it
was but a flashy, dirty-looking gin-shop, standing at a corner where
two streets met. Her colour rose though, higher than before, when a
pot-boy, with a shock of red hair, and his shirt-sleeves rolled up to
his shoulders, thus accosted her--

"You're just in time, miss; he'd 'a been off in a minit, but old
Batters, he come in just now, and your young man stopped to take his
share of another half-quartern."



CHAPTER IV


GENTLEMAN JIM


There is no reason, because a woman is coarse, hard-working, low-born,
and badly dressed, she should be without that inconvenient feminine
appendage--a heart. Dorothea trembled and turned pale when the door of
the Holborn gin-shop swung open and the man she most wished to see in
all the world stood at her side.

He would have been a good-looking fellow enough in any rank of life,
but to Dorothea, and others of her class, his clear, well-cut features
and jetty ringlets rendered him an absolute Adonis, despite the air of
half-drunken bravado and assumed recklessness which marred a naturally
resolute expression of countenance. He wore a fur cap, a velveteen
jacket, and a bright-red neckcloth, secured by an enormous ring; nor
was this remarkable costume out of character with the perfume he
exhaled, denoting he had consumed at least his share of that other
half-quartern which postponed his departure.

Dorothea slipped her arm in his, and clung to him with the fond
tenacity of a woman who loves heart and soul, poor thing, to her cost.

His manner was an admirable combination of low-class gallantry with
pitying condescension.

"Why, Doll," said he, "what's up now? You don't look hearty, my lass.
Step in and take a dram; it'll do you good."

She glanced admiringly in the comely dissipated face.

"Ah! they may well call you Gentleman Jim," she answered; "you're fit
to be a lord of the land, you are; and so you would, if I was queen.
But I doesn't want you to treat me, Jim, leastways not this turn; I
wants you to come for a walk, dear. I've a bit of news for you. It's
business, Jim," she added, somewhat ruefully, "or I wouldn't go for to
ask."

His face, which had fallen a little, assuming that wearied expression
a woman ought most to dread on the face she cares for, brightened
considerably.

"Come on, lass!" he exclaimed, "business first, and pleasure arter.
Speak up, and let's hear all about it."

They had turned from the main thoroughfare into a dark and quiet
by-street. She crossed her work-worn hands on his arm, and proceeded
nervously--

"You say I never put you on a job, Jim. Well, I've a job to put you on
now. I don't half like it, dear. It's for your sake I don't half like
it. Promise me as you'll be careful, very careful, this turn."

"Bother!" answered Jim. "Stow that, lass, and let's have it out."

Thus elegantly adjured, Doll, as he called her, obeyed without delay,
though her voice faltered and her colour faded more than once while
she went on.

"You told me as you wouldn't love me without I kep' my ears open, and
my eyes too. Well, Jim, I've watched and watched old master and young,
like a cat watches a mouse-hole, till I've been that sick and tired I
could have set down and cried. Now, to-day I wanted to see you so bad,
at any rate, and, thinks I, here's a bit of news as my Jim will like
to learn. Look now: young master, he's a-goin' to a place they call
Bragford by the five-o'clock train. O, I mind the name well enough.
You know, Jim, you always bid me take notice of names. Well, it's
Bragford. Bragford, says he, quite plain, an' as loud as I'm
a-speakin' now."

"Forty-five miles from London," answered Jim, "and not ten minutes'
walk from the branch line. Well?"

"He's a-takin' summut down for a young lady," continued Doll. "It is
but a small package, what you might put in your coat-pocket, or your
hat. O, Jim! Jim! if you should chance on a stroke of luck this turn,
won't you give the trade up for good and all? If you and me had but a
roof to cover us, I wouldn't ask better than only liberty to work for
you till I dropped."

Tears stood in her eyes, and for a moment the face that looked up
into the ruffian's was almost beautiful in its expression of entire
devotion and trust.

He had taken a doubtful cigar from his coat-pocket, and was smoking
thoughtfully.

"Small," said he, "then it ought, by rights, to be valuable. Did ye
get a feel of it, Doll, or was it only a smell?"

"He took it hisself out of the jeweller's hands," answered Doll;
"but I hadn't no call to be curious, for he told me what it was free
enough. There ain't no smell about diamonds, Jim."

"Nor you can't swear to them neither," replied Jim exultingly.
"Diamonds, Doll! you're _sure_ he said diamonds? Come, you _have_
done it, my lass. Give us a kiss, Doll, and let's turn in here at the
Sunflower, and drink good luck to the job."

The woman acceded to both proposals readily enough, but followed her
companion into the ill-favoured little tavern with a weary step and a
heavy heart. Some unerring instinct told her, no doubt, that she was
giving all and taking nothing, offering gold for silver, truth for
falsehood, love and devotion for a mere liking, rapidly waning to
indifference and contempt.

Tom Ryfe, all anxiety to find himself once more in the same county
with Miss Bruce, was in good time, we may be sure, for the train that
should carry him down to Ecclesfield. Bustling through the station to
take his ticket, he was closely followed by a well-dressed person in
a pair of blue spectacles, travelling apparently without luggage or
impediments of any description. This individual seemed also bound
for Bragford, and showed some little eagerness to travel in the
same carriage with Tom, who attributed the compliment to his
lately-constructed coat and general appearance as a swell of the first
water. "He don't often get such a chance," thought Mr. Ryfe, accepting
with extreme graciousness the other's civilities as to open windows
and change of seats. He even went so far as to take a proffered cigar
from the case of his fellow-traveller, which he would have smoked
forth-with, but for the peremptory objections of a crusty old
gentleman, who arrived at the last moment, encumbered with such a
paraphernalia of railway-rugs, travelling-bags, books, newspapers and
magazines as denoted the through-passenger, not to be got rid of at
any intermediate station. The old gentleman glared defiance, but made
himself comfortable nevertheless; and the presence of this common
enemy was a bond of union to render the two chance acquaintances more
than ordinarily cordial and communicative.

Smoking being prohibited, they had not proceeded many miles into the
country ere the gentleman in spectacles produced a box of lozenges
from his pocket, and, selecting one for his own consumption, offered
another, with much suavity, to Tom Ryfe, surveying meanwhile, with
inquisitive glances, the bulge in that gentleman's breast-pocket,
where he carried his valuable package; but here again both were
startled, not to say irritated, by the dictatorial interference of the
last arrival.

"Excuse me, gentlemen," said this irrepressible old man, "I cannot
permit it. Damn me, sir!" turning full round upon Tom Ryfe, "I _won't_
permit it! I can detect the smell of chloroform in those lozenges.
Smell, sir, I've the smell of a bloodhound. I could hunt a scamp all
over England by nose--by nose, I tell you, sir, and worry him to death
when I ran into him; and I _would_ too. Now, sir, if _you_ choose to
be chloroformed, I don't. I'm not anxious to be taken out of this
compartment as stupid as an owl, and as cold as a cabbage, with a
pain in my eyes, a singing in my ears, and a scoundrel's hands in my
waistcoat-pockets. Excuse me, sir, I'm warm--I wouldn't give much for
a chap that wasn't--and I speak my mind!"

It seemed a bad speculation to quarrel with him, this big, burly,
resolute, and disagreeable old man. Tom Ryfe, for once, was at a
nonplus. He murmured a few vague sentences of dissent, while the
passenger in spectacles, consigning his lozenges to an inner pocket,
buried himself in the broad sheet of the _Times_. But it was his turn
now, and not even thus could he escape. Staring grimly at him, over
the top of the paper, his tormentor fired a point-blank question, from
which there was no refuge.

"Pray, sir," said he, "are you a chemist?"

The gentleman in spectacles signified, by a shake of the head, that
was not his profession.

"Then, sir," continued the other, "do you know anything about
chemistry--volatile essences, noxious drugs, subtle poisons? I do."
(Here Tom Ryfe observed his ally turn pale.) "Permit me to remark,
sir, that if _you_ don't, you are like a school-boy carrying a
pocketful of squibs and crackers on the fifth of November, unconscious
that a single spark may blow him into the Christmas holidays before he
can say 'knife!' Let me see those lozenges, sir--let me have them in
my hand; I'll tell you in five seconds what they're made of, and how,
and where, and why."

Here the man in spectacles, with considerable presence of mind, threw
the whole of his lozenges out of window, under cover of the _Times_.

"You frighten me, sir," said he; "I wouldn't keep such dangerous
articles about me on any consideration."

The old gentleman executed an elaborate wink, denoting extreme
satisfaction, at Tom Ryfe. "If you were going through," said he, "I
could tell you some funny stories. Queer tricks upon travellers
I've seen in my time. Why I was the first person to find out the
sinking-floor dodge in West Street. My evidence transported three
people for life, and a fourth for fifteen years. I once saw a man
pulled down by the heels through a grating in one of the busiest
streets in the City, and if I _hadn't_ seen him he would never have
come up alive. Why the police apply to me for advice many a time when
people are missing. 'Don't distress yourselves,' says I, 'they'll turn
up, never fear.' And they _do_ turn up, sir, in nineteen cases out of
twenty. In the twentieth, when there's foul play, we generally know
something about it within eight-and-forty hours. Bragford? Is it? You
get out here, do you? Good-morning, gentlemen; I hope you've enjoyed
your jaunt."

Then as Tom, collecting great-coats, newspapers, etc., followed his
new acquaintance out of the carriage, this strange old gentleman
detained him for an instant by the arm.

"Friend of yours, sir?" said he, pointing to the man in spectacles on
the platform. "Never saw him before? I thought so. Sharper, sir, I'll
take my oath of it, or something worse. I know the sort; I've exposed
hundreds of them. Take my advice, sir, and never see him again."

With that the train glided on, leaving Mr. Ryfe and the gentleman
in spectacles staring at each other over a basket of fish and a
portmanteau.

"Mad!" observed the latter, with an uneasy attempt at a laugh, and a
readjustment of his glasses.

"Mad, no doubt," answered Tom, but followed the lunatic's counsel,
nevertheless, so far as to refrain from offering the other a lift
in the well-appointed brougham, with its burly coachman, waiting to
convey him to Ecclesfield Manor, though his late fellow-traveller was
proceeding in that direction on foot.

Tom had determined to sleep at the Railway Hotel, Bragford, ere he
returned to London next day. This arrangement he considered more
respectful than an intrusion on the hospitality of Ecclesfield, should
it be offered him. Perhaps so scrupulous a regard for the proprieties
mollified Miss Bruce in his favour, and called forth an invitation
to tea in the drawing-room when he had concluded the solitary dinner
prepared for him after his journey.

Tom Ryfe was always a careful dresser. Up to forty most men are. It
is only when we have nobody to please that we become negligent of
pleasing. I believe, though, that never in his life did he tie his
neckcloth or brush his whiskers with more care than on the present
occasion in a large and dreary chamber known to the household as one
of the "best bedrooms" of Ecclesfield Manor.

Tom looked about him, with a proud consciousness that at last his foot
was on the ladder he had wanted all his life to climb. Here he stood,
actually dressing for dinner, a welcome guest in the house of an
old-established county family, on terms of confidence, if not
intimacy, with its proud and beautiful female representative, in whose
cause he was about to do battle with all the force of his intellect,
and (Tom began to think she could make him fool enough for anything)
all the resources of his purse. The old family pictures--sad daubs, or
they would never have been consigned to the bedrooms--simpered down on
him with encouraging benignity. Prim women, wearing enormously long
waists, and their heads a good deal on one side, pointed their fans
at him, while he washed his hands, with a coquetry irresistible, had
their colours only stood, combining entreaty and command; while
a jolly old boy in flowing wig, steel breast-plate, and the most
convivial of noses, smiled in his face, as who should say, "_Audaces
Fortuna juvat_!--Go in, my hearty, and win if you can!"

What was there in these surroundings, in the orderly decorum of the
well-regulated mansion, in the chiming of the stable clock, nay, in
the reflection of his own person shown by that full-length glass, to
take the starch, as it were, out of Tom's self-confidence, turning his
moral courage limp and helpless for the nonce, bringing insensibly to
his mind the familiar refrain of "Not for Joseph"? What was there that
bade him man himself against this discouragement, as true bravery mans
itself against the sensation of fear? and why should he be less worthy
of approbation than other spirits who venture on "enterprises of great
pith and moment" with beating hearts indeed, but with unflinching
courage and a dogged determination to succeed?

Had Tom been a young knight arming for a tournament, in which the good
fortune of his lance was to win him a king's daughter for his bride,
he might have claimed to be an admirable and interesting hero. Was
he, indeed, a less respectable adventurer, that for steel he had to
substitute French polish, for surcoat and corselet, broadcloth and
cambric--that the battle he was to wage must be fought out by tenacity
of purpose and ingenuity of brain, rather than strength of arm and
downright hardness of skull?

He shook a little too much scent on his handkerchief as he finished
dressing, and walked down-stairs in a state of greater agitation than
he would have liked to admit.

Dinner was soon done. Eaten in solitude with grave servants watching
every mouthful, he was glad to get it over. In a glass of brown sherry
he drank Miss Brace's health, and thus primed, followed the butler to
the drawing-room, where that lady sat working by the light of a single
lamp.

The obscurity was in his favour. Tom made his bow and accepted the
chair offered him, less awkwardly than was to be expected from the
situation.

Maud looked very beautiful with the light falling on her sculptured
chin, her fair neck, and white hands, set off by the deep shadows of
the mourning dress she wore.

I believe he was going to begin by saying "it had been a fine day,"
but she stopped him in her clear, cold voice, with its patrician
accent, so difficult to define, yet so impossible to mistake.

"I have to thank you, Mr. Ryfe, for taking such care of my jewels. I
hope the man left them at your office as he promised, and that you had
no farther trouble about them."

He wanted to say that "no errand of hers could be a trouble to him,"
but the words stuck in his throat, or she would hardly have proceeded
so graciously.

"We must go into a few matters of business this evening, if you have
got the papers you mentioned. I leave here to-morrow, and there is
little time to spare."

He produced a neatly-folded packet, docketed and carefully tied with
tape. The sight of it roused his energies, as the shaking of a guidon
rouses an old trooper. Despite of the enchantress and all her glamour,
Tom was himself again.

"Business is my trade, Miss Bruce," said he briskly. "I must ask
your earnest attention for a quarter of an hour, while I explain our
position as regards the estate. At present it appears beset with
difficulties. That's my look-out. Before we begin," added Tom, with a
diffident faltering of voice, partly natural, partly assumed, "forgive
my asking your future address. It is indispensable that we should
frequently communicate, and--and--I cannot help hoping and expressing
my hope for your happiness in the home you have chosen."

Maud's smile was very taking. She smiled with her eyes, those dark,
pleasing eyes that would have made a fool of a wiser man than Tom.

"I am going to Aunt Agatha's," she said. "I am to live with her for
good. I have no home of my own now."

The words were simple enough--spoken, too, without sadness or
bitterness as a mere abstract matter of fact, but they aroused all the
pen-and-ink chivalry in Tom's nature, and he vowed in his heart to lay
goose-quill in rest on her behalf, with the devotion of a Montmorency
or a Bayard.

"Miss Bruce," said he resolutely, "the battle is not yet lost. In our
last, of the 15th, we advised you that the other side had already
taken steps to oppose our claims. My uncle has great experience, and I
will not conceal from you that my uncle is less sanguine than myself;
but I begin to see my way, and if there is a possibility of winning,
by hook or by crook, depend upon it, Miss Bruce, win we _will_, for
our own sakes, and--and--for _yours_!"

The last two words were spoken in a whisper, being indeed a
spontaneous ebullition, but she heard them nevertheless. In her deep
sorrow, in her friendless, homeless position there was something
soothing and consolatory in the sympathy of this young man, lawyer's
clerk though he were, as she insisted with unnecessary repetition
to herself. He showed at his best, too, while explaining the legal
complications involved in the whole business, and the steps by which
he hoped eventually to succeed. Maud was too thoroughly a woman not to
admire power, and Tom's intellect possessed obviously no small share
of that quality, when directed on such matters as the present. In
half-an-hour he had furnished her with a lucid statement of the whole
case, and in half-an-hour he had inspired her with respect for
his opinion, admiration of his sagacity, and confidence in his
strength--not a bad thirty minutes' work. At its conclusion, she shook
hands with him cordially when she wished him good-night. Tom was
no fool, and knew when to venture as when to hold back. He bowed
reverentially over the white hand, muttering only--"God bless you,
Miss Bruce! If you think of anything else, at a moment's notice I will
come from the end of the world to serve you,"--and so hurried away
before she could reply.



CHAPTER V


THE CRACKSMAN'S CHECKMATE


Puckers, or Miss Puckers, as she liked to be called below-stairs,
was a little puzzled by her young mistress's abstraction, while she
brushed out Maud's wealth of raven hair for the night. Stealing
glances at herself in the glass opposite, she could not help observing
the expression on Miss Bruce's face. The light was in it once more
that had been so quenched by her father's death. Puckers, who, in the
housekeeper's room, had discussed the affairs of the family almost
hourly ever since that sorrowful event, considered that it must have
left his daughter in the possession of untold wealth, and that "the
young man from town," as she designated Tom Ryfe, was sent down
expressly to afford the heiress an estimate of her possessions. A true
lady's-maid, she determined to hazard the inquiry.

"I suppose, miss," said she, brushing viciously, "we sha'n't be going
to your aunt's now quite so soon. I'm sure I've been that hurried and
put about, I don't scarce know which way to turn."

"Why?" asked Maud quietly. "Not so hard, please."

"Well, miss, a lady is not like a servant, you know; she can do as she
chooses, of course. But if I was _you_, miss, I'd remain on the spot.
There's the new furniture to get; there's the linen to see to; there's
the bailiff given warning; and that there young man from town, I
suppose _he_ wouldn't come if we could do without him, charging
goodness knows what, as if his very words was gold. But I give you
joy, miss, of your fortune, I do. I was a-sayin', only last night, was
it? to Mrs. Plummer, says I, 'Whatever _my_ young lady will do,' says
I, 'in a house where she isn't mistress, she that's been used to rule
in her poor ma's time, and her pa's, ah! ever since she cut her teeth
almost;' and Mrs. Plummer says, says she----"

"That'll do, Puckers," observed Miss Bruce, "I shall not want you any
more. Good-night."

She took as little notice of her handmaid's volubility as if the
latter had been a grey parrot, and dismissed her with a certain cold,
imperial manner that none of the household ever dreamt it possible
to dispute or disobey; but after Puckers, with a quantity of white
draperies over her arm, had departed to return no more, she sat down
at the dressing-table, and began to think with all her might.

Her maid was a fool, no doubt: all maids were; but the shaft of folly,
shot at random, went home to the quick. "A house where she wasn't
mistress!" Had she ever considered the future shelter offered her by
Aunt Agatha in that light? Here at the Manor, for as long as she could
remember, had she not reigned supreme? All the little arrangements of
dinner-parties, picnics, archery-meetings, and such gatherings as
make up country society, had fallen into her hands. Mamma didn't
care--mamma never cared how anything was settled so long as papa was
pleased; and papa thought Maud could not possibly do wrong. So by
degrees--and this at an age when young ladies are ordinarily in the
schoolroom--Miss Bruce had grown, on all social questions, to be the
virtual head of the family. It was a position of which, till the time
came to abdicate, she had not sufficiently appreciated the value. It
seemed so natural to order carriages and horses at her own hours, to
return visits, to receive guests, to do the honours of a comfortable
country-house with an adequate establishment, and now, could she bear
to live with Aunt Agatha, on sufferance?--Aunt Agatha, whom she had
never liked, and whom she only refrained from snubbing and setting
down, because they so seldom met, but when the elder lady had been
invited by the younger as a guest! "To be dependent," thought Maud,
mentally addressing the beautiful face in the glass, "How should you
like that? _you_ with your haughty head, and your scornful eyes, and
your hard, unbending heart? I know you! Nobody knows you but me! And I
know how _bad_ you are--how capricious, and how cruel! When you want
anything, do you ever spare anybody to get it? Did you ever love any
one on earth as well as your own way? Even mamma? O, mamma, dear, dear
mamma, if you had lived I might have got better--I _was_ better, I
know I was better while I was with _you_. But now--now I must be
myself. I can't help it. After all, it is not my fault. What is it
I most covet and desire in the world? It is power. Rank, wealth,
luxury--these are all very well as accessories of life; but how should
I loathe and hate them if they were conditional on my thinking as
other people thought, or doing what I was told! I ought to have been
a man. Women are such weak, vapid, idiotic characters, in general--at
least, all I meet down here. Engrossed with their children, their
parishes, their miserable household cares and perplexities. While in
London, I believe there are women who actually lead a party and turn
out a minister. But they are beautiful, of course. Well--and me? I
don't think I am so much amiss. With my looks and the position I ought
to have, surely I might hold my own with the best of them. But what
good will my looks do me if I am to be a dependent on Aunt Agatha? No.
Without the estate I am nothing. With it I might be _anything_. This
lawyer thinks he can win it for me. I wonder if he knows. How clever
he seems! and how thoughtful! Nothing escapes him, and nothing seems
to take him by surprise. And yet what a fool I could make of him if I
chose. I saw it before he had been five minutes in the room. I wonder
now what he thinks of _me_!--whether he has the presumption to suppose
I could ever allow him to betray what he cared for me. I believe I
should rather admire his impudence! It is pleasant to be cared for,
even by an inferior; and, after all, this Mr. Ryfe is not without his
good points. He has plenty of talent and energy, and I should think
audacity. By his own account he sticks at nothing, when he means
winning, and he certainly means to win for me if he can. I never saw
anybody so eager, so much in earnest. Perhaps he thinks that if he
could come to me and say, 'There, Miss Bruce, I have saved your
birthright for you, and I ask nothing but one kind word in return,' I
might be disposed to give it, and something more. Well, I don't know.
Perhaps it would be as good a way as any other of getting into favour.
One thing is certain. The inheritance I must preserve at every
sacrifice. Dear me, how late it is! I ought to have been in bed hours
ago. Puckers, is that you?"

Puckers did not answer, and a faint rustle in the adjoining room,
which had called forth Miss Bruce's question, ceased the instant she
spoke aloud.

This young lady was not nervous; far from it; yet her watch seemed
to tick with extraordinary vigour, and her heart to beat harder than
common while she listened.

The door of communication between the two rooms was closed. Another
door in the smaller apartment opened to the passage, but this, she
remembered, was habitually locked on the inside. It couldn't be
Puckers, therefore, who thus disturbed her mistress's reflections,
unless that handmaiden had come down the chimney, or in at the window.

In this smaller room Miss Bruce kept her riding-habits, her
ball-dresses, her draperies of different fabric, her transparencies of
all kinds, and her jewels.

The house was very silent--so silent, that in the distant corridors
were distinctly audible those faint and ghostly footfalls, which
traverse all large houses after midnight. There were candles burning
on Maud's toilet-table, but they served rather to show how dismal were
the shadowy corners of the large, lofty bedroom, than to afford light
and confidence to its inmate.

She listened intently. Yes; she was sure she heard somebody in the
next room--a step that moved stealthily about; a noise as of woodwork
skilfully and cautiously forced open.

One moment she felt frightened. Then her courage came back the higher
for its interruption. She could have escaped from her own room into
the passage, easily enough, and so alarmed the house; but when she
reflected that its fighting garrison consisted only of an infirm old
butler--for the footman was absent on leave--there seemed little to
be gained by such a proceeding, if violence or robbery were really
intended. Besides, she rather scorned the idea of summoning assistance
till she had ascertained the amount of danger.

So she blew her candle out, crept to the door of the little room, and
laid her hand noiselessly on its lock.

Softly as she turned it, gently as she pushed the door back on its
hinges inch by inch, she did not succeed in entering unobserved. The
light of a shaded lantern flashed over her the instant she crossed the
threshold, dazzling her eyes indeed, yet not so completely but
that she made out the figure of a man standing over her shattered
jewel-box, of which he seemed to have been rifling the contents. Quick
as thought, she said to herself, "Come, there is only one! If I can
frighten _him_ more than he frightens _me_, the game is mine."

The man swore certain ghastly oaths in a whisper, and Maud was aware
of the muzzle of a pistol covering her above the dark lantern.

She wondered why she wasn't frightened, not the least frightened--only
rather angry and intensely determined to save the jewels, and have it
out.

She could distinguish a dark figure behind the spot of intense light
radiating round her own person, and perceived, besides, almost without
looking, that an entrance had been made by the window, which stood
wide open to disclose the topmost rounds of a garden-ladder, borrowed
doubtless from the tool-house, propped against its sill.

What the housebreaker saw was a vision of dazzling beauty in a flood
of light. A pale, queenly woman, with haughty, delicate face, and
loops of jet-black hair, falling over robes of white, erect and
dauntless, fronting his levelled weapon without the slightest sign of
fear.

He had never set eyes on such a sight as this; no, neither in circus
nor music-hall, nor gallery of metropolitan theatre at Christmas. For
a moment he lost his head--for a moment he hesitated.

In that moment Miss Bruce showed herself equal to the occasion.


Quick as thought, she made one step to the window, pushed the ladder
outwards with all her force, and shut down the sash. As it closed, the
ladder, poising for an instant, fell with a crash on the gravel below.

"Now," she said quietly, "you are trapped and taken. Better make no
resistance, for the gamekeepers watching below are a rough sort of
people, and I do not wish to see you ill-treated."

The man was aghast! What could it all mean? Was he awake or dreaming?
She must be well backed, he said to himself, to assume such a position
as this; and she looked so beautiful--so beautiful!

The latter consideration was not without its effect on him, even in
the exercise of his profession. "Gentleman Jim," as his mates affirmed
in their nervous English, became a fool of the deepest crimson dye
whenever a woman was concerned, and this woman was in his eyes as an
angel of light.

Nevertheless, instinctively rather than of intention, he muttered
hoarsely--

"Drop it, miss, I warn you. One word out loud and I'll shoot, as sure
as you stand there."

"Shoot away!" she answered with perfect composure; "you will save me
the trouble of giving an alarm. They expect it, and are waiting for it
every moment below-stairs. Light those candles, and let us see what
damage you have done before you return the plunder."

A pair of wax-candles stood on the chimney-piece, and he obeyed
mechanically, wondering at himself the while. His cunning, however,
had not entirely deserted him, and he left his pistol lying on the
table, ready to snatch it away if she tried to take possession. It was
thus he gauged her confidence, and seeing she scarcely noticed the
weapon, argued that powerful assistance must be near at hand to
render this beautiful young lady so arbitrary and so unconcerned.
His admiration burst out in spite of his discomfiture and critical
position.

"Well, you _are_ a cool one!" he exclaimed, in accents of mingled
vexation and approval. "A cool one and a stunner, I'm blessed if you
ain't! No offence, but I never see your likes yet, not since I was
born. Come, miss, let's cry quits. You pass me out o' this on the
quiet. I dessay as I can make shift to get down without the ladder;
an' I'll leave all these here gimcracks just as I found 'em. Now I've
seen ye once, I'm blessed if I'd take so much as an ear-drop,
unless it was in the way of a keepsake. Pass me out, miss, and I'll
promise--no, I'm blowed if I think as I _can_ promise--never to come
here no more."

Undisguised admiration--the admiration always acceptable to a woman
when accompanied with respect--shone in Gentleman Jim's dark eyes. He
seemed under a spell, and while he acknowledged its strength, had no
power, nay, had no wish, to resist its influence. When on such jobs as
these it was his habit to observe an unusual sobriety. He was glad now
to think of his adherence to that rule. Had he been drunk, he might,
peradventure, have insulted this divinity. What had come over him? He
felt almost pleased to know he was in her power, and yet she treated
him like the dirt beneath her feet.

"No insolence, sir," she said in a commanding voice. "Let me see,
first of all, that every one of my trinkets is in its place. There,
that bracelet would have brought you money, those diamonds would have
been valuable if you could have got them clear off. You must have
learned your trade very badly to suppose that with such things in the
house we keep no guard. Come, I am willing to believe that distress
brought you to this. Listen. You are in my power, and I will show you
mercy. If I give you five pounds now, on the spot, and let you go,
will you promise to try and get your bread as an honest man?"

The tears came in his eyes. This woman, then, that looked so like an
angel, was angel all through. Yet, touched as he felt in his better
nature, the proletary instinct bade him try once more if her effort to
get rid of him originated in pity or fear, and he muttered, "Guineas!
make it guineas, miss, and I'll say 'done.'"

"Not a shilling more, not a farthing," she answered, moving her hand
as if to put it on the bell-pull. "It cannot matter to me," she added,
in a tone of the most complete indifference, "but while I am about
it I think I would rather be the making of an honest man than the
destruction of a rogue."

Her acting was perfect. She seemed so cold, so impassive, so
completely mistress of the position, and all the time her heart was
beating as the gambler's beats, albeit in winning vein, ere he lifts
the box from off the imprisoned dice--as the lion-tamer's beats when
he spurns in its very den the monster that could crush him with a
movement, and that yet he holds in check by an imaginary force,
irresistible only so long as it is unresisted.

Such situations have a horrible fascination of their own. I have even
known them prolonged to gratify a morbid thirst for excitement; but
I think Miss Bruce was chiefly anxious to be released from her
precarious position, and to get rid of her visitor as soon as she
could. Even her resolute nerves were beginning to give way, and she
knew her own powers well enough to mistrust a protracted trial of
endurance. Feminine fortitude is so apt to break down all at once, and
Miss Bruce, though a courageous specimen of her sex, was but a woman
who had wrought herself up for a gallant effort, after all.

She was quite unprepared though for its results. Gentleman Jim
snatched up his pistol, stowed it away in his breast-pocket, as if
heartily ashamed of it, brought out from that receptacle a pearl
necklace and a pair of coral ear-rings, dashed them down on the table
with an imprecation, and looking ridiculously sheepish, thus delivered
himself--

"Five pounds, miss! Five devils! If ever I went for to ask five
shillings of you, or five fardens, may the hands rot off at my wrists
and the teeth drop out of my head. Strike me blind, now, this moment,
in this here room, if I'd take so much as a pin's head that you
valued, not if my life depended on it and there wasn't no other way of
getting a morsel of bread! Look ye here, miss. No offence; I'm but
a rough-and-ready chap, and you're a lady. I never come a-nigh one
afore. Now I know what they mean when they talk of a real lady, and I
see what it is puts such a spirit into them swells as lives with the
likes of you. But a rough chap needn't be a blind chap. I come in here
for to clean out your jewel-box. I tell ye fair, I don't think as I
meant to have ill-treated you, and now I know as I _couldn't_ have
done it, but I wanted them gimcracks just the same. If so be as you'd
like to see me shopped and lagged, you take and ring that there bell,
and look if I go for to move a foot from this blessed spot. There! If
so be as you bid me walk out free from that there winder, take and
count these here now at once, and see there's not one missing and not
one broke. Say the word, miss--which is it to be?"

The reaction was coming on fast. Maud dared not trust her voice, but
she pointed to the window with a gesture in which she preserved an
admirable imitation of confidence and command. Gentleman Jim threw
up the sash, but paused ere he ventured his plunge into the darkness
outside.

"Look ye 'ere, miss," he muttered in a hoarse whisper, with one leg
over the ledge, "if ever you wants a chap to do you a turn, don't ye
forget there's one inside this waistcoat as will take a leap in a
halter any day to please ye. You drop a line to 'Gentleman Jim,' at
the Sunflower, High Holborn. O! I can read, bless ye, and write and
cipher too. What I says I sticks to. No offence, miss. I wonder will I
ever see you again?"

He darted back for an instant, much to Maud's dismay, snatched a knot
of ribbon which had fallen from her dress on the carpet, and was gone.

She heard his leap on the gravel below, and his cautious footsteps
receding towards the park. Then she passed her hands over her face,
and looked about her as one who wakes from a dream.

"It was an escape, I suppose," she said, "and I ought to have been
horribly frightened; yet I never seemed to lose the upper hand with
him for a moment. How odd that even a man like that should be such a
fool. No wiser and no cooler than Mr. Ryfe. What is it, I wonder; what
is it, and how long will it last?"

[Illustration: He muttered in a hoarse whisper, with one leg over the
ledge.]



CHAPTER VI


A REVERSIONARY INTEREST


Although Dorothea could assume on occasions so bright an exterior as I
have in a previous chapter endeavoured to describe, her normal state
was undoubtedly that which is best conveyed by the epithet "grimy."
Old Mr. Bargrave, walking serenely into his office at eleven, and
meeting this handmaiden on the stairs, used to wonder how so much
dirt could accumulate on the human countenance, when irrigated, as
Dorothea's red eyelids too surely testified, by daily tears. Yes, she
had gone about her work of late with a heavy heart and a moody brow.
Hers was at best a dull dreary life, but in it there grew a noxious
weed which she was pleased to cherish for a flower. Well, it was
withering every day before her eyes, and all the tears she could shed
were not enough to keep it alive. Ah! when the ship is going down
under our very feet I don't think it much matters what may be our rank
and rating on board. The cook's mate in the galley is no less dismayed
than the admiral in command. Dorothea's light, so to speak, was only
a tallow-candle, yet to put it out was to leave the poor woman very
desolate in the dark. So Mr. Bargrave ventured one morning to ask if
she felt quite well; but the snappish manner in which his inquiries
were met, as though they masked a load of hidden sarcasm and insult,
caused the old gentleman to scuffle into his office with unusual
activity, much disturbed and humiliated, while resolved never so to
commit himself again.

Into that office we must take the liberty of following him, tenanted
as it is only by himself and Tom Ryfe.

The latter, extremely well dressed, wears a posy of spring flowers at
his buttonhole, and betrays in his whole bearing that he is under some
extraneous influence of an unbusinesslike nature. Bargrave subsides
into his leather chair with a grunt, shuffles his papers, dips a pen
in the inkstand, and looks over his spectacles at his nephew.

"Waste of time, waste of capital, Tom," says he, with some irritation.
"Mind, I washed _my_ hands of it from the first. You've been at work
now for some months; that's _your_ look-out and it's been kept apart
and separate from the general business--that's _mine_."

"I've got Tangle's opinion here," answered Tom; "I won't ask you to
look at it, uncle. He's dead against us. Just what you said six months
back. There's no getting over that trust-deed, nor through it,
nor round it, nor any way to the other side of it. I've done _my_
d----dest, and we're not a bit better off than when we began."

He spoke in a cheerful, almost an exulting tone, quite unlike a man
worsted in a hard and protracted struggle.

"I'm sorry for the young lady," observed Bargrave; "but I never
expected anything else. It's a fine estate, and it must go to the male
heir. She has but a small settlement, Tom, very inadequate to her
position, as I told poor Mr. Bruce many a time. He used to say
everything would be set right by his will, and now one of these girls
is left penniless, and the other with a pittance, a mere pittance,
brought up, as I make no doubt she was, to believe herself an
heiress."

"One of them!" exclaimed Tom. "What do you mean?"

"Why, that poor thing who was born a few weeks too soon," answered
Bargrave. "She's totally unprovided for. With regard to Miss Bruce,
there is a settlement. Two hundred a year, Tom, for life; nothing
more. I told you so when you undertook the job. And now who's to pay
your costs?"

"Not you, uncle," answered Tom flippantly, "so don't distress yourself
on that score."

"I don't, indeed," observed Bargrave, with emphasis.

"You've had your own time to work this, on the understanding, as you
know, that it was to be worked at your own risk. I haven't interfered;
it was no affair of mine. But your costs will be heavy, Tom, I can't
help seeing that. Tangle's opinion don't come so cheap, you see,
though it's word for word the same as mine. I would have let _you_
have it for nothing, and anybody else for six and eightpence."

"The costs _will_ be heavy," answered Tom, still radiant. "I should
say a thou. wouldn't cover the amount. Of course, if we can't get them
from the estate, they must come out of my pocket."

Bargrave's eyebrows were raised. How the new school went ahead, he
thought. Here was this nephew of his talking of a thousand pounds with
an indifference verging on contempt. Well, that was Tom's look-out;
nevertheless, on such a road it would be wise to establish a
halting-place, and his tone betrayed more interest than common while
he asked--

"You won't take it into Chancery, Tom, will you?"

The younger man laid his forefinger to the side of his nose, winked
thrice with considerable energy, lifted his hat from its peg, adjusted
his collars in the glass, nodded to his uncle, muttering briefly,
"Back in two hours," and vanished.

Old Bargrave looked after him with a grim, approving smile. "Boy or
man," said he aloud, "that chap always knew what he was about. Tom can
be safely trusted to take care of Number One."

He was wrong, though, on the present occasion. If Mr. Ryfe did indeed
know what he was about, there could be no excuse for the enterprise on
which he had embarked. He was selfish. He would not have denied his
selfishness, and indeed rather prided himself on that quality; yet
behold him now waging a contest in which a man wastes money, time,
comfort, and self-respect, that he may wrest from real sorrow and
discomfiture the shadow of a happiness which he cannot grasp when he
has reached it. There is much wisdom in the opinion expressed by a
certain fox concerning grapes hanging out of distance; but it is a
wisdom seldom acquired till the limbs are too stiff to stretch for an
effort--till there is scarce a tooth left in the mumbling jaws to be
set on edge.

Tom Ryfe had allowed his existence to merge itself in another's.
For months, as devotedly as such natures can worship, he had been
worshipping his ideal in the person of Miss Bruce. I do not say that
he was capable of that highest form of adoration which seeks in the
first place the unlimited sovereignty of its idol, and which, as being
too good for them, women constantly undervalue; but I do say that he
esteemed his fair client the most beautiful, the most attractive, and
the most perfect of her sex, resolving that for him she was the only
woman in the world, and that in defiance of everything, even her own
inclinations, he would win her if he could.

In Holborn there is always a hansom to be got at short notice.
"Grosvenor Crescent," says Tom, shutting the half-doors with a bang,
and shouting his orders through the little hole in the top. So to
Grosvenor Crescent he is forwarded accordingly, at the utmost speed
attainable by a pair of high wheels, a well-bred "screw," and a
rough-looking driver with a flower in his mouth.

There are several peculiarities, all unreasonable, many ridiculous,
attending the demeanour of a man in love. Not the least eccentric
of these are his predatory instincts, his tendency to prowl, his
preference for walking over other modes of conveyance, and inclination
to subterfuge of every kind as to his ultimate destination. Tom Ryfe
was going to Belgrave Square; why should he direct his driver to set
him down a quarter of a mile off? why overpay the man by a shilling?
why wear down the soles of an exceedingly thin and elaborate pair of
boots on the hot, hard pavement without compunction? Why? Because he
was in love. This was also the reason, no doubt, that he turned red
and white when he approached the Square railings; that his nose seemed
to swell, his mouth got dry, his hat felt too tight, and the rest
of his attire too loose for the occasion; also that he affected an
unusual interest in the numbers of the doors, as though meditating a
ceremonious morning call, while all the time his heart was under
the laburnums in the centre of the Square gardens, at the feet of a
haughty, handsome girl, dressed in half-mourning, with the prettiest
black-laced parasol to be found on this side of the Rue Castiglione,
for love--of which, indeed, as the gift of Mr. Ryfe, it was a type--or
money, which, not having been yet paid for, it could hardly be said to
represent.

That heart of his gave a bound when he saw it in her hand as she
sailed up the broad gravel-walk to let him in. He was almost happy,
poor fellow, for almost a minute, not distressing himself to observe
that the colour never deepened a shade on her proud, pale cheek; that
the shapely hand, which fitted its pass-key to the lock, was firm as
a dentist's, and the clear, cold voice that greeted him far steadier
than his own. It is a choice of evils, after all, this favourite game
of cross-purposes for two. To care more than the adversary entails
worry and vexation; to care less makes a burden of it, and a bore.

"Thank you so much for coming, Miss Bruce--Maud," said Tom
passionately. "You never fail, and yet I always dread, somehow, that I
shall be disappointed."

"I keep my word, Mr. Ryfe," answered the young lady, with perfect
self-possession; "and I am quite as anxious as you can be, I assure
you. I want so to know how we are getting on."

He showed less discouragement than might have been expected. Perhaps
he was used to the _sang-froid_, perhaps he rather liked it, believing
it, in his ignorance, a distinctive mark of class, not knowing--how
should he?--that, once excited, these thoroughbred ones are, of all
racers, the least amenable to restraint.

"I have bad news," he said tenderly. "Miss Bruce, I hardly like to
tell you that I fear we cannot make our case enough to come into
court. I took the opinion of the first man we have. I am sorry to
say he gives it against us. I am not selfish," he added, with real
emotion, "and I am sorry indeed, for your sake, dearest Miss Bruce."

He meant to have called her "Maud"; but the beautiful lips tightened,
and the delicate eyebrows came down very straight and stern over the
deep eyes in which he had learned to read his fate. He would wait for
a better opportunity, he thought, of using the dear, familiar name.

She took small notice of his trouble.


"Has there been no mismanagement?" she asked, almost angrily; "no
papers lost? no foul play? Have you done your best?"

"I have, indeed," he answered meekly. "After all, is it not for my own
interest as much as yours? Are they not henceforth to be in common?"

She ignored the question altogether; she seemed to be thinking of
something else. While they paced up and down a walk screened from the
Square windows by trees and shrubs already clothed in the tender,
quivering foliage of spring, she kept silence for several seconds,
looking straight before her with a sterner expression than he could
yet remember to have seen on the face he adored. Presently she spoke
in a hard, determined voice--

"I _am_ disappointed. Yes, Mr. Ryfe, I don't mind owning I am bitterly
and grievously disappointed. There, I suppose it's not your fault, so
you needn't look black about it; and I dare say you did the best
you could afford at the price. Well, I don't want to hurt your
feelings--your _very_ best, then. And yet it seems very odd--you were
so confident at first. Of course if the thing's really gone, and
there's no chance left, it's folly to think about it. But what a
future to lose--what a future to lose! Mr. Ryfe, I can't stay with
Aunt Agatha--I can't and I won't! How she could ever find anybody to
marry her! Mr. Ryfe, speak to me. What had I better do?"

Tom would have given a round sum of money at that moment to recall one
of the many imaginary conversations held with Miss Bruce, in which
he had exhausted poetry, sentiment, and forensic ardour for the
successful pleading of his suit. Now he could find nothing better to
say than that "he had hoped she was comfortable with Mrs. Stanmore;
and anybody who didn't make Miss Bruce comfortable must be brutal
and wicked. But--but--if it was really so--and she could be
persuaded--why, Miss Bruce must long have known----" And here
the voice of Tom, the plausible, the prudent, the self-reliant,
degenerated to a husky whisper, because he felt that his very heart
was mounting to his throat.

Miss Bruce cut him exceedingly short.

"You remember our bargain," she said bitterly. "If you don't, I can
remind you of it. Listen, Mr. Ryfe; I am not going to cheat you out of
your dues. You were to win back my fortune from the next of kin--this
cousin who seems to have law on his side. You charged yourself with
the trouble--that counts for nothing, it is in the way of your
business--with the costs--the expenses--I don't know what you call
them--these were to be paid out of the estate. It was all plain
sailing, if we had conquered; and there was an alternative in the
event of failure. I accepted it. But I tell you, not till every
stratagem has been tried, every stone turned, every resource
exhausted, do I acknowledge the defeat, nor--I speak plain English,
Mr. Ryfe--do I pay the penalty."

He turned very pale. "You did not use this tone when we walked
together through the snow in the avenue at Ecclesfield. You promised
of your own accord, you know you did," said poor Tom, trembling all
over; "and I have got your promise in writing locked up in a tin box
at home."

She laughed a hard, shrill laugh, not without some real humour in it,
at his obvious distress.

"Keep it safe in your tin box," said she, "and don't be afraid, when
the time comes, that I shall throw you over. Ah! what an odd thing
money is; and how it seems able to do everything!" She was looking
miles away now, totally unconscious of her companion's presence.
"To me this five or six thousand a year represents hope, enjoyment,
position--all that makes life worth having. More, to lose it is to
lose my freedom, to lose all that makes life endurable!"

"And you _have_ lost it," observed Tom doggedly. He was very brave,
very high-minded, very chivalrous in any way; but he possessed the
truly British quality of tenacity, and did not mean to be shaken off
by any feminine vagaries where once he had taken hold.

"Et je payerais de ma personne," replied Miss Bruce scornfully. "I
don't suppose you know any French. You must go now, Mr. Ryfe; my
maid's coming back for me from the bonnet-shop. I can't be trusted,
you see, over fifty yards of pavement and a crossing by myself. The
maid is walking with me now behind these lilac-bushes, you know. Her
name is Ryfe. She is very cross and silent; she wears a well-made
coat, shiny boots, rather a good hat, and carries a nosegay as big
as a chimney-sweep's--you can give it me if you like--I dare say you
bought it on purpose."

How she could twist and turn him at will! three or four playful words
like these, precious all the more that her general manner was so
haughty and reserved, caused Tom to forget her pride, her whims, her
various caprices, her too palpable indifference to himself. He offered
the flowers with humble gratitude, ignoring resolutely the presumption
that she would probably throw them away before she reached her own
door.

"Good-bye, Miss Bruce," said he, bowing reverently over the slim hand
she vouchsafed him, and "Good-bye," echoed the young lady, adding,
with another of those hard little laughs that jarred so on Tom's
nerves, "Come with better news next time, and don't give in while
there's a chance left; depend upon it the money's better worth having
than the client. By the bye, I sent you a card for Lady Goldthred's
this afternoon--only a stupid breakfast--did you forget it?"

"Are you going?" returned Tom, with the clouds clearing from his brow.

"Perhaps we shall, if it's fine," was the reply. "And now I can't wait
any longer. Don't forget what I told you, and do the best you can."

So Tom Ryfe departed from his garden of Eden with sundry misgivings
not entirely new to him, that the fruit he took such pains to ripen
for his own gathering might but be gaudy wax-work after all, or
painted stone, perhaps, cold, smooth, and beautiful, against which he
should rasp his teeth in vain.

The well-tutored Puckers, dressed in faded splendour, and holding a
brown-paper parcel in her hand, was waiting for her young lady at the
corner of the Square.

While thus engaged she witnessed a bargain, of an unusual nature, made
apparently under extraordinary pressure of circumstances. A ragged
boy, established at the crossing, who had indeed rendered himself
conspicuous by his endeavours to ferry Puckers over dry-shod, was
accosted by a shabby-genteel and remarkably good-looking man in the
following vernacular--

"On this minnit, off at six, Buster; two bob an' a bender, and a three
of eye-water, in?"

"Done for another joey," replied Buster, with the premature acuteness
of youth foraging for itself in the streets of London.

"Done," repeated the man, pulling a handful of silver from his pocket,
and assuming the broom at once to enter on his professional labours,
ere Puckers had recovered from her astonishment, or Buster could
vanish round the corner in the direction of a neighbouring mews.

Though plying his instrument diligently, the man kept a sharp eye on
the Square gardens. When Tom Ryfe emerged through the heavy iron gate
he whispered a deep and horrible curse, but his dark eyes shone and
his whole face beamed into a ruffianly kind of beauty, when after a
discreet pause, Miss Bruce followed the young lawyer through the same
portal. Then the man went to work with his broom harder than ever. Not
Sir Walter Raleigh spreading his cloak at the feet of his sovereign
mistress lest they should take a speck of mud could have shown more
loyalty, more devotion, than did Gentleman Jim sweeping for bare life,
as Miss Bruce and her maid approached the crossing he had hired for
the occasion.

Maud recognised him at a glance. Not easily startled or surprised, she
bade Puckers walk on, while she took a half-crown from her purse and
put it in the sweeper's hand.

"At least it is an honest trade," said she, looking him fixedly in the
face.

The man turned pale while he received her bounty.

"It's not that, miss," he stammered. "It's not that--I only wanted to
get a look of ye. I only wanted just to hear the turn of your voice
again. No offence, miss, I'll go away now. O! can't ye give a chap a
job? It's my heart's blood as I'd shed for you, free--and never ask no
more nor a kind word in return!"

She looked him over from head to foot once more and passed on. In that
look there was neither surprise, nor indignation, nor scorn, only a
quaint and somewhat amused curiosity, yet this thief and associate of
thieves quivered, as if it had been a sun-stroke. When she passed out
of sight he bit the half-crown till it bent, and hid it away in his
breast. "I'll never part with ye," said he, "never;" unmindful of poor
Dorothea, going about her work tearful and forlorn. Gentleman Jim,
uneducated, besotted, half-brutalised as he was, had yet drunk from
the cup that poisons equally the basest and noblest of our kind. A
well-dressed, good-looking young man, walking on the other side of
the Square, did not fail to witness Tom Ryfe's farewell and Maud's
interview with the crossing-sweeper. He too looked strangely
disturbed, pacing up and down an adjoining street, more than once,
before he could make up his mind to ring a well-known bell. Verily
Miss Bruce seemed to be one of those ladies whose destiny it is to
puzzle, worry, and interest every man with whom they come in contact.



CHAPTER VII


DICK STANMORE


She had certainly succeeded in puzzling Dick Stanmore and already
began to interest him. The worry would surely follow in due time.
Dick was a fine subject for the scalpel--good-humoured, generous,
single-hearted, with faultless digestive powers, teeth, and colour to
correspond, a strong tendency to active exercise, and such a faculty
of enjoyment as, except in the highest order of intellects, seldom
lasts a man over thirty.

Like many of his kind, he _said_ he hated London, but lived there very
contentedly from April to July, nevertheless. He was fresh, just at
present, from a good scenting season in Leicestershire, followed by a
sojourn on the Tweed, in which classical river he had improved many
shining hours, wading waist-deep under a twenty-foot rod, any number
of yards of line, and a fly of various hues, as gaudy, and but little
smaller than a cock pheasant. Now he had been a week in town, during
which period he met Miss Bruce at least once every day. This constant
intercourse is to be explained in a few words.

Mrs. Stanmore, the Aunt Agatha with whom Maud expressed herself so
unwilling to reside, was a sister of the late Mr. Bruce. She had
married a widower with one son, that widower being old Mr. Stanmore,
defunct, that son being Dick. Mrs. Stanmore, in the enjoyment of
a large jointure (which rather impoverished her step-son), though
arbitrary and unpleasant, was a woman of generous instincts, so
offered Maud a home the moment she learned her niece's double
bereavement; which home, for many reasons, heiress or no heiress, Miss
Bruce felt constrained to accept. Thus it came about that she found
herself walking with Tom Ryfe _en cachette_ in the Square gardens;
and, leaving them, recognised the gentleman whom she was to meet at
luncheon in ten minutes, on whose intellect at least, if not his
heart, she felt pretty sure she had already made an impression.

"I won't show her up," said Dick to his neatest boots, while he
scraped them at his mother's door, "but I _should_ like to know who
that bumptious-looking chap is, and what the h----ll she could have to
say to him in the Square gardens all the same."

Mr. Stanmore's language at the luncheon-table, it is needless to
say, was far less emphatic than that which relieved his feelings in
soliloquy; nor was he to-day quite so talkative as usual. His mother
thought him silent (he always called her "mother," and, to do her
justice, she could not have loved her own son better, nor scolded
him oftener, had she possessed one); Miss Bruce voted him stupid and
sulky. She told him so.

"A merrythought, if you please, and no bread-sauce," said the young
lady, in her calm, imperious manner. "Don't forget I hate bread-sauce,
if you mean to come here often to luncheon; and do _say_ something.
Aunt Agatha can't, no more can I. Recollect we've got a heavy
afternoon before us."

Aunt Agatha always contradicted. "Not heavier than any other
breakfast, Maud," said she severely. "You didn't think that tea at the
Tower heavy last week, nor the ghosts in the mess-room of the Blues.
Lady Goldthred's an old friend of mine, and it was very kind of her to
ask us. Besides, Dick's coming down in the barouche."

Maud's face brightened, and be sure, Dick saw it brighten.

"That accounts for it," said she, with the rare smile in her eyes;
"and he thinks we sha'n't let him smoke, so he sulks beforehand, grim,
grave, and silent as a ghost. Mr. Stanmore, cheer up. You may smoke
the whole way down. _I'll_ give you leave."

"Nonsense, my dear," observed Aunt Agatha sternly. "He don't want
to do anything of the kind. What have you been about, Maud, all
the morning? I looked for you everywhere to help me with the
visiting-list."

"Puckers and I took a 'constitutional,'" answered Miss Bruce
unblushingly. "We wanted to do some shopping." But her dark eyes stole
towards Dick, and, although his never met them, she felt satisfied he
had witnessed her interview with Tom Ryfe in the Square gardens.

"I saw you both coming in, Miss Bruce," said Dick, breaking the
awkward pause which succeeded Maud's mis-statement. "I think Puckers
wears twice as smart a bonnet as yours. I hope you are not offended."

Again that smile from the dark eyes. Dick felt, and perhaps she meant
him to feel, that he had lost nothing in her good opinion by ignoring
even to herself that which she wished to keep unknown.

"I think you've very little taste in bonnets, whatever you may have in
faces," answered the young lady; "and I think I shall go and put one
on now that will make you eat your words humbly when I appear in it on
the lawn at Lady Goldthred's."

"I have no doubt there won't be a dry eye in the place," answered
Dick, looking after her, as she left the room, with undisguised
admiration in his honest face--with something warmer and sweeter than
admiration creeping and gathering about his heart.

So they all went down together in the barouche, Dick sitting with his
back to the horses, and gazing his fill on the young beauty opposite,
looking so cool and fair in her fresh summer draperies, so thoroughly
in keeping with the light and sparkle of everything around--the
brilliant sunshine, the spring foliage, the varying scenery, even to
the varnish and glitter of the well-appointed carriage, and the plated
harness on the horses.

Aunt Agatha conversed but sparingly. She was occupied with the phantom
pages of her banker's book; with the shortcomings of a new housemaid;
not a little with the vague sketch of a dress, to be worn at certain
approaching gaieties, which should embody the majesty of the chaperon
without entirely resigning all pretensions to youth. But for one
remark, "that the coachman was driving very badly," I think she
travelled in stately silence as far as Kew. Not so the other
occupants of the barouche. Maud, desirous of forgetting much that was
distasteful to her in the events of the morning, and indeed, in the
course of her daily life, resolved to accept the tangible advantages
of the present, nor scrupled to show that she enjoyed fresh air, fine
weather, and pleasant company. Dick, stimulated by her presence,
and never disinclined to gaiety of spirit, exerted himself to be
agreeable, pouring forth a continuous stream of that pleasant nonsense
which is the only style of conversation endurable in the process of
riding, driving, or other jerking means of locomotion.

It is only when his suit has prospered that a man feels utterly
idiotic and moonstruck in the presence of the woman he adores. Why,
when life is scarce endurable but at her side, he should become a bore
in her presence, is only another intricacy in the many puzzles that
constitute the labyrinth of love. So long as he flutters unsinged
about its flame, the moth is all the happier for the warmth of the
candle, all the livelier for the inspiration of its rays. Dick
Stanmore, turning into the Kensington Road, was the insect basking in
those bright, alluring beams; but Dick Stanmore on the farther side of
Kew felt more like the same insect when its wings have been already
shrivelled and its powers of flight destroyed in the temerity of its
adoration.

Still it was pleasant, very pleasant. She looked so beautiful, she
smiled so kindly, always with her eyes, sometimes with the perfect,
high-bred mouth; she entered so gaily into his gossip, his fancies,
his jokes, allowing him to hold her parasol and arrange her shawls
with such sweetness and good-humour, that Dick felt quite sorry to
reach the Portugal laurels and trim lawns of their destination, when
the drive was over from which he had derived this new and unforeseen
gratification. Something warned him that, in accordance with that rule
of compensation which governs all terrestrial matters, these delights
were too keen to last, and there must surely be annoyance and vexation
in store to complete the afternoon.

His first twinge originated in the marked admiration called forth by
Miss Bruce's appearance at the very outset. She had scarcely made
her salaam to Lady Goldthred, and passed on through billiard-room,
library, and verandah, to the two dwarfed larches and half-acre of
mown grass which constitute the wilderness of a suburban villa, ere
Dick felt conscious that his could be no monopoly of adoration. Free
trade was at once declared by glances, whispers and inquiries from a
succession of well-dressed young gentlemen, wise doubtless in their
own conceit, yet not wanting in that worldly temerity which impels
fools to rush in where angels fear to tread, and gives the former
class of beings, in their dealings with that sex which is compounded
of both, an immeasurable advantage over the latter.

Miss Bruce had not traversed the archery-ground twenty-five feet, from
target to target, on her way to the refreshment-tent, ere half-a-dozen
of the household troops, a bachelor baronet, and the richest young
commoner of his year were presented by her host, at their own earnest
request. Dick's high spirits went down like the froth in a glass of
soda-water, and he fell back discouraged, to exchange civilities with
Lady Goldthred.

That excellent woman, dressed, painted, and wound-up for the occasion,
was volubly delighted with everybody; and being by no means sure of
Dick's identity, dashed the more cordiality into her manner, while
careful not to commit herself by venturing on his name.

"_So_ good of you to come," she fired it at him as she had fired it at
fifty others, "all this distance from town, and such a hot day, to see
my poor little place. But isn't it pretty now? And are we not lucky in
the weather? And weren't you smothered in dust coming down? And you've
brought _the_ beauty with you too. I declare Sir Moses is positively
smitten. I'm getting quite jealous. Just look at him now. But he's not
the only one, that's a comfort."

Dick _did_ look, wondering vaguely why the sunshine should have faded
all at once. Sir Moses, a little bald personage, in a good-humoured
fuss, whom no amount of inexperience could have taken for anything but
the "man of the house," was paying the utmost attention to Miss Bruce,
bringing her tea, placing a camp-stool for her that she might see the
archery, and rendering her generally those hospitable services which
it had been his lot to waste on many less attractive objects during
that long sunny afternoon.

"Sir Moses is always so kind," answered Dick vaguely, "and nobody's
breakfasts are so pleasant as yours, Lady Goldthred."

"I'm _too_ glad you think so," answered his hostess, who, like
a good-hearted woman as she was, took enormous pains with these
festivities, congratulating herself, when she washed off her rouge,
and doffed her robes of ceremony at night, that she had got through
the great penance of her year. "You're always so good-natured. But I
_do_ think men like to come here. The country air, you know, and
the scenery, and plenty of pretty people. Now, there's Lord
Bearwarden--look, he's talking to Miss Bruce, under the cedar--he's
actually driven over from Windsor, and though he's a way of being
so fine and _blasé_ and all that, he don't look much bored at this
moment, does he? Twenty thousand a year, they say, and been everywhere
and done everything. Now, I fancy, he wants to marry, for he's much
older, you know, than he looks. To hear him talk, you'd think he was
a hundred, and broken-hearted into the bargain. For my part, I've no
patience with a melancholy man; but then I'm not a young lady. You
know him, though, of course?"

Dick's reply, if he made one, was drowned in a burst of brass music
that deafened people at intervals throughout the afternoon, and Lady
Goldthred's attention wandered to fresh arrivals, for whom, with fresh
smiles and untiring energy, she elaborated many more remarks of a
similar tendency.

Dick Stanmore _did_ know Lord Bearwarden, as every man about London
knows every other man leading the same profitable life. There were
many whom he would have preferred as rivals; but thinking he detected
signs of weariness on Maud's face (it had already come to this, that
he studied her countenance, and winced to see it smile on any one
else), he crossed the lawn, that he might fill the place by her side,
to which he considered himself as well entitled as another.

His progress took some little time, what, with bowing to one lady,
treading on the dress of another, and parrying the attack of a third
who wanted him to give her daughter a cup of tea; so that by the time
Dick reached her Lord Bearwarden had left Miss Bruce to the attentions
of another guest, more smart than gentlemanlike, in whose appearance
there was something indefinably out of keeping with the rest. Dick
started. It was the man with whom he had seen Maud walking before
luncheon in the Square.

People were pairing for a dance on the lawn, and Mr. Stanmore, wedged
in by blocks of beauty and mountains of muslin, could neither advance
nor retreat. It was no fault of his that he overheard Miss Bruce's
conversation with the stranger.

"_Will_ you dance with me?" said the latter, in a whisper of
suppressed anger, rather than the tone of loving entreaty with which
it is customary to urge this pleasant request.

"Impossible!" answered Maud energetically. "I'm engaged to Lord
Bearwarden--it's the Lancers, and he's only gone to make up the set."

The man ground his teeth and knit his brows.

"You seem to forget," he muttered--"you carry it off with too high a
hand. I have a right to bid you dance with me. I have a right, if I
chose, to order you down to the river there and row you back to Putney
with the tide; and I _will_, I swear, if you provoke me too far."

She seemed to keep her temper with an effort.

"_Do_ be patient," she whispered, glancing round at the bystanders.
"Surely you can trust me. Hush! here comes Lord Bearwarden."

And taking that nobleman's arm, she walked off with a mournful
pleading look at her late companion, which poor Dick Stanmore would
have given worlds to have seen directed to himself.

There was no more pleasure for him now during the rest of the
entertainment. He did indeed obtain a momentary distraction from his
resolution to ascertain the name of the person who had so spoilt his
afternoon. It helped him very little to be told the gentleman was "a
Mr. Ryfe." Nobody seemed to know any more, and even this information
he extracted with difficulty from Lady Goldthred, who added, in a tone
of astonishment--

"Why, you brought him, didn't you?"

Dick was mystified--worse, he was unhappy. For a few minutes he
wandered about behind the dancers, watching Maud and her partner as
they threaded the intricacies of those exceedingly puzzling evolutions
which constitute the Lancer quadrilles. Lord Bearwarden was obviously
delighted with Maud, and that young lady seemed by no means
unconscious or careless of her partner's approval. I do not myself
consider the measure they were engaged in threading as particularly
conducive to the interchange of sentiment. If my memory serves me
right, this complicated dance demands as close an attention as whist,
and affords almost as few opportunities of communicating with a
partner. Nevertheless, there is a language of the eyes, as of the
lips; and it was not Lord Bearwarden's fault if his looks were
misunderstood by their object. All this Dick saw, and seeing, grew
more and more disgusted with life in general, with Lady Goldthred's
breakfast in particular. When the dance ended, and Dick
Stanmore--hovering about his flame, like the poor moth to which I have
compared him, once singed and eager to be singed again--was hesitating
as to whether he, too, should not go boldly in and try his chance,
behold Mr. Ryfe, with an offensive air of appropriation, walks off
with Miss Bruce arm-in-arm, towards the sequestered path that leads
to the garden-gate, that leads to the shady lane, that leads to the
shining river!

It was all labour and sorrow now. People who called this sort of thing
amusement, thought Dick, would go to purgatory for pastime, and a
stage farther for diversion. When he broke poor Redwing's back three
fields from home in the Melton steeplechase he was grieved, annoyed,
distressed. When he lost that eleven-pounder in the shallows below
Melrose, because "Aundry," his Scottish henchman, was too drunk to
keep his legs in a running stream, he was angry, vexed, disgusted; but
never before, in his whole life of amusement and adventure, had he
experienced anything like the combination of uncomfortable feelings
that oppressed him now. He was ashamed of his own weakness, too, all
the time, which only made matters worse.

"Hang it!" thought Dick, "I don't see why I should punish myself by
staying here any longer. I'll tell my mother I must be back in London
to dinner, make my bow, jump into a boat, and scull down to Chelsea.
So I will. The scull will do me good, and if--if she _has_ gone on the
water with that snob, why I shall know the worst. What a strange, odd
girl she is! And O, how I wish she wasn't!"

But it takes time to find a lady, even of Mrs. Stanmore's presence,
amongst five hundred of her kind jostled up in half-an-acre of ground;
neither will the present code of good manners, liberal as it is,
bear a guest out in walking up to his hostess _à bout portant_, to
interrupt her in an interesting conversation, by bidding her a solemn
good-bye hours before anybody else has begun to move. Twenty minutes
at least must have elapsed ere Dick found himself in a dainty
outrigger with a long pair of sculls, fairly launched on the bosom of
the Thames--more than time for the corsair, if corsair he should be,
to have sailed far out of sight with false, consenting Maud in the
direction of London Bridge.

Dick was no mean waterman. The exercise of a favourite art, combining
skill with muscular effort, is conducive to peace of mind. A swim, a
row, a gallop over a country, a fencing-bout or a rattling set-to with
"the gloves" bring a man to his senses more effectually than whole
hours of quiescent reflection. Ere the perspiration stood on Dick
Stanmore's brow, he suspected he had been hasty and unjust; by the
time he caught his second wind, and had got fairly into swing, he was
in charity with all the world, reflecting, not without toleration and
self-excuse, that he had been an ass.

So he sculled on, like a jolly young waterman, making capital way with
the tide, and calculating that if the fugitive pair should have done
anything so improbable as to take the water in company, he must have
overhauled, or at least sighted them, ere now.

His spirits rose. He wondered why he should have been so desponding an
hour ago. He had made excuses for himself--he began to make them for
Maud, nay, he was fast returning to his allegiance, the allegiance of
a day, thrown off in five minutes, when he sustained another damper,
such as the total reversal of his outrigger and his own immersion,
head uppermost, in the Thames, could not have surpassed.

At a bend of the river near Putney he came suddenly on one of those
lovely little retreats which fringe its banks--a red-brick house, a
pretty flower-garden, a trim lawn, shaded by weeping-willows, kissing
the water's edge. On that lawn, under those weeping-willows, he
descried the graceful, pliant figure, the raven hair, the imperious
gestures that had made such havoc with his heart, and muttering the
dear name, never before coupled with a curse, he knew for the first
time, by the pain, how fondly he already loved this wild, heedless,
heartless girl, who had come to live in his mother's house. Swinging
steadily along in mid-stream, he must have been too far off, he
thought, for her to recognise his features; yet why should she have
taken refuge in the house with such haste, at an open window, through
which a pair of legs clad in trousers denoted the presence of some
male companion? For a moment he turned sick and faint, as he resigned
himself to the torturing truth. This Mr. Ryfe, then, had been as good
as his word, and she, his own proud, refined, beautiful idol, had
committed the enormity of accompanying that imperious admirer down
here. What could be the secret of such a man's influence over such a
girl? Whatever it was, she must be Dick's idol no longer. And he would
have loved her so dearly!--so dearly!

There were tears in the eyes of this jolly young waterman as he pulled
on. These things hurt, you see, while the heart is fresh and honest,
and has been hitherto untouched. Those should expect rubbers who play
at bowls; if people pull their own chestnuts out of the fire they
must compound for burnt fingers; and when you wager a living, loving,
trustful heart against an organ of wax, gutta-percha, or Aberdeen
granite, don't be surprised if you get the worst of the game all
through.

He had quite given her up by the time he arrived at Chelsea, and
had settled in his own mind that henceforward there must be no more
sentiment, no more sunshine, no more romance. He had dreamt his dream.
Well for him it was so soon over. _Semel insanivimus omnes_. Fellows
had all been fools once, but no woman should ever make a fool of him
again! No woman ever _could_. He should never see another like _her_!

Perhaps this was the reason he walked half-a-mile out of his homeward
way, through Belgrave Square, to haunt the street in which she lived,
looking wistfully into those gardens whence he had seen her emerge
that very day with her mysterious companion--gazing with plaintive
interest on the bell-handle and door-scraper of his mother's
house--vaguely pondering how he could ever bear to enter that house
again--and going through the whole series of those imaginary throes,
which are indeed real sufferings with people who have been foolish
enough to exchange the dignity and reality of existence for a dream.

What he expected I am at a loss to explain; but although, while pacing
up and down the street, he vowed every turn should be the last, he
had completed his nineteenth, and was on the eve of commencing his
twentieth, when Mrs. Stanmore's carriage rolled up to the door,
stopping with a jerk, to discharge itself of that lady and Maud,
looking cool, fresh, and unrumpled as when they started. The revulsion
of feeling was almost too much for Dick. By instinct, rather than with
intention, he came forward to help them out, so confused in his ideas
that he failed to remark how entirely his rapid retreat from the
breakfast had been overlooked. Mrs. Stanmore seemed never to have
missed him. Maud greeted him with a merry laugh, denoting more of
good-humour and satisfaction than should have been compatible with
keen interest in his movements or justifiable pique at his desertion.

"Why, here you are!" she exclaimed gaily. "Actually home before us,
like a dog that one takes out walking to try and lose. Poor thing! did
it run all the way under the carriage with its tongue out? and wasn't
it choked with dust, and isn't it tired and thirsty? and won't it come
in and have some tea?"

What could Dick say or do? He followed her up-stairs to the back
drawing-room, meek and submissive as the dog to which she had likened
him, waiting for her there with a dry mouth and a beating heart while
she went to "take off her things"; and when she reappeared smiling and
beautiful, able only to propound the following ridiculous question
with a gasp--

"Didn't you go on the water then, after all?"

"On the water!" she repeated. "Not I. Nothing half so pleasant,
I assure you. I wish we had! for anything so slow as the whole
performance on dry land, I never yet experienced. I danced five
dances, none of them nice ones--I hate dancing on turf--and I had a
warm-water ice and some jelly that tasted of bees'-wax. What became
of you? We couldn't find you anywhere to get the carriage. However, I
asked Aunt Agatha to come away directly somebody made a move, because
I was cross and tired and bored with the whole business. I think
she liked it much better than I did; but here she is to answer for
herself."

Dick had no dinner that day, yet what a pleasant cigar it was he
smoked as he coasted Belgrave Square once more in the sweet spring
evening under the gas-lamps! He had been very unhappy in the
afternoon, but that was all over now. Anxiety, suspicion, jealousy,
and the worst ingredient of the latter, a sense of humiliation, had
made wild work with his spirits, his temper, and indeed his appetite;
yet twenty minutes in a dusky back drawing-room, a cup of weak tea
and a slice of inferior bread-and-butter, were enough to restore
self-respect, peace of mind, and vigour of digestion. He could not
recall one word that bore an unusually favourable meaning, one look
that might not have been directed to a brother or an intimate friend,
and still he felt buoyed up with hope, restored to happiness. The
reaction had come on, and he was more in love with her than ever.



CHAPTER VIII


NINA


It might have spared Mr. Stanmore a deal of unnecessary discomfort had
the owner of those legs which he saw through the open window at Putney
thought fit to show the rest of his person to voyagers on the river.
Dick would then have recognised an old college friend, would have
landed to greet him with the old college heartiness, and in the
natural course of events would have satisfied himself that his
suspicions of Maud were unfounded and absurd.

Simon Perkins is not a romantic name, nor did the exterior of Simon
Perkins, as seen either within or without the Putney cottage,
correspond with that which fiction assigns to a hero of romance. His
frame was small and slight, his complexion pale, his hair weak and
thin, his manner diffident, awkward, almost ungainly, but that its
thorough courtesy and good-nature were so obvious and unaffected. In
general society people passed him over as a shy, harmless, unmeaning
little man; but those who really knew him affirmed that his courage
was not to be damped, nor his nerve shaken, by extremity of
danger--that he was always ready with succour for the needy, with
sympathy for the sorrowful. In short, as they tersely put it, that
"his heart was in the right place."

For half-a-dozen terms at Oxford he and Dick had been inseparable.
Their intimacy, none the less close for dissimilarity of tastes and
pursuits, since Perkins was a reading man, and Dick a "fast" one, had
been still more firmly soldered by a long vacation spent together in
Norway, and a "thrilling tableau," as Dick called it, to which their
expedition gave rise. Had Simon Perkins's heart been no stouter than
his slender person, his companion must have died a damp death, and
this story would never have been told.

The young men were in one of the most picturesque parts of that wild
and beautiful country, created, as it would seem, for the express
gratification of the fisherman and the landscape painter; Simon
Perkins, an artist in his very soul, wholly engrossed by the sketch of
a mountain, Dick Stanmore equally absorbed in fishing a pool. Scarce
twenty yards apart, neither was conscious, for the moment, of the
other's existence; Simon, indeed, being in spirit some seven thousand
feet above the level of the sea, putting more ochre into the virgin
snow that crested his topmost peak, and Dick deftly dropping a fly,
the size of a pen-wiper, over the nose of a fifteen-pounder that had
already once risen to the gaudy lure.

Poising himself, like a Mercury, on a rock in mid-stream, the angler
had just thrown eighteen yards of line lightly as a silken thread
to an inch, when his foot slipped, and a loud splash, bringing the
painter, like Icarus, out of the clouds with a run, startled his
attention to the place where his companion was not. In another second
Simon had his grip on Dick's collar, and both men were struggling for
dear life in the pool. Stanmore could swim, of course, but it takes
a good swimmer to hold his own in fisherman's boots, encumbered,
moreover, with sundry paraphernalia of his art. Simon was a very mild
performer in the water, but he had coolness, presence of mind, and
inflexible tenacity of purpose. To these qualities the friends owed it
that they ever reached the shore alive. It was a very near thing,
and when they found their legs and looked into each other's faces,
gasping, dripping, spouting water from ears, nose, and mouth, Dick
gathered breath to exclaim, "You trump! I should have been drowned,
to a moral!" Whereat the other, choking, coughing, and sputtering,
answered faintly, "You old muff! I believe we were never out of our
depth the whole time!"

Perkins did not go up for his degree, and the men lost sight of one
another in a few years, cherishing, indeed, a kindly remembrance each
of his friend, yet taking little pains to refresh that remembrance by
renewed intercourse. How many intimacies, how many attachments outlast
a twelvemonth's break? There are certain things people go on caring
for, but I fear they are more intimately connected with self in daily
life than either the romance of friendship or the intermittent fever
of love. The enjoyment of luxury, the pursuit of money-making, seem to
lose none of their zest with advancing years, and perhaps to these we
may add the taste for art.

Now to Simon Perkins art was as the very air he breathed. The greatest
painter was, in his eyes, the greatest man that lived. When he left
Oxford, he devoted himself to the profession of painting with
such success as rendered him independent, besides enabling him to
contribute largely to the comfort of two maiden aunts with whom he
lived.

Not without hard work; far from it. There is no pursuit, perhaps,
which demands such constant and unremitting exertion from its
votaries. The ideal to which he strains can never be reached, for his
very successes keep building it yet higher, and a painter is so far
like a baby his whole life through that he is always learning to
_see_.

Simon was still learning to see on the afternoon Dick Stanmore sculled
by his cottage windows--studying the effect of a declining sun on the
opposite elms, not entirely averting his looks from that graceful
girl, who ran into the house to the oarsman's discomfiture, and
missing her more than might have been expected when she vanished
up-stairs. Was not the sun still shining bright on that graceful
feathery foliage? He did not quite think it was.

Presently there came to the door a rustle of draperies, and an elderly
lady, not remarkable for beauty, entered the room. Taking no notice
of Simon, she proceeded to arrange small articles of furniture with a
restless manner that denoted anxiety of mind. At last, stopping short
in the act of dusting a china tea-cup, with a very clean cambric
handkerchief, she observed, in a faltering voice, "Simon, dear, I feel
so nervous I know I shall never get through with it. Where's your Aunt
Jemima?" Even while she spoke there appeared at the door another lady,
somewhat more elderly, and even less remarkable for beauty, who seated
herself bolt upright in an elbow-chair without delay, and, looking
austerely round, observed in an impressive voice, "Susannah, fetch me
my spectacles; Simon, shut the door."

Of all governments there must be a head. It was obvious that in this
deliberative assembly Miss Jemima Perkins assumed the lead. Both
commands being promptly obeyed, she pulled her spectacles from their
case and put them on, as symbols of authority, forthwith.

"I want your advice, Simon," said this strong-minded old lady, in a
hard, clear voice. "I dare say I sha'n't act upon it, but I want it
all the same. I've no secrets from either of you; but as the head of
the family I don't mean to shirk responsibility, and my opinion is,
she must go. Susannah, no weakness. My dear, you ought to be ashamed
of yourself. Nina, run up-stairs again, we don't want you just now."

This to a pretty head with raven hair, that popped saucily in, and as
saucily withdrew.

Simon looked wistfully after the pretty head, and relapsed into a
day-dream. Was he thinking what a picture it would make, or what a
reality it was? His aunt's voice recalled him to facts.

"Simon," she repeated, "my opinion is she must go."

"Go!" said her nephew vacantly, "what do you mean,
aunt?--Go?--where?--who?"

"Why that girl we're all so fond of," replied Miss Jemima, growing
every moment more severe. "Mr. Algernon used to come here twice every
quarter, usedn't he? Never missed the day, did he? and paid his money
as regular as clockwork. Susannah, how long is it since he's been to
see us?"

Susannah sobbed.

"That's no answer," pursued the inflexible speaker. "Tomorrow week it
will be ten months since we have seen him; and tomorrow week it will
be ten months since we've had a scrap of his handwriting. Is that girl
to remain here, dependent on the bounty of a struggling artist and two
old maids? My opinion is that she ought to go out and gain her own
livelihood; my feeling is that--that--I couldn't bear to think of the
poor dear in any home but this."

Here the old lady, whose assumption of extreme fortitude had
been gradually leading to the inevitable catastrophe, broke down
altogether, while Susannah, giving rein to her emotions, lifted up her
voice and wept.

"You knew who she was all along, Jemima," said the latter, gulping
sadly at her syllables: "you know you did; and it's cruel to harrow up
our feelings like this."

Simon said nothing, but on his homely features gathered an expression
of resolve, through which there gleamed the bright radiance of hope.

Miss Perkins wiped her eyes and then her spectacles. Resuming her
dignity, she proceeded in a calmer voice--

"I will not conceal from you, Susannah, nor from you, Simon, that I
have had my suspicions for several years. Those suspicions became a
certainty some time ago. There can be no doubt now of the relationship
existing between our Nina and the Mr. Algernon, as he called himself,
who took such an interest in the child's welfare. When I saw Mr.
Bruce's death in the paper, I knew that our pet had lost her father.
What was I to do? When I consented to take charge of the child twenty
years ago--and a sweet pretty babe she was--I perfectly understood
there must be a mystery connected with her birth. As head of the
family, I imparted my suspicions to neither of you, and I kept my
conjectures and my disapproval to myself. This seemed only fair to
my correspondent, only fair to the child. When I learned Mr. Bruce's
death, it came upon me like a shot, that he was the Mr. Algernon who
used to visit here, and who furnished such liberal means for the
support and education of that girl up-stairs--Susannah, I cannot make
myself understood if you will persist in blowing your nose!--Since Mr.
Bruce's death no Mr. Algernon has darkened our doors, no remittances
have come to hand with the usual signature. Simon, my impression is
that no provision whatever has been made for the poor thing, and that
our Nina is--is utterly destitute and friendless."

Here Miss Susannah gave a little scream, whereat her sister glared
austerely, and resumed the spectacles she had taken off to dry.

"Not friendless, aunt," exclaimed Simon, in a great heat and fuss;
"never friendless so long as we are all above ground. I am perfectly
willing to--stay, Aunt Jemima, I beg your pardon, what do you think
ought to be done?"

The old lady smoothed her dress, looking round with placid dignity.

"I will first hear what you two have to propose. Susannah, leave off
crying this minute, and tell us what you think of this--this _very_
embarrassing position."

It is possible that but for the formidable adjective Susannah might
have originated, and indeed expressed some idea of her own; but to
confront a position described by her sister as "embarrassing" was
quite beyond her powers, and she could only repeat feebly, "I'll give
her half my money--I'll give her half my money. We can't drive her
out into the cold." This with sobs and tears, and a hand pressed
helplessly to her side.

Miss Jemima turned from her with contempt, declaring, in an audible
whisper, she had "more than half a mind to send the foolish thing to
bed;" then looked severely at her nephew.

"This girl," said he, "has become a member of our family, just as
if she were a born relation. It seems to me there is no question of
feeling or sentiment or prejudice in the matter. It is a mere affair
of duty. We are bound to treat Nina Algernon exactly as if she were a
Perkins."

His aunt took his face in both her hands, squeezed it hard, and
flattened his nose with a grim kiss. After this feat she looked more
severe than ever.

"I believe you are right," she said; "I believe this arrangement is a
special duty sent on purpose for us to fulfil. I had made up my mind
on the subject before I spoke to you, but it is satisfactory to
know that you both think as I do. When we give way to our feelings,
Susannah, we are sure to be injudicious, sometimes even unjust. But
duty is a never-failing guide, and--O! my dears, to part with that
darling would be to take the very heart out of my breast; and, Simon,
I'm so glad you agree with me; and, Susannah, dear, if I spoke harshly
just now, it was for your own good; and--and--I'll just step upstairs
into the storeroom, and look out some of the house-linen that wants
mending. I had rather you didn't disturb me. I shall be down again to
tea."

So the old lady marched out firmly enough, but sister and nephew both
knew right well that kindly tears, long kept back from a sense of
dignity, would drop on the half-worn house-linen, and that in the
solitude of her storeroom she would give vent to those womanly
feelings she deemed it incumbent on her, as head of the family, to
restrain before the rest.

Miss Susannah entertained no such scruples. Inflicting on her nephew a
very tearful embrace, she sobbed out incoherent congratulations on the
decision at which her eldest sister had arrived.

"But we mustn't let the dear girl find it out," said this sensitive,
weak-minded, but generous-hearted lady. "We should make no sort of
difference in our treatment of her, of course, but we must take great
care not to let anything betray us in our manner. I am not good at
concealment, I know, but I will undertake that she never suspects
anything from mine."

The fallacy of this assertion was so transparent that Simon could not
forbear a smile.

"Better make a clean breast of it at once," said he. "Directly there's
a mystery in a family, Aunt Susannah, you may be sure there can be
no union. It need not be put in a way to hurt her feelings. On the
contrary, Aunt Jemima might impress on her that we count on her
assistance to keep the pot boiling. Why, she's saving us pounds and
pounds at this moment. Where should I get such a model for my Fairy
Queen, I should like to know? It ought to be a great picture--a great
picture, Aunt Susannah, if I can only work it out. And where should I
be if she left me in the lurch? No--no; we won't forget the bundle of
sticks. I'll to the maul-stick, and you and Aunt Jemima shall be as
cross as two sticks; and as for Nina, with her bright eyes, and her
pleasant voice, and her merry ways, I don't know what sort of a stick
we should make of her." "A fiddlestick, I should think," said that
young lady, entering the room from the garden window, having heard, it
is to be hoped, no more than Simon's closing sentence. "What are
you two doing here in the dark? It's past eight--tea's ready--Aunt
Jemima's down--and everything's getting cold."

Candles were lit in the next room, and the tea-things laid. Following
the ladies, and watching with a painter's eye the lights and shades as
they fell on Nina's graceful beauty, Simon Perkins felt, not for the
first time, that if she were to leave the cottage, she would carry
away with her all that made it a dear and happy home, depriving him at
once of past, present, and future, taking from him the very cunning of
his handicraft, and, worse still, the inspiration of his art.

It was no wonder she had wound herself round the hearts of that quiet
little family in the retired Putney villa. As like Maud Bruce in form
and feature, as though she had been her twin sister, Nina Algernon
possessed the same pale, delicate features, the same graceful form,
the same dark, pleading eyes and glossy raven hair; but Mr. Bruce's
elder and unacknowledged daughter had this advantage over the younger,
that about her there was a sweetness, a freshness, a quiet gaiety, and
a _bonhomie_ such as spring only from kindliness of disposition and
pure unselfishness of heart. Had she been an ugly girl, though she
might have lacked admirers, she could not have long remained without a
lover. Being as handsome as Maud, she seemed calculated to rivet more
attachments, while she made almost as many conquests. Between the
sisters there was a similitude and a difference. One was a costly
artificial flower, the other a real garden rose.



CHAPTER IX


THE USUAL DIFFICULTY


Maud's instincts, when, soon after her father's death, she felt a
strong disinclination to live with Aunt Agatha, had not played her
false. As inmates of the same house, the two ladies hit it off badly
enough. Perhaps because in a certain imperiousness and hardness of
character they were somewhat alike, their differences, though only on
rare occasions culminating in a battle royal, smouldered perpetually,
breaking out, more often than was seemly, in brisk skirmish and rapid
passage of arms.

Miss Bruce's education during the lifetime of her parents had been
little calculated to fit her for the position of a dependent, and with
all her misgivings, which, indeed, vexed her sadly, she could not yet
quite divest herself of an idea that her inheritance had not wholly
passed away. Under any circumstances she resolved before long to go at
the head of an establishment of her own, so that she should assume her
proper position, which she often told herself, with _her_ attractions
and _her_ opportunities was a mere question of will.

Then, like a band of iron tightening round her heart, would come the
thought of her promise to Tom Ryfe, the bitter regret for her
own weakness, her own overstrained notions of honour, as she now
considered them, in committing that promise to writing. She felt
as people feel in a dream, when, step which way they will, an
insurmountable obstacle seems to arise, arresting their progress, and
hemming them in by turns on every side.


It was not in the best of humours that, a few days after Lady
Goldthred's party, Maud descended to the luncheon-table fresh from an
hour's consideration of her grievances, and of the false position
in which she was placed. Mrs. Stanmore, too, had just sent back a
misfitting costume to the dressmaker for the third time; so each lady
being, as it were, primed and loaded, the lightest spark would suffice
to produce explosion.

While the servants remained it was necessary to keep the peace,
but cutlets, mashed potatoes, and a ration of sherry having been
distributed, the room was cleared, and a fair field remained for
immediate action. Dick's train was late from Newmarket, and he was
well out of it.

To do her justice, Maud had meant to intrench herself in sullen
silence. She saw the attack coming, and prepared to remain on the
defensive. Aunt Agatha began quietly enough--to borrow a metaphor from
the noble game of chess, she advanced a pawn.

"I don't know how I'm to take you to Countess Monaco's to-night, Maud;
that stupid woman has disappointed me again, and I've got literally
nothing to go in. Besides, there will be such a crush we shall never
get away in time for my cousin's ball. I promised her I'd be early if
I could."

Now Miss Bruce knew, I suppose because he had told her, that Lord
Bearwarden would be at Countess Monaco's reception, but would not be
at the said ball. It is possible Mrs. Stanmore may have been aware
of this also, and that her pawn simply represented what ladies call
"aggravation."

Maud took it at once with her knight. "I don't the least care about
Countess Monaco's, aunt," said she. "Dick's not going because he's not
asked, and I'm engaged to dance the first dance with him at the other
place. It's a family bear-fight, I conclude; but though I hate the
kind of thing, Dick is sure to take care of _me_."

Check for Aunt Agatha, whom this off-hand speech displeased for more
reasons than one. It galled her to be reminded that her step-son had
received no invitation from the smart foreign countess; while that
Maud should thus appropriate him, calling him "Dick" twice in a
breath, was more than she could endure. So she moved her king out of
position.

"Talking of balls," said she, in a cold, civil voice, "reminds me that
you danced three times the night before last with Lord Bearwarden, and
twice with Dick, besides going down with him to supper. I don't like
finding fault, Maud, but I have a duty to perform, and I speak to you
as if you were my own child."

"How can you be sure of that?" retorted incorrigible Maud. "You never
had one."

This was a sore point, as Miss Bruce well knew. Aunt Agatha's line of
battle was sadly broken through, and her pieces huddled together on
the board. She began to lose her head, and her temper with it.

"You speak in a very unbecoming tone, Miss Bruce," said she angrily.
"You force me into saying things I would much rather keep to myself. I
don't wish to remind you of your position in this house."

It was now Maud's turn to advance her strongest pieces--castles,
rooks, and all.

"You remind me of it often enough," she replied, with her haughtiest
air--an air which, notwithstanding its assumption of superiority,
certainly made her look her best; "if not in words, at least in
manner, twenty times a day. You think I don't see it, Mrs. Stanmore,
or that I don't mind it, because I've too much pride to resent it as
it deserves. I am indebted to you, certainly, for a great deal--the
roof that shelters me, and the food I eat. I owe you as much as your
carriage-horses, and a little less than your servants, for I do my
work and get no wages. Never fear but I shall pay up everything some
day; perhaps very soon. You had better get your bill made out, so as
to send it in on the morning of my departure. I wish the time had come
to settle it now."

Mrs. Stanmore was aghast. Very angry, no doubt, but yet more
surprised, and perhaps the least thing cowed. Her cap, her laces,
the lockets round her neck, the very hair of her head, vibrated with
excitement. Maud, cool, pale, impassable, was sure to win at last,
waiting, like the superior chess-player, for that final mistake which
gives an adversary checkmate.


It came almost immediately. Mrs. Stanmore set down her sherry, because
the hand that held her glass shook so she could not raise it to her
lips. "You are rude and impertinent," said she; "and if you really
think so wickedly, the sooner you leave this house the better, though
you _are_ my brother's child; and--and--Maud, I don't mean it. But how
can you say such things? I never expected to be spoken to like this."

Then the elder lady began to cry, and the game was over. Before the
second course came in a reconciliation took place. Maud presented a
pale, cold cheek to be kissed by her aunt, and it was agreed that
they should go to Countess Monaco's for the harmless purpose, as they
expressed it, of "just walking through the rooms," leaving thereafter
as soon as practicable for the ball; and Mrs. Stanmore, who was
good-hearted if bad-tempered, trusted "dear Maud would think no more
of what she had said in a moment of irritation, but that they would be
better friends than ever after their little tiff."

None the less, though, for this decisive victory did the young lady
cherish her determination to settle in life without delay. Lord
Bearwarden had paid her considerable attention on the few occasions
they had met. True, he was not what the world calls a "marrying man";
but the world, in arranging its romances, usually leaves out that very
chapter--the chapter of accidents--on which the whole plot revolves.
And why should there not be a Lady Bearwarden of the present as of the
past? To land so heavy a fish would be a signal triumph. Well, it was
at least possible, if not probable. This should be a matter for future
consideration, and must depend greatly on circumstances.

In the meantime, Dick Stanmore would marry her tomorrow. Of that she
felt sure. Why? O, because she did! I believe women seldom deceive
themselves in such matters. Dick had never told her he cared for her;
after all, she had not known him many weeks, yet a certain deference
and softness of tone, a diffidence and even awkwardness of manner,
increasing painfully when they were alone, betrayed that he was her
slave. And she liked Dick, too, very much, as a woman could hardly
help liking that frank and kindly spirit. She even thought she could
love him if it was necessary, or at any rate make him a good wife, as
wives go. He would live in London, of course, give up hunting and all
that. It really might do very well. Yes, she would think seriously
about Dick Stanmore, and make up her mind without more delay.

But how to get rid of Tom Ryfe? Ignore it as she might--strive as she
would to forget it in excitement, dissipation, and schemes for the
future, none the less was the chain always round her neck. Even while
it ceased to gall her she was yet sensible of its weight. So long as
she owed him money, so long as he held her written promise to repay
that debt with her hand, so long was she debarred all chances for the
future, so long was she tied down to a fate she could not contemplate
without a shudder. To be a "Mrs. Ryfe" when on the cards lay such a
prize as the Bearwarden coronet, when she need only put out her hand
and take Dick Stanmore, with his brown locks, his broad shoulders, his
genial, generous heart, for better or worse! It was unbearable. And
then to think that she could ever have fancied she liked the man;
that, even now, she had to give him clandestine meetings, to see him
at unseasonable hours, as if she loved him dearly, and was prepared
to make every sacrifice for his sake! Her pride revolted, her whole
spirit rose in arms at the reflection. She knew he cared for her too;
cared for her in his own way very dearly; and "c'est ce que c'est
d'être femme," I fear she hated him all the more! So long as a woman
knows nothing about him, her suspicion that a man likes her is nine
points out of ten in his favour; but directly she has fathomed his
intellect and probed his heart; squeezed the orange, so to speak, and
resolved to throw away the rind, in proportion to the constancy of his
attachment will be her weariness of its duration; and from weariness
in such matters there is but one short step to hatred and disgust.

Tom Ryfe must be paid his money. To this conclusion, at least, Maud's
reflections never failed to lead. Without such initiatory proceeding
it was useless to think of demanding the return of that written
promise. But how to raise the funds? After much wavering and
hesitation, Miss Bruce resolved at last to pawn her diamonds. So
dearly do women love their trinkets, that I believe, though he never
knew it, Tom Ryfe was more than once within an ace of gaining the
prize he longed for, simply from Maud's disinclination to part with
her jewels. How little he dreamt that the very packet which had helped
to cement into intimacy his first acquaintance with her should prove
the means of dashing his cherished hopes to the ground, and raising
yet another obstacle to shut him out from his lovely client!

While Maud is meditating in the back drawing-room, and Aunt Agatha,
having removed the traces of emotion from her eyes and nose, is trying
on a bonnet up-stairs, Dick Stanmore has shaken off the dust of a
railway journey, in his lodgings, dressed himself from top to toe,
and is driving his phaeton merrily along Piccadilly, on his way to
Belgrave Square. How his heart leaps as he turns the well-known
corner! how it beats as he skips into his step-mother's house!--how
it stops when he reaches the door of that back drawing-room, where,
knowing the ways of the establishment, he hopes to find his treasure
alone! The colour returns to his face. There she is in her usual
place, her usual attitude, languid, graceful, indolent, yet glad to
see him nevertheless.

"I'm in luck," said Dick, blushing like a school-boy. "My train was
late, and I was so afraid you'd be gone out before I could get here.
It seems so long since I've seen you. And where have you been, and
how's my mother, and what have you been doing?"

"What have _you_ been doing, rather?" repeats the young lady, giving
him a cool and beautiful hand that he keeps in his own as long as he
dares. "Three days at Newmarket are long enough to make 'a man or
a mouse,' as you call it, of a greater capitalist than you, Mr.
Stanmore. Seriously, I hope you've had a good week."

"Only lost a pony on the whole meeting," answered Dick triumphantly.
"And even that was a 'fluke,' because Bearwarden's Bacchante filly was
left at the post."

"I congratulate you," said Maud, with laughter gleaming in her dark
eyes. "I suppose you consider that tantamount to winning. Was Lord
Bearwarden much disappointed, and did he swear horribly?"

"Bearwarden never swears," replied Dick. "He only told the starter he
wondered he could get them off at all; for it must have put him out
sadly to see all the boys laughing at him. I've no doubt one or two
were fined in the very next race, for the official didn't seem to like
it."

Maud pondered. "Is Lord Bearwarden very good-tempered?" said she.

"Well, he never breaks out," answered Dick. "But why do you want to
know?"

"Because you and he are such friends," said this artful young lady.
'"Because I can't make him out--because I don't care whether he is or
not! And now, Mr. Stanmore, though you've not been to see your mamma
yet, you've behaved like a good boy, considering; so I've got a little
treat in store for you. Will you drive me out in your phaeton?"

"Will a duck swim?" exclaimed Dick, delighted beyond measure, with but
the one drawback to supreme happiness, of a wish that his off-horse
had been more than twice in harness.

"Now before I go to put my bonnet on," continued Miss Bruce,
threatening him with her finger like a child, "you must promise to do
exactly what you're told--to drive very slow and very carefully, and
to set me down the instant I'm tired of you, because Aunt Agatha won't
hear of our going for more than half-an-hour or so, and it will take
some diplomacy to arrange even that."

Then she tripped up-stairs, leaving the door open, so that Dick,
looking at himself in the glass, wondering, honest fellow, what she
could see in him to like, and thinking what a lucky dog he was,
overheard the following conversation at the threshold of his
step-mother's chamber on the floor above.

A light tap--a smothered "Who's there?" and the silvery tones of the
voice he loved--

"Aunt Agatha--may Mr. Stanmore drive me to Rose and Brilliant's in his
phaeton?"

Something that sounded very like "Certainly not."

"But please, Aunt Agatha," pleaded the voice, "I've got a headache,
and an open carriage will do me so much good, and you can call for me
afterwards, whenever you like, to do our shopping. I sha'n't be five
minutes putting my bonnet on, and the wind's changed, and it's such a
beautiful day!"

Here a door opened, whispers were exchanged, it closed with a bang, a
bell rang, an organ in the street struck up "The Marseillaise," and
ere it had played eight bars, Maud was on the stairs again looking, to
Dick's admiring eyes, like an angel in a bonnet coming straight down
from heaven.

In after-days he often thought of that happy drive--of the pale
beautiful face, in its transparent little bonnet, turned confidingly
upwards to his own, of the winning ways, the playfully imperious
gestures, the sweet caressing voice--of the hope thrilling to his very
heart that perhaps for him might be reserved the blissful lot of thus
journeying with her by his side through life.

As they passed into the Park at Albert Gate, two of his young
companions nodded and took off their hats, elbowing each other, as who
should say, "I suppose that's a case!" How proud Dick felt, and how
happy! The quarter of a mile that brought him to Apsley House seemed
a direct road to Paradise; the man who is always watering the
rhododendrons shone like a glorified being, and the soft west wind
fanned his temples like an air from heaven. How pleasant she was, how
quaint, how satirical, how amusing! Not the least frightened when that
off-horse shied in Piccadilly--not the least impatient (neither, be
sure, was he) when a block of carriages kept them stationary for ten
minutes in the narrow gorge of Bond Street. Long before they stopped
at Rose and Brilliant's it was all over with Dick.

"You're not to get out," said Maud, while they drew up to the door of
that fashionable jeweller. "Yes, you may, just to keep my dress off
the wheel, but you mustn't come in. I said I'd a treat for you; now
tell me without prevarication--will you have sleeve-links with a
cipher or a monogram? Speak up--in one word--quick!"

Sleeve-links! and from _her_! A present to be valued and cherished
more than life itself. He could hardly believe his senses. Far too
bewildered to solve the knotty point of cipher _versus_ monogram, he
muttered some incoherent syllables, and only began to recover when he
had stared blankly for a good five minutes at the off-horse's ears,
from the driving-seat of his phaeton.

It took a long time apparently to pick out those sleeve-links. Perhaps
the choicest assortment of such articles remained in the back shop,
for thither Miss Bruce retired; and it is possible she may have
appealed to the proprietor's taste in her selection, since she was
closeted with that gentleman in earnest conference for three-quarters
of an hour. Dick had almost got tired of waiting, when she emerged at
last to thank him for her drive, and to present him, as she affirmed,
with the results of her protracted shopping.

"There is a design on them already," said she, slipping a little box
of card into his hand with her pleasantest smile, "so I could not have
your initials engraved, but I dare say you won't lose them all the
same."

Dick rather thought _not_, hiding the welcome keepsake away in his
waistcoat-pocket, as near his heart as the construction of that
garment would permit; but his day's happiness was over now, for Mrs.
Stanmore had arrived in her brougham to take his companion away for
the rest of the afternoon.

That night, before he went to bed, I think he was fool enough to kiss
the insensible sleeve-links more than once. They were indeed choice
little articles of workmanship, bearing on their surface two quaint
and fanciful designs, representing a brace of Cupids in difficulty,
the one singed by his own torch, the other crying over a broken bow.

At the same hour Maud was enclosing an order for a large sum of money
in a letter which seemed to cost her much study and vexation. Even
Miss Bruce found some difficulty in explaining to a lover that she
valued truth, honour, and fidelity at so many hundred pounds, while
she begged to forward him a cheque for the amount in lieu of the goods
marked "damaged and returned."



CHAPTER X


THE FAIRY QUEEN


I have said that Simon Perkins was a painter to the tips of his
fingers. Just as a carpenter cannot help looking at a piece of wood
with a professional glance it is impossible to mistake--a glance that
seems to embrace at once its length, depth, thickness, toughness,
and general capabilities--so a painter views every object in nature,
animate or inanimate, as a subject for imitation and study of his art.
The heavens are not too high, the sea too deep, nor the desert too
wide to afford him a lesson; and the human countenance, with its
endless variety of feature and expression, is a book he never wearies
of learning by heart. When his professional interest in beauty is
enhanced by warmer feelings, it may be imagined that vanity could
require no fuller tribute of admiration than the worship of one whose
special gift it is to decide on the symmetry of outward form.

As a painter, Simon Perkins approved of Nina Algernon--as a man he
loved her. Lest his position should not prove sufficiently fatal, she
had become of late practically identified with his art, almost as
completely as she was mixed up with his every-day life. For many
months, perhaps even for years, the germ of a great work had taken
root in his imagination. Slowly, almost painfully, that germ developed
itself, passing through several stages, sketch upon sketch, till it
came to maturity at last in the composition of a large picture on
which he was now employed.

The subject afforded ample scope for liberty of fancy in form and
grouping--for the indulgence of a gorgeous taste in colouring and
costume. It represented Thomas the Rhymer in Fairyland, at the moment
when its glamour is falling from his eyes, when its magic lustre is
dying out on all that glittering pageantry and the elfin is fading to
a gnome. The handsome wizard turns from a crowd of phantom shapes,
half lovely, half grotesque--for their change is even now in
progress--to look wistfully and appealingly on the queen.

There is a pained expression in his comely features, of hurt
affection, and trust betrayed, yet not without a ray of pride and
triumph, that, come what might to the others, she is still unchanged.
Around him the fairies are shedding their glory as trees in autumn
shed their leaves. Here a sweet laughing face surmounts the hideous
body of an imp, there the bright scales of an unearthly armour shrivel
to rottenness and dust. The dazzling robes are turning blank and
colourless, the emerald rays waning to a pale, sad light, the flashing
diadem is dulled and dim. Yet on the fairy queen there lowers no
shadow of change, there threaten no symptoms of decay.

Bathed in the halo of a true though hapless love, she is still
the same as when he first saw her all those seven long years ago,
glistening in immortal charms, and knelt to her for the queen of
heaven, where she rode--"under the linden tree."

It is obvious that on her countenance, besides the stamp of exceeding
beauty, there must appear sorrow, self-reproach, fortitude, majesty,
and undying tenderness. All these the painter thought he read in Nina
Algernon's girlish face.

So she sat to him dutifully enough for a model of his fairy queen, and
if she wearied at times, as I think she must, comforted herself with
the remembrance that in this way she helped the family who gave her
bread.

For the convenience of sitters, Simon Perkins had his painting-room in
Berners Street: thither it was his custom to resort in the morning,
by penny steamer or threepenny omnibus, and there he spent many happy
hours working hard with palette and brush. Not the least golden seemed
those in which Nina accompanied him to sit patiently while he studied,
and drew her, line by line, feature by feature. The expeditions to and
fro were delightful, the labour was pleasure, the day was gone far too
soon.

A morning could not but be fine, when, emerging from an omnibus at
Albert Gate, Simon walked by the side of his model through Hyde Park
on their way to Berners Street; but about this period one morning
seemed even finer than common, because that Nina, taking his arm as
they crossed Rotten Row, thought fit to confide to him an interview of
the day before with Aunt Jemima, in which she extorted from that dear
old lady with some difficulty the fact of her own friendless position
in the world.

"And I don't mind it a bit," continued the girl, catching her voice
like a child, as was her habit when excited, "for I'm sure you're all
so kind to me that I'd much rather not have any other friends. And I
don't want to be independent, and I'll never leave you, so long as
you'll keep me. And O, Simon, isn't it good of your aunts, and you
too, to have taken care of me ever since I was quite a little thing?
For I'm no relation, you know--and how can I ever do enough for you? I
can't. It's impossible. And you don't want me to, if I could!"

Notwithstanding the playful manner which was part of Nina's self,
there were tears of real feeling in her eyes, and I doubt if Simon's
were quite dry while he answered--

"You belong to us just as much as if you _were_ a relation, Nina. My
aunts have said so ever since I can remember, and as for me, why you
used to ride on my foot when you were in short frocks! What a little
romp it was! Always troublesome, and always will be--and that's
why we're so fond of you." He spoke lightly, but his voice shook
nevertheless.

"So you ought to be," she answered. "For you know how much I love you
all."

"What, even stern Aunt Jemima?" said this blundering young man,
clumsily beating about the bush, and thus scaring the bird quite as
much as if he had thrust his hand boldly into the nest.

"Aunt Jemima best of all," replied Nina saucily, "because she's the
eldest, and tries to keep me in order, but she can't."

"And which of us next best, Nina?" continued he, turning away with
extraordinary interest in a mowing-machine.

"Aunt Susannah, of course." This very demurely, while tightening her
pretty lips to keep back a laugh.

"Then I come last," he observed gently; but there was something in the
tone that made her glance sharply in his face.

She pressed his arm. "You dear old simple Simon," said she kindly.
"Surely you must know me by this time. I love you very dearly, just as
if you were my brother. Brother, indeed! I don't think if I'd a father
I could be much fonder of him than I am of you."

What a bright morning it had been five minutes ago, and now the sky
seemed clouded all at once. Simon even thought the statue of Achilles
looked more grim and ghostly than usual, lowering there in his naked
bronze.

She had wounded him very deeply, that pretty unconscious archer. These
random shafts for which no interposing shield makes ready are sure
to find the joints in our harness. A tough hard nature such as
constitutes the true fighter only presses more doggedly to the front,
but gentler spirits are fain to turn aside out of the battle, and go
home to die. There came a dimness before Simon's eyes, and a ringing
in his ears. He scarcely heard his companion, while she asked--

"Who are those men bowing? Do you know them? They must take me for
somebody else."

"Those men bowing" were two no less important characters than Lord
Bearwarden and Tom Ryfe, the latter in the act of selling the former
a horse. Such transactions, for some mysterious reason, always take
place in the morning, and whatever arguments may be adduced against
a too enthusiastic worship of the noble animal, at least it promotes
early rising.

Tom Ryfe was one of those men rarely seen in the saddle or on the box,
but who, nevertheless, always seem to have a horse to dispose of,
whatever be the kind required. Hack, hunter, pony, phaeton-horse, he
was either possessor of the very animal you wanted, or could suit you
with it at twenty-four hours' notice; yet if you met him by accident
riding in the Park, he was sure to tell you he had been mounted by
a friend; if you saw him driving a team--and few could handle four
horses in a crowded thoroughfare with more neatness and precision--you
might safely wager it was from the box of another man's coach.

He was supposed to be a very fine rider over a country, and there were
vague traditions of his having gone exceedingly well through great
runs on special occasions; but these exploits had obviously lost
nothing of their interest in the process of narration, and were indeed
enhanced by that obscurity which increases the magnitude of most
things, in the moral as in the material world.

Mr. Ryfe knew all the sporting men about London, but not their wives.
He was at home on the Downs and the Heath, in the pavilion at Lord's,
and behind the traps of the Red House. He dined pretty frequently at
the barracks of the household troops, welcome to the genial spirits
of his entertainers, chiefly for those qualities with which they
themselves credited him; and he called Bearwarden "My lord," wherefore
that nobleman thought him a snob, and would perhaps have considered
him a still greater if he had _not_. The horse in question showed
good points and fine action. Mr. Ryfe walked, trotted, cantered,
and finally reined him up at the rails on which Lord Bearwarden was
leaning.

"Rather a flat-catcher, Tom," said that nobleman, between the whiffs
of a cigar. "Too much action for a hunter, and too little body. He
wouldn't carry my weight if the ground was deep, though he's not a bad
goer, I'll admit."

"Exactly what I said at first, my lord," answered Tom, slipping the
reins through his fingers, and letting the horse reach over the iron
bar against his chest to crop the tufts of grass beneath, an attitude
in which his fine shoulders and liberty of frame showed to great
advantage. "I never thought he was a fourteen-stone horse, and I never
told you so."

"And I never told _you_ I rode fourteen stone, did I?" replied Lord
Bearwarden, who was a little touchy on that score. "Thirteen five at
the outside, and not so much as that after deer-stalking in Scotland.
He's clean thoroughbred, isn't he?"

The purchaser was biting, and Tom understood his business as if he had
been brought up to it.

"Clean," he answered, passing his leg over the horse's neck, and
sliding to the ground, thus leaving his saddle empty for the other.
"But he's thrown away on a heavy man. His place is carrying thirteen
stone over high Leicestershire. Nothing could touch him there amongst
the hills. Jumping's a vulgar accomplishment. Plenty of them can jump
if one dare ride them, but he's really an extraordinary fencer. Such a
mouth, too, and such a _gentleman_! Why he's the pleasantest hack in
London. You like a nice hack, my lord. Get up and feel him. It's like
riding a bird."

So Lord Bearwarden jumped on, and altered the stirrups, and crammed
his hat down, ere he rode the horse to and fro, trying him in all
his paces, and probably falling in love with him forthwith, for he
returned with a brightened eye and higher colour to Tom Ryfe on the
footway.

It was at this juncture both gentlemen started and took their hats off
to the lady who walked some fifty paces off, arm-in-arm with Simon
Perkins, the painter.

Their salute was not returned. The lady, indeed, to whom it was
addressed seemed to hurry on all the faster with her companion. It was
remarkable, and both remarked it, that neither made any observation on
this lack of courtesy, but finished their bargain without apparently
half so much interest in sale or purchase as they felt five minutes
ago.

"You'll dine with us, Tom, on the 11th?" said Bearwarden, when they
parted opposite Knightsbridge Barracks, but he was obviously thinking
of something else.

"On the 11th," repeated Tom--"delighted, my lord--at eight o'clock,
I suppose," and turned his horse's head soberly towards Piccadilly,
proceeding at a walk, as one who revolved certain reflections, not of
the most agreeable, in his mind. A dinner at the barracks was usually
rather an event with Mr. Ryfe, but on the present occasion he forgot
all about it before he had gone a hundred yards.

Lord Bearwarden, rejecting the temptation of luncheon in the
mess-room, ran up-stairs to his own quarters to think--of course he
smoked at the same time.

This nobleman was one of the many of his kind who, to their credit be
it said, are not spoiled by sailing down the stream with the wind in
their favour. He had been "a good fellow" at Eton, he remained "a good
fellow" in the regiment. With general society he was not perhaps quite
so popular. People said he "required knowing"; and for those who
didn't choose to take the trouble of knowing him he was a little
reserved; with men, even a little rough. His manner was of the world,
worldly, and gave the idea of complete heartlessness and _savoir
faire_; yet under this seemingly impervious covering lurked a womanly
romance of temperament, a womanly tenderness of heart, than which
nothing would have made him so angry as to be accused of possessing.
His habits were manly and simple, his chief ambition was to
distinguish himself as a soldier, and so far as he could find
opportunity he had seen service with credit on the staff. A keen
sportsman, he could ride and shoot as well as his neighbours, and
this is saying no little amongst the young officers of the Household
Brigade.

Anything but a "ladies' man," there was yet something about
Bearwarden, irrespective of his income and his coronet, that seemed
to interest women of all temperaments and characters. They would turn
away from far handsomer, better dressed, and more amusing people to
attract his notice when he entered a room, and the more enterprising
would even make fierce love to him on further acquaintance,
particularly after they discovered what up-hill work it was. Do they
appreciate a difficulty the greater trouble it requires to surmount,
or do they enjoy a scrape the more, that they have to squeeze
themselves into it by main force? I wonder if the sea-nymphs love
their Tritons because those zoophytes must necessarily be so cold! It
is doubtless against the hard impenetrable rock that the sea-waves
dash themselves again and again. Bearwarden responded but faintly to
the boldest advances. There must be a reason for it, said the fair
assailants. Curiosity grew into interest, and, flavoured with a dash
of pique, formed one of those messes with which, in stimulating their
vanity, women fancy they satisfy their hunger of the heart.

Bearwarden was a man with a history; of this they were quite sure, and
herein they were less mistaken than people generally find themselves
who jump to conclusions. Yes, Bearwarden had a history, and a sad one,
so far as the principal actor was concerned. Indeed he dared not
think much about it even yet, and drove it--for he was no weak, silly
sentimentalist--by sheer force of will out of his mind. Indeed, if it
had not wholly changed his _real_ self, it had encrusted him with that
hardness and roughness of exterior which he turned instinctively to
the world. The same thing had happened to him that happens to most of
us at one time or another. Just as the hunting man, sooner or later,
is pretty sure to be laid up with a broken collar-bone, so in the
career of life must be encountered that inevitable disaster which
results in a wounded spirit and a sore heart. The collar-bone, we all
know, is a six weeks' job; but injuries of a tenderer nature take
far longer to heal. Nevertheless, the cure of these, too, is but a
question of time, though, to carry on the metaphor, I think in
either case the hapless rider loses some of the zest and dash which
distinguished his earlier performances, previous to discomfiture.
"Only a woman's hair," wrote Dean Swift on a certain packet hidden
away in his desk. And thus a very dark page in Lord Bearwarden's
history might have been headed "Only a woman's falsehood." Not much to
make a fuss about, surely; but he was kind, generous, of a peculiarly
trustful disposition, and it punished him very sharply, though he
tried hard to bear his sorrow like a man. It was the usual business.
He had attached himself to a lady of somewhat lower social standing
than his own, of rather questionable antecedents, and whom the world
accepted to a certain extent on sufferance, as it were, and under
protest, yet welcomed her cordially enough, nevertheless. His
relations abused her, his friends warned him against her; of course
he loved her very dearly, all the more that he had to sacrifice many
interests for her sake, and so resolved to make her his wife.

For reasons of her own she stipulated that he should leave his
regiment, and even in this, though he would rather have lost an arm,
he yielded to her wish.

The letter to his colonel, in which he requested permission to send in
his papers, actually lay sealed on the table, when he received a note
in a well-known hand that taught him the new lesson he had never
expected to learn. The writer besought his forgiveness, deploring her
own heartlessness the while, and proceeded to inform him that there
was a Somebody else in the field to whom she was solemnly promised
(just as she had been to him), and with whom she was about to unite
her Lot--capital L. She never could be happy, of course, but it was
her destiny: to fight against it was useless, and she trusted Lord B.
would forget her, etc., etc. All this in well-chosen language, and
written with an exceedingly good pen.

It was lucky his letter to the colonel had not been sent. In such
sorrows as these a soldier learns how his regiment is his real home,
how his comrades are the staunchest, the least obtrusive, and the
sincerest of friends.

Patting his charger's neck at the very next field-day, Bearwarden
told himself there was much to live for still; that it would be
unsoldierlike, unmanly, childish, to neglect duty, to wince from
pleasure, to turn his back on all the world had to offer, only because
a woman followed her nature and changed her mind.

So he bore it very well, and those who knew him best wondered he cared
so little: and all the while he never heard a strain of music, nor
felt a ray of sunshine, nor looked on beauty of any kind whatever,
without that gnawing cruel pain at his heart. Thus the years passed
on, and the women of his family declared that Bearwarden was a
confirmed old bachelor.

When he met Miss Bruce at Lady Goldthred's, no doubt he admired her
beauty and approved of her manner, but it was neither beauty nor
manner, nor could he have explained what it was, that caused the
pulses within him to stir, as they stirred long ago--that brought back
a certain flavour of the old draught he had quaffed so eagerly, to
find it so bitter at the dregs. Another meeting with Maud, a dance
or two, a whisper on a crowded staircase, and Lord Bearwarden told
himself that the deep wound had healed at last; that the grass was
growing fresh and fair over the grave of a dead love; that for him
too, as for others, there might still be an interest in the chances of
the great game.

Surely the blind restored to sight is more grateful, more joyous, more
triumphant, than he who, born in darkness, finds himself overwhelmed
and dazzled with the glare of his new gift!

Some men are so strangely constituted that they like a woman all the
better for "snubbing" them. Lord Bearwarden had never felt so grave
an interest in Miss Bruce as when he entered the barracks under the
impression she had cut him dead, without the slightest pretext or
excuse.

Not so Tom Ryfe. In that gentleman's mind mingled the several
disagreeable sensations of surprise, anger, jealousy, and disgust. Of
these he chewed the bitter cud while he rode home, wondering with whom
Miss Bruce could thus dare to parade herself in public, maddened at
the open rebellion inferred by so ignoring his presence and his love,
vowing to revenge himself without delay by tightening the curb and
making her feel, to her cost, the hold he possessed over her person
and her actions. By the time he reached his uncle's house, he had
made up his mind to demand an explanation, to come to a final
understanding, to assert his authority, and to avenge his pride. He
turned pale to see Maud's monogram on the envelope of a letter that
had arrived during his absence; paler still, when from this letter a
thin slip of stamped paper fluttered to the floor--white to the very
lips while he read the sharp, decisive, cruel lines that accounted for
its presence in the missive, and that bade him relinquish at a word
all the hope and happiness of his life. Without unbuttoning his coat,
without removing the hat from his head, or the gloves from his hands,
he sat fiercely down, and wrote his answer.

"You think to get rid of me, Miss Bruce, as you would get rid of an
unsuitable servant, by giving him his wages and bidding him to go
about his business. You imagine that the debt between us is such as a
sum of money can at once wipe out: that because you have been able to
raise this money (and how you did so I think I have a right to ask)
our business connection ceases, and the _lover_, inconvenient, no
doubt, from his priority of claim, must go to the wall directly the
_lawyer_ has been paid his bill. You never were more mistaken in your
life. Have you forgotten a certain promise I hold of yours, written in
your own hand, signed with your own signature, furnished, as itself
attests, of your own free will? and do you think I am a likely man to
forego such an advantage? You might have had me for a friend--how dear
a friend I cannot bear to tell you now. If you persist in making me an
enemy, you have but yourself to blame. I am not given to threaten; and
you know that I can generally fulfil what I promise. I give you fair
warning then: so surely as you try, in the faintest item, to elude
your bargain, so surely will I cross your path, and spoil your game,
and show you up before the world. Mine you are, and mine you shall be.
If of free will, happily; if not, then to your misery and my own. But,
mark me, always _mine_!"

"The wisest clerks are not the wisest men." It is a bad plan ever to
drive a woman into a corner; and with all his knowledge of law, I
think Mr. Ryfe could hardly have written a more ill-advised and
injudicious letter than the above to Miss Bruce.



CHAPTER XI


IN THE SCALES


It was a declaration of war. Of all women in the world--and this is
saying a great deal--Maud was perhaps the least disposed to accept
anything like usurpation, or assumption of undue authority, especially
on the part of one in whose character she had detected an element of
weakness. Tom Ryfe, notwithstanding his capabilities, was a fool, like
most others, where his feelings were touched, and proved it by the
injudicious means he used to attain the end he so desired.

Locked in her own room, she read his letter over and over again, with
a bitter curl of her lip, that denoted hatred, scorn, even contempt.
When a man has been unfortunate enough to excite the last of these
amiable feelings, he should lose no time in decamping, for the game is
wholly and irretrievably lost. Mr. Ryfe would have felt this, could
he have seen the gestures of the woman he loved, while she tore his
letter into shreds--could he have marked the carriage of her haughty
head, the compression of her sweet, resolute lips, the fierce energy
of her white, cruel hands. Maud paced the floor for some half-dozen
turns, opened the window, arranged the bottles on her toilet-table,
the flowers on her chimney-piece, even took a good long look at
herself in the glass, and sat down to think.

For weeks she had been revolving in her mind the necessity of breaking
with Tom Ryfe, the policy of securing position and freedom by an early
marriage. That odious letter decided her; and now it only remained to
make her choice. There are women--and these, though sometimes the
most fascinating, by no means the most trustworthy of their sex--who
possess over mankind a mesmeric influence, almost akin to witchcraft.
Without themselves feeling deeply, perhaps for the very reason that
they do _not_, they are capable of exercising a magic sway over those
with whom they come in contact; and while they attract more admirers
than they know what to do with, are seldom very fortunate in their
selection, or happy in their eventual lot. Miss Bruce was one of these
witches, far more mischievous than the old conventional hags we used
to burn under the sapient government of our first Stuart, and she knew
a deal better than any old woman who ever mounted a broom-stick the
credulity of her victims, the dangerous power of her spells. These she
had lately been using freely. It was time to turn their exercise to
good account.

"Mr. Stanmore _would_, in a moment," thought Maud, "if I only gave him
the slightest hint. And I like him. Yes, I like him very much indeed.
Poor Dick! What a fool one can make a man look, to be sure, when he's
in love, as people call it! Aunt Agatha wouldn't much fancy it, I
suppose; not that I should care two pins about that. And Dick's very
easy to manage--too easy, I think. He seems as if I couldn't make him
angry. I made him _sorry_, though, the other day, poor fellow! but
that's not half such fun. Now Lord Bearwarden _has_ got a temper, I'm
sure. I wonder, if we were to quarrel, which would give in first. I
don't think I should. I declare it would be rather nice to try. He's
good-looking--that's to say, good-looking for a _man_. It's an ugly
animal at best. And they tell me the Den is such a pretty place in the
autumn! And twenty thousand a year! I don't care so much about the
money part of it. Of course one must have money; but Selina St. Croix
assured me that they called him The Impenetrable; and there wasn't a
girl in London he ever danced with twice. _Wasn't_ there? He danced
with me three times in two hours; but I didn't say so. I suppose
people _would_ open their eyes. I've a great mind--a _very_ great
mind. But then, there's Dick. He'd be horribly bored, poor fellow! And
the worst of it is, he wouldn't _say_ anything; but I know exactly how
he'd look, and I should feel I was a least! What a bother it all is!
But something must be done. I can't go on with this sort of life; I
can't stand Aunt Agatha much longer. There she goes, calling on the
stairs again! Why can't she send my maid up, if she wants me?"

But Miss Bruce ran down willingly enough when her aunt informed her,
from the first floor, that she must make haste, and Dick was in the
large drawing-room.

She found mother and son, as they called themselves, buried in a
litter of cards, envelopes, papers of every description referring to
"Peerage," "Court Guide," visiting-list--all such aids to memory--the
charts, as it were, of that voyage which begins in the middle of
April, and ends with the last week in July. As usual on great
undertakings, from the opening of a campaign to the issuing of
invitations for a ball, too much had been left to the last moment;
there was a great deal to do, and little time to do it.

"We can't get on without _you_, Miss Bruce," said Dick, with rising
colour and averted eyes, that denoted how much less efficient an
auxiliary he would prove since she had come into the room. "My mother
has mislaid the old visiting-list, and the new one only goes down to
T: so that the U's, and the V's, and W's will be all left out. Think
how we shall be hated in London next week! To be sure it's what my
mother calls 'small and early' like young potatoes, and I hear there
are three hundred cards sent out already."

"You'll only hinder us, Mr. Stanmore," said Maud. "Hadn't you better
go away again?" but observing Dick's face fall, the smiling eyes
added, plainly as words could speak, "if you _can_!" She looked pale
though, and unhappy, he thought. Of course he felt fonder of her than
ever.

"Hinder you!" he repeated. "Why, I'm the mainstay of the whole
performance. Don't I bring you eight-and-twenty dancing men? all at
once if you wish it, in a body, like soldiers."

"Nonsense, my dear," interrupted Aunt Agatha. "The staircase will be
crowded enough as it is."

Maud laughed.

"But are they _real_ dancing men?" she asked, "not 'dummies,'
'duffers,'--what do you call them? people who only stand against the
wall and look idiotic. They're no use unless they work regularly
through, as if it was a match or a boat-race. I don't call it dancing
to hover about, and be always wanting to go down to tea or supper, and
to haunt one and look cross if one behaves with common propriety--like
some people I know."

Dick accepted the imputation.

"_I'm_ not a dancing man," said he, "though my eight-and-twenty
friends are. I cannot see the pleasure of being hustled about in a hot
room with a girl I never saw before in my life, and never want to see
again,--who is looking beyond me all the time, watching the door for
another fellow who never comes."

"Then why on earth do you go?" asked Miss Bruce simply.

"_You_ know why," he answered in a low voice, without raising his eyes
to her face.

"O! I dare say," replied Maud; but though it was couched in a tone of
banter, the smile that accompanied this pertinent remark seemed to
afford Dick unbounded satisfaction.

Mrs. Stanmore looked up from her writing-table.

"I can't get on while you two are jabbering in that corner." (She had
not heard a word either of them said.) "I'll take my visiting-list
up-stairs. You can put these cards in envelopes and direct them. It
will help me a little, but you're neither of you much use."

She gathered her materials together, and was leaving the room. Dick's
heart began beating to some purpose; but his step-mother stopped at
the door and addressed her niece.

"By the bye, Maud, I'd almost forgotten. I'm going to Rose and
Brilliant's. Fetch me your diamonds, and I'll take them to be cleaned.
I can see the people myself, you know, and make sure of your having
them back in time for the ball."

The girl turned white. Dick saw it, though his mother did not. He
observed, too, that she gasped as if she was trying to form words
which would not come.

"I am not going to wear them." She got it out at last with difficulty.

"Not wear them! nonsense!" was the reply. "Bring them down, my dear,
at any rate, and let me look them over. If you don't want it, you
might lend me the collar--it would go very well with my mauve satin."

Maud's eyes turned here and there as if to look for help, and it was
Dick's nature to throw himself in the gap.

"I'll take them, mother," said he. "My phaeton's at the door now.
You've plenty to do, and it will save you a long drive. Besides, I can
blow the people up more effectually than a lady."

"I'm not so sure of that," answered Mrs. Stanmore. "However, it's a
sensible plan enough. Maud can fetch them down for you, and you may
come back to dinner if you're disengaged."

So speaking, Mrs. Stanmore sailed off, leaving the young people alone.

Maud thanked him with such a look as would have repaid Dick for a far
longer expedition than from Belgravia to Bond Street.

"What should I do without you, Mr. Stanmore?" she said. "You always
come to the rescue just when I want you most."

He coloured with delight.

"I like doing things for _you_," said he simply; "but I don't know
that taking a parcel a mile and a half is such a favour after all. If
you'll bring it, I'll start directly you give the word."

Miss Bruce had been very pale hitherto, now a burning blush swept over
her face to the temples.

"I--I can't bring you my diamonds," said she, "for the first of those
thirty reasons that prevented Napoleon's general from bringing up his
guns--I haven't got them: they're at Rose and Brilliant's already."

"Maud!" he exclaimed, unconsciously using her Christian name--a
liberty with which she seemed in nowise offended.

"You may well say 'Maud'!" she murmured in a soft, low voice. "If you
knew all, you'd never call me Maud. I don't believe you'd ever speak
to me again." "Then I'd rather not know all," he replied. "Though it
would have to be something very bad indeed if it could make me think
ill of you! Don't tell me anything, Miss Bruce, except that you would
like your diamonds back again."

"They _must_ be got back!" she exclaimed. "I _must_ have them back by
fair means or foul. I can't face Aunt Agatha, now that she knows, and
can't appear at her ball without them. O! Mr. Stanmore, what shall I
do? Do you think Rose and Brilliant's would _lend_ them to me only for
one night?"

Dick began to suspect something, began to surmise that this young lady
had been "raising the wind," as he called it, and to wonder for what
mysterious purpose she could want so large a sum as had necessitated
the sacrifice of her most valuable jewels; but she seemed in such
distress that he felt this was no time for explanation.

"Do!" he repeated cheerfully, and walking to the window that he might
not seem to notice her trouble. "Why do as I wish you had done all
through. Leave everything to _me_. I was going to say 'trust me,' but
I don't want to be trusted. I only want to be made use of."

Her better nature was conquering her fast.

"But indeed I _will_ trust you," she murmured. "You deserve to be
trusted. You are so kind, so good, so true. You will despise me, I
know--very likely hate me, and never come to see me again; but I don't
care--I can't help it. Sit down, and I will tell you everything."

He did not blush nor stammer now, his voice was very firm, and he
stood up like a man.

"Miss Bruce," said he, "Maud--yes, I'm not afraid to call you Maud--I
won't hear another word. I don't want to be told anything. Whatever
you have done makes no difference to me. Some day, perhaps, you'll
remember how I believed in you. In the meantime tell my mother that
the diamonds will be back in time for her ball. How late it is! I must
be off like a shot. Those horses will be perfectly wild with waiting.
I'm coming to dinner. Good-bye!"

He hurried away without another look, and Maud, burying her head in
the sofa-cushions, burst out crying, as she had not cried since she
was a child.

"He's too good for me!--he's too good for me!" she repeated, between
the sobs she tried hard to keep back. "How wicked and vile I should be
to throw him over! He's too good for me!--too good for me by far!"



CHAPTER XII


"A CRUEL PARTING"


The phaeton-horses went off like wildfire, Dick driving as if he was
drunk. Omnibus-cads looked after him with undisguised admiration,
and hansom cabmen, catching the enthusiasm of pace, found themselves
actually wishing they were gentlemen's servants, to have their beer
found, and sit behind such steppers as those!

The white foam stood on flank and shoulder when the pair were pulled
up at Rose and Brilliant's door.

Dick bustled in with so agitated an air that an experienced shopman
instantly lifted the glass from a tray containing the usual assortment
of wedding-rings.

"I'm come about some diamonds," panted the customer, casting a wistful
glance towards these implements of coercion the while. "A set of
diamonds--very valuable--left here by a lady--a young lady--I want
them back again."

He looked about him helplessly; nevertheless, the shopman, himself a
married man, became at once less commiserating, and more confidential.

"Diamonds!" he repeated. "Let me see--yes, sir--quite so--I think I
recollect. Perhaps you'll step in and speak to our principal. Mind
your hat, if you please, sir--yes, sir--this way, sir."

So saying, he ushered Mr. Stanmore through glass doors into a neat
little room at the back, where sat a bald, smiling personage in sober
attire, something between that of a provincial master of hounds and a
low-church clergyman, whose cool composure, as it struck Dick at the
time, afforded a ludicrous contrast to his own fuss and agitation.

"_My_ name is Rose, sir," said the placid man. "Pray take a seat."

Nobody can "take a seat" under feelings of strong excitement. Dick
grasped the proffered chair by the back.

"Mr. Rose," he began, "what I have to say to you goes no farther."

"O dear, no!--certainly not--Mr. Stanmore, I believe? I hope I see you
well, sir. This is my _private_ room, you understand, sir. Whatever
affairs we transact here are _in_ private. How can I accommodate you,
Mr. Stanmore?" Dick looked so eager, the placid man was persuaded he
must want money.

"There's a young lady," said Dick, plunging at his subject, "who left
her diamonds here last week--quite a young lady--very handsome. Did
she give you her name?"

Mr. Rose smiled and shook his head benevolently. "If any jewels of
value were left with _us_, you may be sure we satisfied ourselves of
the party's name and address. Perhaps I can help you, Mr. Stanmore.
Can you favour me with the date?"

"Yes, I can," answered Dick, "and the name too. It's no use humbugging
about it. Miss Bruce was the lady's name. There! Now she wants her
jewels back again. She's changed her mind."

Mr. Rose took a ledger off the table, and ran his finger down its
columns. "Quite correct, sir," said he, stopping at a particular
entry. "You are acquainted with the circumstances, of course."

Dick nodded, esteeming it little breach of confidence to look as if he
knew all about it.

"There is no difficulty whatever," continued the bland Mr. Rose.
"Happy to oblige Miss Bruce. Happy to oblige _you_. We shall charge a
small sum for commission. Nothing more--O dear, no! Have them cleaned
up? Certainly, sir; and you may depend on their being sent home in
time. At your convenience, Mr. Stanmore. No hurry, sir. You can write
me your cheque for the amount. Perhaps I'd better draw out a little
memorandum. We shall make a mere nominal charge for cleaning."

Dick glanced over the memorandum, including its nominal charge for
cleaning, which, perhaps from ignorance, did not strike him as being
extraordinarily low. He was somewhat startled at the sum total, but
when this gentleman made up his mind, it was not easy to turn him from
an object in view.

The steppers, hardly cool, were hurried straight off to his bankers',
to be driven, after their owner's interview with one of the partners,
back again to the great emporium of their kind at Tattersall's.

A woman who wants to make a sacrifice parts with her jewels, a man
sells his horses. Honour to each, for each offers up what is nearest
and dearest to the heart.

Dick Stanmore lived no more within his income than other people. To
get back these diamonds he would have to raise a considerable sum.
There was nothing else to be done. The hunters must go: nay, the whole
stud, phaeton-horses, hacks, and all. Yet Dick marched into the office
to secure stalls for an early date, with a bright eye and a smiling
face. He was proving, to _himself_, at least, how well he loved her.

The first person he met in the yard was Lord Bearwarden. That
nobleman, though knowing him but slightly, had rather a liking for
Stanmore, cemented by a certain good run they once saw in company,
when each approved of the other's straightforward riding and unusual
forbearance towards hounds.

"There's a nice horse in the boxes," said my lord; "looks very like
your sort, Stanmore, and they say he'll go cheap, though he's quite
sound."

"Thanks," answered Dick. "But I'm all the other way. Been taking
stalls. Going to sell."

"Draft?" asked his lordship, who did not waste words.

"All of them," replied the other. "Even the hacks, saddlery, clothing,
in short, the whole plant, and without reserve--going to give it
up--at any rate for a time."

"Sorry for that," replied Bearwarden, adding, courteously, "Can I
offer you a lift? I'm going your way. Indeed, I'm going to call at
your mother's. Shall I find the ladies at home?"

"A little later you will," said honest, unsuspecting Dick, who had not
yet learned the lesson that teaches it is not worth while to trust or
mistrust any of the sex. "They'll be charmed to give you some tea. I'm
off to Croydon to look over my poor screws before they're sold, and
break it to my groom."

"That's a right good fellow," thought Lord Bearwarden, "and not a bad
connection if I was fool enough to marry the dark girl, after all." So
he called out to Dick, who had one foot on the step of his phaeton--

"I say, Stanmore, come and dine with us on the 11th; we've got two or
three hunting fellows, and we can go on together afterwards to your
mother's ball."

"All right," said Stanmore, and bowled away in the direction of
Croydon at the rate of fourteen miles an hour. If the horses were
to be sold, people might just as well be made aware of the class of
animal he kept. Though the sacrifice involved was considerable, it
would be wise to lessen it by all judicious means in his power.

_How_ great a sacrifice he scarcely felt till he arrived at his
country stables.

Dick Stanmore had been fonder of hunting than any other pursuit in the
world, ever since he went out for the first time on a Shetland pony,
and came home with his nose bleeding, at five years old.

The spin and "whizz" of his reel, the rush of a brown mountain stream
with its fringe of silver birch and stunted alder, the white side of a
leaping salmon, and the gasp of that noble fish towed deftly into the
shallows at last, afforded him a natural and unmixed pleasure. He
loved the heather dearly, the wild hillside, the keen pure air, the
steady setters, the flap and cackle of the rising grouse, the ringing
shot that laid him low, born in the purple, and fated there to die.
Nor, when corn-fields were cleared, and partridges, almost as swift as
bullets and as numerous as locusts, were driven to and fro across the
open, was his aim to be foiled by a flight little less rapid than the
shot that arrested it. With a rifle in his hand, a general knowledge
of the surrounding forest, and a couple of gillies, give him the wind
of a royal stag feeding amongst his hinds, and despite the feminine
jealousy and instinctive vigilance of the latter, an hour's stalk
would put the lord of the hills at the mercy of Dick Stanmore. In all
these sports he was a proficient, from all of them he derived a keen
gratification, but fox-hunting was his passion and his delight.

A fine rider, he loved the pursuit so well, and was so interested in
hounds, that he gave his horse every opportunity of carrying him in
front, and as his natural qualities included a good eye, and that
confidence in the immediate future which we call "nerve," he was
seen in difficulties less often than might be expected from his
predilection in favour of "the shortest way."

His horses generally appeared to go pleasantly, and to reciprocate
their rider's confidence, for he certainly seemed to get more work out
of them than his neighbours.

As Mr. Crop, his stud-groom, remarked in the peculiar style of English
affected by that trustworthy but exceedingly impracticable servant--

"Take and put him on a 'arf-bred' 'oss, an' he rides him like a
hangel, nussin' of him, and coaxin' of him, and sendin' of him along,
_beautiful_ for ground, an' uncommon liberal for fences. Take an' put
him on a thoro'-bred 'un, like our Vampire 'oss, and--Lor!"

One secret perhaps of that success in the hunting-field, which, when
well mounted, even Mr. Crop's eloquence was powerless to express but
by an interjection, lay in his master's affection for the animal.
Dick Stanmore dearly loved a horse, as some men do love them, totally
irrespective of any pleasure or advantage to be derived from their
use.

There is a fanciful oriental legend which teaches that when Allah was
engaged in the work of creation, he tempered the lightning with the
south wind, and thus created the horse. Whimsical as is this idea, it
yet suggests the swiftness, the fire, the mettlesome, generous, but
plastic temperament of our favourite quadruped--the only one of
our dumb servants in whose spirit we can rouse at will the utmost
emulation, the keenest desire for the approval of its lord. Even the
countenance of this animal denotes most of the qualities we affect to
esteem in the human race--courage, docility, good-temper, reflection
(for few faces are so thoughtful as that of the horse), gratitude,
benevolence, and, above all, trust. Yes, the full brown eye, large,
and mild, and loving, expresses neither spite, nor suspicion, nor
revenge. It turns on you with the mute unquestioning confidence
of real affection, and you may depend on it under all pressure of
circumstance, in the last extremity of danger or death. Will you say
as much for the bluest eyes that ever sparkled in mirth, or swam in
tears, or shone and deepened under the combined influence of triumph,
belladonna, and war-paint?

I once heard a man affirm that for him there was in every horse's face
the beauty each of us sees in the one woman he adores. This outrageous
position he assumed after a good run, and, indeed, after the dinner
which succeeded it. I will not go quite so far as to agree with him,
but I will say that in generosity, temper, and fidelity, there is
many a woman, and man too, who might well take example from the noble
qualities of the horse.

And now Dick Stanmore was about to offer up half-a-dozen of these
valued servants before the idol he had lately begun to worship, for
whom, indeed, he esteemed no victim too precious, no sacrifice too
dear.

Driving into his stable-yard, he threw the reins to a couple of
helpers, and made use of Mr. Crop's arm to assist his descent. That
worthy's face shone with delight. Next to his horses he loved his
master--chiefly, it is fair to say, as an important ingredient without
which there would be no stud.

"I was expectin' of ye, sir," said he, touching an exceedingly
straight-brimmed hat. "Glad to see ye lookin' so well."

To do him justice, Mr. Crop did his duty as if he always _was_
expecting his master.

"Horses all right?" asked Dick, moving towards the stable-door.

"'Osses _is_ 'ealthy, I am thankful to say," replied the groom
gravely, "and lookin', too, pretty nigh as I could wish, now they've
done breakin' with their coats. There's Firetail got a queerish
look--them Northamptonshire 'osses is mostly unsound ones--and the
mare's off leg's filled; and the Vampire 'oss, he's got a bit of a
splent a-comin', but I'll soon frighten that away; an' old Dandybrush,
he's awful, but not wuss nor I counted; and the young un--"

"I'll look 'em over," said Dick, interrupting what threatened to be
a long catalogue. "I came down on purpose. The fact is (take those
horses out and feed them)--the fact is, Crop, I'm going to sell them
all. I'm going to send them up to Tattersall's."

Every groom is more or less a sporting man, and it is the peculiarity
of sporting men to betray astonishment at no eventuality, however
startling; therefore Mr. Crop, doing violence to his feelings, moved
not a muscle of his countenance.

"I'm sorry to part with them, Crop," added Dick, a little put out by
the silence of his retainer, and not knowing exactly what to say next.
"They've carried me very well--I've seen a deal of fun on them--I
don't suppose I shall ever have such good ones--I don't suppose I
shall ever hunt much again."

Mr. Crop began to thaw. "They're _good_ 'osses," he observed
sententiously; "but that's not to say as there isn't good 'osses
elsewheres. In regard of not huntin' there's a many seasons, askin'
your pardon, atween you and me, and I should be sorry to think as I
wasn't goin' huntin', ay, twenty years from now! When is 'em goin' up,
sir?" added he, sinking sentiment and coming to business at once.

"Monday fortnight," answered Dick, entering a loose box, in which
stood a remarkably handsome mare, that neighed at him, and rubbed her
head against his breast.

"I should ha' liked another ten days," replied Crop, for it was an
important part of his system never to accept his master's arrangements
without a protest. "I could ha' got 'em to show as they ought to show
by then. Is the stalls took?"

Dick nodded. He was looking wistfully at the mare, thinking what a
light mouth she had, and how boldly she faced water.

"That leg'll be as clean as my face in a week," observed Mr. Crop
confidently. "She'll fetch a good price, _she_ will. Sir Frederic's
after _her_, I know. There's nothing but tares in there, sir; old
Dandybrush is in the box on the right."

Dick gave the mare a loving pat, and turned sadly into the residence
of old Dandybrush.

That experienced animal greeted him with laid-back ears and a grin, as
though to say, "Here you are again! But I like you best in your red
coat."

They had seen many a good gallop together, and rolled over each other
with the utmost good-humour, in every description of soil. To look at
the old horse, even in his summer guise, was to recall the happiest
moments of a sufficiently happy life.

"I'd meant to guv it _him_ pretty sharp," said Crop; "but I'll let him
alone now. He'd 'a carried you, maybe, another season or two, with a
good strong dressin'; but them legs isn't what they _was_. Last
time as I rode of him second horse, I found him different--gettin'
inquisitive at his places--and when they gets inquisitive they soon
begins to get slow. You'll look at the Vampire 'oss, sir, before you
go back to town?"

Now "the Vampire 'oss," as he called him, was an especial favourite
with Mr. Crop. Dick Stanmore had bought him out of training at
Newmarket by his groom's advice, and the highbred animal, being ridden
by an exceedingly good horseman, had turned out a far better hunter
than common--not invariably the case with horses that begin life
on the Heath. Crop took great pride in this purchase, confidently
asserting, and doubtless believing, that England could not produce its
equal.

He threw the box-door open with the air of a man who is going to
exhibit a picture of his own painting.

"It's a pity to let him go," said the groom, with a sigh. "Where'll
you get another as can touch him when the ground's deep, like it was
last March? I've had a many to look after, first and last; but such a
kind 'oss to do for in the stable I never see. Why, if you was to
give that 'oss ten feeds of corn a day he'd take an' eat 'em all out
clean--wouldn't leave a hoat! And legs. Them's not legs! them's slips
of gutta-percher an' steel! To be sure he'll fetch a hawful price at
the 'ammer--four 'underd, five 'underd, I shouldn't wonder--why he's
worth all the money to look at. Blessed if you mightn't ride a good
'ack to death only tryin' to find such another!"

Nevertheless, the Vampire horse was condemned to go up with the rest.
Notwithstanding the truth of the groom's protestations, its money
value was exactly the quality that decided the animal's fate.

Driving back to London, Dick's heart bounded to think that in an
hour's time he should meet Miss Bruce again at dinner. How delightful
to be doing all this for her sake, yet to keep the precious secret
safe locked in his own breast, until the moment should come when it
would be judicious to divulge it, making, at the same time, another
confession, of which he hoped the result might be happiness for life.

"I'd do more than that for her," muttered this enthusiastic young
gentleman, while he trotted over Vauxhall Bridge. "I liked my poor
horses better than anything; and that's just the reason I like to part
with them for her sake. My darling, I'd give you the heart out of my
breast, even if I thought you'd tread it under foot and send it back
again!"

Had such an anatomical absurdity been reconcilable with the structure
of the human frame, it is possible Miss Bruce might have treated this
important organ in the contumelious manner suggested.



CHAPTER XIII


SIXES AND SEVENS


In the meantime, while Dick Stanmore is hugging himself in the warm
atmosphere of hope, while Lord Bearwarden hovers on the brink of a
stream in which he narrowly escaped drowning long ago, while Tom Ryfe
is plunged in depths of anxiety, jealousy, and humiliation that scorch
like liquid fire, Miss Bruce's dark eyes, and winning, wilful ways,
have kindled the torch of mistrust and discord between two people of
whom she has rarely seen the one and never heard of the other.

Mr. Bargrave's chambers in Gray's Inn were at no time more remarkable
for cleanliness than other like apartments in the same locality; but
the dust lies inch-thick now in all places where dust _can_ lie,
because that Dorothea, more moping and tearful than ever, has not the
heart to clean up, no, nor even to wash her own hands and face in the
afternoon as heretofore.

She loves her "Jim," of course, all the more passionately that he
makes her perfectly miserable, neglecting her for days together,
and when they do meet, treating her with an indifference far more
lacerating than any amount of cruelty or open scorn.

Not that he is always good-humoured. On the contrary, "Gentleman Jim,"
as they call him, has lost much of the rollicking, devil-may-care
recklessness that earned his nickname, and is often morose
now--sometimes even fierce and savage to brutality.

The poor woman has had a quarrel with him, not two hours ago,
originating, it is but fair to state, in her own extremely irritating
conduct regarding beer, Jim being anxious to treat his ladye-love with
that fluid for the purpose, as he said, of "drowning unkindness," and
possibly with the further view of quenching an inconvenient curiosity
she has lately indulged about his movements. No man likes to be
watched; and the more reason the woman he is betraying has to doubt
him, the less patience he shows for her anxiety, the less he tolerates
her inquiries, her jealousy, or her reproaches.

Now Dorothea's suspicions, sharpened by affection, have of late grown
extremely wearisome, and Jim has been heard to threaten more than once
that "if so be as she doesn't mend her manners, and live conformable,
he'll take an' hook it, he will, blessed if he won't!"--a dark saying
which sinks deeply and painfully into the forlorn one's heart. When,
therefore, instead of drinking her share, as usual, of a foaming quart
measure containing beer, dashed with something stronger, this
poor thing set it down untasted, and forthwith began to cry, the
cracksman's anger knew no bounds.

"Drop it!" he exclaimed brutally. "You'd best, I tell ye! D'ye think I
want my blessed drink watered with your blessed nonsense? What's come
to ye, ye contrairy devil? I thought I'd larned ye better. I'll see if
I can't larn ye still. Would ye now!"

It was almost a blow,--such a push as is the next thing to actual
violence, and it sent her staggering from the sloppy bar at which
their altercation took place against a bench by the wall, where she
sat down pale and gasping, to the indignation of a slatternly woman
nursing her child, and the concern of an honest coalheaver, who had a
virago of a wife at home.

"Easy, mate!" expostulated that worthy, putting his broad frame
between the happy pair. "Hold on a bit, an' give her a drop when she
comes to. She'd 'a throwed her arms about your neck a while ago, an'
now she'd as soon knife ye as look at ye."

Wild-eyed and pale, Dorothea glared round, as Clytemnestra may have
glared when her hand rested on the fatal axe; but this Holborn
Agamemnon did not seem destined to fall by a woman's blow, inasmuch as
the tide was effectually turned by another woman's interference.

The slatternly lady, shouldering her child, as a soldier does his
firelock, thrust herself eagerly forward.

"Knife him!" she exclaimed, with a most unfeminine execration. "I'd
knife him, precious soon, if it was me, the blessed willen! To take
an' use a woman like that there--a nasty, cowardly, sneakin,' ugly,
tallow-faced beast!"

Had it not been for the imputation on his beauty, Dorothea might
perhaps have blazed out in open rebellion, or remained passive
in silent sulks; but to hear _her_ Jim, the flash man of a dozen
gin-shops, the beloved of a score of rivals, called "ugly," was
more than flesh and blood could endure. She turned fiercely on her
auxiliary and gave battle at once.

"And who arst _you_ to interfere, mem, if I may wenture to make the
inquiry?" said she, with that polite but spasmodic intonation that
denotes the approaching row. "Keep yerself _to_ yerself, if you
please, mem. And I'll thank ye not to go for to come between me and my
young man, not till you've got a young man of your own, mem; and if
you'd like to walk out, there's the door, mem, and don't you try for
to give _me_ none o' your sauce, for I'm not a-goin' to put up with
it."

The slatternly woman ran her guns out and returned the broadside with
promptitude.

"Door, indeed! you poor whey-faced drab, you dare to say the word door
to _me_, a respectable woman, as Mister Tripes here knows me well, and
have a score against me behind that there wery door as you disgraces,
and as it's _you_ as ought to be t'other side, you ought; for it's out
of the streets as _you_ come, well I knows, an' say another word, and
I'll take that there bonnet off of your head, and chuck it into them
streets and _you_ arter it. O dear! O dear! that ever I should be
spoke to like this here, and my master out o' work a month come
Toosday, and this here gentleman standing by! But I'll set my mark on
ye, if I get six months for it--I will!"

Thus speaking, or rather screaming, and brandishing her baby, as the
gonfalonier waves his gonfalon, the slat-slatternly woman, swelling
into a fury for the nonce, made a dive at Dorothea, which, but for the
interposition of "this here gentleman," as she called the coalheaver,
might have produced considerable mischief. That good man, however,
took a deal of "weathering," as sailors say, and ere either of the
combatants could get round his bulky person, the presence of a
policeman at the door warned them that ordeal by battle had better
be deferred till a more fitting opportunity. They burst into tears,
therefore, simultaneously, and the dispute ended, as such disputes
often do, in a general reconciliation, cemented by the consumption of
much excisable fluid, some of it at the expense of the philanthropic
coalheaver, whose simple faith involved a persuasion that the closest
connection must always be preserved between good-fellowship and beer.

After these potations, it is not surprising that the slatternly woman
should have found herself, baby and all, under the care of the civil
power at a police-station, or that Gentleman Jim and his ladye-love
should have adjourned to sober themselves in the steaming gallery of a
playhouse.

Behold them, then, wedged into a front seat, Dorothea's bonnet hanging
over the rail, Jim's gaudy handkerchief bulging with oranges, both
spectators too absorbed in the action of the piece to realise its
improbabilities, and the woman thoroughly identifying herself with the
character and fortunes of its heroine.

The theatre is small, but the audience if not select are enthusiastic;
the stage is narrow, but affords room for a deal of strutting and
striding about on the part of an overpowering actor in the inevitable
belt and boots of the melodramatic highwayman. The play represents
certain startling passages in the career of one Claude Duval,
formerly a running footman, afterwards--strange anomaly!--a robber on
horseback, distinguished for polite manners and bold riding.

This remarkable person has a wife, devoted to him of course. In the
English drama all wives are good; in the French all are bad, and
people tell you that a play is the reflection of real life. Besides
this dutiful spouse, he cherishes an attachment for a young lady
of high birth and aristocratic (stage) manners. She returns his
tenderness, as it is extremely natural a young person so educated and
brought up would return that of a criminal, who has made an impression
on her heart by shooting her servants, rifling her trunks, and forcing
her to dance a minuet with him on a deserted heath under a harvest
moon.

This improbable incident affords a favourite scene, in which
Dorothea's whole soul is absorbed, and to which Jim devotes an earnest
attention, as of one who weighs the verisimilitude of an illustration,
that he may accept the purport of the parable it conveys.

Dead servants (in profusion), struggling horses, the coach upset, and
the harvest moon, are depicted in the back scene, which represents
besides an illimitable heath, and a gibbet in the middle distance: all
this under a glare of light, as indeed it might well be, for the moon
is quite as large as the hind wheel of the coach.

In the foreground are grouped, the hero himself, a comic servant with
a red nose and a fiddle, an open trunk, and a young lady in travelling
costume, viz. white satin shoes, paste diamonds, ball-dress, and
lace veil. The tips of her fingers rest in the gloved hand of her
assailant, whose voice comes deep and mellow through the velvet mask
he wears.

"My preservier!" says the lady, a little inconsequentially, while
her fingers are lifted to the mask and saluted with such a smack as
elicits a "hooray!" from some disrespectful urchin at the back of the
pit.

"To presurrve beauty from the jeer of insult, the grasp of vie-olence
is my duty and my prowfession. To adore it is my ree-ligion--and my
fate!" replies the gallant highwayman, contriving with some address
to retain his hold of the lady's hand, though encumbered by spurs, a
sword, pistols, a mask, and an enormous three-cornered hat.

"And this man is proscribed, hunted, in danger, in disgrace!" exclaims
the lady, aside, and therefore loud enough to be heard in the street.
Claude Duval starts. The start of such an actor makes Dorothea jump.
"Perdition!" he shouts, "ye have reminded me of what were well buried
fathom-deep--obliterated--forgotten. Tr'you, lady, 'tis ee-ven so! I
have a compact with my followers--the ransom--"

"Shall be paid right willingly," she answers; and forth-with the comic
servant with the red nose wakes into spasmodic life, winks repeatedly,
and performs a flourish on his "property" fiddle, a little out of tune
with the real instrument in the orchestra at his feet.

"What are they going to do?" asked Dorothea, in great anxiety.

"Hold your noise!" answers Jim, and the action of the piece
progresses.

It is fortunate, perhaps, that minuets have gone out of fashion, if
they involved such a test of endurance as that in which Claude Duval
and his fair captive now disport themselves with an amount of bodily
exertion it seems real cruelty to encore. His concluding caper shakes
the mask from his partner's face, and the young lady falls, with a
shriek, into his arms, leaving the audience in that happy state of
perplexity, which so enhances the interest of a plot, as to whether
her distress originates in excess of sentiment or deficiency of wind.

"It's beautiful!" whispers Dorothea, refreshing herself with an
orange. "It 'minds me of the first time you and me ever met at
Highbury Barn."

Jim grunts, but his grunt is not that of a contented sleeper, rather
of one who is woke from a dream.

After a tableau like the last, it is natural that Claude Duval should
find a certain want of excitement in the next scene, where he appears
as a respectable householder in the apartments of his lawful spouse.
This lady, leaving a cradle in the background, and advancing to the
footlights, proceeds to hover round her husband, after the manner of
stage wives, with neck protruded and arms spread out, like a woman
who is a little afraid of a wasp or earwig, but wants to catch the
creature all the same. He sits with his back to her, as nobody ever
does sit but a stage husband at home, and punches the floor with his
spur. It is strictly natural that she should sing a faint song with a
slow movement on the spot.

It is perhaps yet more natural that this should provoke him
exceedingly, so he jumps up, reaches a cupboard in two strides,
and pulls out of it his whole paraphernalia, sword, pistols, mask,
three-cornered hat, everything but his horse. Then the wife, from her
knees, informs all whom it may concern, that for the first time in
their happy married life she has learned her husband is a robber, as
they both call it, by "prowfession."

Dorothea's sympathies, womanlike, are with the wife. Jim, whose
interest is centred in the young lady, finds this part of the
performance rather wearisome, and thirsts, to use his own expression,
for "a drain."

Events now succeed each other with startling rapidity. Claude Duval is
seen at Ranelagh, still in his boots, where he makes fierce love to
his young lady, and exchanges snuff-boxes (literally) with a duke.
Next, in a thicket beset by thief-takers, from whom he escapes after
prodigies of valour, aided by the comic servant, and thereafter guided
by that singular domestic to a place of safety, which turns out to
be the young lady's bedroom. Here Jim becomes much excited, fancying
himself for the moment a booted hero, rings, laced-coat, Steinkirk
handkerchief, and all. His dress touches that of his companion, but
instinctively he moves from her as far as the crowded seat will
permit, while Dorothea, all unconscious, looks lovingly in his face.

"She's a bold thing, and I can't abide her," is that lady's comment
on the principal actress. "She ought to think shame of herself, she
ought, acause of his wife at 'ome. But he's a good plucked 'un, isn't
he, Jim? and lady or no lady, that goes a long way with a woman!"

Jim turned his head aside. Brutalised, besotted, depraved, there was
yet in him a spark of that fire which lights men to their doom, and
his eyes filled with tears.

But the thief-takers have Claude Duval by the throat at last; and
there is a scene in court, where the young lady perjures herself
unhesitatingly, and faints once more in the prisoner's arms. In vain.
Claude Duval is sworn to, found guilty, condemned; and the stage is
darkened for a grand finale.

Still gay, still gallant, still impenitent, and still booted, though
in fetters, the highwayman sits in his prison cell, to be visited by
the young lady, who cannot bear to lose her partner, and the wife,
who still clings to her husband. Unlike Macheath, he seems in no way
embarrassed by the position. His wife forgives him, at this supreme
moment, all the sorrow he has caused her, in consideration of some
unexplained past, "gilded," as she expressed it, "by the sunny smiles
of southern France," while the young lady, holding on with great
tenacity to his hand, weeps frantically on her knees.

A clock strikes. It is the hour of execution. Dorothea begins to sob,
and Gentleman Jim clenches his hands. The back of the stage opens to
disclose a street, a crowd, a hangman, and the fatal Tyburn tree.
Faint cheers are heard from the wings. The sheriff enters, bearing
in his hand a reprieve, written apparently on a window-blind. He is
attended by the comic servant, through whose mysterious agency a
pardon has been granted, and who sticks by his fiddle to the last.

Grand tableau: Claude Duval penitent. His wife in his arms. The young
lady conveying in dumb show how platonic has been her attachment,
of which, nevertheless, she seems a little ashamed. The sheriff
benignant; the turnkeys amused; the comic servant, obviously in
liquor, brandishing his fiddlestick, and the orchestra playing "God
save the Queen."

Walking home through the wet streets, under the flashing gaslights,
Dorothea and her companion preserve an ominous silence. Both identify
themselves with the fiction they have lately witnessed: the woman
pondering on Mrs. Duval's sufferings and the eventful reward of that
good lady's constancy and truth; her companion reflecting, not on the
charms of the actress he has lately been applauding, but on another
face which haunts him now, as the wilis and water-sprites haunted
their doomed votaries, and which must ever be as far out of reach as
if it belonged indeed to some such being of another nature; thinking
how a man might well risk imprisonment, transportation, hanging, for
one kind glance of those bright eyes, one smile of those haughty,
scornful lips; and comparing in bitter impatience that exotic beauty
with the humble, homely creature at his side.

She looks up in his face. "Jim," says she timidly, and cowering close
to him the while, "if you was took, and shopped, like him in the long
boots, I'd go to quod with you, if they'd give me leave--I'd go to
death with you, Jim, I would. I'd never forsake you, I wouldn't. I
couldn't, dear,--not if it was ever so!"

He shudders and shrinks from her. "It might come sooner than you think
for," says he, adding brutally enough, "now you _could_ do me a turn
in the witness-box, though I shouldn't wonder but you'd cut out white
like the others. Let's call in here, and take a drop o' gin afore they
shuts up."


The great picture of Thomas the Rhymer, and his Elfin Mistress, goes
on apace. There is, I believe, but one representation in London of
that celebrated prophet, and it is in the possession of his lineal
descendant. Every feature, every shadow on that portrait has Simon
Perkins studied with exceeding diligence and care, marvelling, it must
be confessed, at the taste of the Fairy Queen. The accessories to his
own composition are in rapid progress. Most of the fairies have been
put in, and the gradual change from glamour to disillusion, cunningly
conveyed by a stream of cold grey morning light entering the magic
cavern from realms of upper earth, to deaden the glitter, pale the
colouring, and strip, as it were, the tinsel where it strikes. On
the Rhymer himself our artist has bestowed an infinity of pains,
preserving (no easy task) some resemblance to the original portrait,
while he dresses his conception in the manly form and comely features
indispensable to the situation.

But it is into the fairy queen herself that Simon loves to throw all
the power of his genius, all the resources of his art. To this labour
of love, day after day, he returns with unabated zest, altering,
improving, painting out, adding, taking away, drinking in the while
his model's beauty, as parched and thirsty gardens of Egypt drink
in the overflowing Nile, to return a tenfold harvest of verdure,
luxuriance, and wealth.

She has been sitting to him for three consecutive hours. Truth to
tell, she is tired to death of it--tired of the room, the palette,
the easel, the queen, the rhymer, the little dusky imp in the corner,
whose wings are changing into scales and a tail, almost tired of dear
Simon Perkins himself; who is working contentedly on (how can he?) as
if life contained nothing more than effect and colouring--as if the
reality were not better than the representation after all.

"A quarter of an inch more this way," says the preoccupied artist.
"There is a touch wanting in that shadow under the eye--thanks, dear
Nina. I shall get it at last," and he falls back a step to look at his
work, with his head on one side, as nobody but a painter _can_ look,
so strangely does the expression of face combine impartial criticism
with a satisfaction almost maternal in its intensity.

Before beginning again, his eye rested on his model, and he could not
but mark the air of weariness and dejection she betrayed.

"Why, Nina," said he, "you look quite pale and tired. What a brute I
am! I go painting on and forget how stupid it must be for you, who
mustn't even turn your head to look at my work."

She gave a stretch, and such a yawn! Neither of them very graceful
performances, had the lady been less fair and fascinating, but Nina
looked exceedingly pretty in their perpetration nevertheless.

"Work," she answered. "Do you call that work? Why you've undone
everything you did yesterday, and put about half of it in again. If
you're diligent, and keep on at this pace, you'll finish triumphantly
with a blank canvas, like Penthesilea and her tapestry in my ancient
history."

"Penelope," corrected Simon gently.

"Well, Penelope! It's all the same. I don't suppose any of it's true.
Let's have a peep, Simon. It can't be. Is that really like me?"

The colour had come back to her face, the light to her eye. She was
pleased, flattered, half amused to find herself so beautiful. He
looked from the picture to the original, and with all his enthusiasm
for art awarded the palm to nature.

"It _was_ like you a minute ago," said he, in his grave, gentle tones.
"Or rather, I ought to say you were like _it_. But you change so, that
I am often in despair of catching you, and, somehow, I always seem to
love the last expression best."

There was something in his voice so admiring, so reverential, and yet
so tender, that she glanced quickly, with a kind of surprise, in his
face; that face which to an older woman, who had known suffering and
sorrow, might have been an index of the gentle heart, the noble,
chivalrous character within, which, to this girl, was simply pale
and worn, and not at all handsome, but very dear nevertheless, as
belonging to her kind old Simon, the playmate of her childhood, the
brother, and more than brother, of her youth.

Those encounters are sadly unequal, and very poor fun for the muffled
fighter, in which one keeps the gloves on, while the other's blows are
delivered with the naked fist.

Miss Algernon was at this time perhaps more attached to Simon Perkins
than to any other creature in the world; that is to say, she did not
happen to like anybody else better. How different from him, to whom
she represented the very essence of that spiritual life which, in
our several ways, we all try to live, which so few of us know how to
attain by postponing its enjoyment for a few short troubled years.

It is probable that, if the painter had thrown down his brush at this
juncture, and asked simply, "Nina, will you be my wife?" she would
have answered, "Thank you kindly, yes, I will!" but although his
judgment told him he was likely to succeed, his finer instincts warned
him that an affirmative would be the sacrifice of her youth, her
illusions, her possible future. Such sacrifice it was far more in
Simon's nature to make than to accept.

"Will she ever know me thoroughly?" he used to think. "Will the time
ever come when I can say to her, 'Nina, I am sure you care for me now,
and therefore I am not afraid to tell you how dearly I loved you all
through'? Such a time would be well worth waiting for, ay, though it
never came for seven years, and seven more to the back of that. Then
I should feel her happiness depended on mine. Now I often think the
prince in the fairy tale will ride past our Putney villa some summer's
day, like Launcelot through the barley sheaves (I'll paint Launcelot
when I've time, with the ripe ears reddened in the sun, and the light
flashing off his harness), ride by and take Nina's heart away with
him, and what will be left for me then? I could bear it! Yes, I could
bear it if I knew she was happy. My darling, my darling! so that you
walk on in joy and triumph, it matters little what becomes of me!"

The sentiment was perhaps overstrained. It is not thus that women are
won. The fruit that drops into people's mouths is usually over-ripe,
and the Sabine maiden would have thought less of her Roman lover,
though doubtless she would have taken the initiative rather than miss
him altogether, had it been necessary to pounce on him in the vineyard
and desire him straightway to carry her home. But the bird of prey
must have its natural victim, and such hearts as our poor generous
painter possessed are destined for the talons and the beak. Ah! those
who value them least win the great prizes in the lottery. Fortune
smiles on the careless player--gold goes to the rich--streams run to
the river, and if you have more mutton than you know what to do with,
be sure that in your folds will be found the poor man's ewe-lamb. Put
a ribbon round her neck, and be kind to her as _he_ was. It is the
least you can do!

"You've taken a deal of pains, Simon," says the sitter, after a long
and well-pleased scrutiny. "Tell me, no flattery now, why should I
be so difficult to paint?" Why, indeed, you saucy innocent coquette!
Perhaps, because, all the while, you are turning the poor artist's
head, and driving pins and needles into his heart.

"I _ought_ to make a good likeness of you," answers Simon rather
sadly. "I'm sure, Nina, I know your face by heart. But I'm determined
to take enormous pains with this picture. It's to be my great work. I
want them to admire it at the Academy. I want all London to come and
look at it. I want the critics, who know nothing, to say it's well
drawn; and the artists, who do know something, to say it's well
treated; and the public to declare my fairy queen is the loveliest,
and the sweetest, and the dearest face they ever beheld. You see I'm
very--very--_ambitious_, Nina!"


"Yes, I suppose all painters are," replies Miss Algernon, with a
little gasp of relief, accompanied by a little chill of something not
quite unlike disappointment. "But you ought to be tired of working,
and I know I am tired of sitting. Hand me my bonnet, Simon--not upside
down--why that's the top where the rose is, of course! And let's walk
back through the Park. It will be nearly full by this time."

So they walked back through the Park, and it _was_ full--full to
overflowing; nevertheless, amongst all the riders, drivers, sitters,
strollers, and idlers, there appeared neither of the smart-looking
gentlemen who had roused Nina's indignation by bowing to her in the
morning without having the honour of her acquaintance.



CHAPTER XIV


THE OFFICERS' MESS


A gigantic sentry of her Majesty's Household Cavalry paces up and down
in front of the officers' quarters at Knightsbridge Barracks some two
hours before watch-setting. It is fortunate that constant use has
rendered him insensible to admiration. Few persons of either sex pass
under his nose without a glance of unqualified approval. They marvel
at his stature, his spurs, his carbine, his overalls, his plumed
helmet, towering high above their heads, and the stupendous
moustaches, on which this gentleman-private prides himself more than
on all the rest of his heroic attributes put together.

Beyond a shade of disciplined weariness, there is no expression
whatever on his handsome face, yet it is to be presumed that the man
has his thoughts too, like another. Is he back in Cumberland amongst
his dales, a stalwart stripling, fishing some lonely stream within the
hills, watching a bout at "knurr-and-spell" across the heather, or
wrestling a fall in friendly rivalry with his cousin, a son of Anak,
tall as himself? Does that purple sunset over Kensington Gardens
remind him of Glaramara and Saddleback? Does that distant roar of
wheels in Piccadilly recall the rush and ripple of the Solway charging
up its tawny sands with the white horses all abreast in a spring-tide?

Perhaps he is wishing he was an officer with no kit to keep in order,
no fatigue-duty to undergo, sitting merrily down to as good a dinner
as luxury can provide, or a guest, of whom he has seen several pass
his post in starched white neckcloths and trim evening clothes.
Perhaps he would not change with any of these, after all, when he
reflects on his own personal advantages, his social standing amongst
his comrades, his keen appreciation and large consumption of beer and
tobacco, with the innumerable conquests he makes amongst maids and
matrons in the middle and lower ranks of life. Such considerations,
however, impress themselves not the least upon his outward visage. A
statue could not look more imperturbable, and he turns his head but
very slightly, with supreme indifference, when peals of laughter,
more joyous than common, are wafted through the open windows of the
mess-room, where some of our friends have fairly embarked on that tide
of good-humour and hilarity which sets in with the second glass of
champagne.

It is a full mess; the colonel himself sits at dinner, with two or
three friends, old brothers-in-arms, whose soldier-like bearing and
manly faces betray their antecedents, though they may not have worn
a uniform for months. A lately-joined cornet looks at these with a
reverence that I am afraid could be extorted from him by no other
institution on earth. The adjutant and riding-master, making
holiday, are both present--"to the front," as they call it, enjoying
exceedingly the jests and waggeries of their younger comrades. The
orderly-officer, conspicuous by his belt, sits at one end of the long
table. Lord Bearwarden occupies the other, supported on either side by
his two guests, Tom Ryfe and Dick Stanmore. It is the night of Mrs.
Stanmore's ball, and these last-named gentlemen are going there, with
feelings how different, yet with the same object. Dick is full of
confidence, elated and supremely happy. His entertainer experiences a
quiet comfort and _bien-être_ stealing over him, to which he has long
been a stranger, while Tom Ryfe with every mouthful swallows down some
emotion of jealousy, humiliation, or mistrust. Nevertheless, he is in
the highest spirits of the three.

"I tell you nothing can touch him, my lord, when hounds run," says he,
still harping on the merits of the horse he sold Lord Bearwarden in
the Park. Of course half the party are talking of hunting, the other
half of racing, soldiering, and women. "He'd have been thrown away on
most of the fellows we know. He wants a good man on his back, for if
you keep him fiddling behind, it breaks his heart. I always said you
ought to have him--you or Mr. Stanmore. He's just the sort for both of
you. I'm sorry to hear yours are all coming up at Tattersall's," adds
Tom, with a courteous bow to the opposite guest. "Hope it's only to
make room for some more."

Dick disclaims. "No, indeed," says he, "it's a _bonâ fide_
sale--without reserve, you know--I am going to give the thing up!"

"Give up hunting!" expostulates a very young subaltern on Dick's left.
"Why, you're not a soldier, are you? What shall you do with yourself?
You have nothing to live for."

Overcome by this reflection, he empties his glass and looks feelingly
in his neighbour's face.

"Are you so fond of it too?" asks Dick with a smile.

"Fond of it! I believe you!" answers the boy. "What is there to be
compared to it?--at least that I've tried, you know. I think the
happiest fellow on earth is a master of fox-hounds, particularly if
he hunts them himself: there's only one thing to beat it, and that's
soldiering. I'd rather command such a regiment as this than be Emperor
of China. Perhaps I shall, too, some day."

The real colonel, sitting opposite, overhears this military sentiment,
and smiles good-humouredly at his zealous junior. "When you _are_ in
command," says he, "I hope you'll be down upon the cornets--they want
a deal of looking up--I'm much too easy with them." The young soldier
laughed and blushed. In his heart he thought the "chief," as he called
him, the very greatest man in the world, offering him that respect
combined with affection which goes so far to constitute the efficiency
of a regiment, hoping hereafter to tread in his footsteps and carry
out his system.

For ten whole minutes he held his tongue--and this was no small effort
of self-restraint--that he might listen to the commanding officer's
conversation with his guests, savouring strongly of professional
interests, as comprising Crimean, Indian, and continental experiences,
all tending to prove that cavalry massed, kept under cover, held well
in hand, and "offered" at the critical moment, was _the_ force to
render success permanent and defeat irretrievable.

When they got into a dissertation on shoeing, with the comparative
merits of "threes" and "sections" at drill, the young man refreshed
himself liberally with champagne, and turned to more congenial
discourse.

Of this there seemed no lack. The winner of the St. Leger was as
confidently predicted as if the race were already in his owner's
pocket. A match was made between two splendid dandies, called
respectfully by their comrades "Nobby" and "The Dustman," to walk from
Knightsbridge Barracks to Windsor Bridge that day week--the odds being
slightly in favour of "The Dustman," who was a peer of the realm. A
moderate dancer was freely criticised, an exquisite singer approved
with reservation, and the style of fighting practised by our present
champion of the prize-ring unequivocally condemned. Presently a deep
voice made itself heard in more sustained tones than belong to general
conversation, and during a lull it became clear that the adjutant was
relating an anecdote of his own military experience. "It's a wonderful
country," said he, in reply to some previous observation. "I'm not an
Irishman myself, but I've observed that the most conspicuous men
in all nations are pure Irish or of Irish extraction. Look at the
service. Look at the ring--prize-fighters and book-makers. I believe
the Slasher's mother was born in Connaught, and nothing will convince
me but that Deerfoot came from Tipperary--east and west the world's
full of them--they swarm, I'm told, in America, and I can answer for
them in Europe. Did ye ever see a Turk in a vineyard? He's the very
moral of Pat in a potato-garden: the same frieze coat--the same baggy
breeches--the same occasional smoke, every five minutes or so--and the
same rooted aversion to hard work. Go on into India--they're all over
the place. Shall I tell you what happened to myself? We were engaged
on the right of the army, getting it hot and heavy, all the horses
with their heads up, but the men as steady as old Time. I was in the
Lancers then, under Sir Hope. The Sikhs worked their guns beautifully,
and presently we got the word to advance. It wasn't bad ground for
manoeuvring, and we were soon into them. The enemy fought a good
one--those Sikhs always do. There was one fine old white-bearded
patriarch stuck to his gun to the last. His people were all speared
and cut down, but he never gave back an inch. I can see him now,
looking like the pictures of Abraham in my old Sunday-school book. I
thought I'd save him if I could. Our chaps had got their blood up, and
dashed in to finish him with their lances, but I kept them off with
some difficulty, and offered him 'quarter.' I was afraid he wouldn't
understand my language. 'Quarter,' says he, in the richest brogue
you'll hear out of Cork--'quarter! you bloody thieves! will you stick
a countryman, an' a comrade, ye murtherin' villains, like a _boneen_
in a butcher's shop!' He'd have gone on, I dare say, for an hour, but
the men had their lances through him before you could say 'knife.' As
my right-of-threes, himself a Paddy, observed--he was discoorsin'
the devil in less than five minutes. The man was a deserter and a
renegade, so it served him right, but being an Irishman, you see, he
distinguished himself--that's all I mean to infer."

The young officer was exceedingly attentive to an anecdote which, thus
told by its bronzed, war-worn, and soldier-like narrator, possessed
the fascination of romance with the interest of reality.

Lord Bearwarden and his guests had also broken off their conversation
to listen--they returned to the previous subject.

"There are so many people come to town now-a-days," said his lordship,
"that the whole thing spoils itself. Society is broken up into sets,
and even if you belong to the same set, you cannot insure meeting any
particular person at any particular place. Just the same with clubs.
I might hunt you two fellows about all night, from Arthur's to
the Arlington--from the Arlington to White's--from White's to the
Carlton--from the Carlton back to St. James's Street--and never run
into you at all, unless I had the luck to find you drinking gin and
soda at Pratt's." Tom Ryfe, belonging only to the last-named of these
resorts, looked gratified. Dick Stanmore was thinking of something
else.

"Now, to-night," continued Lord Bearwarden, turning to the latter,
"although the ball is in your own step-mother's house, I'll take odds
you don't know three-fourths of the people you'll meet, and yet you've
been as much about London as most of us. Where they come from I can't
think, and they're like the swallows, or the storks, or the woodcocks,
only they're not so welcome. Where they'll go to when the season's
over I neither know nor care."

Tom Ryfe would have given much to feel equally indifferent. Something
like a pang shot through him as he reflected that for him the battle
must be against wind and tide--a fierce struggle, more and more
hopeless, to grasp at something drifting visibly out of reach. He
was not a man, however, to be beat while it was possible to persist.
Believing Dick Stanmore the great obstacle in his way, he watched that
preoccupied gentleman as a cat watches a mouse.

"I don't want to be introduced to any more people," said Dick rather
absently. "In my opinion you can't have too few acquaintances and too
many friends."

"One ought to know lots of _women_," said Mr. Ryfe, assuming the air
of a fine gentleman, which fitted him, thought Lord Bearwarden, as
ill as his uniform generally fits a civilian. "I mean women of
position--who _give_ things--whom you'd like to be seen talking to in
the Park. As for girls, they're a bore--there's a fresh crop every
season--they're exactly like each other, and you have to dance with
'em all!"

"Confound his impudence!" _thought_ Lord Bearwarden; "does he hope to
impose on _me_ with his half-bred swagger and Brummagem assurance?"
but he only _said_, "I suppose, Tom, you're in great request with
them--all ranks, all sorts, all ages! You fellows have such a pull
over us poor soldiers; you can be improving the time while we're on
guard."

Tom looked as if he rather believed he could. But he only _looked_
it. Beneath that confident manner, his heart was sad and sinking. How
bitter he felt against Miss Bruce, and yet he loved her, in his own
way, too, all the while.

"Champagne to Mr. Stanmore!" said his entertainer, beckoning to a
servant. "You're below the mark, Stanmore, and we've a heavy night
before us. You're thinking of your pets at Tattersall's next week.
Cheer up. Their future masters won't be half so hard on them, I'll be
bound. But I wouldn't assist at the sacrifice if I were you. Come
down to the Den with me; we'll troll for pike, and give the clods
a cricket-match. Then we'll dine early, set trimmers, and console
ourselves with claret-cup under affliction."

Dick laughed. Affliction, indeed, and he had never been so happy in
his life! Perhaps that was the reason of his silence, his abstraction.
At this very moment, he thought, Maud might be opening the packet he
made such sacrifices to redeem. He had arranged for her to receive the
diamonds all reset and glittering at the hour she would be dressing
for the ball. He could almost fancy he saw the beautiful face flushed
with delight, the dark eyes filled with tears. Would she press those
jewels to her lips, and murmur broken words of endearment for _him_?
Would she not love him _now_, if, indeed, she had not loved him
before? Horses, forsooth! What were all the horses that ever galloped
compared to one smile of hers? He would have given her his right arm,
his life, if she wanted it. And now, perhaps, he was to obtain his
reward. Who could tell what that very night might bring forth?

Mr. Stanmore's glass remained untasted before him, and Lord Bearwarden
observing that dinner was over, and his guests seemed disinclined to
drink any more wine, proposed an adjournment to the little mess-room
to smoke.

In these days the long sittings that delighted our grandfathers have
completely given way to an early break up, a quiet cigar, and a
general retreat, if not to bed, at least to other scenes and other
society. In ten minutes from the rising of the colonel, Lord
Bearwarden, and half-a-dozen guests, the larger mess-room was cleared
of its inmates, and the smaller one crowded with an exceedingly merry
and rather noisy assemblage.

"Just one cigar," said Lord Bearwarden, handing a huge case to
his friends. "It will steady you nicely for waltzing, and some
eau-de-cologne in my room will take off all the smell afterwards. I
know you dancing swells are very particular."

Both gentlemen laughed, and putting large cigars into their mouths,
accommodated themselves with exceeding goodwill to the arrangement. It
was not in the nature of things that silence should be preserved
under such incentives to conversation as tobacco and soda-water with
something in it, but presently, above other sounds, a young voice was
heard to clamour for a song.

"Let's have a chant!" protested this eager voice; "the night is still
young. We're all musical, and we don't often get the two best pipes in
the regiment to dine here the same day. Come, tune up, old boy. Give
us 'Twisting Jane,' or the 'Gallant Young Hussar.'"

The "old boy" addressed, a large, fine-looking man, holding the
appointment of riding-master, smiled good-humouredly, and shook his
head. "It's too early for the 'Hussar,'" said he, scanning the
fresh beardless face with its clear mirthful eyes. "And it's not an
improving song for young officers neither. I'll try 'Twisting Jane' if
you gentlemen will support me with the chorus;" and in a deep mellow
voice he embarked without more ado on the following barrack-room
ditty:--

  I loved a girl, down Windsor way,
    When we was lying there,
  As soft as silk, as mild as May,
    As timid as a hare.
  She blushed and smiled, looked down so shy,
    And then--looked up again--
  My comrades warned me: 'Mind your eye,
    With Twisting Jane!'

  I wooed her thus, not sure but slow,
    To kiss she vowed a crime,--
  For she was 'reining back,' you know,
    While I was 'marking time.'

  'Alas!' I thought, 'these dainty charms
    Are not for me, 'tis plain;
  Too long she keeps me under arms,
    Does Twisting Jane.'

  Our corporal-major says to me,
    One day before parade,
  'She's gammoning you, young chap,' says he,
    'Is that there artful jade!
  You'll not be long of finding out,
    When nothing's left to gain,
  How quick the word is "Threes about!"
    With Twisting Jane!'

  Our corporal-major knows what's what;
    I peeped above her blind;
  The tea was made--the toast was hot--
    She looked so sweet and kind.
  My captain in her parlour sat,
    It gave me quite a pain,
  With coloured clothes, and shining hat,
    By Twisting Jane.

  The major he came cantering past,
    She bustled out to see,--
  'O, major! is it you at last?
    Step in and take your tea.'
  The major halted--winked his eye--
    Looked up and down the lane;
  And in he went his luck to try
    With Twisting Jane.

  I waited at 'attention' there,
    Thinks I, 'There'll soon be more.'
  The colonel's phaeton and pair
    Came grinding to the door.
  She gave him such a sugary smile,
    (Old men is very vain!)
  'It's you I looked for all the while,'
    Says Twisting Jane,

  'I've done with you for good,' I cried,
    'You're never on the square;
  Fight which you please on either side,
    But hang it, lass, fight fair!
  I won't be last--I can't be first--
    So look for me in vain
  When next you're out "upon the burst,"
    Miss Twisting Jane!--
  When next you're out "upon the burst,"
    Miss Twisting Jane!'

"A jolly good song," cried the affable young gentleman who had
instigated the effort, adding, with a quaint glance at the grizzled
visage and towering proportions of the singer, "You're very much
improved, old chap--not so shy, more power, more volume. If you mind
your music, I'll get you a place as a chorister-boy in the Chapel
Royal, after all. You're just the size, and your manner's the very
thing!"

"Wait till I get _you_ in the school with that new charger," answered
the other, laughing. "I think, gentlemen, it's my call. I'll ask our
adjutant here to give us 'Boots and Saddles,' you all like that game."

Tumblers were arrested in mid-air, cigars taken from smooth or hairy
lips, while all eyes were turned towards the adjutant, a soldier down
to his spurs, who "tuned up," as universally requested, without delay.

  BOOTS AND SADDLES.

  The ring of a bridle, the stamp of a hoof,
    Stars above, and a wind in the tree,--
  A bush for a billet,--a rock for a roof,--
    Outpost duty's the duty for me!
  Listen. A stir in the valley below--
    The valley below is with riflemen crammed,
  Covering the column and watching the foe--
    Trumpet-major!--Sound and be d----d!
  Stand to your horses!--It's time to begin--
    Boots and Saddles! The Pickets are in!

  Though our bivouac-fire has smouldered away,
    Yet a bit of good 'baccy shall comfort us well;
  When you sleep in your cloak there's no lodging to pay,
    And where we shall breakfast the devil can tell!
  But the horses were fed, ere the daylight had gone,
    There's a slice in the embers--a drop in the can--
  Take a suck of it, comrade! and so pass it on,
    For a ration of brandy puts heart in a man.
  Good liquor is scarce, and to waste it a sin,--
    Boots and Saddles! The Pickets are in!

  Hark! there's a shot from the crest of the hill!
    Look! there's a rocket leaps high in the air.
  By the beat of his gallop, that's nearing us still,
    That runaway horse has no rider, I'll swear!

  There's a jolly light-infantry post on the right,
    I hear their bugles--they sound the 'Advance.'
  They will tip us a tune that shall wake up the night,
    And we're hardly the lads to leave out of the dance.
  They're at it already, I'm sure, by the din,--
    Boots and Saddles! The Pickets are in!

  They don't give us long our divisions to prove--
    Short, sharp, and distinct, comes the word of command.
  'Have your men in the saddle---Be ready to move--
    Keep the squadron together--the horses in hand--'
  While a whisper's caught up in the ranks as they form--
    A whisper that fain would break out in a cheer--
  How the foe is in force, how the work will be warm.
    But, steady! the chief gallops up from the rear.
  With old 'Death-or-Glory' to fight is to win,
    And the Colonel means mischief, I see by his grin.--
  Boots and Saddles! The Pickets are in!--
    Boots and Saddles! The Pickets are in!

"And it must be 'Boots and Saddles' with us," said Lord Bearwarden to
his guests as the applause subsided and he made a move towards the
door, "otherwise we shall be the 'lads to leave out of the dance'; and
I fancy that would suit none of us to-night."



CHAPTER XV


MRS. STANMORE AT HOME.


DANCING.

Amongst all the magnificent toilettes composed to do honour to the
lady whose card of invitation heads this chapter, none appeared more
variegated in colour, more startling in effect, than that of Miss
Puckers the maid.

True, circumstances compelled her to wear a high dress, but even
this modest style of costume in the hands of a real artist admits of
marvellous combinations and extraordinary breadth of treatment. Miss
Puckers had disposed about her person as much ribbon, tulle, and cheap
jewelry as might have fitted out a fancy fair. Presiding in a little
breakfast-room off the hall, pinning tickets on short red cloaks,
shaking out skirts of wondrous fabrication, and otherwise assisting
those beautiful guests who constituted the entertainment, she afforded
a sight only equalled by her after-performances in the tea-room,
where, assuming the leadership of a body of handmaidens almost as
smart as herself, she formed, for several waggish and irreverent young
gentlemen, a principal attraction in that favourite place of resort.

A ball is so far like a run with fox-hounds that it is difficult to
specify the precise moment at which the sport begins. Its votaries
gather by twos and threes attired for pursuit; there is a certain
amount of refitting practised, as regards dress and appointments,
while some of the keenest in the chase are nevertheless the latest
arrivals at the place of meeting. Presently are heard a note or two,
a faint flourish, a suggestive prelude. Three or four couples get
cautiously to work, the music swells, the pace increases, ere long the
excitement extends to all within sight or hearing, and a performance
of exceeding speed, spirit, and severity is the result.

Puckers, with her mouth full of pins, is rearranging the dress of
a young lady in her first season, to whom, as to the inexperienced
hunter, that burst of music is simply maddening. She is a well-bred
young lady, however, and keeps her raptures to herself, but is
slightly indignant at the very small notice taken of her by Dick
Stanmore, who rushes into the tiring-room, drops a flurried little
bow, and hurries Puckers off into a corner, totally regardless of the
displeasure with which a calm, cold-looking chaperon regards this
unusual proceeding.

"Did it come in time?" says Dick in a loud agitated whisper. "Did you
run up with it directly? Was she pleased? Did she say anything? Has
she got them on now?"

"Lor, Mr. Stanmore!" exclaims Puckers; "whatever do you mean?"

"Miss Bruce--the diamonds," explains Dick, in a voice that causes two
dandies, recently arrived, to pause in astonishment on the staircase.

"O, the diamonds!" answers Puckers. "Only think, now. Was it _you_,
sir? Well, I never. Why, sir, when Miss Bruce opens the packet, not
half-an-hour ago, the tears comes into her eyes, and she says, 'Well,
this _is_ kind'--them was her very words--'this _is_ kind,' says
she, and pops'em on that moment; for I'd done her hair and all. Go
up-stairs, Mr. Stanmore, and see how she looks in them. I'll wager
she's waiting for Somebody to dance with her this very minute!"

Though it is too often of sadly short duration, every man _has_ his
"good time" for a few blissful seconds during life. Let him not
complain they are so brief. It is something to have at least tasted
the cup, and perhaps it is better to turn with writhing lips from the
bitter drop near the brim than, drinking it fairly out, to find its
sweets pall on the palate, its essence cease to warm the heart and
stimulate the brain.

Dick, hurrying past his mother into the soft, mellow, yet brilliant
radiance of her crowded ball-room, felt for that moment the happiest
man in London.

Miss Bruce was _not_ waiting to dance with him, according to her
maid's prediction, but was performing a waltz in exceeding gravity,
assisted, as Dick could not help observing, with a certain
satisfaction, by the ugliest man in the room. The look she gave him
when their eyes met at last sent this shortsighted young gentleman
up to the seventh heaven. It seemed well worth all the hunters in
Leicestershire, all the diamonds in Golconda! He did the honours of
his step-mother's house, and thanked his own friends for coming, but
all with the vague consciousness of a man in a dream. Presently the
"round" dance came to an end, much to the relief of the ugly man, who
cared, indeed, for ladies as little as ladies cared for him; and
Dick hastened to secure Miss Bruce as a partner for the approaching
"square." She was engaged, of course, six deep, but she put off all
her claimants and took Mr. Stanmore's arm. "He's my cousin, you know,"
said she, with her rare smile, "and cousins don't count; so you're
all merely put back _one_. If you don't like it, you needn't come for
it--_c'est tout simple_!"

Then they took their places, and the dark eyes looked full into his
own. Dick felt he was winning in a canter.

Miss Bruce put her hand on the collar of diamonds round her neck. "I'm
glad you're _not_ my cousin," she said; "I'm glad you're not _really_
a relation. You're far dearer as it is. You're the best friend and
truest gentleman I ever met in my life. Now I sha'n't thank you any
more. Mind your dancing, and set to that gawky woman opposite. Isn't
she badly dressed?"

How could Dick tell? He didn't even know he had a _vis-à-vis_, and the
"gawky woman," as Miss Bruce most unjustly called her, only wondered
anybody could make such blunders in so simple a figure as the _Eté_.
His head was in a whirl. A certain chivalrous instinct warned him that
this was no time, while his idol lay under a heavy obligation, to
press his suit. Yet he could not, for the life of him, help venturing
a word.

"I look at nobody but you," he answered, turning pale as men do when
they are in sad earnest. "I should never wish to see any other face
than yours for the rest of my life."

"How tired you'd get of it," said she, with a bright smile; but she
timed her reply so as to embark immediately afterwards on the _Chaîne
des Dames_, a measure exceedingly ill calculated for sustained
conversation, and changed the subject directly she returned to his
side.

"Where did you dine?" she asked saucily. "With those wild young men at
the barracks, I suppose. I knew you would: and you did all sorts of
horrid things, drank and smoked--I'm _sure_ you smoked." She put her
laced hand-kerchief laughingly to her nose.

"I dined with Bearwarden," answered honest Dick, "and he's coming on
here directly with a lot of them. My mother will be so pleased--it's
going to be a capital ball."

"I thought Lord Bearwarden never went to balls," replied the young
lady carelessly; but her heart swelled with gratified vanity to think
of the attraction that drew him now to every place where he could hear
her voice and look upon her beauty.

"There he is," was her partner's comment, as his lordship's
head appeared in the doorway. "We'll have one more dance, Miss
Bruce--Maud--before the night is over?"

"As many as you please," was her answer, and still Dick felt he had
the race in hand and was winning in a canter.

People go to balls for pleasure, no doubt, but it must be admitted,
nevertheless, that the pleasure they seek there is of a delusive kind
and lasts but for a few minutes at a time.

Mr. Stanmore's whole happiness was centred in Miss Bruce, yet it was
impossible for him to neglect all his step-mother's guests because of
his infatuation for one, nor would the usages of society's Draconic
laws, that are not to be broken, permit him to haunt that one
presence, which turned to magic a scene otherwise only ludicrous for
an hour or so, and simply wearisome as it went on.

So Dick plunged into the thick of it, and did his duty manfully,
diving at partners right and left, yet, with a certain characteristic
loyalty, selecting the least attractive amongst the ladies for his
attentions. Thus it happened that as the rooms became crowded,
and half the smartest people in London surged and swayed upon the
staircase, he lost sight of the face he loved for a considerable
period, and was able to devote much real energy to the success of his
step-mother's ball, uninfluenced by the distraction of Miss Brace's
presence.

This young lady's movements, however, were not unobserved. Puckers,
from her position behind the cups and saucers, enjoyed great
reconnoitring opportunities, which she did not suffer to escape
unimproved--the tea-room, she was aware, held an important place in
the working machinery of society, as a sort of neutral territory,
between the cold civilities of the ball-room and the warmer interests
fostered by juxtaposition in the boudoir, not to mention a wicked
little alcove beyond, with low red velvet seats, and a subdued light
suggestive of whispers and provoking question rather than reply.

Puckers was not easily surprised. In the housekeeper's room she often
thanked her stars for this desirable immunity, and indeed on the
present occasion had furnished a loving couple with tea, whose united
ages would have come hard upon a century, without moving a muscle
of her countenance, albeit there was something ludicrous to
general society in the affectation of concealment with which this
long-recognised attachment had to be carried on. The gentleman was
bald and corpulent. The lady--well, the lady had been a beauty thirty
years ago, and dressed the character still. There was nothing to
prevent their seeing each other every day and all day long, if they
chose, yet they preferred scheming for invitation to the same places,
that they might meet _en évidence_ before the public; and dearly
loved, as now, a retirement into the tea-room, where they could
enact their _rôle_ of turtle-doves, uninterrupted, yet not entirely
unobserved. Perhaps, after all, this imaginary restraint afforded the
little spice of romance that preserved their attachment from decay.

Puckers, I say, marvelled at these not at all, but she did marvel, and
admitted it, when Miss Bruce, entering the tea-room, was seen to be
attended, not by Mr. Stanmore, but by Lord Bearwarden.

Her dark eyes glittered, and there was an exceedingly becoming flush
on the girl's fair face, usually so pale. Her maid thought she had
never seen Maud look so beautiful, and to judge by the expression of
his countenance, it would appear Lord Bearwarden thought so too. They
had been dancing together, and he seemed to be urging her to dance
with him again. His lordship's manner was more eager than common, and
in his eyes came an anxious expression that only one woman, the one
woman it was so difficult to forget, had ever been able to call into
them before.

"Look odd!" he repeated, while he set down her cup and gave her back
the fan he had been holding. "I thought you were above all that, Miss
Bruce, and did what you liked, without respect to the fools who stare
and can't understand."

She drew up her head with a proud gesture peculiar to her. "How do you
know I do like it?" said she haughtily.

He looked hurt, and lowered his voice to a whisper. "Forgive me," he
said, "I have no right to suppose it. I have been presumptuous, and
you are entitled to be unkind. I have monopolised you too much, and
you're--you're bored with me. It's my own fault."

"I never said so," she answered in the same tone; "who is unkind now?"
Then the dark eyes were raised for one moment to look full in his, and
it was all over with Lord Bearwarden.

"You will dance with me again before I go," said he, recovering his
former position with an alacrity that denoted some previous practice.
"I shall ask nobody else--why should I? You know I only came here to
see _you_. One waltz, Miss Bruce--promise?"

"I promise," she answered, and again came into her eyes that smile
which so fascinated her admirers to their cost. "I shall get into
horrid disgrace for it, and so I shall for sitting here so long now.
I'm always doing wrong. However, I'll risk it if you will."

Her manner was playful, almost tender; and Puckers, adding another
large infusion of tea, wondered to see her look so soft and kind.

A crowded waltz was in course of performance, and the tea-room, but
for this preoccupied couple, would have been empty. Two men looked in
as they passed the door, the one hurried on in search of his partner,
the other started, scowled, and turned back amongst the crowd.
Puckers, the lynx-eyed, observing and recognising both, had sufficient
skill in physiognomy to pity Mr. Stanmore and much mistrust Tom Ryfe.

The former, indeed, felt a sharp, keen pang, when he saw the face that
so haunted him in close proximity to another face belonging to one
who, if he should enter for the prize, could not but prove a dangerous
rival. Nevertheless, the man's generous instincts stifled and kept
down so unworthy a suspicion, forcing himself to argue against his own
conviction that, at this very moment, the happiness of his life was
hanging by a thread. He resolved to ignore everything of the kind.
Jealousy was a bad beginning for a lover, and after all, if he should
allow himself to be jealous of every man who admired and danced with
Maud, life would be unbearable. How despicable, besides, would she
hold such a sentiment! With her disposition, how would she resent
anything like _espionage or surveillance_! How unworthy it seemed both
of herself and of him! In two minutes he was heartily ashamed of his
momentary discomfiture, and plunged energetically once more into the
duties of the ball-room. Nevertheless, from that moment, the whole
happiness of the evening had faded out for Dick.

There is a light irradiating all such gatherings which is totally
irrespective of gas or wax-candles. It can shed a mellow lustre on
dingy rooms, frayed carpets, and shabby furniture; nay, I have seen
its tender rays impart a rare and spiritual beauty to an old, worn,
long-loved face; but on the other hand, when this magic light is
quenched, or even temporarily shaded, not all the illuminations of a
royal birthday are brilliant enough to dispel the gloom its absence
leaves about the heart.

Mr. Stanmore, though whirling a very handsome young lady through a
waltz, began to think it was not such a good ball after all.

Tom Ryfe, on the other hand, congratulated himself on his tactics in
having obtained an invitation, not without considerable pressure put
upon Miss Bruce, for a gathering of which his social standing hardly
entitled him to form a part. He was now, so to speak, on the very
ground occupied by the enemy, and though he saw defeat imminent, could
at least make his own effort to avert it. After all his misgivings as
regarded Stanmore, it seemed that he had been mistaken, and that Lord
Bearwarden was the rival he ought to dread. In any case but his own,
Mr. Ryfe was a man of the world, quite shrewd enough to have reasoned
that in this duality of admirers there was encouragement and hope. But
Tom had lost his heart, such as it was; and his head, though of much
better material, had naturally gone with it. Like other gamblers, he
determined to follow his ill-luck to the utmost, bring matters to a
crisis, and so know the worst. In all graver affairs of life, it is
doubtless good sense to look a difficulty in the face; but in the
amusements of love and play practised hands leave a considerable
margin for that uncertainty which constitutes the very essence of both
pastimes; and this is why, perhaps, the man in earnest has the worst
chance of winning at either game.

So Tom Ryfe turned back into the crowd, and waited his opportunity for
a few minutes' conversation with Miss Bruce.

It came at last. She had danced through several engagements, the night
was waning, and a few carriages had already been called up. Maud
occupied the extreme end of a bench, from which a party of ladies had
just risen to go away: she had declined to dance, and for the moment
was alone. Tom slipped into the vacant seat by her side, and thus
cut her off from the whole surrounding world. A waltz requiring much
terrific accompaniment of brass instruments pealed out its deafening
strains within ten feet of them, and in no desert island could there
have been less likelihood that their conversation would be overheard.

Miss Bruce looked very happy, and in thorough good-humour. Tom Ryfe
opened the trenches quietly enough.

"You haven't danced with me the whole evening," said he, with only
rather a bitter inflection of voice.

"You never asked me," was the natural rejoinder.

"And I'm not going to ask you, now," proceeded Mr. Ryfe; "you and I,
Miss Bruce, have something more than a mere dancing acquaintance, I
think."

An impatient movement, a slight curl of the lip, was the only answer.

"You may drop an acquaintance when you are tired of him, or a friend
when he gets troublesome. It's done every day. It's very easy, Miss
Bruce."

He spoke in a tone of irony that roused her.

"Not so easy," she answered, with tightening lips, "when people have
no tact--when they are not _gentlemen_."

The taunt went home. The beauty of Mr. Ryfe's face was at no time
in its expression--certainly not now. Miss Bruce, too, seemed well
disposed to fight it out. Obviously it must be war to the knife!

"Did you get my letter?" said he, in low, distinct syllables. "Do you
believe I mean what I say? Do you believe I mean what I _write_?"

She smiled scornfully. A panting couple who stopped just in front of
them imagined they were interrupting a flirtation, and, doing as they
would be done by, twirled on.

"I treat all begging-letters alike," answered Maud, "and make yours no
exception, because they contain threats and abuse into the bargain.
You have chosen the wrong person to try and frighten, Mr. Ryfe. It
only shows how little you understand my character."

He would have caught at a straw even then. "How little chance I have
had of studying it!" he exclaimed. "It is not my fault. Heaven knows
I have been kept in ignorance, uncertainty, suspense, till it almost
drove me mad. Miss Bruce, you have known the worst of me; only the
worst of me, indeed, as yet."

The man was pleading for his life, you see. Was it pitiable, or only
ludicrous, that his voice and manner had to be toned down to the staid
pitch of general conversation, that a fat and happy German was puffing
at a cornet-à-piston within arm's length of him? But for a quiver of
his lip, any bystander might have supposed he was asking Miss Bruce if
he should bring her an ice.

"I have seen enough!" she replied, very resolutely, "and I am
determined to see no more. Mr. Ryfe, if you have no pleasanter
subjects of conversation than yourself and your arrangements, I
will ask you to move for an instant that I may pass and find Mrs.
Stanmore."

Lord Bearwarden was at the other end of the room, looking about
apparently for some object of unusual interest. Perhaps Miss Bruce saw
him--as ladies do see people without turning their eyes--and the sight
fortified her resolution.

"Then you defy me!" whispered Tom, in the low suppressed notes that
denote rage, concentrated and intensified for being kept down. "By
heaven, Miss Bruce, you shall repent it! I'll show you up! I'll expose
you! I'll have neither pity nor remorse! You think you've won a heavy
stake, do you? Hooked a big fish, and need only pull him ashore? _He_
sha'n't be deceived! _He_ shall know you for what you are! He shall,
by----!"

The adjuration with which Mr. Ryfe concluded this little ebullition
was fortunately drowned to all ears but those for which it was
intended by a startling flourish on the cornet-à-piston. Miss Bruce
accepted the challenge readily. "Do your worst!" said she, rising
with a scornful bow, and taking Lord Bearwarden's arm, much to that
gentleman's delight, walked haughtily away.

Perhaps this declaration of open war may have decided her subsequent
conduct; perhaps it was only the result of those circumstances which
form the meshes of a certain web we call Fate. Howbeit, Miss Bruce was
too tired to dance. Miss Bruce would like to sit down in a cool place.
Miss Bruce would not be bored with Lord Bearwarden's companionship,
not for an hour, not for a week--no, not for a lifetime!

Dick Stanmore, taking a lady down to her carriage, saw them sitting
alone in the tea-room, now deserted by Puckers [Illustration: "'O,
Dick!' she said, 'I couldn't help it!'"] and her assistants. His
honest heart turned very sick and cold. Half-an-hour after, passing
the same spot, they were there still; and then, I think, he knew that
he was overtaken by the first misfortune of his life.

Later, when the ball was over, and he had wished Mrs. Stanmore
good-night, he went up to Maud with a grave, kind face.

"We never had our waltz, Miss Bruce," said he; "and--and--there's _a
reason_, isn't there?"

He was white to his very lips. Through all her triumph, she felt a
twinge, far keener than she expected, of compunction and remorse.

"O, Dick!" she said, "I couldn't help it! Lord Bearwarden proposed to
me in that room."

"And you accepted him?" said Dick, trying to steady his voice,
wondering why he felt half suffocated all the time.

"And I accepted him."



CHAPTER XVI


"MISSING--A GENTLEMAN"


"Age about thirty. Height five feet nine inches and a half--fair
complexion--light-grey eyes--small reddish-brown whiskers,
close-trimmed--short dark hair. Speaks fast, in a high key, and has a
habit of drawing out his shirt-sleeves from beneath his cuffs. When
last seen, was dressed in a dark surtout, fancy necktie, black-cloth
waist-coat, Oxford-mixture trousers, and Balmoral boots. Wore a black
hat with maker's name inside--Block and Co., 401 Regent Street.
Whoever will give such information to the authorities as may lead to
the discovery of the above, shall receive--A Reward!"

Such was the placard that afforded a few minutes' speculation for the
few people who had leisure to read it, one fine morning about a week
after Mrs. Stanmore's eventful ball, and towards the close of the
London season; eliciting at the same time criticism not altogether
favourable on the style of composition affected by our excellent
police. The man was missing no doubt, and had been missing for some
days before anxiety, created by his absence, growing into alarm for
his safety, had produced the foregoing advertisement, prompted by
certain affectionate misgivings of Mr. Bargrave, since the lost sheep
was none other than his nephew Tom Ryfe. The old man felt, indeed,
seriously discomposed by the prolonged absence of this the only member
of his family. It was unjustifiable, as he remarked twenty times a
day, unfeeling, unheard-of, unaccountable. He rang for the servants at
his private residence every quarter of an hour or so to learn if the
truant had returned. He questioned the boy at the office sharply and
repeatedly as to orders left with him by Mr. Ryfe before he went away,
only to gather from the answers of this urchin, who would, indeed,
have forgotten any number of such directions, that he looked on the
present period of anxiety in the light of a holiday and festival,
devoutly praying that his taskmaster might never come back again.
Finally in despair poor Bargrave cast himself on the sympathy of
Dorothea, who listened to his bewailings with stolid indifference when
sober, and replied to them by surmises of the wildest improbability
when drunk.

Alas, in common with so many others of her class, the charwoman
took refuge from care in constant inebriety. Her imagination thus
stimulated, pointed, like that of some old Castilian adventurer,
steadily to the west.

"Lor, Mr. Bargrave," she would say, staring helplessly in his face,
and yielding to the genial hiccough which refused to be kept down, "he
be gone to 'Merriky, poor dear, to better hisself, I make no doubt.
Don't ye take on so. It's a weary world, it is; and that's where he be
gone, for sure!"

Yet she knew quite well where he was hidden all the time; and,
inasmuch as she had some regard for her kind old employer, the
knowledge almost drove her mad. Therefore it was that Dorothea,
harassed by conflicting feelings, drowned her sorrows perseveringly in
the bowl.

For a considerable period this poor woman had suffered a mental
torture, the severest, perhaps, to which her sex can be subjected. She
had seen the man she loved--and, though she was only a drudge, and not
by any means a tidy one, she could love very dearly--she had seen, I
say, the man she loved gradually learning to despise her affection,
and to estrange himself from her society. She was a good deal afraid
of "Gentleman Jim"--perhaps she liked him none the less for that--and
dared neither tax him with falsehood nor try to worm out of him the
assurance that she had or had not a rival. Nevertheless, she was
determined to ascertain the cause of her lover's indifference to
herself, and his changed conduct in other relations of life.

Jim had always been somewhat given to the adornment of his person,
affecting that flash and gaudy style of decoration so much in favour
with dog-stealers and men of like dubious professions. Of late,
however, he had adopted, with different tastes and habits, a totally
different costume--when "off duty," as he called it--meaning thereby
release from the fulfilment of some business engagement subject to
penalties affixed by our criminal code. He now draped himself in white
linen, dark-coloured clothes, a tall hat, and such outward marks of
respectability, if not station, going even so far as to invest in kid
gloves and an "umbrellier," as he called that instrument. At first
sight, but for his boots, Jim might almost have been mistaken for a
real gentleman. About this period, too, he left off vulgar liquors,
and shamefully abandoned a short black pipe that had stuck by him
through many ups and downs, substituting for these stimulants a great
deal of brown sherry and certain sad-coloured cigars, demanding strong
lungs and a strong stomach as well. These changes did the forlorn
Dorothea note with increasing anxiety, and, because every woman
becomes keen-sighted and quick-witted where her heart is concerned,
drew from them an augury fatal to her future happiness. After a while,
when the suspense grew intolerable, she resolved on putting a stop to
it by personal inquiry, and with that view, as a preliminary,
kept herself tolerably sober for twenty-four hours, during which
probationary period she instituted a grand "clean up" of his premises;
and so, as she mentally expressed it, "with a cool head and a clean
house and a clear conscience," confronted her employer on the stairs.

Old Bargrave had of late become very nervous and uneasy. The full
meals, the daily bottle of port, the life of self-indulgence, though
imparting an air of portliness and comfort while everything went well,
had unfitted him sadly for a contest with difficulty or reverse.
Like the fat troop-horse that looks so sightly on parade, a week's
campaigning reduced him to a miserable object--flabby, shrunk,
dispirited, and with a sinking heart at least, if not a sore back.

Dorothea's person blocked up the staircase before him, or he would
have slipped by and locked himself unnoticed in his chambers.

"Can I speak with you, sir?" said the charwoman. "Now, sir, if you
please--himmediate."

Old Bargrave trembled.

"Certainly, Dorothea, certainly. What is it, my good girl? You've
heard something. They've traced him--they've found him. One minute, my
good girl--one minute, if you please."

He had preceded her through the office to his own inner room, and now,
shaking all over, sat down in his easy-chair, pressing both hands hard
on its arms to steady himself. Dorothea, staring helplessly at the
wall over his head, made a muff of her apron, and curtsied; nothing
more.

"Speak!" gasped the old gentleman convulsively.

"It's my haunt, if you please, sir," said Dorothea, with another
curtsey.

"D----n your aunt!" vociferated Bargrave. "It's my nephew! Have you
heard nothing? I'm hasty, my good girl; I'm anxious. I--I haven't
another relation in the world. Have they told you anything more?"

Dorothea began to cry.

"He be gone to 'Meriker, for sure," she whimpered, trying back on the
old consolatory suggestion; "to better hisself, no doubt. It's me,
sir; that's my haunt. She's wuss this turn. An' if so be as you could
spare me for the day--I've been and cleaned up everythink, and I'd
wipe over that there table and shake the dust out o' them curtains in
five minutes, and----"

"That will do--that will do!" exclaimed the old gentleman, aghast,
as well he might be, at the proposal, since none of the furniture in
question had been subjected to such a process for years, and immediate
suffocation, with intolerable confusion of papers, must have been the
result. "If you want to go and see your aunt, my girl, go, in heaven's
name. I can spare you as long as you like. But you mustn't tidy up
here. No; that would never do. And, Dorothea, if you should hear
anything, come and tell me that instant. Never mind the expense. I'd
give a great deal to know he was safe. Ah, I'd give all I have in the
world to see him back again."

She curtsied and hurried out, leaving Bargrave to immerse himself
in law-papers and correspondence. From sheer force of habit he took
refuge in his daily work at this hour of anxiety and sad distress. In
such sorrows it is well for a man to have disciplined his mind till
it obeys him instinctively, like a managed steed bearing its rider at
will out of the crowd of assailants by whom he is beset.

Dorothea, scrubbing her face with yellow soap till it shone again,
proceeded to array herself in raiment of many colours, and, when got
up to her own satisfaction, scuttled off to a distant part of London,
making use of more than one omnibus in her journey; and so, returning
almost upon her tracks, confronted Gentleman Jim as he emerged from
his usual house of call in the narrow street out of Holborn.

He started, and his face lengthened with obvious disgust.

"What's up now, lass?" said he. "I've business tonight. D'ye mind?
Blessed if my mouth isn't as dry as a cinder-heap. You go home, like
a good gal, and I'll take ye to the theaytre, perhaps, to-morrow. I
haven't a minnit to stop. I didn't ought to be here now."

The promised treat, the hurried manner, above all the affected
kindness of tone, roused her suspicions to the utmost; and Dorothea
was woman enough to feel for the moment that she dared match her wits
against those of her betrayer.

"It's lucky," she answered coolly; "for I've got to be home afore
dark, and they're lighting the lamps now. I've been down to see arter
him, Jim, an' I thought I'd just step round and let you know. I footed
it all the way back, that's why I'm so late now."

She paused and looked steadily in his face.

"Well?" said Jim, turning very pale, while his eyes glared in hers
with a wild horrible meaning.

She answered his look rather than his exclamation.

"He's a trifle better since morning. He don't know nothing yet, nor he
won't neither, not for a while to come. But he ain't a-goin' to die,
Jim--not this turn."

His colour came back, and he laughed brutally. "Blast him! d'ye think
I care?" said he, with a wild flourish of his arm; but added in a
quieter voice, "Perhaps it's as well, lass. Cold meat isn't very handy
to hide, and he's worth more alive than dead. I couldn't hardly keep
from laffin' this mornin' when I saw them bills. I'll stand ye a drop,
lass, if you're dry, but I mustn't stop with ye to drink it."

Dorothea declined this liberal offer.

"Good-night, Jim," said she, and turned coldly away. She had no heart
for a more affectionate farewell; and could their positions have been
reversed he must have detected something strange in this unusual lack
of cordiality. But men are seldom close observers in such matters,
and Jim was full of his own interests, his own projects, his own wild
senseless infatuation.

He watched her round her homeward turn, and then started off at a
quick pace in an opposite direction. With all his cunning he would
never have suspected that Dorothea, whose intellect he considered
little better than an idiot's, could presume to dog his footsteps; and
the contempt he entertained for her--of which she was beginning to be
uncomfortably conscious--no doubt facilitated this unhappy creature's
operations.

Overhead the sky was dark and lowering, the air thick as before
thunder; and though the gaslights streamed on every street in London,
it was an evening well suited to watch an unsuspecting person
unobserved.

Dorothea, returning on her footsteps, kept Jim carefully in sight,
walking from twenty to fifty yards behind him, and as much as possible
on the other side of the street. There was no danger of her losing
him. She could have followed that figure--to her the type of
comeliness and manhood--all over the world; but she dreaded, with a
fear that was almost paralysing, the possibility of his turning back
and detecting that he was tracked. "He'd murder me, for sure," thought
Dorothea, trembling in every limb. Nevertheless, the love that is
strong as death, the jealousy that is cruel as the grave, goaded her
to persevere; and so she flitted in his wake with a noiseless step,
wonderfully gliding and ghostlike considering the solidity of her
proportions.

Jim turned out of Oxford Street to stop at an ill-looking dirty little
house, the door of which seemed to open to him of its own accord. She
spied a small grocer's shop nearly opposite not yet shut up. To dodge
rapidly in and sit down for a few minutes while she cheapened a couple
of ounces of tea, afforded Dorothea an excellent chance of watching
his further movements unseen.

He emerged again almost immediately with a false beard and a pair of
spectacles, carrying a large parcel carefully wrapped in oiled silk;
then, after looking warily up and down the street, turned into the
main thoroughfare for the chase to begin once more.

"He must be dreadful hot, poor Jim!" thought Dorothea, pitying him in
spite of herself for his false beard and heavy parcel, while she wiped
away the drops already beginning to pour off her own forehead.

The night was indeed close and sultry. A light warm air, reeking like
the steam from a cook-shop, breathed in her face, while a low roll of
thunder, nearly lost in the noise of wheels, growled and rumbled among
the distant Surrey hills.

She followed him perseveringly through the more fashionable streets
and squares of London, tolerably silent and deserted now in the
interval between dinner and concert, ball or drum. Here and there
through open windows might be seen a few gentlemen at their wine, or
a lady in evening dress coming out for a gasp of fresh air on the
balcony overhead; but on the pavement below, a policeman under a lamp
or a lady's-maid hurrying on an errand were the only occupants, and
these took no heed of the bearded man with his parcel, nor of the
dirty gaudily-dressed woman who followed like his shadow. So they
turned down Grosvenor Place and through Belgrave Square into one of
the adjoining streets. Here Jim, slackening pace, took his hat off
and wiped his brow. Dorothea, with all her faculties on the stretch,
slipped into a portico at the very moment when he glanced round on
every side to make sure he was not watched. From this hiding-place she
observed him, to her great astonishment, ring boldly at the door of
a large handsome house. That astonishment was increased to see him
admitted without demur by an irreproachable footman, powder, plush,
and all complete. Large drops of rain began to fall, and outside
London, beyond the limits of our several gas companies, it lightened
all round the horizon.

Dorothea crept nearer the house where Jim had disappeared. On the
ground floor, in a dining-room of which the windows stood open for the
heat, she saw his figure within a few yards of her. He was unpacking
his bundle and arranging its contents on the table, where a servant
had placed a lamp when he admitted this unusual visitor. The rain fell
now in good earnest, and not a living creature remained in the street.
Dorothea cowered down by the area railings and watched.

Not for long. The dining-room door opened, and into the lamplight,
like a vision from some world of which poor Dorothea could scarcely
form the vaguest conception, came a pale haughty woman, beautiful
exceedingly, before whom Jim, her own Jim, usually so defiant, seemed
to cower and tremble like a dog. Even in that moment of bewilderment
Dorothea's eye, woman-like, marked the mode in which Miss Bruce's long
black hair was twisted, and missed neither the cut nor texture of her
garments.

Jim spread his goods out for inspection. It was obvious that he had
gained admission to the house under the guise of a dealer in rare
silks and Eastern brocades. We, who know everything, know that Mrs.
Stanmore was dozing over her coffee up-stairs, and that this scheme,
too, originated in the fertile brain and determined character of her
niece.

"I'll take that shawl, if you please," said Maud, in her cool
authoritative way. "I dare say it's better than it looks. Put it aside
for me. And--you were to ask your own price."

Dorothea, drenched to the skin, felt nevertheless a fire burning
within; for, raising her face to peer above the area railings, she
marked a mute worship in Jim's adoring eyes; she marked the working
of his features, pale, as it seemed, with some new and overpowering
emotion. Could this be Gentleman Jim? She had seen him asleep and
awake, pleased and angry, drunk and sober, but she had never seen that
face before. Through all its agony there rose in her heart a feeling
of anger at such transparent folly--almost of contempt for such
weakness in a man.

His voice came hoarse and thick while he answered--

"Never name it, miss, never name it. I done as you desired, an' a
precious awkward job it were! _He'll tell no tales now!_"

She started. The hand in which she held a small embroidered note-case
trembled visibly; but her voice, though low, was perfectly firm and
clear.

"If you exceeded my order," said she, "you have nothing to hope from
my forbearance. I shall be the first to have you punished. I told you
so."

He could scarcely contain his admiration.

"What a plucked 'un!" he muttered; "what a plucked 'un! No, miss," he
added, "you needn't fear. Fear, says I! You never feared nothink in
your life. You needn't think of that 'ere. Me and another party we
worked it off as neat as wax, without noise and without violence.
We've a-trapped him safe, miss, and you've got nothink to do but just
you lift up your hand, and we'll put him back, not a ha'porth the
wuss, on the very spot as we took him from."

She drew a great breath of relief, but suffered not a muscle of her
countenance to betray her feelings.

"It is better so," she observed quietly. "Remember, once for all, when
I give orders they must be obeyed to the letter. I am satisfied with
you, Jim--I think your name is Jim?"

There was just the least possible inflection of kindness in her voice,
and this ruffian's heart leaped to meet it, while the tears came to
his eyes. He dashed them savagely away, and took a letter from his
breast-pocket.

"That's all we found on him, miss," said he, "that an' a couple o'
cigars. He hadn't no watch, no blunt, no latch-key, no nothink. I
kep' this here careful to bring it you. Bless ye, I can read, I can,
_well_, but I've not read that there. I couldn't even smoke of his
cigars. No, I guv 'em to a pal. This here job warn't done for money,
miss! It were done for--for--well--for _you_!"

She took the letter with as little emotion as if it had been an
ordinary tradesman's bill for a few shillings; yet had she once pawned
a good many hundred pounds' worth of diamonds only on the chance of
recovering its contents.

"At least, I must pay you for the shawl," said she, pulling the notes
out of their case.

"For the shawl, miss? Yes," answered Jim. "Ten pounds will buy that,
an' leave a fair profit for my pal as owns it. Not a shilling more,
miss--no--no. D'ye mind the first time as ever I see you? D'ye mind
what I said then? There's one chap, miss, in this world, as belongs of
you, body and soul. He's a poor chap, he is, and a rough chap, but he
asks no better than to sarve of you, be the job what it may--ay, if he
swings for it! Now it's out!"

Over her pale haughty face swept a flash of mingled triumph, malice,
and even amusement, while she listened to this desperate man's
avowal of fidelity and belief. But she only vouchsafed him a cold
condescending smile, observing, as she selected a ten-pound note--

"Is there nothing I can do to mark my satisfaction and approval?"

He fidgeted, glanced at the note-case, and began packing up his goods.

"If _you're_ pleased, miss, that's enough. But if so be as you _could_
do without that there empty bit of silk, and spare it me for a
keepsake--well, miss, I'd never part with it--no, not if the rope was
rove, and the nightcap drawed over my blessed face!"

She put the empty note-case in his hand.

"You're a fool," she said, ringing the bell for a servant to show him
out; "but you're a stanch one, and I wish there were more like you."

"Blast me, I _am_!" he muttered; adding, as he turned into the wet
street, and walked on through the rain like a man in a dream, "if
there was more such gals as you, maybe there'd be more fools like me.
It would be a rum world then, blessed if it wouldn't! And now it will
be a whole week afore I shall see her again!"

Dorothea, clinging to the area railings, even in the imminence of
discovery had not the heart to leave them as he went out. Stupefied,
bewildered, benumbed, she could scarcely believe in the reality of the
scene she had witnessed. She felt it explained much that had lately
puzzled her exceedingly; but at present she was unequal to the task
of arranging her ideas so as to understand the mystery that enveloped
her.

Gradually the thunderstorm rolled away, the rain cleared off, the moon
shone out, and Dorothea reached her squalid home, drenched, cold,
weary, and sick at heart.



CHAPTER XVII


"WANTED--A LADY"


We must go back a few days to watch with Dick Stanmore through the sad
sorrowing hours that succeeded his step-mother's ball. I trust I have
not so described this gentleman as to leave an impression that he was
what young ladies call a romantic person. Romance, like port
wine, after-dinner slumbers, flannel next the skin, and such
self-indulgences, should be reserved as a luxury for after-life; under
no circumstances must it be permitted to impair the efficiency of
manhood in its prime. Dick Stanmore took his punishment with true
British pluck and pertinacity. It was a "facer." As it could not
possibly be returned, his instincts prompted him to "grin and bear
it." He had sustained a severe fall. His first impulse was to get up
again. None the less did nerves thrill and brain spin with the force
and agony of the blow. Perhaps the very nature that most resists,
suffers also the most severely from such shocks, as a granite wall
cracks and splinters to the round shot, while an earth-work accepts
that rushing missile with a stolid harmless thud.

Dick's composition was at least not earthy enough to let him go to bed
after this recent downfall of his hopes. Restless, hurt, sorrowful,
angry with himself, not _her_--for his nature could be gallantly
loyal under defeat--sleep was as impossible as any other occupation
requiring quietude and self-control. No. The only thing to be done was
to smoke, of course! and then to pack up everything he could lay hands
on, without delay, so as to leave London that very morning, for any
part of England, Europe, or the habitable world. All places would be
alike to him now, only the farther from Belgrave Square the better.
Therefore it was, perhaps, that, after shamming to breakfast, and
enduring considerable pain in a state of enforced inactivity, while
his servant completed their travelling arrangements, he drove through
this very Square, though it lay by no means in a direct line for the
railway station to which he was bound. Those who believe in ghosts
affirm that a disembodied spirit haunts the place it best loved on
earth; and what are we but the ghosts of our former selves, when all
that constituted the pith and colouring and vitality of our lives has
passed away? Ah! Lady Macbeth's are not the only white hands from
which that cruel stain can never be removed. There are soft eyes and
sweet smiles and gentle whispers, enough in the world guilty of moral
manslaughter (I believe the culprits themselves call it "justifiable
homicide"), not entirely divested of that malice prepense which
constitutes the crime of murder! Happy the victims in whom life is not
completely extinguished, who recover their feet, bind up their wounds,
and undeterred by a ghastly experience, hazard in more encounters a
fresh assassination of the heart. Such fortitude would have afforded a
remedy to Dick Stanmore. "Wanted--a lady!" should have been the motto
emblazoned on his banner if ever he turned back into the battle once
more. Homoeopathy, no doubt, is the treatment for a malady like
that which prostrated this hapless sufferer,--homoeopathy, at first
distrusted, ridiculed, accepted only under protest, and in accordance
with the force of circumstances, the exigences of the position;
gradually found to soothe, to revive, to ameliorate, till at last it
effects a perfect and triumphant cure, nay, even shows itself powerful
enough to produce a second attack of the same nature, fierce and
virulent as the first. But, meanwhile, Dick Stanmore followed the
ghost's example, and drove sadly through Belgrave Square, as he told
himself, for the last--last time! Had he been an hour later, just one
hour, he might have taken away with him a subject for considerable
speculation, during his proposed travels in search of distraction.
This is what he would have seen.

A good-looking bad-looking man, with dark eyes and hair, sweeping a
crossing very inefficiently, while he watched the adjacent street with
an air of eager anxiety, foreign to an occupation which indeed seems
to demand unusual philosophy and composure of mind. Presently, Maud
Bruce, tripping daintily across the path he had swept clean, let
herself into the Square gardens, dropping her glove in the muddy
street as she took a pass-key from her pocket. The crossing-sweeper
pounced at it like a hawk, stuck his broom against a lamp-post, and
hurried round to the other side of the Square.

Here Maud appeared at the gate, while "Gentleman Jim," for it was none
other, returned her glove without a word through the iron bars.

"I hardly expected you so soon," said Miss Bruce. "My letter could
only have been posted at five this morning."

"You might ha' made sure I'd come that instant, miss," answered Jim,
his face brightening with excitement and delight. "I knowed who 'twas
from, well enough, though 'twas but a line as a man might say. I ain't
had it an hour, an' here I am, ready and willing for your job, be it
what it may!"

"You're a bold fellow, I know," said Maud, "but it's a desperate
undertaking. If you don't like it, say so."

Jim swore a horrible oath, and then drew his hand across his lips as
though to wipe away its traces.

"Look'ee here, miss," he muttered in a hoarse thick whisper. "If you
says to me, Jim, says you, go and rob that there church--see, now, I'd
have the wards of the big key in wax, ah! this weary arternoon. If you
says to me, says you, Jim, go and cut that there parson's throat, I've
got a old knife in my pocket as I wouldn't want to sharpen afore the
job was done, and the parson too, for good an' all!"

There was a peculiar grace in the setting on of Maud's head,
especially in the firm lines of her mouth and chin. Though she looked
even paler than usual, her rare beauty, always somewhat resolute and
defiant in character, never showed to greater advantage than now.

"I won't speak of reward to _you_," she said, very clearly and
distinctly, "though you shall name your own price, and be paid at
your own time. Listen--I have an enemy--a bitter enemy who threatened
me--actually dared to threaten _me_ last night--who would hesitate at
nothing to do me an injury."

"Blast him!" muttered Jim ferociously. "Leave 'un to me, miss, leave
'un to me!"

She took no heed of his interruption.

"That enemy," she continued, "must be got out of my way."

The sweat stood on her listener's brow.

"I understand you, miss," he gasped in a broken voice. "It shall be
done."

Over the face this ruffian thought too beautiful to be mortal came a
stern proud smile.

"I forbid _that_" she replied, "forbid it distinctly, and I _will_ be
obeyed to the very letter. If you were to kill this man, I should be
the first to hand you over to justice. Listen. He must be kept quiet
and out of the way for something less than three weeks. After that, he
can harm me no more. I bear him no grudge, I wish him no evil; but he
must be taken away this very afternoon. Every hour might make it too
late. Can you do this?"

Jim pondered. He was an experienced criminal. A man with certain
qualities which, in the honest paths of life, might have made him
successful, even remarkable. In a few seconds he had run over his
chances, his resources, his risk of detection, all the pros and cons
of the undertaking. He looked cheerfully in her face.

"I _can_, miss," said he confidently. "I don't go for to say as it's
a job to be done right off, like easy shavin', or taking a dozen of
hiseters. But it's to be worked. I'll engage for that, and I'm the
chap as can work it. You couldn't give me no longer than to-day, could
ye now?"

"If it's not done at once, you must let it alone," was the answer.

"Now that's business," replied Jim, growing cooler and more
self-possessed as he reviewed the difficulties of his enterprise. "The
party being in town, miss, o' course. You may depend on my makin' of
him safe before nine o'clock to-night. Shall I trouble you for the
name and address, or will you give me a description in full, that will
do as well?"

"You have seen him," she observed quietly. "On this very spot where I
am standing now. I walked with him in these gardens the first morning
you swept our crossing. A gentleman in a frock coat with a bunch of
flowers at his buttonhole. Do you remember?"

_Did he remember_? Why the man's figure, features, every detail of his
dress was photographed on Jim's heart.

"No need to tell me his name, miss," was the answer. "I knows him as
well as I knows these here old shoes o' mine. I've had my eye on him
ever since. I can tell you when he goes out, when he comes in, where
he takes his meals. I could lay my hand on him in any part of this
here town at two hours' notice. Make yourself easy, miss. Your job's
as good as done, and some day you'll see me again, miss, won't you?
And--and you'll thank me kindly, perhaps, when it's off your mind for
good and all!"

"You shall come and tell me the particulars," answered Miss Bruce,
with a gracious smile that seemed to flood him in sunshine, "when the
thing is finished. And now I ought to be at home again; but before I
go, understand plainly, to-morrow will be too late!"

Jim was deep in thought.

"The bird might be shy, miss," said he after a pause. "Some on 'em's
easy scared, and this doesn't seem like a green one, not a bit of it.
Supposin' as he _won't_ be 'ticed, miss; there's only one way, then!"

For a moment she felt a keen stab of compunction, but, remembering the
stake she ventured, nerved herself to resist the pang. This was no
time for child's play, for a morbid sensitiveness, for weak indulgence
of the feelings.

"Tell him you have a message from _me_, from Miss Bruce," she replied
firmly. "It will lead him anywhere."

Jim looked as if he would rather set about the business in any other
way; nevertheless, he was keenly alive to the efficiency of so
tempting a bait, reflecting at the same time with a kind of awe on Mr.
Ryfe's temerity in affronting such a character as this.

Another hurried sentence. A light in Jim's eyes like that with which a
dog receives directions from its master, a gesture such as dismisses
the same dog imperiously to its kennel, and Miss Bruce walked quietly
home to her music and her embroidery, while the crossing-sweeper,
recovering his broom, hurried off in another direction to commence
operations against the unsuspecting Tom Ryfe.

That gentleman's feelings, as he sat in his uncle's office the morning
after Mrs. Stanmore's ball, were of no enviable nature. Malice,
hatred, and all uncharitableness might indeed sufficiently describe
the frame of mind in which he went about his daily business,
unfortunately on the present occasion an affair of such mere routine
as in no way to distract his attention from his sorrows and his
wrongs.

"She has dared me," thought he, poring over a deed he knew by heart,
and of which his eye only took in the form and outward semblance,
"challenged me to do my worst, and herself declared it is to be war
to the knife. O Maud, Maud, how could you, how could you! Was it not
enough to have wound yourself round my heart, to have identified
yourself with my hopes, my ambition, my manhood, my very existence,
and then with one turn of your hand to have destroyed them, each and
all, but you must add insult to injury--must scorn and trample on me
as well? Some men may stand this sort of treatment--I won't. I _have_
a pull over you. Ah! I'm not such a fool, after all, perhaps, as you
thought. I have it, and hang me, but I'll make use of it! You have
blasted my life, and thought it good fun, no doubt. I'll see if I
can't give tit-for-tat and spoil _your_ little game, my haughty lady,
with your white face and your cursed high-handed airs. Yet, how I
loved them--how I loved them! Must I never see a woman again without
that queenly beauty coming between me and my share of happiness? What
right had you to destroy my whole future? And I would have been so
different if you had cared _for_ me; I might have made a better
gentleman than any of them. As for that emptyheaded cousin (to be sure
you've thrown him over, too, and I hope he feels it to his marrow),
and that swaggering lord, can they care for you like I did? Would they
have worked as hard to please you, and sat up night after night, as I
have done, poring over papers to see you righted? and why am I to
be sacrificed to such men as these? I won't be sacrificed; no, by
heavens! I've done my best for you hitherto, Miss Bruce, and you've
dared me now to do my _worst_. I shall rather astonish you, I think,
when you learn what that worst is. Curse you; I'll have no mercy! If
I _am_ to suffer, I'll take care not to suffer meekly and alone. It's
_my_ turn now, my lady, as, before twelve hours are out, you shall
know to your cost."

Mr. Ryfe, you see, was sadly wanting in that first element of chivalry
which establishes the maxim that "a woman can do no wrong." This
principle, when acted up to in its fullest sense, is convenient,
no doubt, and beneficial to us all. It involves free trade on the
broadest basis, sweeping away much of the selfishness and morbid
sentimentality that constitute the superstition we call Love. _She_
has a perfect right to change her mind, bless her! why shouldn't she?
And so, no doubt, have _you_! Ring for fresh cards, cut again for
partners, and so sit merrily down to another rubber. Thus, too, you
will learn to play the game cautiously and with counters, saving both
your temper and your gold. It may be you will miss the excitement of
real gambling, finding the pastime so wearisome that you are fain to
leave off and go to bed. Whatever you do, retire with a good grace.
It is but a choice of evils. Perhaps you had better be bored than
miserable, and, if less exciting, it is surely less painful to stifle
listless yawns, than to crush down the cry of a wilful wounded heart.

Mr. Ryfe, however, I consider perfectly inexcusable in the course
he chose to adopt. Self-sacrifice is, of all others, the quality by
which, in questions of feeling, the true gold is to be distinguished
from the false. But Tom had no idea of such generous immolation--not
he.

Hour after hour, poring over the deeds of which he never read a line,
he raged and chafed and came to a determination at last.

He had thought of writing to Lord Bearwarden, in his own name, warning
him as a true friend of the lady's antecedents who was about to become
his lordship's bride, enclosing at the same time a copy of her promise
to himself; for, with professional caution, he reflected that the
original had better not pass out of his hands. Then, he argued, if his
lordship could only see with his own eyes the treasured lines in her
well-known handwriting, by which Miss Bruce had bound herself in all
honour to the lawyer's clerk, that nobleman must readily, and of
necessity, hold himself absolved from any engagement he might have
contracted with her, and perceive at once the folly and impropriety
of making such a woman his wife. Yes, Lord Bearwarden should read the
letter itself; he would obtain a personal interview that very evening,
when the latter dressed for dinner. There would thus be no necessity
for trusting the important document out of his own possession, while
at the same time he could himself adopt a tone of candour and high
feeling, calculated to make a strong impression on such a true
gentleman as his friend.

He took Miss Bruce's promise from the safe in which he kept it locked
up, and hid it carefully in his breast-pocket. Then, looking at his
watch, and finding it was time to leave his office for the West-End,
heaped his papers together, bundled them into the safe, and prepared
to depart.

Walking moodily down-stairs he was waylaid by Dorothea, who, sluicing
the steps with dirty water under pretence of cleaning them, thus held,
as it were, the key of the position, and so had him at command. It
surprised him not a little that she should desist from her occupation
to request an interview.

"Can I speak to you for a moment, Mr. Thomas?" said she. "It's
private, and it's particular."

The amount of pressure put on Dorothea ere she consented to the
job now in hand it is not for me to estimate. Her Jim was a man of
unscrupulous habits and desperate resources. It is probable that she
had been subjected to the influences of affection, sentiment, and
intimidation, perhaps even physical force. I cannot tell, my business
is only with results.

There was no escaping, even had Mr. Ryfe been so inclined, for
Dorothea's person, pail, and scrubbing-brushes defended the whole
width of the staircase.

"It's strange, Mr. Thomas," she continued, pushing the hair off her
face. "Lor! I was that frightened and that surprised, as you might
have 'eard my 'eart beatin' like carpets. Who she may be, an' wot she
may be, I know no more than the dead. But her words was these--I'm
tellin' you her werry words--If you can make sure of seeing Mr. Ryfe,
says she,--that's _you_, Mr. Thomas,--any time afore to-night, says
she, tell him, as I must have a word with him in priwate atween him
and me this werry evening, or it would have been better for both of
us, poor things, says she, if we'd 'a never been born!"

Tom Ryfe stared.

"What do you mean?" he said. "Am I to understand that the--the
lady who spoke to you was desirous of an interview with me here in
chambers, or where?"

"An' a born lady she is an' were!" answered Dorothea, incoherent, and
therefore in the acute lawyer's opinion more likely to be telling
the truth. "A beautiful lady, too--tall and pale, 'aughty and
'andsome--(Tom started)--dressed in 'alf-mourning, with a
black-and-white parasol in her 'and. It's to see you priwate, Mr.
Thomas, as she bade me to warn of you. To-night at height in the
Birdcage Walk, without fail, says she, for it's life and death as is
the matter, or marriage, says she, which is sometimes wuss nor both."

Dorothea then removed herself, her pail, and her scrubbing-brushes to
one side, as though inviting him to follow out his assignation without
delay.

"I ask yer pardon," said she, "Mr. Thomas, if I done wrong. But the
young lady she seemed so anxious and aggrawated-like. No offence, sir,
I 'umbly 'ope, and she guv' me 'alf-a-sovereign."

"And I'll give you another," exclaimed Tom, placing a coin of that
value in Dorothea's damp hot hand. "The Birdcage Walk, at eight. And
it's past six now. Thank you, Dorothea. I've no doubt it's all right.
I'll start at once."

Leaving Gray's Inn, the warm tears filled his eyes to think he had
so misjudged her. Evidently she was in some difficulty, some
complication; she had no opportunity of confiding to him, and hence
her apparent heartlessness, the inconsistency of her conduct which he
had been unable to understand. Obviously she loved him still, and the
conviction filled him with rapture, all the more thrilling and intense
for his late misgivings.

He pulled her written promise from his pocket, and kissed it
passionately, reading it over and over again in the fading light. A
prayer rose from heart to lip for the woman he loved, while he looked
up to the crimson glories of the western sky. Do such prayers fall
back in the form of curses on the heads of those who betray, haunting
them in their sorrows--at their need--worst of all in their supreme
moments of happiness and joy? God forbid! Rather let us believe that,
true to their heaven-born nature, they are blessings for those who
give and those who receive.

Some two hours later, Tom Ryfe found himself pacing to and fro under
the trees in the Birdcage Walk, with a happier heart, though it beat
so fast, than had been within his waistcoat for weeks.

It was getting very dark, and even beneath the gas-lamps it was
difficult to distinguish the figure of man or woman, flitting through
the deep shadows cast by trees still thick with their summer foliage.
Tom, peering anxiously into the obscure, could make out nothing but
a policeman, a foot-guardsman with a clothes-basket, and a drunken
slattern carrying her baby upside-down.

He was growing anxious. Big Ben's booming tones had already warned him
it was a quarter past eight, when, suddenly, so close to him he could
almost touch it, loomed the figure of a woman.

"Miss Bruce," he exclaimed--"Maud--is it you?"

Turning his own body, so as to take advantage of a dim ray from the
nearest gaslight, he was aware that the woman, shorter and stouter
than Miss Bruce, had muffled herself in a cloak, and was closely
veiled.

"You have a letter--a message," he continued in a whisper. "It's all
right. I'm the party you expected to meet--here--at eight--under the
trees."

"And wot the--are you at with my missus under the trees?" growled
a brutal voice over his shoulder, while Tom felt he was helplessly
pinioned by a pair of strong arms from behind, that crushed and
bruised him like iron. Ere he could twist his hands free to show
fight, which he meant to do pretty fiercely, he found himself baffled,
blinded, suffocated, by a handkerchief thrust into his face, while a
strong, pungent, yet not altogether unpleasant flavour of ether filled
eyes, mouth, and nostrils, till it permeated to his very lungs. Then
with every pulsation of the blood Big Ben seemed to be striking
inside his brain till something gave way with a great whizz! like
the mainspring of a watch, and Tom Ryfe was perfectly quiet and
comfortable henceforth.

Five minutes afterwards a belated bricklayer lounging home with his
mate observed two persons, man and woman, supporting between them a
limp helpless figure, obviously incapable of sense or motion. Said the
bricklayer, "That's a stiff-'un, Bill, to all appearance."

"Stiff-'un be d----d!" retorted Bill; "he's only jolly drunk. I wish I
was too!"

The bricklayer seemed a man of reflection; for half-a-mile or so he
held his peace, then, with a backward nod of the head, to indicate his
meaning, observed solemnly--

"I wouldn't take that chap's head-ache when he comes to, no, not to be
as jolly drunk as he is this minnit--I wouldn't!"



CHAPTER XVIII


"THE COMING QUEEN"


  "And whenever she comes she will find me waiting
  To do her homage--my queen--my queen!"

How many an aspiring heart has breathed the high chivalrous sentiment,
never before so touchingly expressed, as in the words of this
beautiful song! How many a gallant generous nature has desired with
unspeakable longing to lay its wealth of loyalty and devotion at her
feet who is to prove the coming queen of its affections, the ladye of
its love! And for how many is the unwavering worship, the unfailing
faith, the venture of wealth and honour, the risk of life and limb,
right royally rewarded according to its merits and its claim! I am not
sure that implicit belief, unquestioning obedience, are the qualities
most esteemed by those illustrious personages on whom they are
lavished; and I think that the rebel who sends in his adhesion on his
own terms is sometimes treated with more courtesy and consideration
than the stanch vassal whose fidelity remains unaffected by coldness,
ingratitude, or neglect.

Dick Stanmore, reading in the _Morning Post_ an eloquent account of
Viscount Bearwarden's marriage to Miss Bruce, with the festivities
consequent thereon, felt that he had sadly wasted his loyalty, if
indeed this lady were the real sovereign to whom the homage of his
heart was due. He began now to entertain certain misgivings on that
score. What if he had over-estimated his own admiration and the force
of her attractions? Perhaps his _real_ queen had not come to him after
all. It might be she was advancing even now in her maiden majesty,
as yet unseen, but shedding before her a soft and mellow radiance, a
tender quiver of light and warmth, like that which flushes the horizon
at the break of a summer's day.

His dark hour had been cold and dismal enough. There is nothing to be
ashamed of in the confession. Dick suffered severely, as every manly
nature must suffer when deceived by a woman. He did not blame the
woman--why should he?--but he felt that a calamity had befallen him,
the heaviest of his young experience, and he bore it as best he might.

"_Caelum non animum_" is a very old proverb: his first impulse, no
doubt, was to change the scene, and seek under other skies an altered
frame of mind, in defiance of Horace and his worldly wisdom, so rarely
at fault. In these days a code of behaviour has been established by
society to meet every eventuality of life. When your fortunes are
impaired you winter at Rome; when your liver is affected you travel in
Germany; when your heart is broke you start at once for India. There
is something unspeakably soothing, I imagine, in the swing of an
elephant as he crashes through jungle, beating it out for tigers;
something consolatory to wounded feelings in the grin of a heavy old
tusker, lumbering along, half sulky, half defiant, winking a little
blood-red eye at the pig-sticker, pushing his Arab to speed with a
loose rein ere he delivers the meditated thrust that shall win first
spear. Snipe, too, killed by the despairing lover while standing in a
paddy-field up to his knees in water, with a tropical sun beating on
his head, to be eaten afterwards in military society, not undiluted by
pale ale and brandy-pawnee, afford a relief to the finer feelings of
his nature as delightful as it is unaccountable; while those more
adventurous spirits who, penetrating far into the mountainous regions
of the north-west frontier, persecute the wild sheep or the eland, and
even make acquaintance with the lordly ibex "rocketing" down from crag
to crag, breaking the force and impetus of his leap by alighting on
horns and forehead, would seem to gain in their life of hardship and
adventure an immunity from the "common evil" which lasts them well
into middle age.

Dick Stanmore's first impulse, therefore, was to secure a berth in the
P. and O. steamer at once. Then he reflected that it would not be
a bad plan to stop at Constantinople--one of the Egean islands,
Messina--or, indeed, why go farther than Marseilles? If you come to
that, Paris was the very place for a short visit. A man might spend
a fortnight there pleasantly enough, even in the hot weather, and it
would be a complete change, the eventual result of these deliberations
being a resolve to go down and look after his landed property in the
west of England. I believe that in this determination Mr. Stanmore
showed more wisdom than his friends had hitherto given him credit for
possessing. At his own place he had his own affairs to interest him, a
good deal of business to attend to, above all, constant opportunities
of doing good. This it is, I fancy, which constitutes the real pith
and enjoyment of a country gentleman's life--which imparts zest and
flavour to the marking of trees, the setting of trimmers, the shooting
of partridges, nay, even to the joyous excitement of fox-hunting
itself.

This, too, is a wondrous salve for such wounds as those under which
Dick Stanmore was now smarting. The very comparison of our own sorrows
with those of others has a tendency to decrease their proportions
and diminish their importance. How can I prate of my cut finger in
presence of your broken leg? And how utterly ridiculous would have
seemed Mr. Stanmore's sentimental sorrows to one of his own labourers
keeping a wife and half-a-dozen children on eleven shillings a week?

In the whole moral physic-shop there is no anodyne like duty,
sweetened with a little charity towards your neighbours. Amusement
and dissipation simply aggravate the evil. Personal danger, while
its excitement braces nerve and intellect for the time, is an
over-powerful stimulant for the imagination, and leaves a reaction
sadly softening to the heart. Successful ambition, gratified vanity,
what are these with none to share the triumph? But put the sufferer
through a steady course of daily duties, engrossing in their nature,
stupefying in the monotony of their routine, and insensibly, while his
attention is distracted from self and selfish feelings, he gathers
strength, day by day, till at last he is able to look his sorrow in
the face, and fight it fairly, as he would any other honourable foe.
The worst is over then, and victory a mere question of time.

So Dick Stanmore, setting to work with a will, found sleep and
appetite and bodily strength come back rapidly enough. He had moments
of pain, no doubt, particularly when he woke in the morning. Also at
intervals during the day, when the breeze sighed through his woods,
or the sweetbrier's fragrance stole on his senses more heavily than
usual. Once, when a gipsy-girl blessed his handsome face, adding, in
the fervour of her gratitude, a thousand good wishes for "the lass he
loved, as must love him dear, sure-lie!" but for very shame he could
have cried like a child.

Such relapses, however, were of rarer occurrence every week. It was
not long before he told himself that he had been through the worst of
his ordeal and could meet Lady Bearwarden now without looking like
a fool. In this more rational frame of mind Mr. Stanmore arrived in
London in business at that period of settled weather and comparative
stagnation called by tradesmen the "dead time of year," and found his
late-acquired philosophy put somewhat unexpectedly to the proof.

He was staring at a shop-window in Oxford Street--studying, indeed,
the print of a patent mowing-machine, but thinking, I fear, more of
past scenes in certain well-lit rooms, on slippery floors, than of the
velvet lawns at home--when a barouche drew up to the kerb-stone with
such trampling of hoofs, such pulling about of horses' mouths, such a
jerk and vibration of the whole concern, as denoted a smart carriage
with considerable pretension, a body-coachman of no ordinary calibre.
Dick turned sharply round, and there, not five yards off, was the pale
face, proud, dreamy, and beautiful as of old. Had she seen him? He
hardly knew, for he was sick at heart, growing white to his very
lips--he, a strong healthy man, with as much courage as his
neighbours. Horribly ashamed of himself he felt. And well he might be!
But with more wisdom than he had hitherto shown, he made a snatch at
his hat, and took refuge in immediate retreat. It was his only chance.
How, indeed, could he have met her manfully and with dignity, while
every nerve and fibre quivered at her presence? how endure the shame
of betraying in his manner that he loved her very dearly still? It
gave him, indeed, a sharp and cruel pang to think that it had come to
this--that the face he had so worshipped he must now fly from like a
culprit--that for his own sake, in sheer self-defence, he must
avoid her presence, as if he had committed against her some deadly
injury--against _her_, for whom, even now, he would willingly have
laid down his life! Poor Dick! He little knew, but it was the last
pang he was destined to feel from his untoward attachment, and it
punished him far more severely than he deserved.

Blundering hastily up a by-street, he ran into the very arms of a
gentleman who had turned aside to apply a latch-key at the door of a
rambling unfurnished-looking house, sadly in want of paint, whitewash,
and general repair. The gentleman, with an exclamation of delight, put
both hands on Mr. Stanmore's shoulders.

"This _is_ a piece of luck!" exclaimed the latter. "Why, it's 'old Sir
Simon the King'!"

His mind reverted insensibly to the pleasant Oxford days, and he
used a nickname universally bestowed on his friend by the men of his
college.

"And what can _you_ be doing here at this time of year?" asked Simon.
"In the first place, how came you to be in London? In the second, how
did you ever get so far along Oxford Street? In the third, being here,
won't you come up to the painting-room? I'll show you my sketches;
I'll give you some 'baccy--I haven't forgot Iffley Lock and your vile
habit of stopping to drink. I can even supply you with beer! We'll
have a smoke, and a talk over old times."

"Willingly," answered Dick, declining the beer, however, on the plea
that such potations only went well with boating or cricket, and
followed the painter up-stairs into an exceedingly uncomfortable room,
of which the principal object of furniture seemed to be an easel,
bearing a sketch, apparently to be transferred hereafter into some
unfinished picture.

Dick was in no frame of mind to converse upon his own affairs;
accepting the proffered cigar, and taking the only seat in the place,
he preferred listening to his friend, who got to work at once, and
talked disjointedly while he painted.

"I can't complain," said Simon, in answer to the other's questions
concerning his prosperity and success. "I was always a plodding sort
of fellow, as you remember. Not a genius--I don't _think_ I've the
divine gift. Sometimes I hope it may come. I've worked hard, I grant
you--very hard; but I've had extraordinary luck--marvellous! What do
you think of that imp's tail?--Isn't it a trifle too long?"

"I'm no judge of imps," answered Dick. "He's horribly ugly. Go on
about yourself."

"Well, as I was saying," continued Simon, foreshortening his imp the
while, "my luck has been wonderful. It all began with _you_. If you
hadn't gone fishing there, I should never have seen Norway. If I
hadn't seen it, I couldn't have painted it."

"I'm not sure that follows," interrupted Dick.

"Well, I _shouldn't_ have painted it, then," resumed the artist. "And
the credit I got for those Norway sketches was perfectly absurd. I see
their faults now. They're cold and crude, and one or two are quite
contrary to the first principles of art. I should like to paint them
all over again. But still, if I hadn't been to Norway, I shouldn't be
here now."

"No more should I," observed Dick, puffing out a volume of smoke. "I
should have been 'marry-ed to a mermy-ed' by this time, if you had
shown a proper devotion to your art, and the customary indifference to
your friend."

"O, that was nothing!" said the painter, blushing. "Any other fellow
could have pulled you out just as well. I say, Stanmore, how jolly it
was over there! Those were happy days. And yet I don't wish to have
them back again--do you?"

Dick sighed and held his peace. For him it seemed that the light heart
and joyous carelessness of that bright youthful time was gone, never
to come again.

"I have learned so much since then," continued Simon, putting a little
grey into his imp's muzzle, "and unlearned so much, too, which is better
still. Mannerism, Stanmore--mannerism is the great enemy of art. Now,
I'll explain what I mean in two words. In the first place, you observe
the light from that chink streaming down on my imp's back; well, in the
picture, you know--"

"Where _is_ the picture?" exclaimed Dick, whose cigar was finished,
and who had no scruples in thus unceremoniously interrupting a
professional lecture which previous experience told him might be
wearisome. "Let's see it. Let's see _all_ the pictures. Illustration's
better than argument, and I can't understand anything unless it's set
before me in bright colours, under my very nose."

Good-natured Simon desisted from his occupation at once, and began
lifting picture after picture, as they stood in layers against the
wall, to place them in a favourable light for the inspection of
his friend. Many and discursive were his criticisms on these, the
progressive results of eye, and hand, and brain, improving every
day. Here the drawing was faulty, there the tints were coarse. This
betrayed mannerism, that lacked power, and in a very ambitious
landscape, enriched with wood, water, and mountain, a patchy sky
spoiled the effect of the whole.

Nevertheless it seemed that he was himself not entirely dissatisfied
with his work, and whenever his friend ventured on the diffident
criticism of an amateur, Simon demonstrated at great length that each
fault, as he pointed it out, was in truth a singular merit and beauty
in the picture.

Presently, with a face of increased importance, he moved a large
oblong canvas from its hiding-place, to prop it artistically at such
an angle as showed the lights and shades of its finished portion to
the best advantage. Then he fell back a couple of paces, contemplating
it in silence with his head on one side, and so waited for his
friend's opinion.

But Dick was mute. Something in this picture woke up the pain of a
recent wound festering in his heart, and yet through all the smart and
tingling came a strange sensation of relief, like that with which a
styptic salves a sore.

"What do you think of it?" asked the artist. "I want your candid
opinion, Stanmore--impartial--unprejudiced, I tell you. I hope great
things from it. I believe it far and away the best I've painted yet.
Look into the work. O, it will stand inspection. You might examine it
with a microscope. Then, the conception, eh? And the drawing's not
amiss. A little more this way--you catch the outline of his eyebrow,
with the turn of the Rhymer's head."

"Hang the Rhymer's head!" replied Dick, "I don't care about it. I
won't look at it. I _can't_ look at it, man, with such a woman as
_that_ in the picture. Old boy, you've won immortality at last!"

But Simon's face fell.

"That's a great fault," he answered gravely. "The details, though
kept down as accessories to the whole, should yet be worked out so
carefully as to possess individual merit of their own. I see, though;
I see how to remedy the defect you have suggested. I can easily bring
him out by darkening the shadows of the background. Then, this fairy
at his elbow is paltry, and too near him besides. I shall paint her
out altogether. She takes the eye off my principal figures, and breaks
that grand line of light pouring in from the morning sky. Don't you
think so?"

But Dick gave no answer. With feverish thirst and longing, he was
drinking in the beauty of the Fairy Queen; and had not Simon Perkins
been the dullest of observers, and the least conceited of painters, he
must have felt intensely flattered by the effect of his work.

"So you like her," said he, after a pause, during which, in truth, he
had been considering whether he should not paint out the intrusive
fairy that very afternoon.

"Like her!" replied the other. "It's the image of the most beautiful
face I ever saw in my life; only it's softer and even more beautiful.
I'll tell you what, old fellow, put a price on that picture and I'll
have it, cost what it may! Only you must give me a little time," added
Dick somewhat ruefully, reflecting that he had spent a good deal of
money lately, and rent-day was still a long way off.

Simon smiled.

"I wonder what you'd think of the original," said he, "the model who
sits to me for my Fairy Queen! I can tell you that face on the canvas
is no more to be compared to hers than I am to Velasquez. And yet
Velasquez must have been a beginner once."

"I don't believe there's such a woman--two such women--in London,"
replied his friend, correcting himself. "I can hardly imagine such
eyes, such an expression. It's what the fellows who write poetry call
'the beauty of a dream,' and I'll never say poetry is nonsense again.
No, that's neither more nor less than an imaginary angel, Simon.
Simply an impossible duck!"

"Would you like to see her?" asked the painter, laughing. "She'll be
here in five minutes. I do believe that's her step on the stairs now."

A strange wild hope thrilled through Dick Stanmore's heart. Could it
be possible that Lady Bearwarden had employed his friend to paint her
likeness in this fancy picture, perhaps under a feigned name, and was
she coming to take her sitting now?

All his stoicism, all his philosophy, vanished on the instant. He
would remain where he was though he should die for it. O, to see her,
to be in the same room with her, to look in her eyes, and hear her
voice once more!

A gown rustled, a light step was heard, the door opened, and a
sweet laughing voice rung out its greeting to the painter from the
threshold.

"So late, Simon! Shameful, isn't it? But I've got all they wanted.
Such bargains! I suppose nobody ever did so much shopping in so short
a--"

She caught sight of Dick, stopped, blushed, and made a very
fascinating little curtsey, as they were formally introduced; but next
time she spoke the merriment had gone out of her voice. It had become
more staid, more formal, and its deeper, fuller tones reminded him
painfully of Maud.

[Illustration: "She caught sight of Dick."]

Yes. Had he not known Lady Bearwarden so well, he thought it would
have been quite possible for him to have mistaken this beautiful young
lady for that faithless peeress. The likeness was extraordinary,
ridiculous. Not that he felt the least inclined to laugh. The features
were absolutely the same, and a certain backward gesture of the head,
a certain trick of the mouth and chin were identical with the manner
of Lady Bearwarden, in those merry days that seemed so long ago
now, when she had been Maud Bruce. Only Miss Algernon's face had a
softness, a kindly trustful expression he never remembered on the
other, and her large pleading eyes seemed as if they could neither
kindle with anger nor harden to freezing glances of scorn.

As for the Fairy Queen, he looked from the picture to its original,
and felt constrained to admit that, wondrously beautiful as he had
thought its likeness on canvas, the face before him was infinitely
superior to the painter's fairest and most cherished work.

Dick went away of course almost immediately, though sorely against his
will. Contrary to her wont, Miss Algernon, who was rather a mimic and
full of fun, neither imitated the gestures nor ridiculed the bearing
of this chance visitor. "She had not observed him much," she said,
when taxed by Simon with this unusual forbearance. This was false. But
"she might know him again, perhaps, if they met." This, I imagine, was
true.

And Dick, wending his way back to his hotel buried in thought, passed
without recognising it the spot where he met Lady Bearwarden one short
hour ago. He was pondering, no doubt, on the face he had just seen--on
its truth, its purity, its fresh innocent mirth, its dazzling beauty,
more, perhaps, than on its extraordinary likeness to hers who had
brought him the one great misfortune of his life.



CHAPTER XIX


AN INCUBUS


It is not to be supposed that any gentleman can see a lady in the
streets of London and remain himself unseen. In the human as in meaner
races the female organ of perception is quicker, keener, and more
accurate than the male. Therefore it is that a man bowing in Pall Mall
or Piccadilly to some divinity in an open carriage, and failing to
receive any return for his salute, sinks at once into a false position
of awkwardness and discomfiture, _il a manqué son coup_, and his face
assumes incontinently the expression of one who has missed a woodcock
in the open, and has no second barrel with which to redeem his shot.
As Dick saw Lady Bearwarden in Oxford Street, we may be sure that Lady
Bearwarden also saw Dick. Nor was her ladyship best pleased with the
activity he displayed in avoiding her carriage and escaping from her
society. If Mr. Stanmore had been the most successful Lovelace who
ever devoted himself to the least remunerative of pursuits, instead
of a loyal, kindhearted, unassuming gentleman, he could hardly have
chosen a line of conduct so calculated to keep alive some spark of
interest in Maud's breast as that which he unconsciously adopted. It
is one thing to dismiss a lover because suited with a superior article
(as some ladies send away five-foot-ten of footman when six-foot comes
to look after the place), and another to lose a vassal for good, like
an unreclaimed hawk, heedless of the lure, clear of the jesses, and
checking, perhaps, at every kind of prey in wilful wanton flight,
down-wind towards the sea.

There is but one chance for a man worsted in these duels _à
l'outrance_, which are fought out with such merciless animosity. It is
to bind up his wounds as best he may, and take himself off to die or
get well in secret. Presently the conqueror finds that a battle only
has been won, and not a territory gained. After the flush of combat
comes a reaction. The triumph seems somewhat tame, ungraced by
presence of the captive. Curiosity wakes up, pity puts in its pleading
word, a certain jealous instinct of appropriation is aroused. Where is
he? What has become of him? I wonder if he ever thinks of me _now_!
Poor fellow! I shouldn't wish to be forgotten altogether, as if we had
never met; and though I didn't want him to like _me_, I never meant
that he was to care for anybody else. Such are the thoughts that chase
each other through the female heart when deprived of sovereignty in
the remotest particular; and it was very much in this way that Lady
Bearwarden, sitting alone in her boudoir, speculated on the present
doings and sentiments of the man who had loved her so well and had
given her up so unwillingly, yet with never a word of reproach, never
a look nor action that could add to her remorse or make her task more
painful.

Alas, she was not happy; even now, when she had gained all she most
wished and schemed for in the world. She felt she was not happy, and
she felt, too, that for Dick to know of her unhappiness would be the
bitterest drop in the bitter cup he had been compelled to drain.

As she looked round her beautiful boudoir, with its blue-satin
hangings, its numerous mirrors, its redundancy of coronets surmounting
her own cipher, twisted and twined into a far more graceful decoration
than the grim heraldic bruin which formed her husband's cognisance,
she said to herself that something was yet required to constitute
a woman's happiness beyond the utmost efforts of the upholder's
art--that even carriages, horses, tall footmen, quantities of flowers,
unlimited credit, and whole packs of cards left on the hall table
every day were mere accessories and superfluities, not the real pith
and substance of that for which she pined.

Lady Bearwarden, more than most women, had, since her marriage, found
the worldly ball at her foot. She needed but to kick it where she
would. As Miss Bruce, with nothing to depend on but her own good looks
and conquering manners, she had wrested a large share of admiration
from an unwilling public; now, as a peeress, and a rich one, the same
public of both sexes courted, toadied, and flattered her, till she
grew tired of hearing herself praised. The men--at least those of high
position and great prospects--had no scruple in offering a married
woman that homage which might have entailed their own domestic
subjugation if laid at a spinster's feet; and the women--all except
the very smartest ladies (who liked her for her utter fearlessness and
_sang-froid_ as well as for her own sake)--thought it a fine thing to
be on intimate terms with "Maud Bearwarden," as they loved to call
her, and being much afraid of her, made up to her with the sweet
facility and sincerity of their sex.

Yet in defiance of ciphers, coronets, visiting-cards, blue hangings,
the homage of lords, and the vassalage of ladies, there was something
amiss. She caught herself continually looking back to the old days
at Ecclesfield Manor, to the soft lawns and shady avenues, the fond
father, who thought his darling the perfection of humanity, and whose
face lit up so joyfully whenever she came into the room; the sweet
delicate mother from whom she could never remember an unkind look nor
an angry word; the hills, the river, the cottages, the tenants, the
flower-garden, the ponies, and the old retriever that died licking her
hand. She felt kindly towards Mrs. Stanmore, and wondered whether she
had behaved quite as well to that lady as she ought, recalling many a
little act of triumphant malice and overt resistance which afforded
keen gratification to the rebel at the time. By an easy transition,
she glided on to Dick Stanmore's honest and respectful admiration, his
courtesy, his kindness, his unfailing forbearance and good humour.
Bearwarden was not always good-humoured--she had found that out
already. But as for Dick, she remembered how no mishap nor annoyance
of his own ever irritated him in the slightest degree; how his first
consideration always seemed to be _her_ comfort and _her_ happiness;
how even in his deep sorrow, deceived, humiliated, cut to the heart,
he had never so much as spoken one bitter word. How nobly had he
trusted her about those diamonds! How well he had behaved to her
throughout, and how fondly would he have loved and cherished her had
she confided her future to his care! He must be strangely altered now,
to avoid her like this. She was sure he recognised her, for she saw
his face fall, saw him wince--that at least was a comfort--but never
to shake hands, never even to stop and speak! Well, she had treated
him cruelly, and perhaps he was right.

But this was not the actual grievance, after all. She felt she would
do precisely the same over again. It was less repentance that pained
her, than retribution. Maud, for the first time in her life, was
beginning to feel really in love, and with her own husband. Such an
infatuation, rare as it is admirable, ought to have been satisfactory
and prosperous enough. When ladies do so far condescend, it is usually
a gratifying domestic arrangement for themselves and their lords;
but in the present instance the wife's increasing affection afforded
neither happiness to herself nor comfort to her husband. There was
a "Something" always between them, a shadow, not of suspicion nor
mistrust, for Bearwarden was frank and loyal by nature, but of
coldness. She had a secret from him, and she was a bad dissembler; his
finer instincts told him that he did not possess her full confidence,
and he was too proud to ask it. So they lived together a few short
weeks after marriage, on outward terms of courtesy and cordiality, but
with this little rift of dissatisfaction gradually yet surely widening
into a fissure that should rend each of these proud unbending hearts
in twain.

"What would I give to be like other wives," thought Maud, looking at
a half-length of her husband in uniform, which occupied the place of
honour in her boudoir. "What is it? Why is it? I would love him so, if
he would let me. How I wish I could be good--_really_ good, like mamma
was. I suppose it's impossible now. I wonder if it's too late to try."
And with the laudable intention of beginning amendment at once, Lady
Bearwarden rang sharply to tell her servants she was "not at home to
anybody till Lord Bearwarden came in, except"--and here she turned
away from her own footman, that he might not see the colour rising in
her face--"except a man should call with some silks and brocades, in
which case he was to be shown up-stairs at once."

The door had scarcely closed ere the paper-cutter in Maud's fingers
broke short off at the handle. Her grasp tightened on it insensibly,
while she ground and gnashed her small white teeth, to think that she,
with her proud nature, in her high position, should not be free
to admit or deny what visitors she pleased. So dandies of various
patterns, afoot, in tea-carts, and on hacks more or less deserving in
shape and action, discharged themselves of their visiting-cards at
Lady Bearwarden's door, and passed on in peace to fulfil the same rite
elsewhere.

Two only betrayed an unseemly emotion when informed "her ladyship was
not at home": the one, a cheerful youth, bound for a water-party
at Skindle's, and fearful of missing his train, thanked Providence
audibly for what he called "an unexpected let off"; the other, an
older, graver, and far handsomer man, suffered an expression of
palpable discomfiture to overspread his comely face, and, regardless
of observation, walked away from the door with the heavy step that
denotes a heavy heart. Not that he had fallen in love with Lady
Bearwarden--far from it. But there _was_ a Somebody--that Somebody an
adverse fate had decreed he must neither meet to-day nor to-morrow,
and the interval seemed to both of them wearisome, and even painful.
But Maud was Somebody's dear friend. Maud either had seen her or would
see her that very afternoon. Maud would let him talk about her, praise
her, perhaps would even give her a message--nay, it was just possible
she might arrive to pay a morning visit while he was there. No wonder
he looked so sad to forego this series of chances; and all the while,
if he had only known it, Fate, having veered round at luncheon-time,
would have permitted him to call at Somebody's house, to find her at
home, enchanted to see him, and to sit with her as long as he liked
in the well-known room, with its flowers and sun-shades and globes
of gold-fish, and the picture over the chimney-piece, and its dear
original by his side. But it is a game at cross-purposes all through
this dangerous pastime; and perhaps its very _contretemps_ are what
make it so interesting to the players, so amusing to the lookers-on.

Lady Bearwarden grew fidgety after a while. It is needless to say that
"the man with some silks and brocades" to be admitted by her servants
was none other than "Gentleman Jim," who, finding the disguise of a
"travelling merchant" that in which he excited least suspicion in his
interviews with her ladyship, had resolved to risk detection yet once
more, and had given her notice of his intention.

We all remember Sinbad's Old Man of the Sea, and the grip of that
merciless rider tightening closer and closer the longer he was carried
by his disgusted victim. There is more truth in the fable than most of
us would like to allow. If you once permit yourself to set up an "Old
Man of the Sea," farewell to free agency, happiness, even tolerable
comfort, from that time forth! Sometimes your burden takes the shape
of a renewed bill, sometimes of a fatal secret, sometimes of an unwise
attachment, sometimes only of a bad habit; but whatever it be, the
farther you carry it the heavier it seems to grow; and in this case
custom does not in the least degree reconcile you to the infliction.
Up with your heels, and kick it off at any price! Even should you rick
your back in the process, it is better to be crippled for life than
eternally oppressed by a ruthless rider and an intolerable weight.

Gentleman Jim was becoming Lady Bearwarden's Old Man of the Sea. More
than once of late he had forced himself on her presence when it was
exceedingly inconvenient and even dangerous to meet him. The promised
interview of to-day had been extorted from her most unwillingly, and
by threats, implied if not expressed. She began to feel that she was
no longer her own mistress--that she had lost her independence, and
was virtually at the command of an inferior. To a proud nature like
hers such a situation seemed simply intolerable.

Lord Bearwarden seldom came in much before it was time to dress for
dinner; but young men's habits are not usually very regular, the
monotonous custom of doing everything by clockwork being a tedious
concomitant of old age. Maud could not calculate on his absence at any
particular hour of the day unless he were on duty, and the bare notion
that she should _wish_ thus to calculate fretted and chafed her beyond
measure. It was a relief to hear the door-bell once more, and prepare
to confront the worst. A London servant never betrays astonishment,
nor indeed any emotion whatever, beyond a shade of dignified and
forbearing contempt. The first footman showed Lady Bearwarden's
suspicious-looking visitor into her boudoir with sublime indifference,
returning thereafter leisurely and loftily to his tea. Maud felt her
courage departing, and her defeat, like that of brave troops seized
by panic, seemed all the more imminent for habitual steadiness and
valour. She took refuge in an attempt to bully.

"Why are you here?" said Maud, standing bolt upright; while Gentleman
Jim, with an awkward bow, began as usual to unroll his goods. "I have
told you often enough this persecution must finish. I am determined
not to endure it any longer. The next time you call I shall order my
servants to drive you from the door. O, will you--_will_ you not come
to terms?"

His face had been growing darker and darker while she spoke, and she
watched its expression as the Mediterranean fisherman watches a white
squall gliding with fatal swiftness over the waters, to bring ruin and
shipwreck and despair. It sometimes happens that the fisherman loses
his head precisely at the wrong moment, so that foiled, helpless,
and taken aback, he comes to fatal and irremediable grief. Thus Lady
Bearwarden, too, found the nerve on which she prided herself failing
when she most wanted it, and knew that the prestige and influence
which formed her only safeguards were slipping from her grasp.

She had cowed this ruffian at their first meeting by an assumption
of calm courage and superiority in a crisis when most women, thus
confronted at dead of night by a housebreaker, would have shrunk
trembling and helpless before him. She had retained her superiority
during their subsequent association by an utter indifference as to
results, so long as they only affected character and fortune, which
to his lower nature seemed simply incomprehensible; but now that her
heart was touched she could no longer remain thus reckless, thus
defiant. With womanly feelings came womanly misgivings and fear of
consequences. The charm was lost, the spell broken, and the familiar
spirit had grown to an exacting master from an obedient slave.

"That's not the way as them speaks who's had the pith and marrow out
of a chap's werry bones," growled Jim. "There wasn't no talkin of
figure-footmen and drivin' of respectable tradesmen from folks' doors
when a _man_ was wanted, like this here. A _man_, I says, wot wasn't
afeard to swing, if so be as he could act honourable and fulfil his
bargain."

"I'll pay anything. Hush! _pray_. Don't speak so loud. What _must_ my
servants think? Consider the frightful risks I run. Why should you
wish to make me utterly miserable--to drive me out of my senses? I'll
pay anything--anything to be free from this intolerable persecution."

"Pay--pay anythink!" repeated Jim, slightly mollified by her distress,
but still in a tone of deep disgust. "Pay. Ah! that's always the word
with the likes of you. You think your blessed money can buy us poor
chaps up, body and heart and soul Blast your money! says I. There,
that's not over civil, my lady, but it's plain speaking."

"What would you have me do?" she asked, in a low plaintive voice.

She had sunk into an arm-chair, and was wringing her hands. How lovely
she looked now in her sore distress! It imparted the one feminine
charm generally wanting in her beauty.

Gentleman Jim, standing over against her, could not but feel the old
mysterious influence pervading him once more. "If you was to say to
me, Jim, says you, I believe as you're a true chap!--I believe as
you'd serve of me, body and bones. Well, not for money. Money be
d----d! But for goodwill, we'll say. I believe as you thinks there's
nobody on this 'arth as is to be compared of me, says you; and see
now, you shall come here once a week, once a fortnit, once a month,
even, and I'll never say no more about drivin' of you away; but you
shall see me, and I'll speak of you kind and haffable; and whatever
I wants done I'll tell you, do it: and it _will_ be done; see if it
won't! Why--why I'd be proud, my lady--there--and happy too. Ay, there
wouldn't walk a happier man, nor a prouder, maybe, in the streets of
London!"

It was a long speech for Jim. At its conclusion he drew his sleeve
across his face and bent down to re-arrange the contents of his
bundle.

Tears were falling from her eyes at last. Noiselessly enough, and
without that redness of nose, those contortions of face, which render
them so unbecoming to most women.

"Is there no way but this?" she murmured. "No way but this? It's
impossible! It's absurd! It's infamous! Do you know who I am? Do you
know what you ask? How dare you dictate terms to _me_? How dare you
presume to say I shall do this, I shall not do _that?_ Leave my house
this minute. I will not listen to another syllable!"

She was blazing out again, and the fire of pride had dried her tears
ere she concluded. Anger brought back her natural courage, but it was
too late.

Gentleman Jim's face, distorted with fury, looked hideous. Under his
waistcoat lurked a long thin knife. Maud never knew how near, for one
ghastly moment, that knife was to being buried in her round white
throat.

He was not quite madman enough, however, to indulge his passions so
far, with the certainty of immediate destruction.

"Have a care!" he hissed through his clenched teeth. "If you and me
is to be enemies, look out! You know me--leastways you ought to; and
_you_ know I stick at nothing!"

She was still dreadfully frightened. Once more she went back to the
old plea, and offered him fifty pounds--a hundred pounds. Anything!

He was tying the knots of his bundle. Completing the last, he looked
up, and the glare in his eyes haunted her through many a sleepless
night.

"You've done it now!" was all he muttered. "When next you see me
you'll wish you hadn't."

It speaks well for Jim's self-command that, as he went down, he could
say, "Your servant, my lord," with perfect composure, to a gentleman
whom he met on the stairs.



CHAPTER XX


"THE LITTLE CLOUD"


Lord Bearwarden, like other noblemen and gentlemen keeping house in
London, was not invariably fortunate in the selection of his servants.
The division of labour, that admirable system by which such great
results are attained, had been brought to perfection in his as in many
other establishments. A man who cleaned knives, it appeared, could
not possibly do anything else, and for several days the domestic
arrangements below-stairs had been disturbed by a knotty question as
to _whose_ business it was to answer "my lord's bell". Now my lord
was what his servants called rather "a arbitrary gentleman", seeming,
indeed, to entertain the preposterous notion that these were paid
their wages in consideration of doing as they were bid. It was
not therefore surprising that figure-footmen, high of stature and
faultless in general appearance, should have succeeded each other with
startling rapidity, throwing up their appointments and doffing his
lordship's livery, without regard to their own welfare or their
employer's convenience, but in accordance with some Quixotic notions
of respect for their office and loyalty to their order.

Thus it came about that a subordinate in rank, holding the appointment
of second footman, had been so lately enlisted as not yet to have made
himself acquainted with the personal appearance of his master; and it
speaks well for the amiable disposition of this recruit that, although
his liveries were not made, he should, during the temporary absence of
a fellow-servant, who was curling his whiskers below, have consented
to answer the door.

Lord Bearwarden had rung like any other arrival; but it must be
allowed that his composure was somewhat ruffled when refused
admittance by his own servant to his own house.

"Her ladyship's not at home, I tell ye", said the man, apparently
resenting the freedom with which this stranger proceeded into the
hall, while he placed his own massive person in the way; "and if you
want to see my lord, you just can't--_that_ I know!"

"Why?" asked his master, beginning to suspect how the land lay, and
considerably amused.

"Because his lordship's particularly engaged. He's having his 'air
cut just now, and the dentist's waiting to see him after he's
done", returned this imaginative retainer, arguing indeed from his
pertinacity that the visitor must be one of the swell mob, therefore
to be kept out at any cost.

"And who are _you_?" said his lordship, now laughing outright.

"Who am I?" repeated the man. "I'm his lordship's footman. Now, then,
who are _you_? That's more like it!"

"I'm Lord Bearwarden himself", replied his master.

"Lord Bearwarden! O! I dare say", was the unexpected rejoinder. "Well,
that _is_ a good one. Come, young man, none of these games here:
there's a policeman round the corner."

At this juncture the fortunate arrival of the gentleman with
lately-curled whiskers, in search of his _Bell's Life_, left on the
hall-table, produced an _éclaircissement_ much to the unbeliever's
confusion, and the master of the house was permitted to ascend his own
staircase without further obstruction.

Meeting "Gentleman Jim" coming down with a bundle, it did not strike
him as the least extraordinary that his wife should have denied
herself to other visitors. Slight as was his experience of women and
their ways, he had yet learned to respect those various rites that
constitute the mystery of shopping, appreciating the composure and
undisturbed attention indispensable to a satisfactory performance of
that ceremony.

But it _did_ trouble him to observe on Lady Bearwarden's face traces
of recent emotion, even, he thought, to tears. She turned quickly
aside when he came into the room, busying herself with the blinds and
muslin window-curtains; but he had a quick eye, and his perceptions
were sharpened besides by an affection he was too proud to admit,
while racked with cruel misgivings that it might not be returned.

"Gentleman-like man _that_, I met just now on the stairs!" he began,
good-humouredly enough, though in a certain cold, conventional tone,
that Maud knew too well, and hated accordingly. "Dancing partner,
swell mob, smuggler, respectable tradesman, what is he? Ought to sell
cheap, I should say. Looks as if he stole the things ready made. Hope
you've done good business with him, my lady? May I see the plunder?"
He never called her Maud; it was always "my lady", as if they had
been married for twenty years. How she longed for an endearing
word, slipping out, as it were, by accident--for a covert smile, an
occasional caress. Perhaps had these been lavished more freely she
might have rated them at a lower value.

Lady Bearwarden was not one of those women who can tell a lie without
the slightest hesitation, calmly satisfied that "the end justifies
the means"; neither did it form a part of her creed that a lie by
implication is less dishonourable than a lie direct. On the contrary,
her nature was exceedingly frank, even defiant, and from pride,
perhaps, rather than principle, she scorned no baseness so heartily
as duplicity. Therefore she hesitated now and changed colour, looking
guilty and confused, but taking refuge, as usual, in self-assertion.

"I had business with the man", she answered haughtily, "or you would
not have found him here. I might have got rid of him sooner, perhaps,
if I had known you were to be home so early. I'm sure I hate shopping,
I hate tradespeople, I hate--"

She was going to say "I hate everything", but stopped herself in time.
Counting her married life as yet only by weeks, it would have sounded
too ungracious, too ungrateful!

"Why should you do anything you hate?" said her husband, very kindly,
and to all appearance dismissing every suspicion from his mind, though
deep in his heart rankled the cruel conviction that between them this
strange, mysterious barrier increased day by day. "I want you to have as
little of the rough and as much of the smooth in life as is possible.
All the ups and none of the downs, my lady. If this fellow bores you,
tell them not to let him in again. That second footman will keep him out
like a dragon, I'll be bound." Then he proceeded laughingly to relate
his own adventure with his new servant in the hall.

He seemed cordial, kind, good-humoured enough, but his tone was that
of man to man, brother officer to comrade, not of a lover to his
mistress, a husband to his lately-married wife.

She felt this keenly, though at the same time she could appreciate his
tact, forbearance, and generosity in asking no more questions about
her visitor. To have shown suspicion of Maud would have been at once
to drive her to extremities, while implicit confidence put her on
honour and rendered her both unable and unwilling to deceive. Never
since their first acquaintance had she found occasion to test this
quality of trust in her husband, and now it seemed that he possessed
it largely, like a number of other manly characteristics. That he was
brave, loyal, and generous she had discovered already; handsome and of
high position she knew long ago, or she would never have resolved
on his capture; and what was there wanting to complete her perfect
happiness? Only one thing, she answered herself; but for it she would
so willingly have bartered all the rest--that he should love her as
Dick Stanmore did. Poor Dick Stanmore! how badly she had treated him,
and perhaps this was to be her punishment.

"Bearwarden," she said, crossing the room to lean on the arm of his
chair, "we've got to dine at your aunt's to-night. I suppose they will
be very late. I wish there were no such things as dinners, don't you?"

"Not when I've missed luncheon, as I did to-day," answered his
lordship, whose appetite was like that of any other healthy man under
forty.

"I hoped you wouldn't," she observed, in rather a low voice; "it was
very dull without you. We see each other so seldom, somehow. I should
like to go to the play to-morrow--you and I, Darby and Joan--I don't
care which house, nor what the play is."

"To-morrow", he answered, with a bright smile. "All right, my lady,
I'll send for a box. I forgot, though, I can't go to-morrow, I'm on
guard."

Her face fell, but she turned away that he might not detect her
disappointment, and began to feed her bullfinch in the window.

"You're always on guard, I think", said she, after a pause. "I
wonder you like it: surely it must be a dreadful tie. You lost your
grouse-shooting this year and the Derby, didn't you? all to sit in
plate armour and jack-boots at that gloomiest and stuffiest of Horse
Guards. Bearwarden, I--I wish you'd give up the regiment, I do
indeed."

When Maud's countenance wore a pleading expression, as now, it was
more than beautiful, it was lovely. Looking in her face it seemed to
him that it was the face of an angel.

"Do you honestly wish it?" he replied gently. "I would do a great deal
to please you, my lady; but--no--I couldn't do _that_."

"He can't really care for me; I knew it all along", thought poor Maud,
but she only looked up at him rather wistfully and held her peace.

He was gazing miles away, through the window, through the opposite
houses, their offices, their washing-ground, and the mews at the back.
She had never seen him look so grave; she had never seen that soft,
sad look on his face before. She wondered now that she could ever have
regarded that face as a mere encumbrance and accessory to be taken
with a coronet and twenty thousand a year.

"Would you like to know why I cannot make this sacrifice to please
you?" he asked, in a low, serious voice. "I think you _ought_ to know,
my lady, and I will tell you. I'm fond of soldiering, of course. I've
been brought up to the trade--that's nothing. So I am of hunting,
shooting, rackets, cricketing, London porter, and dry champagne; but
I'd give them up, each and all, at a moment's notice, if it made you
any happier for ten minutes. I _am_ a little ambitious, I grant, and
the only fame I would care much for is a soldier's. Still, even if
my chance of military distinction were ten times as good I shouldn't
grudge losing it for your sake. No: what makes me stick to the
regiment is what makes a fellow take a life-buoy on board ship--the
instinct of self-preservation. When everything else goes down he's got
that to cling to, and can have a fight for his life. Once, my lady,
long before I had ever seen you, it was my bad luck to be very
unhappy. I didn't howl about it at the time, I'm not going to howl
about it now. Simply, all at once, in a day, an hour, everything in
the world turned from a joy to a misery and a pain. If my mother
hadn't taught me better, I should have taken the quickest remedy of
all. If I hadn't had the regiment to fall back upon I must have gone
mad. The kindness of my brother officers I never can forget; and to
go down the ranks scanning the bold, honest faces of the men, feeling
that we had cast our lot in together, and when the time came would all
play the same stake, win or lose, reminded me that there were others
to live for besides myself, and that I had not lost everything, while
yet a share remained invested in our joint venture. When I lay awake
in my barrack-room at night I could hear the stamp and snort of the
old black troopers, and it did me good. I don't know the reason, but
it did me good. You will think I was very unhappy--so I was."

"But why?" asked Maud, shrewdly guessing, and at the same time
dreading the answer.

"Because I was a fool, my lady," replied her husband--"a fool of the
very highest calibre. You have, no doubt, discovered that in this
world folly is punished far more severely than villainy. Deceive
others, and you prosper well enough; allow yourself to be deceived,
and you're pitched into as if you were the greatest rogue unhung. It's
not a subject for you and me to talk about, my lady. I only mentioned
it to show you why I am so unwilling to leave the army. Why, I _dare_
not do it, even to please you."

"But"--she hesitated, and her voice came very soft and low--"you--you
are not afraid--I mean you don't think it likely, do you, that you
will ever be so unhappy again? It was about--about somebody that you
cared for, I suppose."

She got it out with difficulty, and already hated that unknown
Somebody with an unreasoning hatred, such as women think justifiable
and even meritorious in like cases.

He laughed a harsh, forced laugh.

"What a fool you must think me", said he: "I ought never to have told
you. Yes, it was about a woman, of course. You did not fancy I could
be so soft, did you? Don't let us talk about it. I'll tell you in
three words, and then will never mention the subject again. I trusted
and believed in her. She deceived me, and that sort of thing puts a
fellow all wrong, you know, unless he's very good-tempered, and I
suppose I'm not. It's never likely to happen again, but still, blows
of all sorts fall upon people when they least expect them, and that's
why I can't give up the old corps, but shall stick by it to the last."

"Are you sure you haven't forgiven her?" asked Maud, inwardly
trembling for an answer.

"Forgiven her!" repeated his lordship; "well, I've forgiven her like
a Christian, as they say--perhaps even more fully than that. I don't
wish her any evil. I wouldn't do her a bad turn, but as for ever
thinking of her or caring for her afterwards, that was impossible. No.
While I confided in her freely and fully, while I gave up for her sake
everything I prized and cared for in the world, while I was even on
the verge of sending in my papers because it seemed to be her wish I
should leave the regiment, she had her own secret hidden up from me
all the time. That showed what she was. No; I don't think I could ever
forgive _that_--except _as a Christian_, you know, my lady!"

He ended in a light sarcastic tone, for like most men who have lived
much in the world, he had acquired a habit of discussing the gravest
and most painful subjects with conventional coolness, originating
perhaps in our national dislike of anything sentimental or dramatic
in situation. He could have written probably eloquently and seriously
enough, but to "speak like a book" would have lowered him, in his own
esteem, as being unmanly no less than ungentlemanlike.

Maud's heart ached very painfully. A secret then, kept from him by the
woman he trusted, was the one thing he could not pardon. Must this
indeed be her punishment? Day by day to live with this honourable,
generous nature, learning to love it so dearly, and yet so hopelessly,
because of the great gulf fixed by her own desperate venture, risked,
after all, that she might win _him_! For a moment, under the influence
of that great tide of love which swelled up in her breast, she felt as
if she must put her whole life's happiness on one desperate throw, and
abide the result. Make a clean breast, implore his forgiveness, and
tell him all.

She had been wandering about while he spoke, straightening a
table-cover here, snipping a dead leaf off a geranium there, and
otherwise fidgeting to conceal her emotion. Now she walked across the
room to her husband's side, and in another minute perhaps the whole
truth would have been out, and these two might have driven off to
dinner in their brougham, the happiest couple in London; but the door
was thrown wide open, and the student of _Bell's Life_, on whose
whiskers the time employed in curling them had obviously not been
thrown away, announced to her ladyship, with much pomp, that her
carriage was at the door.

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Maud, "and your aunt is always so punctual.
You must dress in ten minutes, Bearwarden. I'm certain I can. Run down
this moment, and don't stop to answer a single letter if it's a case
of life and death."

And Lady Bearwarden, casting all other thoughts to the winds in the
present emergency, hurried up-stairs after the pretty little feet of
her French maid, whose anxiety that her lady should not be late, and
perhaps a certain curiosity to know the cause of delay, had tempted
her down at least as far as the first landing, while my lord walked to
his dressing-room on the ground-floor, with the comfortable conviction
that he might spend a good half-hour at his toilet, and would then be
ready a considerable time before his wife.

The reflections that chased each other through the pretty head of the
latter while subjected to Justine's skilful manipulations, I will not
take upon me to detail. I may state, however, that the dress she chose
to wear was trimmed with Bearwarden's favourite colour; that she
carried a bunch of his favourite flowers on her breast and another in
her hair.

A brougham drawn by a pair of long, low, high-stepping horses, at
the rate of twelve miles an hour, is an untoward vehicle for serious
conversation when taking its occupants out to dinner, although well
adapted for tender confidence or mutual recrimination on its return
from a party at night. Lady Bearwarden could not even make sure that
her husband observed she had consulted his taste in dress. Truth
to tell, Lord Bearwarden was only conscious that his wife looked
exceedingly handsome, and that he wished they were going to dine at
home. Marriage had made him very slow, and this inconvenient wish
lasted him all through dinner, notwithstanding that it was his
enviable lot to sit by a fast young lady of the period, who rallied
him with exceeding good taste on his wife, his house, his furniture,
manners, dress, horses, and everything that was his. Once, in
extremity of boredom, he caught sight of Maud's delicate profile
five couples off, and fancied he could detect on the pale, pure face
something of his own weariness and abstraction. After that the fast
young lady "went at him", as she called it, in vain. Later, in the
drawing-room, she told another damsel of her kind that "Bruin's
marriage had utterly spoilt him. Simply ruination, my dear! So unlike
men in general. What he could see in her I can't make out! She looks
like death, and she's not _very_ well dressed, in my opinion. I wonder
if she bullies him. He used to be such fun. So fast, so cheery, so
delightfully satirical, and as wicked as Sin!"

Maud went home in the brougham by herself. After a tedious dinner,
lasting through a couple of hours, enlivened by the conversation of
a man he can't understand, and the persecutions of a woman who bores
him, it is natural for the male human subject to desire tobacco, and
a walk home in order to smoke. Somehow, the male human subject never
does walk straight home with its cigar.

Bearwarden, like others of his class, went off to Pratt's, where, we
will hope, he was amused, though he did not look it. A cigar on a
close evening leads to soda-water, with a slice of lemon, and, I had
almost forgotten to add, a small modicum of gin. This entails another
cigar, and it is wonderful how soon one o'clock in the morning comes
round again. When Lord Bearwarden turned out of St. James's Street it
was too late to think of anything but immediate bed. Her ladyship's
confessions, if she had any to make, must be put off till
breakfast-time, and, alas! by _her_ breakfast-time, which was none of
the earliest, my lord was well down in his sheepskin, riding out of
the barrack-gate in command of his guard.

  "Fronte capillatâ post est Oceasio calav"

Bald-pated Father Time had succeeded in slipping his forelock out of
Maud's hand the evening before, and, henceforth, behind his bare and
mocking skull, those delicate, disappointed fingers must close on
empty air in vain!



CHAPTER XXI


FURENS QUID FOEMINA


We left Tom Ryfe, helpless, unconscious, more dead than alive,
supported between a man and woman up a back street in Westminster: we
must return to him after a considerable interval, pale, languid, but
convalescent, on a sofa in his own room under his uncle's roof. He is
only now beginning to understand that he has been dangerously ill;
that according to his doctor nothing but a "splendid constitution" and
unprecedented medical skill have brought him back from the threshold
of that grim portal known as death's door. This he does not quite
believe, but is aware, nevertheless, that he is much enfeebled, and
that his system has sustained what he himself calls "a deuced awkward
shake." Even now he retains no very clear idea of what happened to
him. He remembers vaguely, as in a dream, certain bare walls of a dim
and gloomy chamber, tapestried with cobwebs, smelling of damp and
mould like a vault, certain broken furniture, shabby and scarce, on
a bare brick floor, with a grate in which no fire could have been
kindled without falling into the middle of the room. He recalls that
racking head-ache, that scorching thirst, and those pains in all the
bones of a wan, wasted figure lying under a patchwork quilt on a
squalid bed. A figure, independent of, and dissevered from himself,
yet in some degree identified with his thoughts, his sufferings,
and his memories. Somebody nursed the figure, too--he is sure of
that--bringing it water, medicines, food, and leeches for its aching
temples; smoothing its pillow and arranging its bed-clothes, in those
endless nights, so much longer, yet scarce more dismal than the
days,--somebody, whose voice he never heard, whose face he never saw,
yet in whose slow, cautious tread there seemed a familiar sound. Once,
in delirium, he insisted it was Miss Bruce, but even _through_ that
delirium he knew he must be raving, and it was impossible. Could that
be a part of his dream, too, in which he dragged himself out of bed,
to dress in his own clothes, laid out on the chair that had hitherto
carried a basin of gruel or a jug of cooling drink? No, it must have
been reality surely, for even to-day he has so vivid a remembrance of
the fresh air, the blinding sunshine, and the homely life-like look of
that four-wheeled cab waiting in the narrow street, which he entered
mechanically, which _as_ mechanically brought him home to his uncle's
house, the man asking no questions, nor stopping to receive his fare.
To be sure, he fainted from utter weakness at the door. Of that he
is satisfied, for he remembers nothing between the jolting of those
slippery cushions and another bed in which he found himself, with a
grave doctor watching over him, and which he recognised, doubtfully,
as his own.

Gradually, with returning strength, Tom began to suspect the truth
that he had been hocussed and robbed. His pockets, when he resumed
his clothes, were empty. Their only contents, his cigar-case and Miss
Bruce's letter, were gone. The motive for so desperate an attack he
felt unable to fathom. His intellect was still affected by bodily
weakness, and he inclined at first to think he had been mistaken for
somebody else. The real truth only dawned on him by degrees. Its first
ray originated with no less brilliant a luminary than old Bargrave.

To do him justice, the uncle had shown far more natural affection than
his household had hitherto believed him capable of feeling. During
his nephew's absence, he had been like one distracted, and the large
reward offered for discovery of the missing gentleman sufficiently
testified his anxiety and alarm. When Tom did return, more dead than
alive, Bargrave hurried off in person to procure the best medical
advice, and postponing inquiry into his wrongs to the more immediate
necessity of nursing the sufferer, spent six or seven hours out of the
twenty-four at the sick man's bedside.

The first day Tom could sit up his uncle thought well to enliven him
with a little news, social, general, and professional. Having told
him that he had outbid Mortlake for the last batch of poor Mr.
Chalkstone's port, and stated, at some length, his reasons for
doubting the stability of Government, he entered gleefully upon
congenial topics, and proceeded to give the invalid a general sketch
of business affairs during his retirement.

"I've worked the coach, Tom," said he, walking up and down the
room, waving his coat-tails, "as well as it _could_ be worked,
single-handed. I don't think you'll find a screw loose anywhere. Ah,
Tom! an old head, you know, is worth a many pair of hands. When you're
well enough, in a week or so, my lad, I shall like to show you how
I've kept everything going, though I was so anxious, terribly anxious,
all the time. The only matter that's been left what you call _in statu
quo_ is that business of Miss Bruce's, which I had nothing to do with.
It will last you a good while yet, Tom, though it's of less importance
to her now, poor thing!--don't you move, Tom--I'll hand you the
barley-water--because she's Miss Bruce no longer."

Tom gasped, and hid his pale, thin face in the jug of barley-water.
He had some pluck about him, after all; for weak and ill as he was he
managed to get out an indifferent question.

"Not Miss Bruce, isn't she? Ah! I hadn't heard. Who is she then,
uncle? I suppose you mean she's--she's married." He was so husky, no
wonder he took another pull at the barley-water.

"Yes, she's married," answered his uncle, in the indifferent tone with
which threescore years and odd can discuss that fatality. "Made a good
marriage, too--an excellent marriage. What do you think of a peerage,
my boy? She's Viscountess Bearwarden now. Twenty thousand a year, if
it's a penny. I am sure of it, for I was concerned in a lawsuit of the
late lord's twenty years ago. I don't suppose you're acquainted with
her husband, Tom. Not in our circle, you know; but a most respectable
young man, I understand, and likely to be lord-lieutenant of his
county before long. I'm sure I trust she'll be happy. And now, Tom, as
you seem easy and comfortable, perhaps you'd like to go to sleep for a
little. If you want anything you can reach the bell, and I'll come and
see you again before I dress for dinner."

Easy and comfortable! When the door shut behind his uncle, Tom bowed
his head upon the table and gave way completely. He was unmanned by
illness, and the shock had been too much for him. It was succeeded,
however, and that pretty quickly, by feelings of bitter wrath and
resentment, which did more to restore his strength than all the tonics
in the world. An explanation, too, seemed now afforded to much that
had so mystified him of late. What if, rendered desperate by his
threats, Miss Bruce had been in some indirect manner the origin of his
captivity and illness--Miss Bruce, the woman who of all others owed
him the largest debt of gratitude (like most people, Tom argued
from his own side of the question); for whom he had laboured so
unremittingly, and was willing to sacrifice so much? Could it be so?
And if it was, should he not be justified in going to any extremity
for revenge? Revenge--yes, that was all he had to live for now; and
the very thought seemed to put new vigour into his system, infuse
fresh blood in his veins. So is it with all baser spirits; and perhaps
in the indulgence of this cowardly craving they obtain a more speedy
relief than nobler natures from the first agony of suffering; but
their cure is not and never can be permanent; and to them must remain
unknown that strange wild strain of some unearthly music which thrills
through those sore hearts that can repay good for evil, kindly
interest for cold indifference; that, true to themselves and their own
honour, can continue to love a memory, though it be but the memory
of a dream. Tom felt as if he could make an exceedingly high bid,
involving probity, character, good faith, and the whole of his
moral code, for an auxiliary who should help him in his vengeance.
Assistance was at hand even now, in an unexpected moment and an
unlooked-for shape.

"A person wishes to see you, sir, if you're well enough," said a
little housemaid who had volunteered to provide for the wants of the
invalid, and took very good care of him indeed.

"What sort of a person?" asked Tom languidly, feeling, nevertheless,
that any distraction would be a relief.

"Well, sir," replied the maid, "it seems a respectable person, I
should say. Like a sick-nurse or what not."

There is no surmise so wild but that a rejected lover will grasp at
and connect it with the origin of his disappointment. "I'll see her,"
said Tom stoutly, not yet despairing but that it might be a messenger
from Maud.

He certainly was surprised when Dorothea, whom he recognised at once,
even in her Sunday clothes, entered the room, with a wandering eye and
a vacillating step.

"You'll never forgive me, Master Tom," was her startling salutation.
"It's me as nursed you through it; but you'll never forgive me--never!
And I don't deserve as you should."

Dorothea was nervous, hysterical, but she steadied herself bravely,
though her fingers worked and trembled under her faded shawl.

Tom stared, and his visitor went on--

"You'd 'a died for sure if I hadn't. Don't ye cast it up to me, Master
Tom. I've been punished enough. Punished! If I was to bare my arm now
I could show you weals that's more colours and brighter than your
neckankercher there. I've been served worse nor that, though, since. I
ain't a-goin' to put up with it no longer. Master Tom, do you know as
you've Been put upon, and by who?"

His senses were keenly on the alert. "Tell me the truth, my good
girl," said he, "and I'll forgive you all your share. More, I'll stick
by you through thick and thin."

She whimpered a little, affected by the kindness of his tone, but
tugging harder at her shawl, proceeded to further confessions.

"You was hocussed, Master Tom; and I can point out to you the man as
did it. You'd 'a been murdered amongst 'em if it hadn't been for me.
Who was it, d'ye think, as nussed of you, and cared for you, all
through, and laid out your clothes ready brushed and folded, and went
and got you a cab the day as you come back here? Master Tom, I've been
put upon too. Put upon and deceived, as never yet was born woman used
so bad; and it's my turn now! Look ye here, Master Tom. It's that
villain, Jim--Gentleman Jim, as we calls him--what's been at the
bottom of this here. And yet there's worse than Jim in it too. There's
others that set Jim on. O! to believe as a fine handsome chap like him
could turn out to be so black-hearted, and such a soft too. She'll
never think no more of him, for all his comely face, than the dirt
beneath her feet."

"_She_!" repeated Tom, intensely interested, and therefore
preternaturally calm. "What d'ye mean by _she_? Don't fret, that's a
good girl, and don't excite yourself. Tell your story your own way,
you know, but keep as quiet as you can. You're safe enough here."

"We'd been asked in church," replied Dorothea, somewhat
inconsequently. "Ah! more than once, we had. And I'd ha' been as true
to him, and was, as ever a needle to a stitch. Well, sir, when he
slights of me, and leaves of me, why it's natural as I should run up
and down the streets a-lookin' for him like wild. So one day, after
I'd done my work, and put things straight, for I never was one of your
sluttish ones, Master Tom--and your uncle, he's always been a kind
gentleman to me, and a haffable, like yourself, Master Tom--according,
I comes upon my Jim at the Sunflower, and I follows him unbeknown for
miles and miles right away to the West-End. So he never looks behind
him, nor he never stops, o' course, till he comes to Belgrave Square;
and he turns down a street as I couldn't read its name, but should
know it again as well as I know my own hand. And then, Master Tom, if
you'll believe me, I thought as I must have dropped."

"Well?" said Tom, not prepared to be satisfied with this climax,
though his companion stopped, as if she had got to the end of her
disclosures.

"Well indeed!" resumed Dorothea, after a considerable interval, "when
he come that far, I know'd as he must be up to some of his games, and
I watched. They lets him into a three-storied house, and I sees him in
the best parlour with a lady, speaking up to her, but not half so bold
as usual. He a not often dashed, Jim isn't. I will say that for him."

"What sort of a lady?" asked Tom, quivering with excitement. "You took
a good look at her, I'll be bound!"

"Well, a real lady in a muslin dress," answered Dorothea. "A tall
young lady--not much to boast of for looks, but with hair as black as
your hat and a face as white as cream. Very 'aughty too an' arbitrary,
and seemed to have my Jim like quite at her command. So from where I
stood I couldn't help hearing everything that passed. My Jim, he gives
her the very letter as laid in your pocket that night, as you--as you
was taken so poorly, you know. And from what she said and what he
said, and putting this and that together, I'm sure as they got you out
of the way between them, Master Tom, and gammoned me into the job too,
when I'd rather have cut both my hands off, if I'd only known the
truth."

Tom sat back on his sofa, shutting his eyes that he might concentrate
his powers of reflection. Yes, it was all clear enough at last. The
nature and origin of the outrage to which he had been subjected were
obvious, nor could he entertain any further doubt of Maud's motives,
though marvelling exceedingly, as well he might, at her courage, her
recklessness, and the social standing of her accomplice. It seemed
to him as if he could forgive every one concerned but her. This poor
woman who had fairly thrown herself on his mercy: the ruffian whose
grip had been at his throat, but who might hereafter prove as
efficient an ally as he had been a formidable enemy. Only let him have
Maud in his power, that was all he asked, praying him to spare her,
kneeling at his feet, and then without a shade of compunction to ruin,
and crush, and humble her to the dust!

He saw his way presently, but he must work warily, he told himself,
and use all the tools that came to his hand.

"If you can clear the matter up, Dorothea," said he, kindly, "I will
not visit your share in it on your head, as I have already told you.
Indeed I believe I owe you my life. But this man you mention, this
Gentleman Jim as you call him, can you find him? Do you know where he
is? My poor girl! I think I understand. Surely you deserved better
treatment at his hands."

The kind words produced this time no softening effect, and Tom knew
enough of human nature to feel sure that she was bent on revenge as
earnestly as himself, while he also knew that he must take advantage
of her present humour at once, for it might change in an hour.

"If I could lay my hand on him," answered Dorothea fiercely, "it's
likely I'd leave my mark! I've looked for him now, high and low, every
evening and many arternoons, better nor a week. I ain't come on him
yet, the false-hearted thief! but I seen _her_ only the day before
yesterday, seen her walk into a house in Berners Street as bold as you
please. I watched and waited better nor two hours, for, thinks I,
he won't be long follerin'; and I seen her come out agin with a
gentleman, a comely young gentleman; I'd know him anywheres, but he
warn't like my Jim."

"Are you sure it was the same lady?" asked Tom eagerly, but ashamed
of putting so unnecessary a question when he saw the expression of
Dorothea's face.

"Am I _sure_?" said she, with a short gasping laugh. "Do you suppose
as a woman can be mistook as has been put upon like me? Lawyers is
clever men, askin' your pardon, Mr. Ryfe, but there's not much sense
in such a question as yours: I seen the lady, sir, and I seen the
house; that's enough for _me_!"

"And you observed the gentleman narrowly?" continued Tom, stifling
down a little pang of jealousy that was surely unreasonable now.

"Well, I didn't take much notice of the gentleman," answered Dorothea
wearily, for the reaction was coming on apace. "It warn't my Jim, I
know. You and me has both been used bad, Master Tom, and it's a shame,
it is. But the weather's uncommon close, and it's a long walk here,
and I'm a'most fit to drop, askin' your pardon, sir. I wrote down the
number of the house, Master Tom, to make sure--there it is. If you
please, I'll go down-stairs, and ask the servants for a cup o' tea,
and I wish you a good arternoon, sir, and am glad to see you lookin' a
trifle better at last."

So Dorothea departed to enjoy the luxury of strong tea and unlimited
gossip with Mr. Bargrave's household, drawing largely on her invention
in explanation of her recent interview, but affording them no clue to
the real object of her visit.

Tom Ryfe was still puzzled. That Maud (he could not endure to think of
her as Lady Bearwarden)--that Maud should, so soon after her marriage,
be seen going about London by herself under such questionable
circumstances was strange, to say the least of it, even making
allowances for her recklessness and wilful disposition, of which no
one could be better aware than himself. What could be her object?
though he loved her so fiercely in his own way, he had no great
opinion of her discretion; and now, in the bitterness of his anger,
was prepared to put the very worst construction upon everything she
did. He recalled, painfully enough, a previous occasion on which he
had met her, as he believed, walking with a stranger in the Park, and
did not forget her displeasure while cutting short his inquiries on
the subject. After all, it occurred to him almost immediately, that
the person with whom she had been lately seen was probably her own
husband. He would not himself have described Lord Bearwarden exactly
as a "comely young gentleman," but on the subject of manly beauty
Dorothea's taste was probably more reliable than his own. If so,
however, what could they be doing in Berners Street? Pshaw! How this
illness had weakened his intellect! Having her picture painted, of
course! what else could bring a doting couple, married only a few
weeks, to that part of the town? He cursed Dorothea bitterly for her
ridiculous surmises and speculations--cursed the fond pair--cursed his
own wild unconquerable folly--cursed the day he first set eyes on that
fatal beauty, so maddening to his senses, so destructive to his heart;
and thus cursing staggered across the room to take his strengthening
draught, looked at his pale, worn face in the glass, and sat down
again to think.

The doctor had visited him at noon, and stated with proper caution
that in a day or two, if amendment still progressed satisfactorily,
"carriage exercise," as he called it, might be taken with undoubted
benefit to the invalid. We all know, none better than medical men
themselves, that if your doctor says you may get up to-morrow, you
jump out of bed the moment his back is turned. Tom Ryfe, worried,
agitated, unable to rest where he was, resolved that he would take his
carriage exercise without delay, and to the housemaid's astonishment,
indeed much against her protest, ordered a hansom cab to the door at
once.

Though so weak he could not dress without assistance, he no sooner
found himself on the move, and out of doors, than he began to feel
stronger and better; he had no object in driving beyond change of
scene, air, and exercise; but it will not surprise those who have
suffered from the cruel thirst and longing which accompanies such
mental maladies as his, that he should have directed the cabman to
proceed to Berners Street.

It sometimes happens that when we thus "draw a bow at a venture" our
random shaft hits the mark we might have aimed at for an hour in
vain. Tom Ryfe esteemed it an unlooked-for piece of good fortune that
turning out of Oxford Street he should meet another hansom going at
speed in an opposite direction, and containing--yes, he could have
sworn to them before any jury in England--the faces, very near each
other, of Lady Bearwarden and Dick Stanmore.

It was enough. Dorothea's statement seemed sufficiently corroborated,
and after proceeding to the number she indicated, as if to satisfy
himself that the house had not walked bodily away, Mr. Ryfe returned
home very much benefited in his own opinion by the drive, though the
doctor, visiting his patient next day, was disappointed to find him
still low and feverish, altogether not so much better as he expected.



CHAPTER XXII


"NOT FOR JOSEPH"


But Dick Stanmore was _not_ in a hansom with Lady Bearwarden. Shall
I confess, to the utter destruction of his character for undying
constancy, that he did not wish to be?

Dick had been cured at last--cured of the painful disease he once
believed mortal--cured by a course of sanitary treatment, delightful
in its process, unerring in its results; and he walked about now with
the buoyant step, the cheerful air of one who has been lightened of a
load lying next his heart.

Medical discoveries have of late years brought into vogue a science of
which I have borrowed the motto for these volumes. _Similia similibus
curantur_ is the maxim of homoeopathy; and whatever success this
healing principle may obtain with bodily ailments, I have little doubt
of its efficacy in affections of the heart. I do not mean to say
its precepts will render us invulnerable or immortal. There are
constitutions that, once shaken, can never be restored; there are
characters that, once outraged, become saddened for evermore. The
fairest flowers and the sweetest, are those which, if trampled down,
never hold up their heads again. But I do mean, that should man or
woman be capable of cure under sufferings originating in misplaced
confidence, such cure is most readily effected by a modified attack of
the same nature, at the risk of misplacing it again.

After Dick Stanmore's first visit to the painting-room in Berners
Street, it was astonishing how enthusiastic a taste he contracted for
art. He was never tired of contemplating his friend's great picture,
and Simon used laughingly to declare the amateur knew every line and
shade of colour in his Fairy Queen as accurately as the painter.
He remained in London at a season which could have afforded few
attractions for a young man of his previous habits, and came every day
to the painting-room as regularly as the model herself. Thus it fell
out that Dick, religiously superintending the progress of this Fairy
Queen, found his eyes wandering perpetually from the representation on
canvas to its original on Miss Algernon's shoulders, and gratified his
sense of sight with less scruple, that from the very nature of her
occupation she was compelled to keep her head always turned one way.

It must have been agreeable for Nina, no doubt, if not improving, to
listen to Dick's light and rather trivial conversation which relieved
the monotony of her task, and formed a cheerful addition to the short,
jerking, preoccupied sentences of the artist, enunciated obviously
at random, and very often with a brush in his mouth. Nor was it
displeasing, I imagine, to be aware of Mr. Stanmore's admiration,
forsaking day by day its loudly-declared allegiance to the Fairy
Queen in favour of her living prototype, deepening gradually to long
intervals of silence, sweeter, more embarrassing, while far more
eloquent than words.

And all the time, Simon, the chivalrous, painted on. I cannot believe
but that, with the jealous instinct of true affection, he must have
perceived the ground slipping away, hour by hour, from beneath his
feet--must have seen the ship that carried all his cargo sailing
farther and farther into a golden distance to leave him desolate on
the darkening shore. How his brain may have reeled, and his heart
ached, it is not for me to speculate. There is a decency of courage,
as there is an extravagance of bravado, and that is the true spirit of
chivalry which bleeds to death unmoved, beneath its armour, keeping
the pale knightly face turned calm and constant towards the foe.

It was a strange trio, that, in the painting-room. The garden of
Eden seems to have been originally intended for two. The third was
doubtless an intruder, and from that day to this how many a paradise
has been lost by admittance of the visitor who completes this uneven
number, unaccountably supposed to be so productive of good fortune.

Curious cross purposes were at work in the three heads grouped so near
each other opposite the painter's glowing canvas. Dick perhaps was the
least perceptive and therefore the happiest of the party. His sense of
well-being, indeed, seemed enhanced by his previous troubles: like a
man who comes out of the cold into the glow of a comforting fire, he
abandoned himself without much reflection to the positive enjoyment of
pleasure and the negative solace of relief from pain.

Simon, always painting, fought hard to keep down that little leavening
of self which constitutes our very identity. Under the cold impassive
vigour he was so determined to preserve, he registered many a noble
vow of fortitude and abnegation on behalf of the friend he valued, of
the woman he loved. Sometimes a pang would shoot through him painfully
enough while he marked a change of Nina's colour, a little flutter of
manner, a little trembling of her hands, and felt that she was already
more affected by the presence of this comparative stranger than she
had ever shown herself by his, who had cared for her so tenderly,
worshipped her so long. Then he bent all his faculties on the picture,
and like a child running to seize its mother's gown, took refuge with
his art.

That mistress did not fail him. She never does fail the true
worshipper, who kneels consistently at her shrine. It is not for her
to scorn the homage offered to-day because it has been offered in
faith and loyalty during many a long-past year. It is not for her to
shed on the new votary her sweetest smiles only because he _is_ new.
Woo her frankly, love her dearly, and serve her faithfully, she will
insure you from being cozened out of your reward. Had she not taken
care of Simon at this period, I scarcely know what would have become
of him.

Nina, too, lived in a golden dream, from which it was her only fear
that she must soon awake. Ere long, she sometimes thought, she must
ask herself who was this stranger that brought with him a flood
of sunshine into the homely painting-room? that steeped for her,
unconsciously and without effort, every day in happiness, every
morning in hope? She put off asking the question, having perhaps a
wholesome recollection of him who, going to count his treasure of
fairy gold, found it only withered leaves, and let herself float with
the stream, in that enjoyment of the present which is enhanced rather
than modified by misgivings for the future. Nina was very happy, that
is the honest truth, and even her beauty seemed to brighten like the
bloom on a flower, opening to the smile of spring.

Simon marked the change. How could he help it? And still he
painted--painted on.

"There!" exclaimed the artist, with a sigh of relief, as he stepped
back from his picture, stretching both weary arms above his head. "At
last--at last! If I only like it to-morrow as well as I do now, not
another touch shall go into it anywhere above the chin. It's the
expression I've been trying to catch for months. There it is! Doubt,
sorrow, remorse, and, through it all, the real undying love of
the--Well, that's all can't! I mean--Can't you see that she likes him
awfully even now? Nina, you've been the making of me, you're the best
sitter in the world, and while I look at my picture I begin to think
you're the handsomest. I mustn't touch it again. Stanmore, what do you
think?"

Absorbed in contemplation of his work, he paid little attention to the
answer, which was so far fortunate, that Dick, in his preoccupation,
faltered out a string of contradictory criticisms, flattering neither
to the original nor the copy. Nina indeed suggested, with some truth,
that he had made the eyebrows too dark, but this remark appeared to
originate only in a necessity for something to say. These two young
people seemed unusually shy and ill at ease. Perhaps in each of the
three hearts beating there before the picture lurked some vague
suspicion that its wistful expression, so lately caught, may have been
owing to corresponding feelings lately awakened in the model; and, if
so, why should not two of them have thrilled with happiness, though
the third might ache in loneliness and despair?

"Not another stroke of work will I do to-day," said the artist,
affecting a cheerfulness which perhaps he did not feel. "Nina, you've
got to be back early. I'll have a half-holiday for once and take you
home. Put your bonnet on: I shall be ready in five minutes when I've
washed my hands."

Dick's face fell. He had counted on a couple more hours at least.
Women, when they are really disappointed, rarely show it, and perhaps
he felt a little hurt to observe how readily, and with what apparent
goodwill, Miss Algernon resumed her out-of-doors attire. He felt
hardly sure of his ground yet, or he might have begun to sulk in
earnest. No bad plan either, for such little misunderstandings
bring on explanations, reconciliations, declarations, all sorts of
vexations, every day!

Ladies are stanch believers in luck, and leave much to chance with a
devout faith that it will serve them at their need. I imagine Nina
thought it quite in the natural course of events that a dirty boy
should enter the room at this juncture and deliver a note to Simon,
which called forth all his energies and sympathies in a moment. The
note, folded in a hurry, written with a pencil, was from a brother
artist, and ran thus--

Dear Simon, "Come and see me if you _can_. On my back! Two doctors.
Not going to be rubbed out, but beastly seedy all the same."

"When was he taken ill? Who's attending him? Anybody taking care of
him? What o'clock is it now? Tell him I'll be there in five minutes."
Simon delivered himself of these sentences in a breath, and then
glanced from Nina to Dick Stanmore.

"I dare say you wouldn't mind," said he. "I _must_ go to this poor
fellow, and if I find him very ill I may be detained till evening. If
you've time, Stanmore, could you see Miss Algernon as far as the boat?
She'll do very well then, but we don't like her to be wandering about
London by herself."

It is possible this idea may have suggested itself to the persons most
concerned, for all that they seemed so supremely unconscious, and as
if the arrangement, though a sensible one and convenient, no doubt,
were a matter of perfect indifference to themselves.

Dick "would be delighted," of course; though he tried not to look so;
and Nina "couldn't think of giving Mr. Stanmore so much trouble."
Nevertheless, within ten minutes the two were turning into Oxford
Street in a hansom cab; and although they said very little, being
indeed in a vehicle which jolted, swung, and rattled inordinately, I
have not the least doubt they enjoyed their drive.

They enjoyed the river steamer too, which seems equally strange,
with its narrow deck, its tangible smoke, its jerks and snorts, and
throbbing vibrations, as it worked its way against the tide. They
had never before been alone together, and the situation, though
delightful, was at first somewhat embarrassing, because they were in
earnest. The restraint, however, soon wore off, and with tongues
once loosened there was no lack of matter for their employment. How
beautiful, how interesting, how picturesque everything seemed to have
grown all at once: the Houses of Parliament--the bridges--the dull,
broad surface of the river, grey, with a muddy tinge--the low,
level banks--the blunt-nosed barges--their fellow-passengers--the
engineer--the boy with the mop--and the dingy funnel of the steamer
itself.

How mysterious the charm that lurks in association of ideas! What
magic it imparts to the commonest actions, the most vulgar objects of
life! What a heart-ache on occasions has it not caused you or me! One
of us cannot see a woman fitting on her gloves without a pang. To
another there is a memory and a sorrow in the flirt of a fan, the
rustle of a dress, the grinding of a barrel-organ, or the slang of a
street song. The stinging-nettle crops up in every bed of flowers we
raise; the bitter tonic flavours all we eat and drink. I dare say
Werther could not munch his bread-and-butter for years in common
comfort because of Charlotte. Would it not be wiser for us to ignore
the Charlottes of life altogether, and stick to the bread-and-butter?

Too soon that dingy steamer reached its place of disembarkation--too
soon, at least, for certain of its passengers; and yet in their short
voyage up the river each of these two had passed the portal of
a paradise, through which, amongst all its gaudy and luxuriant
vegetation, you may search for the tree of knowledge in vain. Not a
word was spoken by either that could bear the direct interpretation of
love-making, yet each felt that the Rubicon had been passed which must
never be recrossed dryshod again.

Dick paid his respects, as seemed but right and proper, to the Misses
Perkins, who voted him an exceedingly agreeable young man; and this
was the more tolerant on their part that he found very little to say,
and had the good taste to be a very short time in saying it. They
asked him, indeed, to remain for dinner, and, notwithstanding their
hospitable inclinations, were no doubt relieved when he declined. He
had gained some experience, you see, from his previous worship of Miss
Bruce, which now stood him in good stead, for in affairs of love,
as of honour, a man conducts his second with more skill and _savoir
faire_ than his first.

The world seemed to have changed by magic while he went back to
London. It felt like the breaking up of a frost, when all is warmth
and softness and vitality once more. He could have talked to himself,
and laughed aloud for very joy.

But Nina went to her room, and cried as she had not cried since she
was a little child, shedding tears of mingled sweetness and sorrow,
rapture and remorse. Her eyes were opened now in her new-found
happiness, and she foresaw the crushing blow that happiness must
inflict on the oldest, kindest, dearest of friends.

For the first time in her life she took herself to task and examined
her own heart. What a joyous heart it was! And yet how could she be
so inhuman as to admit a pleasure which must be cruelly productive of
another's pain? Here was a person whom she had known, as it were, but
yesterday, and his lightest word or glance had already become dearer
to her than the wealth of care and affection which tended her from
childhood, which would be about her to her grave. It was infamous! she
told herself, and yet it was surpassingly sweet! Yes, she loved this
man--this brown-haired, broad-shouldered Mr. Stanmore, of whose
existence a fortnight ago she had been perfectly unconscious, and
in that love she learned to appreciate and understand the affection
loyal, true-hearted Simon lavished on herself. Was he to be sacrificed
to this mere stranger? Never! Rather she would sacrifice herself. But
the tears flowed faster to think that it would indeed be a sacrifice,
an offering up of youth, beauty, hope, happiness for life. Then she
dried her eyes, and went down on her knees to pray at her bedside; and
so rose up, making certain stern resolutions, which it is only fair to
state she afterwards kept--like a woman!

With the view, doubtless, of putting these in practice, she induced
Simon to walk with her on the lawn after tea, while the stars were
twinkling dimly through a soft, misty sky, and the lazy river lapped
and gurgled against the garden banks. He accompanied her, nothing
loth, for he too had spent the last hour in hard painful conflict,
making, also, stern resolutions, which he kept--like a man! "You found
him better," she said, alluding to the cause of his delay in returning
home. "I'm so glad. If he hadn't been, you'd have stayed with him all
night, I know. Simon, I think you're the best and the kindest person
in the world."

Here was an opening. Was she disappointed, or not, that he took so
little advantage of it? "We must all help each other, Nina," said he;
"that's the way to make life easy and to stifle sorrows, if we have
them, of our own."

"_You_ ought never to have a sorrow," she broke in. "_You_, who always
think of others before yourself--you deserve to be so happy. And,
Simon, sometimes I think you're not, and it makes me wretched; and I'd
do anything in the world to please you; anything, if--if it wasn't
_too_ hard a task, you know."

She had been so eager to make her sacrifice and get it over that she
hurried inconsiderately to the brink,--then, like a timid bather,
stopped short, hesitating--the water looked so cold and dark and deep.

The lightest touch from his hand would have plunged her in, overhead.
He would have held it in the fire rather, like the Roman hero, till it
shrivelled into ashes.

"My happiness can never be apart from yours," he said, tenderly and
sadly. "Yet I think I know now that yours is not entirely bound up in
mine. Am I right, Nina?"

"I would do anything in the world for you--anything," she murmured,
taking refuge, as we all do at such times, in vain repetition.

They had reached the drawing-room window, and she turned aside, as if
she meant to go in. He took her hand lightly in his own, and led her
back towards the river. It was very dark, and neither could read the
expression of the other's face.

"I have but one earnest desire in the world," said he, speaking
distinctly, but very low. "It is to see you happily settled in life.
I never had a sister nor a daughter, Nina. You have stood me in the
stead of both; and--and I shall never have a wife."

She knew what he meant. The quiet, sad, yet uncomplaining tone cut
her to the heart. "It's a shame! it's a shame!" she murmured. "Simon,
Simon. Tell me; don't you think me the worst, the most ungrateful, the
most horrible girl in the world?"

He spoke cheerfully now, and even laughed. "Very ungrateful," he
repeated, pressing her hand kindly; "and very detestable, unless
you tell me the truth. Nina, dear Nina, confide in me as if I was
your--well--your grandmother! Will that do? I think there's a somebody
we saw to-day who likes you very much. He's a good fellow, and to be
trusted, I can swear. Don't you think, dear, though you haven't
known him long, that _you_ like _him_ a little--more than a little,
already?"

"O, Simon, what a brute I am, and what a fool!" answered the girl,
bursting into tears. And then the painter knew that his ship had gone
down, and the waters had closed over it for evermore. That evening his
aunts thought Simon in better spirits than usual. Nina, though
she went to bed before the rest, had never found him kinder, more
cheerful, more considerate. He spoke playfully, good-humouredly, on
various subjects, and kissed the girl's forehead gravely, almost
reverently, when she wished him good-night. It was such a caress as a
man lays on the dead face that shall never look in his own again. The
painter slept but little--perhaps not at all. And who shall tell how
hard he wrestled with his great sorrow during those long hours of
darkness, "even to the breaking of the day"? No angel sat by his bed
to comfort him, nor spirit-voices whispered solace in his ear, nor
spirit-sympathy poured balm into the cold, aching, empty heart; but
I have my own opinion on such matters, and I would fain believe that
struggles and sufferings like these are neither wasted nor forgotten,
but are treasured and recorded by kindred beings of a higher nature,
as the training that alone fits poor humanity, then noblest, when most
sorrowful, to enter the everlasting gates and join the radiant legions
of heaven.



CHAPTER XXIII


ANONYMOUS


Lord Bearwarden finds himself very constantly on guard just at
present. Her ladyship is of opinion that he earns his pay more
thoroughly than any day-labourer his wages. I do not myself consider
that helmet, cuirass, and leather breeches form the appropriate
appliances of a hero, when terminating in a pair of red morocco
slippers. Nevertheless, in all representations purporting to be
life-like, effect must be subservient to correctness of detail; and
such was the costume in which his lordship, on duty at the Horse
Guards, received a dispatch that seemed to cause him considerable
surprise and vexation.

The guard coming off was mustering below. The relief coming on was
already moving gallantly down Regent Street, to the admiration of all
beholders. Armed was his lordship to the teeth, though not to
the toes, for his bâtman waited respectfully with a pair of high
jack-boots in his hand, and still his officer read, and frowned, and
pulled his moustache, and swore, as the saying is, like a trooper,
which, if he had only drawn on his boots, would not have been so much
out of character at the time.

Once again he read it from end to end ere he crumpled the note in
under his cuirass for future consideration. It ran as follows--

My Lord,

"Your lordship's manly and generous character has obtained for you
many well-wishers. Of these the writer is one of the most sincere. It
grieves and angers him to see your lordship's honest nature deceived,
your domestic happiness destroyed, your noble confidence abused. The
writer, my lord, is your true friend. Though too late for rescue, it
is not too late for redress; and he has no power of communicating to
your lordship suspicions which now amount to certainty but by the
means at present employed. Anonymous letters are usually the resource
of a liar and slanderer; but there is no rule without exception; and
the writer can bring _proof_ of every syllable he asserts. If your
lordship will use your own eyes, watch and wait. She has deceived
others; why not _you_? Berners Street, Oxford Street, is no crowded
thoroughfare. Why should your lordship abstain from walking there any
afternoon between four and five? Be wary. Watch and wait."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Blast his impudence!" muttered Lord Bearwarden, now booted to the
thigh, and clattering down-stairs to take command of his guard.

With zealous subalterns, an experienced corporal-major, well-drilled
men, and horses that knew their way home, it required little military
skill to move his handful of cavalry back to barracks, so Lord
Bearwarden came off duty without creating scandal or ridicule in the
regiment; but I doubt if he knew exactly what he was doing, till he
arrived in plain clothes within a few paces of his own door. Here he
paused for a few minutes' reflection before entering his house, and
was surprised to see at the street corner a lady extremely like his
wife in earnest conversation with a man in rags who had the appearance
of a professional beggar. The lady, as far as he could judge at that
distance, seemed to be offering money, which the man by his actions
obviously refused. Lord Bearwarden walked briskly towards them, a good
deal puzzled, and glad to have his attention distracted from his own
affairs.

It was a long street, and the couple separated before he reached
them, the man disappearing round the corner, while the lady advanced
steadily towards himself. When within a few paces she lifted a thick
double veil, and he found he had not been mistaken.

Maud was pale and calm as usual, but to those who knew her well recent
agitation would have been betrayed by the lowering of her eyebrows,
and an unusual compression of the lines about her mouth.

He knew her better than she thought, and did not fail to remark these
signs of a recent storm, but, as usual, refrained from asking for the
confidence it was his right to receive.

"You're out early, my lady," said he, in a careless tone. "Been for an
appetite against luncheon-time, eh? That beggar just now didn't seem
hungry, at any rate. It looked to me as if you were offering him
money, and he wouldn't take it. That's quite a new trick in the
trade."

She glanced quickly in his face with something almost of reproach.
It was a hateful life this, and even now, she thought, if he would
question her kindly, she could find it in her heart perhaps to tell
him all. All! How she had deceived him, and promised herself to
another, and to get rid of that other, only for a time, had rendered
herself amenable to the law--had been guilty of actual crime--had sunk
to feel the very slave of a felon, the lowest refuse of society. How
she, Lady Bearwarden, had within the last ten minutes been threatened
by this ruffian, been compelled to submit to his insolence, to make
terms with his authority, and to promise him another interview that
very afternoon. How every hour of her life was darkened by terror of
his presence and dread of his revenge. It was unheard-of! unbearable!
She would make a clean breast of it on the first opportunity.

"Let's go in, dear," she said, with more of softness and affection
than was her habit when addressing her husband. "Luncheon is almost
ready. I'm so glad you got away early from barracks. I see so little
of you now. Never mind. It will be all right next week. We shall have
two more captains back from leave to help us. You see I'm beginning to
know the roster almost as well as the Adjutant himself."

It pleased him that she should show an interest in these professional
details. He liked to hear such military terms of the orderly room from
those pretty lips, and he would have replied with something unusually
affectionate, and therefore exceedingly precious, but that, as husband
and wife reached their own door, they found standing there to greet
them the pale wasted face and attenuated figure of Tom Ryfe.

He saluted Lady Bearwarden gravely, but with perfect confidence, and
she was obliged to give him her hand, though she felt as if she could
have strangled him with pleasure, then and there, by the scraper. Her
husband clapped him heartily on the back. "Glad to see you, Tom," said
he; "I heard you were ill and called to inquire, but they wouldn't let
me disturb you. Been devilish seedy, haven't you? Don't look _quite_
in form yet. Come in and have some luncheon. Doctors all tell one to
keep up the system now-a-days."

Poor Lady Bearwarden! Here was another of her avengers, risen, as
it seemed, from the dead, and she must speak kind words, find false
smiles, bid him to her table, and treat him as an honoured guest.
Whatever happened, too, she could not endure to leave him alone with
Bearwarden. Who could tell what disclosures might come out? She was
walking on a mine, so she backed her husband's invitation, and herself
led the way into the dining-room where luncheon was ready, not daring
even to go up-stairs and take her bonnet off before she sat down.

Mr. Ryfe was less communicative than usual about himself, and spoke as
little to her ladyship as seemed compatible with the ordinary forms of
politeness. His object was to lull her suspicions and put her off her
guard. Nevertheless, with painful attention she watched every glance
of his eye, every turn of his features, hanging eagerly, nervously, on
every word he said.

Tom had laid his plan of attack, and now called on the lately-married
couple, that he might reconnoitre his ground before bringing up his
forces. It is not to be supposed that a man of Mr. Ryfe's resources
would long remain in ignorance of the real truth, after detecting, as
he believed at the time, Lady Bearwarden and Dick Stanmore side by
side in a hansom cab.

Ere twenty-four hours had elapsed he had learned the exact state of
the case, and had satisfied himself of the extraordinary resemblance
between Miss Algernon and the woman he had resolved to persecute
without remorse. In this resemblance he saw an engine with which he
hoped to work her ladyship's utter destruction, and then (Tom's heart
leapt within him even now at the thought), ruined, lonely, desolate,
when the whole world turned from her, she might learn to appreciate
his devotion, might take shelter at last with the only heart open to
receive her in her shame.

It is hard to say whether Tom's feelings for the woman he so admired
were of love or hate.

He saw through Lord Bearwarden's nature thoroughly, for of him, too,
he had made it his business to inquire into all the tendencies, all
the antecedents. A high fastidious spirit, jealous, because sensitive,
yet far too proud to admit, much less indulge that jealousy, seemed of
all others the easiest to deceive. The hide of the rhinoceros is no
contemptible gift, and a certain bluntness, I might say coarseness
of character, enables a man to go through the world comfortably and
happily, unvexed by those petty stings and bites and irritations that
worry thinner skins to death. With Lord Bearwarden to suspect was to
fret and ponder and conceal, hating and despising himself the while.
He had other points, besides his taste for soldiering, in common with
Othello.

On such a man an anonymous letter acted like a blister, clinging,
drawing, inflaming all round the affected part. Nobody in theory so
utterly despised these productions. For nobody in practice did they
produce so disastrous an effect. And then he had been deceived once
before. He had lost his trust, not so much in the other sex (for
all men think every woman false but one) as in himself. He had been
outraged, hurt, humbled, and the bold confidence, the _dash_ with
which such games should be played were gone. There is a buoyancy
gradually lost as we cross the country of life, which is perhaps worth
more than all the gains of experience. And in the real pursuit, as
in the mimic hurry of the chase, it is wise to avoid too hazardous a
venture. The hunter that has once been overhead in a brook never faces
water very heartily again.

Tom could see that his charm was working, that the letter he had
written produced all the effect he desired. His host was obviously
preoccupied, absent in manner, and even flurried, at least for _him_.
Moreover, he drank brown sherry out of a claret-glass, which looked
like being uncomfortable somewhere inside. Lady Bearwarden, grave and
unusually silent, watched her husband with a sad, wistful air, that
goaded Tom to madness. How he had loved that pale, proud face, and it
was paler and prouder and lovelier than ever to-day!

"I've seen some furniture you'd like to look at, my lord," said Tom,
in his old, underbred manner. "There's a chair I'd buy directly if I'd
a house to put it in, or a lady to sit on it; and a carved ebony frame
it's worth going all the distance to see. If you'd nothing to do this
afternoon, I'll be proud to show them you. Twenty minutes' drive from
here in a hansom."

"Will you come?" asked Lord Bearwarden, kindly, of his wife. "You
might take us in the barouche."

She seemed strangely agitated by so natural a proposal, and neither
gentleman failed to remark her disorder.

"I shall like it very much," she stammered. "At least I should. But I
can't this afternoon. I--I've got an engagement at the other end of
the town."

"Which _is_ the other end of the town?" said Lord Bearwarden,
laughing. "You've not told us _your_ end yet, Tom;" but seeing his
wife's colour fade more and more, he purposely filled Tom's glass to
distract his attention.

Her engagement was indeed of no pleasant nature. It was to hold
another interview with "Gentleman Jim," in which she hoped to prevail
on him to leave the country by offering the largest sum of money
she could raise from all her resources. Once released from his
persecutions, she thought she could breathe a little, and face Tom
Ryfe well enough single-handed, should he try to poison her husband's
mind against her--an attempt she thought him likely enough to make. It
was Jim she feared--Jim, whom drink and crime, and an infatuation of
which she was herself the cause, had driven almost mad--she could see
it in his eye--who was reckless of her character as of his own--who
insisted on her giving him these meetings two or three times a week,
and was capable of any folly, any outrage, if she disappointed
him. Well, to-day should end it! On that she was determined. If he
persisted in refusing her bribe, she would throw herself on Lord
Bearwarden's mercy and tell him the whole truth.

Maud had more self-command than most women, and could hold her own
even in so false a position as this.

"I must get another gown," she said, after a moment's pause, ignoring
Tom's presence altogether as she addressed her husband across the
table. "I've nothing to wear at the Den, if it's cold when we go down
next week, so I _must_ call at Stripe and Rainbow's to-day, and I
won't keep you waiting in the carriage all the time I'm shopping."

He seemed quite satisfied. "Then I'll take Ryfe to my sulking-room,"
said he, "and wish you good-bye till dinner-time. Tom, you shall have
the best cigar in England--I've kept them five years, and they're
strong enough to blow your head off now."

So Tom, with a formal bow to Lady Bearwarden, followed his host into a
snug but dark apartment at the back, devoted, as was at once detected
by its smell, to the consumption of tobacco.

While he lit a cigar, he could not help thinking of the days, not so
long ago, when Maud would have followed him, at least with her eyes,
out of the room, but consoled himself by the reflection that his
turn was coming now, and so smoked quietly on with a firm, cruel
determination to do his worst.

Thus it came to pass that, before they had finished their cigars,
these gentlemen heard the roll of her ladyship's carriage as it took
her away; also that a few minutes later, passing Stripe and Rainbow's
in a hansom cab, they saw the same carriage, standing empty at the
door of that gorgeous and magnificent emporium.

"Don't get out, Tom," said his, lordship, stopping the hansom, "I only
want to ask a question--I sha'n't be a minute;" and in two strides he
was across the pavement and within the folding-doors of the shop.

Perhaps the question he meant to ask was of his own common-sense, and
its answer seemed hard to accept philosophically. Perhaps he never
expected to find what he meant to look for, yet was weak enough to
feel disappointed all the same--for he had turned very pale when he
re-entered the cab, and he lit another cigar without speaking.

Though her carriage stood at the door, he had searched the whole of
Stripe and Rainbow's shop for Lady Bearwarden in vain.

Tom Ryfe was not without a certain mother-wit, sharpened by his
professional education. He suspected the truth, recalling the
'agitated manner of his hostess at luncheon, when her afternoon's
employment came under notice. Will it be believed that he experienced
an actual pang, to think she should have some assignation, some secret
of which his lordship must be kept in ignorance--that he should have
felt more jealous of this unknown, this possible rival, than of her
lawful husband now sitting by his side! He was no bad engineer,
however, and having laid his train, waited patiently for the mine to
explode at its proper time.

"What an outlandish part of the town we are getting to," observed Lord
Bearwarden, after several minutes' silence; "your furniture-man seems
to live at the other end of the world."

"If you want to buy things at first hand you must go into Oxford
Street," answered Tom. "Let's get out and walk, my lord; it's so
crowded here, we shall make better way."

So they paid their hansom, and threading the swarms of passengers on
the footway, turned into Berners Street arm-in-arm.

Tom walked very slowly for reasons of his own, but made himself
pleasant enough, talking on a variety of subjects, and boasting his
own good taste in matters of curiosity, especially old furniture.

"I wish you could have induced the viscountess to come with us," said
Tom, "we should have been all the better for her help. But ladies have
so many engagements in the afternoon we know nothing about, that it's
impossible to secure their company without several days' notice. I'll
be bound her ladyship is in Stripe and Rainbow's still."

There was something in the casual remark that jarred on Lord
Bearwarden, more than Tom's absurd habit of thus bestowing her full
title on his wife in common conversation, though even that provoked
him a little too; something to set him thinking, to rouse all the
pride and all the suspicion of his nature. "The viscountess," as Tom
called her, was _not_ in Stripe and Rainbow's, of that he had made
himself perfectly certain less than half-an-hour ago; then where
_could_ she be? Why this secrecy, this mystery, this reserve, that had
been growing up between them day by day ever since their marriage?
What conclusion was a man likely to arrive at who had lived in the
world of London from boyhood, and been already once so cruelly
deceived? His blood boiled; and Tom, whose hand rested on his arm,
felt the muscles swell and quiver beneath his touch.

Mr. Ryfe had timed his observation well; the two gentlemen were now
proceeding slowly up Berners Street, and had arrived nearly opposite
the house that contained Simon's painting-room, its hard-working
artist, its frequent visitor, its beautiful sitter, and its Fairy
Queen. Since his first visit there Tom Ryfe, in person or through
his emissaries, had watched the place strictly enough to have become
familiar with the habits of its inmates.

Mr. Stanmore's trial trip with Miss Algernon proved so satisfactory,
that the journey had been repeated on the same terms every day: this
arrangement, very gratifying to the persons involved, originated
indeed with Simon, who now went regularly after work to pass a few
hours with his sick friend. Thus, to see these two young people
bowling down Berners Street in a hansom cab, about five o'clock,
looking supremely happy the while, was as good a certainty as to meet
the local pot-boy, or the postman.

Tom Ryfe manoeuvred skilfully enough to bring his man on the ground
precisely at the right moment.

Still harping on old furniture, he was in the act of remarking that
"he should know the shop again, though he had forgotten the number,
and that it must be a few doors higher up," when his companion
started, uttered a tremendous execration, and struggling to free
himself from Tom's arm, holloaed at an unconscious cab-driver to stop.

"What's the matter? are you ill, my lord?" exclaimed his companion,
holding on to him with all his weight, while affecting great anxiety
and alarm.

"D--n you! let me go!" exclaimed Lord Bearwarden, nearly flinging Tom
to the pavement as he shook himself free and tore wildly down the
street in vain pursuit.

He returned in a minute or two, white, scared, and breathless. Pulling
his moustache fiercely, he made a gallant effort to compose himself;
but when he spoke, his voice was so changed, Tom looked with surprise
in his face.

"You saw it too, Tom!" he said at last, in a hoarse whisper.

"Saw it!--saw what?" repeated Tom, with an admirable assumption of
ignorance, innocence, and dismay.

"Saw Lady Bearwarden in that cab with Dick Stanmore!" answered his
lordship, steadying himself bravely like a good ship in a breeze, and
growing cooler and cooler, as was his nature in an emergency.

"Are you sure of it?--did you see her face? I fancied so myself, but
thought I must be mistaken. It was Mr. Stanmore, no doubt, but it
cannot possibly have been the viscountess."

Tom spoke with an air of gravity, reflection, and profound concern.

"I may settle with _him_, at any rate!" said Lord Bearwarden. "Tom,
you're a true friend; I can trust you like myself. It's a comfort to
have a friend, Tom, when a fellow's smashed up like this. I shall bear
it well enough presently; but it's an awful facer, old boy. I'd have
done anything for that woman--I tell you, anything! I'd have cut off
my right hand to please her. And now!--It's not because she doesn't
care for me--I've known that all along; but to think that she's
like--like those poor painted devils we met just now. Like
them!--she's a million times worse! O, it's hard to bear! Damnation! I
_won't_ bear it! Somebody will have to give an account for this!"

"You have my sympathy," said Tom, in a low respectful voice, for he
knew his man thoroughly; "these things won't stand talking about; but
you shall have my assistance too, in any and every way you require.
I'm not a swell, my lord, but I'll stick by you through thick and
thin."

The other pressed his arm. "We must do something at once," said he.
"I will go up to barracks now: call for me there in an hour's time; I
shall have decided on everything by then."

So Lord Bearwarden carried a sore heart back once more to the old
familiar scenes--through the well-known gate, past the stalwart
sentry, amongst all the sights and sounds of the profession by which
he set such store. What a mockery it seemed!--how hard, how cruel, and
how unjust!

But this time at least, he felt, he should not be obliged to sit down
and brood over his injuries without reprisals or redress.



CHAPTER XXIV


PARTED


Lady Bearwarden's carriage had, without doubt, set her down at Stripe
and Rainbow's, to take her up again at the same place after waiting
there for so long a period as must have impressed on her servants the
importance of their lady's toilet, and the careful study she bestowed
on its selection. The tall bay horses had been flicked at least a
hundred times to make them stand out and show themselves, in the form
London coachmen think so imposing to passers-by. The footman had
yawned as often, expressing with each contortion an excessive longing
for beer. Many street boys had lavished their criticisms, favourable
and otherwise, on the wheels, the panels, the varnish, the driver's
wig, and that dignitary's legs, whom they had the presumption to
address as "John." Diverse connoisseurs on the pavement had appraised
the bay horses at every conceivable price--some men never can pass a
horse or a woman without thinking whether they would like to bargain
for the one or make love to the other; and the animals themselves
seemed to have interchanged many confidential whispers, on the
subject, probably, of beans,--when Lady Bearwarden re-appeared, to
seat herself in the carriage and give the welcome order, "Home!"

She had passed what the French call a very "bad little quarter of an
hour," and the storm had left its trace on her pale brow and delicate
features. They bore, nevertheless, that firm, resolute expression
which Maud must have inherited from some iron-hearted ancestor. There
was the same stem clash of the jaw, the same hard, determined frown
in this, their lovely descendant, that confronted Plantagenet and his
mailed legions on the plains by Stirling, that stiffened under the wan
moonlight on Culloden Moor amongst broken claymores and riven targets,
and tartans all stained to the deep-red hues of the Stuart with his
clansmen's blood.

Softened, weakened by a tender, doubting affection, she had yielded
to an ignoble, unworthy coercion; but it had been put on too hard of
late, and her natural character asserted itself under the pressure.
She was in that mood which makes the martyr and the heroine, sometimes
even the criminal, but on which, deaf to reason and insensible to
fear, threats and arguments are equally thrown away.

She had met "Gentleman Jim," according to promise, extorted from her
by menaces of everything that could most outrage her womanly feelings
and tarnish her fair fame before the world--had met him with as much
secrecy, duplicity, and caution as though he were really the favoured
lover for whom she was prepared to sacrifice home, husband, honour,
and all. The housebreaker had mounted a fresh disguise for the
occasion, and flattered himself, to use his own expression, that he
looked "quite the gentleman from top to toe." Could he have known how
this high-bred woman loathed his tawdry ornaments, his flash attire,
his silks and velvets, and flushed face, and dirty, ringed hands and
greasy hair!

Could he have known! He _did_ know, and it maddened him till he forgot
reason, prudence, experience, commonsense--forgot everything but the
present torture, the cruel longing for the impossible, the accursed
conviction (worse than all the stings of drink and sin and remorse)
that this one wild, hopeless desire of his existence could never be
attained.

Therefore, in the lonely street to which a cab had brought her from
the shop where her carriage waited, and which they paced to and fro,
this strangely-assorted pair, he gave vent to his feelings, and broke
out in a paroxysm that roused all his listener's feelings of anger,
resistance, and disgust. She had just offered him so large a sum
of money to quit England for ever, as even Jim, for whom, you must
remember, every sovereign represented twenty shillings' worth of
beer, could not refuse without a qualm. He hesitated, and Maud's face
brightened with a ray of hope that quivered in her eyes like sunlight.
"To sail next week," said he slowly; "to take my last look of ye
to-day. Them's the articles. My last look. Standing there in the
daylight--a _real_ lady! And never to come back no more!"

She clasped her hands--the delicate gloved hands, with their heavy
bracelets at the wrists--and her voice shook while she spoke. "You'll
go; won't you? It will make your fortune; and--and--I'll always think
of you kindly--and--gratefully. I _will_ indeed; so long as you keep
away."

He sprang like a horse to the lash. "It's h----ll!" he exclaimed. "Put
back your cursed money. I won't do it!"

"You won't do it?"

There was such quiet despair in her accents as drove him to fury.

"I won't do it!" he repeated in a low voice that frightened her. "I'll
rot in a gaol first!--I'll swing on a gallows!--I'll die in a ditch!
Take care as _you_ don't give me something to swing for! Yes, _you_,
with your pale face, and your high-handed ways, and your cold, cruel
heart that can send a poor devil to the other end o' the earth with
a 'pleasant trip, and here's your health, my lad,' like as if I was
goin' across to Lambeth. And yet you stand there as beautiful as a
hangel; and I--I'm a fool, I am! And--and I don't know what keeps me
from slippin' my knife into that white throat o' yourn, except it is
as you don't look not a morsel dashed, nor skeared, you don't; no more
than you was that first night as ever I see your face. And I wish my
eyes had been lime-blinded first, and I'd been dead and rotting in my
grave."

With anything like a contest, as usual, Maud's courage came back.

"I am not in your power yet," said she, raising her haughty head.
"There stands the cab. When we reach it I get in, and you shall never
have a chance of speaking to me after to-day. Once for all. Will you
take this money, or leave it? I shall not make the offer again."

He took the notes from her hand, with a horrible oath, and dashed them
on the ground; then growing so pale she thought he must have fallen,
seemed to recover his temper and his presence of mind, picked them up,
returned them very quietly, and stood aside on the narrow pavement to
let her pass.

"You are right," said he, in a voice so changed, she looked anxiously
in his white face, working like that of a man in a fit. "I was a fool
a while ago. I know better now. But I won't take the notes, my lady.
Thank ye kindly just the same. I'll wish ye good-mornin' now. O, no!
Make yourself easy. I'll never ask to see ye again."

He staggered while he walked away, and laid hold of an area railing as
he turned the street corner; but Maud was too glad to get rid of her
tormentor at any price to speculate on his meaning, his movements, or
the storm that raged within his breast.

And now, sitting back in her carriage, bowling home-ward, with the
fresh evening breeze in her face, the few men left to take their hats
off looked in that face, and while making up their minds that after
all it was the handsomest in London, felt instinctively they had never
coveted the ownership of its haughty beauty so little as to-day. Her
husband's cornet, walking with a brother subaltern, and saluting Lady
Bearwarden, or, rather, the carriage and horses, for her ladyship's
eyes and thoughts were miles away, expressed the popular feeling
perhaps with sufficient clearness when he thus delivered himself, in
reply to his companion's loudly-expressed admiration--

"The best-looking woman in London, no doubt, and the best turned out.
But I think Bruin's got a handful, you know. Tell ye what, my boy, I'm
generally right about women. She looks like the sort that, if they
once _begin_ to kick, never leave off till they've knocked the
splinter-bar into toothpicks and carried away the whole of the front
boot."

Maud, all unconscious of the light in which she appeared to this young
philosopher, was meanwhile hardening her heart with considerable
misgivings for the task she had in view, resolved that nothing should
now deter her from the confession she had delayed too long. She
reflected how foolish it was not to have taken advantage of the first
confidences of married life by throwing herself on her husband's
mercy, telling him all the folly, imprudence, crime of which she had
been guilty, and imploring to be forgiven. Every day that passed made
it more difficult, particularly since this coolness had arisen between
them, which, although she felt it did not originate with herself, she
also felt a little pliancy on her part, a little warmth of manner, a
little expressed affection, would have done much to counteract and put
away. She had delayed it too long; but "Better late than never." It
should be done to-day; before she dressed for dinner; the instant she
got home. She would put her arms round his neck, and tell him that the
worst of her iniquities, the most unpardonable, had been committed for
love of _him_! She could not bear to lose him (Maud forgot that in
those days it was the coronet she wanted to capture). She dreaded
falling in his esteem. She dared all, risked all, because without
him life must have been to her, as it is to so many, a blank and a
mistake. But supposing he put on the cold, grave face, assumed the
conventional tone she knew so well, told her he could not pardon such
unladylike, such unwomanly proceedings, or that he did not desire to
intrude on confidences so long withheld; or, worse than all, that
they did very well as they were, got on--he had hinted as much once
before--better than half the married couples in London, why, she must
bear it. This would be part of the punishment; and at least she could
have the satisfaction of assuring him how she loved him, and of loving
him heartily, humbly, even without return.

Lady Bearwarden had never done anything humbly before. Perhaps she
thought this new sensation might be for her good--might make her a
changed woman, and in such change happier henceforth.

Tears sprang to her eyes. How slow that man drove; but, thank heaven!
here she was, home at last.

On the hall-table lay a letter in her husband's hand-writing,
addressed to herself. "How provoking!" she muttered, "to say he dines
out, of course. And now I must wait till to-morrow. Never mind."

Passing up-stairs to her boudoir, she opened it as she entered the
room, and sank into a chair, with a faint passionate cry, like that of
a hare, or other weak animal, struck to the death. She had courage,
nevertheless, to read it over twice, so as thoroughly to master the
contents. During their engagement they used to meet every day. They
had not been parted since their marriage. It was the first, literally
the very first, letter she had ever received from him.

  "I have no reproaches to make," it said, "nor reasons
  to offer for my own decision. I leave both to your sense
  of right, if indeed yours can be the same as that usually
  accepted amongst honourable people. I have long felt
  some mysterious barrier existed between you and me. I
  have only an hour ago discovered its disgraceful nature,
  and the impossibility that it can ever be removed. You
  cannot wonder at my not returning home. Stay there as
  long as you please, and be assured I shall not enter that
  house again. You will not probably wish to see or hold
  any communication with me in future, but should you be
  so ill-advised as to attempt it, remember I have taken care
  to render it impossible. I know not how I have forfeited
  the right to be treated fairly and on the square, nor why
  you, of all the world, should have felt entitled to make me
  your dupe, but this is a question on which I do not mean
  to enter, now nor hereafter. My man of business will
  attend to any directions you think proper to give, and has
  my express injunctions to further your convenience in
  every way, but to withhold my address and all information
  respecting my movements. With a sincere wish for your
  welfare, I remain,"

  Yours, etc.,

  "Bearwarden."

She was stunned, stupefied, bewildered. What had he found out? What
could it mean? She had known of late she loved him very dearly; she
never knew till now the pain such love might bring. She rocked herself
to and fro in her agony, but soon started up into action. She must do
something. She could not sit there under his very picture looking down
on her, manly, and kind, and soldierlike. She ran down-stairs to his
room. It was all disordered just as he had left it, and an odour of
tobacco clung heavily round the curtains and furniture. She wondered
now she should ever have disliked the fumes of that unsavoury plant.
She could not bear to stay there long, but hurried up-stairs again
to ring for a servant, and bid him get a cab at once, to see if Lord
Bearwarden was at the barracks. She felt hopelessly convinced it was
no use; even if he were, nothing would be gained by the assurance, but
it seemed a relief to obtain an interval of waiting and uncertainty
and delay. When the man returned to report that "his lordship had been
there and gone away again," she wished she had let it alone. It formed
no light portion of her burden that she must preserve an appearance
of composure before her servants. It seemed such a mockery while her
heart was breaking, yes, breaking, in the desolation of her sorrow,
the blank of a future without _him_.

Then in extremity of need she bethought her of Dick Stanmore, and in
this I think Lady Bearwarden betrayed, under all her energy and force
of character, the softer elements of woman's nature. A man, I suppose,
under any pressure of affliction would hardly go for consolation
to the woman he had deceived. He partakes more of the wild beast's
sulkiness, which, sick or wounded, retires to mope in a corner by
itself; whereas a woman, as indeed seems only becoming to her less
firmly-moulded character, shows in a struggle all the qualities of
valour except that one additional atom of final endurance which wins
the fight at last. In real bitter distress they must have some one to
lean on. Is it selfishness that bids them carry their sorrows for help
to the very hearts they have crushed and trampled? Is it not rather a
noble instinct of forgiveness and generosity which tells them that if
their mutual cases were reversed they would themselves be capable of
affording the sympathy they expect?

Maud knew that, to use the conventional language of the world in which
they moved, "she had treated Dick ill." We think very lightly of these
little social outrages in the battle of life, and yet I doubt if one
human being can inflict a much deeper injury on another than that
which deprives the victim of all power of enjoyment, all belief in
good, all hope for the future, all tender memories of the past. Man
or woman, we ought to have some humane compunction, some little
hesitation in sitting down to play at that game from which the winner
rises only wearied with unmerited good fortune, the loser, haggard,
miserable, stripped and beggared for life.

It was owing to no forbearance of Lady Bearwarden's that Dick had so
far recovered his losses as to sit down once more and tempt fortune at
another table; but she turned to him nevertheless in this her hour
of perplexity, and wrote to ask his aid, advice, and sympathy in her
great distress.

I give her letter, though it never reached its destination, because I
think it illustrates certain feminine ideas of honour, justice, and
plain dealing which must originate in some code of reasoning totally
unintelligible to ourselves.

  Dear Mr. Stanmore,

  You are a true friend, I feel sure. I have always
  considered you, since we have been acquainted, the truest
  and most tried amongst the few I possess. You told me
  once, some time ago, when we used to meet oftener than
  we have of late, that if ever I was in sorrow or difficulty
  I was to be sure and let you know. I am in sorrow and
  difficulty now--great sorrow, overwhelming difficulty. I
  have nobody that cares for me enough to give advice or
  help, and I am so very, _very_ sad and desolate. I think I
  have some claim upon you. We used to be so much
  together and were always such good friends. Besides, we
  are almost relations, are we not? and once I thought we
  should have been something more. But that is all over
  now.

  Will you help me? Come to me at once, or write.
  Lord Bearwarden has left me without a word of explanation
  except a cruel, cutting, formal letter that I cannot
  understand. I don't know what I have said or done, but
  it seems so hard, so inhuman. And I loved him very
  dearly, very. Indeed, though you have every right to say
  you don't believe me, I would have made him a good wife
  if he had let me. My heart seems quite crushed and
  broken. It is too hard. Again I ask you to help me, and
  remain always

  Yours sincerely,

  "M. Bearwarden."

There is little doubt that had Dick Stanmore ever received this
touching production he would have lost not one moment in complying
with the urgency of its appeal. But Dick did not receive it, for the
simple reason that, although stamped by her ladyship and placed in the
letter-box, it was never sent to the post.

Lord Bearwarden, though absenting himself from home under such
unpleasant circumstances, could not therefore shake off the thousand
imperceptible meshes that bind a man like chains of iron to his own
domestic establishment. Amongst other petty details his correspondence
had to be provided for, and he sent directions accordingly to his
groom of the chambers, that all his letters should be forwarded to a
certain address. The groom of the chambers, who had served in one or
two families before, of which the heads had separated under rather
discreditable circumstances, misunderstanding his master's orders, or
determined to err on the safe side, forwarded all the letters he could
lay hands on to my lord. Therefore the hurt and angry husband was
greeted, ere he had left home a day, by the sight of an envelope in
his wife's handwriting addressed to the man with whom he believed
she was in love. Even under such provocation Lord Bearwarden was too
high-minded to open the enclosure, but sent it back forthwith in a
slip of paper, on which he calmly "presented his compliments and
begged to forward a letter he could see was Lady Bearwarden's that had
fallen into his hands by mistake."

Maud, weeping in her desolate home, tore it into a thousand shreds.
There was something characteristic of her husband in these little
honourable scruples that cut her to the heart. "Why didn't he read
it?" she repeated, wringing her hands and walking up and down the
room. "He knows Mr. Stanmore quite well. Why didn't he read it? and
then he would have seen what I shall never, never be able to tell him
now!"



CHAPTER XXV


COAXING A FIGHT


Mr. Ryfe could now congratulate himself that his puppets were fairly
on the stage prepared for their several parts; and it remained but to
bring them into play, and with that view, he summoned all the craft of
his experience to assist the cunning of his nature.

Lord Bearwarden, amongst other old-fashioned prejudices, clung to an
obsolete notion that there are certain injuries, and those of the
deepest and most abiding, for which neither the opinion of society,
nor the laws of the land, afford redress, and which can only be wiped
out by personal encounter of man to man. It seemed to him that he
could more easily forget his sorrow, and turn with a firmer tread into
the beaten track of life, after a snap shot at Mr. Stanmore across a
dozen yards of turf. Do not blame him--remember his education and
the opinions of those amongst whom he lived. Remember, too, that his
crowning sorrow had not yet taught him resignation, an opiate which
works only with lapse of time. There is a manlier and a truer courage
than that which seeks a momentary oblivion of its wrongs in the
excitement of personal danger--there is a heroism of defence, far
above the easier valour of attack--and those are distinguished as the
bravest troops that under severe loss preserve their discipline and
formation, without returning the fire of an enemy.

Lord Bearwarden, however, as became the arm of the service to which he
belonged, was impatient of inaction, and had not yet learned to look
on hostilities in this light.

"We'll parade him, Tom," said he, affecting a cheerfulness which did
not the least deceive his companion. "I don't want to make a row about
it, of course. I'll spare _her_, though she hardly deserves it, but
I'll have a slap at _him_, and I'll shoot him, too, if I can! You
needn't put us up much farther than the width of this room!"

They were closeted together at the back of a certain unassuming hotel,
where their addresses, if required, would be consistently denied. The
room in question was small, gloomy, and uncomfortable, but so shaded
and sequestered, that, lulled by its drowsy glimmer, for its inmates,
as for the lotus-eaters, "it was always afternoon."

"Suppose he won't fight," observed Tom, shaking his head.

"Won't fight!" repeated his lordship, in high disdain. "Curse him--he
_must_ fight. I'll horsewhip him in the Park! That's all nonsense,
Tom. The fellow's a gentleman. I'll say that for him. He'll see the
propriety of keeping the whole thing quiet, if it was only out of
regard for _her_. You must settle it, Tom. It's a great deal to ask. I
know I ought to have gone to a brother-officer, but this is a peculiar
case, you see, and the fewer fellows in the hunt the better!"

Mr. Ryfe mused. He didn't much like his job, but reflected that, under
the management of any one else, an explanation would assuredly put
everything in its true light, and his web would all be brushed away.
What he required was a scandal; a slander so well sustained, that Lady
Bearwarden's character should never recover it, and for such a purpose
nothing seemed so efficacious as a duel, of which she should be the
cause. He imagined also, in his inexperience, like the immortal Mr.
Winkle, that these encounters were usually bloodless, and mere,
matters of form.

"You're resolved, I suppose," said Tom. "I needn't point out to you, my
lord, that such a course shuts every door to reconciliation--precludes
every possibility of things coming right in future. It's a strong
measure--a very strong measure--and you really mean to carry it
through?"

"I've made up my mind to shoot him," answered the other doggedly.
"What's the use of jawing about it? These things should be done at
once, my good fellow. If we have to go abroad, we'll start to-morrow
night."

"I'd better try and hunt him up without delay," said Tom. "It's easier
to find a fellow now than in the middle of the season, but I might not
hit upon him to-night, nevertheless."

Lord Bearwarden looked at his watch. "Try his club," said he. "If he
dines there, it's about the time. They'll know his address at any
rate, and if you look sharp you might catch him at home dressing for
dinner. I'll wait here and we'll have a mutton-chop when you come in.
Stick to him, Tom. Don't let him back out. It would have saved a deal
of trouble," added his lordship, while the other hurried off, "if I
could have caught that cab to-day. She'd have been frightened, though,
and upset. Better as it is, perhaps, after all."

Mr. Ryfe did not suffer the wheels of his chariot to tarry, nor the
grass to grow beneath his feet. Very few minutes elapsed before he
found himself waiting in the strangers' room of a club much affected
by Dick Stanmore, comforted with a hall-porter's assurance that the
gentleman he sought had ordered dinner, and could not fail to arrive
almost immediately. He had scarcely taken up the evening paper when
Mr. Stanmore came in.

Anything less like a conscience-stricken Lothario, burdened with the
guilt of another man's wife, can scarcely be imagined. Dick's eye
was bright, his cheek blooming, his countenance radiant with health,
happiness, and the light from within that is kindled by a good
conscience and a loving heart. He came up to Ryfe with a merry
greeting on his lips, but stopped short, marking the gravity of that
gentleman's face and the unusual formality of his bow.

"My errand is a very painful one," said Tom. "I regret to say, Mr.
Stanmore, that I have come to you on a most unpleasant business."

"I thought you'd come to dinner," answered Dick, no whit disconcerted.
"Never mind. Let's have it out. I dare say it's not half so bad as it
seems."

"It could not possibly be worse," was the solemn rejoinder. "It
involves life and honour for two gentlemen, both of whom I respect and
esteem. For the sake of one, a very dear friend, I have consented
to be here now. Mr. Stanmore, I come to you on behalf of Lord
Bearwarden."

Dick started. The old wound was healed, and, indeed, perfectly cured
now, but the skin had not yet grown quite callous over that injured
part.

"Go on," said he. "Why didn't Lord Bearwarden come himself?"

"Impossible!" answered Tom, with great dignity. "Contrary to all
precedent. I could not have permitted such a thing. Should not have
listened to it for a moment. Quite inadmissible. Would have placed
every one in a false position. His lordship has lost no time in
selecting an experienced friend. May I hope Mr. Stanmore will be
equally prompt? You understand me, of course."

"I'm hanged if I _do_!" replied Dick, opening his eyes very wide. "You
must speak plainer. What is it all about?"

"Simply," said the other, "that my principal assures me he feels
confident your own sense of honour will not permit you to refuse him a
meeting. Lord Bearwarden, as you must be aware, Mr. Stanmore, is a
man of very high spirit and peculiarly sensitive feelings. You have
inflicted on him some injury of so delicate a nature that even from
me, his intimate friend, he withholds his confidence on the real facts
of the case. He leads me to believe that I shall not find my task very
difficult, and my own knowledge of Mr. Stanmore's high character and
jealous sense of honour points to the same conclusion. You will, of
course, meet me half-way, without any further negotiation or delay."

("If he's ever spoken three words of endearment to 'the viscountess,'"
reflected Tom, "he'll understand at once. If he hasn't, he'll think
I'm mad!")

"But I can't fight without I'm told what it's for," urged Dick, in
considerable bewilderment. "I don't know Lord Bearwarden well. I've
nothing to do with him. We've never had a quarrel in our lives."

"Mr. Stanmore!" replied the other. "You surprise me. I thought you
quite a different sort of person. I thought a _gentleman_"--here a
flash in Dick's eye warned him not to go too far--"a gentleman of your
intelligence would have anticipated my meaning without trying to force
from me an explanation, which indeed it is out of my power to make.
There _are_ injuries, Mr. Stanmore, on which outraged friendship
cannot bear to enlarge; for which a man of honour feels bound to offer
the only reparation in his power. Must we _force_ you, Mr. Stanmore,
into the position we require, by overt measures, as disgraceful to you
as they would be unbecoming in my friend?"

"Stop a moment, Mr. Ryfe," said Dick. "Do you speak now for yourself
or Lord Bearwarden?"

There was a slight contraction of the lip accompanying this remark
that Tom by no means fancied. He hastened to shelter himself behind
his principal.

"For Lord Bearwarden, decidedly," said he, "and without intention of
the slightest discourtesy. My only object is indeed to avoid, for both
parties, anything so revolting as a personal collision. Have I said
enough?"

"No, you haven't!" answered Dick, who was getting warm while his
dinner was getting cold. "If you won't tell me what the offence is,
how can I offer either redress or apology?"

"No apology would be accepted," replied Mr. Ryfe loftily. "Nor,
indeed, does his lordship consider that his injuries admit of
extenuation. Shall I tell you his very words, Mr. Stanmore, addressed
to me less than an hour ago?"

"Drive on," said Dick.

"His lordship's words, not my own, you will bear in mind," continued
Tom, rather uncomfortable, but resolved to play out his trump card.
"And I only repeat them as it were in confidence, and at your own
request. 'Tom,' said he, 'nothing on earth shall prevent our meeting.
No, not if I have to horsewhip Mr. Stanmore in the Park to bring it
about.'"

"If that don't fetch him," thought Tom, "he's not the man I take him
for."

It _did_ fetch him. Dick started, and turned fiercely on the speaker.

"The devil!" he exclaimed. "Two can play at that game, and perhaps he
might come off the worst! Mr. Ryfe, you're a bold man to bring such
a message to _me_. I'm not sure how far your character of ambassador
should bear you harmless; but, in the meantime, tell your principal
I'll accommodate him with pleasure, and the sooner the better."

Dick's blood was up, as indeed seemed natural enough under so gross
an insult, and he was all for fighting now, right or wrong. Tom Ryfe
congratulated himself on the success of this, his first step in a
diplomacy leading to war, devoutly hoping that the friend to whom Mr.
Stanmore should refer him might prove equally fierce and hot-headed.
He bowed with the studied courtesy assumed by every man concerned,
either as principal or second, in an act of premeditated homicide, and
smoothed his hat preparatory to taking leave.

"If you will kindly favour me with your friend's name," said he in a
tone of excessive suavity, "I will wish you good-evening. I fear I
have already kept you too long from dinner."

Dick considered for a few seconds, while he ran over in his mind the
sum-total of intimates on whom he could rely in an emergency like the
present. It is wonderful how short such lists are. Mr. Stanmore could
not recall more than half-a-dozen, and of these four were out of town,
and one lay ill in bed. The only available man of the six was Simon
Perkins. Dick Stanmore knew that he could trust him to act as a stanch
friend through thick and thin, but he had considerable scruples
in availing himself of the painter's assistance under existing
circumstances.

Time pressed, however, and there was nothing for it but to furnish Mr.
Ryfe with Simon's name and address in Berners Street.

"Can I see him at once?" asked Tom, strangely anxious to hasten
matters, as it seemed to Dick Stanmore, who could not help wondering
whether, had the visitor been a combatant, he would have proved
equally eager for the fray.

"I am afraid not till to-morrow," was the reply. "He has left his
painting-room by this time and gone out of town. I cannot ask you to
take another journey to-night. Allow me to offer you a glass of sherry
before you go."

Tom declined the proffered hospitality, bowing himself out, as
befitted the occasion, with much ceremonious politeness, and leaving
the other to proceed to his club-dinner in a frame of mind that
considerably modified the healthy appetite he had brought with him
half-an-hour ago.

He congratulated himself, however, before his soup was done, that he
had not sent Mr. Ryfe down to the cottage at Putney. He could not bear
to think of that peaceful, happy retreat, the nest of his dove, the
home of his heart, as desecrated by such a presence on such an errand.
"Come what might," he thought, "Nina must be kept from all terrors and
anxieties of this kind--all knowledge of such wild, wicked doings as
these."

So thinking, and reflecting, also, that it was very possible with
an encounter of so deadly a nature before him they might never meet
again, he knew too well by the heaviness at his heart how dear this
girl had become in so short a time--how completely she had filled up
that gaping wound in his affections from which he once thought he must
have bled hopelessly to death; how entirely he was bound up in her
happiness, and how, even in an hour of trouble, danger, and vexation
like this, his chief anxiety was lest it should bring sorrow and
suffering to _her_.

He drank but little wine at his solitary dinner, smoked one cigar
after it, and wrote a long letter to Nina before he went to bed--a
letter in which he told her all his love, all the comfort she had been
to him, all his past sorrows, all his future hopes, and then tore this
affectionate production into shreds and flung it in the fire-place. It
had only been meant to reach her hands if he should be killed. And
was it not calculated, then, to render her more unhappy, more
inconsolable? He asked himself the question several times before he
found resolution to answer it in the practical manner described. I
think he must have been very fond of Nina Algernon indeed, although he
did not the least know she was at that moment looking out of window,
with her hair down, listening to the night breeze in the poplars, the
lap and wash of the ebb-tide against the river-banks, thinking how
nice it was to have met him that morning, by the merest accident,
how nice it would be to see him in the painting-room, by the merest
accident again, of course, to-morrow afternoon.

The clock at St. George's, Hanover Square, struck nine as Mr. Ryfe
returned to his hotel. He found Lord Bearwarden waiting for him, and
dinner ready to be placed on the table.

"Have you settled it?" asked his lordship, in a fierce whisper that
betrayed no little eagerness for action--something very like a
thirst for blood. "When is it for, Tom? To-morrow morning? I've got
everything ready. I don't know that we need cross the water, after
all."

"Easy, my lord," answered Tom. "I can't get on quite so quick as you
wish. I've seen our man, and learned his friend's name and address.
That's pretty well, I think, for one day's work."

"You'll meet the friend to-night, Tom!" exclaimed the other. "Who is
he? Do we know him? He's a soldier, I hope?"

"He's a painter, and he lives out of town; so I _can't_ see him till
to-morrow. In the meantime, I would venture to suggest, my lord,
that I'm recovering from a severe illness, and I've been eight hours
without food."

Tom spoke cheerily enough, but in good truth he looked haggard and
out-worn. Lord Bearwarden rang the bell.

"I'm ashamed of myself," said he. "Let's have dinner directly; and as
for this cursed business, don't let us think any more about it till
to-morrow morning."

They sat down accordingly to, good food, well cooked, good wine, well
decanted: in good society, too, well chosen from a select fraternity
usually to be found in this secluded resort. So they feasted, and were
merry, talking of hounds, horses, hunting, racing, weight for age,
wine, women, and what not. The keenest observer, the acutest judge
of his kind, could never have detected that one of these men was
meditating bloodshed, the other prompting him to something very like
murder as an accessory before the fact.

I will never believe that Damocles ate his supper with less appetite,
drank his wine with less zest, for the threatening sword suspended
overhead.



CHAPTER XXVI


BAFFLED


Mr. Ryfe, we may be sure, did not fail to make his appearance in
Berners Street at an early hour on the following day, as soon indeed
as, according to Mr. Stanmore's information, there was any chance of
finding the painter at home. He felt, and he told himself so more than
once, that he was enacting the part of Mephistopheles, without the
supernatural power of that fatal auxiliary, without even a fair
allowance of time to lure his Faust to perdition. He had undertaken a
task that never would have occurred but to a desperate man, and Tom
was desperate, inasmuch as the one hope on which he set his heart
had crumbled to atoms. He had resolved to bring together in active
hostility two men of the world, versed in the usages of society,
themselves perfectly familiar with the code of social honour, that
they might attempt each other's lives beguiled by a delusion gross and
palpable as the common tricks of any fire-eating conjurer at a fair.

The very audacity of the scheme, however, seemed to afford its best
chance of success, and when that success should have been attained,
Tom's fancy, overleaping all intermediate difficulties, revelled in
the wild possibilities of the future. Of bloodshed he took very little
thought. What cared he, with his sad, sore heart, for the lives of
those prosperous men, gifted with social advantages that had been
denied to himself, and that he felt a proud consciousness he could
have put to a far richer profit? Whether either or both were killed,
whether either or both came home untouched, his object would equally
be gained. Lady Bearwarden's fair fame would equally be dishonoured
before the world. He knew that world well, knew its tyrannical code,
its puzzling verdicts, its unaccountable clemency to the wolf, its
inflexible severity for the lamb, above all, its holy horror of a blot
that has been scored, of a sin, then only unpardonable, that has been
"found out."

Men love the women on whom they set their affections so differently.
For some--and these are great favourites with the sex--attachment
means the desire of a tiger for its prey. With others it is the
gratification a child finds in a toy. A small minority entertain the
superstition of a savage for his idol; a smaller yet offer the holy
homage of a true worshipper to his saint. A woman's heart pines for
unrivalled sovereignty--a woman's nature requires the strong hand of a
master to retain it in bondage. For this, as for every other earthly
state, there is no unalloyed happiness, no perfect enjoyment, no
complete repose. The gourd has its worm, the diamond its flaw, the
rose its earwigs, and

  "The trail of the serpent is over them all."

So Tom Ryfe, taking time by the forelock, breakfasted at ten, wrote
several letters with considerable coolness and forethought, all
bearing on the event in contemplation, some providing for a week's
absence abroad, at least, smoked a cigar in Lord Bearwarden's bedroom,
who was not yet up, and towards noon turned out of Oxford Street to
fulfil his mission with Simon Perkins the painter.

His step was lighter, his whole appearance more elate, than usual. The
traces of recent illness and over-night's fatigue had disappeared.
He was above all foolish fancies of luck, presentiments, and such
superstitions--a man not easily acted on by extraneous circumstances
of good or evil, trusting chiefly in his own resources, and believing
very firmly in nothing but the multiplication table; yet to-day he
told himself he "felt like a winner"; to-day victory seemed in his
grasp, and he trod the pavement with the confident port of that pride
which the proverb warns us "goeth before a fall."

He rang the door-bell and was vaguely directed to proceed up-stairs by
the nondescript maid-servant who admitted him. The place was dark, the
day sultry, the steps numerous. Tom climbed them leisurely, hat in
hand, wondering why people couldn't live on the ground-floor, and not
a little absorbed in preparation of such a plausible tale as should
bring the contemplated interview to a warlike termination.

Turning imaginary periods with certain grandiloquent phrases
concerning delicacy of feeling and high sense of honour, he arrived at
the second landing, where he paused to take breath. Tom's illness had
no doubt weakened his condition, but the gasp with which he now opened
his mouth denoted excess of astonishment rather than deficiency of
wind.

Spinning deftly into its place, as if dropped from heaven with a
plumb-line, a wreath of artificial flowers landed lightly on his
temples, while a woman's laugh, soft and silvery, accompanied with its
pleasant music this unexpected coronation.

Tom looked up aghast, but he was not quick enough to catch sight of
more than the hem of a garment, the turn of an ankle. There was a
smothered exclamation, a "my gracious!" denoting extremity of dismay,
a rustle of skirts, the loud bang of a door, and all became still.
"Deuced odd," thought Tom, removing the wreath and wondering where
he should put it, before he made his entrance. "Queer sort of
people these! Painter a regular Don Giovanni, no doubt. So much the
better--all the more likely to go in for the fuss and _éclat_ of a
duel."

So Tom flung his garland aside and prepared to assume a lofty presence
with his hand on the painting-room door, while Nina, blushing to
the roots of her hair, barricaded herself carefully into a small
dressing-closet opening on the studio, in which retreat it was Simon's
habit to wash his hands and smarten himself up when he had done work
for the day.

Poor Nina! To use her own expression, she was "horrified." She expected
Dick Stanmore, and with a girlish playfulness sufficiently denoting the
terms on which they stood, had been lying in wait at the top of the
stairs, preparing to take a good shot, and drop the wreath, one of
Simon's faded properties, on that head which she now loved better than
all the world besides.

The staircase, I have said, was gloomy. Young gentlemen all brush
their hair the same way. The missile was out of her fingers ere a
horrid suspicion crossed her that she had made a mistake; and when Tom
looked up there was nothing for it but _sauve qui peut!_ After all,
one head, perhaps, also, one heart, is very like another; but Nina had
not yet mastered this, the first element of a rational philosophy, and
would have fled, if she could, to the ends of the earth.

In the meantime she took refuge in the little room off the studio,
blushing, palpitating, very much ashamed, though more than half
amused, but firmly resolved not to leave her hiding-place nor face the
visitor, devoutly hoping, at the same time, that he might not stay
long.

Simon was in the act of lifting his Fairy Queen into her usual
position. She had been dethroned the day before, while he worked at a
less congenial task. On his visitor's entrance he put her back with
her face to the wall.

Tom made an exceedingly stiff bow. "Mr. Perkins, I believe?"

"Mr. Ryfe?" replied Simon, in the same half-interrogative tone, with a
very stiff bow too.

"I am here on the part of Lord Bearwarden," said Tom. "And I have been
referred to you by Mr. Stanmore. You expected me, no doubt."

"I had a communication from Mr. Stanmore an hour ago to that effect,"
answered Simon, with a gravity the more profound that he had some
difficulty in repressing a smile. The painter was not without a sense
of humour, and this "communication," as he called it, lay crumpled up
in his waistcoat-pocket while he spoke. It ran thus--

"Dear Simon,--I have had a visit from a man named Ryfe that puzzles me
exceedingly. He comes from Lord Bearwarden, and they want to fasten
some sort of quarrel on me, but why, I cannot imagine. I was obliged
to refer him to you. Of course we'll fight if we must; but try and
make out what they are driving at, and which is the biggest fool of
the two. I think they're both mad! I shall be with you rather later
than usual. In the meantime I leave the whole thing in your hands.
I don't know Bearwarden well, but used to think him rather a good
fellow. The others an _awful_ snob!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Now I feel that it would be unbecoming on my part to tax a young lady
with so mean an act as that of listening; nevertheless, each of the
gentlemen in the studio thought proper to speak in so loud and indeed
so pompous a voice that Miss Algernon could not avoid overhearing
them. It was surely natural, then, that when Mr. Stanmore's name was
brought into the colloquy she should have drawn nearer the door of
the partition, and--well--not _tried_ to avoid overhearing as much as
possible of their dialogue.

The action of the farce amused her at first. It was soon to become
interesting, exciting, terrible, even to the verge of tragedy.

"That makes my task easier," continued Mr. Ryfe. "He has explained, of
course, the tendency of my instructions, the object of my visit. It
only remains for us to fix time and place."

"He has explained _nothing_," answered the painter. "What is it you
complain of, and of what nature is the dispute between Lord Bearwarden
and my friend?"

Tom assumed an air of extreme candour, and opened his case artfully
enough; but, forgetting that every painter is necessarily a
physiognomist, omitted the precaution of turning his back to the
light.

"You are on intimate terms with Mr. Stanmore, I believe," said he.
"Yet in matters of so delicate a nature men of honour keep their own
counsel very closely. It is possible you may not be aware of much
in his daily life that you would disapprove--much that, under the
circumstances, though I am no rigid moralist, appears inexcusable even
to me."

How white that delicate face turned in the next room! How eagerly
those dark eyes seemed trying to pierce the blank panels of the door!

"I have known Mr. Stanmore several years," answered the painter. "I
have seen him almost every day of late. I can only say you must be
more explicit, Mr. Ryfe. I do not understand you yet."

"Do you mean to tell me you are ignorant of an entanglement, a
_liaison_, a most untoward and unfortunate attachment, existing
between Mr. Stanmore and a lady whose name I fear it will be
impossible to keep out of the discussion?"

A wild misgiving, not altogether painful, shot through the painter
while he thought of Nina; but, watching the speaker's face, as was his
wont, and detecting a disparity of expression between eyes and
mouth, he gathered that the man was trying to deceive him in some
particular--not speaking the whole truth.

Miss Algernon, who could only listen, trembled and turned sick at
heart.

"I think you must be misinformed, Mr. Ryfe," was Simon's reply.

The other smiled, as pitying such ignorance of social gossip and
worldly scandal.

"Misinformed!" he repeated. "A man is not usually misinformed
who trusts his own eyes. A husband cannot be called unreasonably
dissatisfied whose wife tells him distinctly she is going to one
place, and who sees her an hour after in company with the man he
suspects at another. It is no use beating about the bush. You
cannot ignore such outrages as these. I wish to spare everybody's
feelings--yours, mine, even the lady's, and, above all, my poor
friend's; but I must tell you, point-blank, that the intimacy which
I have reason to believe existed between Mr. Stanmore and Lady
Bearwarden has not been discontinued since her marriage; and I come
to you, as that gentleman's friend, on Lord. Bearwarden's behalf, to
demand the only reparation that can be made for such injuries from man
to man."

The painter opened his eyes, and Tom told himself he had made a good
speech, very much to the point. Neither gentleman heard a faint moan
in the next room, the cry of a gentle heart wounded to the quick.

"You mean they ought to fight," said Simon, still scrutinising the
expression of the other's face.

"Precisely," answered Tom. "We must go abroad, I fancy, for all our
sakes. Can you be ready to start tonight? Tidal train, you know--nice
weather for crossing--breakfast the other side--_demi-poulet_ and
bottle of moderate St. Julien--needn't stop long for that--Belgian
frontier by the middle of the day--no sort of difficulty when once
you're across the water. Shall I say to-morrow afternoon, somewhere
in the neighbourhood of Mouscron? We can all go together, for that
matter, and arrange the exact spot in ten minutes."

Tom spoke as if they were planning a picnic, with nothing whatever to
dread but the chance of rain.

"Stop a moment," said the painter. "Not quite so fast, if you please.
This is a matter of life and death. We can't settle it in five
minutes, and as many words. You call yourself a man of the world, Mr.
Ryfe, and, doubtless, have some familiarity with affairs of this kind,
either from experience or hearsay. Do you seriously believe I am going
to put my friend up as a target for yours to shoot at without some
more definite information, some fuller explanation than you seem
inclined to give? Lady Bearwarden has not left her home. My friend
has been here every day of late with the utmost regularity. It seems
impossible that Lord Bearwarden's suspicions can be well grounded.
There must be some mistake; some misconception. Over-haste in a matter
like this would be irrevocable, and ruinous to everybody concerned."

Nina was listening with all her might. Every word of Tom's answer sunk
into her heart.

"My friend has left _his_ home," said he, in a voice of assumed
feeling. "I was at luncheon with them just before the disclosure
took place. A happier couple you never saw. Lately married--new
furniture--wedding-presents all over the place--delightful house,
overlooking the Park. This paradise is now completely broken up.
I confess I feel strongly on the subject. I know his lordship
intimately. I can appreciate his good qualities. I have also the
honour of Lady Bearwarden's acquaintance. The whole affair is
extremely painful even to me, but I have a duty to perform, and I must
go through with it. Mr. Perkins, we are wasting time, let us come to
the main point at once."

Simon pondered for a minute, during which he made another narrow
scrutiny of Tom Ryfe's face. Then he said, in the tone of a man who
comes to a final decision, "I suppose you are right. I fear there is
but one way out of it."

It did not escape the painter that, notwithstanding his obvious
self-command, the other's countenance brightened far more than was
natural at this admission. A duel in these days is a very serious
matter to every one concerned, and why should this man seem so truly
rejoiced at the progress of an affair that might put his own neck in
danger of a halter?

Simon's natural shrewdness, of which, in common with many other
simple-minded persons, he possessed a considerable share, warned him
there was something more here than appeared at first sight--some
mystery of which time alone was likely to afford the elucidation. Time
he resolved accordingly to gain, and that without putting the other on
his guard.

"But one way out of it," he repeated gravely. "I wish indeed it could
be arranged otherwise. Still this is a serious matter--quite out of my
usual line--I cannot undertake anything decided without advice, nor
entirely on my own responsibility. My intention is to consult with a
friend, an old military man. You shall have my definite answer in a
day or two at farthest."

Again watching Mr. Ryfe's face, Simon observed it cloud with
dissatisfaction, and his suspicions were confirmed. This fire-eater
was evidently only anxious to hurry on the duel with unseemly haste,
and make the principals fight at all risks.

"We object to delay," he exclaimed, "we object to publicity. The thing
is plain enough as it stands. You will only complicate it by bringing
others into council, and in such a case, surely, the fewer people
aware of our intentions the better."

"I cannot help that," answered the painter, in a tone of decision. "My
mind is made up, and I see my way clearly enough. You shall have our
answer within forty-eight hours at farthest. I repeat, this is a
matter in which I will not move an inch without the utmost certainty."

Tom began to lose his temper. "Your scruples will bring about a
flagrant scandal," he exclaimed. "Lord Bearwarden is determined not to
be cheated out of his redress. I know his intentions, and I know his
character. There will be a personal collision, to the disgrace of
every one concerned!"

"Then I shall recommend Stanmore to walk about With a thick stick,"
answered Simon coolly. "I often carry one myself, Mr. Ryfe," he added
in a tone of marked significance, "and should not scruple to use it on
occasion to the best of my abilities."

The painter, though a small, slight man, was utterly fearless.
Looking Tom Ryfe straight in the eyes while he made this suggestive
observation, the latter felt that nothing was to be gained by
bullying, and the game was lost.

"I am surprised," he replied loftily, but with a ceremonious bow, as
reminding the other that his character of ambassador was sacred. "I am
disappointed. I wash my hands of the disagreeable results likely
to arise from this unfortunate delay. I wish you good-morning, Mr.
Perkins. I leave you my address, and I trust you will lose no time in
making me acquainted with the result of your deliberations."

So Tom walked down-stairs with great dignity, though he smothered more
than one bitter curse the while, passing without so much as a glance
the rejected garland, lying where he had thrown it aside before he
entered on his unsuccessful mission.

Had he been a little less stately in manner, a little more rapid of
movement, he might have overtaken the very lady of whom he obtained a
glimpse during his ascent. Nina Algernon was but a few paces ahead of
him, scouring along at a speed only accomplished by those who feel
that goad in the heart which stimulates exertion, far more effectually
than the "spur in the head," proverbially supposed to be worth "two in
the heels.'" Nina had overheard enough from her hiding-place to make
her angry, unhappy, and anxious in the highest degree. Angry, first
of all, with herself and him, to think that she could have set her
affections on one who was untrue; unhappy, to feel she still cared for
him so much; anxious to gather from the cold-blooded courtesies of the
odious Mr. Ryfe that a life so dear to her was in danger, that
perhaps she might never see Dick Stanmore again. With this ghastly
consideration, surged up fuller than ever the tide of love that had
been momentarily obstructed, forcing her into action, and compelling
her to take immediate steps for ascertaining his perfidy, while, at
the same time, she warded off from him the penalties it entailed.

"He'll know I love him then," thought poor Nina. "But I'll never see
him, nor speak to him, again--never--never! How _could_ he? I wonder
why men are so bad!"

To this end, acting on an impulse as unreasonable as it was
essentially feminine, she resolved to seek Lady Bearwarden without
delay, and throwing herself on the mercy of that formidable rival,
implore advice and assistance for the safety of the man they both
loved.

So she fled down-stairs, and was out of the house like a lapwing, just
as Tom Ryfe's warlike colloquy with the painter came to a close.

Simon, missing her, after he had taken leave of his visitor, was not
therefore disturbed nor alarmed by her absence. He accounted for it
on the very natural supposition that she had met Dick Stanmore at
the door, and pressed him into her service to act as convoy in some
shopping expedition, before she sat down to her daily duty as a model
for the Fairy Queen, now completed, all but a few folds of drapery,
and a turn of the white hand.

Till she came back, however, the great work must remain at a
standstill, and Simon had leisure to reflect on his late conversation
with Mr. Ryfe, which astonished and perplexed him exceedingly.

Neither his astonishment, nor his perplexity, were decreased, to
learn, on Dick's arrival, that he had no knowledge of Miss Algernon's
movements--had not met her--had not seen her since yesterday,
certainly expected to find her here, and was to the full as anxious
and uncomfortable as the painter himself.

"This other business will keep cold," said Dick, in a great heat and
fuss. "I don't care whether it will or not. It _must_! But we can't
have Miss Algernon wandering about London by herself. We can't, at
least _I_ can't, be easy a moment till I know what has become of her.
You stay here, Simon, in case she should come back. After all, she may
be shopping in the next street. I'll rush down to Putney at once, and
find out if she's gone home. Don't be afraid. I won't alarm the old
ladies. If she's not there I'll be back immediately. If she comes in
while I'm gone, wait for me, or leave a line. Old man, if anything
goes wrong with that darling, I--I've nothing left to live for in the
world!"

Even while he spoke, he was on the stairs, and Simon, left in the
painting-room, shook his head, and pondered.

"They'll never make me believe that cock-and-bull story about Lady
Bearwarden. Ah, Nina! I begin to think this man loves you almost as
well as I could have done!"



CHAPTER XXVII


BLINDED


Tom Ryfe, walking down Berners Street in the worst of humours, saw the
whole game he had been playing slipping out of his hands. If there
were to be no duel, all the trouble he had taken went for nothing;
and even should there be an unseemly _fracas_, and should a meeting
afterwards take place between Lord Bearwarden and Dick Stanmore, what
good would it do him, if her ladyship's name were kept out of the
quarrel? How he cursed this cockney painter's resolution and good
sense! How he longed for some fierce encounter, some desperate
measure, something, no matter what, that should bring affairs to a
crisis! It seemed so silly, so childlike, to be baffled now. Yes, he
had set his heart on Lady Bearwarden. The great master-passion of
his life had gone on gathering and growing till it became, as such
master-passions will, when there is neither honour nor religion to
check them, a fury, over which he had lost all control. And he felt
that, having gone so far, there was no crime, no outrage, he would
shrink from committing, to obtain what he desired now.

When a man is thus ripe for evil he seldom wants opportunity. It must
be admitted the devil never throws a chance away. Open your hand, and
ere you can close it again, he slips a tool in, expressly adapted for
the purpose you design--a tool that, before you have done with it, you
may be sure, will cut your own fingers to the bone.

"Beg pardon, sir, can I speak to you for a minute?" said a
gaudily-dressed, vulgar-looking personage, crossing the street to
accost Tom Ryfe as he emerged from the painter's house. "It's about
a lady. About her ladyship, askin' your pardon. Lady Bearwarden, you
know."

That name was a talisman to arrest Tom's attention. He looked his man
over from head to foot, and thought he had never seen a more ruffianly
bearing, a wilder, sadder face.

"Come up this by-street," said he. "Speak out--I'll keep your counsel,
and I'll pay you well. That's what you mean, I suppose. That's
business. What about Lady Bearwarden?"

The man cursed her deeply, bitterly, ere he replied--"I know _you_,
sir, an' so I ought to, though you don't know _me_. Mr. Ryfe, I seen
you in Belgrave Square, along of _her_. You was a-courtin' of her
then. You owes her more than one good turn now, or I'm mistaken!"

"Who the devil are you?" asked Tom, startled, and with reason; yet
conscious, in his dark, dreary despair, of a vague glimmer, bearing
the same relation to hope that a will-o'-the-wisp does to the light on
our hearth at home.

The man looked about him. That narrow street was deserted but for
themselves.

He stared in Tom's face with a certain desperate frankness. "I'll tell
ye who I am," said he; "if you an' me is to go in for this job, as
true pals, let's have no secrets between us, an' bear no malice. They
call me 'Gentleman Jim,' Mr. Ryfe, that's what they call me. I'm the
man as hocussed you that there arternoon, down Westminster way. I was
set on to that job, I was. Set on by _her_. I squeezed hard, I know.
All in the way o' business. But I might have squeezed _harder_, Mr.
Ryfe. You should think o' that!"

"You infernal scoundrel!" exclaimed Tom, yet in a tone neither so
astonished nor so indignant as his informant expected. "If you had,
you'd have been hanged for murder. Well, it's not _you_ I ought to
blame. What have you got to say? You can help me--I see it in your
face. Out with it. You speak to a man as desperate as yourself."

"I knowed it!" exclaimed the other. "When you come out o' that there
house, I seen it in the way as you slammed to that there door. Says I,
there's the man as I wants, an' the man as wants me! I follered you
this mornin' from your hotel, an' a precious job I had keepin' up with
your hansom, though the driver, as works by times with a pal o' mine,
he kep' on easy when he could. I watched of the house, ah! an hour an'
more, an' I never turned my head away but to get a drop o' beer from a
lad as I sent round to the Grapes for a quart. Bless ye! I hadn't but
just emptied the pot, when I see a lady--the very moral of her as we
knows on--pops round the corner into Oxford Street. I was in two minds
whether to foller, but thinks I, it's Mr. Ryfe as I'm a-lookin' for,
an' if it _was_ she, we couldn't trap her now, not in a crowded place
like that. Besides, I see a servant-gal takin' home the beer drop her
a curtsey as she went by. No, it couldn't be my lady; but if so be as
you an' me is of the same mind, Mr. Ryfe, my lady shall be safe in a
cage afore this time to-morrow, and never a man to keep the key but
yourself, Mr. Ryfe, if you'll only be guided by a true friend."

"Who set you on to this?" asked Tom, coolly enough, considering that
his blood was boiling with all the worst and fiercest passions of his
nature. "What do you expect to gain from injury inflicted on" (he
could not get the name out)--"on the lady you mention?"

Jim laughed--a harsh, grating laugh. "You're a deep 'un, Mr. Ryfe!" he
answered. "I won't deceive you. I put this here in your way because
there's two things as I must have to work the job as I ain't got.
One's money, and t'other's gumption. I ain't rich enough, and I ain't
hartful enough. I owe my lady a turn, too, never you mind what for,
and strike me dead but I'll pay it up! I ain't a-going to say as I
wouldn't ha' worked this here off, clear, single-handed, if I'd had
the chance. I'm not telling you a lie, Mr. Ryfe; you and me can do it
together, an' I'll only charge you fair and reasonable. Ah! not half
what you'd take an' offer this minute if I was to stand out for a
price."

Tom Ryfe turned round, put both hands on the other's shoulders, and
laughed too.

"We understand each other," said he. "Never mind the price. If the
work's done to please me, I'm not likely to grudge the money. You've
some plan in your head by which you think we can both gain what we
most desire. I know you're a resolute fellow. Hang it! my throat's
still sore where you got that cursed grip of yours inside my collar.
You can believe I'm not easily thwarted, or I should hardly be here
now. Explain yourself. Let me know your plan. If it is anything like
practicable, you and I ought to be able to carry it out."

Then Jim, not without circumlocution and many hideous oaths, detailed
in his hearer's willing ears the scheme he had in view. He proposed,
with Mr. Ryfe's assistance, to accomplish no less flagrant an outrage
than the forcible abduction of Lady Bearwarden from her home.
He suggested that his listener, of whose skill in penmanship he
entertained a high opinion, should write such a letter as might lure
her ladyship into a lonely, ill-lighted locality, not far from her own
door; and Tom, appreciating the anxiety she must now feel about her
husband's movements, saw no difficulty in the accomplishment of such
a stratagem. This desperate couple were then to be ready with a
four-wheeled cab, a shawl, and a cleverly-constructed gag, in which
screaming was impossible. Tom should enact the part of driver, while
Jim, being the stronger man of the two, should seize and pinion her
ladyship in his grasp. Mute and muffled, she was to be forced into
the cab, which could then be driven off to that very lodging in the
purlieus of Westminster which Tom knew, by his own experiences, was
far removed from assistance or inquiry. Once in Mr. Ryfe's hands,
Jim observed, the captive would only be too glad to make terms, and
arrangements for taking her out of London down the river, or in any
other direction, could be entered into at leisure. Mr. Ryfe surely
would not require more than twelve hours to come to an understanding
with a lady irrevocably in his power. And all the while, deep in this
bold villain's breast lurked a dark, fierce, terrible reflection
that one more crime, only one more--almost, indeed, an act of wild
retributive justice on his confederate--and that proud, tameless woman
would be crouching in the dust, praying for mercy at the feet of the
desperate man she had reviled and despised.

Gentleman Jim, maddened by a course of dram-drinking, blinded by
an infatuation that itself constituted insanity, was hardly to be
considered an accountable being. It may be that under the mass of
guilt and impurity with which his whole being was loaded, there
glimmered some faint spark of manlier and worthier feeling; it may
be, that he entertained some vague notion of appearing before the
high-born lady in the light of a preserver, with the blood of the
smoother and more polished scoundrel on his hands, and of setting her
free, while he declared his hopeless, his unalterable devotion, sealed
by the sacrifice of two lives, for, as he often expressed it in
imaginary conversations with his idol, "he asked no better than to
swing for her sake!"

Who knows? Fanaticism has its martyrs, like religion. It is not only
the savage heathen who run under Juggernaut every day. Diseased
brains, corrupt hearts, and impossible desires go far to constitute
aberration of intellect. Unreasoning love, and unlimited liquor, will
make a man fool enough for anything.

Tom Ryfe listened, well pleased. For him there was neither the excuse
of drink nor despair, yet he, too, entertained some notion of home and
happiness hereafter, when she found nobody in the world to turn to but
himself, and had forgiven him her wrongs because of the tenacity with
which he clung to her in spite of all.

Of his friend, and the position he must leave him in, he made no
account.

Something very disagreeable came across him, indeed, when he thought
of Lord Bearwarden's resolute character--his practical notions
concerning the redress of injury or insult; but all such apprehensions
were for the future. The present must be a time of action. If only
to-night's _coup de main_ should come off successfully, he might cross
the Atlantic with his prey, and remain in safe seclusion till the
outrage had been so far forgotten by the public that those at home
whom it most affected would be unwilling to rekindle the embers of a
scandal half-smothered and dying out. Tom Ryfe was not without ready
money. He calculated he could live for at least a year in some foreign
clime, far beyond the western wave, luxuriously enough. A year!
With _her_! Why it seemed an eternity; and even in that moment his
companion was wondering, half-stupidly, how Mr. Ryfe would look with
his throat cut, or his head laid open, weltering in blood; and when
and where it would be advisable to put this finishing stroke of murder
and perfidy to the crimes he meditated to-night.

Ere these confederates parted, however, two letters had to be written
in a stationer's shop. They were directed by the same pen, though
apparently in different handwritings, to Lord and Lady Bearwarden at
their respective addresses.

The first was as follows--

  DEAR LORD BEARWARDEN,

  "They won't fight! All sorts of difficulties have
  been made, and even if we can obtain a meeting at last, it
  must be after considerable delay. In the meantime I have
  business of my own which forces me to leave town for
  four-and-twenty hours at least. If possible, I will look
  you up before I start. If not, send a line to the office.
  I shall find it on my return: these matters complicate
  themselves as they go on, but I still venture to hope you
  may leave the conduct of the present affair with perfect
  safety in my hands, and I remain, with much sympathy,"

  Your lordship's obedient servant,

  THOMAS RYFE.

The second, though a very short production, took longer time, both in
composition and penmanship. It was written purposely on a scrap of
paper from which the stationer's name and the water-mark had been
carefully torn off. It consisted but of these lines--

  "A cruel mystery has deprived you of your husband.
  You have courage. Walk out to-night at eight, fifty yards
  from your own door. Turn to the right--I will meet you
  and explain all."

  "My reputation is at stake. I trust you as one woman
  trusts another. Seek to learn no more."

"That will bring her," thought Tom, "for she fears nothing!" and he
sealed the letter with a dab of black wax flattened by the impression
of the woman's thimble, who kept the shop.

There was a Court Guide on the counter. Tom Ryfe knew Lady
Bearwarden's address as well as his own, yet from a methodical and
lawyer-like habit of accuracy, seeing that it lay open at the letter
B, he glanced his eye, and ran his finger down the page to stop at the
very bottom, and thus verify, as it were, his own recollection of his
lordship's number, ere he paid for the paper and walked away to post
his letters in company with Jim, who waited outside.

The stationer, fitting shelves in his back shop, was a man of
observation and some eccentricity.

"Poll," said he to his wife, "it's an uncertain business, is the
book-trade. A Court Guide hasn't been asked for over that counter, no,
not for six months, and here's two parties come in and look at it in
a morning. There's nothing goes off, to depend on, but hymns. Both
of 'em wanted the same address, I do believe, for I took notice each
stopped in the same column at the very foot. Nothing escapes me, lass!
However, that isn't no business of yours nor mine."

The wife, a woman of few words and abrupt demeanour, made a pounce at
the Court Guide to put it back in its place, but her "master," as she
somewhat inconsequently called him, interposed.

"Let it be, lass!" said he. "There's luck in odd numbers, they say.
Who knows but we mayn't have a third party come in on the same errand?
Let it be, and go make the toast. It's getting on for tea-time, and
the fire in the back parlour's nearly out."

When these letters were posted, the confederates, feeling themselves
fairly embarked on their joint scheme, separated to advance each his
own share of the contemplated enormity. Tom Ryfe jumped into a cab,
and was off on a multiplicity of errands, while Jim, pondering deeply
with his head down, and his hands thrust into his coat-pockets, slunk
towards Holborn, revolving in his mind the least he could offer some
dissipated cabman, whose licence was in danger at any rate, for the
hire of horse and vehicle during the ensuing night.

Feeling his sleeve plucked feebly from behind, he broke off these
meditations, to turn round with a savage oath.

What a dreary face was that which met his arm! Pale and gaunt, with
the hollow eyes that denote bodily suffering, and the deep cruel lines
that speak of mental care. What a thin wasted hand was laid on his
burly arm, in its velveteen sleeve; and what a weak faint voice in
trembling accents, urged its sad, wistful prayer.

"Speak to me, Jim--won't you speak to me, dear? I've looked for you
day and night, and followed you mile after mile till I'm ready to lie
down and die here on the cold stones."

"Bother!" replied Jim, shaking himself free. "I'm busy, I tell ye.
What call had you, I should like to know, to be tracking, and hunting
of me about, as if I was a--well--a fancy dog we'll say, as had
strayed out of a parlour? Go home, I tell ye, or it'll be the worse
for ye!"

"You don't love me no more, Jim!" said the woman. There was a calm
sadness in her voice speaking of that resignation which is but the
apathy of despair.

"Well--I don't. There!" replied Jim, acceding to this proposition with
great promptitude.

"But you can't keep me off of loving _you_, Jim," she replied, with a
wild stare; "nobody can't keep me off of that. Won't ye think better
of it, old man? Give us one chance more, that's a good chap. It's for
dear life I'm askin'!"

She had wound both hands round his arm, and was hanging to it with all
her weight. How light a burden it seemed, to which those limp rags
clung so shabbily, compared with the substantial frame he remembered
in former days, when Dorothea was honest, hard-working, and happy.

"It ain't o' no use tryin' on of these here games," said he,
unclasping the poor weak hands with brutal force. "Come! I can't stop
all day. Shut up, I tell ye! you'll wish you had by and by."

"O! Jim," she pleaded. "Is it come to this? Never say it, dear. If you
and me is to part in anger now we'll not meet again. Leastways, not
on this earth. And if it's true, as I was taught at Sunday-school,
heaven's too good a place for us!"

"Go to h----ll!" exclaimed the ruffian furiously; and he flung her from
him with a force that would have brought her to the ground had she not
caught at the street railings for support.

She moaned and sat down on a doorstep a few paces off, without looking
up.

For a moment Jim's heart smote him, and he thought to turn back, but
in his maddened brain there rose a vision of the pale, haughty face,
the queenly bearing, the commanding gestures that bade him kneel to
worship, and with another oath--remorseless, pitiless, untouched, and
unrepentant--he passed on to his iniquity.

Dorothea sat with head bent down, and hands clasped about her knees,
unconscious, as it seemed, of all the world outside. The heart knoweth
its own bitterness, and who shall say what expiation she may not
have made for sin in that dull trance of pain which took no note of
circumstance, kept no count of time?

Ere long, a policeman, good-humoured but imperative, touched her on
the shoulder, and bade her "move on."

The face that looked up to him puzzled this functionary extremely. The
woman was sober enough, he could see, and yet there seemed something
queer about her, uncommon queer: he was blessed if he knew what to
make of her, and he had been a goodish time in the force, too!

She thanked him very quietly. She had been taking a rest, she said,
thinking no harm, for she was tired, and now she would go home. Yes,
she was dead-tired, she had better go home!

Wrapping her faded shawl about her, she glided on, instinctively
avoiding the jostling of foot-passengers and the trampling of
horses, proceeding at an even, leisurely pace, with something of the
sleep-walker's wandering step and gestures. The roll of wheels came
dull and muffled on her ear: those were phantoms surely, those
meaningless faces that met her in the street, not living men and
women, and yet she had a distinct perception of an apple-woman's
stall, of some sham jewelry she saw in a shop-window. She was near
turning back then, but it didn't seem worth while, and it was less
trouble to plod stupidly on, always westward, always towards the
setting sun!

Without knowing how she got there, presently she felt tufts of grass
beneath her feet dank with dew, growing greener and coarser under
large towering elms. O! she knew an elm-tree well enough! She was
country bred, she was, and could milk a cow long ago.

It wasn't Kensington Gardens, was it? She didn't remember whether
she'd ever been here before or not. She'd heard of the place, of
course, indeed Jim had promised to take her there some Sunday. Then
she shivered from head to foot, and wrapped her shawl tight round her
as she walked on.

What was that shining far-off between the trees, cool, and quiet, and
bright, like heaven? Could it be the water? That was what had brought
her, to be sure. She remembered all about it now and hurried forward
with quick, irregular steps, causing her breath to come thick, and her
heart to beat with sudden choking throbs.

She pulled at her collar, and undid its fastenings. She took her
bonnet off and swung it in her hand. The soiled tawdry ribbon had been
given her by Jim, long ago. Was it long ago? She couldn't tell, and
what did it matter? She wouldn't have looked twice at it a while back.
She might kiss and cuddle it now, if she'd a mind.

What a long way off that water seemed! Not there yet, and she had been
walking--walking like the wayfarer she remembered to have read of in
the _Pilgrim's Progress_. All in a moment, with a flash, as it were,
of its own light, there it lay glistening at her feet. Another step
and she would have been in head-foremost! There was time enough. How
cool and quiet it looked! She sat down on the brink and wondered why
she was born!

Would Jim feel it very much? Ah! they'd none of them care for him like
she used. He'd find that out at last. How could he? How _could_ he?
She'd given him fair warning!

She'd do it now. This moment, while she'd a mind to it. Afraid! Why
should she be afraid? Better than the gin-palace! Better than the
workhouse! Better than the cold cruel streets! She couldn't be worse
off anywhere than here! Once! Twice!

Her head swam. She was rising to her feet, when a light touch rested
on her shoulder, and the sweetest voice that had ever sounded in poor
Dorothea's ears, whispered softly, "You are ill, my good woman. Don't
sit here on the damp grass. Come home with me."

What did it mean? Was it over? Could this be one of the angels, and
had she got to heaven after all? No; there were the trees, the grass,
the distant roar of the city, and the peaceful water--fair, smooth,
serene, like the face of a friend.

She burst into a fit of hysterical weeping, cowering under that kindly
touch as if it had been a mountain to crush her, rocking herself to
and fro, sobbing out wildly, "I wish I was dead! I wish I was dead!"



CHAPTER XXVIII


BEAT


Like a disturbed spirit Lady Bearwarden wandered about in the fever
of a sorrow, so keen that her whole soul would sometimes rise in
rebellion against the unaccustomed pain. There was something stifling
to her senses in the fact of remaining between the four walls of a
house. She panted for air, motion, freedom, and betook herself to
Kensington Gardens, partly because that beautiful retreat lay within
an easy walk of her house, partly perhaps, that for her, as for many
of us, it had been brightened by a certain transient and delusive
light which turns everything to gold while it lasts, leaves everything
but a dull dim copper when it has passed away.

It was a benevolent and merciful restriction, no doubt, that debarred
our first parents from re-entering the paradise they had forfeited.
Better far to carry away unsullied and unfaded the sweet sad memories
of the Happy Land, than revisit it to find weeds grown rank, fountains
dry, the skies darkened, the song of birds hushed, its bloom faded off
the flower, and its glory departed from the day.

She used to sit here in the shade with _him_. There was the very tree.
Even the broken chair they had laughed at was not mended, and yet for
her a century ago could not have seemed a more hopeless past. Other
springs would bloom with coming years, other summers glow, and she
could not doubt that many another worshipper would kneel humbly and
gratefully at her shrine, but their votive garlands could never more
glisten with the fresh dew of morning, the fumes from their lower
altars, though they might lull the senses and intoxicate the brain,
could never thrill like that earlier incense, with subtle sudden
poison to her heart.

To be sure, on more than one occasion she had walked here with Dick
Stanmore too. It was but human nature, I suppose, that she should have
looked on that gentleman's grievances from a totally different point
of view. It couldn't be half so bad in his case, she argued, men had
so many resources, so many distractions. She was sorry for him, of
course, but he couldn't be expected to feel a disappointment of this
nature like a woman, and, after all, theirs was more a flirtation
than an attachment. He need not have minded it so very much, and had
probably fancied he cared a great deal more than he really did.

It is thus we are all prone to reason, gauging the tide of each
other's feelings by the ebb and flow of our own.

Love, diffused amongst the species, is the best and purest of
earthly motives, concentrated on the individual it seems but a dual
selfishness after all.

There were few occupants of the Gardens; here two or three
nursery-maids and children, there a foreign gentleman reading a
newspaper. Occasionally, in some rare sequestered nook, an umbrella,
springing up unnecessarily and defiantly like a toadstool, above
two male legs and a muslin skirt. Lady Bearwarden passed on, with a
haughty step, and a bitter smile.

There is something of freemasonry in sorrow. Dorothea's vague
abstracted gait arrested Maud's attention even from a distance, and
involuntarily the delicate lady followed on the track of that limp
shabby figure with which she had but this one unconscious link, of a
common sorrow, an aching heart.

Approaching nearer, she watched the poor sufferer with a curiosity
that soon grew to interest and even alarm.

While Dorothea sat herself down by the water's edge, her ladyship
looked round in vain for a policeman or a park-keeper, holding herself
in readiness to prevent the horror she already anticipated, and
which drove clear off her mind every thought of her own regrets and
despondency.


There was no time to lose; when the despairing woman half rose to her
feet, Lady Bearwarden interposed, calm, collected, and commanding in
the courage which had hitherto never failed her in an emergency.

That burst of hysterical tears, that despairing cry, "I wish I was
dead!" told her for the present Dorothea was saved. She sat down on
the grass by her side. She took the poor coarse hands in her own. She
laid the drooping head on her lap, and with gentle, loving phrases,
such as soothe a suffering child, encouraged the helpless wretch to
weep and sob her fill.

She could have wept too for company, because of the load that seemed
lifted in an instant from her own breast; but this was a time for
action, and at such a season it was no part of Maud's nature to sit
down and cry.

It was long ere the numbed heart and surcharged brain had relieved
themselves sufficiently for apprehension and intelligible speech.
Dorothea's first impulse, on coming to herself, was to smooth her
unkempt hair and apologise for the disorder of her costume.

"If ever mind your dress," said Lady Bearwarden, resuming, now the
crisis was past, her habitual air of authority, conscious that it
would be most efficacious under the circumstances. "You are tired and
exhausted. You must have food and rest. I ask no questions, and I
listen to no explanations, at least till to-morrow. Can you walk to
the gate? You must come home with me."

"O, miss! O, my lady!" stammered poor Dorothea, quite overcome by such
unlikely sympathy, such unexpected succour. "It's too much! It's too
much! I'm not fit for it! If you only knowed what I am!" then, lifting
her eyes to the other's face, a pang, keener than all previous
sufferings, went through her woman's heart like the thrust of a knife.
It all came on her at once. This beautiful being, clad in shining
raiment, who had saved and soothed her like an angel from heaven, was
the pale girl Jim had gone to visit in her stately, luxurious home,
when she followed him so far through those weary streets on the night
of the thunderstorm.

She could bear no more. Her physical system gave way, just as a tree
that has sustained crash after crash falls with the last well-directed
blow. She rolled her eyes, lifted both bare arms above her head, and
with a faint despairing cry, went down at Lady Bearwarden's feet,
motionless and helpless as the dead.

But assistance was at hand at last. A park-keeper helped to raise the
prostrate figure. An elderly gentleman volunteered to fetch a cab.
Amongst them they supported Dorothea to the gate and placed her in the
vehicle. The park-keeper touched his hat, the elderly gentleman made
a profusion of bows, and as many offers of assistance which were
declined, while Maud, soothing and supporting her charge, told the
driver where to stop. As they jingled and rattled away from the gate,
a pardonable curiosity prompted the elderly gentleman to inquire the
name of this beautiful Samaritan, clad in silks and satins, so
ready to succour the fallen and give shelter to the homeless. The
park-keeper took his hat off, looked in the crown, and put it on
again.

"I see her once afore under them trees," he said, "with a gentleman. I
see a many and I don't often take notice. But she's a rare sort, she
is! and as good as she's good-looking. I wish you a good-evening,
sir."

Then he retired into his cabin and ruminated on this "precious start,"
as he called it, during his tea.

Meantime, Maud took her charge home, and would fain have put her to
bed. For this sanatory measure, however, Dorothea, who had recovered
consciousness, seemed to entertain an unaccountable repugnance. She
consented, indeed, to lie down for an hour or two, but could not
conceal a wild, restless anxiety to depart as soon as possible.
Something more than the obvious astonishment of the servants,
something more than the incongruity of the situation, seemed prompting
her to leave Lady Bearwarden's house without delay and fly from the
presence of almost the first friend she had ever known in her life.

When the bustle and excitement consequent on this little adventure had
subsided, her ladyship found herself once more face to face with her
own sorrow, and the despondency she had shaken off during a time of
action gathered again all the blacker and heavier round her heart. She
was glad to find distraction in the arrival of a nameless visitor,
announced by the most pompous of footmen as "a young person desirous
of waiting on her ladyship."

"Show her up," said Lady Bearwarden; and for the first time in their
lives the two sisters stood face to face.

Each started, as if she had come suddenly on her own reflection in a
mirror. During a few seconds both looked stupefied, bewildered. Lady
Bearwarden spoke first.

"You wish to see me, I believe. A sick person has just been brought
into the house, and we are rather in confusion. I fear you have been
kept waiting."

"I called while your ladyship was out," answered Nina. "So I walked
about till I thought you must have come home again. You've never seen
me before--I didn't even know where you lived--I found your address
in the Court Guide--O! I can't say it properly, but I did so want to
speak to you. I hope I haven't done anything rude or wrong."

There was no mistaking the refinement of Nina's voice and manner.

Lady Bearwarden recognised one of her own station at a glance. And
this girl so like herself--how beautiful she was! How beautiful they
both were!

"What can I do for you?" said her ladyship, very kindly. "Sit down; I
am sure you must be tired."

But Nina had too much of her sister's character to feel tired when
there was a purpose to carry out. The girl stood erect and looked full
in her ladyship's face. All unconscious of their relationship,
the likeness between them was at this moment so striking as to be
ludicrous.

"I have come on a strange errand, Lady Bearwarden," said Nina,
hardening her heart for the impending effort--"I have come to tell a
truth and to put a question. I suppose, even now, you have some regard
for your husband?"

Lady Bearwarden started. "What do you know about my husband?" she
asked, turning very pale.

"That he is in danger," was the answer, in a voice of such
preternatural fortitude as promised a speedy break-down. "That he is
going to fight a duel--and it's about _you_--with--with Mr. Stanmore!
O! Lady Bearwarden, how _could_ you? You'd everything in the world,
everything to make a woman good and happy, and now, see what you've
done!"

Tears and choking sobs were coming thick, but she kept them back.

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Maud, trembling in every limb, for
through the dark midnight of her misery she began to see gleams of a
coming dawn.

"I mean _this_," answered Nina, steadying herself bravely. "Lord
Bearwarden has found everything out. He has sent a challenge to Mr.
Stanmore. I--I--care for Mr. Stanmore, Lady Bearwarden--at least, I
_did_. I was engaged to him." (Here, notwithstanding the tumult of her
feelings, a little twinge crossed Lady Bearwarden to learn how quickly
Dick had consoled himself.) "I'm only a girl, but I know these things
_can_ be prevented, and that's why I'm here now. You've done the
mischief; you are bound to repair it; and I have a right to come to
you for help."

"But I haven't done anything!" pleaded Maud, in for humbler tones than
she habitually used. "I love my husband very dearly, and I've not
set eyes on Mr. Stanmore but once since I married, in Oxford Street,
looking into a shop-window, and directly he caught sight of me, he got
out of the way as if I had the plague! There's some mistake. Not a
minute should be lost in setting it right. I wonder what we ought to
do!"

"And--and you're not in love with Mr. Stanmore? and he isn't going to
run away with you? Lady Bearwarden, are you quite sure? And I don't
deserve to be so happy. I judged him so harshly, so unkindly. What
will he think of me when he knows it? He'll never speak to me again."

Then the tears came in good earnest, and presently Miss Algernon
grew more composed, giving her hostess an account of herself, her
prospects, her Putney home, and the person she most depended on in the
world to get them all out of their present difficulty, Simon Perkins,
the painter. "I know he can stop it," pursued Nina eagerly, "and be
will, too. He told the other man nothing should be done in a hurry.
I heard him say so, for I listened, Lady Bearwarden, I _did_. And I
would again if I had the same reason. Wouldn't _you_? I hope the other
man will be hanged. He seemed to want them so to kill each other.
Don't you think he can be punished? For it's murder, you know,
_really_, after all."

Without entering into the vexed question of duelling--a practice for
which each lady in her heart entertained a secret respect--the sisters
consulted long and earnestly on the best method of preventing a
conflict that should endanger the two lives now dearer to them than
ever.

They drank tea over it, we may be sure, and in the course of that
refreshment could not fail to observe how the gloves they laid aside
were the same number (six and three-quarters, if you would like to
know), how their hands were precisely similar in shape, how the turn
of their arms and wrists corresponded as closely as the tone of their
voices. Each thought she liked the other better than any one she had
ever met of her own sex.

After a long debate it was decided that Nina should return at once to
her Putney home, doubtless ere now much disturbed at her prolonged
absence; that she should have full powers to inform Simon of all the
confidences regarding her husband Lady Bearwarden had poured in her
ear; should authorise him to seek his lordship out and tell him the
whole truth on his wife's behalf; also, finally, for women rarely
neglect the worship of Nemesis, that after a general reconciliation
had been effected, measures should be taken for bringing to condign
punishment the false friend who had been at such pains to foment
hostilities between the men they both loved.

Lady Bearwarden had her hand on the bell to order the carriage for her
visitor, but the latter would not hear of it.

"I can get a cab every twenty yards in this part of the town," said
Nina. "I shall be home in three-quarters of an hour. It's hardly dark
yet, and I'm quite used to going about by myself. I am not at all a
coward, Lady Bearwarden, but my aunts would be horribly alarmed if one
of your smart carriages drove up to the gate. Besides, I don't believe
it could turn round in the lane. No; I won't even have a servant,
thanks. I'll put my bonnet on and start at once, please. You've been
very kind to me, and I'm so much obliged. Good-night!"



CHAPTER XXIX


NIGHT-HAWKS


Lord Bearwarden's groom of the chambers, a person by no means
deficient in self-confidence, owned that he was mystified. Amongst
all the domestic dissensions with which his situation had made him
familiar, he could recall nothing like his present experience. This
bringing home of a shabby woman out of the street and ordering the
best bedroom for her reception; this visit of a beautiful young person
so exactly resembling his mistress that, but for the evidence of his
own senses, when he brought in tea and found them together, he could
have sworn it was her ladyship; this general confusion of household
arrangements, and culpable indifference to the important ceremony of
dinner, forced him to admit that he was in a position of which he
had no preconceived idea, and from which he doubted whether he could
extricate himself with the dignity essential to his office.

Returning to his own department, and glancing at the letter-box in the
hall, he reflected with satisfaction how his professional duties
had been scrupulously fulfilled, and how in accordance with his
misconception of Lord Bearwarden's orders, every packet that reached
the house had been forwarded to its master without delay.

Hence it came to pass, that the vexed and angry husband received in
due course of post a letter which puzzled him exceedingly.

He had only just digested Tom Ryfe's unwelcome missive, announcing
somewhat vaguely that the revenge for which he panted must be delayed
two or three days at least, and had cursed, energetically enough,
his own friend's mismanagement of the affair, with the scruples
entertained by the other side, when a fresh budget was placed in his
hands, and he opened the envelopes as people often do, without looking
at their addresses: thus it fell out, that he read the anonymous
letter directed to his wife, asking for a meeting that same night, in
the vicinity of his own house.

"A cruel mystery has deprived you of your husband." What could
it mean? He studied the brief communication very attentively,
particularly that first line. And a vague hope rose in his loving,
generous heart, that he might have judged her too harshly after all.
It was but the faintest spark, yet he tried hard to kindle it into
flame. The wariest rogue is never armed on all sides. He is sure to
forget some trifling precaution, that, left unguarded, is like the
chink in a shutter to let in the light of day. Lord Bearwarden
recognised the same hand that had penned the anonymous letter he
received on guard--this argued a plot of some sort. He resolved to
sift the matter thoroughly, and instead of forwarding so mysterious a
request to his wife, repair to the indicated spot in person, and there
by threats, bribery, compulsion, any or all means in his power, arrive
at a true solution of the mystery.

It was a welcome distraction, too, this new idea, with which to while
away the weary interminable day. It seemed well perhaps, after all,
that the duel had been postponed. He might learn something to-night
that would change the whole current of his actions, if not, let Mr.
Stanmore look to himself!

That gentleman, in the meantime, had completely forgotten Lord
Bearwarden's existence--had forgotten Mr. Ryfe's visit the night
before at his club, the unintelligible quarrel, the proposed meeting,
everything but that Nina was lost. Lost! a stray lamb, helpless in the
streets of London! His blood ran cold to think of it. He hastened down
to Putney, and indeed only knew that he had made so sure of finding
her there, by his disappointment to learn she had not returned home.
It made his task no easier that Aunt Susannah was in the garden when
he reached the house, and he had to dissemble his alarm in presence of
that weak-minded and affectionate spinster. "He was passing by," he
said, "on his way to town, and only looked in (he couldn't stay a
moment) to know if they had any message to--to their nephew. He was
going straight from here to the painting-room."

"How considerate!" said Aunt Susannah; not without reason, for it was
but this morning they parted with Simon, and they expected him back to
dinner. "We have a few autumn flowers left. I'll just run in, and
get the scissors to make up a nosegay. It won't take ten minutes. O!
nothing like ten minutes! You can give it to poor Simon with our dear
love. He's so fond of flowers! and Nina too. But perhaps you know
Nina's tastes as well as we do, and indeed I think they're very
creditable to her, and she's not at all a bad judge!"

Then the good lady, shaking her grey curls, smiled and looked knowing,
while Dick cursed her below his breath, for a grinning old idiot, and
glared wildly about him, like a beast in a trap seeking some way of
escape. It was provoking, no doubt, to be kept talking platitudes to a
silly old woman in the garden, while every moment drifted his heart's
treasure farther and farther into the uncertainty he scarcely dared to
contemplate.

Some women are totally deficient in the essentially feminine quality
of tact. Aunt Susannah, with a pocket-handkerchief tied round her
head, might have stood drivelling nonsense to her visitor for an hour,
and never found out he wanted to get away. Fortunately, she went
indoors for her scissors, and Dick, regardless of the proprieties,
made his escape forthwith, thus avoiding also the ignominy of carrying
back to London a nosegay as big as a chimney-sweep's on May-day.

Hastening to the painting-room, his worst fears were realised. Nina
had not returned. Simon, too, began to share his alarm, and not
without considerable misgivings did the two men hold counsel on their
future movements.

It occurred to them at this juncture, that the maid-of-all-work
below-stairs might possibly impart some information as to the exact
time when the young lady left the house. They rang for that domestic
accordingly, and bewildered her with a variety of questions in vain.

Had she seen Miss Algernon during the morning? She was to think, and
take time, and answer without being frightened.

"Miss Algernon! Lor! that was her as come here most days, along o'
him," with a backward nod at Dick. "No--she hadn't a-seen her to-day,
she was sure. Not _particler_, that was. Not more nor any other day."

"Had she seen her at all?"

"O, yes! she'd seen her at all. In course, you know, she couldn't be
off of seeing her at all!"

"When did she see her?"

"When? O! last week, every day a'most. And the week afore that too!
She wasn't a-goin' to tell a lie!"

"Then she hadn't seen her this morning?"

"Yes, she'd seen her this morning. When she come in, you know, along
o' the other gentleman." Here a dive of the shock head at Simon, and
symptoms of approaching emotion.

"Why you said you hadn't at first!" exclaimed Dick, perplexed and
provoked.

Forthwith a burst of sobs and tears.

"Compose yourself, my good girl," said the painter kindly. "We don't
want to hurry nor confuse you. We are in great distress ourselves.
Miss Algernon went out, we believe, to take a walk. She has not
returned here, nor gone home. It would help us very much if we knew
the exact time at which she left the house, or could find anybody who
saw her after she went away."

If you want a woman to help you, even a maid-of-all-work, tell her
your whole story, and make no half-confidences: the drudge brightened
up through her tears, and assumed a look of intelligence at once.

"Lor!" said she, "why didn't ye say so? In course I see the young
lady, as I was a-fetchin' in the dinner beer. She'd a-got her bonnet
on, I took notice, and was maybe goin' for a walk, or to get a few
odds and ends, or such like."

Here a full stop with a curtsey. The men looked at each other and
waited.


"She went into a shop round the corner, for I seen her myself. A
stationer's shop it were. An' I come home then, with the beer, an'
shut to the door, an' I couldn't tell you no more; no, not if you was
to take and kill me dead this very minute!"

Stronger symptoms of agitation now appearing, Simon thought well
to dismiss this incoherent witness, and proceed at once to the
stationer's shop in quest of further intelligence. Its proprietor was
ready to furnish all the information in his power.

"Had a lady answering their description been in his shop?" "Well, a
great many ladies come backwards and forwards, you know. Trade wasn't
very brisk just now, but there was always something doing in the fancy
stationery line. It was a light business, and most of his customers
were females. His 'missis' didn't take much notice, but he happened to
be something of a physiognomist himself, and a face never escaped him.
A very beautiful young lady, was it? Tall, pale, with dark eyes and
hair. Certainly, no doubt, that must be the party. Stepped in about
dinner-time; seemed anxious and in a hurry, as you might say; didn't
take any order from her,--the young lady only asked as a favour to
look into their Court Guide. There it lay, just as she left it.
Singular enough, another party had come in afterwards to write a
letter, and took the same address, he believed, right at the foot of
the column; these were trifles, but it was his way to notice trifles.
He was a scientific man, to a certain extent, and in science, as they
probably knew, there were no such things as trifles. He remembered a
curious story of Sir Isaac Newton. But perhaps the gentlemen were in a
hurry."

The gentlemen _were_ in a hurry. Dick Stanmore with characteristic
impetuosity had plunged at the Court Guide, to scan the page at which
it lay open with eager eyes. At the foot of the column, said this man
of science. To be sure, there it was, Barsac, Barwise, Barzillai,
Bearwarden--the very last name in the page. And yet what could Nina
want at Lord Bearwarden's house? Of all places in London why should
she go there? Nevertheless, in such a hopeless search, the vaguest
hint was welcome, the faintest clue must be followed out. So the two
men, standing in earnest colloquy, under the gas-lamps, resolved to
hunt their trail as far as Lord Bearwarden's residence without further
delay.

The more precious are the moments, the faster they seem to pass. An
autumn day had long given place to night, ere they verified this
last piece of intelligence, and acquired some definite aim for their
exertions; but neither liked to compare notes with the other, nor
express his own disheartening reflection that Nina might be wandering
so late, bewildered, lonely, and unprotected, through the labyrinths
of the great city.

In the meantime, Gentleman Jim and his confederate were fully
occupied with the details necessary to carry their infamous plot into
execution. The lawyer had drawn out from the bank all the ready money
he could lay hands on, amounting to several hundred pounds. He
had furnished Jim with ample funds to facilitate his share of the
preparations, and he had still an hour or two on hand before the
important moment arrived. That interval he devoted to his private
affairs, and those of the office, so that his uncle should be
inconvenienced as little as possible by an absence which he now hoped
might be prolonged for a considerable time.

It had been dark for more than an hour ere the accomplices met again,
equipped and ready for the work they had pledged themselves to
undertake.

Jim, indeed, contrary to his wont, when "business," as he called it,
was on hand, seemed scarcely sober; but to obtain the use of the
vehicle he required without the company of its driver, he had found
it necessary to ply the latter with liquor till he became insensible,
although the drunken man's instincts of good-fellowship bade him
insist that his generous entertainer should partake largely of the
fluids consumed at his expense. To drink down a London cabman, on
anything like fair terms, is an arduous task, even for a housebreaker,
and Jim's passions were roused to their worst by alcohol long before
he arrived with his four-wheeled cab at the appointed spot where he
was to wait for Tom Ryfe.

How he laughed to himself while he felt the pliant life-preserver
coiled in his great-coat pocket--the long, keen, murderous knife
resting against his heart. A fiend had taken possession of the man.
Already overleaping the intervening time, ignoring everything but the
crime he meditated, his chief difficulty seemed how he should dispose
of Tom's mutilated body ere he flew to reap the harvest of his guilt.

He chuckled and grinned with a fierce, savage sense of humour, while
he recalled the imperious manner in which Mr. Ryfe had taken the
initiative in their joint proceedings; as if they originated in his
own invention, were ordered solely for his own convenience; and the
tone of authority in which that gentleman had warned him not to be
late.

"It's good! That is!" said Jim, sitting on the box of the cab, and
peering into the darkness, through which a gas-lamp glimmered with
dull, uncertain rays, blurred by the autumn fog. "You'd like to be
master, you would, I dare say, all through the job, and for me to be
man! You'd best look sharp about it. I'll have that blessed life of
yours afore the sun's up to-morrow, and see who'll be master then. Ay,
and missis too! Hooray! for the cruel eyes, and the touch-me-not airs.
The proud, pale-faced devil! as thought Jim wasn't quite the equals of
the dirt beneath her feet. Steady! Here he comes."

And looming through the fog, Mr. Ryfe approached with cautious,
resolute step; carrying a revolver in his pocket, prepared to use it,
too, on occasion, with the fearless energy of a desperate man.

"Is it all ready, Jim?" said he in a whisper. "You haven't forgot the
gag? Nor the shawl to throw round her head? The least mistake upsets a
job like this."

For answer, Jim descended heavily from his seat, and holding the
cab-door open, pointed to the above-named articles lying folded on the
front seat.

"You'll drive, master," said he, with a hoarse chuckle. "You knows
the way. First turn to the left. I'll ride inside, like a lord, or a
fashionable doctor, and keep my eye on the tackle."

"It's very dark," continued Tom uneasily. "But that's all in our
favour, of course. You know her figure as well as I do. Don't forget,
now. I'll drive close to the pavement, and the instant we stop, you
must throw the shawl over her head, muffle her up, and whip her in.
This beggar can gallop, I suppose."

"He's a thoroughbred 'un," answered Jim, with a sounding pat on the
horse's bony ribs. "Leastways, so the chap as I borrowed him off swore
solemn. He was so precious drunk, I'm blessed if I think he knowed
what he meant. But howsoever, I make no doubt the critter can go when
it's pushed."

Thus speaking, Jim helped the other to mount the box, and placed
himself inside with the door open, ready to spring like a tiger when
he should catch sight of his prey.

The streets of the great city are never so deserted as an hour or
two after nightfall, and an hour or two before dawn. Not a single
passenger did they meet, and only one policeman; while the cab with
its desperate inmates rattled and jolted along on this nefarious
enterprise.

It was stopped at last, close to the footway in a dimly-lighted
street, within a hundred yards of Lord Bearwarden's house, which stood
a few doors off round the corner.

A distant clock struck the hour. That heavy clang seemed to dwell on
the gloomy stillness of the atmosphere, and both men felt their nerves
strangely jarred by the dull, familiar sound.

Their hearts beat fast. Tom began to wish he had adopted some less
unconventional means of attaining his object, and tried in vain to
drive from his mind the punishments awarded to such offences as he
meditated, by the severity of our criminal code.

Jim had but one feeling, with which heart and brain were saturated.
In a few minutes he would see her again! In a new character,
possibly--tearful, humbled, supplicating. No; his instincts told him
that not even the last extremity of danger would force a tear from
those proud eyes, nor bow that haughty head an inch. How this wild,
fierce worship maddened him! So longing, yet so slavish--so reckless,
so debased, yet all the while cursed with a certain leavening of the
true faith, that drove him to despair. But come what might, in a
few minutes he would see her again. Even at such a time, there was
something of repose and happiness in the thought.

So the quasi-thoroughbred horse went to sleep and the men waited;
waited, wondering how the lagging minutes could pass so slow.

Listen! a light footstep round the corner. The gentle rustle of
a woman's dress. A tall, slight figure gliding yonder under the
gas-lamp, coming down the street, even now, with head erect, and easy,
undulating gait.

The blood rose to Jim's brain till it beat like strokes from a
sledge-hammer. Tom shortened the reins, and tightened his grasp round
the whip.

Nearer, nearer, she came on. The pure, calm face held high aloft, the
pliant figure moving ever with the same smooth, graceful gestures.
Fortune favoured them; she stopped when she reached the cab, and
seemed about to engage it for her journey.

The men were quick to see their advantage. Jim, coiled for a spring,
shrank into the darkest corner of the vehicle. Tom, enacting driver,
jumped down, and held the door to help her in.

Catching sight of the dark figure on the front seat, she started back.
The next moment, there rose a faint stifled shriek, the shawl was over
her head. Jim's powerful arms wound themselves tight round her body,
and Tom clambered in haste to the box.

But quick feet had already rained along that fifty yards of pavement.
A powerful grasp was at the driver's throat, pulling him back between
the wheels of the cab; and he found himself struggling for life with a
strong, angry man, who swore desperately, while two more figures ran
at speed up the street.

Tom's eyes were starting, his tongue was out.

"Jim, help me!" he managed to articulate. "I'm choking."

"You infernal scoundrel!" exclaimed his antagonist, whose fury seemed
redoubled by the sound of that familiar voice: the grasp, closing
round Tom's neck like iron, threatened death unless he could get free.

An instinct of self-preservation bade him pluck at his revolver. He
got it out at the moment when Jim, setting his back to the door to
secure his captive, dealt with the heavy life-preserver a blow at the
assailant's head, which fortunately only reached his shoulder. The
latter released Tom's throat to get possession of the pistol. In the
struggle it went off. There was a hideous blasphemy, a groan, and a
heavy fall between the wheels of the cab.

Ere the smoke cleared away two more auxiliaries appeared on the scene.
With Simon Perkins's assistance, Lord Bearwarden had little difficulty
in pinioning his late antagonist, while Dick Stanmore, having lifted
the imprisoned lady out of the cab, over the housebreaker's prostrate
body, held her tightly embraced, in a transport of affection
intensified by alarm.

Lord Bearwarden, usually so collected, was now utterly stupefied and
amazed. He looked from Tom Ryfe's white face, staring over the badge
and great-coat of a London cabman, to the sinking form of his wife--as
he believed--in the arms of her lover, clinging to him for protection,
responding in utter shamelessness to his caresses and endearments.

"Mr. Stanmore!" he exclaimed, in a voice breathless from exertion, and
choking with anger. "You and I have an account to settle that cannot
be put off. Lady Bearwarden, I will see you home. Come with me this
instant."

Dick seemed as if he thought his lordship had gone mad. Nina stared
helplessly at the group. Another gasp and a fainter groan came from
the body lying underneath the cab.

"We must look to this man; he is dying," said Simon Perkins, on his
knees by the prostrate form, now motionless and insensible.

"My house is round the corner," answered Lord Bearwarden, stooping
over the fallen ruffian. "Let us take him in. All the doctors in
the world won't save him," he added, in a tone of grave pity. "He's
bleeding to death inside."

Nina had been a good deal frightened, but recovered wonderfully in
the reassuring presence of her lover. "_His_ house?" she asked, in a
sufficiently audible voice, considering her late agitation. "Who is
he, Dick, and where does he live?"

Two of the police had now arrived, and were turning their lanterns on
the party. The strong white light glared full on Miss Algernon's
face and figure, so like Lady Bearwarden's but yet to the husband's
bewildered senses so surely not his wife's.

He shook all over. His face, though flushed a moment ago, turned
deadly pale. He clutched Dick's shoulder, and his voice came dry and
husky, while he gasped--

"What is it, Stanmore? Speak, man, for the love of heaven. What does
it all mean?"

Then came question and answer; clearer, fuller, more fluent with every
sentence. And so the explanation went on: how some enemy had
roused his worst suspicions; how Lord Bearwarden, deceived by the
extraordinary likeness which he could not but acknowledge even now,
had been satisfied he saw Dick Stanmore with Maud in a hansom cab; how
he had left his home in consequence, and sent that hostile message to
Dick, which had so puzzled that gallant, open-hearted gentleman; how
a certain letter from Lady Bearwarden, addressed to Mr. Stanmore, and
forwarded to her husband, had but confirmed his suspicions; and
how, at last, an anonymous communication to the same lady, falling
accidentally into his hands, had mystified him completely, and
made him resolve to watch and follow her at the hour named, with a
desperate hope that something might be revealed to alleviate his
sufferings, to give him more certainty of action and future guidance.

"I was horribly cut up, I don't mind confessing it," said Lord
Bearwarden, with his kindly grasp still on Dick's shoulder. "And I
waited there, outside my own house, like some d----d poaching thief.
It seemed so hard I couldn't go in and see her just once more!
Presently, out she came, as I thought, and I followed, very craftily,
and not too near for fear she should look round. She didn't, though,
but walked straight on; and when I saw the cab waiting, and she
stopped as if she meant to get in, I couldn't tell what to make of it
at all."

"I was only just in time. I came that last few yards with a rush, I
give you my word! And I made a grab at the driver, thinking the best
chance was to stop the conveyance at once, or if I couldn't do that,
take a free passage with the rest of them. She wasn't going of her own
accord, I felt sure. That villain of a lawyer struggled hard. I didn't
think he'd been so good a man. I wasn't at all sorry to see you
fellows coming up. It was two to one, you know, and I do believe, if
it hadn't been for the pistol, they might have got clear off. It shot
the worst customer of the two, that poor fellow behind us, right
through the body. Under my arm, I should think, for I got a very nasty
one on the shoulder just as the smoke flew in my face. It has squared
_his_ accounts, I fancy. But here we are at my house. Let's get him
in, and then you must introduce me properly to this young lady, whose
acquaintance I have made in such an unusual manner."

The strange procession had, indeed, arrived at Lord Bearwarden's
residence. It consisted of the proprietor himself, whose right arm was
now completely disabled, but who gesticulated forcibly with his left;
of Dick Stanmore and Nina, listening to his lordship with the utmost
deference and attention; of Jim's senseless body, carried by Simon
Perkins and one policeman, while Tom Ryfe, in close custody of the
other, brought up the rear.

As they entered the hall, Lady Bearwarden's pale, astonished face was
seen looking over the banisters. Dorothea, too, creeping down-stairs,
with some vague idea of escaping from this friendly refuge, and
finding her way back, perhaps, to the cool shining Serpentine, came
full upon the group at the moment when Jim was laid tenderly down by
his bearers, and the policeman whispered audibly to his comrade that,
even if the doctor were in the next street now, he would come too
late!

She ran forward with a wild, despairing cry. She flung herself down by
the long, limp, helpless figure. She raised the drooping head with
its matted locks, its fixed, white, rigid face, and pressed it hard
against her bosom--hard to her wayward, ignorant, warped, but loving
heart.

"Speak to me, Jim!" she moaned once more, rocking backwards and
forwards in her fierce agony. "Speak to me, deary! You'll never speak
again. O! why did they stop _me_ to-day? It's cruel--cruel! Why did
they stop me? We'd have been together before now!"

And the groom of the chambers, an unwilling witness of all these
indecorous proceedings, resolved, for that one night, to do his duty
stanchly by his employer, but give up his place with inflexible
dignity on the morrow.



CHAPTER XXX


UNDER THE ACACIAS


"Out of drawing; flesh tints infamous; chiaroscuro grossly muddled; no
breadth; not much story in it; badly composed; badly treated; badly
painted altogether."

So said the reviews, laying down the infallible law of the writer,
concerning Simon Perkins's great picture. The public followed the
reviews, of course, in accordance with a generous instinct, urging
it to believe that he who can write his own language, not, indeed,
accurately, but with a certain force and rapidity, must therefore
be conversant with all the subjects on which he chooses to declaim.
Statesman, chemist, engineer, shipbuilder, soldier, above all,
navigator, painter, plasterer, and statuary; like the hungry Greek
adventurer of Juvenal, _omnia novit_: like Horace's wise man amongst
the Stoics; be the subject boots, beauty, bullocks, or the beer-trade,
he is universal instructor and referee.

  "Et sutor bonus, et solus formosus, et est rex."

So reviewers abused the picture persistently, and Lord Bearwarden was
furious, brandishing a weekly newspaper above his head, and striding
about the little Putney lawn with an energy that threatened to immerse
him in the river, forgetful of those narrow limits, suggesting the
proverbial extent of a fisherman's walk on deck, "two steps and
overboard."

His audience, though, were partial and indulgent. The old ladies
in the drawing-room, overhearing an occasional sentence, devoutly
believed their nephew was the first painter of his time, Lord
Bearwarden the wisest critic that ever lived, the greatest nobleman,
the bravest soldier, the kindest husband, always excepting, perhaps,
that other husband smoking there under the acacia, interchanging with
his lordship many a pleasant jest and smile, that argued the good
understanding existing between them.

Dick Stanmore and Lord Bearwarden were now inseparable. Their alliance
furnished a standing joke for their wives. "They have the same
perverted tastes, my dear, and like the same sort of people,"
lighthearted Nina would observe to the sister whom she had not found
till the close of her girlish life. "It's always fast friends, or, at
least, men with a strong tendency to friendship, who are in love with
the same woman, and I don't believe they hate each other half as much
as we should, even for _that_!"

To which Maud would make no reply, gazing with her dark eyes out upon
the river, and wondering whether Dick had ever told the wife he loved
how fondly he once worshipped another face so like her own.

For my part, I don't think he had. I don't think he could realise the
force of those past feelings, nor comprehend that he could ever have
cared much for any one but the darling who now made the joy of his
whole life. When first he fell in love with Nina, it was for her
likeness to her sister. Now, though in his eyes the likeness was
fading every day, that sister's face was chiefly dear to him because
of its resemblance to his wife's.

Never was there a happier family party than these persons constituted.
Lord and Lady Bearwarden, Mr. and Mrs. Stanmore, drove down from
London many days in the week to the pretty Putney villa. Simon was
truly rejoiced to see them, while the old ladies vibrated all over,
caps, fronts, ribbons, lockets, and laces, with excitement and
delight. The very flowers had a sweeter perfume, the laburnums a
richer gold, the river a softer ripple, than in the experience of all
previous springs.

"They may say what they like," continued Lord Bearwarden, still with
the weekly paper in his hand. "I maintain the criterion of merit
is success. I maintain that the Rhymer and the Fairy Queen is an
extraordinary picture, and the general public the best judge. Why
there was no getting near it at the Academy. The people crowded round
as they do about a Cheap Jack at a fair. I'm not a little fellow, but
I couldn't catch a glimpse of any part except the Fairy Queen's head.
I think it's _the_ most beautiful face I ever saw in my life!"

"Thank you, Lord Bearwarden," said Nina, laughing. "He'd such a
subject, you know; it's no wonder he made a good picture of it."

No wonder, indeed! Did she ever think his brush was dipped in colours
ground on the poor artist's heart?

"It's very like _you_ and it's very like Maud," answered Lord
Bearwarden. "Somehow you don't seem to me so like each other as you
used to be. And yet how puzzled I was the second time I ever set eyes
on you!"

"How cross you were! and how you scolded!" answered saucy Mrs.
Stanmore. "I wouldn't have stood it from Dick. Do you ever speak to
Maud like that?"

The look that passed between Lord and Lady Bearwarden was a sufficient
reply. The crowning beauty had come to those dark eyes of hers, now
that their pride was centred in another, their lustre deepened and
softened with the light of love.

"It was lucky for you, dear, that he _was_ angry," said her ladyship.
"If he had hesitated a moment, it's frightful to think what would have
become of you, at the mercy of those reckless, desperate men!"

"They were punished, at any rate," observed Nina gravely. "I shall
never forget that dead fixed face in the hall. Nor the other man's
look, the cowardly one, while he prayed to be forgiven. Forgiven,
indeed! One ought to forgive a great deal, but not such an enormity as
that!"

"I think he got off very cheap," interposed Dick Stanmore. "He
deserved to be hanged, in my opinion, and they only transported
him--not even for life!"

"Think of the temptation, Dick," replied Nina, with another saucy
smile. "How would you like it yourself?"

"And you were in pursuit of the same object. You can't deny that, only
he hit upon me first."

"I was more sorry for the other villain," said Lord Bearwarden, who
had heard long ago the history of Gentleman Jim's persecution of her
ladyship. "He was a daring, reckless scoundrel, and I should like to
have killed him myself, but _it_ did seem hard lines to be shot by his
own confederate in the row!"

"I pity that poor woman most of all," observed Lady Bearwarden, with a
sigh. "It is quite a mercy that she should have lost her senses. She
suffered so dreadfully till her mind failed."

"How is she?" "Have you seen her?" came from the others in a breath.

"I was with her this morning," answered Maud. "She didn't know me.
I don't think she knows anybody. They can't get her to read, nor do
needlework, nor even walk out into the garden. She's never still, poor
thing! but paces up and down the room mumbling over a bent halfcrown
and a knot of ribbon," added Lady Bearwarden, with a meaning glance
at her husband, "that they found on the dead man's body, and keeps
pressing it against her breast while she mutters something about their
wanting to take it away. It's a sad, sad sight! I can't get that wild
vacant stare out of my head. It's the same expression that frightened
me so on her face that day by the Serpentine. It has haunted me
ever since. She seemed to be looking miles away across the water at
something I couldn't see. I wonder what it was. I wonder what she
looks at now!"

"She's never been in her right senses, has she, since that dreadful
night?" asked Nina. "If she were a lady, and well dressed, and
respectable, one would say it's quite a romance. Don't you think
perhaps, after all, it's more touching as it is?" and Nina, who liked
to make little heartless speeches she did not mean, looked lovingly
on Dick, with her dark eyes full of tears, as she wondered what would
become of her if anything happened to _him_!

"I can scarcely bear to think of it," answered Maud, laying her
hand on her husband's shoulder. "Through all the happiness of that
night--far, far the happiest of my whole life--this poor thing's utter
misery comes back to me like a warning and a reproach. If I live to a
hundred I shall never forget her when she looked up to heaven from the
long rigid figure with its fixed white face, and tried to pray, and
couldn't, and didn't know how! O! my darling!"--and here Maud's voice
sank to a whisper, while the haughty head drooped lovingly and humbly
towards her husband's arm,--"what have I done that I should be so
blessed, while there is all this misery and disappointment and despair
in the world?"

He made no attempt at explanation. The philosophy of our Household
Cavalry, like the religion of Napoleon's "Old Guard," is adapted for
action rather than casuistry. He did not tell her that in the journey
of life for some the path is made smooth and easy, for others paved
with flint and choked with thorns; but that a wise Director knows best
the capabilities of the wayfarer, and the amount of toil required to
fit him for his rest. So up and down, through rough and smooth, in
storm and sunshine--all these devious tracks lead home at last. If
Lord Bearwarden thought this, he could not put it into words, but his
arm stole lovingly round the slender waist, and over his brave, manly
face came a gentle look that seemed to say he asked no better than
to lighten every load for that dear one through life, and bear her
tenderly with him on the road to heaven.

"_C'est l'amour_!" laughed Nina, "that makes all the bother and
complications of our artificial state of existence!"

"And all its sorrows!" said Lord Bearwarden.

"And all its sin!" said her ladyship.

"And all its beauty!" said Dick.

"And all its happiness!" added the painter, who had not yet spoken,
from his seat under the acacia that grew by the water's edge.

"Well put!" exclaimed the others, "and you need not go out of this
dear little garden in search of the proof."

But Simon made no answer. Once more he was looking wistfully on the
river, thinking how it freshened and fertilised all about it as it
passed by. Fulfilling its noble task--bearing riches, comforts,
health, happiness, yet taking to deck its own bosom, not one of
the humblest wildflowers that must droop and die but for its love.
Consoler, sympathiser, benefactor, night and day. Gently, noiselessly,
imperceptibly speeding its good work, making no pause, knowing no
rest, till far away beyond that dim horizon, under the golden heaven,
it merged into the sea.

THE END





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