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´╗┐Title: By Birth a Lady
Author: Fenn, George Manville, 1831-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "By Birth a Lady" ***

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Volume 1, Chapter I.

SOMETHING ABOUT A LETTER.

"He mustn't have so much corn, Joseph," said Mr Tiddson, parish doctor
of Croppley Magna, addressing a grinning boy of sixteen, who, with his
smock-frock rolled up and twisted round his waist, was holding the
bridle of a very thin, dejected-looking pony, whose mane and tail seemed
to have gone to the cushion-maker's, leaving in their places a few
strands that had missed the shears.  The pony's eyes were half shut, and
his nose hung low; but, as if attending to his master's words, one ear
was twitched back, while the other pointed forward; and no sooner had
his owner finished speaking than the poor little beast whinnied softly
and shook its evidently remonstrating head.  "He mustn't have so much
corn, Joseph," said Mr Tiddson importantly.  "He's growing wild and
vicious, and it was as much as I could do this morning to hold him."

"What did he do, _zir_?" said the boy, grinning a wider grin.

"Do, Joseph?  He wanted to go after the hounds, and took the bit in his
teeth, and kicked when they crossed the road.  I shall have to diet him.
Give him some water, Joseph, but no corn."

The poor pony might well shake his head, for it was a standing joke in
Croppley that the doctor tried experiments on that pony: feeding him
with chaff kept in an oaty bag, and keeping him low and grey hound-like
of rib, for the sake of speed when a union patient was ill.

But the pony had to be fetched out again before Joseph had removed his
saddle; for just as Mr Tiddson was taking off his gloves and overcoat,
a man came running up to the door, and tore at the bell, panting the
while with his exertions.

"Well, what now?  Is Betty Starger worse?"

"No,"--puff--"no, sir;"--puff--"it's--it's--"

"Well?  Why don't you speak, man?"

"Breath, sir!"--puff.  "Run--all way!--puff."

"Yes, yes," said Mr Tiddson.  "And now what is it?"

"Hax--haxiden, sir," puffed the messenger.

"Bless my soul, my good man!  Where?" exclaimed the doctor, rubbing his
hands.

"Down by Crossroads, sir; and they war takin' a gate off the hinges to
lay him on, and carry him to the Seven Bells, when I run for you, sir."

"And how was it?--and who is it?" said the doctor.

"Gent, sir; along o' the hounds."

"Here, stop a minute," exclaimed the doctor, ringing furiously till a
servant came.  "Jane, tell Joseph to bring Peter round directly; I'm
wanted.--Now go on, my good man," he continued.

"See him comin' myself, sir.  Dogs had gone over the fallows, givin'
mouth bea-u-u-tiful, when he comes--this gent, you know--full tear,
lifts his horse, clears the hedge, and drops into the lane--Rugley-lane,
you know, sir, where the cutting is, with the sand-martins' nestes in
the bank.  Well, sir, he comes down nice as could be, and then put his
horse at t'other bank, as it couldn't be expected to get up, though it
did try; and then, before you know'd it, down it come back'ards, right
on to the poor gent, and rolled over him, so that when three or four on
us got up he was as white and still as your 'ankychy, sir, that he war;
and so I come off arter you.  And you ain't got sech a thing as a drop
o' beer in the house, have you, sir?"

"No, my man, I have not," said Mr Tiddson, mounting his steed, which
had just been brought round to the front; "but if you will call at my
surgery when I return, I daresay I can find you a glass of something.--
Go on, Peter."

But Peter did not seem disposed to go on; and it was not until his bare
ribs had been drummed by the doctor's heels, and he had been smitten
between the ears by the doctor's umbrella, that he condescended to
shuffle off in a shambling trot--a pace that put the messenger to no
inconvenience to keep alongside, since it was only about half the rate
at which he had brought the news.

To have seen Mr., or, as he was generally called, _Dr._ Tiddson ride,
any one would have called to mind the printed form upon his medicine
labels--"To be well shaken;" for he was well shaken in the process, and
had at short intervals to push forward his hat, which made a point of
getting down over his ears.  But, though not effectively, Dr Tiddson
and his pony Peter managed to shuffle over the ground, and arrived at
the Seven Bells--a little roadside inn--just as four labouring men bore
a gate to the door, and then, carefully lifting an insensible figure,
carried it into the parlour, where a mattress had been prepared by the
landlady.

Dr Tiddson did not have an accident to tend every day, while those he
did have to do with were the mishaps of very ordinary people.  This,
then, was something to make him descend from his pony with the greatest
of dignity, throwing the reins to the messenger, and entering the little
parlour as if monarch of all he surveyed.

"Tut--tut--tut!" he exclaimed.  "Clear the room directly; the man wants
air.  Mrs Pottles, send every one out, and lock that door."

The sympathising landlady obeyed, and then the examination commenced.

"Hum!" muttered the doctor.  "Ribs crushed--two, four, certainly;
probable laceration of the right lobe; concussion of the brain,
evidently.  And what have we here?  Dear me!  A sad case, Mrs Pottles;
a fracture of the clavicle, I fear."

"Lawk a deary me!  Poor gentleman! he 'ave got it bad," said the
landlady, raising her hands.

"Yes, Mrs Pottles," said the doctor, compressing his lips, "it is, I
fear, a serious case.  But we must do what we can, Mrs Pottles--we must
do what we can."

"Of course we must, sir!" exclaimed the landlady.  "And what shall us do
first?"

"Let me see; another pillow, I think, Mrs Pottles," said the doctor,
not heeding the question.  "He will not be able to leave here for some
time to come."

Mrs Pottles sighed; and then from time to time supplied the doctor with
bandages, water, sponge, and such necessaries as he needed; when, the
patient presenting an appearance of recovering from his swoon, they
watched him attentively.

"He won't die this time, Mrs Pottles," said the doctor, with authority.

"Lawk a deary me! no, sir, I hope not," said the landlady--"a fine,
nice, handsome young fellow like he!  He'll live and break some 'arts
yet, I'll be bound.  It's all very well for old folks like us, sir, to
die; but I shouldn't like to see him go that-a-way--just when out taking
his pleasure, too."

Mr Tiddson did not consider himself one of the "old folks," so did not
reply.

"A poor dear!" said Mrs Pottles.  "I wonder who he is?  There'll be
more 'n one pair o' bright eyes wet because of his misfortun', I know.
You've no idee, sir, how like he is to my Tom--him as got into that bit
of trouble with the squire, sir."

"Pooh, woman!--not a bit.  Tchsh!"

The raised finger of the doctor accompanied his ejaculation, as the
patient unclosed his eyes, muttered a little, and then, turning his
head, seemed to sink into a state of half sleep, half stupor.

The doctor sat for some time before speaking, frowning severely at the
landlady, and then impatiently pulling down the blind to get rid of half
a dozen lads, who were spoiling the symmetry of their noses against the
window.

"I s'pose you have no idea who he is?" said the doctor at last.

"Not the leastest bit in the world, sir.  They do say they've had a
tremenjus run to-day.  But perhaps we shall have some of the gents
coming back this way, and they may know him."

"Precisely so, Mrs Pottles; but you'd better feel in his pockets, and
we may be able to find out where his friends are, and so send them word
of his condition."

"Lawk a deary me, sir!  But wouldn't it be wrong for me to be peeping
and poking in his pockets?  But how so be if _you_ wish it, sir, I'll
look."

"I _don't_ wish it, Mrs Pottles; but it is our duty to acquaint his
friends, so you had better search."

Now Mrs Pottles's fingers were itching to make an examination; and
doubtless, had the doctor left, her first act would have been to "peep
and poke," as she termed it; so, taking up garment after garment, she
drew out a handsome gold watch and seal chain with an eagle crest; then
a cigar-case bearing the same crest, and the letters "C.Y.;" and lastly
a plain porte-monnaie, containing four sovereigns and some silver.

"No information there, Mrs Pottles.  But I'll make a list of these, and
leave them in your charge till the patient recovers."

"Lawk a deary me, no, sir, don't do that!  We're as honest as the day is
long here, sir, so don't put no temptation in our way.  Make a list of
the gentleman, if you like, and leave _him_ in our charge, and we'll
nurse him well again; but you'd better take the watch and things along
of you."

"Very good, Mrs Pottles--ve-ery good," said the doctor, noting down the
articles he placed in his pocket, and thinking that, even if called upon
for no further attendance, through the coming of some family doctor, he
was safe of the amount in the porte-monnaie, for he considered that no
gentleman would dream of taking that back.

"And you think he'll get well, then, sir?" said Mrs Pottles.

"Ye-e-e-s--yes, with care, Mrs Pottles--with care.  But I'll ride over
to my surgery now, and obtain a little medicine.  I shall be back in an
hour."

Mrs Pottles curtsied him out, and then returned to seat herself by her
injured visitor, looking with motherly admiration on his broad white
forehead and thick golden beard, as she again compared him with her Tom,
who got into that bit of trouble with the squire.  But before the doctor
had been gone an hour, the patient began to display sundry restless
movements, ending by opening his eyes widely and fixing them upon the
landlady.

"Who are you? and where am I?" he exclaimed.  "Let me see, though--I
recollect now: my horse came down with me.  I don't think I'm much hurt,
though."

"O, but you are, sir, and very badly, too.  Mr Tiddson says you are to
be very quiet."

"Who the deuce is Mr Tiddson?" said the patient, trying to rise, but
sinking back with a groan.

"Lawk a deary me, sir!  I thought everybody know'd Mr Tiddson: he's our
doctor, and they do say as he's very clever; but he ain't in rheumatiz,
for he never did me a bit o' good."

"Poor dad!" muttered the young man thoughtfully, and then aloud: "Give
me a pen and ink and a sheet of paper."

"But sewer_ly_, sir, you're not going to try to--"

"Get me the pen and ink, woman!" exclaimed the sufferer impatiently.

Mrs Pottles raised her hands, and then hurriedly placed a little dirty
blotting-case before her guest, holding it and the rusty ink so that he
was able to write a short note, which he signed, and then doubled
hastily, for he was evidently in pain.

"Let some man take that to the King's Arms at Lexville, and ask for Mr
Bray.  If he is not there, let them send for him; but the note is to be
given to no one else."

"Very good, sir," said the woman; "but it's a many miles there.  How's
he to go?"

"Ride--ride!" exclaimed the sufferer impatiently, and then he sank back
deeper in his pillow.

"I didn't think, or I would have sent for some one else," he muttered,
after a pause; "but I daresay he will come."

And then he lay thinking in a dreamy, semi-delirious fashion of the
contents of that note--a note so short, and yet of itself containing
matter that might bring to the writer a life of regret, and to another,
loving, gentle, and true-hearted, the breaking of that true gentle
heart, and the cold embrace of the bridegroom Death!

Volume 1, Chapter II.

"BAI JOVE!"

Three months after the incidents recorded in the last chapter,
Littleborough Station, on the Great Middleland and Conjunction Railway,
woke into life; for it was nearly noon, and the mid-day up-train would
soon run alongside of the platform, stay for the space of half a minute,
and then proceed again on its hurrying, panting course towards the great
metropolis; for though such a thing did sometimes happen, the taking up
or setting down of passengers at Littleborough was not as a matter of
course.  Nobody ever wanted to come to Littleborough, which was three
miles from the station, and very few people ever seemed to take tickets
from Littleborough to proceed elsewhere: the consequence being that the
station-master--a fair young man with budding whiskers, and a little
cotton-woolly moustache--spent the greater part of his time in teaching
a rough dog to stand upon his hind-legs, to walk, beg, smoke pipes, and
perform various other highly interesting feats, while the one porter
spent his in yawning and playing "push halfpenny," right hand against
left--a species of gambling that left him neither richer nor poorer at
the day's end.  But his yawning was something frightful, being extensive
enough to have startled a child into the belief that ogres really had an
existence in the flesh, though the said porter was after all but a
simple, lazy, ignorant boor, with as little of harm in his nature as
there was of activity.

But, as before said, Littleborough Station now woke into life; for after
crawling into the booking-office, and yawing frightfully at the clock,
the porter went and turned a handle, altering the position of a signal,
and then returned to find the station-master framed in the little
doorway through which he issued tickets, and now pitching little bits of
biscuit for the dog to catch.

"Here's summun a-coming!" said the porter, excitedly running to the door
and checking a yawn half-way.

"No!--is there?" cried the station-master, running out, catching up the
dog and carrying it in, to shut himself up once more behind his official
screen and railway-clerk dignity.

"Swell in a dog-cart, with groom a-drivin'," said the porter aloud; and
then, as the vehicle came nearer: "Portmanty and bag with him, and that
there gum's all dried up, and won't stick on no labels.  Blest if here
ain't somebody else, too, in the 'Borough fly, and two boxes on the
top."

The porter threw open the doors very widely, the station-master tried
his ticket-stamper to see if it would work, and then peered excitedly
out for the coming travellers.

He had not to wait long.  The smart dog-cart was drawn up at the door;
and as the horse stood champing its bit and throwing the white foam in
all directions, a very languid, carefully-dressed gentleman descended,
waved his hand towards his luggage and wrappers in answer to the
porter's obsequious salute, and then sauntering, cigar in hand, to the
station-master's pigeon-hole, he languidly drawled out:

"First cla-a-ass--London."

"Twenty-eight-and-six, sir," said the station-master, when the traveller
slowly placed a sovereign and a half before him.

"Tha-a-anks.  No!  Give the change to the porter fellare."  And the new
arrival strolled on to the platform, leaving the porter grinning
furiously, and carrying the portmanteau and bag about without there
being the slightest necessity for such proceedings.

Meanwhile the fly had drawn up, the driver dismounted, and opened the
door for a closely veiled young lady in black to alight, when she
proceeded to pay the man.

"Suthin' for the driver, miss, please," said the fellow gruffly.

"I understood from your master that the charge would be five shillings
to the station," said the new arrival, in a low tremulous voice.

"Yes, miss, but the driver's allus hextry.  Harf-crown most people gives
the driver."

There was no sound issued from beneath that veil, but the motion of the
dress showed that something very much like a sigh must have been
struggling for exit as a little soft white hand drew a florin from a
scantily-furnished purse, and gave it to the man.

"Humph," growled the fellow, "things gets wuss and wuss," and climbing
on to his box-seat, he gathered up reins and whip, and sat stolid and
surly without moving.

"Will you be kind enough to lift down my trunks?" said the traveller
gently.

"You must ast the porter for that 'ere," said the man: "we're drivers,
we are, and 'tain't our business.  Here, Joe, come and get these here
trunks off the roof," and he accompanied his words with a meaning wink
to the porter, which gentleman, in the full possession of an unlooked--
for eighteenpence, felt so wealthy that he could afford to be
supercilious.

"What class, miss?" he said, reaching his hand to a trunk.

"Third, if you please," was the reply.

"Ah! there'll be something extry to pay for luggidge: third-class
passengers ain't allowed two big boxes like these here.--Why didn't you
put 'em down, Dick?"

"Ain't got half paid for what I did do," said the driver gruffly.
"People as can't afford to pay for flies oughter ride in carts.  Mind
that 'ere lamp!"

Certainly a lamp had a very narrow escape, as trunk number one was
brought to the ground with a crash, the second one being treated almost
as mercilessly, but without a word from their owner, who quietly raising
her veil and displaying a sweet sad face, now went to the pigeon-hole,
regardless of the leering stare bestowed upon her by the exquisite, who
had sauntered back into the booking-office.

"Third-class--London," said the station-master aloud, repeating the fair
young traveller's words.  "Nine-and-nine;" and he too bestowed a not
very respectful stare.

The threepence change was handed to the porter, with a request that he
would see the boxes into the van, which request, and the money, that
incorruptible gentleman received with a short nod and an "all right,"
pocketing the cash in defiance of all by-laws and ordinances of the
company.

Turning to reach the platform, the young lady--for such her manners
indicated her to be--became aware of the fixed insolent stare of the
over-dressed gentleman at her side, when quietly and without ostentation
the black fall was lowered, and she walked slowly to and fro for a few
minutes, in expectation of the coming train--hardly noticing that she
was met at every turn, and that the gentlemanly manoeuvres were being
watched with great interest by station-master and porter.

"Nice day, deah!" was suddenly drawled out; and the traveller started to
find that, in place of being met at every turn, her persecutor was now
close by her side.  Quickening her steps, she slightly bent her head and
walked on; but in vain.

"Any one going to meet you?" was next drawled out; when turning shortly
round, the young traveller looked the exquisite full in the face.

"I think you are making a mistake, sir," she said coldly.

"Mistake?  No, not I, my deah," was the insolent reply.  "Give me your
ticket, and I'll change it;" and the speaker coolly held out a
tightly-gloved hand.

The black veil hid the flush that rose to the pale face, as, glancing
rapidly down the line for the train that seemed as if it would never
come, the traveller once more quickened her steps and walked to the
other end of the platform; for there was no waiting-room at the little
wooden station, one but newly erected by way of experiment.

"Now, don't be awkward, my deah," drawled the exquisite, once more
overtaking her.  "Here we are both going to town together, and I can
take care of you.  Pretty gyurls like you have no business to travel
alone.  Now, let me change your ticket;" and again he stretched forth
his hand.  "I'll pay, you know."

"Are you a gentleman, sir?" was the sudden question in reply to his
proposition.

"Bai Jove, ya-a-a-s!" was the drawled reply, accompanied by what was
meant for a most killing leer.

"Then you will immediately cease this unmanly pursuit!" exclaimed the
lady firmly; and once more turning, she paced along the platform.

"Now, how can you now," languidly whispered the self-styled gentleman,
"when we might be so comfortable and chatty all this long ride?  Look
here, my deah--take my arm, and I'll see to your luggage."

As he spoke, with the greatest effrontery he caught the young
traveller's hand in his, and drew it through his arm--the station-master
and porter noting the performance, and nodding at one another; but the
next moment the former official changed his aspect, for the hand was
snatched away, and the young lady hurried in an agitated manner to the
booking-office.

"Have you a room in which I could sit down until the train comes?" she
exclaimed.  "I am sorry to trouble you; but I am travelling alone,
and--"

"To be sure you are, my deah," drawled the persecutor, who had
laughingly followed, "when you have no business to do such a thing, and
I won't allow it.  It's all right, station-master--the train will be
here directly.  I'll see to the lady: friend of mine, in fact."

"Indeed!  I assure you, sir," exclaimed the agitated girl, "I do not
know this gentleman.  I appeal to you for protection."

Here, in spite of her self-control, a sob burst from her breast.

"Here, this sort of thing won't do, sir," said the youth, shaking his
head.  "I can't allow it at my station.  You mustn't annoy the lady,
sir."  And turning very pink in the face, he tried to look important;
but without success.

"I think you have the care of this station, have you not, my good lad?"
drawled the exquisite.

"Yes, I have, sir," was the reply, and this time rather in anger, for
the young station-master hardly approved of being called a "good lad."

"Then mind your station, boy, and don't interfere."

"Boy yourself, you confounded puppy!" exclaimed the young fellow, firing
up.  "I never took any notice till the lady appealed to me; but if she
was my sister, sir, I'd--I'd--I don't know what I wouldn't do to you!"

"But you see she is not your sister; and you are making a fool of
yourself," drawled the other contemptuously.

"Am I?" exclaimed the young man, whose better nature was aroused.  "I
consider that every lady who is being insulted is the sister of an
Englishman, and has a right to his help.  And now be off out of this
office, for I'm master here; and you may report me if you like, for I
don't care who you are, nor yet if I lose my place."

Red in the face, and strutting like a turkey-cock, the young man made at
the dandy so fiercely, that he backed out on to the platform, to have
the door banged after him so energetically, that one of the panes of
glass was shivered to atoms.

"Come in here, miss, and I'll see that he don't annoy you again.  Why
didn't you speak sooner?  Only wish I was going up to London, I'd see
you safe home, that I would, miss; only, you see, I should lose my berth
if I was absent without leave; and that wouldn't do, would it?  May
p'r'aps now, for that chap's a regular swell: come down here last week,
and been staying at old Sir Henry Warr's, at the Beeches; but I don't
care; I only did what was right--did I, miss?"

"Indeed, I thank you very, very much!" exclaimed the protected one,
holding out a little hand, which was eagerly seized.  "It was very kind;
and I do sincerely hope I may not have been the cause--"

Here a sob choked further utterance.

"Don't you mind about that," said the young man loftily, and feeling
very exultant and self-satisfied.  "I'd lose half a dozen berths to
please you, miss--I would, 'pon my word.  Don't you take on about that.
I'm your humble servant to command; and let's see if he'll speak to you
again on my platform, that's all!"

Here the young man--very young man--breathed hard, stared hard, and
blushed; for his anger having somewhat evaporated, he now began to think
that he had been very chivalrous, and that he had fallen in love with
this beautiful girl, whom it was his duty to protect evermore: feelings,
however, not at all shared by the lady, who, though very grateful, was
most earnestly wishing herself safely at her destination.  The
embarrassing position was, however, ended by the young station-master,
who suddenly exclaimed:

"Here she comes!"

Then he led the way, pulling up his collar and scowling very fiercely
till they reached the platform, where the exquisite was languidly pacing
up and down.

"Now, you take my advice, miss," said the protector: "you jump into the
first cab as soon as you get into the terminus, and have yourself driven
home: I'll see that you ain't interfered with going up.  I wish I was
going with you; and, 'pon my word, miss, I should like to see you
again."

"Indeed, I thank you very much," said the stranger.  "You have acted
very nobly; and though you may never again be thanked by me, you will
have the reward of knowing that you have protected a _sister_ in
distress."

She laid a stress upon the word "sister," as if referring to the young
fellow's manly reply to the dandy.  But now "she"--that is to say, the
train--had glided up, when, turning smartly--

"See those boxes in, Joe!" exclaimed the station-master; and then
catching the traveller's hand in his, he led her to the guard.  "Put
this young lady in a compartment where there's more ladies," he said.
"She's going to London, and I want you to see that she's safely off in a
cab when she gets there.  She's my sister."

"All right, Mr Simpkin--all right," said the guard.

"Good-bye, miss--good-bye!" exclaimed the young man confusedly, shaking
her hand.  "Business, you know--I must go."

Just at that moment a thought seemed to have struck the dandy, who made
as if to get to where the porter was thrusting the two canvas-covered
trunks into the guard's van; but he was too late.

"Now, then, sir, if you're going on!" exclaimed the station-master.
"Third-class?" he asked by way of a sneer.

"Confound you!  I'll serve you out for this--bai Jove I will!" muttered
the over-dressed one, jumping hastily into a first-class _coupe_, when,
looking out, he had the satisfaction of seeing the young station-master
spring on to the step of a third-class carriage, and ride far beyond the
end of the platform, before he jumped down and waved him a triumphant
salute as the train swept by.

The dandy made a point of going up to that carriage at every stopping--
station where sufficient time was afforded; but the fair young traveller
sat with her face studiously turned towards the opposite window.

"I've a good mind to ride third-class for once in a way," the gentleman
muttered, as he passed the carriage during one stoppage.

Just then a child cried out loudly; and a soldier, smoking a dirty black
pipe, thrust his head out of the next compartment with a "How are you,
matey?"

"Bai Jove, no!  Couldn't do it!" murmured the exquisite, with a shudder;
and he returned to his seat, to look angry and scowling for the rest of
the journey.

He had made up his mind, though, as to his proceedings when they reached
London; but again he was doomed to disappointment; for on his
approaching the object of his pursuit in the crowd, he found the stout
guard a guard indeed in his care of his charge; when, angrily turning
upon his heel, he made his way to the luggage-bar, where, singling out
the particular trunks that he had seen at Littleborough, he pressed
through the throng, and eagerly read one of the direction-labels.

"Bai Jove!" he exclaimed, with an air of the most utter astonishment
overspreading his face; and then again he read the direction, but only
again to give utterance to his former ejaculation--"Bai Jove!"

He seemed so utterly taken aback that he did not even turn angrily upon
a porter who jostled him, or upon another who with one of the very boxes
knocked his hat over his eyes.  The cab was laden and driven off before
his face so slowly that, once more alone, he could have easily spoken to
the veiled occupant.  But, no: he was so utterly astounded that when he
hailed a hansom, and slowly stepped in, his reply to the driver as he
peered down through the little trap was only--

"Bai Jove!"

"Where to, sir?" said the man, astonished in his turn.

"Anywhere, my good fellow."

"All right, sir."

"No, no--stop.  Drive me to the Wyndgate Club, Saint James's-square."

"All right, sir."

And the cab drove off, with its occupant wondering and startled at the
strange fashion in which every-day affairs will sometimes shape
themselves, proving again and again how much more wild the truth can be
than fiction, and musing upon what kind of an encounter his would be
with the fair traveller when next he went home.

There was no record kept of the number of times the over-dressed
gentleman gave utterance to that peculiarly-drawling exclamation; but it
is certain that he startled his valet by jumping up suddenly at early
morn from a dream of his encounter, to cry, as if disturbed by something
almost painful:

"Who could have thought it?  Bai Jove!"

Volume 1, Chapter III.

BLANDFIELD COURT.

"Did you ring, sir?" said a footman.

"Yes, Thomas.  Go to Mr Charles's room, and tell him that I should be
glad of half an hour's conversation with him before he goes out, if he
can make it convenient."

The library-door of Blandfield Court closed; and after taking a turn or
two up and down the room, Sir Philip Vining--a fine, florid, grey-headed
old gentleman--stood for a moment gazing from the window at the sweep of
park extending down to a glittering stream, which wound its way amidst
glorious glades of beech and chestnut, bright in the virgin green of
spring.  But anxious of mien, and ill at ease, the old gentleman stepped
slowly to the handsome carved-oak chair in which he had been seated, and
then, intently watching the door, he leaned back, playing with his
double gold eyeglass.

Five minutes passed, and then a step was heard crossing the hall--a step
which made Sir Philip's face lighten up, as, leaning forward, a pleasant
smile appeared upon his lip.  Then a heavy bold hand was laid upon the
handle, and the patient of Dr Tiddson--fair, flushed, and
open-countenanced--strode into the room, seeming as if he had brought
with him the outer sunshine lingering in his bright brown hair and
golden beard.  He swung the door to with almost a bang; and then--free
of gait, happy, and careless-looking, suffering from no broken rib,
fractured clavicle, or concussed brain, as predicted three months
before--he strode towards Sir Philip, who rose hurriedly with
outstretched hands.

"My dear Charley, how are you this morning?  You look flushed.  Effects
remaining of that unlucky fall, I'm afraid."

"Fall?  Nonsense, dad!  Never better in my life," laughed the young man,
taking the outstretched hands and then subsiding into a chair.  "Mere
trifle, in spite of the doctor's long phiz."

"It is going back to old matters, but I'm very glad, my dear boy, that I
saw Max Bray, and learned of your condition; and I've never said a word
before, Charley, but why should you send for him in preference to your
father?"

"Pooh!--nonsense, dad!  First man I thought of.  Did it to save you
pain.  Ought to have got up, and walked home.  But there, let it pass.
Mind my cigar?"

"No, no, my dear boy, of course not," said the old gentleman, coughing
slightly.  "If it troubles me, I'll open the window."

"But really, father," said the young man, laying his hand tenderly on
Sir Philip's arm, "don't let me annoy you with my bad habit."

"My dear boy, I don't mind.  You know we old fogies used to have our bad
habits--two bottles of port after dinner, to run down into our legs and
make gouty pains, eh, Charley--eh?  And look here, my dear boy--look
here!"

Charley Vining laughed, and, leaning back in his chair, began to send
huge clouds of perfumed smoke from his cabana, as his father drew out a
handsome gold-box, and took snuff _a la_ courtier of George the Fourth's
day.

"I don't like smoking, my boy; but it's better than our old drinking
habits."

"Hear--hear!  Cheers from the opposition!" laughed the son.

"Ah, my dear boy, why don't you give your mind to that sort of thing?
Such a fine opening as there is in the county!  Writtlum says they could
get you in with a tremendous majority."

"Parliament, dad?  Nonsense!  Pretty muff I should be; get up to speak
without half-a-dozen words to say."

"Nonsense, Charley--nonsense!  The Vinings never yet disgraced their
name."

"Unworthy scion of the house, my dear father."

"Now, my dear Charley!" exclaimed Sir Philip, as he looked with pride at
the stalwart young fellow who was heir to his baronetcy and broad acres.
"But, let me see, my dear boy; John Martingale called yesterday while
you were out.  He says he has as fine a hunter as ever crossed country:
good fencer, well up to your weight--such a one as you would be proud of
I told him to bring the horse on for you to see; for I should not like
you to miss a really good hunter, Charley, and I might be able to screw
out a cheque."

"My dear father," exclaimed the young man, throwing his cigar-end
beneath the grate, "there really is no need.  Martingale's a humbug, and
only wants to palm upon us some old screw.  The mare is in splendid
order--quite got over my reckless riding and the fall.  I like her
better every day, and she'll carry me as much as I shall want to hunt."

"I'm glad you like her, Charley.  You don't think her to blame?"

"Blame?  No!  I threw her down.  I like her better every day, I tell
you.  But you gave a cool hundred too much for her."

"Never mind that.  By the way, Charley, Leathrum says they are hatching
plenty of pheasants: the spinneys will be full this season; and I want
you to have some good shooting.  The last poacher, too, has gone from
the village."

"Who's that?" said Charley carelessly.

"Diggles--John Diggles.  They brought him before me for stealing
pheasants' eggs, and I--and I--"

"Well, what did you do, dad?  Fine him forty shillings?"

"Well, no, my boy.  You see, he threw himself on my mercy--said he'd
such a character no one would employ him, and that he wanted to get out
of the country; and that if he stopped he should always be meddling with
the game.  And you see, my dear boy, it's true enough; so I promised to
pay his passage to America."

"A pretty sort of a county magistrate!" laughed Charley.  "What do you
think the reverend rectors, Lingon and Braceby, will say to you?  Why,
they would have given John Diggles a month."

"Perhaps so, my dear boy; but the man has had no chance, and--No; sit
still, Charley.  I haven't done yet; I want to talk to you."

"All right, dad.  I was only going to give the mare a spin.  Let her
wait."  And he threw himself back in his chair.

"Yes, yes--let her wait this morning, my dear boy.  But don't say `All
right!'  I don't like you to grow slangy, either in your speech or
dress."  He glanced at the young man's easy tweed suit.  "That was one
thing in which the old school excelled, in spite of their wine-bibbing
propensities--they were particular in their language, dressed well, and
were courtly to the other sex."

"Yes," yawned Charley; "but they were dreadful prigs."

"Perhaps so--perhaps so, my dear boy," said the old gentleman, laying
his hand upon his son's knee.  "But do you know, Charley, I should like
to see you a little more courtly and attentive to--to the ladies?"

"I adore that mare you gave me, dad."

"Don't be absurd.  I want to see you more in ladies' society; so
polishing--so improving!"

"Hate it!" said Charley laconically.

"Nonsense--nonsense!  Now look here!"

"No, dad.  Look here," said Charley, leaning towards his father and
gazing full in his face with a half-serious, half-bantering smile
lighting up his clear blue eye.  "You're beating about the bush, dad,
and the bird won't start.  You did not send for me to say that
Martingale had been about a horse, or Leathrum had hatched so many
pheasants, or that Diggles was going to leave the country.  Frankly,
now, governor, what's in the wind?"

Sir Philip Vining looked puzzled; he threw himself back in his chair,
took snuff hastily, spilling a few grains upon his cambric shirt-frill.
Then, with his gold-box in his left hand, he bent forward and laid his
right upon the young man's ample breast, gazing lovingly in his face,
and said:

"Frankly, then, my dear Charley, I want to see you married!"

Volume 1, Chapter IV.

CONCERNING MATRIMONY.

Charles Vining gazed half laughingly in his father's earnest face; then
throwing himself back, he burst into an uncontrolled fit of merriment.

"Ha, ha, ha!  Me married!  Why, my dear father, what next?"  Then,
seeing the look of pain in Sir Philip's countenance, he rose and stood
by his side, resting one hand upon his shoulder.  "Why, my dear father,"
he said, "what ever put that in your head?  I never even thought of such
a thing!"

"My dear boy, I know it--I know it; and that's why I speak.  You see,
you are now just twenty-seven, and a fine handsome young fellow--"

Charley made a grimace.

"While I am getting an old man, Charley, and the time cannot be so very
far off before I must go to my sleep.  You are my only child, and I want
the Squire of Blandfield to keep up the dignity of the old family.
Don't interrupt me, my boy, I have not done yet.  I must soon go the way
of all flesh--"

"Heaven forbid!" said Charley fervently.

"And it is the dearest wish of my heart to see you married to some lady
of good birth--one who shall well do the honours of your table.
Blandfield must not pass to a collateral branch, Charley; we must have
an heir to these broad acres; for I hope the time will come, my boy,
when in this very library you will be seated, grey and aged as I am,
talking to some fine stalwart son, who, like you, shall possess his dear
mother's eyes, ever to bring to remembrance happy days gone by, my boy--
gone by never to return."

The old man's voice trembled as he spoke, and the next moment his son's
hands were clasped in his, while as eye met eye there was a weak tear
glistening in that of the elder, and the lines seemed more deeply cut in
his son's fine open countenance.

"My dear father!" said the young man softly.

"My dear Charley!" said Sir Philip.

There was silence for a while as father and son thought of the days of
sorrow ten years back, when Blandfield Court was darkened, and steps
passed lightly about the fine old mansion, because its lady--loved of
all for miles round--had been suddenly called away from the field of
labour that she had blessed.  And then they looked up to the portrait
gazing down at them from the chimneypiece, seeming almost to smile sadly
upon them as they watched the skilful limning of the beloved features.

A few moments after, a smile dawned upon the old man's quivering lip,
as, still retaining his son's hand, he motioned him to take a seat by
his side.

"My dear Charley," he said at last, "I think you understand my wishes."

"My dear father, yes."

"And you will try?"

"To gratify you?--Yes, yes, of course; but really, father--"

"My dear boy, I know--I know what you would say.  But look here,
Charley--there has always been complete confidence between us; is
there--is there anything?"

"Any lady in the case?  What, any tender _penchant_?" laughed Charley.
"My dear father, no.  I think I've hardly given a thought to anything
but my horses and dogs."

"I'm glad of it, Charley, I'm glad of it!  And now let's quietly chat it
over.  Do you know, my dear boy, that you are shutting yourself out from
an Eden?  Do you not believe in love?"

"Well, ye-e-es.  I believe that you and my dear mother were most truly
happy."

"We were, my dear boy, we were.  And why should not you be as happy?"

"Hem!" ejaculated Charley; and then firmly: "because, sir, I believe
that there is not such a woman as my dear mother upon earth."

The old gentleman shaded his eyes for a few moments with his disengaged
hand.

"Frankly again, father," said the young man, "is there a lady in view?"

"Well, no, my dear boy, not exactly; but I certainly was talking with
Bray over our port last week, when we perhaps did agree that you and
Laura seemed cut out for one another; but, my dear boy, don't think I
want to play the tyrant and choose for you.  They do say, though, that
the lady has a leaning your way; and no wonder, Charley, no wonder!"

"I don't know very much about Laura," said Charley musingly.  "She's a
fine girl certainly; looks rather Jewish, though, with those big red
lips of hers and that hooked nose."

"My dear Charley!" remonstrated Sir Philip.

"But she rides well--sits that great rawboned mare of hers gloriously.
I saw her take a leap on the last day I was out--one that I took too,
about half an hour before that fall; but hang me if it wasn't to avoid
being outdone by a woman!  I really wanted to shirk it."

"Good, good!" laughed Sir Philip.

"But she's fast, and not feminine, to my way of thinking," said Charley,
gazing up as he spoke at the picture above the mantelpiece, and
comparing the lady in question with the truly gentle mother whom he had
almost worshipped.  "She burst out with a hoarse `Bravo!' when she saw
me safely landed, and then shouted, `Well done, Charley!' and I felt so
nettled, that I pulled out my cigar-case, and asked her to take one."

"But she did not?" exclaimed Sir Philip.

"Well, no," said Charley, "she did not, certainly--she only laughed; but
she looked just as if she were half disposed.  She's one of your Spanish
style of women: scents, too, tremendously--bathes in Ihlang-Ihlang, I
should think; perhaps because she delights in garlic and onions, and
wants to smother the odour!"

"My dear boy--my dear boy!" laughed Sir Philip, "you do really want
polish horribly!  What a way to speak of a lady!  It's terrible, you
know!  But there, don't judge harshly, and you are perfectly unfettered;
only just bear this in mind: it would give me great pleasure if you were
to lead Laura Bray in here some day and say--But there, you know--you
know!  Still I place no tie upon you, Charley: only bring me some fair
sweet girl--by birth a lady, of whom I can be proud--and then all I want
is that you shall give me a chair at your table and fireside.  You might
have the title if it were possible, but you shall have the Court and the
income--everything.  Only let me have my glass of wine and my bit of
snuff, and play with your children.  Heaven bless you, my dear boy!
I'll go off the bench directly, and you shall be a county magistrate;
but you must be married, Charley--you must be married!"

Charley Vining did not appear to be wonderfully elated by his future
prospects, for, sighing, he said:

"Really, father, I could have been very happy to have gone on just as we
are; but your wishes--"

"Yes, my dear boy, my wishes.  And you will try?  Only don't bother
yourself; take time, and mix a little more with society--accept a few
more invitations--go to a few of the archery and croquet parties."

"Heigho, dad!" sighed Charley.  "Why, I should be sending arrows for fun
in the stout old dowagers' backs, and breaking the slow curates' shins
with my croquet mallet!  There, leave me to my own devices, and I'll see
what I can do!"

"To be sure--to be sure, Charley!  And you do know Maximilian Bray?"

"Horrid snob!" laughed Charley, "such a languid swell!  Do you know what
our set call him?  But there, of course you don't!  `Donkey Bray' or
else `Long-ears!'"

"There, there--never mind that!  I don't want you to marry him, Charley.
And there--there's Beauty at the door!" exclaimed the old gentleman,
shaking his son's hand.  "Go and have your ride, Charley!  Good-bye!
But you'll think of what I said?"

"I will, honestly," said the young man.

"And--stay a moment, Charley: Lexville flower-show is to-morrow.  I
can't go.  Couldn't you, just to oblige me?  I like to see these affairs
patronised; and Pruner takes a good many of our things over.  He
generally carries off a few prizes.  I see they've quite stripped the
conservatory.  You'll go for me, won't you?"

"Yes, father, if you wish it," sighed Charley.

"I do wish it, my dear boy; but don't sigh, pray!"

"All right, dad," said the young man, brightening, and shaking Sir
Philip's hand, "I'll go; give away the prizes, too, if they ask me," he
laughed.  And the next moment the door closed upon his retreating form.

Sir Philip Vining listened to his son's departing step, and then
muttering, "They will ask him too," he rose, and went to the window,
from which he could just get a glimpse of the young man mounting at the
hall-door.  The next moment Charley cantered by upon a splendid roan
mare, turning her on to the lawn-like sward, and disappearing behind a
clump of beeches.

"He's a noble boy!" muttered the father proudly; and then as he walked
thoughtfully back to his chair, "A fine dashing fellow!"

But of course these were merely the fond expressions of a weak parent.

Volume 1, Chapter V.

CHARLEY'S ENCOUNTERS.

"Bai Jove, Vining! that you?" languidly exclaimed a little, thin,
carefully-dressed man, ambling gently along on one of the most
thoroughly-broken of ladies' mares, whose pace was so easy that not a
curl of her master's jetty locks was disarranged, or a crease formed in
his tightly-buttoned surtout.  His figure said "stays" as plainly as
figure could speak; he wore an eyeglass screwed into the brim of his
very glossy hat; his eyes were half closed; his moustache was waxed and
curled up at the ends like old-fashioned skates; and his
carefully-trained whiskers lightly brushed their tips against his
shoulders.  And to set off such arrangements to the greatest advantage,
he displayed a great deal of white wristband and shirt-front; his collar
came down into the sharpest of peaks; and he rode in lemon-kid gloves
and patent-leather boots.

"Hallo, Max!" exclaimed Charley, looking like some Colossus as he reined
in by the side of the dandy, who was going in the same direction along a
shady lane.  "How are you?  When did you come down?"

"So, so--so, so, mai dear fellow!  Came down la-a-ast night.  But pray
hold in that confounded great beast of yours: she's making the very
deuce of a dust!  I shall be covered!"

Charley patted and soothed his fiery curveting steed into a walk, which
was quite sufficient to keep it abreast of Maximilian Bray's ambling
jennet, which kept up a dancing, circus-horse motion, one evidently
approved by its owner for its aid in displaying his graceful
horsemanship.

"Nice day," said Charley, scanning with a side glance his companion's
"get-up," and evidently with a laughing contempt.

"Ya-a-s, nice day," drawled Bray, "but confoundedly dusty!"

"Rain soon," said Charley maliciously.  "Lay it well."

"Bai Jove, no--surely not!" exclaimed the other, displaying a great deal
of trepidation.  "You don't think so, do you?"

"Black cloud coming up behind," said Charley coolly.

"Bai Jove, mai dear fellow, let's push on and get home!  You'll come and
lunch, won't you?"

"No, not to-day," said Charley.  "But I'm going into the town to see the
saddler.  I'll ride with you."

"Tha-a-anks!" drawled Bray, with a grin of misery.  "But, mai dear
fellow, hadn't you better go on the grass?  You're covering me with
dust!"

"Confounded puppy!  Nice brother-in-law!  Wring his neck!" muttered
Charley, as he turned his mare on to the grass which skirted the side of
the road, as did Bray on the other, when, the horses' paces being
muffled by the soft turf, conversation was renewed.

"Bai Jove, Vining, you'll come over to the flower-show to-morrow, won't
you?  There'll be some splendid girls there!  Good show too, for the
country.  You send a lot of things, don't you?--Covent-garden stuff and
cabbages, eh?"

"Humph!" growled Charley.  "The governor's going to have some sent, I
s'pose; our gardener's fond of that sort of thing.  Think perhaps I
shall go."

"Ya-a-s, I should go if I were you.  It does you country fellows a deal
of good, I always think, to get into society."

"Does it?" said Charley, raising his eyebrows a little.

"Bai Jove, ya-a-s!  You'd better go.  Laura's going, and the Lingon's
girls are coming to lunch.  You'd better come over to lunch and go with
us," drawled the exquisite.

"Well, I don't know," said Charley, hesitating; for he was thinking
whether it would not be better than going quite alone--"I don't know
what to say."

"Sa-a-ay?  Sa-a-ay ya-a-s," drawled Bray.  "Come in good time and have a
weed first in my room; and then we'll taste some sherry the governor has
got da-awn.  He always leaves it till I come da-awn from ta-awn.  Orders
execrable stuff himself, as I often tell him.  Wouldn't have a drop fit
to drink if it weren't for me.  You'd better come."

"Well, really," said Charley again, half mockingly, "I don't know what
to say."

"Why, sa-a-ay ya-a-as, and come."

"Well, then, `ya-a-as'!" drawled Charley, in imitation of the other's
tone.

But Maximilian Bray's skin was too thick for the little barb to
penetrate; and he rode gingerly on, petting his whiskers, and altering
the sit of his hat; when, being thoroughly occupied with his costume,
horse and man nearly came headlong to the ground, in consequence of the
mare stumbling over a small heap of road-scrapings.  But the little
animal saved herself, though only by a violent effort, which completely
unseated Maximilian Bray, who was thrown forward upon her neck, his hat
being dislodged and falling with a sharp bang into the dusty road.

"All right!  No bones broken!  You've better luck than I have!" laughed
Charley, as he fished up the fallen hat with his hunting-whip.  "Nip her
well with your knees, man, and then you won't be unseated again in that
fashion.  Here, take your hat."

"Bai Jove!" ejaculated the breathless dandy, "it's too bad!  That fellow
who left the sweepings by the roadside ought to be shot!  Mai dear
fellow, your governor, as a magistrate, ought to see to it!
Tha-a-anks!"

He took his hat, and began ruefully to wipe off the dust with a scented
handkerchief before again covering his head; but though he endeavoured
to preserve an outward appearance of calm, there was wrath in his breast
as he gazed down at one lemon-coloured tight glove split to ribbons, and
a button burst away from his surtout coat.  He could feel too that his
moustache was coming out of curl, and it only wanted the sharp shower
which now came pattering down to destroy the last remains of his
equanimity.

"Bai Jove, how beastly unfortunate!" he exclaimed, urging his steed into
a smart canter.

"Well, I don't know," said Charley coolly, in his rough tweed suit that
no amount of rain would have injured.  "Better to-day than to-morrow.
Do no end of good, and bring on the hay."

"Ya-a-as, I suppose so," drawled Bray; "but do a confounded deal of
harm!" and he gazed at the sleeves of his glossy Saville-row surtout.

"O, never mind your coat, man!" laughed Charley.  "See how it lays the
dust!"

"Ya-a-as, just so," drawled Bray.  "I shall take this short cut and get
home.  Only a shower!  Bye-bye!  See you to-morrow!  Come to lunch."

The ragged lemon glove was waved to Charley as its owner turned down a
side lane; and now that his costume was completely disordered and wet,
he made no scruple about digging his spurs into his mare's flanks, and
galloping homewards; while, heedless of the sharply-falling rain,
Charley gently cantered on towards the town.

"Damsels in distress!" exclaimed the young man suddenly.  "`Bai Jove!'
as Long-ears says.  Taken refuge from the rain beneath a tree!  Leaves,
young and weak, completely saturated--impromptu shower--bath!  What
shall I do?  Lend them my horse?  No good.  They would not ride double,
like Knight Templars.  Ride off, then, for umbrellas, I suppose.  Why
didn't that donkey stop a little longer? and then he could have done
it."

So mused Charley Vining as he cantered up to where, beneath a spreading
elm by the roadside, two ladies were waiting the cessation of the rain--
faring, though, very little better than if they had stood in the open.
One was a fashionably-dressed, tall, dark, bold beauty, black of eye and
tress, and evidently in anything but the best of tempers with the
weather; the other a fair pale girl, in half-mourning, whose yellow hair
was plainly braided across her white forehead, but only to be knotted
together at the back in a massive cluster of plaits, which told of what
a glorious golden mantle it could have shed over its owner, rippling
down far below the waist, and ready, it seemed, to burst from prisoning
comb and pin.  There was something ineffably sweet in her countenance,
albeit there was a subdued, even sorrowful look as her shapely little
head was bent towards her companion, and she was evidently speaking as
Charley cantered up.

"Sorry to see you out in this, Miss Bray," he cried, raising his
low-crowned hat.  "What can I do?--Fetch umbrellas and shawls?  Speak
the word."

"O, how kind of you, Mr Vining!" exclaimed the dark maiden, with
brightening eyes and flushing cheeks.  "But really I should not like to
trouble you."

"Trouble?  Nonsense!" cried Charley.  "Only speak before you get wet
through."

"Well, if you really--really, you know--would not mind," hesitated Laura
Bray, who, in spite of the rain, was in no hurry to bring the interview
to a close.

"Wouldn't mind?  Of course not!" echoed Charley, whose bold eyes were
fixed upon Laura Bray's companion, who timidly returned his salute, and
then shrank back, as he again raised his little deer-stalker hat from
its curly throne.  "Now, then," he exclaimed, "what's it to be?--shawls
and Sairey Gamps of gingham and tape?"

"No, no, Mr Vining!  How droll you are!" laughed the beauty.  "But if
you really wouldn't mind--really, you know--"

"I tell, you, Miss, Bray, that, I, shall, only, be, too, happy," said
Charley, in measured tones.

"Then, if you wouldn't mind riding to the Elms, and asking them to send
the brougham, I should be so much obliged!"

"All right!" cried Charley, turning his mare.  "Max has only just left
me."

"But it seems such a shame to send you away through all this rain!" said
Laura loudly.

"Fudge!" laughed Charley, as, putting his mare at the hedge in front,
she skimmed over it like a bird, and her owner galloped across country,
to the great disadvantage of several crops of clover.

"What a pity!" sighed Laura to herself, as she watched the retreating
form.  "And the rain will be over directly.  I wonder whether he'll come
back!"

"Do you think we need wait?" said her companion gently.  "The rain has
ceased now, and the sun is breaking; through the clouds."

"O, of course, Miss Bedford!" said Laura pettishly.  "It would be so
absurd if the carriage came and found us gone;" when, seeing that the
dark beauty evidently wished to be alone with her thoughts, the other
remained silent.

"Who in the world can that be with her?" mused Charley, as he rode
along.  "Might have had the decency to introduce me, anyhow.  Don't know
when I've seen a softer or more gentle face.  Splendid hair too!  No
sham there: no fear of her moulting a curl here and a tress there, if
her back hair came undone.  No, she don't seem as if there were any sham
about her--quiet, ladylike, and nice.  'Pon my word, I believe Laura
Bray would make a better man than Max.  Seem to like those silver-grey
dresses with a black-velvet jacket, they look so--There, what a muff I
am, going right out of the way, while that little darling is getting wet
as a sponge!  Easy, lass!  Now, then--over!" he cried to his mare, as
she skimmed another hedge.  "Wonder what her name is!  Some visitor come
to the flower-show, I suppose--_fiancee_ of Long-ears probably.  Steady,
then, Beauty!" he cried again to the mare, who, warming to her work, was
beginning to tear furiously over the ground; for, preoccupied by
thought, Charley had inadvertently been using his spurs pretty freely.

But he soon reduced his steed to a state of obedience, and rode on,
musing upon his late encounter.

"Can't be!" he thought.  "A girl with a head like that would never take
up with such a donkey!  Ah, there he goes, drenched like a rat!  Ha, ha,
ha!  How miserably disgusted the puppy did look!  Patronising me, too--a
gnat!  Advising me to go into society, etcetera!  Well, I can't help it:
I do think him a conceited ass!  But perhaps, after all, he thinks the
same of me; and I deserve it.

"Dear old dad," he mused again after awhile.  "Like to see me married
and settled, would he?  What should I be married for?--a regular
woman-hater!  Why, in the name of all that's civil, didn't Laura
introduce me to that little blonde?  Like to know who she is--not that
it matters to me!  Over again, my lass!" he cried, patting the mare as
she once more bounded over a hedge, this time to drop into a lane
straight as a line, and a quarter of a mile down which Maximilian Bray
could be seen hurrying along--Charley's short cut across the fields
having enabled him to gain upon the fleeing dandy.

"May as well catch up to him, and tell him what I've seen," said
Charley, urging on his mare.  "No, I won't," he said, checking.  "Better
too, perhaps.  No, I won't.  Why should I send the donkey back to them?
Not much fear, though: he'll be too busy for a couple of hours restoring
his damaged plumes--a conceited popinjay!"

He cantered gently on now, seeming to take the shower with him, for he
could see, on turning, that it was getting fine and bright.  But the
rain had quite ceased as he rode up to the door of the Brays' seat--a
fine old red-brick mansion known as the Elms--just as a groom was
leading the ambling palfrey to its stable at the King's Arms--there not
being accommodation in the paternal stables--a steed not much more than
half the size of the great rawboned hunter favoured by Max's masculine
sister.

"Why, here's Mr Charley Vining!" cried a shrill loud voice, from an
open window.  "How de do, Mr Vining--how de do?  Come to lunch, haven't
you?  So glad!  And so sorry Laura isn't at home!  Caught in the shower,
I'm afraid."

The owner of the voice appeared at the window, in the shape of a very
big bony lady in black satin--bony not so much in figure as in face,
which seemed fitted with too much skull, displaying a great deal of
cheek prominence, and a macaw-beaked nose, with the skin stretched over
it very tightly, forming on the whole an organ of a most resonant
character--one that it was necessary to hear before it could be
thoroughly believed in.  In fact, with all due reverence to a lady's
nose, it must be stated that the one in question acted as a sort of
war-trump, which Mrs Bray blew with masculine force when about to
engage in battle with husband or servant for some case of disputed
supremacy.

"Ring the bell, girls," shrieked the lady; "and let some one take Mr
Vining's horse.  Do come in, Mr Vining!"

"How do, Vining--how do?" cried a little pudgy man, appearing at the
window, but hardly visible beside his lady--Mrs Bray in more ways than
one eclipsing her lord.  "How do?  How's Sir Philip?"

"Quite well, thanks; but not coming in," cried Charley, from his horse's
back.  "Miss Bray and some lady caught in the rain--under tree--bad
shelter--want the brougham."

"Dear me, how tiresome!" screamed Mrs Bray.  "But must we send it,
Ness?"

Mr Bray, named at his baptism Onesimus, replied by stroking his cheek
and looking thoughtfully at his lady.

"The rain's about over now, and they might surely walk," shrieked Mrs
Bray.  "Dudgeon grumbles so, too, when he has to go out like this, and
he was ordered for two o'clock."

"Better send, my dear," whispered Mr Bray, with a meaning look.
"Vining won't like it if you don't."

Mrs Bray evidently approved of her husband's counsel; for orders were
given that the brougham should be in immediate readiness.

"They won't be long," she now screamed, all smiles once more.  "But do
come in and have some lunch, Mr Vining: don't sit there in your wet
clothes."

"No--no.  I'm all right," cried Charley.  "I'm off again directly."

But for all that, he lingered.

"You'll be at the flower-show to-morrow, won't you?" said Mrs Bray.

"Well, yes, I think I shall go," said Charley.  "I suppose everybody
will be there."

"O, of course; Laura's going.  I suppose you send some things from the
Court?"

"Yes," said Charley; but he added, laughing, "What will be the use, when
you are going to send such a prize blossom?"

"For shame, you naughty man!" said Mrs Bray.  "I shall certainly tell
Laura you've turned flatterer."

"I say, Charley Vining," squeaked a loud voice from the next window,
"we're going to beat you Court folks."

"We are, are we?" laughed Charley, turning in the direction of the
voice, which proceeded from a very tall angular young lady of sixteen--a
tender young plant, nearly all stem, and displaying very little blossom
or leaf.  She was supported on either side by two other tender plants,
of fourteen and twelve respectively, forming a trio known at the Elms as
"the children."  "I'm very glad to hear it, Miss Nell; but suppose we
wait till after the judge's decision.  But there goes the carriage.
Good-bye, all!"

And turning his horse's head, he soon overtook the brougham, when, after
soothing Mr Dudgeon, the driver, with a shilling, the progress was
pretty swift until they reached the tree, where, now finding shelter
from the sun instead of the rain, yet stood Laura Bray and her
companion.

"O, how good of you, Mr Vining! and to come back, too!" gushed Laura,
with sparkling eyes.  "I shall never be out of debt, I'm sure.  I don't
know what I should have done if it had not been for you!"

"Walked home, and a blessed good job, too!" muttered Mr John Dudgeon.

"Don't name it!" said Charley.  "Almost a pity it's left off raining."

"For shame--no!  How can you talk so!" exclaimed Laura, shaking her
sunshade at the speaker.  "But I really am so much obliged--I am
indeed!"

Charley dismounted and opened the carriage-door, handing in first Miss
Bray, who stepped forward, leaned heavily upon his arm, and then took
her place, arranging her skirts so as to fill the back seat, talking
gushingly the while as she made play at Charley with her great dark
eyes.

But the glances were thrown away, Charley's attention being turned to
her companion, who bent slightly, just touched the proffered hand, and
stepped into the brougham, taking her seat with her back to the horse.

"So much obliged--so grateful!" cried Laura, as Charley closed the door.
"I shall never be able to repay you, I'm sure.  Thanks!  So much!
Good-bye!  See you at the flower-show to-morrow, of course?
Good-bye!--_good-bye_!"

"She's getting a precious deal too affectionate!  Talk about wanting me
to marry _her_, why she'll run away with _me_ directly!" grumbled
Charley, as Mr Dudgeon impatiently drove off, leaving the young man
with the impression of a swiftly passing vision of Laura Bray showing
her white teeth in a great smile as she waved her hand, and of a fair
gentle face bent slightly down, so that he could see once more the rich
massive braids resting upon a shapely, creamy neck.  "Have they been
saying anything to her?" said Charley, as the brougham disappeared.
"She's getting quite unpleasant.  Grows just like the old woman:
regularly parrot-beaked.  Why didn't she introduce me?  Took the best
seat, too!  Looks strange!  I say, though, `bai Jove'--as that sweet
brother says--this sort of thing won't do!  I should like to please the
dad; but I don't think I could manage to do it `that how,' as they say
about here.  She quite frightens me!  Heigho! what a bother life is when
you can't spend it just as you like!  Wish I was out in Australia or
Africa, or somewhere to be free and easy--to hunt and shoot and ride as
one liked.  Let's see: I shall not go over to the town now--it's nearly
lunch-time, and I'm wet."

He had mounted his horse, and was about to turn homeward, when something
shining in the grass caught his eye, and leaping down, he snatched up
from among the glistening strands, heavy with raindrops, a little golden
cross--one that had evidently slipped from velvet or ribbon as the
ladies stood beneath that tree.

"That's not Miss Laura's--can't be!" muttered Charley, as he gazed
intently at the little ornament.  "Not half fine enough for her."

Then turning it over, he found engraved upon the reverse:

"E.B. From her Mother, 1860."

"E.B.--E.B.--E.B.!  And pray who is E.B.?" muttered Charley, as, once
more mounting, he turned his horse's head homeward.  "Eleanor B. or
Eliza--no, that's a housemaid's name--Ernestine, Eva.  Who can she be?
Not introduced--given the back seat--hardly spoken to, and yet so
ladylike, and--There, get on, Beauty!  What am I thinking about?  We
sha'n't be back to lunch."

He cantered on for a mile: and then as they entered a sunny lane--a very
arcade of gem-besprinkled verdure--he drew rein, and taking the little
cross from his pocket, once more read the inscription.

"`E.B. From her mother, 1860.'  And pray who is her mother? and who is
E.B.?  Nobody from about here, I'll be bound.  But what a contrast to
that great, tall, dark woman!  And they call her beautiful!  Not half so
beautiful as you, my lass!" he cried, rousing himself, and patting his
mare's arched neck.  "You are my beauty, eh, lass?  Get on, then!"

But as Charley Vining rode on he grew thoughtful, and more than once he
absently muttered:

"Yes; I think I'll go to the flower-show to-morrow!"

Volume 1, Chapter VI.

A SECOND MEETING.

Maximilian Bray, Esq., clerk in her Majesty's Treasury, Whitehall, sat
in his dressing-room soured and angry.  He had been hard at work trying
to restore the mischief done by the rain; but in spite of "Bandoline"
and "Brilliantine," he could not get hair, moustache, or whiskers to
take their customary curl: they would look limp and dejected.  Then that
superfine coat was completely saturated with water, as was also his hat,
neither of which would, he knew, ever again display the pristine gloss.
And, besides, he had been unseated before "that coarse boor, Charley
Vining," and the fellow had had the impertinence to grin.  But, there,
what could you expect from such a country clown?  Altogether, Maximilian
Bray, Esq., was cross--not to say savage--and more than once he had
caught himself biting his nails--another cause for annoyance, since he
was very careful with those almond-shaped nails, and had to pare, file,
and burnish them afterwards to remove the inequality.

The above causes for a disordered temper have been recorded; but they
were far from all.  It is said that it never rains but it pours, and as
that was the case out of doors, so it was in.  But it would be wearisome
to record the breaking of boot-loops, the tearing out of shirt-buttons,
and the crowning horror of a spot of iron-mould right in the front of
the principal plait.  Suffice it that Maximilian Bray felt as if he
could have quarrelled with the whole world; and as he sat chilled with
his wetting, he had hard work to keep from gnawing his finger-nails
again and again.

He might have gone down into the drawing-room, warm with the sun, while
his northern-aspected window lent no genial softness; but no: there was
something on his mind; and though he was dressed, he lingered still.

He knew that the luncheon bell would ring directly; in fact, he had
referred several times to his watch.  But still he hung back, as if
shrinking from some unpleasant task, till, nerving himself, he rose and
went to the looking-glass, examining himself from top to toe, grinning
to see if his teeth were perfectly white, dipping a corner of the towel
in water to remove the faintest suspicion of a little cherry tooth-paste
from the corner of his mouth, biting his lips to make them red, trying
once more to give his lank moustache the customary curl, but trying in
vain--in short, going through the varied acts of a man who gives the
whole of his mind to his dress; and then, evidently thoroughly
dissatisfied, he strode across the room, flung open the door, and began
to descend the stairs.

The builder of the Elms, not being confined for space, had made on the
first floor a long passage, upon which several of the bedrooms opened;
and this passage, being made the receptacle for the cheap pictures
purchased at sales by Mr Onesimus Bray, was known in the house as the
"long gallery."

Descending a short flight of stairs, Maximilian Bray was traversing this
gallery, when the encounter which in his heart of hearts he had been
dreading ever since he came down the night before was forced upon him;
for, turning into the passage from the other end, the companion of Laura
Bray's morning walk came hurriedly along, slackening her pace, though,
as she perceived that there was a stranger in advance; but as their eyes
met, a sudden start of surprise robbed the poor girl for a few moments
of her self-control; the blood flushed to her temples, and for an
instant she stopped short.

But Maximilian Bray was equal to the occasion.  He had fought off the
encounter as long as he could; but now that the time had come, he had
determined upon brazening it out.

"Ha ha!" he laughed playfully.  "Know me again, then?  Quite frightened
you, didn't I?  Shouldn't have been so cross last time, when I only
wanted to see you safe on your journey.  Didn't know who I was, eh?
But, bai Jove! glad to see you again--am indeed!"

There was no reply for an instant to these greetings.  But as the flush
faded, to leave the lace of her to whom they were addressed pale and
stern, Maximilian Bray's smile grew more and more forced.  The words
were too shallow of meaning not to be rightly interpreted; and
overcoming the surprise that had for a few moments fettered her, the
fair girl turned upon Bray a keen piercing look, as moving forward she
slightly bent, and said coldly in her old words:

"I think, sir, you have made some mistake."

"Mistake?  No!  Stop a minute.  No mistake, bai Jove--no!  You remember
me, of course, when I startled you at the station.  Only my fun, you
know, only that young donkey must interfere.  Glad to see you again--am,
indeed, bai Jove!  We shall be capital friends, I know."

As he spoke, he stepped before his companion, arresting her progress,
and holding out his hand.

Driven thus to bay, the young girl once more turned and faced her
pursuer with a look so firm and piercing, that he grew discomposed, and
the words he uttered were unconnected and stammering.

"Sorry, you know, bai Jove!  Mistook my meaning.  Glad to see you
again--am, bai Jove!  Eh?  What say?"

"I was not aware that Mr Maximilian Bray and the gentleman"--she laid a
hardly perceptible emphasis on the word "gentleman"--"whom I encountered
at that country station were the same.  Allow me to remind you, sir,
that you made a mistake then in addressing a stranger.  You make another
error in addressing me again; for bear in mind we are strangers yet.
Excuse me for saying so, but I think it would be better to forget the
past."

"Ya-as, just so--bai Jove! yes.  It was nothing, you know, only--"

Maximilian Bray stopped short, for the simple reason that he was alone;
for, turning hastily, his companion had retraced her steps, leaving the
exquisite son of the house--the pride of his mother, the confidant of
his sister, and the pest of the servants--looking quite "like a fool,
you know, bai Jove!"

They were his own words, though meant for no other ears but his own,
being a little too truthful.  Then he stood thinking and gnawing one
nail for a few moments before continuing his way down to the
dining-room.

"So we are to be as if we met for the first time, are we?" he muttered;
and then his countenance lighted up into an inane smile as he thought to
himself, "Well, I've got it over.  And, after all, it's something like
being taken into her confidence, for haven't we between us what looks
uncommonly like a secret?"

Volume 1, Chapter VII.

A DAWNING SENSE.

They were rather famous for their flower-shows at Lexville, not merely
for the capital displays of Nature's choicest beauties, educated by
cunning floriculturists to the nearest point to perfection, but also for
their wet days.  When the exhibition was first instituted, people said
that the marquee was soaked and the ladies' dresses spoiled, simply
because the show was held upon a Friday.  "Just," they said, "as if
anybody but a committee would have chosen a Friday for an outdoor fete!"

But, if anything, the day was a little worse upon the next occasion,
when Thursday had been selected, the same fate attending the luckless
managers upon a Monday, a Tuesday, and a Wednesday.  But now at last it
seemed as if the fair goddess Flora herself had enlisted the sympathies
of that individual known to mortals as "the clerk of the weather," and,
in consequence, the day was all that could be desired.  In fact, the
weather was so fine, that the bandsmen of the Grenadier Guards, instead
of coming down in their old and tarnished uniforms--declared, as a rule,
to be good enough for Lexville--mustered in full force, gorgeous in
their brightest scarlet and gold.  The committee-men had shaken hands in
the secretary's tent a dozen times over as many glasses of sherry, and
forgotten to eat their biscuits in their hurry to order the cords of
Edgington's great tent to be tightened, so potent were the rays of the
sun; while within the canvas palace, in a golden hazy shade, the floral
beauties from many a hot house and conservatory were receiving the last
touches by way of arrangement.

Lexville was in a profound state of excitement that day, and Miss
l'Aiguille, the dressmaker, declared that she had been nearly torn to
pieces by her customers.

"As for Miss Bray," she said, "not another dress would she make for
her--no, not if she became bankrupt to-morrow--that she wouldn't!  Six
tryings-on, indeed, and then not satisfied!"

However, Miss l'Aiguille's troubles were so far over that, like the rest
of Lexville, she had partaken of an early dinner, or lunch, and prepared
herself to visit the great fete.

Lexville flower-show was always held in the grounds of one of the county
magistrates, the Rev  Henry Lingon, concerning whose kindness the
reporter for the little newspaper generally went into raptures in print,
and received orders for half-a-dozen extra copies the next bench-day.
And now fast and furiously the carriages began to set down--the wealth
and fashion of the neighbourhood making a point of being the earlier
arrivals, so as to miss the crowd of commoner beings who would
afterwards flock together.

"Ah, Vining!  You're here, then, mai dear fellow!  Why didn't you come
to lunch?" exclaimed Maximilian Bray, sauntering up to the young man,
who, rather flushed and energetic, was talking to a knot of
flower-button-holed committee-men.

"How do, Max?" exclaimed Charley, hastily taking the extended hand, and
giving it a good shake.  Then, turning to the committee-men: "Much
rather not--would, really, you know--don't feel myself adapted.  Well,
there," he exclaimed at last, in answer to several eager protestations,
"I'll do it, if you can get no one else!--Want me to give away the
prizes," he said, turning to Max Bray, who was gazing ruefully at his
right glove, in whose back a slight crack was visible, caused, no doubt,
by the hearty but rough grasp it had just received.

"To be sure--of course!" drawled Bray.  "You're the very man, bai Jove!
But won't you come towards the gate?  I expect our people here
directly."

Nothing loth, Vining strolled with his companion down one of the
pleasant floral avenues, but seeing no flowers, hearing no band; for his
gaze, he hardly knew why, was directed towards the approach; and though
Maximilian Bray kept up a drawling series of remarks, they fell upon
inattentive ears.

"Do you expect them soon?" said Charley at last, somewhat impatiently,
for he was growing tired of his companion's chatter.

"Ya-as, directly," said Bray, smiling.  "But, mai dear fellow, why
didn't you come over and then escort them?"

Charley did not answer; for just then he caught sight of Laura, radiant
of lace and dress, sweeping along beside Mrs Bray, who seemed to cut a
way through the crowd at the farther part of the great marquee.

"Here they are," said Bray, drawing Charley along; "so now you can be
out of your misery."

"What do you mean?" said Charley sharply.

"Bai Jove! how you take a fellow up!  Nothing at all--nothing at all!"

Charley frowned slightly, and then suffered himself to be led up to the
Elms party, Mrs Bray smiling upon him sweetly, and Laura favouring him
with a look that was meant to bring him to her side.

But Laura's look had not the desired effect; for Charley stayed talking
to Mrs Bray, after just passing the customary compliments to the
younger lady.

A frown--no slight one--appeared on Laura's brow; but in a few seconds
it was gone, and, walking back a few paces, she stayed by her younger
sisters, with whom Charley could see the young lady of the previous
day's encounter.

And now he would have followed Laura in the hope of obtaining an
introduction, but he was arrested by a stout committee-man.

"Would he kindly step that way for a moment?"

With an exclamation of impatience, the young man followed, to find that
his opinion was wanted as to the suitability of the site chosen for the
distribution of the prizes.

"But surely you can obtain some one else?" exclaimed Charley.

"Impossible, my dear sir," was the reply.

So, after two or three unavailing attempts to obtain a substitute,
Charley gave in; for the owner of the grounds, upon being asked,
declared that a better choice could not have been made; the principal
doctor shook his head; while Mr Onesimus Bray literally turned and fled
upon hearing Charley's request.  So, with a feeling of something like
despair, the elected prize-giver began to cudgel his brains for the
verbiage of a speech, telling himself that he should certainly break
down and expose himself to the laughter of the assemblage; for the
grandees from miles round had made their way to Lexville to patronise
the flower-show; and at last, quite in despair, Charley walked hurriedly
down one of the alleys of the garden, passing closely by the Bray party,
and making Laura colour with annoyance at what she called his neglect.

But Charley Vining's perturbed spirit was not soothed by the anticipated
solitude of the shady alley; for, before he had gone twenty yards, he
saw Max Bray side by side with the lady who had occupied a goodly share
of his thoughts since the encounter of the previous day.

Their backs were towards him, but it was quite evident that Mr
Maximilian Bray was exerting himself to be as agreeable as possible to
his companion, though with what success it was impossible to say.  At
all events, Charley Vining turned sharply round upon his heel, with a
strange feeling of annoyance entirely new pervading his spirit.

"How absurd!" he muttered to himself.  "What an ass I was to come to a
set-out of this kind!  No fellow could be more out of place!"

Turning out of the alley, he made his way, with rapid, business-like
steps, on to the lawn, where the rapidly-increasing company were now
gathering in knots, and listening to one of Godfrey's finest selections.
To an unbiased observer, the thought might have suggested itself that
there was as bright a flower-show, and as beautiful a mingling of hues,
out there upon the closely-shaven turf, as within the tent; but Charley
Vining was just then no impartial spectator; and, though more than one
pair of eyes grew brighter as he approached, he saw nothing but two
figures slowly issuing from the other end of the alley, where the
guelder roses were showering down their vernal snows.

"I should uncommonly like to wing that Max Bray's neck!" said Charley to
himself, as he threw his stalwart form into a wicker garden-chair, which
creaked and expostulated dismally beneath the weight it was called upon
to bear; and then, indulging in rather a favourite habit, he lolled
there, muttering and talking to himself--cross-examining and answering
questions respecting his uneasiness.

But the more he thought, the more uneasy he grew, and twice over he
shifted his seat to avoid an attack from some conversational friend whom
he saw approaching.

"There, this sort of thing won't do!" he exclaimed at last.  "I'm afraid
I'm going on the pointed-out road rather too fast.  Suppose I take a
dose of the Bray family by way of antidote."

So, leaving his seat, he strode towards where he could see Laura's white
parasol; but his intent was baffled by a couple of committee-men, who
literally took him into custody--their purpose being to give him divers
and sundry explanations respecting the distribution of the prizes.

Volume 1, Chapter VIII.

SHOOTING AN ARROW.

To have seen the company assembled in the Reverend Henry Lingon's
grounds upon that bright afternoon, it might have been imagined that for
the time being no marring shadow could possibly cross any breast; for,
gaze where you would, the eye rested upon bright pleased faces wreathed
in smiles, groups, whose aspect was of the happiest, setting off
everywhere the Watteau-like landscape.  But for all that, there were
faces there wearing but a mask, and to more than one present that fete
was fraught with _ennui_ and disappointment.  Toilettes arranged with
the greatest care had, in other than the instance hinted at, been
without effect; while again, where, in all simplicity, effect had not
been sought, attentions had been paid distasteful even to annoyance.
The Lexville flower-show had assembled together enough to form a little
world of hopes and fears; and, fete-day though it had been, there were
aching hearts that night, and tearful eyes moistening more than one
pillow--the pillows of those who were young and hopeful still, in spite
of their pain, though they were beginning to learn how much bitterness
there is amidst the dregs of every cup--dregs to be drained by all in
turn, earlier or later, in their little span.

But now the band was silenced for a while, and the company began to
cluster around a temporary platform erected for the occasion, where the
hero of the day was to distribute to the expectant gardeners the rewards
of their care and patience.

Not that there is much to be called heroic in giving a few premiums for
the best roses, or pansies, or stove-plants; but if the distributor be
young, handsome, disengaged, heir to a baronetcy, and rich, in many eyes
he becomes a hero indeed--a hero of romance; and bitter as were the
feelings of Charley Vining, who declared to himself that his speech was
blundering, that he had looked _gauche_ and red-faced, and that any
schoolboy could have done better, there were plenty of hearty plaudits
for him, and more than one bright young face became suffused with the
rapid beating of its owner's heart, as for a moment she thought that a
glance was directed expressly at her.

Poor deluded little thing, though!  It was all a mistake; for Charley
Vining went through his business like an automaton, seeing nothing but a
simple, half-mourning muslin dress, and a pale, sweet face in a lavender
bonnet, which had appeared to him to have been haunted the whole day
long by what he had once indignantly called "a tailor's dummy"--to wit,
the exquisite and elaborately-attired form of Maximilian Bray.

But at length the distribution was at an end, and gardener, amateur, and
cottager had been dismissed.  Hot, weary, and glad to get away, Charley
had hurried from the group of friends and acquaintances by whom he had
been surrounded, when at a short distance off he espied Laura Bray, and
his heart smote him for his neglect of the daughter of a family with
whom he had always been very intimate.

"Too bad, 'pon my word!" said Charley hypocritically, for at the same
moment other thoughts had flashed across his mind.  However, he drew
down that mental blind which people find so convenient wherewith to
shadow the window of their hearts, and strode across the lawn towards
Laura, who was apparently listening to the conversation of a gentleman
of a more fleshy texture than is general with young men of three- or
four-and-twenty.

"At last!" muttered Laura Bray, as Charley came smiling up to where she
stood; and now beneath that smile the feeling of anger and annoyance at
what she had looked upon as his neglect melted away.  True, he owed her
no allegiance; but she had set herself upon receiving his incense, and
the afternoon having passed with hardly a word, a feeling of
disappointment of the most bitter nature had troubled her: the music had
seemed dirge-like, the brilliant flowers as if strewn with ashes.  At
times she was for leaving; but no, she could not do that.  She had
darted angry and reproachful glances at him again and again, but without
effect, and then looked at him with eyes subdued and tearful, still in
vain: he had seemed almost to avoid her, and such pains too as she had
taken to make herself worthy of his regard!  How she had bitten her lips
till the blood had nearly started from beneath the bruised skin!  Rage
and disappointment had between them shared her breast.  Then in a fit of
anger she had commenced quite a flirtation with Hugh Lingon, the son of
the owner of the grounds, a fat young gentleman from Cambridge, an
ardent croquetist, but rather famed in his set for the number of times
he had been "ploughed for smalls."  Hugh Lingon had been delighted,
smiling so much that the great creases in his fat face almost closed his
eyes.  He even went so far as to squeeze Laura's hand, and to tell her
that the cup ought to have been presented to her as the fairest flower
there; but Charley Vining had not seemed to mind the attentions in the
least--he had not even appeared troubled; and at last poor Hugh Lingon
was snubbed while uttering some platitude, and sent about his business
by the imperious beauty, to make room for Charley Vining, whose pleasant
smile chased away all Laura's care.

Of course she must make allowances for him.  He had been busy and
bothered about the prize-giving, so how could he attend to her?  He was
different from other men: so frank and straightforward and bold.  She
had always felt that he must love her; and after what Sir Philip Vining
had hinted to papa, and papa had told mamma, and mamma had pinched her
arm and told her in a whisper, what was there to prevent her being Lady
Vining and the mistress of Blandfield Court?

"At last!" said Laura, and this time quite aloud, as Charley came up;
when, taking his arm, she bestowed upon him a most reproachful glance.
"I declare I thought your friends were to be quite neglected!"

"Neglected?  O, I don't know," said Charley; and then there was a pause.

"Why, you grow quite _distrait_," said Laura pettishly.  "Why, what can
you see to take your attention there?"

She followed his gaze, which was directed towards a seat across the
lawn, whereon were her companion of the day before, one of the
"children," and Max Bray leaning in an attitude over the back.

"Shall we be moving?" said Charley abstractedly.

"O yes, please do!" said Laura.  "I'm dying for want of an ice, or a cup
of tea.  I've been pestered for the last half-hour by that horrible fat
boy!"

"Fat boy!" said Charley wonderingly.

"Yes; you know whom I mean--Hugh Lingon.  So glad to have you come and
set me free!"

Charley Vining did not say anything; but he led his companion towards
the refreshment-tent, carefully avoiding the open lawn, and taking her,
nowise unwilling, round by the shady walks where there were but few
people, her steps growing slower, and her hand more heavy in its
pressure.  And still Charley Vining was quiet and thoughtful; but he led
his companion to the refreshment-tent, handed the demanded ice, and then
sauntered with her towards the lawn, still gay with fashionably-dressed
groups.

"Had we not better get in the shade?" said Laura languidly.  "The
afternoon sun is quite oppressive."

"Let's cross over to Max," said Charley.  "That seems a pleasant shady
seat."

Laura did not speak, but she looked sidewise in his preoccupied
countenance, and, evidently piqued at what she considered his
indifference, allowed herself to be led across the lawn.

"By the way, Miss Bray," said Charley suddenly, "you never introduced me
to your lady friend."

"Lady friend!" said Laura, as if surprised.

"Yes, the fair girl that friend Max there seems so taken with.  Is it
his _fiancee_?"  Laura Bray's eyes glittered as she bent forward and
looked intently in her companion's face; then a tightness seemed to come
over the muscles of her countenance, giving her a hard bitter look, as a
flash of suspicion crossed her mind.  The next moment she smiled; but it
was not a pleasant smile, though it displayed two rows of the most
brilliantly-white teeth.  But, apparently determined upon her course,
she increased the pace at which they were walking till they stood in
front of the seat where, with a troubled look in her eyes, sat,
listening perforce to the doubtless agreeable conversation of Mr
Maximilian Bray, the lady of the railway station, and the companion of
Laura in the brougham.

It was with a look almost of malice that, stopping short, Laura fixed
her eyes upon Charley Vining, to catch the play of his countenance as,
without altering the direction of her glance, she said aloud:

"Miss Bedford, this gentleman has requested to be introduced to you--Mr
Charles Vining."  Then, with mock courtesy, and still devouring each
twitch and movement, she continued: "Mr Charles Vining--Miss Bedford,
_our new governess_!"

Volume 1, Chapter IX.

AN UNEXPECTED PROTECTOR.

Mr Onesimus Bray led rather an uncomfortable life at home, and more
than once he had confided his troubles to the sympathising ear of Sir
Philip Vining.  Laura was given to snubbing him; Max made no scruple
about displaying the contempt in which he held his parent; while as to
Mrs Bray, the wife of his bosom, the principal cause of his suffering
from her was the way in which she sat upon him.

Now it must not be supposed that Mrs Bray literally and forcibly did
perform any such act of cruelty; for this was only Mr Bray's
metaphorical way of speaking in alluding to the way in which he was kept
down and debarred from having a voice in his own establishment, the
consequence being that he sought for solace and recreation elsewhere.

Mr Onesimus Bray was far from being a poor man; so that if he felt
inclined to indulge in any particular hobby, his banker never said him
"Nay," while if Mrs Bray's somewhat penurious alarms could be laid by
the promise of profit, she would raise not the slightest opposition to
her husband's projects.  At the present time, Mr Bray's especial hobby
was a model farm, in which no small sum of money had been sunk--of
course, with a view to profit; but so far the returns had been _nil_.
The old farmers of the neighbourhood used to wink and nod their heads
together, and cackle like so many of their own geese at what they called
Mr Bray's "fads"--namely, at his light agricultural carts and wagons;
despising, too, his cows and short-legged pigs; but, all the same,
losing no chance of obtaining a portion of his stock when occasion
served.

Moved by a strong desire to possess the finest Southdown sheep in the
county, Mr Bray had purchased a score of the best to be had for money,
among which was a snowy-wooled patriarchal ram, as noble-looking a
specimen of its kind as ever graced a Roman triumphal procession ere
bedewing with its heart's blood the sacrificial altar.  Gentle, quiet,
and inoffensive, the animal might have been played with by a child
before it arrived at Mr Bray's model farmstead; but having been there
confined for a few days in a brick-walled pig-sty, the unfortunate
quadruped attracted the notice of the young gentleman whose duty it was
to clean knives, boots, and shoes at the Elms, and wait table at dinner,
clothed in a jacket glorious with an abundant crop of buttons gracefully
arranged in the outline of a balloon over his padded chest.  It occurred
to this young gentleman one afternoon when alone, that a little playful
teasing of the ram might afford him some safe sport; so fetching a large
new thrum mop from the kitchen, he held it over the side of the pig-sty,
shaking it fiercely and threateningly at the ram, till the poor beast
answered the challenge of the--to him--strange enemy by backing as far
as possible, and then running with all his might at the
suddenly-withdrawn mop, when his head would come with stunning violence
against the bricks, making the wall quiver again.

The pleasant pastime used to be carried on very frequently, till most
probably, not from soreness--rams' heads being slightly thick, and able
to suffer even brick walls--but from disappointment at not being able to
smite its adversary, the ram became changed into a decidedly vicious
beast, and, as such, he was turned out into one of Mr Bray's pleasant
meadows.

Now, as it fell upon a day, perfectly innocent of there being any
vicious animal in the neighbourhood, Ella Bedford had passed through
this very meadow during a walk with her three pupils.  The morning was
bright and sunshiny, and the sight of a fine snowy-wooled sheep cropping
the bright green herbage was not one likely to create alarm.  Had it
been a cow, or even a calf, it might have been different, and the stiles
and footpaths avoided for some other route; for the female eye is a
strong magnifier of the bovine race, and we have known ladies refuse to
pass through a field containing half-a-dozen calves, which had been
magnified, one and all, into bulls of the largest and fiercest
character.

There was something delightful to Ella in the sweet repose of the
country around.  The grass was just springing into its brightest green,
gilded here and there with the burnished buttercups, while in every
hedge-side "oxlips and the nodding violet" were blooming; the oaks, too,
were beginning to wear their livery of green and gold.  The birds sang
sweetly as they jerked themselves from spray to spray, while that Sims
Reeves of the feathered race--the lark--balanced himself far up in the
blue ether, and poured out strain after strain of liquid melody.  There
was that wondrous elasticity in the air, that power which sets the heart
throbbing, and the mind dreaming of something bright, ethereal,
ungrasped, but now nearer than ever to the one who drinks in the sweet
intoxicating breath of spring.

There was a brightness in Ella's eye, and a slight flush in her cheek,
as she walked on with her pupils, smiling at each merry conceit, and
feeling young herself, in spite of the age of sorrow that had been hers.
For a while she forgot the strange home and the cool treatment she was
receiving; the unpleasant attentions, too, of the hopeful son of the
house; the meeting in the gallery.  The wearisome compliments at the
flower-show were set aside; for--perhaps influenced by the bright
morning--Ella's cheek grew still more flushed, and in spite of herself
she dwelt upon the scene where she pictured two beings addressed by a
frank bold horseman; and as his earnest gaze seemed directed once more
at her, Ella's heart increased its pulsations, but only to be succeeded
by a dull sense of aching misery, as another picture floated before her
vision, to the exclusion of the sunny landscape and the glorious spring
verdure.  The sweet liquid trill of the birds, too, grew dull on her
ear; for she seemed once more to see the same earnest gaze fixed upon
her face, and then to watch the start of surprise--was it
disappointment?--as again Laura Bray's words rang on her ears:

"Miss Bedford, our new governess!"

It was time to cease dreaming, she thought.

Walks must come to an end sooner or later; and a reference to her watch
showing Ella Bedford that they would only reach the Elms in time for
lunch, they began to retrace their steps, when, to the young girl's
horror, she saw that they had been followed by no less a personage than
Mr Maximilian Bray, whose first act upon reaching them was to take his
place by Ella's side, and send his sisters on in advance.

But that was not achieved without difficulty, Miss Nelly turning round
sharply and declining to go.

"I shan't go, Max!  You only want to talk sugar to Miss Bedford; and ma
says you're ever so much too attentive--so there now!"

Ella's face became like scarlet, and she increased her pace; but a
whisper from Max sent Nelly scampering off after her two sisters--now
some distance in advance--when he turned to the governess.

"Glad I caught up to you, Miss Bedford--I am, bai Jove!  You see, I
wanted to have a few words with you."

"Mr Maximilian Bray will, perhaps, excuse my hurrying on," said Ella
coldly.  "It is nearly lunch-time, and I am obliged to teach punctuality
to my pupils."

"Bai Jove! ya-as, of course!" said Max.  "But I never get a word with
you at home, and I wanted to set myself right with you about that
station matter."

"If Mr Bray would be kind enough to forget it, I should be glad," said
Ella quickly.

"Bai Jove! ya-as; but, you see, I can't.  You see, it was all a joke so
as to introduce myself like, being much struck, you know.  Bai Jove,
Miss Bedford!  I can't tell you how much struck I was with your personal
appearance--can't indeed!"

Ella's lip curled with scorn as she slightly bent her head and hurried
on.

"Don't walk quite so fast, my dear--Miss Bedford," he added after a
pause, as he saw the start she gave.  "We shall be time enough for
lunch, I daresay.  Pleasant day, ain't it?"

Ella bent her head again in answer, but still kept on forcing the pace;
for the children were two fields ahead, and racing on as quickly as
possible.

"Odd, wasn't it, Miss Bedford, that we should have met as we did, and
both coming to the same place?  Why don't you take my arm?  There's
nobody looking--this time," he added.

The hot blood again flushed up in Ella's cheek as she darted an
indignant glance at her persecutor; but there was something in Max
Bray's composition which must have prevented him from reading aright the
signs and tokens of annoyance in others; and, besides, he was so lost in
admiration of his own graces and position, that when, as he termed it,
he _stooped_ to pay attentions to an inferior, every change of
countenance was taken to mean modest confusion or delight.

"There, don't hurry so!" he exclaimed, laughing.  "Bai Jove, what a
fierce little thing you are!  Now, look here: we're quite alone, and I
want to talk to you.  There, you needn't look round: the children are
half-way home, and we shall be quite unobserved.  Bai Jove! why, what a
prudish little creature you are!"

Ella gave a quick glance round, but only to find that it was just as Max
had said.  There was a sheep feeding in the field, whose hedges were of
the highest; and for aught she could see to the contrary, there was no
assistance within a mile, while Max Bray had caught her hand in his, and
was barring the route.

Regularly driven to bay, Ella turned upon him with flaming face, trying
at the same moment to snatch away her hand, which, however, he held the
tighter, crushing her fingers painfully, though she never winced.

"Mr Bray," she exclaimed, "do you wish me to appeal to your father for
protection?"

"Of course not!" he drawled.  "But there now--bai Jove! what is the use
of your putting on all those fine airs and coy ways?  Do you think I'm
blind, or don't understand what they mean?  Come now, just listen to
what I say."

Before Ella could avoid his grasp, he had thrown one arm round her
waist, when he started back as if stung, for a loud mocking laugh came
from the stile.

"Ha, ha, ha!  I thought so!  I knew you wanted to talk sugar to Miss
Bedford."

At the same moment Max and Ella had seen the merry delighted countenance
of Nelly, who had crept silently back, but now darted away like a deer.

A cold chill shot through Ella Bedford's breast, and it was with the
greatest difficulty that she could force back the angry tears as she saw
that her future was completely marred at the Elms--how that she was, as
it were, at the mercy of the young girl placed in her charge, unless she
forestalled any tattling by complaining herself of the treatment to
which she had been subjected.

"There, you needn't mind her!" exclaimed Max, who partly read her
thoughts.  "I can keep her saucy little tongue quiet.  You need not be
afraid."

"Afraid!" exclaimed Ella indignantly, as she turned upon the speaker
with flashing eyes, and vainly endeavoured to free the hand Max had
again secured.

"Handsomer every moment, bai Jove!" exclaimed Max.  "You've no idea how
a little colour becomes you!  Now, I just want to say a few--"

"Are you aware, sir, that this is a cruel outrage?--one of which no
gentleman would be guilty."

"Outrage?  Nonsense!  What stuff you do talk, my dear!  I should have
thought that, after what I said to you at the flower-show, you would
have been a little more gentle, and not gone flaming out at a poor
fellow like this.  You see, I love you to distraction, Miss Bedford--I
do indeed.  Bai Jove, I couldn't have thought that it was possible for
any one to have made such an impression upon me.  Case of love at first
sight--bai Jove, it was!  And here you are so cruel--so hard--so--'Pon
my soul I hardly know what to call it--I don't, bai Jove!"

"Mr Bray," said Ella passionately, "every word that you address to me
in this way is an insult.  As the instructor of your sisters, your duty
should be to protect, not outrage my feelings at every encounter."

She struggled to release her hand, but vainly.  Each moment his grasp
grew firmer, and, like some dove in the claws of a hawk, she panted to
escape.  She felt that it would be cowardly to call for help; besides,
it would be only making a scene in the event of assistance being near
enough to respond to her appeal; and she had no wish to figure as an
injured heroine or damsel in distress.  Her breast heaved, and an angry
flush suffused her cheeks, while, in spite of every effort, the great
hot tears of annoyance and misery would force themselves to her eyes.
She knew it not--though she saw the exquisite's gaze fixed more and more
intently upon her--she knew not how excitement was heightening the soft
beauty of her face, brightening her eyes, suffusing her countenance with
a warm glow, and lending animation where sorrow had left all tinged with
a sad air of gloom--an aspect that had settled down again after the
brightness given by the early part of her walk.

"There now, don't be foolish, and hurt the poor little white hand!  You
can't get away, my little birdie; for I've caught you fast.  And don't
get making those bright eyes all dull and red with tears.  I don't like
crying--I don't indeed, bai Jove!  Now let's walk gently along together.
There--that's the way.  And now we can talk, and you can listen to what
I have to say."

In spite of her resistance, he drew the young girl's hand through his
arm, and held it thus firmly.  But to walk on, Ella absolutely refused;
and stopping short, she tried to appeal to his feelings.

"Mr Bray," she said, "as a gentleman, I ask you to consider my
position.  You have already done me irreparable injury in the eyes of
your sister; and now by this persecution you would force me to leave my
situation, perhaps with ignominy.  I appeal to your feelings--to your
honour--to cease this unmanly pursuit."

"Ah, that's better!" he said mockingly.  "But I'm afraid, my dear, you
have a strong tinge of the romantic in your ideas.  I see, you read too
many novels; but you'll come round in time to my way of thinking, only
don't try on so much of this silly prudishness, my dear.  It don't do,
you know, because I can see through it.  There, now, don't struggle;
only I'm not going to let you go without something to remember this
meeting by.  Now don't be silly!  It's no robbery--only an exchange.  I
want that little ring to hang at my watch-chain, and you can wear this
one for my sake.  There!" he exclaimed triumphantly, as he succeeded in
drawing a single gem pearl ring from her finger and placing one he drew
from his pocket in its place, Ella the while alternately pale and red
with suppressed anger, for she had vainly looked around for help; and
now forcing back her tears, and scorning to display any farther
weakness, she took off the ring and dashed it upon the path.

"What a silly little thing it is!" laughed Bray, who considered that he
was honouring her with his attentions, however rough they might be.
"But it's of no use: you don't go till that ring is on your darling
little finger--you don't, bai Jove!"

Was there to be no help?  A minute before, she would have refused
assistance; for she did not believe that any one professing to be a
gentleman would so utterly have turned a deaf ear to her protestations
and appeals.  From some low drink-maddened ruffian she might have fled
in horror, shrieking, perhaps, for help; but here, with the son of her
employers, Ella had believed that her indignant rejection of the
insulting addresses would have been sufficient to set her at liberty.
She was, then, half stunned as to her mental faculties on finding that
her words were mocked at, her appeals disregarded, and even her
indignant looks treated as feints and coyness.  But then, poor girl, she
did not know Maximilian Bray, and that his gross nature was not one that
could grasp the character of a good and pure-hearted woman.  It was
something he could not understand.  He measured other natures by his
own, and acted accordingly.  Once only the thoughts of Ella Bedford flew
towards Charles Vining, as if, in spite of herself, they sought in him
her natural protector, but only for an instant; and now, seriously
alarmed, she gazed earnestly round for aid.  She would have even gladly
welcomed the mocking face of Nelly, and have called her to her side.
But no, Nelly had hurried away, content and laughing at what she had
seen: and now from the indignant flush, Ella's face began to pale into a
look of genuine alarm.  But help was at hand.

Still holding tightly by her hand, Max Bray stooped to recover the ring,
when, suddenly as a flash of light, a white rushing form seemed to dart
through the air, catching Max Bray, as he bent down, right upon the
crown of his hat, crushing it over his eyes, and tumbling him over and
over, as a fierce "Ba-a-a-a!" rung upon his astonished ears.

Set free by this unexpected preserver, Ella, panting and alarmed, fled
for the stile and climbed it, when, looking back, she saw that she was
safe, while Max Bray rose, struggling to free himself from his
crushed-down hat; but only for his father's prize Southdown to dart at
and roll him over again: when, once more rising to his feet, he ran,
frightened and blindfold, as hard as he could across the field in the
opposite direction.

Ella saw no more.  It did not fall to her lot to see Max Bray make a
blind bound--a leap in the dark--from his unseen pursuer, and land in
the midst of a dense blackthorn hedge, out of which he struggled, torn
of flesh and coat, to free himself from the extinguishing hat, and gaze
through the hedge-gap at his assailant, who stood upon the other side
shaking his head, and bucking and running forward "ba-a-a-ing"
furiously.

For a few moments Max Bray was speechless with rage and astonishment.
To think that he, Maximilian Bray, should have been bowled over,
battered, and made to flee ignominiously by a sheep!  It was positively
awful.

"You--you--you beast! you--you woolly brute!" he stuttered at last.
"I'll--I'll--bai Jove, I'll shoot you as sure as you're there!--I will,
bai Jove!"

But now the worst of the affair flashed upon him, making torn clothes,
thorns in the flesh, and battered hat seem as nothing, though these were
in his estimation no trifles; but this was the second time within the
past few days that he had been wounded in his self-esteem.

"And now there's that confounded coy jade run home laughing at me--I'm
sure she has!" he muttered.  "Not that there was anything to laugh at;
but never mind: `Every dog--' My turn will come!  But to be upset like
this!  And--what? you won't let me come through!"

There was no doubt about it.  The Southdown was keeping guard at the
stile, and Max Bray, after trying to repair damages, was glad to make
his way back to the Elms by a circuitous route, and then to creep in by
the side-door unseen, vowing vengeance the while against those who had
brought him to that pass.

"But I'll make an end of the sheep!" he exclaimed--"I will, bai Jove!"

Volume 1, Chapter X.

ELLA'S COMFORTER.

Most persons possessed of feeling will readily agree that scarcely
anything could be more unpleasant than for a gentleman, bent upon making
himself attractive to a lady, to meet with such a misfortune as to be
taken, while in a stooping position, for a defiant beast, and to have to
encounter the full force of a woolly avalanche, or so much live mutton
discharged, as from a catapult, right upon the crown of his head.  Max
Bray was extremely sore afterwards--sore in person and temper: but the
most extraordinary part of the affair is, that his head never ached from
the fierce blow.  It would perhaps be invidious to offer remarks about
thickness, or to make comparisons; but certainly for two or three days
after, when he encountered Ella Bedford, Max Bray did wear, in spite of
his effrontery, a decidedly sheepish air.  But not for a longer period.
At the end of that time a great deal of the soreness had worn off, and
he was nearly himself again.

But with Ella Bedford the case was different.  She was hourly awakening
to the fact that hers was to be no pleasant sojourn at the Elms; and
with tearful eyes she thought of the happy old days at home before
sickness fell upon the little country vicarage, and then death removed
the simple, good-hearted village clergyman from his flock, to be
followed all too soon by his mourning wife.

"I have nothing to leave you, my child--nothing!" were almost the
father's last words.  "Always poor and in delicate health, I could only
keep out of debt.  But your mother, help her--be kind to her," he
whispered.

Ella Bedford's help and kindness were only called for during a few
months; and then it fell to her lot to seek for some situation where the
accomplishments, for the most part taught by her father, might be the
means of providing her with a home and some small pittance.

By means of advertising, she had succeeded in obtaining the post of
governess at the Elms, and it was while on her way to fill that post
that she had encountered the hopeful scion of the house of Bray.  It
was, then, with a feeling almost of horror that she met him again at the
Elms, and her first thought was that she must flee directly--leave the
house at once; her next that she ought to relate her adventure to some
one.  But who would sympathise with her, and rightly view it all?  She
shrank from harsh loud-voiced Mrs Bray; and, almost from the first
meeting, Laura had seemed to take a dislike to her--one which she made
no scruple of displaying--while, as a rule, she tried all she could to
how the immeasurable distance she considered that there existed between
her and the dependent.

On the day of the sheep encounter, agitated, wounded, and with great
difficulty keeping back her tears, Ella hurried on; and had Max Bray's
position been one of danger, it is very doubtful whether any assistance
would have been rendered him through Ella, so thoroughly was she taken
up with her own position.  She felt that she must be questioned
respecting her charges reaching home alone; they would certainly talk
about her staying behind with their brother, and the culminating point
would be reached when Miss Nelly declared what she had seen.

Well might the poor girl's heart beat as she hastened on; for it seemed
as if, through the persecution of a fop, her prospects in life were to
be blighted at the outset.  But there's a silver lining to every cloud,
it is said; and before Ella had gone half a mile, to her great joy she
saw Nelly seated with her sisters by a bank, gathering wild flowers, and
then tossing them away.

Fortune favoured her too when they reached the Elms: luncheon--the
children's dinner--had been put back for half an hour because Mr
Maximilian had not returned.

"Mr Maximilian" did not show himself at all at table that day, and,
glad of the respite, Ella sought her bedroom directly after, to think
over the past, and try and decide what ought to be her course under the
circumstances.  What would she not have given for the loving counsel of
some gentle, true-hearted woman!  But she felt that she was quite
alone--alone in the vast weary world; and as such thoughts sprang up
came the recollection of the happy bygone, sweeping all before it; and
at last, unable to bear up any longer, she sank upon her knees by the
bedside, weeping and sobbing as if her poor torn heart would break.

She struggled hard to keep the tears back, but in vain now--they would
come, and with them fierce hysterical sobs, such as had never burst
before from her breast.  Then would come a cessation, as she asked
herself whether she ought not to acquaint Mrs Bray with her son's
behaviour?--or would it be making too much of the affair?  Then she
reviewed her own conduct, and tried to find in it some flaw--some want
of reserve which had brought upon her the insults to which she had been
subjected.  But, as might be expected, the search was vain, and once
more she bowed down her head and sobbed bitterly for the happy past, the
painful present, and the dreary future.

It was in the midst of her passionate outbursts that she suddenly felt
some one kneel beside her, and through her tears she saw, with wonder,
the friendly and weeping face of Nelly, who had crept unperceived into
the room.

"O, Miss Bedford!  Dear, dear Miss Bedford, please don't--don't!" sobbed
the girl, as, throwing her long thin arms round Ella, she drew her face
to her own hard bony breast, soothing, kissing, and fondling her
tenderly, as might a mother.  "Please--please don't cry so, or you'll
break my heart; for, though you don't think it, I do love you so--so
much!  You're so gentle, and kind, and wise, and beautiful, that--that--
that--O, and you're crying more than ever!"

Poor Nelly burst out almost into a howl of grief as she spoke; but, like
her words, it was genuine, and as she pressed her rough sympathies upon
her weeping governess, Ella's sobs grew less laboured, and she clung
convulsively to the slight form at her side.

"There--there--there!" half sobbed Nelly.  "Try not to cry, dear; do
please try, dear Miss Bedford; for indeed, indeed it does hurt me so!
You made me to love you, and I can't bear to see you like this!"

So energetic, indeed, was Nelly's grief, that, as she spoke, she kicked
out behind, overturning a bedroom chair; but it passed unnoticed.

"They say I'm a child; but I'm not, you know!" she said half
passionately.  "I'm sixteen nearly, and I can see as well as other
people.  Yes, and feel too!  I'm not a child; and if Laury raps my
knuckles again, I'll bite her, see if I don't!  But I know what you're
crying about, Miss Bedford, and I saw you wanted to cry all dinner-time,
only you couldn't; it's about Max; and you thought I should tell that he
put his arm round your waist.  But I shan't--no, not never to a single
soul, if they put me in the rack!  He's a donkey, Max is, and a
disagreeable, stupid, cox-comby, stubborn, bubble-headed donkey, that he
is!  I saw him kiss Miss Twentyman, who used to be our governess, and
she slapped his face--and serve him right too, a donkey, to want to kiss
anybody--such stupid silly nonsense!  It's quite right enough for girls
and women to kiss; but for a man--pah!  I don't believe Max was ever
meant to be anything but a girl, though; and I told him so once, and he
boxed my ears, and I threw the butter-plate at him, and the butter stuck
in his whiskers, and it was such fun I forgot to cry, though he did hurt
me ever so.  But I'm not a child, Miss Bedford, and I do love you ever
so much, and I'll never say a single word about you and Max; and if he
ever bothers you again, you say to him, `How's Miss Brown?' and he'll
colour up, and be as cross as can be.  I often say it to make him cross.
He used to go to see her, and she wouldn't have him because she said he
was such a muff, and she married Major Tompkins instead.  But it does
make him cross--and serve him right too, a nasty donkey!  Why, if he'd
held my hand like he did yours to-day, I'd have pinched him, and nipped
him, and bitten him, that I would!  He sha'n't never send me away any
more, though; I shall always stop with you, and take care of you, if
you'll love me very much; and I will work so hard--so jolly hard--with
my studies, Miss Bedford, I will indeed; for I'm so behindhand, and it
was all through Miss Twentyman being such a cross old frump!  But you
needn't be afraid of me, dear; for I'm not a child, am I?"

As Nelly Bray had talked on, fondling her to whom she clung the while,
Ella's sobs had grown less frequent, and at last, as she listened to the
gaunt overgrown girl's well-meaning, half-childish, half-womanly words,
she smiled upon her through her tears; for her heart felt lighter, and
there was relief, too, in the knowledge that Nelly was indeed enough of
a true-hearted woman to read Max Bray's conduct in the right light, and
to act accordingly.

"You darling dear sweet love of a governess!" cried Nelly rapturously,
as she saw the smile; and clinging to her neck, she showered down more
kisses than were, perhaps, quite pleasant to the recipient.  "You will
trust me, won't you?"

"I will indeed, dear," said Ella softly.

"And you won't fidget?"

"No," said Ella.

"And now--that's right; wipe your eyes and sit down--and now you must
talk to me, and take care of me.  But you are not cross because I came
up without leave?"

"Indeed, no," said Ella sadly.  "I thought I was without a friend, and
you came just at that time."

"No, no, you mustn't say that," said Nelly, "because I am not old and
sensible enough to be your friend.  But it hurt me to see you in such
trouble, and I was obliged to come; and now you won't be miserable any
more; and you mustn't take any notice if Laury is disagreeable--a nasty
thing! flirting all day long with my--with Mr Hugh Lingon," she said,
colouring.  "But there, I'm not ashamed: Hugh Lingon is my lover, and
has been ever since he was fourteen and I was six--when he used to give
me sweets, and I loved him, and used to say he was so nice and fat to
pinch!  And Laury was flirting with him all that afternoon at the show,
when Max would hang about--a great stupid!--when I wanted to explain
things; for you know she was flirting with Hugh because that dear old
Charley Vining wouldn't take any notice of her.  He is such a dear nice
fellow!  But I do not love _him_, you know, only like him; and he likes
me ever so much.  He told me so one day, and gave me half-a-crown to
spend in sweets--wasn't it kind of him?  He'll often carry a basket of
strawberries or grapes over for me and the girls, or fill his pockets
with apples and pears for us; when, as for old Max, he'd faint at the
very sight of a basket, let alone carry it!  You will like Charley.  He
_is_ nice!  Laury loves him awful--talks about him in her sleep!  But I
do not think he cares for her,--and no wonder!  But I say, Miss Bedford,
how nice and soft your hand is! and, I say, what a little one!  Why,
mine's twice as big!"

Ella smiled, and went on smoothing the girl's rough hair, but hardly
heeding what she said--only catching a word here and there.

"I shouldn't never love Charley Vining," said Nelly, whose grammar was
exceedingly loose, "but I should always like him; and if I don't marry
Hugh Lingon, I mean to be an old maid, and wear stiff caps and pinners,
and then--You're beginning to cry again, and it's too bad, after all
this comforting up!"

"No, indeed, my child," said Ella, rousing herself.  "I was only
thinking that when things are at the blackest some little ray of hope
will peep out to light our paths."

"I say," said Nelly, "is that poetry?"

"No," said Ella, smiling sadly.

"Ah, I thought it was," said Nelly.  "But then I'm so ignorant and
stupid!  Mamma says I'm fit for nothing, and I suppose she's right!  But
there, I'm making you tired with my talking, and I won't say another
word; only don't you fidget about Max--only snub him well; and I
wouldn't tell pa or ma, because it might make mischief."

Hanging as it were in the balance, Ella allowed the advice of the
child-woman at her side to have effect, and determined to say nothing--
to make no complaints, trusting to her own firmness to keep her
persecutor in his place until his visit was at an end.  It was, perhaps,
a weak resolve; but who is there that always takes the better of two
roads?  It was, however, her decision--her choice of way--one which led
through a cloud of sorrow, misery, and despair so dense, that in after
time poor Ella often asked herself was there to be no turning, no byway
that should lend once again, if but for a few hours, into the joyous
sunshine of life?

Volume 1, Chapter XI.

CROQUET AND ROQUET.

"Bai Jove, seems a strange thing!" said Max Bray at breakfast-time,
about a week after the events recorded in the last chapter--"seems a
strange thing you women can't settle anything without showing your
teeth!"

"You women, indeed!  Max, how can you talk so vulgarly!" exclaimed
Laura.

And then there was silence, for Ella Bedford entered the breakfast-room
with her charges.

Strange or not, there had been something more than a few words that
morning in the breakfast-room between Mrs Bray and her daughter,
concerning a croquet-party to come off that afternoon upon the Elms
lawn.  As for Mr Bray, he had taken no part in the discussion,
"shutting-up"--to use his son's words--"like an old gingham umbrella,
bai Jove!"

However, hostilities ceased upon the appearance of Ella with the
children; and Mrs Bray, after shrieking for the tea-caddy, sat down to
the urn, and the morning meal commenced.

"Of course, mamma," said Laura suddenly, "you won't think of having the
children on the lawn?"

"O, I daresay, miss!" cried Nelly, firing up.  "Just as if we're to be
set aside when there's anything going on!  Charley Vining says I play
croquet just twice as well as you can; and I know he's coming to-day on
purpose to see me!" she added maliciously.

Mr Bray shook his head at her, and Ella slightly raised one finger; but
as she made a rule of never correcting her charges when father or mother
was present, she did not speak.

"Hold your tongue, you pert child!" exclaimed Laura, with a toss of the
head.  "You'll let Miss Bedford keep them in the schoolroom, of course,
mamma?"

"Indeed, I don't see why they should not have a game as well as their
sister!" shrieked Mrs Bray, from behind the urn; for after the
hostilities of that morning mamma would not budge an inch.

The breakfast ended, Nelly ran round to give Mrs Bray a sounding kiss,
and then danced after her sisters and their governess into the
schoolroom.

"There, hooray!  Beaten her!" shouted Nelly, clapping her hands.  "I
knew what she meant, Miss Bedford.  She didn't want you to be on the
lawn and come and play; and now she's beaten, and serve her right too!
She's afraid Charley Vining will take more notice of you than he does of
her, and I shall tell him."

"My dear Nelly!" exclaimed Ella, with a look of pain on her countenance;
when her wild young charge dropped demurely into a seat, and began to
devour French irregular verbs at a tremendous rate, working at them
thoroughly hard, and, having a very retentive memory, making some
progress.

These were Ella's happiest moments; for, in spite of their roughness,
the three girls in her charge, one and all, evinced a liking for her;
and save at times, when she broke out into a thorough childish fit,
Nelly grew hourly more and more womanly under her care.  But Ella was
somewhat troubled respecting the afternoon's meeting, and would gladly
have spent the time in solitude, for it was plain enough that she was to
be present solely out of opposition to Laura; and in spite of all her
efforts, it seemed that she was to grow daily more distasteful to the
dark beauty, who openly showed her dislike before Ella had been in the
house a week.

However, the schoolroom studies made very little progress that morning;
for before long Mrs Bray entered to give orders respecting dress,
sending Nelly into ecstasies as she cast her book aside; and at three
o'clock that afternoon, as Laura swept across the lawn to meet some of
the coming guests, there was a look of annoyance upon her countenance
that was ill-concealed by the smile she wore.

"So absurd!" she had just found time to say to Mrs Bray, "bringing
those children and their governess out upon the croquet-ground as if on
purpose to annoy people, who are made to give way to humour their
schoolroom whims!"

Mrs Bray's reply was a toss of the head, as she turned off to meet her
hopeful son Max, who, after pains that deserved a better recompense, now
made his appearance dressed for the occasion.

"Just in time, bai Jove!" he drawled; and then he started slightly, for,
making a survey of the lawn, he suddenly became aware that Ella Bedford
was seated within a few yards with her pupils.  "O, here's Miss
Bedford!" he exclaimed; "and, let's see, there's Laura; and who are
those with her?  O, the Ellis people.  They don't play.  I want to make
up a set at once--want another gentleman.  Why, there's Charley Vining
just coming out of the stable-yard; rode over, I suppose.  Perhaps he'll
play."

Ella shrank back, and sent an appealing look towards Mrs Bray; but as
Max had said Miss Bedford was to play, there was no appeal.

"Perhaps Miss Nelly here would like to take my place?" said Ella.

"O, dear me, no, Miss Bedford!  Mr Maximilian selected you as one of
the set, and I should not like him to be disappointed," said Mamma Bray.

"You'll play, Vining?" drawled Max.

"Well, no; I don't care about it," said Charley good-humouredly.  "I'll
make room for some one else."

"Ya-a-as, but we haven't enough without you," said Max.  "You might take
a mallet, you know, till some one else comes."

"O, very good," said Charley, who had just caught sight of Ella with a
mallet in her hand.  "I'm ready."

"Then we'll have a game at once before any one else comes.  Now then,
Laura, here's Charley Vining breaking his heart because you don't come
and play on his side.  I daresay, though, Miss Bedford and I can get the
better of you."

But Max Bray's arrangement for a snug _parti_ of four was upset by fresh
arrivals--Hugh Lingon, looking very stout, pink, and warm, with a couple
of sisters, both stouter, pinker, and warmer, and a very slim young
curate from a neighbouring village, arriving just at the same time.

Then followed a little manoeuvring and arranging; but in spite of
brother and sister playing into each other's hands, the game commenced
with Max Bray upon the same side as Laura, one of the stout Miss
Lingons, and the slim curate; while Charley Vining had Ella under his
wing.

Croquet is a very nice amusement: not that there is much in the game
itself, which is, if anything, rather tame; but it serves as a means for
bringing people together--as a vehicle for chatting, flirting, and above
all, carrying off the _ennui_ so fond of making its way into social
fashionable life.  You can help the trusting friend so nicely through
hoop after hoop, receiving all the while such prettily-spoken thanks and
such sweet smiles; there is such a fine opportunity too, whilst assuming
the leadership and directing, for enabling the young lady to properly
hold her mallet for the next blow--arranging the little fingers, and
pressing them inadvertently more tightly to the stick; and we have known
very enthusiastic amateurs go so far as to kneel down before a lady, and
raise one delicate _bottine_, placing it on the player's ball, and
holding it firmly while the enemy is croque'd.  _Apropos_ of enemies,
too, how they can be punished!  How a rival can be ignominiously driven
here and there, and into all sorts of uncomfortable places--under bushes
and behind trees, wired and pegged, and treated in the most cruel
manner!

And so it was at the Elms croquet-party.  Looking black almost as night,
Laura struck at the balls viciously--a prime new set of Jaques's best--
chipping the edge of her mallet, bruising the balls, and driving Ella
Bedford's "Number 1, blue," at times right off the croquet-ground.  Not
that it mattered in the least; for in spite of his self-depreciation,
Charley Vining was an admirable player, making long shots, and fetching
up Ella's unfortunate ball, taking it with him through hoop after hoop,
till Laura's eyes flashed, and Max declared, "bai Jove!" he never saw
anything like it; when Charley would catch a glimpse of Ella's troubled
look, recollect himself, and perform the same acts of kindness for the
plump Miss Lingon, to receive in return numberless "O, thank you's!" and
"O, how clever's!" and "So much obliged, Mr Vining!" while "that
governess," as Laura called her, never once uttered a word of thanks.
As for Hugh Lingon, he was always nowhere; and as he missed his aim
again and again, he grew more and more divided in his opinions.

First he declared that the ground was not level; but seeing the good
strokes made by others, he retracted that observation, and waited
awhile.

"I don't think my ball is quite round, Vining," he exclaimed, after
another bad stroke.

"Pooh! nonsense!" laughed Charley.  "You didn't try; it was because you
didn't want to hit Miss Bray."

"No--no!  'Pon my word, no--'pon my word!" exclaimed Hugh, protesting as
he grew more and more pink.

"Did his best, I'd swear--bai Jove, he did!" drawled Max, playing, and
sending poor Lingon off the ground.

Then, after a time, Lingon had his turn once more.

"It's not the ball, it's this mallet--it is indeed!" he exclaimed, after
an atrocious blow.  "Just you look here, Vining: the handle's all on one
side."

"Never mind!  Try again, my boy," laughed Charley; and soon after he had
to bring both his lady partners up again to their hoop, sending Laura's
ball away to make room for them, and on the whole treating it rather
harshly, Laura's eyes flashing the while with vexation.

"I like croquet for some things," said Laura's partner, the thin curate,
after vainly trying to render her a service; "I but it's a very
unchristian-like sort of game--one seems to give all one's love to one's
friends, and to keep none for one's enemies."

"O, come, I say," laughed Charley, who seemed to be in high spirits.
"Here's Mr Louther talking about love to Miss Bray!"

"Indeed, I assure you--" exclaimed the curate.

"But I distinctly heard the word," laughed Charley.

"Was that meant for a witticism?" sneered Laura.

"Wit? no!" said Charley good-humouredly.  "I never go in for that sort
of thing."

"Bai Jove, Vining! why don't you attend to the ga-a-a-me?" drawled Max,
who was suffering from too much of the second Miss Lingon--a young lady
who looked upon him as an Adonis.

"Not my turn," said Charley.

"Yes, yes!" said Hugh Lingon innocently.  "Miss Bedford wants you to
help her along!"

"Of course," sneered Laura.  "Such impudence!"

But Charley did not hear her words; for he was already half-way towards
poor Ella, who seemed to shrink from him as he approached, and watched
with a troubled breast the efforts he made upon her behalf.

"Now it's my turn again," said Hugh.  "Now just give me your advice
here, Vining.  What ought I to do?"

Charley interrupted a remark he was making to Ella Bedford, and pointed
out the most advantageous play, when Hugh Lingon raised his mallet, the
blow fell, and--he missed.

"Now, did you ever see anything like that?" he exclaimed, appealing to
the company.

"Yes, often!" laughed Charley.

"But what can be the reason?" exclaimed Lingon.

"Why, bai Jove! it's because you're such a muff, Lingon, bai Jove!"
exclaimed Max.

"I am--I know I am!" said Lingon good-humouredly.  "But, you know, I
can't help it--can't indeed!"

The game went on with varying interest, Charley in the intervals trying
to engage Ella in conversation; but only to find her retiring, almost
distant, as from time to time she caught sight of a pair of fierce eyes
bent upon her from beneath Laura's frowning brows.  But there was a
sweetness of disposition beaming from Ella's troubled countenance, and
the tokens of a rare intellect in her few words--spoken to endeavour to
direct him to seek for others with more conversational power, but with
precisely the contrary effect--that seemed to rouse in Sir Philip
Vining's son feelings altogether new.  He found himself dwelling upon
every word, every sweet and musical tone, drinking in each troubled,
trembling look, and listening with ill-concealed eagerness even for the
words spoken to others.

"Bai Jove!" exclaimed Max at length, angrily to his sister, "what's the
matter with that Charley Vining?"

"Don't ask me!" cried Laura pettishly, as she turned from him to listen
to and then to snub the slim curate, who, after ten minutes'
consideration, had worked up and delivered a compliment.

Once only did Ella trust herself to look at Charley, taking in, though,
with that glance the open-countenanced, happy English face of the young
man, but shrinking within herself the next instant as she seemed to feel
the bold, open, but still respectfully-admiring glance directed at her.

Two other croquet sets had been made upon the great lawn; and, taking
the first opportunity, Ella had given up her mallet into other hands--an
act, to Laura's great disgust, imitated by Charley Vining, who, however,
found no opportunity for again approaching Ella Bedford until the hour
of dinner was announced, when, the major portion of the croquet-players
having departed, the remainder--the invited few--met in the
drawing-room.

Volume 1, Chapter XII.

CROSS UPON CROSS.

"Will you take down Miss Bedford, Max?" said Mrs Bray, according to
instructions from her son, who, however, was not present, his toilet
having detained him; and, therefore, trembling Ella fell to the lot of
Charley Vining, whom, she knew not why, she seemed to fear now as much
as she did Max Bray.

And yet she could not but own that he was only frank, cordial, and
gentlemanly.  Only!  Was that all?  She dared not answer that question.
Neither could he answer sundry questions put by his own conscience, as
from time to time he encountered angry, reproachful glances from the
woman who sat opposite, but to whom, whatever might have been assumed,
he had never uttered a word that could be construed into one of love.

Somehow or another, during that dinner, Sir Philip's words would keep
repeating themselves to Charley, and at last he found himself muttering:
"Shut myself out from an Eden--from an Eden!" while, when the ladies
rose, and the door had closed upon the last rustling silk, a cloud
appeared to have come over the scene, and he sat listening impatiently
to the drawl of Max, and the agricultural converse of Mr Bray.

It was with alacrity, then, that Charley left the table, when, upon
reaching the drawing-room, he found Laura hovering in a paradise of
musical R's, as she sat at the piano, rolling them out in an Italian
bravura song, whose pages, for fear that he should be forestalled by
Charley Vining, Hugh Lingon rushed to turn over.

"Now Miss Bedford will sing us something," shrieked Mrs Bray; and not
daring to decline, Ella rose and walked to the piano, taking up a song
from the canterbury.  But her hands trembled as a shadow seemed to be
cast upon her; and without daring to look, she knew that Charley Vining
was at her side, ready to turn over the leaves.

"If he would only go!" she thought; and then she commenced with
tremulous voice a sweet and plaintive ballad, breathing of home and the
past, when, living as it were in the sweet strain, her voice increased
in volume and pathos, the almost wild expression thrilling through her
hearers, till towards the end of the last verse, when forgetting even
Vining's presence in the recollections evoked, Ella was brought back to
the present with a start, as one single hot tear-drop fell upon her
outstretched hand.

How she finished that song she never knew, nor yet how she concealed her
painful agitation; but her next recollection was of being in the
conservatory with Charley Vining, alone, and with his deep-toned voice
seeming to breathe only for her ear.

"You must think it weak and childish," he said softly; "but I could not
help it," he added simply.  "Perhaps I am, after all, only an overgrown
boy; but that was my dear mother's favourite song--one which I have
often listened to; and as you sung to-night, the old past seemed to come
back almost painfully.  But I need not fear that you will ridicule me."

"Indeed, no!" said Ella softly.  "I can only regret that I gave you
pain."

"Pain!  No, it was not pain," said Charley musingly.  "I cannot explain
the feeling.  I am a great believer in the power of music; and had we
been alone, I might have asked you to repeat the strain.  I am only too
glad, though, that my poor father was not here."

There was a pause for quite a minute--one which, finding how her
companion had been moved, Ella almost feared to break; when seeing him
start back, as it were, into the present and its duties, she made a
movement as if to return.

"But one minute, Miss Bedford," said Charley.  "You admire flowers, I
see.  Look at the metallic, silvery appearance of these leaves."

"Pray excuse me, Mr Vining," said Ella quietly, "but I wish to return
to the drawing-room."

"Yes--yes--certainly!" exclaimed Charley.  "But one moment: I have
something to say to you."

"Mr Vining is mistaken," said Ella coldly; "he forgets that I am not a
visitor or friend of the family.  Pray allow me to return!"

"Of course--yes!" said Charley.  "But indeed I have something to say,
Miss Bedford.  Look here!"

He drew the little gold cross from his pocket, and held it up in the
soft twilight shed by the coloured lamps, when his companion uttered a
cry of joy.

"I have grieved so for its loss!" she exclaimed.  "You found it?"

"Yes; beneath that tree where you were taking refuge from the rain.  I
know it was my duty to have returned it sooner; but I wished to place it
in your hands myself."

"O, thank you--I am so grateful!" exclaimed Ella, hardly noticing the
_empressement_ with which he spoke.

"I wished, too," said Charley, speaking softly and deeply, "for some
reward for what I have done."

"Reward?" ejaculated Ella.

"Surely, yes," said Charley, laying his hand upon the tiny glove resting
upon his arm.  "You would accord that to the poorest lout who had been
the lucky finder."

"Reward, Mr Vining?" stammered Ella.

"Yes!" exclaimed Charley, his rich deep voice growing softer as he
spoke.  "And but for those words upon the reverse side, I would have
kept the cross as an emblem of my hope.  I, too, had a mother who is but
a memory now.  But you will grant me what I ask?"

"Mr Vining," said Ella gravely, but unable to conceal her agitation,
"will you kindly lead me back to the drawing-room?"

"I thank you for restoring me the cross, which I had never hoped to see
again."

She held out her hand, and the little ornament was immediately placed
within her palm.

"You see," said Charley, "I trust to your honour.  I am defenceless now,
but you will give me my guerdon?"

"Reward?" said Ella again.

"Yes," said Charley eagerly; "I do not ask much.  That rose that you
have worn the evening through: give me that--I ask no more."

"Mr Vining," said the agitated girl, "I am poor and friendless, and
here as a dependent.  I say thus much, since I believe you to be a
gentleman.  You would not wilfully injure me, I am sure; but this
prolonged absence may give umbrage to my employers.  Once more, pray
lead me back!"

Charley was moved by the appeal, and he turned on the instant.

"But you will give me that simple flower?" he said.

"Mr Vining," said Ella with dignity, "would you have me lose my
self-respect?  I thank you for the service--indeed I am most grateful--
but I cannot accede to your request."

"I had hoped that I might be looked on as a friend," said Charley
gloomily, as he once more arrested his companion's steps; "but there, I
suppose if it had been--Pish! forgive me, pray!" he exclaimed.  "How
weak and contemptible I am!  Miss Bedford, I am quite ashamed to have
spoken so.  But tell me that you forgive me, and--"

"Is Miss Bedford so mortally offended?" said a voice close at their
side.  "I have no doubt we can manage to obtain her forgiveness for you,
Mr Vining.  But not to-night, as there will not be time.--Nelly wants
you in the schoolroom, Miss Bedford, and then, as it is late, perhaps
you had better not return to the drawing-room this evening."

Ella Bedford started, as, with flashing, angry eyes, Laura Bray stepped
forward from behind the thick foliage of an orange-tree, and then,
without a word--for she could not have spoken, so bitter, so cruel were
the tones, and so deep the sting--Ella glided from the conservatory,
leaving Laura face to face with Charley.

"I am sorry to have interrupted so pleasant a tete-a-tete!" exclaimed
Laura tauntingly.

There was no answer.  Charley merely leaned against the open window, and
gazed out upon the starry night; for he could not trust himself to
speak, since every humiliating word addressed to his late companion had
seemed to cut into his own heart; and had he spoken, it would have been
with some hot angry words, of which he would afterwards have repented.

"Had I known that Mr Charles Vining was so pleasantly engaged, I would
not have come," said Laura again bitterly, and with reproach in every
tone of her voice.

Again angry words were on Charley's lips; but for the sake of her who
had left him he crushed them down, as he stood listening to the
impatient foot of the angry girl beating the tiled floor, and seemed to
feel her eyes burning him as they literally flashed with suppressed
rage.

"Perhaps now that Mr Vining is disengaged he will lead me back to the
drawing-room, as it might be painful to his feelings for people
afterwards to make remarks upon our absence."

Charley started at this, and made a movement as if to offer his arm; but
the remembrance of the cruel insult to the dependent yet rankled in his
breast, and he seemed to shrink from the angry woman as from something
that he loathed.

Laura saw it, and a sob of rage, disappointment, and passion combined
burst from her breast.  But even then, if he had made but one sign, she
would have softened and thrown herself weeping upon his breast,
reproaching, upbraiding, but loving still, and ready to forgive and
forget all the past.  But Charles Vining was touched to the quick, and,
in spite of his calm unmoved aspect, he was hot with passion, wishing in
his heart that Max had been the offender, that he might have quenched
his rage by shaking him till those white teeth of his chattered again.
Then came, though, the thought of Ella Bedford and her position.  If he
was cold and distant to Laura, would she not visit it upon that
defenceless girl?  Then he told himself she could behave with no greater
cruelty, humiliate her no more, and he felt that he could not play the
hypocrite.  His growing dislike for Laura Bray was fast becoming a
feeling of hatred, and facing her for a moment, he was about to leave
the conservatory alone; but no, the gentlemanly courtesy came back--he
could not be guilty of rudeness even to the woman he despised; and
without a word, he offered his arm, and prepared to lead her back to the
drawing-room.

For a moment Laura made as if to take the proffered arm; but at that
moment she caught sight of Charley's frowning, angry face, when, with a
cry of passionate grief, she darted past him, and the next instant he
saw her cross the hall and hurry upstairs.

"Hyar--hyar, Vining, mai dear fellow, where are you?" cried a drawling
voice from the other end of the conservatory.

"Confound it all!" ejaculated Charley, waking as it were into action at
the tones of that voice, when with a bound he leaped from the window out
on to the lawn, thrust out his Gibus hat, crushed it down again upon his
head, and set off with long strides in the direction of the Court.

Volume 1, Chapter XIII.

THE CLEARING OF A DOUBT.

"My dear boy, yes--of course I will; and we'll have a nice affair of it!
Edgington's people shall fit up a tent and a kiosk, and we'll try and
do the thing nicely.  You're giving me great pleasure in this, Charley--
you are indeed!"

"Am I, father?" said Charley, whose heart smote him as he spoke, telling
himself the while that he was deceiving the generous old man, with whom
he had hitherto been open as the day.

"Yes, my dear boy--yes, of course you are!  It's just what I wanted,
Charley, to see you a little more inclined for society.  You'll have
quite a large party, of course?"

"Well, no, father," said Charley; "I think not.  Your large affairs are
never so successful as the small ones."

"Just so, my dear boy; I think you are right.  Well, have it as you
please, precisely, only give your orders.  Slave of the lamp, you know,
Charley--slave of the lamp: what shall I do first?"

"Well, dad," said Charley, flushing slightly, "I thought, perhaps, you
wouldn't mind doing a little of the inviting for me."

"Of course not, my dear boy.  Whom shall I ask first?"

"Well, suppose you see the Brays," said Charley, whose face certainly
wore a deeper hue than usual.

"To be sure, Charley!" said the old gentleman, smiling.

"They've been very kind, and asked me there several times, so you'll ask
them all?"

"Decidedly!" said the old gentleman.

"We must have Max," said Charley; "for he keeps hanging about here
still."

"O, of course!" said Sir Philip.

"And Laura, I suppose," said Charley, feeling more and more
conscience-stricken.

"By all means, my dear boy!" laughed the father.

"And then there are the three girls, _and the governess_," said Charley.

"Should you ask them?" said Sir Philip.

"O yes, decidedly!" said Charley.  "I'm very fond of that second girl,
Nelly; she's only a child, but there's something nice and frank and open
about her.  She will be sure to make up for the unpleasantry of having
Max."

"Very good, Charley--very good!" said Sir Philip.

"I wouldn't be put off with any of them," said Charley, in a curious
hesitating way.  "Perhaps they'll say that they had better not all come;
but they can't refuse you anything, so insist upon them bringing the
children and Miss Bedford."

"Miss who?" said Sir Philip.

"Miss Bedford--the governess," said Charley, who coughed as if something
had made him husky.  "I particularly wish for them all to come."

"It shall be just as you like, my dear boy," said Sir Philip gaily;
"only let's do the thing well, and not let them go away and find fault
afterwards."

Charley Vining left his father ill at ease and dissatisfied, for he felt
that he was deceiving the old man; but, like many more, he crushed down
the obtrusive thoughts, and, going round to the stable, he mounted his
mare as soon as it could be got ready, and rode slowly and thoughtfully
away.

"What's come to the young governor?" said one of the stablemen.

"O, the old game!" said another.  "He's been betting heavy on the Derby,
and lost, and the old gentleman won't pay his debts.  I shouldn't be at
all surprised if as soon as he comes in for the place, he'll make the
money fly."

"Don't think it's that," said the other.  "But he never takes a bit of
notice of his 'orses now; if they look well, they do, and if they don't
look well, they don't; but he's never got a word to say about them.
There's something wrong, safe."

There was a good deal of truth in the remarks of the servants; for the
Charley Vining of the present was certainly not the Charley Vining of a
month before.  Since the night of the croquet-party he had several times
met Laura Bray, who, like himself, had endeavoured to ignore entirely
their encounter in the conservatory, speaking in the most friendly
manner, and endeavouring to the best of her ability to bring Charley
more to her side.  In fact, so completely was the past evaded, that
Charley called several times, meeting a warmer welcome at every visit;
but not once did he encounter Ella.  He was very little more fortunate
during his rides: once he pressed forward his horse upon seeing her at
some distance down a lane with the "children;" but suddenly Max Bray
made his appearance, as if by magic, and fixing upon him, kept by his
side for quite an hour; another time Max was walking with his sisters
and their governess; while upon a third occasion Max was coming in the
other direction, as if purposely to meet them, and as Charley rode away
his brow grew dark, and he asked himself what it meant.

In fact, watch as carefully as he would for a meeting, his efforts
seemed in vain; while the more he was disappointed, the more eager he
became.

It was upon one of these occasions that he had drawn up his horse by a
hedge-side, gazing angrily after the distant party, consisting of Ella,
two of the children, and Max, when, angry and disappointed, he was
considering whether he should canter up after them or turn back.

"Why should I bother myself?" he muttered.  "If she likes that donkey
dangling after her, I'm quite convinced that she would not approve of
rough unpolished me.  I'll give up.  Max shall have the field to
himself, and I'll go back and ask the governor to let me live in peace.
I've only been making a mistake, and neglecting everything for the sake
of a pleasant-looking face.  Hallo!"

"Ha, ha, ha!" rang out a merry laugh.

"Look at Sir Dismal, pausing thoughtfully beneath the trees."

Charley looked up, to see peering down upon him, from between the bushes
on the high bank, the bright merry face of Nelly, with her hair tangled,
her straw hat bent of brim, and a general aspect about her hot face and
tumbled clothes of having been tearing through a wood.

"What, my little dryad!" laughed out Charley, brightening in an instant.
"How is the little wood-nymph?"

"O, so jolly hot and tired, Charley!  I've cut away from them, run up
the bank, and scampered through Bosky Dell, and tore my dress ever so
many times.  But I wasn't going to stay; at least, I ought to have
stayed," she added thoughtfully, "but I felt as if I couldn't, for old
Max would have made me ill--he would, bai Jove!" she laughed, mocking
her brother's drawl with all accuracy which delighted Charley.

"Been having a walk?" he said.

"Walk, yes," exclaimed Nelly; "and one can't stir without stupid old Max
coming boring after us, bothering Miss Bedford to death with his
drawling nonsense.  She hates him, and he will follow us about, because
he has grown so fond of his little sisters.  But, I say, Charley Vining,
do give me--no, not give, lend me sixpence to buy some sweets.  We spent
every halfpenny, and it isn't pocket-money till to-morrow night."

"I never give money to beggars at the roadside," laughed Charley, who
seemed somehow to be brightening up under his young friend's
revelations.

"Now don't be a nuisance," laughed Nelly, "or I'll tease you.  I know
why you were looking down the lane so miserably; it was because Max was
along with--"

"Hold your tongue, do, you saucy puss!" roared Charley, with flaming
face.  "How dare you!"

"There!  I knew I was right," laughed the girl.  "I'm not a bit afraid
of you, Charley Vining.  But, I say, such a game: there, hold your arms,
and I could jump down from here right on to the dear old mare just
before you, and you could hold me tight, and we'd play at you being
young Lochinvar, and gallop off with me.  Wouldn't it be fun?"

"But there's no bridegroom to dandle his bonnet and plume," laughed
Charley.

"There's an ungallant cavalier!" said Nelly, with her wicked eyes
dancing with glee.  "Now, if it had been Miss Bed--ha, ha, ha!" she
shrieked, as Charley made a dash at her by forcing his mare half-way up
the bank.  "Don't you do that, Charley, or you'll go down again, and
have to be carried on a gate--and I don't want you to be hurt any more,"
she said seriously.  "But there, I must go back and save my poor dear
darling Miss Bedford from being bored to death by old stupid.  I'm glad
I've seen you, though; it's done me ever so much good.  I say, Charley
Vining, isn't Miss Bedford nice?"

"I daresay she is; but I know very little of her," said Charley coolly.

"O, there's a story!" exclaimed downright Nelly.  "I know you think ever
so much of her, or else you would not stop looking miserable after her.
There, I've done, and I won't tease you any more; but I do want to
borrow sixpence.  Old Max wouldn't lend me one if I was starving.  Thank
you!  O, a shilling!" exclaimed Nelly, actively catching the coin he
threw.  "Now I'm going; but, I say, do come and see us.  You would like
my Miss Bedford so!"

Before Charley Vining could answer, Nelly had dashed off, taking a short
cut, and he saw her no more; but from that day Charley's spirits rose;
and when once or twice more he encountered the walking party, he did not
feel so troubled of heart, but rode gaily up, saluting all, taking the
first opportunity of frowning and shaking his head at merry laughing
Nelly.

Volume 1, Chapter XIV.

A FAMILY PARTY.

"Surely, Miss Bedford, you never think of going to Sir Philip Vining's
party such a figure as that!"

It was the day of the Blandfield Court invitation, and the ladies were
assembling in the drawing-room.  For, some days before, in accordance
with his promise, Sir Philip had been over to the Elms, taking Laura
quite by surprise when he supplemented his invitation by a request that
Miss Bedford might also be of the party.

"Miss Bedford--our governess!" stammered Laura, completely taken aback.

But she was herself again the next instant, as she saw through the
arrangement.

"Sir Philip has been deceived," she thought; "but I am not so easily put
off, nor yet cast off," she muttered.

What should she do?  Display open anger, or temporise until Ella Bedford
could be dismissed--ignominiously dismissed--from her situation?

Laura Bray was angry, and therefore she talked to herself in strong
language, and called things by unpleasant names.  But she must act in
some way, she thought; it would never do for her to give up all for
which her ambitious nature thirsted.  She had set herself upon being
Lady Vining, and after a fashion she loved Charley, who, from being free
and friendly, and on happy laughing terms with her, seemed daily to be
growing more and more distant; for she was not deceived by his assumed
sociability.  She herself had acted so as to try and efface the past;
but there was still the recollection of the conservatory scene, and
though she tried to set it down as merely a bit of flirtation--one that
she ought to pass over without notice--her heart would not accept of the
flattering unction; for she knew Charley Vining to be too sterling, too
generous a man to trifle with the feelings of any woman.

Then why was he trifling with her? she exclaimed vehemently.  Had she no
claims to his consideration?  There was a dull heavy feeling came over
her, as she thought of how he had never been more than friend to her,
and that the warmth had been entirely on one side.

But she felt that it would not do to show her anger--kindness would
perhaps work a change; and until her rival--no, she would not dignify
her with that title--till this governess had gone, she would assume an
appearance of sorrow, trying the while to win Charley back from his
passing fancy.  She could have bitten her tongue for the ill-judged
hasty words she had spoken; but O, if she could but detect this Miss
Bedford in some light coquettish act, some behaviour too frivolous for
her position, it should go hard with her!--for at the present--probably
on account of the dislike openly shown--Mrs Bray and her hopeful son
seemed disposed to treat their dependent with more consideration, which
was really the case on the part of the former, whose mental constitution
was such that she could not conceive the possibility of any one holding
a paid position to perform certain duties possessing the sensitiveness
and thoughts of a lady.

Laura had determined to temporise, and also to counterplot.  It struck
her that Sir Philip had been deceived, and hurriedly rising, she left
the room.

It was evident to her sharpened perceptibilities that it was Charley's
doing that Miss Bedford was invited; and she determined Sir Philip
Vining should see who was the lady his son wished to be of the party.

Laura's heart beat quickly, as, with assumed kindness and gentleness of
mien, she returned from the schoolroom with Ella, and introduced her to
Sir Philip.

"I thought that Miss Bedford would like to thank you herself, Sir
Philip, for your kind invitation," she said, by way of explanation of
her sudden act; and then she watched attentively the effect produced.

She was right.  Sir Philip was startled, and as he rose to cordially
greet and repeat his invitation, he gazed almost wonderingly at the
sweet mien and gentle face before him, raising Ella's hand, and with all
the grace of an old courtier, kissing it respectfully, moved by the true
homage he felt for so much youth and beauty.  But as he released her
hand, there was a troubled puzzled look in the old gentleman's face--a
look that was still there when at last he took his leave to go
thoughtfully homeward; for now it again struck him that Charley's
impressive demand that the governess should be asked was a little
strange, though here was the key.

Sir Philip dismissed the thought that oppressed him, though.  Charley
was too noble to be moved by any disloyal acts; and as to stooping--
pooh! it was absurd!  He was growing an old woman, full of nervous fears
and fancies; and casting his "whimsies," as he called them, away, he
entered with all his heart into the preparations for the little fete.

And now the day had arrived, and the ladies were assembling in the
drawing-room, where Mr Bray and "Mr Maximilian" were already waiting.
Mrs Bray had sailed and rustled into the room in a tremendously stiff
green brocade dress, to be complimented by her lord as resembling a
laurel hedge, and by her son for her May-day aspect and
Jack-in-the-green look.  But Mrs Bray was satisfied, and that was
everything.  Her satisfaction was evident by the way in which she swept
round the room, making a vortex that caught up the light chairs and
loose articles that came within its reach.

"Bai Jove, there, why don't you mind!" exclaimed Max, as the glossy hat
left upon the couch was sent spinning across the room.  "Why don't you
sit down?"

Mrs Bray did not reply, but she would not have sat down in that dress,
save in the carriage, upon any consideration--at all events, not until
after it had been seen at Blandfield.

Max's hat was made smooth sooner than his temper, and he was still
muttering and grumbling when Nelly and her sisters came bounding in,
like three tall, thin, peripatetic tulips, followed closely by Laura,
glorious with black hair, flashing eyes, amber moire, and black lace.

Mr Onesimus Bray placed his hands in his pockets and walked smilingly
round his daughter, in whom he took immense pride; but the attempt that
he made to kiss her was received with a shriek of horror, his daughter
darting back beyond his reach, and at the same time bringing forth an
oath from her brother's lips, as she swept the glossy, newly-brushed hat
from the marqueterie table whereon it had been placed for safety.

"For shame, Max!" exclaimed his mother.

"Bai Jove, then, it's enough to make an angel swear!  How would you like
a fellow to tread on your bonnets?"

The ladies shuddered.

"Never mind, then--a poor old Max!" exclaimed mischievous Nelly, who had
but a few minutes before been snubbed by her brother; and, stooping
down, she picked up the unfortunate hat, and, before she could be
arrested, carefully brushed all the nap up the wrong way, Max sitting
completely astounded the while at the outrage put upon him.

What he would have said remains to this day unknown.  His mouth had
gasped open after the fashion of an expiring aquarium pet, and he was
about to ejaculate, when he stopped short; for Ella Bedford came quietly
into the room, the centre, as it were, of a soft cloud of grey barege,
which gave to her pale gentle features almost an ethereal expression,
but which called forth from the gorgeous amber queen the remark standing
at the head of this chapter:

"Surely, Miss Bedford, you never think of going to Sir Philip Vining's
party such a figure as that!"

Ella coloured up, and then said gently: "Shall I change the dress for a
plain muslin, Miss Bray?"

"O, I'm sure I don't know!" exclaimed Laura, with a toss.  "I think--"

"I think the dress looks uncommonly nice, Miss Bedford--I do, bai Jove!"
drawled Max, fixing his glass in his eye, and staring furiously.

It was the first act of kindness Max Bray had done for many a long day;
but it caused a shrinking sensation in her for whom it was intended,
while Laura darted at her a fierce look of hatred, and then an angry
glance at her brother.

Ella looked inquiringly at Mrs Bray, as if for instructions; but that
lady always sided with son Max, as did Mr Bray, as far as he dared,
with his daughter.

"I almost think--" he ventured to observe.

"Don't talk stuff, Ness!" shrieked his lady.  "What do you know about a
lady's dress?  If it was a fleece or a pig--There, I think Miss
Bedford's things will do very nicely indeed; and if some people would
only dress as neatly, it wouldn't half ruin their parents in
dressmakers' bills."

Laura did not condescend to answer, but throwing herself into a chair,
she took up a book, pretending to read, but holding it upside down, till
Nelly laughingly called attention to the fact.

"Pert child!" exclaimed Laura fiercely.

"Don't care!" laughed Nelly.  "So the book _was_ upside down; and I'd
rather be a pert child than a disagreeable, sour old maid!"

"You'd better send that rude tom-boy to bed--you had, bai Jove!" drawled
Max.

"Ah!--and I'd rather be a rude tom-boy than a great girl, bai Jove, Mr
Max!" cried Nelly; whereupon Mr Bray laughed, Mrs Bray scolded, and
Nelly pretended to cry, directing a comical look the while at her
father, who, whatever his weakness, was passionately fond of his girls.

The crunching of the gravel by the wheels of the wagonette put a stop to
the rather unpleasant scene, when, to Laura's surprise, Max jumped up
and handed Ella down to the carriage, returning afterwards for his
sister, who favoured him with a peculiarly meaning look; one which he
replied to in as supercilious a manner as he could assume.

"What does it mean, Max?" she whispered, as they descended the stairs.
"More affection for your little sisters?"

"My dear Laura," drawled Max, "will you take my advice and adopt a
motto?"

"Motto?" said Laura inquiringly.

"Ya-as, bai Jove! the very one for you--just suited to the occasion:
_Laissez-aller_.  Do you understand?"

Laura looked at him meaningly, but made no reply, for they had reached
the carriage.

Volume 1, Chapter XV.

CHARLEY'S FETE.

In spite of her annoyance, Laura's eyes sparkled when they reached the
Court; for Sir Philip hurried to the carriage, welcoming the party most
warmly, and, handing her out, he led her himself to the beautiful little
kiosk, and then took her from place to place, according to her
attentions that made more than one match-making mamma with marriageable
daughters look meaningly at the same daughters, and then think of
Charley Vining with a sigh.

But if Laura was in high glee, so was not Max, who had to stand by while
Charley carried off Ella Bedford, Nelly laughingly fastening upon his
other arm.

"A rude coarse beast, bai Jove!" muttered Max elegantly, as he tried
vainly to get the little button of his glove secured.  "Let him have a
fall again, and see if I'll go to his help!"

"I shall come with you if I may," said Nelly demurely.

"To be sure!" laughed Charley, whose heart throbbed with pleasure as he
felt--nay, hardly felt--the light pressure of the grey glove upon his
arm.  "Miss Bedford won't mind, I hope.  Do you know, Miss Bedford, I'm
rather glad you are with us?  I'm almost afraid Nelly means some inroad
upon my purse."

"No, I don't," said Nelly, "so don't be afraid;" and then she walked
very demurely by their side, Charley encouraging her to stay upon
observing Ella's constraint and troubled looks.

"She'd be off like a frightened pigeon--dove, I mean!" muttered Charley,
as he looked down at the almost painful face beside him.  But a little
quiet conversation upon current topics seemed to set her more at ease,
and, after a while, Hugh Lingon approaching, Charley Vining whispered,
loudly enough, though, for Nelly to hear:

"Now I'm going, Miss Bedford, for here comes Nelly's intended.  I hope
you will play the _chaperone_ most stringently."

Nelly rewarded him with a sharp pinch as he left them, Hugh Lingon
taking his place; and Ella, whose heart beat almost painfully, asking
herself the reason why.

But Charley Vining had laid his plans that day, and he felt he must
proceed with caution.  So hurrying himself, he acted the part of host
with admirable tact, picking out the ladies who seemed neglected,
forming sets for croquet, handing refreshments, or escorting little
parties to the lake-like river for boating; distributing himself, as it
were, throughout the grounds, and at last interrupting a tete-a-tete
between Laura and Hugh Lingon, who had soon forsaken the ladies left in
his charge.

Laura commenced a little _minauderie_, professing to be unable to leave
Mr Lingon; but she gave up directly she saw Charley's laugh, for she
knew that it would be--nay, was--seen through.  She knew Charley Vining
to be different from most men of her acquaintance; and accepting his
offer, she gladly took his arm, making the match-making mammas to
whisper, as the handsome couple passed through the grounds, "There,
didn't I tell you so?" and then to gossip about how they had had their
suspicions concerning the purpose of the fete.

But Laura's pleasure was but short-lived; for though Charley was
pleasant, gay, and chatty, he was nothing more, and though he carefully
avoided referring to the croquet-party, she felt that he was not as she
could wish.

"He'll go back to her as soon as, with any decency, he can," she
thought; and her teeth were set, and her fingers clenched, pressing the
nails almost through her gloves, as she forced back a sigh.

But she soon cheered up, for she told herself it was not for long, and
determined to try if gentleness would gain the day; she listened to all
her companion said, striving the while, without being obtrusive, to
obliterate her past words of anger.

Laura was wrong; for it was not for a considerable time, and until he
had played cavalier to many a lady--winning the thanks and smiles of Sir
Philip, who was delighted at his son's efforts--that he sought once more
Ella Bedford, followed by Sir Philip's eyes; the old gentleman gazing
uneasily after him as he went up and offered his arm, which was
reluctantly taken.

"I'm going now," said Nelly, who had kept with her guard the whole time;
"I want something to eat.  I declare, Charley Vining, I've only had one
thin slice of butter spread with bread-crumbs, and a cup of tea;" and
before a word could be said, she had darted off.

Sir Philip's were not the only eyes that followed Charley Vining to
where sat Ella Bedford; for as Max Bray followed him at a distance, as
if by accident Laura did the same, and brother and sister gave genuine
starts as they encountered at the union of two alleys.

"Grows quite romantic, bai Jove!" sneered Max; but he relapsed into an
uncomfortable look on seeing the penetrating gaze directed at him by his
sister.

"Let me take your arm," she said coldly; and then, as the shades of
evening were fast falling, they walked slowly on together, towards a
part of the grounds now apparently deserted.

Meanwhile Charley Vining had led Ella across the lawn, pressing her to
partake of some refreshment, but in vain; and at last, in spite of
herself, she found that she was alone with him, in a secluded part of
the grounds.

"There is a seat here," said Charley.  "Shall we rest for a few
minutes?"

"It would hardly be advisable," was the quiet reply; "the evening is
damp."  And then for a few moments there was a pause, as they still
walked slowly on, Charley with his heart beating heavily, and Ella eager
to return to the throng upon the lawn--a throng that the afternoon
through she had avoided--and hardly liking to speak, lest she might
betray her agitation, and that she looked upon this otherwise than as an
ordinary attention of host to one of his guests.

For Ella was not blind: her woman's instinct had whispered to her
respecting the many attentions pressed upon her, and she trembled as she
recalled the night when the cross was returned; for her heart told her
that such things must not be--that she must be cold and cautious,
guarding and steeling herself against tender emotions, for she was but
the poor paid governess, and this man, whose arm she lightly touched,
was almost engaged to Laura Bray.

But the silence was broken at length by Charley, who spoke deeply, as he
stopped short by a standard covered with pale white roses, whose perfume
seemed shed around upon the soft night air.

"Miss Bedford," he said, "I have been in pain, almost in agony, for many
days past; and till I found that I had been wronging you, it seemed to
me that life was going to be unbearable."

"Pain!--wronging me!" exclaimed Ella.

"Yes," he said; "but hear me out.  I am no polished speaker, Miss
Bedford--only a simple, blunt, and I hope honest and truthful man.  A
week or two since I believed that you favoured the suit of Max Bray:
to-night I will not insult you with questions, but tell you honestly I
do not believe that to be the case; and when the conviction flashed upon
me that I was wrong, I tell you frankly my heart leaped with joy.  You
may ask why: I will tell you."

"Mr Vining," exclaimed Ella, "this must not be; you forget yourself,
your position--you forget me when you talk so.  Pray lead me back."

"You speak as if my words pained you, Miss Bedford," said Charley
huskily.  "Pray forgive me if they do.  Nay, but a few minutes longer."

He caught one hand in his, and as she glanced for an instant in his
direction, the rising moon gleaming through the trees lit up his
handsome earnest face, photographing it, as it were, upon her brain; for
to her dying day she never forgot that look--that countenance so
imploringly turned upon her.

"Miss Bedford--Ella," he whispered, "I love you tenderly and devotedly!
This is no light declaration: till I saw you, woman never occupied my
thoughts.  You see by my brusque ways, my bluntness, that I have been no
dallier in drawing-rooms, no holder of lady's silk.  Till now, my loves
have been in the stables, kennels, fields.  Blunt language this--
uncomplimentary perhaps; but I am no courtier.  I speak as I feel, and I
tell you that to win your love in return would be to make me a happy
man."

"Mr Vining," exclaimed Ella, vainly trying to release her hand, "lead
me back, pray!"

"Nay," said Charley, with sadness in his tones, "I will not force you to
listen to me;" and he released her hand.  "I was hopeful that you would
have listened to my suit."

"Indeed--indeed," said Ella, "I cannot, Mr Vining: it can never be.
You forget--position--me!"

She could say no more--her words seemed to stifle her; and had she
continued speaking, she felt that she would have burst into tears.

"I forget nothing," said Charley, almost sternly.  "How can I forget?
How can I ever forget?  But surely," he said, once more catching her
hand in his--"surely you cannot with that sweet gentle face be cruel,
and love to torture one who has spoken simply the truth--laid bare to
you his feelings!  You believe what I say?"

"Yes, yes!" almost sobbed Ella.  "But indeed--indeed it can never be.
Do not think me either harsh or cruel, for I mean it not."

"What am I to think then?" said Charley bitterly.  "Is it that you
reject me utterly, or am I so poor a wooer that you would have me on my
knees, protesting, swearing?  No; I wrong you again: it is not that," he
exclaimed passionately.  "Look here, Ella"--he plucked one of the white
roses, tearing his hand as he did so, the blood appearing in a long mark
across the back--"emblematic," he said, smiling sadly, "of my love.  You
see it has its smarts and pains.  You refused me so slight a gift once,
but take this; and though I am a man I can freely say that my love for
you is as pure and spotless as that simple flower.  You will not refuse
that?"

He could see the tears in her eyes, and that her face was drawn as if
with pain; but one trembling hand was extended to take the flower; then,
before he could recover from his surprise, she had turned from him and
fled; when, with almost a groan, he threw himself upon the garden-seat,
remaining motionless for a few moments, and then rising to hurry back to
the marquee.

Volume 1, Chapter XVI.

THE ECHOES OF CHARLEY'S DECLARATION.

Two minutes had scarcely elapsed before there was the faint rustling of
a lady's dress and the creaking of a boot, and then two pale faces--
those of brother and sister--appeared from a neighbouring clump of
evergreens, gazed cautiously about for a few moments, and then moved
away in another direction; the moon just beginning to cast their shadows
upon the dewy lawn upon whose turf they walked, perhaps because it
hushed their footsteps.

They had hardly disappeared before there was another faint rustling,
and, eagerly peering about, Nelly Bray appeared, her girlish face
looking half merry, half anxious, in the moonlit glade.

"A nasty, disagreeable, foxy pair of old sneaks!" she exclaimed--"to go
peeping and watching about like that, and all because they were as
jealous as--as jealous as--well, there, I don't know what.  I know I was
watching too, but I wouldn't have done so for a moment, if it hadn't
been to see what they were going to do.  I wouldn't have been so mean
and contemptible--that I wouldn't!  But O, wasn't it grand!" she
exclaimed, clasping her hands.  "Ah, don't I wish I was like Miss
Bedford, to have such a nice boy as Charley Vining to fall in love with
me and tell me of it, and then for me to reject him like that!  I don't
believe she meant it, though, that I don't.  She couldn't!  Nobody could
resist Charley Vining: he's ever so much nicer than Hugh Lingon, and I'd
run away with him to-morrow, if he asked me--see if I wouldn't!  But
there ain't no fear of that.  I knew he was in love with her--I was sure
of it.  And didn't he speak nicely!  Just as if he felt every word he
said, and meant it all--and he does, too, I know; for he's a regular
trump, Charley is, and I shall say so again, as there's no one to hear
me--he's a regular trump, that he is; and I don't care what any one
says.  Wouldn't it be nice to be Miss Bedford's bridesmaid!  I should
wear--Here's somebody coming!"

Nelly darted off, reaching the door just as leave-takings were in vogue;
Sir Philip and Charley handing the Bray family to the waiting carriages;
but in spite of then efforts, there was an appearance of constraint
visible.

"Why, here's the little rover!" exclaimed Charley, as Nelly appeared.
"Where have you been?"

"Looking after and helping my friends, as a rover should, Mr
Croquet-player!" exclaimed Nelly pertly, as she looked Charley full in
the face; while, as he was helping her on with a shawl, she found means
to make him start by saying:

"Look out!  Max and Laura were listening!"

The next moment the carriage had driven off, leaving Charley standing
motionless, and thinking of the pale-faced girl who had leaned so
lightly upon his arm as he handed her to the carriage, and wondering
what would follow.

"Charley, my dear boy, the Miss Lingons!"

So spoke Sir Philip, rousing the young man from his abstraction, when he
hastened to make up for his want of courtesy as guest after guest
departed, till the last carriage had ground the gravel of the drive, for
the fete was at an end.  But as Sir Philip sat alone in his library,
thoughtful and fatigued, it seemed to him that the affair had not been
so successful as he could have wished; and that night--ay, and for many
nights to come--he was haunted by a vision of a fair-haired girl, with
soft grey eyes which seemed to ask the protection of all on whom they
rested; and somehow Sir Philip Vining sighed, for he felt troubled, and
that matters were not going as he had intended.

Meanwhile the Brays' wagonette rolled on till it reached the Elms.
Hardly a word had been spoken on the return journey; for Mr Bray was
hungry, Mrs Bray cross, and Max and his sister thoughtful, as was Ella
Bedford.  Nelly had spoken twice, but only to be snubbed into silence;
and it was with a feeling of relief shared by all, that they descended
and entered the house.

Mrs Bray and her lord directly took chamber candlesticks, Mr Bray
whispering something to the butler respecting a tray and dressing-room.
Ella hurried away with her charges, while Max opened the drawing-room
door and motioned to his sister to enter; but she took no heed of his
sign, as, with angry glances, she followed Ella till she had
disappeared.

"Come here," said Max.  "I want you."

"I'm tired," said Laura.  "You must keep it till the morning."

"I tell you I want you now!" he exclaimed almost savagely, the man's
real nature flashing out as he cast the thin veil of society habit
aside, and spoke eagerly.

"Then I shall not come," said Laura, turning away.

"If you dare to say a word about all this, I'll never forgive you!" he
whispered.

"I can live without Mr Max Bray's forgiveness," said Laura tauntingly.

"Confound you, come down!" he exclaimed, as Laura ascended the stairs.
"I will not have her spoken to about it unless I speak."

"Good-night, Max," was the cool reply; and he saw her pass through the
swing door at the end of Mr Bray's picture-gallery; while foaming and
apparently enraged, he made a bound up a few stairs, but only to descend
again, enter the drawing-room, and close the door.

The door had hardly closed before Laura appeared again, without a
chamber candlestick, to lean over the balustrade eager and listening as
she peered down into the hall.  But there was not a sound to be heard;
and hurrying back along the gallery, she stopped at Ella's door, and
then, without knocking, turned the handle and entered.

Volume 1, Chapter XVII.

A VIAL OF WRATH.

"And, pray, what are you doing here?" exclaimed Laura Bray, as she saw
the tall slim form of her sister Nelly standing between her and the
object of her dislike.

"Talking to Miss Bedford, if you must know, my dear sister," said Nelly
pertly; but the next moment she encountered a glance from Ella, in
obedience to which she was instantly silent; and, crossing over, she
kissed the pale girl lovingly, and said, "Good-night."

But all this was not lost upon Laura, who bit her lips till Nelly had
half hesitatingly quitted the room.

"What sweet obedience!" she then said sarcastically.  "Really, Miss
Bedford, you must give me some lessons in the art of winning people's
affections.  I have no doubt that papa will satisfy you if there is any
extra charge."

Ella did not speak; but her gentle look might have disarmed animosity,
as she turned her soft eyes almost appealingly towards her irate
visitor.  She was in some degree, though, prepared for what was coming,
for Nelly had lingered behind to place her on her guard; and as she
stood facing Laura she did not shrink, neither did she make answer to
the taunts conveyed in those bitter words.

"I trust that you have enjoyed a pleasant evening, Miss Bedford,"
continued Laura, who seemed to be working herself up, and gathering
together the battalions of her wrath, ready for the storm she meant to
thunder upon the defenceless head before her.  But still there was no
reply in words--nothing but the calm pleading gaze from the soft grey
eyes.

"Can we make arrangements for you to be introduced to some other family,
where you can carry on your intrigues?"

Still no answer--only a pitiful, almost imploring look that ought to
have disarmed the most wrathful.  But at this moment Ella involuntarily
raised a white rose, which till then had remained concealed, as her hand
hung down amidst the soft folds of her dress; and no sooner did Laura
catch sight of the blossom than, interpreting the act to be one of
insolent triumph, she threw herself upon the shrinking girl, tore the
flower from her hand, and flung it upon the floor, where she crushed it
beneath her foot as she stamped upon it furiously.

"How dare you!" she almost shrieked, in tones that bade fair some day to
rival those of Mamma Bray.  "Such cowardly--such insolent acts!  To dare
to insult me after practising your low cunning to-day, laying your
snares for my poor unworldly brother, and then setting other traps--to--
to--inveigle--to entrap--There, don't look at me with that triumphant
leer!  You shall be turned out of this house, into which you have gained
entrance by false pretences, so as to act the part of a scheming
adventuress!"

For a few moments Laura seemed as if she would strike the object of her
resentment, so fierce was the burst of passion that came pouring forth--
the unlucky act having roused every bitter and angry feeling in her
breast: disappointed love, ambition, hatred--all were mingled into a
poison that was like venom to her barbed and stinging words, as she
stooped even to abusing the innocent cause of her dislike.

At length Ella raised her hands, and spoke deprecatingly; but each
appeal only seemed to rouse Laura to fresh outbursts of violence, so
that at last the bitter taunts and revilings were suffered in silence,
the angry woman's voice rising louder with her victim's patience, till,
alarmed by her daughter's angry, hysterical cries, Mrs Bray hurried
into the room.

"What is the meaning of all this?" she shrieked.  "Laura!--Miss Bedford!
Are you both mad?"

Ella was about to speak, but Laura fiercely interrupted her.

"Speak a word if you dare!" she said.  "I will not have anything said!
Such insolence is insupportable."

"But what has Miss Bedford been doing?" shrieked Mrs Bray.  "You are
alarming the whole house.  What does it mean?"

"Nothing.  Let it rest," cried Laura, cooling down rapidly, but with
face a-flame; for she could not bear her mother to be a witness to her
humiliation, there being, based on Laura's slight exaggerations of one
or two attentions, a full belief in the Bray family that even if the
question had not been put by Charley Vining, matters had so far
progressed that he was sure to be her husband: hence her objection to a
word being uttered; and, shrinking back, Ella stood with bended head,
while a passage of arms took place between mother and daughter, Mrs
Bray's curiosity increasing with Laura's reticence.

Finding though, at last, that nothing was to be gained, Mrs Bray
followed Laura from the room; and Ella, trembling with excitement and
the agitation of many painful hours, was about to welcome the solitude
hers at last, when once more the door opened, and, pale and
wild-looking, so that she felt to pity her, Laura again appeared,
closing the door carefully behind her, and then standing to gaze
thoughtfully in Ella's face.

She had come to threaten--to try and enforce silence; but her voice was
husky; the fierce passion which had before sustained her had now passed
away, and the weak woman, cut to the heart by disappointment, was once
more asserting herself.

For quite five minutes she stood with heaving breast, trying to speak,
but the words would not come; and at last, dreading to let the woman she
hated and despised, one whom she looked upon as full of deceit and
guile, gaze upon and triumph in her tears, Laura turned and fled from
the room; and once more Ella was alone.

Volume 1, Chapter XVIII.

ANALYSIS OF THE HEART.

Alone--alone once more in her bedroom, the scene of so many bitter
tears, Ella stood with flushed cheeks, and eyes that seemed to burn,
thinking of the words that had been uttered to her that day.  She held
the crushed rose in her hand--the flower Laura had with cruel hand
snatched away and cast down, and upon which she had trampled with as
little remorse as upon her feelings.  But the agitated girl had once
more secured the torn blossom, to stand gazing down upon its bruised
petals.

What did he say?  That he loved her--her whom he had seen so few times!
He loved her: he, the heir to a baronetcy, loved her--a poor governess,
the persecuted, despised dependent of this family--that his love for her
was as pure as that white blossom!  It could not be.  And yet he had
spoken so earnestly; his voice trembled, and those low soft utterances
so tenderly, so feelingly whispered, so full of appeal and reverence,
were evidently genuine.  They were not the words of the thoughtless, the
lovers of conquest, the distributors of vain compliments, empty
nothings, to every woman who was the toy of the hour.  And he was no
weak boy, ready to be led away by a fresh face--no empty-headed coxcomb,
but a man of sterling worth.

There was a plain, straightforward, manly simplicity in what he had said
that went home to her heart; there was a nobility in his disappointment
and anger which made her thrill with the awakening of new thoughts, new
senses, that had before lain dormant in her breast; there was the
sterling ring of the true gentleman in his every act and look and word,
and--Ah, but--no--no--no!  She was mad to harbour such thoughts, even
for an instant; it was folly--all folly.  How could she accept him, even
if her heart leaned that way?  It would be doing him a grievous wrong,
blighting his prospects, tying him down to one unworthy of his regard.
She could not--she did not love him.  Love!  What was it to love?  She
had loved those who were no more; but love him, a stranger!  What was it
to love?

Beat, beat!--beat, beat!--beat, beat!  Heavy throbbings of her poor
wounded heart answering the question she had asked, plainly, and in a
way that would not be ignored, even though she pressed that
flower-burdened hand tightly over the place, and laid the other upon her
hot and tingling cheeks.  But even if she knew it, could she own to it?
No! impossible; not even to herself.  That was a secret she could not
ponder on, even for an instant.

And yet he had said that he loved her!  What were his words?  She must
recall them once more: that his love for her was as truthful and as pure
as that flower--that poor crushed rose.

As she thought on, flushed and trembling, she raised the flower nearer
and nearer to her face, gazing at the bruised petals, crushed, torn, and
disfigured.  It was to her as the reading of a prophecy--that his pure
love for her was to become torn and sullied, and that, for her sake, he
was to suffer bitter anguish, till, like that flower, his love should
wither away.  But there would still be the recollection of the sweet
words, even as there stayed in the crushed blossom its own sweet
perfume, the incense-breathing fragrance, as she raised it more and more
till the hot tears began to fell.

No, she did not love him--she could not love him: it was folly--all a
dream from which she was awaking; for she knew the end--she knew her
days at the Elms must be but few--that, like a discarded servant, she
must go: whither she knew not, only that it must be far away--somewhere
to dream no more, neither to be persecuted for what she could not help.

No; she did not love him, and he would soon forget her.  It could be but
a passing fancy.  But she esteemed him--she must own to a deep feeling
of esteem for one of so noble, frank, and generous a nature.  Had he not
always been kind and gentle and sympathising--displaying his liking for
her with a gentlemanly respect that had won upon her more and more?
Yes, she esteemed him too well, she was too grateful, to injure him ever
so slightly; and her greatest act of kindness would be to hurry away.

The fragrance from the poor crushed flower still rose, breathing, as it
were, such love and sweetness; recalling, too, the words with which it
was given so vividly, that, betrayed beyond her strength to control the
act, for one brief instant Ella's lips were pressed softly, lovingly,
upon the flower--petals kissing petals--the bright bee-stung and ruddy
touching the pale and crushed; and then, firmly and slowly, though each
act seemed to send a pang through her throbbing heart, Ella plucked the
rose in pieces, telling herself that she was tearing forth the mad
passion as she went on showering down the creamy leaflets, raining upon
them her tears the while, till the bare stalk alone remained in her
hands--her cruel hands; for had she not been tearing and rending her own
poor breast as every petal was plucked from its hold?  For what availed
the deceit?  The time had been short--they had met but seldom: but what
of that?  The secret would burst forth, would assert itself; and she
knew that she loved him dearly--loved him so that she would give her
life for his sake; and that to have been his slave--to have been but
near him--to listen to his voice--to see his broad white forehead, his
sun-tinged cheeks, and clustering brown hair; not to be called his, but
only to be near him--would be life to her; while to go far--far--far
away, where she might never see him more, would be, as it were,
tottering even into her grave.

No; there was no one looking: it was close upon midnight, but she
glanced guiltily round, as with burning cheeks she sank upon her knees,
whispering to that wild beating heart that it could not be wrong.  And
then she began to slowly gather those petals, taking them up softly one
by one, to treasure somewhere--to gaze upon, perhaps, sometimes in
secret; for was it not his gift that she had cast down as if it had been
naught?  She might surely treasure them up to keep in remembrance of
what might have been, had hers been a happier lot.

Then came once more the thoughts of the past evening, and more than ever
she felt that she must go.  She would see him no more, and he would soon
forget it all.  But would she forget?  A sob was the answer--a wild
hysterical sob--as she felt that she could not.

One by one, one by one, she gathered those leaflets up to kiss them once
again; and that night, flush-cheeked and fevered, she slept with the
fragments of the blossom pressed tightly to her aching breast, till calm
came with the earliest dawn, and with the lightening sky dreams of hope
and love and happiness to come, with brighter days and loving friends,
and all joyous and blissful.  She was walking where white rose petals
showered down to carpet the earth; the air was sweet with their
fragrance, and she was leaning upon his stout arm as he whispered to her
of a love truthful and pure as the flowers around; and then she awoke to
the bare chill of her own stiffly-papered, poorly-furnished room, as
seen in the grey dawn of a pouring wet morning, with the wind howling
dismally in the great old-fashioned chimney, the rain pattering loudly
against the window-panes, and hanging in great trembling beads from the
sash.  It was a fit morning, on the whole, to raise the spirits of one
who was dejected, spiritless, almost heart-broken; find it was no wonder
that Ella Bedford's head sank once more upon the pillow, which soon
became wet with her bitter tears.

For how could she meet the different members of that family?  She felt
as if she was guilty; and yet what had she done?  It was not of her
seeking.  She could have wept again and again in the despair and
bitterness of her heart; but her eyes were dried now, and she began to
ponder over the scenes of the past night.

She rose at last to go down to the schoolroom, for it was fast
approaching eight, and as she descended, her mind was made up as to her
future proceedings.  She would go carefully on with her duties; but in
the course of the morning, if not sent for sooner, she would herself
seek Mrs Bray, and ask to be set at liberty, so that she might
elsewhere seek a home--one that should afford her rest and peace.

Volume 1, Chapter XIX.

THE MAKING OF A COMPACT.

Breakfast over at the Elms, and no improvement in the weather.
Maximilian Bray said that it was impossible to go out, "bai Jove!" so he
was seated in a low _bergere_ chair in the drawing-room.  He had taken a
book from a side table as if with the intention of reading; but it had
fallen upon the floor, Max Bray not being at the best of times a reading
man; and now he was busy at work plotting and planning with a devotion
worthy of a better cause.  His head was imparting some of its ambrosia
to the light chintz chair-cover, for he had impatiently thrown the
antimacassar under the table.  Then he fidgeted about a little, altered
the sit of his collar and wristbands, and at last, as if not satisfied
with his position, he removed his chair farther into the bay, so that
the light drapery of the flowing curtains concealed his noble form from
the view of any one entering the room, when, apparently satisfied, he
gazed thoughtfully through the panes at the soaked landscape.

Max Bray had not been long settled to his satisfaction when Laura
entered, shutting the door with a force that whispered--nay, shouted--of
a temper soured by some recent disappointment.  She gave a sharp glance
round the room, and then, seeing no one, threw herself into a chair, a
sob at the same moment bursting from her breast.

"She shall go--that she shall!" exclaimed Laura suddenly, as she gave
utterance to her thoughts.  "Such deceit!--such quiet carneying ways!
But there shall be no more of it: she shall go!"

Laura Bray ceased speaking; and, starting up, she began to pace the
room, but only to stop short on seeing her brother gazing at her with a
half-mocking, half-amused expression of countenance from behind the
curtain.

"You here, Max!" she exclaimed, colouring hotly.

"Bai Jove, ya-a-as!" he drawled.  "But, I say, isn't it a bad plan to go
about the house shouting so that every one can hear your bewailings,
because a horsey cad of a fellow gives roses to one lady and thorns to
another?"

"What _do_ you mean, Max?" said Laura.

"What do I mean!  Well, that's cool, bai Jove!  O, of course nothing
about meetings by moonlight alone, and roses and vows, and that sort of
spooneyism!  But didn't you come tearing and raving in here, saying that
she should go, and that you wouldn't stand it, and swore--"

"O, Max?" cried Laura passionately.

"Bai Jove! why don't you let a fellow finish?" drawled Max.  "Swore, I
said--swore like a cat just going to scratch; and I suppose that you
would like to scratch, eh?"

"But, Max, did you really hear what I said?" cried Laura.

"Hear?  Bai Jove! of course I did--every word.  Couldn't help it.  Good
job it was only me."

"How could you be so unmanly as to listen!" cried Laura.

"Listen?  Bai Jove, how you do talk!  I didn't listen; you came and
raved it all at me.  And so she shall go, shall she?"

"Yes!" exclaimed Laura, firing up, and speaking viciously, "that she
shall--a deceitful creature!  I see through all her plots and plans, and
I'll--"

"Tear her eyes out, won't you, my dear, eh?  Now just look here, Laury:
you think me slow, and all that sort of fun, and that I don't see
things; but I'm not blind.  So the big boy has kicked off his
allegiance, has he? and run mad after the little governess, has he? and
the big sister is very angry and jealous!"

"Jealous, indeed!" cried Laura--"and of a creature like that!"

"All right; only don't interrupt," said Max mockingly.  "Jealous, I
said, and won't put up with it, and quite right too!  But, all the same,
I'm not going to have her sent away."

"And why not, pray?" cried Laura with flashing eyes.

"Because I don't choose that she shall go," said Max coolly.

Laura started, and then in silence brother and sister sat for a few
moments gazing in each other's eyes, a flood of thought sweeping the
while across the brain of the latter as she recalled a score of little
things till then unnoticed, or merely attributed to a natural desire to
flirt; but, with the key supplied by Max Bray's last words, Laura felt
that she could read him with ease, and her brow contracted as she tried
to make him shrink; but that did not lie in her power.

"Max!" she exclaimed at last, "I'm ashamed of you!  It's mean, and
contemptible, and base, and grovelling!  I'm disgusted!  Why, you'll be
turning your eyes next to the servants' hall!"

"Thank you, my dear!" drawled Max.  "Very high-flown and grand!  But I
shall be content at present with the schoolroom.  And now suppose I say
I'm ashamed of you; and, bai Jove, I am!  A girl of your style and
pretensions, instead of winking at what you've seen, or coming to your
brother for counsel, to go howling about the house--"

"Max!" half shrieked Laura.  "I don't care--bai Jove, I don't!" he
exclaimed.  "So you do go howling about the house like a forlorn
shepherdess, bai Jove, so that every one can see what a fool you are
making of yourself!"

"And pray what would my noble brother's advice be?" cried Laura
sarcastically.

Max Bray was another man for an instant, as, starting up in his chair,
he caught his sister by the arm, drawing her towards him until she sank
down in a sitting position upon the ottoman at his feet, when, with the
drawling manner and affectation gone, he leaned over her, talking in a
low earnest voice, and so impressively, that Laura's mocking smile gave
place to a look of intense interest.  She drew nearer to him at length,
as he still talked on eagerly; then she clasped her hands together, and
rested them upon his knees.

"But no!" she exclaimed, suddenly starting as it were from something
which seemed to enthral her, "I will not be a party to it, Max!"

"Very good, my dear," he said cavalierly; "then you shall have the
pleasure of watching progress, and seeing yourself thrust out, if you
please.  Bai Jove, though, Laury, I did think you were a girl of more
spirit!  Seems really, though, a good deal smitten, does Charley."

Laura's countenance changed, and her teeth were set together.

"I shall let him go on, then, for my part, if you choose it to be so."

"I choose!" cried Laura, with the tears in her eyes.  "O, Max, why do
you torture me?"

"Then look here!" said Max.

And once more he leaned over towards her, assuming a quiet ease, but at
the same time it was plain to see that he was greatly excited.  He
talked on and on impressively, with the effect of making Laura's lips
part and her eyes to glisten with a strange light.  Then a pallor
overspread her countenance, but only to be swept away by a look of
exultation as Max still talked on.

"But it is impossible, Max!" cried Laura, at length.

"Perhaps you'll leave me to judge about that, and think only of your own
part!" he said coolly.  "Is my advice--are my offers--worth accepting?"

"O yes, Max, yes!" cried Laura excitedly; "I'd do anything!"

"I don't want you to do anything," said Max, smiling with triumph; "only
what I advise.  Help me, and I will help you with all my heart.  But I
always knew that you would.  You say that you don't like my choice.
Well and good; I might say that I don't like yours.  Perhaps my affair
will come to nothing; but, anyhow, you are the gainer.  I won't say
anything about hating, but let you have your selection.  Now let me have
mine.  But if you have anything better to propose, I am ready to
listen."

"But I have no plans, Max.  I only thought of her being sent away; I'm
half broken-hearted and worn-out with disappointment!"

"Yes, just so.  I expected as much, and I was waiting here to see you,"
said Max.  "I'm not blind, Laury, nor deaf either.  I heard you two
shouting across the hall.  So you've been telling the old lady that some
one shall go, have you?"

"Yes, I have!" exclaimed Laura, ignoring the past conversation; "and she
shall go too!  Mamma did promise me."

"Ya-a-as, I know," said Max, relapsing into his drawl; "but that was
before she promised me.  The second will counts before the first made.
But, as I said before, and we understand now, she's not going--so
there's an end of it."

"O, of course!" cried Laura passionately.  "Everything must be as
mamma's dear boy wishes!  He shall have everything he likes, and do as
he likes, and say what he likes, and every one else is to give way to
him!"

"Bai Jove, now, don't be an idiot!" exclaimed Max.  "What's the good--
now that I'm working on your side, and we have got to understand one
another--of running back like this?  I'm obliged to speak plain, and to
tell you that you are only a stupid child, Laury, and that you've taken
a liking for another stupid child--and there's a pair of you; but all
the same, if you do as I tell you, all will come right!"

Laura tossed her head, and seemed somewhat mollified, perhaps from being
reminded of her folly.

"There," said Max, "that will do for this morning; so now do just as I
tell you, and leave all the rest to me.  But is it a bargain?"

Laura Bray was thoughtful for a few minutes.  She was placed in a
position which required consideration: the languid brother, whom she had
hitherto almost despised, was asking her to forego one purpose for the
sake of an equivalent; but it was the fact of his asking her to trust
herself entirely to his guidance that troubled her; and for a while she
shrank from yielding.

"Well," he said again, "is it a bargain?"

Still Laura did not answer, but remained gazing fixedly at the speaker,
who watched her as attentively, his flushed cheek and eager eyes
displaying the interest he took in the affair.  At last, though, she
leaned forward, and taking one of his arms between her hands,

"I never trusted you yet, Max," she said.

"Sisterly, very--but perfectly true," he exclaimed, laughing.

"But I will, Max, this time.  But if you play me false--"

"Hush!" ejaculated Max, throwing himself back in his chair, and forcing
his glass beneath his brow to stare at the new-comer; for at that moment
the drawing-room door opened, and Ella Bedford stood upon the threshold.

Volume 1, Chapter XX.

ELLA'S RESOLVE.

"I beg pardon," said Ella, upon seeing who occupied the room.  "I
thought that Mrs Bray would be here."

"No, not here now, Miss Bedford," said Max, in his best style.  "But
take a chair; she won't be long first.  Don't run away, Laury."

"I must; I have a letter or two to write," said Laura, trying hard to
appear calm, and play into her brother's hand.  But so far the efforts
of brother and sister were without effect; for, with a few words of
thanks, Ella withdrew; and a minute after the tones of Mrs Bray's voice
were heard in loud expostulation, and coming nearer and nearer, till the
door was flung open, and she entered, literally driving Ella before her.

"There, only think, Maximilian dear," shrieked Mrs Bray; "here's Miss
Bedford been to say she must go!"

"Quite out of the question," said Max.  "Bai Jove, what can you be
thinking of, Miss Bedford?  Why, poor Nelly would break her heart."

Ella started slightly, for Max Bray had touched a tender chord, and she
remained silent, with the tears standing in her eyes, as the form of
Nelly forced itself upon her imagination.

"It would be so inconvenient," shrieked Mrs Bray; "and you suit us so
very well.  I was only yesterday saying to your master--I mean, to Mr
Bray--that the way in which those children have improved is perfectly
wonderful."

"Perhaps Miss Bedford will reconsider her sudden determination," said
Laura, in a voice which trembled with the struggle she had with self to
obey the intelligent look darted at her by her brother.

"I have quietly thought it over," said Ella, looking with wondering eyes
at the last speaker, as she felt unable to comprehend this sudden
change, "and it is really absolutely necessary that I should leave."

"I'm sure you never will with my consent," shrieked Mrs Bray.  "I think
you a very nice young person indeed, Miss Bedford; and even Mr
Maximilian made the remark this very morning, how pleased he was with
the way in which you manage the children.  And really, Miss Bedford, if
it is a matter of two pounds more in your wages, I'm sure Mr Bray won't
object to raising you.  It's so troublesome to have to change, you see.
But now that you are aware how much we are disposed to keep you, I think
you will alter your mind."

"Indeed, madam--" cried Ella.

"There, there, there--pray don't be hasty!" shrieked Mrs Bray.  "That's
what I always say to the servants: `Don't do anything without plenty of
consideration.'  You are young yet, Miss Bedford, and have not yet
learned how much easier it is to lose than to gain a situation.  Now
take my advice, and go and think it over.  No, I won't hear another word
now; only remember this: I wish you to stay, and so does Mr Maximilian,
who takes great interest in the studies of his sisters, as well as in
their welfare, as you must have found out before now."

"Bai Jove, yes!" murmured Max, unabashed by the sharp glance sent
flashing at him by his sister.

"I'm afraid," said Laura with an effort, "that it is all due to my hasty
words, spoken in anger last night.  I'm sure I beg your pardon, Miss
Bedford: I'm afraid I was in error--labouring under a mistake--been
deceived--" She hesitated here as for an instant she encountered Ella's
candid, wondering look; but feeling reassured by the thought that Ella
did not know how she had played the spy, Laura plucked up courage, and
joined with Mrs Bray in requesting that Ella would quietly reconsider
the matter, playing the hypocrite admirably, and little thinking how
those soft eyes read the deceit.

"I quite agree with mamma, that you had better calmly think the matter
over," said Laura after a pause.

"Bai Jove, yes!" said Max, rising and going to the door.  "There, I'll
leave you all to talk it over."  And, with a parting glance at Ella, he
left the room; but no sooner was the door closed than Ella started
again, for Max was heard loudly calling, "Nelly!  Nelly!"  Then there
was the noise of a scuffle, a smart slap, and two or three "I won't's!"
and "I sha'n't's!" in the midst of which Max returned, dragging in
Nelly, very hot and wild-looking; for her conscience told her that she
was to be taken to task for listening amongst the shrubs the night
before.

"There!" said Max, "I've got another voter, bai Jove, Miss Bedford!
Here, Nelly, Miss Bedford says she wants to go away from the Elms; it
won't do--"

"What!" cried Nelly, her eyes flashing as she darted to Ella's side.

"You should say, `I beg your pardon,' or `I did not catch your words,'
my dear," shrieked Mrs Bray--"not `what!'"

"Miss Bedford wants to go!" cried Nelly, not heeding Mamma Bray's words.
"Then you and Laury have done it between you, and it is cruel and
wicked, and--and--shameful, and--and beastly--that it is!" cried Nelly,
bursting out into a passion of weeping.  "But if she is sent away, I'll
run away too, and never come back any more."

"But, bai Jove! we want her to stop," cried Max, "don't you see?"

"Then she will stop," cried Nelly; "won't you, Miss Bedford?"

"There, I'm off; I see you womenkind will settle it amongst you," said
Max; and, satisfied that what had threatened to be a check to his plans
had been most likely averted, he left the room and sought the solace of
a cigar.

End of Volume One.

Volume 2, Chapter I.

CLOUDS AT THE COURT.

"Well, Charley my boy," said Sir Philip Vining, a few mornings after,
"you must keep the ball rolling.  You are going along swimmingly.  But
ladies like plenty of attentions.  What are you going to do next?  Can't
you get up something fresh?  Don't spare for money, my boy: I've--that
is, we've plenty, you know; and I like to be lavish as far as the income
allows.  It's an old-fashioned idea of mine, Charley, that it is the
duty of a landlord, deriving a handsome revenue from a neighbourhood, to
spend that revenue liberally in his district.  It's no waste, you know;
it is all distributed amongst the people, and does some good.  By the
way, though, I think you might be a little more attentive to Laura.
She's a fine girl, Charley: perhaps a little too masculine; but it's
surprising how love and matrimony soften down that class of women.  I
saw you with her yesterday along with that Miss Bedford or Rutland--
which was her name?"

"Bedford," said Charley quietly.

"To be sure--Bedford," said the old gentleman; "and the children.  Seems
a very ladylike young person.  I was rather taken with her nice, sad,
gentle face.  One can almost read trouble in it.  Pity a girl like her
should have to lead such a life as that of a governess!"

Charley was silent; and Sir Philip, seeing him thoughtful, took up the
paper.

And indeed Charley Vining was thoughtful and troubled in mind.  He had
encountered Ella twice since the day of the fete, to find her cold and
distant.  But then she had been in the company of Laura.  All the same,
though, it struck him as strange that the haughty beauty should have
taken it into her head to accompany her in her walks: it looked like
supervising her actions; and again and again Charley reverted to Nelly's
warning, and longed for a few words with her; but so far it was in vain.
He had called twice, to meet Laura and Mrs Bray, Max having returned
to town.  His reception had been most flattering, and there was a
gentle, retiring way with Laura that troubled him; for he felt that he
must be giving her pain, and his was too generous a disposition to
suffer in peace the knowledge that he was causing others trouble or
care.  But call or walk, save in the society of Laura, neither Nelly nor
Ella could be seen; and leaving Sir Philip immersed in the day's news,
Charley left the room, went round to the stables, and had his mare
saddled.

Still no luck.  He did not even see them that day; and time slipped by
without fortune smiling upon him.  He called again and again at the
Elms; but Nelly and her governess were always invisible, while Laura was
still more gentle and retiring.  Once he asked to see Nelly, and she was
fetched down, evidently longing to take him into her confidence; but
opportunity was not afforded; and at last one morning, with the feeling
strong upon him that Laura was playing a part, and that he was being
debarred from seeing Ella alone, Charley sat listening to the pleasant
banter of Sir Philip over the breakfast-table, till, seeing his son's
moody looks, the old gentleman became serious; for his conversation had
all turned upon Charley's visits to the Elms, and his great love for
woodland and meadow rambles.

"Why, my dear boy," Sir Philip had said, "I'd no idea that I was going
to make such a solemn fellow of you.  Certainly matrimony should be
taken _au serieux_; but I'm afraid the lady is hard to win."

A few minutes after Sir Philip rose; for Charley had turned uneasily in
his chair, so that his face was averted.

"My dear Charley," said the old gentleman, going round the table, and
making the young man start as he felt that loving hand laid upon his
shoulder,--"my dear Charley, I have hurt your feelings in some way.
Pray forgive me."

Charley groaned.

"My dear boy," said Sir Philip, "what does this mean?  Surely my
old-womanish babbling has not upset you like this!  It was only lightly
meant.  Or is there something wrong?"

Charley turned his face to his father's for an instant, but only to
avert it again.

"Is it anything to do with money, Charley?" said the old gentleman.
"But pooh--nonsense!  It isn't that, I know.  Your personal expenses are
ridiculously small.  Why, I expected that by this time you would have
half ruined yourself in jewellery presents.  What is it, Charley?  Can
you not confide in me?"

"No, father," cried Charley, starting angrily to his feet, and
overturning his chair; "I have been showing you for the past month that
I cannot.  But I can stand this no longer," he cried, striding up and
down the room; "for it is not in my nature to play the hypocrite!"

"Hypocrite, Charley!  My dear boy, what is it?"

"What is it!" exclaimed Charley fiercely.  "You think that I am going
day after day to some assignation with that--that--that--with Laura
Bray!"

"Good heavens, Charley! what does this mean?"

"Mean, father!  Why, that I am a hypocrite, and deceiving one who has
always been generous and kind.  It means, too, that my life has been
turned to gall and bitterness; for I am going about like some puling
boy, seeking in vain for a kind word from the woman who has robbed me of
all that seems bright in life."

"But, Charley, what does this mean?  I thought--I felt sure--"

"Yes," cried Charley bitterly; "and I was so mean, so base and
contemptible, as to let you believe that I loved Laura Bray, and ask her
here, as if--Heaven forgive me!--I blushed for my love for a woman who--
There, I can't talk of it--I can't enter into it.  Father, why did you
stop the even tenor of my life?  But no!" he cried, as he recalled his
first meeting, "it was not your doing.  I am half mad with
disappointment, and know not what I say.  A few weeks ago, and I could
mock at the word Love, while now it is as though something was robbing
me of sleep by night, rest by day, and my old zest for life.  Father, I
tell you I love--and love almost madly--a woman who rejects my suit, who
turns from me, while every effort to see her now seems to be
frustrated."

"But, Charley," cried the old man, his hands trembling with agitation,
as, following his son about the room, he sought to drive away the
suspicion that was beginning to enlighten him, "who is this lady?  You
are too timid--too diffident.  Surely no one we know would refuse _you_.
Pooh! my dear boy, you have taken the distemper almost too strongly,"
he continued, with a forced laugh.  "But who is it?--one of the Miss
Lingons?"

Charley turned angrily upon him, as if suspecting him of banter, but
only to see truth and earnestness in the old man's troubled countenance.

"Father," he said calmly, "I love Ella Bedford."

"Who?  Miss Bedford?" cried the old man excitedly.  "You are joking with
me, my boy," he said huskily; "and it is ungenerous, Charley.  You know
how I have set my mind on this--on your marriage--our pedigree, my son,
our ancient lineage.  Think, Charley, of your position."

"I do, father," said Charley sternly.

"But, my boy," exclaimed Sir Philip angrily, "it is madness!  You, soon
to be a baronet, with one of the finest rent-rolls in the county, and to
stoop to a governess!"

"To a lady, father!" cried Charley fiercely now, as he stood facing Sir
Philip.  "You told me you wished me to marry.  Can I govern my own
heart?  I told you once that I did not believe so good and pure a woman
as my dear mother lived on this earth.  I retract it now, and own,
father, that it was said in the blind ignorance of my foolish conceit;
for I know now that there are women walking this lower earth of ours
whom I cruelly calumniated, for they might be taken as the types of the
angels above.  Father, I love one of these women with a strong man's
first fierce love--with the passion long chained, now almost at your
bidding let loose, and before heaven I swear that--"

"For heaven's sake be silent, Charley, my dear child!" cried Sir Philip
almost frantically, as he laid his hand on his son's lips.

Then with a groan he shrank away, staggered to his chair, and buried his
face in his hands, while with face working, brow flushed, and the veins
standing out in his forehead, Charley stood struggling between the two
loves, when he turned; for the door opened, and the servant handed to
him a letter that made his face flush a deeper hue.

Volume 2, Chapter II.

NELLY A CORRESPONDENT.

Charley Vining took the letter with trembling hand from the silver
salver upon which it lay, glancing the while at the superscription,
written in an awkward scrawly character, as if the sender had been
possessed of a wild unbroken colt of a pen, which would shy and buck and
dart about as it should not; but as well as if some one had been present
to whisper to him that that letter contained trouble, its recipient knew
it, and hesitated to tear open the envelope.  He gazed at the address
once more, then at the bent figure of his father, and took a step
forward to speak--but no, he could not.  He felt half unmanned, and that
his words would be choked in their utterance; and turning hastily round,
he hurried from the room, his last glance showing him Sir Philip with
his face still covered by his hands; and Charley's heart smote him as he
thought of the pain he had inflicted upon that noble heart.

Unintentionally, upon hurrying out of the house, Charley made his way to
the part of the grounds where stood the rose-tree from which he had
plucked that blossom--the spot where he had told his love, believing
that it fell only upon the ears he wished, but all the same in the
presence of three witnesses--the false and the true.  But the roses were
gone--only a few brown withered petals yet clung to the branches; and
recalling how Ella had fled from him, he once more threw himself into
the garden seat, and with an effort tore open the letter.

And then he could not read it; for the characters swam before his eyes,
till savagely calling himself "girl!"

"Idiot!" and setting his teeth firmly upon his nether lip, he read as
follows:

  "My Own Dearest Charley Vining,--This is not a love letter, though I
  do indede love you very much indede (and those are both spelt wrong;
  only if I smudge them over and alter them, they will be so hard to
  read).  I do love you very much indede, though not in that way, you
  know, but as I should love brother Max if he wasn't such a donkey.
  I've been wanting to speek to you so _verry, verry, verry_ bad, but
  Laury has watched me and Miss Bedford just like two mice (I mean like
  a cat, only my eyes are so swelled up with crying that I don't hardly
  know what I'm saying or doing), and I have such a lot to tell you,
  enough to brake your hart, and I'm speling this worse and wors, though
  Dear Miss Bedford took such pains with me, and it's all about her I
  want to talk to you, only I won't say what, in case you don't see this
  yourself.  So you must please come and meet me to-night in Gorse Wood,
  and it won't be rong, for I'm only a girl and a child; yet sometimes
  though I can't help feeling womanish, and feeling half and half too.
  But you always did play with and pet me, Charley, and i know you love
  somebody else verry much, and so do I, so that it won't be wrong, only
  candlestine.  Mind and come at 7, whilst they're at dinner, and I
  shall tell Milly and Do that I'm going to get some pairs.  So plees to
  fill both of your pockets verry full of those early ones, same as you
  gave me last year.  And plees excuse all mistakes, for i write in a
  great hurry, and don't forget to come, for I've got to tell you all
  about some one you gave the rose to when you thought No one was
  looking.

  "Mamma and Papa desire their best compliments, and with best love, i
  am, deer Charley Vining,

  "Youre afectionate friend,

  "Nelly Sophia Bray.

  "P.S.  That's all nonsense about Ma and Pa sending their complements,
  only it sliped in, and if I smudge it out, the letter looks so bad;
  and it don't mater, does it? for I haven't got time to write another
  letter, only don't forget to come."

Charley Vining was too troubled at heart to smile at poor Nelly's
letter, as, doubling it back into its former folds, he sat wondering
what news the girl could have for him.  He did not like the idea of
obeying her wishes, but he felt that he must go: the hints the letter
contained were too strong to be resisted.  If they were seen, what would
it matter after all? for Nelly was but a child, he told himself--the
great tomboy whom he had romped and played with again and again.  There
was something about it, though, that he did not like, but a re-perusal
of the letter decided him; and more for a means of passing the time than
for any other purpose he went round to the stables, and mounting his
favourite, rode slowly away, heedless that, looking ten years older, Sir
Philip Vining was watching him from the study window.

Volume 2, Chapter III.

REVERSED PROCEEDINGS.

Some people might have called Charley Vining a spoiled child, who had
had everything he wished for from his earliest days, and now, at the
first disappointment in life, was turning pettish and angry.  True
enough so far, his every whim had been gratified, and perhaps this made
him feel the more bitterly that this newly-awakened desire should be
thwarted on every side.

Try what he would, all seemed against him--father, friends, even the
object of his choice herself; and he needed no one to tell him that the
greatest care was taken to prevent all interviews.  That Laura had a
great deal to do with it he was sure, with out Nelly's confirmatory
words.  Max too might have some influence; but it was in vain that he
thought--matters would only look more and more rugged on ahead; and at
length, longing, in spite of his dislike to the meeting, for the evening
to come, he cantered away.

"I only wish I were clever," he muttered.  "Some men would scheme a
score of plans; but as for me, I understand horses and dogs, and that is
about--"

Charley's thoughts were directed the next moment into another channel;
for turning a corner sharply, he came upon a family party from the Elms,
consisting of Laura Bray and her two youngest sisters, with Max angrily
stamping, clenched of fist and with his face distorted with rage.

"It's all a confounded plot of yours, Laury--it is, bai Jove!" he
screamed in an excited voice, the very counterpart of his mother's.

"Indeed, indeed, Max, you wrong me," she cried.  "It was not--Hush!
here's Charley Vining."

"How do, Miss Bray?" he said, reining in, and trying to be
cordial.--"Ah, Max, I thought you were in town.--Well, little ones, how
are you off for fruit?"

"Nelly's going to have lots to-night," said Do, the youngest "child;"
and the blood flushed up in Charley's face as he thought of the note he
had received,--for he was as transparent as a girl.

"Bai Jove! ya-a-s," said Max.  "Been in town, but thought I'd run down
again for a bit."

"What for?" said Charley Vining's jealous heart, as he recalled the
excited way in which Max had been gesticulating before his sister.

Max looked half disposed to be sulky; but he caught a meaning glance
from Laura, when, feeling that he could not afford to fall off from his
part of the compact he had made with her, he commenced talking to his
youngest sister, just as Charley's eyes flashed, his nostrils distended,
and, evidently moved by some strong emotion, he leaped from his horse,
gazing eagerly the while at Max's watch-chain, and then at Max himself,
with a fierce questioning look; which the exquisite responded to with a
quiet self-satisfied smirk, ran his fingers along the chain, played with
the locket and other ornaments to it attached, and then, with a side
glance of insolent triumph, he thrust the little finger of his kid glove
into a ring which hung there, turned it about a few times, and then
walked on with the girls.

Charley Vining's heart felt as if something were making it contract, as
if he were seized by some fearful spasm; for that ring--he would swear
it--that ring had once encircled Ella Bedford's finger, and had lain in
his palm.  He had noticed it particularly, as he had longed to press his
lips to the hand it graced--no, that graced the little bauble.  What did
it mean, then?--what was Nelly's news that she had to communicate?  He
could have groaned aloud as his heart whispered that he was--not
supplanted--but that that empty-headed conceited dandy had been able to
carry off the prize he had so earnestly sought--that heartless boasting
fop, who esteemed a woman's purest best feelings as deeply as he did the
quality of his last box of cigars.  It was plain enough the ring was a
gift, and had been replaced by another.

"I _am_ a fool--a romantic boy!" thought Charley to himself; "and there
is no such thing as genuine passion and feeling in this world; at least,
I am not discriminating enough to know it.  Here have I been grasping at
the shadow when I could have possessed the substance.  But, O!" he
mentally groaned, "how sweet was that shadow, and how bitter is the
substance!"

"Have I offended you, Charley?" said a deep soft voice at his ear--a
voice trembling with emotion; and starting back to the present, the
muser saw that Max had walked on some yards in advance with the girls,
and that, with his horse's bridle over his arm, he was standing by
Laura, whose hand was half raised, as if ready to be laid upon his arm,
while her great dark eyes, swimming with tenderness, were gazing
appealingly in his.

There was something new in Laura's manner, something he had not seen
before.  She was quiet, subdued, and timid; there was a tremulousness in
her voice; and with the feelings that agitated him then swaying him from
side to side, it was with a strange sense of trouble that he turned to
her, half flinching as he did so.

"Have I hurt your feelings in some way?" she said, for he did not reply,
and her voice was lower and deeper.  "You seem so changed, so different,
and it grieves me more than you can think."

It was very dangerous.  There had been a sudden discovery coming
directly upon Nelly's announcement that she had something grievous to
impart.  He had evidently been looked upon as a rude uncultivated boor,
and this London exquisite had been preferred before him.  In his poor
country ignorance, he had been looking upon Ella Bedford's words as the
utterances of a saint, gazing at her every act through a _couleur de
rose_ medium, till now, when he was rudely awakened from his simple
love-dream; while, as if offering balm for the wound, here was a
passionate loving woman talking, nay, breathing to him in whispers her
tender reproaches for what she evidently looked upon as his neglect.

What could he do?  He felt that his faith to one he loved would be firm
as a rock; but he owed no allegiance--he had been played with--and this
woman to whom he had breathed his love had preferred gloss and polish to
his simple homely ways.

It was thus that Charley Vining reasoned with himself, as slightly
raising his arm he, as it were, made the first step towards a future of
trouble; for the next instant Laura's hand was laid gently upon that
arm, and they were sauntering slowly along.  She, trembling and excited;
he, swayed by varied emotions--disappointment, rage, bitterness, and
added to all, the knowledge that he had left that gentle loving old man
heart-broken at his persistence in what he now owned to himself had been
a wild insane passion.

"You do not speak--you say nothing to me," said Laura softly, as she
turned slightly, so as to look in his face.  "I must in some way have
unwittingly caused you annoyance.  But there, Charley, I will not
dissemble; I know why you are angry, and I must speak.  You will think
lightly of me--you will even sneer," she said, and he could see that the
tears were running down her cheeks, and that her breast heaved
painfully; "but I cannot help it; I must speak now that for once there
is an opportunity.  You are vexed with me because I was so madly angry
with you for flirting.  But you would not be, Charley, if you knew all.
I don't think you would willingly hurt any one; but thoughtless acts
sometimes give great pain."

Charley did not reply, but his arm trembled as they walked on, Laura's
passionate words being very truthful, as by a bold stroke she tried to
recover the ground she told herself that she had lost.

"See how humble I am.  I never, that I can remember, asked pardon before
of any one, but I do of you; and I feel humbled and abased as I think,
for I know it is enough to make you mock at me.  But though you refuse
to know my heart, I know yours well, and that it is too much that of a
gentleman for you ever to make me repent of what I say."

Still Charley was silent, though Laura paused to hear him speak.  This
interview had been unexpected, and had come upon her by surprise; but,
led away by her feelings, words in torrents were pressing upon one
another ready to pour forth, and she had to struggle hard to keep those
words within due bounds, lest in her agitation she should make a broader
avowal than that already uttered, and cause him to turn from her in
disgust.

"Have I so deeply offended you?  Can you not pardon me?  Is mine such a
sin against you, Charley, that I am always to suffer--suffer more deeply
than you can believe?"

"I am not offended," he said gently.  "Indeed, you mistake me."

"Charley!" she exclaimed in a burst of passionate emotion; for the soft,
gently-spoken words seemed to sweep away the barrier that she should
have more sternly supported--"I cannot help it; I am half heart-broken.
You have been cruel to me; you have maddened me into saying things, and
treating you in my rage in a way that has torn my own breast.  But you
will forgive me--you will be to me as you were a few months back--and,
above all, promise me this, that you will not think lightly of me for
this.  Indeed, indeed, I cannot, cannot help it; I--I--"

Laura's voice was choked by her passionate sobs; and trembling himself
with emotion, mingled of sorrow, pity, and an undefined sense of
tenderness evoked by what he had heard, Charley Vining was moved to say
a few words perhaps more warmly than under other circumstances he might
have done.  He did not love Laura Bray--he almost disliked her; but if
there was any vanity in his composition, it was sure to be stirred now,
when a young and ardent woman was, in the most unmistakable terms,
telling him of her love, and imploring his forgiveness for her past
resentment.

Charley Vining was but human.  His heart had been deeply torn; and in
spite of himself his voice softened, and he was about to say words that
might have been too sympathising in their nature, when Laura's eyes
flashed with bitterness and mortification.  Had she possessed the power,
she would have turned her to stone where she stood; for, with a laugh
half merry, half sad, Nelly came running up, and pressing herself
between him and the horse, she caught hold of Charley's other arm.

Charley gave a sigh of relief, as rousing himself, he exclaimed, "ah,
Nelly!"

"I didn't mean to go for a walk," said Nelly; "but thought I'd come and
meet them; and I can't walk with Milly and Do, because of old Max; so
I've come here."

They say that two are company, three none: and if ever those words were
true, they were so here.  But, in spite of her mortification, and the
agitation brought on by her imprudent avowal, Laura's heart bounded; for
she read, or thought she read, on parting, what she called her pardon in
Charley Vining's eyes.

Volume 2, Chapter IV.

THE "CANDLESTINE" INTERVIEW.

Sir Philip Vining ate his dinner alone that day, for his son was an
absentee.  In fact, a good half-hour before the appointed time Charley
Vining was in Gorse Wood walking up and down, crushing the thin grass
and trampling through the undergrowth, as he vainly sought to control
the impatience of his spirit.

But he was in no controllable humour, and the more he tried to beat down
the feelings that troubled him, the more fretful his spirit grew.  It
had been a day of misery and disappointment, such as he had never
thought to see, and he was bitterly mortified with his own conduct.  He
told himself that it was his duty to have sternly answered Laura Bray,
whereas he had allowed her to go on till, as they parted, her look of
intelligence seemed to intimate that she was happy and satisfied, and
that he had been making love to her, when--

When?  Why should he trouble himself about a light frivolous girl, who
gave love tokens to a tailor's dummy--a contemptible jackanapes?  But
all the same, there was no reason why he should marry Laura Bray, and
give up his happy independent life.

"A fig for all womankind!" said Charley at last, out loud; "but then the
poor old gentleman!"

Charley's face darkened as he thought of his father and his wishes.
What should he do?  Let matters run their course?

He asked himself that last question rather grimly, as he thought of how
easily he could be in accord with all Sir Philip wished.  A few quiet
tender words to Laura Bray, and all would go on satisfactorily.  And why
should he not utter them?  She would be well content, and he need
trouble himself no farther, but seek in his old amusements _delassement_
and balm for the disappointment he had met with.

How plain it all was!  Max had come down again on Ella's account.  Why,
he had not spent so much time down at Lexville since he was a boy!  Of
course, the Brays would not sanction it; but, anyhow, it was another of
Mr Maximilian Bray's conquests.

"Ah, well," said Charley, as he stood leaning against an oak, "it's the
old story: one's boy love never does come to anything!--What, my little
wood-nymph!"

"O, Charley, Charley, Charley!" cried Nelly, running up to him panting,
"what shall I do?  I am _so, so_ miserable; and they think I'm in the
schoolroom now; and I can't bear it, and I hate it; and I've run out
through the side gate and over the elm meadow like a mad girl, for they
all watch me; and I stay in my bedroom most of the time; for since Miss
Bedford's gone--"

"What?" roared Charley, seizing Nelly's arm.

"Don't frighten me, Charley, and please don't pinch so!  That's what I
wanted to tell you.  That Laura led her such a cruel life with her
temper, and Max was such a horrible donkey, that she told ma she would
rather not stay, and--O, O, O!" sobbed Nelly, crying out aloud, "she's
gone away, and I didn't say good-bye; for she went early in the morning,
and came and kissed me when I was asleep; and me such a thickheaded,
stupid old dormouse that I never knew--knew it--or--or I'd have put my
arms so tightly round her neck that I'd never have left go."

"But where has she gone?" cried Charley fiercely.

"I don't know," sobbed Nelly--"nobody knows.  She would not say a word
even to mamma; and mamma said it was very obstinate, and that she was
obstinate altogether."

"Do you think--" said Charley huskily, and then he stopped as if he
could not utter the words--"do you think she told Max?"

"Told Max!" said Nelly, almost laughingly; "no, she wouldn't tell him.
She hated him too much, for he was always worrying her, when all the
time she was ever so fond of you, Charley.  I knew it, though she never
said so.  Pah, she would never tell such a donkey as that, when she
would not tell me!  They think I'm very stupid; but I know well enough
why she wouldn't stay, nor yet say where she was going: it was all
because of Max, so that he should not bother her any more."

"Go on, pray!" exclaimed Charley.

"I have not got anything more to tell you," said Nelly pitifully, "only
that there was such a scene over and over again; for at the last Laury
and Max both wanted her to stay, and Laury asked her over and over
again; but I could see through that: it was because Max made her, for
some reason of his own."

Here was a new light altogether: Laura and Max both asking her to stay,
and the poor girl led such a life that she was compelled to leave.  Why
had she not confided in him, then, when he had implored her to listen to
him?  But that ring?

Troubled in spirit, Charley began to stride up and down the wood, but
only to stop once more in front of Nelly.

"When did she go?" he asked.

"Yesterday morning," said Nelly; "but I couldn't send you word till
to-day.  And now I want to ask you something, Charley."

"Quick, then!" he said hoarsely, as he turned to go.

"Will you try and find out where Miss Bedford is gone, and then tell me
when you know?"

"Yes, yes!" cried Charley, rushing off.

"Yes, yes, indeed!" cried Nelly; "that's a pretty way to leave a lady
who has given him a mysterious assignation in a wood; and--There, now--
what shall I do?  If I haven't forgotten all about the pears!"

Volume 2, Chapter V.

MR MAXIMILIAN BEGINNETH TO SHOW HIS HAND.

Gone without leaving a trace behind!  Would she take another engagement,
and write to Mrs Bray for a recommendation?  She might, or she might
not.  She had taken the train at Lexville station after Dudgeon had, by
Mrs Bray's gracious permission, driven the light cart in with "the
governess's boxes;" but upon Mr Dudgeon being favoured with five
shillings by Charley Vining, he shook his head.

"Sutternly, sir, I did see her boxes in the station, but I didn't read
the directions."

Foiled there, Charley inquired of the booking-clerk.

"O yes, sir; remember it perfectly well.  Mr Max Bray asked the very
same question only this morning.  She took a ticket for London, sir."

"Max Bray asking," mused Charley.  "Then he did not know where she was,
and there could be no undercurrent at work there.  Max wanted to know
her address, confound him!  He had better mind how he stood in his way."

But, save when his thoughts turned in the direction of Laura Bray, which
complication in his affairs troubled him, Charley Vining felt lighter of
heart; for though Max held that ring, and so ostentatiously displayed
it, there was no reason why he might not have obtained it by some
hazard, as he himself had once gained possession of a plain golden
cross.  Matters were not so desperate after all, and he need not give up
hope.  And yet what misery for her to leave Lexville like that, without
one word of farewell--flying, as it were, from his persecution, as well
as from that of Max Bray!

Thinking over the words, too, of Nelly, how he could imagine the
wretched life the poor girl must have led! and then, with brightened
eye, he determined to find out where she had taken refuge.  But London--
the place of all others where a quest seemed vain.

Charley's musings were interrupted by one of the servants handing him a
letter.

"John Dudgeon, Mr Bray's man, sir, gave it to our Thomas this morning."

Charley hastily tore open the thimble-sealed epistle, to find it written
on a very dirty sheet of paper, and in a character that was almost
undecipherable; but fortunately the note was not long, and he read as
follows:

  "Hon'd Sur,--This comes hoppin to fine you verry wel, as it leves me
  at presen.  Mr Maxy Million comes a hordrin an a swerin at a pore
  suvvant lik ennythink, an thare aint know pleesing im.  An that ante
  the wa 2 get ennythink out of him as nose.  E say wairs Mis Bedfors
  bocksis drecty 2, an off korse I wasn goin 2 tel he; but mi gal jain,
  she se an rede em bofe, an I lik doin gents a good turn as has sivil
  tungs for a por suwant, and shes gon to missus Brandins Kops all
  laintun; an if Mr Macks Million wan 2 no, dont let im kum to ure
  umbel suwant to kommarn,

  "Jhon Dugegin.

  "P.S.  Wich you wone sa i tole u, ples, or yung marsta wil get me the
  sak."

Mrs Brandon's, Copse Hall, Laneton!  Why, across country that was, not
above a dozen miles off, on a branch of the South Midland Railway.
Nothing could have happened more fortunately.  He would have the dogcart
and drive over at once--no, not at once: he would go the next day; and,
come what might, he would see her again.  Surely she would not be so
hard, so cruel, with him--

His musings were brought to an end by the entrance of Sir Philip with a
note in his hand.

The old gentleman looked pale and troubled, but his words were gentle,
as he said: "A note from Mr Bray, Charley: he asks us to dinner there
to-morrow.  Shall I say that we will go?"

"To the Elms?--to-morrow?" said Charley.  "No, I cannot; I have an
engagement."

"An engagement!--to-morrow, Charley!" said Sir Philip sadly.

"Yes, I am going out--I cannot go," said Charley hastily.

Sir Philip said no more, but he sighed deeply as he turned and left the
room to decline the invitation, thinking bitterly the while of her who
had robbed him of his son's confidence and affection; for hitherto
father and son had lived almost for one another, and now there was
coldness and estrangement.

Laura Bray's eyes sparkled as she saw the servant returning on horseback
with the reply from Blandfield Court, for there was a strange excitement
now pervading her.  In obedience to her brother's wish she had consented
to try and prevail upon Ella Bedford to stay; but it was a source of
infinite pleasure to her when she had written to tell Max, in London,
that, in spite of all persuasion, Miss Bedford had insisted upon
leaving, and had gone--bearing his reproaches and anger with the
greatest of patience, when he came down by the fast train, and abused
her, and charged her with counterplotting, in the midst of which scene
he was interrupted, as we know, by the coming of Charley Vining.  As for
the events of the next quarter of an hour, they were burned in Laura's
memory; and, her rival gone, her heart was light, and she had sat
longing for the time when she should next see him who so engrossed her
thoughts.

It was at her instigation that a dinner-party had been arranged at the
shortest of short notices, ostensibly so that Maximilian Bray might have
Charley Vining to see him--a pleasant fiction, which formed the text for
much good-humoured banter at the Bray table, while Laura blushed and
looked conscious.

The man was a terrible while before he took in that letter, and Laura's
colour came and went a score of times.  Then it seemed as if the footman
would never bring the letter up.  But at last it was handed to Mr Bray,
who was so long getting out his glasses, that Laura, unable to contain
herself, exclaimed:

"Let me look for you, papa."

Seizing the letter, she tore it open, read a few lines, and then dropped
it with a look of the utmost disappointment.  Then she walked to the
window; but only to hurry the next moment from the room, so as to
conceal her tears.

Max joined her, though, ten minutes after.  "I thought you two had made
it up?" he said inquiringly.

"Yes--no--I don't know," she answered passionately.

"He's going out to-morrow, is he?" continued Max musingly.  "What's he
going to do?--where's he going?"

"Have you found out what you want?" said Laura, to turn the current of
the conversation.

"Not yet," he said.  "You ought never to have given me the trouble.  But
I am at work, and so is he."

"What!" cried Laura eagerly, as she caught her brother's hand.

"He's at work too," said Max.  "Bai Jove! he thinks himself very
cunning, but he won't get over me."

"But you do not mean to say that he is trying to get that creature's
address?" cried Laura pitifully.

"Raving mad after it, bai Jove!" said Max.  "You see you want me, Laury.
I must take her out of your way altogether, or it's no good.  He won't
throw her up till he hears something."

"Hears something?" said Laura slowly.

"Yes," said Max in a whisper; "hears something.  I had nearly ripened my
plans, only this evasion of hers disturbs them, and now I have to begin
all over again."

"But are you sure he has been trying to find out where she is gone?"

"Certain of it; yes, bai Jove, I am!"

"How cruel!--how treacherous!" muttered Laura.

"There, don't go into the high flights, and spoon!" said Max roughly.
"Set your wits to work.  And look here, Laury, take my advice.  Now,
then, are you listening?"

"Yes--yes!" cried Laura, for she had been pressing her hands
abstractedly together.

"Then look here.  Don't show that you either hear or see anything.  I
have him on the hip in a way he little thinks for.  What you have to do
is to meet him always with the same gentle unvarying kindness.  Wink at
everything you hear about him; and even if he comes to you straight from
her, you must receive him with open arms.  Do you hear me?"

"Yes," said Laura bitterly; "I hear."

"For, bai Jove! he's not the man to be played with!  Any show of
jealousy, or whim, or snubbing, or any of that confounded tabby-foolery
you women are so well up in, will drive him away."

Laura sighed.

"There, don't be a fool, Laury!  Bai Jove, I'm ashamed of you!  I
thought you were a woman of more spirit.  But look here: I was put out--
I was, bai Jove!--when I came down and found the little dove had spread
her soft little wings and flown away, for it put me to a great deal of
trouble and inconvenience and expense; but you trust to me, and you
shall be Lady Vining--of course, I mean when the old gentleman drops
off.  But Charley will come back to you like a great sheep as he is."

"How dare you, Max!" cried Laura, firing up.

"O, there, I don't want to upset the fair sister's sweet prejudices,"
said Max, with a sneer.  "There, we'll call him the noble
baronet-apparent.  He'll come back to you by and by to soothe the pains
in his great soft heart, and you shall heal them for him."

Laura bit her pocket--handkerchief fiercely, and kept tearing it again
from between her teeth.

"I have him, I tell you; and, bai Jove! the day shall come when he shall
frown at the very mention of the little soft dove's name!"

"But when--when?" cried Laura.

"When!" said Max coolly; "bai Jove! how can I tell?  I shall work hard
as soon as I have found out the address, and when the proper time comes,
my charming sister, I shall want your help in a scene I have _in petto_.
It may be a month, or it may be two, or perhaps three; but," he said
excitedly, as he again threw off the drawl, and effeminate way, to let
flash out the evil passions of his heart, "I am in earnest, Laury, and
I'll have that address before many days are gone by."

"But how--how will you get it?" cried Laura.

"Well," said Max, sinking back into his old way, "I've got a plan for
that too--one that will give but little trouble, and so I don't mind
telling you."

"Well--quick, tell me!" cried Laura.

"Bai Jove! how excited you are!" said Max, laughing insolently, and
taking evident delight in probing his sister's wounds.  "Charley is hard
at work trying to find out her address."

"Yes, yes!" cried Laura, pressing her hand to her side.

"And he'll be sure to find it sooner or later."

"Yes, yes!" cried Laura pitifully, her eyes flashing with jealous hate
the while she stood before her brother, the style of woman who, had she
lived at an earlier period, would have gladly taken a leaf from the book
of Lucrezia Borgia, and ridded herself of her rival.

"Well," said Max coolly, "I said he'd be sure to find it out, didn't I?"

"Max--Max! why do you torture me?" cried Laura.  "Tell me how you will
manage, when you say that you will leave him to find out what should be
yours to do, if there is to be any faith in your promise!"

"Faith!--yes, bai Jove, you may have faith in me!  And there, I won't
hurt your feelings any more.  Charley will find out the address, and so
shall I."

"But how?" cried Laura passionately, stamping her foot.

"How?  Why, bai Jove, _I shall watch him_!"

Volume 2, Chapter VI.

THE NEW HOME.

John Dudgeon was right.  Ella Bedford's luggage was directed to Mrs
Brandon's, Copse Hall, Laneton, to reach which, unless a fly had been
engaged to convey her across country, Ella had to go up to town by one
line, and then take her ticket by another.  This she did, and reached
Copse Hall, a gloomy-looking dwelling, late one evening, her heart
sinking as the station fly conveyed her down a muddy lane, on the
Croppley Magna road.  The hedges were heavy, and the trees seemed all
weeping--drip, drip, drip--while an occasional gust of wind drove the
rain against the fly window.

Cold, sombre-looking, and bare was the house; and feeling that the
refuge she had sought by means of advertising would be to her as a
prison, Ella descended from the fly.  A tall hard-looking footman opened
the door, and kept her standing on the mat of a great bare hall, whose
floor was polished oak, and whose ornaments were a set of harsh
stiff-backed chairs, that looked as if they had been made out of old
coffin boards, while the cold wind rushed through and shut a door
somewhere in the back regions with an echoing bang.

"There'll be a row about that," said the hard-faced footman, as he set
down the second trunk and closed the door, and the flyman drove off.
"Missus hates the doors to bang, and they will do it when the wind's in
the south.  You're to come in here, please, Miss--Bedford, isn't it?"

Trembling, in spite of her efforts to be calm, Ella responded to his
query, and then followed the footman to a great gaunt-looking door.  He
opened it, and announced, "Miss Bedford."  She advanced a few steps,
seeing nothing for the blinding tears that would stand in her eyes--
tears that she had much difficulty to keep from falling.  Then the door
was closed behind her, and she felt two warm soft hands take hers, and
that she was drawn towards a great glowing fire.

"Why, my dear child!" said a pleasant voice, "you are chilled through.
Come this way."

Then, as in a dream, she felt herself placed in a soft yielding
easy-chair, her bonnet and mantle removed, the same soft hands smoothing
back her hair, and then, as a pair of warm lips were pressed to hers,
the same voice said gently:

"Welcome to Copse Hall, my love!  I hope it will prove to you a happy
home."

Ella started to her feet as those words thrilled through her; words so
new, so tender, so motherly, that she could no longer restrain her
feelings, but threw herself, sobbing violently, upon the gentle breast
that seemed to welcome her; for two arms pressed her tightly there for a
few moments.  Then there were soothing whispers, soft hands caressing
her; and at last Ella was seated calm and tranquil at Mrs Brandon's
feet, feeling that, after the storms of the past, a haven of safety had
been reached; and long was the converse which followed, as ingenuously
Ella told all to her new friend, whose hand still rested on, or played
with, the soft glossy bands of hair.

"We will not make a host of promises," said Mrs Brandon cheerfully;
"but see how we get on.  You were quite right to leave there: and I had
such a kind letter from the Reverend Henry Morton, that I was glad to
secure your aid for my children's education."

"Mr Morton was very, very kind," said Ella, "and offered me a home when
poor mamma died; but I thought that I ought to be up and doing, though I
did not expect so much trouble at the outset."

"Trouble, my child," said Mrs Brandon softly,--"the world is full of
it;" and Ella, looking up, glanced at the widow's weeds.  "Yes, seven
years ago now," she continued, interpreting Ella's glance.  "But the
troubles here could be lessened, if we studied others more and self
less.  But there, bless me, you haven't seen the children!" and jumping
up, she rang, and the hard-faced footman appeared.

"Tell Jane to bring in the young ladies, Edward," said Mrs Brandon;
and, five minutes after, two bright happy-looking girls of eight and ten
came running in.  "There, my dears, that is Miss Bedford--your new
governess."

The two girls went smiling up to offer their hands and kiss her, the
younger clinging to her, and reading her face with a curious childish
gaze.

"They are both totally spoiled, Miss Bedford," said Mrs Brandon, gazing
fondly at her children; "and they're behindhand and tomboyish, and will
give you no end of trouble.  But you must rule them very strictly; and
as they've not been quite so bad to-day, they may have tea with us this
evening."

The girls clapped their hands, and over that pleasant meal it seemed to
Ella that she must have been there for months; while, when Mrs Brandon
accompanied her to her bedroom that night--a snug pleasant chamber, with
a fire, books, and a general aspect of comfort--and left her alone with
the sense of the warm kiss on her lips--a friendly pressure on her hand,
Ella sank upon her knees, and the tears would for a while flow--tears
this time, though, of thankfulness for the refuge she had found.

Two days of happiness had passed like a dream, in spite of sad thoughts
and an undefined dread that all was too bright to last, when, seated in
the drawing-room with Mrs Brandon, Ella's heart leaped, and then the
blood seemed to rush to her heart, for the clangour of the hall bell
proclaimed a visitor.  The next minute the hard footman entered with a
card upon a salver.

"Gentleman wishes to see Miss Bedford," he said; and Ella with trembling
hand took the card, to read thereon:

"Mr Charles Vining, Blandfield Court."

Volume 2, Chapter VII.

MRS BRANDON'S RECEPTIONS.

Mrs Brandon made no movement as the card was handed to Ella; but a look
of firmness seemed imperceptibly to sweep across her pleasant matronly
face, and one skilled in physiognomy would have said that she was
waiting anxiously to see how the young girl would act, under what
threatened to be very trying circumstances.  Then, glancing at Ella, she
saw her standing, pale as ashes, with the card in her hand.

"Where have you shown the gentleman, Edward?" said Mrs Brandon.

"Breakfast-room, ma'am," said the hard footman.

"Very good; you need not wait," said Mrs Brandon; and the next moment
they were alone, when, with pleading eyes, Ella held out the card.

"Indeed, indeed, ma'am, I could not help this," she whispered.  "I hoped
that my retreat would not have been known."

"My dear child," said Mrs Brandon kindly, "I do not blame you;" and she
also rose and passed her arm round Ella's waist.  "But you would like to
see him?"

"No, no, _no_!" cried Ella hastily.  "I must not--I would rather not--it
cannot be!  I hoped to have been left here in peace, and free from
persecution.  I cannot see him; I must never see him again."

"You wish, then, that Mr Charles Vining should be told that you decline
to see him, and you beg he will not call again?" said Mrs Brandon
softly, as she drew the fair girl nearer to her.

"I would not willingly hurt him," said Ella hoarsely; "but I have told
you all, and what else can I do?  It can never be!"

"My child," said Mrs Brandon tenderly, "I don't know how it is, but you
seem to have even in this short time made yourself occupy the place of a
daughter.  You are quite right, and this gay gallant must be checked and
kept in his place.  We cannot have hawks here to flutter our dovecot.  I
will go and see him--that is, if it is indeed your honest wish and
desire that he should see you no more."

"Yes, yes, it is indeed!" said Ella, with a sob that tore its way from
her breast.  "I can never see him more."

Mrs Brandon made a movement to leave the room, but Ella clung to her.

"Do you repent of what you have said?"  Mrs Brandon quietly asked.

"No, no!" said Ella half hysterically: "but--it is very kind of you to
see him--but--but you will speak gently to him--you will not be harsh or
cruel; for he is good and noble, and true-hearted and manly, and I
believe he feels all this deeply."

Mrs Brandon smiled incredulously, but there was pity in her words as
she bent over Ella, and tried to calm her.

"Is it really then like that, my poor, weak, gentle little dove?" she
whispered.  "Has he then made so firm a footing in this poor soft
yielding heart?  But you are quite right; you must not see him, and the
soreness will soon wear off.  You do not know the ways of the world, and
of these gay, insidious, smooth-tongued gallants, born with the idea
that every pretty face beneath them in station, forsooth, is to minister
to their pleasure.  I see--I see; and I don't blame you for believing
all he said."

"But I think you mistake his character," said Ella pleadingly.

"Perhaps so," said Mrs Brandon, smiling; "but will you leave your
welfare in my hands, Ella?"

It was the first time Mrs Brandon had called her by her Christian name,
and the young girl looked up with, a sad sweet smile.

"I am very young, very helpless, and quite alone in the world," she said
softly; "and I have met here with kindness such as I have not before
known since _they_ died.  I was so happy, so hopeful, so trustful that
happier days were coming; and, indeed.  I wish to be grateful."

Mrs Brandon kissed her again, and made a movement once more to leave;
but Ella made a clutch at her hand.

"Shall I stay?" said Mrs Brandon softly.  "Will you see him yourself?"

Ella was silent for a moment, for there was a great, a wild struggle in
her breast; but she conquered, and drawing herself up, she stood, pale
and cast-down of eye, with one hand resting on a chair-back.

"Do I understand you, Miss Bedford?" said Mrs Brandon.

"Yes, yes," said Ella, in a calm sad voice.  "I must never see him
again."

Mrs Brandon moved towards the door, and laid her hand upon the lock,
making it rattle loudly as she turned to gaze at Ella; but the latter
never moved; and as the door closed, Mrs Brandon's last glance showed
her Ella pale and motionless as a statue.

"Now for this lordly gallant!" muttered Mrs Brandon, as she stood for a
moment in the gaunt hall; "now for this sportive disturber of young
hearts!  If I had my will," she exclaimed, her handsome matronly
features flushing up, "I'd have them all banished--I would!"

Then, with a firm step, and her head drawn back, she crossed the hall,
threw open the door, and entered the room where Charley Vining was
impatiently walking up and down.

Volume 2, Chapter VIII.

MRS BRANDON'S RECEPTIONS: FIRST VISITOR.

Charley Vining started as, instead of Ella Bedford, he was confronted by
a tall, handsome, middle-aged lady, who bowed stiffly, and motioned him
to a seat, taking one herself at the same time.

"I have the pleasure of addressing--?" said Charley inquiringly.

"Mrs Brandon," was the reply.

"And Miss Bedford is not ill, I trust?" said Charley anxiously.

"Miss Bedford has requested me, as her particular friend, to meet you,
and answer any questions upon her behalf."

"But she will see me, will she not?" said Charley earnestly.  "Her
leaving us was so sudden--I was taken so by surprise.  You say, madam,
that you are her friend?"

Mrs Brandon bowed, and Charley wiped the dew from his forehead.

"May I then plead for one interview, however short?"

Mrs Brandon frowned, and then rising, she stood with one hand resting
upon the table.

"Young man," she said firmly--and Charley started as she looked down
almost fiercely upon him, "you are the son of Sir Philip Vining, I
believe?"

"I am," said Charley, slightly surprised.

"A worthy old country squire, whose name is known for miles round in
connection with kindly deeds."

"My father," said Charley proudly, "is, in every sense of the word, a
gentleman."

"Then why is not his son?" said Mrs Brandon fiercely.

"Me?  Why am not I?" said Charley, in a puzzled voice.

"Yes, sir, you!" exclaimed Mrs Brandon angrily.  "Why should not the
only son be as the father?"

"Because," said Charley proudly, once more, "it does not befall that
there should be two such men for many generations."

"It seems so," said Mrs Brandon bitterly; "but the son might learn
something from the father's acts."

"Good heavens, madam! what does this mean?  What have I done that you
should speak to me thus?" cried Charley earnestly.

"What have you done!" exclaimed Mrs Brandon, standing before him with
flashing eyes.  "You pitiful coward! you base scoundrel! how dare you
come before me with your insidious, plausible, professing ways--before
me, a mother--the wife of an English gentleman, who would have had you
turned out of the house!  Silence, sir!" she exclaimed, as Charley rose,
now pale, now flashed, and looked her in the face.  "You shall hear me
out before you quit this room.  I say, how dare you come before me here,
and parade your interest, and the trouble you are in because _she_ has
left the Elms?  Do you think I do not know the ways of the world--of the
modern English gentleman?  You pitiful libertine!  If I were a man, my
indignation is so hot against you, that I should even so far forget
myself as to strike you.  Could you find no pleasanter pastime than to
insinuate your bold handsome face into the thoughts of that sweet
simple-minded country girl--a poor clergyman's daughter--a pure-hearted
lady--to be to her as a blight--to be her curse--to win a heart of so
faithful and true a nature, that once it has beaten to the command of
love, it would never beat for another?  I can find no words for the
scorn, the utter contempt, with which you inspire me.  But there, I will
say no more, lest I forget myself in my hot passion; but I tell you
this, she has been here but a few hours, and yet, few as they are, they
have been long enough to show me that she is a pearl beyond price--a gem
that your libertine fingers would sully.  She has won from me a mother's
love, I may say; and wisely trusting to me, she bids me tell you that
she will see you no more!"

"She bade you tell me this?" said Charley hoarsely; "and have you
poisoned her ears against me thus?"

"Poisoned her ears!" exclaimed Mrs Brandon, forgetting her _role_ in
her excitement, "poor, innocent, weak child!  She believes you to be
perfection, and but a few minutes since was imploring me to be gentle
with the gay Lothario who has so basely deluded her, though she had the
good sense and wisdom to seek another home.  What--what!" cried Mrs
Brandon, "are you so hardened that you dare smile to my face with your
nefarious triumph?"

"Smile!" said Charley slowly, and in a strange dreamy way; "it must be
then the reflection of the heart that laughs within me for joy at those
last words of yours.  Mrs Brandon," he exclaimed, firing up, "but for
the proud knowledge that your accusations are all false, the bitter
lashing you have given me would have been maddening.  But you wrong me
cruelly; I deserve nothing of what you say, unless," he said proudly,
"it is wrong to purely love with my whole heart that sweet gentle girl.
Mrs Brandon, you are a woman--you must once have loved," he cried
almost imploringly.  "What have I done that I should be treated so?  Why
should she meet me always with this plea of difference of worldly
position?  You see I am not angry--you have made my heart warm towards
you for the interest you take in her.  It may be strange for me to speak
thus to you, a stranger, but you broke down the barrier, and even if it
be simple, I tell you that I am proud to say that I love her dearly--
that I can know no rest till she is mine.  Indeed, you wrong me!" he
cried, catching her hand in his.  "Intercede for me.  This indignation
is uncalled for.  Yes; look at me--I do not flinch.  Indeed my words are
honest!"

Mrs Brandon gazed at him searchingly, but he did not shrink.

"I am no judge of human hearts," said Charley earnestly, as he continued
pleading; "but my own tells me that one so easily moved to indignation
in a righteous cause must be gentle and generous.  You have shown me how
you love her, and that, in spite of your cruel words, draws me to you.
Think of my pain--think of what I suffer; for indeed," he said simply,
"I do suffer cruelly!  But you will let me see her--you will let me
plead my own cause once more, as I try to remove the impression she has
that a union would blight my prospects.  It is madness!  But you will
let me see her?"

For the last five minutes Mrs Brandon had been utterly taken aback.
Prejudging Charley from her own experience, she had emptied upon his
defenceless head the vials of her wrath, while ever since the first
burst of indignation had been expended, the thought had been forcing
itself upon her that she had judged rashly--that she was mistaken.  No
frivolous pleasure-seeking villain could have spoken in that way--none
but the most consummate hypocrite could have uttered those simple
sentiments in so masterly a fashion.  And surely, her heart said, this
could be no hypocrite--no deceiver!  If he were, she was one of the
deceived; for his upright manly bearing, his gentle appealing way, the
true honest look in his eyes, could only have been emanations from a
pure heart; and at last, overcome by her emotion, Mrs Brandon sank back
in her seat, as, still grasping her hand tightly, Charley stood over
her.

"Have I, then, wronged you?" she faltered.

"As heaven is my judge, you have!" cried Charley earnestly.  "I never
loved but one woman before."

"And who was that?" said Mrs Brandon anxiously.

"My dead mother; and her I love still!" said Charley earnestly.

"Mr Vining," said Mrs Brandon, "I beg your pardon!"

"What for?" cried Charley; "for showing me that Miss Bedford has found a
true friend?  Heaven bless you!" he said; and he raised her hand to his
lips before turning away and walking to the window.

At the end of a minute he was back at her side.

"Mrs Brandon," he said, "will you also be my friend?  Will you act as
counsel and judge for us both?  I will leave my fate in your hands.
Think quietly over it all, talk to Ella, and see what is right.  You
will not judge me wrongly again," he said, smiling.

"I cannot think calmly now," she said; "I am agitated and taken aback.
I thought to castigate a libertine, and I have been, I fear, lacerating
the heart of a true gentleman!  Go now, I beg of you!"

"But you will let me see her once--but for a minute?" pleaded Charley.

"No!" said Mrs Brandon firmly.  "It is her wish, _and mine_, that you
should not see her now."

"Now!" said Charley, catching at the word.  "Then I may call again--
to-morrow--the next day?"

"No!" said Mrs Brandon thoughtfully; "no! be content.  I am but a weak
woman, and I have shown myself to be no judge of human character.  I
must have proof and the words of others; when, if you come scatheless
from the ordeal, I will be your friend."

"You will!" cried Charley joyfully, as he caught her hands in his; and
then what more he would have said was choked by his emotion.  "When may
I come again?" he said at last.

"To see _me_?" queried Mrs Brandon smilingly.

"Yes," replied Charley, with a sigh.

"This day week," said Mrs Brandon.  And five minutes after Charley's
mare was galloping at such a rate that her rider did not see the
grinning face of Max Bray peering at him from over a hedge.  In fact,
Charley saw nothing but his own thoughts till he reached the Court,
where he encountered his father on the steps.

"Where have you been?" said the old gentleman sternly, but with a shade
of sadness in his voice.

"To Copse Hall, Laneton," replied Charley boldly.

"Is that where Miss Bedford now resides?" said the old gentleman,
watching the play of his son's features.

"Father," said Charley, "I never deceived you yet."

"No, Charley," said Sir Philip with trembling voice.  "Is it there?"

"Yes!" replied the young man; and he turned away.

Volume 2, Chapter IX.

MRS BRANDON'S RECEPTIONS: SECOND VISITOR.

Mrs Brandon returned to the drawing-room after Charley Vining's
departure, to find Ella as she had left her, standing cold and
motionless, supporting herself by one hand upon the chair-back, but
ready to confront Mrs Brandon as she entered the room.

"Has he gone?" whispered Ella, with a strange catching of the breath.

"Yes," said Mrs Brandon, who watched her keenly; and then, as a
half-suppressed sob forced itself from the wounded breast, Ella turned
and began to walk slowly from the room.

"My child!" whispered Mrs Brandon, hurrying to her side, and once more
passing a protecting arm around her.

Ella turned her sad gentle face towards Mrs Brandon with a smile.

"Let me go to my own room now," she said.  "You are very good.  I am
very sorry; but I could not help all this."

Mrs Brandon kissed her tenderly, and watched her as she passed through
the door, returning herself to sit thoughtfully gazing at the floor,
till, taking pen, ink, and paper, she wrote three hurried notes, and
addressed them to various friends residing in the neighbourhood of
Blandfield Court.  One will serve as an example of the character of the
others.  It was addressed to an old intimate and schoolfellow--Mrs
Lingon; and ran as follows:

  "My dear Mrs Lingon,--Will you kindly, and in strict confidence, give
  me _your_ opinion respecting the character and pursuits of a
  neighbour--Mr Charles Vining.  I have a particular reason for wishing
  to know.  With kind love, I am yours sincerely, Emily Brandon."

The answers came by the mid-day post on the second afternoon, when, Ella
being pale and unwell, one of the upper servants had been sent with the
children for their afternoon walk.

Mrs Brandon was evidently expecting news; for, after sitting talking to
Ella in a quiet affectionate way for some time, she rang the bell, and
the hard footman appeared.

"Has not Thomas returned from Laneton with the letter-bag?"

"Just coming up the lane as you rang, ma'am," said the man, who then
hurried out, to return with several letters, three of which Mrs Brandon
read with the greatest interest and a slight flush of colour in her
cheeks, when, with a gratified sigh, she placed them in a desk, and
closing her eyes, leaned back quiet and thoughtful, till her musing was
interrupted by the reappearance of the footman, with salver and card.

"Gentleman wishes to see Miss Bedford," said the man, handing the card.

"Not the same gentleman?" exclaimed Mrs Brandon excitedly, and as if
annoyed at what she looked upon as a breach of faith.

"No, 'm; 'nother gentleman--a little one," said the hard footman.

"That will do," said Mrs Brandon quietly; and the man left the room,
as, with the colour mounting to her cheeks, Ella handed the card just
taken.

"Mr Maximilian Bray," said Mrs Brandon, glancing at the delicate slip
of pasteboard, enamelled and scented.  "That is _the_ Mr Bray you
named?"

Ella bowed her head, and then, as if transformed into another, she said
hastily,

"Mrs Brandon, I think you give me credit for trying to avoid this
unpleasantly; you know I cannot help these calls.  It will be better,"
she said huskily, "that I leave here, and at once."

"Give you credit?  Of course, child!" said Mrs Brandon quietly.  "Sit
down, you foolish girl.  So, this is the dandy--the exquisite!  I think
we can arrange for his visiting here no more.  That is," she said
playfully, "unless _you_ wish to see him."

Ella's eyes quite flashed and her nostrils dilated as she recalled past
insults; all of which was duly marked by Mrs Brandon, who smiled once
more as she rose to leave the room.

"I need not spare his feelings, I presume?" she said.

"What excuses can I offer you?--what thanks can I give you?" cried Ella
earnestly.

"Just as many as I ask you for," said Mrs Brandon, smiling, and then
kissing her affectionately.  "I believe you are a little witch, my
child, and that you are charming all our hearts away.  Why, the cook has
been civil ever since you have been here; and Mary the housemaid has not
said a word about giving warning; and as for Edward, he has not let the
great passage-door slam once.  But, bless me, child!" she said merrily,
as she glanced at the mirror in front, "am I in fit trim to present
myself before the great Mr Maximilian Bray?"

But Ella could not smile: her heart beat fast, and she was troubled;
and, in spite of Mrs Brandon's affectionate behaviour, she feared that
this persecution might tend to shorten her stay at Copse Hall.  A sense
of keen sorrow pervaded her at such a prospect--at a time too when it
seemed that she had found a haven of peace, where she might bear the
sorrows of the past; and as Mrs Brandon left the room, she sank down in
her chair, and covered her face with her hands.

There was a smile upon Mrs Brandon's countenance as she entered the
breakfast-room, to find Max busy before a glass, battling with a
recalcitrant stud.

Most men would have been slightly confused on being found in such a
position; but not so Max.  He turned round slowly, displaying the
manifold perfections of his exquisite toilet, smiled, showed his fine
white teeth and pearl-grey gloves, and then advanced and placed a chair
for Mrs Brandon, taking the one to which he was waved by the lady of
the house, who was still smiling.

"Charming weather, is it not?" said Max in his most fascinating tones,
as he caressed one whisker, and placed boot number one a little farther
out in front, so that the fit might be observed.  "Pleasure of
addressing Mrs Brandon, I presume?"

Mrs Brandon bowed.

"Ah! ya-as, bai Jove! mutual acquaintance, and all that.  Heard the
Lingons speak of you, and being riding this wa-a-ay, took the liberty--"

"Yes!" said Mrs Brandon rather sharply.

"Ya-as, just so, bai Jove!" said Max obtusely.  "Took the liberty of
giving you a call.  Country's ra-ather dull just now: don't you find it
so?"

"Not at all," said Mrs Brandon, who was evidently highly amused.

"Just so! ya-as, bai Jove!--of course!" said Max.  "Miss Bedford be down
soon, I suppose?  Hope you like her--most amiable girl."

"I quite agree with you," said Mrs Brandon.

"Ya-as, just so--of course!" drawled Max, who either could not or would
not see the half-amused, half-contemptuous way in which his remarks were
received.  "Thought I'd call and see her," he continued.  "We all
thought a deal of her; but she would go."

"Indeed!" said Mrs Brandon.

"Ya-as," drawled Max.  "Fancy it was some annoyance she met with from
young Vining: not that I wish to say anything--bai Jove, no!"

"I'm sure Miss Bedford will be delighted to hear of the kind interest
you take in her," said Mrs Brandon.

"O, I don't know so much about that!" said Max; "but we were always very
good friends."

"You puppy!" muttered Mrs Brandon.

"Always liked her because of the interest she took in a sister of mine.
Down soon, I suppose?"

"Who--Miss Bedford?" said Mrs Brandon.

"Ya-as," drawled Max; "should like to have a quiet chat with her;" and
he directed one of his most taking glances at the lady, who, all smiles
and good-humour, had been studying his manners and dress in a way that
Max set down for admiration, and presuming thereon, he grew every moment
more confidential.  "You see, when she was at home, Mrs Brandon, I felt
a natural diffidence."

"I beg your pardon," said Mrs Brandon.

"Natural diffidence--kind of drawing back, you know," explained Max.
"Didn't seem the sort of thing, you see, to be too attentive to the
governess; but--er--er--must own to a sort of weakness in that
direction.  Nature, you see--bai Jove!--and that sort of thing, for she
is a dooced attractive girl."

"Very," said Mrs Brandon; and Max went on, for he was in his blind-rut
mood--a rut in which he could run on for hours without ever seeing that
he was being laughed at.

"Glad you think so--I am, bai Jove!  Very kind of you too, to be so
cordial and--"

"Pray do not imagine--" began Mrs Brandon.

"No, no.  Don't make any excuses, pray," said Max, interrupting her.
"You see, I've been candid, and I've no doubt that you'll give me your
permission to call frequently.--But is Miss Bedford coming down?"

Mrs Brandon did not reply; but still smiling pleasantly, she rose, rang
the bell, and then resumed her seat.

"Bai Jove! don't trouble yourself--I can wait," said Max.  "Ladies'
toilets do take a long while sometimes."

Mrs Brandon smiled, and then rose again, as the hard-faced footman
opened the door.

"Edward," she said in the coolest and most cutting manner, "do you see
this gentleman?"

"Yes, ma'am, I see him," said the astonished servant.

"He has made a mistake in coming here."

"Yes, ma'am," said the footman.

"Show him to the door; and if ever he has the impertinence to call here
again, either to ask for Miss Bedford or me, order him off the premises;
and if he does not immediately go, send for the policeman."

"Bai Jove!" drawled the astonished Max, "what does this mean?"

"You will show him out directly," said Mrs Brandon, who would not turn
her face in his direction, but continued to address the man; "and give
him fully to understand what will be his fate if he should have the
insolence to call any more."

"Yes, ma'am," said Edward, trying to keep back a grin.

"Bai Jove, she's mad!" ejaculated Max.

"Now then, sir; this way, please," said the hard-faced footman, whose
countenance, if stony before, was now adamantine.

"Hyar, I say, you--Mrs Brandon!" ejaculated Max, "what does this mean?"

"Air you coming, sir, or airn't you?" said the footman angrily.  Then,
opening the door to its widest extent, he placed a chair against it, and
advanced so fiercely towards the unwelcome visitor, that, to give him
his due, more from dread of a disarrangement of his attire than fear of
the man, he retreated round the table, stumbling once over a chair as he
did so, and then in his confusion halting in the doorway.  The next
moment he was hurried into the great hall, and backed out by Edward,
who, enjoying his task, proved himself to be the most uncompromising of
footmen, and slightly exceeded his duty by slamming the hall-door after
his discomfited guest with all his might, just as his mistress crossed
and entered the drawing-room, where, pale and excited, Ella sat awaiting
her.

"There, my child, that's over!" exclaimed Mrs Brandon; and then, in
spite of Ella's troubled face, she leaned back in her chair, and burst
into an uncontrolled fit of laughter, till, seeing how disturbed her
companion looked, she sat up once more.

"I meant to have been angry, and given him a tremendous snubbing," she
said; "but, as he says, `bai Jove!' it was impossible.  Of all the
consummate puppies I ever beheld, I think he is the quintessence.  And
he is so dense too, he seems to have not the slightest idea when you are
laughing at him.  There, my dear Ella, never wear that troubled face
about the donkey.  He is not worthy of a moment's thought; and besides,
he will never show his face here again."

"I cannot help feeling troubled about him," said Ella slowly, and as if
she were telling her thoughts.  "I fear him; and, dear Mrs Brandon, you
do not know his character.  It seems to me that that artificial glaze
covers much that is gross, and unprincipled, and relentless.  It has
been my misfortune to have attracted his notice, and I never think of
him without a shiver of dread.  He seems to have cast a shadow across my
path; and a dread of coming evil in some way connected with him--a
strange undefined sense of peril--haunts me again and again."

"There, there; what nonsense!" laughed Mrs Brandon merrily.  "We'll
watch over you like dragons, and no one shall molest you; or, if it
should come to the worst, we will set one chivalrous knight against the
other--in plain English, Mr Charles Vining shall trounce, or call out
and shoot, or do something to Mr Maximilian, the scented.  Bah! he is
in my nostrils now!  But who is to be the next?  Really, I am hard set
to keep my little acquisition.  How many more visitors of the masculine
gender will there be, Miss Bedford?"

Ella looked at her so pitifully, that she directly ceased her light
bantering tone, and changed the subject; while, perfectly astounded at
the unexpected termination of his reception, Max Bray rode slowly home.

Volume 2, Chapter X.

MRS BRANDON'S RECEPTIONS: THIRD VISITOR.

Mrs Brandon's was a genuine feeling of affection for the gentle
motherless girl who strove so hard and not unsuccessfully to gain the
love of her pupils.  She had called herself a poor judge of human
nature, and had doubtless erred with regard to Charley Vining; but her
estimation of Ella Bedford's worth, quickly as it was arrived at, was
correct; and many an hour were her thoughts devoted to the best means of
serving her protegee.

It need hardly be stated that Charley Vining too occupied no slight
share of her thoughts--thoughts that now inclined in one, now in the
other direction.  They loved; that was evident.  Both were young,
true-hearted, handsome.  They would make an admirable couple.  Why
should there not be an engagement?  Then the balance was on the other
side--of difference of position, the slighting treatment that might be
met with from wealthy relations; and all at last ended with a sigh, as
she told herself that the only way in which she could act was to be a
watchful friend to her protegee, and to let matters shape themselves as
they would, hoping always that the course they would take would be the
best.

Meanwhile, during one of her walks with the children, Ella had a narrow
escape from an encounter with Max Bray; and after staying within doors
for a couple of days, she again had to hurry back; but this time not
without his company for a part of the distance--a fact which Ella was
not slow in announcing to her protectress, who bit her lip with
annoyance, and tried to form some plan for putting a stop to these
importunities; but, strangely enough, all Mrs Brandon's plans ended
with thoughts of Charley Vining--when she gave up.

The day at last came when, in accordance with the given consent, Charley
was to call; and Mrs Brandon sat turning matters over in her mind as to
what she should do--what plan she should adopt.  The week had slipped
away, and, in spite of her cogitation, she was still undecided.  "What
should she do?" she asked herself for the hundredth time.  She had not
even acquainted Ella with the fact that he was coming again; and in a
few hours he would certainly be there, beseeching her to stand his
friend.

"What should she do?" she asked herself again; and she was just about to
send to request Ella to come to the drawing-room when a carriage drove
up to the door, there was a peal at the bell, and directly after Mrs
Brandon felt that matters had indeed now come to a crisis; for the
footman came in and announced Sir Philip Vining.

"To see Miss Bedford, Edward?" she asked eagerly.

"No, ma'am; to see you."

And this time, with no slight feeling of trepidation, Mrs Brandon
requested that the visitor might be shown in there, and prepared herself
for what she conceived would be an anxious scene.

The old baronet bowed with all a courtier's grace, and then, taking the
indicated seat, immediately opened the business upon which he had come.

"You are doubtless surprised at this call, Mrs Brandon," he said, "for
we are not acquaintances, and our homes are far removed; but I will be
frank with you.  You have a young lady here as governess--a Miss
Bedford?"

"Yes," said Mrs Brandon quietly, as she waited to see what course she
ought to pursue.

"I come to ask your permission for an interview with that young lady,"
said Sir Philip.

"It was unnecessary, Sir Philip Vining," said Mrs Brandon, rising.  "I
will at once send Miss Bedford to you."

"Stay, stay a little, I beg of you," said Sir Philip; and Mrs Brandon
resumed her seat.  "I must tell you, in the first place, that my son--my
only son--has formed a most unfortunate attachment in that quarter--an
attachment which it seems to me will blight his prospects in life.
Mind, madam," he added hastily, "I make no attack upon the lady, who may
be one of the most estimable of women; but it would grieve me sorely if
such an alliance were to be formed.  It may seem to be weak, but I have
a certain pride in our old pedigree, and it is the earnest wish of my
heart that my son should marry well."

He paused for a moment.

"I was aware of this," said Mrs Brandon quietly.

"Indeed!" said Sir Philip.  "But I need not be surprised: Miss Bedford
has, perhaps, confided to you my son's offer."

"Yes," said Mrs Brandon, "and so did your son."

"He was here a week ago," said Sir Philip.  "Has he been since?"

"I expect him this afternoon to ask my cooperation; and I confess I am
much troubled thereby."

"Your cooperation," said Sir Philip; "but I see, the lady is perhaps
coy.  Mrs Brandon, I must ask your aid on my side.  This marriage is
impossible--it would be an insane act, and can never take place.  Will
you ask that Miss Bedford may be sent here?"

"Will you see her alone?"

"No, no!  I would rather you were present, Mrs Brandon.  You know all;
and perhaps, as a mother, you may be able to sympathise with another
parent."

"Sir Philip Vining, you are placing me in a most difficult position.
How am I to divide sympathies that are with all of you?  But I will
ring.  Let us have Ella here; and I tell you candidly that I am glad to
be free from a responsibility that threatened to fix itself upon my
shoulders."

"Ask Miss Bedford to step this way," said Mrs Brandon as the man
appeared.

And five minutes after, very pale, but quite collected, Ella was ushered
into the room.

Mrs Brandon advanced to meet her, and led her to Sir Philip, who
saluted her gravely, and then placed for her a chair.

Then for a few minutes there was an embarrassed silence, broken at last
by Sir Philip Vining.

"Miss Bedford," he said, "I am an old and prejudiced man; proud of my
wealth, proud of my estate, proud of my position in the county.  I have,
too, an only son, whose life and future are dearer to me than my own.
For many years past my sole hope has been that he would form some
attachment to a lady of his own rank in society; one who should be to
him a loving wife--to me a daughter in whom I could feel pride."

"Hear me out," he continued, rising and standing before Ella, in almost
a piteous and pleading attitude, while Mrs Brandon sank upon her knees
by the fair girl's side, and placing one hand around her, took Ella's
with the other.

"Hear me out," said Sir Philip; "and forgive me if my words sound harsh
and cruel.  On an unfortunate day he beheld you--fair, beautiful, as was
his sainted mother--a woman to be seen but to be loved; and though I
came here hot and angered against you, I tell you frankly that I am weak
and disarmed.  Had it been some proud scheming woman, I could have
acted; but I find you sweet, gentle, pure-hearted, and one who gains the
good word and love of all with whom you come in contact.  He tells me
boldly that he loves you.  I do not ask you if you love him.  No one
could know his frank honest heart without giving him their love.  But I
ask you, hoping that any affection you may bear him may be slight, to
make some sacrifice for his sake--for my sake--the sake of an old man
who will give you his blessing.  You must esteem him, even if you do not
love.  Think, then, of his prospects--think of his position.  You see I
humble myself, for his sake, to plead to you--to implore that this may
go no farther.  I came as a last hope; for I find that he has sought you
out--that he will be here again to-day."

"He here to-day!" exclaimed Ella, starting, her wounds reopened by the
cruel ordeal she was called upon to suffer.  Then calmly rising, she
stood before the old man, looking down at his feet, as, clearly and
distinctly, she said, "Sir Philip Vining--his father!--I love him too
well--with too pure a love--a love that I dare here avow to you--to
wrong him either in thought or deed!  I have told him it is impossible;
I have avoided--I have fled from him.  I have done all that woman can do
to prove to him that we are separated by a gulf that cannot be crossed.
I came here seeking rest and peace; but it was not to be: and in a few
days I will go--go somewhere where he shall see me no more!  You need
not fear for me.  I would not listen to him--I will not listen to him;
and I thought that all that was at an end.  It is nothing!" she said
with a gasp, turning with a smile to Mrs Brandon.  "I think I am weak.
I wish to be alone.  Sir Philip Vining will excuse me perhaps; but I
have had much trouble lately.  Thanks; I am better now!"

She tried to withdraw her hand; but Sir Philip took it, and raised it to
his lips.

"Heaven bless you, my child!" he said, his voice trembling as he spoke.
"I have wronged you bitterly in thought; but you must pardon me.  I
came, thinking to meet an ambitious aspiring woman; but I find an angel.
Would to heaven that it could have been otherwise--or," he muttered,
"that this pride was humbled!  I feel," he continued aloud, "that I am
playing a hard part; but you will forgive me."

Ella turned her face towards him with a sad and weary smile, and then
one arm was thrown over Mrs Brandon's shoulder, the little head drooped
down as droops some storm-beaten flower, and, as it touched Mrs
Brandon's breast, there was a faint gasping sigh, and Sir Philip started
forward.

"You had better leave us, Sir Philip Vining," said Mrs Brandon gravely;
"the poor child has fainted."

And pale, trembling, and looking years older, Sir Philip walked with
tottering steps to the door, paused, looked round, came back, and then
kneeling, pressed his lips twice upon Ella's glossy hair, before, with a
sigh, he tore himself away, and was rapidly driven off.

At that self-same hour, light-hearted and hopeful, Charley Vining
mounted his favourite mare to ride over to Laneton.

Volume 2, Chapter XI.

KITCHEN CANVASSING.

"Now do tell us, there's a dear man," said cook, alias Sarah Stock, to
Edward, the hard-faced footman, as he sat in front of the kitchen fire
at Copse Hall, gently rubbing his shins and ruminating; while the
housemaid, with her workbox on the table, was pretending to be busy over
some piece of useful needlework, though she was watching Edward the
hard-faced with all her might.

For it was that cosy half-hour after supper when all was at peace in the
mansion; when the late dinner things had all been washed up, the kitchen
tidied, and cook had performed the operation which she called setting
herself straight--a manifest impossibility, for she was a circular woman
of at least sixteen stone weight.  All the same, though, she had changed
her dress, polished her face till it shone, and then crowned herself
with a gorgeous corona of lace and bright-hued ribbons and net-work, an
edifice which she called her cap.  The cat sat and purred upon the round
smooth centre of the bright steel fender, winked at the fire, twitched
its ears, and purred and ruminated at intervals; for it was fast nearing
the hour when it would be shown the door for the night; so that it was
getting itself thoroughly warmed through.  The firelight danced in the
bright tin dish-covers hung upon the wall, and then gleamed off, and
dodged about from bright stewpan to brass candlestick, and back again to
the clean crockery and the dresser; the old Dutch clock swung its
pendulum busily to and fro, as if labouring under the mistake that it
had nearly done work for the day; and altogether the place looked bright
and snug, and spoke of the approaching hour of rest, when cook, having
tapped the fire playfully here and there, to the destruction of several
golden caverns in the centre, and taking up an apparently interrupted
conversation, said, as above:

"Now, do tell us, there's a dear man;" when the housemaid gave her head
a toss, as much as to say, "What indelicacy!--don't think I endorse that
expression!"

Then she smiled with a kind of pitying contempt, for, according to her
notions, cook and Edward were courting; and of course, if he chose to
prefer a great fat coarse woman like that, he had a right to.  An the
slim maiden of thirty-eight bridled and looked almost as hard-faced as
Edward himself.  For though cook called him a dear man, it almost seemed
at first as if she were bantering him, till it was taken into
consideration that every eye forms its own beauty.  In fact, just then
Edward looked more hard-faced and grim than ever.

"You will tell us all about it, now won't you?" said cook, for Edward
remained silent.

"'Tain't likely," said Edward at last.

"Why not?" said cook.

"There was two buttons off my shirt in the very worst places on Sunday
morning."

"I _am_ sorry!" exclaimed cook.

"Don't believe it!" said Edward; "and it's mean and unfair.  Didn't you
say, if I'd always get your coals in, you'd always see to my buttons and
darn my stockings?  And at this present moment there's a hole as big as
a shilling in them as I've got on."

"But it shan't never occur again, Eddard, if you'll only tell us; for
Mary and me is as interested as can be."

"O, I don't care about knowing, if Mr Edward don't choose to tell,"
said the housemaid, with a toss of her head.

"Who's trying to pick a quarrel now?" retorted Edward; "when missus said
we was always to be peaceful and orderly in the kitchen."

"Not me, I'm sure," said the housemaid.  "I wouldn't bemean myself to
quarrel."

"Now don't, dear," said cook; "Mr Eddard's agoin' to tell us all about
it, and really, you know, if it ain't for all the world like chapters
out o' that book as missus had from Mugie's libery--the one you brought
up out of the drawin'-room, and read of a night when we was in bed."

"Stuff!" said the housemaid tartly.

"Now, don't say so, dear," said the cook, who was particularly suave for
once in her life.  "There she is, just like a herrowine, and a
nice-looking one too."

"Get out! call her good-looking?" said the housemaid.

"Well, 'taint to be denied as she has what some folks would call good
looks.  Then you see she's pussycuted by one lover, and another loves
her to distraction, and his father won't hear of it; and first one comes
and then another, and then the father, and frightens the poor dear into
fits, and goes away fainting--no, I mean goes away leaving her fainting
away, and wanting salts and burnt feathers, and all sorts.  Why, it's
for all the world like a real story in a book, that it is; and I declare
the way Mr Eddard has told us all about it has been beautiful."

"There's soft soap," growled the hard-faced footman, smiling grimly.

"That it ain't now, I'm sure," said cook.  "It really was beautiful, and
almost as good as seeing or reading it all.  I'm sure I never lived in a
house before where there was such goings on.  I declare that bit where
you told us about how you took the dandy by the scruff of his neck, and
says to him, `Now, out you go, or I'll stuff you up the chimney!' was as
exciting as could be.  And so it was where you dragged him across the
hall, and pitched him neck and crop down the front steps.  I could
a'most see it; and we both of us did hear the door slam."

"Mr Eddard," who had been slightly adding to the history of Ella's
visitors, smiled a little here, and his face relaxed somewhat from its
stern expression.

"Lor', what a nice clear fire!" said cook, who had detected the melting
sign.  "Let me hot you a sup of beer in a little stoopan, with a bit of
nuckmeg and ginger, and a spoonful of sugar.  Don't say no, Eddard."

"Yes, I shall," said Edward, who was tightening up again.  "I sha'n't
have none unless you two join with me."

"Well, if it comes to that," said cook, "sooner than you should go
without, I'll have the least taste in the world."

The housemaid shook her head as if despising such excuses; but ten
minutes after, when a mug of the hot sweet-scented compound was placed
before her by cook, who winked at Edward as she did so, the lady of the
dustpan and brush condescended to simper, and say, "O, the very idee!"
Then she smiled, and at the end of another ten minutes the trio were all
smiling as they sat with their feet on the fender, Edward regaling
himself and his fellow-servants with an account of what had taken place
during the afternoon.

"I should say it was as near as could be three o'clock," said Edward
punctiliously; "it might have been a little after, though I hadn't heard
it strike, or it might have been a little before: I ain't certain.
Anyhow, it was as near as could be to three o'clock when the front-door
bell rings.

"`Visitor for Miss Bedford,' I says to myself, laughing like, and
meaning it as a joke; for as we'd had one that day, I didn't of course
expect no more."

"What time was it as Sir Philip Vining went away?" said cook, who was
deeply interested.

"O, that was before lunch," said Edward.

"To be sure, so it was," said the housemaid.

"Well, I slips on my coat--for I was dusting the glasses over before
going to lay the dinner-cloth--and up I goes."

"And up you goes," said cook; for Edward had paused to soften his hard
face with a little more of the stewpan decoction.

"Yes, up I goes, to find it was Mr Charles Vining, looking as bright
and happy as could be--quite another man to what he was when he come
last week.

"`Ah,' I says to myself, `you don't know about your governor being here
afore lunch, young man, or you'd be laughing the other side of your
mouth.'  But I says aloud:

"`To see Miss Bedford, sir?'

"`No, my man,' he says; and he looked at me very curious and hesitating,
as if he'd like to have said `yes.'

"`Show me in to your mistress,' he says."

"Now it's a-coming!" said cook, rocking herself to and fro with
excitement, and rubbing her hands softly together.

"Now what's a-coming, stoopid?" said Edward gruffly.  "What d'ye mean?"

"I--I only meant that the interesting bit was now coming--the denowment,
you know," said cook humbly, and seeking to mollify the insulted
narrator by emptying the little stewpan, cloves, bits of ginger, and all
into his mug.

"If you're so precious clever, you'd better tell it yourself," growled
Edward fiercely, "instead of keeping on interrupting like that.  Who's
to go on, I should like to know?"

"O, I'm sure cook didn't mean nothing, Mr Eddard," said the interested
housemaid.  "Do go on!"

"What's she want to say anything for, if she don't mean anything then,
eh?" grumbled Edward.  "I hate such ways."

Cook looked at housemaid, and slightly raised her hands, while the
offended dignitary sipped and muttered, and muttered and sipped, and his
audience waited, not daring to speak, lest they should miss the rest of
the expected treat.

"I wouldn't say another word if I hadn't begun, that I wouldn't!"
growled the hard-faced one.  "Now, then, where'd I got to?"

"`Show me in to your mistress,'" exclaimed cook; when "Mr Eddard,"
turning round upon her very sharply, she shrunk as it were into her
shell, and nipped together her lips.

"I tell you what it is," said Edward viciously; "if I'm to tell this
here, I tells it, but I ain't going to be driven wild with vexatious
interruptions.  Do you both want to know it, or don't you?"

"O yes, please, Mr Eddard, we do indeed," exclaimed the two domestics;
"so please go on!"

Thus adjured, and apparently mollified by the respect paid to him, as
much as by the stewpan essence, "Mr Eddard" continued: "Well, I shows
him into the breakfast-room, and then goes in to missus, who had just
come down from Miss Bedford's room; and looking all white and troubled,
she goes across the hall, and I opens the door for her, and up comes my
gentleman with a rush, catches her hand in his, and kisses it.

"`That's making yourself at home anyhow, young man,' I says to myself,
backing-out of the room; and I can't say how it happened, but the corner
of the carpet got rucked up, so that I was ever so long before I could
get the door shut, and they would keep talking, so that I couldn't help
hearing what they said."

"And what did they say?" said cook.

"Ain't I a-coming to it as fast as I can?" said Edward angrily.  "What
an outrageous hurry you always are in with everything, except getting
the dinner ready in time!"

"Now don't be cruel, Mr Eddard," said the housemaid, tittering, when
"Mr Eddard" himself condescended to laugh at what our Scotch brethren
would call his own "wut," to the great discomfiture of cook, who wanted
to fire-up and give them a bit of her mind, but did not dare, for fear
of losing the end of the coveted history.  The consequence of her
reticence, though, was that "Mr Eddard" grew exceedingly amiable, and
went on with his account.

"That door being shut," he said, with a grim smile, which was meant to
be pleasant, but was the very reverse, "I didn't want to go; for I put
it to you now, under the circumstances, was it likely as he'd stay
long?"

"Of course not!" said cook.

"Not likely!" said the housemaid.

"Well, then," continued Edward, "where was the use of me going back to
my pantry only to be called directly?  So I took his hat and brushed it,
and when I'd brushed it and set it down, I set to and brushed it again,
and so on half a dozen times, while--it was very foolish of them if they
didn't want other people to hear--they kept on talking louder and
louder.

"`Mr Vining,' says missus, `I must ask you as a gentleman to come no
more.'

"`But, in 'evin's name,' he says, `what have I done that you should turn
upon me like this?'

"`Nothing,' says missus; `nothing at all.  I pity you from the bottom of
my heart, as much as I pity that sweet girl; but it cannot be.  You must
come here no more.'

"`Are you a woman?' he says.  `Have you feeling?  Can you form any idea
of the pain your words are giving me?'

"`Yes, yes, yes,' says missus.  `Mr Vining, why do you force me to
speak?  I do not wish to cause trouble, but you drive me to do so.'

"`Speak, then,' he says, quite in another voice, `unless you wish to
drive me mad, or to something worse--' There, I'm blessed," continued
Edward, breaking short off in his narrative, and pointing to the cook,
"did you ever see such a woman?  Why, what are you snivelling about?"

"I--I--I c-c-c-can't help it, Eddard, when I think of what those poor
things must be suffering," sobbed cook, with a liberal application of
her apron to her eyes.

"Suffer, indeed--such stuff!" said Edward.

"Ah, Eddard," said cook, turning upon him a languishing look, "if I have
saved up forty-seven pound ten in the savings bank, I've a heart still,
and know what it is for it to bleed when some one says a hard word to
me."

The housemaid sniffed.

"I'm a going on," said Edward, who was evidently moved by the culinary
lady's remarks.

"`Drive you,' says Mr Vining, `to speak!  Why, stay!' he says
excitedly, as if a thought had struck him.  `Why, yes; I'm sure of it.
My father has been here to-day.'

"`He has,' says missus solemnly.

"`It was cowardly and cruel!' cries Mr Vining, quite shouting now, for
his monkey was evidently up.  `And pray, madam, what is the result of
his visit?  There, I can answer it myself: Miss Bedford refuses to see
me; you decline to receive me into your house.'

"`Mr Vining,' says missus softly, and I could fancy that she took his
hand, `I grieve for you, as I do for that suffering girl.'

"`What!' cries Mr Vining, `is she ill?  Let me--let me see her--only
once--for a minute, dear Mrs Brandon!  Pray--on my knees I beg it of
you!  You cannot be so cruel, so hardhearted, as to refuse!'  And then I
heard a loud sobbing wail as of a woman crying, and--There, I'm blest if
I go on, if you will keep on snivelling.  Why, blame the women, you're
both on you at it!"

"We--we--we--we--we're--only a-blowin' our noses," sobbed the housemaid.

"Never see such noses!" growled Edward, who then continued:

"Well, directly after, as if in a passion, Mr Vining says:

"`Mrs Brandon, this is cruel and harsh.  I left you last week with my
hopes raised; to-day you dash them to the ground.'

"`Mr Vining--Mr Vining!' she says softly.

"`I tell you this,' he says, shouting again; and hearing his words, you
could almost see him stamping up and down the breakfast-room--`I tell
you this.  Mrs Brandon: the ties of duty are strong, but the ties
formed by the heart of a man newly-awakened to love are stronger.  To
win Ella Bedford, my own love, I will give all--time, hope, everything;
I will leave no stone unturned--I will stop at nothing!  I see that she
has been coerced--that she has been, as it were, cruelly stolen from me
by external pressure; and it shall be my task to win her back.  I had
hoped to have had you on my side; as it is, I must begin my battle by
myself.  I thank you for your patient hearing of my words; but before I
go I tell you this--that _till I learn that, by her own act, she gives
herself to another_, I will never cease from my pursuit.'

"The next minute he was in the hall, and I handed him his hat, brushed
as he never had it brushed before; when, even then, upset as he was, he
puts his hand in his pocket, and pushed something into my fist.

"`Sixpence,' I says to myself, as I shut the door after him, and him
a-walking away like mad."

"Sixpence!" echoed the cook.

"Sixpence!" squeaked the housemaid.

"Well, it did feel like it, sutternly," said Edward; "but it was arf a
suffrin'."

"But what did he mean by never ceasing from the pursuit till she gave
herself to another?  Would she give herself to another?" said cook, who
was very moist of eye.

"No, I should say not--never!" said the housemaid.

And so said, mentally, Charley Vining as, disappointed and half
maddened, he galloped homeward that afternoon; but the day came when,
bitterly laughing to himself, he said otherwise, and hummed with aching
heart the words of the old song:

  "Shall I, wasting in despair,
  Die because a woman's fair?"

And then he turned over and over in his hand--what?

A wedding-ring!

Volume 2, Chapter XII.

MORE PASSION AND LITTLE PROGRESS.

"Bai Jove! she's about the most skittish little filly I ever met with in
the whole course of my experience," muttered Max Bray; and then he went
over mentally the many rebuffs he had encountered.  Forbidden Mrs
Brandon's house, he had all the same gone over day after day to Laneton,
for the purpose of impressing Ella with a sense of the value of his
attentions; but still, though he displayed as much effrontery as a
London rough, all went against him, and he found that, so far from
meeting with a kindly greeting, his appearance was ever the signal for
an immediate retreat.

"But you won't tire me--bai Jove, you won't!" said Max.  "I've set my
mind, and it will keep set."

And still day after day he rode over to Laneton, till not a walk could
Ella take without catching sight of his mincing step and
gracefully-attired figure; while, in spite of every effort, there were
times when she could not avoid his addresses, as he stubbornly persisted
in walking by her side.

"Bai Jove! it's of no use for you to harry and worry me," drawled Max to
Laura.  "I'm getting on as fast as I can."

"But are your visits having any effect?" said Laura eagerly.

"Well, I'll be candid with you," said Max.  "Not so much as I could wish
in one quarter; but, bai Jove!  I'm doing you a good turn in the other
direction.  He's as jealous as Othello--he is, bai Jove!  He meets me
now with a scowl like a stage villain, confound him!  But he gets on no
better there than I do."

Max Bray was very decided in what he said; but though debarred from
visiting, like himself, at Copse Hall, Charley Vining was under the
impression that he did get on much better than friend Max.  The very
sight of Ella, even at a distance, was to him a pleasure; and in spite
of many disappointments, he was never weary of his twenty-four-mile
ride, counting himself a happier man when, by a lucky chance, he was
able to catch a glimpse of Ella, if but for a minute.  While upon the
day when Max made the above remarks, Charley Vining had not only seen,
but spoken to Ella--not only spoken to, but won from her--But stay--we
are premature.

Weeks had passed since, exactly as had been described by Edward the
hard-faced footman, Charley Vining had had an interview with Mrs
Brandon, to learn that in future he must never call there, nor expect
the slightest aid to be given to him, or even to have his suit
countenanced; and then it was that, angry and determined, the young man
had left, the house with the intention of leaving no stone unturned to
win an answer to his love.

To this end, day after day he would watch the house, thinking nothing of
the weary waiting hours, though it seemed that as little heed was paid
to the distance by Max Bray, who now made no secret of his pursuit,
carrying it on in open defiance of his rival--the two meeting
constantly, but never speaking.  In fact, Charley was rather glad of
this; for after the last interview with Laura, it had seemed to him that
he must be for the future upon unfriendly terms with the Bray family,
though Laura, whenever they met, was more gentle and pleading than ever,
although she must have seen that Charley shrank from her.

"_Nil desperandum_" seemed to be the motto adopted by all; and at length
came the day when Charley's heart leaped, for he told himself that his
perseverance was to have its reward.

He had ridden over as was his custom, put up his horse at Laneton, and
was then listlessly strolling towards Copse Hall, in the hope that he
might be favoured by, at all events, a glimpse of Ella, when he turned
from the road, leaped a stile, and took a path which led through the
copse from which the Hall was named.

There was no especial reason for going that way, only that he was as
likely to encounter Ella walking--which was not often--in one direction
as another; so he made up his mind to go through the copse by the broad
winding path which led round the back of the Hall, then to make his way
into the lane by Croppley Magna, walk on and see the old lady who had
received him into her house when he had his bad hunting fall, and then
return to where his horse awaited him.

He had entered the copse, walking very slowly, and thinking deeply of
the unsatisfactory state of affairs, when suddenly he was awakened from
his musing by the sound of merry childlike laughter.  A little girl
dashed round a bend of the walk, closely followed by another, and then,
passing him quickly, they were out of sight in an instant, just as,
dreamy and thoughtful, Ella, with her head bent down, came round the
bend of the path--came slowly on, nearer and nearer to where Charley
stood, with palpitating heart; and the next moment, as she started from
her reverie, it was with Charley holding her hand tightly in his.

"Ella!" he said, the word being as it were forced from his panting
breast.

"Mr Vining!" she exclaimed softly, as for a moment she met his gaze,
starting not from him, neither struggling to release her hands, but
looking up at him with a soft pleading look, that seemed to say, "You
know all that I have promised.  Why do you persecute me?"

"Ella," he said again, "at last!"

"Mr Vining," she said wearily, "please loose my hands and let me
return.  This is folly; it is unjust to me and to Sir Philip Vining.
You know what I have promised to him."

"I know what was cruelly wrung from you," he said bitterly; "but I
cannot think that you will adhere to it.  Ella, dearest Ella, do you
doubt my love?"

She turned her eyes sadly to his for a moment, as he still held her a
prisoner.

"You believe me, then!  You know how earnest I am!" cried Charley.

"Yes--yes!" she answered, her face bearing still the same sad weary
expression.

"Listen to me, then," continued Charley, his words sounding deep and
husky.  "If we were what you would call equals in station--an utterly
false position--if I were some poor penniless tutor or curate telling
you of my love, pleading to you earnestly, showing you in every way how
dear you were to me, would you then--could you then--return that love?"

There was a silence for a few moments, and then, in a weak unguarded
moment, Ella raised her eyes once more to his, to gaze, in spite of
herself, fondly and earnestly, as she faintly breathed the one word
"Yes."

The next moment she had repented; for he had clasped her in his arms, to
kiss her fondly again and again, as frightened and struggling she strove
to escape.

"Pray--pray, Mr Vining," she sobbed; "this is cruel--it is unfair to
me;" and then she upbraided herself for her weakness.

But the next moment he was walking by her side, holding one hand still
captive, as he urged and pleaded with a love-awakened earnestness, while
Ella thought of all she had promised to Sir Philip Vining, and upbraided
herself bitterly for not leaving Copse Hall, though the blame, if any,
was not hers, since Mrs Brandon had again and again refused to hear of
her departure.  At last she roused herself, and for the next five
minutes it was another spirit that contended with that of Charles
Vining.

"Mr Vining," she said, as quietly but firmly she withdrew her hand; and
he saw that, though deeply moved, there was a quiet determined will in
existence--"Mr Vining, you tell me that you love me."

"And you believe me," cried Charley hastily.

"And I believe you," said Ella steadily and hurriedly.  "For the sake,
then, of that love--for my sake and my future welfare in this world,
leave me--try to see me no more--strive to forget all the past, and let
these words of yours be to you as some sad dream."

"If I forget all this--"

"Hush!" she exclaimed firmly; "and remember my prayer to you.  I ask you
to do all this for my sake--for the sake of the love you bear me.  I
have promised that I would meet you no more, and that promise I must
keep."

"Stop!" cried Charley angrily, for she had turned to go.  "I love you
well, as you know--too well to accede to what you ask--and I tell you
now, as I have told those who have importuned me so to do, that I will
never, so long as I can see the faintest spark of affection for me, give
you up.  I go now, Ella, to wait--to wait patiently, even if it be for
years.  If rumours, set afloat by interested people, meet your ears,
credit nothing that tells of want of faith on my part to you.  I will be
patient, and wait till you are less cruel--till you relent towards me:
for now you are to me, I may say, harsh.  But recollect this: by your
treatment you condemn me to a life of misery and wretchedness, for I can
never again know peace.  You wish me to leave you?"

"Yes," said Ella hoarsely; and without another word, he turned and
strode away, his brow knit, and the veins swollen and knotted; but had
he turned then, in the midst of his hot anger and disappointment at what
he called her cold heartless cruelty, he would have seen so pitiful, so
longing a look in Ella's eyes, that he would the next moment have been
asking pardon at her feet.

But he did not turn; and the next moment the bend in the pathway hid him
from her sight, as with a sigh that seemed to cut its way from her
heart, she, too, slowly turned, pressed her hands together, and walked
sadly back to Mrs Brandon's, closely followed by her charge.

Volume 2, Chapter XIII.

FOR ANOTHER CAMPAIGN.

Three months had glided away with, at the end of that time, matters
still in the same unsatisfactory state.  There had been no open
collision between Max Bray and his sturdy rival; but Laura had long
since learned that, while Max persisted in his present course, there was
no prospect for her to be even on friendly terms with Charley Vining.
She had told her brother this; but he had angrily bade her be silent and
wait, when all would be right in the end.

So Laura waited, to find that Charley now totally ignored her existence,
spending his time either in sitting moodily in his own room, or else in
riding over to Laneton.

But Max Bray was not idle: he literally haunted Laneton; so that at last
Ella was quite confined to the house, and Mrs Brandon had looked grave.

Then came a visit from Sir Philip Vining, who again saw Ella, to part
from her with a kind, gentle, fatherly farewell; and this was the
result:

There were tears flowing fast at Copse Hall; for her few months' stay at
Mrs Brandon's had been sufficient to endear Ella to all there.

Edward, the hard-faced, had confided to cook that he didn't know how
things would go now; while upon cook weeping, and drying her eyes with
her apron, he told her that her conduct was "childish, and wus."

The housemaid looked as if she had a violent cold in her head; while the
children sobbed aloud; for the day had arrived when Ella Bedford was to
leave Copse Hall; Mrs Brandon, though knowing well enough for some time
past that such a course would be the better, yet only now having given
her consent, and that too most unwillingly.

Ella Bedford was to leave Copse Hall, but only for a year.  Mrs Brandon
declared a twelvemonth would no doubt serve to alter the state of
affairs, and then she could return.

"For I shall never be happy till I get you back again, child!"  Mrs
Brandon exclaimed.  "And mind this, my love: I hope that you will be
happy with Mrs Marter, who is a distant relative of my late husband;
but, come what may in the future, there is always a home for you here.
Write and say you are coming, or come without writing, and you shall
always find a warm welcome.  These are no unmeaning words, child, but
the utterances of one whom you have made to feel sincerely attached to
you."

"I know that," said Ella softly, as she clung to the motherly arm at her
side.

"I would never have consented to your going, only I cannot help thinking
that it may be for the best in the end; though really, now it has come
to the point, I don't know what I can have been thinking about, not to
decide and leave here myself for a few months.  But you promise me
faithfully that you will write often, and that at any time, if there is
any unpleasantry, you will acquaint me?"

"Yes," said Ella, smiling sadly, "I promise."

"I think you will find Mrs Marter kind to you; and I have said
everything that I could."

There was an affectionate leave-taking; and then, once more, Ella awoke
to the fact that she was driven from the home where she had hoped to be
at rest.  But this time she bore up bravely, in the hope that the end of
a year would again find her an occupant of Mrs Brandon's pleasant home,
where unvarying kindness and consideration had been her portion from the
day when, low-spirited and desponding, she had first entered what seemed
to be the gloomy portals of a prison.

She told herself that, with the battle of life to fight, she must not
give way to despondency; and nerving herself for all that she might have
to encounter, she sat back in the fly, glancing anxiously from side to
side, to see if she were observed, and in spite of her efforts trembling
excessively, lest at any moment a turn of the road should reveal the
figure of Max Bray or Charley Vining.  It did not matter which should
appear, she felt equal dread of the encounter; but upon that occasion
she was not called upon to summon up her often-tested resolution.

The station was reached in safety, her modest luggage labelled for
London; and this time she had taken the precaution of having no farther
address, to act as a clue for those who sought her.

The train sped on, and in due course, and without farther adventure, she
reached the terminus, engaged a cab, when, breathing freely, under the
impression that she had thoroughly escaped pursuit, she was soon being
rattled over the stones of the great metropolis.

Volume 2, Chapter XIV.

A NEW HOME.

Poor Ella! in her happy innocence she did not know that she was as
surely leaving a trail by which she could be tracked, as did the child
in the story, who sprinkled a few ashes behind her from time to time as
she went through the wood.  Poor girl! she did not even notice the
railway company's official, book in hand, taking the number of each cab,
and asking the drivers where they were to set down.

No, she was free this time; but she said those words with a strange
feeling of sadness as she leaned back.  But the next minute she summoned
resolution to her aid, and sat gazing from the window at the hurry and
bustle around.

Crescent Villas, Regents-park, the residence of Mrs Saint Clair Marter,
was Ella's destination.  By rights it was Mr Saint Clair Marter's
house, but his lady always spoke of it as her place; and as he dared not
contradict her, so the matter rested.

Ella entered a pleasantly-furnished hall neatly floorclothed, and with
groups of flowers and statuary, all in excellent taste.  There was an
air of luxury and refinement in the place, which was, however, totally
spoiled by the tawdry livery of the footman, who muttered and grumbled a
good deal about having to lift in the boxes, to the great amusement of
cabby, who kindly advised him not to over-exert himself, for the reason
that good people were very scarce.

But the door was closed at last, and the footman departed to announce
the new-comer.

"Let her wait a bit!" said a sharp voice, as the door was held open; and
the "bit" the young traveller had to wait was about three-quarters of an
hour, for no earthly reason save that Mrs Saint Clair Marter wished, as
she said, "to teach her her place."

But at last there was the tinkling of a bell somewhere in the lower
regions; the footman ascended, entered what Ella supposed to be the
drawing-room, and then returned to say gruffly, "Now, miss, this way,
please!"

And Ella was shown into the presence of her new mistress.

As a rule, no doubt, a young lady engaged to act as governess in a
family would speak of the feminine head of that family as her employer,
or the lady whose daughter she instructed.  She might easily find some
other term that would avoid that word which expresses the relation
between hirer and servant; but Mrs Saint Clair Marter always spoke of
herself as the mistress of the ladies she engaged to act as governess to
her children, and therefore we say that Ella was shown into the presence
of her new mistress.

Mrs Saint Clair Marter was a very diminutive lady, with a flat,
countenance, and very frizzly fair hair.  She gave a visitor the idea of
having been a small negress carefully bleached or made "beautiful for
ever;" while the first glance told that, had she really been a sufferer
from the slave-trade, whatever others may have valued and sold her at,
her purchase at her own valuation would have been a ruinous speculation.
She was dressed in the height of ultra-fashion, and reclined upon a
couch perfectly motionless, evidently for fear of making creases; for
her dress was carefully spread out over the back and foot, with every
fold and plait arranged as may be seen any day behind plate glass at the
establishments of Messrs. Grant and Gask, Marshall and Snellgrove, or
Peter Robinson; and upon Ella's entrance, Mrs Marter inspected her for
full a minute through a large gold-rimmed eyeglass.

"Ah!" she said at last, with an expiration of the breath, and a look as
if she had just made a discovery, "you are the young person recommended
to me by Mrs Brandon?"

Ella bowed.

"Exactly.  I have a good deal to say to you about the young ladies, but
I'm afraid my memory will not allow me to recall it at present.  I
daresay, though, that I shall recollect a little from time to time."

Ella remained standing; for Mrs Marter, doubtless from having to recall
so much, entirely forgot to invite her dependent to a seat.

"I am very particular about my governesses, Miss Bedford," said the
lady; "and mind, I don't at all approve of their making friends of, or
associating with, the other servants.  I expect, too, that the young
person I have in the house to superintend my children's education will
rise early.  The young ladies' linen, of course, you will keep in order,
and assist the nurse in dressing them of a morning.  Let me see, I think
Mrs Brandon said you understood German?"

"Yes," said Ella quietly.

"And Italian?"

"Yes," was the reply.

"French, and music, and singing, of course you know; but really I must
make a point of examining you in these subjects, for the trouble one has
with governesses is something terrible.  They all profess to know so
much, and all the while they know next to nothing.  Where were you
educated?"

"Principally at home," said Ella patiently.

"At home!" exclaimed Mrs Marter.  "Dear me; I'm sorry to hear that.  I
don't think much of home education.  I ought to have seen you and talked
matters over; but I trusted entirely to Mrs Brandon, as you were so far
off.  However, I suppose we must see how you get on."

"I will do my best to give you satisfaction," said Ella meekly, though
her heart sank the while she spoke.

"Yes, that's what Miss Tuggly said; and before she had been here a week,
she actually contradicted me to my face--before the young ladies, too.
Ah! there's another thing, too, I may as well say: Mr Marter likes to
be read to of an evening, and you will have to do that, for my lungs are
in such a state, that I cannot read half a page without a fit of
coughing.  And of course you will have to come into the drawing-room
tidy; but mind, I don't approve of dress, and governesses imitating
their employers.  I think it better to say these few words, so that
there may be no unpleasantness after."

Ella bowed again, and sought in her inward spirit for firmness to bear
all that might fall to her lot during the next twelve months.

"You may go now, Miss Bedford," said Mrs Marter, letting fall her great
eyeglass with a loud rattling of gold chain; and Ella turned to leave.

The next instant she was summoned back.

"O! really, Miss Bedford," exclaimed the lady, "that will never do!
Just what I feared when you told me of your home education.  Not the
slightest deportment!  Pray, how can you ever expect to teach young
ladies, when you do not know how to leave a room decently yourself?
Pray be careful for the future, whatever you do!  A ladylike bearing is
so essential, as you must be aware!  There, you may go now.  Thomas will
show you to the schoolroom, and you may ask the upper housemaid to take
you to your bedroom, which, by the way, I visit myself once a week.  I
say that as a hint respecting the way in which I expect it to be kept.
That will do, Miss Bedford."

Ella again turned to leave, but only to be staved once more.

"O, by the way, Miss Bedford, I have a great objection to my servants--I
mean, to those in my employ--having followers; I mean visitors.  Of
course, upon some particular occasion, if I were asked, I should not say
no to your mother and father visiting you; but what I mean, Miss
Bedford, is that I do not allow young men followers."

Ella's face was now aflame, partly at the coarseness of the words,
partly at the remembrance of the way in which she had been visited while
at Mrs Brandon's; and she trembled as she thought of the consequences
of her retreat being discovered.

"I think that is all I have to say now," said Mrs Marter.  "But stay:
the young ladies may as well be summoned before you go away.  Have the
goodness to ring that bell."

Ella obeyed, and the result was the coming of the footman in drab and
scarlet, with dirty stockings, and an imperfectly-powdered head--that is
to say, it was snowy in front, and greasy and black in the rear.

"Let the young ladies know that I wish to see them directly, Thomas,"
said the lady.

"Yes, mum," said Thomas, who, on turning, winked at Ella, not from
impertinence, but from an ignorant desire to be upon friendly terms.

Five minutes of utter silence now ensued, when there was a distant
squeal, a rush of feet, then a noise as of some one falling downstairs,
followed by a loud howl.

"Bless me--those children!" said Mrs Marter faintly; and directly after
the young ladies came tumbling into the room.

Volume 2, Chapter XV.

THE YOUNG LADIES.

Ella Bedford might well be excused for looking with astonished eyes at
the three juveniles to whom she was expected to teach deportment in
connection with music and language--British and foreign; for the first
that presented herself was a square-shaped child of about six, very
red-eyed and smudgy from the application of a pair of grubby fists to
remove the tears not yet dry, evidently on account of the absence of a
pocket-handkerchief, which absence was also plainly otherwise
manifested.

Number two, about a year and a half older, was a young lady gifted with
a perpetual sniff, in which she indulged as she stood and stared at the
new governess, an operation she was abetted in by number three, a young
lady of ten, with tousley hair, and an inclination to rub one ear with a
bony bare shoulder, which was continually hitching itself out of the
loose shoulder-straps, and rising up as its owner gave herself a writhe,
and then lolled against the drawing-room table, which creaked audibly at
the infliction.

"This, my dears," said Mrs Marter, pointing at Ella with her gold
eyeglass, and speaking in an imposing showman-like voice, as if she was
exhibiting some new curiosity--"this, my dears, is Miss Bedford, your
new governess.  Eleonora, you may shake hands with her."

Thus adjured, Eleonora, the eldest and tousley of head, gave her
shoulder a hitch out of the straps, and sulkily held out a hand
elegantly veined and marbled from the want of saponaceous applications.

"Alicia, you may shake hands with your new governess," said Mrs Marter
again, evidently addressing the second daughter, who did not move.
"Alicia, did you hear me?  Go and shake hands with your new
instructress."

"Sha'n't?" said Alicia, twisting her feet about so as to loosen a shoe,
and sniffing directly afterwards in a defiant manner.

"What do I hear?" exclaimed Mrs Marter.  "Go correctly, and shake hands
with Miss Bedford!"

"Shan't!" said Alicia, tucking her hands behind her, and sniffing again
abundantly, as she, to show her dislike to governesses in general, made
what is termed "a face" at the new-comer--that is to say, she contracted
the skin of her little snub nose, half-closed her eyes, and lolled out
her tongue in a most prepossessing manner; though Ella, not being of the
medical profession, could very well have dispensed with the last
attention.

"Alicia, I've told you before that that is very coarse and vulgar," said
Mrs Marter mildly, for the young lady's back being turned, she did not
see the physiognomical contortions.  "You must not say `sha'n't!' but,
if you do not wish to shake hands with Miss Bedford: `I would rather
not,' or, `I do not wish to do so.'--Selina, my darling, you will do as
mamma tells you--won't you?  Now, my love, you go and shake hands with
your new governess."

Ella took a step forward, and held out her hand, when mamma's darling's
face contracted, and directly after she spat fiercely at the new-comer,
and then ran howling behind the sofa.

"Naughty Seliny--naughty Seliny!" said Mrs Marter.  "You see, Miss
Bedford, you are strange to them yet.  They will know you better soon."

"I sha'n't do no lessons," said Alicia defiantly; "and I've burnt my
book."

"Fie, fie!" said Mrs Marter sweetly.

"Licy pushed me downstairs, mar," said the darling behind the sofa.

"No, I didn't," shouted Alicia; "she tumbled."

"There's a big story!" cried Eleonora.  "She put her hands on her back,
mar, and pushed her as hard as she could--"

Smack!

"Boo--boo--bo--oh!"

Before Miss Eleonora had finished her sentence, her sweet sister had
smitten her upon the mouth so sharply, that her lip bled, and she burst
forth into a loud howl.

"There, my dears, I cannot have this to-day.--Miss Bedford, be kind
enough to see them into the schoolroom.--There, it's of no use, Selina;
if you will not go, you must be carried.--There, for goodness' sake,
Miss Bedford, what are you thinking about?  Take her up in your arms and
carry her."

Ella obeyed; for Miss Selina had refused to leave the room, clinging
tightly to mamma's skirts till she was carried off, fighting furiously,
and slapping and scratching at her bearer's face in such a way that,
could Charley Vining have been a spectator, he would have been frantic.

"Never mind her scratching," said the eldest girl; "she always does like
that.  This way."

And in a few moments more Ella was able to deposit her precious charge
in the schoolroom, where, set free, the sweet innocent revenged herself
again by spitting, till the upper housemaid was summoned, and led Ella
to her own room.

"I pity you, miss, I do," said the woman kindly.  "You're no more fit to
manage them young rips than nothing.  They're spoilt in the
drawing-room, and encouraged in everything."

"Thank you," said Ella gently; "you mean kindly, I am sure; but pray say
no more.  Let me find it out by degrees."

"Well, that's best, certainly, miss," said the woman, who eagerly
assisted her to take off her things, and then hurried down to help get
up the luggage; while Ella--did she break down and burst into weak
tears?

No; smiling sadly, she determined to bear the burden that was to be
hers, and nerved herself for the coming battle; so that when the
housemaid returned and helped uncord the luggage, she was rewarded with
a sweet and cheerful smile, which was repeated when she said she would
go down and make Miss Bedford a cup of tea.

Ten minutes later, when, after coaxing the kettle to boil with a few
pieces of bundle London fire-wood, she was making that infusion that is
considered by the fair sex to be a balm and refreshment for every pain
and fatigue, she expressed herself loudly to her fellow-servants, to the
effect that "that was quite an angel they had got upstairs.  But it's my
belief," she added, "that the poor thing don't know what she's got to
put up with."

Volume 2, Chapter XVI.

CHANGE OF SCENE.

It was not until Ella had been gone a fortnight that Charley Vining
learned the news of her departure; as it happened, upon the same day
that it was brought home to Max Bray that his visits to Laneton were of
no effect.

But he was shrewd, was Max Bray; and encountering Charley directly
after, and reading his disappointment in his face, he assumed an air of
perfect contentment himself, played with the ring upon his watch-chain,
and passed his rival with a mocking smile.

Five minutes after, Charley was at Copse Hall face to face with Edward
the hard, who encountered him with a shake of the head.

"Show me in to your mistress," said Charley hoarsely; and it was done.

Mrs Brandon was seated working, but she rose, evidently much agitated,
as her visitor entered to catch her hands in his, and look imploringly
in her face.

"I have only just learned the news," he said.  "Dear Mrs Brandon, you
know why I have come!  Be pitiful!  See how I suffer!  Tell me where she
is gone!"

"I cannot," was the gentle reply, as, with a mother's tenderness, Mrs
Brandon pressed him back into a seat.  "You forget that I have given my
word to Sir Philip."

Charley groaned bitterly.

"You are all against me!" he cried reproachfully.  "You measure me by
others.  You do not know the depth of my feelings towards her.  You all
think that in a few days--a month--a year--all will be forgotten; but,
Mrs Brandon, it grows upon me with the obstacles I encounter.  But you
will at least tell me to what part of England she has gone?"

Mrs Brandon shook her head.

"It was her wish--her express wish--that her retreat should not be
known, Mr Vining; and, in addition to what I promised to your father, I
must respect that wish."

Charley looked sternly at her for a moment, and then rose, and without a
word left the room; Mrs Brandon following him with a sympathising look,
till the door closed upon him.

"I must be a boy--a simple boy!" muttered Charley fiercely; "for they
treat me as such.  My father, this Mrs Brandon, and even Max Bray laugh
at me!  But," he muttered fiercely, "I may be a boy; but these
bitternesses will soon make me a man--such a man as they do not dream
of!  Give her up?  Yes, when I see her in Max Bray's arms--not before!"

Then he laughed, almost lightly, at the utter impossibility of such a
termination, and returned to Blandfield after vainly trying to obtain
information at the Laneton station of Ella's whereabouts.  He could find
that a young lady answering his description had taken a ticket for
London; that was all; and in spite of his laugh of assurance, that was
all the information that had so far been obtained by Max Bray.

But there are ways and means of finding all who play at hide and seek;
England, as a rule, proving to be too small a place to conceal those who
are diligently sought.

Max Bray knew that well enough; and returning to town, he sat tapping
his white teeth as he made his plans; on the whole feeling very well
satisfied at the change in the base of operations, since, in spite of
his hippopotamus hide, he was beginning to be a little annoyed at the
notice taken of his visits to Laneton.  Old women were in the habit of
thrusting their heads out of their cottage doors to watch him;
servant-girls would titter; and on more than one countenance of the male
sex there would often be a stolid grin.

It was satisfactory, then, on the whole, for London presented many
advantages to a scheming mind; but the first thing to be found out was
whether Ella were in London.

Max was seated in one of the windows of his club, as he ran over his
arrangements; then rising, he ordered a cab, and drove away, ignorant of
the fact that the hall boy was imitating his gestures for the benefit of
the porter, who was convulsed with laughter.

That same day, without a word to Sir Philip, Charley started for town.

A week later, and, to his surprise, Charley Vining, who was staying at
Long's, involuntarily raised his hat as the Brays' carriage passed him,
with Mrs Bray and Laura on the back seat, Nelly and a stranger on the
front.  So introspective was Charley as he stood upon the hotel steps,
that the carriage would have passed him unnoticed if a loud shrill voice
had not shouted his name, when, starting and looking up, he saw Nelly,
flushed and excited, leaning over the side of the barouche, as if ready
to jump into his arms.  But the carriage passed on; and though by a
little exertion he might easily have overtaken it in the crowded street,
beyond raising his hat, Charley made no movement.

Ten minutes after, an empty hansom passing, Charley hailed it, gave his
orders, and was soon being spun along through the streets, thinking over
the encounter he had just had, and wondering whether Sir Philip Vining
would be the next to make his appearance.

"To see what I am doing!" said Charley bitterly.  And then his thoughts
reverted to the past, and he came to the conclusion that it does not
fall to the lot of any of us to pass a life of uninterrupted happiness,
such as his had been until he first set eyes upon Ella.

"Branksome-street, sir?" cried the driver through his little trap-door.
"Number nineteen, sir?"

"How did you know that I wanted number nineteen?" said Charley
pettishly; "I did not name a number."

"Lor' bless you, sir, this makes, I should think, a score of times I've
been here in the course of a couple of years' hansom-driving.  I never
come wunst when it was a growler I druv.  You want number nineteen,
sir--private-inkviry orfice--that's what you want."

"And how did you know that?" said Charley, who could not help feeling
amused.

"How did I know that, sir?" grinned the man.  "It's a sort of instinkt,
sir, as is only possessed by drivers of kebs.  Here you are, sir--number
nineteen.  Up on the first floor for Mr Whittrick."

Charley leaped out, ran up the stairs indicated; and directly after he
was in the office of Mr Whittrick, of private-inquiry celebrity.

Volume 2, Chapter XVII.

PRIVATE-INQUIRY.

Waiting your turn in a dull cheerless room along with half a dozen more
people who always seem oil to your water or _vice versa_, so as to
insure non-mixing, is about one of the most unpleasant things in life.
It is bad enough at the doctor's, where you sit and wonder what is the
matter with your neighbours right or left, and whether their complaints
are infectious; but at a private-inquiry office at a busy time it is ten
times worse.  There is such a general disposition evinced by everybody
to turn his back on everybody else; an act which the actor soon finds
out to be an utter impossibility; for though he gets on very well with
respect to two or three, he soon finds that, however clever a
mathematician he may be, he cannot place himself in the required
position; and, as a matter of course, he turns rusty, and resents the
presence of the other waiters--waiters, of course not in the hotel and
coffee-room sense of the term.

To do Charley Vining justice, he was as ill-tempered as any one present;
but he refrained from showing it, and tried to tranquillise his mind
into a state of wonderment as to the business of others present.  Was
there any one seeking the address of some daughter or sister very
dear?--was any one moved by the tender passion?  It did not seem like
it, judging from the countenances around.

One lady of vinegary aspect was evidently in search of a husband who had
vanished; while on the other side was a little squeezy mild man, who
might have come on a similar errand respecting a wife.  The gentleman in
speckless black, with papers in his hand tied with red tape, looked
legal, and took snuff or pounce frequently from a small box, which he
tapped with considerable grace, so as to bring the dust from the corner
into a heap in the centre.  His mission was evidently respecting a
legatee, heir-at-law, administrator, executor, or assign, whose presence
was necessary for the completion of some deed, document, or preamble as
aforesaid.

What a wheezy stout man wanted was doubtful; but it was evident that the
quiet-looking unassuming man who came out softly from the inner sanctum,
and in one glance took down and mentally recorded all who were present,
had something to do with order as well as law.

And it was so, in fact; for the quiet unassuming man was Mr Orger, of
the detective department of Great Scotland-yard, who, after a fortnight
of unavailing search for some gentleman who was wanted, did not think it
derogatory to his dignity to seek counsel--on the principle of two heads
being better than one--from his old friend and fellow-inspector Mr
Whittrick, of the detective force formerly, but now professionally
engaged upon his own account.

Charley's turn at last, just as he had come to the conclusion that he
would wait no longer, but call another day, when there were not so many
private inquirers.

Obeying a signal, he was shown into a well-furnished room with a couple
of tables, at one of which, whose top was covered with papers, sat a
very ordinary-looking man, in a black-velvet cap; at the other, which
bore a telegraphic dial, were a couple of clerks busily writing.

"Perhaps you will step this way," said the man of the black-velvet cap,
mentally photographing his visitor the while; and Charley followed him
to an inner room, where, taking the seat offered, he paid certain fees
and stated his case.

"Young lady--deep mourning--fair--grey eyes--luxuriant hair," muttered
the private-inquiry high-priest, as he took notes during Charley's
explanations, trying hard to suppress a smile as he saw his client's
earnestness.  "Came up from Laneton on the 9th, to the South Midland
Terminus," he continued.

"Well, Mr Vining?"

"Well," said Charley, "I must have her address found!"

"The information you give is very meagre, sir," said Mr Whittrick
quietly.

"It is, I know," said Charley impetuously: "but I must have that
address.

"Here," he exclaimed, drawing out his porte-monnaie and placing a couple
of crisp new ten-pound notes upon the table, "do not stand for expense.
That is all I have with me; but tell me what you require, and you shall
have it."

"Thanks, sir," said Mr Whittrick quietly, as he transferred the notes
to his pocket-book, after entering the transaction and the numbers in a
book.  "But you give us the credit of great powers, sir."

"Well," said Charley, "you have great powers: telegraphy and a cordon of
spies, I have no doubt.  All you require is something to set the
mechanism at work, and I tell you frankly I am ready to supply that
something liberally."

"You would not consider those two notes ill spent for a little certain
information, I suppose, sir?"

"No, nor double!" said Charley hastily.

"Good," said Mr Whittrick; and rising, he took a whistle from the mouth
of a speaking-tube in the wall, whispered a few words, and then applied
his ear.

The answer came in half a minute; and then he gave some other order,
replugged the tube, and sitting down, made some remark touching the
present ministry.

"But I am keeping you," said Charley, who took the remark as an
intimation that he might go.  "Tell me when I may come again?" he said,
rising.

"Stop a bit--stop a bit, Mr Vining: I never like doing things in a
hurry.  Let's economise time; and we can now you are here," said Mr
Whittrick.  "It may save my sending to Long's Hotel, and wasting time,
and men, and cab-hire, and perhaps not then to find you.  I shall have a
reply directly to a question I have asked.  And, besides, you have
entirely omitted to give me the young lady's age and name.--Ah, Smith,
that will do," he said, as a clerk entered the room with a sheet of
paper.

The clerk left the room; and then, after running through the manuscript
note, Mr Whittrick took out a double eyeglass, rubbed it leisurely, and
then fixed it by its spring upon the bridge of his nose.

"You'd be surprised, Mr Vining," he said, "what a deal of difficulty I
have to get clerks who write a plain legible hand.  I'm a terrible
scrawler myself; but then my writing has to keep up with my thoughts,
and has to struggle hard, with the certainty of failure always before
it.  But my clerks are well paid to do nothing else but copy; and really
at times, either from hurry or carelessness, their stuff is almost
undecipherable.  But let me see; I think I have managed this, though."

"Is that anything relating to my search?" said Charley excitedly.

"Stop a minute, my dear sir, and we'll see," said Mr Whittrick; and
then he held the slip of paper in his hand as if about to read aloud.

Volume 2, Chapter XVIII.

SECOND-HAND.

At the last words uttered by Mr Whittrick, Charley Vining started
forward, and gazed at the speaker as if he would have devoured the
ordinary-looking slip of paper rustling before him.  It was with the
greatest difficulty that he refrained from snatching the memorandum from
its holder; for in every respect save one, Mr Whittrick, of the
black-velvet cap, was outwardly an excessively slow man.  He had crawled
to the speaking-tube and crawled back, and when he took the slip of
paper from the clerk, it was as if the effort was too much for him--so
much, in fact, that he had hard work to wipe his double eyeglasses.

But we said that there was an exception, and this lay in Mr Whittrick's
eyes, which gave a sharpness to his whole appearance, as they twinkled
and darted and played as it were, while they displayed the activity of
their owner's brains.

But, apparently satisfied that if he kept him waiting half an hour
longer, Charley Vining would not say anything that would be of service
for information of any kind, Mr Whittrick commenced reading:

"9th instant.  Miss Ella Bedford, age about twenty; fair; grey eyes;
thick braided hair--_not false_; height about five feet two; dressed in
deep mourning; arrived by forty-five, a.m., train from Laneton.  Robert
Wilks, porter, Number 93, called four-wheeled cab, V.R. 09876, John
Round driver.  Luggage: canvas-covered box, black enamelled bag, and
leather wallet, _not addressed_.  Set down at 19 Crescent Villas,
Regent's-park--Mr Saint Clair Marter's.  Cab man paid.  No farther
communication; but footman averse to taking in luggage, whether from
idleness or particular reasons not known; shall know shortly, if
necessary.  Cab returned to terminus."

"Let me see," continued Mr Whittrick, turning the paper on the other
side.  "No, that is all we know at present;" and he looked at Charley,
who, mute with astonishment, was staring hard at him.

"Why, good heavens! how did you know that?" he cried.  "That is all I
wanted to know."

"At present--at present!" said Mr Whittrick, with a smile.

"But I expected days of waiting and anxiety," cried Charley, eagerly
seizing the paper.

"Possibly," said Mr Whittrick; "but there are times, you see, when we
are speedy in our movements."

"But I am astounded!" cried Charley.  "You make me almost to believe in
magicians."

Mr Whittrick smiled deprecatingly and shrugged his shoulders.

"How did you obtain the information?" cried Charley.

"My dear sir," said Mr Whittrick, "that is my profession.  If you go to
a doctor and he gives you a prescription which cures you, do you ask him
how he discovered his drugs?  Of course not.  You came to me for
assistance, and showed me that you were ready to pay liberally for that
assistance, and, of course, I set to work instanter."

"But is that--are you sure--that Miss--that the young lady is there?"

"Certainly not," said Mr Whittrick; "some time has passed since then.
But I am ready to make affidavit that she was there.  Now then, sir,
what can I do for you next?"

"Nothing more," said Charley; "I am quite satisfied."

"Do I understand you to say you consider my efforts sufficient?"

"Quite," said Charley.

"Very good, my dear sir," said Mr Whittrick; "then all I can say is,
that it has been a most satisfactory interview for both parties; only
recollect that you may want me again, and that you have paid me so
liberally, that there is a large balance in your favour, which I am
ready to devote to you at a moment's notice."

"You would rather not inform me how you obtained that information, I
presume?" said Charley, turning on the threshold, to display to the
high-priest of private-inquiry a thoroughly mystified countenance.

"Quite out of the question," said Mr Whittrick, smiling; and the next
minute Charley was bowed out, to descend the stairs, taking no heed of
the scowls of those who had been kept waiting during the long interview.

"Where to next, sir?" said a voice; and Charley started to find that the
cabman, who had not been paid, was naturally enough waiting the return
of his fare.

"19 Crescent Villas, Regents-park," said Charley abstractedly; but the
next moment he had altered his mind, and changed his order for Long's
Hotel, where he arrived elate, but confused, so utterly incomprehensible
seemed the power of the private inquirer.

Light came through at last, and seemed to cut through his brain with a
sharp pang.  It was all plain enough now: another had been seeking
information, even as he had sought it, and the news he had obtained was
only second-hand.  But who had been beforehand with him, while he had
been wasting time with his own ineffectual unassisted efforts?

There was no need for much consideration.  The reply to his question was
quick enough in arriving, burdened too with bitterness: and the answer
was--

"Max Bray!"

Volume 2, Chapter XIX.

AT CRESCENT VILLAS.

Keeping to her determination, Ella wrote cheerfully to Mrs Brandon,
making the best of everything, and then devoted herself energetically to
the task of trying to shape the rugged children in her charge.  The days
glided by, and ever striving to be hopeful she toiled on, driving away
all thoughts of the past, and rejoicing in her freedom from persecution.

But her rejoicings were but short-lived; for one day, upon returning
from a walk, there, once more, was Max Bray to meet her, and salute her
with all the familiarity of an old acquaintance, just in front of the
windows of Mrs Saint Clair Marter's house, and at a time, too, when
that lady herself was gazing from a window.

Ella crimsoned with vexation, and escaping as quickly as possible, she
entered the house, to learn from Thomas that there had been "a gent to
see her; but as she was out, missus had seen him instead."

How was it all to end? she asked herself, as, angry now, she hurried to
her room, expecting momentarily a summons to the presence of Mrs
Marter.

But it did not come; and it was with beating heart that she descended to
the drawing-room in the evening.  Had there come a message soon after
she returned, it would have been when, driven as it were to bay, she
would have had spirit to defend herself; but now she was tremulous and
weak, and as she took her place and began to read, her voice shook so
that she was afraid it would attract attention.

"By the way, Miss Bedford--" said Mrs Marter suddenly.

It was coming, then, at last, and in an instant Ella saw herself once
more driven to seek a home--saw herself harried and persecuted at
situation after situation; and it was with a faint giddy sensation,
making everything look confused and indistinct, that she listened to
Mrs Marter's words, and tried to find words to reply.

"By the way, Miss Bedford, as you are aware, a gentleman called this
afternoon while you were absent with the young ladies.  I have always
said that I would never encourage anything of the kind; but when a
gentleman of good family comes to me, and in a proper way, I must say
that I feel disposed to be lenient.  I must say, though, that I consider
you a very fortunate girl; and though this has come upon me very
suddenly, yet I shall not be harsh; and if your conduct continues
satisfactory, I shall give you every encouragement."

Ella was astounded: the words were so thoroughly opposed to those she
had expected, that for a few moments she could not speak, and her
silence was immediately interpreted to mean modest confusion.

"I did know some branches of the Bray family at one time," continued
Mrs Marter, "and Mr Maximilian puts me very much in mind of them.  I
must say that I very greatly approve of your choice, for he is a most
gentlemanly man: there is so much the tone of one accustomed to good
society.  Really I cannot help congratulating you."

"Indeed, indeed, madam--" exclaimed Ella earnestly.

"Hush, child, hush.  I will not hear a word.  I have said all that need
be said upon the subject, except that I have given Mr Maximilian Bray
my full consent to his calling here as frequently as he likes."

Again Ella essayed to speak, but only to be checked, and almost ordered
to go on with her reading, which was kept up for two hours, till Mrs
Marter and her lord were both comfortably asleep, when the reader was
left alone with her thoughts.

Two days passed, and then she was summoned to the drawing-room to meet
Mr Maximilian Bray.  In the interim she had twice approached the
subject--the first time to be checked good-humouredly, the second time
to be told that her conduct was bold and forward, words which
effectually sealed her lips for the future; while it was with a feeling
of hot indignation that she descended to the drawing-room, to find Mrs
Marter laughing at some remark just made by the exquisite, who rose on
Ella's entrance to salute her in a quiet, respectful, friendly way, that
she told herself it would be folly to resent.  Then, chattering quietly,
more to Mrs Marter than herself, his behaviour was sufficient to make
Mrs Marter at his departure praise him earnestly, but at the same time
refuse to hear a word in return.

What did it mean?  Was Mrs Marter siding with him?  What, then, should
she do?  It seemed nothing so long as such visits as those were paid.

From twice in a week Max's visits grew to three, and soon to one a day;
but always towards her there was a quiet gentlemanly reserve, and once,
and once only, when they were left alone for a minute, did Max say words
that gave her cause for thought.

"Nice woman, Mrs Marter," said Max quietly, "only she keeps twitting me
with my frequent visits.  She will have they are for an end, while
really, Miss Bedford, my sole end now is a little friendly feeling.  O,
here she comes back.  Can't you give us a little music?  I do find it so
dull here in town!--Just asking Miss Bedford to give us a little music,
Mrs Marter," said Max, raising his voice as that lady re-entered the
room.

"O, yes, of course," said Mrs Marter; and Ella was obliged to go to the
piano.

She could not help wondering at times whether Charley Vining had ever
tried to find out her address, a strange thrill passing through her
frame at the thought; but the next moment she had crushed that thought
out, and was sternly occupied over some task in connection with her
duties.

At one time she thought of telling Mrs Brandon of Max's visits, but as
they seemed to grow daily more and more addressed to the lady of the
house, there seemed to be no necessity; for there were days when hardly
half-a-dozen words passed between her and Max during a visit, and she
had not worldly wisdom enough to see that Max Bray was awaiting the time
when it would suit him best to make his spring.

Volume 2, Chapter XX.

A RIVAL ENCOUNTER.

The day following his visit to Branksome-street, Charley made his way to
Crescent Villas, and sent up his card to Mrs Marter.

The footman returned at the end of a few minutes to say that Mrs Marter
was not at home.

Was Miss Bedford at home?

Thomas did not know, but he would go and see; which he did, to return
shaking his head.

Charley said he would call again, which he did, with precisely the same
result.

Nothing daunted, he repeated his calls, till it was perfectly evident
that neither Mrs Marter nor Ella would see him; and he was coming away
knit of brow one day, when he started with anger on seeing a cab trundle
by with Max Bray as its occupant.

It was most repugnant to his feelings to play the spy; but in despite of
himself he followed the cab till he saw it stop at Crescent Villas, and
Max spring out, run up the steps and ring, to be the next minute
admitted, the cab being driven off.

One hour, two hours, three hours, did Charley Vining wait, when, it
being evident that Max was dining there, he returned to his hotel; and
then, in a state of mental anguish that he could not control, he wrote a
long and earnest letter to Ella, imploring her to see him, telling of
his sufferings, and of how he had been refused entrance again and again.

He waited three days and there was no response, when he wrote again--a
bitter angry letter this time, to have it returned to him unopened by
the next post, the direction, he felt sure, being in Max Bray's
handwriting.

Maddened now by the jealous feelings that assailed him, he watched the
house till he saw that Max Bray was a constant visitor.  Then came a
night when a brougham was at the door, and he saw Max hand down two
ladies, one of whom was Ella.  Then taking his place, the door of the
brougham was closed, and it was driven off.

"Follow that fly," said Charley to a cabman; and the man drew up at last
by the Piazza in the Haymarket, and Charley leaped out just in time to
see Max disappearing in the stall-entrance of Her Majesty's Theatre,
Mrs Marter upon one arm, Ella upon the other.

Dressed as he was, it was with some difficulty that Charley secured a
place where he could, unobserved, watch the movements of the party.
Max's quiet gentlemanly attentions were directed to both alike, the
passing of the book of the words, the seeking places, and lastly the
replacing of the opera-cloak upon Ella's gracefully rounded shoulders.

They passed close to him where he stood muffled up and with flashing
eyes, Ella's cloak brushing his coat on the way to the brougham; and
then they were driven off.

He wrote again after a sleepless night, telling of what he had seen, and
imploring Ella to send him if but a line to assure him that his
suspicions were false.  "I have fought against them till it seems to me
that it would require more than human strength," he said naively, "while
now I feel almost driven to believe."

The same result: the letter returned unopened, and redirected in a hand
that he was certain was Max Bray's.

Furious now with rage, he took a cab and drove to Max's lodgings in
Bury-street, Saint James's, to arrive in time to see two ladies descend
the steps--one of whom was Ella--Max handing them into a waiting
brougham, and kissing his hand as they were driven off.

"Ah, Charley Vining, how do?" he exclaimed, smiling pleasantly as he
encountered the fierce angry face at his side.  "Bai Jove, what a
stranger you are!  Haven't set eyes on you for months."

"I want a few words with you, Max," said Charley harshly.

"Many as you like.  Bai Jove, I don't care how much any one talks to me,
so long as they don't want me to talk to them!  Come upstairs."

Charley followed him into his sybaritish bachelor rooms, where Max threw
himself on a couch.

"Cigar or pipe, Vining--which will you have?  I've some capital Saint
Julien, and a decent bottle or two of hock.  Which shall it be?  Bai
Jove, man, what's the matter?  Anything upset you?"

"Max Bray," said Charley, striding up to the sofa and towering over its
occupant, "I want to know who those ladies were that you handed into
that brougham."

"Bai Jove, mai dear fellow, what an uncouth kind of catechism!  And
suppose I don't choose to tell you?"

"Curse you!  I'll wring it out of you!" cried Charley fiercely.

"No, bai Jove, you won't do anything of the kind," said Max coolly.
"Gentlemen don't act like confounded cads.  Why, man alive, I did not
say I would not tell you.  I'm open as the day.  Do you want to know?"

Charley made an impatient gesture.

"Well, bai Jove, if you must know, one is a friend of mine, Mrs Marter,
of Regent's-park."

"And the other?" said Charley hoarsely.

"The other," said Max, quietly lighting a cigar, "is another lady friend
of mine--one Miss Bedford."

Max must have seen those clutching fingers that moved as if about to
seize him by the throat; but he did not shrink, he did not waver for an
instant, but lit his cigar unmoved, and then sank luxuriously back upon
the couch to smoke and stare nonchalantly in his visitor's face.

That cool matter-of-fact way staggered and disarmed Charley.  Had he
seen the slightest sign of cowardice, he would have seized Max, and
shaken him savagely; but that cool insolence seemed to the stricken man
to tell of success and safety of position--the sense of being able to
deal pityingly with an unfortunate rival; and it was in altered tones
that Charley tore a letter from his breast, and threw it upon the table.

"Who redirected that letter?" he exclaimed.

Max smoked for a few moments in thoughtful silence, then, casting off
all affectation, he said quietly:

"Would it not be better to change the subject, Vining?  It is not every
horse that wins.  The favourite is a dangerous nag to place your money
on, as you must know.  We are old friends, Vining, and I am sorry to run
counter to you.  Say what you will, I shall not quarrel."

"Who redirected that letter?" repeated Charley, again more fiercely.

"Bai Jove, Vining, this is going too far!" said Max in injured tones.
"You have no right to come to a gentleman and ask him such questions."

"Who redirected that letter?"  Charley cried for the third time.

"Well there, then, if you will have it--I did," said Max quietly.

"And any others?"

"Yes, all of them."

"And by whose authority?"

"Bai Jove, it's too bad!" exclaimed Max--"I will not say another word.
I will not be cross-examined like this.  You've made misery enough,
Vining, bai Jove, you have!  You throw over poor Laura in the most
heartless way; you come between me and some one; and now, when matters
are once more running smoothly, you come here more like a mad bull than
anything.  I don't care; it's the truth, and you can't deny it!"

The moment was critical again; for blind with rage, Charley Vining
seized Max by the throat, and placed his knee upon his chest as he lay
back on the couch; but again the latter was equal to the position, and
he did not attempt to free himself.

"Don't be a brute, Vining!" he said quietly.  "I'm not afraid of you;
but you have double my strength."

Charley started back as he was met by those cool collected words, and
catching up his letter, he tore from the place, leaving Max with a quiet
contented smile upon his face, smoking till he had finished his cigar,
when he threw away the end, rose, rearranged his slightly disordered
shirt-front, and rang for a cab, being driven to Austin's Ticket-Office,
where he secured seats for a concert to be held that night at Saint
James's Hall; returned, made a most elaborate toilet, and then, not
knowing, but careless, whether or not he was watched, he made his way to
Crescent Villas, dined there, and that same evening Charley Vining saw
him seated beside Ella Bedford in the reserved scats at the great hall,
while, pale and careworn in the balcony, the young man again and again
saw Ella smile at something her companion uttered.

"I'll not give up yet," said Charley hoarsely.  "I made a vow, and I'll
keep to it!"

Volume 2, Chapter XXI.

(-?-).

"La Donna e Mobile," hummed Charley again and again, as he sat in the
smoking-room of his hotel.  He had paid no heed to the concert, his eyes
being fixed all the while upon Max and his two companions; but that air
had been sung by one of the great artistes, and words and music had
forced themselves upon him so that they seemed for hours after to be
ringing in his ears.

"La Donna e Mobile."  Yes, it was all plain enough, and it was nothing
new.  He had made an impression at first, and she had seemed to love
him--perhaps, after her fashion, had loved him--but woman's love, he
said, required feeding.  The fuel absent, the flame must become extinct.

He laughed bitterly, and a waiter came up.

"Did you ask for something, sir?"

"No!" roared Charley savagely; and the man shrunk away.

"I'll pester her no more," he said; "let things take their course.  I'll
go down home and see the poor old gentleman to-morrow.  I may just as
well, as hang about here torturing myself over a slow fire.  I wonder
how the mare looks.  A good run or two would do me no end of good.  I'll
pack up and run down to-morrow."

Then he laughed bitterly, for he knew that he was playing at
self-deceit; he felt that he could not stir from London--that he was, as
it were, fixed, and without a desire to leave the spot where he could
feel that she was near.

"No," he said, after a while; "I'll not give up yet.  I made a vow, and
I'll keep it.  She is not his yet.  She may have been--she must have
been--deceived.  I have been condemned.  No; she would not listen.  I
don't know--there, I think I'm half mad!"

Just then his hand came in contact with a couple of letters which had
been awaiting him on his return, and which one of the waiters had handed
to him, to be thrust unnoticed into his pocket.

"Bills," said the waiter, to one of his fellows.  "How nice to be
tradesman to those young swells!  I s'pose some of them must pay, some
time or other, or else people couldn't live."

"O yes," said the other; "some of them pay, and those who will pay, have
to pay for those who won't."

"Through the nose," said number one with a wink.

"To be sure," said his confrere; and then they laughed at one another,
and winked again.

But the waiter was wrong: those were not bills; one being a long and
affectionate letter from Sir Philip Vining, telling Charley that he
would be in town the next day, and asking if it would be convenient for
his son to meet him at the station.  The other was from Laura Bray,
saying that they had heard from Sir Philip that he would be in town the
next day, and asking that he and Charley would dine in Harley-street,
where was the Brays' town house, on the next day but one.

The above was all formal, and written at mamma's command, but Laura had
added a postscript, asking that Charley would come for the sake of the
old times when they were friends.  Max would be away, and the party very
small.

Then came a quiet reminder of the encounter, and a word to say that the
writer had looked out day by day, in the expectation of receiving a
call, while poor Nelly was _au desespoir_.

Charley smiled grimly as he read the letter over, and then carelessly
thrust it back into the envelope with the bold address which waiter
number one had kindly taken for a tradesman's hand.

"Take the good the gods provide one," said Charley with a bitter laugh,
as he smoked furiously, and tossed down glass after glass of claret to
allay the fevered rush of thought through his brain.

"I'll go," he said at last, "and see little Nell.  Poor little wiry
weedy Nell!--what a genuine, free-hearted, jolly little lass it is!  But
there, if I do, shell only make some reference to the past."

Charley Vining's thoughts came so fast that night, that they jostled and
stumbled over one another in the most confused way imaginable, till once
more, shining out like a star amidst the surrounding darkness, the light
of Ella's face seemed to slowly rise, and he sat there thinking of her
till the waiters yawned with misery because he did not retire.

But he went at last; and Ella's name was on his lips as he fell off into
a heavy weary sleep, as it was the first word he uttered when waking.

The next day Sir Philip was in town, surprised and shocked to see the
alteration in his son's face; for Charley looked haggard and worn, and
as if he had been engaged in a long career of dissipation.  He laughed,
though, when Sir Philip reverted to it, and seemed most assiduous in his
endeavours to promote the old man's comfort.

"About this dinner at the Brays', Charley: I should like to go," Sir
Philip said--"that is, if you will go with me."

"Do you particularly wish it, sir?" said Charley.

"It would give me much pleasure, if you have no other engagement."

"Engagement!" said Charley, with a bitter laugh that shocked Sir Philip.
"No, father, I have no engagements.  I'll go."

"But, my dear boy, what have you been doing with yourself?--how do you
pass your time?"

"Preparing myself for a private lunatic asylum, father," said Charley,
with a cynical laugh; and the old man felt a swelling in his throat as
he thought of the alteration that had taken place since the morning of
the memorable conversation in the library.

There was a something in Charley's looks that troubled Sir Philip more
than he cared to intimate: had the young man sternly refused to visit
the Brays, or to accede to his wishes in any way, he would not have been
surprised; but his strange looks, his bitter words, and ready
acquiescence alarmed Sir Philip; and when, an hour after, Charley left
the room, the old gentleman looked anxiously for his return, till,
unable to bear the suspense any longer, he rang and summoned a waiter.

"Has my son gone out?" he asked.

"Think not, Sir Philip.  I'll make inquiry."

Five anxious minutes passed, and then the man returned.

"No, Sir Philip, he went up to his bedroom."

Pale and trembling, Sir Philip rose and hurried upstairs.  He knew that
Charley had had some more than usually bitter reverse, and a horrible
dread had invaded the troubled father's breast, so that when he reached
his son's room door, he feared to summon him; but at last he knocked,
and waited for a few moments before he struck again upon the panels,
this time more forcibly.

There was no reply.

Volume 2, Chapter XXII.

ACCIDENT OR DESIGN?

Sir Philip Vining tried the door again and again, shaking it loudly, and
repeating his son's name; but there was no reply.

What should he do--summon assistance and have the room broken open?  He
dreaded calling for aid, to bring up the curious to gaze upon his
anguish, and perhaps upon--

He seemed to check his thoughts there by a tremendous effort, and
turning round, he gazed in both directions along the well-lit
thickly-carpeted corridor.

There was no one in sight, neither could he hear a sound.

Then he tried to look through the keyhole of the door, but something
arrested his vision.  He knocked and called again and again, but there
was not even the sound of breathing to be detected on the other side;
and at last, roused to frenzy.  Sir Philip turned the handle, and then
dashed his shoulder with all his might against the panelling.

He was not strong, but the sudden sharp shock made the little bolt by
which the door was secured give way, when, rushing in, Sir Philip
hastily closed the door behind him, anxious even now to hide from the
public eye any blur that might have fallen upon the Vinings' name.

There was a small globe lamp burning upon the table, but the room seemed
empty, and the bed was impressed; but on hurrying round to the foot,
there on a couch lay Charley, his coat and vest thrown off, his collar
and neckband unfastened, and his pale handsome face turned towards the
light.  His lips were just parted, and his leaden-hued eyelids barely
closed; but upon Sir Philip throwing himself on his knees by the figure
of his son, he could just detect a faint breathing, and upon hastily
drawing his watch and holding it near his lips, the bright gold back was
slightly dimmed.

"O, that it should have come to this!" groaned Sir Philip; and raising
his clenched hand, for a moment it was as though he were about to call
down Heaven's bitterest curse upon the head of the gentle girl to whom
he attributed all this pain and suffering.  But as he did so, his hand
fell again to his side, and the recollection of the fair, soft, pleading
face he had last looked upon, with its gentle eyes and pale cheeks, and
then the scene of her fainting when he tottered back to kiss her glossy
hair--all came back most vividly, and he groaned aloud.

And then he seemed to awaken to the necessity for instant action, and
running to the bell, he tore at it furiously.

But there was pride still busy in the old man's brain, in spite of the
shock: the world must not know what was wrong; and hastily looking
round, he saw upon the dressing-table, lying in company with the young
man's watch, with the thick gold chain carelessly thrown around it, a
small graduated bottle--Time and Eternity, so it seemed, side by side.

Sir Philip was not surprised.  He seemed to know intuitively what was
coming.  He had suspected it when downstairs, but in a more horrible
manner; and as soon as he had thrust the bottle into his pocket, he
shudderingly closed and locked the dressing-case upon the table, where,
glittering and bright, lay amongst velvet several unused keen-bladed
means of avoiding the pains and suffering of this world.

The next minute there was a knock at the bedroom-door, and the
chamber-maid appeared.

"Quick!" exclaimed Sir Philip--"the nearest doctor directly.  My son is
dangerously ill!"

The woman hurried out, but returned directly.

"I have sent, sir.  But can I do anything?  Has he taken too much?"

"Too much!  Too much what?" cried Sir Philip angrily, resenting the
remark.  "What do you mean, woman?"

"He has been taking it now for above a fortnight, sir," said the maid.
"Poor gentleman! he's in trouble, I think, and takes it to quiet
himself."

"What?" cried Sir Philip, but this time with less anger in his tones.

"Morphy, I think it's called, sir--a sort of spirits of laudanum; and I
suppose it's awful strong.  Surely, poor gentleman, he ain't over-done
it!"

"Are you sure that he has been in the habit of taking it?" said Sir
Philip.

"O, yes, sir.  I've often seen the bottle on the dressing-table.
`Morphy: to be used with great care,' it said on the label.  I don't
fancy he's so bad as you think, sir."

Sir Philip, still trembling with anxiety, knelt by his son's couch, to
be somewhat reassured by a deep sigh which the young man now drew; and
five minutes after, the doctor came in, black, smooth, and silent--a
very owl amongst men--bowed to Sir Philip, and then looked at his
patient.

"How long has he been like this?"

"I found him so a quarter--half an hour since," said Sir Philip.  "He
had left me an hour before that."

"Humph!" said the doctor.  "Any reason for thinking he would commit
suicide?"

"H'm--no!" said Sir Philip, hesitating; "but he has, I fear, been
suffering a great deal of mental pain."

"Any bottle or packet about?" said the doctor--"bottle, I should say.
No strong odour existent; but it seems like a narcotic poison at work."

"I found this," said Sir Philip, producing the little flask he had taken
from the table.

"To be sure--exactly--graduated too!  My dear sir, I don't think there
is any cause for alarm.  He has evidently taken a strong dose; but, you
see, here are ample instructions, and the bottle is nearly empty."

"But he may have taken all that," said Sir Philip anxiously.

"My dear sir," said the doctor, "if he had taken one-eighth part, he
would not be lying as you now see him.  Depend upon it, that after a few
hours he will wake calm and composed, when, if you are, as I suppose
from the likeness,"--here the doctor bowed,--"his father, a little quiet
advice would not be out of place.  It is a bad sign for a fine young man
like this to be resorting to such subtle agencies to procure rest.
Depend upon it, his brain is in a sad state.  I should advise change."

"But do you not think that you had better wait?" said Sir Philip
anxiously.

"I would do so with pleasure," said the doctor; "but really, my dear
sir, there is not the slightest necessity, and, besides, I am within
easy call."

The doctor departed softly, as he had arrived; and taking his seat by
the couch, Sir Philip watched hour after hour, forgetful of his own
fatigue, till towards morning, when Charley turned, sighed deeply, and
then sat up to gaze anxiously in his father's face.

"You here, dad?" he said lightly.

"My dear boy--at last!" cried Sir Philip.  "You have alarmed me
terribly!  Why do you take that?"  And he pointed to the bottle.

"To keep myself sane, father," said Charley sadly--"because I have lain
here night after night waiting for the sleep that would not come.  I've
smoked; I've drunk heavily; I've walked and ridden till so tired I could
hardly stand; and then I've lain here through the long dreary nights,
till I felt that I should lose my head altogether."

The old gentleman rose and began to pace the room.

"But there," cried Charley cheerfully, "I've kept you up too.  So now go
to your room, and I'll turn over a new leaf, dad.  Look here!"

As he spoke, he took up the little bottle from where it had been placed
by the doctor, and threw it sharply into the grate, where it was smashed
to atoms.

"There, I'll be a coward no longer, sir!  I'm going to begin a clean
page of the book to-morrow.  No more blots and random writing, but all
ruled fair and straight.  There, good-night, or, rather, good-morning!
Breakfast at ten, mind!"

Sir Philip left the room, and Charley plunged his face into a basin of
cold water before sitting down quietly to think; and as he thought, he
turned over and over again his intentions for the future.

It did seem now certain that Max Bray had supplanted him--there could be
hardly a doubt of it, but still there was that shade; and till he was
certain he would still hold to his faith.  He told himself that he was
wanting in no way, that he had done all that man could do; but still he
must have the final certainty before he would hide for ever in his
breast the sharply-cut wound, and trust to time to do something towards
alleviating his suffering.

Then he thought of Max Bray, and his brow lowered as he recalled his
words, till those floated before his mind respecting Laura, and his
treatment of her.

It was absurd, certainly, but the whole family must have supposed that
he had intended to ask her hand.  But he had never said word of love to
her.  What, though, of the lady?  There was no doubt that Laura did love
him, poor girl! perhaps very earnestly; and if so, he was sorry for her;
for it was not his wish to give her pain.

Then once more he thought of Ella.  Would she have accepted him, he
would have set the world at defiance; but no--under the guise of a
modest retirement, she had rejected him to accept Max Bray.

But was it so?  No, _no_, no!  He would not believe it.  He would hold
to his faith in her till the last came, and then he knew that he should
be a changed man.

Once more he asked himself whether he had done all that man could do;
and his heart honestly replied that he had--everything.

"Then my policy now is, to wait and see," said Charley aloud, and with a
bitterness in his tones that told how what he had seen rankled in his
breast.  Then, throwing himself on his bed, he said once more aloud, "It
can't be long now before I have some proof, and after that--"

He did not finish his sentence--he could not; for "after that" seemed to
him to be such a weary blank, that he almost wondered whether he would
be able to live through it all.  And there he lay, sleepless now,
awaiting the convincing proof; a proof that was to come sooner even than
he anticipated.

Volume 2, Chapter XXIII.

NELLY'S CONFIDENCE.

The Brays' mansion in Harley-street, and as grand a dinner as had been
in the long, gaunt, dreary place for months past.  Sir Philip and
Charley had called the morning before, and Nelly had planted herself by
Charley's side, to keep there the whole time.  Not that Laura seemed to
mind; for she was gentle, slightly constrained, but there was a saddened
suffering look in her countenance which lighted up whenever Charley said
a few words.

For some reason she kept glancing at him with a troubled air--perhaps
from some dread in connection with her plain avowals; but Charley was
the quiet gentleman in every word and look; and before they left, all
seemed to be quite at ease, so that the young man was almost angry with
himself for feeling so quiet and happy during the half-hour or so the
visit had lasted, besides which he had been merrily laughing two or
three times with Nelly.

"Do, do, please!"  Nelly had whispered; and those whispers had made
Laura's breast heave as she interpreted them to relate to Ella Bedford,
whose name, however, had not been mentioned.

"I daren't," said Charley laughingly, in answer to Nelly's appeal.

"O do--_do_--do!" whispered Nelly again.  "You owe me ever so much for
being your friend."

Charley's face darkened.

"Please I didn't mean to hurt you," said Nelly gently; "don't be angry
with me," for she had seen the cloud cross his countenance.

"I'm not angry, my child," he said, smiling again.

"That's right!" whispered Nelly.  "I do love to see you laugh; it makes
you look so handsome.  I say, Charley, I do wish you had been my
brother!  But now, I say, do declare you won't come unless they let me
dine with you all.  I am so sick of the schoolroom."

Poor Nelly!  Inadvertently she kept touching chords that thrilled in
Charley Vining's breast; but he beat back the feelings, and laughingly
said aloud that he thought he should not be able to come.

"O, really," shrieked Mrs Bray, "I shall be so disappointed!"

Laura looked pained, but she did not direct her eyes Vining-ward.

"I find that a particular old friend of mine is not coming to dinner,"
said Charley, "and therefore I shall decline."

"O, really, my dear Vining," said Mr Bray, ceasing to warm the tails of
his coat, "don't say so; give us his name, and we'll invite him at
once."

"'Tain't a him at all," cried the ungrammatical one, jumping up,
laughing, and clapping her hands; "it's a her, and it's me; so there
now--you must have me to dinner, after all.  And why not, I should like
to know.  I'm only an inch shorter than pa."

So Nelly dined with them that day, and Charley took her down, and sat
between her and Laura, "behaving more jolly than ever he did before," so
Nelly vowed; while Laura could not but own to the quiet, staid,
gentlemanly tact with which he avoided all the past; and trembling and
hopeful, she watched him unseen the whole evening.

He did not, neither did she, seek a _tete-a-tete_; but at the first
opportunity Nelly dragged him aside in one of the drawing-rooms, under
the pretence of showing him pictures; and though Laura saw all, she did
not stir.

"That's pretty, ain't it?" said Nelly.  "I sketched that."  Then in a
low voice, "You like me, Charley, don't you?"

"Yes, very much, my child," said Charley quietly.  "Do you want me to do
something for you?"

"No," said Nelly; "I only want to say something."

"Go on, then."

"You will not be cross?"

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, yes, my child," said Charley sadly.

"It's about that I wanted to talk to you," said Nelly.  "I don't like
seeing you so low and dumpy when you ought to be jolly and happy.  You
know you are miserable about some one that I got to love very--very
much."

Charley was silent; but his breath came thick and fast.

"And do you know, I'm sure that, if she had been left alone she would
have been all that's wise and good and dear?  May I go on?"

"Yes," said Charley, with quite a hiss.

"I thought you would like me to say anything, when you wouldn't hear it
from any one else.  Do you know, Charley, you mustn't be miserable about
Miss B--any more? and if I wasn't going to have Hugh Lingon when I get
big--I mean old enough--I should ask you to let me love you, and try and
comfort you, and make you happy.  I do love you very much now, you know,
but I mean the other way."

She was silent for a few moments, while he went on turning over the
pictures.

"Charley," she then said earnestly, "I don't think she has done right;
but whether she's been persuaded, or somebody's told stories about you.
Max goes to see her very often--nearly every day now--and she writes to
him lots of letters.  O Charley, dear Charley!" she half sobbed, "what
have I done?  Pray!--please don't look like that!  I thought telling you
would make you leave off looking miserable, and ready to be happy again
when you knew you couldn't have her.  But pray--pray don't look like
that!"

For the young man's ghastly face had frightened her, as he stood gazing
full in her eyes, crushing the while one of the drawings in his hand.

"How do you know that?" he whispered hoarsely.

"I heard Max tell Laury; and one day, when I went with her to his rooms,
there was a whole heap of little narrow envelopes directed to him, and
they were all in her handwriting.  But please try and not fret, or I
shall be so--so unhappy."

Charley drew a deep long breath, and for the space of a good minute he
stood there supporting himself by, and gazing blankly down at, the
table, for a sharp pang had shot through him, and he felt giddy; but the
next minute it passed off, as he muttered to himself:

"Not yet, not yet.  I must have farther proof!"

Then, by an effort, he recovered himself, and leading Nelly to the
piano, he sat by her while she sang.  A few minutes after, he was by
Laura's side, talking to her quietly and gently, as he would have talked
to any other lady.

And she knew the while what had passed in the farther drawing-room--knew
as well as if she had listened; for she knew that Nelly had heard her
brothers words, and, in spite of Nelly's quickness, Laura had seen her
looking at the letters that were in Ella's handwriting.

Laura's breast heaved as Charley sat beside her, and again she trembled,
and her heart smote her as she saw how deeply that wound had been cut.
But though she pitied, she was hopeful; for she said to herself, "The
day must come when Max's words will be true, and he will run to me for
solace.  The day must come!  But when?"

Volume 2, Chapter XXIV.

MR WHITTRICK AGAIN.

During the rest of the evening at the Brays' party Charley was lively
and chatty.  By an effort he seemed to have cast aside the feelings that
oppressed him; and as they went back to the Bond-street hotel, Sir
Philip felt quite hopeful, as it seemed to him that his son was indeed
going to turn over the fresh leaf.

The next day Charley was off betimes to Branksome-street, where he was
fortunate in getting an immediate interview with the great Mr
Whittrick.

"You received my letter, posted two days since?" asked Charley.

"Same evening, sir," said Mr Whittrick.

"You grant, I suppose, that it is as I said--Mr Maximilian Bray had
been here before me?"

"My dear sir," said Mr Whittrick, with a smile, "when a gentleman pays
me certain fees for certain services, he has bought those services--they
are his private property, and I have done with them--that is all
finished.  Do you understand?  This is a private-inquiry office, and
every client's business is private.  What I might divulge upon that
pleasant old institution the rack, I can't say--that being enough to
make any man speak; but I believe I should do as many another man did."

"What was that?" said Charley, smiling.

"Tell any lie the inquisitors wished," said Mr Whittrick.  "But as we
have no rack nowadays, only moral thumbscrews, why, we are not forced to
speak at all.  No, sir; if there is such a person as Mr Maximilian
Bray, or Cray, or Dray, or whatever his name is, and he came here on
business, if we could, we did his business--we can't always, you know--
and there was an end of it; but if you want me to private inquire him,
I'll do it, just the same as if he came here and wanted me to private
inquire you, I should do it--both together if it was necessary--though I
don't think I should say anything about visits here," he said, with a
slight twinkle of one of his dark eyes.  "So now, my dear sir, what's it
to be?  Shall we report to you upon this gentleman's proceedings?  Let
me see," he said, referring to the letter, "Bury-street, Saint James's,
isn't it?  Yes, quite right.  Well, sir?"

"Yes," said Charley; "and set about it at once."

"How often, and how much, would you like to know?"

"How often!" cried Charley fiercely.  "Every day--every hour if it is
necessary.  Write, send, telegraph to me.  I want to know his every act
and deed, till I tell you to leave off, if you can do it."

"I think we can manage it, sir," said Mr Whittrick, with a quiet smile.
"Not quite so quickly as we did the last, though."

"Then set about it at once," said Charley.  "It will be rather expensive
work, sir," said Mr Whittrick quietly.

Charley drew a blank cheque, signed by Sir Philip, from his pocket-book.

"What shall I fill this up for, Mr Whittrick?" said Charley.

"O, really, Mr Vining, I did not mean that," said Mr Whittrick.  "With
some clients, of course, we make sure of the money before acting; but I
am in your debt still.  What I meant was, are you disposed to go to the
expense of men, day after day, the whole of their time on your
business?"

"Yes, certainly," said Charley, taking pen and ink.  "Shall I fill this
up for a hundred pounds?"

"No," said Mr Whittrick quietly: "fifty will do for the present.  But
stay--let me see: make it to bearer, sir--Mr Smith or bearer; it might
not be pleasant to Sir Philip Vining to have it known at his banker's
that I am transacting family business.  You see, sir, mine's a very
well-known name, and one that has been blown upon a good deal, and some
people are rather fastidious about it.  And to tell the truth, sir, I
really am agent sometimes in rather unpleasant matters.  Thank you--that
will do, sir.  You shall have some information to-night, and of course,
under these circumstances, a great deal may seem very trivial; but you
must not mind that, for sometimes very trivial acts turn out to be the
most important in the end, while again noisy matters turn out empty
bangs.  I think we understand one another so far; but would you like a
few attentions to be paid to the lady?"

"What?" said Charley abruptly.

"Would you like one of my agents to give an eye to Number 19 Crescent
Villas, Regents-park, Mr Vining?"

"No," said Charley sternly; "certainly not!"

"Very good, sir," said Mr Whittrick, in his quiet way.  "Have you any
farther commands?"

"No," said Charley, taking the hint, and rising; and the next minute he
was face to face with Sir Philip Vining in the street.

For a few moments father and son stood quite taken aback at the
suddenness of the encounter; but Charley was the first to recover from
his surprise.

"There is only one house here, sir, that you would visit," he said
quietly; "and there is no necessity.  You were going to Whittrick's?"

Sir Philip bent his head.

"Let us go back to the hotel," said Charley; and without a word they
entered the cab Sir Philip had in waiting, and were driven back to
Bond-street.

Not a word was spoken during the backward journey; but as soon as they
were alone in their private room, Charley placed a chair for his father,
and then seated himself opposite to him.

"You were going to have me watched, father," he said calmly.

"My dear boy--my dear boy, it is for your own sake, and you drive me to
it!" exclaimed Sir Philip.

"There is no need, father," said Charley.  "We will have no more
estrangement.  You have wronged me cruelly to gratify your pride, but--
There," he exclaimed hastily, "I said there was no need for my being
watched.  I will be open with you as the day: ask me anything you will,
and I will answer you freely.  To begin with: I have been there this
morning for the purpose of having Max Bray watched: one proof--only one
more proof, father--of what I am seeking for, and your wishes will be
accomplished--there will be no fear of the Vinings' escutcheon being
lowered.  One thing more," he said hoarsely, and forcing his words from
his lips, "and I have done; and we will return to Blandfield, where you
shall help me to begin life again, father."

"My dear Charley," groaned the old man, "if I could but see you happy!"

The young man turned upon him a wistful mournful look before speaking.

"Let the past be now!" he said sternly.  "It cannot be altered.  Only
leave me free for the present--don't hamper me in any way."

"But, Charley--"

The old gentleman whispered a few words in his son's ear.

"No," said Charley, shaking his head; "there will be none of that.  If I
were to knock Max Bray down," he said, with scornful contempt, "he would
send for a policeman.  My dear father, you are thinking of your own
days: men do not fight duels now in England.  Let us go out now--this
place seems to stifle me.  But don't be alarmed, sir; if I am beaten in
the race, whether it be by fair running or a foul, I shall give up.  I
know that I have run the course in a manly straightforward manner,
according to my own convictions, and as, father, I felt that I must.
But the running is nearly over, sir, and I shall give you little more
pain."

"Charley, my dear boy--" began Sir Philip.

"Hush, father!" said Charley, checking him.  "The time has nearly come
for burying the past.  Let us hope that some day the grass may grow
green and pleasant-looking over its grave.  At present, I see nothing
but a black yawning pit--one which I shrink from approaching."

Volume 2, Chapter XXV.

COMING ROUND.

"From the Brays, Charley?" said Sir Philip, as they sat over their
breakfast at Long's about a month after the meeting in Branksome-street.

"Yes," said Charley.  "Mr Bray has taken a private box at Her Majesty's
for to-night, and will we have an early dinner with them and go?"

"My dear boy, I trust you will accept the invitation."

"Do you wish me to, father?" said Charley.

"Yes, certainly," cried Sir Philip; "but not in that dreadfully resigned
spirit."

"All right, sir!" said Charley, with a smile that he tried to make
cheerful; and tossing the letter carelessly aside, he went on with his
breakfast.

"You will write an answer, and send it by a commissionaire, of course?"

"No," said Charley.  "I'll ride up there before lunch, and tell them.  I
want to see if my little maid Nelly has come back yet: she seems to make
the Brays' place more bearable when one goes there."

Charley burst out laughing the next moment to see his father's serious
face.

"Well, really, my dear father," he said, as he interpreted his look, "I
how can you expect me to play the hypocrite?"

Sir Philip was troubled, but he said nothing; and soon after Charley
retired to his own room, where, over a cigar, he sat turning about the
various reports he had received from Branksome-street, wondering the
while why none had come in the night before.

"Nothing of sufficient importance to send in, I suppose," he muttered;
and then he sat musing and thoughtful, reading here that Mr Maximilian
Bray went to his office, dined out at Crescent Villas, went to Saint
James's Hall in the evening in company with Mrs M. and Miss B.,
returned to C.V., then back to lodgings; there, that Mrs M. and Miss B.
called at Bury-street, and Mr Maximilian Bray accompanied them to the
House of Commons.

Day after day the reports were of a similar nature, all tending to show
that Max was a most constant visitor at Crescent Villas, but little
more.

Charley sat so long that he had to give up his projected ride, and sent
a messenger with a note to say that Sir Philip and he would dine with
the Brays at six, and accompany them afterwards to the opera.  They were
punctual to their time; and Laura, handsomer than ever, and most
tastefully dressed, greeted Charley shrinkingly, while, going up to Sir
Philip, there was something very winning in the way in which she offered
him her cheek, and the old gentleman saluted her.

"Nelly come back?" said Charley quietly, as he took Laura down to
dinner.

"No," said Laura; and as she spoke, there was a tremor in her arm.  "I
am to meet her to-morrow at Paddington-station.  I thought perhaps--"

"I would go with you," said Charley smilingly.  "To be sure I will.
What train?"

"Fifty-five minutes past four," said Laura huskily.

"I'll be with you," said Charley, "at, say, four or half-past three.  I
want to see her again."

Laura looked now pale, now flushed; and Sir Philip told her she had
never appeared more handsome.  Then, the dinner past, the carriage
arrived, and they were driven to the Haymarket.  Sir Philip had passed
in with Mrs Bray, and Charley was handing out Laura, when he felt a
slight touch on the arm, and a note was passed into his hand; but the
bearer, unless it was the stolid policeman at his side, had disappeared.

In spite of himself, Charley uttered a faint ejaculation of surprise as
he took the note, and then looked round for the giver; and this was not
lost upon Laura, who directly became fearfully agitated, leaning heavily
upon his arm, so that he was compelled to half carry her into the
crush-room.

"It is nothing; I shall be better directly," she whispered.  "A sudden
spasm--faintness; but it is going off fast;" and all the while she gazed
in her companion's face with a terrified aspect, as if trying to read
therein something that was certainly not visible.

"Suppose I leave you five minutes with the attendant, and get you an ice
or a cup of coffee?" said Charley.

"No, no!" exclaimed Laura; "do not go--"

But her words were too late: he had passed through the door, staying for
a moment to read the note placed in his hands.

"Nothing last night.  To-night Her Majesty's Theatre.  Stalls, Numbers.
24, 5, and 6.  Mr M.B. and the ladies.  Tickets procured at Andrews's
in Bond-street."

A complete work of supererogation; for the next moment a voice speaking
loudly made Charley shrink back, and press his crush-hat down over his
eyes.

"Bai Jove, no!  Capital time, I'm sure," And the next moment Ella
Bedford's white-muslin skirt had swept against Charley as he stood stern
and motionless as a statue.

Quite five minutes had elapsed after Ella had disappeared before Charley
moved.  His teeth had been set, and a feeling of rage, bitterness, and
hatred combined, had surged up in his breast.  Had he liked, he could
have stretched forth his hand and touched her; but he did not stir.  But
he was himself again as he felt a trembling hand laid upon his arm, and
a voice that he hardly knew said softly: "Had you forgotten me?"

"No," said Charley earnestly, as, turning, he saw Laura at his elbow,
very paler and with a strange shiver passing from time to time through
her frame.

"Are you unwell?" he said kindly, as he drew her hand through his arm.

"No, no," she exclaimed, brightening in an instant, as she leaned
heavily upon that arm, and gazed almost imploringly in his face, her
great dark eyes wearing a fascinating aspect that he had never seen
there before; and thinking that he read all they would say, he turned
frigid in an instant, and led her to the corridor, whence they were soon
ushered into the private box.

But Charley Vining had not read those beseeching eyes.  The
interpretation was not for him then, or, in his mad anger, woman though
she was, he would have dashed her to the ground, and fled from her as
from something too hideous to live upon this earth.  He did not read
them then, for the key was not his; but, satisfied in his own mind that
she was agitated on his account, he was coldly polite all through the
first act.

Volume 2, Chapter XXVI.

TREMBLING.

Disturbed as Laura evidently was by some powerful motive, it was not
long before her eye rested upon the occupants of the stalls immediately
below, but two or three tiers nearer the stage.  It almost seemed as if,
as they sat side by side, she and Charley had seen them at the same
moment; for involuntarily they both leaned forward, but only to draw
back the next instant for eye to meet eye.

Surely enough, there was Max Bray seated between Mrs Marter and Ella
Bedford, who, with their backs to them, had not seen the occupants of
the private box.  As for Mrs Bray, she had preferred a back seat, in
which she was followed by Sir Philip, who insisted upon Charley taking
the front, he caring very little now for the opera; while Mrs Bray
found much more gratification in the ladies' dresses than in what she
called, in private, "a parcel of squalling," and employed her lorgnette
accordingly.

Laura's next act was to glance round uneasily at Mamma Bray and Sir
Philip; but there was nothing to fear there: their attention was taken
up by the audience, and from their position it was impossible for them
to see where Max and his companions were seated.

The next moment Laura's eyes were directed towards Charley, as he sat
sternly, fiercely looking down again, and then, softly, tremulously, and
as if even the delicately-gloved hand deprecated what it was about to
attempt, she laid that hand upon his stalwart arm, and he turned once
more, frowning heavily, to encounter those great eyes, pitiful,
imploring, swimming in tenderness.  It seemed to him that it was pity
for him, sorrow for the pain he was suffering; and as the frown passed
from his brow, he returned her gaze till her eyes sank shrinkingly
before his, and the great long dark lashes fell to curtain them from his
sight.

But her hand still rested upon his arm, pressing it more and more
tightly; and again her eyes were raised to his for him to read in them
once more the same expression.

Yes, it must be pity, sorrow for him; and he read them so, as, forgetful
of all--opera, the hundreds around, even those in the box with them--
Laura came nearer and nearer to him, till he felt her soft breath upon
his cheek as she whispered:

"Charley, I can bear this no longer.  Will you take me home?"

They rose together, and Laura whispered a few words to Mrs Bray; the
next minute they were in the corridor, and then what followed seemed to
Charley like a dream--the coldness of air as they passed through swing--
doors, the fastening of cloak and adjustment of hood, the descent of
stairs, and the rattling of wheels; and then, with the recollection of
what he had last seen--Ella Bedford's face turned smilingly towards
Max--Charley Vining was seated in a street cab, rattling over the
stones, with Laura Bray still clinging to his arm, to utter his name
once in a hoarse whisper, as, in spite of all he could do to prevent it,
she flung herself on her knees in the rough straw, her rich evening
dress forgotten, as she clung to his hand and pressed it to her burning
forehead, kissed it, deluged it with her scalding tears, while, as he
bent over her, he could feel that her sobs shook her frame as they burst
from her labouring breast.

At length, partly by a few deeply-uttered words, partly by passing his
arms round and lifting her, Charley Vining had the passionate girl at
his side; but only for her to cling to him, sobbing fearfully, till they
neared the house.

It was barely half-past nine, and as he handed her out, he would have
parted from her; but she clung to his hand, and together they went up
into the drawing-room, where, once more alone, Laura threw herself at
his feet, clinging to him, sobbing hysterically, imploring him to
forgive her, to be lenient to her; it was all for love of him--the love
she had borne him so long without a tender word in return.  She accused
herself of want of womanly feeling, of baseness, of treachery, lashing
herself with fierce words in her passion, till, moved by pity, maddened
by despair and disappointment, Charley Vining began to feel that he was
but weak--that he was but man, after all.  The icy coldness gradually
melted away, and he whispered first a few words, then one arm was passed
round the kneeling form.

"Forgive me--forgive!  It is all for the love of you!" sobbed Laura with
a fierceness of emotion that startled him.

"Forgive you?" he said; "I have nothing to forgive."

And then Ella, the past, all was forgotten, as his other arm drew her
nearer to him as she knelt, and the next moment, with a wild sigh,
Laura's arms were tightly clasping his neck, and her face was buried in
his breast.  Then a click of the door-handle, a stream of light, and
Laura was upon her feet, tall, proud, and defiant.

"Did you ring for candles, ma'am?" said the voice of the butler.

"Set them down," was the reply; and the man withdrew.

Charley had risen too, and was standing by her side.

"Go, now," she said, in a choking voice; "I can bear no more to-night.
But tell me--O, tell me," she cried, throwing herself at his feet, and
clasping his knees--"tell me that you forgive me!"

"Forgive you, my poor girl?" said Charley softly, as he bent down to
her, once more to pass his arms round her lithe form, when, with a
bound, she was again nestling in his breast, but with her face turned
towards his, and for a moment their lips met.

The next, Laura had hurried from the room; while, with every pulse in
his frame beating furiously, Charley walked down to the hall, accepted
the footman's assistance with his coat, and then he made his way-out
into the great deserted street, to walk staggering along like one who
had drunk heavily of some potent liquor.  But Charley Vining's was a
maddening sense.  What had he done?  He had not waited for the proof.
He had been weak and vile in his own sight; and as he staggered along,
he anathematised himself again and again, and, as if appealing to some
great power, he called upon Ella to save him from the degradation of his
heart.

"False!--false!--false to her!  A coward--a scoundrel--a villain!  Why
was I made with such a weak and empty heart?"

Then he walked on faster and faster for long enough, not heeding where
he went, but muttering still:

"Fate, fate, fate!  And I have done all that mail can do.  I must
submit, and I love her not.  Do I not hate her--or has she conquered?"

"Hadn't you better take a cab, sir?" said a rough voice; and a
policeman's hand was laid upon his arm.  "It's too bad, r'aly, sir; but
you gents will do it.  Now, only think of coming into a place like this
here, reg'lar lushy, and with diamond studs and gold watches and chains
shining out in the light, and asking poor starving men to steal them!"

"I'm not drunk, my man," cried Charley, himself again in a moment.
"Thank you; get me a cab.  Not a savoury locality!" and he glanced round
at the dark lane and the ill-looking figures about.

"This way, then, sir," said the man; and he led him into a wider
thoroughfare, where, a cab being called, and the policeman substantially
thanked, Charley Vining was driven to his hotel, his brain a very chaos
of doubt, despondency, and rage at what he called his baseness and
falseness to his vows.

End of Volume Two.

Volume 3, Chapter I.

IN THE BALANCE.

As if to show him how long he had been heedlessly wandering through the
streets, Charley found Sir Philip quietly seated at the hotel on his
return; and though his father carefully forbore to make any reference to
the past, Charley fancied that he could detect a sense of elation on the
old gentleman's part--one which seemed to anger him more as his heart
kept reproaching him for the evening's lapse.

But Sir Philip made not the slightest reference to the events of the
evening, not even remarking upon Laura's indisposition; but there was an
impressive way with which Sir Philip parted from his son that night,
that Charley interpreted to mean satisfaction, and he frowned heavily as
he sought his own room.

In spite of his troubled mind, without recourse to narcotics, the young
man slept soundly and long, waking, though, with a strange heavy sense
of oppression troubling him, as the thoughts of the past night's events
came upon him slowly one by one, till he was half maddened, hating
himself for the part he had played, or, rather, for his weakness.

Then he recalled Ella's quiet peaceful face as he saw her turn round to
Max; and he asked himself why he should consider himself as in any way
bound to her who refused to hold him by any ties.  Morally he knew that
he was quite free, and that, bitterly as he regretted the last night's
tete-a-tete with Laura Bray, he had shed sunshine upon her heart, and
left her happy and exultant.

Then he remembered his promise to accompany her to the terminus at
Paddington.  He could not go--he would not go!  But that was some hours
distant yet, and for a while he felt that he need not trouble himself
about it.

But what should he do?  Write a long letter to Laura, telling her that
she was to forgive his weakness of the past night, and bid her farewell
for ever, while he made immediate arrangements for going abroad
somewhere?  Was it too late in life for him to get a commission?  If he
could, he would have to wait months perhaps, and he wanted to leave
England at once.  Africa seemed to present the field that would afford
him the most variety and change.  He would go there for a few years.  He
could soon make arrangements; and in the excitement of hunting, he would
find the diversion he so much required.

But then about Laura?  He recalled the scene at Lexville, where she had
hung upon his arm and wept; and then the events of the past night
flashed upon him, and he groaned as he told himself that he had been
cowardly and weak--that as yet he had had no proof that Ella was lost to
him for ever.

What was the last night's scene, then?

He stamped upon the floor with impotent rage, and determined at last to
forswear all ties.  He went out directly after lunch to make preliminary
inquiries respecting the means for leaving England.  Paddington, Laura,
Max, Miss Bedford, were driven from his mind, and he hurried along, but
only to hear his name uttered as he passed an open carriage; and
starting and turning round, there was Laura, flushed and happy-looking,
sitting with her hands outstretched to him.

He could not help himself, though he called himself weak and
folly-stricken, as he took her hand in his, watching the bright flush
give way to a deadly pallor.

"How she loves me!" thought Charley, as he leaned on the side of the
barouche; and it was from no vanity or conceit; he was too true-hearted
and genuine, too honest and simple-minded.  "Why should I make her
unhappy, perhaps for life, when, by a sacrifice, I can send joy into her
heart--into the heart of that loving old man?  What have I to care for,
what to live for, that I should hesitate?"

"Ella!" his conscience whispered; but the whisper was very faint; it was
hardly heard amidst the tumult of contending thoughts.  The African
scheme was forgotten, and Charley Vining was in the balance.  One
vigorous pressure on either scale would carry the beam down.  How was it
to be?

How was it to be?  The indicator was pointing directly upwards, each
scale poised and motionless.  Coldness, distant behaviour, returned
letters, an evidently favoured rival--a man almost beneath contempt--
misery for those who loved him, and more bitterness: all these in one
scale; and in the other--

A passionate determined love, strong as his own, a woman pleading to him
for what he had so long refused, warmth, tenderness, no rivalry,
gratification to Sir Philip, and, above all, the knowledge that on the
past night he had allowed himself to be betrayed into a warmth for which
he had been blaming himself as though he had committed a grievous sin.

Which was the scale to go down, when Laura was in trembling tones, and,
in a retiring way, asking him to take the seat by her side, for the time
would soon be at hand for the visit to Paddington?

Her voice trembled audibly as she spoke, but the latter scale did not go
fiercely down: the indicator only moved slightly in Laura's favour, as,
remembering his promise of the day before, Charley said he would go, and
took his seat by her side.  It was only a slight motion, and the
faintest breath from Ella's lips would have sent that scale up--up--up
rapidly, till it kicked the beam.

But there was no breath there, though Charley's heart still clung to
Ella fondly.  Laura's scale wanted a strong impulse in her favour, and
as, half triumphant, half sad, she felt Charley Vining take his place by
her side, she flushed, then paled, and again and again a strange shiver
of dread passed through her frame.  Once even her teeth chattered, as if
some fearful illness was attacking her.  But the disease was only
mental, and, seeking Charley's hand, her own nestled in it--clung to it
convulsively, as if she dreaded even now that she would lose him, when
so very, very near the goal of her hopes, of her plotting and scheming;
and yet she had not known of his anger against self, and the plans for
going abroad; though had she known them, she could have trembled no
more.

Laura's scale was growing heavier; for Charley did not withdraw his
hand, but let hers rest therein.  It only wanted one addition either way
now, for the weighing was just at hand--the scales were no longer evenly
poised.  Which was to sink boldly?  The striking of the clock at five
would decide it, and it was now four.

Volume 3, Chapter II.

THE WEIGHING.

If any one will take the trouble to refer to _Bradshaw's Guide_--that
fine piece of exercise for the brain--for the month in the year in which
the events being recorded took place, he will find, in connection with
the Great Western Railway service, that whereas the down express left
Paddington at 4:50 p.m., there was an up train due at the platform at
4:55.

It was to meet this latter train that Mr Bray's barouche was being
rattled over the newly macadamised roads, with Charley Vining and Laura
therein.

No one could have sat by Laura's side for an instant without remarking
her extreme agitation; and as Charley turned to gaze in her pleading
face, he felt something like pity warming his breast towards her--her
agitation was so genuine, and she had shown him the night before how
earnest and passionate was her love.

Pity is said to be very nearly akin to love, and Charley's pity was
growing stronger.  Why should he not take the good the gods provided
him?  She asked no more.  But no; there was that one great proof wanted;
and his words were quite cold and commonplace as he said to her, "You
seem unwell.  Do you not think it would be better to return home?  Why,
this poor little hand is quite chilly, and you shiver.  You must have
taken cold last night."

"Cold?  Last night?  No, no," she said hoarsely; and he felt the
pressure upon his hand tighten.  "We must meet Nelly, and I am quite
well, Charley.  I never felt more happy."

He encountered her glance, but it awoke no response in his breast; and
as he read her countenance, he saw there the tokens of a terrible
agitation, and surely he may be excused for imagining himself the cause.

"At last!" said Charley impatiently, as he handed Laura out, trembling
violently; but the next moment, though she was deathly pale, the
agitation seemed to have passed away, and taking his arm, she held to it
tightly.

"Ten minutes too soon," said Charley.  "Shall we go round to the
waiting-room?"

"Yes, please," cried Laura eagerly; and walking round, he stopped to
read a waybill.

"Let me see," he said; "this train leaves first.  Ours comes in five
minutes after."

"Take me into the waiting-room," said Laura anxiously.  "It is cold out
here."

"I fear that you are going to be unwell," he said, attending to her
request.

"No; indeed, indeed I am quite well, dearest Charley," she whispered,
and an impatient frown crossed his brow; but he said no more, only half
led, half followed her to a window looking out upon the platform, where
there was the customary hurry previous to the departure of a train, when
the first bell has rung.  Porters running here and there with luggage,
cool passengers, excited passengers, box- and wrapper-laden
ladies'-maids seeking second-class carriages; footmen bearing fasces of
umbrellas and walking-sticks; heavy swells seeking smoking-compartments;
Smith's boys shouting the evening papers; and as they gazed through the
great plate-glass window of the waiting-room, the hurry and bustle
seemed to have an interest for Charley he had never known before.

"We shall be in plenty of time when this train has gone," said Laura;
and she clung very tightly to his arm.  "I long to see Nelly again.
Don't you think she improves?"

"Very much.  I quite love that child!" said Charley with some animation.
"She is so piquante, and fresh, and genuine!"

A sort of gasping sigh escaped from Laura's breast, but he would not
heed it.

And now the bustle was nearly over; the last bell had rung, the
inspector had taken his last glance, the doors were banging, and the
guard's whistle was at his lips, when the inspector held up his hand, as
there came the pattering of hastening feet on the platform.

"Bai Jove, portare, make haste, or we shall miss it!" cried a familiar
voice.

"This way, sir," was the reply; and an official trotted by with a black
portmanteau on his shoulder and a bag in his hand; and Charley started
as if he had received a fatal stab, for directly following, clinging to
Max Bray's arm, shawled and muffled, and pale as ashes, Ella Bedford
passed the window.

"Max!" exclaimed Laura excitedly, while, as Charley made a movement to
reach the door, she clung to his arm.  "Dearest Charley," she whispered
in low impassioned tones, "my own love, my dear life, do not leave me!
pray, pray do not leave!  I love you dearly, more dearly than ever, and
my heart bleeds for you--truly--faithfully!"  She could say no more, for
her emotion choked her utterance; but she clung to him wildly, as he
stood, now pale and motionless as a statue, gazing through the window.
And in those brief moments what had he seen?

Ella handed into a first-class compartment, Max following her, while her
pale face was directly opposite to Charley, and only a couple of
carriage-lengths distant.  Then came the bang of the door, the piping
whistle, the shriek of the engine, then the rapidly increasing panting
snorts as of impatience to be off; the carriages glided by; and where
Ella Bedford's face had been the moment before, was first one and then
another, strangers all; then the guards own, then blankness--a blankness
that seemed to have made its way to his soul, till looking down he
became aware of the stony face gazing up into his, the wild eyes, the
parted lips, and the arms clinging to him so tightly.

His face softened as he gazed down at her, and then a sigh tore its way
from his breast; a sigh that seemed to bear with it the image of a pale
sweet face; and from that moment it was to Charley Vining as if he had
been transformed into another man.

"My poor girl!" he said softly, more than pityingly, as he drew her arm
closer to his breast.

"Charley!" she sighed gently; but there were volumes in that one word;
and had they been alone, she would have thrown herself upon his breast,
where she felt now she might cling.  Then her eyes closed, a faint
hysterical sob passed her lips, and she smiled, as if from a sense of
ineffable satisfaction, as she felt his strong arms supporting her--that
he was bearing her towards the inner room; and then all was blank.

Ten minutes after, Laura unclosed her eyes, to find herself upon a
couch, with Nelly and Charley at her side; and starting up, she rested
upon one elbow.  Then she fixed her eyes upon the latter, and caught at
his hand.

"You will not leave me?" she gasped hoarsely.

"No!" he whispered almost tenderly.  "I feared that you were unwell."
And he passed his hand across her damp brow, smoothing back the raven
hair; and Laura sank back, her eyes closed and a smile upon her lip,
drawing with her his hand, which she held tightly in both hers; for,
saving Nelly, they were now alone.

A quarter of an hour passed in silence, and then Charley Vining said
gently:

"Do you think you can bear to be moved?"

"Yes," she said, rising eagerly and fixing her eyes upon his, "if you
are with me.  But," she said, leaning towards him and whispering, "do
not be angry; only tell me, to set me at rest--tell me that you will
not--Max--dear Charley, you know what I mean."

"Follow Max--your brother?" said Charley sternly; "no!"

The next minute Laura was leaning upon his arm, and they sought the
carriage, Nelly taking Charley's other arm, and whispering to him as he
turned towards her with a sad smile on his lip, "I'm so sorry, Charley,
and yet so glad, and I don't know how I feel; but tell me, is it to be
_brother_ Charley?"

"Hush!" said the other sternly, as they reached the carriage.

Had he not been so preoccupied, Charley Vining would have seen that a
strange man, rather shabbily-dressed, was close beside him, vainly
attempting to gain his attention; for, after handing Laura and her
sister into the barouche, he was about to leave them to return alone;
but the imploring look of dread in Laura's eyes stayed him, and yielding
to her outstretched hand, he leaped in and took his place opposite.

Upon reaching Harley-street the strange man seemed to be there before
them, and Charley would again have left, but Laura begged him to go with
her upstairs; and seeing how pale and disturbed she was, he accompanied
her to the drawing-room.

"There!--need I tell you on my honour," he said, taking her hand gently,
"you need be under no fear."

"And--and, Charley," she said appealingly, "you will not judge me
harshly?"

"Judge you harshly?" he said; "no."  And as she held out her hands to
him, he took her gently to his breast and kissed her.

"Do you know how happy you have made me?" she whispered, clinging to him
and gazing up in his pale honest face.

"No," he said in the same tone; "but I fear I have pained you sorely."

"Charley!"

"Laura!"

There was no other sound heard in that room but those softly uttered
words; and when, a minute or two after, Mrs Bray quietly opened the
door unobserved, she stepped back again on the points of her toes
smiling with a satisfied air, and posted herself as a sentinel upon the
stairs.

And all this while that strange man was impatiently watching the windows
from the other side of the street.

"Couldn't get to see you before, sir," said a voice, as Charley Vining
left Mr Bray's house in Harley-street.  "Perhaps you'll run over that
while I follow you and wait for farther orders."

Charley started, and looked up to see that a rather shabbily-dressed man
was walking away from him, after placing a note in his hands.

  "Mr M.B. went to Crescent Villas at nine this morning, stayed ten
  minutes, returned to Bury-street, left Bury-street at three in a cab
  with a black portmanteau, and was driven to the front of the
  Colosseum.  Waited an hour, and was then joined by Miss E.B. carrying
  a small black bag--very pale, and evidently been crying.  Mr M.B.
  said aloud, `At last!' as he handed her into the cab.  Driven rapidly
  to Paddington-station.  Took first-class tickets to Penzance, and left
  by 4:50 express.  Are we to follow?"

So read Charley Vining, the letters at times swimming before his eyes.
He glanced round, and the bearer was a dozen yards in his rear.  But he
waved him back.  A quarter of an hour ago, and he had told himself that
he was free; but the suggestion at the end of the letter whispered him
that some links of his old chains still clung around.  But no; he would
not have them followed.  Why should he?  What was it to him?  But for
his infatuation, he might have known to what all was tending.  It was
nothing to him now; but a sigh that was almost a sob escaped from his
breast, as, once more turning, he waited till the man was alongside.

"Tell Mr Whittrick he need take no farther steps," said Charley in a
voice that he hardly knew for his own; and touching his hat, without
another word, the man glided off, disappearing round the corner of the
next street so rapidly, that when, upon second thoughts, Charley would
have set him another task, and hurried after him with that intention, he
was out of sight.

Five minutes after, Charley was in a cab and on his way to Crescent
Villas; where, after a little parley, he was now admitted to the
presence of Mrs Marter, red-eyed, furious, and ready, apparently, to
make an onslaught upon the first person who offended her.

Before he had been there long, the rapid flow of the angry woman's words
told of how, by cunning, flattering, and attention, Max Bray had gained
a footing in the house; the weak vain woman believing that his visits
were all upon her account, and willingly accepting the presence of Ella
as a blind.  Her only sin was a love of flattery, attention, and Max
Bray's escorts to the various places of amusement; but now the veil had
dropped from her eyes, and she spoke.

"It has all been planned for long enough," she exclaimed passionately,
"and they have gone off together."  And then she burst forth into a
furious tirade against deceit, forgetful entirely of how she was hoist
with her own petard.

Charley could hear no more, but hurried away, confused, doubting,
heart-sick.  What faith could he place in any one again?  He had gone to
Crescent Villas in the hope that he was, after all, wrong; that there
was some mistake which might be cleared up; and according to this woman
the idol of his heart had been a monster of treachery and deceit.

He was ready to make any allowance for the mad passion of a woman who
found that she had been made the tool of the designing; but, after all,
what could he say to his wounded heart after the scenes he had
witnessed?  What right had he now to trouble himself, though--what was
it to him?  There was nothing to palliate what he had seen; and now he
must begin life afresh.  What he had to do was to draw a line across the
mental diary of his life--a thick black mark between the present and the
bygone--and at that line he told himself his thoughts must always stay;
for upon that past he could not bear to dwell.

Forgive her?  He had nothing to forgive.  She had always told him, from
the first, that it could not be; while he had blindly and impetuously
rushed on to his heart's destruction.

Volume 3, Chapter III.

BEGINNING AGAIN.

And how about Laura?  Well, she loved him, and it was his father's wish.
He had committed himself to it now, too; and if he were to marry, why
not her as well as any other woman?

So mused Charley Vining, weakly enough; but he is here held up as no
model--simply as a weak erring man, whose passions had been deeply
moved.  He had been, as it were, in a fearful life-storm, to be left
tossing, dismasted, and helpless, now that a calm had come.  Here, too,
was the friendly consort offering her aid to lead him into port--the
port that he had hoped to enter gallantly, with ensign flowing.  But
now, as this was impossible, he would let matters take their course.

He met Sir Philip Vining at dinner; and though the old gentleman
studiously avoided all allusion thereto, yet he marked the change in his
son, and was inwardly delighted thereby.

"Father," said Charley, as they sat over their wine, "I'm about tired of
town.  When shall we go back home--home--home?" he said, repeating the
word.  "How pleasant that seems to sound!"

"My dear boy, when you like; to-morrow, Charley, if you wish."  And the
old gentleman spoke earnestly, for of late his heart had pricked him
sorely; and had his son now brought Ella to his side and said, "Father,
I shall never love another; this must be my wife," he would have
struggled with himself, and then given up and blessed them.  But now it
seemed that there was a change; the attentions to Laura had been marked;
and, hushing his conscience, the old man told himself that matters would
soon come right after all, and he spoke cheerfully.

"Well, let's go back to-morrow, then," said Charley.  "I want to see the
old place again."

"You are not ill, Charley--you don't feel in need of advice?"

"Ill?" said Charley, "not at all!  I want a change, and to see the old
place."

"By the way, Charley, Bray called here to-day; he wanted me to dine
there again, but I declined, as you said you would be back.  I said,
though, that I would go up in the evening.  We are discussing the
drainage question of Holt Moors.  You will not mind my leaving you.  I
thought, too, that perhaps--"

"I would go too," said Charley smilingly.  "Well, yes, I've no
objection; little Nell is come back.  Do you know, dad," he said
cheerfully, "I should like to give that girl a nice little well-broken
mare?  She would ride splendidly.  Couldn't we pick up something before
we go down, and let it be for a surprise?  A nice little thing that
would hunt well, without pulling the child's arms off."

"My dear Charley, you give me great pleasure, you do indeed.  We'll see
about it first thing in the morning.  My dear boy," exclaimed the old
man, rising, and crossing to his son's chair to rest his hands upon his
broad shoulder, "Heaven bless you, my dear boy!  Are the old times
coming back?"

"I hope so, father," said Charley, smiling; but there was something very
sad in his tone.

"Not in that way, my dear boy," said the old man tenderly.  "Indeed,
indeed, Charley, my every act and desire has been for your good."

"Father," said Charley sternly, "do you see that?"  And he made a mark
on the white cloth.

"My dear boy, yes."

"That must divide the past from the present.  All on that side is to be
forgotten.  Let it be as if dead.  Now for the clean blank page of the
future."

He held out his hand, which was eagerly taken by Sir Philip, and then
they were silent for some time; when, in quite changed tones, Charley
said, looking at his watch, "Eight o'clock, dad!  Shall I ring for a
cab?"

Sir Philip did not speak; he only bowed his head, and then wringing his
son's hand, he left the room.

Volume 3, Chapter IV.

OF WHAT ARE MEN'S HEARTS COMPOSED?

"Hooray, here's Charley Vining!" cried Nelly, as Sir Philip and his son
entered the Brays' drawing-room; and bounding over the carpet, she ran
up, and caught the latter by the hand; but as Charley shook both her
thin hands warmly, he glanced across the room to where Laura was
standing, flushed and happy.

"Are you better?" he said, as he crossed over.

"Better? yes," she said softly; "and so happy!"

There was such a look of intensified joy in Laura's face, that as he
took his seat beside her, Charley Vining smiled pleasantly.  He was
accepting his fate.

And why not, he asked himself, when, with all their eccentricities, the
family seemed ready to worship him?  Sir Philip and Mr Bray had no
sooner taken their places in a corner of the lesser drawing-room, and
commenced their discussion upon the projected improvements, than Mrs
Bray crossed over to where Charley was seated, and probably for the
first time in her life forbore to shriek, and, leaning over him,
actually whispered, as she stooped and kissed him on the forehead.

"Bless you, Vining! you have made us all so happy!  But I have not said
a word to him."

Charley felt disposed to frown; but there was a genuine mother's tear
left upon his forehead, and he pressed Mrs Bray's hand as she left him,
carrying off Nelly at the same time.

It was all settled, then; it was to be.  And why not?  Let it be so,
then.  Some people said there was no fate in these things; what, then,
was this, if it were not fate?

But he accepted it all, asking himself the while, could the gentle
tremulous woman at his side be the Laura of old?  How she drank in his
every glance, eagerly listening for each word!  Could he, as he had said
he would, thoroughly dismiss the past, life might, after all, be
endurable.

So he reasoned, as the evening passed away.

They had had tea, and Nelly had been sent to the piano to play piece
after piece, not one of which was listened to, for those present were
intent upon their own affairs.  Charley talked in a low voice to Laura,
Mrs Bray dozed in an easy-chair, and Nelly kept to her music.

Meanwhile the question of draining Holt Moors had been discussed and
rediscussed.  Farming matters had been talked over, and the state of
Blandfield Park; Mr Bray strongly advising a particular breed of sheep
for keeping the grass short and lawnlike, giving his opinions freely,
and at the same time listening with deference to those of his old
friend.

At last, during a pause, Sir Philip caught Mr Bray's eye, and nodded
towards the other room.

"That's a picture, Bray!" he said.  "Ah," said Mr Bray, as he gazed for
a few moments at where--a noble-looking couple--Charley and Laura sat
together in the soft light shed by the lamps, "I wish, Vining, I had had
such a son.  It seems hard to speak against one's own flesh and blood,
but my Max--"

He did not finish his sentence, but shrugged his shoulders, laughing
pleasantly, as tall thin Nelly came and rested her weak loose body
against his shoulder, before laying her cheek against his bald head,
afterwards polishing the shiny white hemisphere with her little hand,
rubbing it round and round, round and round; while, apparently approving
thereof, Papa Bray drew his child upon his knee, and went on talking.

But suddenly he ceased; for, rising, and with her hand in his, and one
arm round her waist, Charley Vining walked with Laura towards where the
old men sat, and Nelly, with the tears in her eyes, glided away to the
seat just vacated.

"Mr Bray--father," said Charley quietly, as he stopped in front of
them, "Laura has promised to be my wife: have you any objection?"

The next moment Sir Philip Vining had folded Laura in his arms, kissing
her lovingly, as Mr Bray caught Charley's hands in his, shaking them
warmly.

"My dear boy," he exclaimed, "you make me very proud--happiest day of my
life!"

"Charley, my son," said Sir Philip, stretching out one hand to take his
son's, and speaking in a voice that showed how he was moved, "thank you,
thank you; you have made me very happy."

Half an hour after, they were leave-taking; and as Charley kissed Nelly
and bade her warmly "good-night," there was a tear left upon his lips.

"What, little one!" he said gaily, "in trouble?  What is it?  You don't
think I've jilted you, do you?"

"Don't talk stuff, Charley!" she said gravely.  "I'm very happy; but I
feel like marble--just as if there were dark veins running all through
me."

"Marble? veins?" said Charley in a puzzled tone.

"Yes; dark veins, like sorrowful thoughts; for though I'm very glad that
you are going to be my own dear brother--and something like a brother
too!--I can't help feeling sorry about my poor Miss Bedford."

Charley started from her as if he had been stung; but no one but Nelly
noticed it.  Five minutes after, Sir Philip and he were in the Brays'
carriage, and on their way home, for Mr Bray had insisted upon their
having it in place of a cab.

There was no farther talk of going back to Blandfield Court till the
Brays left town next week, and to all intents and purposes the Vinings
lived in Harley-street.  But Charley found time for a visit to Mr
Whittrick, to see if there was any payment due.

"Happy to attend upon you, if you require my services again, Mr
Vining," he said, as he pocketed a cheque; and then he bowed his client
out.

It was that same morning that, returning to lunch in Harley-street,
Charley found Laura seated frowningly over a note, which she made as if
to conceal upon his entrance; but directly after, as if blushing for her
weakness, she stood up, holding the letter in her hand.

"Am I to be jealous?" he said laughingly, as he saluted her.

"I was afraid it might hurt your feelings, Charley," she said, as her
arms were resting on his shoulder.  "Can you bear to hear its contents?
It is from Max."

"Yes," said Charley moodily, and with the veins in his forehead
swelling.

"He asks me to try and mediate--to try and make you think less angrily
of him."

"Where is he?" said Charley abruptly.

"I do not know," said Laura.  "Somewhere in the west of England.  The
postmark is Plymouth."

"Laura," said Charley sternly, "I cannot forgive him.  Max and I must
never meet!  Don't look so serious--I cannot help it.  I am, I know,
hard and unrelenting--But there, no tears!  Why, you are trembling.  I
am not angry."

"No, no; I know you are not," she whispered, nestling closer to him.
"You must not be.  I shall be so glad to get down to the old place
again."

"And I as well," said Charley.

And, probably in deference to their wishes, both families started on the
following day for their country seats.

Volume 3, Chapter V.

PREPARING THE RIVETS.

"_Con_-gratulate you, my dear Vining! do, indeed," said Hugh Lingon,
coming up to Charley in the hunting-field, when he had been home about a
fortnight.

"What about?" said Charley, who had attended every meet, and tried his
best to break his neck as he rode straight, taking everything that came
in his way.

"What about?" said Lingon.  "Why, about your coming marriage, to be
sure.  Haven't seen you before, or I should have given you a word or
two.  Rather too bad of Laura Bray, though."

"What was?" said Charley very impatiently.

"Why, making such a pair of tongs of me, with which to fish for her hot
roast chestnut--meaning you, of course, Charley," said Lingon, with a
laugh.

"Don't be a fool!" said Charley gruffly.

"Not if I can help it," said Lingon good-humouredly.  "But you know how
I was made a fool of, and then pitched over at any time, when your
sultanship thought proper to be attentive."

"Long time finding a fox this morning," said Charley impatiently, as he
turned his horse along by the side of a spinney.  But Hugh Lingon was
not to be shaken off, and trotting up to his side, fat and
good-tempered, he talked on.

"I should have expected that you'd have given up all this sort of thing
now, old fellow," said Lingon; "but I suppose you are having your run
out before the knot is tied.  I say, though, how well Laura looks!"

"Does she?" said Charley absently; and it was very evident from his
quiet abstracted manner, that he was thinking upon other matters.

"Does she!  Ah, I think so.  But mind you, I've an idea that Nelly will
grow into a handsomer woman altogether.  I like Nelly," he added simply.

"So do I," said Charley, starting from his reverie.  "She's a lovable
girl."

"I say, young man," exclaimed Lingon, "that won't do; you can't have
them both."

"Pish!" exclaimed Charley, putting the spurs to his mare.  "There, I'm
going on.  Good-morning, Lingon."

"But I'm going your way, Charley," cried the other, spurring up
alongside.  "Don't be in such a hurry, man!  It isn't often one sees you
now.  I want to know when it's to be.  Our girls are sure to ask me, for
they're all red-hot about it."

"When what's to be?" said Charley, with a wondering gaze.

"O, come, I say, now, that's a good un!" laughed Hugh Lingon, till his
fat face was full of creases and rolls, some of which threatened to
close his little twinkling eyes.  "Going to be married, and got it all
settled, and not know the day!  Ha, ha, ha!  Charley Vining, that is a
good one!  I do like that!"  And he gave his friend a hearty slap on the
back.  "Come, I say, tell us, old fellow!"

"This day month, I believe--there!" said Charley viciously; and again he
essayed to leave his friend behind.

"By the way, Charley," said Hugh, continuing alongside, "I want you to
do me a favour."

He spoke so earnestly, that the other drew rein and turned to him.

"What is it?" he said.

"Well, I hardly like to ask you, but just now I'm in a fix."

"Well, but what is it?  How do you mean?" said Charley.

"Well, you see, I'm short of money, and I'm a good deal bothered; for
I'd promised to pay my tailor, and now I can't do it."

"How much do you want?" said Charley quietly.  "I've none here; but I'll
draw you a cheque when I get home."

"O!  I'm much obliged--I _am_, 'pon my word!" said Lingon.  "Don't I
wish, though, that I could draw cheques, and come that sort of thing!
I'm quite ashamed to ask you.  But it isn't my fault; for you see I had
the money, and was going to send it, when who should pop down but Max
Bray, and ask me to lend it to him--five-and-twenty pounds, you know.
He wanted fifty; but of course that was out of my reach altogether.  I
lent him all I had, though; for he said that he should only want it for
two days, when he'd be sure and send it back.  Nelly's brother, too, you
see, so that I couldn't well refuse him."

Hugh Lingon did not see the black angry look upon Charley's face, and he
went on.

"He went to the governor after he left me, and got fifty pounds out of
him; so I found out this morning when I went into the study to see if I
could raise the wind myself, for I had an awful dunning letter from my
tailor for breakfast, and there was the governor in no end of a rage--
put on that grand magisterial air of his, and begins to talk to me like
he does to the clodhoppers who have been having a drunk and a fight.
And, lo and behold, it comes out that Mr Max promised to send his back
the next day without fail; and the governor swears he'll make old Bray
pay up, if Max doesn't answer his last letter, for he has written three,
and had no reply.  The last one he read me the copy of--all about
ungentlemanly dishonourable behaviour, and so on.  I believe the old
chap would like to commit him for obtaining money under false pretences.
But, I say, don't run away, Charley.  I may come and have the cheque,
mayn't I? for it's of no use to try the governor again till Max Bray has
paid up."

"Yes, yes; come when you like!" cried Charley, turning and breasting his
mare at a high hedge on the left, which the gallant beast cleared, but
with hardly an inch to spare; and then they went crashing through the
copse, and were out of sight in a minute.

"Well, that's one way of giving a fellow the go-by!" muttered Hugh
Lingon.  "Why?  I wouldn't try that leap for five hundred pounds! nor
would any one else who had the least regard for his neck.  What did he
fire-up about as soon as I mentioned Max Bray's name?  By Jove, though,
as Max says, he don't seem highly delighted about his good fortune!"

Other people made the same remark about Charley Vining, and also noticed
how hard he hunted, riding in the most reckless way imaginable, but
always seeming to escape free of harm, when more cautious riders met
with the customary croppers, bruises, contusions, and broken limbs.

Volume 3, Chapter VI.

HAD SHE WON?

It was one of the things generally known in the neighbourhood of
Blandfield, that Sir Philip Vining gave up the Court to his son, who, in
a very short time, was to confer upon it a new mistress in the shape of
Laura Bray.

Every one said that it was an admirable match; and old ladies, who had
set themselves up for prophets, laughed and nodded together, and
reminded one another of how they had always said so.  That croquet-party
at the Court was not for nothing, they knew!

Then came a round of congratulatory calls, and a general disposition
amongst the callers to declare that they had never heard of anything
that had given them more pleasure.

"Really," they said, "it was exquisite, and just the thing that was
wanted to make the Lexville circle complete.  For, you see, Sir Philip
was indeed most charming, but he gave so few dinner-parties!"

"But what Charles Vining could see in that great, tall, coarse woman,
when there were my nice quiet gentle girls, I don't know.  But there,
every eye forms its own beauty!"

So said Mrs Lingon; and, in fact, allowing for a little variety, so
said every mother of marriageable daughters; but all the same, at the
end of a fortnight Laura Bray was to be Mrs Charles, and in future Lady
Vining, always allowing, of course, that nothing occurred to put off the
wedding, that every one declared to be, on the whole, rather hurried.

There was certainly, too, a little disappointment felt by some of the
marriageable young ladies; but that was soon mastered: for there was to
be the wedding, after all, if they were not to be the principals in the
thrilling ceremony; and also, after all, there was not one of them who
might not be asked to act as bridesmaid.

It was the theme of discussion throughout the district.  Even gentlemen
had their say, as they hoped that Vining wouldn't be so shabby as to cut
off his subs. to the hounds, even if he had no more idea of hunting.
While, as for the ladies, they knew to an inch how many yards of white
gros-de-Naples there would be in Laura's wedding-dress; how many
breadths there would be in the skirt; and that Miss Bray had decided not
to have it gored.

"And quite right too," said some with a titter, "with such a figure as
she has!"

"Don't you think Laura Bray looks quite yellow and thin?" said the elder
Miss Lingon, who was certainly neither yellow nor thin, but very plump,
fair, and dumplingy.

"O, decidedly!" said her sister.  "She looks anxious and worried, too."

"Well, no wonder," said the elder Miss Lingon, with a sigh.  "Any stupid
would know that it is a most anxious and trying time for her.  She is
about to take a step which--"

"There's not much fear of your taking, Miss Fan," said her sister
spitefully.  "And how you should know anything about its being an
anxious time, I'm sure I don't know, without you read it in a book."

The elder Miss Lingon tossed her head.

"But I know why she's anxious," said the second Miss Lingon.  "Hugh told
me.  It's because he will hunt so recklessly now."

"I don't believe that's it.  All gentlemen hunt," said the other.

"You can believe what you like," was the snappish answer.  And there the
matter dropped, as each lady waited anxiously for the request that
should make her a bridesmaid.

But, all the same, Laura did look thin and anxious.  Not that Charley
Vining was wanting in attention, for he was constantly at the Elms; but
there was a great dread always oppressing her, that the wedding would
not take place.  Each day that passed without adventure, she reckoned as
so much gained; and though Miss l'Aiguille was engaged with her staff
especially on Miss Bray's account, and dresses for bride and bridesmaids
were in rapid progress, yet would Laura start at the slightest sound,
and tremble as every letter came to the house.

She counted the days and the hours that must intervene, and mentally
checked them off as they passed away.  She clung nervously to Charley as
he left her at night, and seemed loth to let him leave her, though he
smiled at her anxiety and tried to seem happy, but all the while there
was an aching void in his heart, as he told himself that he was about to
be guilty of a wrongful act.

And still the time glided on.  A few more days, and Laura told herself
that she could be at rest.

"At rest?"  She shivered as she repeated the words, and then tried to
look pleased at the rich presents sent by Sir Philip Vining, or brought
to her by Charley himself to swell the bridal trousseau.

But she could not conceal the agitation she felt; for ever, by night and
day, thrown athwart the light of her understanding was the dark shadow
of a peril to come--a peril coming as surely as day would succeed unto
night.

Costly preparations at Blandfield Court; painters and decorators busy;
fresh carpets here, and fresh carpets there; Laura fetched over by Sir
Philip to give her opinion upon this, her consent to that, or to choose
something else.  The old gentleman seemed never happy save when he was
superintending some fresh arrangement that should add to the pleasure
and comfort of his fixture daughter-in-law.  He was almost angry at
times on seeing how little interest was taken in such matters by his
son; but ever ready with an excuse, he set it down to Charley's renewed
pleasure in the sports of the field.

Laura did not complain, although Nelly, but for her youth, might have
been taken for the favoured one, since she was constantly Charley's
companion, to the great astonishment of Hugh Lingon.  For the little
well-broken mare had been purchased, and had come down to Blandfield,
where, one day when Nelly was over with her sister, Charley proposed a
ride, the horses were brought round, and Nelly's rough black pony sent
back, to her utter astonishment; while, when informed that the graceful
little creature that stood arching its neck, and softly pawing at the
gravel, was her own, Nelly's joy knew no bounds, as, in turns, she
literally smothered Sir Philip and Charley with kisses.

It was not from mortification at being so unceremoniously left that
Laura turned pale; but, in her nervous state, it seemed that the danger
she apprehended--the peril that should stay the wedding--might come from
any direction, and that a delay of a month, a fortnight, or even of a
week, might be fatal to her prospects; for might not Charley alter his
mind? or--no, there was no fear of that now.  But might not this prove a
danger that should delay that which she so ardently prayed for?  Nelly
might meet with an accident, and be brought back half-killed.

There was certainly some foundation for Laura's fears; for had Miss
Nelly been left to herself, in her wild exhilaration she would most
probably have come to grief; in fact she tried her best to get thrown;
but there was ever a strong hand ready to be laid upon her rein, so
that, in spite of Laura's forebodings, she was brought back in safety.

Laura counted: six days--five days--four days--three days before--two
days before--one day before the wedding; and all this time Max Bray
might have been forgotten, for his name was never once mentioned at the
Elms.  Hugh Lingon, though, on making an excuse for not having repaid
Charley's loan, mentioned having felt sure that he had seen Max in
London, but that he had been unable to overtake him before he
disappeared, but that, after all, he was not sure.

That news slightly disturbed Charley, and he winced as he thought upon
the probable future fate of Ella Bedford; his brow contracted too, as he
seemed to see a pale face appealing to him for help, and he shuddered
slightly as he drove away the thoughts.

He spent the evening with Sir Philip at the Elms, and all seemed to be
working to the one end.

Nelly was in a tremendous state of excitement, and displayed it as she
darted about with brightened eye and flushed cheek; but now that the
time was so near, Laura had so nerved herself that she was calm and
composed in appearance, though her heart was agitated by varied
emotions.

But what cause could there be for fear?  Had not the woman who had been
her rival fled, in, apparently, a most discreditable manner, with her
own brother?  Was not Charles Vining, if not a warm and passionate, at
all events a most respectable lover as to his attentions?  Surely she
could wish for nothing more, if the proverb be true, that the hottest
love the soonest cools.

And, besides, how gleefully were all the preparations being made!
Gunters were providing the breakfast, and even then the men were in the
house.  The wedding garments were waiting, and Miss l'Aiguille was
coming herself in the morning to superintend the dressing, to the great
disgust of Laura's maid.  The wedding was expected to be one of the
grandest that had been in the neighbourhood for some years; and the
weather had been for many days past so settled and bright, that there
was every prospect of the bride being bathed in the sunshine of good
fortune.

"Good-night, for the last parting!" said Charley, as he held Laura in
his arms, previous to taking his departure; and she clung to him, for he
was more tender and gentle to her.

He must love her, she felt, or he could not have spoken as he had.

Only a few more hours, then, and the suspense would be at an end.  The
wedding-breakfast over, dresses changed, the carriage would be in
waiting to convey them to the station.  They were to pass the first
night in London, and depart by tidal boat the next morning for Paris,
Marseilles, Hyeres, Genoa, Rome--a month of pleasant touring in Southern
Europe; and in that period old sorrows would be forgotten, and her
husband's heart would have warmed to her.

But still Laura trembled, for she had been gambling for a great stake.

Had she won?

It seemed so; for once more he repeated those words, "Good-night, for
the last parting!" as they stood in the hall.

"But you'll have to put up with me, my dear!" said Sir Philip, kissing
Laura in his turn; "but I won't bother you--I won't interfere in any
way--only let me have my study fire in the cold weather; and don't stop
away from home too long.  I say so now, because I shall have no chance
to-morrow.  There, good-bye!"

They were gone; and, proud and elate, Laura returned to the
drawing-room.  The victory was nearly won, and the happy congratulatory
looks of friends and those who were to act as her bridesmaids seemed to
be mirrored in her face, as they clustered laughingly round her--Mrs
Bray forbearing to shriek, and little pudgy Mr Bray disregarding her
evening dress as he caught her in his arms, to give her a sounding kiss
on either cheek.

Meanwhile Sir Philip and Charley were returning in their carriage to
Blandfield: the former light-hearted and chatty, the latter quiet, but
apparently content.  He had weighed all well, and pondered the matter
again and again, and still his heart told him that it was his duty.  The
faint spark of his old passion, as he called it, that would still keep
showing, in spite of his efforts to crush it out, he told himself would
soon be extinct--hiding the fact that that spark was a consuming fire
that was not even smouldering, but though concealed, eating its way
fiercely to the light.

"Good-night; heaven bless you, my dear boy!" said Sir Philip, as he
stood, candle in hand, in the hall.  "It will be hard work sparing you,
Charley; for I'm an old man now, and growing feeble, and in want of
humouring.  You may have your month, but don't exceed it."

Charley did not answer; but shook his father's hand warmly, and they
parted.

Volume 3, Chapter VII.

ON THE POINT.

The wedding-morning, with all its flutter, flurry, and excitement!  The
bride pale, but collected; Nelly and her sister bridesmaids appealing
vainly to one another for help; hair, that at any other time would fall
into plait, or bandeau, or roll, with such ease, now obstinate and
awkward, and requiring to be attended to again and again; hair-pins
becoming scarce, and, where plentiful, given to bending; eyes with a
disposition to look red; hands ditto--for it is winter; while, as if out
of sheer spite, more than one nose follows suit, and is decidedly raw
and chappy.

"O, do, do, do fetch a knife!" whimpered Nelly.  "I shall never be
dressed in time!  I must have a knife to open these horrible old hooks,
that have flattened down when 'Lisbeth ran an iron along the back plait.
O, what shall I do?  I shall never be ready!  And the old chilblains
have swelled up on my heels, and I can't get on those little satin
boots; and I can't go in my others, because they haven't got high heels.
I could sit down and have a good cry--that I could!  Here,
'Lisbeth--'Lisbeth! why don't Miss l'Aiguille come and help some of us?"

"Lor, miss, how you do talk!" cried the excited 'Lisbeth.  "And is that
what you called me back for?  Miss Luggle's a-doing of Miss Lorror, and
couldn't leave her, was it ever so.  There, don't stop me, miss; they're
waiting for pins, and there'll be no end of a row if I don't go."

"But, please, come and do my back hair, 'Lisbeth," cried one of the
bridesmaids--a cousin, who was staying in the house.

"Lor, miss, I can't.  You must ask Miss Nelly!" cried 'Lisbeth, vainly
struggling to get out, for Nelly was holding on with both hands to her
dress, and dragging her back.

"There, do let go, Miss Nelly--pray!  Here, miss, ask your cousin to
leave go, and come and do it.  She'll put it right--beautiful!"

"But she has done it twice," cried the other; "and see how it has come
tumbling down again; it's worse now than if it hadn't been touched!"

"I don't care; I shan't try any more," whimpered Nelly.  "I can't get
dressed decent.  But you'll all have to wait for me; for I'm sure
Charley Vining won't go to be married if I ain't there."

"For goodness gracious' sake, now just look there, Miss Nelly, at what
you've been and done!  You've pulled all the gathers out of my frock!"

"Don't care!" said Nelly, throwing herself down, half-dressed, into a
chair.  "Fasten 'em up again: you've got lots of pins."

"'Lisbeth--'Lisbeth!" was shouted from the passage, and the girl
disappeared.

We have nothing to do with the bride's mental sufferings at present, the
remarks now made appertaining to dress alone; but she must have borne
something at the hands of Miss l'aiguille and her staff of assistants,
before, tall, dark, and handsome, she stood amidst a diaphanous cloud of
drapery, which floated from and around her, descending, as it were, from
the orange wreath twined amidst her magnificent raven ringlets.

Miss l'aiguille clasped her hands, and went down upon one knee in an
ecstasy of admiration at the glorious being she had made, as a gentle
chorus of "O!" and "O, miss!" was raised by her satellites; while,
wonderful to relate, when she descended to the drawing-room, she was not
the last, for two of the bridesmaids were not ready.

But Mrs Bray was there, gorgeous to behold, bearing upon her everything
in the shape of costly dress that money would purchase.  To describe her
costume would be simply impossible, save to say that it was as
solid-looking as her daughter's was light and airy--the plaits and folds
of her silken robe literally creaked and crackled as she moved, which
was all of a piece.  Colour there was too; but what, it would be
impossible to say, the prevailing hue being warm scarlet, which was shed
upon Mr Bray, whose white vest was so stiff and grand, that nothing
could have been whiter and stiffer and grander, unless it was the
tremendous cravat that held his head as if he was being garotted--
symptoms of strangulation being really visible in the prominence of his
eyes.  But then, as he said, in regard to his sufferings, he did not
have a daughter married every day.

"I should have liked for Mr Maximilian to have been here," said Mrs
Bray, as they were waiting for Nelly, who, now under the hands of Miss
l'Aiguille, was being made up rapidly--her thin bony form growing quite
graceful under the dressmakers fingers.

"Bless me, though, what is the matter?" cried Mrs Bray.  "Laura my
dear, pray don't faint in those things, whatever you do!"

"Hush!" cried Laura hoarsely, as, by a strong effort, she recovered
herself.  "Did you--did you say Max was here?"

"No--no!  I said I wished he was here," said Mrs Bray pettishly.  "I do
not see what you have got to turn queer about in that.  Your own brother
too!"

Laura gave a sigh of relief and then closed her eyes for a few moments.

"Only a little while now," she thought.

The hour was very near, and surely nothing could stay the event.

Then, summoning her resolution she began to pace slowly up and down the
room.  No tremulous maiden now, but a firm determined woman, who told
herself that she had persevered and won the lover--the husband soon.

"What are we waiting for?" said Mr Bray.

"Two bridesmaids," said Mrs Bray: "Nelly and Miss Barnett.  But we have
plenty of time; and the Miss Lingons are not here yet.  O, here they
are, though!"

The young ladies were set down at the door as she spoke; and soon the
Bray drawing-room was well filled.

The horses were pawing up the gravel, to the disgust of the gardener,
who thought of the rolling to be done; but went and drowned his sorrows
in some of the beer on the way, with ample solids, in the Bray kitchen.

A bright brisk winterly day, with a wind that kissed each cheek as
bride-elect and bridesmaids descended the steps, and entered the
carriages drawn up in turn.  Rattle, rattle, bang! went steps and doors;
footmen were more upright than ever, and raised their chests into
glorious hills, crowned with white satin-and-silver wedding-favours--
Mrs Bray insisting upon their being mounted at once.

A grinding of the gravel, and first one and then another carriage
departing, Laura, with Mr Bray, completing the cortege; Mrs Bray going
before, after declaring that she ought to have stopped behind to
superintend the wedding-breakfast arrangements.

And proud was Mr Bray of the stern handsome girl before him; for he had
given up the whole of the back seat to his daughter--and her dress.  The
pallor and look of dread seemed now to have passed away, as if Laura, by
her determination, had exorcised the phantom of coming ill; and
well-merited were the remarks made, as a glance was obtained at the
beauty "arrayed for the bridal."

People had plenty of ill-natured things to say when the wedding was
first settled; but now all these remarks were forgotten; and again and
again, as the Bray carriage rolled on towards the church, there was a
cheer raised; while, on coming abreast of the Lexville Boys' School,
there was a tremendous scattering volley of shouts, followed by a rush,
for the boys were to have a holiday for the occasion; and away they went
to the churchyard, to cluster thickly on walls, tombstones, and iron
railings--wherever they could find a post of vantage.

Carpet rolled down to the church-gate, and the clerk in a state of fume
and worry, that brought him, in spite of the wintry day, into a profuse
perspiration, because, no matter how he "begged and prayed," people
would walk over the carpet, and print upon it the mark of their dirty
boots.

The church was filled in every part where a view of the communion-table
could be obtained; and the pew-openers gave up at last in despair, for
the people would stand on the cushions.  The organist was ready with the
"Wedding March"--Mendelssohn's, of course--and the ringers were already
giving those thirsty lips of theirs a dry wipe, in anticipation of the
beer to be on the way by and by, when they made the town echo with a
peal of bob-majors and grandsire-caters.  While last, but not least, and
posted side by side with panting Miss l'Aiguille, who had run down, and
was now promising him an account of each lady's dress, with the proper
terms to be applied thereto--was the reporter of the local paper, busy
at work with a spikey pencil.

He had already put down a list of the notabilities present--people whom
"we observed"--and had added the name of the officiating clergyman, who
was to be assisted by a couple more; the two being now engaged in robing
in the vestry.

There was no mistake about its being a errand wedding; for the covers
were off the communion hassocks--those worked by the Lexville ladies--
and people were on the tiptoe of expectation, for the hour was at hand.

Wheels!

"Here they come: the bridegroom, of course!" "'Tain't.  It's some
ladies!" "'Tain't, I tell you; the bridegroom always comes first."  "Sir
Philip's chariot is to have four horses, and the first and second grooms
are to ride post in blue and silver, and black-velvet caps."  "There, I
was right--they are ladies."

Such were a few of the buzzing remarks made as the leading carriage drew
up to the gates, and the first batch of friends and bridesmaids
descended, hurried up to the old church porch, shook out their plumage,
and then swept gracefully up the nave, while remarks full of admiration
were passed by those excited fair ones who would not miss a wedding on
any consideration, and had duly posted in their mental ledgers the
account of every affair that had taken place at Lexville church for the
last twenty years; though, during all that long space of time, no one
had ever asked them to take the little journey for the purpose of
saying, "I will."

Wheels again, and another buzz of excited voices, for this time there is
a volley of cheers faintly heard.

This is the bridegroom, then; and there is a perfect rustle amongst the
ancient and modern doves of Lexville to catch a good glimpse of the
stalwart handsome heir of Blandfield.

But the next minute the rustle subsides, for the carriage that stopped
at the gate only brought friends and bridesmaids.  And so did the next,
and the next, till the chancel began to wear a goodly aspect, though
every face was turned now towards the entrance, and all were upon the
extreme point of the tiptoe of expectation.

"The bridegroom ought to be here now," said some one in the chancel.

"Isn't Charley Vining here, then?" whispered Nelly to her cousin.

But there was no answer.

Volume 3, Chapter VIII.

WAS IT AN ACCIDENT?

Wheels again, and louder cheers than ever; a rolling scattering volley
from a hundred young throats.

"Here he is then, now," said some one.  "The Vinings are so popular!"

More bustle, and pressing, and confusion; the steps round the font
invaded, and two small boys mounted on the stove to get a good view,
while no one interrupts them; the organ-gallery crammed as it never was
on Sundays; and the organist hard put to it to keep people from invading
his own little sanctum behind the red curtains, and treading upon the
pedal keys.

The boy at the bellows has already pumped the wind-chest full, and there
is a wheezing sound of escaping air.  But the excitement down below is
now at its height, and a murmur of admiration is heard as pudgy Mr
Bray, hat in hand, leads in Laura--proud, sweeping, stately, and with
her eyes cast down, but her head thrown back.

No modest retiring bride she, though the lids do droop and the long
black fringes conceal the dark flashing eyes.  For she has arrived at
the moment of her triumph, and there is a curl to her upper lip as she
leads, rather than is led, and passes between scores of the envious.

The chosen one of Charles Vining of Blandfield, the heir to the old
baronetcy, Laura knows that there is many a one present who would give
ten years of her life to exchange places--to become the future Lady
Vining, the leader of the society of the district for miles round.  How
could she think of the past, when so bright a future was before her?
How could she trouble now about forebodings and shadows of coming evil?
All were forgotten as she swept down the long nave, each moment more
queenly of aspect.

The chancel screen was passed, and the chancel entered--the chancel
filled with friends, who smilingly part to allow her to pass to where
the invited hedge-in the bridesmaids--a light and cloudy bevy of eight,
all white and pale blue, and pale blue fading into white.  Dainty
forget-me-nots hidden here by lace, or peeping out there from amidst
transparent tissue, while every cheek is tinged with the bright
damask-rose hue of excitement.  The flowers in the bouquets tell tales
of the hands that hold, for they tremble and nod; and more than one of
those white-gloved hands has drawn out the end of a delicately-scented
and laced pocket-handkerchief, so as to have it ready for the tears that
will be sure to flow anon; but for a moment the tears, are forgotten, as
the bride appears.

"Are you ready?" whispers a voice; and the horribly incongruous-looking
clerk comes bustling out of the vestry as the smiling pew-opener dabs
the hassocks about, and then smoothes herself down and smirks at
everybody, as she wonders how much the wedding will be worth to her.

"Shall I tell them to come?" says the clerk again, smiling so that you
can see the two yellow teeth in his top jaw, and the one and a half
below.  "They're waiting to come and begin."

These remarks of course relate to the clergymen in the vestry, who are
warming their boot-toes as they stand in front of the fire, like three
shut out ghosts, and discuss the amount of the Vinings' fortune, and
talk of Laura Bray's lucky hit.  But as the questions are put in a
general fashion by the clerk, no one conceives it to be his duty to
answer, and consequently there is a dead silence; and now Laura feels,
as it were, an icy hand slowly passing towards that heavily-throbbing
heart of hers, nearer and nearer, as if about to clutch it, only holding
off for a few moments to add to her torture in that dreadful pause,
broken at length by an ominous whisper that runs through the length and
breadth of the church:

"_Where is the bridegroom_?"

That pause must have lasted some thirty seconds; but to those in waiting
it seemed an hour.  Laura's eyes were not cast down, but flashing
fiercely, and the hand at her heart--the icy cold hand--now moved as if
to clutch it, when she drew a long sighing breath of relief; for though
hurt at the apparent neglect, she was once more elate and proud; for a
voice at the entry was heard to cry, "Here they come!" and overbearing
the whispers of the expectant crowd could be heard the rapid beat of
galloping horses and the whirl of wheels.

"They're a-coming down the road as hard as ever they can gallop,"
whispered a man at one of the windows which commanded the way to
Blandfield.

"But is it them?" said another aloud.

"Them!  Of course it is; chariot and four; blue and silver.  And, my
word, how they are going it!"

It was an insult, certainly, his not being there in time--a cruel insult
to his bride-elect; but Laura would forgive anything, for he had much to
forgive in her, she whispered to herself.

"It's all right," said Mr Bray, nervously looking at his watch.
"Blandfield time is always correct; but this church-clock is a perfect
disgrace, although we are so foolish as to set our watches by it.  Here
he is, though!"

Cheering from the boys; galloping horses; whirring wheels, and a rapid
rattling rush; and a chariot and four had dashed past the church-gates,
and away down the High-street of Lexville, as fast as four well-bred
horses could tear.

Away it went, swaying from side to side on its springs, faster and
faster as the horses warmed to their work; and those nearer to the door
ran out into the churchyard.

"They've taken fright and run away!"

"The horses were too fresh; they've done no work lately."

"Why didn't they have post-horses from the Lion?"

"Sir Philip and Master Charles were both in it!"

"They weren't: there was only one."

"I tell you the chariot was empty."

"Them two grooms have been at the 'all ale, that's about it."

"The carriage must be smashed!"

Remarks in a perfect, or rather imperfect, chaos jumbled one another as
opinions were passed.  But at last the news was taken to where, with the
icy hand now clutching her heart, stood Laura, not fainting, but stern,
pale, and erect, that there was nothing to fear, the grooms had
evidently been drinking, and the horses had taken fright, but that the
chariot was empty.

"Yes, yes, it's all right.  Here they come!" cried a voice at the door;
and two bridesmaids about to faint, refrained--"here's the barouche, and
one, two--yes, there's four inside."

And once more there was a buzz of expectation.  Such an accident
couldn't have been helped, of course; horses would be restive sometimes,
but it _was_ hard on the poor bride.  But, all the same, those who took
more interest in the smashing of a carriage than the linking together of
hearts, set off at a brisk run down the High-street.

Volume 3, Chapter IX.

RESIGNATION.

There was a look of calm resignation on Charley Vining's face as he met
his father at their early breakfast that morning, to which he had
descended without a trace of excitement.  He was certainly carefully
dressed, his dark-blue morning coat and vest and grey trousers fitting
his fine figure admirably, while the utter want of constraint displayed
told of breeding as plainly as did his well-cut handsome features.

Well might Sir Philip gaze with pride in his son's face, lit up now by
the pleasant smile of greeting; and even he, the smooth cleanly-shaven
old courtier of a bygone school, owned to himself that it would be a sin
and a shame to cut off even a hair of the crisp golden beard that swept
down upon his son's breast.

Charley's face was paler now than when we first met him.  The ruddy tan
had disappeared, to leave his skin pure, fair, and soft as a woman's;
but there was no show of effeminacy there.  His firm look of
determination swept that away, and he was, indeed, that morning a
bridegroom of whom any woman might have been proud.

"A good half-hour yet," said Charley, referring to his watch.  "I shall
have a cigar in the shrubbery before we start, dad."  And he nodded to
his father and the friends who were to accompany them.  "Shall you have
both carriages?"

"Yes, my dear boy, yes!" exclaimed Sir Philip nervously, as his
snuff-box came out as if by instinct.  "But, Charley!" he said in a
whisper, "you won't--I don't think I'd smoke this morning!"

"Not smoke, dad!" laughed Charley.  "Why not?  Perhaps as soon as the
knot is tied, I may be forbidden."

"Stuff, my dear boy!  But this morning, think of the odour; the ladies,
Charley, the ladies!"

"My dear father," laughed the young man quite merrily, "surely you are
not going to sprinkle that elaborate frill with snuff.  Think, dad, the
ladies, the ladies!"

"Go and have your havana," laughed Sir Philip.  "I daresay the fresh air
will take off the smell."

"You won't smoke, of course?" said Charley to his friends.

"O, no, not this morning, thank you," said one.  "We'll pay attention to
your boxes when we come back."

Charley nodded carelessly, strolled out in his wedding trim, stood upon
the broad facade, and lit a cigar, and then walked slowly down towards
the avenue.

"Mind, Charley, at half-past ten precisely.  Don't forget the
carriages!" cried Sir Philip, throwing up a window as his son passed.

"All right," said Charley quietly; and the next instant he had
disappeared among the trees.

Volume 3, Chapter X.

NOT BY POST.

The sun shone brightly through the bare branches, and the soft blue
vapour from Charley Vining's cigar floated upwards, but without
poisoning the atmosphere, as red-hot opponents of tobacco--the disciples
of the British Solomon, the counter-blaster--so strongly assert.  In
fact, Charley's pure havana was fragrant to inhale, and under its soft
seductive influence the young man strolled on and on, forgetful of
everything but the train of thought upon which his ideas were gliding
back into the past.

For as he strolled onward, sending light cloud after light cloud to the
skies, there came to him a sense of sadness that he could not control:
Laura, the wedding, passed away as that fair reproachful face floated
before him, the soft grey eyes fixed on his, and the white lips seeming
to quiver and tremble.  He tried angrily to crush it out from his mental
sight; but its gentle appealing look disarmed his anger, and back came
gently all that he had seen of her, all he had heard, all that she had
said to him; and now, for the first time, he asked himself whether his
eyes had not deceived him, whether it was possible that she, Ella, so
pure, so holy, could have been the woman who hurried by, leaning upon
Max Bray's arm.

Sorrow, sorrow, a strange feeling of regret, almost of repentance,
seemed to come upon him, as for an instant he recalled the fact that
this was his wedding-morn, that a great change was about to be made, and
that henceforth even the right would not be his to dream upon the past.
He felt then that he must dream upon it now by way of farewell; and
again that soft, appealing, pleading face fleeted before him, so that a
strange shiver, almost of fear, passed through his frame.

What did it mean? he asked himself.  Was there such a thing among the
hidden powers of nature as a means by which soul spake to soul,
impressing it for good or bad, unless some more subtle power was brought
to bear?  If not, why did the past come before him as it did? for there
again was that night when in the pleasant summer time he had told her of
his love, and pressed upon her that rose.

Yes, but that was in the pleasant summer time, when there was a summer
of hope and joy in his heart, when he believed that there was truth
where he had found naught but falsity; while now it was winter, and all
was cold and bleak and bare.  He had been thoroughly awakened from his
dream; but he would not blame her for what was but his own folly.

Heedless of wet grass and fallen leaves, he struck off now across the
park, walking swiftly, as if seeking in exertion to tame the wild flow
of his thoughts; and at last calm came once more, and after making a
long circuit he entered the park avenue, intending to return to the
house.

His cigar was extinct, and it was time now to return to life and action.
He must dream no more.

Time?  He drew out his watch, and a flush of shame and vexation crossed
his countenance, as he saw that it was close upon the hour when he
should be at the church.

"I must be mad!" he exclaimed; and then he started aside, as close
behind came the sound of galloping hoofs from the direction of Lexville.
"They are coming to seek the tardy bridegroom," he said with a little
laugh; "but _she_ will forgive me."

"Is this the way to the house--Mr Charles Vining's?" cried a voice
roughly.

"Yes; what do you want?" said Charley.  "I am Mr Vining."

"Letter, sir," said the man hastily.  "I was to ride for life or death;
and I was afraid I should be too late."

"Too late for what?" said Charley hastily.

"To catch you before you went to church, sir," said the man.  "I heard
as I came through that there was a wedding."

The next instant Charley had taken the letter, and was gazing at the
direction; but he did not recognise the hand.

"Where do you come from?" he said.  "Is it very important?  I am
engaged."

And then he stopped; for he hardly knew what he was saying, and he
dreaded to open the letter.

"Better read and see, sir," said the man gruffly.  "My horse is dead
beat."

Rousing himself, he tore open the envelope, and read a few lines, reeled
back on to the sward by the road, struggled to regain his firmness, and
then, with a countenance white as ashes, he read to the end, when a
groan tore its way from his breast.

That, then, was the meaning of the strange forebodings, of that soft
pleading face; and now it was too late, too late!

"Curses, the bitterest that ever fell, be on them!" he muttered,
grinding his teeth, and in his clenched fists that letter was crushed up
to a mere wisp.  "And now it is too late!  No, not yet;" and to the
surprise of the messenger he turned and dashed off furiously towards the
house, where upon the broad entrance steps stood Sir Philip and the two
friends anxiously awaiting him, the former watch in hand.  The chariot
with its four fine horses, and postillions in their gay new liveries of
blue and silver, was at the door, and another open carriage behind;
while a couple of servants were running at a distance in the park,
evidently in search of him.

"My dear Charley, we shall be late," cried Sir Philip, as, wet and
spattered with mud, his son dashed furiously up.  "How you have excited
yourself to get back!  Pray make haste."

"Stand back!" cried Charley hoarsely, as, bounding up to the steps, he
tore open the chariot-door and leaped in, dragging the door after him.

The next moment he had dashed down the front window, and shouted to the
postillions to go on.

The men turned in their saddles, touched their caps, and before Sir
Philip and his friends could recover from their surprise, the carriage
was going down the avenue at a sharp trot.

"Poor boy, he was excited at being so late.  Ah, to be sure, here's a
messenger who has evidently come to seek him.  It must be later than I
thought, for our time must be slow.  I must ride with you, gentlemen,
instead of with him.  Make haste, or we shall be too late."

In less than a minute the barouche was in motion, and as they passed the
messenger, Sir Philip leaned over the carriage side, and shouted a
question to the man:

"Did you bring a message for Mr Charles Vining?"

"Yes, sir," shouted the man in answer; and the next moment they were out
of hearing.

"Good heavens, though," exclaimed Sir Philip anxiously, "look at him!"
And at a turn of the road Charley could be seen in the distance leaning
out of the carriage window, fiercely gesticulating to the postillions,
who, apparently in obedience to his orders, had broken into a smart
gallop, and the chariot was being borne through the lodge-gate at a
rapid rate.

It was a two-mile ride to Lexville church, and as Sir Philip's carriage
passed the lodge-gate in turn, he caught one more glimpse of the chariot
ascending a hill in front, not at a moderate rate, but at a furious
gallop, the vehicle swaying from side to side, till it crowned the hill
and disappeared.

"I suppose it is excusable," said Sir Philip, turning pale with
apprehension; "but what a pity that he should have gone out!"

Directly after, though, the old gentleman smilingly observed to his
friends that they would only be in at the death; and then speaking to
the coachman, that functionary applied his whip, and the horses went
along at a brisk canter.

"More behind even than I thought for," said Sir Philip anxiously, as the
carriage drew up to the churchyard gates, amidst a burst of cheering
from the crowd, and then, smiling and raising his hat, Sir Philip walked
up to the church, as there was a loud cry of "Here they are!" passed
along the nave, entered the chancel, and taking Laura's hand in his,
kissed it with a mingling of love and respect.

"But surely you have not got it over?  Where is Charley?" exclaimed the
old man.

It was Nelly who gave the sharp cry as he made the inquiry, while Laura
stood the image of despair as a rumour ran through the church.

"Was he--was he in the chariot?" whispered Mr Bray, catching his old
friend by the arm.

"Yes, yes; where is he," cried Sir Philip, trembling as he spoke.

"They say the horses must have taken fright and galloped away.  The
chariot dashed by here a few minutes ago; but they said it was empty."

"Mr Charles Vining in the carriage, and borne away at that mad rate!"
was the whisper through the church, which soon did not contain a man who
had not hurried down the road in the expectation of coming at every turn
upon the wreck of Sir Philip Vining's chariot, with horses and men in a
tangle of harness and destruction.

But before those on foot had gone far, they were passed by Sir Philip
Vining and Mr Bray in the barouche; for they had hurried away from the
scene in the church, where Laura was seated, pale, despairing and stony,
Nelly sobbing violently, and a couple of bridesmaids had fainted.

"It all comes of having such horrible wild horses," said Mrs Lingon,
whose conveyance was a basket carriage, drawn by a punchy cob, given to
meditation and genuflections.  "But there, I hope the poor young man
isn't hurt; and on his wedding-morning, too!"

"Will you hold your tongue?" exclaimed Mrs Bray fiercely.  "Do you
think matters are not bad enough without prophesying ill?  There, there,
my darling, don't cry," she said softly the next moment to Nelly, who
was sobbing convulsively, as she trembled for the fate of him whom she
indeed loved as a dear brother.  But at last the Reverend Mr Lingon and
his aides appeared upon the scene, and pending the arrival of news, the
wedding party were screened from curious eyes by the refuge offered to
them in the vestry, till twelve o'clock striking, carriages were
summoned, and, sad and disappointed, all returned to The Elms.

Volume 3, Chapter XI.

IN CHASE.

Those who ran off on foot, upon first seeing the carriage clash by, gave
up after a two-mile race, and the most impetuous of them were standing
at a corner when the barouche came in view.

"What is it?  Have you seen them?" cried Sir Philip, who was standing up
in front, and holding on by the driver's seat, directing him so that the
horses were now arrested.

"No, Sir Philip," said one man, "they've gone right on ahead, but they
were nearly over here."  And he pointed to the wheel-marks, which, in
the sudden curve, showed that the chariot must have torn round at a
fearful rate; so swiftly, indeed, that the equilibrium had been
destroyed, and the corner cleared only on two wheels.

"Drive on!" exclaimed Sir Philip Vining hoarsely.  "Gallop!"  And away
sped the barouche for another mile along the unfrequented country road.

"Seen a carriage--Sir Philip's carriage and four?" shouted the coachman
to a man driving a cart.

"Ah, raight on ahead, going full gallop," shouted the man in reply; and
away once more sped the barouche, till white specks of foam began to
appear upon the horses' glossy coats, to be succeeded by a lather
wherever there was the play of rein or trace.  Cart after cart was
passed, and the same news was obtained of all, till, after a two-mile
run without seeing any trace of vehicle or pedestrian of whom to
inquire, a farmer's gig was overtaken.

"No, sir," was the reply; "I've seen no carriage but yours."

"Not one with four horses and postillions?" exclaimed Sir Philip.

"No, sir," said the fanner, "but you'd better not trust to me; I've not
been long on this road."

"Drive on!" impatiently cried Sir Philip, who now became less agitated.
Above four miles from Lexville, and no upset, there must have been time
for the first heat of the excited beasts to cool down, and for the
postillions to regain command over them; so that he was in momentary
expectation of encountering the returning chariot; but still it did not
appear.

"Should we be in time if we found him now?" exclaimed Sir Philip.

"What, to get back to the church?" said Mr Bray, nervously referring to
his watch.  "I fear not, I fear not."

"How unfortunate!" exclaimed Sir Philip; and then he relapsed into
silence, save when at intervals he spoke to the coachman, who kept the
well-bred pair of horses at a brisk gallop.

"Stop here," cried Sir Philip, as they neared a roadside inn, where a
wagon and half a dozen labourers were standing, ready enough to stare at
the rapidly-approaching vehicle.

"Carriage and four go by here a few minutes ago?" cried Sir Philip to
the landlord, who now came bustling out.

"No, sir; not by here."

"Are you sure?" exclaimed Sir Philip, with a perplexed air.

"Sure, sir?  O yes, sir, quite sure," said the landlord, "or must have
seen it.  We see everything that goes by here, sir.--Haven't seen a
four-horse coach go by, have you, lads?" he continued, addressing the
wagoners.

"No, no," cried Sir Philip.  "A chariot with four horses and
postillions--post-boys in bluejackets?"

"No, sir--no, sir--not come by here!" was chorused.

"We could not have passed them, upset in one of the ditches, could we?"
hinted Mr Bray.

"Impossible!" cried Sir Philip.  "But where could they have turned off?"

"Like to take the horses out and wait, sir?  They may come soon," said
the landlord.

"No, no, my man," hastily cried Sir Philip.  "There is nowhere for a
carriage to turn off from the high-road during these last two miles, is
there?"

"Whoy yes, sur," said one of the wagoners, "there's Bogle's-lane as goes
to Squire Lethbridge's fa-arm; and the low lane down by the beck."

"Ay, lad, and theer's ta by-ro-ad as goes to Bellby and La-a-anton."

"Laneton--Laneton?"  Sir Philip exclaimed.  "Here, my lads," he cried,
and he threw two or three coins amongst the men.  "To be sure!  Turn
back quick, William; they may have gone that way."

The coachman turned his panting horses, and they went back at a smart
trot towards the by-lane mentioned, a good mile and a half back; while a
flood of thought passed the while through Sir Philip's troubled brain.

"Laneton--Laneton!  What could be the meaning of that?  But absurd; the
horses had taken fright and been turned up there.  Of course, the lane
would be very heavy at this time of the year, and it was done to tire
out the horses.  But then Mrs Brandon lived at Laneton.  It was there
that that interview took place with Miss Bedford.  But absurd; Miss
Bedford had left there for long enough, and no doubt they would find at
the entrance of the lane that the carriage had turned down there, and
now exhibited the back tracks.  They had overshot the mark, and it was a
great pity.  It was unfortunate altogether, but one thing was evident:
the wedding could not take place that day."

So mused Sir Philip, till, as they neared the narrow entrance that they
had barely noticed, another troublous thought flashed upon his mind.

"Did you send a man on horseback from the church?" he asked eagerly of
Mr Bray.

"Man on horseback?" said Mr Bray, looking confusedly up at where Sir
Philip stood upon the front cushions.

"Yes, a messenger.  Did you send one to the Court?"

"No," said Mr Bray decidedly.

"Did any one, then? do you know of one being sent?" exclaimed Sir
Philip.

"No," said Mr Bray stoutly.  "We sent no messenger."

What did it mean, then, that strange man on the panting horse, who had
brought a message for his son?  Something must, then, be wrong, and this
was no accident.

"Gone down here, Sir Philip, after all," said the coachman, pointing
with his whip, as he drew up at the entrance of the narrow lane.

"And come back again, have they not?" cried Sir Philip eagerly, peering
down at the wheel-tracks in the hope of finding that in his own mind he
had been raising up a bugbear of undefined shape and dread portent.

"No, Sir Philip, they ain't come back," said the coachman, turning his
horses into the lane.

The carriage had to be driven here slowly through rut and hole, worn by
the farmers' heavy wagons; but still at a good sharp trot where the road
admitted, till a wagon blocked the way about a mile down, when a good
deal of contriving had to be exercised for the two vehicles to pass.

"Did you see a carriage lower down?" asked Sir Philip of the wagoner.

"Ay, sur.  A foine un it were, too: four bosses, and chaps in blue, and
torsels in their caps.  Passed me, ah, moren half an hour agoo."

"Were the horses running away asked?"  Mr Bray, for Sir Philip was
silent.

"Roonnin' awa-ay, sur?  Noa, cos they had to wa-ait while I drawed up to
ta hedgeside, for t' la-ane's narrerer lower deown."

"Go on, William!" said Sir Philip fiercely, for his suspicions were now
assuming a bodily form; and it was with anger gathering in his breast
that he sat there thinking--knowing, too, the goal to which to shape his
course.  But he said no word to Mr Bray, only sat down now, with his
brow knit, as he felt the impossibility of overtaking the other
carriage; but from time to time he started up impatiently, to urge the
coachman to renewed efforts; so that whenever a plain hard piece of road
presented itself, the horses appeared almost to fly.

Shame and disgrace seemed to Sir Philip to have marked him for their
own; and he shrank from his companion, dreading, after awhile, to hear
him speak; for his son's acts were as his own; nay, he felt that they
would fall upon him more heavily.  It was cruel, cruel, cruel; or was he
mad?  Impossible!  But what could he do, what could he say?

"Wait awhile," he muttered at last; and then, starting up once more, he
ordered the coachman to drive faster.  And onward they tore, till the
carriage jolted here and there, and the springs threatened to snap; but
Sir Philip heeded nothing but his own thoughts, as his heart asked him
where was his son.  A question that he could have answered again and
again, as his brow grew more deeply marked with the anger and shame that
oppressed him; but he forbore.

"Quicker, William, quicker!" exclaimed Sir Philip at last; and the
coachman lashed the horses into a gallop, but only to hasten the
catastrophe that had been predicted for the chariot; for, as the horses
sprang forward, and the barouche swayed again with the speed, there was
a sharp crack, a swerve, a crash, and the handsome carriage was over,
with the horses kicking madly, and the driver and occupants lying
stunned and senseless in the muddy road.

Volume 3, Chapter XII.

GOING BACK.

As the old novelists used to say, in their courtly polished style, that
makes us think that they must have written with a handsome bead-work
presentation pen dipped in scented ink, and held by a delicate hand
clothed in a white-kid glove, "Gentle reader, we must now return to our
heroine."

In the plain English and more matter-of-fact way of the year of grace
eighteen hundred and seventy, it is given to my hard steel broad-point
to be dipped in the ordinary infusion of galls and copperas--rather
bitty by the way, and given to turn mouldy--and then, when well-charged
with the ink-rusting fluid to declare that we have a long arrear to
fetch up relative to the proceedings of Ella Bedford, which could not
well be told until the career of the two country families had reached
the point recorded in the last chapter.

Ella's had been a weary life at Crescent Villas, and she had had much to
contend with: the evil tempers of three spoiled children, who resented
every word of correction, complained to their weak mother, and enlisted
her sympathy; the pettish frivolous complaints of the lady herself; and
the bitter knowledge that, according to all appearances, she was being
made a screen for the foolish flirting attentions of Max Bray.

At one time she was under the impression that the attentions to Mrs
Marter were an excuse for obtaining the entree of the house; but the
conduct of Max was so entirely different: he spoke to her so seldom, and
then in so quiet and gentlemanly a tone, that, from being watchful and
distant, Ella was at length completely thrown off her guard, though
there seemed no occasion now for her to trouble herself respecting the
visits paid to the house.

Vain to an excess, both Mr and Mrs Marter seemed to approve highly of
the visits of so distinguished a leader of the fashion; but Mr Marter
had his own ideas upon the subject, telling his lady that it would be a
fine thing for Miss Bedford; whereupon the weak little woman nodded and
smiled.

To use a very trite expression, there was not the slightest harm in Mrs
Marter; but, all the same, she adored incense and the offerings of
concert and opera tickets with an escort; when, had it not been for the
said escort, she could not have gone, Mr Marter being a man without, so
his lady said, a single taste; but all the same we must do Mrs Marter
the credit of saying that she would not have stirred an inch to have
seen the finest opera in the world without Ella Bedford was of the
party; and hence it followed that, willing or no, Ella's visits to
places of amusement were not very few.

But Ella was far from being at ease in her mind.  She foresaw that the
present state of things could not last; and during some capricious fit
of Mrs Marter, when ill-temper, weakness, and petty annoyance were all
employed to make her wretched, she would think that to stay out the year
was a sheer impossibility.  At such times, too, she would feel convinced
that Max Bray was playing a part; so that, in spite of his distant
respect, she became more cool and guarded in her behaviour; while, as to
leaving, she determined to bear all, telling herself, with a feeling of
something like despair, that, go where she would, she must be tracked.
Then her thoughts turned on Charley Vining, whom she knew to have
called; and, as she congratulated herself upon having escaped him--upon
his having given up the quest in despair--the warm tears fell, and she
knew in her heart of hearts that she was bitterly disappointed.

But it was quite right,--it was as matters should be, she thought; and
she hastily dashed away the tears, little thinking that letter after
letter had been sent to her, to be smiled over by Mrs Marter and Max,
as the latter redirected them to the sender, telling Mrs Marter the
while that she was doing an act of kindness and thoughtfulness towards
the motherless girl looking to her for protection.

In fact, Max Bray most carefully flattered the self-esteem of Mrs
Marter, till the foolish little woman felt herself to be a perfect
paragon of matronly greatness and virtue.  Mr Marter, too, was taken
into their confidence upon this matter of Charley Vining's attentions to
Ella.

"Of course, Mr and Mrs Marter, you can act as you please; for you see,
bai Jove! it would ill become me to be offering advice upon such a
matter; but for my part, I should never let him write to her, or see her
for a moment.  It's a great pity, bai Jove it is, that the young men of
the present day have not better aspirations."

"Quite agree with you, Mr Bray--I do indeed!" said Mr Marter, while
his lady smiled her approbation.

"You see, bai Jove! it hardly becomes me, as a near neighbour, to say
anything against Vining: but I know as a fact that he worried the poor
girl till she was obliged to leave Mrs Brandon's, the lady's, you know,
where she went to last; and when a man has behaved, bai Jove! shabbily
to another man's own sister, bai Jove! it's enough to make another man
speak!"

"Very true, Mr Bray--very true.  I quite agree with you," said Mr
Marter, in a satisfied air.

"But, there, bai Jove! don't let me come hyar dictating to you.  It's
like my dooced confounded impudence to say a word.  I'm only too
grateful to find a welcome, and a little refined female society; for to
a man situated as I am, London is a very dreary place.  One can get
amongst set after set of fellows, and into plenty of inane fashionable
drawing-rooms; but, bai Jove!  Mr Marter, that isn't the sort of thing,
if I may be allowed to say so, that a man of soul thirsts after.  He
wants something to satisfy his brain--something that when he's spent an
evening, he can go and lay his head down upon his pillow, bai Jove! and
say to himself, `Look here, bai Jove! old fellow: you've been out this
evening; you've been in refined and improving society; and, bai Jove!
here you are, just as you ought to be at the end of another day--a
better man, bai Jove!'"

"Ah, Saint Clair," sighed Mrs Marter, "if you could only say that of a
night!"

"To be sure," said Max, "mai dear fellow, you've no idea how much better
you feel--you haven't indeed; but, bai Jove! we must change the
conversation."

With all due modesty on his part, Max changed the conversation; for just
then Ella, in obedience to orders, entered the room, playing pianoforte
piece after piecer till the hour for Mr Bray's departure, when--was she
deceived? or was that a quiet firm pressure of the hand he was bestowing
upon her at parting?

The next minute he had gone, and Ella felt a strange shiver pass through
her; for if there had been any mistake about the pressure of the hand,
there could have been none concerning the look which followed.

"Bai Jove!" ejaculated Max, as he sought a cab on his departure, "how
confoundedly slow!  But it's nearly ripe at last!"

Then to make up for the slowness, Max Bray had himself driven to a
highly genteel tavern in Saint James's, where the society was decidedly
fast; so that, on returning about three to his apartments, and laying
his head upon his pillow, the slow and the fast society must have
balanced one another; for he snored very pleasantly, no doubt feeling a
better man, bai Jove!

Volume 3, Chapter XIII.

RATHER CLOSE.

"Bai Jove, Mrs Marter, it does a man good to see you," said Max Bray,
sauntering one afternoon into the Marter drawing-room, carefully
dressed, as a matter of course, and with a choice Covent-garden exotic
in his button-hole.  "I declare it makes one quite disgusted with the
flowers one buys, it does, bai Jove!" and then showing his white teeth,
he raised her hand, touched the extreme tips of her nails with his lips,
and then resigned the hand, which fell gracefully upon the side of the
couch.  "Bai Jove, Marter, I envy you--I do, bai Jove!  You're one of
the lucky ones of this earth, only you don't know it: feast of reason,
flow of soul, and all that sort of thing's blooming, if I may say so,
upon your own premises."

"I'm sure," simpered Mrs Marter, "there ought to be a new official made
at the palace--Court flatterer--and Mr Bray given the post."

"Wouldn't be amiss, if there was a good salary," said Mr Marter,
looking up from his newspaper.

"Bai Jove, now, that's too bad--'tis indeed, bai Jove!  There are some
of you people get so hardened by contact with the world, that, bai Jove!
you've no more faith in a fler's sincerity than if there wasn't such a
thing to be found anywhere."

"O! but," simpered Mrs Marter, "do you think we can't tell when you are
sincere?"

"Bai Jove, no!" said Max earnestly, and with a wonderful deal of truth.
"But look here: I've got tickets for Her Majesty's to-night--three, you
know--for _La Figlia_.  You'll go, of course, Marter?"

"Go to an opera!" said Mr Marter, with a shake of the head.  "I never
go to operas--I only go to sleep."

"O, bai Jove! that's too bad!" cried Max.  "You've never been with us
anywhere yet; and I do think you ought to go for once in a way."

"No, I sha'n't go!" said Mr Marter; "and besides, I have promised to
dine out.  Take Miss Bedford."

"Bother Miss Bedford!  Bai Jove, one can't stir without your governess.
I say, Marter, do go!"

"Can't, I tell you; and, besides, I shouldn't go, if I had no
engagement," said Mr Marter testily.  "You three can go if you like."

Max Bray seemed rather put out by the refusal, and for a time it almost
appeared as if he were about to throw the stall tickets behind the fire;
but by degrees he cooled down, and after it had been decided that he was
to call for the ladies about half-past seven, he rose to leave.

"But why not have an early dinner here?" said Mr Marter.

"No, bai Jove, no!" said Max.  "I'm always here; and besides, I've some
business to attend to.  Till half-past seven, then--_au revoir_."

Max kissed the tips of his gloves to Mrs Marter as he left the room;
and soon after he was being driven to his chambers, where he wrote a
long letter to Laura, sent it by special messenger, and then sat
impatiently waiting for an answer, gnawing his nails the while.

The reply came at last, very short and enigmatical, but it was
sufficient to make him draw a long breath, as if of satisfaction, though
the words were only--

"_Yes!  No more; for we are going out_."

Then Max Bray lit a cigar, and sat thinking over the events of the past
few days, and of what he had done.  He had been several times to the
Marters'; he had run down, on the previous day, to Lexville; and a
couple of days before that he had posted a letter, the reply to which he
now anxiously awaited.

What time would it come?  He kept referring to his watch, and then he
went over and over again the arrangements for some project he evidently
had in view, before sauntering off to his club and dining; when, to his
great delight, upon his returning to dress for the evening's engagement,
he found a couple of letters awaiting him, one of which he tore open,
and then threw into the fire with an impatient "Pish!" the other he took
up and examined carefully, reading the several postmarks, and then,
smiling as he glanced at the round legal writing, placed it unopened in
his breast-pocket.

There was a strange exultant look in Max Bray's eye as he drew on his
white-kid gloves that evening, and started for the residence of Mrs
Saint Clair Marter, where he found the ladies ready, and did not scruple
to behave almost rudely to Ella as he prepared to take them down, hardly
condescending to speak to her; but as the evening wore on, and they were
seated in front of the orchestra, he condescended to make to her a few
remarks, more than one of which drew forth a smile, from their satirical
nature, as, evidently in a bitter spirit, he drew attention to the
various eccentricities of dress in their neighbourhood.

Max Bray did not know, though, that within a few yards sat the man whom
he had again and again maligned; neither did Ella Bedford divine that a
pair of blood-shot eyes were gazing upon her almost fiercely, as she
turned from time to time to respond to the remarks of Max, who talked
on, till, towards the end of the opera, he stood up to direct his
opera-glass here and there, for indulgence in that graceful, truly
refined, nineteenth-century act, so much in vogue at the higher-class
places of entertainment.

He had tried in three or four different directions; but, perhaps from
being in a satirical mood, he did not see a single face to attract his
attention, till, concluding with a grand sweep of the best tier, he
suddenly stopped short, kept the glass tightly to his eyes, whisked
round swiftly, and sat down; for the field of the glass had for the
moment been filled by the figures of Mrs Bray and Sir Philip Vining.

"Bai Jove!" muttered Max to himself; and had Charley Vining and Laura
been there all the evening, close behind him?  They must have been, and
be sitting now at the back of the private box.  Bai Jove! what should he
do?  It was horrible to have gone so far--so near--and then to have all
spoiled!  What an ass he must have been!  Laura had said that they were
going out; but who would have thought that they were coming here?

Max sat rigidly still for the rest of the evening, encouraging Mrs
Marter to stay through the ballet; and at last, cautiously peering
round, he found, to his great satisfaction, that the private box
occupied by the Brays was empty.

Ella had not seen who was so near, for she was calm and unmoved.

"Bai Jove, what an escape!" thought Max; and a cold chill ran through
him--one that would have been more icy, had he known how close they had
been to a _rencontre_.  But there was still another peril--Charley
Vining might be waiting yet, and she would see him!

They reached the fly, however, uninterrupted, and Max Bray's spirits
rose; but, though he stayed to a late meal--half-tea, half-supper--at
Crescent Villas, he was more distant than ever in his behaviour to
Ella--so distant, indeed, that Mrs Marter was half-disposed to ask him
if Miss Bedford had given him any offence.

It was past one when Max departed; and, hardly knowing why, Ella went to
her bed that night tearful and sad, little thinking that it was a pillow
she would never again press.

Volume 3, Chapter XIV.

THE BEARER OF TIDINGS.

Nine o'clock the next--or rather, by the way in which we calculate time,
calling by the same title the hours of obscurity and those of sunshine,
the same--morning, Mr and Mrs Marter were not down, nor likely to be
for some time; but Ella was just rising from the schoolroom
breakfast-table, where she had partaken of a pleasant meal of extremely
weak tea, sweetened with moist sugar of a fine treacley odour, and thick
bread, plastered with rank, tubby, salt butter.  The meal had gone off
more quietly than usual,--no one had upset any tea, neither had the
youngest child turned her delicate hand and arm, as was much her custom,
into a catapult, for the purpose of hurling bread-and-butter at her
sisters.  Certainly, this young lady had made one snatch at the butter,
lying lumpy and yellow upon a plate, and had succeeded in grasping it,
as was shown by the traces of her fingers; but when admonished therefor,
and threatened with long tasks, she had only howled for five minutes,
and had not, as was her wont, thrown herself upon her back upon the
floor, and screamed until she was black in the face.

"Mr Bray wants to see you, miss," said a housemaid, entering the
schoolroom, the footman not being dressed at so early an hour.

"To see me?" ejaculated Ella.

"Yes, miss; he says he wants to see _you_ pertickler, and he's now
waiting in the dining-room."

"Is Mrs Marter down yet?" said Ella, troubled at this unusual call, and
at such a strange hour.

"No, miss; nor won't be for long enough."

"Ask Mr Bray if he would be kind enough to call again at twelve," said
Ella, after a few moments' thought.  "I am engaged now with the
children."

"Yes, miss," said the girl; and she departed, to return at the end of
five minutes, with a card bearing in pencil:

"_If you value your peace of mind, come to me.  I have a letter for you
from the country.  A case of life or death_!"

"Mrs Brandon must be ill," thought Ella; and hurriedly leaving the
room, she stood the next minute face to face with Max, who was very
pale, as he respectfully held out his hand, which was, however,
unnoticed.

"Miss Bedford," he said softly, "I fear that my visits have always been
associated with that which was to you unpleasant, from the fact, though,
that you did not know my real nature.  This visit will, I fear, be only
another that shall add to the dislike you entertain for me, but which of
late you have so kindly disguised."

Ella did not speak, but stood watching him eagerly.

"You know I was late home last night.  I found there this letter,
delivered evidently by the late post, and you will guess my emotion when
you read it.  I came back here; but I could not get a cab, and it was
half-past two when I reached the house.  If I had roused you, nothing
could have been done, while now a calm night's rest has made you better
prepared.  So I returned to lie down upon the sofa for a few hours'
rest, meaning to be here as soon as the house was opened; but--I am
almost ashamed to tell it--I slept heavily from the effects of my long
walk, and did not wake till eight.  Can you bear to read it?" he said
gently.

"Yes, yes," cried Ella huskily; and she took a formal-looking letter,
that had evidently been hurriedly torn open.  She glanced at the
address--to "Maximilian Bray, Esq., 109 Bury-street, Saint James's,
London."  The postmark, two days old, Penzance, while the London mark
was of the day before.  "Am I to read this?" she said, without raising
her eyes.

"Yes," he said gently; and he turned away from her, but only to go to
the mantelpiece and cover his eyes with his hands, where it was quite
possible that he might have been able to see, by means of the mirror,
every act of the trembling girl.

Ella drew out a folded letter from the envelope, when a smaller one fell
to the ground, addressed to her in the same hand as that in which the
larger letter was written.

The characters seemed to run together as she opened this second
envelope, took out a little folded note in another hand, read it, and
then for a few moments the room seemed to swim round.  But by an effort
she mastered her emotion, re-read the note, and then hastily perused the
letter through and through before doubling both together, and standing
white and trembling, clutching the papers tightly as she gazed straight
before her at vacancy.

There was no cry, no display of wild excitement; nothing but those white
quivering lips and the drawn despairing look, to show the agony suffered
by that heart, till she started back, as it were, into life, when Max
turned softly and stood before her.

"Miss Bedford," he said gently, "I will not trouble you with words of
commiseration.  I must go now to make preparations."

"Preparations?" she said, as if not understanding his remark.

"Yes; preparations.  I telegraphed to Lexville as I came; and now I must
go, for I shall run down by the express.  There will be no time saved if
I start earlier."

"You are going?" said Ella dreamily.

"Yes," he said almost angrily, "of course!  Do you take me to be utterly
devoid of feeling?  But you will write, and I will be the bearer."

"Write!" said Ella, with a wild hysterical sob--"write!"

"Yes.  Surely you will do that," he said anxiously.

"Heaven help me!" cried Ella.  "I must go."

"You will go?" he said excitedly.

"Yes," she said, with a strange dreamy look; "it is my fate.  I must
go."

"Ella--Miss Bedford--will you trust me?" said Max in an earnest voice.
"Leave matters to me, and I will arrange all.  But Mrs Marter will
object to your leaving."

"I must go," said Ella, who seemed to be speaking as if under some
strange influence.

"You will go in spite of her wishes?" said Max.

"Yes, yes; I must go," said Ella huskily; and raising her hands to her
face, she would have left the room.

Volume 3, Chapter XV.

HOVERING ROUND THE SNARE.

"Stop, stop!" said Max hoarsely.  "We must have no scene with that weak
woman.  I will be in waiting by the park entrance of the Colosseum with
a cab at four.  Meet me there.  The train leaves Paddington at 4:50.
But do you hear me?"

"Yes," she said, speaking as if in a dream.

"Do you understand?  At the Colosseum at four, without fail."

"Yes," said Ella again abstractedly, as he held her cold hand in his,
her face being turned towards the door.

"But mind this," he said, "this is no time for child's-play.  If you are
not there soon after the time named, I must catch the train, and I dare
not wait.  If you are not there, I go alone!"

"Do you think I could fail?" said Ella, turning upon him her sweet
candid countenance.  "I will be there."

Was Max Bray ashamed of his face, that he held it down as he hurried
from the house?  Perhaps not; but he was evidently much excited, for he
muttered half aloud, as if running over certain plans that he had
arranged for a particular end.

"Could it be right?  Was it all true?"  Ella asked herself, when alone
in her bedroom, with the sense of a deep unutterable misery crushing
her; and once more she read the letters she had retained.

"O yes, it was too true, too true!  But what was she about to do?  To
accompany the man she mistrusted, the man she dreaded?  He had been
trusted, though, before now; and of late, too, his conduct had been so
different--he had even seemed to dislike her.  Still, under any other
circumstances, she would not have gone; but at such a time, in answer to
such an appeal, how could she stay?"

Her brain was in a whirl, and she could not reason quietly.  She only
knew now the depth of love she felt, and urged by that love, everything
else seemed little and of no import.

Hours must have passed, when, after sending twice to Mrs Marter, she
received that lady's gracious permission to wait upon her.

"I should have sent for you before long--as soon as I felt that I could
bear it, Miss Bedford," said Mrs Marter--"to demand some explanation of
your receiving visitors early in the morning without my consent.  I
understand that somewhere about seven o'clock--"

"I believe the clock had struck nine," said Ella quietly.

"Seven, or eight, or nine, or ten, it's all the same!" exclaimed Mrs
Marter angrily.  "Pray, Miss Bedford, what did Mr Bray want here this
morning?  Was it supposed that I should not know of the visit?"

"Mr Bray came to tell me of the illness of a very dear friend," said
Ella pitifully; "and now I come to ask your consent to absent myself for
a few days."

"Of course, I might have known that that was coming!  Certainly not,
Miss Bedford!  And until I have communicated with Mrs Brandon, I desire
you do not leave the house.  What next, I wonder?"

"Mr Bray brought me letters.  It is a matter of life and death!" said
Ella earnestly.  "Surely, madam, in such a case you will not refuse me?"

"And pray who is it that is ill?" said Mrs Marter sneeringly.

Ella was silent.  She could not have spoken then, in spite of every
effort, even to have saved her life.

"I can see through it all!  I am not blind!" exclaimed Mrs Marter.  "I
shall certainly not give my consent, Miss Bedford.  It is a planned
affair, and I have been deceived.  Now leave the room."

Ella would have spoken, but she felt that it would have been without
avail; and hurrying out, she once more sought her own chamber.

What did Mrs Marter mean?  What was planned?  Impossible!  She had the
proof in those letters.  And once more she read them with beating heart
before asking herself whether she would be doing right or wrong.

What had she promised?  To meet Max Bray at four--to trust herself to
his guidance.  What had she to fear?  Surely scheming baseness could
never go so low!  But it was absurd!  She had those letters, and did she
not know the handwriting?

She examined her purse.  The store was slender, but not so small as of
old.  Then she prepared a few necessaries in a small travelling-bag
before referring again and again to the time, which seemed to lag slowly
by, as she pictured scene after scene of misery and death, till she
seated herself at a table, and rested her aching throbbing brow upon her
hands.

About two o'clock a message came from Mrs Marter to know why she did
not attend the young ladies' dinner; when, starting up, she descended,
matters of the present having quite escaped her in the rush of terrible
thoughts which swept through her brain.

She went through her duties mechanically, hurrying back as soon as she
possibly could to her room, and dressed for a journey; when standing,
bag in hand, ready, and waiting for the appointed hour, now very near at
hand, a strange nervous dread began to oppress her--a cold shivering
sense of evil, which made her hands feel damp and cold, and her lips
hot, parched, and dry.

Twenty times over she was about to tear off her things and give up, but
her hand seemed to go mechanically to her breast, when a touch of those
letters strengthened her resolve.  She felt then that she must go--
something was drawing her that she could not resist.  But again began
the shrinking, and each time to be struggled with till the dread was
beaten; and at last, waking from a wild, nervous, excited struggle
between strength and indecision, Ella found that the hour was long past,
and, bag in hand, she fled down the stairs.

"Miss Bedford--Miss Bedford!" screamed a passionate voice as she passed
the drawing-room.  But, with face pale and eyes fixed, Ella seemed to be
walking in her sleep, or labouring under the stupor produced by some
narcotic; for she passed on, heedless of the call--one hand holding the
travelling-bag, the other clasping the letters, which acted as a
talisman to nerve her in each sore time of shrinking.

The poison was working well.  But in the passage she stayed for an
instant, hesitating.  What step was she taking?  Where would this end?

A cold shudder passed through her; but once more she was drawn on
against her will, her better sense, and the powers that should have
withheld her.

Another moment and her hand was on the fastening of the door; and for
the last time she paused, hung back for an instant, and would have
returned, when her hand again pressed the letters.  She uttered a feeble
wailing cry as her lips formed a name, and then, opening the door, she
stood upon the steps as if hesitating; but the portal swung to, and
fastened itself with a loud snap; and fully feeling now that she had
taken the step, she drew down her veil and hurried over the distance
that lay between her and the Colosseum, suffering from a new dread.

The step taken, she felt now nerved for any contingency, and recalling
Max Bray's words, she reproached herself for her delay.

What had he said?  If she were not there, he would go alone!

She almost ran now over the pathway till she caught sight of a cab.

Was that the one, or had he gone?  Was she too late?

Yes, she was too late, she told herself, for he was not there; but the
next moment, giddy with excitement, she felt her hand seized, the bag
taken from her, the banging of a cab-door; when, as a voice exclaimed,
"At last!" there was a noise of wheels, and she felt that she was being
hurried through the streets.

Volume 3, Chapter XVI.

IN THE GIN OF THE FOWLER.

"I was afraid that you would not come, Miss Bedford," said Max
respectfully.  "You look pale and ill."

Ella could not answer, when, seeing her agitation, her companion forbore
to speak, but kept on consulting his watch.  Now he pulled down the
front window to tell the driver to hasten; now he drew it up again, but
only five minutes after, to tell the man to slacken his pace, till,
apparently annoyed at the interruptions, the driver settled down into a
quiet regular trot, out of which neither the threats nor exhortations of
his fare could move him.

In one of his movements, Max dropped a note from his breast-pocket, as
he knocked down Ella's reticule, which flew open; but gathering up the
escaped contents, he replaced them for her, and with them his own
letter, when closing the snap, he handed the reticule back to her,
saying, "There is nothing lost, Miss Bedford."

He was quite right; but for Ella there was much gained.

"We shall lose the train!" now exclaimed Max excitedly.  "Bai Jove, we
shall! and when one had got so near too!"

Then he once more shouted at the driver to hasten; but in vain.  At
last, though, as they reached Paddington, Max referred again to his
watch, his face flushing the while with excitement, as he exclaimed, "We
shall be just right, after all!"

Then, in what seemed a dream of excited haste, Ella felt herself dragged
from the cab--there was the loud ringing of a bell; the rattling of
money; Max's voice adjuring the porter to hasten with their little
luggage; and then, profoundly ignorant that Charley Vining was within a
few yards, Ella felt herself half lifted into a first-class carriage,
where she sank back amongst the cushions as the door banged; and, as if
to increase her giddiness, the train glided past walls, empty carriages,
signal-posts, engine-houses, and then over a maze of switches and
points--farther and farther each moment, off and away with a wild scream
down the main line.

"Hard fought for, but gained!" muttered Max Bray, as he stooped down to
conceal the look of triumph which overspread his countenance; and in
that attitude he remained for fully half an hour, when, carefully
arranging rug and wrapper for his companion's comfort, he once more
leaned back, drew forth a paper, and answering one or two attempts made
by fellow-passengers to commence conversation with a bow of the head, he
appeared to read.

And for Ella?

Giddiness and excitement, the rattle of the train, the flashing of the
lights of stations they dashed by as night came on, and then a stoppage,
and a voice called out, "Reading!"  Then on again, giddiness and
excitement and the rattle of the train seeming to form itself into one
deep voice, the burden of whose song was always telling her to hasten
onward, till in the dim light of the ill-lit carriage, she felt ready at
times to start forward and ask if any one had called.  Then it seemed in
the darkness as if the train was rapidly going back, at a time when she
was hungering to get to her journey's end.

Max sat back, silent and thoughtful, opposite to her, apparently without
taking the slightest heed; but once or twice it seemed to her that she
caught sight of a flashing eye.

There were two more passengers in the same compartment; but after the
first attempt at conversation, they subsided into their corners, and not
a word was spoken.

Another slackening of the swift express, after thundering along for
another many miles' run, and still Ella feared no evil; but as Max
roused himself and threw aside wrappers, she evinced her readiness to
follow him.

"Swindon!" he said.  "Just upon seven.  We had better have a little
refreshment here, for it is one of the best places we shall pass till we
get to Exeter at 10:20.  Take my arm, Miss Bedford?"

"Thank you," said Ella; "but I cannot--I would rather not have any
refreshment."

"It is absolutely necessary," he said firmly.  "You have a very long
journey before you, and unless you prepare for it, you will be totally
unfit to get through it all.  Let me draw this closer round your
throat."

Quiet gentlemanly attentions, kind consideration, great respect.  Was
this the Max Bray of old?  Ella was ready to ask herself, as she
suffered him to draw her cloak more tightly round her; and then, taking
advantage of the ten minutes' law allowed, he pressed upon her
refreshments, every mouthful of which was as gall and ashes between her
lips.

More giddiness and excitement, the clanging of a bell, and they were
once more in their places.  There was the guard's shrill whistle, the
engine's shriek, and then again the rattle of the train forcing itself
into adjuring words, bidding her "hasten on--hasten on!" or she would be
too late; and then out once more in the darkness, rushing on with a wild
thundering speed, away dashed the train, whirling up dust, dead leaf, or
scrap of straw, and casting each fragment away, as the very earth
quivered beneath the weight of the huge load.  And still again came that
strange sense of the engine now standing still, now reversing its
action, so that they were hurrying once more back towards town.

"Hasten on--hasten on!  Too late--too late!"  The words kept repeating
themselves to her excited imagination; and to relieve herself from the
apprehensive feelings engendered, she tried to gaze out of the window;
but all was darkness.  She glanced round the compartment.  The two
passengers were evidently asleep, and for the first time now since they
had started, a shiver of dread came over her, as her eyes rested for a
moment on Max, who, leaning back, silent and reserved, was evidently
watching her every movement.

But she drove away the fancy that troubled her, and sat trying to
picture the scene she would soon be called upon to witness, and a sigh
of misery and despair tore from her breast.

And still on and on, hour after hour, till, well on their journey,
Exeter was reached.  A five minutes' stay made, and then they glided out
of the great station, and into the darkness once more.  Half-past ten
now, and nearly two more hours to travel before Plymouth would be
reached--the extent of their journey for that night.

There were three other passengers in the train this time; but a movement
upon the part of Max Bray now troubled her.  It was a mere trifle, but
the slightest act was likely to arouse her distrust; and, as he changed
his seat from opposite to her side, she involuntarily shrank away, when
he immediately returned, folded his arms, and sat watching her.

And now more than ever came upon her the thoughts of the extent of the
step she had taken, oppressing her terribly, till, as if seeking relief,
she began to repeat the words of the letter placed in her hands that
day.

Volume 3, Chapter XVII.

AID WHERE UNEXPECTED.

"Hasten on--hasten on!"  The rattle of the train still repeating those
words, and Ella's heart sinking, as they sped through the darkness; for
still, in spite of her struggle with reason, it would seem as if they
were ever going back.  Her brain seemed at times unable to support the
stress placed upon it--the excitement more than she could bear.

She gazed out upon the black night, but only to see in the dim
breath-blurred glass the interior of the carriage reproduced, with the
dark-blue cloth padding, the silent passengers, the globe lamp, and Max
Bray seated opposite, with his eyes glittering as if ready to spring at
her each instant.  She could at any moment have succumbed, become weak
and helpless, and trembled at her forlorn condition; but the brave
spirit held up, although incipient fever was claiming her for its own,
and a strange unnatural throbbing in the pulses of her temple told where
the peril lay.

Plymouth at last!--the train's resting-place for the night; and again
quiet and thoughtful, Max engaged a fly, wrapper and luggage were placed
therein, and, quiet and gentlemanlike, he talked to her till they
reached one of the principal hotels, where Ella gladly sought her
chamber, and tried to find in sleep the relief from the mental strain
she so sadly needed.

But all through the early hours of that wintry morning came to torture
her the endless repetition of those words: "Hasten on--hasten on!" while
her burning head seemed chained to the pillow by links heated to
redness.

Again and again she started up, to gaze round the dark room, thinking
that a voice whose tones she so well remembered was calling her; but,
with a sigh, she sank back once more, to doze and listen in her sleep to
the endless warning, "Hasten on--hasten on!"

She descended to breakfast pale, restless, and excited.  She could not
eat, though pressed again and again by Max, who was gentle and
attentive, asking with every show of consideration respecting her
health.

"I have made all arrangements and inquiries," he said, "and been down to
the station this morning.  Our train leaves at ten."

"Not till ten?" she said in a disappointed tone.

He smiled as he drew forth his watch.

"It is half-past nine now," he said.  "We have only time to get
comfortably down to the station."

Ella rose and left the room, to return in a few minutes ready to
continue the journey; but during her absence, Max had placed a letter in
the waiter's hand, with an accompanying half-sovereign.

"To be posted in a week's time," were the instructions.

"More wrecks down in the bay," said Max, as Ella re-entered the room.
"It has been a sad winter!"

"Let us--let us--hasten on," she said with an effort; and leading her
out, they were soon in the station, and secured their seats in an empty
compartment, where Ella took her place by the window, to gaze
abstractedly out at the damp sodden landscape for quite an hour.

"Have we far to go now?" she asked of Max, who sat watching her.

"Not much farther," he said.

And again she asked that question at the end of an hour, and of another
hour, but always to receive the same answer.

"Is it not less than a hundred miles from Plymouth to Penzance?" she at
length asked uneasily.

"Yes," he said; "but you are travelling now upon a line of rail where
stoppages are frequent and there is no speed.  Bai Jove, though, they
ought to be prosecuted for dawdling so."

Max smiled as he said those words, for his plan was nearly ripe; and
that smile was not lost upon his companion.  But she said nothing, only
sat there pale, excited, and watchful till another hour had elapsed,
during which time the well-fee'd guard had not intruded another
passenger.

But this could not last for ever.  One moment silent and watchful, the
next moment with the full conviction of how she had been betrayed upon
her, Ella Bedford sprang up and tried to open the door, the train
dashing along at the rate of forty miles an hour.

There was a strong pair of hands upon her wrists, though, in an instant,
and she was forced back into her seat.

"Silly child!" exclaimed Max, with an insolent laugh.  "What are you
going to do?"

"We are going back!" exclaimed Ella, struggling to free herself.

"Well, not exactly," he said, laughing, and now throwing off all
disguise.

"Where are you taking me?" she exclaimed.

"O, only into North Wales, my trembling little dove," laughed Max, as he
held his captive firmly in her place.  "Now look here, little one: every
dog has his day.  It is mine now, and I mean to make use of it.  You
have braved and jilted me long enough, and it is my turn now.  There,
you need not struggle; it is of no use.  Let's quietly look at the state
of affairs.  What have you done?  Well, you've made an excuse to Mrs
Marter, something about going to see a sick friend, and, bai Jove--not
to put too fine a point on it--you have eloped with me, Maximilian Bray.
I've no doubt our dear friend Mrs Marter has sent word of it to Mrs
Brandon by this time.  Mrs Brandon will tell the Brays of Lexville,
when Mrs Bray will be shocked, and my beloved papa will no doubt leave
me his curse; but, all the same, the Vinings will hear all about it.  My
plan took a long time hatching, but, now it is hatched, it cuts
double-edged."

"Will you loose my wrists?" cried Ella faintly, "or am I to call for
assistance?"

"O, call if you like, my love; bai Jove, as much as you like! only you
may save yourself the trouble, for no one will hear you.  What!" he
cried, laughing, "can the little gentle dove turn savage, and ruffle her
plumes and peck?  Come, now, what is the use of being vicious?  You have
thrown away that delicate little gossamer dress that ladies call fame,
so why not say pleasantly, `My dear Maximilian, let us be married at
once, and live happy ever after'?  No, it's of no use; you are not going
to jump out on to the line to be broken up, I value you too much; and as
I told you before, it is of no use to scream.  There's no dear Charley
Vining to come to your help, for he is too busy with his _fiancee_, my
sweet sister Laura.  Now, come, sit still and listen.  Are you going to
be reasonable?  It's of no use to be angry because I brought you off so
cleverly; and bear in mind that I have been waiting months upon months,
with the patience of half-a-dozen Jobs, to bring this plan from the most
raw sourness to full ripening.  Confound the girl! how strong she is!
Bai Jove, Ella, you are a little Tartar!"

Max Bray had talked on, and part of what he had said was understood; but
no explanation was needed.  Ella Bedford knew one thing--that she had
been cruelly betrayed, and that she was in the hands of a brutal
heartless libertine, who, under the guise of a gentleman, possessed a
nature blacker than that of the lowest rough in London.

He spoke on, holding her wrists pinioned as he did so; but despair and
the fever fire in her blood gave her strength, and twice over it was
only by a desperate struggle that he was able to prevent her from
dashing herself through the open window.

She did not cry out, feeling that it would be useless; but her struggles
to escape from his pinioning hands were frantic, till there came a
warning shriek from the engine.  The train drew up at a platform, and as
Max started back into his seat, the carriage-door opened, and Ella
Bedford fainted.

"Taken ill," said Max in explanation.  "Half mad, bai Jove!  Hard work
to keep her from dashing out of the window.  Most painful thing."

"Friend or stranger?" said the newcomer, suspiciously watching the
countenance of Max.

"Friend or stranger!" said Max.  "Bai Jove, that's cool.  My wife--
travelling for pleasure."

"I beg pardon, I'm sure," said the stranger; "but I should certainly
alight at the next station.  Your pleasure-travel is over, sir, and you
must get all the medical aid you can, for your lady is in a high state
of fever."

"Fever!" cried Max, involuntarily shrinking.

"Yes," said the other, with a look of contempt.  "But you need not fear,
sir; I should say it is the brain.  The lady has evidently suffered from
some severe mental strain."

"Bai Jove!" ejaculated Max; "are you a doctor?"

"No, sir; only an old Indian officer; but I have seen sufficient illness
to know a case of fever when I see one."

"Bai Jove!" exclaimed Max again; and then he sat helpless and frowning,
while the stranger laid back the poor girl's head that she might breathe
more freely, and half supported her till they reached the next stopping
station, where she was transferred to a fly, and conveyed, under the
care of Max Bray, to the nearest hotel.

There is no difficulty in obtaining a doctor in a country town, and it
was not long before one was by the sofa upon which Ella had been laid.

"Well," said Max, after five minutes' examination, "what's to be done?"

"Send for a nurse, and have Mrs--Mrs--I beg pardon, what name did you
say?"

"Williams," said Max.

"To be sure--Williams," said the doctor; "and let Mrs Williams be at
once conveyed to bed.  She will have to be carefully tended and
watched."

"Fit to travel again to-morrow, I suppose?" said Max.  "Come, now, no
professional dodging."

"To-morrow two months," said the doctor sharply, "perhaps;" and then he
looked anything but pleasantly at Max.

"What!" exclaimed Max viciously.  "Bai Jove, you don't mean that!"

"I mean, sir," said the doctor seriously, "that your lady is in a
dangerous state, and I would not answer for her life if she were moved.
I'll do my best, and we must be hopeful for what is to follow."

"Bai Jove!" ejaculated Max, as he left the room; and sympathising hands
were soon busy with the insensible form.

"Mrs Williams, eh?" said the doctor to himself, as he superintended a
portion of the arrangements; and then left to get some medicine made up.
"Mrs Williams, eh?  But, poor child, she does not travel in her
wedding-ring!"

Volume 3, Chapter XVIII.

AN OVERTAXED BRAIN.

"It was dooced unfortunate, bai Jove!"  Max Bray said to himself, as he
sat over his dinner at the snug little hotel at the end of the third
day.  He could not think what the foolish girl wanted to excite herself
for to such an extent.  It was absurd, "bai Jove, it was!"  But his plan
had answered all the same, and he'd wait till she got well, if it were a
month first--he would, "bai Jove!"  She'd come round then, with a little
quiet talking to; and, after all, they were snug and out of sight in the
little town, and nobody knew them, nor was likely to know them, that was
the beauty of it.  Certainly he could not get his letters; but that did
not matter: they were sure to be all dunning affairs, and he'd not the
slightest wish to have them.  The only thing he regretted was not
hearing from Laura.

One thing, he said, was very evident--Ella must have been ill when they
started, or this attack would never have come on so suddenly.

And all this while, burning with fever, Ella Bedford lay delirious, and
with a nurse at her bedside night and day.  The doctor was unremitting
in his attention, and was undoubtedly skilful; but he soon found that
all he could do was to palliate, for the disease would run its course.
The place they were in was fortunately kept by a quiet old couple, whose
sympathies were aroused by the sufferings of the gentle girl; and
though, as a rule, sick visitors are not welcomed very warmly at hotels,
here Ella met with almost motherly treatment.

Doctor, nurse, landlady--all had their suspicions; but the ravings of a
fever-stricken girl were not sufficient warranty for them to do more
than patiently watch the progress of events, and at times they
anticipated that the end would be one that they could not but deplore.

For Ella indeed seemed sick unto death, and lay tossing her fevered head
on the pillow, or struggled to get away to give the help that she said
was needed of her.

"Hasten on, hasten on!"  Those words were always ringing in her ears,
and troubling her; and then she would start up in bed, press her long
glorious hair back from her burning temples, and listen as if called.

Then would come a change, and she would be talking to an imaginary
flower, as she plucked its petals out one by one, calling each petal a
hope or aspiration; whispering too, at times, in a voice so low that it
was never heard by those who bent over her, what seemed to be a name,
while a smile of ineffable joy swept over her lips as she spoke.

Once more, though, those words, "Hasten on, hasten on!" repeated
incessantly as she struggled to free herself from the hands that held
her to her bed.

"Let me go to him," she whispered softly once to her nurse.  "He is
dying, and he calls me.  Let me see him once, only for a few minutes,
that I may tell him how I loved him, before he goes.  Please let me go!"
she said pitifully, clasping her hands together; "just to see him once,
and then I will go away--far away--and try to be at peace."

"My poor child, yes," sobbed the landlady.  "I fear you will, and very
soon too.  But does she want him from downstairs?  I'll go and fetch him
up."

The landlady descended, to find Max, as usual, smoking, and told him of
what had passed.

"Bai Jove, no!  I won't come up, thanks.  I'm nervous, and have a great
dread of infection, and that sort of thing."

"But 'tisn't an infectious disorder, sir," said the landlady; "and I'm
afraid, sir, that if you don't come now--"

"Eh, what?  I say, bai Jove, you don't mean that it's serious!"
exclaimed Max excitedly.  "There's no danger of _that_, is there?"

The landlady smoothed down her apron with a solemn look in her face;
then left the room, with genuine tears of sorrow stealing down her
cheeks.

"Poor young creature!" she sighed.  "Such a mere girl too!"

And then she hurried back to the sick-chamber, to find Ella lying back
in a state of exhaustion.

Another day, another, and another, with life seeming to hang as by a
thread; while Max, strictly avoiding the sick-chamber, waited anxiously
for the result; for this was an accident upon which, with all his
foresight, he had not calculated.  But he could obtain no comfort from
doctor or nurse.  Their looks grew more and more ominous, and at last he
began to calculate upon what would be his position, should the worst
come to the worst.  Certainly, he had by deception--a stratagem, he
termed it--induced Ella Bedford to place herself under his protection,
and if she died it would be in the doctor's hands.  There would be no
coroner's inquest, and the law could not touch him.  And besides, she
had no relatives to call him to account, while surely--he smiled gravely
as he thought it--_his brother-in-law_ would say nothing!

But all the same, in his heart of hearts Max Bray knew that, if Ella
died, he would be morally guilty of her murder.

That last was an ugly word, but it insisted upon being spoken, to
afterwards ring again and again in his ears as he restlessly moved in
his seat.

But now a change had taken place in Ella's state.  From the soft
appealing prayer for leave to go and answer the calls she fancied that
she heard, she now became fiercely excited, moved by a dread of pursuit,
and shrinking from every one who approached her.  She would even wildly
inveigh against the doctor, whom she accused of being in the pay of Max
to drag her away.

No more soft appeals now, but frantic shrieks and fierce struggles for
freedom.

Again and again those who watched found that she had taken advantage of
a few minutes' absence to dress hurriedly, when it was only by a gentle
application of force that she could be overcome.

Then came the time when she seemed to have fallen into a weak and
helpless state, lying day after day apparently devoid of sense and
feeling.

Max was asked again and again whether he would see her; but he
invariably refused with a coward's shiver of dread, to the great disgust
of all who had taken interest in the poor girl's state.

"I declare, it's scandalous!" said the landlady in confidence to her
husband.  "He seems to neither know nor care how she is.  No relatives
are sent to, he has no letters; and it's my belief there's more than we
know hanging to this."

"'Tisn't our business to interfere," said the landlord.  "He pays like a
gentleman, if he isn't one; and if we get our living by visitors, it
isn't for us to be playing the spy upon them."

The landlady did not say anything, but she evidently thought a great
deal.  The doctor, too, had his opinion upon the subject, but he was
silent, and tended his patient to the best of his ability, shaking his
head when questioned as to her recovery.

Volume 3, Chapter XIX.

THE NET BREAKS.

There is a boundary even to human patience; and now, after many days,
Max Bray began to find his position very irksome.  There was every
probability of Ella's being a long and tedious illness, succeeded by a
very slow return to convalescence; and he sat, at length, one day
thinking matters over, for he was thoroughly tired out.  There were no
amusements in the place, and not wishing to attract curiosity, he had
kept himself closely within doors.  It was tiresome to a degree, and,
besides, his stock of money would not last for ever.  Come what might,
he felt that he could put up with his position no longer.  To a great
extent his stratagem had been successful; but this unforeseen illness
had made it now a failure, and he might as well give up and go to
London.  It had been expensive certainly; but though he was a loser,
some one else would gain enormously; and he grinned again and again as
he softly rubbed his white hands together, and thought of what a banker
that some one would in the future prove.  She would never be able to
refuse him money, however extravagant he might be, and fortunately the
Vinings were enormously wealthy.  "But, bai Jove!" said Max Bray half
aloud, "what a sweet thing is love between brother and sister!"

Then Mr Maximilian Bray began to make his plans for the future.  He
told himself that time enough had elapsed; that he need not certainly
give up Ella, but arrange with the landlord that he should be informed
directly she was getting better, and then he could come down again--that
could be easily managed--and he really was tired out of this.  He also
made a few other plans; building, too, a few more castles in the air,
ending with the determination of going up to town by the first train in
the morning, and getting to know how Laura's affair was progressing.

"At all events, her way's clear," said Max, "and, bai Jove, she shall
pay me for it by and by."

"_L'homme propose, mais Dieu dispose_."  Max Bray arranged all future
matters to his entire satisfaction, but again there were contingencies
that he could not foresee.  Sitting there, rolling his cigar in his
mouth and reckoning how long it would be to lunch, he had made up his
mind to dine the next day at his club; but he did not; neither did other
matters turn out quite so satisfactorily as he wished.

The sojourn was at a quiet little hotel in a Gloucestershire town that
it is unnecessary to name; suffice it if we say that, save on the weekly
market-day, the streets, with two exceptions, were silent and deserted;
the two exceptions being the time when the children were set free from
the National Schools.  Hence, then, any little noise or excitement was
unusual, and it was no wonder that Max Bray was startled by a scream
above stairs, a cry for help, and the trampling of feet; sounds which
his coward heart soon interpreted for him to mean an awful termination
to his "stratagem," when, rising hurriedly to his feet, he stood there
resting one hand upon the table, and the cold perspiration standing in
great drops upon his pallid face.

There were people coming towards his room--they were coming to tell him.
"What of it, then?" he cried savagely.  "Could he help it?  Had no
doctor been obtained?  It was her own mad excitement led to this
termination."

"O, sir!  O, sir!" exclaimed the landlady, bursting tearful-eyed into
the room, "your poor, dear, sweet lady!"

"Dead?" asked Max in a harsh whisper, his knees shaking beneath him as
he spoke.

"No, sir, not dead.  I only left her for a few minutes, and when I came
back--"

"Well, what?  Speak, woman!" cried Max fiercely.

"She was gone, sir."

Max Bray stood for a minute as if stunned, and then leaping at the woman
he shook her savagely, before he started off to make inquiries.

"Had anyone seen her?"

"No, not a soul."  But her clothes that she had worn the day she was
borne insensible to the hotel were gone, as was also her little leather
reticule-bag.

"Where could she have gone?"

Only one place could strike Max Bray, as he thought of what she would do
if sense had returned, and she had mastered her weakness sufficiently to
enable her to steal from the house unobserved.  There was only one place
that she could seek with the intention of fleeing from him, and that was
the railway station.

"Was their life to be bound up somehow with railways?" he asked himself
as he started off in the direction of the station.  "Bai Jove!" he
seemed to have been always either meeting or inquiring about her at
booking-offices; but why had she not been better watched?

Why indeed, unless it was that a chance might be given her for seeking
freedom.  But the landlady's few minutes had been a full hour, and, as
if in her sleep, Ella had slowly risen, dressed for a journey, taken her
reticule in her hand, her shawl over her arm, and then, drawing down her
veil, walked--unseen, unchallenged--from the house, and, as if guided by
instinct, gone straight to the station.

A train was nearly due--a fast train--and still in the same quiet way
she applied for a through ticket to London, took her change and walked
out on to the platform, to stand there perfectly motionless and fixed of
eye.

No one heeded her of the few who were waiting, no one spoke; and at last
came the faint and distant sound of the panting train, nearer, nearer,
nearer.

Would she escape, or would she be stayed before she could take her
place?

It might have been thought that she would feel, if not betray, some
excitement; but no; she stood motionless, not even seeming to hear the
coming train: it was as though she were moved by some power independent
of her own will.

There was the ringing of the bell, the altering of a distance signal,
and the train gliding up to the platform, as a farming-looking man drew
the attention of another to a gentleman running swiftly a quarter of a
mile down the road.

"He'll be too late, safe."

"Ah!" said the other.  "And they won't wait for him; for they're very
particular here since the row was made about the accident being through
the bad time-keeping of the trains."

"Look at him, how he's waving his hat!" said the first speaker.  "He's
running too, and no mistake.  Why, it's that dandy swell fellow that's
staying at Linton's, where his wife's ill."

"Serve him right too," said the other.  "Why wasn't he in better time?
Those swells are always behindhand."

"Now then, all going on!" cried a voice; and the two men stepped into a
second-class carriage, against the door of which, and looking towards
the booking-office, Ella was already seated, cold, fixed, and apparently
perfectly insensible to what was going on.

"Cold day, miss," said the man who took his seat opposite to her; but
there was no reply, and the next moment the man's attention was caught
by what took place at the booking-office door.

Max Bray dashed panting up as the guard sounded his whistle, but only to
find the glass door fastened, when, evidently half wild with excitement,
he beat at the panels, gesticulating furiously as he saw the train begin
slowly to move, and Ella seated at one window.

She could have seen him too, for her face was turned towards him; she
must have heard his cries for the door to be opened; but she did not
start, she did not shrink back; and now, mad almost with rage and
disappointment, Max Bray forgot all about telegraphs surpassing trains,
everything, in the sight of his prize escaping from within his fingers;
and for what?  To expose his cruel duplicity.

It would be ruin, he felt, and he must reach her at all hazards.

Turning, then, from the door, he ran along by the station to where a
wooden palisade bounded the platform, and as the train was slowly
gliding by him, he climbed over to reach the ground before the carriage
containing Ella had passed.

"Stop him!" shouted the station-master; and the guard, who had run and
leaped into his van, stood pointing out the breaker of rules as he
paused for a few moments upon his step.

"Here, hi!  You're too late, sir!" roared a couple of porters running in
pursuit; and as Max Bray leaped on to the door-step, and clung to the
handle of the compartment with his face within a few inches of Ella's, a
porter's hand was upon his arm; there was a shout, a curse, the words
"Bai Jove!" half uttered, and then the speaker felt his hands snatched
from their hold; the next moment it was as though a fearful blow was
struck him, and he and the porter were rolling upon the platform.  But
again there was a jerk, a wild shriek that froze the bystanders' blood,
and the form of one of the wrestlers was seen to be drawn down between
the last carriage and the platform; the guard's break passed on, and Max
Bray lay motionless upon the line.

Volume 3, Chapter XX.

THE BIRD FLIES.

"Here, let-down the window!  Open the door!  Good heavens, there'll be
some one killed!  Let him be; we'll get him in.  Those porters are so
officious, and they cause accidents, instead of preventing 'em.  Let him
be, I tell you, and report him afterwards.  There, I thought so!
They'll be killed!  Heaven help him--he's down under one of the
carriages!"

So cried one of Ella's fellow-travellers as he witnessed the struggle
from within, heedless, in his excitement, that not a word he uttered was
heard by the actors in the thrilling scene.  But as Max was caught by
the carriage and dragged under the train, the man threw open the window
and leaned out as far as he could, to draw his head back after a few
moments, and impart his intelligence to the pale figure close beside
him.

"I'm afraid he's killed, miss!"

Still no answer.  Ella neither heard nor saw, for this part of her
life--from the time when Max caught her wrists in his, and till long
after--was a void that her memory could never again people.

"Deaf as a post, and a good thing too, poor lass!" muttered the man as
he again leaned out.

And now there was shouting, signalling, and the stopping of the train
for a few minutes, long enough for the passengers to see a motionless
form lifted from the line and borne into one of the waiting-rooms, the
passenger who had watched the proceedings having leaped out, but now
coming panting back to reach his place as the signal for starting was
once more given.

"Is he much hurt?" was eagerly asked by the other occupants of the
carnage.

"I'm afraid so," said the passenger.

"Not killed?"

"No, I don't think he's killed.  You see, he went down at the end of the
platform just where it begins to slope.  If it had been off the level,
he must have been crushed to death in an instant.  But I didn't have
above a quarter of a minute to see him."

"It's very, very dangerous," observed one, "this trying to get into a
train when it's started."

"Very," said another; "but they will do it.  That gentleman, too, was so
determined, climbing over the fence; and I suppose that made the railway
folks determined too."

"He must have been anxious to get off, or he would not have acted as he
did."

"Some particular appointment or another, I should think."

"Well, poor fellow, I hope he is not badly injured," was the charitable
wish now uttered, when a dissertation upon the right or wrong action of
porters in trying to stop people ensued, it being generally accorded
that the by-laws upon which they acted ought to be rescinded, and that
the guard ought to report all breaches of the regulations at the next
station.

And all these comments were made within Ella's hearing, but without once
diverting her steadfast stony gaze, as now, leaning back in her corner,
she looked straight out at the flying landscape as mile after mile was
passed.

Once or twice a remark was made to her, but she merely bent her head;
and at last she was allowed to remain unquestioned, unnoticed, as the
train sped on swiftly towards the great metropolis.

She changed carriages mechanically when requested, and again and again
produced her ticket, but always in the same dreamy strange way.
Passengers came, and passengers went, some speaking, others paying no
heed to their closely veiled and silent companion; but not once did Ella
speak or evince any knowledge of what was passing around.

How that journey was performed, she never knew, nor by what strange
influence she was guided in her acts; but press on she did, and to the
end.

Volume 3, Chapter XXI.

THE COPSE-HALL GHOST.

"I wonder what's become of Miss Bedford!" said the cook at Mrs
Brandon's, as she sat with her fellow-servants enjoying the genial
warmth of the fire before retiring to rest.

It was about half-past ten, and, probably to soften Edward the hard, the
stewpan was in use, and steaming mugs of hot spiced liquid were being
from time to time applied to lips.

"Married long before this, I should think," said the housemaid, tossing
her head.  "You don't suppose she's like some people I know, going on
shilly-shallying year after year, as if they never meant to get married
at all."

"Never you mind about that," said Edward gruffly; "perhaps we shall get
married when it suits us, and perhaps we sha'n't.  I don't see no fun in
going away from a good home and a good missus, to hard lines and
spending all your savings, like some people as ain't old enough to know
better."

"Does missus ever talk about her, Mr Eddard?" said Cook persuasively.

"Not often," said Edward; "but I know one thing,--she ain't had a letter
from her for ever so long, now."

"How do you know?" said the housemaid.

"How do I know?" exclaimed Mr Eddard contemptuously.  "Why, don't I see
all the envelopes, and can't I tell that way?  But there's something
wrong about her, I believe; for there came a letter about three weeks or
a month ago, and it seemed to cut missus up a good deal, and I heard her
say something out aloud."

"What did she say?" said Cook and Mary in a breath, for the recounter
had stopped.

"Well, I didn't catch it all," said Edward, speaking in his mug; "but it
was something like: `Gone with Mr Bray?  Impossible!'"

"But what made her say that?" exclaimed Cook.

"Why, from what she read in a letter from London, to be sure, stupid.
Why else should she say it?"

"There, didn't I tell you so!" exclaimed Cook triumphantly.

"What are you up to now?" said Edward in a tone of gruff contempt.
"What do you mean?"

"Why, I always thought she'd have Mr Bray, as was so wonderful
attentive.  Why, Mrs Pottles, down at the Seven Bells, has told me lots
of times about how he used to come and put his horse up there, and then
follow her about."

"Humph!" ejaculated Edward.  "When did you see Mother Pottles last?"

"Yesterday," said Cook.  "And she said she thought that Pottles would
take the twenty pounds off the good-will, and--"

"Why didn't you tell me so before?" said Edward gruffly.

"Because she said Mr Pottles would come over and see you, and you do
snub me so for interfering."

"Humph!" ejaculated Edward again.

"What, you are going to have the Seven Bells, then?" said the housemaid.
"O, I am glad; it will be nice!  And you're going to be married, after
all."

"Don't you be in a hurry," growled Edward.  "We ain't gone yet, and
perhaps we shan't go at all; so now then.  There goes the bell; now,
then, clear off.  Missus is going to bed."

"Did you fasten the side-door, Mr Ed-dard?" said the housemaid.

"Slipped the top bolt, that's all," said the footman, as he went to
answer the bell.

"Let's lay them bits of lace out on the lawn, Cook, and leave 'em all
night; the frost 'll bleach 'em beautiful," said the housemaid.

"Ah, so we might," said Cook; and taking some wet twisted-up scraps of
lace from a basin, cook and housemaid tied their handkerchiefs round
their necks, placed their aprons over their heads, and ran down a
passage, unbolted the side-door, and went over the gravel drive to lay
the lace upon the front lawn.

"I'll pop out and take them in when I light the breakfast-room fire,"
said the housemaid.  "My, what a lovely night! it must be full moon."

"Scr-r-r-r-r-r-r-eech--screech--screech!" went the cook.

"Scre-e-e-e-e-ch-h-h-h!" went the housemaid, giving vent to a shrill cry
that would have made an emulative locomotive burst in despair; and,
still screaming, the two women clung together, and backed slowly to the
house, ran down the passage to the kitchen, shrieking still, where the
cook sank into a chair, which gave way beneath her, and she fell heavily
on the floor.

"Are you mad, Mary--Cook?  What is the matter?" exclaimed Mrs Brandon,
running into the kitchen, chamber-candlestick in hand, closely followed
by Edward.

"They _are_ mad--both on 'em!" growled the footman.

"A ghost, a ghost!" panted Mary, shuddering, and pointing towards the
passage.

"A ghost!" exclaimed Mrs Brandon contemptuously.  "You foolish wicked
woman!  How dare you alarm the children with such ridiculous, such
absurd old grandmothers' notions?  You've been out, I suppose?"

"Yes, yes!" sobbed Mary, covering her blanched face with her hands.

"And you saw something white, I suppose, in the moonlight?"

"N-n-n-o, 'm!  It was a black one, all but the horrid face with the moon
on it."

"Edward," said Mrs Brandon, "some one has been trying to frighten them,
and they have left the passage door open.  You are not afraid?"

"How should I know till I see what it's like!" growled Edward.  "Anyhow,
I'll go and try."

"I'll go with you," said Mrs Brandon.

Edward led the way to where the moonlight was streaming in through the
open door, when he started back against his mistress, forcing her into
the kitchen.

"There _is_ something, mum!" he said hoarsely, "and I think I am a
little afraid.  No, no, 'm, you sha'n't go.  I'll go first: I can't
stand that, if I am frighted."

He again made a step in advance, for Mrs Brandon was about to take the
_pas_; but the next moment mistress and man drew involuntarily back, as,
slowly, as if feeling its way through some thick darkness, hands
stretched out, palms downward, to their fullest extent, head thrown
back, wild eyes staring straight before it, and face unnaturally pale,
came towards them a figure draped in black.

On and on, in a strange unearthly way, rigid as if of marble, came the
figure across the great kitchen, and in spite of herself Mrs Brandon
felt a strange thrill pass through her as she slowly gave way; but
followed still by the figure through the open door into the hall, where,
reason reasserting itself, she set down the candlestick upon the marble
slab, and stood firm till the strange visitor came close up to her, and
she took two cold stony hands in hers.

"Ella, my child!" she gasped.

It was as though those three words had dissolved a spell; for the
staring eyes slowly closed, a faint dawning as of a smile relaxed the
rigid features, and, as the white lips parted, there came forth a low
sigh as of relief, and then the form sank slowly down till it was
supported only by the grasp Mrs Brandon maintained upon the hands.

"Here!  Quick!  Help, Edward!" exclaimed Mrs Brandon, blushing for her
excusable dread.  "Good Heavens, what infamy has been practised, that
this poor child should seek refuge here in such a plight?  Edward!"

"I'm here, ma'am," cried the hard footman, smiting himself heavily upon
the cheek.  "That I should have been such a fool!  But 'twas enough to
startle--"

"Man--man, don't talk!" cried his mistress.  "Run to Mr Tiddson, he is
the nearest; and don't tell him to come, but bring him.  Do you
hear?--_bring him_!"

"That I just will," cried the man, giving one glance at the figure at
his mistress's feet, and the next moment he was in the kitchen.  "Here,
rouse up!" he cried, "'tain't nothing sooper--"

Edward said "natural" as he ran out, hatless, into the frosty night to
fetch the doctor, tying his handkerchief round his head as he sped on.

Meanwhile, Mrs Brandon lifted the wasted form in her arms, and bore it
to a couch, where she strove ineffectually to restore animation.
Everything she tried seemed useless; and at last, weeping bitterly, she
sank upon her knees, and clasped the fragile figure to her heart,
moaning as she did so:

"My poor stricken bird! my poor little dove! what does it mean--what
does it mean?"

But the form she clasped might have been that from which the vital spark
had just fled, save that the icy coldness began gradually to yield to
the temperature of the room.

Volume 3, Chapter XXII.

LIGHT!--AND DARKNESS?

Dr Tiddson at last, panting and out of breath; for he had run the
greater part of two miles, and upon hearing the few words Mrs Brandon
had to utter, he cast aside all the pedantry of his profession to which
he clung, and knelt down by the inanimate form.

"Every symptom of having passed through a state of fever," he said
softly.  "Slightly convulsed, even now," he muttered, as from the pulse
his finger went to her face.  "The candle a little nearer," he said, as
he raised an eyelid.  "Yes, I thought so!  Lungs seem right.  I'd stake
my life she has but lately risen from a sick bed.  Heaven bless the poor
child, she's worn to a skeleton!  Here, quick, Edward!"

"I'm here, sir," growled the hard footman.

"Take that to my house," he said, hurriedly writing some directions.
"Run, my good man, please."

"I will, sir," said Edward huskily, as a great tear ran trickling down
his nose; "but please tell me, sir--we all liked her very much--you--you
don't think she'll die?"

"We'll hope not, Edward--we'll hope not," said the doctor solemnly.
"Now go."

Edward gave a great coarse sigh as he ran out of the room; but it was
genuine sympathy, and worth a host of fine words.

"There's something more than ordinary disease here, Mrs Brandon," said
the doctor.  "We'll watch by her to-night; and if there is no change by
morning, I should like to share the responsibility, and have the counsel
of some able practitioner."

They passed that night and many more by the wasted girl's bedside,
during which time not once did she give sign of consciousness.
Occasionally a faint fluttering of the pulse seemed to tell of returning
power; but it was but a false hope held out.

An almost supernatural strength had enabled her to seek the refuge,
where she had somehow, in the darkened state of her intellect, recalled
that she would be welcome.  Led almost by a subtle instinct, she had
made her way by the different lines, and then exhausted her last powers
in slowly walking over from Laneton, to sink inanimate at her
protectress's feet.

It was long before her senses had thoroughly returned, so that she could
recognise those around, and speak in the faintest whisper; but Mrs
Brandon trembled, for she judged by what she saw in the doctor's looks
that it was but the precursor of a deeper sleep.

Several times over there was a faint whisper breathed into Mrs
Brandon's ear that the sufferer had much to say; but invariably Mrs
Brandon closed those pale lips with a kiss.

"Wrong or right, my poor child," she said sadly, "rest in peace, for
this is your home."

But there was an air of trouble and appeal in Ella's face that would not
be gainsayed; and one night Mrs Brandon was seated by her side, when
her lips parted to faintly whisper:

"If I am to go, let me know that you all believe in me."

As she spoke, her trembling little hand drew a large envelope from
beneath her pillow--a crumpled and bruised envelope.

"Do you wish me to read this?" said Mrs Brandon tenderly.

Ella's lips formed the word "Yes."

Volume 3, Chapter XXIII.

IT NEVER RAINS BUT IT POURS.

The first paper Mrs Brandon drew from the envelope was one in a bold
lady's-hand, evidently written hastily, and contained but the following
words:

  "Dear Max,--I will take him into the waiting-room, where there is a
  good view of the platform.  I can keep him there, _I think_.  But you
  must be quick.  Recollect, a momentary glance will do.  Run by, if you
  can, at the very last minute.  But pray, pray be careful.  _It is
  victory or ruin; for he would never forgive either_.  Laura.

  "P.S. _Burn this_, and every note I send."

Mrs Brandon's face wore a troubled puzzled expression as she glanced at
Ella, whose lips moved.

"I found that in my reticule since I have lain here," she whispered.
"Read on, and you will understand."

Mrs Brandon took out from the envelope another paper, and read, in a
round legal hand:

  "Cliff-terrace, Penzance,--18--

  "Sir,--I am requested by my patient, Mr Charles Vining, to enclose
  the note here contained, one which, at his wish, I have addressed as
  you see.  He tells me that he is doubtful of its reaching the lady if
  sent by post, and desires me to implore you to be its bearer,
  delivering it yourself, and adding your persuasions if she should
  decline compliance.  He would have written more, but the note enclosed
  was penned in my brief absence, and I sternly forbade farther
  exertion.  By way of explanation, I may tell you that my patient came
  in here, with two more gentlemen, in a yacht, driven to the bay by
  stress of weather.  The next night there was a fearful wreck close in
  shore, and Mr Vining and one of his friends volunteered, and were out
  in the lifeboat.  I regret to say that their gallant attempt only
  added to the long list of those gone to their account.  Two of the
  lifeboat's crew were drowned, while your friend was cast upon the
  rocks fearfully injured.

  "Let me assure you that he has had the best advice the town affords.--
  I am, sir, your obedient servant,

  "Henry Penellyn, M.R.C.S.

  "To Maximilian Bray, Esq.

  "P.S. Mr Vining bids me tell you that the above is his last request.

  "_I do not read to him the following_: Not a moment is to be lost, for
  internal haemorrhage has set in."

Mrs Brandon's breath came thick and fast, as dashing down this letter,
she took up the next.

  "My only love,--_Pray_ come to me.  I am half-killed.--Ever yours,

  "Charles Vining."

"But that is--stop a minute," exclaimed Mrs Brandon, who was terribly
agitated, and she rang the bell.  "Bring my desk quickly," she said to
the maid who answered.  "Yes," she exclaimed, as she unlocked the desk
and drew out a letter, and compared it carefully.  "It is the same hand.
It is his writing!"

"Yes," whispered Ella sadly.

"What does it all mean, then?" exclaimed Mrs Brandon confusedly.

"I cannot tell--I cannot understand," whispered Ella.  "I was deceived
and led away, and he must have seen me; but he would not have betrayed
me thus."

"But how to explain it all!" cried Mrs Brandon excitedly.  "He is to be
married to Laura Bray--"

"Ah, me!  What have I done, what have I said?" cried Mrs Brandon.  "My
poor child, I must have been mad to have let my foolish lips utter those
words!"  And she gently raised the fainting girl in her arms; for at
those bitter words, Ella had uttered that faint sigh, her face had been
contracted as by a violent spasm, and her eyes had closed.

"It is nothing," sighed Ella, reviving.  "If he is only happy!"

"Happy!" cried Mrs Brandon, her breast heaving with passion.  "It is
some cruel conspiracy.  But tell me--if you can bear to speak--tell me
all."

It was a long recital; for it was told in a faint whisper, and spread
over some time, Ella's strength seeming often to fail her.  Twice over
Mrs Brandon would have arrested her, but she begged to be allowed to
proceed.

"It will make me happier," she whispered.  And Mrs Brandon could only
bend her head.

Three o'clock had struck by the pendule, whose slow beat seemed to be
numbering off Ella's last minutes, when Mrs Brandon left her in the
charge of the nurse she had summoned, sleeping now calmly, and as if
relieved by confiding her sad little last month's history to another
breast.

It was late; but Mrs Brandon had another duty to perform, one which she
did, with her mind now confused, now seeming to see plainly the whole of
the plot.  But there was that letter--those lines in Charley Vining's
hand.  But for them, all would have been plain.

At times she was moved by a burning indignation; at others she weakly
wept; but before returning to Ella's bedside, she took a large sheet of
paper, secured to it the three missives she had brought from the
bedside, and then wrote under them:

  "Charles Vining,--The victim of a cruel plot--Ella Bedford--was
  enticed from the home I had found for her by Maximilian Bray, from
  whom she escaped, to crawl, _dying_, to my house, where she now lies,
  to breathe her last in peace.  As an English gentleman, I ask you,
  Have you had any hand in this?  If not, explain how a letter should be
  sent to her in your handwriting.  I can see part; but the rest remains
  for you to clear.  Emily Brandon."

This letter Mrs Brandon carefully sealed, with its contents, and then
returned to watch by Ella's bedside.

Soon after eight that morning she dispatched the note by a trusty
messenger, to be delivered into no other hands than Charley Vining's--
little wotting the events to take place that day--and into Charley
Vining's hands that letter was placed, as we have seen.

Sir Philip Vining's coachman was the first to recover himself and to go
to his master's assistance, just as, half stunned and confused, Sir
Philip was struggling to his feet.

"Not much hurt, I think!" said Sir Philip.  "But where is Mr Bray?"

"There he lies, Sir Philip," said the coachman.

And together they went to raise the unfortunate companion of their ride,
insensible now, and bleeding from a cut on the temple.

"Beg pardon, Sir Philip," said the coachman appealingly.  "I've been
with you fifteen years now; I hope you won't turn me off for this job.
I was driving as carefully as I could."

"My good fellow, no; of course not.  I was to blame.  Thank Heaven there
are some men coming!--Bray, my dear friend, how is it with you?"

Mr Bray looked up on being addressed, and, with a little assistance,
rose to his feet; but he was weak and helpless, seating himself directly
after.

In spite of the serious aspect of affairs, a little examination proved
that, though cut about, and some of the harness injured, the horses were
very little the worse; while, with the exception of the loss of some
paint and a smashed panel, the carriage, on being placed in its normal
position, was found to be quite capable of continuing its journey.
Plenty of help had arrived, and the labourers had worked with a will;
but upon Mr Bray being assisted to his seat, he seemed so ill and
shaken, that Sir Philip gave orders for the carriage to make the best of
its way home.

"But you will come too?" said Mr Bray feebly.

"No," said Sir Philip, frowning angrily; "I shall go forward."

And then, without another word, he strode off in the direction of
Laneton.

Mr Bray was for following him; but the coachman shook his head.

"Master's as good and true-hearted a gentleman as ever breathed, sir.
Here's fifty--ah, with the way them horses are marked, a hundred and
fifty-pounds' worth of damage done in a moment.  And does he do what
ninety masters out of a hundred would have done--tell me to leave
to-morrow?  Not he, sir.  He just claps me on the shoulder, and says it
was his own fault--which it really was, sir, though lots wouldn't have
owned to it.  But no, sir; Sir Philip's orders was to take you home, and
disobeying his orders means throwing away a good place."

So, as Sir Philip disappeared down the lane, the carriage was once more
put in motion, and dragged heavily through the muddy rutty by-way back
towards Lexville.

It was a long and dreary ride, performed in a slow and spiritless way,
Mr Bray shrinking back in his seat as they reached and drove through
the town; for, in addition to bodily pain, there was the mental
suffering--the blow at his pride; for it seemed, though he could not
penetrate the mystery, that there was something radically wrong, and
that all prospect of the wedding taking place was at an end.

In spite of his shrinking back, he could not avoid seeing the
curiosity-moved faces at door and window; and, in his heart, he fancied
he could make out what was said respecting pride and its fall, for his
family was not very popular at Lexville; while the state of horses,
carriage, and coachman all tended to make people hurry out to gaze upon
this sequel to the broken-off wedding, the theme now of every gossip in
the place.

"It never rains but it pours," says the old saw; and so it seemed to be
here; for upon Mr Bray alighting at the Elms, stiff and bruised and
giddy, it was to find Laura--now that she was hidden from the public
gaze, where she had held up so bravely, even to taking her place calmly
in the waiting carriage--falling from one violent hysterical fit into
another, shrieking and raving against Max, and crying out that what had
befallen her was a judgment.

Mother, sister, friends, all listened in weeping amazement as they tried
to soothe and minister to her, but in vain; and it was not until the
coming of the family medical man, and a soothing draught had been
administered, that Laura sank back, silent and overcome.

The doctor was still busy, when Sir Philip Vining's carriage drove up
with a fresh patient, one who sadly needed his services; while, as Mr
Bray was lying bandaged, and at length somewhat more at ease, a servant
brought up a telegram.

"News, then, at last, from Charley Vining!" exclaimed Mrs Bray
excitedly, breaking the official envelope.

But Mrs Bray was wrong.  The telegram contained news, startling news--
such as made the father forget his own sufferings, and rise again to
prepare for a journey; and upon its being inadvertently conveyed to
Laura some time after, she threw up her hands, shrieked aloud, and then
seemed to shrink, trembling within herself, as if expecting momentarily
that some great blow would fall crushingly upon her.

Volume 3, Chapter XXIV.

SLEEP OR DEATH?

The telegram to the Bray family was from the little Gloucestershire
town, telling what the hotel-keepers were at length able to impart,
through a letter they had found in his portmanteau, after missing it in
previous searches, that Max Bray was lying in a precarious state, the
result of an accident upon the railway.

For Max had so far escaped with lifer but he had not yet awoke to
consciousness, and to know that he was occupying the couch of her whom
he had long marked down as his victim.  As the railway passenger had
remarked, Max had fallen where the platform sloped; but he was suffering
from concussion of the brain; and one maimed limb had been removed by
the surgeon's knife.

But we must leave him to his slow recovery, while the landlady declared
in confidence to her husband every night, that she had always known that
Williams was an assumed name, because there was a "B" on the gentleman's
socks.

Sir Philip Vining reached Laneton at last, to see his chariot standing
in the inn-yard; but he knew, without questioning the grooms, where
Charley would be; and fierce now with the anger that burned within him,
he made his way to Copse Hall, to be told that his son was by Miss
Bedford's couch, where he had been since he arrived.

For, after a furious gallop, the chariot had dashed up to Copse Hall
covered with mud, the horses in a foam and ready to drop, while,
springing up more like, a madman than one in possession of his full
senses, Charley had leaped out, and almost forced his way to Ella's
side, to fall sobbing on his knees as he clasped her thin transparent
hand, a faint smile welcoming his coming, as, with her soul seeming to
leap from her longing eyes, she vainly strove to turn towards him.

Mrs Brandon stayed to ask no explanation then; for she was alarmed at
the fierce rage that flashed from Charley's eyes at her first words, as
he stood there in his wedding garments.

She left the explanation for some other time, and, trembling and
excited, she left them alone, to find from the servants, upon
descending, that this was to have been Charley Vining's wedding-morn.

But Ella must have heard some explanation; for when, nearly two hours
after, Mrs Brandon went to the room to whisper to the son of the
father's coming, that softly-shaded head was lying upon Charley's arm,
and there was a sweet satisfied smile upon those pale lips.  But as
Ella's eyes opened, and she saw Mrs Brandon approach, they wore that
old piteous appealing look, and she whispered, "For I love him!"

The words were meant for Mrs Brandon; but they went no farther than
Charley's ear, to bring a wild convulsive sob from his breast, as in his
despair he felt that it was too late.

"Let him come here!" cried Charley sternly, as Mrs Brandon whispered of
his father's coming.  "Let him come here!"  And then, as, black and
frowning, Sir Philip strode into the room, he turned towards him.

"Well!" exclaimed Charley, staying the flood of reproaches Sir Philip
was about to heap upon his head; and, as he gazed upon the pale face,
the father's aspect changed, his stride became a gentle step, and he
gazed from one to the other.  "Well," cried Charley, "have you come to
look upon their work?  Have you come to commune once more with the sweet
gentle spirit before it passes away?  I tell you they have murdered
her--murdered my own darling who would have died for me; whilst I, poor,
weak, pitiful idiot that I was, believed all I saw--walked blindly into
their traps like a foolish child.  Curse them--curse them!" he raged, as
he ground his teeth together, and spoke in a low hoarse voice, that was
awful in its deep suppressed hatred.  "You want to know why I dashed off
this morning.  I tell you, it was to save myself from being a murderer.
I tell you, father, that after what I learned on leaving you, if I had
faced that cursed Jezebel, it would have been to strangle her.  There--
there, read those letters!" he cried, tearing the papers from his
breast, and dashing them at Sir Philip.  "Read how brother and sister
could plot to delude this poor child--plot with a diabolical cunning
that was nearly crowned with success; for they had a simple unworldly
man to deal with; read how we were to be torn asunder by their cursed
malice--how I was to be poisoned at heart by seeing her appear to flee
with that scoundrel Max Bray; while I, like a simple sheep, was led by
that false wretch to see it all.  She played her cards well--to become
Lady Vining, forsooth!  And then read on how this poor angel was
beguiled by lying forgeries to hurry away with Max to Cornwall, to see
me--me--dying from injuries; while, to give force to his lies, the
villain added to, and then sent, the note, that must have been lying in
his desk above a year--the note I sent to him, telling him to come to
me, for I was half-killed, when I had my hunting fall.  God!" he hissed
forth in a fierce way, that made his hearers tremble, "God! that my
right hand had withered away before it penned a line!  But no, no!" he
exclaimed, and his teeth grated, "I shall want this right hand yet; for
the day of reckoning shall surely come!"

There was something fearful in the young man's aspect, as down there
upon one knee by the bedside, his left arm beneath that fair
golden-clustered head, he clenched his right hand, and, gazing before
him at vacancy, he shook that clenched hand fiercely, and his mad rage
was such that could he have grasped Max Bray then, he would have dashed
him down, and crushed his heel upon his false cruel face, for he knew
not of the retribution that had already fallen to the deceiver's lot.

But the next moment Charley Vining turned to look down upon the pale
horror-stricken face at his side, when the rugged brow was smoothed, the
clenched hand dropped, and a deep groan burst from the young man's
breast.

"O, heaven forgive me!  What am I saying?  Father, father," he cried, in
pitiful tones, "they've broken my heart!"

And then, the strong man humbled, he bowed down over the bedside till
his agony-distorted face rested upon that fluttering breast; and weak
now as the weakest, he wept like a child, his broad shoulders heaving
from the convulsive sobs that burst forth with the wild hysterical
violence of a woman's grief.

"Charley, my son," gasped Sir Philip at last, as he knelt by the young
man's side, and laid his hand upon his head, "you do not think--you
cannot think--that I knew of all this?"

"No--no--no!" groaned Charley.  "I never thought it."

Volume 3, Chapter XXV.

HOPE RISES.

"It is cruel, monstrous!" exclaimed Sir Philip, after a long pause.
"But, O my boy, what have I done?  I thought to make you honoured and
loved of all.  My sole desire was to make you happy and content.  But,
my boy, you will forgive me.  I humble myself to you.  I was wrong."

"Hush, hush, father!" cried Charley sternly, as he raised one arm, and
laid it upon his father's shoulder.  "What have I to forgive in you?"

He turned again, gazing with a despairing, stunned expression upon
Ella's face.

"But," cried Sir Philip hastily, "what has been done?--Mrs Brandon,
what medical advice have you had?"

"The best that money can procure," said Mrs Brandon, in a choking
voice.  "We have done all that is possible."

There was a dead silence now reigning in that chamber, broken at last by
Sir Philip, as, forgetful of all else but the fearful wrong that had
been done the suffering girl before him, he bent over Ella to kiss her
tenderly.

"O my child, my child!" he moaned, "my poor child!  I came here angry
and bitter to upbraid; but has it come to this? that you, so young, so
pure, must leave us to go where all is love, to bear witness to my
selfish pride and ambition?  Heaven forgive me!" he sobbed, as his tears
fell fast upon the little hand he held, "heaven forgive me! for, in my
blindness, I have broken two loving hearts--sacrificed them to my
insensate pride!  Blind--blind--blind that I was, not to remember that
the love of a pure true-hearted woman was a gem beyond price.  Has it
indeed come to this, that there is nothing to be done but for a poor,
weak, blind old man to ask forgiveness for your wrongs?--Charley," he
sobbed, turning to his son, "my boy--my pride, the hope of my old age,
forgive me, for I can never forgive myself!"

"Father, for heaven's sake, hush!" cried Charley in his blank despair.
"This is too much.  I cannot bear it.  I have nothing to forgive.  It
was our fate; but, O!" he said huskily, as he drew Ella nearer to his
breast, "it is hard--hard--hard to bear!"

Here Mrs Brandon interposed; it was too much for the sufferer to
encounter; and gently drawing the young man away, she bent over to
whisper to Ella, but, in obedience to a whispered wish, she drew back,
as Charley, weak now and trembling, gazed in his father's quivering face
for a few moments, and then, as did the patriarch of old, he fell upon
the loving old man's neck and kissed him, and wept sore.

The silence then in that sad chamber was painful; but at last, trembling
in every limb, Sir Philip crept to the bedside, to take the place lately
occupied by his son--to pass one arm beneath Ella's neck, and then, with
all a father's gentle love, to raise her more and more, till her head,
with all that glory of bright fair hair, rested upon his breast, and his
old and wrinkled cheek touched the vein-mapped, transparent forehead.

"If I could die for you, my child," he murmured; "if my few poor useless
days could be given, that you might live, I should be content.  Heaven
hear my prayer!" he cried piteously.  "Poor sufferer!  Has she not borne
enough?  Have we not all tried our best to make her way thorny and
harsh?  O my child, I loved you from the first, though my pride would
not let me acknowledge it, and I left you that day moved almost beyond
human power to bear; while, on my return, even the eyes of my wife's
poor semblance seemed, from the canvas, almost to look--to look down
upon me with reproach.  But you must not leave us--surely our prayers
must be heard--you, so young, so gentle!  My poor blighted flower!  But
you will live to bless us both--to be my stay and comfort--to help a
weak old man tenderly along his path to the grave--to be the hope and
stay of my boy--to be my pride!  I ask you--I ask you this--I, his
father, ask you to live for us, to bless us both with your pure and
gentle love!  Charley my boy, here--quick--quick--My God, she is dying!"

A faint shudder had passed through Ella's frame as Sir Philip uttered
that exclamation, and her pinched pale face looked more strange and
unearthly than ever; but she had heard every word uttered by the old
man; words which, feeble as she was, had made her heart leap with a
strange joy, sending life and energy once more through every vein and
nerve, but only with the effect of a few drops of oil upon an expiring
flame: the light sprang up for a few moments, and then seemed to sink
lower and lower, till, with a shiver of dread, Mrs Brandon softly
approached.

She paused though, for at that moment Ella's eyes softly unclosed, to
gaze trustingly at Sir Philip Vining.  Then they were turned to Charley;
and as they rested there, her pale lips parted, but no word came.  A
faint sad smile of content, though, flitted for an instant over her
face, and those lips spoke in silence their wishes--wishes read by
heartbroken Charley, who, resting one hand upon his father's shoulder,
pressed upon that pale rosebud of a mouth a long, long kiss of love,
one, though, to which there was no response.  He did not even feel the
soft fluttering breath, playing and hesitating, as it were, round her
lips as her eyes slowly closed.

Was it in sleep or in death?  The question was mentally asked again and
again; but no one spoke, as all stood there watching--hardly daring to
breathe.

Night had come, and still no movement, no trace by which hope could be
for a moment illumined, and still they watched on; Lexville, the Brays,
everything, being forgotten in this great sorrow.  But with the night
came again the doctor, with an old friend and physician; then followed a
long consultation in the sick-chamber, and another in the drawing-room,
while friend and lover waited tremblingly for the sentence to be
pronounced.

"My friend thinks with me that there is a change," said Mr Tiddson;
"and really, Mrs Brandon, in the whole course of my practice, nothing
ever gave me greater pleasure."

The next day, and the lamp of life still burning, but the brain-symptoms
had passed away, in spite of the great excitement.  There was extreme
weakness, but soon that was all; and until, joyful and exultant, Sir
Philip avowed to himself that the danger was past, he did not return to
Blandfield Court.

"Saved, my boy, saved! our prayers were heard!" he exclaimed then
fervently; and from that day Sir Philip seemed to know no rest when he
was away from the invalid chamber.

Scandal and wonders seldom last above their reputed nine days; and so it
seemed here at Lexville.  People talked tremendously, and commented upon
the absence of the Vinings, and their treatment of their old friends,
the Brays.  But from the Bray family themselves came not one word of
rebuke or complaint.  They started for London the day but one after that
appointed for the wedding, to take up, as it proved, their permanent
residence in Harley-street; and at the end of a month it was announced
that The Elms was for sale; and, at a great price, the local auctioneer
disposed of the whole of "Mr Onesimus Bray's well-known and
carefully-selected live and dead farming stock," in spite of the
old-fashioned farmers' head-shaking and nods and winks.

But, as time wore on, though the past was never again reverted to, pudgy
quiet Mr Bray more than once had a snug _tete-a-tete_ club dinner with
his old friend Sir Philip Vining, and they parted in the best of
fellowship.

And now we must ask our readers to follow us hastily through a few
scenes, whose intent is to fill up voids in our narrative, and to bring
it more quickly to a close.

Any one who knows the neighbourhood of Blandfield and Laneton will
acknowledge that no more pleasant piece of rural undulating country can
be found within a radius of fifty miles round London; and through those
pleasant dales and glades, day after day of the bright spring-time,
might one or other of Sir Philip Vining's carriages be seen with the old
gentleman himself in constant attendance upon his chosen daughter.  His
love had long been withheld, but now it was showered down abundantly.

The slightest increase of pallor, a warm flush, anything, was sufficient
to arouse the worthy old man's alarms.  And they were not quite
needless; for the struggle back to health was on Ella Bedford's part
long and protracted.

Charley Vining used to declare that he was quite excluded, and that he
did not get anything like a fair share of Ella's heart; but the warm
glow of pleasure which suffused his face, as he saw the pride and
affection Sir Philip had in his son's choice, was, as Mrs Brandon used
to say, "a sight to make any one happy."

Often and often Mrs Brandon used to declare that the Vinings might just
as well come and take up their residence altogether at Copse Hall, for
she should never think of parting with Ella; while, as the summer came
in, and with it strength and brightness of eye to the invalid, Sir
Philip Vining's great pleasure was, just before leaving of an evening,
just as it was growing dusk, to lead Ella to the piano, where, unasked,
she would plaintively sing him the old ballad that had once drawn a tear
from Charley Vining's eye, when he had told the singer that he was glad
Sir Philip was not present.

And on those occasions, seated with his back to the light, and his
forehead down upon his hand, the old man would be carried far back into
the days of the past, when the wife he loved was with him; and as the
sweet low notes rose and fell, now loud and clear, now soft and
tremulous with pathos, Sir Philip's lip would tremble, and more than
once, when he bade her good-night, Ella felt that his cheek was wet.

Volume 3, Chapter XXVI.

AT LAST.

The summer was drawing to an end; the ripe tints of the coming autumn
were beginning to appear in many a rich clump of trees; but Sir Philip
said, in his quiet courtly style, that Blandfield Court had never looked
to greater advantage; for Mrs Brandon, her daughters, and Ella, had
spent the day there.

And now, in the warm glow of a pleasant evening, just before dew-fall,
Charley Vining was leading his fair betrothed along alley after alley,
her light dress rustling from time to time among the first-fallen
leaves.  Hours upon hours they had spent alone together during her
return to health; but never till this eve had Ella felt so great a
tremor as that which now pervaded her frame.  Was it that his eyes had
spoken more eloquently than usual?  She could not say; but now that he
halted by the tree from which a rose had once been plucked, and led her
to the garden-seat, there was no resistance, and she suffered him to
draw her to his side closer, closer, closer still, till her fair hair
mingled with his crisp curls, and her soft breath played upon his cheek.

"My own," he cried softly, but in tremulous tones, "six months have
passed now since I made you a promise."

"Yes," she whispered, as her hands rested upon his shoulder; and she
nestled closer to his broad breast, dove-like in the gentleness and
aspect of seeking protection where she knew she would be safe.

"I have kept the promise," he said again.  "Yes," she replied, "to
forgive, as we hope to be forgiven."

There was silence then for a few moments before he spoke again.

"And now," he said, "I claim my reward.  Ella dearest, my own, can you
forgive my weakness, my doubts, my boyish folly?"

"Forgive?" she said; and as she gazed up in his face there was a look of
proud joy before her eyes sank, and her head drooped, blushing before
his loving glance.

"I was weak, I own, mad; but tell me, Ella dearest.  I have been
patient."

His voice was low as he pressed her still closer to his heart.

"Tell me," he said, "tell me when;" and his voice had sunk to a whisper.

"Charley--husband," she whispered, raising her eyes once more to his, "I
am yours--when you will!"

Volume 3, Chapter XXVII.

THE REWARD OF MERIT--BAI JOVE!

People will talk, and the more you try to regulate your life by their
opinions, the worse you will fare.  Vide "The Old Man and his Ass."

They said it was too bad that the heir to Blandfield Court should be
married in London; but whether too bad or no, in the course of the
autumn Charles Vining and his lady were announced as having departed for
the Continent after a particular ceremony at Saint George's,
Hanover-square; a church where the wedding-fees must amount to something
tolerably respectable in the course of the year; while, if at any time
it should be announced that the clerk, beadle, and pew-opener all have
country houses at Sydenham, Teddington, or some other pleasant spot a
few miles from Babel smoke, and give champagne dinners, the writer, for
one, will feel no surprise; though a feeling of envy may spring up in
his breast the next time he encounters the gorgeous beadle sunning
himself upon the broad steps of the sacred fane.

But the wedding trip was short on account of Sir Philip, who, though he
did not complain, showed by his letters how eagerly he was looking
forward to their return, which soon followed; and for them life glided
on in a pleasant round of social enjoyment, either at Blandfield or the
house Sir Philip had secured in Westbournia.

Two years had glided by, when, so as to do as others do in the season,
Charley Vining was escorting his bonnie wife through the exhibition of
the Royal Academy, though, truth to say, Charley had more than once been
guilty of yawning as he stood before a grand specimen of Turneresque
painting, for he said that he liked to see that sort of thing in a state
of nature.

They were passing from one room to another, when suddenly there fell
upon Charley Vining's ears a strange sound--not loud, in fact it was
very faint, but it was peculiar, and being somewhat bored and tired by
the pictures, any little thing sufficed to attract his attention.

"Squea-eek, squea-eek, squea-eek!" went the noise, as of some mechanism
slightly in want of oil; when, as Charley turned, his face suddenly
became suffused, his broad chest swelled, his teeth were set, and his
fists clenched, as, with flashing eyes, he looked like some refined and
polished lion about to make a spring upon an enemy.

Ella saw what had attracted his attention at the same moment, and
trembling like an aspen, the blood fled from her face, and her hands
closed on her husband's arm as she tried to draw him away.

But she might as well have tried to move an oak, as the stalwart
frowning Hercules who stood there gazing over his shoulder at a most
carefully-dressed man, walking with a peculiar limp--a halt which told
of a cork leg, without the wheezing squeak it gave at every
mincingly-taken step.

Apparently familiarised to the noise himself, the dandy did not perceive
that it attracted the attention of others as he moved along, catalogue
in one hand, in the other the thin red-leather cord attached to a
vixenish-looking toy terrier--an uncomfortable-looking little beast,
that kept running between his legs or over the sweeping train of the
elderly vinegary-featured lady by his side, winding the leather thong
round the sound or else the cork leg, and once, in a rapid _pas_,
securely binding the two; so that, what with his eyeglass, his
catalogue, and the dog, the gentleman seemed to have his hands
completely filled.

"What picture is that, Maximilian?" suddenly exclaimed the lady, in a
tone that was as acid as her looks; and she stopped short, with her back
to Charley and Ella, and by the help of a gold eyeglass inspected a
painting.

There was no response; for the dog, the cork leg, and the thong, were in
a state of tangle.

"Maximilian, I asked you the name of that picture!" cried the lady more
shrilly.

"Bai Jove, there, don't be in such a hurry; don't you see what a
confounded mess I'm in?  There, now, hold Finette, while I look at the
catalogue.  Let me see, ah! yaas!  Number 369.  `Dandy of the days of
Charles II.'  Bai Jove, ah! very fair indeed.  Pity that style of dress
don't come in again."

"Squea-eek, squea-eek, squea-eek" went the leg, as the admirers of the
cavalier passed slowly on; while, as they mingled with the throng, a
long pent-up breath escaped from Charley Vining's breast, and apparently
greatly relieved, he exclaimed aloud:

"Poor devil!"

"Pray take me out, Charley," whispered Ella; and for the first time he
noticed her pallor.

"Take you out? to be sure!" he cried, as he tenderly drew her hand
farther through his arm.  "Really, though, for a moment or two, I felt
as if I could have wrung his neck."

"Charley, dear husband!" whispered Ella; for at that moment there was
again the sound of the leg, and Charley's breast began to swell and his
eyes to flash.

"All right, little one, take me away," he said, smiling; "for I feel
like a big dog scenting a rat.  But there, my own, I'm frightening you;
come along."

He drew her rapidly away towards the entrance, her breath coming more
freely at every step; but not so fast but that they caught another
glimpse of the lady and gentleman, standing in rapt attention before a
fresh picture, and at the same moment heard, in tones that seemed as if
they were expressive of profound admiration:

"Bai Jove!"

But that was the last time they ever saw Max Bray.

Volume 3, Chapter XXVIII.

HOME.

A week after, Charley and Ella were in the hall, and about to leave
their house, when there was a summons at the door, and they retreated to
the drawing-room.

"Mr and Mrs Hugh Lingon," announced the butler the next minute; and a
fair fat young man entered, with a tall handsome lady, who threw back
her mantle, and rushed at Ella, to clasp her in her arms, kissing and
sobbing over her for a minute, before darting away, rushing at Charley
Vining, throwing her arms round his neck, and kissing him with a loud
smack.

"There!  I forgot!" she exclaimed the next moment, half laughing, half
crying; "but you won't mind, dear Hugh, it's only old Charley Vining,
whom I've loved ever since I was a tiny girl.  But my own dear, dear,
darling Miss Bedford--for I can't ever call you anything else--I am so,
so, so glad to see you again.  And we were only married yesterday, and I
wouldn't go anywhere else till Hugh brought me to see you both.  And you
will love me still, won't you?"

As she spoke she threw herself on the carpet at Ella's feet, clasping
her round the waist, and nestling closely to her, and in spite of every
effort, insisting upon staying there till they left.

There was no going out that day; for London ceremony had to be set aside
for country hospitality, and it was late when the Lingons left, to start
the next morning for Paris; as quaint, but as amiable and happy a couple
as ever the sun shone upon.

But before leaving, heedless of his dark-veiled brow, Nelly Lingon told
Charley that Max was married to "such an old screw-cum--a rich old
dowager; while Laura"--and she spoke now sadly--"Laura ran off with a
French count, when we were all at Baden; and I'm afraid he's a brute to
her.  But I'm sorry for Laura, Charley," said Nelly; "for, after her
fashion, I think she loved you!"

How the years glide by!  Blandfield again, with Charley Vining more
portly and noble-looking than ever.  It is a glorious sunshiny day, and
in his broad hat and velvet coat he looks free, happy, and hearty, as he
leads a little gem of an Exmoor pony in either hand, on one of which is
a sturdy-looking curly-headed boy, shouting with glee, and drumming the
pony's sides with his little heels; on the other, a sweet-faced girl a
couple of years older, whose fair hair hangs down to the waist of her
tiny riding-habit.

But we have not done.  Standing by a chair, placed upon the lawn, her
hand held by Sir Philip Vining, not looking a day older, but watching
with a grandfather's fondness the children led round and round, is
Ella--the same sweet-faced gentle Ella as of old, with the same glorious
clusters and braids looped back from her pure white forehead.  There is
a glow, too, upon her countenance--it may be from pride, or merely that
from the sun, as she holds a shade above her shapely head.

And there we leave her in her home of peace, rich in the love of her
husband, her children, and that of her new parent, whose great delight
upon one occasion it was to superintend the placing of Ella's portrait
in the library, side by side with the picture upon which he loved to
gaze.

"How well they match, Charley!"  Sir Philip said.  "It is like making my
room complete--her face is so soft and gentle.  It is a splendid
likeness.  God bless her! she makes glad my old age; and," he added,
with a glance of his old pride, "she is by birth a lady!--"

The End.





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