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Title: Mattie:—A Stray (Vol 3 of 3)
Author: Robinson, F. W. (Frederick William), 1830-1901
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           MATTIE:--A STRAY.

                           BY F. W. ROBINSON

   THE AUTHOR OF "HIGH CHURCH," "NO CHURCH," "OWEN:-A WAIF," &c., &c.

     "By bestowing blessings upon others, we entail them on ourselves."
        HORACE SMITH.

    IN THREE VOLUMES

    VOL. III.

    LONDON:
    HURST AND BLACKETT, PUBLISHERS,
    SUCCESSORS TO HENRY COLBURN,
    18, GREAT MARLBOROUGH STREET.
    1864.

    _The right of Translation is reserved._

    LONDON:
    PRINTED BY MACDONALD AND TUGWELL, BLENHEIM HOUSE,
    BLENHEIM STREET, OXFORD STREET.



CONTENTS OF THE THIRD VOLUME.


BOOK VI. SIDNEY'S FRIENDS.

I. MATTIE'S CHOICE

II. MATTIE'S ADVISER

III. THE OLD LOVERS

IV. A NEW DECISION

V. ANN PACKET EXPRESSES AN OPINION

VI. MR. GRAY'S SCHEME


BOOK VII. SIDNEY'S GRATITUDE.

I. MAURICE HINCHFORD IN SEARCH OF HIS COUSIN

II. MAURICE RECEIVES PLENTY OF ADVICE

III. A DECLARATION

IV. MORE TALK OF MARRIAGE AND GIVING IN MARRIAGE

V. MATTIE'S ANSWER


BOOK VIII. MORE LIGHT.

I. A NEW HOPE

II. MATTIE IS TAKEN INTO CONFIDENCE

III. HALF THE TRUTH

IV. ALL THE TRUTH

V. STRUGGLING

VI. SIGNS OF CHANGE

VII. RETURNED

VIII. DECLINED WITH THANKS

IX. MATTIE, MEDIATRIX

X. CONCLUSION



BOOK VI.

SIDNEY'S FRIENDS.



CHAPTER I.

MATTIE'S CHOICE.


There are epochs in some lives when the heart cracks or hardens. When
humanity, wrung to its utmost, gives way, or ossifies. Both are
dangerous crises, and require more than ordinary care; the physician
must be skilful and understand human nature, or his efforts at cure will
only kill the patient who submits to his remedies.

Man--we speak literally of the masculine gender at this point--though
born unto trouble, finds it hard to support in a philosophical way. A
great trouble that in nine cases out of ten shows woman at her best,
transforms man to his worst; if he be a man of the world, worldly, he is
dumbfounded by the calamity which has fallen upon him. It is
incomprehensible why _he_ should suffer--he of all men--and he wraps
himself in his egotism--his wounded self-love--and thinks of the
injustice and hardness that have shut him out from his labours.

Such men, heavily oppressed, do not give in to the axiom, that it is
well for them to be afflicted; they will not bow to God's will, or
resign themselves to it--their outward calmness is assumed, and they
chafe at the Great Hand which has arrested them midway. Such men will
turn misanthropes and atheists, at times.

Sidney Hinchford after all was a man of the world. In the world he had
lived and fought upwards. There had been a charm in making his way in
it, and the obstacles ahead had but nerved his arm to resist, and his
heart to endure. He had talents for success in the commercial
world--even a genius for making money. With time before him, possibly
Sidney Hinchford would have risen to greatness.

To make money--and to keep it when made--requires as much genius as to
make poetry, rather more, perhaps. A genius of a different order, but a
very fine one notwithstanding, and one which we can admire at a
distance--on the kerb stones with our manuscripts under our arms,
waiting for the genius's carriage to pass, before we cross to our
publishers'. Is not that man a genius who in these latter days rises to
wealth by his own exertions, in lieu of having wealth thrust upon him? A
genius, with wondrous powers of discrimination, not to be led into a bad
thing, but seeing before other people the advantages to accrue from a
good one, and making his investments accordingly. A man who peers into
the future and beholds his own advancement, not the step before him, but
the apex in the clouds, lost to less keen-sighted folk fighting away at
the base--therefore, a wonderful man.

We believe that Sidney Hinchford, like his uncle before him, would have
risen in the world; he believed it also, and throughout his past
career--though we have seen him anxious--he never lost his hope of
ultimate success. When he knew that there must come a period of
tribulation and darkness for him, he had trusted to have time left him
for position; and not till time was denied him, and the darkness set in
suddenly, did he give up the battle. And then he did not give way; he
hardened.

Sidney had never been a religious man, therefore he sought no
consolation in his affliction, and believed not in the power of religion
to console. He had been pure-minded, honourable, earnest, everything
that makes the good worldly man, but he had never been grateful to God
for his endowments, and he bore God's affliction badly in consequence.
He felt balked in his endeavour to prosper, therefore, aggrieved, and
the darkness that had stolen over his senses seemed to find its way to
his heart and transform him.

The clergyman, who had attended his father, attempted consolation with
him, but he would have "none of it." He did not complain, he said; he
had faced the worst--it was with him, and there was an end of it. Do not
weary him with trite bible-texts, but leave him to himself.

And by himself he sat down to brood over the inevitable wrong that had
been done him; he, in the vigour of life and thought, shut apart from
action! Once he had looked forward to a consolation even in distress,
but that was to have been a long day hence. Now his day had been
shortened, and the consolation was denied him. He knew that _that_ was
lost, and he had thought of a fight with the world to benumb the
thoughts of the future; and then the world was shut away from him also,
and he was broken down, inactive and lost.

He and his uncle were the only attendants at the funeral; he was
informed afterwards that Mattie had stood at the grave's edge, and seen
the last of her old friend and first patron; then his uncle had left
him, failing in all efforts to console him. Geoffry Hinchford offered
his nephew money, all the influence at his disposal in any way or shape,
but Sidney declined all coldly. He did not require help yet awhile, he
had saved money; he preferred being left to himself in that desolate
home; presently, when he had grown reconciled to these changes, he
should find courage to think what was best; meanwhile, those who loved
him--he even told Mattie that--would leave him to himself.

Mattie made no effort to intrude upon him in the early days following
the double loss; she was perplexed as to her future course, her method
of fulfilling that promise made to Sidney's father on his death-bed. Her
common sense assured her that in the first moments of sorrow, intrusion
would be not only unavailing, but irritating--and her belief in becoming
of service to Sidney was but a small one at the best. In the good,
far-away time she might be a humble agent in bringing Harriet Wesden and
him together; Harriet who must love him out of very pity now, and forget
that wounded pride which had followed the annulment of engagement.

Meanwhile, she remained quiet and watchful; busy at her dress-making,
busy in her father's home, attentive to that new father whom she had
found, and who was very kind to her, though he scarcely seemed to
understand her. Still, they agreed well together, for Mattie was
submissive, and Mr. Gray had more than a fair share of his own way; and
he was a man who liked his own way, and with whom it agreed vastly. But
we have seen that he was a jealous man, and that Mattie's interest in
Mr. Wesden had discomfited him. He was a good man we know, but jealousy
got the upper hand of him at times, when he was scarcely aware of it
himself, for he attributed his excitement, perhaps his envy, to very
different feelings. He was even jealous of a local preacher of his own
denomination, a man who had made a convert of a most vicious article--an
article that he had been seeking all his life, and had never found in
full perfection.

Mr. Gray over his work said little concerning Ann Packet's occasional
visits to his domicile, but he objected to them notwithstanding, for
they drew his daughter's attention away from himself. He liked still
less Mattie's visits to Chesterfield Terrace--flying visits, when she
saw Ann Packet for an hour and Sidney Hinchford for a minute, looking in
at the last moment, and heralded by Ann exclaiming,

"Here's Mattie come to see you, sir."

"Ah, Mattie!" Sid would answer, turning his face towards the door whence
the voice issued, and attempting the feeblest of smiles.

"Is there anything that I can do, sir, for you?"

"No, girl, thank you."

He would quickly relapse into that thought again, from which her
presence had aroused him--and it was a depth of thought upon which the
fugitive efforts of Mattie had no effect. Standing in the shadowy
doorway she would watch him for awhile, then draw the door to after her
and go away grieving at the change in him.

The thought occurred to her that Harriet Wesden might even at that early
stage work some amount of good until she heard from Ann Packet that
Harriet and her father had called one day, and that Sidney had refused
an interview. He was unwell; some other day when he was better; it was
kind to call, but he could not be seen then, had been his excuses sent
out by the servant maid. Mattie, who had always found time do good, and
work many changes, left the result to time, until honest Ann one
evening, when Mr. Gray was at work at his old post, asserted her fears
that Sidney was getting worse instead of better.

"I think he'll go melancholic mad like, poor dear," she said; "and it's
no good my trying to brighten him a bit--he's wus at that, which is
nat'ral, not being in my line, and wanting brightening up myself. He
does nothing but brood, brood, brood, sitting of a heap all day in that
chair!"

"A month since his father died now," said Mattie, musing.

"To the very day, Mattie."

"He goes to church--you read the Bible to him?" asked Mr. Gray,
suddenly.

"He can't go by hisself--he's not very handy with his blindness, like
those who have been brought up to it with a dog and a tin mug," said Ann
in reply; "but let's hope he'll get used to it, and find it a comfort to
him, sir."

"I asked you also, young woman, if you ever read the Bible to him?"

"Lor bless you, sir! I can't read fit enough for him--I take a blessed
lot of spelling with it, and it aggravates him. All the larning I've
ever had, has come from this dear gal of ours, and _he_ taught her first
of all!"

"I think that I could do this young man good," said Mr. Gray, suddenly;
"I might impress him with the force of the truth--_convert him_."

"I would not attempt to preach to him yet," suggested Mattie; "besides,
his is a strange character--you will never understand it."

"You cannot tell what I may be able to understand," he replied, "and I
see that my duty lies in that direction. I have been seeking amongst the
poor and wretched for a convert, and perhaps it is nearer home--your
friend!"

"I would not worry him in his distress," suggested Mattie anew.

"Worry him!--Mattie, you shock me! Where's my Bible?--I'll go at once!"

"We've got Bibles in the house, sir--we're not cannibals," snapped Ann.
Cannibals and heathens were of the same species to Ann Packet.

"Come on, then!"

Mattie half rose, as if with the intention of accompanying her father,
but he checked the movement.

"I hope you will remain at home to-night, Mattie," he said; "I never
like the house entirely left. It's not business."

Mattie sat down again. She was fidgety at the result of this impromptu
movement on her father's part, but saw no way to hinder it. Her father
was a man who meant well, but well-meaning men would not do for Sidney
Hinchford. Sidney had been well educated; his father was self-taught,
and brusque, and Sidney had grown very irritable. In her own little
conceited heart she believed that no one could manage Sidney Hinchford
save herself. Late in the evening, Mr. Gray returned in excellent
spirits, rubbing one hand over the other complacently. He had found a
new specimen worthy of his powers of conversion.

"Have you seen him?" asked Mattie.

"To be sure--I went to see him, and he could not keep me out of the
room, if I chose to enter. An obstinate young man--as obstinate a young
man as I ever remember to have met with in all my life!"

"Did he speak to you?"

"Only twice, once to ask how you were. The second time to tell me that
he did not require any preaching to. After that, I read the Bible to him
for an hour, locking the door first, to make sure that he did not run
for it, blind as he was. Then I gave him the best advice in my power,
bade him good night, and came away. He is as hard as the nether
millstone; it will be a glorious victory over the devil to touch his
heart and soften it!"

"You are going the wrong way to work. You do not know him!"

"My dear, I know that he's a miserable sinner."

Mattie said no more on the question; she was not a good hand at
argument. At argument, sword's point to sword's point, possibly Mr. Gray
would have beaten most men; his ideas were always in order, and he could
pounce upon the right word, reason, or text, in an instant; but Mattie
was certain that her father's zeal very often outran his discretion. She
shuddered as she pictured Sidney Hinchford a victim to her father's
obtrusiveness--her father, oblivious to suffering, and full of belief in
the conversion he was attempting. She knew that her father was wrong,
and she felt vexed that Sidney had been intruded upon at a time wherein
she had not found the courage to face him herself. Things must be
altered, and her promise to Sid's father must not become a dead letter.
In all the world her heart told her she loved Sidney Hinchford best, and
that she could make any sacrifice for his sake; and yet Sidney was not
getting better, but worse, and her own father would make her hateful to
him. The next evening, Mr. Gray came home later than usual. He had been
sent for by his employers, had received their commissions, and then,
fraught with his new idea, had started for Chesterfield Terrace, to
strike a second moral blow at his new specimen.

He came home late, as we have intimated, and began arranging his chimney
ornaments, and putting things a little straight, in his usual nervous
fashion.

"Mattie, I shall have a job with that young man. He has forbidden me the
house; he actually--actually swore at me this evening, for praying for
his better heart and moral regeneration."

Mattie compressed her lips, and looked thoughtfully before her for a
while. Then the dark eyes turned suddenly and unflinchingly upon her
father.

"I have been thinking lately that if I were with him in that house--I,
who know him so well--I might do much good."

"You, Mattie!--you?"

"He is without a friend in the world. I knew his father, who was my
first friend, and I feel that I am neglecting the son."

"You call there often enough, goodness knows!" Mr. Gray said, a little
sharply.

"He is alone--he is blind. What are a few minutes in a long day to him?"

"All this is very ridiculous, Mattie--speaks well for your kind heart,
and so on, but, of course, can't be----"

"Of course, must be!"

Mattie had a will of her own when it was needed. A little did not
disturb her, but a great deal of opposition could never shake that will
when once made up. She had resolved upon her next step, and would
proceed with it; we do not say that she was in the right; we will not
profess to constitute her a model heroine in the sight of our readers,
who have had enough of model heroines for awhile, and may accept our
stray for a change. We are even inclined to believe that Mattie was, in
this instance, just a little in the wrong--but then her early training
had been defective, and allowance must be made for it. All the evil
seeds that neglect has sown in the soil are never entirely
eradicated--ask the farmers of land, and the _farmers of souls_.

"Must be!" repeated Mr. Gray, looking in a dreamy manner at his
daughter.

"I promised his father to think of him--to study him by all the means in
my power. I see that no one understands him but me, and I hear that he
is sinking away from all that made him good and noble. I will do my best
for him, and there is no one who can stop me here."

"Your father!"

"--Is a new friend, who has been kind to me, and whom I love--but he
hasn't the power to make me break my promise to the dead. That man is
desolate, and heavily afflicted, and I will go to him!"

"Against MY wish?"

"Yes--against the wishes of all in the world--if they were uttered in
opposition to me!" cried Mattie.

"Then," looking very firm and white, "you will choose between him and
me. He will be a friend the more, and I a daughter the less."

"It cannot be helped."

"You never loved me, or you would never thus defy me. Girl, you are
going into danger--the world will talk, and rob you of your good name."

"Let it," said Mattie, proudly. "It has spoken ill before of me, and I
have lived it down. I shall not study it, when the interest and
happiness of a dear friend are at stake. He is being killed by all you!"
she cried, with a comprehensive gesture of her hand; "now let me try!"

"Mattie, you are mad--wrong--wicked!--I have no patience with you--I
have done with you, if you defy me thus."

"I am doing right--you cannot stop me. I have done wrong to remain idle
here so long; I will go at once."

"At once!--breaking up this home--you will, then?"

"If I remain here longer, you will set him against me--me, who would
have him look upon me as his sister, his one friend left to pray for
him, slave for him, and keep his enemies away!"

"I won't hear any more of this rhodomontade--this voice of the devil on
the lips of my child," he said, snatching up his hat again. "Stay here
till I return, or go away for ever."

Mr. Gray was in a passion, and, like most men in a passion, went the
wrong way to work. He was jealous of this new rival to his daughter's
love that had sprung up, and angered with Mattie's attempt to justify
her new determination. He believed in Mattie's obedience, and his own
power over her yet; and he was an obstinate man, whom it took a long
while to subdue. He went out of the room wildly gesticulating, and
Mattie sat panting for awhile, and trying to still the heaving of her
bosom. She had gone beyond herself--perhaps betrayed herself--but she
had expressed her intention, and nothing that had happened since had
induced her to swerve. If it were a choice between her father and
Sidney, why, it must be Sidney, if he would have her for his friend and
companion in the future.

"I must go--I must go at once!" she whispered to herself; and then
hurriedly put on her bonnet and shawl, and made for the staircase. She
thought that she was doing right, and that good would come of it; and
she did not hesitate. Before her, in the distance, sat the solitary
figure of him she loved, friendless, alone, and benighted; and her
woman's heart yearned to go to him, and forgot all else.

Thus forgetting, thus yearning to do good, Mattie made a false step, and
turned her back upon her father's home.



CHAPTER II.

MATTIE'S ADVISER.


Mattie reached Chesterfield Terrace as the clock was striking nine. Ann
Packet almost shouted with alarm at the sight of the new visitor, and
then looked intently over Mattie's shoulder.

"_He_ hasn't come back again, has he? Mr. Sidney's been in such a
dreadful way about him, Mattie. Blind as he is, I think he'll try to
murder him."

"I have come instead. He will see me, I hope."

She did not wait to be announced, but turned the handle of the
parlour-door and entered. Sidney Hinchford, in a harsh voice, cried out,

"Who's there?"

"Only Mattie. May I come in?"

"Mattie here at this hour! Come in, if you will. What is it?"

He was seated in the great leathern arm-chair, that had been his
father's favourite seat, in the old attitude that Mattie knew so well
now. She shuddered at the change in him--the wreck of manhood that one
affliction had reduced him to, and the impulse that had brought her
there was strengthened.

"Mr. Sidney," she said, approaching, "I have come to ask a favour of
you."

"I am past dispensing favours, Mattie. Unless--unless it's to listen
patiently to that horrible father of yours. Then I say No--for he drives
me mad with his monotony."

"I have come to defend you from him, if he call again--to live here, and
take care of you as a dear brother who requires care, and must not be
left entirely to strangers."

"I am better by myself, Mattie--fit company only for myself."

"No, the worst of company for that."

"It must not be."

"I can earn my own living; I shall be no burden to you; I have a
hope--such a grand hope, sir!--of making this home a different place to
you. Why, I can always make the best of it, I think--_he_ thought so,
too, before he died."

"Who--my father?" asked Sidney, wondering.

"Yes--he wished that I should come here, and I promised him. Oh! Mr.
Sidney, for a little while, before you have become resigned to this
great trouble, let me stay!"

He might have read the truth--the whole truth--in that urgent pleading,
but he was shut away from light, and sceptical of any love for him
abiding anywhere throughout the world.

"If he wished it, Mattie--stay. If your father says not No to this, why,
stay until you tire of me, and the utter wretchedness of such a life as
mine."

"Why utterly wretched?"

"I don't know--don't ask again."

"Others have been afflicted like you before, sir, and borne their heavy
burden well."

"Why do you 'sir' me? That's new."

"I called your father sir,--you take your father's place," said Mattie,
hastily.

"A strange reason--I wonder if it's true."

Mattie coloured, but he could not see her blushes, and whether true or
false, mattered little to him then. A new suspicion seized him after
awhile, when he had thought more deeply of Mattie's presence there.

"If this is a new trick of your father's to preach to me through you, I
warn you, Mattie."

"I have told you why I am here."

"No other reason but that promise to my father?"

"Yes, one promise more--to myself. Mr. Hinchford," she said, noticing
his sudden start, "I promised my heart, when I was very young--when I
was a stray!--that it should never swerve from those who had befriended
me. It will not--it beats the faster with the hope of doing service to
all who helped me in my wilful girlhood."

"I told a lie, and said you did not steal my brooch!"

"That was not all, but that taught me gratitude. Say a lie, but it was a
lie that saved me from the prison--from the new life, worse, a thousand
times worse than the first."

"You are a strange girl--you were always strange. I am curious to know
how soon you will tire of me, or I shall tire of you and this new freak.
When I confess you weary me--you will go?"

"Yes."

"Then stay--and God help you with your charge."

His lip curled again, but it was with an effort. He was no true stoic,
and Mattie's earnestness had moved him more than he cared to evince. He
was curious to note the effect of Mattie's efforts to make the dull
world anything better than it was--he who knew how simple-minded and
ingenuous Mattie was, and how little she could fathom his thoughts, or
understand them. He had spent a month of horrible isolation, and it had
seemed long years to him--years in which he had aged and grown grey
perhaps, it was more likely than not. He felt like an old man, with whom
the world was a weary resting-place; and he was despondent enough to
wish to die, and end the tragedy that had befallen him. He had not
believed in any sacrifice for his sake, and Mattie had surprised him by
stealing in upon his solitude, and offering her help. He was more
surprised to think that he had accepted her services in lieu of turning
contemptuously away. It was something new to think of, and it did him
good.

The next day life began anew under Mattie's supervision. She was the old
Mattie of Great Suffolk Street days--a brisk step and a cheerful voice,
an air of bustle and business about her, which it was pleasant to hear
in the distance. When the house duties were arranged for the day, Mattie
began her needlework in the parlour where Sidney sat; and though Sidney
spoke but little, and replied only in monosyllables to her, yet she
could see the change was telling upon him, and she felt that there would
come a time when he would be his dear old self again. When the day was
over, her own troubles began. In her own room, she thought of the father
whom she had abandoned--of _his_ loneliness, left behind at his work in
that front top room, which had been home to her. She was not sorry that
she had left him, for there was an old promise, an old love for Sidney,
to buoy her up; but she was very, very sorry that they had parted in
anger, and that her father had resented a step in which his Christian
charity should have at once encouraged her. By and bye it would all come
right; her father would understand her and her motives; by and bye, when
Sidney had become reconciled to his lot in life, and there were no more
duties to fulfil, she would return home, unasked even, and offer to be
again the daughter whom her father had professed to love. For the
present, life in Sidney's home, doing her duty by him whom she loved
best in the world; she could not let him suffer, and not do her best to
work a change in him.

Mattie worked a change--a great one. The instinct that assured her she
possessed that power had not deceived her; and Sidney, though he became
never again his former self, altered for the better. This change
strengthened Mattie in her resolves, and made amends for her father's
silence. She had written to Mr. Gray a long letter a few days after she
had left his home, explaining her conduct more fully, entering more
completely into the details of her former relations to the Hinchfords
and the friends she had found in them; trusting that her father would
believe that she loved him none the less for the step which she had
taken--she who would have been more happy had he consented thereto--and
hoping for the better days when she could return and take once more her
place beside him. She had also asked in her letter that her box might be
sent her, and he had considered that request as the one object of her
writing, and responded to it by the transmission of the box and its
contents, keeping back all evidence of his own trouble and anger. She
had chosen her lot in life, he thought; she had preferred a stranger's
home to her own flesh and blood; in the face of the world's opinion she
had gone to nurse a man of three and twenty years of age. After all, she
had never loved her father; he had come too late in life before her, and
it was his fate never to gain affection from those on whose kind
feelings he had a claim. He had been unlucky in his loves, and he must
think no more of them. His troubles were earthly, and on earthly
affections he must not dwell too much--he must teach himself to soar
above them all.

He read the Bible more frequently than ever, attended less to his work,
and more to his district society and local preaching; by all the means
in his power he turned his thoughts away from Mattie. When the thought
was too strong for him, he connected her with the wrong that she had
done him, and so thought uncharitably of her, as good men have done
before and since his time--good people being fallible and liable to err.

Mattie knew nothing of her father's trouble, and judged him as she
had seen him last--angry and uncharitable and jealous! That is a bad
habit of connecting friends whom we have given up with the stormy
scene which cut the friendship adrift; of stereotyping the last
impression--generally the false one--and connecting _that_ with him and
her for ever afterwards. Think of the virtues that first drew us towards
them, and not of the angry frown and the bitter word that set us apart;
in the long run we shall find it answered, and have less wherewith to
accuse ourselves.

Sidney Hinchford, whom we are forgetting, altered then for the better
slowly but surely--even imperceptibly to himself. Still, when Mattie had
been a month with him, and he looked back upon the feelings which had
beset him before she took her place in his home, the change struck him
at last. He could appreciate the kindness and self-denial that had
brought her there, gladdened his home, and made his heart lighter. He
could take pleasure in speaking with her of the old times, of his
father, of his early days in Suffolk Street--in hearing her read to him,
in being led into an argument with her, which promoted a healthy
excitation of the mind, in walking with her when the days were fine. He
was grateful for her services, and touched by them--she was his sister,
whom he loved very dearly, and whom to part with would be another trial
in store for him some day--and he had thought his trials were at an end
long since!

Sidney Hinchford, be it observed here, made but a clumsy blind man; he
had little of that concentrativeness of the remaining senses, which make
amends for the deprivation of one faculty. He neither heard better, nor
was more sensitive to touch--and of this he complained a little
peevishly, as though he had been unfairly dealt with.

"I haven't even been served like other blind folk," he said; "your voice
startles me at times as though it were strange to me."

On one topic he would never dwell upon--the Wesdens. Mattie, true to the
dying wish of the old man, attempted to bring the subject round to
Harriet--Harriet, who was true to him yet, she believed--but the subject
vexed him, and evinced at once all that new irritability which had been
born with his affliction.

"Let the past die--it is a bitter memory, and I dislike it," he would
say; "now let us talk of the business which you think of setting me up
in, and seeing me off in, before all the money is spent on
housekeeping."

Mattie turned to that subject at his request--it was one that pleased
and diverted him. He was glad to speak of business; it sounded as if he
were not quite dead yet. Mattie and he had spent many an hour in
dilating upon the chances of opening a shop with the residue of the
money which Sidney had saved before his illness--what shop it should be,
and how it should be attended! He had only one reason for delaying the
prosecution of the scheme--Mattie had implied more than once that when a
shopkeeper was found, she should give up constant attendance upon him,
and only call now and then to make sure that he was well, and not being
imposed upon.

"To think of turning shopkeeper in my old age!" he said one day, with
quite a cheerful laugh at his downfall; "I, Sidney Hinchford, bank
clerk, who had hoped to make a great name in the city. Well, it is
commerce still, and I shall have a fair claim to respectability, as the
wholesalers say, if I don't give short weight, or false measure,
Mattie."

"To be sure you will. But why do you not settle your mind to one
business? Every day, Mr. Sidney, you think of a new one!"

"You must not blame me for that, Mattie," he replied; "I want to make
sure of the most suitable, to find one in which I could take part
myself."

"What do you think of the old business in which Mr. Wesden made
money?--think of that whilst I am gone."

"Where are you going now?" he asked a little irritably.

"To scold the butcher for yesterday's tough joint," said Mattie.

"Butchers make money, but how the deuce could I chop up a sheep without
personal damage?" he said, rambling off to a new idea.

Mattie hurried to the door. The butcher was certainly there; but,
crossing the road in the direction of the house, Mattie had seen Harriet
Wesden. The butcher was dismissed, and Harriet admitted silently into
the passage.

"How long have _you_ been here?" Harriet exclaimed.

"A month now. I promised his father that I would do my best for _him_
left behind in trouble. You--you don't blame me?"

"Blame you!--no. Why should I?"

"My father thought that I was wrong to come here--exceeding my duty to
my neighbour, and outraging my duty towards him. But I am not sorry."

"And Sid--how is he now? Why does he bear so much malice in his heart
against me, as to refuse me admittance to his house?" she asked.

"He bears no malice, Harriet; but the past is painful to him. Presently
he will come round, and judge all things truly. Every day he is less
morbid--more resigned."

"I am glad of that."

"After all, everything has turned out for the best, Harriet," said
Mattie.

"Prove that," was her quick answer.

Mattie was attempting the difficult task of deciphering the real
thoughts of Harriet Wesden;--what she regretted, and what she rejoiced
at, now the picture was finished, and all its deep shadowing elaborated.

"For the best that the engagement was ended, Harriet. Think of the
affliction that has befallen him, and which would have parted him and
you at last."

"Why parted us?--do you think, had it befallen me, that he would have
turned away with horror--that he would not have loved me all the better,
and striven all the harder to render my trouble less heavy to be borne?
Mattie, I knew that this would come upon him years ago, and I did not
shrink from my engagement."

"You could never have married him--he is a poor man, and may be poorer
yet; it is impossible to say."

"It is all over now, and this is idle talk, Mattie. I have given up all
thought of him, as he has given up all thought of me--and perhaps it is
for the best," she added.

"We will hope so, Harriet."

"I was always a foolish and vain girl, prone to change my mind, and
scarcely knowing what that mind was," she said bitterly. "It is easy
enough to forget."

Mattie scarcely understood her. She shook her head in dissent, and would
have turned the conversation by asking after her father's
health--Harriet's own health, which was not very evident on her pale
cheeks just then. Harriet darted away from the subject.

"Well--all well," she said; "and how is Sidney in health, you have not
told me that?"

"Better in health. I have said that his mind is more at ease."

"Mattie, though I have given him up for ever, though I know that I am
nothing to him now, and deserve to be nothing, let me see him again! I
am going into the country with father for a week or two, and should like
to see him once more before I go."

"Harriet, you love him still! You are not glad that it is all ended
between you!"

"I should have been here in your place--I have a right to be here!" she
said, evasively.

"Tell him so."

Mattie had turned pale, but she pointed to the parlour with an imperious
hand. Harriet shrank from the boldness of the step, and turned pale
also.

"I--I--"

"This is no time for false delicacy between you and him," said Mattie;
"he loves you in his heart--he is only saddened by the past belief that
you loved Maurice Darcy--if you do not shrink to unite your fate with
his, and make his life new and bright again, ask him to be your husband.
In his night of life he dare not ask you now."

"I cannot do that," murmured Harriet; "that is beyond my strength."

"You and your father with him in his affliction, taking care of him and
rendering him happy! All in your hands, and you shrink back from him!"

"Not from him, but from the bitterness of his reply to me," said
Harriet. "Would you dare so much in my place?"

"I--I think so. But then," she added, "I do not understand what true
love is--you said so once, if you remember."

Harriet detected something strange and new in Mattie's reply; she looked
at Mattie, who was flushed and agitated. For the first time in her life,
a vague far-off suspicion seemed to be approaching her.

"I will go in and see him--I will be ruled by what he says to me. Leave
me with him, Mattie."

With her own impulsiveness, which had led her right and wrong, she
turned the handle of the parlour door, and entered the room, where the
old lover, blind and helpless, sat.



CHAPTER III.

THE OLD LOVERS.


Yes, there he was, the old lover! The man whom she had once believed she
should marry and make happy--whom she had valued at his just worth when
he cast her off as unworthy of the love he had borne her. She had not
seen him since that time; he had held himself aloof from her, although
he had talked of remaining still her friend, and the change in him was
pitiable to witness.

It was the same handsome face, for all its pallor, and deep intensity of
thought; the same intellectuality expressed therein, for all the
blindness which had come there, and given that strange unearthly look to
eyes still clear and bright, and which turned towards her, and startled
her with their expression yet. But he was thin and wasted, and his hand,
which rested on the table by his side, was an old man's hand, seared by
age, and trembling as with palsy.

"What a time you have been, Mattie! Ah! you are growing tired of me at
last," he said, with the querulousness characteristic of illness, but
before then ever so uncharacteristic of him.

"Miss--Miss Wesden called to ask how you were," said Harriet, in a low
voice.

"Indeed!" he said, after a moment's deliberation of that piece of
information; "and you answered her, and let her go away, sparing me the
pain of replying for myself. That's well and kind of you, Mattie. We are
better by ourselves now."

"Yes."

Harriet dropped into a chair by the door, and clasped her hands
together; he spoke firmly; he spoke the truth as he thought, and she
accepted it for truth, and said no more.

Sidney Hinchford, oblivious of the visitor facing him, and composed in
his blindness, detected no difference in the voice. Mattie's voice, we
have remarked at an earlier stage of this narrative, closely resembled
Harriet's, and acuteness of ear had not been acquired yet by the old
lover.

"Mattie, I have been thinking of a new business for us, since you have
been gone."

"For us?" gasped Harriet.

"Ah! for us, if I can persuade you to remain my housekeeper, and induce
your father to extend his consent. I have no other friend--I look to
you, girl--you must not desert me yet!"

"No."

"I fancy the stationery business, with you to help me, Mattie, would be
best, after all. You are used to it, and I could sit in the parlour and
take stock, and help you with the figures in the accounts. I was always
clever at mental arithmetic, and it don't strike me that I shall be
quite a dummy. And then when I am used to the place--when I can find the
drawers, and know what is in them, I shall be an able custodian of the
new home, capable of minding shop while you go to your friends for
awhile. Upon my honour, Mattie, I'm quite high-spirited about this--say
it's a bargain, girl?"

Harriet answered in the affirmative for Mattie. She had assumed her
character and could not escape. She had resolved to go away, and make no
sign to him of her propinquity; he cared not for her now; he dismissed
her with a passing nod; it was all Mattie--Mattie in whom he believed
and trusted, and on whose support in the future he built upon from that
day! She knew how the story would end for him and Mattie--a peaceful and
happy ending, and what both had already thought of, perhaps--let it be
so, she was powerless to act, and it was not her place to interfere.
Mattie had deceived her; it was natural--but she saw no longer darkly
through the glass; beyond there was the successful rival, whom Sidney
Hinchford would marry out of gratitude!

Sidney continued to dilate upon the prospects in life before him.
Harriet had risen, and was standing with her hand upon the door,
watching her opportunity to escape.

"Who would have dreamed of a man becoming resigned to an utter darkness,
Mattie? Who would have thought of me in particular, cut out for a man of
action, with no great love for books, or for anything that fastened me
down to the domesticities?"

"You are resigned, then?"

"Well--almost."

"I am very glad."

"Why are you standing by the door, Mattie? Why don't you sit down and
talk a little of this business of ours?"

"Presently."

"Now--just for a little while. Leave Ann Packet to the lower
regions--I'm as talkative to-day as an old woman of sixty. Why, you will
not balk me, Mattie?"

"No."

"Read this for me--I have been trying if I can write in the dark--my
first attempt at a benighted penmanship."

He held a paper towards her, and Harriet left her post by the door to
receive it from his hands.

The writing was large and irregular, but distinct. She shivered as she
read the words. The story she had seen so plainly, was more evident than
ever.

"_Sidney Hinchford_," she read, "_saved from shipwreck by Mattie Gray!_"

"And Mattie Gray here at my side accounts for my resignation," said he,
laying his hand upon Harriet's. "Mattie, the old friend--after all, the
best and truest!"

Harriet did not reply; she shrank more and more, cowering from him as
though he saw her there, the unwelcome guest who had forced herself upon
him.

"You are going out," he said, noticing the glove upon the hand he had
relinquished now.

"Yes, for a little while."

"Don't be long. Where are you going that I cannot accompany you?"

"On business--I shall be back in an instant."

"Very well," he said, with a half-sigh; "but remember that you have
chosen yourself to be my protector, sister, friend, and that I cannot
bear you too long away from me. I wish I were more worthy of your
notice--that I could return it in some way or fashion not distasteful to
you. Sometimes I wish----"

"Say no more!" cried Harriet, with a vehemence that startled him; "I am
going away."

The door clanged to and left him alone. She had hurried from the room,
shocked at the folly, the mockery of affection which had risen to his
lips. Ah! he was a fool still, he thought; he had frightened Mattie by
hovering on the verge of that proposal, which he had considered himself
bound to make perhaps, out of gratitude for the life of servitude Mattie
had chosen for herself. He had been wrong; he had taken a mean
advantage, and rendered Mattie's presence there embarrassing; his desire
to be grateful had scared her from him, as well it might--he, a blind
man, prating of affection! He had been a fool and coward; he would seal
his lips from that day forth, and be all that was wished of him--nothing
more. Harriet had made her escape into the narrow passage, had contrived
to open the street-door, and was preparing to hurry away, when Mattie
came towards her.

"Going away without a good-bye, Harriet!"

"I had forgotten," she said coldly.

"What have you said to him?--have you--have you----"

"I have said nothing at which you have reason to feel alarmed," said
Harriet; "I have not taken your advice. He thinks and speaks only of
you, and I did not break upon his thoughts by any harsh reminiscences."

"You are excited, Harriet; don't go away yet, with that look. What does
it mean?"

"Nothing."

"Has he offended you?"

"No."

"Have I?"

"No," was the cold reiteration. "I am not well. I ought not to have
intruded here. I see my mistake, and will not come again."

"I hope you will, many, many times. I build upon you assisting me in the
good work I have begun here. You and I together, in the future, striving
for the old friend, Sidney Hinchford."

"I am going away to-morrow--it is doubtful when I shall return, or what
use I shall be to either you or him. You understand him better than I."

"I do not understand you this afternoon," said Mattie, surveying her
more intently; "what have I done? Don't you," she added, as a new
thought of hers seemed to give a clue to Harriet's, "think it right that
I should be here!"

"If you think so, Mattie, it cannot matter what my opinion is."

"Yes--to me."

"You came hither with the hope of befriending him, as a sister might
come? On your honour, with no other motive?"

"On my honour, with none other."

"Why deceive him, then?" was the quick rejoinder; "why tell him that
your father gave his consent for your stay here, when he was so opposed
to it?"

"He thought so from the first, and I did not undeceive him, lest he
should send me away. Have you seen my father?"

"He called last night at our house. He is anxious and distressed about
you."

"I am sorry."

"He thinks that you have no right to be here--I think you have now."

"Oh! Harriet, you do not think----"

"Hush! say nothing. You are your own mistress, and I am not angry with
you. You have been too good a friend of mine, for me to envy any act of
kindness towards him I loved once. I don't love him now."

"You said you did."

"A romantic fancy--I have been romantic from a child. It is all passed
away now--remember that when he----"

"When he--_what_?"

"Asks you to be his wife, to become his natural protector; you alone can
save him now from desolation--never my task--never now my wish.
Good-bye."

She swept away coldly and proudly, leaving the amazed Mattie watching
her departure. What did she mean?--what had Sidney said to her that she
should go away like that, distrusting her and the motives which had
brought her there--she, of all women in the world!

Mattie went back to Sidney's room excited and trembling. Close to his
side before she startled him by her voice.

"Mr. Sidney, long ago you were proud of being straightforward in your
speech--of telling the plain truth, without prevarication."

"Time has not changed me, I hope, Mattie."

"What have you said to Harriet Wesden?"

"To whom!"

The horror on his face expressed the facts of the case at once, before
the next words escaped him.

"It was--Harriet Wesden then!"

"Yes."

"And she came in to see me, and assumed your character, Mattie?" he
said; "why did you let her in?"

"I don't know," murmured Mattie; "she was anxious about you, and she had
come hither to make inquiries without intruding upon you, until I--I
advised her to come."

"For what reason?" he asked in a low tone.

"I thought that you two might become better friends again, and----"

"Ah! no more of that," he interrupted; "that was like my good sister
Mattie, striving for everybody's happiness, except her own, perhaps.
Mattie, you talk as if I had my sight, and were strong enough to win my
way in life yet. You so quick of perception, and with such a knowledge
of the world--you!" he reiterated.

"Misfortune will never turn Harriet Wesden away from any one whom she
has loved--it would not stand in the way of any true woman. And oh! sir,
if I may speak of her once again--just this once--"

"You may not," was his fierce outcry; "Mattie, I ask you not, in mercy
to me!"

"Why?" persisted Mattie.

"I don't know--let me be in peace."

It was his old sullenness--his old gloom. Back from the past, into which
Mattie's efforts had driven it, stole forth that morbid despondency
which had kept him weak and hopeless. The remainder of that day the old
enemy was too strong for any effort of Sidney's strange companion, and
Mattie felt disheartened by her ill success.



CHAPTER IV.

A NEW DECISION.


Sidney Hinchford rose the next morning in better spirits, and Mattie in
worse. Half the night in his own room Sidney had reflected on his
vexatious sullenness of the preceding day, and on the effect it most
have had on Mattie; half the night, Mattie in her room had pondered on
the strangeness of the incidents of the last four-and-twenty hours--on
that new demeanour of Harriet Wesden, which implied so much, and yet
explained so little.

After all, Mattie thought, was she right in staying there? Had she
treated her father well in leaving him without a fair confession of that
truth which she had breathed into the ears of a dying man, and scarcely
owned till then unto herself? She had not come there with any sinister
design of winning, by force as it were, a place in Sidney Hinchford's
heart; she had never dreamed for an instant--she did not dream then!--of
ever becoming his wife, with a right to take her place at his side and
fight his battles for him.

She had been actuated by motives the purest and the best--but who
believed her? Had not her father mistrusted her? Had not Harriet, who
understood her so well she thought, regarded her as one scheming for
herself?--she whose only scheme was to bring two lovers together once
more, and see them happy at each other's side. For an instant she had
not thought that she was "good enough" for Sidney Hinchford; she who had
been an outcast from society, an object of suspicion to the police, a
beggar, and a thief! No matter that she had been saved from destruction
and was now living an exemplary life, or that misfortune had altered
Sidney and rendered him dependent on another's help, he was still the
being above her by birth, education, position, and she could but offer
him disgrace.

With that conviction impressed upon her, conscious that Sidney had
improved and would continue to improve, an object of distrust to her
best friends--why not to the neighbours who watched them about the
streets and talked about them?--only judged fairly and honourably by him
she served, was it right to stop--was there any need for further stay
there?

She was thinking of this over breakfast--afterwards in her little
business round, during which period another visitor had forced himself
into Sidney's presence, without exercising much courtesy in the effort.
Ann Packet had opened the street-door, and looked inclined to shut it
again, had not the visitor forestalled her--she was never very quick in
her movements--by springing on to the mat, and thence with a bound to
the parlour door.

"Oh, my goodness! you mustn't go in there. Master left word that you
were never to be shown into him again on any pertence."

"Where's Mattie?"

"Gone out for orders," said Ann. "Just step in this room, sir, and wait
a bit."

"Young woman, I shall do nothing of the kind. When my daughter comes in,
tell her where I am. That's your business; mind it, if you please."

Mr. Gray turned the handle of the door, and walked into the room.

"Good morning, Mr. Hinchford."

Sidney recognized that voice at least--the voice of a man who had
worried him to death with his religious opinions--and his face
lengthened.

"You here?"

"Yes, I have come again," he answered, drawing a chair close to the
table, and confronting Sidney. "I suppose you thought that I had given
you up as irreclaimable."

"I had hoped so," was the dry answer.

"Given my daughter up, too."

"No; that wasn't likely."

"Indeed--why not?"

"We don't give up our best friends, those who have won upon our hearts
most, in a hurry."

"Do you mean that for me, or is that another side to your confounded
obstinacy? Won't you give her up to me, her father?"

"If you wish it. I cannot set myself in opposition to you. The
remembrance of a dear father of my own would not lead me, did I possess
the power, to stand in opposition to you."

"You--will side with me, then, in telling her that it is not right to
stay here?"

"Not right! You thought so once?"

"Not for an instant."

"She is here with your consent?"

"Did she tell you that? Don't please say that my Mattie ever told you
that?"

Sidney considered. No, she had not said so, he remembered.

"She came against my will, full of a foolish idea of doing you good, and
no power of mine could stop her," said Gray.

"Against your will?"

"I said she did," said Mr. Gray, sharply; "don't you believe me?"

"Yes--I believe you. But this is very singular."

Sidney bit his nails, and reflected on this new discovery. After a few
moments he said, "Mr. Gray, I have been forgiving you all the past
torture for the sake of your kindness in allowing Mattie to constitute
herself my guardian."

"Rubbish!"

"My guardian angel, I might say; for she has saved me from despair, and
turned my thoughts away from many deep and bitter things. I was turning
against myself, my life, my God, in the very despair of being of use in
the world, and she saved me. Do you blame her coming now?"

Mr. Gray took time to consider that question. He bit his nails in his
turn, and looked steadily at the young man, who had altered very much
for the better.

"I don't find fault with the result--there!" and Mr. Gray looked as
though he had made a great concession.

"You would not be a true minister if you did," said Sidney; "and you are
not a true father if you don't value the sterling gold in Mattie's
character. Pure gold, with no dross in the crucible--not an atom's
worth, as I'm a living sinner!"

"We're all living sinners, young man," said he, getting up and beginning
to pace the room, as he had paced it, preaching meanwhile, a month ago,
and nearly driven Sidney Hinchford out of his mind.

"Do you object to sitting down?" asked Sidney, after bearing with these
heavy perambulations for a time.

"Presently; I am going to speak to you in a minute."

"Not in the old fashion, please," said Sidney, quite plaintively;
"although I can put up with more now; for Mattie's sake I'll even listen
to a sermon, if you'll give me fair warning when you're going to begin,
and how long it is likely to last."

"For your soul's sake, as well as Mattie's, you mean, I hope?"

"Anything--anything you like!"

"As careless of heavenly matters as ever, I believe. The task of
reformation still unperformed--perhaps left for me, unworthy instrument
that I am."

"Exactly."

"Eh?"

"We are all unworthy instruments as well as living sinners, you know,"
said Sidney, drily.

"And flippant, too--and on such a subject! But we shall change you in
good time."

"And this morning, now, you will let me off with a small sermon?"

"I haven't come to sermonize to-day," replied Mr. Gray, severely,
"therefore do not give way to any groundless fears of torturing on my
part."

"Thank you--thank you!"

"I have come to test your sense of justice--fairness of what is due to
me from you, and Mattie."

"Test it, friend."

"Give me back my daughter!"

"Why, that's what Brabantio says in the play; but I'll give you a more
gracious answer than he got. If you wish her to return with you--why,
she must. I would not stop her," he added, with a sigh, "if it were in
my power."

"You will persuade her to return with me."

"Was she happy with you?"

"Until your father died--yes."

"I will tell her," said Sidney; "that there is right on your
side--Mattie will see that. There was right on hers, too, for she had
made a solemn promise to a dying man, and she knew well enough that I
was desolate. I will persuade her even, if you wish it, but----"

"Go on."

"But what harm is she doing here?"

"What harm!" echoed Mr. Gray, with an elevated voice; "why, harm to that
good name which she has kept for years. What do you fancy people think
of her being in this house?--her a stranger to you by blood, and you so
young! Sir, she has risked her character by staying here--and I very
much doubt if the world is likely to believe her own version of this
extraordinary freak."

"Do you believe it?" asked Sidney.

"Well--I do."

"And I also--that makes two out of a very few for whose good opinion
Mattie Gray cares."

"Whilst we are in the world we should care for the world's opinion, Mr.
Hinchford."

"I think not, when it's a false one. You, a minister, telling me to
study the world!"

"I never said that--how aggravating you are, to be sure!"

"Pardon me," said Sidney, quickly; "a misinterpretation, Mr. Gray. And
we must study the world after all--you're right enough. Poor Mattie,
what would she think of this hiss of slander in her ears?"

"I warned her of it--and she braved me."

"Ah! a brave girl, whose reward will come in a brighter world than this.
Well," he added, sadly, "go she must. I agree with you."

"I am very much obliged to you--I am going to shake hands with you."

Mr. Gray and Sidney Hinchford shook hands. Sidney held the minister's
tightly in his grip whilst he uttered the next words.

"You will bring her with you now and then, to hinder me from wholly
sinking back," he said; "remember that she is but the one old friend of
the past whom I care to know is by my side, and in whom I can trust.
Remember what she found me, what she leaves me, and if you are not
wholly selfish, you will not always keep her away."

Mr. Gray was touched by this appeal--his old jealousy vanished
completely--he was proud in his heart of this young man's interest in
Mattie.

"I promise that--until we go away, that is, of course."

"Go away!--whither?"

"Oh! nothing is settled--there was a little talk of appointing me a
missionary abroad some time ago--a preacher at a foreign station, where
the benighted require stirring words, and the preacher is expected to be
continually stirring--preaching, I mean. But it is only talk,
perhaps--they may have found a better man," he added, a little tetchily.

"Should you care to leave England?"

"Care, sir!--it is my great ambition to do good--to make amends for the
evil of my early life."

"Ah!--yes."

Sidney had become absent in his manner--Mr. Gray, who had become
voluble, discoursed at great length on his peculiar principle of doing
good, but Sidney heard but little of his argument, and was engrossed by
thoughts of the change coming unto him again, and to which he could not
offer opposition. Discoursing thus, and thinking thus, when Mattie
returned, and stood in the doorway, looking from father to friend.

"Father," she ejaculated at last.

"Don't say that you are sorry to see me, after this long parting!" he
exclaimed, as he rose in an excited manner, and went towards her with
both hands outstretched.

"Not sorry--no--but very, very glad!"

She held his hands, and leaned forward to kiss him. He caught her to his
heart then, and the tears welled into his eyes at this evidence of the
past parting having been forgotten and forgiven.

"Mattie," he said, "I have been thinking of all this again--over and
over again, patiently, and not in anger--and I still think that it is
wrong to stay here."

"And he--what does he think?" looking towards Sidney.

Sidney answered for himself.

"That, perhaps, we are both too young--blind though I am, and pure as
you are, Mattie--to keep house together after this fashion. For your
sake, I will ask you to go back with your father. I have been wrong and
selfish."

"I said that I would go when you wished it, Mr. Sidney."

"I wish it, then!"

"Very well."

"Go--to return again very frequently with your father, and see that I am
well, and likely to do well. Mattie, for ever after this understand that
I cannot do utterly without you. Wrong and selfish also in that wish,
perhaps, but I am sure of you forgiving me!"

"Yes--yes," she said, hurriedly. "It is strange that we three should all
have been thinking of going away to-day--and perhaps," with a blush, "it
was scarcely right to come. But," evincing here her old rebellious
spirit, with a suddenness that made her father and Sidney leap again,
"if he were the same man I found here first, I would have stopped--mark
that!"

"Yes, but he isn't, my dear!" said Mr. Gray, cowed into submission, and
afraid of Mattie talking herself into a change of mind; "so it's all
happened for the best, and we are all thankful, and--all friends!"

"I will be ready when you wish, then."

"I have ordered a cab to come round at twelve. You see I was sure that
you would not turn against me ever again."

"I never turned against you--don't think that."

Mattie went out of the room--was a long while gone--returned with her
eyes red and swollen, as though she had been weeping. The cab at the
same time rattled up to the door, and Ann Packet--with red and swollen
eyes also, if she could have been seen just then--was heard struggling
down-stairs with Mattie's box, which she had not allowed Mattie to
touch.

"Go and talk to Mr. Sidney again, gal. You mayn't have another chance,"
she had said, and Mattie had started and glared at her as at a phantom.
Surely it was time for her to go, when this faithful but dull-witted
woman saw through the veil which she believed had hidden her true heart
from every one on earth. But that must be fancy, she thought, and she
went back to the room to bid Sidney good-bye, and to check the thanks
with which he would have overwhelmed her.

"No thanks, sir--only my duty to one whose last thoughts were of your
happiness, and how it was best to promote it. _He_ had faith in me, and
I have endeavoured to deserve it, as though he had been watching every
action of my own from heaven. Good-bye, Mr. Sidney."

"Good-bye--best of friends. You will not desert me wholly?--your father
is on my side now."

"Yes. I shall look in upon you very often, I hope--and you must keep
strong, and make up your mind about that business--and--and not think
yourself into that low estate ever again. Now I am ready to go."

Mattie and her father left the house the former had brightened by her
presence. In the cab she struggled for awhile with her forced composure,
and then burst forth into irrepressible tears.

"Patience, Mattie. I see the end to this. All's well."

"You see the end to this? No, you cannot!"

"Oh! yes--I can."

Mr. Gray uttered not a syllable more during the remainder of the
journey; and Mattie, ashamed of her tears, dried her eyes, and asked no
further questions.



CHAPTER V.

ANN PACKET EXPRESSES AN OPINION.


Sidney Hinchford knew that he should miss Mattie, and accordingly made
up his mind, as he thought, to the loss. But there is no making up one's
mind entirely to the absence of those we love, and upon whom we have
been dependent, and Sidney found himself no exception to the rule.

In great things he had expected to miss her, but in the thousand minor
ones, wherein she had reigned dominant without his knowledge, he made no
calculation for, and a hundred times a day they suggested the absence of
the ruling genius. The house assumed an unnatural and depressing
stillness; he felt wholly shut from the world again--no one to whom he
could speak, or who, in reply, could assure him that his lot was not
worse than other people's, and that there lay before him many methods
for its amelioration.

He became more dull and thoughtful; but he did not sink back to his past
estate--that was a promise which he had made Mattie, before she went
away. When she came again--he prayed it might be soon--she should not
find him the despondent, morbid being, from which her efforts had
transformed him. He tried to think the time away by dwelling upon that
business in which he intended to embark; but there came the grave
perplexity of the general management--and whom to trust, now Mattie had
returned to her father's home! Meanwhile, he was wasting money by
inaction, and he had always known the value of money, and money's
fugitive properties, if not carefully studied.

We say that he tried to think of his new business life, for other
thoughts would force their way to the front, and take pre-eminence. He
could not keep the past ever in the background; before him would flit,
despite his efforts to escape it, the figure of his lost love, to whom
he had looked forward once as his solace in his blindness. Blindness,
with her at his side, had not appeared a life to be deplored, and it was
ever pleasant to picture what might have been, had the ties between them
never been sundered by his will. For he loved her still--the stern
interdict upon her name was even a part of his affection; and there were
times when he did not care to shut her from his mind--on the contrary,
loved to think of her as he had known her once. In these latter days, he
thought of both Harriet and Mattie--drew, as was natural to one in his
condition, the comparison between them--saw which was the truer, firmer,
better character, but loved the weaker for all that! That Harriet had
not loved him truly and firmly, did not matter; he had given her up for
his pride's sake, even for her own sake, but he loved her none the less.
She would have been unhappy with him after a while--she could not have
endured the place of nurse and comforter--she, who was made for the
brightness of life, and to be comforted herself when that brightness was
shut from her; she was not like Mattie, a woman of rare character and
energy.

Mattie troubled him. She had awakened his gratitude; the last day her
father had aroused in him his fears that she had rendered herself open
to the suspicions of the world by her efforts in his service--he had not
thought of _that_ before! Mattie's character was worth studying--it was
so far apart from the common run of womankind--she had treasured every
past action that stood as evidence of kindness to her, and made return
for it a thousandfold. Who would have dreamed of all this years ago,
when he tracked her with the police to the Kent Street lodging-house,
and was moved to pity by her earnest eyes? Hers had been a strange life;
his had been exceptional--his had ended in blank monotony, that nothing
could change--what was in store for her? He thought of the mistake that
he had committed on the day that Harriet had personated her unwillingly,
and blushed for the error of the act. He had been moved too much by
gratitude, and had almost offered his blank life to Mattie, as he
thought; Mattie who would have shrunk from him like the rest, had she
believed that he had had such thoughts of _her_. His blindness had
affected his mind; he had grown heedless, foolish, wilful. Then his
thoughts revolved to Harriet Wesden again--to the girl who had not lost
her interest in him with her love, but had stolen to his solitary house,
to ask about him, and to note the change in him. She had been always a
generous-hearted girl--moved at any trouble, and anxious to take her
part in its alleviation--there was nothing remarkable in it. He was
still the old friend and playfellow, after all, and in the future days,
when their engagement lay further back from the present, he should be
glad to hear her voice of sympathy again.

These thoughts, or thoughts akin to these, travelled in a circle round
the blind man's brain, hour after hour, day after day. Thoughts of
business, Mattie, Harriet Wesden--varied occasionally by the
reminiscences of the dead father, and the relations who had sought him
out, whom he had sought, and then turned away from.

Mattie and her father came to see him three days after their formal
withdrawal from his home; that was a fair evening, which changed the
aspect of things, and which he remembered kindly afterwards,
notwithstanding a prayer of some duration, that Mr. Gray contrived to
introduce. Something new to think of was always Sidney Hinchford's
craving, and the day that followed any fresh incidents bore less heavily
upon him, as he rehearsed those incidents in his mind.

Still they had said nothing of the business; they had been more anxious
to know how he had spent his time since their departure, and whether
Mattie's absence had made much difference to him. Sidney spoke the
truth, and Mattie was pleased at the confession. It was an evidence of
the good she had done by resisting her father's will, and she was woman
enough not to be sorry for the result.

That evening, Ann Packet, bringing in the supper to her master, was
startled by the question which he put to her.

"How is Mattie looking, Ann?"

"Looking, sir!"

"Has all this watching, studying my eccentricities, affected her?"

"She's a little pale mayhap--but she has allus been pale since her last
illness."

"I never gave a thought as to the effect which the constant study of a
monomaniac might produce upon her," he said half abruptly; "but she's
quit of me now, and will improve."

"Oh! she was well enough here--like a bird chirping about the
house--Mattie likes something to do for some one. An extrornary girl,
Master Sidney, as was ever sent to be a blessing unto all she took to."

"Yes--an extraordinary girl. Sit down."

"No--it isn't for the likes of me to do that here, sir."

"Sit down, and tell me what you think of her. We don't study appearances
in trouble--and a blind man loves the sound of a woman's voice."

"Then you have altered werry much, sir."

"Yes--thanks to Mattie again."

"And to think that she was a little ragged gal about the streets, sir.
Many and many a time have I crept to the door after shop was shut, and
given her the odd pieces I could find, and she was allus grateful for
'em."

"Always grateful--who can doubt that?"

"She was waiting for the pieces when you came home and lost that
brooch--poor ignorant thing, then, sir!"

"Through you then, Ann, we first knew Mattie Gray. Strangely things come
round!"

"Ah! you don't know half her goodness, sir--she's just as kind to
anybody who wants kindness--_just_."

"Yes, it is like her!"

"It's a pity her father isn't less of a fidget--she ought to have had a
better un than that, or have never lighted on him, I think."

"Is she not happy with him, then?"

"She may be, she mayn't--but he _is_ a fidget, and Mattie ought to have
some one to take care of her now, and make her happy--like."

"A husband, you mean?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Sit down, Ann. Perhaps you know of some one who is likely to take care
of Mattie in the way you think?"

"I don't know."

"Some one who calls and sees her, and in whom she is interested?"

"Oh! no--no one calls to see _her_," said Ann, "her father's jealous of
her liking anybody save himself. I saw that long ago."

"I should like to see--ah, ha! _to see!_" he cried--"Mattie happy. She
deserves it."

"Those who think so little of theirselves seldom find happiness
though--do they, sir?"

Sidney started at the axiom--it was deeper than Ann Packet's general run
of observations.

"There are so few of those good folk in the world, Ann."

"Mattie's one."

"Yes--Mattie's one!" he repeated.

"I've often wondered and a-wondered what would make her happy; do you
know, sir, sometimes I think that--that _you_ might, if you'll excuse an
ignorant woman saying so."

"That I might!--what has made you think that? Sit down--why _don't_ you
sit down!"

"Well, just to talk this over, and for my darling's sake, I will for
once demean myself;" and Ann Packet, red in the face with excitement,
seated herself on the verge of the horsehair chair.

Ann Packet had broken through the ice at last; it had been a trouble of
long duration; she who knew Mattie's secret, guessed where Mattie's
chance of happiness rested, she thought. But it is delicate work to
strive for the happiness of other people, and leads to woful failures,
as a rule.

Ann Packet was nervous; the plunge had been made, and the truth must
escape--she dashed into the subject, for "her gal's sake."

"Lookee here, sir--it's no good my keeping back my 'pinion, that our
Mattie is really fond of you! When she was a girl in Suffolk Street, and
you a bit of a boy, she used to worry me about you, and yet I never
guessed it! When she growed bigger and you growed bigger, she showed her
liking less, but it peeped out at times unbeknown to herself, and yet I
never guessed it! But when she was ill in Tenchester Street, and I left
here to nus her, the truth came on me all of a heap, and mazed me
drefful!"

"What made you think of this--this nonsense, then?" he asked.

"She spoke about you in her fever, when her head was gone," said Ann;
"of how your happiness hadn't come, and yet she'd worked so hard for it.
And somehow I guessed it then--and when she came here, and was, for the
fust time, happy in her way--I knowed it!"

"Folly! folly!" murmured Sidney.

"And they who says that she had no right to come here, don't know the
rights of things--she liked you best of all, sir, and she comes here,
duty bound, to do her best. If they says a word aginst her in MY hearing
for her coming here, let 'em look out, that's all!"

Sidney sat, with his fingers interlaced, thoughtful and grave.

"You may go now, Ann--I'm sorry that you have put this into my head. It
can't be true."

"True or not, just ask her some day when you feel that you can't do
without her help, and see who's wrong of us two. And you'll have to ask
her, mind that!"

Ann rose and bustled towards the door. At the door a new form of
argument suggested itself, and she came back again.

"You're blind enough not to care for good looks so much now--if you can
get a good heart think yourself lucky, sir. You've just the chance of
making one woman happy in your life, and in finding your life very
different to what it is now, with a blundering gal like me to worry you.
She won't think any the wus of you for being blind and helpless--she's
much too good for you!"

"Well, that's true enough, Ann."

"I don't say that I'm saying this for your sake, young man," said Ann
Packet in quite a maternal manner, "for you're no great catch to
anybody, and will be a sight of trouble. But I do think that Mattie took
a fancy to you ever so long ago, and that it didn't die away like other
people's because you came to grief. And if my opinion has discumfrumpled
you more than I expected, why, you asked for it, and I haven't many
words to pick and choose from, when I've made up my mind to speak. And
I'm not sorry now that I've spoke it any-ways."

"I fear Mattie would not thank you, Ann."

"Mattie never knowed what was good for herself so well as for t'other
people--I looks after her good like her mother--I don't know that any
one else would. And though I'm your servant, I'm her friend--and so I
asks you, if you've any intentions, to speak out like a gentleman!"

Still suffering from nervous excitement, Ann Packet closed the door, and
ran down-stairs to indulge in an hysterical kind of croaking, with her
head in the dresser-drawer. It had been a great effort, but Ann had
succeeded in it. Her young master knew the whole truth now, and there
was no excuse for him. He must give up Mattie or marry her, she
thought--either way her girl would not be "worrited" out of her life any
longer!

Meanwhile the young master left his supper untouched, and dwelt upon the
revelation. Something new to think of!--something to stir afresh the
sluggish current of his life.

Was it true?--was it likely?--was it to be helped, if true or likely?
Could it be possible that it lay in his power to promote the happiness
of any living being still? Could he make happy, above all, the girl whom
he had known so long, and who had served him so faithfully? He did not
think of himself, or ask if it were possible to love her; possibly for
the first time in his life, he was wholly unselfish, and thought only of
a return for all the sacrifices _she_ had made. He could remember now
that hers had been a life of abnegation--that she had risked her good
name once for Harriet Wesden--once, and in the latter days, for himself.
All this simply Mattie's gratitude for the kindness extended in the old
days--nothing more. It was not likely that that ignorant woman below
could know all that had been unfathomable to brighter, keener
intellects.

But if true, what better act on his part than to gladden her heart, and
add to the content of his own? He began a new existence with his loss of
sight--the old world vanished away completely, and left him but one
friend from it--let him not lose that one by his perversity or pride.
Still, let him do nothing hastily and shame both him and her. He would
wait!



CHAPTER VI.

MR. GRAY'S SCHEME.


Mr. Gray and his daughter Mattie re-commenced housekeeping together on a
different principle. Mattie's flitting had impressed Mr. Gray with the
consciousness of his daughter possessing a will a trifle more inflexible
than his own, and he respected her opinions in consequence. He treated
her less like a child, and more like a woman whose remarks were worth
listening to. In plain truth, he had become a little afraid of Mattie.
He had learned to love her, and was afraid of losing her. Her stern
determination to keep her promise--even part with him, rather than break
it--had won his respect; for he was a firm man himself, and in his heart
admired firmness in others.

Father and daughter settled down to home-matters, and worked together in
many things; if the daughter had one secret from her father, it was the
woman's natural aversion to confess to an attachment not likely to be
returned, and was scarcely a secret, considering that Mr. Gray had more
than an inkling of the truth.

The father did not care to solve the problem that was so easy of
solution; he objected to showing any interest in such trivial mundane
matters as love-making. He had a soul himself above love-making; which
he considered vain, frivolous, and worldly, leading the thoughts astray
from things divine. He saw Mattie's perplexity, and even hoped in the
good time to alter it, if separation did not have its proper effect.
"Presently--we shall see," was Mr. Gray's motto; and though he had
spoken hopefully to Mattie, as Mattie had fancied, yet when they were at
home again--two prosaic home figures--he kept the subject in the
background.

Still he was watchful, and when Mattie began to alter, to become more
grave and downcast, as though his home was not exactly the place where
she experienced happiness--when she brightened up at any suggestion to
visit Sidney Hinchford, he thought less of his own comfort, and more of
his daughter's, like a good father as he was, after all.

One afternoon, without apprising that daughter of his intentions, he
walked over to Camberwell, to see Sidney Hinchford. That young gentleman
had ventured forth into the street, and therefore Mr. Gray had leisure
to put things in order during his absence; arrange the mantel-piece, and
wheel the table into the exact centre of the room. Anything out of order
always put him in an ill temper, and he wanted to discuss business
matters in an equable way, and with as little to disturb him as
possible. If anything besides business leaked forth in the course of
conversation, he should not be sorry; but he would take no mean
advantage of Sidney Hinchford's position. He had a scheme to propose,
which might be accepted or declined--what that scheme might end in, he
would not say just then. It might end in his daughter marrying Sidney,
or it might only tend to that singular young man's comfort and peace of
mind--at all events, harm could not evolve from it, and possibly some
personal advantage to himself, though he considered that _that_ need not
be taken into account.

Sidney Hinchford returned, and his face lit up at the brisk "Good
afternoon" of Mr. Gray. He turned a little aside from him, as if
expecting a smaller, softer hand in his, a voice more musical, asking if
he were well, and then his face lost a great deal of its brightness with
his disappointment.

"Alone?" he said.

"This time, Mattie is very busy--has a large dress-making order to
fulfil."

"She'll kill herself with that needlework," he remarked; "it is a
miserable profession, at the best."

"You're quite right, Mr. Sidney. And talking about professions, have you
thought of yours lately?"

"Oh! I have thought of a hundred things. I must invest my capital--such
as it is--in something."

"Will you listen patiently to a little plan of mine? I am of the world,
worldly to-day, God forgive me!" he ejaculated, piously.

"What plan is that? Let us sit down and talk it over."

The local preacher, lithographer, &c., sat down facing Sidney, on whose
face was visible an expression of keen interest. In matters of religion,
Mr. Gray was long and prosy; in matters of business, quick and terse, a
man after Sidney's own heart. Two "straightforward" men like them got
through a deal of business in a little time.

"How much money have you at command?"

"A hundred pounds, perhaps."

"So have I."

"What's that to do with it?"

"A great deal, if you like my scheme--nothing, if you don't."

"Go on."

"A hundred pounds might start a business, but it's a risk--two hundred
is better. How does Gray and Hinchford sound, now?"

"A partnership?"

"Why not? You're not fit to manage a business by yourself--I'm inclined
to think the two of us might make a success of it--the three of us, if
Mattie has to assist. I don't see why we should go on like this any
longer--you can't stand at this rent--one house may as well hold all of
us--why not?"

"You are very kind. I shall be a great trouble to you."

"I hope not. If you are--I like trouble. I shall make a bright light of
you in good time!"

Sidney thought of the sermons in store for him, but hazarded no comment.
Beyond them, and before all, was the preacher's daughter--the woman who
understood him, and who had even rendered blindness endurable.

"You were speaking a short while since of going abroad. Have you changed
your mind?"

"They changed theirs at the chapel. Bless you! they thought they could
pitch upon a man so much more suitable! You hear that--so much more
suitable!"

"Ah!--a good joke."

"I don't see where the joke lies," he said quickly.

"I beg pardon. No, not exactly a joke--was it?"

"I should say not."

"Well--and this business--what is it to be?"

"I fancy the old idea of a bookseller and stationer's. I can bring a
little connection from our chapel together--and there's your friends at
the bank."

"No--don't build on them--I have done with them."

"Ah! I had forgotten. But we must not bear enmity in our hearts against
our fellow-men."

"True--and this business--where is it to be?"

"We'll look out, Mattie and I, at once."

"Nothing settled yet, then?" said Sidney, with a sigh, who was anxious
to be stirring in life once more.

"Nothing yet, of course. I did not know whether you would approve of the
scheme. Whether Mattie and I would be exactly fitting company for you."

"Is that satire?"

"My dear sir, I never said a satirical thing in my life."

"The best of company, then--for you and Mattie are the only friends left
me, save that honest girl down-stairs."

"Ah! Ann Packet--we must not forget her, or we shall have Mattie
scolding us."

"I asked if it were satire, because you are doing me a great service,
and saving me from much anxiety. I have been thinking lately that it
would be better for me to find my way into some asylum or other, and
settle down there apart from the busy world without. You come forward to
save me from the streets I have been fearing."

"As Mattie was saved," said Mr. Gray, solemnly; "remember that!"

Mr. Gray shortly afterwards took his leave. The same night he
communicated the details of his scheme to his daughter; he could easily
read in her face that it was a plan that had her full concurrence.
Sidney at home again--Sidney to take care of, and screen from all those
ills to which his position was liable!

In a short while a shop in the suburbs of London--not a great distance
from Peckham Rye--was found to let. It stood in a new neighbourhood,
with houses rising round it at every turn. A building mania had set in
that direction, and a populous district was springing up there.

"I have always heard that to pitch one's camp in a new neighbourhood, if
one has the patience to wait, will always succeed. We three have
patience, and I think we'll try it."

This was said to Mattie, after she and her father had inspected the
premises, and were walking by cross roads towards Camberwell, to gladden
Sidney with the latest news.

"We'll try it--we'll begin home there, father."

"Home in earnest--eh?"

Mattie did not notice the meaning in his tones; she was full of other
thoughts.

"It must be a home, that you and I will try to render happy for him--for
his own sake--for his dead father's," she said.

"To be sure. And if he be not happy then, it will not be our fault."

"I hope not!"

"Hope not," said her father; "do you think we may fail in the attempt?"

"If we be not careful. We must remember that he is weak and requires
support--that he is blind, and cannot escape us if we weary him too
much."

"Oh! I see--I see," he said, a little aggrieved; "you are afraid that I
shall tire him with the Word of God. Mattie, he's not exactly a
Christian man yet, and I should certainly like to make him one. There
will be plenty of time for preaching the truth unto him."

"And for leaving it alone."

"Bless my soul!" he ejaculated, as though Mattie had fired a pistol in
his ear.

"You will believe that I understand him best, and I think that it will
not do to attack him too often with our creed. His first disappointment
is over--he is teaching himself resignation--he will come round to a
great extent without our help--with our help, judiciously applied, he
will come round altogether."

"You think a man may be told too often of the error of his ways?"

"Yes."

"Then we shall never agree upon that point."

And they never did. Notwithstanding this, Mr. Gray remembered Mattie's
hint, and often curbed a rising attempt to preach to Sidney. When his
rigour carried him to preaching point, Sidney listened patiently; when
Sidney knew that Mr. Gray's energy was real, and that not one atom of
hypocrisy actuated his motives, he respected the preacher, and paid
attention to him.

He altered rapidly for the better; he became again almost the Sidney
Hinchford of old times--the smile returned more frequently, the
brightness of his face was something new; it was pleasant to think that
he was not isolated from the world, and that there were friends in it
yet to care for him.

He went to church every Sunday in lieu of chapel, somewhat to Mr. Gray's
dissatisfaction. He had gone in old days twice every Sunday with his
father, and he preferred adopting the old habits to frequenting the
chapel whither Mr. Gray desired to conduct him. Sometimes Mattie
accompanied him; more often, when he knew his ground, he went by
himself, leaving Mattie to her father's escort.

Meanwhile business slowly but surely increased; the connection
extended--all went well with these three watchers--each watching for a
different purpose, with an equal degree of earnestness.


END OF THE SIXTH BOOK.



BOOK VII.

SIDNEY'S GRATITUDE.



CHAPTER I.

MAURICE HINCHFORD IN SEARCH OF HIS COUSIN.


Nearly a year had passed away since the firm of Hinchford and Gray
started in business and astonished the suburbs. In search of that rising
firm, a young man, fresh from foreign travel, was wandering in the
outskirts of Peckham one February night. A man who had crossed deserts,
climbed mountains, and threaded mountain passes with comparative ease,
but who was quickly lost in the brick and mortar wilderness into which
he had ventured.

This man, we may say at once, was Maurice Hinchford, a man who had seen
life and spent a fortune in an attempt to enjoy it. A Sybarite, who had
wandered from place to place, from kingdom to kingdom, until even
novelty had palled upon him, and he had returned back to his father and
his father's business. During this long holiday he had thought much of
his cousin Sidney, the man to whom he had taken no passing fancy, and
whose life he had helped to blight--whom, by way of atonement, he had
once wished to advance in the world.

Sidney Hinchford had been constantly before him during his pilgrimage;
before him that indignant figure which had repelled all excuse, on the
night he reached his one and thirtieth year; he could see it hastening
away in the night shadows from the house to which it had been
unsuspiciously lured.

On his return, not before, for he had wandered from place to place, and
many letters had miscarried--amongst them the missive which had told him
of his uncle's death and cousin's blindness--he heard of the calamity
which had befallen Sidney in his absence.

He had been ever a feeling man, and forgetting the past rebuff he had
received--thinking, perhaps, that his cousin was in distress, he started
at once in search of him. To do Maurice Hinchford justice, it was on the
very day on which he had reached London, and before he had seen his
mother and sisters. No assurance of his father that Sidney was in good
hands contented him; he must judge for himself. He had the Hinchford
impetus to proceed at once straightforwardly to work; he was a man who
was sorry for the harm he had done in his life--one of those comfortable
souls, who are always sorry _afterwards_!--a loose liver, with a
conscience that would not keep quiet and let events flow on smoothly by
him. He had sobered down during his travels, too; he had met with many
acquaintances, but no friends--in all his life he had not found one true
friend who would have stood by him in adversity, and shared his
troubles, even his purse, with him.

Fortunately Maurice Hinchford had not known adversity, and had shared
his purse with others instead. A rich man, an extravagant one, but a man
of observation, who knew tinsel from pure gold, and sighed very often
when he found himself compelled, perforce, to put up with the tinsel.
Life such as his had wearied him of late; men of his own class had sworn
eternal amity, and then laughed at him when his back was turned; men of
a grade inferior had toadied him, cringed to him, sponged upon him;
women had flattered him for his wealth's sake, not loved him for his
own--all had acknowledged him one of those good fellows, of which
society is always proud; but for _himself_ nobody cared save his own
flesh and blood--he could read that fact well enough, and its constant
reiteration on the faces of "his set" annoyed him more than he could
have believed.

This favourite of fortune, then, annoyed with society's behaviour, had
started forth in search of Sidney an hour after the news was learned
from his father's lips. He had a great deal to say to Sidney; he had not
entered into any explanations in that letter which Sidney had coolly
responded to--he could say more _viva voce_; and now the storm was more
than a year old, his cousin would surely put up with more, and listen to
him.

But firstly, Maurice Hinchford had to find his cousin; and having
wandered from the right track, it became a matter of some difficulty. He
had strayed into a "new neighbourhood"--a place always famous for its
intricacies--and he floundered about new streets, and half-finished
streets, asking manifold questions of the aborigines, and receiving
manifold directions, which he followed implicitly, and got lost anew in
consequence.

The stragglers were few and far between, and Maurice waited patiently
for the next arrival--standing under a lamp-post at the corner of a
street. He had given up all hope in his own resources, and had resolved
to enlist the next nondescript in his service, be his terms whatever his
rapacity dictated. But the next nondescript was a woman, and he was
baffled again. A young woman in a great hurry, to whom he could not
offer money, and whose progress he scarcely liked to arrest, until the
horror of another vigil under that melancholy gas-lamp overcame his
reluctance to intrude.

"I beg pardon," he said, hastily; "I am looking for Park Place. Will you
oblige me, Miss, by indicating in which direction it may lie _now_?"

"As straight as you can go, sir."

"Ah! but, confound it, I can't go straight. Not that I'm intoxicated,"
he said quickly, seeing his auditor recoil, and make preparations for a
hasty retreat, "but these streets are incomprehensibly tortuous."

The listener seemed to look very intently towards him for an instant.
The voice appeared to strike her.

"Whom do you want in Park Place?" was the quick answer.

"A Mr. Hinchford, of the business of Gray and Hinchford."

"You are his cousin Maurice?"

"By George!--yes. How did you know that?"

"I guessed it--that's all."

"You are a shrewd guesser, Miss," he said. "Yes, I am his cousin
Maurice, and you are----"

"Mattie Gray, his partner's daughter."

"Oh! indeed!"

"I have seen you once before--you brought your father, some years ago,
to a stationer's shop in Great Suffolk Street."

"Right--a retentive memory."

"I seldom forget faces--it is not likely that I should have forgotten
yours."

"Why not?"

"I have heard so much of you since then," was the answer, cold and
cutting as the east wind that was swooping down the street that night.

"Oh! have you?"

Maurice walked on by her side; after a few moments Mattie said to him,

"What do _you_ want with Sidney?"

"Many things. I am anxious to see him--very anxious."

"Your presence can but give him pain--why expose him to needless
suffering by this intrusion?"

"I have a hope that it will not be considered an intrusion, Miss Gray,"
said Maurice, stiffly.

"I can see no reason why you should hope that."

"I am his relation--his----"

"Sir, I know what you are," said Mattie, sharply; "I know all your
history, and all the harm you have done to him, and Harriet Wesden, and
me."

"And you!--_and you_, Miss!" he repeated harshly.

"An evil action spreads evil in its turn, and there is no knowing where
it may end, Mr. Hinchford," said Mattie; "yours affected my character."

"I don't see that--how was that possible?"

"Whilst you were playing your villain's trick on Harriet Wesden, I was
searching the streets for her. I kept her secret after her return, and,
therefore, could not give my employer a fitting reason for my absence
from the business left in trust to me. I was discharged."

"I am very sorry," said Maurice, energetically; "upon my soul, I had no
idea of all the harm my folly--my villainy, if you will--had caused till
now! Miss Gray, you don't know how sorry I am!"

"I don't care."

"Is that merciful or womanly?"

"Perhaps not. But I will believe that you are sorry, if you will not
accompany me further."

"Miss Gray, I must come. More than ever, I am resolved to see him
to-night."

"Very well."

They went on together, both walking at a brisk pace, Maurice a little
discomfited, and with his head bent down and his hands behind him.

"May I ask," he said after some moments' silence, "if he be well?"

"He is well."

"Blind still?"

"Yes."

"May I ask you, as his friend, let me say, if his means be adequate to
his support?"

"Ah! you have come to ask him that--to see that for yourself?"

"Not exactly--it is one of many reasons."

"Keep that from him, then," cried Mattie; "spare him that humiliation."

"Why humiliation, Miss?"

"It is humiliation, it is an insult, to offer help to the man whose life
you have embittered. You that have known Sidney, worked with him in your
office, professed to be his friend, should have fathomed that part of
his character, at least, which is based upon his pride. Sir, I doubt if
he esteem you very much, but he will certainly hate you if you talk of
money."

"Then I'll not talk of it."

"And you'll not go back?"

"I never go back," said Maurice; "I'm a Hinchford."

"All the Hinchfords whom I have known have been honest, earnest men,
striving to do good, and detesting cunning and disguise. I hope that you
are the first that has disgraced the name."

"I hope so. Phew! how hot it is!"

Maurice Hinchford felt exceedingly uncomfortable under these continued
attacks; still there was a novelty in all this dispraise and
plain-speaking. A brusque young woman this, whose character interested
him, and whose warmth in his cousin's service he respected, despite the
darts with which she transfixed him.

He did not flinch from the purpose he had formed, however. He _was_
anxious to see his cousin, to receive the attack in full, and defend
himself; to prove to Sidney, if it were possible, that he was not quite
the unprincipled villain that was generally supposed. So he kept on his
way, and this first little dash of the waters of opposition against him
did not affect him much. Mattie's energetic advice puzzled him,
certainly; she spoke warmly in Sidney's cause--as if she were interested
in him, and had a right to take his part--was there any reason for that
brisk attack upon him, save her own outraged dignity at the slander
which, by his means, had indirectly fallen upon her? He kept pace with
her, but did not speak again. She was not inclined to reply with any
"graciousness" to his questions; he saw that he had annoyed her already
by the object of his mission, and that it was the better policy, the
truer act of courtesy, to maintain a rigid silence.

Mattie spoke first.

"This is the house," she said, stopping before a shop already closed for
the night. "You are still of the same mind?"

"Yes."

"You cannot do good here--you may do harm."

"Your pardon, but I am of a different opinion."

"Very well then."

Mattie gave a little impetuous tug to the bell; Ann Packet opened the
door, and Mattie and her unwilling escort passed into the shop, the
latter the object of immense attraction from the round-eyed,
open-mouthed serving-maid. Events flowed on so regularly and
monotonously in that quarter of the world, that the advent of a tall,
well-dressed stranger, was a thing to be remarked, and, Ann Packet
hoped, to be explained.

Mattie ran at once into the parlour, where her father was sitting over
his work. He looked up with a bright smile as she entered.

"Where's Sidney, father?"

"In his own room."

"Here is his cousin. Sidney must be prepared to see him, or to deny
himself to him."

"What cousin is that?" Mr. Gray asked, a little irrelevantly, being
taken aback by the news.

Mattie explained, and ran up-stairs. Mr. Gray pushed aside the stone
upon which he had been writing, turned up his coat-cuffs, and buttoned
his black coat to the chin. He knew the story in which that cousin had
played his part perfectly well; had he forgotten it, his remembrance of
old faces would not have betrayed him in this instance. Here was the man
to whom he had administered a fugitive lecture in the dead of night at
Ashford railway station, once more before him; here was a chance of
touching the heart of a most incorrigible sinner--a sinner worthy of
_his_ powers of conversion. He would tackle him at once; he would warn
him of the errors of his ways, and of the infallible results of them, if
he did not listen to the warning voice. He was just in the mood for
delivering a sermon, and there was no time like the present. Now for it!

Mr. Gray turned the handle of the parlour door and skipped into the
shop.



CHAPTER II.

MAURICE RECEIVES PLENTY OF ADVICE.


Maurice Hinchford had been told by Mattie to wait in the shop until she
returned; and, obedient to her mandate, he had taken his seat on a very
tall, uncomfortable stool, on which he could have remained perched more
at his ease had a balance-pole been provided. Here he had remained,
looking round the shop, and taking stock of its manifold
contents--glancing askance now and then at Ann Packet, whose curiosity
was not entirely satiated until Mr. Gray intruded on the scene.

At the first click of the door-handle, Maurice looked round expecting to
see his cousin, but was disappointed by the presence of a small and
agile man in black, who leaped on to a second chair beside him, and
commenced nodding his head vigorously.

"Good evening, sir," said Maurice. "Mr. Gray, I presume?"

"We have met before, sir--my name is Gray."

"Really!--I do not remember----"

"Possibly not, sir; there are many unpleasant reminiscences we are
always glad to escape from," said Mr. Gray. "I am connected with one.
You and I met on the platform of the Ashford railway station, one
winter's night, when Miss Wesden claimed my protection from a snare that
had been laid for her."

"Oh!"

Maurice had dropped into a hornet's nest. Whom next was he to confront
before his cousin Sidney came upon the scene?--from whom else was he to
hear a sharp criticism on those actions of the past, which no one
regretted more than he. Luck was against him that night.

"You remember me?" said Mr. Gray. "Before the train departed I gave you
a little counsel for your future course in life--a warning as to whither
a persistence in your evil habits would lead you--you remember?"

"Oh! yes--I remember."

"Have you taken that warning to heart?--I fear not. Have you been any
wiser, better, or more honest from that day?--I fear not. Have you not
rather proceeded on your evil course, despising the preaching of good
men, the warning of God's word, and gone on, on--down, down, without a
thought of the day when all your actions in this life would have to be
accounted for?"

Bang came Mr. Gray's hard hand on the counter, startling Maurice
Hinchford's nerves somewhat, and causing innumerable articles in the
glass cases thereon to jump spasmodically with the shock.

"I--" began Maurice.

"Don't interrupt me, sir--I will not be interrupted!--you have come
hither of your own free will, seeking us out, and fearing not the
evidence of our displeasure, and now, sir, you must hear what is wrong
in your acts, and what will be good for your soul. Do you know, oh!
sinner, that that soul is in deadly peril?"

"I know--"

"Sir, I will not be interrupted!" cried Mr. Gray again; "I am not
accustomed to be interrupted when I am endeavouring to awaken a hardened
conscience to a sense of its condition, and I will not be now. And I
call upon you at this time--now is the accepted time, sir, now is the
day of salvation--to amend, amend, amend! You have been a spendthrift,
profligate, everything that is bad; you have studied yourself in every
action of life, and neglected the common duties due to your neighbour as
well as to your Maker. You have gone on smiling in your sinful course,
heeding not the outcry of religious men against your hideous career,
recking not of the abyss into which you must plunge, and on the brink of
which, you--a man, with an immortal soul committed to your charge--are
standing now! One step more, perhaps, one wilful step forward, and you
are lost for ever. _Lost!_" he shouted, with the frenzy of a fanatic, as
well as the vehemence of a good man carried away by his subject; and the
shrill cry made the glasses round the gas lamps ring again, and vibrated
unpleasantly through Maurice's system. This was becoming unendurable.

"If you will allow me--" began Maurice.

"Sir, I will not be interrupted!" shouted Mr. Gray, with more hammering
upon the counter; "I know what is good for you, and I insist upon a
patient hearing. You are a man in danger of destruction, and I cannot
let you go blindfold into danger, without bidding you stop whilst time
is mercifully before you. Let me divide the subject, in the first place,
into three heads."

Maurice groaned inwardly, and stared at the preacher. There was no help
for it; there was no escape. He might jump to the floor and fly for his
life; or he might tip up Mr. Gray's chair, upset that gentleman, and
then gag him; but neither method would bring him nearer to that purpose
for which he had ventured thither; and until Sidney appeared there was
nothing to do but sit patiently under the infliction and listen to the
full particulars of his dangerous state. He put his hands on his knees,
surveyed the speaker, and submitted; in all his life he had never heard
such a bad opinion of himself, or listened to so sweeping a condemnation
of all his little infirmities. Mr. Gray ran on with great volubility,
pitching his voice unpleasantly high; Maurice's blood curdled, once he
was sure his hair rose upon his head, and more than once cold water
running down the curve of his back bone could not have more forcibly
expressed the sensations of the moment. And then those horrid bangs upon
the counter--always coming when least expected, and going off like
cannon shots in his ears; and the gesticulatory flourishes, and the
falsetto notes when more than usually excited, and, above all, the
unceasing flow of invective and persuasion--an unintermittent
shower-bath of the best advice, powerful enough to swamp a congregation.

Maurice's head ached; his eyes watered; the shop grew dizzy; the books
and prints revolved slowly round him; the ceiling might be the floor,
and the floor the ceiling, with the gas branch screwed upside down in
it, for what he knew of the matter; he lost the thread of the discourse,
and found the heads thereof inextricably confused; he understood that he
was a miserable sinner--the worst of sinners--or he should not be
sitting there with all those horrible noises in his ears; the figure in
the chair before him, heaved up and down, moved its arms right and left,
possibly threw double summersaults; it was all over with the
listener--he was going silly, he scarcely knew now with what object he
had come thither--oh! his head!--oh! this never-ending, awfully rapid
Niagara of words!

He made one feeble effort at resistance.

"Look here, old fellow--if you'll let me off--I'll--I'll build a
tabernacle," he burst forth; and again that terrible "Sir, I will not be
interrupted!" stopped all further intrusion upon the subject of
discourse.

Mr. Gray was delighted with that subject, with that listener--one of the
finest specimens of iniquity he had encountered for many years!--and he
did not think of stopping yet awhile. Where was the hurry?--time,
although valuable, could not be better spent than on that occasion--his
heart was in the task he had set himself, and he would do his very best!

Mattie came to the rescue at last; she had been watching the delivery of
the sermon for some time over the parlour blind, informing Sidney, who
had entered the parlour, of the energy of the father, and the patient
endurance of his cousin.

Disturbed as he had been by his cousin's arrival, and undecided for some
time as to the expediency of granting him an interview or not, Sid could
not refrain from a smile at Maurice's unenviable position. He remembered
Mr. Gray's first charge upon his sins, and the unsparing length to which
he had extended his remarks upon them; he could imagine the position of
Maurice Hinchford at that juncture, and realize the feelings with which
that gentleman heard and suffered.

"I think I'll go to him now, Sidney," said Mattie.

It had been Sidney and Mattie--as between brother and sister--for a long
time now.

"Will your father admire the intrusion?" asked Sid, drily.

"Perhaps he _is_ doing good," said Mattie, who regarded matters akin to
this more seriously than the blind man; "I'll wait a while."

And all this time Maurice was praying for help. It had not been a very
pleasant idea, that of facing his cousin for the first time; but now the
thought occurred to him that he would rather face the very worst--even
that obnoxious being, of whom the preacher earnestly warned him--than
hear this man inveigh against his sins any more.

Mattie quietly entered the shop. The spell was broken; Mr. Gray paused
with his right arm above his head--he was just coming down with another
bang on the counter--and Maurice leaped off his stool, to which he had
been transfixed, and shook hands violently with Mattie in his
bewilderment.

"He will see me, Miss Gray?"

"Yes. If you wish it."

"Thank you--thank you! Is he in the parlour?"

"Yes."

"And so be warned, young man--there is no excuse left you--not one, now.
You have been warned of all the evils which a guilty life incurs upon
those who go on their way defiantly!"

"Oh! yes--I have been warned, sir; there's not a doubt of it--I'm afraid
I have put you to a great deal of trouble?" said Maurice, not yet
recovered from his confusion.

"In a good cause, I don't mind trouble."

"Very kind of you, I'm sure. In the parlour, you said, Miss Gray?--then
I'll go to him at once. It must be getting very late."

Mr. Gray was proceeding to follow Maurice, when Mattie touched him on
the arm and arrested his progress.

"I think we had better leave them together. Their business is scarcely
ours."

"What?--ah! exactly so, my dear. But I wish you had not interrupted me
quite so unceremoniously--the impression I was making upon that young
man was wonderful! Great heaven! if it is left for me to work his
regeneration at the last, how proud I shall be! Mattie, I think I have
moved him--he has already said something about building a tabernacle, a
chapel, or something; but I scarcely caught the words at the
moment--think of that man, so wicked, and perverse, and designing,
proceeding after all, in the straight and narrow way! It's wonderful!"

In the meantime, Maurice Hinchford had entered the parlour, closed the
door behind him, and advanced towards the figure at the table, sitting
in the full light of the gas above his head. Maurice paused and looked
at him.

Sidney had changed; he was looking older; there was a thread or two of
silver in the dark waving hair; and the eyes, which blindness had not
dimmed, had that melancholy vagueness of expression, by which such eyes
are always characterized.

"Well, Sidney--I am here at last."

"I am sorry that you have taken the trouble to call."

"Indeed!--why?"

"I think you and I are best apart. We know each other far too well, by
this time."

"Have patience with me, Sidney. I think not."

He drew a chair nearer his cousin, and sat down. He had not offered to
shake hands with Sidney; he felt that his cousin would have resented
that attempt; that he was regarded as a man who had done a grievous
wrong, and from whom no professions of friendship or cousinly regard
would be received. He had come with a faint hope of doing good--in some
way or other, he scarcely knew himself; of extenuating in some
way--almost as indefinite to him--the past conduct which had placed him
in so sinister a light.

"Sidney," he said, "I wish that you had accepted that invitation to meet
me which I made you. I could have explained much."

"No explanation, Maurice, would have been satisfactory to me at that
time."

"Will it be now, then?" he asked, eagerly catching at the words which
implied possibly more than his cousin had wished to convey.

"I would prefer dismissing the subject altogether," Sid replied. "If you
will tell me candidly and honestly that you are sorry for the past, I
will be glad to hear it--and believe it."

"You bear me no malice, then?"

"No--I have outlived it."

"Then you will----"

"I will do nothing, but remain with those good friends who have taken
pity on my helplessness," he said, sternly.

"Sidney, pray understand me. I don't wish you to think me a wholly bad
man--God knows I am not that--I have never been that. I have had bad
friends, evil counsellors, if you will--mine was never a resolute
nature, but one easily led away from the first. I was an only son,
spoiled by an indulgent father, spoiled by the money which was lavished
on me, spoiled by the crowd which the spending of that money brought
about me--nothing more."

"That is bad enough," said Sid.

"I own that. I own that I was flattered to my moral ruin, Sidney--that
they, who called themselves my friends, cheered on that downfall, and
made it easy to me--scoffing at all worlds purer than their own. I was
young, vain, impressionable, and far from high-principled when I first
met Harriet Wesden at Brighton."

"I would rather not hear the story," said Sidney, uneasily.

Maurice paid no heed to the remark, but went on hastily; and Sidney,
suppressing his intention to arrest the narrative, sat still and
listened to its weaknesses, its mystery, and yet its truth.

"Harriet Wesden was a romantic school-girl--a young woman who knew
little of life, or had read the fictions, highly-coloured, concerning
it, till she might have belonged to dream-land for the realities about
her. She was led away by a senior scholar, too, as romantic as herself,
and more designing; and she and I met, talked, corresponded--fell in
love with each other."

"I deny that."

"Patience, Sidney; on my soul we did! I was not a villain, but a man led
away by my vanity and this girl's preference for me, and I loved her. I
don't say that it was a very true or passionate love; but it _was_ a
love, which burned fiercely enough for a time--which would have been
purer and better, but for the evil counsellor and false friend who was
always with me, to treat life, and love, and honour as a jest."

"The man I met at your house?"

"No. A man who has died since then--thank God, I was almost adding, for
he worked me much evil, and death only freed me from him."

"Go on."

"When Harriet Wesden and I parted, I believe we truly loved each other.
I had assumed a false name at the outset, and had maintained it
throughout our strange courtship--fearing the discovery of governesses,
and not knowing the character of her to whom my folly had lured me. I
was to go abroad at my father's wish, and I left, fully resolving to
write to her, and own all, and ask her if she would wait for me. Then
came long absence, fresh scenes, new friends, new dissipations, a belief
that she would easily forget me, being but a child when I had seen her
last; and so the old, old story, varied scarcely from the many that have
gone before it. Sidney, she did forget me--did discover that, after all,
it was but a fleeting fancy of her own."

"No."

"I think the next part of my story proves that. I met her again after an
absence of a few years, in the streets, near her house in Suffolk
Street, whither I had conducted my father to see yours. All my old
passion for her revived--but it was a struggle with her to endure my
presence at first. Still I was from the old days; I revived in her
memory the one romance that had been hers--I had not played a false part
therein, and could easily excuse my long silence. I found out the
friends whom she visited in the neighbourhood of New Cross; I formed
their acquaintance, and met Harriet Wesden more frequently. Her old
assertion that she never wished to see me again--that she loved another,
whose name she would never confess to me--wavered. I saw it, and,
carried away by the impression created, I did my best to win her."

"Away from me?--well, you succeeded. She wrote to me at that time,
confessing her inability to think of me longer as a lover."

"She wrote, not knowing her own mind, I believe. At that time she was
disturbed in thought concerning us--she was often cold and repellent to
me, and it was difficult to understand her. Well, Sid, throughout all
this, I loved her."

"Why keep to your false name, then?"

"I was ready to confess the truth, at every interview; then I put off
the avowal, after my old fashion. I knew by that time that your father
and yourself were lodging at the stationer's shop, and I formed a shrewd
guess as to the rival I had in her affections. Finally, Sid, there came
that night at New Cross, when she was carried away to Ashford. As I hope
to be saved, I had no design against her then; in good faith, I was her
escort to the railway station; it was only as we approached that
station, that the ruse suggested itself--that the devil whispered in my
ear his temptation. I knew the time of the mail-train; I had been by it
_en route_ to Paris only a few weeks since; I led her along,
unsuspecting of evil, to the other side of the railway station. She was
with me in the carriage before I became conscious of the heinousness of
the act I had committed. Even then I intended her no harm; I trusted all
to circumstance; I was even prepared to marry her, rather than lose her;
I was under a spell, Sidney!"

"Yes--the spell of the devil."

"When she discovered the truth, I found that I had secured her hate,
rather than her love; at Ashford station she faced me like a tigress,
and, full of the honest indignation that possessed her, held me up to
the shame I deserved before a host of people--pointed me out as a coward
and knave who had sought to cruelly deceive her. She claimed the
protection of that--that terrible man in the shop there--he was at
Ashford as you know--and I was glad to hide my head in the railway
carriage, and be borne away from his withering contempt. That's the
story. I will not tell you of the sorrow which I experienced for the
harm that I had done her--of the shame that has remained with me since
then--of the turn which she even gave to my character. Sidney, I would
have made any reparation in my power--but I was baffled and degraded,
and dared not look upon her any more."

"That man I met at your house--he knew the story?"

"He knew the beginning of it; and for Harriet Wesden's sake--and to
redeem her character in the mind of a man who has not a high estimate of
women--I told the end."

Sidney sat and thought for a while. Then he pronounced his verdict.

"All this assures me that you are easily led away--that it is only
chance that has kept you from being wholly a bad man. You are weak,
vacillating, and unprincipled--you are no Hinchford."

"I have tried to do my best all my life, but somehow failed," said
Maurice, ruefully; "impulse has led me wrong when my heart has meant
right--candidly, cousin, I have been a fool more than once. But you
cannot believe that I would do harm to any human being in cold blood?"

"Possibly not. But what virtue is there in that?"

"Let me add, Sidney, that I honestly believe that I have been altering
for the better for the last two years. I have seen the emptiness of all
my friends' professions; their greed of gain and love of self; have
turned heart-sick at their evil-speaking, lying, and slandering. I feel
that I haven't a friend; that I have 'used up' all the pleasures in the
world, and that there is nothing I care for in it."

"Yours is a bad state, that leads to worse, as a rule, Maurice."

"I know it--I feel it."

"And you are truly sorry for all the harm that you have done us in
life--Harriet, I, and others?"

"With all my heart--truly sorry."

"I can forgive you, then. I have been taught by good friends to be more
charitable in my heart towards men's motives. A year ago, I thought I
should have hated you all my life."

He held forth his hand, which Maurice took and shook heartily in his.

"Understand me," said Sidney, still coldly, "I forgive you, but I do not
need your help, and your presence, under any circumstances, will always
give me pain. We shall never be true friends--we shall respect each
other better apart."

"Is it fair to think that? You who have heard me declaim against my vain
and objectless life."

"Yours is a life to rejoice at, and to do good with, not to mourn over.
Seek a wife, man, and settle down in your sphere, honoured by good men,
and honouring good things."

"Ah! fair advice; but the wife will come for my money's sake, for the
good things which _I_ possess, and which she and her relations will
honour in their way, with all their heart, and soul, and strength!"

"Timon of Athens!" said Sidney, almost satirically.

"Sidney, I would give up all my chances for one or two true friends. You
don't know what a miserable wretch I am!"

"You will be better presently. You have seen too much life lately, and
the reaction has rendered you _blasé_. Patience and wait. As for the
wife----"

"Well?"

"Seek out Harriet Wesden again, and do her justice."

"But you----"

"She never loved me, Maurice; you were her first love, and her last. She
is leading a life that is unfit for her, and you can make amends for all
the shadows you have cast upon it."

"I could never face her."

"Then you are a greater coward than I thought."

"It's odd advice," he muttered; "seek out Harriet Wesden again! Oh! I
know how that will end, and what 'good' will result from that. But _you_
wish it?"

"Yes," said Sidney, after a moment's further reflection.

"And her address?"

Sidney repeated it; he took it down in his pocket-book, and then rose to
depart.

"I am going now. I may trouble you once again, Sidney, if you will allow
me."

"As you will--if you think it necessary."

Maurice Hinchford shuffled with his feet uneasily, keeping his eyes
fixed on his blind cousin.

"May I ask," he said at last, "if--if you are happy here?"

"Yes, as happy as it is possible for one in my condition to be."

"They are kind to you?"

"Very kind."

"They are a sharp couple--father and daughter--they----"

"Oh! don't speak ill of them, Maurice; you do not know them, and cannot
estimate them at their just worth."

"I might endure the daughter, for hers is a pleasant sharpness that one
doesn't object to; but, oh! that dreadful vigorous little parson, or
whatever he is."

"Good night," said Sidney, meaningly.

"One moment--I'm off in a minute now, Sid. There's one thing I did wish
just to allude to--nothing about money, mind," he added hastily,
noticing Sidney's heightened colour and proud face, and remembering
Mattie's previous caution.

"What is it?" asked Sidney.

"I did wish to say how sorry I was to hear of the calamity, that had
befallen you--that the bad news, which was told me to-day for the first
time, has shocked me very much. But you'll not believe me--you still
think I'm hard, cruel, and indifferent."

"No, I don't think that. But I don't care to dwell upon a painful
topic."

"And about advice--what medical advice have you had, may I ask?"

"Not any."

"No advice!--why not?"

"I was told long ago that when blindness seized me, it would be
irretrievable. I was warned of its approach by an eminent man, who was
not likely to make a mistake."

"We are all liable to mistakes in life," said Maurice, "and it might
happen----"

"Pray dismiss the subject, Maurice."

"I met with a foreign oculist in Paris--he was an Italian, I
think--who----"

"Good night--good night," said Sidney, hastily; "when a man has been
trying hard to teach himself resignation, it is not fair to disturb him
with ideas like these."

"Your pardon, Sid--I am going at once. Good night."

"Good night."

Sidney did not extend his hand again, and Maurice made no attempt to
part in a more friendly manner than they had met; profuse civilities
could do no good, and though Maurice had gained his cousin's
forgiveness, he had not roused his respect, or won upon his sympathy.

He passed into the shop, and took up his hat that he had left there on
the counter. Mr. Gray looked at him, as at a fine subject which adverse
fate was to snatch away from his experiments.

"You are going, young man?"

"Yes, sir--I hope I have not put you or your daughter to any
inconvenience."

"No, sir," was his reply, beginning to turn up the collar of his coat
above his ears, "no inconvenience. You are a stranger to this
neighbourhood, and I'll just see you in the straight way, if you'll
allow me."

"Oh! dear no, thank you," said the alarmed Maurice; "I'm well up in the
way now--I could not think of taking you away from home at this time of
night--thank you, thank you!"

He seized his hat, dashed at the lock, wrenched open the door, and flew
for his life down the dark streets--no matter whither, or how far out of
his route, so that he escaped Mr. Gray's companionship.

Half an hour afterwards, he was at New Cross railway station--the scene
of his old duplicity--arranging for a telegraphic message to a Dr.
Bario, resident in Paris.



CHAPTER III.

A DECLARATION.


Harriet Wesden had settled down like the rest of the world, that is,
this little world wherein live and breathe--at least we hope so--these
characters of ours.

She had settled down! Life had taken its sombre side with her; the force
of circumstances had set her apart from those for whom her heart
yearned; she became bound more to this dull home; disappointment had
wondrously sobered her; when her heart had been at its truest and best,
it had seemed as though the whole world had turned against her, and
misjudged her.

There was no romance in her after that; her romance had begun early and
died early--for her share in it, she was heartily ashamed. To look back
upon that past, note her weakness, and whither it had led her, was to
make her cheeks flush, and her bosom heave; in those sober after-days
that had come to her, she could scarcely comprehend the past.

Women change occasionally like this--more especially women whose hearts
are sound, but whose judgments have not always been correct. She had met
deceit face to face; her own presence of mind had only saved her perhaps
from betrayal; she had passed through a vortex--and, escaping it, the
shock had sobered her for life.

Harriet Wesden turned "serious"--a very good turn for her, and for all
of us, if we could only think so. Still, serious people--more especially
serious young people--are inclined to dash headlong at religion, and
even neglect home duties, duties to friends, and neighbours, and
themselves, for religious ones. They verge on the extremes even in
sanctity, and extremes verge on the ridiculous.

Harriet Wesden gave up life's frivolities, and became a trifle austere
in her manner; she had found a church to her taste, and a minister to
her taste--a minister who verged on extremes, too, and yet was one of
the best-meaning, purest-minded men in the world.

Harriet Wesden became his model member of the flock, as he became her
model shepherd. She lived for him, and his services, and the bran span
new church he had built for himself in the square at the back. She
missed never a service, week-days or Sundays; early prayers, at
uncomfortable hours, when the curates were sleeping, and the pew-opener
audibly snored--daily sermons, evening services, special services for
special out-of-the-way saints, and Sunday services innumerable.

Let it be written here, lest our meaning be misinterpreted, that Harriet
Wesden had improved vastly with all this--was a better, more energetic,
and devout woman. If she went _too often_ to church--that is quite
possible--if she were a trifle "high" and pinned her faith on
decorations, if she thought the world all vanity and vexation of spirit,
if she were a little proud of carrying outward and visible signs of her
own inward and spiritual grace, if she even neglected her father, at
times--poor old Wesden, who sadly needed cheerful society now--still the
end was good, and she was at her best then. Serious people _will_ appear
a little disagreeable to people who are not serious--but then what do
serious people think of their mundane critics, or care for them?

Harriet Wesden fancied that she had set herself apart from the
world--that its vanities and belongings scarcely had power to arrest her
steady upward progress. It did not strike her that whilst she remained
in the world, the sorrows, joys, and histories of its denizens must have
power to affect her.

Sidney Hinchford had mistrusted her--the man for whom she had been
anxious to make sacrifices, had refused them, and discredited their
genuineness; her only friend, in whom she thought there could not be a
possibility of guile, had supplanted her. From that hour let her set
herself apart from them; bear no ill-feeling towards them, but keep to
her new world. Her life was not their lives, and they were best away
from her. After that set in more strongly the seriousness to which we
have alluded, and all former trace of Harriet Wesden's old self
submerged for good--and all.

Mattie and Harriet met at times; Mattie would not give up the old
friend, the girl she had loved so long and faithfully. Despite the new
reserve--even austerity--that had suddenly sprung up, Mattie called at
regular intervals, took her place between Harriet and Mr. Wesden, and
spoke for a while of the old times. Harriet's manner puzzled her, but
there seemed no chance of an explanation of it. Her quick observation
detected Harriet's new ideas of life's duties, and she did not intrude
upon them, or utter one word by way of argument, or in opposition. It
happened, sometimes, that Harriet would be absent during Mattie's
visits--"gone to church," old Wesden would say, ruefully--and Mattie
would take her place by the deserted father's side, and play the part of
daughter to him till Harriet's return.

Harriet seldom spoke of Sidney Hinchford to our heroine--he did not
belong to her diminished world; she flattered herself that there was no
thought of him, or of what might have been, to perplex her with new
vanities. When the name of Sidney Hinchford intruded upon the subject of
discourse, she heard it coldly enough. She was always glad to learn that
Sidney was well, and doing well; it had even been a relief to her to
know that the business, after a stand-still of some months, had taken a
turn in the right direction; but, when all was well, what was there to
agitate _her_? If Sidney were ill, and needed her help, she would have
taken her place at his side, perhaps; if Mattie were ill even--though in
her heart she felt that she did not love Mattie so well as formerly--she
would have devoted herself to her service; but they were both well,
living under the same roof with Mattie's father, and all things had
changed so since Suffolk Street times.

Harriet was from home at her usual devotions, and her father was
endeavouring to amuse himself, as he best might under the circumstances,
when a stranger, who preferred not to give his name, requested an
audience of Miss Wesden. Miss Wesden not being at home, Mr. Wesden would
do for the nonce, and the stranger was, therefore, shown into the
parlour.

The _ci-devant_ stationer put on his spectacles, and looked suspiciously
at the new comer. Mr. Wesden was a man of the world, and hard to be
imposed upon. A man more nervous and irritable with every day, but
having his wits about him, as the phrase runs.

"Good evening," said the stranger.

"Good evening," responded Mr. Wesden. "Ahem--if it's a subscription for
anything, I don't think that I have anything to give away."

"My name is Hinchford--Maurice Hinchford--possibly better known to you
by the unenviable _alias_ of Maurice Darcy."

"Oh! you're that vagabond, are you?--well, what do you want? You haven't
come to torment my daughter again?" he said, in an excited manner;
"you've done enough mischief in your day."

"I am aware of it, sir--I come to offer every reparation in my power."

"We don't want any of that sort of stuff, Mr. Hinchford."

"It's late in the day to offer an apology--to attempt an explanation of
my conduct in the past; but if you would favour me with a patient
hearing, I should be obliged, sir."

"I've nothing better to do," said Mr. Wesden; "take a seat, sir."

Maurice Hinchford seated himself opposite Mr. Wesden, and commenced his
narrative, disguising and extenuating nothing, but attempting to analyze
the real motives which had actuated his past conduct--motives which had
been a little incomprehensible, taken altogether, and were therefore
difficult to make clear before an auditor, as we have seen in our
preceding chapter.

Mr. Wesden rubbed the back of his ear, stared hard over Maurice's head
at the opposite wall, till Maurice looked behind him to see what was
nailed up there; wound up by an emphatic "Humph!" when Maurice had
concluded.

"Therefore, you see I was not so very much to blame, sir--that is, that
there were at least extenuating circumstances."

"Were they, though?"

"Why, surely I have proved that?"

"Can't say you have--can't say that I plainly see it at all. But, then,
I haven't so clear a head as I used to have--oh! not by a long way!"

"I hope at least you understand that I am heartily ashamed of my past
conduct?"

"I am glad to hear that, sir."

"I have become a different man."

"Been in a reformatory, perhaps?" suggested Mr. Wesden.

"I have found my reformatory in the world."

"Lucky for you."

"And the fact is, that as I have always loved your daughter--as only my
own wicked impulse turned your daughter's heart away from me, I have
come from abroad with the hope of making all the restitution in my
power, by offering her my hand and fortune!"

"Have you, though?"

Mr. Wesden stared harder than ever at this piece of information. Maurice
took another glance over his shoulder, and then commenced a second
series of explanations, speaking of his position and means, two things
to which Mr. Wesden had been never indifferent.

"I don't know that it would be a bad thing for her," said Mr. Wesden;
"she never talked to me about her love affairs--girls never do to their
fathers--and very likely I haven't understood her all this time."

"Very likely not."

"Perhaps it is about you, and not the other one that has altered her so
much. Any nonsense alters a woman, if she dwells upon it."

"Ahem!--exactly so."

"You may as well wait till she comes in now," said Mr. Wesden; "that's
business."

"Sir, I am obliged to you."

"If you don't mind a pipe, I'll think it over myself, and you need not
talk any more just at present. We don't have much talk in this house,
and you've rather _gallied_ me, Mr. Hinchford."

"Any commands I will attend to with pleasure."

Maurice Hinchford crossed his arms and sat back in his chair to reflect
upon all this; for a lover he was sad and gloomy--scarcely satisfied
with the step which he had taken, and yet brought to it by his own
conscience, that had been roused from its inaction by his cousin Sidney.
Here a life had been shadowed by his means, and he thought that it was
in his power to brighten it; here was good to be done, and he felt that
it was his duty at least to attempt the performance of it. Mr. Wesden
sat and smoked his pipe at a little distance from him, and revolved in
his own mind the strange incident which had flashed athwart the monotony
of daily life, and scared him with its suddenness. In Harriet he had
probably been deceived, and it was this young man whom she had loved,
and whose eccentric courses had rendered her so difficult to comprehend.
All the past morbidity, the past variable moods, the fluctuations in her
health, were to be laid to this man's charge, and it was well that he
had come at last, perhaps. Harriet was a good daughter, an estimable
girl, who loved her Bible, and did good to others, but she was not a
happy girl. Sorrowful as well as serious, the holiness of her life had
not brightened her thoughts or lightened her heart, and was not
therefore true holiness, this old man felt assured. Behind the veil
there had been something hidden, and it was rather Maurice Hinchford
than his blind cousin who stood between her and the light.

"I think you have done right to come," said Mr. Wesden, after half an
hour's deliberation.

"I think so, too," was the response.

At the same moment, a summons at the door announced Harriet Wesden's
return.

"I'll open the door myself, and leave you to explain," he said; "don't
move."

Maurice felt tight about the waistcoat now; the romance was coming back
again to the latter days; the heroine of it was at the threshold waiting
for him. This was a sensation romance, or the roots of his hair would
not have tingled so!

Mr. Wesden opened the door for his daughter, and allowed her to proceed
half-way down the narrow passage before he gave utterance to the news.

"There has been a visitor waiting for you these last two hours,
Harriet."

"For me!" said Harriet, listlessly; and, dreaming not of so strange an
intrusion on her home, she turned the handle of the door and entered the
parlour. Then she stopped transfixed, scarcely believing her sight,
scarcely realizing the idea that it was Maurice Darcy standing there
before her in her father's house.

Maurice had risen.

"I fear that I have surprised you very much, Miss Wesden," said he,
hoarsely; "that possibly this was not the best method of once again
seeking a meeting with you. This time with your father's consent, at
least."

"Sir, I do not comprehend; I cannot see that any valid reason has
brought you to this house."

"I think it has--I hope it has."

"Impossible!"

"Miss Wesden, I have been relating a long story to your father--may I
beg you to listen to me in your turn?"

"If it relate to the past, I must ask you to excuse me," was the cold
reply.

"My guilty past it certainly relates to--I pray you for an honest
hearing. Ah! Miss Wesden, you are afraid of me, still."

"Afraid!--no, sir."

Harriet Wesden looked at him scornfully, with a quick, almost an
impatient hand removed her bonnet and shawl, and then passed to her
father's seat by the table, standing thereat still, by way of hint as to
the length of the interview. She was more beautiful than ever; more
grave and statuesque, perhaps, but very beautiful. It was the face that
he had loved in the days of his wild youth, and it shone before him once
again, a guiding star for the future stretching away beyond that little
room.

He would have spoken, but she interrupted him.

"Understand me, Mr. Darcy--Mr. Hinchford, I may say now, I presume--I
wish to hear no excuses for the past, no explanations of your wilful
conduct therein--I have done with that and you. If you be here to
apologize, I accept that apology, and request you to withdraw. If
matters foreign to the past have brought you hither, pray be speedy, and
spare me the pain of any longer interview than necessary."

"Miss Wesden, I must, in the first place, speak of the past."

"I will not have it!" cried Harriet, imperiously; "have I not said so?"

The minister round the corner would have rubbed his eyes with amazement
at the fire in those of his neophyte. He would have thought the change
savoured too strongly of the earth from which he and her, and other
high-pressure members of his flock, had soared just a little above--say
a foot and a half, or thereabouts.

"It is the past that brings me back to you, Harriet--the past which I
would atone for by giving you my name and calling you my wife. I have
been a miserable and guilty wretch--I ask you to raise me from my
self-abasement by your mercy and your love?"

He moved towards her with all the fire of the old love in his
eyes--those eyes which had bewildered her like a serpent's, in the old
days. But the spell was at an end, and there was no power to bring her
once more to his arms. She recoiled from him with a suppressed scream;
her colour went and came upon her cheeks; she fought twice with her
utterance before she could reply to him.

"Mr. Hinchford, you insult me!"

"No, not that."

"You insult me by your shameless presence here. I told you half a minute
ago that I forgave you all the evil in the past. _I don't forgive
it_--no true woman ever forgave it yet in her heart. I hate you!"

The minister round the corner would have collapsed at this, as well he
might have done. Only that evening had he begged his congregation to
love their enemies, and return good for evil, and Harriet Wesden had
thought how irresistible his words were, and how apposite his
illustrations. And fresh from good counsel, this young woman who had
been unmoved for twelve long months, and during that time been about as
animate as the Medicean Venus, now told her listener there that she
hated him with all her heart!

"Enough, Miss Wesden. I have but to express my sorrow for the past, and
take my leave. Forgive at least the motive which has led me to seek you
out again."

"One moment--one moment!" said Harriet.

She fought with her excitement for an instant, and then with a hand
pressed heavily upon her bosom, to still the passionate throbbing there,
she said:

"You must not go till I have explained also; you have sought out a girl
whose young life you cruelly embittered by your perfidy--let her explain
something in defence. Mr. Hinchford, I never loved you--as I stand here,
and as this may be my last moment upon earth, I swear that I never loved
you in my life! There was a girl's vanity, in the first place--almost a
child's vanity, fostered by pernicious teaching of frivolous
companions--afterwards there was a foolish romantic incertitude--vanity
still perhaps--that led me to trust in you, and to give up one who loved
me, and for whom I ought to have died rather than have deserted--but
there was no love! I knew it directly that I guessed your cowardice, for
I despised you utterly then, and understood the value of the prize, my
own misconduct had nearly forfeited. I was a weak woman, and you saw my
weakness, and hastened to mislead me; but the wrong you would have done
me taught me what was right, and, thank God! I was strong enough to save
myself! There, sir, if only to have told you this, I am glad that you
have sought an interview. Now, if you are a gentleman--go!"

He hesitated for an instant, as though he could have wished, even in the
face of her defiance, to tell his story for the third time; then he
turned away, and went slowly out of the room, defeated at all points,
his colours lowered and trailing in the dust. Outside he found Mr.
Wesden, standing with his back to the street door, smoking his pipe, and
regarding the hall mat abstractedly. He looked up eagerly as Maurice
Hinchford advanced.

"Well?--well?" he asked feverishly.

"Yes, it is well," was the enigmatic and gloomy answer; "I see what a
fool I have been, Mr. Wesden. I know myself for the first time--good
evening."

Mr. Wesden opened the door for him, and he passed out; the old man
watched him for a while, and then returned to his favourite chair in the
back parlour.

Harriet ran to him as he entered, and flung her arms round his neck.

"I have you to love, and look to still. Not quite alone--even yet!"



CHAPTER IV.

MORE TALK OF MARRIAGE AND GIVING IN MARRIAGE.


Maurice Hinchford passed away from this story's scene of action.
Suddenly and completely he disappeared once more, and they in the humble
ranks of life knew nothing of his whereabouts. From Paris his father had
received a letter that perplexed and even irritated him, for it was
mysterious, and the head of the house of Hinchford detested mystery.

"I have run over here for a week or two--perhaps longer, perhaps less,
according to circumstances," Maurice wrote; "you who are ever indulgent
will excuse this flitting, which I will account for on my return. If
anything calls for my especial attention at the bank, telegraph to me,
and I will come back."

No especial business was likely to demand Maurice's return; the bank
went on well without him, good man of business as he was when he set his
mind to it. His father's indulgence excused the flitting, though he
shook his head over his son's eccentricity, after the receipt of the
incomprehensible epistle. "Another of those little weaknesses to which
Maurice had been subject," thought the indulgent father; "time he grew
out of them now, and married and settled, like other young men of his
age. If he would only sow his wild oats, what an estimable man and
honoured member of society he would be. Poor Maurice!"

Sidney Hinchford, who, from his cousin's hints, had anticipated a second
visit from Maurice, felt even a little disappointed at his
non-appearance. Sidney was curious; he would have liked to know the
result of Maurice's proposal to Harriet Wesden, but he kept his
curiosity to himself, and did not even mention to Mattie the advice
which he had bestowed upon his cousin. He knew how the matter had ended
well enough; Maurice was in earnest, and would beat down all doubts of
his better nature developing itself at last; the old love-story would be
resumed, and all would go merry as a marriage bell with those two. He
congratulated himself upon having done some good even at the eleventh
hour, in having helped to promote the true happiness of the girl he had
once loved.

Once loved!--yes, he was sure that passion belonged to the past; that it
had died out of inaction, and left him free to act. He was not happy in
his freedom; his heart was growing heavier than ever, but he kept _that_
fact back for his friends' sakes, and was, to them, a faint reflex of
the Sidney Hinchford whom they had known in better days.

He fell no longer into gloomy reveries; he took part in the conversation
of the hour; there came, now and then, a pleasant turn of speech to his
lips, a laugh with him--the old rich, hearty laugh--was not a very rare
occurrence; he believed himself resigned to his affliction, content with
his position, and, for many mercies that had been vouchsafed unto him,
he was truly grateful.

How to show his gratitude did not perplex him; he had made up his mind
after Ann Packet had given him a piece of hers--he had watched for
words, signs, sighs--he was only biding his time to speak. But he
remained in doubt; it was difficult to probe to the depths; he was a
blind man, and far from a clever one; he could only guess by sounds, and
test all by Mattie's voice, and he was, therefore, still unsettled.

He resolved to end all, at last, in a quiet and methodical manner,
befitting a man like him. He was probably mistaken; he had no power to
make any one happy; his confession might dissolve the partnership
between Mr. Gray and himself--for how could Mattie and he live in the
same house together after his avowal and rejection?

But he had made up his mind, and he went to work in his old
straightforward way one evening when Mattie was absent, and Mr. Gray was
busy at his work beside him.

"Mr. Gray," said he, "I want to bespeak your sole attention for a few
minutes."

"Certainly, Sidney," was the reply. "Shall I put my work away?"

"If you do not mind, for awhile."

"There, then!"

Sidney was some time beginning, and Mr. Gray said--

"It's about the business--you're tired of it?"

"On the contrary, I am pleased with it, and the work it throws in _my_
way. But don't you find me a little bit of a nuisance always here?"

"You know better than that. Next to my daughter, do you hold a place in
my heart."

"Thank you. Now, have you ever thought of me marrying?"

"Of _you_ marrying!" he echoed, in a surprised tone, that was somewhat
feigned. "Why, whom are you to marry, Sid?"

"Mattie, if she'll have me."

The lithographer rubbed his hands softly together--it was coming true at
last, this dream of Mattie and his own!

"If she'll have you!" he echoed, again. "Well, you must ask her that."

"Do you think she'll have me--a blind fellow like me? Is it quite right
that she should, even?"

"I don't know--I have often thought about that," said Mr. Grey,
forgetting his previous expression of astonishment. "I don't see where
the objection is, exactly, Sidney. You're not like most blind men,
dulled by your affliction--and Mattie is very different from most girls.
If she thought that she could do more good by marrying you, make you
more happy, she would do it."

"I don't want a sacrifice--I want to make her happy," said Sidney, a
little peevishly. "If she could not love me, as well as pity me, I
wouldn't marry her for all the world."

"You must ask her, young friend--not me, then."

"But you do not refuse your consent?"

"No. My best wishes, young man, for your success with the dearest, best
of girls. I," laying his hand on Sidney's shoulder for a moment, "don't
wish her any better husband."

Sidney had not exhibited any warmth of demeanour in breaking the news to
Mr. Gray; many men might have remarked his quiet way of entering upon
the subject. But Mr. Gray was of a quiet, unworldly sort himself, and
took Sidney's love for granted. How was it possible to know Mattie, to
live beneath the same roof with her, and not love her very passionately?

"I think--mind, I only think--that Mattie will not refuse you, Sidney,"
said Mr. Gray; "she understands you well, and knows thoroughly your
character. It's an unequal match, remembering all the bye-gones,
perhaps--but you are not likely to taunt her with them, or to think her
any the worse for them, knowing what she really is in these days, thanks
to God!"

"Taunt her!--good heaven!"

"Hush! that's profane. And the match is not very unequal, considering
the help you need--and what a true comforter she will be to you. We
Grays are of an origin lost in obscurity; you Hinchfords come of a grand
old stock--you don't consider this?"

"Not a bit."

"Nor I; but then, men who don't spring from old families are sure to say
so. I'm not particularly struck with the advantages of having possessed
a forefather who came over with the Conqueror. William the Norman
brought over a terrible gang of cut-throats and robbers, and there's not
a great deal to one's credit in being connected with that lot."

Sidney laughed.

"I never regarded it in that light before. What an attack on our old
gentility!"

"Gentility will not be much affected, Sidney. Have you anything more to
tell me?"

"Nothing now."

"Not that if you marry Mattie, the crabbed, disputatious local preacher
may stop with you?"

"I hope he will. He has been a good friend to me, and will keep so, for
his daughter's sake."

"And for your own, young man. I'll go back to my work now."

But the work was in his way after that, and all the effects of his
strong will could not make it endurable. Sidney's revelation had
disturbed his work; he would try a little silent praying to himself--a
selfish prayer he felt it was, and therefore no sound escaped him--that
this choice of Sidney's might bring comfort and happiness to his
daughter and himself.

He was sitting with his large-veined hands spread before his face, and
Sidney was wrapt in thoughts of the change that might be in store for
him, when Mattie knocked at the door.

"Sit here--I shan't come back yet awhile. We may as well end this part
of the business at once."

Mattie entered, found her father busy behind the counter with his stock,
said a few words, and passed into the parlour.

It was a second version of the proceedings at Camberwell. The father
holding aloof, and giving suitor and maiden fair play.



CHAPTER V.

MATTIE'S ANSWER.


Sidney Hinchford heard the door open, and knew that the end was come. In
a few minutes was to be decided the tenor of his after-life. He did not
move, but remained with his hands clasped upon the table--a grave and
silent figure in the lamp-light.

"What makes you so thoughtful to-night, Sid?"

The more formal Mr. Sidney had been dropped long since; Mattie had
resisted the encroachment as long as it was in her power, but the
friendship between them had been increased as well as their intimacy,
and the more familiar designation was the more natural of the two.

"Am I looking very thoughtful, then, Mattie?"

"Oh! so cross and black!"

"Black?--eh!" he repeated; "that's a singular colour to seize upon a
man's countenance, when he is agitated and hopeful. Come and sit here by
my side, Mattie, and hear what news I have wherewith to startle you."

"Not bad news?" she asked.

"You shall judge."

Mattie guessed the purport of the news, and there had been no necessity
for her last query. She knew all that was coming now, and so prepared
herself for a revelation that she had seen advancing months ago. Months
ago, she had wondered how she should act on this occasion, what manner
she should adopt, and in what way reply to him? She had rehearsed it in
her mind, with fear and trembling, and tear-dimmed eyes; she had dreamed
of it, and been very happy in her dreams; and now at last she was at
fault, and her resources not to be relied on. Very pale, with her mind
disturbed, and her heart throbbing, she took her place by his side,
shawled and bonneted as she was, and waited for the end.

Sidney broke the ice. The first few words faltered somewhat on his lip,
but he gathered nerve as he proceeded, and finally related very
calmly--almost too calmly--and plainly, the state of his feelings
towards her.

"Your father and I have been speaking of you during your absence; I have
suggested to him a change of life for myself and you--if you will only
consent to sacrifice a life for my sake! A selfish, and an inconsiderate
request, Mattie, which I should not have thought of, had I not fancied
that it was in my power to make you a good husband, a true and faithful
husband, and to love you more dearly as a wife than friend. But always
understand, Mattie, that on your side it will be a sacrifice--that no
after-repentance, only my death, can relieve you from the incubus--that
for life you are tied to a blind man, and that all natural positions of
life are reversed, when I ask you to be my guide, protector, comforter!
Always remember, too, Mattie, that without me you will be free, and your
own mistress; you, a young woman, to whom will come fairer and brighter
chances!"

It was an odd manner of proposing; possibly Mattie thought so herself,
for she raised her eyes from the ground, and looked at him long and
steadily.

"Sidney, have you well reflected on this step?" she asked.

"I have."

"Thought well of the sacrifice of all the past hopes you have had?--of
the _incubus_ that I may be to you some day--that without me you will be
free, and your own master--you, to whom the fairer, brighter chance may
come, when too late! Sidney, we know not what a day may bring forth!"

"My fate is in your hands, Mattie."

"What I have been, you know--you must have thought of lately. What I am
now, a poor, plain girl, self-taught and homely, who may shame you with
her ignorance--you know too. Sidney, I have dwelt upon this
lately--until this night, now I am face to face with the truth, I
thought that I had made up my mind."

"To refuse me?"

"No--to accept you. To be your loving wife through life, aiding you, and
keeping you from harm; but, now I shrink back from my answer!"

"Ah!" he said, mournfully; "it is natural."

"Not for my own sake," she added, quickly, "but for yours! For your
happiness, not mine! Sidney, you have _not_ settled down; you are not
resigned to this present lot in life; there is a restlessness which you
subdue now you are well and strong, but which may defeat you in the days
to come. Years hence, I may be a trouble to you, a regret--you, a
gentleman's son, and I--a stray! I may have made amends for my past
life, but I cannot forget it; there will come times when to you and me
the memory may be very bitter yet!"

"No, no!"

"Sidney, when I was that neglected child, I think I had a grateful
heart; for I appreciated all the kindness that helped me upwards, and
turned me from the dangerous path I was pursuing. I did not forget one
friend who stretched his helping hand towards me--I have remembered them
all in my progress, the agents of that good God, whose will it was that
I should not be lost! Sidney, I would marry you out of gratitude for
that past, if I honestly believed you built your happiness upon me; but
I could not let you marry _me_ out of gratitude, or think to make me
happy by a share of affection that had no real existence. I would do all
for you!" she said, vehemently; "but you must make no effort to raise
_me_ from any motives but your love!"

Sidney started--coloured. Had he misunderstood Mattie until that
day?--was he the victim of his own treacherous thoughts after all?--the
dupe of an illusion which he had hoped to foster by believing in
himself?

"Sidney, I will be patient and wait for the love--hope in it advancing
nearer and nearer every day--strive for it even, if you will, and it
lies in my power. But I am above all charity."

"Mattie, you are not romantic? You do not anticipate from me, in my
desolate position, all the passionate protestations of a lover? You will
believe that I look forward to you as the wife in whom alone rests the
last chance of happiness for me?"

"We cannot tell what is our last chance," said Mattie; "it is beyond our
foresight--God will give us many chances in life, and the best may not
have fallen to your share or mine. Sidney, there _was_ a chance of
happiness for you once--on which you built, and in which you never
thought of me--do you regret that now?" she asked, with a woman's
instinctive fear that the old love still lingered in his heart.

"Mattie, I regret nothing in the past. And in the future, I am hopeful
of your aid and love. Can I say more?"

"Sidney," said Mattie, after a second pause, "I will not give you my
answer to-night--I will not say that I will be your wife, for better for
worse, until this day month. It is a grave question, and I ought not to
decide this hastily. I must think--I _must_ think!"

"Ah! Mattie, you don't love me, or it would be easy enough to say
'Yes,'" said Sidney.

"No, not easy."

"I can read my fate--eternal isolation!" he said gloomily.

"Patience--you can trust me; let me think for a while if I can trust in
you. You do not wish my unhappiness, Sid?"

"God forbid!"

"We have been good friends hitherto--brother and sister. For one more
month, let us keep brother and sister still; there is no danger of our
teaching ourselves to love one another less in that period. In that
month will you think seriously of me--not of what will make me
happy--but what will render _you_ happy, as the fairy books say, for
ever afterwards? Remember that it is for ever in this life, and that I
am to sit by your side and take that place in your heart which you had
once reserved for another--think of all this, and be honest and fair
with me."

"I see. You distrust my love. You have no faith in my stability."

"I say nothing, Sidney, but that I feel it would be wrong to answer
hastily. Are you offended with my caution?"

"No--God bless you, Mattie!--you are right enough."

"This day month I will take my place at your side, and give you truly
and faithfully my answer. It is not a long while to wait--we shall have
both thought more intently of this change."

She left him, to begin his thoughts anew; her reply had disturbed his
equanimity; he neither understood Mattie nor himself just then. What had
perplexed him?--what had come over the spirit of his dream to trouble
his mind, or conscience, in so strange a manner?

Mattie went to her room and locked the door upon her thoughts, upon that
new wild sense of happiness which she had never known before, and which,
despite the character she had assumed--yes, assumed!--she could not keep
in the background of that matter-of-fact life, now vanishing away from
her. She knew that she had acted for the best in giving him time to
think again of the nature of his proposition--in restraining that
impulse to weep upon his shoulder, and feel those strong arms enfolding
her to his breast. The old days had startled her when he had spoken in
so firm and hard a manner; that figure of the past which had been all to
him flitted there still, and held her back, and stood between herself
and him, despite the new happiness she felt, and which no past could
wholly scare away.

She believed in her own coming happiness; that he would love her better
for the delay--understand more fully why she hesitated. When the time
came to answer "Yes!" she would explain all that had perplexed her,
arrested her assent midway, and filled her with the fears of his want of
love for her, his future discontent when irrevocably bound to her. Twice
in life now he had offered his hand in marriage; twice had the answer
been deferred, for reasons unakin to each other. It was singular; but
this time all would end happily. He would love her with his whole heart,
as he had loved Harriet Wesden, and she would be his proud and happy
wife, cheering his prospects, elevating his thoughts, doing her best to
throw across his darkened life a gleam or two of sunshine, in which he
might rejoice.

She was very happy--for the doubts that had kept her answer back, went
farther and farther away as she dwelt upon all this. There was a
restless beating at her heart, which robbed her of calmness for awhile,
but it was not fear that precipitated its action, and the noises in her
ears might be the distant clash of marriage bells, which she had never
dreamed would ring for him and her!


END OF BOOK THE SEVENTH.



BOOK VIII.

MORE LIGHT.



CHAPTER I.

A NEW HOPE.


Whether Sidney Hinchford gave much ulterior thought to his proposal, is
a matter of some doubt. He had made up his mind before his conversation
with Mr. Gray and daughter, and had there been no real love in his
heart, he would not have drawn back from his offer. His life apart from
business was akin to his business life in _that_; reflection on what was
best, just and honourable, and then his decision, which no adverse fate
was ever afterwards to shake. He did not believe in any motive force
that could keep him from a purpose--it was a vain delusion, unworthy of
a Hinchford!

On the morning of the following day, the cousin of whom he had thought
more than once entered again upon the scene of action; at an early hour,
when Mattie was busy in the shop, and Mr. Gray was absent on a preaching
expedition. Maurice Hinchford's first inquiry was if Mr. Gray were
within, and very much relieved in mind he appeared to be upon receiving
the information that that formidable Christian was not likely to be at
home till nightfall. Maurice did not come unattended; he brought a
friend with him, whom he asked to wait in the shop for awhile, whilst he
exchanged a few words with Sidney.

Mattie looked at the stranger, a tall, lank man, with an olive face, and
long black hair, which he tucked in at the back between his coat and
waistcoat in a highly original manner. He was a man who took no interest
in passing events, but sat "all of a heap" on that high chair which had
been Maurice Hinchford's stool of repentance, carefully counting his
fingers, to make sure that he had not lost any coming along.

"Good morning, Sidney," said Maurice, on entering. "Not lost yet, old
fellow!"

"Good morning, Maurice."

"I have brought the latest news--I have been abroad since my last visit
here."

"Abroad again?"

"I'll tell you about that presently. If you're not too busy this
morning, and I'm not too unwelcome an intruder, I should be glad to
inform you how I fared by following your advice."

"You are not unwelcome, Maurice, though I cannot say that there is any
great amount of pleasure experienced by your visit to me."

"Still cold--still unapproachable, after forgiving all the past!"

"But not forgetting, Maurice. You bring the past in with you--I hear it
in every accent of your voice; all the figures belonging to it start
forth like spectres to dismay me."

"Your past has no reproaches--what is it to mine?"

"A regret is as keen as a reproach."

"Ah! you regret the past!--some act in it, perhaps?" said Maurice, with
curiosity.

"We should scarcely be mortal if we could look back without regrets, I
think."

"Ah! but what is the keenest--bitterest?"

"That is a leading question, as the lawyers say."

"Then I'll not press it--I'll speak of my own regrets instead. I regret
having followed your advice, Sidney."

"We are all liable to err--I meant it for the best."

"I called the following evening on Harriet Wesden--I offered her my
hand, as an earnest of that affection which only needed her presence to
revive again--I asked pardon for my past, and spoke of my atonement in
the future. Could I do more?"

"No."

Sidney was nervously anxious to learn the result, but he merely
compressed his lips, and waited for the sequel. He would not ask how
this had ended--his pride held back his curiosity.

"And she refused me, as you and I might have expected, had we more
seriously considered the matter. By George, I shall never forget her
fiery eyes, her angry gestures, her contempt, which seemed withering me
up--I knew that it was all over with every shadow of hope, then."

"A man should never despair."

"It would be difficult to help it in the face of that clincher, Sidney.
Well, it served me right; I might have expected it; I might have guessed
the truth, had I given it a moment's thought; but I put my trust in you,
Sidney, and a nice mess I have made of it! Upon my honour, I would
rather bear two--say three--of Mr. Gray's sermons, than face Harriet
Wesden again."

"Still, you should not be sorry at having offered all the reparation in
your power."

"Well, now I come to think of it, Sidney, I'm not sorry. To confess the
real plain truth, I'm glad."

"Indeed!"

"Because I have made a discovery, and if you're half a Hinchford, you'll
profit by the hint. Harriet Wesden loves _you_."

Sidney's hands grappled the arms of his chair, in which he half rose,
and then set down again. The red blood mounted to his face, even those
dreamy eyes flashed fire again--the avowal was too decided and
uncompromising not to affect him.

"I do not wish to dwell upon this topic."

"Ah! but I do. It has been bothering me all the way to Paris--all the
way back. I have been building fancy castles concerning it. I have been
one gigantic, unmitigated schemer since I saw you last, planning for a
happiness which is yours by a word, and which you deserve, Sid
Hinchford. I feel that your life might be greatly changed, and that it
is in your power to effect it."

"Were it my wish, it is too late. As it is not my wish--as I do not
believe you," he added, bluntly--"as I have outlived my youthful
follies, and am sober, serious, and unromantic--as I have made my
choice, and know where my happiness lies, I will ask you not to pain
me--not to torture me, by a continuance of this subject."

"Let me just give you a sketch of what she said to me."

"I will hear no more!" he cried, with an impatient stamp of his foot.

"I have done," said Maurice; "subject deferred _sine die_--or tied round
the neck with a big stone, and sunk for ever in the waters of oblivion.
By George, Sid, that's a neat phrase, isn't it?--only it reminds one of
drowning a puppy. And now to business."

"What more?" asked Sidney, curtly.

His cousin had annoyed him; stirred up the acrimony of his nature, and
destroyed all that placidity of demeanour which he had fostered lately.
He felt that he rather hated Maurice Hinchford again; that his cousin
was ever a dark blot in the landscape, with his robust health, loud
voice, and self-sufficiency. This man paraded his own knowledge of human
nature too obtrusively, and spoke as if his listener was a child; he
professed to have discerned in Harriet Wesden an affection for the old
lover to whom she had been engaged--as if he, Sidney Hinchford, had been
blind all his life, or was morally blind then! Sidney would be glad to
hear the last of him--to be left to himself once more; his cousin was an
intrusion--he desired no further speech with him, and he implied as much
by his last impatient query.

"It's something entirely new, Sidney, and therefore you need not fear
any old topics being intruded on your notice. I have brought a friend to
see you."

"Take him away again."

"No, I'd rather not, thank you," was the aggravating response; "I made
my mind up to bring him, and he's waiting in the shop."

"Maurice--you insult me!"

"Pardon me, cousin, but the end must justify the means. He has come from
Paris to see you; he would have been here before, had not illness
prevented him."

"Who is this man?"

"The cleverest man in Europe, I'm told--an eccentric being, with a
wonderful mine of cleverness beneath his eccentricity. A man who has
made the defects of vision his one study, and has become great in
consequence. Sidney, you must see him!"

"You bring him here at your own expense, to inspect a hopeless case; you
will shame me by being beholden to you--to you, of all men in the
world!"

"I thought we had got over the past--forgiven it?"

"Yes, but----"

"But it can't be forgiven, Sid Hinchford, if you hinder me making an
effort to atone to you in my way."

"With your purse?" was the cold reply.

"No; with my respect for you--my regret for a friend whom I have lost."

"A strange friend!"

"And I have faith in this man. I remember a case similar to yours,
which----"

"Stop! in the name of mercy, Maurice--this cannot be borne at least. I
am resigned to despair, but not to such a hope as yours. Let him come
in, and laugh at you for your folly in bringing him hither."

"Bario!" called Maurice.

The lank man came into the parlour, set his hat on a chair, and looked
at Sidney very intently. His vacuity of expression vanished, and a keen
intelligence took its place.

"Good morning, sir," he said, in fair English; "you are the blind
gentleman Mr. Hinchford has requested me to see?"

"The same, sir."

"You are sure you're blind?"

"Maurice, this man is a----"

"Yes, very clever. You have heard of Dr. Bario--he has been resident in
Paris some years now."

"Ah!" said Sidney, listlessly.

"There is a blindness that be not blindness, sir--that's my theory,"
said the Italian; "a something that comes suddenly like a blight--the
off-spring of much excitement, very often."

"Mine had been growing upon me for years--I was prepared for it by a man
as skilful as yourself."

"May I put to you his name."

Sidney told him, and Dr. Bario gave his shoulders that odious French
shrug which implies so much. Such is the jealousy of all
professions--extending even to the disciples of the healing art. A never
thinks much of B, if he be jumping at the same prize on the
bay-tree--Dr. Bario had his weakness.

"He might have mistaken the disease, and into this have half frightened
you. People, odd mistakes do make at times--I myself have not been
infallible."

"Possibly not," said Sidney, drily.

"In my youth of course," said the vain man, "when I listened a leetle
too much to the opinions of others--it was once my way."

Sidney thought the speaker had altered considerably since then, but kept
his idea to himself. He was endeavouring to be cool, and uninfluenced by
this man's remarks; but they had set his heart beating, and his temples
painfully throbbing. He was a fool to feel unnerved at this; it was a
false step of his cousin's, and had given him much pain--but Maurice had
meant well, and he forgave him even then.

"Do you mind turning just one piece more to the light?" asked the
doctor.

Sidney turned like an automaton. Maurice drew up the back parlour blind;
the doctor bent over his patient, and there was a long silence--an
anxious pause in the action of three lives, for the doctor's interest
was as acute as the cousin's.

"Well?" Maurice ejaculated at last,

"There's a chance, I think."

"A chance of sight!" cried Sidney; "do you mean that?--is it possible
that you can give me hope of that--now?"

"I don't give hope, sir," said Dr. Bario; "it's a chance, that's
all--everything. It's one nice case for _me_--not you, young man."

"What do you mean?"

"There's danger in it--it's light, death, or madness! I do not you
advise to risk this--but there's one chance if you do!"

"_I will chance it!_"

He was not content with the present, then; it had been a false
placidity--he would risk his life for light; life without it, even with
Mattie, did not seem for an instant worth considering!

"Very good. To-morrow I will you send for--you will have to place
yourself entire under my direction for more weeks than one, before the
final operation be attempted."

"I agree to everything--may I accompany you now?"

"To-morrow," was the answer again.

"Oh! it will never come. Maurice," he said, offering his hand, "however
this ends, I am indebted to you."

"Yes--but--but if it end badly?"

"It will be God's will."

"And if it end as I hope and trust--as I fancy it will, Sid--then you
must pay that debt, or I'll never forgive you."

"In what way can I ever repay it?"

"By taking your old place at the banker's desk, and showing me that the
past is really forgiven."

"I will do that if--ah! what a mighty If this is!"

"Keep hopeful--not nervous, above all the things," said the doctor; "if
you fear, it must not be attempted."

With this final warning, the doctor and Maurice withdrew. Maurice left
the doctor to whisper confidentially to Mattie.

"Miss Gray, I have brought a skilful oculist to look at my cousin Sid.
He reports not altogether unfavourably--he gives us hope--Sid will go
away with us to-morrow."

"Go away!"

"Yes, to submit himself for a week or two to Dr. Bario's treatment; he
says that he will chance the danger, and I think he's right. Keep him
strong and hopeful, Miss Gray--much depends upon that."

"Yes--yes," gasped Mattie.

She had not recovered her astonishment when the visitor had left the
shop; "hope for Sidney"--"going away!"--"keep him strong!"--was all this
a dream?

"Mattie," called Sidney from the parlour, and our heroine rushed in at
once and found our hero walking up and down the room with a freer step
than she had witnessed in him since his blindness.

"Mattie," he said in an agitated voice, "he tells me that there is a
chance of the light coming back to me--a chance that entails danger, but
which is surely worth the risk. Think of the daylight streaming in upon
my darkened senses, and my waking up once more to life!"

"I am so glad!--I am so very glad!" cried Mattie; adding the instant
afterwards, "but the--the danger? What is that?"

"A danger of death, or of my going mad, he left it doubtful which--I
don't care which--I can risk all for the one chance ahead of me. I will
keep strong, praying for the brightness of the new life."

"Yes!" was the mournful response. In that brightness, one figure might
at least grow dim--in the darkness he had learned to love her, he said!
But he was not thinking of love then, or of her whose love he had
sought;--a new hope was bewildering him, and he could not escape it.

"Keep him strong and hopeful," had been the caution given Mattie; there
was no need for it. He _was_ hopeful--far too hopeful--of the sunshine;
he thought nothing of the danger, or of a world a hundred times worse
than that of his benighted one--and he was strong in faith. He could
talk of nothing else, and Mattie made no effort to distract his mind
away from it. It was natural enough that he should forget her for
awhile; the time had not come for her to answer him, or to judge him; he
had said that his mind was made up, and that she possessed his
love--surely they were earnest words enough, to keep her hopeful in her
turn?

And if the change in Sidney did result in Sidney's cure, she would
rejoice in it with all her heart--as his father would have rejoiced, had
he lived and known the troubles of his boy.

The next day, Maurice Hinchford arrived in his father's carriage to take
Sidney away. Sidney was equipped for departure, and had been waiting for
his cousin the last two hours--agitating his mind with a hundred reasons
for the delay.

The carriage at the door, and the evidence of wealth in Sidney's
relations, made Mattie's heart sink somewhat--his would be a world so
different from hers for ever after this!

Mattie faced Maurice before he entered the parlour. She had been
watching for him also that day, and now arrested his progress.

"Mr. Hinchford, you did me harm once; you were sorry at a later day that
it was not in your power, to make amends. Will you now?"

"Willingly."

"Let me know when Sidney runs his greatest risk--give me fair warning of
it, that his friends may be near him. If there be a risk of death, he
must not die without me there. You promise?"

"I promise, Miss Gray."

Mattie had no further request to urge, and he, after avoiding Mr. Gray
by a strategic movement, and a hurried "Good day, sir--hope you're
well!" entered the parlour with the words--

"Ready, Sid?"

Sidney Hinchford took his friend's arm, Maurice signed to the footman at
the door to carry Sidney's portmanteau, and then the two cousins entered
the shop--both looking strangely alike, arm-in-arm, and shoulder to
shoulder thus.

"One moment, Maurice."

Sidney thought of Mattie at the last; in his own anxiety for self, he
did not forget her, as she had feared he would.

"Where's Mattie?"

"Here, Sidney."

He drew her aside--away out of hearing, where neither Mr. Gray nor his
cousin could listen to his grateful words.

"Mattie, dear," he said, "I know that I shall have your prayers for my
success--you, who have fought my battles, and been always ready at my
side. Pray for our bright future together; it will come now. Whatever
happens you and I together in life, my girl, unless, with that month's
reflection that I granted you, comes the want of trust in my sincerity!"

"Never that, Sidney."

"Good-bye."

He stooped and kissed her, and Mattie shrank not away from him, though
it was the first time in his life that his lips had touched hers. He was
going away from that house for ever, perhaps; they might never know each
other again; and she loved him too dearly, and felt too happy in those
fleeting moments, to feel abashed at this evidence of his affection.

So they parted, and Ann Packet, who had heard the story, rushed from the
side door to fling a shoe for luck, after the receding carriage. A
maniacal act, that the footman--who had _not_ heard the story--was
unable to account for, save as a personal insult to himself.

"He had gone out of his spear to a place called Peckham," he said
afterwards in the servants' hall, "and had had old boots flung at him by
the lower horders!"



CHAPTER II.

MATTIE IS TAKEN INTO CONFIDENCE.


Sidney's departure made a difference in the house; it was scarcely home
without him now. Mattie and Mr. Gray took their usual places after the
day's business was over, and looked somewhat blankly at each other. The
father had become attached to Sidney, as well as the daughter; he was
nervous as to the result of the mysterious system under which his son,
by adoption, had placed himself.

He had no faith in cures effected by men who were not of the true
faith--whatever that might mean in Mr. Gray's opinion--he would have
liked to see this Dr. Bario himself, and sound him as to his religious
convictions. If he were a Roman Catholic, Sidney's chance of success was
very small, he thought.

Mattie did not take this narrow view of things; but she was anxious and
dispirited. Anxious for Sidney and the result--dispirited at a something
else which she could scarcely define. Sidney's last words were ringing
in her ears, but there was no comfort in them now; they were meant to
encourage, but they only perplexed--all was mystery beyond. She prayed
that Sidney would be well and strong again, but she felt that her
happiness--her best days--would lie further off when the light came back
to him. It might be fancy; the best days might be advancing to her as
well as to Sidney Hinchford, but the instinctive feeling of a great
change weighed upon her none the less heavily.

She did not feel in suspense about a serious result to Sidney; Sidney
would get better, she thought, and the shadow of a darker life for him
did not fall heavily athwart her musings.

When those whom we love are away, we are full of wonder concerning them;
speculations on their acts in the distance, bridge over the dreary space
between us and them. "I wonder what they are doing now!" and the
suggestions that follow this, wile away a great share of the time that
would seem dull and objectless without them. You who are loved and are
away from us, do justice to our thoughts of you, and keep worthy of the
fancy pictures wherein ye are so vividly portrayed!

A week after Sidney's departure, Maurice Hinchford appeared once more in
the neighbourhood of Peckham. This was in the afternoon, and he had
reached Peckham in the morning, and therefore wasted a considerable
portion of the day. But then Mr. Gray had been at home in the morning,
and it had struck Maurice that that gentleman's excitable temperament
would not allow of a long sojourn in-doors, with no one to preach to but
his daughter. He would not chance meeting Mr. Gray yet a while; he would
wait and watch.

Mr. Gray really found it dull work that afternoon, and business being
slack, he started immediately after his dinner in search of a convert of
whom he had heard in the neighbourhood of his chapel. Maurice, who had
noted him turn the corner of the street, uttered a short prayer of
thanks, and crossed over to the stationer's shop.

Mattie turned very pale at the first sight of Maurice.

"I am wanted--and, oh dear, my father has just gone out!"

"No, you are not wanted yet a while, Miss Gray. Pray, compose yourself,
I bring you very little news."

"Sidney--he is well?"

"Very well--Dr. Bario has not given him notice to prepare for the great
experiment yet awhile," said Maurice; "but I thought that you might be
anxious about him, Miss Gray, and that any little news might be
acceptable."

"You are very kind--yes, any news of Sidney is ever most acceptable."

"Even from such a scamp as I am?" he said, with his eyes twinkling.

"Sidney has forgiven you--that is enough, sir."

"Ah! but yours was a left-handed wrong, and the heaviest share of it
might have fallen to your lot."

"But it has not. Pray don't talk of it again."

"All's well that ends well," said Maurice, taking his seat on the high
chair on the shop side of the counter, facing our heroine, "and if it
has ended in my doing no harm, and turning out a better fellow myself,
why there's not much to regret. And you would not believe to what an
extraordinary pitch of excellence I am attaining."

"I shall believe nothing if you jest, sir."

"It was not a jest--I've a way of talking like that."

"It's a very stupid way."

"Is it, though?--well, perhaps you're right enough."

Mattie wondered what he was staying for; was even still a little nervous
that he had something more to communicate concerning Sidney. But he
continued talking in this new desultory way, and remained on his perch
there, observant of customers, the goods they purchased, and the remarks
they made, and showing no inclination to depart. He rendered Mattie
fidgety after a while, for he was in a fidgety humour himself, and
tilted his chair backwards and forwards, and examined everything
minutely on the counter, dropping an article or two on the floor, and
endeavouring to pick it up with his varnished boots, _à la_ Miss Biffin.

"Does this business answer, Miss?" he asked at last.

"It is improving--I think it will answer."

"Rather slow for old Sid, it must have been."

"We did our best to make him happy here, sir; I think that we
succeeded."

"My dear Miss Gray, I do not doubt _that_, for an instant!" Maurice
hastened to apologize; "more than that, Sidney has told me the same
himself. But _was_ he happy?"

"Have you any reason to think otherwise?" was Mattie's quick, almost
suspicious question.

"Scarcely a reason, perhaps. Still _I_ don't think that he was happy."

"I am sorry to hear you say so, Mr. Hinchford."

"He tried to feel as happy as you wished to make him, but I think he
failed. Under the circumstances, heavily afflicted as he was, you must
own that that was natural."

"I own that."

"But his mind was never at ease--there was much to perplex it. Now, Miss
Gray," leaning over the counter very earnestly, "let me ask you if you
honestly believe that he has given up every thought of making Harriet
Wesden his wife?"

"Every thought of it, I think he has."

"You and he have been like brother and sister together, and the truth
must have escaped him," said Maurice, doubtfully; "or you are less
quick-witted than somehow I have given you credit for. You would promote
his true happiness, Miss Gray, by every means in your power, I am sure?"

"Yes," answered Mattie.

"Then you and I acting together, might bring about that match between
them yet."

"You and I acting together for that purpose!" Mattie ejaculated. She
clutched the counter with her nervous fingers, and regarded Maurice
Hinchford attentively; she was no longer doubtful of that man's visit to
her; he had come to steal her Sidney away--to teach her, by his indirect
assertions, that it was better to resign her thoughts of happiness
rather than mar his cousin's.

"There only requires one fair meeting between them--one candid
explanation of what was false, and what was true--to show each to the
other in a better light. That is my object in life now--I have done harm
to those two--I will do good if I can!"

"You speak as though you were certain of the success of Dr. Bario's
remedies."

"I am perfectly certain, Miss Gray! Dr. Bario is certain too--although
he speaks of the risk, and of the hundredth chance against him, rather
than of the ninety and nine in his favour. That's his way."

"Suppose him successful, and Sidney well again--what are we to do?"
asked the curious Mattie.

She was anxious to sift this theory to the bottom--to know upon what
facts, or fancies, Maurice Hinchford based his cruel idea. She spoke
coolly and sisterly now; no evidence of intense excitement was likely to
betray her again that day. On the inner heart had shut, with a clang
which vibrated still within her, the iron gates of her inflexible
resolve.

"First of all, let me ask you a question. You have lived with Miss
Wesden--you understand her--you have loved her. You can assure me that
there was no doubt of her affection for him being true and fervent?"

"There was no doubt of that."

"I can answer for the present time."

"You can?" said Mattie. She spoke very quickly, but her heart leaped
into her throat for an instant, and took away her breath.

"Miss Wesden confessed to me, only a week back, that she loved Sidney
Hinchford still."

"Impossible!"

"You doubt my word, Miss Gray. Why should I attempt to deceive you?"

"What possible object could she have in telling you that?"

"I made her an offer of marriage," said Maurice, coolly, "and she
rejected me. She did not scruple to confess to me her reasons; she was
excited I must own, and, therefore, thrown off her guard."

"What did she say?"

"That she had never loved me, and that she would have died for Sidney.
That it was all my fault--my wickedness--which had parted them."

"A singular confession for her to make," said Mattie, thoughtfully; "all
my life I have been endeavouring to find the truth--the whole truth--and
have always failed."

"You were not the confidante that I believed, then?"

"Harriet Wesden and I loved each other very dearly--in our hearts there
is no difference yet. For my sake, were I in danger, she would do much."

"And for her sake--what would you do?"

"Everything."

"Well spoken," cried Maurice heartily; "I knew that I was not deceived
in you."

"She is unhappy and loves Sidney. Sidney is unhappy and loves her, you
think. It is a story of the truth of which we must be certain in the
first place."

"Yes, and then?"

"Then we will do our best--God willing," murmured Mattie.

"I rely upon you, Miss Gray--I am obliged by the evidence of interest in
those two old lovers, parted by mistake. Both very unhappy, and both
with a chance of being happy together, there is no difficulty in
guessing where our duty lies."

"No."

"Think of the gratitude of those two in the days when we have helped to
clear the mists away, Miss Gray. The last chapter in the novel; the last
scene in the five-act comedy, where the stern parent joins the hands of
the happy couple, will be nothing to the glorious ending of _our_ story.
Boundless gratitude to you, full forgiveness for me--and all going merry
as a marriage bell. Miss Gray, I engage your hand for the first dance in
the evening--we'll wind up with a ball that day--is it a bargain between
us?"

"I make no hasty promises," said Mattie, with a faint smile.

"Well, there will be time to talk of that idea," said Maurice, laughing;
"and, talking about time, how I have been absorbing yours, to be sure!
Still time is well wasted when it is employed for others'
happiness--your father could offer no objection to that sentiment. You
are on my side?"

"On Sidney's, if he think of Harriet Wesden still."

"If--why, haven't I proved it?--did you not say that you believed every
word?"

"No, I did not say that. It--it _is_ true, perhaps--I shall know better
presently. Sir, I will find out the truth."

"It will be easy for an acute woman to discover the truth both in Sidney
and Harriet; for the truth--for the better days, we are all waiting.
Good-bye."

"Good-bye, sir; that promise to give me warning of the day which will be
life or death to Sidney--you will not forget?"

"I never forget, Miss Gray. Rely upon me."

Maurice Hinchford departed, full of his hope, dreaming not of the
despair that he had left behind in the heart of that simple-minded
woman. He had intended all for the best; he had known nothing of
Sidney's proposal to Mattie; he had relied on Mattie's sisterly
affection for the man and woman in whose happiness he was deeply
interested. He went on his way rejoicing--proud of the new volunteer he
had enlisted in his cause, and sanguine as to a result which should
bring peace to every one.

Mattie sat behind the counter in her old position after Maurice
Hinchford had left her--rigid and motionless. This was the turning-point
of her life--the ordeal under which she would harden or utterly give
way. A customer entering the shop waited and stared and wondered at the
silent figure which faced him and took no heed of his presence--at her
who was finally roused to every-day life by his direct appeal to her.
Mattie served him, then dropped into her chair again, and the old stony
look settled once more upon her face.

Fate was before her, and she rebelled against it; the whole truth--hard
and cruel--she could not believe in. "It's not true!" her white lips
murmured; "it's false, as he is! He has heard from Sidney all that
Sidney purposes, and is alarmed for the honour of his family. I see it
all now--a plot against me!" But "was it true?" sounded in her ears like
a far-off echo, from which she could not escape.

It was a desperate struggle, and she was fighting that silent intense
battle still when her father returned. Hours ago she had prayed that he
might come back soon, and end that weary watch there--suffer her to
escape to her own room, and lock the door upon that world upon which the
mists were stealing. But when he returned, she did not go away from him;
a horror of being alone and giving way like a child kept her at her post
there, answering, and inwardly defying, all suspicious questions.

"You're very white, Mattie? Has anything happened?" asked her father.

"Sidney's cousin has been here. Sidney is well and hopeful."

"Good hearing!--he will be back in the midst of us before we know where
we are. Mattie, I'm sure you have a headache?"

"A little one--nothing to complain about."

"Why don't you go for a walk?--it's not very late. What a time it is
since you have seen Mr. Wesden!"

"I will go there."

Mattie sprang to her feet.

"Yes, I _will_ go--at once."

Mattie ran up-stairs, quickly dressed herself, gave one frightened
glance at her own face in the dressing-glass, and then hurried
down-stairs away from the silence wherein she could not trust herself.

"I am going now," she said, and hurried away.

Mr. Gray was disturbed by Mattie's eagerness to depart, but explained it
by the rules he considered most natural.

"She is unsettled by Sid's absence--by the danger he is in. Well,
there's nothing remarkable in that."

He took his work into the shop and devoted himself to it, in the leisure
that his customers--few and far between after nightfall--afforded him.
When the shutters were up before the windows, and the gas turned low, he
stood at the door waiting for Mattie, who was late, and speculating as
to the advisability of proceeding in search of her.

Mattie came swiftly towards him whilst he watched. She had been trying
to outwalk her thoughts, and failed--the odds were against her.

"Ah! that is you, Mattie!--how are they?"

"Well. I did not see Miss Wesden. She was not at home."

"All the time with that old man?" he said, with a little of his past
weakness developing itself.

"We have been speaking of old times--and Harriet. Oh! dear! I am very
tired. May I go up to my room at once?"

"If you will--but supper is ready, Mattie."

"Not any for me. Good night."

Mattie thought that she had made good her escape, but she was mistaken;
on the stairs Ann Packet had been waiting to waylay her, and to talk of
the little events of that day--any talk whatever, so that she saw Mattie
for a while, after the day's labour was ended. Mattie was considerate
even in her distress; she stood on the stairs listening to Ann's
rambling accounts of minor things, waiting for the end of the narrative,
and only expressing her weariness by a little quivering sigh, now and
then.

After the story there was Ann Packet to hold the candle closer to her
face, and see a change in Mattie also. Mattie had feared this--knowing
Ann's vigilance--but there was the old plea of a headache to urge, and
all the old receipts of which Ann Packet had ever heard for the headache
to listen to. Ann Packet knew an old woman of her workhouse days who had
had "drefful headaches," and this was how she cured hers--and off went
Ann Packet into more rambling incoherencies.

All things have an end; Mattie was free at last. At last the door
locked, and the room she had longed for, feared, and longed for again,
engulphing her. Mattie took off her bonnet, opened noiselessly the
window for the air which she felt she needed, and then dropped into a
chair, and looked out at the dark sky, and the bright stars that were
shimmering up there, where all seemed peace!

The battle was not over, and Mattie was unconvinced still.

"Is it true?" she asked again; "is it ALL true!"



CHAPTER III.

HALF THE TRUTH.


Mattie, as we are already aware, had found Mr. Wesden the sole occupant
of that house in Camberwell, whither the stationer had retired from the
stirring business of life. He was alone, dull and dispirited; Harriet
had gone to a thanksgiving festival at her favourite church, and her
father, whom night-air affected now, was left to read his newspaper, or
to think of old times, as his inclination might suggest.

Harriet always offered to remain at home to keep her father company, but
old Wesden was not a selfish man; he offered no objection to her
departure; it would do her good, and be a change for her. It had long
ago suggested itself to him that there was nothing like change to keep
Harriet well and all unpleasant thoughts away from her; and if it were
only the mild excitement of religious change, it was better than
brooding at home over events which had passed and left marks of their
ravages.

Mr. Wesden brightened up at Mattie's visit; he had put away his pipe,
and was sitting with his feet on the fender and his hands on his knees,
thinking of his daughter and of the chance she had lost in not marrying
Maurice Hinchford, when Mattie intruded on his reverie.

The old friends--friends who had quarrelled and made it up, and become
the best of friends again--sat down together and talked of the past, of
what a business that was in Suffolk Street once, slow, and sure, and
money-getting. Mr. Wesden was inclined to talk more in his old age,
Mattie fancied, and when he drifted to the usual subject with which all
topics invariably ended--his daughter--Mattie did not stop him.

She had come to find out the truth, if possible--to make sure! Next to
Sidney Hinchford, stood Harriet Wesden in her regard; she remembered all
that Harriet had been to her, all that impulsiveness of action combined
with steadiness of love which had won Mattie towards her in the early
days, and was not likely to turn her from her then.

But the truth had been hard to arrive at; Mr. Wesden spoke of Harriet's
new pursuits, of her indignation at Maurice Hinchford's offer; he could
tell her little more than Maurice Hinchford had done, save that there
were times when his daughter seemed very dull and thoughtful.

"P'raps it's the church, Mattie," he had said; "I wish you'd come more
often and talk to her, like--like you used."

"She does not think that I have neglected her--forgotten her?"

"Oh! no."

"When I meet her here, she seems very different to me--almost cold at
times," said Mattie.

"Only her way, Mattie," explained the father, "she's very different to
all, now. She was more like herself after Mr. Hinchford called--Lor'!
that roused her for a day or two beautifully. It was quite a treat to
see her out of temper all the next day--flouting like!"

Mattie waited till half-past eight, and then took her leave, thinking
that she would go home by the church-way and meet Harriet. But Harriet
had gone round by the main thoroughfare, having a call to make, and so
the old companions missed each other.

Mattie scarcely knew what she should have said to Harriet on meeting
her, save the usual commonplace remarks; she fancied that she might have
told her story of Sidney's proposal, and watched the effect--might have
looked her sternly in the face, and asked if it were all true that
Maurice Hinchford had asserted. It depended upon circumstances what she
would have confessed or asserted; after all, did it matter what were
Harriet Wesden's feelings, if Sidney had ceased to love Harriet and
turned to Mattie Gray?

But Sidney was blind _then_, and his heart, ever full of gratitude, had
deceived him. Perhaps he _had_ read her secret by some means, and taken
pity on her. _Pity!_--and she had told him that she scorned it! Well,
true or false, right or wrong, she must wait a few days longer--for
better, for worse, there was no keeping that truth back, unless it died
with Sidney.

Mattie made the best of it, as usual. Hers was a mind of uncommon
strength, although her slight figure and gentle face suggested to an
observer the very reverse of a "strong-minded woman." The next day, she
was the Mattie that deceived even her father, who had been alarmed at
her yester-night. She had got over her headache, she said; she could
talk of business-matters, and of going to the warehouse for fresh stock,
of the customers on "the books," and of the customers--a few of them by
the laws of business--who were never likely to get off them. In the
morning, too, came an immense order, that staggered Mr. Gray--an order
for stationery, pens, ink, and paper, &c., from Hinchford and Son,
bankers.

"They've given their relation a turn--I don't think Sid would like it
much," said Mr. Gray.

Mattie affected an interest in these new customers, and Mr. Gray, who
admired large orders, though he was not a worldly man, trotted about the
shop and rubbed his hands. The first customer who entered, and told him
that it was a fine day, was assured that "Yes it was. A fine order, a
very fine order indeed!"

Orders taken, delivered, and goods paid for; time making inroads into
the new week; people beginning to talk of coming spring, and of the cold
weather breaking up for good; Mattie waiting for the summons to Sidney
Hinchford's side, and wondering why Dr. Bario was so long; the hour in
which to answer Sidney approaching, and she still unresolved as to what
was best and just--for others, as well as for herself!

The message came at last--by special messenger, and private cab; a
dashing Hansom, with the Hinchford crest on the panel, drawn by a
thorough-bred mare, which brought out all the horse-fanciers from the
livery-stables at the corner to look at and admire.

Mattie opened Maurice Hinchford's hastily written note.

     "Dear Miss Gray," it ran, "we have resolved upon the operation
     to-day. Sidney is prepared--calm and hopeful of the result. I
     never knew a fellow with so little fear in him. Bring Miss
     Wesden if you think fit.

     "Yours very truly,

     "MAURICE HINCHFORD."

Bring Miss Wesden! Mattie had never thought of that, and for the first
time the woman's natural jealousy seized her. Take her rival to his
side, and let _her_ comfort him, and she standing aloof and
unacknowledged!--why should she do that? Thrust upon Sidney Hinchford's
thoughts, at such a time, the old love; let him _see_, perhaps, Harriet
Wesden's beauty and her own plain face side by side, the very instant
that he stepped back, as it were, to his old self!

Then came better thoughts--thoughts more true to this high-minded stray
of ours. It was light, or madness, or death; if it were a failure, and
he should die, swiftly and suddenly--if till the last he had deceived
her, and his true nature were to assert itself, and he express a
wish--one last yearning wish to see Harriet Wesden--what could she
say?--in the future how that reproach of not having done her best would
crush her with remorse!

She was in the cab; she had made up her mind; there was to be no longer
any hesitation.

"Drive to Myer's Street, Camberwell."

The thorough-bred mare stepped out and cleared the roadway; the shop and
the little excited man at its door were in the background, and Mattie
was being whirled along to Mr. Wesden's house. In a very little while,
Mattie was driven to the old friend's. Mr. Wesden was gardening in his
fore-court, or attempting something of the kind, with a little rake he
had bought at a toy-shop; he dropped his rake, and stared over the
private cab and its occupant at the up-stairs windows of the opposite
residence.

"Mattie," he said, when she was at the gate, and had opened it and
entered before he had recovered his astonishment, "what's the matter?
Who's cab is that?--the stationery business won't stand cabs, yet
awhile, I know."

"Where is Harriet?--not out again?"

"No, in the parlour--this way."

Mattie and Mr. Wesden entered the house. Harriet was in the front
parlour--the best room, which had been Mrs. Wesden's pride, and a dream
of the old lady's in business days,--working busily away at a pair of
crimson slippers, with large black crosses on the instep--High Church
slippers, every inch of them. Not slippers for a simpering curate to
receive anonymously, as a mark of esteem from a fair unknown--Harriet
was above that; but good colossal slippers, for the gouty feet of her
pastor and master, who could not wear tight boots in the house, and had
even been known to preach in something easy.

Harriet, who had noted the arrival, was ready to receive Mattie. She ran
to her and kissed her. Harriet's first impulse was a kind and loving one
whenever she met Mattie first; only as the interview lengthened, did her
doubts--if they could be called doubts--step in and range themselves
formally beside her, and render her almost reserved. The kiss with which
they parted, always savoured more of the new Harriet, than of the
bright-faced beauty whom Sidney had _once_ loved, Mattie thought.

"Harriet, I want you to come with me, if you will," said Mattie.

"I am rather busy just now, Mattie," said Harriet; "where do you wish to
take me?"

"To see Sidney Hinchford," was the calm reply.

"To see _whom_!" ejaculated Harriet.

Before Mattie could explain, Harriet added--

"What object can you have in taking me to him?--in coming in this
strange hurried manner for me? Has _he_ sent you?"

"No."

"He has no wish that I should be near him, I am sure. This is eccentric
and foolish--what do you mean by it?"

Harriet's haughty gesture would have done more credit to royal blood
than to old Wesden's.

Mattie caught her by the wrist, so that Harriet should not escape her,
or hide any sign of emotion which she might wish to conceal when all was
known.

"You must come! There is no excuse. In a few hours Sidney Hinchford may
be dead!"

Did the change upon that face tell all, or was it the natural result of
such news as Mattie had hissed forth?

"Dead!--dead did you say?" asked Harriet, hastily.

"I did not tell your father a few nights ago that Sidney had left us--I
reserved the news for you, and then missed you going home. He is in the
hands of clever and scientific men, who hope to cure him of his
blindness."

"Yes--go on."

"But there is a chance of failure, which Sidney risks, and thinks,
perhaps, too lightly of. That failure will not subject him to his old
estate, but drive him mad, or kill him."

"And you have let him risk his life--_you_!"

Away went the ecclesiastical slippers to the other end of the room; some
wool got entangled in her hands, and she snapped it impatiently in two
in preference to unwinding it; she turned to Mattie, full of reproach,
fear, and indignation. Yes, the love was living still! Mattie might have
known long ago that it had never died away, and that to keep it in
subjection had been the task which Harriet had set herself, and failed
in.

"They will murder him!--you have let them take him away to work their
dangerous experiments upon, and you will have to answer for this!"

"Sidney was resolved--his cousin wished it--I had no power to stop it."

"Mattie, he loves you. He would have done as you wished."

"Who says he loves me?" asked Mattie. "I have never uttered a word to
give you that belief, Harriet--have I?"

"No--but----"

"I don't own it now--I say nothing, but ask you to come with me. If I
loved him, or mistrusted you, should I be here?"

"What am I to do?" asked the bewildered Harriet. "Oh! tell me, what can
I do?"

"Maurice Hinchford thinks it possible--I think it possible--that Sidney
may wish to speak to you before or afterwards. We may retire and see him
not, or we may face him. If it should end as we all pray not, and hope
not, you, at least, must not be away!"

"No, no!--I would not be away from him for all the world," cried
Harriet. "I will go with you at once."

She darted out of the room, and Mr. Wesden seemed to take her place as
if by magic before Mattie.

"What's it all mean, my girl?"

Mattie had to struggle with many conflicting emotions, and sober down
sufficiently to relate the nature of her visit. Before she had half
finished her statement, Harriet was with them again.

"Let us go at once, Mattie!--father will hear all when I return."

She almost dragged Mattie from the room; they were both in the cab, and
rattling away from Camberwell, before Mr. Wesden fully comprehended that
they had left him.

"Mattie, it is kind of you to think of me at this time," said Harriet.
"You have read me more truly than I have read myself. I am a wicked and
unjust woman."

"No--that's not true."

"I have had wicked thoughts of you--you that I have known so long, and
should have estimated so truly, knowing what you have ever been to me.
But, oh! Mattie, I have been so wretched and unhappy, that you _will_
forgive me?"

"Don't say any more, please."

Harriet looked askance at the pale face beside her--the eyes were half
closed, and the thin lips compressed.

"Do you feel ill?"

"No--the excitement of all this may have been a little too much for
me--we will not talk of ourselves just now. Time enough for your
confession, and for mine, when we return."

"How shall we return?--with what hopes or fears of him? What made his
cousin and you think of me being near him? Did _he_ wish it?"

"I don't know."

"Has _he_ thought of me all this while?--loved me despite all? Oh! if
that were true, Mattie."

"If it were true, Harriet--what a difference!"

"And now perhaps to die, and I never to know his real thoughts of me.
Well, I should die too--I'm sure of that now!"

"Harriet, you can trust me again?"

"Yes, with all my heart."

"Patience, then--we _will_ say no more until we are sure that the truth
faces us."

They were silent for the remainder of the way; people who passed on the
footpath, and glanced towards the occupants of that private cab,
wondered at the two pale, grave-faced women sitting side by side
therein.



CHAPTER IV.

ALL THE TRUTH.


The house wherein Sidney was waiting for the best or worst, was situated
in Bayswater. A house that had been taken at Maurice's expense, and by
Dr. Bario's suggestion. The Italian doctor was a man with a love of
effect--one of those stagey beings whom we meet occasionally in England,
and more often on the Continent. He was fond of mystery; it enhanced the
surprise, and gained him popularity. He was a clever man, but he was
also a vain one.

His style of practice he kept to himself; whether his cures were
effected by the common methods of treatment, or by methods of his own,
were hard to arrive at; he bound his patients and his patients' friends
to secrecy; some of his English medical contemporaries called him a
quack, others a mad-man--a few, just a few, to leaven the mass, thought
that there _was_ something in him. Abroad he was at the top of the tree
and sought after--matter-of-fact England not being able to make him out,
eyed him suspiciously.

Mattie and Harriet were ushered into a well-furnished room on the first
floor, where Maurice Hinchford awaited them. He went towards them at
once, and shook hands with them--even with Harriet Wesden, who had faced
him with such stern words during their last interview. There was a
common cause that bound all three together, and the past was forgotten.

"We are in time?" asked Mattie.

"Plenty of time, thank you."

"Where is Sidney?"

"In the room beyond there, where the curtain hangs before the door."

"Have you told him that _we_ are here?" asked Mattie.

"Yes, he is very anxious to speak with you both before he is left in Dr.
Bario's hands."

"You are hopeful of good results?" asked Harriet.

"Yes--very hopeful--are not you?" he asked curiously.

"No--I fear the worst."

"You have not considered the matter, Miss Wesden--this has come upon you
with the shock of a surprise, and hence the feeling that distresses you.
But I say he shall get better--we have all determined to make an
extraordinary case of him."

"Hush, sir!--he is in God's hands, not yours," said Harriet.

"I beg pardon--of course."

Maurice withdrew, a little downcast at Harriet's reproof; he had assumed
an over-cheerful air to set them at their ease, and they had not
understood him. They fancied that he was not anxious, when he felt all a
brother's suspense. He had been with Sidney day and night; he had
studied Sid's wishes, sought to keep him cheerful, read to him, had
wound himself into Sid's heart, and by the act enlarged his own and
purified it. The cousins understood each other; all the past had been
atoned for now; there was no element of bitterness in the forgiveness
which Maurice had sought and Sidney granted.

Maurice was called away, and presently returned with the Italian doctor,
to whom he introduced Miss Wesden.

"What is there to fear, sir?" was Harriet's first question.

She had heard all from Mattie, but was not satisfied until all had been
told her again from the doctor's lips. He still spoke of the chances for
and against success.

Presently, and before he had concluded, Mr. Geoffry Hinchford was
ushered into the room and introduced to the ladies there.

After a bow of the old-fashioned school, he said--

"This young lady," indicating Mattie, "I have had the pleasure of seeing
before. Some years ago, when she thought I had a design to rob a shop in
Suffolk Street. Am I right, Miss Gray?"

He spoke in jest, but Mattie responded gravely enough. It was no time
for jesting, and she thought that Mr. Geoffry Hinchford's remarks were
strangely _mal-ápropos_. His manner changed, when he faced Doctor Bario
in his turn.

"You most cure this patient, sir, and name your own terms. My son and I
will chance your breaking the bank."

"You are good--very," said the pleased doctor, "and I am much obliged."

"We shall have him at his old post, I hope, ladies," said he, veering
round to the fair sex again. "A banking-house is his proper sphere--he
will rise to greatness with a fair chance. I do not know any man who
deserves greatness better--a true man of business--what a contrast to
his poor father!"

Maurice had withdrawn, and now returned again.

"He is ready to see the ladies now; keep him up, please, and speak
cheerfully of the future--that's right, doctor, I believe?"

"Quite right."

"One at a time. Mattie, he will see you first, he says."

Mattie's heart leaped anew at this; she passed beneath the curtain which
Maurice Hinchford held above her head, and went through the door to a
large room where Sidney was awaiting her. The sun was shining through
the windows upon him--a pale, calm figure, sitting there.

"Mattie," he said.

"Yes--I have come."

The door opened again, and Doctor Bario entered, taking up a position
where he could watch his patient's face. There must be nothing
calculated to excite his patient now.

Sidney shook hands with Mattie, saying--

"It has come at last--and we shall know the worst or the best in a few
minutes."

"You are not nervous of the result?--your pulse beats calmly, Sidney."

"I have steeled my nerves to it--I shall not shrink, and I am hopeful."

"Miss Wesden is here."

"You fetched her hither, Maurice tells me," he answered. "You are not a
jealous woman, Mattie."

"Have I a right to be jealous yet, before my mind is made up?" she
answered, lightly.

"The month draws on apace--I am looking forward to the future."

"Time," said Doctor Bario, and Mattie withdrew, after a silent pressure
of hands, given and returned. Mattie went towards the doctor instead of
the door.

"These interviews must tend to excite him--his pulse is less regular
than it was, sir."

"I am sorry for it," said Bario, coolly, "but he will have his way--he
is one man impetuous in that. He thinks it is better, in _case of
anything_!"

Mattie backed from him in horror; did Sid fear the result of the
experiment himself now? Harriet was waiting anxiously for her return.

"Be careful," whispered Mattie, as she passed in, and Mattie followed
her with her wistful eyes. They were a long while together, she thought;
longer than was necessary, or Doctor Bario should have allowed. What had
Harriet Wesden to say to him?--what would she say in moments like those?

The curtain was drawn back, and Harriet, with flushed cheeks, and
tearful eyes, came rapidly towards Mattie.

"What have you said to him?" asked Mattie, almost fiercely.

"What I would have said to him had he been dying--as he will die!--oh!
as he will die, I am sure of it."

"I pray God not," ejaculated Mattie.

"I asked him if he had forgiven me--if he would believe that when he
gave me up I loved him with my whole heart, and looked for no happiness
without him."

"You told him that!--you dared to tell him that at such a time!"

"I could not have told him at any other, and he was about to be
sacrificed by his own will and these mad relations, who have persuaded
him to this! He will die, I am sure of it."

"Don't say it again--I must hope, Harriet, and you drive me mad by this
excitability. What have you done?"

"Strengthened his courage--been rewarded by the 'God bless you,
Harriet!' which escaped him."

"Did he say no more?"

"Nothing but 'Too late!' In his heart he must feel that he will _die_,
or he would not have said that. Oh! those awful words, which will ring
in our ears and be our torment when this is over. Mattie, I must stop
it!"

Mattie held the excited girl in her own strong arms, and backed her to a
greater distance from the door of the room where Sidney was; at the same
moment the banker returned from his fugitive interview with his nephew,
and stood at the window taking snuff by wholesale. A confusion seemed to
suddenly pervade the scene; an assistant, then another entered, and
passed into Sidney's room; a third assistant ushered across the room
wherein they waited, a physician, with whom Mr. Geoffry Hinchford shook
hands, and took snuff for an instant. Maurice looked through the curtain
for an instant, held up his hand, and then withdrew again. The instant
afterwards the door was locked on the inner side, and a silence as of
death settled upon the three watchers without.

All was still; the thick walls and the closed doors deadened every
sound. Once and only once Dr. Bario's voice giving some orders startled
the banker and the two girls cowering at the extremity of the room.

"How still!" whispered Harriet at last, and Mattie bade her be silent.
Mattie was listening with strained ears for sounds from within, and the
fear that had beset Harriet settled at last upon herself and unnerved
her. How long would it be now, each thought and wondered--minutes,
hours, or what?

"This waiting is very awful," said Mr. Geoffry Hinchford, suddenly, and
Mattie bade him hush also, in an angry tone that made him jump again.

Suddenly the door was unlocked, and the three started up with clenched
hands and suspended breath. Two of the assistants came forth hurriedly,
and went out of the room. To the eager questions that were put to them
they answered something in Italian, and balked the longing of their
questioners. Then Maurice appeared, and cried,

"Success!--success! A statue in gold for Dr. Bario! The----"

"Hinchford," called the doctor from within, "come back--he calls you."

"No, not me," said Maurice, whose ears caught the English accent more
perfectly, "_he calls Harriet_--may she come?"

"Yes, for an instant--quick!"

Harriet darted across the room with a suppressed cry; the old fear had
seized her again.

"He is dying!--I knew it!"

"No, no, he will live for you!" cried Mattie, wringing her hands
together; "go to him!"

Harriet passed into the room, and recoiled for an instant at the utter
darkness and blackness of the place she had left so light. Maurice put
his hands upon her wrist, and drew her forwards. Dr. Bario's voice
arrested him.

"He has fainted--take her out again. He must speak to no one any more
to-day."

"But he will die!--oh! sir, will he not die?" cried Harriet.

"He will live; he will be as well in three weeks as ever--please
withdraw."

Harriet and Maurice Hinchford came back together.

"There is no use in waiting," Maurice said; "the result is as successful
as I anticipated. Let me recommend you to return home at once, Miss
Wesden. Miss Gray will accompany you, I am sure."

"Mattie, will you come with me?" asked Harriet, faintly.

Mattie moved like an automaton towards her, and the two went out
together arm-in-arm, down the broad staircase to the hall, from the hall
to the street, where Maurice's cab still waited for them.

"I am faint and ill, Mattie," said Harriet, sinking back.

"Will you rest awhile?"

"No--let us get home at once. How coldly and quietly you take this news,
Mattie!" she said, looking intently at her; "ah! if you had only loved
him like me all your life!"

"If I had!" murmured Mattie, "_this_ would have broken my heart!"

"Hearts don't break with joy, Mattie, or I should not see another
morning."

"No. You are right--not with joy!"



CHAPTER V.

STRUGGLING.


Had Harriet Wesden been less disturbed by all the trials of that day,
she might have wondered more at Mattie's manner, and have guessed more
shrewdly at the truth. But she had suspected unjustly; and feeling now
that Sidney loved her, and had always loved her, there were dissipated
for ever all bitter memories. It was Mattie's turn to change, but
Harriet did not notice it at that time; Mattie had become distant,
grave; in the first shock of the real truth--though Mattie had seen it
advancing, and thought herself prepared to meet it--it was impossible to
smile and feel content. Harriet was anxious that the old friend should
stay with her at Camberwell for awhile, but Mattie was firm in her
refusal.

"I must get home--I am very weary!" she murmured.

So they had parted, and Mattie had returned home to offer the great news
concerning Sidney, and then escape to her room and be seen no more that
night. What happened on that night--what resolves, what struggles, we
need not dwell on here; she was one who had been injured--the best of
women come in for the greatest injuries at times--and it was not a
night's thought or struggle which could set her right. She was a
heroine, but she was a woman--and women brood on matters which affect
the heart for a long, long time after we have been deceived by their
looks.

Mattie did not blame Sidney; she saw how far he had been led to deceive
himself, and how far pity and gratitude had betrayed him; she knew that
he considered himself bound to her still, and that only her word could
release him from his. She felt that he was miserable like herself, and
she fretted impatiently for the day when she could let him go free to
his sphere, and to the only woman whom he had loved.

But the change had not been good for her; she was not resigned yet; her
heart was in rebellion. Life before her seemed a dreary vista--a
blankness on which no light could shine; ever in the world ahead, she
traced her figure plodding onwards without a motive in life, or a hope
that had not been lost in it--from first to last, only in various
disguises, and on different roads, ever the Stray!

Was she better off now than in the old, old days when she walked the
London streets bare-footed, and sang or begged for bread--even stole for
it once or twice? No one had loved her then, or taken heed of her; a few
had pitied her at that time as they might pity her in this, if she were
weak enough to tell her story to them. Her father would pity her, but
did he love her, she thought gloomily? She was not inclined to do him
justice in that dark estate of hers; he had never wholly understood her;
she had become a necessity to his existence, and he was grateful for it,
as Sidney had been grateful--nothing more! Yes, she stood alone--for the
love and generous hearts around her womanhood, she might be on a
mountain top, with the cold, unsympathetic winds freezing her as she
lingered there. Almost with regret she looked back at the past, and
wondered if it had been well to save her from the dangers that
surrounded her; she might have fought against them, and grown up more
ignorant perhaps, but more loved. In a different sphere she would have
made different friends, and known nothing of this _genteel_ life, where
there had been no happiness, and much trouble and remorse!

Hence, by noting Mattie's thoughts, we arrive at the conclusion that
this was Mattie's darkest hour; that a change had befallen her which
time might remedy, or might harden within her to a wrong--it depended
upon the forces brought to bear upon her, and her own heart's strength.

She had heard nothing of Sidney since the experiment in a direct manner.
Maurice had met her father in the streets, and informed him that all was
progressing well, and Sidney was gaining ground rapidly--that had been
"information enough for the Grays," Mattie thought, a little bitterly;
there was no occasion for further visits to out-of-the-way districts,
now the banker's son could exult over the result of his scheming! From
Harriet no news had reached her, and Mattie had not sallied forth in
search of her. The day on which Mattie was to have made up her mind and
answered Sidney came and went without anyone taking heed of it. When
would the sign come that he remembered her?--what would he do and say
when he was well again?--what would he think of _her_?

Mr. Gray did not observe any particular change in his daughter; she was
graver and more thoughtful, but he attributed that to her concern for
Sidney's recovery. Once he was about to speak of Sidney's proposal to
Mattie, and was asked, almost imploringly, to say no more; but he was
not alarmed. Mattie was nervous still, and had not recovered the shock
yet. She was his dutiful daughter whom he loved, and though her grave
face did not become her years, still it was the face of a girl who took
things studiously and reverently, and he was proud of it. Serious people
suited Mr. Gray; his daughter was becoming every day more worthy of him,
thank God!

Still there was one watcher on whom Mattie had not reckoned--a watcher
who knew all the story, and guessed more than Mattie could have
wished--to whom every change in Mattie was a thing of moment, which
affected her. This humble agent, who had watched thus, since the time
Mattie was a child, had some inkling of the truth--hearts that have but
one idol are sensitive enough. Through the stolidity, the inflexibility
of Mattie, Ann Packet read the despair, and charged it with her honest
force.

One night, when Mattie thought that the house was quiet for
good--meaning by that, that her father and Ann Packet were in their
rooms, and asleep--she was sitting by her little toilet-table, dwelling
upon a hundred associations, that all verged to one common centre, when
a tapping on the panels of her door startled her.

"Who's there?" she asked; "is that you, Ann?"

"Yes--let me in."

She demanded it as a right, rather than as a favour, but Mattie admitted
her without opposition. Ann Packet entered with her cap awry--hanging in
fact, by strange filaments, to her back comb--and she placed herself in
front of Mattie, with her arms akimbo, quite defiantly.

"Now, what's the matter with _you_?"

"Have I complained?--is there likely to be anything the matter, Ann?"

"Yes, there is. And you'll just tell me, please, what is it!"

"Ann, you forget yourself."

"No, it's you who is forgetting yourself, and me, and all you had a
liking and a love for wunst. It's you as has altered so dreffully, that
I can only think of one thing to make you different."

"Don't tell me!--don't tell me!" Mattie entreated.

Ann Packet took no heed.

"It's _him_!" she whispered.

Mattie did not answer; she went back to her seat by the toilet-table,
and turned her head away from the one faithful to her, to the last. She
was vexed that she had not kept her secret closer, and deceived them
_all_!

"It's no good telling me it ain't him, Mattie--cos it is!" Ann Packet
said, after following Mattie to the table, and taking another chair
facing her; "there's nothing else--there can't be nothing else, girl.
Well, I wouldn't grieve because his sight's come back--that's not
right!"

"Do you think I grieve for that?" cried Mattie, fired into defence; "oh!
Ann, how can you ever think so badly of me!"

"Then you're afraid that he won't like you any more?"

"How do you know he ever liked me, or said he did?"

"I--I guessed as much."

Ann Packet, we know, possessed a secret as well as Mattie.

"You guessed wrongly."

"I guessed what you did, Mattie--there!"

"I am not always in the right, Ann," was the hard answer; "I am a
foolish woman, ever ready to drop into the snare of a few fine words!"

Ann scarcely understood her; but she went on resolutely--

"You think he's tired of you--that it won't come right now. Why not?"

"Nothing can come right out of nothing," said Mattie, passionately, and
not too clearly; "I can't be worried like this, Ann. I have nothing to
tell you; I am what I have always been. If there be a difference, it is
only that I am getting older, and more world-worn. Won't you believe
me?"

"No, I won't. I think I know you well enough by this time, and aren't to
be _done_ by any reason short of what's a true un. Oh! Mattie gal,
you're not happy; you, who have done so much for happiness to other
people--and this shan't be, if I can help it! You and Mr. Hinchford must
get married; and if there's been a quarrel, _that'll_ mend, it."

"Mr. Hinchford and I will never marry, Ann."

"You mean it?"

"Yes."

"I don't see why," said Ann, reflectively.

"Mr. Hinchford will marry Harriet Wesden--they are old lovers, and true
ones."

Ann Packet looked fixedly for awhile at Mattie, and then burst forth:

"Let him! Pr'aps he's fitter for her than you, if he's weak-minded and
babyish, and can't tell what's best for him. Let him pack up his traps
and go--you can do without him." Ann Packet, carried away by the
feelings of the moment, went on, in a higher key. "You're too good for
him, and the likes of him, and ain't agoing begging because a pink-faced
gal is set afore ye. You're young yet. You've people to love you, and
take care on you--you shan't be lonely, and you shall get over all your
disappintments and be as happy as the day is long. It isn't for you,
Mattie, to fret yourself to death because a little trouble's come, and
you can't shake it off yet--you'll show 'em that you've never been a
fretting, and that you've got a consolation yet, that their goings on
can't take away!"

"Well, Ann, where would be your consolation?" asked Mattie.

"Where you taught me to find it, big words and all--where you will never
lose it, Mattie, good as you've growed."

There was something touching in the manner with which Ann Packet
snatched from the toilet-table the little Bible that always had a place
there, and laid it suddenly in Mattie's lap. Mattie shivered, even
cowered somewhat at the demonstration; it had been unexpected as that
interview, and for the first time in her life Ann Packet took the
vantage ground, and Mattie looked up to _her_.

"When you turned good, Mattie," said Ann, "you turned to _that_--you
read it to me, and tried to make me read it, telling me that there was
comfort to be found there for my loneliness. I found it--so will you,
child. _You_ can't miss what you found me!"

"It does not follow," murmured Mattie.

"Yes it does," said Ann, who would not abate one jot of her assertions;
"with _you_, who ain't like tother people, and who never was. You liked
tother people better than yourself, and so got posed upon--but you're
all the better for it--lor bless you!--you'll see that in _there_. And,
Mattie, there's your father and me, still--we shan't drop away from you.
The likes of me," she added, after a little more reflection, "isn't much
to brag on, but you'll find me allus true--that's something."

"Everything!"

"You ain't like me, with no one to look to--with no one but you in all
the world that would do me a good turn if I wished it ever so. With you
there isn't one but'd go anywhere to help you, knowing what a contented
soul you are. And when it comes to you, allus so cheerful, getting
mopish--you, who finds somethin' good in things that others fret at, and
makes us warm and comfurble instead o' shivering with fright--why, it's
sixes and sevens all a topsy turvy anyhow, and no one to look up to
nowhere!"

"I must come back to my old self, if I have wandered from it so much
that your honest heart is touched by the change, Ann," said Mattie.
"Perhaps I have been gloomy without a cause--perhaps you are right and I
am wrong--though I don't confess to all your implications, mind--and
from you I can bear to hear my lesson better than from others at this
time. Ann, I'm not going to break my heart."

"God bless you! I knew that."

"I'm going to be just my old self again--nothing more. Not quite that,
suddenly, but finding my way back, as it were. There, you'll leave me
now--to think."

"Only to think?" said Ann, with a wistful look at the holy volume in her
lap; "it's too much thinking that has done this harm."

"To think what is best, Ann," said Mattie, rising, "and, failing that,
to pray for it; there, leave me now. Don't fear for me ever again."

"And I haven't done wrong in talking of all this--you were angry when I
first comed in, Mattie?"

"I am glad that you came now--I must have been aging very rapidly to
have alarmed one who always had such trust in me. It's all over now!"

When Ann Packet had withdrawn, Mattie clasped her hands together and
cried again, "It is all over!" as though for ever some hope had been
dismissed rather than some fear. Hopes and fears had perhaps gone down
the stream of time together, and it was impossible to arrest the sighs
for the fair blossoms which had been once. But she was stronger from
that day; Mattie was not likely to harden, and it had only needed one
warm-hearted counsellor to turn her from the wrong path she was
pursuing. The right counsellor had come--a humble messenger, but a true
one; one to whom Mattie could listen without shame.

"I was never fit for him--in his new estate, I might have brought him
shame rather than happiness--and it was his happiness I tried for, not
my own!"

She sank down on her knees and prayed as honest Ann had wished. But she
did not pray for the best to happen as she had promised. She knew what
was best for her and others--so far as it is possible to know that--and
she asked for strength to do her best.



CHAPTER VI.

SIGNS OF CHANGE.


Mr. Gray, though he had not remarked any change that was prejudicial to
his daughter Mattie, was quick enough to detect the new difference in
her manner. He knew then that she had not been "her old self," as Ann
Packet had termed it, by the old manner which was now substituted. She
was more gentle, less distracted, kinder in her way altogether, more
thoughtful of what his requirements consisted, and which was the best
way to expedite them. If she smiled with an effort still, _that_ he did
not remark; he felt the benefit of the change and was content with it;
he knew no reason why there should be any effort in her looks.

He expected to hear all on the first day that Mattie had received good
news of Sidney Hinchford; that he was quite well perhaps, and coming
back to his old home for a while--coming back to settle _that_
engagement. He did not suggest the name however; he waited for
suggestions. Mattie had shown that she was tenacious on that question of
engagement, and far from disposed to state her ultimate intentions. He
could afford to wait, knowing that all was well!

In the evening his forbearance was rewarded by Mattie speaking of
Sidney. She knew that to hold that name for ever in the background was
unnatural. She was anxious to keep it a well known name, and not shrink
at an allusion to it, as though she feared to think of Sid, or would
consign him for ever to oblivion.

"It's almost time we heard how Sidney was, father," she said.

"Ah! it is. His cousin said that we should see him very shortly."

"It depends upon the doctor, I suppose," said Mattie; "he has promised
to obey Doctor Bario implicitly."

"That's the reason, doubtless," said Mr. Gray; "well, I shall be glad to
hear from him--a long silence between friends is always unsatisfactory,
and often leads to unsatisfactory results. We shall hear from him very
shortly, I feel certain. That young man, his cousin, might have
called--I have much to tell him about his future course in life, if he
will only listen to me. I mark progress in him, and he must not falter
in the narrow way."

Mattie thought that Maurice Hinchford might have called more frequently
if it had not been for the good advice that lay in wait for him, but she
did not tell her father so. Her father meant well, and she seldom
attacked his "best intentions." He was a man who had done much
good--chiefly in a darker sphere than his own, where hard words are
wanted for hard hearts--and she respected his opinions. She had not
understood him very quickly--such men are always hard to understand--but
she knew his genuineness, and it was not difficult to love him.

"What should I have done without him in this strait?" she often thought;
and for his presence there--showing that there was some one to love, and
some one who loved her--she was deeply grateful.

"Every day I expect visitors now," continued Mr. Gray, "and think it
very singular that no one calls. You will be glad to see Sidney,
Mattie?"

"Very glad."

That same evening a letter arrived for Mr. Gray, informing him that the
elders of his chapel would be very glad to see him on the following
afternoon--a letter that turned the subject of discourse for that day,
and took Mr. Gray away upon the next. During his absence the first
visitor arrived.

Mattie was in the shop, when Maurice Hinchford entered, walked at once
to his high chair, and assumed his customary position there. Remembering
what had happened since then, Mattie winced somewhat.

"Good afternoon, Miss Gray," he said, shaking hands with her. "Given up
for lost, and considered the most ungrateful of human kind, I am sure?"

"No, sir."

"To tell you the truth, we have had a bother with that cousin of mine.
He's so horribly obstinate, we don't exactly know what to do with him."

"He's no worse?" asked Mattie, eagerly.

"Worse!--he's so much better that we cannot keep him quiet. We locked
him up a week in the dark, and then gave him light in homoeopathic
doses--globules of light, in fact--and so brought him round to a natural
state of things. He is told to be cautious, and we catch him writing a
letter to you, and we foil the attempt, and get sauced at for our pains.
Then he wants to come back here directly, on business, he says; and we
take him _nolens volens_ to Red-Hill, and lock him up in our rooms
there, with my sisters to see after him during our absence, and at
length he is pacified a bit, and resigned to country air."

"Have you come at his request, sir?" asked Mattie.

"Yes. I promised faithfully to call to-day, and assure you that he is
nearly well, and will shortly surprise you by a visit. He is very, very
anxious to see old friends. That's my commission; and now, Miss Gray,
about this conspiracy of ours--will it succeed?"

Mattie drew a long breath, and then prepared herself. She knew where his
interest lay, and how unconscious he was whither her thoughts had
drifted once, but she was prepared to meet all now. It was for every
one's content, save hers. Only herself shut out from the general
rejoicing in the cold ante-room wherein no warmth could steal!

"It will succeed, I think--I hope."

"Yes, but how are we to begin?"

"Harriet Wesden and Sidney must meet and explain all that they have
thought concerning each other--that's all."

"Ah! that's all! Quite enough, considering how difficult it is to bring
them together. Difficult, but not impossible, Miss Gray; we shall skim
round to the proper method in due course. Harriet Wesden's appearance
roused him, did it not?"

"I think so. Has--has he ever spoken of it since?"

"A very little--he's plaguey quiet on matters in that quarter. He was
very anxious to know what he said when he saw her, what she said, and
you said; and after he had got all that _he_ wanted, you might as well
have tried to elicit confidence from an oyster. I try every day to bring
the topic round, but he dances away from it, or curtly tells me to shut
up. And now, may I ask a question?"

"If you will," said Mattie, a little nervously.

"What does Miss Wesden think?--you have seen her very frequently since
the meeting at Doctor Bario's?"

"On the contrary, I have not seen her at all."

"Miss Gray! Miss Gray!" he said, reproachfully, "you are not working
heart and soul with me! Here are two human beings who love each other,
and will never be happy without each other, and we are letting time go
by and harden them."

"I thought that Miss Wesden would have called here, and that we might
have proceeded on _our_ plan with less formality. But if she do not come
shortly, I must visit her."

"Thank you--just sound her, if you can. She's a girl that will not be
ashamed to own what impression the meeting with Sidney has made upon
her; and after that, we'll set to work in earnest."

"I will write to her this evening, asking her to spend an hour with me."

"Ah! that's a good plan--looks better than calling. Now I will just tell
you how we might manage to bring Sidney and her together--you're not
busy?"

"No."

"Nor I. I have given myself the whole day to mature this plan, and if
you consider it feasible, why we will carry it out, and chance the
_dénouement_."

He tilted his chair on to its front legs, and leaned across the counter
to more closely impress Mattie with his logic; at the same instant the
door opened, and Mr. Gray entered and gave him good day.

"Pleased to see you, Mr. Hinchford; you bring good news, I hope, of my
absent partner?"

"The best of news, sir," answered Maurice; "your daughter will tell you
how well he is progressing, and whither we have taken him. You are at
home for the day, I suppose, sir?"

"Yes--will you step into the parlour, and take a quiet cup of tea with
us. We shall be proud of your company, and I shall be glad to have a
little talk with you afterwards."

"Thank you, I have not dined yet, and--and I am very much pressed for
time to-day, or nothing would have given me greater pleasure. Some other
time, I hope, I shall be more fortunate. Please excuse this hasty visit,
but business must be attended to--good-bye, sir--good-bye, Miss
Gray--how late it is, to be sure!"

And backing and bowing politely, Maurice Hinchford reached the
shop-door, darted through it, and dashed away from his tormentor.

"That young man is always in a terrible hurry," said Mr. Gray; "a good
man of business, with a knowledge of the value of time, I daresay. Still
he should not give up serious thoughts for thoughts of money-making
entirely. I hope to find him more at his leisure shortly."

But Mr. Gray never did. Maurice Hinchford reformed, but it was after his
own method, not Mr. Gray's; and being a fair repentance, we need not
cavil at it. He was ever truly sorry for that past, and all the wrong
that he had done in it; he sobered down, fell in love once more, and in
"real earnest;" married well, and made the best of husbands and fathers.
The reader, who will meet with him no more on this little stage, whereon
our characters are preparing to make their final bows, will I trust be
glad to hear of Maurice Hinchford's better life, and to forgive him all
his past iniquities. He has been the villain of our story; bad enough
for real life, but in these latter days scarcely villain enough for the
pages of a novel. Let us take him for what he is worth, and so dismiss
him from our pages.

Father and daughter went into the parlour.

"Now let us hear all about Sidney," Mr. Gray said in the first place.

Mattie told him all that she knew, and he listened, rubbed his hands one
over the other complacently, and exulted, like a good man as he was,
over the well-doing of others. He indulged in a short prayer also for
all the goodness and mercies vouchsafed to Sidney; and Mattie, who had
never become reconciled to these sudden and spasmodic prayers, yet
joined in this one with all her heart.

"Now," said he, suddenly assuming his every-day briskness, "for _my_
news. But in the first place, don't excite yourself, Mattie--because it
ends in nothing."

"Indeed!"

"I am not fond of exciting situations, and therefore I begin with the
end, in order that I may not be excited myself. The end is, that I
declined their offer, Mattie."

"What offer?"

"We'll come to that next. They wanted to see me at the chapel--there's a
great scheme afoot for a further extension of the missionary project;
they want a very energetic man for Africa--just such a man as I am," he
added, with that old naive conceit which set well and conveniently upon
him, because he spoke the truth after all; "and they've altered their
opinion of that other man, who, if you remember, stepped into my shoes
some time ago."

"Yes, I remember."

"But they were too late--I told them so. I said that though my daughter
was about to marry and have a home of her own, yet I had learned to love
her so dearly that I did not care, in my old age, as it will be
presently, to begin life afresh without her. I thought that I could do
my Master's service here as elsewhere, and that I would rather give up
that good chance than give up you, and go away for ever."

"For ever!--why?"

"I was to settle down at the Cape--minister at a chapel there that will
be completed before the next vessel arrives--and I felt too weak of
purpose, Heaven forgive me, to leave you altogether."

"And you declined?"

"Yes, firmly and decisively. Perhaps it was wrong."

"Go back, then, at once--don't lose a moment, lest they should think of
another man whom they can put in your place!"

"What!--what!--what!" he cried, jealously, "you wish to get rid of me
like that."

"No--to go with you--share your life and labours there--be happy with
you!"

"Mattie!--what does this mean?"

He held her at arm's length, and looked into her tear-dimmed eyes; he
read the truth at last there, and, though unable to account for it, he
folded his stricken daughter to his heart, and even wept with her. A man
who had known little of earth's romance, or of the tenderness of life,
and yet who understood it, now it was face to face with him, and could
appreciate the loneliness of her whose life had become linked with his
own.

"So," he said, at last, "you do not--you do not love Sidney well enough
to become his wife?"

"Yes, I do. I love him too well ever to make him unhappy by becoming so,
and standing between him and one he loves so much better than me. Some
day I will tell you the whole story--explain it more minutely--you will
spare me now, and keep my secret ever?"

"Ever," he responded.

"He will never know how I have loved him, therefore his memory will not
be embittered by thinking that I--I felt this separation very much. I
shall give him up--that's all! I don't think that he will care for any
explanation--and after that, I should very much like to go away with you
to a new world."

"Beginning life anew, and leaving all old troubles behind us--well, if
it must end like this, so much the better, Mattie!"

Mattie was silent for awhile, then said suddenly--

"You will go back now, and tell them that your daughter is anxious to go
with you--to serve you there, and be your faithful servant in the good
work lying before us both."

"If it's certain that you----"

"Father, there can be no alteration in _me_."

Mr. Gray took up his hat again and prepared to depart. He would have
liked to attempt consolation to his daughter, but he felt, probably for
the first time, that his efforts would have resulted in no good--that
she was already resigned, and that the utterance of trite aphorisms
would only unnecessarily wound her.

He departed, and Mattie, true to her old business habits, took once more
her place in the shop. She was glad that there was no business doing
that afternoon--that Peckham in the aggregate was undisturbed with
thoughts of stationery. She could sit there and deliberate upon her
plans for bringing Harriet and Sidney together--they must be happy at
least, and she must not go away from England uncertain about their
future. Two old sweethearts, whose liking for each other had only been
temporarily disturbed--for whose happiness she had made many efforts,
and did not flinch at this one. After all, she thought, their happiness
would be hers--and she should go away content.

Then there rose before her that future for herself, and she could see in
the new life, in the new world, that which her father had prophesied.
All the old troubles would be left behind on the old battle-ground; she
would make up her mind to that, and thus life would be different with
her, and happiness for her, perhaps, follow in due course. She had no
idea of being unhappy all her life, because she had discovered that
Sidney Hinchford's heart had been true to its first love; on the
contrary, she was certain now that she should get over all her romantic
difficulties in a very little time. At the bottom of all this was the
woman's pride to be above all petty sorrowing for those who had never
really loved her,--as she deserved to be loved,--and that would keep her
strong, she knew.

Afar, then, she saw herself happy enough in the new world--with the
familiar faces of her father and Ann Packet to remind her of the old.
New friends, new pursuits, new incentives to do good, and defeat evil at
every turn of her life--her young life still--with scope for energy and
a fair time given her, not entirely alone, and never unloved, there
would be nothing to disturb, and much to gladden, the future progress of
the stray.

When her father returned in the evening, he found her very anxious to
learn the result of his second journey to London.

"Were you in time?" she asked.

"Yes. It's all settled, my dear."

"I am very glad of that," she murmured; "there is no uncertainty about
our next step."

"No--we must see Sidney now, dissolve partnership, and put the shutters
up, Mattie."

"We must write to him in a day or two about the partnership--I would
prefer that they know nothing of our intentions until the last
instant--until we are ready to go--perhaps until we _are_ gone. I don't
think I could stand up against all their good-byes and best wishes--I
would rather go away quietly, with you and Ann."

"Ann!"

"We must not forget her."

"She'll never go to the Cape, my dear--she can't go to Finsbury to bank
her wages without hysterics, now."

"Because she's nervous, and I don't go with her," said Mattie.

"Ah! I see--you're right, my child. Ann Packet will have no fear about
accompanying _us_. And she'll make a much handier servant than a Zulu
Kaffir."

"And we'll go away quietly," said Mattie again.

"Yes my dear, if you wish it. I object to anything in the dark, but as
it's for your sake--I promise."

"Thank you," whispered Mattie.

Whilst Mattie was writing a letter to Harriet Wesden, as she had
promised Maurice Hinchford--Mr. Gray broke the news to Ann Packet, and
impressed secrecy upon her. Ann Packet was asked to state her wishes,
and Mattie looked up from her desk and smiled at the old faithful
servant.

"Anywhere's you like," said Ann, without a moment's hesitation; "black
men or brown men--I suppose they're one or tother there--won't matter
anythink to me. I'm too old to care about the colour on 'em. And, Miss
Mattie"--she always called our heroine Miss Mattie in Mr. Gray's
presence--"whilst you're at your desk, do'ee give notice at my bank
about my money."

"Plenty of time, Ann," said Mr. Gray; "we shan't leave here for two
months yet, at least."

"Then give 'em two months' notice," was Ann's rejoinder. "There's
thirty-seven pounds nine and sevenpence halfpenny in there, and they may
as well be told to get it ready for me. If they've been a speccilating
with it, it'll give 'em time to call it in."



CHAPTER VII.

RETURNED.


Mattie dispatched her letter to Harriet that same evening; in her
epistle she expressed surprise that they had not seen each other since
the meeting at Dr. Bario's--should she visit her, or would Harriet walk
over to Peckham to-morrow afternoon? She would be entirely alone, her
father had business in town to attend to, and she was very anxious to
see her old friend.

Mr. Gray's business in town did not take him from home till twelve in
the morning; prior to that he went to work at his stock. When he
returned home, he would endeavour to write a few lines to Sidney
Hinchford; and whilst he was thinking what he should say, and whilst,
despite his efforts to keep these thoughts back, they would intrude upon
his figures, and throw him out in his accounts, Sidney Hinchford himself
walked into the shop and stood before the counter, waiting for his
partner to look up.

Mr. Gray, unmindful of Sid's propinquity, still bent over the books on
his counter, and scratched away with his pen; Sidney, with his glasses
on--the old Sidney of Suffolk Street days--stood very erect and still,
smiling to himself at the surprise he should create.

Mr. Gray looked up at last.

"God bless me!" he ejaculated, and swept pens, ink, and account books on
to the floor in his amazement, "it is you, then!--it _must_ be you!"

"It looks like me somewhat, I hope," said Sidney, laughing and extending
his hand, which the other warmly shook.

"Yes," said Mr. Gray, "and what a time it is since we have seen you! We
were beginning to think that you had quite forgotten us."

"I never forget my best friends," Sidney replied, "and you and Mattie
are the best that ever I have had. Did Mattie think that I was likely to
forget her?"

"Well, not exactly," said Mr. Gray, "and if you'll wait a moment I'll
run up-stairs and call her----"

"No, you'll stay here," said Sidney, firmly; "don't disturb her on my
account. I shall see her presently, and I want to enjoy the luxury of
her surprise. Besides, there's no hurry."

"Isn't there?" Mr. Gray asked dreamily.

"Why should there be? I'm here for good."

Mr. Gray had just stooped to pick up his books and inkstand; he dropped
them again at this, and then emerged like a phantom above the counter
once more.

"You don't mean that?"

"This is my home again. _They_ were very kind to me at Red-Hill, but it
wasn't like home, and it never felt like home to me. After Maurice had
left for London this morning, I told them my mind very plainly--it's no
good telling that harum-scarum fellow anything--expressed my thanks, my
gratitude for all that they had done for me, packed up and came away. I
was unsettled, dissatisfied, unhappy, somehow--and here I am."

Mr. Gray sank behind the counter again, this time to hide his confusion,
which, it was evident, was visibly expressed on his countenance. Sidney
back again! Sidney, without preliminary warning, once more entering his
home as a friend who expected to be heartily welcomed, and as a partner
whom he had no right to ask to go away! Mr. Gray did not see his way
very clearly to the end; Sidney's "straightforward" habit of doing
things had completely discomfited him for the nonce. He must take his
time, and think of this!

He re-emerged from his hiding-place, and laid the _débris_ he had
collected on the counter.

"I was taking stock when you came in, Sidney," he said; "just seeing
what each share would be, and so on."

"Indeed! what was that for?"

"Why, you--you are going back to the bank again as clerk. I believe you
promised that," said Mr. Gray.

"When my sight will allow me--that will be in a month or two's time--I
shall return to the old life, God willing. But what is that to do with
taking stock?"

"We shall give up this partnership together, of course."

"I don't see why," said Sidney; "I shall still want a home after
business-hours, and there is no home but this that I shall ever care
for. The business has not become so large an undertaking that Mattie and
you cannot manage it."

"No, it's not that."

"And when--when I am married, we can talk about giving it up then, or
making it over to you, or anything you like," said Sidney--"and so we'll
dismiss the subject."

"For the present--we shall have to talk of it again. Mattie and I are
tired of it, and have thought of something new, Sidney. But, we'll
explain all presently. Mattie, I have no doubt, would rather tell you
herself."

Sidney looked surprised, even discomfited. He did not comprehend the
hint which Mr. Gray had thrown out; he did not entirely see the drift of
Mr. Gray's conversation, or understand very clearly what was the
difference in his partner's manner, which rendered his return something
more than an agreeable surprise. He thought that he had discovered the
solution to the mystery, and said,

"Old friend, you are vexed at my long silence; you have been harassing
yourself--perhaps Mattie and you together--about my anxiety to get away
from here, after God has pleased to give me back my sight. And I have
been struggling and scheming to get back, and escape the kindness of my
relations! Why, Mr. Gray, this will not do--this is not like you to
mistrust true friends, and think uncharitably of them after their backs
are turned! You should have known me better, and have had more faith in
me by this time."

"My dear Sidney," exclaimed Mr. Gray, "I have never had an uncharitable
thought towards you. I knew that you would always think well of
us--that--that you were not likely to forget us. Until yesterday, I have
been building upon your return here, and thinking how happy we should
all be together."

"Until yesterday--what happened yesterday?"

"Mattie will tell you, Sidney--I cannot--I must not."

"Very well, we will wait," said Sidney, gravely; "there is nothing she
can tell me which I cannot explain away."

"Are you sure?" was the father's eager question.

"Sure," he answered; but there was something in the tone which wavered,
and Mr. Gray fancied that he detected it. He said no more, however; he
was glad to see Sidney disinclined to elicit further information. Sidney
paced the shop once or twice, looked round it, and then went into the
parlour, without waiting for Mr. Gray's invitation, and looked carefully
and curiously round the room also.

Mr. Gray followed him.

"I see the home for the first time, if you remember," said Sidney;
"here, in the darkness, a fair life was spent, thanks to you and _her_.
Here you both first taught me that there was comfort even in affliction;
and here stood by my side, and fought my battle, two dear friends. What
has altered them?"

"Nothing has altered their love and esteem for you, Sidney," said Mr.
Gray; "whatever happens, you must believe that."

"And what has altered my love and esteem for them?" was the quick
rejoinder.

"Nothing, I hope--I believe."

"Then let us settle down into our old positions here. I have come in
search of peace and rest; of the old comforts which my uncle's grandeur
could not give me, and which by contrast only rendered me more restless.
I find them here, or nowhere. I take my stand here and expect them, or
the disappointment will be a bitter one. This is home!"

He took off his hat, and seated himself by the table--a home-like
figure, which Mr. Gray felt was in its place again. He leaned his
forehead on his hand, and looked down thoughtfully--an old position in
his blindness, which Mr. Gray had often watched, and which drew again
more forcibly the heart of the watcher towards him. That heart might
have been a little estranged since yester-night; it had borne no malice,
but it had thrilled a little at his daughter's confession, and the
thought had crossed it that Sidney Hinchford might have spared Mattie an
avowal of such weak love as had been borne towards her. Sid had guessed
Mattie's secret, perhaps, and taken pity upon her; he was generous
enough for that, but he had forgotten that Mattie was not humble enough
to accept it. Mr. Gray could almost believe now that all had been a
mistake, which Sidney's presence there would satisfactorily explain; and
yet Sidney's thoughtfulness and restlessness forebade it.

Sidney looked towards him suddenly.

"What are you thinking of?"

"Of the change in you, Sidney--and of the home that it really looks
again for a little while."

"For a little while," echoed Sidney; "oh! you will not explain--call
Mattie, then, and let us end this. I always hated mystery," he added, a
little peevishly.

Before Mr. Gray could cross the room to fulfil his partner's commands,
the door opened. Mattie entered, and paused upon the threshold with her
hands to her quickly-beating heart.

"Sidney here--at last?" she faltered forth.

"Yes, at last," he said, advancing towards her; "_at last_, as your
father has said, and now you. I have returned to find that you have both
lost confidence in me, and both misunderstood me cruelly."

"I hope not, Sidney."

They shook hands together, and looked one another long and steadily in
the face.

"It is upwards of a year since I have seen you, Mattie. It is the same
hopeful, earnest face, that I have ever known--can there be a difference
in me?"

"No, you are unchanged."

"You both thought that I had forgotten you?"

"No."

"You must prove it by your old ways, then; or I shall never think this
place the dear home I left a month ago."

"You have come back to----"

"To stop! Why not?--don't you wish it?"

"I--I will tell you presently--give me time, Sidney."

"I am in no hurry," he answered, coldly.

There _was_ a difference then!--they were inclined to resent his long
silence, by something more than a rebuke; they would not understand that
he had been kept away against his will, by his doctor's orders, and that
he had been cautioned not to write or read, or test his sight more than
he could help. They had not been satisfied with his messages sent by
Maurice Hinchford; they _had_ mistrusted him! It was all very strange,
and intensely disheartening; he could have trusted them all his life,
and he had believed that their faith would last as long as his.
Presently they would know him better, see that he had not wavered in one
thought or purpose, which he had formed before his sight came back; but
the consciousness that they had formed an estimate unworthy of his
character, would remain with him for ever, and no after-kindness, and
fresh faith, would obliterate it from his memory. There was an anxious
silence; then the father's and daughter's eyes met.

"I think that I'll run into the City now," he suggested, feebly. He
scarcely liked to leave his daughter at this juncture; but he knew her
strength, her power to explain, and her wish that he should go. It did
not seem natural that he should leave her with that strange young man,
and, after he had risen to withdraw, he hesitated again.

He went slowly into the shop, and Mattie followed him.

She had read his thoughts correctly, for she said at once--

"I shall not give way before him. I am firm and cool--feel my pulse, it
does not throb more quickly because I have to tell him that I will not
be his wife. Before you come back, it will be all over, and I shall be
waiting for you--the calm, unmoved daughter, that you see me now!"

"There'll be no scene, then?"

"All commonplace, and matter of fact--I will have no scene," she said
firmly.

"Then I'll go. God bless you, my child!--if I couldn't trust you
implicitly, I wouldn't move a step."

He went away, and she returned to the parlour, where Sidney had been
sitting, a watcher of this whispered conference.

"Now, Mattie," he said.

Mattie sat down a little distance from him, and their eyes met steadily
once more, and flinched not.

"Now, Sidney!"



CHAPTER VIII.

"DECLINED WITH THANKS."


It had come at last, that day of explanation. Mattie would not give way
therein; she had long prepared for it, prayed for strength to sever all
past ties, and leave him ignorant, if possible, of her real thoughts
concerning him. Whatever happened, she would be firm, she thought; and
now with Sidney before her, she did not feel that she should waver. An
artificial strength it might be, but it would support her throughout
that interview, whatever might be the reaction after he had passed from
her sight, never to see her again, if she could hinder him.

Ann Packet, who had been out on divers errands, stepped into the shop at
this juncture, marked the occupants of the parlour, and went immediately
behind the counter, to attend to business during that interview, and
confuse the accounts inextricably, supposing that there was any business
likely to drift that way just then.

Mattie and Sidney had the little room all to themselves, and there was
no likelihood of being disturbed. "Now, Mattie"--"Now, Sidney," had been
said between them, and then each waited for the next words--as a
duellist might wait for the sword's-point aimed at his heart.

Mattie spoke first. It was evident that Sidney Hinchford would have
waited all day.

"A few days before you went away from here, Sidney," said Mattie, "you
asked me a question, and I promised that in good time, and with due
consideration, I would reply to it. Do you wish that question answered
now?"

"I have come for it," was the reply.

He knew by Mattie's manner what that answer would be, and he steeled
himself to meet a cold rejection of his offer. All was part and parcel
of the new incomprehensibility upon which he had intruded.

"More than once, Sidney, I have thought of writing my answer to you, but
have found the difficulty of putting all I wish to say into words that
would not look cold and indifferent to the great honour you would have
done me."

"This is satire," he said, hastily.

"Forgive me, it is not intended for that. I would not wound you by a
word, if I could help it. And it was an honour to _me_."

"I deny it," he answered, warmly.

"Ever before you and me that past which there is no shutting from
us--which would have been talked about, and have often brought the blush
of shame to your cheeks for my sake. Ever before you what I have
been--what I am fit for!"

"Fit for a higher station than it is in my power to raise you--no
position is too elevated for a good and pious woman. All this is
argument which I thought that I had combated long since--pardon me for
adding, all this foolish reasoning, utterly unworthy of you."

"Still----"

"It is no reason for declining my hand, Mattie," he interrupted, with
some sternness, "it is simply an excuse."

Mattie winced for an instant, then her quiet voice, firm and even as the
way she had chosen for herself, replied to this--

"Let me proceed, Sidney. You will hear me out fairly, I am sure."

"Why not say No at once?--you mean to tell me that you do not care to be
my wife, and share my home. Is not that your answer?"

"Yes--but I cannot let you think that I have been insensible to your
offer, or not weighed it carefully in my mind before I thought that it
was not right that I should marry you. Sidney, had it pleased God never
to have restored your sight, I would have been your faithful wife,
serving you as I alone was able, perhaps, and rendering you content with
me."

"I see. You would have taken pity on my loneliness--with that strange
idea of being grateful for past kindnesses of a trivial description, you
would have sacrificed your happiness in an attempt to attain mine.
Mattie, it would have been a terrible failure."

"No."

"I say a terrible failure, which would have embittered both lives in
lieu of promoting the happiness of either. I should have discovered the
motives which had placed you at my side, and felt too keenly the
encumbrance that I was upon you."

"I think not!--I am sure not!"

She was anxious to defend herself, to hold her best in his estimation
yet, but she feared the betrayal of her secret. She could have told him
how, for a few fleeting days, she had pictured her greatest happiness to
be ever near him, striving to brighten every thought, and vary the
monotony of every hour--sustaining, comforting, and worshipping. She
could have told him of the affection of a whole life that had been spent
in thinking of him, praying for him; but she held her peace, and let him
think that she had never loved him. In the end, she saw that it was best
to turn him from his purpose.

"I would have married you, Sidney, in affliction--out of gratitude, if
you choose to word it so, but a gratitude that _you_ would have never
known from love," she ventured to say; "but now, when the new life, to
which you will shortly turn your steps, is far removed from mine, when
you require no help from me, and when there are others, fairer, better,
and so much more worthy of you, I cannot hold you to a promise of which
you must repent."

"Why?"

The position by some means had become suddenly reversed. It was she who
had to speak of his pity and gratitude for her.

"Because you would discover that I was not fit to be your wife, that you
had not sought me out of love, but out of kindness towards me for my
services. You had pledged your word in one estate, and you would keep it
in another, like an honest man valuing a promise he had made, and
resolving to go through with it to the end, at whatever cost to his own
better chances. Therefore, Sidney, you must understand that I cannot be
your wife for pity's sake--that the man who is to become my husband,
must love me with all his heart, and soul, and strength, or he may go
his way for me!"

"I said that my romance had died out long ago. That I was too old, and
had experienced too much sorrow to talk like a lover in a novel."

"It seems to me--I do not know, Sid--that true love must belong partly
to romance. It is too pure--too full of fancies, if you will--to mingle
readily with business life; it is too deep down in the heart to rise to
an every-day surface--it is full of sacrifice as well as love. All this,
my idea, not yours, Sidney--I who would at least be romantic in that
fashion, and would care for no one but a romantic lover."

"You have altered, Mattie--you are talking like a school-girl now. If
that be another reason for refusing me, it is unworthy of you."

"It is another reason, for all that," replied Mattie; "let me dismiss it
at once, if you are ashamed of it. You have come hither
oppressed--burdened, I may say--with a sense of duty to me; let me raise
the load from you by saying, that I will not be your wife. If I would
have married you even out of pity myself," she added, a little
scornfully, "I will not take a man for a husband who would have had pity
upon me!"

"Very well," he answered, moodily.

"As your wife, never--but oh! Sidney, as the old friend and sister,
always! Don't think ill of me because I cannot see my way to
happiness--don't think that there is any difference in me, or that I
value you less than I ever did. You understand me?"

"Scarcely, Mattie--you have altered very much."

"You must not think that--I have not altered in any one respect--I would
be ever your friend, ever hold a place in your heart, ever be remembered
as the poor girl who would have died to make you happy!"

"But would not have married me for the same purpose," answered Sidney,
in a kinder tone; "is that it, Mattie?"

"My marriage with you would have rendered you wretched--don't deny it
again, Sid--I am sure of that!"

"Hence your answer. Well, if it must be, I will rest content. I will
believe that it is all for the best."

"Let me tell you another reason--the last--why I would not answer Yes to
you. May I?"

"I am interested in every reason," he said.

"Because you were bound to another whom you loved once--_whom you love
still_."

He sprang to his feet, and then dropped back into his place, as though
shot at by a pistol.

"Do you believe that I would come here with a mask on--a robber, and a
liar?"

"Not intentionally, Sidney; because you have fought hard to keep the old
love back, and to believe that it was gone for ever. You have fostered
that idea by thinking uncharitably of _her_, by turning away from that
true happiness which only marriage with her will ever bring to you. You
are a man who has never changed; and in attempting to live down the
past, have but more clearly discovered the secret of your life."

"What--what makes you think this?"

"I cannot explain it, but it is as true as that you and I will never
marry one another for love, for gratitude, for anything," she answered.
"Harriet Wesden and you should never have parted, but have understood
each other better, and had more faith. You turned from her, and her
pride kept her apart from you; but, Sidney, through all, and before all,
she holds that love still."

"I cannot believe that."

"Your cousin Maurice has told you so--now let me. You will never be
happy without her--do justice to her, if you are the Sidney Hinchford
whom I have ever known. Sidney, you _do_ love her--are you not man
enough to own it?"

"I love her as one who is dead to me--passed away out of my sphere of
action, and never likely to cross it again!" he answered. "I have always
thought so--I would have told you that these were my thoughts, had you
asked me on that night I sought your hand. She was dead to me--gone from
me--some one apart from the girl who lives and breathes in her place."

"That was romance--and that _was_ love!" cried Mattie quickly; "for she
was not dead, her love was not dead, and you were likely to meet in
better faith at any moment unforeseen. Sidney, you _did_ meet--you were
affected by her visit, her evidence of the old tie still existent. Why
deny this to me, to spare my feelings now! I am living for you and
her,--I do not love you, but I am interested in your welfare, and
anxious--oh! so anxious, Sid, to advance it."

"Harriet Wesden and I met under peculiar circumstances, that must have
touched both hearts a little--all was over in an instant, like a
lightning-flash, and here's the sober life again!"

"You _will_ deceive yourself--until two lives are wholly blighted by
your obduracy, you will go on asserting this dreamy theory, and
believing in it."

"You are a strange girl--stranger and more incomprehensible to me than
you have ever been, Mattie," he said wondering. "What can you think of
me, that you coolly ask me to sit here and confess to a passion for
another, after coming for an answer to a love-suit tendered you. By
heaven! it is a mystery, or a dream!"

"When I was a little girl, untutored, and run wild, I used to fancy that
you two would marry; when we shared the same house together, I saw how
fitting you both were for each other--how, in your strength of mind and
purpose, one weak woman would always find support and love. When you
were engaged, I felt a portion of your happiness, understood that you
had chosen well, and knew--knew how proud and happy she must be in your
affection! That was _my_ dream--let it in the end come true, for Harriet
Wesden's sake, for yours--even for the sake of the woman here at your
side, the sister and friend to tell you what is best."

"You are very kind, Mattie, but--but I cannot own to anything. It is not
fear, not shame--God knows what it is, or what I am, or what I really
wish!" he exclaimed irritably.

"Leave it to me."

"No, for myself, my own battles. I will have no woman's interference, no
friend's advice. I will go on to the end my own way."

"It is not ordered so. Look there--is this _chance_ which has brought
her hither to-day, at this hour?"

"Let me go away!" cried Sidney, starting to his feet.

Mattie, flushed and excited, caught him by the wrist; he could have
wrested himself away from her grasp, but he would have hurt her in the
effort, and a something in his own will held him spellbound there.

His sight was weak yet, and though he had guessed to whom Mattie
alluded, he could but dimly distinguish a female figure advancing
towards him, as from the mists of that past sphere of which he had
spoken. It came towards him slowly, even falteringly at last; and he
remained motionless, awaiting the end of all that might ensue on that
strange day.

It was the past coming back to him, to make or mar him. He shivered as
he thought of all the folly he had committed, if, after all, Mattie and
Maurice were right, and even his own heart had misled him. He was a man
whose judgment had been sound through life--why should he have erred so
greatly in this instance?

"Mattie--Mattie!" gasped Harriet, on entering, "what does this mean?"

"That Sidney has been waiting for you," said Mattie, quickly, "to thank
you for all past interest in him. Shake hands, you two, and let me--let
me go away!"

"No, no, don't leave me, Mattie! You must remain. I have been ill. I--I
am very weak."

"If you wish it, for a little while. You two are not enemies now--let me
see you shake hands, then?"

The old sweethearts shook hands together at Mattie's wish, and then
stood shyly looking at each other, each too discomfited, even troubled,
to say a word. Mattie had one more part to play before she could escape
them.



CHAPTER IX.

MATTIE, MEDIATRIX.


Harriet Wesden was strangely afraid of the old lover--what he would say
to her in the first moments of meeting, whether he would speak of the
past in which she had been misjudged, of the present hour which had
brought them face to face, or of the future for them both, and what it
would be like from that day.

She was afraid to speak, afraid to trust herself with him, and she clung
closer to the skirt of the old friend, a child still in moments of
emergency, as she had ever been. Sidney Hinchford stood perplexed,
amazed--what could he say in the presence of the woman to whom he had
been talking about marriage?--what dared he say were she even to leave
them to fight out their explanations their own way?

Mattie read the fear of one, and exaggerated in her imagination the
reserve of the other; even then all might be marred, and all her efforts
end in nothing, if she were not quick to act.

"I asked Sidney, as you entered, Harriet, if it were not something more
than chance that brought you two together to-day--that brought him
hither, in particular," she said; "I think it is--I trust that from
to-day a brighter life opens for you both. Why should it not?--you who
have kept so long asunder from each other, only require an honest
mediator to pave the way for a fair explanation. Both of you will have
faith in Mattie!"

Neither answered, but Mattie did not take silence for dissent.

"When Sidney was blind, Harriet, the thought did cross me once or twice
that I had better marry him and save him from his utter loneliness--and
I think that he was desperate, and would even have married me! When
Sidney or I relate this story some day, we three shall have cause to
laugh at it heartily, and think what a narrow escape we all have
had--even I, who have never been able to understand Sidney like
yourself--as you know! I have only seen, Harriet, that this Sidney of
whom we are speaking has become a desperate man, soured by contact with
himself, and full of vain regrets for much trouble that his own rashness
has brought on him--that he wants one true friend to aid him now, more
than ever he did!"

"Pardon me, Mattie, but you must not speak for me," said Sidney,
blushing; "if I have injured Miss Wesden by any hasty action, I will
explain it, and take my leave of her and you."

"You will explain of course," said Mattie; "and if you part again after
that explanation, it will be your own faults, and I will never have
confidence in either of you any more. For you two--both friends and
benefactors, whose childish hands were first held out towards me--I must
see happy; I have striven hard for it, and I hope not to find this last
disappointment the keenest and the heaviest. Remember old days, and the
old hope you had together in them."

"Mattie, you mast be a very happy woman some day!" cried Sidney, "you
think so much of making others happy."

"I hope I shall," said Mattie cheerfully--almost too cheerfully, save
for those two preoccupied ones from whom she hastened to withdraw.
Harriet Wesden made no further movement to stay her; she sank into a
chair, covered her face with her hands, and trembled very much; in her
heart was a strange fluttering of fear and hope, and the struggle for
pre-eminence was too much for her.

Yes, she was a weak woman--not strong and resolute, and with the will to
conquer difficulties like Mattie; but still a woman very lovable and
beautiful, and with a heart that was true enough to all who had been
ever cherished therein. From the moment that she had understood it, it
never swerved from Sidney Hinchford; it had known its greatest trial
when Sidney turned away from her, sceptical as to the reality of any
love for _him_.

She had doubted his love for her until that day when Mattie came to draw
her into the old vortex, and then her faith in him came back, and life
took fairer colours--she knew not wherefore, save that the reflex of
that day's brightness might have shone upon her from the distance. For
it was a bright day for both these old lovers; Mattie had augured well
that one explanation--a few words, true and gentle, that scarcely stood
for explanation even--would be sufficient, and disperse all clouds that
had hung heavily above them. Both had had much time for thought and
regret--both had found little solace on the paths of life they had
pursued, and looked back very often at the life they had given up
together.

But the worst was over, and the fairer time--the old love, almost, if
that were possible--was coming back once more. Sidney had believed it,
when Mattie had stolen into the shop and closed the door upon them; he
had felt all his old love return at Harriet's appearance, at her fear of
him; at her strange half-sad, half-reproachful look towards him when
they had first met that day; he knew, then, how wrong he had been, and
how rightfully Mattie had read him--what love he bore to the weak girl
still, and what a poor substitute for love he would have offered the
stronger, _better_ woman. Will our readers think that Mattie Gray was
worth a dozen Harriet Wesdens?--that Sidney made a bad choice, and that
the hero--if we dare call him so--should have married the heroine
according to established rule? Or will they believe, with us, that he
made his proper choice, and that Harriet and he were the most fitting
couple to live happy ever afterwards? If he did not treat Mattie as
fairly as she should have been treated, it was an error of judgment on
his part, and we are all liable to errors of a similar description. He
believed that he was acting for the best; he had taught himself in the
first instance to believe in his love for her, and when he had awakened
to the truth his honour would not let him draw back, until Mattie's
pride had released him. Later in life he fancied, once or twice, that he
caught a glimpse of the real truth, but he kept the idea to himself,
like a sensible man; he had succeeded in life, and was his cousin's
partner then--perhaps more conceited than in the old days. And if Mattie
suffered for awhile, why, heroines are born unto trouble, or where would
be the subscribers to our story-books?

This was Mattie's great day of suffering--for ever to be remembered as a
landmark standing out sharp and rugged in life's retrospect. No one ever
guessed half the terrible battle which she fought that day; and how she
came forth smiling and victorious, with the deep wounds hidden, lest her
distress should affect others who were happier than she.

When she returned to that room again, they had forgotten her, as they
had forgotten all the doubts, fears, jealousies, harsh words that had
stood between them, preventing their reunion. They were lovers again,
and were happy once more--for the first time, since he had taunted
Harriet with pitying _him_, as Mattie had taunted him that very day!

Mattie forgave them--asked to be forgiven for intruding on their
reverie, and bringing them back to thoughts of others sat down with
them, and listened to their stories of what their future was to be--to
really be this time!--and how, in their generous hearts, they had built
a plan for Mattie's share in it. They saw only Mattie's effort to bring
them together, nothing else, in that hour; and they were very grateful,
and not selfish in their joy.

"To think it has all ended as you wished at last--as you have prophesied
it would end!" said Harriet; "and to think that I even mistrusted you at
one time, and was cold towards you, who sacrificed so much for me, in
the old days."

"_In the old days!_" thought Mattie.

"It makes a great difference when one is unhappy," said Harriet; "we
look at things sceptically, and are mistrustful of all good intentions."

"For awhile!" added Mattie.

"Ah! for awhile!" repeated Sidney, "for we are three together now in
heart, and there is no mystery or misconception in the midst of us. For
ever after this--the sunshine!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Sidney and Harriet were there when Mr. Gray returned; they spoke of
their reconciliation, and Mattie's share in it, and he listened very
patiently, betraying but little animation at the recital. He was more
anxious to speak of giving up the business, having other views, he
said--and still more anxious to see Sidney, the young man whom he had
loved like a son, and who had done such irreparable mischief, out of the
house. He knew Mattie would have to endure more, if Sidney called that
place home ever again; and Sidney, who thought of the natural
embarrassments which would attend his further stay there, was ready to
return to Red-Hill, and his uncle's home, after he had accompanied
Harriet to her father's.

They were gone at last, and Mattie and her father were facing each
other. Mattie's face was white, and her lip was quivering just a little
as they went out together.

"Courage, Mattie," he said, "we shall not give way now. We have fought
well, and the worst is over."

"Yes, the very worst!"

"You will not envy them their happiness--two weak addlepated mortals,
only fitted for each other. You will keep strong!"

"For ever after to-day. But you must not be too critical with me now
that he is gone, and I have no longer any occasion to keep firm. Oh!
father, I loved him very, very much!"

"It is hard to lose him, I know that," said he, as Mattie flung herself
into his arms, and wept there.

"Harder to think that he never loved me after all!"

"Courage!" he repeated, "God knows what is best for you. He will bring
you peace, I am sure!"

And in good time, when Mattie was young still, the peace of God, which
passeth all understanding, rested on her, and rendered her content.



CHAPTER X.

CONCLUSION.


Linger not, O novel-writer, at the helm when the ship sails into the
harbour, or your readers will escape you. When the end is known, and the
facts and fancies pieced together, remarks are wearisome. The lovers
have made it up, and good fortune awaits them; _bon voyage!_--what's the
next story, who writes it, and is the heroine fair or dark, ugly or
handsome? The readers are off to fresh leaves and pastures new, in much
the same hurry as playhouse folk, who scent the conclusion and the tag,
are scrambling over their seats whilst paterfamilias is giving his
blessing to the young couple, who haven't agreed very well till the last
two minutes.

Who would care at this late stage for Mr. Wesden's surprise at his
daughter's companion, or for his delight at things "coming comfortably
round?" The end is known; there is no room for fresh disasters--Sidney
Hinchford marries Harriet Wesden, and there's an end of _that_ book!

And yet there is another scene with which we would fain conclude--those
readers who are in no hurry will be tolerant of our prolixity. It is a
fair picture, and we will very briefly sketch it whilst our guests
retire.

A scene on shipboard--the ship outward-bound--the new minister and his
daughter standing on the deck, exchanging farewell greetings with
visitors that have surprised them by their presence there; Ann Packet,
with her money sewed in her stays, in the background. Two months have
passed since the events related in our last chapter--the partnership has
been dissolved, the business sold, friends taken leave of in a very
quiet manner by Mattie, who knows that it is for ever, and yet would
deceive them all by an equable demeanour, and a talk of going away for a
little while.

The task is beyond her strength, and she betrays herself a little, and
suggests doubts, which resolve themselves to certainties, and lead to
this.

She is glad now that they have found out the truth; she would have
spared herself a little pain, but lost a bright reminiscence--it is as
well to say "Good-bye" honestly and fairly, and not steal away from them
in the dark, and leave her name finally associated with a regret.

They are all there who have ever cared for Mattie, or been indebted to
her. Sidney Hinchford and Harriet, and Harriet's father, very feeble
now, and more inclined to stare over people's heads than ever. They are
gently upbraiding Mattie for her vain deception, and speaking of the
sorrow they feel at losing her. The tears are in Mattie's eyes, and she
trembles and clings to the stout arm of her father, whilst she offers
her excuses.

"I had not the courage to look you all steadily in the face and say that
I was going away for ever--I preferred to see you all one by one, as
though nothing was about to happen to separate us, and to leave to the
letters, which are already in the post-office, the last news which you
have thus forestalled."

"You speaking of want of courage! said Harriet.

"I am stronger now--I am glad now to see you all--I can bear to say
good-bye to you."

She says it well and stoutly, too, when the time comes, and friends are
warned to let the ship proceed upon its course, and not delay it by
their presence there. With Sidney, facing him with her hands in his, she
gives way somewhat; she lets him stoop and kiss her--for the second time
in life--the last!

"God bless you, Mattie!--best of women!" he murmurs.

"God bless you, Sidney!--with this dear girl!"

She flings herself into Harriet's arms, and cries there for a little
while--there is no jealousy now--Harriet is the little girl of old, old
days, the first of all these friends she has learned to love, and is
learning now to part with.

"To lose _you_, Mattie--the friend, sister, counsellor, whose good words
and strong love have kept me from sinking more than once--it _is_ hard!"

"In a few months, a wiser, better, and more natural counsellor than
I--trust in each other, and have no secrets--don't forget me!"

Thus they parted--thus hoping for the best, and believing that the best
had come for all, Mattie is borne away to the new world, wherein her
father had prophesied would come new friends, new happiness. And they
came; for Mattie made no enemies in life, and won much love, and was
rewarded for much labour in God's service, by that good return, even on
earth, which renders labour sweet and profitable.


THE END.



MESSRS. HURST AND BLACKETT'S LIST OF NEW WORKS.


COURT AND SOCIETY FROM ELIZABETH TO ANNE, Edited from the Papers at
Kimbolton, by the Duke of Manchester. Second Edition, Revised.

Opinions of the Press.


     From The Athanæum.--"The Duke of Manchester has done a welcome
     service to the lover of gossip and secret history by publishing
     these family papers. Persons who like to see greatness without
     the plumes and mail in which history presents it, will accept
     these volumes with hearty thanks to their noble editor. In them
     will be found something new about many men and women in whom
     the reader can never cease to feel an interest--much about the
     divorce of Henry the Eighth and Catherine of Arragon--a great
     deal about the love affairs of Queen Elizabeth--something about
     Bacon and (indirectly) about Shakspeare--more about Lord Essex
     and Lady Rich--the very strange story of Walter Montagu, poet,
     profigate, courtier, pervert, secret agent, abbot--many details
     of the Civil War and Cromwell's Government, and of the
     Restoration--much that is new about the Revolution and the
     Settlement, the exiled Court of St Germains, the wars of
     William of Orange, the campaigns of Marlborough, the intrigues
     of Duchess Sarah, and the town life of fine ladies and
     gentlemen during the days of Anne. With all this is mingled a
     good deal of gossip about the loves of great poets, the
     frailties of great beauties, the rivalries of great wits, the
     quarrels of great peers."

     From The Times.--"These volumes are sure to excite curiosity. A
     great deal of interesting matter is here collected, from
     sources which are not within everybody's reach."

     From The Morning Post.--"The public are indebted to the noble
     author for contributing, from the archives of his ancestral
     seat, many important documents otherwise inaccessible to the
     historical inquirer, as well as for the lively, picturesque,
     and piquant sketches of Court and Society, which render his
     work powerfully attractive to the general reader. The work
     contains varied information relating to secret Court intrigues,
     numerous narratives of an exciting nature, and valuable
     materials for authentic history. Scarcely any personage whose
     name figured before the world during the long period embraced
     by the volumes is passed over in silence."

     From The Morning Herald.--"In commending these volumes to our
     readers, we can assure them that they will find a great deal of
     very delightful and very instructive reading."

     From The Daily News,--"The merits of the Duke of Manchester's
     work are numerous. The substance of the book is new; it ranges
     over by far the most interesting and important period of our
     history; it combines in its notice of men and things infinite
     variety; and the author has command of a good style, graceful,
     free, and graphic."

     From The Star.--"The reading public are indebted to the Duke of
     Manchester for two very interesting and highly valuable
     volumes. The Duke has turned to good account the historical
     treasures of Kimbolton. We learn a good deal in these volumes
     about Queen Elizabeth and her love affairs, which many grave
     historical students may have ignored. A chapter full of
     interest is given to Penelope Devereux, the clever, charming,
     and disreputable sister of the Earl of Essex. The Montagu or
     Manchester family and their fortunes are traced out in the
     volumes, and there are anecdotes, disclosures, reminiscences,
     or letters, telling us something of James and Charles I., of
     Oliver Cromwell, of Buckingham, of 'Sacharissa,' of Prior,
     Peterborough, and Boling-broke, of Swift, Addison, and Harley,
     of Marlborough and Shovel, of Vanbrugh and Congreve, of Court
     lords and fine ladies, of Jacobites and Williamites, of
     statesmen and singers, of the Council Chamber and the Opera
     House. Indeed, it would not be easy to find a work of our day
     which contains so much to be read and so little to be passed
     over."

     From The Observer.--"These valuable volumes will be eagerly
     read by all classes, who will obtain from them not only
     pleasant reading and amusement, but instruction given in an
     agreeable form. The Duke of Manchester has done good service to
     the literary world, and merits the highest praise for the
     admirable manner in which he has carried out his plan."



THE LIFE OF THE REV. EDWARD IRVING, Minister of the National Scotch
Church, London. Illustrated by his Journal and Correspondence. By Mrs.
Oliphant. Third and Cheaper Edition.


     "We who read these memoirs must own to the nobility of Irving's
     character, the grandeur of his aims, and the extent of his
     powers. His friend Carlyle bears this testimony to his
     worth:--'I call him, on the whole, the best man I have ever,
     after trial enough, found in this world, or hope to find.' A
     character such as this is deserving of study, and his life
     ought to be written. Mrs. Oliphant has undertaken the work, and
     has produced a biography of considerable merit. The author
     fully understands her hero, and sets forth the incidents of his
     career with the skill of a practised hand. The book is a good
     book on a most interesting theme."--_Times._

     "Mrs. Oliphant's 'Life of Edward Irving' supplies a long-felt
     desideratum. It is copious, earnest, and eloquent. On every
     page there is the impress of a large and masterly
     comprehension, and of a bold, fluent, and poetic skill of
     portraiture. Irving as a man and as a pastor is not only fully
     sketched, but exhibited with many broad, powerful, and
     life-like touches, which leave a strong
     impression."--_Edinburgh Review._

     "We thank Mrs. Oliphant for her beautiful and pathetic
     narrative. Hers is a book which few of any creed can read
     without some profit, and still fewer will close without regret.
     It is saying much, in this case, to say that the biographer is
     worthy of the man. * * * The journal which Irving kept is one
     of the most remarkable records that was ever given to the
     public, and must be read by any who would form a just
     appreciation of his noble and simple character."--_Blackwood's
     Magazine._

     "A truly interesting and most affecting memoir. Irving's life
     ought to have a niche in every gallery of religious biography.
     There are few lives that will be fuller of instruction,
     interest, and consolation."--_Saturday Review._

     "A highly instructive and profoundly interesting life of Edward
     Irving."--_Scotsman._



CHEAP EDITION of LES MISÉRABLES. By VICTOR HUGO. THE AUTHORIZED
COPYRIGHT ENGLISH TRANSLATION, Illustrated by Millais, forming a Volume
of Hurst and Blackett's Standard Library of Cheap Editions of Popular
Modern Works.


     "We think it will be seen on the whole that this work has
     something more than the beauties of an exquisite style or the
     word-compelling power of a literary Zeus to recommend it to the
     tender care of a distant posterity; that in dealing with all
     the emotions, passions, doubts, fears, which go to make up our
     common humanity, M. Victor Hugo has stamped upon every page the
     hall mark of genius and the loving patience and conscientious
     labour of a true artist. But the merits of 'Les Miserables' do
     not merely consist in the conception of it as a whole, it
     abounds page after page with details of unequalled
     beauty."--_Quarterly Review._

     "'Les Miserables' is one of those rare works which have a
     strong personal interest in addition to their intrinsic
     importance. It is not merely the work of a truly great man, but
     it is his great and favourite work--the fruit of years of
     thought and labour. Victor Hugo is almost the only French
     imaginative writer of the present century who is entitled to be
     considered as a man of genius. He has wonderful poetical power,
     and he has the faculty which hardly any other French novelist
     possesses, of drawing beautiful as well as striking pictures.
     Another feature for which Victor Hugo's book deserves high
     praise is its perfect purity. Anyone who reads the Bible and
     Shakspeare may read 'Les Miserables.' The story is admirable,
     and is put together with unsurpassable art, care, life, and
     simplicity. Some of the characters are drawn with consummate
     skill."--_Daily News._



A YOUNG ARTIST'S LIFE.


     "This very charming story is a perfect poem in prose. Lovingly
     and tenderly is the career of the young artist depicted by one
     who apparently knew and appreciated him well. Many will
     recognise in the biographer a writer who has on more than one
     occasion found favour with the public, but never has he written
     more freshly, more charmingly, than in the pages of this
     pathetic romance of real life."--_Sun._


     A PERSONAL NARRATIVE OF THIRTEEN YEARS' SERVICE AMONGST THE
     WILD TRIBES OF KHONDISTAN, FOR THE SUPPRESSION OF HUMAN
     SACRIFICE. By Major-General John Campbell, with Illustrations.


     "Major-General Campbell's book is one of thrilling interest,
     and must be pronounced the most remarkable narrative of the
     present season."--_Athenæum._



THE DESTINY OF NATIONS, as indicated in Prophecy. By the Rev. John
Cumming.


     "Among the subjects expounded by Dr. Cumming in this
     interesting volume are The Little Horn, or, The Papacy; The
     Waning Crescent, Turkey; The Lost Ten Tribes; and the Future of
     the Jews and Judea, Africa, France, Russia, America, Great
     Britain, &c."--_Observer._ "One of the most able of Dr.
     Cumming's works."--_Messenger._



MEMOIRS OF JANE CAMERON, FEMALE CONVICT. By a Prison Matron, Author of
"Female Life in Prison."


     "This narrative, as we can well believe, is truthful in every
     important particular--a faithful chronicle of a woman's fall
     and rescue. It is a book that ought to be widely
     read."--_Examiner._ "There can be no doubt as to the interest
     of the book, which, moreover, is very well
     written."--_Athenæum._

     "Once or twice a-year one rises from reading a book with a
     sense of real gratitude to the author, and this book is one of
     these. There are many ways in which it has a rare value. The
     artistic touches in this book are worthy of De Foe."--_Reader._



TRAVELS AND ADVENTURES OF AN OFFICER'S WIFE IN INDIA, CHINA, AND NEW
ZEALAND. By Mrs. Muter, Wife of Lieut-Colonel D. D. Muter, 13th (Prince
Albert's) Light Infantry.



     "Mrs. Muter's travels deserve to be recommended, as combining
     instruction and amusement in a more than ordinary degree. The
     work has the interest of a romance added to that of
     history."--_Athenæum._



TRAVELS ON HORSEBACK IN MANTCHU TARTARY: being a Summer's Ride beyond
the Great Wall of China, By George Fleming, Military Train. With Map and
50 Illustrations.


     "Mr. Fleming's narrative is a most charming one. He has an
     untrodden region to tell of, and he photographs it and its
     people and their ways. Life-like descriptions are interspersed
     with personal anecdotes, local legends, and stories of
     adventure, some of them revealing no common artistic
     power."--_Spectator._

     "Mr. Fleming has many of the best qualities of the
     traveller--good spirits, an excellent temper, sound sense, the
     faculty of observation, and a literary culture which has
     enlarged his sympathies with men and things. He has rendered us
     his debtor for much instruction and amusement. The value of his
     book is greatly enhanced by the illustrations, as graphic as
     copious and well executed, which is saying much."--_Reader._



ADVENTURES AND RESEARCHES among the ANDAMAN ISLANDERS. By Dr. Mouat,
F.R.G.S., &c. with Illustrations.


     "Dr. Mouat's book, whilst forming a most important and valuable
     contribution to ethnology, will be read with interest by the
     general reader."--_Athenæum._



MEMOIRS OF QUEEN HORTENSE, MOTHER OF NAPOLEON III. Cheaper Edition, in
one vol.


     "A biography of the beautiful and unhappy Queen, more
     satisfactory than any we have yet met with."--_Daily News._


A LADY'S VISIT TO MANILLA & JAPAN. By Anna D'A, with Illustration.


     "This book is written in a lively, agreeable, natural style,
     and we cordially recommend it as containing a fund of varied
     information connected with the Far East, not to be found
     recorded in so agreeable a manner in any other volume with
     which we are acquainted."--_Press._



THE WANDERER IN WESTERN FRANCE. By G. T. Lowth. Esq., Author of "The
Wanderer in Arabia." Illustrated by the Hon. Eliot Yorke.



     "Mr. Lowth reminds us agreeably of Washington
     Irving."--_Athenæum._

     "If Mr. Lowth's conversation is only half as good as his book,
     he must be a very charming acquaintance. The art of gossiping
     in his style, never wearying the listener, yet perpetually
     conveying to him valuable information, is a very rare one, and
     he possesses it in perfection. No one will quit his volume
     without feeling that he understands Brittany and La
     Vendée."--_Spectator._


THE LAST DECADE of a GLORIOUS REIGN; completing "THE HISTORY of HENRY
IV., King of France and Navarre," from Original and Authentic Sources.
By M. W. Freer, with Portraits.


     "The best and most comprehensive work on the reign of Henry IV.
     available to English readers."--_Examiner._



A WINTER IN UPPER AND LOWER EGYPT. By G. A. Hoskins, Esq., F.R.G.S.,
with Illustrations.



     "An eminently interesting and attractive book, containing much
     valuable information. Intending Nile travellers, whether for
     science, health, or recreation, could not have a better
     companion. Mr. Hoskins's descriptions are vigorous and graphic,
     and have the further merit of being fresh and recent, and of
     presenting many striking pictures of Egypt and its people in
     our own days."--_Herald._



GREECE AND THE GREEKS. Being the Narrative of a Winter Residence and
Summer Travel in Greece and its Islands. By Fredrika Bremer. Translated
by Mary Howitt. 2 vols.



     "The best book of travels which this charming authoress has
     given to the public."--_Athenæum._


POINTS OF CONTACT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND ART. By His Eminence Cardinal
Wiseman.



     "Cardinal Wiseman's interesting work contains suggestions of
     real value. It is divided into three heads, treating
     respectively of painting, sculpture, and architecture. The
     cardinal handles his subject in a most agreeable manner."--_Art
     Journal._



HEROES, PHILOSOPHERS, AND COURTIERS of the TIME of LOUIS XVI. 2 vols.


     "This work is full of amusing and interesting anecdote, and
     supplies many links in the great chain of events of a most
     remarkable period."--_Examiner._



MEMOIRS OF CHRISTINA, QUEEN OF SWEDEN. By Henry Woodhead. 2 vols, with
Portrait.


     "An impartial history of the life of Queen Christina and
     portraiture of her character are placed before the public in
     these valuable and interesting volumes."--_Press._



LIFE AMONG CONVICTS. By the Rev. C. B. Gibson, M.R.I.A., Chaplain in the
Convict Service. 2 vols.


     "All concerned in that momentous question--the treatment of our
     convicts--may peruse with interest and benefit the very
     valuable information laid before them by Mr. Gibson in the most
     pleasant and lucid manner possible."--_Sun._



ENGLISH WOMEN OF LETTERS. By Julia Kavanagh, Author of "Nathalie,"
"Adèle," "French Women of Letters," "Queen Mab," &c. 2 vols.


HISTORY OF ENGLAND, FROM THE ACCESSION OF JAMES I. TO THE DISGRACE OF
CHIEF JUSTICE COKE. By Samuel Rawson Gardiner, late Student of
Christchurch. 2 vols.


ITALY UNDER VICTOR EMMANUEL. A Personal Narrative. By Count Charles
Arrivabene.


     "Whoever wishes to gain an insight into the Italy of the
     present moment, and to know what she is, what she has done, and
     what she has to do, should consult Count Arrivabene's ample
     volumes, which are written in a style singularly vivid and
     dramatic."--_Dicken's All the Year Round._



THE PRIVATE DIARY OF RICHARD, DUKE OF BUCKINGHAM AND CHANDOS, K.G. 3
vols.


MAN; or, THE OLD AND NEW PHILOSOPHY: Being Notes and Facts for the
Curious, with especial reference to recent writers on the subject of the
Antiquity of Man. By the Rev. B. W. Savile, M.A., 1 vol.


DRIFTWOOD, SEAWEED, AND FALLEN LEAVES. By the Rev. John Cumming, D.D. 2
vols.


THE LIFE OF J. M. W. TURNER, R.A., from Original Letters and Papers
furnished by his Friends, and Fellow Academicians. By Walter Thornbury.
2 vols. with Portraits and other Illustrations.


TRAVELS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA; with the Narrative of a Yacht Voyage round
Vancouver's Island. By Captain C. E. Barrett Lennard. 1 vol.


THE CHURCH AND THE CHURCHES; or, THE PAPACY AND THE TEMPORAL POWER. By
Dr. Döllinger. Translated, by W. B. Mac Cabe.


THE OKAVANGO RIVER; A NARRATIVE OF TRAVEL, EXPLORATION, AND ADVENTURE.
By Charles John Andersson, Author of "Lake Ngami." 1 vol., with Portrait
and numerous Illustrations.


TRAVELS IN THE REGIONS OF THE AMOOR, and the Russian Acquisitions on the
Confines of India and China. By T. W. Atkinson, F.G.S., F.R.G.S., Author
of "Oriental and Western Siberia." Dedicated, by permission, to Her
Majesty. Second Edition. With Map and 88 Illustrations.


THIRTY YEARS' MUSICAL RECOLLECTIONS. By Henry F. Chorley. 2 vols., with
Portraits.


LOST AND SAVED. By The Hon. Mrs. Norton. Cheap Edition. Illustrated by
Millais.


Under The Especial Patronage of her Majesty.

_Published annually in One Vol._

LODGE'S PEERAGE AND BARONETAGE, CORRECTED BY THE NOBILITY, THE
THIRTY-THIRD EDITION FOR 1864 IS NOW READY.


     Lodge's Peerage and Baronetage is acknowledged to be the most
     complete, as well as the most elegant, work of the kind. As an
     established and authentic authority on all questions respecting
     the family histories, honours, and connections of the titled
     aristocracy, no work has ever stood so high. It is published
     under the especial patronage of Her Majesty, and is annually
     corrected throughout, from the personal communications of the
     Nobility. It is the only work of its class in which, _the type
     being kept constantly standing_, every correction is made in
     its proper place to the date of publication, an advantage which
     gives it supremacy over all its competitors. Independently of
     its full and authentic information respecting the existing
     Peers and Baronets of the realm, the most sedulous attention is
     given in its pages to the collateral branches of the various
     noble families, and the names of many thousand individuals are
     introduced, which do not appear in other records of the titled
     classes. For its authority, correctness, and facility of
     arrangement, and the beauty of its typography and binding, the
     work is justly entitled to the place it occupies on the tables
     of Her Majesty and the Nobility.


     LIST OF THE PRINCIPAL CONTENTS

    Historical View of the Peerage.
    Parliamentary Roll of the House of Lords.

    English, Scotch, and Irish Peers, in their
      orders of Precedence.

    Alphabetical List of Peers of Great Britain
      and the United Kingdom, holding superior
      rank in the Scotch or Irish Peerage.

    Alphabetical List of Scotch and Irish Peers,
      holding superior titles in the Peerage of
      Great Britain and the United Kingdom.

    A Collective List of Peers, in their order of
      Precedence.

    Table of Precedency among Men.

    Table of Precedency among Women.

    The Queen and the Royal Family.

    Peers of the Blood Royal.

    The Peerage, alphabetically arranged.

    Families of such Extinct Peers as have left
      Widows or Issue.

    Alphabetical List of the Surnames of all the
      Peers.

    The Archbishops and Bishops of England,
      Ireland, and the Colonies.

    The Baronetage, alphabetically arranged.

    Alphabetical List of Surnames assumed by
      members of Noble Families.

    Alphabetical List of the Second Titles of
      Peers, usually borne by their Eldest
      Sons.

    Alphabetical Index to the Daughters of
      Dukes, Marquises, and Earls, who, having
      married Commoners, retain the title
      of Lady before their own Christian and
      their Husbands' Surnames,

    Alphabetical Index to the Daughters of
      Viscounts and Barons, who, having married
      Commoners, are styled Honourable
      Mrs.; and, in case of the husband being
      a Baronet or Knight, Honourable Lady.

    Mottoes alphabetically arranged and translated.

     "Lodge's Peerage must supersede all other works of the kind,
     for two reasons: first, it is on a better plan; and secondly,
     it is better executed. We can safely pronounce it to be the
     readiest, the most useful, and exactest of modern works on the
     subject."--_Spectator._

     "A work which corrects all errors of former works. It is a most
     useful publication."--_Times._

     "As perfect a Peerage as we are ever likely to see
     published."--_Herald._



MESSRS. HURST AND BLACKETT'S LIST OF NEW WORKS

_In Preparation._

THE LIFE OF JOSIAH WEDGWOOD; from his Private Correspondence and Family
Papers, in the possession of Joseph Mayer, Esq., F.S.A., and other
Authentic Sources. By Eliza Meteyard. With fine Portraits and numerous
Illustrations.

WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE. By Victor Hugo. Authorized English Translation. 1
vol. (Now Ready.)


A JOURNEY FROM LONDON TO PERSEPOLIS--INCLUDING A SUMMER'S WANDERINGS IN
THE CAUCASUS, THROUGH GEORGIA AND THE MOUNTAINS OF DAGHESTAN; with the
Narrative of a Ride through Armenia and Babylonia to the Persian Gulf,
returning through Persia and Asia Minor to the shores of the Black Sea.
By J. Ussher, Esq., F.R.G.S., with numerous beautiful Illustrations.


REMINISCENCES OF THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SIR GEORGE BURDETT
L'ESTRANGE: a Westminster Boy, an Officer in the Peninsula, a Guardsman,
Sportsman, Man of Business, and Chamberlain to Seven Viceroys of
Ireland. Written by Himself. Dedicated, by permission, to His Excellency
the Earl of Carlisle, K.G., Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. 2 vols., with
fine Portraits.


JOHN GRESWOLD. By the Author of "Paul Ferrol," &c. 2 vols. (Now Ready.)


MY LIFE AND RECOLLECTIONS. By the Hon. Grantley F. Berkeley. 2 vols.,
with Portrait.


NOT DEAD YET. By J. C. Jeaffreson, Author of "Live it Down," &c. 3 vols.


REMINISCENCES OF THE OPERA. By Benjamin Lumley, Twenty Years' Director
of Her Majesty's Theatre. 1 vol., with Portrait.


MATTIE: A STRAY. By the Author of "No Church," "Owen: a Waif," &c. 3
vols.

BRIGANDS AND BRIGANDAGE IN SOUTHERN ITALY. By Count Maffei. 2 vols.

A GUARDIAN ANGEL. By the Author of "A Trap to Catch a Sunbeam," &c. 2
vols.



THE NEW AND POPULAR NOVELS, PUBLISHED BY HURST & BLACKETT.


JANITA'S CROSS. By the Author of "St. Olave's." 3 vols.


ADELA CATHCART. By George MacDonald, M.A., Author of "David Elginbrod,"
&c. 3 vols.


     "'Adela Cathcart' is a delightful book. Written in purest
     English, quaint, sparkling, and graceful, anon delighting us
     with flashes of humour, or winning us with true and subtle
     pathos, it may at once take up its position among the
     masterpieces of modern English fiction."--_Sunday Times._



DR. JACOB. By the Author of "John and I."


     "There is much freshness and originality of conception about
     this book. Fraulein Fink, with her school and her literary
     tattle, the chaplain and his family, the professors and the
     thousand and one little touches which make up the picture of
     every-day easy genial life in Germany, have much of the
     picturesque force and vivid reality of 'Villette.'"--_Saturday
     Review._


PECULIAR. A TALE OF THE GREAT TRANSITION. Edited by William Howitt. 3
vols.


     "Since Mrs. Stowe's 'Uncle Tom' we have had no tale of a
     similar nature so true, so life-like, till the present
     publication of 'Peculiar.'"--_Observer._



BARBARA'S HISTORY. By Amelia B. Edwards. Second Edition.


     "It is not often that we light upon a new novel of so much
     merit and interest as 'Barbara's History.' It is a work
     conspicuous beyond the average for taste and literary culture,
     and felicitous in its delineation of some very delicate and
     refined shades of character. It is a very graceful and charming
     book, with a well-managed story, clearly-cut characters, and
     sentiments expressed with an exquisite elocution. The dialogues
     especially sparkle with repartee. It is a book which the world
     will like, and which those who commence it will care to finish.
     This is high praise of a work of art, and so we intend
     it."--_The Times._

     "If Miss Edwards goes on writing such stories as 'Barbara's
     History,' she will on some bright day of a lucky season wake up
     and find herself famous. Miss Edwards has qualities superior to
     mere literary facility; she has humour, insight into character,
     and an extensive knowledge of books. We give her full credit
     for having written a thoroughly-readable and deeply-interesting
     novel."--_Athenæum._



WILDFIRE. By Walter Thornbury. 3 vols.


     "An excellent tale, imbued with the strongest
     interest."--_Daily News._



RATHLYNN. By the Author of "The Saxon in Ireland." 3 vols.


MY STEPFATHER'S HOME. By Lady Blake. 3 v.


A WOMAN'S RANSOM. By F. W. Robinson, Author of "Grandmother's Money,"
&c. 3 vols.


ELLA NORMAN; OR, A WOMAN'S PERILS. By Elizabeth A. Murray. Dedicated to
the Duchess of Athole.


FOR EVER. By A Clergyman. 3 vols.


QUEEN MAB. By Julia Kavanagh, Author of "Nathalie," "Adèle," &c. Second
Edition. 3 vols.


THE WIFE'S EVIDENCE. By W. G. Wills.

LIVE IT DOWN. By J. C. Jeaffreson, Third Edition. Revised. 3 vols.





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