Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Contraband - Or, A Losing Hazard
Author: Whyte-Melville, G. J. (George John), 1821-1878
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Contraband - Or, A Losing Hazard" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                      CONTRABAND


                   A Losing Hazard.

               By G. J. WHYTE-MELVILLE,

    AUTHOR OF "DIGBY GRAND," "CERISE," "THE WHITE ROSE," ETC.


    _NEW EDITION._

    LONDON:
    CHAPMAN AND HALL, 193, PICCADILLY.
    1871.



CONTENTS.


      CHAP.                                        PAGE

         I.--RAIN-CLOUDS                              1

        II.--AN ALLIANCE                             10

       III.--SIR HENRY HALLATON                      18

        IV.--AMAZONS                                 27

         V.--A OUTRANCE                              43

        VI.--"TERRARUM DOMINOS"                      54

       VII.--FRANK                                   64

      VIII.--JUNE ROSES                              73

        IX.--TOUCH AND GO                            82

         X.--AFLOAT                                  96

        XI.--MANOEUVRING                            107

       XII.--THE SYREN                              119

      XIII.--SUNDAY IN LONDON                       131

       XIV.--POST-TIME                              138

        XV.--BETWEEN CUP AND LIP                    147

       XVI.--"A FACER"                              156

      XVII.--DISTRACTIONS                           166

     XVIII.--ATTRACTIONS                            178

       XIX.--A DRAWN BATTLE                         188

        XX.--A RECONNAISSANCE                       198

       XXI.--THE SOHO BAZAAR                        209

      XXII.--KIDNAPPING                             219

     XXIII.--"STRANGERS YET"                        229

      XXIV.--GREENWICH                              241

       XXV.--HOW THEY MISSED HER                    248

      XXVI.--IN SAMARIA                             258

     XXVII.--A HOUSEHOLD KATE                       267

    XXVIII.--"TENDER AND TRUE"                      276

      XXIX.--DAYBREAK                               285

       XXX.--"REMORSEFUL"                           294

      XXXI.--REPENTANT                              303

     XXXII.--"RECLAIMED"                            312



CONTRABAND;

OR, A LOSING HAZARD.



CHAPTER I.

RAIN-CLOUDS.


"In confidence, Sir Henry----"

"In confidence, Mrs. Lascelles, of course. I think you can depend upon
_me_." And Sir Henry, as directed by a weather-beaten guide-post, turned
into a narrow lane on his homeward way, while the lady with whom he had
been riding, jogged her tired horse gently along the high road, absorbed
in thoughts, pleasant, suggestive, engrossing--not precisely in "maiden
meditation," for she was a widow--nor yet, although she was nearer
thirty than twenty, wholly "fancy free."

Mrs. Lascelles loved her horse dearly, and had been riding him with the
liberality and confidence that spring from true affection, in a
lady-like manner no doubt, and gracefully enough, but with considerable
daring, and no small expenditure of pace. The good generous animal had a
perfect right to be tired, having borne his precious burden honourably
and safely close to hounds as long as a stout old fox could live before
them, and had fairly earned the caresses she lavished on his
toil-stained crest and shoulders, while the hoof-tread of his late
companion died out in the distance. Mrs. Lascelles, I have said, loved
her horse dearly. For the first time in her life, perhaps, she was
beginning to find out she could love something better than her horse.

The light waned rapidly. Heavy clouds, gathering in the west, sailed up
steadily on the moaning wind that so often in our English winter rises
with set of sun. The day had been sad-coloured and overcast, delightful
for hunting purposes, but for every other pursuit melancholy in the
extreme, and evening was drawing on, sadder, gloomier, and more
disheartening than the day. Certain elms and ashes that skirted the high
road trembled in every leafless limb, shivering and whispering together,
as if they too were moved by ghostly forebodings of cold and darkness to
come. Why should Mrs. Lascelles have looked so radiant and happy? How
had been kindled that light in her blue eyes; and what, in the name of
chaste Diana, could have occurred during a day's hunting thus to fix and
deepen the colour in her cheek? Was it that she loved to recall the
stirring memories of the last few hours--the joyous rally of the find,
the dash and music of the hounds, the pace, the pastures, the glorious
turns and windings of the chase? Or was it that she had her own private
successes to register, her own secret triumphs to record, exulting that
she too had hunted her fox fairly in the open, and was running into him
at last?

Rose Lascelles, like many another who has squared her life to the rule
of expediency rather than right, was a woman thrown away. An ambitious
girl, in her marriage with Mr. Lascelles, now deceased, she had been
guided by her desire for social advancement, rather than by individual
preference, or even a taste for domestic life. He was young, handsome,
agreeable--a finished man of the world--thoroughly selfish; and some
women would have loved him dearly, but for Rose Vanneck he was simply
an eligible partner as heir to a good fortune and a title. So he treated
her very badly, outraged her feelings, brought all sorts of people into
her drawing-room, spent her money recklessly as his own, and finally
drank himself to death, just six months too early to make his wife a
peeress; having lived long enough, however, to leave her in the
enjoyment of as comfortable a jointure as if he had succeeded to the
title, and so far content with her lot that she appreciated the thorough
independence of her position; for who is so completely her own mistress
as a childless widow, young and attractive, with a balance at her
bankers?

It is needless to say she had many suitors. Independent of her
well-filled purse, the lady's own charms were powerful enough to collect
men of all ages, stations, and characters in her train. The clear blue
eyes so bright, so frank, might have seemed hard and cold, but for the
dark pencilled lashes that shaded their lower as richly as their upper
rims; the white even teeth would have been too broad and strong, but for
the sweet red lips that disclosed them so graciously in half-saucy,
half-confiding, and wholly winning smiles. There might have been a shade
too much of colour in her cheek, of auburn in her hair, but that health
and rich vitality so obviously imparted to each its lustre and its
bloom. There was nobility in her arched brows and regular Norman
features, just as there were grace and dignity in her tall, well-rounded
figure; nevertheless, something beyond and independent of these physical
advantages gifted her with a peculiar fascination of her own. She seemed
to bloom in the natural freshness and fragrance of a flower, a meadow,
or a landscape; bright and healthy as a cow in a June pasture, a child
from its morning tub, as Venus herself glowing and radiant, emerging
like a sunrise from the eastern sea!

Such a woman was pretty sure to obtain her full share of admiration in
any society. Perhaps nowhere would her conquest be more general and more
permanent than in the hunting-field. When she came down from London by
train for the enjoyment of her favourite amusement with the Bragford
hounds, lords, commoners, squires, yeomen, farmers, and horse-breakers,
combined in yielding her a general ovation. To break a fence for Mrs.
Lascelles; to open a gate for Mrs. Lascelles; to show Mrs. Lascelles the
narrowest part of the brook, or the soundest side of the ford, was a
pride, a pleasure, and a privilege to "all who buckled on the spur." If
Mrs. Lascelles had sustained a fall, which Heaven forbid! or otherwise
come to grief by flood or field, saddles would have been emptied,
stalwart scarlet arms been extended, and whiskers of every hue known to
art or nature, would have stood on end with dismay, ere a single hair of
that dainty auburn head should have touched the earth.

Of course they fell in love with her by scores. Of course, too, the man
who paid her least attention, the man whose whole thoughts seemed
centred in himself, his boots, his horses, and his riding, found most
favour in her wilful woman's heart. That was why to-day she had refused
point-blank to become the wife of a much younger man, rich,
good-hearted, actual partner in a bank, possible member for a county;
that was why she had imparted this refusal, "in confidence, Sir Henry,"
to the companion of her homeward ride, and gathered, from the manner in
which her narrative was received, hopes that sent the light dancing to
her eyes, the blood rising to her brain.

What she saw in Sir Henry it passes my knowledge of feminine nature to
explain. He was twenty years older than herself, grey, worn, and
withered; showing such marks of dissipation and hard living on his
sunken features as had nearly obliterated every trace of the good looks
which were now a matter of history. Twice a widower, with a grown-up
family, an impoverished estate, and not the best of characters, Mrs.
Lascelles could scarce have selected a less eligible admirer amongst the
troops of light horsemen who aspired weekly to her favour; but she had
chosen to set her heart on him nevertheless, and in her whole life had
not felt so happy as to-day, when she flung down "in confidence," the
precious pearls that had been offered her, before the unclean animal,
who should hereafter turn and rend her for her pains. Women seldom give
away their hearts unasked. When they are so liberal, I think the gift is
usually without reserve; though even if accepted, like many other
priceless things, it is rarely valued at its worth. Sir Henry never told
Mrs. Lascelles he cared for her; but habit is second nature--and he had
made so much love in his life that his manner to all women had
insensibly acquired a certain softness and tenderness, which perhaps
constituted the only charm left by a youth spent in ease,
self-indulgence, and the luxury of doing as much harm as lay in his
power. She thought, no doubt, she had at last succeeded in winning the
one heart she coveted; and undismayed by grizzled whiskers, grown-up
daughters, or an impoverished estate, rode soberly along, lost in a rosy
dream that caused the tired horse, the coming rain, the gathering night,
to seem but so many delightful ingredients of a day taken out of
Paradise express for the occasion.

Mrs. Lascelles, as behoved her sex and position, went hunting with
becoming pomp, accompanied by a groom, whose duty it was, so far as his
powers of equitation permitted, to keep close to his mistress during the
day. In addition to this functionary, other servants were disposed and
dotted about at different posts,--such as the railway station, the
country-inn, where a carriage was left with dry things, the stable where
her hunters stood, and the terminus in London, where a brougham awaited
her return.

Altogether, a day's hunting involved the employment of some half-dozen
people, and the expenditure of as many pounds. With all this forethought
it was not surprising that she should have found herself riding home at
nightfall, alone and unattended, perfectly satisfied nevertheless with
her situation, and utterly forgetful of the groom, whose horse had lost
a shoe, and who was to overtake her as soon as another had been put on.

So she patted her favourite's neck, smiled, sighed, shook her head, and
relapsed into a brown study and a walk.

The rain gave her but little warning. Two or three large drops fell on
the sleeves of her habit, then came a squall and a driving shower, such
as wets the best broadcloth through and through in less than five
minutes. Even the good horse shook his ears in mute protest; and Mrs.
Lascelles was fain to sidle him under the hedge, cowering for as much
shelter as could be got from the ivy-covered stem of a stunted pollard
tree.

People have different ideas of pleasure. For some, the most
uncomfortable incidents of the chase borrow a charm from the seductive
pursuit to which they are unavoidable drawbacks. The infatuated votary
accepts falls, lame horses, drenched garments, long rides in the dark,
considerable fatigue, and occasional peril of body, with an equanimity
marvellous to the uninitiated; and only to be accounted for by the
strange perversity of human nature when in headlong pursuit of an idea.
Perhaps, after all, the career of life is not inaptly represented by a
run with hounds. Difficulties to be surmounted and risks to be
encountered add infinitely to the zest of both. In each, there are
unremitting exertions to get forward, a constant strain to be nearer and
yet nearer some imaginary place of prominence and superiority--an
emulation mellowed by good-fellowship with those whom we like and
respect for their very efforts to surpass ourselves--a keen excitement
damped only by vague wonder that the stimulant should be so powerful, by
dim misgivings of which the fatal _cui bono_? is at the root; lastly, a
pleasing sense of fatigue and contentment, of resignation rather than
regret, when the whirl and tumult of the day are over, and it is time to
go home.

Mrs. Lascelles, sitting in a wet habit under the hedge, neither drooped
with fatigue nor shivered with cold. Her reflections must have been
strangely pleasant, for she was almost disappointed when her servant
trotted up with the lately shod horse, and touching his hat
respectfully, suggested that the weather was getting "worser"--that the
horses would catch their deaths, poor things!--that it was still five
miles to the station, and that they should proceed--he called it "shog
on"--in that direction without delay.

The groom was a sober fellow enough, but he had decided, with some
justice, that such a wetting as he was likely to encounter justified a
glass of brandy on leaving the blacksmith's shop.

His loyalty to his mistress and love for the good animals under his
charge were, doubtless, not diminished by this cordial; and while with
numbed fingers he unrolled the waterproof cape that was buckled before
his own saddle, and wrapped it round her dripping shoulders, he could
not forbear congratulating Mrs. Lascelles, that "things," as he
expressed it, "was no wuss."

"The 'osses is tired, ma'am, no doubt, an' a long trashing day it's been
for 'osses; but, bless ye, Ganymede, he won't take no notice; he'll have
his head in the manger soon as ever his girths is slacked, and they're
both of 'em as sound as when they left the stable. Ah! we've much to be
thankful for, we have! but how you're to get to the station, ma'am,
without a ducking--that's wot beats me!"

"I must take my ducking, I suppose, James, and make the best of it,"
she answered, pleasantly; "but it's going to be a fearful night. It
comes on worse every minute."

James, who had dropped back a horse's length, now pressed eagerly
forward.

"I hear wheels, ma'am," said he, "and it's a'most a living certainty as
they're going our way. If it was me, I'd make so bold as ask for a lift
inside. Ganymede, he'll lead like a child, and you'll have all the more
time to--to--shift yerself, ma'am, afore the train be due."

While he spoke, a one-horse fly, with luggage on the top, halted at her
side, a window was let down, and a pleasant woman's voice from within
proffered, to the benighted lady on horseback, any accommodation in the
power of the occupant to bestow.

It was already too dark to distinguish faces; but the stranger's tones
were courteous and winning. Mrs. Lascelles had no hesitation in availing
herself of so opportune a shelter. The flyman was off his box in a
twinkling, the lady leaped as quickly to the ground, James signified his
approval, Ganymede gave himself a shake, and in another minute Mrs.
Lascelles found herself jerking, jolting, and jingling towards the
station by the side of a perfect stranger, whose features, in the
increasing obscurity, she strove vainly to make out.

Some indefinable instinct suggested to her, however, that her companion
was young and pretty. A certain subtle fragrance which may or may not be
the result of scents and essences, but which seems indigenous to all
taking women, pervaded her gloves, her hair, her gown, nay, the very
winter jacket with which she defied the cold. The rustle of her dress as
she made room, the touch of her hand as she took sundry wraps from the
front seat of the carriage and heaped them in her guest's lap, told Mrs.
Lascelles that this errant damsel, wandering about in a hired fly
through the rain, was one for whom lances had already been broken, and
champions, it may be, laid gasping on the plain. For several seconds
she racked her brains, wondering who and what the traveller could be,
where coming from, where going to, why she had never met, nor heard of
her before.

It was not to be expected that silence between these two ladies should
last long. Cross-examining each other with great caution and politeness,
they presently discovered that they were both bound for London, and by
the same train. This coincidence involved, no doubt, a feeling of
sisterhood and mutual confidence; yet the coloured lights of the station
were already visible, and the fly was turning into its gravelled area,
ere Mrs. Lascelles could divine with any certainty the place her
companion had lately quitted.

"What a long drive it is, to be sure!" observed the latter wearily. "And
they call it only five miles to Midcombe Junction from Blackgrove!"

Mrs. Lascelles felt her heart give a jump, and she caught her breath.

"From Blackgrove!" she repeated. "Do you know Sir Henry Hallaton?"

"I _do_ know Sir Henry," replied the other with emphasis. "I know him
thoroughly!"



CHAPTER II.

AN ALLIANCE.


In the boudoir of a dear little house, just far enough off Piccadilly to
be out of the roar of its carriages, sat Mrs. Lascelles, "waiting
luncheon," as she called it, for her travelling companion of the day
before.

The ladies had been so charmed with each other in their railway journey
the previous evening, that an invitation to the pleasantest of all meals
was given, and accepted with great cordiality, before they parted; and
the mistress of No. 40, as she loved to designate it, was glad to think
that her pretty home should look its best for the reception of this new
friend. A canary was perched in the window, a fire blazed in the grate,
a pug-dog was snoring happily on the rug, a bullfinch swelling in
splendid sulks on the work-table: with a peal at the door bell this
simple machinery seemed all set in motion at once--the canary twittered,
the pug barked, the bullfinch subsided, Mrs. Lascelles jumped up, the
door opened, and a footman announced "Miss Ross!"

If Miss Ross looked well under the dim light of a railway carriage, she
lost nothing of her prestige when exposed to the full glare of day. She
was pale, certainly, and perhaps a little too thin, but her black eyes
were certainly splendid; while over her rather irregular features and
her too resolute mouth and chin was cast a wild, mournful expression,
half pathetic, half defiant, expressly calculated, it would seem, for
the subjugation of mankind, especially that portion who have outlived
the fresher and more healthy tastes of youth; add to this, masses of
black hair, a little bonnet with a scarlet flower, a graceful figure,
lithe as a panther's, clad in a dark but very becoming dress, and I
submit that the general effect of such an arrival fully justified the
disturbance it created in the boudoir at No. 40.

Mrs. Lascelles, it is needless to observe, took in all these details at
a glance,--she had "reckoned up" her visitor, as the Yankees say, long
before she let go the hands she clasped in both her own with so cordial
a welcome.

"This woman," thought she, "would be a formidable enemy. I wonder
whether she might not also prove a valuable friend."

Then, sharp and cold, shot through her the misgiving of the day before;
what had she been doing at Blackgrove, this dark-eyed girl, and what did
she know of Sir Henry Hallaton? No stone would she leave unturned till
she found out.

Miss Ross, however, did not seem at all a mysterious person, at least on
the surface.

Before she had taken off her bonnet and made friends with the pug, she
had already broached the subject nearest the other's heart.

"You are very kind to me, Mrs. Lascelles," she said, folding the pug's
ears back with her white, well-shaped hands; "but I must not come into
your house and waste your substance under false colours. Do I look like
an adventurer, adventuress,--what do you call it?--a person who lives
from hand to mouth, who has no settled abode,--a sort of
decently-dressed vagrant, not exactly starving, but barely respectable?
Because that's what I _am_!"

Mrs. Lascelles stared, and called her dog away.

"I went to Blackgrove as an adventuress," continued Miss Ross, in calm,
placid tones, with no appearance of earnestness but in the firm lines
round her mouth, "I left it as an adventuress. I can hold my own
anywhere, and with any one; but I should have been worse than I am had
I stayed a day longer in that house!"

"Tell me about it!" exclaimed Mrs. Lascelles eagerly. "I am sure you are
not--not--at all the sort of person I shouldn't like to know."

"I _will_ tell you," said the other, speaking lower and faster now, with
a bright gleam in her black eyes. "I haven't a friend in the world--I
never _did_ have a woman friend; if I had--well, it's no use thinking of
that now. Never mind; I'll tell you every thing, because--because I
fancy I can guess something, and you ought to know. Have you ever seen
Miss Hallaton, Helen Hallaton?--a girl with black eye-brows, and a face
like an old Greek _bas-relief_. Well, I was to be Helen's
companion;--does that surprise you? If you were a widower, Mrs.
Lascelles, and had daughters, am I the sort of person you would engage
as their companion?"

It was a difficult question. From the widower's point of view, Mrs.
Lascelles was not quite sure but she _would_. Miss Ross, however, went
on without waiting for an answer.

"Shall I tell you how I lived before I ever thought of being anybody's
companion? Shall I tell you all I learned in a school at Dieppe, in a
convent at Paris, amongst the strange people who struggle on for bare
existence in the foreign quarter of London? I have sat for a model at
half a crown an hour; I have sung in a music-hall at half-a-guinea a
night. I suppose it was my own fault that I was born without a home,
without a position, without parents, as I sometimes think,--certainly
without a conscience and without a heart! Yet I know hundreds who have
been twice as bad as I ever was, without half my excuses. Mrs.
Lascelles, I have been at war with most of my own sex and the whole of
the other ever since the days of short frocks and a skipping-rope. Don't
you think I must sometimes long to sit down and rest, to leave off being
a she-Arab, if only for half an hour?"

"Was that why you went to Blackgrove?" asked the other, wondering,
interested, a little frightened, yet also a little fascinated, by her
guest.

"I was in London with a capital of three pounds seventeen shillings,"
laughed Miss Ross, "and a personalty of five dresses, two bracelets, and
Alfred de Musset's poems half-bound, the morning I answered the
advertisement that took me to Blackgrove. Can you believe that when I
left it yesterday, I might have stayed, if I had chosen, as mistress of
the house, the flower garden, the whole establishment, and wife of the
worst--well, _one_ of the worst men I have ever had to do with? For a
moment I hesitated--I own I hesitated; though I knew her so little, I
could almost have done it for Helen's sake. Mrs. Lascelles, that girl is
an angel, and her father is--is--not to use strong language--_quite the
reverse_."

Mrs. Lascelles was woman enough to defend an absent friend, and the
colour rose to her brow while she thought how confidentially they were
riding together along the Bragford road not twenty-four hours ago.

"I have known Sir Henry some time," she said, drawing herself up, and
blushing yet deeper to reflect that the "some time" was but a very few
weeks after all; "I cannot believe him what you describe. You ought not
to say such things if you have no proof of them."

"It was to prove them I came here to-day," replied Miss Ross. "It was to
prevent a bad man from making a fool of another woman as he has tried to
make a fool of me. Plain speaking, Mrs. Lascelles, but listen to my
story before you ring the bell for the footman to turn me out of the
house. The first fortnight I was at Blackgrove I never saw the papa at
all; and I honestly own I was becoming every day more attached to the
eldest girl. It was a quiet, peaceful life; and what with the country
air, the sleep, the fresh butter and cream, I began to feel quite strong
and healthy. Sometimes I thought I was even getting gentle and almost
good; I do believe I could have lived there with Helen, and looked after
the younger ones, and gone to bed at ten o'clock, and never wanted
change or excitement for years. I don't know--it seems as if it was not
_me_, but somebody else, who passed such a calm and happy fortnight in
that quiet old country house.

"But I woke up the first day Sir Henry came home. I was looking my best,
and he took care I should know he thought so before he had been five
minutes in the room. At dinner, too, he was perfectly odious, and the
way he helped me to claret, after three hours' acquaintance, was an
insult in itself. Can you believe the man wrote me a letter that very
night, and had the effrontery to put it on my pincushion himself after I
had gone down to breakfast? Such a letter! excusing the outrageous
nature of the whole proceeding, and thus showing he knew perfectly well
how badly he was behaving, on the score, if you please, of his age and
experience in such matters! He had often fancied himself in love before,
he said, but he now knew that he had met his fate for the first and last
time. He should leave home, he protested, that same day, and unless I
could give him some hope of toleration, if not of forgiveness, should
probably never return, for he dreaded my displeasure more even than he
loved the very ground I trod on, &c., &c. All in the worst and washiest
style, as silly and vulgar as a Valentine! But he didn't leave home;
for, to my dismay, he appeared at tea-time, on the best possible terms
with himself, having been out all the morning with the Bragford hounds,
and lunched, as he told us, in very charming society at the 'Peacock.'"

A Red Indian displays, I believe, wonderful fortitude and self-command
under punishment, but a woman tortured by another woman far surpasses
the savage in the calm hypocrisy with which she masks and subdues her
pangs. Not a quiver in her voice, not a shadow on her face, betrayed
more than natural curiosity, while Mrs. Lascelles inquired, in a tone of
perfect unconcern:

"Do you remember, by chance, whether it was the day of the railway
accident?"

The day of the railway accident was impressed on her memory, less indeed
by the collision, which only damaged a few trucks in a goods-train, than
by an interview she held with Sir Henry after luncheon, in which he had
given her to understand, as distinctly as he could without saying it in
so many words, that amongst all the women of the world there was but one
for _him_, and her name was Rose Lascelles!

"I _do_ remember something about a smash that same day at Bragford
Station," answered Miss Ross, "and it seemed to me miraculous that
nobody was hurt. I only saw it in the papers next morning, for Sir Henry
never mentioned the subject--I suppose he was so full of other matters."

"What do you mean?" said Mrs. Lascelles, getting up to stir the fire,
and so turning her face from her companion. "You think I am interested
in Sir Henry Hallaton, and you have got something more to tell me about
him. Frankly, I _am_ interested--to a certain extent. Be as open with me
as I am with you, and tell me all you know."

Miss Ross took the pug on her lap, settled herself in a comfortable
attitude, and proceeded calmly with her narrative.

"That same evening, when the girls went to bed, Sir Henry detained me,
almost by force, in the library. Without the slightest reserve or
hesitation, he related all the particulars of his interview that
afternoon with yourself. He assured me solemnly, that you were avowedly
attached to him, and ready at any time to become his wife. He showed me
a letter you wrote him, and a ring you had given him to keep."

"He took it to be mended!" interrupted the other, with great
indignation. "I never gave it him--I insisted on having it back that
very day."

"It wouldn't come off," proceeded Miss Ross, "for I own I was malicious
enough to ask for it as a proof of his sincerity, and I couldn't help
laughing while he tugged and tugged to get it over the joint of his
little finger. Then he told me that he had thought of marrying only for
the sake of his daughters; that he had looked about him for what the
advertisements call 'a suitable person,' and had selected Mrs.
Lascelles--I use his own words--as a lady-like woman, with a good
fortune, not at all bad-looking, and thoroughly devoted to himself."

"Upon my word, I am very much obliged to him!" broke, in the other, with
but little more vehemence, after all, than the occasion demanded. "The
man has lied to you like a villain! and his lie is all the more cowardly
that it has a certain leaven of truth. Engaged to him I never was; love
him I never did; I might have _liked_ him, perhaps, if I hadn't found
him out in time, but there is no fear that I shall ever like him now!"

"All this fiction, then," continued Miss Ross, "served as a preamble for
a proposal in form to the young lady who had entered his house as
companion to his daughters, and whom he was bound, by every manly
sentiment, to shelter and protect. I told him so, and he answered that
he could in no way fulfil this duty so completely as by making me his
wife. Then I laughed at him--I couldn't help it--and he looked so hurt
and sad, for he's not a bad actor, that I almost pitied him for the
moment, as you _do_ pity people on the stage, though you know it's
acting all the time. At last I got sleepy, and wanted to go to bed, so I
determined to put him to a real test, knowing perfectly well what would
be the result.

"I pretended to soften. I gave him my hand, no more, though he was an
old player, and obviously accustomed to consider such concessions the
preliminaries of a winning game. Then I told him he ought to know my
history; that I had entered his house under false pretences; that long
ago, and far away (this is _true_, Mrs. Lascelles, but let it never
again be alluded to by you or me), I had loved and been deceived, and
could never care for any one in that way again. Lastly, I reminded him
of his children, his age (I couldn't resist _that_!) and his position,
watching him very narrowly while I shammed a good cry, and sobbed out
'Sir Henry, I am not fit to be your wife.'

"Then I unmasked my man, just as I expected all along. His face
brightened, he never dropped my hand, he looked pleased and altogether
relieved, while he embarked on a long and fluent dissertation, in which
he insisted on the advantages of a protector and a home, on his own
merits, on my friendless position, and on the reparation I owed him for
his resolution at once to break off with _you_. Not a word now about
matrimony. Oh! I was never deceived in him from the beginning--not for a
moment!

"I told him so. 'Do you think,' I said, 'after all I have gone through,
after all I have confessed to you, that I have a spark of sentiment, an
atom of romance left--that I would trust myself to the tender mercies of
any man living, except as his wife?'

"He turned pale, walked to the fire, poked it furiously, and came back
with his hands in his pockets glaring at me like a tiger. 'Then _be_ my
wife, Miss Ross!' he growled. 'You won't like it, but I'll do my best to
make you happier than the others!' He was horridly put out, I saw, so I
made him a curtsy, took my candlestick, and marched off to bed. I locked
my door, you may be sure, and as he was off early next morning to pay a
visit in the neighbourhood, he came and knocked several times to wish me
'Good-bye,' but I pretended to be asleep, and before he returned
yesterday I was gone.

"Mrs. Lascelles, you are the only person who was ever good to me without
a selfish motive. I have tried to repay you by putting you on your
guard. I can begin my fight with the world where I left off--I rather
like it. But think of me kindly sometimes, and try not to forget our
drive in the dark to Midcombe Station. I must go now. I don't suppose we
shall ever meet again!"

But she didn't go, notwithstanding, for Mrs. Lascelles had many more
questions to ask, many more confidences to receive, all tending to the
condemnation of her false adorer, Sir Henry Hallaton. Tea-time found the
ladies still in earnest conclave, and their intimacy must have been
closely cemented, for Miss Ross had already confided to her hostess that
her Christian name was Virginie, and that she was familiarly called
"Jin."



CHAPTER III.

SIR HENRY HALLATON.


Warriors of long standing, who, like the Latin poet, have "militated,"
not without success, in many campaigns against the Fair, accept
reverses, scars, and even knock-down blows, with a wondrous affectation,
at least, of stoicism and unconcern. I have my own opinion on these
matters, and hold that the raw recruit, though he may bleed more freely,
may make wryer faces over his gashes, thrusts, and gun-shot wounds, yet
recovers their effects sooner and more completely than the drier and
tougher veteran. The heart, I think, is mended less and less easily
after each successive breakage. At last, like an old boot that has been
patched and cobbled over and over again, it lets in the enemy with a
sadly wasteful facility, and the careless Don Juan of twenty finds
himself a jealous, fretful, unhappy, yet dotingly devoted Don Alfonso at
fifty. There is retribution perhaps even here. A man who lavishes his
money in youth, becomes the slave of a guinea in old age. There must be
a day of reckoning for waste of time, health, intellect--why not also
for a reckless squandering of the affections? Whatever may have been its
practice, the moral code of chivalry was, doubtless, of the noblest and
the best. Men little know what they throw away in that thoughtless
prostitution of the heart which they are never taught to consider weak,
unmanly, and dishonourable. They abandon the brightest beacon to renown,
the surest guide to success, nay, one of the nearest paths to heaven.
All these are to be found in an honest love for a pure woman, and all
these are bartered every day for the smile of a coquette, or the empty
vanity of an hour.

When it is too late, there is something very piteous in that longing of
human nature for the good and the true, which causes it to accept, with
its eyes open, the false and the bad. A second marriage, when the first
had been a failure, was described by a well-known wit as "the triumph of
hope over experience;" surely the grasping at a shadow, when the
substance has proved unattainable, may be called the anodyne of illusion
for despair. "I only ask to be happy and to have every thing my own
way," is the unreasonable outcry of youth, embarking on a summer-sea
with fair wind and hopeful promise, though the golden islands are yet,
as they ever will be throughout the voyage, below the horizon, and the
safe anchorage of thoughtless childhood is already far on the lee.

"I have a right to be happy!" shouts manhood in stern defiance and
rebellion, when the waves are rising and the storm darkens around,
while he ploughs his way towards his aim by dint of ceaseless toil and
weary watches, and heart-breaking efforts that are in themselves
unhappiness and pain.

"I deserve to have been happy!" grumbles old age, though the haven is at
last in sight,--sorrowful but not penitent, regretting with revilings
and maledictions, not with remorse and self-reproach, the fair
opportunities neglected, the chances lost or thrown away,--ready on the
vaguest and wildest encouragement to 'boutship even now, and, reckless
of shrivelled sails and used-up stores, to put out into that dark,
dreary, disheartening sea once more.

It is well for man and woman too to have known a deep, engrossing, and
sincere affection; so elevating as to have ennobled their existence with
its lustre, so strong as to have swept all rivalry from its path, so
prosperous that they have never been driven to seek in paltry imitations
some fictitious solace for its loss.

Sir Henry Hallaton had been twice married; first, in his early youth,
when he became the victim of one of those women happily rare in our
English society, who literally go about seeking whom they may devour.
She accepted him after a week's acquaintance, and was tired of him in
less than a year. Then she ran away with a foreign Count, physically,
mentally, and socially, far inferior to her husband; and in moral
qualities, at least, _then_, not fit to black his boots. Who shall
explain these things? Sir Henry had a shot at the Count, and winged him;
but so madly was he in love with the woman by whom he had been thus
outraged, that he refused to try for a divorce. Had she not died a few
months later, he believed she might have returned to him--and he would
have taken her back! This consideration somewhat softened the pain he
was weak enough to feel in her loss. Then he married again a lady who
was devoted to _him_, this time, and who bore him a family, of which
his daughter Helen was the eldest. That he proved a faithful husband to
this true and affectionate wife, I cannot take upon myself to affirm,
but he was good to the children, and especially fond of his eldest.
After a few short years he lost his second wife too, and now began the
least excusable part of Sir Henry's life.

He was still handsome, with all the energy and most of the tastes of
youth. He was gay, popular, somewhat unscrupulous, and a great favourite
with women. The married ones liked him well enough, in all honour; and
of such he used to say, that "they could take care of themselves;" but
amongst the unmarried, many aspired to legal possession of himself and
his home; with these, unless he was much belied, he took cruel advantage
of feelings he ought never to have awakened, and hopes he never intended
to fulfil.

There were strange stories of Sir Henry's rides with Miss Fanny, and his
walks with Miss Violet, of the pic-nic that got Lady Jane into such a
scrape with her aunt, and the disappearance for several more hours than
was decorous of a young beauty, once the pride of half a dozen parishes,
subsequently ostracised for misdemeanours, in which she was far the
least erring culprit of the two. Scandals like these, however, neither
caused people to shut their doors against the reckless baronet, nor,
indeed, brought him into such disrepute as might have been expected with
that jury of matrons who constitute the court of appeal for county
society, and whose verdict in defiance of all evidence is almost always
given in condemnation of the accused. Had it not been for Helen, perhaps
Sir Henry, in an unguarded moment, would have surrendered himself once
for all, to recommence his search after happiness in matrimonial
fetters, calculated not only to impede his activity but creating much
untoward noise and jingle in his pursuit. The image of his child, I
believe, saved him many times from folly, more than once from guilt.
The temptation must have been very great, the seductions more than
ordinarily powerful, that could have induced Sir Henry either to abandon
his daughter and his home, or to place another in that home, over that
daughter's head. His last, and one of his most foolish escapades, had
been a sudden infatuation for Miss Ross. He was also not a little
ashamed of his discomfiture, at her cavalier rejection of his addresses,
and masterly retreat from his house.

The morning after her departure Sir Henry sat at breakfast, revolving in
his mind many matters of affection and sentiment, which did not,
however, seem to affect his spirits or his appetite. He was a late man,
and his family, consisting of three daughters, for the only son was
abroad with his regiment, generally dispersed to their several
occupations before he came down. Only Helen, after she had ordered
dinner and set the domestic works of the establishment in motion,
habitually paid him a visit to pour out his tea and chat with her papa
while he ate. To-day, she was later than usual, and her absence gave him
time to reflect on his demonstration and its repulse. Strange to say,
while he saw the folly of which he would fain have been guilty, and
laughed indulgently at his own infatuation, there was a degree of
soreness about his failure, more galling than that of disappointed
fantasy, or mere wounded self-love.

"Can it be that I _really_ care for this girl?" thought Sir Henry; "and
if so, that I of all men in the world am likely to be baffled in my
pursuit? Have I quite lost the art in which I was tolerably perfect
twenty, ten, ay, five years ago? and even if I have, is it not worth
anything to know that I can feel as I used, and am young in heart and
affections still?"

He would have got up and stared in the glass, deploring, as he often
did, the wrinkles about his eyes, the grey hairs in his whiskers, but
that Helen coming into the room began to pour out his tea and look
after the comforts of his repast.

She was a girl to be proud of, ay, and fond of too. Miss Ross described
her beauty graphically enough when she said it was that of an old Greek
_bas-relief_. The features were as regular, the brow as low and wide,
the under part of the face slightly prominent, and the mouth, when seen
in front, forming that beautiful curve so rarely modelled but in the
antique--such a mouth as denotes sensibility, firmness, courage,
sympathy, and other noble characteristics of womankind.

In addition to these advantages, Helen possessed what are called "Irish
eyes"--deep, soft, and winning, frank, modest, and full of intellect. I
can think of no other epithet to convey their lustre and their charm.
They were, probably, blue-grey, like Minerva's, but you never thought of
their colour, fringed as they were by curling eye-lashes darker than her
hair, and surmounted by firm, well-defined eye-brows of a yet deeper
shade than either. She was rather tall, too, and handsomely formed, with
shapely hands and feet; but the graceful figure suggested a fair amount
of strength and energy, nor were you surprised to learn that she could
ride, walk, garden, and milk a cow. There were few better waltzers
anywhere, and no such skater in the shire. Moreover, though she never
confessed to it, I believe she used to play cricket with her brother,
and was an undeniable long-stop.

Sir Henry looked fondly in her face, and his heart smote him to think
that he should ever have contemplated the possibility of setting any
other woman over his daughter's head.

"Letters, Nelly," said he, tossing her over a packet of them to open,
while he proceeded with his breakfast. "The old story, of course, county
meetings, advertisements for wire-fences, curse them! cheap wines;
nothing from Harry--he never writes but when he wants money--to be sure
that's nearly every mail--and two or three tradesmen's bills, which you
may put in the fire without opening."

"Why don't you _pay_ your bills?" said Miss Helen, who was rather fond
of lecturing her papa; it was her favourite way of petting him. "You let
them run up, and forget all about it; and then, when you want to buy a
horse, the money is required for something else. Now, look at me; I keep
the house accounts to a fraction, and pay them the first Monday in every
month to a minute."

Sir Henry laughed.

"How can I pay your debts and my own too? You spend all my money in soap
and sand-paper, you little tyrant, and expect me to find myself in
boots, gloves, saddlery, and the common necessaries of life. Nelly,
you're the plague of my existence!"

"I wish you would let me manage all these things for you," insisted Miss
Nelly, with great solemnity; "I'm sure you're cheated, papa, and you're
far too generous and open-hearted. Besides, you hate accounts, and I
_know_ you pay them often without adding them up. How I like figures! I
like managing--I like looking into things--I like having plenty to do."

"You'll have a house of your own to manage some day," answered her
father gaily, "and a husband too, you little witch. I'm sure I don't
envy him!"

But his face fell while he spoke; for he was thinking, when the fatal
time came, what should he do without his darling, the light, and joy,
and comfort of his home?

Miss Helen blushed. Perhaps she too had not been without her maiden
dreams of some such contingency hereafter. Perhaps she had foreshadowed
to herself the semblance of a future lord, whom she would tend as fondly
and love even more devotedly than papa. Perhaps already that phantom
shape had been filled in and coloured, and appeared visibly in the
flesh.

"Halloo, young woman!" exclaimed Sir Henry, tossing another letter
across the table, "here's something for you! An enormous envelope,
stamped with the arms of the Household Cavalry. Bravo, Nell! Have they
offered you a cornetcy, or a situation as bandmaster, or what?"

The blush deepened on Helen's face till it spread to the roots of her
thick dark hair; but she put back the unopened letter in her father's
hand, and, stealing round his chair, leaned on his shoulder, while she
stood behind him.

"Read it, papa," said she; "nobody in the world can have anything to say
to me that ought not to come to you first."

Again that pang of remorse shot through him, as he remembered his own
unworthiness. "What a good girl I have got!" he thought; "and what a
poor, irresolute wretch I am! I cannot trust myself for a day! I ought
to be better; I wish I could try to be better! Here have I been, ready
to gamble away my child's position and her every-day comfort for the
sake of a pair of black eyes and lanthorn jaws that I had never seen a
month ago, that I don't care for half as I do for Nell!--that don't care
a brass farthing for _me_! And I'd do it again, I _know_, under
temptation--that's the worst of it! Ah! I wish I had led a different
life, for Nelly's sake. I wonder if it's too late to begin now?"

Then he read his daughter's letter, a correct and harmless production as
could possibly be addressed to a young lady under the immediate
supervision of her papa, consisting indeed but of a few choice lines, to
express, with much politeness, the writer's intention of "availing
himself of Sir Henry's kindness, and of trespassing on his hospitality
for a couple of days' hunting the following week," with a studied
apology for addressing the daughter of the house, according to her
father's express directions, who had feared he might be away from home
when the letter arrived; the whole concluding with a vague allusion to a
ball of the previous season, which might mean anything, or might not.

"I told him to write to you, Nelly," said Sir Henry, tearing the letter
across and throwing it into the waste-paper basket; "it's lucky I did,
for I had forgotten all about it. And now I'm not quite sure which of
these fellows it is, they're all so alike, and they all ride chestnut
horses with great liberality, I must admit. Vanguard, Vanguard--which
was Vanguard? The little fellow with light hair, or the stout man who
spilt sherry over your dress? I believe I asked them all here next
week."

"Nonsense, papa!" replied Helen; "you're thinking of Sir Charles Carter
and Mr. Peacock. Captain Vanguard is the gentleman we met at Lady
Clearwell's, and who was so civil about his brougham when our carriage
got smashed."

"I remember!" exclaimed Sir Henry, suddenly enlightened, "a man with a
squint----"

"A squint!" returned Helen, indignantly. "Oh, papa! how can you say so?
He's got beautiful eyes; at least--I mean----" she added, picking
herself up with some confusion, "he hasn't the slightest vestige of a
squint! And you thought him good-looking."

"Did _you_ think him good-looking, Nelly?" said her father; "that's more
to the purpose."

"I never thought about it," answered the girl, tossing her head, yet
smiling a little with her deep expressive eyes. "He seemed
gentleman-like and good-natured, and you said you wanted to be civil to
him; so he'd better come here, I suppose, and I'll see that his room is
comfortable and his fire lit--that's _my_ department. Now, papa, if you
mean to be provoking, I'll go and attend to my own business: I've plenty
to do, and you're not to have any more tea. What an hour to have just
finished breakfast! Shall I ring?"

"Ring away, Nelly," said her father, putting a cigar in his mouth, and
sauntering off for his usual visit to the stables.

But Helen dipped into the waste-paper basket, and extracted therefrom
the two torn halves of Frank Vanguard's letter, which she pieced
together and perused attentively. Then she folded them carefully in
their envelope, also torn, and placed the whole in her apron pocket, ere
she rang the bell and sailed off on her daily avocations; from all which
I infer that, notwithstanding her denial, she _had_ thought about the
writer's good looks, and was, at least, perfectly satisfied that his
eyes had not the remotest tendency to a squint!



CHAPTER IV.

AMAZONS.


"My dear, the Amazons were quite right." It was Mrs. Lascelles who
spoke, sitting in the easiest chair of her boudoir, and listening to an
account of those remarkable women, read aloud by Miss Ross. The ladies
had not been studying Herodotus, amusing and improbable as are the
anecdotes of that gossiping historian, but took their information from
an author of later date, less quaint, more voluminous, and perhaps as
little to be trusted.

Miss Ross shut her book and yawned. "I think they should have gone in
for man-hating altogether," she replied. "I am dead against
half-measures, and I never can see why you shouldn't kick people because
they are down!"

"I wish I had always thought so," said the other, with something like a
sigh. "We poor women must learn to take care of ourselves. Well, I am
wiser now, and really, Jin, I think it's partly owing to you."

Miss Ross was still thinking of the Amazons. "Why didn't they kill their
prisoners at once?" she asked. "It would have been more dignified, and
more--what shall I say? more _manly_ altogether."

"I think the other plan was better," answered Mrs. Lascelles. "You see,
they kept them long enough to make them unhappy, if they had no other
motive, and then put them out of the way just as the captives were
beginning to get attached to their conquerors. They don't seem to have
minded mutilating _themselves_; I dare say that was very natural. Jin, I
think I should like to have been an Amazon."

"You're too soft-hearted," answered the other. "Now I could condemn a
man to death with less compunction than you would show in ordering a
child to be whipped. I have no pity for the nobler sex, as they call
themselves. 'War to the knife!' that's my motto!"

"I think I have been used badly enough," said Mrs. Lascelles, looking
the while extremely prosperous and self-satisfied. "I am sure my early
life has not been the happier for my relations with the lords of the
creation. Two or three false lovers, my dear, and a bad husband, are not
calculated to raise one's opinion of the race; but I am not so bitter as
you are, by many degrees."

"Heaven forbid!" replied Miss Ross, while a shadow passed across her
dark, expressive face. "I should be sorry for any woman who could feel
as I do; sorrier still if she had learnt her lesson as I did."

She was silent for a few minutes, looking back, as it seemed, with
horror and self-aversion, into the depths of a cruel and hideous past; a
past that had unsexed and made her what she was now; that had caused her
to originate one of the strangest compacts ever entered into by two
women, and enthusiastically to abide by her own share in the agreement.

Mrs. Lascelles and Miss Ross had struck up a firm alliance, offensive
and defensive, with the object of persistently carrying out a system of
aggressive warfare against the masculine half of the human race. The
elder and richer lady had proposed to the younger and poorer, that she
should take up her abode with her, and be to her as a sister. In the
world, Mrs. Lascelles gave out that Miss Ross was her cousin; nor did a
large circle of London acquaintances think it worth while to verify the
assumed relationship. They saw two pretty women, living together in a
good house, remarkably well dressed, driving the neatest carriage, and
the truest steppers in London, going out little, but to "good places,"
and were quite willing to accept their own account of themselves,
without making further inquiry. Everybody knew _who_ Mrs. Lascelles was
(it would have denoted rustic ignorance not to be aware that she had
missed becoming Lady St. Giles), and, after the first week or two, the
companion who went about with her was no longer "_a_ Miss Ross," but had
established her position as "Miss Ross--clever girl, with black
eyes--cousin, you know, of dear Rose."

So these two might be seen in the Park twice a week; at the Opera once;
occasionally at a ball; more frequently at those unaccountable functions
called "drums," where hundreds of people congregate in a space intended
for tens, and the world seems engaged, somewhat wearily and with
customary ill success, in looking about for its wife.

But it was Miss Ross who had struck out the happy idea on which hung the
whole strength and motive of the alliance.

She it was who suggested, that at all times, and under all conditions,
as much harm should be done to the peace of mind of every man within
reach as could be accomplished by two fascinating women, with all the
advantages of good fortune, good looks, good taste, and good position.

"You've got the money, dear," said she to her patroness, "and most of
the beauty, in my opinion, the friends, the foothold, and the rest of
it; but, I think, _I've_ got the energy and the obstinacy, and my share
of the brains; above all, the _rancour_ that can carry us through any
opposition in the world!"

So they started on the war-path at once, even before Easter; and a very
pleasant "fillibustering" expedition they made of it. Not many scalps
were taken perhaps at first; but the defences of the white man were
examined and broken through, his habits studied, his weapons blunted,
his mode of strategy laid bare. By the middle of May, sundry Pale-Faces
were going about with strange sensations under their waistcoats, that
only wanted a little chafing to become serious disease of the heart. The
aggravation was sure to follow, else wherefore were dresses of exquisite
fabric contracted, gloves and bonnets sent home, coils of fragrant hair
laid fold on fold, smooth, shining, and insidious as the involutions of
the great Serpent himself? It was difficult to say which of these two
Amazons could boast the highest score of victims. Perhaps Mrs. Lascelles
proved most successful in the massacre of middle-aged adorers, while
young boys and old gentlemen fell prostrate without effort, willing
captives to the devilry and seductions of Miss Ross.

Amongst the eldest of these, and the wisest, in his own opinion, was a
certain Mr. Groves, a relative by marriage of Mrs. Lascelles, who
persisted in calling him "Uncle Joseph," a name by which he soon became
known in the circle of her intimates. This gentleman, at a mature period
of life, when years are counted by scores and romance is supposed to
have made way for comfort and self-indulgence, found his defences
suddenly exposed to the merciless attacks of Miss Ross. He liked it
uncommonly at first, flattering himself that at his age flirtation was a
harmless and pleasing excitement, which he could leave off when it
became oppressive or inconvenient, and that, if worst came to worst, he
was in good hands,--the girl seemed so attached to him, so confiding, so
sincere! Uncle Joseph used to rub his bald head in his cooler moments,
and wonder fully as much at her as himself; but, with the lapse of
years, he had at least learned that it is not well to analyse our
pleasures too minutely; and he generally summed up with the
philosophical reflection, that there was no accounting for taste. If the
girl liked a man old enough to be her father, why it only showed she was
a girl of sense, who knew the world, "Ay, and more than that, sir, a
girl who knows her own mind!"

By degrees, however, Uncle Joseph, having, it is to be presumed,
forgotten the tender experiences of youth, was surprised to find his
habits altered, his snuff-box put aside, his after-dinner slumbers
abolished, nay, the fashion of his garments derided, his very tailor
changed, and tyrannical exception taken to the thickness of his boots.
He kicked stoutly at first, but without avail. He was never comfortable
now, seldom happy. The clubs and haunts he had once delighted to
frequent knew him no more, and he had taken to wander about the Park
like a restless spirit, amongst boys who might have been his grandsons,
disappointed, as it would seem, in a vague search for some object, which
yet he never really expected to find.

So altered was the man, that he actually consulted an eminent
hairdresser on the propriety of setting up a wig!

"Don't be late, dear, to-night," said Mrs. Lascelles, waking up from a
fit of musing, possibly on the habits of the Amazons; "there's nobody
coming, I think, but Uncle Joseph, and he hates waiting for dinner.
Perhaps he's still more fidgety when he is waiting for you."

In Miss Ross's black eyes rose a sparkle that denoted intense love of
mischief, rather than gratified vanity or demure self-applause.

"He _does_ wait for me, nevertheless, very often," she answered; "and I
don't let him off because he hates it, you may be sure. Do you remember
him that night at the French Play? Didn't he get savage? And wasn't it
fun?"

Mrs. Lascelles laughed.

"You never spare him, Jin, that you must allow."

"I spare nobody!" answered the other, and the dark eyes glittered
fiercely.

Her friend looked at her with more than common interest, and something
of pity no less than curiosity in her face.

"What makes you so wild, Jin," said she, "so wicked, so merciless, so
unlike other people? I love you dearly, as you know, because I do
believe you love _me_. But why should you hate everybody else? Above
all, why are you so bitter, so unkind, so utterly without heart, towards
those who show a regard for yourself? It seems to me, that directly a
man betrays the slightest interest in you, down he goes in the Black
List, and you pitch into him without compunction or remorse."

"Shall I make a clean breast of it?" said Miss Ross, drawing her chair
near her friend. "You have often heard me say what a wretched childhood
mine was, what an unhappy youth; but I have never told even _you_ of the
one crowning sorrow of my life, the one outrage that turned my few good
impulses and instincts into 'malice, hatred, and all uncharitableness.'
As a child, I had no parents, no relations. I was brought up by a stern
old woman in black, whom I had been taught to call 'Aunty,' but who was
careful to impress on me, nevertheless, that I was not her niece; and I
had no playmates, nor companions of my own age. I could have clung very
fondly to anything that showed interest in me or loved me. I know it,
because when I was taken across the Channel to school at Dieppe, I made
acquaintance with the steward's dog in the steamer, and I shall never
forget the wrench of parting with that friend of six hours' standing,
nor the look in his meek brown eyes when I kissed him and wished him
good-bye. I remember I cried for two hours, and 'Aunty' thought it was
at parting with her. She scolded me without pity; but even then I was
wise enough to know she would have reviled me still more bitterly had I
told her the truth. How I hated that school at Dieppe, the _café au
lait_, the long rolls of bread, the _bouilli_, and the fast days. The
lessons I didn't so much mind, but the 'recreations,' as they called
them, I thought would have driven me mad! I was quite a little girl when
I went there, but nobody petted me, nor seemed to care one snap of the
fingers whether I was dead or alive; though they said I was pretty, I
don't think I could have been what is called 'a taking child.' I was
often punished too, and always more or less in disgrace for
'insubordination,' because I lifted up my young voice and protested
against the injustice to which we were daily victims. The school
consisted of French and English girls. I liked the latter least; they
were the most prejudiced and overbearing, affecting airs of superiority,
and calling the former 'foreigners' in their own country!

"When I left Dieppe and was removed to a convent in Paris everybody
seemed glad, and I was delighted to go myself.

"Oh! Rose, you have never been in a convent! Thank your stars, my dear,
or your gods, if you have any; and pray that you never may be. The
discipline, the dulness, the wearisome routine, made one feel like a
wild beast in a cage. I think I should have torn somebody in pieces if I
had stayed. There was nothing to see, nothing to do, and nothing to
learn. Though I was such a little rebel, I had neither been stupid nor
idle at school, and there was little they taught in the convent, except
needle-work, that I didn't know fully better than my instructors. So I
ran away. I am ashamed to tell you how I managed it--what lies I told,
what feelings I simulated, what smiles I lavished to induce a young man,
whom I had only seen three times and spoken with twice, to assist me in
my flight. He called it 'un enlèvement;' but I think I managed all the
details, and had, therefore, the less difficulty in giving him the slip
within an hour of my escape from prison. He was a 'friseur,' I believe.
He told me he was an artist. I certainly shouldn't have known him again
in a week's time, but he was useful to me, and I think he said his name
was Adolphe.

"No friends--no money. A run-away school-girl, and loose in the streets
of Paris. Can you wonder that my wits are sharpened, my opinions
somewhat advanced? I was self-reliant, however, and had no intention of
starving, so I pawned a black silk jacket of my own, and a bracelet
Adolphe had lately given me. I regret to say the latter ornament fetched
but a few francs. I had capital enough now to keep me a few days, and
felt that I could afford to make my own bargain with an employer,
whatever might be the task or the terms.

"Perhaps it was because I could do without it for the moment, that I
obtained an engagement the same day to sing at one of the 'Cafés
Chantants' that abound in the outskirts of Paris. In a low dress, at
sixteen, singing to two hundred people I had never seen before, I give
you my word I wasn't the least shy. Truth to tell, my blood was up. I
had detected in the Manager's politeness, and the readiness with which
he met my terms, something of that predatory tendency which I had
already learned from books, from reflection, from the experience of
others, affects the dealings of men towards ourselves. I was ten times
better in defence, I knew, than he could be in attack; and I felt a
fierce pleasure in pondering how I could turn his own weapons against
himself.

"So I ran through a succession of shakes, and squeals, and shrieks, and
sometimes sang false, to the delight of an enthusiastic audience and my
own intense gratification. One man never took his eyes off me; and,
somehow, before I had finished my third or fourth bar, I found I had
forgotten Manager, self, and company, and was singing to this man alone.
When I went back at night to the bare little room I had hired during the
afternoon, shall I confess to you that his face haunted me in the dark?
And I dreamt of him--I did, upon my word--though I was so tired I fell
dead asleep the instant I lay down."

"My dear, you had fallen in love," observed her listener.

"No, I hadn't," answered the other; "at least, not then. Next day I
found a note and a bouquet from the Manager. I did wish for a moment it
had been from somebody else; but it proved to me, at least, I was
admired by an old fool, who might have been my grandfather, and so my
vanity should have been gratified, but it only made me savage and
irritable. I don't think I ever liked people one bit because they liked
_me_!

"That evening the same man was there to hear me sing again. I confess my
heart gave a jump when I saw him, and I knew that _he_ knew it! He never
applauded but once, and he shook his head whenever I made a false note.
What pains I took, and how pleased I was, when he said 'Bravo!' out loud
as I made my curtsy! I _was_ in love with him that night when I went to
bed, and felt I had a right to dream of him as much as ever I liked.

"It is not difficult to make acquaintance with a friendless girl singing
for bread in a place like Paris. I thought it very hard that a whole
week should pass without his speaking to me, though I saw him every
night, always staring, and always in the same place. Of course the time
came at last, and when I had him all to myself on two chairs, with a
_deux-sous_ newspaper, in the Tuileries gardens, I did feel that life
was something to enjoy, to revel in, to be grateful for. Mrs. Lascelles,
I shall never be near heaven now, but I think I was then. I was so happy
that it made me good.

"I wonder if he knew what he was doing. Sometimes I think men are often
brutes, only because they are fools. We were married though. I protest
to you solemnly, as I am a living woman, we were married in a church! I
took his name, such as it was, and when next I sang they put me in the
bills as Madame Picquard. He did not like me to leave off my profession,
he said, and I would have gone out willingly with a rake and a basket to
earn my day's wages as a scavenger in the streets if he had only said it
was a pleasant life.

"We were not rich, though he always seemed to have plenty of money. I
lived in a very modest apartment, and I used to think I saw less of my
husband after he was my husband. I imagine this is sometimes the case,
but it grieved me then. I was even fool enough to cry about it. Fancy my
crying with nothing to gain, and nobody to dry my eyes. A good joke,
isn't it? But we have changed all that. How I used to laugh at his
French! He said he was an Alsatian, that was why it was so bad. I never
heard him speak English but once. I was nearly run over by a _fiacre_,
and he said, 'Take care, dear!' just as you or I might. His mother, he
told me, had been an Englishwoman, but he scarcely knew another word of
the language.

"Soon after this my boy was born. Such a noble little fellow, Mrs.
Lascelles--so strong, so handsome, with beautiful little hands and
finger-nails as perfect as a model. My darling boy! He knew me, I am
sure he did, when he was ten days old, and--and--it's nonsense, of
course, and they hate one when they're grown up. But I wasn't such a bad
mother to him, after all!

"Did I tell you my husband's name was Achille? Well, Achille was _very_
good to me at first--sending in flowers, and things for baby, and coming
to see me every day. To be sure, the doctor wouldn't let him stay above
five minutes. I was very happy, and looked forward to getting well and
singing again, and working hard at home and abroad for the comfort of my
husband and child.

"But I didn't get well. I was very young, you know, and it was weeks
before I was able to walk into the next room, so that I couldn't
accompany my husband anywhere out-of-doors, and I dare say I was a sadly
stupid companion in the house. Perhaps that was why he got tired of me.
How can I tell? or what does it signify? It seems as if all these things
had happened a hundred years ago. What a fuss people make about their
feelings and their affections, and so on! What is the good of them after
all? and how long do they last?

"Achille hadn't been to see me for a week, when one day the nurse came
in, and said a gentleman was waiting outside, and wished to know if he
might be admitted. I was on the sofa with baby in my lap, and felt
stronger than usual of late, so I said 'Certainly,' when, behold, enter
my friend the Manager, bearing an enormous bouquet, profuse in
civilities, congratulations, compliments, and more hateful than ever; he
wanted to kiss baby, who was frightened at him--no wonder--and drew his
chair so close to my sofa, that I should have liked to box his ears on
the spot.

"He hadn't been five minutes in the room before he made a declaration of
love, which I resented with considerable energy; finally, as a last
resource, threatening to acquaint my husband with his insolence, who, I
said, should kick him from one end of the Boulevard to the other. I
shall never forget the hateful laugh with which he received my menace.

"'Is Madame aware,' said he, 'that Monsieur has left Paris; that I am
his chosen friend and comrade; that I have regulated his affairs to the
last; that he wishes me to protect Madame as he would himself, and to
stand in the place of a father to his child?'

"Then he put a letter in my hand, which he kissed at the same time with
much effusion, and, walking to the other end of the room, buried himself
in the _Charivari_, while I read.

"Such a letter, Mrs. Lascelles! Need I tell you what it all meant? Need
I tell you that Achille was base, treacherous, cowardly, shameless?
_Enfin_, that he was a _man_! He said I had no legal claim on him; that
our marriage was a sham; that we had lived pleasantly enough for a time,
but of course this could not go on for ever, and that I could hardly
expect his future--_his_ future!--I should like to know what he had done
with mine!--to be sacrificed to a _liaison_, however romantic, of a few
months' standing. He had left funds, he went on to say, at my disposal,
in the hands of his good friend, the Manager, with whom, as he had made
a point of arranging, I could place myself advantageously at once. With
regard to the boy, he added, I must consult my own feelings; but so long
as a noble institution was supported by the State for the reception of
_enfants trouvés_, he could not charge himself with the support of us
both. The Manager was an excellent man, in the prime of life, and he
wished me much happiness in the successful career in which, thanks to
his care and provision, I could now embark.

"I suppose I am not like other women: I neither fainted, nor raved, nor
burst into fits of weeping, nor sat as they do on the stage, white and
motionless, turned to stone. All in a moment I seemed to have grown
quite cool and composed, and as strong as a milkmaid. My instinct was
doubtless to hit again. Achille might be out of reach, but here was his
confederate, disarmed, and open to a blow. Some intuitive consciousness,
possessed, I believe, only by women, taught me that this man was in my
power. I determined he should know what that meant before I had done
with him.

"The crackling of the letter, as I refolded it, brought him back to my
side. He took my hand and kissed it once more. I did not withdraw it
now.

"'I was quite prepared for this,' I said quietly, 'as, of course, you
know. My husband and I have been on bad terms for some time. You must be
very much in his confidence, however, if he has told you _why_--that is
my affair, so is the question of money; in that matter he has behaved
well, but I cannot take it.'

"His fat, heavy face gleamed with absolute delight.

"'You cannot take it!' he repeated; 'and why?'

"'Because I have no claim on him as a wife; because, morally, he is not
my husband; because women have sentiments, affections, _amour propre_,
egoism, if you will; _enfin_, because I love another.'

"But I was careful, you may be sure, not to tell him who that other was.
Before he quitted me that afternoon he had persuaded me, nothing loth,
to accept the pittance left by my good-for-nothing husband; though a
fortnight afterwards, having been to see me every day, he was still in
torments about the unknown object, growing always more and more
infatuated, in a way that would have been ludicrous had it not been
simply contemptible.

"I doled him out little morsels of encouragement; I accepted from him
valuable presents, and even sums of money; I tantalized, irritated, and
provoked him with the ingenuity of a fiend. I shuddered when he came
near me, yet I let him kiss my face once,--my baby's _never_! At last I
gave way, with a great storm of sobs and emotion, made my confession,
whispered that _he_, and _he_ alone, had been the mysterious object;
that I had cared for him from the first; that to him was owing my
coldness towards my husband, our estrangement, and eventual separation.
Finally, I promised to meet him the very next morning, never more to
part; and within six hours my baby and I were established, bag and
baggage, in the train for Lyons; nor have I ever seen my fat friend from
that day to this.

"Except a flower I once gave him in exchange for a Spanish fan, I don't
think he got anything out of our acquaintance but, as Hamlet says, 'the
shame and the odd hits.'

"I wasn't altogether unhappy at Lyons. Baby was my constant companion;
and, so long as my money lasted, I was contented enough only to wash and
nurse him, and see him grow, and teach him to say 'Mamma.' It was a long
while before I gained sufficient strength to sing again, and in the mean
time I picked up a few francs by sitting to artists for a model, but I
didn't like it. If I took baby, I couldn't keep him quiet; and a
painting room was so bad for him. If I left him at home, I always
expected to find something dreadful had happened when I came back. I was
advised to put him out to nurse. Though I couldn't bear to part with my
boy, I saw that, sooner or later, it must come to this; but he was over
two years old before I made up my mind.

"They had offered me a six weeks' engagement at Avignon. My voice had
come back, the terms were good, it looked likely to lead to something
better, and I accepted eagerly.

"There was low fever then prevalent in that town. I could not take
little Gustave to a hot-bed of sickness, so I left him in charge of a
kind, motherly woman, who had a child of her own, in a healthy part of
Lyons, only too near the river.

"Poor little darling! I am sure he knew I was going away, for he set up
a dreadful howl when I put him down. It seems silly enough, but I
suppose I wasn't properly trained then, for I could have howled too with
all my heart.

"What a long six weeks it was! And, after all, I came back before the
close of my engagement, and forfeited half my salary. There had been
floods as usual in Lyons, the poor woman I had left him with couldn't
write, and I was getting uneasy about my boy.

"Oh! Mrs. Lascelles, when I returned there I couldn't find him. The
cottage I left him in had been swept away when the river rose. No trace
even remained of the quiet little street. The authorities had done all
in their power for hundreds of ruined families; what was one poor woman
and a two-years old child amongst all those sufferers! I searched the
markets, the streets, the hospitals. I haunted the police-office; I
offered everything I possessed, freely, everything! for tidings of my
boy. One Commissary of Police was especially kind and considerate, but
even he let out at last that I was well rid of my child! Madame, as he
expressed it, so young, so handsome, with such talents, so _sympathique_
with himself! And this was a _man_, my dear, not a brute--at least, not
more a brute than the rest!

"He it was who found out for me that the poor woman was drowned with
whom I had left my boy; there was no clue to the fate of her child nor
of mine. _Monsieur le Commissaire_, with supreme good taste, chose the
hour in which he made me this communication, to couple with it a
proposal that did not increase my respect for himself or his sex. You
may imagine I did not even yet relax my endeavours to find out something
certain about my boy. I went to the Mayor, the Préfet; in my desolation,
I even wrote to my old admirer, the Manager, in Paris. On all sides I
met with the same treatment; civility, compliment, egoism, and utter
heartlessness. In time I came to think that there was not only nothing
_new_, but nothing _good_, under the sun. If I were romantic I should
say I was a tigress robbed of her cub; as I am only practical, I call
myself simply a woman of the world, whom the world has hardened;
cunning, because deceived; pitiless, because ill-treated; heartless,
because _désillusionée_. You have taken me in, and tamed me for a time,
but nothing will change my nature now.

"The rest of my history you know; the depths to which I sank, the
meannesses of which I was capable, the hypocrisy that re-established me
in a station of respectability, and swindled people out of such
recommendations as the one that enabled me to make a fool of Sir Henry
Hallaton. As I told you before, my motto now is, 'War to the knife!' I
might add, 'Woe to the vanquished!'"

The tears stood in her listener's blue eyes more than once during this
strange recital; but Mrs. Lascelles brightened up when it was over, and
pointed to the clock, with a light laugh--

"Go and put your armour on, my dear," said she, "and bid your maid look
to the joints of your harness. We fight to-night in _champ clos_, and
you have two champions to encounter, both eager for the fray!"

Miss Ross smiled--

"Let the best man win!" she answered. "He may find to-night that the
'latter end of a feast' is not at all unlike 'the beginning of a
fray!'"



CHAPTER V.

À OUTRANCE.


No Amazon, I imagine, in the experience of Herodotus, Sir Walter
Raleigh, or our own, was ever known to be careless of her weapons,
suffering them to grow blunt from neglect or rusty from disuse. The boar
whets his tusks, the stag sharpens his antlers; the nobler beasts of
chase are not dependent for safety on flight alone; and shall not woman
study how she can best bring to perfection that armour with which Nature
provides her for attack, defence, and eventual capture of her prey?

Brighter or more accomplished warriors never entered lists, than the two
now sitting in the drawing-room at No. 40; cool, fragrant, diaphanous;
redoubtable in that style of beauty which is so enhanced and set off by
art.

To these, enter a young gentleman, hot, shy, bewildered; who has
followed into the room a name not the least like his own, with
considerable trepidation; hardly clear if he is on his head or his
heels; and, although worshipping the very pattern of the carpet on which
one of these divinities treads, yet conscious, in his heart of hearts,
that it would be unspeakable relief to wake up and find himself
three-quarters of a mile off at his club.

Mr. Goldthred, whose announcement by a pompous butler as "Mr. Gotobed"
had not served to increase his confidence, was by no means a bold person
in general society, and possessed, indeed, as little of that native
dignity they call "cheek," as any of the rising generation with whom it
was his habit to associate; but on the present occasion he felt nervous
to an unusual degree, because, alas! he had fallen in love with a woman
older, cleverer, more experienced, and altogether of higher calibre than
himself.

He had come early, half hoping to find her alone, yet was it a relief to
be spared the ordeal of a _tête-à-tête_ that seemed so delightful in
fancy. Of course, being her utter bond-slave, he paid his homage to Mrs.
Lascelles with ludicrous stiffness, and blundered at once into an
inconsequent conversation with Miss Ross. That syren took pity on his
embarrassment--the pity a cat takes on a mouse. It amused her to mark
the poor youth's efforts to seem at ease, his uncomfortable contortions,
his wandering replies, and the timid glances he cast on the hem of his
conqueror's garment, who would willingly have met him half-way, had he
only gone up and flirted with her in good earnest.

"We haven't seen you for ages, Mr. Goldthred. What have you been doing?
Where have you been hiding? Rose and I were talking about you this very
afternoon."

How he wished he, too, might call his goddess "Rose;" but she had been
talking about him, blessed thought! that very day. His heart was in his
throat, and he murmured something about "French play."

"You can't have been at the French play day and night," laughed Miss
Ross; "but I'm not going to cross-examine you. Besides, you weren't
asked here to flirt with _me_. I've got my own young man coming, and
he's hideously jealous. I hear him now coughing on the stairs! Only us
four. It's a small party. We shall find each other very stupid, I dare
say."

Gathering encouragement, no doubt, from this supposition, and emboldened
by a fresh arrival, Mr. Goldthred stole a glance in his idol's face
while she rose to welcome Uncle Joseph. The blue eyes rested on their
worshipper very kindly for about half a second. But that half second
did his business as effectually as half an hour. If Uncle Joseph was
also shy, greater age, wisdom, and corpulence rendered him more capable
of concealing such embarrassment. He shook his hostess cordially by the
hand; he told Miss Ross she looked like a "China-rose," a flower of
which he had formed some vague conception, far removed from reality; and
announced that he had spent his day in the City, and was very
hungry,--more like a man in business than a man in love. This gentleman
took down Miss Ross; Mrs. Lascelles followed with young Goldthred,
leaning more weight on his arm than the steepness of the stairs seemed
to necessitate. He wished the journey twice as long, and for half a
minute was half persuaded he felt happy!

I am sorry I cannot furnish the bill of fare: Uncle Joseph put it in his
pocket. It was a way he had, after perusing it solemnly through a pair
of gold eye-glasses, with the intention of working it deliberately to
the end.

A dinner organised for an express purpose is generally a failure. On the
present occasion there was no particular object to be gained beyond the
general discomfiture of two unoffending males, and it went on merrily
enough. Drinking is, no doubt, conducive to sentiment; but eating has, I
think, a contrary tendency, and should never be mixed up with the
affections. Uncle Joseph, though far gone, had not yet lost enough heart
to weaken his appetite, and young Goldthred helped himself to everything
with the indiscriminate and indecent carelessness of a man under thirty.
The ladies pecked, and sipped, and simpered, yet managed to take a fair
share of provender on board; and after champagne had been twice round,
the party were thoroughly satisfied with themselves, and with each
other. Even Goldthred mustered courage enough to carry on the siege, and
began making up for lost time. Her fish was so lively, Mrs. Lascelles
thought well to wind in a few yards of line.

"Either you are very romantic, Mr. Goldthred," she objected, "or else
you don't mean us to believe what you say."

"I wish _you_ to believe it," he answered, lowering his voice and
blushing, _really_ blushing, though he was a _man_, "and--and--I never
used to be romantic till I came _here_."

"It's in the air I suppose," she answered, laughing, "and we shall all
catch it in turn--I hope it isn't painful! I sometimes think it must be,
unless one has it in the mildest form. We'll ask Miss Ross. Jin, dear,
Mr. Goldthred wants to know if you've any romance about you. I tell him
I don't think you've an atom."

"How can you say so!" exclaimed Miss Ross. "Don't you know my especial
weakness? Can't anybody see I'm heart all over?"

Uncle Joseph looked up from his cutlet, masticating steadily the while,
and his grave eyes rested on the dark, meaning face of the lady by his
side. Their gaze indicated surprise, incredulity, and the least touch of
scorn.

She was a beautiful fighter, she had practised so much, and knew exactly
when and how to return. Shooting one reproachful glance from her large
dark eyes full into his own, under cover of the others' voices she
murmured two words,--"Strangers yet!"

It was the title of a song she sang to him only the day before in the
boudoir; a song into which she put all the wild, tender pathos of her
flexible and expressive voice. Its burden had been ringing in his ears
half an hour ago, while he dressed for dinner.

The round, you see, was a short one; but Uncle Joseph caught it heavily
and went down! To borrow the language of the prize-ring--"First blood
for Miss Ross."

He came up smiling nevertheless, and finished his glass of champagne.

"I wish you were a little plainer, Miss Ross. I'm not paying you a
compliment, or I should say you could easily afford to be a great deal
plainer than you are. I mean what I say."

"And I mean what I say too--sometimes," she whispered, drooping her
thick black eye-lashes. "I don't think I should like to be thought so
very plain by _you_."

Uncle Joseph went down again, having received, I fancy, no less
punishment in this round than the last.

Meanwhile young Goldthred, fortified by refreshment, and further
stimulated by the interest Mrs. Lascelles either felt or affected,
embarked on a touching recital of his pursuits, belongings, and general
private history. He described in turn, and with strict attention to
details, his schooner, his tax-cart, and his poodle; enlarging on the
trim and rigging of the first, the varnish of the second, the elaborate
shaving of the third--and, indeed, almost soared into eloquence about
his dog.

"It shows he has a good heart," thought the listener; "but none the less
must he take his punishment like the rest!"

With a little more champagne he glided, by an easy transition, into his
possessions, his expectations, his prospects in general; why he had done
well in "Spanish," what a mess he had made of "Peruvians," the advantage
of early information about American politics, and how nearly he had
missed a great uncle's munificent bequest by exposing his ignorance of
the French _Credit Mobilier_. He was not quite a fool, however, and
stopped himself with a laugh.

"What a bore you will think me, Mrs. Lascelles," said he. "One is so apt
to fancy everybody is interested in what one cares for oneself."

"I am," she answered, with her brightest, kindest look. "I always want
to know everything about people I like. When they leave the stage I
follow them in fancy behind the scenes, and I _do_ think I should feel
hurt if I believed they were really so different without their rouge,
wigs, padding, and false calves."

"It's not 'Out of sight, out of mind' with you, eh?" observed the young
gentleman, in considerable trepidation. To do him justice, he saw his
opportunity, but could make no more of it than the above.

"Do you think it is?" she returned. "And what would one be worth if it
was? How little people know each other. We all seem to go about with
masks for faces. I dare say mine is like the rest, but I would take it
off in a minute if I was asked."

Another opening for Goldthred. He felt full of sentiment, up to his
eye-lids; was, indeed, choking with it, but somehow it wouldn't come
out.

"I've never been to a regular masquerade," said he simply; "I should
think it was capital fun."

Miss Ross, whom nothing escaped, whatever she had on hand, saw his
discomfiture, and came to the rescue.

"You're at one every day of your life," she broke in. "Rose is quite
right. Nobody speaks the whole truth, except Mr. Groves, who has just
told me I'm hideous. You know you did, and you think you're a capital
judge. I shall not forgive you till after coffee. I must say I can't
agree with Rose about one's friends. As for mine, with a few brilliant
exceptions, the less I see of them the better I like it."

"If that's the case, Jin, we'll go up-stairs," said the hostess, rising
slowly and gracefully, as she fastened the last button of her glove.
"Uncle Joseph," she added, with her sweetest smile, "you're at home, you
know. You must take care of Mr. Goldthred;" and so swept out, keeping
the blue eyes Goldthred so admired steadily averted from his eager face.
He returned to the table after shutting the door quite crest-fallen and
disappointed. He had counted on one more look to carry him through the
tedious half-hour that must intervene ere he could see her again, and
she probably knew this as well as he did. Ladies are sometimes
exceedingly liberal of such small encouragements; sometimes, as if from
mere caprice, withhold them altogether. No doubt they adapt their
treatment to the symptoms shown by the sufferer.

It _was_ a long half-hour for the two gentlemen thus left over their
dessert, without a subject of interest in common. Uncle Joseph's mature
prudence, over-reaching itself, mistrusted a single lady's cellar, and
he stuck faithfully to pale sherry; while Goldthred, with youthful
temerity, dashed boldly at the claret, and was rewarded by finding an
exceedingly sound and fragrant vintage. Not that he knew the least what
he was drinking, but swallowed sweetmeats and filled bumpers with a
nervous impatience for release, that lengthened every minute into ten.
The other, wondering why his relative had asked this guest to dinner,
and what merit she could see in him, thought him the stupidest young man
he had ever come across, and was sorely tempted to tell him so.

They tried the usual topics in vain--the instability of the Government,
the good looks of the Princess, the disgraceful uncertainty of the
weather. At last, Goldthred, driven to despair, propounded the
comprehensive question, "What were they doing to-day in the City?" and
the companions got on better after so suggestive an inquiry.

Uncle Joseph delivered his opinions solemnly on certain doubtful
securities; the younger man made a shrewd observation concerning his own
investments. Obviously they had in one respect a similarity of tastes,
and each found his dislike of the other decreasing every moment. Uncle
Joseph even began to debate in his own mind, whether he ought not to ask
his new acquaintance to dinner. He had drunk five glasses of sherry, and
I think one more would have settled the point; but the welcome moment
of release chimed out with the half-hour from a clock on the
chimney-piece, so flinging down his napkin he pointed to the empty
claret-jug, and suggested they should proceed up-stairs.

There was nothing Goldthred desired so much. He pulled his tie
straight,--it had a tendency to get under his left ear,--bounced into
the passage, whisked his hat off the hall table, weathered the butler
coming out with tea, and was already engaged with the enemy, before
Uncle Joseph had fairly extricated himself from the dining-room.

The ladies were wrapped in silence; they generally are when the men come
up after dinner. They had disposed themselves, also, very judiciously.
Mrs. Lascelles sat at the open window, not quite in the room, not quite
on the balcony. Jin, with considerable forethought, had entrenched
herself in a corner near the pianoforte, free from draughts. The soft
mellow lamp-light threw a very becoming lustre on these bewitching
individuals. Each knew she was looking well, and it made her look better
still. After a bottle of sound claret, it was not to be expected that a
man should enact "his grandsire cut in alabaster" in such company.
Goldthred, armed with a flat hat and a coffee-cup, advanced in tolerably
good order to the attack.

It was a fine night even in London. The moon sailed broad and bright in
a clear, fathomless sky. The very gas-lamps, studding street and square,
through the flickering leaves of spring flashed out a diabolical
enchantment of their own, half revelry, half romance. The scent of
geraniums and mignionette stole with a soft, intoxicating fragrance on
the rebellious senses; and a German band, round the corner, was playing
a seductive measure of love and languor and lawlessness from the last
new opera. Mrs. Lascelles, moving out on the balcony, drank in the soft
night-air with a deep-drawn breath that was almost a sigh. Young
Goldthred followed as the medium follows the mesmerist, the bird the
rattlesnake. His heart beat fast, and the coffee-cup clattered in his
hand. Time and scene were adapted, no doubt, for sentiment, especially
out of doors.

It is done every day, and all day long. Also, perhaps, more effectually
still on nights like these. Pull a man's purse, madam, from his
waistcoat-pocket, and although you have Iago's authority for considering
it "trash," you may find yourself picking oakum as a first consequence,
and may finish, in due course, at the penitentiary; but dive those
pretty fingers a thought deeper, take his heart scientifically out of
his pericardium, or wherever he keeps it, squeeze it, drain it, rinse it
quite dry, return him the shrivelled fragments, with a curtsy, and a
"thank you kindly, sir," you will receive applause from the bystanders,
and hearty approbation from the world in general for your skill.

So Mrs. Lascelles, stifling all compunction, played out the pretty game.
They leaned over the balcony, side by side; they smelt the mignionette,
with their heads very close together; they looked at the moon, and into
each other's eyes, and down on the street, where a faded figure, in torn
shawl and tawdry bonnet, flitted past, to be lost in the shadow of
darkness farther on; sighing, smiling, whispering, till the boy's blood
surged madly to his brain; and the woman, despite of craft, science, and
experience, felt that she must practise all her self-command not to be
softer and kinder, if only for a moment, than she desired.

Her white, cool hand lay on the edge of the mignionette box. He covered
it with his own. In another moment he would have seized and pressed it,
hungrily, rapturously, to his lips. She rose just in time, and came full
into the lamp-light from within.

"What nonsense we have been talking!" she exclaimed, with a laugh; "and
what a deal of sentiment! It is nice to talk nonsense sometimes, and
sentiment too, but a little goes a long way."

He was hurt, and, not being a woman, showed it.

"I am sorry," said he, gloomily; "I thought you liked it."

She did not want to snub him too much.

"So I do," she answered, stepping back into the drawing-room, "when it's
the real thing, sweet and strong, little and good. Come and listen to
Jin's song; it's better for you than flirting in the dark on the
balcony."

Though mocking and mischievous, there was yet something kind and playful
in her tone; he felt quite happy again as he followed her in, meekly,
like a lamb to the slaughter.

Miss Ross, although she had taken up a position more adapted to the
comfort of an elderly and rheumatic admirer, did not suffer the shining
hour to pass away unimproved. She possessed a full, sweet voice, of rare
compass, and was a thorough mistress of the musical art, accompanying
her own or other people's songs with equal taste and skill. Uncle
Joseph, in an arm-chair, with a hand on each knee, sat spell-bound by
the Syren,--eyes, ears, and mouth wide open, under the influence of her
strains.

It was but a simple ditty of which she gave him the benefit, yet neither
nature nor art were spared to render it as destructive as she could. He
had never heard it before; but, as he expressed entire approval of its
rhythm, and asked for it again, I feel justified in giving it here. She
called it--

             "OVER THE WATER."

    I stand on the brink of the river,
      The river that runs to the sea;
    The fears of a maid I forgive her,
      And bid her come over to me.
    She knows that her lover is waiting,
      She's longing his darling to be,
    And spring is the season of mating,
      But--she dares not come over to thee!

    I have jewels and gold without measure,
      I have mountain and meadow and sea;
    I have store of possessions and treasure,
      All wasting and spoiling for thee.
    Her heart is well worthy the winning,
      But Love is a gift of the free,
    And she vowed from the very beginning,
      She'd never come over to thee.

    Then lonely I'll wed with my sorrow--
      Dead branch on a desolate tree--
    My night hath no hope of a morrow,
      Unless she come over to me.
    Love takes no denial, and pity
      Is love in a second degree,
    So long ere I'd ended my ditty,
      The maiden came over to me!

The two guests left No. 40 together, and parted at the end of the
street; the junior betaking himself to his cigar, the senior to his
whist. Each carried away with him a vague idea that he had spent an
evening in Paradise. Which of the two had been made the greater fool of,
it is not my province to decide; but I have some recollection of an old
couplet in the West of England to the following effect:

    "Young man's love soon blazeth and is done,
    Old man's love burneth to the bone."



CHAPTER VI.

"TERRARUM DOMINOS."


"Near side, man! the near side! Take it up two holes--that'll do. Sit
tight behind!"

The leaders cringed and winced against their bars. One wheeler,
accepting under protest a wipe with the double thong across his
quarters, threw himself widely off the pole; the other, butting like a
goat, bounced into his collar; and so, starting the whole coach, the
painted, varnished, glittering toy passed on, in clouds of dust, through
all that wealth of oak and fern, and hill and dale, and gleaming glade
and darkling dell, that make a midsummer fairy-land of Windsor Forest on
your way to Ascot Races.

The man who had thus pulled up his team for alteration of their harness
was a well-dressed, clean-made, good-looking young fellow enough. From
the crown of his white hat to the soles of his varnished boots he was a
"gentleman" all over; and if the choice little posy in his button-hole
betrayed a suspicion of dandyism, it was redeemed by the frankness of
manner, the good-humoured and unaffected _bonhomie_ cultivated by our
young warriors of the Household Brigade, horse and foot.

Frank Vanguard, who belonged to the former of these services, was now
steering the regimental drag and a roof-ful of brother officers to the
great Olympic gathering of modern times on the Cup Day at Ascot.

Good spirits, good humour, banter, repartee, and nonsense, reigned
supreme, constituting a combination called "chaff;" just as light wine,
effervescence, and fragrant herbs, in due proportions, become "cup." The
driver had enough to do, with a free but not very handy team and a
crowded road, to the whole of which every carriage he passed assumed a
prescriptive right; yet could he find leisure to answer in corresponding
vein a volley of jesting remarks shot freely at him from behind.

"Frank," says a fresh-coloured young warrior, well qualified to enact
the part of Achilles, so long as that hero was yet in girl's clothes,
"there's a nice bit of galloping ground over the rise. You're not
driving a hearse! _Do_ spring 'em a bit, and give 'em the silk!"

"I'm not so fond of the silk as _you_ are!" answered Frank, touching his
near leader lightly under the bars, as a fly-fisher throws his line.
"You used to get double-thonged pretty handsomely at Eton, I remember,
but it hasn't done you much good."

"Rating and flogging," answered the other, puffing out volumes of smoke;
"that's the way to spoil your young entry!"

"Waste of whipcord," says a graver youth, desirous, of all things in
life, that he should become a Master of Hounds. "They never made you
steady from hare!"

"You got that, Charlie!" laughed another; but Charlie, ere this, has
found a new interest in spasms of anxiety lest they should be passed by
a rival drag, coming up in clouds of dust on their quarter, like an
enemy's frigate through the smoke of battle.

"Who's this cove?" he exclaimed eagerly. "Sits well on his box--nice
short-legged team--keeps his whip quiet, and drives to an inch."

"Snob!" replies a sententious captain, with long moustaches, "by name,
Picard. Wouldn't have him in the Club. Did something abroad. Quite
right. Heavy load and a roughish lot. Team, I should say, better bred
than the company. Don't let him get by. D--n it all, Frank! that's a
close shave!"

It _was_ a close shave! Nothing but the affability with which the near
wheeler, having recovered its temper, answered both rein and thong,
kept the coach out of a roadside ditch, which would have sent one of the
most promising coveys of Her Majesty's peculiar defenders into the thick
of Her Majesty's preserves.

In keeping ahead of his rival, Frank Vanguard passed a barouche, from
the inside of which was turned up to him a fair statue-like face, with
dark eyes and hair, that flushed faintly under its white lace veil, as
it gave him a little modest nod of recognition. No wonder he looked
back; no wonder, thus looking, he brought his wheel so near the edge of
a chasm, that one turn more would have turned him over, and that Miss
Hallaton, holding her breath, shut both hands tight, while her father
exclaimed:

"Nearest thing I ever saw in my life! Who's driving, Helen? He bowed to
_you_."

And Helen, answering demurely--"Captain Vanguard, I _think_,
papa"--reflected how, had he been upset and hurt, the whole brightness
of _her_ day would have darkened into sorrow, and how she wished he
wouldn't be quite so reckless, though she liked him for being so bold.

Behind their barouche came a tax-cart, and behind the tax-cart another
open carriage, in which drove the party who had assembled at dinner in
No. 40, not very long ago.

Uncle Joseph, with his back to the horses, sat in unusual pomp and
magnificence, pointing out the humours, explaining the races, and
generally laying down the law, as though he combined in his own person
the Mastership of the Buckhounds with the authority of the whole Jockey
Club. Owner of a pretty little villa on the Thames, he had invited his
kinswoman, the lady of his affections, and Mr. Goldthred to stay with
him for Ascot Races. Therefore "The Lilies" smiled gay in chintz and
muslin and fresh-cut flowers. Therefore Uncle Joseph, basking in a June
sun and the light of Miss Ross's eyes, felt ten, twenty years
younger--hopeful, enterprising, volatile as a boy!

Mrs. Lascelles was at all times a person of equable spirits. Perhaps it
would be more correct to say, that she possessed that self-command which
forbids emotion to appear on the surface. She looked bright, smiling,
gracious as usual; her lustrous eyes, rosy lips, and white teeth,
enhanced by bonnet, dress, pink-tinted parasol, general sense of
triumph, and flush of the summer's day. Poor Goldthred, sitting over
against her, strove to stifle certain misgivings that such a goddess was
too noble a prize for creatures of common mould, and vaguely wished he
had kept away from the flame, round which, like some singed moth, he
could not help fluttering in senseless, suicidal infatuation!

Parties of pleasure cannot always be equally pleasant to everybody
concerned. Miss Ross, too, seemed out of spirits and pre-occupied; less
gracious to Goldthred, less confiding with Mrs. Lascelles, less
susceptible to the attentions of Uncle Joseph himself. Jin, as she was
now called in her own set, sank back among the cushions, buried in
strange, sad memories, that made her unconscious of the noise, the dust,
the glare, the confusion of tongues, the crush of carriages, all the
charms of the expedition. This, because playing at a cottage door,
shouting vigorously as they passed, she had caught a glimpse of a ruddy,
dark-eyed urchin, who reminded her painfully of her child. It was but
one glance, as he sat triumphant in the dust, waving two dirty little
hands round a black curly head, yet it was enough. She was back in sunny
France once more, with something to trust in, something to work for,
something to love. Looking in Uncle Joseph's battered old face and
cloudy eyes, rather near her own, she could scarcely repress a movement
of abhorrence and disgust; while he, good man, under the impression that
he was more delightful than usual, inveighed against the furious
driving, the extravagant habits, and general recklessness of the
Household Cavalry.

"He's _very_ good-looking!" observed Jin, rousing herself to make a
remark that she knew would be unpalatable to her listener; "isn't he,
Rose?"

"_Very!_" assented Mrs. Lascelles; "but you should see him in
regimentals, my dear. I think I'll ask him to dinner."

Symptoms of mental disquietude in Uncle Joseph and young Goldthred. Each
marvelling that a transitory glimpse, while passing at a hand-gallop,
should have made so vivid an impression; and the latter wondering
whether, if he were to alter the whole tenor of his life, to arm his
chest with a cuirass, and plunge his legs into jack-boots, Mrs.
Lascelles would deem him also worth looking at in "regimentals," as an
officer's uniform is called by nobody but ladies who have never been in
a regiment.

No amusement, except perhaps cricket, seems so popular as racing, yet
out of every hundred people who attend Epsom, Ascot, or Doncaster, do
you suppose five know one favourite from another, or, indeed, ever look
at the noble animal, except he shows temper in his canter before the
start? Helen Hallaton, though she dearly loved a horse, could not even
have told you how many were going for the race about to commence as she
took up her station on the Course; and yet the pretty pageant, bright
and blooming like a June flower-bed, passed under her very nose. But she
could have given a clear account of the masterly manner in which Frank
Vanguard brought his coach into the enclosure; how he laid it alongside
Viscount Jericho's, with as much pomp and little less manoeuvring than
moors an iron-clad at regulation distance from her consort; with what
easy magnificence he flung his reins to right and left, condescendingly
facetious the while with sundry muscular cads, who put their shoulders
to the wheels and deftly extracted the pole. She could have told you
how he leaped like a Mercury from his box, how carefully he laid aside
his whip in its case, how with a silk handkerchief he dusted his white
hat, his shirt-front, his curling moustaches, and the places where his
whiskers were coming fast; lastly, how he took from the inside of the
coach a beautiful little nosegay, daintily tied up, and stuck it into
his button-hole, causing her to admit in her own mind that she wouldn't
mind wearing one of those flowers herself, if she could have it without
its being given her.

Of all this, I say, Miss Hallaton made accurate note; but I doubt if she
had an idea of Mr. Picard's team, though it came next; of his
flash-looking load, with a _loudish_ lady on the box; of his blue coach,
his red wheels, his well-dressed servants, or the workman-like pull up
which brought the whole thing to an anchor, and was, indeed, one of the
best performances of the day.

And now a dozen two-year-olds, after a dozen false starts, have run off
their five furlongs with the speed of an express train, and "the
Termagant filly," overpowering her jockey, a little bundle of pink satin
and puff, huddled up on her back, has won by a neck. There is a lull
till the numbers are up for the next race, and even the Ring, hungry,
insatiate, roaring like the ocean, has subsided into a momentary calm.
Sir Henry takes a cigar from a gorgeous case, and turns to his daughter.

"Backed her for her blood, Nell," says he; "they're all speedy, but they
can't stay. Only a pony--that's better than nothing, however."

"How _can_ you, papa?" replies Nell. "It's wicked of you to bet, though
you _do_ generally seem to win."

Helen draws the usual distinction as to the immorality of gambling. To
win is less than folly, to lose is more than sin. I do not think though
that Sir Henry was equally confiding about his wagers when his judgment
had been at fault. He seemed in the best of humours now.

"Nell, that's the prettiest bonnet we've hoisted the whole season, and
the dress isn't the worst I've seen to-day. It's cruel to waste such a
'get-up' in a carriage. Come across, and we'll show ourselves on the
Lawn."

"And you won't bet on the next race, papa?" says Helen, delighted; for
is there not a chance, nay, almost a certainty, that Captain Vanguard,
having eaten, and drunk, and smoked, and been through all the other
privileged portals, will come to the Lawn for inspection of countless
ladies drawn up in line-of-battle on their own special parade-ground?

The great tumult of the day was over; the Royal party had arrived under
the usual burst of cheers; the greys had been admired; the carriages
commented on; the Master of the Buckhounds, his horse, his figure, his
boots, his seat, and all that covered it, subjected to rigid criticism.
Everybody had a few spare minutes to walk about and admire or ridicule
everybody else. As father and daughter set foot on the smooth burnt-up
slope in front of the boxes, they came suddenly face to face with Mrs.
Lascelles and Miss Ross. Each lady caught sight of Sir Henry at the same
moment, and waited to see what her friend would do. I believe that if
one had turned coldly on her heel, in answer to his ready salute, the
other would have followed suit, and neither would ever have spoken to
her fickle admirer again. But it is probable that the latter's habits
familiarised him with such meetings, for in an instant he had both by
the hand, and was accosting them with that mixture of interest,
deference, and cordiality, which constituted the charm of his very
agreeable manner. He seemed to take it as a matter of course that he
should have made love to both, that they should all meet at Ascot, and
that he should proceed to make love to them again.

"So glad to see you, Mrs. Lascelles!" exclaimed this hardened offender.
"How wet you must have got the last time we parted. I sent my carriage
after you directly I got home, but it was too late. So glad to see you,
Miss Ross. You left us in such a hurry we didn't half wish you good-bye.
Helen and I were very dull without you. Here she is--don't she look
well? don't you both look well? don't we all look well?"

With such effrontery it was impossible not to fall into an easy strain
of conversation, and after an affectionate greeting had been exchanged
between Helen and her two presumptive step-mothers, the whole party
proceeded to Mrs. Lascelles's box, from whence, without crowding or
inconvenience, they could see the race for the Cup, in so far as it was
affected by the run-in seventy yards from home.

Sir Henry, who had another "pony" depending on this event, would have
liked to be a little nearer the Judge's chair; but I doubt if the ladies
cared much for the final struggle, decided by half a length. Mrs.
Lascelles, thinking that her old admirer looked worn, handsome, and
gentleman-like, in spite of crow's-feet and grizzling whiskers, while
resolving to punish him severely for his treachery, was reflecting that
the process would be by no means unpleasant to herself. Miss Ross
continued silent and pre-occupied, haunted by the vision of that sturdy
boy kicking and crowing in the dirt. While Helen, commanding the
four-in-hand coaches with her glass, saw only Vanguard's shapely figure
on the roof of his drag as he turned to watch the race; and when the
excitement was over, sprang down to mingle with the crowd that poured
into the Course, on his way, as she hoped and believed, to join them
here.

Now he stops to speak to a good-looking bad-looking man, whom she
recognises as the driver of the coach which so nearly overtook his own.
Certain courtesies of the road have already made these two acquaintances
and almost friends. Now he bows to a duchess, now nods to a gipsy;
presently he is lost in the throng, and emerges under their very box,
when good-humoured Mrs. Lascelles, doing as she would be done by,
beckons him up at once, and makes ready a place for him at Miss
Hallaton's side.

He has something pleasant to say to each lady; and Miss Ross rouses
herself to observe his good looks, enhanced by that frank air of
courtesy, peculiar to an English gentleman, which is so fascinating to
the women least accustomed to it. She gives him the benefit of a deadly
shot or two from her black eyes, as he seats himself by Helen's side,
and the girl, quick-sighted, silent, sensitive, feels each glance like a
stab.

But it is pleasant to have him here, out of the crowd, amidst this
beautiful scenery, under the summer sun, and over her steals that
feeling of security and complete repose which is the infallible test of
genuine affection.

He is quiet and happy too. Neither of them says much; perhaps they have
a good deal to think of, and are thinking of it.

Uncle Joseph and young Goldthred, returning from an unremunerative
expedition to the betting-ring, are somewhat discomfited to observe this
invasion of their territories, but become speedily reassured in
detecting Sir Henry's obvious anxiety to escape, that he may get "on"
for the next race, and the ill-concealed admiration of Frank Vanguard
for that reckless individual's daughter.

Mr. Groves backs Mrs. Lascelles's invitation freely.

"You will come and dine, Sir Henry," says she; "promise, and I'll let
you off this minute. You know you are dying to get back to that wicked
betting. Think of Helen. She'll be tired to death with the journey to
London in a stuffy railway. Things! You don't want any things. Besides,
why not work the wires? Telegraph for your servants to bring them down.
We needn't dress for dinner. Captain Vanguard, if you can get away from
the barracks, won't you come too?"

Frank looked at Helen, Helen looked resolutely at the card in her hand.
He was forced, unwillingly, to decline, but doubtless remarked the
colour fade in her cheek while he did so, expressing at the same time a
hope of meeting next day. Uncle Joseph, who had quite abandoned the
control of his own household, expressed entire satisfaction with
everybody's arrangements, and Miss Ross whispered in his ear, "it was
very dear of him to be so good-natured!"

Goldthred, too, having lost nine pairs of gloves, six and a half, three
buttons, to Mrs. Lascelles, was in the seventh heaven. Altogether, not
many race-goers left the Course better pleased with themselves that day.
And Mr. Picard, looking down at Helen as he passed her carriage driving
home, said to the loudish lady by his side--

"_That's_ the handsomest girl I've seen the whole season! I wonder who
she is?"

To which the loudish lady replied with acrimony--

"_Do_ you think so? Well, perhaps she is fresh looking, in a
bread-and-butter, missy-ish sort of style. Can't you go a little faster?
One gets choked with this horrid dust!"



CHAPTER VII.

FRANK.


The barrack-room of a subaltern in the Household Cavalry has been lately
described by a gifted authoress as resembling "the boudoir of a young
duchess." My experience of the latter, I honestly confess, is
exceedingly limited, but I think I know enough of the former tenement to
submit that our talented romancer has overstated her case. She would
have been nearer the mark, I imagine, had she compared the lair of the
formidable warrior to a servants' hall, a laundry, a condemned cell, or
some such abode of vacuity and desolation, modified principally by
whitewash. Gaudy pictures on the walls, gaudy flowers in the
window-sill, do indeed serve to brighten the neutral tints prevailing in
an officer's quarters, as provided by his grateful country, and a
barrack-room chair is an exceedingly comfortable resting-place in which
to smoke the pipe of peace in the stronghold of war. For ease,
merriment, and good-fellowship, give me the habitation of the dragoon;
but when you talk of pomp, luxury, taste, and refinement, I am prepared
to back the duchess, ay, even though she be a dowager duchess, against
all the cavalry regiments in the Army List, and give you the Horse
Artillery in!

Let us take, for example, the room in which Frank Vanguard lies fast
asleep, at ten in the morning, though a summer sun, streaming through
the open window, bathes him, like a male Danaë, in floods of gold. He
possesses horses, carriages, costly jewellery, clothes in abundance,
boots innumerable, yet his furniture consists of the following items:--

One iron bedstead, without curtains; one wooden tub; one enormous
sponge, one medium-sized ditto; a chest of drawers, constructed to
travel by baggage-waggon; a huge box, meant to hold saddlery; a stick
and whip stand; twelve pairs of spurs; a set of boxing-gloves; four
steeple-chase prints; and a meerschaum pipe he never smokes. These, with
a chair or two, and a few toilet necessaries, comprise the whole
furniture of his apartment; and he is happier here than in luxurious
London lodgings, lordly castle, or stately country house.

The song of birds, the flutter of the summer morning, snort, stamp, and
stable-call, ring of bridle, and clink of steel, all fail to wake him.
He is not for duty to-day, and never went to bed till five in the
morning.

To say nothing of the mess-man and his satellites, it is a heavy week,
that of Ascot Races, for field-officers, captains, subalterns, and all
concerned in the dispensation of unbounded hospitality at Windsor during
the meeting. They entertain countless guests, they convey them to and
from the Course, they provide board and lodging for the gentlemen,
amusement and adoration for the ladies, they are afoot day and night;
yet seem always fresh, lively, good-humoured, and on the alert. But even
cavalry officers are mortal, and though they never confess it, they
_must_ be very tired, and a little thankful when the whole function is
over.

No wonder Frank sleeps so sound--dreaming doubtless of--what? His
dark-brown charger, his chestnut mare, the stag he shot last year in
Scotland, the team he drove yesterday to Ascot? Of Miss Hallaton,
perhaps, and the deep lustrous eyes that haunted him so while he flung
himself on his bed and went off into the very slumber from which he is
roused, even now, by unceremonious knuckles tapping at the door.

A sleepy man says "come in" without waking, and enter a soldier-servant
nearly seven feet high, who proceeds to fill the tub, and further
dressing arrangements generally, with a clatter, that he has found from
experience of many masters is the surest way to get a sluggard out of
bed. This stalwart personage considers himself responsible (and it is no
light burthen) that his officer should always be in time. With a Cornet
his prevision is touching, and almost maternal in its care. Having
thoroughly roused the sleeper, his servant plants himself at the
bedside, drawn up to an exceeding altitude, in the position
drill-sergeants call "attention."

"What is it?" says Frank yawning.

"Gentleman come to breakfast, sir. Waiting in the little mess-room."

"Order it at once, Blake, and say I'll be down in twenty minutes."

Exit Blake, facing to the right, solemnly but far less noisily than he
came in; while Frank with one bound is on the floor, and with another in
his tub, not feeling his eyes quite open till he has splashed the
bracing cold water into them more than once.

While he shaves and dresses, getting through each process with
surprising celerity, I may state that the gentleman waiting breakfast
for him below is none other than Mr. Picard, the driver of the blue
coach with red wheels, the quick-stepping browns, and the loudish lady
of the day before.

A timely pull in Frank's favour, when the latter was in difficulties
with his team at an awkward corner on the Heath,--a little judicious
flattery extolling the capabilities of that team, and the mode in which
it was handled,--a draught of champagne-cup offered,--a cigar
exchanged,--and Vanguard was so pleased with his new friend, that he
pressed the invitation which now brought him to breakfast in the
officers' mess-room, accompanied by an appetite that never failed, and a
determination to make the most of this, as of all other advantages in
the game of life.

A couple of Cornets are already hard at work, with the voracity of youth
just done growing in length but not breadth. Their jaws cease
simultaneously at the entrance of a stranger, and, boys as they are, the
instinct of each warns him against this plausible personage whom, as a
guest, they welcome nevertheless with hospitality and perfect good
breeding. It speaks well for Picard's _savoir faire_, that long ere his
entertainer comes down, he has made a favourable impression on these
late Etonians, so that, emerging to smoke outside in couples as usual,
says one inseparable to the other--

"Pleasant company that hairy chap, and tongue enough for a
street-preacher! Who the devil is he, Jack, and where did Frank pick him
up?"

To which Jack, whose real name is Frederic, replies with deliberation:

"Not _quite_ the clean potato, young man, you may take my word for it.
But that makes no odds. We'll have him to dinner. Shouldn't wonder if
the party could sing a good song and do conjuring tricks."

"Pea-and-thimble and the rest of it," rejoins his friend. "Come and look
at my bay mare."

So, dismissing Picard from their thoughts, they leave him to Frank
Vanguard and breakfast.

These appear simultaneously. Frank, looking exceedingly clean, fresh,
and handsome, is full of apologies for keeping his guest waiting.

"But you see we were very late last night," he urges, "and I'm not one
of those fellows who can do entirely without sleep. If I don't get four
or five hours I'm fit for nothing. It's constitutional, no doubt. I
think I must have been _born_ tired."

Picard laughs--and when he laughs his expression changes for the worse.
"I can sit up for ever," says he, "if there's anything to sit up for. A
roll in the blankets and a tub are as good as a night's rest to me. Now,
you'll hardly believe I was playing _écarté_ till six this morning, and
came down by the nine o'clock train!"

Frank _didn't_ believe it, though it was true enough, but helped himself
to a cutlet without expressing incredulity.

"Did you drive all the way back yesterday?" said he. "You must have been
late in London, and it's a good day's work."

"I had three teams on the road," answered the other, "and only one of
them took any getting together. Faith, the heaviest part of the business
was talking to Mrs. Battersea! She _would_ come, and she _would_ sit on
the box, and she sulked all the way home. You'll never guess why."

Mrs. Battersea was a celebrity of a certain standing in certain circles,
not quite without the pale of decent society, yet as near the edge as
was possible, short of actual expulsion. If a male Battersea existed he
never appeared, and the lady who bore his name, a showy middle-aged
woman, with a fine figure, and all the airs of a beauty, seemed in no
wise restricted by matrimonial thraldom. She was one of those people to
be seen at reviews, races, and all open-air gatherings within twenty
miles of London--at flower-shows, plays, operas, and charity concerts in
the metropolis; but nobody ever met her at a dinner-party, a ball, or a
"drum." To sum up--men like Picard called her "a stunner;" ladies like
Mrs. Lascelles said she was "bad style."

Frank, thinking none the better of this new friend for the freedom with
which he talked of his female acquaintance, professed ignorance of Mrs.
Battersea's reasons for discontent.

"Not easily pleased, I dare say," he answered carelessly. "Sometimes
they're not, when they have everything their own way. Nervous on a
coach, perhaps? And yet that could hardly be, for you've got the
handiest team out, and I can see you're as good as most professionals."

"Guess again," said the other, who had finished breakfast, and was
lighting a cigar.

Frank pondered.

"Seen a better-looking woman than herself, then; that'll do it
sometimes, I've remarked. And they're bad to hold when they think
there's something else in the race. If it wasn't that, I give it up."

"You're right, Vanguard," exclaimed his guest. "You've hit it, sir,
plumb-centre, as we used to say on the Potomac. Mrs. Battersea never
ceased talking all the way down; and some queer things she told us, too!
The rough side of her tongue rasps like a file! Well, she was in high
feather the whole day. Liked her luncheon, liked her bonnet, liked
herself, liked her company, so she said; but, coming off the Course, we
passed a _duck_ of a girl in an open carriage: a girl with wonderful
eyes and a pale face, but features like Melpomene. She'd got on a
light-coloured dress, with a lilac sort of bonnet--I dare say you didn't
notice her."

Frank's heart leaped to his throat, meeting his final gulp of coffee.
_Didn't notice her_, forsooth! while the wonderful eyes, pale face,
Melpomene mouth, light dress, even the lilac bonnet, had been haunting
him for the last twelve hours.

"I only said, 'What a pretty girl!' as we went by," continued Picard,
"and, will you believe it, Mrs. Battersea got her frill out on the
instant! She never gave us another civil word the whole way to London:
not one to share amongst the whole coach-load. Those two little Carmine
girls that I brought down for Macdonald and Algy Brown were so
frightened they wanted to stop at Hounslow and go home by the omnibus!
That was after she caught Rosie making faces behind her back. Algy tried
to take his poor little 'pal's' part, and didn't she chaw _him_ up, too!
Rather! I'd nothing to do but mind my driving and think of the Helen who
had done all this mischief."

"How did you know her name was Helen?" asked Frank, completely off his
guard.

"Well, I _didn't_," said the other, wondering at his host's excitement;
"but I suppose now that it is, and that you know her. Couldn't you
introduce _me_?"

"Certainly, if you wish it," was the reply, "though probably we don't
mean the same lady. There is a Miss Hallaton that answers to your
description, and she _was_ at the races yesterday. Daughter of Sir Henry
Hallaton, rather a good-looking, oldish man, in a white hat and red
neckcloth."

"That's it!" exclaimed Picard; "I spotted the father, red neckcloth and
all! Depend upon it you're right, and it must have been Miss----What's
her name? Hallaton? Well, all I can say is, I've not seen a
better-looking one since I left Charleston, and very few who could beat
her there. Do they go much to London? Do they live anywhere near here? I
think the governor's a loosish fish. I saw him drinking 'cup' with some
queer-looking people behind my coach, and he was in and out of the Ring
all day. Beg pardon, Vanguard, if they're friends of yours. I didn't
mean to say anything disagreeable, I give you my word."

"Oh! I don't know them very well," said Frank, growing red, and feeling
that he was making himself ridiculous. "I stayed with them last winter,
near Bragford. Capital place to hunt from, and Sir Henry was very kind
and hospitable. If you're quite done, shall we come outside? The drag
will start in an hour, and I will have a place kept for you, if you'd
like to go with the others from here."

"I am not going at all," answered Picard. "The fact is, I'm not much of
a racing man, and two days running is rather a benefit. Don't let me put
you out in your arrangements, I beg. This is a beautiful neighbourhood,
and I've been so much abroad, that I quite enjoy the air, and the
English scenery, and the rest of it. I'd rather take a quiet walk while
you're all at the races; but I'll stay and see you start the team
notwithstanding."

"Not going!" thought Frank. "How very odd! Now, what can a fellow like
this have to do down here on the sly? Country walk! Gammon! He's after
some robbery, I'll lay a hundred!" But he only _said_:

"My Cornet's going to drive. I don't think I shall be on the Heath at
all, unless I gallop a hack over in the afternoon."

"Hot work," answered Picard carelessly. "I thought everybody was keen
about racing, except me." But he too wondered at the taste of his
entertainer in thus preferring a solitary morning to a pleasant drive in
the merriest of company, accounting for it on a theory of his own.

"War-path, of course! and, keen as a true Indian, means to follow it up
alone. Got 'sign,' no doubt, and sticks to the trail like a wolf. Won't
come back, I'll lay a thousand, without 'raising hair.' Ah! this child,
too, could take scalps once, and hang them round his belt, with the best
of ye! And _now_----Well, I'm about no harm to-day, at any rate, and
that's refreshing, if it's only for a change!"

So he sat himself down on a garden seat in front of the officers'
quarters, where, producing a case the size of a portmanteau, filled with
such cigars as are only consumed by trans-Atlantic smokers, and,
offering them liberally all round, he soon became the centre of an
admiring circle, civil as well as military, to whom he related sundry
experiences of international warfare in the States, well told,
interesting, no doubt, and more startling than probable.

Mr. Picard had certain elements of popularity, such as launch a man in
general society fairly enough, but fail to afford him secure anchorage
in that restless element. He was good-looking, well-dressed, plausible,
always ready to eat, drink, smoke, dance, play, or, indeed, partake in
the amusement of the hour. He looked like a gentleman, but nobody knew
who he was. He seemed to have a sufficiency of money, but nobody knew
where he got it. The _Court Guide_ vouched for him as J. Picard, Esq.,
under the letter "P," with two addresses, a first-rate hotel and a
third-rate club. The _Morning Post_ even took charge of him in its
fashionable arrivals and departures. Men began to know him after "the
Epsom Spring," and by Hampton Races he had ceased to arouse interest,
scarcely even excited curiosity, but had failed to make a single female
acquaintance above the class of Mrs. Battersea; nor had he, indeed,
gained one step of the social ladder people take such pains to climb, in
order to obtain, after all, but a wider view from Dan to Beersheba.

Such men crop up like mushrooms at the beginning of every London season,
and fade like annuals with the recess. Goodwood sees the last expiring
blaze of their splendour, and next year, if you ask for them, they are
extinct; but, as the Highland soldier says, "There are plenty more where
they come from." In dress, style, manner, they vary but little. All dine
constantly at Richmond, shoot well, and drive a team, in the handling of
which they improve vastly as the season wears on.

Mr. Picard could, however, lay claim to a little more interest than the
rest, in his character of a soldier-adventurer, to which he was entitled
by service with the Confederates during their prolonged struggle against
overwhelming odds. Somehow, every soldier-adventurer concerned in that
war seems to have been a Southerner. Certainly the romance was all on
their side, though the scale, weighed down by "great battalions," turned
in favour of the North. From his own account, Picard had done his
"little best," as he called it, for the party he espoused; and observing
a gash on his cheek, which could only be a sabre-cut, it was hard to
listen coldly while he talked of Stonewall Jackson and Brigadier Stuart
as ordinary men do of Bright and Gladstone--perhaps with no more
familiar knowledge of the heroes than a general public has of these
statesmen. Still, the subject was captivating and well treated, the
contrast between Stuart's dashing, desperate, rapidly-moving light
horsemen and Her Majesty's Cuirassiers of the Guard was exciting, the
similarity in many points flattering to both. Cornets listened
open-mouthed, and felt the professional instinct rising strong in their
martial young souls; older officers smiled approbation, not disdaining
to gather hints from one who had seen _real_ warfare, as to nosebags,
haversacks, picket-ropes, and such trifling minutiæ as affect the
efficiency of armies and turn the tide of campaigns. When the drag
appeared nobody discovered that Frank Vanguard had made a masterly
retreat; and Picard had received as many invitations to remain and be
"put-up" in barracks as would have lasted him till the regiment changed
quarters, and his entertainers had found out half he said was an _old_
story and the other half not true.



CHAPTER VIII.

JUNE ROSES.


Uncle Joseph was a good judge of many things besides bonds, debentures,
shares, and scrip. When he bought "The Lilies" we may be sure he had his
wits about him, and made no imprudent investment. A prettier villa never
was reflected in the Thames. Huge elms, spreading cedars, delicate
acacias quivering in the lightest air, the very point-lace of the
forest, were grouped by Nature's master-hand round a wide-porched,
creeper-clad building, with long low rooms, and windows opening on a
lawn, all aglow with roses budding, blushing, blooming, to the water's
edge. It was a little Paradise of leaf and flower and stream, such as is
only to be found on the banks of our London river; such as calls up at
sight images of peace and love and hope, and sweet untried romance for
the young and trustful; such as wafts a thrill, not altogether painful,
to the hearts of weary, wayworn travellers, for whom, in all that golden
belief of the Past, there is nothing real now but a memory and a sigh.
Such a lawn, such a scene, such flowers, were thoroughly in keeping with
such a woman as Mrs. Lascelles, moving gracefully among the roses under
a summer sky.

So thought poor Goldthred, emerging from the French windows of the
breakfast-room for a _tête-à-tête_ with his goddess, that might last
half an hour, that might be cut short (he knew her caprices) in less
than five minutes! A _tête-à-tête_ from which he hoped to advance
positively and tangibly in her favour, but which, like many others of
the same kind, he feared might terminate in disappointment,
discomfiture, despair.

Breakfast, with this unfortunate young man, had been a repast of
paroxysms, alternating between rapture and dismay, such as completely
destroyed anything like appetite or digestion. It was all very well for
Uncle Joseph to go twice at the ham on the side-table, and devour such a
lump of _pâté de foie gras_ as would have choked a coal-heaver. It was
all very well for Sir Henry, lounging down when everybody else had
nearly done, avowedly with no appetite, after a cup of exceedingly hot
coffee, to play as good a knife and fork as an Eton boy. It was all very
well for the ladies, Mrs. Lascelles especially, to peck here and peck
there--a slice of chicken, a strawberry, a bit of toast, an egg, a
morsel of muffin, the least possible atom of pie--till each had made a
pretty substantial meal. But could their heartless voracity stifle _his_
(Goldthred's) sensibilities, or prevent his food tasting like leather,
his tea like camomiles? Breakfast was over ere he recovered his proper
senses, and then it was too late! The tonic so long denied this patient
sufferer consisted of a few words from Mrs. Lascelles, not addressed,
indeed, to himself, but accompanied by a glance he interpreted
correctly, and accepted with delight.

"Uncle Joseph," said she, "your roses are shamefully neglected, and I
shall inspect them thoroughly when I've drunk my tea."

Uncle Joseph, who, for sanitary reasons, never stirred till half an hour
had elapsed after eating, grunted acquiescence; but Goldthred, unmindful
of the _convenances_, rapturously followed his tyrant into the garden,
the instant her muslin skirt disappeared over the window-sill.

She waited till they were out of sight from the house, then gathered a
rose, fragrant, blooming, lovable as herself, and gave it him with a
winning smile.

"I've got something to say to you, Mr. Goldthred--something I don't want
everybody else to hear."

But for the flower pressed close against his lips, he felt that his
heart must have leaped out of his mouth, and fallen at her feet. Never a
word he spoke, but the light in his eyes, the glow on his face were
answer enough.

"You won't be offended?" she continued, gathering rose after rose, and
tying them up in a cluster, as she walked on. "You won't be cross,
unreasonable, unkind? Indeed, it's for your own sake quite as much as
mine. Mr. Goldthred, you can do me a great favour. Promise now; will you
do it?"

He made no bargain; he showed no hesitation, but his very ears were
crimson with sincerity while he answered:

"_Do_ it, Mrs. Lascelles! What is there I wouldn't do for you? I wish
you--you'd ask me to do something dangerous, or difficult, or--or
impossible even! You'd see there's something in me, then, and perhaps
you'd think better of me than you do now."

"Think better!" she repeated gaily. "Upon my word, I wonder what you'd
have! But I don't want you to do anything impossible, no, nor even
disagreeable. On the contrary, I should say it would be very pleasant. I
want you to--to flirt a little with Miss Hallaton--there!"

"Mrs. Lascelles!" was all he said, but something in his tone caused her
to laugh rather nervously, and quicken her pace as she continued:

"Oh! it's nothing to make a fuss about, and you needn't look so
reproachful! Miss Hallaton is a very nice girl, and very pretty. I'm
sure everybody thinks so, though she hasn't quite colour enough for my
taste. You know you admire her, Mr. Goldthred, and why should you mind
telling her so?"

"But I _don't_!" persisted Goldthred, in a great heat and fuss. "Can't
you see, Mrs. Lascelles? Is it not plain?"

She made no scruple of interrupting him.

"Then you _must_!" she insisted, tying a white rose deftly in amongst
its blushing sisters. "You needn't be _too_ much in earnest, you know,
but I wish you to pay a little attention to Miss Hallaton, for reasons
of my own. If you're very good I'll tell you what they are."

Oh! cool and crafty spider! Oh! silly struggling fly! Blue-eyed spider
in muslin and ribbons, fresh, smiling, radiant as morning. Helpless fly
in tweed and broadcloth, wondering, blundering, blind as midnight. The
fly buzzed a faint affirmative, and the spider went on.

"The fact is, Mr. Goldthred, you see you're a good deal with us, and I'm
sure we're always delighted to have you. Both Jin and I like you very
much. Jin says you are the only pleasant _young_ man she knows. But the
world _will_ talk, and--and--people are beginning to make remarks. I'm
almost old enough to be your mother. Well; you needn't contradict one so
flat. You know what I mean, you men are so much younger of your age
than us poor women. But that makes no difference. One can't be too
careful. Now if you were seen making up a little to Helen,--and she is a
very charming girl, I assure you,--it would stop all their mouths. They
say very disagreeable things as it is, and one must do _something_. I
shouldn't like to think you were never to come and see me any more."

Was not this a golden opportunity? Did she hear the grating of that
accursed rake just round the laurel-bush? Could that be why her blue
eyes shone so soft and kind, why the words dropped from her rosy mouth
like honey from the comb? The gravel-walk (lately raked, and be hanged
to it!) was rough as Brighton shingle; his trousers were of the thinnest
fabric known to Messrs. Miles; yet I confidently believe Goldthred would
have popped down on his knees, then and there, to run that one great
chance he dwelt on night and day, but for the additional step that
brought them face to face with a gardener working leisurely, in
rolled-up shirt-sleeves, and surrounded by the implements of his art.
Goldthred swore, I fear, though not aloud. The happy moment had slipped
through his fingers like running-water, like the sands of time, like
change for a sovereign, like everything else in a world that "keeps
moving," whether we will or no. Of all impossibilities, there is none so
impossible as to put the clock back.

Beyond this inopportune gardener, they came in sight of certain
haymakers, and turning from these were close to the house once more. No
further explanation was practicable, but unless some tacit agreement had
been made to the lady's satisfaction, she would hardly have pushed her
roses in the gentleman's face, with a sweet smile and a recommendation
to inhale their fragrance while they were fresh.

"You deserve them all, indeed you do!" she said warmly. "And I'll put
the best of them on your dressing-table myself. Thank you _really_. You
won't forget your promise? I know I can depend upon _you_."

Then she marched into the drawing-room laden with her spoils, well
pleased; while Goldthred, retiring to smoke the morning cigar, felt less
satisfied, on reflection, than he had been when the white fingers and
red roses were so close to his lips a while ago.

It seems that in all couples, not excepting the matrimonially tethered,
a pair must necessarily pull different ways. Goldthred's innocent notion
of heaven upon earth was that this despotic lady should become his wife,
but she had handled him so skilfully, he dared not ask for fear of being
refused. Mrs. Lascelles, who deserved some credit for crushing down the
instinct of appropriation, natural to all women, however little they may
prize an admirer, would have been glad, to do her justice, that Helen,
for her own sake, should make an advantageous marriage. She reflected,
moreover, that her furtherance of such an arrangement would bring her
into closer relations with Sir Henry. Then she wondered whether she
still liked him, confessing in her secret heart she was almost afraid
she _did_.

That careless, easy-going personage had disposed himself, in the mean
time, on the most sloping of garden chairs under a tree. Helen had
brought him the morning and weekly papers, also one of the evening
before. He was cool, comfortable, and thoroughly satisfied with Sir
Henry Hallaton. His rings were more abundant, his whiskers more riotous,
his handkerchief of brighter hues than ever. Had he not looked so like a
gentleman his style of dress would have been gaudy and almost slang; but
the combination had done him good service for many years, and he stuck
to it still. Smoking a huge cigar, he watched its wreathes curling and
clinging about the dark, crisp foliage of the cedar-branch over-head,
while his thoughts wandered dreamily amongst the various interests of
his pleasant, lazy, useless, and rather selfish life: his Alderneys at
Blackgrove; his bailiff's book; the two-year old they were breaking at
home; the brougham Barker was building him in London; Outrigger's chance
in the Thames Handicap to-day; Uncle Joseph's dry champagne last night;
the dress Mrs. Lascelles wore yesterday at the races; how Miss Ross had
pulled in her waist this morning; on divine women in endless
perspective, whom he had loved, or _thought_ he loved, or made love to,
without even that excuse, concluding how very few were equal to Helen.
What a dear little thing it was as a child! What a graceful, engaging
girl! So frank, so gentle, such a _lady_, and so fond of _him_!
Suspecting that, after all, he _really_ cared more for his own daughter
than he had ever cared for the daughter, or wife, or mother of anybody
else.

Arriving at this conclusion, and the end of his cigar, he was aware of a
light step on the lawn, a rustle of muslin skirts trailing across the
sward,--a familiar sound, to which, I fear, Sir Henry's ear turned, as
turns the charger's to the trumpet call, the hunter's to the well-known
challenge of a "find." Miss Ross, carrying a plateful of strawberries,
bent over him, a world of mirth and mischief gleaming in her bright
black eyes.

"You take life very easily, Sir Henry," said she, looking down on his
recumbent figure with a sort of sarcastic admiration. "I'm a pretty cool
hand myself, so people tell me, but I can't hold a candle to _you_, I
must confess."

"Exactly," replied Sir Henry. "Prettier, but not so cool. I quite agree
with you. I know what you mean."

"I don't mean it a bit!" exclaimed Miss Ross; "and of all people in the
world I don't want _you_ to tell me I'm pretty. You know that, or, at
least, you ought to know it by this time!"

"Don't you think I'm a good judge?" asked this incorrigible person, with
a smile of entire satisfaction.

She could not help laughing.

"Perhaps _too_ good a judge," she answered, "but a judge that shall
never find _me_ guilty, I promise you! No; what I envy is your
unrivalled _sang-froid_, your entire freedom from anxiety in a position
that would make most people feel awkward, if not uncomfortable."

"Uncomfortable!" he repeated; "why uncomfortable! Ah! perhaps you're
right, and I _do_ want another cushion. I'd go and fetch it, Miss Ross,
only I'd much rather stay where I am, and talk to you."

She shot another scornful glance, not that he was the least abashed by
it, and went on:--

"You've got all sorts of duties, cares, responsibilities, but they don't
seem to affect you in the least--property, debts, of course" (Sir Henry
nodded assent), "politics, position, that charming daughter; a bad day
yesterday--you see I know all about it--and a certain loss to-day, if
you don't bestir yourself, on the Thames Handicap. Yet there you sit, as
unmoved and almost as highly ornamented as a Hindoo idol. I wish I had
your secret!"

"Very simple," answered the other. "Irons! Nothing but irons! Plenty of
them, and put them all in the fire at once. Dividing your cares is like
dividing your affections--one balances another, and you carry them as
easy as a milkmaid carries her pails."

"That's all very fine in theory," replied Miss Ross; "but there's such a
thing as spilt milk, and a dozen cold irons won't prevent a hot one
burning your fingers. There's a hot one to-day in the Thames Handicap.
Never mind how I know it, Sir Henry, but I _do_ know it. This horse they
call Outrigger has no more chance of winning than your hat! Why do you
tie that hideous gauze thing round it?"

Sir Henry was equal to the occasion.

"Suits my style of ugliness," he answered; adding, with well-assumed
carelessness--"So Outrigger won't win, Miss Ross. Why won't he?"

"Not meant!"

"I never thought he was," said Sir Henry, who had backed the horse for
more money than he liked to think of. "My impression, you see, agrees
with your information. I don't doubt it, of course, particularly as you
won't tell me where you got it."

"I won't, indeed," asseverated Jin, who would have been puzzled to name
her authority, inasmuch as the startling intelligence originated in her
own fertile brain. For particular reasons this unscrupulous young lady
was anxious the whole party from The Lilies should start for the races
together, while she alone remained at home. In discussing their plans
the evening before, great lukewarmness had been shown on this point;
Helen, perhaps for particular reasons, too, professing indifference to
the coming day's sport. Even Sir Henry did not seem to have made up his
mind; but Miss Ross argued, correctly enough, that if he went, Mrs.
Lascelles would go, and the rest of the party would surely accompany
their hostess; then, at the last moment, she could frame an excuse, and
so have the day to herself. Therefore it was she made no scruple in
calumniating the merits of Outrigger and the honesty of his owners.

Sir Henry was now in a desperate fidget to be off. He must get "out," he
felt, at any price, and a few minutes might make all the difference. He
stretched himself, yawned with an affectation of carelessness that did
not in the least deceive his companion, and asked when the carriages
were ordered.

"The same time as yesterday," answered Miss Ross, pleased with the
result of her stratagem. "You won't say I told you," she added, looking
coquettishly down at the recumbent baronet.

"Of course not," was the reply; but his thoughts were far away,
probably with a stout speculator, wearing a suit of gorgeous tartan, and
diamond rings on exceedingly dirty hands.

"How shall I stop your mouth?" she said, innocently enough, blushing
nevertheless, though she rarely betrayed confusion, as the words escaped
her.

It was impossible to be offended at the quaint, mischievous expression
with which Sir Henry looked up in her face, and Jin fairly burst out
laughing, while she popped a ripe red strawberry between his lips.

"This will do it for the present!" said she; "and don't forget you owe
me a good turn for giving you what, I believe, you racing gentlemen call
'the straight tip!'"



CHAPTER IX.

TOUCH AND GO.


A lawn commanded by the windows of a drawing-room, in which people are
settling their plans for the day, can scarcely be considered a fitting
locality for the interchange of courtesies not intended for general
supervision. The stoppage of Sir Henry's mouth, as described in the
preceding chapter, was witnessed by three different persons, all of
whom, in their respective degrees, chose to feel aggrieved, disgusted,
and surprised. The position was picturesque, no doubt, the accessories
in perfect keeping, the strawberry rich and ripe, but such familiarities
are apt to breed contempt in the bystanders, especially if of the
better-behaved and less tolerant sex. Helen did not approve of these
liberties being taken with papa; Mrs. Lascelles, for the first time,
doubted whether she had acted wisely in entering on so close an
alliance with this reckless adventuress, remembering a certain fable, in
which the horse, having called in the assistance of man against his
enemy, was never his own master again; while Uncle Joseph, looking
pompously out of window, with his hands in his pockets, turned yellow
from jealousy, and became speechless with disgust.

There is no pleasanter hour of the day than that which succeeds
breakfast in a country-house, while people are organising the
occupations, or amusements, as they call them, that must last till
dinner; but with the party collected at The Lilies there seemed to be
more than the usual diversity of opinion as to how their time should be
spent.

Helen "didn't much care about going to the races--wondered if it would
rain--feared it would be hot--did feel a little tired this morning,"
but, being pressed, was obliged to confess, "she enjoyed yesterday very
much!" Still, it was evident Helen did not want to go, equally evident
she would not explain why.

Uncle Joseph, who had meditated a long walk with Miss Ross, combining
exercise and sentiment, would have voted persistently against the Heath,
but for the episode of the strawberry, which had so roused his wrath. He
now declared "it would be absurd to stay away, when at so short a
distance," that "they had better go in the same order as yesterday," and
that "he would desire luncheon to be put up at once;" Uncle Joseph
wisely considering that important meal a necessity of any "outing" in
which pleasure was the avowed object.

Mrs. Lascelles did not the least care how she spent her morning, so long
as it was passed in the company of Sir Henry. Goldthred, again, was
willing to go anywhere or do anything if he might be with Mrs.
Lascelles. Altogether everybody's movements seemed dependent on the
baronet, who walked coolly up the lawn to the drawing-room windows,
pinning the gauze veil more carefully round his hat.

"What time are we to start?" said he, taking it for granted, as he
wished to go himself, that everybody else did. "I'm afraid I _must_ be
on the Course early; but that need not hurry the others. Nelly and I can
go in my carriage, and I'll order it at once. Or I can take Mr.
Goldthred, or do anything anybody likes. Who wants to come with me? You
mustn't all speak at once!"

"I don't care about going at all, papa," said Helen, but intercepting a
glance from their hostess, which ordered Goldthred, as plainly as eyes
could speak, to remain and keep her company, added hastily, "unless
there's plenty of room."

"_Plenty_ of room!" echoed Mrs. Lascelles, with her own arrangements in
view. "We shall only want one carriage if we take mine. Four of us
inside, and Mr. Goldthred, for so short a distance, won't mind sitting
on the box. No, that won't do; where are we to put Jin?"

"Jin's not going!" interrupted a voice from the open window of an upper
room. "Jin's got a headache, and some letters to write. You won't get
her to Ascot to-day unless you drag her with wild horses, so you needn't
distress yourselves about Jin!"

Uncle Joseph's face turned from yellow to its normal tint of mottled
brown. What a trump of a girl he thought her after all! And, fully
convinced she was scheming to pass the whole morning with himself,
sorely repented he should have so misjudged her a quarter-of-an-hour
ago.

His difficulty now was to avoid joining the rest of the party; but
bethinking him of a certain substantial pony in the stable, called
"Punch," he declared he thought a thorough shaking would do him good,
and expressed his intention of riding that animal to the Course.

"Once they're off," argued Uncle Joseph, "they'll never trouble their
heads about their host, and then, my pretty Jin, you and I can come to
an understanding at last!"

Even with a party of four, however, it takes time to get pleasure-goers
under weigh. Mrs. Lascelles forgot her smelling-bottle, Helen mislaid
her shawl; Sir Henry, on whose account they had all hurried themselves,
was ten minutes behind everybody else. The carriage stood a good
half-hour at the door before it was fairly started, and Uncle Joseph
spent that time in his own dressing-room, with his heart beating like a
boy's.

At last the welcome sound of wheels announced that the coast was clear.
He sallied forth eagerly, and, considering his years, with no little
alacrity, in pursuit of his ladye-love. Not in her bedroom, certainly,
for the door stood wide open! Not in the drawing-room--the
dining-room--the billiard-room, nor the boudoir! Zounds! not in the
conservatory, nor on the lawn! Beads of perspiration broke out on Uncle
Joseph's bald head, and he couldn't tell whether it was anger or anxiety
that made him feel as if he was going to choke. Panting, protesting,
under a burning sun, he followed the shrubbery walk that brought him to
the hay-field, through which a thoroughfare for foot people led to the
high road. Here he ran into the very arms of Goldthred, coming back by
this short cut for his race-glasses, which he had forgotten, while the
carriage waited at the nearest angle of the fragrant meadow, flecked and
rippled with its new-mown hay.

Uncle Joseph was without his hat. He must have lost his head also, when,
thinking it necessary to account for his disturbed appearance, he
inquired vehemently:

"Have you seen Miss Ross? I--I forgot to order dinner before starting. I
want to find Miss Ross."

"You won't overtake her," answered Goldthred coolly. "She was half way
across the next field when I came into this. She must be at the
turnpike by now."

Uncle Joseph waited to hear no more. Breaking wildly from his informant,
he dashed off towards the stable, while the latter, recovering his
glasses, walked solemnly back to the carriage, and jumped in, as if
nothing had happened.

There is, at least, this good quality belonging to a man in love, that
he is not easily astonished, nor does he occupy himself with the affairs
of others. Goldthred had forgotten his meeting with Uncle Joseph, and
dismissed the whole subject from his mind, before the carriage had got
twenty yards or Mrs. Lascelles had spoken as many words.

Now Punch was a good stout cob, of that class and calibre which is so
prized by gentlemen who have left off reckoning up their age and weight.
After fifty, and over fifteen stone, it is needless to be continually
balancing the account. Punch possessed capital legs and feet, sloping
shoulders, an intelligent head with very small ears, a strong neck, and
an exceedingly round stomach. Such an animal, I confess, I cannot but
admire, and have no objection to ride, unless I am in a hurry. Even when
time presses I bear the creature no malice, but I fear he hates _me_!
Punch could scuttle along at his own pace for a good many miles, safely
and perseveringly enough; but against yours, if you were in the habit of
riding a thorough-bred hack, he would protest in a very few furlongs.
Obviously, to such a quadruped, time was of the utmost importance, and
it seemed hard so much of it had to be wasted daily in preparing him for
a start.

Docile in his general character, perfectly free from nervousness and
vice, he had yet a provoking trick of puffing himself out during the
operation of saddling to a size that rendered the roomiest girths in the
stable too scanty for his swelling carcase. Ten minutes at least Uncle
Joseph and the stable boy butted and tugged and swore, ere, to use the
expression of the latter, they could "make tongue and buckle meet." Ten
minutes more were wasted in water brushing the pony's mane and blacking
his round, well-shaped feet; for the urchin, true to the traditions of
his craft, would forego not the smallest rite of that stable discipline
in which he had been trained. Altogether, by the time Uncle Joseph was
fairly in the saddle for pursuit, Miss Ross had got such a start as,
with her light step and agile figure, precluded the possibility of being
caught against her will.

Four miles an hour, heel and toe, gracefully and without effort, as if
she was dancing, this active young person flitted across the hay-fields,
till she reached a humble little cottage standing between the highway
and the river's brink. Here she disappeared from Uncle Joseph's sight,
who had just viewed her, having bustled Punch along the hot, hard road
at a pace which put them both in a white lather.

The rider's first idea was to secure his steed and follow up the chase;
but few men act on impulse after--what shall we say?--fifty; and Punch,
who had his own opinion about waiting in the sun, might very probably
slip his bridle in order to trot home! Reflecting with dismay on such a
contingency, in such weather for walking, Uncle Joseph "concluded," as
the Americans say, that he would wait where he was, and watch.

Miss Ross, in the mean time, happily unconscious that she was observed,
tapped at the cottage-door, which was opened by a dark-eyed urchin of
five years or so, whom, to his intense astonishment, she smothered in
kisses on the spot. Mrs. Mole, the owner of the cottage, emerging from
the gloom of her back kitchen, was aware of a toss of black curls, and a
pair of sturdy, struggling legs, not over clean, in the embrace of a
radiant being who had dropped, to all appearance, from the clouds.

"Your servant, miss," said the old woman, drying her arms on her apron,
while she performed a defiant curtsy. "You've--a--taken quite a fancy to
my little lad, seemingly. Yet I don't remember to have ever seen you
afore."

I often think the poor resent a liberty with so much more dignity than
their betters.

For answer, Jin, whose French education had afforded her many useful
little hints, slipped a packet of tea into the old woman's hand. It was
what they drank at The Lilies, strong, fragrant, and five shillings a
pound.

"I haven't the pleasure of knowing you, ma'am," said she civilly; "but
I've seen this little angel before, and I can't help admiring him. Have
you no more of them?"

Mrs. Mole was sixty if she was a day; but like your grandmother and
mine, like everybody's grandmother, Eve herself, she was open to
flattery. The supposition that this pretty child might be hers was
pleasing; the inference that he had brothers and sisters, possibly
younger than himself, gratifying indeed.

"He isn't my own, miss," said she, stroking the child's curls, who clung
tight to her gown, with his eyes fixed on Miss Ross. "And more's the
pity!--go to the lady, Johnnie, _do_!--for a sweeter babe, and a
'ealthier, you'll not put your 'and on, not from here to Windsor Castle.
He ain't got no mother, miss, nor he don't want none, do you, Johnnie?
not so long as you've your old Moley to love ye--that's what he calls
me, miss. _My_ name's Mole, miss, askin' your pardon."

The child, who was a bold little fellow enough, having inspected the
visitor thoroughly, as children always do inspect an object of
apprehension, now took courage to seat himself on her knee, with his
finger in his mouth and his eyes fixed on his boots, in undivided
attention.

Miss Ross turned the plain little frock down to where, below the
sun-burned neck, his skin was white and pure as marble, all but one
mottled mark, the size of a five-franc piece. Then she burst out crying,
and Johnny, sprawling in haste to the floor, howled hideously for
company.

"Deary, deary me!" ejaculated Mrs. Mole, completely softened, and, to
use her own expression, "upset," by these signals of distress. "Don't ye
take on so, miss. Whist! Johnnie, this moment, or I'll give you
something to cry for! Take a glass of water, miss. You've been walking
too fast in the sun--or say the word, and I'll make ye a cup o' tea in
five minutes."

"A glass of water, please," gasped Miss Ross; and while the old woman
went to fetch it, followed by Johnnie, the young one summoned all her
self-command not to betray her secret and her relationship to the child.

It was her own Gustave. Of that she could have no doubt since she had
laid bare the mark between his shoulders. Perhaps she was sure of him
yesterday, shouting at the cottage-door while the carriage passed;
perhaps she had been sure all last night, waking every ten minutes from
a dream of her boy; all this morning, resolving that nothing should
prevent her seeing him to-day; no, not the certainty of calumny,
exposure, open shame! Had it been otherwise, she must have broken down
more foolishly, more completely. Now she recovered herself, as she had
often done before in positions of far greater difficulty. When she took
the glass of water from Mrs. Mole's sympathising hand, her voice was
steady, her face perfectly calm and serene.

"You are right," she said, "the sun is hot, and I walked here very fast.
The sight of this pretty child, too, was rather trying. He reminds me
of--of--a nephew I lost long ago. Thank you. I'm better now, but I
_should_ like to sit down and rest for half an hour, if I'm not in your
way. So--so--this little fellow isn't yours, Mrs. Mole, after all."

Mrs. Mole dearly loved a gossip. So would you or I, if we spent our days
in a two-roomed cottage, with no companion but a child, no amusement
whatever, no occupation but cleaning household utensils for the purpose
of dirtying them forthwith, no daily paper, no exchange of ideas, no
exercise of the intellect, beyond a weekly effort to keep awake during
the parson's sermon. Gossip, indeed! If it was not for gossip how many
good, industrious, hard-living women would go melancholy mad?

"He's not mine, miss. I wishes he wur," she answered, with an elbow in
the palm of each hand, an attitude Mrs. Mole considered favourable to
conversation. "But, whatever I should do without Johnnie, or Johnnie
without me, I know no more than the dead. The sense of that there child,
miss, and the ways of 'un, you'd think as he was twelve year old at
least. To see him take off his little boots, and fold up his little
clothes, every article, and come an' say his little prayers on my knee
afore ever he goes to his little bed, it's wonderful, that's what it
is!"

The tears were rising to Jin's eyes once more. "Who taught him to say
his prayers?" she asked, keeping them down with an effort.

"Well, he didn't know none when he came here first," answered Mrs. Mole
apologetically. "He's very young a-course, and he hadn't been taught
none maybe. But, Lor' bless ye, that there child didn't want no
teaching. Ah! there's children in heaven, I humbly hope, and I'll never
believe but they're like my Johnnie!"

"A little tidier I should suppose," thought Miss Ross, but she could
have hugged this plain old woman nevertheless, for her kindly, honest
heart.

"I can see he's well taken care of," she observed, turning the child's
clothes with a mother's hand. "His skin shows how healthy he is, and
he's as clean as a new pin."

Mrs. Mole glanced sharply in her visitor's face. "I ask yer pardon,
ma'am," she said, "I kep on calling of you '_miss_,' and maybe you've
children of your own."

Hugging the boy's head to her breast Jin took no notice of this remark,
but asked in turn, how long the child had been there.

The question, though simple, produced a narrative of considerable
volume, digressive, complicated, not free from tautology, and ample,
even exuberant in detail. It comprised Mrs. Mole's girlhood, early life,
peculiar character, and extraordinary experiences, together with a
sketch of the late Mr. Mole's biography, his failure in the undertaking
business, and the reasons which prompted her, the narrator, to accept
him for a husband; the birth of two children, with red noses, the image
of Mole, both of whom, to use her own expression, she had "buried;" the
unaccountable disappearance of their father, taking with him whatever
portable property was in their joint possession, including bed and
bedding, an eight-day clock, and a warming-pan; the deceitfulness of the
male sex in general, and their sad tendency to falsehood, coupled with
inebriety; the inscrutable ways of Providence, by which it seemed
ordered that her own sex should be "put upon" in all relations of life;
the difficulty, which no one could contradict, of earning bread, as a
lone woman, with rent and taxes to pay, everything rising in price,
except her own labour, and an inflexible determination to keep herself
respectable; the matrimonial offer she had received not longer back than
five years gone last Easter Monday, from an energetic bargeman, of
imposing appearance, and a bad habit of swearing "awful," which offer
she could not prudently entertain, partly from uncertainty as to Mole's
fate, partly from suspicion of the proposer's solvency, not to say
sobriety; the depression of spirits resulting from this disappointment
of the affections, and the "lonesomeness" of the cottage in the long
winter nights, when she felt as if she "couldn't hardly a-bear it
without a drop o' comfort." Finally, the determination she was driven to
of taking in a child to nurse, "as should make the little place seem
home-like, and help to get a livin' for us both."

"And it's past belief, miss," added Mrs. Mole, "as I put a notice in the
weekly paper, an' never heard no more, till a matter of ten weeks ago,
when a gentleman brought this here little lad to the door, and left him
for me to nurse and look after, quite confident and agreeable. 'Mrs.
Mole,' says he--'your name's Mole, or I'm misinformed.' 'Yes, sir,' says
I, 'you're right enough so fur as you know.' 'Mrs. Mole,' says he, 'I
leave the child with you, an' I've no call to bid you take care of him,
for I see it in your face, and you'll be as good as his own mother to
him, supposin' he ever had one.' With that he slips a sovereign into my
hand. I'm not deceivin' you, miss, and I drops him a curtsy, an', says
I, 'Perhaps you'll favour me,' says I, 'with the babe's name,' says I,
'for I wouldn't call him out of it,' says I. It's my belief, miss, as
the gentleman wasn't used to childer', an' didn't make no account of
such things as nameses, for he thought a bit, an' 'Moses,' says he,
'that's the boy's name,' says he; but he answers much kinder to Johnnie,
miss, as you can see for yourself. He was a hasty gentleman, seemingly,
an' harbitrary, but a pleasant way with him; an' the child took on an'
pined a bit for the first day or two, when he wur gone to London or
what-not, but he loves his old Moley best now, don't ye, deary? an' will
tell ye, plain as he can speak, he don't want to leave his old Moley,
never no more."

Miss Ross was puzzled. But for the mark on the boy's back, and something
in her own heart, she would have believed herself mistaken after all.

Who could this man be, then? and how had he obtained possession of her
boy? her boy, whom she had mourned so bitterly, believing that he slept
beneath the waters of the turbulent Rhone.

"Have you never seen this gentleman again?" she asked, still pressing
the child's head to her breast, a position he accepted with perfect
equanimity.

"Seen him!" repeated Mrs. Mole. "He comes here once a-week regular and
pays, I'll say that for him--pays like the bank. 'Handsome is as
handsome does,' says I, an' he's a real gentleman, I make no doubt."

"Is he young or old?" pursued Miss Ross. "Tall or short? Dark or fair?
How is he dressed? In one word--what is he like?"

Mrs. Mole, whose memory and perceptive powers in general were failing a
little, thereby affording wider scope to her imagination, plunged at
once into a comprehensive description, much ornamented and idealised, of
the person who had lately become so important an object in her quiet
every-day life--a description from which Miss Ross felt she could not
have identified any individual simply human; but which was happily cut
short by a step on the high road, and a click at the little green gate
giving access to the front door of the cottage.

"It's not his day, miss," said Mrs. Mole, pulling her guest to the
window. "But here he is, for sure, and you can judge for yourself!"

One glance was enough. Miss Ross, dropping Johnnie (in the safest
possible attitude) on the floor, fled to the back kitchen panting for
breath.

It was Achille! There could be no doubt about it! The same jaunty air,
the same gaudy dress, the same manner, gestures, ways, even to the cigar
between his teeth--a little stouter, perhaps, and more prosperous
looking than when she saw him last; but still unmistakably the husband
who deceived, outraged, deserted her, to whom, if she were really
married, she felt she had better have tied a mill-stone round her neck,
and plunged herself into the sea!

Escape was her first impulse--escape at any price! He must never find
her! He must on no account see her here! With a hasty farewell to Mrs.
Mole, who thought all the better of her visitor for the modesty that
forbade her to confront a strange gentleman, she vanished through the
back-door of the cottage, as Picard, for it was no other, entered at the
front, and running down a stony path direct to the river-side found
herself wishing only that she could swim, so as to make her plunge, and
strike out at once for the opposite shore. Glancing wistfully around,
there was yet something in the whole situation that struck her as
ludicrous in the extreme. Hemmed in by cottage gardens, escape was out
of the question on either side, while to retrace her steps along the
stony pathway was to return into the jaws of the enemy. At her feet, the
river looked cool, shallow, and inviting. Jin wondered if it would be
possible to wade. In her perplexity she clasped her hands and began to
laugh. Then she thought of her boy and began to cry. This young person
was by no means a subject for hysterics; but her feelings had been
cruelly wrought on during the last half-hour, and there is no saying
what might have happened if assistance had not arrived at the opportune
moment from an unlooked-for quarter.

It has been already stated that Helen Hallaton showed less inclination
to go to the races than is usual with a young lady, who has a new bonnet
in a box up-stairs, and an excuse for taking it out. Frank Vanguard too,
contrary to all precedent, declined driving his team to the Course, and
remained tranquilly in barracks with the orderly-officer and the
mess-waiters, whilst everybody else was off for the day. I do not
suppose these young people _understood_ each other; but I fancy they
_thought_ they did, and perhaps this was the reason one only started
with her companions under pressure, while the other preferred a skiff
and a pair of sculls (not an outrigger observe, in which there is only
room for the oarsman) to the box of his drag, and a sustained contest
for many miles with the iron mouth of his near wheeler.

This young officer then, stripped to the very verge of decency, came
flashing up the stream with steady strokes and strong that brought him
alongside of Mrs. Mole's cottage, within a few seconds of Jin's flight
from that sanctuary. It is not to be supposed that any amount of
pre-occupation would prevent our floating dragoon from resting on his
oars to admire the rare and radiant vision: a handsome girl clad in
bright transparencies, exhaled as it would seem by an ardent sunshine
from the teeming margin of Father Thames.

He thought of Rhodes and Helios, and the picture in last year's
exhibition. So thinking, he backed water, of course, with the utmost
energy.

"Captain Vanguard," pleaded a voice, he had thought yesterday not
without its charm, "will you be a good Samaritan and give me a passage
to The Lilies?"

"He would be delighted." Of course he would! To take such a sitter ought
to be pleasure enough; but better still to have so good an excuse for
calling at The Lilies and finding Miss Hallaton at home.

"I've been visiting a poor woman in that cottage," said Miss Ross,
giving him her hand as she stepped lightly into the fragile bark he
brought so skilfully to her feet. "But it really is _too_ hot for
walking back along the road. I'm in luck. If I hadn't seen you, I do
believe I should have jumped in to swim!"

"I'm the lucky one, Miss Ross," answered Frank, looking very manly and
handsome, as with lengthened strokes he shot into the stream. "I'm very
glad now I didn't go to the races. It's as well too that I brought this
skiff instead of the outrigger!"

And Uncle Joseph, quarrelling fiercely with Punch, beheld it all,
boiling, chafing, growling, wondering at the perfidy of woman, cursing
the imbecility of man.



CHAPTER X.

AFLOAT.


It was a pleasant trip for waterman and freight. Over-handed sculls,
light sitter, and buoyant boat, Frank laid himself out to his work as if
he liked it; and Miss Ross, dipping her white fingers in the pleasant
ripple, looked kindly into the oarsman's eyes, while her lissome figure
bent and swayed in graceful unison with his stroke.

Steadily, smoothly, swimmingly, they shot on, through deep, cool, silent
shade, where overhanging boughs bent longingly towards the laughing
waters as they ran past; across broad burnished sheets of gold, where
dazzling sunshine flashed and glittered on the stream; over placid
pools, translucent and serene, where the drooping water-lily scarce
ruffled a languid petal to kiss the lingering current stealing by; under
high fragrant banks, rich in tints of pearl and pink, emerald and ruby,
of all the brightest, fairest hues that Nature lavishes on the flower,
like the gem; past lawn and villa, past water-mill and meadow land, past
nibbling sheep and wading cattle, a barking dog, a boat-house, an
unsuccessful angler in a punt; and so to a fair expanse of smooth
untroubled water, a mile below the lock.

There are voyages on which we all embark unconsciously to ourselves,
careless of life-belt or sea-stores, making no provision for the climes
to which they lead; voyages that begin with a fair wind, a summer sea,
and a smiling sky; that end, too often, in loss of crew and cargo, in
shipwreck, disaster, and despair. Miss Ross, though she scarcely
suspected it, had even now set foot on a plank which was to sink with
her hereafter, and leave her choking in the dark pitiless waves.

"_Isn't_ it nice?" said she, taking off a jaunty little hat, to smooth
her hair back with dripping hands. "I delight in the motion--something
between swimming and riding. I should like to row, myself. Don't you
find it hard work? You _must_ be tired. Let us stop here a little in the
shade."

A longer pull would have failed to tire Frank, who was no mean waterman,
and in excellent condition,

    "But then the situation had its charm,"

and to rest in the shade with Miss Ross was no unpleasant break in a
day's work.

She fanned him with her hat, rocking the boat to and fro as it lay under
the bank, sheltered by a thick screen of fragrant, flickering lime
branches.

"I can't thank you enough," continued Jin, in her most winning tones.
"I'm so fond of the water, I think I was meant for a sailor. I should
like to go on it every day."

"I'll take you!" said Frank, as what else could he say? "Every day, and
all day long. Shall we fix to-morrow, at the same place and the same
time?" He was laughing, but thought, nevertheless, it would be no bad
way of spending the summer, while so unfortunate as to be quartered at
Windsor. Ah! if it had only been Helen! But it wasn't. So there was no
use in thinking about that!

"We can't always do what we like," answered Jin, looking pensively into
the depths of the Thames. "At least women can't--certainly I can't!
Think how I should be pitched into when I got home! You wouldn't like me
to be scolded for your sake, Captain Vanguard?"

"I think I _should_," replied the inexcusable young officer. "I think I
should like to scold you myself, if I had the right."

"Ah! you'd like making up again, I dare say!" laughed Jin, and, with
that, the black eyes delivered one telling shot straight into Frank's,
and were instantly averted.

"We'll quarrel as much as you please, on those terms," said he gaily,
and, for aught I can guess, might have proceeded to premature
reconciliation forthwith, but that she knew the game so well, and
checked him at the right moment.

"I quarrel with my _friends_, Captain Vanguard," she objected; "and you
are only an acquaintance as yet. It takes me a long time to become
really intimate with people. I wonder if I should like you more when I
knew you better?"

"I'm sure you would," answered Frank, rattling the boat's chain, as he
prepared for work again. "You would improve me so, do you see; and I am
so willing to be improved. You wouldn't be able to do without me in a
week."

"I don't think that would be a good plan," she said, in rather a
mournful tone, gazing dreamily at him with her great black eyes, as if
she saw miles into the future. "I can take good care of myself--nobody
better. But if I like people at all I like them very much. It's my
nature--I wish it wasn't."

"Then you don't like _me_ at all?" he replied, in a low voice, bending
down to alter the stretcher at his feet. "Just my luck!" Why couldn't he
leave edged tools alone? Like a very child, he must needs play with
them, only because they lay to his hand. How we all cut our fingers
without the slightest occasion long after we believe ourselves old
enough and wise enough to run alone!

"If I did, I shouldn't tell you so," answered Jin, lowering her voice in
harmony with his. "Do you think a woman never keeps a secret? Captain
Vanguard, I can't quite make you out; you puzzle me more than anybody I
know."

Frank, sculling leisurely on, began to think this was very pleasant. It
gratified him to suppose there should be depths unfathomed in his
character; it flattered him to learn that this clever, accomplished
woman had thought it worth while to try and search them to the bottom.
Perhaps the exercise flushed it a little, but there was a very becoming
colour in his face while he replied:

"The plainest fellow in the world, Miss Ross, and the honestest, as
you'll find, when you know me better. I may chaff a little sometimes,
like other people, but everybody can tell what's chaff and what's
earnest. _You_ can, I'm sure."

She nodded and smiled. "Are you in earnest _now_?" she said, looking
with real pleasure into the comely, honest young face.

"I am, I'll swear!" he exclaimed, forgetting that nothing had yet been
spoken to be earnest about. "What I think I say, and what I say I mean!"

"I wish--no--I wonder, whether I can believe you," she answered very
softly, and again the black eyes seemed to pierce right through his
jersey to his heart.

Meanwhile their boat shot merrily over the dead water, urged by her
oarsman's skilled and vigorous strokes. Jin watched with critical
approval the play of his muscular shoulders, the ease and freedom of his
movements, the strength, symmetry, and youthful vitality of the man.

"Do you like poetry?" she asked, after a minute's silence.

"Poetry?" repeated Frank doubtfully. "I don't mind it," but qualified
the admission by adding, "glees, and songs, and that."

She was rather thinking aloud than speaking to her companion, while she
continued:

"I always admire that description of the Scandinavian warrior's
accomplishments: there is something so simple about it, and so manly:

    'These arts are mine, to wield the steel,
      To curb the warlike horse;
    To swim the lake, or skate on heel,
      To urge my rapid course;
    To draw the bow, to fling the spear,
      To brush with oar the main:
    All these are mine, and shall I bear
      A Danish maid's disclaim?'

I wonder, for my part, that the Danish maid could resist him."

"Oh, I don't!" answered Frank. "Danish maids are pretty tough, I should
think; spotted too, probably, like Danish dogs. Who did you say the
fellow was, and what did he brush?"

"I said he was a soldier," replied Miss Ross demurely. "Most likely a
mounted volunteer."

"And who was the lady?--the Danish maid, I mean."

"I don't know--I wish _I_ was!" she answered, with a sigh.

Frank pondered, resting on his oars. It was not this young officer's
habit to puzzle his wits unnecessarily in the solution of intricate
problems, and whatever genius he possessed was in no way akin to that of
a mathematician, who takes pleasure in the actual process by which
results are worked out. To ride a comrade's horse "truly through" in a
steeple-chase, to make the most of his own in a run, to lead his
squadron straight, and as fast as his colonel would permit, to have his
troop at the highest possible pitch of efficiency, befriending the men,
pacifying their wives, and keeping an especial eye on buckles, to drive
the regimental coach without "putting it over," and never to turn his
back on a friend, comprised the simple articles of his creed; nor, until
he met Helen Hallaton at her father's house, had it ever entered his
head there could be an interest in life more engrossing than regimental
duty and field-sports. But he was learning to _think_ now, and, like all
beginners, found himself somewhat at sea in the process.

What was this strange, subtle intoxication of the brain, rather than the
heart, which stole over him so gently, while he looked in that pale,
eager, restless face, not a yard off, over the stretcher yonder, turned
so wistfully towards his own, while he caught the tones of that low,
pleading voice, blending so musically with the jerk of his oars, the
leap and gurgle of the stream beneath his prow? Was this the enchantment
he had a vague recollection of as practised by the Syrens in his
school-books, by the Mermaidens of nursery lore, by the Ondines and
Lurlines, the Wilis and Walpurgis of the stage? Must he learn so soon,
while yet in the flush of youth and hope, that the coquette is immortal
as the vampire, equally thirsty, tenacious, and insatiable? Was this the
same mysterious influence exercised on him by Miss Hallaton? or was it
not rather a dazzling and illusive imitation, resembling truth as the
scenery of a theatre resembles Nature's landscapes; its tinsel and
glitter, the splendour of real gems and gold? Well, it was no use
troubling one's head about these matters. If you once begin analysing,
what becomes of everything we call pleasure? Who would drink wine if he
knew how it was made, or, indeed, a glass of pure water, if he reflected
on the mingled gases and impurities of which that innocent element is
composed?

Sculling on towards the lock, Frank Vanguard was content to leave his
own questions unanswered, and abandon himself to the claims of his
companion and the fascination of the hour.

With her it was different. Young in years, Miss Ross was yet an old
stager in that broad road between the roses, along which it is all down
hill. She had travelled it many a time, usually at her own pace, and, so
to speak, with horses perfectly well broke. She knew, none better, each
smiling nook, each romantic peep of the country on either side,--this
awkward turn, that comfortable resting-place, when to put the drag on
with judicious caution, where to make the most of her ground at a
gallop. She liked to feel her blood stir to the old familiar pastime
once more, liked it none the worse that the team was getting out of her
hand, the pace no longer at her own control.

All the while it was no more the real Frank Vanguard who excited these
welcome sensations in her ill-regulated mind than it was Uncle Joseph,
or young Goldthred, or Punch! Men and women, we are but children in our
dearest dreams, and Jin was no wiser than the rest of us. She had
dressed her doll in the gaudy habiliments that suited her own taste, and
persuaded herself the creation of her fancy was a tangible and existing
truth.

Frank Vanguard seemed at present her ideal of the robust Scandinavian,
polished up a little and modernised, of course. It would be a duty, she
considered, to sacrifice him in accordance with her principles of
manslaughter. It would be a pleasure to watch the tortures of her victim
at the stake. Perhaps, after all, she would grant him a milder
punishment than the rest. She wondered more than ever at the northern
girl's insensibility to her stalwart admirer.

"No," she murmured, after a pause, during which Frank had set the boat
going once more; "I don't think I should have snubbed him long, if I had
been the Danish maid."

"I believe you _are_ the Danish maid!" said he. "You're not _quite_
English, I'm sure, though I can't tell how I know. You're not Scotch,
for you don't speak the language. Welsh? No. You're scarcely my idea of
a Welsh woman; at least, judging by those I've seen with wooden collars
and milkpails in London."

"Guess again."

"Irish; that's it. 'Kathleen Mavourneen,' 'Arrah na Pogue,' 'Norah
Creina,' and 'The Shan Van Voght!'"

"You might have added, 'Teddy, you Gander,'" she replied, laughing. "No;
what should make you think I'm Irish? I never was in Ireland in my life?
I don't mind telling _you_ I'm more a French woman than anything else.
In honest truth, I've no country, no relations, no belongings, no
friends," and she carolled out in her rich clear voice--

    "I care for nobody, no, not I,
    And nobody cares for me."

"That's impossible!" exclaimed Frank, pushing the boat out of certain
shallows into which he had inadvertently guided it, with the blade of
his oar, and looking over his shoulder to see how far the lock was
ahead. "That's simply impossible!" he repeated, as they shot back into
deep water, where, nevertheless, the stream ran very swift and strong.
"I should say a great many people did. More than you think, I am sure.
Steady! Miss Ross. Let him alone, please! He'll swamp us in two seconds,
if he tries to come on board. Ah! I thought how it would be; and, of
course, she can't swim!"

The last sentence Frank sputtered out with a mouthful of Thames water,
shaking his head the while, to clear his eyes, as he came to the surface
from an immersion, sudden as involuntary, consequent on the indiscreet
proceedings of his passenger. Since the adventure of Leda down to our
own times, when Landseer has consigned him to an immortality of
suffering in the eagle's clutch, it appears that the swan has been a
consistent admirer of beauty, both in and out of his proper element. He
drew the car of Venus, he piloted the galley of Cleopatra, he spied Miss
Ross glittering like a jewel on the bosom of Father Thames. Exasperated,
as it would seem, by Vanguard's good fortune, he made rapidly for the
boat containing this treasure, wreathing his neck, ruffling his wings in
angry curves, and tearing up the water like a river steamboat. Miss Ross
laughed merrily, and splashed the enemy with considerable energy. The
swan advanced, the lady leaned over, Frank backed water hard with one
scull, a heavy lurch, a little scream, a sway, a surge, and the rushing
stream rose over the boat's side from stem to stern, while a wisp of
muslins, a gaudy hat, and a tangle of black hair, were already
splashing, struggling, sinking, a dozen yards farther down the river in
the direction of London and the Nore. Frank was a good swimmer, Miss
Ross possessed courage and presence of mind. The shallows were close,
and a punt was already putting out from the neighbouring lock, where the
man in charge had a view of the accident, nevertheless it was not
without the exertion of considerable strength and skill, without great
personal risk, a very sufficient wetting, and the swallowing of at least
a quart of dirty water, that Vanguard succeeded in placing the lady on
her feet in the shallows before mentioned, thanking Heaven fervently in
his heart that they were not five strokes farther off, and that he had
been enabled to reach them with his burden by aid of a strong stream
running in his favour. Draggled, limp, exhausted, dripping from top to
toe, Miss Ross clung tight to her preserver, with the more reason that
although the stream here scarcely reached her knees, it ran so hard she
found some difficulty in keeping her feet. She behaved, thought Frank,
very pluckily and well. No nonsense, no hysterics, no theatrical
gratitude of gasps and groans. She held one of his hands, indeed, very
tight, and her face was paler than ever, but she only said:

"How stupid of me to upset the boat! What a ducking we've both had,
Captain Vanguard! You'll never take me on the water again."

"_Won't_ I?" thought Frank, helping her into the punt which had now
come to the rescue, and wondering at the masses of black hair, released
and straightened by immersion, that hung round her in such unusual
length and volume.

Like most bachelors, Frank entertained exaggerated notions as to
feminine delicacy, both of mind and body. In the present instance, he
was satisfied that unless Miss Ross could be enveloped in blankets,
dosed with hot brandy-and-water, and taken home on the instant, death
must inevitably ensue. Assisted by the lock's-man and his wife, who,
without partaking of his fears, joined heartily in his exertions, he had
Miss Ross swathed up like a mummy in less than ten minutes; and, by her
own desire, helped her to walk the short distance between the lock and
The Lilies at as good a pace, and, indeed, almost with the same results,
as if they had been waltzing. Frank found so much to think of, that it
was not till he reached the gate he remembered his own dishevelled
plight, and the unusual costume, or rather want of it, in which he
meditated a morning call. Reflecting that his straw hat was gone, that
he was bare to the shoulders, that his dress consisted only of a light
jersey, flannel trowsers, and canvas shoes, the whole of which, after
being thoroughly saturated, had dried on a dusty road, he was perhaps
hardly disappointed to learn that the ladies were at the races, and
nobody had stayed at home except Mrs. Lascelles's maid.

"Then I'll wish you good-bye, Miss Ross," said Frank. "I can't do
anything more for you now. Only mind you go to bed till dinner-time, and
I hope you haven't caught cold."

"Won't you come in?" asked Miss Ross. "They'll give you some sherry, or
brandy, or whatever you ought to have. I'm sure you must want it."

"Never felt so well in my life!" he answered gaily. "Besides, I must go
back to recover my floating capital: jacket, hat, boat, stretcher, and
pair of sculls, not to mention your pretty parasol. They were all
swimming different ways when I saw them last, but I dare say they'll get
together again on this side of Staines. We landed the cargo, which was
the great thing, but I wish we could have managed to keep it dry."

He was turning away, with a light laugh, when she called him back. "I've
never thanked you," said she, "but I know you risked your own life
to-day to save mine. If you had lost it--I--I should like to have gone
down too!"

He started. There was a tremble in her voice that seemed very strange to
him, nor was the sensation without its charm; but he had not yet
contemplated the subject from this romantic point of view, so he could
think of no better answer than to put out his hand.

She caught it eagerly, and for one half-second pressed it against her
heart, while she murmured:

"Good-bye, Captain Vanguard, good-bye; when shall I see you again?"

The dark, pleading eyes were turned on him so kindly, the pale,
bewitching face was drawing so near his own--close, closer yet, as he
bent towards it--and so their lips met in one long, clinging, and
totally unjustifiable kiss. Then Miss Ross, blushing to her ears,
scudded up-stairs like a lap-wing, while Frank walked dreamily away from
the front door, feeling as if he had behaved very badly about something
or somebody, and couldn't bring his mind to regret it as he ought.



CHAPTER XI.

MANOEUVRING.


We must return to Uncle Joseph, endeavouring to compose his mind by
riding Punch at an uncomfortable jog-trot along a succession of shady
lanes calculated to bring him back by a roundabout way to his own
dwelling-place. This _détour_, much against the pony's inclination--for
that sagacious animal protested at every homeward turn--he took
advisedly and with deliberation, that he might have time to ponder on
his position and his wrongs. Like most men who have passed middle age,
he set a great value on the blessing of health, and prudently reflected
that a towering passion, an obstinate cob, and a broiling sun, formed a
combination likely to produce one of those bilious attacks which lay the
sufferer on his back for a week, and make him as yellow as a guinea for
a fortnight. Therefore he thought it wise to cool down in solitude, and
consider his own case dispassionately, before deciding on a future line
of conduct. Had he been a young man he would have broken with Jin on the
spot. Storms of invective, reproach, and recrimination, would have
ensued, to be succeeded by thorough reconciliation and a subsequent
state of slavery more degrading than the first, after much unnecessary
wear and tear of body and mind. But Uncle Joseph had arrived at a period
of life when, highly as we prize our hearts, we set also a sufficient
value on our livers, and see no reason why lacerated affections should
be aggravated by an impaired digestion. There is much knowledge of human
nature comprised in Sir John Suckling's shrewd and suggestive stanza:

    "Why so pale and wan, fond lover,
      Prithee, why so pale?
    Will, if looking well can't move her,
      Looking ill prevail?"

That is doubtless the least decisive defeat which is most skilfully
concealed, and one of the first principles in manoeuvring is to "show
a front," the steadier the better, however severe may be the loss under
which you are compelled to retire.

By the time Uncle Joseph had ridden a mile (and at Punch's pace, when
turned away from home, this distance afforded some leisure for
reflection) he made up his mind not to put himself in a passion. Ere he
had gone two, and settled another difference with the pony by diverse
jobs in the mouth and kicks in the stomach, he sought and found many
excuses for the young lady's conduct, and almost decided not to quarrel
with her at all.

If less agile and less ardent, these mature lovers are, at any rate,
more patient, more considerate, more forbearing, than their impetuous
juniors. They take thought, they give time, they make allowances, they
have learned one of life's most important lessons, only set forth
towards the end of the chapter, "Not to expect too much." Could they but
keep the smooth skin, the jaunty step, the trim waist, the clear eye,
the glossy locks, the buoyancy, the sparkle, and the bloom! Alas! alas!
turn it how we will, there is no disputing that the one quality of youth
outweighs all advantages of experience, wisdom, fame, intellect; and
that the figure 50, so acceptable in a _rouleau_--

    "Sounds ill in love, whate'er it may in money."

While he thus rode along the shady lanes, Uncle Joseph's cogitations,
interrupted only by the carelessness and other short-comings of Punch,
jumbled themselves together into something like the following
soliloquy:

"Comes down to breakfast as sulky as a bear; 'low spirits' the women
call it, and 'over-fatigue,' but I know what that means--restless
manner, wandering eye, and not half an appetite. Scarcely truffles
enough, by the way, in that pie; mustn't forget to write about it. (Hold
up, you brute. Such another as _that_ and you'll be on the top of your
stupid head!) Then off she goes in a desperate fidget to write letters
up-stairs. Up-stairs indeed! I ought to have known at once there was
something wrong, for I never remember her in a fidget before; and as for
letters, I should suppose she was the worst correspondent in Europe!
Then, after everybody's back is turned, off like a shot through the
hay-fields, under a tropical sun, and down to the river. Some sense in
that if she'd jumped in for a cold bath. I shouldn't have pulled her
out; yes, I should! The girl's a dear girl, and a pretty one. It mayn't
be so bad after all. She could _not_ have looked at me as she did last
night, when she pinned the pinks in my button-hole, unless she liked me.
Why does my tailor never put a loop in? Does he think I'm so old nobody
gives me flowers, or is he a deep dog, who reflects I ought to have the
pull of their being pinned in? She shall never pin one in again for _me_
though, unless she can give an account of to-day's doings! What was she
about in that cottage, I should like to know, exposing herself to
infection of all kinds, and why did she stay so long? Then, who ever
heard of a young lady rushing down to the water-side, and jumping into
the first boat that passes (I wonder she didn't upset it, and I almost
wish she had!), with a half-naked man she never saw before in her life?
Who _was_ the man, I wonder? I could only make out that he had very few
clothes on! Miss Ross! Miss Ross! you are not treating me well! Perhaps
you think I'm an indulgent old fool, and only too pleased to let you do
as you like. So I would, my pretty Jin, so I would, if I had your
perfect confidence, and felt I could depend upon you. I'm not the least
a jealous fellow, I know, though of course I don't want you to make up
to anybody else; but I shouldn't mind your pretty little coaxing manner,
and your flirting ways. In fact, I rather like them. No, I don't, not a
bit, so it's no use saying so. But I could be very good to her if she
cared for me. Perhaps she doesn't, after all. And yet that seems
unlikely. Julia Bright did, and Jemima Fetters, and I think Miss
Flouncer _would_ have, if I'd been more in her set. Can I be so much
altered since then?" And thus Uncle Joseph, with his reins on the pony's
neck, dropping gradually into a walk, pursued a train of varied
thoughts, retrospective and otherwise, comprising diverse incongruous
subjects--his shares, his dinner, his present hopes, the state of his
health, the increasing proportions of his figure, Punch's failings,
Jin's perfidy, the columns of his banker's book, wine, tradespeople,
double-entry, boyhood's pastimes, manhood's gains, his last investment,
and his first romance.

The afternoon began to wane ere Punch's willing head was in the manger,
and Uncle Joseph rang the bell at his own hall-door. The race-goers
having returned early, because this, the last day, afforded but a meagre
bill of fare for sport, were yet so worn out with the heat that they had
retired to their respective dressing-rooms. Was Miss Ross back? Well,
sir, Miss Ross came home some time ago, but she seemed to have met
with--with something of an accident. No occasion to be alarmed, said the
butler, but miss was wet through, however--not a dry stitch on her, the
maid told him--and went to her own room at once. Could his master see
her? The well-drilled servant thought not. Miss Ross had given orders
she was on no account to be disturbed till dinner; and he, the butler,
rather opined she had gone to bed: adding, with a sense of what was due
to his own importance, that, "for his part, he was thankful it wasn't no
worse!"

But Miss Ross had not the least intention of going to bed, nor could she
have slept a wink on the softest couch that ever was spread. Busy
thoughts were teeming in her brain, strange contradictory feelings
thrilling at her heart. She was half pleased with herself, half angry,
sometimes absolutely revelling in the recollections of the day,
sometimes wishing she had never gone to the cottage at all. In her dark
eyes shone a light that told of some new fire kindled within; on her
delicate cheek, usually so pale, burned that blush of pleasure which is
all the dearer and deeper for being tinged by self-reproach and shame.

Mrs. Lascelles saw the change at a glance, and knew with womanly
instinct that something more had happened to her friend than a common
river accident, however dangerous it might have been. Without removing
her bonnet, she settled herself in an arm-chair the moment she entered
the other's room, determined to find out everything that had taken
place. As the two women sat together in that light, cheerful,
prettily-furnished chamber, they afforded no unsightly study of effect,
as resulting from contrast, of the respective proportion in which
feminine attractions are enhanced by dress and _déshabillé_. The fairer
beauty wore a costume I am constrained to admire, but shrink from
attempting to describe, inasmuch as it seemed to combine the different
attractions by which victory is assured at balls, dinners, regattas,
races, suburban breakfasts, county archery-meetings, the morning
cricket-match, and the afternoon tea. How it was put together, and of
what fabric, I am brutally ignorant: you might as well ask me to
articulate the anatomy of a humming-bird or describe the dress of a
dragon-fly; but I am prepared to protest that it was voluminous,
enchanting, transparent, and that there was _mauve_ in it. To have white
teeth, red lips, dancing blue eyes, rich brown hair, and a bloom like a
peach, is all very well, but does it seem quite fair play to dispose
around these natural advantages certain delicate and filmy draperies,
that set them off as a summer haze glorifies some Devonshire valley
under the noon-day sun? "Scaldings!" quoth honest Jack-tar, creeping
along the deck with anything that may be spilt. "_Væ Victis!_" says
Brennus, turning up his moustache at the gates of Rome. "Look out for
yourselves, gentlemen!" seems to be the interpretation of either
warning, "and make the best terms you can!" For my part, I think it is
wise policy to surrender at discretion, and sink point with the first
clash of steel.

Mrs. Lascelles, you see, shone in mail and plate; armed, so to speak, at
all points. Miss Ross, on the other hand, was in light skirmishing
order--none the less dangerous, however--and prepared, you may be sure,
for immediate attack. Her black hair fell about her in shining folds,
over a white surface fretted with frills and laces, set off by knots of
cherry-coloured ribbon; a band of the same hue was drawn loosely round
her slender waist; open sleeves disclosed a pair of ivory arms to the
elbows; and she had slippers on, but no stockings. I think I have
described her enough.

"So he pulled you out, dear, just as you were sinking, propped you in
his arms, with your head on his shoulder, and both did the regular stage
business, of course: 'My precious!'--'my preserver!'--'awakened
feelings!'--'eternal gratitude!' and a duet at the foot-lights.
Seriously, Jin, it is quite a romance in these prosaic days."

Mrs. Lascelles found herself amused as well as interested by the glowing
colours, not devoid of caricature, in which Miss Ross described her late
adventure and its hero.

"Nothing of the kind," protested Jin, with energy. "On the contrary, I
never saw a man take anything so quietly. You'd think he pulled people
out of the Thames once a week. I don't suppose the thing will ever enter
his head again."

"That would be very uncomplimentary, my dear," answered Mrs. Lascelles;
"and you can't really suppose anything of the sort. Now, honour! Don't
you expect him to call here to-morrow morning, the very first thing
after breakfast?"

"Why shouldn't he?" replied Jin hotly. "It wouldn't follow that he meant
more than an act of common courtesy, which he must have paid any lady
after so--so ludicrous a performance as ours!"

Here she burst out laughing, but did not thereby in the least deceive
her friend.

"Jin," said the latter, after a pause, during which each had scanned the
other narrowly, "what do you think of him?"

"Think of who?" said Jin. It was bad grammar, but people are very
obstinate about grammar in common conversation, particularly when they
turn away their heads with a blush.

"Who?" repeated Mrs. Lascelles. "Why, this new admirer, of course. This
hero, perhaps I ought rather to say, this Leander, this Windsor Bridge
swan, this duck of a dragoon! Shall you be able to abide by our compact,
and treat him like the rest? Jin, Jin, I should be sorry for you, my
poor girl, very sorry, of course, but yet I should laugh, I am afraid,
too, if you were to be caught at last, and fall in love--souse!--as you
fell into the Thames!"

"I don't know what you mean," answered Miss Ross, with great dignity.
"The one I couldn't help, and it would have been hard on me to be
drowned. If I did the other, I should deserve never to get my head above
water again."

"After all, I don't see why it should be so inexcusable," pursued her
tormentor. "Though they have not had such a chance as yours, depend upon
it, lots of others are after him. He's a strong, enterprising young man,
as you've reason to admit. Nobody can deny his good looks, and though he
hasn't a superfluity of brains, he's always very well dressed."

"You wouldn't have said so if you had seen him to-day," laughed Miss
Ross. "My dear, he was almost ready for bathing long before he jumped
out of the boat. But seriously," she resumed with imposing gravity, "I
have no secrets from _you_, Rose, and I don't wish _you_, of all people,
to carry away a false impression of me or my opinions. About Captain
Vanguard's good looks I know nothing, for I've never considered them,
and as for his being stupid, that I'm sure he's _not_. Decidedly
well-read, I should say, from his conversation. However, that's not the
question. He has done me a very great service, the greatest, probably,
that one human being can do another; for, though I laugh at it now, it
seemed no laughing matter, I assure you, while that dreadful whirl of
water was filling mouth, and nose, and ears; but if you think I am so
missy-ish that I consider it necessary to fall in love with Captain
Vanguard because he saved me from drowning, why you never were more
mistaken in your life. He's a gentleman, Rose, and a fine fellow, I
freely admit. I shall always feel grateful to him, and look on him as a
friend, but as for being in _love_ with him--bosh! Knowing me as well as
you do, Rose, I wonder you can talk such nonsense!"

From all which vehemence, and especially from the gratuitous energy of
her friend's denial, I think Mrs. Lascelles was justified in
entertaining a strong impression the very reverse of that which was
intended to be conveyed.

Her opinion gained strength from the readiness with which Jin accepted
a suggestion that it might be more prudent to remain another day at the
villa, instead of returning to London on the morrow, taking into
consideration the afternoon's excitement, the hot weather, and the
comfort of their present quarters.

"My dear, I should like to stay a month!" exclaimed Miss Ross. "It's a
paradise on earth for scenery. Uncle Joseph's the best host in the
universe, and we're all so happy. Besides, London is too detestable in
this weather. I declare to you, Rose, it was hotter last week than I
ever felt it in the South of France."

Mrs. Lascelles pondered, reflecting that she, too, had liked her visit
very much. It was pleasant enough to keep her hand in by laying siege to
Sir Henry, no great infliction to accept the slavish adoration of
Goldthred. If these could be induced to remain, a few days might pass
very agreeably at The Lilies, and Uncle Joseph, of course, would only be
too happy to keep them as long as they liked.

"But our London engagements," said she doubtfully.

"There are none for the next week we need mind throwing over," replied
Jin, whose memory was always to be depended on. "A heavy dinner at Lord
Gasper's--twenty people we don't know, not a man under forty, and all
the windows shut. Mrs. Potterton's concert--second-rate company,
third-rate singers, two hundred people asked and sitting-room for fifty.
Lady Jericho's drum--small and early, like young potatoes; she'll be
mortally affronted, and won't ask us again; but she's not going to give
anything more this season, so that don't signify! Dear Rose, it would be
very nice. Let us stay."

Now, in justice to Miss Ross, I feel bound to insist that this sudden
hatred of London gaiety and passion for rural scenery was not due solely
to her adventure with Frank Vanguard. One of the strongest motives that
can sway a woman's feelings prompted her to remain in the neighbourhood
of Mrs. Mole. To have seen her long-lost child for one short hour, to
have held him in her arms, set him on her knees, and folded his curly
little head to her bosom, was like a mouthful of water to a man fainting
from thirst, delightful, invigorating, life-restoring, but creating an
insupportable craving for more.

It may be that this interview had softened Jin's whole moral being,
rendering her more susceptible to the gentler emotions of her nature,
against which she had long waged unnatural war. It may be that in the
subjection of Frank Vanguard she hoped to acquire another vassal, or at
least an ally, against the time when she might want to summon all her
forces for the furtherance of her plans. Perhaps she had many reasons,
perhaps she had none at all, but acted, woman-like, on her instinct and
her desires. However this may be, she brought out all her powers of
persuasion to fortify her friend in the plan that seemed so delightful,
of remaining yet a while longer at The Lilies; but I must leave to those
who understand a woman's nature, if such philosophers there be, the task
of explaining why Jin should have felt at this moment less affection,
less gratitude to Mrs. Lascelles, and altogether less dependence on her
benefactress, than during the whole of their previous acquaintance.

Dinner that day, at least until the champagne had circulated, was less
lively than usual. Everybody seemed silent and pre-occupied. Sir Henry,
to use his own expression, had not "got out" in time on one of the
principal races, and as the favourite was never "in the hunt," being
beaten half a mile from home, the baronet experienced a double
annoyance, of losing his money, and feeling also that he had been less
astute than his neighbours when he suffered Outrigger to carry a large
stake for him in the Thames Handicap. Mrs. Lascelles, watching his face
narrowly, began to torment herself, but taking her tone from his, these
two presently recovered their equanimity. Sir Henry liked champagne, and
drank it freely. The exhilarating tendency of that agreeable wine,
acting on the buoyancy of his disposition, soon put dull care to flight,
and before dinner was half over, he had forgotten ill-luck, losses, and
embarrassments, and disposed himself to grasp the enjoyments of the
present as only such natures can.

But not all the wine that ever was corked at Epernay could have
enlivened Uncle Joseph after the disclosures of to-day. He hardly spoke
to Miss Ross before they sat down; and when she offered him the usual
little posy for his button-hole, refused the flowers with a rudeness
that would have been brutal, but for the wounded feelings his petulance
revealed. Truth compels me to admit that, notwithstanding his mercantile
probity, Uncle Joseph scarcely behaved like an honest man in the present
transaction. He was not really half so angry as he pretended to be; but
remembering, in his previous experience, that such little quarrels often
cleared the way to mutual understanding and good-will, he resolved to
stick by the precepts of that great amatory authority, "Ovid with the
Nose," and prepare, by a good dose of sulks to-night, for a
"_redinte-gratio amoris_" to-morrow.

Jin, on the contrary, whose present idea it was to keep all her irons in
the fire, suffering no profusion of birds in the bush to distract her
entirely from the one in hand, proceeded to approach and circumvent her
host as craftily as a Scotch keeper stalks an old cock grouse in
October. She gazed on him at intervals with mournful curiosity,
withdrawing her eyes the instant they met his glance. She sighed, she
talked _at_ him, she even tried to flirt a little with Goldthred,
something in the day's adventures preventing her from sharpening her
weapons on Sir Henry; as a last resource, she affected headache and
extreme fatigue, while she related, with touching frankness, the
accident she had sustained, making light of its danger, and most
ungratefully ignoring the gallantry of her preserver.

But all to no purpose--she deceived nobody. Uncle Joseph grew crustier
every moment, and Sir Henry, who was easily amused, smiled as he
bethought him that, but for the good looks of the lady, this ill-matched
couple reminded him forcibly of a monkey and a bear.

Goldthred, I need hardly observe, was always the same in the presence of
his mistress, absent, confused, over-polite, and prone to blush at short
notice. At no time did he aspire to be a vivacious companion, but in the
company of Mrs. Lascelles he became simply idiotic.

Helen, too, seemed absent and pre-occupied; of course, with the old
excuse, that she was over-tired. The weather had been so hot, the road
so dusty! and if she _had_ indeed expected to meet Captain Vanguard on
the Heath, his absence might perhaps have been accounted for more
satisfactorily than by the recital of his adventure with Miss Ross,
which met her immediately on her return. Dinner, therefore, in spite of
the cook's undoubted talents, progressed but heavily, and with long
intervals of silence, dispiriting in the extreme.

Later, in the drawing-room, it was worse. A light rain prevented egress
on the lawn, intrusive cockchafers, buzzing in at the open windows,
blundered drowsily about the lights; and--an unusual circumstance--when
coffee came, it was not only thick, but cold. The gentlemen were sleepy,
or pretended to be; Miss Ross was too tired to sing; and Helen sat by
herself, turning over the leaves of a photograph book.

Even Mrs. Lascelles found her animal spirits unequal to the pressure,
and, at an earlier hour than usual, made signals to retire for the
night.

Standing on the stairs, with a bedroom candle in her hand, she could
not forbear expressing to Miss Ross the sense of depression and low
spirits under which she laboured.

"If we're all to be as deadly-lively at Cliefden to-morrow," said she,
"our pic-nic won't be much fun. I believe I shall follow your example,
my dear, and drop quietly into the Thames."

"To come up again at Cremorne!" replied Jin, yawning drearily. "I'm
completely done up, Rose, and tired out. Good night."

Notwithstanding this protestation, however, Miss Ross lay awake many a
long hour after the other inmates of The Lilies, thinking, wishing,
doubting, for the first time in her life mistrusting her own powers, and
fearing there was a task before her she would be unequal to perform.



CHAPTER XII.

THE SYREN.


Could these be the same people assembled round a white table-cloth, held
down at the four corners by judicious pebbles, and covered as yet only
with plates and glasses, though hampers, half unpacked, much litter of
straw and scatter of paper, denoted that a plentiful feast was in
progress of preparation? The ice had not melted, nor were the eggs
broken, while even the salt had been remembered by a careful caterer,
who bethought him also of borage for the claret-cup, and mint-sauce for
the cold lamb. Last night's rain had cooled the air, though scarce a
cloud now flecked the calm, blue heaven, and a dazzling sky burnished
the Thames into floods of reflected sunshine. Beautiful Cliefden seemed
to realise the poet's dream of a very Arcadia, rich in gleams of light,
and deep cool masses of shade, in flicker of leaf, ripple of stream,
and song of birds; bright in the prime of her June loveliness, decked
with all her wealth of wood and water, clad in her holiday attire of
green and gold.

By the courtesy of one of the kindest and most generous of peers, the
party from The Lilies had permission to land and hold their revels in
this earthly paradise. Uncle Joseph himself dressing the salad with
great pomp and ceremony, vowed "the Duke was a trump of the first water,
and if ever he could do him a turn, he would!"

That gipsy Jin had once more coaxed her elderly admirer into perfect
good-humour and a return of entire confidence in herself. This desirable
reconciliation was effected by the frankness with which she asked to sit
by his side on the voyage hither, a distinction he was too angry to
offer, and a position indeed of no slight constraint and inconvenience,
inasmuch as he insisted on steering the boat, occupying for that purpose
a scanty perch, as little adapted to his proportions as would have been
the five-pound saddle in which a slim subaltern or undergraduate rides a
hurdle-race.

Here, like "lissome Vivien" twining herself about her Merlin's feet, she
coaxed him into good humour in ten minutes. Perhaps yesterday's practice
on the river had served to keep her hand in. No sooner were they fairly
under weigh, and the attention of the others distracted by a passing
barge, than she nestled to his side, crossed two taper forefingers under
his nose, and looking up in his face with a glance that mingled
affection and reproach in deadliest proportions, murmured the single
monosyllable, "Why?"

Uncle Joseph, neglecting his rudder, melted visibly. All the oars on
stroke side touched ground at once, and No. 2 caught a crab. Still he
did not choose to surrender over-hastily, and pulling hard at his
tiller-ropes, replied in a hoarse whisper:

"Miss Ross, you know your own business best, but I don't think you treat
me quite on the square."

"_Miss Ross!_" she repeated, and again those black reproachful eyes
would have pierced a rhinoceros, crackling and all. "I thought you were
never to call me by that hateful name again. I'm always to be 'Jin.'
Always, even when you're angry with me. And to tell you the truth, I
shouldn't have liked you _not_ to mind about what I did yesterday,
though indeed it wasn't my fault.

"Now, then, look ahead!" For a minute or two Uncle Joseph could think of
nothing but an Eton eight flashing down stream at the rate of twelve
miles an hour, threatening to cut him in two from stem to stern unless
he got out of the way. Not till this water-dragon was half a mile off
did he recover composure to put the pertinent question, "When you went
out yesterday, did you expect to meet Captain Vanguard on the river?"

"You _know_ I didn't," exclaimed Jin; "it's cruel to ask me!" Then out
came a long story, well-conceived, deftly constructed, and told with
such downcast glances, in such low pleading murmurs, with such pretty
little flashes of pique, and shades of penitence, and sparkles of fun,
all repressed and toned down not to be overheard, that, had the success
of their voyage depended on the steersman, I fear boat and crew and
passengers might have come to disastrous shipwreck at least a dozen
times between Maidenhead-reach and Cliefden landing-place.

But Jin at any rate succeeded in gaining a temporary haven, and dropped
her anchors to-day in Uncle Joseph's breast with a sense of triumph that
such moorings never afforded her before.

Mrs. Lascelles meanwhile had taken possession of Sir Henry, leaving Miss
Hallaton to the enforced attentions of Goldthred. Helen, I believe, in
her heart would have given a good deal to change places with "bow,"--a
sturdy knave, brawny, deep-chested, and curly as a retriever; nor was
she incapable of handling an oar for a short distance almost as
effectually as that skilled waterman. It would have been at least a
relief from her companion, whose politeness nevertheless was
unimpeachable as his conversation was correct and monotonous in the
extreme.

Such a dialogue as the following would have excited her mirth, but that
Helen just now seemed to have lost all sense of the ludicrous, with her
spirits, energy, and general interest in life:

"Don't you enjoy the water on a day like this, Miss Hallaton?"

"Immensely."

"There seems no chance of rain at present. I think the fine weather will
last us now till the moon changes."

"Probably."

"That's a great advantage, you know, for the people who have already got
their hay down."

"Undoubtedly."

"How smooth the boat goes, Miss Hallaton. A smooth row is--is--much
smoother, isn't it, and pleasanter, than a rough one?"

"Certainly."

"And this is a very nice row, I think," continued Goldthred, encouraged
by an approving glance from Mrs. Lascelles, to whom his eyes, like his
thoughts, were continually turned,--which accounted, indeed, for the
abnormal idiotcy of his conversation. "I shall be almost sorry when we
get to Cliefden; shan't you?"

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Helen, truthfully enough, but with a fervency that
startled herself, and caused her companion to retire from any further
attempts at small talk in confusion and dismay.

Sir Henry caught his daughter's eye, and could not help laughing.
Perhaps, much as he loved her, the only feeling of his child in which he
could thoroughly sympathise, was a certain susceptibility, inherited
from himself, of being bored, and a tendency to adopt the ridiculous
view even of so distressing a calamity.

He felt for her at present all the more that his own position was
perfectly to his taste--smoking an excellent cigar, propped by soft
cushions, with the summer sky above, the lap and wash of the cool water
around, pleasant company, a good luncheon in prospect, and a pretty
woman, half in love with him, shading his face with her parasol, while
her soft tones murmured in his ear. Sir Henry did not care how long the
voyage lasted, though prepared to accept its conclusion with the greater
resignation, that their party was to be reinforced at Cliefden by a few
agreeable acquaintances eking out the end of a gay Ascot week, and a
sprinkling of young officers from Windsor.

The latter addition was a bright thought of Mrs. Lascelles, who, being
thoroughly good-natured, intended it especially for Helen's
gratification. But, as she had no time to receive answers to her notes
of invitation before starting, and, like most women, imagined military
duties ceaseless and unvarying, she said nothing about the warlike
element for fear it should be unattainable, forbearing to raise the
young lady's hopes only that they might be destroyed. "I didn't like
being disappointed myself when I was a girl," thought Mrs. Lascelles.
"I'm not sure I like it a bit better now."

She was getting very fond of Helen, believed in her goodness, admitted
her beauty, and was, perhaps, the only person in the world who thought
her the image of her father.

In all matters of affection Mrs. Lascelles was clear-sighted enough, and
it did not escape her that Helen's spirits, during the last day or two,
had sunk lower than was natural at her time of life under no more
sedative influences than sunshine and dust. It was partly to rouse the
girl from her depression, as well as for purposes of her own, that she
commanded Goldthred to place himself at Miss Hallaton's disposal; but
certain suspicions that the young lady required a more warlike vassal
than this obedient slave, were much strengthened by the light that
sparkled in her eyes when, nearing Cliefden, a group of gentlemen became
visible on the landing-place, in the midst of whom she could not mistake
the shapely form of Frank Vanguard.

Mrs. Lascelles, you see, had a good afternoon's work on hand. A score of
people to entertain, couples to pair, flirtations to encourage, and
Jin's vagaries to overlook, lest she should drive Uncle Joseph beyond
the bounds of patience; besides keeping Sir Henry at her own
apron-string, while enacting the part of a blue-eyed Cleopatra to that
laziest and least warlike of Antonys.

Half-a-dozen swinging, vigorous jerks, an exclamation of pleasure from
the passengers, an "easy all!" in gruff syllables from "Stroke," and the
galley poised her oars, as a sea-bird spreads her pinions, ere she folds
them to alight. The officers cheered, the ladies chattered, greetings
were exchanged, muslins shaken out, parasols unfurled--a cool air stole
across the water, a blackbird struck up from the copse, the leaves
danced, the boat danced, the sunshine danced, the scene was all colour,
motion, and variety, like a ballet after Watteau, set to music by
Offenbach.

In these days it is the affectation of society to be natural, and nobody
can dispute the advantage of such a change from that pompous reserve and
frozen insensibility which represented good-breeding some
five-and-twenty years ago. The party gathered round their table-cloth on
the grass at Cliefden, if more polished, were as joyous and merry as so
many lads and lasses at a fair. Of course it took some little time
before luncheon could be got ready, of course it was necessary to walk
about during the interval, of course people paired off for that purpose.
Nobody goes to a pic-nic, I imagine, with the view of discussing grave
subjects in full conclave--forbid it! faun and satyr, nymph and dryad,
forest-fairy and bottle-imp, the genius of the woodland, the goblin of
the cave, all the spirits of the hamper, the corkscrew, and the rill!

No; for us seniors, let there be flowing cups, though temperate, cooled
with ice, and spiced with fragrant herbs--a cunning pasty, a piece of
resistance, thus named because irresistible, egg-sandwiches, French
mustard, a currant-tart, and a parti-coloured _mayonnaise_. So shall we
flavour the repast with quip and jest, with merry, quaint conceit and
pointed anecdote, pleasant or pathetic, yet, in pity, not too long! But,
as for you young people, off with you, while we uncork the wine! Climb
the bank, if you know it, "whereon the wild-thyme grows;" dive into the
recesses of the forest, its paths are only wide enough for two;

    "Look in the lily-bell, ruffle the rose,
    Under the leaves of the violet peep."

Reflect how pleasant it is to gather strawberries with a _Mademoiselle
Thérèse_ in the wood of _Malieu_.

    "Quand on est deux,
    Quand on est deux,"

make the most of your golden hour, but come back again ere you have kept
your elders waiting too long for luncheon, ere you yourselves have said
or done anything that shall cause a moment's regret in the reaction that
comes after happiness, as surely as darkness follows day.

Uncle Joseph, I have said, was preparing the salad, therefore Miss Ross
found herself at liberty to indulge in such devilries as were consistent
with the Satanic element in her nature. It was not likely she would
abstain from a shot or two at Frank Vanguard, if only to "get the
range," as it were, of her batteries previous to real work. She accosted
him with exactly the right mixture of diffidence and interest, held his
hand for just one second more than enough; and even contrived to raise a
blush on her pale face, while, meeting his eyes very shyly, she
whispered, in answer to his inquiries--"I haven't caught cold, and I'm
none the worse, and certainly none the better! And I shouldn't at all
mind undertaking the whole expedition over again."

Why wasn't it Helen? Again, through growing interest and gratified
vanity, rose almost unconsciously that wistful thought; but Helen saw it
all, and bit her lip, looking very cold and pale, whilst she turned from
his greeting with a distant bow, beseeching Mr. Goldthred, whom, it now
occurred to her, she had treated with less than civility, to gather her
a water-lily floating near the bank, and so detaching him from the
others, unintentionally constituted him her "pair." These things are
soon done, you see, when people pounce for partners, as if they were
playing puss-in-the-corner, and nobody wants to be "left out in the
cold."

The moments were very precious, and would have passed even more quickly
than they did, but that the couples were all hungry, and quite as ready
for luncheon as love-making. Sir Henry, indeed, absolutely refused to
move a step from the shady nook in which he had ensconced himself, and
Mrs. Lascelles made her position as hostess an excuse for not
accompanying a beardless subaltern in a climb after ferns up a
perpendicular bank, feathered to the top with those graceful exotics of
the forest. This enterprising youth, not yet dismissed the
riding-school, thought it incumbent on him to place his cheerful society
at her disposal, whom he irreverently designated "the loudest swell of
the lot;" but seemed relieved, nevertheless, by her refusal of his
attentions, and subsided with extreme good-will into his
cornet-a-piston--an instrument on which he played sundry negro melodies
with great enjoyment and no contemptible execution.

It had been agreed that, directly luncheon was ready, he should summon
the stragglers by performing a popular air called "The Roast-beef of Old
England," into which, as he threatened, he threw his whole mind,
embroidering it with masterly variations founded on a "call," well-known
in barracks as the solemn warning:

    "You'll lose your beef and pudding, my boys,
    You'll lose your beef and pud--ding."

Goldthred had only wetted one sleeve to the shoulder, and thrust the
corresponding foot ankle-deep in mud, while fishing water-lilies for
Miss Hallaton, ere these welcome sounds released him from attendance,
and he brought her back in triumph--looking to Mrs. Lascelles, as little
Jack Horner might, from the corner in which he boasted, "What a good boy
am I!" She rewarded him as you reward a retriever, if not too wet, by
giving him her shawl to take care of.

Uncle Joseph, too, had been so engrossed with the salad, that Miss Ross
was at his elbow again almost before he missed her, though, short as had
been her absence, I cannot doubt she made the best use of her time.

Much may be done, if I remember right, in a few minutes, when paths are
steep as well as narrow, when glades are deep and dark even under a
midsummer sun, when two people are inclined, if only for pastime, to
engage in that game from which a loser so often rises under the
impression that he has won.

It was the old story--Miss Ross, with all her craft, was playing stakes
she could ill afford. In the attachments, as in other relations of life,
wise is that aphorism of the canny Scot, "Reach not out your hand
farther than you can draw it back again." Ere she rejoined the others,
Jin felt she must win at any sacrifice, she could not get her hand back
now; she would not if she could.

Frank, sitting down to cut open a pigeon pie, felt half-pleased,
half-penitent. Like a child being tickled, he was inclined both to laugh
and to resist.

He looked remorsefully across the table-cloth at Miss Hallaton, but that
perverse young woman, obstinately avoiding his glance, persisted in
being amused by the cornet-player's buffooneries, wishing drearily all
the while that she had never come. Frank thought he too could be
indifferent; so the breach widened, from the breadth of the table-cloth
to a gulf that could only be bridged over by loving memories and painful
thoughts, as the lake is spanned by the rainbow, that owes its very
existence to a shower of Nature's tears.

Undoubtedly there is a deal of self-love mixed up with these tender woes
and joys. If vanity constitutes much of their pleasure, surely it
produces more than half their pain. "_Plus aloes quam mellis habet_,"
says the Roman satirist; and perhaps, after all, the honey would be very
insipid without the sting.

But a pic-nic is no place for indulgence of reflection or regret. The
party had landed at Cliefden for enjoyment, and were determined to grasp
the shadow of happiness if not the substance thereof. So corks flew and
tongues wagged merrily, the cold lamb waned, the _mayonnaise_
disappeared, the currant-tart bled freely.

"And when the pie was opened, the birds began to sing," so, at least,
said the young subaltern, now in a state of exceedingly high spirits;
"and why shouldn't the ladies?" he added, looking round him with
condescending affability. "I'll accompany any or all of them to any tune
or in any direction she pleases. Though I'm humble, I'm industrious; and
if I seem too weak for the place, you must suit yourselves 'elsewheres;'
for, to do man's work, I must have man's wages, and I ain't half so soft
as I look!"

"You're a very impudent boy," said Mrs. Lascelles, laughing; "but you're
rather good fun, and it's not a bad suggestion. Now, who will give us a
song?"

There seemed rather a lack of volunteers. The original proposer vowed he
could neither drink nor sing unless after a lady. He was shy, he said,
and blushed under his skin, therefore nobody gave him credit for
modesty. Helen felt something in her throat that warned her she must
burst out crying, unless she kept it down. One had a cold, others could
not remember any words, so it soon came round to Miss Ross, "who was
always so good-natured; everybody was sure she wouldn't disappoint
them!"

Jin never made any fuss about her singing.

"What shall it be?" she asked Uncle Joseph, who never knew one tune from
another, but vastly enjoyed the proprietorship inferred by such an
appeal.

"Oh, that pretty air from the--the----Well, you know the one I mean; or,
or--anything you please, dear Miss Ross; they're all charming." And
Uncle Joseph passed his cigar-case round, with the look of a man who had
acquitted himself handsomely of a difficult and delicate task.

"I'll sing you a new one I got the other day," said Jin, flashing
another of her dangerous glances through the smoke that was curling
round Frank Vanguard's comely face. "It's called, 'Yes--I like you,' and
there's _a moral_ in it. Thanks! It does best without an accompaniment,"
and, looking very bewitching as she pushed her hair back, she began:

             "YES--I LIKE YOU."

    When I meet you, can I greet you
      With a haughty little stare?
    Scarcely glancing, where you're prancing,
      By me on the chestnut mare.
    Still dissembling, though I'm trembling,
      Thus you know we're trained and taught.
    For I like you, doesn't it strike you?
      Like you more than p'raps I ought!
    Yes--I like you, doesn't it strike you?
      Like you more than p'raps I ought!

    When I meet you, must I treat you
      As a stranger, calm and cold,
    Softer feeling, half revealing,--
      Are you _waiting_ to be told?
    D' you suppose, sir, that a rose, sir,
      Picks _itself_ to reach your breast?
    And I like you, doesn't it strike you?
      Like you more than all the rest.
    Yes--I like you, &c.

    When I meet you, I could eat you,
      Dining with my Uncle John;
    Sitting next you, so perplexed, you
      Ought to guess my heart is gone.
    While I'm choking, 'tis provoking
      You can munch, and talk, and drink,
    Though I like you, doesn't it strike you?
      Like you more than you may think!
    Yes--I like you, &c.

    When I meet you, I could beat you,
      For your solemn face and glum.
    Don't you see, sir, _you_ are free, sir,
      I have all the worst to come!
    Mother's warning, sisters' scorning--
      Qualms of prudence, pride and pelf.
    Oh! I like you--doesn't it strike you?
      Like you more than life itself!
    Yes--I like you, &c.

There was no mistaking the hint conveyed in this touching ditty; but
whether he accepted it or not, the song was hardly concluded ere Frank
took leave of the company. Certain regimental duties, he said, looking
hard at Helen, required his presence in barracks, and therefore he had
come on horseback, so as to return at his own time. He regretted it
extremely, of course. He had spent a delightful day, and could not thank
his entertainers enough. This civil little speech he addressed indeed to
Uncle Joseph and Mrs. Lascelles, but his eyes sought Miss Hallaton's the
while, and their imploring expression cut her to the heart.

There is a code of signals in use amongst young people situated as these
were, far more intelligible than that employed by her Majesty's Navy or
the Royal Yacht Squadron. They never shook hands, they exchanged no
good-bye, but Helen hoisted something in reply to his flag of distress
that appeared perfectly satisfactory to both. Though Miss Ross looked
longingly after him as he went away, Frank never turned to meet her
glance; and Helen, thoroughly enjoying the homeward trip at sunset,
seemed in better spirits and more like herself than she had been all
day.

Mrs. Lascelles was puzzled. She had missed the exchange of signals, and
could not make it out.



CHAPTER XIII.

SUNDAY IN LONDON.


There is a late train from Maidenhead to Paddington that always reminds
me of Charon's bark chartered to carry deceased passengers across the
Styx. It seems, like that fatal ferry-boat, to fix a limit between two
separate stages of existence,--the river, the flowers, the cup, the
pleasant friends, the tender well-wisher, in short, "the bright
precincts of the cheerful day," and that dark region, forbidding though
unavoidable, where we meet our fellow-creatures on more equal, more
practical, more distant, and more uncomfortable terms.

Goldthred, who was obliged to be in London the same night, sank into the
lowest depths of despondency while bidding adieu to Mrs. Lascelles and
her party, as they embarked under a purple sunset for their homeward
voyage. He felt sadly alone in the world, even at the station, and
getting into a vast and gloomy compartment, of which he was sole
occupant, under a dim lamp, began to reflect seriously on life and its
vexations. His cigars were done, his boots were wet, he suffered from
headache, heartache, and premonitory symptoms of a dreadful disorder
called the fidgets. Had he only known that Frank Vanguard, who got in at
Slough, was in the very next carriage, how gladly would he have
communicated with that migratory young officer, by knocking, shouting,
or any other riotous mode of attracting attention; but, for aught he
could tell, there was no passenger in the train but himself, and the
sense of solitude became nearly insupportable. Passing Hanwell, he found
himself envying the unfortunate inmates their varied society, and the
liveliness of their manners. Goaded at last by his reflections, and
summoning that most daring of all courage which is furnished by despair,
he resolved to turn over a new leaf, to assert himself and his own
value, to push the siege briskly, and asking Mrs. Lascelles an important
question point-blank, stand or fall by her answer like a man. _Se faire
valoir_, he well knew, was the winning game; but, alas! the more
precious the heart the lower the price it seems to place on itself, and
Goldthred, with all his short-comings, possessed in his character a vein
of the true metal, which makes men honest servants if not successful
masters. Taking counsel, then, of his very fears, he determined to open
the trenches by organising another pic-nic, somewhere lower down the
river, to which he would invite all the party of to-day, and such other
additions from London as he considered worthy of the honour. Miss
Hallaton, of course. Nice girl, Miss Hallaton, and civil to _him_!
Distant, but that was manner. Ah! she would make a charming wife to a
fellow who admired that kind of beauty. It was not _his_ style, of
course; and with this reflection, the image of a lovely laughing face,
and a pair of kind blue eyes, seemed to brighten even the gloom of his
dismal railway carriage.

Thinking of Mrs. Lascelles somehow called Sir Henry unpleasantly to
mind. And he bethought him how that easy-going personage had expressed
certain vague intentions of starting on an expedition of his own, to see
some yearlings, leaving his daughter at The Lilies. "Then I'll write to
Miss Hallaton herself," thought Goldthred. "Why shouldn't I? That will
prevent the possibility of a mistake, and perhaps Mrs. Lascelles won't
quite like it. I wonder if she would care. I _couldn't_ make her
unhappy, the angel, to save my life, but I wish I was sure I had the
power."

By the time he reached Paddington, Goldthred's spirits had risen
considerably, as is usually the case with a man who has resolved to take
his own part; and, after extricating an overblown rose from his
button-hole, and planting it carefully in the neck of his water-bottle,
he went to bed, feeling keenly that the time was fast approaching to
decide his fate, and that the next week, or say, perhaps, ten days, must
settle his business and make him "a man or a mouse."

In pursuance of this desperate resolution he rose the following morning
in time for church, and betook himself after service to his usual Sunday
resort, the Cauliflower Club. Here, seated at a desert of writing-table,
in a vast and dismal library, he had an opportunity of comparing the
gloom that reigned within and without this sanctuary of his sex.
Foreigners can seldom recall unmoved the memories of a Sunday in London.
Whether it is because the shops are shut, or the streets unwatered, or
the upper classes invisible, I know not, but certainly on that holy day
of rest and rejoicing, our bustling metropolis looks grim and deserted
as a city of the dead. Doubtless, everybody goes out of town that can.
Those who remain, thinking it, I presume, either eccentric or wicked to
be seen abroad, hide themselves with extraordinary caution and success.
The same dulness seems to pervade all parts of the town, except,
perhaps, those very poor districts in which vice and want allow their
vassals no change, no relaxation from the daily round of dirt,
discomfort, and sin. You may traverse Tyburnia and scarce meet a human
creature. Belgrave Square is sombre and noiseless as the catacombs. A
single Hansom represents traffic, vitality, and commercial prosperity
throughout Mayfair, Piccadilly, and St. James's Street. Go into Hyde
Park, you will observe one solitary soldier, and his inevitable
maid-servant, carrying her prayer-book wrapped in a cotton
pocket-handkerchief. Search Kensington Gardens, you will find that
beautiful woodland occupied by a sleeping ragamuffin, a child with its
sister, and a wandering female of weak intellect. From Brompton to
Billingsgate, from Mary-le-bone to the Minories, you will discover as
few passengers as you would see flies on a pane of glass at Christmas.
What becomes of the winter bluebottles I do not pretend to say, but of
the two-legged insects pervading our earth, I imagine that on Sundays
the males retire, like Goldthred, in countless swarms to their clubs.
Nevertheless, while he wrote the invitations, particularly Miss
Hallaton's, with exceeding care and a hard-nibbed pen, he found himself
the only occupant but one of the magnificent apartment, devoted to
literary labour by a judicious committee presiding over the economy of
the Cauliflower. Of the student thus sharing his solitude, and who might
or might not be an intimate acquaintance, nothing was visible but the
back of a curly brown head, as its wearer lay buried in an enormous
sofa, reading, or more probably, asleep. Club-manners, except in certain
professional circles where members are bound by their trade in a common
brotherhood, forbidding such outrages, Goldthred, even had he been
inclined, must have forborne from hurling books across the room,
stealing behind to flirt ink on his face, or adopting other such playful
modes of attracting notice, and assuring himself of the gentleman's
identity, so he continued to write with precision and perseverance,
leaving the room when he had finished, without discovering that its
other occupant was Frank Vanguard.

The two men were scarcely twenty feet apart, they could have assisted
each other considerably in their respective objects, they were thinking
at the same moment of the same person, yet for all practical purposes
they might as well have been in different counties.

Frank was not asleep--far from it; neither was he reading, though
wrapped in a train of thought produced by a novel he had been perusing
with unusual avidity and attention. His duties at the barracks had
detained him all the previous evening, and catching the last train, not
without difficulty, he succeeded in spending his Sunday in London, to
find himself with nothing to do when he got there. Truth to tell, Frank
was unsettled and unlike himself. He breakfasted without appetite at his
cheerful little bachelor lodgings, which were always kept ready, even
when the regiment was in London, and in which he slept perhaps half a
dozen times in a month. He dressed in unseemly haste, he sallied out
tumultuously, with no definite object, and took refuge at last in the
library of the Cauliflower, from sheer weariness of body and vacuity of
mind. He was so unaccustomed to weigh matters seriously, as affecting
the course of a whole lifetime, so unused to reflection on anything less
obvious than the front of a squadron or the speed of a horse, that he
felt really oppressed by the great argument going on in his own mind, as
to whether he could, or could not, struggle through existence without
asking Miss Hallaton to be his wife.

Young gentlemen of the present day are not an uxorious race, and Frank
was like his fellows. He appreciated, nobody more, the liberty of a
single man, and had imbibed from his elders, by precept, example, and
warning, a certain dread of restraints and monotony that must accompany
married life. But then, to sit opposite such a woman as Helen every
morning at breakfast, to have her all to himself, without scheming for
invitations, and watching for carriages; without necessity for being
civil to a chaperon, or making up to a father, why it seemed a heaven
upon earth, to attain which he would--yes, hang him if he wouldn't--give
up even the regiment itself.

Such being the frame of mind in which he sat down to read his novel, it
was but natural that the progress of his studies should have confirmed
any previous tendency to sentiment and domestic subjugation. This
eloquent work, in three volumes, purporting to furnish a picture of real
life, painted up a little, but not overdrawn, represented, of course, an
impossible heroine, a combination of circumstances that never could have
taken place, and a _jeune premier_ beautiful as Endymion; nor, judging
from his vagaries, apparently much less under the influence of the moon.
To use Frank's own expression, the scene that "fetched him," somewhere
about the middle of the third volume, ran as follows:

"A sunset of the tropics, or of paradise, crimson, orange, gold, the
plumage of the flamingo, the tints of the dying dolphin, were all
reflected in the deep pure eyes of that fair girl, as she leaned one
snowy arm on the balustrade, and peered out over the lake, herself
radiant as the sunset, loving as the flamingo, stern and resolved as the
dolphin in his death-pangs. 'He cometh not,' she muttered, 'he cometh
not!' and her fairy fingers, closing on the parapet, broke off a morsel
of the stonework with the grip and energy of a blacksmith. It fell with
a splash in the lake. Could this be the expected signal? Was that
important splash but the result of blind accident? Nay, was it not
rather the summons of a relentless Fate? Ere the circles that it made in
the limpid element had wholly disappeared, a boat was heard to grate
upon the shingle beneath the castle. A cloaked figure stood in the prow,
masked, booted, belted, and armed to the teeth. But when was true love
yet deceived by belts, boots, masks, or pistols? ''Tis he!' she
exclaimed, ''tis he!' and in another moment Lady Clara was in Roland's
arms, sailing, sailing on towards the sunset, never to part on earth,
never to part perhaps in----"

"Quite right too!" said Frank, closing the book with a bang. "Good
fellow! plucky girl! I'll be hanged if I won't have a shy! She can but
say 'No.' And if worst comes to worst, there's always the other to fall
back upon!"

So with this exceedingly disloyal and uncomplimentary adaptation of Miss
Ross as a _pis-aller_, Frank sat himself down at the table lately
occupied by Goldthred, to concoct a letter in which, with as little
circumlocution as possible, he should ask Miss Hallaton to be his wife.

Much mutual surprise was expressed by these two gentlemen, when, meeting
an hour later in Pall Mall, they discovered that they had been
fellow-travellers the night before, each in his own mind having envied
the good fortune of the other in remaining at Windsor. With such a topic
as their past pic-nic to discuss, and a certain indefinable instinct
that they had some mysterious interests in common, they soon merged out
of mere acquaintance into friendship, or that which the world calls
friendship--an alliance for mutual support and convenience, originating
in discreet regard for self. Further to cement this bond of brotherhood,
they dined together solemnly at their club, and parted heartily tired of
each other before eleven o'clock, going straight to bed, I verily
believe, in sheer despair. And thus it was that these unfortunates,
ardent lovers in their way, spent their Sunday in London.



CHAPTER XIV.

POST-TIME.


Sunday at The Lilies was far pleasanter to everybody concerned. Indeed,
notwithstanding the proverbial dulness of the day that succeeds a
festival, the female inmates of that charming little retreat were more
inclined to be frolicsome than usual. Their hilarity might partly be
accounted for by that principle of contradiction which prompts us all to
merriment on such occasions as demand unusual sobriety of demeanour. You
will observe children invariably predisposed to a romp on Sunday
morning. I think also that each lady had reason to be satisfied in
reviewing her afternoon's work of the day before. Mrs. Lascelles, if she
did not succeed in adding one single brick to the superstructure of her
castle in the air, believed she had, at least, consolidated its
foundations, and that Sir Henry became day by day more malleable, though
she felt constrained to admit the process of softening was exceedingly
gradual, and perceptible only to herself. Miss Ross had sundry topics
for reflection, all tending to self-gratulation. With Uncle Joseph, whom
we may call her "bird-in-the-hand," she had effected a thorough
reconciliation. She could perceive, by the unusual splendour of his
Sunday plumage, that he was more than ever enchanted with his captivity,
and meditated, at no distant period, some decided effort to render it
irrevocable. She felt confidence enough in her own tact to be sure she
could postpone such a catastrophe till it suited her convenience to
bring it about, and this delay, she decided, should depend entirely on
her progress in bagging her "bird-in-the-bush." That Frank Vanguard was
hit severely, and "under the wing," she did not doubt, nor, though
visited by painful misgivings, while she dwelt on the value of her prey,
was she without strong hopes that by watching a timely opportunity, and
making a brilliant "snapshot," she might prove too quick for her rival,
and pull him down like "a rocketer" over Miss Hallaton's head. This was
a pleasant dream for the future. She had, besides, a keen enjoyment to
look forward to in the immediate present. She was about to see her
boy--that alone would be happiness enough for a week! Nothing could be
easier than to steal away, as if for afternoon church, and speed to Mrs.
Mole's. From that garrulous old woman, too, she hoped to learn something
definite about Achille. Why he was in England? what were his relations
with the child? whether--and her heart bounded at the thought--it might
not be possible, through the agency of this humble old peasant-woman, to
obtain uncontrolled possession of her treasure? For such an object she
felt she would willingly forego the patronage of Mrs. Lascelles, the
vassalage of Uncle Joseph, home, position, prospects! Even Frank
Vanguard himself? On the last point she could not quite make up her
mind, so left it for future consideration.

With all these interests and occupations, Jin had yet found time to knit
a tiny pair of socks for her Gustave. Tears filled her eyes while she
pictured the delight of fitting them to his chubby little feet, that
very afternoon as he sat on her knee. Though she had many faults she was
yet a mother, and in mothers, even the most depraved, a well-spring of
natural affection is to be found as surely as milk in a cow.

Helen, too, returning radiant from morning church, looked, to use Sir
Henry's expression, "seven pound better" than the day before. Something
seemed to have infused fresh vitality into the girl's existence; but of
Helen's sentiments I cannot take upon me to furnish an analysis. In the
pure unsullied heart of a young and loving woman there are depths it is
desecration to fathom, feelings it is impossible to describe, and it
would be sacrilege to caricature. None are so thoroughly aware of this
as those who know what the bad can be in that sex, of which the good are
so excellent. Well for him, whose experience has lain amongst these
last, and who goes to his grave with trust unshaken in the most
elevating of earthly creeds--a belief in woman's love and woman's
truth--whose worship of her outward beauty is founded on implicit
confidence in the purity and fidelity of her heart! Such privileged
spirits walk lightly over the troubles of their journey through life, as
if they were indeed borne up by angels, "lest at any time they dash
their foot against a stone."

Sunday luncheon, then, at The Lilies was a pleasant and sociable meal
enough. Mrs. Lascelles, though surprised to find she _did_ miss
Goldthred a little, seemed in exuberant spirits, perhaps for that very
reason. The rest took their tone from her whom they considered their
hostess, and the repast, which differed only from dinner in the absence
of soup and fish, being excellent and elaborate, no wonder everybody was
in high good humour, and more disposed to talk than to listen.

The conversation at first turned upon yesterday's doings, and it is not
to be supposed that the dress, manners, looks, character, and
presumptive age of every other woman at the pic-nic escaped comment,
criticism, or final condemnation. Sir Henry, indeed, true to his
traditions, made a gallant stand in favour of one lady, the youngest of
the party, "a miss in her teens," as she was contemptuously designated
by his listeners, but found himself coughed down with great severity and
contempt. He couldn't mean that odious girl in green ribbons! She was
forward--she was noisy--she had freckles--she romped with Captain
Roe--she flirted with Mr. Driver--she was ugly, unlady-like, bad style.
Even Helen wondered quietly, "What papa could see in her? Though, to be
sure, he always admired red hair!"

Their friends thus summarily disposed of, with the first course, they
began talking about what they called "their plans." It seemed there was
to be an unavoidable break up on the morrow, mitigated, however, by
faithful promises from the absentees to return before the end of the
week.

"I won't ask you to stay here and lose your ball to-morrow night," said
Uncle Joseph, filling Helen's glass, with a kindly, half-protective air
affected by an elderly gentleman towards a young lady when he is not
fool enough to be in love with her. "I know what these things are at
your time of life, my dear. I used to like them myself, and danced, too,
I can tell you! We danced much harder in my day. But why shouldn't you
come back on Tuesday or Wednesday? See now, I'll arrange it all. You're
obliged to go to London to-morrow, you said, Rose, didn't you?"

"No help for it!" Mrs. Lascelles admitted. "I shall take my maid, sleep
at No. 40, and come down again next day."

"Then why shouldn't you take care of Miss Hallaton, and bring her back
with you?"

"Delightful!" assented his kinswoman. "And she can sleep at my house.
It's the next street to Lady Shuttlecock's, and Helen's chaperon can
drop her there after the ball. Sir Henry, will you trust her with me?"

Helen looked from Mrs. Lascelles to her father; the latter gave a joyful
affirmative.

"It will save me a fifty-miles journey," said he. "Helen goes to the
ball with her aunt, and if you bring her down again, I needn't travel
all the way to London to fetch her."

"But are you quite sure I shall not be troublesome?" asked Helen,
meekly, willing enough, however, to accept any arrangement that should
facilitate her attendance at a ball she seemed very loth to miss.

"Troublesome! my dear," repeated Mrs. Lascelles. "You don't know what a
pleasure it is to have you! I quite look forward to showing you my
pretty little house; and you shall sleep in Jin's room--unless you're
coming too?" she added, turning to Miss Ross.

The latter, glancing at Uncle Joseph, who tried hard to look
unconcerned, declined, with a bright smile. "She had nothing to tempt
her in London," she said, "unless she could be of use to Rose. She would
much rather stay in the pleasant country, and--and take care of Mr.
Groves!"

Uncle Joseph coloured with delight, and Jin felt that the cards were all
playing themselves into her hand. It was even possible that Frank
Vanguard might call to-morrow or the next day, whilst Helen was in
London. She was sure of one, if not two, interviews with her child.
Lastly, she would have a golden opportunity of showing Uncle Joseph how
pleasant she could make his house while entertaining himself and his
friends.

"You'll come back to dinner now, Hallaton," said the host, "as you're
not due in town? I've asked one or two neighbours and their wives.
What's more to the purpose, there's a haunch of venison."

Even that gastronomic temptation, however, was insufficient to affix
certainty to any of Sir Henry's movements. "He was going to see some
yearlings sold," he said--"the trains were all at variance. He should
hope to get back the same day, but hadn't an idea whether he could.
Helen, who understood 'Bradshaw,' said _not_. All he knew was, he had to
meet Mr. Weights, the trainer, at Ascot to-morrow at ten. He should be
obliged to get up in the middle of the night!"

"_Must_ you go so early?" asked Mrs. Lascelles, with a sympathising
smile.

"No help for it," answered Sir Henry resignedly. "Shall have to
breakfast at nine. Such is life!"

So Mrs. Lascelles managed to rise early the following morning, and come
down to pour out Sir Henry's coffee, looking exceedingly fresh and
handsome the while; but it is probable she might have saved herself the
trouble, and enjoyed at least two hours' more beauty-sleep, had she
foreseen that Helen would also be in the breakfast-room to keep papa
company, as was her custom during his morning meal.

So Sir Henry, after an exceedingly hasty repast, started off, with a
cigar in his mouth, of course, for the congenial society of a trainer,
and the delightful occupation of looking at untried thorough-bred stock
that he could not afford to buy, leaving the ladies to such devices of
their own as might while away their morning till the welcome hour of
post-time.

"Letters! letters!" exclaimed Jin, who always took upon herself to
superintend its arrival, departure, and, indeed, all arrangements
connected with the correspondence at The Lilies; "two for Helen, one for
Rose, one for me, and five for Mr. Groves,"--while she dealt from a
packet in her hand these several missives to their respective owners,
each of whom received the boon with gratitude, except Uncle Joseph.

Women, I believe, always like to get letters. To their craving
dispositions, I imagine bad news is better than none; and they prefer
the excitement of sorrow to the stagnation of no excitement at all. Even
towards Christmas, when the majority of written communications tend to
disturb our enjoyment of the season, only from male lips is heard the
fervent thanksgiving, "No letters? What a blessing!" The ladies, I am
persuaded, would rather receive reminders from their dress-makers, than
feel themselves cut off from all interest in the daily mail.

Uncle Joseph, who expected but little gratification from his epistles,
and under the most favourable conditions reflected they would mostly
require answers, retired with a growl to peruse them in his own den.
Where we may leave him to their full enjoyment, preferring to remain in
the bright and cheerful morning-room with the ladies.

Miss Ross read her letter with a smile of considerable amusement, and a
mischievous glance at Mrs. Lascelles.

"From Goldie," said she, "and tolerably coherent, considering the poor
thing's state of mind. Do you hear, Rose? I have actually got a letter
from _your_ Mr. Goldthred!"

"So have I," said Mrs. Lascelles quietly.

"So have I," echoed Helen; "I had no idea he wrote so nice a hand."

Comparing their several communications, the three ladies discovered that
this painstaking correspondent had written in precisely the same terms
to each, requesting, with no little formality, the pleasure of their
company at his proposed pic-nic. To so polite a circular all admitted it
was a thousand pities a refusal must be sent; but, alas! Goldthred had
selected for his party a day fixed for one of those breakfasts in the
vicinity of London at which everybody asked thinks it necessary to
appear, while the uninvited decline other engagements, partly in hopes
of a card at the last moment, partly that they may not publish their
exclusion from this suburban paradise, to their friends.

It cost Helen some minutes' study to frame her refusal of Mr.
Goldthred's invitation.

She was little in the habit of writing to gentlemen, and entertained
grave doubts as to the manner in which a young lady ought to address her
correspondents of the other sex. To begin "Sir" she considered decidedly
too formal. "Dear Mr. Goldthred" would be too familiar. After spoiling
two sheets of note-paper, she resolved that "Dear Sir" was the correct
thing, and sat down to write her note accordingly, with a beating heart
and an exceedingly good pen.

It was not Mr. Goldthred's invitation, however, that caused this
derangement of Helen's circulation, that brought the light to her eyes,
the colour to her cheeks. She had received Frank Vanguard's letter by
the same post, and reading it, as she was forced to do, in the presence
of the others, could scarce keep down a little cry of rapture and
surprise at its contents. She walked away, indeed, to the window, so as
to hide her face from her companions, and took the earliest opportunity
of escaping to her own room, that she might devour it over and over
again in solitude, but was presently drawn from that refuge by certain
energetic housemaids, and compelled to return to the drawing-room
without delay, inasmuch as the post left The Lilies again before
luncheon. Such a letter as Frank's required an immediate answer, however
short it might be, and Helen's was indeed of the shortest. She felt that
until she had consulted her father, it was better not to pour out on
paper the feelings thrilling at her heart. A very few words would serve
to convey her sentiments in the mean time, so a couple of lines were
considered enough to let Frank know that, as far as the young lady
herself was concerned, his proposals should be favourably entertained.

It was very provoking, to be sure, that papa was out of the way, and
that his absence was of such doubtful duration; still he would surely
approve when he learned all particulars, and a day or two did not seem
long to wait after weeks of uncertainty and anxiety. All at once Helen
felt as if she had known Captain Vanguard her whole life, and never
cared a straw for any other creature on earth. Her heart leaped to think
there was a chance of meeting him to-night at Lady Shuttlecock's. He
would be sure to guess she was going. Of course he would be there!

So, with a quickened pulse, as I have said, but affecting much outward
composure, Miss Hallaton daintily folded two neat little packets, and
addressed them, notwithstanding her agitation, in a perfectly steady
handwriting, to William Goldthred, Esq., and Captain F. Vanguard,
respectively, each at the Cauliflower Club, St. James's, S.W. Then she
dropped them in a letter-box that stood under the clock in the front
hall, and felt so happy she could have sung aloud for joy.

But a pair of lynx-eyes had been watching Helen's movements; a keen and
busy brain was working eagerly to account for every change in the girl's
demeanour, from the first flush of pleasure with which she read her
letters to the buoyant step and joyous air with which she re-entered the
drawing-room after depositing their answers in the box. Miss Ross knew
well enough that a communication from Goldthred was insufficient to
produce this unusual agitation, and a keen instinct of jealousy
whispered that Helen's other letter must be from Frank Vanguard.

Jin's pale face turned paler at the thought, but it was her nature to
confront a difficulty as soon as suspected; to overcome it
unscrupulously and without regard to the means employed, if it really
stood in her way.

She would have given a great deal to see the letter Helen read over half
a dozen times under her very eyes, but how was that possible when it lay
safely stowed away in the breast of a morning gown? No; the letter was
doubtless out of reach, but she could get some information surely from
its answer!

A walk before luncheon had been agreed on, at the instigation indeed of
Miss Ross, who wanted her afternoon clear for a visit to Mrs. Mole. She
was ready before the others; and while they were putting their bonnets
on, ran down-stairs with a jug of warm water, to the astonishment of the
housemaid, who heard her say she was going to water some plants in the
library. Then she fidgeted backwards and forwards from the hall to the
drawing-room, and Mrs. Lascelles, coming out of the latter apartment,
found her bending over the letter-box.

"What are you about, Jin?" said her friend. "Helen and I have been
looking for you in the conservatory."

"Only posting my answer to Goldie," replied Miss Ross with a laugh.
"Don't be jealous, Rose. He'll show it to you, I'm sure, if you ask
him."

But she seemed absent and pre-occupied during their walk, though more
cordial and affectionate in her manner to Helen than she had ever been
before.



CHAPTER XV.

BETWEEN CUP AND LIP.


Never in her life, perhaps, had Helen enjoyed anything so much as her
afternoon's journey to London with Mrs. Lascelles. The smiling landscape
on either side the railroad looked fairer, brighter, more like _home_
than ever, when seen under a glow of celestial light radiating from a
happy heart. For her, that seemed a glory, shining direct from paradise,
which was to her companion but a glare of heat and discomfort, dazzling,
scorching--worse, unbecoming in the extreme.

"It's good for the country, my dear, that's a comfort; but I'm sure it's
fatal to one's complexion," said Mrs. Lascelles, vainly endeavouring to
combine the shelter of a blind with the draught from an open window at
forty miles an hour. "If they're to make hay when the sun shines, now's
their time. How provoking! We shall have him in here. I _told_ the guard
we wanted this carriage to ourselves. Dear Helen, can't you look as if
you'd got the mumps?"

But dear Helen was possibly not desirous of assuming so disfiguring a
malady, for the unwelcome passenger put his head into their compartment,
and, being a man of the world, sued in _formâ pauperis_ for an
accommodation to which he was entitled by the purchase of his
first-class ticket. He did _not_ say, "I have as good a right here as
you, having paid my fare;" but, lifting his hat, stepped quietly in with
a smiling apology for disturbing them. "The train is so full," said he,
"I cannot find room even second class. I hope I shall not be much in
your way."

We all know how readily the sex are disarmed by cool audacity veiled
under a respectful manner. The "odious creature" became "a pleasant
gentleman-like man" on the spot, and Picard--for it was none other--so
ingratiated himself with the ladies that, when he left them at
Paddington, they burst forth simultaneously in praise of his appearance,
his manners, his whiskers, his white hat, everything that was his.

"Must be a foreigner," declared Helen. "He's so well-bred!"

This, I have observed, is a favourite feminine fallacy, not to be
exploded but by much continental travel in mixed society.

"Must be _somebody_!" chimed in Mrs. Lascelles. "I am sure I know his
face. I think he drives a drag. I declare, Helen, I'll bow to him if I
meet him anywhere about."

"So will I," said Helen; and forgot his existence forthwith.

Was she not even now in the same town with Frank Vanguard--treading the
same pavement, breathing the same air (and smoke)?

"We'll have one turn for health in the Park," said Mrs. Lascelles, as
the two ladies seated themselves in her open carriage. "You know you're
in my charge to-day, Helen; and I mean to bring you out in what your
papa calls the 'best possible form.' To-night, dear, I'm determined you
shall win all your engagements!"

So her stout and florid coachman, shaving the kerbstone to an inch,
turned under the Marble Arch at a liberal twelve miles an hour, which
subsided into three before he reached Grosvenor Gate, and so, losing his
identity in a double column of carriages, brilliant and glittering as
his own, commenced the performance of that imposing function--grand,
deliberate, and funereal--which is solemnised every lawful day in Hyde
Park between six and half-past seven p.m. Barouches, sociables,
tax-carts, Victorias, every kind of wheeled conveyance, were wedged
three-deep in the road. All the chairs on the footway were occupied, and
the path was blocked with walkers to the rails. Mounted policemen,
making themselves ubiquitous, pranced about and gesticulated with
unusual vehemence. Those on foot ferried passengers across the drive at
intervals, majestically rebuking for that purpose the horse and his
rider, the charioteer, and the foaming, highly-bitted animal he
controlled.

It was once said of London by a visitor, I believe, from Dublin, that
"you could not see the town for the houses." Here, in this high tide of
humanity, you could not see the people for the crowd.

"Not a soul in the Park!" observed Mrs. Lascelles, languidly scanning
the myriads that surrounded her.

"I can't think where they get to," said Helen. "Nobody ever seems to
come here that one knows."

But a vivid blush rose to her temples while she spoke. So becoming was
its effect, that a young man, leaning against the rails, extricating his
intellect for a moment out of vacancy, exclaimed to his companion:

"_Caramba!_ Jack!"--he had once been at Gibraltar for a week, and piqued
himself on swearing in Spanish--"_Caramba!_ Jack! what a good-looking
girl! Who is she?"

And Jack, never at a loss, detailed her private history forthwith,
identifying her as the daughter of a foreign minister, and furnishing
his friend with a jaw-breaking German name, impracticable to pronounce,
even had it been possible to remember. But the origin of this young
lady's confusion occupied a position far beyond these pedestrian
admirers, and was, indeed, none other than Frank Vanguard, taking the
air on a very desirable hack amongst several equestrians of the season,
but so partitioned off from Helen by dandies, dowagers, peers,
commoners, and servants in livery, to say nothing of an iron railing,
that, for all gratification to be obtained from his society, he might as
well have been the other side of the Serpentine.

He saw her, though, that was some comfort. So did Mrs. Lascelles,
confirming thereby into certainty the suspicions she entertained that
Helen cherished a real affection for this captivating dragoon.

"She's a dear girl," thought that quick-sighted lady; "and Jin shall not
interfere with her. He's tolerably well off. They might both do worse;
and Sir Henry would like it. Home, John!"

So, although Frank sent his hack along as fast as our police-regulations
permit, in order to catch a glimpse of his charmer while she left the
Park at Albert Gate, he was rewarded only with a back view of Mrs.
Lascelles's carriage, ornamented by a boy and a basket taking a free
passage to their next destination.

"Never mind," thought the rider. "I can't miss seeing her to-night at
Battledore House. We'll put it all right in the tea-room. I _think_
she'll say, 'Yes.' Why shouldn't she? My darling, I'll make you as happy
as ever I can."

I wonder if the hack thought his master's caress at this moment was
bestowed entirely for his own sake. He shook his dainty head as if he
did, rolling his shoulders, and rising into one or two managed gambols,
as he bore Frank homewards at a canter.

To meet one's lady-love at an exceedingly smart ball with the desperate
intention of proposing to her then and there, ought to be excitement
enough, in all conscience, for any one day; but, during the London
season, people cram a week's work into twenty-four hours, and Frank had
yet a good deal to do before he could find himself in that tea-room at
Battledore House, to which he looked forward so longingly, and with the
recesses of which his previous experience, I fear, had rendered him
unjustifiably familiar.

A protracted mess-dinner to meet an illustrious personage must first be
gone through. It would be impossible to leave the barracks till that
personage gave the signal for breaking up; and although a London ball is
the latest of all festive gatherings, Frank, I think, was the only
individual present, at an early hour of the morning, who felt anything
but regret when the guest, who had thus honoured them, taking a kind and
cordial farewell of his entertainers, announced himself ready to depart.

"If I can get there by two," thought the young officer, "I may catch her
before she leaves. It's just my luck to have tumbled into this d----d
thing, when I wanted to be elsewhere!"

Thus, you see, does one man undervalue privileges which another perhaps
esteems the height of human felicity. Of all Thackeray's keen touches,
there are none keener than that in which Lord Steyne says, "Everybody
wants what they haven't got. 'Gad, I dined with the King yesterday, and
we'd boiled mutton and turnips!"

"We're late, Frank," said young Lord Kilgarron. "Jump into my brougham.
It will get us there quicker than a cab. Battledore House, Tom. Drive
like blazes!" The last to a smart lad in livery, who obeyed this
injunction to the letter, as Lord Kilgarron leaped lightly in after his
friend, and banged to the door.

"I _must_ go," added his lordship. "She's my aunt, you know. What's the
_use_ of an aunt, Frank? I get very little good out of mine. Now a
_grandmother's_ a decent kind of relationship. Mine gave me the very
mare we're driving--half-sister to Termagant. She's a rum 'un, I can
tell you!"

"A fast one, I see," remarked Frank, with much composure, considering
they were now whirling past the lamps at a gallop.

"Is it fast?" demanded his companion, exultingly. "Wouldn't she have won
the Garrison Cup at the Curragh last year, as sure as ever she was
saddled, only the fools ran the race at a walk, and never began at all
till the finish!"

Lord Kilgarron was a thorough Irishman, devoted to sport, reckless of
danger, and possessing the knack, indigenous to his countrymen, of
hitting off graphic description by a happy blunder.

"She can go," he added, "and she can stay. That mare, sir, would gallop
for a week. Faith, an' she's running off now!"

She was, indeed! The Termagant blood, roused by contradiction and an
injudicious pull at that side of her mouth which had not been rendered
callous in training, rose to boiling pitch. Irritation, resentment, and
fear of subsequent punishment, combined to madden her. A frantic rise at
her collar, a plunge, a lift of her shapely quarters, that only the
strongest of kicking-straps prevented from dissevering the whole
connection, and the mare was fairly out of her driver's hands, and
swinging down Piccadilly with a brougham and two dandies behind her,
almost as fast as she ever swept across the Curragh of Kildare.

"This is too good to last long," observed Frank, as, shaving a
lamp-post, they slued across the street, almost into the panels of a
stationary cab, causing its driver to swear hideously in the vulgar
tone. "But it is the only chance of being in time!"

"We'll pull through, well enough, bar lepping!" answered the other, a
touch of the brogue rising under excitement with mellow fluency to his
lips. "Ye done it now, by the vestment!" he added, while half-sister to
Termagant, cannoning from the broad wheel of an early vegetable waggon,
against which she cut her shoulder to the bone, lost her foothold, and
fell with a crash on the slippery pavement, bursting every strap and
buckle of her harness, smashing into fragments lamps, shafts, and
splash-board, to bring the whole carriage, with its contents, atop of
her in headlong confusion. "Hurt, Kil?" demanded Frank, rising from the
footway, on which he had gone a shooter through the swinging door, over
the entire person of his friend.

"Landed on my head!" answered Kilgarron, as esteeming the fact a
sufficient assurance of safety. "Where's Tom?"

"Here, my lord," replied that invincible functionary, with a cut on his
pate that, to use his master's expression, would have "bothered an
Irishman." "I've got your lordship a cab." Tom having indeed hailed one
of these peripatetic vehicles while in the act of regaining his feet to
secure the mare from destructive struggles by kneeling on her head.

In such a thoroughfare as Piccadilly, assistance is to be found even at
two in the morning. Ere long the mare was again on her legs, at least on
three of them. The brougham was being towed, like a dismasted wreck,
into port; and the two passengers, having obtained clean water and the
use of a clothes-brush in a chemist's shop, alighted from their cab at
the door of Battledore House, "not a ha'porth the worse," as Kilgarron
said, "an' fit to take the floor with the best of them!"

This young nobleman was proud of his dancing, pluming himself especially
on a strict attention to time, which he called "humouring the tune."

But these untoward incidents befalling guests who were too late at any
rate, brought their arrival to a period when most others were departing,
and the ball seemed nearly over. Passing hastily through the crowd that
always clusters about an awning, and hurrying up the cloth-covered steps
with unseemly precipitancy, Frank became aware of his ill-luck when he
heard the fatal announcement, "Lady Sycamore's carriage stops the way!
Lady Sycamore coming out!"

Lady Sycamore was Helen's aunt and occasional chaperon. The Miss Planes,
her ladyship's daughters, without pretension to beauty, were large,
healthy, fresh-looking girls, of the dairy-maid style. Their mamma,
wisely resolving that, whatever charms they did possess should be
deteriorated as little as possible by bad air and want of sleep,
invariably withdrew her charges from ball, drum, or concert at the
earliest hour she could gather them under her wing.

Frank, entering the cloak-room to leave his paletot, found himself face
to face with Helen coming into the hall.

For the first hour or two that night, Miss Hallaton had reaped a very
fair harvest of admiration. Those who arrived later, and to whom she was
pointed out as a beauty of the season, opined she was too pale, wanted
freshness, brightness, and wore a very saddened expression for so young
a girl. Lord Jericho, who danced his first quadrille with her, thought
Miss Hallaton, without exception, the pleasantest company he ever came
across, and held forth next day at luncheon in praise of her beauty,
wit, manners, originality, and good nature, till his sisters, the ladies
Ruth and Rebecca Jordan, hated the very sound of her name. Whereas, Vere
Vacuous (of the Foreign Office, with an inordinate opinion of the
last-named individual), who took her to tea, considered Miss Hallaton
"classical, perhaps--statuesque rather. All very well as long as she
don't open her mouth; but dull, he should say; probably quite
uneducated. Provincial; yes, that described her, he thought. Great want
of animation, and much too pale!"

This last accusation he must have retracted could he have seen the blush
that reddened Helen's cheek, when, coming suddenly out of the cloak-room
on the person she had been expecting the whole evening, she almost
butted her head into the tie of his neckcloth ere she could start back
and take him calmly by the hand.

Frank never saw it. How should he? Neither of these young people quite
understood all that was going on in the other's heart; and yet both were
prepared to take the fatal plunge, and pass the rest of their lives
together in the same element. Captain Vanguard, wonderful to relate,
felt almost shy, and found himself strangely unobservant of everything
but a beating in his temples, and a queer sensation about his diaphragm.
Of course he would have denied it, but his own colour rose higher than
usual, while Lady Sycamore, a portly person with vast scope for the
laces, jewels, and other ornaments which decorated her before and
behind, accosted him with exceeding graciousness, wondering volubly why
he came so late? Then he had to exchange friendly greetings with the
Miss Planes, each of whom considered him an eligible partner for a
waltz, a cotillion, or a lifetime. At the last moment too, Goldthred,
who had a happy knack of committing ill-timed civilities, and such
little social blunders, coming down-stairs unoccupied, pounced on Miss
Hallaton to put her into the carriage, thinking, no doubt, he was
fulfilling his duty to everybody's satisfaction, and Frank was forced to
offer his arm to Lady Sycamore.

It was too provoking! Poor Helen could have cried; but, goaded to
desperation, the moment Goldthred released her by the carriage-door, she
contrived to drop her fan with so much energy, that it fell clattering
on the steps at Frank Vanguard's feet.

He accepted the opportunity readily enough, and while he put it into
her hand, their heads came very near together, under the inspection only
of an approving linkman--more than half drunk.

"Did you get my note?" she whispered, quick as lightning.

"No."

"It's waiting for you. Thanks! Captain Vanguard. Good-night," and
disappearing in the gloomy vaults of the family coach, she rolled off
through the darkness, leaving him standing on the steps at Battledore
House,

    "With a ghost-seer's look when the ghost disappears."

"I hope your honour's enjoyed your ball," said the linkman.

Frank started. He had never been up-stairs, nor even made his bow to
Lady Shuttlecock. What had he to do with the ball?

Nevertheless, he put his hand in his pocket and gave the linkman
half-a-crown.



CHAPTER XVI.

"A FACER."


But Frank entertained no thoughts of returning to the scene of gaiety he
had quitted on its very threshold. Stopping only to put a cigar in his
mouth he turned, without a pang, from these "halls of dazzling light,"
to walk slowly away through a succession of dark streets, like a man in
a dream.

"It's waiting for you!" Of course it was; and what a fool had he been
not to inquire for his letters at the "Cauliflower" ere he dressed for
dinner. She must have answered his proposal very quickly, he thought;
couldn't have taken time to consult papa, nor any one else; must have
made up her mind in a moment--women always did. Was this a good omen or
not? At each alternate lamp-post he changed his opinion. Here he argued,
she had jumped at the offer the instant it was made, loving him so
dearly, and being so determined to marry him that it was needless to
consult any one else on the subject; ten paces further on, he saw the
other side of the question. If she meant to refuse him, it couldn't be
done too quickly, and the less said about it the better. Such an answer
would, of course, be sent by return of post; and, pre-occupied as he
was, he found himself vaguely calculating the many deliveries of that
valuable institution, speculating whether he could indeed have received
her letter at his club, had he called for it so early as half-past seven
o'clock.

Revolving this irrelevant consideration in his mind, Helen's beauty and
confusion, as he saw her ten minutes ago, rose like a vision before his
eyes, and he felt all joy and confidence once more. "Sure of winning!"
he said out loud, with a puff of smoke into the hot, close night.
"Cock-sure, my boy, as if you'd got the race in your pocket!"

In two more streets he would reach the "Cauliflower," and his heart
leaped wildly to think of the dainty white missive, with its delicate
superscription, even now awaiting him in the lobby of that caravanserai.

Quickening his pace, the sooner to end suspense, he came in sight of a
figure lurching along the pavement some fifty yards ahead, with the gait
of a man who, not in the least overcome by wine, is yet enough under its
influence to walk more leisurely and with a more pretentious swing than
usual.

He saw them by dozens every night of his life, and would have taken
little notice of this convivial bird returning to roost, but that his
attention was aroused by the scrutinising manner in which two men, by
whom he was himself overtaken at a quick walk, looked under the brim of
his hat as they passed by. Returning their stare, he observed they were
an ill-favoured couple enough, and that one shook his head as if
dissatisfied, crossing the street forthwith to join a third figure that
stole out of the shade cast by the opposite houses. Whatever might be
their object, all three seemed now to join eagerly in chase. Frank
slackened sail to observe their movements, and was soon satisfied they
were dogging the steps of the passenger ahead, who walked carelessly on
in happy unconsciousness that he was watched or pursued.

These four, tracked and trackers, were pretty close together as they
turned out of the main thoroughfare into a street, which several yards
of high dead wall without lamps rendered one of the darkest in the
West-End of London. Frank looked up and down for a policeman in vain.
Not a soul was to be seen, and finding himself the only occupant of the
pavement, he ran stealthily forward to the corner round which the others
had lately disappeared, much mistrusting his assistance would be wanted
without delay.

He was right. Already he could hear a scuffling of feet, a smothered
oath, two or three blows exchanged, in short, sharp cracks like
pistol-shots, while a hoarse voice muttered:

"Slip it into him, George! Would ye now? Take that--and that?"

Notwithstanding their numbers, however, the ruffians seemed to have a
hard bargain of their prey. The latter, with his back to the dead wall,
fought like a wild cat, but three to one make short work, and in a
couple of minutes he was overpowered, and down on his knee. Had his head
touched the pavement, it might never have risen again, but at this
critical juncture in leaped Frank Vanguard, like an Apollo who had
learned to box. One remarkably straight left-hander doubled up the
smallest assailant like the kick of a horse, while another sent the next
in size staggering into the middle of the road, where he thought well
to remain for a space, grasping his jaw with both hands, and blaspheming
hideously. The biggest villain, shouting "Bobbies!" with an execration,
and expressing his intention to "hook it," took to his scrapers, as he
called them, at once, and was speedily followed by his equally cowardly
auxiliaries.

Frank looked wistfully after the assailants, while he lifted their
victim to his feet, exclaiming, with the utmost surprise, "Why, it's
Picard!" as the dim light enabled him to identify that gentleman,
considerably mauled and dishevelled, yet apparently not very seriously
hurt.

Bleeding and breathless, Picard's presence of mind seemed, however, not
to have deserted him. Before thanking Vanguard he felt for a parcel of
notes in his breast-pocket, and laughed as heartily as aching bones and
heaving lungs would permit.

"They have missed 'the swag,'" said he, wiping his bloody face with a
cambric handkerchief, "and it's worth collaring, I can tell you. It's
always my maxim to stick by the stuff; but if it hadn't been for _you_,
'squire, I must have caved out this spell, I estimate. It would have
been a pity, too," he added, relapsing into the English language as he
cooled down, "for, bar one at Baltimore, two years back, it's the best
night I ever had in my life. 'Pon my soul, Vanguard, I'm heartily
obliged to you; and how you hit out! Why, that dirty, black-muzzled chap
spun round as if he was shot."

"He's hurt my knuckles, the little beast!" said Frank, looking with much
commiseration at certain abrasions on a white and bony hand. "But what
have you been about, my dear fellow! and how did they know you'd got
money? Were you at all screwed?"

"Sober as a judge!" answered Picard. "In fact, a deal soberer than some
judges I've seen down West in my time! I've been playing billiards ever
since eleven o'clock, making game after game off the balls in a form
you'd hardly believe. The fact is, I caught a flat, who thought he was a
sharp! First he lost his money, then his temper. Of course he played on
to get back both. I didn't win so very easy, you know; indeed I had
rather a squeak for it more than once; but I always managed to nail him
in the last break. Then we got to double or quits, and I needn't tell
you how _that_ went. He'd a friend, too, from the country, what you
Britishers call 'a yokel,' I suspect, who backed his man handsome and
paid up like the Bank of England. I drew this sportsman to a lively
tune, I can tell you. Altogether I landed a hatful, and not a drop would
I have to drink till just before starting. I don't _think_ they hocussed
me; no, I've been hocussed before, and I know what it is. But their
brandy was infernally strong, or the soda-water unaccountably weak, for
somehow I felt so jolly I said I wouldn't have a cab, but walk home
behind a weed.

"Now I think of it, there was a big, awkward-looking skunk loafing about
the table most of the night, who never betted nor played, but seemed
always on the watch, to see we didn't steal the chalk, as I supposed. I
know better now. He sneaked out, I remarked, when I went for a cocktail.
No doubt he watched me start off to walk, and followed with his pals.
That's the gentleman who 'skedaddled' just now so freely when it came to
a fight. Captain Vanguard, I say again, I'm infernally obliged to you!"

Frank, whose excitement had cooled down, was on thorns to receive his
letter. "Have a cigar," said he, proffering his case. "I fear I can't do
anything more for you now. I'll see you home, if you like, but I'm
rather anxious to get to my club before they shut up. It's the
'Cauliflower,' you know. Almost in the next street."

"I live close by," exclaimed Picard. "We'll go together, and I hope
you'll come and look me up at my rooms to-morrow. I've a few Yankee
notions, and things I've got together knocking about Mexico and the
States. They might amuse you, and I can give you a capital weed--nobody
better; and you shall have the best I have, you shall! John Picard never
yet forgot a good turn nor a bad one. You're the right sort, Captain,
real grit; and you and me are mates for life. It's John Picard says so,
and there's his hand upon it!"

Frank, who entertained a truly British horror of being thanked, would
fain have escaped forthwith, but there was no avoiding the proffered
hand; and it struck him also that his new friend reeled somewhat in his
gait, talking the while more volubly and thicker than at first.

Resolving, therefore, to see him safely to his own door, and return as
speedily as possible to the "Cauliflower," he grappled his companion
firmly by the arm, and steered him without difficulty along the now
deserted pavement.

A couple of heavy blows on the head, with a strong squeeze of the
throat, had served, no doubt, to intensify the effect of such villanous
brandy as Picard imbibed before leaving the billiard-room in which he
had been so successful. He said as much, admitting a certain influence
on his physical powers, but repudiating, with suspicious jealousy, the
idea that hard knocks or alcohol could in any way affect his brain.

"My boots are a little screwed," he observed, contemplating them with a
gentle forbearance, "but my legs are right enough, and so am I. John
Picard isn't a man, sir, to be upset by a drop of corn-brandy, nor a hug
from a loafer like that. I'd have whipped him into Devonshire cream if
I'd had a clear stage. How many were there, now, according to your
calculation? I tell ye fair, I was down (because these d--d boots chose
to get drunk) before I'd time to count!"

"Only three," answered Frank, laughing, "and not a good man in the lot.
They wouldn't have tried it on if we had been together; but your boots
went so fast I couldn't catch them."

The other shook his head gravely. "Three," said he. "An' I hadn't even a
tooth-pick."

"Tooth-pick!" repeated Frank in astonishment. "Lucky you hadn't--you'd
have swallowed it!"

Picard being now arrived at that stage in which a man finds it
impossible to make any statement, however trivial, without turning round
and facing his companion, stopped short beneath a lamp-post, while he
explained with great solemnity:

"A bowie-knife, about eighteen inches long, sharp on both sides, and
weighted in the handle, is what _we_ call a tooth-pick, young man, down
Arkansas way. It's a neat tool--very--and balances beautiful. Some like
them up the sleeve. I used to wear mine down the collar of my coat. That
an' a six-shooter, if you're pretty spry, will clear the kitchen smart
enough in a general row. Down to Colorado now, I'd have laid those three
loafers in the larder before you could say 'bitters.' And to think that
to-night I shouldn't have had so much as a pencil case on me! How old
Abe Affable would laugh if he came to hear of it. Poor old Abe! The last
time I saw him he wanted to scalp a nigger for blacking his boots
instead of greasing them. Well, well; different countries, different
manners, and different drinks, no doubt. I like this country, Captain.
After all, I'm a citizen of the world, but more a Britisher than
anything else."

"Are we near your house now?" asked Frank, whose impatience made him
almost wish he had left this citizen of the world to his fate.

"Next lamp-post but two," replied the other, with an unmeaning laugh.
"Boots know where they are now, I do believe--would find their own way
to the scraper if I was to pull 'em off, I'll lay a hundred. Here you
are, Captain, latch-key sober, at any rate. You won't come in? Well,
perhaps it _is_ late; good night, mate. One word before you cast off."

Poor Frank, chafing like an irritable horse at the starting-post,
returned on his track, and Picard took hold of the lappet of his coat.

"I'll go back to Windsor with you," said he cordially. "I like Windsor,
and I like _you_. I've reason to like both. Look here, Vanguard; there's
something at Windsor that would have looked very queer if I'd been
rubbed out just now; and I might have been, I don't deny it, but for
you. Poor little chap, he's got nobody in the world but me! Perhaps
that's why I'm so fond of him. I dare say Pharaoh's daughter thought
there never was such a child as Moses when she pulled him out of the
water. I know when I fished _my_ boy out he put his chubby arms round my
neck as if I'd been his father. Little rogue! I couldn't care more for
him if he _was_ my own, twenty times over.

"I'm a domestic fellow naturally, Vanguard, though I'm yarning to you
now, under a lamp-post, at three in the morning. I've had a rough time
of it, one way and another. Not always fair play, I fancy. Sometimes I
think I'm the biggest blackguard unhung. Sometimes I hope I'm not so
much worse than my neighbours."

Frank was thoroughly good-natured.

"We'll talk that over to-morrow," said he; "in the mean time, good
night."

"Good night," repeated the other. "I know what I say, Vanguard," he
called out after his friend, while putting his latch-key in the lock;
"and to prove it, I'll show you, my boy!"

"He must be very drunk," thought Frank, speeding down the street like a
deer, "and I'm glad I came across him in the nick of time--there would
have been mischief if those fellows had got at him alone."

In another moment, palpitating and breathless, he was on the steps of
the "Cauliflower" Club, where, passing swiftly into the hall, he espied
Goldthred reading a letter by gaslight, with an expression of
countenance that denoted he was profoundly mystified by its contents.

This gentleman, strolling in to quench his thirst after the glare, heat,
worry, disappointment, and general penance of Lady Shuttlecock's ball,
and running his eye as usual down the letter-rack, drew from the
compartment "G" a laconic little epistle without signature, of which the
second and third perusals bewildered him no less than the first:

"If you are really in earnest," so ran this mysterious document, "come
to-morrow, there is somebody to be consulted besides me."

What could it mean? A lady's handwriting, to which he was an utter
stranger. No name, no date, no monogram. "Come to-morrow," thought
Goldthred. "Certainly! But where? And when _is_ to-morrow? It's ten
minutes past three now. Oh! this can't be intended for _me_!"

Then he turned it upside down, backwards and forwards, inside out. The
envelope was addressed correctly enough, christian and surname in full,
with even a flourish of calligraphy adorning his humble title of
"Esquire." Many members of the "Cauliflower" would have pocketed the
effusion without emotion, as a mere every-day conquest of some anonymous
admirer, but such a suspicion never entered Goldthred's honest head. In
his utter freedom from self-conceit, this note puzzled him exceedingly;
but to have believed it due to his own powers of fascination, would, in
his loyalty to Mrs. Lascelles, have annoyed him still more.

The same letter-rack, low down, under "V," produced another epistle in a
similar handwriting, which Frank snatched with eagerness from its place
and pressed hungrily to his lips, as he rushed back into the street,
feeling a strange suffocating necessity on him to read it in the open
air. Earning an epicurean prolongation of pleasure, which most of us
indulge in, by deferring its actual commencement, he walked some few
paces on his homeward way ere he tore open the envelope, with a blessing
on his lips for the girl he loved, and something like tears of
gratitude, affection, and happiness starting to his eyes.

These started back again, however, and clustered like icicles round his
heart, while he read the following terse and explicit communication:

     "DEAR SIR,--I regret that a previous engagement will prevent my
     availing myself of your polite offer. I shall, of course, inform my
     father of your proposal when he returns.

     "And remain,

     "Yours sincerely,

     "HELEN HALLATON."

Frank clenched his fists and shut his teeth tight, for it _hurt_ him.
Hurt him very severely, though he scorned to wince or cry out, only
smiling in anything but mirth, while he said aloud to the gas-lamps:

"I didn't think she was such a bad one! Miss Ross is worth a dozen of
her. O Helen, how _could_ you!"

Perhaps in all his life he never loved her better than now, while he
swore nothing should induce him to see nor speak to her again.



CHAPTER XVII.

DISTRACTIONS.


Mrs. Lascelles, like many of her sex, entertained a high opinion of her
own medical skill in all ailments of mind or body. If your finger ached
she would produce an absurd little box, the size of a Geneva watch, from
which, with an infinitesimal gold spoon, like a bodkin, she proceeded to
give you a strong dose, consisting of two white atoms not so large as
pins' heads, dissolved in a glass of pure water, which they neither
flavoured nor coloured, nor otherwise affected in the least. Repeating
this elfin discipline two or three times with the utmost gravity, she
would have been exceedingly mortified, and almost offended, if you had
not declared yourself better forthwith. And it is but fair to say that I
never heard of any one being worse for the prescriptions she dispensed
with such confidence and liberality.

But if the pain was in your heart this general practitioner buckled on
her armour with yet greater alacrity, and confronted the enemy on a far
more vigorous system of tactics. She refrained indeed, wisely enough,
from prematurely assaulting his stronghold, but attacked his outworks
one by one with unflinching determination, so that the citadel, deprived
on all sides of its supports, wavered, collapsed, and surrendered at
discretion.

One of the most powerful engines with which she battered, so to speak,
the obstinate fortresses garrisoned by such tried veterans as Memory,
Pique, and Disappointment, was a "little gaiety," by which Mrs.
Lascelles understood a round of London amusements and continual change
of scene. "Sympathy, my dear," she would say, with a comical little sigh
and shake of her dainty head, "sympathy from those who have felt sorrow,
and going about--to good places, of course--with dancing, you know, and
plenty of partners, will cure anything. _Anything!_ I assure you, for
I've tried it; except, perhaps, a broken neck!"

In pursuance, then, of this extremely plausible theory, it was not long
after the events described in the last chapter, that Miss Hallaton found
herself sitting next Mrs. Lascelles in a box at the Opera, hoping, no
doubt, for that distraction from sorrow which I fear is seldom found in
music, mirth, or gaiety; but which is rarely sought in vain by the
pillow of suffering, in the house of mourning, under any roof or in any
situation where we can lend a willing hand at the great cable of
brotherly love and unselfish effort, which alone hauls the ship's
company into port at last.

It seems to me that sights and sounds of beauty serve but to add a cruel
poison to the sting; whereas honest, unremitting toil, provides us a
certain opiate; and active charity towards others draws gradually the
venom from our wound.

Helen had suffered acutely. The girl's pride was humbled to the dust,
and even that infliction was not the worst. Her gods had deceived her,
and her idols proved to be but clay. Frank Vanguard's conduct was more
than fickle, more than heartless; it seemed actually brutal and unmanly!
Since her reply to the letter in which he asked her to become his wife,
he had never been near her, had held no communication with her family
nor herself, but had avoided them all with a persistence insulting as it
was unaccountable.

Whatever reasons he might have, she felt his conduct was utterly
inexcusable, and Helen endured that bitterest of all punishments, the
conviction not only that her love was without return, but that she had
bestowed it on an unworthy object; had misconceived the very nature,
mistaken the very identity of him whom she once felt proud to know so
thoroughly, whom she imagined no one thus knew but herself.

"I thought him so different!" In that simple sentence--said by how many,
and how bitterly!--lurked all the sorrow, all the humiliation, all the
despair. The man she loved had never really existed. She must teach
herself to forget this dream, this delusion, as if it had never been.
With woman's fortitude of endurance, woman's decency of courage, Helen
fought her battle, hid her wounds, and swallowed her tears, but the
struggle told on her severely. Sir Henry, cursing late hours and hot
rooms, talked of taking his daughter back to the country. Even Jin's
heart smote her when she marked the pale face, the drooping gestures,
the sad, weary looks; while Mrs. Lascelles, insisting on her own
treatment of a malady she was persuaded she alone could cure, took every
opportunity of administering amusement in large doses, and esteemed no
part of her regimen more efficacious than these long hours of heat,
glare, noise, imprisonment, and musical stupefaction, spent at the
Italian Opera.

So Helen, watching the business of the stage with eyes from which the
tears would _not_ keep back, while those thrilling strains rose and fell
in the outcry of remorseful passion, or the wail of hopeless, yet
undying love, wondered vaguely why there should be all this sorrow upon
earth, springing, apparently, from the purest and most elevated
instincts of the human heart. She forgot that a time would come
hereafter, perhaps on this side the grave, when the misery that was
eating into her own young life must seem no less unreasonable, no less
unreal, than that of the harmonious lady yonder, in pearls and white
satin, who would take her place at supper in an hour, with spirits and
appetite unimpaired by the breaking heart that, flying mellifluously to
her lips in this intricate _cavatina_, brought down on her a rainbow
shower of bouquets, followed by a thunderstorm of applause. "That _is_
singing!" said Miss Ross, from the back of the box, drawing a long
breath of intense enjoyment, the enjoyment of the artist who appreciates
as well as admires. "Rose, why didn't I bring a bouquet? I'd throw my
head at her if it would take off!"

Mrs. Lascelles laughed, and made a sign signifying "Hush!" while Miss
Ross whispered over Helen's shoulder--"Isn't it _too_ delightful, dear?
In my opinion music's the only thing worth living for!"

Helen, who esteemed nothing much worth living for at that moment,
responded with modified enthusiasm, and turned languidly to the stage.
Just then the box-door opened; and she knew, though he was behind her,
and had not spoken a syllable, that it admitted Frank Vanguard!

He couldn't keep away! Of course he would not have allowed that any part
of this crowded house held for him the slightest attraction.

Fidgetting in the stalls, and getting Helen's well-remembered profile
within range of his opera-glasses, it was only natural he should tell
himself she could never be more to him than a humiliating memory, a
cause of gratitude for his narrow escape. It was also natural that he
should take his good manners severely to task for negligence, in not
having called lately on Mrs. Lascelles, and should scout the notion of
being kept out of her box by anybody in the world, man or woman! So,
looking paler than usual, and, for once in his life, almost pompous in
his embarrassment, he tapped at the door, and found himself stumbling
over a delicate little satin-shod foot, belonging to Miss Ross, of whose
presence, to do him justice, till he made this ungainly entrance, he had
not the slightest suspicion!

"It's a good omen!" thought that quaint and speculative young person,
while _her_ heart too was beating faster than common. "I shall trip you
up at last, sir; and what a fall I'll give you!" But she reflected also
that they would probably go down together; and there was something not
unpleasant in the apprehension.

Frank recovered himself sufficiently to greet Mrs. Lascelles with
customary politeness, and made Helen a ceremonious bow, without offering
to shake hands. She construed the omission into a studied and gratuitous
slight.

So the poor girl turned once more to the stage, leaning her cheek on her
hand, and wondering sadly, almost humbly, what she had done to be so
punished, tried to interest herself in the progress of the opera.

A tenor, swelling in black velvet, was expressing intense adoration of
some object unknown, possibly the great chandelier, at which he trilled
and quavered with unflagging persistency--lifting to it eyes, eye-brows,
chest, and shoulders, rising on his toes, as if, like the skylark
soaring and singing towards the light, he would fain project himself,
his voice, his trunk-breeches, and his dearest affections, right through
the roof!

Nor did he seem in the slightest degree influenced by suspicion or
dismay, though the stage, becoming gradually darkened, filled rapidly
with assassins, all wearing black cloaks, black masks, black gloves,
brandishing poniards, and bursting forth--as was extremely natural in a
band of paid murderers stealing on their victim--into a magnificent and
deafening chorus, such as caused the very curls of the Conductor to
vibrate on his head, while he waved his baton to and fro in spasmodic
frenzy, the crisis of a musical delirium.

It was Jin's opportunity. From her dark corner those black eyes flashed
like lamps, while she murmured, under cover of the ophicleide and the
big drum:

"You've never been to see us, Captain Vanguard. Rose has missed you
sadly, and--and--so have I."

A vacant chair stood by her own, so close, that her gown partly covered
its cushion. There was obvious invitation in her gesture, while she
removed the intrusive fold, and Frank dropped willingly enough into that
vacant seat.

Wounded, sore, reckless, angry with one woman, he was in a mood to
render the attractions of such another as Miss Ross extremely dangerous.
His attention being taken off his own grievances, the cessation of pain
was in itself delightful; and I fear he had too little generosity to
forbear the petty triumph of showing Miss Hallaton that others could
care for him even if she did not. Besides, the act of flirting with such
a professor as Jin in the dark corner of an opera-box, however
dangerous, was, in itself, no unpleasant pastime; so, while Helen, cold
and sick at heart, suffered herself to be deafened by chorus and
orchestra, Frank, to use his own expression, "went in a perisher, and
made tremendous running with Miss Ross!"

She was an experienced angler, so perfect in the art that being in
earnest rather increased her skill than otherwise. The popularity of our
Italian Opera is not entirely due to its music, the best and the highest
paid for in Europe. Its boxes form also a convenient territory for the
prosecution of those skirmishes, which would become actual warfare but
for the nature of the ground on which they take place. There are fair
and dazzling visions, there are soft, sad sounds--most intoxicating when
softest and saddest. There is bright glare on others, semi-obscurity for
ourselves. There are sympathy, juxta-position, a common object of
interest, a necessity for whispers, and a propriety in absolute silence,
which is in itself the strongest possible stimulant to conversation.
Above all, there is a certain sentiment of isolation, the result of
being shut up together for a definite period, that renders people
mutually attractive; just as no man alive can accompany a woman,
however ugly, for a long sea voyage, and not fall in love with her to a
certainty.

"You don't, and you _know_ you don't!" whispered Jin, in answer to some
wild remark of Frank's, drowned for all ears but her own in an
outrageous crash of brass instruments. "Though, mind, I won't have you
fancy for a moment that I lump you in with the others, tie you all up in
a bunch, and label you 'poison.' No, I shall not give you my poor
gardenia. You'll take it on to Lady Clearwell's, I dare say. But it will
never get any farther than the first pretty woman you dance with. Water!
Pooh! It would wither, poor thing, and much you'd care for it, then!
Well, if you _really_ promise----No. I won't. I never did in my life,
and I won't begin! You needn't move, it's only Goldie. Now _that's_ a
faithful admirer, if you like!"

It was indeed none other but this devoted swain, who, meekly entering,
and paying homage stiffly enough to Mrs. Lascelles, seated himself
between that lady and Helen, but afforded the former far the largest
share of his attention and indisputable remarks on things in general.

The mistress of the box could not be said to be disappointed, though she
wished it was somebody else, for her glasses were even now fixed on that
somebody's drooping aristocratic old head, a dozen feet below her. Why
did he not come up? She owed him the less grudge for this neglect, that
she had a strong conviction Sir Henry Hallaton was fast asleep in his
stall.

Mrs. Lascelles stifled a sigh.

"It's up-hill work--very!" she said to her own heart. "And I'm making
this other poor fellow sadly wretched. He's like the people one reads
about in a novel. He never complains. I wish he would! I wish he'd scold
me well, and tell me what a beast I am!"

Touching his arm with her fan, while she made some trifling observation,
it cut her to the quick to observe how his face brightened up, like a
dog's at the voice of its master; and for the first time Mrs. Lascelles
found herself entertaining a vague suspicion that it might be unwise as
well as unfeeling to throw away so much confiding adoration, to barter a
reality that would last her lifetime, for a mere fancy, less tangible
and less permanent than a dream. So, with half-a-dozen kind words,
meaning nothing, she lifted this simple young man to the seventh heaven
of transport, reaping, from her own act, the quiet satisfaction that
follows such deeds of benevolence and common humanity.

Meanwhile, Frank had risen to go. Carefully abstaining from the
slightest glance in Miss Hallaton's direction, he took an exceedingly
affectionate leave of Miss Ross, and resumed his stall, which was next
to that of Sir Henry, fastening a gardenia, with some little pretension,
in his button-hole.

"Been on the war-path," thought Sir Henry, waking up from a doze and
observing this lately-won decoration. "Quick work. Taken a scalp
already, and hanging it on his belt." Then he remembered his own
daughter was in the house, and meditated grimly on the deadly penalties
he would exact from any man who should be so rash as to trifle with
Helen; consoled, however, by the reflection that she was the last girl
in the world to yield even so light a trophy as a flower to one who had
not earned it in honourable and legitimate warfare.

"What's the attraction, Jin?" asked Mrs. Lascelles, with something of
irritation in her tone. "You've never taken your glasses off one spot in
the stalls for the last ten minutes! Will you share the object amongst
us, or must you keep it all to yourself?"

Miss Ross was never at a loss.

"It's the tower of Babel, dear," she answered, good humouredly, "before
the confusion of tongues. Did you ever see such a head! There, two rows
behind Sir Henry Hallaton. The woman in pink, with all those beads
wound round her, bangles on her arms, and, I do believe, a fish-bone
through her nose! I can see it, I'm sure, when she turns this way!" Thus
Jin, with her glasses in her lap, with mirth and mischief in her eyes,
to all appearance with no sentiment but ridicule in her heart.

Miss Ross deserved credit, I think, for unscrupulous invention and
readiness of resource, also for the quickness with which she pounced on
the woman in pink, a respectable matron, whose head-gear, modelled after
that of a notorious Parisian impropriety, was simply such as she saw
worn by ladies of her own station and repute every night of her life.

Jin would have studied this apparition perhaps more attentively, but
that her whole soul was projecting itself, as it were, through her
glasses, towards Frank Vanguard and his gardenia. She did not regret
giving it him now. She was falling horribly in love with him. How she
would have hated Helen, she thought, but that she could afford to pity
her!

I have said this enthusiast _really_ enjoyed an opera, loving _fine_
even more dearly than _pretty_ music.

Deferring, therefore, till to-morrow the laying of plans, calculation of
chances, that laborious train of reflection in which she knew too well
she must collect the resources of her head to attain the desire of her
heart, she sat back in her chair, and abandoned herself to one of those
dreams which are perhaps the most ecstatic of all visions vouchsafed to
us poor children of clay.

To repose unobserved in a corner, to drink in sounds of more than mortal
sweetness, on which the soul, linked to one dear image, like Paolo in
the arms of Francesca, floats away, away through the realms of space,
into the fabulous regions of unchanging, unadulterated love,--is not
this a happiness to which the joy of fruition, the content of security,
must seem sadly tame and insipid, to which the "sober certainty of
waking bliss" is but vulgar reality, clogging the wings of impossible
romance?

And now the performance drew to a close. The tenor had sung his _aria_
of triumphant villany, and his _solo_ of despairing remorse. The
_basso_, having cursed through the whole gamut in exceedingly correct
time, had fallen on his knees at the foot-lights, tearing a white wig,
after the approved pattern of King Lear. Priests, soldiers, friars,
courtiers, townsmen, stately nobles, and smiling peasant-girls, thronged
the entire depth of the stage, while above the motley crowd waved and
flaunted symbols of religion, spoils of warfare, and the banner of
France. The _prima donna_, venting shriek on shriek, with surprising
shrillness and rapidity, had died in convulsions of unusual energy, and
even repeated her demise, after an enthusiastic _encore_; the orchestra,
becoming louder, fiercer, faster, with each successive bar, had worked
up to the grand deafening and discordant crash, which is esteemed a
worthy _finale_ to all great compositions, and the curtain hovering to a
fall, glasses were cased, white shoulders cloaked, both on and off the
stage all acting was over, and the audience rose to go away.

Let us follow Mrs. Lascelles and her party, escorted only by the
constant Goldthred, as they leave their box to attain the stairs, the
crush-room, the carriage, and eventually the street.

We shall not need to hurry--their progress, gaining about a yard a
minute, is slow and deliberate as a funeral. At the lowest step of the
whole flight, Helen is aware of Frank Vanguard making his way through
the crush, apparently with the intention of joining their party. In her
distress, looking wildly round for help, she catches sight of her
father's grizzled head above the surface; and, meeting his eye,
telegraphs for assistance. Sir Henry, whose redeeming point is the care
he takes of his daughter, makes no cessation of edging, sliding,
bowing, and begging pardon, till he reaches her side, and thus places
himself in a false position as regards the ladies he has lately left.
They cling to him with annoying persistence, and he condemns himself,
very forcibly too, though below his breath, more than once for having a
daughter "out," and yet choosing to know such women as Mrs. Battersea
and her sister, Kate Cremorne. He must not introduce them to Mrs.
Lascelles, as they obviously wish; he _will_ not introduce them to
Helen, though they would like this too; and how can he ignore them
completely, when he is engaged to supper this very night at their house?
With all his careless selfishness, it annoyed Sir Henry exceedingly to
be guilty of a rudeness or unkindness towards any one, and he formed
more good resolutions to avoid doubtful society for the future in the
half-dozen paces he waded through that stream of muslin four feet deep,
and all the colours of the rainbow, than he had made, and broken, in his
whole life before.

Ere he could accost Helen, however, assistance arrived from an
unexpected quarter. Picard, who was just as sure to be at the Opera as
any one of the fiddles in the orchestra, recognised his
fellow-travellers from Windsor with a profound and enthusiastic bow,
followed by a smiling approach, in which his teeth, his whiskers, his
grin, and his stealthy yet confident demeanour, proclaimed the "tiger"
of social life, not wanting in some of the attributes belonging to his
nobler namesake, the terror of the jungle.

In another stride he would have offered his arm to Helen, but Mrs.
Lascelles, warned by Sir Henry's eye, interposed, and seeing no other
way of saving her charge, with a devotion almost maternal, cast off from
Goldthred and seized it herself.

"Take care of Helen!" she whispered in the latter's ear, while the
flowers in her wreath brushed his very cheek. "This man mustn't take
her--you understand! Come to-morrow to luncheon."

The whisper and its purport made him quite happy; Mrs. Lascelles had
also the satisfaction of observing something like displeasure cloud Sir
Henry's eyes as they rested on herself and her _impromptu_ cavalier.

"If he's cross it shows he _cares_," was her first thought. "Ah! he'll
never care like the _other one_,"--her second, and that which remained
longest in her mind.

The "other one," in the mean time, walked meekly on towards the carriage
with Helen tucked under his elbow, thus freeing Sir Henry from his
embarrassment, and leaving him at leisure to devote his attentions to
Mrs. Battersea, who was, indeed, by no means inclined to let him off.

Mrs. Lascelles followed on the arm of Picard, who behaved as well as he
could, though he would rather have taken Helen; these were succeeded by
Jin and Frank Vanguard, apparently very well pleased with each other and
thoroughly disposed to accept the situation.

I know not what Frank whispered, but gather that it was something
complimentary by his companion's answer.

"We're not the only ones!" said Jin, looking up from under a scarlet
hood, like a bewitching gipsy.

"How do you mean?" asked Frank, innocently enough.

"Don't you see your old love and Mr. Goldthred?" was the reply. "Confess
now--honour! You _did_ care for her once!"

"A little, perhaps," he answered lightly, though his lip quivered, and
she saw it.

"But you don't now?" she pursued, leaning towards him with a gesture of
confiding tenderness impossible to resist.

"You _know_ I don't," he answered, and pressed the arm that rested on
his own, gently but firmly to his heart.

She broke into one of those rare smiles by which, on occasion, she knew
how to rivet her work so securely.

"It's a case, I'm sure!" she exclaimed. "They'll be a very happy couple,
and I can wish her joy _now_ with all my heart!"



CHAPTER XVIII.

ATTRACTIONS.


There are various phases of hospitality on which people depend for
increase of social reputation and entertainment of their friends. One
lady sets great store by her dinners, the excellence of her cook, the
lighting and decorations of her table, the tact with which she selects
her guests. Another believes it impossible to equal her "breakfasts,"
why so called, I am at a loss to explain, since they take place after
luncheon. A third thinks this last-named meal forms the perfection of
friendly intercourse, while a fourth stands or falls by the agreeable
circle she gathers round her at afternoon tea. Mrs. Battersea affected
none of these. She piqued herself exclusively on her suppers; and to sup
with Mrs. Battersea after the Opera was to form one of a circle more
remarkable for gaiety, good-humour, and general recklessness, than for
wisdom, propriety of demeanour, or reputed respectability.

They were very pleasant, nevertheless, these little gatherings. She
understood so thoroughly how they should be constituted, the quantity of
guests, the quality of wines drank, and the dishes set on the table. You
had some difficulty in finding her house, no doubt, even if you went in
a hack-cab, for it lurked in those remoter regions of London which are
to Belgravia what Belgravia must once have been to Grosvenor Square.
She was a "settler," she said, and liked the wild, free life of the
borders. When the real respectables, dowager peeresses and those sort of
people, moved down to her, she would "up stick" and clear out farther
west! Meantime the little house looked very charming, even at half-past
twelve p.m. The delicate foliage of an acacia quivered in the light at
its door; your foot trod the street pavement indeed, but your nostrils
breathed the fragrance of hawthorn and hay-fields, not so very far off.
A flagged passage through ten feet of garden led you into a beautiful
little hall with tesselated pavement, globe lamps, statuettes,
flower-boxes, a fountain, and a cockatoo. On your senses stole the
heavy, subtle odour of incense, the soft strains of a self-playing
pianoforte, far off in some room up-stairs. You were sure to be
expected; no pompous auxiliary from Gunter's extorted your name, but the
smoothest and lightest-footed of butlers received your overcoat and
motioned you in silence towards a room, from the open door of which
floods of light streamed across the carpeted passage, whence you heard
the popping of corks, the _cliquetis d'assiettes_, the pleasant voices
of women, the soft ripple of talk and laughter within.

You had time for scarcely a glance at that group after Watteau, that
Leda in alabaster, the ormolu on velvet, the porcelain under glass, for,
brushing the deep, soft carpet, with step noiseless as your conductor's,
you entered an octagon room, brilliantly lighted, containing a round
table, on which flowers and fruit were grouped in tasteful profusion,
the whole set off by a circular lamp dependent from the ceiling, and so
shaded as to throw its glare on grapes, geraniums, roses, glass and
gold, table ornaments and china, glittering plate, and bubbling wine.

At this table were already seated some half-dozen noisy, pleasant
individuals, when Sir Henry arrived. His entrance was the signal for a
fresh burst of laughter, and a triumphant clapping of hands.

"You've won on both events, Kate," exclaimed Mrs. Battersea, making room
for the belated guest by her side. "It was even betting you wouldn't
come, Sir Henry. Kate shot us all round, and laid three to two you would
be here before the soup was cold!"

"They thought you had been made safe, Sir Henry," said the last-named
lady, whose specialty it was to speak very demurely and very distinctly.
"But I knew better. Now, don't talk till you've had something to eat."

He took her advice and glanced round the table while he sipped a clear
soup--brown, strong, and restorative as sherry.

There were only two people he didn't know, a man and a woman: the
former, stout, florid, bearded, deep-voiced, with the unmistakable
artist type, being indeed a sculptor of no mean celebrity; the latter,
wrinkled, faded, a snuff-taker, with false teeth and hair. She seemed
witty and agreeable, however, fruitful in anecdote, deadly in repartee,
with something of foreign buoyancy in manner.

She filled her glass, and emptied it too, pretty often. Sir Henry set
her down for an Englishwoman naturalised in Paris.

The rest consisted of Picard, to whom he had lately been introduced,
young Kilgarron, Frank Vanguard, and Mrs. Battersea's sister, the
enterprising Kate Cremorne.

What the former had been fifteen years ago, the latter lady was now:
hazel eyes, high colour, dazzling teeth, auburn hair, bright in manner,
dress, and appearance. The elder sister exhausted all appliances of the
toilet, to put the clock back those fifteen years and look like the
younger, but in vain; nevertheless, such was the difference of their
ages, that she regarded Kate less with a sister's jealousy than a
mother's indulgent affection.

"So you backed me in, Miss Kate?" said the baronet, touching her glass
lightly with his own, ere he drank a mouthful of champagne. "Knew I was
to be depended on, didn't you? Just like a great stupid cockchafer
blundering to the light. You're the light, you know, and I'm the
cockchafer."

"You must be pretty well singed by this time!" answered Kate, laughing.
"No; the others thought you wouldn't be allowed to get away; but I was
sure you would come directly if anybody told you _not_!"

Mrs. Battersea attacked him on the other side.

"Confess, Sir Henry, you haven't heard the last of this from a certain
lady whose name begins with an L. You _know_ you won't dare call at No.
40 for a week!"

"Why?" he asked simply, and emptied his glass.

"Why, indeed!" answered the other. "She looked as black as thunder, and
absolutely scowled at _me_. You _should_ have put her in the carriage, I
must say."

"He couldn't!" interrupted Picard; "because I did; and two people can't
perform that office unless they make a queen's cushion."

"Oh, indeed!" said Miss Kate. "I suppose you think you'd do quite as
well as Sir Henry. Not a bit of you. He's A 1 with the ladies. Haven't
you found that out in all your travels? Why the _young_ woman looked as
if she'd eat poor _me_, when I only bowed to him! I mean the pale girl
in a----Gracious! Captain Vanguard, if you like me tell me so, or, at
least, if you kick me under the table--don't kick so precious hard!"

"That was my daughter, Miss Kate," said Sir Henry, in perfect
good-humour, interpreting very correctly Frank's too strenuous warning
below the surface.

Kate got out of her difficulty gracefully enough.

"Your daughter!" she repeated. "And a very nice daughter too. How fond
she must be of you! I should, I know!"

Here Miss Cremorne exchanged glances with Vanguard, and Sir Henry felt a
vague uncomfortable consciousness that the society was too young for
him; relieved, however, by virtuous disapproval of Frank's promiscuous
intimacies, and a dawning conviction that, if there had ever been any
tendency to such an arrangement, he was well out of him for a
son-in-law.

The sculptor now produced a velvet case of cigarettes which was handed
round, and from which even the ladies did not disdain to take a few
whiffs of the most fragrant tobacco in the world: Kilgarron only asking
leave to indulge in a long strong Havanna, or "roofer," as he called
it,--urging that to offer a man a cigarette when he wanted a cigar, was
like giving him a slice of bread and butter when he asked for a
beefsteak!

"Nonsense!" argued Mrs. Battersea. "Half a loaf is better than no bread,
and half a frolic than no fun,--consequently, half a puff is better than
no smoke. What do _you_ say, Kate! That's your second cigarette
already."

The girl would have made a pretty picture, leaning back on the red
velvet cushion of a sofa to which she had now betaken herself, while
daintily holding the cigarette between her delicate fingers, she pursed
up the rosiest and most provoking mouth imaginable to emit a long thin
stream of aromatic smoke.

"What do I say?" she repeated, looking meaningly at Frank Vanguard.
"That I hate half-loaves, half-frolics, half-mouthfuls, half-measures in
_everything_! All or none, say I. Take it or let it alone!"

The foreign-looking woman tapped her snuff-box. "You're wrong," said
she. "Everything in life is a matter of compromise. Besides, on _your_
principle, my dear, you'd have all your eggs in one basket. Suppose you
drop it?"

"What a mess there would be in the basket!" observed the sculptor.

"They'd make an omelette _anyhow_," said Lord Kilgarron, mixing himself
a brandy-and-soda at the side-board.

"Besides, there are fresh ones laid every day," added Picard.

"With chickens in them," continued Mrs. Battersea, "if you'll only have
patience."

"And after all, one egg is very like another," murmured Sir Henry
somewhat hazily; "dress them how you please, there's generally a
suspicion about them, and the freshest are rather tasteless at their
best."

Frank said nothing; but thought of the eggs he had most valued in the
world, their basket, and its fate. Well, he had learned his lesson now.
He must make the most of a pretty painted egg he had chosen to-night,
from the shelf, indeed, rather than the nest, and must abide by his
selection, defying memory, prudence, common sense--defying even the
bright eyes, pleasant smiles, and winning whispers of Kate Cremorne.

A man who has lost the flower he values most is perhaps never so unhappy
as when he roams the garden to find a hundred others ready to be
gathered, as sweet, as bright, as blooming, lacking only the subtle,
special fragrance that was all in all to _him_. He is far less lonely in
the desert than in that bower of beauty, which the absence of his
rose--be she red, white, or yellow--has converted to a bare and dreary
waste. Young hearts are sadly impatient of sorrow. Like young horses
first put in harness, they are given to fret and bounce, and dash at any
distraction which serves to divert their thoughts from the collar and
the curb. Frank felt in no mood for self-communing to-night; but he was
well disposed to snatch at any gratification the hour could afford. As
the champagne mounted to his brain, Helen's pale, proud image faded into
distance, and Jin's black eyes seemed to chain him in their spells. Ere
long, he began to think he was a very lucky fellow after all, and
exchanged jest or repartee with Kate Cremorne, as if he had not a care
nor a sorrow in the world. That discriminating young person detected,
nevertheless, something hollow in all this merriment.

"His heart's not in the game," she whispered to her sister, as the whole
party took up a fresh position in the conservatory. "Something's gone
wrong with Frank; and I think we needn't ask him to Greenwich next
Sunday."

Henceforth she divided her smiles between the sculptor, whom she had
known from her childhood, and Picard, on whom she bestowed perhaps the
larger share, appreciating, as women do, a certain spice of the
adventurer, which he betrayed, without parading, in dress, manner,
gestures, even in the curl of his moustache, and the turn of his
well-shaped, sinewy, sunburnt hands.

Sir Henry fell to Mrs. Battersea, who encouraged him to drink more
champagne than is good for anybody after one in the morning; while
Frank, placidly smoking, suffered himself to be amused by the
foreign-looking Englishwoman, whose spirits seemed rather to increase
than diminish with the waning hours.

So the night wore on. It was already four o'clock in a bright summer
sunrise, when Sir Henry lighting a fresh cigar as he grappled to
Picard's offered arm with great good-will--expressed his intention of
walking home.

"Every yard of the way, my dear fellow. Does one all the good in the
world. Nothing like exercise. Never had gout, though I'm bred for it
both sides; and, faith, I've earned it, too! We used to live hard in my
early days. But I always took a deal of exercise--always. That is why
I'm pretty fresh on my legs now."

Picard assented, as younger men are bound to assent to such platitudes
from their elders; and Sir Henry, whose pedestrianism was indeed of an
exceedingly intermittent nature, puffed a volume of smoke in the rosy
face of morning, and proceeding with his reflections.

"Now, Frank and that heavy fellow have gone off together on the chance
of finding a cab. Much better have footed it like you and me. 'Gad, what
a lovely day it's going to be! And what a pleasant night we've had! I'm
not sure, though,"--here he turned round full on his companion--"I'm not
sure we make the most of our lives after all. Hang it! if I had to begin
again, I think I'd go in more for nature. Keep always out of doors, farm
more, shoot more--look after the poor, hunt the country, and never go
from home. I'm getting on now, and begin to understand the old Tartar
chief, who longed for the Land of Grass when he was dying--

    "And I would I were back in Cauca-land,
      To hear my herdsmen's horn;
    And to watch the waggons and brown brood mares,
      And the tents where I was born!"

Picard had never read Kingsley's stirring verses. "This old chap's very
drunk!" he thought; but having his own reasons for wishing to stand well
with Miss Hallaton's father, he "hardened him on," as he would have
called it, without remorse. "I don't think _you_ can complain, Sir
Henry," said he. "You've had the best of everything all your time, and
can give pounds of weight to most of the young ones still. You might
marry any woman in London to-morrow if you liked. I wonder you don't."

Sir Henry looked pleased.

"Marry!" he repeated. "Marry! I'm not sure that I wouldn't, only,
between you and me, my dear fellow, women in general are a very inferior
lot. They're delightful, I grant you, wholesale; but when you come to
the retail business, as the tradesmen say, there's great risk and very
little profit about the article. They don't wear well when you buy, and
if you want to sell, there's no market that I know of nearer than
Constantinople. I fancy the Turks understand the business; but I am
_not_ a Turk. Heaven forbid! Fancy a plurality of wives!"

"I'm not sure I should mind it!" laughed Picard--"with the Bosphorus at
one's door, of course."

"The Bosphorus wouldn't help you," said Sir Henry. "She'd come up again
if she wanted, you may depend, though you sank her forty fathom deep,
with a round-shot tied to her ankles. No; I think I understand the sex
thoroughly. In my own experience, I've found them perverse, wilful,
obstinate."

"Unselfish, at least," put in Picard.

"Unselfish!" exclaimed the other. "Not a bit of it! They're twice as
selfish as we are, and that's saying a good deal. A tyrant, indeed,
keeps them down, and so long as he remains perfectly unfeeling, the
thing works moderately well. But if they can get what you and I call a
good fellow to marry them, why he leads the life of a galley slave!
There was my poor brother Ralph--I do believe, sir, he died of
it--married a pig-headed idiot without two ideas, and she traded on his
kind heart till she wore it clean away. I argued the point with her
once. Fancy _arguing_ with a woman, and an ignorant one! 'What should
_you_ say,' I asked, 'if Ralph took you out partridge-shooting, we'll
suppose, and kept you for hours standing in wet turnips to load for him,
or carry a spare gun? Yet you have no scruple in making him accompany
you to parties, which he hates far more than you would the wet turnips,
and are not ashamed to speak very unkindly to him even if he _looks_
bored.' 'That's nothing to do with it,' she answered.--Such is a woman's
logic.--'I dare say _you_ wouldn't stand it; but then you've more
character than Ralph!' She's married a stock-jobber since. I'm happy to
say he bullies her like the devil, yet I do believe she likes him twice
as well as Ralph."

"But _you_ took warning, I hope, Sir Henry," said Picard, laughing in
his sleeve.

"They never tried that sort of thing with _me_," answered the baronet.
"Still, there's no certainty about the thing, and I fancy it's better
to let it alone. Besides, one's ideas vary about women in a regular
procession of decades. Up to ten, we're dependent on them; from ten to
twenty, we despise them; from twenty to thirty, we adore them; from
thirty to forty, we believe in them; from forty to fifty, we mistrust
them; from fifty to sixty, we avoid them; from sixty to seventy, we
tolerate them; and if we live any longer after that, why we become
dependent on them again."

Picard burst out laughing.

"A moral lesson!" he exclaimed, "and from one who has not neglected
practice in theory. Here we are at your own door, Sir Henry. I shall not
forget your maxims. Good night."

The other feeling for his latch-key, looked up where the blinds were
drawn over the windows of Helen's bed-chamber.

"There are exceptions," said he musingly, "and one good one is worth all
the others put together; and yet nine-tenths of our annoyances, and all
our sorrows, can generally be traced to a woman."

Picard sighed as he turned away. Men may rail as they will, but each has
a secret image of his own that he esteems a pearl of exceptional price,
an angel far above the common short-comings of humanity. Like the negro
with his fetish, he takes it out sometimes to blame and scold, no less
than plead with and adore, but he always puts it back reverently in its
place, to nestle in the warmest and most sacred corner of his heart.



CHAPTER XIX.

A DRAWN BATTLE.


Mrs. Lascelles, retiring for the night, or rather morning, on her return
from the Opera, found herself beset with troubles and perplexities of
unusual gravity. Taking off her ornaments, and laying them one by one on
the dressing-table, she reflected sadly on the relative positions of her
two greatest friends, Jin Ross and Helen Hallaton. The longer she looked
at the complication the less she liked it. For a woman to entertain two
lovers, as a game-keeper hunts a brace of pointers, she considered
natural enough. They should be made to range in different directions at
her bidding, back each other without hesitation on her behalf, and,
above all, come meekly to heel at the shortest notice when desired. This
seemed only the normal condition of humanity, and, in her own case, she
had hitherto found such amicable arrangements answer remarkably well.
Sir Henry, indeed, proved wilder than any she had hitherto endeavoured
to train; but Goldthred, again, if not the most sagacious, was by far
the meekest and most docile she had ever taken in hand. For a moment,
she laid down her brushes, smiled at her own comely face in the glass,
and by some unaccountable association of ideas, found herself wishing
this last admirer would show a little more self-assertion, more
enterprise, altogether borrow a leaf or two out of the black books
studied over-diligently by the former.

Then she reproached herself for giving a thought to her own concerns,
while Helen Hallaton looked so pale and sad, resuming the thread of her
regrets with the use of her hair-brushes, and cherishing a certain
impulse of womanly indignation at the idea of two young ladies being in
love with one man.

The proverb affirming that "What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the
gander," cannot assuredly be of feminine invention. The code of our fair
aggressors seems framed by a justice whose scales are not duly
registered, and whose bandage does not entirely cover both eyes. "If I
kill _you_," seems the ladies' verdict, "justifiable homicide, and it
serves you right! But if you kill _me_, it's premeditated
woman-slaughter, and penal servitude for life!"

How many of us are thus transported, without really deserving it, I
refrain from speculating; but I am informed by convicts themselves that
good conduct is powerless to obtain any remission of sentence, and that
there is no such thing as a ticket-of-leave.

Before Mrs. Lascelles got into bed, she resolved to make a touching
appeal to Jin's generosity directly after breakfast, and if need were,
to back it with all the force of her own authority and moral influence.

"Moral influence!" the phrase carried with it a weight and dignity of
which she herself felt conscious, even in bed; and must be overwhelming,
she thought, to "dear Jin," who owed so much to their friendship, and
who had not a bad disposition after all, though too reckless, and
dreadfully wedded to her own opinion, right or wrong.

Turning her back on a ridiculous little night-light, utterly useless now
that morning was already streaming through heavy curtains and
close-drawn window-blinds, she became more and more impressed with the
difficulty of her task, as she courted sleep in vain. So many instances
recurred to her of Jin's superiority in argument, of Jin's readiness in
repartee, of Jin's independence of spirit and inflexible persistency in
taking her own line, that she was fain to dismiss the subject from her
mind, and let her thoughts wander at will through more congenial
topics--her dresses, her beauty, her widowhood, her rich brown hair, the
Opera, the fiddles, the conductor's gloves, the tenor's eye-brows,
Goldthred's good night, Sir Henry's back, a haze of lights, music,
attentions, admiration, whiskers, boots and broadcloth, fading dimly
into chaos, till they left Mrs. Lascelles fast asleep.

Miss Ross, too, laid her black head on the pillow with a sensation at
her heart, so new, so strange, that it took away her breath--not
triumph, for it was mingled with apprehension, misgivings, and a sense
of unworthiness, as humiliating as it was unexpected;--not content, for
everything seemed still to gain, except the one step made to-night, that
yet to lose would be simply destruction and despair;--not happiness,
surely, the uncertainty was even now too painful, the rush of joy too
wild and keen. How useless, how idiotic it seemed, above all, how
contemptible and unlike herself, to lock the door when she reached her
room, rest her brow against the window frame, and cry for two whole
minutes like a child!

"Not for sorrow, though. Certainly not for sorrow," she murmured,
recovering herself with a great sob, while she resolved to yield to such
absurdity no longer.

She could hardly bring herself to believe in the reality of the last few
hours. The whole thing seemed wild and improbable as a dream. It was
dreadful to think she might wake up at any moment, to discover that she
had _not_ known Captain Vanguard for a few weeks; that she had _not_ set
her heart on him, during the last few days, till he had become the one
necessity of her existence; that she had _not_ sat by his side this very
evening in the gloomy back of an opera-box, and leant on his arm in the
crush-room, and gathered from his looks, his gestures, nay, from his
very words, that he loved her. _Her_, the outcast, the adventurer, the
woman warring and warred against, who had vowed vengeance for her
wrongs, on the whole of his base and treacherous sex. Ah! if she were
indeed to wake and find so cold a reality awaiting her, would it not be
better to end it all and go to sleep for ever? No; like a ray of light
through a cloud, like a breath of air in the noon-day heat, like the
song of a bird in a desert-place, came the recollection of her boy. What
had she done to be so blessed? To have found her child, to have found
her heart, to have found, even at the same moment, the love that makes a
woman humble, and the love that makes a woman proud! It seemed too much,
and, for a space, Jin was so happy that she felt almost good.

In such a frame of mind people's slumbers are light and easily
disturbed. Long before the maid came in to call her, Miss Ross was wide
awake, and shaping for herself a plan, to be facilitated, and even
rendered necessary, by subsequent events.

Breakfast at No. 40 was a late and unpunctual meal. It was laid in the
boudoir, and each lady dawdling into that apartment at her own time,
rang independently for the strip of dry toast and cup of coffee that
constituted her repast. Miss Ross, earlier than usual, was surprised to
find her hostess already down, making pretence of breakfasting, with
obvious want of appetite, and a restlessness of manner denoting that
uncomfortable state of mind which the sufferer calls "worry," and the
bystander "fuss."

Jin entered radiant. Fresh from her bath and morning toilet, she had
even a tinge of colour in her cheek, the one thing usually wanting to
complete her beauty. There was a light, too, dancing in her eyes, a
buoyancy in her step and gesture, a sparkle, as it were, of joy and
triumph in her whole bearing, that did not escape the notice of her
friend.

"Late hours seem to suit you, my dear," said Mrs. Lascelles languidly.
"I never saw you looking so well."

"I am a fool about music," answered the other demurely, "and I did enjoy
the opera last night more than I can describe."

"The opera," asked Mrs. Lascelles quietly, "or the company?"

Jin must have been hard hit, for she actually blushed.

"Both, of course," was her reply. "Everything is pleasanter, I suppose,
when it's done with pleasant people."

The tone was rather too careless, and her hand shook while she poured
out a cup of coffee. Mrs. Lascelles, noticing this trepidation, felt her
heart sink within her.

"The company was pleasant enough last night," said she, "as far as _our_
box was concerned; but I don't think people all amused themselves
equally. Helen, for instance, seemed bored to death. She does _not_ look
well, and I am sure she is not happy. I'm very fond of her, Jin, and so
are you. What _is_ it, do you think? and how can we do her good?"

These ladies were not fairly matched. Mrs. Lascelles became flurried and
nervous as she neared the point of collision. Miss Ross, on the
contrary, grew steadier and cooler with the immediate approach of
danger.

"I don't think Helen knows her own mind," she replied; "girls very
seldom do. You must surely have observed in your personal experience,
Rose, that

    "Too many lovers will puzzle a maid."

Mrs. Lascelles accepted the implied compliment with a forced smile, but
it did not turn her from her object.

"Helen is unlike most girls," she answered; "and I don't fancy any
number of lovers would make amends to her for losing the one she has set
her heart on. People are so different, you know, and Helen's is one of
those deep, quiet, reserved natures that suffer awfully, though they
suffer in silence. I think, Jin, between you and me, that Helen likes
Somebody, and that Somebody would like her if it wasn't for Somebody
else!"

Though almost sublime in its ambiguity, Miss Ross understood this "dark
sentence" perfectly, and scorned to affect misconception of its purport.

"You mean Captain Vanguard!" She came out with his name in a burst of
defiance. "Well, how can I help _that_?"

"Oh, Jin, as you are strong be merciful!" pleaded Mrs. Lascelles. "You
know your own power. You know you are one of the most taking creatures
in the world if you only try. Look at Uncle Joseph, look at even Mr.
Goldthred, though I consider him the truest of the true. Look at Sir
Henry. To be sure, it's no compliment from _him_, for he's the same to
everybody. Look at all the men who come near us. You needn't even take
the trouble of shooting, like Mr. Picard's American colonel and his
squirrel--down they come at once. Can't you let this squirrel alone?
Can't you leave him to Helen, dear? Everybody will be so pleased, and I
should be _so_ much obliged to you, Jin, if you would!"

Miss Ross laughed. "The last is certainly a strong inducement," said
she; "but it seems to me you are leaving the squirrel's own inclinations
out of the question. Because he comes down for Colonel Crockett, does it
follow he'll be so obliging to everybody else? I suppose Frank--I mean
Captain Vanguard--has a perfect right to talk to me instead of Miss
Hallaton, if he is more amused in my society than in hers."

"Amused!" repeated Mrs. Lascelles, growing warm. "This is no question of
amusement. It is a life's happiness or misery for two people who ought
never to have been interfered with. You have no right to supplant her;
you have no right to trifle with _him_!"

"Suppose I am _not_ trifling," retorted the other. "Suppose I am in
earnest, just for once, by way of change. You have complimented me on my
powers, in sport. Do you think I should be a less dangerous enemy, Rose,
if I were fighting for my life?"

"You remember our agreement," exclaimed Mrs. Lascelles with rising
colour, and a shake in her voice, denoting wrath no less than a nervous
dread of its indulgence. "You are not acting fairly by me; you're not
acting fairly by any of us. If you turn round now, after what you've
told me, after what we agreed, I can never trust you again, Jin. I shall
think you've been sailing under false colours all through."

"Explain yourself, Rose," said Miss Ross, very quietly, but with an
ominously steady expression about the lower part of her face, in strong
contrast with the quivering lips and tremulous chin of her companion.

"You ought to see it yourself," whimpered the latter, now in a sore
predicament between her feelings of friendship and generosity. "I shall
say something to be sorry for afterwards. I know I shall. You'll drive
me to it, Jin! and when I am driven, I can't and won't stop!"

"You seem to expect that my thoughts, feelings, and opinions are to be
under your control, as you would have my actions and conversation," was
the grave and rather stern rejoinder. "This is not dependence, Mrs.
Lascelles, but slavery. You are not only unkind, but unreasonable and
unjust."

Mrs. Lascelles turned very red. She was now obviously "driven," as she
called it, and not likely to stop.

"What I expect," she retorted, "is nothing to the purpose; for there
seems little chance of my obtaining it. What I _insist_ on is common
propriety of demeanour and the merest fair-play. You would never have
met these people at all--you would never have been in a position to know
any one of them, but for _me_. You are received amongst them
as--as--like anybody else, and you throw down the apple of discord to
set us all at sixes and sevens. You seem to forget, Miss Ross, that your
victims are my personal friends."

"And what am I?" retorted Jin, with an angry flash from her black eyes.
"Something between a companion and a servant! A piece of furniture good
enough for the drawing-room, though occasionally useful in the kitchen!
The obligations are not perhaps so entirely on one side as you would
like to make out. When people hunt in couples, a good deal may be done
that it would be madness to attempt singly. It cannot but be convenient
for an independent lady to have a friend at her elbow who is always well
disposed, always ready to go anywhere, or do anything, generally
good-tempered, and, above all, afflicted with an intermittent defect of
sight or hearing as required. I think I have earned my wages, and
returned adequate value in kind for board and lodging--both, I must
admit of the best--and treatment, I am happy to think, of the kindest
and most considerate, till to-day!"

Touched to the quick by this last reproach, Mrs. Lascelles was already
crying vehemently.

"It's not that!" she sobbed out. "It's not that! I don't want to remind
you of anything that's past and gone. But you ought to do what I ask you
in common gratitude because--because--you know you ought!"

Seeing the adversary wavering, Miss Ross stood firm to her guns.

"Gratitude," said she, "is one thing, and obedience another. I admit
that I owe the first, and hoped I had shown some consciousness of the
debt. The last is a different question, and I am not naturally very
submissive. But, come. Let us have a clear understanding. I am ready to
receive your orders!"

"Orders!" Mrs. Lascelles fired up once more. "You've no right to put it
in that way. But it's no use talking the thing over backwards and
forwards. You've barely known him a fortnight. In plain English, will
you or will you _not_ give Frank Vanguard up?"

Jin laughed scornfully.

"Suppose he won't give _me_ up?"

"That's nothing to do with it," retorted the other. "Once for all, Miss
Ross, will you or will you _not_?"

"No, I won't! There!"

Jin looked very handsome while she thus raised the standard of revolt,
with her head up, her eyes flashing, and a little spot of colour in each
cheek.

Mrs. Lascelles now lost all control over her temper. Totally unused to
anger, she trembled violently under its influence, and felt, indeed,
that no victory, however triumphant, could repay her for the tumult of
such a contest.

"Under these circumstances," said she, vainly endeavouring to steady her
voice, and assume that dignity of bearing to which only last night her
"moral influence" had seemed to entitle her, "it is impossible that you
and I can continue on the same terms. It is impossible that we can
remain under the same roof. You will see the propriety, Miss Ross, at
your earliest convenience of making arrangements to reside elsewhere."

"The sooner the better," answered Jin calmly. "I'll go directly. My
things are packed. We won't part in anger, Mrs. Lascelles. Rose, you've
been very, _very_ good to me, and I shall think kindly of you as long as
I live!"

The tide of battle was now completely turned. It may be that the
conqueror was eagerly looking for an opportunity to lay down her
arms--it may be that Mrs. Lascelles had only meant to threaten, and
hated herself for the menace even while it crossed her lips. She was, at
any rate, quite incapable of hitting an adversary when down, and far
more inclined to set a fallen foe upright, and make friends, than, like
some Amazons, to crush and trample the unfortunate into the dust. She
literally fell on Miss Ross's neck, and wept.

"I didn't mean it!" she sobbed. "I didn't mean it! Jin, dear Jin, I was
angry, and didn't know what I was saying! I am a wretch and a heathen
and a beast! Think no more of it, dear, I implore you! And promise me
that you won't dream of packing up your things and leaving me. What
should I do without you, Jin? Indeed--indeed--I should be perfectly
miserable, dear, if you were to go away!"

So the ladies embraced, and cried, and laughed, and cried again, as is
the manner of their sex in the ratification of all treaties, permanent
or otherwise, arriving at the conclusion that their friendship was
imperishable, that they were all in all to each other, and that
henceforth nothing should part them but the grave. None the less,
however, did Miss Ross determine that she would subject herself no more
to such scenes of reproach and recrimination; that she would take a
certain step, only, after all, a little sooner than expected, which she
had already vaguely contemplated as a possibility, a probability, nay, a
positive necessity, for her happiness; and, if he would only open them
to receive her, throw herself, without delay, into the arms of Frank
Vanguard.



CHAPTER XX.

A RECONNAISSANCE.


Violent tempests like that described in the last chapter do not pass
away without leaving a "ground swell" as it were, on the domestic
surface. Neither Mrs. Lascelles nor Miss Ross felt disposed to take
their usual drive in the open carriage for the purpose of shopping and
"leaving cards;" two functions that constitute the whole duty of women,
from three to six P.M. of every week-day, during the London season. The
principle of acquisitiveness inherent in the female breast, together
with an insatiable desire to see and to be seen, may account for the
shopping; but why society enjoins the penance of leaving cards surpasses
my comprehension altogether. Unmeaning, endless, and exceedingly
troublesome, this custom seems to produce no definite result, but to
fill the waste-paper basket with a multitude of other cards left in
return. To-day, however, the ladies at No. 40 resolved they would devote
their afternoon to refreshment and repose: a good luncheon, a
comfortable arm-chair, the newest novel, and a casual dropping in of
visitors to tea.

The luncheon was heavy, the arm-chair provocative of slumbers; so was
the novel; and Mrs. Lascelles, I am bound to admit, went fast asleep
over its pages; while Miss Ross stole softly up-stairs to read one
important little note, write another, and otherwise bring her schemes to
maturity.

In the mean time, a considerable bustle was going on in Messrs.
Tattersalls' celebrated emporium for the sale of horses--good, bad, and
indifferent. To use correct language, "The entire stud of a nobleman,
well known in Leicestershire," was being brought to the hammer; and a
very motley crowd of sportsmen, dandies, horse-dealers, lords, louts,
yeomen, yokels, and nondescripts were gathered round the auctioneer's
box in consequence. A well-bred chestnut horse, with magnificent
shoulders, and a white fore-leg, was the object of competition at the
moment Sir Henry Hallaton entered the yard; and, although he neither
wanted a hunter, nor could have afforded to buy this one even at its
reserved price, it was not in his power to refrain from elbowing his way
through the crowd, and stationing himself in perilous vicinity to the
hind-legs of the animal.

"Handsome--fast--up to great weight--with an European reputation! And
only two hundred bid for him!" said the voice of Fate from under an
exceedingly well-brushed and rather curly-brimmed hat; while the object
of these encomiums, whose restless eye and ear denoted excitement, if
not alarm, gave a stamp of his foot and a whisk of his tail that caused
considerable swaying, surging, and treading on toes in the encircling
crowd.

"Ten! Twenty!" continued the voice of Fate. "Thirty! Thank you, my lord.
Fifty! Two hundred and fifty bid for him. Run him down once more. Take
care!" And Sir Henry found himself jostled against his new friend
Picard, who, having made the last bid with an assumption of great
carelessness, seemed in danger of becoming the actual proprietor of this
desirable purchase.

"Make me a wheeler, I think," said he, as the horse was led back to the
stable, and another brought out to elicit a fresh burst of competition,
all the more lively, perhaps, that the Leicestershire nobleman had put
such a reserve price on his stud as precluded the sale of anything but a
hack he didn't like.

"Rather light for harness," observed Sir Henry, with a certain covert
approval of his friend's extravagance. "I suppose they _are_ to be
sold?" he added, on further reflection.

"I conclude so, of course," replied the other, though he well knew they
were _not_, and had been bidding pompously for some half-dozen with the
comfortable conviction that there was nothing to pay for his whistle.

"It's a long price," resumed the baronet, as he took Picard's arm to
saunter leisurely in the direction of Belgravia. "At least, it makes
them very dear when you come to match them. That's the worst of having
too good a team."

"Oh! I don't know," said Picard loftily. "I always find it cheapest, in
the long run, to drive the best horses, though I do have to give
thundering prices now and then, I admit. Still, things must begin to
look up for us soon. We Southern proprietors can't be always on the
shady side of the hedge; and we've had a rough time of it enough, in all
conscience."

They were already at the gate, and it appeared this "Southern
proprietor" had no intention of buying any more horses to-day.

Sir Henry hazarded a pertinent, or, as he himself considered it, an
_im_pertinent, inquiry.

"Have you much property," said he, "in the South? And do you get
anything from it?"

"Not, perhaps, what _you_ would call much, in actual value," answered
his companion; "but for extent, of course, unlimited." He waved his arm
as Robinson Crusoe might, while describing his circle:

    "From the centre all round to the sea."

"But American property," he added, "is so difficult to define. Halloo!
here's our friend Vanguard."

That gentleman was indeed strolling leisurely into the yard, apparently
with no particular object, for he strolled out again willingly enough
at the invitation of his two friends.

"It's rather early for the park," observed Picard, as the three crossed
to the shady side of the street, "and too late for St. James's Street.
What shall we do with ourselves for the next half-hour?"

"Go and look at the Serpentine--see if it's still there," said Frank,
who seemed in unusually high spirits, though his manner was somewhat
restless. "If that bores you, there's always the British Museum. It's
cool, and, I've been told, very solitary."

"Too far off," answered Sir Henry, in perfect good faith. "No. I'll tell
you what. Let's go and ask Mrs. Lascelles to give us a cup of tea."

Frank started, and his heart thumped against a little note lying in his
waistcoat-pocket; but, though the thump was for Helen, the note was from
some one very different to that well-conducted young lady. Was he
disloyal enough, even now, to leap at the chance of seeing Miss Hallaton
just once more, and for the last time? If so, he was doomed to be
disappointed, and it served him right.

Picard, who carried no notes of any description in his pockets, and
whose heart seldom beat unless he walked fast up-hill, agreed willingly
to the baronet's proposition. He, too, entertained a vague sentiment of
admiration for Helen, capable of soon ripening into something warmer if
she had any fortune, and under such circumstances his game now was to
see as much of her as he could.

Thus it fell out, that these three gentlemen, arriving at Mrs.
Lascelles's door, found themselves face to face with Uncle Joseph, fresh
from the City, who had just rung the bell, and was utilising his time by
grinding a pair of thick soles fiercely against the scraper.

It would have amused a bystander to observe the effect produced on each
visitor by the footman's appearance and the information he tendered.

"Has Miss Hallaton been here?" said Sir Henry, whose position on the top
step gave him priority of speech with the doorkeeper.

"Called to leave a note after luncheon, Sir Henry, and I was to say
she'd a-gone out driving with Lady Sycamore, and wouldn't be home till
seven, if you came for her here."

Picard, pulling out a memorandum-book, muttered that "he had forgotten
an appointment at his Club," while Frank's face darkened, and he
smothered something between an oath and a sigh.

"Is Miss Ross at home?" then demanded Uncle Joseph, with the air of a
man who submits to an unnecessary formality in compliance with the
usages of society.

"Miss Ross had stepped out--oh! _not_ five minutes ago--the gentlemen
might almost have met her at the corner of the street."

Frank now seemed uneasy, looked at his watch, observed it was "rather
too late to call," and disappeared.

Uncle Joseph gasped. Did Miss Ross leave no message? For _him_, Mr.
Groves? Was the man quite sure?

The man _was_ quite sure, so far as he knew; should he ask the maid?

"D----n the maid!" I am sorry to say, was Uncle Joseph's reply, and
without further leave-taking he bustled off in a towering passion, while
Sir Henry and the footman, on the door-step, contemplated each other in
some amusement and no little surprise.

The baronet broke into a laugh.

"You soon clear off your visitors, James. Is Mrs. Lascelles at home to
_me_!"

"Certainly, sir! Yes, sir! In the boodore, sir!" answered James. "I'd
just taken in tea when you rang."

So Sir Henry found himself _tête-à-tête_ with the lady for whom, during
the foregoing winter, he had half-felt and half-professed a spurious
kind of attachment, and was conscious of an uncomfortable wish that he,
too, had made his escape with the others, or that it had never entered
his head to come to tea at all.

She was always gracious, just as she was always well-dressed. There is a
dignity and a decency of beauty, which nothing will induce a beautiful
woman to forego. It was a very cool and steady hand that Mrs. Lascelles
tendered to her vacillating admirer, while she bade him sit down, and
poured him out a cup of tea.

"I was on the point of writing to you," said she; "but you have saved me
the trouble. I wanted to see you, Sir Henry, very much. I have something
particular to say."

He bowed, and settled himself in a low easy-chair with his back to the
windows. No faded beauty of the other sex could have entertained a
greater objection than Sir Henry to flourishing "crow's-feet" and
wrinkles in the light of day.

"It's no wonder I'm here," was the smiling reply, "for I always want to
see you!"

"And without anything particular to say," she retorted, adding
hurriedly--"However, that's not the point. Sir Henry, you care for your
daughter?"

"More than for anything in the world!" was his grave rejoinder.

"I know it--I know it," she answered, and the colour deepened in her
cheek. "Well, now, men are blind as bats, I think, in all matters of
affection; but have you not lately noticed an alteration in Helen's
manner, spirits, in her very looks? Can't you see there's something
wrong with the girl? Can't you guess what it is?"

He looked startled, disturbed, distressed.

"Not the lungs, Mrs. Lascelles!" he exclaimed. "She runs up-stairs like
a lap-wing, and will waltz for twenty minutes together at a spin. There
can't be much amiss. Not her lungs, surely; nor her heart!"

Mrs. Lascelles laughed.

"Yes, her heart," she repeated, "though not in the sense _you_ mean. Not
anatomically, but sentimentally, I fear; which is sometimes almost as
bad."

He looked immensely relieved.

"Oh! she'll get over that," said he, putting more sugar in his tea.
"She's a sensible girl, Helen, with a good deal of self-respect, and
what I should call 'mind.' No whims, no fancies, in any way, and not the
least romantic."

"Like her papa," observed Mrs. Lascelles maliciously.

"I trust in heaven _not_!" he replied, with unusual energy. "Helen is as
much my superior in intellect as she is in moral qualities. She has
talent, energy, self-control, and self-denial; none of which, I fear,
can she inherit from _me_. Her sincerity, too, and trustfulness are like
a child's, and she is as fond of me now as she was at two years old. You
don't think she _really_ cares for anybody, do you, Mrs. Lascelles? It
might be a serious thing for her if she did, and I had rather everything
I have in the world went to ruin than that Helen should be made
unhappy."

"I do," answered Mrs. Lascelles. "I think she cares for Frank Vanguard."

"Confound him!" ejaculated Sir Henry, upsetting his tea-cup. "A
presuming young jackass! And not over steady, I'm afraid," he added,
reverting in his own mind to certain memories connected with supper,
cigarettes, champagne, three o'clock in the morning, and Kate Cremorne.

"Now that's so like a _man_!" said his hostess. "You want to keep your
treasure all to yourself, and are furious with everybody who agrees with
you in appreciating its value. Captain Vanguard is young, good-looking,
a gentleman, and not badly off. Why shouldn't your daughter like him,
and why shouldn't he like your daughter? Sir Henry, I needn't ask if you
believe in my inclination, do you also believe in my ability to serve
you?"

"Certainly," was the polite reply. "Nobody is half so clever, and,
besides, you are a perfect woman of the world."

"Will you be guided by my advice?"

"What do you propose?" was the natural answer to so comprehensive a
question.

"Get Helen out of town at once. Carry her off to Windsor. I can take
upon myself to offer you The Lilies. Uncle Joseph will lend the cottage
to me, or any of my friends, for as long as I like. Give her plenty of
amusement, but no dissipation. Early hours, a glass of port wine and a
biscuit every day at twelve, and don't let her stay out after sun-down.
In three weeks the girl will be in rude health, or I know nothing of a
woman's constitution and ailments."

"But what has all this to do with Captain Vanguard?" asked Sir Henry,
fixing in his mind, not without effort, the whole regimen, particularly
the port wine at twelve o'clock.

"Oh! blindest of baronets!" laughed Mrs. Lascelles. "Lady Sycamore, or
any other chaperon, would have seen it at once. Captain Vanguard is
quartered at Windsor. Helen is staying at The Lilies. The young people
meet every day. A mutual attachment, already, I firmly believe, in the
bud, comes to maturity. General _tableau_! You give your blessing, and
will become, I hope, more respectable as a father-in-law than you have
hitherto been in other relations of life."

"I'll do anything for Helen--anything!" said Sir Henry vehemently. "And
how can I thank you enough, Mrs. Lascelles, for your kindness and the
interest you take in my girl? You'll come down every Saturday, and stay
till Monday, to see how your prescription answers, of course?"

"Not the least of course," she replied. "Jin and I mean to take
ourselves off to Brighton by the end of the week. If the fine weather
lasts, we shall very likely go on to Dieppe."

This, then, was her kindly scheme: to get Miss Ross out of Frank
Vanguard's way to leave the coast clear for Helen; and then, having
settled matters to her own satisfaction, weigh Sir Henry deliberately
against Goldthred, and take whichever she considered most deserving of
herself.

Mrs. Lascelles never doubted her power over any one on whom she chose to
exert it, and believed that, like a spider, she need only spin her web
in order to surround the desired bluebottle inextricably with its toils.

In hers, as in similar cases, I imagine that to break boldly through the
meshes was the insect's best chance of turning the tables, and taking
the custodian herself into custody.

"Miss Ross goes with you?" asked Sir Henry meditatively, though I
believe he was thinking less of that black-eyed syren than of his
daughter.

"Miss Ross goes with me, undoubtedly," was the answer, spoken rather
sharply, and in some little displeasure. "Have you any objection? Can't
you bear to part with her even for so short a period? You see, I know
all about _that_, too."

Sir Henry never seemed to have any sense of shame. He couldn't have
blushed to save his life. To this callousness he owed many of his
successes, and almost all his scrapes.

He smiled pleasantly. "You know all about everything, I believe," said
he; "and you _think_ you know all about _me_. But you don't, and I
don't; and nobody does, I fancy. I'm so different from what I feel sure
I was intended to be, that I sometimes suspect, like the Irishman, they
'changed me at nurse.' Only, if I _were_ somebody else, that wouldn't
account for it, after all, would it? These are puzzling speculations;
but I know I _could_ have been a better and a very different man. It's
not my fault."

"Whose, then?" she asked, bending her blue eyes on him with an
expression of interest extremely dangerous for a man at any age.

He scarcely marked it. He was searching out the truth for once from the
depths--not very profound--of his world-worn heart, and had forgotten
during the moment that false and fleeting woman-worship which had so
weakened and deteriorated his nature. Looking back along the path of
life on which, as in some idolatrous grove, his every step had been
marked by a soulless image of brass, or stucco, or marble, reared only
to be defaced and overthrown, he was scarcely conscious of that lovely
living companion, listening with all the attention of curiosity and
self-interest to his retrospections.

"Yours!" he answered--("Now it's coming," she thought)--"Yours! Not
individually, but collectively, as of that sex which seems to be the
natural bane of ours. If I could begin again, I would forswear female
society altogether. I should be a better, and certainly a happier man.
As it is, my life has been wasted in looking for something I always
failed to find. Did you ever see Grantley Berkeley's book? There it is
on the table. I dare say you've never looked into it. Read it, if you
want to find poetry in sport. He seems to entertain a gentle, kindly
feeling for every living creature, wild or tame. He tells a story of one
of his hounds--Champion or Challenger, if I remember right--that used to
detach itself from the pack on hunting mornings, and come to its
mistress's pony-chaise for a morsel of biscuit and a caress. Ever
afterwards, when drafted into another county, the faithful, true-hearted
dog would break away, and gallop up to every open carriage that arrived
at the meet, returning from each succeeding disappointment with a
sadder expression on his wise, honest face--a more piteous look in his
meek, brown, wistful eyes. I've been like poor Champion or Challenger.
So often, I've thought I had found my heart's desire at last! Then I
strained every nerve to win, and _did_ win, too; only to learn, over and
over again, that she had not deceived me half so deeply as I had
deceived myself. Shall I confess that the woman who, in my whole life,
has approached nearest the ideal of my heart, was one whom my reason, my
experience, and my moral sense, deteriorated though it is, convicted as
the vilest and the worst?"

Few people had ever seen Sir Henry in earnest. Certainly not Mrs.
Lascelles; and she was almost frightened.

"Good gracious!" she exclaimed. "After such an experience, you'll surely
never try again?"

He seemed to wake up from a dream. The ruling passion was not to be
controlled; and habit, stronger than nature, impelled him, though for
the hundredth time, to recommence the old story in the old familiar
strain.

"Just once more," he said, drawing his chair nearer the frail
spider-legged tea-table that constituted the only barrier between them.
"It's hard if a man seeks all his life without finding his object at
last. Mrs. Lascelles, may I not say----"

In another moment she might have had the satisfaction of hearing, and
perhaps repelling, a fervent declaration of attachment; but, at this
juncture, the door of the boudoir was thrown open, and the announcement
of "Lady Clearwell!" by James in person, ushered in an exceedingly
courteous and sprightly personage, all smiles and rustle, who called
Mrs. Lascelles "Rose," took her by both hands, and, with a distant bow
to Sir Henry, dropped on the sofa as if she meant to make herself
perfectly at home.

Such interruptions are almost a matter of course. There was nothing for
it but to take up his hat and make his bow.

It may be that Sir Henry, walking soberly down-stairs, reflected, not
without gratitude, how such little _contretemps_ constitute the great
charm and safeguard of society in general.

Lady Clearwell stayed till nearly seven. As her carriage rolled away,
Mrs. Lascelles looked wistfully at the clock, and called over the
banisters to James:

"I'm not at home to anybody _now_, except Mr. Goldthred."

But Mr. Goldthred never came.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE SOHO BAZAAR.


Frank Vanguard, leaving the threshold of No. 40 with unusual alacrity,
lost no time in securing one of the many Hansom cabs that are to be
found crawling about Belgravia, plentiful as wasps on wall-fruit, every
summer's afternoon. "Soho Bazaar," said he. "Don't go to sleep over it!"
And so found himself, in less than a quarter of an hour, at the door of
that heterogeneous emporium. It did not seem to surprise him in the
least, that, while he paid his driver, the well-known figure of Miss
Ross should precede him into the building, nor that he should come upon
her, minutely examining ornaments of bog-oak, at the very first counter
which offered a secluded corner for confidential communication. The
place seemed well adapted for secrecy; purchasers, it appeared, there
were none, while the sellers, women of various ages and costumes, were
mostly nodding drowsily behind their wares.

Jin looked up from a clumsy black cross set in Irish diamonds, and her
eyes flashed brighter than the spurious gems while, putting her hand in
Frank's arm, she nestled to his side, as though henceforth her refuge
was there alone.

"You got my note?" she whispered. "I didn't know what to do. My only
chance was to see you at once, and I could think of no place so good as
this."

"Dearest!" he murmured, pressing the arm that clung so fondly to his
own, looking about him, nevertheless, in uncomfortable apprehension of
observant bystanders, or sharp-sighted acquaintance.

"I have had such a battle to fight," she continued, leading him into a
grove of waving drapery, consisting chiefly of clothing for young
people. "If I hadn't _felt_ I could depend upon you, I think I must have
given way. I've behaved so badly to Mrs. Lascelles, so cruelly to Mr.
Groves. I've done so wrong, by everybody but _you_."

"Dearest!" he repeated, with another squeeze. His ideas were gradually
deserting him, nor did he know exactly what he was expected to say in
reply.

"They all wanted to persuade me," she continued. "They all wanted to
talk me into it; and in my position, so completely friendless and
forlorn, it would have been an excellent arrangement, of course--far the
wisest thing to do. But I couldn't. No, I couldn't, when I thought of
_you_."

"I didn't quite make out from your note," said Frank, collecting his
wits with some difficulty. "You wrote it in a hurry, I dare say. You
mentioned something about old Groves. Had he--had he the impudence to
ask you to marry him?"

She turned round with a comical expression of mingled pain and amusement
in her face.

"Do you think it requires so much effrontery?" she demanded. "Recollect
my position, or rather total want of it. Recollect that Mr. Groves is
rich, amiable, kind-hearted, and, after all, not so _very_ old, that is,
for a _man_. Just the sort of person to make a good, trustworthy,
affectionate husband."

"Then why didn't you take him?" said Frank; but the tone of pique in
which he spoke, told Miss Ross the game was in her own hand.

She let go his arm, looking reproachfully into his very eyes.

"Can _you_ ask me, Captain Vanguard?" she exclaimed, in sorrowful
accents, stopping short under a pair of elaborate blue knickerbockers,
ticketed seven-and-nine. "If so, I have indeed acted madly in meeting
you here to-day. No; let go my hand. Before I walk a step farther tell
me if you really mean what you say!"

"You know what I mean," he answered, in an agitated whisper. "You know
that you are everything in the world to _me_. That if you took up with
any other fellow you would drive me mad, and that I would rather we were
both in our graves than you should marry such a 'guy' as old Groves!"

They were pacing on through the bazaar once more, Frank having
repossessed himself of his companion's arm, while he made the foregoing
statement, with every appearance of earnestness and truth.

Jin stopped short at a counter, on which were displayed a variety of
children's toys in gaudy profusion.

"What a love!" she exclaimed, pouncing on a parti-coloured little
figure-of-fun with bells at all its angles. "Twelve-and-sixpence? Put it
up for me, please, Captain Vanguard; don't look so astonished. It's only
a plaything for my boy!"

Frank's eyes opened wide; perhaps for that reason his ears failed to
detect something forced and embarrassed in the laugh with which Miss
Ross greeted his surprise.

"I have no secrets from you _now_," she continued. "You and I must trust
each other entirely, or not at all. I have never told you about my boy,
but I cannot and will not give him up, even for you, Frank. Take me with
my encumbrances, or not at all. _C'est tout simple!_" Watching his looks
as the steersman watches a coming wave, something warned her to avoid
the imminent shock. Like a skilful pilot, she luffed, so to speak,
several points to the windward of truth.

"He has nobody else to depend on in the world," she said, eyeing Frank's
face with a touching and plaintive gaze. "People blame me, I dare say,
but I know I'm doing right, for after all, is he not my own sister's
child?"

Frank drew a long breath, looking immensely relieved, yet conscious the
while of a vague perception, not entirely agreeable, that the last link
in his fetters was about to be riveted for good and all.

"You're an angel," said he--"a real angel, I do believe. I begin to see
it more every day. At first, I used to think you could be very wicked if
you chose. Tell me all about it. I know you will tell me the----"

He could not have believed those slender fingers were strong enough to
inflict such a grip as at this moment interrupted his sentence, and
hurried him on to a different part of the bazaar so rapidly as to entail
no small risk of upsetting many fragile articles exposed for sale at the
corners of the different stalls; not, however, before he was aware of an
exceedingly frigid bow from Lady Shuttlecock, a stare of unbounded
astonishment from at least two of her daughters, and a wink of intense
amusement from Kilgarron, who, surrounded by children of all sizes, was
obviously in attendance on aunt, cousins, and relations of every degree.

This numerous family-party did not affect to conceal their surprise at
Frank's appearance in such an unlikely place and with so charming a
companion. Had the pair walked boldly up to Lady Shuttlecock to exchange
with these new arrivals the customary greetings of people who see each
other much oftener than they desire, it would probably have been
inferred that Mrs. Lascelles was shopping in some other part of the
building, and no further notice would have been taken of the
circumstance; but Jin's sudden flight, the result perhaps of studied
calculation, was compromising in the last degree, and her ladyship,
gathering her brood around her, began to fan herself with a vigour of
disapproval not calculated to cool an exuberant matron in the dog-days.
As her head, rising inch by inch, attained the level from which
propriety looks down on indiscretion, she turned fiercely to Kilgarron,
and observed, as if it was _his_ fault:

"Most extraordinary! _Your_ friend Captain Vanguard, and, of all people
in the world, Miss Ross!"

"It couldn't have been Miss Ross, mamma," interposed Lady Selina in
sprightly innocence. "She never would have run away from us as if we'd
got the plague."

"Nonsense, Selina," said her sister. "She was ashamed of herself, and
well she might be. I always thought her an odious person; and as for
_your_ friend, Kil, I don't believe he's much better."

"Bother!" replied Kilgarron. "She's his cousin, sure! Mayn't a man take
his cousin to the Soho Bazaar, and buy fairings for her? Never say it!
I'll be emptying the counter here for mine this minute!"

So popular a declaration was received by the young fry with acclamations
that reached the ears of Frank and Jin, who had retired for sanctuary to
the loneliness of the picture-room.

"I am lost _now_!" exclaimed the latter, really out of breath from the
pace at which they fled. "It will be all over London to-night. The girls
hate me like poison. The mother's the greatest gossip in Europe. Lord
Kilgarron will make a joke of it at the mess-table! Captain
Vanguard--Frank--what is to become of me? Don't look so cross! What am I
to do?"

He pondered. His face was very grave--almost, as she said, cross.
Suddenly it lighted up, smiling fondly down into her own.

"There is a very easy way out of it," he said--"a way to stop all their
mouths; but perhaps you wouldn't like it!"

"To marry Mr. Groves?" said she, with one of her most mischievous
glances and her merriest laugh.

He laughed in concert.

"If you like, darling," he answered, "at some future time; but not
whilst I'm alive. It's my turn first."

"Oh, Frank!" was all she said; and for a moment she felt she loved him
too dearly to sacrifice him to such a fate.

But the temptation was overwhelming. So many considerations crowded on
her brain: her state of dependence, now more than ever irksome since the
late difference with Mrs. Lascelles; the awkwardness of meeting Uncle
Joseph daily, and the impossibility of refusing to give him a decided
answer; the equal impossibility, after all she had led him to expect, of
saying anything but Yes; the delight--and this to one of her temperament
and antecedents was not without considerable charm--of anything like an
elopement or a clandestine marriage, not counting the triumph of
carrying off such a prize as Frank Vanguard from the many women who
would be too happy to make him their lawful prey; the impression--vague,
unreasoning, and essentially feminine--that such a step would free her
at once and for ever from any claim Picard might advance on her person,
her belongings, or her child; finally, and it is only justice to insist
that this was the strongest inducement of all--the undisturbed
possession of that child, whom she resolved to carry off with her in
her flight, but whose relationship to herself, it pained her to think,
she must now disguise for evermore.

Vanguard, drawing her towards him, was surprised to find the tears
running down her cheeks.

He didn't care if a hundred Lady Shuttlecocks were watching: he wound
his arm round her waist, and she buried her face impulsively in his
breast. For half a minute or so, they were both very much in earnest and
very happy.

Then she looked up, and adjusted her bonnet with a smile.

"How shocked St. Sebastian will be!" she observed; that
sparingly-clothed martyr, execrably painted, having indeed been the only
witness of this improper ebullition.

"It must be done at once," said Frank; now that he was fairly in for it,
characteristically keen and impatient of inaction. "You can't go back to
No. 40. I won't have you persecuted by that old idiot, Groves. We ought
to start from here, you and I, just as we are--swagger into the first
church that we see--they're always open--and get it over."

She smiled very sweetly now on his impatience.

"You rash, inconsiderate darling!" she said. "That's impossible. I wish
it wasn't. No. You shall be guided by me, and let me have my own way. In
the first place, I must go back to No. 40 for many reasons. Well, if you
insist on knowing, I must get some more things. I am very glad you like
this dress; but it wouldn't do for one's whole outfit. Don't look so
alarmed: my wardrobe is not very large, and I know where I can have it
taken care of without dragging about with me more than I require.
To-morrow I shall be free."

"And to-morrow I must be at Windsor--at least in the afternoon,"
observed Frank in an injured tone. "Why the Colonel can't inspect my
young horses without _me_ I don't know. The whole lot are not worth
five pounds. But I can get away by six o'clock."

"At Windsor!" repeated Jin. "The very thing! Now listen, Frank, and I
will arrange it all in a way that will disarm suspicion, and leave no
trace of us after we have made our escape. You shall go down to your
barracks and attend to your duties, like a good boy. I mean you to be
always subservient to discipline. When your colonel has done with you,
it will be my turn. You will get into a skiff, or whatever you call
it--a boat that has room enough for two people, and cushions, and all
that--you shall row it to the very place I got in at--don't you
remember--the day you saved my life? and--and you will find me waiting
there. Take me or leave me; as I said before, Frank, I have nobody in
the world now but you."

He lifted her hand passionately to his lips. "Take you!" he repeated, "I
should think I _would_! But how are you to get out of London? What
excuse can you make to Mrs. Lascelles?"

She hated herself that she could lie to _him_, and yet such is the force
of habit, such are the exigencies of a life like hers, the ready
falsehood came glib to her tongue.

"We are all going to The Lilies for a day or two," she said. "Miss
Hallaton is to be there, with Mrs. Lascelles, on a visit."

Even now he winced as if he was stung, at the bare mention of Helen's
name. The sensation was painful in the extreme, though qualified by
gratified vanity, and a certain bitter satisfaction in the justice of
his reprisals.

She read him like a book. If she had ever wavered for a moment, if her
better nature had ever warned her to spare the man's future because she
loved him, all such considerations were utterly set aside in that
passion for rivalry which has driven so many women to destruction, and
by which Miss Ross was certainly not less affected than the rest of her
sex.

In all matters of love, war, pleasure, or business, Frank had a great
idea of sailing with the tide. So long as things went smoothly, his
maxim was to "let the ship steer herself," a method of navigation both
safer and more successful than people generally imagine. He assented
with the utmost devotion to all Jin's arrangements, even in their most
trifling details, and did not even protest against her cruelty in
cutting short their interview, and imperatively forbidding him to
accompany her any part of the way home.

"You see I trust you in everything," said he, as he bade her "good-bye"
at the door of the cab to which he consigned her.

"And do not I trust _you_?" was her answer, with a look that spoke
volumes, rousing all the manly impulses of his nature, appealing to all
the generous instincts of his heart.

She knew exactly how to manage him. As she drove away, Frank felt that
to deceive this simple, confiding girl, who had placed herself so
completely at his mercy, trusted so implicitly in his honour, would be,
of all villanies, the blackest and most disgraceful. "If I'm going to
make a fool of myself," he muttered, while the rattle of her cab was
lost in the roar of an adjacent thoroughfare, "at least you shall never
find out I think so; and, come what may, my darling, hang me if I'll
ever be such a rogue as to make a fool of _you_!"

Miss Ross, returning to No. 40, experienced much the same feelings as a
whist-player, who, with unexpectedly good cards, has yet made the most
of them by science, skill, and studious attention to the game. Perhaps,
also, she felt conscious of a certain fatigue and depression, such as
generally succeeds brain-work accompanied by excitement. During her
_tête-à-tête_ dinner with Mrs. Lascelles she was more silent than
usual, whereas the other lady was more talkative. It did not escape the
latter, however, that Jin's manner had acquired a softness and a wistful
kindness towards herself she had never observed before. Uncle Joseph,
too, coming to spend the evening, boiling with indignation, thought his
ladye-love tenderer, more womanly, more attractive than ever. She had
coaxed him into good-humour with his first cup of tea, and in less than
ten minutes had him in perfect subjection once more. Whether it was
compunction or remorse, or only the innate coquetry inseparable from the
woman, I cannot explain, but a charm seemed to hang about Jin to-night
irresistible as the spells of a sorceress. Uncle Joseph, though the
least sensitive of subjects, was completely subdued.

He took an early opportunity, however, of asking his enchantress, not
without irritation, why she had been out when he called? Her answer
disarmed him completely.

"I waited till past five, and then the pain got so much worse, I could
bear it no longer."

His heart leaped and his face brightened. "You--you don't mean you
couldn't endure the anxiety! Miss Ross!--Jin! How I wish I'd known! How
I wish I'd seen you! What! You--you actually started to look for me?"

"Not so bad as that," she answered, with a smile. "I went out to get a
tooth stopped."



CHAPTER XXII.

KIDNAPPING.


"First for Windsor?--Second to Slough? which is it to be? I wish these
young women knew their own minds!" muttered an irritated railway
official at Paddington, as Miss Ross, changing her directions with
inconvenient suddenness, blocked the stream of passengers defiling past
his window to take their tickets for the train. She reinstated herself,
however, in his good opinion, by unusual alacrity in paying her money,
ere she entered the ladies' waiting-room, from which, after a couple of
minutes, she reappeared, completely disguised in figure, face, and
bearing.

She had gone in, a shapely, upright, good-looking young woman, on whom
masculine eyes could not but turn with unqualified approval. She came
out, wearing a double veil, a pair of blue spectacles, and a respirator,
bent crooked, with one leg shorter than the other. Thus metamorphosed,
she limped to her second-class carriage under the very noses of two men,
to have been discovered by whom would have entailed ruin, disgrace, and
instantaneous explosion of her grand scheme.

Picard and Frank, setting the bye-laws of the company at defiance, by
smoking on its platform, were making indiscreet remarks on the
appearance of the different passengers hurrying to take their places in
the same train. Little did they think, how the heart was beating, of
that dowdy, dumpy figure they glanced at half in pity, half in scorn;
nor how a thrill of triumph pervaded her from top to toe, while Miss
Ross reflected, with what transparent devices these lords of the
creation were to be duped, with what facility she could turn and twist
two great stupid men round her dainty little finger. She did not so much
mind Frank. Had he been alone, they might have journeyed amicably down
together, but she dreaded recognition by his companion; above all she
dreaded that Picard might have the same object as herself, might be
going out of town for the express purpose of visiting the child. Even in
this case, however, she felt a proud confidence in her own powers of
outwitting them all; conscious, that like an Indian amongst the rapids,
she could steer to an inch, undismayed by any danger, however imminent,
that did not actually overwhelm her bark, taking a keen wild pleasure in
the very destruction she invited only to elude. Sitting opposite a
motherly woman, with a basket, who sucked peppermint as a sailor "turns
his quid," she found herself almost wishing she had taken her place
boldly in the next carriage, which a strong odour of tobacco-smoke bade
her infer was occupied by two men, both of whom she had successively
fancied she loved.

Their conversation would have interested her no doubt. Having taken a
great liking to Frank, ever since the opportune appearance of that
champion on the night he was assailed, Picard had confided to him the
whole history of a certain attraction that drew him so often to Windsor,
and was now deep in a dissertation on the trustworthiness of Mrs. Mole,
and the endearing qualities of her charge.

"Such a little brick, Captain," said the Confederate officer, between
the puffs of an enormous cigar. "Such quality, such gumption, such grit,
I wouldn't have believed could be found in a child, not if you raised
'em by steam! To see the critter's face when he lifts the latch, to let
me in--he can just reach it, and very proud he is to be so tall. To hear
him crow, and halloo, and sing 'Hail, Columbia!' 'God save the Queen'
'Rule Britannia' and 'Yankee Doodle.' He's got 'em all as ready as
sharp-shooting, and as correct--as correct, as a barrel organ! It's my
belief that child is destined to be a great man, Captain. He's gifted
with adaptability, sir, and is what we call _capable_. That old woman
I've trusted with him seems honest as the day, and does her duty by the
varment _well_. Health, of course, at present, is the first
consideration; but _you_ see, when he gets a little older, if I don't
give that boy an education, to fit him for any profession or position on
earth--from stoker on this broad gauge railway to President of the
United States! that's what I call bringing up a child in the way it
should go."

Frank tried to appear more interested than he really felt.

"Exactly," said he; "and so whichever way he goes afterwards, must be
the right one. It's an excellent plan, no doubt; but, I confess, I
shouldn't have thought of it myself."

"They understand the question of education better on the other side of
the Atlantic," continued Picard, in perfect good faith; "they go ahead
there to some purpose in most things, but when they're working 'social
science,' as they call it, the way they get the steam up is a caution!
Well, I've concluded to take my own plan with the young one--I feel I've
a right, for I couldn't love the boy better if he was my son ten times
over. Ah! I sometimes think, Captain, I should have been a happier man
if I had been a better one. Loafing is like smuggling, it don't pay in
the long run. A contraband cargo is an awful risk, and a very uncertain
profit; and yet, I doubt if it's a good thing, either, for a man to
marry too early in life."

"Premature, eh?" answered Frank, not much encouraged, while conscious of
feeling unpleasantly nervous, as he approached alike the termination of
his journey and his bachelorhood. "Of course--certainly--thanks--yes, I
will have another cigar--it brings him up short, I take it--settles him,
as you may say, once for all."

Picard laughed. "Women _un_settle a chap sometimes," said he, "and bring
him up short enough too, for that matter. I've tried it every way, and I
only know I've always been wrong; but I sometimes think I could do
better if I'd another chance. That's an uncommon likely girl now, that
Miss Hallaton, as they call her. I wonder if I could do any good in
those diggings. You know the family well, Captain; what do you think?"

Frank could hardly conceal his annoyance, though it was sad to reflect
that after all he had no right to be angry. Loyal enough still to revere
the flag he had deserted, he answered somewhat stiffly.

"Sir Henry looks very high for his daughter, and I should think Miss
Hallaton herself would be more fastidious, more difficult to please,
than most people."

Picard seemed in no way disconcerted. A life of adventure soon produces
a habit of underrating difficulties, and a tendency to risk all for the
chance of winning a part. I am not sure but that a spice of this kind of
recklessness is appreciated by women, and that "nothing venture, nothing
have," is a maxim which holds good in love, quite as much as in other
affairs of life.

"Oh! I could get on well enough with the old man," said he; "there's a
freemasonry amongst fellows of his stamp and mine. I consider Sir Henry
quite one of my own sort, and, indeed, I've sounded him. Well, perhaps I
can hardly say _sounded_ him on the subject, but hinted to him that he
and I might do a smartish stroke of business if we put our money and our
brains together, and played a little into each other's hands. It's the
girl that beats _me_, Captain; that's where I'm at sea. She's got a
high-handed way with her that I can't make head against at all, and I'm
not easily dashed, far from it. The young woman's uneasy in herself,
too. There's something on her mind. I saw it from the first. The best
thing she can do, in my opinion, would be to marry some smart, likely
young chap, who would take her abroad for a spell till her colour came
back, and the nonsense was driven out of her head. I should like to be
_him_ uncommon! But I don't see my way."

There was much of bitter to Frank in this simple, confidential talk,
dashed, nevertheless, with a something of sweet and subtle poison, that
ought to have warned him he had no right to pledge himself to one woman
while he could thus be affected by the mere name of another. Strange to
say, he felt that Picard now constituted a link between himself and that
past life which after to-day must be put out of sight for ever, and he
clung to the Confederate officer accordingly.

"You'll come to luncheon at the barracks, of course," said he, throwing
the end of his cigar out at the window. "I must be there till five or
six o'clock to parade my young horses for the Colonel. Why he wants to
see them to-day I don't know, considering he bought them all himself,
and a very moderate lot they are. But, anyhow, _there_ I shall be till
five at the earliest."

"Luncheon," repeated Picard reflectively; "I don't care if I do. I'm
generally peckish about two o'clock, and Britishers _do_ dine
unnaturally late. I'll go and see the boy first, come back to feed with
you, and take a look at the young horses afterwards. How long now,
Captain, do you estimate that it takes to get a trooper fit for duty?"

"How long?" repeated the other, who could be eloquent on this congenial
theme. "Why, two years at the very least. And even then half of them are
not properly mouthed for common field movements, certainly not for
parade. Why, I've seen a squadron of Austrian cuirassiers march off at a
walk, every horse beginning like a foot soldier with his near leg, and I
don't know why our cavalry should be worse drilled than theirs. One of
my troop was actually run away with last year at a review, and I felt as
much ashamed as if he had run away in action! No; what I want is to see
more rides and fewer foot-parades, the men less bothered and the horses
better broke."

"Well, you _do_ take an unconscionable time over everything in this old,
slow, and sure country," answered Picard. "Why, if we'd wanted two
years, or two months either, to get our cattle fit for service, none of
Stuart's best things would have come off at all. In ten days, Captain,
ten days at most, I'd every horse in my squadron as steady as a
time-piece, and as handy as a cotton-picker. I wish I could have shown
you 'Stonewall.' I called him 'Stonewall' after Jackson, you may be
sure. A great, slapping chestnut, sixteen hands high, and up to carrying
two hundred pounds weight. Before I'd ridden him a week he'd lift a
glove like a retriever, and walk on his hind legs like a poodle. I could
tell you things of that horse that I'll defy _you_, or any man to
believe! I was riding him on the twenty-first of----Halloo! here we are
at Slough. What a queer old woman, hobbling along the platform! Now,
that's the sort of figure you wouldn't see from one end of the States to
the other. Where do you suppose they raised her, and what do you think
she is?"

"Somebody's aunt, I should say," answered Frank carelessly, hardly
vouchsafing a glance, as the train moved on; and Miss Ross drew a long
breath of relief to find herself safe and undiscovered at Slough
Station, within a few miles of her boy.

She thought well, however, to retain her disguise for the present,
feeling such confidence in its efficiency that she regretted the first
impulse of panic when she saw Picard should have prompted her to alter
her destination. She reflected that, had she gone on to Windsor, she
could have made sure of his proceedings, while remaining herself
unrecognised, and that it would have been simpler and less trouble to
watch the hawk than the nest. She must hover round the latter now, and
so baffle this bird of prey, even in the very neighbourhood of its
quarry.

So Miss Ross, putting more deformity into her figure, more limp into her
gait, shrouding herself more sedulously in her veils, her spectacles,
and her respirator, seized on a job-carriage she found unoccupied, and
ordered its driver to proceed leisurely in the direction of The Lilies.
She was glad to have half-an-hour's quiet, in which to think over her
plans, undisturbed by the jingling of this unassuming conveyance, and
felt her courage rising, her wits growing brighter, as the moments drew
near to test the steadiness of the one and the quickness of the other.

It was a part of Jin's character, on which she prided herself not a
little, that come what might she was always "equal to the occasion." As
Picard said of her long ago, soon after that form of marriage which the
woman believed to have been an imposition, and the man considered no
more binding than any other contract it suited his convenience to
dissolve, "she could dive deeper, and come up drier" than most people.
Notwithstanding the desperate nature of the plunge she was now
contemplating, Jin had no misgivings but that she would reappear on the
surface with plumage unruffled and confidence unimpaired.

Dismissing her fly at the gate of The Lilies, thereby leaving its driver
to suppose that she was an upper servant belonging to that
establishment, she took the well-remembered path leading to Mrs. Mole's
cottage, limping along at a very fair pace over the open meadows, but
availing herself of every leafy copse and thick luxuriant hedge that
might hide her from the eyes of chance observers. No Indian "brave," on
the war-path, could have been more cunning, more vigilant, more chary
of leaving evidence where "the trail" had passed. At an angle of the
road, within sight of the casket that held her jewel, an opportune
hiding-place was formed by the intersection of two large strong fences,
now tangled and impervious in a wealth of foliage, briars, and wild
flowers. Here, in a nook concealing her from any passenger who did not
pass directly in her front, Miss Ross disposed herself to wait and
watch. A Berkshire farmer, slouching by in a tumble-down gig, was the
only person who disturbed her solitude; and coming under his stolid
gaze, she had presence of mind to pull a letter from her pocket and
pretend to make a sketch. Watching his figure jogging drowsily down the
road she shrank back in her hiding-place, for Picard was lifting the
latch of Mrs. Mole's garden gate, and a little voice, in shrill accents
that made her pulses leap, was bidding him welcome to the cottage. Jin's
whole faculties seemed to concentrate themselves in her large wild
shining eyes.

Would he never go? Did he mean to stay there all day? She looked at her
watch again and again, while every quarter of an hour seemed lengthened
to a week. With hungry jealousy she pictured him in the brick-floored
kitchen, lifting her curly-haired darling on his knee, robbing her of
the kiss, the smile, the simple prattle, the little endearments. She
experienced a fierce desire to rush in and rescue her child by force.
"What right has he to come between me and my boy?" thought she,
clenching her hands with impatience. "I can understand what they mean
now when they talk of the love a tigress bears for her cubs. Ah! _I_
shouldn't have got tired of you so soon, my little pet," she added, with
characteristic inconsistency, when the click of the front-door latch
announced Picard's departure, and she saw him waving back a succession
of "farewells" to the child.

He had remained with it really less than an hour. To Miss Ross the time
seemed interminable, yet now it was over, she blamed him that his visit
had been so short.

She forced herself to wait till he had been gone full ten minutes by her
watch. Then, abandoning disguise, she scudded down the road, and, with a
hasty greeting to Mrs. Mole, caught Gustave in her arms and strained him
to her breast, as if she feared he would be torn away from her on the
spot. The little fellow seemed quite pleased to see her again, laying
his curly head to her cheek, and crowing out those inarticulate murmurs
of fondness which are so touching from the innocent affection of a
child. Jin's eyes filled with tears, but she had to hide them from Mrs.
Mole, who, congratulating herself on such good fortune as two
opportunities for gossip in one day, was careful not to let the occasion
pass away unimproved.

"He's growed, miss, ain't he now?" asked that good woman, in a tone
pleasantly contrasting with the stiffness of her demeanour on Jin's
first appearance at the cottage. "An' he's a-learnin' to be a good boy,
as well as a big boy, ain't ye, Johnnie? Why, the gentleman said as he
hardly knowed him again, if it wasn't for his curls. Strange enough,
miss, the gentleman hadn't but just only left as you come in. An'
Johnnie he was wondering this morning, in his little bed, when the dark
lady was a-coming to see him again, and if she'd bring him a plaything.
Ah! miss, there's greater sense in childer' than in grown-up
folks--isn't there now? An' greater gratitude too--the more you make of
'em, the better they like you, but it's not so with men and women."

Abstaining from discussion on the question thus opened up, Miss Ross
produced the toy she had bought the day before, and it is hard to say
whether the women, old and young, or the child itself, seemed most
delighted by the shouts of triumph with which this acquisition was
greeted. Gustave, or Johnnie, as Mrs. Mole called him, shook it, rung
its bells, undressed it, and dressed it up again, idealising it in turn
as a soldier, a clergyman, a butter-churn, and, till checked by his
careful guardian, a hearth-broom, with unbounded satisfaction, renewed
at each fresh metamorphosis. And so the afternoon wore away till it was
time for Miss Ross to prefer a long-considered petition, that she might
take the child out for a walk.

But here a difficulty presented itself: Johnnie had a slight cold; the
evening was clouding over, and threatened rain. It was only after long
and earnest pleading that Mrs. Mole gave her consent for "one little
turn" as far as the river and back, while she busied herself about some
household matters that were more easily set to rights in the absence of
her charge.

With a beating heart, Miss Ross led him down the pathway towards the
river, the boy kicking out his feet and taking huge steps with his short
legs in a state of high triumph and glee.

Presently, at the water's edge, he looked wistfully up in his
companion's face and asked:

"Ain't we going back? Never going back--never--no more?"

"Would you _like_ never to go back, darling?" said Jin, stooping to fold
him in her arms.

"I want to go back to Moley!" answered Johnnie, now panic-stricken, and
making up his face for a cry.

Heavy drops of rain began to fall, and at the same moment a boat,
shooting suddenly round a bend in the river, grated its keel on the
shallows under the bank.



CHAPTER XXIII.

"STRANGERS YET."


The rower of this boat, whose back was necessarily turned to the shore,
wore a pea-jacket, with its collar turned up to the brim of a black hat,
such as is not usually affected by watermen, either professional or
amateur. Through Jin's beating heart shot a sickening throb of misgiving
and alarm. She turned cold and faint, catching up her boy and hugging
him instinctively to her breast.

As the rower, obviously unused to an oarsman's exercise, rose,
straightened himself, and turned round, he started with a violence that
shot the boat back into deep water, her chain running out with a clang
over her bows. Stupefied as it seemed by this apparition of the man whom
she had watched from Mrs. Mole's door three hours ago, Jin's eyes
dilated, her jaw dropped, while she gazed in Picard's face as if she had
been turned to stone.

He was the first to recover himself, and burst into a laugh, not
entirely forced.

"Who would ever have thought it?" said he, shoving the boat close in
shore. "Of all reunions this is the most extraordinary, the most
unlooked for. Jump in, Madame, there is no time to lose: in ten minutes
it will rain like a water-spout. Great heavens, you are unaltered after
all these years, and you have not a grey hair in your head!"

She obeyed mechanically in silence, folding Gustave beneath her shawl,
who protested with energy against the embarkation, expressing a strong
desire to return to "Old Moley" forthwith.

Once more in mid-stream, Picard laid on his oars as if doubtful whether
to proceed. "What are you doing with that boy?" he asked.

She had recovered her presence of mind, though still confused and
bewildered, as after some stunning blow.

"You _know_ me, Achille," said she, bending on him the defiant,
impracticable gaze he remembered so well. "Whatever happens, wherever we
are bound, the child goes with me! Where are you taking us? What is the
meaning of it all?"

Picard's face was not improved by the diabolical expression that swept
over it. "The meaning is this," he answered in a hoarse whisper: "I am
helping Captain Vanguard to run away with my own--bah!" he broke off
abruptly, "there will be time enough for explanations between here and
Windsor bridge: the question is now about the child. He must not go a
yard farther--he'll be wet to the skin as it is. There are few things I
wouldn't part with to--to--undo the wrongs between you and me; but I
cannot, and will not, give up the boy!"

She would have been fiercer in all probability, but that Picard,
accepting the heavy down-pour, which now commenced, in his thin summer
waistcoat and shirt-sleeves, had stripped off his pea-coat, and was
wrapping the boy carefully in its folds, without however removing him
from his mother's embrace. The little fellow smiled, and tugged
playfully at this rugged nurse's whiskers, obviously welcoming the face
of a friend, but repeated his request to return to "Old Moley" as
speedily as possible.

"I mean to have no discussions," said Jin, in tight, concentrated
accents that denoted suppressed rage and inflexible resolution. "I never
wished to see your face again, and I shall insist presently on knowing
why you are here now; but in the mean time I desire to know what right
you have to the child."

"I like that!" exclaimed Picard with a bitter laugh. "Rather, what right
have you? I saved his life!"

"I gave him birth!" answered Jin collectedly. "This is the infant you
deserted so gallantly and so generously when you left his mother.
Enough! He has no claim on you, my precious; you belong solely and
exclusively to me!"

Picard heeded not. Bending over that little bundle, folded so carefully
in his pea-jacket, on its mother's knee, he kissed the soft brow
tenderly, gently, almost reverently, while a tear hanging in the man's
shaggy whiskers, dropped on the pure delicate cheek of the child.

"No wonder I loved you," he muttered. "I wish I had been a better man,
for your sake."

Miss Ross was touched. "_Allons!_" said she; "you and I may come to an
understanding, after all. Speak the truth and so will I. How did you
find the boy, and where?"

Ashamed of his feelings, as such men usually are ashamed of any one
redeeming point in a character saturated with evil, he had recovered his
emotion, and was pulling leisurely down stream with the utmost
composure.

"How and where?" he repeated. "Well, the story is simple enough, and
there would be nothing extraordinary in it, but for what I have this
moment learned, I give you my honour, for the first time. I happened to
be at Lyons in one of the worst floods they had there for twenty years.
The river rose incredibly during the night, and I was out at daybreak
to--to see the fun, you know, and render any assistance I could afford.
In the top room of a cottage, completely undermined and tottering, I saw
a woman making signals of distress. Between us lay what looked like a
canal: it may have been a street once for all I know, but a few defaced
walls, five or six feet above the water-level, were alone left.
Excepting the half-fallen cottage from which this woman waved her arms,
not a tenement was standing for some score of yards on each side. I was
already immersed to my waist, but I had to swim for it before I could
reach the poor creature, who seemed out of her wits with terror.
Treading water a few feet below, I implored her to plunge in at once,
and trust to me. I thought she was coming, when '_Tiens!_' she screamed
out--I can hear her now--and threw, as I imagined, a linen bundle at my
head. It fell beyond me, and sank immediately. I dived for it, and
quickly too; but while I was under water the walls fell with a crash,
and the whirl carried me several paces from where I had gone down, not,
however, before I had succeeded in grasping the bundle, which I brought
with me to the surface. As the rush subsided I found the stream
encumbered with dust, beams, household furniture, but of the woman I
could see nothing. Doubtless at the instant, perhaps from the very
effort she made to consign me her burthen, its foundations gave way, and
she fell among the ruins of her house, to be drowned without a chance of
escape.

"The bundle contained a boy--living, unhurt, and very wet. I have taken
care of him ever since. There he is. Do you think anything would tempt
me to part from him now?"

The tears rose to Jin's eyes. "God bless you!" said she. "You saved my
child!"

"I saved _our_ child," he answered; "and I am not going to give him up."

"Why are you here to-day?" she asked. "And where do you mean to put me
ashore?"

She was meditating, even then, how she might escape him; if to reach
Frank Vanguard, well and good; but, at any rate, to attain some refuge
where she could be alone with her child.

He laughed, to cover a strong sense of embarrassment, even of shame.

"This is a strange _rencontre_," he said. "It must be Fate. You and I
have never once met among all the amusements of a London season; and we
meet now in the rain, on the lonely river, at a time when we ought most
to forget and ignore each other's existence. Of all people in the world,
I must be the last you would have wished to come across to-night."

"En effet," she muttered, "c'est un rencontre assez mal-à-propos."

Her coolness seemed contagious. He proceeded with a _sang-froid_ too
complete to be perfectly natural:

"I came here to oblige my dearest friend, a man for whom I would make
almost any sacrifice. That foreign prince at Windsor has taken a sudden
fancy to inspect a regiment of Household Cavalry in their barracks. He
is there at this moment, attended by every officer available for duty.
My friend Captain Vanguard came to me in the greatest agitation. He had
a rendezvous, he said, for this evening with a lady. It could not be put
off. It was of the gravest importance. If he failed to appear, she was
lost. He reposed entire confidence in my honour. He asked my advice.
What was to be done? I considered. I remembered my obligations to him. I
put myself in his place. In short, here I am, _in_ his place, pledged to
conduct you safely to the Castle Hotel, there to wait till he is at
leisure to join you, after which I am free to take whatever course I
think due to my own character in this most awkward complication. I need
not say that it never entered my head the Miss Ross I had heard of in
society, or the lady whose _enlèvement_ I was to conduct for my friend,
could be--well--could be _you_! Madame, we have met in a manner that is
creditable to neither of us--that is utterly ruinous to one. Can we not
ignore this clumsy _contretemps_? Can we not agree to conceal it, and
never meet again?"

Jin felt much reassured by this climax, though ready to sink with shame
and vexation at the whole business.

"You know I am going to--to _marry_ Captain Vanguard," she said,
looking him straight in the face, though she hesitated a little in her
sentence. "Will you promise to throw no impediment in my way--to keep
your own counsel? In short, to let bygones be bygones, if, on my part, I
consent to leave the past unscrutinised and unavenged?"

"It's a fair offer," he replied; "but I cannot give you up the boy."

"Then war to the knife!" she burst out recklessly. "I will lose husband,
lover, home, character, everything--life itself--rather than part with
Gustave for a day!"

Perhaps he knew what a desperate woman was. Perhaps--for, in his own
way, he too loved little Gustave very dearly--he reflected that a child
might safely be committed to a mother's tenderness, even were that
mother the wildest and most wilful of her sex. In a couple of minutes
his busy brain formed a thousand schemes, took in a thousand
contingencies. Frank Vanguard was about to marry the woman who had once
held a wife's place at his hearth. Well, to that he had no objection. He
would at least be freed from an awkward claim, which might interfere
with certain vague schemes of his own that had only recently begun to
take a shape. In those schemes Frank's assistance, as a friend of Sir
Henry Hallaton's, might be valuable. An intimacy with Vanguard, and the
latter's good word, would vouch at least for his position and standing
in society. Helen could no longer consider him a mere unknown
adventurer. Some influence he might obtain over Frank through his wife,
if, indeed, this wild, untoward marriage were to come off. His chief
difficulty lay in that wife's inflexible and impracticable character;
but surely he could bend her to his will through her affection for the
boy.

"You cannot take him with you now," observed Picard, in a perfectly
matter-of-fact tone. "Think of the travelling, and the weather, and the
ridicule attached to the whole proceeding. You are not going to join
your future husband, surely, with a ready-made child?"

"I _am_!" she exclaimed, in high indignation. "Frank knows all about it,
and takes us as we are!"

"Then I may explain everything," said he, pulling on faster, as if
satisfied. "It makes it much easier for me as regards my duty to my
friend."

She saw her false position, and felt she was now at his mercy.

"Let us make a bargain," she said. "I would not injure _you_; I hope you
would not injure _me_. I confess I have deceived Captain Vanguard in
this matter. I told him about Gustave, but I said he was a sister's son.
I cannot part with the child. I implore you to let me keep him! If you
will consent so far, and abstain from crossing my path at this the
turning-point of my whole life's happiness, I will swear to absolve you,
formally and in writing, from any claim I may have on your property or
your personal freedom; and if ever I can be of service to you, or
advance your career in any way, so help my heaven, I will!"

Picard pondered. She had made the very proposal he would himself have
broached; but he was too crafty to betray satisfaction, and, to do him
justice, felt very loth to lose the child none the less that he had now
discovered it was his own. Yet he could not but reflect that so long as
Gustave remained with her by his consent, he had the mother at a
disadvantage, and could drive her which way he would. Frank Vanguard's
domestic happiness would thus be at his mercy, and it was strange if,
with consummate knowledge of the world, and utter freedom from scruples,
he could not turn such a power to good account.

"Agreed," said he, as they shot past the Brocas clump, and caught sight
of Windsor Castle, looming gigantic through a leaden atmosphere of mist
and rain. "Agreed. We are strangers again from henceforth as regards
Vanguard--as regards the world. When we meet in society, that is to be
clearly understood. But we are _not_ strangers as regards our boy. Once
a week you will write and tell me of his welfare. Once a month you will
arrange that I shall see him, either with or without witnesses--I care
not which. Stay! I have it. You shall tell Vanguard I am the father of
your dead sister's child! Capital! I begin to think I have quite a
genius for intrigue!"

"It is such a tissue of falsehood!" she groaned; "and Frank is so
honest--so trustful!"

He ground his teeth; but forced himself to answer with unwavering
accents and a smooth brow.

"I cannot enter into the sentiment of the thing. You know me of old.
That is my ultimatum. Take it or leave it. I must run you ashore here,
and I can show you the short cut to the hotel."

"Agreed!" she whispered, as he handed her along a quivering plank that
let her reach the shore dry-shod. "Honour?"

"Even among thieves," he added, with a laugh; and thus was the contract
ratified on both sides.

But short as was that by-way from the river to the Castle Hotel, heavily
as the rain came down, enforcing the utmost attention to little
Gustave--a perishable article indeed "to be kept dry, this side
uppermost"--and fractious as was the deportment of that inexperienced
traveller who, thoroughly bewildered with his situation, retained but
the one idea of bewailing his lot aloud, while he held on manfully to
the new toy, Jin found time to arrive at the noblest, the grandest, and
the most important resolution she had ever made in her life.

It has always appeared to me there is one infallible criterion of that
rare and mysterious affection which goes by the name of true love. "How
many _dollars_ do you like her?" asked a Yankee of the friend who
expatiated on his devotion to a beloved object; thus gauging, as he
considered, that devotion by a standard at once unerring, and not to be
misconceived. The friend, "estimating" that he "liked her a thousand
dollars," proved himself ten times more to be depended on than his
rival, who only "liked her a hundred;" and, in my opinion, there was
much knowledge of human nature in this Yankee's mode of valuing an
attachment. If you own but five dollars in the world, and you "love your
love five-dollars' worth," you are very much in love with her indeed,
and have come triumphantly through that strongest test of sincerity
which consists in self-sacrifice.

There must have been a spark of sacred fire under the lurid flame which
Frank had kindled in her breast, or Miss Ross would have escaped a
struggle that seemed to tear her heart in pieces during this short wet
walk with all its accompanying annoyances--that made her unconscious of
heavy rain, draggled garments, and unwelcome company--that, but for a
mother's instinct, would have caused her to forget the necessity of
sheltering her boy.

She stole a glance--it was well he did not observe it--at the hated form
of the man by her side, and all the masculine part of her nature
rebelled in the remembrance of its former thraldom. The thought of Frank
Vanguard's open brow, of his loving eyes, his manly, kindly smile, and
feminine instincts of tender generosity, rose strong within her as she
turned scornfully from the suggestion that he, her own, who had chosen
her so nobly, so chivalrously, should be at the mercy of such a man as
Picard. "No!" thought Jin, walking on very fast, and hugging Gustave
tighter than ever to her breast. "Better that I should never see him
again, than fasten such a clog round his neck! Better that I should lose
my one dear chance on earth, than ruin him, degrade him, drag him down
to the level of such people as ourselves! I am not to be happy, it
seems, in that way; but I have no right to complain since I have got my
child. And yet, Frank, Frank, what will you think of me? You will never
know the sacrifice I made for you! You will never know what it cost me!
You will never know that I loved you better than my very life!"

While such thoughts were racking heart and brain, it was quite in
accordance with Jin's character that her outward manner should be more
than ordinarily composed and self-possessed. Arriving at the welcome
shelter of the Castle Hotel, she desired a fire to be kindled
immediately, and taking very little notice of Picard, busied herself
with the child and its wet things. He was quiet enough now; but moaned
at intervals as if uneasy in mind rather than in body; but it did not
escape a mother's observation that the cheek he pressed against her own
was hotter than usual, and though it made his dark eyes shine so
beautifully, she would rather not have seen that brilliant colour so
deep and strong. But it was a time for action, not for apprehension, and
she turned to Picard with a quiet gesture of authority, such as she
would have used towards a servant:

"Be so good as ring the bell," she said, "and tell them to get some
bread and milk for this little boy. Order tea in an hour, and then go to
the barracks and tell Captain Vanguard I am waiting here. I suppose I
shall not see you again--good-bye."

He took the hand she held out, with something of admiration and respect.

"Well, you _are_ a cool one!" he exclaimed. "I declare, you're cooler
even than _me_! In a matter like this, where there's interest in one
scale and feeling in the other, I think I can trust you as I would
myself!"

She only nodded, resuming the occupation, from which she had turned for
a moment, of drying her child's wet socks at the lately-kindled fire.
Picard caught the boy in his arms and smothered him with kisses; then
replacing him in his mother's lap, took his departure without another
word.

"Where's he going?" said Gustave, making a plunge, to land barefooted on
the floor.

"He's going away, dear," answered Jin, much pre-occupied, and scorching
the socks against the bars of the grate. "And we're going away too.
Don't you want to go away from this nasty room?"

"I want to go to Moley," answered the boy, in a sing-song that frequent
repetition on the river had rendered mechanical. "And I want my tupper,"
he added, brightening up at so happy an afterthought.

But he couldn't eat his supper when it came; and now that his things
were dry, Miss Ross was glad to hush him off to rest in her arms.

When he was sound asleep she rang the bell gently. "I am going out for
an hour," said she to the waiter. "If anybody calls, say that tea is
ordered to be ready when I come back."

Then she walked away in the pouring rain, and beckoned a flyman from the
stand.

"Drive to The Lilies," she said in a loud voice. "Shut those glasses,
and make haste."

But as soon as they were clear of the town she reversed her sailing
orders, and directed the man to proceed to Staines.

Arriving at the station, she found by a time-table that an up-train was
due in five minutes. "What do you charge for waiting?" asked Miss Ross,
as the driver let her out.

The man informed and overcharged her.

"Then wait here for the down-train in an hour," said she, paying him
liberally. "If you don't get a fare you can then drive back to Windsor;
but I shall desire the station-master to see that you remain here on the
chance."

So, hushing Gustave, who, considering he seemed so sleepy, was
strangely restless, Miss Ross took her place in the train, to be whirled
to town with the comfortable reflection that, till her fly returned to
Windsor, in two hours time, it would be impossible for Frank Vanguard to
obtain any trace of her, while she herself would be in the labyrinth of
London in forty minutes. She pulled the double veil from her pocket, and
dropped it over her face, while she rocked the boy tenderly on her knee.

It was well for him to have this protection, for Gustave did not need
another wetting, and his mother was crying as if her heart would break.

Thus it fell out that Frank, flying on the wings of love and a
thorough-bred hack from his duty at the barracks to his affianced at the
Castle Hotel, found nothing there but a black fire, an empty room, and a
waiter's assurance that "the lady would be back in less than
half-an-hour. She'd been gone longer nor that already."

Picard, of course, having fulfilled his mission, considered himself
absolved from further attendance, and Frank had nothing more to do but
walk up and down the cheerless apartment, fussing, fuming, wondering,
and, I fear, at times unable to restrain an oath. The rain fell, the
evening waned, the twilight turned to dark, and at length the waiter
came in with candles, and asked "if he should bring in tea?"

Then Frank could stand it no longer, but rushed wildly out to make
inquiries, invoking a hideous and totally undeserved fate on the waiter
and the tea.



CHAPTER XXIV.

GREENWICH.


But Captain Vanguard was not the only person whom the inexplicable
disappearance of Miss Ross overwhelmed with consternation and dismay.
Picard, whom, of course, he consulted first, affected to treat the
matter lightly, vowing there must have been some misconception of
directions, some misunderstanding about the time, while in his heart he
cursed the invincible wilfulness, the inflexible obstinacy that, he knew
of old, would dare and endure anything rather than give way. He did his
best, we may be sure, to help his friend, in hunting down the woman who
had outwitted him; but the track of a fugitive is soon lost in London,
and, with all his craft, Picard's best was done in vain. For Vanguard,
he considered this disappointment the luckiest thing that could happen.
For his own part, he never wanted to see Miss Ross again; but it was a
sharp, keen pang, to think that every tie must now be cut off between
himself and his boy. Even Jin would have pitied him, had she known how
he suffered under this privation.

Poor old Mrs. Mole, too, nearly went distracted with alarm, anxiety, and
remorse. After running in and out of her cottage all the evening, till,
to use her own expression, "she hadn't a dry thread anywheres, an' the
damp had fixed itself in her bones," she started off at dark to take
counsel of the parish clerk, the turnpike-man, and a neighbouring
cow-doctor; from none of whom, as may be supposed, did she gather much
counsel or comfort. The clerk was "sure as the lad would be back afore
mornin';" the turnpike-man opined "he'd runned away for aggravation; and
if 'twas his'n, _he'd_ soon let him know not to try _them_ games no
more;" while the cow-doctor, not exactly sober, opined "he'd fell in o'
the water, and drownded hisself, poor thing! and now the little
varmint's gone to heaven, mayhap, and don't want to come back here no
more."

The poor old woman, returning home from this futile expedition, to see
Johnnie's little bed spread out, smooth and untumbled, as if waiting for
the child, burst into a fit of crying, and sat all night through by the
waning fire, with her apron thrown over her head.

On Uncle Joseph's feelings, when, calling at No. 40, he learned that
Miss Ross had left her home without stating where she was going, or when
she would return, I cannot take upon me to expatiate. Displeasure,
perhaps, was the strongest sensation that affected him, but a fit of the
gout arriving at this juncture to divert his attention from mental worry
to bodily pain, he got through the ordeal altogether better than might
have been expected.

Mrs. Lascelles, however, grew seriously alarmed and distressed, when the
lapse of a second day brought no tidings of her inseparable companion
and fast friend. She reproached herself bitterly for taking Jin to task
about her conduct with Captain Vanguard. She contrasted her own
comfortable home, all the luxuries that surrounded her, with a mental
picture she chose to draw of Miss Ross, starving, in proud silence, on
cold mutton, somewhere in a "second floor back," and felt painfully
humiliated in the comparison. Then she wondered if it would be possible
to track her by means of detectives, advertisements, "Pollaky's private
inquiry office," or a heartrending appeal in the agony column of the
"Times." Finally, woman-like, feeling she must have somebody to lean on,
she bethought her of Goldthred, and wrote him a pretty little note,
marked "Immediate," desiring him to come and see her without delay. Why
not Sir Henry? Mrs. Lascelles asked herself that question more than
once; and, while searching her heart for the answer, made a discovery
which by no means increased her respect for her own stability in
sentiment or discrimination of character.

"Sir Henry would laugh," she thought, "and murmur some cynical remarks,
half good-natured, half contemptuous, on women's friendships and women's
fancies. He would help me, I have no doubt, and very likely, if he could
find Miss Ross, might make love to her on his own account, but he would
not take the matter up as if it was life and death to him, like Mr.
Goldthred. I do declare, if I asked that man to get me a China rose,
he'd go to China _for_ it, rather than I should be disappointed. It must
be very nice to believe in anybody as he believes in me. If I was only
as good as he thinks I am! I wish I was! I wonder if I should be,
supposing--supposing----Well, the first thing is to find out poor dear
Jin, and implore her to come back, if I have to go for her on my bare
knees!"

So her letter was written and posted, Mrs. Lascelles never doubting that
the recipient would answer it in person ere three hours had elapsed. But
when the clock struck again and again, when luncheon passed without his
appearance, and the summer afternoon waned, bringing no Mr. Goldthred,
Mrs. Lascelles could not decide whether she felt most hurt, vexed,
angry, disappointed, or distressed.

No doubt, if he had known such a letter was coming, he would have
ignored other business without scruple, and remained at home to receive
it all day; but Goldthred had left his own house for the City directly
after breakfast, having no intention of returning to dress for dinner,
because he had cut out for himself some fifteen hours' work that he must
get through in less than twelve.

Of this task, the hardest part, in his estimation, was the entertainment
of a large and rather _loud_ party he had invited to dine with him at
Greenwich. From these friends he felt there would be no escape till
eleven o'clock at night.

It will be remembered that Goldthred, in an hour of exuberant feeling,
had tried to organise a pic-nic, which unfortunately fell through from
the inability to attend of those he was most anxious to invite. In such
cases, however, some responsibility is almost always incurred by the
adhesion of a few less important guests, who must nevertheless be
provided with food and amusement, though the others are unable to come.

For Goldthred, indeed, there was no difficulty in substituting with
these makeweights a Greenwich dinner-party for a Maidenhead pic-nic.
Stray men were soon recruited to fill up the necessary complement.
Failing ladies of higher calibre, Mrs. Battersea and Kate Cremorne were
persuaded to enliven the gathering with their beauty, their dresses, and
their mirth. Picard, who was glad of any scheme to take him away from
Frank Vanguard, in that officer's present state of perturbation, agreed
to drive them all down on his coach; and thus it fell out that
Goldthred, with his heart rather sore about Mrs. Lascelles, little
dreaming a letter from her was at that moment lying on his table, found
himself sitting, in a glare of sunshine, by an open window, overlooking
the river, between Mrs. Battersea and Kate Cremorne.

Two or three hot waiters were bringing in as many dishes, with imposing
covers, that would have served for a burlesque feast in a pantomime.
Shawls, fans, hats, parasols, and overcoats, lay scattered about the
room; men lounged and straddled in uncomfortabe attitudes, as not
knowing how to dispose of their limbs and persons; a confusion of many
tongues prevailed; and above the babble rose Mrs. Battersea's voice,
clear, shrill, and dominant, like the steam-whistle of a railway
through the puffing diapason of the engine and continuous roar of the
advancing train.

"I vote against waiting," dictated that imperious lady, when the
probability was hazarded of a fresh batch of guests arriving later.
"Never wait dinner for anybody, particularly at Greenwich. Now, Mr.
Goldthred, don't be shy, take the top of the table. I'll sit by you
here. Kate, support him on the other side. Sir Henry, come next me. I
won't have you by Kate. I know what you're going to say--you'd rather be
close to me, and have her to look at. I'm so tired of those old
compliments. I wish men would find out something new! _Rangez vous,
Messieurs! Le jeu est fait. Rien n'va plus!_"

"_Rouge gagne, et couleur_," whispered Sir Henry Hallaton, with a glance
at Mrs. Battersea's brilliant complexion and toilette to match,
accompanied by a jerk of his elbow in his next neighbour's ribs. The
latter, who had never been to Baden or Homburg, and whose French was
that of "Stratford-atte-Bow," did not the least understand, so laughed
heartily, and Sir Henry set him down in his own mind as "a pleasant
young fellow, with a great idea of fun." The baronet had turned up at
this gathering, as he generally did turn up wherever gaiety and absence
of restraint were likely to prevail. Notwithstanding his better reason
and his good resolutions, he was fast drifting down the stream of easy
self-indulgence, which sooner or later carries a man so helplessly out
to sea.

He had now struck up a close alliance with Picard, whereby that scheming
adventurer hoped he might win his way into Helen's good graces, and so
attain a certain standing-point in society, from which to push his
fortunes with a daring energy that ought to command success. Sir Henry
could not, or would not, see the false position in which he placed
himself by affecting such terms of intimacy with such a man.

The dinner was good enough, and to Goldthred seemed almost interminable,
although exerting himself to do his duty towards his guests; he reaped a
reward by gradually sliding into amusement in their conversation, and
before the devilled whitebait came on, began even to interest himself in
their society. The latter sentiment was due to the good feeling of Miss
Cremorne, who, guessing her host was somewhat overweighted by his
company, and altogether depressed in spirits, exerted herself very
successfully to cheer him up, and bring him, as she expressed it, "out
of the downs."

Kate did not miscalculate her own powers; indeed few men could have long
resisted her low pleasant tones, kindly glances, and soft, sympathising
manner; for notwithstanding high spirits, high courage, high temper, and
sometimes high words, she could be gentle on occasion, and when Kate
_was_ gentle, she became simply irresistible.

Neglecting a dandy on her right, who accepted that calamity with the
utmost philosophy, she devoted herself to Goldthred, till they grew so
confidential, that when dinner was over, he brought his coffee-cup and
cigar to a little corner she had purposely reserved by her side on the
balcony. She was so unused to shyness amongst men, there was something
so different from all her previous experience of his sex in Goldthred's
simple, honest nature, homely though courteous manner, and utter absence
of pretension, that she positively felt interested in him, and Miss
Cremorne was the last young person in the world to be ashamed of the
sentiment, or afraid to exhibit it.

"Why don't you offer me a cigar?" said she, with a killing glance that
would have finished any other man in the room on the spot.

"You shall have a dozen," he answered, pulling out a well-filled case in
some confusion. "I really didn't know you smoked."

"No more I do," she replied, laughing, "except sometimes a very tiny
cigarette. No; I don't want one now; but that's no reason you shouldn't
offer it. Don't you know, Mr. Goldthred, that with ladies you should
always take the initiative?"

"It's so difficult," he answered doubtfully, sliding into the corner by
her side. "One is never sure how far one ought to go, and I have the
greatest horror of being a bore."

"There you're wrong," decided Kate;--"women _like_ bores. For the matter
of that, so does everybody. Who are the people that get on in society?
Bores. Who manage your clubs, your race-meetings, your amusements?
Bores. Who make the best marriages, keep the best houses, and insist on
having all the pleasant people to dance attendance on them?
Bores--bores--bores! They are in the majority, they have the upper hand,
and they mean to keep it. Shall I tell you why? A bore is always in
earnest; the more in earnest the greater bore! Have I made out my case?"

"At least you have given me a claim to bore _you_," said Goldthred
laughing.

"And _without_ being in earnest," she replied; "though I think you could
be very much in earnest with some people. That's why I'm interested in
you. That's why I'm going to give you a piece of advice. There is an
English proverb I need not repeat about 'a faint heart.' There is a
French one more to the purpose, I think in your case, 'il faut se faire
valoir.' Now, you mustn't flirt with me any longer. You'll hear of it
again if you do, and two of my admirers are looking as black as thunder
already. Go and circulate among your guests, but don't forget my advice,
and good luck to you!"

_Il faut se faire valoir._ The words rang in his ears all the
evening--through the bustle of breaking up, the noisy departure, the
chatter, and clatter, and hurry of the drive back to London--the very
wheels seemed to tell it over and over in monotonous refrain, and ere
Goldthred was set down at his own door, this sentence and its meaning
seemed indelibly impressed on his brain.

Passing through the sitting-room, he found a letter in the well-known
handwriting, lying on his table, and although a thrill went through
every nerve in his body, I think even then Kate's advice was beginning
to bear fruit. On reading the epistle, no doubt, there came a reaction,
and his first impulse was to rush at once to No. 40, notwithstanding the
hour, the occasion, and the proprieties; his second, to write an answer
then and there, expressing love, worship, and devotion with an eloquence
none the less burning from the convivialities of a Greenwich
dinner-party; his third, and wisest, to let every thing stand over till
to-morrow. And then, while he assisted her to the best of his abilities,
to teach his scornful lady, quietly but distinctly, that he had learnt
by heart this new maxim--_Il faut se faire valoir!_



CHAPTER XXV.

HOW THEY MISSED HER.


So the London season drew towards its close, speeding merrily for some,
dragging wearily for others, wearing on surely for all. It produced its
usual crop of marriages, jiltings, slanders, and other embarrassments,
but throughout the little circle of individuals, with whom we are
concerned at present, the engrossing topic was still that mysterious
disappearance of Miss Ross. No stone had been left unturned to find her
out, and yet, so well did she take her measures, not a trace could be
discovered. Two people, indeed, received tidings of the fugitive, but
on each her letters impressed the hopelessness of a search, and the
writer's determination to remain henceforth in complete seclusion. To
Mrs. Mole, Miss Ross sent a long and consolatory epistle, containing
earnest assurance of the boy's safety, and an account of his sayings and
doings, not forgetting many messages to "his old Moley," which would
have gladdened her heart exceedingly but for the one drawback, that the
little fellow lay ill with a feverish cold, and did not get stronger so
fast as could be wished. To Frank Vanguard she wrote a few short lines,
telling him she was not fit to be his wife--the only good deed she had
ever done in her life, she said, was that which seemed to him the most
cruel, the most perfidious; and all endeavours to hunt her out would not
only be sheer waste of time, but also considered so many insults and
injuries directed against herself. Though it did not entirely suspend
his exertions, Frank's zeal was somewhat damped by this communication,
which he lost no time in imparting to the circle of friends whom Jin had
left overwhelmed with anxiety on her behalf. Uncle Joseph's gout,
converging favourably to the extremities, gave him little time to think
of anybody but himself. It took him to Buxton, where the successive
duties of drinking, driving, dressing, bathing, and dining at five
o'clock, left not a moment of the day unoccupied, and where the constant
contemplation of greater sufferers and more hopeless cripples afforded
moral lessons every five minutes, tending to content and thankfulness
that he was no worse.

Mrs. Lascelles did, indeed, get hold of some idle tale about Uncle
Joseph's attentions to a fascinating widow, also gouty, and of a brisk
flirtation carried on by the enamoured couple, each in a Bath chair. Her
informant stated, with what degree of truth I cannot take upon me to
affirm, that this promising affair only exploded from the indiscretion
of Mr. Groves, who, possessing himself of the lady's hand in the warmth
of his protestations, unadvisedly seized the gouty one, and inflicted
such pain, that she called out loudly before the whole Parade. But as
this piece of tittle-tattle was related to his kinswoman by a lady, who
heard it from another lady, who had seen it in the letter of a third, I
submit it is not evidence, neither has it anything to do with the
present history. On Mrs. Lascelles herself the disappearance of so firm
a friend and confederate produced an effect that rendered her more than
usually open to sympathy, and eager for consolation. She felt less
confidence than heretofore in herself and her own resources. Solitude
was bad enough, and doubly dispiriting after the society of so lively a
companion, but the sense of having been deceived with her eyes open was
worse than all. Occasional twinges of remorse, too, tormented her sadly,
reminding her that she had spoken out so freely to one whom she ought to
have been very careful of offending as dependent on herself. Of course,
too, she put off her trip to Brighton, and her London engagement-book,
originally compiled by Jin, naturally got into confusion, when deprived
of that lady's supervision. Altogether Mrs. Lascelles felt keenly the
want of somebody to lean on, and caught herself more than once thinking
of her loneliness and her staunch admirer, Mr. Goldthred, with tears in
her eyes!

Notwithstanding his confidence in Kate Cremorne's knowledge of the
world, I doubt whether this gentleman would have possessed strength of
mind to follow her advice had he been a free agent at the present
crisis; but it so happened that some trustee-business, with which he was
mixed up, required his personal supervision at the other end of England,
and Goldthred, _nolens volens_, was forced to absent himself temporarily
from her vicinity, who made all the sunshine, and, it must be confessed,
most of the shade, in his harmless, uneventful life. Nothing could be
more opportune than this enforced separation for furtherance of the
object on which, no doubt, his whole heart was fixed. Judicious
contrast seems in all art the secret of effect. Surprise, which has been
called the essence of wit, is also the prime element of interest.
Gentleness from a rough, firmness from an effeminate nature, constancy
where we had reason to expect change, but, above all, self-assertion
from the slave too long incarcerated and kept down, rouse us, as it
were, to a sense of our own shortsightedness in matters that most affect
our welfare, and warn us that in the affections as in other affairs of
humanity, there is no solid foundation, no security, no repose. Then we
begin to value this bird, whose wings are grown, and spread already for
a flight. Let her but soar away to disappear in the dim horizon, and all
the gold of Arabia seems inadequate to buy her back into the cage once
more. Alas! that the lightest feather from her wing should be more
precious now we have lost her than was the whole of that gentle, winsome
creature when she made her nest in our bosom, and pecked the sugar from
our lips, and perched daily in saucy security on her owner's loving
hand. Could Goldthred, closeted with lawyers and perusing deeds in a
murky manufacturing town, have appeared suddenly before the woman who
was never five minutes out of his mind, and asked in waking reality the
question he was always asking in his dreams, I think he might have made
himself secure, once for all, from the rivalry even of Sir Henry
Hallaton.

That easy-going gentleman, notwithstanding his philosophy, his good
humour, and the elastic nature of his conscience, was at present
exceedingly pre-occupied and ill at ease. One may say that he had been
dipped over head in the infernal river, as was Achilles; but like the
son of Peleus, and every other hero I ever heard of, he retained his one
vulnerable point, though it did not lie at his heel. To hit Sir Henry in
a vital place it was necessary to aim at Helen. Alas! that the bow had
not been drawn at random, nor had the arrow missed its mark!

She was composed as usual, and went about her daily occupations with
the same calm manner, the same gentle methodical firmness as before, but
to her father's loving eye there was something wanting, something amiss.
As a practised musician detects the flat tones of an instrument not
strung to concert-pitch, so the slightest discord jars on the senses of
that true affection which renders all the perceptions painfully
discerning and acute.

"You are not well, my child," said Sir Henry, one hot summer's morning
soon after the mysterious disappearance of Miss Ross, which Helen
connected instinctively with Captain Vanguard, though too proud to
inquire how far that injudicious young officer was concerned in such a
catastrophe. "You are not well, dear, and you hide it for fear of making
your old father uncomfortable. You don't go out enough, or it's this
cursed weather, or something. We must amuse you, my darling. You're
getting hipped. I'm the same myself sometimes. Did you go to the Opera
last night after all?"

"No, papa," was the answer; "I was too tired, and went to bed instead."

"Did you drive out yesterday? I met your aunt coming here to take you."

"No, papa--it was so hot."

"What are you going to do to-day?"

"Nothing, papa. I think----"

"Helen, Helen, this will never do," burst out Sir Henry, smoothing her
hair with a caress habitual to him from her childhood, a caress that
brought the tears into her large soft eyes. "You're moped, you're
miserable, and I feel as if it was my fault for being papa instead of
mamma. It _must_ be dull for you, boxed up here, dependent on your aunt
to get over the threshold, and she always was the most unpunctual person
in the world except myself. Why don't you tell _me_ when you want to go
anywhere? I'd give up every engagement, as you know. Let's do something
after luncheon. The Botanical Gardens--the Ancient Masters--even the
South Kensington Museum! There, I'm game for anything you like!"

She could not help smiling, but it was a sad, wan smile, while she
replied,

"You're very good, dear, and I'm a spoiled girl, I know; but, indeed,
I'd rather stay at home, and so I'm sure would you."

"What have you settled about the concert to-morrow?" asked her father.

"Sent an excuse."

He pondered for a moment, and an expression of considerable annoyance
crossed his face.

"I must get you out of town, Helen," said he. "The worst of it is I
can't leave London myself just now--at least, for more than a day. If I
could we'd go abroad. Paris is empty and hot; but we might get into
Normandy, have a week at Trouville, and come back by Dieppe. Would you
like _that_?"

"No, papa," she answered decidedly; but added, with hesitation, "if you
could do without me, what I should like best would be to--to go back to
Blackgrove at once."

"My _dear_ Helen!" was all his astonishment allowed him to articulate.
That a daughter of his should prefer the country to London, during the
height of the season, seemed simply inexplicable.

"My _dear_ papa!" repeated Helen, with another of those sad smiles.
"I'll go to-morrow if you don't want me here. I wish I'd never come to
London at all. The girls are so neglected when I'm away, and now we've
no governess they get into all sorts of wild ways. I don't think they
ought to be left so entirely to the servants. Lily writes me that she is
up at five every morning to milk the cows. There's no harm in milking
cows, but I think she would be better in bed, or learning her lessons.
Indeed, papa, I should be much happier at Blackgrove than here. What do
you think?"

What _did_ he think? To a deeper mind than his it might have suggested
itself that this yearning after home denoted some grievous injury, like
that of a wounded animal making for its lair to lie down and die; but he
took altogether a more practical and less romantic view of the case,
attributing Helen's indisposition to stomach rather than heart.

"If you _really_ wish it," said he. "Perhaps you are right. Early hours,
in country air, will soon set you up again, and, of course, it's a great
thing for the girls to have you with them. What a trouble they are, to
be sure!"

Sir Henry always called his eldest "my daughter," his other female
children "the girls," and his boy "the young one," as if the latter were
a two-year-old, just about to be broke.

"Then I may go to-morrow?" exclaimed Helen, almost joyfully.

"Certainly, my dear," was the answer. "I'll take you down myself, sleep
at Blackgrove, and come back next day by an afternoon train. I wish I
could stay with you, but I can't."

"Of course it would be very nice for _me_," responded Miss Helen
dutifully. "But you're not so much wanted, you know, when I'm there.
While we're both away, things do get dreadfully 'to wrongs.' Oh! papa, I
should like to go back and never leave Blackgrove again!"

With this domestic sentiment, much to his distress, astonishment, and
even alarm, she hid her face in his breast, and began to cry heartily,
emerging in a minute or so with a poor pretence of laughter, and an
excuse that the hot weather was too much for her; as if a grown woman,
with sound common sense and unusual self-command, ever cried because she
was too hot. Sir Henry felt extremely uneasy. His varied experience of
her sex had no doubt accustomed him to these ebullitions, but he had got
into the habit of considering Helen superior to the rest, and it
discomfited him sadly to find that she, too, could be weak, nervous,
and, as he firmly believed, unhappy without a cause. He tried hard to
persuade her to go to the French play that night, but Helen, wisely
enough in my opinion considering the temperature, resisted firmly, and
retired at ten o'clock.

Probably never in his life, except in a case of illness, had her father
gone to bed before midnight. Lighting a cigar, he walked into the street
and reflected which of his haunts he should visit to get rid of a couple
of hours and shake off this feeling of anxiety and depression that had
come over him about his daughter.

He was too pre-occupied for whist, and, truth to tell, even in his
brightest moments, looked on that noble pastime as a study rather than a
recreation. So he sauntered to St. James's Street, and in one club after
another sought the distraction he required in vain. There were men
enough in each, but all seemed engrossed with their own interests, their
own affairs; greeting him, indeed, with the utmost courtesy, but
volunteering no confidences, and inviting none in return. Most of them
were younger than himself, and of his few contemporaries, one was lame
from gout, another crippled with rheumatism, while a third volunteered
the disheartening opinion that "it was time for fellows of _our_
standing, my boy, to be in bed," rolling off while he thus delivered
himself, with a hoarse, asthmatic and unfeeling laugh. Sir Henry emerged
on the pavement and shook his head.

"It's no use disguising it," he confided to his cigar, "I conclude I'm
getting old; and the young ones are much more civil than they used to
be, but not half so cordial. I liked them best when they slapped one on
the back, asked one for a weed, and took all sorts of liberties. I
suppose I must be an old fellow now, because nobody ever calls me one.
It's 'Thank you, Sir Henry'--'With your permission, Sir Henry'--'Don't
sit in the draught, Sir Henry;' and two years ago, they began to put me
in the middle of the line partridge shooting, and to offer me a pony
when the others walked the stubbles in the afternoon. I'm afraid I shall
never hear a fellow say, 'Now then, Hal! Look alive, my boy!' again. If
it's really come, there's no use in fighting against it. I've a great
mind to give the whole thing up, and subside at once into an old fogie.
I would, if it wasn't for Mrs. Lascelles--there's something taking about
that woman, every now and then, she might almost make a fool of me
still--I like her so the days she doesn't like _me_--the days she does,
I don't care about her; so after all, what's the use? But she's fond of
Helen. So was that other little black-eyed devil, Miss Ross. I wonder
what has become her; I wish I could find out. Everybody's fond of Helen.
Ah! none of them are like _her_. If I could but see her thoroughly well
and in good spirits again, I shouldn't care for these cursed money
matters nor anything else. This place seems full enough. May as well go
in."

Thus ruminating on his daughter, Sir Henry's feet had carried him almost
unconsciously to the door of Pratt's, which popular resort was indeed
crowded to overflowing, so that several members had established a merry
and somewhat noisy conclave in the street.

Amongst these Picard was holding forth loudly, dispensing as usual his
excellent cigars with the utmost liberality. Catching sight of Sir
Henry, he detached himself from the circle, and taking the baronet by
the arm, walked him back a few steps into St. James's Street.

"I came here on purpose to find you," said he, "and I wondered you were
so late. I've good news! glorious news! Our shares are down again! I
was in the City all day!"

Sir Henry swore, not loud but deep.

"Good news!" he answered. "I wonder what you'd call _bad_!"

"_Good_ news," repeated Picard. "Buy more--go into it up to your neck.
I'm dipped over-head. Listen, Sir Henry, this is a real good
thing--there's not another man in London I would 'put on' but yourself;
I'd private information from the other side last week. When the mail
comes in, these Colorados will run up fifty, ay, seventy per cent.!
Don't waste a moment, but grab all you can. It will set _me_ on my legs,
and I won't lose _my_ footing again in a hurry, not if I know it! Shall
you be at home to-morrow about luncheon time?"

"To-morrow?" said the other absently. "Not to-morrow. Must be at
Blackgrove to-morrow--the next day certainly."

"Miss Hallaton is quite well, I hope?" continued Picard, lifting his hat
as if she were actually present.

"Quite well, thank you," answered Sir Henry, wishing him "good night;"
but he was engrossed with his Colorados, and did not think of telling
Picard that his daughter was going out of town.



CHAPTER XXVI.

IN SAMARIA.


The season, I have said, was wearing on, and, with waning summer, the
heat increased to an intensity almost tropical. There are few parts of
Europe where the atmosphere can be more suffocating than in London
during dog-days, although while everybody goes about gasping, fainting,
bewailing the temperature, nobody seems to dream of putting off ball,
drum, dinner, or other festive gathering to a cooler date.

The July sun glared pitilessly down on square, street, and crescent, to
be refracted with tenfold power from walls and pavements; the Park was a
burnished waste, Mayfair an oven, and Belgravia a furnace. Cabmen plied
in their shirt-sleeves, foot passengers put up their umbrellas, the
water-carts disappeared altogether, and supply for once seemed
inadequate to demand in the matter of beer.

If people drooped and languished in spacious drawing-rooms with
sun-blinds, thorough draughts, fans, and all other appliances against
the heat, what must that numerous class of our fellow-citizens have felt
who live in stifling lodgings, stewing parlours over the kitchen and
almost in the street, retired two-pair backs with eighteen inches of
window, dusty carpets, heavy bed-furniture, and utter hopelessness of
ventilation unaccompanied by showers of soot?

It is two o'clock in the day, the dinner-beer has been taken in and
consumed, bare-armed artizans with short black pipes smoked out, are
leaning and loitering at door-steps and window-ledge, doubtful whether
to make holiday for the rest of the afternoon. A distant hum of
children, like the drone of insects in a flower-garden, pervades the
quarter; for the energy of childhood is irrepressible by atmospheric
influences, but their hard-worked mothers are snatching a brief repose,
and for a space, even their tongues are still. An omnibus has stopped at
the corner public-house while the horses are watered, a costermonger is
fast asleep in his barrow by the roadside, and a drowsy, dreary torpor
seems to pervade one of those narrow, tortuous streets that wind in an
easterly direction from the Marlborough Road, S.W.

In the second floor of a shabby little house, a window stands as wide
open as it can be propped by a bit of wood, and from that window, with a
weary sigh, speaking volumes of patience, suffering, and sorrow, turns
Miss Ross, to take her seat once more by the side of a low sofa-bed, and
watch a toss of black curls, a little wan, pinched face, with a dull
aching pain about her heart, that grows and strengthens as hope fades,
and dies out, day by day. Poor Jin's own face has turned very white and
thin too. Her features are sharpened, and the black eyes seem large, out
of all proportion; yet never in the days gone by, when they flashed with
coquetry, or sparkled with wit, did they possess so rare a charm, as the
soft and tender lustre that shines in them now.

"It's cooler, dear, isn't it?" said she, pushing those dark curls off
the pale little brow. "And mamma wasn't going to leave her pet--was she?
Did Gustave think mamma could fly out at the window?" She tried to speak
lightly, anything to woo a smile from the sick child, but he only
replied by turning pettishly away, and burrowing his face in the pillow,
while he murmured, "Not leave Johnnie--Johnnie wants his shoes--wants to
be dressed and taken away." As he got weaker, he resisted and entirely
repudiated the name of Gustave, and although he had nearly forgotten
Mrs. Mole, would only acknowledge his own identity as the "Johnnie" who
had been so christened in the cottage by the river-side.

The boy caught cold on that eventful evening when Miss Ross carried him
off, and had never regained strength. The cold turned to low fever, and
hour by hour, in those long broiling summer's days, he seemed to get
gradually but surely weaker. He was fractious, though naturally
sweet-tempered, restless without being in pain; there seemed no tangible
organic malady, such as could be watched, fought against, overcome, but
he drooped like a flower, and so drooping, well-nigh broke his mother's
heart.

She never forgave herself, that the child had been exposed to rain on
the evening she took him away. Arriving in London she at once sought
this obscure locality, renting, indeed, the best rooms in the house, and
sparing no expense for the comfort and convenience of her boy. By
degrees, in addition to fears for his life, she had to face the anxiety
of a waning purse, and the terrible consideration of what was to become
of them both when her money was gone. The most skilful doctor in the
neighbourhood was called in at a guinea a visit; very often he wouldn't
take his guinea; very often there would have been none forthcoming, had
he wanted it. For a time, they lived on Jin's wardrobe, her watch, her
jewels, by degrees the sources of supply began to fail. Then she moved
herself and her boy up-stairs. First, she had the whole second floor,
then she gave up the other room, and, inhabiting one small apartment
with her sick child, devoted to him her time, her energies, her whole
existence, as she often thought, with sad, cold forebodings, in vain.

She starved, she pinched, she denied herself every luxury, almost every
necessary, of life; but she never regretted what she had done, and she
never lost courage.

"If Gustave gets well," she used to think, "I can work for him and me as
I did before. If I can only struggle on till then, how happy I shall be.
I shall have saved my boy. How could he but have been ruined under the
care of that bad man? I shall have saved myself, for it is this poor
patient angel who makes me good. And Frank, dear Frank! I shall have
saved _you_!--you whom I loved better than myself! Ah! I have done well
by you, and you will never know it. _Qu'est que ça fait?_ It is
finished, and there's an end of it. If my darling dies, what signifies
anything? I shall soon die too! They will surely let me keep him in the
next world. I who have had so little of him in this!"

Like the rest of us, she made for herself a future, all the brighter, no
doubt, that the present seemed so cheerless and forlorn.

If the boy could only get well before her money was spent, if there was
only enough left to defray the journey, she would carry him off with her
to sunny France, there to live the old life, amongst the old scenes in
the old familiar way.

Her voice was still fresh, clear, and more powerful than ever; she need
not surely seek long for an engagement, and under a false name, in those
great southern towns, how was she to be traced or identified? She might
defy Picard, she might even baffle the inquiries of Frank Vanguard, if,
indeed, he loved her well enough to try and seek her out. The tears
would come thick to her eyes while she pictured his sorrow and anxiety
on her behalf, but she never wavered in her determination of keeping up
an eternal barrier between them, and of devoting her whole existence
henceforth to her child. Had she known how Frank accepted her loss with
an uncomplaining resignation, very far short of despair, waking up, as
it were, from a dream, with a feeling that, after all, things might have
been worse, it is possible she would have shown less resolution; but
believing _him_ to be inconsolable, she felt herself impracticable and
pitiless as adamant. Who shall say how far such dreams helped her to
bear the nursing, the watching, the fatigue, the heavy anxious days, the
long, weary hours of those sultry, sleepless nights?

Except to go for medicine, for arrowroot, or to summon the doctor on
some fresh alarm, Jin never stirred across the threshold, nor drew a
breath of fresher air than could be obtained at the window of the
sick-chamber.

Amongst other womanly trinkets and trifles, she had a large fan left, of
small money value, but admirably adapted to its purpose. Under the
judicious application of this instrument, the child gradually became
cooler and less feverish. At length, with a few drowsy murmurs, in which
"Mamma" and "Moley" were mixed up unintelligibly, the empty phial that
had served him for a toy dropped from his poor little wasted fingers,
and he went to sleep. Then Jin, bethinking her that the phial must be
refilled according to medical directions, sought out the prescription,
caught up her bonnet and parasol, drew on her last pair of gloves, and
stole down-stairs, leaving the door ajar, while impressing on the
maid-of-all-work that she must peep in every five minutes to see if the
little invalid were still asleep; she herself would not be gone a
quarter of an hour.

I don't care how hard a woman is worked, I never knew one yet but could
make time to look after a child. From the little girl of three, who
carries a doll as big as herself, to the aged dame of threescore, who
has been dandling children and children's children all her life, not one
of the sex but handles an infant with instinctive dexterity, such as no
amount of mere practice could insure. Even the sourest old maid may be
intrusted with a baby; nor is there the slightest fear that she will
crease it, drop it, or carry it upside down. The poor drudge who
answered Jin's summons with grimy hands and unwashed face, would have
liked nothing better than to tend Gustave morning, noon, and night. She
only hoped Miss Ross would stay out the whole afternoon.

It was a relief to emerge from the narrow street, and, after five
minutes' walk, to cross the Fulham Road. Even that suburban thoroughfare
seemed to glitter with life and motion after the gloomy sick-room, and
the dull monotony on which its single window looked out. But Jin had no
time to spare, and was speedily in the chemist's shop waiting for her
prescription to be made up.

The young man behind the counter, clean, curly, smug, and white-handed,
was affable and considerate. "Take a seat, miss," said he, pointing to a
high cane chair. "You seem fatigued like, and faint. The weather, miss,
is uncommon hot this season. Very trying to some constitutions.
Directly, miss. Certainly. Quite a simple prescription. Shall be made up
in five minutes. Address on the phial, I see. Allow me to send it for
you."

Poor Jin, faint and weak from watching and exhaustion, protested feebly
against this arrangement; glad to sit down, nevertheless, for her knees
knocked together, and she trembled from top to toe.

A dreadful misgiving came across her of what was to be done if she
should fall ill too; but Jin was not a nervous person, and felt almost
capable of keeping off bodily disorder by a strong effort of the will.

In the mean time, the young man, hiding his curly head first in one
drawer, then in another, brayed certain mysterious compounds in a
mortar, and, dissolving the nauseous mixture, poured it into a fresh
bottle, packing the whole carefully in paper, with string and
sealing-wax, not handing it to Miss Ross till, in spite of her
impatience, he had copied, in fair and legible writing, the whole label
attached to the discarded vessel. This last bore no name, but on it were
minute directions as to how the draught must be taken, and the address
at which it was to be left.

There was less to pay than she expected; but she had not intended to be
absent from her boy so long, and, seizing the packet with impatience,
dashed out of the shop to hurry home.

There was no shady side of the street. An afternoon sun beat fiercely on
her raven hair, not in the least protected by the wisp of lace, with a
leaf in it, that constituted her bonnet. She had slept but little in the
last forty-eight hours, and eaten less. Crossing the Fulham Road,
everything seemed to turn round with her; the roar, as of a thousand
carriages, surged in her ears. She thought she was being run over, and,
making an effort to reach the kerbstone, staggered, tripped, and fell.

A very handsome horse, with too much plating on his harness, was pulled
hard on his haunches; a brougham, painted and varnished like a new toy,
stood still with a jerk, and a woman's voice from the interior
exclaimed, in high accents of condemnation and command:

"Why don't you stop, you infernal idiot? You've knocked the woman down,
and now you want to drive over her!"

Kate Cremorne habitually jumped at conclusions. On the present occasion
she jumped also out of her carriage, with exceeding promptitude, and
lifted Miss Ross off the ground almost before the bystanders knew the
latter had fallen. Glancing at the packet still clutched tightly in her
hand, she summoned a benevolent drayman to the rescue, and, with the
assistance of that worthy, who testified unqualified approval of the
whole proceeding, and called both ladies "pretty dears" more than once
during its performance, placed the poor drooping sufferer in the
carriage, and directed her groom to drive without delay--"like smoke," I
am afraid, was the expression she used--to the address she had so
quickly mastered. Then, and not till then, she produced smelling-bottle,
fan, and laced handkerchief to restore her charge to consciousness.

In Brompton, you see, as in Samaria of old, are to be found those who
bear in mind the great parable that has made the name of Samaritan
synonymous with the most Christian-like of all Christian virtues.

Had Kate "passed on, on the other side," she would not have spoiled an
extremely expensive morning-dress; she would not have been too late for
one of the fastest and liveliest of Richmond dinner-parties; she would
not have missed the man of all others in London who most wished to meet
_her_. But to none of these did she give a thought nor a sigh while she
bathed Jin's pale temples with eau-de-cologne, and rested the dark
drooping head on her snowy bosom, pressing it to her own warm, wilful,
reckless, restless heart.

It was not till they reached her remote and shabby refuge, that Miss
Ross came thoroughly to herself; but even then she looked so white and
ill, that Kate would not hear of leaving her, but insisted on helping
her up-stairs, and taking command at once as superintendent, head-nurse,
in short, captain-general of the whole establishment.

Living, so to speak, on the border-land between good and bad society,
Kate Cremorne knew Miss Ross perfectly well by sight, though Miss Ross
did not know Kate Cremorne. The shrewd, practical, world-experienced
girl saw the whole affair at a glance. Through her keen intellect
flashed a history of perfidy, sorrow, penury, a scrape, a scandal, a
reduced lady, and a half-acted romance. She had sufficient delicacy to
conceal her recognition of Miss Ross; but it was Kate's nature to take
the lead in whatever position she was placed, and it would not have been
her had she failed to make everything airy and comfortable about the
sufferer in ten minutes.

She dismissed her brougham, much to the admiration of the public, with
directions to return in an hour; she sent the maid out for soup, and the
landlady for wine; she did not even forget to order some cut flowers;
she rustled up and down-stairs without waking Johnnie; she insisted on
the front room, fortunately unoccupied, being at once got ready for Miss
Ross, producing that best of references--a little _porte-monnaie_, with
sovereigns in it. She took off her bonnet, made herself completely at
home, kissed the sleeping child, and won the hearts of the people of the
house almost ere Jin had thoroughly opened her eyes; and long before the
brougham returned to carry her away she had put the invalid to bed,
given her a basin of soup, with a glass of port wine in it, and was
soothing her off to sleep, gently and quietly as a mother hushes a baby.

"You want rest, dear," she whispered, smoothing the pillow with her
strong white hand. "I won't leave you till you're as sound as that
beautiful boy in the next room. Then I'll go and sit with him till you
wake, and after that I needn't bother you any more, unless you'll let me
come and see you the first thing to-morrow morning."

Jin smiled faintly, and opened her eyes.

"I don't know who you are," she whispered; "but you're the only
kind-hearted woman I ever met in my life, except one. God bless you!"

Then her head sank back, and every nerve seemed to relax in the
overpowering motionless sleep of utter exhaustion.

But Kate, watching her, looked very grave and thoughtful. She had not
been used to blessings. Perhaps in her whole past she had never earned
one so true and heartfelt before. The sensation was strange, almost
oppressive, opening up a new series of hopes, feelings, interests, and
reflections, with certain wistful misgivings, that she, fair, fast,
flighty Kate Cremorne had hitherto mistaken the chief objects of
existence, wasted her life, and thrown herself away.



CHAPTER XXVII.

A HOUSEHOLD KATE.


"What an odd girl you are, Kate!" said Mrs. Battersea, as the sisters
sat at breakfast next morning in their pretty suburban garden, with a
table drawn under the acacia-tree, and as many birds, roses, and
strawberries about them as if they were a hundred miles from London.
"You lost the best chance yesterday that ever woman had, and all because
you couldn't be in time for a train. My dear, I don't often scold; but
it _does_ provoke me to see you throw yourself away. I begin to think
you'll never _settle_, Kate. You're worse than I was; you're worse than
I am _now_!"

"That's a bad state of things," answered Kate saucily. "I shouldn't have
thought it possible. But what's the use of settling, Auntie." The elder
sister had once been taken for the younger's aunt, and the nickname had
stuck to her. "You talk as if I was some sort of mess on a kitchen hob.
Why _should_ I settle, and why do you stir me up? I'm very nice as I
am."

"So Mr. Goldthred seems to think!" answered her sister; "and if you'd
only been with us yesterday, you'd have had him to yourself the whole
afternoon. I'm sure he was disappointed; and to see the barefaced way
that odious little Rosie made up to him was quite sickening!
Kate--Kate--don't you want an establishment of your own?"

"What's the good?" replied the other, dipping a bit of cake in her
coffee. "I'm very happy as I am--

    'O give me back my hollow tree,
    My crust of bread, and liberty!'

Freedom and simplicity, say I; communism, equality, and fraternity!"

"Kate, you're talking nonsense," pursued Mrs. Battersea. "Nature never
intended _you_ for a country-mouse, and there's no such thing as
equality, fraternity, and all that. Talk of men being brothers! Bosh!
Men are intended for husbands, only you must strike while the iron's
hot. They harden sadly if they're allowed to get cool. Oh, Kate! I do
wish you'd been with us yesterday! We went on the river after dinner.
There was a moon, and everything!"

"Did you have a good dinner?" asked Kate saucily.

"Of course we had," said the other. "But that's nothing to the purpose.
I tell you the whole party were paired off, except Goldie; and he went
about like a poor disconsolate bird in a frost. Rosie tried hard for
him; but he wouldn't look at her; and, besides, she'd got her own
admirer. I tell you, if you'd only been on the spot, the whole thing
might have been settled."

"Who was there for _you_?" inquired Miss Kate, with mischievous eyes and
a ripe cherry in her mouth, not much redder than the lips against which
it bobbed.

"Why the Colonel, naturally," answered Mrs. Battersea. "You knew that
quite well, so what's the use of asking? I shall 'shunt' the Colonel,
Kate, after Goodwood, he's getting so _very_ grey, and it looks really
ridiculous amongst young people, like our party yesterday."

"By all means," assented Kate. "And who's to replace him? Not that
half-bred American, Mr. Picard, I hope. Trust me, Auntie; I have
predatory instincts, and they never deceive me. That man is an
adventurer; he's not a gentleman. Look at him by the others: you see it
at once."

Mrs. Battersea burst out laughing.

"Well done, Kate! This is indeed teaching your grandmother. Do you think
I'm still too young to run alone? I ought to be flattered, and I _am_.
Don't you trouble your head about Picard and me. He's useful for the
present. When I've done with him, you may be pretty sure I shall drop
him. Now tell me, dear, what the temptation was that kept you away all
yesterday, and deprived our party, as the Colonel said, of the 'bonniest
bud in the bouquet.'"

"I'd an adventure," enunciated Kate solemnly.

"Was he good looking?" exclaimed Mrs. Battersea.

"_Very!_" answered Kate. "But I only saw him asleep. He had the blackest
curls and the longest eye-lashes I ever beheld on man or woman. Such a
darling, Auntie! But though I kissed him without disturbing him one bit,
I don't suppose he'll ever pay me the gloves I'm entitled to by all the
rules of racing."

Mrs. Battersea looked puzzled.

"What _do_ you mean?" said she. "I never can quite make you out when
you're in these wild moods. I hope you haven't been getting into
mischief. Your spirits run away with you so, I ought never to let you
out of my sight."

Kate laughed merrily.

"It's not much of a scrape this time," she answered, "nor much of a lark
neither. I paid a morning visit in a fashionable quarter, and was
detained longer than I anticipated, that's all. What should you say if
I'd found something 'stolen or strayed, lost or mislaid;' something not
actually advertised, but that would be worth 'a reward' all the same, if
I was to produce it at one or two places I know in London, not to
mention the cavalry barracks at Windsor?"

"You speak in parables," said the other, crumbling up bread and cream
for her parrot. "When you come down to plain English and common sense, I
shall be able to understand."

"I've found Miss Ross!" Kate closed her pretty lips so tight after this
startling information that the cherry snapped off at its stalk, and
bobbed into her coffee-cup.

"You've found Miss Ross!" repeated her sister, in accents of the utmost
astonishment. "Well, it's _too_ bad of Captain Vanguard; quite too bad,
I must say! And, Kate, I won't have you getting mixed up with that kind
of thing. Recollect we can scarcely hold our own where we are; and
although, for myself, I think respectable society rather _slow_, I don't
want you to make the mistakes I did. Never set the world at defiance, my
dear; it don't answer. You may humbug people to any extent, but they
won't stand being bullied! Don't go near her again, Kate, I beg.
Somebody is sure to see you."

"Captain Vanguard has no more to do with it than _you_ have," retorted
Miss Cremorne, ignoring her sister's late monitions and reverting to the
first count in the indictment. "Why can you never let him alone? Tell
me, Auntie, once for all, what's this grudge of yours against Frank?
Poor thing! How has it affronted its aunt?"

Mrs. Battersea looked grave.

"He'll never have a chance of affronting _me_, Kate, unless he does it
through _you_. He hangs about here a great deal too much. He haunts the
places we go to like a ghost; and he _looks_ like a ghost besides, for
he has lost his colour, grown very silent, and never smiles. I say
nothing, but----"

"You _think_ a great deal, no doubt," replied her sister. "You think
wrong this time, though, if you fancy I care two straws about Frank, or
Frank about _me_. He _was_ pleasant enough, I grant you; but now that
he's got sad, and quiet, and stupidish, he bores me. You ought to know
my tastes better than most people, dear. You may be pretty sure one of
your languishing swains has very little chance. I hate long stories,
long memories, long sighs, and long faces. If people like one, they
should make one happy:

    'When Love is kind,
      Lightsome, and free,
    Love's sure to find
      Welcome from me;
    But if Love brings
      Heart-ache or pang,
    Tears, or such things,
      Love may go hang!"

"Which only proves you were never in earnest, Kate," answered the elder
woman; adding, with a sigh, "So much the better for _you_."

Perhaps Mrs. Battersea was thinking of a time long before she met the
late Major Battersea, a time when Kate was a little toddling thing, with
fat legs, chubby arms, and the manners of a confirmed and shameless
flirt; a time when the sands of the Isle of Wight borrowed a golden
gleam from that light which so irradiates the present to leave behind it
such grim, ghostly shadows on the past; when the waves sang soft sweet
music, softer, sweeter, for the whisper that stole through the drowsy
wash and murmur of the tide,--sadder, too, for an instinct that warns
the human heart how they will make the same melodious moan, unchanged,
unpitying, after they have closed over its happiness for ever; when
morning was a vision of hope, and evening a dream of peace, and all day
long a waking reality of happiness, because of a straw hat, a sun-burned
face, and a light laugh. Perhaps she was contrasting a certain frank,
innocent, loving girl, trusting, and true-hearted, with the woman of
after years, marred and warped by her first disappointment, carrying war
on bravely in the enemy's country, but aching still under all her armour
of pride and indifference, with the dull pain of that first grievous
wound.

"So much the better for me," repeated Kate thankfully. "You would have
said so, indeed, if you could have seen that poor thing yesterday. Pale,
worn, dejected, and, my dear, so very badly dressed! I declare I hardly
knew her again, and I used to think, for quite a dark beauty, she was
the best-looking woman in London. Do you suppose, Auntie, there really
_is_ such a thing as a broken heart, or is it all nonsense and what they
put in novels, and poems, and things? It must hurt horribly if there
is!"

"Some people mind it more than others," answered her sister. "Let us be
thankful, Kate, that you and I are not of the caring sort. But what do
you suppose has brought Miss Ross to this pass? She used to be one of
your regular high-fliers. Went to Court, I fancy, and all the rest of
it. And how do you know your precious Frank Vanguard hadn't a finger in
the pie?"

"Because I _do_ know," affirmed Miss Kate. "You never saw such a place
as she was living in; and I got everything out of the people in the
house before I had been there ten minutes."

"I can easily believe it," said her sister. "As usual, taking up
another's business and neglecting your own."

"But I mean to make it my own," protested Kate. "You would have been as
keen about it as I am if you had seen the poor thing huddled up in her
refuge like a frightened cat in a corner. Table on three legs, chairs
falling to pieces, such a small room, such stuffy furniture, and you
might have written your name in the dust on everything. Even her gown
was all frayed at the skirt, and there wasn't another in the wardrobe,
for I peeped in to see. I shall be off again directly after breakfast,
and perhaps to-day I may worm something out of her, and get her to let
me help her in earnest, you know. How sad, Auntie, to come to such a
pass! Fancy not having enough to eat, and only one gown to put on!"

"But the child," persisted Mrs. Battersea, "the child couldn't have come
there by chance. Kate, I wish you'd let it all alone."

"The child was as clean as a new pin," answered Miss Cremorne. "There
was everything he could want arranged for him as nicely as if he was a
little Emperor! That's why I'm sure she's his mother. I don't care if
she's his _grandmother_ a hundred times over. I'll stick by her now
through this mess, whatever it is. I've gone in for it, and I'll see it
out! I'll charter a Hansom, though; I won't take the brougham, it makes
people stare."

Mrs. Battersea pondered, and the parrot, waiting for his breakfast,
shrieked hideously.

"Don't you think I'm right?" asked the impatient girl.

"I know you won't be stopped," answered the other, "right or wrong. But
were I in your place I should certainly not interfere. If Captain
Vanguard has anything to do with the business, I cannot see what good
will come of your mixing yourself up in it. Frank's very good-looking, I
grant you, and pleasanter company than half the men we meet; but I don't
suppose he really cares two pins for anything but his horses; and as for
heart, my dear Kate, these guardsmen are all alike--they throw the
article systematically away before their moustache is grown, and find
they get on very much better without it afterwards."

"They may throw them about till they're tired," answered Kate. "They'll
have to wait a long time before I stoop to pick one up, Auntie. I never
saw the man yet that was worth crossing the street for, after a shower.
Did you?"

"_One_, Kate," said Mrs. Battersea, "long ago. I'd have gone into the
Serpentine, up to my neck at least, for _him_."

"Why didn't you?" asked the other. "What has become of him?"

"He never asked me," replied Mrs. Battersea, with something of a tremble
in her voice. "I thought I was so sure of him, I could get him back at
any time, and one fine morning I pulled my thread the least thing too
hard, and it broke. I saw him the other day, Kate, quite by accident. He
hasn't forgiven, for all the years that are past,--and, though it seems
ridiculous, I haven't forgotten."

"Never say die! Auntie," laughed the girl. "You've plenty of admirers
left!"

"Plenty!" said Mrs. Battersea; "but they're not the real stuff. They're
like cheap dresses, my dear, look well enough while they're new, but
when they've been worn a little, particularly in bad weather, they go
all to pieces."

"The Colonel, for instance," observed Kate. "He's so threadbare now, I
don't think he'll even make up into patch-work or even pen-wipers.
Auntie, you're very hard upon the Colonel, and I do believe he's fond of
you."

"So he ought to be," answered Mrs. Battersea. "But let the Colonel
alone, Kate, and take my advice. If you find a man who really likes you
better than his dinner, his Derby, his covert-shooting, or his best
horse, don't stop to consider whether he is romantic, and popular, and
admired. Make up your mind at once. Take him frankly, unless you
absolutely hate the creature. Stand by him honestly, and never throw him
over. When you're as old as I am you'll be glad you followed my advice."

"I must first _catch_ my hare," replied Miss Kate, rising from the
table; "and then there's an end of the excitement, the ups-and-downs,
the ins-and-outs, the falls and fences, in short, all the fun of the
hunt. Well, who knows! Perhaps my time may come, like another's.

    'Puis ce que ça doit se tirer au sort.'

But meanwhile I do very well as I am, and when I've found my master it
will be quite soon enough to 'knuckle down' and give in. So now I'm off
to my poor sick bird, to nurse her chick, and sleek her feathers, and
put to rights her untidy little nest."

Accordingly, in less than ten minutes Miss Cremorne emerged into the
sunshine, as well-looking and as well-dressed a young lady as could be
seen treading the pavement of any street in London. A butcher's boy,
with tray on shoulder, stopped short in his whistle to look after her,
transported with admiration. A young man from the country stood
stock-still under the very pole of an omnibus, and grinned his approval
open-mouthed; while an old gentleman, who ought to have known better,
crossed the muddiest part of the street, and affected great interest in
an upholsterer's window, to get one more look at her pretty face as she
tripped past. The very cabman whom she signalled off the rank forbore to
overcharge her, and came down officiously from the perch of his Hansom
to keep her dress off the wheel when she alighted, wondering the while
at the homely exterior of the dwelling in which this vision of beauty
disappeared.

"It's a queer start!" soliloquised that worthy in his own expressive
vernacular; "and females, as a general rule, is up to all sorts of
games. But she ain't one of that sort, she ain't. Blessed if she don't
look as bold as Britannia, the beauty! and as h'innocent as a nosegay
all the while!"



CHAPTER XXVIII.

"TENDER AND TRUE."


According to promise, Picard called on Sir Henry at his house in town,
and was fortunate enough to find the baronet at home, but being ushered
into a room on the ground-floor, smelling strongly of tobacco-smoke, his
heart misgave him that he was about to fail in the chief object of his
visit, and that Helen had gone out. He was further discomfited by his
host's information that she was at Blackgrove, with no intention of
returning to London till next spring. The adventurer's brow clouded. He
had but little time for delay, and felt, to use his own expression, that
the moment had arrived when he must force the running, come with a rush,
and win on the post the best way he could.

Affecting, therefore, an air of deep concern, he sat himself down
opposite Sir Henry, who, wrapped in velvet, occupied the easiest of
chairs, with a French novel on his knee, and began to apologise for
disturbing him.

"But I wanted to see you," said Picard, in a more subdued tone than
usual, "because, in trying to do you a good turn, I've got you into a
mess. It is fortunate you are a man of position, and--and--of means, Sir
Henry, so that this is a matter of mere temporary inconvenience, but it
is equally distressing to me, I assure you, just the same."

"What do you mean?" said Sir Henry, turning pale, while the French novel
fluttered to his feet.

"Simply, that in following my lead about those shares I fear you have
come to grief. Not to the extent I have, of course, but still enough to
make you very shy of taking my advice in money matters again. I shall
pull through myself, eventually, well enough; but I had rather lose
every shilling I possess than that a friend of mine should sustain
injury by my advice or example."

The nobility of this sentiment was thrown away on Sir Henry, who swore
an ugly oath, and for a moment seemed in danger of losing his habitual
self-command.

"Why, you told me those cursed Colorados were a _certainty_!" he
exclaimed; "'a clear gain of fifty per cent.,' were your very words, no
questions asked, and no risk to run. You're not a baby, my good fellow!
Who was it that took _you_ in, I should like to know? He must have his
wits about him, that gentleman!"

"I can only repeat I did everything for the best," answered Picard
loftily. "I trust you were not in it very deep!"

"_Deep!_" growled the baronet. "I don't know what you call _deep_. I
counted on those cursed shares to pay off all my pressing liabilities,
and to square me with _you_ in particular. Now that one card has gone
the whole house will tumble down, of course. It's always the way. Hang
it, Picard! you oughtn't to have been so cock-sure, man. Well, it's no
use talking. I'm simply floored, that's all: and how I'm to be picked up
_this_ time beats my comprehension altogether."

"You have friends, Sir Henry," said Picard. "Plenty of them."

"Plenty of them!" echoed Sir Henry. "Staunch friends and true, who would
dine with me, bet with me, shoot with me, nay, some of whom would even
back me up in a row, or pull for me while hounds were running if I got a
fall, but who would see me d----d before they lent me a shilling, or put
their names to a bill for eighteen pence."

"That may be true enough with some of your swell acquaintance," replied
Picard, "but you mustn't lump us all in together and ticket us
'rotten.' I myself am ready, now, this moment, to do my utmost to assist
you. Sir Henry, I am a real friend."

"If you know my liabilities, by Heaven you are!" exclaimed the baronet,
with a sarcastic grin.

"I don't care a cent for your liabilities!" said the other, as indeed he
might safely say; and perhaps Sir Henry's knowledge of the world
attributed this generosity to the recklessness of one who had nothing to
lose. "I don't care what they are, I'll see you through them. I am your
friend--your true friend--Sir Henry--I am more than a friend. The
dearest wish of my heart is to be in the same boat with yourself and
your family, sink or swim."

In an instant, the baronet's whole demeanour changed to one of studied
and even guarded courtesy. He rose from his chair, stood with his back
to the empty fireplace, and inclined politely to his visitor.

"I do not quite understand," said he. "Pray explain."

Picard hesitated. There was something embarrassing in the other's
attitude. It combined civility, defiance, vigilance, all the
ingredients, indeed, of an armed neutrality. At last he got out the
words, "Your daughter, Sir Henry--Miss Hallaton."

"Stop a moment," interrupted the baronet, still in those guarded,
courteous tones; "how _can_ my daughter be concerned in our present
business?"

"Simply," answered the other, fairly driven into a corner, "that I had
meant--that I had intended--in short, that I had hoped you might be
induced to entertain--I mean, to listen favourably. Hang it! Sir Henry,
I am devotedly attached to your daughter--there!"

Sir Henry drew himself up. "You do Miss Hallaton a great honour," said
he, very stiffly, "and one I beg to decline most distinctly on her
behalf. This is a subject which admits of no further discussion between
you and me."

"Are you in earnest?" exclaimed Picard fiercely. "Do you know what you
are doing? Have you counted the cost of making me your enemy? Sir Henry,
you must surely have lost your head or your temper?"

"Neither, I assure you," answered the other, with provoking calmness;
adding, while he laid his hand on the bell-pull--"May I offer you a
glass of sherry, and--and--_bitters_, before you go?"

For the life of him, he could not resist a sarcastic emphasis, while he
named that wholesome tonic, nor could he help smiling, as Picard, losing
all self-control, flung out of the room, with no more courteous
leave-taking than a consignment of the proffered refreshment to a
temperature where it would have proved acceptable in the highest degree.

But no sooner had the street-door closed on his visitor, than Sir Henry
shook himself, as it were, out of a life's lethargy, and seemed to
become a new man. It was his nature to rise against a difficulty; and,
although he had never before had such a souse in the cold waters of
adversity, he felt braced and strengthened by the plunge. He sat down at
once to his writing-table, and immersed himself in calculations as to
liabilities, and means of meeting them. Ruin stared him in the face. He
was convinced he had nothing to hope from Picard's forbearance, with
whom he was inextricably mixed up in money matters. He saw clearly that
the latter would use every legal engine in his power to further his
revenge; yet Sir Henry's courage failed him not a jot, and he only
cursed the scoundrel's impudence in thinking himself good enough for
Helen, vowing the while he would be a match for them all, and fight
through yet.

Then he wrote many letters to solicitors, money-lenders, and private
friends; amongst others, one to Helen, and one to Mrs. Lascelles. It is
with this last alone we have to do.

That lady is sitting, somewhat disconsolate and lonely, in the pretty
boudoir at No. 40. The bullfinch is moulting, and sulky in the extreme;
the pug has been dismissed for the only misdemeanour of which he is ever
guilty--indigestion, followed by sickness; the post has just brought Sir
Henry Hallaton's letter; Mrs. Lascelles is dissolved in tears; and
Goldthred, who has not been near her for a fortnight, is suddenly
announced.

All the morning, all the drive hither in a Hansom cab, all the way
up-stairs, he has been revolving how he can best carry out Kate
Cremorne's precept--"Il faut se faire valoir;" but at the top step the
loyalty of a true, disinterested love asserts itself, and he would fain
fall prone at the feet of his mistress, bidding her trample him in the
dust if she had a mind.

Seeing her in tears, he turned hot and cold, dropped his hat, knocked
down a spidery table in trying to recover it, and finally shook hands
with the woman he loved stiffly and pompously, as if she had been his
bitterest enemy.

The grasp of her hand too seemed less cordial, her manner less kindly
than usual. Goldthred, who had yet to learn that the fortress never mans
its walls with so much menace as on the eve of surrender, felt chilled,
dispirited, even hurt; but, because of her distress, staunch and
unwavering to the backbone.

"You find me very unhappy," said she, drying her eyes (gently, so as not
to make them unbecomingly red). "Why have you never been to see me?"

This, turning on him abruptly, and with a degree of displeasure that
ought to have raised his highest hopes.

"I've been away," he stammered, "in the North on business. I--I didn't
know you wanted me."

"Oh, it's not _that_!" she answered pettishly. "Of course, one can't
expect people to put off business, or pleasure, or anything else for the
sake of their friends. What's the _use_ of friends? What's the use of
caring for anything or anybody? I wish I didn't. I shouldn't be so upset
now!"

In his entire participation of her sorrow, he quite lost his own
embarrassment.

"Can I do anything?" he exclaimed. "There's the _will_, you know, even
if there isn't the power."

"Nothing, that I can see," she answered drearily. "Here's a letter from
Sir Henry Hallaton. They're completely ruined, he tells me; a regular
smash! What is to become of them? I'm so wretched, particularly about
Helen."

She put her handkerchief to her face once more, but watched her listener
narrowly, nevertheless. It did not escape her that his countenance
changed and fell, as if he had been stung.

He recovered himself bravely, though.

"That is distressing enough," said he, "and sounds a bad business, no
doubt. Still, it is only a question of money, I suppose. It might have
been worse."

"Worse!" she repeated, with impatience. "I don't see how. From what he
says, it seems they won't have a roof to cover them--hardly bread to
eat! And what can I do for him? I can't pay off his mortgages, and buy
him back Blackgrove, as if it was a baby-house. It _does_ seem so hard!
It makes me hate everything and everybody!"

Goldthred's only reply to this rational sentiment was to rise from his
chair, button his coat, and place himself in a determined attitude on
the hearth-rug.

"You seem very miserable," said he; and the man's voice was so changed
that she started as if a stranger had come into the room. "I think I can
understand why--no, don't explain anything, Mrs. Lascelles, but listen
to me--you are unhappy. To the best of my power I will help you.
Somebody that you--well--that you like very much is in difficulties. If
I can extricate him, I will. You needn't hate everything or everybody
any longer," he added, with rather a sad smile; "and you may believe
that, though people do not put off their business nor their pleasure
for them, they can sometimes sacrifice their interests to their
friends."

How noble he seemed standing there--so kind, so good, so utterly
unselfish and true! How she loved him! She had long guessed it. She knew
it too surely now. Yet she could not forbear taking the last arrow from
her quiver, and sending it home to his honest, unsuspecting heart.

"It is very kind of you, Mr. Goldthred," said she, "to speak as you do,
particularly as you always mean what you say; but, though I often
fancied you liked her, I had no idea your attachment to Miss Hallaton
was so strong as all that!"

He turned very pale, and stooped over the moulting bullfinch, without
speaking; then raised his head, looking--as she had never seen him look
before--resolved, even stern, thoughtful, saddened, yet not the least
unkind; and the voice, that had trembled awhile ago, was firm and
decided now.

"If you are joking, Mrs. Lascelles," said he, "the jest is unworthy of
_you_, and unfair on _me_. If you really think what you say, it is time
you were undeceived. Miss Hallaton is no more to me than a young lady in
whom you take an interest. For her father I am prepared to make any
sacrifice, because I think you--Mrs. Lascelles, will you forgive what I
am going to say?"

"I don't know," she answered, smiling very brightly, considering that
the tears still glittered in her eyes. "I might be more deeply offended
than you suppose. What if you were going to say you think I am in love
with Sir Henry Hallaton?"

"I think you _are_ in love with Sir Henry Hallaton," he repeated very
gravely. "I think your happiness has long been dependent on his society.
I think you would marry him to-morrow if he asked you. I think he would
ask you to-day if his position admitted of it. I do not live a great
deal in the world, Mrs. Lascelles, and I dare say I am rather dull in a
general way; but the stupidest people can see things that affect their
interests or their happiness; and I have often watched every word and
look of yours, when you thought perhaps I had no more perception, no
more feeling, than that marble chimney-piece. Sometimes with a sore
heart enough; but that is all over now! Ought I to have told you long
ago, or ought I to have held my tongue for ever? I don't know; but I
need not tell you now, that from the day Mr. Groves introduced me to
you, at the Thames Regatta--I dare say you've forgotten all about it--I
have admired you, and--and--cared for you more than anything in the
world. You're too bright and too beautiful and too good for me, I know;
but that don't prevent my wanting to see you happy, and happy you
_shall_ be, Mrs. Lascelles, if everything I can do has the power to make
you so!"

His voice may have failed him somewhat during this simple little
declaration, but seemed steady enough when he finished; and it could
not, therefore, have been from sympathy with his emotion that the tears
were again rising fast to his listener's blue eyes.

"I remember it perfectly," she sobbed. "You were talking to a fat woman
in a hideous yellow gown. Why do you say I don't?"

"Remember what?" he asked innocently, not being quite conversant with a
manoeuvre much practised by ladies in difficulties, and similar to
that resource which is termed in the prize-ring "sparring for wind."

"Why, the first time I met you," she answered. "You're not the only
person who has a memory and feelings and all that. I know you must think
me a brute, and so I am; but still, I'm not quite a woman of stone!"

"I have told you what I think of you," said he very quietly. "Now tell
me what I can do for you, and _him_."

"Do you mean," she asked, peeping slyly out of her little useless
handkerchief, "that you would actually give me up to somebody else, and
part with your _money_, which is always a criterion of sincerity, for
such an object? Mr. Goldthred, is _that_ what you call love?"

"I only want you to be happy," said he. "I don't understand much about
love and flirtation; and these things people make such a talk about. I
want to see you happy. No, not that; for I should avoid seeing you, at
least just at first; but I should like to _know_ you were happy, and
that it was my doing."

He turned, and leaned his elbows on the chimney-piece, not to look in
the glass; for his face was buried in his hands, so that she had some
difficulty in attracting his attention. It was not a romantic action;
but she gave a gentle pull at his coat-tails.

"You _can_ make me happy," she whispered, with a deep and very becoming
blush. "I don't think it will be at all inconvenient or unpleasant to
you, only--only--you know I can't exactly suggest it first."

He turned as if he was shot. With white face and parted lips, never man
looked more astonished, while he gasped out,

"And you wouldn't marry Sir Henry Hallaton?"

She shook her head with a very bewitching smile.

"And you _would_ marry me?" he continued, hardly daring to believe it
was not all a dream.

"You've never asked me," was the reply; but he was on the sofa at her
side by this time, whispering his answer so closely in her ear, that I
doubt if either heard it, while both knew pretty well what it meant; and
though their subsequent conversation was carried on in a strange mixture
of broken sentences, irrational expressions, and idiotic dumb show, it
took less than ten minutes to arrive at a definite conclusion, entailing
on Goldthred the necessity of immediate correspondence with his nearest
relatives, and a visit to Doctors' Commons at no far distant date.

But, happy as he felt, breathing elixir, treading upon air, while
walking home to dress for dinner, he found time for the purchase of such
a beautiful fan as can hardly be got for money, and sent it forthwith to
Kate Cremorne, with the following line written in pencil on his
card--_Il faut se faire valoir_.



CHAPTER XXIX.

DAYBREAK.


It is only your cubs bred last season, not yet many months emancipated
from the tender authority of the vixen, that hang to their homes, and
run circling round the covert when disturbed by the diligence of their
natural enemy, the hound. An old fox is a wild fox; and no sooner does
he recognise the mellow note of the huntsman's cheer, the crack of the
first whip's ponderous thong, than he is on foot and away, lively as a
lark, with a defiant whisk of his brush, that means seven or eight miles
as the crow flies, the exercise of all his speed during the chase, and
all his craft to beat you at the finish. If you would have that brush on
your chimney-piece, that sharp little nose on your kennel door, you must
be pretty quick after him, for he wastes not a moment in hesitation,
facing the open resolutely for his haven, crossing the fields like an
arrow, wriggling through the fences like an eel.

Sir Henry Hallaton had been too often hunted not to take alarm at the
first intelligence of real danger, therefore it was that he put the
Channel between himself and his creditors without delay, knowing well
from experience that a man never makes such good terms as when out of
his enemy's reach; and so, trusting in the chapter of accidents which
had often befriended him, smoked his cigar tranquilly in a pleasant
little French town, while his family, his servants, his tradesmen,
everybody connected with him, were paying, in distress, discomfort, and
anxiety, the penalties this self-indulgent gentleman had incurred for
his own gratification.

There could scarcely have been a greater contrast than the position of
father and daughter when the crash first came.

Sir Henry lived in cheerful apartments, dined at a tolerable
_table-d'hôte_, sipped a _petit vin de Bordeaux_ that always agreed with
him, smoked good cigars, and frequented a social circle, not very
distinguished, nor indeed very respectable, but in which, with his fatal
facility of getting into mischief, he found himself always amused.

When his letters were written and posted, he felt without a care in the
world for the rest of the day, and positively looked younger and fresher
in his exile than at any time during the last five years, though there
was an execution in the house at Blackgrove, and he had not a shilling
to his name.

Helen, on the contrary, found herself beset with every kind of annoyance
and difficulty, from the black looks of a principal creditor to the loud
reproaches of a discharged scullery-maid. Her father indeed wrote her
full and explicit directions what to do in the present crisis; but even
to a girl of her force of character, many of the details she had to
carry out were painful and embarrassing in the extreme. On her shoulders
fell the burden of settling with the servants, the land-steward, the
very gamekeepers and watchers on the estate. She advertised the stock
and farming implements; she sent the horses and carriages to
Tattersalls'; she negotiated the rescue of her sisters' pianoforte out
of the general smash. It had been arranged that those young ladies
should pay a visit to their aunt, and Helen packed up their things, and
started them, nothing loath, by the railway, and furnished them with
money for their journey. Her purse was nearly empty when she returned
from the station, and, sitting down to rest after her labours, in the
dreary waste of a dismantled home, she realised, for the first time, the
loneliness and misery of her position.

She had borne up bravely while there was necessity for action, while her
assumed cheerfulness and composure implied a tacit protest against the
abuse poured on her father; but in the solitude of the big drawing-room,
with the carpets up, and the furniture "put away," she fairly broke
down, leaning her head against the chimney-piece, and crying like a
child.

She never saw the Midcombe fly toiling up the avenue; she never heard it
grinding round to the door; she was thinking rather bitterly that her
young life's happiness had been sacrificed through no fault of hers;
that she had been misunderstood; ill-treated; that even her father, whom
she loved so dearly, had placed her in a position of humiliation and
distress; that everybody was against her, and she had not a friend in
the world, when a light step, the rustle of a dress, and a well-known
voice, caused her to start and look up. The next moment, with a little
faint cry, that showed how stout-hearted Helen had been tried, she was
in the embrace of Mrs. Lascelles, with her head on that lady's shoulder,
who did not refrain from shedding a few tears for company.

"My dear, you mustn't stay here another instant," exclaimed the latter.
"Where are your things? Where is your maid? I've kept the fly, and
you're to come back with me by the five o'clock train. Your father says
so. I've got his letter here. No. Where have I put it? Don't explain,
dear; I know everything. He told me all about it from the first, and I
should have been down sooner but for those abominable excursion trains.
Ring the bell. Send for all the servants there are left, and tell them
to get your boxes ready immediately! You're to pay me a nice long
visit, my precious! And, oh! Helen, I've got so much to tell you!"

The girl was already smiling through her tears. Even in the midst of
ruin it seemed no small consolation to have such a friend as this; and
there was a hearty brightness about Mrs. Lascelles, not to be damped by
the despondency of the most hopeless companion.

"How good of you to come!" she said. "How like you, and how unlike
anybody else! I've had a deal of trouble here, but it's all over at
last. I've managed everything for him the best way I could, and now I
must go to poor papa, and take care of him in that miserable little
French town."

"Poor papa, indeed!" echoed the other. "I've no patience with him! But,
however, it's no use talking about that to _you_. Only, my dear, don't
distress yourself unnecessarily about poor papa. He'll do very well, and
there's no occasion for you to go abroad at all. We shall have him back
in a week. Friends have turned up in the most unaccountable manner. How
shall I ever tell you all about it? In the first place, Helen dear, I'm
going to be married!"

"_You!_" exclaimed Helen, in accents of undisguised astonishment; adding
after a moment's pause, as good manners required, "I'm sure I wish you
joy!"

"Thank ye, dear," was the off-hand answer; "and who d'ye think is the
adversary, the what-d'ye-call-it--the happy man?"

Two little separate spasms of jealousy shot through Helen
simultaneously. It couldn't be Frank Vanguard, surely! And if it could,
what did that matter to her? Perhaps it was Sir Henry. Helen had long
learned to consider papa as her own property, and I am not sure but that
this pang was sharper than the other.

"Anybody I know?" she asked, trembling in her secret heart for the
reply.

"You know him quite well," answered Mrs. Lascelles, laughing. "Indeed
he's a great admirer of yours, and at one time--no, I won't tell
stories, I never was jealous of you and Mr. Goldthred, although you're
much younger and prettier than me."

Helen certainly gave a sigh of relief, while Mrs. Lascelles glanced, not
without satisfaction, at her own radiant face and figure in the glass.

"I'm sure I don't know how it all came about," she said, still laughing.
"But, however, there it is! It's a great fact, and upon my word I'm very
glad of it. Now you know he's got plenty of money, Helen (though I
didn't marry him for that, I've enough of my own), and, like the good
fellow he is, he has promised to help your father through his
difficulties. There's no sort of reason why you shouldn't all live here
as formerly, but in the mean time it won't hurt those girls to go to
their aunt for a bit (I hope she will keep them in order), and you are
to come to No. 40 with me."

This was, indeed, good news. Helen could hardly believe her ears, and
the young lady who now tripped lightly about the house, getting her
things together, and busying herself to afford her visitor the
indispensable cup of tea, was extremely unlike the forlorn damsel who
had been paying off servants and poring over accounts the whole of that
dreary, disheartening day.

But more comfort was yet in store for Helen, as if Fate, having punished
her enough, had now relented in her favour. The tea was drunk, the fly
was packed, and the ladies were driven to Midcombe Station, in the
interchange of no more interesting communications than were compatible
with the bustle of departure and the jingling of their vehicle; but no
sooner were they established in a first-class carriage, with the door
locked, than Mrs. Lascelles, turning to her companion, asked, as though
she were carrying on the thread of some previous conversation:

"And who do you think, Helen--who _do_ you think I found in the station
meaning to come down to you at Blackgrove? He was actually taking his
ticket. But I wouldn't hear of it, of course, and ordered him at once to
do nothing of the kind."

"Mr. Goldthred, I suppose," guessed Helen.

"Not a bad shot!" answered the other. "Yes, he wanted to come, too; and
begged and prayed very hard yesterday. Of course I forbid him. I'm not
particular, but still, my dear, _les convenances_! No, Goldthred knew he
mustn't last night. It was Frank Vanguard I found fussing about on the
platform this morning."

Hurt, wounded as she had been, in spite of all her pride, all her
injuries, the tears rose in Helen's eyes, while she thought of her false
lover hurrying down to take his share of her distress. Perhaps he was
_not_ false after all. Perhaps time would exonerate him, demonstrating,
in some romantic and mysterious manner, that the unaccountable neglect
she had so resented was not really his fault. She had been making
excuses for him to her own heart ever since they parted. She was longing
to forgive him fully and freely now.

But, unlike her companion, Miss Hallaton kept her feelings a long way
below the surface, so it was a very calm, proud face she turned to Mrs.
Lascelles, while in a perfectly unmoved tone she observed:

"Captain Vanguard is a great friend of papa's, and I am sure he would be
very sorry to hear of our misfortunes."

"He _looked_ it!" answered the other meaningly. "Poor fellow, he was as
white as a sheet, and his face seemed almost haggard for so young a man!
It can't be entirely smoking and late hours, for that plague of mine
smokes and sits up like other people, yet he's got plenty of colour, and
his eyes are as clear as yours or mine. I must say I like a man to look
_fresh_. There's something wrong about Frank. He's sadly altered of
late, and I can't quite make him out."

Miss Hallaton was looking steadfastly through the window, while she
replied:

"I haven't remarked it. To be sure I've not seen him lately. He used to
have very good spirits as far as I recollect."

"He's not been the same man since Jin disappeared," said Mrs. Lascelles,
with malice prepense, no doubt, but possibly "cruel only to be kind."
"Yet I'm by no means clear he had anything to do with that most
mysterious business. He never could have shammed ignorance so naturally
when we all consulted together, though I must say he seemed the least
anxious of the party. I used sometimes to fancy he liked her, and
sometimes I fancied it was somebody else. I think so still. What do
_you_ say, Helen?"

But Helen changed the subject, skilfully diverting her companion's
thoughts to her approaching marriage, a topic of so engrossing a nature,
that it lasted all the way to London, and was not half exhausted when
interrupted by the _fiancée's_ characteristic exclamation, as their
train glided smoothly alongside the platform:

"What a goose he is! I knew he'd come to meet us! How pleased he'll be
to see I've brought you. Helen, he's a dear fellow. He's as good as
gold!"

He was as good as gold. Subject to the touchstone of happiness,
Goldthred's character came out like a picture lit by gas. The tints were
brighter, the lines more firmly marked, there appeared more depth, more
meaning, more force and character in his whole composition, and Mrs.
Lascelles, who had begun by pitying as much as she loved him, found the
pity changed to respect, and the love grown stronger than ever. She was
proud of him now, while he, exulting in the distinction, strove all the
more to continue worthy of her good opinion.

Surely on earth there is no incentive to virtue so powerful as the
entire affection of that one being who represents our ideal of some
purer and higher sphere. The idol is mere clay, no doubt, but the divine
spark exists at least in the worshipper; and it may be that the stubborn
human heart, now in a dream of joy, now in an agony of suffering, is
thus trained and taught to look up from the limited and imperfect
creature, to the boundless attributes of the Creator.

After her late excitement and distress, Helen had much need of rest,
both for body and mind. At No. 40 she found herself in a secure and
peaceful haven, where even during the flood-tide of a London season, she
might have

                                "Listened to the roar
    Of the breakers on the bar outside that never reach the shore,"

but where in the hot dull autumn, when everybody was out of town, she
could remain perfectly tranquil and undisturbed, with Mrs. Lascelles to
humour her like a child, and Goldthred always ready to anticipate her
lightest wish.

It did not take many days, before the firmness had returned to her step,
the light to her eyes, and she was once more the "belle Helen," as Mrs.
Lascelles loved to call her, with a vague notion the title was extremely
classical and correct.

But it was quite contrary to the principles of the elder lady that any
one who possessed health and beauty should be "mewed up," as she was
pleased to express herself, while the weather tempted everybody out of
doors. Sitting at luncheon, with Miss Hallaton on one side, and the
faithful Goldthred on the other, she exclaimed, with the glee of an idle
child who has found a new plaything, looking very bright and handsome
the while:

"Happy thought! Let us drive down to-morrow to Oatlands! Weep at the
dogs' graves, peep at the grotto, sit by the river, dine, and come back
by moonlight. Who says _done_? It's almost the next thing to a
water-party."

"Done!" exclaimed both her companions at the same moment, one with
careless acquiescence, the other with intense admiration.

"Carried!" said the hostess, clapping her hands. "We three in the open
carriage--_must_ have a fourth. Who is it to be?"

But _one_ was out of town, another couldn't get away early enough in the
afternoon; _this_ person wouldn't come without the certainty of meeting
_that_. Of two charming sisters both must be asked or neither. In short,
the fourth seat in the carriage was wanted for half-a-dozen people, and
the prospective little dinner out of town soon assumed the dimensions of
a pic-nic.

Thus it fell out that Mrs. Lascelles had to write several notes after
luncheon, and "dear Helen" sat down to help her, while Goldthred,
lounging about and failing sadly in his efforts to make the bullfinch
pipe, volunteered to post these missives on his way to the club when
they were finished.

Pocketing them all in a lump, and expressing his intention of returning
at tea-time, Mr. Goldthred took his departure to walk down the street,
with the jaunty step and lightsome air of a happy lover.

At the nearest pillar-post, he stopped to fulfil his promise, and being
(though in love) a man of business, looked carefully at their addresses
before dropping the letters one by one into the slide.

The very top-most was Helen's production, and he started violently, the
moment its superscription caught his eye. Hastily examining two more in
the same handwriting, he replaced the whole in his pocket, hailed a
Hansom and drove straight home, where he ran to his writing-table,
unlocked a drawer and pulled out a certain little note that he had
received one night at his club awhile ago, that had puzzled him
exceedingly at the time, and that was, perhaps, the only secret he kept
from Mrs. Lascelles, because he had found himself unable to explain it
till to-day.

Yes, there could be no doubt, it was the same handwriting, he felt
convinced, fully as ever was Malvolio. The unknown correspondent who
wrote--"If you are really in earnest, come to-morrow; there is somebody
to be consulted besides me," was Miss Hallaton! "There's something very
queer about this," pondered Goldthred. "The girl's met with some foul
play somewhere or another. It's all right now. I'll have it out with her
to-night before I sleep--then I can tell my beautiful queen, and she
will decide what ought to be done."

And Mr. Goldthred in his pre-occupation, forgetting to post the letters
he had examined so carefully, brought them all back to No. 40 in his
pocket, so that the expedition to Oatlands fell through after all.



CHAPTER XXX.

"REMORSEFUL."


Mrs. Lascelles was a lady who could ill-keep a secret. Such disclosures
as those made in the boudoir after tea, when Helen had gone up-stairs to
rest, roused alike her indignation and her sympathy; she would have
cried for justice from the house-tops, rather than suffer the fraud to
pass unexposed. Even Goldthred did not escape rebuke for the very
negative part he had taken in the transaction.

"Why didn't you bring it here that instant?" she asked, in her pretty,
imperious way, while she filled her admirer's tea-cup, and offered him
the easiest chair in the room. "You shouldn't have kept such a thing
from _me_ for half-a-second. It's not like you to be so wicked, and I'm
determined to scold you well!"

"But it was one o'clock in the morning," urged Goldthred, with a comical
look of deprecation. "And you must remember I thought you didn't care a
bit for me then. Of course it would be different _now_."

"That's nonsense," she exclaimed. "You know I always liked you; and as
for your cool suggestion of coming here at one in the morning _now_, I
beg you won't attempt anything of the kind. But you _ought_ to have told
me indeed, because, after all, the note might have been from somebody
who had fallen in love with you!"

"I didn't suppose such a thing possible," he answered simply, "and I'm
sure I didn't wish it. I used to think happiness was never intended for
me. The one I liked seemed so much too good. I'm often afraid I shall
wake and find it all a dream."

"Not half good enough," she murmured, making a great clatter among the
cups and saucers. "I wish I was ten times better, and I mean to be. But
never mind about that. Don't you see exactly what has happened?"

"No, I don't," he answered, wondering fondly whether in Europe could be
found such a pair of hands and arms as were hovering about the tea-tray
under his nose. "I dare say I'm very stupid, but hang me if I can see
daylight anywhere!"

"Not if you look for it in my bracelet," she said, laughing. "But it's
obvious Helen has written you a note intended for somebody else.
Unless"--here she threatened him with a pretty finger he longed to
kiss--"unless you have reason to believe she valued the admiration you
could not disguise in all your looks and actions."

"Don't say such things!" he exclaimed, in the utmost alarm. "Mrs.
Lascelles, do you think I'm--I'm _that_ sort of fellow? Surely _you_
know me better. Surely you are only in joke!"

"You're deep, sir" she continued, still laughing at an earnestness that
touched while it amused her. "Deep and sly! However, I'll believe you
this time, and if you're honestly stupid I'll condescend to explain. Can
you take in, that if the note wasn't written to _you_ it must have been
intended for somebody else? I can guess who that somebody is. I'll ask
Helen point-blank. She's as proud as Lucifer, but I think she has
confidence in me."

She _did_ ask Helen point-blank, and that young lady, though as proud as
Lucifer, condescended to own the truth, but accompanied her confession
with a solemn declaration that everything was at an end between herself
and Frank Vanguard, so that the great desire of her heart now was never
to set eyes on him again. Mrs. Lascelles interpreting these sentiments
in her own way, sat down forthwith, and penned the following little
note, for further mystification of this bewildered young officer.

     "DEAR CAPTAIN VANGUARD,--I have discovered something you ought to
     know. Such an _embrouillement_ was never heard of but in an
     improbable farce, or still more improbable novel. Come to luncheon
     to-morrow, and we will lay our heads together in hopes of
     unravelling the skein. Miss Hallaton is staying with me. You will
     like to meet her I am sure, only you and I must have our conference
     _first_.

     "Yours very sincerely,

     "ROSE LASCELLES."

Frank's heart leaped under his cuirass while he read this mysterious
epistle, on his return from a sweltering inspection in the Long Walk. He
had been trying to persuade himself he did not care for Helen, and
fancied he succeeded. It was humiliating to feel that the bare mention
of her name could thus affect him, yet was there a keen, strange
pleasure in the sensation nevertheless.

On the barrack-room table of this fortunate dragoon there lay however
another little missive, bearing to that of Mrs. Lascelles the sort of
likeness a pen-wiper has to a butterfly. Its envelope was squarer and
larger, its monogram gaudier and more intricate, its superscription
fainter, paler, more aslant, more illegible. It exhaled a strong odour
of musk, and was written on paper that glistened like satin.

     "Dear Frank," it ran, "I shall be in the park to-morrow, at twelve.
     Look for the pony-carriage. I _want_ you--so no nonsense. Don't
     fail--there's a good fellow.--Yours truly,--KATE CREMORNE. P.S. If
     I'm not under the clock, wait there till I come."

"What can _she_ be up to now?" thought Frank, carefully twisting this
communication into a spill with which to light his cigar. "Got into a
mess of some sort, no doubt, and expects me to pull her through, like
the rest of them. How odd it is, I'm always blundering into
entanglements with women I don't care two straws about, and the one I
really _could_ love, the one who would make me a good man, I do believe,
and certainly a happy one, seems to be drifting every day farther and
farther out of my reach. I shall see her to-morrow, and what then? I
suppose our greeting will be confined to a distant bow, and some
conventional sentence more painful than a cut direct. Still, I shall see
her. That will be something. How strange it seems to be so easily
satisfied now, when I think of all I hoped and expected so short a time
ago. Well, beggars mustn't be choosers. I suppose I may as well meet
Kate Cremorne first, and do her a turn if I can. She's a good girl,
Kate, after all. Not half a bad-looking one neither, and as honest as
the day."

So twelve o'clock found Frank very nicely dressed, and with a
wonderfully prosperous air, considering his many troubles, picking his
way daintily across the deserted Ride, to where a solitary
pony-carriage, with a solitary pony drawing, and a solitary lady driving
it, stood like a pretty toy, drawn up by the footway under the clock.

Miss Cremorne received him with coldness, even displeasure. She
entertained a high opinion of her own acuteness, and thought she had hit
upon a discovery by no means to his credit. In her many visits to Miss
Ross--visits never made empty-handed, and to which, in all probability,
the latter owed her restoration to health--she gathered from Jin that a
friendship had lately existed between herself and the Captain Vanguard
of whom they both loved to talk. Now, Belgravia and Brompton look at
most matters in life, and particularly those connected with the
affections, from different points of view. Kate, though a hybrid
belonging to both districts, partook largely of the sentiments and
feelings affected by the latter. She imagined a touching little romance,
of which Jin's dark, curly-headed boy was the sequel, and being herself
_sans peur_, determined to show Frank she did not hold him _sans
reproche_.

"Jump in," said she, with extreme abruptness, as he approached the
carriage. "I've got a crow to pick with you, and I mean to have it out.
You're a nice young man, now! Don't you think you are?"

"Certainly," answered Frank, with imperturbable _bonhomie_. "I used to
hope you thought so too!"

"I'll tell you what I used to think," said Kate, lashing the pony with
considerable vehemence. "I used to think you were a good fellow at
heart, though the nonsense had never been taken out of you; that you
were only vain and affected on the surface, like lots of you guardsmen,
but that there was a _man_ inside the dandy, if one could only get at
him. Oh, Captain Vanguard, I'm disappointed in you! If I cared two
straws for a fellow, and he did as you've done, I'd never speak to him
again! There!"

The whip was again dropped on the pony, and they shaved the wheels of an
omnibus to an inch.

"Don't take it so to heart, Kate!" laughed Frank. "If I _have_ deserted
you, I'll come back again. You know, Miss Cremorne, that you are the
only woman I ever loved, and all that. Fate has been obdurate; but
rather would I be torn with wild----"

"_Will_ you be serious?" demanded the fair charioteer, knitting her
brows, and looking intensely austere. "Do you know where I am driving
you now?"

He was incorrigible.

"To Gretna, I trust, or the Register Office. That's what I should like
with _you_. Let's have it out, Kate. Jump over a broomstick, and the
thing's done!"

"I'll tell you where you're going," she said gravely: "I am taking you
to see Miss Ross!"

His whole countenance changed; and with all his self-command, he could
not disguise how deeply he was agitated.

"Miss Ross!" he stammered. "You have heard from her! You know where she
is!"

"I have _seen_ her every day for the last fortnight," was the answer.
"Seen her battle and bear up against sorrow, sickness, privation--actual
want! Ay, many a day, when you've been sitting down to a dinner of four
courses and dessert, that woman and her boy--her boy, Captain
Vanguard--have not had enough to eat!"

"Great heavens, Kate!" he exclaimed. "This is too shocking! Why did I
not know of it before?"

"Why, indeed!" repeated Kate. "You may well ask yourself the question.
Whose duty was it but yours to be answerable for her, poor dear, to
find her a home, to provide for her and the child? I don't want to have
many words about it. I'm not one of that sort; but I tell you she would
have starved--yes--_starved_, if I hadn't happened to run against her by
good luck, just in the nick of time."

"God bless you, Kate!"

His eyes were full of tears, and she looked at him a little less hardly
than before, but answered in scornful accents:

"Ought such a job as that to have been left to _me_?"

"Miss Cremorne! Kate!" he urged; "you think worse of me than I deserve!
There is nothing I wouldn't have done, no sacrifice I wouldn't have
made, to insure Miss Ross's comfort! It is not my fault, indeed! I give
you my word of honour, I have left no stone unturned to discover her
place of refuge from the moment she disappeared, and never obtained the
slightest trace of her till to-day."

"Gammon!" replied Kate, pulling the pony short up by the kerbstone.
"There's the house. It's not much to look at, but it's better inside
than out, since she's found a chance friend, poor thing! Run up-stairs
and see her. Say I meant to have taken her out for a drive, but I'll
come again in the afternoon. I never did--I never will--believe you're a
bad-hearted fellow, Frank; but you've done no end of mischief here. Go
and undo it now."

So Kate drove off at high pressure, leaving Frank on the door-step,
confronting a maid-of-all-work, who, seeming to expect him, yet glanced
from time to time with considerable interest and approval at his general
appearance and outline.

He was shown into a clean, neatly furnished apartment, from which he
could distinctly hear his announcement as "The gentleman, if you please,
ma'am," and the rustle of a dress that followed this information. Then
the door opened, and Miss Ross stopped short on the threshold,
exclaiming only--

"Frank!"

The tone denoted nothing but extreme and overwhelming astonishment.

Looking in her face, he could not but admit she was sadly altered. A few
short weeks had changed the brilliant, piquante beauty to a faded
invalid, with wan, wasted features, lit up only by the wonderful black
eyes.

His first thought was the humiliating question--"Can this be the woman I
fancied I loved so dearly?" His second brought a manly and natural
resolution to stand by her all the more firmly for her distress.

"Jin," he exclaimed, "why did you leave me like that? What has been the
matter? and why didn't you trust entirely to _me_?"

He would have taken her in his arms, but she waved him off, and the
delight that had flashed across her face when she confronted him gave
way to a cold, unnatural reserve.

"Did you get my letter?" she asked. "And why are you here?"

He explained how and why he had come, touching on the disappointment he
experienced in the contents of her communication, trying to put into his
tones that warmth of affection which he felt was completely extinguished
in his heart.

"I did not mean to see you again, Captain Vanguard," she said, in a
measured voice; "I did not _wish_ to see you again. The person I
expected was your friend, Mr. Picard. That man stands between us, and
always must. I will have no more concealments now--no more foul play--no
more crime. I have been punished enough; I pray heaven I may not be
punished yet more! I deceived you, Captain Vanguard, because I--well--I
believe I _did_ care for you, as much as it is in my wicked, heartless
nature to care for anybody; but I meant you to marry me. And all the
time Picard was my husband!"

"Your husband!" He had no power to utter another word.

"It takes your breath away," she exclaimed, with a touch of her old
malice. "You are so innocent! so inexperienced! Frank, I believe you
_did_ mean honestly by me. I believe you thought you liked me; and I
certainly--well--I liked _you_. Horribly--shamefully! To win you, I was
guilty of a fraud, a degradation, _une bassesse, entendez vous? une
lâcheté_. I took the letter of a girl who loved you, and I sent it off
to another man--a good creature, _mais tant soit peu ganache_, who
didn't know what to make of it. Never mind. I detached you from her, and
caught you for myself. But I would not make you a slave to my husband; I
know him too well. None of us come out of this _imbroglio_ very
creditably, and, believe me, your part is not of the highest calibre;
but I have injured you, and now, because my spirit is broke, I try to
make reparation. Go to your Miss Hallaton; explain all to her; marry
her, if you will! Oh! Frank, be happy with her, I entreat of you; and
never come to see me any more!"

She looked in his face for about half a second, made a plunge at his
hand, caught it eagerly to her heart, her eyes, her lips, and was in the
next room, of which he heard the door locked and bolted, before he had
realised the fact that she was gone.

He waited, he called, he went and tapped at that securely fortified
retreat, he even rang for the servant, and begged her to ask the lady
whether there were no more commands for him before he left; but without
avail.

"Why the devil Kate brought me here," said Frank to himself, standing
once more in the street, looking helplessly about for a Hansom cab, "is
more than I can make out! One thing's clear--I'm not bound in any way
to Miss Ross. Hang it! she's _not_ Miss Ross! What a fool I've been! I
don't deserve to get out of the mess so well. Helen, my darling! I ought
to have known, if they hadn't got _at_ you, you'd have been as true as
steel! By Jove, though, I'm bound in honour to book up to Kate! It must
have cost her a goodish stake, and I don't suppose Picard will."

But when this proposal was submitted to Miss Cremorne, she repudiated it
with a contempt savouring of Belgravia, and an energy of expression not
unworthy of Brompton.



CHAPTER XXXI.

REPENTANT.


Miss Ross, as we may still continue to call her, had indeed expected a
visit from a gentleman, and warned the maid-of-all-work she would be at
home; but it was with a heavy heart, nevertheless, she heard the
street-door close on Frank's retreating steps, while, smoothing her hair
and drying her eyes, she prepared to meet her husband. Picard, at his
wits' end for money, hunted from place to place by writ and summons,
with debts unpaid and bills coming due, could yet find time to answer in
person a written request for an interview, made by the woman whose evil
genius he seemed to have been through life. She asked to see him once
more, for reasons to be explained in person, and was actually waiting
his arrival, when Kate drove to the door with Frank Vanguard. The latter
had hardly been gone five minutes, ere Picard made his appearance, and
this ill-assorted couple met once more, with less surprise indeed, but
scarcely more cordiality than they had shown during their strange
ill-omened companionship on the river at Windsor.

Each thought the other looking faded, worn, altered; each wondered where
had lain the attraction, once so fatally powerful; each, I think, was
resolved at heart this interview should be the last.

"How's the boy?" said Picard, glancing round the room in search of his
child.

For answer, she opened a door into the adjoining apartment, signing to
him, wearily and sadly, to go in.

On a neat, snowy little bed, drawn near the open window, lay the child,
wan, wasted, scarcely conscious; his large eyes wandering vaguely here
and there, his small, fragile hands limp and helpless on the
counterpane. He gave his mother a feeble glance of recognition; but of
the other visitor he took no notice whatever.

Picard's mouth was dry, and a knot seemed to rise in his throat.

"How's this?" he muttered, in a fierce, husky voice, trying to keep down
his tears by making himself angry. "The child is fearfully ill! It is
too bad! I ought never to have trusted you with him! I should have
thought his mother would have taken better care!"

The taunt was unfelt, unheeded. She showed no displeasure; but turned
her large eyes on him with a plaintive, solemn sadness that spoke
volumes, that told of dreary, waking nights, of anxious, sorrowing days,
of cruel alternations between hope and despair, of piteous, calm
resignation, that comes only when the last chance has faded gradually
away. Picard went to the window, and looked out. A harder-hearted man
probably did not walk the streets of London that day; but the one thing
on earth he cared for was his child, and he saw the humble, dirty little
street through a mist of tears.

"It is the only link between us _now_," said Jin, in a measured,
mournful voice. "If it should part, God help us both! I do believe you
care for that poor, pale, suffering darling. For _his_ sake, let us
forgive one another!"

He was touched, penitent, and for the moment a better man.

"Virginie," he said, "I have deceived you--doubly deceived you! Our
marriage was valid enough."

Her heart sank within her.

"Then I am really your wife?" she faltered; but glancing at the boy,
added bravely, "I will try to be a good one from this day forth."

A man's whole nature is not to be changed by a few tears and a minute's
emotion. Dashing his hand across his eyes, Picard reviewed the position,
and was his own bad self again. Less than ever would it suit him now to
be hampered with the incumbrance of a family. He could scarce keep his
head above water. To provide for mother and child would swamp him
completely. While doing ample justice to his wife's sense of duty, he
resolved by no means to imitate her; and with an assumption of great
frankness, thus delivered himself:

"Your resolution is most creditable, Virginie, and I know to-day that I
have never done you justice. But I have met lately with reverses,
misfortunes, and at present it is impossible to make any arrangement by
which you and I can be together as much as I might wish."

An expression of intense relief came over her weary face, yet she drew
near the child's bed, suspiciously, instinctively, like an animal
protecting its young.

He observed and understood the action.

"Our poor boy cannot be moved," said he. "You will be a good mother,
Virginie, if I leave him to you? Perhaps I may never see him again."

Once more he betrayed real emotion; while Jin, from an impulse she could
neither resist nor explain, raised the feeble little form on its bed,
and supported the wan brow to which Picard's lips clung in a long
farewell kiss. He would have blessed the child had he dared; but with
the half-formed prayer came a sense of shameful unworthiness and a
bitter hopeless remorse that he had been so bad a man.

In true womanly unselfishness, and with a certain readiness of immediate
resource peculiar to her sex, Jin made a mental calculation of her
humble little store, reserving the small sum she thought would suffice
till her boy's recovery, and offered the remainder ungrudgingly to her
husband.

No doubt his excuses to himself were valid and unanswerable. He accepted
it without hesitation, accepted, though he must have known it had been
given her by another, and was all she had in the world.

To Jin, it seemed as if she had thus bought back the unquestioned
possession of her child.

He wished her good-bye calmly and kindly enough, resolving, no doubt,
that they should never meet on earth again; but, bad as he was, he cut a
lock off that cluster of black curls tumbled on the pillow, and many a
day afterwards would he take it out of his pocket-book to look on it for
minutes at a time, with sad, repentant longing, that yet produced no
good result. Sentiment is not affection. There may be much romance, with
very little attachment; and many a man believes he is extremely fond of
a woman or a child, for whom he will not sacrifice a momentary
gratification or an hour's amusement.

When Picard went his way, Jin clasped the boy in her arms, as if he had
just been rescued from some imminent danger; nor could all Kate
Cremorne's persuasions, calling an hour afterwards in the pony-carriage,
induce her to leave him during the rest of the afternoon.

It was for no want of nursing, from no lack of care and culture, that
this poor little flower faded and withered away.

August waned into September, and still the child drooped with the
drooping leaves. To the doctor, to the landlady, to the weeping
maid-of-all-work, to every one, save only a mother, it was evident that
his Christmas carols would be sung to him by the angels in heaven.

But though here a poor little violet may be trampled into earth, is that
a reason why the fairest garden flowers should fail to bloom, fragrant
and splendid, over yonder? Never a red rose in all the garlands of the
house of Lancaster blushed so becomingly, to Goldthred's taste, as did
his own affianced bride when she ordered him to ask her whether she had
not better think about naming the day of their marriage.

It was fixed for the middle of the month, the lady arranging to spend
her honeymoon at a farm-house of her own, far off in the West of
England, where there was excellent partridge-shooting. She explained her
arrangements to Helen with characteristic frankness.

"You see, my dear, I've been married before, and I know what it is. When
Mr. Lascelles and I were alone together, the first week, it was _awful_!
I wouldn't have believed man or woman could be so bored, and live. He
must have hated it, and, I'm sure, so did I. Now, I don't want my
goldfinch to be bored with _me_, particularly at first; so I shall send
him out shooting. He'll come home tired and hungry, and we shall make no
fuss, but feel as if we'd been married for years. 'Pon my word, dear,
he's such a good fellow, I wish we had!"

To all which wisdom, gathered from experience, Helen turned an attentive
ear, because of the pleadings urged by a certain young officer, who felt
and owned himself unworthy of the happiness he implored day by day, hour
by hour, till she contradicted him flatly, out of the fulness of her own
heart. Frank Vanguard succeeded in justifying himself before an
exceedingly lenient tribunal; and although, in my opinion, the
unaccountable silence of one woman is no valid excuse for transferring
allegiance incontinently to another, I do not imagine ladies themselves
are equally exclusive in their notions of property. They affect a very
stringent law of trespass, no doubt; yet appear sufficiently merciful
to habitual and hardened offenders.

The most jealous of them seem to appreciate an admirer none the less
that he has offered incense at many foreign shrines. If he should have
tumbled a goddess or two off her pedestal, they profess themselves
shocked indeed, and are loud in reproof, but seem to like him all the
better for his infidelity.

So Frank and Helen were to be married, Sir Henry giving them his
blessing and the bride's _trousseaux_, for which tasteful and
magnificent outfit the bills were eventually sent in to Frank; but this
has nothing to do with our story. The cavalry officer, I venture to
pronounce, had better luck than he deserved; but so exemplary a daughter
as Helen had proved herself was pretty sure to make an exemplary wife.
And, for my own part, I believe that a good woman, with good sense, and
a _really_ good temper, especially if gifted also with good looks, is
capable of reclaiming the whole Household Brigade, horse and foot,
bands, trumpeters, drummers, officers, non-commissioned officers, and
men.

Sir Henry Hallaton, however, with gross injustice, laid his ruin on that
sex, to which he had devoted what he was pleased to call the _best_
years of his life, majestically ignoring all such deteriorating
influences as extravagant habits, dissipated company, gambling,
mortgages, second-rate race-horses, and protested bills.

It needed no syren to lure the baronet on the rocks; and, indeed, the
tide of fortune, whether it ebbed or flowed, seemed alike to waft this
reckless, easy-going mariner to certain shipwreck. His was a sadly
shattered bark now, and he had abandoned all idea of making safe
anchorage at last. He came back to England, rescued from ruin by the
timely aid of a friend, and thought himself ill-used because that friend
was on the eve of marriage with a woman whom he had neglected while he
thought she liked him, to whose heartlessness, he now told himself, he
was a martyr, because she had not waited for an uncertainty, but made a
wise choice in pleasing herself.

The daughter he loved so dearly was about to settle happily in life; yet
he could complain that he was deserted, bewailing his loneliness, though
he saw the light in her eye, the peace on her brow, that told of
heart's-ease and content. In the restless, dissatisfied longings of a
confirmed selfishness, he tried hard to reestablish his former intimacy
with Miss Ross, whose retreat he had found means to discover; and,
failing to obtain an interview with that anxious and afflicted woman,
found himself driven for solace and comfort to the society of Kate
Cremorne.

This young person, whose knowledge of the world was drawn from men, not
books, seeing through the weary, worn-out pleasure-seeker at a glance,
fooled him with considerable dexterity, and no little mischievous
amusement.

Of all his reckless moods, perhaps none had been so reckless as that in
which he offered to make so free-spoken a damsel his wife; of all his
humiliations none, perhaps, so galling as to accept a kindly, courteous,
and dignified refusal from the wild, wayward girl, who bade him
understand clearly that she respected herself too much to affect an
attachment it was impossible to feel for a man old enough to be her
father!

Mrs. Battersea was provoked, and opined Kate would never grow wiser, but
Sir Henry, while to the outward world his good humour and good spirits
remained unchanged, took the rebuff sorely to heart, and though he told
his doctor he had been drinking sweet champagne, which never agreed with
him, my own belief is that a fit of gout, which attacked him at this
juncture more sharply than usual, was the effect of love rather than
wine. When we begin twinges at the extremities, it is time to have done
with pains of the heart.

So his doctor ordered him to Buxton, where, soothed by the bubble of
those health-restoring springs, he forgot his sorrows in the
unintermittent attention to self, required by the constant ablutions and
daily discipline of the cure, deriving at the same time no small comfort
from the contemplation of many sufferers more crippled, more peevish,
more egotistical than himself.

There is no particular season at Buxton, as there is no forgiveness or
immunity from Podagra, goddess of sloth, and luxury, and excess. Its
waters are drunk, its baths are heated, its lodging-houses are occupied,
its parade populous, during every month of the year. Nevertheless its
frequenters are necessarily migratory. Those who get better go away,
those who get worse die; but disease sends in a continuous supply of
fresh afflictions, and the residence of a very few weeks causes a
patient to be looked on as an old inhabitant and high authority in the
place. The head of the _table-d'hôte_, the easiest chair on the parade,
the newest books from the library, the choicest game from the poulterer,
the sweetest smile from landlady, the lowest bow from landlord, are the
advantages to be attained by six weeks' tenure of an obstinate case; and
thus it came to pass that Sir Henry, though a far greater man in St.
James's Street, found he could not hold a candle to Uncle Joseph at
Buxton.

Like two veterans in Chelsea, like two old man-of-war's men in Greenwich
Hospital, these campaigners of a less honourable warfare found
themselves stranded in sadly shattered plight amongst the bare knolls
and grey boulders of the Derbyshire Peak; but between them there was
this important difference,--that whereas Sir Henry, still almost
handsome, still gentleman-like, amusing, pleasant to women, had loved
his love, gamed his gaming, and retired beaten from the strife; Uncle
Joseph, older in years, ruder in speech, rounder of form, and stouter of
heart, had refitted his shattered bark, and with favouring gales, backed
by an energy that cannot be too highly commended, was prosecuting his
suit with a widow almost as old, as round, and as gouty as himself.

There had been a time when Sir Henry would have laughed heartily at the
confidential communications made by the respectable Mr. Groves, as the
two drove out in a one-horse fly and halted to enjoy the mellow warmth
of an autumn sun under a chasm, which takes from its impossible legend
the name of the Lover's Leap; but he did not laugh to-day, listening
with attention, interest, something akin to envy, at his heart. What
would he not have given could he, too, take pleasure in a woman's smile,
even though the woman were old and fat; could he, too, feel his blood
course quicker at a woman's voice, even though it had a provincial
accent, and an occasional confusion of the rules by which the aspirate
is applied in our language?

"I congratulate you," said Sir Henry, lying languidly back in the
carriage with a plaintive air of resignation, and a sad conviction that
for him most pleasures were indeed over, since his doctor had even
forbidden him to smoke. "You have retained the best faculties of youth,
since you have still courage to hope, still energy to be vexed and
disappointed. It is not so with me. Look here, my dear fellow; I have
been ruined twice since I began, and twice set on my legs by a miracle.
I would willingly be ruined a third time, and never be set up at all, if
I could only take a real interest in any earthly thing, even in what I
am going to have for dinner."

Uncle Joseph stared. "It's not so with me," he answered; "far from it. I
wish I didn't care so much. I'm a desperate fidget sometimes, I know,
and often I can't enjoy things just for fear of what _might_ happen.
Perhaps it's because I'm an old bachelor, as they say. It's a great
drawback to a man in middle-age to have passed all his youth out of the
society of women."

Sir Henry smiled and shook his head.

"I haven't found the _other_ plan a good one," said he. "You and I have
been a goodish time in the world now, and I begin to think we have both
wasted our lives."



CHAPTER XXXII.

"RECLAIMED."


Day after day, week after week, an autumn sun glared fiercely down,
baking and cracking the clean shorn stubbles, burnishing the meadows,
all parched and smooth and shining, licking up with fiery thirst the
shrunken threads of mountain streams, scorching the heather bloom to
powder, burning to rich ripeness the strips of late-sown oats that
through our wild hill-countries fringe the purple moorland with a border
of gold, beating on heated wall and glowing pavement in the small close
streets about the Marlborough Road, drying the outer air to the
temperature of an oven, and withering without pity the humble little
growth of mignionette in the sick child's window.

Morning and night Jin watered that homely box of mould in vain. The
dying plants no more revived for her care, than did her darling for all
the tears she shed on his behalf. They wanted for nothing now that money
could supply,--Kate Cremorne would have taken care of that; but Jin's
friends, directly they found out her hiding-place, had rallied round her
with kindly offers of sympathy and assistance. Mrs. Lascelles, indeed,
wished to bring mother and child home to No. 40 at once, but the latter
was too ill to be moved; and kind-hearted Rose, in spite of her present
happiness, felt sadly vexed to think that the former could refuse
persistently to see her now, denying herself to every human being except
Miss Cremorne.

With all her resolution it was more than Jin could endure to be reminded
of the happiness she had once so nearly grasped, and in her dull,
forlorn misery she told herself it was better to hide her weary head,
and wait in hopeless apathy for the end.

She had gone through those cruel changes that seem so hard to bear till
the one fearful certainty teaches us they were merciful preparations for
that which we should not otherwise have found strength to encounter. She
had watched the doctor's face day by day, and hung on his grave,
sympathising accents, believing now that the "shade better" meant
recovery, now that the "trifle worse" was but the necessary ebb and flow
of disease; anon, lifted to unreasonable happiness from darkest despair,
because when her ignorance thought all was over, the man of science
still found anchorage for a new ephemeral hope.

Alas! that henceforth there must be no more vicissitude, no more
uncertainty! The last strand of the cable was obviously parting--the
little lamp was flickering with the gleam that so surely goes out in
utter darkness--the simple flower, drooping and dying, was to bloom
never more but in the gardens of God!

Even Kate, who seldom failed to find a word of comfort at the worst, to
discover seeds of encouragement in the most alarming symptoms, had
turned from the boy's bed to-day with a quiver over all her bonny face,
that showed how hard it was for her to keep back the tears.

Jin caught her friend's hand, and pressed it to her breast.

"God bless you, dear!" she gasped. "Whatever happens, you've been an
angel from heaven to me!"

The other dropped her veil till it covered brow and face.

"My poor dear!" she answered, with a strange tremor in her voice, "the
angels in heaven are like _him_, not _me_. If it _must_ be--if you _are_
to lose him--try and think of him as one of them--try and hope you and I
may get to see him there at last, even if we have to sit waiting for
ages on a stone outside the gate."

Both women were silent, Kate turning away to cry passionately. In a few
minutes she recovered herself, pressed her lips fiercely to the child's
cold hand lying helpless on the bed-clothes, again to Jin's pale,
sorrowing brow, and so departed, with a promise, in a husky, choking
whisper, of returning speedily, and an entreaty that she might be sent
for at a moment's notice if she were wanted.

So the mother was left alone with her dying child. She had not shed a
tear--no--though the other woman wept without restraint; that infection,
usually so irresistible, had failed to reach her now. Her eyes were dry,
her face cold and fixed like marble. Mechanically she moved about the
room, arranging the furniture, straightening the sheets, smoothing the
pillows, mixing a cooling drink for the poor pale lips that would never
drink again. Then, as in unconscious routine she watered the mignionette
at the window, she caught her breath with a great gasp, her face worked
like that of a woman in convulsions, and she burst into a fit of weeping
that seemed intense relief for the moment, and rendered her capable of
enduring the worst, which was yet to come.

In such paroxysms memory seems, as it were, to lift us out of the
present, and furnishing us with a new sense--keen, subtle, and
intense--throws our whole existence back once more into the past. Again
she was nursing Gustave under the poplars in Touraine; again she was
impressing on a homely peasant-woman, at Lyons, the care and culture of
her darling; again she mourned for his loss and rejoiced in his
recovery, staring with incredulous pleasure to recognise him on the road
to Ascot, thrilling with a mother's holiest instincts to fold him to her
breast in the old cottage by the riverside. Her troubles, her intrigues,
her love, her rivalry, Picard, Frank Vanguard, Helen herself, were
forgotten; no human interest, no earthly image, came between her and her
dark-eyed boy.

It seemed impossible he could be dying. Dying? Oh, no! or why had he
been given back to her before? Was there no Providence? Was it only
blind chance that thus juggled with her? She thought of women she had
known in her earlier years--_femmes croyantes_, as they called
themselves--their penances, duties, attendance at mass, frequent
confessions, and the courage with which they boasted their religion
enabled them to accept every trial--till it came.

Pain was lashing her into rebellion. She roused herself. She dashed her
tears from her eyes. "Bah!" she exclaimed; "if he gets well, I will be
like these. Why not for me also a miracle? What have I done that I am to
be so tortured?"

A weak voice called her from the bed. "Maman," it murmured, in the dear
French accents of its infancy, "embrasse-moi donc, puis ce que je ne te
vois plus."

She laid her head--the two black comely heads together--on the pillow by
his side. The hope that had flickered for a moment died out for
evermore. Not see her! and it was broad noon of the golden summer day!

"Here is mamma, darling!" she murmured, pressing hard to her lips the
little helpless hand, dull and yellow like waxwork. "Mamma will never
leave Gustave! never--never!"

She tried to borrow courage from the assurance, and to fancy that _he_
was not leaving _her_, swiftly, surely, as the outward-bound bark that
spreads its canvas to a wind off shore.

He nestled nearer--nearer yet. His little frame shook all over. Raising
him on the pillow, his curly head sank back on her bosom, more heavily,
more helplessly than in earliest infancy. He murmured a few indistinct
syllables. Straining every nerve to listen, she knew they formed part of
a child's prayer that Mrs. Mole had taught him in her cottage home. But
he finished that prayer at the feet of his Father who is in heaven.

Minutes, hours--she never knew how long--the sorrowing mother bowed her
head, and wailed in agony over her dead child. Neither stunned nor
stupefied by an affliction for which her daily life had of late been but
a training and a preparation, every nerve in her frame, every fibre of
her heart, quivered with the sting and sharpness of the blow.

Had she not wept, she must have gone mad; but her tears flowed freely,
and with tears came that lassitude of the feelings which is the first
step to resignation, as lacking the rebellious energy of despair. For
her, indeed, the silver cord was loosed, the golden bowl broken, the
desire of her eyes taken away. The day had gone down; the night seemed
very dark and cold. How should she seek for comfort in the hope of
another dawn?

But when the skies are at their blackest, then morning is near at hand.
It was through thickest gloom, brooding over a lowering wave, that the
luminous figure of their Teacher walked the waters on the Sea of
Tiberias, and the boldest of his servants had sunk to the knees ere he
took refuge in his panic-stricken outcry, "Lord, save me!" and, trusting
solely to the Master, found help in the very weakness of his fears.

Perhaps angels in heaven recognise and mark in golden letters the hour
of conviction, the accepted time, the turning-point, it may be, of a
soul's eternity. Perhaps, even, in their lustrous happiness, they
rejoiced with celestial sympathy over the lonely penitent who flung
herself down by her child's death-bed, and poured out her heart in
prayer that, through any sacrifice, any suffering, she might follow
where he was gone before. Perhaps they knew how poor, contrite,
sorrowing Jin Ross had made her first step on the narrow path that leads
to the Shining Gate, over which, for sinners of far deeper dye than her,
stands emblazoned the eternal promise--"Knock, and it shall be opened
unto you!"


THE END.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Contraband - Or, A Losing Hazard" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home