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Title: Birds of Prey
Author: Braddon, M. E. (Mary Elizabeth), 1835-1915
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 "Birds of Prey" ***

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



BIRDS OF PREY

BY

M.E. BRADDON



[Illustration: "Be good enough to take me straight to her," said the
Captain, "I am her father."]



CONTENTS:

Book the First.

FATAL FRIENDSHIP.

    I. THE HOUSE IN BLOOMSBURY
   II. PHILIP SHELDON READS THE "LANCET"
  III. MR. AND MRS. HALLIDAY
   IV. A PERPLEXING ILLNESS
    V. THE LETTER FROM THE "ALLIANCE" OFFICE
   VI. MR. BURKHAM'S UNCERTAINTIES

Book the Second.

THE TWO MACAIRES.

    I. A GOLDEN TEMPLE
   II. THE EASY DESCENT
  III. "HEART BARE, HEART HUNGRY, VERY POOR"

Book the Third.

HEAPING UP RICHES.

    I. A FORTUNATE MARRIAGE
   II. CHARLOTTE
  III. GEORGE SHELDON'S PROSPECTS
   IV. DIANA FINDS A NEW HOME
    V. AT THE LAWN
   VI. THE COMPACT OF GRAY'S INN
  VII. AUNT SARAH
 VIII. CHARLOTTE PROPHESIES  RAIN
   IX. MR. SHELDON ON THE WATCH

Book the Fourth.

VALENTINE HAWKEHURST'S RECORD.

    I. THE OLDEST INHABITANT
   II. MATTHEW HAYGARTH'S RESTING-PLACE
  III. MR. GOODGE'S WISDOM

Book the Fifth.

RELICS OF THE DEAD.

    I. BETRAYED BY A BLOTTING-PAD
   II. VALENTINE INVOKES THE PHANTOMS OF THE PAST
  III. HUNTING THE JUDSONS
   IV. GLIMPSES OF A BYGONE LIFE

Book the Sixth.

THE HEIRESS OF THE HAYGARTHS.

    I. DISAPPOINTMENT
   II. VALENTINE'S RECORD CONTINUED
  III. ARCADIA
   IV. IN PARADISE
    V. TOO FAIR TO LAST
   VI. FOUND IN THE BIBLE

Book the Seventh.

CHARLOTTE'S ENGAGEMENT.

    I. "IN YOUR PATIENCE YE ARE STRONG"
   II. MRS. SHELDON ACCEPTS HER DESTINY
  III. MR. HAWKEHURST AND MR. GEORGE SHELDON COME TO AN UNDERSTANDING
   IV. MR. SHELDON IS PROPITIOUS
    V. MR. SHELDON IS BENEVOLENT
   VI. RIDING THE HIGH HORSE
  VII. MR. SHELDON IS PRUDENT
 VIII. CHRISTMAS PEACE



BIRDS OF PREY


BOOK THE FIRST.

FATAL FRIENDSHIP.



CHAPTER I.

THE HOUSE IN BLOOMSBURY.


"What about?" There are some houses whereof the outward aspect is
sealed with the seal of respectability--houses which inspire confidence
in the minds of the most sceptical of butchers and bakers--houses at
whose area-gates the tradesman delivers his goods undoubtingly, and
from whose spotless door-steps the vagabond children of the
neighbourhood recoil as from a shrine too sacred for their gambols.

Such a house made its presence obvious, some years ago, in one of the
smaller streets of that west-central region which lies between Holborn
and St. Pancras Church. It is perhaps the nature of
ultra-respectability to be disagreeably conspicuous. The unsullied
brightness of No. 14 Fitzgeorge-street was a standing reproach to every
other house in the dingy thorough-fare. That one spot of cleanliness
made the surrounding dirt cruelly palpable. The muslin curtains in the
parlour windows of No. 15 would not have appeared of such a smoky
yellow if the curtains of No. 14 had not been of such a pharisaical
whiteness. Mrs. Magson, at No. 13, was a humble letter of lodgings,
always more or less in arrear with the demands of quarter-day; and it
seemed a hard thing that her door-steps, whereon were expended much
labour and hearthstone--not to mention house-flannel, which was in
itself no unimportant item in the annual expenses--should be always
thrown in the shade by the surpassing purity of the steps before No. 14.

Not satisfied with being the very pink and pattern of respectability,
the objectionable house even aspired to a kind of prettiness. It was as
bright, and pleasant, and rural of aspect as any house within earshot
of the roar and rattle of Holborn can be. There were flowers in the
windows; gaudy scarlet geraniums, which seemed to enjoy an immunity
from all the ills to which geraniums are subject, so impossible was it
to discover a faded leaf amongst their greenness, or the presence of
blight amidst their wealth of blossom. There were birdcages within the
shadow of the muslin curtains, and the colouring of the newly-pointed
brickwork was agreeably relieved by the vivid green of Venetian blinds.
The freshly-varnished street-door bore a brass-plate, on which to look
was to be dazzled; and the effect produced by this combination of white
door-step, scarlet geranium, green blind, and brass-plate was
obtrusively brilliant.

Those who had been so privileged as to behold the interior of the house
in Fitzgeorge-street brought away with them a sense of admiration that
was the next thing to envy. The pink and pattern of propriety within,
as it was the pink and pattern of propriety without, it excited in
every breast alike a wondering awe, as of a habitation tenanted by some
mysterious being, infinitely superior to the common order of
householders.

The inscription on the brass-plate informed the neighbourhood that No.
14 was occupied by Mr. Sheldon, surgeon-dentist; and the dwellers in
Fitzgeorge-street amused themselves in their leisure hours by
speculative discussions upon the character and pursuits, belongings and
surroundings, of this gentleman.

Of course he was eminently respectable. On that question no
Fitzgeorgian had ever hazarded a doubt. A householder with such a
door-step and such muslin curtains could not be other than the most
correct of mankind; for, if there is any external evidence by which a
dissolute life or an ill-regulated mind will infallibly betray itself,
that evidence is to be found in the yellowness and limpness of muslin
window-curtains. The eyes are the windows of the soul, says the poet;
but if a man's eyes are not open to your inspection, the windows of his
house will help you to discover his character as an individual, and his
solidity as a citizen. At least such was the opinion cherished in
Fitzgeorge-street, Russell-square.

The person and habits of Mr. Sheldon were in perfect harmony with the
aspect of the house. The unsullied snow of the door-step reproduced
itself in the unsullied snow of his shirt-front; the brilliancy of the
brass-plate was reflected in the glittering brightness of his
gold-studs; the varnish on the door was equalled by the lustrous
surface of his black-satin waistcoat; the careful pointing of the
brickwork was in a manner imitated by the perfect order of his polished
finger-nails and the irreproachable neatness of his hair and whiskers.
No dentist or medical practitioner of any denomination had inhabited
the house in Fitzgeorge-street before the coming of Philip Sheldon. The
house had been unoccupied for upwards of a year, and was in the last
stage of shabbiness and decay, when the bills disappeared all at once
from the windows, and busy painters and bricklayers set their ladders
against the dingy brickwork. Mr. Sheldon took the house on a long
lease, and spent two or three hundred pounds in the embellishment of
it. Upon the completion of all repairs and decorations, two great
waggon-loads of furniture, distinguished by that old fashioned
clumsiness which is eminently suggestive of respectability, arrived
from the Euston-square terminus, while a young man of meditative aspect
might have been seen on his knees, now in one empty chamber, anon in
another, performing some species of indoor surveying, with a three-foot
rule, a loose little oblong memorandum-book, and the merest stump of a
square lead-pencil. This was an emissary from the carpet warehouse; and
before nightfall it was known to more than one inhabitant in
Fitzgeorge-street that the stranger was going to lay down new carpets.
The new-comer was evidently of an active and energetic temperament, for
within three days of his arrival the brass-plate on his street-door
announced his profession, while a neat little glass-case, on a level
with the eye of the passing pedestrian, exhibited specimens of his
skill in mechanical dentistry, and afforded instruction and amusement
to the boys of the neighbourhood, who criticised the glistening white
teeth and impossibly red gums, displayed behind the plate-glass, with a
like vigour and freedom of language. Nor did Mr. Sheldon's announcement
of his profession confine itself to the brass-plate and the glass-case.
A shabby-genteel young man pervaded the neighbourhood for some days
after the surgeon-dentist's advent, knocking a postman's knock, which
only lacked the galvanic sharpness of the professional touch, and
delivering neatly-printed circulars to the effect that Mr. Sheldon,
surgeon-dentist, of 14 Fitzgeorge-street, had invented some novel
method of adjusting false teeth, incomparably superior to any existing
method, and that he had, further, patented an improvement on nature in
the way of coral gums, the name whereof was an unpronounceable compound
of Greek and Latin, calculated to awaken an awful reverence in the
unprofessional and unclassical mind.

The Fitzgeorgians shook their heads with prophetic solemnity as they
read these circulars. Struggling householders, who find it a hard task
to keep the two ends which never have met and never will meet from
growing farther and farther asunder every year, are apt to derive a
dreary kind of satisfaction from the contemplation of another man's
impending ruin. Fitzgeorge-street and its neighbourhood had existed
without the services of a dentist, but it was very doubtful that a
dentist would be able to exist on the custom to be obtained in
Fitzgeorge-street. Mr. Sheldon may, perhaps, have pitched his tent
under the impression that wherever there was mankind there was likely
to be toothache, and that the healer of an ill so common to frail
humanity could scarcely fail to earn his bread, let him establish his
abode of horror where he might. For some time after his arrival people
watched him and wondered about him, and regarded him a little
suspiciously, in spite of the substantial clumsiness of his furniture
and the unwinking brightness of his windows. His neighbours asked one
another how long all that outward semblance of prosperity would last;
and there was sinister meaning in the question.

The Fitzgeorgians were not a little surprised, and were perhaps just a
little disappointed, on finding that the newly-established dentist did
manage to hold his ground somehow or other, and that the muslin
curtains were renewed again and again in all their spotless purity;
that the supplies of rotten-stone and oil, hearthstone and
house-flannel, were unfailing as a perennial spring; and that the
unsullied snow of Mr. Sheldon's shirt-fronts retained its primeval
whiteness. Wonderland suspicion gave place to a half-envious respect.
Whether much custom came to the dentist no one could decide. There is
no trade or profession in which the struggling man will not receive
some faint show of encouragement. Pedestrians of agonised aspect, with
handkerchiefs held convulsively before their mouths, were seen to rush
wildly towards the dentist's door, then pause for a moment, stricken by
a sudden terror, and anon feebly pull the handle of an inflexible bell.
Cabs had been heard to approach that fatal door--generally on wet days;
for there seems to be a kind of fitness in the choice of damp and
dismal weather for the extraction of teeth. Elderly ladies and
gentlemen had been known to come many times to the Fitzgeorgian
mansion. There was a legend of an old lady who had been seen to arrive
in a brougham, especially weird and nut-crackery of aspect, and to
depart half an hour afterwards a beautified and renovated creature. One
half of the Fitzgeorgians declared that Mr. Sheldon had established a
very nice little practice, and was saving money; while the other half
were still despondent, and opined that the dentist had private
property, and was eating up his little capital. It transpired in course
of time that Mr. Sheldon had left his native town of Little
Barlingford, in Yorkshire, where his father and grandfather had been
surgeon-dentists before him, to establish himself in London. He had
disposed advantageously of an excellent practice, and had transferred
his household goods--the ponderous chairs and tables, the wood whereof
had deepened and mellowed in tint under the indefatigable hand of his
grandmother--to the metropolis, speculating on the chance that his
talents and appearance, address and industry, could scarcely fail to
achieve a position. It was further known that he had a brother, an
attorney in Gray's Inn, who visited him very frequently; that he had
few other friends or acquaintance; that he was a shining example of
steadiness and sobriety; that he was on the sunnier side of thirty, a
bachelor, and very good-looking; and that his household was comprised
of a grim-visaged active old woman imported from Barlingford, a girl
who ran errands, and a boy who opened the door, attended to the
consulting-room, and did some mysterious work at odd times with a file
and sundry queer lumps of plaster-of-paris, beeswax, and bone, in a
dark little shed abutting on the yard at the back of the house. This
much had the inhabitants of Fitzgeorge-street discovered respecting Mr.
Sheldon when he had been amongst them four years; but they had
discovered no more. He had made no local acquaintances, nor had he
sought to make any. Those of his neighbours who had seen the interior
of his house had entered it as patients. They left it as much pleased
with Mr. Sheldon as one can be with a man at whose hands one has just
undergone martyrdom, and circulated a very flattering report of the
dentist's agreeable manners and delicate white handkerchief, fragrant
with the odour of eau-de-Cologne. For the rest, Philip Sheldon lived
his own life, and dreamed his own dreams. His opposite neighbours, who
watched him on sultry summer evenings as he lounged near an open window
smoking his cigar, had no more knowledge of his thoughts and fancies
than they might have had if he had been a Calmuck Tartar or an
Abyssinian chief.



CHAPTER II.

PHILIP SHELDON READS THE "LANCET."


Fitzgeorge-street was chill and dreary of aspect, under a gray March
sky, when Mr. Sheldon returned to it after a week's absence from
London. He had been to Little Barlingford, and had spent his brief
holiday among old friends and acquaintance. The weather had not been in
favour of that driving hither and thither in dog-carts, or riding
rakish horses long distances to beat up old companions, which is
accounted pleasure on such occasions. The blustrous winds of an
unusually bitter March had buffeted Mr. Sheldon in the streets of his
native town, and had almost blown him off the door-steps of his
kindred. So it is scarcely strange if he returned to town looking none
the better for his excursion. He looked considerably the worse for his
week's absence, the old Yorkshire-woman said, as she waited upon him
while he ate a chop and drank two large cups of very strong tea.

Mr. Sheldon made short work of his impromptu meal. He seemed anxious to
put an end to his housekeeper's affectionate interest in himself and
his health, and to get her out of the room. She had nursed him nearly
thirty years before, and the recollection that she had been very
familiar with him when he was a handsome black-eyed baby, with a
tendency to become suddenly stiff of body and crimson of visage without
any obvious provocation, inclined her to take occasional liberties now.
She watched him furtively as he sat in a big high-backed arm-chair
staring moodily at the struggling fire, and would fain have questioned
him a little about Barlingford and Barlingford people.

But Philip Sheldon was not a man with whom even a superannuated nurse
can venture to take many liberties. He was a good master, paid his
servants their wages with unfailing punctuality, and gave very little
trouble. But he was the last person in the world upon whom a garrulous
woman could venture to inflict her rambling discourse; as Nancy
Woolper--by courtesy, Mrs. Woolper--was fain to confess to her
next-door neighbour, Mrs. Magson, when her master was the subject of an
afternoon gossip. The heads of a household may inhabit a neighbourhood
for years without becoming acquainted even with the outward aspect of
their neighbours; but in the lordly servants' halls of the West, or the
modest kitchens of Bloomsbury, there will be interchange of civilities
and friendly "droppings in" to tea or supper, let the master of the
house be never so ungregarious a creature.

"You can take the tea-things, Nancy," Mr. Sheldon said presently,
arousing himself suddenly from that sombre reverie in which he had been
absorbed for the last ten minutes; "I am going to be very busy
to-night, and I expect Mr. George in the course of the evening. Mind, I
am not at home to anybody but him."

The old woman arranged the tea-things on her tray, but still kept a
furtive watch on her master, who sat with his head a little bent, and
his bright black eyes fixed on the fire with that intensity of gaze
peculiar to eyes which see something far away from the object they seem
to contemplate. She was in the habit of watching Mr. Sheldon rather
curiously at all times, for she had never quite got over a difficulty
in realising the fact that the black-eyed baby with whom she had been
so intimate _could_ have developed into this self-contained inflexible
young man, whose thoughts were so very far away from her. To-night she
watched him more intently than she was accustomed to do, for to-night
there was some change in his face which she was trying in a dim way to
account for.

He looked up from the fire suddenly, and found her eyes fixed upon him.
It may be that he had been disturbed by a semi-consciousness of that
curious gaze, for he looked at her angrily,--"What are you staring at,
Nancy?"

It was not the first time he had encountered her watchful eyes and
asked the same impatient question. But Mrs. Woolper possessed that
north-country quickness of intellect which is generally equal to an
emergency, and was always ready with some question or suggestion which
went to prove that she had just fixed her eyes on her master, inspired
by some anxiety about his interests.

"I was just a-thinking, sir," she said, meeting his stern glance
unflinchingly with her little sharp gray eyes, "I was just
a-thinking--you said not at home to _any one_, except Mr. George. If it
should be a person in a cab wanting their teeth out sudden--and if
anything could make toothache more general in this neighbourhood it
would be these March winds--if it should be a patient, sir, in a
cab----"

The dentist interrupted her with a short bitter laugh.

"Neither March winds nor April showers are likely to bring me patients,
Nancy, on foot or in cabs, and you ought to know it. If it's a patient,
ask him in, by all means, and give him last Saturday week's _Times_ to
read, while I rub the rust off my forceps. There, that will do; take
your tray--or, stop; I've some news to tell you." He rose, and stood
with his back to the fire and his eyes bent upon the hearthrug, while
Mrs. Woolper waited by the table, with the tray packed ready for
removal. Her master kept her waiting so for some minutes, and then
turned his face half away from her, and contemplated himself absently
in the glass while he spoke.

"You remember Mrs. Halliday?" he asked.

"I should think I did, sir; Miss Georgina Cradock that was--Miss Georgy
they called her; your first sweetheart. And how she could ever marry
that big awkward Halliday is more than I can make out. Poor fondy! I
suppose she was took with those great round blue eyes and red whiskers
of his."

"Her mother and father were 'took' by his comfortable farmhouse and
well-stocked farm, Nancy," answered Mr. Sheldon, still contemplating
himself in the glass. "Georgy had very little to do with it. She is one
of those women who let other people think for them. However, Tom is an
excellent fellow, and Georgy was a lucky girl to catch such a husband.
Any little flirtation there may have been between her and me was over
and done with long before she married Tom. It never was more than a
flirtation; and I've flirted with a good many Barlingford girls in my
time, as you know, Nancy."

It was not often that Mr. Sheldon condescended to be so communicative
to his housekeeper. The old woman nodded and chuckled, delighted by her
master's unwonted friendliness.

"I drove over to Hyley while I was at home, Nancy," continued the
dentist--he called Barlingford home still, though he had broken most of
the links that had bound him to it--"and dined with the Hallidays.
Georgy is as pretty as ever, and she and Tom get on capitally."

"Any children, sir?"

"One girl," answered Mr. Sheldon carelessly. "She's at school in
Scarborough, and I didn't see her; but I hear she's a fine bouncing
lass. I had a very pleasant day with the Hallidays. Tom has sold his
farm; that part of the world doesn't suit him, it seems--too cold and
bleak for him. He's one of those big burly-looking men who seem as if
they could knock you down with a little finger, and who shiver at every
puff of wind. I don't think he'll make old bones, Nancy. But that's
neither here nor there. I daresay he's good for another ten years; or
I'm sure I hope so, on Georgy's account."

"It was right down soft of him to sell Hyley Farm, though," said Nancy
reflectively; "I've heard tell as it's the best land for forty mile
round Barlingford. But he got a rare good price for it, I'll lay."

"O, yes; he sold the property uncommonly well, he tells me. You know if
a north-countryman gets the chance of making a profit, he never lets it
slip through his fingers."

Mrs. Woolper received this compliment to her countrymen with a
gratified grin, and Mr. Sheldon went on talking, still looking at the
reflection of his handsome face in the glass, and pulling his whiskers
meditatively.

"Now as Tom was made for a farmer and nothing but a farmer, he must
find land somewhere in a climate that does suit him; so his friends
have advised him to try a place in Devonshire or Cornwall, where he may
train his myrtles and roses over his roof, and grow green peas for the
London markets as late as November. There are such places to be had if
he bides his time, and he's coming to town next week to look about him.
So, as Georgy and he would be about as capable of taking care of
themselves in London as a couple of children, I have recommended them
to take up their quarters here. They'll have their lodgings for
nothing, and we shall chum together on the Yorkshire system; for of
course I can't afford to keep a couple of visitors for a month at a
stretch. Do you think you shall be able to manage for us, Nancy?"

"O, yes, I'll manage well enough. I'm not one of your lazy London
lasses that take half an hour to wipe a teacup. I'll manage easy
enough. Mr. and Mrs. Halliday will be having your room, I'll lay."

"Yes; give them the best room, by all means. I can sleep anywhere. And
now go downstairs and think it over, Nancy. I must get to my work. I've
some letters that must be written to-night."

Mrs. Woolper departed with her tray, gratified by her master's unwonted
familiarity, and not ill pleased by the thought of visitors. They would
cause a great deal of trouble, certainly; but the monotony of Nancy's
easy life had grown so oppressive to her as to render the idea of any
variety pleasing. And then there would be the pleasure of making that
iniquitous creature the London lass bestir herself, and there would be
furthermore the advantage of certain little perquisites which a clever
manager always secures to herself in a house where there is much eating
and drinking. Mr. Sheldon himself had lived like a modern anchorite for
the last four years; and Mrs. Woolper, who was pretty well acquainted
with the state of his finances, had pinched and contrived for his
benefit, or rather for the benefit of the black-eyed baby she had
nursed nine-and-twenty years before. For his sake she had been careful
and honest, willing to forego all the small profits to which she held
herself entitled; but if well-to-do people were going to share her
master's expenses, there would be no longer need for such scrupulous
integrity; and if things were rightly managed, Thomas Halliday might be
made to bear the entire cost of the household during his month's visit
on the Yorkshire system.

While Mrs. Woolper meditated upon her domestic duties, the master of
the domicile abandoned himself to reflections which were apparently of
a very serious character. He brought a leathern desk from a side-table,
unlocked it, and took out a quire of paper; but he made no further
advance towards the writing of those letters on account of which he had
dismissed his housekeeper. He sat, with his elbows on the table,
nibbling the end of a wooden penholder, and staring at the opposite
wall. His face looked pale and haggard in the light of the gas, and the
eyes, fixed in that vacant stare, had a feverish brightness.

Mr. Sheldon was a handsome man--eminently handsome, according to the
popular notion of masculine beauty; and if the popular ideal has been a
little vulgarised by the waxen gentlemen on whose finely-moulded
foreheads the wig-maker is wont to display the specimens of his art,
that is no discredit to Mr. Sheldon. His features were regular; the
nose a handsome aquiline; the mouth firm and well modelled; the chin
and jaw rather heavier than in the waxen ideal of the hair-dresser; the
forehead very prominent in the region of the perceptives, but obviously
wanting in the higher faculties. The eye of the phrenologist, unaided
by his fingers, must have failed to discover the secrets of Mr.
Sheldon's organisation; for one of the dentist's strong points was his
hair, which was very luxuriant, and which he wore in artfully-arranged
masses that passed for curls, but which owed their undulating grace
rather to a skilful manipulation than to any natural tendency. It has
been said that the rulers of the world are straight-haired men; and Mr.
Sheldon might have been a Napoleon III. so far as regards this special
attribute. His hair was of a dense black, and his whiskers of the same
sombre hue. These carefully-arranged whiskers were another of the
dentist's strong points; and the third strong point was his teeth, the
perfection whereof was a fine advertisement when considered in a
professional light. The teeth were rather too large and square for a
painter's or a poet's notion of beauty, and were apt to suggest an
unpleasant image of some sleek brindled creature crunching human bones
in an Indian jungle. But they were handsome teeth notwithstanding, and
their flashing whiteness made an effective contrast to the clear sallow
tint of the dentist's complexion.

Mr. Sheldon was a man of industrious habits,--fond indeed of work, and
distinguished by a persistent activity in the carrying out of any
labour he had planned for himself. He was not prone to the indulgence
of idle reveries or agreeable day-dreams. Thought with him was labour;
it was the "thinking out" of future work to be done, and it was an
operation as precise and mathematical as the actual labour that
resulted therefrom. The contents of his brain were as well kept as a
careful trader's ledger. He had his thoughts docketed and indexed, and
rarely wasted the smallest portion of his time in searching for an
idea. Tonight he sat thinking until he was interrupted by a loud double
knock, which was evidently familiar to him, for he muttered "George!"
pushed aside his desk, and took up his stand upon the hearthrug, ready
to receive the expected visitor.

There was the sound of a man's voice below,--very like Philip Sheldon's
own voice; then a quick firm tread on the stairs; and then the door was
opened, and a man, who himself was very like Philip Sheldon, came into
the room. This was the dentist's brother George, two years his junior.
The likeness between the two men was in no way marvellous, but it was
nevertheless very obvious. You could scarcely have mistaken one man for
the other, but you could hardly have failed to perceive that the two
men were brothers. They resembled each other more closely in form than
in face. They were of the same height--both tall and strongly built.
Both had black eyes with a hard brightness in them, black whiskers,
black hair, sinewy hands with prominent knuckles, square finger-tops,
and bony wrists. Each man seemed the personification of savage health
and vigour, smoothed and shapened in accordance with the prejudices of
civilised life. Looking at these two men for the first time, you might
approve or disapprove their appearance; they might impress you
favourably or unfavourably; but you could scarcely fail to be reminded
vaguely of strong, bright-eyed, savage creatures, beautiful and
graceful after their kind, but dangerous and fatal to man.

The brothers greeted each other with a friendly nod. They were a great
deal too practical to indulge in any sentimental display of fraternal
affection. They liked each other very well, and were useful to each
other, and took their pleasure together on those rare occasions when
they were weak enough to waste time upon unprofitable pleasure; but
neither of them would have comprehended the possibility of anything
beyond this.

"Well, old fellow," said George, "I'm glad you're back again. You're
looking rather seedy, though. I suppose you knocked about a good deal
down there?"

"I had a night or two of it with Halliday and the old set. He's going
it rather fast."

"Humph!" muttered Mr. Sheldon the younger; "it's a pity he doesn't go
it a little faster, and go off the hooks altogether, so that you might
marry Georgy."

"How do I know that Georgy would have me, if he did leave her a widow?"
asked Philip dubiously.

"O, she'd have you fast enough. She used to be very sweet upon you
before she married Tom; and even if she has forgotten all that, she'd
have you if you asked her. She'd be afraid to say no. She was always
more or less afraid of you, you know, Phil."

"I don't know about that. She was a nice little thing enough; but she
knew how to drop a poor sweetheart and take up with a rich one, in
spite of her simplicity."

"O, that was the old parties' doing. Georgy would have jumped into a
cauldron of boiling oil if her mother and father had told her she must
do it. Don't you remember when we were children together how afraid she
used to be of spoiling her frocks? I don't believe she married Tom
Halliday of her own free will, any more than she stood in the corner of
her own free will after she'd torn her frock, as I've seen her stand
twenty times. She stood in the corner because they told her she must;
and she married Tom for the same reason, and I don't suppose she's been
particularly happy with him."

"Well, that's her look-out," answered Philip gloomily; "I know I want a
rich wife badly enough. Things are about as bad with me as they can be."

"I suppose they _are_ rather piscatorial. The elderly dowagers don't
come up to time, eh? Very few orders for the complete set at
ten-pound-ten?"

"I took about seventy pounds last year," said the dentist, "and my
expenses are something like five pounds a week. I've been making up the
deficiency out of the money I got for the Barlingford business,
thinking I should be able to stand out and make a connection; but the
connection gets more disconnected every year. I suppose people came to
me at first for the novelty of the thing, for I had a sprinkling of
decent patients for the first twelve months or so. But now I might as
well throw my money into the gutter as spend it on circulars or
advertisements."

"And a young woman with twenty thousand pounds and something amiss with
her jaw hasn't turned up yet!"

"No, nor an old woman either. I wouldn't stick at the age, if the money
was all right," answered Mr. Sheldon bitterly.

The younger brother shrugged his shoulders and plunged his hands into
his trousers-pockets with a gesture of seriocomic despair. He was the
livelier of the two, and affected a slanginess of dress and talk and
manner, a certain "horsey" style, very different from his elder
brother's studied respectability of costume and bearing. His clothes
were of a loose sporting cut, and always odorous with stale tobacco. He
wore a good deal of finery in the shape of studs and pins and dangling
lockets and fusee-boxes; his whiskers were more obtrusive than his
brother's, and he wore a moustache in addition--a thick ragged black
moustache, which would have become a guerilla chieftain rather than a
dweller amidst the quiet courts and squares of Gray's Inn. His position
as a lawyer was not much better than that of Philip as a dentist; but
he had his own plans for making a fortune, and hoped to win for himself
a larger fortune than is, often made in the law. He was a hunter of
genealogies, a grubber-up of forgotten facts, a joiner of broken links,
a kind of legal resurrectionist, a digger in the dust and ashes of the
past; and he expected in due time to dig up a treasure rich enough to
reward the labour and patience of half a lifetime.

"I can afford to wait till I'm forty for my good luck," he said to his
brother sometimes in moments of expansion; "and then I shall have ten
years in which to enjoy myself, and twenty more in which I shall have
life enough left to eat good dinners and drink good wine, and grumble
about the degeneracy of things in general, after the manner of elderly
human nature."

The men stood one on each side of the hearth; George looking at his
brother, Philip looking down at the fire, with his eyes shaded by their
thick black lashes. The fire had become dull and hollow. George bent
down presently and stirred the coals impatiently.

"If there's one thing I hate more than, another--and I hate a good many
things--it's a bad fire," he said. "How's Barlingford--lively as ever,
I suppose?"

"Not much livelier than it was when we left it. Things have gone amiss
with me in London, and I've been more than once sorely tempted to make
an end of my difficulties with a razor or a few drops of prussic acid;
but when I saw the dull gray streets and the square gray houses, and
the empty market-place, and the Baptist chapel, and the Unitarian
chapel, and the big stony church, and heard the dreary bells
ding-donging for evening service, I wondered how I could ever have
existed a week in such a place. I had rather sweep a crossing in London
than occupy the best house in Barlingford, and I told Tom Halliday so."

"And Tom is coming to London I understand by your letter."

"Yes, he has sold Hyley, and wants to find a place in the west of
England. The north doesn't suit his chest. He and Georgy are coming up
to town for a few weeks, so I've asked them to stay here. I may as well
make some use of the house, for it's very little good in a professional
sense."

"Humph!" muttered George; "I don't see your motive."

"I have no particular motive. Tom's a good fellow, and his company will
be better than an empty house. The visit won't cost me
anything--Halliday is to go shares in the housekeeping."

"Well, you may find it answer that way," replied Mr. Sheldon the
younger, who considered that every action of a man's life ought to be
made to "answer" in some way. "But I should think you would be rather
bored by the arrangement: Tom's a very good fellow in his way, and a
great friend of mine, but he's rather an empty-headed animal."

The subject dropped here, and the brothers went on talking of
Barlingford and Barlingford people--the few remaining kindred whose
existence made a kind of link between the two men and their native
town, and the boon companions of their early manhood. The dentist
produced the remnant of a bottle of whisky from the sideboard, and rang
for hot water and sugar, Wherewith to brew grog, for his own and his
brother's refreshment; but the conversation flagged nevertheless.
Philip Sheldon was dull and absent, answering his companion at random
every now and then, much to that gentleman's aggravation; and he owned
at last to being thoroughly tired and worn out.

"The journey from Barlingford in a slow train is no joke, you know,
George, and I couldn't afford the express," he said apologetically,
when his brother upbraided him for his distraction of manner.

"Then I should think you'd better go to bed," answered Mr. Sheldon the
younger, who had smoked a couple of cigars, and consumed the contents
of the whisky-bottle; "so I'll take myself off. I told you how
uncommonly seedy you were looking when I first came in. When do you
expect Tom and his wife?"

"At the beginning of next week."

"So soon! Well, good-night, old fellow; I shall see you before they
come, I daresay. You might as well drop in upon me at my place
to-morrow night. I'm hard at work on a job."

"Your old kind of work?"

"O, yes. I don't get much work of any other kind."

"And I'm afraid you'll never get much good out of that."

"I don't know. A man who sits down to whist may have a run of ill-luck
before he gets a decent hand; but the good cards are sure to come if he
only sits long enough. Every man has his chance, depend upon it, Phil,
if he knows how to watch for it; but there are so many men who get
tired and go to sleep before their chances come to them. I've wasted a
good deal of time, and a good deal of labour; but the ace of trumps is
in the pack, and it must turn up sooner or later. Ta-ta."

George Sheldon nodded and departed, whistling gaily as he walked away
from his brother's door. Philip heard him, and turned his chair to the
fire with a movement of impatience.

"You may be uncommonly clever, my dear George," soliloquised the
dentist, "but you'll never make a fortune by reading wills and hunting
in parish-registers for heirs-at-law. A big lump of money is not very
likely to go a-begging while any one who can fudge up the faintest
pretence of a claim to it is above ground. No, no, my lad, you must
find a better way than that before you'll make your fortune."

The fire had burnt low again, and Mr. Sheldon sat staring gloomily at
the blackening coals. Things were very bad with him--he had not cared
to confess how bad they were, when he had discussed his affairs with
his brother. Those neighbours and passers-by who admired the trim
brightness of the dentist's abode had no suspicion that the master of
that respectable house was in the hands of the Jews, and that the
hearthstone which whitened his door-step was paid for out of
Israelitish coffers. The dentist's philosophy was all of this world,
and he knew that the soldier of fortune, who would fain be a conqueror
in the great battle, must needs keep his plumage undrabbled and the
golden facings of his uniform untarnished, let his wounds be never so
desperate.

Having found his attempt to establish a practice in Fitzgeorge-street a
failure, the only course open to Mr. Sheldon, as a man of the world,
was to transfer his failure to somebody else, with more or less profit
to himself. To this end he preserved the spotless purity of his muslin
curtains, though the starch that stiffened them and the
bleaching-powder that whitened them were bought with money for which he
was to pay sixty per cent. To this end he nursed that wan shadow of a
practice, and sustained that appearance of respectability which, in a
world where appearance stands for so much, is in itself a kind of
capital. It certainly was dull dreary work to hold the citadel of No.
14 Fitzgeorge-street, against the besieger Poverty; but the dentist
stood his ground pertinaciously, knowing that if he only waited long
enough, the dupe who was to be his victim would come, and knowing also
that there might arrive a day when it would be very useful for him to
be able to refer to four years' unblemished respectability as a
Bloomsbury householder. He had his lines set in several shady places
for that unhappy fish with a small capital, and he had been tantalised
by more than one nibble; but he made no open show of his desire to sell
his business--since a business that is obviously in the market seems
scarcely worth any man's purchase.

Things had of late grown worse with him every day; for every interval
of twenty-four hours sinks a man so much the deeper in the mire when
renewed accommodation-bills with his name upon them are ripening in the
iron safes of Judah. Philip Sheldon found himself sinking gradually and
almost imperceptibly into that bottomless pit of difficulty in whose
black depths the demon Insolvency holds his dreary court. While his
little capital lasted he had kept himself clear of debt, but that being
exhausted, and his practice growing worse day by day, he had been fain
to seek assistance from money-lenders; and now even the money-lenders
were tired of him. The chair in which he sat, the poker which he swung
slowly to and fro as he bent over his hearth, were not his own. One of
his Jewish creditors had a bill of sale on his furniture, and he might
come home any day to find the auctioneer's bills plastered against the
wall of his house, and the auctioneer's clerk busy with the catalogue
of his possessions. If the expected victim came now to buy his
practice, the sacrifice would be made too late to serve his interest.
The men who had lent him the money would be the sole gainers by the
bargain.

Seldom does a man find himself face to face with a blacker prospect
than that which lay before Philip Sheldon; and yet his manner to-night
was not the dull blank apathy of despair. It was the manner of a man
whose brain is occupied by busy thoughts; who has some elaborate scheme
to map out and arrange before he is called upon to carry his plans into
action.

"It would be a good business for me," he muttered, "if I had pluck
enough to carry it through."

The fire went out as he sat swinging the poker backwards and forwards.
The clocks of Bloomsbury and St. Pancras struck twelve, and still
Philip Sheldon pondered and plotted by that dreary hearth. The servants
had retired at eleven, after a good deal of blundering with bars and
shutters, and unnecessary banging of doors. That unearthly silence
peculiar to houses after midnight reigned in Mr. Sheldon's domicile,
and he could hear the voices of distant roisterers, and the miauling of
neighbouring cats, with a painful distinctness as he sat brooding in
his silent room. The fact that a mahogany chiffonier in a corner gave
utterance to a faint groan occasionally, as of some feeble creature in
pain, afforded him no annoyance. He was superior to superstitious
fancies, and all the rappings and scratchings of spirit-land would have
failed to disturb his equanimity. He was a strictly practical man--one
of those men who are always ready, with a stump of lead-pencil and the
back of a letter, to reduce everything in creation to figures.

"I had better read up that business before they come," he said, when he
had to all appearance "thought out" the subject of his reverie. "No
time so good as this for doing it quietly. One never knows who is
spying about in the daytime." He looked at his watch, and then went to
a cupboard, where there were bundles of wood and matches and old
newspapers,--for it was his habit to light his own fire occasionally
when he worked unusually late at night or early in the morning. He
relighted his fire now as cleverly as any housemaid in Bloomsbury, and
stood watching it till it burned briskly. Then he lit a taper, and went
downstairs to the professional torture-chamber. The tall horsehair
chair looked unutterably awful in the dim glimmer of the taper, and a
nervous person could almost have fancied it occupied by the ghost of
some patient who had expired under the agony of the forceps. Mr.
Sheldon lighted the gas in a movable branch which he was in the habit
of turning almost into the mouths of the patients who consulted him at
night. There was a cupboard on each side of the mantelpiece, and it was
in these two cupboards that the dentist kept his professional library.
His books did not form a very valuable collection, but he kept the
cupboards constantly locked nevertheless.

He took the key from his waistcoat-pocket, opened one of the cupboards,
and selected a book from a row of dingy-looking volumes. He carried the
book to the room above, where he seated himself under the gas, and
opened the volume at a place in which there was a scrap of paper,
evidently left there as a mark. The book was a volume of the _Lancet_,
and in this book he read with close attention until the Bloomsbury
clocks struck three.



CHAPTER III.

MR. AND MRS. HALLIDAY.


Mr. Sheldon's visitors arrived in due course. They were provincial
people of the middle class, accounted monstrously genteel in their own
neighbourhood, but in nowise resembling Londoners of the same rank.

Mr. Thomas Halliday was a big, loud-spoken, good-tempered Yorkshireman,
who had inherited a comfortable little estate from a plodding,
money-making father, and for whom life had been very easy. He was a
farmer, and nothing but a farmer; a man for whom the supremest pleasure
of existence was a cattle-show or a country horse-fair. The farm upon
which he had been born and brought up was situated about six miles from
Barlingford, and all the delights of his boyhood and youth were
associated with that small market town. He and the two Sheldons had
been schoolfellows, and afterwards boon companions, taking such
pleasure as was obtainable in Barlingford together; flirting with the
same provincial beauties at prim tea-parties in the winter, and getting
up friendly picnics in the summer--picnics at which eating and drinking
were the leading features of the day's entertainment. Mr. Halliday had
always regarded George and Philip Sheldon with that reverential
admiration which a stupid man, who is conscious of his own mental
inferiority, generally feels for a clever friend and companion. But he
was also fully aware of the advantage which a rich man possesses over a
poor one, and would not have exchanged the fertile acres of Hyley for
the intellectual gifts of his schoolfellows. He had found the
substantial value of his comfortably furnished house and well-stocked
farm when he and his friend Philip Sheldon became suitors for the hand
of Georgina Cradock, youngest daughter of a Barlingford attorney, who
lived next door to the Barlingford dentist, Philip Sheldon's father.
Philip and the girl had been playfellows in the long-walled gardens
behind the two houses, and there had been a brotherly and sisterly
intimacy between the juvenile members of the two families. But when
Philip and Georgina met at the Barlingford tea-parties in later years,
the parental powers frowned upon any renewal of that childish
friendship. Miss Cradock had no portion, and the worthy solicitor her
father was a prudent man, who was apt to look for the promise of
domestic happiness in the plate-basket and the linen-press, rather than
for such superficial qualifications as black whiskers and white teeth.
So poor Philip was "thrown over the bridge," as he said himself, and
Georgy Cradock married Mr. Halliday, with all attendant ceremony and
splendour, according to the "lights" of Barlingford gentry.

But this provincial bride's story was no passionate record of anguish
and tears. The Barlingford Juliet had liked Romeo as much as she was
capable of liking any one; but when Papa Capulet insisted on her union
with Paris, she accepted her destiny with decent resignation, and, in
the absence of any sympathetic father confessor, was fain to seek
consolation from a more mundane individual in the person of the
Barlingford milliner. Nor did Philip Sheldon give evidence of any
extravagant despair. His father was something of a doctor as well as a
dentist; and there were plenty of dark little phials lurking on the
shelves of his surgery in which the young man could have found "mortal
drugs" without the aid of the apothecary, had he been so minded.
Happily no such desperate idea ever occurred to him in connection with
his grief. He held himself sulkily aloof from Mr. and Mrs. Halliday for
some time after their marriage, and allowed people to see that he
considered himself very hardly used; but Prudence, which had always
been Philip Sheldon's counsellor, proved herself also his consoler in
this crisis of his life. A careful consideration of his own interests
led him to perceive that the successful result of his love-suit would
have been about the worst thing that could have happened to him.

Georgina had no money. All was said in that. As the young dentist's
worldly wisdom ripened with experience, he discovered that the worldly
ease of the best man in Barlingford was something like that of a
canary-bird who inhabits a clean cage and is supplied with abundant
seed and water. The cage is eminently comfortable, and the sleepy,
respectable, elderly bird sighs for no better abiding-place, no wider
prospect than that patch of the universe which he sees between the
bars. But now and then there is hatched a wild young fledgeling, which
beats its wings against the inexorable wires, and would fain soar away
into that wide outer world, to prosper or perish in its freedom.

Before Georgy had been married a year, her sometime lover had fully
resigned himself to the existing state of things, and was on the best
possible terms with his friend Tom. He could eat his dinner in the
comfortable house at Hyley with an excellent appetite; for there was a
gulf between him and his old love far wider than any that had been dug
by that ceremonial in the parish church of Barlingford. Philip Sheldon
had awakened to the consciousness that life in his native town was
little more than a kind of animal vegetation--the life of some pulpy
invertebrate creature, which sprawls helplessly upon the sands whereon
the wave has deposited it, and may be cloven in half without feeling
itself noticeably worse for the operation. He had awakened to the
knowledge that there was a wider and more agreeable world beyond that
little provincial borough, and that a handsome face and figure and a
vigorous intellect were commodities for which there must be some kind
of market.

Once convinced of the utter worthlessness of his prospects in
Barlingford, Mr. Sheldon turned his eyes Londonwards; and his father
happening at the same time very conveniently to depart this life,
Philip, the son and heir, disposed of the business to an aspiring young
practitioner, and came to the metropolis, where he made that futile
attempt to establish himself which has been described.

The dentist had wasted four years in London, and ten years had gone by
since Georgy's wedding; and now for the first time he had an
opportunity of witnessing the domestic happiness or the domestic misery
of the woman who had jilted him, and the man who had been his
successful rival. He set himself to watch them with the cool
deliberation of a social anatomist, and he experienced very little
difficulty in the performance of this moral dissection. They were
established under his roof, his companions at every meal; and they were
a kind of people who discuss their grievances and indulge in their
"little differences" with perfect freedom in the presence of a third,
or a fourth, or even a fifth party.

Mr. Sheldon was wise enough to preserve a strict neutrality. He would
take up a newspaper at the beginning of a little difference, and lay it
down when the little difference was finished, with the most perfect
assumption of unconsciousness; but it is doubtful whether the
matrimonial disputants were sufficiently appreciative of this good
breeding. They would have liked to have had Mr. Sheldon for a court of
appeal; and a little interference from him would have given zest to
their quarrels. Meanwhile Philip watched them slyly from the covert of
his newspaper, and formed his own conclusions about them. If he was
pleased to see that his false love's path was not entirely
rose-bestrewn, or if he rejoiced at beholding the occasional annoyance
of his rival, he allowed no evidence of his pleasure to appear in his
face or manner.

Georgina Cradock's rather insipid prettiness had developed into
matronly comeliness. Her fair complexion and pink cheeks had lost none
of their freshness. Her smooth auburn hair was as soft and bright as it
had been when she had braided it preparatory to a Barlingford tea-party
in the days of her spinsterhood. She was a pretty, weak little woman,
whose education had never gone beyond the routine of a provincial
boarding-school, and who believed that she had attained all necessary
wisdom in having mastered Pinnock's abridgments of Goldsmith's
histories and the rudiments of the French language. She was a woman who
thought that the perfection of feminine costume was a moire-antique
dress and a conspicuous gold chain. She was a woman who considered a
well-furnished house and a horse and gig the highest form of earthly
splendour or prosperity.

This was the shallow commonplace creature whom Philip Sheldon had once
admired and wooed. He looked at her now, and wondered how he could ever
have felt even as much as he had felt on her account. But he had little
leisure to devote to any such abstract and useless consideration. He
had his own affairs to think about, and they were very desperate.

In the meantime Mr. and Mrs. Halliday occupied themselves in the
pursuit of pleasure or business, as the case might be. They were eager
for amusement: went to exhibitions in the day and to theatres at night,
and came home to cozy little suppers in Fitzgeorge-street, after which
Mr. Halliday was wont to waste the small hours in friendly conversation
with his quondam companion, and in the consumption of much
brandy-and-water.

Unhappily for Georgy, these halcyon days were broken by intervals of
storm and cloud. The weak little woman was afflicted with that
intermittent fever called jealousy; and the stalwart Thomas was one of
those men who can scarcely give the time of day to a feminine
acquaintance without some ornate and loud-spoken gallantry. Having no
intellectual resources wherewith to beguile the tedium of his idle
prosperous life, he was fain to seek pleasure in the companionship of
other men; and had thus become a haunter of tavern parlours and small
racecourses, being always ready for any amusement his friends proposed
to him. It followed, therefore, that he was very often absent from his
commonplace substantial home, and his pretty weak-minded wife. And poor
Georgy had ample food for her jealous fears and suspicions; for where
might a man not be who was so seldom at home? She had never been
particularly fond of her husband, but that was no reason why she should
not be particularly jealous about him; and her jealousy betrayed itself
in a peevish worrying fashion, which was harder to bear than the
vengeful ferocity of a Clytemnestra. It was in vain that Thomas
Halliday and those jolly good fellows his friends and companions
attested the Arcadian innocence of racecourses, and the perfect purity
of that smoky atmosphere peculiar to tavern parlours. Georgy's
suspicions were too vague for refutation; but they were nevertheless
sufficient ground for all the alternations of temper--from stolid
sulkiness to peevish whining, from murmured lamentations to loud
hysterics--to which the female temperament is liable.

In the meantime poor honest, loud-spoken Tom did all in his power to
demonstrate his truth and devotion. He bought his wife as many stiff
silk gowns and gaudy Barlingford bonnets as she chose to sigh for. He
made a will, in which she was sole legatee, and insured his life in
different offices to the amount of five thousand pounds.

"I'm the sort of fellow that's likely to go off the hooks suddenly, you
know, Georgy," he said, "and your poor dad was always anxious I should
make things square for you. I don't suppose you're likely to marry
again, my lass, so I've no need to tie up Lottie's little fortune. I
must trust some one, and I'd better confide in my little wife than in
some canting methodistical fellow of a trustee, who would speculate my
daughter's money upon some Stock-Exchange hazard, and levant to
Australia when it was all swamped. If you can't trust me, Georgy, I'll
let you see that I can trust you", added Tom reproachfully.

Whereupon poor weak little Mrs. Halliday murmured plaintively that she
did not want fortunes or life insurances, but that she wanted her
husband to stay at home, content with the calm and rather sleepy
delights of his own fireside. Poor Tom was wont to promise amendment,
and would keep his promise faithfully so long as no supreme temptation,
in the shape of a visit from some friend of the jolly-good-fellow
species, arose to vanquish his good resolutions. But a good-tempered,
generous-hearted young man who farms his own land, has three or four
good horses in his stable, a decent cellar of honest port and
sherry--"none of your wishy-washy sour stuff in the way of hock or
claret," cried Tom Halliday--and a very comfortable balance at his
banker's, finds it no easy matter to shake off friends of the
jolly-good-fellow fraternity.

In London Mr. Halliday found the spirit of jolly-dog-ism rampant.
George Sheldon had always been his favourite of these two brothers; and
it was George who lured him from the safe shelter of Fitzgeorge-street
and took him to mysterious haunts, whence he returned long after
midnight, boisterous of manner and unsteady of gait, and with garments
reeking of stale tobacco-smoke.

He was always good-tempered, even after these diabolical orgies on some
unknown Brocken, and protested indistinctly that there was no
harm,--"'pon m' wor', ye know, ol' gur'! Geor' an' me--half-doz'
oyst'r--c'gar--botl' p'l ale--str't home," and much more to the same
effect. When did any married man ever take more than half a dozen
oysters--or take any undomestic pleasure for his own satisfaction? It
is always those incorrigible bachelors, Thomas, Richard, or Henry, who
hinder the unwilling Benedick from returning to his sacred Lares and
Penates.

Poor Georgy was not to be pacified by protestations about oysters and
cigars from the lips of a husband who was thick of utterance, and who
betrayed a general imbecility of mind and unsteadiness of body. This
London excursion, which had begun in sunshine, threatened to end in
storm and darkness. Georgy Sheldon and his set had taken possession of
the young farmer; and Georgy had no better amusement in the long
blustrous March evenings than to sit at her work under the flaming gas
in Mr. Sheldon's drawing-room, while that gentleman--who rarely joined
in the dissipations of his friend and his brother--occupied himself
with mechanical dentistry in the chamber of torture below.

Fitzgeorge-street in general, always on the watch to discover evidences
of impecuniosity or doubtful morality on the part of any one citizen in
particular, could find no food for scandal in the visit of Mr. and Mrs.
Halliday to their friend and countryman. It had been noised abroad,
through the agency of Mrs. Woolper, that Mr. Sheldon had been a suitor
for the lady's hand, and had been jilted by her. The Fitzgeorgians had
been, therefore, especially on the alert to detect any sign of
backsliding in the dentist. There would have been much pleasant
discussion in kitchens and back-parlours if Mr. Sheldon had been
particularly attentive to his fair guest; but it speedily became known,
always by the agency of Mrs. Woolper and that phenomenon of idleness
and iniquity, the London "girl," that Mr. Sheldon was not by any means
attentive to the pretty young woman from Yorkshire; but that he
suffered her to sit alone hour after hour in her husband's absence,
with no amusement but her needlework wherewith to "pass the time,"
while he scraped and filed and polished those fragments of bone which
were to assist in the renovation of decayed beauty.

The third week of Mr. and Mrs. Halliday's visit was near its close, and
as yet the young farmer had arrived at no decision as to the subject
which had brought him to London. The sale of Hyley Farm was an
accomplished fact, and the purchase-money duly bestowed at Tom's
banker's; but very little had been done towards finding the new
property which was to be a substitute for the estate his father and
grandfather had farmed before him. He had seen auctioneers, and had
brought home plans of estates in Herefordshire and Devonshire, Cornwall
and Somersetshire, all of which seemed to be, in their way, the most
perfect things imaginable--land of such fertility as one would scarcely
expect to find out of Arcadia--live stock which seemed beyond all
price, to be taken at a valuation.--roads and surrounding neighbourhood
unparalleled in beauty and convenience--outbuildings that must have
been the very archetypes of barns and stables--a house which to inhabit
would be to adore. But as yet he had seen none of these peerless
domains. He was waiting for decent weather in which to run down to the
West and "look about him," as he said to himself. In the meantime the
blustrous March weather, which was so unsuited to long railroad
journeys, and all that waiting about at junctions and at little windy
stations on branch lines, incidental to the inspection of estates
scattered over a large area of country, served very well for
"jolly-dog-ism;" and what with a hand at cards in George Sheldon's
chambers, and another hand at cards in somebody else's chambers, and a
run down to an early meeting at Newmarket, and an evening at some rooms
where there was something to be seen which was as near prize-fighting
as the law allowed, and other evenings in unknown regions, Mr. Halliday
found time slipping by him, and his domestic peace vanishing away.

It was on an evening at the end of this third week that Mr. Sheldon
abandoned his mechanical dentistry for once in a way, and ascended to
the drawing-room where poor Georgy sat busy with that eternal
needlework, but for which melancholy madness would surely overtake many
desolate matrons in houses whose common place comfort and respectable
dulness are more dismal than the picturesque dreariness of a moated
grange amid the Lincolnshire fens. To the masculine mind this
needlework seems nothing more than a purposeless stabbing and sewing of
strips of calico; but to lonely womanhood it is the prison-flower of
the captive, it is the spider of Latude.

Mr. Sheldon brought his guest an evening newspaper.

"There's an account of the opening of Parliament," he said, "which you
may perhaps like to see. I wish I had a piano, or some female
acquaintances to drop in upon you. I am afraid you must be dull in
these long evenings when Tom is out of the way."

"I am indeed dull," Mrs. Halliday answered peevishly; "and if Tom cared
for me, he wouldn't leave me like this evening after evening. But he
doesn't care for me."

Mr Sheldon laid down the newspaper, and seated himself opposite his
guest. He sat for a few minutes in silence, beating time to some
imaginary air with the tips of his fingers on the old-fashioned
mahogany table. Then he said, with a half-smile upon his face,--

"But surely Tom is the best of husbands! He has been a little wild
since his coming to London, I know; but then you see he doesn't often
come to town."

"He's just as bad in Yorkshire," Georgy answered gloomily; "he's always
going to Barlingford with somebody or other, or to meet some of his old
friends. I'm sure, if I had known what he was, I would never have
married him."

"Why, I thought he was such a good husband. He was telling me only a
few days ago how he had made a will leaving you every sixpence he
possesses, without reservation, and how he has insured his life for
five thousand pounds."

"O yes, I know that; but I don't call _that_ being a good husband. I
don't want him to leave me his money. I don't want him to die. I want
him to stay at home."

"Poor Tom! I'm afraid he's not the sort of man for that kind of thing.
He likes change and amusement. You married a rich man, Mrs. Halliday;
you made your choice, you know, without regard to the feelings of any
one else. You sacrificed truth and honour to your own inclination, or
your own interest, I do not know, and do not ask which. If the bargain
has turned out a bad one, that's your look-out."

Philip Sheldon sat with his folded arms resting on the little table and
his eyes fixed on Georgy's face. They could be very stern and hard and
cruel, those bright black eyes, and Mrs. Halliday grew first red and
then pale under their searching gaze. She had seen Mr. Sheldon very
often during the years of her married life, but this was the first time
he had ever said anything to her that sounded like a reproach. The
dentist's eyes softened a little as he watched her, not with any
special tenderness, but with an expression of half-disdainful
compassion--such as a strong stern man might feel for a foolish child.
He could see that this woman was afraid of him, and it served his
interests that she should fear him. He had a purpose in everything he
did, and his purpose to-night was to test the strength of his influence
over Georgina Halliday. In the old time before her marriage that
influence had been very strong. It was for him, to discover now whether
it still endured.

"You made your choice, Mrs. Halliday," he went on presently, "and it
was a choice which all prudent people must have approved. What chance
had a man, who was only heir to a practice worth four or five hundred
pounds, against the inheritor of Hyley Farm with its two hundred and
fifty acres, and three thousand pounds' worth of live stock, plant, and
working capital? When do the prudent people ever stop to consider truth
and honour, or old promises, or an affection that dates from childhood?
They calculate everything by pounds, shillings, and pence; and
according to their mode of reckoning you were in the right when you
jilted me to marry Tom Halliday."

Georgy laid down her work and took out her handkerchief. She was one of
those women who take refuge in tears when they find themselves at a
disadvantage. Tears had always melted honest Tom, was his wrath never
so dire, and tears would no doubt subdue Philip Sheldon.

But Georgy had to discover that the dentist was made of a stuff very
different from that softer clay which composed the rollicking
good-tempered farmer. Mr. Sheldon watched her tears with the
cold-blooded deliberation of a scientific experimentalist. He was glad
to find that he could make her cry. She was a necessary instrument in
the working out of certain plans that he had made for himself, and he
was anxious to discover whether she was likely to be a plastic
instrument. He knew that her love for him had never been worth much at
its best, and that the poor little flickering flame had been utterly
extinguished by nine years of commonplace domesticity and petty
jealousy. But his purpose was one that would be served as well by her
fear as by her love, and he had set himself to-night to gauge his power
in relation to this poor weak creature.

"It's very unkind of you to say such dreadful things, Mr. Sheldon," she
whimpered presently; "you know very well that my marriage with Tom was
pa's doing, and not mine. I'm sure if I'd known how he would stay out
night after night, and come home in such dreadful states time after
time, I never would have consented to marry him."

"Wouldn't you?--O yes, you would. If you were a widow to-morrow, and
free to marry again, you would choose just such another man as Tom--a
man who laughs loud, and pays flourishing compliments, and drives a gig
with a high-stepping horse. That's the sort of man women like, and
that's the sort of man you'd marry."

"I'm sure I shouldn't marry at all," answered Mrs. Halliday, in a voice
that was broken by little gasping sobs. "I have seen enough of the
misery of married life. But I don't want Tom to die, unkind as he is to
me. People are always saying that he won't make old bones--how horrid
it is to talk of a person's bones!--and I'm sure I sometimes make
myself wretched about him, as he knows, though he doesn't thank me for
it."

And here Mrs Halliday's sobs got the better of her utterance, and Mr.
Sheldon was fain to say something of a consolatory nature.

"Come, come," he said, "I won't tease you any more. That's against the
laws of hospitality, isn't it?--only there are some things which you
can't expect a man to forget, you know. However, let bygones be
bygones. As for poor old Tom, I daresay he'll live to be a hale, hearty
old man, in spite of the croakers. People always will croak about
something; and it's a kind of fashion to say that a big, hearty,
six-foot man is a fragile blossom likely to be nipped by any wintry
blast. Come, come, Mrs. Halliday, your husband mustn't discover that
I've been making you cry when he comes home. He may be home early this
evening, perhaps; and if he is, we'll have an oyster supper, and a chat
about old times."

Mrs. Halliday shook her head dolefully.

"It's past ten o'clock already," she said, "and I don't suppose Tom
will be home till after twelve. He doesn't like my sitting up for him;
but I wonder _what_ time he would come home if I didn't sit up for him?"

"Let's hope for the best," exclaimed Mr. Sheldon cheerfully. "I'll go
and see about the oysters."

"Don't get them for me, or for Tom," protested Mrs. Halliday; "he will
have had his supper when he comes home, you may be sure, and I couldn't
eat a morsel of anything."

To this resolution Mrs. Halliday adhered; so the dentist was fain to
abandon all jovial ideas in relation to oysters and pale ale. But he
did not go back to his mechanical dentistry. He sat opposite his
visitor, and watched her, silently and thoughtfully, for some time as
she worked. She had brushed away her tears, but she looked very peevish
and miserable, and took out her watch several times in an hour. Mr.
Sheldon made two or three feeble attempts at conversation, but the talk
languished and expired on each occasion, and they sat on in silence.

Little by little the dentist's attention seemed to wander away from his
guest. He wheeled his chair round, and sat looking at the fire with the
same fixed gloom upon his face which had darkened it on the night of
his return from Yorkshire. Things had been so desperate with him of
late, that he had lost his old orderly habit of thinking out a business
at one sitting, and making an end of all deliberation and hesitation
about it. There were subjects that forced themselves upon his thoughts,
and certain ideas which repeated themselves with a stupid persistence.
He was such an eminently practical man, that this disorder of his brain
troubled him more even than the thoughts that made the disorder. He sat
in the same attitude for a long while, scarcely conscious of Mrs.
Halliday's presence, not at all conscious of the progress of time.
Georgy had been right in her gloomy forebodings of bad behaviour on the
part of Mr. Halliday. It was nearly one o'clock when a loud double
knock announced that gentleman's return. The wind had been howling
drearily, and a sharp, slanting rain had been pattering against the
windows for the last half-hour, while Mrs. Halliday's breast had been
racked by the contending emotions of anxiety and indignation.

"I suppose he couldn't get a cab," she exclaimed, as the knock startled
her from her listening attitude--for however intently a midnight
watcher may be listening for the returning wanderer's knock, it is not
the less startling when it comes?--"and he has walked home through the
wet, and now he'll have a violent cold, I daresay," added Georgy
peevishly.

"Then it's lucky for him he's in a doctor's house," answered Mr.
Sheldon, with a smile. He was a handsome man, no doubt, according to
the popular idea of masculine perfection, but he had not a pleasant
smile. "I went through the regular routine, you know, and am as well
able to see a patient safely through a cold or fever as I am to make
him a set of teeth."

Mr. Halliday burst into the room at this moment, singing a fragment of
the "Chough and Crow" chorus, very much out of tune. He was in
boisterously high spirits, and very little the worse for liquor. He had
only walked from Covent Garden, he said, and had taken nothing but a
tankard of stout and a Welsh rarebit. He had been hearing the divinest
singing--boys with the voices of angels--and had been taking his supper
in a place which duchesses themselves did not disdain to peep at from
the sacred recesses of a loge grillee, George Sheldon had told him. But
poor country-bred Georgina Halliday would not believe in the duchesses,
or the angelic singing boys, or the primitive simplicity of Welsh
rarebits. She had a vision of beautiful women, and halls of dazzling
light, where there was the mad music of perpetual Post-horn Galops,
with a riotous accompaniment of huzzas and the popping of champagne
corks--where the sheen of satin and the glitter of gems bewildered the
eye of the beholder. She had seen such a picture once on the stage, and
had vaguely associated it with all Tom's midnight roisterings ever
afterwards.

The roisterer's garments were very wet, and it was in vain that his
wife and Philip Sheldon entreated him to change them for dry ones, or
to go to bed immediately. He stood before the fire relating his
innocent adventures, and trying to dispel the cloud from Georgy's fair
young brow; and, when he did at last consent to go to his room, the
dentist shook his head ominously.

"You'll have a severe cold to-morrow, depend upon it, Tom, and you'll
have yourself to thank for it," he said, as he bade the good-tempered
reprobate good night. "Never mind, old fellow," answered Tom; "if I am
ill, you shall nurse me. If one is doomed to die by doctors' stuff,
it's better to have a doctor one does know than a doctor one doesn't
know for one's executioner."

After which graceful piece of humour Mr. Halliday went blundering up
the staircase, followed by his aggrieved wife.

Philip Sheldon stood on the landing looking after his visitors for some
minutes. Then he went slowly back to the sitting-room, where he
replenished the fire, and seated himself before it with a newspaper in
his hand.

"What's the use of going to bed, if I can't sleep?" he muttered, in a
discontented tone.



CHAPTER IV.

A PERPLEXING ILLNESS.


Mr. Sheldon's prophecy was fully realised. Tom Halliday awoke the next
day with a violent cold in his head. Like most big boisterous men of
herculean build, he was the veriest craven in the hour of physical
ailment; so he succumbed at once to the malady which a man obliged to
face the world and fight for his daily bread must needs have made light
of.

The dentist rallied his invalid friend.

"Keep your bed, if you like, Tom," he said, "but there's no necessity
for any such coddling. As your hands are hot, and your tongue rather
queer, I may as well give you a saline draught. You'll be all right by
dinner-time, and I'll get George to look round in the evening for a
hand at cards."

Tom obeyed his professional friend--took his medicine, read the paper,
and slept away the best part of the dull March day. At half-past five
he got up and dressed for dinner, and the evening passed very
pleasantly--so pleasantly, indeed, that Georgy was half inclined to
wish that her husband might be afflicted with chronic influenza,
whereby he would be compelled to stop at home. She sighed when Philip
Sheldon slapped his friend's broad shoulder, and told him cheerily that
he would be "all right to-morrow." He would be well again, and there
would be more midnight roistering, and she would be again tormented by
that vision of lighted halls and beautiful diabolical creatures
revolving madly to the music of the Post-horn Galop.

It seemed, however, that poor jealous Mrs. Halliday was to be spared
her nightly agony for some time to come. Tom's cold lasted longer than
he had expected, and the cold was succeeded by a low fever--a bilious
fever, Mr. Sheldon said. There was not the least occasion for alarm, of
course. The invalid and the invalid's wife trusted implicitly in the
friendly doctor who assured them both that Tom's attack was the most
ordinary kind of thing; a little wearing, no doubt, but entirely
without danger. He had to repeat this assurance very often to Georgy,
whose angry feelings had given place to extreme tenderness and
affection now that Tom was an invalid, quite unfitted for the society
of jolly good fellows, and willing to receive basins of beef-tea and
arrow-root meekly from his wife's hands, instead of those edibles of
iniquity, oysters and toasted cheese.

Mr. Halliday's illness was very tiresome. It was one of those
perplexing complaints which keep the patient himself, and the patient's
friends and attendants, in perpetual uncertainty. A little worse one
day and a shade better the next; now gaining a little strength, now
losing a trifle more than he had gained. The patient declined in so
imperceptible a manner that he had been ill three weeks, and was no
longer able to leave his bed, and had lost alike his appetite and his
spirits, before Georgy awoke to the fact that this illness, hitherto
considered so lightly, must be very serious.

"I think if--if you have no objection, I should like to see another
doctor, Mr. Sheldon," she said one day, with considerable embarrassment
of manner. She feared to offend her host by any doubt of his skill.
"You see--you--you are so much employed with teeth--and--of course you
know I am quite assured of your talent--but don't you think that a
doctor who had more experience in fever cases might bring Tom round
quicker? He has been ill so long now; and really he doesn't seem to get
any better."

Philip Sheldon shrugged his shoulders.

"As you please, my dear Mrs. Halliday," he said carelessly; "I don't
wish to press my services upon you. It is quite a matter of friendship,
you know, and I shall not profit sixpence by my attendance on poor old
Tom. Call in another doctor, by all means, if you think fit to do so;
but, of course, in that event, I must withdraw from the case. The man
you call in may be clever, or he may be stupid and ignorant. It's all a
chance, when one doesn't know one's man; and I really can't advise you
upon that point, for I know nothing of the London profession."

Georgy looked alarmed. This was a new view of the subject. She had
fancied that all regular practitioners were clever, and had only
doubted Mr. Sheldon because he was not a regular practitioner. But how
if she were to withdraw her husband from the hands of a clever man to
deliver him into the care of an ignorant pretender, simply because she
was over-anxious for his recovery?

"I always am foolishly anxious about things," she thought.

And then she looked piteously at Mr. Sheldon, and said, "What do you
think I ought to do? Pray tell me. He has eaten no breakfast again this
morning; and even the cup of tea which I persuaded him to take seemed
to disagree with him. And then there is that dreadful sore throat which
torments him so. What ought I to do, Mr. Sheldon?"

"Whatever seems best to yourself, Mrs. Halliday," answered the dentist
earnestly. "It is a subject upon, which I cannot pretend to advise you.
It is a matter of feeling rather than of reason, and it is a matter
which you yourself must determine. If I knew any man whom I could
honestly recommend to you, it would be another affair; but I don't.
Tom's illness is the simplest thing in the world, and I feel myself
quite competent to pull him through it, without fuss or bother; but if
you think otherwise, pray put me out of the question. There's one fact,
however, of which I'm bound to remind you. Like many fine big stalwart
fellows of his stamp, your husband is as nervous as a hysterical woman;
and if you call in a strange doctor, who will pull long faces, and put
on the professional solemnity, the chances are that he'll take alarm,
and do himself more mischief in a few hours than your new adviser can
undo in as many weeks."

There was a little pause after this. Georgy's opinions, and suspicions,
and anxieties were alike vague; and this last suggestion of Mr.
Sheldon's put things in a new and alarming light. She was really
anxious about her husband, but she had been accustomed all her life to
accept the opinion of other people in preference to her own.

"Do you really think that Tom will soon be well and strong again?" she
asked presently.

"If I thought otherwise, I should be the first to advise other
measures. However, my dear Mrs. Halliday, call in some one else, for
your own satisfaction."

"No," said Georgy, sighing plaintively, "it might frighten Tom. You are
quite right, Mr. Sheldon; he is very nervous, and the idea that I was
alarmed might alarm him. I'll trust in you. Pray try to bring him round
again. You will try, won't you?" she asked, in the childish pleading
way which was peculiar to her.

The dentist was searching for something in the drawer of a table, and
his back was turned on the anxious questioner.

"You may depend upon it, I'll do my best, Mrs. Halliday," he answered,
still busy at the drawer. Mr. Sheldon the younger had paid many visits
to Fitzgeorge-street during Tom Halliday's illness. George and Tom had
been the Damon and Pythias of Barlingford; and George seemed really
distressed when he found his friend changed for the worse. The changes
in the invalid were so puzzling, the alternations from better to worse
and from worse to better so frequent, that fear could take no hold upon
the minds of the patient's friends. It seemed such a very slight affair
this low fever, though sufficiently inconvenient to the patient
himself, who suffered a good deal from thirst and sickness, and showed
an extreme disinclination for food, all which symptoms Mr. Sheldon said
were the commonest and simplest features of a very mild attack of
bilious fever, which would leave Tom a better man than it had found him.

There had been several pleasant little card-parties during the earlier
stages of Mr. Halliday's illness; but within the last week the patient
had been too low and weak for cards--too weak to read the newspaper, or
even to bear having it read to him. When George came to look at his old
friend--"to cheer you up a little, old fellow, you know," and so on--he
found Tom, for the time being, past all capability of being cheered,
even by the genial society of his favourite jolly good fellow, or by
tidings of a steeplechase in Yorkshire, in which a neighbour had gone
to grief over a double fence.

"That chap upstairs seems rather queerish," George had said to his
brother, after finding Tom lower and weaker than usual. "He's in a bad
way, isn't he, Phil?"

"No; there's nothing serious the matter with him. He's rather low
to-night, that's all."

"Rather low!" echoed George Sheldon. "He seems to me so very low, that
he can't sink much lower without going to the bottom of his grave. I'd
call some one in, if I were you."

The dentist shrugged his shoulders, and made a little contemptuous
noise with his lips.

"If you knew as much of doctors as I do, you wouldn't be in any hurry
to trust a friend to the mercy of one," he said carelessly. "Don't you
alarm yourself about Tom. He's right enough. He's been in a state of
chronic over-eating and over-drinking for the last ten years, and this
bilious fever will be the making of him."

"Will it?" said George doubtfully; and then there followed a little
pause, during which the brothers happened to look at each other
furtively, and happened to surprise each other in the act.

"I don't know about over-eating or drinking," said George presently;
"but something has disagreed with Tom Halliday, that's very evident."



CHAPTER V.

THE LETTER FROM THE "ALLIANCE" OFFICE.


Upon the evening of the day on which Mrs. Halliday and the dentist had
discussed the propriety of calling in a strange doctor, George Sheldon
came again to see his sick friend. He was quicker to perceive the
changes in the invalid than the members of the household, who saw him
daily and hourly, and he perceived a striking change for the worse
to-night.

He took care, however, to suffer no evidence of alarm or surprise to
appear in the sick chamber. He talked to his friend in the usual cheery
way; sat by the bedside for half an hour; did his best to arouse Tom
from a kind of stupid lethargy, and to encourage Mrs. Halliday, who
shared the task of nursing her husband with brisk Nancy Woolper, an
invaluable creature in a sick-room. But he failed in both attempts; the
dull apathy of the invalid was not to be dispelled by the most genial
companionship, and Georgy's spirits had been sinking lower and lower
all day as her fears increased.

She would fain have called in a strange doctor--she would fain have
sought for comfort and consolation from some new quarter. But she was
afraid of offending Philip Sheldon; and she was afraid of alarming her
husband. So she waited, and watched, and struggled against that
ever-increasing anxiety. Had not Mr. Sheldon made light of his friend's
malady, and what motive could he have for deceiving her?

A breakfast-cup full of beef-tea stood on the little table by the
bedside, and had been standing there for hours untouched.

"I did take such pains to make it strong and clear," said Mrs. Woolper
regretfully, as she came to the little table during a tidying process,
"and poor dear Mr. Halliday hasn't taken so much as a spoonful. It
won't be fit for him to-morrow, so as I haven't eaten a morsel of
dinner, what with the hurry and anxiety and one thing and another, I'll
warm up the beef-tea for my supper. There's not a blessed thing in the
house; for you don't eat nothing, Mrs. Halliday; and as to cooking a
dinner for Mr. Sheldon, you'd a deal better go and throw your victuals
out into the gutter, for then there'd be a chance of stray dogs
profiting by 'em, at any rate."

"Phil is off his feed, then; eh, Nancy?" said George.

"I should rather think he is, Mr. George. I roasted a chicken yesterday
for him and Mrs. Halliday, and I don't think they eat an ounce between,
them; and such a lovely tender young thing as it was too--done to a
turn--with bread sauce and a little bit of sea-kale. One invalid makes
another, that's certain. I never saw your brother so upset as he is
now, Mr. George, in all his life.

"No?" answered George Sheldon thoughtfully; "Phil isn't generally one
of your sensitive sort."

The invalid was sleeping heavily during this conversation. George stood
by the bed for some minutes looking down at the altered face, and then
turned to leave the room.

"Good night, Mrs. Halliday," he said; "I hope I shall find poor old Tom
a shade better when I look round to-morrow."

"I am sure I hope so," Georgy answered mournfully.

She was sitting by the window looking out at the darkening western sky,
in which the last lurid glimmer of a stormy sunset was fading against a
background of iron gray.

This quiet figure by the window, the stormy sky, and ragged hurrying
clouds without, the dusky chamber with all its dismally significant
litter of medicine-bottles, made a gloomy picture--a picture which the
man who looked upon it carried in his mind for many years after that
night.

George Sheldon and Nancy Woolper left the room together, the
Yorkshirewoman carrying a tray of empty phials and glasses, and amongst
them the cup of beef-tea.

"He seems in a bad way to-night, Nancy," said George, with a backward
jerk of his head towards the sick-chamber.

"He is in a bad way, Mr. George," answered the woman gravely, "let Mr.
Philip think what he will. I don't want to say a word against your
brother's knowledge, for such a steady studious gentleman as he is had
need be clever; and if I was ill myself, I'd trust my life to him
freely; for I have heard Barlingford folks say that my master's advice
is as good as any regular doctor's, and that there's very little your
regular doctors know that he doesn't know as well or better. But for
all that, Mr. George, I don't think he understands Mr. Halliday's case
quite as clear as he might."

"Do you think Tom's in any danger?"

"I won't say that, Mr. George; but I think he gets worse instead of
getting better."

"Humph!" muttered George; "if Halliday were to go off the hooks, Phil
would have a good chance of getting a rich wife."

"Don't say that, Mr. George," exclaimed the Yorkshirewoman
reproachfully; "don't even think of such a thing while that poor man
lies at death's door. I'm sure Mr. Sheldon hasn't any thoughts of that
kind. He told me before Mr. and Mrs. Halliday came to town that he and
Miss Georgy had forgotten all about past times."

"O, if Phil said so, that alters the case. Phil is one of your blunt
outspoken fellows, and always says what he means," said George Sheldon.
And then he went downstairs, leaving Nancy to follow him at her leisure
with the tray of jingling cups and glasses. He went down through the
dusk, smiling to himself, as if he had just given utterance to some
piece of intense humour. He went to look for his brother, whom he found
in the torture-chamber, busied with some mysterious process in
connection with a lump of plaster-of-paris, which seemed to be the
model of ruined battlements in the Gothic style. The dentist looked up
as George entered the room, and did not appear particularly delighted
by the appearance of that gentleman.

"Well," said Mr. Sheldon the younger, "busy as usual? Patients seem to
be looking up."

"Patients be----toothless to the end of time!" cried Philip, with a
savage laugh. "No, I'm not working to order; I'm only
experimentalising."

"You're rather fond of experiments, I think, Phil," said George,
seating himself near the table at which his brother was working under
the glare of the gas. The dentist looked very pale and haggard in the
gas-light, and his eyes had the dull sunken appearance induced by
prolonged sleeplessness. George sat watching his brother thoughtfully
for some time, and then produced his cigar-case. "You don't mind my
smoke here?" he asked, as he lighted a cigar.

"Not at all. You are very welcome to sit here, if it amuses you to see
me working at the cast of a lower jaw."

"O, that's a lower jaw, is it? It looks like the fragment of some
castle-keep. No, Phil, I don't care about watching you work. I want to
talk to you seriously."

"About that fellow upstairs--poor old Tom. He and I were great cronies,
you know, at home. He's in a very bad way."

"Is he? You seem to be turning physician all at once, George. I
shouldn't have thought your grubbing among county histories, and
tattered old pedigrees, and parish registers had given you so deep an
insight into the science of medicine!" said the dentist in a sneering
tone.

"I don't know anything of medicine; but I know enough to be sure that
Tom Halliday is about as bad as he can be. What mystifies me is, that
he doesn't seem to have had anything particular the matter with him.
There he lies, getting worse and worse every day, without any specific
ailment. It's a strange illness, Philip."

"I don't see anything strange in it."

"Don't you? Don't you think the surrounding circumstances are strange?
Here is this man comes to your house hale and hearty; and all of a
sudden he falls ill, and gets lower and lower every day, without
anybody being able to say why or wherefore."

"That's not true, George. Everybody in this house knows the cause of
Tom Halliday's illness. He came home in wet clothes, and insisted on
keeping them on. He caught a cold; which resulted in low fever. There
is the whole history and mystery of the affair."

"That's simple enough, certainly. But if I were you, Phil I'd call in
another doctor."

"That is Mrs. Halliday's business," answered the dentist coolly; "if
she doubts my skill, she is free to call in whom she pleases. And now
you may as well drop the subject, George. I've had enough anxiety about
this man's illness, and I don't want to be worried by you."

After this there was a little conversation upon general matters, but
the talk dragged and languished drearily, and George Sheldon rose to
depart directly he had finished his cigar.

"Good night, Philip!" he said; "if ever you get a stroke of good luck,
I hope you'll stand something handsome to me."

This remark had no particular relevance to anything that had been said
that night by the two men; yet Philip Sheldon seemed in nowise
astonished by it.

"If things ever _do_ take a turn for the better with me, you'll find me
a good friend, George," he said gravely; and then Mr. Sheldon the
younger bade him good night, and went out into Fitzgeorge-street.

He paused for a moment at the corner of the street to look back at his
brother's house. He could see the lighted windows of the invalid's
chamber, and it was at those he looked.

"Poor Tom," he said to himself, "poor Tom! We were great cronies in the
old times, and have had many a pleasant evening together!"

Mr. Sheldon the dentist sat up till the small hours that night, as he
had done for many nights lately. He finished his work in the
torture-chamber, and went up to the common sitting-room, or
drawing-room as it was called by courtesy, a little before midnight.
The servants had gone to bed, for there was no regular nightly watch in
the apartment of the invalid. Mrs. Halliday lay on a sofa in her
husband's room, and Nancy Woolper slept in an adjoining apartment,
always wakeful and ready if help of any kind should be wanted.

The house was very quiet just now. Philip Sheldon walked up and down
the room, thinking; and the creaking of his boots sounded unpleasantly
loud to his ears. He stopped before the fireplace, after having walked
to and fro some time, and began to examine some letters that lay upon
the mantelpiece. They were addressed to Mr. Halliday, and had been
forwarded from Yorkshire. The dentist took them up, one by one, and
deliberately examined them. They were all business letters, and most of
them bore country post-marks. But there was one which had been, in the
first instance, posted from London and this letter Mr. Sheldon examined
with especial attention.

It was a big, official-looking document, and embossed upon the adhesive
envelope appeared the crest and motto of the Alliance Insurance Office.

"I wonder whether that's all square," thought Mr. Sheldon, as he turned
the envelope about in his hands, staring at it absently. "I ought to
make sure of that. The London postmark is nearly three weeks old." He
pondered for some moments, and then went to the cupboard in which he
kept the materials wherewith to replenish or to make a fire. Here he
found a little tin tea-kettle, in which he was in the habit of boiling
water for occasional friendly glasses of grog. He poured some water
from a bottle on the sideboard into this kettle, set fire to a bundle
of wood, and put the kettle on the blazing sticks. After having done
this he searched for a tea-cup, succeeded in finding one, and then
stood watching for the boiling of the water. He had not long to wait;
the water boiled furiously before the wood was burned out, and Mr.
Sheldon filled the tea-cup standing on the table. Then he put the
insurance-letter over the cup, with the seal downwards, and left it so
while he resumed his walk. After walking up and down for about ten
minutes he went back to the table and took up the letter. The adhesive
envelope opened easily, and Mr. Sheldon, by this ingenious stratagem,
made himself master of his friend's business.

The "Alliance" letter was nothing more than a notice to the effect that
the half-yearly premium for insuring the sum of three thousand pounds
on the life of Thomas Halliday would be due on such a day, after which
there would be twenty-one days' grace, at the end of which time the
policy would become void, unless the premium had been duly paid.

Mr. Halliday's letters had been suffered to accumulate during the last
fortnight. The letters forwarded from Yorkshire had been detained some
time, as they had been sent first to Hyley Farm, now in the possession
of the new owner, and then to Barlingford, to the house of Georgy's
mother, who had kept them upwards of a week, in daily expectation of
her son-in-law's return. It was only on the receipt of a letter from
Georgy, containing the tidings of her husband's illness, that Mr.
Halliday's letters had been sent to London. Thus it came about that the
twenty-one days of grace were within four-and-twenty hours of expiring
when Philip Sheldon opened his friend's letter.

"This is serious," muttered the dentist, as he stood deliberating with
the open letter in his hand; "there are three thousand pounds depending
on that man's power to write a check!"

After a few minutes' reflection, he folded the letter and resealed it
very carefully.

"It wouldn't do to press the matter upon him to-night," he thought; "I
must wait till to-morrow morning, come what may."



CHAPTER VI.

MR. BURKHAM'S UNCERTAINTIES.


The next morning dawned gray and pale and chill, after the manner of
early spring mornings, let them ripen into never such balmy days; and
with the dawn Nancy Woolper came into the invalid's chamber, more wan
and sickly of aspect than the morning itself.

Mrs. Halliday started from an uneasy slumber.

"What's the matter, Nancy?" she asked with considerable alarm. She had
known the woman ever since her childhood, and she was startled this
morning by some indefinable change in her manner and appearance. The
hearty old woman, whose face had been like a hard rosy apple shrivelled
and wrinkled by long keeping, had now a white and ghastly look which
struck terror to Georgy's breast. She who was usually so brisk of
manner and sharp of speech, had this morning a strange subdued tone and
an unnatural calmness of demeanour. "What is the matter, Nancy?" Mrs.
Halliday repeated, getting up from her sofa.

"Don't be frightened, Miss Georgy," answered the old woman, who was apt
to forget that Tom Halliday's wife had ever ceased to be Georgy
Cradock; "don't be frightened, my dear. I haven't been very well all
night,--and--and--I've been, worrying myself about Mr. Halliday. If I
were you, I'd call in another doctor. Never mind what Mr. Philip says.
He may be mistaken, you know, clever as he is. There's no telling. Take
my advice, Miss Georgy, and call in another
doctor--directly--directly," repeated the old woman, seizing Mrs.
Halliday's wrist with a passionate energy, as if to give emphasis to
her words. Poor timid Georgy shrank from her with terror.

"You frighten me, Nancy," she whispered; "do you think that Tom is so
much worse? You have not been with him all night; and he has been
sleeping very quietly. What makes you so anxious this morning?"

"Never mind that, Miss Georgy. You get another doctor, that's all; get
another doctor at once. Mr. Sheldon is a light sleeper. I'll go to his
room and tell him you've set your heart upon having fresh advice; if
you'll only bear me out afterwards."

"Yes, yes; go by all means," exclaimed Mrs. Halliday, only too ready to
take alarm under the influence of a stronger mind, and eager to act
when supported by another person.

Nancy Woolper went to her master's room. He must have been sleeping
very lightly, if he was sleeping at all; for he was broad awake the
next minute after his housekeeper's light knock had sounded on the
door. In less than five minutes he came out of his room half-dressed.
Nancy had told him that Mrs. Halliday had taken fresh alarm about her
husband, and wished for further advice.

"She sent you to tell me that?" asked Philip.

"Yes."

"And when does she want this new doctor called in?"

"Immediately, if possible."

It was seven o'clock by this time, and the morning was brightening a
little.

"Very well," said Mr. Sheldon; "her wishes shall be attended to
directly. Heaven forbid that I should stand between my old friend and
any chance of his speedy recovery! If a stranger can bring him round
quicker than I can, let the stranger come."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Sheldon was not slow to obey Mrs. Halliday's behest. He was
departing on his quest breakfastless, when Nancy Woolper met him in the
hall with a cup of tea. He accepted the cup almost mechanically from
her hand, and took it into the parlour, whither Nancy followed him.
Then for the first time he perceived that change in his housekeeper's
face which had so startled Georgina Halliday. The change was somewhat
modified now; but still the Nancy Woolper of to-day was not the Nancy
Woolper of yesterday.

"You're looking very queer, Nancy," said the dentist, gravely
scrutinising the woman's face with his bright penetrating eyes. "Are
you ill?"

"Well, Mr. Philip, I have been rather queer all night,--sickish and
faintish-like."

"Ah, you've been over-fatiguing yourself in the sick-room, I daresay.
Take care you don't knock yourself up." "No; it's not that, Mr. Philip.
There's not many can stand hard work better than I can. It's not _that_
as made me ill. I took something last night that disagreed with me."

"More fool you," said Mr. Sheldon curtly; "you ought to know better
than to ill-use your digestive powers at your age. What was it? Hard
cold meat and preternaturally green pickles, I suppose; or something of
that kind."

"No, sir; it was only a drop of beef-tea that I made for poor Mr.
Halliday. And that oughtn't to have disagreed with a baby, you know,
sir."

"Oughtn't it?" cried the dentist disdainfully. "That's a little bit of
vulgar ignorance, Mrs. Woolper. I suppose it was stuff that had been
taken up to Mr. Halliday."

"Yes, Mr. Philip; you took it up with your own hands."

"Ah, to be sure; so I did. Very well, then, Mrs. Woolper, if you knew
as much about atmospheric influences as I do, you'd know that food
which has been standing for hours in the pestilential air of a
fever-patient's room isn't fit for anybody to eat. The stuff made you
sick, I suppose."

"Yes, sir; sick to my very heart," answered the Yorkshirewoman, with a
strange mournfulness in her voice.

"Let that be a warning to you, then. Don't take anything more that
comes down from the sick-room."

"I don't think there'll be any chance of my doing that long, sir."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't fancy Mr. Halliday is long for this world."

"Ah, you women are always ravens."

"Unless the strange doctor can do something to cure him. O, pray bring
a clever man who will be able to cure that poor helpless creature
upstairs. Think, Mr. Philip, how you and him used to be friends and
playfellows,--brothers almost,--when you was both bits of boys. Think
how bad it might seem to evil-minded folks if he died under your roof."

The dentist had been standing near the door drinking his tea during
this conversation; and now for the first time he looked at his
housekeeper with an expression of unmitigated astonishment.

"What, in the name of all that's ridiculous, do you mean, Nancy?" he
asked impatiently. "What has my roof to do with Tom Halliday's
illness--or his death, if it came to that? And what on earth can people
have to say about it if he should die here instead of anywhere else?"

"Why, you see, sir, you being his friend, and Miss Georgy's sweetheart
that was, and him having no other doctor, folks might take it into
their heads he wasn't attended properly."

"Because I'm his friend? That's very good logic! I'll tell you what it
is, Mrs. Woolper; if any woman upon earth, except the woman who nursed
me when I was a baby, had presumed to talk to me as you have been
talking to me just this minute, I should open the door yonder and tell
her to walk out of my house. Let that serve as a hint for you, Nancy;
and don't you go out of your way a second time to advise me how I
should treat my friend and my patient."

He handed her the empty cup, and walked out of the house. There had
been no passion in his tone. His accent had been only that of a man who
has occasion to reprove an old and trusted servant for an unwarrantable
impertinence. Nancy Woolper stood at the street-door watching him as he
walked away, and then went slowly back to her duties in the lower
regions of the house.

"It can't be true," she muttered to herself; "it can't be true."

       *       *       *       *       *

The dentist returned to Fitzgeorge-street in less than an hour,
bringing with him a surgeon from the neighbourhood, who saw the
patient, discussed the treatment, spoke hopefully to Mrs. Halliday, and
departed, after promising to send a saline draught. Poor Georgy's
spirits, which had revived a little under the influence of the
stranger's hopeful words, sank again when she discovered that the
utmost the new doctor could do was to order a saline draught. Her
husband had taken so many saline draughts, and had been getting daily
worse under their influence.

She watched the stranger wistfully as he lingered on the threshold to
say a few words to Mr. Sheldon. He was a very young man, with a frank
boyish face and a rosy colour in his cheeks. He looked like some fresh
young neophyte in the awful mysteries of medical science, and by no
means the sort of man to whom one would have imagined Philip Sheldon
appealing for help, when he found his own skill at fault. But then it
must be remembered that Mr. Sheldon had only summoned the stranger in
compliance with what he considered a womanish whim.

"He looks very young," Georgina said regretfully, after the doctor's
departure.

"So much the better, my dear Mrs. Halliday," answered the dentist
cheerfully; "medical science is eminently progressive, and the youngest
men are the best-educated men."

Poor Georgy did not understand this; but it sounded convincing, and she
was in the habit of believing what people told her; so she accepted Mr.
Sheldon's opinion. How could she doubt that he was wiser than herself
in all matters connected with the medical profession?

"Tom seems a little better this morning," she said presently.

The invalid was asleep, shrouded by the curtain of the heavy
old-fashioned four-post bedstead.

"He is better," answered the dentist; "so much better, that I shall
venture to give him a few business letters that have been waiting for
him some time, as soon as he wakes."

He seated himself by the head of the bed, and waited quietly for the
awakening of the patient.

"Your breakfast is ready for you downstairs, Mrs. Halliday," he said
presently; "hadn't you better go down and take it, while I keep watch
here? It's nearly ten o'clock."

"I don't care about any breakfast," Georgina answered piteously.

"Ah, but you'd better eat something. You'll make yourself an invalid,
if you are not careful; and then you won't be able to attend upon Tom."

This argument prevailed immediately. Georgy went downstairs to the
drawing-room, and tried bravely to eat and drink, in order that she
might be sustained in her attendance upon her husband. She had
forgotten all the throes and tortures of jealousy which she had endured
on his account. She had forgotten his late hours and unholy
roisterings. She had forgotten everything except that he had been very
tender and kind throughout the prosperous years of their married life,
and that he was lying in the darkened room upstairs sick to death.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mr. Sheldon waited with all outward show of patience for the awakening
of the invalid. But he looked at his watch twice during that half-hour
of waiting; and once he rose and moved softly about the room, searching
for writing materials. He found a little portfolio of Georgina's, and a
frivolous-minded inkstand, after the semblance of an apple, with a gilt
stalk and leaflet. The dentist took the trouble to ascertain that there
was a decent supply of ink in the green-glass apple, and that the pens
were in working order. Then he went quietly back to his seat by the
bedside and waited.

The invalid opened his eyes presently, and recognised his friend with a
feeble smile.

"Well, Tom, old fellow, how do you feel to-day--a little better I hear
from Mrs. H.," said the dentist cheerily.

"Yes, I think I am a shade better. But, you see, the deuce of it is I
never get more than a shade better. It always stops at that. The little
woman can't complain of me now, can she, Sheldon? No more late hours,
or oyster suppers, eh?"

"No, no, not just yet. You'll have to take care of yourself for a week
or two when you get about again." Mr. Halliday smiled faintly as his
friend said this.

"I shall be very careful of myself if I ever do get about again, you
may depend upon it, old fellow. But do you know I sometimes fancy I
have spent my last jolly evening, and eaten my last oyster supper, on
this earth? I'm afraid it's time for me to begin to think seriously of
a good many things. The little woman is all right, thank God. I made my
will upwards of a year ago, and insured my life pretty heavily soon
after my marriage. Old Cradock never let me rest till that was done. So
Georgy will be all safe. But when a man has led a careless, godless
kind of a life,--doing very little harm, perhaps, but doing no
particular good,--he ought to set about making up his account somehow
for a better world, when he feels himself slipping out of this. I asked
Georgy for her Bible yesterday, and the poor dear loving little thing
was frightened out of her wits. 'O, don't talk like that, Tom,' she
cried; 'Mr. Sheldon says you are getting better every hour,'--by which
you may guess what a rare thing it is for me to read my Bible. No,
Phil, old fellow, you've done your best for me, I know; but I'm not
made of a very tough material, and all the physic you can pour down
this poor sore throat of mine won't put any strength into me."

"Nonsense, dear boy; that's just what a man who has not been accustomed
to illness is sure to think directly he is laid up for a day or two."

"I've been laid up for three weeks," murmured Mr. Halliday rather
fretfully.

"Well, well, perhaps this Mr. Burkham will bring you round in three
days, and then you'll say that your friend Sheldon was an ignoramus."

"No, no, I shan't, old fellow; I'm not such a fool as that. I'm not
going to blame you when it's my own constitution that's in fault. As to
that young man you brought here just now, to please Georgy, I don't
suppose he'll be able to do any more for me than you have done."

"We'll contrive to bring you round between us, never fear, Tom,"
answered Philip Sheldon in his most hopeful tone. "Why, you are looking
almost your old self this morning. You are so much improved that I may
venture to talk to you about business. There have been some letters
lying about for the last few days. I didn't like to bore you while you
were so very low. But they look like business letters; and perhaps it
would be as well for you to open them."

The sick man contemplated the little packet which the dentist had taken
from his breast-pocket; and then shook his head wearily.

"I'm not up to the mark, Sheldon," he said; "the letters must keep."
"O, come, come, old fellow! That's giving way, you know. The letters
may be important; and it will do you good if you make an effort to
rouse yourself."

"I tell you it isn't in me to do it, Philip Sheldon. I'm past making
efforts. Can't you see that, man? Open the letters yourself, if you
like."

"No, no, Halliday, I won't do that. Here's one with the seal of the
Alliance Insurance Office. I suppose your premium is all right."

Tom Halliday lifted himself on his elbow for a moment, startled into
new life; but he sank back on the pillows again immediately, with a
feeble groan.

"I don't know about that," he said anxiously; "you'd better look to
that, Phil, for the little woman's sake. A man is apt to think that his
insurance is settled and done with, when he has been pommelled about by
the doctors and approved by the board. He forgets there's that little
matter of the premium. You'd better open the letter, Phil. I never was
a good hand at remembering dates, and this illness has thrown me
altogether out of gear."

Mr. Sheldon tore open that official document, which, in his benevolent
regard for his friend's interest, he had manipulated so cleverly on the
previous evening, and read the letter with all show of deliberation.

"You're right, Tom," he exclaimed presently. "The twenty-one days'
grace expire to-day. You'd better write me a check at once, and I'll
send it on to the office by hand. Where's your check-book?"

"In the pocket of that coat hanging up there."

Philip Sheldon found the check-book, and brought it to his friend, with
Georgy's portfolio, and the frivolous little green-glass inkstand in
the shape of an apple. He adjusted the writing materials for the sick
man's use with womanly gentleness. His arm supported the wasted frame,
as Tom Halliday slowly and laboriously filled in the check; and when
the signature was duly appended to that document, he drew a long
breath, which seemed to express infinite relief of mind.

"You'll be sure it goes on to the Alliance Office, eh, old fellow?"
asked Tom, as he tore out the oblong slip of paper and handed it to his
friend. "It was kind of you to jog my memory about this business. I'm
such a fellow for procrastinating matters. And I'm afraid I've been a
little off my load during the last week."

"Nonsense, Tom; not you."

"O yes, I have. I've had all sorts of queer fancies. Did you come into
this room the night before last, when Georgy was asleep?" Mr. Sheldon
reflected for a moment before answering.

"No," he said, "not the night before last."

"Ah, I thought as much," murmured the invalid. "I was off my head that
night then, Phil, for I fancied I saw you; and I fancied I heard the
bottles and glasses jingling on the little table behind the curtain."

"You were dreaming, perhaps."

"O no, I wasn't dreaming. I was very restless and wakeful that night.
However, that's neither here nor there. I lie in a stupid state
sometimes for hours and hours, and I feel as weak as a rat, bodily and
mentally; so while I have my wits about me, I'd better say what I've
been wanting to say ever so long. You've been a good and kind friend to
me all through this illness, Phil, and I'm not ungrateful for your
kindness. If it does come to the worst with me--as I believe it
will--Georgy shall give you a handsome mourning ring, or fifty pounds
to buy one, if you like it better. And now let me shake hands with you,
Philip Sheldon, and say thank you heartily, old fellow, for once and
for ever."

The invalid stretched out a poor feeble attenuated hand, and, after a
moment's pause, Philip Sheldon clasped it in his own muscular fingers.
He did hesitate for just one instant before taking that hand.

He was no student of the gospel; but when he had left the sick-chamber
there arose before him suddenly, as if written in letters of fire on
the wall opposite to him, one sentence which had been familiar to him
in his school-days at Barlingford:

_And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith,
Master, master; and kissed him._

       *       *       *       *       *

The new doctor came twice a day to see his patient. He seemed rather
anxious about the case, and just a little puzzled by the symptoms.
Georgy had sufficient penetration to perceive that this new adviser was
in some manner at fault; and she began to think that Philip Sheldon was
right, and that regular practitioners were very stupid creatures. She
communicated her doubts to Mr. Sheldon, and suggested the expediency of
calling in some grave elderly doctor, to supersede Mr. Burkham. But
against this the dentist protested very strongly.

"You asked me to call in a stranger, Mrs. Halliday, and I have done
so," he said, with the dignity of an offended man. "You must now abide
by his treatment, and content yourself with his advice, unless he
chooses to summon further assistance."

Georgy was fain to submit. She gave a little plaintive sigh, and went
back to her husband's room, where she sat and wept silently behind the
bed-curtains. There was a double watch kept in the sick-chamber now;
for Nancy Woolper rarely left it, and rarely closed her eyes. It was
altogether a sad time in the dentist's house; and Tom Halliday
apologised to his friend more than once for the trouble he had brought
upon him. If he had been familiar with the details of modern history,
he would have quoted Charles Stuart, and begged pardon for being so
long a-dying.

But anon there came a gleam of hope. The patient seemed decidedly
better; and Georgy was prepared to revere Mr. Burkham, the Bloomsbury
surgeon, as the greatest and ablest of men. Those shadows of doubt and
perplexity which had at first obscured Mr. Burkham's brow cleared away,
and he spoke very cheerfully of the invalid.

Unhappily this state of things did not last long. The young surgeon
came one morning, and was obviously alarmed by the appearance of his
patient. He told Philip Sheldon as much; but that gentleman made very
light of his fears. As the two men discussed the case, it was very
evident that the irregular practitioner was quite a match for the
regular one. Mr. Burkham listened deferentially, but departed only half
convinced. He walked briskly away from the house, but came to a dead
stop directly after turning out of Fitzgeorge-street.

"What ought I to do?" he asked himself. "What course ought I to take?
If I am right, I should be a villain to let things go on. If I am
wrong, anything like interference would ruin me for life."

He had finished his morning round, but he did not go straight home. He
lingered at the corners of quiet streets, and walked up and down the
unfrequented side of a gloomy square. Once he turned and retraced his
steps in the direction of Fitzgeorge-street. But after all this
hesitation he walked home, and ate his dinner very thoughtfully,
answering his young wife at random when she talked to him. He was a
struggling man, who had invested his small fortune in the purchase of a
practice which had turned out a very poor one, and he had the battle of
life before him.

"There's something on your mind to-day, I'm sure, Harry," his wife said
before the meal was ended.

"Well, yes, dear," he answered; "I've rather a difficult case in
Fitzgeorge-street, and I'm anxious about it."

The industrious little wife disappeared after dinner, and the young
surgeon walked up and down the room alone, brooding over that difficult
case in Fitzgeorge-street. After spending nearly an hour thus, he
snatched his hat suddenly from the table on which he had set it down,
and hurried from the house.

"I'll have advice and assistance, come what may," he said to himself,
as he walked rapidly in the direction of Mr. Sheldon's house. "The case
may be straight enough--I certainly can't see that the man has any
motive--but I'll have advice."

He looked up at the dentist's spotless dwelling as he crossed the
street. The blinds were all down, and the fact that they were so sent a
sudden chill to his heart. But the April sunshine was full upon that
side of the street, and there might lie no significance in those
closely-drawn blinds. The door was opened by a sleepy-looking boy, and
in the passage Mr. Burkham met Philip Sheldon.

"I have been rather anxious about my patient since this morning, Mr.
Sheldon," said the surgeon; "and I have come to the conclusion that I
ought to confer with a man of higher standing than myself. Do you think
Mrs. Halliday will object to such a course?"

"I am sure she would not have objected to it," the dentist answered
very gravely, "if you had suggested it sooner. I am sorry to say the
suggestion comes too late. My poor friend breathed his last half an
hour ago."



BOOK THE SECOND.


THE TWO MACAIRES.



CHAPTER I.

A GOLDEN TEMPLE.


In the very midst of the Belgian iron country, under the shadow of tall
sheltering ridges of pine-clad mountain-land, nestles the fashionable
little watering-place called Forêtdechêne. Two or three handsome
hotels; a bright white new pile of building, with vast windows of
shining plate-glass, and a stately quadrangular courtyard; a tiny
street, which looks as if a fragment of English Brighton had been
dropped into this Belgian valley; a stunted semi-classic temple, which
is at once a post-office and a shrine whereat invalids perform their
worship of Hygeia by the consumption of unspeakably disagreeable
mineral waters; a few tall white villas scattered here and there upon
the slopes of pine-clad hills; and a very uncomfortable
railway-station--constitute the chief features Forêtdechêne. But right
and left of that little cluster of shops and hotels there stretch deep
sombre avenues of oak, that look like sheltered ways to Paradise--and
the deep, deep blue of the August sky, and the pure breath of the warm
soft air, and the tender green of the young pine-woods that clothe the
sandy hills, and the delicious tranquillity that pervades the sleepy
little town and bathes the hot landscape in a languorous mist, are
charms that render Forêtdechêne a pleasant oasis amid the lurid woods
and mountains of the iron country.

Only at stated intervals the quiet of this sleepy hollow is broken by
the rolling of wheels, the jingling of bells, the cracking of whips,
the ejaculations of drivers, and supplications of touters: only when
the railroad carries away departing visitors, or brings fresh ones, is
there anything like riot or confusion in the little town under the
pine-clad hills--and even then the riot and confusion are of a very
mild order, and create but a transient discord amongst the harmonies of
nature.

And yet, despite the Arcadian tranquillity of the landscape, the drowsy
quiet of the pine-groves, the deep and solemn shade of those dark
avenues, where one might fondly hope to find some Druidess lingering
beneath the shelter of the oaks, there is excitement of no common order
to be found in the miniature watering-place of Forêtdechêne; and the
reflective and observant traveller, on a modern sentimental journey,
has only to enter the stately white building with the glittering
plate-glass windows in order to behold the master-passions or the human
breast unveiled for his pleasure and edification.

The ignorant traveller, impelled by curiosity, finds no bar to his
entrance. The doors are as wide open as if the mansion were an hotel;
and yet it is not an hotel, though a placard which he passes informs
the traveller that he may have ices and sorbets, if he will; nor is the
bright fresh-looking building a theatre, for another placard informs
the visitor that there are dramatic performances to be witnessed every
evening in a building on one side of the quadrangle, which is a mere
subsidiary attachment to the vast white mansion. The traveller, passing
on his way unhindered, save by a man in livery, who deprives him of his
cane, ascends a splendid staircase and traverses a handsome
antechamber, from which a pair of plate-glass doors open into a
spacious saloon, where, in the warm August sunlight, a circle of men
and women are gathered round a great green table, gambling.

The ignorant traveller, unaccustomed to the amusements of a Continental
watering-place, may perhaps feel a little sense of surprise--a
something almost akin to shame--as he contemplates that silent crowd,
whose occupation seems so much the more strange to him because of their
silence. There is no lively bustle, none of that animation which
generally attends every kind of amusement, none of the clamour of the
betting-ring or the exchange. The gamblers at Forêtdechêne are terribly
in earnest: and the ignorant visitor unconsciously adapts himself to
the solemn hush of the place, and steps softly as he approaches the
table round which they are clustered--as many sitting as can find room
round the green-cloth-covered board; while behind the sitters there are
people standing two or three rows deep, the hindermost watching the
table over the shoulders of their neighbours. A placard upon the wall
informs visitors that only constant players are permitted to remain
seated at that sacred table. Perhaps a third of the players and a third
of the lookers-on are women. And if there are lips more tightly
contracted than other lips, and eyes with a harder, greedier light in
them than other eyes, those lips and those eyes belong to the women.
The ungloved feminine hands have a claw-like aspect as they scrape the
glittering pieces of silver over the green cloth; the feminine throats
look weird and scraggy as they crane themselves over masculine
shoulders; the feminine eyes have something demoniac in their steely
glare as they keep watch upon the rapid progress of the game.

Half a dozen moderate fortunes seem to be lost and won while the
traveller looks on from the background, unnoticed and unseen; for if
those plate-glass doors swung suddenly open to admit the seven angels
of the Apocalypse, carrying the seven golden vials filled with the
wrath of God, it is doubtful whether the splendour of their awful
glory, or the trumpet-notes that heralded their coming, would have
power to arouse the players from their profound abstraction.

Half a dozen comfortable little patrimonies seem to have changed hands
while the traveller has been looking on; and yet he has only watched
the table for about ten minutes; and this splendid _salon_ is but an
outer chamber, where one may stake as shabby a sum as two francs, if
one is shabby enough to wish to do so, and where playing for half an
hour or so on a pleasant summer morning one could scarcely lose more
than fifty or sixty pounds. Another pair of plate-glass doors open into
an inner chamber, where the silence is still more profound, and where
around a larger table sit one row of players; while only here and there
a little group of outsiders stand behind their chairs. There is more
gilding on the walls and ceiling of this chamber; the frescoes are more
delicate; the crystal chandeliers are adorned with rich clusters of
sparkling drops, that twinkle like diamonds in the sun. This is the
temple of gold; and in this splendid chamber one may hazard no smaller
stake than half a napoleon. There are women here; but not so many women
as in the outer saloon; and the women here are younger and prettier and
more carefully dressed than those who stake only silver.

The prettiest and the youngest woman in this golden chamber on one
particular August afternoon, nine years after the death of Tom
Halliday, was a girl who stood behind the chair of a military-looking
Englishman, an old man whose handsome face was a little disfigured by
those traces which late hours and dissipated habits are supposed to
leave behind them.

The girl held a card in one hand and a pin in the other, and was
occupied in some mysterious process, by which she kept note of the
Englishman's play. She was very young, with a delicate face, in whose
softer lines there was a refined likeness to the features of the man
whose play she watched. But while his eyes were hard and cold and gray,
hers were of that dense black in which there seems such an unfathomable
and mysterious depth. As she was the handsomest, so she was also the
worst-dressed woman in the room. Her flimsy silk mantle had faded from
black to rusty brown; the straw hat which shaded her face was sunburnt;
the ribbons had lost their brightness; but there was an air of
attempted fashion in the puffings and trimmings of her alpaca skirt;
and there was evidence of a struggle with poverty in the tight-fitting
lavender gloves, whose streaky lines bore witness to the imperfection
of the cleaner's art. Elegant Parisians and the select of Brussels
glanced at the military Englishman and his handsome daughter with some
slight touch of supercilious surprise--one has no right to find
shabbily-dressed young women in the golden temple--and it is scarcely
necessary to state that it was from her own countrywomen the young
person in alpaca received the most chilling glances. But those Parthian
arrows shot from feminine eyes had little power to wound their object
just now. The girl looked up from her perforated card very seldom; and
when she raised her eyes, it was always to look in one
direction--towards the great glass doors opening from the outer saloon.
Loungers came and went; the doors swung open and closed again as
noiselessly as it is possible for well-regulated doors to open and
shut; footsteps sounded on the polished floors; and sometimes when the
young person in alpaca lifted her eyes, a passing shadow of
disappointment darkened her face. A modern Laurence Sterne, on a new
Sentimental Journey, might have derived some interest from the study of
the girl's countenance; but the reflective and observant traveller is
not to be encountered very often in this age of excursionists; and
Maria and her goat may roam the highways and byways for a long time
before she will find any dreamy loiterer with a mind attuned to
sympathy.

The shabbily-dressed girl was looking for some one. She watched her
father's play carefully--she marked her card with unfailing precision;
but she performed these duties with a mechanical air; and it was only
when she lifted her eyes to the great shining plate-glass doors which
opened into this dangerous Paradise, that any ray of feeling animated
her countenance. She was looking for some one, and the person watched
for was so long coming. Ah, how difficult for the arithmetician to
number the crushing disappointments, the bitter agonies that one woman
can endure in a single half-hour! This girl was so young--so young; and
already she had learnt to suffer.

The man played with the concentrated attention and the impassible
countenance of an experienced gamester, rarely lifting his eyes from
the green cloth, never looking back at the girl who stood behind him.
He was winning to-day, and he accepted his good fortune as quietly as
he had often accepted evil fortune at the same table. He seemed to be
playing on some system of his own; and neighbouring players looked at
him with envious eyes, as they saw the pile of gold grow larger under
his thin nervous hands. Ignorant gamesters, who stood aloof after
having lost two or three napoleons, contemplated the lucky Englishman
and wondered about him, while some touch of pity leavened the envy
excited by his wonderful fortune. He looked like a decayed gentleman--a
man who had been a military dandy in the days that were gone, and who
had all the old pretensions still, without the power to support them--a
Brummel languishing at Caen; a Nash wasting slowly at Bath.

At last the girl's face brightened suddenly as she glanced upwards; and
it would have been very easy for the observant traveller--if any such
person had existed--to construe aright that bright change in her
countenance. The some one she had been watching for had arrived.

The doors swung open to admit a man of about five-and-twenty, whose
darkly-handsome face and careless costume had something of that air
which was once wont to be associated with the person and the poetry of
George Gordon Lord Byron. The new-comer was just one of those men whom
very young women are apt to admire, and whom worldly-minded people are
prone to distrust. There was a perfume of Bohemianism, a flavour of the
Quartier Latin, about the loosely-tied cravat, the wide trousers, and
black-velvet morning coat, with which the young man outraged the
opinions of respectable visitors at Forêtdechêne. There was a
semi-poetic vagabondism in the half-indifferent, half-contemptuous
expression of his face, with its fierce moustache, and strongly-marked
eyebrows overshadowing sleepy gray eyes--eyes that were half hidden, by
their long dark lashes; as still pools of blue water lie sometimes
hidden among the rushes that nourish round them.

He was handsome, and he knew that he was handsome; but he affected to
despise the beauty of his proud dark face, as he affected to despise
all the brightest and most beautiful things upon earth: and yet there
was a vagabondish kind of foppery in his costume that contrasted
sharply with the gentlemanly dandyism of the shabby gamester sitting at
the table. There was a distance of nearly half a century between the
style of the Regency dandy and the Quartier-Latin lion.

The girl watched the new-comer with sad earnest eyes as he walked
slowly towards the table, and a faint blush kindled in her cheeks as he
came nearer to the spot where she stood. He went by her presently,
carrying an atmosphere of stale tobacco with him as he went; and he
gave her a friendly nod as he passed, and a "Good morning, Diana;" but
that was all. The faint blush faded and left her very pale: but she
resumed her weary task with the card and the pin; and if she had
endured any disappointment within those few moments, it seemed to be a
kind of disappointment that she was accustomed to suffer.

The young man walked round the table till he came to the only vacant
chair, in which he seated himself, and after watching the game for a
few minutes, began to play. From the moment in which he dropped into
that vacant seat to the moment in which he rose to leave the table,
three hours afterwards, he never lifted his eyes from the green cloth,
or seemed to be conscious of anything that was going on around or about
him. The girl watched him furtively for some little time after he had
taken his place at the table; but the stony mask of the professed
gambler is a profitless object for a woman's earnest scrutiny.

She sighed presently, and laid her hand heavily on the chair behind
which she was standing. The action aroused the man who sat in it, and
he turned and looked at her for the first time.

"You are tired, Diana?"

"Yes, papa, I am very tired."

"Give me your card, then, and go away," the gamester answered
peevishly; "girls are always tired."

She gave him the mysteriously-perforated card, and left her post behind
his chair; and then, after roaming about the great saloon with a weary
listless air, and wandering from one open window to another to look
into the sunny quadrangle, where well-dressed people were sitting at
little tables eating ices or drinking lemonade, she went away
altogether, and roamed into another chamber where some children were
dancing to the sound of a feeble violin. She sat upon a velvet-covered
bench, and watched the children's lesson for some minutes, and then
rose and wandered to another open window that overlooked the same
quadrangle, where the well-dressed people were enjoying themselves in
the hot August sunshine.

"How extravagantly everybody dresses!" she thought, "and what a shabby
poverty-stricken creature one feels amongst them! And yet if I ask papa
to give me a couple of napoleons out of the money he won to-day, he
will only look at me from head to foot, and tell me I have a gown and a
cloak and a bonnet, and ask me what more I can want, in the name of all
that is unreasonable? And I see girls here whose fathers are so fond of
them and so proud of them--ugly girls, decked out in silks and muslins
and ribbons that have cost a small fortune--clumsy awkward girls, who
look at _me_ as if I were some new kind of wild animal."

The saloons at Forêtdechêne were rich in monster sheets of
looking-glass; and in wandering discontentedly about the room Diana
Paget saw herself reflected many times in all her shabbiness. It was
only very lately she had discovered that she had some pretension to
good looks; for her father, who could not or would not educate her
decently or clothe her creditably, took a very high tone of morality in
his paternal teaching, and, in the fear that she might one day grow
vain of her beauty, had taken care to impress upon her at an early age
that she was the very incarnation of all that is lean and sallow and
awkward.



CHAPTER II.

THE EASY DESCENT


Amongst the many imprudences of which Horatio Paget--once a cornet in a
crack cavalry regiment, always a captain in his intercourse with the
world--had been guilty during the course of a long career, there was
none for which he so bitterly reproached himself as for a certain
foolish marriage which he had made late in his life. It was when he had
thrown away the last chance that an indulgent destiny had given him,
that the ruined fop of the Regency, the sometime member of the
Beef-steak Club, the man who in his earliest youth had worn a silver
gridiron at his button-hole, and played piquet in the gilded saloons of
Georgina of Devonshire, found himself laid on a bed of sickness in
dingy London lodgings, and nearer death than he had ever been in the
course of his brief military career; so nearly gliding from life's
swift-flowing river into eternity's trackless ocean, that the warmest
thrill of gratitude which ever stirred the slow pulses of his cold
heart quickened its beating as he clasped the hand that had held him
back from the unknown region whose icy breath had chilled him with an
awful fear. Such men as Horatio Paget are apt to feel a strange terror
when the black night drops suddenly down upon them, and the "Gray
Boatman's" voice sounds hollow and mysterious in the darkness,
announcing that the ocean is near. The hand that held the ruined
spendthrift back when the current swept so swiftly oceanward was a
woman's tender hand; and Heaven only knows what patient watchfulness,
what careful administration of medicines and unwearying preparation of
broths and jellies and sagos and gruels, what untiring and devoted
slavery, had been necessary to save the faded rake who looked out upon
the world once more, a ghastly shadow of his former self, a penniless
helpless burden for any one who might choose to support him.

"Don't thank _me_," said the doctor, when his feeble patient whimpered
flourishing protestations of his gratitude, unabashed by the
consciousness that such grateful protestations were the sole coin with
which the medical man would be paid for his services; "thank that young
woman, if you want to thank anybody; for if it had not been for her you
wouldn't be here to talk about gratitude. And if ever you get such
another attack of inflammation on the lungs, you had better pray for
such another nurse, though I don't think you're likely to find one."

And with this exordium, the rough-and-ready surgeon took his departure,
leaving Horatio Paget alone with the woman who had saved his life.

She was only his landlady's daughter; and his landlady was no
prosperous householder in Mayfair, thriving on the extravagance of
wealthy bachelors, but an honest widow, living in an obscure little
street leading out of the Old Kent-road, and letting a
meagrely-furnished little parlour and a still more meagrely-furnished
little bedroom to any single gentleman whom reverse of fortune might
lead into such a locality. Captain Paget had sunk very low in the world
when he took possession of that wretched parlour and laid himself down
to rest on the widow's flock-bed.

There is apt to be a dreary interval in the life of such a man--a blank
dismal interregnum, which divides the day in which he spends his last
shilling from the hour in which he begins to prey deliberately upon the
purses of other people. It was in that hopeless interval that Horatio
Paget established himself in the widow's parlour. But though he slept
in the Old Kent-road, he had not yet brought himself to endure
existence on that Surrey side of the water. He emerged from his lodging
every morning to hasten westward, resplendent in clean linen and
exquisitely-fitting gloves, and unquestionable overcoat, and varnished
boots.

The wardrobe has its Indian summer; and the glory of a first-rate
tailor's coat is like the splendour of a tropical sun--it is glorious
to the last, and sinks in a moment. Captain Paget's wardrobe was in its
Indian summer in these days; and when he felt how fatally near the
Bond-street pavement was to the soles of his feet, he could not refrain
from a fond admiration of the boots that were so beautiful in decay.

He walked the West-end for many weary hours every day during this
period of his decadence. He tried to live in an honest gentlemanly way,
by borrowing money of his friends, or discounting an accommodation-bill
obtained from some innocent acquaintance who was deluded by his
brilliant appearance and specious tongue into a belief in the transient
nature of his difficulties. He spent his days in hanging about the
halls and waiting-rooms of clubs--of some of which he had once been a
member; he walked weary miles between St James's and Mayfair,
Kensington Gore and Notting Hill, leaving little notes for men who were
not at home, or writing a little note in one room while the man to whom
he was writing hushed his breath in an adjoining chamber. People who
had once been Captain Paget's fast friends seemed to have
simultaneously decided upon spending their existence out of doors, as
it appeared to the impecunious Captain. The servants of his friends
were afflicted with a strange uncertainty as to their masters'
movements. At whatever hall-door Horatio Paget presented himself, it
seemed equally doubtful whether the proprietor of the mansion would be
home to dinner that day, or whether he would be at home any time next
day, or the day after that, or at the end of the week, or indeed
whether he would ever come home again. Sometimes the Captain, calling
in the evening dusk, in the faint hope of gaining admittance to some
friendly dwelling, saw the glimmer of light under a dining-room door,
and heard the clooping of corks and the pleasant jingling of glass and
silver in the innermost recesses of a butler's pantry; but still the
answer was--not at home, and not likely to be home. All the respectable
world was to be out henceforth for Horatio Paget. But now and then at
the clubs he met some young man, who had no wife at home to keep watch
upon his purse and to wail piteously over a five-pound note
ill-bestowed, and who took compassion on the fallen spendthrift, and
believed, or pretended to believe, his story of temporary
embarrassment; and then the Captain dined sumptuously at a little
French restaurant in Castle-street, Leicester-square, and took a
half-bottle of chablis with his oysters, and warmed himself with
chambertin that was brought to him in a dusty cobweb-shrouded bottle
reposing in a wicker-basket.

But in these latter days such glimpses of sunshine very rarely
illumined the dull stream of the Captain's life. Failure and
disappointment had become the rule of his existence--success the rare
exception. Crossing the river now on his way westward, he was wont to
loiter a little on Waterloo Bridge, and to look dreamily down at the
water, wondering whether the time was near at hand when, under cover of
the evening dusk, he would pay his last halfpenny to the toll-keeper,
and never again know the need of an earthly coin.

"I saw a fellow in the Morgue one day,--a poor wretch who had drowned
himself a week or two before. Great God, how horrible he looked! If
there was any certainty they would find one immediately, and bury one
decently, there'd be no particular horror in that kind of death. But to
be found _like that_, and to lie in some riverside deadhouse down by
Wapping, with a ghastly placard rotting on the rotting door, and
nothing but ooze and slime and rottenness round about one--waiting to
be identified! And who knows, after all, whether a dead man doesn't
_feel_ that sort of thing?"

It was after such musings as these had begun to be very common with
Horatio Paget that he caught the chill which resulted in a very
dangerous illness of many weeks. The late autumn was wet and cold and
dreary; but Captain Paget, although remarkably clever after a certain
fashion, had never been a lover of intellectual pursuits, and
imprisonment in Mrs. Kepp's shabby parlour was odious to him. When he
had read every page of the borrowed newspaper, and pished and pshawed
over the leaders, and groaned aloud at the announcement of some wealthy
marriage made by one of his quondam friends, or chuckled at the record
of another quondam friend's insolvency--when he had poked the fire
savagely half a dozen times in an hour, cursing the pinched grate and
the bad coals during every repetition of the operation--when he had
smoked his last cigar, and varnished his favourite boots, and looked
out of the window, and contemplated himself gloomily in the wretched
little glass over the narrow chimney-piece,--Captain Paget's
intellectual resources were exhausted, and an angry impatience took
possession of him. Then, in defiance of the pelting rain or the
lowering sky, he flung his slippers into the farthest corner--and the
farthest corner of Mrs. Kepp's parlour was not very remote from the
Captain's arm-chair--he drew on the stoutest of his varnished
boots--and there were none of them very stout now--buttoned his perfect
overcoat, adjusted his hat before the looking-glass, and sallied forth,
umbrella in hand, to make his way westward. Westward always, through
storm and shower, back to the haunts of his youth, went the wanderer
and outcast, to see the red glow of cheery fires reflected on the
plate-glass windows of his favourite clubs; to see the lamps in
spacious reading-rooms lit early in the autumn dusk, and to watch the
soft light glimmering on the rich bindings of the books, and losing
itself in the sombre depths of crimson draperies. To this poor worldly
creature the agony of banishment from those palaces of Pall Mall or St.
James's-street was as bitter as the pain of a fallen angel. It was the
dullest, deadest time of the year, and there were not many loungers in
those sumptuous reading-rooms, where the shaded lamps shed their
subdued light on the chaste splendour of the sanctuary; so Captain
Paget could haunt the scene of his departed youth without much fear of
recognition: but his wanderings in the West grew more hopeless and
purposeless every day. He began to understand how it was that people
were never at home when he assailed their doors with his fashionable
knock. He could no longer endure the humiliation of such repulses, for
he began to understand that the servants knew his errand as well as
their masters, and had their answers ready, let him present himself
before them when he would: so he besieged the doors of St. James's and
Mayfair, Kensington Gore and Netting Hill, no longer. He knew that the
bubble of his poor foolish life had burst, and that there was nothing
left for him but to die.

It seemed about this time as if the end of all was very near. Captain
Paget caught a chill one miserable evening on which he returned to his
lodging with his garments dripping, and his beautiful varnished boots
reduced to a kind of pulp; and the chill resulted in a violent
inflammation of the lungs. Then it was that a woman's hand was held out
to save him, and a woman's divine tenderness cared for him in his dire
extremity.

The ministering angel who comforted this helpless and broken-down
wayfarer was only a low-born ignorant girl called Mary Anne Kepp--a
girl who had waited upon the Captain during his residence in her
mother's house, but of whom he had taken about as much notice as he had
been wont to take of the coloured servants who tended him when he was
with his regiment in India. Horatio Paget had been a night-brawler and
a gamester, a duellist and a reprobate, in the glorious days that were
gone; but he had never been a profligate; and he did not know that the
girl who brought him his breakfast and staggered under the weight of
his coal-scuttle was one of the most beautiful women he had ever looked
upon.

The Captain was so essentially a creature of the West-end, that Beauty
without her glitter of diamonds and splendour of apparel was scarcely
Beauty for him. He waited for the groom of the chambers to announce her
name, and the low hum of well-bred approval to accompany her entrance,
before he bowed the knee and acknowledged her perfection. The Beauties
whom he remembered had received their patent from the Prince Regent,
and had graduated in the houses of Devonshire and Hertford. How should
the faded bachelor know that this girl, in a shabby cotton gown, with
unkempt hair dragged off her pale face, and with grimy smears from the
handles of saucepans and fire-irons imprinted upon her cheeks--how
should he know that she was beautiful? It was only during the slow
monotonous hours of his convalescence, when he lay upon the poor faded
little sofa in Mrs. Kepp's parlour--the sofa that was scarcely less
faded and feeble than himself--it was then, and then only, that he
discovered the loveliness of the face which had been so often bent over
him during his delirious wanderings.

"I have mistaken you for all manner of people, my dear," he said to his
landlady's daughter, who sat by the little Pembroke-table working,
while her mother dozed in a corner with a worsted stocking drawn over
her arm and a pair of spectacles resting upon her elderly nose. Mrs.
Kepp and her daughter were wont to spend their evenings in the lodger's
apartment now; for the invalid complained bitterly of "the horrors"
when they left him.

"I have taken you for all sorts of people, Mary Anne," pursued the
Captain dreamily. "Sometimes I have fancied you were the Countess of
Jersey, and I could see her smile as she looked at me when I was first
presented to her. I was very young in the beautiful Jersey's time; and
then there was the other one--whom I used to drink tea with at
Brighton. Ah me! what a dull world it seems nowadays! The King gone,
and everything changed--everything--everything! I am a very old man,
Mary Anne."

He was fifty-two years of age; he felt quite an old man. He had spent
all his money, he had outlived the best friends of his youth; for it
had been his fate to adorn a declining era, and he had been a youngster
among elderly patrons and associates. His patrons were dead and gone,
and the men he had patronised shut their doors upon him in the day of
his poverty. As for his relations, he had turned his back upon them
long ago, when first he followed in the shining wake of that gorgeous
vessel, the Royal George. In this hour of his penniless decline there
was none to help him. To have outlived every affection and every
pleasure is the chief bitterness of old age; and this bitterness
Horatio Paget suffered in all its fulness, though his years were but
fifty-two.

"I am a very old man, Mary Anne," he repeated plaintively. But Mary
Anne Kepp could not think him old. To her eyes he must for ever appear
the incarnation of all that is elegant and distinguished. He was the
first gentleman she had ever seen. Mrs. Kepp had given shelter to other
lodgers who had called themselves gentlemen, and who had been pompous
and grandiose of manner in their intercourse with the widow and her
daughter; but O, what pitiful lacquered counterfeits, what Brummagem
paste they had been, compared to the real gem! Mary Anne Kepp had seen
varnished boots before the humble flooring of her mother's dwelling was
honoured by the tread of Horatio Paget, but what clumsy vulgar boots,
and what awkward plebeian feet had worn them! The lodger's slim white
hands and arched instep, the patrician curve of his aquiline nose, the
perfect grace of his apparel, the high-bred modulation of his courteous
accents,--all these had impressed Mary Anne's tender little heart so
much the more because of his poverty and loneliness. That such a man
should be forgotten and deserted--that such a man should be poor and
lonely, seemed so cruel a chance to the simple maiden: and then when
illness overtook him, and invested him with a supreme claim upon her
tenderness and pity,--then the innocent girl lavished all the treasures
of a compassionate heart upon the ruined gentleman. She had no thought
of fee or reward; she knew that her mother's lodger was miserably poor,
and that his payments had become more and more irregular week by week
and month by month. She had no consciousness of the depth of feeling
that rendered her so gentle a nurse; for her life was a busy one, and
she had neither time nor inclination for any morbid brooding upon her
own feelings.

She protested warmly against the Captain's lamentation respecting his
age.

"The idear of any gentleman calling hisself old at fifty!" she
said--and Horatio shuddered at the supererogatory "r" and the
"hisself," though they proceeded from the lips of his
consoler;--"you've got many, many years before you yet, sir, please
God," she added piously; "and there's good friends will come forward
yet to help you, I make no doubt."

Captain Paget shook his head peevishly.

"You talk as if you were telling my fortune with a pack of cards," he
said. "No, my girl, I shall have only one friend to rely upon, if ever
I am well enough to go outside this house; and that friend is myself. I
have spent the fortune my father left me; I have spent the price of my
commission; and I have parted with every object of any value that I
ever possessed--in vulgar parlance, I am cleaned out, Mary Anne. But
other men have spent every sixpence belonging to them, and have
contrived to live pleasantly enough for half a century afterwards; and
I daresay I can do as they have done. If the wind is tempered to the
shorn lamb, I suppose the hawks and vultures take care of themselves. I
have tried my luck as a shorn lamb, and the tempest has been very
bitter for me; so I have no alternative but to join the vultures."

Mary Anne Kepp stared wonderingly at her mother's lodger. She had some
notion that he had been saying something wicked and blasphemous; but
she was too ignorant and too innocent to follow his meaning.

"O, pray don't talk in that wild way, sir," she entreated. "It makes me
so unhappy to hear you go on like that."

"And why should anything that I say make you unhappy, Mary Anne?" asked
the lodger earnestly.

There was something in his tone that set her pale face on fire with
unwonted crimson, and she bent very low over her work to hide those
painful blushes. She did not know that the Captain's tone presaged a
serious address; she did not know that the grand crisis of her life was
close upon her.

Horatio Paget had determined upon making a sacrifice. The doctor had
told him that he owed his life to this devoted girl; and he would have
been something less than man if he had not been moved with some
grateful emotion. He was grateful; and in the dreary hours of his slow
recovery he had ample leisure for the contemplation of the woman to
whom he owed so much, if his poor worthless life could indeed be much.
He saw that she was devoted to him; that she loved him more truly than
he had ever been conscious of being loved before. He saw too that she
was beautiful. To an ugly woman Captain Paget might have felt extremely
grateful; but he could never have thought of an ugly woman as he
thought of Mary Anne Kepp. The end of his contemplation and his
deliberation came to this: She was beautiful, and she loved him, and
his life was utterly wretched and lonely; so he determined on proving
his gratitude by a sublime sacrifice. Before the girl had lifted her
face from the needlework over which she had bent to hide her blushes,
Horatio Paget had asked her to be his wife. Her emotion almost
overpowered her as she tried to answer him; but she struggled against
it bravely, and came to the sofa on which he lay and dropped upon her
knees by his side. The beggar-maid who was wooed by a king could have
felt no deeper sense of her lover's condescension than that which
filled the heart of this poor simple girl as she knelt by her mother's
gentleman lodger.

"I--to be your wife!" she exclaimed. "O, surely, sir, you cannot mean
it?"

"But I do mean it, with all my heart and soul, my dear," answered the
Captain. "I'm not offering you any grand chance, Mary Anne; for I'm
about as low down in the world as a man can be. But I don't mean to be
poor all my life. Come, my dear, don't cry," he exclaimed, just a
little impatiently--for the girl had covered her face with her hands,
and tears were dropping between the poor hard-working fingers--"but
lift up your head and tell me whether you will take a faded old
bachelor for your husband or not."

Horatio Paget had admired many women in the bright years of his youth,
and had fancied himself desperately in love more than once in his life;
but it is doubtful whether the mighty passion had ever really possessed
the Captain's heart, which was naturally cold and sluggish, rarely
fluttered by any emotion that was not engendered of selfishness.
Horatio had set up an idol and had invented a religion for himself very
early in life; and that idol was fashioned after his own image, and
that religion had its beginning and end in his own pleasure. He might
have been flattered and pleased by Miss Kepp's agitation; but he was
ill and peevish; and having all his life been subject to a profound
antipathy to feminine tearfulness, the girl's display of emotion
annoyed him.

"Is it to be yes, or no, my dear?" he asked, with, some vexation in his
tone.

Mary Anne looked up at him with tearful, frightened eyes.

"O, yes, sir, if I can be of any use to you, and nurse you when you are
ill, and work for you till I work my fingers to the bone."

She clenched her hands spasmodically as she spoke. In imagination she
was already toiling and striving for the god of her idolatry--the
GENTLEMAN whose varnished boots had been to her as a glimpse of another
and a fairer world than that represented by Tulliver's-terrace, Old
Kent-road. But Captain Paget checked her enthusiasm by a gentle gesture
of his attenuated hands.

"That will do, my dear," he murmured languidly; "I'm not very strong
yet, and anything in the way of fuss is inexpressibly painful to me.
Ah, my poor child," he exclaimed, pityingly, "if you could have seen a
dinner at the Marquis of Hertford's, you would have understood how much
can be achieved without fuss. But I am talking of things you don't
understand. You will be my wife; and a very good, kind, obedient little
wife, I have no doubt. That is all settled. As for working for me, my
love, it would be about as much as these poor little hands could do to
earn me a cigar a day--and I seldom smoke less than half a dozen
cigars; so, you see, that is all so much affectionate nonsense. And now
you may wake your mother, my dear; for I want to take a little nap, and
I can't close my eyes while that good soul is snoring so intolerably;
but not a word about our little arrangement, Mary Anne, till you and
your mother are alone."

And hereupon the Captain spread a handkerchief over his face and
subsided into a gentle slumber. The little scene had fatigued him;
though it had been so quietly enacted, that Mrs. Kepp had slept on
undisturbed by the brief fragment of domestic drama performed within a
few yards of her uneasy arm-chair. Her daughter awoke her presently,
and she resumed her needlework, while Mary Anne made some tea for the
beloved sleeper. The cups and saucers made more noise to-night than
they were wont to make in the girl's careful hands. The fluttering of
her heart seemed to communicate itself to the tips of her fingers, and
the jingling of the crockery-ware betrayed the intensity of her
emotion. He was to be her husband! She was to have a gentleman for a
husband; and such a gentleman! Out of such base trifles as a West-end
tailor's coat and a West-end workman's boots may be engendered the
purest blossom of womanly love and devotion. Wisely may the modern
philosopher cry that the history of the world is only a story of old
clothes. Mary Anne had begun by admiring the graces of Stultz and Hoby,
and now she was ready to lay down her life for the man who wore the
perishing garments.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Kepp obeyed her lover's behest; and it was only on the following
day, when she and her mother were alone together in the dingy little
kitchen below Captain Paget's apartments, that she informed that worthy
woman of the honour which had been vouchsafed to her. And thereupon
Mary Anne endured the first of the long series of disappointments which
were to arise out of her affection for the penniless Captain. The widow
was a woman of the world, and was obstinately blind to the advantages
of a union with a ruined gentleman of fifty. "How's he to keep you, I
should like to know," Mrs. Kepp exclaimed, as the girl stood blushing
before her after having told her story; "if he can't pay me
regular?--and you know the difficulty I have had to get his money, Mary
Anne. If he can't keep hisself, how's he to keep you?"

"Don't talk like that, mother," cried the girl, wincing under her
parent's practical arguments; "you go on as if all I cared for was
being fed and clothed. Besides, Captain Paget is not going to be poor
always. He told me so last night, when he----"

"_He_ told you so!" echoed the honest widow with unmitigated scorn;
"hasn't he told me times and often that I should have my rent regular
after this week, and regular after that week, and have I _ever_ had it
regular? And ain't I keeping him out of charity now?--a poor
widow-woman like me--which I may be wanting charity myself before long:
and if it wasn't for your whimpering and going on he'd have been out of
the house three weeks ago, when the doctor said he was well enough to
be moved; for I ast him."

"And you'd have turned him out to die in the streets, mother!" cried
Mary; "I didn't think you was so 'artless."

From this time there was ill-feeling between Mrs. Kepp and her
daughter, who had been hitherto one of the most patient and obedient of
children. The fanatic can never forgive the wretch who disbelieves in
the divinity of his god; and women who love as blindly and foolishly as
Mary Anne Kepp are the most bigoted of worshippers. The girl could not
forgive her mother's disparagement of her idol,--the mother had no
mercy upon her daughter's folly; and after much wearisome contention
and domestic misery--carefully hidden from the penniless sybarite in
the parlour--after many tears and heart-burnings, and wakeful nights
and prayerful watches, Mary Anne Kepp consented to leave the house
quietly one morning with the gentleman lodger while the widow had gone
to market. Miss Kepp left a piteous little note for her mother, rather
ungrammatical, but very womanly and tender, imploring pardon for her
want of duty; and, "O, mother, if you knew how good and nobel he is,
you coudent be angery with me for luving him has I do, and we shall
come back to you after oure marige, wich you will be pade up honourabel
to the last farthin'."

After writing this epistle in the kitchen, with more deliberation and
more smudging than Captain Paget would have cared to behold in the
bride of his choice, Mary Anne attired herself in her Sabbath-day
raiment, and left Tulliver's-terrace with the Captain in a cab. She
would fain have taken a little lavender paper-covered box that
contained the remainder of her wardrobe, but after surveying it with a
shudder, Captain Paget told her that such a box would condemn them
_anywhere_.

"You may get on sometimes without luggage, my dear," he said
sententiously; "but with such luggage as _that_, never!"

The girl obeyed without comprehending. It was not often that she
understood her lover's meaning, nor did he particularly care that she
should understand him. He talked to her rather in the same spirit in
which one talks to a faithful canine companion--as Napoleon III. may
talk to his favourite Nero; "I have great plans yet unfulfilled, my
honest Nero, though you may not be wise enough to guess their nature.
And we must have another Boulevard, old fellow; and we must settle that
little dispute about Venetia; and we must do something for those
unfortunate Poles, eh--good dog?" and so on.

Captain Paget drove straight to a registrar's office, where the new
Marriage Act enabled him to unite himself to Miss Kepp _sans façon_, in
presence of the cabman and a woman who had been cleaning the door-step.
The Captain went through the brief ceremonial as coolly as if it had
been the settlement of a water-rate, and was angered by the tears that
poor Mary Anne shed under her cheap black veil. He had forgotten the
poetic superstition in favour of a wedding-ring, but he slipped a
little onyx ring off his own finger, and put it on the clumsier finger
of his bride. It was the last of his jewels--the rejected of the
pawnbrokers, who, not being learned in antique intaglios, had condemned
the ring as trumpery. There is always something a little ominous in the
bridegroom's forgetfulness of that simple golden circle which typifies
an eternal union; and a superstitious person might have drawn a
sinister augury from the subject of Captain Paget's intaglio, which was
a head of Nero--an emperor whose wife was by no means the happiest of
women. But as neither Mary Anne nor the registrar, neither the cabman
nor the charwoman who had been cleaning the door-step, had ever heard
of Nero, and as Horatio Paget was much too indifferent to be
superstitious, there was no one to draw evil inferences: and Mary Anne
went away with her gentleman husband, proud and happy, with a happiness
that was only disturbed now and then by the image of an infuriated
mother.

Captain Paget took his bride to some charming apartments in
Halfmoon-street, Mayfair; and she was surprised to hear him tell the
landlady that he and his wife had just arrived from Devonshire, and
that they meant to stay a week or so in London, _en passant_, before
starting for the Continent.

"My wife has spent the best part of her life in the country," said the
Captain, "so I suppose I must show her some of the sights of London in
spite of the abominable weather. But the deuce of it is, that my
servant has misunderstood my directions, and gone on to Paris with the
luggage. However, we can set that all straight to-morrow."

Nothing could be more courteously acquiescent than the manner of the
landlady; for Captain Paget had offered her references, and the people
to whom he referred were among the magnates of the land. The Captain
knew enough of human nature to know that if references are only
sufficiently imposing, they are very unlikely to be verified. The
swindler who refers his dupe to the Duke of Sutherland and Baring
Brothers has a very good chance of getting his respectability accepted
without inquiry, on the mere strength of those sacred names.

       *       *       *       *       *

From this time until the day of her death Mary Anne Paget very seldom
heard her husband make any statement which she did not know to be
false. He had joined the ranks of the vultures. He had lain down upon
his bed of sickness a gentlemanly beggar; he arose from that couch of
pain and weariness a swindler.

Now began those petty shifts and miserable falsifications whereby the
birds of prey thrive on the flesh and blood of hapless pigeons. Now the
dovecotes were fluttered by a new destroyer--a gentlemanly vulture,
whose suave accents and perfect manners were fatal to the unwary.
Henceforth Horatio Cromie Nugent Paget flourished and fattened upon the
folly of his fellow-men. As promoter of joint-stock companies that
never saw the light; as treasurer of loan-offices where money was never
lent; as a gentleman with capital about to introduce a novel article of
manufacture from the sale of which a profit of five thousand a year
would infallibly be realized, and desirous to meet with another
gentleman of equal capital; as the mysterious X.Y.Z. who will--for so
small a recompense as thirty postage-stamps--impart the secret of an
elegant and pleasing employment, whereby seven-pound-ten a-week may be
made by any individual, male or female;--under every flimsy disguise
with which the swindler hides his execrable form, Captain Paget plied
his cruel trade, and still contrived to find fresh dupes. Of course
there were occasions when the pigeons were slow to flutter into the
fascinating snare, and when the vulture had a bad time of it; and it
was a common thing for the Captain to sink from the splendour of
Mayfair or St. James's-street into some dingy transpontine
hiding-place. But he never went back to Tulliver's-terrace, though Mary
Anne pleaded piteously for the payment of her poor mother's debt. When
her husband was in funds, he patted her head affectionately, and told
her that he would see about it--i.e. the payment of Mrs. Kepp's bill;
while, if she ventured to mention the subject to him when his purse was
scantily furnished, he would ask her fiercely how he was to satisfy her
mother's extortionate claims when he had not so much as a sixpence for
his own use.

Mrs. Kepp's bill was never paid, and Mary Anne never saw her mother's
face again. Mrs. Paget was one of those meek loving creatures who are
essentially cowardly. She could not bring herself to encounter her
mother without the money owed by the Captain; she could not bring
herself to endure the widow's reproaches, the questioning that would be
so horribly painful to answer, the taunts that would torture her poor
sorrowful heart.

Alas for her brief dream of love and happiness! Alas for her foolish
worship of the gentleman lodger! She knew now that her mother had been
wiser than herself, and that it would have been better for her if she
had renounced the shadowy glory of an alliance with Horatio Cromie
Nugent Paget, whose string of high-sounding names, written on the cover
of an old wine-book, had not been without its influence on the ignorant
girl. The widow's daughter knew very little happiness during the few
years of her wedded life. To be hurried from place to place; to dine in
Mayfair to-day, and to eat your dinner at a shilling ordinary in
Whitecross-street to-morrow; to wear fine clothes that have not been
paid for, and to take them off your back at a moment's notice when they
are required for the security of the friendly pawnbroker; to know that
your life is a falsehood and a snare, and that to leave a place is to
leave contempt and execration behind you,--these things constitute the
burden of a woman whose husband lives by his wits. And over and above
these miseries, Mrs. Paget had to endure all the variations of temper
to which the schemer is subject. If the pigeons dropped readily into
the snare, and if their plumage proved well worth the picking, the
Captain was very kind to his wife, after his own fashion; that is to
say, he took her out with him, and after lecturing her angrily because
of the shabbiness of her bonnet, bought her a new one, and gave her a
dinner that made her ill, and then sent her home in a cab, while he
finished the evening in more congenial society. But if the times were
bad for the vulture tribe--O, then, what a gloomy companion for the
domestic hearth was the elegant Horatio! After smiling his false smile
all day, while rage and disappointment were gnawing at his heart, it
was a kind of relief to the Captain to be moody and savage by his own
fireside. The human vulture has something of the ferocity of his
feathered prototype. The man who lives upon his fellow-men has need to
harden his heart; for one sentiment of compassion, one touch of human
pity, would shatter his finest scheme in the hour of its fruition.
Horatio Paget and compassion parted fellowship very early in the course
of his unscrupulous career. What if the pigeon has a widowed mother
dependent on his prosperity, or half a dozen children who will be
involved in his ruin? Is the hawk to forego his natural prey for any
such paltry consideration as a vulgar old woman or a brood of squalling
brats?

Captain Paget was not guilty of any persistent unkindness towards the
woman whose fate he had deigned to link with his own. The consciousness
that he had conferred a supreme honour oh Mary Anne Kepp by offering
her his hand, and a share of his difficulties, never deserted him. He
made no attempt to elevate the ignorant girl into companionship with
himself. He shuddered when she misplaced her h's and turned from her
peevishly, with a muttered oath, when she was more than usually
ungrammatical: but though he found it disagreeable to hear her, he
would have found it troublesome to set her right; and trouble was a
thing which Horatio Paget held in gentlemanly aversion. The idea that
the mode of his existence could be repulsive to his wife--that this
low-born and low-bred girl could have scruples that he never felt, and
might suffer agonies of remorse and shame of which his coarser nature
was incapable--never entered the Captain's mind. It would have been too
great an absurdity for the daughter of plebeian Kepps to affect a
tenderness of conscience unknown to the scion of Pagets and Cromies and
Nugents. Mary Anne was afraid of her elegant husband; and she
worshipped and waited upon him in meek silence, keeping the secret of
her own sorrows, and keeping it so well that he never guessed the
manifold sources of that pallor of countenance and hollow brightness of
eye which had of late annoyed him when he looked at his wife. She had
borne him a child--a sweet girl baby, with those great black eyes that
always have rather a weird look in the face of infancy; and she would
fain have clung to the infant as the hope and consolation of her
joyless life. But the vulture is not a domestic bird, and a baby would
have been an impediment in the rapid hegiras which Captain Paget and
his wife were wont to make. The Captain put an advertisement in a daily
paper before the child was a week old; and in less than a fortnight
after Mary Anne had looked at the baby face for the first time, she was
called upon to surrender her treasure to an elderly woman of fat and
greasy aspect, who had agreed to bring the infant up "by hand" in a
miserable little street in a remote and dreary district lying between
Vauxhall and Battersea.

Mary Anne gave up the child uncomplainingly, as meekly as she would
have surrendered herself if the Captain had brought a masked
executioner to her bedside, and had told her a block was prepared for
her in the adjoining chamber. She had no idea of resistance to the will
of her husband. She endured her existence for nearly five years after
the birth of her child, and during those miserable years the one effort
of her life was to secure the miserable stipend paid for the little
girl's maintenance; but before the child's fifth birthday the mother
faded off the face of the earth. She died in a miserable lodging not
very far from Tulliver's-terrace, expiring in the arms of a landlady
who had comforted her in her hour of need, as she had comforted the
ruined gentleman. Captain Paget was a prisoner in Whitecross-street at
the time of his wife's death, and was much surprised when he missed her
morning visits, and the little luxuries she had been wont to bring him.

He had missed her for more than a week, and had written to her
twice--rather angrily on the second occasion--when a rough unkempt boy
in corduroy waited upon him in the dreary ward, where he and half a
dozen other depressed and melancholy men sat at little tables writing
letters, or pretending to read newspapers, and looking at one another
furtively every now and then. There is no prisoner so distracted by his
own cares that he will not find time to wonder what his neighbour is
"in for."

The boy had received instructions to be careful how he imparted his
dismal tidings to the "poor dear gentleman;" but the lad grew nervous
and bewildered at sight of the Captain's fierce hook-nose and
scrutinising gray eyes, and blurted out his news without any dismal
note of warning.

"The lady died at two o'clock this morning, please, sir; and mother
said I was to come and tell you, please, sir."

Captain Paget staggered under the blow.

"Good God!" he cried, as he dropped upon a rickety Windsor chair, that
creaked under his weight; "and I did not even know that she was ill!"

Still less did he know that all her married life had been one long
heart-sickness--one monotonous agony of remorse and shame.



CHAPTER III.

"HEART BARE, HEART HUNGRY, VERY POOR."


Diana Paget left the Kursaal, and walked slowly along the pretty rustic
street; now dawdling before a little print-shop, whose contents she
knew by heart, now looking back at the great windows of that temple of
pleasure which she had just quitted.

"What do they care what becomes of me?" she thought, as she looked up
at the blank vacant windows for the last time before she left the main
street of Forêtdechêne, and turned into a straggling side-street, whose
rugged pavement sloped upward towards the pine-clad hills. The house in
which Captain Paget had taken up his abode was a tall white habitation,
situated in the narrowest of the narrow by-ways that intersect the main
street of the pretty Belgian watering-place; a lane in which the
inhabitants of opposite houses may shake hands with one another out of
the window, and where the odour of the cabbages and onions so liberally
employed in the _cuisine_ of the native offends the nose of the
foreigner from sunrise to sunset.

Diana paused for a moment at the entrance to this lane, but, after a
brief deliberation, walked onwards.

"What is the use of my going home?" she thought; "_they_ won't be home
for hours to come."

She walked slowly along the hilly street, and from the street into a
narrow pathway winding upward through the pine-wood. Here she was quite
alone, and the stillness of the place soothed her. She took off her
hat, and slung the faded ribbons across her arm; and the warm breeze
lifted the loose hair from her forehead as she wandered upwards. It was
a very beautiful face from which that loose dark hair was lifted by the
summer wind. Diana Paget inherited something of the soft loveliness of
Mary Anne Kepp, and a little of the patrician beauty of the Pagets. The
eyes were like those which had watched Horatio Paget on his bed of
sickness in Tulliver's-terrace. The resolute curve of the thin flexible
lips, and the fine modelling of the chin, were hereditary attributes of
the Nugent Pagets; and a resemblance to the lower part of Miss Paget's
face might have been traced in many a sombre portrait of dame and
cavalier at Thorpehaven Manor, where a Nugent Paget, who acknowledged
no kindred with the disreputable Captain, was now master.

The girl's reflections as she slowly climbed the hill were not
pleasant. The thoughts of youth should be very beautiful; but youth
that has been spent in the companionship of reprobates and tricksters
is something worse than age; for experience has taught it to be bitter,
while time has not taught it to be patient. For Diana Paget, childhood
had been joyless, and girlhood lonely. That blank and desolate region,
that dreary flat of fenny waste ground between Vauxhall and Battersea,
on which the child's eyes had first looked, had been typical of her
loveless childhood. With her mother's death faded the one ray of light
that had illumined her desolation. She was shifted from one nurse to
another; and bar nurses were not allowed to love her, for she remained
with them as an encumbrance and a burden. It was so difficult for the
Captain to pay the pitiful sum demanded for his daughter's support--or
rather it was so much easier for him not to pay it. So there always
came a time when Diana was delivered at her father's lodgings like a
parcel, by an indignant nurse, who proclaimed the story of her wrongs
in shrill feminine treble, and who was politely informed by the Captain
that her claim was a common debt, and that she had the remedy in her
own hands, but that the same code of laws which provided her with that
remedy, forbade any obnoxious demonstration of her anger in a
gentleman's apartment. And then Miss Paget, after hearing all the
tumult and discussion, would be left alone with her father, and would
speedily perceive that her presence was disagreeable to him.

When she outgrew the age of humble foster-mothers and cottages in the
dreariest of the outlying suburbs, the Captain sent his daughter to
school: and on this occasion he determined on patronising a person whom
he had once been too proud to remember among the list of his kindred.
There are poor and straggling branches upon every family tree; and the
Pagets of Thorpehaven had needy cousins who, in the mighty battle of
life, were compelled to fight amongst the rank and file. One of these
poor cousins was a Miss Priscilla Paget, who at an early age had
exhibited that affection for intellectual pursuits and that
carelessness as to the duties of the toilet which are supposed to
distinguish the predestined blue-stocking. Left quite alone in the
world, Priscilla put her educational capital to good use; and after
holding the position of principal governess for nearly twenty years in
a prosperous boarding-school at Brompton, she followed her late
employer to her grave with unaffected sorrow, and within a month of the
funeral invested her savings in the purchase of the business, and
established herself as mistress of the mansion. To this lady Captain
Paget confided his daughter's education; and in Priscilla Paget's house
Diana found a shelter that was almost like a home, until her kinswoman
became weary of promises that were never kept, and pitiful sums paid on
account of a debt that grew bigger every day--very weary likewise of
conciliatory hampers of game and barrels of oysters, and all the flimsy
devices of a debtor who is practised in the varied arts of the
gentlemanly swindler.

The day came when Miss Paget resolved to be rid of her profitless
charge; and once more Diana found herself delivered like a parcel of
unordered goods at the door of her father's lodging. Those are
precocious children who learn their first lessons in the school of
poverty; and the girl had been vaguely conscious of the degradation
involved in this process at the age of five. How much more keenly did
she feel the shame at the age of fifteen! Priscilla did her best to
lessen the pain of her pupil's departure.

"It isn't that I've any fault to find with you, Diana, though you must
remember that I have heard some complaints of your temper," she said,
with gentle gravity; "but your father is too trying. If he didn't make
me any promises, I should think better of him. If he told me frankly
that he couldn't pay me, and asked me to keep you out of
charity,"--Diana drew herself up with a little shiver at this
word,--"why, I might turn it over in my mind, and see if it could be
done. But to be deceived time after time, as I've been deceived--you
know the solemn language your father has used, Diana, for you have
heard him--and to rely on a sum of money on a certain date, as I have
relied again and again, after Horatio's assurance that I might depend
upon him--it's too bad, Diana; it's more than any one can endure. If
you were two or three years older, and further advanced in your
education, I might manage to do something for you by making you useful
with the little ones; but I can't afford to keep you and clothe you
during the next three years for nothing, and so I have no alternative
but to send you home."

The "home" to which Diana Paget was taken upon this occasion was a
lodging over a toyshop in the Westminster-road, where the Captain lived
in considerable comfort on the proceeds of a Friendly and Philanthropic
Loan Society.

But no very cordial welcome awaited Diana in the gaudily-furnished
drawing-room over the toyshop. She found her father sleeping placidly
in his easy-chair, while a young man, who was a stranger to her, sat at
a table near the window writing letters. It was a dull November day--a
very dreary day on which to find one's self thrown suddenly on a still
drearier world; and in the Westminster-bridge-road the lamps were
already making yellow patches of sickly light amidst the afternoon fog.

The Captain twitched his silk handkerchief off his face with an
impatient gesture as Diana entered the room.

"Now, then, what is it?" he asked peevishly, without looking at the
intruder.

He recognised her in the next moment; but that first impatient
salutation was about as warm a welcome as any which Miss Paget received
from her father. In sad and bitter truth, he did not care for her. His
marriage with Mary Anne Kepp had been the one grateful impulse of his
life; and even the sentiment which had prompted that marriage had been
by no means free from the taint of selfishness. But he had been quite
unprepared to find that this grand sacrifice of his life should involve
another sacrifice in the maintenance of a daughter he did not want; and
he was very much inclined to quarrel with the destiny that had given
him this burden.

"If you had been a boy, I might have made you useful to me sooner or
later," the Captain said to his daughter when he found himself alone
with her late on the night of her return; "but what on earth am I to do
with a daughter, in the unsettled life I lead? However, since that old
harridan has sent you back, you must manage in the best way you can,"
concluded Captain Paget with a discontented sigh.

From this time Diana Paget had inhabited the nest of the vultures, and
every day had brought its new lesson of trickery and falsehood. There
are men--and bad men too--who would have tried to keep the secret of
their shifts and meannesses hidden from an only child; but Horatio
Paget believed himself the victim of man's ingratitude, and his
misdoings the necessity of an evil destiny. It is not easy for the
unsophisticated intellect to gauge those moral depths to which the man
who lives by his wits must sink before his career is finished, or to
understand how, with every step in the swindler's downward road, the
conscience grows tougher, the perception of shame blunter, the savage
selfishness of the animal nature stronger. Diana Paget had discovered
some of her father's weaknesses during her miserable childhood; and in
the days of her unpaid-for schooling she had known that his most solemn
promises were no more to be relied on than the capricious breath of a
summer breeze. So the revelations which awaited her under the paternal
roof were not utterly strange or entirely unexpected. Day by day she
grew more accustomed to that atmosphere of fraud and falsehood. The
sense of shame never left her; for there is a pride that thrives amidst
poverty and degradation, and of such pride Diana Paget possessed no
small share. She writhed under the consciousness that she was the
daughter of a man who had forfeited all right to the esteem of his
fellowmen. She valued the good opinion of others, and would fain have
been beloved and admired, trusted and respected; for she was ambitious:
and the though that she might one day do something which should lift
her above the vulgar level was the day-dream that had consoled her in
many an hour of humiliation and discomfort. Diana Paget felt the
Captain's shame as keenly as her mother had felt it; but the remorse
which had agonised gentle Mary Anne, the tender compassion for others
which had wrung that fond and faithful heart, had no place in the
breast of the Captain's daughter.

Diana felt so much compassion for herself, that she had none left to
bestow upon other people. Her father's victims might be miserable, but
was not she infinitely more wretched? The landlady who found her
apartments suddenly tenantless and her rent unpaid might complain of
the hardness of her fortune; but was it not harder for Diana, with the
sensitive feelings and keen pride of the Pagets, to endure all the
degradation involved in the stealthy carrying away of luggage and a
secret departure under cover of night?

At first Miss Paget had been inclined to feel aggrieved by the presence
of the young man whom she had seen writing letters in the gloomy dusk
of the November afternoon; but in due time she came to accept him as a
companion, and to feel that her joyless life would have been drearier
without him. He was the secretary of the Friendly and Philanthropic
Loan Society, and of any other society organised by the Captain. He was
Captain Paget's amanuensis and representative--Captain Paget's tool,
but not Captain Paget's dupe; for Valentine Hawkehurst was not of that
stuff of which dupes are made.

The man who lives by his wits has need of a faithful friend and
follower. The chief of the vultures must not be approached too easily.
There must be a preparatory ordeal, an outer chamber to be passed,
before the victim is introduced to the sanctuary which is irradiated by
the silver veil of the prophet. Captain Paget found an able coadjutor
in Valentine Hawkehurst, who answered one of those tempting
advertisements in which A. B.C. or X. Y. Z. was wont to offer a salary
of three hundred a year to any gentlemanly person capable of performing
the duties of secretary to a newly-established company. It was only
after responding to this promising offer that the applicant was
informed that he must possess one indispensable qualification in the
shape of a capital of five hundred pounds. Mr Hawkehurst laughed aloud
when the Captain imparted this condition with that suave and yet
dignified manner which was peculiar to him.

"I ought to have known it was a dodge of that kind," said the young man
coolly. "Those very good things--duties light and easy, hours from
twelve till four, speedy advancement certain for a conscientious and
gentlemanly person, and so on--are always of the genus _do_. Your
advertisement is very cleverly worded, my dear sir; only it's like the
rest of them, rather _too_ clever. It is so difficult for a clever man
not to be too clever. The prevailing weakness of the human intellect
seems to me to be exaggeration. However, as I haven't a five-pound note
in the world, or the chance of getting one, I'll wish you good morning,
Captain Paget."

There are people whose blood would have been turned to ice by the stony
glare of indignation with which Horatio Paget regarded the man who had
dared to question his probity. But Mr. Hawkehurst had done with strong
impressions long before he met the Captain; and he listened to that
gentleman's freezing reproof with an admiring smile. Out of this very
unpromising beginning there arose a kind of friendship between the two
men. Horatio Paget had for some time been in need of a clever tool; and
in the young man whose cool insolence rose superior to his own dignity
he perceived the very individual whom he had long been seeking. The
young man who was unabashed by the indignation of a scion of Nugents
and Cromies and Pagets must be utterly impervious to the sense of awe;
and it was just such an impervious young man that the Captain wanted as
his coadjutor. Thus arose the alliance, which grew stronger every day,
until Valentine took up his abode under the roof of his employer and
patron, and made himself more thoroughly at home there than the
unwelcome daughter of the house.

The history of Valentine Hawkehurst's past existence was tolerably well
known to the Captain; but the only history of the young man's early
life ever heard by Diana was rather vague and fragmentary. She
discovered, little by little, that he was the son of a spendthrift
_littérateur_, who had passed the greater part of his career within the
rules of the King's Bench; that he had run away from home at the age of
fifteen, and had tried his fortune in all those professions which
require no educational ordeal, and which seem to offer themselves
invitingly to the scapegrace and adventurer. At fifteen Valentine
Hawkehurst had been errand-boy in a newspaper office; at seventeen a
penny-a-liner, whose flimsy was pretty sure of admission in the lower
class of Sunday papers. In the course of a very brief career he had
been a provincial actor, a _manège_ rider in a circus, a
billiard-marker, and a betting agent. It was after having exhausted
these liberal professions that he encountered Captain Paget.

Such was the man whom Horatio Paget admitted to companionship with his
only daughter. It can scarcely be pleaded in excuse for the Captain
that he might have admitted a worse man than Valentine Hawkehurst to
his family circle, for the Captain had never taken the trouble to sound
the depths of his coadjutor's nature. There is nothing so short-sighted
as selfishness; and beyond the narrow circle immediately surrounding
himself, there was no man more blind than Horatio Paget.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was dusk when Diana grew tired of the lonely pathways among the
hills, where the harmonies of a band stationed in the valley were
wafted in gusts of music by the fitful summer breeze. The loneliness of
the place soothed the girl's feverish spirits; and, seated in a little
classic temple upon the summit of a hill, she looked pensively downward
through the purple mists at the newly-lighted lamps twinkling faintly
in the valley.

"One does not feel the sting of one's shabbiness here," thought Miss
Paget: "the trees are all dressed alike. Nature makes no distinction.
It is only Fortune who treats her children unfairly."

The Captain's daughter walked slowly back to the little town in the
deepening dusk. The lodging occupied by Horatio Paget and his household
consisted of four roomy chambers on the second story of a big rambling
house. The rooms were meanly furnished, and decorated with the tawdry
ornamentation dear to the continental mind; but there were long wide
windows and an iron balcony, on which Diana Paget was often pleased to
sit.

She found the sitting-room dark and empty. No dinner had been prepared;
for on lucky days the Captain and his _protégé_ were wont to dine at
the _table d'hôte_ of one of the hotels, or to feast sumptuously _à la
carte_, while on unlucky days they did not dine at all. Diana found a
roll and some cream cheese in a roomy old cupboard that was flavoured
with mice; and after making a very indifferent meal in the dusky
chamber, she went out upon the balcony, and sat there looking down upon
the lighted town.

She had been sitting there for nearly an hour in the same attitude,
when the door of the sitting-room was opened, and a footstep sounded
behind her. She knew the step; and although she did not lift her head,
her eyes took a new brightness in the summer dusk, and the listless
grace of her attitude changed to a statuesque rigidity, though there
was no change in the attitude itself.

She did not stir till a hand was laid softly on her shoulder, and a
voice said,--"Diana!"

The speaker was Valentine Hawkehurst, the young man whose entrance to
the golden temple had been so closely watched by Captain Paget's
daughter.

She rose as he spoke, and turned to him. "You have been losing, I
suppose, Mr. Hawkehurst," she said, "or you would not have come home?"

"I am compelled to admit that you are right in your premise, Miss
Paget, and your deduction is scarcely worth discussion. I _have_ been
losing--confoundedly; and as they don't give credit at the board of
green cloth yonder, there was no excuse for my staying. Your father has
not been holding his own within the last hour or two; but when I left
the rooms he was going to the Hotel d'Orange with some French fellows
for a quiet game of _écarté_. Our friend the Captain is a great card,
Miss Paget, and has a delightful talent for picking up distinguished
acquaintance."

There are few daughters who would have cared to hear a father spoken of
in this free-and-easy manner; but Diana Paget was quite unmoved. She
had resumed her old attitude, and sat looking towards the lighted
windows of the Kursaal, while Mr. Hawkehurst lounged against the angle
of the window with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in his mouth.

For three years Valentine Hawkehurst had lived in constant
companionship with the Captain's daughter; and in that time his manner
to her had undergone considerable variation. Of late it had been
something in the manner of an elder brother, whose fraternal breast is
impervious to the influence of a sister's loveliness or a sister's
fascination. If Diana Paget had been a snub-nosed young person with red
hair and white eyelashes, Mr. Hawkehurst could scarcely have treated
her with a more friendly indifference, a more brotherly familiarity.

Unhappily this line of conduct, which is perhaps the wisest and most
honourable plan that a man can pursue when he finds himself thrown into
a dangerously familiar association with a beautiful and unprotected
woman, is the very line of proceeding which a beautiful woman can never
bring herself to forgive. A chivalrous stiffness, a melancholy dignity,
a frozen frigidity, which suggest the fiery bubbling of the lava flood
beneath the icy surface,--these are delightful to the female mind. But
friendly indifference and fraternal cordiality constitute the worst
insult that can be offered to her beauty, the most bitter outrage upon
the majesty of her sex.

"I suppose it will be midnight before papa comes home, Mr. Hawkehurst,"
Diana said abruptly, when her companion had finished his cigar, and had
thrown the end of it over the balcony.

"Past midnight more likely, Miss Paget. May I ask how I have become Mr.
Hawkehurst all of a sudden, when for the last three years I have been
usually known as Valentine--or Val?"

The girl turned her head with a gesture in which the carelessness of
his own manner was imitated. She stole a rapid look at him as she
answered, "What does it matter whether I call you by one name or
another?"

"What does anything matter? I believe Mr. Toots was an unconscious
philosopher. There is nothing in the world of any consequence, except
money. Go and look at those poor devils yonder, and you will see what
that is worth," he cried, pointing to the lighted Kursaal; "there you
behold the one great truth of the universe in action. There is nothing
but money, and men are the slaves of money, and life is only another
name for the pursuit of money. Go and look at beauty yonder fading in
the light and heat; at youth that changes to age before your eyes; at
friendship which turns to hate when the chances of the game are with my
friend and against me. The Kursaal is the world in little, Diana; and
this great globe of ours is nothing but a gigantic gaming-table--a
mighty temple for the worship of the golden calf."

"Why do you imitate those people yonder, if you despise them so
heartily?"

"Because I am like them and of them. I tell you that money is the
beginning and end of all things. Why am I here, and why is my life made
up of baseness and lies? Because my father was an improvident
scoundrel, and did not leave me five hundred a year. I wonder what I
should have been like, by the bye, if I had been blest with five
hundred a year?"

"Honest and happy," answered the girl earnestly. She forgot her
simulated indifference, and looked at him with sad earnest eyes. He met
the glance, and the expression of his own face changed from its cynical
smile to a thoughtful sadness.

"Honest perhaps; and yet I almost doubt if anything under five thousand
a year would have kept me honest. Decidedly not happy; the men who can
be happy on five hundred a year are made of a duller stuff than the
clay which serves for a Hawkehurst."

"You talk about not being happy with five hundred a year!" Diana
exclaimed impatiently. "Surely any decent existence would be happiness
to you compared to the miserable life you lead,--the shameful, degraded
life which shuts you out of the society of respectable people and
reduces you to the level of a thief. If you had any pride, Valentine,
you would feel it as bitterly as I do."

"But I haven't any pride. As for my life,--well, I suppose it is
shameful and degraded, and I know that it's often miserable; but it
suits me better than jog-trot respectability, I can dine one day on
truffled turkey and champagne, another day upon bread and cheese and
small beer; but I couldn't eat beef and mutton always. That's what
kills people of my temperament. There are born scamps in the world,
Diana, and I am one of them. My name is Robert Macaire, and I was
created for the life I lead. Keep clear of me if you have any hankering
after better things; but don't try to change my nature, for it is
wasted labour."

"Valentine, it is so cruel of you to talk like that."

"Cruel to whom?"

"To--those--who care for you."

It was quite dark now; but even in the darkness Diana Paget's head
drooped a little as she said this. Mr. Hawkehurst laughed aloud.

"Those who care for me!" he cried; "no such people ever lived. My
father was a drunken scoundrel, who suffered his children to grow up
about him as he would have suffered a litter of puppies to sprawl upon
his hearth, only because there was less trouble in letting them lie
there than in kicking them out. My mother was a good woman in the
beginning, I know; but she must have been something more than a mortal
woman if she had not lost some of her goodness in twelve years of such
a life as she led with my father. I believe she was fond of me, poor
soul; but she died six months before I ran away from a lodging in the
Rules, which it is the bitterest irony to speak of as my home. Since
then I have been Robert Macaire, and have about as many friends as such
a man usually has."

"You can scarcely wonder if you have few friends," said Miss Paget,
"since there is no one in the world whom you love."

She watched him through the darkness after saying this, watched him
closely, though it was too dark for her to see the expression of his
face, and any emotion to which her words might have given rise could be
betrayed only by some gesture or change of attitude. She watched him in
vain, for he did not stir. But after a pause of some minutes he said
slowly,--

"Such a man as I cannot afford to love any one. What have I to offer to
the woman I might pretend to love? Truth, or honour, or honesty, or
constancy? Those are commodities I have never dealt in. If I know what
they are, and that I have never possessed them, it is about as much as
I do know of them. If I have any redeeming grace, Diana Paget, it lies
in the fact that I know what a worthless wretch I am. Your father
thinks he is a great man, a noble suffering creature, and that the
world has ill-used him. I know that I am a scoundrel, and that let my
fellow-men treat me as badly as they please, they can never give me
worse usage than I deserve. And am I a man to talk about love, or to
ask a woman to share my life? Good God, what a noble partner I should
offer her! what a happy existence I could assure her!"

"But if the woman loved you, she would only love you better for being
unfortunate."

"Yes, if she was very young and foolish and romantic. But don't you
think I should be a villain if I traded on her girlish folly? She would
love me for a year or two perhaps, and bear all the changes of my
temper; but the day would come when she would awake from her delusion,
and know that she had been cheated. She would see other women--less
gifted than herself, probably--and would see the market they had made
of their charms; would see them rich and honoured and happy, and would
stand aside in the muddy streets to be splashed by the dirt from their
carriage-wheels. And then she would consider the price for which she
had bartered her youth and her beauty, and would hate the man who had
cheated her. No, Diana, I am not such a villain as the world may think
me. I am down in the dirt myself, and I'm used to it. I won't drag a
woman into the gutter just because I may happen to love her."

There was a long silence after this--a silence during which Diana Paget
sat looking down at the twinkling lights of the Kursaal. Valentine
lighted a second cigar and smoked it out, still in silence. The clocks
struck eleven as he threw the end of his cigar away; a tiny, luminous
speck, which shot through the misty atmosphere below the balcony like a
falling star.

"I may as well go and see how your father is getting on yonder," he
said, as the spark of light vanished in the darkness below. "Good
night, Diana. Don't sit too long in the cold night air; and don't sit
up for your father--there's no knowing when he may be home."

The girl did not answer him. She listened to the shutting of the door
as it closed behind him, and then folded her arms upon the iron rail of
the balcony, laid her head upon them, and wept silently. Her life was
very dreary, and it seemed to her as if the last hope which had
sustained her against an unnatural despair had been taken away from her
to-night.

Twelve o'clock sounded with a feeble little _carillon_ from one of the
steeples, and still she sat with her head resting upon her folded arms.
Her eyes were quite dry by this time, for with her tears were very
rare, and the passion which occasioned them must needs be intense. The
night air grew chill and damp; but although she shivered now and then
beneath that creeping, penetrating cold which is peculiar to night air,
she did not stir from her place in the balcony till she was startled by
the opening of the door in the room behind her.

All was dark within, but Diana Paget was very familiar with the
footstep that sounded on the carpetless floor. It was Valentine
Hawkehurst, and not her father, whose step her quick ear distinguished.

"Diana," he called; and then he muttered in a tone of surprise, "all
dark still. Ah! she has gone to bed, I suppose. That's a pity!" The
figure in the balcony caught his eye at this moment.

"What in goodness' name has kept you out there all this time?" he
asked; "do you want to catch your death of cold?"

He was standing by the mantelpiece lighting a candle as he asked this
unceremonious question. The light of the candle shone full upon his
face when Diana came into the room, and she could see that he was paler
than usual.

"Is there anything the matter?" she asked anxiously.

"Yes; there is a great deal the matter. You will have to leave
Forêtdechêne by the earliest train to-morrow morning, on the first
stage of your journey to England. Look here, my girl! I can give you
just about the money that will carry you safely to London; and when you
are once there, Providence must do the rest."

"Valentine, what do you mean?"

"I mean, that you cannot get away from this place--you cannot dissever
yourself from the people you have been living with, too soon. Come,
come, don't shiver, child. Take a few drops of this cognac, and let me
see the colour come back to your face before I say any more."

He poured the dregs of a bottle of brandy into a glass, and made her
drink the spirit. He was obliged to force the rim of the glass between
her set teeth before he could succeed in this.

"Come, Diana," he said, after she had drunk, "you have been a pupil in
the school of adversity so long, that you ought to be able to take
misfortunes pretty quietly. There's a balance struck, somehow or other,
depend upon it, my girl; and the prosperous people who pay their debts
have to suffer, as well as the Macaire family. I'm a scamp and a
scoundrel, but I'm your true friend nevertheless, Diana; and you must
promise to take my advice. Tell me that you will trust me."

"I have no one else to trust."

"No one else in this place. But in England you have your old
friend,--the woman with whom you were at school. Do you think she would
refuse to give you a temporary home if you sued to her _in formâ
pauperis?_"

"No, I don't think she would refuse. She was very good to me. But why
am I to go back to London?"

"Because to stay here would be ruin and disgrace to you; because the
tie that links you to Horatio Paget must be cut at any hazard." "But
why?"

"For the best or worst of reasons. Your father has been trying a trick
to-night which has been hitherto so infallible, that I suppose he had
grown careless as to his execution of it. Or perhaps he took a false
measure of the man he was playing with. In any case, he has been found
out, and has been arrested by the police."

"Arrested, for cheating at cards!" exclaimed the girl, with a look of
unspeakable disgust and horror. Valentine's arm was ready to support
her, if she had shown any symptom of fainting; but she did not. She
stood erect before him, very pale but firm as a rock.

"And you want me to go away?" she said.

"Yes, I want you to disappear from this place before you become
notorious as your father's daughter. That would be about the worst
reputation which you could carry through life. Believe me that I wish
you well, Diana, and be ruled by me."

"I will," she answered, with a kind of despairing resignation. "It
seems very dreary to go back to England to face the world all alone.
But I will do as you tell me."

She did not express any sympathy for her father, then languishing under
arrest, whereby she proved herself very wicked and unwomanly, no doubt.
But neither womanly virtues nor Christian graces are wont to flourish
in the school in which Diana Paget had been reared. She obeyed
Valentine Hawkehurst to the letter, without any sentimental
lamentations whatever. Her scanty possessions were collected, and
neatly packed, in little more than an hour. At three o'clock she lay
down in her tawdry little bed-chamber to take what rest she might in
the space of two hours. At six she stood by Valentine Hawkehurst on the
platform of the railway station, with her face hidden by a brown gauze
veil, waiting till the train was wade ready to start.

It was after she was seated in the carriage that she spoke for the
first time of her father.

"Is it likely to go very hard with him?" she asked.

"I hope not. We must try to pull him through it as well as we can. The
charge may break down at the first examination. Good bye."

"Good bye, Valentine."

They had just time to shake hands before the train moved off. Another
moment and Miss Paget and her fellow-passengers were speeding towards
Liége.

Mr. Hawkehurst drew his hat over his eyes as he walked away from the
station.

"The world will seem very dull and empty to me without her," he said to
himself. "I have done an unselfish thing for once in my life. I wonder
whether the recording angel will carry that up to my credit, and
whether the other fellow will blot out any of the old score in
consideration of this one little bit of self-sacrifice."



BOOK THE THIRD.


HEAPING UP RICHES.



CHAPTER I.

A FORTUNATE MARRIAGE.


Eleven years had passed lightly enough over the glossy raven locks of
Mr. Philip Sheldon. There are some men with whom Time deals gently, and
he was one of them. The hard black eyes had lost none of their fierce
brightness; the white teeth flashed with all their old brilliancy; the
complexion, which had always been dusky of hue, was perhaps a shade or
two darker; and the fierce black eyes seemed all the blacker by reason
of the purple tinge beneath them. But the Philip Sheldon of to-day was,
taken altogether, a handsomer man than the Philip Sheldon of eleven
years ago.

Within those eleven years the Bloomsbury dentist had acquired a higher
style of dress and bearing, and a certain improvement of tone and
manner. He was still an eminently respectable man, and a man whose
chief claim to the esteem of his fellows lay in the fact of his
unimpeachable respectability; but his respectability of to-day, as
compared with that of eleven years before, was as the respectability of
Tyburnia when contrasted with that of St. Pancras. He was not an
aristocratic-looking man, or an elegant man; but you felt, as you
contemplated him, that the bulwarks of the citadel of English
respectability are defended by such as he.

Mr. Sheldon no longer experimentalised with lumps of beeswax and
plaster-of-paris. All the appalling paraphernalia of his cruel art had
long since been handed over to an aspiring young dentist, together with
the respectable house in Fitzgeorge-street, the furniture, and--the
connexion. And thus had ended Philip Sheldon's career as a
surgeon-dentist. Within a year of Tom Halliday's death his disconsolate
widow had given her hand to her first sweetheart, not forgetful of her
dead husband or ungrateful for much kindness and affection experienced
at his hands, but yielding rather to Philip's suit because she was
unable to advance any fair show of reason whereby she might reject him.

"I told you, she'd be afraid to refuse you," said George Sheldon, when
the dentist came home from Barlingford, where Tom Halliday's widow was
living with her mother.

Philip had answered his brother's questions rather ambiguously at
first, but in the end had been fain to confess that he had asked Mrs.
Halliday to marry him, and that his suit had prospered.

"That way of putting it is not very complimentary to me," he said,
drawing himself up rather stiffly. "Georgy and I were attached to each
other long ago, and it is scarcely strange if----"

"If you should make a match of it, Tom being gone. Poor old Tom! He and
I were such cronies. I've always had an idea that neither you nor the
other fellow quite understood that low fever of his. You did your best,
no doubt; but I think you ought to have pulled him through somehow.
However, that's not a pleasant subject to talk of just now; so I'll
drop it, and wish you joy, Phil. It'll be rather a good match for you,
I fancy," added George, contemplating his brother with a nervous
twitching of his lips, which suggested that his mouth watered as he
thought of Philip's good fortune.

"It's a very nice thing you drop into, old fellow, isn't it?" he asked
presently, seeing that his brother was rather disinclined to discuss
the subject.

"You know the state of my affairs well enough to be sure that I
couldn't afford to marry a poor woman," answered Philip.

"And that it has been for a long time a vital necessity with you to
marry a rich one," interjected his brother.

"Georgy will have a few hundreds, and----"

"A few thousands, you mean, Phil," cried Sheldon the younger with
agreeable briskness; "shall I tot it up for you?"

He was always eager to "tot" things up, and would scarcely have shrunk
from setting down the stars of heaven in trim double columns of
figures, had it seemed to his profit to do so.

"Let us put it in figures, Phil," he said, getting his finger-tips in
order for the fray. "There's the money for Hyley Farm--twelve thousand
three hundred and fifty, I had it from poor Tom's own lips. Then
there's that little property on Sheepfield Common--say seven-fifty,
eh?--well, say seven hundred, if you like to leave a margin; and then
there are the insurances--three thou' in the Alliance, fifteen hundred
in the Phoenix, five hundred in the Suffolk Friendly; the total of
which, my dear boy, is eighteen thousand five hundred pounds; and a
very nice thing for you to drop into, just as affairs were looking
about as black as they could look." "Yes," answered Mr. Sheldon the
elder, who appeared by on means to relish this "totting-up" of his
future wife's fortune; "I have no doubt I ought to consider myself a
very lucky man."

"So Barlingford folks will say when they hear of the business. And now
I hope you're not going to forget your promise to me."

"What promise?"

"That if you ever did get a stroke of luck, I should have a share of
it--eh, Phil?"

Mr. Sheldon caressed his chin, and looked thoughtfully at the fire.

"If my wife lets me have the handling of any of her money, you may
depend upon it I'll do what I can for you," he said, after a pause.

"Don't say that, Phil," remonstrated George. "When a man says he'll do
what he can for you, it's a sure sign he means to do nothing.
Friendship and brotherly feeling are at an end when it comes to a
question of 'ifs' and 'cans.' If your wife lets you have the handling
of any of her money!" cried the lawyer, with unspeakable derision;
"that's too good a joke for you to indulge in with me. Do you think I
believe you will let that poor little woman keep custody of her money a
day after she is your wife, or that you will let her friends tie it up
for her before she marries you?"

"No, Phil, you didn't lay your plans for that."

"What do you mean by my laying plans?" asked the dentist.

"That's a point we won't discuss, Philip," answered the lawyer coolly.
"You and I understand each other very well without entering into
unpleasant details. You promised me a year ago--before Tom Halliday's
death--that if you ever came into a good thing, I should share in it.
You have come into an uncommonly good thing, and I shall expect you to
keep your promise."

"Who says I am going to break it?" demanded Philip Sheldon with an
injured air. "You shouldn't be in such a hurry to cry out, George. You
take the tone of a social Dick Turpin, and might as well hold a pistol
to my head while you're about it. Don't alarm yourself. I have told you
I will do what I can for you. I cannot, and I shall not, say more."

The two men looked at each other. They were in the habit of taking the
measure of all creation in their own eminently practical way, and each
took the other's measure now. After having done which, they parted with
all cordial expressions of good-will and brotherly feeling. George went
back to his dusty chambers in Gray's Inn, and Philip prepared for his
return to Barlingford and his marriage with Georgina Halliday.

For ten years Georgy had been Philip Sheldon's wife, and she had found
no reason to complain of her second choice. The current of her life had
flowed smoothly enough since her first lover had become her husband.
She still wore moire-antique dresses and gold chains; and if the
dresses were of more simple fashion, and the chains were less
obtrusively displayed, she had to thank Mr. Sheldon for the refinement
in her taste. Her views of life in general had expanded under Mr.
Sheldon's influence. She no longer thought a high-wheeled dog-cart and
a skittish mare the acme of earthly splendour; for she had a carriage
and pair at her service, and a smart little page-boy to leap off the
box in attendance on her when she paid visits or went shopping. Instead
of the big comfortable old-fashioned farmhouse at Hyley, with its
mysterious passages and impenetrable obscurities in the way of
cupboards, she occupied an intensely new detached villa in Bayswater,
in which the eye that might chance to grow weary of sunshine and
glitter would have sought in vain for a dark corner wherein to repose
itself.

Mr. Sheldon's fortunes had prospered since his marriage with his
friend's widow. For a man of his practical mind and energetic
temperament, eighteen thousand pounds was a strong starting-point. His
first step was to clear off all old engagements with Jews and Gentiles,
and to turn his back on the respectable house in Fitzgeorge-street. The
earlier months of his married life he devoted to a pleasant tour on the
Continent; not wasting time in picturesque by-ways, or dawdling among
inaccessible mountains, or mooning about drowsy old cathedrals, where
there were pictures with curtains hanging before them, and prowling
vergers who expected money for drawing aside the curtains; but rattling
at the highest continental speed from one big commercial city to
another, and rubbing off the rust of Bloomsbury in the exchanges and on
the quays of the busiest places in Europe. The time which Mr. Sheldon
forbore to squander in shadowy gothic aisles and under the shelter of
Alpine heights, he accounted well bestowed in crowded cafés, and at the
public tables of noted hotels, where commercial men were wont to
congregate; and as Georgy had no aspirings for the sublimity of Vandyke
and Raphael, or the gigantic splendours of Alpine scenery, she was very
well pleased to see continental life with the eyes of Philip Sheldon.
How could a half-educated little woman, whose worldly experience was
bounded by the suburbs of Barlingford, be otherwise than delighted by
the glare and glitter of foreign cities? Georgy was childishly
enraptured with everything she saw, from the sham diamonds and rubies
of the Palais Royal, to the fantastical bonbons of Berlin.

Her husband was very kind to her--after his own particular fashion,
which was very different from blustering Tom Halliday's weak
indulgence. He allotted and regulated her life to suit his own
convenience, it is true; but he bought her handsome dresses, and took
her with him in hired carriages when he drove about the strange cities.
He was apt to leave Georgy and the hired carriage at the corner of some
street, or before the door of some cafe, for an hour at a time, in the
course of his peregrinations; but she speedily became accustomed to
this, and provided herself with the Tauchnitz edition of a novel,
wherewith to beguile the tedium of these intervals in the day's
amusement. If Tom Halliday had left her for an hour at a street-corner,
or before the door of a café, she would have tortured herself and him
by all manner of jealous suspicions and vague imaginings. But there was
a stern gravity in Mr. Sheldon's character which precluded the
possibility of any such shadowy fancies. Every action of his life
seemed to involve such serious motives, the whole tenor of his
existence was so orderly and business-like, that his wife was fain to
submit to him, as she would have submitted to some ponderous infallible
machine, some monster of modern ingenuity and steam power, which cut
asunder so many bars of iron, or punched holes in so many paving-stones
in a given number of seconds, and was likely to go on dividing iron or
piercing paving-stones for ever and ever.

She obeyed him, and was content to fashion her life according to his
will, chiefly because she had a vague consciousness that to argue with
him, or to seek to influence him, would be to attempt the impossible.
Perhaps there was something more than this in her mind--some
half-consciousness that there was a shapeless and invertebrate skeleton
lurking in the shadowy background of her new life, a dusky and
impalpable creature which it would not be well for her to examine or
understand. She was a cowardly little woman, and finding herself
tolerably happy in the present, she did not care to pierce the veil of
the future, or to cast anxious glances backward to the past. She
thought it just possible that there might be people in the world base
enough to hint that Philip Sheldon had married her for love of her
eighteen thousand pounds, rather than from pure devotion to herself.
She knew that certain prudent friends and kindred in Barlingford had
elevated their hands and eyebrows in speechless horror when they
discovered that she had married her second husband without a
settlement; while one grim and elderly uncle had asked her whether she
did not expect her father to turn in his grave by reason of her folly.

Georgy had shrugged her shoulders peevishly when her Barlingford
friends remonstrated with her, and had declared that people were very
cruel to her, and that it was a hard thing she could not choose for
herself for once in her life. As to the settlements that people talked
of, she protested indignantly that she was not so mean as to fancy her
future husband a thief, and that to tie up her money in all sorts of
ways would be to imply as much. And then, as it was only a year since
poor dear Tom's death, she had been anxious to marry without fuss or
parade. In fact, there were a hundred reasons against legal
interference, and legal tying-up of the money, with all that dreadful
jargon about "whereas," and "hereinafter," and "provided always," and
"nothing herein contained," which seems to hedge round a sum of money
so closely, that it is doubtful whether the actual owner will ever be
free to spend a sixpence of it after the execution of that formidable
document intended to protect it from possible marauders.

George Sheldon had said something very near the truth when he had told
Philip that Mrs. Halliday would be afraid to refuse him. The
fair-haired, fair-faced little woman did in some manner fear the first
lover of her girlhood. She had become his wife, and so far all things
had gone well with her; but if misery and despair had been the
necessary consequences of her union with him, she must have married him
all the same, so dominant was the influence by which he ruled her. Of
course Georgy was not herself aware of her own dependence. She accepted
all things as they were presented to her by a stronger mind than her
own. She wore her handsome silk dresses, and was especially particular
as to the adjustment of her bonnet-strings, knowing that the smallest
impropriety of attire was obnoxious to the well-ordered mind of her
second husband. She obeyed him very much as a child obeys a strict but
not unkind schoolmaster. When he took her to a theatre or a racecourse,
she sat by his side meekly, and felt like a child who has been good and
is reaping the reward of goodness. And this state of things was in
nowise disagreeable to her. She was perhaps quite as happy as it was in
her nature to be; for she had no exalted capacity for happiness or
misery. She felt that it was pleasant to have a handsome man, whose
costume was always irreproachable, for her husband. Her only notion of
a bad husband was a man who stayed out late, and came home under the
influence of strong liquors consumed in unknown localities and amongst
unknown people. So, as Mr. Sheldon rarely went out after dinner, and
was on all occasions the most temperate of men, she naturally
considered her second husband the very model of conjugal perfection.
Thus it was that domestic life had passed smoothly enough for Mr.
Sheldon and his wife during the ten years which had elapsed since their
marriage.

As to the eighteen thousand pounds which she had brought Philip
Sheldon, Georgy asked no questions. She knew that she enjoyed luxuries
and splendours which had never been hers in Tom Halliday's lifetime,
and she was content to accept the goods which her second husband
provided. Mr. Sheldon had become a stockbroker, and occupied an office
in some dusky court within a few hundred yards of the Stock Exchange.
He had, according to his own account, trebled Georgy's thousands since
they had been in his hands. How the unsuccessful surgeon-dentist had
blossomed all at once into a fortunate speculator was a problem too
profound for Georgy's consideration. She knew that her husband had
allied himself to a certain established firm of stockbrokers, and that
the alliance had cost him some thousands of Tom Halliday's money. She
had heard of preliminary steps to be taken to secure his admission as a
member of some mysterious confraternity vaguely spoken of as "the
House;" and she knew that Tom Halliday's thousands had been the seed
from which had sprung other thousands, and that her husband had been
altogether triumphant and successful.

It may be that it is easier to rig the market than to induce a given
number of people to resort to a certain dull street in Bloomsbury for
the purpose of having teeth extracted by an unknown practitioner. It is
possible that the stockbroker is like the poet, a creature who is born,
and not made; a gifted and inspired being, not to be perfected by any
specific education; a child of spontaneous instincts and untutored
faculties. Certain it is that the divine afflatus from the nostrils of
the god Plutus seemed to have descended upon Philip Sheldon; for he had
entered the Stock Exchange an inexperienced stranger, and he held his
place there amongst men whose boyhood had been spent in the offices of
Capel-court, and whose youthful strength had been nourished in the
chop-houses of Pinch-lane and Thread-needle-street.

Mrs. Sheldon was satisfied with the general knowledge that Mr. Sheldon
had been fortunate, and had never sought any more precise knowledge of
her husband's affairs. Nor did she seek such knowledge even now, when
her daughter was approaching womanhood, and might ere long need some
dower out of her mother's fortune. Poor Tom, trusting implicitly in the
wife he loved, and making his will only as a precautionary measure, at
a time when he seemed good for fifty years of life and strength, had
not troubled himself about remote contingencies, and had in no wise
foreseen the probability of a second husband for Georgy and-a
stepfather for his child.

Two children had been born to Mr. Sheldon since his marriage, and both
had died in infancy. The loss of these children had fallen very heavily
on the strong hard man, though he had never shed a tear or uttered a
lamentation, or wasted an hour of his business-like existence by reason
of his sorrow. Georgy had just sufficient penetration to perceive that
her husband was bitterly disappointed when no more baby-strangers came
to replace those poor frail little lives which had withered away and
vanished in spite of his anxiety to hold them.

"It seems as if there was a blight upon _my_ children," he once said
bitterly; and this was the only occasion on which his wife heard him
complain of his evil fortune.

But one day, when he had been particularly lucky in some speculation,
when he had succeeded in achieving what his brother George spoke of as
the "biggest line he had ever done," Philip Sheldon came home to the
Bayswater villa in a particularly bad humour, and for the first time
since her marriage Georgy heard him quote a line of Scripture.

"Heaping up riches," he muttered, as he paced up and down the room;
"heaping up riches, and ye cannot tell who shall gather them."

His wife knew then that he was thinking of his children. During the
brief lives of those two fragile boy-babies the stockbroker had been
wont to talk much of future successes in the way of money-making to be
achieved by him for the enrichment and exaltation of these children.
They were gone now, and no more came to replace them. And though Philip
Sheldon still devoted himself to the sublime art of money-making, and
still took delight in successful time-bargains and all the scientific
combinations of the money-market, the salt of life had lost something
of its savour, and the chink of gold had lost somewhat of its music.



CHAPTER II.

CHARLOTTE.


The little villa at Bayswater was looking its brightest on a
resplendent midsummer afternoon, one year after Diana Paget's hurried
hegira from Forêtdechêne. If the poor dentist's house in dingy
Bloomsbury had been fresh and brilliant of aspect, how much more
brilliant was the western home of the rich stockbroker, whose gate was
within five minutes' walk of that aristocratic Eden, Kensington
Gardens! Mr. Sheldon's small domain was called The Lawn, and consisted
of something over half an acre of flower-garden and shrubbery, a
two-stall stable and coach-house, a conservatory and fernery, and a
moderate-sized house in the gothic or mediaeval style, with mullioned
windows in the dining-room and oriels in the best bedroom, and with a
great deal of unnecessary stone-work and wooden excrescence in every
direction.

The interior of Mr. Sheldon's dwelling bore no trace of that solid
old-fashioned clumsiness which had distinguished his house in
Fitzgeorge-street. Having surrendered his ancestral chairs and tables
in liquidation of his liabilities, Philip Sheldon was free to go with
the times, and had furnished his gothic villa in the most approved
modern style, but without any attempt at artistic grace or adornment.
All was bright, and handsome, and neat, and trim; but the brightness
and the neatness savoured just a little of furnished apartments at the
seaside, and the eye sought in vain for the graceful disorder of an
elegant home. The dining-room was gorgeous with all the splendour of
new mahogany and crimson morocco; the drawing-room was glorified by big
looking-glasses, and the virginal freshness of gilt frames on which the
feet of agile house-fly or clumsy blue-bottle had never rested. The
crimsons, and blues, and greens, and drabs of the Brussels carpets
retained the vivid brightness of the loom. The drops of the chandeliers
twinkled like little stars in the sunshine; the brass birdcages were
undimmed by any shadow of dulness. To Georgy's mind the gothic villa
was the very perfection of a dwelling-place. The Barlingford
housekeepers were wont to render their homes intolerable by extreme
neatness. Georgy still believed in the infallibility of her native
town, and the primness of Barlingford reigned supreme in the gothic
villa. There were no books scattered on the polished walnut-wood tables
in the drawing-room, no cabinets crammed with scraps of old china, no
pictures, no queer old Indian feather-screens, no marvels of Chinese
carving in discoloured ivory; none of those traces which the footsteps
of the "collector" leave behind him. Mr. Sheldon had no leisure for
collecting; and Georgy preferred the gaudy pink-and-blue vases of a
Regent-street china-shop to all the dingy _chefs-d'oeuvre_ of a
Wedgwood, or the quaint shepherds and shepherdesses of Chelsea. As for
books, were there not four or five resplendent volumes primly disposed
on one of the tables; an illustrated edition of Cowper's lively and
thrilling poems; a volume of Rambles in Scotland, with copper-plate
engravings of "Melrose by night," and Glasgow Cathedral, and Ben Nevis,
and other scenic and architectural glories of North Britain; a couple
of volumes of _Punch_, and an illustrated "Vicar of Wakefield;" and
what more could elevated taste demand in the way of literature? Nobody
ever read the books; but Mrs. Sheldon's visitors were sometimes glad to
take refuge in the Scottish scenery and the pictorial Vicar during that
interval of dulness and indigestion which succeeds a middle-class
dinner. Georgy read a great many books; but they were all novels,
procured from the Bayswater branch of a fashionable circulating
library, and were condemned unread by Mr. Sheldon, who considered all
works of fiction perfectly equal in demerit, and stigmatised them, in a
general way, as "senseless trash." He had tried to read novels in the
dreary days of his Bloomsbury probation; but he had found that the
heroes of them were impracticable beings, who were always talking of
honour and chivalry, and always sacrificing their own interests in an
utterly preposterous manner; and he had thrown aside story after story
in disgust.

"Give me a book that is something like life, and I'll read it," he
exclaimed impatiently; "but I can't swallow the high-flown prosings of
impossibly virtuous inanities."

One day, indeed, he had been struck by the power of a book, a book
written by a certain Frenchman called Balzac. He had been riveted by
the hideous cynicism, the supreme power of penetration into the vilest
corners of wicked hearts; and he flung the book from him at last with
an expression of unmitigated admiration.

"That man knows his fellows," he cried, "and is not hypocrite enough to
conceal his knowledge, or to trick out his puppets in the tinsel and
rags of false sentiment in order that critics and public may cry, 'See,
what noble instincts, what generous impulses, what unbounded sympathy
for his fellow-creatures this man has!' This Frenchman is an artist,
and is not afraid to face the difficulties of his art. What a scoundrel
this Philippe Bridau is! And after wallowing in the gutter, he lives to
bespatter his virtuous brother with the mire from his carriage wheels.
That is _real_ life. Your English novelist would have made his villain
hang himself with the string of his waistcoat in a condemned cell,
while his amiable hero was declared heir to a dukedom and forty
thousand a year. But this fellow Balzac knows better than that."

The days had passed when Mr. Sheldon had leisure to read Balzac. He
read nothing but the newspapers now, and in the newspapers he read very
little more than the money articles and such political news as seemed
likely to affect the money-market. There is no such soul-absorbing
pursuit as the race which men run whose goal is the glittering Temple
of Plutus. The golden apples which tempted Atalanta to slacken her pace
are always rolling _before_ the modern runner, and the greed of gain
lends the wings of Hermes to his feet. Mr. Sheldon had sighed for
pleasures sometimes in the days of his Bloomsbury martyrdom. He had sat
by his open window on sultry summer evenings, smoking his solitary
cigar, and thinking moodily of all the pleasant resting-places from
which other men were looking out at that golden western sky, deepening
into crimson and melting into purples which even the London smoke could
not obscure. He had sat alone, thinking of jovial parties lounging in
the bow-windows of Greenwich taverns, with cool green hock-glasses and
pale amber wine, and a litter of fruit and flowers on the table before
them, while the broad river flowed past them with all the glory of the
sunset on the rippling water, and one black brig standing sharply out
against the yellow sky. He had thought of Richmond, and the dashing
young men who drive there every summer in drags, with steel chain and
bar clanking and glittering in front of the team, and two solemn grooms
with folded arms seated stiff and statue-like behind. He had thought of
Epsom, and the great Derby mob; and all of those golden goblets of
pleasure which prosperous manhood drains to the very dregs. He had
fancied the enjoyments which would be his if ever he were rich enough
to pay for them. And now he was able to afford all such pleasures he
cared nothing for them; for the ecstasy of making money seemed better
than any masculine dissipation or delight. He did sometimes dine at
Greenwich. He knew the _menus_ of the different taverns by heart, and
had discovered that they were all alike vanity and indigestion; but he
never seated himself at one of those glistening little tables, or
deliberated with an obsequious waiter over the mysteries of the wine
_carte_, without a settled purpose to be served by the eating of the
dinner, and a definite good to be achieved by the wine he ordered. He
gave many such entertainments at home and abroad; but they were all
given to men who were likely to be useful to him--to rich men, or the
toadies and hangers-on of rich men, the grand viziers of the sultans of
the money-market. Such a thing as pleasure or hospitality pure and
simple had no place in the plan of Mr. Sheldon's life. The race in
which he was running was not to be won by a loiterer. The golden apples
were always rolling on before the runner; and woe be to him who turned
away from the course to dally with the flowers or loiter by the cool
streams that beautified the wayside.

Thus it was that Mr. Sheldon's existence grew day by day more
completely absorbed by business pursuits and business interests. Poor
Georgy complained peevishly of her husband's neglect; but she did not
dare to pour her lamentations into the ear of the offender. It was a
kind of relief to grumble about his busy life to servants and humble
female friends and confidantes; but what could she say to Philip
Sheldon himself? What ground had she for complaint? He very seldom
stayed out late; he never came home tipsy. He was quite as cool and
clear-headed and business-like, and as well able to "tot up" any given
figures upon the back of an envelope after one of those diplomatic
little Greenwich dinners as he was the first thing after breakfast. It
had been an easy thing to tyrannise over poor Tom Halliday; but this
man was a grave inscrutable creature, a domestic enigma which Georgy
was always giving up in despair. But so completely did Mr. Sheldon rule
his wife, that when he informed her inferentially that she was a very
happy woman, she accepted his view of the subject, and was content to
believe herself blest.

In spite of those occasional grumblings to servants and female friends,
Mrs. Sheldon did think herself happy. Those occasional complaints were
the minor notes in the harmony of her life, and only served to make the
harmony complete. She read her novels, and fed a colony of little
feeble twittering birds that occupied a big wire cage in the
breakfast-parlour. She executed a good deal of fancy-work with beads
and Berlin-wool; she dusted and arranged the splendours of the
drawing-room with her own hands; and she took occasional walks in
Kensington Gardens.

This was the ordinary course of her existence, now and then interrupted
by such thrilling events as a dinner given to some important
acquaintance of Mr. Sheldon's, or a visit to the school at which
Charlotte Halliday was completing her education.

That young lady had been removed from the Scarborough boarding-school
to a highly respectable establishment at Brompton, within a few months
of her mother's marriage with Mr. Sheldon. She had been a rosy-cheeked
young damsel in pinafores at the time of that event, too young to
express any strong feeling upon the subject of her mother's second
choice; but not too young to feel the loss of her father very deeply.
Tom Halliday had been fondly attached to that bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked
damsel of nine years' growth, and the girl had fully reciprocated his
affection. How often they had talked together of the future, which was
to be so delightful for them both; the new farm, which was to be such a
paradise in comparison to Hyley; the pony that Charlotte was to ride
when she should be old enough to wear a habit like a lady, and to go
about with her father to market-towns and corn-exchanges! The little
girl had remembered all this, and had most bitterly lamented the loss
of that dear and loving father.

She remembered it all to this day; she regretted her loss to this day,
though she was nearly of age, and on the point of leaving school for
ever, after having prolonged her school-days considerably beyond the
usual period, at the express wish of her stepfather. To say that she
disliked Mr. Sheldon is only to admit that she was subject to the
natural prejudices of humanity. He had usurped the place of a beloved
father, and he was in every way the opposite of that father. He had
come between Charlotte Halliday and her mother, and had so absorbed the
weak little woman into himself, as to leave Charlotte quite alone in
the world. And yet he did his duty as few stepfathers do it. Charlotte
admitted that he was very kind to her, that he was an excellent
husband, and altogether the most conscientious and respectable of
mankind; but she admitted with equal candour that she had never been
able to like him. "I daresay it is very wicked of me not to be fond of
him, when he is so good and generous to me," she said to her chosen
friend and companion; "but I never can feel quite at home with him. I
try to think of him as a father sometimes, but I never can get over the
'step.' Do you know I have dreamed of him sometimes? and though he is
so kind to me in reality, I always fancy him cruel to me in my dreams.
I suppose it is on account of his black eyes and black whiskers," added
Miss Halliday, in a meditative tone. "It is certainly a misfortune for
a person to have blacker eyes and whiskers than the rest of the world;
for there seems something stern and hard, and almost murderous, in such
excessive blackness."

Charlotte Halliday was a very different creature from the mother whom
Mr. Sheldon had absorbed into himself. Georgy was one of the women who
have "no characters at all," but Georgy's daughter was open to the
charge of eccentricity rather than of inanity. She was a creature of
fancies and impulses She had written wild verses in the secrecy of her
own chamber at midnight, and had torn her poetic effusions into a
thousand fragments the morning after their composition. She played and
sang very sweetly, and danced admirably, and did everything in a wild
way of her own, which was infinitely more charming than the commonplace
perfection of other women. She was not a beauty according to those
established rules which everybody believes in until they meet a woman
who sins against them all and yet is beautiful. Miss Halliday had thick
black eyebrows, and large gray eyes which people were apt to mistake
for black. She had a composite nose, and one of the sweetest mouths
that ever smiled upon enraptured mankind. Nature had given her just a
little more chin than a Greek sculptor would have allowed her; but, by
way of make-weight, the same careless Nature had bestowed upon her a
throat which Phidias himself might have sought in vain to improve upon.
And Nature had planted this young lady's head upon her shoulders with a
grace so rare that it must needs be a happy accident in the workmanship
of that immortal artist. Indeed it seemed as if Charlotte Halliday owed
her charms to a series of happy accidents. The black eyebrows which
made her face so piquant might have been destruction to another woman.
The round column-like throat needed a fine frank face to surmount it,
and the fine frank face was rendered gracious and womanly by the wealth
of waving dark hair which framed it. The girl was one of those bright
happy creatures whom men worship and women love, and whom envy can
scarcely dislike. She was so infinitely superior to both father and
mother, that a believer in hereditary attributes was fain to invent
some mythical great-grandmother from whom the girl's graces might have
been derived. But she had something of her father's easy good-nature
and imprudent generosity; and was altogether one of those impulsive
creatures whose lives are perpetual difficulties and dilemmas. More
lectures had been delivered for her edification than for any other
young lady in the Brompton boarding-school, and yet she had been the
favourite and delight of everybody in the establishment, from the
mistress of the mansion down to the iniquitous boy who cleaned the
boots, and who was hounded and hunted, and abused and execrated, from
dewy morn to dusky eve.

"I allus puts plenty of elbow-grease on your boots, Miss 'Allundale,
though cook does heave saucepan-lids at my 'ed and call me a lazy
wiper," this incorrigible imp protested to Charlotte one morning, when
she had surprised him in tears and had consoled his woes by a donation
of pence.

"All things love thee, so do I," says the lover to his mistress; and it
is almost impossible not to adore a young lady who is universally
beloved, for the simple reason that this general affection is very
rarely accorded to any but a loving nature. There is an instinct in
these things. From all the ruck of Cheapside a vagrant dog will select
the man who has most toleration for the canine species, and is most
likely to give him shelter. A little child coming suddenly into a
circle of strangers knows in which lap it may find a haven, on which
bosom it may discover safety and comfort. If mistress and
schoolfellows, servants and shoeblack, dogs and cats, were fond of
Charlotte Halliday, their affection had been engendered by her own
sweet smiles and loving words, and helping hands always ready to give
substantial succour or to aid by active service.

She had been at the Brompton gynaeceum nearly eleven years--only
leaving it for her holidays--and now her education was finished, and
Mr. Sheldon could find no excuse for leaving her at school any longer,
so her departure had been finally agreed upon.

To most damsels of twenty-one this would have been a subject for
rejoicing; but it was not so with Charlotte. She did not like her
stepfather; and her mother, though very affectionate and gentle, was a
person whose society was apt to become wearisome any time after the
first half-hour of social intercourse. At Hyde Lodge Charlotte had a
great deal more of Lingard and condensed and expurgated Gibbon than was
quite agreeable; she had to get up at a preternatural hour in the
morning and to devote herself to "studies of velocity," whose monotony
became wearing as the drip, drip, drip of water on the skull of the
tortured criminal. She was very tired of all the Hyde-Lodge lessons and
accomplishments, the irregular French verbs--the "braires" and
"traires" which were so difficult to remember, and which nobody ever
could want to use in polite conversation; the ruined castles and
dilapidated windmills, the perpetual stumpy pieces of fallen timber and
jagged posts, executed with a BBB pencil; the chalky expanse of sky,
with that inevitable flight of crows scudding across it:--why must
there be always crows scudding across a drawing-master's sky, and why
so many jagged posts in a drawing-master's ideal of rural beauty?
Charlotte was inexpressibly weary of all the stereotyped studies; but
she liked Hyde Lodge better than the gothic villa. She liked the
friendly schoolfellows with their loud talk and boisterous manners, the
girls who called her "Halliday," and who were always borrowing her
reels of crochet-cotton and her pencils, her collars and
pocket-handkerchiefs. She liked the free-and-easy schoolgirl talk
better than her mother's tame discourse; she preferred the homely
litter of the spacious schoolroom to the prim splendours of Georgy's
state chambers; and the cool lawn and shrubberies of Hyde Lodge were a
hundred-fold more pleasant to her than the stiff little parterre at
Bayswater, wherein scarlet geraniums and calceolarias flourished with
an excruciating luxuriance of growth and an aggravating brilliancy of
colour. She liked any place better than the hearth by which Philip
Sheldon brooded with a dark thoughtful face, and a mind absorbed by the
mysteries and complications of the Stock Exchange.

On this bright June afternoon other girls were chattering gaily about
the fun of the breaking-up ball and the coming delights of the
holidays, but Charlotte sighed when they reminded her that the end of
her last half was close at hand.

She sat under a group of trees on the lawn, with a crochet antimacassar
lying in her lap, and with her friend and favourite, Diana Paget,
sitting by her side.

Hyde Lodge was that very establishment over which Priscilla Paget had
reigned supreme for the last seventeen years of her life, and among all
the pupils in a school of some forty or fifty girls, Diana was the one
whom Charlotte Halliday had chosen for her dearest companion and
confidante, clinging to her with a constancy not to be shaken by
ill-fortune or absence. The girl knew very well that Diana Paget was a
poor relation and dependant; that her bills had never been paid; that
all those incalculable and mysterious "extras," which are the martyrdom
of parents and the delight of schoolmistresses, were a dead letter so
far as Diana was concerned. She knew that "poor Di" had been taken home
suddenly one day, not in compliance with any behest of her father's,
but for the simple reason that her kinswoman's patience had been worn
out by the Captain's dishonesty. It is doubtful whether Priscilla Paget
had ever communicated these facts in any set phrase, but in a
boarding-school such things make themselves known, and the girls had
discussed the delinquencies of that dreadful creature, Captain Paget,
very freely in the security of their dormitories.

Charlotte knew that her dearest friend was not a person whom it was
advantageous to know. She had seen Diana depart ignominiously, and
return mysteriously after an absence of some years, very shabby, very
poor, very sombre and melancholy, and with no inclination to talk of
those years of absence. Miss Halliday had known all this, and had asked
no questions. She took the returned wanderer to her heart, and
cherished her with an affection which was far beyond the average
measure of sisterly love.

"I thought I should never see you again, dear," she cried when she and
Diana had retired to a corner of the schoolroom to talk confidentially
on the morning of Miss Paget's return; "and I missed you so cruelly.
Other girls are very nice and very kind to me. There is a new girl,
Miss Spencer--that girl with flaxen hair, standing by the big
Canterbury--whom I get on with delightfully; but there is no one in the
world like you, Di. And where have you been all this time? With your
papa, I suppose."

"Yes," answered Miss Paget gloomily; "I have been with my father. Don't
ask me anything about the last three years, Lotta. I have been utterly
wretched and miserable, and I can't bear to talk about my misery."

"And you shan't talk of it, darling," cried Charlotte, pursing up her
mouth for a kiss in a manner which might have been distraction to a
masculine mind of average susceptibility. "You shan't talk of anything
or think of anything the least, least, least bit unpleasant; and you
shall have my gold pencil-case," added Miss Halliday, wrenching that
trinket suddenly from the ribbon by which it hung at her side. Perhaps
there was just the least touch of Georgy's childishness in this
impulsive habit of giving away all her small possessions, for which
Lotta was distinguished. "Yes, you must, dear," she went on. "Mamma
gave it me last half; but I don't want it; I don't like it; in point of
fact, I have had it so long that I positively loathe it. And I know
it's a poor trumpery thing, though mamma gave two guineas for it; but
you know she is always imposed upon in shops. Do, do, do take it,
darling, just to oblige me. And now, tell me, dear,--you're going to
stop here for ever and ever, now you've come back" asked Charlotte,
after having thrust the gold pencil-case into Diana's unwilling hand.

"I don't know about for ever and ever, dear," Miss Paget replied
presently; "but I daresay I shall stay here till I'm tired of the place
and everybody about it. You won't be here very long, you know, Lotta;
for you'll be twenty next birthday, and I suppose you'll be leaving
school before you're twenty-one. Most of the girls leave at eighteen or
nineteen at latest; and you've been here so long, and are so much
farther advanced than others are. I am not going to be a pupil
again--that's out of the question; for I'm just twenty-two, as you
know. But Priscilla has been good enough to let me stay as a kind of
second teacher for the little ones. It will be dull work going through
the stupid abridgments of history and geography, and the scrappy bits
of botany and conchology, with those incorrigible little ones; but of
course I am very grateful to my cousin for giving me a home under any
conditions, after papa's dishonourable conduct. If it were not for her,
Lotta, I should have no home. What a happy girl you are, to have a
respectable man for your father!"

Charlotte's brow darkened a little as her friend said this.

"He is not my own father, you know," she said gravely, "and I should be
a great deal happier if mamma and I were alone in the world. We could
live in some dear little cottage on wide open downs near the sea, and I
could have a linsey habit, and a pony, and ride about all day, and read
and play to mamma at night. Of course Mr. Sheldon is very respectable,
and I daresay it's very wicked of me; but O, Diana, I think I should
like him better if he were not _quite_ so respectable. I saw your papa
once when he came to call, and I thought him nicer than my stepfather.
But then I'm such a frivolous creature, Di, and am always thinking what
I ought not to think."

       *       *       *       *       *

Nearly a year had passed since Diana's return, and the girl's life had
been very monotonous during that time. She had stuck bravely to the
abridgments and the juvenile scraps of --ologies, and had been
altogether a model of propriety, sewing on such a number of strings and
buttons during the period as can only be compassed by the maternal
mind. Her existence had been by no means as joyless or desolate as such
an existence is generally represented by the writer of fiction. There
was plenty of life and bustle in the big prosperous boarding-school, if
there was not much variety. There were small scandals and small
intrigues; departures and arrivals; wonderful hampers of cake and wine
to be divided among the elect of a fashionable dormitory--for there is
as wide a difference between the tone and status of the bedrooms in a
ladies'-school as between the squares of Berkeley and Bedford. There
were breaking-up parties, and the free-and-easy idleness of the
holidays, when a few dark-complexioned girls from the colonies, a
yellow-haired damsel from the remote north of Scotland, and Miss Diana
Paget, were wont to cluster round the fire in the smaller of the
schoolrooms to tell ghost-stories or talk scandal in the gloaming.

It was a life which, taken with all its small hardships and petty
annoyances, should have been as the life of Paradise compared to that
which Diana had led with her father and Mr. Hawkehurst. Whether the
girl fully appreciated the change from the Bohemianism of her late
existence to the respectability of Hyde Lodge was a question which no
one had asked of her. She had fits of despondency now and then, even in
the midst of her duties, and was apt to fall into a sombre reverie over
one of the abridgments, whereby she was neglectful of her pupils'
aspirates, and allowed Henry the Second to be made the poorer by the
loss of an H, or Heliogabalus to be described by a name which that
individual himself would have failed to recognise.

There were times when, in the midst of that shrill Babel, the
schoolroom, Diana Paget heard the summer winds sighing in the
pine-woods above Forêtdechêne, and fancied herself standing once more
in that classic temple on whose plastered wall Valentine had once cut
her initials with his penknife in a fantastical monogram, surmounted by
a death's-head and encircled by a serpent. She thought of that familiar
companion very often, in spite of her juvenile pupils and the sewing-on
of tapes and buttons. He had seemed to her a perpetual enigma and
mystery when she was with him; and now that she was far away from him,
he was more than ever an inscrutable creature. Was he altogether vile,
she wondered, or was there some redeeming virtue in his nature? He had
taken trouble to secure her escape from shame and disgrace, and in
doing this he surely had performed a good action; but was it not just
possible that he had taken this opportunity of getting rid of her
because her presence was alike wearisome and inconvenient? She thought
very bitterly of her fellow Bohemian when this view of his conduct
presented itself to her; how heartlessly he had shuffled her off,--how
cruelly he had sent her out into the hard pitiless world, to find a
shelter as best she might!

"What would have become of me if Priscilla had refused to take me in?"
she asked herself. "I wonder whether Mr. Hawkehurst ever considered
that."

       *       *       *       *       *

More than one letter had come to Diana from her old companion since her
flight from the little Belgian watering-place. The first letter told
her that her father had "tided over _that_ business, and was in better
feather than before the burst-up at the Hôtel d'Orange." The letter was
dated from Paris, but gave no information as to the present
arrangements or future plans of the writer and his companion. Another
letter, dated from the same place, but not from the same address, came
to her six months afterwards, and anon another; and it was such a
wonderful thing for Captain Paget to inhabit the same city for twelve
months together, that Diana began to cherish faint hopes of some
amendment in the scheme of her father's life and of Valentine's, since
any improvement in her father's position would involve an improvement
in that of his _protégé_.

Miss Paget's regard for her father was by no means an absorbing
affection. The Captain had never cared to conceal his indifference for
his only child, or pretended to think her anything but a nuisance and
an encumbrance--a superfluous piece of luggage more difficult to
dispose of than any other luggage, and altogether a stumbling-block in
the stony path of a man who has to live by his wits. So perhaps it is
scarcely strange that Diana did not think of her absent father with any
passionate tenderness or sad yearning love. She thought of him very
often; but her thoughts of him were painful and bitter. She thought
still more often of his companion; and her thoughts of him were even
more bitter.

The experiences of Diana Paget are not the experiences which make a
pure or perfect woman. There are trials which chasten the heart and
elevate the mind; but it is doubtful whether it can be for the welfare
of any helpless, childish creature to be familiar with falsehood and
chicanery, with debt and dishonour, from the earliest awakening of the
intellect; to feel, from the age of six or seven, all the shame of a
creature who is always eating food that will not be paid for, and lying
on a bed out of which she may be turned at any moment with shrill
reproaches and upbraidings; to hear her father abused and vilified by
vulgar gossips over a tea-table, and to be reminded every day and every
hour that she is an unprofitable encumbrance, a consumer of the bread
of other people's children, an intruder in the household of poverty, a
child whose heritage is shame and dishonour. These things had hardened
the heart of Captain Paget's daughter. There had been no counteracting
influence--no fond, foolish loving creature near at hand to save the
girl from that perdition into which the child or woman who has never
known what it is to be loved is apt to fall. For thirteen years of
Diana's life all love and tenderness, endearing words, caressing
touches, fond admiring looks, had been utterly unknown to her. To sit
in a room with a father who was busy writing letters, and who was wont
to knit his brows peevishly if she stirred, or to mutter an oath if she
spoke; to be sent to a pawnbroker's in the gloaming with her father's
watch, and to be scolded and sworn at on her return if the money-lender
had advanced a less sum than was expected on that security--do not
compose the most delightful or improving experiences of a home life.
But Diana could remember little of a more pleasant character respecting
her existence during those brief periods when she was flung back upon
her father's hands, and while that gentleman was casting about for some
new victim on whom to plant her.

At Hyde Lodge, for the first time, the girl knew what it was to be
loved. Bright, impulsive Charlotte Halliday took a fancy to her, as the
schoolgirl phrase goes, and clung to her with a fond confiding
affection. It may be that the softening influence came too late, or
that there was some touch of natural hardness and bitterness in Diana's
mind; for it is certain that Charlotte's affection did not soften the
girl's heart or lessen her bitter consciousness of the wide difference
between her own fortunes and those of the happier daughters whose
fathers paid their debts. The very contrast between Charlotte's
position and her own may have counteracted the good influence. It was
very easy for Charlotte to be generous and amiable. _She_ had never
been hounded from pillar to post by shrewish matrons who had no words
too bitter for their unprofitable charge. _She_ had never known what it
was to rise up in the morning uncertain where she should lie down at
night, or whether there would be any shelter at all for her hapless
head; for who could tell that her father would be found at the lodging
where he had last been heard of, and how should she obtain even
workhouse hospitality, whose original parish was unknown to herself or
her protector? To Charlotte these shameful experiences would have been
as incomprehensible as the most abstruse theories of a metaphysician.
Was it any wonder, then, if Charlotte was bright and womanly, and fond
and tender--Charlotte, who had never been humiliated by the shabbiness
of her clothes, and to whom the daily promenade had never been a shame
and a degradation by reason of obvious decay in the heels of her boots?

"If your father would dress you decently, and supply you with proper
boots, I could almost bring myself to keep you for nothing," Priscilla
had said to her reprobate kinsman's daughter; "but the more one does
for that man the less he will do himself; so the long and the short of
it is, that you will have to go back to him, for I cannot consent to
have such an expensive establishment as mine degraded by the shabbiness
of a relation."

Diana had been obliged to listen to such speeches as this very often
during her first residence at Hyde Lodge, and then, perhaps, within a
few minutes after Priscilla's lecture was concluded, Charlotte Halliday
would bound into the room, looking as fresh and bright as the morning,
and dressed in silk that rustled with newness and richness. Keenly as
Diana felt the difference between her friend's fortune and her own, she
did nevertheless in some manner return Charlotte's affection. Her
character was not to be altered all at once by this new atmosphere of
love and tenderness; but she loved her generous friend and companion
after her own fitful fashion, and defended her with passionate
indignation if any other girl dared to hint the faintest disparagement
of her graces or her virtues. She envied and loved her at the same
time. She would accept Charlotte's affection one day with unconcealed
pleasure, and revolt against it on the next day as a species of
patronage which stung her proud heart to the Quick.

"Keep your pity for people who ask you for it," she had exclaimed once
to poor bewildered Charlotte; "I am tired of being consoled and petted.
Go and talk to your prosperous friends, Miss Halliday; I am sick to
death of hearing about your new frocks, and your holidays, and the
presents your mamma is always bringing you."

And then when Charlotte looked at her friend with a sad perplexed face,
Diana relented, and declared that she was a wicked discontented
creature, unworthy of either pity or affection.

"I have had so much misery in my life, that I am very often inclined to
quarrel with happy people without rhyme or reason, or only because they
are happy," she said in explanation of her impatient temper.

"But who knows what happiness may be waiting for you in the future,
Di?" exclaimed Miss Halliday. "You will marry some rich man by-and-by,
and forget that you ever knew what poverty was."

"I wonder where the rich man is to come from who will marry Captain
Paget's daughter?" Diana asked contemptuously. "Never mind where he
comes from; he will come, depend upon it. The handsome young prince
with the palace by the Lake of Como will come to fall in love with my
beautiful Diana, and then she will go and live at Como; and desert her
faithful Charlotte, and live happy ever afterwards."

"Don't talk nonsense, Lotta," cried Miss Paget. "You know what kind of
fate lies before me as well as I do. I looked at myself this morning,
as I was plaiting my hair before the glass--you know how seldom one
gets a turn at the glass in the blue room--and I saw a dark, ugly,
evil-minded-looking creature, whose face frightened me. I have been
getting wicked and ugly ever since I was a child. An aquiline nose and
black eyes will not make a woman a beauty; she wants happiness, and
hope, and love, and all manner of things that I have never known,
before she can be pretty." "I have seen a beautiful woman sweeping a
crossing," said Charlotte doubtfully.

"Yes, but what sort of beauty was it?--a beauty that made you shudder.
Don't talk about these things, Charlotte; you only encourage me to be
bitter and discontented. I daresay I ought to be very happy, when I
remember that I have dinner every day, and shoes and stockings, and a
bed to lie down upon at night; and I am happier, now that I work for my
living, than I was in the old time, when my cousin was always grumbling
about her unpaid bills. But my life is very dreary and empty; and when
I look forward to the future, it seems like looking out upon some level
plain that leads nowhere, but across which I must tramp on for ever and
ever, until I drop down and die."

It was something in this fashion that Miss Paget talked, as she sat in
the garden with Charlotte Halliday at the close of the half-year. She
was going to lose her faithful friend--the girl who, so much richer,
and happier, and more amiable than herself, had yet clung to her so
fondly; she was going to lose this tender companion, and she was more
sorry for the loss than she cared to express.

"You must come and see us very often," Charlotte said for the hundredth
time; "mamma will be so glad to have you, for my sake; and my
stepfather never interferes with our arrangements. O, Di, how I wish
you would come and live with us altogether! Would you come, if I could
manage to arrange it?"

"How could I come? What Quixotic nonsense you talk, Lotta!"

"Not at all, dear; you could come as a sort of companion for me, or a
sort of companion for mamma. What does it matter how you come, if I can
only have you? My life will be so dreary in that dreadful new-looking
house, unless I have a companion I love. Will you come, Di?--only tell
me you will come! I am sure Mr. Sheldon would not refuse, if I asked
him to let you live with us. Will you come, dear?--yes or no. You would
be glad to come, if you loved me."

"And I do love you, Lotta, with all my heart," answered Miss Paget,
with unusual fervour; "but then the whole of my heart is not much. As
to coming to live with you, of course it would be a hundred thousand
times pleasanter than the life I lead here; but it is not to be
supposed that Mr. Sheldon will consent to have a stranger in his house
just because his impulsive stepdaughter chooses to take a fancy to a
schoolfellow who isn't worthy of half her affection."

"Let me be the judge of that. As to my stepfather, I am almost sure of
his consent. You don't know how indulgent he is to me; which shows what
a wicked creature I must be not to like him. You shall come to us,
Diana, and be my sister; and we will play and sing our pet duets
together, and be as happy as two birds in a cage, or a good deal
happier--for I never could quite understand the ecstatic delight of
perpetual hempseed and an occasional peck at a dirty lump of sugar."

After this there came all the bustle of packing and preparation for
departure, and a kind of saturnalia prevailed at Hyde Lodge--a
saturnalia which terminated with the breaking-up ball: and who among
the crowd of fair young dancers so bright as Charlotte Halliday,
dressed in the schoolgirl's festal robes of cloud-like muslin, and with
her white throat set off by a black ribbon and a gold locket?

Diana sat in a corner of the schoolroom towards the close of the
evening, very weary of her share in the festival, and watched her
friend, half in sadness, half in envy.

"Perhaps if I were like her, _he_ would love me," she thought.



CHAPTER III.

GEORGE SHELDON'S PROSPECTS.


For George Sheldon the passing years had brought very little
improvement of fortune. He occupied his old dingy chambers in Gray's
Inn, which had grown more dingy under the hand of Time; and he was wont
to sit in his second-floor window on sultry summer Sundays, smoking his
solitary cigar, and listening to the cawing of the rooks in the gardens
beneath him, mingled with the voices of rebellious children, and shrill
mothers threatening to "do for them," or to "flay them alive," in
Somebody's Rents below. The lawyer used to be quite meditative on those
Sunday afternoons, and would wonder what sort of a fellow Lord Bacon
was, and how he contrived to get into a mess about taking bribes, when
so many other fellows had done it quietly enough before the Lord of
Verulam's day, and even yet more quietly since--agreeably instigated
thereto by the casuistry of Escobar.

Mr. Sheldon's prospects were by no means promising. From afar off he
beheld his brother's star shining steadily in the commercial firmament;
but, except for an occasional dinner, he was very little the better for
the stockbroker's existence. He had reminded his brother very often,
and very persistently, of that vague promise which the dentist had made
in the hour of his adversity--the promise to help his brother if ever
he did "drop into a good thing." But as it is difficult to prevent a
man who is disposed to shuffle from shuffling out of the closest
agreement that was ever made between Jones of the one part, and Smith
of the other part, duly signed, and witnessed, and stamped with the
sixpenny seal of infallibility, so is it still more difficult to obtain
the performance of loosely-worded promises, uttered in the confidential
intercourse of kinsmen.

In the first year of his married life Philip Sheldon gave his brother a
hundred pounds for the carrying out of some grand scheme which the
lawyer was then engaged in, and which, if successful, would secure for
him a much larger fortune than Georgy's thousands. Unhappily the grand
scheme was a failure; and the hundred pounds being gone, George applied
again to his brother, reminding him once more of that promise made in
Bloomsbury. But on this occasion Mr. Sheldon plainly told his kinsman
that he could do no more for him.

"You must fight your own battle, George," he said, "as I have fought
mine."

"Thank you, Philip," said the younger brother; "I would rather fight it
any other way."

And then the two men looked at each other, as they were in the habit of
doing sometimes, with a singularly intent gaze.

"You're very close-fisted with Tom Halliday's money," George said
presently. "If I'd asked poor old Tom himself, I'm sure he wouldn't
have refused to lend me two or three hundred."

"Then it's a pity you didn't ask him," Mr. Sheldon answered, with
supreme coolness.

"I should have done so fast enough, if I had thought he was going to
die so suddenly. It was a bad day for me, and for him too, when he came
to Fitzgeorge-street."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Mr. Sheldon sharply.

"You can pretty well guess my meaning, I should think," George answered
in a sulky tone.

"No, I can't; and what's more, I don't mean to try. I'll tell you what
it is, Master George; you've been treating me to a good many hints and
innuendoes lately; and you must know very little of me if you don't
know that I'm the last kind of man to stand that sort of thing from
you, or from any one else. You have tried to take the tone of a man who
has some kind of hold upon another. You had better understand at once
that such a tone won't answer with me. If you had any hold upon me, or
any power over me, you'd be quick enough to use it; and you ought to be
aware that I know that, and can see to the bottom of such a shallow
little game as yours."

Mr. Sheldon the younger looked at his brother with an expression of
surprise that was not entirely unmingled with admiration.

"Well, you _are_ a cool hand, Phil!" he said.

Here the conversation ended. The two brothers were very good friends
after this, and George presented himself at the gothic villa whenever
he received an invitation to dine there. The dinners were good, and the
men who ate them were men of solidity and standing in the commercial
world; and George was very glad to eat good dinners, and to meet
eligible men; but he never again asked his brother for the loan of odd
hundreds.

He grubbed on, as best he might, in the dingy Gray's-Inn chambers. Be
had a little business--business which lay chiefly amongst men who
wanted to borrow money, or whose halting footsteps required guidance
through the quagmire of the Bankruptcy Court. He just contrived to keep
his head above water, and his name in the Law-list, by means of such
business; but the great scheme of his life remained as yet unripened,
an undeveloped shadow to which he had in vain attempted to give a
substance.

The leading idea of George Sheldon's life was the idea that there were
great fortunes in the world waiting for claimants; and that a share of
some such fortune was to be obtained by any man who had the talent to
dig it out of the obscurity in which it was hidden. He was a student of
old county histories, and a searcher of old newspapers; and his studies
in that line had made him familiar with many strange stories--stories
of field-labourers called away from the plough to be told they were the
rightful owners of forty thousand a year; stories of old white-haired
men starving to death in miserable garrets about Bethnal-green or
Spitalfields, who could have claimed lands and riches immeasurable, had
they known how to claim them; stories of half-crazy old women, who had
wandered about the world with reticules of discoloured papers
clamorously asserting their rights and wrongs unheeded and unbelieved,
until they encountered sharp-witted lawyers who took up their claims,
and carried them triumphantly into the ownership of illimitable wealth.

George Sheldon had read of these things until it had seemed to him that
there must be some such chance for any man who would have patience to
watch and wait for it. He had taken up several cases, and had fitted
link after link together with extreme labour, and had hunted in parish
registers until the cold mouldy atmosphere of vestries was as familiar
to him as the air of Gray's Inn. But the cases had all broken down at
more or less advanced stages; and after infinite patience and trouble,
a good deal of money spent upon travelling and small fees to all manner
of small people, and an incalculable number of hours wasted in
listening to the rambling discourse of parish-clerks and oldest
inhabitants, Mr. Sheldon had been compelled to abandon his hopes time
after time, until a man with less firmly rooted ideas would have given
up the hunting of registers and grubbing up of genealogies as a
delusion and a snare.

George Sheldon's ideas were very firmly rooted, and he stuck to them
with that dogged persistency which so often achieves great ends, that
it seems a kind of genius. He saw his brother's success, and
contemplated the grandeurs of the gothic villa in a cynical rather than
an envious spirit. How long would it all last? How long would the
stockbroker float triumphantly onward upon that wonderful tide which is
constituted by the rise and fall of the money-market?

"That sort of thing is all very well while a man keeps his head cool
and clear," thought George; "but somehow or other men always seem to
lose their heads on the Stock Exchange before they have done with it,
and I daresay my wise brother will drop into a nice mess sooner or
later. Setting aside all other considerations, I think I would rather
have my chances than his; for I speculate very little more than my time
and trouble, and I stand in to win a bigger sum than he will ever get
in his line, let stocks rise and fall as they may."

During that summer in which Miss Halliday bade farewell to Hyde Lodge
and her school-days, George Sheldon was occupied with the early steps
in a search which he hoped would end in the discovery of a prize rich
enough to reward him for all his wasted time and labour.

Very early in the previous year there had appeared the following brief
notice in the _Observer_:--

"The Rev. John Haygarth, late vicar of Tilford Haven, Kent, died
lately, without a will, or relation to claim his property, 100,000
pounds. The Crown therefore claimed it. And last court-day the
Prerogative Court of Canterbury decreed letters of Administration to
Mr. Paul, the nominee of the Crown."

Some months after this an advertisement had been inserted in the
_Times_ newspaper to the following effect:--

"NEXT OF KIN.--If the relatives or next of kin of the Rev. John
Haygarth, late vicar of Tilford Haven, in the county of Kent, clerk,
deceased, who has left property of the value of one hundred thousand
pounds, will apply, either personally or by letter, to Stephen Paul,
Esq., solicitor for the affairs of Her Majesty's Treasury, at the
Treasury Chambers, Whitehall, London, they may hear of something to
their advantage. The late Rev. John Haygarth is supposed to have been
the son of Matthew Haygarth, late of the parish of St. Judith,
Ullerton, and Rebecca his wife, formerly Rebecca Caulfield, spinster,
late of the same parish; both long since deceased."

Upon the strength of this advertisement George Sheldon began his
search. His theory was that there always existed an heir-at-law
somewhere, if people would only have the patience to hunt him or her
out; and he attributed his past failures rather to a want of endurance
on his own part than to the breaking down of his pet theory.

On this occasion he began his work with more than usual determination.

"This is the biggest chance I've ever had," he said to himself, "and I
should be something worse than a fool if I let it slip through my
fingers."

The work was very dry and dreary, involving interminable hunting of
registers, and questioning of oldest inhabitants. And the oldest
inhabitants were so stupid, and the records of the registers so
bewildering. One after another Mr. Sheldon set himself to examine the
lines of the intestate's kindred and ancestors; his father's only
sister, his grandfather's brothers and sisters, and even to the
brothers and sisters of his great-grandfather. At that point the
Haygarth family melted away into the impenetrable darkness of the past.
They were no high and haughty race of soldiers and scholars, churchmen
and lawyers, or the tracing of them would have been a much easier
matter. Burke would have told of them. There would have been old
country houses filled with portraits, and garrulous old housekeepers
learned in the traditions of the past. There would have been mouldering
tombs and tarnished brasses in quiet country churches, with descriptive
epitaphs, and many escutcheons. There would have been crumbling
parchments recording the prowess of Sir Reginald, knight, or the
learning of Sir Rupert, counsellor and judge. The Haygarths were a race
of provincial tradesmen, and had left no better record of their
jog-trot journey through this world than the registry of births,
marriages, and deaths in obscure churches, or an occasional entry in
the fly-leaf of a family Bible.

At present Mr. Sheldon was only at the beginning of his work. The
father and grandfather and uncle and great-uncles, the
great-grandfather and great-great-uncles, with all their progenies, lay
before him in a maze of entanglement which it would be his business to
unravel. And as he was obliged to keep his limited legal connection
together while he devoted himself to this task, the work promised to
extend over months, or indeed years; and in the meanwhile there was
always the fear that some one else, as quick-witted and indefatigable
as himself, would take up the same tangled skein and succeed in the
unravelment of it. Looking this fact full in the face, Mr. Sheldon
decided that he must have an able and reliable coadjutor; but to find
such a coadjutor, to find a man who would help him, on the chance of
success, and not claim too large a share of the prize if success came,
was more than the speculative attorney could hope. In the meantime his
work progressed very slowly; and he was tormented by perpetual terror
of that other sharp practitioner who might be following up the same
clue, and whose agents might watch him in and out of parish churches,
and listen at street-corners when he was hunting an oldest inhabitant.



CHAPTER IV.

DIANA FINDS A NEW HOME.


The holidays at Hyde Lodge brought at least repose for Diana Paget. The
little ones had gone home, with the exception of two or three young
colonists, and even they had perpetual liberty from lessons; so Diana
had nothing to do but sit in the shady garden, reading or thinking, in
the drowsy summer afternoons. Priscilla Paget had departed with the
chief of the teachers for a seaside holiday; other governesses had gone
to their homes; and but for the presence of an elderly Frenchwoman, who
slept through one half of the day, and wrote letters to her kindred
during the other half, Diana would have been the only responsible
person in the deserted habitation.

She did not complain of her loneliness, or envy the delights of those
who had departed. She was very glad to be quite alone, free to think
her own thoughts, free to brood over those unforgotten years in which
she had wandered over the face of the earth with her father and
Valentine Hawkehurst. The few elder girls remaining at the Lodge
thought Miss Paget unsociable because she preferred a lonely corner in
the gardens and some battered old book of namby-pamby stories to the
delights of their society, and criticised her very severely as they
walked listlessly to and fro upon the lawn with big garden-hats, and
arms entwined about each other's waists.

Alas for Diana, the battered book was only an excuse for solitude, and
for a morbid indulgence in her own sad thoughts! She had lived the life
of unblemished respectability for a year, and looking back now at the
Bohemian wanderings, she regretted those days of humiliation and
misery, and sighed for the rare delights of that disreputable past!
Yes, she had revolted against the degraded existence; and now she was
sorry for having lost its uncertain pleasures, its fitful glimpses of
sunshine. Was that true which Valentine had said, that no man can eat
beef and mutton every day of his life; that it is better to be
unutterly miserable one day and uproariously happy the next, than to
tread one level path of dull content? Miss Paget began to think that
there had been some reason in her old comrade's philosophy; for she
found the level path very dreary. She let her thoughts wander whither
they would in this quiet holiday idleness, and they went back to the
years which she had spent with her father. She thought of winter
evenings in London when Valentine had taken her the round of the
theatres, and they had sat together in stifling upper boxes,--she
pleased, he critical, and with so much to say to each other in the
pauses of the performance. How kind he had been to her; how good, how
brotherly! And then the pleasant walk home, through crowded noisy
thoroughfares, and anon by long lines of quiet streets, in which they
used to look up at the lighted windows of houses where parties were
being given, and sometimes stop to listen to the music and watch the
figures of the dancers flitting across the blinds. She thought of the
journeys she had travelled with her father and Valentine by land and
sea; the lonely moonlight watches on the decks of steamers; the long
chill nights in railway-carriages under the feeble glimmer of an
oil-lamp, and how she and Valentine had beguiled the tedious hours with
wild purposeless talk while Captain Paget slept. She remembered the
strange cities which she and her father's _protégé_ had looked at side
by side; he with a calm listlessness of manner, which might either be
real or assumed, but which never varied; she with an inward tremor of
excitement and surprise. They had been very happy together, this lonely
unprotected girl and the reckless adventurer. If his manner to her had
been fitful, it had been sometimes dangerously, fatally kind. She
looked back now, and remembered the days which she had spent with him,
and knew that all the pleasures possible in a prosperous and successful
life could never bring for her such delight as she had known in the
midst of her wanderings; though shame and danger lurked at every
corner, and poverty, disguised in that tawdry masquerade habit in which
the swindler dresses it, accompanied her wherever she went.

She had been happy with him because she had loved him. That close
companionship, sisterly and brotherly though it had seemed, had been
fatal for the lonely and friendless daughter of Horatio Paget. In her
desolation she had clung to the one creature who was kind to her, who
did not advertise his disdain for herself and her sex, or openly avow
that she was a nuisance and an encumbrance. Every slight put upon her
by her father had strengthened the chain that bound her to Valentine
Hawkehurst; and as the friendship between them grew closer day by day,
until all her thoughts and fancies took their colour from his, it
seemed a matter of course that he should love her, and she never
doubted his feelings or questioned her own. There had been much in his
conduct to justify her belief that she was beloved; so this
inexperienced, untutored girl may surely be forgiven if she rested her
faith in that fancied affection, and looked forward to some shadowy
future in which she and Valentine would be man and wife, all in all to
each other, free from the trammels of Captain Paget's elaborate
schemes, and living honestly, somehow or other, by means of literature,
or music, or pen-and-ink caricatures, or some of those liberal arts
which have always been dear to the children of Bohemia. They would have
lodgings in some street near the Thames, and go to a theatre or a
concert every evening, and spend long summer days in suburban parks or
on suburban commons, he lying on the grass smoking, she talking to him
or reading to him, as his fancy might dictate. Before her twentieth
birthday, the proudest woman is apt to regard the man she loves as a
grand and superior creature; and there had been a certain amount of
reverential awe mingled with Diana's regard for Mr. Hawkehurst,
scapegrace and adventurer though he was.

Little by little that bright girlish dream had faded away. Fancy's
enchanted palace had been shattered into a heap of shapeless ruin by
those accidental scraps of hard worldly wisdom with which Valentine had
pelted the fairy fabric. He a man to love, or to marry for love! Why,
he talked like some hardened world-weary sinner who had done with every
human emotion. The girl shuddered as she heard him. She had loved him,
and believed in his love. She had fancied a tender meaning in the voice
which softened when it spoke to her, a pensive earnestness in the dark
eyes which looked at her; but just when the voice had seemed softest
and sweetest, the pensive eyes most eloquently earnest, the
adventurer's manner had changed all at once, and for ever. He had grown
hard, and cold, and indifferent. He had scarcely tried to conceal the
fact that the girl's companionship bored and wearied him. He had yawned
in her face, and had abandoned himself to moody abstraction when
accident obliged him to be alone with her. Miss Paget's pride had been
equal to the occasion. Mary Anne Kepp would have dissolved into tears
at the first unkind word from the lips of her beloved; but Mary Anne
Kepp's daughter, with the blood of the Cromie Pagets in her veins, was
quite a different person. She returned Mr. Hawkehurst's indifference
with corresponding disregard. If his manner was cold as a bleak autumn,
hers was icy as a severe winter; only now and then, when she was very
tired of her joyless existence, her untutored womanhood asserted
itself, and she betrayed the real state of her feelings--betrayed
herself as she had done on her last night at Forêtdechêne, when she and
Valentine had looked down at the lighted windows shining dimly through
the purple of the summer night. She looked back at the past now in the
quiet of the school-garden, and tried to remember how miserable she had
been, what agonies of despair she had suffered, how brief had been her
delights, how bitter her disappointments. She tried to remember what
tortures she had suffered from that wasted passion, that useless
devotion. She tried to rejoice in the consciousness of the peace and
respectability of her present life; but she could not. That passionate
yearning for the past possessed her so strongly. She could remember
nothing except that she had been with him. She had seen his face, she
had heard his voice; and now how long and weary the time might be
before she could again see that one beloved face or hear the dear
familiar voice! The brightest hope she had in these midsummer holidays
was the hope of a letter from him; and even that might be the prelude
of disappointment. She wrestled with herself, and tried to exorcise
those ghosts of memory which haunted her by day and wove themselves
into her dreams by night; but they were not to be laid at rest. She
hated her folly; but her folly was stronger than herself.

For three weeks Diana Paget had no companions but her sorrowful
memories--her haunting shadows; but at the end of that time the
stagnant mill-pond of her life was suddenly ruffled--the dull course of
existence was disturbed by the arrival of two letters. She found them
lying by her plate upon the breakfast-table one bright July morning;
and while she was yet far away from the table she could see that one of
the envelopes bore a foreign stamp, and was directed by the hand of
Valentine Hawkehurst. She seated herself at the table in a delicious
flutter of emotion, and tore open that foreign envelope, while the
French governess poured out the tea, and while the little group of
schoolgirls nudged one another and watched her eager face with insolent
curiosity.

The first letter contained only a few lines.

"MY DEAR DIANA," wrote the young man, "your father has decided on
returning to London, where I believe he really intends to make a
respectable start, if he can only get the opening and the help he
wants. I know you will be glad to hear this. I don't exactly say where
we shall take up our quarters; but the Captain will of course come to
see you; and if I can chasten my outward semblance sufficiently to
venture within the sacred precincts of a lady's school, I shall come
with him. Direct to the old address, if you write before the end of the
month, and believe me, as always, your friend."    "VALENTINE."

The second letter was in Charlotte Halliday's big bold hand, and was
frank, impetuous, and loving as the girl herself.

"MY OWN DEAREST DI,--It is all arranged," wrote Miss Halliday, dashing
at once into the heart of the subject. "I talked mamma over the very
first day after my return, and then there was nothing more to be done
than to talk over Mr. Sheldon. Of course there was just a little
difficulty in that, for he is so awfully practical; and he wanted to
know why I wanted a companion, and what _use_ you would be in the
house; as if the very last thing one required in a companion was
companionship. I'm almost afraid to tell you the iniquitous fables I
invented about your extreme usefulness; your genius for millinery, and
the mints of money you would save by making up mamma's flimsy little
caps; your taste for dress-making, &c. &c. &c. You _are_ the cleverest
creature in the world, you know, Di; for you must remember how you
altered, that green silk dress for me when Miss Person had made me a
square-shouldered fright. So, after a great deal of humming, and haing,
and argufication--_is_ there such a word as 'argufication,' I
wonder?--my stepfather said that if my heart was set upon having you,
and if I thought you would be useful, you might come to us; but that he
could not afford to give you any salary, and that if you wanted a new
dress now and then, I must buy it for you out of my own allowance; and
I will, darling, if you will only come and be my friend and sister. My
life is dreadfully dull without you. I walk up and down the stiff
little gravel paths, and stare at the geraniums and calceolarias.
Mariana might have been dreary in her moated grange; but I daresay the
Lincolnshire flowers grew wild and free, and she was spared the
abomination of gaudy little patches of red and yellow, and waving
ribbons of blue and white, which constitute the glory of modern
gardening. Do come to me, dear. I have no one to talk to, and nothing
to do. Mamma is a dear good affectionate soul; but she and I don't
understand each other. I don't care for her twittering little birds,
and she doesn't care for my whims and fancies. I have read novels until
I am tired. I am not allowed to go out by myself, and mamma can
scarcely walk to Kensington-gardens without sinking under the exertion.
We drive out sometimes; but I am sick to death of crawling slowly up
and down by the Serpentine staring at people's bonnets. I might enjoy
it, perhaps, if I had you with me to make fun out of some of the
bonnets. The house is very comfortable; but it always seems to me
unpleasantly like some philanthropic institution in miniature. I long
to scratch the walls, or break the windows; and I begin to understand
the feelings of those unhappy paupers who tear up their clothes: they
get utterly tired of their stagnation, you see, and must do something
wicked and rebellious rather than do nothing at all. You will take pity
upon my forlorn state, won't you, Di? I shall come to Hyde Lodge
to-morrow afternoon with mamma, to hear your ulti--what's its
name?--and in the meanwhile, and for ever afterwards, believe me to be
your devoted and unchanging      LOTTA."

Diana Paget's eyes grew dim as she read this letter.

"I love her very dearly," she thought, "but not one hundred-fold as
much as I ought to love her."

And then she went back to Mr. Hawkehurst's epistle, and read and
re-read its half-dozen lines, wondering when he would come to London,
and whether she would see him when he came. To see him again! The
thought of that possibility seemed like a spot of vivid light, which
dazzled her eyes and made them blind to anything around or beyond it.
As for this offer of a strange home in the household of Mr. Sheldon, it
seemed to her a matter of so very little importance where she went or
what became of her, that she was quite willing to let other people
decide her existence. Anything would be better than the monotony of
Hyde Lodge. If Valentine Hawkehurst came to see her at Mr. Sheldon's
house, he would be permitted to see her alone, most likely, and it
would be something like the old times; whereas at the Lodge Priscilla
Paget or one of the governesses would undoubtedly be present at any
interview between Diana and her old friend, and the real Valentine
would be hidden under the semblance of a respectable young man, with
very little to say for himself. Perhaps this one thought exercised
considerable influence over Miss Paget's decision. She wanted so much
to see Valentine alone, to know whether he had changed, to see his face
at the first moment of meeting, and to discover, if possible, the
solution of that enigma which was the grand mystery of her life--that
one perpetual question which was always repeating itself in her
brain--whether he was altogether cold and indifferent, or if there was
not some hidden warmth, some secret tenderness beneath that repelling
outward seeming.

In the afternoon Miss Halliday called with Mrs. Sheldon, and there was
a long discussion about Diana Paget's future life. Georgy abandoned
herself as unhesitatingly to the influence of her daughter as she did
to that of her husband, and had been brought to think that it would be
the most delightful thing in the world to have Miss Paget for a useful
companion.

"And will you really make my caps, dear?" she said, when she had grown
at her ease with Diana. "Miss Terly in the Bayswater-road charges me so
much for the simplest little lace head-dress; and though Mr. Sheldon is
very good about those sort of things, I know he sometimes thinks my
bills rather high."

Diana was very indifferent about her future, and the heart must have
been very hard which could have resisted Charlotte's tender pleading;
so it was ultimately decided that Miss Paget should write to her
kinswoman to describe the offer that had been made to her of a new
home, and to inquire if her services could be conveniently dispensed
with at Hyde Lodge. After which decision Charlotte embraced her friend
with enthusiasm, and departed, bearing off Mrs. Sheldon to the carriage
which awaited them at the gates of Priscilla Paget's umbrageous domain.

Diana sighed as she went back to the empty schoolroom. Even Charlotte's
affection could not altogether take the sting out of dependence. To go
into a strange house amongst strange people, and to hold a place in it
only on the condition of being perpetually useful and unfailingly
good-tempered and agreeable, is scarcely the pleasantest prospect which
this world can offer to a proud and beautiful woman. Diana remembered
her bright vision of Bohemianism in a lodging near the Strand. It would
be very delightful to ride on sufferance in Mrs. Sheldon's carriage, no
doubt; but O, how much pleasanter it would have been to sit by
Valentine Hawkehurst in a hansom cab spinning along the road to
Greenwich or Richmond!

She had promised to despatch her letter to Priscilla by that
afternoon's post, and she kept her promise. The reply came by return of
post, and was very kind. Priscilla advised her by all means to accept
Miss Halliday's offer, which would give her a much better position than
that which she occupied at Hyde Lodge. She would have time to improve
herself, no doubt, Priscilla said, and might be able to hope for
something still better in the course of two or three years; "for you
must look the world straight in the face, Diana," wrote the
schoolmistress, "as I did before I was your age; and make up your mind
to rely upon your own exertions, since you know what your father is,
and how little you have to hope for from him. As you are to have no
salary with the Sheldons, and will no doubt be expected to make a good
appearance, I shall do what I can to help you with your wardrobe."

This letter decided the fate of Captain Paget's daughter. A week after
Miss Halliday's visit to Hyde Lodge a hack cab carried Diana and all
her earthly possessions to the Lawn, where Charlotte received her with
open arms, and where she was inducted into a neatly furnished
bedchamber adjoining that of her friend. Mr. Sheldon scrutinised her
keenly from under the shadow of his thick black brows when he came home
to dinner. He treated her with a stiff kind of politeness during the
orderly progress of the meal; and once, when he looked at her, he was
surprised to find that she was contemplating him with an expression of
mingled wonder and reverence.

He was the first eminently respectable man whom Miss Paget had ever
encountered in familiar intercourse, and she was regarding him
attentively, as an individual with scientific tastes might regard some
natural curiosity.



CHAPTER V.

AT THE LAWN.


Life at the Lawn went by very smoothly for Mr. Sheldon's family. Georgy
was very happy in the society of a companion who seemed really to have
a natural taste for the manufacture of pretty little head-dresses from
the merest fragments of material in the way of lace and ribbon. Diana
had all that versatile cleverness and capacity for expedients which is
likely to be acquired in a wandering and troubled life. She had learned
more in her three years of discomfort with her father than in all the
undeviating course of the Hyde-Lodge studies; she had improved her
French at one _table d'hôte_, her German at another; she had caught
some new trick of style in every concert-room, some fresh combination
of costume on every racecourse; and, being really grateful for
Charlotte's disinterested affection, she brought all her
accomplishments to bear to please her friend and her friend's household.

In this she succeeded admirably. Mrs. Sheldon found her daughter's
society much more delightful now that the whole pressure of Charlotte's
intellect and vitality no longer fell entirely upon herself. She liked
to sit lazily in her arm-chair while the two girls chattered at their
work, and she could venture an occasional remark, and fancy that she
had a full share in the conversation. When the summer weather rendered
walking a martyrdom and driving an affliction, she could recline on her
favourite sofa reading a novel, soothed by the feeble twittering of her
birds; while Charlotte and Diana went out together, protected by the
smart boy in buttons, who was not altogether without human failings,
and was apt to linger behind his fair charges, reading the boards
before the doors of newsvendors' shops, or looking at the cartoons in
_Punch_ exhibited in the stationers' windows.

Mr. Sheldon made a point of pleasing his stepdaughter whenever it was
possible for him to do so without palpable inconvenience to himself;
and as she was to be gratified by so small a pecuniary sacrifice as the
trifling increase of tradesmen's bills caused by Miss Paget's residence
in the gothic villa, he was the last man in the world to refuse her
that indulgence. His own pursuits were of so absorbing a nature as to
leave little leisure for concern about other people's business. He
asked no questions about his stepdaughter's companion; but he was not
the less surprised to see this beautiful high-bred woman content to sit
at his board as an unsalaried dependent.

"Your friend Miss Paget looks like a countess," he said one day to
Charlotte. "I thought girls generally pitched upon some plain homely
young woman for their pet companion, but you seem to have chosen the
handsomest girl in the school."

"Yes, she is very handsome, is she not? I wish some of your rich City
men would marry her, papa."

Miss Halliday consented to call her mother's husband "papa," though the
caressing name seemed in a manner to stick in her throat. She had loved
that blustrous good-tempered Tom Halliday so very dearly, and it was
only to please poor Georgy that she brought herself to address any
other man by the name that had been his.

"My City men have something better to do than to marry a young woman
without a sixpence," answered Mr. Sheldon. "Why don't you try to catch
one of them for yourself?"

"I don't like City men," said Charlotte quickly; and then she blushed,
and added apologetically, "at least not the generality of City men,
papa."

Diana had waited until her destiny was settled before answering
Valentine Hawkehurst's letter; but she wrote to him directly she was
established at the Lawn, and told him the change in her plans.

"I think papa had better let me come to see him at his lodgings," she
said, "wherever they may be; for I should scarcely care about Mr.
Sheldon seeing him. No one here knows anything definite about my
history; and as it is just possible Mr. Sheldon may have encountered my
father somehow or other, it would be as well for him to keep clear of
this house. I could not venture to say this to papa myself, but perhaps
you could suggest it without offending him. You see I have grown very
worldly-wise, and am learning to protect my own interests in the spirit
which you have so instilled into me. I don't know whether that sort of
spirit is likely to secure one's happiness, but I have no doubt it is
the wisest and best for this world."

Miss Paget could not refrain from an occasional sneer when she wrote to
her old companion. He never returned her sneers, or noticed them. His
letters were always frank, friendly, and brotherly in tone.

"Neither my good opinion nor my bad opinion is of any consequence to
him," Diana thought bitterly. It was late in August when Captain Paget
and his _protégé_ came to town. Valentine suggested the wisdom of
leaving Diana in her new home uncompromised by any past associations.
But this was a suggestion which Horatio Paget could not accept. His
brightest successes in the way of scheming had been matured out of
chance acquaintanceships with eligible men. A man who could afford such
a luxury as a companion for his daughter must needs be eligible, and
the Captain was not inclined to sacrifice his acquaintance from any
extreme delicacy.

"My daughter seems to have made new friends for herself, and I should
like to see what kind of people they are," he said conclusively. "We'll
look them up this evening, Val."

Mr. George Sheldon dined at the Lawn on the day on which Horatio Paget
determined on "looking up" his daughter's new friends, and he and the
two girls were strolling in the garden when the Captain and Mr.
Hawkehurst were announced. They had been told that Miss Paget was in
the garden.

"Be good enough to take me straight to her," said the Captain to the
boy in buttons; "I am her father."

Horatio Paget was too old a tactician not to know that by an
unceremonious plunge into the family circle he was more likely to
secure an easy footing in the household than by any direct approach of
the master. He had seen the little group in the garden, and had
mistaken George for the head of the house.

Diana turned from pale to red, and from red to pale again, as she
recognised the two men. There had been no announcement of their coming.
She did not even know that they were in England.

"Papa!" she cried, and then held out her hand and greeted him; coldly
enough, as it seemed to Charlotte, who fancied that any kind of _real_
father must be very dear.

But Captain Paget was not to be satisfied by that cold greeting. It
suited his purpose to be especially paternal on this occasion. He drew
his daughter to his breast, and embraced her affectionately, very much
to that young lady's surprise.

Then, having abandoned himself entirely for the moment to this tender
impulse of paternity, he suddenly put his daughter aside, as if he had
all at once remembered his duty to society, drew himself up stiffly,
and saluted Miss Halliday and George Sheldon with uncovered head.

"Mr. Sheldon, I believe?" he murmured.

"George Sheldon," answered that gentleman; "my brother Philip is in the
drawing-room yonder, looking at us."

Philip Sheldon came out into the garden as George said this, It was one
of those sultry evenings on which the most delightful of gothic villas
is apt to be too stifling for endurance; and in most of the prim
suburban gardens there were people lounging listlessly among the
flower-beds. Mr. Sheldon came to look at this patrician stranger who
had just embraced his daughter's companion; whereupon Captain Paget
introduced himself and his friend Mr. Hawkehurst. After the
introduction Mr. Sheldon and the Captain fell into an easy
conversation, while the two girls walked slowly along the gravel
pathway with Valentine by their side, and while George loitered
drearily along, chewing the stalk of a geranium, and pondering the
obscure reminiscences of the last oldest inhabitant whose shadowy
memories he had evoked in his search after new links in the chain of
the Haygarths.

The two girls walked in the familiar schoolgirl fashion of Hyde Lodge,
Charlotte's arm encircling the waist of her friend. They were both
dressed in white muslin, and looked very shadowy and sylph-like in the
summer dusk. Mr. Hawkehurst found himself in a new atmosphere in this
suburban garden, with these two white-robed damsels by his side; for it
seemed to him that Diana with Charlotte's arm round her waist, and a
certain shy gentleness of manner which was new to him, was quite a
different person from that Miss Paget whose wan face had looked at him
so anxiously in the saloons of the Belgian Kursaal.

At first there was considerable restraint in the tone of the
conversation, and some little of that unnecessary discussion as to
whether this evening was warmer than the preceding evening, or whether
it was not, indeed, the warmest evening of all that summer. And then,
when the ice was broken, Mr. Hawkehurst began to talk at his ease about
Paris, which city Miss Halliday had never seen; about the last book,
the last play, the last folly, the last fashionable bonnet; for it was
one of the special attributes of this young Robert Macaire to be able
to talk about anything, and to adapt himself to any society. Charlotte
opened her eyes to their widest extent as she listened to this animated
stranger. She had been so wearied by the dry as dust arguments of City
men who had discussed the schemes of great contractors, "which will
never be carried out, sir, while money is at its present rate, mark my
words,"--or the chances of a company "which is eaten up by
debenture-bonds and preference-shares, sir, and will never pay its
original proprietors one sixpence of interest on their capital," with a
great deal more of the same character; and it was quite new to her to
hear about novels, theatres, and bonnets from masculine lips, and to
find that there were men living who could interest themselves in such
frivolities. Charlotte was delighted with Diana's friend. It was she
who encouraged Valentine every now and then by some exclamation of
surprise or expression of interest, while Miss Paget herself was
thoughtful and silent.

It was not thus that she had hoped to meet Valentine Hawkehurst. She
stole a look at him now and then as he walked by her side. Yes, it was
the old face--the face which would have been so handsome if there had
been warmth and life in it, instead of that cold listlessness which
repelled all sympathy, and seemed to constitute a kind of mask behind
which the real man hid himself.

Diana looked at him, and remembered her parting from him in the chill
gray morning on the platform at Forêtdechêne. He had let her go out
alone into the dreary world to encounter what fate she might, without
any more appearance of anxiety than he might have exhibited had she
been starting for a summer-day's holiday; and now, after a year of
separation, he met her with the same air of unconcern, and could
discourse conventional small talk to another woman while she walked by
his side.

While Mr. Hawkehurst was talking to Mr. Sheldon's stepdaughter, Captain
Paget had contrived to make himself very agreeable to that gentleman
himself. Lord Lytton has said that "there is something strange and
almost mesmerical in the _rapport_ between two evil natures. Bring two
honest men together, and it is ten to one if they recognise each other
as honest; differences in temper, manner, even politics, may make each
misjudge the other. But bring together two men unprincipled and
perverted--men who, if born in a cellar, would have been food for the
hulks or gallows--and they understand each other by instant sympathy."
However this might be with these two men, they had speedily become upon
very easy terms with each other. Mr. Sheldon's plans for the making of
money were very complicated in their nature, and he had frequent need
of clever instruments to assist in the carrying out of his
arrangements. Horatio Paget was the exact type of man most likely to be
useful to such a speculator as Philip Sheldon. He was the very ideal of
the "Promoter," the well-dressed, well-mannered gentleman, beneath
whose magic wand new companies arise as if by magic; the man who,
without a sixpence in his own pocket, can set a small Pactolus flowing
from the pockets of other people; the man who, content himself to live
in a humble second floor at Chelsea, can point to gigantic hotels which
are as the palaces of a new Brobdignag, and say, "Lo, these arose at my
bidding!" Mr. Sheldon was always on the alert to discover anything or
anybody likely to serve his own interest, either in the present or the
future; and he came to the conclusion that Miss Paget's father was a
person upon whom an occasional dinner might not be altogether thrown
away.

"Take a chop with us to-morrow at six," he said, on parting from the
Captain, "and then you can hear the two girls play and sing. They play
remarkably well, I believe, from what other people tell me; but I am
not a musical man myself."

Horatio Paget accepted the invitation as cordially as it was given. It
is astonishing how genial and friendly these men of the world can be at
the slightest imaginable notice. One can fancy the striped tigers of
Bengal shaking paws in the jungle, the vultures hob-nobbing in a
mountain cleft over the torn carcass of a stag, the kites putting their
beaks together after dining on a nest of innocent doves.

"Then we shall expect to see you at sharp six," said Mr. Sheldon, "and
your friend Mr. Hawkehurst with you, of course."

After this the two gentlemen departed. Valentine shook hands with
Diana, and took a more ceremonious leave of Charlotte. George Sheldon
threw away his chewed geranium-stalk in order to bid good evening to
the visitors; and the little party walked to the garden-gate together.

"That Sheldon seems a very clever fellow," said Captain Paget, as he
and Valentine walked towards the Park, which they had to cross on their
way to Chelsea, where the Captain had secured a convenient lodging. "I
wonder whether he is any relation to the Sheldon who is in with a low
set of money-lenders?"

"What, the Sheldon of Gray's Inn?" exclaimed Mr. Hawkehurst. "We can
easily find that out."

       *       *       *       *       *

Horatio Paget and Valentine Hawkehurst were frequent visitors at the
Lawn after that first evening. Mr. Sheldon found the Captain useful to
him in the carrying out of certain business arrangements on more than
one occasion, and the relations between the respectable stockbroker and
the disreputable adventurer assumed a very friendly character. Diana
wondered to see so spotless a citizen as Philip Sheldon hand-and-glove
with her father. Mrs. Sheldon and Charlotte were delighted with the
Captain and his _protégé_; these two penniless Bohemians were so much
more agreeable to the feminine mind than the City men who were wont to
sit in the dining-room slowly imbibing Mr. Sheldon's old port in the
long summer evenings, while their wives endured the abomination of
desolation with Georgy and Charlotte in the drawing-room. Captain Paget
paid Mrs. Sheldon flowery compliments, and told her delightful stories
of the aristocracy and all that shining West-end world with which he
had once been familiar. Poor simple Georgy regarded him with that
reverential awe which a middle-class country-bred woman is prone to
feel for a man who bears upon him that ineffaceable stamp of high birth
and good breeding, not to be destroyed by half a century of
degradation. Nor could Charlotte withhold her admiration from the man
whose tone was so infinitely superior to that of all the other men she
had encountered. In his darkest hour Captain Paget had found his best
friends, or his easiest dupes, among women. It had gone hard with him
when his dear friend had withheld the temporary accommodation of a
five-pound note; but it had been much harder when his friend's wife had
refused the loan of "a little silver."

Valentine Hawkehurst came very often to the Lawn, sometimes with his
friend and patron, sometimes alone. He brought the young ladies small
offerings in the way of a popular French novel adapted for feminine
perusal, or an occasional box for some theatre which had fallen upon
evil days, and was liberal in the circulation of "paper." He met the
two girls sometimes in their morning walks in Kensington-gardens, and
walked with them in the leafy avenues, and only left them at the gate
by which they departed. So much of his life was a listless waiting for
the arising of new chances, that he had ample time to waste in feminine
society, and he seemed very well inclined to loiter away the leisure
hours of existence in the companionship of Diana and her friend.

And was Miss Paget glad of his coming, and pleased to be in his
company? Alas, no! The time had been, and only within a few months,
when she had sickened for the sight of his familiar face, and fancied
that the most exquisite happiness life could afford her would be to see
him once more, anywhere, under any circumstances. She saw him now
almost daily, and she was miserable. She saw him; but another woman had
come between her and the man she loved: and now, if his voice took a
softer tone, or if his eyes assumed a tender earnestness of expression,
it might be Charlotte's influence which wrought the transformation. Who
could say that it was not on Charlotte's account he came so often, and
lingered so long? Diana looked at him sometimes with haggard angry
eyes, which saw that it was Miss Halliday who absorbed his attention.
It was Charlotte--Charlotte, who was so bright and happy a creature
that the coldest heart must needs have been moved and melted by her
fascination. What was the cold patrician beauty of Miss Paget's face
when compared with the changeful charm of this radiant girl, with the
flashing gray eyes and piquant features, and all those artless caprices
of manner which made her arch loveliness irresistible? Diana's heart
grew sick and cold as she watched these two day by day, and saw the
innocent school-girl's ascendancy over the adventurer. The attributes
which made Charlotte charming were just those very attributes which
Valentine Hawkehurst had been least accustomed to discover in the
womankind he had hitherto encountered. He had seen beautiful women,
elegant and fascinating women, without number; but this frank girlish
nature, this happy childlike disposition, was entirely new to him. How
should he have met bright childlike creatures in the pathways which he
had trodden? For the first time in his life a fresh young heart
revealed its treasures of purity and tenderness before his world-weary
eyes, and his own heart was melted by the new influence. He had admired
Diana; he had been touched by her girlish fancy for him, and had loved
her as well as he had believed himself capable of loving any woman. But
when Prudence and Honour counselled him to stifle and crush his growing
affection for the beautiful companion of his wanderings, the struggle
had involved no agony of regret or despair. He had told himself that no
good could ever come of his love for Captain Paget's daughter, and he
had put aside that love before it had taken any vital root in his
heart. He had been very strong and resolute in this matter--resisting
looks of sad surprise which would have melted a softer nature. And he
had been proud of his own firmness. "Better for her, and better for
me," he had said to himself: "let her outlive her foolish schoolgirl
fancies, and wait patiently till her beauty wins her a rich husband. As
for me, I must marry some prosperous tradesman's widow, if I ever marry
at all."

The influence of the world in which his life had been spent had
degraded Valentine Hawkehurst, and had done much to harden him; and yet
he was not altogether hard. He discovered his own weakness very soon
after the beginning of his acquaintance with Mr. Sheldon's
stepdaughter. He knew very well that if he had been no fitting lover
for Diana Paget, he was still less a fitting lover for Charlotte
Halliday. He knew that although it might suit Mr. Sheldon's purpose to
make use of the Captain and himself as handy instruments for the
accomplishment of somewhat dirty work, he would be the very last man to
accept one of those useful instruments as a husband for his
stepdaughter. He knew all this; and knew that, apart from all worldly
considerations, there was an impassable gulf between himself and
Charlotte. What could there be in common between the unprincipled
companion of Horatio Paget and this innocent girl, whose darkest sin
had been a neglected lesson or an ill-written exercise? If he could
have given her a home and a position, an untarnished name and
respectable associations, he would even yet have been unworthy of her
affection, unable to assure her happiness.

"I am a scoundrel and an adventurer," he said to himself, in his most
contemptuous spirit. "If some benevolent fairy were to give me the
brightest home that was ever created for man, and Charlotte for my
wife, I daresay I should grow tired of my happiness in a week or two,
and go out some night to look for a place where I could play billiards
and drink beer. Is there any woman upon this earth who could render my
existence supportable _without_ billiards and beer?"

Knowing himself much better than the Grecian philosopher seemed to
think it possible for human nature to know itself, Mr. Hawkehurst
decided that it was his bounden duty, both for his own sake and that of
the young lady in question, to keep clear of the house in which Miss
Halliday lived, and the avenue in which she was wont to walk. He told
himself this a dozen times a day, and yet he made his appearance at the
Lawn whenever he had the poorest shadow of an excuse for going there;
and it seemed as if the whole business of his life lay at the two ends
of Charlotte's favourite avenue, so often did he find himself called
upon to perambulate that especial thoroughfare. He knew that he was
weak and foolish and dishonourable; he knew that he was sowing the
dragon's teeth from which were to spring up armed demons that would
rend and tear him. But Charlotte's eyes were unspeakably bright and
bewitching, and Charlotte's voice was very sweet and tender. A
thrilling consciousness that he was not altogether an indifferent
person in Charlotte's consideration had possessed him of late when he
found himself in that young lady's society, and a happiness which had
hitherto been strange to him gave a new zest to his purposeless life.

He still affected the old indifference of manner, the idle listless
tone of a being who has finished with all the joys and sorrows,
affections and aspirations, of the world in which he lives. But the
pretence had of late become a very shallow one. In Charlotte's presence
he was eager and interested in spite of himself--childishly eager about
the veriest trifles which interested her. Love had taken up the glass
of Time; and the days and hours were reckoned by a new standard;
everything in the world had suffered some wondrous change, which
Valentine Hawkehurst tried in vain to understand. The very earth upon
which he walked had undergone some mystic process of transformation;
the very streets of London were new to him. He had known
Kensington-gardens from his boyhood; but not those enchanted avenues of
beech and elm in which he walked with Charlotte. In the plainest and
most commonplace phraseology, Mr. Hawkehurst had fallen in love. This
penniless adventurer, who at eight-and-twenty years of age was steeped
to the lips in the worst experiences of a very indifferent world, found
himself all at once hanging upon the words and living upon the looks of
an ignorant schoolgirl.

The discovery that he was capable of this tender weakness had an almost
overwhelming effect upon Mr. Hawkehurst. He was ashamed of this touch
of humanity, this foolish affection which had awakened all that was
purest and best in a nature that had been so long abandoned to
degrading influences. For some time he fought resolutely against that
which he considered his folly; but the training which had made him the
master of many a perplexing position had not given him the mastery over
his own inclinations; and when he found that Charlotte's society had
become the grand necessity of his life, he abandoned himself to his
fate without further resistance. He let himself drift with the tide
that was so much stronger than himself; and if there were breakers
ahead, or fatal rocks lurking invisible beneath the blue waters, he
must take his chance. His frail bark must go to pieces when her time
came. In the meanwhile it was so delicious to float upon the summer
sea, that a man could afford to forget future possibilities in the way
of rocks and quicksands.

Miss Paget had known very few pleasures in the course of her
uncared-for youth; but she hitherto had experienced no such anguish as
that which she had now to endure in her daily intercourse with
Valentine and Charlotte. She underwent her martyrdom bravely, and no
prying eye discovered the sufferings which her proud nature supported
in silence. "Who takes any heed of my feelings, or cares whether I am
glad or sorry?" she thought; "_he_ does not."



CHAPTER VI.

THE COMPACT OF GRAY'S INN.


The sand which ran so swiftly in the glass which that bright young
urchin Love had wrested from the hand of grim old Time ran with an
almost equal swiftness in the hour-glasses of lodging-house keepers and
tradespeople, and the necessities of every day demanded perpetual
exertion on the part of Mr. Hawkehurst, let Charlotte's eyes be never
so bright, and Charlotte's society never so dear. For Captain Paget and
his _protégé_ there was no such thing as rest; and the ingenious
Captain took care that the greater part of the labour should be
performed by Valentine, while the lion's share of the spoil was pounced
upon by the ready paw of the noble Horatio. Just now he found his pupil
unusually plastic, unusually careless of his own interests, and ready
to serve his master with agreeable blindness. Since that awkward little
affair at Forêtdechêne, that tiresome entanglement about a King of
Spades which had put in an appearance at a moment when no such monarch
was to be expected, Captain Paget had obtained the means of existence
in a manner which was almost respectable, if not altogether honest; for
it is not to be supposed that honesty and respectability are by any
means synonymous terms. It was only by the exercise of superhuman
address that the Captain had extricated himself from that perplexing
predicament at the Belgian watering-place; and it may be that the
unpleasant experiences of that particular evening were not without a
salutary effect upon the adventurer's future plans.

"It was touch-and-go work, Val," he said to his companion; "and if I
hadn't carried matters with a high hand, and sprung my position as an
officer in the English service upon those French ruffians, I don't know
where it would have ended."

"It might have come to a metallic ornamentation of the ankle, and some
amiable 444, who has murdered his grandmother with a red-hot poker and
extenuating circumstances, for your companion," murmured Valentine. "I
wouldn't try it on with that supererogatory king again on this side of
the Channel, if I were you."

The Captain bestowed a freezing look on his flippant _protégé_ and then
commenced a very grave discussion of future ways and means, which ended
in an immediate departure for Paris, where the two men entered upon an
unpretentious career in the commercial line as agents and travellers
for the patentees of an improved kind of gutta percha, which material
was supposed to be applicable to every imaginable purpose, from the
sole of an infant's boot to the roof of a cathedral. There are times
when genius must stoop to pick up its daily pittance; and for twelve
months the elegant Horatio Paget was content to devote his best
energies to the perpetual praise of the Incorrodible and Indestructible
and Incombustible India-rubber, in consideration of a very modest
percentage on his commercial transactions in that material. To exert
the persuasive eloquence of a Burke or a Thurlow in order to induce a
man to roof his new warehouses with a fabric which you are aware will
be torn into ribbons by the first run of stormy weather, for the sake
of obtaining two-and-a-half per cent on his investment, may not be in
accordance with the honourable notions of a Bayard, and yet in a
commercial sense may be strictly correct. It was only when Captain
Paget had made a comfortable little purse out of his percentage upon
the Incorrodible and Incombustible that he discovered the extreme
degradation of his position as agent and traveller. He determined on
returning to the land of his birth. Joint-stock companies were
beginning to multiply in the commercial world at this period; and
wherever there are many schemes for the investment of public capital
there is room for such a man as Horatio Paget--a man who, with the aid
of a hired brougham, can inspire confidence in the breast of the least
daring speculator.

The Captain came, accompanied as usual by that plastic tool and
subaltern, Valentine Hawkehurst, who, being afflicted with a chronic
weariness of everything in life, was always eager to abandon any
present pursuit in favour of the vaguest contingency, and to shake off
the dust of any given locality from his vagabond feet. Captain Paget
and his _protégé_ came to London, where a fortunate combination of
circumstances threw them in the way of Mr. Sheldon.

The alliance which arose between that gentleman and the Captain opened
a fair prospect for the latter. Mr. Sheldon was interested in the
formation of a certain joint-stock company, but had his own reasons for
not wishing to be identified with it. A stalking-horse is by no means a
difficult kind of animal to procure in the cattle-fairs of London; but
a stalking-horse whose paces are sufficiently showy and imposing--a
high-stepper, of thoroughbred appearance, and a mouth sensitively alive
to the lightest touch of the curb, easy to ride or drive, warranted
neither a kicker nor a bolter--is a quadruped of rare excellence, not
to be met with every day. Just such a stalking-horse was Captain Paget;
and Mr. Sheldon lost no time in putting him into action. It is scarcely
necessary to say that the stockbroker trusted his new acquaintance only
so far as it was absolutely necessary to trust him; or that the Captain
and the stockbroker thoroughly understood each other without affecting
to do so. For Horatio Paget the sun of prosperity arose in unaccustomed
splendour. He was able to pay for his lodgings, and was an eminently
respectable person in the eyes of his landlord. He enjoyed the daily
use of a neatly-appointed brougham, in which only the most practised
eye could discover the taint of the livery stable. He dined sumptuously
at fashionable restaurants, and wore the freshest of lavender gloves,
the most delicate of waxen heath-blossoms or creamy-tinted exotics in
the button-hole of his faultless coat.

While the chief flourished, the subaltern was comparatively idle. The
patrician appearance and manners of the Captain were a perennial source
of profit to that gentleman; but Valentine Hawkehurst had not a
patrician appearance; and the work which Mr. Sheldon found for him was
of a more uncertain and less profitable character than that which fell
to the share of the elegant Horatio. But Valentine was content. He
shared the Captain's lodging, though he did not partake of the
Captain's dinners or ride in the smart little brougham. He had a roof
to shelter him, and was rarely unprovided with the price of some kind
of dinner; and as this was the highest order of prosperity he had ever
known, he was content. He was more than content; for the first time in
his existence he knew what it was to be happy. A purer joy than life
had ever held for him until now made him careless whether his dinner
cost eighteenpence or eighteen shillings; whether he rode in the most
perfect of broughams or walked in the mud. He took no heed for the
future; he forgot the past, and abandoned himself heart and soul to the
new delights of the present.

Never had Philip Sheldon found so willing a tool, so cheap a drudge.
Valentine was ready to do anything or everything for Charlotte's
stepfather, since his relations with that gentleman enabled him to
spend so much of his life with Charlotte.

But even in this sublimated state of mind Mr. Hawkehurst was not exempt
from the great necessity of Mr. Skimpole and humanity at large. He
wanted pounds. His garments were shabby, and he desired new and elegant
raiment in which to appear to advantage before the eyes of the woman he
loved. It had been his privilege on several occasions to escort Mrs.
Sheldon and the two younger ladies to a theatre; and even this
privilege had cost him money. He wanted pounds to expend upon those new
books and music which served so often as the excuse for a visit to the
Lawn. He wanted pounds for very trivial purposes; but he wanted them
desperately. A lover without pounds is the most helpless and
contemptible of mankind; he is a knight-errant without his armour, a
troubadour without his lute.

In his dilemma Mr. Hawkehurst resorted to that simple method which
civilisation has devised for the relief of pecuniary difficulties of a
temporary nature. He had met George Sheldon several times at the Lawn,
and had become tolerably intimate with that gentleman, whom he now knew
to be "the Sheldon of Gray's Inn," and the ally and agent of certain
bill-discounters. To George he went one morning; and after requesting
that Captain Paget should know nothing of his application, explained
his requirements. It was a very small sum which he asked for, modestly
conscious that the security he had to offer was of the weakest. He only
wanted thirty pounds, and was willing to give a bill at two months for
five-and-thirty.

There was a good deal of hesitation on the part of the lawyer; but
Valentine had expected to meet with some difficulty, and was not
altogether unprepared for a point-blank refusal. He was agreeably
surprised when George Sheldon told him he would manage that "little
matter; only the bill must be for forty." But in proof of the liberal
spirit in which Mr. Hawkehurst was to be treated, the friendly lawyer
informed him that the two months should be extended to three.

Valentine did not stop to consider that by this friendly process he was
to pay at the rate of something over a hundred and thirty per cent per
annum for the use of the money he wanted. He knew that this was his
only chance of getting money; so he shut his eyes to the expensive
nature of the transaction, and thanked Mr. Sheldon for the
accommodation granted to him.

"And now we've settled that little business, I should like to have a
few minutes' private chat with you," said George, "on the understanding
that what passes between you and me is strictly confidential."

"Of course!"

"You seem to have been leading rather an idle life for the last few
months; and it strikes me, Mr. Hawkehurst, you're too clever a fellow
to care about that sort of thing."

"Well, I have been in some measure wasting my sweetness on the desert
air," Valentine answered carelessly. "The governor seems to have
slipped into a good berth by your brother's agency; but I am not
Horatio Nugent Cromie Paget, and the brougham and lavender kids of the
Promoter are not for me."

"There is money to be picked up by better dodges than promoting,"
replied the attorney ambiguously; "but I suppose you wouldn't care for
anything that didn't bring immediate cash? You wouldn't care to
speculate the chances, however well the business might promise?"

"_C'est selon!_ That's as may be," answered Valentine coolly. "You see
those affairs that promise so much are apt to fail when it comes to a
question of performance. I'm not a capitalist; I can't afford to become
a speculator. I've been living from hand to mouth lately by means of
occasional contributions to a sporting weekly, and a little bit of
business which your brother threw in my way. I've been able to be
tolerably useful to him, and he promises to get me something in the way
of a clerkship, foreign correspondence, and that kind of thing."

"Humph!" muttered George Sheldon; "that means eighty pounds a year and
fourteen hours' work a day, letters that must be answered by this mail,
and so on. I don't think that kind of drudgery would ever suit you,
Hawkehurst. You've not served the right apprenticeship for that sort of
thing; you ought to try for some higher game. What should you say to an
affair that might put two or three thousand pounds in your pocket if it
was successful?"

"I should feel very much inclined to fancy it a bubble--one of those
dazzling rainbow-tinted globes which look so bright dancing about in
the sunshine, and explode into nothing directly they encounter any
tangible substance. However, my dear Sheldon, if you really have any
employment to offer to a versatile young man who is not overburdened
with vulgar prejudices, you'd better put the business in plain words."

"I will," answered George; "but it's not an affair that can be
discussed in five minutes. It's rather a serious matter, and involves a
good deal of consideration. I know that you're a man of the world, and
a very clever fellow into the bargain; but there's something more than
that wanted for this business, and that is patience. The hare is a very
fine animal in her way, you know; but a man must have a little of the
tortoise in him if he wants to achieve anything out of the common run
in the way of good luck. I have been working, and waiting, and
speculating the chances for the last fifteen years, and I think I've
got a good chance at last. But there's a good deal of work to be done
before the business is finished; and I find that I must have some one
to help me."

"What sort of business is it?"

"The search for the heir-at-law of a man who has died intestate within
the last ten years."

The two men looked at each other at this juncture; and Valentine
Hawkehurst smiled significantly.

"Within the last ten years?" he said. "That's rather a wide margin."

"Do you think you would be a good hand at hunting up the missing links
in the chain of a family history?" asked Mr. Sheldon. "It's rather
tiresome work, you know, and requires no common amount of patience and
perseverance."

"I can persevere," said Valentine decisively, "if you can show me that
it will be worth my while to do so. You want an heir-at-law, and I'm to
look for him. What am I to get while I'm looking for him? and what is
to be my reward if I find him?"

"I'll give you a pound a week and your travelling expenses while you're
employed in the search; and I'll give you three thousand pounds on the
day the heir gets his rights."

"Humph!" muttered Mr. Hawkehurst, rather doubtfully; "three thousand
pounds is a very respectable haul. But then, you see, I may fail to
discover the heir; and even if I do find him the chances are ten to one
that the business would be thrown into Chancery at the last moment; in
which case I might wait till doomsday for the reward of my labours."

George Sheldon shrugged his shoulders impatiently. He had expected this
penniless adventurer to catch eagerly at the chance he offered. "Three
thousand pounds are not to be picked up in the streets," he said. "If
you don't care to work with me, I can find plenty of clever fellows in
London who'll jump at the business."

"And you want me to begin work--?"

"Immediately."

"And how am I to pay forty pounds in three months out of a pound a
week?"

"Never mind the bill," said Mr. Sheldon, with lofty generosity. "If you
work heart and soul for me, I'll square that little matter for you;
I'll get it renewed for another three months."

"In that case I'm your man. I don't mind a little hard work just now,
and I can live upon a pound a week where another man would starve. So
now for my instructions."

There was a brief pause, during which the lawyer refreshed himself by
walking up and down his office two or three times with his hands in his
pockets. After which relief he seated himself before his desk, took out
a sheet of foolscap, and selected a pen from the inkstand.

"It's just as well to put things in a thoroughly business-like manner,"
he said presently. "I suppose you'd have no objection to signing a
memorandum of agreement--nothing that would be of any use in a court of
law, you know, but a simple understanding between man and man, for our
own satisfaction, as a safeguard against all possibility of
misunderstanding in the future. I've every reason to consider you the
most honourable of men, you know; but honourable men turn round upon
each other sometimes. You might ask me for something more than three
thou' if you succeeded in your search."

"Precisely; or I might make terms with the heir-at-law, and throw you
over. Perhaps that was your idea?"

"Not exactly. The first half of the chain is in my hands, and the
second half will be worth nothing without it. But to prevent all
unpleasantness we may as well put our intentions upon record."

"I've not the least objection," replied Valentine with supreme
indifference. "Draw up whatever memorandum you please, and I'll sign
it. If you don't mind smoke, I should like to console myself with a
cigar while you draw the bond."

The question was a polite formula, the atmosphere of George Sheldon's
office being redolent of stale tobacco.

"Smoke away," said the lawyer; "and if you can drink brandy-and-soda at
this time of day, you'll find the _de quoi_ in that cupboard. Make
yourself at home."

Mr. Hawkehurst declined the brandy-and-soda, and regaled himself only
with a cigar, which he took from his own case. He sat in one of the
second-floor windows smoking, and looking dreamily into the gardens,
while George Sheldon drew up the agreement. He was thinking that any
hazard which took him away from London and Charlotte Halliday might be
a fortunate one.

The lawyer finished his document, which he read aloud for the benefit
of the gentleman who was to sign it. The agreement was in the following
terms:--

"Memorandum of agreement between George Sheldon on the one part, and
Valentine Hawkehurst on the other part, whereby it is this day mutually
agreed by and between the parties hereto as follows:

"1. That, in consideration of a weekly salary of one pound while in
pursuit of certain inquiries, and of the sum of three thousand pounds
to be paid upon the arising of a certain event, namely, the
establishment of an heir-at-law to the estates of the late John
Haygarth, the said Valentine Hawkehurst shall act as agent for the said
George Sheldon, and shall not at any time during the continuance of
this agreement do any act to prejudice the inquiry or the steps now
being taken by the said George Sheldon to discover and establish an
heir-at-law to the estates of the late John Haygarth.

"2. That at no time hereafter shall the said Valentine Hawkehurst be
entitled to a larger recompense than is herein-before provided; nor
shall he be liable to the said George Sheldon for the return of any
moneys which the said George Sheldon may advance on account of the said
inquiries in the event of the same not resulting in the establishment
of an heir to the estates of the late John Haygarth.

"3. That the said Valentine Hawkehurst shall not alter his character of
agent to the said George Sheldon during the prosecution of the said
inquiry; that he shall deliver over to the said George Sheldon all
documents and other forms of evidence that may arise from his, the said
Valentine Hawkehurst's, inquires; and that he shall week by week, and
every week, and as often as may be necessary, report to the said George
Sheldon the result of such inquiries, and that he shall not on any
pretence whatever be at liberty to withhold such fruits of his
researches, nor discover the same to any one else than the said George
Sheldon, under a penalty of ten thousand pounds, to be recovered as
liquidated damages previously agreed between the parties as the measure
of damages payable to the said George Sheldon upon the breach of this
agreement by the said Valentine Hawkehurst.

"In witness whereof the parties hereto have this 20th day of September
1862 set their hands and affixed their seals." "That sounds stiff
enough to hold water in a court of law," said Valentine, when George
Sheldon had recited the contents of the document.

"I don't suppose it would be much good in Chancery-lane," returned the
lawyer carelessly; "though I daresay it sounds rather formidable to
you. When one gets the trick of the legal jargon, it's not easy to draw
the simplest form of agreement without a few superfluous words. I may
as well call in my clerk to witness our signatures, I suppose."

"Call in any one you like."

The clerk was summoned from a sunless and airless den at the back of
his principal's office. The two men appended their signatures to the
document; the clerk added his in witness of the genuine nature of those
signatures. It was an affair of two minutes. The clerk was dismissed.
Mr. Sheldon blotted and folded the memorandum, and laid it aside in one
of the drawers of his desk.

"Come," he said cheerily, "that's a business-like beginning at any
rate. And now you'd better have some brandy-and-soda, for what I've got
to say will take some time in the saying of it."

On this occasion Mr. Hawkehurst accepted the lawyer's hospitality, and
there was some little delay before the conversation proceeded.

It was a very long conversation. Mr. Sheldon produced a bundle of
papers, and exhibited some of them to his agent, beginning with that
advertisement in the _Times_ which had first attracted his notice, but
taking very good care _not_ to show his coadjutor the obituary in the
_Observer_, wherein the amount of the intestate's fortune was stated.
The ready wits which had been sharpened at so many different
grindstones proved keen enough for the occasion. Valentine Hawkehurst
had had little to do with genealogies or baptismal registers during his
past career; but his experiences were of such a manifold nature that he
was not easily to be baffled or mystified by any new experience. He
showed himself almost as quick at tracing up the intricacies of a
family tree as Mr. Sheldon, the astute attorney and practised
genealogist.

"I have traced these Haygarths back to the intestate's
great-grandfather, who was a carpenter and a Puritan in the reign of
Charles the First. He seems to have made money--how I have not been
able to discover with any certainty; but it is more than probable he
served in the civil wars, and came in for some of the plunder those
crop-eared, psalm-singing,
pierce-the-brain-of-the-tyrant-with-the-nail-of-Jael scoundrels were
always in the way of, at the sack of Royalist mansions. The man made
money; and his son, the grandfather of the intestate, was a wealthy
citizen in the reigns of Anne and the first George. He was a grocer,
and lived in the market-place of Ullerton in Leicestershire; an
out-of-the-way sleepy place it is now, but was prosperous enough in
those days, I daresay. This man (the grandfather) began the world well
off, and amassed a large fortune before he had done with it. The lucky
beggar lived in the days when free trade and competition were unknown,
when tea was something like sixty shillings a pound, and when a
psalm-singing sleek-haired fellow, with a reputation for wealth and
honesty, might cheat his customers to his heart's content. He had one
son, Matthew, who seems, from what I can gather, to have been a wild
sort of fellow in the early part of his career, and not to have been at
any time on the best possible terms with the sanctimonious dad. This
Matthew married at fifty-three years of age, and died a year after his
marriage, leaving one son, who afterwards became the reverend
intestate; with whom, according to the evidence at present before me,
ends the direct line of the Haygarths." The lawyer paused, turned over
two or three papers, and then resumed his explanation. "The
sanctimonious grocer, Jonathan Haygarth, had one other child besides
the son--a daughter called Ruth, who married a certain Peter Judson,
and became the mother of a string of sons and daughters; and it is
amongst the descendants of these Judsons that we may have to look for
our heir at law, unless we find him nearer home. Now my idea is that we
_shall_ find him nearer home."

"What reason have you for forming that idea?" asked Valentine.

"I will tell you. This Matthew Haygarth is known to have been a wild
fellow. I obtained a good deal of fragmentary information about him
from an old man in some almshouses at Ullerton, whose grandfather was a
schoolfellow of Matthew's. He was a scapegrace, and was always spending
money in London while the respectable psalm-singer was hoarding it in
Ullerton. There used to be desperate quarrels between the two men, and
towards the end of Jonathan Haygarth's life the old man made half a
dozen different wills in favour of half a dozen different people, and
cutting off scapegrace Matthew with a shilling. Fortunately for
scapegrace Matthew, the old man had a habit of quarrelling with his
dearest friends--a fashion not quite exploded in this enlightened
nineteenth century--and the wills were burnt one after another, until
the worthy Jonathan became as helpless and foolish as his great
contemporary and namesake, the Dean of St. Patrick's; and after having
died 'first at top,' did his son the favour to die altogether,
_intestate_, whereby the roisterer and spendthrift of Soho and
Covent-garden came into a very handsome fortune. The old man died in
1766, aged eighty; a very fine specimen of your good old English
tradesman of the Puritanical school. The roisterer, Matthew, was by
this time forty-six years of age, and, I suppose, had grown tired of
roistering. In any case he appears to have settled down very quietly in
the old family house in the Ullerton market-place, where he married a
respectable damsel of the Puritan school, some seven years after, and
in which house, or in the neighbourhood whereof, he departed this life,
with awful suddenness, one year after his marriage, leaving his son and
heir, the reverend intestate. And now, my dear Hawkehurst, you're a
sharp fellow, and I daresay a good hand at guessing social conundrums;
so perhaps you begin to see my idea."

"I can't say I do."

"My notion is, that Matthew Haygarth may possibly have married before
he was fifty-three years of age. Men of his stamp don't often live to
that ripe age without being caught in matrimonial toils somehow or
other. It was in the days of Fleet marriages--in the days when young
men about town were even more reckless and more likely to become the
prey of feminine deception than they are now. The fact that Matthew
Haygarth revealed no such marriage is no conclusive evidence against my
hypothesis. He died very suddenly--intestate, as it seems the habit of
these Haygarths to die; and he had never made any adjustment of his
affairs. According to the oldest inhabitant in Ullerton almshouses,
this Matthew was a very handsome fellow, generous-hearted,
open-handed--a devil-may-care kind of a chap, the type of the
rollicking heroes in old comedies; the very man to fall over head and
ears in love before he was twenty, and to go through fire and water for
the sake of the woman he loved: in short, the very last man upon earth
to live a bachelor until his fifty-fourth year."

"He may--"

"He may have been a profligate, you were going to say, and have had
baser ties than those of Church and State. So he may; but if he was a
scoundrel, tradition flatters him. Of course all the information one
can gather about a man who died in 1774 must needs be of a very
uncertain and fragmentary character. But if I can trust the rather hazy
recollections of my oldest inhabitant about what his father told him
_his_ father had said of wild Mat Haygarth, the young man's wildness
was very free from vice. There is no legend of innocence betrayed or
infamy fostered by Matthew Haygarth. He appears to have enjoyed what
the young men of that day called life--attended cock-fights, beat the
watch, gambled a little, and was intimately acquainted with the
interior of the Fleet and Marshalsea prisons. For nearly twenty years
he seems to have lived in London; and during all those years he was
lost sight of by the Ullerton people. My oldest inhabitant's
grandfather was clerk to a merchant in the city of London, and had
therefore some opportunity of knowing his old schoolfellow's
proceedings in the metropolis. But the two townsmen don't seem to have
seen much of each other in the big city. Their meetings were rare, and,
so far as I can make out, for the most part accidental. But, as I said
before, my oldest inhabitant is somewhat hazy, and excruciatingly
prolix; his chaff is in the proportion of some fifty to one of his
wheat. I've given a good deal of time to this case already, you see,
Mr. Hawkehurst; and you'll find _your_ work very smooth sailing
compared to what I've gone through."

"I daresay that sort of investigation is rather tiresome in the earlier
stages."

"You'd say so, with a vengeance, if you had to do it," answered George
Sheldon almost savagely. "You start with the obituary of some old bloke
who was so disgustingly old when he consented to die that there is no
one living who can tell you when he was born, or who were his father
and mother; for, of course, the old idiot takes care not to leave a
blessed document of any kind which can aid a fellow in his researches.
And when you've had the trouble of hunting up half a dozen men of the
same name, and have addled your wretched brains in the attempt to patch
the half dozen men--turning up at different periods and in different
places--into one man, they all tumble to pieces like a child's puzzle,
and you find yourself as far as ever from the man you want. However,
_you_ won't have to do any of that work," added Mr. Sheldon, who was
almost in a passion when he remembered the trouble he had gone through.
"The ground has been all laid out for you, by Jove, as smooth as a
bowling-green; and if you look sharp, you'll pick up your three thou'
before you know where you are."

"I hope I shall," answered Valentine coolly. He was not the sort of
person to go into raptures about three thousand pounds, though such a
sum must needs have seemed to him the wealth of a small Rothschild. "I
know I want money badly enough, and am ready and willing to work for it
conscientiously, if I get the chance. But to return to this Matthew
Haygarth. Your idea is that there may have been a marriage previous to
the one at Ullerton?"

"Precisely. Of course there may have been no such previous marriage;
but you see it's on the cards; and since it is on the cards, my notion
is that we had better hunt up the history of Matthew Haygarth's life in
London, and try to find our heir-at-law there before we go in for the
Judsons. If you knew how the Judsons have married and multiplied, and
lost themselves among herds of other people, you wouldn't care about
tracing the ramifications of _their_ family tree," said Mr. Sheldon,
with a weary sigh. "So be it," exclaimed Mr. Hawkehurst carelessly;
"we'll leave the Judsons alone, and go in for Matthew Haygarth."

He spoke with the air of an archaeological Hercules, to whom
difficulties were nothing. It seemed as if he would have been quite
ready to "go in" for some sidereal branch of the Plantagenets, or the
female descendants of the Hardicanute family, if George Sheldon had
suggested that the intestate's next of kin was to be found _there_.

"Mat Haygarth, by all means," he said. He was on jolly-good-fellow-ish
terms with the dead-and-gone grocer's son already, and had the tone of
a man who had been his friend and boon companion. "Mat Haygarth is our
man. But how are we to ferret out his doings in London? A man who was
born in 1720 is rather a remote kind of animal."

"The secret of success in these matters is time," answered the lawyer
sententiously: "a man must have no end of time, and he must keep his
brain clear of all other business. Those two conditions are impossible
for me, and that's why I want a coadjutor: now you're a clever young
fellow, with no profession, with no particular social ties, as I can
make out, and your time is all your own; ergo, you're the very man for
this business. The thing is to be done: accept that for a certainty.
It's only a question of time. Indeed, when you look at life
philosophically, what is there on earth that is _not_ a question of
time? Give the crossing-sweeper between this and Chancery-lane time
enough, and he might develop into a Rothschild. He might want nine
hundred years or so to do it in; but there's no doubt he could do it,
if you gave him time."

Mr. Sheldon was becoming expansive under the influence of the
brandy-and-soda; for even that mild beverage is not without its effect
on the intellectual man.

"As to this Haygarth case," he resumed, after the consumption of a
little more soda and a little more brandy, "it's a sure success, if we
work it properly; and you know three thou' is not to be despised,"
added George persuasively, "even if a fellow has to wait some time for
it."

"Certainly not. And the bulk of the Haygarthian fortune--I suppose
that's something rather stiff?" returned Valentine, in the same
persuasive tone.

"Well, you may suppose it's a decent figure," answered Mr. Sheldon,
with an air of deprecation, "or how could I afford to give you three
thou' out of the share I'm likely to get?"

"No, to be sure. I think I shall take to the work well enough when once
I get my hand in; but I shall be very glad of any hint you can give me
at starting."

"Well, my advice is this: begin at the beginning; go down to Ullerton;
see my oldest inhabitant. I pumped him as dry as I could, but I
couldn't give myself enough time for thoroughly exhaustive pumping; one
has to waste a small eternity before one gets anything valuable out of
those hazy old fellows. Follow up this Matthew from his birth; see the
place where he was born; ferret out every detail of his life, so far as
it is to be ferreted; trace his way step by step to London, and when
you get him there, stick to him like a leech. Don't let him slip
through your fingers for a day; hunt him from lodging to lodging, from
tavern to tavern, into jail and out of jail--tantivy, yoicks,
hark-forward! I know it's deuced hard work; but a man must work
uncommonly hard in these days before he picks up three thou'. In a few
words, the game is all before you; so go in and win," concluded George
Sheldon, as he poured the last amber drops from the slim smoke-coloured
bottle, and swallowed his glass of brandy undiluted by soda.



CHAPTER VII.

AUNT SARAH.


After that interview in Gray's Inn, there were more interviews of a
like character. Valentine received further instructions from George
Sheldon, and got himself posted up in the Haygarthian history, so far
as the lawyer's information furnished the materials for such posting.
But the sum total of Mr. Sheldon's information seemed very little to
his coadjutor when the young man looked the Haygarthian business full
in the face and considered what he had to do. He felt very much like a
young prince in the fairy tale who has been bidden to go forth upon an
adventurous journey in a trackless forest, where if he escape all
manner of lurking dangers, and remember innumerable injunctions, such
as not to utter a single syllable during the whole course of his
travels, or look over his left shoulder, or pat any strange dog, or
gather forest fruit or flower, or look at his own reflection in mirror
or water-pool, shining brazen shield or jewelled helm, he will
ultimately find himself before the gates of an enchanted castle, to
which he may or may not obtain admittance.

Valentine fancied himself in the position of this favourite young
prince. The trackless forest was the genealogy of the Haygarths; and in
the enchanted castle he was to find the crown of success in the shape
of three thousand pounds. Could he marry Charlotte on the strength of
those three thousand pounds, if he were so fortunate as to unravel the
tangled skein of the Haygarth history? Ah, no; that black-whiskered
stockbroking stepfather would ask for something more than three
thousand pounds from the man to whom he gave his wife's daughter.

"He will try to marry her to some rich City swell, I dare say," thought
Valentine. "I should be no nearer her with three thousand pounds for my
fortune than I am without a sixpence. The best thing I can do for her
happiness and my own is to turn my back upon her, and devote myself to
hunting the Haygarths. It's rather hard too, just as I have begun to
fancy that she likes me a little."

In the course of those interviews in Gray's Inn which occurred before
Valentine took any active steps in his new pursuit, certain conditions
were agreed upon between him and Mr. Sheldon. The first and most
serious of these conditions was, that Captain Paget should be in nowise
enlightened as to his _protégé's_ plans. This was a strong point with
George Sheldon. "I have no doubt Paget's a very good fellow," he said.
(It was his habit to call everybody a good fellow. He would have called
Nana Sahib a good fellow, and would have made some good-natured excuse
for any peccadilloes on the part of that potentate). "Paget's an
uncommonly agreeable man, you know; but he is not the man I should care
to trust with this kind of secret." Mr. Sheldon said this with a tone
that implied his willingness to trust Captain Paget with every other
kind of secret, from the contents of his japanned office-boxes to the
innermost mysteries of his soul.

"You see Paget is thick with my brother Phil," he resumed; "and
whenever I find a man thick with my relations, I make it a point to
keep clear of that man myself. Relations never have worked well in
harness, and never will work well in harness. It seems to be against
nature. Now Phil has a dim kind of idea of the game I want to play, in
a general way, but nothing more than a dim idea. He fancies I'm a fool,
and that I'm wasting my time and trouble. I mean him to stick to that
notion. For, you see, in a thing of this kind there's always a chance
of other people cutting in and spoiling a man's game. Of course, that
advertisement I read to you was seen by other men besides me, and may
have been taken up. My hope is that whoever has taken it up has gone in
for the female branch, and got himself snowed up under a heap of
documentary evidence about the Judsons. That's another reason why we
should put our trust in Matthew Haygarth. The Judson line is the
obvious line to follow, and there are very few who would think of
hunting up evidence for a hypothetical first marriage until they had
exhausted the Judsons. Now, I rely upon you to throw dust in Paget's
eyes, so that there may be no possibility of my brother getting wind of
our little scheme through him."

"I'll take care of that," answered Valentine; "he doesn't want me just
now. He's in very high feather, riding about in broughams and dining at
West-end taverns. He won't be sorry to get rid of me for a short time."
"But what'll be your excuse for leaving town? He'll be sure to want a
reason, you know."

"I'll invent an aunt at Ullerton, and tell him I'm going down to stop
with her."

"You'd better not say Ullerton; Paget might take it into his head to
follow you down there in order to see what sort of person your aunt
was, and whether she had any money. Paget's an excellent fellow, but
there's never any knowing what that sort of man will do. You'd better
throw him off the scent altogether. Plant your aunt in Surrey--say
Dorking."

"But if he should want to write to me?"

"Tell him to address to the post-office, Dorking, as your aunt is
inquisitive, and might tamper with your correspondence. I daresay his
letters will keep."

"He could follow me to Dorking as easily as to Ullerton."

"Of course he could," answered George Sheldon; "but then, you see, at
Dorking the most he could find out would be that he'd been made a fool
of; whereas if he followed you to Ullerton, he might ferret out the
nature of your business there."

Mr. Hawkehurst perceived the wisdom of this conclusion, and agreed to
make Dorking the place of his relative's abode.

"It's very near London," he suggested thoughtfully; "the Captain might
easily run down."

"And for that very reason he's all the less likely to do it," answered
the lawyer; "a man who thinks of going to a place within an hour's ride
of town knows he can go any day, and is likely to think of going to the
end of the chapter without carrying out his intention. A man who
resolves to go to Manchester or Liverpool has to make his arrangements
accordingly, and is likely to put his idea into practice. The people
who live on Tower-hill very seldom see the inside of the Tower. It's
the good folks who come up for a week's holiday from Yorkshire and
Cornwall who know all about the Crown jewels and John of Gaunt's
armour. Take my advice, and stick to Dorking."

Acting upon this advice, Valentine Hawkehurst lay in wait for the
Promoter that very evening. He went home early, and was seated by a
cheery little bit of fire, such as an Englishman likes to see at the
close of a dull autumn day, when that accomplished personage returned
to his lodgings.

"Deuced tiresome work," said the Captain, as he smoothed the nap of his
hat with that caressing tenderness of manipulation peculiar to the man
who is not very clear as to the means whereby his next hat is to be
obtained,--"deuced slow, brain-belabouring work! How many people do you
think I've called upon to-day, eh, Val? Seven-and-thirty! What do you
say to that? Seven-and-thirty interviews, and some of them very tough
ones. I think that's enough to take the steam out of a man."

"Do the moneyed swells bite?" asked Mr. Hawkehurst, with friendly
interest.

"Rather slowly, my dear Val, rather slowly. The mercantile fisheries
have been pretty well whipped of late years, and the fish are
artful--they are uncommonly artful, Val. Indeed, I'm not quite clear at
this present moment as to the kind of fly they'll rise to most readily.
I'm half inclined to be doubtful whether your gaudy pheasant-feather,
your brougham and lavender-kid business is the right thing for your
angler. It has been overdone, Val, considerably overdone; and I
shouldn't wonder if a sober little brown fly--a shabby old chap in a
rusty greatcoat, with a cotton umbrella under his arm--wouldn't do the
trick better. That sort of thing would look rich, you see, Val--rich
and eccentric; and I think on occasions--with a _very_ downy bird--I'd
even go so far as a halfp'orth of snuff in a screw of paper. I really
think a pinch of snuff out of a bit of paper, taken at the right
moment, might turn the tide of a transaction."

Impressed by the brilliancy of this idea, Captain Paget abandoned
himself for the moment to profound meditation, seated in his favourite
chair, and with his legs extended before the cheerful blaze. He always
had a favourite chair in every caravanserai wherein he rested in his
manifold wanderings, and he had an unerring instinct which guided him
in the selection of the most comfortable chair, and that one corner, to
be found in every room, which is a sanctuary secure from the incursions
of Boreas.

The day just ended had evidently not been a lucky one, and the
Captain's gaze was darkly meditative as he looked into the ruddy little
fire.

"I think I'll take a glass of cold water with a dash of brandy in it,
Val," he said presently; and he said it with the air of a man who
rarely tasted such a beverage; whereas it was as habitual with him to
sit sipping brandy-and-water for an hour or so before he went to bed as
it was for him to light his chamber candle. "That fellow Sheldon knows
how to take care of himself," he remarked thoughtfully, when Valentine
had procured the brandy-and-water. "Try some of that cognac, Val; it's
not bad. To tell you the truth, I'm beginning to get sick of this
promoting business. It pays very little better than the India-rubber
agency, and it's harder work. I shall look about me for something
fresh, if Sheldon doesn't treat me handsomely. And what have you been
doing for the last day or two?" asked the Captain, with a searching
glance at his _protégé's_ face. "You're always hanging about Sheldon's
place; but you don't seem to do much business with him. You and his
brother George seem uncommonly thick."

"Yes, George suits me better than the stockbroker. I never could get on
very well with your ultra-respectable men. I'm as ready to 'undertake a
dirty job' as any man; but I don't like a fellow to offer me dirty work
and pretend it's clean."

"Ah, he's been getting you to do a little of the bear business, I
suppose," said the Captain. "I don't see that your conscience need
trouble you about that. Amongst a commercial people money must change
hands. I can't see that it much matters how the change takes place."

"No, to be sure; that's a comfortable way of putting it, at any rate.
However, I'm tired of going about in the ursine guise, and I'm going to
cut it. I've an old aunt settled at Dorking who has got a little bit of
money to leave, and I think I'll go and look her up."

"An aunt at Dorking! I never heard of her before."

"O yes you have," answered Mr. Hawkehurst, with supreme nonchalance;
"you've heard of her often enough, only you've a happy knack of not
listening to other people's affairs. But you must have been wrapped up
in yourself with a vengeance if you don't remember to have heard me
speak of my aunt--Sarah."

"Well, well, it may be so," murmured the Captain, almost
apologetically. "Your aunt Sarah? Ah, to be sure; I have some
recollection: is she your father's sister?"

"No; she's the sister of my maternal grandmother--a great-aunt, you
know. She has a comfortable little place down at Dorking, and I can get
free quarters there whenever I like; so as you don't particularly want
me just now, I think I'll run down to her for a week or two."

The Captain had no objection to offer to this very natural desire on
the part of his adopted son; nor did he concern himself as to the young
man's motive for leaving London.



CHAPTER VIII.

CHARLOTTE PROPHESIES RAIN.


Mr. Hawkehurst had no excuse for going to the Lawn before his
departure; but the stately avenues between Bayswater and Kensington are
free to any man; and, having nothing better to do, Valentine put a
shabby little volume of Balzac in his pocket, and spent his last
morning in town under the shadow of the mighty elms, reading one of the
great Honoré's gloomiest romances, while the autumn leaves drifted
round him, dancing fairy measures on the grass, and scraping and
scuffling on the gravel, and while children with hoops and children
with balls scampered and screamed in the avenue by which he sat. He was
not particularly absorbed by his book. He had taken it haphazard from
the tattered collection of cheap editions which he carried about with
him in his wanderings, ignominiously stuffed into the bottom of a
portmanteau, amongst boots and clothes-brushes and disabled razors.

"I'm sick of them all," he thought; "the De Beauseants, and Rastignacs,
the German Jews, and the patrician beauties, and the Israelitish Circes
of the Rue Taitbout, and the sickly self-sacrificing provincial angels,
and the ghastly _vieilles filles_. Had that man ever seen such a woman
as Charlotte, I wonder--a bright creature, all smiles and sunshine, and
sweet impulsive tenderness; an angel who can be angelic without being
_poitri-naire_, and whose amiability never degenerates into scrofula?
There is an odour of the dissecting-room pervading all my friend
Balzac's novels, and I don't think he was capable of painting a fresh,
healthy nature. What a mass of disease he would have made Lucy Ashton,
and with what dismal relish he would have dilated upon the physical
sufferings of Amy Robsart in the confinement of Cumnor Hall! No, my
friend Honoré, you are the greatest and grandest of painters of the
terrible school; but the time comes when a man sighs for something
brighter and better than your highest type of womanhood."

Mr. Hawkehurst put his book in his pocket, and abandoned himself to
meditation, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his face
buried in his hands, unconscious of the trundling hoops and screaming
children.

"She is better and fairer than the fairest heroine of a novel," he
thought. "She is like Heloise. Yes, the quaint old French fits her to a
nicety:

    'Elle ne fu oscure ne brune,
     Ains fu clere comme la lune,
     Envers qui les autres estoiles
     Ressemblent petites chandoiles.'

Mrs. Browning must have known such a woman:

    'Her air had a meaning, her movements a grace;
     You turned from the fairest to gaze on her face;'

and yet

    'She was not as pretty as women I know.'

Was she not?" mused the lover. "Is she not? Yes," he cried suddenly, as
he saw a scarlet petticoat gleaming in the distance, and a bright young
face under a little black turban hat--prettiest and most bewitching of
all feminine headgear, let fashion change as it may. "Yes," he cried,
"she is the loveliest creature in the world, and I love her to
distraction." He rose, and went to meet the loveliest creature in the
world, whose earthly name was Charlotte Halliday. She was walking with
Diana Paget, who, to more sober judges, might have seemed the handsomer
woman of the two. Alas for Diana! the day had been when Valentine
Hawkehurst considered her very handsome, and had need to fight a hard
battle with himself in order not to fall in love with her. He had been
conqueror in that struggle of prudence and honour against nascent love,
only to be vanquished utterly by Charlotte's brighter charms and
Charlotte's sunnier nature.

The two girls shook hands with Mr. Hawkehurst. An indifferent observer
might have perceived that the colour faded from the face of one, while
a blush mounted to the cheeks of the other. But Valentine did not see
the sudden pallor of Diana's face--he had eyes only for Charlotte's
blushes. Nor did Charlotte herself perceive the sudden change in her
dearest friend's countenance. And that perhaps is the bitterest sting
of all. It is not enough that some must weep while others play; the
mourners must weep unnoticed, unconsoled; happiness is so apt to be
selfish.

Of course the conversation was the general sort of thing under the
given circumstances--just a little more inane and disjointed than the
ordinary small talk of people who meet each other in their walks abroad.

"How do you do, Mr. Hawkehurst?--Very well, thank you.--Mamma is very
well; at least no, not quite well; she has one of her headaches this
morning. She is rather subject to headache, you know; and the canaries
sing so loud. Don't the canaries sing abominably loud, Diana?--loudly
they would have made me say at Hyde Lodge; but it is only awfully
clever people who know when to use adverbs."

And Miss Halliday having said all this in a hurried and indeed almost
breathless manner, stopped suddenly, blushing more deeply than at
first, and painfully aware of her blushes. She looked imploringly at
Diana; but Diana would not come to the rescue; and this morning Mr.
Hawkehurst seemed as a man struck with sudden dumbness.

There followed presently a little discussion of the weather. Miss
Halliday was possessed by the conviction that there would be
rain--possibly not immediate rain, but before the afternoon inevitable
rain. Valentine thought not; was, indeed, positively certain there
would be no rain; had a vague idea that the wind was in the north; and
quoted a dreary Joe-Millerism to prove the impossibility of rain while
the wind came from that quarter. Miss Halliday and Mr. Hawkehurst held
very firmly to their several opinions, and the argument was almost a
quarrel--one of those little playful quarrels which form some of the
most delicious phases of a flirtation. "I would not mind wagering a
fortune--if I had one--on the certainty of rain," cried Charlotte with
kindling eyes.

"And I would not shrink from staking my existence on the conviction
that there will be no rain," exclaimed Valentine, looking with
undisguised tenderness at the glowing animated face.

Diana Paget took no part in that foolish talk about the possibilities
of the weather. She walked silently by the side of her friend
Charlotte, as far away from her old comrade, it seemed to her, as if
the Atlantic's wild waste of waters had stretched between them. The
barrier that divided them was only Charlotte; but then Miss Paget knew
too well that Charlotte in this case meant all the world.

The ice had been broken by that discussion as to rain or no rain, and
Miss Halliday and Mr. Hawkehurst talked pleasantly for some time, while
Diana still walked silently by her friend's side, only speaking when
compelled to do so. The strangeness of her manner would have been
observed by any one not utterly absorbed by that sublime egotism called
love; but Valentine and Charlotte were so absorbed, and had no idea
that Miss Paget was anything but the most delightful and amusing of
companions.

They had taken more than one turn in the broad avenue, when Charlotte
asked Mr. Hawkehurst some question about a piece which was speedily to
be played at one of the theatres.

"I do so much want to see this new French actress," she said. "Do you
think there is any possibility of obtaining orders, Mr. Hawkehurst? You
know what a dislike Mr. Sheldon has to paying for admission to a
theatre, and my pocket-money was exhausted three weeks ago, or I
wouldn't think of giving you any trouble about it."

Philosophers have observed that in the life of the plainest woman there
is one inspired moment in which she becomes beautiful. Perhaps it is
when she is asking a favour of some masculine victim--for women have a
knack of looking their prettiest on such occasions. Charlotte
Halliday's pleading glance and insinuating tone were irresistible.
Valentine would have given a lien on every shilling of his three
thousand pounds rather than disappoint her, if gold could purchase the
thing she craved. It happened fortunately that his occasional
connection with the newspapers made it tolerably easy for him to obtain
free admissions to theatres.

"Do not speak of the trouble; there will be no trouble. The orders
shall be sent you, Miss Halliday."

"O, thanks--a thousand thanks! Would it be possible to get a box, and
for us all to go together?" asked the fair encroacher; "mamma is so
fond of the theatre. She used to go often with poor papa, at York and
in London. And you are such an excellent critic, Mr. Hawkehurst, and it
would be so nice to have you with us,--wouldn't it, Di? You know what a
good critic Mr. Hawkehurst is?"

"Yes," answered Diana; "we used to go to theatres together very often."

This was a cry of anguish wrung from a bleeding heart; but to the two
absorbed egotists it seemed the simplest of casual observations.

"Do you think you could manage to get a box, Mr. Hawkehurst?" asked the
irresistible enslaver, putting her head on one side, in a manner which,
for the protection of weak mankind, should be made penal.

"I will try my uttermost," answered Valentine.

"O, then I'm sure you will succeed. And we shall be amused by your
deliciously bitter criticisms between the acts. One would think you had
studied under Douglas Jerrold."

"You do me too much honour. But before the new piece is produced I
shall have left London, and shall not have the pleasure of accompanying
you to the theatre."

"You are going to leave London?"

"Yes, to-morrow."

"So soon!" cried Charlotte, with undisguised regret; "and for a long
time, I suppose?" she added, very mournfully.

Miss Paget gave a little start, and a feverish flush lit up her face
for one brief moment.

"I am glad he is going," she thought; "I am very glad he is going."

"Yes," said Valentine, in reply to Charlotte's inquiry, "I am likely to
be away for a considerable time; indeed my plans are at present so
vague, that I cannot tell when I may come back to town."

He could not resist the temptation to speak of his absence as if it
were likely to be the affair of a lifetime. He could not refrain from
the delight of sounding the pure depths of that innocent young heart.
But when the tender gray eyes looked at him, so sweet in their sudden
sadness, his heart melted, and he could trifle with her unconscious
love no longer.

"I am going away on a matter of business," he said, "which may or may
not occupy some time; but I don't suppose I shall be many weeks away
from London."

Charlotte gave a little sigh of relief.

"And are you going very far?" she asked.

"Some distance; yes--a--hundred and fifty miles or so," Valentine
answered very lamely. It had been an easy thing to invent an ancient
aunt Sarah for the mystification of the astute Horatio; but Valentine
Hawkehurst could not bring himself to tell Charlotte Halliday a
deliberate falsehood. The girl looked at him wonderingly, as he gave
that hesitating answer to her question. She was at a loss to understand
why he did not tell her the place to which he was going, and the nature
of the business that took him away.

She was very sorry that he was going to disappear out of her life for a
time so uncertain, that while on the one hand it might be only a few
weeks, it might on the other hand be for ever. The life of a young
English damsel, in a prim villa at Bayswater, with a very commonplace
mother and a practical stockbroking stepfather, is rather a narrow kind
of existence; and to such a damsel the stranger whose hand lifts the
curtain that shrouds new and brighter worlds is apt to become a very
important personage, especially when the stranger happens to be young
and handsome, and invested with that dash of Bohemianism which to
artless and sentimental girlhood has such a flavour of romance.

Charlotte was very silent as she retraced her steps along the broad
gravel walk. As they drew near the Bayswater-gate she looked at her
watch. It was nearly one o'clock, and she had promised Mrs. Sheldon to
be home at one for luncheon, and afterwards shopping.

"I'm afraid we must hurry home, Di," she said.

"I am quite ready to go," answered Miss Paget promptly. "Good-bye,
Valentine."

"Good-bye, Diana; good-bye, Miss Halliday."

Mr. Hawkehurst shook hands with both young ladies; but shaking hands
with Charlotte was a very slow process compared to the same performance
with Diana.

"Good-bye," he repeated, in a lingering tone; and then, after standing
for some moments silent and irresolute, with his hat in his hand, he
put it on suddenly and hurried away.

The two girls had walked a few steps towards the gate when Charlotte
stopped before a stony-looking alcove, which happened at this
nursery-dinner-hour to be empty.

"I'm so tired, Di," she said, and went into the alcove, where she sat
down to rest. She had a little veil attached to her turban hat--a
little veil which she now drew over her face. The tears gathered slowly
in her eyes and fell through that flimsy morsel of lace with which she
would fain have hidden her childish sorrow. The tears gathered and fell
on her lap as she sat in silence, pretending not to cry. This much rain
at least was there to justify her prediction, uttered in such foolish
gaiety of heart half an hour before.

Miss Halliday's eyes were undimmed by tears? when she went back to the
gothic villa; but she had a feeling that some great sorrow had come
upon her--a vague idea that the last lingering warmth and brightness of
summer had faded all in a moment, and that chill gray winter had closed
in upon Bayswater without any autumnal interval. What was it that she
had lost? Only the occasional society of a young man with a handsome
pale face, a little haggard and wan from the effect of dissipated
habits and a previous acquaintance with care and difficulty--only the
society of a penniless Bohemian who had a certain disreputable
cleverness and a dash of gloomy sentimentality, which the schoolgirl
mistook for genius. But then he was the first man whose eyes had ever
softened with a mysterious tenderness as they looked at her--the first
whose voice had grown faintly tremulous when it syllabled her name.

There was some allusion to Mr. Hawkehurst's departure in the course of
dinner, and Philip Sheldon expressed some surprise.

"Going to leave town?" he said.

"Yes, papa," Charlotte answered; "he is going a long way into the
country,--a hundred and fifty miles, he said."

"Did he tell you where he was going?"

"No; he seemed unwilling to mention the place. He only said something
about a hundred and fifty miles."



CHAPTER IX.

MR. SHELDON ON THE WATCH.


Mr. Sheldon had occasion to see Captain Paget early the following day,
and questioned him closely about his _protégé's_ movements. He had
found Valentine a very useful tool in sundry intricate transactions of
the commercial kind, and he expected his tools to be ready for his
service. He was therefore considerably annoyed by Valentine's abrupt
departure.

"I think young Hawkehurst might have told me he was going out of town,"
he said. "What the deuce has taken him off in such a hurry?"

"He is going to see some mysterious old aunt at Dorking, from whom he
seems to expect money," the Captain answered carelessly. "I daresay I
can do what you want, Sheldon."

"Very likely. But how comes that young fellow to have an aunt at
Dorking? I fancy I've heard him say he was without a relative or a
friend in the world--always excepting yourself."

"The aunt may be another exception; some poor old soul that he's half
ashamed to own, I daresay--the inmate of an almshouse, perhaps. Val's
expectations may be limited to a few pounds hoarded in a china teapot."

"I should have thought Hawkehurst the last man in the world to care
about looking after that sort of thing. I could have given him plenty
to do if he had stopped in town. He and my brother George are
uncommonly intimate, by the bye," added Mr. Sheldon meditatively. It
was his habit to be rather distrustful of his brother and of all his
brother's acquaintance. "I suppose you can give me Hawkehurst's
address, in case I should want to write to him?" he said.

"He told me to send my letters to the post-office, Dorking," answered
the Captain, "which really looks as if the aunt's residence were
something in the way of an almshouse."

No more was said about Valentine's departure. Captain Paget concluded
his business with his patron and departed, leaving the stockbroker
leaning forward upon his desk in a thoughtful attitude and scribbling
purposeless figures upon his blotting-paper.

"There's something queer in this young man running away from town;
there's some mystification somewhere," he thought. "He has not gone to
Dorking, or he would scarcely have told Lotta that he was going a
hundred and fifty miles from town. He would be likely to be taken off
his guard by her questions, and would tell the truth. I wonder whether
Paget is in the secret. His manner seemed open enough; but that sort of
man can pretend anything. I've noticed that he and George have been
very confidential lately. I wonder whether there's any underhand game
on the cards between those two."

The game of which Mr. Sheldon thought as he leant over his
blotting-paper was a very different kind of game from that which really
occupied the attention of George and his friend.

"I'll go to his lodgings at once," he said to himself by-and-by, rising
and putting on his hat quickly in his eagerness to act upon his
resolution. "I'll see if he really has left town."

The stockbroker hailed the first empty hansom to be seen in the crowded
thoroughfare from which his shady court diverged. In less than an hour
he alighted before the door of the house in which Captain Paget lodged.

"Is Mr. Hawkehurst in?" he asked of the girl who admitted him.

"No, sir; he's just left to go into the country. He hasn't been gone
ten minutes. You might a'most have met him."

"Do you know where he has gone?"

"I heard say it was Dorking, sir."

"Humph! I should like to have seen him before he went. Did he take much
luggage?"

"One portmanter, sir."

"I suppose you didn't notice where he told the man to drive?"

"Yes, sir; it was Euston-square."

"Ah! Euston-square. I'll go there, then, on the chance of catching
him," said Mr. Sheldon.

He bestowed a donation upon the domestic, reentered his hansom, and
told the man to drive to Euston-square "like a shot."

"So! His destination is Dorking, and he goes from Euston-square!"
muttered Mr. Sheldon, in sombre meditation, as the hansom rattled and
rushed, and jingled and jolted, over the stones. "There's something
under the cards here."

Arrived at the great terminus, the stockbroker made his way to the down
platform. There was a lull in the day's traffic, and only a few
listless wretches lounging disconsolately here and there, with eyes
ever and anon lifted to the clock. Amongst these there was no Valentine
Hawkehurst.

Mr. Sheldon peered into all the waiting-rooms, and surveyed the
refreshment-counter; but there was still no sign of the man he sought.
He went back to the ticket-office; but here again all was desolate, the
shutters of the pigeon-holes hermetically closed, and no vestige of
Valentine Hawkehurst.

The stockbroker was disappointed, but not defeated. He returned to the
platform, looked about him for a few moments, and then addressed
himself to a porter of intelligent aspect.

"What trains have left here within the last half-hour?" he asked.

"Only one, sir; the 2.15 down, for Manchester."

"You didn't happen to notice a dark-eyed, dark-haired young man among
the passengers--second class?" asked Mr. Sheldon.

"No, sir. There are always a good many passengers by that train; I
haven't time to notice their faces."

The stockbroker asked no further questions. He was a man who did not
care to be obliged to others for information which he could obtain for
himself. He walked straight to a place where the time-tables were
pasted on the wall, and ran his finger along the figures till he came
to those he wanted.

The 2.15 train was a fast train, which stopped at only four
places--Rugby, Ullerton, Murford, and Manchester.

"I daresay he has gone to Manchester," thought Mr. Sheldon--"on some
racing business most likely, which he wants to keep dark from his
patron the Captain. What a fool I am to trouble myself about him, as if
he couldn't stir without meaning mischief to me! But I don't understand
the friendship between him and George. My brother George is not likely
to take up any man without some motive."

After these reflections Mr. Sheldon left the station and went back to
his office in another hansom, still extremely thoughtful and somewhat
disquieted.

"What does it matter to me where they go or what they do?" he asked
himself, impatient of some lurking weakness of his own; "what does it
matter to me whether those two are friendly or unfriendly? They can do
me no harm."

There happened to be a kind of lull in the stormy regions of the Stock
Exchange at the time of Valentine Hawkehurst's departure. Stagnation
had descended upon that commercial ocean, which is such a dismal waste
of waters for the professional speculator in its hour of calm. All the
Bulls in the zoological creation would have failed to elevate the
drooping stocks and shares and first-preference bonds and debentures,
which hung their feeble heads and declined day by day, the weaker of
them threatening to fade away and diminish to a vanishing-point, as it
seemed to some dejected holders who read the Stock-Exchange lists and
the money article in the Times with a persistent hopefulness which
struggled against the encroachments of despair. The Bears had been
busy, but were now idle--having burnt their fingers, commercial
gentlemen remarked. So Bulls and Bears alike hung listlessly about a
melancholy market, and conversed together dolefully in corners; and the
burden of all their lamentations was to the effect that there never had
been such times, and things never had been so bad, and it was a
question whether they would ever right themselves. Philip Sheldon
shared in the general depression. His face was gloomy, and his manner
for the time being lost something of its brisk, business-like
cheerfulness. The men who envied his better fortunes watched him
furtively when he showed himself amongst them, and wondered whether
Sheldon, of Jull, Girdlestone, and Sheldon, had been hit by these bad
times.

It was not entirely the pressure of that commercial stagnation which
weighed on the spirits of Philip Sheldon. The stockbroker was tormented
by private doubts and uncertainties which had nothing to do with the
money-market.

On the day after Valentine's journey to Ullerton, Mr. Sheldon the elder
presented himself at his brother's office in Gray's Inn. It was his
habit to throw waifs and strays of business in the attorney's way, and
to make use of him occasionally, though he had steadily refused to lend
or give him money; and it was big habit, as it were, to keep an eye
upon his younger brother--rather a jealous eye, which took note of all
George's doings, and kept suspicious watch upon all George's
associates. Going unannounced into his brother's office on this
particular morning, Philip Sheldon found him bending over an outspread
document--a great sheet of cartridge-paper covered with a net-work of
lines, dotted about with circles, and with little patches of writing in
red and black ink in the neatest possible penmanship. Mr. Sheldon the
elder, whose bright black eyes were as the eyes of the hawk, took note
of this paper, and had caught more than one stray word that stood out
in larger and bolder characters than its neighbours, before his brother
could fold it; for it is not an easy thing for a man to fold an
elephantine sheet of cartridge when he is nervously anxious to fold it
quickly, and is conscious that the eyes of an observant brother are
upon him.

Before George had mastered the folding of the elephantine sheet, Philip
had seen and taken note of two words. One of these was the word
INTESTATE, and the other the name HAYGARTH.

"You seem in a great hurry to get that document out of the way," said
Philip, as he seated himself in the client's chair.

"Well, to tell the truth, you rather startled me," answered George. "I
didn't know who it might be, you know; and I was expecting a fellow
who--" And then Mr. Sheldon the younger broke off abruptly, and asked,
with rather a suspicious air, "Why didn't that boy announce you?"

"Because I wouldn't let him. Why should he announce me? One would think
you were carrying on some political conspiracy, George, and had a
modern Thistlewood gang hidden in that cupboard yonder. How thick you
and Hawkehurst are, by the bye!"

In spite of the convenient "by the bye," this last remark of the
stockbroker's sounded rather irrelevant.

"I don't know about being 'thick.' Hawkehurst seems a very decent young
fellow, and he and I get on pretty well together. But I'm not as
'thick' with him as I was with Tom Halliday."

It was to be observed that Mr. Sheldon the younger was very apt to
refer to that friendship with the dead Yorkshireman in the course of
conversation with Philip.

"Hawkehurst has just left town," said Philip indifferently.

"Yes, I know he has."

"When did you hear it?"

"I saw him last night," answered George, taken off his guard by the
carelessness of his brother's manner.

"Did you?" cried Mr. Sheldon. "You make a mistake there. He left town
at two o'clock yesterday."

"How do you happen to know that?" asked George sharply.

"Because I happened to be at the station and saw him take his ticket.
There's something underhand in that journey of his by the way; for
Paget told me he was going to Dorking. I suppose he and Paget have some
game of their own on the cards. I was rather annoyed by the young man's
departure, as I had some work for him. However, I can find plenty of
fellows to do it as well as Hawkehurst could have done."

George was looking into an open drawer in his desk while his brother
said this. He had a habit of opening drawers and peering into them
absently during the progress of an interview, as if looking for some
particular paper, that was never to be found.

After this the conversation became less personal. The brothers talked a
little of the events of the day, the money-article in that morning's
Times, the probability or improbability of a change in the rate of
discount. But this conversation soon flagged, and Mr. Sheldon rose to
depart.

"I suppose that sheet of cartridge-paper which you had so much trouble
to fold is one of your genealogical tables," he said as he was going.
"You needn't try to keep things dark from me, George. I'm not likely to
steal a march upon you; my own business gives me more work than I can
do. But if you have really got a good thing at last, I shouldn't mind
going into it with you, and finding the money for the enterprise."

George Sheldon looked at his elder brother with a malicious flitter in
his eyes.

"On condition that you got the lion's share of the profits," he said.
"O yes; I know how generous you are, Phil. I have asked you for money
before today, and you have refused it."

Mr. Sheldon's face darkened just a little at this point. "Your manner
of asking it was offensive," he said.

"Well, I'm sorry for that," answered George politely. "However, you
refused me money when I did want it; so you needn't offer it me now I
don't want it. There are some people who think I have sacrificed my
life to a senseless theory; and perhaps you are one of them. But there
is one thing you may be certain of, Philip Sheldon: if ever I _do_ get
a good chance, I shall know how to keep it to myself."

There are men skilled in the concealment of their feelings on all
ordinary occasions, who will yet betray themselves in a crisis of
importance. George Sheldon would fain have kept his project hidden from
his elder brother; but in this one unguarded moment he forgot himself,
and allowed the sense of triumph to irradiate his face.

The stockbroker was a reader of men rather than books; and it is a
notable thing what superiority in all worldly wisdom is possessed by
men who eschew books. He was able to translate the meaning of George's
smile--a smile of mingled triumph and malice.

"The fellow _has_ got a good thing," he thought to himself, "and
Hawkehurst is in it. It must be a deuced good thing too, or he wouldn't
refuse my offer of money." Mr. Sheldon was the last man in the world to
reveal any mortification which he might experience from his brother's
conduct.

"Well, you're quite right to stick to your chance, George," he said,
with agreeable frankness. "You've waited long enough for it. As for me,
I've got my fingers in a good many pies just at present; so perhaps I
had better keep them out of yours, whatever plums there may be to be
picked out of it by an enterprising Jack Horner. Pick out your plums
for yourself, old fellow, and I'll be one of the first to call you a
good boy for your pains."

With this Mr. Sheldon slapped his brother's shoulder and departed.

"I think I've had the best of Master Phil for once," muttered George;
and then he thrust his sinewy hands into the depths of his
trousers-pocket, and indulged in a silent laugh, which displayed his
strong square white teeth to perfection. "I flatter myself I took a
rise out of Phil to-day," he muttered.

The sense of a malicious triumph over a social enemy is a very
delightful kind of thing,--so delightful that a man is apt to ignore
the possible cost of the enjoyment. It is like the pleasure of kicking
a man who is down--very delicious in its way; only one never knows how
soon the man may be up again.

George Sheldon, who was tolerably skilled in the science of human
nature, should have known that "taking a rise" out of his brother was
likely to be a rather costly operation. Philip was not the safest man
to deal with at any time; but he was most dangerous when he was "jolly."



BOOK THE FOURTH.


VALENTINE HAWKEHURST'S RECORD.



CHAPTER I.

THE OLDEST INHABITANT.


Black Swan Inn, Ullerton, October 2nd.

As the work I am now employed in is quite new to me, and I am to keep
Sheldon posted up in this business day by day, I have decided on
jotting down the results of my inquiries in a kind of diary. Instead of
writing my principal a formal letter, I shall send a copy of the
entries in the diary, revised and amended. This will insure exactitude;
and there is just the possibility that the record may be useful to me
hereafter. To remember all I hear and pick up about these departed
Haygarths without the aid of pen and ink would be out of the question;
so I mean to go in for unlimited pen and ink like a hero, not to say a
martyr.

And I am to do all this for twenty shillings a week, and the remote
possibility of three thousand pounds! O genius, genius! in all the
markets of this round world is there no better price for you than that?

How sweetly my Charlotte looked at me yesterday, when I told her I was
going away! If I could have dared to kneel at her feet under those
whispering elms,--unconscious of the children, unconscious of the
nursemaids,--if I could have dared to cry aloud to her, "I am a
penniless reprobate, but I love you; I am a disreputable pauper, but I
adore you! Have pity upon my love and forget my worthlessness!" If I
could have dared to carry her away from her prim suburban home and that
terrible black-whiskered stockbroking stepfather! But how is a man to
carry off the woman he adores when he has not the _de quoi_ for the
first stage of the journey?

With three thousand pounds in my pocket, I think I could dare anything.
Three thousand pounds! One year of splendour and happiness, and
then--the rest is chaos!

I have seen the oldest inhabitant. _Ay de mi_! Sheldon did not
exaggerate the prosiness of that intolerable man. I thought of the
luckless wedding guest in Coleridge's grim ballad as I sat listening to
this modern-ancient mariner. I had to remind myself of all the bright
things to be bought for three thousand pounds, every now and then, in
order to endure with fortitude, if not serenity. And now the day's work
is done, I begin to think it might as well have been left undone. How
am I to disintegrate the mass of prosiness which I have heard this day?
For three mortal hours did I listen to my ancient mariner; and how much
am I the wiser for my patience? Clever as you may fancy yourself, my
friend Hawkehurst, you don't seem to be the man for this business. You
have not the legal mind. Your genius is not the genius of
Scotland-yard, and I begin to fear that in your new line you may prove
yourself a failure.

However, where all is dark to me the astute Sheldon may see daylight,
so I'll observe the letter of my bond, and check off the residuum of
the ancient mariner's prosiness.

By dint of much pumping I obtained from my ancient, first, his father's
recollections of Matthew Haygarth a few years before his death, and
secondly, his grandfather's recollections of Matthew in his wild youth.
It seems that in those last years of his life Matthew was a most sober
and estimable citizen; attended the chapel of a nonconforming sect;
read the works of Baxter, and followed in the footsteps of his departed
father; was a kind husband to a woman who appears to me to have been
rather a pragmatical and icy personage, but who was esteemed a model of
womanly virtue, and who had money. Strange that these respectable and
wealthy citizens should be so eager to increase their store by alliance
with respectable and wealthy citizenesses.

In his later years Matthew Haygarth seems to have imitated his father
in many respects. Like his father, he executed more than one will; and,
like his father, he died intestate. The lawyer who drew up his will on
more than one occasion was a man called Brice--like his client,
eminently respectable.

After his marriage, our esteemed Matthew retired to a modest mansion in
the heart of the country, and some ten or fifteen miles from Ullerton.
The mansion in question is at a place called Dewsdale, and was the
property of the wife, and accrued to him through her.

This house and estate of some thirty acres was afterwards sold by the
rev. intestate, John Haygarth, shortly after his coming of age, and
within a year of his mother's death.

This much and no more could I extort from the oldest inhabitant
relative to the latter days of our Matthew.

Respecting his wild youth I obtained the following crumbs of
enlightenment. In the year 1741-2, being then one-and-twenty years of
age, he left Ullerton. It is my ancient mariner's belief that he ran
away from home, after some desperate quarrel with his father; and it is
also the belief of my ancient that he stayed away, without
intermission, for twenty years,--though on what precise fact that
belief is founded is much more than I can extract from the venerable
proser.

My ancient suggests--always in the haziest and most impracticable
manner--the possibility that Matthew in his wild days lodged somewhere
Clerkenwell way. He has a dim idea that he has heard his grandfather
speak of St. John's-gate, Clerkenwell, in connection with Matthew
Haygarth; but, as my ancient's grandfather seems to have been almost
imbecile at the time he made such remarks, _this_ is not much.

He has another idea--also very vague and impracticable--of having heard
his grandfather say something about an adventure of Matthew Haygarth's,
which was rather a heroic affair in its way--an adventure in which, in
some inexplicable manner, the wild Matthew is mixed up with a
dancing-girl, or player-girl, of Bartholomew Fair, and a nobleman.

This is the sum-total of the information to be extracted in three
mortal hours from my ancient. Altogether the day has been very
unsatisfactory; and I begin to think I'm not up to the sort of work
required of me. _Oct. 3rd._ Another long interview with my ancient. I
dropped in directly after my breakfast, and about an hour after his
dinner. I sat up late last night, occupied till nearly ten in copying
my diary for Sheldon--which was just in time for the London post--and
lingering over my cigar till past midnight, thinking of Charlotte. So I
was late this morning.

My ancient received me graciously. I took him half a pound of mild
bird's-eye tobacco, on diplomatic grounds. He is evidently the sort of
person who would receive Mephistopheles graciously, if the fiend
presented him with tobacco.

I returned to the charge--diplomatically, of course; talked about
Ullerton and Ullerton people in general, insinuating occasional
questions about the Haygarths. I was rewarded by obtaining some little
information about Mrs. Matthew. That lady appears to have been a
devoted disciple of John Wesley, and was fonder of travelling to divers
towns and villages to hear the discourses of that preacher than her
husband approved. It seems they were wont to disagree upon this subject.

For some years before her marriage Mrs. Matthew was a member of a
Wesleyan confraternity, in those days newly established at Ullerton.
They held meetings and heard sermons in the warehouse of a wealthy
draper; and shortly before Mrs. Matthew's demise they built a chapel,
still extant, in a dingy little thoroughfare known as Waterhouse-lane.

On these points my ancient mariner is tolerably clear. They belong to
the period remembered by his father.

And now I believe him to be pumped dry. I gave him my benediction, and
left him smoking some of my tobacco, content with himself and with the
world--always excepting the authorities, or board, of the almshouses,
against whom he appears to nourish a grievance.

After leaving him, I walked about Ullerton for an hour or so before
returning to my humble hostelry. The streets of Ullerton are sealed
with the seal of desolation--the abomination of desolation reigns in
the market-place, where the grass flourishes greenly in the interstices
of the pavement. The place has known prosperity, and is prosperous no
longer; but although its chief trade has left it, there are still some
three or four factories in full swing. I heard clanging bells, and met
bare-headed women and uncouth-looking men hurrying to and fro. I went
to look at the Wesleyan chapel in Waterhouse-lane. It is a queer little
building, and bears some resemblance to a toy Noah's Ark in red brick.
Tall warehouses have arisen about it and hemmed it in, and the slim
chimney-shaft of a waterworks throws a black shadow aslant its
unpretending facade. I inquired the name of the present minister. He is
called Jonah Goodge, began life as a carpenter, and is accounted the
pink and pattern of piety. _Oct. 4th_. A letter from Sheldon awaited me
in the coffee-room letter-rack when I went downstairs to breakfast.

"MY DEAR HAWKEHURST,--Don't be disheartened if the work seems slow at
first. You'll soon get used to it.

"I should recommend you to adopt the following tactics:

"1st. Go to the house at Dewsdale, inhabited by M.H. and his wife. You
may have some difficulty in obtaining admission--and full liberty to
explore and examine--from the present servant or owner; but you are not
the man I take you for if you cannot overcome such a difficulty. I
enclose a few of my cards, which you can use at your discretion. They
show professional status. It would be as well to call yourself my
articled clerk, and to state that you are prosecuting an inquiry on the
behalf of a client of mine, who wishes to prove a certain event in the
past connected remotely with the H. family. If asked whether your
business relates to the property left by the rev. intestate, you must
reply decisively in the negative. But I must remind you that extreme
caution is required in every move you make. Wherever you can do your
work _without_ any reference to the name of Haygarth, avoid such
reference. Always remember that there may be other people on the same
scent.

"2nd. Examine the house in detail; look for old pictures, old
furniture, old needlework--if you are lucky enough to find the Haygarth
furniture was sold with the property, which I should think probable.
The rev. intestate must have been at the University when he made the
sale; and a young Cantab would in all likelihood pass over his
ancestral chairs and tables to the purchaser of his ancestral mansion,
as so much useless lumber. It is proverbial that walls have ears. I
hope the Dewsdale walls may have tongues, and favour you with a little
information.

"3rd. When you have done all that is to be done at Dewsdale, your next
work must be to hunt up any scion of the lawyer Brice, if such scion be
in existence at Ullerton. Or if not to be found in Ullerton, ascertain
where the descendant, or decendants, of Brice is, or are, to be found.
Brice, the lawyer, must have known the contents of those wills executed
and afterwards destroyed by Haygarth, and may have kept rough draughts,
copies, or memoranda of the same. This is most important.--Yours truly,
G.S."

This Sheldon is a wonderful man, and a cautious!--no Signature to his
letter.

I started for Dewidale immediately after my breakfast. I have made
arrangements for boarding in this house, which is a second-rate
commercial inn. They have agreed to give me board and lodging for
twenty shillings a week--the full amount of my stipend: so all that I
gain by my researches in the affairs of the departed Matthew is food
and shelter. However, as this food and shelter is perhaps more honestly
obtained than those little dinners which I have so often eaten with the
great Horatio, I will try to fancy a sweetness in the tough steaks and
greasy legs of mutton. O sheep of Midlandshire! why cultivate such
ponderous calves, and why so incline to sinews? O cooks of
Midlandshire! why so superficial in the treatment of your roasts, so
impetuous and inconsiderate when you boil?

A railroad now penetrates the rural district in which the village of
Dewsdale is situated. There is a little station, something like a
wooden Dutch oven, within a mile of the village; and here I alighted.
The morning savoured of summer rather than autumn. The air was soft and
balmy, the sunshine steeped the landscape in warm light, and the red
and golden tints of the fading foliage took new splendour from that
yellow sunshine. A man whose life is spent in cities must be dull of
soul indeed if he does not feel a little touched by the beauty of
rustic scenery, when he finds himself suddenly in the heart of the
country. I had seen nothing so fair as those English fields and copses
since I left the pine-clad hills of Forêtdechêne. An idiotic boy
directed me across some fields to Dewsdale. He sent me a mile out of
the way; but I forgave and blest him, for I think the walk did me good.
I felt as if all manner of vicious vapours were being blown out of my
head as the soft wind lifted my hair.

And so to Dewsdale. Strolling leisurely through those quiet meadows, I
fell to thinking of many things that seldom came into my mind in
London. I thought of my dead mother--a poor gentle creature--too frail
to carry heroically the burden laid upon her, and so a little soured by
chronic debt and difficulty. I have reason to remember her tenderly; we
shared so much misery together. I believe my father married her in the
Rules of the Bench; and if I am not sure upon this point, I know for a
certainty that I was born within those mystic boundaries.

And then my mind wandered to those nomadic adventures in which poor
Diana Paget and I were so much together. I think we were a little fond
of each other in those days; but in that matter I was at least prudent;
and now the transient fancy has faded, on Di's part as well as on mine.

If I could be as prudent where Charlotte H. is concerned!

But prudence and Charlotte's eyes cannot hold their own in the same
brain. Of two things, one, as our neighbours say: a man must cease to
be prudent, or he must forget those bewitching gray eyes.

I know she was sorry when she heard of my intended departure.

This is her birthday. She is twenty-one years of age to-day. I remember
the two girls talking of it, and Miss Halliday declaring herself "quite
old." My dear one, I drink your health in this poor tavern liquor, with
every tender wish and holy thought befitting your innocent girlhood!



CHAPTER II.

MATTHEW HAYGARTH'S RESTING-PLACE.


I found the house at Dewsdale without difficulty. It is a stiff,
square, red-brick dwelling-place, with long narrow windows, a high
narrow door, and carved canopy; a house which savours of the _Tatler_
and _Spectator_; a house in which the short-faced gentleman might have
spent his summer holidays after Sir Roger's death. It stands behind a
high iron gate, surmounted by a handsome coat of arms; and before it
there lies a pleasant patch of greensward, with a pond and a colony of
cackling geese, which craned their necks and screamed at me as I passed
them.

The place is the simplest and smallest of rural villages. There is a
public-house--the Seven Stars; a sprinkling of humble cottages; a
general shop, which is at once a shoemaker's, a grocer's, a linen
draper's, a stationer's, and a post office. These habitations, a gray
old church with a square tower, half hidden by the sombre foliage of
yews and cedars, and the house once inhabited by the Haygarths,
comprise the whole of the village. The Haygarthian household is now the
rectory. I ascertained this fact from the landlord of the Seven Stars,
at which house of entertainment I took a bottle of soda-water, in order
to _sonder le terrain_ before commencing business.

The present rector is an elderly widower with seven children; an easy
good-natured soul, who is more prone to bestow his money in charity
than to punctuality in the payment of his debts.

Having discovered thus much, I rang the bell at the iron gate and
boarded the Haygarthian mansion. The rector was at home, and received
me in a very untidy apartment, _par excellence_ a study. A boy in a
holland blouse was smearing his face with his inky fingers, and
wrestling with a problem in Euclid, while his father stood on a
step-ladder exploring a high shelf of dusty books.

The rector, whose name is Wendover, descended from the step-ladder and
shook the dust from his garments. He is a little withered old man, with
a manner so lively as to be on the verge of flightiness. I observed
that he wiped his dusty palms on the skirts of his coat, and argued
therefrom that he would be an easy person to deal with. I soon found
that my deduction was correct.

I presented Sheldon's card and stated my business, of course acting on
that worthy's advice. Could Mr. Wendover give me any information
relating to the Haygarth family?

Fortune favoured me throughout this Dewsdale expedition. The rector is
a simple garrulous old soul, to whom to talk is bliss. He has occupied
the house five-and-thirty years. He rents it of the lord of the manor,
who bought it from John Haygarth. Not a stick of furniture has been
removed since our friend Matthew's time; and the rev. intestate may
have wrestled with the mysteries of Euclid on the same old-fashioned
mahogany table at which I saw the boy in brown holland.

Mr. Wendover left his books and manuscripts scattered on the floor of
the study, and conducted me to a cool shady drawing-room, very shabbily
furnished with the spindle-legged chairs and tables of the last
century. Here he begged me to be seated, and here we were ever and anon
interrupted by intruding juveniles, the banging of doors, and the
shrill clamour of young voices in the hall and garden.

I brought all the diplomacy of which I am master to bear in my long
interview with the rector; and the following is a transcript of our
conversation, after a good deal of polite skirmishing:--

_Myself_. You see, my dear sir, the business I am concerned in is
remotely connected with these Haygarths. Any information you will
kindly afford me, however apparently trivial, may be of service in the
affair I am prosecuting.

_The Rector._ To be sure, to be sure! But, you see, though I've heard a
good deal of the Haygarths, it is all gossip--the merest gossip. People
are so fond of gossip, you know--especially country people: I have no
doubt you have remarked that. Yes, I have heard a great deal about
Matthew Haygarth. My late clerk and sexton,--a very remarkable man,
ninety-one when he died, and able to perform his duties very creditably
within a year of his death--very creditably; but the hard winter of '56
took him off, poor fellow, and now I have a young man. Old Andrew
Hone--that was my late clerk's name--was employed in this house when a
lad, and was very fond of talking about Matthew Haygarth and his wife.
She was a rich woman, you know, a very rich woman--the daughter of a
brewer at Ullerton; and this house belonged to her--inherited from her
father.

_Myself_. And did you gather from your clerk that Matthew Haygarth and
his wife lived happily together?

_The Rector_. Well, yes, yes: I never heard anything to the contrary.
They were not a young couple, you know. Rebecca Caulfield was forty
years of age, and Matthew Haygarth was fifty-three when he married; so,
you see, one could hardly call it a love-match. [_Abrupt inroad of
bouncing damsel, exclaiming "Pa!"_] Don't you see I'm engaged, Sophia
Louisa? Why are you not at your practice? [_Sudden retreat of bouncing
damsel, followed by the scrambling performance of scale of C major in
adjoining chamber, which performance abruptly ceases after five
minutes_.] You see Mrs. Haygarth was _not_ young, as I was about to
observe when my daughter interrupted us; and she was perhaps a little
more steadfast in her adherence to the newly arisen sect of Wesleyans
than was pleasing to her husband, although he consented to become a
member of that sect. But as their married life lasted only a year, they
had little time for domestic unhappiness, even supposing them not to be
adapted to each other.

_Myself_. Mrs Matthew Haygarth did not marry again?

_The Rector_. No; she devoted herself to the education of her son, and
lived and died in this house. The room which is now my study she
furnished with a small reading-desk and a couple of benches, now in my
nursery, and made it into a kind of chapel, in which the keeper of the
general shop--who was, I believe, considered a shining light amongst
the Wesleyan community--was in the habit of holding forth every Sunday
morning to such few members of that sect as were within reach of
Dewsdale. She died when her son was nineteen years of age, and was
buried in the family vault in the churchyard yonder. Her son's
adherence to the Church of England was a very great trouble to her.
[_Inroad of boy in holland, very dejected and inky of aspect, also
exclaiming "Pa!"_] No, John; not till that problem is worked out. Take
that cricket-bat back to the lobby, sir, and return to your studies.
[_Sulky withdrawal of boy._] You see what it is to have a large family,
Mr.--Sheldon. I beg pardon, Mr.------

_Myself_. Hawkehurst, clerk to Mr. Sheldon.

_The Rector_. To be sure. I have some thoughts of the Law for one of my
elder sons; the Church is terribly overcrowded. However, as I was on
the point of saying when my boy John disturbed us, though I have heard
a great deal of gossip about the Haygarths, I fear I can give you very
little substantial information. Their connection with Dewsdale lasted
little more than twenty years. Matthew Haygarth was married in Dewsdale
church, his son John was christened in Dewsdale church, and he himself
is buried in the churchyard. That is about as much positive information
as I can give you; and you will perhaps remark that the parish register
would afford you as much. After questioning the good-natured old rector
rather closely, and obtaining little more than the above information, I
asked permission to see the house.

"Old furniture and old pictures are apt to be suggestive," I said; "and
perhaps while we are going over the house you may happen to recall some
further particulars relating to the Haygarth family."

Mr. Wendover assented. He was evidently anxious to oblige me, and
accepted my explanation of my business in perfect good faith. He
conducted me from room to room, waiting patiently while I scrutinised
the panelled walls and stared at the attenuated old furniture. I was
determined to observe George Sheldon's advice to the very letter,
though I had little hope of making any grand melodramatic discovery in
the way of documents hidden in old cabinets, or mouldering behind
sliding panels.

I asked the rector if he had ever found papers of any kind in forgotten
nooks and corners of the house or the furniture. His reply was a
decided negative. He had explored and investigated every inch of the
old dwelling-place, and had found nothing.

So much for Sheldon's idea.

Mr. Wendover led me from basement to garret, encountering bouncing
daughters and boys in brown holland wherever we went; and from basement
to garret I found that all was barren. In the whole of the house there
was but one object which arrested my attention, and the interest which
that one object aroused in my mind had no relation to the Haygarthian
fortune.

Over a high carved chimney-piece in one of the bedchambers there hung a
little row of miniatures--old-fashioned oval miniatures, pale and
faded--pictures of men and women with the powdered hair of the Georgian
period, and the flowing full-bottomed wigs familiar to St. James's and
Tunbridge-wells in the days of inoffensive Anne. There were in all
seven miniatures, six of which specimens of antique portraiture were
prim and starched and artificial of aspect. But the seventh was
different in form and style: it was the picture of a girlish face
looking out of a frame of loose unpowdered locks; a bright innocent
face, with gray eyes and marked black eyebrows, pouting lips a little
parted, and white teeth gleaming between lips of rosy red; such a face
as one might fancy the inspiration of an old poet. I took the miniature
gently from the little brass hook on which it hung, and stood for some
time looking at the bright frank face.

It was the picture of Charlotte Halliday. Yes; I suppose there is a
fatality in these things. It was one of those marvellous accidental
resemblances which every man has met with in the course of his life.
Here was this dead-and-gone beauty of the days of George the Second
smiling upon me with the eyes and lips of Philip Sheldon's stepdaughter!

Or was it only a delusion of my own? Was my mind so steeped in the
thought of that girl--was my heart so impressed by her beauty, that I
could not look upon a fair woman's face without conjuring up her
likeness in the pictured countenance? However this may be, I looked
long and tenderly at the face which seemed to me to resemble the woman
I love.

Of course I questioned the rector as to the original of this particular
miniature. He could tell me nothing about it, except that he thought it
was not one of the Caulfields or Haygarths. The man in the
full-bottomed Queen-Anne wig was Jeremiah Caulfield, brewer, father of
the pious Rebecca; the woman with the high powdered head was the pious
Rebecca herself; the man in the George-the-Second wig was Matthew
Haygarth. The other three were kindred of Rebecca's. But the
wild-haired damsel was some unknown creature, for whose presence Mr.
Wendover was unable to account.

I examined the frame of the miniature, and found that it opened at the
back. Behind the ivory on which the portrait was painted there was a
lock of dark hair incased in crystal; and on the inside of the case,
which was of some worthless metal gilded, there was scratched the name
"Molly."

How this Molly with the loose dark locks came to be admitted among the
prim, and pious Caulfields is certainly more than I can understand.

My exploration of the house having resulted only in this little
romantic accident of the likeness to Charlotte, I prepared to take my
departure, no wiser than when I had first crossed the threshold. The
rector very politely proposed to show me the church; and as I
considered that it would be well to take a copy of the Haygarthian
entries in the register, I availed myself of his offer. He despatched a
maid-servant to summon his clerk, in order that that functionary might
assist in the investigation of the registers. The girl departed on this
errand, while her master conducted me across his garden, in which there
is now a gate opening into the churchyard.

It is the most picturesque of burial-grounds, darkened by the shadow of
those solemn yews and spreading cedars. We walked very slowly between
the crumbling old tombstones, which have almost all grown one-sided
with time. Mr. Wendover led me through a little labyrinth of lowly
graves to a high and ponderous iron railing surrounding a square space,
in the midst of which there is a stately stone monument. In the railing
there is a gate, from which a flight of stone step leads down to the
door of a vault. It is altogether rather a pretentious affair, wherein
one sees the evidence of substantial wealth unelevated by artistic
grace or poetic grandeur.

This is the family vault of the Caulfields and Haygarths.

"I've brought you to look at this tomb," said the rector, resting his
hand upon the rusted railing, "because there is rather a romantic story
connected with it--a story that concerns Matthew Haygarth, by the bye.
I did not think of it just now, when we were talking of him; but it
flashed on my memory as we came through the garden. It is rather a
mysterious affair; and though it is not very likely to have any bearing
upon the object of your inquiry, I may as well tell you about it,--as a
leaf out of family history, you know, Mr. Hawkehurst, and as a new
proof of the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction."

I assured the rector that I should be glad to hear anything he could
tell me.

"I must premise that I only tell the story as I got it from my old
clerk, and that it may therefore seem rather indistinct; but there is
an entry in the register yonder to show that it is not without
foundation. However, I will waste no more words in preamble, but give
you the story, which is simply this:"--

The rector seated himself on a dilapidated old tombstone, while I
leaned against the rails of the Haygarth vault, looking down upon him.

"Within a month or two of Matthew Haygarth's death a kind of melancholy
came over him," said the rector. "Whether he was unhappy with his wife,
or whether he felt his health declining, is more than I can say. You
must remember that my informant was but a lad at the time of which I
speak, and that when he talked to me about the subject sixty years
afterwards he was a very old man, and his impressions were therefore
more or less vague. But upon certain facts he was sufficiently
positive; and amongst the circumstances he remembered most vividly are
those of the story I am going to tell you.

"It seems that within a very few weeks of Matthew's death, his wife,
Rebecca Haygarth, started on an expedition to the north, in the company
of an uncle, to hear John Wesley preach on some very special occasion,
and to assist at a love-feast. She was gone more than a fortnight; and
during her absence Matthew Haygarth mounted his horse early one morning
and rode away from Dewsdale.

"His household consisted of three maids, a man, and the lad Andrew
Hone, afterwards my sexton. Before departing on his journey Mr.
Haygarth had said that he would not return till late the next evening,
and had requested that only the man (whose name I forget) should sit up
for him." He was punctiliously obeyed. The household, always of early
habits, retired at nine, the accustomed hour; and the man-servant
waited to receive his master, while the lad Andrew, who slept in the
stables, sat up to keep his fellow-servant company.

"At ten o'clock Mr. Haygarth came home, gave his horse into the charge
of the lad, took his candle from the man-servant, and walked straight
upstairs, as if going to bed. The man-servant locked the doors, took
his master the key, and then went to his own quarters. The boy remained
up to feed and groom the horse, which had the appearance of having
performed a hard day's work.

"He had nearly concluded this business when he was startled by the
slamming of the back door opening into the courtyard, in which were the
stables and outhouses. Apprehending thieves, the boy opened the door of
the stable and looked out, doubtless with considerable caution.

"It was broad moonlight, and he saw at a glance that the person who had
opened the door was one who had a right to open it. Matthew Haygarth
was crossing the courtyard as the lad peeped out. He wore a long black
cloak, and his head drooped upon his breast as if he had been in
dejection. The lad--being, I suppose, inquisitive, after the manner of
country lads--made no more ado, but left his unfinished work and crept
stealthily after his master, who came straight to this
churchyard,--indeed to this very spot on which we are now standing.

"On this spot the boy Andrew Hone became the secret witness of a
strange scene. He saw an open grave close against the rails yonder, and
he saw a little coffin lowered silently into that grave by the sexton
of that time and a strange man, who afterwards went away in a mourning
coach, which was in waiting at the gate, and in which doubtless the
stranger and the little coffin had come.

"Before the man departed he assisted to fill up the grave; and when it
was filled Matthew Haygarth gave money to both the men--gold it seemed
to the lad Andrew, and several pieces to each person. The two men then
departed, but Mr. Haygarth still lingered.

"As soon as he fancied himself alone, he knelt down beside the little
grave, covered his face with his hands, and either wept or prayed,
Andrew Hone could not tell which. If he wept, he wept silently.

"From that night, my sexton said, Matthew Haygarth faded visibly.
Mistress Rebecca came home from her love-feast, and nursed and tended
her husband with considerable kindness, though, so far as I can make
out, she was at the best a stern woman. He died three weeks after the
event which I have described, and was buried in that vault close to the
little grave." I thanked Mr. Wendover for his succinct narrative, and
apologised for the trouble I had occasioned him.

"Do not speak of the trouble," he answered kindly; "I am used to
telling that story. I have heard it a great many times from poor old
Andrew, and I have told it a great many times."

"The story has rather a legendary tone," I said; "I should have
scarcely thought such a thing possible."

The rector shrugged his shoulders with a deprecating gesture.

"In our own day," he replied, "such an occurrence would be almost
impossible; but you must remember that we are talking of the last
century--a century in which, I regret to say, the clergy of the Church
of England were sadly lax in the performance of their duties. The
followers of Wesley and Whitefield could scarcely have multiplied as
they did if the flocks had not been cruelly neglected by their proper
shepherds. It was a period in which benefices were bestowed constantly
on men obviously unfitted for the holy office--men who were gamblers
and drunkards, patrons of cock-pits, and in many cases open and
shameless reprobates. In such an age almost anything was possible; and
this midnight and unhallowed interment may very well have taken place
either with the consent or without the knowledge of the incumbent, who,
I am told, bore no high character for piety or morality."

"And you say there is an entry in the register?"

"Yes, a careless scrawl, dated Sept. 19th, 1774, recording the burial
of one Matthew Haygarth, aged four years, removed from the
burial-ground attached to the parish church of Spotswold."

"Then it was a reinterment?"

"Evidently."

"And is Spotswold in this county?"

"Yes; it is a very small village, about fifty miles from here."

"And Matthew Haygarth died very soon after this event?"

"He did. He died very suddenly--with an awful suddenness--and died
intestate. His widow was left the possessor of great wealth, which
increased in the hands of her son John Haygarth, a very prudent and
worthy gentleman, and a credit to the Church of which he was a member.
He only died very lately, I believe, and must therefore have attained a
great age."

It is quite evident that Mr. Wendover had not seen the advertisement in
the Times, and was ignorant of the fact that the accumulated wealth of
Haygarths and Caulfields is now waiting a claimant.

I asked permission to see the register containing the entry of the
mysterious interment; and after the administration of a shilling to the
clerk--a shilling at Dewsdale being equal to half a crown in
London--the vestry cupboard was opened by that functionary, and the
book I required was produced from a goodly pile of such mouldy brown
leather-bound volumes.

The following is a copy of the entry:--

"On Thursday last past, being ye 19 Sep'tr, A.D. 1774, was interr'd ye
bodie off onne Matthewe Haygarthe, ag'd foure yeres, remoov'd fromm ye
Churcheyarde off St. Marie, under ye hil, Spotswolde, in this Co. Pade
forr so doeing, sevven shill."

After having inspected the register, I asked many further questions,
but without eliciting much further information. So I expressed my
thanks for the courtesy that had been shown me, and took my departure,
not wishing to press the matter so closely as to render myself a
nuisance to the worthy Wendover, and bearing in mind that it would be
open to me to return at any future time.

And now I ask myself--and I ask the astute Sheldon--what is the meaning
of this mysterious burial, and is it likely to have any bearing on the
object of our search? These are questions for the consideration of the
astute S.

I spent my evening in jotting down the events of the day, in the above
free-and-easy fashion for my own guidance, and in a more precise and
business-like style for my employer. I posted my letter before ten
o'clock, the hour at which the London mail is made up, and then smoked
my cigar in the empty streets, overshadowed by gaunt square stacks of
building and tall black chimneys; and so back to my inn, where I took a
glass of ale and another cigar, and then to bed, as the worthy Pepys
might have concluded.



CHAPTER III.

MR. GOODGE'S WISDOM.


_Oct. 5th_. My dreams last night were haunted by the image of gray-eyed
Molly, with her wild loose hair. She must needs have been a sweet
creature; and how she came amongst those prim fishy-eyed men and women
with absurd head-gear is much more than I can understand. That she
should mix herself up with Diana Paget, and play _rouge-et-noir_ at
Forêtdechêne in a tucked-up chintz gown and a quilted satin petticoat,
in my dreams last night--that I should meet her afterwards in the
little stucco temple on the Belgian hills, and stab her to the heart,
whereon she changed into Charlotte Halliday--is only in the nature of
dreams, and therefore no subject for wonder.

On referring to Sheldon's letter I found that the next people to be
looked up were descendants of Brice the lawyer; so I devoted my
breakfast-hour to the cultivation of an intimacy with the oldest of the
waiters--a very antique specimen of his brotherhood, with a white
stubble upon his chin and a tendency to confusion of mind in the matter
of forks and spoons.

"Do you know, or have you ever known, an attorney of the name of Brice
in this town?" I asked him.

He rubbed the white stubble contemplatively with his hand, and then
gave his poor old head a dejected shake. I felt at once that I should
get very little good out of _him_.

"No," he murmured despondently, "not that I can call to mind."

I should like to know what he _could_ call to mind, piteous old
meanderer!

"And yet you belong to Ullerton, I suppose?"

"Yes; and have belonged to it these seventy-five years, man and boy;"
whereby, no doubt, the dreary confusion of the unhappy being's mind.
Figurez donc, mon cher. Qui-que-ce-soit, fifty-five years or so of
commercial breakfasts and dinners in such a place as Ullerton!
Five-and-fifty years of steaks and chops; five-and-fifty years of ham
and eggs, indifferently buttered toasts, and perennial sixes of
brandy-and-water! After rambling to and fro with spoons and forks, and
while in progress of clearing my table, and dropping the different
items of my breakfast equipage, the poor soddened faded face of this
dreary wanderer became suddenly illumined with a faint glimmer that was
almost the light of reason.

"There were a Brice in Ullerton when I were a lad; I've heard father
tell on him," he murmured slowly.

"An attorney?"

"Yes. He were a rare wild one, he were! It was when the Prince of Wales
were Regent for his poor old mad father, as the saying is, and folks
was wilder like in general in those times, and wore spencers--lawyer
Brice wore a plum-coloured one."

Imagine then again, mon cher, an attorney in a plum-coloured spencer!
Who, in these enlightened days, would trust his business to such a
practitioner? I perked up considerably, believing that my aged imbecile
was going to be of real service to me.

"Yes, he were a rare wild one, he were," said my ancient friend with
excitement. "I can remember him as well as if it was yesterday, at
Tiverford races--there was races at Tiverford in those days, and
gentlemen jocks. Lawyer Brice rode his roan mare--Queen Charlotte they
called her. But after that he went wrong, folks said--speckilated with
some money, you see, that he didn't ought to have touched--and went to
America, and died." "Died in America, did he? Why the deuce couldn't he
die in Ullerton? I should fancy it was a pleasanter place to die in
than it is to live in. And how about his sons?"

"Lawyer Brice's sons?"

"Yes, of course."

My imbecile's lips expanded into a broad grin.

"Lawyer Brice never had no sons," he exclaimed, with a tone which
seemed to express a contemptuous pity for my ignorance; "he never
married."

"Well, well; his brothers. He had brothers, I suppose?"

"Not as _I_ ever heard tell on," answered my imbecile, relapsing into
hopeless inanity.

It was clear that no further help was to be obtained from him. I went
to the landlord--a brisk business-like individual of Transatlantic
goaheadism. From him I learned that there were no Brices in Ullerton,
and never had been within the thirty years of his experience in that
town. He gave me an Ullerton directory in confirmation of that fact--a
neat little shilling volume, which I begged leave to keep for a quarter
of an hour before returning it.

Brice was evidently a failure. I turned to the letter G, and looked up
the name of Goodge. Goodge, Jonah, minister of Beulah Chapel, resided
at No. 7, Waterhouse-lane--the lane in which I had seen the chapel.

I determined upon waiting on the worthy Goodge. He may be able to
enlighten me as to the name of the pastor who preached to the Wesleyan
flock in the time of Rebecca Caulfield; and from the descendants of
such pastor I may glean some straws and shreds of information. The
pious Rebecca would have been likely to confide much to her spiritual
director. The early Wesleyans had all the exaltation of the Quietists,
and something of the lunatic fervour of the Convulsionists, who kicked
and screamed themselves into epilepsy under the influence of the
Unigenitus Bull. The pious Rebecca was no doubt an enthusiast.

       *       *       *       *       *

I found No. 7, Waterhouse-lane. It is a neat little six-roomed house,
with preternaturally green palings enclosing about sixty square feet of
bright yellow gravel, adorned by a row of whitewashed shells. Some
scarlet geraniums bloomed in pots of still more vivid scarlet; and the
sight of those bright red blossoms recalled Philip Sheldon's garden at
Bayswater, and that sweet girl by whose side I have walked its trim
pathways.

But business is business; and if I am ever to sue for my Charlotte's
hand, I must present myself before her as the winner of the three
thousand. Remembering this, I lifted Mr. Goodge's knocker, and
presently found myself in conversation with that gentleman.

Whether unordained piety has a natural tendency to become greasy of
aspect, and whether, among the many miracles vouchsafed to the amiable
and really great Wesley, he received for his disciples of all time to
come the gift of a miraculous straightness and lankiness of hair, I
know not; but I do know that every Methodist parson I have had the
honour to know has been of one pattern, and that Mr. Goodge is no
exception to the rule.

I am bound to record that I found him a very civil person, quite
willing to afford me any help in his power, and far more practical and
business-like than the rector of Dewsdale.

It seems that the gift of tongues descended on the Goodges during the
lifetime of John Wesley himself, and during the earlier part of that
teacher's career. It was a Goodge who preached in the draper's
warehouse, and it was the edifying discourse of a Goodge which
developed the piety of Miss Rebecca Caulfield, afterwards Mrs. Haygarth.

"That Goodge was my great-uncle," said the courteous Jonah, "and there
was no one in Ullerton better acquainted with Rebecca Caulfield. I've
heard my grandmother talk of her many a time. She used to send him
poultry and garden-stuff from her house at Dewsdale, and at his
instigation she contributed handsomely to the erection of the chapel in
which it is my privilege to preach."

I felt that I had struck upon a vein of gold. Here was a sharp-witted,
middle-aged man--not an ancient mariner, or a meandering imbecile--who
could remember the talk of a grandmother who had known Matthew
Haygarth's wife. And this visit to Mr. Goodge was my own idea, not
prompted by the far-seeing Sheldon. I felt myself advancing in the
insidious arts of a private inquirer.

"I am employed in the prosecution of a business which has a _remote_
relation to the Haygarth family history," I said; "and if you can
afford me any information on that subject I should be extremely
obliged."

I emphasised the adjective "remote," and felt myself, in my humble way,
a Talleyrand.

"What kind of information, do you require?" asked Mr. Goodge
thoughtfully.

"Any information respecting Matthew Haygarth or his wife."

Mr. Goodge became profoundly meditative after this.

"I am not given to act unadvisedly," he began--and I felt that I was in
for a little professional discourse: "the creatures of impulse are the
children of Satan, the babes of Lucifer, the infants of Beelzebub. I
take counsel in the silence of the night, and wait the whispers of
wisdom in the waking hours of darkness. You must allow me time to
ponder this business in my heart and to be still."

I told Mr. Goodge that I would willingly await his own time for
affording me any information in his power to give.

"That is pleasant," said the pastor blandly: "the worldly are apt to
rush blindly through life, as the roaring lion rushes through the
forest. I am not one of those rushing worldlings. I presume, by the
way, that such information as I may afford is likely to become a source
of pecuniary profit to your employer?"

I began to see that my friend Goodge and the rector of Dewsdale were
very different kind of people, and that I must play my cards
accordingly.

"That will depend upon the nature of your information," I replied
diplomatically; "it may be worth something to us, or it may be
worthless."

"And in case it should be worth something?"

"In that case my employer would be glad to remunerate the person from
whom he obtained it."

Mr. Goodge again became meditative.

"It was the habit of the sainted Wesley to take counsel from the
Scriptures," he said presently: "if you will call again tomorrow, young
man, I shall have taken counsel, and may be able to entreat with you."

I did not much relish being addressed as "young man," even by such a
shining light as the Rev. Jonah Goodge. But as I wanted the Rev.
Jonah's aid, I submitted with a tolerable grace to his patriarchal
familiarity, and bade him good morning, after promising to call again
on the following day. I returned to my inn and wrote to Sheldon in time
for the afternoon mail, recounting my interview with Mr. Goodge, and
asking how far I should be authorised to remunerate that gentleman, or
to pledge myself to remunerate him for such information as he might
have to dispose of.


_Oct. 6th_. A letter from Sheldon.

"DEAR HAWKEHURST,--There may be something very important behind that
mysterious burial at Dewsdale. Go without delay to Spotswold; examine
registers, tombstones, &c; hunt up oldest inhabitant or inhabitants,
from whom you may be able to discover whether any Haygarth or Haygarths
ever lived there, and all that is known respecting such Haygarth or
Haygarths. You have got a cine to _something_. Follow it up till it
breaks off short, as such clues often do, or till you find it is only
leading you on a wild-goose chase. The Dewsdale business is worth
investigation.

"Mem. How about descendants of lawyer Brice?--Yours truly, G.S.

"G.'s Inn, Oct. 5th."


Before starting for Spotswold it was necessary for me to see Mr.
Goodge. I found that gentleman in a pious and yet business-like frame
of mind. He had taken counsel from the Scriptures, like the founder of
his sect; but I fancy with rather less spiritual aspirations.

"The text upon which the lot fell was the 12th verse of the 9th chapter
in the Book of Proverbs, 'If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for
thyself,'" he said solemnly; "whereby I perceive that I shall not be
justified in parting with that which you seek without fitting
recompense. I ask you, therefore, young man, what are you prepared to
give?"

The Rev. Jonah's tone could scarcely have been more lofty, or his
manner more patronising, if he had been Saul and I the humble David;
but a man who is trying to earn three thousand pounds must put up with
a great deal. Finding that the minister was prepared to play the
huckster, I employed no further ceremony.

"The price must of course depend on the quality of the article you have
to sell," I said; "I must know that before I can propose terms."

"Suppose my information took the form of letters?"

"Letters from whom--to whom?"

"From Mrs. Rebecca Haygarth to my great-uncle, Samson Goodge."

"How many of such letters have you to sell?"

I put it very plainly; but the Rev. Jonah's susceptibilities were not
of the keenest order. He did not wince.

"Say forty odd letters."

I pricked up my ears; and it needed all my diplomacy to enable me to
conceal my sense of triumph. Forty odd letters! There must be an
enormous amount of information in forty odd letters; unless the woman
wrote the direst twaddle ever penned by a feminine correspondent.

"Over what period do the dates of these letters extend?" I asked.

"Over about seven years; from 1769 to 1776."

Four years prior to the marriage with our friend Matthew; three years
after the marriage.

"Are they tolerably long letters, or mere scrawls?"

"They were written in a period when nobody wrote short letters,"
answered Mr. Goodge sententiously,--"the period of Bath post and dear
postage. The greater number of the epistles cover three sides of a
sheet of letter-paper; and Mrs. Rebecca's caligraphy was small and
neat."

"Good!" I exclaimed. "I suppose it is no use my asking you to let me
see one of these letters before striking a bargain--eh, Mr. Goodge?"
"Well, I think not," answered the oily old hypocrite. "I have taken
counsel, and I will abide by the light that has been shown me. 'If thou
be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself;' such are the words of
inspiration. No, I think not."

"And what do you ask for the forty odd letters?"

"Twenty pounds."

"A stiff sum, Mr. Goodge, for forty sheets of old letter-paper."

"But if they were not likely to be valuable, you would scarcely happen
to want them," answered the minister. "I have taken counsel, young man."

"And those are your lowest terms?"

"I cannot accept sixpence less. It is not in me to go from my word. As
Jacob served Laban seven years, and again another seven years, having
promised, so do I abide by my bond. Having said twenty pounds, young
man, Heaven forbid that I should take so much as twenty pence less than
those twenty pounds!"

The solemn unction with which he pronounced this twaddle is beyond
description. The pretence of conscientious feeling which he contrived
to infuse into his sordid bargain-driving might have done honour to
Molière's Tartuffe. Seeing that he was determined to stick to his
terms, I departed. I telegraphed to Sheldon for instructions as to
whether I was to give Goodge the money he asked, and then went back to
my inn, where I devoted myself for the next ten minutes to the study of
a railway time-table, with a view to finding the best route to
Spotswold.

After a close perusal of bewildering strings of proper names and
dazzling columns of figures, I found a place called Black Harbour, "for
Wisborough, Spotswold, and Chilton." A train left Ullerton for Black
Harbour at six o'clock in the afternoon, and was due at the latter
place at 8.40.

This gave me an interval of some hours, in which I could do nothing,
unless I received a telegram from Sheldon. The chance of a reply from
him kept me a prisoner in the coffee-room of the Swan Inn, where I read
almost every line in the local and London newspapers pending the
arrival of the despatch, which came at last.

"Tell Goodge he shall have the sum asked, and get the letters at once.
Money by to-night's post."

This was Sheldon's message; sharp and short, and within the eighteen
penny limit. Acting upon this telegram, I returned to the abode of Mr.
Goodge, told him his terms were to be complied with, showed him the
telegram, at his request, and asked for the letters.

I ought to have known my reverend friend better than to imagine he
would part with those ancient documents except for money upon the
counter.

He smiled a smile which might have illuminated the visage of
Machiavelli.

"The letters have kept a long time, young man," he said, after having
studied the telegram as closely as if it had been written in Punic;
"and lo you, they are in nowise the worse for keeping: so they will
keep yet longer. 'If thou be wise, then shalt be wise for thyself.' You
can come for the letters tomorrow, and bring the money with you. Say at
11 A.M."

I put on my hat and bade my friend good day. I have often been tempted
to throw things at people, and have withheld my hand; but I never felt
Satan so strong upon me as at that moment, and I very much fear that if
I had had anything in the way of a kitchen-poker or a carving-knife
about me, I should have flung that missile at the patriarchal head of
my saintly Jonah. As it was, I bade him good day and returned to the
Swan, where I took a hurried repast and started for the station,
carrying a light carpet-bag with me, as I was not likely to return till
the following night, at the earliest.

I arrived at the station ten minutes before the starting of the train,
and had to endure ten minutes of that weariness called waiting. I
exhausted the interest of all the advertisements on the station walls;
found out how I could have my furniture removed with the utmost
convenience--supposing myself to possess furniture; discovered where I
ought to buy a dinner-service, and the most agreeable kind of blind to
screen my windows in sunny weather. I was still lingering over the
description of this new invention in blinds, when a great bell set up a
sudden clanging, and the down train from London came thundering into
the station.

This was also the train for Black Harbour. There were a good many
passengers going northwards, a good many alighting at Ullerton; and in
the hurry and confusion I had some difficulty in finding a place in a
second-class carriage, the passengers therein blocking up the windows
with that unamiable exclusiveness peculiar to railway travellers. I
found a place at last, however; but in hurrying from carriage to
carriage I was startled by an occurrence which I have since pondered
very seriously.

I ran bolt against my respected friend and patron Horatio Paget.

We had only time to recognise each other with exclamations of mutual
surprise when the clanging bell rang again, and I was obliged to
scuffle into my seat. A moment's delay would have caused me to be left
behind. And to have remained behind would have been very awkward for
me; as the Captain would undoubtedly have questioned me as to my
business in Ullerton. Was I not supposed to be at Dorking, enjoying the
hospitality of an aged aunt?

It would have been unlucky to lose that train.

But what "makes" the gallant Captain in Ullerton? That is a question
which I deliberated as the train carried me towards Black Harbour.

Sheldon warned me of the necessity for secrecy, and I have been as
secret as the grave. It is therefore next to an impossibility that
Horatio Paget can have any idea of the business I am engaged in. He is
the very man of all others to try and supersede me if he had an inkling
of my plans; but I am convinced he can have no such inkling.

And yet the advertisement of the Haygarth property in the _Times_ was
as open to the notice of all the world as it was open to the notice of
George Sheldon. What if my patron should have been struck by the same
advertisement, and should have come to Ullerton on the same business?

It is possible, but it is not likely. When I left town the Captain was
engaged in Philip Sheldon's affairs. He has no doubt come to Ullerton
on Philip Sheldon's business. The town, which seems an abomination of
desolation to a man who is accustomed to London and Paris, is
nevertheless a commercial centre; and the stockbroker's schemes may
involve the simple Ullertonians, as well as the more experienced
children of the metropolis.

Having thought the business out thus, I gave myself no further trouble
about the unexpected appearance of my friend and benefactor.

At Black Harbour I found a coach, which carried me to Spotswold,
whither I travelled in a cramped and painful position as regards my
legs, and with a pervading sensation which was like a determination of
luggage to the brain, so close to my oppressed head was the
heavily-laden roof of the vehicle. It was pitch dark when I and two
fellow-passengers of agricultural aspect were turned out of the coach
at Spotswold, which in the gloom of night appeared to consist of half a
dozen houses shut in from the road by ghastly white palings, a grim
looming church, and a low-roofed inn with a feeble light glimmering
athwart a red stuff curtain.

At this inn I was fain to take up my abode for the night, and was
conducted to a little whitewashed bedchamber, draperied with scanty
dimity and smelling of apples--the humblest, commonest cottage chamber,
but clean and decent, and with a certain countrified aspect which was
pleasing to me. I fancied myself the host of such an inn, with
Charlotte for my wife; and it seemed to me that it would be nice to
live in that remote and unknown village, "the world forgetting, by the
world forgot." I beguiled myself by such foolish fancies--I, who have
been reared amidst the clamour and riot of the Strand!

Should I be happy with that dear girl if she were mine? Alas! I doubt
it. A man who has led a disreputable life up to the age of
seven-and-twenty is very likely to have lost all capacity for such pure
and perfect happiness as that which good men find in the tranquil haven
of a home.

Should I not hear the rattle of the billiard-balls, or the voice of the
_croupier_ calling the main, as I sat by my quiet fireside? Should I
not yearn for the glitter and confusion of West-end dancing-rooms, or
the mad excitement of the ring, while my innocent young wife was
sitting by my side and asking me to look at the blue eyes of my
first-born?

No; Charlotte is not for me. There must be always the two classes--the
sheep and the goats; and my lot has been cast among the goats.

And yet there are some people who laugh to scorn the doctrines of
Calvin, and say there is no such thing as predestination.

Is there not predestination? Was not I predestined to be born in a gaol
and reared in a gutter, educated among swindlers and scoundrels, fed
upon stolen victuals, and clad in garments never to be paid for? Did no
Eumenides preside over the birth of Richard Savage, so set apart for
misery that the laws of nature were reversed, and even his mother hated
him? Did no dismal fatality follow the footsteps of Chatterton? Has no
mysterious ban been laid upon the men who have been called Dukes of
Buckingham?

What foolish lamentations am I scribbling in this diary, which is
intended to be only the baldest record of events! It is so natural to
mankind to complain, that, having no ear in which to utter his
discontent, a man is fain to resort to pen and ink.

I devoted my evening to conversation with the landlord and his wife,
but found that the name of Haygarth was as strange to them as if it had
been taken from an inscription in the tomb of the Pharaohs. I inquired
about the few inhabitants of the village, and ascertained that the
oldest man in the place is the sexton, native-born, and supposed by
mine host never to have travelled twenty miles from his birthplace. His
name is Peter Drabbles. What extraordinary names that class of people
contrive to have! My first business to-morrow morning will be to find
my friend Drabbles--another ancient mariner, no doubt--and to examine
the parish registers.

_Oct. 7th_. A misty morning, and a perpetual drizzle--to say nothing of
a damp, penetrating cold, which creeps through the thickest overcoat,
and chills one to the bone. I do not think Spotswold can have much
brightness or prettiness even on the fairest summer morning that ever
beautified the earth. I know that, seen as I see it to-day, the place
is the very archetype of all that is darksome, dull, desolate, dismal,
and dreary. (How odd, by the way, that all that family of epithets
should have the same initial!) A wide stretch of moorland lies around
and about the little village, which crouches in a hollow, like some
poor dejected animal that seeks to shelter itself from the bitter
blast. On the edge of the moorland, and above the straggling cottages
and the little inn, rises the massive square tower of an old church, so
far out of proportion to the pitiful cluster of houses, that I imagine
it must be the remnant of some monastic settlement.

Towards this church I made my way, under the dispiriting drip, drip of
the rain, and accompanied by a feeble old man, who is sexton, clerk,
gravedigger, and anything or everything of an official nature.

We went into the church after my ancient mariner No. 2 had fumbled a
good deal with a bunch of ghostly-looking keys. The door opened with a
dismal scroop, and shut with an appalling bang. Grim and dark as the
church is without, it is grimmer and darker within, and damp and
vault-like, _à faire frémir_. There are all the mysterious cupboards
and corners peculiar to such edifices; an organ-loft, from which weird
noises issue at every opening or closing of a door; a vaulted roof,
which echoes one's footsteps with a moan, as of some outraged spirit
hovering in empty space, and ejaculating piteously, "Another impious
intruder after the sacramental plate! another plebeian sole trampling
on the brasses of the De Montacutes, lords of the manor!"

The vestry is, if anything, more ghostly than the general run of
vestries; but the business mind is compelled to waive all
considerations of a supernatural character. For the moment there
flashed across my brain the shadows of all the Christmas stories I had
ever read or heard concerning vestries; the phantom bridal, in which
the bride's beautiful white hand changed to the bony fingers of a
skeleton as she signed the register; the unearthly christening, in
which all at once, after the ceremony having been conducted with the
utmost respectability, to the edification of the unauthorised intruder
hiding behind a pillar, the godfathers and godmothers, nurse and baby,
priest and clerk, became in a moment dilapidated corpses; whereon the
appalled intruder fell prone at the foot of his pillar, there to be
discovered the next morning by his friends, and the public generally,
with his hair blanched to an awful whiteness, or his noble intellect
degraded to idiocy. For a moment, the memory of about a hundred
Christmas stories was too much for me--so weird of aspect and earthy of
atmosphere was the vestry at Spotswold. And then "being gone" the
shadows of the Christmas stories, I was a man and a lawyer's clerk
again, and set myself assiduously to search the registers and
interrogate my ancient.

I found that individual a creature of mental fogginess compared with
whom my oldest inhabitant of Ullerton would have been a Pitt, Earl of
Chatham. But I questioned and cross-questioned him until I had in a
manner turned his poor old wits the seamy side without, and had
discovered, first, that he had never known any one called Haygarth in
the whole course of those seventy-five years' vegetation which
politeness compelled me to speak of as his "life;" secondly, that he
had never known any one who knew a Haygarth; thirdly, that he was
intimately acquainted with every creature in the village, and that he
knew that no one of the inhabitants could give me the smallest shred of
such information as I required.

Having extorted so much as this from my ancient with unutterable
expenditure of time and trouble, I next set to work upon the registers.

If the ink manufactured in the present century is of no more durable
nature than that abominable fluid employed in the penmanship of a
hundred years ago, I profoundly pity the generations that are to come
after us. The registers of Spotswold might puzzle a Bunsen. However,
bearing in mind the incontrovertible fact that three thousand pounds is
a very agreeable sum of money, I stuck to my work for upwards of two
hours, and obtained as a result the following entries:--

"1. Matthew Haygarthe, aged foure yeares, berrid in this churcheyarde,
over against ye tombe off Mrs. Marttha Stileman, about 10 fete fromm ye
olde yue tre. Febevarie 6th, 1753."

"2. Mary Haygarthe, aged twentie sevene yeers, berrid under ye yue
tree, Nov. 21, 1754."

After copying these two entries, I went out into the churchyard to look
for Mary Haygarth's grave.

Under a fine old yew--which had been old a hundred years ago, it
seems--I found huddled amongst other headstones one so incrusted with
moss, that it was only after scraping the parasite verdure from the
stone with my penknife that I was able to discover the letters that had
been cut upon it. I found at last a brief inscription:

"Here lieth ye body of MARY HAYGARTH, aged 27. Born 1727. Died 1754.
This stone has been set up by one who sorroweth without hope of
consolation." A strange epitaph: no scrap of Latin, no text from
Scripture, no conventional testimony to the virtues and accomplishments
of the departed, no word to tell whether the dead woman had been maid,
wife, or widow. It was the most provoking inscription for a lawyer or a
genealogist, but such as might have pleased a poet.

I fancy this Mary Haygarth must have been some quiet creature, with
very few friends to sorrow for her loss; perhaps only that one person
who sorrowed without hope of consolation.

Such a tombstone might have been set above the grave of that simple
maid who dwelt "beside the banks of Dove."

This is the uttermost that my patience or ingenuity can do for me at
Spotswold. I have exhausted every possibility of obtaining further
information. So, having written and posted my report to Sheldon, I have
no more to do but to return to Ullerton. I take back with me nothing
but the copy of the two entries in the register of burials. Who this
Matthew Haygarth or this Mary Haygarth was, and how related to the
Matthew, is an enigma not to be solved at Spotswold.

Here the story of the Haygarths ends with the grave under the yew-tree.



BOOK THE FIFTH.


RELICS OF THE DEAD.



CHAPTER I.

BETRAYED BY A BLOTTING-PAD.


At an early hour upon the day on which Valentine Hawkehurst telegraphed
to his employer, Philip Sheldon presented himself again at the dingy
door of the office in Gray's Inn.

The dingy door was opened by the still more dingy boy; and Mr. Sheldon
the elder--who lived in a state of chronic hurry, and had a hansom cab
in attendance upon him at almost every step of his progress through
life--was aggravated by the discovery that his brother was out.

"Out!" he repeated, with supreme disgust; "he always _is_ out, I think.
Where is he to be found?"

The boy replied that his master would be back in half an hour, if Mr.
Sheldon would like to wait.

"Like to wait!" cried the stockbroker; "when will lawyers' clerks have
sense enough to know that nobody on this earth ever _liked_ to wait?
Where's your master gone?"

"I think he's just slipped round into Holborn, sir," the boy replied,
with some slight hesitation. He was very well aware that George had
secrets from his brother, and that it was not judicious to be too free
in his communications to the elder gentleman. But the black eyes and
white teeth of the stockbroker seemed very awful to him; and if Philip
chose to question him, he must needs answer the truth, not having been
provided by his master with any convenient falsehood in case of inquiry.

"What part of Holborn?" asked Philip sharply.

"I did hear tell as it was the telegraph office."

"Good!" exclaimed Mr. Sheldon; and then he dashed downstairs, leaving
the lad on the threshold of the door staring after him with eyes of
wonder.

The telegraph office meant business; and any business of his brother's
was a matter of interest to Mr. Sheldon at this particular period. He
had meditated the meaning of George's triumphant smile in the secluded
calm of his own office; and the longer he had meditated, the more
deeply rooted had become his conviction that his brother was engaged in
some very deep and very profitable scheme, the nature of which it was
his bounden duty to discover.

Impressed by this idea, Mr. Sheldon returned to the hansom-cab, which
was waiting for him at the end of Warwick-court, and made his way to
the telegraph office. The ostensible motive of his call in Gray's Inn
was sufficient excuse for this following up of his brother's footsteps.
It was one of those waifs and strays of rather disreputable business
which the elder man sometimes threw in the way of the younger.

As the wheel of the hansom ground against the kerbstone in front of the
telegraph office, the figure of George Sheldon vanished in a little
court to the left of that establishment. Instead of pursuing this
receding figure, Philip Sheldon walked straight into the office.

It was empty. There was no one in any of the shaded compartments, so
painfully suggestive of pecuniary distress and the stealthy
hypothecation of portable property. A sound of rattling and bumping in
an inner office betrayed the neighbourhood of a clerk; but in the
office Mr. Sheldon was alone.

Upon the blotting-pad on the counter of the central partition the
stockbroker perceived one great blot of ink, still moist. Ha laid the
tip of his square forefinger upon it, to assure himself of that fact,
and then set himself deliberately to scrutinise the blotting-paper. He
was a man who seldom hesitated. His greatest _coups_ on the
money-market had been in a great measure the result of this faculty of
prompt decision. To-day he possessed himself of the blotting-pad, and
examined the half-formed syllables stamped upon it with as much
coolness and self-possession as if he had been seated in his own office
reading his own newspaper. A man given to hesitation would have looked
to the right and the left and watched for his opportunity--and lost it.
Philip Sheldon knew better than to waste his chances by needless
precaution; and he made himself master of all the intelligence the
blotting-pad could afford him before the clerk emerged from the inner
den where the rattling and stamping was going forward.

"I thought as much," muttered the stockbroker, as he recognised traces
of his brother's sprawling penmanship upon the pad. The message had
been written with a heavy hand and a spongy quill pen, and had left a
tolerably clear impression of its contents on the blotting-paper.

Here and there the words stood out bold and clear; here and there,
again, there was only one decipherable letter amongst a few broken
hieroglyphics. Mr. Sheldon was accustomed to the examination of very
illegible documents, and he was able to master the substance of that
random impression. If he could not decipher the whole, he made out
sufficient for his purpose. Money was to be offered to a man called
Goodge for certain letters. He knew his brother's affairs well enough
to know that these letters for which money was to be offered must needs
be letters of importance in some search for an heir-at-law. So far all
was clear and simple; but beyond this point he found himself at fault.
Where was this Goodge to be found? and who was the person that was to
offer him money for the letters? The names and address, which had been
written first, had left no impression on the blotting-pad, or an
impression so faint as to be useless for any practical purpose.

Mr. Sheldon put down the pad and lingered by the door of the office
deliberating, when the rattling and hammering came to an abrupt
termination, and the clerk emerged from the interior den.

"O," he exclaimed, "it's all right. Your message shall go directly."

The stockbroker, whose face was half averted from the clerk, and who
stood between that functionary and the light from the open doorway, at
once comprehended the error that had arisen. The clerk had mistaken him
for his brother.

"I'm not quite clear as to whether I gave the right address," he said
promptly, with his face still averted, and his attention apparently
occupied by a paper in his hand. "Just see how I wrote it, there's a
good fellow."

The clerk withdrew for a few minutes, and returned with the message in
his hand.

"From George Sheldon to Valentine Hawkehurst, Black Swan Inn,
Ullerton," he read aloud from the document.

"All right, and thanks," cried the stockbroker.

He gave one momentary glance at the clerk, and had just time to see
that individual's look of bewilderment as some difference in his voice
and person from the voice and person of the black-whiskered man who had
just left the office dawned upon his troubled senses. After that one
glance Mr. Sheldon darted across the pavement, sprang into his cab, and
called to the driver, "Literary Institution, Burton-street, as fast as
you can go."

"I'll try my luck in the second column of the _Times_," he said to
himself. "If George's scheme is what I take it to be, I shall get some
clue to it there." He took a little oblong memorandum-book from his
pocket, and looked at his memoranda of the past week. Among those
careless jottings he found one memorandum scrawled in pencil, amongst
notes and addresses in ink, "_Haygarth--intestate. G.S. to see after._"

"That's it," he exclaimed; "Haygarth--intestate; Valentine Hawkehurst
_not_ at Dorking, but working for my brother; Goodge--letters to be
paid for. It's all like the bits of mosaic that those antiquarian
fellows are always finding in the ruins of Somebody's Baths; a few
handfuls of coloured chips that look like rubbish, and can yet be
patched into a perfect geometric design. I'll hunt up a file of the
_Times_ at the Burton Institution, and find out this Haygarth, if he is
to be found there."

The Burton Institution was a somewhat dingy temple devoted to the
interests of science and literature, and next door to some baths that
were very popular among the denizens of Bloomsbury. People in quest of
the baths were apt to ascend the classic flight of steps leading to the
Institution, when they should have descended to a lowlier threshold
lurking modestly by the side of that edifice. The Baths and the
Institution had both been familiar to Mr. Sheldon in that period of
probation which he had spent in Fitzgeorge-street. He was sufficiently
acquainted with the librarian of the Institution to go in and out
uninterrogated, and to make any use he pleased of the reading-room. He
went in to-day, asked to see the latest bound volumes of the _Times_
and the latest files of unbound papers, and began his investigation,
working backwards. Rapidly and dexterously as he turned the big leaves
of the journals, the investigation occupied nearly three-quarters of an
hour; but at the expiration of that time he had alighted on the
advertisement published in the March of the preceding year.

He gave a very low whistle--a kind of phantom whistle--as he read this
advertisement. "John Haygarth!--a hundred thousand pounds!"

The fortune for which a claimant was lacking amounted to a hundred
thousand pounds! Mr. Sheldon knew commercial despots who counted their
wealth by millions, and whose fiat could sway the exchanges of Europe;
but a hundred thousand pounds seemed to him a very nice thing
nevertheless, and he was ready to dispute the prize the anticipation
whereof had rendered his brother so triumphant.

"He has rejected me as a coadjutor," he thought, as he went back to his
cab after having copied the advertisement; "he shall have me as an
antagonist."

"Omega-street, Chelsea, next call," he cried to the driver; and was
soon beyond the confines of Bloomsbury, and rattling away towards the
border-land of Belgravia. He had completed his search of the newspapers
at ten minutes past twelve, and at twenty minutes to one he presented
himself at the lodging-house in Omega-street, where he found Captain
Paget, in whose "promoting" business there happened to be a lull just
now. With this gentleman he had a long interview; and the result of
that interview was the departure of the Captain by the two o'clock
express for Ullerton. Thus had it happened that Valentine Hawkehurst
and his patron encountered each other on the platform of Ullerton
station.



CHAPTER II.

VALENTINE INVOKES THE PHANTOMS OF THE PAST.


_Oct. 7th, Midnight_. I was so fortunate as to get away from Spotswold
this morning very soon after the completion of my researches in the
vestry, and at five o'clock in the afternoon I found myself once more
in the streets of Ullerton. Coming home in the train I meditated
seriously upon the unexpected appearance of Horatio Paget at the
head-quarters of this Haygarthian investigation; and the more I
considered that fact, the more I felt inclined to doubt my patron's
motives, and to fear his interference. Can his presence in Ullerton
have any relation to the business that has brought me here? That is the
question which I asked myself a hundred times during my journey from
Spotswold; that is the question which I ask myself still.

I have no doubt I give myself unnecessary trouble; but I know that old
man's Machiavellian cleverness only too well; and I am inclined to look
with suspicion upon every action of his. My first business on returning
to this house was to ascertain whether any one bearing his name, or
answering to my description of him, had arrived during my absence. I
was relieved by finding that no stranger whatever had put up at the inn
since the previous forenoon. Who may have used the coffee-room is
another question, not so easily set at rest. In the evening a great
many people come in and go out; and my friend and patron may have taken
his favourite brandy-and-soda, skimmed his newspaper, and picked up
whatever information was to be obtained as to _my_ movements without
attracting any particular attention.

In the words of the immortal lessee of the Globe Theatre, "Why I should
fear I know not ... and yet I feel I fear!"

I found a registered letter from George Sheldon, enclosing twenty
pounds in notes, and furnished therewith I went straight to my friend
Jonah, whom I found engaged in the agreeable occupation of taking tea.
I showed him the money; but my estimate of the reverend gentleman's
honour being of a very limited nature, I took care not to give it to
him till he had produced the letters. On finding that I was really
prepared to give him his price, he went to an old-fashioned bureau, and
opened one of those secret recesses which cannot for three minutes
remain a secret to any investigator possessed of a tolerably accurate
eye or a three-foot rule. From this hiding-place--which he evidently
considered a triumph of mechanical art, worthy the cabinet of a
D'Argenson or a Fouché--he produced a packet of faded yellow letters,
about which there lurked a faint odour of dried rose-leaves and
lavender, which seemed the very perfume of the past.

When my reverend friend had laid the packet on the table within reach
of my hand, and not till then, I gave him the bank-notes. His fat old
fingers closed upon them greedily, and his fishy old eyes were
illumined by a faint glimmer which I believe nothing but bank-notes
could have kindled in them.

After having assured himself that they were genuine acknowledgments of
indebtedness on the part of the old lady in Thread-needle-street, and
not the base simulacra of Birmingham at five-and-twenty shillings a
dozen--thirteen as twelve--Mr. Goodge obligingly consented to sign a
simple form of receipt which I had drawn up for the satisfaction of my
principal.

"I think you said there were forty-odd letters," I remarked, before I
proceeded to count the documents in the presence of Mr. Goodge.

That gentleman looked at me with an air of astonishment, which, had I
not known him to be the most consummate of hypocrites, would have
seemed to be simplicity itself.

"I said from thirty to forty," he exclaimed; "I never said there were
forty-odd letters."

I looked at him and he looked at me. His face told me plainly enough
that he was trying to deceive me, and my face told him plainly enough
that he had no chance of succeeding in that attempt. Whether he was
keeping back some of the letters with a view to extorting more money
from me hereafter, or whether he was keeping them with the idea of
making a better bargain with somebody else, I could not tell; but of
the main fact I was certain--he had cheated me.

I untied the red tape which held the letters together. Yes, there was a
piece of circumstantial evidence which might have helped to convict my
friend had he been on his trial in a criminal court. The red tape bore
the mark of the place in which it had been tied for half a century; and
a little way within this mark the trace of a very recent tying. Some of
the letters had been extracted, and the tape had been tied anew.

I had no doubt that this had been done while my negotiation with Mr.
Goodge had been pending. What was I to do? Refuse the letters, and
demand to have my principal's money returned to me? I knew my friend
well enough to know that such a proceeding would be about as useless as
it would be to request the ocean to restore a cup of water that had
been poured into it. The letters he had given me might or might not
afford some slight link in the chain I was trying to put together; and
the letters withheld from me might be more or less valuable than those
given to me. In any case the transaction was altogether a speculative
one; and George Sheldon's money was hazarded as completely as if it had
been put upon an outsider for the Derby.

Before bidding him a polite farewell, I was determined to make Mr.
Goodge thoroughly aware that he had not taken me in.

"You said there were more than forty letters," I told him; "I remember
the phrase 'forty-odd,' which is a colloquialism one would scarcely
look for in Tillotson or in John Wesley, who cherished a prejudice in
favour of scholarship which does not distinguish all his followers. You
said there were forty-odd letters, and you have removed some of them
from the packet. I am quite aware that I have no legal remedy against
you, as our contract was a verbal one, made without witnesses; so I
must be content with what I get; but I do not wish you to flatter
yourself with the notion that you have hoodwinked a lawyer's clerk. You
are not clever enough to do that, Mr. Goodge, though you are knave
enough to cheat every attorney in the Law List."

"Young man, are you aware----?"

"As I have suffered by the absence of any witness to our negotiation, I
may as well profit by the absence of any witness to our interview. You
are a cheat and a trickster, Mr. Goodge, and I have the honour to wish
you good afternoon!" "Go forth, young man!" cried the infuriated Jonah
whose fat round face became beet-root colour with rage, and who
involuntarily extended his hand to the poker--for the purpose of
defence and not defiance, I believe. "Go forth, young man! I say unto
you, as Abimelech said unto Jedediah, go forth."

I am not quite clear as to the two scriptural proper names with which
the Rev. Jonah embellished his discourse on this occasion; but I know
that sort of man always has a leaning to the Abimelech and Jedediahs of
biblical history; solely, I believe, because the names have a sonorous
roll with them that is pleasant in the mouth of the charlatan.

As I was in the act of going forth--quite at my leisure, for I had no
fear of the clerical poker--my eye happened to alight on a small
side-table, covered with a chessboard-patterned cloth in gaudy colours,
and adorned with some of those sombre volumes which seem like an
outward evidence of the sober piety of their possessor. Among the
sombre volumes lay something which savoured of another hemisphere than
that to which those brown leather-bound books belonged. It was a
glove--a gentleman's glove, of pale lavender kid--small in size for a
masculine glove, and bearing upon it the evidence of the cleaner's art.
Such might be the glove of an exiled Brummel, but could never have
encased the squat paw of a Jonah Goodge. It was as if the _point
d'Alençon_ ruffle of Chesterfield had been dropped in the study of John
Wesley.

In a moment there flashed into my mind an idea which has haunted me
ever since. That glove had belonged to my respected patron, Horatio
Paget, and it was for his benefit the letters had been abstracted from
the packet. He had been with Jonah Goodge in the course of that day,
and had bought him over to cheat me.

And then I was obliged to go back to the old question, Was it possible
that the Captain could have any inkling of my business? Who could have
told him?

Who could have betrayed a secret which was known only to George Sheldon
and myself?

After all, are there not other people than Horatio Paget who wear
cleaned lavender gloves? But it always has been a habit with the
Captain to leave one loose glove behind him; and I daresay it was the
recollection of this which suggested the idea of his interference in
the Goodge business.

I devoted my evening to the perusal of Mrs. Rebecca Haygarth's letters.
The pale ink, the quaint cramped hand, the old-fashioned abbreviations,
and very doubtful orthography rendered the task laborious; but I stuck
to my work bravely, and the old clock in the market-place struck two as
I began the last letter. As I get deeper into this business I find my
interest in it growing day by day--an interest _sui generis_, apart
from all prospect of gain--apart even from the consideration that by
means of this investigation I am obtaining a living which is earned
_almost_ honestly; for if I tell an occasional falsehood or act an
occasional hypocrisy, I am no worse than a secretary of legation of an
Old Bailey barrister.

The pleasure which I now take in the progress of this research is a
pleasure that is new to me: it is the stimulus which makes a breakneck
gallop across dreary fields gridironed with dykes and stone walls so
delicious to the sportsman; it is the stimulus which makes the task of
the mathematician sweet to him when he devotes laborious days to the
solution of an abstruse problem; it is the stimulus that sustains the
Indian trapper against all the miseries of cold and hunger, foul
weather, and aching limbs; it is the fever of the chase--that
inextinguishable fire which, once lighted in the human breast, is not
to be quenched until the hunt is ended.

I should like to earn three thousand pounds; but if I were to be none
the richer for my trouble, I think, now that I am so deeply involved in
this business, I should still go on. I want to fathom the mystery of
that midnight interment at Dewsdale; I want to know the story of that
Mary Haygarth who lies under the old yew-tree at Spotswold, and for
whose loss some one sorrowed without hope of consolation.

Was that a widower's commonplace, I wonder, and did the unknown mourner
console himself ultimately with a new wife? Who knows? as my Italian
friends say when they discuss the future of France. Shall I ever
penetrate that mystery of the past? My task seems to me almost as
hopeless as if George Sheldon had set me to hunt up the descendants of
King Solomon's ninety-ninth wife. A hundred years ago seems as far
away, for all practical purposes, as if it were on the other side of
the flood.

The letters are worth very little. They are prim and measured epistles,
and they relate much more to spiritual matters than to temporal
business. Mrs. Rebecca seems to have been so much concerned for the
health of her soul that she had very little leisure to think of
anything so insignificant as the bodies of other people. The letters
are filled with discourses upon her own state of mind; and the tone of
them reveals not a little of that pride whose character it is to
simulate humility. Mrs. Rebecca is always casting ashes on her head;
but she takes care to let her friend and pastor know what a saintly
head it is notwithstanding.

I have laid aside three of the most secular letters, which I selected
after wading through unnumbered pages of bewailings in the strain of a
Wesleyan Madame Guyon. These throw some little light upon the character
of Matthew Haygarth, but do not afford much information of a tangible
kind. I have transcribed the letters verbatim, adhering even to certain
eccentricities of orthography which were by no means unusual in an age
when the Pretender to the crown of Great Britain wrote of his father as
_Gems_.

The first letter bears the date of August 30th, 1773, one week after
the marriage of the lady to our friend Matthew.

"REVERED FRIEND AND PASTOR,--On Monday sennite we arriv'd in London,
wich seems to me a mighty bigg citty, but of no more meritt or piety
than Babylon of old. My husband, who knows ye towne better than he
knows those things with wich it would more become him to be familiar,
was pleas'd to laugh mightily at that pious aversion wherewith I
regarded some of ye most notable sights in this place. We went t'other
night to a great garden called by some Spring Garden, by others
Vauxhall,--as having been at one time ye residence or estate of that
Arch Fiend and Papistical traitor Vaux, or Faux; but although I felt
obligated to my husband for ye desire to entertain me with a fine
sight, I could not but look with shame upon serious Christians
disporting themselves like children amongst coloured lamps, and
listening as if enraptured to profane music, when, at so much less cost
of money or of health, they might have been assembled together to
improve and edify one another.

"My obliging Mathew would have taken me to other places of the like
character; but inspir'd, as I hope and believe, by ye direction of ye
spirit, I took upon myself to tell him what vain trifling is all such
kind of pleasure. He argu'd with me stoutly, saying that ye King and
Queen, who are both shining examples of goodness and piety, do attend
Vauxhall and Ranelagh, and are to be seen there frequent, to the
delight of their subjects. On which I told him that, much as I esteemed
my sovereign and his respectable consort, I would compleat my existence
without having seen them rather than I would seek to encounter them in
a place of vain and frivolous diversion. He listen'd to my discoorse in
a kind and sober temper, but he was not convinc'd; for by and by he
falls of a sudden to sighing and groaning, and cries out, 'O, I went to
Vauxhall once when ye garden was not many years made, and O, how bright
ye lamps shone, like ye stars of heaven fallen among bushes! and O, how
sweet ye music sounded, like ye hymns of angels in ye dewy evening! but
that was nigh upon twenty years gone by, and all ye world is changed
since then.'

"You will conceive, Reverend Sir, that I was scandalised by such a
foolish rapsodie, and in plain words admonish'd my husband of his
folly. Whereupon he speedily became sober, and asked my pardon; but for
all that night continued of a gloomy countenance, ever and anon falling
to sighing and groning as before. Indeed, honour'd Sir, I have good
need of a patient sperrit in my dealings with him; for altho' at times
I think he is in a fair way to become a Christian, there are other
times when I doubt Satan has still a hold upon him, and that all my
prayers and admonitions have been in vaine.

"You, who know the wildness and wickedness of his past life--so far as
that life was ever known to any but himself, who was ever of a secret
and silent disposition concerning his own doings in this city, tho'
free-spoken and frank in all common matters--you, honour'd sir, know
with how serious an intention I have taken upon myself the burden of
matrimony, hoping thereby to secure the compleat conversion of this
waywarde soul. You are aware how it was ye earnest desire of my late
respected father that Mathew Haygarth and I shou'd be man and wife, his
father and my father haveing bin friends and companions in ye days of
her most gracious majesty Queen Anne. You know how, after being lost to
all decent company for many years, Mathew came back after his father's
death, and lived a sober and serious life, attending amongst our
community, and being seen to shed tears on more than one occasion while
listening to the discourse of our revered and inspired founder. And
you, my dear and honour'd pastor, will feel for me when I tell you how
I am tormented by ye fear of backsliding in this soul which I have
promised to restore to ye fold. It was but yesterday, when walking with
him near St. John's Gate at Clerkenwell, he came to a standstill all of
a sudden, and he cried in that impetuous manner which is even yet
natural to him, 'Look ye now, Becky, wouldst like to see the house in
which the happiest years of my life was spent?' And I making no answer,
as thinking it was but some sudden freak, he points out a black
dirty-looking dwelling-place, with overhanging windows and a wide
gabled roof. 'Yonder it stands, Becky,' he cries; 'number seven
John-street, Clerkenwell; a queer dingy box of four walls, my wench--a
tumble-down kennel, with a staircase that 'twould break your neck to
mount, being strange to it--and half a day's journey from the court-end
of town. But that house was once paradise to me; and to look at it even
now, though 'tis over eighteen years since I saw the inside of it, will
bring the tears into these poor old eyes of mine'. And then he walk'd
on so fast that I could scarce keep pace with him, till we came to
Smithfield; and then he began to tell me about Bartholomew-fair and the
brave sights he had seen; and must needs show me where had stood the
booth of one Fielding--since infamously notorious as the writer of some
trashy novels, the dulness whereof is only surpassed by their
profligacy: and then he talks of Fawkes the conjurer, who made a great
fortune, and of some humble person called 'Tiddy Doll,' a dealer in
gingerbread and such foolish wares. But he could tell me nothing of
those early preachings of our revered founder in Moorfields, which
would have been more pleasant to me than all this vain babble about
drolls and jesters, gingerbread bakers and showmen.

"When we had walked the round of the place, and it was time to take
coach for our lodging at Chelsea--he having brought me thus far to see
St. Paul's and the prison of Newgate, the Mint and Tower--the gloomy
fit came on him again, and all that evening he was dull and sorrowful,
though I read aloud to him from the printed sermons of a rising member
of our community. So you will see, honour'd sir, how difficult it is
for these children of Satan to withdraw themselves from that master
they have once served; since at the sober age of fifty-three yeares my
husband's weak heart yet yearns after profligate faires and foolish
gardens lighted by color'd lampes.

"And now no more, reverend friend, my paper being gone and it being
full time to reflect that y'r patience must be gone also. Service to
Mrs. Goodge. I have no more room but to assure you that y'r gayeties of
this foolish and erring citty have no power to withdraw y'r heart of
her whose chief privilege it is to subscribe herself,

"Your humble follower and servant."

"Rebecca Haygarth."


To my mind there seems just a shadowy hint of some bygone romance in
this letter. Why did the dingy house in John-street bring the tears
into Matthew's eyes? and why did the memory of Vauxhall and Bartholomew
fair seem so sweet to him? And then that sighing and groaning and
dolefulness of visage whenever the thought of the past came back to him?

What did it all mean, I wonder? Was it only his vanished youth, which
poor, sobered, converted, Wesleyanised Matthew regretted? or were there
pensive memories of something even sweeter than youth associated with
the coloured lamps of Vauxhall and the dinginess of Clerkenwell? Who
shall sound the heart of a man who lived a hundred years ago? and where
is the fathom-line which shall plumb its mysteries? I should need a
stack of old letters before I could arrive at the secret of that man's
life.

The two other letters, which I have selected after some deliberation,
relate to the last few weeks of Matthew's existence; and in these again
I fancy I see the trace of some domestic mystery, some sorrowful secret
which this sober citizen kept hidden from his wife, but which he was on
several occasions half inclined to reveal to her.

Perhaps if the lady's piety--which seems to have been thoroughly
sincere and praiseworthy, by the bye--had been a little less cold and
pragmatical in its mode of expression, poor Matthew might have taken
heart of grace and made a clean breast of it.

That there was a secret in the man's life I feel convinced; but that
conviction goes very little way towards proving any one point of the
smallest value to George Sheldon.

I transcribe an extract from each of the two important letters; the
first written a month before Matthew's death, the second a fortnight
after that event.

"And indeed, honour'd sir, I have of late suffered much uneasinesse of
speritt concerning my husband. Those fits of ye mopes of w'h I informed
you some time back have again come upon him. For awhile I did hope that
these melancholic affections were ye fruit put forth by a regenerate
soul; but within this month last past it has been my sorrow to discover
that these gloomy disorders arise rather from ye promptings of the Evil
One. It has pleased Mr. Haygarthe of late to declare that his life is
nigh at an end; and indeed he affects a conviction that his days are
number'd. This profane and impertinent notion I take to be a direct
inspiration of Satan, of a like character to ye sudden and
unaccountable fitts of laughter which have seized upon many pious
Christians in the midst of earnest congregations; whereby much shame
and discomfiture has been brought upon our sect. Nor is there any
justification for this presumptuous certainty entertained by my
husband, inasmuch as his health is much as it has ordinarily been for
ye last ten years. He does acknowledge this with his own lips, and
immediately after cries out that his race is run, and ye hand of death
is upon him; which I cannot but take as ye voice of ye enemy speaking
through that weak mouth of ye flesh.

"On Sunday night last past, ye gloomy fitt being come upon him after
prayers, Mr. Haygarthe began all on a sudden, as it is his habit to do:

"'There is something I would fain tell ye, wench,' he cries out,
'something about those roistering days in London, which it might be
well for thee to know.'

"But I answered him directly, that I had no desire to hear of profane
roisterings, and that it would be better for him to keep his peace, and
listen reverently to the expounding of the Scriptures, which Humphrey
Bagot, our worthy pastor and friend, had promised to explain and
exemplify after supper. We was seated at ye time in ye blue parlour,
the table being spread for supper, and were awaiting our friend from
the village, a man of humble station, being but a poor chapman and
huckster, but of exalted mind and a most holy temper, and sells me the
same growth of Bohea as that drunk by our gracious queen at Windsor.
After I had thus reproved him--in no unkind speritt--" Mr. Haygarthe
fell to sighing; and then cries out all at once:

"'When I am on my death-bed, wife, I will tell thee something: be sure
thou askest me for it; or if death come upon me unawares, thou wouldst
do well to search in the old tulip-leaf bureau for a letter, since I
may tell thee that in a letter which I would not tell with these lips.'

"Before there was time to answer him in comes Mr. Bagot, and we to
supper; after which he did read the sixth chapter of Hebrews and
expound it at much length for our edifying; at the end whereof Satan
had obtained fast hold of Mr. Haygarthe, who was fallen asleep and
snoring heavily."

Here is plain allusion to some secret, which that pragmatical idiot,
Mrs. Rebecca, studiously endeavoured not to hear. The next extract is
from a letter written when the lips that had been fain to speak were
stilled for ever. Ah, Mistress Rebecca, you were but mortal woman,
although you were also a shining light amongst the followers of John
Wesley; and I wonder what you would have given for poor Matthew's
secret _then_.

"Some days being gone after this melancholic event, I bethought me of
that which my husband had said to me before I left Dewsdale for that
excursion to the love-feasts at Kemberton and Kesfield, Broppindean and
Dawnfold, from which I returned but two short weeks before my poor
Matthew's demise. I called to remembrance that discourse about
approaching death which in my poor human judgment I did esteem a
pestilent error of mind, but which I do now recognise as a spiritual
premonition; and I set myself earnestly to look for that letter which
Matthew told me he would leave in the tulip-leaf bureau. But though I
did search with great care and pains, my trouble was wasted, inasmuch
as there was no letter. Nor did I leave off to search until ev'ry nook
and crevvis had been examin'd. But in one of ye secret drawers, hidden
in an old dog's-eared book of prayers, I did find a lock of fair hair,
as if cut from the head of a child, entwin'd curiously with a long
plait of dark hair, which, by reason of ye length thereof, must needs
have been the hair of a woman, and with these the miniature of a girl's
face in a gold frame. I will not stain this paper, which is near come
to an end, by the relation of such suspicions as arose in my mind on
finding these curious treasures; nor will I be of so unchristian a
temper as to speak ill of the dead. My husband was in his latter days
exemplarily sober, and a humble acting Xtian. Ye secrets of his earlier
life will not now be showne to me on this side heaven. I have set aside
ye book, ye picture, and ye plaited hair in my desk for conveniency,
where I will show them to you when I am next rejoic'd by y'r improving
conversation. Until then, in grief or in happiness, in health and
sickness, I trust I shall ever continue, with y'r same sincerity,

"Your humble and obliged Servant and disciple

"REBECCA HAYGARTHE."

Thus end my excerpts from the correspondence of Mrs. Haygarthe. They
are very interesting to me, as containing the vague shadow of a
vanished existence; but whether they will ever be worth setting forth
in an affidavit is extremely uncertain. Doubtless that miniature of an
unknown girl which caused so much consternation in the mind of sober
Mrs. Rebecca was no other than the "Molly" whose gray eyes reminded me
of Charlotte Halliday.

As I copied Mrs. Rebecca's quaint epistles, in the midnight stillness,
the things of which I was writing arose before me like a picture. I
could see the blue parlour that Sunday evening; the sober couple seated
primly opposite to each other; the china monsters on the high
chimneypiece; the blue-and-white Dutch tiles, with queer squat figures
of Flemish citizens on foot and on horseback; the candles burning dimly
on the spindle-legged table--two poor pale flames reflected ghastly in
the dark polished panels of the wainscot; the big open Bible on an
adjacent table; the old silver tankard, and buckhorn-handled knives and
forks set out for supper; the solemn eight-day clock, ticking drearily
in the corner; and amid all that sombre old-fashioned comfort,
gray-haired Matthew sighing and lamenting for his vanished youth.

I have grown strangely romantic since I have fallen in love with
Charlotte Halliday. The time was when I should have felt nothing but a
flippant ignorant contempt for poor Haygarth's feeble sighings and
lamentings; but now I think of him with a sorrowful tenderness, and am
more interested in his poor commonplace life, that picture, and those
two locks of hair, than in the most powerful romance that ever emanated
from mortal genius. It has been truly said, that truth is stranger than
fiction: may it not as justly be said, that truth has a power to touch
the human heart which is lacking in the most sublime flights of a
Shakespeare, or the grandest imaginings of an Aeschylus? One is sorry
for the fate of Agamemnon; but one is infinitely more sorrowful for the
cruel death of that English Richard in the dungeon at Pomfret, who was
a very insignificant person as compared to the king of men and of ships.



CHAPTER III.

HUNTING THE JUDSONS.


_Oct. 10th_. Yesterday and the day before were blank days. On Saturday
I read Mrs. Rebecca's letters a second time after a late breakfast, and
spent a lazy morning in the endeavour to pick up any stray crumbs of
information which I might have overlooked the previous night. There was
nothing to be found, however; and, estimable as I have always
considered the founder of the Wesleyan fraternity, I felt just a little
weary of his virtues and his discourses, his journeyings from place to
place, his love-feasts and his prayer-meetings, before I had finished
with Mrs. Haygarth's correspondence. In the afternoon I strolled about
the town; made inquiries at several inns, with a view to discover
whether Captain Paget was peradventure an inmate thereof; looked in at
the railway-station, and watched the departure of a train; dawdled away
half an hour at the best tobacconist's shop in the town on the chance
of encountering my accomplished patron, who indulges in two of the
choicest obtainable cigars per diem, and might possibly repair thither
to make a purchase, if he were in the place. Whether he is still in
Ullerton or not I cannot tell; but he did not come to the
tobacconist's; and I was fain to go back to my inn, having wasted a
day. Yet I do not think that George Sheldon will have cause to complain
of me, since I have worked very closely for my twenty shillings per
week, and have devoted myself to the business in hand with an amount of
enthusiasm which I did not think it possible for me to
experience--except for--

I went to church on Sunday morning, and was more devoutly inclined than
it has been my habit to feel; for although a man who lives by his wits
must not necessarily be a heathen or an atheist, it is very difficult
for him to be anything like a Christian. Even my devotion yesterday was
not worth much, for my thoughts went vagabondising off to Charlotte
Halliday in the midst of a very sensible practical sermon.

In the afternoon I read the papers, and dozed by the fire in the
coffee-room--two-thirds coke by the way, and alternating from the
fierceness of a furnace to the dreary blackness of an exhausted
coal-mine--still thinking of Charlotte.

Late in the evening I walked the streets of the town, and thought what
a lonely wretch I was. The desert of Sahara is somewhat dismal, I
daresay; but in its dismality there is at least a flavour of romance, a
smack of adventure. O, the hopeless dulness, the unutterable blankness
of a provincial town late on a Sunday night, as it presents itself to
the contemplation of a friendless young man without a sixpence in his
pocket, or one bright hope to tempt him to forgetfulness of the past in
pleasant dreaming of the future!

Complaining again! O pen, which art the voice of my discontent, your
spluttering is like this outburst of unmanly fretfulness and futile
rage! O paper, whose flat surface typifies the dull level of my life,
your greasy unwillingness to receive the ink is emblematic of the
soul's revolt against destiny!

This afternoon brought me a letter from Sheldon, and opened a new
channel for my explorations in that underground territory, the past.
That man has a marvellous aptitude for his work; and has, what is more
than aptitude, the experience of ten years of failure. Such a man must
succeed sooner or later. I wonder whether his success will come while I
am allied to him. I have been used to consider myself an unlucky
wretch, a creature of ill-fortune to others as well as to myself. It is
a foolish superstition, perhaps, to fancy one's self set apart for an
evil destiny; but the Eumenides have been rather hard upon me. Those
"amiable" deities, whom they of Colonae tried so patiently to
conciliate with transparent flatteries, have marked me for their prey
from the cradle--I don't suppose that cradle was paid for, by the bye.
I wonder whether there is an avenging deity whose special province it
is to pursue the insolvent--a Nemesis of the Bankruptcy Court.

My Sheldon's epistle bears the evidence of a very subtle brain, as I
think. It is longer than his previous letters. I transcribe it here, as
I wish this record to be a complete brief of my proceedings in this
Haygarth business.


"Gray's Inn, Sunday night.

"DEAR HAWKEHURST,--The copies of the letters came duly to hand, and I
think you have made your selections with much discretion, always
supposing you have overlooked nothing in the remaining mass of writing.
I will thank you to send me the rest of the letters, by the way. You
can take notes of anything likely to be useful to yourself, and it will
be as well for me to possess the originals.

"I find one very strong point in the first letter of your selection,
viz. the allusion to a house in John-street. It is clear that Matthew
lived in that house, and in that neighbourhood there may even yet
remain some traces of his existence. I shall begin a close
investigation to-morrow within a certain radius of that spot; and if I
have the good luck to fall upon any clear-headed centenarians, I may
pick up something.

"There are some alms-houses hard by Whitecross-street prison, where the
inmates live to ages that savour of the Pentateuch. Perhaps there I may
light upon some impoverished citizen fallen from a good estate who can
remember some contemporary of Matthew's. London was smaller in those
days than it is now, and men lived out their lives in one spot, and had
leisure to be concerned about the affairs of their neighbours. As I
have now something of a clue to Matthew's roistering days, I shall set
to work to follow it up closely; and your provincial researches and my
metropolitan investigations proceeding simultaneously, we may hope to
advance matters considerably ere long. For your own part, I should
advise you forthwith to hunt up the Judson branch. You will remember
that Matthew's only sister was a Mrs. Judson of Ullerton. I want to
find an heir-at-law in a direct line from Matthew; and you know my
theory on that point. But if we fail in that direction, we must of
course fall back upon the Judsons, who are a disgustingly complicated
set of people, and will take half a lifetime to disentangle, to say
nothing of other men who may be working the same business, and who are
pretty sure to have pinned their faith on the female branch of the
Haygarthian tree.

"I want you to ferret out some of the Judson descendants with a view to
picking up further documentary evidence in the shape of old letters,
inscriptions in old books, and so on. That Matthew had a secret is
certain; and that he was very much inclined to reveal that secret in
his later days is also certain. Who shall say that he did not tell it
to his only sister, though he was afraid to tell it to his wife?

"You have acted with so much discretion up to this point, that I do not
care to trouble you with any further hints or suggestions. When money
is wanted, it shall be forthcoming; but I must beg you to manage things
economically, as I have to borrow at a considerable sacrifice; and
should this affair prove a failure, my ruin is inevitable.

"Yours, &c. G.S."


My friend Sheldon is a man who can never have been more than "yours
et-cetera" to any human creature. I suppose what he calls ruin would be
a quiet passage through the Bankruptcy Court, and a new set of
chambers. I should not suppose that sort of ruin would be very terrible
for a man whose sole possessions are a few weak-backed horsehair
chairs, a couple of battered old desks, half a dozen empty japanned
boxes, a file of _Bell's Life_, and a Turkey carpet in which the
progress of corruption is evident to the casual observer.

The hunting-up of the Judsons is a very easy matter as compared to the
task of groping in the dimness of the past in search of some faint
traces of the footsteps of departed Haygarths. Whereas the Haygarth
family seem to be an extinct race, the Judsonian branch have bred and
mustered in the land; and my chief difficulty in starting has been an
_embarras de richesse_, in the shape of half a page of Judsons in the
Ullerton directory.

Whether to seek out Theodore Judson, the attorney, in Nile street East,
or the Rev. James Judson, curate of St. Gamaliel; whether to appeal in
the first instance to Judson & Co., haberdashers and silk mercers, of
the Ferrygate, or to Judson of Judson and Grinder, wadding
manufacturers in Lady-lane--was the grand question. On inquiring of the
landlord as to the antecedents of these Judsons, I found that they were
all supposed to spring from one common stock, and to have the blood of
old Jonathan Haygarth in their veins. The Judsons had been an obscure
family--people of "no account," my landlord told me, until Joseph
Judson, chapman and cloth merchant in a very small way, was so
fortunate as to win the heart of Ruth Haygarth, only daughter of the
wealthy Nonconformist grocer in the market-place. This marriage had
been the starting-point of Joseph Judson's prosperity. Old Haygarth had
helped his industrious and respectable son-in-law along the stony road
that leads to fortune, and had no doubt given him many a lift over the
stones which bestrew that toilsome highway. My landlord's information
was as vague as the information of people in general; but it was easily
to be made out, from his scanty shreds and scraps of information, that
the well-placed Judsons of the present day had almost all profited to
some extent by the hard-earned wealth of Jonathan Haygarth. "They've
nearly all of them got the name of Haygarth mixed up with their other
names somehow," said my landlord. "Judson of Judson and Grinder is
Thomas Haygarth Judson. He's a member of our tradesman's club, and
worth a hundred thousand pounds, if he's worth a sixpence."

I have observed, by the way, that a wealthy tradesman in a country town
is never accredited with less than a hundred thousand; there seems a
natural hankering in the human mind for round numbers.

"There's J.H. Judson of St. Gamaliel," continued my landlord--"he's
James Haygarth Judson; and young Judson the attorney's son puts
'Haygarth Judson' on his card, and gets people to call him Haygarth
Judson when they will--which in a general way they won't, on account of
his giving himself airs, which you may see him any summer evening
walking down Ferrygate as if the place belonged to him, and he didn't
set much value on it. They _do_ say his father's heir-at-law to a
million of money left by the last of the Haygarths, and that he and the
son are trying to work up a claim to the property against the Crown.
But I have heard young Judson deny it in our room when he was spoken to
about it, and I don't suppose there's much ground for people's talk."

I was sorry to discover there was any ground for such talk; Mr. Judson
the lawyer would be no insignificant opponent. I felt that I must give
a very wide berth to Mr. Theodore Judson the attorney, and his stuck-up
son, unless circumstances should so shape themselves as to oblige us to
work with him. In the meanwhile any move I made amongst the other
Judsons would be likely, I thought, to come to the knowledge of these
particular members of the family.

"Are the Judson family very friendly with one another?" I artfully
inquired.

"Well, you see, some of 'em are, and some of 'em ain't. They're most of
'em third and fourth cousins, you see, and that ain't a very near
relationship in a town where there's a good deal of competition, and
interests often clash. Young Theodore--Haygarth Judson as he calls
himself--is very thick with Judson of St. Gamaliel's, they were at
college together, you see: and fine airs they give themselves on the
strength of a couple of years or so at Cambridge. Those two get on very
well together. But Judson of the Lady-lane Mills don't speak to either
of 'em when he meets 'em in the street, and has been known to cut 'em
dead in my room. William Judson of Ferrygate is a dissenter, and keeps
himself to himself very close. The other Judsons are too fast a lot for
him: though what's the harm of a man taking a glass or two of
brandy-and-water of an evening with his friends is more than _I_ can
find out," added mine host, musingly.

It was to William Judson the dissenter, who kept himself to himself,
that I determined to present myself in the first instance. As a
dissenter, he would be likely to have more respect for the memory of
the Nonconformist and Wesleyan Haygarths, and to have preserved any
traditions relating to them with more fidelity than the Anglican and
frivolous members of the Judson family. As an individual who kept
himself to himself, he would be unlikely to communicate my business to
his kindred.

I lost no time in presenting myself at the house of business in
Ferrygate, and after giving the servant George Sheldon's card, and
announcing myself as concerned in a matter of business relating to the
Haygarth family, I was at once ushered into a prim counting-house,
where a dapper little old gentleman in spotless broadcloth, and a
cambric cravat and shirt frill which were soft and snowy as the plumage
of the swan, received me with old-fashioned courtesy. I was delighted
to find him seventy-five years of age at the most moderate computation,
and I should have been all the better pleased if he had been older. I
very quickly discovered that in Mr. Judson the linen draper I had to
deal with a very different person from the Rev. Jonah Goodge. He
questioned me closely as to my motive in seeking information on the
subject of the departed Haygarth, and I had some compunction in
diplomatising with him as I had diplomatised with Mr. Goodge. To
hoodwink the wary Jonah was a triumph--to deceive the confiding linen
draper was a shame. However, as I have before set down, I suppose at
the falsest I am not much farther from the truth than a barrister or a
diplomatist. Mr. Judson accepted my account of myself in all
simplicity, and seemed quite pleased to have an opportunity of talking
about the deceased Haygarths.

"You are not concerned in the endeavour to assert Theodore Judson's
claim to the late John Haygarth's property, eh?" the old man asked me
presently, as if struck by a sudden misgiving.

I assured him that Mr. Theodore Judson's interests and mine were in no
respect identical.

"I am glad of that," answered the draper; "not that I owe Theodore
Judson a grudge, you must understand, though his principles and mine
differ very widely. I have been told that he and his son hope to
establish a claim to that Haygarth property; but they will never
succeed, sir--they will never succeed. There was a young man who went
to India in '41; a scamp and a vagabond, sir, who was always trying to
borrow money in sums ranging from a hundred pounds, to set him up in
business and render him a credit to his family, to a shilling for the
payment of a night's lodging or the purchase of a dinner. But that
young man was the great-grandson of Ruth Haygarth--the eldest surviving
grandson of Ruth Haygarth's eldest son; and if that man is alive, he is
rightful heir to John Haygarth's money. Whether he is alive or dead at
this present moment is more than I can tell, since he has never been
heard of in Ullerton since he left the town; but until Theodore Judson
can obtain legal proof of that man's death he has no more chance of
getting one sixpence of the Haygarth estate than I have of inheriting
the crown of Great Britain."

The old man had worked himself into a little passion before he finished
this speech, and I could see that the Theodore Judsons were as
unpopular in the draper's counting-house as they were at the Swan Inn.

"What was this man's Christian name?" I asked.

"Peter. He was called Peter Judson; and was the great-grandson of my
grandfather, Joseph Judson, who inhabited this very house, sir, more
than a hundred years ago. Let me see: Peter Judson must have been about
five-and-twenty years of age when he left Ullerton; so he is a
middle-aged man by this time if he hasn't killed himself, or if the
climate hasn't killed him long ago. He went as supercargo to a merchant
vessel: he was a clever fellow, and could work hard when it suited him,
in spite of his dissipated life. Theodore Judson is a very good lawyer;
but though he may bring all his ingenuity to bear, he will never
advance a step nearer to the possession of John Haygarth's money till
he obtains evidence of Peter Judson's death; and he's afraid to
advertise for that evidence for fear he might arouse the attention of
other claimants."

Much as I was annoyed to find that there were claimants lying in wait
for the rev. intestate's wealth, I was glad to perceive that Theodore
Judson's unpopularity was calculated to render his kindred agreeably
disposed to any stranger likely to push that gentleman out of the list
of competitors for these great stakes, and I took my cue from this in
my interview with the simple old draper.

"I regret that I am not at liberty to state the nature of my business,"
I said, in a tone that was at once insinuating and confidential; "but I
think I may venture to go so far as to say, without breach of trust to
my employer, that whoever may ultimately succeed to the Rev. John
Haygarth's money, neither Mr. Judson the lawyer nor his son will ever
put a finger on a penny of it."

"I am not sorry to hear it," answered Mr. Judson, enraptured; "not that
I owe the young man a grudge, you must understand, but because he is
particularly undeserving of good fortune. A young man who passes his
own kindred in the streets of his native town without the common
courtesy due to age or respectability; a young man who sneers at the
fortune acquired in an honest and reputable trade; a young man who
calls his cousins counter-jumpers, and his aunts and uncles
'swaddlers'--a vulgar term of contempt applied to the earlier members
of the Wesleyan confraternity--such a young man is not the individual
to impart moral lustre to material wealth; and I am free to confess
that I had rather any one else than Theodore Judson should inherit this
vast fortune. Why, are you aware, my dear sir, that he has been seen to
drive tandem through this very street, as it is; and I should like to
know how many horses he would harness to that gig of his, or how openly
he would insult his relatives, if he had a hundred thousand pounds to
deal with?"

"A hundred thousand pounds!" exclaimed I; "am I to understand that the
fortune left by the Reverend John Haygarth amounts to that sum?"

"To every penny of it, sir; and a nice use Theodore Judson and that
precious son of his would make of it if it fell into their hands."

For a second time Mr. Judson the draper had worked himself into a
little passion, and the conversation had to be discontinued for some
minutes while he cooled down to his ordinary temperament.

"O ho!" said I within myself, while awaiting the completion of this
cooling-down process; "so _this_ is the stake for which my friend
Sheldon is playing!"

"I'll tell you what I will do for you, Mr.--Mr. Hawke-shell,"--Mr.
Judson said at last, making a compound of my own and my employer's
names; "I will give you a line of introduction to my sister. If any one
can help you in hunting up intelligence relating to the past she can.
She is two years my junior--seventy-one years of age, but as bright and
active as a girl. She has lived all her life in Ullerton, and is a
woman who hoards every scrap of paper that comes in her way. If old
letters or old newspapers can assist you, she can show you plenty
amongst her stores."

Upon this the old man wrote a note, which he dried with sand out of a
perforated bottle, as Richard Steele may have dried one of those airy
tender essays which he threw off in tavern parlours for the payment of
a jovial dinner.

Provided with this antique epistle, written on Bath post and sealed
with a great square seal from a bunch of cornelian monstrosities which
the draper carried at his watch-chain, I departed to find Miss
Hephzibah Judson, of Lochiel Villa, Lancaster-road.



CHAPTER IV.

GLIMPSES OF A BYGONE LIFE.


_October 10th_. I found the villa inhabited by Miss Hephzibah Judson
very easily, and found it one of those stiff square dwelling-houses
with brass curtain-rods, prim flower-beds, and vivid green palings,
only to be discovered in full perfection in the choicer suburb of a
country town.

I had heard enough during my brief residence in Ullerton to understand
that to live in the Lancaster-road was to possess a diploma of
respectability not easily vitiated by individual conduct. No
disreputable persons had ever yet set up their unholy Lares and Penates
in one of those new slack-baked villas; and that person must have been
very bold who, conscious of moral unfitness or pecuniary shortcoming,
should have ventured to pitch his tent in that sacred locality.

Miss Hephzibah Judson was one of the individuals whose shining sanctity
of life and comfortable income lent a reflected brightness to the
irreproachable suburb. I was admitted to her abode by an elderly woman
of starched demeanour but agreeable visage, who ushered me into a
spotless parlour, whereof the atmosphere was of that vault-like
coldness peculiar to a room which is only inhabited on state occasions.
Here the starched domestic left me while she carried my letter of
introduction to her mistress. In her absence I had leisure to form some
idea of Miss Judson's character on the mute evidence of Miss Judson's
surroundings. From the fact that there were books of a sentimental and
poetical tenor amongst the religious works ranged at mathematically
correct distances upon the dark green table-cover--from the presence of
three twittering canaries in a large brass cage--from the evidence of a
stuffed Blenheim spaniel, with intensely brown eyes, reclining on a
crimson velvet cushion under a glass shade--I opined that Miss Judson's
piety was pleasantly leavened by sentiment, and that her Wesleyanism
was agreeably tempered by that womanly tenderness which, failing more
legitimate outlets, will waste itself upon twittering canaries and
plethoric spaniels.

I was not mistaken. Miss Judson appeared presently, followed by the
servant bearing a tray of cake and wine. This was the first occasion on
which I had been offered refreshment by any person to whom I had
presented myself. I argued, therefore, that Miss Judson was the weakest
person with whom I had yet had to deal; and I flattered myself with the
hope that from Miss Judson's amiable weakness, sentimentality, and
womanly tenderness, I should obtain better aid than from more
business-like and practical people.

I fancied that with this lady it would be necessary to adopt a certain
air of candour. I therefore did not conceal from her the fact that my
business had something to do with that Haygarthian fortune awaiting a
claimant.

"The person for whom you are concerned is not Mr. Theodore Judson?" she
asked, with some asperity.

I assured her that I had never seen Theodore Judson, and that I was in
no manner interested in his success.

"In that case I shall be happy to assist you as far as lies in my
power; but I can do nothing to advance the interests of Theodore Judson
junior. I venture to hope that I am a Christian; and if Theodore Judson
junior were to come here to me and ask my forgiveness, I should accord
that forgiveness as a Christian; but I cannot and will not lend myself
to the furtherance of Theodore Judson's avaricious designs. I cannot
lend myself to the suppression of truth or the assertion of falsehood.
Theodore Judson senior is not the rightful heir to the late John
Haygarth's fortune, though I am bound to acknowledge that his claim
would be prior to my brother's. There is a man who stands before the
Theodore Judsons, and the Theodore Judsons know it. But were they the
rightful claimants, I should still consider them most unfitted to enjoy
superior fortune. If that dog could speak, he would be able to testify
to ill-usage received from Theodore Judson junior at his own
garden-gate, which would bespeak the character of the man to every
thoughtful mind. A young man who could indulge his spiteful feelings
against an elderly kinswoman at the expense of an unoffending animal is
not the man to make worthy use of fortune."

I expressed my acquiescence with this view of the subject; and I was
glad to perceive that with Miss Judson, as with her brother, the
obnoxious Theodores would stand me in good stead. The lady was only two
years younger than her brother, and even more inclined to be
communicative. I made the most of my opportunity, and sat in the
vault-like parlour listening respectfully to her discourse, and from
time to time hazarding a leading question, as long as it pleased her to
converse; although it seemed to me as if a perennial spring of cold
water were trickling slowly down my back and pervading my system during
the entire period. As the reward of my fortitude I obtained Miss
Judson's promise to send me any letters or papers she might find
amongst her store of old documents relating to the personal history of
Matthew Haygarth.

"I know I have a whole packet of letters in Matthew's own hand amongst
my grandmother's papers," said Miss Judson. "I was a great favourite
with my grandmother, and used to spend a good deal of my time with her
before she died--which she did while I was in pinafores; but young
people wore pinafores much longer in my time than they do now; and I
was getting on for fourteen years of age when my grandmother departed
this life. I've often heard her talk of her brother Matthew, who had
been dead some years when I was born. She was very fond of him, and he
of her, I've heard her say; and she used often to tell me how handsome
he was in his youth; and how well he used to look in a chocolate and
gold-laced riding coat, just after the victory of Culloden, when he
came to Ullerton in secret, to pay her a visit--not being on friendly
terms with his father."

I asked Miss Judson if she had ever read Matthew Haygarth's letters.

"No," she said; "I look at them sometimes when I'm tidying the drawer
in which I keep them, and I have sometimes stopped to read a word here
and there, but no more. I keep them out of respect to the dead; but I
think it would make me unhappy to read them. The thoughts and the
feelings in old letters seem so fresh that they bring our poor
mortality too closely home to us when we remember how little except
those faded letters remains of those who wrote them. It is well for us
to remember that we are only travellers and wayfarers on this earth;
but sometimes it seems just a little hard to think how few traces of
our footsteps we leave behind us when the journey is finished."

The canaries seemed to answer Miss Judson with a feeble twitter of
assent: and I took my leave, with a feeling of compassion in my heart.
I, the scamp--I, Robert Macaire the younger--had pity upon the caged
canaries, and the lonely old woman whose narrow life was drawing to its
close, and who began to feel how very poor a thing it had been after
all.

_Oct. 11th_. I have paid the penalty of my temerity in enduring the
vault-like chilliness of Miss Hephzibah Judson's parlour, and am
suffering to-day from a sharp attack of influenza; that complaint which
of all others tends to render a man a burden to himself, and a nuisance
to his fellow-creatures. Under these circumstances I have ordered a
fire in my own room--a personal indulgence scarcely warranted by
Sheldon's stipend--and I sit by my own fire pondering over the story of
Matthew Haygarth's life.

On the table by my side are scattered more than a hundred letters, all
in Matthew's bold hand; but even yet, after a most careful study of
those letters, the story of the man's existence is far from clear to
me. The letters are full of hints and indications, but they tell so
little plainly. They deal in enigmas, and disguise names under the mask
of initials.

There is much in these letters which relates to the secret history of
Matthew's life. They were written to the only creature amongst his
kindred in whom he fully confided. This fact transpires more than once,
as will be seen anon by the extracts I shall proceed to make; if my
influenza--which causes me to shed involuntary tears that give me the
appearance of a drivelling idiot, and which jerks me nearly out of my
chair every now and then with a convulsive sneeze--will permit me to do
anything rational or useful.

I have sorted and classified the letters, first upon one plan, then
upon another, until I have classified and sorted them into chaos.
Having done this, my only chance is to abandon all idea of
classification, and go quietly through them in consecutive order
according to their dates, jotting down whatever strikes me as
significant. George Sheldon's acumen must do the rest.

Thus I begin my notes, with an extract from the fourth letter in the
series. Mem. I preserve Matthew's own orthography, which is the most
eccentric it was ever my lot to contemplate.

"_December_ 14, '42. Indeed, my dear Ruth, I am ventursom wear you are
concurn'd, and w'd tell you that I w'd taik panes to kepe fromm
another. I saw ye same girl w'h it was my good fortun to saive from ye
molestashun of raketters and mohoks at Smithfelde in September last
past. She is ye derest prittiest creture you ever saw, and as elegant
and genteel in her speche and maner as a Corte lady, or as ye best
bredd person in Ullerton. I mett her in ye nayborood of ye Marchalsee
prison wear her father is at this pressent time a prisener, and had som
pleassant talke with her. She rememberr'd me at once, and seme'd mitily
gladd to see me. Mem. Her pritty blu eys wear fill'd with teares wen
she thank'd me for having studd up to be her champyun at ye Fare. So
you see, Mrs. Ruth, ye brotherr is more thort off in London than with
them which hav ye rite to regard him bestt. If you had scen ye pore
simpel childeish creetur and heeard her tell her arteless tale, I think
y'r kinde hart w'd have bin sore to considder so much unmiritted
misfortun: ye father is in pore helth, a captiv, ye mother has binn
dedd thre yeres, and ye pore orfann girl, Mollie, has to mentane ye
burden of ye sick father, and a yung helples sister. Think of this,
kinde Mrs. Ruth, in y'r welthy home. Mem. Pore Mrs. Mollie is prittier
than ye fineist ladies that wear to be sene at ye opening of ye grand
new roome at Ranellar this spring last past, wear I sor ye too Miss
Gunings and Lady Harvey, wich is alsoe accounted a grate buty."

I think this extract goes very far to prove that my friend Matthew was
considerably smitten by the pretty young woman whose champion he had
been in some row at Bartholomew Fair. This fits into one of the scraps
of information afforded by my ancient inhabitant in Ullerton
Almshouses, who remembers having heard his grandfather talk of Mat
Haygarth's part in some fight or disturbance at the great Smithfield
festival.

My next extract treats again of Mollie, after an interval of four
months. It seems as if Matthew had confided in his sister so far as to
betray his tenderness for the poor player-girl of the London booths;
but I can find no such letter amongst those in my hands. Such an
epistle may have been considered by Mrs. Ruth too dangerous to be kept
where the parental eye might in some evil hour discover it. Matthew's
sister was unmarried at this date, and lived within the range of that
stern paternal eye. Matthew's letter appears to me to have been written
in reply to some solemn warning from Ruth.

"_April_ 12, 1743. Sure, my dear sister cannot think me so baise a
retch as to injoore a pore simpel girl hoo confides in me as ye best
and trooest of mortals, wich for her dere saik I will strive to be. If
so be my sister cou'd think so ill of me it wou'd amost temt me to
think amiss of her, wich cou'd imagen so vile a thort. You tel me that
Mrs. Rebecka Caulfeld is mor than ever estemed by my father; but, Ruth,
I am bounde to say, my father's esteme is nott to be ye rule of my
ackshuns thro' life, for it semes to me their is no worser tyrrannie
than ye wich fathers do striv to impose on there children, and I do
acount that a kind of barbarity wich wou'd compel ye hart of youth to
sute ye proodense of age. I do not dout but Mrs. Rebecka is a mitey
proper and well-natur'd person, tho' taken upp with this new sekt of
methodys, or, as sum do call them in derission, swaddlers and jumpers,
set afoot by ye madbrain'd young man, Wesley, and one that is still
madder, Witfelde. Thear ar I dare sware many men in Ullerton wich wou'd
be gladd to obtane Mrs. Rebecka's hand and fortun; but if ye fortun
wear ten times more, I wou'd not preetend to oferr my harte to herr w'h
can never be its misteress. Now, my deare sister, having gone as farr
towards satisfieing all y'r queerys as my paper wou'd welle permitt, I
will say no more but to begg you to send me all ye knews, and to
believe that none can be more affectionately y'r humble servant than
your brother." "MATHEW HAYGARTH."

In this extract we have strong ground for supposing that our Matthew
truly loved the player-girl, and meant honestly by his sweetheart.
There is a noble indignation in his repudiation of his sister's doubts,
and a manly determination not to marry Mrs. Rebecca's comfortable
fortune. I begin to think that Sheldon's theory of an early and secret
marriage will turn up a trump card; but Heaven only knows how slow or
how difficult may be the labour of proving such a marriage. And then,
even if we can find documentary evidence of such an event, we shall
have but advanced one step in our obscure path, and should have yet to
discover the issue of that union, and to trace the footsteps of
Matthew's unknown descendants during the period of a century.

I wonder how Sisyphus felt when the stone kept rolling back upon him.
Did he ever look up to the top of the mountain and calculate the
distance he must needs traverse before his task should be done?

The next letter in which I find a passage worth transcribing is of much
later date, and abounds in initials. The postmark is illegible; but I
can just make out the letters PO and L, the two first close together,
the third after an interval; and there is internal evidence to show
that the letter was written from some dull country place. Might not
that place have been Spotswold? the PO and the L of the postmark would
fit very well into the name of that village. Again I leave this
question to the astute Sheldon. The date is March, 1749.

"M. is but porely. Sumtimes I am pain'd to believe this quiett life is
not well suted to herr disposishun, having bin acustumed to so much
livlinesse and nois. I hav reproched her with this, but she tolde me,
with teres in her eys, to be neare mee and M. and C. was to be happie,
and ye it is il helth onlie wich is ye cawse of ye sadnesse. I pray
heaven M.'s helth may be on ye mending hand soone. Little M. grows more
butiful everry day; and indede, my dear sisterr, if you cou'd stele
another visitt this waye, and oblidge yr affectionat brother, you wou'd
considerr him ye moste butifull creetur ever scene. So much enteligence
with sich ingaging temper endeares him to all hartes. Mrs. J. says she
adors him, and is amost afraide to be thort a Paygann for bestoeing so
much affection on a erthly creetur, and this to oure good parson who
cou'd find no reproche for her plesant folly.

"We hav had heavy ranes all ye week last past. Sech wether can but
serve to hinderr M.'s recovery. The fysichion at G., wear I tooke her,
saies she shou'd hav much fresh aire everry day--if not afoot, to be
carrid in a chaire or cotche; but in this wether, and in a plaice wear
neeither chaire nor cotche can be had, she must needs stop in doors. I
hav begg'd her to lett me carry her to G., but she will not, and says
in ye summerr she will be as strong as everr. I pray God she may be so.
Butt theire are times whenn my harte is sore and heavy; and the rane
beeting agenst the winder semes lik dropps of cold worter falling uponn
my pore aking harte. If you cou'd stele a visitt you wou'd see wether
she semes worse than whenn you sor her last ortumm; she is trieing ye
tansy tea; and beggs her service to you, and greatfull thanks for y'r
rememberence of her. I dare to say you here splended acounts of my
doins in London--at cok fites and theaters, dansing at Vorxhall, and
beeting ye wotch in Covin Garden. Does my F. stil use to speke harsh
agenst me, or has he ni forgott their is sech a creetur living? If he
has so, I hope you wil kepe him in sech forgetfullnesse,--and obliage,

"Yr loving brother and obediant servent."

"MATHEW HAYGARTH."


To me this letter is almost conclusive evidence of a marriage. Who can
this little M. be, of whom he writes so tenderly, except a child? Who
can this woman be, whose ill health causes him such anxiety, unless a
wife? Of no one _but_ a wife could he write so freely to his sister.
The place to which he asks her to "steal a visit" must needs be a home
to which a man could invite his sister. I fancy it is thus made very
clear that at this period Matthew Haygarth was secretly married and
living at Spotswold, where his wife and son were afterwards buried, and
whence the body of the son was ultimately removed to Dewsdale to be
laid in that grave which the father felt would soon be his own
resting-place. That allusion to the Ullerton talk of London roisterings
indicates that Matthew's father believed him to be squandering the
paternal substance in the metropolis at the very time when the young
man was leading a simple domestic life within fifty miles of the
paternal abode. No man could do such a thing in these days of rapid
locomotion, when every creature is more or less peripatetic; but in
that benighted century the distance from Ullerton to Spotswold
constituted a day's journey. That Matthew was living in one place while
he was supposed to be in another is made sufficiently clear by several
passages in his letters, all more or less in the strain of the
following:--

"I was yesterday--markett-day--at G., wear I ran suddennly agenst Peter
Browne's eldest ladd. The boy openn'd his eyes wide, stearing like an
owle; butt I gaive him bakk his looke with interrest, and tolde him if
he was curiouse to know my name, I was Simon Lubchick, farmer, at his
servise. The pore simpel ladd arsk'd my pardonn humbly for having
mistook me for a gentelman of Ullerton--a frend of his father; on wich
I gaive him a shillin, and we parted, vastly plesed with eche other;
and this is nott the fust time the site of Ullerton fokes has putt me
into a swett."

Amongst later letters are very sad ones. The little M. is dead. The
father's poor aching heart proclaims its anguish in very simple words:

"_Nov_. 1751. I thank my dear sister kindly for her friendlinesse and
compashin; butt, ah, he is gone, and their semes to be no plesure or
comforte on this erth without him! onlie a littel childe of 6 yeres,
and yett so dere a creetur to this harte that the worlde is emty and
lonely without him. M. droopes sadly, and is more ailing everry day.
Indede, my dere Ruth, I see nothing butt sorrow before me, and I wou'd
be right gladd to lay down at peece in my littel M.'s grave."

I can find no actual announcements of death, only sad allusions here
and there. I fancy the majority of Matthew's letters must have been
lost, for the dates of those confided to my hands are very far apart,
and there is evidence in all of them of other correspondence. After the
letter alluding to little M.'s death, there is a hiatus of eight years.
Then comes a letter with the post-mark London very clear, from which I
transcribe an extract. "_October 4th_, 1759. The toun is very sadd;
everry body, high and low, rich and pore, in morning for Gennerel Wolf:
wot a nobel deth to die, and how much happier than to live, when one
considers the cairs and miseries of this life; and sech has bin the
oppinion of wiser fokes than y'r humble servent. Being in companie on
Thersday sennite with that distingwish'd riter, Dr. Johnson,--whose
admir'd story of _Raselass_ I sent you new from ye press, but who I am
bound to confesse is less admirable as a fine gentlemann than as an
orther, his linning siled and his kravatt twisted ary, and his manners
wot in a more obskure personn wou'd be thort ungenteel,--he made a
remark wich impress'd me much. Some one present, being almost all
gentelmenn of parts and learning, except y'r pore untuter'd brother,
observed that it was a saying with the ainchents that ye happiest of
men was him wich was never born; ye next happy him wich died the
soonest. On wich Dr. Johnson cried out verry loud and angry, 'That was
a Paggann sentyment, sir, and I am asham'd that a Xtian gentelmann
shou'd repete it as a subject for admerashun. Betwene these heathen men
and ye followers of Christ their is all ye differenc betwene a slave
and a servent of a kind Master. Eche bears the same burden; butt ye
servent knows he will recieve just wages for his work, wile ye slave
hopes for nothing, and so conkludes that to escape work is to be
happy!' I could but aknowlege the wisdomm and pyety of this speche;
yett whenn I see ye peopel going bye in their black rayment, I envy the
young Gennerel his gloreous deth, and I wish I was laying amongst the
plane on the hites of Quebeck. I went to look at ye old house in J.
St., but I wou'd not go in to see Mr. F. or ye old roomes; for I think
I shou'd see the aparishions of those that once liv'd in them. C.
thrivs at Higate, wear the aire is fresh and pewer. I go to see her
offen. She is nerely as high as you. Give my servis to Mrs. Rebecka,
sinse you say it will plese my father to do so, and he is now dispos'd
to think more kindly of me. Butt if he thinks I shal everr arske her to
be my wife he is mityly mistaken. You know wear my harte lies--in ye
grave with all that made life dere. Thank my father for the Bill, and
tell him I pass my time in good companie, and neether drink nor play;
and will come to Ullerton to pay him my respeckts when he pleses to bid
me. Butt I hav no desire to leeve London, as I am gladd to be neare C."

Who was C., whom Matthew visited at Highgate, and who was nearly as
tall as Ruth Judson? Was she not most likely the same C. mentioned in
conjunction with the little M. in the earlier letters? and if so, can
there be any doubt that she was the daughter of Matthew Haygarth? Of
whom but of a daughter would he write as in this letter? She was at
Highgate, at school most likely, and he goes to see her. She is nearly
as tall as Mrs. Judson. This height must have been a new thing, or he
would scarcely impart it as a piece of news to his sister. And then he
has no desire to leave London, as he is glad to be near C.

My life upon it, C. is a daughter.

Acting upon this conviction, I have transcribed all passages relating
to C., at whatever distance of time they occur.

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus, in 1763, I find--"C. has grone very hansome, and Mrs. N. tells me
is much admir'd by a brother of her frend Tabitha. She never stirs
abrorde but with Tabitha, and if a dutchess, cou'd be scarce wated on
more cairfully. Mrs. N. loves her verry tenderly, and considers her the
sweetest and most wel bredd of young women. I hav given her the new
edishun of Sir Charls Grandisson, wich they read alowde in ye evenings,
turn and turn about, to Mrs. N. at her spinning. C. has given me a wool
comforter of her owne worke, and sum stockings wich are two thick to
ware, but I hav not told her so."

Again, in 1764: "Tabitha Meynell's brother goes more than ever to
Higate. He is a clark in his father's wearhouse; very sober and
estimabel, and if it be for ye hapiness of C. to mary him, I wou'd be
ye laste of men to sett my orthoritty agenst her enclinashun. She is
yett but ayteen yeres of age, wich is young to make a change; so I tell
Mrs. N. we will waite. Meanwhile ye young peapel see eche other offen."

Again, in 1765: "Young Meynell is still constant, expressing much love
and admirashun for C. in his discorse with Mrs. N., butt sattisfide to
wait my plesure before spekeing oppenly to C. He semes a most exempelry
young man; his father a cittizen of some repewt in Aldersgait-street,
ware I have din'd since last riting to you, and at hoose tabel I was
paid much considerashun. He, Tomas Meynell ye father, will give his son
five hundred pound, and I prommis a thousand pound with C. and to
furnish a house at Chelsee, a verry plesent and countriefide vilage; so
I make no doubt there will soon be a wedding.

"I am sorrie to here my father is aleing; give him my love and servise,
and will come to Ullerton immediate on receiving his commands. I am
plesed to think Mrs. Rebecka Caulfeld is so dutifull and kind to him,
and has comfortedd him with prairs and discorses. I thank her for this
more than for any frendshipp for my undeserving self. Pray tell her
that I am much at her servise.

"Our new king is lov'd and admir'd by all. His ministers not so; and
wise peopel do entertain themselfs with what I think foollish jokes
a-bout a _Skotch boote_. Perhapps I am not cleverr enuff to see the
funn in this joke."

In this letter I detect a certain softening of feeling towards Mrs.
Rebecca Caulfield. In the next year--'66--according to my notes,
Matthew's father died, and I have no letters bearing the date of that
year, which our Matthew no doubt spent at home. Nor have I any letters
from this time until the year of Matthew's marriage with Rebecca
Caulfield. In the one year of his union with Mrs. Rebecca, and the last
year of his life, there are many letters, a few from London and the
rest from the manor-house at Dewsdale. But in these epistles,
affectionate and confidential as they are, there is little positive
information.

These are the letters of the regenerate and Wesleyanised Matthew; and,
like the more elaborate epistles of his wife Rebecca, deal chiefly with
matters spiritual. In these letters I can perceive the workings of a
weak mind, which in its decline has become a prey to religious terrors;
and though I fully recognise the reforming influence which John Wesley
exercised upon the people of England, I fancy poor Matthew would have
been better in the hands of a woman whose piety was of a less severe
type than that of Wesleyan Rebecca. There is an all-pervading tone of
fear in these letters--a depression which is almost despair. In the
same breath he laments and regrets the lost happiness of his youth, and
regrets and laments his own iniquity in having been so ignorantly and
unthinkingly happy.

Thus in one letter he says,--

"When I think of that inconsideratt foolish time with M., and how to be
nere her semed the highest blisse erth cou'd bistowe or Heven prommis,
I trimbel to think of my pore unawaken'd sole, and of her dome on wich
the tru light never shown. If I cou'd believe she was happy my owne
sorow wou'd be lesse; but I canot, sence all ye worthyest memberrs of
our seck agree that to die thinking onely of erthly frends, and
clingeng with a passhunate regrett to them we luv on erth is to be
lesse than a tru Xtian, and for sech their is but one dome."

And again, in a still later epistle, he writes,--

"On Toosday sennite an awakning discorse fromm a verry young man, until
lately a carppenter, but now imploid piusly in going from toun to toun
and vilage to vilage, preching. He says, that a life of cairlesse
happyness, finding plesure in ye things of this worlde, is--not being
repentied of--irretrevable damnation. This is a maloncally thort! I
fell to mewsing on M., with hoom I injoy'd such compleat happyness, tel
Deth came like a spekter to bannish all comforte. And now I knowe that
our lives wear vainity. I ashure you, dear sister, I am prodidjusly
sadd when I reffleckt upon this truth--ashuredly it is a harde saying."

Anon comes that strange foreknowledge of death--that instinctive sense
of the shadowy hand so soon to lay him at rest; and with that mystic
prescience comes a yearning for the little child M. to be laid where
his father may lay down beside him. There are many passages in the
latter letters which afford a clue to that mysterious midnight burial
at Dewsdale.

"Last nite I drem't of the cherchyarde at S. I satte under the olde
yewe tree, as it semed in my dreme, and hurd a childes voice crying in
a very piteous mannerr. The thort of this dreme has oppress'd my
speritts all day, and Rebecka has enquier'd more than wunce wot ales
me. If little M. but lay nere at hande, in ye graive to wich I fele I
must soone be carrid, I beleive I shou'd be happyer. Reproove me for
this folley if you plese. I am getting olde, and Sattan temts me with
seche fooleish thorts. Wot dose it matter to my sole wear my vile bodie
is laid? and yet I have a fonde fooleish desier to be berrid with
littel M."

And in these latest letters there is ample evidence of that yearning on
Matthew's part to reveal a secret which Rebecca's own correspondence
betrays.

"We tawked of manny things, and she was more than ordinnary kind and
gentel. I had a mind to tell her about M, and aske her frendship for C;
but she seemed not to cair to here my sekrets, and I think wou'd be
offended if she new the trooth. So I cou'd not finde courrage to tell
her. Before I die I shal speek planely for the saik of C. and M. and ye
little one. I shal cum to U. erly nex weak to make my Wille, and this
time shal chainge my umour no more. I have burnt ye laste, not likeing
it."

This passage occurs in the last letter, amongst the packet confided to
me. The letter is dated September 5, 1774. On the fourteenth of the
following month Matthew died, and in all probability the will here
alluded to was never executed. Certain it is that Matthew, whose end
was awfully sudden at the last, died intestate, whereby his son John
inherited the bulk, and ultimately the whole, of his fortune. There are
many allusions to this infant son in the last few letters; but I do not
think the little creature obtained any great hold on the father's
heart. No doubt he was bound and swaddled out of even such small
semblance to humanity as one may reasonably expect in a child of six or
seven weeks old, and by no means an agreeable being. And poor
weak-minded Matthew's heart was with that player-girl wife whom he
never acknowledged, and the little M. And thus ends the story of
Matthew Haygarth, so far as I have been able to trace it in the
unfathomable gloom of the past.

It seems to me that what I have next to do will be to hunt up
information respecting that young man Meynell, whose father lived in
Aldersgate Street, and was a respectable and solid citizen, of that
ilk; able to give a substantial dinner to the father of his son's
sweetheart, and altogether a person considerable enough, I should
imagine, to have left footprints of some kind or other on the sands of
Time. The inscrutable Sheldon will be able to decide in what manner the
hunt of the Meynells must begin. I doubt if there is anything more to
be done in Ullerton.

I have sent Sheldon a fair copy of my extracts from Matthew's
correspondence, and have returned the letters to Miss Judson, carefully
packed in accordance with her request. I now await my Sheldon's next
communication and the abatement of my influenza before making my next
move in the great game of chess called Life.

What is the meaning of Horatio Paget's lengthened abode in this town?
He is still here. He went past this house to-day while I was standing
at my window in that abject state of mind known only to influenza and
despair. I think I was suffering from a touch of both diseases, by the
bye. What is that man doing here? The idea of his presence fills me
with all manner of vague apprehensions. I cannot rid myself of the
absurd notion that the lavender glove I saw lying in Goodge's parlour
had been left there by the Captain. I know the idea _is_ an absurd one,
and I tell myself again and again that Paget _cannot_ have any inkling
of my business here, and therefore _cannot_ attempt to forestall me or
steal my hard-won information. But often as I reiterate this--in that
silent argument which a man is always elaborating in his own mind--I am
still tormented by a nervous apprehension of treachery from that man. I
suppose the boundary line between influenza and idiocy is a very narrow
one. And then Horatio Paget is such a thorough-paced scoundrel. He is
_lié_ with Philip Sheldon too--another thorough-paced scoundrel in a
quiet gentlemanly way, unless my instinct deceives me.

_October 12th_. There is treachery somewhere. Again the Haygarthian
epistles have been tampered with. Early this morning comes an indignant
note from Miss Judson, reminding me that I promised the packet of
letters should be restored to her yesterday at noon, and informing me
that they were not returned until last night at eleven o'clock, when
they were left at her back garden-gate by a dirty boy who rang the bell
as loudly as if he had been giving the alarm of fire, and who thrust
the packet rudely into the hand of the servant and vanished
immediately. So much for the messenger. The packet itself, Miss Judson
informed me, was of a dirty and disgraceful appearance, unworthy the
hands of a gentlewoman, and one of the letters was missing.

Heedless of my influenza, I rushed at once to the lower regions of the
inn, saw the waiter into whose hands I had confided my packet at
half-past ten o'clock yesterday morning, and asked what messenger had
been charged with it. The waiter could not tell me. He did not
remember. I told him plainly that I considered this want of memory very
extraordinary. The waiter laughed me to scorn, with that quiet
insolence which a well-fed waiter feels for a customer who pays twenty
shillings a week for his board and lodging. The packet had been given
to a very respectable messenger, the waiter made no doubt. As to
whether it was the ostler, or one of the boys, or the Boots, or a young
woman in the kitchen who went on errands sometimes, the waiter wouldn't
take upon himself to swear, being a man who would perish rather than
inadvertently perjure himself. As to my packet having been tampered
with, that was ridiculous. What on earth was there in a lump of
letter-paper for any one to steal? Was there money in the parcel? I was
fain to confess there was no money; on which the waiter laughed aloud.

Failing the waiter, I applied myself severally to the ostler, the boys,
the Boots, and the young woman in the kitchen; and then transpired the
curious fact that no one had carried my packet. The ostler was sure he
had not; the Boots could take his Bible oath to the same effect; the
young woman in the kitchen could not call to mind anything respecting a
packet, though she was able to give me a painfully circumstantial
account of the events of the morning--where she went and what she did,
down to the purchase of three-pennyworth of pearl-ash and a pound of
Glenfield starch for the head chambermaid, on which she dwelt with a
persistent fondness.

I now felt assured that there had been treachery here, as in the Goodge
business; and I asked myself to whom could I impute that treachery?

My instinctive suspicion was of Horatio Paget. And yet, was it not more
probable that Theodore Judson, senr. and Theodore Judson, junr. were
involved in this business, and were watching and counterchecking my
actions with a view to frustrating the plans of my principal? This was
one question which I asked myself as I deliberated upon this mysterious
business. Had the Theodore Judsons some knowledge of a secret marriage
on the part of Matthew Haygarth? and did they suspect the existence of
an heir in the descendant of the issue of that marriage? These were
further questions which I asked myself, and which I found it much more
easy to ask than to answer. After having considered these questions, I
went to the Lancaster-road, saw Miss Judson--assured her, on my word as
a gentleman, that the packet had been delivered by my hands into those
of the waiter at eleven o'clock on the previous day, and asked to see
the envelope. There it was--my large blue wire-wove office envelope,
addressed in my own writing. But in these days of adhesive envelopes
there is nothing easier than to tamper with the fastening of a letter.
I registered a mental vow never again to trust any important document
to the protection of a morsel of gummed paper. I counted the letters,
convinced myself that there was a deficiency, and then set to work to
discover which of the letters had been abstracted. Here I failed
utterly. For my own convenience in copying my extracts, I had numbered
the letters from which I intended to transcribe passages before
beginning my work. My pencilled figures in consecutive order were
visible in the corner of the superscription of every document I had
used. Those numbered covers I now found intact, and I could thus assure
myself that the missing document was one from which I had taken no
extract.

This inspired me with a new alarm. Could it be possible that I had
overlooked some scrap of information more important than all that I had
transcribed?

I racked my brains in the endeavour to recall the contents of that one
missing letter; but although I sat in that social tomb, Miss Judson's
best parlour, until I felt my blood becoming of an arctic quality, I
could remember nothing that seemed worth remembering in the letters I
had laid aside as valueless.

I asked Miss Judson if she had any suspicion of the person who had
tampered with the packet. She looked at me with an icy smile, and
answered in ironical accents, which were even more chilling than the
atmosphere of her parlour,--

"Do not ask if I know who has tampered with those letters, Mr.
Hawkehurst. Your affectation of surprise has been remarkably well put
on; but I am not to be deceived a second time. When you came to me in
the first instance, I had my suspicions; but you came furnished with a
note from my brother, and as a Christian I repressed those suspicions.
I know now that I have been the dupe of an impostor, and that in
entrusting those letters to you I entrusted them to an emissary and
tool of THEODORE JUDSON."

I protested that I had never to my knowledge set eyes upon either of
the Theodore Judsons; but the prejudiced kinswoman of those gentlemen
shook her head with a smile whose icy blandness was eminently
exasperating.

"I am not to be deceived a second time," she said. "Who else but
Theodore Judson should have employed you? Who else but Theodore Judson
is interested in the Haygarth fortune? O, it was like him to employ a
stranger where he knew his own efforts would be unavailing; it was like
him to hoodwink me by the agency of a hireling tool."

I had been addressed as a "young man" by the reverend Jonah, and now I
was spoken of as a "hireling tool" by Miss Judson. I scarcely knew
which was most disagreeable, and I began to think that board and
lodging in the present, and a visionary three thousand pounds in the
future, would scarcely compensate me for such an amount of ignominy.

I went back to my inn utterly crestfallen--a creature so abject that
even the degrading influence of influenza could scarcely sink me any
lower in the social scale. I wrote a brief and succinct account of my
proceedings, and despatched the same to George Sheldon, and then I sat
down in my sickness and despair, as deeply humiliated as Ajax when he
found that he had been pitching into sheep instead of Greeks, as
miserable as Job amongst his dust and ashes, but I am happy to say
untormented by the chorus of one or the friends of the other. In that
respect at least I had some advantage over both.

_October 13th_. This morning's post brought me a brief scrawl from
Sheldon.

"Come back to town directly. I have found the registry of Matthew
Haygarth's marriage."

And so I turn my back on Ullerton; with what rejoicing of spirit it is
not in language to express.



BOOK THE SIXTH.


THE HEIRESS OF THE HAYGARTHS.



CHAPTER I.

DISAPPOINTMENT.


Of all places upon this earth, perhaps, there is none more obnoxious to
the civilized mind than London in October; and yet to Valentine
Hawkehurst, newly arrived from Ullerton per North-Western Railway, that
city seemed as an enchanted and paradisiacal region. Were not the
western suburbs of that murky metropolis inhabited by Charlotte
Halliday, and might he not hope to see her?

He did hope for that enjoyment. He had felt something more than hope
while speeding Londonwards by that delightful combination of a liberal
railway management, a fast and yet cheap train. He had beguiled himself
with a delicious certainty. Early the next morning--or at any rate as
early as civilization permitted--he would hie him to Bayswater, and
present himself at the neat iron gate of Philip Sheldon's gothic villa.
_She_ would be there, in the garden most likely, his divine Charlotte,
so bright and radiant a creature that the dull October morning would be
made glorious by her presence--she would be there, and she would
welcome him with that smile which made her the most enchanting of women.

Such thoughts as these had engaged him during his homeward journey; and
compared with the delight of such visions, the perusal of daily papers
and the consumption of sandwiches, whereby other passengers beguiled
their transit, seemed a poor amusement. But, arrived in the dingy
streets, and walking towards Chelsea under a drizzling rain, the bright
picture began to grow dim. Was it not more than likely that Charlotte
would be absent from London at this dismal season? Was it not very
probable that Philip Sheldon would give him the cold shoulder? With
these gloomy contingencies before him, Mr. Hawkehurst tried to shut
Miss Halliday's image altogether out of his mind, and to contemplate
the more practical aspect of his affairs.

"I wonder whether that scoundrel Paget has come back to London?" he
thought. "What am I to say to him if he has? If I own to having seen
him in Ullerton, I shall lay myself open to being questioned by him as
to my own business in that locality. Perhaps my wisest plan would be to
say nothing, and hear his own account of himself. I fully believe he
saw me on the platform that night when we passed each other without
speaking."

Horatio Paget was at home when his _protegé_ arrived. He was seated by
his fireside in all the domestic respectability of a dressing-gown and
slippers, with an evening paper on his knee, a slim smoke-coloured
bottle at his elbow, and the mildest of cigars between his lips, when
the traveller, weary and weather-stained, entered the lodging-house
drawing-room.

Captain Paget received his friend very graciously, only murmuring some
faint deprecation of the young man's reeking overcoat, with just such a
look of gentlemanly alarm as the lamented Brummel may have felt when
ushered into the presence of a "damp stranger."

"And so you've come back at last," said the Captain, "from Dorking?" He
made a little pause here, and looked at his friend with a malicious
sparkle in his eye. "And how was the old aunt? Likely to cut up for any
considerable amount, eh? It could only be with a view to that
cutting-up process that you could consent to isolate yourself in such a
place as Dorking. How did you find things?" "O, I don't know, I'm
sure," Mr. Hawkehurst answered rather impatiently, for his worst
suspicions were confirmed by his patron's manner; "I only know I found
it tiresome work enough."

"Ah, to be sure! elderly people always are tiresome, especially when
they are unacquainted with the world. There is a perennial youth about
men and women of the world. The sentimental twaddle people talk of the
freshness and purity of a mind unsullied by communion with the world is
the shallowest nonsense. Your Madame du Deffand at eighty and your
Horace Walpole at sixty are as lively as a girl and boy. Your
octogenarian Voltaire is the most agreeable creature in existence. But
take Cymon and Daphne from their flocks and herds and pastoral valleys
in their old age, and see what senile bores and quavering imbeciles you
would find them. Yes, I have no doubt you found your Dorking aunt a
nuisance. Take off your wet overcoat and put it out of the room, and
then ring for more hot water. You'll find that cognac very fine. Won't
you have a cigar?"

The Captain extended his russia-leather case with the blandest smile.
It was a very handsome case. Captain Paget was a man who could descend
into some unknown depths of the social ocean in the last stage of
shabbiness, and who, while his acquaintance were congratulating
themselves upon the fact of his permanent disappearance, would start up
suddenly in an unexpected place, provided with every necessity and
luxury of civilized life, from a wardrobe by Poole to the last
fashionable absurdity in the shape of a cigar-case.

Never had Valentine Hawkehurst found his patron more agreeably disposed
than he seemed to be this evening, and never had he felt more inclined
to suspect him.

"And what have you been doing while I have been away?" the young man
asked presently. "Any more promoting work?"

"Well, yes, a little bit of provincial business; a life-and-fire on a
novel principle; a really good thing, if we can only find men with
perception enough to see its merits, and pluck enough to hazard their
capital. But promoting in the provinces is very dull work. I've been to
two or three towns in the Midland districts--Beauport, Mudborough, and
Ullerton--and have found the same stagnation everywhere."

Nothing could be more perfect than the semblance of unconscious
innocence with which the Captain gave this account of himself: whether
he was playing a part, or whether he was telling the entire truth, was
a question which even a cleverer man than Valentine Hawkehurst might
have found himself unable to answer.

The two men sat till late, smoking and talking; but to-night Valentine
found the conversation of his "guide, philosopher, and friend"
strangely distasteful to him. That cynical manner of looking at life,
which not long ago had seemed to him the only manner compatible with
wisdom and experience, now grated harshly upon those finer senses which
had been awakened in the quiet contemplative existence he had of late
been leading. He had been wont to enjoy Captain Paget's savage
bitterness against a world which had not provided him with a house in
Carlton-gardens, and a seat in the Cabinet; but to-night he was
revolted by the noble Horatio's tone and manner. Those malicious sneers
against respectable people and respectable prejudices, with which the
Captain interlarded all his talk, seemed to have a ghastly grimness in
their mirth. It was like the talk of some devil who had once been an
angel, and had lost all hope of ever being restored to his angelic
status.

"To believe in nothing, to respect nothing, to hope for nothing, to
fear nothing, to consider life as so many years in which to scheme and
lie for the sake of good dinners and well-made coats--surely there can
be no state of misery more complete, no degradation more consummate,"
thought the young man, as he sat by the fireside smoking and listening
dreamily to his companion. "Better to be Mrs. Rebecca Haygarth,
narrow-minded and egotistical, but always looking beyond her narrow
life to some dimly-comprehended future."

He was glad to escape at last from the Captain's society, and to retire
to his own small chamber, where he slept soundly enough after the day's
fatigues, and dreamed of the Haygarths and Charlotte Halliday.

He was up early the next morning; but, on descending to the
sitting-room, he found his patron toasting his _Times_ before a
cheerful fire; while his gold hunting-watch stood open on the
breakfast-table, and a couple of new-laid eggs made a pleasant wabbling
noise in a small saucepan upon the hob.

"You don't care for eggs, I know, Val," said the Captain, as he took
the saucepan from the hob.

He had heard the young man object to an egg of French extraction too
long severed from its native land; but he knew very well that for rural
delicacies from a reliable dairyman, at twopence apiece, Mr. Hawkehurst
had no particular antipathy. Even in so small a matter as a new-laid
egg the Captain knew how to protect his own interest.

"There's some of that Italian sausage you're so fond of, dear boy," he
said politely, pointing to a heel of some grayish horny-looking
compound. "Thanks; I'll pour out the coffee; there's a knack in these
things; half the clearness of coffee depends on the way in which it's
poured out, you see."

And with this assurance Captain Paget filled his own large
breakfast-cup with a careful hand and a tender solemnity of
countenance. If he was a trifle less considerate in the pouring out of
the second cup, and if some "grounds" mingled with the second portion,
Valentine Hawkehurst was unconscious of the fact.

"Do try that Italian sausage," said the Captain, as he discussed his
second egg, after peeling the most attractive crusts from the French
rolls, and pushing the crumb to his _protégé_.

"No, thank you; it looks rather like what your shop-people call an old
housekeeper; besides, there's a little too much garlic in those
compositions for my taste."

"Your taste has grown fastidious," said the Captain; "one would think
you were going to call upon some ladies this morning."

"There are not many ladies on my visiting-list. O, by the way, how's
Diana? Have you seen her lately?"

"No," answered the Captain, promptly. "I only returned from my
provincial tour a day or two ago, and have had no time to waste dancing
attendance upon her. She's well enough, I've no doubt; and she's
uncommonly well off in Sheldon's house, and ought to think herself so."

Having skimmed his newspaper, Captain Paget rose and invested himself
in his overcoat. He put on his hat before the glass over the
mantelpiece, adjusting the brim above his brows with the thoughtful
care that distinguished his performance of all those small duties which
he owed to himself.

"And what may _you_ be going to do with yourself to-day, Val?" he asked
of the young man, who sat nursing his own knee and staring absently at
the fire.

"Well, I don't quite know," Mr. Hawkehurst answered, hypocritically; "I
think I may go as far as Gray's Inn, and look in upon George Sheldon."

"You'll dine out of doors, I suppose?"

This was a polite way of telling Mr. Hawkehurst that there would be no
dinner for him at home.

"I suppose I shall. You know I'm not punctilious on the subject of
dinner. Anything you please--from a banquet at the London Tavern to a
ham-sandwich and a glass of ale at fourpence."

"Ah, to be sure; youth is reckless of its gastric juices. I shall find
you at home when I come in to-night, I daresay. I think I may dine in
the city. _Au plaisir_."

"I don't know about the pleasure," muttered Mr. Hawkehurst. "You're a
very delightful person, my friend Horatio; but there comes a crisis in
a man's existence when he begins to feel that he has had enough of you.
Poor Diana! what a father!"

He did not waste much time on further consideration of his patron, but
set off at once on his way to Gray's Inn. It was too early to call at
the Lawn, or he would fain have gone there before seeking George
Sheldon's dingy offices. Nor could he very well present himself at the
gothic villa without some excuse for so doing. He went to Gray's Inn
therefore; but on his way thither called at a tavern near the Strand,
which was the head-quarters of a literary association known as the
Ragamuffins. Here he was fortunate enough to meet with an acquaintance
in the person of a Ragamuffin in the dramatic-author line, who was
reading the morning's criticisms on a rival's piece produced the night
before, with a keen enjoyment of every condemnatory sentence. From this
gentleman Mr. Hawkehurst obtained a box-ticket for a West-end theatre;
and, armed with this mystic document, he felt himself able to present a
bold countenance at Mr. Sheldon's door.

"Will she be glad to see me again?" he asked himself. "Pshaw! I daresay
she has forgotten me by this time. A fortnight is an age with some
women; and I should fancy Charlotte Halliday just one of those bright
impressionable beings who forget easily. I wonder whether she is
_really_ like that 'Molly' whose miniature was found by Mrs. Haygarth
in the tulip-leaf escritoire; or was the resemblance between those two
faces only a silly fancy of mine?"

Mr. Hawkehurst walked the whole distance from Chelsea to Gray's Inn;
and it was midday when he presented himself before George Sheldon, whom
he found seated at his desk with the elephantine pedigree of the
Haygarths open before him, and profoundly absorbed in the contents of a
note-book. He looked up from this note-book as Valentine entered, but
did not leave off chewing the end of his pencil as he mumbled a welcome
to the returning wanderer. It has been seen that neither of the Sheldon
brothers were demonstrative men.

After that unceremonious greeting, the lawyer continued his perusal of
the note-book for some minutes, while Valentine seated himself in a
clumsy leather-covered arm-chair by the fireplace.

"Well, young gentleman," Mr. Sheldon exclaimed, as he closed his book
with a triumphant snap, "I think _you're_ in for a good thing; and you
may thank your lucky stars for having thrown you into my path."

"My stars are not remarkable for their luckiness in a general way,"
answered Mr. Hawkehurst, coolly, for the man had not yet been born from
whom he would accept patronage. "I suppose if I'm in for a good thing,
you're in for a better thing, my dear George; so you needn't come the
benefactor quite so strong for my edification. How did you ferret out
the certificate of gray-eyed Molly's espousals?"

George Sheldon contemplated his coadjutor with an admiring stare. "It
has been my privilege to enjoy the society of cool hands, Mr.
Hawkehurst; and certainly you are about the coolest of the lot--bar
one, as they say in the ring. But that is _ni ci ni là_. I have found
the certificate of Matthew Haygarth's marriage, and to my mind the
Haygarth succession is as good as ours."

"Ah, those birds in the bush have such splendid plumage! but I'd rather
have the modest sparrow in my hand. However, I'm very glad our affairs
are marching. How did you discover the marriage-lines?"

"Not without hard labour, I can tell you. Of course my idea of a secret
marriage was at the best only a plausible hypothesis; and I hardly
dared to hug myself with the hope that it might turn up trumps. My idea
was based upon two or three facts, namely, the character of the young
man, his long residence in London away from the ken of respectable
relatives and friends, and the extraordinary state of the marriage laws
at the period in which our man lived."

"Ah, to be sure! That was a strong point."

"I should rather think it was. I took the trouble to look up the
history of Mayfair marriages and Fleet marriages before you started for
Ullerton, and I examined all the evidence I could get on that subject.
I made myself familiar with the Rev. Alexander Keith of Mayfair, who
helped to bring clandestine marriages into vogue amongst the swells,
and with Dr. Gaynham--agreeably nicknamed Bishop of Hell--and more of
the same calibre; and the result of my investigations convinced me that
in those days a hare-brained young reprobate must have found it rather
more difficult to avoid matrimony than to achieve it. He might be
married when he was tipsy; he might be married when he was comatose
from the effects of a stand-up fight with Mohawks; his name might be
assumed by some sportive Benedick of his acquaintance given to
practical joking, and he might find himself saddled with a wife he
never saw; or if, on the other hand, of an artful and deceptive turn,
he might procure a certificate of a marriage that had never taken
place,--for there were very few friendly offices which the Fleet
parsons refused to perform for their clients--for a consideration."

"But how about the legality of the Fleet marriage?"

"There's the rub. Before the New Marriage Act passed in 1753 a Fleet
marriage was indissoluble. It was an illegal act, and the parties were
punishable; but the Gordian knot was quite as secure as if it had been
tied in the most orthodox manner. The great difficulty to my mind was
the _onus probandi_. The marriage might have taken place; the marriage
be to all intents and purposes a good marriage; but how produce
undeniable proof of such a ceremony, when all ceremonies of the kind
were performed with a manifest recklessness and disregard of law? Even
if I found an apparently good certificate, how was I to prove that it
was not one of those lying certificates of marriages that had never
taken place? Again, what kind of registers could posterity expect from
these parson-adventurers, very few of whom could spell, and most of
whom lived in a chronic state of drunkenness? They married people
sometimes by their Christian names alone--very often under assumed
names. What consideration had they for heirs-at-law in the future, when
under the soothing influence of a gin-bottle in the present? I thought
of all these circumstances, and I was half inclined to despair of
realising my idea of an early marriage. I took it for granted that such
a secret business would be more likely to have taken place in the
precincts of the Fleet than anywhere else; and having no particular
clue, I set to work, in the first place, to examine all available
documents relating to such marriages."

"It must have been slow work."

"It _was_ slow work," answered Mr. Sheldon with a suppressed groan,
that was evoked by the memory of a bygone martyrdom. "I needn't enter
into all the details of the business,--the people I had to apply to for
permission to see this set of papers, and the signing and
counter-signing I had to go through before I could see that set of
papers, and the extent of circumlocution and idiocy I had to encounter
in a general way before I could complete my investigation. The result
was nil; and after working like a galley-slave I found myself no better
off than before I began my search. Your extracts from Matthew's letters
put me on a new track. I concluded therefrom that there had been a
marriage, and that the said marriage had been a deliberate act on the
part of the young man. I therefore set to work to do what I ought to
have done at starting--I hunted in all the parish registers to be found
within a certain radius of such and such localities. I began with
Clerkenwell, in which neighbourhood our friend spent such happy years,
according to that pragmatical epistle of Mrs. Rebecca's; but after
hunting in all the mouldy old churches within a mile of St.
John's-gate, I was no nearer arriving at any record of Matthew
Haygarth's existence. So I turned my back upon Clerkenwell, and went
southward to the neighbourhood of the Marshalsea, where Mistress
Molly's father was at one time immured, and whence I thought it very
probable Mistress Molly had started on her career as a matron. This
time my guess was a lucky one. After hunting the registers of St.
Olave's, St. Saviour's, and St. George's, and after the expenditure of
more shillings in donations to sextons than I care to remember, I at
last lighted on a document which I consider worth three thousand pounds
to you--and--a very decent sum of money to me."

"I wonder what colour our hair will be when we touch that money?" said
Valentine meditatively. "These sort of cases generally find their way
into Chancery-lane, don't they?--that lane which, for some unhappy
travellers, has no turning except the one dismal _via_ which leads to
dusty death. You seem in very good spirits; and I suppose I ought to be
elated too. Three thousand pounds would give me a start in life, and
enable me to set up in the new character of a respectable rate-paying
citizen. But I've a kind of presentiment that this hand of mine will
never touch the prize of the victor; or, in plainer English, that no
good will ever arise to me or mine out of the reverend intestate's
hundred thousand pounds."

"Why, what a dismal-minded croaker you are this morning!" exclaimed
George Sheldon with unmitigated disgust; "a regular raven, by Jove! You
come to a fellow's office just as matters are beginning to look like
success--after ten years' plodding and ten years' disappointment--and
you treat him to maudlin howls about the Court of Chancery. This is a
new line you've struck out, Hawkehurst, and I can tell you it isn't a
pleasant one."

"Well, no, I suppose I oughtn't to say that sort of thing," answered
Valentine in an apologetic tone; "but there are some days in a man's
life when there seems to be a black cloud between him and everything he
looks at. I feel like that today. There's a tightening sensation about
something under my waistcoat--my heart, perhaps--a sense of depression
that may be either physical or mental, that I can't get rid of. If a
man had walked by my side from Chelsea to Holborn whispering
forebodings of evil into my ear at every step, I couldn't have felt
more downhearted than I do."

"What did you eat for breakfast?" asked Mr. Sheldon impatiently. "A
tough beefsteak fried by a lodging-house cook, I daresay--they _will_
fry their steaks. Don't inflict the consequences of your indigestible
diet upon me. To tell me that there's a black cloud between you and
everything you look at, is only a sentimental way of telling me that
you're bilious. Pray be practical, and let us look at things from a
business point of view. Here is Appendix A.--a copy of the registry of
the marriage of Matthew Haygarth, bachelor, of Clerkenwell, in the
county of Middlesex, to Mary Murchison, spinster, of Southwark, in the
county of Surrey. And here is Appendix B.--a copy of the registry of
the marriage between William Meynell, bachelor, of Smithfield, in the
county of Middlesex, to Caroline Mary Haygarth, spinster, of Highgate,
in the same county."

"You have found the entry of a second Haygarthian marriage?"

"I have. The C. of Matthew's letters is the Caroline Mary here
indicated, the daughter and heiress of Matthew Haygarth--doubtless
christened Caroline after her gracious majesty the consort of George
II., and Mary after the Molly whose picture was found in the tulip-leaf
bureau. The Meynell certificate was easy enough to find, since the
letters told me that Miss C.'s suitor had a father who lived in
Aldersgate-street, and a father who approved his son's choice. The
Aldersgate citizen had a house of his own, and a more secure social
status altogether than that poor, weak, surreptitious Matthew. It was
therefore only natural that the marriage should be celebrated in the
Meynell mansion. Having considered this, I had only to ransack the
registers of a certain number of churches round and about
Aldersgate-street in order to find what I wanted; and after about a day
and a half of hard labour, I did find the invaluable document which
places me one generation nearer the present, and on the high-road to
the discovery of my heir-at-law. I searched the same registry for
children of the aforesaid William and Caroline Mary Meynell, but could
find no record of such children nor any further entry of the name of
Meynell. But we must search other registries within access of
Aldersgate-street before we give up the idea of finding such entries in
that neighbourhood."

"And what is to be the next move?"

"The hunting-up of all descendants of this William and Caroline Mary
Meynell, wheresoever such descendants are to be found. We are now
altogether off the Haygarth and Judson scent, and have to beat a new
covert."

"Good!" exclaimed Valentine more cheerfully. "How is the new covert to
be beaten?"

"We must start from Aldersgate-street. Meynell of Aldersgate-street
must have been a responsible man, and it will be hard if there is no
record of him extant in all the old topographical histories of wards,
without and within, which cumber the shelves of your dry-as-dust
libraries. We must hunt up all available books; and when we've got all
the information that books can give us, we can go in upon hearsay
evidence, which is always the most valuable in these cases."

"That means another encounter with ancient mariners--I beg your
pardon--oldest inhabitants," said Valentine with a despondent yawn.
"Well, I suppose that sort of individual is a little less obtuse when
he lives within the roar of the great city's thunder than when he
vegetates in the dismal outskirts of a manufacturing town. Where am I
to find my octogenarian prosers? and when am I to begin my operations
upon them?" "The sooner you begin the better," replied Mr. Sheldon.
"I've taken all preliminary steps for you already, and you'll find the
business tolerably smooth sailing. I've made a list of certain people
who may be worth seeing."

Mr. Sheldon selected a paper from the numerous documents upon the table.

"Here they are," he said: "John Grewter, wholesale stationer,
Aldersgate-street; Anthony Sparsfield, carver and gilder, in Barbican.
These are, so far as I can ascertain, the two oldest men now trading in
Aldersgate-street; and from these men you ought to be able to find out
something about old Meynell. I don't anticipate any difficulty about
the Meynells, except the possibility that we may find more of them than
we want, and have some trouble in shaking them into their places."

"I'll tackle my friend the stationer to-morrow morning," said Valentine.

"You'd better drop in upon him in the afternoon, when the day's
business may be pretty well over," returned the prudent Sheldon. "And
now all you've got to do, Hawkehurst, is to work with a will, and work
on patiently. If you do as well in London as you did at Ullerton,
neither you nor I will have any cause to complain. Of course I needn't
impress upon you the importance of secrecy."

"No," replied Valentine; "I'm quite alive to that."

He then proceeded to inform George Sheldon of that encounter with
Captain Paget on the platform at Ullerton, and of the suspicion that
had been awakened in his mind by the sight of the glove in Goodge's
parlour.

The lawyer shook his head.

"That idea about the glove was rather far-fetched," he said,
thoughtfully; "but I don't like the look of that meeting at the
station. My brother Philip is capable of anything in the way of
manoeuvring; and I'm not ashamed to confess that I'm no match for him.
He was in here one day when I had the Haygarth pedigree spread out on
the table, and I know he smelt a rat. We must beware of him,
Hawkehurst, and we must work against time if we don't want him to
anticipate us."

"I shan't let the grass grow under my feet," replied Valentine. "I was
really interested in that Haygarthian history: there was a dash of
romance about it, you see. I don't feel the same gusto in the Meynell
chase, but I daresay I shall begin to get up an interest in it as my
investigation proceeds. Shall I call the day after to-morrow and tell
you my adventures?"

"I think you'd better stick to the old plan, and let me have the result
of your work in the form of a diary," answered Sheldon. And with this
the two men parted.

It was now half-past two o'clock; it would be half-past three before
Valentine could present himself at the Lawn--a very seasonable hour at
which to call upon Mrs. Sheldon with his offering of a box for the new
play.

An omnibus conveyed him to Bayswater at a snail's pace, and with more
stoppages than ever mortal omnibus was subjected to before, as it
seemed to that one eager passenger. At last the fading foliage of the
Park appeared between the hats and bonnets of Valentine's opposite
neighbours. Even those orange tawny trees reminded him of Charlotte.
Beneath such umbrage had he parted from her. And now he was going to
see the bright young face once more. He had been away from town about a
fortnight; but taken in relation with Miss Halliday, that fortnight
seemed half a century.

Chrysanthemums and china-asters beautified Mr. Sheldon's neat little
garden, and the plate-glass windows of his house shone with all their
wonted radiance. It was like the houses one sees framed and glazed in
an auctioneer's office--the greenest imaginable grass, the bluest
windows, the reddest bricks, the whitest stone. "It is a house that
would set my teeth on edge, but for the one sweet creature who lives in
it," Valentine thought to himself, as he waited at the florid iron
gate, which was painted a vivid ultramarine and picked out with gold.

He tried in vain to catch a glimpse of some feminine figure in the
small suburban garden. No flutter of scarlet petticoat or flash of
scarlet plume revealed the presence of the divinity.

The prim maid-servant informed him that Mrs. Sheldon was at home, and
asked if he would please to walk into the drawing-room.

Would he please? Would he not have been pleased to walk into a raging
furnace if there had been a chance of meeting Charlotte Halliday amid
the flames? He followed the maid-servant into Mrs. Sheldon's
irreproachable apartment, where the show books upon the show table were
ranged at the usual mathematically correct distances from one another,
and where the speckless looking-glasses and all-pervading French polish
imparted a chilly aspect to the chamber. A newly-lighted fire was
smouldering in the shining steel grate, and a solitary female figure
was seated by the broad Tudor window bending over some needlework.

It was the figure of Diana Paget, and she was quite alone in the room.
Valentine's heart sank a little as he saw the solitary figure, and
perceived that it was not the woman he loved.

Diana looked up from her work and recognised the visitor. Her face
flushed, but the flush faded very quickly, and Valentine was not
conscious of that flattering indication.

"How do you do, Diana?" he said. "Here I am again, you see, like the
proverbial bad shilling. I have brought Mrs. Sheldon an order for the
Princess's." "You are very kind; but I don't think she'll care to go.
She was complaining of a headache this afternoon."

"O, she'll forget all about her headache if she wants to go to the
play. She's the sort of little woman who is always ready for a theatre
or a concert. Besides, Miss Halliday may like to go, and will easily
persuade her mamma. Whom could she not persuade?" added Mr. Hawkehurst
within himself.

"Miss Halliday is out of town," Diana replied coldly.

The young man felt as if his heart were suddenly transformed into so
much lead, so heavy did it seem to grow. What a foolish thing it seemed
that he should be the victim of this fair enslaver!--he who until
lately had fancied himself incapable of any earnest feeling or deep
emotion.

"Out of town!" he repeated with unconcealed disappointment.

"Yes; she has gone on a visit to some relations in Yorkshire. She
actually has relations; doesn't that sound strange to you and me?"

Valentine did not notice this rather cynical remark.

"She'll be away ever so long, I suppose?" he said.

"I have no idea how long she may stay there. The people idolise her, I
understand. You know it is her privilege to be idolised; and of course
they will persuade her to stay as long as they can. You seem
disappointed at not seeing her."

"I am very much disappointed," Valentine answered frankly; "she is a
sweet girl."

There was a silence after this. Miss Paget resumed her work with rapid
fingers. She was picking up shining little beads one by one on the
point of her needle, and transferring them to the canvas stretched upon
an embroidery frame before her. It was a kind of work exacting extreme
care and precision, and the girl's hand never faltered, though a
tempest of passionate feeling agitated her as she worked.

"I am very sorry not to see her," Valentine said presently, "for the
sight of her is very dear to me. Why should I try to hide my feelings
from you, Diana? We have endured so much misery together that there
must be some bond of union between us. To me you have always seemed
like a sister, and I have no wish to keep any secret from you, though
you receive me so coldly that one would think I had offended you."

"You have not offended me. I thank you for being so frank with me. You
would have gained little by an opposite course. I have long known your
affection for Charlotte."

"You guessed my secret?"

"I saw what any one could have seen who had taken the trouble to watch
you for ten minutes during your visits to this house."

"Was my unhappy state so very conspicuous?" exclaimed Valentine,
laughing. "Was I so obviously spoony? _I_ who have so ridiculed
anything in the way of sentiment. You make me blush for my folly,
Diana. What is that you are dotting with all those beads?--something
very elaborate."

"It is a prie-dieu chair I am working for Mrs. Sheldon. Of course I am
bound to do something for my living."

"And so you wear out your eyesight in the working of chairs. Poor girl!
it seems hard that your beauty and accomplishments should not find a
better market than that. I daresay you will marry some millionaire
friend of Mr. Sheldon's one of these days, and I shall hear of your
house in Park-lane and three-hundred guinea barouche."

"You are very kind to promise me a millionaire. The circumstances of my
existence hitherto have been so peculiarly fortunate that I am
justified in expecting such a suitor. My millionaire shall ask you to
dinner at my house in Park-lane; and you shall play _écarté_ with him,
if you like--papa's kind of _écarté_."

"Don't talk of those things, Di," said Mr. Hawkehurst, with something
that was almost a shudder; "let us forget that we ever led that kind of
life."

"Yes," replied Diana, "let us forget it--if we can."

The bitterness of her tone struck him painfully. He sat for some
minutes watching her silently, and pitying her fate. What a sad fate it
seemed, and how hopeless! For him there was always some chance of
redemption. He could go out into the world, and cut his way through the
forest of difficulty with the axe of the conqueror. But what could a
woman do who found herself in the midst of that dismal forest? She
could only sit at the door of her lonesome hut, looking out with weary
eyes for the prince who was to come and rescue her. And Valentine
remembered how many women there are to whom the prince never comes, and
who must needs die and be buried beneath that gloomy umbrage.

"O! let us have women doctors, women lawyers, women parsons, women
stone-breakers--anything rather than these dependent creatures who sit
in other people's houses working prie-dieu chairs and pining for
freedom," he thought to himself, as he watched the pale stern face in
the chill afternoon light.

"Do leave off working for a few minutes, and talk to me, Di," he said
rather impatiently. "You don't know how painful it is to a man to see a
woman absorbed in some piece of needlework at the very moment when he
wants all her sympathy. I am afraid you are not quite happy. Do confide
in me, dear, as frankly as I confide in you. Are these people kind to
you? Charlotte is, of course. But the elder birds, Mr. and Mrs.
Sheldon, are they kind?" "They are very kind. Mr. Sheldon is not a
demonstrative man, as you know; but I am not accustomed to have people
in a rapturous state of mind about me and my affairs. He is kinder to
me than my father ever was; and I don't see how I can expect more than
that. Mrs. Sheldon is extremely kind in her way--which is rather a
feeble way, as you know."

"And Charlotte--?"

"You answered for Charlotte yourself just now. Yes, she is very, very,
very good to me; much better than I deserve. I was almost going to
quote the collect, and say 'desire or deserve.'"

"Why should you not desire or deserve her goodness?" asked Valentine.

"Because I am not a loveable kind of person. I am not sympathetic. I
know that Charlotte is very fascinating, very charming; but sometimes
her very fascination repels me. I think the atmosphere of that horrible
swampy district between Lambeth and Battersea, where my childhood was
spent, must have soured my disposition."

"No, Diana; you have only learnt a bitter way of talking. I know your
heart is noble and true. I have seen your suppressed indignation many a
time when your father's meannesses have revolted you. Our lives have
been very hard, dear; but let us hope for brighter days. I think they
must come to us."

"They will never come to me," said Diana.

"You say that with an air of conviction. But why should they not come
to you--brighter and better days?"

"I cannot tell you that. I can only tell you that they will not come.
And do you hope that any good will ever come of your love for Charlotte
Halliday--you, who know Mr. Sheldon?"

"I am ready to hope anything."

"You think that Mr. Sheldon would let his stepdaughter marry a
penniless man?"

"I may not always be penniless. Besides, Mr. Sheldon has no actual
authority over Charlotte."

"But he has moral influence over her. She is very easily influenced."

"I am ready to hope even in spite of Mr. Sheldon's opposing influence.
You must not try to crush this one little floweret that has grown up in
a barren waste, Diana. It is my prison-flower."

Mrs. Sheldon came into the room as he said this. She was very cordial,
very eloquent upon the subject of her headache, and very much inclined
to go to the theatre, notwithstanding that ailment, when she heard that
Mr. Hawkehurst had been kind enough to bring her a box.

"Diana and I could go," she said, "if we can manage to be in time after
our six o'clock dinner. Mr. Sheldon does not care about theatres. All
the pieces tire him. He declares they are all stupid. But then, you
see, if one's mind is continually wandering, the cleverest piece must
seem stupid," Mrs. Sheldon added thoughtfully; "and my husband is so
very absent-minded."

After some further discussion about the theatres, Valentine bade the
ladies good afternoon.

"Won't you stop to see Mr. Sheldon?" asked Georgina; "he's in the
library with Captain Paget. You did not know that your papa was here,
did you, Diana, my dear? He came in with Mr. Sheldon an hour ago."

"I won't disturb Mr. Sheldon," said Valentine. "I will call again in a
few days."

He took leave of the two ladies, and went out into the hall. As he
emerged from the drawing-room, the door of the library was opened, and
he heard Philip Sheldon's voice within, saying,--

"--your accuracy with regard to the name of Meynell."

It was the close of a sentence; but the name struck immediately upon
Valentine's ear. Meynell!--the name which had for him so peculiar an
interest.

"Is it only a coincidence," he thought to himself, "or is Horatio Paget
on our track?"

And then he argued with himself that his ears might have deceived him,
and that the name he had heard might not have been Meynell, but only a
name of somewhat similar sound.

It was Captain Paget who had opened the door. He came into the hall and
recognised his _protégé_. They left the house together, and the Captain
was especially gracious.

"We will dine together somewhere at the West-end, Val," he said; but,
to his surprise, Mr. Hawkehurst declined the proffered entertainment.

"I'm tired out with a hard day's work," he said, "and should be very
bad company; so, if you'll excuse me, I'll go back to Omega-street and
get a chop."

The Captain stared at him in amazement. He could not comprehend the man
who could refuse to dine luxuriously at the expense of his fellow-man.

Valentine had of late acquired new prejudices. He no longer cared to
enjoy the hospitality of Horatio Paget. In Omega-street the household
expenses were shared by the two men. It was a kind of club upon a small
scale; and there was no degradation in breaking bread with the elegant
Horatio.

To Omega-street Valentine returned this afternoon, there to eat a
frugal meal and spend a meditative evening, uncheered by one glimmer of
that radiance which more fortunate men know as the light of home.



CHAPTER II.

VALENTINE'S RECORD CONTINUED.


_October 15th_. I left Omega-street for the City before noon, after a
hasty breakfast with my friend Horatio, who was somewhat under the
dominion of his black dog this morning, and far from pleasant company.
I was not to present myself to the worthy John Grewter, wholesale
stationer, before the afternoon; but I had no particular reason for
staying at home, and I had a fancy for strolling about the old City
quarter in which Matthew Haygarth's youth had been spent. I went to
look at John-street, Clerkenwell, and dawdled about the immediate
neighbourhood of Smithfield, thinking of the old fair-time, and of all
the rioters and merry-makers, who now were so much or so little dust
and ashes in City churchyards, until the great bell of St. Paul's
boomed three, and I felt that it might be a leisure time with Mr.
Grewter.

I found the stationer's shop as darksome and dreary as City shops
usually are, but redolent of that subtle odour of wealth which has a
mystical charm for the nostrils of the penniless one. Stacks of
ledgers, mountains of account-books, filled the dimly-lighted
warehouse. Some clerks were at work behind a glass partition, and
already the gas flared high in the green-shaded lamps above the desk at
which they worked. I wondered whether it was a pleasant way of life
theirs, and whether one would come to feel an interest in the barter of
day-books and ledgers if they were one's daily bread. Alas for me! the
only ledger I have ever known is the sainted patron of the northern
racecourse. One young man came forward and asked my business, with a
look that plainly told me that unless I wanted two or three gross of
account-books I had no right to be there. I told him that I wished to
see Mr. Grewter, and asked if that gentleman was to be seen.

The clerk said he did not know; but his tone implied that, in his
opinion, I could _not_ see Mr. Grewter.

"Perhaps you could go and ask," I suggested.

"Well, yes. Is it old or young Mr. Grewter you want to see?"

"Old Mr. Grewter," I replied.

"Very well, I'll go and see. You'd better send in your card, though."

I produced one of George Sheldon's cards, which the clerk looked at. He
gave a little start as if an adder had stung him.

"You're not Mr. Sheldon?" he said.

"No; Mr. Sheldon is my employer."

"What do you go about giving people Sheldon's card for?" asked the
clerk, with quite an aggrieved air. "I know Sheldon of Gray's Inn."

"Then I'm sure you've found him a very accommodating gentleman," I
replied, politely.

"Deuce take his accommodation! He nearly accommodated me into the
Bankruptcy Court. And so you're Sheldon's clerk, and you want the
governor. But you don't mean to say that Grewter and Grewter are--"

This was said in an awe-stricken undertone. I hastened to reassure the
stationer's clerk.

"I don't think Mr. Sheldon ever saw Mr. Grewter in his life," I said.

After this the clerk condescended to retire into the unknown antres
behind the shop, to deliver my message. I began to think that George
Sheldon's card was not the best possible letter of introduction.

The clerk returned presently, followed by a tall, white-bearded man,
with a bent figure, and a pair of penetrating gray eyes--a very
promising specimen of the octogenarian.

He asked me my business in a sharp suspicious way, that obliged me to
state the nature of my errand without circumlocution. As I got farther
away from the Rev. John Haygarth, intestate, I was less fettered by the
necessity of secrecy. I informed my octogenarian that I was prosecuting
a legal investigation connected with a late inhabitant of that street,
and that I had taken the liberty to apply to him, in the hope that he
might be able to afford me some information.

He looked at me all the time I spoke as if he thought I was going to
entreat pecuniary relief--and I daresay I have something the air of a
begging-letter writer. But when he found that I only wanted
information, his hard gray eyes softened ever so little, and he asked
me to walk into his parlour.

His parlour was scarcely less gruesome than his shop. The furniture
looked as if its manufacture had been coeval with the time of the
Meynells, and the ghastly glare of the gas seemed a kind of
anachronism. After a few preliminary observations, which were not
encouraged by Mr. Grewter's manner, I inquired whether he had ever
heard the name of Meynell.

"Yes," he said; "there was a Meynell in this street when I was a young
man--Christian Meynell, a carpet-maker by trade. The business is still
carried on--and a very old business it is, for it was an old business
in Meynell's time; but Meynell died before I married, and his name is
pretty well forgotten in Aldersgate-street by this time."

"Had he no sons?" I asked.

"Well, yes; he had one son, Samuel, a kind of companion of mine. But he
didn't take to the business, and when his father died he let things go
anyhow, as you may say. He was rather wild, and died two or three years
after his father." "Did he die unmarried?"

"Yes. There was some talk of his marrying a Miss Dobberly, whose father
was a cabinet-maker in Jewin-street; but Samuel was too wild for the
Dobberlys, who were steady-going people, and he went abroad, where he
was taken with some kind of fever and died."

"Was this son the only child?"

"No; there were two daughters. The younger of them married; the elder
went to live with her--and died unmarried, I've heard say."

"Do you know whom the younger sister married?" I asked.

"No. She didn't marry in London. She went into the country to visit
some friends, and she married and settled down in those parts--wherever
it might be--and I never heard of her coming back to London again. The
carpet business was sold directly after Samuel Meynell's death. The new
people kept up the name for a good twenty years--'Taylor, late Meynell,
established 1693,' that's what was painted on the board above the
window--but they've dropped the name of Meynell now. People forget old
names, you see, and it's no use keeping to them after they're
forgotten."

Yes, the old names are forgotten, the old people fade off the face of
the earth. The romance of Matthew Haygarth seemed to come to a lame and
impotent conclusion in this dull record of dealers in carpeting.

"You can't remember what part of England it was that Christian
Meynell's daughter went to when she married?"

"No. It wasn't a matter I took much interest in. I don't think I ever
spoke to the young woman above three times in my life, though she lived
in the same street, and though her brother and I often met each other
at the Cat and Salutation, where there used to be a great deal of talk
about the war and Napoleon Bonaparte in those days."

"Have you any idea of the time at which she was married?" I inquired.

"Not as to the exact year. I know it was after I was married; for I
remember my wife and I sitting at our window upstairs one summer Sunday
evening, and seeing Samuel Meynell's sister go by to church. I can
remember it as well as if it was yesterday. She was dressed in a white
gown and a green silk spencer. Yes--and I didn't marry my first wife
till 1814. But as to telling you exactly when Miss Meynell left
Aldersgate-street, I can't."

These reminiscences of the past seemed to exercise rather a mollifying
influence upon the old man's mind, commonplace as they were. He ceased
to look at me with sharp, suspicious glances, and he seemed anxious to
afford me all the help he could. "Was Christian Meynell's father called
William?" I asked, after having paused to make some notes in my
pocket-book.

"That I can't tell you; though, if Christian Meynell was living to-day,
he wouldn't be ten years older than me. His father died when I was
quite a boy; but there must be old books at the warehouse with his name
in them, if they haven't been destroyed."

I determined to make inquiries at the carpet warehouse; but I had
little hope of finding the books of nearly a century gone by. I tried
another question.

"Do you know whether Christian Meynell was an only son, or the only son
who attained manhood?" I asked.

My elderly friend shook his head.

"Christian Meynell never had any brothers that I heard of," he said;
"but the parish register will tell you all about that, supposing that
his father before him lived all his life in Aldersgate-street, as I've
every reason to believe he did."

After this I asked a few questions about the neighbouring churches,
thanked Mr. Grewter for his civility, and departed.

I went back to Omega-street, dined upon nothing particular, and devoted
the rest of my evening to the scrawling of this journal, and a tender
reverie, in which Charlotte Halliday was the central figure.

How bitter poverty and dependence have made Diana Paget! She used to be
a nice girl too.

_Oct. 16th_. To-day's work has been confined to the investigation of
parish registers--a most wearisome business at the best. My labours
were happily not without result. In the fine old church of St. Giles,
Cripplegate, I found registries of the baptism of Oliver Meynell, son
of William and Caroline Mary Meynell, 1768; and of the burial of the
same Oliver in the following year. I found the record of the baptism of
a daughter to the same William and Caroline Mary Meynell, and further
on the burial of the said daughter, at five years of age. I also found
the records of the baptism of Christian Meynell, son of the same
William and Caroline Mary Meynell, in the year 1772, and of William
Meynell's decease in the year 1793. Later appeared the entry of the
burial of Sarah, widow of Christian Meynell. Later still, the baptism
of Samuel Meynell; then the baptism of Susan Meynell; and finally, that
of Charlotte Meynell.

These were all the entries respecting the Meynell family to be found in
the registry. There was no record of the burial of Caroline Mary, wife
of William Meynell, nor of Christian Meynell, nor of Samuel Meynell,
his son; and I knew that all these entries would be necessary to my
astute Sheldon before his case would be complete. After my search of
the registries, I went out into the churchyard to grope for the family
vault of the Meynells, and found a grim square monument, enclosed by a
railing that was almost eaten away by rust, and inscribed with the
names and virtues of that departed house. The burial ground is
interesting by reason of more distinguished company than the Meynells.
John Milton, John Fox, author of the Martyrology, and John Speed, the
chronologer, rest in this City churchyard.

In the hope of getting some clue to the missing data, I ventured to
make a second call upon Mr. Grewter, whom I found rather inclined to be
snappish, as considering the Meynell business unlikely to result in any
profit to himself, and objecting on principle to take any trouble not
likely to result in profit. I believe this is the mercantile manner of
looking at things in a general way.

I asked him if he could tell me where Samuel Meynell was buried.

"I suppose he was buried in foreign parts," replied the old gentleman,
with considerable grumpiness, "since he died in foreign parts."

"O, he died abroad, did he? Can you tell me where?"

"No, sir, I can't," replied Mr. Grewter, with increasing grumpiness; "I
didn't trouble myself about other people's affairs then, and I don't
trouble myself about them now, and I don't particularly care to be
troubled about them by strangers."

I made the meekest possible apology for my intrusion, but the outraged
Grewter was not appeased.

"Your best apology will be not doing it again," he replied. "Those that
know my habits know that I take half an hour's nap after dinner. My
constitution requires it, or I shouldn't take it. If I didn't happen to
have a strange warehouseman on my premises, you wouldn't have been
allowed to disturb me two afternoons running."

Finding Mr. Grewter unappeasable, I left him, and went to seek a more
placable spirit in the shape of Anthony Sparsfield, carver and gilder,
of Barbican.

I found the establishment of Sparsfield and Son, carvers and gilders.
It was a low dark shop, in the window of which were exhibited two or
three handsomely carved frames, very much the worse for flies, and one
oil-painting, of a mysterious and Rembrandtish character. The
old-established air that pervaded almost all the shops in this
neighbourhood was peculiarly apparent in the Sparsfield establishment.

In the shop I found a mild-faced man of about forty engaged in
conversation with a customer. I waited patiently while the customer
finished a minute description of the kind of frame he wanted made for a
set of proof engravings after Landseer; and when the customer had
departed, I asked the mild-faced man if I could see Mr. Sparsfield.

"I am Mr. Sparsfield," he replied politely.

"Not Mr. Anthony Sparsfield?"

"Yes, my name is Anthony."

"I was given to understand that Mr. Anthony Sparsfield was a much older
person."

"O, I suppose you mean my father," replied the mild-faced man. "My
father is advanced in years, and does very little in the business
nowadays; not but what his head is as clear as ever it was, and there
are some of our old customers like to see him when they give an order."

This sounded hopeful. I told Mr. Sparsfield the younger that I was not
a customer, and then proceeded to state the nature of my business. I
found him as courteous as Mr. Grewter had been disobliging.

"Me and father are old-fashioned people," he said; "and we're not above
living over our place of business, which most of the Barbican
tradespeople are nowadays. The old gentleman is taking tea in the
parlour upstairs at this present moment, and if you don't mind stepping
up to him, I'm sure he'll be proud to give you any information he can.
He likes talking of old times."

This was the sort of oldest inhabitant I wanted to meet with--a very
different kind of individual from Mr. Grewter, who doled out every
answer to my questions as grudgingly as if it had been a five-pound
note.

I was conducted to a snug little sitting-room on the first-floor, where
there was a cheerful fire and a comfortable odour of tea and toast. I
was invited to take a cup of tea; and as I perceived that my acceptance
of the invitation would be accounted a kind of favour, I said yes. The
tea was very weak, and very warm, and very sweet; but Mr. Sparsfield
and his son sipped it with as great an air of enjoyment as if it had
been the most inspiring of beverages.

Mr. Sparsfield the elder was more or less rheumatic and asthmatic, but
a cheerful old man withal, and quite ready to prate of old times, when
Barbican and Aldersgate-street were pleasanter places than they are
to-day, or had seemed so to this elderly citizen.

"Meynell!" he exclaimed; "I knew Sam Meynell as well as I knew my own
brother, and I knew old Christian Meynell almost as well as I knew my
own father. There was more sociability in those days, you see, sir. The
world seems to have grown too full to leave any room for friendship.
It's all push and struggle, and struggle and push, as you may say; and
a man will make you a frame for five-and-twenty shillings that will
look more imposing like than what I could turn out for five pound, Only
the gold-leaf will all drop off after a twelvemonth's wear; and that's
the way of the world nowadays. There's a deal of gilding, and things
are made to look uncommon bright; but the gold all drops off 'em before
long."

After allowing the old man to moralise to his heart's content, I
brought him back politely to the subject in which I was interested.

"Samuel Meynell was as good a fellow as ever breathed," he said; "but
he was too fond of the tavern. There were some very nice taverns round
about Aldersgate-street in those days; and you see, sir, the times were
stirring times, and folks liked to get together and talk over the day's
news, with a pipe of tobacco and a glass of their favourite liquor, all
in a sociable way. Poor Sam Meynell took a little too much of his
favourite liquor; and when the young woman that he had been keeping
company with--Miss Dobberly of Jewin-street--jilted him and married a
wholesale butcher in Newgate Market, who was old enough to be her
father, Sam took to drinking, and neglected his business. One day he
came to me and said, 'I've sold the business, Tony,'--for it was Sam
and Tony with us, you see, sir,--'and I'm off to France.' This was soon
after the battle of Waterloo; and many folks had a fancy for going over
to France now that they'd seen the back of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was
generally alluded to in those days by the name of monster or tiger, and
was understood to make his chief diet off frogs. Well, sir, we were all
of us very much surprised at Sam's going to foreign parts; but as he'd
always been wild, it was only looked upon as a part of his wildness,
and we weren't so much surprised to hear a year or two afterwards that
he'd drunk himself to death upon cheap brandy--odyvee as _they_ call
it, poor ignorant creatures--at Calais."

"He died at Calais?"

"Yes," replied the old man; "I forget who brought the news home, but I
remember hearing it. Poor Sam Meynell died and was buried amongst the
Mossoos."

"You are sure he was buried at Calais?"

"Yes, as sure as I can be of anything. Travelling was no easy matter in
those days, and in foreign parts there was nothing but diligences,
which I've heard say were the laziest-going vehicles ever invented.
There was no one to bring poor Sam's remains back to England, for his
mother was dead, and his two sisters were settled somewhere down in
Yorkshire."

In Yorkshire! I am afraid I looked rather sheepish when Mr. Sparsfield
senior mentioned this particular county, for my thoughts took wing and
were with Charlotte Halliday before the word had well escaped his lips.

"Miss Meynell settled in Yorkshire, did she?" I asked.

"Yes, she married some one in the farming way down there. Her mother
was a Yorkshirewoman, and she and her sister went visiting among her
mother's relations, and never came back to London. One of them married,
the other died a spinster."

"Do you remember the name of the man she married?"

"No," replied Mr. Sparsfield, "I can't say that I do."

"Do you remember the name of the place she went to--the town or
village, or whatever it was?"

"I might remember it if I heard it," he responded thoughtfully; "and I
ought to remember it, for I've heard Sam Meynell talk of his sister
Charlotte's home many a time. She was christened Charlotte, you see,
after the Queen. I've a sort of notion that the name of the village was
something ending in Cross, as it might be Charing Cross, or Waltham
Cross."

This was vague, but it was a great deal more than I had been able to
extort from Mr. Grewter. I took a second cup of the sweet warm liquid
which my new friends called tea, in order to have an excuse for
loitering, while I tried to obtain more light from the reminiscences of
the old frame-maker.

No more light came, however. So I was fain to take my leave, reserving
to myself the privilege of calling again on a future occasion.

_Oct. 18th_. I sent Sheldon a statement of my Aldersgate-street
researches the day before yesterday morning. He went carefully through
the information I had collected, and approved my labours.

"You've done uncommonly well, considering the short time you've been at
the work," he said; "and you've reason to congratulate yourself upon
having your ground all laid out for you, as my ground has never been
laid out for me. The Meynell branch seems to be narrowing itself into
the person of Christian Meynell's daughter and her descendants, and our
most important business now will be to find out when, where, and whom
she married, and what issue arose from such marriage. This I think you
ought to be able to do."

I shook my head rather despondingly.

"I don't see any hope of finding out the name of the young woman's
husband," I said, "unless I can come across another oldest inhabitant,
gifted with a better memory for names and places than my obliging
Sparsfield or my surly Grewter."

"There are the almshouses," said Sheldon; "you haven't tried them yet."

"No; I suppose I must go in for the almshouses," I replied, with the
sublime resignation of the pauper, whose poverty must consent to
anything; "though I confess that the prosiness of the almshouse
intellect is almost more than I can endure."

"And how do you know that you mayn't get the name of the place out of
your friend the carver and gilder?" said George Sheldon; "he has given
you some kind of clue in telling you that the name ends in Cross. He
said he should know the name if he heard it; why not try him with it?"

"But in order to do that, I must know the name myself," replied I, "and
in that ease I shouldn't want the aid of my Sparsfield."

"You are not great in expedients," said Sheldon, tilting back his
chair, and taking a shabby folio from a shelf of other shabby folios.
"This is a British gazetteer," he said, turning to the index of the
work before him. "We'll test the ancient Sparsfield's memory with every
Cross in the three Ridings, and if the faintest echo of the name we
want still lingers in his feeble old brain, we'll awaken it." My patron
ran his finger-nail along one of the columns of the index.

"Just take your pencil and write down the names as I call them," he
said. "Here we are--Aylsey Cross; and here we are again--Bowford Cross,
Callindale Cross, Huxter's Cross, Jarnam Cross, Kingborough Cross."
Then, after a careful examination of the column, he exclaimed, "Those
are all the Crosses in the county of York, and it will go hard with us
if you or I can't find the descendants of Christian Meynell's daughter
at one of them. The daughter herself may be alive, for anything we
know."

"And how about the Samuel Meynell who died at Calais? You'll have to
find some record of his death, won't you? I suppose in these cases one
must prove everything."

"Yes, I must prove the demise of Samuel," replied the sanguine
genealogist; "that part of the business I'll see to myself, while you
hunt out the female branch of the Meynells. I want an outing after a
long spell of hard work; so I'll run across to Calais and search for
the register of Samuel's interment. I suppose somebody took the trouble
to bury him, though he was a stranger in the land."

"And if I extort the name we want from poor old Sparsfield's
recollection?"

"In that case you can start at once for the place, and begin your
search on the spot. It can't be above fifty years since this woman
married, and there must be some inhabitant of the place old enough to
remember her. O, by the bye, I suppose you'll be wanting more cash for
expenses," added Mr. Sheldon, with a sigh. He took a five-pound note
from his pocket-book, and gave it to me with a piteous air of
self-sacrifice. I know that he is poor, and that whatever money he does
contrive to earn is extorted from the necessities of his needier
brethren. Some of this money he speculates upon the chances of the
Haygarthian succession, as he his speculated his money on worse chances
in the past. "Three thousand pounds!" he said to me, as he handed me
the poor little five-pound note; "think what a prize you are working
for, and work your hardest. The nearer we get to the end, the slower
our progress seems to me; and yet it has been very rapid progress,
considering all things."

So sentimental have I become, that I thought less of that possible
three thousand pounds than of the fact that I was likely to go to
Yorkshire, the county of Charlotte's birth, the county where she was
now staying. I reminded myself that it was the largest shire in
England, and that of all possible coincidences of time and place, there
could be none more unlikely than the coincidence that would bring about
a meeting between Charlotte Halliday and me.

"I know that for all practical purposes I shall be no nearer to her in
Yorkshire than in London," I said to myself; "but I shall have the
pleasure of fancying myself nearer to her."

Before leaving George Sheldon, I told him of the fragmentary sentences
I had heard uttered by Captain Paget and Philip Sheldon at the Lawn;
but he pooh-poohed my suspicions.

"I'll tell you what it is, Valentine Hawkehurst," he said, fixing those
hard black eyes of his upon me as if he would fain have pierced the
bony covering of my skull to discover the innermost workings of my
brain; "neither Captain Paget nor my brother Phil can know anything of
this business, unless you have turned traitor and sold them my secrets.
And mark me, if you have, you've sold yourself and them into the
bargain: my hand holds the documentary evidence, without which all your
knowledge is worthless."

"I am not a traitor," I told him quietly, for I despise him far too
heartily to put myself into a passion about anything he might please to
say of me; "and I have never uttered a word about this business either
to Captain Paget or to your brother. If you begin to distrust me, it is
high time you should look out for a new coadjutor."

I had my Sheldon, morally speaking, at my feet in a moment.

"Don't be melodramatic, Hawkehurst," he said; "people sell each other
every day of the week, and no one blames the seller, provided he makes
a good bargain. But this is a case in which the bargain would be a very
bad one."

After this I took my leave of Mr. Sheldon. He was to start for Calais
by that night's mail, and return to town directly his investigation was
completed. If he found me absent on his return, he would conclude that
I had obtained the information I required and started for Yorkshire. In
this event he would patiently await the receipt of tidings from that
county.

I went straight from Gray's Inn to Jewin-street. I had spent the
greater part of the day in Sheldon's office, and when I presented
myself before my complacent Sparsfield junior, Sparsfield senior's tea
and toast were already in process of preparation; and I was again
invited to step upstairs to the family sitting-room, and again treated
with that Arcadian simplicity of confidence and friendliness which it
has been my fate to encounter quite as often in the heart of this
sophisticated city as in the most pastoral of villages. With people who
were so frank and cordial I could but be equally frank.

"I am afraid I am making myself a nuisance to you, Mr. Sparsfield," I
said; "but I know you'll forgive me when I tell you that the affair I'm
engaged in is a matter of vital importance to me, and that your help
may do a great deal towards bringing matters to a crisis."

Mr. Sparsfield senior declared himself always ready to assist his
fellow-creatures, and was good enough further to declare that he had
taken a liking to me. So weak had I of late become upon all matters of
sentiment, I thanked Mr. Sparsfield for his good opinion, and then went
on to tell him that I was about to test his memory.

"And it ain't a bad un," he cried, cheerily, clapping his hand upon his
knee by way of emphasis. "It ain't a bad memory, is it, Tony?"

"Few better, father," answered the dutiful Anthony junior. "Your
memory's better than mine, a long way."

"Ah," said the old man, with a chuckle, "folks lived different in my
day. There weren't no gas, and there weren't no railroads, and London
tradespeople was content to live in the same house from year's end to
year's end. But now your tradesman must go on his foreign tours, like a
prince of the royal family, and he must go here and go there; and when
he's been everywhere, he caps it all by going through the Gazette.
Folks stayed at home in my day; but they made their fortunes, and they
kept their health, and their eyesight, and their memory, and their
hearing, and many of 'em have lived to see the next generation make
fools of themselves."

"Why, father," cried Anthony junior, aghast at this flood of eloquence,
"what an oration!"

"And it ain't often I make an oration, is it, Tony?" said the old man,
laughing. "I only mean to say that if my memory's pretty bright, it may
be partly because I haven't frittered it away upon nonsense, as some
folks have. I've stayed at home and minded my own business, and left
other people to mind theirs. And now, sir, if you want the help of my
memory, I'm ready to give it."

"You told me the other day that you could not recall the name of the
place where Christian Meynell's daughter married, but you said you
should remember it if you heard it, and you also said that the name
ended in Cross."

"I'll stick to that," replied my ancient friend. "I'll stick to that."
"Very well then. It is a settled thing that the place was in Yorkshire?"

"Yes, I'm sure of that too."

"And that the name ended in Cross?"

"It did, as sure as my name is Sparsfield."

"Then in that case, as there are only six towns or villages in the
county of York the names of which end in Cross, it stands to reason
that the place we want must be one of those six."

Having thus premised, I took my list from my pocket and read aloud the
names of the six places, very slowly, for Mr. Sparsfield's edification.

"Aylsey Cross--Bowford Cross--Callindale Cross--Huxter's Cross--Jarnam
Cross--Kingborough Cross."

"That's him!" cried my old friend suddenly.

"Which?" I asked eagerly.

"Huxter's Cross; I remember thinking at the time that it must be a
place where they sold things, because of the name Huxter, you see,
pronounced just the same as if it was spelt with a cks instead of an x.
And I heard afterwards that there'd once been a market held at the
place, but it had been done away with before our time. Huxter's Cross;
yes, that's the name of the place where Christian Meynell's daughter
married and settled. I've heard it many a time from poor Sam, and it
comes back to me as plain as if I'd never forgotten it."

There was an air of conviction about the old man which satisfied me
that he was not deceived. I thanked him heartily for his aid as I took
my leave.

"You may have helped to put a good lump of money in my pocket, Mr.
Sparsfield," I said; "and if you have, I'll get my picture taken, if
it's only for the pleasure of bringing it here to be framed."

With this valedictory address I left my simple citizens of Barbican. My
heart was very light as I wended my way across those metropolitan wilds
that lay between Barbican and Omega-street. I am ashamed of myself when
I remember the foolish cause of this elation of mind. I was going to
Yorkshire, the county of which my Charlotte was now an inhabitant. My
Charlotte! It is a pleasure even to write that delicious possessive
pronoun--the pleasure of poor Alnascher, the crockery-seller, dreaming
his day-dream in the eastern market-place.

Can any one know better than I that I shall be no nearer Charlotte
Halliday in Yorkshire than I am in London? No one. And yet I am glad my
Sheldon's business takes me to the woods and wolds of that wide
northern shire.

Huxter's Cross--some Heaven-forgotten spot, no doubt. I bought a
railway time-table on my way home to-night, and have carefully studied
the bearings of the place amongst whose mouldy records I am to discover
the history of Christian Meynell's daughter and heiress.

I find that Huxter's Cross lies off the railroad, and is to be
approached by an obscure little station--as I divine from the
ignominious type in which its name appears--about sixty miles northward
of Hull. The station is called Hidling; and at Hidling there seems to
be a coach which plies between the station and Huxter's Cross.

Figure to yourself again, my dear, the heir-at-law to a hundred
thousand pounds vegetating in the unknown regions of Huxter's Cross cum
Hidling, unconscious of his heritage!

Shall I find him at the plough-tail, I wonder, this mute inglorious
heir-at-law? or shall I find an heiress with brawny arms meekly
churning butter? or shall I discover the last of the Meynells taking
his rest in some lonely churchyard, not to be awakened by earthly voice
proclaiming the tidings of earthly good fortune?

I am going to Yorkshire--that is enough for me. I languish for the
starting of the train which shall convey me thither. I begin to
understand the nostalgia of the mountain herdsman: I pine for that
northern air, those fresh pure breezes blowing over moor and
wold--though I am not quite clear, by the bye, as to the exact nature
of a wold. I pant, I yearn for Yorkshire. I, the cockney, the child of
Temple Bar, whose cradle-song was boomed by the bells of St. Dunstan's
and St. Clement's Danes.

Is not Yorkshire my Charlotte's birthplace? I want to see the land
whose daughters are so lovely.



CHAPTER III.

ARCADIA.


_November 1st_. This is Huxter's Cross, and I live here. I have lived
here a week. I should like to live here for ever. O, let me be rational
for a few hours, while I write the record of this last blissful week;
let me be reasonable, and business-like, and Sheldon-like for this one
wet afternoon, and then I may be happy and foolish again. Be still,
beating heart! as the heroines of Minerva-press romances were
accustomed to say to themselves on the smallest provocation. Be still,
foolish, fluttering, schoolboy heart, which has taken a new lease of
youth and folly from a fair landlord called Charlotte Halliday.

Drip, drip, drip, O rain! "The day is dark and cold and dreary, and the
vine still clings to the mouldering wall; and with every gust the dead
leaves fall:" but thy sweet sad verse wakes no responsive echo in my
heart, O tender Transatlantic Poet, for my heart is light and
glad--recklessly glad--heedless of to-morrow--forgetful of
yesterday--full to the very brim with the dear delight of to-day.

And now to business. I descend from the supernal realms of fancy to the
dry record of commonplace fact. This day week I arrived at Hidling,
after a tedious journey, which, with stoppages at Derby and Normanton,
and small delays at obscurer stations, had occupied the greater part of
the day. It was dusk when I took my place in the hybrid vehicle, half
coach, half omnibus, which was to convey me from Hidling to Huxter's
Cross. A transient glimpse at Hidling showed me one long straggling
street and a square church-tower. Our road branched off from the
straggling street, and in the autumn dusk I could just discover the dim
outlines of distant hills encircling a broad waste of moor.

I have been so steeped in London that this wild barren scene had a
charm for me which it could scarcely possess for others. Even the gloom
of that dark waste of common land was pleasant to me. I shared the
public vehicle with one old woman, who snored peacefully in the
remotest corner, while I looked out at the little open window and
watched the darkening landscape.

Our drive occupied some hours. We passed two or three little clusters
of cottages and homesteads, where the geese screamed and the cocks
crowed at our approach, and where a few twinkling tapers in upper
windows proclaimed the hour of bed-time. At one of these clusters of
habitation, a little island of humanity in the waste of wold and moor,
we changed horses, with more yo-oh-ing and come-up-ing than would have
attended the operation in a civilised country. At this village I heard
the native tongue for the first time in all its purity; and for any
meaning which it conveyed to my ear I might as well have been listening
to the _patois_ of agricultural Carthage.

After changing horses, we went up hill, with perpetual groanings, and
grumblings, and grindings, and whip-smacking and come-up-ing, for an
indefinite period; and then we came to a cluster of cottages, suspended
high up in the sharp autumn atmosphere as it seemed to me; and the
driver of the vehicle came to my little peephole of a window, and told
me with some slight modification of the Carthaginian _patois_ that I
was "theer."

I alighted, and found myself at the door of a village inn, with the red
light from within shining out upon me where I stood, and a battered old
sign groaning and creaking above my head. For me, who in all my life
had been accustomed to find my warmest welcome at an inn, this was to
be at home. I paid my fare, took up my carpet-bag, and entered the
hostelry.

I found a rosy-faced landlady, clean and trim, though a trifle floury
as to the arms and apron. She had emerged from a kitchen, an
old-fashioned chamber with a floor of red brick; a chamber which was
all in a rosy glow with the firelight, and looked like a Dutch picture,
as I peeped at it through the open doorway. There were the most
picturesque of cakes and loaves heaped on a wooden bench by the hearth,
and the whole aspect of the place was delicious in its homely comfort.

"O," I said to myself, "how much better the northern winds blowing over
these untrodden hills, and the odour of home-made loaves, than the
booming bells of St. Dunstan's, and the greasy steam of tavern chops
and steaks!"

My heart warmed to this Yorkshire and these Yorkshire people. Was it
for Charlotte's sake, I wonder, that I was so ready to open my heart to
everybody and everything in this unknown land?

A very brief parley set me quite at ease with my landlady. Even, the
Carthaginian _patois_ became intelligible to me after a little
experience. I found that I could have a cosy, cleanly chamber, and be
fed and cared for upon terms that seemed absurdly small, even to a
person of my limited means. My cordial hostess brought me a meal which
was positively luxurious; broiled ham and poached eggs, such as one
scarcely hopes to see out of a picture of still life; crisp brown cakes
fresh from that wonderful oven whose door I had seen yawning open in
the Flemish interior below; strong tea and cream--the cream that one
reads of in pastoral stories.

I enjoyed my banquet, and then opened my window and looked out at the
still landscape, dimly visible in the faint starlight.

I was at the top of a hill--the topmost of an ascending range of
hills--and to some minds that alone is rapture. To inhale the fresh
night air was to drink deeply of an ethereal beverage. I had never
experienced so delicious a sensation since I had stood on the grassy
battlements of the Chateau d'Arques, with the orchards and gardens of
sunny Normandy spread like a carpet below my feet.

But this hill was loftier than that on which the feudal castle rears
its crumbling towers, and the landscape below me was wilder than
verdant Normandy.

No words can tell how I rejoiced in this untrodden region--this
severance from the Strand and Temple Bar. I felt as if my old life was
falling away from me--like the scales of the lepers who were cleansed
by the Divine Healer. I felt myself worthier to love, or even to be
loved by, the bright true-hearted girl whose image fills my heart. Ah,
if Heaven gave me that dear angel, I think my old life, my old
recklessness, my old want of principle, would drop away from me
altogether, and the leper would stand forth cleansed and whole. Could I
not be happy with her here, among these forgotten hills, these widely
scattered homesteads? Could I not be happy dissevered eternally from
billiard-room and kursaal, race-ground and dancing-rooms? Yes,
completely and unreservedly happy--happy as a village curate with
seventy pounds a year and a cast-off coat, supplied by the charity of a
land too poor to pay its pastors the wage of a decent butler--happy as
a struggling farmer, though the clay soil of my scanty acres were never
so sour and stubborn, my landlord never so hard about his rent--happy
as a pedlar, with my pack of cheap tawdry wares slung behind me, and my
Charlotte tramping gaily by my side.

I breakfasted next morning in a snug little parlour behind the bar,
where I overheard two carters conversing in the Carthaginian _patois_,
to which I became hourly more accustomed. My brisk cheery landlady came
in and out while I took my meal; and whenever I could detain her long
enough, I tried to engage her in conversation.

I asked her if she had ever heard the name of Meynell; and after
profound consideration she replied in the negative.

"I don't mind hearing aught of folks called Meynell," she said with
more or less of the _patois_, which I was beginning to understand; "but
I haven't got mooch memory for nee-ams. I might have heard o' such
folks, and not minded t' nee-am."

This was rather dispiriting; but I knew that if any record of Christian
Meynell's daughter existed at Huxter's Cross, it was in my power to
discover it.

I asked if there was any official in the way of a registrar to be found
in the village; and found that there was no one more important than an
old man who kept the keys of the church. The registers were kept in the
vestry, my landlady believed, and the old man was called Jonas Gorles,
and lived half a mile off, at the homestead of his son-in-law. But my
landlady said she would send for him immediately, and pledged herself
to produce him in the course of an hour. I told her that I would find
my way to the churchyard in the mean time, whither Mr. Gorles could
follow me as soon as convenient.

The autumnal morning was fresh and bright as spring, and Huxter's Cross
seemed the most delightful place on earth to me, though it is only a
cluster of cottages, relieved by one farmhouse of moderate pretensions,
my hostelry of the Magpie, a general shop, which is also the
post-office, and a fine old Norman church, which lies away from the
village, and bears upon it the traces of better days. Near the church
there is an old granite cross, around which the wild flowers and
grasses grow rank and high. It marks the spot where there was once a
flourishing market-place; but all mortal habitations have vanished, and
the Huxter's Cross of the past has now no other memorial than this
crumbling stone.

The churchyard was unutterably still and solitary. A robin was perched
on the topmost bar of the old wooden gate, singing his joyous carol. As
I approached, he hopped from the gate to the low moss-grown wall, and
went on singing as I passed him. I was in the humour to apostrophise
skylark or donkey, or to be sentimental about anything in creation,
just then; so I told my robin what a pretty creature he was, and that I
would sooner perish than hurt him by so much as the tip of a feather.

Being bound to remember my Sheldon even when most sentimental, I
endeavoured to combine the meditative mood of a Hervey with the
business-like sharpness of a lawyer's clerk; and while musing on the
common lot of man in general, I did not omit to search the mouldering
tombstones for some record of the Meynells in particular.

I found none; and yet, if the daughter of Christian Meynell had been
buried in that churchyard, the name of her father would surely have
been inscribed upon her tombstone. I had read all the epitaphs when the
wooden gate creaked on its hinges, and admitted a wizen little old
man--one of those ancient meanderers who seem to have been created on
purpose to fill the post of sexton.

With this elderly individual I entered the church of Huxter's Cross,
which had the same mouldy atmosphere as the church at Spotswold. The
vestry was an icy little chamber, which had once been a family vault;
but it was not much colder than Miss Judson's best parlour; and I
endured the cold bravely while I searched the registries of the last
sixty years.

I searched in vain. After groping amongst the names of all the
nonentities who had been married at Huxter's Cross since the beginning
of the century, I found myself no nearer the secret of Charlotte
Meynell's marriage. And then I reflected upon all the uncertainties
surrounding that marriage. Miss Meynell had gone to Yorkshire, to visit
her mother's relations, and had married in Yorkshire; and the place
which Anthony Sparsfield remembered having heard of in connection with
that marriage was Huxter's Cross. But it did not by any means follow
that the marriage had taken place at that obscure village. Miss Meynell
might have been married at Hull, or York, or Leeds, or at any of the
principal places of the county. With that citizen class of people
marriage was a grand event, a solemn festivity; and Miss Meynell and
her friends would have been likely to prefer that so festive an
occasion should be celebrated anywhere rather than at that forgotten
old church among the hills. "I shall have to search every register in
Yorkshire till I light upon the record I want," I thought to myself,
"unless Sheldon will consent to advertise for the Meynell marriage
certificate. There could scarcely be danger in such an advertisement,
as the connection between the name of Meynell and the Haygarth estate
is only known to ourselves."

Acting upon this idea, I wrote to George Sheldon by that afternoon's
post, urging him to advertise for descendants of Miss Charlotte Meynell.

Charlotte! dear name, which is a kind of music for me. It was almost a
pleasure to write that letter, because of the repetition of that
delightful noun.

The next day I devoted to a drive round the neighbourhood, in a smart
little dog-cart, hired on very moderate terms from mine host. I had
acquainted myself with the geography of the surrounding country; and I
contrived to visit every village church within a certain radius of
Huxter's Cross. But my inspection of mildewed old books, and my heroic
endurance of cold and damp in mouldy old churches, resulted in nothing
but disappointment.

I returned to my "Magpie" after dark a little disheartened and
thoroughly tired, but still very well pleased with my rustic quarters
and my adopted county. My landlord's horse had shown himself a very
model of equine perfection.

Candles were lighted and curtains drawn in my cosy little chamber, and
the table creaked beneath one of those luxurious Yorkshire teas which
might wean an alderman from the coarser delights of turtle or
conger-eel soup and venison.

At noon the following day a very primitive kind of postman brought me a
letter from Sheldon. That astute individual told me that he declined to
advertise, or to give any kind of publicity to his requirements.

"If I were not afraid of publicity, I should not be obliged to pay you
a pound a week," he remarked, with pleasing candour, "since
advertisements would get me more information in a week than you may
scrape together in a twelvemonth. But I happen to know the danger of
publicity, and that many a good thing has been snatched out of a man's
hands just as he was working it into shape. I don't say that this could
be done in my case; and you know very well that it could not be done,
as I hold papers which are essential to the very first move in the
business."

I perfectly understand the meaning of these remarks, and I am inclined
to doubt the existence of those important papers. Suspicion is a
fundamental principle in the Sheldon mind. My friend George trusts me
because he is obliged to trust me--and only so far as he is
obliged--and is tormented, more or less, by the idea that I may at any
moment attempt to steal a march upon him.

But to return to his letter:

"I should recommend you to examine the registries of every town or
village within, say, thirty miles of Huxter's Cross. If you find
nothing in such registries, we must fall back upon the larger towns,
beginning with Hull, as being nearest to our starting-point. The work
will, I fear, be slow, and very expensive for me. I need scarcely again
urge upon you the necessity of confining your outlay to the minimum, as
you know that my affairs are desperate. It couldn't well be lower water
than it is with me, in a pecuniary sense; and I expect every day to
find myself aground.

"And now for my news. I have discovered the burial-place of Samuel
Meynell, after no end of trouble, the details of which I needn't bore
you with, since you are now pretty well up in that sort of work. I am
thankful to say I have secured the evidence that settles for Samuel,
and ascertained by tradition that he died unmarried. The _onus
probandi_ would fall upon any one purporting to be descended from the
said Samuel, and we know how uncommonly difficult said person would
find it to prove anything.

"So, having disposed of Samuel, I came back to London by the next mail;
Calais, in the month of November, not being one of those wildly-gay
watering-places which tempt the idler. I arrived just in time to catch
this afternoon's post; and now I look impatiently to your Miss
Charlotte Meynell, of Huxter's Cross.--Yours, &c.    G.S."

I obeyed my employer to the letter; hired my landlord's dog-cart for
another day's exploration; and went further afield in search of Miss
Charlotte's marriage-lines. I came home late at night--this time
thoroughly worn out--studied a railway guide with a view to my
departure, and decided on starting for Hull by a train that would leave
Hidling station at four o'clock on the following afternoon.

I went to bed tired in body and depressed in spirit. Why was I so sorry
to leave Huxter's Cross? What subtle instinct of the brain or heart
made me aware that the desert region amongst the hills held earth's
highest felicity for me?

The next morning was bright and clear. I heard the guns of sportsmen
popping merrily in the still air as I breakfasted before an open
window, while a noble sea-coal fire blazed on the hearth opposite me.
There is no stint of fuel at the Magpie. Everything in Yorkshire seems
to be done with a lavish hand. I have heard Yorkshiremen called mean.
As if meanness could exist in the hearts of my Charlotte's countrymen!
My own experience of the county is brief; but I can only say that my
friends of the Magpie are liberality itself, and that a Yorkshire tea
is the very acme of unsophisticated bliss in the way of eating and
drinking. I have dined at Philippe's; I know every dish in the _menu_
of the Maison Dorée; but if I am to make my life a burden beneath the
dark sway of the demon dyspepsia, let my destruction arrive in the
shape of the ham and eggs, the crisp golden-brown cakes, and undefiled
honey, of this northern Arcadia.

I told my friendly hostess that I was going to leave her, and she was
sorry. She was sorry for me, the wanderer. I can picture to myself the
countenance of a London landlady if informed thus suddenly of her
lodger's departure, and her suppressed mutterings about the
ill-convenience of such a proceeding.

After breakfast I went out to take my own pleasure. I had done my duty
in the matter of mouldy churches and mildewed registries; and I
considered myself entitled to a holiday during the few hours that must
elapse before the starting of the hybrid vehicle for Hidling.

I sauntered past the little cluster of cottages, admiring their
primitive aspect, the stone-crop on the red-tiled roofs, that had sunk
under the weight of years. All was unspeakably fresh and bright; the
tiny panes of the casement twinkled in the autumn sunlight, birds sang,
and hardy red geraniums bloomed in the cottage windows. What pleasure
or distraction had the good housewives of Huxter's Cross to lure them
from the domestic delights of scrubbing and polishing? I saw young
faces peeping at me from between snow-white muslin curtains, and felt
that I was a personage for once in my life; and it was pleasant to feel
one's self of some importance even in the eyes of Huxter's Cross.

Beyond the cottages and the post-office there were three roads
stretching far away over hill and moorland. With two of those roads I
had made myself thoroughly familiar; but the third remained to be
explored.

"So now for 'fresh fields and pastures new,'" I said to myself as I
quickened my pace, and walked briskly along my unknown road.

Ah, surely there is some meaning in the fluctuations of the mental
barometer. What but an instinctive consciousness of approaching
happiness could have made me so light-hearted that morning? I sang as I
hastened along that undiscovered road. Fragments of old Italian
serenades and barcarolles came back to me as if I had heard them
yesterday for the first time. The perfume of the few lingering
wild-flowers, the odour of burning weeds in the distance, the fresh
autumn breeze, the clear cold blue sky,--all were intensely delicious
to me; and I felt as if this one lonely walk were a kind of renovating
process, from which my soul would emerge cleansed of all its stains.

"I have to thank George Sheldon for a great deal," I said to myself,
"since through him I have been obliged to educate myself in the school
of man's best teacher, Solitude. I do not think I can ever be a
thorough Bohemian again. These lonely wanderings have led me to
discover a vein of seriousness in my nature which I was ignorant of
until now. How thoroughly some men are the creatures of their
surroundings! With Paget I have been a Paget. But a few hours
_tête-à-tête_ with Nature renders one averse from the society of
Pagets, be they never so brilliant."

From moralising thus, I fell into a delicious day-dream. All my dreams
of late had moved to the same music. How happy I could be if Fate gave
me Charlotte and three hundred a year! In sober moods I asked for this
much of worldly wealth, just to furnish a nest for my bird. In my
wilder moments I asked Fate for nothing but Charlotte.

"Give me the bird without the nest," I cried to Fortune; "and we will
take wing to some trackless forest where there are shelter and berries
for nestless birds. We will imitate that delightful bride and
bridegroom of Parisian Bohemia, who married and settled in an attic,
and when their stock of fuel was gone fell foul of the staircase that
led to their bower, and so supplied themselves merrily enough till the
staircase was all consumed, and the poor little bride, peeping out of
her door one morning, found herself upon the verge of an abyss.

"And then came the furious landlord, demanding restitution. But close
behind the landlord came the good fairy of all love-stories, with
Pactolus in her pocket. Ah, yes, there is always a providence for true
lovers."

I had passed away by this time from the barren moor to the regions of
cultivation. The trimly-cut hedges on each side of the way showed me
that my road now lay between farm lands. I was outside the boundary of
some upland farm. I saw sheep cropping trefoil in a field on the other
side of the brown hedgerow, and at a distance I saw the red-tiled roof
of a farm-house.

I looked at my watch, and found that I had still half an hour to spare;
so I went on towards the farm-house, bent upon seeing what sort of
habitation it was. In a solitary landscape like this, every
dwelling-place has a kind of attraction for the wayfarer.

I went on till I came to a white gate, against which a girlish figure
was leaning.

It was a graceful figure, dressed in that semi-picturesque costume
which has been adopted by women of late years. The vivid blue of a
boddice was tempered by the sober gray of a skirt, and a bright-hued
ribbon gleamed among rich tresses of brown hair.

The damsel's face was turned away from me, but there was something in
the carriage of the head, something in the modelling of the firm full
throat, which reminded me of--

But then, when a man is over head and ears in love, everything in
creation reminds him more or less of his idol. Your pious Catholic
gives all his goods for the adornment of a church; your true lover
devotes his every thought to the dressing up of one dear image.

The damsel turned as my steps drew near, loud on the crisp gravel. She
turned, and showed me the face of Charlotte Halliday.

I must entreat posterity to forgive me, if I leave a blank at this
stage of my story. "There are chords in the human heart which had
better not be wibrated," said Sim Tappertit. There are emotions which
can only be described by the pen of a poet. I am not a poet; and if my
diary is so happy as to be of some use to posterity as a picture of the
manners of a repentant Bohemian, posterity must not quarrel with my
shortcomings in the way of sentimental description.



CHAPTER IV.

IN PARADISE.


We stood at the white gate talking to each other, my Charlotte and I.
The old red-tiled roof which I had seen in the distance sheltered the
girl I love. The solitary farm-house which it had been my whim to
examine was the house in which my dear love made her home. It was here,
to this untrodden hillside, that my darling had come from the prim
modern villa at Bayswater. Ah, what happiness to find her here, far
away from all those stockbroking surroundings--here, where our hearts
expanded beneath the divine influence of Nature!

I fear that I was coxcomb enough to fancy myself beloved that day we
parted in Kensington-gardens. A look, a tone--too subtle for
definition--thrilled me with a sudden hope so bright, that I would not
trust myself to believe it could be realised.

"She is a coquette," I said to myself. "Coquetry is one of the graces
which Nature bestows upon these bewitching creatures. That little
conscious look, which stirred this weak heart so tumultuously, is no
doubt common to her when she knows herself beloved and admired, and has
no meaning that can flatter my foolish hopes." This is how I had
reasoned with myself again and again during the dreary interval in
which Miss Halliday and I had been separated. But, O, what a hardy
perennial blossom hope must be! The tender buds were not to be crushed
by the pelting hailstones of hard common sense. They had survived all
my philosophical reflections, and burst into sudden flower to-day at
sight of Charlotte's face. She loved me, and she was delighted to see
me. That was what her radiant face told me; and could I do less than
believe the sweet confession? For the first few moments we could
scarcely speak to each other, and then we began to converse in the
usual commonplace strain.

She told me of her astonishment on seeing me in that remote spot. I
could hardly confess to having business at Huxter's Cross, so I was
fain to tell my dear love a falsehood, and declare that I was taking a
holiday "up at the hills."

"And how did you come to choose Huxter's Cross for your holiday?" she
asked _naïvely_.

I told her that I had heard the place spoken of by a person in the
city--my simple-minded Sparsfield to wit.

"And you could not have come to a better place," she cried, "though
people do call it the very dullest spot in the world. This was my dear
aunt Mary's house--papa's sister, you know. Grandpapa Halliday had two
farms. This was one, and Hyley the other. Hyley was much larger and
better than this, you know, and was left to poor papa, who sold it just
before he died."

Her face clouded as she spoke of her father's death. "I can't speak
about that without pain even now," she said softly, "though I was only
nine years old when it happened. But one can suffer a great deal at
nine years old."

And then, after a little pause, she went on to speak of her Yorkshire
home.

"My aunt and uncle Mercer are so kind to me; and yet they are neither
of them really related to me. My aunt Mary died very young, when her
first baby was born, and the poor little baby died too: and uncle
Mercer inherited the property from his wife, you see. He married again
after two years, and his second wife is the dearest, kindest creature
in the world. I always call her aunt, for I don't remember poor papa's
sister at all; and no aunt that ever lived could be kinder to me than
aunt Dorothy. I am always so happy here," she said; "and it seems such
a treat to get away from the Lawn--of course I am sorry to leave mamma,
you know," she added, parenthetically--"and the stiff breakfasts, and
Mr. Sheldon's newspapers that crackle, crackle, crackle so shockingly
all breakfast-time; and the stiff dinners, with a prim parlor-maid
staring at one all the time, and bringing one vegetables that one
doesn't want if one only ventures to breathe a little louder than
usual. Here it is Liberty Hall. Uncle Joe--he is aunt Dorothy's
husband--is the kindest creature in the world, just the very reverse of
Mr. Sheldon in everything. I don't mean that my stepfather is unkind,
you know. O, no, he has always been very good to me--much kinder than I
have deserved that he should be. But uncle Joe's ways are _so_
different. I am sure you will like him; and I am sure he will like you,
for he likes everybody, dear thing. And you must come and see us very
often, please, for Newhall farm is open house, you know, and the
stranger within the gates is always welcome."

Now my duty to my Sheldon demanded that I should scamper back to
Huxter's Cross as fast as my legs would carry me, in order to be in
time for the hybrid vehicle that was to convey me to Hidling station;
and here was this dear girl inviting me to linger, and promising me a
welcome to the house which was made a paradise by her presence.

I looked at my watch. It would have been impossible for me to reach
Huxter's Cross in time for the vehicle. Conscience whispered that I
could hire my landlord's dog-cart, and a boy to drive me to Hidling;
but the whispers of conscience are very faint; and love cried aloud,
"Stay with Charlotte: supreme happiness is offered to you for the first
time in your life. Fool that would reject so rare a gift!"

It was to this latter counsellor I gave my ear. My Sheldon's interests
went overboard; and I stayed by the white gate, talking to Charlotte,
till it was quite too late to heed the reproachful grumblings of
conscience about that dog-cart.

My Charlotte--yes, I boldly call her mine now--my dear is great in
agriculture. She enlightened my cockney mind on the subject of upland
farms, telling me how uncle and aunt Mercer's land is poor and sandy,
requiring very little in the way of draining, but producing by no means
luxuriant crops. It is a very picturesque place, and has a certain
gentlemanlike air with it pleasing to my snobbish taste. The house lies
in a tract of open grass-land, dotted here and there by trees, and
altogether of a park-like appearance. True that the mild and useful
sheep rather than the stately stag browses on that greensward, and few
carriages roll along the winding gravel road that leads to the house.

I felt a rapturous thirst for agricultural knowledge as I listened to
my Charlotte. Was there a vacancy for hind or herdsman on Newhall farm,
I wondered. What is the office so humble I would not fill for her dear
sake? O, how I sighed for the days of Jacob, that first distinguished
usurer, so that I might serve seven years and again seven years for my
darling!

I stayed by the white gate, abandoning all thought of my employer's
behests, unconscious of time--unconscious of everything except that I
was with Charlotte Halliday, and would not have resigned my position to
be made Lord Chancellor of England.

Anon came uncle Joe, with a pleasant rubicund visage beaming under a
felt hat, to tell Lotta that dinner was ready. To him I was immediately
presented.

"Mr. Mercer, my dear uncle Joseph--Mr. Hawkehurst, a friend of my
stepfather's," said Charlotte.

Two or three minutes afterwards we were all three walking across the
park-like sward to the hospitable farm-house; for the idea of my
departing before dinner seemed utterly preposterous to this friendly
farmer.

Considered apart from the glamour that for my eyes must needs shine
over any dwelling inhabited by Charlotte Halliday, I will venture to
say that Newhall farm-house is the dearest old place in the world. Such
delightful old rooms, with the deepest window-seats, the highest
mantelpieces, the widest fireplaces possible in domestic architecture;
such mysterious closets and uncanny passages; such pitfalls in the way
of unexpected flights of stairs; such antiquated glazed
corner-cupboards for the display of old china!--everything redolent of
the past.

In one corner a spinning-wheel, so old that its spindle might be the
identical weapon that pierced Princess Sleeping Beauty's soft white
hand; in another corner an arm-chair that must have been old-fashioned
in the days of Queen Anne; and O, what ancient flowered chintzes, what
capacious sofas, what darling mahogany secretaries and bureaus, with
gleaming brazen adornments in the way of handles!--and about everything
the odour of rose-leaves and lavender.

I have grown familiar with every corner of the dear old place within
the last few days, but on this first day I had only a general
impression of its antiquated aspect and homely comfort. I stayed to
dine at the same unpretending board at which my Charlotte had sat years
ago, elevated on a high chair, and as yet new to the use of knives and
forks. Uncle Joe and aunt Dorothy told me this in their pleasant
friendly way; while the young lady sat by, blushing and dimpling like a
summer sea beneath the rosy flush of sunrise. No words can relate how
delightful it was to me to hear them talk of my dear love's childhood;
they dwelt so tenderly upon her sweetness, they dilated with such
enthusiasm upon her "pretty ways." Her "pretty ways!" ah, how fatal a
thing it is for mankind when Nature endows woman with those pretty
ways! From the thrall of Grecian noses and Castilian eyes there may be
hope of deliverance, but from the spell of that indescribable witchery
there is none.

I whistled my Sheldon down the wind without remorse, and allowed myself
to be as happy as if I had been the squire of valley and hillside, with
ten thousand a year to offer my Charlotte with the heart that loves her
so fondly. I have no idea what we had for dinner. I know only that the
fare was plenteous, and the hospitality of my new friends unbounded. We
were very much at ease with one another, and our laughter rang up to
the stalwart beams that sustained the old ceiling. If I had possessed
the smallest fragment of my heart, I should have delivered it over
without hesitation to my aunt Dorothy--pardon!--my Charlotte's aunt
Dorothy, who is the cheeriest, brightest, kindest matron I ever met,
with a sweet unworldly spirit that beams out of her candid blue eyes.

Charlotte seems to have been tenderly attached to her father the poor
fellow who died in Philip Sheldon's house--uncomfortable for Sheldon, I
should think. The Mercers talk a good deal of Thomas Halliday, for whom
they appear to have entertained a very warm affection. They also spoke
with considerable kindness of the two Sheldons, whom they knew as young
men in the town of Barlingford; but I should not imagine either uncle
Joseph or aunt Dorothy very well able to fathom the still waters of the
Sheldon intellect.

After dinner uncle Joe took us round the farm. The last stack of corn
had been thatched, and there was a peaceful lull in the agricultural
world. We went into a quadrangle lined with poultry sheds, where I saw
more of the feathered race than I had ever in my life beheld
congregated together; thence to the inspection of pigs--and it was
agreeable to inspect even those vulgar querulous grunters, with
Charlotte by my side. Her brightness shed a light on all those common
objects; and O, how I longed to be a farmer, like uncle Mercer, and
devote my life to Charlotte and agriculture!

When uncle Joe had done the honours of his farm-yards and
threshing-machinery, he left us to attend to his afternoon duties; and
we wandered together over the breezy upland at our own sweet wills, or
at _her_ sweet will rather, since what could I do but follow where she
pleased to lead?

We talked of many things: of the father whom she had loved so dearly,
whose memory was still so mournfully dear to her; of her old home at
Hyley; of her visits to these dear Mercers; of her schooldays, and her
new unloved home in the smart Bayswater villa. She confided in me as
she had never done before; and when we turned in the chill autumn
gloaming, I had told her of my love, and had won from her the sweet
confession of its return.

I have never known happiness so perfect as that which I felt as we
walked home together--home--yes; that old farm-house must be my home as
well as hers henceforward; for any habitation which she loved must be a
kind of home for me. Sober reflection tells me how reckless and
imprudent my whole conduct has been in this business; but when did ever
love and prudence go hand-in-hand? We were children, Charlotte and I,
on that blessed afternoon; and we told each other our love as children
might have told it, without thought of the future. We have both grown
wiser since that time, and are quite agreed as to our imprudence and
foolishness; but, though we endeavour to contemplate the future in the
most serious manner, we are too happy in the present to be able to
analyse the difficulties and dangers that lie in our pathway.

Surely there must be a providence for imprudent lovers.

The November dews fell thick, and the November air was chill, as we
walked back to the homestead. I was sorry that there should be that
creeping dampness in the atmosphere that night. It seemed out of
harmony with the new warmth in my heart. I pressed my darling's little
hand closer to my breast, and had no more consciousness of any
impediments to my future bliss than of the ground on which I
walked--and that seemed air.

We found our chairs waiting for us at aunt Dorothy's tea-table; and I
enjoyed that aldermanic banquet, a Yorkshire tea, under circumstances
that elevated it to an Olympian repast.

I thought of the Comic Latin Grammar:

    "Musa, musae, the gods were at tea;
     Musae musam, eating raspberry jam."

I was Jove, and my love was Juno. I looked at her athwart the misty
clouds that issued from the hissing urn, and saw her beautified by a
heightened bloom, and with a sweet, shy conscious look in her eyes
which made her indeed divine.

After tea we played whist; and I am bound to confess that my divinity
played execrably, persistently disdaining to return her partner's lead,
and putting mean little trumps upon her adversary's tricks, with a
fatuous economy of resources which is always ruin.

I stayed till ten o'clock, reckless of the unknown country which
separated me from the Magpie, and then walked home alone, under the
faint starlight, though my friendly host would fain have lent me a
dog-cart. The good people here lend one another dog-carts as freely as
a cockney offers his umbrella. I went back to Huxter's Cross alone, and
the long solitary walk was very pleasant to me.

Looking up at the stars as I tramped homeward, I could but remember an
old epigram:--

    Were you the earth, dear love, and I the skies,
      My love should shine on you like to the sun,
    And look upon you with ten thousand eyes,
      Till heaven wax'd blind, and till the world were done.

I had ample leisure for reflection during that long night-walk, and
found myself becoming a perfect Young--Hervey--Sturm--what you will, in
the way of meditation. I could not choose but wonder at myself when I
looked back to this time last year, and remembered my idle evenings in
third-rate _cafés_, on the _rive gauche_, playing dominoes, talking the
foul slang of Parisian bohemia, and poisoning my system with
adulterated absinthe. And now I feast upon sweet cakes and honey, and
think it paradisiac enjoyment to play whist--for love--in a farm-house
parlour. I am younger by ten years than I was twelve months ago.

Ah, let me thank God, who has sent me my redemption.

I lifted my hat, and pronounced the thanksgiving softly under that
tranquil sky. I was almost ashamed to hear the sound of my own voice. I
was like some shy child who for the first time speaks his father's name.



CHAPTER V.

TOO FAIR TO LAST.


In my confidences with my dear girl I had told her neither the nature
of my mission in Yorkshire, nor the fact that I was bound to leave
Huxter's Cross immediately upon an exploring expedition to nowhere in
particular, in search of the archives of the Meynells. How could I
bring myself to tell her that I must leave her?--how much less could I
bring myself to do it?

Rendered desperately unmindful of the universe by reason of my
all-absorbing happiness, I determined on giving myself a holiday
boldly, in defiance of Sheldon and the Sheldonian interests.

"Am I a bounden slave?" I asked myself, "that I should go here or there
at any man's bidding, for the pitiful stipend of twenty shillings a
week?"

It is to be observed that the rate of hire makes all the difference in
these cases; and while it is ignominious for a lawyer's clerk to hasten
to and fro in the earning of his weekly wage, it is in no way
dishonourable for the minister of state to obey the call of his chief,
and hurry hither and thither in abnegation of all his own
predilections, and to the aggravation of his chronic gout.

I wrote to my Sheldon, and told him that I had met with friends in the
neighbourhood of Huxter's Cross, and that I intended to give myself a
brief holiday; after which I would resume my labours, and do my
uttermost to make up for wasted time. I had still the remnant of my
borrowed thirty pounds, and amongst these northern hills I felt myself
a millionaire.

Three thousand pounds at five per cent--one hundred and fifty pounds a
year. I felt that with such an income assured to us, and the fruits of
my industry, Charlotte and I might be secure from all the storms of
life. Ah, what happiness it would be to work for her! And I am not too
old to begin life afresh; not too old for the bar; not too old to make
some mark as a writer on the press; not too old to become a respectable
member of society.

After having despatched my letter to Sheldon, I made off for Newhall
farm with all speed. I had received a sort of general invitation from
the kindest of uncles and aunts, but I contrived with becoming modesty
to arrive after Mr. Mercer's dinner-hour. I found Charlotte alone in
the dear old-fashioned parlour, aunt Dorothy being engaged in some
domestic operations in the kitchen, and uncle Joseph making his usual
after-dinner rounds amongst the pig-styes and the threshing-machines. I
discovered afterwards that it was Miss Halliday's wont to accompany her
kind kinsman in this afternoon investigation; but to-day she had
complained of a headache and preferred to stay at home. Yet there were
few symptoms of the headache when I found her standing in the
bow-window, watching the path by which I came, and the face of Aurora
herself could scarcely be brighter or fresher than my darling's
innocent blushes when I greeted her with the privileged kiss of
betrothal.

We sat in the bow-window talking till the twilight shadows crept over
the greensward, and the sheep were led away to their fold, with
cheerful jingling of bells and barking of watchful dog. My dearest girl
told me that our secret had already been discovered by the penetrating
eyes of aunt Dorothy and uncle Joseph. They had teased her
unmercifully, it seemed, all that day, but were graciously pleased to
smile upon my suit, like a pair of imprudent Arcadians as they are.

"They like you very much indeed," my Lotta said joyously; "but I
believe they think I have known you much longer than I really have, and
that you are very intimate with my stepfather. It seems almost like
deceiving them to allow them to think so, but I really haven't the
courage to tell the truth. How foolish and bold they would think me if
they knew how very short a time I have known you!"

"Twenty times longer than Juliet had known Romeo when they met in the
Friar's cell to be married," I urged.

"Yes, but that was in a play," replied Charlotte, "where everything is
obliged to be hurried; and at Hyde Lodge we all of us thought that
Juliet was a very forward young person."

"The poets all believe in love at first sight, and I'll wager our dear
uncle Joe fell over head and ears in love with aunt Dorothy after
having danced with her two or three times at an assize ball," said I.
After this we became intensely serious, and I told my darling girl that
I hoped very soon to be in possession of a small fixed income, and to
have begun a professional career. I told her how dear an incentive to
work she had given me, and how little fear I had for the future.

I reminded her that Mr. Sheldon had no legal power to control her
actions, and that, as her father's will had left her entirely to her
mother's guardianship, she had only her mother's pleasure to consult.

"I believe poor mamma would let me marry a crossing-sweeper, if I cried
and declared it would make me miserable not to marry him," said
Charlotte; "but then, you see, mamma's wishes mean Mr. Sheldon's
wishes; she is sure to think whatever he tells her to think; and if he
is strongly against our marriage--"

"As I am sure he will be," I interjected.

"He will work upon poor mamma in that calm, persistent, logical way of
his till he makes her as much against it as himself."

"But even your mamma has no legal power to control your actions, my
love. Were you not of age on your last birthday?"

My darling replied in the affirmative.

"Then of course you are free to marry whom you please; and as I am
thankful to say you don't possess a single sixpence in your own right,
there need be no fuss about settlements or pin-money. We can marry any
fine morning that my dear girl pleases to name, and defy all the stern
stepfathers in creation."

"How I wish I had a fortune, for your sake!" she said with a sigh.

"Be glad for my sake that you have none," I answered. "You cannot
imagine the miserable complications and perplexities which arise in
this world from the possession of money. No slave so tightly bound as
the man who has what people call 'a stake in the country' and a balance
at his banker's. The true monarch of all he surveys is the penniless
reprobate who walks down Fleet-street with his whole estate covered by
the seedy hat upon his head."

Having thus moralized, I proceeded to ask Miss Halliday if she was
prepared to accept a humbler station than that enjoyed by her at the
Lawn.

"No useful landau, to be an open carriage at noon and a family coach at
night," I said; "no nimble page to skip hither and thither at his fair
lady's commands, if not belated on the way by the excitement of tossing
halfpence with youthful adventurers of the byways and alleys; no trim
parlour-maids, with irreproachable caps, dressed for the day at 11
o'clock A.M.--but instead of these, a humble six-roomed bandbox of a
house, and one poor hardworking slavey, with perennial smudges from
saucepan-lids upon her honest pug-nose. Consider the prospect
seriously, Charlotte, and ask yourself whether you can endure such a
descent in the social scale."

My Charlotte laughed, as if the prospect had been the most delightful
picture ever presented to mortal vision.

"Do you think I care for the landau or the page?" she cried. "If it
were not for mamma's sake, I should detest that prim villa and all its
arrangements. You see me so happy here, where there is no pretence of
grandeur--"

"But I am bound to warn you that I shall not be able to provide
Yorkshire teas at the commencement of our domestic career," I remarked,
by way of parenthesis.

"Aunt Dorothy will send us hampers of poultry and cakes, sir, and for
the rest of our time we can live upon bread and water."

On this I promised my betrothed a house in Cavendish or Portman-square,
and a better-built landau than Mr. Sheldon's, in the remote future.
With those dear eyes for my pole-stars, I felt myself strong enough to
clamber up the slippery ascent to the woolsack. The best and purest
ambition must surely be that which is only a synonym for love.

After we had sat talking in the gloaming to our hearts' content, aunt
Dorothy appeared, followed by a sturdy handmaid with lighted candles,
and a still sturdier handmaid with a ponderous tea-tray. The two made
haste to spread a snow-white cloth, and to set forth the species of
banquet which it is the fashion nowadays to call high tea. Anon came
uncle Joseph, bringing with him some slight perfume from the piggeries,
and he and aunt Dorothy were pleased to be pleasantly facetious and
congratulatory in their conversation during the social meal which
followed their advent.

After tea we played whist again, aunt Dorothy and I obtaining a
succession of easy victories over Charlotte and uncle Joe. I felt
myself hourly more and more completely at home in that simple domestic
circle, and enjoyed the proud position of an accepted lover. My
Arcadian friends troubled themselves in nowise as to the approval or
disapproval of Mr. and Mrs. Sheldon, or with regard either to my
prospects or my antecedents. They saw me devoted to my dear girl, they
saw my dearest pleased by my devotion, and they loved her so well that
they were ready to open their hearts without reserve to the man who
adored her and was loved by her, let him be rich or poor, noble or
base-born. As they would have given her the wax-doll of her desire ten
or twelve years ago without question as to price or fitness of things,
so they now gave her their kindly smiles and approval for the lover of
her choice. "I know Phil Sheldon is a man who looks to the main
chance," said uncle Joe, in the course of a discussion about his
niece's future which dyed her cheeks with blushes in the present; "and
I'll lay you'll find him rather a difficult customer to deal with,
especially as poor Tom's will left all the money in Georgy's hands,
which of course is tantamount to saying that Sheldon has got the
disposal of it."

I assured uncle Joe that money was the very last thing which I desired.

"Then in that case I don't see why he shouldn't let you have
Charlotte," replied Mr. Mercer; "and if she's cheated out of her poor
dad's money, she shan't be cheated out of what her old aunt and uncle
may have to leave her by-and-by."

Here were these worthy people promising me an heiress with no more
compunction than if they had been offering me a cup of tea.

I walked homeward once more beneath the quiet stars. O, how happy I
was! Can happiness so perfect, joy so sinless, endure? I, the
friendless wanderer and penniless Bohemian, asked myself this question;
and again I paused upon the lonely moorland road to lift my hat as I
thanked God for having given me such bright hopes.

But George Sheldon's three thousand pounds must be mine before I can
secure the humblest shelter for my sweet one; and although it would be
bliss to me to tramp through the world barefoot with Charlotte by my
side, the barefooted state of things is scarcely the sort of prospect a
man would care to offer to the woman he loves. So once more to the
chase. One more day in this delicious island of the lotus-eaters,
Newhall farm; and then away!--hark forward!--tantivy!--and hey for the
marriage-lines of Charlotte Meynell, great-granddaughter of Matthew
Haygarth, and, if still in the flesh, rightful heiress to the one
hundred thousand pounds at present likely to be absorbed by the
ravening jaws of the Crown! One more day, one more delightful idle day,
in the land where it is always afternoon, and then away to Hidling in
the hybrid vehicle, and thence to Hull, from Hull to York, from York to
Leeds, then Bradford, Huddersfield--_toute la boutique!_

The rain beats against the diamond panes of my casement as I write. The
day has been hopelessly wet, so I have stayed in my snug little chamber
and occupied myself in writing this record. Foul wind or weather would
have little power to keep me from my darling; but even if it had been a
fine day, I could not with any grace have presented myself at Newhall
farm for a third afternoon. To-morrow my immediate departure will
afford me an excuse for presenting myself once more before my kind
uncle and aunt. It will be my farewell visit. I wonder whether
Charlotte will miss me this afternoon. I wonder whether she will be
sorry when I tell her that I am going to leave this part of the
country. Ah, shall we ever meet again under such happy auspices? Shall
I ever again find such kind friends or such a hospitable dwelling as
those I shall leave amidst these northern hills?



CHAPTER VI.

FOUND IN THE BIBLE.


_November_ 3_d_. The most wonderful event has befallen--surely the most
wonderful that ever came to pass outside the realms of fiction. Let me
set down the circumstances of yesterday coolly and quietly if I can. I
invoke the placid spirit of my Sheldon. I invoke all the divinities of
Gray's Inn and "The Fields." Let me be legal and specific,
perspicacious and logical--if this beating heart, this fevered brain,
will allow me a few hours' respite.

The autumn sunshine blessed the land again yesterday. Moorland and
meadow, fallow and clover-field, were all the brighter for the steady
downfall of the previous day. I walked to Newhall directly after
breakfast, and found my dearest standing at the white five-barred gate,
dressed in her pretty blue jacket, and with ribbons in her bonny brown
hair.

She was pleased to see me, though at first just a little inclined to
play the _boudeuse_ on account of my absence on the previous day. Of
course I assured her that it had been anguish for me to remain away
from her, and quoted that divine sonnet of our William's to the like
effect:

    "How like a winter hath my absence been!"

and again:

    "O, never say that I was false of heart,
     Though absence seemed my flame to qualify."

Equally of course my pet pretended not to believe me. After this little
misunderstanding we forgave each other, and adored each other again
with just a little more than usual devotion; and then we went for a
long ramble among the fields, and looked at the dear placid sheep, who
stared at us wonderingly in return, as if exclaiming to themselves,
"And these are a specimen couple of the creatures called lovers!"

We met uncle Joe in the course of our wanderings, and returned with him
in time for the vulgar superstition of dinner, which we might have
forgotten had we been left by ourselves. After dinner uncle Joe made
off to his piggeries; while aunt Dorothy fell asleep in a capacious old
arm-chair by the fire, after making an apologetic remark to the effect
that she was tired, and had been a good deal "tewed" that morning in
the dairy. "Tewed," I understand, is Yorkshire for "worried."

Aunt Dorothy having departed into the shadowy realm of dreams,
Charlotte and I were left to our own devices.

There was a backgammon board on a side-table, surmounted by an old
Indian bowl of dried rose-leaves; and, _pour nous distraire_, I
proposed that I should teach my dearest that diverting game. She
assented, and we set to work in a very business-like manner, Miss
Halliday all attention, I serious as a professional schoolmaster.

Unfortunately for my pupil's progress, the game of backgammon proved
less entertaining than our own conversation, so, after a very feeble
attempt on the one side to learn and on the other to teach, we closed
the board and began to talk;--first of the past, then of the future,
the happy future, which we were to share.

There is no need that I should set down this lovers' talk. Is it not
written on my heart? The future seemed so fair and unclouded to me, as
my love and I sat talking together yesterday afternoon. Now all is
changed. The strangest, the most surprising complications have arisen;
and I doubt, I fear.

After we had talked for a long time, Miss Halliday suddenly proposed
that I should read to her.

"Diana once told me that you read very beautifully," said this
flatterer; "and I should so like to hear you read--poetry of course.
You will find plenty of poems in that old bookcase--Cowper, and
Bloomfield, and Pope. Now I am sure that Pope is just the kind of poet
whose verses you would read magnificently. Shall we explore the
bookcase together?"

Now if there is any manner of beguiling an idle afternoon, which seems
to me most delightful, it is by the exploration of old bookcases; and
when that delight can be shared by the woman one fondly loves, the
pleasure thereof must be of course multiplied to an indefinite amount.

So Charlotte and I set to work immediately to ransack the lower shelves
of the old-fashioned mahogany bookcase, which contained the entire
library of the Mercer household.

I am bound to admit that we did not light upon many volumes of
thrilling interest. The verses of Cowper, like those of Southey, have
always appeared to me to have only one fault--there are too many of
them. One shrinks appalled from that thick closely-printed volume of
morality cut into lengths of ten feet; and beyond the few well-worn
quotations in daily use, I am fain to confess that I am almost a
stranger to the bard of Olney.

Half a dozen odd volumes of the _Gentleman's Magazine_, three or four
of the _Annual Register_, a neatly-bound edition of _Clarissa Harlowe_
and _Sir Charles Grandison_ in twelve volumes, Law's _Holy Call to a
Serious Life_, _Paradise Lost_, _Joseph Andrews_, _Hervey's
Meditations_, and _Gulliver's Travels_, formed the varied contents of
the principal shelves. Above, there were shabbily-bound volumes and
unbound pamphlets. Below, there were folios, the tops whereof were
thickly covered with the dust of ages, having escaped the care of the
handmaidens even in that neatly-appointed household.

I knelt down to examine these.

"You'll be covered with dust if you touch them," cried Charlotte. "I
was once curious enough to examine them, but the result was very
disappointing."

"And yet they look so delightfully mysterious," I said. "This one, for
instance?"

"That is an old history of London, with curious plates and maps; rather
interesting if one has nothing more amusing to read. But the perennial
supply of novels from Mudie's spoils one for that kind of book."

"If ever I come to Newhall again, I shall dip into the old history. One
is never tired of dead and gone London. But after Mr. Knight's
delightful book any old history must seem very poor. What is my burly
friend here?"

"O, a dreadful veterinary-surgeon's encyclopaedia--_The Farmer's
Friend_ I think it is called; all about the ailments of animals."

"And the next?"

"The next is an odd volume of the _Penny Magazine_. Dear aunt Dorothy
is rich in odd volumes."

"And the next,--my bulky friend number two,--with a cracked leather
back and a general tendency to decay?"

"O, that is the Meynell Bible."

The MEYNELL BIBLE! A hot perspiration broke out upon my face as I knelt
at Charlotte Halliday's feet, with my hand resting lightly on the top
of the book.

"The Meynell Bible!" I repeated; and my voice was faintly tremulous, in
spite of the effort I made to control myself. "What do you mean by the
Meynell Bible?"

"I mean the old family Bible that belonged to my grand-mamma. It was
her father's Bible, you know; and of course he was my
great-grandfather--Christian Meynell. Why, how you stare at me,
Valentine! Is there anything so wonderful in my having had a
great-grandfather?"

"No, darling; but the fact is that I--"

In another moment I should have told her the entire truth; but I
remembered just in time that I had pledged myself to profound secrecy
with regard to the nature and progress of my investigation, and I had
yet to learn whether that pledge did or did not involve the observance
of secrecy even with those most interested in my researches. Pending
further communication with Sheldon, I was certainly bound to be silent.

"I have a kind of interest in the name of Meynell," I said, "for I was
once engaged in a business matter with people of that name."

And having thus hoodwinked my beloved with a bouncer, I proceeded to
extract the Bible from its shelf. The book was so tightly wedged into
its place, that to remove it was like drawing a tooth. It was a
noble-looking old volume, blue with the mould of ages, and redolent of
a chill dampness like the atmosphere of a tomb.

"I should so like to examine the old book when the candles come in," I
said.

Fortunately for the maintenance of my secret, the darkness was closing
in upon us when I discovered the volume, and the room was only fitfully
illuminated by the flame that brightened and faded every minute.

I carried the book to a side-table, and Charlotte and I resumed our
talk until the candles came, and close behind them uncle Joe. I fear I
must have seemed a very inattentive lover during that brief interval,
for I could not concentrate my thoughts upon the subject of our
discourse. My mind would wander to the strange discovery that I had
just made, and I could not refrain from asking myself whether by any
extraordinary chance my own dear love should be the rightful claimant
to John Haygarth's hoarded wealth.

I hoped that it might not be so. I hoped that my darling might be
penniless rather than the heir to wealth, which, in all likelihood,
would create an obstacle strong enough to sever us eternally. I longed
to question her about her family, but could not as yet trust myself to
broach the subject. And while I doubted and hesitated, honest
blustering uncle Joe burst into the room, and aunt Dorothy awoke, and
was unutterably surprised to find she had slept so long.

After this came tea; and as I sat opposite my dearest girl I could not
choose but remember that gray-eyed Molly, whose miniature had been
found in the tulip-wood bureau, and in whose bright face I had seen the
likeness of Philip Sheldon's beautiful stepdaughter. And Mr. Sheldon's
lovely stepdaughter was the lineal descendant of this very Molly.
Strange mystery of transmitted resemblances! Here was the sweet face
that had bewitched honest, simple-minded Matthew Haygarth reproduced
after the lapse of a century.

My Charlotte was descended from a poor little player girl who had
smiled on the roisterous populace of Bartholomew Fair. Some few drops
of Bohemian blood mingled with the pure life-stream in her veins. It
pleased me to think of this; but I derived no pleasure from the idea
that Charlotte might possibly be the claimant of a great fortune.

"She may have cousins who would stand before her," I said to myself;
and there was some comfort in the thought.

After tea I asked permission to inspect the old family Bible, much to
the astonishment of uncle Joe, who had no sympathy with antiquarian
tastes, and marvelled that I should take any interest in so mouldy a
volume. I told him, with perfect truth, that such things had always
more or less interest for me; and then I withdrew to my little table,
where I was provided with a special pair of candles.

"You'll find the births and deaths of all poor Molly's ancestors on the
first leaf," said uncle Joe. "Old Christian Meynell was a rare one for
jotting down such things; but the ink has gone so pale that it's about
as much as you'll do to make sense of it, I'll lay."

Charlotte looked over my shoulder as I examined the fly-leaf of the
family Bible. Even with this incentive to distraction I contrived to be
tolerably business-like; and this is the record which I found on the
faded page:

"Samuel Matthew Meynell, son of Christian and Sarah Meynell, b. March
9, 1796, baptised at St. Giles's, Cripplegate, in this city.

"Susan Meynell, daughter of Christian and Sarah Meynell, b. June 29,
1798, also baptised in the same church.

"Charlotte Meynell, second daughter of the above Christian and Sarah,
b. October 3, 1800, baptised at the above-mentioned church of St.
Giles, London."

Below these entries, in blacker ink and in a different hand-writing--a
bold, business-like, masculine caligraphy--came the following:

"Charlotte Meynell married to James Halliday, in the parish church of
Barngrave, Yorks. April 15, 1819.

"Thomas Halliday, son of the above James and Charlotte Halliday, b.
Jan. 3d, 1821, baptised in the parish church of Barngrave, Feb. 20 in
the same year.

"Mary Halliday, daughter of the above-named James and Charlotte
Halliday, b. May 27th, 1823, baptised at Barngrave, July 1st in the
same year."

Below this there was an entry in a woman's penmanship:

"Susan, the beloved sister of C. H., died in London, July 11, 1835.

"Judge not, that ye be not judged.

"I came to call sinners, and not the righteous, to repentance."

This record seemed to hint vaguely at some sad story: "Susan, the
beloved sister;" no precise data of the death--no surname! And then
those two deprecating sentences, which seemed to plead for the dead.

I had been led to understand that Christian Meynell's daughters had
both died in Yorkshire--one married, the other unmarried.

The last record in the book was the decease of James Halliday, my dear
girl's grandfather.

After pondering long over the strangely-worded entry of Susan Meynell's
death, I reflected that, with the aid of those mysterious powers Hook
and Crook, I must contrive to possess myself of an exact copy of this
leaf from a family history, if not of the original document. Again my
duty to my Sheldon impelled me to be false to all my new-born
instincts, and boldly give utterance to another bouncer.

"I am very much interested in a county history now preparing for the
press," I said to my honoured uncle, who was engaged in a hand at
cribbage with his wife; "and I really think this old leaf from a family
Bible would make a very interesting page in that work."

I blushed for myself as I felt how shamefully I was imposing upon my
newly-found kinsman's credulity. With scarcely any one but uncle Joe
could I have dared to employ so shallow an artifice.

"Would it really, now?" said that confiding innocent.

"Well, I suppose old papers, and letters, and such like, are uncommonly
interesting to some folks. I can't say I care much about 'em myself."

"Would you have any objection to my taking a copy of these entries?" I
asked.

"My word, no, lad; not I. Take half a dozen copies, and welcome, if
they can be of any use to you or other people. That's not much to ask
for."

I thanked my simple host, and determined to write to a stationer at
Hull for some tracing-paper by the first post next morning. There was
some happiness, at least, in having found this unlooked-for end to my
researches. I had a good excuse for remaining longer near Charlotte
Halliday.

"It's only for my poor Mary's sake I set any value on that old volume,"
the farmer said, presently, in a meditative tone. "You see the names
there are the names of her relations, not mine; and this place and all
in it was hers. Dorothy and I are only interlopers, as you may say, at
the best, though I brought my fortune to the old farm, and Dorothy
brought her fortune, and between us we've made Newhall a much better
place than it was in old James Halliday's time. But there's something
sad in the thought that none of those that were born on the land have
left chick or child to inherit it." Uncle Joseph fell for a while into
a pensive reverie, and I thought of that other inheritance, well-nigh
fifty times the value of Newhall farm, which is now waiting for a
claimant. And again I asked myself, Could it be possible that this
sweet girl, whose changeful face had saddened with those old memories,
whose innocent heart knew not one sordid desire--could it be indeed she
whose fair hand was to wrest the Haygarthian gold from the grip of
Crown lawyers?

The sight of that old Bible seemed to have revived Mr. Mercer's memory
of his first wife with unwonted freshness.

"She was a sweet young creature," he said; "the living picture of our
Lottie, and sometimes I fancy it must have been that which made me take
to Lottie when she was a little one. I used to see my first wife's eyes
looking up at me out of Lottie's eyes. I told Tom it was a comfort to
me to have the little lass with me, and that's how they let her come
over so often from Hyley. Poor old Tom used to bring her over in his
Whitechapel cart, and leave her behind him for a week or so at a
stretch. And then, when my Dorothy, yonder, took pity upon a poor
lonely widower, she made as much of the little girl as if she'd been
her own, and more, perhaps; for, not having any children of her own,
she thought them such out-of-the-way creatures, that you couldn't
coddle them and pet them too much. There's a little baby lies buried in
Barngrave churchyard with Tom Halliday's sister that would have been a
noble young man, sitting where you're sitting, Mr. Hawkehurst, and
looking at me as bright as you're looking, perhaps, if the Lord's will
hadn't been otherwise. We've all our troubles, you see, and that was
mine; and if it hadn't been for Dorothy, life would not have been worth
much for me after that time--but my Dorothy is all manner of blessings
rolled up in one."

The farmer looked fondly at his second wife as he said this, and she
blushed and smiled upon him with responsive tenderness. I fancy a
woman's blushes and smiles wear longer in these calm solitudes than
amid the tumult and clamour of a great city.

Finding my host inclined to dwell upon the past, I ventured to hazard
an indirect endeavour to obtain some information respecting that entry
in the Bible which had excited my curiosity.

"Miss Susan Meynell died unmarried, I believe?" I said. "I see her
death recorded here, but she is described by her Christian name only."

"Ah, very like," replied Mr. Mercer, with an air of indifference, which
I perceived to be assumed. "Yes, my poor Molly's aunt Susan died
unmarried."

"And in London? I had been given to understand that she died in
Yorkshire."

I blushed for my own impertinence as I pressed this inquiry. What right
had I to be given to understand anything about these honest Meynells? I
saw poor uncle Joe's disconcerted face, and I felt that the hunter of
an heir-at-law is apt to become a very obnoxious creature.

"Susan Meynell died in London--the poor lass died in London," replied
Joseph Mercer, gravely; "and now we'll drop that subject, if you
please, my lad. It isn't a pleasant one."

After this I could no longer doubt that there was some painful story
involved in those two deprecating sentences of the gospel.

It was some time before uncle Joe was quite his own jovial and rather
noisy self again, and on this evening we had no whist. I bade my
friends good night a little earlier than usual, and departed, after
having obtained permission to take a tracing of the fly-leaf as soon as
possible.

On this night the starlit sky and lonesome moor seemed to have lost
their soothing power. There was a new fever in my mind. The simple plan
of the future which I had mapped out for myself was suddenly shattered.
The Charlotte of to-night--heiress-at-law to an enormous fortune--ward
in Chancery--claimant against the Crown--was a very different person
from the simple maid "whom there were none"--or only a doating
simpleton in the person of the present writer--"to praise, and very few
to love."

The night before last I had hoped so much; to-night hope had forsaken
me. It seemed as if a Titan's hand had dug a great pit between me and
the woman I loved--a pit as deep as the grave.

Philip Sheldon might have consented to give me his stepdaughter
unpossessed of a sixpence; but would he give me his stepdaughter with a
hundred thousand pounds for her fortune? Alas! no; I know the
Sheldonian intellect too well to be fooled by any hope so wild and
baseless. The one bright dream of my misused life faded from me in the
hour in which I discovered my dearest girl's claim to the Haygarthian
inheritance. But I am not going to throw up the sponge before the fight
is over. Time enough to die when I am lying face downward in the
ensanguined mire, and feel the hosts of the foemen trampling above my
shattered carcass. I will live in the light of my Charlotte's smiles
while I can, and for the rest--"_Il ne faut pas dire, fontaine, je ne
boirai pas de ton eau_." There is no cup so bitter that a man dare say,
I will not drain it to the very dregs. "What must be, shall be--that's
a certain text;" and in the mean time _carpe diem_. I am all a Bohemian
again.

_Nov. 5th_. After a day's delay I have obtained my tracing-paper, and
made two tracings of the entries in the Meynell Bible, How intercourse
with the Sheldonian race inclines one to the duplication of documents!
I consider the copying-press of modern civilization the supreme
incarnation of man's distrust of his fellow-men.

I spent this afternoon and evening with my dear love--my last evening
in Yorkshire. To-morrow I shall see my Sheldon, and inform him of the
very strange termination which has come to my researches. Will he
communicate at once with his brother? Will he release me from my oath
of secrecy? There is nothing of the masonic secretiveness in my
organisation, and I am very weary of the seal that has been set upon my
unwary lips. Will Charlotte be told that she is the reverend
intestate's next of kin? These are questions which I ask myself as I
sit in the stillness of my room at the Magpie, scribbling this wretched
diary of mine, while the church clock booms three solemn strokes in the
distance.

O, why did not the reverend intestate marry his housekeeper, and make a
will, like other honest citizens, and leave my Charlotte to walk the
obscure byways of honest poverty with me? I do believe that I could
have been honest; I do believe that I could have been brave and true
and steadfast for her dear sake. But it is the office of man to
propose, while the Unseen disposes. Perhaps such a youth as mine admits
of no redemption. I have written circulars for Horatio Paget. I have
been the willing remorseless tool of a man who never eats his dinner
without inflicting a wrong upon his fellow-creatures. Can a few moments
of maudlin sentimentality, a vague yearning for something brighter and
better, a brief impulse towards honesty, inspired by a woman's innocent
eyes--can so little virtue in the present atone for so much guilt in
the past? Alas! I fear not.

I had one last brief _tête-à-tête_ with my dear girl while I took the
tracing from the old Bible. She sat watching me, and distracting me
more or less while I worked; and despite the shadow of doubt that has
fallen upon me, I could not be otherwise than happy in her sweet
company.

When I came to the record of Susan Meynell's death, my Charlotte's
manner changed all at once from her accustomed joyousness to a pensive
gravity.

"I was very sorry you spoke of Susan Meynell to uncle Joseph," she
said, thoughtfully.

"But why sorry, my dear?"

I had some vague notion as to the cause of this sorrow; but the
instincts of the chase impelled me to press the subject. Was I not
bound to know every secret in the lives of Matthew Haygarth's
descendants?

"There is a very sad story connected with my aunt Susan--she was my
great-aunt, you know," said Charlotte, with a grave earnest face. "She
went away from home, and there was great sorrow. I cannot talk of the
story, even to you, Valentine, for there seems something sacred in
these painful family secrets. My poor aunt Susan left all her friends,
and died many years afterwards in London."

"She was known to have died unmarried?" I asked. This would be an
important question from George Sheldon's point of sight.

"Yes," Charlotte replied, blushing crimson.

That blush told me a great deal.

"There was some one concerned in this poor lady's sorrow," I said;
"some one to blame for all her unhappiness."

"There was."

"One whom she loved and trusted, perhaps?"

"Whom she loved and trusted only too well. O, Valentine, must not that
be terrible? To confide with all your heart in the person you love, and
to find him base and cruel! If my poor aunt had not believed Montagu
Kingdon to be true and honourable, she would have trusted her friends a
little, instead of trusting so entirely in him. O, Valentine, what am I
telling you? I cannot bear to cast a shadow on the dead."

"My dear love, do you think I cannot pity this injured lady? Do you
think I am likely to play the Pharisee, and be eager to bespatter the
grave of this poor sufferer? I can almost guess the story which you
shrink from telling me--it is one of those sad histories so often
acted, so often told. Your aunt loved a person called Montagu
Kingdon--her superior in station, perhaps?"

I looked at Charlotte as I said this, and her face told me that I had
guessed rightly.

"This Montagu Kingdon admired and loved her," I said. "He seemed eager
to make her his wife, but no doubt imposed secrecy as to his
intentions. She accepted his word as that of a true-hearted lover and a
gentleman, and in the end had bitter reason to repent her confidence.
That is an outline of the story, is it not, Charlotte?"

"I am sure that it was so. I am sure that when she left Newhall she
went away to be married," cried Charlotte, eagerly; "I have seen a
letter that proves it--to me, at least. And yet I have heard even mamma
speak harshly of her--so long dead and gone off the face of this
earth--as if she had deliberately chosen the sad fate which came to
her."

"Is it not possible that Mr. Kingdon did marry Miss Meynell, after all?"

"No," replied Charlotte, very sadly; "there is no hope of that. I have
seen a letter written by my poor aunt years afterwards--a letter that
tells much of the cruel truth; and I have heard that Mr. Kingdon came
back to Yorkshire and married a rich lady during my aunt's lifetime."

"I should like to see that letter," I said, involuntarily.

"Why, Valentine?" asked my darling, looking at me with sorrowful,
wondering eyes, "To me it seems so painful to talk of these things: it
is like reopening an old wound."

"But if the interests of other people require--" I began, in a very
blundering manner.

"Whose interest can be served by my showing you my poor aunt's letter?
It would seem like an act of dishonour to the dead."

What could I say after this--bound hand and foot as I am by my promise
to Sheldon?

After a long talk with my sweet one, I borrowed uncle Joe's dog-cart,
and spun across to Barngrave, where I found the little church, beneath
whose gray old roof Charlotte Meynell plighted her troth to James
Halliday. I took a copy of all entries in the register concerning Mrs.
Meynell Halliday and her children, and then went back to Newhall to
restore the dog-cart, and to take my last Yorkshire tea at the
hospitable old farm-house.

To-morrow I am off to Barlingford, fifteen miles from this village, to
take more copies from registries concerning my sweet young heiress--the
registries of her father's marriage, and her own birth. After that I
think my case will be tolerably complete, and I can present myself to
Sheldon in the guise of a conqueror.

Is it not a great conquest to have made? Is it not almost an act of
chivalry for these prosaic days to go forth into the world as a private
inquirer, and win a hundred thousand pounds for the lady of one's love?
And yet I wish any one rather than my Charlotte were the lineal
descendant of Matthew Haygarth.

_Nov. 10th_. Here I am in London once more, with my Sheldon in
ecstatics, and our affairs progressing marvellously well, as he informs
me; but with that ponderous slowness peculiar to all mortal affairs in
which the authorities of the realm are in any way concerned.

My work is finished. Hawkehurst the genealogist and antiquarian sinks
into Hawkehurst the private individual. I have no more to do but to
mind my own business and await the fruition of time in the shape of my
reward.

Can I accept three thousand pounds for giving my dearest her
birthright? Can I take payment for a service done to her? Surely not:
and, on the other hand, can I continue to woo my sweet one, conscious
that she is the rightful claimant to a great estate? Can I take
advantage of her ignorance, and may it not be said that I traded on my
secret knowledge?

Before leaving Yorkshire, I stole one more day from the Sheldon
business, in order to loiter just a few hours longer in that northern
Arcadia called Newhall farm. What assurance have I that I shall ever
re-enter that pleasant dwelling? What hold have I, a wanderer and
vagabond, on the future which respectable people map out for themselves
with such mathematical precision? And even the respectable people are
sometimes out in their reckoning. To snatch the joys of to-day must
always be the policy of the adventurer. So I took one more happy
afternoon at Newhall. Nor was the afternoon entirely wasted; for, in
the course of my farewell visit, I heard more of poor Susan Meynell's
history from honest uncle Joseph. He told me the story during an
after-dinner walk, in which he took me the round of his pig-styes and
cattle-sheds for the last time, as if he would fain have had them leave
their impress on my heart.

"You may see plenty of cattle in Yorkshire," he remarked, complacently,
"but you won't see many beasts to beat that."

He pointed to a brown and mountainous mass of inert matter, which he
gave me to understand was something in the way of cattle.

"Would you like to see him standing?" he asked, giving the mass a prod
with the handle of his walking-stick, which to my cockney mind seemed
rather cruel, but which, taken from an agricultural point of view, was
no doubt the correct thing. "He _can_ stand. Coom up, Brownie!"

I humbly entreated that the ill-used mass might be allowed to sprawl in
undisturbed misery.

"Thorley!" exclaimed Mr. Mercer, laying his finger significantly
against the side of his unpretending nose.

I had not the faintest comprehension of my revered uncle-in-law's
meaning; but I said, "O, indeed!" with the accents of admiration.

"Thorley's Condiment," said my uncle. "You'll see some fine animate at
the Cattle-show; but if you see a two-year-old ox to beat him, my name
is not Joe Mercer."

After this I had to pay my respects to numerous specimens of the bovine
race, all more or less prostrate under the burden of superabundant
flesh, all seeming to cry aloud for the treatment of some Banting of
the agricultural world.

After we had "done" the cattle-sheds, with heroic resignation on my
part, and with enthusiasm on the part of Mr. Mercer, we went a long way
to see some rarities in the way of mutton, which commodity was to be
found cropping the short grass on a distant upland.

With very little appreciation of the zoological varieties, and with the
consciousness that my dear one was sitting in the farm-house parlour,
wondering at my prolonged absence, this excursion could not be
otherwise than a bore to me. But it was a small thing to sacrifice my
own pleasure for once in a way, when by so doing I might gratify the
kindest of men and of uncles; so I plodded briskly across the fields
with the friendly farmer.

I had my reward; for, in the course of this walk, Mr. Mercer gave me
the history of poor Susan Meynell.

"I didn't care to talk about the story the other night before the young
lass," he said, gravely; "for her heart's so full of pity and
tenderness, pretty dear, that any tale such as that is like to upset
her. But the story's known to almost all the folks in these parts; so
there's no particular reason against my telling it to you. I've heard
my poor mother talk of Susan Meynell many a time. She was a regular
beauty, it seems; prettier than her sister Charlotte, and she was a
pretty woman, as you may guess by looking at _our_ Charlotte, who is
thought the image of her grandmother. But Susan was one of those
beauties that you don't see very often--more like a picture than flesh
and blood. The gentry used to turn round to look at her at Barngrave
church, I've heard my mother say. She was a rare one for dress, too;
for she had a few hundreds left her by her father and mother, who had
both of them been very well-to-do people. The mother was daughter to
William Rand, of Barngrave, a man who farmed above a thousand acres of
his own land; and the father kept a carpet warehouse in
Aldersgate-street."

This information I received with respectful deference, and a
hypocritical assumption of ignorance respecting Miss Meynell's
antecedents.

Mr. Mercer paused to take breath, and then continued the story after
his own rambling fashion.

"Well, my lad, what with her fine dress, and what with her pretty
looks, Susan Meynell seems to have thought a little too much of
herself; so that when Montagu Kingdon, of Kingdon-place, younger
brother to Lord Durnsville, fell in love with her, and courted her--not
exactly openly, but with the knowledge of her sister, Mrs.
Halliday--she thought it no more than natural that he should intend to
make her his wife. Mr. Kingdon was ten years older than Susan, and had
served in Spain, and had not borne too good a character abroad. He had
been in a hard-drinking cavalry regiment, and had spent all his money,
and sold out directly the war was over. There was very little of all
this known down hereabouts, where Mr. Kingdon stood very high, on
account of his being Lord Durnsville's brother. But it was known that
he was poor, and that the Durnsville estates were heavily encumbered
into the bargain."

"Then this gentleman would have been no grand match for Miss Meynell,
if--" "If he had married her? No, my lad; and it might have been the
knowledge of his poverty that made Susan and her sister think less of
the difference between his station and the girl's. The two women
favoured him, anyhow; and they kept the secret from James Halliday, who
was a regular upstraight-and-downright kind of fellow, as proud as any
lord in his own way. The secret was kept safe enough for some time, and
Mr. Kingdon was always dropping in at Newhall when Jim was out of the
way; but folks in these parts are very inquisitive, and, lonesome as
our place is, there are plenty of people go by between Monday and
Saturday; so by-and-by it got to be noticed that there was very often a
gentleman's horse standing at Newhall gate, with the bridle tied to one
of the gate-posts; and those that knew anything, knew that the horse
belonged to Montagu Kingdon. A friend of Jim Halliday's told him as
much one day, and warned him that Mr. Kingdon was a scamp, and was said
to have a Spanish wife somewhere beyond seas. This was quite enough for
James Halliday, who flew into a roaring rage at the notion of any man,
most of all Lord Durnsville's brother, going to his house and courting
his sister-in-law in secret. It was at Barngrave he was told this, one
market-day, as he was lounging with his friends in the old yard of the
Black Bull inn, where the corn exchange used to be held in those days.
He called for his horse the next minute, and left the town at a gallop.
When he came to Newhall, he found Montagu Kingdon's chestnut mare tied
to the gate-post, and he found Mr. Kingdon himself, dawdling about the
garden with Miss Meynell."

"And then I suppose there was a scene?" I suggested, with unfeigned
interest in this domestic story.

"Well, I believe there was, my lad. I've heard all about it from my
poor Molly, who had the story from her mother. James Halliday didn't
mince matters; he gave Mr. Kingdon a bit of his mind, in his own rough
outspoken way, and told him it would be the worse for him if he ever
crossed the threshold of Newhall gate again. 'If you meant well by that
foolish girl, you wouldn't come sneaking here behind my back,' he said;
'but you don't mean well by her, and you've a Spanish wife hidden away
somewhere in the Peninsula.' Mr. Kingdon gave the lie to this; but he
said he shouldn't stoop to justify himself to an unmannerly yeoman. 'If
you were a gentleman,' he said, 'you should pay dearly for your
insolence.' 'I'm ready to pay any price you like,' answered James
Halliday, as bold as brass; 'but as you weren't over fond of fighting
abroad, where there was plenty to be got for it, I don't suppose you
want to fight at home, where there's nothing to be got for it.'"

"And did Susan Meynell hear this?" I asked. I could fancy this
ill-fated girl standing by and looking on aghast while hard things were
said to the man she loved, while the silver veil of sweet romance was
plucked so roughly from the countenance of her idol by an angry
rustic's rude hand.

"Well, I don't quite know whether she heard all," answered Mr. Mercer,
thoughtfully. "Of course, James Halliday told his wife all about the
row afterwards. He was very kind to his sister-in-law, in spite of her
having deceived him; and he talked to her very seriously, telling her
all he had heard in Barngrave against Montagu Kingdon. She listened to
him quietly enough, but it was quite clear that she didn't believe a
word he said. 'I know you have heard all that, James,' she said; 'but
the people who said it knew they were not telling the truth. Lord
Durnsville and his brother are not popular in the country, and there
are no falsehoods too cruel for the malice of his enemies.' She
answered him with some such fine speech as that, and when the next
morning came she was gone."

"She eloped with Mr. Kingdon?"

"Yes. She left a letter for her sister, full of romantic stuff about
loving him all the better because people spoke ill of him; regular
woman's talk, you know, bless their poor silly hearts!" murmured Mr.
Mercer, with tender compassion. "She was going to London to be married
to Mr. Kingdon, she wrote. They were to be married at the old church in
the city where she had been christened, and she was going to stay with
an old friend--a young woman who had once been her brother's
sweetheart, and who was married to a butcher in Newgate-market--till
the bans were given out, or the license bought. The butcher's wife had
a country-house out at Edmonton, and it was there Susan was going to
stay."

"All that seemed straightforward enough," said I.

"Yes," replied uncle Joe; "but if Mr. Kingdon had meant fairly by Susan
Meynell, it would have been as easy for him to marry her at Barngrave
as in London. He was as poor as a church mouse, but he was his own
master, and there was no one to prevent him doing just what he pleased.
This is about what James Halliday thought, I suppose; for he tore off
to London, as fast as post-horses could carry him, in pursuit of his
wife's sister and Mr. Kingdon. But though he made inquiries all along
the road he could not hear that they had passed before him, and for the
best of all reasons. He went to the butcher's house at Edmonton; but
there he found no trace of Susan Meynell, except a letter posted in
Yorkshire, on the day of the row between James and Mr. Kingdon, telling
her intention of visiting her old friend within the next few days, and
hinting at an approaching marriage. There was the letter announcing the
visit, but the visitor had not come." "But the existence of that letter
bears witness that Miss Meynell believed in the honesty of her lover's
intentions."

"To be sure it does, poor lass," answered Mr. Mercer pensively. "She
believed in the word of a scoundrel, and she was made to pay dearly for
her simplicity. James Halliday did all he could to find her. He
searched London through, as far as any man can search such a place as
London; but it was no use, and for a very good reason, as I said
before. The end of it was, he was obliged to go back to Newhall no
wiser than when he started."

"And was nothing further ever discovered?" I asked eagerly, for I felt
that this was just one of those family complications from which all
manner of legal difficulties might arise.

"Don't be in a hurry, my lad," answered uncle Joe; "wickedness is sure
to come to light sooner or later. Three years after this poor young
woman ran away there was a drunken groom dismissed from Lord
Durnsville's stable; and what must he needs do but come straight off to
James Halliday, to vent his spite against his master, and perhaps to
curry favour at Newhall. 'You shouldn't have gone to London to look for
the young lady, Muster Halliday,' he said; 'you should have gone the
other way. I know a man as drove Mr. Kingdon and your wife's sister
across country to Hull with two of my lord's own horses, stopping to
bait on the way. They went aboard ship at Hull, Mr. Kingdon and the
young lady--a ship that was bound for foreign parts.' This is what the
groom said; but it was little good knowing it now. There'd been
advertisements in the papers beseeching her to come back; and
everything had been done that could be done, and all to no end. A few
years after this back comes Mr. Kingdon as large as life, married to
some dark-faced, frizzy-haired lady, whose father owned half the
Indies, according to people's talk: but he fought very shy of James
Halliday; but when they did meet one day at the covert side, Jim rode
up to the honourable gentleman and asked him what he had done with
Susan Meynell. Those that saw the meeting say that Montagu Kingdon
turned as white as a ghost when he saw Jim Halliday riding up to him on
his big, raw-boned horse; but nothing came of the quarrel. Mr. Kingdon
did not live many years to enjoy the money his frizzy-haired
West-Indian lady brought him. He died before his brother, Lord
Durnsville, and left neither chick nor child to inherit his money, nor
yet the Durnsville title, which was extinct on the death of the
viscount."

"And what of the poor girl?"

"Ay, poor lass, what of her? It was fourteen years after she left her
home before her sister got so much as a line to say she was in the land
of the living. When a letter did come at last, it was a very melancholy
one. The poor creature wrote to her sister to say she was in London,
alone and penniless, and, as she thought, dying."

"And the sister went to her?"

I remembered that deprecating sentence in the family Bible, written in
a woman's hand.

"That she did, good honest soul, as fast as she could travel, carrying
a full purse along with her. She found poor Susan at an inn near
Aldersgate-street--the old quarter, you see, that she'd known in her
young days. Mrs. Halliday meant to have brought the poor soul back to
Yorkshire, and had settled it all with Jim; but it was too late for
anything of that kind. She found Susan dying, wandering in her mind off
and on, but just able to recognise her sister, and to ask forgiveness
for having trusted to Montagu Kingdon, instead of taking counsel from
those that wished her well."

"Was that all?" I asked presently.

Mr. Mercer made long pauses in the course of his narrative, during
which we walked briskly on; he pondering on those past events, I
languishing for further information.

"Well, lad, that was about all. Where Susan had been in all those
years, or what she had been doing, was more than Mrs. Halliday could
find out. Of late she had been living somewhere abroad. The clothes she
had last worn were of foreign make, very poor and threadbare; and there
was one little box in her room at the inn that had been made at Rouen,
for the name of a Rouen trunkmaker was on the inside of the lid. There
were no letters or papers of any kind in the box; so you see there was
no way of finding out what the poor creature's life had been. All her
sister could do was to stay with her and comfort her to the last, and
to see that she was quietly laid to rest in a decent grave. She was
buried in a quiet little city churchyard, somewhere where there are
green trees among the smoke of the chimney-pots. Montagu Kingdon had
been dead some years when that happened."

"Is that last letter still in existence?" I asked.

"Yes; my first wife kept it with the rest of her family letters and
papers. Dorothy takes care of them now. We country folks set store by
those sort of things, you know."

I would fain have asked Mr. Mercer to let me see this last letter
written by Susan Meynell; but what excuse could I devise for so doing?
I was completely fettered by my promise to George Sheldon, and could
offer no reasonable pretence for my curiosity.

There was one point which I was bound to push home in the interests of
my Sheldon, or, shall I not rather say, of my Charlotte? That
all-important point was the question of marriage or no marriage. "You
feel quite clear as to the fact that Montagu Kingdon never did marry
this young woman?" I said.

"Well, yes," replied uncle Joe; "that was proved beyond doubt, I'm
sorry to say. Mr. Kingdon never could have dared to come back here with
his West-Indian wife in poor Susan Meynell's lifetime if he had really
married her."

"And how about the lady he was said to have married in Spain?"

"I can't say anything about that. It may have been only a scandal, or,
if there was a marriage, it may have been illegal. The Kingdons were
Protestants, and the Spaniards are all papists, I suppose. A marriage
between a Protestant and a Roman Catholic wouldn't be binding."

"Not upon such a man as this Kingdon."

It seems more than probable that the opinion arrived at by this poor
soul's friends must be correct, and that Montagu Kingdon was a
scoundrel. But how about Susan Meynell's after-life?--the fourteen
years in which she was lost sight of? May she not have married some one
else than Mr. Kingdon? and may she not have left heirs who will arise
in the future to dispute my darling's claim?

Is it a good thing to have a great inheritance? The day has been when
such a question as that could not by any possibility have shaped itself
in my mind. Ah! what is this subtle power called love, which worketh
such wondrous changes in the human heart? Surely the miracle of the
cleansed leper is in some manner typical of this transformation. The
emanation of divine purity encircled the leper with its supernal
warmth, and the scales fell away beneath that mysterious influence. And
so from the pure heart of a woman issues a celestial fire which burns
the plague-spot out of the sinner's breast. Ah, how I languish to be at
my darling's feet, thanking her for the cure she has wrought!

I have given my Sheldon the story of Susan Meynell's life, as I had it
from uncle Joseph. He agrees with me as to the importance of Susan's
last letter, but even that astute creature does not see a way to
getting the document in his hands without letting Mr. Mercer more or
less into our secret.

"I might tell this man Mercer some story about a little bit of money
coming to his niece, and get at Susan Meynell's letter that way," he
said; "but whatever I told him would be sure to get round to Philip
somehow or other, and I don't want to put him on the scent."

My Sheldon's legal mind more than ever inclines to caution, now that he
knows the heiress of the Haygarths is so nearly allied to his brother
Philip.

"I'll tell you what it is, Hawkehurst," he said to me, after we had
discussed the business in all its bearings, "there are not many people
I'm afraid of, but I don't mind owning to you that I am afraid of my
brother Phil. He has always walked over my head; partly because he can
wear his shirt-front all through business hours without creasing it,
which I can't, and partly because he's--well--more unscrupulous than I
am."

He paused meditatively, and I too was meditative; for I could not
choose but wonder what it was to be more unscrupulous than George
Sheldon.

"If he were to get an inkling of this affair," my patron resumed
presently, "he'd take it out of our hands before you could say Jack
Robinson--supposing anybody ever wanted to say Jack Robinson, which
they don't--and he'd drive a bargain with us, instead of our driving a
bargain with him."

My friend of Gray's Inn has a pleasant way of implying that our
interests are coequal in this affair. I caught him watching me
curiously once or twice during our last interview, when Charlotte's
name was mentioned. Does he suspect the truth, I wonder?

_Nov. 12th_. I had another interview with my patron yesterday, and
rather a curious interview, though not altogether unsatisfactory.
George Sheldon has been making good use of his time since my return
from Yorkshire.

"I don't think we need have any fear of opposition from children or
grandchildren of Susan Meynell," he said; "I have found the registry of
her interment in the churchyard of St. Giles's, Cripplegate. She is
described in that registry by her maiden name, and there is a plain
headstone in a corner of the ground, inscribed with the name of Susan
Meynell, who died July 14th, 1835, much lamented; and then the text
about 'the one sinner that repenteth,' and so on," said Mr. Sheldon, as
if he did not care to dwell on so hackneyed a truism.

"But," I began, "she might have been married, in spite of--"

"Yes, she might," replied my Sheldon, captiously; "but then, you see,
the probability is that she wasn't. If she had been married, she would
have told her sister as much in that last letter, or she would have
said as much when they met."

"But she was delirious."

"Not all the time. She was sensible enough to talk about her sorrow for
the past, and so on; and she must have been sensible enough to have
spoken of her children, if she had ever had any. Besides, if she had
been married, she would scarcely have been wandering about the world in
that miserable manner, unless her husband was an uncommonly bad lot.
No, Hawkehurst, depend upon it, we've nothing to fear in that quarter.
The person we have to fear is that precious brother of mine."

"You talked the other day about driving a bargain with him," I said; "I
didn't quite understand your meaning. The fortune can only be claimed
by Char--Miss Halliday, and your brother has no legal authority to
dispose of her money."

"Of course not," answered my employer, with contemptuous impatience of
my dulness; "but my brother Phil is not the man to wait for legal
power. His ideas will be Miss Halliday's ideas in this business. When
my case is ripe for action, I shall make my bargain--half the fortune
to be mine from the day of its recovery. A deed containing these
conditions must be executed by Charlotte Halliday before I hand over a
single document relating to the case. Now, as matters stand at
present," he went on, looking very fixedly at me, "her execution of
that deed would rest with Philip."

"And when shall you make your overtures to Mr. Sheldon?" I asked, at a
loss to understand that intent look.

"Not until the last links of the chain are put together. Not before I'm
ready to make my first move on the Chancellor's chessboard. Perhaps not
at all."

"How do you mean?"

"If I can tide over for a little time, I may throw Philip overboard
altogether, and get some one else to manage Miss Halliday for me."

"What do you mean?"

"I'll tell you, Hawkehurst," answered my patron, resting his elbows on
the table by which we were sitting, and looking me through with those
penetrating black eyes of his. "My brother Phil played me a shabby
trick a few years ago, which I have not forgotten or forgiven. So I
shouldn't mind paying him out in some of his own coin. Beyond which, I
tell you again, I don't like the idea of his having a finger in this
business. Where that kind of man's finger can go, his whole hand will
follow; and if once that hand fastens on John Haygarth's money, it'll
be bad times for you and me. Miss Halliday counts for exactly nothing
in my way of reckoning. If her stepfather told her to sign away half a
million, she'd scribble her name at the bottom of the paper, and press
her pretty little thumb upon the wafer, without asking a single
question as to the significance of the document. And, of course, she'd
be still less inclined to make objections if it was her husband who
asked her to execute the deed. Aha! my young friend, how is it you grow
first red and then white when I mention Miss Halliday's husband?"

I have no doubt that I did indeed blanch when that portentous word was
uttered in conjunction with my darling's name. Mr. Sheldon leant a
little further across the table, and his hard black eyes penetrated a
little deeper into the recesses of my foolish heart.

"Valentine Hawkehurst," he said, "shall we throw my brother Phil
overboard altogether? Shall you and I go shares in this fortune?"

"Upon my word and honour I don't understand you," I said, in all
sincerity.

"You mean that you won't understand me," answered George Sheldon,
impatiently; "but I'll make myself pretty clear presently; and as your
own interest is at stake, you'll be very unlike the rest of your
species if you don't find it easy enough to understand me. When first I
let you in for the chance of a prize out of this business, neither you
nor I had the slightest idea that circumstances would throw the
rightful claimant to the Haygarth estate so completely into our way. I
had failed so many times with other cases before I took up this case,
that it's a wonder I had the courage to work on. But, somehow or other,
I had a notion that this particular business would turn up trumps. The
way seemed a little clearer than it usually is; but not clear enough to
tempt Tom, Dick, and Harry. And then, again, I had learnt a good many
secrets from the experience of my failures. I was well up to my work. I
might have carried it on, and I ought to have carried it on, without
help; but I was getting worn out and lazy, so I let you into my secret,
having taken it into my head that I could venture to trust you."

"You didn't trust me further than you could help, my friend," I replied
with my usual candour. "You never told me the amount left by the
reverend intestate; but I heard that down at Ullerton. A half share in
a hundred thousand pounds is worth trying for, Mr. Sheldon."

"They call it a hundred thousand down there, do they?" asked the
lawyer, with charming innocence. "Those country people always deal in
high figures. However, I don't mind owning that the sum is a handsome
one, and if you and I play our cards wisely, we may push Philip out of
the game altogether, and share the plunder between us."

Again I was obliged to confess myself unable to grasp my employer's
meaning.

"Marry Charlotte Halliday out of hand," he said, bringing his eyes and
his elbows still nearer to me, until his bushy black whiskers almost
touched my face. "Marry her before Philip gets an inkling of this
affair, and then, instead of being made a tool of by him, she'll be
safe in your hands, and the money will be in your hands into the
bargain. Why, how you stare, man! Do you think I haven't seen how the
land lies between you two? Haven't I dined at Bayswater when you've
been there? and could any man with his wits about him see you two
sentimental young simpletons together _without_ seeing how things were
going on? You are in love with Charlotte, and Charlotte is in love with
you. What more natural than that you two should make a match of it?
Charlotte is her own mistress, and hasn't sixpence in the world that
any one but you and I know of; for, of course, my brother Phil will
continue to stick to every penny of poor old Tom's money. All you have
to do is to follow up the young lady; it's the course that would
suggest itself to any man in the same case, even if Miss Halliday were
the ugliest old harridan in Christendom, instead of being a very jolly
kind of girl, as girls go."

My employer said this with the tone of a man who had never considered
the genus girl a very interesting part of creation. I suppose I looked
at him rather indignantly; for he laughed as he resumed,--

"I'll say she's an angel, if you like," he said; "and if you think her
one, so much the better. You may consider it a very lucky thing that
you came in my way, and a still more lucky thing that Miss Halliday has
been silly enough to fall in love with you. I've heard of men being
born with silver spoons in their mouths; but I should think you must
have come into the world with a whole service of plate. However, that
is neither here nor there. Your policy will be to follow up your
advantages; and if you can persuade the young lady to change her name
for Hawkehurst on the quiet some fine morning, without stopping to ask
permission of her stepfather, or any one else, so much the better for
you, and so much the more agreeable to me. I'd rather do business with
you than with my brother Phil; and I shan't be sorry to cry quits with
that gentleman for the shabby trick he played me a few years ago."

My Sheldon's brow darkened as he said this, and the moody fit returned.
That old grudge which my patron entertains against his brother must
have relation to some very disagreeable business, if I may judge by
George Sheldon's manner.

Here was a position for me, Valentine Hawkehurst, soldier of fortune,
cosmopolitan adventurer, and child of the nomadic tribes who call
Bohemia their mother country! Already blest with the sanction of my
dear love's simple Yorkshire kindred, I was now assured of George
Sheldon's favour; nay, urged onward in my paradisiac path by that
unsentimental Mentor. The situation was almost too much for my
bewildered brain. Charlotte an heiress, and George Sheldon eager to
bring about my participation in the Haygarthian thousands!

And now I sit in my little room 1a Omega-street, pondering upon the
past, and trying to face the perplexities of the future.

Is this to be? Am I, so hopeless an outsider in the race of life, to
come in with a rush and win the prize which Fortune's first favourite
might envy? Can I hope or believe it? Can the Fates have been playing a
pleasant practical joke with me all this time, like those fairies who
decree that the young prince shall pass his childhood and youth in the
guise of a wild boar, only to be transformed into an Adonis at last by
the hand of the woman who is disinterested enough to love him despite
his formidable tusks and ungainly figure?

No! a thousand times no! The woman I love, and the fortune I have so
often desired, are not for me. Every man has his own especial Fates;
and the three sisters who take care of me are grim, hard-visaged,
harder-hearted spinsters, not to be mollified by propitiation, or by
the smooth tongue of the flatterer. The cup is very sweet, and it seems
almost within my grasp; but between that chalice of delight and the
lips that thirst for it, ah, what a gulf!

_Nov. 13th_. The above was written late at night, and under the
influence of my black dog. What an ill-conditioned cur he is, and how
he mouths and mangles the roses that bestrew his pathway, always bent
upon finding the worm at the core!

I kicked the brute out of doors this morning, on finding a letter from
my dear one lying in my plate. "Avaunt, aroint thee, foul fiend!" I
cried. "Thou art the veritable poodle in whose skin Mephistopheles
hides when bent on direst mischief. I will set the sign of the cross
upon my threshold, and thou shalt enter no more."

This is what I said to myself as I tore open Charlotte's envelope, with
its pretty little motto stamped on cream-coloured sealing-wax, "_Pensez
à moi._" Ah, love; "while memory holds a seat in this distracted
globe." I saw the eyes of my friend Horatio fixed upon me as I opened
my letter, and knew that my innermost sentiments were under inspection.
Prudence demands all possible caution where the noble Captain is
concerned. I cannot bring myself to put implicit faith in his account
of his business at Ullerton. He may have been there, as he says, on
some promoting spec; but our meeting in that town was, to say the
least, a strange coincidence, and I am not a believer in
coincidences--off the stage, where a gentleman invariably makes his
appearance directly his friends begin to talk about him.

I cannot forget my conviction that Jonah Goodge was bought over by a
rival investigator, and that Rebecca Haygarth's letters were tampered
with; nor can I refrain from connecting that shapely but well-worn
lavender glove with the person of my dandy friend, Horatio Paget. The
disappearance of a letter from the packet intrusted to me by Miss
Judson is another mysterious circumstance; nor can I do away with the
impression that I heard the name Meynell distinctly pronounced by
Philip Sheldon the last time I was at the villa.

George Sheldon tells me the secret cannot by any possibility have been
betrayed, unless by me; and I have been prudence itself.

Supposing my suspicions of Mr. Goodge to be correct, the letters
extracted from Mrs. Rebecca's correspondence might tell much, and might
even put Horatio on the track of the Meynells. But how should he get
his first inkling of the business?

Certainly not from me or from George Sheldon. But might not his
attention have been attracted by that advertisement for heirs-at-law to
the Haygarthian estate which appeared in the _Times_?

These are questions with which the legal intellect of my Sheldon may
best grapple. For myself, I can only drift with the resistless stream
called life.

I was so unfortunate as to make my appearance in our common
sitting-room five minutes after my patron. There had been time enough
for him to examine the superscription and postmark of my letter. He was
whistling when I went into the room. People who have been looking at
things that don't belong to them always whistle.

I did not care to read Charlotte's first letter with those hawk's eyes
fixed upon me. So I just glanced at the dear handwriting, as if running
over an ordinary letter with the eye of indifference, and then put the
document into my pocket with the best assumption of carelessness I was
capable of. How I longed for the end of that tedious meal, over which
Captain Paget lingered in his usual epicurean fashion!

My friend Horatio has shown himself not a little curious about my late
absence from the joint domicile. I again resorted to the Dorking
fiction,--my aged aunt breaking fast, and requiring much propitiation
from a dutiful nephew with an eye to her testamentary arrangements. I
had been compelled to endow my shadowy relative with a comfortable
little bit of money, in order to account for my devotion; since the
powerful mind of my Horatio would have refused to grasp the idea of
disinterested affection for an ancient kinswoman.

There was an ominous twinkle in the Captain's sharp gray eyes when I
gave this account of my absence, and I sorely doubt his acceptance of
this second volume of the Dorking romance. Ah, what a life it is we
lead in the tents of Ishmael, the cast-away! through what tortuous
pathways wander the nomad tribes who call Hagar, the abandoned, their
mother! what lies, what evasions, what prevarications! Horatio Paget
and I watch each other like two cunning fencers, with a stereotyped
smile upon our lips and an eager restlessness in our eyes, and who
shall say that one or other of our rapiers is not poisoned, as in the
famous duel before Claudius, usurper of Denmark? My dear one's letter
is all sweetness and love. She is coming home; and much as she prefers
Yorkshire to Bayswater, she is pleased to return for my sake--for my
sake. She leaves the pure atmosphere of that simple country home to
become the central point in a network of intrigue; and I am bound to
keep the secret so closely interwoven with her fate. I love her more
truly, more purely than I thought myself capable of loving; yet I can
only approach her as the tool of George Sheldon, a rapacious
conspirator, bent on securing the hoarded thousands of old John
Haygarth.

Of all men upon this earth I should be the last to underrate the
advantages of wealth,--I who have been reared in the gutter, which is
Poverty's cradle. Yet I would fain Charlotte's fortune had come to her
in any other fashion than as the result of my work in the character of
a salaried private inquirer.



BOOK THE SEVENTH.


CHARLOTTE'S ENGAGEMENT.



CHAPTER I.

"IN YOUR PATIENCE YE ARE STRONG."


Miss Halliday returned to the gothic villa at Bayswater with a bloom on
her cheeks, and a brightness in her eyes, which surpassed her wonted
bloom and brightness, fair and bright as her beauty had been from the
hour in which she was created to charm mankind. She had been a creature
to adore even in the first dawn of infancy, and in her christening-hood
and toga of white satin had been a being to dream of. But now she
seemed invested all at once with a new loveliness--more spiritual, more
pensive, than the old.

Might not Valentine have cried, with the rapturous pride of a lover:
"Look at the woman here with the new soul!" and anon: "This new soul is
mine!"

It was love that had imparted a new charm to Miss Halliday's beauty.
Diana wondered at the subtle change as her friend sat in her favourite
window on the morning after her return, looking dreamily out into the
blossomless garden, where evergreens of the darkest and spikiest
character stood up stern and straight against the cold gray sky. Diana
had welcomed her friend in her usual reserved manner, much to
Charlotte's discomfiture. The girl so yearned for a confidante. She had
no idea of hiding her happiness from this chosen friend, and waited
eagerly for the moment in which she could put her arms round Diana's
neck and tell her what it was that had made Newhall so sweet to her
during this particular visit.

She sat in the window this morning thinking of Valentine, and
languishing to speak of him, but at a loss how to begin. There are some
people about whose necks the arms of affection can scarce entwine
themselves. Diana Paget sat at her eternal embroidery-frame, picking up
beads on her needle with the precision of some self-feeding machine.
The little glass beads made a hard clicking sound as they dropped from
her needle,--a very frosty, unpromising sound, as it seemed to
Charlotte's hyper-sensitive ear.

There had been an unwonted reserve between the girls since Charlotte's
return,--a reserve which arose, on Miss Halliday's part, from the
contest between girlish shyness and the eager desire for a confidante;
and on the part of Miss Paget, from that gloomy discontent which had of
late possessed her.

She watched Charlotte furtively as she picked up her beads--watched her
wonderingly, unable to comprehend the happiness that gave such
spiritual brightness to her eyes. It was no longer the childlike gaiety
of heart which had made Miss Halliday's girlhood so pleasant. It was
the thoughtful, serene delight of womanhood.

"She can care very little for Valentine," Diana thought, "or she could
scarcely seem so happy after such a long separation. I doubt if these
bewitching women who enchant all the world know what it is to feel
deeply. Happiness is a habit with this girl. Valentine's attentions
were very pleasant to her. The pretty little romance was very agreeable
while it lasted; but at the first interruption of the story she shuts
the book, and thinks of it no more. O, if my Creator had made _me_ like
that! If I could forget the days we spent together, and the dream I
dreamt!"

That never-to-be-forgotten vision came back to Diana Paget as she sat
at her work; and for a few minutes the clicking sound of the beads
ceased, while she waited with clasped hands until the shadows should
have passed before her eyes. The old dream came back to her like a
picture, bright with colour and light. But the airy habitation which
she had built for herself of old was no "palace lifting to Italian
heavens its marble roof." It was only a commonplace lodging in a street
running out of the Strand, with just a peep of the river from a trim
little balcony. An airy second-floor sitting-room, with engraved
portraits of the great writers on the newly-papered walls: on one side
an office-desk, on the other a work-table. The unpretending shelter of
a newspaper hack, who lives _à jour la journée_, and whose wife must
achieve wonders in the way of domestic economy in order to eke out his
modest earnings.

This was Diana Paget's vision of Paradise, and it seemed only the
brighter now that she felt it was never to be anything more than a
supernal picture painted on her brain.

After sitting silent for some little time, eager to talk, but waiting
to be interrogated, Charlotte was fain to break silence.

"You don't ask me whether I enjoyed myself in Yorkshire, Di," she said,
looking shyly down at the little bunch of charms and lockets which
employed her restless fingers.

"Didn't I, really?" replied Diana, languidly; "I thought that was one
of the stereotyped inquiries one always made."

"I hope you wouldn't make stereotyped inquiries of _me_, Diana."

"No, I ought not to do so. But I think there are times when one is
artificial even with one's best friends. And you are my best friend,
Charlotte. I may as well say my only friend," the girl added, with a
laugh.

"Diana," cried Charlotte, reproachfully, "why do you speak so bitterly?
You know how dearly I love you. I do, indeed, dear. There is scarcely
anything in this world I would not do for you. But I am not your only
friend. There is Mr. Hawkehurst, whom you have known so long."

Miss Halliday's face was in a flame; and although she bent very low to
examine the golden absurdities hanging on her watch-chain, she could
not conceal her blushes from the eyes that were so sharpened by
jealousy.

"Mr. Hawkehurst!" cried Diana, with unspeakable contempt. "If I were
drowning, do you think _he_ would stretch out his hand to save me while
you were within his sight? When he comes to this house--he who has seen
so much poverty, and misery, and shame, and--happiness with me and
mine--do you think he so much as remembers my existence? Do you think
he ever stops to consider whether I am that Diana Paget who was once
his friend and confidante and fellow-wayfarer and companion? or only a
lay figure dressed up to fill a vacant chair in your drawing-room?"

"Diana!"

"It is all very well to look at me reproachfully, Charlotte. You must
know that I am speaking the truth. You talk of friendship. What is that
word worth if it does not mean care and thought for another? Do you
imagine that Valentine Hawkehurst ever thinks of me, or considers me?"

Charlotte was fain to keep silence. She remembered how very rarely, in
those long afternoons at Newhall farm, the name of Diana Paget had been
mentioned. She remembered how, when she and Valentine were mapping out
the future so pleasantly, she had stopped in the midst of an eloquent
bit of word-painting, descriptive of the little suburban cottage they
were to live in, to dispose of Diana's fate in a sentence,--

"And dear Di can stop at the villa to take care of mamma," she had
said; whereupon Mr. Hawkehurst had assented, with a careless nod, and
the description of the ideal cottage had been continued.

Charlotte remembered this now with extreme contrition. She had been so
supremely happy, and so selfish in her happiness.

"O, Di," she cried, "how selfish happy people are!" And then she
stopped in confusion, perceiving that the remark had little relevance
to Diana's last observation.

"Valentine shall be your friend, dear," she said, after a pause.

"O, you are beginning to answer for him already!" exclaimed Miss Paget,
with increasing bitterness.

"Diana, why are you so unkind to me?" Charlotte cried, passionately.
"Don't you see that I am longing to confide in you? What is it that
makes you so bitter? You must know how truly I love you. And if Mr.
Hawkehurst is not what he once was to you, you must remember how cold
and distant you always are in your manner to him. I am sure, to hear
you speak to him, and to see you look at him sometimes, one would think
he was positively hateful to you. And I want you to like him a little
for my sake."

Miss Halliday left her seat by the window as she said this, and went
towards the table by which her friend was sitting. She crept close to
Diana, and with a half-frightened, half-caressing movement, seated
herself on the low ottoman at her feet, and, seated thus, possessed
herself of Miss Paget's cold hand.

"I want you to like Mr. Hawkehurst a little, Di," she repeated, "for my
sake."

"Very well, I will try to like him a little--for your sake," answered
Miss Paget, in a very unsympathetic tone.

"O, Di! tell me how it was he offended you."

"Who told you that he offended me?"

"Your own manner, dear. You could never have been so cold and distant
with him--having known him go long, and endured so many troubles in his
company--if you had not been deeply offended by him."

"That is your idea, Charlotte; but, you see, I am very unlike you. I am
fitful and capricious. I used to like Mr. Hawkehurst, and now I dislike
him. As to offence, his whole life has offended me, just as my father's
life has offended me, from first to last. I am not good and amiable and
loving, like you; but I hate deceptions and lies; above all, the lies
that some men traffic in day after day."

"Was Valentine's--was your father's life a very bad one?" Charlotte
asked, trembling palpably, and looking up at Miss Paget's face with
anxious eyes.

"Yes, it was a mean false life,--a life of trick and artifice. I do not
know the details of the schemes by which my father and Valentine earned
their daily bread--and my daily bread; but I know they inflicted loss
upon other people. Whether the wrong done was always done deliberately
and consciously upon Valentine's part, I cannot say. He may have been
only a tool of my father's. I hope he was, for the most part an
unconscious tool."

She said all this in a dreamy way, as if uttering her own thoughts,
rather than seeking to enlighten Charlotte.

"I am sure he was an unconscious tool," cried that young lady, with an
air of conviction; "it is not in his nature to do anything false or
dishonourable."

"Indeed! you know him very well, it seems," said Diana.

Ah, what a tempest was raging in that proud passionate heart! what a
strife between the powers of good and evil! Pitying love for Charlotte;
tender compassion for her rival's childlike helplessness; and
unutterable sense of her own loss.

She had loved him so dearly, and he was taken from her. There had been
a time when he almost loved her--almost! Yes, it was the remembrance of
that which made the trial so bitter. The cup had approached her lips,
only to be dashed away for ever.

"What did I ask in life except his love?" she said to herself. "Of all
the pleasures and triumphs which girls of my age enjoy, is there one
that I ever envied? No, I only sighed for his love. To live in a
lodging-house parlour with him, to sit by and watch him at his work, to
drudge for him, to bear with him--this was my brightest dream of
earthly bliss; and she has broken it!"

It was thus Diana argued with herself, as she sat looking down at the
bright creature who had done her this worst, last wrong which one woman
can do to another. This passionate heart, which ached with such cruel
pain, was prone to evil, and to-day the scorpion Jealousy was digging
his sharp tooth into its very core. It was not possible for Diana Paget
to feel kindly disposed towards the girl whose unconscious hand had
shattered the airy castle of her dreams. Was it not a hard thing that
the bright creature, whom every one was ready to adore, must needs
steal away this one heart?

"It has always been like this," thought Diana. "The story of David and
Nathan is a parable that is perpetually being illustrated. David is so
rich--he is lord of incalculable flocks and herds; but he will not be
content till he has stolen the one little ewe lamb, the poor man's pet
and darling."

"Diana," said Miss Halliday very softly, "you are so difficult to talk
to this morning, and I have so much to say to you."

"About your visit, or about Mr. Hawkehurst?"

"About--Yorkshire," answered Charlotte, with the air of a shy child who
has made her appearance at dessert, and is asked whether she will have
a pear or a peach.

"About Yorkshire!" repeated Miss Paget, with a little sigh of relief.
"I shall be very glad to hear about your Yorkshire friends. Was the
visit a pleasant one?"

"Very, very pleasant!" answered Charlotte, dwelling tenderly on the
words.

"How sentimental you have grown, Lotta! I think you must have found a
forgotten shelf of Minerva Press novels in some cupboard at your
aunt's. You have lost all your vivacity."

"Have I?" murmured Charlotte; "and yet I am happier than I was when I
went away. Whom do you think I met at Newhall, Di?"

"I have not the slightest idea. My notions of Yorkshire are very vague.
I fancy the people amiable savages; just a little in advance of the
ancient Britons whom Julius Caesar came over to conquer. Whom did you
meet there? Some country squire, I suppose, who fell in love with your
bright eyes, and wished you to waste the rest of your existence in
those northern wilds."

Miss Paget was not a woman to bare her wounds for the scrutiny of the
friendliest eyes. Let the tooth of the serpent bite never so keenly,
she could meet her sorrows with a bold front. Was she not accustomed to
suffer--she, the scapegoat of defrauded nurses and indignant
landladies, the dependent and drudge of her kinswoman's gynaeceum, the
despised of her father? The flavour of these waters was very familiar
to her lips. The draught was only a little more acrid, a little deeper,
and habit had enabled her to drain the cup without complaining, if not
in a spirit of resignation. To-day she had been betrayed into a brief
outbreak of passion; but the storm had passed, and a more observant
person than Charlotte might have been deceived by her manner.

"Now you are my own Di again," cried Miss Halliday; somewhat cynical at
the best of times, but always candid and true.

Miss Paget winced ever so little as her friend said this.

"No, dear," continued Charlotte, with the faintest spice of coquetry;
"it was not a Yorkshire squire. It was a person you know very well; a
person we have been talking of this morning. O, Di, you must surely
have understood me when I said I wanted you to like him for my sake!"

"Valentine Hawkehurst!" exclaimed Diana.

"Who else, you dear obtuse Di!"

"He was in Yorkshire?"

"Yes, dear. It was the most wonderful thing that ever happened. He
marched up to Newhall gate one morning in the course of his rambles,
without having the least idea that I was to be found in the
neighbourhood. Wasn't it wonderful?"

"What could have taken him to Yorkshire?"

"He came on business."

"But what business?"

"How do I know? Some business of papa's, or of George Sheldon's,
perhaps. And yet that can't be. He is writing a book, I think, about
geology or archaeology--yes, that's it, archaeology."

"Valentine Hawkehurst writing a book on archaeology!" cried Miss Paget.
"You must be dreaming, Charlotte."

"Why so? He does write, does he not?"

"He has been reporter for a newspaper. But he is the last person to
write about archaeology. I think there must be some mistake."

"Well, dear, it may be so. I didn't pay much attention to what he said
about business. It seemed so strange for him to be there, just as much
at home as if he had been one of the family. O, Di, you can't imagine
how kind aunt Dorothy and uncle Joe were to him! They like him so
muchy--and they know we are engaged."

Miss Halliday said these last words almost in a whisper.

"What!" exclaimed Diana, "do you mean to say that you have promised to
marry this man, of whom you know nothing but what is unfavourable?"

"What do I know in his disfavour? Ah, Diana, how unkind you are! and
what a dislike you must have for poor Valentine! Of course, I know he
is not what people call a good match. A good match means that one is to
have a pair of horses, whose health is so uncertain that I am sure
their lives must be a burden to them, if we may judge by our horses;
and a great many servants, who are always conducting themselves in the
most awful manner, if poor mamma's experience is any criterion; and a
big expensive house, which nobody can be prevailed on to dust. No, Di!
that is just the kind of life I hate. What I should like is a dear
little cottage at Highgate or Wimbledon, and a tiny, tiny garden, in
which Valentine and I could walk every morning before he began his
day's work, and where we could drink tea together on summer evenings--a
garden just large enough to grow a few rose-bushes. O. Di! do you think
I want to marry a rich man?"

"No, Charlotte; but I should think you would like to marry a good man."

"Valentine is good. No one but a good man could have been so happy as
he seemed at Newhall farm. That simple country life could not have been
happiness for a bad man."

"And was Valentine Hawkehurst really happy at Newhall?"

"Really--really--really! Don't try to shake my faith in him, Diana; it
is not to be shaken. He has told me a little about the past, though I
can see that it pains him very much to speak of it. He has told me of
his friendless youth, spent amongst unprincipled people, and what a
mere waif and stray he was until he met me. And I am to be his
pole-star, dear, to guide him in the right path. Do you know, Di, I
cannot picture to myself anything sweeter than that--to be a good
influence for the person one loves. Valentine says his whole nature has
undergone a change since he has known me. What am I that I should work
so good a change in my dear one? It is very foolish, is it not, Di?"

"Yes, Charlotte," replied the voice of reason from the lips of Miss
Paget; "it is all foolishness from beginning to end, and I can foresee
nothing but trouble as the result of such folly. What will your mamma
say to such an engagement? or what will Mr. Sheldon say?"

"Yes, that is the question," returned Charlotte, very seriously. "Dear
mamma is one of the kindest creatures in the world, and I'm sure she
would consent to anything rather than see me unhappy. And then, you
know, she likes Valentine very much, because he has given her orders
for the theatres, and all that kind of thing. But, whatever mamma
thinks, she will be governed by what Mr. Sheldon thinks; and of course
he will be against our marriage."

"Our marriage!" It was a settled matter, then--a thing that was to be
sooner or later; and there remained only the question as to how and
when it was to be. Diana sat like a statue, enduring her pain. So may
have suffered the Christian martyrs in their death-agony; so suffers a
woman when the one dear hope of her life is reft from her, and she dare
not cry aloud.

"Mr. Sheldon is the last man in the world to permit such a marriage,"
she said presently.

"Perhaps," replied Charlotte; "but I am not going to sacrifice
Valentine for Mr. Sheldon's pleasure. Mr. Sheldon has full power over
mamma and her fortune, but he has no real authority where I am
concerned. I am as free as air, Diana, and I have not a penny in the
world. Is not that delightful?"

The girl asked this question in all good faith, looking up at her
friend with a radiant countenance. What irony there was in the question
for Diana Paget, whose whole existence had been poisoned by the lack of
that sterling coin of the realm which seemed such sordid dross in the
eyes of Charlotte!

"What do you mean, Charlotte?"

"I mean, that even his worst enemies cannot accuse Valentine of any
mercenary feeling. He does not ask me to marry him for the sake of my
fortune."

"Does he know your real position?"

"Most fully. And now, Diana, tell me that you will try to like him, for
my sake, and that you will be kind, and will speak a good word for me
to mamma by-and-by, when I have told her all."

"When do you mean to tell her?"

"Directly--or almost directly. I scarcely know how to set about it. I
am sure it has been hard enough to tell you."

"My poor Charlotte! What an ungrateful wretch I must be!"

"My dear Diana, you have no reason to be grateful. I love you very
dearly, and I could not live in this house without you. It is I who
have reason to be grateful, when I remember how you bear with mamma's
fidgety ways, and with Mr. Sheldon's gloomy temper, and all for love of
me."

"Yes, Lotta, for love of you," Miss Paget answered, with a sigh; "and I
will do more than that for love of you."

She had her arm round her happy rival's beautiful head, and she was
looking down at the sweet upturned face with supreme tenderness. She
felt no anger against this fair enslaver, who had robbed her of her
little lamb. She only felt some touch of anger against the Providence
which had decreed that the lamb should be so taken.

No suspicion of her friend's secret entered Charlotte Halliday's mind.
In all their intercourse Diana had spoken very little of Valentine; and
in the little she had said there had been always the same half-bitter,
half-disdainful tone. Charlotte, in her simple candour, accepted this
tone as the evidence of Miss Paget's aversion to her father's _protégé_.

"Poor Di does not like to see her father give so much of his friendship
to a stranger while she is neglected," thought Miss Halliday; and
having once jumped at this conclusion, she made no further effort to
penetrate the mysteries of Diana's mind.

She was less than ever inclined to speculation about Diana's feelings
now that she was in love, and blest with the sweet consciousness that
her love was returned. Tender and affectionate as she was, she could
not quite escape that taint of egotism which is the ruling vice of
fortunate lovers. Her mind was not wide enough to hold much more than
one image, which demanded so large a space.



CHAPTER II.

MRS. SHELDON ACCEPTS HER DESTINY.


Miss Halliday had an interview with her mother that evening in Mrs.
Sheldon's dressing-room, while that lady was preparing for rest, with
considerable elaboration of detail in the way of hair-brushing, and
putting away of neck-ribbons and collars and trinkets in smart little
boxes and handy little drawers, all more or less odorous from the
presence of dainty satin-covered sachets. The sachets, and the drawers,
and boxes, and trinkets were Mrs. Sheldon's best anchorage in this
world. Such things as these were the things that made life worth
endurance for this poor weak little woman; and they were more real to
her than her daughter, because more easy to realise. The beautiful
light-hearted girl was a being whose existence had been always
something of a problem for Georgina Sheldon. She loved her after her
own feeble fashion, and would have jealously asserted her superiority
over every other daughter in the universe; but the power to understand
her or to sympathise with her had not been given to that narrow mind.
The only way in which Mrs. Sheldon's affection showed itself was
unquestioning indulgence and the bestowal of frivolous gifts, chosen
with no special regard to Charlotte's requirements, but rather because
they happened to catch Mrs. Sheldon's eye as they glittered or sparkled
in the windows of Bayswater repositories.

Mr. Sheldon happened to be dining out on this particular evening. He
was a guest at a great City feast, to which some of the richest men
upon 'Change had been bidden; so Miss Halliday had an excellent
opportunity for making her confession.

Poor Georgy was not a little startled by the avowal.

"My darling Lotta!" she screamed, "do you think your papa would ever
consent to such a thing?"

"I think my dear father would have consented to anything likely to
secure my happiness, mamma," the girl answered sadly.

She was thinking how different this crisis in her life would have
seemed if the father she had loved so dearly had been spared to counsel
her.

"I was not thinking of my poor dear first husband," said Georgy. This
numbering of her husbands was always unpleasant to Charlotte. It seemed
such a very business-like mode of description to be applied to the
father she so deeply regretted. "I was thinking of your step-papa,"
continued Mrs. Sheldon.

"He would never consent to your marrying Mr. Hawkehurst, who really
seems to have nothing to recommend him except his good looks and an
obliging disposition with regard to orders for the theatres."

"I am not bound to consult my stepfather's wishes. I only want to
please you, mamma."

"But, my dear, I cannot possibly consent to anything that Mr. Sheldon
disapproves."

"O, mamma, dear kind mamma, do have an opinion of your own for once in
a way! I daresay Mr. Sheldon is the best possible judge of everything
connected with the Stock Exchange and the money-market; but don't let
him choose a husband for me. Let me have your approval, mamma, and I
care for no one else. I don't want to marry against your will. But I am
sure you like Mr. Hawkehurst."

Mrs. Sheldon shook her head despondingly.

"It's all very well to like an agreeable young man as an occasional
visitor," she said, "especially when most of one's visitors are
middle-aged City people. But it is a very different thing when one's
only daughter talks of marrying him. I can't imagine what can have put
such an idea as marriage into your head. It is only a few months since
you came home from school; and I fancied that you would have stopped
with me for years before you thought of settling."

Miss Halliday made a wry face.

"Dear mamma," she said, "I don't want to 'settle.' That is what one's
housemaid says, isn't it, when she talks of leaving service and
marrying some young man from the baker's or the grocer's? Valentine and
I are not in a hurry to be married. I am sure, for my own part, I don't
care how long our engagement lasts. I only wish to be quite candid and
truthful with you, mamma; and I thought it a kind of duty to tell you
that he loves me, and that--I love him--very dearly."

These last words were spoken with extreme shyness.

Mrs. Sheldon laid down her hair-brushes while she contemplated her
daughter's blushing face. Those blushes had become quite a chronic
affection with Miss Halliday of late.

"But, good gracious me, Charlotte," she exclaimed, growing peevish in
her sense of helplessness, "who is to tell Mr. Sheldon?"

"There is no necessity for Mr. Sheldon to be enlightened yet awhile,
mamma. It is to you I owe duty and obedience--not to him. Pray keep my
secret, kindest and most indulgent of mothers, and--and ask Valentine
to come and see you now and then."

"Ask him to come and see me, Charlotte! You must know very well that I
never invite any one to dinner except at Mr. Sheldon's wish. I am sure
I quite tremble at the idea of a dinner. There is such trouble about
the waiting, and such dreadful uncertainty about the cooking. And if
one has it all done by Birch's people, one's cook gives warning next
morning," added poor Georgy, with a dismal recollection of recent
perplexities. "I am sure I often wish myself young again, in the dairy
at Hyley farm, making matrimony cakes for a tea-party, with a ring and
a fourpenny-piece hidden in the middle. I'm sure the Hyley tea-parties
were pleasanter than Mr. Sheldon's dinners, with those solemn City
people, who can't exist without clear turtle and red mullet."

"Ah, mother dear, our lives were altogether happier in those days. I
delight in the Yorkshire tea-parties, and the matrimony cakes, and all
the talk and laughter about the fourpenny-piece and the ring. I
remember getting the fourpenny-piece at Newhall last year. And that
means that one is to die an old maid, you know. And now I am engaged.
As to the dinners, mamma, Mr. Sheldon may keep them all for himself and
his City friends. Valentine is the last person in the world to care for
clear turtle. If you will let him drop in sometimes of an
afternoon--say once a week or so--when you, and I, and Diana are
sitting at our work in the drawing-room, and if you will let him hand
us our cups at our five-o'clock tea, he will be the happiest of men. He
adores tea. You'll let him come, won't you, dear? O, mamma, I feel just
like a servant who asks to be allowed to see her 'young man.' Will you
let my 'young man' come to tea once in a way?"

"Well, Charlotte, I'm sure I don't know," said Mrs. Sheldon, with
increasing helplessness. "It's really a very dreadful position for me
to be placed in."

"Quite appalling, is it not, mamma? But then I suppose it is a position
that people afflicted with daughters must come to sooner or later."

"If it were the mere civility of asking him to tea," pursued poor
Georgy, heedless of this flippant interruption, "I'm sure I should be
the last to make any objection. Indeed, I am under a kind of obligation
to Mr. Hawkehurst, for his polite attention has enabled us to go to the
theatres very often when your papa would not have thought of buying
tickets. But then, you see, Lotta, the question in point is not his
coming to our five-o'clock tea--which seems really a perfect mockery to
any one brought up in Yorkshire--but whether you are to be engaged to
him."

"Dear mamma, _that_ is not a question at all, for I am already engaged
to him."

"But, Charlotte--"

"I do not think I could bring myself to disobey you, dear mother,"
continued the girl tenderly; "and if you tell me, of your own free
will, and acting on your conviction, that I am not to marry him, I must
bow my head to your decision, however hard it may seem. But one thing
is quite certain, mamma: I have given my promise to Valentine; and if I
do not marry him, I shall never marry at all; and then the dreadful
augury of the fourpenny-piece will be verified."

Miss Halliday pronounced this determination with a decision of manner
that quite overawed her mother. It had been the habit of Georgy's mind
to make a feeble protest against all the mutations of life, but in the
end to submit very quietly to the inevitable; and since Valentine
Hawkehurst's acceptance as Charlotte's future husband seemed
inevitable, she was fain to submit in this instance also.

Valentine was allowed to call at the Lawn, and was received with a
feeble, half-plaintive graciousness by the lady of the house. He was
invited to stop for the five-o'clock tea, and availed himself
rapturously of this delightful privilege. His instinct told him what
gentle hand had made the meal so dainty and home-like, and for whose
pleasure the phantasmal pieces of bread-and-butter usually supplied by
the trim parlour-maid had given place to a salver loaded with innocent
delicacies in the way of pound-cake and apricot jam.

Mr. Hawkehurst did his uttermost to deserve so much indulgence. He
scoured London in search of free admissions for the theatres, hunting
"Ragamuffins" and members of the Cibber Club, and other privileged
creatures, at all their places of resort. He watched for the advent of
novels adapted to Georgy's capacity--lively records of croquêt and
dressing and love-making, from smart young Amazons in the literary
ranks, or deeply interesting romances of the sensation school, with at
least nine deaths in the three volumes, and a comic housemaid, or a
contumacious "Buttons," to relieve the gloom by their playful
waggeries. He read Tennyson or Owen Meredith, or carefully selected
"bits" from the works of a younger and wilder bard, while the ladies
worked industriously at their prie-dieu chairs, or Berlin brioches, or
Shetland couvrepieds, as the case might be. The patroness of a fancy
fair would scarcely have smiled approvingly on the novel effects in
_crochet à tricoter_ produced by Miss Halliday during these pleasant
lectures.

"The rows will come wrong," she said piteously, "and Tennyson's poetry
is so very absorbing!"

Mr. Hawkehurst showed himself to be possessed of honourable, not to say
delicate, feelings in his new position. The gothic villa was his
paradise, and the gates had been freely opened to admit him whensoever
he chose to come. Georgy was just the sort of person from whom people
take ells after having asked for inches; and once having admitted Mr.
Hawkehurst as a privileged guest, she would have found it very
difficult to place any restriction upon the number of his visits.
Happily for this much-perplexed matron, Charlotte and her lover were
strictly honourable. Mr. Hawkehurst never made his appearance at the
villa more than once in the same week, though the "once a week or so"
asked for by Charlotte might have been stretched to a wider
significance.

When Valentine obtained orders for the theatre, he sent them by post,
scrupulously refraining from making them the excuse for a visit.

"That was all very well when I was a freebooter," he said to himself,
"only admitted on sufferance, and liable to have the door shut in my
face any morning. But I am trusted now, and I must prove myself worthy
of my future mother-in-law's confidence. Once a week! One seventh day
of unspeakable happiness--bliss without alloy! The six other days are
very long and dreary. But then they are only the lustreless setting in
which that jewel the seventh shines so gloriously. Now, if I were
Waller, what verses I would sing about my love! Alas, I am only a
commonplace young man, and can find no new words in which to tell the
old sweet story!"

If the orders for stalls and private boxes were not allowed to serve as
an excuse for visits, they at least necessitated the writing of
letters; and no human being, except a lover, would have been able to
understand why such long letters must needs be written about such a
very small business. The letters secured replies; and when the order
sent was for a box, Mr. Hawkehurst was generally invited to occupy a
seat in it. Ah, what did it matter on those happy nights how hackneyed
the plot of the play, how bald the dialogue, how indifferent the
acting! It was all alike delightful to those two spectators: for a
light that shone neither on earth nor sky brightened everything they
looked on when they sat side by side.

And during all these pleasant afternoons at the villa, or evenings at
the theatre, Diana Paget had to sit by and witness the happiness which
she had dreamed might some day be hers. It was a part of her duty to be
present on these occasions, and she performed that duty punctiliously.
She might have made excuses for absenting herself, but she was too
proud to make any such excuses.

"Am I such a coward as to tell a lie in order to avoid a little pain
more or less? If I say I have a headache, and stay in my own room while
he is here, will the afternoon seem any more pleasant or any shorter to
me? The utmost difference would be the difference between a dull pain
and a sharp pain; and I think the sharper agony is easier to bear."
Having argued with herself thus, Miss Paget endured her weekly
martyrdom with Spartan fortitude.

"What have I lost?" she said to herself, as she stole a furtive glance
now and then at the familiar face of her old companion. "What is this
treasure, the loss of which makes me seem to myself such an abject
wretch? Only the love of a man who at his best is not worthy of this
girl's pure affection, and at his worst must have been unworthy even of
mine. But then at his worst he is dearer to me than the best man who
ever lived upon this earth."



CHAPTER III.

MR. HAWKEHURST AND MR. GEORGE SHELDON COME TO AN UNDERSTANDING.


There was no such thing as idleness for Valentine Hawkehurst during
these happy days of his courtship. The world was his oyster, and that
oyster was yet unopened. For some years he had been hacking and hewing
the shell thereof with the sword of the freebooter, to very little
advantageous effect. He now set himself seriously to work with the
pickaxe of the steady-going labourer. He was a secessionist from the
great army of adventurers. He wanted to enrol himself in the ranks of
the respectable, the plodders, the ratepayers, the simple citizens who
love their wives and children, and go to their parish church on
Sundays. He had an incentive to steady industry, which had hitherto
been wanting in his life. He was beloved, and any shame that came to
him would be a still more bitter humiliation for the woman who loved
him.

He felt that the very first step in the difficult path of
respectability would be a step that must separate him from Captain
Paget; but just now separation from that gentleman seemed scarcely
advisable. If there was any mischief in that Ullerton expedition, any
collusion between the Captain and the Reverend Goodge, it would
assuredly be well for Valentine to continue a mode of life which
enabled him to be tolerably well informed as to the movements of the
slippery Horatio. In all the outside positions of life expedience must
ever be the governing principle, and expedience forbade any immediate
break with Captain Paget.

"Whatever you do, keep your eye upon the Captain," said George Sheldon,
in one of many interviews, all bearing upon the Haygarth succession.
"If there is any underhand work going on between him and Philip, you
must be uncommonly slow of perception if you can't ferret it out. I'm
very sorry you met Charlotte Halliday in the north, for of course Phil
must have heard of your appearance in Yorkshire, and that will set him
wondering at any rate, especially as lie will no doubt have heard the
Dorking story from Paget. He pretended he saw you leave town the day
you went to Ullerton, but I am half inclined to believe that was only a
trap."

"I don't think Mr. Sheldon has heard of my appearance in Yorkshire yet."

"Indeed! Miss Charlotte doesn't care to make a confidant of her
stepfather, I suppose. Keep her in that mind, Hawkehurst. If you play
your cards well, you ought to be able to get her to marry you on the
quiet." "I don't think that would be possible. In fact, I am sure
Charlotte would not marry without her mother's consent," answered
Valentine, thoughtfully.

"And of course that means my brother Philip's consent," exclaimed
George Sheldon, with contemptuous impatience. "What a slow, bungling
fellow you are, Hawkehurst! Here is an immense fortune waiting for you,
and a pretty girl in love with you, and you dawdle and deliberate as if
you were going to the dentist's to have a tooth drawn. You've fallen
into a position that any man in London might envy, and you don't seem
to have the smallest capability of appreciating your good luck."

"Well, perhaps I am rather slow to realise the idea of my good
fortune," answered Valentine, still very thoughtfully. "You see, in the
first place, I can't get over a shadowy kind of feeling with regard to
that Haygarthian fortune. It is too far away from my grasp, too large,
too much of the stuff that dreams and novels are made of. And, in the
second place, I love Miss Halliday so fondly and so truly that I don't
like the notion of making my marriage with her any part of the bargain
between you and me."

Mr. Sheldon contemplated his confederate with unmitigated disdain.
"Don't try that sort of thing with me, Hawkehurst," he said; "that
sentimental dodge may answer very well with some men, but I'm about the
last to be taken in by it. You are playing fast-and-loose with me, and
you want to throw me over--as my brother Phil would throw me over, if
he got the chance."

"I am not playing fast-and-loose with you," replied Valentine, too
disdainful of Mr. Sheldon for indignation. "I have worked for you
faithfully, and kept your secret honourably, when I had every
temptation to reveal it. You drove your bargain with me, and I have
performed my share of the bargain to the letter. But if you think I am
going to drive a bargain with you about my marriage with Miss Halliday,
you are very much mistaken. That lady will marry me when she pleases,
but she shall not be entrapped into a clandestine marriage for your
convenience." "O, that's your ultimatum, is it, Mr. Joseph Surface?"
said the lawyer, biting his nails fiercely, and looking askant at his
ally, with angry eyes. "I wonder you don't wind up by saying that the
man who could trade upon a virtuous woman's affection for the
advancement of his fortune, deserves to--get it hot, as our modern
slang has it. Then I am to understand that you decline to precipitate
matters?"

"I most certainly do."

"And the Haygarth business is to remain in abeyance while Miss Halliday
goes through the tedious formula of a sentimental courtship?"

"I suppose so."

"Humph! that's pleasant for me."

"Why should you make the advancement of Miss Halliday's claims
contingent on her marriage? Why not assert her rights at once?"

"Because I will not trust my brother Philip. The day that you show me
the certificate of your marriage with Charlotte Halliday is the day on
which I shall make my first move in this business. I told you the other
day that I would rather make a bargain with you than with my brother."

"And what kind of bargain do you expect to make with me when Miss
Halliday is my wife?"

"I'll tell you, Valentine Hawkehurst," replied the lawyer, squaring his
elbows upon his desk in his favourite attitude, and looking across the
table at his coadjutor; "I like to be open and above-board when I can,
and I'll be plain with you in this matter. I want a clear half of John
Haygarth's fortune, and I think that I've a very fair claim to that
amount. The money can only be obtained by means of the documents in my
possession, and but for me that money might have remained till doomsday
unclaimed and unthought of by the descendant of Matthew Haygarth. Look
at it which way you will, I think you'll allow that my demand is a just
one."

"I don't say that it is unjust, though it certainly seems a little
extortionate," replied Valentine. "However, if Charlotte were my wife,
and were willing to cede half the fortune, I'm not the man to dispute
the amount of your reward. When the time comes for bargain-driving,
you'll not find me a difficult person to deal with.

"And when may I expect your marriage with Miss Halliday?" asked George
Sheldon, rapping his hard finger-nails upon the table with suppressed
impatience. "Since you elect to conduct matters in the grand style, and
must wait for mamma's consent and papa's consent, and goodness knows
what else in the way of absurdity, I suppose the delay will be for an
indefinite space of time." "I don't know about that. I'm not likely to
put off the hour in which I shall call that dear girl my own. I asked
her to be my wife before I knew that she had the blood of Matthew
Haygarth in her veins, and the knowledge of her claim to this fortune
does not make her one whit the dearer to me, penniless adventurer as I
am. If poetry were at all in your line, Mr. Sheldon, you might know
that a man's love for a good woman is generally better than himself. He
may be a knave and a scoundrel, and yet his love for that one perfect
creature may be almost as pure and perfect as herself. That's a
psychological mystery out of the way of Gray's Inn, isn't it?"

"If you'll oblige me by talking common sense for about five minutes,
you may devote your powerful intellect to the consideration of
psychological mysteries for a month at a stretch," exclaimed the
aggravated lawyer.

"O, don't you see how I struggle to be hard-headed and practical!"
cried Valentine; "but a man who is over head and ears in love finds it
rather hard to bring all his ideas to the one infallible grindstone.
You ask me when I am to marry Charlotte Halliday. To-morrow, if our
Fates smile upon us. Mrs. Sheldon knows of our engagement, and consents
to it, but in some manner under protest. I am not to take my dear girl
away from her mother for some time to come. The engagement is to be a
long one. In the mean time I am working hard to gain some kind of
position in literature, for I want to be sure of an income before I
marry, without reference to John Haygarth; and I am a privileged guest
at the villa."

"But my brother Phil has been told nothing?"

"As yet nothing. My visits are paid while he is in the City; and as I
often went to the villa before my engagement, he is not likely to
suspect anything when he happens to hear my name mentioned as a
visitor."

"And do you really think he is in the dark--my brother Philip, who can
turn a man's brains inside out in half an hour's conversation? Mark my
words, Valentine Hawkehurst, that man is only playing with you as a cat
plays with a mouse. He used to see you and Charlotte together before
you went to Yorkshire, and he must have seen the state of the case
quite as plainly as I saw it. He has heard of your visits to the villa
since your return, and has kept a close account of them, and made his
own deductions, depend upon it. And some day, while you and pretty Miss
Charlotte are enjoying your fool's paradise, he will pounce upon you
just as puss pounces on poor mousy."

This was rather alarming, and Valentine felt that it was very likely to
be correct.

"Mr. Sheldon may play the part of puss as he pleases," he replied after
a brief pause for deliberation; "this is a case in which he dare not
show his claws. He has no authority to control Miss Halliday's actions."

"Perhaps not, but he would find means for preventing her marriage if it
was to his interest to do so. He is not _your_ brother, you see, Mr.
Hawkehurst; but he is mine, and I know a good deal about him. His
interest may not be concerned in hindering his stepdaughter's marriage
with a penniless scapegrace. He may possibly prefer such a bridegroom
as less likely to make himself obnoxious by putting awkward questions
about poor Tom Halliday's money, every sixpence of which he means to
keep, of course. If his cards are packed for that kind of marriage,
he'll welcome you to his arms as a son-in-law, and give you his
benediction as well as his stepdaughter. So I think if you can contrive
to inform him of your engagement, without letting him know of your
visit to Yorkshire, it might be a stroke of diplomacy. He might be glad
to get rid of the girl, and might hasten on the marriage of his own
volition."

"He might be glad to get rid of the girl." In the ears of Valentine
Hawkehurst this sounded rank blasphemy. Could there be any one upon
this earth, even a Sheldon, incapable of appreciating the privilege of
that divine creature's presence?



CHAPTER IV.

MR. SHELDON IS PROPITIOUS


It was not very long before Valentine Hawkehurst had reason to respect
the wisdom of his legal patron. Within a few days of his interview with
George Sheldon he paid his weekly visit to the villa. Things were going
very well with him, and life altogether seemed brighter than he had
ever hoped to find it. He had set himself steadily to work to win some
kind of position in literature. He devoted his days to diligent study
in the reading-room of the British Museum, his nights to writing for
the magazines. His acquaintance with press-men had stood him in good
stead; and already he had secured the prompt acceptance of his work in
more than one direction. The young _littérateur_ of the present day has
not such a very hard fight for a livelihood, if his pen has only a
certain lightness and dash, a rattling vivacity and airy grace. It is
only the marvellous boys who come to London with epic poems,
Anglo-Saxon tragedies, or metaphysical treatises in their portmanteaus,
who must needs perish in their prime, or stoop to the drudgery of
office or counting-house.

Valentine Hawkehurst had no vague yearnings after the fame of a Milton,
no inner consciousness that he had been born to stamp out the
footprints of Shakespeare on the sands of time, no unhealthy hungering
after the gloomy grandeur of Byron. He had been brought up amongst
people who treated literature as a trade as well as an art;--and what
art is not more or less a trade? He knew the state of the market, and
what kind of goods were likely to go off briskly, and it was for the
market he worked. When gray shirtings were in active demand, he set his
loom for gray shirtings; and when the buyers clamoured for fancy goods,
he made haste to produce that class of fabrics. In this he proved
himself a very low-minded and ignominious creature, no doubt; but was
not one Oliver Goldsmith glad to take any order which good Mr. Newberry
might give him, only writing the "Traveller" and the story of Parson
Primrose _pour se distraire_?

Love lent wings to the young essayist's pen. It is to be feared that in
roving among those shelves in Great Russell-street he showed himself
something of a freebooter, taking his "bien" wherever it was to be
found; but did not Molière frankly acknowledge the same practice? Mr.
Hawkehurst wrote about anything and everything. His brain must needs be
a gigantic storehouse of information, thought the respectful reader. He
skipped from Pericles to Cromwell, from Cleopatra to Mary Stuart, from
Sappho to Madame de Sablé; and he wrote of these departed spirits with
such a charming impertinence, with such a delicious affectation of
intimacy, that one would have thought he had sat by Cleopatra as she
melted her pearls, and stood amongst the audience of Pericles when he
pronounced his funeral oration. "With the De Sablé and the Chevreuse,
Ninon and Marion, Maintenon and La Vallière, Anne of Austria and the
great Mademoiselle of France, he seemed to have lived in daily
companionship, so amply did he expatiate upon the smallest details of
their existences, so tenderly did he dwell on their vanished beauties,
their unforgotten graces."

The work was light and pleasant; and the monthly cheques from the
proprietors of a couple of rival periodicals promised, to amount to the
income which the adventurer had sighed for as he trod the Yorkshire
moorland. He had asked Destiny to give him Charlotte Halliday and three
hundred a year, and lo! while yet the wish was new, both these
blessings seemed within his grasp. It could scarcely be a matter for
repining it the Fates should choose to throw in an odd fifty thousand
pounds or so.

But was not all this something too much of happiness for a man whose
feet had trodden in evil ways? Were not the Fates mocking this
travel-stained wayfarer with bright glimpses of a paradise whose gates
he was never to pass?

This was the question which Valentine Hawkehurst was fain to ask
himself sometimes; this doubt was the shadow which sometimes made a
sudden darkness that obscured the sunshine.

Happily for Charlotte's true lover, the shadow did not often come
between him and the light of those dear eyes which were his pole-stars.

The December days were shortening as the year drew to its close, and
afternoon tea seemed more than ever delightful to Charlotte and her
betrothed, now that it could be enjoyed in the mysterious half light; a
glimmer of chill gray day looking coldly in at the unshrouded window
like some ghostly watcher envying these mortals their happiness, and
the red glow of the low fire reflected upon every curve and facet of
the shining steel grate.

To sit by the fire at five o'clock in the afternoon, watching the
changeful light upon Charlotte's face, the rosy glow that seemed to
linger caressingly on broad low brow and sweet ripe lips, the deep
shadows that darkened eyes and hair, was bliss unspeakable for Mr.
Hawkehurst. The lovers talked the prettiest nonsense to each other,
while Mrs. Sheldon dozed placidly behind the friendly shelter of a
banner-screen hooked on to the chimney-piece, or conversed with Diana
in a monotonous undertone, solemnly debating the relative wisdom of
dyeing or turning in relation to a faded silk dress.

Upon one special evening Valentine lingered just a little longer than
usual. Christmas was near at hand, and the young man had brought his
liege lady tribute in the shape of a bundle of Christmas literature.
Tennyson had been laid aside in favour of the genial Christmas fare,
which had the one fault, that it came a fortnight before the jovial
season, and in a manner fore-stalled the delights of that time-honoured
period, making the season itself seem flat and dull, and turkey and
plum-pudding the stalest commodities in the world when they did come.
How, indeed, can a man do full justice to his aunt Tabitha's
plum-pudding, or his uncle Joe's renowned rum-punch, if he has quaffed
the steaming-bowl with the "Seven Poor Travellers," or eaten his
Christmas dinner at the "Kiddleawink" a fortnight beforehand? Are not
the chief pleasures of life joys as perishable as the bloom on a peach
or the freshness of a rose?

Valentine had read the ghastliest of ghost-stories, and the most
humorous of word-pictures, for the benefit of the audience in Mrs.
Sheldon's drawing-room; and now, after tea, they sat by the fire
talking of the ghost-story, and discussing that unanswerable question
about the possibility of such spiritual appearances, which seems to
have been debated ever since the world began.

"Dr. Johnson believed in ghosts," said Valentine.

"O, please spare us Dr. Johnson," cried Charlotte, with seriocomic
intensity. "What is it that obliges magazine-writers to be perpetually
talking about Dr. Johnson? If they must dig up persons from the past,
why can't they dig up newer persons than that poor ill-used doctor?"

The door opened with a hoarse groan, and Mr. Sheldon came into the room
while Miss Halliday was making her playful protest. She stopped,
somewhat confused by that sudden entrance.

There is a statue of the Commandant in every house, at whose coming
hearts grow cold and lips are suddenly silent. It was the first time
that the master of the villa had interrupted one of these friendly
afternoon teas, and Mrs. Sheldon and her daughter felt that a domestic
crisis was at hand.

"How's this?" cried the stockbroker's strong hard voice; "you seem all
in the dark."

He took a wax-match from a little gilt stand on the mantelpiece and
lighted two flaring lamps. He was the sort of man who is always eager
to light the gas when people are sitting in the gloaming, meditative
and poetical. He let the broad glare of common sense in upon their
foolish musings, and scared away Robin Goodfellow and the fairies by
means of the Western Gaslight Company's illuminating medium.

The light of those two flaring jets of gas revealed Charlotte Halliday
looking shyly at the roses on the carpet, and trifling nervously with
one of the show-books on the table. The same light revealed Valentine
Hawkehurst standing by the young lady's chair, and looking at Mr.
Sheldon with a boldness of countenance that was almost defiance. Poor
Georgy's face peered out from behind her favourite banner-screen,
looking from one to the other in evident alarm. Diana sat in her
accustomed corner, watchful, expectant, awaiting the domestic storm.

To the surprise of every one except Mr. Sheldon, there was no storm,
not even the lightest breeze that ever blew in domestic hemispheres.
The stockbroker saluted his stepdaughter with a friendly nod, and
greeted her lover with a significant grin.

"How d'ye do, Hawkehurst?" he said, in his pleasantest manner. "It's an
age since I've seen you. You're going in for literature, I hear; and a
very good thing too, if you can make it pay. I understand there are
some fellows who really do make that sort of thing pay. Seen my brother
George lately? Yes, I suppose you and George are quite a Damon and
What's-his-name. You're going to dine here to-night, of course? I
suppose we may go in to dinner at once, eh, Georgy?--it's half-past
six."

Mr. Hawkehurst made some faint pretence of having a particular
engagement elsewhere; for, supposing Sheldon to be unconscious, he
scorned to profit by that gentleman's ignorance. And then, having
faltered his refusal, he looked at Charlotte, and Charlotte's eyes
cried "Stay," as plainly as such lovely eyes can speak. So the end of
it was, that he stayed and partook of the Sheldonian crimped skate, and
the Sheldonian roast-beef and tapioca-pudding, and tasted some especial
Moselle, which, out of the kindliness of his nature, Mr. Sheldon opened
for his stepdaughter's betrothed.

After dinner there were oranges and crisp uncompromising biscuits, that
made an explosive noise like the breaking of windows whenever any one
ventured to tamper with them; item, a decanter of sherry in a silver
stand; item, a decanter of port, which Mr. Sheldon declared to be
something almost too good to be drunk, and to the merits of which
Valentine was supremely indifferent. The young man would fain have
followed his delight when she accompanied her mamma and Diana to the
drawing-room; but Mr. Sheldon detained him.

"I want a few words with you, Hawkehurst," he said; and Charlotte's
cheeks flamed red as peonies at sound of this alarming sentence. "You
shall go after the ladies presently, and they shall torture that poor
little piano to their hearts' delight for your edification. I won't
detain you many minutes. You had really better try that port."

Valentine closed the door upon the departing ladies, and went back to
his seat very submissively. If there were any battle to be fought out
between him and Philip Sheldon, the sooner the trumpet sounded to arms
the better.

"His remarkable civility almost inclines me to think that he does
really want to get rid of that dear girl," Valentine said to himself,
as he filled his glass and gravely awaited Mr. Sheldon's pleasure.

"Now then, my dear Hawkehurst," began that gentleman, squaring himself
in his comfortable arm-chair, and extending his legs before the cheery
fire, "let us have a little friendly chat. I am not given to beating
about the bush, you know, and whatever I have to say I shall say in
very plain words. In the first place, I hope you have not so poor an
opinion of my perceptive faculties as to suppose that I don't see what
is going on between you and Miss Lotta yonder."

"My dear Mr. Sheldon, I--"

"Hear what I have to say first, and make your protestations afterwards.
You needn't be alarmed; you won't find me quite as bad as the
stepmother one reads about in the story-books, who puts her
stepdaughter into a pie, and all that kind of thing. I suppose
stepfathers have been a very estimable class, by the way, as it is the
stepmother who always drops in for it in the story-books. You'll find
mo very easy to deal with, Mr. Hawkehurst, always provided that you
deal in a fair and honourable manner."

"I have no wish to be underhand in my dealings," Valentine said boldly.
And indeed this was the truth. His inclination prompted him to candour,
even with Mr. Sheldon; but that fatal necessity which is the governing
principle of the adventurer's life obliged him to employ the arts of
finesse.

"Good," cried Mr. Sheldon, in the cheery, pleasant tone of an
easy-going man of the world, who is not too worldly to perform a
generous action once in a way. "All I ask is frankness. You and
Charlotte have fallen in love with one another--why, I can't imagine,
except on the hypothesis that a decent-looking young woman and a
decent-looking young man can't meet half a dozen times without
beginning to think of Gretna-green, or St. George's, Hanover-square. Of
course a marriage with you, looked at from a common-sense point of
view, would be about the worst thing that could happen to my wife's
daughter. She's a very fine girl" (a man of the Sheldonian type would
call Aphrodité herself a fine girl), "and might marry some awfully rich
City swell with vineries and pineries and succession-houses at
Tulse-hill or Highgate, if I chose to put her in the way of that sort
of thing. But then, you see, the worst of it is, a man seldom comes to
vineries and pineries at Tulse-hill till he is on the shady side of
forty; and as I am not in favour of mercenary marriages, I don't care
to force any of my City connection upon poor Lotta. In the
neighbourhood of the Stock Exchange there is no sharper man of business
than your humble servant; but I don't care to bring business habits to
Bayswater. Long before Lotta left school, I had made up my mind never
to come between her and her own inclination in the matrimonial line;
therefore, if she truly and honestly loves you, and if you truly and
honestly love her, I am not the man to forbid the bans."

"My dear Mr. Sheldon, how shall I ever thank you for this!" cried
Valentine, surprised into a belief in the purity of the stockbroker's
intentions.

"Don't be in a hurry," replied that gentleman coolly; "you haven't
heard me out yet. Though I may consent to take the very opposite line
of conduct which I might be expected to take as a man of the world, I
am not going to allow you and Charlotte to make fools of yourselves.
There must be no love-in-a-cottage business, no marrying on nothing a
year, with the expectation that papa and mamma will make up the
difference between that and a comfortable income. In plain English, if
I consent to receive you as Charlotte's future husband, you and she
must consent to wait until you can, to my entire satisfaction, prove
yourself in a position to keep a wife." Valentine sighed doubtfully.

"I don't think either Miss Halliday or I are in an unreasonable hurry
to begin life together," he said thoughtfully; "but there must be some
fixed limit to our probation. I am afraid the waiting will be a very
long business, if I am to obtain a position that will satisfy you
before I ask my dear girl to share my fate."

"Are your prospects so very black?"

"No; to my mind they seem wonderfully bright. But the earnings of a
magazine-writer will scarcely come up to your idea of an independence.
Just now I am getting about ten pounds a month. With industry, I may
stretch that ten to twenty; and with luck I might make the twenty into
thirty--forty--fifty. A man has only to achieve something like a
reputation in order to make a handsome living by his pen."

"I am very glad to hear that," said Mr. Sheldon; "and when you can
fairly demonstrate to me that you are earning thirty pounds a month,
you shall have my consent to your marriage with Charlotte, and I will
do what I can to give you a fair start in life. I suppose you know that
she hasn't a sixpence in the world, that she can call her own?"

This was a trying question for Valentine Hawkehurst, and Mr. Sheldon
looked at him with a sharp scrutinising glance as he awaited a reply.
The young man flushed crimson, and grew pale again before he spoke.

"Yes," he said, "I have long been aware that Miss Halliday has no legal
claim on her father's fortune."

"There you have hit the mark," cried Mr. Sheldon. "She has no claim to
a sixpence in law; but to an honourable man that is not the question.
Poor Halliday's money amounted in all to something like eighteen
thousand pounds. That sum passed into my possession when I married my
poor friend's widow, who had too much respect for me to hamper my
position as a man of business by any legal restraints that would have
hindered my making the wisest use of her money. I have used that money,
and I need scarcely tell you that I have employed it with considerable
advantage to myself and Georgy. I therefore can afford to be generous,
and I mean to be so; but the manner in which I do things must be of my
own choosing. My own children are dead, and there is no one belonging
to one that stands in Miss Halliday's way. When I die she will inherit
a handsome fortune. And if she marries with my approval, I shall
present her with a very comfortable dowry. I think you will allow that
this is fair enough."

"Nothing could be fairer or more generous," replied Valentine with
enthusiasm.

Mr. Sheldon's agreeable candour had entirely subjugated him. Despite of
all that George had said to his brother's prejudice, he was ready to
believe implicitly in Philip's fair dealing.

"And in return for this I ask something on your part," said Mr.
Sheldon. "I want you to give me your promise that you will take no
serious step without my knowledge. You won't steal a march upon me. You
won't walk off with Charlotte some fine morning and marry her at a
registry-office, or anything of that kind, eh?"

"I will not," answered Valentine resolutely, with a very unpleasant
recollection of his dealings with George Sheldon.

"Give me your hand upon that," cried the stockbroker.

Upon this the two men shook hands, and Valentine's fingers were almost
crushed in the cold hard grip of Mr. Sheldon's muscular hand. And now
there came upon Valentine's ear the sound of one of Mendelssohn's
_Lieder ohne Worte_, tenderly played by the gentle hands he knew so
well. And the lover began to feel that he could no longer sit sipping
the stockbroker's port with a hypocritical pretence of appreciation,
and roasting himself before the blazing fire, the heat whereof was
multiplied to an insufferable degree by grate and fender of reflecting
steel.

Mr. Sheldon was not slow to perceive his guest's impatience, and having
made exactly the impression he wanted to make, was quite willing that
the interview should come to an end.

"You had better be off to the drawing-room," he said, good naturedly;
"I see you are in that stage of the fever in which masculine society is
only a bore. You can go and hear Charlotte play, while I read the
evening papers and write a few letters. You can let her know that you
and I understand each other. Of course we shall see you very often.
You'll eat your Christmas turkey with us, and so on; and I shall trust
to your honour for the safe keeping of that promise you made me just
now," said Mr. Sheldon.

"And I shall keep an uncommonly close watch upon you and the young
lady, my friend," added that gentleman, communing with his own thoughts
as he crossed the smart little hall, where two Birmingham iron knights
in chain armour bestrode their gallant chargers, on two small tables of
sham malachite.

Mr. Sheldon's library was not a very inspiring apartment. His ideas of
a _sanctum sanctorum_ did not soar above the commonplace. A decent
square room, furnished with plenty of pigeon-holes, a neat brass scale
for the weighing of letters, a copying-press, a waste-paper basket, a
stout brass-mounted office inkstand capable of holding a quart or so of
ink, and a Post-office Directory, were all he asked for his hours of
leisure and meditation. In a handsome glazed bookcase, opposite his
writing-table, appeared a richly-bound edition of the _Waverley_
_Novels_, Knight's _Shakespeare_, Hume and Smollett, Fielding,
Goldsmith, and Gibbon; but, except when Georgy dusted the sacred
volumes with her own fair hands, the glass doors of the bookcase were
never opened.

Mr. Sheldon turned on the gas, seated himself at his comfortable
writing-table, and took up his pen. A quire of office note-paper, with
his City address upon it, lay ready beneath his hand; but he did not
begin to write immediately. He sat for some time with his elbows on the
table, and his chin in his hands, meditating with dark fixed brows.

"Can I trust her?" he asked himself. "Is it safe to have her near
me--after--after what she said to me in Fitzgeorge-street? Yes, I think
I can trust her, up to a certain point; but beyond that I must be on my
guard. She might be more dangerous than a stranger. One thing is quite
clear--she must be provided for somehow or other. The question is,
whether she is to be provided for in this house or out of it; and
whether I can make her serve me as I want to be served?"

This was the gist of Mr. Sheldon's meditations; but they lasted for
some time. The question which he had to settle was an important one,
and he was too wise a man not to contemplate a subject from every
possible point of sight before arriving at his decision. He took a
letter-clip from one side of his table, and turned over several open
letters in search of some particular document.

He came at last to the letter he wanted. It was written on very common
note-paper, with brown-looking ink, and the penmanship was evidently
that of an uneducated person; but Mr. Sheldon studied its contents with
the air of a man who is dealing with no unimportant missive.

This was the letter which so deeply interested the stockbroker:--


"HONORED SIR--This coms hopping that You and Your Honored ladie are
well has it leevs me tho nott so strong has i coud wish wich his nott
too bee expect at my time off life my pore neffew was tooke with the
tyfus last tewsday weak was giv over on thirsday and we hav berried him
at kensil grean Honored Mr. Sheldon I hav now no home my pore neece
must go hout into survis. Luckly there har no Childring and the pore
gurl can gett hur living as housmade wich she were in survis hat hi
gate befor she marrid my pore Joseff Honored sir i ham trewly sorry too
trubbel you butt i think for hold times you will forgiv the libertey
off this letter i would nott hintrewd on you iff i had enny frend to
help me in my old aig,

"Your obeddient survent."

"17 Litle Tottles-yarde lambeft."

AN WOOLPER


"No friend to help her in her old age," muttered Mr. Sheldon; "that
means that she intends to throw herself upon me for the rest of her
life, and to put me to the expense of burying her when she is so
obliging as to die. Very pleasant, upon my word! A man has a servant in
the days of his poverty, pays her every fraction he owes her in the
shape of wages, and wishes her good speed when she goes to settle down
among her relations; and one fine morning, when he has got into a
decent position, she writes to inform him that her nephew is dead, and
that she expects him to provide for her forthwith. That is the gist of
Mrs. Woolper's letter; and if it were not for one or two
considerations, I should be very much inclined to take a business-like
view of the case, and refer the lady to her parish. What are poor-rates
intended for, I should like to know, if a man who pays
four-and-twopence in the pound is to be pestered in this sort of way?"

And then Mr. Sheldon, having given vent to his vexation by such
reflections as these, set himself to examine the matter in another
light.

"I must manage to keep sweet with Nancy Woolper somehow or other,
that's very clear; for a chattering old woman is about as dangerous an
enemy as a man can have. I might provide for her decently enough out of
doors for something like a pound a week; and that would be a cheap
enough way of paying off all old scores. But I'm not quite clear that
it would be a safe way. A life of idleness might develop Mrs. Woolper's
latent propensity for gossip--and gossip is what I want to avoid. No,
that plan won't do."

For some moments Mr. Sheldon meditated silently, with his brows fixed
even more sternly than before. Then he struck his hand suddenly on the
morocco-covered table, and uttered his thoughts aloud.

"I'll risk it," he said; "she shall come into the house and serve my
interests by keeping a sharp watch upon Charlotte Halliday. There shall
be no secret marriage between those two. No, my friend Valentine, you
may be a very clever fellow, but you are not quite clever enough to
steal a march upon me."

Having arrived at this conclusion, Mr. Sheldon wrote a few lines to
Nancy Woolper, telling her to call upon him at the Lawn.



CHAPTER V.

MR. SHELDON IS BENEVOLENT.


Nancy Woolper had lost little of her activity during the ten years that
had gone by since she received her wages from Mr. Sheldon, on his
breaking up his establishment in Fitzgeorge-street. Her master had
given her the opportunity of remaining in his service, had she so
pleased; but Mrs. Woolper was a person of independent, not to say
haughty, spirit, and she had preferred to join her small fortunes with
those of a nephew who was about to begin business as a chandler and
general dealer in a very small way, rather than to submit herself to
the sway of that lady whom she insisted on calling Miss Georgy.

"It's so long since I've been used to a missus," she said, when
announcing her decision to Mr. Sheldon, "I doubt if I could do with
Miss Georgy's finnickin ways. I should feel tewed like, if she came
into the kitchen, worritin' and asking questions. I've been used to my
own ways, and I don't suppose I could do with hers."

So Nancy departed, to enter on a career of unpaid drudgery in the
household of her kinsman, and to lose the last shilling of her small
savings in the futile endeavour to sustain the fortunes of the general
dealer. His death, following very speedily upon his insolvency, left
the poor soul quite adrift; and in this extremity she had been fain to
make her appeal to Mr. Sheldon. His reply came in due course, but not
without upwards of a week's delay; during which time Nancy Woolper's
spirits sank very low, while a dreary vision of a living grave--called
a workhouse--loomed more and more darkly upon her poor old eyes. She
had well-nigh given up all hope of succour from her old master when the
letter came, and she was the more inclined to be grateful for very
small help after this interval of suspense. It was not without strong
emotion that Mrs. Woolper obeyed her old master's summons. She had
nursed the hard, cold man of the world whom she was going to see once
more, after ten years of severance; and though it was more difficult
for her to imagine that Philip Sheldon, the stockbroker, was the same
Philip she had carried in her stout arms, and hushed upon her breast
forty years ago, than it would have been to fancy the dead who had
lived in those days restored to life and walking by her side, still,
she could not forget that such things had been, and could not refrain
from looking at her master with more loving eyes because of that memory.

A strange dark cloud had arisen between her and her master's image
during the latter part of her service in Fitzgeorge-street; but, little
by little, the cloud had melted away, leaving the familiar image clear
and unshadowed as of old. She had suffered her mind to be filled by a
suspicion so monstrous, that for a time it held her as by some fatal
spell; but with reflection came the assurance that this thing could not
be. Day by day she saw the man whom she had suspected going about the
common business of life, coldly serene of aspect, untroubled of manner,
confronting fortune with his head erect, living quietly in the house
where he had been wont to live, haunted by no dismal shadows, subject
to no dark hours of remorse, no sudden access of despair, always
equable, business-like, and untroubled; and she told herself that such
a man could not be guilty of the unutterable horror she had imagined.

For a year things had gone on thus, and then came the marriage with
Mrs. Halliday. Mr. Sheldon went down to Barlingford for the performance
of that interesting ceremony; and Nancy Woolper bade farewell to the
house in Fitzgeorge-street, and handed the key to the agent, who was to
deliver it in due course to Mr. Sheldon's successor.

To-day, after a lapse of more than ten years, Mrs. Woolper sat in the
stockbroker's study, facing the scrutinising gaze of those bright black
eyes, which had been familiar to her of old, and which had lost none of
their cold glitter in the wear and tear of life.

"Then you think you can be of some use in the house, as a kind of
overlooker of the other servants, eh, Nancy--to prevent waste, and
gadding out of doors, and so on?" said Mr. Sheldon, interrogatively.

"Ay, sure, that I can, Mr. Philip," answered the old woman promptly;
"and if I don't save you more money than I cost you, the sooner you
turn me out o' doors the better. I know what London servants are, and I
know their ways; and if Miss Georgy doesn't take to the housekeeping, I
know as how things must be hugger-mugger-like below stairs, however
smart and tidy things may be above."

"Mrs. Sheldon knows about as much of housekeeping as a baby," replied
Philip, with supreme contempt. "She'll not interfere with you; and if
you serve me faithfully--"

"That I allers did, Mr. Philip."

"Yes, yes; I daresay you did. But I want faithful service in the future
as well as in the past. Of course you know that I have a stepdaughter?"

"Tom Halliday's little girl, as went to school at Scarborough."

"The same. But poor Tom's little girl is now a fine young woman, and a
source of considerable anxiety to me. I am bound to say she is an
excellent girl--amiable, obedient, and all that kind of thing; but she
is a girl, and I freely confess that I am not learned in the ways of
girls; and I'm very much inclined to be afraid of them."

"As how, sir?"

"Well, you see, Nancy, they come home from school with their silly
heads full of romantic stuff, fit for nothing but to read novels and
strum upon the piano; and before you know where you are, they fall over
head and ears in love with the first decent-looking young man who pays
them a compliment. At least, that's my experience."

"Meaning Miss Halliday, sir?" asked Nancy, simply. "Has she fallen in
love with some young chap?"

"She has, and with a young chap who is not yet in a position to support
a wife. Now, if this girl were my own child, I should decidedly set my
face against this marriage; but as she is only my stepdaughter, I wash
my hands of all responsibility in the matter. 'Marry the man you have
chosen, my dear,' say I; 'all I ask is, that you don't marry him until
he can give you a comfortable home.' 'Very well, papa,' says my young
lady in her most dutiful manner, and 'Very well, sir,' says my young
gentleman; and they both declare themselves agreeable to any amount of
delay, provided the marriage comes off some time between this and
doomsday."

"Well, sir?" asked Nancy, rather at a loss to understand why Philip
Sheldon, the closest and most reserved of men, should happen to be so
confidential to-day.

"Well, Nancy, what I want to prevent is any underhand work. I know what
very limited notions of honour young men are apt to entertain nowadays,
and how intensely foolish a boarding-school miss can be on occasion. I
don't want these young people to run off to Gretna-green some fine
morning, or to steal a march upon me by getting married on the sly at
some out-of-the-way church, after having invested their united fortunes
in the purchase of a special license. In plain words, I distrust Miss
Halliday's lover, and I distrust Miss Halliday's common sense; and I
want to have a sensible, sharp-eyed person in the house always on the
look-out for any kind of danger, and able to protect my stepdaughter's
interests as well as my own."

"But the young lady's mamma, sir--she would look after her daughter, I
suppose?"

"Her mamma is foolishly indulgent, and about as capable of taking care
of her daughter as of sitting in Parliament. You remember pretty Georgy
Cradock, and you must know what she was--and what she is. Mrs. Sheldon
is the same woman as Georgy Cradock--a little older, and a little more
plump and rosy; but just as pretty, and just as useless."

The interview was prolonged for some little time after this, and it
ended in a thorough understanding between Mr. Sheldon and his old
servant. Nancy Woolper was to re-enter that gentleman's service, and
over and above all ordinary duties, she was to undertake the duty of
keeping a close watch upon all the movements of Charlotte Halliday. In
plain words, she was to be a spy, a private detective, so far as this
young lady was concerned; but Mr. Sheldon was too wise to put his
requirements into plain words, knowing that even in the hour of her
extremity Nancy Woolper would have refused to fill such an office had
she clearly understood the measure of its infamy.

Upon the day that followed his interview with Mrs. Woolper, the
stockbroker came home from the City an hour or two earlier than his
custom, and startled Miss Halliday by appearing in the garden where she
was walking alone, looking her brightest and prettiest in her dark
winter hat and jacket, and pacing briskly to and fro among the bare
frost-bound patches of earth that had once been flower-beds.

"I wan't a few minutes' quiet talk with you, Lotta," said Mr. Sheldon.
"You'd better come into my study, where we're pretty sure not to be
interrupted."

The girl blushed crimson as she acceded to this request, being assured
that Mr. Sheldon was going to discuss her matrimonial engagement.
Valentine had told her of that very satisfactory interview in the
dining-room, and from that time she had been trying to find an
opportunity for the acknowledgment of her stepfather's generosity. As
yet the occasion had not arisen. She did not know how to frame her
thanksgiving, and she shrank shyly from telling Mr. Sheldon how
grateful she was to him for the liberality of mind which had
distinguished his conduct in this affair.

"I really ought to thank him," she said to herself more than once. "I
was quite prepared for his doing his uttermost to prevent my marriage
with Valentine; and instead of that, he volunteers his consent, and
even promises to give us a fortune. 'I am bound to thank him for such
generous kindness."

Perhaps there is no task more difficult than to offer grateful tribute
to a person whom one has been apt to think of with a feeling very near
akin to dislike. Ever since her mother's second marriage Charlotte had
striven against an instinctive distaste for Mr. Sheldon's society, and
an innate distrust of Mr. Sheldon's affectionate regard for herself;
but now that he had proved his sincerity in this most important crisis
of her life, she awoke all at once to the sense of the wrong she had
done.

"I am always reading the Sermon on the Mount, and yet in my thoughts
about Mr. Sheldon I have never been able to remember those words,
'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' His kindness touches me to the very
heart, and I feel it all the more keenly because of my injustice."

She followed her stepfather into the prim little study. There was no
fire, and the room was colder than a vault on this bleak December day.
Charlotte shivered, and drew her jacket more tightly across her chest
as she perched herself on one of Mr. Sheldon's shining red morocco
chairs. "The room strikes cold," she said; "very, very cold."

After this there was a brief pause, during which Mr. Sheldon took some
papers from the pocket of his overcoat, and arranged them on his desk
with an absent manner, as if he were rather deliberating upon what he
was going to say than thinking of what he was doing. While he loitered
thus Charlotte found courage to speak.

"I wish to thank you, Mr. Sheldon--papa," she said, pronouncing the
"papa" with some slight appearance of effort, in spite of her desire to
be grateful: "I--I have been wishing to thank you for the last day or
two; only it seems so difficult sometimes to express one's self about
these things."

"I do not deserve or wish for your thanks, my dear. I have only done my
duty."

"But, indeed, you do deserve my thanks, and you have them in all
sincerity, papa. You have been very, very good to me--about--about
Valentine. I thought you would be sure to oppose our marriage on the
ground of imprudence, you know, and----"

"I do oppose your marriage in the present on the ground of imprudence,
and I am only consentient to it in the future on the condition that Mr.
Hawkehurst shall have secured a comfortable income by his literary
labours. He seems to be clever, and he promises fairly----"

"O yes indeed, dear papa," cried the girl, pleased by this meed of
praise for her lover; "he is more than clever. I am sure you would say
so if you had time to read his article on Madame de Sévigné in the
_Cheapside_."

"I daresay it's very good, my dear; but I don't care for Madame de
Sévigné----"

"Or his sketch of Bossuet's career in the _Charing Cross_."

"My dear child, I do not even know who Bossuet was. All I require from
Mr. Hawkehurst is, that he shall earn a good income before he takes you
away from this house. You have been accustomed to a certain style of
living, and I cannot allow you to encounter a life of poverty."

"But, dear papa, I am not in the least afraid of poverty."

"I daresay not, my dear. You have never been poor," replied Mr.
Sheldon, coolly. "I don't suppose I am as much afraid of a rattlesnake
as the poor wretches who are accustomed to see one swinging by his tail
from the branch of a tree any day in the course of their travels. I
have only a vague idea that a cobra de capello is an unpleasant
customer; but depend upon it, those foreign fellows feel their blood
stagnate and turn to ice at sight of the cold slimy-looking monster.
Poverty and I travelled the same road once, and I know what the
gentleman is. I don't want to meet him again." Mr. Sheldon lapsed into
silence after this. His last words had been spoken to himself rather
than to Charlotte, and the thoughts that accompanied them seemed far
from pleasant to him.

Charlotte sat opposite her stepfather, patiently awaiting his pleasure.
She looked at the gaudily-bound books behind the glass doors, and
wondered whether any one had ever opened any of the volumes.

"I should like to read dear Sir Walter's stories once more," she
thought; "there never, never was so sweet a romance as the 'Bride of
Lammermoor,' and I cannot imagine that one could ever grow weary of
reading it. But to ask Mr. Sheldon for the key of that bookcase would
be quite impossible. I think his books must be copies of special
editions, not meant to be read. I wonder whether they are real books,
or only upholsterer's dummies?"

And then her fancies went vagabondising off to that little archetype of
a cottage on the heights of Wimbledon-common, in which she and
Valentine were to live when they were married. She was always
furnishing and refurnishing this cottage, building it up and pulling it
down, as the caprice of the moment dictated. Now it had bow-windows and
white stuccoed walls--now it was Elizabethan--now the simplest,
quaintest, rose-embowered cottager's dwelling, with diamond-paned
casements, and deep thatch on the old gray roof. This afternoon she
amused herself by collecting a small library for Valentine, while
waiting Mr. Sheldon's next observation. He was to have all her
favourite books, of course; and they were to be bound in the prettiest,
most girlish bindings. She could see the dainty volumes, primly ranged
on the little carved oak bookcase, which Valentine was to "pick up" in
Wardour-street. She fancied herself walking down that mart of
bric-a-brac arm-in-arm with her lover, intent on "picking up." Ah, what
happiness! what dear delight in the thought! And O, of all the bright
dreams we dream, how few are realised upon this earth! Do they find
their fulfilment in heaven, those visions of perfect bliss?

Mr. Sheldon looked up from his desk at last. Miss Halliday remarked to
herself that his face was pale and haggard in the chill wintry
sunlight; but she knew how hard and self-denying a life he led in his
stern devotion to business, and she was in no manner surprised to see
him looking ill.

"I want to say a few words to you on a matter of business, Lotta," he
began, "and I must ask you to give me all your attention."

"I will do so with pleasure, papa, but I am awfully stupid about
business."

"I shall do my best to make matters simple. I suppose you know what
money your father left, including the sums his life had been insured
for?"

"Yes, I have heard mamma say it was eighteen thousand pounds. I do so
hate the idea of those insurances. It seems like the price of a man's
life, doesn't it? I daresay that is a very unbusiness-like way of
considering the question, but I cannot bear to think that we got money
by dear papa's death."

These remarks were too trivial for Mr. Sheldon's notice. He went on
with what he had to say in the cold hard voice that was familiar to his
clerks and to the buyers and sellers of shares and stock who had
dealings with him.

"Your father left eighteen thousand pounds; that amount was left to
your mother without reservation. When she married me, without any
settlement, that money became mine, in point of law--mine to squander
or make away with as I pleased. You know that I have made good use of
that money, and that your mother has had no reason to repent her
confidence in my honour and honesty. The time has now come in which
that honour will be put to a sharper test. You have no legal claim on
so much as a shilling of your father's fortune."

"I know that, Mr. Sheldon," cried Charlotte, eagerly, "and Valentine
knows also; and, believe me, I do not expect----"

"I have to settle matters with my own conscience as well as with your
expectations, my dear Lotta," Mr. Sheldon said, solemnly. "Your father
left you unprovided for; but as a man of honour I feel myself bound to
take care that you shall not suffer by his want of caution. I have
therefore prepared a deed of gift, by which I transfer to you five
thousand pounds, now invested in Unitas Bank shares."

"You are going to give me five thousand pounds!" cried Charlotte,
astounded.

"Without reservation."

"You mean to say that you will give me this fortune when I marry,
papa?" said Charlotte, interrogatively.

"I shall give it to you immediately," replied Mr. Sheldon. "I wish you
to be thoroughly independent of me and my pleasure. You will then
understand, that if I insist upon the prudence of delay, I do so in
your interest and not in my own. I wish you to feel that if I am a
hindrance to your immediate marriage, it is not because I wish to delay
the disbursement of your dowry."

"O, Mr. Sheldon, O, papa, you are more than generous--you are noble! It
is not that I care for the money. O, believe me, there is no one in the
world who could care less for that than I do. But your thoughtful
kindness, your generosity, touches me to the very heart. O, please let
me kiss you, just as if you were my own dear father come back to life
to protect and guide me. I have thought you cold and worldly. I have
done you so much wrong."

She ran to him, and wound her arms about his neck before he could put
her off, and lifted up her pretty rosy mouth to his dry hot lips. Her
heart was overflowing with generous emotion, her face beamed with a
happy smile. She was so pleased to find her mother's husband better
than she had thought him. But, to her supreme astonishment, he thrust
her from him roughly, almost violently, and looking up at his face she
saw it darkened by a blacker shadow than she had ever seen upon it
before. Anger, terror, pain, remorse, she knew not what, but an
expression so horrible that she shrunk from him with a sense of alarm,
and went back to her chair, bewildered and trembling.

"You frightened me, Mr. Sheldon," she said faintly.

"Not more than you frightened me," answered the stockbroker, walking to
the window and taking his stand there, with his face hidden from
Charlotte. "I did not know there was so much feeling in me. For God's
sake, let us have no sentiment!"

"Were you angry with me just now?" asked the girl, falteringly, utterly
at a loss to comprehend the change in her stepfather's manner.

"No, I was not angry. I am not accustomed to these strong emotions,"
replied Mr. Sheldon, huskily; "I cannot stand them. Pray let us avoid
all sentimental discussion. I am anxious to do my duty in a
straightforward, business-like way. I don't want gratitude--or fuss.
The five thousand pounds are yours, and I am pleased to find you
consider the amount sufficient. And now I have only one small favour to
ask of you in return."

"I should be very ungrateful if I refused to do anything you may ask,"
said Charlotte, who could not help feeling a little chilled and
disappointed by Mr. Sheldon's stony rejection of her gratitude.

"The matter is very simple. You are young, and have, in the usual
course of things, a long life before you. But--you know there is always
a 'but' in these cases--a railway accident--a little carelessness in
passing your drawing-room fire some evening when you are dressed in
flimsy gauze or muslin--a fever--a cold--any one of the many dangers
that lie in wait for all of us, and our best calculations are
falsified. If you were to marry and die childless, that money would go
to your husband, and neither your mother nor I would ever touch a
sixpence of it, Now as the money, practically, belongs to your mother,
I consider that this contingency should be provided against--in her
interests as well as in mine. In plain words, I want you to make a will
leaving that money to me."

"I am quite ready to do so," replied Charlotte.

"Very good, my dear. I felt assured that you would take a sensible view
of the matter. If you marry your dear Mr. Hawkehurst, have a family
by-and-by, we will throw the old will into the fire and make a new one;
but in the mean time it's just as well to be on the safe side. You
shall go into the City with me to-morrow morning, and shall execute the
will at my office. It will be the simplest document possible--as simple
as the will made by old Serjeant Crane, in which he disposed of half a
million of money in half a dozen lines--at the rate of five thousand
pounds per word. After we've settled that little matter, we can arrange
the transfer of the shares. The whole affair won't occupy an hour." "I
will do whatever you wish," said Charlotte, meekly. She was not at all
elated by the idea of coming suddenly into possession of five thousand
pounds; but she was very much impressed by the new view of Mr.
Sheldon's character afforded her by his conduct of to-day. And then her
thoughts, constant to one point as the needle to the pole, reverted to
her lover, and she began to think of the effect her fortune might have
upon his prospects. He might go to the bar, he might work and study in
pleasant Temple chambers, with wide area windows overlooking the river,
and read law-books in the evening at the Wimbledon cottage for a few
delightful years, at the end of which he would of course become Lord
Chancellor. That he should devote such intellect and consecrate such
genius as his to the service of his country's law-courts, and _not_
ultimately seat himself on the Woolsack, was a contingency not to be
imagined by Miss Halliday. Ah, what would not five thousand pounds buy
for him! The cottage expanded into a mansion, the little case of books
developed into a library second only to that of the Duc d'Aumale, a
noble steed waited at the glass door of the vestibule to convey Mr.
Hawkehurst to the Temple, before the minute-hand of Mr. Sheldon's stern
skeleton clock had passed from one figure to another: so great an adept
was this young lady in the art of castle-building.

"Am I to tell mamma about this conversation?" asked Charlotte,
presently.

"Well, no, I think not," replied Mr. Sheldon, thoughtfully. "These
family arrangements cannot be kept too quiet. Your mamma is a talking
person, you know, Charlotte; and as we don't want every one in this
part of Bayswater to know the precise amount of your fortune, we may as
well let matters rest as they are. Of course you would not wish Mr.
Hawkehurst to be enlightened?"

"Why not, papa?"

"For several reasons. First and foremost, it must be pleasant to you to
be sure that he is thoroughly disinterested I have told him that you
will get something as a gift from me; but he may have implied that the
something would be little more than a couple of hundreds to furnish a
house. Secondly, it must be remembered, that he has been brought up in
a bad school, and the best way to make him self-reliant and industrious
is to let him think he has nothing but his own industry to depend upon.
I have set him a task. When he has accomplished that, he shall have you
and your five thousand pounds to boot. Till then I should strongly
advise you to keep this business a secret.

"Yes," answered Charlotte, meditatively; "I think you are right. It
would have been very nice to tell him of your kindness; but I want to
be quite sure that he loves me for myself alone--from first to
last--without one thought of money."

"That is wise," said Mr. Sheldon, decisively; and thus ended the
interview.

Charlotte accompanied her stepfather to the city early next morning,
and filled in the blanks in a lithographed form, prepared for the
convenience of such testators as, being about to dispose of their
property, do not care to employ the services of a legal adviser.

The will seemed to Charlotte the simplest possible affair. She
bequeathed all her property, real and personal, to Philip Sheldon,
without reserve. But as her entire fortune consisted of the five
thousand pounds just given her by that gentleman, and as her personal
property was comprised in a few pretty dresses and trinkets, and desks
and workboxes, she could not very well object to such an arrangement.

"Of course, mamma would have all my books and caskets, and boxes and
things," she said thoughtfully; "and I should like Diana Paget to have
some of my jewellery, please, Mr. Sheldon. Mamma has plenty, you know."

"There is no occasion, to talk of that, Charlotte," replied the
stockbroker. "This will is only a matter of form."

Mr. Sheldon omitted to inform his stepdaughter that the instrument just
executed would, upon her wedding-day, become so much waste paper, an
omission that was not in harmony with the practical and careful habits
of that gentleman.

"Yes, I know that it is only a form," replied Charlotte; "but, after
making a will, one feels as if one was going to die. At least I do. It
seems a kind of preparation for death. I don't wonder people rather
dislike doing it.

"It is only foolish people who dislike doing it," said Mr. Sheldon, who
was in his most practical mood to-day. "And now we will go and arrange
a more agreeable business--the transfer of the shares."

After this, there was a little commercial juggling, in the form of
signing and countersigning, which, was quite beyond Charlotte's
comprehension: which operation being completed, she was told that she
was owner of five thousand pounds in Unitas Bank shares, and that the
dividends accruing from time to time on those shares would be hers to
dispose of as she pleased.

"The income arising from your capital will be more than you can spend
so long as you remain under my roof," said Mr. Sheldon. "I should
therefore strongly recommend you to invest your dividends as they
arise, and thus increase your capital."

"You are so kind and thoughtful," murmured Charlotte; "I shall always
be pleased to take your advice." She was strongly impressed by the
kindness of the man her thoughts had wronged.

"How difficult it is to understand these reserved, matter-of-fact
people!" she said to herself. Because my stepfather does not talk
sentiment, I have fancied him hard and worldly; and yet he has proved
himself as capable of doing a noble action as if he were the most
poetical of mankind.

Mrs. Sheldon had been told that Charlotte was going into the City to
choose a new watch, wherewith to replace the ill-used little Geneva toy
that had been her delight as a schoolgirl; and as Charlotte brought
home a neat little English-made chronometer from a renowned emporium on
Ludgate-hill, the simple matron accepted this explanation in all good
faith.

"I'm sure, Lotta, you must confess your stepfather is kindness itself
in most matters," said Georgy, after an admiring examination of the new
watch. "When I think how kindly he has taken this business about Mr.
Hawkehurst, and how disinterested he has proved himself in his ideas
about your marriage, I really am inclined to think him the best of men."

Georgy said this with an air of triumph. She could not forget that
there were people in Barlingford who had said hard things about Philip
Sheldon, and had prophesied unutterable miseries for herself and her
daughter as the bitter consequence of the imprudence she had been
guilty of in her second marriage.

"He has indeed been very good, mamma," Charlotte replied gravely, "and,
believe me, I am truly grateful. He does not like fuss or sentiment;
but I hope he knows that I appreciate his kindness."



CHAPTER VI.

RIDING THE HIGH HORSE.


Never, in his brightest dreams, had Valentine Hawkehurst imagined the
stream of life so fair and sunny a river as it seemed to him now.
Fortune had treated him so scurvily for seven-and-twenty years of his
life, only to relent of a sudden and fling all her choicest gifts into
his lap.

"I must be the prince in the fairy tale who begins life as a revolting
animal of the rhinoceros family, and ends by marrying the prettiest
princess in Elfindom," he said to himself gaily, is he paced the broad
walks of Kensington-gardens, where the bare trees swung their big black
branches in the wintry blast, and the rooks cawed their loudest at
close of the brief day.

What, indeed, could this young adventurer demand from benignant Fortune
above and beyond the blessings she had given, him? The favoured suitor
of the fairest and brightest woman he had ever looked upon, received by
her kindred, admitted to her presence, and only bidden to serve a due
apprenticeship before he claimed her as his own for ever. What more
could he wish? what further boon could he implore from the Fates?

Yes, there was one thing more--one thing for which Mr. Hawkehurst
pined, while most thankful for his many blessings. He wanted a decent
excuse for separating himself most completely from Horatio Paget. He
wanted to shake himself free from all the associations of his previous
existence. He wanted to pass through the waters of Jordan, and to
emerge purified, regenerate, leaving his garments on the furthermost
side of the river; and, with all other things appertaining to the past,
he would fain have rid himself of Captain Paget.

"'Be sure your sin will find you out,'" mused the young man; "and
having found you, be sure that it will stick to you like a leech, if
your sin takes the shape of an unprincipled acquaintance, as it does in
my case. I may try my hardest to cut the past, but will Horatio Paget
let me alone in the future? I doubt it. The bent of that man's genius
shows itself in his faculty for living upon other people. He knows that
I am beginning to earn money regularly, and has begun to borrow of me
already. When I can earn more, he will want to borrow more; and
although it is very sweet to work for Charlotte Halliday, it would not
be by any means agreeable to slave for my friend Paget. Shall I offer
him a pound a week, and ask him to retire into the depths of Wales or
Cornwall, amend his ways, and live the life of a repentant hermit? I
think I could bring myself to sacrifice the weekly sovereign, if there
were any hope that Horatio Paget could cease to be--Horatio Paget, on
this side the grave. No, I have the misfortune to be intimately
acquainted with the gentleman. When he is in the swim, as he calls it,
and is earning money on his own account, he will give himself cosy
little dinners and four-and-sixpenny primrose gloves; and when he is
down on his luck, he will come whining to me."

This was by no means a pleasant idea to Mr. Hawkehurst. In the old days
he had been distinguished by all the Bohemian's recklessness, and even
more than the Bohemian's generosity in his dealings with friend or
companion. But now all was changed. He was no longer reckless. A
certain result was demanded from him as the price of Charlotte
Halliday's hand, and he set himself to accomplish his allotted task
with all due forethought and earnestness of purpose. He had need even
to exercise restraint over himself, lest, in his eagerness, he should
do too much, and so lay himself prostrate from the ill effects of
overwork; so anxious was he to push on upon the road whose goal was so
fair a temple, so light seemed that labour of love which was performed
for the sake of Charlotte.

He communed with himself very often on the subject of that troublesome
question about Captain Paget. How was he to sever his frail skiff from
that rakish privateer? What excuse could he find for renouncing his
share in the Omega-street lodgings, and setting up a new home elsewhere?

"Policy might prompt me to keep my worthy friend under my eye," he said
to himself, "in order that I may be sure there is no underhand work
going on between him and Philip Sheldon. But I can scarcely believe
that Philip Sheldon has any inkling about the Haygarthian fortune. If
he had, he would surely not receive me as Charlotte's suitor. What
possible motive could he have for doing so?"

This was a question which Mr. Hawkehurst had frequently put to himself;
for his confidence in Mr. Sheldon was not of that kind which asks no
questions. Even while most anxious to believe in that gentleman's
honesty of purpose, he was troubled by occasional twinges of unbelief.

During the period which had elapsed since his return from Yorkshire, he
had been able to discover nothing of any sinister import from the
proceedings of Captain Paget. That gentleman appeared to be still
engaged upon the promoting business, although by no means so profitably
as heretofore. He went into the City every day, and came home in the
evening toilworn and out of spirits. He talked freely of his
occupation--how he had done much or done nothing, during the day; and
Valentine was at a loss to perceive any further ground for the
suspicion that had arisen in his mind after the meeting at the Ullerton
station, and the shuffling of the sanctimonious Goodge with regard to
Mrs. Rebecca Haygarth's letters.

Mr. Hawkehurst therefore determined upon boldly cutting the knot that
tied him to the familiar companion of his wanderings.

"I am tired of watching and suspecting," he said to himself. "If my
dear love has a right to this fortune, it will surely come to her; or
if it should never come, we can live very happily without it. Indeed,
for my own part, I am inclined to believe that I should be prouder and
happier as the husband of a dowerless wife, than as prince-consort to
the heiress of the Haygarths. We have built up such a dear, cheery,
unpretentious home for ourselves in our talk of the future, that I
doubt if we should care to change it for the stateliest mansion in
Kensington Palace-gardens or Belgrave-square. My darling could not be
my housekeeper, and make lemon cheese-cakes in her own pretty little
kitchen, if we lived in Belgrave-square; and how could she stand at one
of those great Birmingham ironwork gates in the Palace-gardens to watch
me ride away to my work?"

To a man as deeply in love as Mr. Hawkehurst, the sordid dross which
other people prize so highly is apt to become daily more indifferent; a
kind of colour-blindness comes over the vision of the true lover, and
the glittering yellow ore seems only so much vulgar earth, too mean a
thing to be regarded by any but the mean of soul. Thus it was that Mr.
Hawkehurst relaxed his suspicion of Captain Paget, and neglected his
patron and ally of Gray's Inn, much to the annoyance of that gentleman,
who tormented the young man with little notes demanding interviews.

These interviews had of late been far from agreeable to either of the
allies. George Sheldon urged the necessity of an immediate marriage;
Valentine declined to act in an underhand manner, after the
stockbroker's unexpected generosity.

"Generosity!" echoed George Sheldon, when Valentine had given him this
point-blank refusal at the close of a stormy argument. "Generosity! My
brother Phil's generosity! Egad, that is about the best thing I've
heard for the last ten years. If I pleased, Mr. Valentine Hawkehurst, I
could tell you something about my brother which would enable you to
estimate his generosity at its true value. But I don't please; and if
you choose to run counter to me and my interests, you must pay the
price of your folly. You may think yourself uncommonly lucky if the
price isn't a stiff one."

"I am prepared to abide by my decision," answered Valentine. "Miss
Halliday without a shilling is so dear to me, that I don't care to
commit a dishonourable action in order to secure my share of the
fortune she may claim. I turned over a new leaf on the day when I first
knew myself possessed of her affection. I don't want to go back to the
old leaves."

George Sheldon gave himself an impatient shrug. "I have heard of a
great many fools," he said, "but I never heard of a fool who would play
fast-and-loose with a hundred thousand pounds, and until to-day I
couldn't have believed there was such an animal."

Mr. Hawkehurst did not deign to notice this remark.

"Do be reasonable, Sheldon," he said. "You ask me to do what my sense
of right will not permit me to do, and you ask me that which I fully
believe to be impossible. I cannot for a moment imagine that any
persuasion of mine would induce Charlotte to consent to a secret
marriage, after your brother's fair and liberal conduct."

"Of course not," cried George, with savage impatience; "that's my
brother Phil all over. He is so honourable, so plain and
straightforward in all his dealings, that he would get the best of
Lucifer himself in a bargain. I tell you, Hawkehurst, you don't know
how deep he is--as deep as the bottomless pit, by Jove! His very
generosity makes me all the more afraid of him. I don't understand his
game. If he consented to your marriage in order to get rid of
Charlotte, he would let you marry her off-hand; but instead of doing
that, he makes conditions which must delay your marriage for years.
There is the point that bothers me."

"You had better pursue your own course, without reference to me or my
marriage with Miss Halliday," said Valentine.

"That is exactly what I must do. I can't leave the Haygarth estate to
the mercy of Tom, Dick, and Harry, while you try to earn thirty pounds
a month by scribbling for the magazines. I must make my bargain with
Philip instead of with you, and I can tell you that you'll be the loser
by the transaction."

"I don't quite see that."

"Perhaps not. You see, you don't quite understand my brother Phil. If
this money gets into his hands, be sure some of it will stick to them."

"Why should the money get into his hand?"

"Because, so long as Charlotte Halliday is under his roof, she is, to a
certain extent, under his authority. And then, I tell you again, there
is no calculating the depth of that man. He has thrown dust in your
eyes already. He will make that poor girl believe him the most
disinterested of mankind."

"You can warn her."

"Yes; as I have warned you. To what purpose? You are inclined to
believe in Phil rather than to believe in me, and you will be so
inclined to the end of the chapter. You remember that man Palmer, at
Rugely, who used to go to church, and take the sacrament?"

"Yes; of course I remember that case. What of him?"

"Why, people believed in him, you know, and thought him a jolly good
fellow, up to the time when they discovered that he had poisoned a few
of his friends in a quiet gentlemanly way."

Mr. Hawkehurst smiled at the irrelevance of this remark. He could not
perceive the connection of ideas between Palmer the Rugely poisoner,
and Philip Sheldon the stockbroker.

"That was an extreme case," he said.

"Yes; of course that was an extreme case," answered George, carelessly.
"Only it goes far to prove that a man may be gifted with a remarkable
genius for throwing dust in the eyes of his fellow-creatures."

There was no further disputation between the lawyer and Valentine.
George Sheldon began to understand that a secret marriage was not to be
accomplished in the present position of affairs.

"I am half inclined to suspect that Phil knows something about that
money," he said presently, "and is playing some artful game of his own."

"In that case your better policy would be to take the initiative,"
answered Valentine.

"I have no other course."

"And will Charlotte know--will she know that I have been concerned in
this business?" asked Valentine, growing very pale all of sudden. He
was thinking how mean he must appear in Miss Halliday's eyes, if she
came to understand that he had known her to be John Haygarth's heiress
at the time he won from her the sweet confession of her love. "Will she
ever believe how pure and true my love has been, if she comes to know
this?" he asked himself despairingly, while George Sheldon deliberated
in silence for a few moments.

"She need know nothing until the business comes to a head," replied
George at last. "You see, there may be no resistance on the part of the
Crown lawyers; and, in that case, Miss Halliday will get her rights
after a moderate amount of delay. But if they choose to dispute her
claim, it will be quite another thing--Halliday _versus_ the Queen, and
so on--with no end of swell Q.O.'s against us. In the latter case
you'll have to put all your adventures at Ullerton and Huxter's Cross
into an affidavit, and Miss H. must know everything."

"Yes; and then she will think--ah, no; I do not believe she can
misunderstand me, come what may."

"All doubt and difficulty might be avoided if you would manage a
marriage on the quiet off-hand," said George. "I tell you again that I
cannot do that; and that, even if it were possible, I would not attempt
it."

"So be it. You elect to ride the high horse; take care that magnificent
animal doesn't give you an ugly tumble."

"I can take my chance."

"And I must take my chance against that brother of mine. The winning
cards are all in my own hand this time, and it will be uncommonly hard
if he gets the best of me."

On this the two gentlemen parted. Valentine went to look at a
bachelor's lodging in the neighbourhood of the Edgeware-road, which he
had seen advertised in that morning's Times; and George Sheldon started
for Bayswater, where he was always sure of a dinner and a liberal
allowance of good wine from the hospitality of his prosperous kinsman.



CHAPTER VII.

MR. SHELDON IS PRUDENT.


Valentine found the apartments near the Edgeware-road in every manner
eligible. The situation was midway between his reading-room in Great
Russell-street and the abode of his delight--a half-way house on the
road between business and pleasure. The terms were very moderate, the
rooms airy and pleasant; so he engaged them forthwith, his tenancy to
commence at the end of the following week; and having settled this
matter, he went back to Omega-street, bent on dissolving partnership
with the Captain in a civil but decided manner.

A surprise, and a very agreeable one, awaited him at Chelsea. He found
the sitting-room strewn with Captain Paget's personal property, and the
Captain on his knees before a portmanteau, packing.

"You're just in time to give me a hand, Val," he said in his most
agreeable manner. "I begin to find out my age when I put my poor old
bones into abnormal attitudes. I daresay packing a trunk or two will be
only child's-play to you."

"I'll pack half a dozen trunks if you like," replied Valentine. "But
what is the meaning of this sudden move? I did not know you were going
to leave town."

"Neither did I when you and I breakfasted together. I got an unexpected
offer of a very decent position abroad this morning; a kind of agency,
that will be much better than the hand-to-mouth business I've been
doing lately."

"What kind of agency, and where?"

"Well, so far as I can make out at present, it is something in the
steam navigation way. My head-quarters will be at Rouen." "Rouen! Well,
it's a pleasant lively old city enough, and as mediaeval as one of Sir
Walter's novels, provided they haven't Haussmanised it by this time. I
am very glad to hear you have secured a comfortable berth."

"And I am not sorry to leave England, Yal," answered the Captain, in
rather a mournful tone.

"Why not?"

"Because I think it's time you and I parted company. Our association
begins to be rather disadvantageous to you, Val. We've had our ups and
downs together, and we've got on very pleasantly, take it for all in
all. But now that you're settling down as a literary man, engaged to
that young woman, hand-in-glove with Philip Sheldon, and so on, I think
it's time for me to take myself off. I'm not wanted; and sooner or
later I should begin to feel myself in the way."

The Captain grew quite pathetic as he said this; and little pangs of
remorse shot through Valentine's heart as he remembered how eager he
had been to rid himself of this Old Man of the Mountain. And here was
the poor old creature offering to take himself out of the way of his
own accord.

Influenced by this touch of remorse, Mr. Hawkehurst held out his hand,
and grasped that of his comrade and patron.

"I hope you may do well, in some--comfortable kind of business," he
said heartily. That adjective "comfortable" was a hasty substitute for
the adjective "honest," which had been almost on his lips as he uttered
his friendly wish. He was too well disposed to all the world not to
feel profound pity for this white-headed old man, who for so many years
had eaten the bread of rogues and scoundrels.

"Come," he cried cheerily, "I'll take all the packing off your hands,
Captain; and we'll eat our last dinner and drink our last bottle of
sparkling together at my expense, at any place you please to name."

"Say Blanchard's," replied Horatio Paget. "I like a corner-window,
looking out upon the glare and bustle of Regent-street. It reminds one
just a little of the Maison Dorée and the boulevard. We'll drink
Charlotte Halliday's health, Val, in bumpers. She's a charming young
person, and I only wish she were an heiress, for your sake."

The eyes of the two men met as the Captain said this; and there was a
twinkle in the cold gray orbs of that gentleman which had a very
unpleasant effect upon Valentine.

"What treachery is he engaged in now?" he asked himself. "I know that
look in my Horatio's eyes; and I know it always means mischief."

George Sheldon made his appearance at the Lawn five minutes after his
brother came home from the City. He entered the domestic circle in his
usual free-and-easy manner, knowing himself to be endured, rather than
liked, by the two ladies, and to be only tolerated as a necessary evil
by the master of the house.

"I've dropped in to eat a chop with you, Phil," he said, "in order to
get an hour's comfortable talk after dinner. There's no saying half a
dozen consecutive words to you in the City, where your clerks seem to
spend their lives in bouncing in upon you when you don't want them."

There was very little talk during dinner. Charlotte and her stepfather
were thoughtful. Diana was chiefly employed in listening to the _sotto
voce_ inanities of Mrs. Sheldon, for whom the girl showed herself
admirably patient. Her forbearance and gentleness towards Georgy
constituted a kind of penitential sacrifice, by which she hoped to
atone for the dark thoughts and bitter feelings that possessed her mind
during those miserable hours in which she was obliged to witness the
happiness of Charlotte and her lover.

George Sheldon devoted himself chiefly to his dinner and a certain dry
sherry, which he particularly affected. He was a man who would have
dined and enjoyed himself at the table of Judas Iscariot, knowing the
banquet to be provided out of the thirty pieces of silver.

"That's as good a pheasant as I ever ate, Phil," he said, after winding
up with the second leg of the bird in question. "No, Georgy; no
macaroni, thanks. I don't care about kickshaws after a good dinner. Has
Hawkehurst dined with you lately, by the way, Phil?"

Charlotte blushed red as the holly-berries that decorated the
chandelier. It was Christmas-eve, and her own fair hands had helped to
bedeck the rooms with festal garlands of evergreen and holly.

"He dines with us to-morrow," replied the stockbroker. "You'll come, I
suppose, as usual, George?"

"Well, I shall be very glad, if I'm not in the way."

Mrs. Sheldon murmured some conventional protestation of the unfailing
delight afforded to her by George's society.

"Of course we're always glad to see you," said Philip in his most
genial manner; "and now, if you've anything to say to me about
business, the sooner you begin the better.--You and the girls needn't
stay for dessert, Georgy. Almonds and raisins can't be much of a
novelty to you; and as none of you take any wine, there's not much to
stop for. George and I will come in to tea."

The ladies departed, by no means sorry to return to their Berlin-wool
and piano. Diana took up her work with that saintly patience with which
she performed all the duties of her position; and Charlotte seated
herself before the piano, and began to play little bits of waltzes, and
odds and ends of polkas, in a dreamy mood, and with a slurring over of
dominant bass notes, which would have been torture to a musician's ear.

She was wondering whether Valentine would call that evening,
Christmas-eve--a sort of occasion for congratulation of some kind from
her lover, she fancied. It was the first Christmas-eve on which she had
been "engaged." She looked back to the same period last year, and
remembered herself sitting in that very room strumming on that very
piano, and unconscious that there was such a creature as Valentine
Hawkehurst upon this earth. And, strange to say, even in that benighted
state, she had been tolerably happy.

"Now, George," said Mr. Sheldon, when the brothers had filled their
glasses and planted their chairs on the opposite sides of the
hearth-rug, "what's the nature of this business that you want to talk
about?"

"Well, it is a business of considerable importance, in which you are
only indirectly concerned. The actual principal in the affair is your
stepdaughter, Miss Halliday."

"Indeed!"

"Yes. You know how you have always ridiculed my fancy for hunting up
heirs-at-law and all that kind of thing, and you know how I have held
on, hoping against hope, starting on a new scent when the old scent
failed, and so on."

"And you have got a chance at last, eh?"

"I believe that I have, and a tolerably good one; and I think you will
own that it is rather extraordinary that my first lucky hit should
bring luck your way."

"That is to say, to my stepdaughter?" remarked Mr. Sheldon, without any
appearance of astonishment.

"Precisely," said George, somewhat disconcerted by his brother's
coolness. "I have lately discovered that Miss Halliday is entitled to a
certain sum of money, and I pledge myself to put her in possession of
that money--on one condition."

"And that is--"

"That she executes a deed promising to give me half of the amount she
may recover by my agency."

"Suppose she can recover it without your agency?"

"That I defy her to do. She does not even know that she has any claim
to the amount in question."

"Don't be too sure of that. Or even supposing she knows nothing, do you
think her friends are as ignorant as she is? Do you think me such a
very bad man of business as to remain all this time unaware of the fact
that my stepdaughter, Charlotte Halliday, is next of kin to the Rev.
John Haygarth, who died intestate, at Tilford Haven, in Kent, about a
year ago?"

This was a cannon-shot that almost knocked George Sheldon off his
chair; but after that first movement of surprise, he gave a sigh, or
almost a groan, expressive of resignation.

"Egad, Phil Sheldon," he said, "I ought not to be astonished at this.
Knowing you as well as I do, I must have been a confounded fool not to
expect some kind of underhand work from you."

"What do you mean by underhand work?" exclaimed Mr. Sheldon. "The same
newspapers that were open to you were open to me, and I had better
opportunities for tracking my stepdaughter's direct descent from John
Haygarth's father."

"How did you discover Miss Halliday's descent from Matthew Haygarth?"
asked George, very meekly. He was quite crestfallen. He began to feel
that his brother would have the upper hand of him in this business as
in all other business of this world.

"That is my secret," replied Mr. Sheldon, with agreeable tranquillity
of manner. "You have kept your secrets, and I shall keep mine. Your
policy has been the policy of distrust. Mine shall be the same. When
you were starting this affair, I offered to go into it with you--to
advance whatever money you needed, in a friendly manner. You declined
my offer, and chose to go in for the business on your own hook. You
have made a very good thing for yourself, no doubt; but you are not
quite clever enough to keep me altogether in the dark in a matter which
concerns a member of my own family."

"Yes," said George, with a sigh, "that's where you hold the winning
cards. Miss Halliday is your ace of trumps."

"Depend upon it, I shall know how to hold my strength in reserve, and
when to play my leading trump."

"And how to collar my king," muttered George between his set teeth.

"Come," exclaimed Philip presently, "we may as well discuss this matter
in a friendly spirit. What do you mean to propose?"

"I have only one proposition to make," answered the lawyer, with
decision. "I hold every link of the chain of evidence, without which
Miss Halliday might as well be a native of the Fiji islands for any
claim she can assert to John Haygarth's estate. I am prepared to carry
this matter through; but I will only do it on the condition that I
receive half the fortune recovered from the Crown by Miss Halliday."

"A very moderate demand, upon my word!"

"I daresay I shall be able to make my bargain with Miss Halliday."
"Very likely," replied Mr. Sheldon; "and I shall be able to get that
bargain set aside as illegal."

"I doubt that. I have a deed of agreement drawn up here which would
hold water in any court of equity."

And hereupon Mr. Sheldon the younger produced and read aloud one of
those dry as dust documents by which the legal business of life is
carried on. It was a deed to be executed by Charlotte Halliday,
spinster, of Bayswater, on the one part, and George Sheldon, solicitor,
of Gray's Inn, on the other part; and it gave to the said George
Sheldon, as securely as any deed can give anything, one half of any
property, not now in her possession or control, which the said
Charlotte Halliday might obtain by the agency of the above-mentioned
George Sheldon.

"And pray, who is to find the costs for this business?" asked the
stockbroker. "I don't feel by any means disposed to stake my money on
such a hazardous game. Who knows what other descendants of Matthew
Haygarth may be playing at hide-and-seek in the remotest corners of the
earth, ready to spring out upon us when we've wasted a small fortune
upon law-proceedings."

"I shan't ask you to risk your money," replied George, with sullen
dignity. "I have friends who will back me when they see that agreement
executed."

"Very well, then, all you have to do is to alter your half share to
one-fifth, and I will undertake that Miss Halliday shall sign the
agreement before the week is out."

"One-fifth?"

"Yes, my dear George. Twenty thousand pounds will pay you very
handsomely for your trouble. I cannot consent to Miss Halliday ceding
more than a fifth."

"A fig for your consent! The girl is of age, and can act upon her own
hook. I shall go to Miss Halliday herself," exclaimed the indignant
lawyer.

"O no, you won't. You must know the danger of running counter to me in
this business. That agreement is all very well; but there is no kind of
document more easy to upset if one only goes about it in the right way.
Play your own game, and I will upset that agreement, as surely as I
turn this wine-glass bowl downwards."

Mr. Sheldon's action and Mr. Sheldon's look expressed a determination
which George knew how to estimate by the light of past experience.

"It is a hard thing to find you against me, after the manner in which I
have toiled and slaved for your stepdaughter's interests."

"I am bound to hold my stepdaughter's interests paramount over every
consideration." "Yes, paramount over brotherly feeling and all that
sort of thing. I say that it is more than hard that you should be
against me, considering the special circumstances and the manner in
which I have kept my own counsel----"

"You will take a fifth share, or nothing, George," said Mr. Sheldon,
with a threatening contraction of his black brows.

"If I have any difficulty in arranging matters with you, I will go into
this affair myself, and carry it through without your help."

"That I defy you to do."

"You had better not defy me."

"Pray how much do you expect to get out of Miss Halliday's fortune?"
demanded the aggravated George.

"That is my business," answered Philip. "And now we had better go into
the drawing-room for our tea. O, by the bye, George," he added,
carelessly, "as Miss Halliday is quite a child in all business matters,
she had better be treated like a child. I shall tell her that she has a
claim to a certain sum of money; but I shall not tell her what sum. Her
disappointment will be less in the event of a failure, if her
expectations are not large."

"You are always so considerate, my dear Phil," said George, with a
malignant grin. "May I ask how it is you have taken it into your head
to play the benevolent father in the matter of Valentine Hawkehurst and
Miss Halliday?"

"What can it signify to me whom my stepdaughter marries?" asked Philip,
coolly. "Of course I wish her well; but I will not have the
responsibility of controlling her choice. If this young man suits her,
let her marry him."

"Especially when he happens to suit _you_ so remarkably well. I think I
can understand your tactics, Phil."

"You must understand or misunderstand me, just as you please. And now
come to tea."



CHAPTER VIII.

CHRISTMAS PEACE.


Valentine Hawkehurst did not make his appearance at the Lawn on
Christmas-eve. He devoted that evening to the service of his old ally.
He performed all friendly offices for the departing Captain, dined with
him very pleasantly in Regent-street, and accompanied him to the
London-bridge terminus, where he beheld the voyager comfortably seated
in a second-class carriage of the night-train for Newhaven.

Mr. Hawkehurst had seen the Captain take a through ticket for Rouen,
and he saw the train leave the terminus. This he held to be ocular
demonstration of the fact that Captain Paget was really going to the
Gallic Manchester.

"That sort of customer is so uncommonly slippery," the young man said
to himself as he left the station; "nothing but the evidence of my own
eyes would have convinced me of my friend's departure. How pure and
fresh the London atmosphere seems now that the perfume of Horatio Paget
is out of it! I wonder what he is going to do at Rouen? Very little
good, I daresay. But why should I wonder about him, or trouble myself
about him? He is gone, and I have set myself free from the trammels of
the past."

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day was Christmas-day. Mr. Hawkehurst recited scraps of
Milton's glorious hymn as he made his morning toilet. He was very
happy. It was the first Christmas morning on which he had ever awakened
with this sense of supreme happiness, or with the consciousness that
the day was brighter, or grander, or more holy than other days. It
seemed to him to-day, more than ever, that he was indeed a regenerate
creature, purified by the influence of a good woman's love.

He looked back at his past existence, and the vision of many
Christmas-days arose before him: a Christmas in Paris, amidst
unutterable rain and mud; a Christmas-night spent in roaming the
Boulevards, and in the consumption of cognac and tobacco at a
third-rate café; a Christmas in Germany; more than one Christmas in the
Queen's Bench; one especially dreary Christmas in a long bare ward at
Whitecross-street,--how many varied scenes and changing faces arose
before his mental vision associated with that festive time! And yet
among them all there was not one on which there shone the faintest
glimmer of that holy light which makes the common holiday a sacred
season.

It was a pleasant thing to breakfast without the society of the
brilliant Horatio, whose brilliancy was apt to appear somewhat ghastly
at that early period of the morning. It was pleasant to loiter over the
meal, now meditating on the happy future, now dipping into a tattered
copy of Southey's "Doctor;" with the consciousness that the winds and
waves had by this time wafted Captain Paget to a foreign land.

Valentine was to spend the whole of Christmas-day with Charlotte and
her kindred. He was to accompany them to a fashionable church in the
morning, to walk with them after church, to dine and tell ghost-stories
in the evening. It was to be his first day as a recognised member of
that pleasant family at Bayswater; and in the fulness of his heart he
felt affectionately disposed to all his adopted relations; even to Mr.
Sheldon, whose very noble conduct had impressed him strongly, in spite
of the bitter sneers and covert slanders of George. Charlotte had told
her lover that her stepfather was a very generous and disinterested
person, and that there was a secret which she would have been glad to
tell him, had she not been pledged to hold it inviolate, that would
have gone far to place Mr. Sheldon in a very exalted light before the
eyes of his future son-in-law.

And then Miss Halliday had nodded and smiled, and had informed her
lover, with a joyous little laugh, that he should have a horse to ride,
and an edition of Grote's "Greece" bound in dark-brown calf with
bevelled edges, when they were married; this work being one which the
young author had of late languished to possess.

"Dear foolish Lotta, I fear there will be a new history of Greece,
based on new theories, before that time comes," said the lover.

"O no, indeed; that time will come very soon. See how industriously you
work, and how well you succeed. The magazine people will soon give you
thirty pounds a month. Or who knows that you may not write some book
that will make you suddenly famous, like Byron, or the good-natured fat
little printer who wrote those long, long, long novels that no one
reads nowadays?"

Influenced by Charlotte's hints about her stepfather, Mr. Hawkehurst's
friendly feeling for that gentleman grew stronger, and the sneers and
innuendoes of the lawyer ceased to have the smallest power over him.

"The man is such a thorough-going schemer himself, that he cannot bring
himself to believe in another man's honesty," thought Mr. Hawkehurst,
while meditating upon his experience of the two brothers. "So far as I
have had any dealings with Philip Sheldon, I have found him
straightforward enough. I can imagine no hidden motive for his conduct
in relation to Charlotte. The test of his honesty will be the manner in
which he is acted upon by Charlotte's position as claimant of a great
fortune. Will he throw me overboard, I wonder? or will my dear one
believe me an adventurer and fortune-hunter? Ah, no, no, no; I do not
think in all the complications of life there could come about a state
of events which would cause my Charlotte to doubt me. There is no
clairvoyance so unerring as true love."

Mr. Hawkehurst had need of such philosophy as this to sustain him in
the present crisis of his life. He was blest with a pure delight which
excelled his wildest dreams of happiness; but he was not blest with any
sense of security as to the endurance of that exalted state of bliss.

Mr. Sheldon would learn Charlotte's position, would doubtless extort
from his brother the history of those researches in which Valentine had
been engaged; and then, what then? Alas! hereupon arose incalculable
dangers and perplexities.

Might not the stockbroker, as a man of the world, take a sordid view of
the whole transaction, and consider Valentine in the light of a
shameless adventurer, who had traded on his secret knowledge in the
hope of securing a rich wife? Might he not reveal all to Charlotte, and
attempt to place her lover before her in this most odious aspect? She
would not believe him base; her faith would be unshaken, her love
unchanged; but it was odious, it was horrible, to think that her ears
should be sullied, her tender heart fluttered, by the mere suggestion
of such baseness.

It was during the Christmas-morning sermon that Mr. Hawkehurst
permitted his mind to be disturbed by these reflections. He was sitting
next his betrothed, and had the pleasure of contemplating her fair
girlish face, with the rosy lips half parted in reverent attention as
she looked upward to her pastor. After church there was the walk home
to the Lawn: and during this rapturous promenade Valentine put away
from him all shadow of doubt and fear, in order to bask in the full
sunshine of his Charlotte's presence. Her pretty gloved hand rested
confidingly on his arm, and the supreme privilege of carrying a dainty
blue-silk umbrella and an ivory-bound church-service was awarded him.
With what pride he accepted the duty of convoying his promised wife
over the muddy crossings! Those brief journeys seemed to him in a
manner typical of their future lives. She was to travel dry-shod over
the miry ways of this world, supported by his strong arm. How fondly he
surveyed her toilet! and what a sudden interest he felt in the
fashions, that had until lately seemed so vulgar and frivolous!

"I will never denounce the absurdity of those little bonnets again,
Lotta," he cried; "that conglomeration of black velvet and
maiden's-hair fern is divine. Do you know that in some places they call
that fern Maria's hair, and hold it sacred to the mother of Him who was
born to-day? so you see there is an artistic fitness in your
head-dress. Yes, your bonnet is delicious, darling; and though the
diminutive size of that velvet jacket would lead me to suppose you had
borrowed it from some juvenile sister, it seems the very garment of all
garments best calculated to render you just one hair's-breadth nearer
perfection than you were made by Nature."

"Valentine, don't be ridiculous!" giggled the young lady.

"How can I help being ridiculous? Your presence acts upon my nerves
like laughing-gas. Ah, you do not know what cares and perplexities I
have to make me serious. Charlotte," exclaimed the young man, with
sudden energy, "do you think you could ever come to distrust me?"

"Valentine! Do I think I shall ever be Queen of England? One thing is
quite as likely as the other."

"My dear angel, if you will only believe in me always, there is no
power upon earth that can make us unhappy. Suppose you found yourself
suddenly possessed of a great fortune, Charlotte; what would you do
with it?"

"I would buy you a library as good as that in the British Museum; and
then you would not want to spend the whole of your existence in Great
Russell-street."

"But if you had a great fortune, Lotta, don't you think you would be
very much disposed to leave me to plod on at my desk in Great
Russell-street? Possessed of wealth, you would begin to languish for
position; and you would allow Mr. Sheldon to bring you some suitor who
could give you a name and a rank in society worthy of an angelic
creature with a hundred thousand pounds or so."

"I should do nothing of the kind. I do not care for money. Indeed, I
should be almost sorry to be very rich."

"Why, dearest?"

"Because, if I were very rich, we could not live in the cottage at
Wimbledon, and I could not make lemon cheese-cakes for your dinner."

"My own true-hearted darling!" cried Valentine; "the taint of
worldliness can never touch your pure spirit."

They were at the gates of Mr. Sheldon's domain by this time. Diana and
Georgy had walked behind the lovers, and had talked a little about the
sermon, and a good deal about the bonnets; poor Diana doing her very
uttermost to feign an interest in the finery that had attracted Mrs.
Sheldon's wandering gaze.

"Well, I should have thought you couldn't fail to see it," said the
elder lady, as they approached the gate; "a leghorn, very small, with
holly-berries and black ribbon--quite French, you know, and _so_
stylish. I was thinking, if I had my Tuscan cleaned and altered, it
might----" And here the conversation became general, as the family
party entered the drawing-room, where Mr. Sheldon was reading his paper
by a roaring fire.

"Talking about the bonnets, as per usual," said the stockbroker. "What
an enormous amount of spiritual benefit you women must derive from
church-going!--Consols have fallen another eighth since Tuesday
afternoon, George," added Mr. Sheldon, addressing himself to his
brother, who was standing on the hearth-rug, with his elbow on the
chimney-piece.

"Consols are your 'bonnets,' papa," cried Charlotte, gaily; "I don't
think there is a day upon which you do not talk about their having gone
up, or gone down, or gone somewhere."

After luncheon the lovers went for a walk in Kensington-gardens, with
Diana Paget to play propriety. "You will come with us, won't you, dear
Di?" pleaded Charlotte. "You have been looking pale and ill lately, and
I am sure a walk will do you good."

Valentine seconded his liege lady's request; and the three spent a
couple of hours pacing briskly to and fro in the lonelier parts of the
gardens, leaving the broad walks for the cockneys, who mustered strong
upon this seasonable Christmas afternoon.

For two out of those three that wintry walk was rapture only too
fleeting. For the third it was passive endurance. The agonies that had
but lately rent Diana's breast when she had seen those two together no
longer tortured her. The scorpion sting was beginning to lose its
venomous power. She suffered still, but her suffering was softened by
resignation. There is a limit to the capacity for pain in every mind.
Diana had borne her share of grief; she had, in Homeric phrase,
satiated herself with anguish and tears; and to those sharp throes and
bitter torments there had succeeded a passive sense of sorrow that was
almost peace.

"I have lost him," she said to herself. "Life can never bring me much
joy; but I should be worse than weak if I spent my existence in the
indulgence of my sorrow. I should be one of the vilest wretches upon
this earth if I could not teach myself to witness the happiness of my
friend without repining."

Miss Paget had not arrived at this frame of mind without severe
struggles. Many times, in the long wakeful nights, in the slow, joyless
days, she had said to herself, "Peace, peace, when there was no peace."
But at last the real peace, the true balm of Gilead, was given in
answer to her prayers, and the weary soul tasted the sweetness of
repose. She had wrestled with, and had vanquished, the demon.

To-day, as she walked beside the lovers, and listened to their happy
frivolous talk, she felt like a mother who had seen the man she loved
won from her by her own daughter, and who had resigned herself to the
ruin of all her hopes for love of her child.

There was more genial laughter and pleasant converse at Mr. Sheldon's
dinner-table that evening than was usual at that hospitable board; but
the stockbroker himself contributed little to the merriment of the
party. He was quiet, and even thoughtful, and let the talk and laughter
go by him without any attempt to take part in it. After dinner he went
to his own room; while Valentine and the ladies sat round the fire in
the orthodox Christmas manner, and after a good deal of discursive
conversation, subsided into the telling of ghost-stories.

George Sheldon sat apart from the circle, turning over the books upon
the table, or peering into a stereoscope with an evident sense of
weariness. This kind of domestic evening was a manner of life which Mr.
Sheldon of Gray's Inn denounced as "slow;" and he submitted himself to
the endurance of it this evening only because he did not know where
else to bestow his presence.

"I don't think papa cares much about ghost-stories, does he, uncle
George?" Charlotte asked, by way of saying something to the gentleman,
who seemed so very dreary as he sat yawning over the books and
stereoscopes.

"I don't suppose he does, my dear."

"And do you think he believes in ghosts?" the young lady demanded,
laughingly.

"No, I am sure he doesn't," replied George, very seriously.

"Why, how seriously you say that!" cried Charlotte, a little startled
by George Sheldon's manner, in which there had been an earnestness not
quite warranted by the occasion.

"I was thinking of your father--not my brother Phil. He died in
Philip's house, you know; and if Phil believed in ghosts, he would
scarcely have liked living in that house afterwards, you see, and so
on. But he went on living there for a twelvemonth longer. It seemed
just as good as any other house to him, I suppose."

Hereupon Georgy dissolved into tears, and told the company how she had
fled, heartbroken, from the house in which her first husband had died,
immediately after the funeral.

"And I'm sure the gentlemanly manner in which your step-papa behaved
during all that dreadful time, Charlotte, is beyond all praise,"
continued the lady, turning to her daughter; "so thoughtful, so kind,
so patient. What I should have done if poor Tom's illness had happened
in a strange house, I don't know. And I have no doubt that the new
doctor, Mr. Burkham, did his duty, though his manner was not as decided
as I should have wished."

"Mr. Burkham!" cried Valentine. "What Burkham is that? We've a member
of the Ragamuffins called Burkham, a surgeon, who does a little in the
literary line."

"The Mr. Burkham who attended my poor dear husband was a very young
man," answered Georgy; "a fair man, with a fresh colour and a
hesitating manner. I should have been so much better satisfied if he
had been older."

"That is the man," said Valentine. "The Burkham I know is
fresh-coloured and fair, and cannot be much over thirty."

"Are you and he particularly intimate?" asked George Sheldon,
carelessly.

"O dear no, not at all. We speak to each other when we happen to
meet--that's all. He seems a nice fellow enough; and he evidently
hasn't much practice, or he couldn't afford to be a Ragamuffin, and to
write farces. He looks to me exactly the kind of modest deserving man
who ought to succeed, and who so seldom does."

This was all that was said about Mr. Burkham; but there was no more
talk of ghost-stories, and a temporary depression fell upon the little
assembly. The memory of her father had always a saddening influence on
Charlotte; and it needed many tender _sotto-voce_ speeches from
Valentine to bring back the smiles to her fair young face.

The big electro-plated tea-tray and massive silver teapot made their
appearance presently, and immediately after came Mr. Sheldon.

"I want to have a little talk with you after tea, Hawkehurst," he said,
as he took his own cup from Georgy's hand, and proceeded to imbibe the
beverage standing. "If you will come out into the garden and have a
cigar, I can say all I have to say in a very few minutes; and then we
can come in here for a rubber. Georgy is a very decent player; and my
brother George plays as good a hand at whist as any man at the
Conservative or the Reform."

Valentine's heart sank within him. What could Mr. Sheldon want with a
few minutes' talk, if not to revoke his gracious permission of some
days before--the permission that had been accorded in ignorance of
Charlotte's pecuniary advantages? The young man looked very pale as he
went to smoke his cigar in Mr. Sheldon's garden. Charlotte followed him
with anxious eyes, and wondered at the sudden gravity of his manner.
George Sheldon also was puzzled by his brother's desire for a
tête-à-tête.

"What new move is Phil going to make?" he asked himself. The two men
lit their cigars, and got them well under weigh before Mr. Sheldon
began to talk.

"When I gave my consent to receive you as Miss Halliday's suitor, my
dear Hawkehurst," he said, at last, "I told you that I was acting as
very few men of the world would act, and I only told you the truth.
Since giving you that consent I have made a very startling discovery,
and one that places me in quite a new position in regard to this
matter."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, Mr. Hawkehurst, I have become aware of the fact that Miss
Halliday, the girl whom I thought entirely dependent upon my
generosity, is heir-at-law to a large fortune. You will, of course,
perceive how entirely this alters the position of affairs."

"I do perceive," Valentine answered earnestly; "but I trust you will
believe that I had not the faintest idea of Miss Halliday's position
when I asked her to be my wife. As to my love for her, I can scarcely
tell you when that began; but I think it must have dated from the first
hour in which I saw her, for I can remember no period at which I did
_not_ love her."

"If I did not believe you superior to any mercenary motives, you would
not have been under my roof to-day, Mr. Hawkehurst," said the
stockbroker, with extreme gravity. "The discovery of my stepdaughter's
position gives me no pleasure. Her claim to this wealth only increases
my responsibility with regard to her, and responsibility is what I
would willingly avoid. After all due deliberation, therefore, I have
decided that this discovery need make no alteration in your position as
Charlotte's future husband. If you were worthy of her when she was
without a fortune, you are not less worthy now."

"Mr. Sheldon," cried Valentine, with considerable emotion, "I did not
expect so much generosity at your hands!"

"No," replied the stockbroker, "the popular idea of a business man is
not particularly agreeable. I do not, however, pretend to anything like
generosity; I wish to take a common-sense view of the affair, but not
an illiberal one."

"You have shown so much generosity of feeling, that I can no longer
sail under false colours," said Valentine, after a brief pause. "Until
a day or two ago I was bound to secrecy by a promise made to your
brother. But his communication of Miss Halliday's rights to you sets me
at liberty, and I must tell you that which may possibly cause you to
withdraw your confidence."

Hereupon Mr. Hawkehurst revealed his share in the researches that had
resulted in the discovery of Miss Halliday's claim to a large fortune.
He entered into no details. He told Mr. Sheldon only that he had been
the chief instrument in the bringing about of this important discovery.

"I can only repeat what I said just now," he added, in conclusion. "I
have loved Charlotte Halliday from the beginning of our acquaintance,
and I declared myself some days before I discovered her position. I
trust this confession will in nowise alter your estimate of me."

"It would be a poor return for your candour if I were to doubt your
voluntary statement, Hawkehurst," answered the stockbroker. "No; I
shall not withdraw my confidence. And if your researches should
ultimately lead to the advancement of my stepdaughter, there will be
only poetical justice in your profiting more or less by that
advancement. In the mean tune we cannot take matters too quietly. I am
not a sanguine person, and I know how many hearts have been broken by
the High Court of Chancery. This grand discovery of yours may result in
nothing but disappointment and waste of money, or it may end as
pleasantly as my brother and you seem to expect. All I ask is, that
poor Charlotte's innocent heart may not be tortured by a small lifetime
of suspense. Let her be told nothing that can create hope in the
present or disappointment in the future. She appears to be perfectly
happy in her present position, and it would be worse than folly to
disturb her by vague expectations that may never be realised. She will
have to make affidavits, and so on, by-and-by, I daresay; and when that
time comes she must be told there is some kind of suit pending in which
she is concerned. But she need not be told how nearly that suit
concerns her, or the extent of her alleged claim. You see, my dear sir,
I have seen so much of this sort of thing, and the misery involved in
it, that I may be forgiven if I am cautious."

This was putting the whole affair in a new light. Until this moment
Valentine had fancied that, the chain of evidence once established,
Charlotte's claim had only to be asserted in order to place her in
immediate possession of the Haygarth estate. But Mr. Sheldon's cool and
matter-of-fact discussion of the subject implied all manner of doubt
and difficulty, and the Haygarthian thousands seemed carried away to
the most remote and shadowy regions of Chanceryland, as by the waves of
some legal ocean.

"And you really think it would be better not to tell Charlotte?"

"I am sure of it. If you wish to preserve her from all manner of worry
and annoyance, you will take care to keep her in the dark until the
affair is settled--supposing it ever should be settled. I have known
such an affair to outlast the person interested."

"You take a very despondent view of the matter."

"I take a practical view of it. My brother George is a monomaniac on
the next-of-kin subject."

"I cannot quite reconcile myself to the idea of concealing the truth
from Charlotte."

"That is because you do not know the world as well as I do," answered
Mr. Sheldon, coolly.

"I cannot imagine that the idea of this claim would have any disturbing
influence upon her," Valentine argued, thoughtfully. "She is the last
person in the world to care about money."

"Perhaps so. But there is a kind of intoxication in the idea of a large
fortune--an intoxication that no woman of Charlotte's age could stand
against. Tell her that she has a claim to considerable wealth, and from
that moment she will count upon the possession of that wealth, and
shape all her plans for the future upon that basis. 'When I get my
fortune, I will do this, that, and the other.' _That_ is what she will
be continually saying to herself; and by-and-by, when the affair
results in failure, as it very likely will, there will remain a sense
of disappointment which will last for a lifetime, and go far to
embitter all the ordinary pleasures of her existence."

"I am inclined to think you are right," said Valentine, after some
little deliberation. "My darling girl is perfectly happy as it is. It
may be wisest to tell her nothing."

"I am quite sure of that," replied Mr. Sheldon. "Of course her being
enlightened or not can be in no way material to me. It is a subject
upon which I can afford to be entirely disinterested."

"I will take your advice, Mr. Sheldon."

"So be it. In that case matters will remain _in statu quo_. You will be
received in this house as my stepdaughter's future husband, and it is
an understood thing that your marriage is not to take place without due
consultation, with me. I am to have a voice in the business."

"Most decidedly. It is only right that you should be deferred to."

This brought the interview to a close very pleasantly. The gentlemen
went back to the house, and Valentine found himself presently seated at
a whist-table with the brothers Sheldon, and Georgy, who played very
well, in a feeble kind of way, holding religiously by all the precepts
of Hoyle, and in evident fear of her husband and brother-in-law.
Charlotte and Diana played duets while the whist progressed, with
orthodox silence and solemnity on the part of the four players.
Valentine's eyes wandered very often to the piano, and he was in nowise
sorry when the termination of a conquering rubber set him at liberty.
He contrived to secure a brief _tête-à-tête_ with Charlotte while he
helped her in the arrangement of the books on the music-stand, and then
the shrill chime of the clock on the mantelpiece, and an audible yawn
from Philip Sheldon, told him that he must go.

"Providence has been very good to us," he said, in an undertone, as he
bade Miss Halliday good night. "Your stepfather's conduct is all that
is kind and thoughtful, and there is not a cloud upon our future. Good
night, and God bless you, my dearest! I think I shall always consider
this my first Christmas-day. I never knew till to-day how sweet and
holy this anniversary can be."

He walked to Cumberland-gate in company with George Sheldon, who
preserved a sulky gravity, which was by no means agreeable.

"You have chosen your own course," he said at parting, "and I only hope
the result may prove your wisdom. But, as I think I may have remarked
before, you don't know my brother Phil as well as I do." "Your brother
has behaved with such extreme candour and good feeling towards me, that
I would really rather not hear any of your unpleasant innuendoes
against him. I hate that 'I could an if I would' style of talk, and
while I occupy my present position in your brother's house I cannot
consent to hear anything to his discredit."

"That's a very tall animal you've taken to riding lately, my friend
Hawkehurst," said George, "and when a man rides the high horse with me
I always let him have the benefit of his _monture_. You have served
yourself without consideration for me, and I shall not trouble myself
in the future with any regard for you or your interests. But if harm
ever comes to you or yours, through my brother Philip, remember that I
warned you. Good night."

       *       *       *       *       *

In Charlotte's room the cheery little fire burned late upon that frosty
night, while the girl sat in her dressing-gown dreamily brushing her
soft brown hair, and meditating upon the superhuman merits and graces
in her lover.

It was more than an hour after the family had retired, when there came
a cautious tapping at Charlotte's door. "It is only I, dear," said a
low voice; and before Charlotte could answer, the door was opened, and
Diana came in, and went straight to the hearth, by which her friend was
sitting.

"I am so wakeful to-night, Lotta," she said; "and the light under your
door tempted me to come in for a few minutes' chat."

"My dearest Di, you know how glad I always am to see you."

"Yes, dear, I know that you are only too good to me--and I have been so
wayward, so ungracious. O, Charlotte, I know my coldness has wounded
you during the last few months."

"I have been just a little hurt now and then, dear, when you have
seemed not to care for me, or to sympathise with me in all my joys and
sorrows; but then it has been selfish of me to expect so much sympathy,
and I know that, if your manner is cold, your heart is noble."

"No, Lotta, it is not noble. It is a wicked heart."

"Diana!"

"Yes," said Miss Paget, kneeling by her friend's chair, and speaking
with suppressed energy; "it has been a wicked heart--wicked because
your happiness has been torture to it."

"Diana!"

"O, my dearest one, do not look at me with those innocent, wondering
eyes. You will hate me, perhaps, when you know all. O, no, no, no, you
will not hate--you will pity and forgive me. I loved him, dear; he was
my companion, my only friend; and there was a time--long ago--before he
had ever seen your face, when I fancied that he cared for me, and would
get to love me--as I loved him--unasked, uncared for. O, Charlotte, you
can never know what I have suffered. It is not in your nature to
comprehend what such a woman as I can suffer. I loved him so dearly, I
clung so wickedly, so madly to my old hopes, my old dreams, long after
they had become the falsest hopes, the wildest dreams that ever had
power over a distracted mind. But, my darling, it is past, and I come
to you on this Christmas night to tell you that I have conquered my
stubborn heart, and that from this time forward there shall be no cloud
between you and me."

"Diana, my dear friend, my poor girl!" cried Charlotte, quite overcome,
"you loved him, you--as well as I--and I have robbed you of his heart!"

"No, Charlotte, it was never mine."

"You loved him--all the time you spoke so harshly of him!"

"When I seemed most harsh, I loved him most. But do not look at me with
such distress in your sweet face, my dear. I tell you that the worst
pain is past and gone. The rest is very easy to bear, and to outlive.
These things do not last for ever, Charlotte, whatever the poets and
novelists may tell us. If I had not lived through the worst, I should
not be here to-night, with your arm round my neck and his name upon my
lips. I have never wished you joy until to-night, Charlotte, and now
for the first time I can wish you all good things, in honesty and
truth. I have conquered myself. I do not say that to me Valentine
Hawkehurst can ever be quite what other men are. I think that to the
end of my life there will be a look in his face, a tone of his voice,
that will touch me more deeply than any other look or tone upon earth;
but my love for you has overcome my love for him, and there is no
hidden thought in my mind to-night, as I sit here at your feet, and
pray for God's blessing on your choice."

"My darling Diana, I know not how to thank you, how to express my faith
and my love."

"I doubt if I am worthy of your love, dear; but, with God's help, I
will be worthy of your trust; and if ever there should come a day in
which my love can succour or my devotion serve you, there shall be no
lack of either. Listen, dear; there are the waits playing the sweet
Christmas hymn. Do you remember what Shakespeare says about the 'bird
of dawning' singing all night long, and how no evil spirit roams abroad
at this dear season,--

    'So hallowed and so gracious is the time?'

"I have conquered my evil spirit, Lotta, and there shall be peace and
true love between us for evermore, shall there not, dearest friend?"

And thus ends the story of Diana Paget's girlish love--the love that
had grown up in secret, to be put away from her heart in silence, and
buried with the dead dreams and fancies that had fostered it. For her
to-night the romance of life closed for ever. For Charlotte the sweet
story was newly begun, and the opening chapters were very pleasant--the
mystic volume seemed all delight. Blessed with her lover's devotion,
her mother's approval, and even Mr. Sheldon's benign approbation, what
more could she ask from Providence--what lurking dangers could she
fear--what storm-cloud could she perceive upon the sunlit heavens?

There was a cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, but the harbinger of
tempest and terror. It yet remains to be shown what form that cloud
assumed, and from what quarter the tempest came. The history of
Charlotte Halliday has grown upon the writer; and the completion of
that history, with the fate of John Haygarth's fortune, will be found
under the title of, CHARLOTTE'S INHERITANCE.


THE END.





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