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Title: At His Gates, Vol. 2(of 3)
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret)
Language: English
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                            AT HIS GATES.

                              A Novel.

                          BY MRS OLIPHANT,

    AUTHOR OF 'CHRONICLES OF CARLINGFORD,' ETC., ETC.

    IN THREE VOLUMES.

    VOL. II.

    LONDON:
    TINSLEY BROTHERS, 18, CATHERINE ST., STRAND.
    1872.

    [_All rights reserved_]

    JOHN CHILDS AND SON, PRINTERS.



AT HIS GATES.



CHAPTER I.


Helen had still another incident before her, however, ere she left St
Mary's Road. It was late in the afternoon when she went back. To go back
at all, to enter the dismantled place, and have that new dreary picture
thrust into her mind instead of the old image of home, was painful
enough, and Norah's cheeks were pale, and even to Helen the air and the
movement conveyed a certain relief. They went into the quieter part of
the park and walked for an hour or two saying little. Now and then poor
Norah would be beguiled into a little monologue, to which her mother
lent a half attention--but that was all. It was easier to be in motion
than to keep still, and it was less miserable to look at the trees, the
turf, the blue sky, than at the walls of a room which was full of
associations of happiness. They did not get home until the carriages
were beginning to roll into the park for the final round before dinner.
And when they reached their own house, there stood a smart cabriolet
before it, the horse held by a little tiger. Within the gate two
gentlemen met them coming down the steps. One of them was a youth of
eighteen or nineteen, who looked at Helen with a wondering awe-stricken
glance. The other was--Mr Golden. Norah had closed the garden door
heedlessly after her. They were thus shut in, the four together
confronting each other, unable to escape. Helen could not believe her
eyes. Her heart began to beat, her pale cheeks to flush, a kind of mist
of excitement came before her vision. Mr Golden, too, was not without a
certain perturbation. He had not expected to see any one. He took off
his hat, and cleared his voice, and made an effort to seem at his ease.

'I had just called,' he said, 'to express--to inquire--I did not know
things had been so far advanced. I would not intrude--for the world.'

'Oh!' cried Helen, facing him, standing between him and the door, 'how
dare you come here?'

'Dare, Mrs Drummond? I--I don't understand----'

'You do understand,' she said, 'better--far better than any one else
does. And how dare you come to look at your handiwork? A man may be what
you are, and yet have a little shame. Oh, you robber of the dead! if I
had been anything but a woman, you would not have ventured to look me in
the face.'

He did not venture to look her in the face then; he looked at his
companion instead, opening his eyes, and nodding his head slightly, as
if to imply that she was crazed. 'It is only a woman who can insult a
man with impunity,' he said, 'but I hope I am able to make allowance for
your excited feelings. It is natural for a lady to blame some one, I
suppose. Rivers, let us go.'

'Not till I have spoken,' she cried in her excitement. 'This is but a
boy, and he ought to know whom he is with. Oh, how is it that I cannot
strike you down and trample upon you? If I were to call that policeman
he would not take you, I suppose. You liar and thief! don't dare to
answer me. What, at my own door; at the door of the man whose good name
you have stolen, whom you have slandered in his grave--oh my God! who
has not even a grave because you drove him mad!--' she cried, her eyes
blazing, her cheeks glowing, all the silent beauty of her face growing
splendid in her passion.

The young man gazed at her as at an apparition, his lips falling apart,
his face paling. He had never heard such a voice, never seen such an
outburst of outraged human feeling before.

'Mrs Drummond, this is madness. I--I can make allowance for--for
excitement----'

'Be silent, sir,' cried Helen, in her fury. 'Who do you suppose cares
what you think? And how dare you open your mouth before me? It is I who
have a right to speak. And I wish there were a hundred to hear instead
of one. This man had absconded till he heard my husband was dead. Then
he came back and assumed innocence, and laid the blame on him who--could
not reply. I don't know who you are; but you are young, and you should
have a heart. There is not a liar in England--not a thing so vile as
this man. He has plundered the dead of his good name. Now go, sir. I
have said what I had to say.'

'Mrs Drummond, sometime you will have to answer--sometime you will
repent of this,' cried Golden, losing his presence of mind.

'I shall never repent it, not if you could kill me for it,' cried Helen.
'Go; you make the place you stand on vile. Take him away from my sight.
I have said what I had to say.'

Mr Golden made an effort to recover himself. He struck his young
companion on the shoulder with an attempt at jocularity.

'Come, Rivers,' he said, 'come along, we are dismissed. Don't you see we
are no longer wanted here?'

But the lad did not answer the appeal. He stayed behind with his eyes
still fixed upon Helen.

'Please, don't blame me,' he said. 'Tell me if I can do anything. I--did
not know----'

'Thank you,' she said faintly. Her excitement had failed her all at
once. She had put her arms round Norah, and was leaning upon her,
haggard and pale as if she were dying. 'Thank you,' she repeated, with a
motion of her hand towards the door.

The youth stole out with a sore heart. He stood for a moment irresolute
on the pavement. The cab was his and not Golden's; but that personage
had got into it, and was calling to him to follow.

'Thanks,' said young Rivers, with the impetuosity of his years. 'I
shall not trouble you. Go on pray. I prefer to walk.'

And he turned upon his heel, and went rapidly away. He was gone before
the other could realise it; and it was with feelings that it would be
impossible to describe, with a consciousness that seemed both bodily and
mental of having been beaten and wounded all over, with a singing in his
ears, and a bewildered sense of punishment, that Golden picked up the
reins and drove away. It was only a few sharp words from a woman's
tongue, a thing which a man must steel himself to bear when his
operations are of a kind which involve the ruin of families. But Helen
had given her blow far more skilfully, far more effectively, than she
was aware of. She had clutched at her first chance of striking, without
any calculation of results; and the youth she had appealed to in her
excitement might have been any nameless lad for what she knew. It was Mr
Golden's hard fate that he was not a nameless lad. He was Cyril Rivers,
Lord Rivers's eldest son. The manager drove on a little way, slowly, and
in great perturbation. And then he drew up the horse, and sprang to the
ground.

'You had better go home,' he said to the little groom.

And then, still with that sense of bodily suffering as well as mental,
he made his way through Kensington Gardens to the drive. He was a man of
fashion, too, as well as a man of business--if he ever could hold up his
head again.

Of course he did hold up his head, and in an hour after was ready to
have made very good fun of the 'scolding' he had received, and the
impression it had made on his young companion.

'I don't wonder,' he said; 'though her rage was all against me, I could
not help admiring her. You never can tell what a woman is till you see
her in a passion. She was splendid. Her friends ought to advise her to
go on the stage.'

'Why should she go on the stage?' said some one standing by.

'Because she is left a beggar. She has not a penny, I suppose.'

'It is lucky that you have suffered so little when so many people are
beggared, Golden,' said one of his fine friends.

This little winged shaft went right into the wound made by Helen's fiery
lance, and so far as sensation went (which was nothing) Mr Golden had
not a happy time that night.

As for Helen, she went in, prostrated by her own vehemence, and threw
herself down on her bed, and hid her face from the light. After the
first excitement was over shame seized upon her. She had descended from
her proper place. She had flown into this outburst of passion and rage
before her child. She had lowered herself in Norah's eyes, as she
thought--though the child would not take her arm from her neck, nor her
lips from her cheek, but clung to her sobbing, 'Oh, poor mamma! poor
mamma!' with sympathetic passion. All this fiery storm through which she
had passed had developed Norah. She had gained three or four years in a
day. At one bound, from the child who was a piece of still life in the
family, deeply beloved, but not needed, by the two who were each other's
companions, she had become, all at once, her mother's only stay, her
partizan, her supporter, her comrade-in-arms. It is impossible to
over-estimate the difference this makes in a child's, and especially in
a girl's, life. It made of her an independent, thinking, acting
creature, all in a moment. For years everything had been said before
her, under the supposition that Norah, absorbed in her book, heard
nothing. But she had heard a thousand things. She knew all now without
any need of explanation, as well as so young a mind could understand.
And she began to grope in her mind towards further knowledge, to put
things together which even her mother had not thought of.

'Do you know who the boy was, mamma?' she whispered, after she had sat a
long time on the bed, silently consoling the sufferer. 'Oh, I am so glad
you spoke, he will never forget it. Now one more knows it besides you
and me.'

'There are others who know, dear,' said Helen, who had still poor
Stephen's magazine in her hand.

'Yes,' said Norah, 'Dr Maurice and the people who wrote to the papers;
but, mamma, nobody like you and me. Whatever they say we know. I am
little, and I suppose I shall always be little; but that does not
matter. I shall soon be grown up, and able to help. And, mamma, this
shall be my work as well as yours--I shall never stop till it is
done--never, all my life!'

'Oh, my darling!' cried Helen, clasping her child in her arms. It was
not that she received the vow as the child meant it, or even desired
that in Norah's opening life there should be nothing of more importance
than this early self-devotion; but the sympathy was sweet to her beyond
describing, the more that the little creature, who had played and
chattered by her side, had suddenly become her friend. In the midst of
her sorrow and pain, and even of the prostration and sensitive visionary
shame with which this encounter had filled her, she had one sudden throb
of pleasure. She was not alone any more.

It was Helen who fell asleep that evening worn out with emotion, and
weariness, and suffering. And then Norah rose up softly, and made a
pilgrimage by herself all over the deserted house. She went through the
conservatory, where, of all the beautiful things poor Robert had loved
to see, there remained nothing but the moonlight which filled its
emptiness; and into the studio, where she sat down on the floor beside
the easel, and clasped her arms round it and cried. She was beginning to
weary of the atmosphere of grief, beginning to long for life and
sunshine, but yet she clung to the easel and indulged in one childish
passion of sobs and tears. 'Oh, papa!' That was all Norah said to
herself. But the recollection of all he had been, and of all that had
been done to him, surged over the child, and filled her with that sense
of the intolerable which afflicts the weak. She could not bear it, yet
she had to bear it; just as her mother, just as poor Haldane had to
bear--struggling vainly against a power greater than theirs,
acquiescing when life and strength ran low, sometimes for a moment
divinely consenting, accepting the will of God. But it is seldom that
even the experienced soul gets so far as that.

Next morning Mrs Drummond and her daughter went to Dura. Their arrival
at the station was very different from that of Mr Burton. No eager
porters rushed at them as they stepped out of the railway carriage; the
station-master moved to the other side; they landed, and were left on
the platform by themselves to count their boxes while the train swept
on. It was the first time it had ever happened so to Helen. Her husband
had always either been with her, or waiting for her, wherever she
travelled. And she was weary with yesterday's agitation, and with all
that had so lately happened. Norah came forward and took everything in
hand. It was she who spoke to the porter, and set the procession in
order.

'Cab? Bless you, miss! there ain't but one in the place, and it's gone
on a 'xcursion,' he said, 'but I'll get a wheelbarrow and take 'em down.
It ain't more than ten minutes' walk.'

'I know the way,' said Helen; and she took her child's hand and walked
on into the familiar place. She had not been there since her marriage;
but oh! how well she knew it! She put her crape veil over her face to
hide her from curious eyes; and it threw a black mist at the same time
over the cheerful village. It seemed to Helen as if she was walking in a
dream. She knew everything, every stone on the road, the names above the
shops, the forms of the trees. There was one great elm, lopsided, which
had lost a huge branch (how well she remembered!) by a thunderstorm when
she was a child; was it all a dream? Everything looked like a dream
except Norah; but Norah was real. As for the child, there was in her
heart a lively thrill of pleasure at sight of all this novelty which she
could not quite subdue. She had no veil of crape over her eyes, and the
red houses all lichened over, the glimpses of fields and trees, the
rural aspect of the road, the vision of the common in the distance, all
filled her with a suppressed delight. It was wrong, Norah knew; she
called herself back now and then and sighed, and asked herself how she
could be so devoid of feeling; but yet the reaction would come. She
began to talk in spite of herself.

'I think some one might have come to meet us at the station,' she said.
'Ned might have come. He is a boy, and can go anywhere. I am sure,
mamma, _we_ would have gone to make them feel a little at home. Where
is the Gatehouse? What is that place over there? Why there are shops--a
draper's and a confectioner's--and a library! I am very glad there is a
library. Mamma, I think I shall like it; is that the common far away
yonder? Do you remember any of the people? I should like to know some
girls if you will let me. There is little Clara, of course, who is my
cousin. Do you think we shall live here always, mamma?'

Norah did not ask nor, indeed, look for any answer to this string of
questions. She made a momentary pause of courtesy to leave room for a
reply, should any come; but Helen's thoughts were full of the past, and
as she made no answer Norah resumed the strain.

'It looks very cheerful here, mamma; though it is a village, it does not
look dull. I like the red tiles on the cottages and all this red-brick;
perhaps it is a little hot-looking now, but in winter it will be so
comfortable. Shall we be able to get our things here without going to
town? That seems quite a good shop. I wonder what Mrs Burton and Clara
do? But then they are so rich, and we are--poor. Shall I be able to have
any lessons, mamma? Can I go on with my music? I wonder if Clara has a
governess. She will think it very strange that you should teach me. But
I am very glad; I like you better than twenty governesses. Mamma, will
it make any difference between Clara and me, them being so rich and us
so poor?'

'Oh, Norah, I cannot tell you. Don't ask so many questions,' said Helen.

Norah was wounded; she did not give up her mother's hand, but she loosed
her hold of it to show her feelings. She had been very sympathetic, very
quiet, and respectful of the grief which in its intensity was beyond
her; and now she seemed to herself to have a right to a little sympathy
in return. She could understand but dimly what was in her mother's mind;
she did not know the associations of which Dura was full; and it was
hard to be thus stopped short in that spring of renovating life. As she
resigned herself to silence, a feeling of injury came over her; and
here, just before her eyes, suddenly appeared a picture of life so
different from hers. She saw a band of children gathered about the gate
of a house, which stood at a short distance from the road, surrounded by
shrubberies and distinguished by one great splendid cedar which
stretched its glorious branches over the high garden wall behind, and
made a point in the landscape. A lady was driving a little
pony-carriage through the open gate, while the children stood watching
and waving their hands to her. 'Good-bye, mamma,' 'Don't be long,' 'And
mind you bring back Clara with you,' they were calling to her. With a
wistful sense of envy Norah gazed and wondered who they were, and if she
should ever know them. 'Why are people so different?' she asked herself.
She had nobody in the world but her mother, lost behind that crape veil,
lost in her own thoughts, who told her not to ask questions, while those
other little girls had a smiling mamma in a pretty pony-carriage, who
was taking one to drive with her, and was to bring Clara back to see
them. Which Clara? Was it the Clara who belonged to Norah, her own
cousin, to whom she had a better right than any one? Norah's heart sank
as she realized this. No doubt Clara must have many friends; she could
not stand in need of Norah as Norah did of her. She would be a stranger,
an interloper, a new little girl whom nobody knew, whom nobody perhaps
would care to know. Tears came to the child's eyes. She had been a woman
last night rising to the height of the tragedy in which her little life
was involved; but now Nature had regained its sway, and she was only
twelve years old. It was while her mind was occupied with these
thoughts that her mother interrupted them, suddenly pressing her hand.

'Norah, this is our house, where we are to live,' said Helen. Her voice
faltered, she held the child's hand as if for support. And now they were
at their own door.

Norah gazed at it with a certain dismay. She, too, like Mr Haldane, had
her theory about a house in the country. It must be like Southlees, she
thought, though without the river; or perhaps, as they had grown poor,
it might be something a little better than the lodge at Southlees, a
little cottage; but she had never dreamed of anything like this tall
red-brick house which twinkled at her with all its windows. She was awed
and chilled, and a little frightened, as she crossed the road. Susan was
standing at the open door parleying with the porter about their boxes,
which she declined to admit till 'the family' came. The one fear which
possessed Susan's life, the fear of being 'put upon,' was strong in her
at this moment. But she set the balance straight for Norah, by making a
sudden curtsey, which tempted the child so sorely to laughter, that her
eyes began to shine and her heart to rise once more. She ran up the
white steps eagerly before her mother. 'Oh, mamma, I am first. I can
say welcome to you,' she said.

But the sight of the drawing-room, into which Susan ushered them,
solemnly closing the door after them, struck a moment's chill to Norah's
heart. It seemed so strange to be thus shut in, as if it was not their
own house but a prison. It was afternoon, and the sunshine had all gone
from that side of the road, and the graceful, old-fashioned room looked
dim and ghostly to eyes which had just come out of the light. The
windows all draped with brown and grey, the old-fashioned slim grand
piano in the corner ('I shall have my music,' said Norah), the black
japanned screen with its funny little pictures, the high carved
mantelpiece with that square mirror which nobody could see into, puzzled
the child, at once attracting and repelling her. There was another
round, convex mirror like a shield, on the side wall, but even that did
not enable Norah to see herself, it only made a little twinkling picture
of her in a vast perspective of drawing-room. Helen had seated herself
as soon as the door was shut, and there was she, too, in the picture
like a lady come to call. What a strange, dim, ghostly place it was! The
bumping of the boxes as they went up-stairs was a comfort to Norah. It
was a sound of life breaking the terrible silence. She asked herself
what would happen when it was over. Should they fall under some charm
and sleep there, like the enchanted princess, for a hundred years? And
to think that all this was within reach of that lady in the
pony-carriage, and of her children who waved their hands to her!--so
near, yet in a different world.

'Mayn't we go and see the house, mamma?' Norah whispered, standing close
to her mother's side. 'Shouldn't you like to see where we are to sleep?
Shouldn't you like to get out of this room? It frightens me so; it feels
like a prison. Oh, mamma! perhaps it would not look so strange--and
so--dull--and so--funny,' cried Norah, feeling disposed to cry, 'if you
would take your bonnet off.'

Just at this moment there was a sound in the road which stirred the
whole village into life, and roused Norah. She ran to the window to see
what it was. It was an event which happened every evening, which all the
children in Dura ran to see, though they were so familiar with it. It
was Mr Burton driving his high-stepping bays home from the station. He
had come by the express made on purpose for him and such as him, which
arrived half-an-hour later than the train by which the Drummonds had
come. Norah climbed up on her knees on a chair to see over the little
old-fashioned blinds. There was some one seated by Mr Burton in the
dog-cart, some one who looked at the Gatehouse, as Mr Burton did, while
they dashed past. At the sight of him Norah started, and from a little
fantastical child became a woman all at once again. It was the young man
who the day before had been with Mr Golden at St Mary's Road, he who had
heard her father's vindication, and had believed it, and 'was on our
side,' Norah felt, against all the world.



CHAPTER II.


There is always a little excitement in a village over a new inhabitant,
and the Drummonds were not common strangers to be speculated vaguely
about. There were many people in Dura who remembered Helen in her beauty
and youth. And next morning, when it became known that she had arrived
at the Gatehouse, the whole place burst into gossip on the subject. Even
the new people, the City people who lived in the white villas near the
station, were moved by it. For poor Drummond's story was known
everywhere, and his miserable fate, and the discussion in the
newspapers. Even here, in the quietness of the country, people took
sides, and public opinion was by no means so unanimous as poor Helen had
supposed. The papers had accepted her husband's guilt as certain, but
opinion was very much divided on the subject among people who had means
of knowing. 'Burton ought to have warned that poor fellow,' one of the
City gentlemen said to another at the station, going up by the early
train. 'I would not trust a simpleton in the hands of a smart man like
Golden.'

'Do you think he was a simpleton?' said the other.

'In business, yes----' said the first speaker.

'How could he be otherwise? But, by Jove, sir, what a splendid painter!
I never saw anything I liked better than that picture of his in the last
Exhibition. Poor fellow! And to put him in Golden's hands, a man well
known to be up to every dodge. I wonder what Burton could be thinking
of. I wonder he can look that poor lady in the face.'

'I should just like to find out how much Burton himself knew about it,'
said the other, nodding his head.

'And so should I,' the first speaker said significantly, as they took
their place in the train.

Thus it will be seen that the world, which Helen thought of so bitterly
as all against her, was by no means so clear on the subject. At the
breakfast-table in the Rectory the conversation took a still more
friendly tone.

'I hear that poor Mrs Drummond has come to the Gatehouse,' said Mrs
Dalton. 'I almost think I saw her yesterday--a tall woman, in a crape
veil, with a little girl about Mary's size. I shall make a point of
calling the first time I go out. Oh, George, what a sad, sad story! I
hope she will let me be of some use to her.'

'I don't see that you can be of much use,' said her husband. 'She has
the Burtons, of course, to fall back upon. How strange to think of Helen
Burton coming back here! I could not have supposed it possible. So proud
a girl! And how that man at Dura could ask her! I suppose he feels the
sweetness of revenge in it. Everybody knew she refused him.'

'Oh George, hush! the children,' cried Mrs Dalton under her breath.

'Psha! everybody knows. What a difference it would have made to her,
though! It is strange she should have chosen to come and live in sight
of his splendour.'

'Oh, do you think she cares about his splendour? Poor soul!' said kind
Mrs Dalton, with tears in her eyes. 'She must have very different
thoughts in her mind. Most likely she was glad of any shelter where she
could hide her head, after all the newspapers and the publicity. Oh,
George! it must be doubly hard upon her if she was proud.'

'Probably it was her pride that made her husband such a fool,' said the
rector. 'You women have a great deal to answer for. If she drove him
into that thirst for money-making--a thing he could know nothing
about----You are all fond of money--'

'For money's worth, George,' said Mrs Dalton humbly. She could not deny
the accusation. For her own part she would have done anything for
money--she with her eight children, and Charlie's education so
dreadfully on her mind.

'Oh, I don't say you are miserly,' said the rector, who was a literary
man of superior mind, and hated to be bothered by family cares, which
incapacitated him for thought; 'but when a woman wants more than her
husband can give her, what is the unhappy man to do? _Ne sutor ultra
crepidam._ Which means, Mary----'

'I have heard it before,' said his wife meekly. 'I think I know what it
means.'

'Then you see what comes of it,' said Mr Dalton.' I don't believe a word
that is in the papers. I seldom do. He went and got himself involved and
bamboozled. How was he to know what he was doing? I don't blame poor
Drummond, but I am not so sure it was not her fault.'

At the great house the talk was different; there was no discussion of
the rights or wrongs of the question. Mr Burton, indeed, preferred not
to speak of Mr Drummond; and young Mr Rivers, who had come down with him
on the previous night, had got no opening to report the scene of which
he had been a spectator. They were early people, and though they had
entertained a large party the night before, their breakfast was earlier
than that at the Rectory. They were all out on the lawn, visitors,
children, dogs, and all, while Mr Dalton drank his coffee. Ned was
busily employed training the Skye to jump over a stick, an exercise
which was not much to Shaggy's taste; while the big pointer (who was
only in his babyhood, though he was so big, and was imbecile, as puppies
are) looked on, and made foolish springs and vaults about his clever
brother. Malta, in his blue ribbon, kept close by Mrs Burton's side, and
looked on at the performance with the contemptuous toleration of a
superior being; and Clara, also decked with blue ribbons, hung by her
mother too.

'You had better come with me and see Helen, said the head of the house.
'I told you she arrived last night.'

'Now!' said Mrs Burton, with some surprise. She had her gardening gloves
on and a basket in her hand for flowers. These she would have laid down
at once, had it been only a walk to the station which was in question;
but this was a different affair.

'Yes; why not now?' said her husband with that roll of wealth and
comfort in his voice. 'We are relations, we need not stand upon
ceremony. You mean to call on her some time, I suppose.'

'Oh, certainly, I shall call; but not at this hour, Mr Burton. I have
only seen her once. Familiarity would be impertinence in me.'

'Pshaw, nonsense! one of your fantastic notions,' he said. 'I have seen
her more than once, and I can't afford to stand on ceremony. Come along.
I am going there now.'

'Then I think you should go immediately,' said Mrs Burton, looking at
her watch, 'or you will be too late for the train. Clara, papa will not
want us this morning; we can go for some flowers. You will be back by
the usual train? I will pick you up at the station, if you like, for I
have some calls to make to-day.'

'As you please,' said her husband; 'but I can't understand why you
should cross me, Clara, about my cousin. You don't mean to say,' he
added with a laugh, 'that you have any--feeling on the subject? That you
are--ever so little--piqued about poor Helen? I shouldn't like to use
the other word.'

Clara Burton looked at her husband very calmly. She was not offended. It
was human nature; men were known to possess this kind of vanity, though
it was so strange. 'I am not at all piqued,' she said; 'but I like to be
civil. I don't suppose Mrs Drummond and I will be moved to rush into
each other's arms all at once, and I don't wish to look as if I paid her
less respect because she is poor. If you are going there, you ought to
go immediately. You will be late for the train.'

'Confound your composure!' Mr Burton said to himself, as he went down
the avenue.

It would have pleased him had his wife been a little discomposed. But,
after a while, he took comfort, saying to himself that Clara was a
consummate little actress, but that she could not take _him_ in. Of
course, she was nettled by the presence of his old love, and by his
haste to visit her; but she was proud, and would not show it. He felt a
double triumph in the sense that these two women were both affected, and
endured, for his sweet sake, a certain amount of pain. He set out his
chest more than ever, and held up his head. Now was his moment of
triumph over the woman who had once rejected him. Had he been able to
induce her to come to Dura while she was still prosperous, the triumph
would have been sweeter, for it would have been unmingled with any tinge
of regretful or remorseful feeling; but as it was it was sweet. For the
first time she would see him in his full importance, in all his state
and splendour, she would see him from the depths of her own humiliation,
and the force of a contrast greater than he had desired, more complete
even than he had dreamed, must already have flashed upon her. Yes, now
she would see what she had lost--what a mistake she had made. He meant
to be very kind; he would have given her anything she chose to ask for,
if she but showed the least sign of penitence, of clearer perception, of
being aware of what she had lost. There was nothing which her cousin
would not have done for Helen; but he could not resign his own
delightful consciousness of triumph. Under this genial influence, he was
overflowing with good-nature and kindness.

'What! come out for a little sunshine, old John,' he said to the old man
at the lodge, who was seated basking in the warmth on the bench at his
door. 'Good for the rheumatics, ain't it, a day like this? I envy you,
old fellow, with nothing to do but sit by your door in the sun and sniff
your flowers; you are better off than I am, I can tell you.'

'Ay, ay! master, it's fine for me; but you wouldn't think much on't
yourself, if you had it,' said old John.

Mr Burton went on laughing and waving his hand, amused with the old
man's impudence.

'If I had it myself,' he said, with a smile, 'I!----' The thought
tickled him. It was hard to believe that he himself, a man in the prime
of life, growing richer every day, was made of the same clay as old
John; and yet of course it was so, he admitted good humouredly. His mind
was full of his own benevolence and kind-heartedness as he pursued his
way to visit his cousin. What quantities of people were dependent upon
his will and pleasure--upon his succour and help! his servants, so many
that he could scarcely count them; the clerks in his office; the
governess who taught Clara, and who in her turn supported her mother and
sisters; and then there was old Stephenson in the village, in his
decay, who had once been in Mr Burton's office; and his old nurse; and
the poor Joneses and Robinsons, whose boys he had taken in as errand
boys. He ran over this list with such a pleasant sense of his goodness,
that his face shone in the morning sunshine. And at the head of all,
first of his pensioners, chief of his dependents--Helen! Mr Burton
laughed half aloud, and furtively rubbed his hands. Yes, yes, by this
time there could be no doubt she must have found out her mistake.

Helen had got up that morning with the determination to put grief away
from the foreground of her life, and resume such occupations as remained
to her. Norah's books had been got out, and her music, and some
work--small matters which made a difference in the ghostly drawing-room
already, and brought it back to life. Helen was standing by the table
arranging some flowers when Mr Burton came in. Norah had gathered them
almost before the dew was off them, and stood by her mother watching her
as she grouped them together.

'I wish I could arrange flowers as you do, mamma,' Norah was saying
admiringly. 'How nice it must be to be able to do everything one tries!
They will not come right when _I_ do it. You are like the fairy that
touched the feathers with her wand, and they all came together as they
ought. I wonder how you do it. And you never break anything or spoil
anything; but if I only _look_ at a vase it breaks.'

Norah was saying this with a rueful look when Mr Burton's smart summons
came to the door; and the next minute he had come in, bringing so much
air with him into the room, and motion, and sense of importance. Helen
put the flowers aside hastily and gave him her hand.

'So you are making use of the garden,' he said, taking note of
everything with an eye of proprietorship; 'quite right, quite right. I
hope you will make yourselves quite at home. It is a funny old house,
but it is a good style of a place. You need not be ashamed to receive
any one here. And I have no doubt you will find everybody very civil,
Helen. I have let the people in Dura know you are my cousin. That,
though I say it that shouldn't, is a very good passport here.'

'I hope you will not take any trouble about us,' said Helen hastily.
'All I want is to be quiet. I do not care for civilities.'

'But you prefer them to incivilities, I hope,' said Mr Burton. 'My wife
thinks I am wrong to come in this unceremonious way to call. I wanted
her to come with me, but she would not. You ladies have your own ways of
acting. But I felt that you would be mortified if you saw me pass the
door.'

'Oh no. I should not have been mortified.'

'I will take care you sha'n't,' he said, the roll in his voice sounding
more full of protection and benevolence than ever. 'I have not much time
now. But, my dear Helen, remember that I am always at your
service--always. I have mentioned you to all the nicest people. And we
hope very soon to see you at the House. I should not have brought you
here, I assure you, without intending to be a friend to you in every
way. You may rely upon me.'

'You are very kind,' was all Helen could say.

'I want to be kind. You cannot please me better than by asking me for
what you want. Tell me always when your mother wants anything, Norah.
There now, I won't say any more; you understand me, Helen. I have a few
things in my power, and one of them is to make you comfortable. When you
have time to see about you you will perceive that things have gone very
well with me: not that I intend to boast; but Providence, no doubt, has
been very kind. My wife will call this afternoon, and should you like a
drive or anything, I am sure Clara----'

'Please don't trouble. I would rather be quiet. You forget,' said Helen,
with a momentary sharpness in her voice, 'that Providence, which has
been so kind to you, has been hard upon us.'

'My dear Helen! you are too good and pious, I am sure, not to know that
we ought not to repine.'

'I don't think I repine, and I am sure you mean to be kind; but oh! if
you would take pity on me, and let me alone----'

It was all she could do to keep from tears. But she would not weep
before him. Her jealousy of him and distrust were all coming back.
Instinctively she felt the triumph in his voice.

'Poor Helen!' said Mr Burton, 'poor girl! I will not trouble you longer
just now. You shall not be bothered. Good-bye; trust to me, and I will
take care of you, my poor dear!'

It was ludicrous, it was pitiable; she scorned herself for the
impression it made upon her; but how could she help it? She felt that
she hated Reginald Burton, as he stood before her in all his wealth and
comfort, patronising and soothing her. When he was gone, she rushed up
to her room, that Norah might not see her weakness, to weep a few hot,
burning tears, and to overcome the wild, unreasonable anger that swelled
in her heart. It was his moment of triumph. Perhaps Helen felt it all
the more because, deep down in her heart, she had a consciousness that
she too had once triumphed over him, and rejoiced to feel that she could
humble him. This was a hard punishment for such an old girlish offence;
but still it felt like a punishment, and added a sting to everything he
did and said. And whether it was at that moment or at a later period,
she herself could not have told, but a sudden gleam came across her of
some words which she had once read somewhere--'Burton and Golden have
done it.' Whence came these words? had she dreamt them? had she read
them somewhere? They came before her as if they had been written upon
the wall. Burton and Golden! Was it true? What could it mean?

Mrs Burton called in the afternoon. She had Clara with her, and what was
still more remarkable, young Mr Rivers, who was staying in the house,
but who up to this time had made no mention of the scene he had
witnessed. Perhaps it was for lack of an opportunity, perhaps because
he did not know how far it would be safe to mention Helen--whom he heard
spoken of as a relative, yet not with the feeling which moved his own
mind when he thought of her. Cyril Rivers was but a big boy, though he
began to think himself a man, and Helen had moved him to that sudden
fantastic violence of admiration with which an older woman often
momentarily inspires a boy. He was eager to go with Mrs Burton to call.
He would walk down with her, he said, and continue his walk after the
carriage had picked her up; and in his heart he said to himself that he
must see that woman again. He was full of awe and enthusiasm at the
thought of her. She was to him like the heroine of a tragedy, of a story
more striking, more affecting than any tragedy he had ever heard of; for
this was real, and she was a true woman expressing her natural
sentiments, forgiving nothing. It seemed to bring the youth, who was all
thrilling with natural romance, within that charmed inner circle of
emotion and passion which is, though it is seldom visible, the centre
and heart of life.

But Helen bore a very different aspect when she waited to receive Mrs
Burton's call from that which she bore at the door of St Mary's Road,
confronting Golden. Her flush of colour and glow of energy and
vehemence were gone. She was seated, pale and silent, by the table near
the window, with her dead white cap encircling her face, and some
needlework in her hand. It was not the same Mrs Drummond, was young
Rivers' first disappointed thought. And when she invited the party to
sit down, and began to talk about the weather and the country round, he
was so bewildered that he longed to steal away. The two ladies sat
opposite to each other, and said the sort of things which all ladies say
when they call or are called upon. Helen's tone was low, and her voice
fell; but these and her black dress were the only things that made it
apparent that anything had happened to her. It was only when this little
artificial conversation flagged and a pause occurred that the real state
of affairs became even slightly visible. The momentary silence fell
heavy upon people who had so much on their minds; and while they all sat
motionless, the little mirror on the wall made a picture of them in
little, which looked like a caricature, full of humourous perception and
significance. Mrs Burton had been hesitating as to what she should say.
Helen was a study to her, of which she had as yet made nothing; and
perhaps it was as much from curiosity as any other feeling that she at
last introduced a subject more interesting than the weather or the
landscape. It was after a second pause still more serious than the
first.

'It must be very strange to you coming back to Dura after all that has
happened. It must be--hard upon you,' she said.

'Yes; it is hard,' Helen could not trust herself to many words.

'If there is anything in which I can be of use,' Mrs Burton began, 'will
you let me know? If there is anything that can make it less painful for
you. I should be very glad to be of any use.'

Mrs Drummond made no reply; she gave a little bow, and went on with the
needlework she held in her hands, but not as if she cared for that. She
was not like what he had thought, but yet young Rivers got up with a
certain tremulous awe and approached her. She had not recognised him.
She turned her eyes upon him wondering what he could have to do with
her. Her heart was steeled to encounter all those words of routine which
she knew would have to be said--but who was this boy?

'I think I will go now,' he said hastily to Mrs Burton; and then he
lowered his voice. 'May I say just one word? If I can ever do anything
to set things right, will you let me know? I shall never forget what you
said--on Tuesday.'

'On Tuesday?' Helen repeated, in her great surprise looking at him. She
ran over Tuesday's proceedings in her mind; at first in vain, and then a
little flush came over her face. 'Ah,' she said, 'it was you who came
with--Mr Golden. I remember now.'

'But I shall never be with him again,' said the youth with energy, which
brought the responsive blood to his cheeks. 'Of that you may be sure. I
am Cyril Rivers. I am not much good now, but I might be--afterwards.
Will you remember me? Will you let me serve you if ever I can?'

'Thanks,' said Helen, putting out her hand, with a sudden softness in
her voice.

The lad was young, romantic, chivalrous. She was to him like some
majestic dethroned queen in her sorrow and wronged estate. He stooped
down, and touched her white fingers with his lips, and then, without
looking round, turned, and went away. His impulsive generous words, his
fanciful pledge of eagerness to help her, went to Helen's heart. She had
not expected this, and it surprised and touched her. She was not
conscious for a moment of her visitor's steady, investigating glance.

'What a romantic boy!' said Mrs Burton, with a smile.

'Yes,' said Helen, and she called herself back with an effort. 'But
romance sometimes does one good. It is a surprise at least.'

'At that age it does not matter much. I did not know you knew the
Riverses,' said Mrs Burton. 'This is the eldest son, to be sure; but
since the late misfortune they are quite poor. They have not much in
their power.'

She said this with a charitable motive. It seemed to her as if Helen
must mean something by it. Everybody appeared to mean something in the
eyes of this philosopher. And she was a little moved by the misfortunes
of the woman beside her. She thought it was kind to warn her not to
waste her efforts. Helen, on her side, did not know in the least what
Mrs Burton meant; did not suppose she meant anything indeed, and sat
patient, accepting this speech with the others as an effort to make
conversation, not ungrateful to Mrs Burton, but wondering when she would
go away.

Meanwhile Cyril Rivers hastened out full of emotion. He took the wrong
turn in going out, and before he knew, found himself in the garden,
where the two girls were 'making acquaintance,' as Mrs Burton had bidden
them do. Clara was big and fair, with her father's full form, and a
beautiful complexion, the greatest possible contrast to little Norah,
with her light figure, and faint rose tints. But Norah at this moment
was flushed and angry, looking as her mother had done that memorable
evening at St Mary's Road.

'Oh, do come here, Mr Rivers,' said Clara, 'Norah is so cross. I only
said what papa says so often--that it would be wretched to live in the
country without a carriage or a pony or anything. Don't you think so
too?'

Norah flushed more deeply than ever. 'I am not cross. We did not come to
live in the country for pleasure, and what does it matter to us about
carriages and ponies? We are poor.'

'And so am I,' said the boy, with that instinctive adoption of 'our
side' which Norah had attributed to him. He thought how pretty she was
as she lifted her brown eyes. What a pretty child! and he was
approaching twenty, a man, and his heart yearned over the helpless and
sorrowful. 'I shall have to sell my horses and go afoot; but I don't
think I shall be wretched. Everybody cannot be rich like Mr Burton, you
know.'

'But you are always Lord Rivers's son,' said Clara. 'You can have what
you like everywhere. I think it is very cross of Norah not to care.'

And Mr Burton's daughter, foiled in her first attempt to secure her own
cousin's envy and admiration, looked as if she would like to cry. Young
Rivers laughed as he went away at her discomfiture. As he turned to find
the right way of exit, he looked back upon them with an unconscious
comparison. He did not know or think what was Norah Drummond's descent.
He took her unconsciously as the type of a higher class impoverished but
not fallen, beside that small representative of the _nouveaux riches_.
And all his sympathies were on the side of the former. He pulled a
little white rosebud from a tree as he passed, and put it in his coat
with a meaning which was partly real and partly fantastic. They were
poor, they were injured, and wronged, and in trouble. He put their
colours, as it were, in his helmet. Foolish boy, full of romance and
nonsense! one day or other in their cause he felt he might couch his
lance.



CHAPTER III.


The next day after Mrs Burton's carriage had been seen at Helen's door a
great many people called on Mrs Drummond--all 'the nicest people'--some
who had known her or known about her in the old days, some who came
because she was Mr Burton's cousin, and some who took that means of
showing their sympathy. The door was besieged; and Susan, half-flattered
by the importance of her position, half-alarmed lest this might be a
commencement of the system of putting upon which she dreaded, brought in
the cards, gingerly holding them in a hand which she had wrapped up in
her apron, and giving a little sketch of the persons represented. There
was the doctor's wife, and the major's lady, and Mrs Ashurst from the
Row, and 'them London folks,' all of whom were sensible enough to make
their advances solely in this way. Mrs Dalton was the only person
admitted. Helen was too well brought up, she had too much sense of the
proprieties of her position, to shut her door against the clergyman's
wife--who brought her husband's card, and explained that he would have
come too but for the fear of intruding too early.

'But I hope you will let us see you,' the kind woman added. 'We are such
near neighbours. My eldest little girl is the same age as yours. I think
we should understand each other. And I have such a busy life--to be able
to run across and talk things over now and then would be such a comfort
to me.'

'You mean it would be a comfort to me,' said Helen, 'the sight of a kind
face.'

'And Norah will come and see my Mary. They can take their walks
together, and amuse each other. It is such a pleasure to me,' said Mrs
Dalton, 'to look across at these windows, and think that you are here.'
She had said so much with the amiable power of make-believe, not exactly
deception, which an affectionate temper and her position as clergy-woman
made natural to her--when she caught Helen's eye, and nature suddenly
had the mastery. 'Oh, Mrs Drummond, how I babble! I am so sorry, so
sorry!' she said, and her eyes ran over with tears, though Helen did
not weep. It is not easy to repel such a visitor. They grew friends at
that first interview, while Norah stood by and made her observations
too.

'May I go and see Mary?' she asked, when Mrs Dalton had gone. 'I think I
shall like her better than Clara Burton. How funny it must be to have so
many brothers and sisters, mamma; and I who never had either a brother
or a sister! I should like to have had just one--a little sister with
blue eyes. But, then, if you had been very fond of her, fonder than of
me, I should not have liked that. Perhaps, on the whole, a brother would
have been the best. A boy is a change--they are useless, and yet they
are nice--for a long walk, for instance. I wish I had had a big brother,
older than me--quite old--almost grown up. How funny it would have been!
I wonder what we should have called him. If he had been as big as--Mr
Rivers, for instance--that would have been nice for you too.'

Helen smiled, and let the child run on. It was the music to which her
life was set. Norah's monologue accompanied everything. Sometimes,
indeed, an answer was necessary, which interrupted the strain, but
generally a word, a smile, or a monosyllable was enough. She went on
weaving her big brother out of her imagination; it was more delightful
than speculating about Mary Dalton.

'I am sure it would have been nice for you too,' she said. 'He would
have given you his arm when you were tired, and looked after the
luggage, and locked all the doors at nights. The only thing is, it would
have been a great expense. When people are poor, I suppose they can't
afford to have boys. They want so many things. But yet he would have
been nice all the same. I hope he would have had a pretty name; not so
short as Ned, and not so common as Charlie. Charlie is the eldest of the
Daltons--such a big boy. Oh, I wonder what our boy's name would have
been? Do you like Oswald, mamma, or Eustace? Eustace sounds like a
priest or something dreadfully wise. I don't like solemn boys. So long
as he was big and strong, and not too clever. But oh, dear, dear, what
is the use of talking? We never can have a big boy, I suppose? I must be
content with other girls' brothers. I shall never have one of my very
own.'

'The less you have to do with other girls' brothers the better, Norah,'
said Helen, beguiled into a smile.

'I do not care for them, I am sure,' said Norah, with dignity; 'though I
don't dislike gentlemen, mamma--quite old gentlemen, like Dr Maurice and
Mr Haldane, are very nice. And I should like to have had--Mr Rivers, for
instance--for a big brother. I rather think, too, I like Ned Burton
better than Clara. It is more natural to hear a boy talk of ponies and
things. She never thinks of anything else--dogs, and horses, and
carriages, and the fine things she has. It is not polite to talk of such
things to people who have not got them. I told her I did not care for
ponies, nor grapes, nor hot-house flowers; and that I would rather live
in London than at the House. And, oh, so many--stories, mamma! Is it
wrong to tell a little fib when you don't mean any harm? Just a little
one, when people boast and make themselves disagreeable--and when you
don't mean any harm?'

'It is always wrong to tell fibs; and I don't know the difference
between big ones and little ones,' said Helen.

'Oh, mamma, but I do! A big story is--for instance. If I were to say
Susan had stolen your watch, that would be a wicked lie. But when I say
I don't care for grapes, and would not like to have a pony, it isn't
quite true, but then it makes Clara be quiet, and does nobody any harm.
I am sure there is a great difference. It would be very nice to have a
pony, you know. Only think, mamma, to go cantering away across the
common and on the turf! But I would not give in to say that I should
like to be Clara, or that she was better off than me!'

Norah's casuistry silenced her mother. She shook her head, but she did
not say anything. Something of the same feeling was, indeed, in her own
mind. She, too, would have liked to be contemptuous of the luxuries
which her neighbours dangled before her eyes. And Norah resumed her
monologue. The mother only partially heard it, waking up now and then to
give the necessary response, but carrying on all the time her own
separate thread of cogitation, which would not shape itself into words.
The old parlour, with its brown-grey curtains and all its spindle-legged
furniture, enclosed and seemed to watch the human creatures who
disturbed the silence. A room which has been long unoccupied, and which
is too large for its new inhabitants, has often this spectator look. The
pictures looked down from the walls and watched; up in the little round
mirror two people in a miniature interior, who were in reality
reflections of the two below, but looked quite different, glanced down
upon them, and watched also. The sky looked in through the five windows,
and the lime-trees in front kept tapping with their branches against the
panes to show that they were looking on. All the rest were clandestine,
but the lime-trees were honest in their scrutiny. And in the midst of it
the mother and daughter led their subdued lives. Norah's voice ran
through all like a brook or a bird. Helen was mostly silent, saying
little. They had a roof to shelter them, enough of daily bread, the
kindness of strangers outside, the rude but sympathetic kindness of
Susan within. This was more, a great deal more, than often falls to the
lot of human wrecks after a great shipwreck. Norah after a little while
accepted it as the natural rule of life, and forgot every other; and
Helen was silent, though she did not forget. The silence of the house,
however, by times oppressed the child. She lay awake in the great
bed-room up-stairs, afraid to go to sleep till her mother should come;
and even in the daylight there were moments when Norah was afraid of the
ghostly drawing-room, and could not but feel that weird aged women, the
Miss Pagets, whom her mother had known, or some of the old Harcourts,
were watching her from behind the doors, or from the shade of the
curtains. There was a deep china closet beside the fireplace with one
particular knot in the wood-work which fascinated Norah, and made her
feel that some mysterious eye was gazing at her from within. But all
these fancies dispersed the moment Mrs Drummond appeared. There was
protection in the soft rustle of her gown, the distant sound of her
voice. And so the routine of life--a new routine, but soon firmly
established, supporting them as upon props of use and wont, began again.
There were the lessons in the morning, and Norah's music, and a long
walk in the afternoon; and they went to bed early, glad to be done with
life and another day. Or at least Helen was glad to be done with it--not
Norah, to whom it was the opening of the story, and to whom once more
the sunshine began to look as sweet as ever, and each new morning was a
delight.

A few weeks after their arrival the Haldanes followed them. Miss Jane
had written beforehand begging for information about the house and the
journey; and it was only then that Helen learned, with a mortification
she could scarcely overcome, that the Gatehouse was to be their refuge
too. This fact so changed the character of her cousin's kindness to
her, that her pride was with difficulty subdued to silence; but she had
sufficient self-control to say nothing--pride itself coming to her aid.

'Perhaps you would be so good as to send me a line with a few
particulars,' Miss Jane wrote. 'I should like to know for myself and
mother if there is a good minister of our denomination, and if you would
mention the price of meat, and how much you are giving for the best
butter, I should be very much obliged. I should like to know if there is
a good room on the ground-floor that would do for Stephen, and if we
could have a Bath-chair to bring him down from the station, for I am
very distrustful of cabs. Also about a charwoman, which is very
important. I am active myself and always look after the washing, so that
one strong handy woman to come from six in the morning till two would do
all I should require.

Mrs Drummond made an effort and answered all these questions, and even
walked to the station to see them arrive. It was a mournful sight
enough. She stood and looked on with her heart aching, and saw the man
whom she had known so different lifted out of the carriage and put into
the invalid chair. She saw the look of dumb anguish and humiliation in
his eyes which showed how he felt this public exposure of his weakness.
He was very patient; he smiled and thanked the people who moved him: yet
Helen, with her perceptions quickened by her own suffering, felt the
intolerable pain in the other's soul, and went away hurriedly, not to
afflict him further by her presence. What had he done? How had this man
sinned more than others? All the idlers that lounged about and watched
him, were they better or dearer to God than he was? Mrs Drummond was
half a Pagan, though she did not know it. She hurried away with a
miserable sense that it was past bearing. But Stephen set his lips tight
and bore it. He bore the looks of the village people who came out to
their doors to look at him as he passed. As for his mother and sister,
they scarcely remarked his silence. They were so happy that everything
had gone off so well, that he had borne it so easily.

'I don't think he looks a bit the worse,' said Miss Jane.

They were the tenderest, the most patient of nurses, but they had
accepted his illness long ago as a matter of course. From the moment he
was placed in the chair, and so off their mind, as it were, the luggage
came into the ascendant and took his place. They had a wonderful amount
of parcels, mostly done up in brown paper. Mrs Haldane herself carried
her pet canary in its cage, tied up in a blue-and-white handkerchief.
She was more anxious about this for the moment than about her son. The
procession was one which caught everybody's eye. First two wheelbarrows
with the luggage, the first of which was occupied by Stephen's bed and
chair, the other piled up with boxes, among the rest two portmanteaus of
his own, on which he could still read, on old labels which he had
preserved with pride, the names of Naples, Florence, and Rome. Had he
been actually there, he who was now little more than a piece of luggage
himself? Miss Jane divided her attentions between her brother and the
second wheelbarrow, on which the brown-paper parcels were tumbling and
nodding, ready to fall. His mother walked on the other side, holding
fast by the parcel in the blue-and-white handkerchief. Mrs Burton, who
was passing in her carriage, stopped to look after them. She, too, had
known Stephen in better days. She did not ask passionate questions as
Helen was doing; but she felt the shock in her way, and only comforted
herself by thinking that the feelings get blunted in such unfortunate
cases, and that no doubt other people felt more for him than he felt
for himself.

But notwithstanding the callousness which use had brought, there was no
indifference to Stephen's comfort in the minds of his attendants.
Everything was arranged for him that evening as if he had been
surrounded by a crowd of servants. When Helen went to see him he was
seated by the window with flowers upon his table and all his papers
arranged upon it. The flowers were not very choice; they were of Miss
Jane's selection, and marigolds and plumy variegated grass looked
beautiful in her eyes. Yet nothing but love could have put everything in
its place so soon, and metamorphosed all at once the dining-room of the
Gatehouse into Stephen's room, where everything bore a reference to him
and was arranged for his special comfort. Perhaps they did not always
feel for him, or even see what room there was for feeling. But this they
could do--and in it they never failed.

'Does not he look comfortable?' Miss Jane said with triumph. 'You would
think to see him he had never budged from his chair. And he got through
the journey very well. If you but knew how frightened I was when we set
out!'

Stephen looked at Mrs Drummond with a smile. There were some lines
about his mouth and a quiver in his upper lip which spoke to her more
clearly than to his sister. Helen had not been in the way of going out
of herself to sympathise with others; and it seemed to her as if she had
suddenly got a new pair of eyes, an additional sense. While they were
all talking she saw what the journey had really cost him in his smile.

'It is strange to see the world again after so long,' he said, 'and to
realise that once one walked about it quite carelessly like other
people, without thinking what a thing it was.'

'But, Stephen, I am sure you don't repine,' said his mother, 'you know
whose will it is, and you would not have it different? That is such a
comfort whatever we may have to suffer.'

'You would not have it different!'

Helen looked at him almost with tears in her eyes.

'That is a great deal to say, mother,' he answered with a suppressed
sigh; while she still went on asking herself passionately what had he
done? what had he done?

'I think the charwoman will suit very well,' said Miss Jane. 'She seems
clean, and that is the great thing. I am very well satisfied with
everything I have seen as yet. The kitchen garden is beautiful. I
suppose as there is no division, we are to have it between us--that and
the fruit? I have been thinking a few fowls would be very nice if you
have no objection. They cost little to keep, and to have your own eggs
is a great luxury. And meat seems reasonable. I am very well satisfied
with all I have seen.'

'If we only knew about the chapel,' said Mrs Haldane. 'So much of your
comfort depends on your minister. If he is a nice man he will be company
for Stephen. That is what I am most afraid of--that he will be dull in
the country. There was always some one coming in about the magazine or
some society or other when we were in town. I am afraid, Stephen, you
will feel quite lost here.'

'Not for want of the visitors, mother,' he said; 'especially if Mrs
Drummond will spare me Norah. She is better than any minister--not
meaning any slight to my brethren,' he added, in a half-apologetic,
half-laughing tone. He could laugh still, which was a thing Helen found
it very difficult to understand.

'Norah is very nice, and I like dearly to see her,' said his mother;
'but, Stephen, I don't like to hear you talk like that. Mrs Drummond is
not to know that it is all your nonsense. You were always such a one for
a joke.'

'My jokes have not been very brilliant lately,' he said, with a smile.
Mrs Haldane rose at that moment to help her daughter with something she
was moving to the other end of the room, and Stephen, seizing the
opportunity, turned quickly round upon Helen, who was sitting by him.
'You are very sorry for me,' he said, with a mixture of gratitude and
impatience. 'Don't! it is better not!'

'How can I help it?' cried Helen. 'And why is it better not?'

'Because I cannot bear it,' he said, almost sternly.

This passed in a moment, while the unconscious women at the other end
had altered the position of a table. Never man had more tender nurses
than these two; but they had ceased to be sorry for him in look or word.
They had accepted their own fate and his; his helplessness was to them
like the daylight or the dark, a thing inevitable, the course of nature;
and the matter-of-fact way in which they had learned to treat it made
his life supportable. But it was difficult for a stranger to realise
such a fact.

'I never told you that we were disappointed about letting the house,'
said Miss Jane. 'A great many people came, but no one who was
satisfactory. It is a great loss. I have left a person in it to try for
a few months longer. People are very unprincipled, coming out of mere
curiosity, and turning over your blankets and counterpanes without a
thought.'

Here the conversation came to a pause, and Helen rose. She was standing
saying her farewells and making such offers of assistance as she could,
when the daily event with which she had grown familiar took place.

'There is some one coming,' said Stephen, from the window. 'It ought to
be the queen by the commotion it makes: but it is only Burton.'

And Mrs Haldane and Miss Jane both rushed forward to see. Helen withdrew
out of sight with a secret bitterness which she could not have put into
words. Mr Burton was driving home from the station in all his usual
importance. His horses were groomed to perfection, the mountings of his
harness sparkled in the sun. He half drew up as he passed, making his
bays prance and express their disapprobation, while he took off his hat
to the new arrivals. It was such a salutation as a jocund monarch might
have tossed at a humble worshipper, mock ceremony and conscious
condescension. The women looking out never thought of that. They ran
from one window to another to watch him entering the avenue, they talked
to each other of his fine horses, the neat groom beside him, and how
polite he was. Stephen had been looking on, too, with keen interest. A
smile was on his face, but the lines above his eyes were contracted, and
the eyes themselves gleamed with a sudden fire which startled Helen.

'I wonder what he thinks of it all,' he said to her under his breath,
'if he thinks at all. I wonder if he is comfortable when he reflects who
are living at his gates?'

The words were said so low that she had to stoop to hear; and with a
wondering thrill of half-comprehension she looked at him. What did he
mean? From whence came that tone which was almost fierce in its
self-restraint? It seemed to kindle a smouldering fire in her, of the
nature of which she was not quite aware. 'Burton and Golden' suddenly
flashed across her thoughts again. Where was it she had seen the names
linked together? What did it mean? and what did Stephen mean? She felt
as if she had almost found out something, which quickened her pulse and
made her heart beat--almost. But the last point of enlightenment was yet
to come.

'Now he has turned in at the gate,' said Miss Jane. 'Well, for my part,
I am glad to have seen him; and to think that a man could do all that by
his own exertions! If he had been a nobleman I should not have thought
half so much of it. I suppose, now, that could not be seen anywhere but
in England? You may smile, Stephen, and think me very vulgar-minded; but
I do think it is a very wonderful sight.'

And thus the second household settled down, and became a part of the
landscape which the family at Dura surveyed with complaisant
proprietorship, and through which Mr Burton drove every afternoon,
calling admiring spectators to all the windows. The rich man had never
enjoyed the commotion he made so much as he did now when he could see at
the Gatehouse those faces looking out. There was scarcely an evening but
Miss Jane or her mother would stand up to see him, gazing with
unconscious worship at this representative of wealth and strength, and
that practical power which sways the world; while Norah would clamber up
on a chair behind the blinds at the other end, and look out with her big
brown eyes full of serious observation. He thought Norah wondered and
worshipped too, not being able to understand the language of her eyes.
And sometimes he would see, or think he saw, her mother behind her. When
he did so he went home in high good-humour, and was more jocular than
usual; for nothing gave him such a sense of his own greatness, his
prosperity, and superiority to common flesh and blood, as the homage, or
supposed homage, paid to him by those lookers-on at the windows of the
Gatehouse.

Mr Burton's satisfaction came to a climax when his father-in-law came to
pay his next visit, which happened not very long after the arrival of
the Haldanes. Mr Baldwin, as we have said, was a Dissenter, and
something like a lay bishop in his denomination. He was very rich, and
lived very plainly at Clapham with his two sisters, Mrs Everett and Miss
Louisa. They were all very good people in their way. There was not a man
in England who subscribed to more societies or presided at a greater
number of meetings. He spent half his income in this way; he 'promoted'
charities as his son-in-law promoted joint-stock companies; and prided
himself on the simplicity of his living and his tastes, notwithstanding
his wealth. When he and his sisters came to pay a visit at Dura they
walked from the station, leaving their servants and their boxes to
follow in a fly. 'We have the use of our limbs, I am thankful to
Providence,' one of the sisters would say; 'why should we have a
carriage for a little bit of road like that?' They walked in a little
procession, the gentleman in advance, like a triumphant cock in front of
his harem, the two ladies a little behind. Mr Baldwin wore his hat on
the back of his head, and a white tie, like one of his favourite
ministers; he had a round, chubby face, without any whiskers, and a
complexion almost as clear as little Clara's. The two ladies were like
him, except that Mrs Everett, who was a widow, was large and stout, and
Miss Louisa pale and thin. They walked along with a natural feeling of
benevolent supremacy, making their remarks on everybody and everything
with distinct voices. When they got to the Gatehouse they paused and
inspected it, though the windows were all open.

'I think Reginald was wrong to give such a house as this to those poor
people,' said the married sister in front of the door. 'It is a handsome
house. He might have found some little cottage for them, and let this to
a family.'

'But, Martha, he gave what he had, and it is that that is always
accepted,' said Miss Louisa.

The brother drowned her plaintive little voice with a more decided
reply--

'I am very glad Haldane has such good quarters. As for the lady, I
suppose she was not to blame; but when a man flies in the face of
Providence I would not reward him by providing for his wife and family.
I agree with Martha. It is a waste of the gifts of God to give this
house to poor people who cannot enjoy it; but still Burton is right on
the whole. If you cannot do better with your property, why should not
you use it to make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness? I approve
of his charity on the whole.'

Inside the recipients of the charity sat and heard all through the open
windows. But what then? Mr Baldwin and his sisters were not responsible
for that. They went on to the avenue making the same candid and audible
remarks all along the road. It was not necessary that they should
exercise self-restraint. They were in the dominions of their relation.
They were absolute over all foolish sentiment and false pride. They said
it loud out, frankly, whatever they might have to say. The arrival of
these visitors always made a certain commotion at Dura. It moved Mr
Burton a great deal more than it did his wife. Indeed, if there was
anything which vexed him in her exemplary behaviour, it was that she
would not make temporarily the changes which he thought were 'only
respectful' to suit the tastes of her father and aunts. 'You know your
father likes only plain roast and boiled,' he would say to her,
half-indignantly, adding, with a laugh, 'and minister sauce.' This last
was one of his favourite jokes, though it did not strike his wife as
particularly brilliant. But the minister sauce was the only thing which
Mrs Burton provided for her father. She held fast by her _menu_, though
he disapproved of it. She dressed herself tranquilly for dinner, though
her aunts held up their hands, and asked her solemnly if she knew what
all this extravagance must come to? In these matters Clara would not
give way; but she asked the minister of the chapel in the village to
dinner, and it was in the presence of this functionary that Mr Baldwin
filled up the measure of his son-in-law's content.

'I see you have been very generous to poor Haldane,' he said. 'I am very
much obliged to you, Burton. He is my own man; I should have been
compelled to do something for him if you had not taken him up; and my
hands are always so full! You will find I do not forget it. But it was
a great waste to put him into such a handsome house.'

'I am delighted to have pleased you,' said Mr Burton. 'It was an empty
house; and I have put my cousin, Mrs Drummond, in the other end, whom I
was obliged to take care of. It was the cheapest way of doing it. I am
most happy to think I have relieved you, even of so little as that.'

'Oh yes, you have relieved me,' said Mr Baldwin. 'I sha'n't forget it.
It will be an encouragement to Mr Truston and to many of the brethren to
see that a sick friend is never abandoned. I don't mean to say that you
want any inducement--but, still, when you can see that even in the case
of failing strength----'

'Oh yes. I am sure it is most encouraging,' the poor minister faltered.

Encouraging to think of Stephen Haldane, who was thus provided for! The
two rich men went on with their talk over their wine, while some
confused speculation as to the ways of Providence went through the head
of their companion. He was young, and he felt ill at ease, and he did
not like to interfere much. Had it been Mr Dalton he would have been
less easily silenced. Thus Mr Burton found his benevolence in one
particular at least attended with the most perfect success.



CHAPTER IV.


And everything settled down, and Nature resumed her common round. This
is what Nature does in all circumstances. There never was so bad a storm
but next morning the thrifty mother took heart and set to work again as
best she could to make amends for it. It is only when the storm affects
human hearts and lives that this cheerful, pathetic effort to get the
better of it becomes terrible; for the mending in such cases is so often
but superficial, the cure impossible. Other trees grow up to fill the
gap made by the one blown down; but not other loves or other hopes. Yet
gradually the tempest calms, the wreck is swept away, and some things
that are new are always better than some things that were old, even
though the old can never be replaced while life goes on.

Of all the dwellers in the Gatehouse, it was poor Haldane who felt this
the most. The reality of this life in the country was very different
from the anticipation. The fresh air which his mother had hoped to have
for Stephen--the cottage garden which they had all dreamt of (even he
himself by moments), where he could be wheeled in his chair to sit under
the apple-tree and smell the flowers--had vanished from their list of
possibilities. All the fresh air he could have was from the open window
by which his chair was placed. But not even the garden and the
apple-tree would have done so much for him as the varieties of the
country road. Instead of the garden walls at Victoria Villas, the strip
of dusty grass, the chance sight of a neighbour's child at play, or
(more likely) of a neighbour's clothes hung out to dry, he had a genuine
rural highroad, with all its sights. He saw the carts passing with rural
produce, full of big baskets of vegetables for the London market; he saw
the great waggons of odorous hay, with a man asleep on the top,
half-buried in the warm and fragrant mass, or cracking his whip on the
path, and shouting drowsy, inarticulate calls to the horses, who took
their own way, and did not mind him; he saw the carriages gleam past
with the great people, whom by degrees he got to know; and then the
Rectory children were always about, and Mrs Dalton in her pony-chaise,
and the people coming and going from the village. There were two of the
village folk in particular who brought a positive pleasure into his
life--not a pair of lovers, or any pretty group, but only Clippings, the
tailor, and Brown, the shoemaker, who strolled down the road in the
evening to smoke their pipes and talk politics as far as the Rectory
gate. Clippings, who lived 'up town,' was always decorous in his shabby
coat; but Brown, whose shop was 'at the corner,' came in his
shirt-sleeves, with his apron turned up obliquely to one side. They
would stop just opposite his window when they got hot in their
discussion. Sometimes it was the parish they talked of, sometimes the
affairs of the state, and it was in Stephen's mind sometimes to invite
them to cross the road, and to have his say in the matter. They were not
men of education or intelligence perhaps; but they _were_ men, living
the natural human life from which he had been torn, and it did him good
to watch them. After a while they began to look over at him and take off
their hats, half with village obsequiousness to a possible customer,
half with natural feeling for a soul in prison; and he gave them a nod
in return.

But this vulgar fancy of his was not quite approved of within. 'If you
are so friendly with these men, Stephen, you will have them coming
over, and poisoning the whole house with tobacco,' Mrs Haldane said,
with an expressive sniff. 'I think I smell it even now.' But his mother
was not aware that the scent of the tobacco was like an air of paradise
to poor Stephen, who had loved it well enough when he was his own
master, though it had become impossible now.

Mrs Haldane, however, did not say a word against Mr Dalton's cigar,
which he very often smoked under Stephen's window in those summer
mornings, lounging across in his study coat. It must be remembered that
Stephen was not a Dissenting minister _pur et simple_, but a man whose
name had been heard in the literary world, especially in that literary
world which Mr Dalton, as a 'thoughtful' and 'liberal' clergyman,
chiefly affected. The rector felt that it was kind to go and talk to
poor Haldane, but he was not so overwhelmingly superior as he might have
been under other circumstances. He did not set him down at once at a
distance of a hundred miles, as he did Mr Truston, the minister of the
chapel at Dura, by the mere suavity of his 'good morning.' On the
contrary, they had a great deal of talk. Mr Dalton was a man who piqued
himself on his Radicalism, except when he happened to come in contact
with Radicals, and he was very great in education, though he left the
parish schools chiefly to his wife. When anything had happened which was
more than ordinarily interesting in public affairs, he would stride
across with gaiety to the encounter: 'I told you your friend Bright was
not liberal-minded enough to see that distinction,' he would say; or,
'Gladstone has gone off on another search after truth;' and then the
battle would go on, while Stephen sat inside and his interlocutor paced
the white flags in front of the Gatehouse up and down under the windows
with that fragrant cigar. Sometimes Mary would come flying over from the
Rectory: 'Papa, papa, you are wanted. There are some papers to sign, and
mamma can't do it, she says.' '_Pazienza!_' the rector would answer, for
he had travelled too.

And then on the Saturday there were other diversions for Stephen. Old
Ann from the farm of Dura Den would whip up her old white pony and stop
her cart under his window. She had her grandson with her, a chubby lad
of twelve, in a smock-frock, beautifully worked about the shoulders,
with cheeks as red as the big poppies in the nosegay which his
grandmother made a point of bringing every Saturday to the poor sick
gentleman.

'And how do you do, sir, this fine fresh morning?' she would shout to
him. 'I hope as I sees you better. Sammy, give me the flowers. It's
old-fashioned, master, but its sweet; and I just wish I see you able to
come and fetch 'em for yourself.'

'Thank you, Ann; but I fear that's past hoping for,' Stephen would say
with a smile.

The same colloquy passed between them every week, but they did not tire
of it, and the little cart with its mixture of colours, the red carrots,
and white cauliflowers, and many-tinted greens, was a pleasant sight to
him. He did not object even to the pungent odour of the celery, which
often communicated itself to his bouquet. The white pony, and the red
and white and green of the vegetables, and Old Ann with a small face,
like a russet winter apple, under her deep bonnet, and her little red
shawl, trimly tied in round her waist by the great, many-pocketed apron;
and Sammy trudging behind, with boots like buckets, with a basket of
crimson cabbage for pickles on his arm, and his puffy, peony cheeks,
made up a homely picture which delighted the recluse. It was an event
for him when the Saturday came round, and he began (he said) to be fond
of the smell of celery, and to think double poppies very handsome,
showy flowers to put into a nosegay. Miss Jane took an interest in Ann
too, but it was of a different kind. She would go out to the door, and
have long discussions with her on various subjects quite as interesting
as the rector's battles with Stephen--whether the butter was rising, and
what was the cheapest for her poultry; for Ann's butter and her poultry
were the best in Dura, and when she knew you, and felt that you were to
be depended upon, she was not dear, Miss Jane always said.

There was also another visitor, who came once a week, not to Stephen's
window, but to make a call in all proper state. This was Mr Truston, the
minister of the chapel, who was, like Stephen, a _protégé_ of Mr
Baldwin, but had not either done so much credit or given so much trouble
to the denomination as Haldane had. Mr Truston was aware how his new
acquaintance was spoken of by the community, and his mind was much
divided between veneration for Stephen's powers and a desire to be
faithful with his brother. If he could be the humble instrument of
setting him quite right with the denomination and preserving the
efficiency of the magazine, he felt that he would not have lived in
vain. But it was a dreadful trial to his modesty to assume an admonitory
position to one whom he respected so much. He confided his difficulties
to Mrs Wigginton, the wife of the draper at Dura, who was a leading
member of the congregation, and a very thoughtful woman; and she had
given him a great deal of encouragement, and put his duty before him in
the clearest light.

'The thing is to keep him to fundamental principles,' Mrs Wigginton
said. 'I would excuse a great deal if he preserved these. _We_ may be
superior to distinctions, and know that there is good both in church and
chapel. But that will not do for the common mass. And we must support
the denomination, Mr Truston. It has its faults--but, whatever its
faults may be, we must stand by our flag.'

'Ah, I wish you would take him in hand,' said the minister with a sigh;
but, all the same, such inspiration as this did not go for nothing. He
began to call on the Haldanes every week; and when he had screwed up his
courage he meant to be very faithful with Stephen; but a man cannot
begin that process all at once.

Thus the Haldanes settled down in the Gatehouse; and their settling down
affected Helen with that unintentional example and encouragement, which
people convey to each other without meaning it. They were all very
poor, but Miss Jane, who had never been very rich, and who had been
trained to live on the smallest sum imaginable, made no hardship of her
poverty, and communicated a certain cheerfulness about it even to her
neighbour, whose mind and training were so very different. Miss Jane
took it as she had learned to take (though not till after many
struggles) her brother's illness, as a matter of course. She was aware
that there were rich people in the world. She saw them even, the
Burtons, for instance, who passed her every day, and whose life was full
of luxury; but this did not move her, any more than the sight of a great
beauty would have moved her to impatience of her own plain and homely
face. The wealth, like the beauty, was exceptional. The homeliness and
the poverty were the natural rule. And Helen saw that the lines of pain
were softened in Stephen's face, and that he had begun to feel something
like pleasure in those alleviations of his loneliness which have been
described. All this produced a soothing, quieting influence upon her.
She was hushed, as a child is who is not satisfied, whose cry is ready
to burst forth at any moment, but upon whom the very atmosphere, the
stillness of the air, has produced a certain calm. The wrong which had
burnt her heart like a fire was not extinguished; it burned low, not for
want of fuel, but because the air was soft and humid, and kept down the
flame. And she herself was subdued. She was weary of suffering, and the
routine of the new life acted upon her like an opiate, and the sense
that all this was accepted as ordinary and natural by others, kept her
down. And then Norah had cast away those bonds which oppress a
child--the bonds of conventional quiet, which remain when natural grief
has passed away in the order of things. Norah had begun to sing about
the house, to dance when she should have walked, to wake up like the
flowers, to live like the birds, spending her days in a chatter and
flutter of life and gladness. All this calmed down and suppressed the
feelings which had swayed Helen after her husband's death. Though her
old sense of suspicion in respect to her cousin had succeeded the
momentary relenting which his kindness had produced in her, even that
was suppressed in the artificial calm. She blamed herself for shrinking
from his presence, for disliking his friendliness; she even made an
effort to go to his house, to overcome what she said to herself was her
mean envy of his prosperity. She made friends with his wife, as far as
two women so different could make friends, and tried to believe that
Reginald Burton himself had never meant but well. It was in October,
when she had first begun fully to realise the strange quietness that had
come upon her, that it was suddenly broken up, never in that same
fashion to return again.

There were visitors at the time at Dura House, visitors of importance,
great county people, potentates whom, it was said, Mrs Burton was
specially bent on conciliating in order to open the way into
Parliament--a glory upon which her heart was set--to her husband. Mr
Burton had himself taken a holiday from business, and on this particular
day had gone up, after a long interval, 'to see,' he said, with that
cheerful, important laugh of his, 'how things were going on.' That
evening, however, Dura village was disappointed of its usual amusement.
The phaeton with the bays went slowly past, driven by the groom, with a
certain consternation in every line of the horses, and in every splendid
tail and high-stepping hoof.

'Has not your master come?' Mrs Burton asked, when she met this forlorn
equipage in the avenue. Such a thing had been known; sometimes business
was so urgent that Mr Burton had lost his train, or waited for one that
went later. But that which had happened this evening had never happened
before.

'He is walking, ma'am,' said the groom, with gloomy signification. It
gave even Mrs Burton a start, though she was usually so self-possessed;
and as for the groom, he spread it about through the house that there
had been 'a smash' in the City. Nothing else could account for so
extraordinary a step.

Mr Burton walked, and his countenance was clouded. There was a shade on
it, which the people about Dura, stupefied in the first instance by
seeing him afoot at that hour, interpreted as the groom did. They
thought 'something must have happened.' The Bank of England must have
faltered on its throne; half the merchants, at home and abroad, must
have fallen to the dust, like Dagon. Some one of weak mind, who
suggested that the ministry might be out, was snubbed by everybody with
a contempt proportioned to his foolishness. Would Mr Burton look like
that for any merely political misfortune? But no one ventured even to
suggest that Burton & Co. themselves might have sustained some blow.
Such treason might be in men's thoughts, but no one dared to hint at an
event which more than a revolution or a lost empire would have
convulsed Dura. There are some things which it is impious even to
speculate about.

Mr Burton went direct to the Gatehouse. He had not his usual
condescending word to Susan, nor did he remember to wave his hand to
Stephen as he passed the window. He went straight into the drawing-room,
where Helen and Norah were sitting. They had just come in from their
walk, and were going to have tea; and such a visit at this hour startled
them. There was something more than gloom on his face; there was
suppressed anger, and he had the look of a man who had come to speak his
mind. He shook hands in the slightest, most hasty way, not caring
evidently to waste time in salutations, and he did not take the chair
that was offered to him. He kept standing, looking first at Helen and
then at Norah, with glances which he seemed to expect would be
understood; but as Norah had been present at every discussion in the
house all her life, it did not occur to her to go away, nor to her
mother to send her. At last he was obliged to speak plainly.

'I am anxious to talk to you by yourself,' he said. 'I have something
very important to say. Norah, perhaps, would run out to the garden, or
somewhere--for half an hour, I should not ask for more.'

'Norah!' said Helen, with surprise. 'But she has heard everything that
any one can have to say to me. She knows as much as I do. You may say
anything before Norah.'

'By----!' said Mr Burton. He did not put any word in the vacant place.
He swore by Blank, as we do in books, contenting himself with the
'By----!' '_I_ don't mean to speak of my affairs before Norah,' he said,
walking to the window and looking out. 'Send her away.'

He waited there with his back turned to the two, who gazed at each other
amazed.

'Go up-stairs till I send for you, Norah,' said Helen, with a trembling
voice. It must be some new pain, some new terror, something about
Norah's father. She put her hand on her heart to keep it still. This was
how her calm was broken all in a moment. She put her child away with the
other hand. And Norah, astonished, indignant, choking with sudden rage
and mortification, flew out of the room and rushed up-stairs. The sound
of her hurried, angry retreat seemed to ring through all the house. And
it was not till her foot was heard overhead that her mother found breath
to speak. 'What is it?--tell me! There can be nothing now so very hard
to bear.'

'I don't know what you mean about hard to bear,' said Mr Burton,
turning pettishly round and seating himself on a chair in front of her.
'Helen, I have done all I could to be kind to you. You will say it has
not cost me very much, but it has cost me more than you think. I have
put myself to a great deal of trouble, and----'

'Is this all you have to tell me?' she asked faintly, still holding her
hand upon her heart.

'All!' he repeated; and then, changing his tone suddenly, 'do you know
anything about this new folly Maurice has taken in hand? Don't
prevaricate, Helen; answer me yes or no.'

'I do not know what you mean,' she said, and paused for breath. Her
fright, and the strange assault that had been made upon her, confused
her mind. Then gradually with Maurice's name came a sudden gleam of
light.

'That is a pretence,' he said. 'I can see in your face that you
understand. You that I have been, so to speak, nourishing in my
bosom--you--Helen! There is still time to think better of it. Have you
given your consent to it? Has he got your name?'

'If it is anything Dr Maurice is doing,' she said, 'yes, he has got my
consent, and more than my consent.'

'Good heavens, why? Are you in your senses? I thought it was some
idiotic woman's notion. What good can it possibly do to rake up that
business all over again? What the deuce do you mean by it? What can it
ever be to you?'

'What is it to you?' she said.

'To me!' She was looking at him, and his voice fell. He had begun
loudly, as if with the intention of declaring that to him it was less
than nothing; but he was caught by her look, and only grew confused, and
stammered out again, 'To me!'

'Yes,' said Helen. 'You are not a Director. You have said you were a
loser only, you had no responsibility. Then what does it matter to you?'

Mr Burton turned away his head; he stamped his foot slightly on the
floor in impatience. 'What is the use?' he said, as if to himself, 'you
might teach an elephant to fly sooner than make a woman understand about
business. Without being anything to me, it might be something to my
friends.'

'Is that man--that--Golden--is he your friend?'

'Of course he is,' said Mr Burton roughly, with a certain defiance. 'You
are prejudiced against him unjustly. But he is my friend, and a very
good fellow too.'

'Then it is better not to say any more,' said Helen rising, trembling in
every limb. 'It is best not to say any more. Oh don't venture to name
his name to me! If I had not been a woman, I should have--not killed
him. That would have been too good. Innocent men are killed, and you
others look on, and never lift a finger. I would have pursued him till
his last breath--crushed him--made him feel what he has done. And I
will--if I have the power!'

She stood up confronting her cousin, trembling, yet glowing with that
passion which the name of her husband's slanderer always roused within
her. She was almost as tall as Burton was, and he felt as if she towered
over him, and was cowed by the strength of her emotion. He rose too, but
he shrank back a step, not knowing how to meet the spirit he had roused.

'These are nice Christian sentiments,' he said, with an attempt at a
sneer; but in his heart the man was afraid.

'I ask nobody what kind of sentiments they are,' she cried. 'If he had
wronged me only, I would have forgiven him. But no man shall say his
name before me--no man! I may not have the power; my friends may not
have the power; but it is that, and not the will, which will fail if we
fail. I will never give up trying to punish him, never in my life!'

'Then you will be acting like a fool,' Mr Burton said; but he changed
his tone, and took a great deal of trouble to persuade her to take her
seat again, and discuss the matter calmly with him.

Norah stood up-stairs by the window, watching till he should go. The
child's heart was bursting with rage and pain. She had never been sent
away before; she had heard everything, had been always present whatever
was going on. Her father, Dr Maurice, Mr Haldane, every one of them had
spoken in her presence all that they had to say. And she remembered
words that no one else remembered, scraps of talk which she could put
together. She did so with a violent exercise of her memory as she stood
there drumming on the window, and wondering when he would go. 'He thinks
I am only a child,' she said to herself, in the fiery commotion of her
spirits, and thought of a hundred things she could do to prove the
contrary. She would go to Dr Maurice; she would let 'everybody' know. He
was no friend; he was a conspirator against them--one of those who
killed her father. Every moment that passed inflamed Norah more. She
stood at the window and watched, thinking would he never be gone,
thinking, oh why could not she make herself grow--make herself a woman!
What her mother had done was nothing to what Norah felt herself capable
of doing. Every vein in her body, and every nerve had begun to thrill
and tremble before she heard the sound down-stairs of the door opening,
and saw him go hastily away.

This was what he said when he opened the door of the sitting-room
down-stairs--

'You will do what you please, of course. I have found out before now
what it is to struggle with an unreasonable woman. Do what you like.
Drag your husband's name through the dirt again. Throw all sorts of new
light on his motives. That is what you will do. People might have
forgotten it; but after what you are going to do, they will never
forget. And that is all you will have for your pains--you may be sure
you can do nothing to _us_.'

'Us?' said Helen. 'You told me you were not concerned.'

And then Mr Burton changed colour and lost his temper.

'You drive a man wild,' he cried. 'You make me that I don't know what I
am saying. Of course you know what I mean, though you pretend you
don't. I mean my friends. And you know that; and you know how much you
owe to me, and yet the answer I get is--this!'

He slammed the door after him like an angry maid-servant; he strode
hastily away to his own house, with a face which of itself gave a new
paralytic seizure to old John at the lodge. He filled everybody with
consternation in his own house. And Helen stood still after he had left
her, half exultant, half stupefied. _Us!_ Had she found his cunning
manœuvres out?



CHAPTER V.


Dr Maurice came down next day. He was a man of very quiet manners, and
yet he was unable to conceal a certain excitement. He walked into the
Gatehouse with an air of abstraction, as if he did not quite know what
he was about.

'I have come to talk about business,' he said, but he did not send Norah
away. Probably had he not been so glad to see her once more, it would
have surprised him to see the child whom he had never beheld apart from
a book, standing up by her mother's chair, watching his face, taking in
every word. Norah's _rôle_ had changed since those old days. She had no
independent standing then; now she was her mother's companion, champion,
supporter. This changes as nothing else can do a child's life.

'Our case is to be heard for the first time,' he said. 'I believe they
are all very much startled. Golden was brought before the magistrate
yesterday; he has been admitted to bail, of course. If I could have had
the satisfaction of thinking that rascal was even one night in prison!
But that was too much to hope for. Mrs Drummond, can you guess who was
his bail?'

Helen shook her head, not understanding quite what he meant; but all the
same she knew what his answer would be. He brought it out with a certain
triumph--

'Why, Burton--your precious cousin! I knew it would be so. As sure as
that sun is shining, Burton is at the bottom of it all. I have seen it
from the first.'

'Dr Maurice,' said Helen, 'where have I seen, where have I read, "Burton
and Golden have done it"? The words seem to haunt me. It cannot be
fancy.'

Dr Maurice took out his pocket-book. He took a folded paper from an
inner pocket, and held it to her without a word. Poor Helen, in the
composure which she had attained so painfully, began to shake and
tremble; the sight of it moved her beyond her self-control. She could
not weep, but her strained nerves quivered, her teeth chattered, her
frame was convulsed by the shock. 'Ah!' she cried, as people do when
they receive a blow; and yet now she remembered it all--every word; it
seemed to be written on her heart.

The physician was alarmed. Human emotion has many ways of showing
itself, but none more alarming than this. He put the letter hastily away
again, and plunged into wild talk about the way she was living, the
house, and the neighbourhood.

'You are taking too little exercise. You are shutting yourself up too
much,' he said, with something of that petulance which so often veils
pity. He was not going to encourage her to break down by being sorry for
her; the other way, he thought, was the best. And then he himself was on
the very borders of emotion too, the sight of these words had brought
poor Robert so keenly to his mind. And they had brought to his mind also
his own hardships. Norah in her new place was very bewildering to him.
He had noted her closely while her mother was speaking, and with wonder
and trouble had seen a woman look at him through the girl's brown
eyes--a woman, a new creature, an independent being, whom he did not
know, whom he would have to treat upon a different footing. This
discovery, which he had not made at the first glance, filled him with
dismay and trouble. He had lost the child whom he loved.

'Norah, come and show me the house,' he said, with a certain despair;
and he went away, leaving Helen to recover herself. That was better than
going back upon the past, recalling to both the most painful moments of
their life.

He took Norah's hand, and walked through the open door into the garden,
which was the first outlet he saw.

'Come and tell me all about it,' he said. 'Norah, what have you been
doing to yourself? Have you grown up in these three months? You are not
the little girl I used to know.'

'Oh, Dr Maurice, do you think I have grown?' cried Norah, with her whole
heart in the demand.

And it would be impossible to describe what a comfort this eager
question was to him. He laughed, and looked down upon her, and began to
feel comfortable again.

'Do you know, I am afraid you have not grown,' he said, putting his
other hand fondly on her brown hair. 'Are you vexed, Norah? For my part,
I like you best as you are.'

'Well, it cannot be helped,' said Norah, with resignation. 'I did not
think I had; but for a moment I had just a little hope, you looked so
funny at me. Oh, Dr Maurice, I do so wish I was grown up!--for many
things. First, there is Mr Burton, who comes and bullies mamma. I hate
that man. I remember at home, in the old days, when you used to be
talking, and nobody thought I paid any attention----'

'What do you remember, Norah?'

'Oh, heaps of things. I can scarcely tell you. They would look at each
other--I mean Mr Golden and he. They would say things to each other. Oh,
I don't remember what the words were; how should I remember the words?
but things--just as you might look at me, and give a little nod, if we
had something that was a secret from mamma. I know they had secrets,
these two. If I were grown up, and could speak, I would tell him so. Dr
Maurice, can't we punish them? I cannot imagine,' cried Norah
passionately, 'what God can be thinking of to let them alone, and let
them be happy, after all they have done to--poor papa!'

'Norah, these are strange things for you to be thinking of,' said Dr
Maurice, once more disturbed by a development which he was not
acquainted with.

'Oh, no. If you knew how we live, you would not think them strange. I am
little; but what does that matter? There is mamma on one side, and there
is Mr Haldane. How different we all used to be! Dr Maurice, I remember
when poor Mr Haldane used to take me up, and set me on his shoulder; and
look at him now! Oh, how can any one see him, and bear it? But it does
no good to cry.'

'But, Norah, that is not Mr Burton's fault.'

'No, not that; but, oh, it is God's fault,' said Norah, sinking her
voice to a whisper, and ending with a burst of passionate tears.

'Hush, hush, hush!' He took her hand into both of his, and soothed her.
Thoughts like these might float through a man's mind involuntarily,
getting no utterance; but it horrified him to hear them from the lips of
a child. Was she a child? Dr Maurice said to himself once more, with an
inward groan, that his little Norah, his dream-child of the fairy tales,
was gone, and he should find her no more.

'And then it rather vexes one to be so little,' she said, suddenly
drying her eyes, 'because of Clara. Clara is not twelve yet, and she is
much bigger than I am. She can reach to these roses--look--while I can't
get near them; and they are the only roses we have now. But, after all,
though it may be nice to be tall, it doesn't matter very much, do you
think, for a woman? So mamma says; and girls are just as often little as
tall--in books.'

'For my part, I am fond of little women,' said Dr Maurice, and this time
he laughed within himself. She kept him between the two, changing from
childhood to womanhood without knowing it. 'But tell me, who is Clara? I
want to know about your new friends here.'

'Clara is Clara Burton, and very like him,' said Norah. 'I thought I
should be fond of her at first, because she is my cousin; but I am not
fond of her. Ned is her brother. I like him better. He is a horsey,
doggy sort of boy; but then he has always lived in the country, and he
knows no better. One can't blame him for that, do you think?'

'Oh, no,' said Dr Maurice, with great seriousness; 'one can't blame him
for that.' The man's heart grew glad over the child's talk. He could
have listened to her running on about her friends for ever.

'And then there was--some one else,' said Norah, instinctively drawing
herself up; 'not exactly a boy; a--gentleman. We saw him in town, and
then we saw him here; first with that horrible man, Mr Golden, and
another day with the Burtons. But you are not to think badly of him for
that. He was--on our side.'

'Who is this mysterious personage, I wonder?' said Dr Maurice smilingly;
but this time it was not a laugh or a groan, but a little shivering
sensation of pain that ran through him, he could not tell why.

'He was more like Fortunatus than any one,' said Norah. 'But he could
not be like Fortunatus in everything, for he said he was poor, like
us--though that might be only, as I say it myself, to spite Clara. Well,
he was grown up--taller than you are, Dr Maurice--with nice curling sort
of hair, all in little twists and rings, and beautiful eyes. They
flashed up so when mamma spoke. Mamma was very, very angry talking to
that horrible man at our own very door. Fancy, he had dared to go and
call and leave his horrid card. I tore it into twenty pieces, and
stamped upon it. It was silly, I suppose; but to think he should dare to
call--at our own very house----'

'I am getting dreadfully confused, Norah, between the beautiful eyes and
the horrible man. I don't know what I am about. Which was which?'

'Oh, Dr Maurice, how could you ask such a question? Are there two such
men in the world? It was _that_ Mr Golden whom I hate; and Mr
Rivers--Cyril Rivers--was with him, not knowing--but he says he will
never go with him again. I saw it in his eyes in a moment; he is on our
side.'

'You are young to read eyes in this way. I do not think I quite like it,
Norah,' said Dr Maurice, in a tone which she recognised at once.

'Why, you are angry. But how can I help it?' said Norah, growing a woman
again. 'If you were like me, Dr Maurice--if you felt your mamma had only
you--if you knew there was nobody else to stand by her, nobody to help
her, and you so little! I am obliged to think; I cannot help myself.
When I grow up, I shall have so much to do; and how can I know whether
people are on our side or against us, except by looking at their eyes?'

'Norah, my little Norah!' cried the man pitifully, 'don't leave your
innocence for such fancies as these. Your mother has friends to think
for her and you--many friends; I myself, for example. As long as I am
alive, do you require to go and look for people to be on your side? Why,
child, you forget _me_.'

Norah looked at him searchingly, penetrating, as he thought, to the
bottom of his heart.

'I did not forget you, Dr Maurice. You are fond of me and of--poor papa.
But I have to think of _her_. I don't think you love _her_. And she has
the most to bear.'

Dr Maurice did not make any reply. He did not love Helen; he even shrank
from the idea with a certain prudish sense of delicacy--an old
bachelor's bashfulness. Love Mrs Drummond! Why, it was out of the
question. The idea disconcerted him. He had been quite pained and
affected a moment before at the thought that his little Norah--the child
that he was so fond of--should want other champions. But now he was
disconcerted, and in front of the grave little face looking up at him,
he did not even dare to smile. Norah, however, was as ready to raise him
up as she had been to cast him down.

'Do you think Cyril is a pretty name, Dr Maurice?' she asked. 'I think
it sounds at first a little weak--too pretty for a boy. So is Cecil. I
like a rough, round sort of name--Ned, for instance. You never could
mistake Ned. One changes one's mind about names, don't you think? I used
to be all for Geralds and Cyrils and pretty sounds like that; now I like
the others best. Clara is pretty for a girl; but everybody thinks I
must be Irish, because I'm called Norah. Why was I called Norah, do you
know? Charlie Dalton calls me Norah Creina.'

'Here is some one quite fresh. Who is Charlie Dalton?' said Dr Maurice,
relieved.

'Oh, one of the Rectory boys. There are so many of them! What I never
can understand,' cried Norah suddenly, 'is the difference among people.
Mr Dalton has eight children, and mamma has only one; now why? To be
sure, it would have been very expensive to have had Charlie and all the
rest on so little money as we have now. I suppose we could not have done
it. And, to be sure, God must have known that, and arranged it on
purpose,' the child said, stopping short with a puzzled look. 'Oh, Dr
Maurice, when He knew it all, and could have helped it if He pleased,
why did He let them kill poor papa?'

'I do not know,' said Dr Maurice under his breath.

It was a relief to him when, a few minutes after, Helen appeared at the
garden door, having in the mean time overcome her own feelings. They
were all in a state of repression, the one hiding from the other all
that was strongest in them for the moment. Such a thing is easily done
at twelve years old. Norah ran along the garden path to meet her mother,
throwing off the shadow in a moment. But for the others it was not so
easy. They met, and they talked of the garden, what a nice old-fashioned
garden it was, full of flowers such as one rarely sees now-a-days. And
Dr Maurice told Norah the names of some of them, and asked if the trees
bore well, and commented upon the aspect, and how well those pears ought
to do upon that warm wall. These are the disguises with which people
hide themselves when that within does not bear speaking of. There was a
great deal more to be told still, and business to be discussed; but
first these perverse hearts had to be stilled somehow in their irregular
beating, and the tears which were too near the surface got rid of, and
the wistful, questioning thoughts silenced.

After a while Dr Maurice went to pay Stephen Haldane a visit. He, too,
was concerned in the business which brought the doctor here. The two men
went into it with more understanding than Helen could have had. She
wanted only that Golden should be punished, and her husband's name
vindicated--a thing which it seemed to her so easy to do. But they knew
that proof was wanted--proof which was not forthcoming. Dr Maurice told
Haldane what Helen gave him no opportunity to tell her--that the lawyers
were not sanguine. The books which had disappeared were the only
evidence upon which Golden's guilt and Drummond's innocence could be
either proved or disproved. And all the people about the office, from
the lowest to the highest, had been summoned to tell what they knew
about those books. Nobody, it appeared, had seen them removed; nobody
had seen the painter carry them away; there was this negative evidence
in his favour, if no other. But there was nothing to prove that Golden
had done it, or any other person involved, and, so far as this was
concerned, obscurity reigned over the whole matter--an obscurity not
pierced as yet by any ray of light.

'At all events, we shall fight it out,' said Dr Maurice. 'The only thing
to be risked now is a little money more or less, and that, I suppose, a
man ought to be willing to risk for the sake of justice--myself
especially, who have neither chick nor child.'

He said this in so dreary a way that poor Stephen smiled. The man who
was removed from any such delights--who could never improve his own
position in any way, nor procure for himself any of the joys of life,
looked at the man who thus announced himself with a mixture of gentle
ridicule and pity.

'That at least must be your own fault,' he said; and then he thought of
himself, and sighed.

No one knew what dreams might have been in Stephen Haldane's mind before
he became the wreck he was. Probably no one ever would know. He smiled
at the other, but for himself he could not restrain a sigh.

'I don't see how it can be said to be my own fault,' said Dr Maurice
with whimsical petulance. 'There are preliminary steps, of course, which
one might take--but not necessarily with success--not by any means
certainly with success. I tell you what, though, Haldane,' he added
hastily, after a pause, 'I'd like to adopt Norah Drummond. That is what
I should like to do. I'd be very good to her; she should have everything
she could set her face to. To start a strange child from the beginning,
even if it were one's own, is always like putting into a lottery. A baby
is no better than a speculation. How do you know what it may turn out?
whereas a creature like Norah----Ah, that is what I should like, to
adopt such a child as that!'

'To adopt--Norah?' Stephen grew pale. 'What! to take her from her
mother! to carry away the one little gleam of light!'

'She would be a gleam of light to me too,' said Dr Maurice, 'and I could
do her justice. I could provide for her. Her mother, if she cared for
the child's interest, ought not to stand in the way. There! you need not
look so horror-stricken. I don't mean to attempt it. I only say that is
what I should like to do.'

But the proposal, even when so lightly made, took away Stephen's breath.
He did not recover himself for some time. He muttered, 'Adopt--Norah!'
under his breath, while his friend talked on other subjects. He could
not forget it. He even made Dr Maurice a little speech when he rose to
go away. He put out his hand and grasped the other's arm in the
earnestness of his interest.

'Look here, Maurice,' he said, 'wealth has its temptations as well as
poverty; because you have plenty of money, if you think you could make
such a proposition----'

'What proposition?'

'To take Norah from her mother. If you were to tempt Mrs Drummond for
the child's sake to give up the child, by promising to provide for her,
or whatever you might say--if you were to do that, God forgive you,
Maurice--I know I never could!'

'Of course I shall not do it,' said Maurice hastily. And he went away
with the feeling in his mind that this man, too, was his rival, and his
successful rival. The child was as good as Stephen's child, though so
far removed from himself. Dr Maurice was so far wrong that it was Helen
Stephen was thinking of, and not Norah. The child would be a loss to
him; but the loss of her mother would be so much greater that the very
thought of it oppressed his soul. He had grown to be Helen's friend in
the truest sense; he had felt her sympathy to be almost too touching to
him, almost too sweet; and he could not bear the possibility of seeing
her deprived of her one solace. He sat alone after Maurice had gone away
(for his mother and sister had left them to have their conversation
unfettered by listeners), and pondered over the possible fate of the
mother and child. The child would grow up; in a very few years she would
be a woman; she would marry, in all likelihood, and go away, and belong
to them no more; and Helen would be left to bear her lot alone. She
would be left in the middle of her days to carry her burden as she
might, deserted by every love that had once belonged to her. What a lot
would that be!--worse, even, than his own, who, amid all his pains, had
two hearts devoted to him never to be disjoined from him but by death.
Poor Stephen, you would have supposed, was himself in the lowest depths
of human suffering and solitude; but yet he looked down upon a lower
still, and his heart bled for Helen, who, it might be, would have to
descend into that abyss in all the fulness of her life and strength.
What a sin would that man's be, he thought, who arbitrarily,
unnaturally, should try to hasten on that separation by a single day!

Dr Maurice went back to the other side of the house, and had his talk
out quietly with Mrs Drummond; he told her what he had told Haldane,
while Norah looked at him over her mother's chair, and listened to every
word. To her he said that it was the lawyers' opinion that they might do
good even though they proved nothing--they would stir up public opinion;
they might open the way for further information. And with this, perhaps,
it might be necessary to be content.

'There is one way in which something might be possible,' he said. 'All
the people about the office have been found and called as witnesses,
except one. That was the night-porter, who might be an important
witness; but I hear he lives in the country, and has been lost sight of.
He might know something; without that we have no proof whatever. I for
my own part should as soon think the sun had come out of the skies, but
Drummond, for some reason we know nothing of, might have taken those
books----'

'Are you forsaking him too?' cried Helen in her haste.

'I am not in the least forsaking him,' said Dr Maurice; 'but how can we
tell what had been said to him--what last resource he had been driven
to? If we could find that porter there might be something done. He would
know when they were taken away.'

Helen made no answer; she did not take the interest she might have done
in the evidence. She said softly, as if repeating to herself--

'Burton and Golden, Burton and Golden!' Could it be? What communication
could they have had? how could they have been together? This thought
confused her, and yet she believed in it as if it were gospel. She
turned it over and over like a strange weapon of which she did not know
the use.

'Yes, something may come out of that. We may discover some connection
between them when everything is raked up in this way. Norah thinks so
too. Norah feels that they are linked together somehow. Will you come
with me to the station, Norah, and see me away?'

'We are both going,' said Helen. And they put on their bonnets and
walked to the railway with him through the early twilight. The lights
were shining out in the village windows as they passed, and in the
shops, which made an illumination here and there. The train was coming
from town--men coming from their work, ladies returning, who had been
shopping in London, meeting their children, who went to carry home the
parcels in pleasant groups. The road was full of a dozen little domestic
scenes, such as are to be seen only in the neighbourhood of London. A
certain envy was in the thoughts of all three as they passed on. Norah
looked at the boys and girls with a little sigh, wondering how it would
feel to have brothers and sisters, to be one of a merry happy family.
And Helen looked at them with a different feeling, remembering the time
when she, too, had gone to meet her own people who were coming home. As
for Dr Maurice, of course it was his own fault. He had chosen to have
nobody belonging to him, to shut himself off from the comfort of wife
and child. Yet he was more impatient of all the cheerful groups than
either of the others.

'Talk of the country being quiet! it is more noisy than town,' he said;
he had just been quietly pushed off the pavement by a girl like Norah,
who was running to meet her father. That should have been nothing to
him, surely, but he felt injured. 'I wish you would come with me and
keep my house for me, Norah,' he said, with a vain harping on his one
string; and Norah laughed with gay freedom at the thought.

'Good night, Dr Maurice; come back soon,' she said, waving her hand to
him, then turned away with her mother, and did not even look back. He
was quite sure about this, as he settled himself in the corner of the
carriage. So fond as he was of the child; so much as he would have liked
to have done for her! And she never so much as looked back!



CHAPTER VI.


When Helen and Norah emerged again out of the lights of the little
railway station to the darkness glimmering with a few lamps of the road
outside, Mr Burton's phaeton was standing at the gate. The air was
touched with the first frost, there was a soft haze over the distances,
the lamps shone with a twinkling glow, and the breath of the horses was
faintly visible in the sharpened air. Mr Burton was standing talking to
some one on the pathway accompanied by his son Ned, who though he was
but a year older than Norah was nearly as tall as his father. Helen's
last interview with her cousin had been pleasant enough to tempt her to
linger now for any greeting, and her heart was sore and wroth against
him. She put her veil down over her face, and hurried past. But Mr
Burton had seen her, and long before this he had repented of his
rudeness of last night. Had it been successful, had he succeeded in
bullying and frightening her, he would have been perfectly satisfied
with himself; but he had not succeeded, and he was sorry for the cruelty
which had been in vain. It was so much power wasted, and his wisest
course now was to ignore and disown what he had done. He stopped short
in his conversation, and made a step after her.

'Ah, Helen! 'he cried, 'you out this cold evening! Wait a moment, I will
take you with me. I am going to pass your door.'

'Thanks,' said Helen, 'I think we prefer to walk.' And she was going
resolutely on; but she was not to be allowed so easily to make her
escape.

'One moment. I have something to say to you. If you will not drive with
me, I will walk with you,' said Mr Burton, in his most genial mood.
'Good evening, Tait, we can finish our talk to-morrow. Well, and where
have you been, you two ladies?--seeing some one off by the train? Ned,
see if you can't amuse your cousin Norah while I talk to her mother.
Helen, when you and I were that age I think we found more to say.'

'I do not think we were great friends--at that age,' said Helen.

She had meant to say at any age; but the gravity of her thoughts made
such light utterances of her anger impossible. When people are going to
serious war with each other, they may denounce and vituperate, but they
rarely gibe.

'No; I suppose it was at a later period we were friends,' Mr Burton
said, with a laugh. 'How strangely circumstances alter! I am afraid I
made myself rather disagreeable last night. When a man is bilious, he is
not accountable for his actions; and I had been worried in town; but it
was too bad to go and put it out on you; what I really wanted to ask
last night was if the house was quite in order for the winter? But
something brought on the other subject, and I lost my temper like an
idiot. I hope you won't think any more of it. And it is really important
to know if the house is in order--if you are prepared to run the risk of
frost, and all that. I was speaking to Tait, the carpenter, this moment.
I think I shall send him just to look over the house.'

Helen made no reply; this talk about nothing, this pretence of ease and
familiarity, was an insult to her. And Norah clung close to her arm,
enclosing it with both hands, calling her mother's attention to every
new sentence with a closer pressure. They went on for a few minutes
before Mr Burton could invent anything more to say, and Ned stalked at
Norah's other side with all a boy's helplessness. He certainly was not
in a condition to help his father out.

'Ned has been up to town with me to-day,' said Mr Burton, still more
cheerfully. 'It will be a loss, but we must make up our minds to send
him to school. It is a disadvantage to him being so tall; everybody
thinks he is fifteen at least. It is handy for you that Norah is so
small. You can make a baby of her for three or four years yet.'

Here Norah squeezed her mother's arm so tight that Helen winced with the
pain, yet took a kind of forlorn amusement too from the fury of the
child's indignation.

'Norah is no baby,' she said, 'happily for me; Norah is my best
companion and comfort.'

'Ah, yes; she is in your confidence; that is charming,' said Mr Burton;
'quite like a story-book; whereas Ned, the great blockhead, cares for
nothing but his dogs and nonsense. But he shall be packed off to Eton
directly. The house is so full at present, my wife has been regretting
we have seen nothing of you, Helen. I suppose it is too early to ask you
to come to us under present circumstances? But after a while, I hope,
when we are alone--And Norah must come before Ned goes away. There is
to be a children's party. What did your mother settle about that, Ned?'

'Don't know,' growled Ned at Norah's other side.

'Don't know! Well you ought to know, since it's in your honour. Clara
will send you word, Helen. Now, I suppose, I must be off, or I shall not
have time to dress. Why, by Jove, there goes the bell already!' cried Mr
Burton.

He looked round, and the bays, which had been impatiently following at a
foot-pace, held in with difficulty by the groom, stopped at the sign he
made, while the sonorous dinner-bell, which rang twice every evening
through all seasons, sounded its first summons through the darkness.
There was something very awe-inspiring in the sound of that bell. That,
as much as anything, impressed the village and neighbourhood with a
sense of the importance of the master of Dura. The old Harcourts had
used it only on very great occasions; but the Burtons used it every
evening. All the cooks in Dura village guided themselves by its sound.
'Lord, bless us! there's the bell a-going at the great house, and my
chickens not put down to roast yet,' Mrs Witherspoon at the Rectory
would say, giving herself such 'a turn' as she did not get over all the
evening. Mr Burton, too, got 'a turn' when he heard it.

He cried, 'Good night, Helen! Ned, come along,' and jumped into his
phaeton.

'I'll walk,' shouted Ned.

And then there was a jingle, a flash, a dart, and the two bays flew, as
if something had stung them, along the frosty road.

'It will be a long walk for you up that dark avenue,' said Helen, when
the boy, with his hands in his pockets, stood by them at the door of the
Gatehouse, hesitating with the awkwardness natural to his kind.

'Oh, I don't mind,' said Ned.

'Will you come in--and have some tea?'

Never was an invitation more reluctantly given. When his mother heard of
it, it flashed through her mind that Mrs Drummond had constructed the
first parallel, and that already the siege of Ned, the heir of Dura, had
begun; but Helen had no such idea. And Norah squeezed her arm with a
force of indignation which once more, though she was not merry, made her
mother smile.

'Mamma, how could you?' Norah cried, when the boy had come in, and had
been left by the bright little fire in the drawing-room to watch the
flickering of the lights while his entertainers took off their bonnets;
'how could you? It is I who will have to talk to him and amuse him. It
was selfish of you, mamma!'

And Ned sat by the drawing-room fire alone, repenting himself that he
had been seduced, in his big boots, with mud on his stockings, into this
unknown place. It was not actually unknown to him; he had broken the old
china cups and thumped upon the piano, and done his best to put his
fingers through the old curtains more than once while the place was
empty. But he did not understand the change that had passed upon it now.
He sat by the fire confused; wondering how he had ever had the courage
to come in; wondering if Mrs Drummond would think him dirty, and what
Norah would say. He would not have to put himself into velvet and silk
stockings and show himself in the drawing-room at home, that was a
comfort. But what unknown mazes of conversation, what awful abysses of
self-betrayal might there be before him here! Norah came in first, which
at once frightened and relieved him. And the room was pretty--the old
homely neutral-tinted room, with the lively gleam of firelight lighting
it up, and all the darkness made rosy in the corners, which was so
different from the drawing room at the great house, with its gilding
and grandeur, its masses of flowers and floods of light. Ned's head felt
very much confused by the difference; but the strangeness awed him in
spite of himself.

'I am always frightened in this room,' said Norah, drawing the biggest
chair into the circle of the firelight, and putting herself into it like
a little queen. She was so small that her one foot which hung down did
not reach the floor; the other, I am sorry to say, so regardless was
Norah of decorum, was tucked under her in the big chair.

'What a funny girl you are! Why?'

'Do you see that cupboard?' said Norah. 'I know there is an old woman
who lives there, and spins and spins, and keeps looking at me, till I
daren't breathe. Oh, I think sometimes if I look up it will turn me to
stone, that eye of hers. If you weren't here I shouldn't dare to say it;
I am most frightened for her in the day, when the light comes in at all
the windows, and all the pictures and things say, 'What's that little
girl doing here?' And then the mirror up on the wall--There's two people
in it I know, now. You will say its you and me; but it isn't you and me.
It's our ghosts, perhaps, sitting so still, and looking at each other
and never saying a word.'

Ned felt a shiver run over him as he listened. He thought of the dark
avenue which he had to go through all by himself, and wished he had
driven with his father instead. And there where he was sitting he just
caught that curious little round mirror, and there were two people in
it--never moving, never speaking, just as Norah said.

'There is always a feeling as if somebody were by in this house,' Norah
went on, 'somebody you can't see. Oh, it is quite true. You can't go
anywhere, up or down, but they always keep looking and looking at you. I
bear it as long as I can, and then I get up and run away. I should not
mind so much if I could see them, or if they were like the ladies that
walk about and rustle with long silk trains going over the floor, as
they do in some old houses. But the ones here are so still; they just
look at you for hours and hours together, till you get into such a
dreadful fright, and feel you can't bear it any longer and rush away.'

Just then there was the sound of a little fall of ashes from the fire
which made Ned start; and then he laughed hoarsely, frightened, but
defiant.

'You are making it all up out of your own head to frighten a fellow,' he
said.

'To frighten--a fellow!' said Norah, with gentle but ineffable
contempt. 'What have I to do with--fellows? It frightens _me_.'

And she gave a little shudder in her big chair, and shook her head,
waving her brown hair about her shoulders. Perhaps the colour in her
hair would not have showed so much but for the black frock with its
little white frill that came to the throat; and the firelight found out
Norah's eyes, and kindled two lamps in them. She was all made up of
blackness and brightness, a shadow child, not much of her apparent
except the pale face and the two lights in her eyes--unless, indeed, it
were that one leg, hanging down from under the black frock, with a white
stocking on it, and a varnished, fire-reflecting shoe.

Never in Ned's life had he experienced anything like this before; the
delicious thrill of visionary terror made the actual pleasantness of the
warm corner he sat in all the pleasanter; he had thought himself past
the age to have stories told to him; but nothing like Norah's visions
had ever come in his way. No happiness, however, is perfect in this
world. The dark avenue would come across him by moments with a thrill of
terror. But the old woman could not sit and spin, that was certain, in
the dark, windy, lonely avenue; there would be no mirror there to
reflect his passing figure; and he would run; and if the dogs were
about they would come to meet him; so the boy took courage and permitted
himself to enjoy this moment, which was a novelty in his life. Then Mrs
Drummond came in with her black dress like Norah's, and the long white
streamers to her cap, which looked like wings, he thought. Her sorrowful
look, her soft voice, that air about her of something subdued and
stilled, which had not always been so, impressed the boy's imagination.
Ned was an honest, single-hearted boy, and he looked with awe upon any
suffering which he could understand. He explained afterwards that Helen
looked as if she were very sorry about something. 'Awfully sorry--but
not bothering,' he said, and the look of self-control impressed him,
though he could not tell why. Altogether it was so different from home;
so much more attractive to the imagination. There was no dimness, no
shadows, at the great house. There nobody ever sat in the firelight, nor
'took things into their heads;' and here everything was so shadowy, so
soft, so variable; the firelight gleaming suddenly out now and then, the
air so full of mystery. Everything that is strange is attractive to the
young fancy to begin with; and there was more than simple novelty here.

Helen brought the lamp in her hand and set it down on the table, which
to some extent disturbed his picture; and then she came and sat down by
the children, while Susan--old Susan, who was a landmark to Ned, keeping
him to reality in the midst of all this wonderfulness--brought in and
arranged the tea.

'Are you sure they will not be anxious?' said Helen. 'I am afraid your
mother will be unhappy about you when she finds you don't come.'

'Oh, she'll never find out,' said Ned. 'Unhappy! I don't suppose mamma
would be unhappy for that; but I'll get home before they come out from
dinner. I sha'n't dress though, it would be absurd, at nine o'clock.'

'It will be a dark walk for you up the avenue,' said Helen kindly; and
when she said this Ned shrank into his corner and shivered slightly. She
added, 'You are not afraid?'

'Oh no--I should hope not!' said Ned.

'I should be afraid,' said Norah tranquilly; 'the wind in the trees
always makes me feel strange. It sounds so moaning and dreary, as if it
were complaining. We don't do it any harm that it should complain. It is
like something that is in prison and wants to get out. Do you know any
stories about forest spirits? I don't like them very much; they are
always dwarfs, or trolls, or something grim--funny little men, hairy all
over, that sit under the trees with their long arms, and dart out when
you pass.'

Ned gave another suppressed shiver in his corner, and Helen came to his
aid.

'Norah has read nothing but fairy tales all her life,' she said; 'but I
dare say you know a great deal more than she does, and don't care for
such foolish things. You are going to Eton? I was once there when all
the boats were out, and there were fireworks at night. It was so pretty.
I dare say when you are there you will get into the boats.'

'I shall try,' said Ned, lighting up. 'I mean to be very good at
athletics if I can. It does not matter if I work very hard, for I am
going into papa's business, where I sha'n't want it. I am not going to
Eton to work, but to get among a good set, and to do what other people
do.'

'Ah!' said Helen, with a smile. She took but a languid interest in Ned,
and she was scarcely sorry that Mr. Burton's son showed no likelihood of
distinguishing himself. She accepted it quite quietly, without any
interest in the matter, which somehow troubled Ned, he could not have
told why.

'At least, they say you're not obliged to work,' he said, a little
abashed. 'I shall do as much as I can at that too.'

And then there was a momentary silence, broken only by the ring of the
teacups as Susan put them down. Ned had a feeling that no very profound
interest was shown in his prospect and intentions, but he was used to
that. He sat quite quiet, feeling very shy, and sadly troubled to find
that Susan had placed the lamp where it threw its strongest light upon
himself. He drew his muddy boots and stockings as much as he could under
his chair, and hoped Mrs Drummond would not notice them; how foolish he
had been to come, making an exhibition of himself! and yet it was very
pleasant, too.

'Now you must come to the table and have some tea,' said Helen, placing
a chair for him with her own hand. Ned knew it was a gentleman's duty to
do this for a lady, but he was so confused he did not feel capable of
behaving like anything but a loutish boy; he turned everything he could
think of as a pleasant subject of conversation over in his mind, with
the idea of doing what he could to make himself agreeable; but nothing
would come that he could produce. He sat and got through a great deal of
bread and butter while he cudgelled his brains in this way. There was
not much conversation. Helen was more silent than usual, having so much
to think of; and Norah was amused by the unusual specimen of humanity
before her, and distracted from the monologue with which she generally
filled up all vacant places. At last Ned's efforts resolved themselves
into speech.

'Oh, Mrs Drummond, please, should you like to have a dog?' he said.

'I knew he was a doggy sort of a boy,' Norah said to herself, throwing a
certain serious pity into her contemplation of him. But yet the offer
was very interesting, and suggested various excitements to come.

'What kind of a dog?' said Helen, with a smile.

'Oh, we have two or three different kinds. I was thinking, perhaps, a
nice little Skye--like Shaggy, but smaller. Or if you would like a
retriever, or one of old Dinah's pups.'

'Thanks,' said Helen. 'I don't know what we should do with it, Ned; but
it is very kind of you.'

'Oh, no,' said the boy with a violent blush. 'It would be a companion
for--_her_, you know. It is so nice to have a dog to play with. Why,
Shaggy does everything but talk. He knows every word I say. You might
have Shaggy himself, if you like, while I am away.'

'Oh, what a nice boy you are!' said Norah. '_I_ should like it, Ned.
Mamma does not want anything to play with; but I do. Give it to me! I
should take such care of him! And then when you came home for the
holidays, I should promise to take him to the station to meet you. I
love Shaggy--he is such fun. He can't see out of his eyes; and he does
so frisk and jump, and make an object of himself. I never knew you were
such a nice boy! Give him to me.'

And then the two fell into the most animated discussion, while Helen sat
silent and looked on. She forgot that the boy was her enemy's son. He
was her cousin's son; some drops of blood-kindred to her ran in his
veins. He was an honest, simple boy. Mrs Drummond brightened upon him,
according to her nature. She was not violently fond of children, but she
could not shut her heart against an ingenuous, open face. She scarcely
interfered with the conversation that followed, except to subdue the
wild generosity with which Ned proposed to send everything he could
think of to Norah. 'There are some books about dogs, that will tell you
just what to do. I'll tell John to bring them down. And there's----Are
you very fond of books? You must have read thousands and thousands, I am
sure.'

'Not so many as that,' Norah said modestly. 'But I have got
through--some.'

'I could lend you--I am sure I could lend you--Papa has got a great big
library; I forget how many volumes. They are about everything that books
were ever written about. We never read them, except mamma, sometimes;
but if you would like them----'

'You must not give her anything more,' said Helen; 'and even the dog
must only come if your people are willing. You are too young to make
presents.'

'I am not so very young,' cried Ned, who had found his voice. 'I am near
fourteen. When Cyril Rivers was my age, he was captain of fourth
form;--he told me himself. But then he is very clever--much cleverer
than me. Norah! if I should only be able to send Shaggy's puppy, not
Shaggy himself, shall you mind?'

'Are you sure you will not be afraid to walk up the avenue alone?' said
Mrs Drummond, rising from the table. 'I fear it will be so very dark;
and we have no one to send with you, Ned.'

'Oh, I don't want any one,' said the boy; and he stumbled up to his
feet, and put out his hand to say good night, feeling himself dismissed.
Norah went to the door with him to let him out. 'Oh, I wish I could go
too,' said Norah; 'it is so lonely walking in the dark; but then I
should have to get back. Oh, I do so wish you could stay. Don't you
think you could stay? There are hundreds of rooms we don't use. Well,
then, good night. I will tell you what I shall do. I shall stand at the
door here and watch. If you should be frightened, you can shout, and I
will shout back; and then you will always know that I am here. It is
such a comfort when one is frightened to know there is some one there.

'I shan't be frightened,' said Ned boldly. And he walked with the utmost
valour and the steadiest step to the Hall gates, feeling Norah's eyes
upon him. Then he stopped to shout--'Good night; all right!'

'Good night!' rang through the air in Norah's treble. And then, it must
be allowed, when he heard the door of the Gatehouse shut, and saw by the
darkness of the lodge windows that old John and his daughter had gone to
bed, that Ned's heart failed him a little. A wild recollection crossed
his mind of the dwarfs, with their long arms, under the trees; and of
the old woman spinning, spinning, with eyes that fixed upon you for
hours together; and then, with his heart beating, he made one plunge
into the gloom, under the overarching trees.

This is how Ned and Norah, knowing nothing about it, made, as they each
described the process afterwards, 'real friends.' The bond was cemented
by the gift of Shaggy's puppy some days after, and it was made permanent
and eternal by the fact that very soon afterwards Ned went away to
school.



CHAPTER VII.


Meanwhile the great case of Rivers's bank came before the law courts and
the public. It was important enough--for there was no war in those
days--to be announced in big capitals on the placards of all the
newspapers. _The Great Bank Case_--_Arrest of the Directors_--_Strange
Disclosures in the City_--were the headings in the bills, repeated from
day to day, and from week to week, as the case went on. It was of course
doubly attractive from the fact that it was founded upon a tragedy, and
that every writer in the papers who referred to it at all was at liberty
to bring in a discussion of the motives and intentions of 'the unhappy
man' who had introduced 'a watery grave' into the question. A watery
grave may not be pleasant for the occupant of it, but it is a very fine
thing for the press. The number of times it appeared in the public
prints at this period defies reckoning. In some offices the words were
kept permanently in type. The _Daily Semaphore_ was never tired of
discussing what the feelings of the wretched man must have been when he
stole down to the river just as all the world was going to rest, and
plunged himself and his shame, and the books of the company, under the
turbid waters. The _Daily Semaphore_ held this view of the matter very
strongly, and people said that Mr Golden belonged to the same club as
its editor, and that the two were intimate, which of course was a
perfectly natural reason for its partisanship. Other journals, however,
held different opinions. The weekly reviews, less addicted to fine
writing, leaned to the side of the unfortunate painter. Their
animadversions were chiefly upon the folly of a man interfering with
business who knew nothing about it. When would it come to be understood,
they said, that every profession required a training for itself, and
that to dabble in the stocks without knowing how, was as bad, or at
least as foolish, and more ruinous than to dabble in paint without
knowing how. There was a great deal about the sutor, who should stick to
his last, in these discussions of the subject; but, except in this
particular, neither the _Sword_ nor the _Looker-on_ had a stone to throw
at poor Drummond. Peace to his ashes, they said, he was a good painter.
'During his lifetime we thought it our duty to point out the
imperfections which lessened the effect of his generally most
conscientious and meritorious work. It is the vocation of a critic, and
happy is he who can say he has never exceeded the legitimate bounds of
criticism, never given utterance to a hasty word, or inflicted
unnecessary pain. Certain we are, for our own part, that our aim has
always been to temper judgment with charity; and now that a gap has been
made in so melancholy a manner in the ranks of the Academy, we may
venture to say that no man better deserved his elevation to the first
rank of his profession than Robert Drummond; no man we have ever known
worked harder, or threw himself more entirely into his work. His feeling
for art was always perfect. Now and then he might fail to express with
sufficient force the idea he intended to illustrate; but for harmony of
conception, true sense of beauty, and tender appreciation of English
sentiment and atmosphere, he has been surpassed by no painter of our
modern school. We understand that an exhibition of his collected works
is in contemplation, a plan which has been lately adopted with great
success in so many cases. We do not doubt that a great many of our
readers will avail themselves at once of the opportunity of forming a
comprehensive judgment of the productions of a most meritorious artist,
as well as of paying their tribute of sympathy to the, we firmly believe
undeserved, misfortunes of an honest and honourable man.'

It was thus the _Looker-on_ expressed its sentiments. The _Sword_ did
not attempt to take up the same tone of melancholy superiority and
noble-mindedness--qualities not in its way; but it made its stand after
its own fashion against the ruthless judgments of the public. 'No one
can respect the British public more than we do,' said that organ of the
higher intellect; 'its instincts are so unerring, and its good taste so
unimpeachable, that, as a matter of course, we all bow to a decision
more infallible than that of the Holiest Father that ever sat in Papal
See. But after we have rendered this enlightened homage, and torn our
victim to pieces, an occasional compunction will make itself audible
within the most experienced bosom. After all, there is such a thing as
probability to be taken into account. Truth, as we all know, is stranger
than fiction; but yet the cases are so few in which fact outrages every
likelihood that we are justified in looking very closely into the
matter before we give an authoritative assent. So far as our personal
knowledge goes, we should say that a painter is as much afraid of the
money market as a woman is (or rather used to be) of a revolver, and
that the dramatic completeness of the finale which the lively commercial
imagination has accepted as that of poor Drummond, quite surpasses the
homelier and milder invention of the daughters of art. A dramatic
author, imbued with the true modern spirit of his art, might indeed find
an irresistible attraction in the "situation" of the drowning director,
tossing the books of a joint-stock company before him into the abyss,
and sardonically going down into Hades with the proofs of his guilt. But
though the situation is fine, we doubt if even the dramatist would
personally avail himself of it, for dramatists have a way of being tame
and respectable like their neighbours. In our days your only emulator of
the piratical and highway heroes of the past is the commercial man _pur
sang_, who has not an idea in his head unconnected with business. It is
he who convulses society with those witticisms and clevernesses of
swindling which charm everybody; and it is he who gives us now and then
the example of such a tragical conclusion as used to belong only to
poetry. It is no longer the Bohemian, it is the Philistine, smug, clean,
decorous, sometimes pious, who is the criminal of the nineteenth
century.'

This article made a great sensation in many circles. There were people
who thought it was almost a personal libel, and that Golden would be
justified in 'taking steps' against the paper, for who could that smug,
clean, decorous Philistine be but he? But the manager was better
advised. He was the hero of the day to all readers and writers. He was
kept under examination for a whole week, badgered by counsel, snubbed by
the judge, stared at by an audience which was not generally favourable;
but yet he held his own. He was courageous, if nothing else. All that
could be done to him in the way of cross-examination never made him
falter in his story. Other pieces of information damaging to his
character were produced by the researches of the attorneys. It was found
that the fate of all the speculations in which he had been involved was
suspiciously similar, and that notwithstanding those business talents
which everybody allowed to be of the highest order, ruin and bankruptcy
had followed at his heels wherever he went. The counsel for the
prosecution paid him unbounded compliments on his ability, mingled with
sarcastic condolence on this strange and unfailing current of
misfortune. He led the witness into a survey of his past life with
deadly accuracy and distinctness, damning him before all the world, as
history only can damn. 'It is unfortunate that this should have happened
to you again after your previous disappointments,' he said. 'Yes, it was
unfortunate,' said the unhappy man. But he held such head against the
torrent of facts thus brought up, that the sympathy of many people ran
strongly in his favour for the moment. 'Hang it all! which of us could
stand this turn-up of everything that ever happened to him?' some said.
Golden confronted it all with the audacity of a man who knew everything
that could be said against him; and he held steadily by his story. He
admitted that Drummond had done nothing in the business, and indeed knew
next to nothing about it until that day in autumn, when, in the absence
of all other officials, he had himself had recourse to him. 'But the
more inexperienced a man may be, the more impetuous he is--in business;
when once he begins,' said the manager. And that there was truth in
this, nobody could deny. But gradually as the trial went on, certain
mists cleared off and other mists descended. The story about poor
Drummond and the books waned from the popular mind; it was dropped out
of the leading articles in the _Semaphore_. If they had not gone into
the river with the painter, where were they? Who had removed them? Were
they destroyed, or only hidden somewhere, to be found by the miraculous
energy of the police? This question began to be the question which
everybody discussed after a while; for by this time, though proof was as
far off as ever, and nobody knew who was the guilty party, there had
already fallen a certain silence, a something like respect, over that
'watery grave.'

And something more followed, which Helen Drummond scarcely understood,
and which was never conveyed in words to the readers of the
newspapers--a subtle, unexpressed sentiment, which had no evidence to
back it but only that strange thrill of certainty which moves men's
minds in spite of themselves. 'I would just like to know what state
Rivers's was in before it became a joint-stock company,' was the most
distinct expression of opinion any one was guilty of in public; and the
persons to whom this speech was addressed would shake their heads in
reply. The consequence was one which nobody could have distinctly
accounted for, and which no one ventured to speak of plainly. A
something, a breath, a mist, an intangible shadow, gathered over the
names of the former partners who had managed the whole business, and
transferred it to the new company. These were Mr Burton and another, who
has nothing to do with this history. In what condition had they handed
it over? What induced them to dispose of such a flourishing business?
And why was it that both had got so easily out of it with less loss than
many a private shareholder? These were very curious questions, and took
an immense hold on the public mind, though they were not discussed in
the newspapers; for there are many things which move the public mind
deeply, which it would not answer to put in the newspapers. As for Lord
Rivers, he was a heavy loser, and nobody suspected for a moment that he
knew anything about it. The City men were sorry for him as a victim; but
round the names of Mr Burton and his colleague there grew that
indefinable shadow. Not a word could be said openly against them; but
everybody thought the more. They were flourishing, men in great
business--keeping up great houses, wearing all the appearance of
prosperity. No righteous critic turned his back upon them. At kirk and
at market they were as much applauded, as warmly received, to all
outward appearance, as ever. But a cold breath of distrust had come
round them, like an atmosphere. The first prick of the canker had come
to this flower.

This was the unrecorded, undisclosed result of the inquiry, with which
Helen Drummond, and the Haldanes, and all uninstructed, were so deeply
dissatisfied. It had ended in nothing, they said. The managers and
directors were acquitted, there being no proof against them. No
authoritative contradiction had been or could be given to the theory of
Robert Drummond's guilt. The _Semaphore_ was still free to produce that
'watery grave' any time it was in want of a phrase to round a paragraph.
Their hearts had been wrung with the details of the terrible story all
over again, and--nothing had come of it. 'I told you it would be so,' Mr
Burton said, who knew so much better. 'It would have been much more
sensible had you persuaded Maurice to leave it alone.' But Maurice had a
different tale to tell when he came to make his report to his anxious
clients. He bewildered them with the air of triumph he put on. 'But
nothing is proved,' said Helen sadly. 'No, nothing is proved,' he said;
'but everything is imputed.' She shook her head, and went to her room,
and knelt down before the Dives, and offered up to it, meaning no harm,
what a devout Catholic would call an _acte de reparation_--an offering
of mournful love and indignation--and, giving that, would not be
comforted. 'They cannot understand you, but I understand you, Robert,'
she said, in that agony of compunction and tenderness with which a true
woman tries to make up to the dead for the neglect and coldness of the
living. This was how Helen, in her ignorance, looked upon it. But
Stephen Haldane understood better when he heard the tale. Golden, at
least, would never hold up his head again--or, at least, if ever, not
for long years, till the story had died out of men's minds. And the
reputation of the others had gone down as by a breath. No one could tell
what it was; but it existed--the first shadow, the beginning of
suspicion. 'I am satisfied,' Dr Maurice said, with a stern smile of
triumph. The man had thrown himself entirely into the conflict, and took
pleasure in that sweet savour of revenge.

'But Mrs Drummond?' said Stephen, whose mind was moved by softer
thoughts.

'That woman cannot understand,' said Dr Maurice. 'Oh, I don't mean any
slight to your goddess, your heroine. I may say she is not my heroine,
I suppose? She can't understand. Why, Drummond is clear with everybody
whose opinion is worth having. We have proved nothing, of course. I knew
we could prove nothing. But he is as clear as you or I--with all people
who are worth caring for. She expected me to bring her a diploma, I
suppose, under the Queen's hand and seal.'

'I did not expect that,' said Haldane; 'but I did look for something
more definite, I allow.'

'More definite! It is a little hard to deal with people so exigent,'
said Dr Maurice, discomfited in the midst of his enthusiasm. 'Did you
see that article in the _Looker-on_? The Drummond exhibition is just
about to open; and that, I am confident, will be an answer in full. I
believe the public will take that opportunity of proving what they
think.'

And so far Maurice turned out to be right. The public did show its
enthusiasm--for two days. The first was a private view, and everybody
went. The rooms were crowded, and there were notices in all the papers.
The next day there was also a very fair attendance; and then the
demonstration on the part of the public stopped. Poor Drummond was dead.
He had been a good but not a great painter. His story had occupied
quite as much attention as the world had to give him--perhaps more. He
and his concerns--his bankruptcy, his suicide, and his pictures--had
become a bore. Society wanted to hear no more of him. The exhibition
continued open for several weeks, not producing nearly enough to pay its
expenses, and then it was closed; and Drummond's story came to an end,
and was heard of no more.

This is the one thing which excited people, wound up to a high pitch by
personal misfortune or suffering, so seldom understand. They are
prepared to encounter scurrility, opposition, even the hatred or the
enmity of others; but they are not prepared for the certain fact that
one time or other, most likely very soon, the world will get tired of
them; it is their worst danger. This was what happened now to the
Drummonds; but fortunately at Dura, in the depths of the silent country,
it was but imperfectly that Helen knew. She was not aware how generally
public opinion acquitted her husband, which was hard; and she did not
know that the world was tired of him, which was well for her. He was
done with, and put aside like a tale that is told; but she still went on
planning in her own mind a wider vindication for him, an acquittal
which this time it should be impossible to gainsay.

And quietness fell upon them, and the months began to flow on, and then
the years, with no incident to disturb the calm. When all the excitement
of the trial was over, and everything done that could be done, then the
calm reign of routine began. There were times, no doubt, in which Helen
chafed and fretted at it; but yet routine is a great support and comfort
to the worn and weary. It supplies a kind of dull motive to keep life
going when no greater motives exist. The day commenced always with
Norah's lessons. Helen was not an intellectual woman, nor did she feel
herself consciously the better for such education as she had herself
received; but such as she had received she transmitted conscientiously
to Norah. She heard her read every morning a little English and a little
French. She made her write a succession of copies, and do exercises in
the latter language, and she gave her an hour's music. I fear none of
this was done with very much spirit; but yet it was done conscientiously
every morning of their lives except Sunday, when they went to church.
She did it because it was right, because it was necessary, and her duty;
but not with any strong sense of the elevated character of her
employment, or expectation of any vast results from it. It had not
produced very great results in herself. Her mind had worked busily
enough all her life, but she did not believe that her music, or her
French, or anything else she had learnt, had done her much good.
Therefore she proceeded very calmly, almost coldly, with the same
process, with Norah. It was necessary--it had to be done just as
vaccination had to be done when the child was a baby; that was about
all.

Then after the lessons they had their homely dinner, which Susan did not
always cook to perfection; and then they took their walk; and in the
evening there were lessons to be learned and needlework to do. When the
child went to bed, her mother read--not anything to improve her mind.
She was not bent upon improvement, unfortunately; indeed, it did not
occur to her. She read, for the most part, novels from the circulating
library. The reader, perhaps, is doing the same thing at this moment,
and yet, most likely, he will condemn, or even despise, poor Helen. She
had one or two books besides, books of poetry, though she was not
poetically disposed in any way. She had 'In Memoriam' by her, which she
did not read (does any one who has ever lived in the valley of the
shadow of death _read_ 'In Memoriam?'), but pored over night and day,
thinking in it, scarcely knowing that her own mind had not spoken first
in these words. And then there was Mr Browning's poem of 'Andrea,' the
painter who had a wife. Helen would sit over her fire and watch it dying
out at her feet, and ponder on Andrea's fate--wondering whether,
perhaps, a woman might do badly for her husband, and yet be a spotless
woman, no Lucrezia; whether she might sap the strength out of him with
gentle words, and even while she loved him do him harm? Out of such a
question as this she was glad to escape to her novel, the first that
might come to hand.

And so many people in Helen's state of mind read novels--people who fly
into the world of fiction as a frightened child flies into a lighted
room, to escape the ghosts that are in the dark passages and echoing
chambers--that it is strange so little provision is made for them, and
that the love-story keeps uppermost in spite of all. Yet perhaps the
love-story is the safest. The world-worn sufferer is often glad to
forget all that reminds him of his own trouble, and even when he is not
touched by the fond afflictions of the young people, finds a little
pleasure in smiling at them in the exuberance of their misery. They
think it is so terrible, poor babies, to be 'crossed in love.' The fact
that they cannot have their own way is so astounding to them, something
to rouse earth and heaven. Helen ran over a hundred tales of this
description with a grave face, thankful to be interested in the small
miseries which were to her own as the water spilt from a pitcher is to
the sea. To be sure, there were a great many elevating and improving
books which Helen might have had if she pleased, but nobody had ever
suggested to her that it was necessary she should improve her mind.

And thus the time went on, and Mrs Drummond dropped, as it were, into
the background, into the shade and quietness of life. She was still
young, and this decadence was premature. She felt it creeping upon her,
but she took no pains to stop the process. So long as Norah was safe
there was nothing beside for which she was called upon to exert herself;
and thus with all her powers subdued, and the stream of life kept low,
she lived on, voluntarily suppressing herself, as so many women do. And
in the mean time new combinations were preparing, new personages coming
upon the scene. While the older people stood aside, the younger ones put
on their singing garments, and came forward with their flowery wreaths,
with the sunshine upon their heads, to perform their romance, like the
others before them. And so it happened that life had stolen
imperceptibly away, so noiseless and soft that no one knew of its going,
until all at once there came a day when its progress could be no longer
ignored. This was the day when Norah Drummond, eighteen years old, all
decked and dressed by her mother's hands, spotless and radiant as the
rose in her hair, with her heart full of hopes, and her eyes full of
light, and no cloud upon her from all the tragic mists through which her
youth had passed, went up the long avenue at Dura to the House which was
brilliant with lamps and gay with music, to make her first appearance,
as she thought, in the world. Norah's heart was beating, her gay spirit
dancing already before she reached the door.

'Oh, I wonder, mamma, I wonder,' she said, 'what will happen? will
anything happen to-night?' What could happen to her by her mother's
side, among her old friends? She did not know; she went to meet it
gaily. But Norah found it impossible to believe that this first
triumphant evening, this moment of glory and delight, could pass away
like the other evenings; that there should not be something in it,
something unknown, sweet, and yet terrible, which should affect all her
life.



CHAPTER VIII.


A girl's first ball! What words more full of ecstasy could be breathed
in this dull world! A vague, overwhelming vision of delight before she
goes into it--all brightness, and poetry, and music, and flowers, and
kind, admiring faces; everything converging towards herself as a centre,
not with any selfish sense of exclusive enjoyment, but sweetly,
spontaneously, as to the natural queen. A hundred unexpected,
inexpressible emotions go to make up this image of paradise. There is
the first glow and triumph of power which is at once a surprise to her
and a joy. The feeling that she has come to the kingdom, that she
herself has become the fair woman whose sway she has read of all her
life; the consciousness, at last, that it is real, that womanhood is
supreme in her person, and that the world bows down before her in her
whiteness and brightness, in her shamefacedness and innocent
confidence, in her empire of youth. She is the Una whose look can tame
the lion; she is the princess before whose glance the whole world
yields; and yet at the same time, being its queen, is she not the
world's sweet handmaid, to scatter flowers in its path, and dance and
sing to make it glad? All these thoughts are in the girl's mind,
especially if she be a fanciful girl--though, perhaps, she does not find
words to express any of them; and this it is which throws such a charm
to her upon the pleasure-making, which to us looks sometimes so stale
and so poor.

And it is only after a long interval--unless her case be an
exceptionally hard one--that she gets disenchanted. When she goes into
the fairy palace, she finds it all that she thought; all, with the
lively delight of personal enjoyment added, and that flattery of
admiring looks, of unspoken homage, not to the ideal princess, or
representative woman, but to _her_, which is so sweet and so new. Thus
Norah Drummond entered the ball-room at Dura House, floating in, as it
were, upon the rays of light that surrounded her--the new woman, the
latest successor of Eve in the garden, unexacting queen of the fresh
world she had entered into, fearing no rivals--nay, reigning in the
persons of her rivals as well as in her own. And when she had thus made
her entrance in an abstract triumph, waking suddenly to individual
consciousness, remembering that she was still Norah, and that people
were looking at her, wondering at her, admiring her--her, and not
another--she laughed as a child laughs for nothing, for delight, as she
stood by her mother's side. It was too beautiful and wonderful to be shy
of it.

'Pinch me, mamma, and it will all pass away like the other dreams,' she
whispered, holding fast by her mother's arm. But the curious thing, the
amazing thing, was, that it continued, and warmed her and dazzled her,
and lighted her up, and did not pass away.

'Norah, come! you are to dance this dance with me,' cried Ned, rushing
up. He had seen them come in, though he was at the other end of the
room; he had watched for them since the first note of the music struck;
he had neglected the duty to which he had been specially appropriated,
the duty of looking after and amusing and taking care of the two fair
daughters of the Marchioness, who was as good as Lady Patroness of Mrs
Burton's ball. To keep up the proper contrast, I am aware that Lady
Edith and Lady Florizel should have been young women of a certain age,
uninviting, and highly aristocratic, while Norah Drummond had all the
beauty and sweetness, as well as poverty and lowliness, to recommend
her; but this, I am sorry to confess, was not the case. The Ladies
Merewether were very pretty girls, as pretty as Norah; they were not
'stuck-up,' but as pleasant and as sweet as English girls need
be--indeed, except that they were not Norah, I know no fault they had in
Ned's eyes. But they were not Norah, and he forsook his post. Nobody
noticed the fact much except Mrs Burton. As for Lady Florizel, she had
the most unfeigned good-humoured contempt for Ned. He was a mere boy,
she said; she had no objection to dance with him, or chatter to him; but
she had in her reach two hundred as good, or better than him, and she
preferred men to boys, she did not hesitate to say. So that when Ned
appeared by Norah's side, Lady Florizel, taking her place with her
partner, smiled upon him as he passed, and asked audibly, 'Oh, who was
that pretty girl with Mr Burton? oh, how pretty she was! Couldn't
anybody tell her?' Lady Florizel was not offended. But Mrs Burton saw,
and was wroth.

Many changes had happened in those six years. At the time of the trial
and after it there had been many doubts and speculations in Helen's
mind as to what she should do. Suspecting her cousin as she did, and
with Robert's judgment against him, as recorded in that last mournful
letter, how was she to go on accepting a shelter from her cousin, living
at his very gates in a sort of dependence upon him? But she had nowhere
else to go, for one thing, and the shade of additional doubt which had
been thrown upon Burton by the trial, was not of a kind to impress her
mind; nothing had been brought forward against him, no one had said
openly that he was to blame, and Helen was discouraged when it all ended
in nothing as she thought, and had not energy enough to uproot herself
from the peaceful corner she had taken refuge in. Where could she go?
Then she had the Haldanes to keep her to this spot, which now seemed the
only spot in the world where pity and friendship were to be found.
Stephen, whom she contemplated with a certain reverence in his great
suffering and patience, was the better for her presence and that of
Norah, and their kind eyes and the voices that bade her welcome whenever
she crossed their threshold was a comfort to her. She kept herself apart
from the Burtons for a long time, having next to no intercourse with
them, and so she would have done still had the matter been in her
hands. But the matter was no longer in her hands. The children had grown
up, all of them together. They had grown into those habits which fathers
and mothers cannot cross, which insensibly affect even their own
feelings and relations. Clara Burton and Norah Drummond were cousins
still, though so great a gulf of feeling lay between their two houses.
Both of them had been, as it were, brought up with the Daltons at the
Rectory. They were all children together, all boys and girls together.
Insensibly the links multiplied, the connection grew stronger. When Ned
Burton was at Dura there was never a day in his life that he did not
spend, or attempt to spend, part of it in the Gatehouse. And Clara ran
in and out--she and Mary Dalton; they were all about the same age; at
this moment they ranged from twenty to seventeen, a group of companions
more intimate than anything but youth and this long and close
association could have made them. They were like brothers and sisters,
Mrs Dalton said anxiously, veiling from herself the fact that some of
them perhaps had begun to feel and think as brothers and sisters do not
feel. Charlie Dalton, for instance, who was the eldest of
all--one-and-twenty--instead of falling in love with Norah, who was as
poor as himself--a thing which would have been simple madness, of
course, but not so bad as what had happened--had seen fit to go and
bestow his heart upon Clara Burton, whose father dreamed of nothing less
than a duke for her, and who had not as much heart as would lie on a
sixpence, the rector's wife said indignantly; and Heaven knows how many
other complications were foreshadowing through those family intimacies,
and the brother and sister condition which had been so delightful while
it lasted. Mrs Drummond and Mrs Dalton went together on this particular
evening watching from a distance over their respective children. Helen's
face was calm, for Norah was in no trouble; but the rector's wife had a
pucker on her brow. She could see her Charlie watching so wistfully the
movements of Clara Burton through the crowd, hanging about her, stealing
to her side whenever he could, following her everywhere with his eyes.
Charlie was especially dear to his mother, as the eldest boy of a large
family, when he is a good boy, so often is. She had been able to talk to
him many a day about her domestic troubles when she could not speak to
his father. She had felt herself strengthened by his sympathy and
support, that backing up which is so good for everybody, and it broke
her heart to see her boy breaking his for _that_ girl. What could he see
in her? the mother thought. If it had been Norah Drummond! and then she
tried to talk to her friend at her side. They had come to be very fast
friends; they had leant upon each other by turns, corners, as it were,
of the burdens which each had to bear, and Mrs Dalton knew Mrs Drummond
could guess what the sigh meant which she could not restrain.

'How nice Norah is looking,' she said, 'and how happy! I think she has
changed so much since she was a child. She used to have such a dreamy
look; but now there is no _arrière pensée_, she goes into everything
with all her heart.'

'Yes,' said Helen; but she did not go on talking of Norah, she
understood the give and take of sympathy. 'I like Mary's dress so much.
She and Katie look so fresh, and simple, and sweet. But they are not
such novices as Norah; you know it is her first ball.'

'Poor children, how excited it makes them! but dressing them is a
dreadful business,' said Mrs Dalton, with her anxious look still
following her Charlie among all the changing groups. 'I need not
disguise it from you, dear, who know all about us. It was sometimes hard
enough before, and now what with evening dresses! And when they come to
a dance like this they want something pretty and fresh. You will feel it
by-and-by even with Norah. I am sure if it were not for the cheap shops,
where you can buy tarlatan for so little, and making them up ourselves
at home, I never could do it. And you know, whatever sacrifices one
makes, one cannot refuse a little pleasure to one's children. Poor
things, it is all they are likely to have.'

'At least they are getting the good of it,' said Helen. Norah's dress
was the first task of this kind that had been put upon her, and she had
been forced to make her sacrifices to dress the child who had grown a
woman; but Helen, too, knew that she could not buy many ball dresses off
her hundred a year. And it was so strange to think such thoughts in this
lavish extravagant house, where every magnificence that could be thought
of adorned mother and daughter, and the room and the walls. Mrs Dalton
answered to the thought before it had been expressed.

'It _is_ curious,' she said, 'there is Clara Burton, who might dress in
cloth of gold if she liked--but our girls look just as well. What a
thing it is to be rich!--for the Burtons you know are--' Here Mrs Dalton
stopped abruptly, remembering that if the Burtons were nobodies, so was
also the friend at her side. She herself was connected with the old
Harcourts, and had a right to speak.

'Now, ladies, I know what you are doing,' said Mr Burton, suddenly
coming up to them; 'you are saying all sorts of sweet things to each
other about your children, and privately you are thinking that there is
nobody in the room fit to be seen except your own. Oh don't look so
caught! I know, because I am doing the same thing myself.'

Doing the same thing himself--comparing his child to my Norah--to my
Mary, the ladies inwardly replied; but no such answer was made aloud.
'We were saying how they all enjoy themselves,' said Mrs Dalton, 'that
was all.'

Mr Burton laughed that little laugh of mockery which men of vulgar minds
indulge in when they talk to women, and which is as much as to say, you
can't take me in with your pretences, _I_ see through you. He had grown
stouter, but he did not look so vigorous as of old. He was fleshy, there
was a furtive look in his eye. When he glanced round him at the
brilliant party, and all the splendour of which he was the owner, it was
not with the complacency of old. He looked as if at any moment something
disagreeable, something to be avoided, might appear before him, and had
acquired a way of stretching out his neck as if to see who was coming
behind. The thing in the room about which he was most complacent was
Clara. She had grown up, straight, and large, and tall in stature, like
our Anglo-Saxon queen with masses of white rosy flesh and gold-coloured
hair. The solid splendid white arm, laden with bracelets, which leaned
on her partner's shoulder, was a beauty not possessed by any of the
slight girls whose mothers were watching her as she moved past them.
Clara's arm would have made two of Norah's. Her size and fulness and
colour dazzled everybody. She was a full-blown Rubens beauty, of the
class which has superseded the gentler, pensive, unobtrusive heroine in
these days. 'I don't pretend to say anything but what I think,' said Mr
Burton, 'and I do feel that _that_ is a girl to be proud of. Don't dance
too much, Clary, you have got to ride with me to-morrow.' She gave him a
smile and a nod as she whirled past. The man who was dancing with her
was dark, a perfect contrast to her brilliant beauty. 'They make a
capital couple,' Mr Burton said with a suppressed laugh. 'I suppose a
prophet, if we had one, would see a good many combinations coming on in
an evening like this. Why, by Jove, here's Ned.'

And it was Ned, bringing Norah back to her mother. 'I thought you had
been dancing with one of----' said his father, pointing with his thumb
across his shoulder. 'Have you no manners, boy? Norah, I am sure, will
excuse you when she knows you are engaged--people that are stopping in
the house.'

'Oh, of course I will excuse him,' said Norah. 'I did not want him at
all. I would rather sit quiet a little and see everybody. And Charlie
has promised to dance with me. I suppose it was not wrong to ask
Charlie, was it? He might as well have me as any one, don't you think,
mamma?'

'If you take to inviting gentlemen, Norah, I shall expect you to ask
me,' said Mr Burton, who was always jocular to girls. Norah looked at
him with her bright observant eyes. She always looked at him, he
thought, in that way. He was half afraid of her, though she was so
young. He had even tried to conciliate her, but he had not succeeded.
She shook her head without making any reply, and just then something
happened which made a change in all the circumstances. It was the
approach of the man with whom Clara had been dancing; a man with the air
of a hero of romance; bearded, with very fine dark eyes and hair that
curled high like a crest upon his head. Norah gave a little start as he
approached, and blushed. 'It is the hero,' she said to herself. He
looked as if he had just walked out of a novel with every sign of his
character legibly set forth. But though it may be very well to gibe at
beautiful dark eyes and handsome features, it is difficult to remain
unmoved by their influence. Norah owned with that sudden flush of colour
a certain curiosity, to say the least of it. Mr Burton frowned, and so
did his son and daughter simultaneously, as if by touching of a spring.

'I am afraid you don't remember me, Mrs Drummond,' the stranger said;
'but I recollect you so very well that I hope you will let me introduce
myself--Cyril Rivers. It is a long time since we met.'

'Oh, I remember!' cried impulsive Norah, and then was silent, blushing
more deeply than ever. To ask Charlie Dalton to dance with her was one
thing, but meeting the hero was entirely different. It took away her
breath.

And two minutes after she was dancing with him. It was this he had come
to her mother for--not asking any one to introduce him. He was no longer
a boy, but a man travelled and experienced, who knew, or thought he
knew, society and the world. But he had not yet dismissed from his mind
that past episode--an episode which had been fixed and deepened in his
memory by the trial and all the discussions in the newspapers. To say
that he had continued to think about the Drummonds would have been
foolish; but when he came back to Dura to visit the Burtons, they were
the first people who recurred to his mind. As his host drove him past
the Gatehouse on the night of his arrival, he had asked about them. And
Mr Burton remembered this now, and did not like it. He stood and looked
after the pair as they went away arm-in-arm. Norah did not answer as
Clara did as a complete foil and counter to Mr Rivers's dark
handsomeness. It was a mistake altogether. It was Clara who should have
been with him, who was his natural companion. Mr Burton reflected that
nothing but kindness could have induced him to invite his cousin's
penniless girl to the great ball at which Clara made her _début_ in the
world as well as Norah. He felt as he stood and looked on that it was a
mistake to have done it. People so poor and so lowly ought not to be
encouraged to set themselves up as equals of the richer classes. He said
to himself that his system had been wrong. Different classes had
different duties, he felt sure. His own was to get as much of the good
things of this world, as much luxury and honour, as he could have for
his money. Helen's was to subsist on a hundred a year; and to expect of
her that she could anyhow manage to buy ball dresses, and put her child
in competition with his! It was wrong; there was no other word. Mr
Burton left his neighbours, and went off with a dissatisfied countenance
to another part of the room. It was his own fault.

'I should have known you anywhere,' said Mr Rivers in the pause of the
waltzing. 'You were only a child when I saw you last, but I should have
known you anywhere.'

'Should you? How very strange! What a good memory you must have!' said
Norah. 'Though, indeed, as soon as you said who you were, I remembered
you.'

'But nobody told me who you were,' he said, 'when I saw you just now,
dancing with that young fellow, the son of the house.'

'Did you see us then?'

'Yes, and your mother sitting by that stand of flowers. You are half
yourself as I remember you, and half her.'

'What a good memory you must have!' said Norah, very incredulous; and
then they floated away again to the soft dreamy music, he supporting
her, guiding her through the moving crowd as Norah had never dreamt of
being guided. She had felt she was on her own responsibility when
dancing with Ned and Charlie; with, indeed, a little share of
responsibility on account of her partners too. But Mr Rivers danced
beautifully, and Norah felt like a cloud, like a leaf lightly carried by
the breeze. She was carried along without any trouble to herself. When
they had stopped, instead of feeling out of breath, she stopped only
from courtesy's sake, to let the others go on.

'How well you dance, Mr Rivers!' she cried. 'I never liked a waltz so
much before. The boys are so different. One never feels sure where one
is going. I like it now.'

'Then you must let me have as many waltzes as you can,' he said, 'and I
shall like it, too. Who are the boys? You have not any--brothers? Boys
are not to be trusted for waltzing; they are too energetic--too much
determined to have everything their own way.'

'Oh, the boys! they are chiefly Ned and--Charlie Dalton. They are the
ones I always dance with,' said Norah. 'And oh, by-the-bye, I was
engaged to Charlie for this dance.'

'How clever of me to carry you off before Mr Charlie came!' said the
hero. 'But it is his own fault if he was not up in time.'

'Oh, I don't know,' said Norah, with a blush. 'The fact is--he did not
ask me; I asked him. I never was at a ball before, and I don't know many
people, and of course I wanted to dance. I asked him to take me if he
was not engaged, so if he found any one he liked better, he was not to
be blamed if he forgot. Why do you laugh? Was it a silly thing to do?'

'I don't know Charlie,' said Mr Rivers; 'but I should punch his head
with pleasure. What has he done that he should have you asking him to
dance?'

And then that came again which was not dancing, as Norah understood it,
an occasion which had always called for considerable exertion, but a
very dream of delightful movement, like flying, like--she could not tell
what. By this time she was a little ashamed about Charlie; and the waltz
put it out of Mr Rivers's mind.

'Do you think I may call to-morrow?' he said, when they stopped again.
'Will your mother let me? There are so many things I should like to talk
over with her. You are too young, of course, to remember anything about
a certain horrid bank.'

'Ah, no, I am not too young,' said Norah, and the smiles with which she
had been looking up at him suddenly vanished from her face.

'I beg your pardon. I had forgotten that it was of more importance to
you than to any one. I want to talk to your mother about that. Do you
think I may come? Look here; is this Charlie? He is just the sort of
youth whom a young lady might ask to dance with her. And good heavens,
how he waltzes! I don't wonder that you felt it a painful exercise. Are
Miss Burton and her guests friends?'

'We are all great friends,' said Norah, half-displeased. And Clara
Burton as she passed gave her an angry look. 'Why Clara is cross,' she
said pathetically. 'What can I have done?'

Mr Rivers laughed. Norah did not like the laugh; it seemed a little like
Mr Burton's. There was a certain conscious superiority and sense of
having found some one out in it, which she did not either like or
understand.

'You seem to know something I don't know,' she said, with prompt
indignation. 'Perhaps why Clara is cross; but you don't know Clara. You
don't know any of us, Mr Rivers, and you oughtn't to look as if you had
found us out. How could you find out all about us, who have known each
other from babies, in one night?'

'I beg your pardon,' he said, with an immediate change of tone. 'It is
one of the bad habits of society that nobody can depend on another, and
everybody likes to grin at his neighbours. Forgive me; I forgot I was in
a purer air.'

'Oh, it was not that,' said Norah, a little confused. He seemed to say
things (she thought) which meant nothing, as if there was a great deal
in them. She was glad to be taken back to her mother, and deposited
under her shelter; but she was not permitted to rest there. Ned came and
glowered at her reproachfully, as she sat down, and other candidates for
her hand arrived so fast that the child was half intoxicated with
pleasure and flattery. 'What do they want _me_ for?' she wondered within
herself. She was so much in request that Ned did not get another dance
till the very end of the evening: and even Mr Rivers was balked in at
least one of the waltzes he had engaged her for. He drew back with a
smile, seeing it was Mr Burton himself who was exerting himself to find
partners for Norah. But Norah was all smiles; she danced the whole
evening, coming little by little into her partner's way. Pleased to be
so popular, delighted with everybody's 'kindness' to her, and dazzled
with this first opening glimpse of 'the world.'

'If this is the world, I like it,' she said to her mother as they drove
home. 'It is delightful; it is beautiful; it is so kind! Oh, mamma, is
it wrong to feel so? I never was so happy in my life.'

'No, my darling, it is not wrong,' Helen said, kissing her. She was not
insensible to her child's triumph.



CHAPTER IX.


'It is vanity, my dear, vanity. You must not set your mind upon it,'
said Mrs Haldane.

'Oh, but it was delightful,' said Norah, 'it was wonderful! if you had
been there yourself you would have liked it as much as I did. Everybody
looked so nice, and everybody _was_ so nice, Mrs Haldane. A thing that
makes every one kind and pleasant and smiling must be good, don't you
think so? We were all as amiable, as charming, as fascinating as ever we
could be.'

'And whom did you dance with?' said Miss Jane.

'I danced with everybody. It is quite true. You cannot think how kind
the people were. When we went in first,' said Norah, with a laugh and a
blush, 'I saw so many strange faces, I was afraid I should have no
dancing at all; so I whispered to Charlie Dalton, 'Do take me out for
the next dance, Charlie!' and he nodded to say yes. I suppose it was
dreadfully wrong and ignorant; but I did so want to have a good dance!'

'Well, then, that is one,' said practical Miss Jane, beginning to count
on her fingers.

'Oh, no! it is not one at all. Mr Rivers came and asked me, and I forgot
all about Charlie. He forgot too, I suppose; for I did not dance with
him the whole evening. And then there was Ned, and young Mr Howard, and
Captain Douglas, and Mrs Dalton's brother, and--I told you, everybody;
and, to be very grand, Lord Merewether himself at the end.'

'Lord Merewether!' Miss Jane was deeply impressed, and held the finger
on which she had counted this potentate for a full minute. 'Then, Norah,
my dear, you had the very best of the great county folks.'

'Yes,' said Norah, 'it was very nice; only he was a little--stupid. And
then Ned again, and Mr Rivers; Mr Rivers was always coming; mamma made
me say I was engaged. It did not turn out to be a fib, for some
gentleman always came to ask me; but one always shows it in one's face
when one says a thing that is not quite true.'

'Oh, Norah!' said Mrs Haldane, 'is not that just what I told you? Do you
think anything can be good or right for a young girl in a Christian
land that makes you say what is not quite true? There may be no harm in
the dancing by itself, though in my day we were of a different way of
thinking; but to tell--lies----'

'Not lies, mother,' said Stephen. 'When Norah told Mr Rivers she was
engaged, he understood, of course, that she did not want to dance with
him.'

'Well,' said Norah slowly, 'I don't know. To tell the very, very truth,
I did want very much to dance with him. He dances like an angel--at
least, I don't know how an angel dances--Oh, please don't look so
shocked, Mrs Haldane; I did not mean any harm. He is just simply
delightful to dance with. But mamma thought something--I don't know
what. It is etiquette, you know; a girl must not dance very often with
one man.'

'And who is this Mr Rivers?' said Stephen. 'Is he as delightful in other
ways?'

'Don't you remember?' said Norah. 'It is so funny nobody seems to
remember but me. When we came here first, he was here too, and mamma and
I met him one day at our old home in London. Mr Stephen, I am sure I
have told you; the boy, I used to call him, that was on our side.'

'Ah, I remember now,' said Stephen; 'and he seems to be on your side
still, from what you say. But who is he, Norah, and what is he, and why
did he want to dance so often with you?'

'As for that,' said Norah, laughing, 'I suppose he liked me too; there
was not any other reason. He is so handsome!--just exactly like the hero
in a novel. The moment I saw him I said to myself, "Here is the hero."
He is almost too handsome: dark, with hair that curls all over his head,
and the most beautiful dark eyes. You never saw such beautiful eyes! Oh,
I am not speaking because I like him. I think I should almost like him
better if he was not quite so--don't you know? If I were writing a
novel, I should take him for the hero. I should make everybody fall in
love with him--all the ladies, one after another. When one sees a man
like that in real life,' said Norah, with gravity, 'it puts one directly
on one's guard.'

'Are you on your guard, Norah?' said Stephen, with a smile. The
incipient fun in his eyes was, however, softened by a tenderer alarm, a
wistful curiosity. The child! Since poor Drummond used to call her so,
regarding her as the child _par excellence_--the type and crown of
childhood--this was the name that had seemed most appropriate to Norah.
And if meant so much--not only Robert's child, who was gone, and had
left her to the love of his friends, but the very embodiment of youth
and innocence--the fresh, new life, to be made something better of than
any of the older lives had been. Should she, too, fall just into the
common snare--just into the vulgar pitfalls, as everybody did? The
thought disturbed her self-appointed guardian--her father's friend.

'Me!' said Norah, and her colour rose, and she laughed, with a light in
her eyes which had not been there before. It was not the glance of
rising excitement, as Stephen feared, but only a merry glow of youthful
temerity--that daring which loves to anticipate danger. 'Oh, what fun it
would be! But no, Mr Stephen; oh, no! that was not what I meant in the
least. I am not that sort of girl. Mr Rivers,' she added, with a certain
solemnity, 'had something to do with that bank, you know. I don't know
what he had to do with it. He is Lord Rivers's son, and it is to talk
over that that he is coming to see mamma.'

'Oh, to talk over that!' said Stephen, half amused.

'Yes, to talk it over,' said Norah, with great gravity; and then she
made a sudden leap from the subject. 'The Merewethers are all staying
at the great house--the Marchioness herself, and Lord Merewether, and
the girls; I think they are very nice girls. But, oh! Miss Jane, I must
tell you one thing; she had on her diamonds. I never saw diamonds
before. They are like light. They change, and they glimmer, and they
make little rainbows. I never saw anything so beautiful! They are like a
quantity of dewdrops when the sun is shining--only you never could get
dewdrops to keep still in one place.'

'And I suppose they are worth a mint of money,' said Miss Jane, with a
sigh of admiration. 'I have never seen them but in the shops, Norah; but
I don't think I should like to wear as much as would keep half-a-dozen
poor families round my neck.'

Norah paused doubtfully, not feeling equal to this question.

'I suppose they belong to the family, and she dare not sell them, and
then, perhaps--Would God have made diamonds if He did not mean people to
wear them?' she asked, with hesitation. 'Oh, do you know, I think I
should like so much to wear them, if they were mine!'

'Ah, my dear,' said old Mrs Haldane, 'see how vanity comes into the
mind. Yesterday you had never thought of diamonds; now you would
like--you know you would like--to have them; and from that to trying to
get them is but a step, Norah, but a step--if you don't mind.'

'I could only try to get them by stealing them,' said Norah; 'and, after
all, I don't care so much as that. Besides, girls don't wear diamonds.
But I'll tell you what I should like. I should like to take those lovely
things of the Marchioness's, and put them upon mamma.'

'There, I told you!' said the old lady. 'Norah, don't go to these places
any more. You have begun to covet them in your heart.'

'Oh, how beautiful mamma would look in them!' cried Norah. 'Mr Stephen,
is it vanity to admire one's mother? I suppose it must be really; for if
there is anything in the world that belongs to you, of course it is your
mother. I think mamma is beautiful: even in her black silk, made square,
and not so fresh as it once was, she was the most beautiful in the
room--I don't mean pretty, like us girls. And if I could have put her
into black velvet instead, with lovely lace, like Mrs Burton's, and the
Marchioness's diamonds--oh!' cried Norah, expanding in her proud
imagination, 'she would have been like a queen!'

'Oh, Norah, Norah!' cried Mrs Haldane, shaking her head.

'And so she would,' said Stephen. 'Norah is quite right.'

He spoke low, and there was a melancholy tone in his voice. He was
thinking sadly how she had been buried like himself in the middle of her
days--shut out from all those triumphs and glories which are pleasant to
a woman. A less human-hearted man in Stephen Haldane's position would no
doubt have pronounced it happy for Helen that she was thus preserved
from vanity and vain-glory. But he had learned to feel for all the
deprivations of life. This was what he was really thinking, but not what
he was supposed to think. Miss Jane gave a glance of her eye at him from
her sewing, half-indignant, half-sorrowful. She had fancied something of
the sort often, she said to herself. Stephen, poor Stephen! who could
never have a wife, or any other love different from her own. She thought
that the other woman whom she had admitted in all the confidence of
friendship had stolen from him her brother's heart.

'Well, and if she had,' said Miss Jane, with some sharpness, 'what good
would that have done her? I never heard that to be like a queen made
anybody the happier yet.'

'I was not thinking of what made her happier,' said Norah, coming
behind Miss Jane's chair, and stealing an arm round her neck, 'but of
what would make _me_ happier. Shouldn't you like to have everything that
was nice for Mrs Haldane and Mr Stephen, even if they didn't want it?
Oh, I know you would! and so should I.'

'You coaxing child! you would make one swear black was white! What has
that to do with lace and diamonds?' said Miss Jane; but she was
vanquished, and had no more to say.

'Mary and Katie were in white tarletane,' said Norah. 'They looked so
pretty! Clara looked very much the same. You can't have much better than
fresh white tarletane, you know; only she had the most beautiful silk
underneath, and heaps of ornaments. She is so big she can stand a great
deal of decoration; but it would not have done for any of us little
things. How anxious I used to be to grow big!' Norah went on. 'Now, on
the whole, I think it is best not; one does not take up so much room;
one does not require so much stuff for a dress; one can do without a
great many things. If I had been as big as Clara, now, for instance, I
never could have done with those little bits of bracelets and mamma's
one string of pearls.'

'So you see good comes from evil,' said Stephen, with a smile.

'Oh, Stephen, don't talk so to encourage the child! With your
upbringing, Norah, and with all the advantages you have had, to give up
your mind to such follies! If I were your poor mamma----'

'She is saying nothing wrong, mother,' said Miss Jane. 'It _is_ a great
gain to Norah, you know, that she is little, and can get a pretty dress
out of twelve yards of stuff, when Clara Burton takes twenty. That is
thrift, and not vanity. I am very glad you are little, Norah; big women
are always in the way. That Clara Burton, for instance--if she were in a
small house she would fill it all up; there would not be room for any
one else. What does Mr Rivers see in her, I wonder? She is not half so
nice as some people I know.'

'Mr Rivers?' said Norah.

'Yes, my dear. They say it is almost a settled thing between the two
families. She will have quantities of money, and he will be Lord Rivers
when his father dies. They say that is why he is here.'

It did not matter anything to Norah. She did not care; why should she?
Her very admiration of him had been linked with a gibe. He was too
handsome; he was a man out of a book. Nevertheless, she looked at Miss
Jane for a moment aghast. 'The boy that was on our side!' she said to
herself.

'Who are _they_, and what do they know about it?' said Stephen. 'People
don't make such arrangements now-a-days. If this were intended, you may
be sure nothing at all would be said.'

Stephen made this little speech partly out of a real regard for Norah's
cheerfulness, which he thought was affected, and partly to rouse her to
self-defence.

'But it would be quite nice,' said Norah, recovering her dismay. 'Oh,
how funny it would be to think of one of us being married! It should be
Clara the first; she is the youngest, but she is the biggest, and she
was always the one who would be first, you know. She is very, very
handsome, Miss Jane. You never were fond of Clara; that is why you don't
see it. It would be the very thing!' cried Norah, clapping her hands.
'She is not one of the girls that would go and make him vain, falling in
love with him. She will keep him in his right place; she will not let
him be the hero in the novel. The only thing is, I am a little
disappointed--though it is very foolish and stupid; for of course all
that is over long ago, and Clara is like my sister; and if Mr Burton was
wicked, I hope he has repented. But still, you know, I have always
thought of Mr Rivers as one that was on our side.'

'Hush, child!' cried Miss Jane. 'Don't be the one to keep up old
quarrels. That is all over now, and we have no sides.'

'So I suppose,' said Norah; 'but I feel a little as if he were a
deserter. I wonder if Clara likes him. I wonder if----It is all so very
funny! One of us girls! But I must go now to mamma. Mr Stephen, I will
come back in the evening, and tell you what mamma thinks, and if Mr
Rivers had anything to tell her--that is, if he comes to-day.'

And Norah ran away unceremoniously, without leave-taking. She was the
child of both the households. Sometimes she went and came a dozen times
in a day, carrying always a little stream of youth, and life, and
freshness into the stagnant places. Stephen laid down his book with a
smile at the sight of her; he took it up now with a little sigh. He had
sat there all these six years, a motionless, solemn figure, swept aside
from the life of man, and Norah's comings and goings had been as sweet
to him as if she had been his own child. Now he feared that a new
chapter of life was opening, and it moved him vaguely, with an
expectation which was mingled with pain; for any change must bring pain
to him. To others there would be alternations--threads twisted of dark
and bright, of good and evil; but to him in his chair by the window, no
change, he felt, could bring anything but harm.

'Oh, mamma,' said Norah, rushing into the drawing-room at the other side
of the house, 'fancy what I have just heard! They say it is all but
settled that Clara is to marry Mr Rivers. They say that is why he is
here.'

'It is very likely, dear,' said Helen. 'I thought something of that kind
must be intended from what I saw last night.'

'What did you see, mamma? How odd I should never have thought of it! I
feel a little disappointed,' said Norah; 'because, you know, I always
made up my mind that he was on our side.'

'We don't want him on our side,' said Mrs Drummond, with a decision
which surprised her daughter. 'And, Norah, I am glad you have spoken to
me. Be sure you don't forget this when you meet Mr Rivers: he is very
agreeable, and he seems very friendly; but you must take care never to
say anything, or to let him say anything, that you would not wish Clara
to hear.'

Norah paused, and looked at her mother with considerable
bewilderment. 'How very strange of you to say this, mamma! How very
disagreeable--never to say anything, nor let him say anything! But I
should hate to have Clara, or any one, listening to all I say. I will
not talk to him at all. I will close my lips up tight, and never say a
word. I suppose that will be best.'

'Not to-day, however,' said Mrs Drummond; 'for I see him coming, Norah.
You must be as you always are--neither opening your mouth too much, nor
closing it up too tight.'

'I hate the _juste milieu_,' said naughty Norah; but at that moment the
door-bell rang, and, before she could speak again, Mr Rivers was shown
in, looking more like the hero of a novel than ever. He was tall,
slender, well-proportioned. He had those curls about his temples which
go to a girl's heart. He had the most ingratiating nose, the
beautifullest eyes. 'For one thing,' said Norah to herself savagely,
'Clara will not go and fall in love with him and make him vain!' Clara
had too great an opinion of herself; she was not likely to be any man's
worshipper. There was consolation in that.

'It is a long time since we met,' Mr Rivers said; 'but you must pardon
me for thrusting myself upon you all at once, Mrs Drummond. I have never
forgotten what passed when I saw you last. I doubt whether I ought to
speak of it after all these years.'

'Perhaps it is better not,' said Helen.

'Perhaps; but I should like to say one thing--just one thing. I do not
know if you thought my father to blame. He is a quiet man; he never
makes any public appearance; he was a sufferer only. He had nothing to
do with the bank. He was one of those who were wronged, not of those who
did the wrong.'

'I have always known that,' said Mrs Drummond; and then there was a
pause. ('He is on our side still,' Norah thought to herself; but her
mother changed the subject abruptly.) 'The children have all grown up
since you were here. Time has made more change upon them than upon you.'

'Do you think so?' said the hero. 'I am not sure. Time has made a great
deal of difference in me. I am not half so sure of the satisfactoriness
of life and the good qualities of the world as I used to be. I suppose
it is a sign that age is coming on; whereas these young people, these
fairy princes and princesses, who were babies when I was here----'

At this point Norah was seized with one of those irrestrainable,
seductive laughs which lead the spirit astray. 'Oh, I beg your pardon,'
she said; 'but I was puzzled to think how poor dear Ned could be a fairy
prince! He is such a dear fellow, and I am so fond of him; but Prince
Charmant, mamma!'

'If he is a dear fellow, and you are fond of him, I should think it did
not matter much whether he looked like Prince Charmant or not,' said Mr
Rivers; and then he added, with a smile--'There are other kinds of
princes besides Charmant. Riquet, with the tuft, for instance; and he
with the long nose----'

Now Ned, poor fellow, had a long nose. He had not grown up handsome, and
Norah was strongly conscious of the fact. She felt that she had been the
first to laugh at him, and yet she hated this stranger for following her
example. She grew very red, and drew herself up with the air of an
offended queen.

'They all got _charmant_ at the last,' she said stiffly; 'that is better
than beginning by being _charmant_, and turning out very disagreeable in
the end.'

Mrs Drummond gave her daughter a warning glance. 'It was a pretty party
last night,' she said; 'I hope you liked it. We thought it very grand;
we have so little gaiety here.'

'Was it gaiety?' said the young man. 'I suppose it was; but a ball is
always rather a solemn affair to me, especially when you are staying in
the house. The horror that comes over you lest you have danced with some
one you ought not to have danced with, or left some one whom you ought.
I broke away for a little while last night when I saw you, and went in
for simple pleasure--but duty always drags one back at the end.'

'Duty at a ball! Why it is all pleasure,' cried Norah. 'It may be
foolish and frivolous, or it may even be--wrong; but I never was so
happy in my life.'

Then the hero of romance turned upon her, and smiled. 'You told me it
was your first ball,' he said; 'and that, I suppose, would naturally
make it look like Paradise.'

'It was very nice,' said Norah. His smile and his look drove her back
into the shelter of commonplace. Somehow when he looked at her, her
energy seemed to turn into exaggeration, and her natural fervour into
pretence. Then she plunged into the heart of a new subject with all a
child's temerity. 'Don't you think Clara is very handsome?' she said.

Mr Rivers did not shrink from a reply. 'She is very handsome--if she
knew how to dress.'

'Dress! why, she had the loveliest dress----'

'It was all white and puffy--like yours,' he said. 'Fancy that girl
having no more perception than to dress herself like you! What has she
to do with shadows, and clouds, and mystery? She should be in heavy
silks or satins, like the Juno she is.'

Norah did not quite make out what this meant; whether it was the highest
admiration or a covert sneer. She took it for granted it must be the
former. 'Yes; I know she is like a Juno,' she said, somewhat doubtfully;
adding, with a slightly faltering tone, 'and she is very nice too.'

'She is your cousin, Norah,' said Mrs Drummond quietly; and then the
child grew redder than ever, and felt herself put on her defence.

'I did not mean to gossip, mamma. I don't know what Mr Rivers likes to
talk about. When any one is quite a stranger, how can you tell, unless
you are very, very clever, what to talk about? And then I have been with
Mr Stephen, telling them all about the ball. It is in my head. I can't
think of anything else. How pretty the Merewether girls are! Oh, I beg
your pardon. I did not mean to go back to the same subject. But I had to
tell _them_ everything--what people were there, and whom I danced with,
and----'

'Mr Stephen always encourages your chatter,' said Helen, with a smile.

'What a sensible man Mr Stephen must be! May I know who he is?' said
young Rivers; and thus a new topic presented itself. Stephen Haldane's
name and his story brought up an unintentional reference to the
misfortunes which linked the two households together, and which had
given Cyril Rivers a certain hold upon them. When this chance was
afforded him, he told them, very simply and shortly, what sacrifices his
father had made; how he had mortgaged some of his property, and sold
some, and was living very quietly now, in retirement, till his children
were all educated. 'I am sent out into the world, to see how it looks
after the waters have abated,' he said, laughing. 'I have got to find
out how the land lies, and if there is any green showing above the
flood; but I don't know whether I am most likely to turn out the raven
or the dove.'

'Oh, I should like to find an olive leaf for you to fly back with,' said
Norah, obeying her first impulse, in her foolish way. Mrs Drummond
looked at him very gravely, without any of her daughter's enthusiasm.

'Mr Rivers must find the olive leaf in some warmer corner,' she said.
'They don't grow in our garden, Norah. We have none to give.'

'That is true,' said the heedless girl; 'but, if the olive would do, Mr
Rivers, there is one in the conservatory at the great house--a poor,
little, wee, stunted thing; but there is one, I know.'

Did she mean it? or was it mere innocence, heedlessness? It was not
wonderful if Cyril Rivers was puzzled, for even Mrs Drummond could not
make quite sure.



CHAPTER X.


It was natural that there should be nothing talked about that morning
throughout Dura except the ball. All the young people were late of
getting up, and they were all full of the one subject--how this one and
that one looked; how Charlie haunted Clara all the evening; how young Mr
Nicholas, the curate, whom decorum kept from waltzing, stood mournfully
and gazed at Mary Dalton through all the round dances. Things were
getting very serious between Mary and Mr Nicholas; though waltzing was
such a temptation to her, poor child, and though she had plenty of
partners, she sat still half the evening out of pity for the curate's
wistful eyes; and yet he had been ungrateful all the same, and
reproachful on the way home. Katie Dalton, to her own great comfort, was
still quite loverless and hampered by nobody's looks. 'I would not put
up with it,' she said to her sister; 'because a man chooses to make
himself disagreeable, can you not be allowed to enjoy yourself? It is
not so often we have a dance. I should let him know very plainly, if it
were me.'

'Oh, Katie dear,' said her sister, 'you don't know what you would do if
it were you.'

'Well, then, I am very glad it isn't me. I hate parsons!' cried Katie.
This was but a specimen of the commotion made by the ball. The sudden
incursion of quantities of new people into the limited little society in
which everybody had appropriated a companion to his or herself was at
the first outset as disagreeable as it was bewildering. The Dura boys
and girls had each a sore point somewhere. They had each some reproaches
to make, if not audibly, yet in their hearts. Norah and Katie, who were
quite fancy-free, were the only ones who had received no wound. At the
moment when Mr Rivers sat in the drawing-room at the Gatehouse, Ned and
Clara Burton were walking down the avenue together, discussing the same
subject. They were both of them somewhat sulky; and both with the same
person. It was Norah who had affronted both the brother and sister; and
to Clara, at least, the affront was doubly bitter, from her
consciousness of the fact that, but for the kindness, nay, charity, of
the Burtons, Norah never could have come into such a scene of splendour
at all. Clara was her father's child, and this was a thing which she
never forgot.

'I have never been so fond of Norah Drummond as the rest of you were,'
she said. 'I think she is a heartless little thing. I am sure what she
and her mother want is to be revenged on us because we are so much
better off. I am sure papa thinks so. It is the shabbiest, the most
wretched thing in the world, to hate people because they are better
off.'

'Trust to you girls for imputing bad motives,' said Ned. He was very
sulky, and rather unhappy, and consequently ready to quarrel with his
best friend. In his heart he had no such bad opinion of 'girls;' but at
this moment he felt that nothing was too disagreeable to be said.

'We girls know better what we are about a great deal than you do,' said
Clara. 'We see through things. Now that you begin to have your eyes
opened about Norah Drummond, I may speak. She is a dreadful little
flirt. I have seen it before, though you never did. Why, I have seen her
even with Mr Nicholas; and she asked Charlie Dalton to dance with her
last night--_asked_ him! Would any girl do that who had a respect for
herself, or cared for what people think?'

'Did Charlie tell you?' said Ned with deeper wrath and wretchedness
still. 'She never asked me,' he said to himself; though he would have
been ready to dance himself half dead in her service had she but taken
the trouble to ask.

'I heard her,' said Clara; 'and then, as soon as something better came,
she forgot all about Charlie. She made Cyril Rivers dance with her,
claiming acquaintance because she met him once when we were all little.
Ned, I would never think of that girl more, if I were you. In the first
place, you know it never could come to anything. Papa would not allow
it--a girl without a penny, without any position even, and all that
dreadful story about her father!'

'The less we say of that dreadful story the better,' said Ned.

'Why? We have nothing to do with it--except that papa has been so very
kind. I don't think it is wise to have poor relations near,' said Clara.
'You are obliged to take some notice of them; and they always hate you,
and try to come in your way. I know mamma was quite wild to see you, the
very first thing--before you had danced with Lady Florizel, or any
one--taking Norah out.'

'Mamma is too sensible to think anything about it,' said Ned.

'You may suppose so, but I know to the contrary. Mamma was very anxious
you should be attentive to Lady Florizel. We are rich, but we have not
any connections to speak of; only rich people, like poor grandpapa. I
don't mean to say I am not very fond of grandpapa; but the exhibition he
always makes of himself at those meetings and things, and the way he
throws his money away--money that he ought to be saving up for us. Papa
says so, Ned! Why should you look so fierce at me?'

'Because it is odious to hear you,' said Ned. 'You have no right to
repeat what papa says--if papa does say such things. I hope my
grandfather will do exactly what he likes with his money. I am sure he
has the best right.'

'Oh, that is all very well,' said Clara. '_I_ never had college debts to
be paid. It suits you to be so independent, but it is chiefly you that
the rest of us are thinking of. You know we have no connections, Ned.
Grandpapa and his Dissenters are enough to make one ill. If he had only
been philanthropic, one would not have minded so much; but fancy having,
every month or two, Mr Truston from the chapel to dinner! So you are
bound to make a high marriage when you marry.'

'I wish, Clara, you would talk of things you understand. I marry--is it
likely?' said Ned.

'Very likely--if you ask Lady Florizel. Papa would not ask you to go
into the business, or anything. Oh, I know! He does not say much about
his plans, but he cannot hide a great deal from me. But you spoil it
all, Ned,' said Clara severely. 'You put everything wrong, and make your
own people your enemies. Instead of seeing how nice and how sweet and
how charming the right young lady is, you go and throw yourself away on
Norah Drummond--who leaves you in the lurch the moment she sees some one
else better worth her pains.'

'And who might that be?' asked Ned. He tried to laugh, poor fellow, but
his laugh and his voice were both unsteady. There was truth in it all;
that was what made him so tremulous with anger and suppressed passion.

'As if you could not see for yourself,' said Clara, herself flushing
with indignation. 'Why, Cyril Rivers, of course. No doubt they had
decided he was the best man to pitch upon. Lord Merewether was too
grand; they could not venture upon him--and the Marchioness was there
to take care of her son. But poor Cyril had nobody to take care of him.
I saw Mrs Drummond look at him in her languid way. She has some
magnetism about her, that woman. I have seen her look at people before,
and gradually something drew them that they had to go and talk to her.
That was how it was last night. Of course, Norah thought no more of you.
She had bigger game. She knew very well, if things changed, and Cyril
Rivers escaped from her, that, so far as you were concerned, she had
only to hold out a finger.'

'You don't seem to make very much of me,' said Ned with an angry blush.

'No, I should not make much of--any boy,' said Clara calmly. 'What could
you do? You would fall into the net directly. You are such a simpleton,
such a baby, that, of course, Norah would not need even to take any
trouble. If she only held up her finger----'

'That is what you mean to do to Charlie, I suppose?' said Ned, with
concentrated brotherly malice; and then it was Clara's turn to flash
crimson, not so much with shame as with anger. Her complexion was so
beautiful, her white so white, and her red so rosy, that the deeper
colour which flushed all over her face in a moment seemed to dye the
wavy, downy, velvety surface. Her blue eyes flashed out, deepening in
colour like the sea under the wind.

'What does it matter to you what I mean to do?' she cried, and turned
her back upon him in her wrath, and went back again up the avenue
without a word of warning. Ned, in his surprise, stood and looked after
her. She was like a Juno, as Mr Rivers had said. She was the youngest of
the whole band; but yet the great scale on which she was formed, her
imperious manner and looks, gave her a certain command among them. The
others were pretty girls; but Clara was splendid, and a woman. She had
to be judged on a different standard. Poor Ned's heart was very sore; he
was very angry, and wounded, and unhappy; and yet he recognised the
difference as he stood and looked after his sister. It was natural that
she should make up her mind to marry whosoever pleased her--and break a
heart as she would cast away a flower. There was nothing out of
character in the superior tone she had taken with her elder brother. On
the contrary, it was natural to her; and as for Norah, poor little
Norah, what would befall her should she come in the way of this queen?
Ned went upon his own way down the village with a hankering in his
heart which all Clara's worldly wisdom and all his wounded pride could
not quite subdue. Norah had been unkind to him. She had danced with him
but twice all that long evening. She had danced with everybody but him.
He had seen her--was it a dozen times?--with Rivers--confound him! And
then he wondered whether there was any truth in Clara's theory about
Rivers. Had Mrs Drummond herself fallen into that way of matchmaking
which was natural to mothers? He breathed a little more freely when he
presumed that it must be she, and she only, who was to blame, not Norah.
He strolled on with his hands in his pockets, thinking if, perhaps, he
could meet her, or see her at a window, or persuade Katie Dalton to
fetch her; there was always a hundred chances of an accidental meeting
in Dura. But he could not with his own sore heart and wounded temper go
to the Gatehouse.

Just as Ned reached the lodge going out, Mr Rivers entered the gates
coming back. He had a condescending, friendly way of accosting Ned which
the young fellow could not bear.

'Ah, going into the village?' he said. 'I am glad to be able to assure
you that nobody has suffered from last night.'

'I didn't suppose they had. I am going to the post,' said Ned, surly as
a young bear.

'Don't let me detain you, in that case. The post is too important to
wait for anything,' Rivers said, stepping aside.

Ned looked at him, and would have liked to knock him down. He thought
what an effeminate puppy the fellow was, what a curled darling--the sort
of thing that girls admire and think very fine, and all men despise. In
short, the feelings with which a washed-out young woman contemplates the
creature who is recognised as 'a gentleman's beauty' were a trifle to
those which governed Ned. Such feelings, it would appear, must be
natural. Ned despised the man for being handsome, and the women for
thinking him so, with a virulence which no neglected maiden ever
surpassed.

'Do you want me, Burton?' Mr Rivers said pleasantly, seeing that the
other did not pass on.

'Oh, good heavens, no! not the least in the world,' cried boorish Ned,
and went on without another word.

'Country lout!' the hero said quietly, with a smile to himself. If he
could but have heard the comments upon him which were passing through
the mind of Ned!

Clara, for her part, went home with her mind full of angry thoughts. She
had no personal feeling about Cyril Rivers. If she liked any one it was
poor Charlie, who was her slave. But Clara knew with precocious worldly
wisdom that _that_ would never come to anything. It might be all very
well for the moment. It was pleasant enough to have him hanging about,
watching her every look, attentive to her lightest word. But it never
could come to anything. The highest prosperity which the future could
bring to Charlie would be advancement in the public office where he was
now a junior clerk. And that was no lot for her to share: she, Mr
Burton's daughter, might (her father said) pick and choose among the
most eligible men in England. Mr Burton was in the habit of speaking in
this unguarded way. Clara was his favourite in the family, his chosen
companion, his almost confidante. He was proud of her beauty and
'style,' and fond of thinking that, in mind at least, she resembled
himself. It was he who had settled that Cyril Rivers should be invited
to Dura, and should, as a natural consequence, offer all that remained
to the Riverses to Clara. The idea of this alliance pleased his mind,
though the Riverses were not so rich as they used to be. 'They are
still very well off, and the title must be taken into consideration,' he
had said to his wife. And when Clara returned home she found her parents
sitting together in the library, which was not very common, and
discussing their children's prospects, which was less common still. It
was October, and there was a fire over which Mrs Burton was sitting. She
was a chilly woman at all times. She had not blood enough, nor life
enough physically, to keep her warm, and she had been up late, and was
tired and not disposed to be on her best company behaviour in the big
drawing-room on the chance that the Marchioness might come down-stairs.
Mrs Burton was not quite so placid as she once had been. As her children
had grown up there had been complications to encounter more trying to
the temper than the naughtiness of their childhood; and it sometimes
happened that all the advantages to be gained from a succession of fine
visitors would be neutralized, or partially neutralized, by the
reluctance of the mistress of the house to devote her personal attention
to them. Or so, at least, Mr Burton thought. His wife, on the other
hand, was of opinion that it was best to leave the visitors sometimes to
themselves; and this was what she had done to-day. She had established
herself over the library fire with a book after luncheon, leaving the
Marchioness and the young ladies to drive or to repose as they pleased.
And this piece of self-will had procured her a reprimand, as forcible as
Mr Burton dared to deliver, when he came in and found her there.

'You are throwing away our chances, Clara,' he said. 'You are setting
the worst example to the children. If the Marchioness had not been
resting in her own rooms----'

'The Marchioness is very well, Mr Burton,' said his wife. 'You may be
sure I know what I am doing so far as she is concerned. She does not
want me to follow her about and make a fuss, as some people do.'

'I have always told you,' said Mr Burton, 'that I wished the utmost
civility to be shown to people of her rank in my house. Why, Clara, what
can you be thinking of? With all the ambitious ideas you have in your
head for Ned----'

'My ambition is very easily satisfied,' she said, 'if you will let the
boy follow his own inclinations. He has no turn for business; all that
he would do in business would be to lose what you have made.'

'If he makes a good match--if he marries into the Merewether family--I
should not say another word about business,' said Mr Burton. Looking at
him in daylight, it was still more easy to perceive the change that had
come over him. His clothes, those well-made, light-coloured clothes
which had once been a model of everything that clothes should be, had
begun to look almost shabby, though they were in themselves as glossy
and as spotless as ever. Anxiety was written in the lines about his
eyes. 'Should the children do well, Clara--should they do as we wish
them--I should be tempted myself to get out of the business, when I have
an opportunity,' he said. 'It is wearing work, especially when one has
nobody to help, nobody to sympathize;' and the man who had been always
the incarnation of prosperity, needing no props of external support,
puffed out from his bosom a real sigh.

Mrs Burton took no notice; she was perfectly calm and unmoved, either
unaware that her husband had displayed anything like emotion, or
indifferent to it.

'I cannot say that I have ever been fond of these matchmaking schemes,'
she said, 'and Ned is only a boy; but there is one thing that must be
taken into consideration, whatever you may do in this matter; that is
Norah Drummond. If she thinks differently, you may as well give up the
conflict.'

'Norah Drummond!' said Mr Burton, grinding his teeth. 'By Jove! they
talk about a man's pleasant sins being against him; but there is nothing
so bad in that way as his unpleasant virtues, I can tell you. If all the
annoyance I have had through these two women could be reckoned up----'

'I do not know what annoyance you may have had yourself,' said Mrs
Burton, in her cold, judicial way. 'I have seen nothing to complain of.
But now I confess it begins to be unpleasant. She has more influence
over Ned than any of us. He danced with her last night before any one
else. He is always there, or meeting her at other places. I have
observed it for some time. But you have done nothing to stop it, Mr
Burton. Sometimes I have thought you approved, from the way you have
allowed things to go on.'

'I approve!' he cried, with something like horror.

'How was I to know? I do not say it is of very much importance. Ned, of
course, will follow his own taste, not ours.'

'But, by Jove, he sha'n't!' cried Mr Burton. 'By Jove, he shall take
himself out of this, and make his own way, if I hear any more nonsense.
What! after all I have done to set them up in the world--after all I
have gone through!'

He was affected, whatever was the cause. There was something like
agitation about him. He was changed altogether from the confident man of
former times. His wife looked at him with a little surprise, and came to
this conclusion quite suddenly. She had not noticed it when he was among
other people, playing his part of host with an offensive hospitality
which often annoyed her, and which the Marchioness, for example,
scarcely hesitated to show her contempt of. But now, when there was no
one present, when he was free to look as he pleased, Mrs Burton found
out all at once that her husband was changed. Was it merely that he was
older, tired with last night's dissipation, not so able to defy late
hours, and supper and champagne, as he had once done? She was not a
woman to rest in so superficial a view of affairs; but for the moment
these were the questions she asked herself, as she looked at him with
calm yet undeniable surprise.

'You seem to be excited, Mr Burton,' she said.

'Excited!' he cried; 'and good reason, too; with you sitting there as
cold as a little fish, never thinking of the interests of your family,
talking of Ned thwarting me as if it was nothing! If I were excited it
would be little wonder, I think.'

'I have no desire that Ned should thwart you,' she said; 'on the
contrary, it is my own wish. He will never make a good man of business.
A marriage with one of the Merewethers, or a girl in that position, with
your money, Mr Burton, would be the best thing for him. He might get
into Parliament, and do all that I once hoped for you; but what I hoped
is neither here nor there.'

Mrs Burton was only human, though she was so philosophical; and this was
a stroke in her own defence.

'See that Ned does it, then,' he said. 'Perhaps it was what I hoped too;
but business has swallowed me up, instead of leaving me more free. You
ought to make it your duty to see that Ned does what we both wish. What
is there to stand in the way?'

'Not much,' said Mrs Burton, shrugging her shoulders. 'Norah
Drummond--not a very large person--that is all.'

'Confound Norah Drummond! A man is always a fool when he thinks of other
people. I am finding that out too late. But you may compose yourself
about Ned,' added the father, with irony. 'That little thing has other
fish to fry. She is poking herself into Clara's way, confound her! That
sentimental ass, Rivers, who is unfit to touch my child's hand----'

'I heard of that too,' said Mrs Burton, in a low voice.

'I should think you did hear of it; but you never interfered, so far as
I could see. He would have danced with her all night, if I had not taken
it into my own hands. The ass! a poor little chit like that, when he
might have had Clary! But, however, understand me, Clara, this is a
woman's business. I want these children settled and put out in life. Ned
may be rather young, but many a young fellow in his position is married
at one-and-twenty. And, by Jove, I can't go on bearing this infernal
strain! I should give it up if it was not for them.'

'Is there anything going wrong, Mr Burton?' asked his wife.

'What should be going wrong? I am tired of working and never getting any
sympathy. I want a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law who will do us
credit--but, above all, a son-in-law. And I don't see any obstacle in
the way which you cannot overcome, if you choose.'

'I wonder,' said Mrs Burton, 'can I overcome Norah Drummond?--and her
mother? They are the obstacles in the way.'

'Thanks to my confounded good-heartedness,' said her husband.

And it was at this moment Clara came in and joined their deliberations.
Little more, however, was said, and she was sent away to seek out Lady
Florizel, and do her duty to the young visitors as the daughter of the
house should. Mr Burton went off himself to see if the Marchioness had
made herself visible, and do his best to overwhelm her with fussy
hospitality. But Mrs Burton sat still on the library fire and warmed her
cold little feet, and set her mind to work out the problem. It was like
a game of chess, with two skilfully-arrayed, scientific lines of attack
all brought to nothing by a cunning little knight, of double
movement-power, in the centre of the board. Either of the schemes on
which her husband had set his heart, or both--and one of them was dear
to herself also if she would have acknowledged it--might be brought to a
satisfactory issue, if this little Norah, this penniless child, this
poor little waif, who had grown up at their gates, could but be put out
of the way. Was the part of Nemesis, so unlike her childish appearance
and character, reserved for Norah? or was the mother using her child as
the instrument of a deep, and patient, and long-prepared vengeance? It
was the latter view of the question which was most congenial to Mrs
Burton's mind; but whether it was that or fate, the greatest
combinations which the family at the great house had yet ventured on,
the things most concerning their comfort and happiness, were suddenly
stopped short by this little figure. It was Norah Drummond, only Norah,
who was the lion in the way.



CHAPTER XI.


Ned Burton went to the post, as he had said. He had to pass the
Gatehouse on his way; and his business was not of so important a
description that he should make any haste about it, or tire himself with
walking. He loitered along, looking into the windows, sore at heart and
wistful. There was no one, to be sure, at Mrs Drummond's end of the
Gatehouse. He tried to get a glimpse at the interior through the chinks
of the little green Venetian blinds which veiled the lower panes; but
they were turned the wrong way, and he could not see anything. He had
made up his mind he should be sure to see Norah, for no particular
reason except that he wanted so much to see her. But no Norah was
visible. At the other end of the house, however, Stephen Haldane's
window was open as usual, and he himself sat within, looking almost
eagerly for that interview with the outside world which his open window
permitted. The summer was over, with all its delights, and soon the
window would have to be closed, and Stephen's chair removed into winter
quarters. What a deprivation this was to him no one knew;--but just at
the fall of the year, when the transparent lime-leaves had turned into
yellow silk instead of green, and littered the flags under the window,
Stephen looked out more eagerly than he was wont for some one to talk to
him. It was his farewell, in a measure, to life. And Ned was but too
glad to stop and lean against the outer sill, keeping always an eye upon
the door, and Mrs Drummond's windows. He was not handsome. He had a
large nose--too large for the rest of his face--which his aunt, Mrs
Everest, sometimes comforted him by suggesting was a sign of character
and energy, but which Ned had been used to hear all his friends laugh
at. The young community at Dura had brought themselves up in all the
frankness of family relations, and were wont to laugh freely at Ned's
nose, as they laughed at Katie's large teeth, and as, while they were
children, they had laughed at Clara's red hair. On that last particular
they were undeceived now, and gloried in it, as fashion required; but
Katie's teeth and Ned's nose were still amusing to everybody concerned.
Poor boy! he had not any feature which was so good as to redeem this
imperfection. He had 'nice' eyes, a tolerable mouth, and was well-grown
and strong; but nobody could say he was handsome. And then, though he
was a gentleman in thought and heart, he was a gentleman of twenty,
whose real refinement had not yet had time to work out to the surface,
and soften away the early asperities. This was why he looked boorish and
loutish in the presence of Cyril Rivers, who had not only the easy
confidence which springs from good looks, but that inevitable surface
suavity which can only be attained by intercourse with the world.

'You are not shooting to-day,' said Stephen, from within.

'No; we were all late this morning. I don't know why we should be such
muffs,' said Ned. 'Merewether had to go off to town to get his leave
extended; and Rivers is too fine a gentleman, I suppose, to take much
trouble. That's not fair, though. I did not mean it. He is a very good
shot.'

'Who is he?' said Stephen. 'I have been hearing a great deal about him
this morning.'

'Oh, have you?' Ned looked yellow as the lime leaves which came tumbling
about his head, and his nose was all that was visible under the hat,
which somehow, in his agitation, he pulled over his brows. 'He is a man
about town, I suppose. He is member for somewhere or other--his father's
borough. He is an æsthetic sort of politician, diplomatist, whatever you
like to call it: a man who plays at setting all the world right.'

'But who does not please Ned Burton, I am afraid,' said Stephen, with a
smile. 'I hear you all enjoyed yourselves very much last night.'

'Did we?' said Ned. 'The girls did. I suppose they don't think of much
else. But as one grows older, one sees the absurdity of things. To think
of a man, a rational being, putting his brains in his pocket, and giving
himself up to the cultivation of his legs! Oh, yes; we all did our
fetish worship, and adored the great god Society, and longed to offer up
a few human sacrifices; though there are enough, I suppose, without any
exertion of ours,' said Ned, leaning both his arms on the window. He
heaved such a sigh, that the leaves fluttered and whirled before the
mighty breath. And Stephen Haldane suppressed a laugh, though he was not
very gay. It was hardly possible to help being amused by this juvenile
despair. And yet, poor Stephen going back into those old memories,
which looked a thousand years off, could not but recollect, with a smile
and a sigh, similar hours and moments, in which he too had sounded the
very depths of tragedy and endured all the tortures of despair.

'My poor boy,' he said, with a tone which was half comic, half pathetic,
'I feel for you. Did you ever hear of _ces beaux jours quand j'étais si
malheureux_?

Ned looked up in a blaze of sudden resentment.

'I did not think I had said anything funny--though it is always pleasant
to have amused you, Mr Haldane,' he said, with desperate politeness. 'I
am going to the post-office. I rather think I shall have to be postman,
and carry out the bags to-day. Good morning. I ought not to have stood
so long keeping you from your book.'

But Stephen's laugh was very low and tender when the young fellow went
on, walking at the rate of six miles an hour. Poor Ned! There was not so
much to laugh at, for he had serious difficulties in his
way--difficulties of which he tried to remind himself as he turned up
the village street, by way of making himself a little more unhappy. But
the attempt did not succeed. The fact was that his real troubles counted
for nothing in the mixture of misery and anger which filled his
youthful bosom. The shadow which filled the air with blackness, and made
life intolerable, was--Norah. She had slighted him, wounded him,
preferred some one else. In presence of this terrible sorrow, all the
doubts about his future career, the serious question about the business,
the discussions of which he had been the subject, faded into
insignificance. It seemed to Ned even that he would gladly consent to go
into the business at half an hour's notice if only that half hour would
procure him the chance of making himself more miserable still by an
interview with Norah. What a fool he was, poor boy! how wretched he was!
and what poor creatures those people are who are never wretched and
never fools!

Ned Burton lounged about into half the shops in the village in his
unhappiness. He bought an ugly little mongrel from a lying porter at the
station, who swore to its purity of blood. Ned, in an ordinary way, knew
a great deal more about this subject than the porter did, but it gained
him a little time, and Norah might, for anything he knew, become visible
in the mean time. He went into Wigginton's and bought a rose-coloured
ribbon for his straw hat. It was quite unsuitable; but Norah wore
rose-coloured ribbons, and it was a forlorn profession of allegiance,
though nobody would ever know it. He went to the confectioner's, and
bought a bag of cakes, with which he fed half a dozen gaping children
outside. In short, he visited as many tradespeople as Mother Hubbard
did. But it was all in vain. No Norah passed by; no one like her went
into any of the shops. When he passed the Gatehouse once more, the
windows were all vacant still. Then Ned took a desperate resolution, and
went and paid a visit at the Rectory. He sat with Mrs Dalton in the
drawing room, and then he strolled round the garden with the girls. When
things had come to this pass, Providence befriended him, and sent a
special messenger, in the shape of Mr Nicholas, to take up Mary's
attention. As soon as he was alone with her sister, Ned seized the
opportunity.

'Katie,' he said, breathless, 'you might do me such a favour.'

'Might I?' said friendly Katie; 'then of course I will, Ned.'

'You are always the nicest and the kindest! Katie, I have something to
say to Norah Drummond; something I--have to tell her--by herself. I
can't go to the house, for it is something--a kind of a secret.'

'I'll run and fetch her. I know what you have got to say to her,' said
Katie, laughing. 'Oh, how funny you are! Why didn't you say it right
out, you silly boy.'

'It is not what you mean at all,' said Ned, with great gravity.

But Katie laughed, and ran across the road.

And this was how the interview came about. Norah came over to the
Rectory in all innocence, fearing nothing. She said, 'Oh, Ned is here
too!' as if nothing had happened. Indeed, she was not aware that
anything had happened--only that a game at croquet would be the best way
of spending the listless afternoon after the dissipation of the previous
night. They sat down on a bench behind that clump of laurel which hid a
portion of the lawn from the windows of the Rectory. Mary and Mr
Nicholas were walking up and down, round and round. The red geraniums
were still bright in the borders, with all manner of asters, and
salvias, like scarlet velvet. The autumn leaves were dropping singly,
now one, now another, without any sound; the air was very still and
soft, the sun shining through a pleasant haze. A sheaf of great,
splendid, but dusty gladiolus, stood up against the dark green laurel.
They were like Clara in her full and brilliant beauty--not like little
Norah in her gray frock, sitting quite still and happy, thinking of
nothing, on the warm bench in the sunshine, with her hands folded in her
lap, waiting for Katie to come back with the croquet mallets, and
altogether unconscious of the dark looks Ned was casting upon her from
under his hard brows.

'I suppose Katie will come when she is ready,' he said, in reply to some
question. 'She is not always at your word and beck, like me.'

'Are you at my word and beck?' she said, looking round upon him with
some surprise. 'How funny you look, Ned! Is anything the matter? Are
you--going away?'

'I often think I had best go away,' said Ned, in Byronic melancholy.
'That would be better than staying here and having every desire of my
heart trampled on. It seems hard to leave you; and I am such a fool--I
always stay on, thinking anything is better than banishment. But after
being crushed to the earth, and having all my wishes disregarded, and
all my feelings trampled on----'

'Oh, Ned! what can you mean? Who has done it? Is it that dreadful
business again?'

'Business!' said Ned, with what he would have described as the hollow
laugh of despair. 'That seemed bad enough when I had nothing worse to
bear. But now I would embrace business; I would clasp it in my arms.
Business! No! That affected only my inclinations; but this goes to my
heart.'

'Ned,' said Norah, growing pale, 'you must be over-tired. That is it.
You shoot all day--and then the ball last night. Poor boy! you are
taking fancies in your head. You don't know what you are saying. You
have been over-tired.'

Upon which Ned shook his head, and laughed again, this time 'wildly.' He
was very miserable, poor fellow, and yet it cannot be said that he was
quite indifferent to the effect he produced. It gave him a certain
satisfaction in the midst of his despair.

'If you were to ask yourself, Norah, what is the matter, instead of
suggesting so far less than the reality--so much less----' he began.

Then Norah took courage.

'Is that all!' she said. 'Oh, what a fright you gave me! Is it only
something I have done without knowing it? You ridiculous, silly boy! Why
can't you tell me plainly what it is, without all this nonsense? You
know it is nonsense,' Norah continued, warming as she went on. 'What can
I have done? Besides, however disagreeable I might have been, what
right have you to mind? Nobody else minds. I am not a slave, never to be
allowed to make myself unpleasant. There! I will be disagreeable if I
like! I am not to be always bound to do what is pleasant to you.'

'If you take me up in this spirit, Norah----'

'Yes, I mean to take you up in this spirit. You have no right to feel
everything like a ridiculous sensitive plant. Why should you? If I were
a sensitive plant I might have some cause. I am little, I am friendless,
I am very poor; I have nothing in the world but mamma. But for you to
set up to have feelings, Ned! you, a boy! that can go where you like,
and do what you like, and have heaps of money, and everybody bowing down
before you! It is because you have nothing really to vex you, that you
are obliged to invent things. Oh, you wicked, ungrateful boy, to pretend
that you are unhappy! Look at Mr Stephen, and look at mamma!'

'But, Norah,' said Ned hurriedly; 'Norah dear! listen to me only one
moment.'

'You ought to be ashamed of yourself,' she said. 'I won't listen to you.
I have plenty of things to bother me, and you have nothing. You never
had to think whether you could spend this or that--whether you could
have a new coat, or go a journey, or anything; and you go and make
troubles because you have not got any.' Here she made a pause, turning
her head away, so that poor Ned was more miserable than ever. And then
all at once she turned and looked up kindly at him. 'What was it I did,
Ned?'

This sudden revolution overwhelmed him altogether. He felt the water
leap to his eyes. He was so young. And then he laughed unsteadily.

'What a girl you are, Norah!' he said.

'Was I cross last night? What did I do? I didn't mean it, I am sure. I
came over quite innocently, never thinking Katie was bringing me to be
scolded. It was not friendly of Katie. She ought to have told me. But,
Ned, what was it? Tell me what I did.'

'Norah, things must not go on like this. I cannot do it. It may be as
much as my life is worth,' said the youth. 'Look at those two over
there; they may quarrel sometimes----'

'They quarrel every day of their lives,' said Norah, breathless, in a
parenthesis.

'But they know that they belong to each other,' said Ned; 'they know
that right or wrong nobody will part them. But, Norah, think how
different I am. You may not mind, but it kills me. Once you said you
loved me--a little.'

'I love--everybody; we, all of us, love each other,' said Norah, in a
subdued voice.

'But that is not what I want. I love you very differently from that,
Norah; you know I do. I want you to belong to me as Mary belongs to
Nicholas. Next year I will be of age, and something must be settled for
me, Norah. How do you think I can face all this talking and all this
advising if I don't know what you are going to do? Give me your hand,
Norah; give it me into mine; it is not the first time. Now, am I to keep
it always? Tell me yes or no.'

'Oh! you hurt me--a little, Ned!'

'I cannot help it,' he said; 'not so much, not half so much, as you hurt
me. Oh, Norah, put yourself in my place! Think, only think, how I can
bear to see you talking to other people, smiling at them, looking up as
you look at me. Is it possible, Norah? And perhaps I may have to go away
to fight with the world, and make my own career. And would you send me
away all in the dark without knowing? Oh, Norah, it would be cruel; it
would not be like you.'

'Please, please, Ned! Mary and Mr Nicholas are coming. Let go my hand.'

'Not until you give me some sort of answer,' said Ned. 'I have loved you
since ever I remember--since I was a boy, frightened to speak to you.
You have always laughed and gibed; but I never minded. I love you more
than all the world, Norah! I can't help thinking it would be so easy for
you to love me, if you only would try. You have known me since we were
children. You have always had me to order about, to do whatever you
liked with.'

'Wait till they have passed,' said Norah in a whisper, drawing her hand
out of his.

And then the elder pair, who were engaged, and had a right to walk about
together, and hold long private conferences, and quarrel and make
friends, passed slowly, suspending their talk also out of regard for the
others.

'Are you waiting for Katie?' Mary said. 'She is so tiresome; always
finding something unexpected to do.'

'Oh, I am talking to Ned. We are in no hurry,' Norah replied.

And then those full-grown lovers, the pair who had developed into
actuality, whom Ned envied, and who had been having a very sharp little
quarrel, passed on.

Ned was very much in earnest, poor fellow. His face was quite worn and
full of lines. There was a strain and tremulous tension about him which
showed how high his excitement was.

'It isn't as if this was new to you, Norah,' he cried piteously. 'You
have known it ever so long. And I cannot help thinking you might love me
so easily, if you would, Norah, you are so used to me--if you only
would!'

Norah was very sympathetic, and his emotion moved her much. She cast
down her eyes; she could not bear to look at him, and she nearly cried.

'Oh, Ned,' she said, 'I do love you. I am very fond of you; but how can
I tell if it is in that way? How can you tell? We are just like brother
and sister. We have never known anybody else all our lives.'

'I have,' said Ned, 'I have known hundreds. And there is no girl in all
the world but one, and that is you. Oh, Norah, that is you!'

'But I have never seen any one,' said Norah again. She spoke so very
softly that he could scarcely hear. 'I have never seen any one,' she
repeated, heaving a gentle sigh--a sigh which was half regret for Ned
and half for herself. 'Dear Ned, I do love you. But how could I tell
until I saw----?'

'Ah!' he cried, and let her hand drop in his youthful impatience and
mortification. 'If that is all your answer, Norah, the best thing for me
is to rush away. Why should I stay here any longer? There will be
nothing to live for, nothing to hope for!'

'Oh, don't talk nonsense, Ned!'

'It is not nonsense,' said Ned, rising up. 'Norah, if you hear I am gone
you will know why it is. If you hear of anything happening to me, I hope
you will be sorry. Oh, Norah, Norah!' he cried, the tears forcing
themselves to his eyes, 'is it all to end like this?'

He was so young. His despair was real, though it might be too tragical
in its outward form. He was capable of going away, as he said, and
making himself hugely uncomfortable, and for a time intensely unhappy;
and yet perhaps being all the better for it in the end. But Norah, who
was not much wiser than himself, was driven to her wit's end by this
adjuration, and did not know what to say.

'Ned, don't be so sorry,' she said, taking his hand in her turn. 'Oh,
dear Ned, I do love you; but your people would be very angry, and we are
so young. We must not think of such things yet. Oh, I am sure I did not
mean to make you unhappy. Don't cry. I could not bear to see you
crying, Ned!'

'I am not crying,' he said roughly. He had to be rough, he had been so
near it. And just at this moment Katie came smiling up with the mallets
over her shoulders. He could not come down from that elevation of
feeling into this. 'I am afraid I must go now,' he said, almost turning
his back upon them. 'I am going to the--to the station now. Merewether
is coming by this train.'

'Oh, Ned, how unkind of you, when everything is ready for a game!' cried
Katie. But Norah said nothing as he strode away, giving a nod at them
over his shoulder. He had not been boorish while he was pleading his own
cause; but he had not the heart to be civil when it was over. Cæsars of
twenty do not pull their cloaks gracefully about them when they are
going to die.

Then Norah suddenly turned upon her companion, and metaphorically gagged
and bound her.

'How tiresome it was of you to be so long!' she cried. 'Here we have
been waiting and waiting, till Ned's time was up; and so is mine. I must
go back to mamma.'

'Why, I have not been gone ten minutes!' cried indignant Katie.

'But Norah, too, waved her hand, and moved majestically away. She could
scarcely keep from crying. Her heart was full, something was quivering
in her throat. It was not so much her own emotion as the reflection of
his. Poor Ned! how hard it was that he should be so miserable! She
wanted to get safely to her own room, that she might think it over! She
walked across the road as if she had been in a dream. She did not hear
Mr Stephen call to her in her abstraction. She went in enveloped, as it
were, in a cloud of sad and curious fancies, wondering--Was it all over?
Would he never say any more about it? Would he go away, and never be
heard of more? Would it--and the very thought of this thrilled through
Norah's veins, and chilled her heart--would it do him harm? Would he
die?



CHAPTER XII.


Mrs Burton had taken a very serious piece of work in hand. No wonder
that she lingered over the fire in the library, or in her drawing-room,
or wherever she could find a fire, in those early chills of October, to
warm her little cold toes, and to make up her plan of warfare. She was a
chilly little woman, as I have said. She had not much except a mind to
keep her warm, and mind is not a thing which preserves the caloric
thoroughly unless it is comforted by the close vicinity of other organs.
Mrs Burton had no body to speak of; and, so far as has been seen, not
very much heart. Her mind had to fulfil all the functions usually
performed by these other properties, and to keep her warm besides; so
that it was not wonderful if she sat over the fire.

It was not to be expected, however, that the Marchioness would always be
so obliging as to remain in her room till three o'clock; and
consequently Mrs Burton's thinking had to be done at odd moments when
the cares of her household could be lawfully laid aside. She was rather
in bondage to her distinguished guest; and as she was a little
republican, a natural democrat at heart, the bondage was hard to her.
She was a great deal cleverer than the Marchioness of Upshire; her mind
went at railroad speed, while that great lady jogged along at the
gentlest pace. Where the heart is predominant, or even a good, honest,
placid body, there is tolerance for stupidity; but poor intellect is
always intolerant. Mrs Burton chafed at her noble companion, and
suffered tortures inwardly; but she was very civil, so far as outward
appearance went, and did her duty as hostess in a way which left nothing
to be desired.

But it took all her powers to master the problem before her. She had an
adversary to overcome; an adversary whom she did not despise, but whom
everybody at the first glance would have thought too slight a creature
to merit so much as a thought. Mrs Burton knew better. She looked at
Norah Drummond not in her simple and evident shape as a little girl of
eighteen, the daughter of a poor mother, who lived upon a hundred
pounds a year. This was what Norah was; and yet she was a great deal
more. She was the commander of a little compact army, of which the two
chief warriors, love and nature, were not much known to Mrs Burton; but
which was reinforced by youth, and supreme perverseness and self-will,
powers with which she was perfectly acquainted. Ned's love his mother
might perhaps have laughed at; but Ned's obstinacy, his determination to
have his own way, were opponents at which she could not laugh; and they
were arrayed against her. So was the capricious fancy, the perverse
individuality of Cyril Rivers, who was a man accustomed to be courted,
and not over-likely to fall into an arrangement made for him by his
family. Mrs Burton pondered much upon all these things. She found out
that her guest was seen at the Gatehouse almost every day, and she saw
from her son's aspect that he too knew it, and was beginning to hate his
rival. Then there arose a little conflict in her mind as to which of her
two children she should make herself the champion of. A mother, it may
be thought, would incline most to the daughter's side; but Mrs Burton
was not an emotional mother. She was not scheming how she could save her
children pain. The idea of suffering on their part did not much affect
her--at least, suffering of a sentimental kind. She formed her plan at
last with a cold-blooded regard to their advantage, founded on the most
careful consideration. There was no particular feeling in it one way or
another. She had no desire to injure Norah, or even Norah's mother, more
than was inevitable. She had not even any harsh or revengeful feelings
towards them. To confound their projects was necessary to the success of
her own--that was all; but towards themselves she meant no harm. With an
equal impartiality she decided that her operations should be on Ned's
side. If she could be said to have a favourite, it was Ned. Clara was
self-seeking and self-willed to a degree which was disagreeable to Mrs
Burton. Such strenuous sentiments were vulgar and coarse to the more
intellectually constituted nature. And Clara had so much flesh and
blood, while her mother had so little, that this, too, weakened the
sympathy between them. The mother, who was all mind, could not help
having a certain involuntary unexpressed contempt for the daughter whose
overwhelming physique carried her perpetually into a different world.
But what was vulgar in Clara was allowable in Ned; and then Ned had
talent in his way, and had taken his degree already, and somewhat
distinguished himself, though he was careful, as he himself said, to
'put his brains in his pocket,' and refrain from all exhibition of them
when he got home. Then, it would not have flattered Mrs Burton's vanity
at all to see her daughter the Hon. Mrs., or even Lady Rivers; but it
was a real object with her to see her son in Parliament. She had tried
hard to thrust her husband into a seat, with a little swell of
impatience and ardour in her heart, to have thus an opportunity of
exercising her own powers in the direction of the State. It was a thing
she could have done, and she would have given half her life to have it
in her power. But this had turned out an impossible enterprise, and now
all her wishes were set upon Ned. With the Merewethers' influence, in
addition to their own, Ned, almost as soon as he had come of age, might
be a legislator. With the talents he had derived from her, and which she
would stimulate and inspire, he might be of service to his country. It
was not an ungenerous aspiration; it was rather, on the contrary, as
noble a wish as mere intellect could form. And to attain this it was
necessary that Ned should gain his father's favour by bringing a
splendid connection to the house of Dura; and that, on the other hand,
he should obtain that influence which was his shortest way to the
coveted position. What did it matter if a temporary heart-break were the
price he had to pay, or even a temporary humiliation in the shape of
giving up his own will? His mother decided for him that such a price was
a very small matter to pay. She made up her mind accordingly that he
should pay it at once, and in its most unquestionable form. That Clara
should be humbled, too, and exposed to tortures of wounded pride and
mortification, was a pity; but there was no other way.

This, then, was Mrs Burton's plan: to encourage young Rivers, the suitor
whom her husband had chosen for her daughter, to devote himself to
Norah; to throw him continually in the girl's way; to make him display
his admiration, and if possible his devotion to her; to delude Norah
into satisfaction, even response, to the assiduities of her new suitor;
and by these means to disgust and detach Ned from the object of his
youthful affection. It was a bold scheme, and at the same time it
promised to be an easy one. As to what might follow in respect to Clara,
the risk would have to be run; but it did not seem a very great risk. In
the first place, Clara's 'feelings' (a word at which her mother smiled)
were not engaged; and in the second place, Cyril Rivers, though he might
be foolish enough, was not such a fool as to throw his handsome self
away upon a penniless girl without connections or anything to recommend
her. There was very little fear that it would ever come to that. He
might fall in love with Norah, might flatter and woo, and even break
(Mrs Burton smiled again, the risk seemed so infinitesimal) the girl's
heart; but he was not likely, as a man of the world, to commit himself.
And if after her end was served it might be thought expedient still that
he should marry Clara, why a flirtation of this kind could make very
little difference; it might put a stop to Mr Burton's ideas at the
moment, but it need not affect them in the future. She made this plan,
with her toes warming at the library fire, and she did not confide it to
any one. Such schemes sound a great deal worse when they are put into
words than they feel in the recesses of the bosom that gave them birth.
She felt very well satisfied when she had thus settled what to do. It
seemed the minimum of pain for the maximum of advantage; and then it was
a kind of pain which Mrs Burton could not but contemplate with a certain
mockery, and which she could but faintly realize.

At luncheon that day it turned out, as she supposed, that Mr Rivers was
not one of the shooting party. He had been writing letters, he said; he
was going to call at the Rectory in the afternoon to see Mr Dalton. In
short, he had an appointment. Mr Dalton was a member of the
Anthropological Society, to which he also belonged.

'I wonder if I might ask you to do something for me,' said Mrs Burton.
'It is just to leave a note at the Gatehouse. You know the Gatehouse?
Mrs Drummond's, just opposite the Rectory.'

'Certainly. I know Mrs Drummond,' said Rivers. He answered very
promptly, feeling that there was a covert attack intended, and that this
was meant to remind him of the allegiance he owed elsewhere. His reply
had thus quite an unnecessary degree of promptitude and explanatoriness.
'I have known her for many years. In fact, I called there yesterday.' He
felt it was expedient for his own independence to assert his freedom of
action at once.

'Then you won't mind leaving my note,' said Mrs Burton. 'We are getting
up a picnic for Wednesday, you know; and I should like Norah to be with
us. She has rather a dull life at home, poor child.'

'That is the pretty girl you were dancing with, Mr Rivers,' said Lady
Florizel, 'with dark hair and hundreds of little flounces. I should
have said she was too little for so many flounces, if she had consulted
me.'

'That is the mistake girls always make,' said the Marchioness,
'especially girls who are not in society. They follow the fashion
without ever thinking whether it suits them or not.'

'But, under correction, I think it did suit her,' said Mr Rivers. 'Do
not let us call them flounces--call them clouds, or lines of soft white
mist. I am not sufficiently learned in _chiffons_ to speak.'

'Oh, but you are delightful on _chiffons_!' said Lady Florizel. 'Men
always are when they know just a little. Sometimes, you know, one can
actually derive an idea from you; and then you make the most delicious
mistakes. Clara, let us make him talk _chiffons_; it is the greatest fun
in the world.'

'I have more confidence in my maid,' said Clara. She was not in the
habit of controlling herself or hiding her emotions. She contracted her
white forehead, which was not very high by nature, with a force which
brought the frizzy golden fringe of hair over her very eyebrows--and
pouted with her red lips. 'Besides, Mr Rivers has something better to
do,' she said, getting up from the table.

She was the first to get up--a thing which filled the Marchioness with
consternation. Clara was a girl of the nineteenth century, feeling that
her youth, and her bloom, and riotous, luxurious beauty made her queen
of the more gently toned, gently mannered company. She broke up the
party with that pout and frown.

Rivers went away with the note in his pocket, believing devoutly that it
had been intended for a snare for him, a way of interfering with his
freedom. 'Let her wait at least till I am in her toils, which will not
be just yet,' he said to himself while he went down the avenue; while
Clara pursued her mother, who had gone to put on her bonnet to accompany
the Marchioness on her drive, up-stairs.

'How could you, mamma?' she cried. 'Oh, how could you? It is because you
think nothing of me; you don't care for me. To ask the Drummonds at all
was bad enough; but to send Cyril Rivers to ask them. It seems too bad
even for you.'

'Clara, what is Cyril Rivers to you?'

'To me?' Clara faltered, stopped short, was silent, gazing at her mother
with blue, wide-open eyes, which astonishment made round. Even to a
dauntless girl, accustomed to speak her mind, the question was a hard
one. She could not answer, 'Papa means him to marry me. He is my
property; no one has any right to him but me,' as she might have done
had she spoken at all. It requires a very great deal of hardihood to put
such sentiments into speech, and Clara, with all her confidence, was not
quite bold enough. She gazed at her mother, with angry blue eyes,
speaking with them what she could not say in words; but all she could do
audibly was to murmur again, 'To me!'

'Yes, to you. I don't know what right you have to interfere. If you
consider that you have any just right, state it to me; and if I find it
reasonable I will tell you what I am doing; but, otherwise, not a word.
In the circumstances composure and patience are the best things for you.
I am acting, and I shall act, towards Mr Rivers according to principles
of my own, and a system of my own; and I don't mean to be interfered
with, Clara. You understand that.'

'I shall speak to papa,' said Clara, in her anger. 'I shall just tell it
all to papa.'

'Do, my dear,' said her mother calmly, and put on her bonnet. It was
clear that now, at least, there was not another word to be said.

Clara went away in her anger to Lady Florizel for sympathy.

'Mamma has made up her mind to ask those people,' she said. 'And I hate
them. They are low people--people that ought not to be asked to meet
you.'

'Oh, as for us, never mind! They will not hurt us,' said Lady Florizel
shrugging her shoulders; 'but I thought you told me you were great
friends with the people in the village before the ball.'

'That is the worst of all,' said Clara. 'We are great friends. They were
all the company I ever had before I came out. But now, when I don't
require them any longer, they have grown disagreeable; and yet there is
the old habit existing all the same.'

'Poor Clara!' said her new companion, 'what a bore for you! Village
companions are so apt to be a bore. But I am sure if you were to talk to
your mamma she would find some way of getting rid of them. That would be
the best.'

'Why, it is she that is asking them,' said Clara.

And it became more and more apparent that her injury was past help; for
in the face of her mother's invitation what could even papa do?

Mr Rivers carried the note with much fidelity to its destination. 'I
should not have ventured to come,' he said when he went in and met Mrs
Drummond's look of suspicion, 'but for _this_. And I hope it will find
favour in your eyes. I suppose I am to wait and take an answer? And it
will be a favourable answer, I hope.'

Helen and her child had been talking of him before he appeared, and
Norah had been a little agitated, half-pleasurably, half-painfully, by
her mother's warning.

'I do not like him to come so often,' Mrs Drummond had said. 'Whether he
means anything or not, I would much rather he did not come.'

'Mean, mamma! What could he mean, except to talk to you a little? I am
sure he does not mean anything,' Norah had cried, with the premature
confidence of her age.

And then he had made his appearance, and with the knowledge of that
brief discussion in her mind she was embarrassed, and felt as if he must
read all about it in her eyes.

'May I tell you what it is, Miss Drummond?' he asked, turning to her,
while her mother opened the note, and sinking his voice. 'It is a picnic
to the old tower of Dura. I suppose you know all about it. It is to be
on Wednesday, and I hope you will come.'

'Oh, a picnic!' said Norah, with a flush of joyful anticipation. 'I
never was at a real grown-up picnic. I should like it so much, if mamma
thinks we may.'

'But perhaps you could influence mamma.'

'No, no. I don't think it. I would rather not bother her,' said Norah,
with a little hesitation, feeling all her embarrassment return. 'Of
course she must know best.'

'Oh, of course,' said Mr Rivers. He smiled as he looked at her, and
Norah, giving a wistful, furtive glance at him, was suddenly seized with
spontaneous wonder as to what he meant--a question not arising from what
her mother had said, but from herself. The thought sprung up in her mind
unawares, bringing with it a blush. What could he mean? Why did he come
so often? Why did he wish that she should have this new pleasure? What
could it matter to him? There would be plenty of people at the
picnic--young people, nice people, pretty people, people all dressed in
purple and fine linen--who would be much more like him than Norah. And
why should he care? A delicious doubt, a delicious suspicion came into
her thoughts. Could it be possible? Might it really, really--? She shut
some little trap-door down upon it resolutely in her mind, and would
not look at, would not consider that suggestion; but it ran through all
her veins when she cast it out of her thoughts. Could it be possible?
And this was not Ned Burton, a boy whom she had known all her life, but
the hero of romance himself--he who looked as if he had walked out of a
book. It flattered her--she could not tell why. She cast down her eyes,
for he had been looking at her all the time, and it seemed to her as if
he must be able to tell her thoughts.

But he did not. He took up the cotton with which she was working, and
wound and unwound it upon his fingers.

'I have to run over to the Rectory,' he said. 'Perhaps I had better do
that now, and come back to get my answer. Perhaps then I might have a
cup of tea? This room is the very sort of room to drink tea in. The
first dish of tea must have been made here.'

'It is not so old as that.'

'Oh, it is as old as we like to believe it,' said Mr Rivers. 'Don't
disturb Mrs Drummond. I will go away now, and in half an hour I shall
come back.' And he let himself out like a child of the house, assuming a
familiarity to which he had not any right.

Norah sat quite tremulous, yet perfectly quiet, after he was gone,
wondering, and trying to stop herself from wondering--feeling somehow
that this must be that power of which she had read, which made the
strongest and best of men subject to a girl--and feeling that it was not
possible, seeing the girl was 'only _me_.'

'It is another invitation,' Mrs Drummond said, with a little sigh. 'You
must decide about it, Norah. It will be a pleasure to you, and it seems
hard you should not have a little pleasure. But, on the other hand, my
dear, after all you told me about Ned, and how Mr Rivers----'

'There is nothing about Mr Rivers, mamma.'

'Perhaps not, perhaps not, dear. I do not say there is--anything, Norah;
but still it is not comfortable that he should come so often. There is
the note. I will not say yes or no, my darling. You shall decide whether
we shall go or stay.'

Norah read the note over with glowing eyes. The blood came hot to her
face. It seemed to open up before her a day out of Paradise. The
children had made picnics among themselves often enough to Dura Tower.
They had gone in the height of the summer for a long day; the boys
walking, the girls packed into Mrs Dalton's pony-carriage, or the little
donkey-chair, which lived in the village. Bread and butter, and fruit,
and hard-boiled eggs, and bottles of milk was what they used to take
with them; and they would come home laden with garlands of the lush
woodbine, with honeysuckles in sheaves, and basketfuls of those fragile
wild-flowers which never survive the plucking, but which children cannot
resist. These old days rose before her with all their sweetness. But
this was different;--one of the Dura carriages to take them up; a few
hours among the woods, and luncheon out of doors, if it was warm enough;
'to show the Marchioness and the young ladies what little antiquities we
have.' Perhaps the grandeur and the glory of the society would make up
for the absence of the brilliant summer, and the freedom of the childish
party; but yet----She looked up shyly at her mother with cheeks that
were crimson upon her dark eyelashes.

'I suppose, mamma, it would be selfish of me to want to go?'

'That means you do want to go, Norah,' said Helen, shaking her head
softly, with a half-reproachful smile.

'Is it wrong?' said Norah, stealing behind her mother's chair with a
coaxing arm round her neck. 'I never saw anything like it. I _should_
like, just this once. Our old little parties were such baby affairs,
mamma. That donkey-chair, what fun it was! And oh! do you remember how
it always ran away, and that time when little Jenny fell asleep? But
this will be grand--something to see. And you will like the drive; it is
such a pretty drive; and the woods will be lovely. I never was there in
October before.'

'You coaxing child, as Miss Jane says; you want to go.'

'Yes, please, mamma.'

And Norah dropt a little curtsey demurely, like the child she was no
longer. And yet as she stood there in her gray frock, she was so very
like a child that Helen had to rub her eyes and ask herself what was
this wonderful difference. Yesterday or so Norah had trudged along among
the boys, taking her share, pushing them about, carrying her own basket
in all the _bon camaraderie_ of childhood. Now she was the princess,
drawing their wistful looks after her, breaking poor Ned's heart,
attracting the other hero out of his natural sphere. How was it? The
mother sighed a little, wondering, and smiled, with a sense that the
world, which had so long neglected her, was offering to her, to herself,
not to Norah, the sweetest, strangest flatteries. She was anxious as to
how it might all end, and sometimes was unhappy; and yet she was
pleased--what mother ever was otherwise?--'to see her bairn respected
like the lave.'

And then Mr Rivers came back for his cup of tea. What did he want,
haunting the old house? He came back for the answer, he said; and called
himself Mrs Burton's man, and the penny-post, and made very merry over
the whole transaction. But in all this he made it very apparent that any
excuse for coming was sweet to him. And Norah laughed at the joke, and
cast down her pretty eyes, and her colour went and came like the wind.
What did he mean? Did he mean anything? Or was it for mere amusement
that on every pretext possible he came to the Gatehouse?



CHAPTER XIII.


There was, however, another point to be considered before Wednesday, and
that was the question of dress, which convulses a poor household when
unusual festivities are in progress. Mrs Drummond's black silk was, as
Mrs Dalton said, 'always nice.' It had lasted from Helen's prosperous
days till now; it had changed its form half-a-dozen times, and now,
thanks to the beneficent fashion which prevailed, short walking dresses
had 'come out quite fresh,' as Norah declared in triumph. But Norah did
not possess that _toilette fraîche_ which is indispensable for a young
lady at a picnic. Her gray frock was very pretty at home; but amid all
the shining garments of the great young ladies, their perfect ribbons,
and hats, and boots, and gloves, all those wonderful accessories which
poor people cannot hope for, how could she look anything but a poor
little Cinderella? 'My dress would do, mamma--it is not the dress,'
Norah said, looking at herself in dismay in the old-fashioned long glass
in its ebony frame, as they discussed this matter; 'and all that I have
is well enough; good enough, you know, very nice for common wear. Short
dresses are a blessing, but then they show one's boots; and the cuffs,
and the collars, and the ribbons! Perhaps we ought not to have said we
would go.'

'That is what I feared,' said Helen. 'It is hard you should not have a
little amusement when it comes in your way; and then there are other
things to think of; but to live among people who are richer, much richer
than one is one's self----'

'What are the other things that have to be thought of?' said Norah, with
that sudden fantastic jealousy of ulterior motives which affects the
young.

'My dear Norah, I am not mercenary. I would not sacrifice your happiness
for any worldly motive. I would not even suggest----But, my darling, you
must see people--you must have it in your power at least to meet those
whom--you must go into the world.'

Norah gazed at her mother with dilated eyes. They had come down into
the drawing-room after their inspection of the poor boots and gloves
that suggested Cinderella. And the child was standing against the light,
against the old brown-gray curtains, which threatened to crumble into
dust any day, and yet held out miraculously. The round mirror made a
little picture of her standing there alone, like an old miniature in dim
enamel. But Norah was not dim in herself at that moment--her brown eyes
were dilated and shining--her cheeks mantled with the overwhelming blush
of mingled indignation and shame. 'To meet--people!--oh! mamma, mamma,
how can you!--is it all true, then, what people say?'

'Yes,' said Helen, gravely, 'or at least it is half true. I am ashamed,
and yet I should not be ashamed. I want you to meet those who can
appreciate you, who may love you, Norah, and make your life happy. Why
should you look at me so indignantly? it is my duty. But I do not wish
to speak of it to you.'

'Then I am going--to be inspected--to be offered in the market--to
be--oh! mamma, I would rather die!'

'You are going for nothing of the kind. I shall have to put away my
companion and friend who was such a comfort to me; and send you back
into the place of a silly, impatient child.'

'So I am,' said Norah, throwing herself at her mother's feet, and hiding
her tears and burning cheeks in Helen's gown. 'So I am. Oh, mamma, can't
I work or do something? is there nothing, nothing in the world for a
girl, but _that_?'

'Hush, my darling, hush!' said Helen, and it was upon this group that
some one came in suddenly, whose indignation was prompt at the sight,
and unhesitating. It was Dr Maurice, who had come down from London, as
he did periodically to see the child, whom he considered as his ward;
and who instinctively, seeing tears, made up his mind that Norah had
been suffering cruelty, and that the mother was in fault.

'What is the matter?' he said. 'Norah crying! I have not seen her cry
before since she was a baby--there must be a good cause.'

'She is growing a woman,' said her mother, 'and learning something about
life, poor child; but fortunately this time the cause is not very
grave.'

Norah sprang to her feet and dried her tears. She had divined long ere
now that her old friend loved her a great deal better than he loved her
mother. And Norah was ready to take up arms for her mother, _à
outrance_, night or day.

'No, it was not very much,' she said, all glowing with tears, and
blushes, and excitement; 'it was something you will laugh at--you will
think it so like a silly woman. You know you hate us all, Dr Maurice,
and that is what you will say.'

'Yes, I hate you all,' said the doctor, looking at her with eyes that
softened and brightened unconsciously, and a voice that sounded
caressing in spite of himself.

'I know it,' said Norah. 'Well, then, Dr Maurice, this is what I was
crying about. We are going to a picnic with the Burtons, and the
Marchioness of Upshire, and all kinds of fine people, and I was crying
because I have not got a pretty dress.'

Dr Maurice gave a short laugh, and then he turned away his head, and his
eyes glistened under their heavy brows. 'Poor child!' he said with a
tremble in his voice--if it had been any one else probably he would have
sneered, as Norah said, at the frivolity of woman's nature; but because
it was Norah his heart melted within him, and the water came to his
eyes.

'When is it going to come off?' he said.

'Oh, to-day--at one o'clock they were to call for us. Dear doctor,'
said Norah, looking up at him laughing, yet with the tears still on her
eyelashes, 'won't you say that, after all, I look very nice in my gray
frock?'

'Go away, child,' he said, almost angrily, 'go and dress yourself and
let me look at you after. I want to speak to your mamma.'

When she heard this, Helen was afraid. She believed in Dr Maurice
because he had been substantially kind, and because he was her husband's
friend; but she did not like him, and she had that fear of him which
came from the conviction that he disliked and distrusted her.

'Why is this?' he said, as Norah went away. 'Mrs Drummond, I thought you
knew that I look upon Norah as if she was my own. She should not want
anything if you would let me know--I think you ought for Norah's sake to
get over any feeling--and put pride aside.'

'It is not so easy,' said Helen, with a smile. 'Pride, if you call it
so, sticks very close. You are very, very kind----'

'I am not kind--I don't mean to be; but I look upon Norah as if she were
my own.'

'She is not your own, Dr Maurice,' said Helen with spirit. 'I cannot put
a feeling in the place of a right. Nothing in the world would make me
appeal to a stranger for finery for my child. We can live with what we
have of our own.'

'Pride, pride!' said the doctor hastily. 'I don't mean to give offence;
but I am not a stranger--I have known the child from her cradle. Why
shouldn't you be so yielding--so kind if you will--as to tell me when
she wants a dress? My little Norah! she has been a delight to me all my
life. If I had my will, she should rustle with the best.'

Helen was angry, but she was moved. A man who loved her child could
scarcely shut her heart even by disliking herself. She put out her hand
to the surly critic who had never trusted her--'Thanks,' she said, 'many
thanks. I accept your love for Norah; but I could not accept anything
else. Why, you must know that! My child, Robert's child, appealing to
your charity! Dr Maurice, I am not ungrateful, but surely Cinderella's
frock is better than that.'

The doctor was silent, he could not reply. 'Poor little Cinderella!' he
said; but just then there appeared a vision at the door, which took away
his breath. Men are poor creatures where a woman's dress is concerned.
To Dr Maurice, who knew no better, Norah's pretty rose-coloured ribbons,
the little end of rose-coloured feather, which relieved the black in her
hat, and the fresh little pair of gray gloves, which she had indulged
in, made Cinderella at once, without more ado, into the fairy princess.
'Why, good heavens, child, what would you have more?' he said, almost
with offence. He had been taken in, he thought, and betrayed into an
unnecessary warmth of sympathy. It is true that, after a little, even Dr
Maurice saw points which might be improved: but he could not look upon
Norah's toilette with the instructed eyes which Clara Burton and Lady
Florizel turned upon it; and it was the other girls, the Marchioness,
the ladies who knew, not a mere man, ignorant as a baby, whom Norah
feared.

However, it was grand to see the carriage glide up to the door, and the
ladies get into it. Mrs Ashurst and her niece were in it already, two
highly respectable persons with claims to belong to the county. The
Rectory people were not asked, and Katie stood at the window and watched
with somewhat wistful looks, waving her hand as they drove away. And Dr
Maurice put them into the carriage, and stood on the steps with his hat
off watching them too. There was a splendour about it certainly, whether
it was delightful or not. Norah thought of the donkey-chaise loaden with
children, and for a moment sighed; she had worn brown holland in those
days--but now brown holland all embroidered and decorated was a great
deal too expensive--far more costly than her gray--and she had not cared
what she wore then, which was far better; whilst now she felt that Miss
Ashurst was looking at her, and saw that her cuffs were rather coarse in
texture and her feather nothing but a tip. Neither was the drive very
lively in the society of these respectable ladies, the younger of whom
was older than Norah's mother. But when the carriage approached the end
of the pilgrimage, Norah's sky began to brighten. All the others had
already arrived, and on a green knoll in front of the old tower the
luncheon was being arranged. It was a prettier, gayer sight than the old
parties with the donkey chaise. Lady Florizel and her sister were
standing at one of the windows in the tower with Ned Burton, looking
down; but among the trees near the gate Cyril Rivers was waiting on the
outskirts of a group, looking round with evident anxiety, waiting to
open the carriage door and hand the ladies out. 'I am so glad you have
come,' he whispered into Norah's ear. His very face brightened up at the
sight of them. There is no girl living who could withstand such delicate
flattery, and that not from any nobody, not from an old friend and
faithful slave like Ned Burton, but from the hero, the prince of
romance. Norah's heart grew light in spite of herself; she might be
indifferently dressed, she might even look as she felt, a poor relation:
but this distinction all the same was hers--the prince had found
Cinderella out, and none of the others could get a word from him. He
took them to Mrs Burton, who was doing the honours of the old tower to
the Marchioness, and who received them very graciously, giving thanks to
some heathenish deity of her own for the success of her plans; and then
he found a shady spot for them where they could command everything. 'I
suppose you do not care to go over the tower,' he said. 'I know it as
well as my A B C,' said Norah; and then he placed them under the great
ash-tree and took up his own position by Mrs Drummond's side.

Mrs Burton gave thanks to her gods for her success. She looked up and
saw Ned's eyes peering out of the window above as if he were about to
swoop down upon her. 'What are you doing, Ned,' she said in momentary
alarm.

'Getting this for Lady Florizel,' he said, holding out a tuft of wild
flowers from the old wall. And Mrs Burton thanked that fetish, whoever
he was. But she did not see that between the line of Ned's hat and his
nose, were a pair of eyes glancing fiercely down upon the ash-tree. If
lightning could have come out of mortal eyes, that tree would have
shrivelled up and borne no more foliage. The spell was beginning to
work. Perhaps Cyril Rivers would not have so committed himself had he
not believed that the Burtons had made some scheme to detach him from
Norah's side, and to slight and scorn her. He thought they had attempted
to make him privy to a plot against her comfort and honour, and that she
had been asked here on purpose to be insulted by that impertinence of
society which women cannot struggle against. This was the conclusion he
came to, and all that was chivalrous and kind was stirred within him. If
everybody else neglected them, he at least would show that a man's
proper place was by the side of the weak. And then the weak who had to
be succoured was so pretty, so charming, so sweet! A man's generous
impulses are immensely strengthened in such cases. Miss Ashurst, who was
as well-born as anybody there, and as well dressed, was really neglected
by the whole company: but Mr Rivers did not feel himself impelled to her
side by his desire to succour those who were in need.

'Look there, papa,' said Clara Burton, going to her father and
thrusting her hand through his arm, 'only look there!'

'Rivers!' said Mr Burton, gazing through the branches, 'with that girl
again!'

'And whose fault is it? Mamma's! It is all mamma. I told you; she
actually sent him there--sent him to their house!'

'I will soon put a stop to all that; don't be disturbed, Clara,' said
her father, and he went off with great vehemence to where his wife was
standing. He put his hand on her arm and drew her away from the
Marchioness. 'One moment--a thousand pardons,' he said, bowing to the
great lady, and then turned to his wife with the air of a suppressed
volcano. 'Clara, what on earth do you mean? there's Rivers with those
Drummonds again!'

'He has been with them ever since they came, Mr Burton; probably he will
drive home with them. He seems to have made himself their attendant for
the day.'

'But, good Lord, Clara! what do you mean? Do you mean to drive your
daughter out of her senses--don't you intend to interfere?'

'I am acting for the best,' said Mrs Burton, 'and it will be at your
peril if you meddle. Take it in hand if you please; but if the work is
to be mine I must do it my own way.'

'But, Clara, for heaven's sake----'

'I have no time for any more, Mr Burton. I must be allowed to work, if I
work at all, in my own way.'

And with this poor satisfaction Mr Burton had to be content. He went
away fuming and secretly smarting with indignation, through the groups
of people who were his own guests, gathered together to make him merry.
A mixture of rage and bewilderment filled his bosom. He could no more
bear to have his Clara crossed than Mrs Drummond could bear to cross
Norah; and his wife's silence was far beyond his comprehension. Clara
met him as he came up, with a fluctuating colour, now pale, now crimson,
and her white low forehead almost lost under the fringe of hair. She
clasped his arm energetically with both hands. 'Tell me, papa! what has
she got to say?'

'Well, Clary, we must not interfere. Your mother has her own way of
acting; she says it is all right. There are dozens more that would be
glad of a look from you, Clary. For to-day we are not to interfere.'

Clara, who was not in the habit of disguising her feelings, tossed his
arm from her, pulling away her hands; she was half wild with injured
pride and self-will. She went up to the group under the tree with anger
in her step and in her eye.

'Oh Norah!' she said, 'I did not know you were coming. Good morning, Mrs
Drummond. Mr Rivers, I thought you were altogether lost. You disappeared
the moment we set you down. I suppose you had something more agreeable
in hand.'

'I had nothing in hand, Miss Burton, except like everybody else--to
amuse myself, I suppose.'

'And you have found a charming way of doing that, I am sure,' said poor
jealous, foolish Clara; her face was flushed, her voice slightly
elevated. She could not bear it; if it had been one of the Ladies
Merewether, or even one of the Daltons from the Rectory--but Norah! It
was more than she could put up with. Mrs Drummond, who was decorous, the
very soul of good order and propriety, rose up instinctively to cover
this little outbreak. 'Let us walk about a little,' she said. Let us
hide this unwomanly self-betrayal, was what she meant.

Norah, too, was wounded and ashamed, though without feeling herself
involved. Clara was 'in a temper,' Norah thought. They all knew that
Clara in a temper was to be avoided. She was sorry Mr Rivers should see
it. 'Oh Clara! isn't it strange to be here with everything so
different,' she said. 'Don't you remember our pranks on the grass when
we were children? and your pony which we all envied so much? How odd it
is in some ways to be grown up!'

Clara took no notice of this conciliatory speech, but Mr Rivers did. 'I
hope it is not less pleasant,' he said.

'I don't know--we walk about now, instead of running races and playing
games. Do you remember, Clara----'

'I have not time to talk over all that old nonsense,' said Clara. 'The
Marchioness is calling me;' and she turned sharply off and joined her
mother, who was with that great lady. She was quite pale with anger and
dismay. She walked up to Mrs Burton and looked her in the face. It was
_her_ doing! and then she drew back a step, and stood behind, doing all
she could to make her vexation visible. She wanted to punish her mother.
The others had all dispersed into groups; but Clara stood alone,
determined to be unhappy. Mrs Burton, however, was not punished at all;
her scheme had succeeded. Her daughter's temper could not last above an
hour or two; and her son was safe. He was walking about with Lady
Florizel, 'paying her,' as Miss Ashurst said, 'every attention,' under
her satisfied eyes.

The picnic ran its course like other picnics. It was very delightful to
some, and very wretched--a day to date from, as the unhappiest ever
known--to others. Cyril Rivers did not, as Mrs Burton had predicted,
leave the Drummonds all day. Had he suspected that this was the very
result she aimed at, and that Ned's lowering brows and unhappy looks
were the very things the party had been given for, the chances are that
he would have resisted the temptation which was stealing over him; but
he did not know this, and he did not resist. He thought they were laying
vulgar visible claim to him, before he had made up his mind one way or
another; and this was a thing his pride refused to allow; while at the
same time Norah was very sweet. She was a 'rosebud set about with wilful
thorns;' she would not agree with him, nor yield in argument; she was
not a shadowless beauty all in broad blaze of sunshine and complacency,
like Clara; there were clouds and shadows about her, and a veil of soft
mystery, spontaneous movements of fancy, wayward digression out of one
thing into another. Mrs Drummond, who was the spectator at the banquet,
grew alarmed. She tried to separate them, to lead Norah away among the
other people. But she was balked in that by every means. The other
people were chiefly county people, too grand for the Drummonds, who were
civil to the handsome mother and pretty daughter, but not anxious for
their further acquaintance. Wherever they turned Mr Rivers met them. He
was not cold, nor slow to see when Helen wanted to seat herself, when
she wanted to move about. At last, when the afternoon was beginning to
wane, and the elder ladies to think of their shawls, some of the younger
ones proposed a dance on the green. Mrs Drummond was left sitting by
herself, while Norah went to dance with Mr Rivers, and it was then for
the first time that Mr Burton came up to her. She could not but suppose
that he had been taking too much wine.

'Well, Helen,' he said, in his loud voice, 'this is an unusual sort of
scene for you--like it? I don't suppose you know many people, though;
but that little girl of yours is going too fast; mind my word, she is
going too fast.'

'I think, Mr Burton, you mistake----'

'No, I don't mistake;--going too fast--trying to lead Cyril Rivers off
his feet as she did my Ned. What am I talking of? No, not Ned; Ned has
more sense--some other of the lads. But Cyril Rivers, mind you, ain't
such a fool as he looks.'

He went on, but Helen did not hear him. Suddenly the whole situation
glanced upon her. If a flash of lightning had illuminated everything it
could not have been more clear. It was not a good light or a friendly
that blazed over that scene, which was confused by so many shades of
good and evil feeling. Helen's whole spirit had been moved in her by the
tone and words of her cousin in respect to her child. He had touched her
daughter--and a woman is as a tigress when a finger is laid upon her
cub, people say.

I don't know if this was any excuse for her; but certainly, all in a
moment, something appeared within her reach which made her heart beat.
Revenge! Whatever his degree of guilt had been, this man had been her
husband's evil angel; he had put him in the way which had led him to his
destruction--with how much or how little guilt who could say? And Helen
looked over the bright scene--the dancers on the grass, the groups
standing round, the autumn trees dressed out in all their beauty, like
their human brethren--and suddenly saw, or thought she saw, that she had
the happiness of her adversary's home in her hand. Little Norah, all
unaware of her tragic task, was the Nemesis who was to accomplish their
overthrow. There was Ned, heart-broken, but defiant--Ned whom she had
seen watching all day, miserable as youth only is; and Clara, furious,
making a show of herself in her passion. Was it the sin of the father
that was being visited on the children? Helen's heart gave one loud,
angry throb; the time of her temptation had come. She did not use the
word revenge; all that was brought before her in the sudden tumult of
her thoughts was punishment--retribution for sin.

While this terrible suggestion flashed into Helen's mind and took sudden
possession of it, another idea had begun to germinate in another bosom,
which was to bear fruit also. Dr Maurice went to see the Haldanes, and
had a great deal of conversation with them. This conversation ran
chiefly upon the one subject on which they were both so much
interested--'the child.' From them he learnt that Norah had 'come out,'
that she had made a great _succès_, that everybody (to wit the Daltons)
were raving of her prettiness and sprightliness, and how much admired
she was; and that since the ball Cyril Rivers had 'never been out of the
house.'

'Find out what sort of fellow he is, Maurice,' said Stephen Haldane; 'it
would be hard to see our little Norah throw herself away. I thought it
would have been Ned.'

'Ned! Ned? Burton's son--a mere City fellow! Good heavens! has it come
to that?' said Dr Maurice.

He left the Gatehouse, and walked slowly to the station, and went home
just about the time when the dance began on the green. 'The child wants
some one to take care of her,' he said over and over again to himself.
When he got home he went over all his house, and looked at it with a
half comic, half puzzled look. The idea perhaps had gleamed across his
mind before; it was an idea he did not half like. It would be a trouble
to him--more trouble than anybody could imagine. But still if such a
sacrifice should be necessary--for Norah's sake.



CHAPTER XIV.


The thought of revenge which had thus entered Helen's mind might have
died out of it naturally, or it might have been overcome by better
thoughts. All the passion and conflict of her life had died into
stillness; six years had come and gone since the great storm had passed
over her, which had changed her existence, and though that had not come
to any satisfactory conclusion, but only raged itself out, leaving germs
that might grow into tumultuous life again--so long an interval of quiet
had buried these germs very deep. She had grown tranquil in spite of
herself; the calm routine of her life had taken hold upon her, and she
had made that change which is so imperceptible while in progress, so
real and all-influencing when once accomplished--the change which steals
away the individuality of existence, and introduces that life by proxy,
to which we all--or at least to which, all women--must come.
Insensibly, without knowing it, Helen had grafted herself into her
child. She had lived for Norah, and now she lived in Norah, regarding
the events of the world and the days as they passed solely in reference
to the new creature who had a new career to weave out of them. This
change has a wonderful effect upon the mind and being. Her sphere of
interests was altered, her hopes and wishes were altered, her very modes
of thought. The gravity of her nature gave way before this potent
influence. Had she been in the way of it, Helen, who had lived through
her own youth with a certain serious dignity, accepting her pleasures as
a necessity rather than entering into them with enthusiasm, would have
acquired for herself, no doubt, the character of a frivolous woman, fond
of balls and gaiety, all because of the gayer temper of her child. She
felt with Norah that thrill of wonder about Cyril Rivers; her own heart
began to beat a little quicker when she heard him coming; a reflection
of Norah's blush passed over her. She had to make an effort now and then
not to be altogether carried away by this strange entry she had made
into another nature; for Norah was not like her mother in nature;
training and constant association had made them alike, and it was quite
possible that Norah in later life might become Helen, as Helen for the
moment had become Norah. But this wondrous double life that ebbs and
flows from one heart to another as from one vessel to another--the same
blood, the same soul--is not very explicable in words. It was only when
Helen sat, as she did at the moment we are now describing, all by
herself over her little fire, and felt the silence round her, and
realized her own individuality separate from the rest of the world, that
the old strain of her thoughts came back to her, and for half an hour at
a time she became herself once more.

It was a month after the day of the picnic. The guests at Dura had
departed, or rather had been succeeded by new ones, of whom the
Drummonds knew nothing. A breach had been made between the great house
and the village--a breach which the Daltons murmured and wondered at,
but which no one attributed distinctly to its true cause. That cause,
Mrs Drummond knew very well, was Norah. They had been invited once more
to Dura after the picnic, and Mr Rivers once more had constituted
himself their attendant. By this time all other motives except one had
ceased to influence the young man. He had ceased to think of the
Burtons' claims or of Clara's fury--things which, no doubt, had at first
made the pursuit of Norah piquant and attractive to him. What he thought
of now was Norah herself. He had no intention of committing himself--no
thought of compromising his future by a foolish match; but he fell in
love--he could not help it. It is a thing which men of the best
principles, men incapable of ruining themselves by an absurd marriage,
will nevertheless do from time to time. How he should get out of it he
did not know, and when he ventured to think at all, he was very sorry
for himself for the fatality which made Norah impossible. But impossible
or not, this was what had happened to him; he had fallen in love. The
sensation itself was sweet; and Clara's perpetual angry pout, her flash
of wrath when he approached Norah, her impatient exclamation at the
sound of her name, amused him immensely, and at the same time flattered
his vanity. So did Ned's lowering brows and unhappy looks. Mr Rivers was
tickled with his own position, flattered and amused by the effect his
erratic proceedings had produced. And he had fallen in love. I am sorry
to say that Mrs Drummond encouraged him on that evening which she and
her daughter spent at Dura after the picnic. She waved him, as it were,
in the faces of the Burtons like a flag of triumph. She took pleasure in
Ned's misery, though she liked Ned--and in Clara's wrath. They had
scorned her child; but her child was able to turn all their plans to
confusion, and break up their most skilful combinations. Norah was the
queen of the moment, and the others were crushed under her little foot.
She was able to make Ned's life a burden to him and destroy Clara's
prospects. I am very sorry to have to say this of Helen; but I have
never set her up as possessing the highest type of character, and it was
true.

She was heartily sorry for it afterwards, however, it must be added.
When she got home she felt ashamed, but rather for having done something
that did not come up to her own ideal of womanly or lady-like behaviour,
than for the pain she had helped to inflict. Even while she was sorry
for having 'encouraged' (women are so conscious of all that word means)
Mr Rivers, she was not sorry for Ned's despair, which rather amused
her--nor for Clara's fury, which made her so angry that she would have
liked to whip Clara. She was only ashamed of the deed; she did not
dislike the results. Norah, as so often happens, did not know half, nor
nearly half, of what it all meant. She was flattered by Mr Rivers's
attention; she admired him, she liked him. He was the hero, and he had
taken her for his heroine. The thought entranced her girlish fancy, and
seduced her into a thousand dreams. She wondered would he 'speak' to
her, and what should she answer him? She framed pictures to herself of
how he should be brought to the very verge of that 'speaking,' and then
by chance prevented and sent away, and longing and anxious, while Norah
herself would get a respite. She imagined the most touching scenes--how
somebody unknown would be found to watch over her, to bring wonderful
good fortune to her, to be at hand when she was in any danger, to save
her life, and perform all kinds of wonders; and how at last, suddenly
turning upon this anonymous guardian angel, she should find that it was
he. Everything that a true knight had ever done for his lady she dreamt
of having done for her, and a sweet exultation, a grateful sense of her
own humility and yet grandeur would fill her foolish little mind. But
still, even in her fancy, Norah held as far off as possible the
inevitable response. No lady, of course, could accept such devotion
without sooner or later bestowing the reward; but the devotion, and not
the reward, was the thing it pleased her to contemplate. It surrounded
with a halo of glory not only herself, the recipient, but even in a
higher degree the man who was capable of bestowing such exquisite, and
delicate, and generous service. Such are the fantastic fancies of a girl
when she finds herself wafted into the land of old romance by the
astounding, delicious, incomprehensible discovery that some one has
fallen in love with her. She was not in the very least in love with him.

All this is a long way from the November evening when Helen sat over her
fire, and became for the periodical half-hour herself, and not simply
Norah's mother. Thinking it all over, she blushed a little over her own
conduct. Mr Rivers had left Dura, but he kept writing to her on one
absurd pretext after another. Mrs Drummond had answered very briefly one
of these notes, and she was taking herself to task for it now. Was she
right to 'encourage' Cyril Rivers? It had punished the Burtons, and she
was not sorry for that. But was such a mode of revenge permissible? Was
it consistent with her own dignity, or such a thing as ought to be?
Susan had not yet brought in the lamp, and she was sitting in the ruddy
darkness, scarcely illuminated, yet made rosy by the brilliant
not-flaming redness of the fire. Norah even now would have been
frightened to sit so in that haunted room; but it was not haunted to
Helen. It was a clear, moonlight evening out of doors, and the thin long
lines of window at the other end of the room let in each a strip of dark
wintry blue between the brown-gray curtains. This cold light, and the
ruddy, suppressed glow of the fire, balanced each other, holding each
their own half of the room like two armies, of which the red one made
continual sorties upon the realm of the other, and the blue one stood
fast without a movement. It was a curious little interior, but Helen did
not see it. She sat, as thoughtful people so often sit, with her eyes
fixed upon the red glow of the embers. In a variation of the same
attitude, half visible as the light rose and fell, like a spell-bound
woman, her image shone in the round mirror.

Norah was at the Rectory spending the evening, and Norah's mother had
changed into Helen herself, and not another. How many old thoughts came
and went through her mind it is needless to say; but they resolved
themselves into this, that she had sacrificed her own dignity, that what
she was doing was not the thing she ought to do. What was the punishment
of the Burtons to her? Why should she like to give a heart-ache to a boy
and girl who had done her no harm? It was to get at their father, and
give him a stab through their means; but was that a kind of warfare for
a woman--a lady? Helen started in the dark, though no one could see her.
She had a high, almost fantastic, sense of honour and generosity, yet in
this she was sacrificing both.

I do not know what impulse it was which made her, when the fire began to
burn low and wanted refreshment, go to the window and look out--no
reason in particular--because it was a beautiful night. She stood
looking out on the moonlight, on the silent country road, and the lively
lights which shone in the Rectory windows opposite. She had rung for the
lamp; she was going to have her woman's meal, her cup of tea, in the
solitude which was not grievous, for to be sure it would last but an
hour or two. On the table there was a basket full of work, some
dress-making for Norah, and a novel, for still Helen loved the novels
which took her into other lives. All these placid details gave an air of
profoundest peace to the scene, and the white, clear moonlight shone
outside, and the stars, sharpened and brightened by frost, fluttered, as
if they had wings or a heart that throbbed, out of the blue of the sky;
when suddenly the place became clamorous, the silence fled, the echoes
carried circles of sound all over the unseen country. Mr Burton was
coming home. A slight smile came upon Helen's face. All this ostentation
and noise of wealth did not irritate her as it used to do. The phaeton
came dashing along, and paused a moment at the corner, where Williams's
shop threw out a stream of illumination. Some one else sat by Mr
Burton's side--some one who suddenly, as they passed, turned his face
full into the light.

In a moment Helen's heart had begun to beat like an engine suddenly set
in motion; the blood mounted up into her ears, to her heart, like its
moving wheels and piston. She clenched her hand, and a sudden demon
seemed to wake up and come into existence all in a moment. It was the
man whom she believed to be her husband's murderer--the destroyer of her
own happiness and of Robert's good name. She stood as if spell-bound
while they drove past the window, laughing and talking. Nay, there was
even a half pause, and Mr Burton made some explanation, and pointed to
the Gatehouse, not seeing the secret spectator. She heard the sound of
their voices--the laugh; and clenched her hands tighter, and through her
mind there passed words which a woman should not say.

It was then that Susan came into the room with the lamp. When she had
set it down on the table, and turned round to close the window, it
startled her to see where Helen was standing. Susan uttered an
exclamation; it gave her 'a turn;' and she had a still greater turn when
she perceived the change in Mrs Drummond's face. But for the moment she
did not say anything. It was only when she had arranged the tea and put
everything ready that she ventured to look again, and encountered
Helen's eyes, which were fixed, and did not see her.

'Lord bless us!' said Susan, 'if something has happened, 'm, don't look
dreadful like that, but say it out.'

Helen woke up at the sound of her voice. She tried to smile and clear
her countenance.

'Nothing has happened,' she said; and it startled her to find how hoarse
she was. 'I was thinking only about old times.'

'That comes o' Miss Norah being out to tea,' said Susan. 'I'd think of
old times fast enough if I could do any good. But what's the use?
Thinking and thinking only moiders a body's brain. I've give it up for
my part.'

'It is the wisest way,' said Helen, trying to smile.

'Shall I ask Miss Jane to come and stay with you a bit? or shall I run
for Miss Norah?' asked Susan, who was practical-minded, and felt that
something ought to be done.

'Never mind, Susan. It is very kind of you to think of me. It will pass
over directly,' said Helen; and she was so decided and imperative that
Susan was forced to yield.

When she was gone, Mrs Drummond rose and walked about the room with
hasty, tremulous steps. She was not sick nor sorry, as the woman
thought, but burning with wild indignation, sudden rage. Her better
feelings were overwhelmed by the tide of passion that rushed into her
mind. 'Golden and Burton! Golden and Burton!' When she had last repeated
these words she had felt herself powerless, helpless, unable to inflict
any punishment upon them, compelled to subside into silence, knowing
that neither her voice nor anything she could do would reach them. It
was different now, she said to herself, with fierce satisfaction. Now
she had indeed something in her power; now she could indeed reach the
very heart of one of them. Her cheek glowed, her eyes blazed in her
solitude. She would do it. She would abstract Mr Rivers from them
utterly, and she would break the heart of their boy. She seemed to hold
it in her hand, and crush it, as she pursued these thoughts. This was
the horrible effect produced upon a reasonable woman by the appearance
of a man who had wronged her. It is not easy to bear the seeming
prosperity of the wicked. He had taken from Helen all, except Norah,
that made life worth having, and he himself had appeared to her full of
jovial talk and laughter, going to visit at Dura, evidently a favoured
guest. The difficulty was one which David felt even more deeply, and has
argued with himself upon in many a strain which religion has made
familiar to us as the air we breathe. In the Psalms it is never said
that it is wrong to chafe at the prosperity of evil-doers, but only that
that prosperity is short-lived, and that ruin is coming. When Helen
suddenly saw her enemy, the wicked man _par excellence_, the incarnation
of wrong and cruelty, flourishing like the green bay-tree, gay and
confident as he had always been, it was not wonderful if she took the
Old Testament rather than the New for her guide. The only strange thing
was, that with the curious inconsistency of human nature, she grasped
the weapon that she had suddenly found at her side, to strike, not him,
but his companion. Golden and Burton! Once more they had become one to
her; her enemies--the incarnation of murder, slander, and wrong!

'Mamma, Ned has walked across with me,' said Norah, running in all fresh
from the outer air, with a red hood over her brown hair. 'May I ask him
to come in? He looks so unhappy, mamma.'

'I don't see that we have anything to do with his unhappiness,' said
Helen; but already he was standing at the door, looking in very
wistfully. Norah was rather wistful too; her heart was relenting over
her old vassal; and now there was no Mr Rivers in the way to take
possession of her, and come between her and the looks of others.

Ned came in with very doubtful step, not knowing whether to be
frightened or glad. He was not afraid of Mrs Drummond; she had never
been unkind to him, and there seemed a possibility now that his misery
might be over, and that Norah might relent. But it was a shock to Ned to
find that she did not offer him her hand, but only bowed stiffly, and
began to speak to her daughter.

'You are early to-night,' she said. 'I did not expect you so soon.'

'Oh, mamma, soon! Why, it is eleven; and you have the tea-things still
on the table. Mamma, I shall never be able to go anywhere, if you behave
so. You have not had any tea.'

'I have not wanted it. I did not observe that it was there,' said Helen,
seating herself on her former seat by the fire. In doing this, she
turned her back upon Ned, who, startled and wounded, did not know what
to do. Norah was alarmed too. She made a sign to him to sit down, and
then went to her mother, taking her hand,

'Mamma, you are not well,' she said.

'I am quite well. I fear, however, I shall not be good company for--Mr
Burton to-night.'

'Mamma! Why it is only Ned!'

'He is Mr Burton's son,' said Helen, trembling with emotion. 'Norah, do
you remember the man who murdered your father, and tried to disgrace
him--Golden--_that_ man? Well, I have just seen him drive up with Mr
Burton to Dura. They paused, and pointed out this house to each
other--the place where their victims were living. You may understand why
I am not fit company for--Mr Burton to-night.'

'Oh, my poor, dear mother! have you had this to bear, with no one to
support you? I will never go out and leave you again.'

'The sight of his face is like a curse to me,' said Helen, scarcely
knowing what she said. 'I have had as much as I can bear for one
night.'

'Yes, dear mamma, so you have,' said soothing Norah. And then behind her
mother's back she made an imperative sign to poor Ned, whispering, 'Go
away; go away!'

He stumbled up to his feet, poor fellow! so dreadfully disappointed that
he could scarcely find voice enough to speak. But yet his instinct was
to strike one blow in self-defence.

'Mrs Drummond,' he said, clearing his voice, 'I don't know much about Mr
Golden; but if he is such a man as you say, my father must be deceived;
and I have nothing at all to do with it. Is it fair to punish me?'

'Oh, your father!' said Helen, facing suddenly round upon him, with a
flush on her face, and the tremulous movement of passion in all her
frame. If she had not been so agitated, she would not have spoken so,
let us hope, to the man's son. 'Your father is not deceived. I don't say
you know. But you are his son.'

'Good evening, Norah!' said Ned; he crushed his hat between his hands,
and went straight out without another word. What a change from the
hopeful spirit in which he had crossed the threshold two minutes before!
But like many a man who makes an abrupt retreat, Ned found he fared the
worse for his impetuosity when he had got outside. He might have stayed
and asked some questions about it, fathomed it somehow, tried to
discover what was the meaning of it. He walked up the avenue, upon which
the moon was shining bright, so confused and troubled that he could not
tell certainly which was the cloud floating along at a break-neck pace
before the wind and which the true shadows, themselves immovable, which
his rapid progress made almost as wildly fugitive. He thought he had
been on the eve of renewed happiness, and lo! now he found himself
pushed further off than ever; repulsed, he could not tell how. A tide of
wild fancy rushed through his mind, carrying a hundred thoughts upon it
as the wind carried the cloud. Sometimes it was the image of Mrs
Drummond which was uppermost, sometimes a wondering puzzled question
about his father, sometimes the name of Golden. He remembered dimly the
trial and the comments upon the latter, and how his own young mind had
glowed half with indignation, half with sympathy. He was better able to
judge now; but Helen's language sounded violent and exaggerated to him.
'The man who murdered your father'--'the sight of his face is like a
curse.' What language was this for any one in their senses to use?

A stormy night with a full moon is perhaps the most dramatic spectacle
in nature. The world was flooded with light as Ned, a dark speck in all
that whiteness, came out into the open lawns amid which his father's
house stood. The wind was driving the clouds across the clear blue at
such a desperate pace as might become the pursued and terrified
stragglers of a great army; and the army itself, piled up in dark
confused masses in the north, loomed behind the house of Dura, which was
inundated by the white radiance. These angry forces were turning to bay,
heaping themselves in a threatening mass, glooming in silent opposition
to all the splendour and glory of the light. Ned's heart was so sick and
sore that he gazed at this sight with unusual force of fancy, wondering
if it could mean anything? The moon and the wind were doing all they
could to disperse these vapours; they were driven back upon each other,
heaped up in masses, pursued off the face of the sky, which over Ned's
head was blue and clear as a summer noon. But yet the clouds gathered,
held together, stood, as it were, at bay. Did it mean anything? Was
that storm about to burst over the house, which stood so tranquilly,
whitened over by the moon, below. This was what Ned asked himself
(though he was not usually imaginative) as he went in with an ache in
his heart to his father's house.


END OF VOL. II.


JOHN CHILDS AND SON, PRINTERS.





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