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Title: At His Gates, Vol. 3(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. III.

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

    [_All rights reserved_]

    JOHN CHILDS AND SON, PRINTERS.



AT HIS GATES.



CHAPTER I.


The drawing-room within was very different from the wild conflict of
light and darkness outside. There was music going on at one end, some
people were reading, some talking. There were flirtations in hand, and
grave discussions. In short, the evening was being spent as people are
apt to spend the evening when there is nothing particular going on.
There had been a good deal of private yawning and inspection of watches
throughout the evening, and some of the party had already gone to bed,
or rather to their rooms, where they could indulge in the happiness of
fancying themselves somewhere else--an amusement which is very popular
and general in a country house.

But seated in an easy-chair by the fire was a tall man, carefully
dressed, with diamond studs in his shirt, and a toilette which, though
subdued in tone as a gentleman's evening dress must be, was yet too
elaborate for the occasion. The fact that this new guest was a stranger
to him, and that his father was seated by him in close conversation,
made it at once apparent to Ned that it must be Golden. Clara was close
to them listening with a look of eager interest to all they said. These
three made a little detached group by one side of the fire. At the other
corner sat Mrs Burton, with her little feet on a footstool, as near as
possible to the fender. She had just said good-night to the dignified
members of the party, the people who had to be considered; the others
who remained were mere young people, about whose proceedings she did not
concern herself. She was taking no part in the talk at the other side of
the fire. She sat and warmed her little toes and pondered; her vivid
little mind all astir and working, but uninfluenced by, and somewhat
contemptuous of, what was going on around; and her chilly little person
basking in the ruddy warmth of the fire.

Ned came up and stood by her when he came in. No one took any notice of
him, the few persons who remained in the room having other affairs in
hand. Ned was fond of his mother, though she had never shown any
fondness for him. She had done all for him which mere intellect could
do. She had been very just to the boy all his life; when he got into
scrapes, as boys will, she had not backed him up emotionally, it is
true, but she had taken all the circumstances into account, and had not
judged him harshly. She had been tolerant when his father was harsh. She
had never lost her temper. He had always felt that he could appeal to
her sense of justice--to her calm and impartial reason. This is not much
like the confidence with which a boy generally throws himself upon his
mother's sympathy, yet it was a great deal in Ned's case. And
accordingly he loved his mother. Mrs Burton, too, loved him perhaps more
than she loved any one. She was doing her best to break his heart; but
that is not at all uncommon even when parents and children adore each
other. And then Ned was not aware that his mother had any share
intentionally or otherwise in the cruel treatment he had received.

'Who is that?' he asked under his breath.

'A Mr Golden, a friend of your father's,' said Mrs Burton, lifting her
eyes and turning them calmly upon the person she named. There was no
feeling in them of one kind or another, and yet Ned felt that she at
least did not admire Mr Golden, and it was a comfort to him. He went
forward to the fire, and placed himself, as an Englishman loves to do,
in front of it. He stood there for ten minutes or so, paying no
particular attention to the conversation on his right hand. His father,
however, looked more animated than he had done for a long time, and
Clara was bending forward with a faint rose-tint from the fire tinging
the whiteness of her forehead and throat, and deeper roses glowing on
her cheeks. Her blue eyes were following Mr Golden's movements as he
spoke, her hair was shining like crisp gold in the light. She was such a
study of colour, of splendid flesh and blood, as Rubens would have
worshipped; and Mr Golden had discrimination enough to perceive it. He
stopped to address himself to Clara. He turned to her, and gave her
looks of admiration, for which her brother, bitterly enough biassed
against him on his own account, could have 'throttled the fellow!' Ned
grew more and more wrathful as he looked on. And in the mean time the
late young ladies came fluttering to say good-night to their hostess;
the young men went off to the smoking-room, where Ned knew he ought to
accompany them, but did not, being too fully occupied; and thus the
family were left alone. Notwithstanding, however, his wrath and his
curiosity, it was only the sound of one name which suddenly made the
conversation by his side quite articulate and intelligible to Ned.

'I hear the Drummond has a pretty daughter; that is a new weapon for
her, Burton. I wonder you venture to have such a family established at
your gates.'

'The daughter is not particularly pretty; not so pretty by a long way as
Helen was,' said Mr Burton. 'I don't see what harm she can do with poor
little Norah. We are not afraid of her, Clara, are we?' and he looked
admiringly at his daughter, and laughed.

As for Clara she grew crimson. She was not a girl of much feeling, but
still there was something of the woman in her.

'I don't understand how we could be supposed to be afraid of Norah
Drummond,' she said.

'But I assure you I do,' said Mr Golden. 'Pardon me, but I don't suppose
you have seen the Drummond herself, the Drummond mamma--in a fury.'

'Father,' said Ned, 'is Mr Golden aware that the lady he is speaking of
is our relation--and friend? Do you mean to suffer her to be so spoken
of in your house?'

'Hold your tongue, Ned.'

'Ned! to be sure it is Ned. Why, my boy, you have grown out of all
recollection,' said Golden, jumping up with a great show of cordiality,
and holding out his hand.

Ned bowed, and drew a step nearer his mother. He had his hands in his
pockets; there were times, no doubt, when his manners left a great deal
to be desired.

'Ah, I see! there are spells,' said Mr Golden, and he took his seat
again with a hearty laugh--a laugh so hearty that there seemed just a
possibility of strain and forced merriment in it. 'My dear Miss Burton,'
he said, in an undertone, which however Ned could hear, 'didn't I tell
you there was danger? Here's an example for you, sooner than I thought.'

'Mother,' said Ned, 'can I get your candle? I am sure it is time for you
to go up-stairs.'

'Yes, and for Clara too. Run away, child, and take care of your roses;
Golden and I have some business to talk over; run away. As for you, Ned,
to-morrow morning I shall have something to say to you.'

'Very well, sir,' said Ned solemnly.

He lighted his mother's candle, and he gave her his arm, having made up
his mind not to let her go. The sounds of laughter which came faintly
from the smoking-room did not tempt him; if truth must be told, they
tempted Clara much more, who stood for a moment with her candle in her
hand, and said to herself, 'What fun they must be having!' and fretted
against the feminine fetters which bound her. Such a thought would not
have come into Norah's head, nor into Katie Dalton's, nor even into that
of Lady Florizel, though it was a foolish little head enough; but Clara,
who was all flesh and blood, and had been badly brought up, was the one
of those four girls who probably would have impressed most deeply a
journalist's fancy as illustrating the social problem of English young
womanhood.

Ned led his mother not to her own room, but to his. He made her come in,
and placed a chair for her before the fire. It is probable that he had
sense enough to feel that had he asked her consent to his marriage with
Norah Drummond he would have found difficulties in his way; but short of
this, he had full confidence in the justice which indeed he had never
had any reason to doubt.

'Do you like this man Golden, mother?' he asked. 'Tell me, what is his
connection with us?'

'His connection, I suppose, is a business connection with your father,'
said Mrs Burton. 'For the rest, I neither like him nor hate him. He is
well enough, I suppose, in his way.'

'Mrs Drummond does not think so,' said Ned.

'Ah, Mrs Drummond! She is a woman of what are called strong feelings. I
don't suppose she ever stopped to inquire into the motives of anybody
who went against her in her life. She jumps at a conclusion, and reaches
it always from her own point of view. According to her view of affairs,
I don't wonder, with her disposition, that she should hate him.'

'Why, mother?'

'Well,' said Mrs Burton, I am not in the habit of using words which
would come naturally to a mind like Mrs Drummond's. But from her point
of view, I should say, she must believe that he ruined her
husband--drove him to suicide, and then did all he could to ruin his
reputation. These are things, I allow, which people do not readily
forget.'

'And, mother, do you believe all this? Is it true?'

'I state it in a different way,' she said. 'Mr Golden, I suppose,
thought the business could be redeemed, to start with. When he drew poor
Mr Drummond into active work in the concern, he did it in a moment when
there was nobody else to refer to. And then you must remember, Ned, that
Mr Drummond had enjoyed a good deal of profit, and had as much right as
any of the others to suffer in the loss. He was ignorant of business, to
be sure, and did not know what he was doing; but then an ignorant man
has no right to go into business. Mr Golden is very sharp, and he had to
preserve himself if he could. It was quite natural he should take
advantage of the other's foolishness. And then I don't suppose he ever
imagined that poor Mr Drummond would commit suicide. He himself would
never have done it under similar circumstances--nor your father.'

'Had my father anything to do with this?' said Ned hoarsely.

'That is not the question,' said Mrs Burton. 'But neither the one nor
the other would have done anything so foolish. How were they to suppose
Mr Drummond would? This sort of thing requires a power of realising
other people's ways of thinking which few possess, Ned. After he was
dead, and it could not be helped, I don't find anything surprising,' she
went on, putting her feet nearer the fire, 'in the fact that Mr Golden
turned it to his advantage. It could not hurt Drummond any more, you
know. Of course it hurt his wife's feelings; but I am not clear how far
Golden was called upon to consider the feelings of Drummond's wife. It
was a question of life and death for himself. Of course I do not believe
for a moment, and I don't suppose anybody whose opinion is worth
considering could believe, that a poor, innocent, silly man destroyed
those books--'

'Mother, I don't know what you are speaking of; but it seems to me as if
you were describing the most devilish piece of villany----'

'People do employ such words, no doubt,' said Mrs Burton calmly; 'I
don't myself. But if that is how it appears to your mind, you are right
enough to express yourself so. Of course that is Mrs Drummond's opinion.
I have something to say to you about the Drummonds, Ned.'

'One moment, mother,' he cried, with a tremor and heat of excitement
which puzzled her perhaps more than anything she had yet met with in the
matter. For why should Ned be disturbed by a thing which did not concern
him, and which had happened so long ago? 'You have mentioned my father.
You have said _they_, speaking of this man's infamous----Was my father
concerned?'

Mrs Burton turned, and looked her son in the face. The smallest little
ghost of agitation--a shadow so faint that it would not have showed
upon any other face--glided over hers.

'That is just the point on which I can give you least information,' she
said; and then, after a pause, 'Ned,' she continued, 'you are grown up;
you are capable of judging for yourself. I tell you I don't know. I am
not often deterred by any cause from following out a question I am
interested in; but I have preferred not to follow up this. I put away
all the papers, thinking I might some day care to go into it more
deeply. You can have them if you like. To tell the truth,' she added,
sinking her voice, betrayed into a degree of confidence which perhaps
she had never given to human creature before, 'I think it is a bad sign
that this man has come back.'

'A sign of what?'

Mrs Burton's agitation increased. Though it was the very slightest of
agitations, it startled Ned, so unlike was it to his mother.

'Ned,' she said, with a shiver that might be partly cold, 'nobody that I
ever heard of is so strong as their own principles. I do not know, if it
came to me to have to bear it, whether I could bear ruin and disgrace.'

'Ruin and disgrace!' cried Ned.

'I don't know if I have fortitude enough. Perhaps I could by myself; I
should feel that it was brought about by natural means, and that blame
was useless and foolish. But if we had to bear the comments in the
newspapers, the talk of everybody, the reflections on our past, I don't
know whether I have fortitude to bear it; I feel as if I could not.

'Mother, has this been in your mind, while I have been thinking you took
so little interest? My poor little mamma!'

The wicked little woman! And yet all that she had been saying was
perfectly true.

'Ned,' she said, with great seriousness, 'this dread, which I can never
get quite out of my mind, is the reason why I have been so very earnest
about the Merewethers. I have never, you know, supported your father's
wish that you should go into the business. On the contrary, I have
always endeavoured to secure you your own career. I have wished that you
at least should be safe----'

'Safe!' he cried. 'Mother, if there is a possibility of disgrace, how
can I, how can any of us, escape from it--and more especially I? And if
there is a chance of ruin, why I should be as great a villain as that
man is, should I consent to carry it into another house.'

'It is quite a different case,' she cried with some eagerness, seeing
she had overshot her mark. 'I hope there will be neither; and you have
not the least reason to suppose that either is possible. Look round you;
go with your father to the office, inspect his concerns as much as you
please; you will see nothing but evidences of prosperity. So far as you
know, or can know, your father is one of the most prosperous men in
England. Nobody would have a word to say against you, and I shall be
rich enough to provide for you. If there is any downfall at all, which I
do not expect, nobody would ever imagine for a moment that you knew
anything of it; and your career and your comfort would be safe.'

'O mother! mother!' Poor Ned turned away from her and hid his face in
his hands. This was worse to him than all the rest.

'You ought to think it over most carefully,' she said; 'all this is
perfectly clear before you. I may have taken fright, though it is not
very like me. I may be fanciful enough' (Mrs Burton smiled at herself,
and even Ned in his misery half smiled) 'to consider this man as a sort
of raven, boding misfortune. But you know nothing about it; there is
abundant time for you to save yourself and your credit; and this is the
wish which, above everything in the world, I have most at heart, that,
if there is going to be any disaster,--I don't expect it, I don't
believe in it; but mercantile men are always subject to misfortune,--you
might at least be safe. I will not say anything more about it to-night;
but think it over, Ned.'

She rose as she spoke and took up her candle, and her son bent over her
and touched her little cold face with his hot lips. 'I will send you the
papers,' she said as she went away. Strange little shadow of a mother!
She glided along the passage, not without a certain maternal
sentiment--a feeling that on the whole she was doing what was best for
her boy. _She_ could provide for him, whatever happened; and if evil
came he might so manage as to thrust himself out from under the shadow
of the evil. She was a curious problem, this woman; she could enter into
Mr Golden's state of mind, but not into her son's. She could fathom
those struggles of self-preservation which might lead a man into fraud
and robbery; but she could not enter into those which tore a generous,
sensitive, honourable soul in pieces. She was an analyst, with the
lowest view of human nature, and not a sympathetic being entering into
the hearts of others by means of her own.

No smoking-room, no jovial midnight party, received Ned that night. He
sat up till the slow November morning dawned reading those papers; and
then he threw himself on his bed, and hid his face from the cold
increasing light. A bitterness which he could not put into words, which
even to himself it was impossible to explain, filled his heart. There
was nothing, or at least very little, about his father in these papers.
There was no accusation made against Mr Burton, nothing that any one
could take hold of--only here and there a word of ominous suggestion
which chilled the blood in his veins. But Golden's character was not
spared by any one; it came out in all its blackness, more distinct even
than it could have done at the moment these events occurred. Men had
read the story at the time with their minds full of foregone conclusions
on the subject--of prejudices and the heat of personal feeling. But to
Ned it was history; and as he read Golden's character stood out before
him as in a picture. And this man, this deliberate cold-blooded
scoundrel, was sleeping calmly under his father's roof--a guest whom his
father delighted to honour. Ned groaned, and covered his eyes with his
hands to shut out the hazy November morning, as if it were a spy that
might find out something from his haggard countenance. Sleep was far
from his eyes; his brain buzzed with the unaccustomed crowd of thoughts
that whirled and rustled through it. A hundred projects, all very
practicable at the first glance and impossible afterwards, flashed
before him. The only thing that he never thought of was that which his
mother had called the wish of her heart--that he should escape and
secure his own career out of the possible fate that might be impending.
This, of all projects, was the only one which, first and last, was
impossible to Ned.

The first step which he took in the matter was one strangely different.
He had to go through all the ordinary remarks of the breakfast-table
upon his miserable looks; but he was too much agitated to be very well
aware what people were saying to him. He watched anxiously till he saw
his father prepare to leave the house. Fortunately Mr Golden was not
with him. Mr Golden was a man of luxury, who breakfasted late, and had
not so much as made his appearance at the hour when Mr Burton, who,
above everything, was a man of business, started for the station. Ned
went out with him, avoiding his mother's eye. He took from his father's
hand a little courier's bag full of papers which he was taking with him.

'I will carry it for you, sir,' he said.

Mr Burton was intensely surprised; the days were long gone by when Ned
would strut by his side, putting out his chest in imitation of his
father.

'Wants some money, I suppose!' Mr Burton--no longer the boy's proud
progenitor, but a wary parent, awake to all the possible snares and
traps which are set for such--said to himself.

They had reached the village before Ned had began to speak of anything
more important than the weather or the game. Then he broke into his
subject quite abruptly.

'Father,' he said, 'within the last few days I have been thinking of a
great many things. I have been thinking that for your only son to set
his face against business was hard lines on you. Will you tell me
frankly whether a fellow like me, trained so differently, would be of
real use to you? Could I help you to keep things straight, save you from
being cheated?--do anything for you? I have changed my ideas on a great
many subjects. This is what I want to know.'

'Upon my word, a wonderful conversion,' said his father with a laugh;
'there must be some famous reason for a change so sudden. Help _me_ to
keep things straight!--Keep ME from being cheated! You simpleton! you
have at least a capital opinion of yourself.'

'But it was with that idea, I suppose, that you thought of putting me
into the business,' said Ned, overcoming with an effort his first boyish
impulse of offence.

'Perhaps in the long-run,' said Mr Burton jocularly; 'but not all at
once, my fine fellow. Your Greek and your Latin won't do you much
service in the city, my boy. Though you have taken your degree--and a
deuced deal of money that costs, a great deal more than it's worth--you
would have to begin by singing very small in the office. You would be
junior clerk to begin with at fifty pounds a year. How should you find
that suit your plans, my fine gentleman Ned?'

'Was that all you intended me for?' asked Ned sternly. A rigid air and
tone was the best mask he could put upon his bitter mortification.

'Certainly, at first,' said Mr Burton; 'but I have changed my mind
altogether on the subject,' he added sharply. 'I see that I was
altogether deceived in you. You never would be of any use in business.
If you were in Golden's hands, perhaps--but you have let yourself be
influenced by some wretched fool or other.'

'Has Mr Golden anything to say to your business?' asked Ned.

The question took his father by surprise.

'Confound your impudence!' he cried, after a keen glance at his son and
sputter of confused words, which sounded very much like swearing. 'What
has given you so sudden an interest in my business, I should like to
know? Do you think I am too old to manage it for myself?'

'It was the sight of this man, father,' said Ned, with boyish simplicity
and earnestness, 'and the knowledge who he was. Couldn't I serve you
instead of him? I pledge you my word to give up all that you consider
nonsense, to settle steadily to business. I am not a fool, though I am
ignorant. And then if I am ignorant, no man could serve you so truly as
your son would, whose interests are the same as yours. Try me! I could
serve you better than he.'

'You preposterous idiot!' cried Mr Burton, who had made two or three
changes from anger to ridicule while this speech was being delivered.
'You serve me better than Golden!--Golden, by Jove! And may I ask if I
were to accept this splendid offer of yours, what would you expect as an
equivalent? My consent to some wretched marriage or other, I suppose,
allowance doubled, home provided, and my blessing, eh? I suppose that is
what you are aiming at. Out with it--how much was the equivalent to be?'

'Nothing,' said Ned. He had grown crimson; his eyes were cast down, not
to betray the feeling in them--a choking sensation was in his throat.
Then he added slowly--'not even the fifty pounds a year you offered me
just now--nothing but permission to stand by you, to help to--keep
danger off.'

Mr Burton took the bag roughly out of his hand. 'Go home,' he said, 'you
young ass; and be thankful I don't chastise you for your impudence.
Danger!--I should think you were the danger if you were not such a fool.
Go home! I don't desire your further company. A pretty help and defender
you would be!'

And Ned found himself suddenly standing alone outside the station, his
fingers tingling with the roughness with which the bag had been snatched
from him. He stood still for half a minute, undecided, and then he
turned round and strolled listlessly back along the street. He was very
unhappy. His father was still his father, though he had begun to
distrust, and had long given over expecting any sympathy from him. And
the generous resolution which it had cost him so much pain to make, had
not only come to nothing, but had been trampled under foot with
derision. His heart was very sore. It was a hazy morning, with a
frosty, red sun trying hard to break through the mist; and everything
moved swiftly to resist the cold, and every step rang sharp upon the
road; except poor Ned's, who had not the heart to do anything but
saunter listlessly and slowly, with his hands in his pockets and his
eyes fixed wistfully upon nothing. Everything in a moment had become
blank to him. He wondered why the people took the trouble to take off
their hats to him--to one who was the heir of misery and perhaps of
disgrace and ruin, as his mother had said. Ruin and disgrace! What awful
words they are when you come to think of it--dreadful to look forward
to, and still more dreadful to bear if any man could ever realise their
actual arrival to himself!

Norah was standing at the open door of the Gatehouse. He thought for a
moment that he would pass without taking any notice; and then it
occurred to him in a strange visionary way that it might be the last
time he should see her. He stopped, and she said a cold little 'Good
morning' to him, without even offering her hand. Then a sudden yearning
seized poor Ned.

'Norah,' he said, in that listless way, 'I wish you would say something
kind to me to-day. I don't know why I should be so anxious for it, but
I think it would do me good. If you knew how unhappy I am----'

'Oh Ned, for heaven's sake don't talk such nonsense,' cried impatient
Norah. '_You_ unhappy, that never knew what it was to have anything go
wrong! It makes me quite ill to hear you. You that have got everything
that heart can desire; because you can't just exactly have your own
way--about--me--Oh, go away; I cannot put up with such nonsense--and to
me, too, that knows what real trouble means!'

Poor Ned made no protest against this impatient decision. He put on his
hat in a bewildered way, with one long look at her, and then passed, and
disappeared within his father's gates. Norah did not know what to make
of it. She stood at the door, bewildered too, ready to wave her hand and
smile at him when he looked round; but he never looked round. He went on
slowly, listlessly, as if he did not care for anything--doing what both
had told him--the father whom he had been willing to give up his life
to--the girl who had his heart.

That afternoon he carried out their commands still more fully. He went
away from his father's house. On a visit, it was said; but to go away
on a visit in the middle of the shooting season, when your father's
house is full of guests, was, all the young men thought, the most
extraordinary thing which, even in the freedom of the nineteenth
century, an only son, deputy master of the establishment, had ever been
known to do.



CHAPTER II.


It was a long time before it was fully understood in Dura what had
become of Ned. At first it was said he had gone on a visit, then that he
had joined some of his college friends in an expedition abroad; but
before spring it began to be fully understood, though nobody could tell
how, that Ned had gone off from his home, and that though occasional
letters came from him, his family did not always know where he was, or
what he was about. There was no distinct authority for this, but the
whole neighbourhood became gradually aware of it. The general idea was
that he had gone away because Norah Drummond had refused him; and the
consequence was that Norah Drummond was looked upon with a certain
mixture of disapproval and envy by the youthful community. The girls
felt to their hearts the grandeur of her position. Some were angry,
taking Ned's part, and declaring vehemently that she had 'led him on;'
some were sympathetic, feeling that poor Norah was to be pitied for the
tragical necessity of dismissing a lover; but all felt the proud
distinction she had acquired by thus driving a man (they did not say
boy) to despair. The boys, for the most part, condemned Ned as a
muff--but in their hearts felt a certain pride in him, as proving that
their side was still capable of a great act of decision and despair. As
for Norah, when the news burst upon her, her kind little heart was
broken. She cried till her pretty eyes were like an old woman's. She
gave herself a violent headache, and turned away from all consolation,
and denounced herself as the wickedest and cruellest of beings. It was
natural that Norah should believe it implicitly. After that scene in the
Rectory garden, when poor Ned, in his boyish passion, had half thrown
the responsibility of his life upon her shoulders, there had been other
scenes of a not unsimilar kind; and there was that last meeting at the
door of the Gatehouse, when she had dismissed him so summarily. Oh, if
he had only looked round, Norah thought; and she remembered, with a
passing gleam of consolation, that she had intended to wave her hand to
him. 'What shall I do? Oh, what shall I do?' she said, 'if--anything
should happen to him, mamma, I shall have killed him! If anybody calls
me a murderess, I shall not have a word to say.'

'Not so bad as that, my darling,' Helen said, soothing her; but Helen
herself was very deeply moved. This was the revenge, the punishment she
had dreamt of. By her means, whom he had injured so deeply, Reginald
Burton's only son had been driven away from him, and all his hopes and
plans for his boy brought to a sudden end. It was revenge; but the
revenge was not sweet. Christianity, heaven knows, has not done all for
us which it might have done, but yet it has so far changed the theories
of existence that the vague craving of the sufferer for punishment to
its oppressors gives little gratification when it is fulfilled. Helen
was humbled to the dust with remorse and compunction for the passing
thought, which could scarcely be called an intention, the momentary,
visionary sense of triumph she had felt in her daughter's power (as she
believed) to disturb all the plans of the others. Now that was done
which it had given her a vague triumph to think of; and though her tears
were not so near the surface as Norah's, her shame and pain were deeper.
And this was all the more the fact because she dared not express it. A
word of sympathy from her (she felt) would have looked like nothing so
much as the waving of a flag of triumph. And, besides, from Ned's own
family there came no word of complaint.

The Dura people put the very best face upon it possible. Mrs Burton, who
had never been known to show any emotion in her life, of course made
none of her feelings visible. Her husband declared that 'my young fool
of a son' preferred amusing himself abroad to doing any work at home.
Clara was the only one who betrayed herself. She assured Katie Dalton,
in confidence, that she never could bear to see that hateful Norah
again--that she was sure it was all her fault. That Ned would never have
looked at her had not she done everything in her power to 'draw him
on'--and then cast him off because somebody better worth having came in
her way. Clara's indignation was sharp and vehement. It was edged with
her own grievance, which she was not too proud to refer to in terms
which could not disguise her feelings. But she was the only one of her
house who allowed that Ned's disappearance had any significance. His
mother said nothing at all on the subject even to her husband and her
child; but in reality it was the severest blow that fate had ever aimed
at her. Her hopes for his 'career' toppled over like a house of cards.
The Merewethers, astounded at the apology which had to be sent in reply
to their invitation to Ned for Christmas, suddenly slackened in their
friendship. Lady Florizel ceased to write to Clara, and the Marchioness
sent no more notes, weighted with gilded coronets, to her dear Mrs
Burton. So far as that noble household was concerned, Ned's prospects
had come to an end. The son of so rich a man, future proprietor of Dura,
might have been accepted had he been on the spot to press his suit; but
the Ladies Merewether were young and fair, and not so poor as to be
pressed upon any one. So Lady Florizel and the parliamentary influence
sunk into the background; and keenly to the intellectual machine, which
served Mrs Burton instead of a heart, went the blow. This was the
moment, she felt, in which Ned could have made himself 'safe,' and
disentangled himself from the fatal web which instinct told her her
husband was weaving about his feet. There was no confidence on business
matters between Mr Burton and his wife; but a woman cannot be a man's
constant companion for twenty years without divining him, and
understanding, without the aid of words, something of what is going on
in his mind. She had felt, even before Golden's arrival, a certain
vague sense of difficulty and anxiety. His arrival made her sure of it.
He had been abroad, withdrawn from the observation of English mercantile
society for all these years; but his talents as the pilot of a ship,
desperately making way through rocks and sandbanks, were sufficiently
well known; and his appearance was confirmation sure to Mrs Burton of
all her fears. Thus she felt in her reticent, silent breast that her boy
had thrown up his only chance. The son of the master of Dura could have
done so much--the son of a bankrupt could do nothing. He might have
withdrawn himself from all risk--established himself in a sure
position--had he taken her advice; and he had not taken it. It was the
hardest personal blow she had ever received. It did not move her to
tears, as it would have done most women. She had not that outlet for her
sorrow; but it disarranged the intellectual machinery for the moment,
and made her feel incapable of more thinking or planning. Even her
motherhood had thus its anguish, probably as deep an anguish as she was
capable of feeling. She was balked once more--her labour was in vain,
and her hopes in vain. She had more mind than all of her family put
together, and she knew it; but here once more, as so often in her
experience, the fleshly part in which she was so weak overrode the mind,
and brought its counsels to nought. It would be hard to estimate the
kind and degree of suffering which such a conviction brought.

Time went on, however, as it always does; stole on, while people were
thinking of other things, discussing Ned's disappearance and Norah's
remorse, and Mr Nicholas's hopes of a living, and Mary's trousseau. When
the first faint glimmer of the spring began, they had another thing to
talk of, which was that Cyril Rivers had appeared on the scene again,
often coming down from London to spend a day, and then so ingratiating
himself with the Rectory people, and even with Nicholas, the bridegroom
elect, that now and then he was asked to spend a night. This time,
however, he was not invited to the great house; neither would Mrs
Drummond ask him, though he was constantly there. She was determined
that nobody should say she drew him on this time, people said. But the
fact was that Helen's heart was sick of the subject altogether, and that
she would have gone out of her way to avoid any one who had been
connected with the Burtons, or who might be supposed to minister to that
revenge of which she was so bitterly ashamed. While Cyril Rivers went
and came to Dura village, Mr Golden became an equally frequent visitor
at the House. The city men in the white villas had been filled with
consternation at the first sight of him; but latterly began to make
stiff returns to his hearty morning salutations when he went up to town
along with them. It was so long ago; and nothing positively had been
proved against him; and it was hard, they said, to crush a man
altogether, who, possibly, was trying to amend his ways. Perhaps they
would have been less charitable had he been living anywhere else than at
the great house. Gradually, however, his presence became expected in
Dura; he was always there when there were guests or festivities going
on. And never had the Burtons been so gay. They seemed to celebrate
their son's departure by a double rush of dissipation. The idea of any
trouble being near so pleasant, so brilliant a place was ridiculous, and
whatever Mrs Burton's thoughts on the subject might have been, she said
nothing, but sent out her invitations, and assembled her guests with her
usual calm. The Rectory people were constantly invited, and so indeed
were the Drummonds, though neither Norah nor her mother had the heart to
go.

Things were in this gay and festive state when Mr Baldwin suddenly one
morning paid his daughter a visit. It was not one of his usual visits,
accompanied by the two aunts, and the old man-servant and the two maids.
These visits had grown rarer of late. Mrs Burton had so many guests, and
of such rank, that to arrange the days for her father on which the
minister of the chapel could be asked to dinner, and a plain joint
provided, grew more and more difficult; while the old people grew more
and more alarmed and indignant at the way Clara was going on. 'Her dress
alone must cost a fortune,' her aunt Louisa said. 'And the boy brought
up as if he were a young Lord; and the girl never to touch a needle nor
an account-book in her life,' said Mrs Everest; and they all knew by
experience that to 'speak to' Clara was quite futile. 'She will take her
own way, brother, whatever you say,' was the verdict of both; and Mr
Baldwin knew it was a true one. Nevertheless, there came a day when he
felt it was his duty to speak to Clara. 'I have something to say to
Haldane; and something to arrange with the chapel managers,' he said
apologetically to his sisters; and went down all alone, in his black
coat and his white tie with his hat very much on the back of his head,
to his daughter's great house.

'I have got some business with Haldane and with the chapel managers,'
he said, repeating his explanation; 'and I thought as I was here, Clara,
I might as well come on and see you.'

'You are very welcome always, papa.'

'But I don't know if I shall be welcome to-day,' he went on, 'because I
want to speak to you, Clara.'

'I know,' she said, with a faint smile, 'about our extravagance and all
that. It is of no use. I may as well say this to you at once. I cannot
stop it if I would; and I don't know that I would stop it if I could.'

'Do you know,' he said, coming forward to her, and laying his hand on
her shoulder; for though he wore his hat on the back of his head, and
took the chair at public meetings, he was a kind man, and loved his only
child. Do you know, Clara, that in the City--you may despise the City,
my dear, but it is all-important to your husband--do you know they say
Burton is going too fast? I wish I could contradict it, but I can't.
They say he's in a bad way. They say----'

'Tell me everything, papa. I am quite able to bear it.'

'Well, my dear, I don't want to make you unhappy,' said Mr Baldwin,
drawing a long breath, 'but people do begin to whisper, in the
best-informed circles, that he is very heavily involved.'

'Well?' she said looking up at him. She too drew a long breath, her
face, perhaps, paled by the tenth of the tint. But her blue eyes looked
up undaunted, without a shadow in them. Her composure, her calm
question, drove even Mr Baldwin, who was used to his daughter's ways,
half out of himself.

'Well?' he cried. 'Clara, you must be mad. If this is so, what can you
think of yourself, who never try to restrain or to remedy?--who never
made an attempt to retrench or save a penny? If your husband has even
the slightest shadow of embarrassment in his business, is this great,
splendid house, full of guests and entertainments, the way to help him
through?'

'It is as good a way as any other,' she said, still looking at him.
'Papa, you speak in ignorance of both him and me. I don't know his
circumstances; he does not tell me. It is he that enjoys all this; not
me. And if he really should be in danger, I suppose he thinks he had
better enjoy it as long as he can; and that is my idea too.'

'Enjoy it as long as he can! Spend other people's money in every kind of
folly and extravagance!' cried Mr Baldwin aghast. 'Clara, you must be
mad.'

'No, indeed,' she said quietly. 'I am very much in my senses. I know
nothing about other people's money. I cannot control Mr Burton in his
business, and he does not tell me. But don't suppose I have not thought
this all over. I have taken every circumstance into consideration, papa,
and every possibility. If we should ever be ruined, we shall have plenty
to bear when that comes. There is Clary to be taken into consideration
too. If there were only two days between Mr Burton and bankruptcy I
should give a ball on one of those days. Clary has a right to it. This
will be her only moment if what you say is true.'

To describe Mr Baldwin's consternation, his utter amazement, the eyes
with which he contemplated his child, would be beyond my power. He could
not, as people say, believe his ears. It seemed to him as if he must be
mistaken, and that her words must have some other meaning, which he did
not reach.

'Clara,' he said, faltering, 'you are beyond me. I hope you understand
yourself--what--you mean. It is beyond me.'

'I understand it perfectly,' she said; and then, with a little change of
tone, 'You understand, papa, that I would not speak so plainly to any
one but you. But to you I need not make any secret. If it comes to the
worst, Clary and I--Ned has deserted us--will have enough to bear.'

'You will always have your settlement, my dear,' said her father, quite
cowed and overcome, he could not tell why.

'Yes. I shall have my settlement,' she said calmly; 'but there will be
enough to bear.'

It was rather a relief to the old man when Clary came in, before whom
nothing more could be said. And he was glad to hurry off again, with
such astonishment and pain in his heart as an honest couple might have
felt who had found a perverse fairy changeling in their child's cradle.
He had thought that he knew his daughter. 'Clara has a cold exterior,'
he had said times without number; 'but she has a warm heart.' Had she a
heart at all? he asked himself; had she a conscience? What was she?--a
woman or a----The old man could have stopped on the way and wept. He was
an honest old man, and a kind, but what kind of a strange being was this
whom he had nourished so long in his heart? It was a relief to him to
get among his chapel managers, and regulate their accounts; and then he
took Mr Truston, the minister, by the arm, and walked upon him. 'Come
with me and see Haldane,' he said. Mr Truston was the same man who had
wanted to be faithful to Stephen about the Magazine, but never had
ventured upon it yet.

'I am afraid you are ill,' said the minister. 'Lean upon me. If you will
come to my house and take a glass of wine.'

'No, no; with my daughter so near I should never be a charge to the
brethren,' said Mr Baldwin. 'And so poor Haldane gets no better? It is a
terrible burden upon the congregation in Ormond Road.'

'It must be indeed. I am sure they have been very kind; many
congregations----'

'Many congregations would have thrown off the burden utterly; and I
confess since they have heard that he has published again, and has been
making money by his books----'

'Ah, yes; a literary man has such advantages,' said the minister with a
sigh.

He did not want to favour the congregation in Ormond Road to the
detriment of one of his own cloth; and at the same time it was hard to
go against Mr Baldwin, the lay bishop of the denomination. In this way
they came to the Gatehouse. Stephen had his proofs before him, as usual;
but the pile of manuscripts was of a different complexion. They were no
longer any pleasure to him. The work was still grateful, such as it was,
and the power of doing something; but to spend his life recording
tea-meetings was hard. He raised his eyes to welcome his old friend with
a certain doubt and almost alarm. He too knew that he was a burden upon
the congregation in Ormond Road.

'My dear fellow, my dear Stephen!' the old man said, very cordially
shaking his hand, 'why you are looking quite strong. We shall have him
dashing up to Ormond Road again, Mrs Haldane, and giving out his text,
before we know where we are.'

Stephen shook his head, with such attempt at smiling as was possible. Mr
Baldwin, however, was not so much afraid of breaking bad news to him as
he had been at the great house.

'It is high time you should,' he continued, rubbing his hands
cheerfully; 'for the friends are falling sadly off. We want you there,
or somebody like you, Haldane. How we are to meet the expenses next year
is more than I can say.'

A dead silence followed. Miss Jane, who had been arranging Stephen's
books in the corner, stopped short to listen. Mrs Haldane put on her
spectacles to hear the better; and poor Mr Truston, dragged without
knowing it into the midst of such a scene, looked around him as if
begging everybody's forbearance, and rubbed his hands faintly too.

'The fact is, my dear Haldane--it was but for five years--and now we've
come to the end of the second five--and you have been making money by
your books, people say----'

It was some little time before Stephen could answer, his lips had grown
so dry. 'I think--I know--what you mean,' he said.

'Yes. I am afraid that is how it must be. Not with my will--not with my
will,' said Mr Baldwin; 'but then you see people say you have been
making money by your books.'

'He has made sixteen pounds in two years,' said Miss Jane.

Stephen held up his hand hurriedly. 'I know how it must be,' he said.
'Everybody's patience, of course, must give way at last.'

'Yes--that is just about how it is.'

There was very little more said. Mr Baldwin picked up his hat, which he
had put on the floor, and begged the minister to give him his arm again.
He shook hands very affectionately with everybody; he gave them, as it
were, his blessing. They all bore it as people ought to bear a great
shock, with pale faces, without any profane levity. 'They take it very
well,' he said, as he went out. 'They are good people. Oh, my dear
Truston, I don't know a greater sign of the difference between the
children of this world and the children of the light than the way in
which they receive a sudden blow.'

He had given two such blows within an hour; he had a right to speak. And
in both cases, different as was the mien of the sufferers, the blow
itself had all the appearance of a _coup de grâce_. It had not occurred
to Mr Baldwin, when he made that classification, that it was his own
child whom he had taken as the type of the children of wrath. He thought
of it in the railway, going home; and it troubled him. 'Poor Clara! her
brain must be affected,' he thought; he had never heard of anything so
heathenish as her boldly-professed determination to give a ball, if need
was, on the eve of her husband's bankruptcy, and for the reason that
they would have a right to it. It horrified him a great deal more than
if she had risked somebody else's money in trade and lost. Poor Clara!
what might be coming upon her? But, anyhow, he reflected, she had her
settlement, and that she was a child of many prayers.

Mrs Burton said nothing of this stroke which had fallen upon her. It
made her fears into certainty, and she took certain steps accordingly,
but told nobody. In Stephen's room at the Gatehouse there was silence,
too, all the weary afternoon. They had lost the half of their living at
a blow. The disaster was too great, too sudden and overwhelming, to be
spoken of; and to one of them, to him who was helpless and could do
nothing, it tasted like the very bitterness of death.



CHAPTER III.


Mrs Burton said nothing about her troubles to any one: she avoided
rather than sought confidential intercourse with her husband. She formed
her plans and declined to receive any further information on the
subject. Her argument to herself was that no one could have any right to
suppose she knew. When the crash came, if come it must, she would be
universally considered the first of the victims. The very fact of her
entertainments and splendours would be so much evidence that she knew
nothing about it--and indeed what did she know? her own fears and
suspicions, her father's hints of coming trouble--nothing more. Her
husband had never said a warning word to her which betrayed alarm or
anxiety. She stood on the verge of the precipice, which she felt a moral
certainty was before her, and made her arrangements like a queen in the
plenitude of her power. 'There will be enough to bear,' she repeated to
herself. She called all the county about her in these spring months
before people had as yet gone to town. She made Dura blaze with lights
and echo with music: she filled it full of guests. She made her
entertainments on so grand a scale, that everything that had hitherto
been known there was thrown into the shade. The excitement, so far as
excitement could penetrate into her steady little soul, sustained and
kept her up; or at least the occupation did, and the thousand
arrangements, big and little, which were necessary. If her husband was
ever tempted to seek her sympathy in these strange, wild, brilliant days
which passed like a dream--if the burden on his shoulders ever so bowed
the man down that he would have been glad to lean it upon hers, it is
impossible to say; he looked at her sometimes wondering what was in her
mind; but he was not capable of understanding that clear, determined
intelligence. He thought she had got fairly into the whirl of mad
dissipation and enjoyed it. She was playing into his hands, she was
doing the best that could be done to veil his tottering steps, and
divert public attention from his business misfortunes. He had no more
idea why she was doing it, or with what deliberate conscious steps she
was marching forward to meet ruin, than he had of any other
incomprehensible wonder in heaven or earth.

The Haldanes made no secret of the distress which had fallen upon them.
It was a less loss than the cost of one of Mrs Burton's parties, but it
was unspeakable to them who had no way of replacing it. By one of those
strange coincidences, however, which occur so often when good people are
driven to desperation, Stephen's publisher quite unexpectedly sent him
in April a cheque for fifty pounds, the produce of his last book, a book
which he had called 'The Window,' and which was a kind of moral of his
summer life and thoughts. It was not, he himself thought, a very good
book; it was a medley of fine things and poor things, not quite free
from that personal twaddle which it is so difficult to keep out of an
invalid's or a recluse's view of human affairs. But then the British
public is fond of personal twaddle, and like those bits best which the
author was most doubtful about. It was a cheap little work, published by
one of those firms which are known as religious publishers; and nothing
could be more unexpected, more fortunate, more consoling, than this
fifty pounds. Mrs Haldane, with a piety which, perhaps, was a little
contemptuous of poor Stephen's powers, spoke of it, with tears in her
eyes, as an answer to prayer; while Miss Jane, who was proud of her
brother, tried to apportion the credit, half to Providence and half to
Stephen; but anyhow it made up the lost allowance for the current year,
and gave the poor souls time to breathe.

All this time the idea which had come into Dr Maurice's mind on the day
of the picnic in October had been slowly germinating. He was not a man
whose projects ripened quickly, and this was a project so delicate that
it took him a long time to get it fully matured, and to accustom himself
to it. It had come to full perfection in his mind when in the end of
April Mrs Drummond received a letter from him, inviting Norah and
herself to go to his house for a few days, to see the exhibitions and
other shows which belong to that period of the year. This was an
invitation which thrilled Norah's soul within her. She was at a very
critical moment of her life. She had lost the honest young lover of her
childhood, the boy whose love and service had grown so habitual to her
that nobody but Norah knew how dreary the winter had been without him;
and she was at present exposed to the full force of attentions much more
close, much more subtle and skilful, but perhaps not so honest and
faithful. Norah had exchanged the devotion of a young man who loved her
as his own soul, for the intoxicating homage of a man who was very much
in love with her, but who knew that his prospects would be deeply
injured, and his position compromised, did he win the girl whom he wooed
with all the fascinations of a hero in a romance, and all the
persistency of a mind set upon having its own way. His whole soul was
set upon winning her; but what to do afterwards was not so clear, and
Rivers, like many another adventurer in love and in war, left the morrow
to provide for itself. But Norah was very reluctant to be won.
Sometimes, indeed, capitulation seemed very near at hand, but then her
lively little temper would rise up again, or some hidden susceptibility
would be touched, or the girl's independent soul would rise in arms
against the thought of being subjugated like a young woman in a book by
this 'novel-hero!' What were his dark eyes, his speaking glances, his
skilful inference of a devotion above words, to her? Had not she read
about such wiles a thousand times? And was it not an understood rule
that the real hero, the true lover, the first of men, was never this
bewitching personage, but the plainer, ruder man in the background,
with perhaps a big nose, who was not very lovely to look upon? These
thoughts contended in Norah with the fascinations of him whom she began
to think of as the _contre-heros_. The invitation to London was doubly
welcome to her, insomuch that it interrupted this current of thought and
gave her something new to think about. She was fond of Dr Maurice: she
had not been in town since she was a child: she wanted to see the parks
and the pictures, and all the stir and tumult of life. For all these six
years, though Dura was so near town, the mother and daughter had never
been in London. And it looked so bright to Norah, bright with all the
associations of her childhood, and full of an interest which no other
place could ever have in its associations with the terrible event which
ended her childhood. 'You will go, mamma?' she said, wistfully reading
the letter a second time over her mother's shoulder. And Helen, who felt
the need of an interruption and something new to think of as much as her
child did, answered 'Yes.'

Dr Maurice was more excited about the approaching event than they were,
though he had to take no thought about his wardrobe, and they had to
take a great deal of thought; the question of Norah's frocks was nothing
to his fussiness and agitation about the ladies' rooms and all the
arrangements for their comfort. He invited an old aunt who lived near to
come and stay with him for the time of the Drummonds' visit, a
precaution which seemed to her, as it seems to me, quite unnecessary. I
do not think Helen would have had the least hesitation in going to his
house at her age, though there had been no chaperon. It was he who
wanted the chaperon: he was quite coy and bashful about the business
altogether: and the old aunt, who was a sharp old lady, was not only
much amused, but had her suspicions aroused. In the afternoon, before
his visitors arrived, he was particularly fidgety. 'If you want to go
out, Henry, I will receive your guests,' the old lady said, not without
a chuckle of suppressed amusement; 'probably they will only arrive in
time to get dressed before dinner. You may leave them to me.'

'You are very kind,' said the doctor, but he did not go away. He walked
from one end of the big drawing-room to the other, and looked at himself
in the mirror between the windows, and the mirror over the mantelpiece.
And then he took up his position before the fireplace, where of course
there was nothing but cut paper. 'How absurd are all the relations
between men and women,' he said, 'and how is it that I cannot
ask my friend's widow, a woman in middle life, to come to my
house--without----'

'Without having me?' said the aunt. 'My dear Henry, I have told you
before--I think you could. I have no patience with the freedom of the
present day in respect to young people, but, so far as this goes, I
think you are too particular--I am sure you could----'

'You must allow me to be the best judge, aunt, of a matter that concerns
myself,' said Dr Maurice, with gentle severity. 'I know very well what
would happen: there would be all sorts of rumours and reports. People
might not, perhaps, say there was anything absolutely wrong between
us--Pray may I ask what you are laughing at?'

For the old lady had interrupted him by a low laugh, which it was beyond
her power to keep in.

'Nothing, my dear, nothing,' she said, in a little alarm. 'I am sure I
beg your pardon, Henry. I had no idea you were so sensitive. How old may
this lady be?'

'The question is not about this lady, my dear aunt,' he answered in the
dogmatic impatient tone which was so unlike him, 'but about any lady. It
might happen to be a comfort to me to have a housekeeper I could rely
on. It would be a great pleasure to be able to contribute to the
comfort of Robert Drummond's family, poor fellow. But I dare not. I know
the arrangement would no sooner be made than the world would say all
sorts of things. How old is Mrs Drummond? She was under twenty when they
were married, I know--and poor Drummond was about my own age. That is,
let me see, how long ago? Norah is about eighteen, between eighteen and
nineteen. Her mother must be nearly, if not quite, forty, I should
think----'

'Then, my dear Henry----' began the old lady.

'Why, here they are!' he said, rushing to the window. But it was only a
cab next door, or over the way. He went back to his position with a
little flush upon his middle-aged countenance. 'My dear aunt,' he
resumed, with a slight tremor in his voice, 'it is not a matter that can
be discussed, I assure you. I know what would happen; and I know that
poor Helen--I mean Mrs Drummond--would never submit to anything that
would compromise her as Norah's mother. Even if she were not very
sensitive on her own account, as women generally are, as Norah's mother
of course she requires to be doubly careful. And here am I, the oldest
friend they have, as fond of that child as if she were my own, and
prevented by an absurd punctilio from taking them into my house, and
doing my best to make her happy! As I said before, the relations between
men and women are the most ridiculous things in the world.'

'But I do think, Henry, you make too much of the difficulties,' said the
old aunt, busying herself with her work, and not venturing to say more.

'You must allow me to be the best judge,' he said, with a mixture of
irritation and superiority. 'You may know the gossip of the
drawing-rooms, which is bad enough, I don't doubt; but I know what _men_
say.'

'Oh, then, indeed, my poor Henry,' said the old lady, with vivacity,
eagerly seizing the opportunity to have one shot on her own side, 'I can
only pray, Good Lord deliver you; for everybody knows there never was a
bad piece of scandal yet, but it was a man that set it on foot.'

Aunt Mary thus had the last word, and retired with flying colours and in
very high feather from the conflict; for at this moment the Drummonds
arrived, and Dr Maurice rushed down-stairs to meet them. The old aunt
was a personage very well worth knowing, though she has very little to
do with this history, and it was with mingled curiosity and amusement
that she watched for the entrance of Mrs Drummond and her daughter. It
would be a very wise step for him anyhow to marry, she thought. The
Maurice family were very well off, and there were not many young
offshoots of the race to contend for the doctor's money. Was he
contemplating the idea of a wife young enough to be his daughter? or had
he really the good sense to think of a woman about his own age? Aunt
Mary, though she was a woman herself, and quite ready to stand up for
her own side, considered Helen Drummond, under forty, as about his own
age, though he was over fifty. But as the question went through her
mind, she shook her head. She knew a great many men who had made fools
of themselves by marrying, or wishing to marry, the girl young enough to
be their daughter; but the other class who had the good sense, &c., were
very rare indeed.

There was, however, very little light thrown upon the subject by Aunt
Mary's observations that evening. Mrs Drummond was very grave, almost
sad; for the associations of the house were all melancholy ones, and her
last visit to it came back very closely into her memory as she entered
one room--the great old gloomy dining-room--where Norah, a child, had
been placed by Dr Maurice's side at table on that memorable occasion,
while she, unable even to make a pretence of eating, sat and looked on.
She could not go back now into the state which her mind had been in on
that occasion. Everything was calmed and stilled, nay, chilled by this
long interval. She could think of her Robert without the sinking of the
heart--the sense of hopeless loneliness--which had moved her then. The
wound had closed up: the blank, if it had not closed up, had acquired
all the calmness of a long-recognized fact. She had made up her mind
long since that the happiness which she could not then consent to part
with, was over for her. That is the great secret of what is called
resignation: to consent and agree that what you have been in the habit
of calling happiness is done with; that you must be content to fill its
place with something else, something less. Helen had come to this. She
no longer looked for it--no longer thought of it. It was over for her,
as her youth was over. Her heart was tried, not by active sorrow, but by
a heavy sense of past pain; but that did not hinder her from taking her
part in the conversation--from smiling at Norah's sallies, at her
enthusiasm, at all the height of her delight in the pleasure Dr Maurice
promised her. Norah was the principal figure in the scene. She was
surrounded on every side by that atmosphere of fond partiality in which
the flowers of youth are most ready to unfold themselves. Dr Maurice was
even fonder than her mother, and more indulgent; for Helen had the
jealous eye which marks imperfections, and that intolerant and sovereign
love which cannot put up with a flaw or a speck in those it cherishes.
To Dr Maurice the specks and flaws were beauties. Norah led the
conversation, was gay for every one, talked for every one. And the old
aunt laughed within herself, and shook her head: 'He cannot keep his
eyes off her; he cannot see anything but perfection in her,--but she is
a mere excited child, and her mother is a beautiful woman,' said Aunt
Mary to herself; 'man's taste and woman's, it is to be supposed, will be
different to the end of time.' But after she had made this observation,
the old lady was struck by the caressing, fatherly ways of her nephew
towards this child. He would smooth her hair when he passed by her;
would take her hand into his, unconsciously, and pat it; would lay his
hand upon her shoulder; none of which things he would have ventured to
do had he meant to present himself to Norah as her lover. He even kissed
her cheek, when she said good-night, with uncontrollable fondness, yet
unmistakable composure. What did the man mean?

He had sketched out a very pretty programme for them for their three
days. Next evening they were to go to the theatre; the next again, to an
opera. Norah could not walk, she danced as she went up-stairs. 'The only
thing is, will my dress do?' she said, as she hung about her mother in
the pretty fresh room, new-prepared, and hung with bright chintz, in
which Mrs Drummond was lodged. Could it have been done on purpose? For
certainly the other rooms in the house still retained their dark old
furniture; dark-coloured, highly-polished mahogany, with deep red and
green damask curtains--centuries old, as Norah thought. Mrs Drummond was
surprised, too, at the aspect of this room. She was more than surprised,
she was almost offended, by the presence of the old aunt as chaperon.
'Does the man think I am such a fool as to be afraid of him?' she
wondered, with a frown and a smile, but gave herself up to Norah's
pleasure, rejoicing to see that the theatre and the opera were strong
enough to defeat for the moment and drive from the field both Cyril and
Ned. And the next day, and the next, passed like days of paradise to
Norah. She drove about in Dr Maurice's carriage, and laughed at her own
grandeur, and enjoyed it. She called perpetually to her mother to notice
ladies walking who were like themselves. 'That is what you and I should
be doing, if it were not for this old darling of a doctor! trudging
along in the sun, getting hot and red----'

'But think, you little sybarite, that is what we shall be doing
to-morrow,' cried Helen, half amused and half afraid.

'No, the day after to-morrow,' said Norah, 'and then it will be
delightful. We can look at the people in the carriages, and say, "We are
as good as you;--we looked down upon you yesterday." And, mamma, we are
going to the opera to-night!'

'You silly child,' Helen said. But to eyes that danced so, and cheeks
that glowed so, what could any mother say?

It was the after-piece after that opera, however, which was what neither
mother nor daughter had calculated upon, but which, no doubt, was the
special cause of their invitation, and of the new chintz in the
bed-rooms, and of all the expense Dr Maurice had been at. Norah was
tired when they got home. She had almost over-enjoyed herself. She
chatted so that no one could say a word. Her cheeks were blazing with
excitement. When the two elder people could get a hearing, they sent her
off to bed, though she protested she had not said half she had to say.
'Save it up for to-morrow,' said Dr Maurice, 'and run off and put
yourself to bed, or I shall have you ill on my hands. Mrs Drummond, send
her away.'

'Go, Norah, dear, you are tired,' said Helen.

Norah stood protesting, with her pretty white cloak hanging about her;
her rose-ribbons a little in disorder; her eyes like two sunbeams. How
fondly her old friend looked at her; with what proud, tender, adoring,
fatherly admiration! If Aunt Mary had not been away in bed, then at
least she must have divined. Dr Maurice lit her candle and took her to
the door. He stooped down suddenly to her ear and whispered, 'I have
something to say to your mother.' Norah could not have explained the
sensation that came over her. She grew chill to her very fingers' ends,
and gave a wondering glance at him, then accepted the candle without a
word, and went away. The wonder was still in her eyes when she got
up-stairs, and looked at herself in the glass. Instead of throwing off
her cloak to see how she looked, as is a girl's first impulse, she
stared blankly into the glass, and could see nothing but that surprise.
What could he be going to talk about? What would her mother say?

Helen had risen to follow her daughter, but Dr Maurice came back, having
closed the door carefully, and placed a chair for her. 'Mrs Drummond,
can you give me ten minutes? I have something to say to you,' he said.

'Surely,' said Helen; and she took her seat, somewhat surprised; but not
half so much surprised as Norah was, nor, indeed, so much as Dr Maurice
was, now that matters had finally come to a crisis, to find himself in
such an extraordinary position. Helen ran lightly over in her mind a
number of subjects on which he might be going to speak to her; but the
real subject never entered her thoughts. He did not sit down, though he
had given her a chair. He moved about uneasily in front of her, changing
his attitude a dozen times in a minute, and clearing his throat. 'He is
going to offer me money for Norah,' was Helen's thought.

'Mrs Drummond,' he said--and his beginning confirmed her in her idea--'I
am not a--marrying man, as you know. I am--past the age--when men think
of such things. I am on the shady side of fifty, though not very far
gone; and you are--about forty, I suppose?'

'Thirty-nine,' said Helen, with more and more surprise, and yet with the
natural reluctance of a woman to have a year unjustly added to her age.

'Well, well, it is very much the same thing. I never was in love that I
know of, at least not since;--and--and--that sort of thing, of course,
is over for--you.'

'Dr Maurice, what do you mean?' cried Helen in dismay.

'Well, it is not very hard to guess,' he said doggedly. 'I mean that you
are past the love-business, you know, and I--never came to it, so to
speak. Look here, Helen Drummond, why shouldn't you and I, if it comes
to that--marry? If I durst do it I'd ask you to come and live here, and
let Norah be child to both of us, without any nonsense between you and
me. But that can't be done, as you will easily perceive. Now, I am sure
we could put up with one another as well as most people, and we have one
strong bond between us in Norah--and--I could give her everything she
wishes for. I could and I would provide for her when I die. You are not
one to want pretences made to you, or think much of a sacrifice for your
child's sake. I am not so vain but to allow that it might be a
sacrifice--to us both.'

'Dr Maurice,' said Helen, half laughing, half sobbing, 'if this is a
joke----'

'Joke! am I in the way of making such jokes? Why, it has cost me six
months to think this joke out. There is no relaxation of the necessary
bonds that I would not be ready to allow. You know the house and my
position, and everything I could offer. As for settlements, and all
business of that kind----'

'Hush,' she said. 'Stop!' She rose up and held out her hand to him.
There were tears in her eyes; but there was also a smile on her face,
and a blush which went and came as she spoke. 'Dr Maurice,' she said,
'don't think I cannot appreciate the pure and true friendship for Robert
and me----'

'Just so, just so!' he interposed, nodding his head; he put his other
hand on hers, and patted it as he had patted Norah's, but he did not
again look her in the face. The elderly bachelor had grown shy--he did
not know why; the most curious sensation, a feeling quite unknown to him
was creeping about the region of his heart.

'And the love for Norah----' resumed Helen.

'Just so, just so.'

'Which have made you think of this. But--but--but----' She stopped; she
had been running to the side of tears, when suddenly she changed her
mind. 'But I think it is all a mistake! I am quite ready to come and
stay with you, to keep house for you, to let you have Norah's company,
when you like to ask us. I don't want any chaperon. Your poor, dear,
good aunt! Dr Maurice,' cried Helen, her voice rising into a hysterical
laugh, 'I assure you it is all a mistake.'

He let her hand drop out of his. He turned away from her with a shrug of
his shoulders. He walked to the table and screwed up the moderator lamp,
which had run down. Then he came back to his former position and said,
'I am much more in the world than you are; you will permit me to
consider myself the best judge in this case. It is not a mistake. And I
have no answer from you to my proposal as yet.'

Then Helen's strength gave way. The more serious view which she had
thrust from her, which she had rejected as too solemn, came back. The
blush vanished from her face, and so did the smile. 'You were his
friend,' she said with quivering lips. 'You loved him as much as any one
could, except me. Have you forgotten you are speaking to--Robert's
wife?'

'Good lord!' cried Dr Maurice with sudden terror; 'but he is dead.'

'Yes, he is dead; but I do not see what difference that makes; when a
woman has once been a man's wife, she is so always. If there is any
other world at all, she must be so always. I hate the very name of
widow!' cried Helen vehemently, with the tears glittering in her eyes.
'I abhor it; I don't believe in it. I am his wife!'

Dr Maurice was a man who had always held himself to be invincible to
romantic or high-flown feelings. But somehow he was startled by this
view of the question. It had not occurred to him before; for the moment
it staggered him, so that he had to pause and think it over. Then he
said, 'Nonsense!' abruptly. 'Mrs Drummond, I cannot think that such a
view as this is worth a moment's consideration; it is against both
reason and common sense.'

She did not make any reply; she made a movement of her hand,
deprecating, expostulating, but she would not say any more.

'And Scripture, too,' said Dr Maurice triumphantly, 'it is quite against
Scripture.' Then he remembered that this was not simply an argument in
which he was getting the better, but a most practical question. 'If it
is disagreeable to you, it is a different matter,' he said; 'but I had
hoped, with all the allowances I was ready to make, and for Norah's
sake----'

'It is not disagreeable, Dr Maurice; it is simply impossible, and must
always be so,' she said.

Then there was another silence, and the two stood opposite to each
other, not looking at each other, longing both for something to free
them. 'In that case I suppose there had better be no more words on the
subject,' he said, turning half away.

'Except thanks,' she cried; 'thanks for the most generous thoughts, the
truest friendship. I will never forget----'

'I do not know how far it was generous,' he said moodily, and he got
another candle and lighted it for her, as he had done for Norah; 'and
the sooner you forget the better. Good night.'

Good night! When he looked round the vacant room a moment after, and
felt himself alone, it seemed to Dr Maurice as if he had been dreaming.
He must have fallen down suddenly from some height or other--fallen
heavily and bruised himself, he thought--and so woke up out of an odd
delusion quite unlike him, which had arisen he could not tell how. It
was a very curious sensation. He felt sore and downcast, sadly
disappointed and humbled in his own conceit. It had not even occurred to
him that the matter might end in this way. He gave a long sigh, and said
aloud, 'Perhaps it is quite as well it has ended so. Probably we should
not have liked it had we tried it,' and then went up to his lonely
chamber, hearing, as he thought, his step echo over all the vacant
house. Yes, it was a vacant house. He had chosen that it should be years
ago, and yet the feeling now was dreary to him, and it would never be
anything but vacant for all the rest of his life.



CHAPTER IV.


It was difficult for the two who had thus parted at night to meet again
at the breakfast-table next morning without any sign of that encounter,
before the sharp eyes of Aunt Mary, and Norah's youthful, vivacious
powers of observation. Dr Maurice was the one who found the ordeal most
hard. He was sullen, and had a headache, and talked very little, not
feeling able for it. 'You are bilious, Henry; that is what it is,' the
aunt said. But though he was over fifty, and prided himself on his now
utterly prosaic character, the doctor felt wounded by such an
explanation. He did not venture to glance at Helen, even when he shook
hands with her; though he had a lurking curiosity within him to see how
she looked, whether triumphant or sympathetic. He knew that he ought to
have been gay and full of talk, to put the best face possible upon his
downfall; but he did not feel able to do it; not to feel sore, not to
feel small, and miserable, and disappointed, was beyond his powers.
Helen was not gay either, nor at all triumphant; she felt the
embarrassment of the position as much as he did; but in these cases it
is the woman who generally has her wits most about her; and Mrs
Drummond, who was conscious also of her child's jealous inspection,
talked rather more than usual. Norah had demanded to know what the
doctor had to say on the previous night; a certain dread was in her
mind. She had felt that something was coming, something that threatened
the peace of the world. 'What did he say to you, mamma?' she had asked
anxiously. 'Nothing of importance,' Helen had replied. But Norah knew
better; and all that bright May morning while the sunshine shone out of
doors, even though it was in London, and tempted the country girl
abroad, she kept by her mother's side and watched her with suspicious
eyes. Had Norah known the real state of affairs, her shame and
indignation would have known no bounds; but Helen made so great an
effort to dismiss all consciousness from her face and tone, that the
child was balked at last, and retired from the field. Aunt Mary, who had
experience to back her, saw more clearly. Whatever had been going to
happen had happened, she perceived, and had not been successful. Thus
they all breakfasted, watching each other, Helen being the only one who
knew everything and betrayed nothing. After breakfast they were going to
the Exhibition. It had been deferred to this day, which was to be their
last.

'I do not think I will go,' said Dr Maurice; and then he caught Norah's
look full of disappointment, which was sweet to him. '_You_ want me, do
you, child?' he asked. There was a certain ludicrous pathos in the
emphasis which was almost too much for Helen's gravity, though, indeed,
laughter was little in her thoughts.

'Of course I want you,' said Norah; 'and so does mamma. Fancy sending us
away to wander about London by ourselves! That was not what you invited
us for, surely, Dr Maurice? And then after the pictures, let us have
another splendid drive in the carriage, and despise all the people who
are walking! It will be the last time. You rich people, you have not
half the pleasure you might have in being rich. I suppose, now, when you
see out of the carriage window somebody you know walking, it does not
make you proud?'

'I don't think it does,' said the doctor with a smile.

'That is because you are hardened to it,' said Norah. 'You can have it
whenever you please; but as for me, I am as proud----'

'I wish you had it always, my dear,' said Dr Maurice; and this time his
tone was almost lachrymose. It was so hard-hearted of Helen to deny her
child these pleasures and advantages, all to be purchased at the rate of
a small personal sacrifice on her part--a sacrifice such as he himself
was quite ready to make.

'Oh, I should not mind that,' cried Norah; 'if I had it always I should
get hardened to it too. I should not mind; most likely then I should
prefer walking, and think carriages only fit for old ladies. Didn't you
say that one meets everybody at the Academy, mamma?'

'A great many people, Norah.'

'I wonder whom we shall meet,' said the girl; and a sudden blush floated
over her face. Helen looked at her with some anxiety. She did not know
what impression Cyril Rivers might have made on Norah's heart. Was it
him she was thinking of? Mrs Drummond herself wondered, too, a little.
She was half afraid of the old friends she might see there. But then she
reflected to herself dreamily, that life goes very quickly in London,
that six years was a long time, and that her old friends might have
forgotten her. How changed her own feelings were! She had never been
fond of painters, her husband's brothers-in-arms. Now the least notable
of them, the most painty, the most slovenly, would look somehow like a
shadow of Robert. Should she see any of those old faces? Whom should she
meet? Norah's light question moved many echoes of which the child knew
nothing; and it was to be answered in a way of which neither of them
dreamed.

The mere entrance into those well-known rooms had an indescribable
effect upon Helen. How it all rushed back upon her, the old life! The
pilgrimages up those steps, the progress through the crowd to that
special spot where one picture was hung; the anxiety to see how it
looked--if there was anything near that 'killed' it in colour, or threw
it into the shade in power; her own private hope, never expressed to any
one, that it might 'come better' in the new place. Dr Maurice stalked
along by her side, but he did not say anything to her; and for her part,
she could not speak--her heart and her eyes were full. She could only
see the other people's pictures glimmering as through a mist. It seemed
so strange to her, almost humiliating, that there was nothing of her
own to go to--nothing to make a centre to this gallery, which had
relapsed into pure art, without any personal interest in it. By-and-by,
when the first shock had worn off, she began to be able to see what was
on the walls, and to come back to her present circumstances. So many
names were new to her in those six years; so many that she once knew had
crept out of sight into corners and behind doorways. She had begun to
get absorbed in the sight, which was so much more to her than to most
people, when Mr Rivers came up to them. He had known they were to be in
town; he had seen them at the opera the previous night, and had found
out a good deal about their plans. But London was different from Dura;
and he had not ventured to offer his attentions before the eyes of all
the world, and all the cousins and connections and friends who might
have come to a knowledge of the fact that an unknown pretty face had
attracted his homage. But of a morning, at the Royal Academy, he felt
himself pretty safe; there every one is liable to meet some friend from
the county, and the most watchful eyes of society are not on the alert
at early hours. He came to them now with eager salutations.

'I tried hard to get at you at the opera last night,' he said, putting
himself by Norah's side; 'but I was with my own people, and I could not
get away.'

'Were you at the opera last night?' said Norah, with not half the
surprise he anticipated; for she was not aware of the facilities of
locomotion in such places, nor that he might have gone to her had he so
desired; and besides, she had seen no one, being intent upon the stage.
Yet there was a furtive look about him now, a glance round now and then,
to see who was near them, which startled her. She could not make out
what it meant.

'Come, and I will show you the best pictures,' he said; and he took her
catalogue from her hand and pointed out to her which must be looked at
first.

They made a pretty group as they stood thus,--Norah looking up with her
sunshiny eyes, and he stooping over her, bending down till his silky
black beard almost touched her hair. She little, and he tall--she full
of vivacity, light, and sunshine; he somewhat quiet, languishing,
Byronic in his beauty. Norah was not such a perfect contrast to him as
Clara was--Rubens to the Byron; but her naturalness, the bright, glowing
intelligence and spirit about her--the daylight sweetness of her face,
with which soul had as much to do as feature, contrasted still more
distinctly with the semi-artificiality of the hero. For even granting
that he was a little artificial, he was a real hero all the same; his
handsomeness and air of good society were unmistakable, his conversation
was passable; he knew the thousand things which people in society know,
and which, whether they understand them or not, they are in the habit of
hearing talked about. All these remarks were made, not by Norah, nor by
Norah's mother, but by Dr Maurice, who stood by and did not pretend to
have any interest in the pictures. And this young fellow was the
Honourable Cyril, and would be Lord Rivers. Dr Maurice kept an eye upon
him, wondering, as Helen had done, Did he mean anything? what did he
mean?

'But there is one above all which I must show you--every one is talking
of it,' said Mr Rivers. 'Come this way, Miss Drummond. It is not easy to
reach it; there is always such a crowd round it. Dr Maurice, bring Mrs
Drummond; it is in the next room. Come this way.'

Norah followed him, thinking of nothing but the pictures; and her mother
and Dr Maurice went after them slowly, saying nothing to each other.
They had entered the great room, following the younger pair, when some
one stepped out of the crowd and came forward to Helen. He took off his
hat and called her by her name--at first doubtfully, then with
assurance.

'I thought I could not be mistaken,' he cried, 'and yet it is so long
since you have been seen here.'

'I am living in the country,' said Helen. Once more the room swam round
her. The new-comer's voice and aspect carried her back, with all the
freshness of the first impression, to the studio and its visitors again.

'And you had just been in my mind,' said the painter. 'There is a
picture here which reminds us all so strongly of poor dear Drummond.
Will you let me take you to it? It is exactly in his style, his best
style, with all that tenderness of feeling--It has set us all talking of
you and him. Indeed, none of his old friends have forgotten him; and
this is so strangely like his work----'

'Where is it?--one of his pupils, perhaps,' said Helen. She tried to be
very composed, and to show no emotion; but it was so long since she had
heard his name, so long since he had been spoken of before her! She felt
grateful, as if they had done her a personal service, to think that they
talked of Robert still.

'This way,' said the painter; and just then Norah met her, flying back
with her eyes shining, her ribbons flying, wonder and excitement in her
face.

Norah seized her mother by the hands, gasping in her haste and emotion.
'Oh, mamma, come; it is our picture,' she cried.

Wondering, Helen went forward. It was the upper end of the room, the
place of honour. Whether it was that so many people around her carried
her on like a body-guard making her a way through the crowd, or that the
crowd itself, moved by that subtle sympathy which sometimes communicates
itself to the mass more easily than to individuals, melted before her,
as if feeling she had the best right to be there, I cannot tell. But all
at once Helen found herself close to the crimson cord which the pressure
of the throng had almost broken down, standing before a picture. One
picture--was there any other in the place? It was the picture of a face
looking up, with two upward-reaching hands, from the bottom of an abyss,
full of whirling clouds and vapour. High above this was a bank of
heavenly blue, and a white cloud of faintly indistinct spectators,
pitiful angel forms, and one visionary figure as of a woman gazing down.
But it was the form below in which the interest lay. It was worn and
pale, with the redness of tears about the eyes, the lips pressed
closely together, the hands only appealing, held up in a passionate
silence. Helen stood still, with eyes that would not believe what they
saw. She became unconscious of everything about her, though the people
thronged upon her, supporting her, though she did not know. Then she
held out her hands wildly, with a cry which rang through the rooms and
penetrated every one in them--'Robert!'--and fell at the foot of the
picture, which was called 'Dives'--the first work of a nameless painter
whom nobody knew.

It would be impossible to describe the tumult and commotion which rose
in the room to which everybody hastened from every corner of the
exhibition, thronging the doorways and every available corner, and
making it impossible for some minutes to remove her. 'A lady fainted! Is
that all?' the disappointed spectators cried. They had expected
something more exciting than so common, so trifling an occurrence.
'Fortunately,' the newspapers said who related the incident, 'a medical
man was present;' and when Helen came to herself, she found Dr Maurice
standing over her, with his finger on her pulse. 'It is the heat, and
the fatigue--and all that,' he said; and all through the rooms people
repeated to each other that it was the heat, and the dust, and the
crowd, and that there was nothing so fatiguing as looking at pictures.
'Both body and mind are kept on the strain, you know,' they said, and
immediately thought of luncheon. But Dr Maurice thought of something
very different. He did not understand all this commotion about a
picture; if his good heart would have let him, he would have tried to
think that Helen was 'making a fuss.' As it was he laid this misfortune
to the door of women generally, whom there was no understanding; and
then, in a parenthesis, allowed that he might himself be to blame. He
should not have agitated her, he thought; but added, 'Good Lord, what
are women good for, if they have to be kept in a glass-house, and never
spoken to? The best thing is to be rid of them, after all.'

I will not attempt to describe what Helen's thoughts were when she came
to herself. She would not, dared not betray to any one the impression,
which was more than an impression--the conviction that had suddenly come
to her. She put up her hand, and silenced Norah, who was beginning,
open-mouthed, 'Oh, mamma!' She called the old friend to her, who had
attended the group down into the vestibule, and begged him to find out
for her exactly who the painter was, and where he was to be heard of;
and there she sat, still abstracted, with a singing in her ears, which
she thought was only the rustle of the thoughts that hurried through her
brain, until she should be able to go home. It was while they were
waiting thus, standing round her, that another event occurred, of which
Helen was too much absorbed to take any but the slightest cognizance.
She was seated on a bench, still very pale, and unable to move. Dr
Maurice was mounting guard over her. Norah stood talking to Mr Rivers on
the other side; while meanwhile the stream of the public was flowing
past, and new arrivals entering every moment by the swinging doors.
Norah had grown very earnest in her talk. 'We have the very same subject
at home, the same picture,' she was saying; her eyelashes were dewy with
tears, her whole face full of emotion. Her colour went and came as she
spoke; she stood looking up to him with a thrill of feeling and meaning
about her, such as touch the heart more than beauty. And yet there was
no lack of beauty. A lady who had just come in, paused, having her
attention attracted to the group, and looked at them all, as she thought
she had a right to do. 'The poor lady who fainted,' she heard some one
say. But this girl who stood in front had no appearance of fainting. She
was all life, and tenderness, and fire. The woman who looked on admired
her fresh, sweet youthfulness, her face, which in its changing colour
was like a flower. She admired all these, and made out, with a quick
observant eye, that the girl was the daughter of the pale beautiful
woman by the wall, and not unworthy of her. And then suddenly, without a
pause, she called out, 'Cyril!' Young Rivers started as if a shot had
struck him. He rushed to her with tremulous haste. 'Mother! you don't
mean to say that you have come here alone?'

'But I do mean it, and I want you to take care of me,' she said, taking
his arm at once. 'I meant to come early. We have no time to lose.'

Norah stood surprised, looking at the woman who was Cyril's mother; in a
pretty pause of expectation, the blush coming and going on her face, her
hand ready to be timidly put out in greeting, her pretty mouth half
smiling already, her eyes watching with an interest of which she was not
ashamed. Why should she be ashamed of being interested in Cyril's
mother? She waited for the approach, the introduction--most likely the
elder woman's gracious greeting. 'For she must have heard of me too,'
Norah thought. She cast down her eyes, pleasantly abashed; for Lady
Rivers was certainly looking at her. When she looked up again, in wonder
that she was not spoken to, Cyril was on the stair with his mother,
going up. He was looking back anxiously, waving his hand to her from
behind Lady Rivers. He had a beseeching look in his eyes, his face
looked miserable across his mother's shoulders, but--he was gone. Norah
looked round her stupefied. Had anything happened?--was she dreaming?
And then the blood rushed to her face in a crimson flush of pride and
shame.

She bore this blow alone, without even her mother to share and soften
it; and the child staggered under it for the moment. She grew as pale as
Helen herself after that one flash. When the carriage came to the door,
two women, marble-white, stepped into it. Dr Maurice had not the heart
to go with them; he would walk home, he said. And Norah looked out of
the window, as she had so joyfully anticipated doing in her happiness
and levity, but not to despise the people who walked. The only thought
of which she was capable was--Is everybody like that? Do people behave
so naturally? Is it the way of the world?

This is what they met at the Academy, where they went so lightly, not
knowing. The name of the painter of the 'Dives' reached them that same
night; it was not in the catalogue. His name was John Sinclair,
Thirty-fifth Avenue, New York.



CHAPTER V.


'You must be dreaming,' cried Dr Maurice with energy. 'You must be
dreaming! With my--folly--and other things--you have got into a nervous
state.'

'I am not dreaming,' she said very quietly. There was no appearance of
excitement about her. She sat with her hands clasped tightly together,
and her eyes wandering into the unknown, into the vacant air before her.
And her mind had got possession of one burden, and went over and over
it, repeating within herself, 'John Sinclair, Thirty-fifth Avenue, New
York.'

'I will show you the same picture,' she went on. 'The very same, line
for line. It was the last he ever did. And in his letter he spoke of
Dives looking up----John Sinclair, Thirty-fifth Avenue, New York!'

'Helen, Helen!' said Dr Maurice with a look of pity. He had never
called her anything but Mrs Drummond till the evening before, and now
the other seemed so natural; for, in fact, she did not even notice what
he called her. 'How easy is it to account for all this! Some one else
must have seen the sketch, who was impressed by it as much as you were,
and who knew the artist was dead, and could never claim his property.
How easy to see how it may have been done, especially by a smart Yankee
abroad.'

She shook her head without a word, with a faint smile; argument made no
difference to her. She was sure; and what did it matter what any one
said?

'Then I will tell you what I will do,' he said. 'I have some friends in
New York. I will have inquiries made instantly about John Sinclair.
Indeed it is quite possible some one may know him here. I shall set
every kind of inquiry on foot to-morrow, to satisfy you. I warn you
nothing will come of it--nothing would make me believe such a thing; but
still, to prevent you taking any rash steps----'

'I will take no rash steps,' she said. 'I will do nothing. I will wait
till--I hear.'

'Why this is madness,' he said. And then all at once a cold shudder
passed over him, and he said to himself, 'Good God! what if she had not
refused last night!'

But the very fact that she had refused was a kind of guarantee that
there was nothing in this wild idea of hers. Had there been anything in
it, of course she would have accepted, and all sorts of horrors would
have ensued. Such was Dr Maurice's opinion of Providence, and the
opinion of many other judicious people. The fact that a sudden
re-appearance would do no harm made it so much less likely that there
would be any re-appearance. He tried hard to dismiss the idea altogether
from his mind. It was not a comfortable idea. It is against all the
traditions, all the prejudices of life, that a man should come back from
the dead. A wild, despairing Dives might wish for it, or a mourner half
frantic with excess of sorrow; but to the ordinary looker-on the idea is
so strange as to be painful. Dr Maurice had a true affection for Robert
Drummond; but he could not help feeling that it would be out of all
character, out of harmony, almost an offence upon decency, that he
should not be dead.

It was curious, however, what an effect this fancy of Helen's had in
clearing away the cloud of embarrassment which had naturally fallen
between her and him. All that produced that cloud had evidently
disappeared from her mind. She remembered it no more. It was not that
she had thrust it away of set will and purpose, but that without any
effort it had disappeared. This was, it is true, somewhat humiliating to
Dr Maurice; but it was very convenient for all the purposes of life that
it should be so. And she sat with him now and discussed the matter,
abstracted in the great excitement which had taken possession of her,
yet calmed by it, without a recollection that anything had ever passed
between them which could confuse their intercourse. This
unconsciousness, I say, was humiliating in one sense, though in another
it was a relief, to the man who did not forget; but it confused him
while it set Helen at her ease. It was so extraordinary to realise what
was the state of affairs yesterday, and what to-day--to enter into so
new and wonderful a region of possibilities, after having lived so long
in quite another; for, to be sure, Helen had only known of Dr Maurice's
project as regarded herself since last night; whereas, he had known it
for six months, and during all that time had been accustoming himself to
it, and now had to make a mental spring as far away from it as
possible--a kind of gymnastic exercise which has a very bewildering
effect upon an ordinary mind.

It was a relief to all the party when the Drummonds went home next
morning; except, perhaps, to the old aunt, who had grown interested in
the human drama thus unexpectedly produced before her, and who would
have liked to see it out. The mother and daughter were glad to go home;
and yet how life had changed to them in these three days! It had given
to Helen the glow of a wild, incomprehensible hope, a something
supernatural, mixed with terror and wonder, and a hundred conflicting
emotions; while to Norah it had taken the romance out of life. To
contemplate life without romance is hard upon a girl; to have a peep, as
it were, behind the scenes, and see the gold of fairy-land corroding
itself into slates, and the beauty into dust and ashes. Such a
revolution chills one to the very soul. It is almost worse than the
positive heart-break of disappointed love, for that has a warm admixture
of excitement, and is supported by the very sharpness of its own
suffering; whereas in Norah's pain there was but disenchantment and
angry humiliation, and that horrible sense that the new light was true
and the other false, which takes all courage from the heart. She had
told her mother, and Helen had been very indignant, but not so wroth as
her daughter. 'Lady Rivers might have no time to wait--she might have
wanted him for something urgent--there might be something to explain,'
Helen said; but as for Norah, she felt that no explanation was possible.
For months past this man had been making a show of his devotion to her.
He had done everything except ask her in words to be his wife. He had
been as her shadow, whenever he could come to Dura, and his visits had
been so frequent that it was very evident he had seized every
opportunity to come: yet the moment his mother appeared on the scene,
the woman whom in all the world he ought to have most wished to attach
to the girl whom he loved, he had left her with shame and
embarrassment--escaped from her without even the politeness of a
leave-taking. Norah had wondered whether she cared for him in the old
days; she had asked herself shyly, as girls do, whether the little
flutter of her heart at his appearance could possibly mean that
sacredest, most wonderful and fascinating of mysteries--love? Sometimes
she had been disposed to believe it did: and then again she had
surprised herself in the midst of a sudden longing for poor Ned with his
big nose, and had blushed and asked herself angrily, was the one
compatible with the other? In short, she had not known what to make of
her own feelings; for she was not experienced enough to be able to tell
the difference--a difference which sometimes puzzles the wisest--between
the effect produced by gratified vanity, and pleasure in the love of
another, and that which springs from love itself. But she was in no
doubt about the anger, the mortification, the indignant shame with which
her whole nature rose up against the man who had dared to be ashamed of
her. Of this there could be no explanation. She said to herself that she
hoped he would not come again or attempt to make any explanation, and
then she resented bitterly the fact that he did not come. She had made
up her mind what she would say, how she would crush him with quiet
scorn, and wonder at his apologies. 'Why should you apologise, Mr
Rivers? I had no wish to be introduced to your mother,' she meant to
say; but as day after day passed, and he gave her no opportunity of
saying this, Norah's thoughts grew more bitter, more fiery than ever.
And life was dull without this excitement in it. The weather was bright,
and the season sweet, and I suppose she had her share of rational
pleasure as in other seasons; but to her own consciousness Norah was
bitterly ill-used, insomuch as she had not an opportunity to tell, or at
least to show Cyril Rivers what she thought of him. It had been an
immediate comfort to her after the affront he had put upon her, that
she would have this in her power.

The change that had come upon the lives of the two ladies in the
Gatehouse was, however, scarcely apparent to their little world. Norah
was a little out of temper, fitful, and ready to take offence, the
Daltons at the Rectory thought; and Mrs Drummond was more silent than
usual, and had an absorbed look in her eyes, a look of abstraction for
which it was difficult to account. But this was all that was apparent
outside. Perhaps Mr Rivers was a little longer than usual in visiting
Dura; he had not been there for ten days, and Katie Dalton wondered
audibly what had become of him. But nobody except Norah supposed for a
moment that his connection with Dura was to be broken off in this sudden
way. And everything else went on as usual. If Mrs Drummond was less
frequently visible, no one remarked it much. Norah would run over and
ask Katie to walk with her, on the plea that 'mamma has a headache,' and
Mrs Dalton would gather her work together, and cross the road in the
sunshine and 'sit with' the sufferer. But the only consequence of this
visit would be that the blinds would be drawn down over the three
windows in front, Mrs Dalton having an idea that light was bad for a
headache, and that when she returned she would tell her eldest daughter
that poor dear Mrs Drummond was very poorly, and very anxious for news
of a friend whom she had not heard of for years.

And the picture of Dives, which had been hung in a sacred corner, where
Helen said her prayers, was brought out, and placed in the full light of
day. It was even for a time brought down-stairs, while the first glow of
novel hope and wonder lasted, and placed in the drawing-room, where
everybody who saw it wondered at it. It was not so well painted as the
great picture in the Academy. It was even different in many of its
details. There was no hope in the face of this, but only a haggard
passionate despair, while the look of the other was concentrated into
such an agony of appealing as cannot exist where there is no hope. Dr
Maurice even, when he came down, declared forcibly that it was difficult
for him to trace the resemblance. Perhaps the leading idea was the same,
but then it was so differently worked out. He looked at the picture in
every possible light, and this was the conclusion he came to;--No; no
particular resemblance,--a coincidence, that was all. And John Sinclair
was a perfectly well-known painter, residing in New York, a man known to
Dr Maurice's friends there. Why there was no name to the picture in the
catalogue nobody could tell. It was some absurd mistake or other; but
John Sinclair, the painter, was a man who had been known in New York for
years. 'Depend upon it, it is only a coincidence,' Dr Maurice said.
After that visit, from what feeling I cannot say, the picture was taken
back up-stairs. Not that Mrs Drummond was convinced, but that she shrank
from further discussion of a matter on which she felt so deeply. She
would sit before it for hours, gazing at it, careless of everything
else; and if I were to reproduce all the thoughts that coursed through
Helen's mind, I should do her injury with the reader, who, no doubt,
believes that the feelings in a wife's mind, when such a hope entered
it, could only be those of a half-delirious joy. But Helen's thoughts
were not wildly joyful. She had been hardly and painfully trained to do
without him, to put him out of her life. Her soul had slid into new
ways, changed meanings; and in that time what change of meaning, what
difference of nature, might have come to a man who had returned from
death and the grave? Could it all be undone? Could it float away like a
tale that is told, that tale of seven long years? Would the old
assimilate with the new, and the widow become a wife again without some
wrench, some convulsion of nature? Not long before she had denounced
the name vehemently, crying out against it, declaring that she did not
believe in it: but now, when perhaps it might turn out that her
widowhood had been indeed a fiction and unreal--now! How she was to be a
wife again; how her existence was to suffer a new change, and return
into its old channel, Helen could not tell. And yet that Robert should
live again, that he should receive some recompense for all his
sufferings; that even she who had been in her way so cruel to him,
should be able to make up for it--for that Helen would have given her
life. The news about John Sinclair was a discouragement, but still it
did not touch her faith. She carried her picture up-stairs again, and
put it reverently, not in its old corner, but where the sunshine would
fall upon it and the full light of day. The fancifulness of this
proceeding did not occur to her, for grief and hope, and all the deeper
emotions of the heart, are always fanciful: and in this time of
suspense, when she could do nothing, when she was waiting, listening for
indications of what was coming, that silent idol-worship which no one
knew of, did her good.

Meanwhile Dura went on blazing with lights, and sweet with music, making
every day a holiday. Mrs Burton did not walk so much as she used to do,
but drove about, giving her orders, paying her visits, with beautiful
horses which half the county envied, and toilettes which would have been
remarked even in the park. 'That little woman is losing her head,' the
Rector said, as he looked at an invitation his wife had just received
for a fête which was to eclipse all the others, and which was given in
celebration of Clara's birthday. It was fixed for the 6th of July, and
people were coming to it from far and near. There was to be a garden
party first, a sumptuous so-called breakfast, and a ball at night. The
whole neighbourhood was agitated by the preparations for this solemnity.
It was said that Ned, poor Ned, whose disappearance was now an old
story, was to be disinherited, and that Clara was to be the heiress of
all. The importance thus given to her birthday gave a certain colour to
the suggestion; it was like a coming of age, people said, and replaced
the festivities which ought to have taken place on the day when Ned
completed his twenty-first year, a day which had passed very quietly a
few weeks before, noted by none. But to Clara's birthday feast everybody
was invited. The great county people, the Merewethers themselves, were
coming, and in consideration of Clara's possible heiress-ship, it was
whispered that the Marchioness had thoughts of making her son a
candidate for the place deserted by Cyril Rivers. Cyril, too, moreover,
was among the guests; he was one of a large party which was coming from
town; and the village people were asked, the Daltons and the Drummonds,
beside all the lesser gentry of the neighbourhood. It was to Katie
Dalton's importunate beseechings, seconded, no doubt, by her own heart,
which had begun to tire of seclusion and long for a little pleasure,
that Norah relinquished her first proud determination not to go; and Dr
Maurice had just sent a box from town containing two dresses, one for
the evening, and one for out-of-doors, which it was beyond the powers of
any girl of nineteen to refuse the opportunity of wearing. When Norah
had made up her own mind to this effort, she addressed herself to the
task of overcoming her mother's reluctance; and, after much labour,
succeeded so far that a compromise was effected. Norah went to the
out-door fête, under the charge of Mrs Dalton, and Helen with a sigh
took out her black silk gown once more, and prepared to go with her
child in the evening. The Daltons were always there, good neighbours to
support and help her; and seated by Mrs Dalton's side, who knew
something of her anxiety about that friend whom she had not heard of for
years, Mrs Drummond felt herself sustained. When Norah returned with
the Daltons from the garden party, Mr Rivers accompanied the girls. He
came with them to the door of the Gatehouse, where Katie, secretly held
fast by Norah, accompanied her friend. He lingered on the white steps,
waiting to be asked in; but Norah gave no such invitation. She went back
to her mother triumphant, full of angry delight.

'I have been perfectly civil to him, mamma! I have taken the greatest
care--I have not avoided him, nor been stiff to him, nor anything. And
he has tried so hard, so very hard, to have an explanation. Very likely!
as if I would listen to any explanation.'

'How did you avoid it, Norah, if you were neither angry nor stiff?'

'Katie, mamma, always Katie! I put her between him and me wherever we
went. It was fun,' cried Norah, with eyes that sparkled with revengeful
satisfaction. Her spirits had risen to the highest point. She had
regained her position; she had got the upper hand, which Norah loved.
The prospect of the evening which was still before her, in which she
should wear that prettiest ball-dress, which surely had been made by the
fairies, and drag Cyril Rivers at her chariot-wheels, and show him
triumphantly how little it mattered to her, made Norah radiant. She
rushed in to the Haldanes' side of the house to show herself, in the
wildest spirits. Mrs Haldane and Miss Jane--wonder of wonders--were
going too; everybody was to be there. The humble people were asked to
behold and ratify the triumph, as well as the fine people to make it. As
for Mrs Haldane, she disapproved, and was a great deal more grim than
ordinary; but, for once in a way, because it would be a great thing to
see, and because Mr Baldwin and his sisters were to be there too,--'as
much out of their proper place as we,' she said, shaking her head,--she
had allowed herself to be persuaded. Miss Jane required no persuading.
She was honestly delighted to have a chance of seeing anything--the
dresses and the diamonds, and Norah dancing with all the grandees. When
Norah came in, all in a cloud of tulle and lace, Miss Jane fairly
screamed with delight. 'I am quite happy to think I shall see the child
have one good dance,' she said, walking round and round the fairy
princess. 'Were you fond of dancing yourself, Miss Jane?' said Norah,
not without the laugh of youth over so droll an idea. But it was not
droll to Miss Jane; she put her hands, which were clothed in black with
mittens, on the child's shoulders, and gave her a kiss, and answered
not a word. And Stephen looked on from that immovable silent post of
his, and saw them both, and thought of the past and present, and all the
shadowy uncertain days that were to come. How strange to think of the
time when Miss Jane, so grave and prosaic in her old-maidish gown, had
been like Norah! How wonderful to think that Norah one day might be as
Miss Jane! And so they all went away to the ball together, and Stephen
in his chair immovable till his nurses came back, and Susan bustling
about in the kitchen, were left in the house alone.

One ball is like another; and except that the Dura ball was more
splendid, more profuse in ornament, gayer in banks of flowers, richer in
beautiful dresses and finery, more ambitious in music, than any ball
ever known before in the country, there is little that could be said of
it to distinguish it from all others, except, perhaps, the curious fact
that the master of the house was not present. He had not been visible
all day. He had been telegraphed for to go to town that morning, and had
not returned; but then Mr Golden, who was a far more useful man in a
ball-room than the master of the house, was present, and was doing all
that became a man to make everything go off brilliantly. He was the
slave of the young heroine of the feast to whom everybody was paying
homage; and it was remarked by a great many people, that even when going
on the arm of Lord Merewether to open the ball, Clara had a suggestion
to whisper to this amateur majordomo. 'He is such an old friend; he is
just the same as papa,' she said to her partner with a passing blush;
but then Clara was in uncommonly brilliant looks that evening, even for
her. Her beautiful colour kept coming and going; there was an air of
emotion, and almost agitation, about her, which gave a charm to her
usually unemotional style of beauty. Lord Merewether, who was under his
mother's orders to be 'very attentive,' almost fell in love with Clara,
in excess of his instructions, when he noticed this unusual fluctuation
of colour and tone. It supplied just what she wanted, and made the
Rubens into a goddess--or so at least this young man thought.

But Helen had not been above an hour in this gay scene when a strange
restlessness seized upon her. She did her best to struggle against it;
she tried hard to represent to herself that nothing could have happened
at home, no post could have come in since she left it, and that Norah
needed her there. She saw Mr Rivers hovering about with his explanation
on his lips trying to get at her, since Norah would have nothing to say
to him; and felt that it was her duty to remain by her child at such a
moment. But, after a while, her nerves, or her imagination, or some
incomprehensible influence was too much for her. 'You look as if you
would faint,' Mrs Dalton whispered to her. 'Let Mr Dalton take you to
the air--let Charlie get you something; I am sure you are ill.'

'I am not ill; but I must get home. I am wanted at home,' said Helen
with her brain swimming. How it was that she did it, she never could
tell afterwards; but she managed to retain command of herself, to
recommend Norah to Mrs Dalton's care, and finally to steal out; no one
noticing her in the commotion and movement that were always going on.
When she got into the open air with her shawl wrapped about her, her
senses came back. It was foolish, it was absurd--but the deed was done;
and, though her restlessness calmed down when she stepped out into the
calm of the summer night, it was easier then to go on than to go back;
and Norah was in safe hands. It was a moonlight night, as is
indispensable for any great gathering in the country. To be sure it was
July, and before the guests went home, the short night would be over;
but still, according to habit, a moonlight night had been selected. It
was soft, and warm, and hazy,--the light very mellow, and not over
bright,--the scent of the flowers and the glitter of the dew filling the
air. There was so much moon, and so much light from the house, that
Helen was not afraid of the dark avenue. She went on, relieved of her
anxiety, feeling refreshed and eased, she could not tell how, by the
blowing of the scented night-air in her face. But before she reached the
shade of the avenue, some one rushed across the lawn after her. She
turned half round to see who it was, thinking that perhaps Charlie or Mr
Dalton had hurried after her to accompany her home. The figure, however,
was not that of either. The man came hurriedly up to her, saying, in a
low but earnest tone, 'Mrs Burton, don't take any rash step,' when she,
as well as he, suddenly started. The voice informed her who spoke, and
the sight of her upturned face in the moonlight informed him who
listened. 'Mrs Drummond!' he exclaimed. They had not met face to face,
nor exchanged words since the time when she denounced him in the
presence of Cyril Rivers in St Mary's Road. 'Mrs Drummond,' he repeated,
with an uneasy laugh; 'of all times in the world for you and me to
meet!'

'I hope there is no reason why we should meet,' said Helen impetuously.
'I am going away. There can be nothing that wants saying between you and
me.'

'But, by Jove, there is though,' he said; 'there is reason enough, I can
tell you--such news as will make the hair stand upright on your head.
Ah! they say revenge is sweet. I shall leave you to find it out
to-morrow when everybody knows.'

'What is it?' she asked breathlessly, and then stopped, and went on a
few steps, horrified at the thought of thus asking information from the
man she hated most. He went on along with her, saying nothing. He had no
hat on, and the rose in his coat showed a little gleam of colour in the
whitening of the light.

'You ought to ask me, Mrs Drummond,' he said; 'for revenge, they say, is
sweet, and you would be glad to hear.'

'I want no revenge,' she said hurriedly; and they entered the gloom of
the avenue side by side, the strangest pair. Her heart began to beat and
flutter--she could not tell why; for she feared nothing from him; and
all at once there rose up a gleam of secret triumph in her. This man
believed that Robert Drummond was dead, knew no better. What did she
care for his news? if indeed she were to tell him hers!

'Well,' he said, after an interval, 'I see you are resolved not to ask,
so I will tell you. I have my revenge in it too, Mrs Drummond; this
night, when they are all dancing, Burton is off, with the police after
him. It will be known to all the world to-morrow. You ought to be
grateful to me for telling you that.'

'Burton is off!--the police--after him!' She did not take in the meaning
of the words.

'You don't believe me, perhaps--neither did his wife just now; or at
least so she pretended; but it is true. There was a time when he left me
to bear the brunt, now it is his turn; and there is a ball at his house
the same night!'

She interrupted him hurriedly. 'I don't know what you mean. I cannot
believe you. What has he done?' she said.

Mr Golden laughed; and in the stillness his laugh sounded strangely
echoing among the trees. He turned round on his heel, waving his hand to
her. 'Only what all the rest of us have done,' he said. 'Good night; I
am wanted at the ball. I have a great deal to do to-night.'

She stood for a moment where he had left her, wondering, half paralysed.
And then she turned and went slowly down the avenue. She felt herself
shake and tremble--she could not tell why. Was it this man's voice? Was
it his laugh that sounded like something infernal? And what did it all
mean? Helen, who was a brave woman by nature, felt a flutter of fear as
she quickened her steps and went on. A ball at his house--the police
after him. What did it mean? The silence of the long leafy road was so
strange and deep after all the sound and movements; the music pursued
her from behind, growing fainter and fainter as she went on; the world
seemed to be all asleep, except that part of it which was making merry,
dancing, and rejoicing at Dura. And now the eagerness to get home
suddenly seized upon her again,--something must have happened since she
left; some letter; perhaps--some one--come back.

When she got within sight of the Gatehouse, the moon was shining right
down the village street as it did when it was at the full. All was
quiet, silent, asleep. No, not all. Opposite her house, against the
Rectory gates, two men were standing. As she went up into the shadow of
the lime-trees, and rang the bell at her own door, one of them crossed
the road, and came up to her touching his hat. 'Asking your pardon,
ma'am,' he said, 'there is some one in your house, if you're the lady of
this house, as oughtn't to be there.'

A thrill of great terror took possession of Helen. Her heart leapt to
her mouth. 'I don't understand you. Who are you? And what do you want?'
she asked, almost gasping for breath.

'I'm a member of the detective force. I ain't ashamed of my business,'
said the man. 'We seen him go in, me and my mate. With your permission,
ma'am, we'd like to go through the house.'

'Go through my house at this hour!' cried Helen. She heard the door
opened behind her, but did not turn round. She was the guardian of the
house, she alone, and of all who were in it, be they who they might. Her
wits seemed to come to her all at once, as if she had found them groping
in the dark. 'Have you any authority to go into my house? Am I obliged
to let you in? Have you a warrant?'

'They've been a worriting already, ma'am, and you out,' said Susan's
voice from behind. 'What business have they, I'd like to know, in a
lady's house at this hour of the night?'

'Has any one come, Susan?' Helen said.

'Not a soul.'

She was standing with a candle in her hand, holding the door half open.
The night air puffed the flame; and perhaps it was that too that made
the shadow of Susan's cap tremble upon the panel of the door.

'I cannot possibly admit you at this hour,' said Mrs Drummond.
'To-morrow, if you come with any authority; but not to-night.'

She went into her own house, and closed the door. How still it was and
dark, with Susan's candle only flickering through the gloom! And then
Susan made a sudden clutch at her mistress's arm. She held the candle
down to Helen's face, and peered into it, 'I've atook him into my own
room,' she said.



CHAPTER VI.


The Gatehouse was full of long, rambling, dark passages with mysterious
closets at each elbow of them, or curious little unused rooms--passages
which had struck terror to Norah's soul when she was a child, and which
even now she thought it expedient to run through as speedily as
possible, never feeling sure that she might not be caught by some
ghostly intruder behind the half-shut doors. Mrs Drummond followed Susan
through one of these intricate winding ways. It led to a corner room
looking out upon the garden, and close to the kitchen, which was Susan's
bed-chamber. For some forgotten reason or other there was a sort of
window, three or four broad panes of glass let into the partition wall
high up between this room and the kitchen, the consequence of which was
that Susan's room always showed a faint light to the garden. This was
her reason for taking it as the hiding-place for the strange guest.

Mrs Drummond went down the dark passage, feeling herself incapable of
speech and almost of thought; a vague wonder why he should be so hotly
pursued, and how it was that Susan should have known this and taken it
upon herself to receive and shelter one who was a stranger to her,
passed through Helen's mind. Both these things were strange and must be
inquired into hereafter, but in the mean time her heart was beating too
high with personal emotion to be able to think of anything else. Was it
possible that thus strangely, thus suddenly, she was to meet him again
from whom she had been so long parted? Their last interview rushed back
upon her mind, and his appearance then. Seven years ago!--and a man
changes altogether, becomes, people say, another being in seven years.
This thought quivered vaguely through Helen's mind. So many thoughts
went pursuing each other, swift and noiseless as ghosts. It was not
above two minutes from the time she came into the hall until she stood
at the threshold of Susan's room; but a whole world of questions, of
reflections, had hurried through her thoughts. She trembled by intervals
with a nervous shiver. Her heart beat so violently that it seemed at
once to choke and to paralyse her. To see him again--to stand face to
face with him who had come back out of the grave,--to change her whole
being,--to be no more herself, no more Norah's mother, but Robert's wife
again! Her whole frame began to shake as with one great pulse. It was
not joy, it was not fear; it was the wonder of it, the miracle, the
strange, strange, incomprehensible, incredible--Could he be
there?--nothing more between the two who had been parted by death and
silence but that closed door?

Susan turned round upon her just before they reached it. Susan, too,
hard, bony woman, little given to emotion, was trembling. She wiped her
eyes with her apron and gave a sniff that was almost a groan, and thrust
the candle into Helen's hand.

'Oh, don't you be hard upon him, Miss Helen as was!' cried Susan with a
sob; and turned and fled into her kitchen.

Helen stopped for a moment to steady herself--to steady the light of the
poor candle which, held by such agitated, unsteady hands, was flickering
wildly in her grasp. And then she opened the door.

Some one started and rose up suddenly with a movement which had at once
fear and watchfulness in it. Her agitation blinded her so that she
could not see. She held up the light,--if her misty eyes could have made
him out,--and then all at once there came a voice which made her nerves
steady in a moment, calmed down her pulses, restored to her
self-command.

'Helen, is it you? I thought it must be my wife.'

The blood rushed back to Helen's heart with an ebb as sudden as the flow
had been, making her faint and sick. But the revulsion of feeling was as
strong, and gave her strength. The light gave a leap in her hand as she
steadied herself, and threw a wild broken gleam upon him.

'Mr Burton,' she said, 'what are you doing here?'

'Then the news had not come,' he cried, with a certain relief; 'nobody
knows as yet? Well, well, things are not so bad, then, as I thought.'

She put the candle on the table and looked at him. He was dressed in his
morning clothes, those light-coloured summer garments which made his
full person fuller, but which at this hour, and after the scene from
which she had just come, looked strangely disorderly and out of place.
His linen was crushed and soiled, and his coat, which was of a colour
and material which showed specks and wrinkles as much as a woman's
dress, had the look of having been worn for a week night and day. The
air of the vagabond which comes so rapidly to a hunted man had come to
him already, and mixed with his habitual air of respectability, of
wealth and self-importance, in the most curious, almost pitiful way.

'Tell me,' she said, repeating her question almost without knowing what
she said, 'why are you here?'

He did not answer immediately. He made an effort to put on his usual
jaunty look, to speak with his usual jocular superiority. But
something--whether it was the flickering, feeble light of the candle
which showed him her face, or some instinct of his own, which necessity
had quickened into life--made him aware all at once that the woman by
his side was in a whirl of mental indecision, that she was wavering
between two resolves, and that this was no time to trifle with her. In
such circumstances sometimes a man will seize upon the best argument
which skill could select, but sometimes also in his haste and excitement
he snatches at the one which makes most against him. He said--

'I will tell you plainly, Helen. I am as your husband was when he went
down to the river--that night.'

She gave a strange and sudden cry, and turning round made one quick step
to the door. If she had not seen that Dives in the exhibition, if she
had not been in the grip of wild hope and expectation, I think she would
have gone straightway, driven by that sudden probing of the old wound,
and given him up to his pursuers. At least that would have been her
first impulse; but something turned her back. She turned to him again
with a sudden fire kindled in her eyes.

'It was you who drove him there,' she said.

He made a little deprecating gesture with his hands, but he did not say
anything. He saw in a moment that he had made a mistake.

'You drove him there,' she repeated, 'you and--that man; and now you
come to me and think I will save you--to me, his wife. You drove him to
despair, to ruin, and you think I am to save you. Why should I? What
have you done that I should help you? You had no pity on him; you let
him perish, you let him die. You injured me and mine beyond the reach of
recovery; and now you put yourself into my hands--with your enemies
outside!'

He gave a shudder, and looked at the window as if with a thought of
escape; and then he turned round upon her, standing at bay.

'Well,' he said, 'you have your revenge; I am ruined too. I don't
pretend to hide it from you; but I have no river at hand to escape into
to hide all my troubles in,--but only a woman to taunt me that I have
tried to be kind to--and my wife and my child dancing away close by.
Listen; that is what you call comfort for a ruined man, is it not?'

He pointed towards Dura as he spoke. Just then a gust of the soft
night-wind brought with it the sound of the music from the great house,
that house ablaze with gaiety, with splendour, and light, where Clara
Burton all jewelled and crowned with flowers was dancing at this moment,
while her mother led the way to the gorgeous table where princes might
have sat down. No doubt the whole scene rose before his imagination as
it did before Helen's. He sat down upon Susan's rush-bottomed chair with
a short laugh. One candle flickering in the dim place revealing all the
homely furniture of the servant's bed-room. What a contrast! what a
fate! Helen felt as every generous mind feels, humbled before the
presence of the immediate sufferer. He had injured her, and she,
perhaps, had suffered more deeply than Reginald Burton was capable of
suffering; but it was his turn now; he had the first place. The sorrow
was his before which even kings must bow.

While she stood there with pity stealing into her heart, he put down his
head into his hands with a gesture of utter weariness.

'Whatever you are going to do,' he said faintly, 'let Susan give me
something to eat first. I have had nothing to eat all day.'

This appeal made an end of all Helen's enmity. It had been deep, and
hot, and bitter when all was well with him--but the first taste of
revenge which Ned's disappearance gave her had appeased Mrs Drummond. It
had been bitter, not sweet. And now this appeal overcame all her
defences. If he had asked her to aid in his escape she might have
resisted still. But he asked her for a meal. Tears of humiliation, of
pitying shame, almost of a kind of tenderness came into her eyes. God
help the man! Had it come to this?

She turned into the kitchen, where Susan sat bolt upright in a hard
wooden chair before the fire, with her arms folded, the most watchful of
sentinels. They had a momentary discussion what there was to set before
him, and where it was to be served. Susan's opinion was very strongly in
favour of the kitchen.

'Those villains 'ud see the lights to the front,' said Susan. 'And then
Miss Norah, she'll be coming home, and folks with her. Them policemen is
up to everything. The shutters don't close up to the very top; and if
they was to climb into one o' the trees! And besides, there's a fire
here.'

'It is too warm for a fire, Susan.'

'Not for them as is in trouble,' said the woman; and she had her way.

Helen arranged the table with her own hands, while Susan made up with
her best skill an impromptu meal--not of the richest or choicest, for
the larder at the Gatehouse was poorly enough supplied; but fortunately
there had been something provided for next day's dinner which was
available. And when the fugitive came in to the warm kitchen--he who the
day before had made all the household miserable in Dura over the failure
of a salmi--he warmed his hands with a shiver of returning comfort, and
sniffed the poor cutlet as it cooked, and made a wretched attempt at a
joke in the sudden sense of ease and solace that had come to him.

'He was always one for his joke, was Mr Reginald,' Susan said with a
sob; and as for Helen, this poor pleasantry completed her prostration.
The sight of him warming himself on this July night, eating so eagerly,
like a man famished, filled her with an indescribable pity. It was not
so much magnanimity on her part as utter failure on his. How could she
lay sins to this man's charge, who was not great enough in himself to
frighten a fly? The pity in her heart hurt her like an ache, and she was
ashamed.

But what was to be done? She went softly, almost stealthily (with the
strange feeling that they might hear her out of doors, of which she was
not herself aware), up to her bed-room, which was over the drawing-room,
and looked out into the moonlight. The men still kept their place,
opposite at the Rectory gate--and now a third man, one of the Dura
police, with his lantern in his hand, joined them. Helen was a woman
full of all the natural prejudices and susceptibilities. Her pride
received such a wound by the appearance of this policeman as it would be
difficult to describe. Reginald Burton was her enemy, her antagonist;
and yet now she remembered her cousin. The Burtons had been of
unblemished good fame in all their branches till now. The shame which
had been momentarily thrown upon her husband had been connected with so
much anguish that Helen's pride had not been called uppermost. But now
it seized upon her. The moment the Dura policeman appeared, it became
evident to her that all the world knew, and the pang ran through her
proud heart like a sudden arrow. Her kindred were disgraced, her own
blood, the honest, good people in their graves; and Ned--poor, innocent
Ned!--at the other end of the world. The pang was so sharp that it
forced tears from her, though she was not given to weeping. A policeman!
as if the man was a thief who was her own cousin, of her own blood! And
then the question returned, What was to be done? I don't know what
horrible vision of the culprit dragged through the street, with his
ignominy visible to the whole world, rose before Helen's imagination. It
did not occur to her that such a capture might be very decorously, very
quietly made. She could think of nothing but the poor ragged wretch whom
she had once seen handcuffed, his clothes all muddy with the falls he
had got in struggling for his liberty, and a policeman on either side of
him. This was the only form in which she could realise an arrest by the
hands of justice. And to see the master of Dura thus dragged through the
village, with all the people round, once so obsequious, staring with
stupid, impudent wonder! Anything, anything rather than that! Helen ran
down-stairs again, startling herself with the sound she made. In the
quiet she could hear the knife and fork which were still busy in the
kitchen, and the broken talk with Susan which the fugitive kept up. She
heard him laugh, and it made her heart sick. This time she turned to the
other side, to the long passage opposite to that which led to the
kitchen, which was the way of communication with the apartments of the
Haldanes. The door there, which was generally fastened, was open
to-night, and the light was still in Stephen's window, and he himself,
for the first time for years, had been left to this late hour in his
chair. He was seated there, very still and motionless, when Helen
entered. He had dropped asleep in his loneliness. The candles on the
table before him threw a strange light upon the pallor of his face, upon
the closed eyes, and head thrown back. His hair had grown grey in these
seven years; his face had refined and softened in the long suffering, in
the patient, still, leaden days which he had lived through, making no
complaint. He looked like an apostle in this awful yet gentle
stillness--and he looked as if he were dead.

But even Mrs Drummond's entrance was enough to rouse him--the rustle of
her dress, or perhaps even the mere sense that there was some one near
him. He opened his eyes dreamily.

'Well, mother, I hope you have enjoyed it,' he said, with a smile. Then
suddenly becoming aware who his companion was, 'Mrs Drummond! I beg your
pardon. What has happened?'

She came and stood by him, holding out her hand, which he took and held
between his. There was a mutual pity between these two--a sympathy which
was almost tenderness. They were so sorry for each other--so destitute
of any power to help each other! Most touching and close of bonds!

'Something has happened,' she said. 'Mr Haldane, I have come to you for
your advice.'

He looked up at her anxiously.

'Not Norah--not--any one arrived----'

'Oh, no, no; something shameful, painful, terrible. You know what is
going on at the great house. Mr Haldane, Reginald Burton is here in
Susan's kitchen, hidden, and men watching for him outside.
Men--policemen! That is what I mean. And oh! what am I to do?'

He held her hand still, and his touch kept her calm. He did not say
anything for a minute, except one low exclamation under his breath.

'Sit down,' he said. 'You are worn out. Is it very late?'

'Past midnight. By-and-by your mother will be back. Tell me first,
while we are alone and can speak freely, what can I do?'

'He is hiding here,' said Stephen, 'and policemen outside? Then he is
ruined, and found out. That is what you mean. Compose yourself, and tell
me, if you can, what you know, and what you _wish_ to do.'

'Oh, what does my wish matter?' she cried. 'I am asking you what is
possible. I know little more than I tell you. He is here, worn-out,
miserable, ruined, and the men watching to take him. I don't know how it
has happened, why he came, or how they found it out; but so it is. They
are there now in front of the house. How am I to get him out?'

'Is that the only question?' Stephen asked.

She looked at him with an impatience she could not restrain.

'What other question can there be, Mr Haldane? In a few minutes they
will be back.'

'But there is another question,' he said. 'I believe this man has been
our ruin--yours and mine--yours, Mrs Drummond, more fatally than mine.
Golden was but one of his instruments, I believe--as guilty, but not
more so. He has ruined us, and more than us----'

She wrung her hands in her impatience.

'Mr Haldane, I hear steps. We may but have a moment more.'

He put his hand upon her arm.

'Think!' he cried. 'Are we to let him go--to save him that he may ruin
others? Is it just? Think what he has made us all suffer. Is there to be
no punishment for him?'

'Oh, punishment!' she cried. 'Do you know what punishment means, when
you make yourself the instrument of it? It means revenge; and there is
nothing so bitter, nothing so terrible, as to see your own handiwork,
and to think, "It was not God that did this; it was me."'

'How can _you_ tell?'

'Oh, yes, I can tell. There was his son. I thought it was a just return
for all the harm he had done when his poor boy----But Ned went away, and
left everything. It was not my fault; it was not Norah's fault. Yet she
had done it, and I had wished she might. No; no more revenge. How can I
get him away?'

'I am not so forgiving as you,' he said.

Helen could not rest. She rose up from the seat she had drawn to his
side, and went to the window. There were steps that frightened her
moving about outside, and then there was the sound of voices.

'Come in and go over the house! Come in at this hour of the night!' said
a voice. It was Miss Jane's voice, brisk and alert as usual. Helen
hurried into the hall, to the door, where she could hear what was said.

'But Jane, Jane, if any one has got in? A thief--perhaps a murderer! Oh,
my poor Stephen!'

'Nonsense, mother! If you like to stay outside there, I'll go over all
the house with Susan, and let you know. Why, Mrs Drummond! Here are some
men who want to come in to search for some one at this time of night.'

'I have told them already they should not come in,' said Helen.

She had opened the door, and stood in front of it with a temerity which
she scarcely felt justified in; for how did she know they might not rush
past her, and get in before she could stop them? Such was her idea--such
was the idea of all the innocent people in the house. The Dura policeman
was standing by with his truncheon and his lantern.

'I've told 'em, mum, as it's a mistake,' said that functionary; 'and
that this 'ere is the quietest, most respectablest 'ouse--'

'Thanks, Wilkins,' said Helen.

It was a positive comfort to her, and did her good, this simple
testimony. And to think that Wilkins knew no better than that!

'Will you keep near the house?' she said, turning to him, with that
feeling that he was 'on our side' which had once prepossessed Norah in
favour of Mr Rivers. 'My daughter will be coming back presently, and I
don't want to have her annoyed or frightened with this story. No one
except the people who belong to it shall enter this house to-night.'

'As you please, ma'am; but I hope you knows the penalty,' said the
detective.

Helen did not know of any penalty, nor did she care. She was wound up to
so high a strain of excitement, that had she been called upon to put her
arm in the place of the bolt, or do any other futile heroic piece of
resistance, she would not have hesitated. She closed the door upon Mrs
Haldane and her daughter, one of whom was frightened and the other
excited. As they all came into the hall, Susan became visible, with her
candle in her hand, defending the passage to the kitchen. Something
ludicrous, something pathetic and tragic and terrible was in the aspect
of the house, and its guardians--had one been wise enough to perceive
what it meant.

'If Susan will come with me,' said Miss Jane briskly; 'after that idiot
of a man's romance, my mother will think we are all going to be murdered
in our beds. If Susan will come with me, I'll go over all the house.'

'We have examined ours,' said Helen. 'Susan, go with Miss Jane. Mrs
Haldane, Mr Stephen is tired, I think.'

'Stephen must not be alarmed,' said Mrs Haldane with hesitation. 'But
are you sure it is safe? Do you really think it is safe? You see, after
all, when our door is open it is one house. A man might run from one
room to another. Oh, Jane--Mrs Drummond--if you will believe me, I can
see a shadow down that passage! Oh, my dear, you are young and rash! The
men will know better; let them come in.'

'I cannot allow them to come in. There is no one, I assure you, except
your son, who wants your help.'

'You are like Jane,' said the old lady; 'you are so bold and rash. Oh, I
wish I had begged them to stay all night. I wouldn't mind giving a
shilling or two. Think if Stephen should be frightened! Oh, yes, I am
going; but don't leave me, dear. I couldn't be alone; I shall be
frightened of my life.'

This was how it was that Helen was in Stephen's room again when Miss
Jane came down, bustling and satisfied.

'You may make yourself perfectly easy, mother. We have gone over all the
rooms--looked under the beds and in the cupboards, and there is not a
ghost of anything. Poor Susan is tired sitting up for us all; I told her
I'd wait up for Norah. Well, now you don't ask any news of the ball,
Stephen. Norah has danced the whole evening; I have never seen her
sitting down once. Her dress is beautiful; and as for herself, my dear!
But everybody was looking their best. I don't admire Clara Burton in a
general way; but really Clara Burton was something splendid--Yes, yes,
mother; of course we must get Stephen to bed.'

'Good-night,' said Helen, going up to him. She looked in his face
wistfully; but now the opportunity was over, and what could he say? He
held her hand a moment, feeling the tremor in it.

'Good-night,' he said; and then very low he added hurriedly, 'The gate
into the Dura woods--the garden door.'

'Thanks,' she said, with a loud throb of her heart.

The excitement, the suspense, were carrying Helen far beyond her will or
intention. She had been sensible of a struggle at first whether she
would not betray the fugitive. Now her thoughts had progressed so fast
and far, that she would have fought for him, putting even her slight
strength in the way to defend him or protect his retreat. He was a man
whom she almost hated; and yet all her thoughts were with him, wondering
was he safe by himself, and what could be done to make him safer still.
She left the Haldanes' side of the house eagerly, and hurried down the
passage to the kitchen. He was there, in Susan's arm-chair before the
fire. His meal was over, and he had turned to the fire again, and fallen
into a doze. While she was moving about in a fever of anxiety, he
himself with his head sunk on his breast, was unconscious of his own
danger. Helen, who felt incapable of either resting or sleep, stood
still and looked at him in a sort of stupor.

'Poor dear, poor dear!' said Susan, holding up her hand in warning,
'he's been worrited and worn out, and he's dozed off--the best thing he
could do.'

He might rest, but she could not. She went down the few steps to the
garden, and stole out into the night, cautiously opening and closing
the door. The garden was walled all round. It was a productive, wealthy
garden, which, even when the Gatehouse had been empty, was worth keeping
up, and its doors and fastenings were all in good order. There was no
chance of any one getting in by that side. Mrs Drummond stole out into
the white moonlight, which suddenly surged upon her figure, and blazoned
it all over with silver, and crept round, trembling at every pebble she
disturbed, to the unused door which opened into the Dura woods. It had
been made that there might be a rapid means of communication between the
Gatehouse and the mansion, but it had never been used since the
Drummonds came. She had forgotten this door until Stephen reminded her
of its existence. It was partially hid behind a thicket of
raspberry-bushes, which had grown high and strong in front. Fortunately,
a rusted key was in the lock. With the greatest difficulty Helen turned
it, feeling as if the sound, as it grated and resisted, raised
whirlwinds of echoes all round her, and must betray what she was doing.
Even when it was unlocked, it took all her strength to pull it open, for
she could do no more. For one moment she pressed out into the dark,
rustling woods. Through the foliage she could see the glance of the
lights from the house and the moving flicker of carriage-lamps going
down the avenue. The music came upon her with a sudden burst like an
insult. Oh, heaven! to think that all this should be going on, the
dancing and laughter, and _him_ dozing there by Susan's kitchen fire!

She paused a little in the garden in the stillness--not for rest, but
that she might arrange her thoughts, without interruption. But there was
no stillness there that night. The music came to her on the soft wind,
now lower, now louder; the sound of the carriage wheels coming and going
kept up a low, continuous roll; now and then there would come the sound
of a voice. It was still early; only a few timid guests who feared late
hours, old people and spectators like the Haldanes, were leaving the
ball. It was in full career. The very sky seemed flushed over Dura
House, with its numberless lights.

Helen formed her plan as she crept about the garden in the moonlight.
Oh, if some kindly cloud would but rise, and veil for a little this poor
earth with its mysteries! But all was clear, well seen, visible; the
clear night and the blue heavens were not pitiful, like Helen. Man is
often hard upon man, heaven knows, yet it is man only who can feel for
the troubles of mankind.



CHAPTER VII.


While her mother was thus occupied Norah was taking her fill of
pleasure. She 'danced every dance'--beatific fulfilment of every girlish
wish in respect to a ball. She was so young and so fresh that this
perpetual motion filled up the measure of her desires, and left her
little time to think. To be sure, once or twice it had come over her
that Ned, poor Ned, was not here to share in all this delight; and if
Norah had been destitute of partners, or less sought than she thought
her due, no doubt her heart would have been very heavy on account of
Ned. But she had as many partners as any girl could desire, and she had
no time to think. She was as happy as the night was long. The dancing
was delightful to her for itself, the music was delightful, and the
'kindness' of everybody, which was Norah's modest, pretty synonym for
the admiration she received; and she asked no more of heaven than this,
which she was receiving in such full measure. To be sure, her mother's
disappearance disturbed her for the moment. But when Mrs Dalton had
sworn by all her gods that Mrs Drummond was not ill, Norah resigned
herself once more to her happy fate.

There was, at the same time, a special point which exhilarated Norah,
satisfied her pride, and raised her spirits. During all the festivities
of the afternoon she had kept Cyril Rivers at arm's length. Perhaps if
he had not shown so much anxiety to approach nearer, Norah would not
have felt the same satisfaction in this--but his explanation, it was
evident, was hanging on his very lips, and she had triumphantly kept him
from making it. The same process was repeated in the evening. She had
rushed into a perfect crowd of engagements in order to escape him. Poor
Charlie Dalton, whom Clara had no longer any thought of, and who for the
greater part of the evening had been standing about, dolefully gazing
after her, was pressed unceremoniously into Norah's service. Once, when
she happened to be disengaged and saw Rivers approaching, she was so
lost to all sense of shame as to seize him breathlessly by the arm.
'Dance this dance with me, Charlie,' she whispered impatiently.

'Why must I dance?' said the poor boy, who had no heart for it.

'Because I am determined not to dance with him,' said Norah,
energetically leading off her captive. And thus she kept the other at a
distance, though perhaps she would have been less rigid in evasion had
he been more indifferent to the opportunity. It was late in the night,
after supper, when he secured her at last.

'Miss Drummond, you have avoided me all night----'

'I!' cried Norah, 'but that is ridiculous. Why should I avoid you, Mr
Rivers? Indeed I am sure I have spoken to you at least a dozen times
this evening. It is not one's own fault when one is engaged.'

'And I have been so anxious to see you--to explain to you,' he cried,
his eagerness, and the long, tantalizing delay having overcome his
wisdom. 'I have been quite miserable.'

'About what, Mr. Rivers?'

'About what you must have thought very abominable behaviour--that day at
the pictures; fancy, it is two months since, and you have never allowed
me a moment in which I could say it till now!'

'At the pictures?' said Norah, feigning surprise. 'I don't think we
have seen you very often lately, and two months is a long time to
remember. Oh, I recollect! you left us in a hurry.'

'My mother had come to look for me--there was some business in hand that
I had to be consulted about. I cannot tell you what a wretched ass I
felt myself, dragged away without a moment to explain--without even time
to say, "This is my mother."'

'Mr Rivers,' said Norah, drawing her small person to its full height,
and loosing her hold of his arm, 'I think it would have been good taste
not to say anything about this. When we did not remark upon it, why
should you? I am only a girl, I am nineteen, and I never disobeyed mamma
that I know of; but still, do you think I should have let her carry me
off like a baby from my friends whom I cared for, without a word? There
are some things that one ought not to be asked to believe. You were not
obliged to say anything at all about it. I should like to be polite, but
I can't make myself a fool to please you. And, on the other hand, you
know Lady Rivers is nothing to us. I did not ask to be introduced to
her, and poor mamma was too ill even to know. Please don't say any more
about it. It would have been much better not to have mentioned it at
all.'

'But, Miss Drummond!----'

'Yes, I know. You wanted to be polite. But never mind. I am quite, quite
satisfied,' said Norah with a gleam of triumph. 'Look here! Let us have
Katie for our _vis-a-vis_. Don't you think Clara Burton is looking quite
beautiful to-night?'

Mr Rivers did not reply. He said to himself that he had never been so
completely snubbed in his life. He had never felt so small, so cowed,
and that is not pleasant to a man. Her very pardon, her condonation of
his offence, was humbling to him. Had she resented it, he had a hundred
weapons with which to meet her resentment; but he had not one to oppose
to her frank indignation, and her pardon. And yet, with curious
perversity, never before had Norah seemed so sweet to him. He had felt
the wildest jealousy of poor Charlie during that dance, which he went
through so unwillingly; and, but for the cheerful strains of the
Lancers, which commenced at this point, and set them all--so many who
enjoyed it, so many who did not enjoy it--in motion, it was in his mind
to commit himself as he had never yet done--to throw himself upon her
mercy. This thought gave to his handsome face a look which Norah in her
triumph secretly enjoyed, and called 'sentimental.' 'But I am not one
of those girls that fall down and worship a man, and think him a
demigod,' Norah said to herself. 'He is no demigod! he has not so much
courage as I have. He is frightened of--me! Oh, if Ned were but here!'
This last little private exclamation was accompanied with the very ghost
of a sigh--half of a quarter of a sigh, Norah would have said, had she
described it--Ned was afraid of her too, and was not the least like a
demigod. I do not defend Norah for her sauciness, nor do I blame her;
for, after all, the young men of the present day are very unlike
demigods; and there are some honest girls left in the world capable of
loving a man as his wife ought, without worshipping him as his slave,
and without even bowing herself down in delicious inferiority before
him, grovelling as so many heroines do. Norah was incapable of
grovelling under any circumstances; but then she had been brought up by
her mother, in the traditions of womanly training such as they used to
be in a world which we are told is past.

This is the very worst place in the world for a digression, I allow; it
is to permit of the dancing of that figure which they were just about to
commence. Clara Burton was dancing in the same set, with Mr Golden. And
as her own partner after this little episode was for some time anything
but lively, Norah gave her mind to the observation of Clara. Clara and
Mr Golden were great friends. She had said to Lord Merewether that he
was like papa, but it may be doubted whether papas generally, even when
most indulgent, are looked up to by their children as Clara looked up to
her father's friend. All Dura had remarked upon it before now; all Dura
had wondered, did the parents see it? What did Mrs Burton mean by
permitting it? But it never once entered into Mrs Burton's cool, clever
little head to fancy it possible that the attractions of such a man
could move her child. Everybody in the neighbourhood, except those most
concerned, had seen Clara wandering with this man, who was nearly as old
as her father, through the Dura woods. Everybody had seen the flushed,
eager, tender way in which she hung upon him, and looked up to him; and
his constant devotion to her. 'If I were you I should speak to Mr Burton
about it,' the rector's wife had said half a dozen times over; but the
rector had that constitutional dislike to interfere in anything which is
peculiar to Englishmen. That night Clara was beautiful, as Norah had
said; she was full of agitation and excitement--even of something which
looked like feeling; her colour was splendid, her blue eyes as blue as
the sea when it is stirred, her hair like masses of living gold, her
complexion like the flushings of the sunset upon snow. As for her
partner, a certain air of warning mingled in his assiduity. Once Norah
saw him hold up his finger, as if in remonstrance. He was wary,
watchful, observant of the glances round him; but Clara, who never
restrained herself, put on no trammels to-night. She stood looking up at
him, talking to him incessantly, forgetting the dance, and when she was
compelled to remember it, hurrying through the figure that she might
resume the intermitted conversation. Gradually the attention of the
other dancers became concentrated on her. It was her moment of triumph,
no doubt--her birthday, her coming of age as it were, though she was but
eighteen--her entry, many people thought, into the glory of
heiress-ship. But all this was not enough to account for the
intoxication of excitement, the passion that blazed in Clara's eyes.
What did it mean? When the dance was over, the majority of the dancers
made their way into the coolness of the conservatory, which was lighted
with soft lamps. Mr Rivers took Norah back to Mrs Dalton. His dark eyes
had grown larger, his air more sentimental than ever. He withdrew a
little way apart, and folded his arms, and stood gazing at her, just,
Norah reflected with impatience, as a man would do who was the hero in a
novel. But very different ideas were in Norah's mind. She seized upon
Charlie once more, who was sentimental too. 'Come out on the terrace
with me. I want to speak to Clara,' she said. They were stopped just
inside the open window by a stream of people coming in for the next
dance. Norah had been pushed close to the window, half in half out, by
the throng. This was how she happened to hear the whispered talk of a
pair outside, who were close by her without knowing it, and whom nobody
else could hear.

'At the top of the avenue, at three o'clock. Wrap a cloak round you, my
darling. In the string of carriages ours will never be noticed. It is
the best plan.'

'And everything is ready?' asked another voice, which was Clara's.

'Everything, my love! In an hour and a half----'

'For you! I could do it only for you!'

In a minute after the two came in, pushing past Norah and her companion,
who, both pale as statues, let them pass. The others were not pale.
Clara's face was dyed with vivid colour, and Mr Golden, bending over
her, looked almost young in the glow of animation and admiration with
which he gazed at her. Charlie Dalton had not heard the scrap of
dialogue, which meant so much; but he ground his teeth and stared at his
supplanter, and crushed Norah's hand which held his arm. 'That fellow!'
Charlie said between his teeth. 'Had it been some one else, I could have
borne it.'

'Oh, Charlie, take me back to your mother,' cried Norah. Her thoughts
went like the wind; already she had made out her plan--but what was the
use of saying anything to him, poor simpleton, to make him more unhappy?
Norah went back, and placed herself by Mrs Dalton's side. 'I do not mean
to dance any more. I am tired,' she said; and, though the music tempted
her, and her poor little feet danced in spite of her, keeping time on
the floor, she did not change her resolution. Mr Rivers came, finding
the opportunity he sought; but Norah paid no heed to him. The men whose
names were written upon her card came too, in anxiety and dismay. But to
all she had the same answer. 'I am tired. I shall dance no more
to-night.'

'Let me look at you, child,' said kind Mrs Dalton; 'indeed you look
tired--you look as if you had seen a ghost.'

'And so I have,' said Norah. She felt as if she must cry; Clara Burton
had been her play-fellow, almost her sister, as near to her as Katie,
and as much beloved. What was it Clara was going to do? The child
shivered in her terror. When the dancers were all in full career once
more, Norah put her mouth close to Mrs Dalton's ear and whispered forth
her story. 'What can we do? What shall we do?' she asked. It would be
impossible to describe Mrs Dalton's consternation. She remonstrated,
struggled against the idea, protested that there must be some mistake.
But still Norah asked, 'What can we do? what can we do?'

'My dear Norah! see, they are not near each other--they are not looking
at each other. You have made a mistake.'

'Why should they look at each other? everything is arranged and
settled,' said Norah. Mrs Dalton, if you will not come with me, I will
go myself. Clara must not be allowed to go. Oh, only think of it! Clara,
one of us! I have made up my plan; and if you will not come, I will go
myself.'

'Norah, where will you go? What can _you_ do--a child? And, oh, how can
I go after Clara and leave the girls?' replied Mrs Dalton in her
distress.

'You can leave them with Charlie,' said Norah. It had struck two before
this explanation was made, and already a few additional guests had begun
to depart. There was very little time to lose. Before Mrs Dalton was
aware she found herself hurried into the cloak-room, wrapped in some
wrap which was not hers, and out under the moonlight again, scarcely
knowing how she got there.

'This is not my cloak, Norah,' she said piteously; 'my cloak was white.'

'Never mind, dear Mrs Dalton; white would have been seen,' said Norah,
who was far too much excited to think of larceny. And then, impetuous as
a little sprite, she led her friend round the farther side of the lawn,
and placed her under the shadow of a clump of evergreens. 'There is a
brougham standing here which never budges,' whispered Norah, 'with a
white horse. I have seen him driving a white horse. Now stand very
still. Oh, do stand still, please!'

'But, Norah, I see no one. It is Mrs Ashurst's old white horse; it is
the fly from the inn. Norah, it is very cold. Our carriage will be
coming. If it comes while we are gone--'

Norah grasped her tremulous companion by the arm. 'You would go barefoot
from here to London,' she said in her ear, with a voice which was husky
with excitement, 'to save any one, you know you would; and this is
Clara--Clara!'

Some one came rapidly across the grass--a dark, veiled, hooded figure,
keeping in the shadow. The morning was breaking in the east and mingled
mysteriously with the moonlight, making a weird paleness all about among
the dark trees and bushes. There was such a noise and ceaseless roll of
carriages passing, of servants waiting about, of impatient horses,
pawing and tossing their heads, that the very air was full of confusion.
Mrs Dalton's alarm was undescribable. She held back the impetuous girl
by her side, who was rushing upon that new-comer. 'Norah! it is some
lady looking for her carriage. Norah!'

Norah paid no heed; she rushed forward, and laid hold upon the long grey
cloak in which the new-comer was muffled. 'Clara!' she cried. 'Oh,
Clara! stop, stop! and come back.'

At this moment there suddenly appeared among them another figure, in an
overcoat, with a soft felt hat slouched over his face, who took Clara by
the hand and whispered, 'Quick! there is not a moment to lose.'

'Is it you, Norah?' said Clara from under her cloak. 'You spy! you
prying inquisitive--! Go back yourself. You have nothing to do with me.'

'Oh, Clara!' cried the other girl, clasping her hands; 'don't go away
like this. It is almost morning. They will see you--in your ball dress.
Clara, Clara, dear! Hate me if you like--only, for heaven's sake, come
back.'

And now Mrs Dalton crept out from the shadow of the bushes. 'Mr Golden,
leave her. Let her go. How dare you over-persuade a child like that? Let
her go, or I will call out to stop you. Clara!'

He pushed them apart--one to one side, one to the other. 'Quick!' he
cried, with a low call to a servant who stood close by. 'Quick, Clara!
don't lose a moment.' He had pushed them aside roughly, and stood
guarding her retreat, facing round upon them. 'What is it to you,' he
said, 'if I am employed to take Miss Burton to her father? You may call
any one you please--you may go and tell her mother. I am coming--now,
for your life!'

The brougham dashed off with dangerous speed, charging, as it seemed,
into the mass of carriages. There was a tumult and trampling of horses,
a cry as of some one hurt; but all that the two terrified women on the
lawn saw was Clara's face, looking back at them from the carriage
window, with an insolent, triumphant look. She had partially thrown off
her cloak, and appeared from under it in her white dress, a beautiful,
strange vision--and then there came the sound of the collision and
conflict, and the struggle of horses, and the cry. But whoever was
wounded, it was not anybody belonging to that equipage. The white horse
could be traced down the avenue like a long, lessening streak of light.
So far, at least, the scheme had been successful. They were gone.

Norah could not speak; she walked about upon the lawn, among the
servants, wringing her hands. The morning dew, which was beginning to
fall, shone wet upon her hair. 'What can we do--what can we do?' she
cried.

'My dear child, we have done all we can. Oh, that foolish, foolish girl!
Norah, your feet must be wet, and so I am sure are mine; and your pretty
white tarlatan all spoiled. Oh, heaven help us! is this what it has all
come to? I dare not send Charlie after them. Norah, run and call Mr
Dalton. He might go, perhaps. Norah, oh, you must not go alone!' cried
the rector's wife.

But Norah was gone. She rushed into the house, through all the departing
guests, her cloak and her hair all wet with dew. She made her way into
the ball-room in that plight, and rushed up to Mr Dalton, and led him
alarmed out into the hall. Mrs Dalton had followed, and was slowly
gathering up her dress. Her heart was full of dismay and trouble; that
Clara should thus destroy herself--break her parents' hearts! and Norah
must certainly have spoilt her pretty new dress. 'One would not have
minded had it done any good,' she murmured within herself. When they met
the rector in the hall, a hurried consultation ensued.

'Take our fly, George,' said Mrs Dalton heroically. 'We can get home
somehow. Take it! They cannot be very far gone--you may overtake them
yet.'

'Overtake them! Though I don't even know which way they have gone,' said
the rector, fretful with this strange mission. But, all the same, he
went off, and hunted out the fly, and offered the driver half a
sovereign if he could overtake the brougham with a white horse. But
everything retarded Mr Dalton. His horse was but a fly horse, not the
most lively of his kind. The man had been drinking Miss Burton's health,
and was more disposed to continue that exercise than to gallop vaguely
about the roads, even with the promise of an additional half-sovereign;
Mrs Dalton, in the mean while, threw off her borrowed cloak, and went
into the almost deserted ball-room in search of the mistress of the
house; and Mary and Katie, wondering and shivering, standing close to
Charlie, who was their protector for the moment, made a group round
Norah in the hall, with the daylight every moment brightening over their
faces, weariness stealing over them, and mystery oppressing them, and no
appearance of either father or mother, or the fly!

Norah leant against Katie's shoulder and cried. After all her impetuous
exertions the reaction was sharp. She would not give any explanation,
but leant upon her friend, and cried, and shivered.

'Oh, where can mamma be? Where is the fly? Oh, Norah, have my cloak too;
I don't want it. How cold you are! Charlie, run and look for the fly,'
cried Katie. They stood all clinging together, while the people streamed
past, getting into their carriages, going away. The daylight grew
clearer, the sun began to rise, while still they stood there forlorn.
And what with weariness, what with wonder and anxiety and vexation, Mary
and Katie were almost crying too.

Finally Mrs Dalton appeared, when almost all the guests were gone, with
a flush on her kind face, and an energy which triumphed over her
weariness. 'Come, children, we must pluck up our courage and walk,' she
said. 'Take up your dresses, girls, and help Norah with hers. Poor
child, perhaps the walk will be the best thing for her. It is of no use
waiting for the fly.'

Here Charlie came back to report that the fly was nowhere visible, but
that some one who had been knocked down by a runaway horse was being
carried up to the house, much injured. 'A white horse in a brougham.
They say it took fright, and dashed down the avenue; and they are afraid
the man is badly hurt,' said Charlie. The ladies shuddered as the poor
fellow was carried past them, his head bound round with a handkerchief
stained with blood. They were the last to leave, and came down the steps
just as this figure was being carried in. It was broad daylight now, and
they all felt guilty and miserable in their ball dresses. This was how
the last ball ended which was given by the Burtons in Dura House.

They walked down weary, feeling some weight upon them which the majority
of the party did not understand, all the length of the leafy avenue,
where the birds were singing, and the new morning sending arrows of
gold. The fly, with Mr Dalton in it, very tired and fretful, met them
at the gate. He had not so much as come within sight of the brougham
with the white horse. But yet he was ready to go up to the great house
as duty demanded, to put himself at the service of its mistress.
Charlie, enlightened all in a moment as to the meaning of the night's
proceedings, went with him, like a ghost of misery and wrath. The girls
and the mother went home alone through the sunshine. And the echoes grew
still about that centre of tumult and rejoicing. The rejoicing had ended
now; and, with that feast, the reign of the Burtons at Dura had come to
an end.



CHAPTER VIII.


A summer night passes quickly to those who have need of darkness for
their movements. When Mrs Drummond found herself at liberty to carry out
the plan she had formed, the time before her was very short. She went
back to the kitchen, and called Susan to her. Mr Burton woke up as she
came in, and they had a hurried consultation; the consequence of which
was that Susan was sent to the stables, which were not very far from the
garden door of the Gatehouse, to order a carriage to be dispatched
instantly to pick up Mr Burton at the north gate, two miles off, in the
opposite direction from the village. He could walk thus through the
grounds by paths he was familiar with, and drive to a station five miles
further off on another railway. So readily do even innocence and
ignorance fall into the shifty ways of guilt that this was Helen's plan.
He was to wait here till Susan returned, and the experiment of her
going would be a proof if the way was quite safe for him. When Susan was
gone Mrs Drummond returned alone to where her guest sat before the
kitchen fire. She had her blotting-book under her arm, and an inkstand
in her hand. 'Before you go,' she said in a low voice, 'I want you to do
something for me.'

'I will do anything for you,' he cried--'anything! Helen, I have not
deserved it. You might have treated me very differently. You have been
my salvation.'

'Hush!' she said. His thanks recalled her old feelings of distrust and
dislike rather than the new ones of pity. She put down her writing
things on the table. 'I have my conditions as well as other people,' she
said. 'I want now to know the truth.'

'What truth?'

'About Rivers's,' she said.

'Helen!'

'It is useless for you to resist or deny me,' she replied, 'you are in
my power. I am willing to do everything to serve you, but I will have a
full explanation. Write it how you please--but you shall not leave this
place till you have given me the means, when I please, and how I please,
of proving the truth.'

'What is the truth, as you call it?' he said sullenly; 'what have I to
do with it? Drummond and the rest went into it with their eyes open; all
the accounts of the concern were open to them.'

'I do not pretend to understand it,' said Helen. 'But you do. Here are
pens and paper. I insist upon a full explanation--how it was that so
flourishing a business perished in three years; where those books went
to, which Robert was so falsely accused of destroying. Oh, are you not
afraid to tire out my patience? Do you know that you are in my power?'

He gave an alarmed look at her. He had forgotten everything but those
fables about feminine weakness which are current among such men, and had
half laughed in his sleeve half an hour before at her readiness to help
and serve him. But now all at once he perceived that laughter was out of
place, and there was no time to lose. The reflection that ran through
his mind was--All must come out in a week or two--it will do her no
good; but it can do me no harm. 'If I am to give an account of the whole
history it will take me hours,' he said. 'I may as well give up all
thought of getting away to-night.' But he drew the blotting-book towards
him. Helen did not relax nor falter. She lighted another candle; she
left him to himself with a serious belief in his good faith which
startled him. She moved about the kitchen while he wrote, filling a
small flask with wine out of the solitary bottle which had been brought
out for his refreshment, and which represented the entire cellar of the
Gatehouse--even brushing the coat which he had thrown aside, that it
might be ready for him. The man watched her with the wonder of an
inferior nature. He had loved her once, and it had given him a true
pleasure to humble her when the moment came. But now the ascendancy had
returned into her hands. Had he been in her place how he would have
triumphed! But Helen did not triumph. His misery did not please, it
bowed her down to the ground. She was sad--suffering for him, ashamed,
anxious. He did not understand it. Gradually, he could not have told
how, her look affected him. He tore up the first statement he had
commenced, a florid, apologetic narrative. He tore up the second, in
which he threw the blame upon the ignorance of business of poor Drummond
and his fellow-directors. Finally he was moved so strangely out of
himself that he wrote the simple truth, and no more, without a word of
apology or explanation. Half-a-dozen lines were enough for that. The
apology would, as he said, have taken hours.

And then Susan came back. By this time he had written not only the
explanation required of him, but a letter to his wife, and was ready to
try his fate once more. Helen herself went with him to the garden door;
the path through the woods was dark, hidden from the moonlight by the
close copses and high fence, which it skirted for many a mile. And there
would not be daylight to betray him for at least an hour. He stood on
the verge of the dark wood, and took her hand. 'Helen, you have saved
me: God bless you,' he said. And in a moment this strange episode was
over, as though it had never been. She stood under the rustling trees,
and listened to his footsteps. The night wind blew chill in her face,
the dark boughs swayed round her as if catching at her garments. A
hundred little crackling sounds, echoes, movements among the copse, all
the jars and broken tones of nature that startle the fugitive, made her
heart beat with terror. If she had felt a hand on her shoulder, seizing
her instead of him, Helen would not have been surprised. But while she
stood and listened all the sounds seemed to die away again in the
stillness of the night. And the broad moonlight shone, silvering the
black trees, out of which all individuality had fled, and the music from
Dura came back in a gust, and the roll of the carriages slowly moving
about the avenue, waiting for the dancers. And but that Helen stood in
so unusual a spot, with that garden door half open behind her, and the
big key in her hand, she might have thought that all this was nothing
more than a dream.

She went in, and locked the door; and then returned to Susan's kitchen.
It was her turn now to feel the cold, after her excitement was over; she
went in shivering, and drew close to the fire. She put her head down
into her hands. The tears came to her eyes unawares; weariness had come
upon her all at once, when the necessity of exertion was over. She held
in her hand the paper she had made Burton write, but she had not energy
enough to look at it. Would it ever be of any use to her? Would he whom
it concerned ever return? Or was all this--the picture, the visit to the
Exhibition, the sudden conviction which had seized upon her--were these
all so many delusions in her dream? After a while Miss Jane, all
unconscious, excited with her unusual pleasure, and full of everything
she had seen, came and sat by her and talked. 'I told Susan to go to
bed,' said Miss Jane; 'and I wish you would go too, Mrs Drummond. I will
sit up for Norah. Oh, how proud I was of that child to-night! I suppose
it's very wrong, you know--so my mother says--but I can't help it. It is
just as well I am a single woman, and have no children of my own; for I
should have been a fool about them. The worst of all is that we shan't
keep her long. She will marry, and then what shall we do? I am sure to
lose her would break Stephen's heart.'

'She is very young,' said Helen, who answered for civility's sake alone,
and who with all the heavy thoughts in her heart and apprehensions for
the fugitive, would have given much to be left to herself.

'Yes, she is young; but not too young to do a great deal of mischief.
When I saw all those men on their knees before her!' cried Miss Jane,
with a laugh of triumph. She had never been an object of much admiration
or homage herself; men had not gone on their knees to her, though no
doubt she was more worthy than many of the foolish creatures who have
been so worshipped; but the result of this was that Miss Jane enjoyed
heartily the revenge which other women had it in their power to take for
all the slights and scorns to which she and her homely sisters had been
subjected. She liked to see 'them' punished, though 'they' were an
innocent, new generation, blameless, so far as she was concerned. She
would not have injured a fly; but her face beamed all over with delight
at the thought that it was Norah's mission to break hearts.

Thus the good soul sat and talked, while Helen listened to every sound,
and wondered where was he now? what might be happening? She did not even
hear what was being said to her until Miss Jane fell into a moralising
vein. 'The Burtons are at the height of their splendour now,' she said.
'I never saw anything so grand as it was. I don't think anything could
be grander. But oh, Mrs Drummond, people's sins find them out. There's
Clara getting bewitched by that man; everybody could see it. A man old
enough to be her father, without a scrap of character, and no money
even, I suppose. Think of that! and oh, what will all their grandeur do
for them, with Ned at the other end of the world, and Clara throwing
herself away?'

'Oh, hush, hush!' cried Helen. 'Don't prophesy any more misfortune;
there is enough without that.'

And five minutes after Norah came to the door, surrounded by the party
from the Rectory, all pale and terror-stricken, with the news which they
felt to be so terrible. 'Clara has gone away!' They stood at the door
and told this tale, huddled together in the fresh sunshine, the girls
crying, the elder women asking each other, 'what would the Burtons do?'
'She was almost rude to me. She sent me away,' Mrs Dalton said, 'or I
should have stayed with her. And Mr Burton is not there! What will she
do?' They could scarcely make up their minds to separate, worn out and
miserable as they all were. And, opposite, in the morning sunshine, two
men still watched the Gatehouse, as they had watched it all through the
night.

These miseries all ended in a misery which was comic, had any of them
had heart enough left to laugh. While she helped to undress Norah, Miss
Jane suddenly uttered a scream, which made Helen tremble from head to
foot. She had caught in her hands the pretty flounces of that white
dress, that lovely dress, Dr Maurice's present, which had turned poor
little Cinderella-Norah into an enchanted princess; but now, alas, all
limp, damp, ruined! even stained with the dewy grass and gravel across
which it had come. Miss Jane could have cried with vexation and dismay.
This was the climax of all the agonies of that wonderful night; but,
fortunately, it was not so hopeless as the others. An hour later, when
the house was all silent, and even Helen lay with her eyes shut, longing
to sleep, Miss Jane stole down-stairs again, carrying this melancholy
garment on her arm. She went to Susan's kitchen, where the fire was
still burning, and spreading it out upon the big table, took it to
pieces to see what could be done. And then she made a discovery which
drew from her a cry of joy. The dress was _grenadine_, not tarlatan!
Dear, ignorant reader, perhaps you do not know what this means? but well
did Miss Jane understand. 'Grenadine will wash!' she said to herself
triumphantly. She was a clever woman, and she was not unconscious of the
fact. She could wash and starch with any professional. Accordingly, she
set to work with scissors and soap and starch and hot irons; but, above
all, with love--love which makes the fingers cunning and the courage
strong.

Mr Burton made his escape safely. He had reached the north gate before
the dog-cart did, which came up for him just as the morning was
breaking. With this delay it so happened that when he reached the
station to which he was bound, a brougham with a white horse appeared in
sight behind, and gave him a thrill of terror; it was not a likely
vehicle certainly for his pursuers; but still it was possible that they
might have found nothing more suitable had they got scent of him at
Dura. He sprang out of the dog-cart accordingly, and took refuge in one
of the corners of the station. It was a junction, and two early morning
trains, one up and one down, passed between four and five o'clock. Both
parties accordingly had some time to wait. Mr Burton skulking behind
anything that would shelter him, made out, to his great amazement, that
the other traveller waiting about was his friend Golden, accompanied by
a cloaked and veiled woman. The fugitive grinned in ghastly satisfaction
when he saw it. He had no desire just then to encounter Golden, and in
such companionship he was safe. It was a lovely morning, fresh and soft,
cooler than July usually is, and the pair on the platform walked about
in the sun, basking in it. He watched them from behind a line of empty
carriages. The woman, whoever she was, clung close to her companion,
holding his arm clasped with both her hands; while Golden bent over her,
with his face close to her veil. 'I wonder who she is? I wonder what
they are doing here at this hour? I wonder if he has been to Dura? And,
by Jove, to think of his going in for that sort of thing, as if he were
five-and-twenty!' Mr Burton said to himself. He was full of curiosity,
almost of amazement, and he longed to go and sun himself on that same
platform too; but he was a fugitive, and he dared not. How could he tell
who might be about, or what Golden's feelings were towards him? They had
been very good friends once; but Burton had stood by Golden but feebly
at the time of the trial about Rivers's, and Golden had not stood by
Burton warmly during the time of difficulty which had culminated in
ruin. He watched them with growing curiosity, with a kind of interest
which he could not understand--with--yes, he could not deny it, with a
curious wistfulness and envy. He supposed the fellow was happy like
that, now? And as for himself, he was not happy--he was cold, weary,
anxious, afraid. He had a prison before him, perhaps a felon's
sentence--anyhow, at the least, a loud, hoarse roar of English society
and the newspapers. If he could but succeed in putting the Channel
between him and them! and there was that other man, as guilty as
himself, perhaps more guilty ('for he had not my temptations,' Mr Burton
said to himself; 'he had not a position to keep up, an expensive
establishment, a family'), sunning himself in the full morning light,
waiting for his train in the eye of day, not afraid of anybody--nay,
probably at the height of pleasure and success, enjoying himself as a
young man enjoys himself! When the pair approached a little closer to
his hiding-place than they had yet done, Burton, in his haste to get out
of the way, slipped his foot, and fell upon the cold iron rails. He rose
with a curse in his heart, the poignancy of the contrast was too much
for him. Had he but known that his appearance would have confounded his
old friend, and set all his plans to nought! Could he but have imagined
who it was that clung to Golden's arm!

But he did not. He saw the up-train arrive, and the two get into it. He
had meant to go that way himself, feeling London, of all refuges, the
most safe; but he had not courage to venture now. He waited for the
other train going down into the country. He made a rapid calculation how
he could shape his course to the sea, and get off, if not as directly,
perhaps more securely. He had found a dark overcoat in the dog-cart,
which was a boon to him; he had poor Helen's flask of wine in his
pocket. And as he got into the train, and dashed away out of the station
and over the silent, sunshiny country, where safety lay, Golden and
Golden's companion went out of Mr Burton's mind. He had a hundred things
to think of, and yet a hundred more. Why should he trouble himself
about that?

Thus the night disappeared like a mist from the face of the world; and
the 7th of July, an ordinary working day like the others,--Saturday, the
end of a common week,--rose up business-like and usual upon a host of
toiling folk, to whom the sight of it was sweet for the sake of the
resting day that came after it. Old Ann from Dura Den drove her cart
with the vegetables, and the big posy for the sick gentleman, under
Stephen's window, and wondered that it should still be closed, though it
was ten o'clock. Susan, very heavy-eyed and pale, was cleansing and
whitening her steps, upon which there had been so many footsteps last
night.

'Well, Susan, you _are_ late,' said old Ann.

'Our folks were all at that ball last night,' said Susan, 'keeping a
body up, awaiting for 'em till morning light.'

'Well, well, young folks must have their diversions. We was fond of 'em
oursels once on a day,' said the charitable old woman.

Across the road the blinds were still down in the Rectory. The young
people were all asleep; and even the elder people had been overcome with
weariness and the excitement through which, more or less, all of them
had gone. Before old Ann's cart resumed its progress, however, Stephen's
window had been opened, and signs of life began to appear. About eleven
Mrs Drummond came down-stairs. She had slept for an hour, and on waking
had felt assured that she must have been dreaming, and that all her
vision of the night was a delusion; but her head ached so, and her face
was so pale when she looked at herself in the glass, that Helen trembled
and asked herself if this was the beginning of a fever. Something must
have happened--it could not all be a dream. She knelt down to say her
prayers in front of the table, where her picture, her idol, was. And
then she saw a paper, placed upright beneath it, as flowers might be put
at a shrine. She read it then, for the first time, on her knees. It was
the paper that Reginald Burton had written, which she had taken from him
in her weariness without being able to read it. Half-a-dozen lines, no
more. She did not understand it now; but it was enough, it was final. No
one, after this, could throw reproach or scorn upon her Robert's name.

Robert! This night had been like a year, like a lifetime. It had made
her forget. Now she knelt there, and everything came back to her. She
did not say her prayers; the attitude sometimes is all that the
heavy-laden are capable of; of itself that attitude is an appeal to God,
such as a child might make who plucked at its mother's dress to attract
her notice, and looked up to her, though it could find no words to say.
Not a word came to Helen's lips. She knelt and recollected, and
thought--her mind was in a whirl, yet it was silent, not even forming a
wish. It was as if she held her breath and gazed upon something which
had taken place before her, something with which she had no connection.
'I have seen the wicked great in power, like a green bay-tree; and I
passed again, and lo! he was not.' Was that the story, written in ruin,
written in tears? And Robert! Where was he--he who had stretched out his
hands to her in the depths of despair, from hell, from across the
Atlantic, from--where?

Helen rose up piteously, and that suspense which had been momentarily
dispossessed by the urgency of more immediate claims upon her attention,
came back again, and tore her heart in twain. Oh, they might think her
foolish who did not know! but who else except Robert could have seized
her very heart with those two up-stretched hands of Dives, hands that
could have drawn her down, had she been there, out of the highest
heaven? She could trust no longer, she thought, to the lukewarm
interest of friends--to men who did not understand. She must bestir
herself to find out. She must find out if she should die.

Thus, with dry, bright eyes, and a fire new-lit in her heart which
burned and scorched her, she went down-stairs into the common world. 'I
will bring your breakfast directly, 'm,' said Susan, meeting her in the
passage, and Helen went in to the old, ghostly drawing-room, the place
which had grown so familiar to her, almost dear.

Was it the old drawing-room she had lived in yesterday? or what strange
vision was it that came across her of another room, far different, a
summer evening as this was a summer morning, a child who cried 'Mamma,
here is a letter!' Nothing--nothing! only a mere association, one of the
tricks fancy plays us. This feverish start, this sudden swimming of the
head, and wild question whether she was back in St Mary's Road, or where
she was, arose from the sight of a letter which lay, awaiting her, on
the centre of a little round table. It lay as that letter had lain some
years ago, in which he took his leave of her--as a hundred letters must
have lain since. A common letter, thrown down carelessly, without any
meaning. Oh, fool, fool that she was!



CHAPTER IX.


Mrs Burton was alone in her deserted house. The house was not deserted
in the common sense of the word. Up-stairs at this very moment it was
buzzing with life and movement; and at least the young men in the
smoking-room--men who had come from town, from their duties and their
pleasures, expressly for the ball--were commenting to each other
carelessly upon the absence of their host. 'Young Burton has been off
for six months on a wandering fit, and old Burton is up to the eyes in
business, as usual,' Cyril Rivers explained, who was not unfriendly to
his entertainers; while the Marchioness, with Lady Florizel in the room
of state up-stairs, who was commenting upon Clara's behaviour, and
declaring her intention to leave next morning. 'Fortunately, Merewether
has not committed himself,' the Marchioness was saying. In another room
of the house, Mrs Burton's two aunts, supported by their two maids,
were shaking their heads together in mingled sorrow and anger. 'Depend
upon it, something will come of all this,' Mrs Everest said, as she put
on her nightcap; and Aunt Louisa cried, and exclaimed that when Clara
entered on such an extravagant course, she always knew that some
chastisement must come. 'I would shut that child up, and feed her on
bread and water,' cried the stronger-minded sister; and so said the
maids, who thought Miss Clary was bewitched--and with such a man!

While all this was going on, little Mrs Burton was alone in the
ball-room, which was still blazing with lights. She was seated wearily
in a big chair at one end. But for her diamonds, which sought the light,
and made a blaze of radiance round about her, like the aureole of a
saint, she would have been invisible in the great, spacious, empty room.
A deserted ball-room has been so often described, that I will not repeat
the unnecessary picture. This ball-room, however, had not a dismal
aspect; everything was too well managed for that. The flowers, arranged
in great brilliant banks of colour, were not fading, but looked as
brilliant as ever; the lights shone as brightly. Except for some flowers
dropped about from the bouquets of the dancers, some shreds of lace and
tulle torn from their dresses, it might have been before instead of
after the ball. Mrs Burton was seated at the further end. She sat quite
motionless, her hands crossed in her lap, her diamonds reflecting the
light. What a night this had been for her! The other parties concerned
had each had their share--her husband his ruin, her child her elopement;
but this small woman with her hands clasped, with this crowded house to
regulate and manage, with her part still to play in the world around
her, knew all and had all to bear. She sat thus among the ruins, nothing
hid from her, nothing postponed. Through her slight little frame there
was a dull throbbing of pain; but her head was clear, and did not lose a
jot of all that fate had done, of all it had in store. She did not
complain. She had foreseen much; she had gone forward with her eyes
open; she had even said that were her husband to be bankrupt in two
days, she would give a ball on the intermediate night. If it was a brag,
she had excelled that brag; she had given her greatest ball, and reached
her apotheosis, on the very night when he was flying from justice. And
no good angel had interfered to soften to her the news of these
successive blows. She had herself opened the ball with old Lord
Bobadil--the man of highest rank present; and it was when she had
resumed her seat after that solemn ceremonial that Golden, whom she
hated, approached her, and whispered in her ear the news of her
husband's ruin. She had been prepared for the news, but not then, nor at
such a moment; nevertheless, she stood up and received the blow without
a cry, without a moment's failure of her desperate courage. And
everything had gone on. She was always pale, so that there was nothing
to betray her so far as that went, and her cares as hostess never
relaxed. She went from side to side, dispensing her attentions, looking
after everybody's comfort as if she had been a queen, and all the time
asking herself had he been taken? was he a prisoner? how much shame
should she have to bear? Then, when the slow hours had gone on, and the
insupportable din about her seemed as if it must soon come to an end,
there arrived that other messenger of woe, poor kind Mrs Dalton, with
tears in her eyes, and a voice which faltered. 'The rector has gone
after them. Oh, will you let me stay with you? Can I be of any use to
you?' Mrs Dalton had sobbed, attracting, as the other woman--the real
sufferer--knew, the attention of those groups about, who had no right to
know anything of her private sorrows. 'It is not necessary. My father
is here, and my aunts. I can have everything done that is wanted,' Mrs
Burton replied: and she had turned round to show some one who came to
ask her where the basket was with all the ribbons, and flowers, and
pretty toys for the cotillion. Through all this she had stood her
ground. She had shaken hands with the last of her guests and had seen
the visitors to their rooms before she gave in; and even now she was not
giving in. Had any one entered the empty room, Mrs Burton would have
proved equal to the occasion; she would have risen to meet them--have
talked on any subject with perfect self-command. But, fortunately, no
one came.

Poor old Mr Baldwin had arrived at Dura only that night, he had heard a
great many disquieting rumours, and he was very unhappy about his
son-in-law's position, and about the way in which his daughter took it.
Even the fact that she had her settlement scarcely consoled him; for he
said to himself that the creditors would 'reflect' upon all this
extravagance, and that even about the settlement itself a great deal
would be said. He had hovered about her all the evening, looking
wistfully at her, inviting her confidence; but Mrs Burton had not said a
word to him, even of her daughter's disappearance. She had felt no
impulse to do anything about Clary. Whether it was that all her energy
was required to bear up against those successive blows, or if her pride
shrank from informing even her own friends, or finally, if she felt it
useless, and knew that now no power on earth could compel the
self-willed girl to return, it is certain that Mrs Burton had 'taken no
steps.' Even now she did not think of taking any steps. She allowed her
father and her aunts to go to bed without a word. She sat and pondered,
and did nothing. Alone in that great blazing deserted room--alone in the
house--alone in the world: this was what she felt. Out of doors the
birds were singing and the sun shining; but the closed windows admitted
only the palest gleam of the daylight. When the servants came to tell
her that Mr Dalton was at the door, asking to see her, she sent him a
civil message: 'Many thanks; but her father was with her, and could do
all she wanted.' Then her maid came to ask if Mrs Burton did not want
anything, and was sent away with a wave of her hand. Then the butler
came timidly to ask should they shut up? was master to be expected? At
that summons Mrs Burton rose.

'I am tired,' she said, putting on her company calm; for Simmons the
butler was as important in his way as old Lord Bobadil. 'I was glad to
rest a little after all the worry. Yes, certainly, shut up, and let
everybody go to bed. I do not expect your master to-night.'

'If I might make so bold, madam,' said Simmons, 'Tom the groom have just
been in to say as orders was took to the stables to send the dog-cart
for master to the north gate, and as he took him up there and drove him
to Turley station, and as he gave him this note, and said as it was all
right.'

'All right!' She repeated the words, looking at him with a ghastly
bewilderment which frightened the man. And then she recovered herself,
and resumed her former composure. 'That will do, Simmons. Your master
had a--journey--to make. I was not aware he would have started so--soon.
Have everything shut up as quickly as possible, and let all the servants
go to bed.'

She went up-stairs, emerging all at once into the full morning sunshine
in the hall, which dazzled and appalled her. The light dazzled her eyes,
but not her jewels, which woke at its touch, and blazed about her with
living, many-coloured radiance. A little rainbow seemed to form round
her as she went up-stairs. How her temples throbbed! What a dull aching
was in every limb, in every pulse! She went into Clara's room first. She
was not a very tender mother, and never had been; yet almost every night
for seventeen years she had gone into that room before retiring to her
own. Clara's maid was seated, fast asleep, before a table on which a
candle was burning pitifully in the full daylight. The room looked trim
and still as a room does which has not been occupied in that early
brightness. The maid woke with a shiver as Mrs Burton entered.

'Oh, Miss Clara, I beg your pardon!' she said.

'It is no matter. My daughter will not want you to-night. Go to bed,
Jane,' said Mrs Burton. 'And you can tell Barnes to go to bed. Neither
of you will be wanted. Go at once.'

When she was left alone, she cast a glance round to see if there was any
letter. There was a little three-cornered note fastened on the
pin-cushion. She took that into her hand along with her husband's note,
which she held there, but did not attempt to read either. With a quick
eye she noted that Clara's jewel-case and all the presents which had
been showered upon her that morning--her eighteenth birthday--had gone.
A faint, mechanical smile came upon her face, and then she locked the
door, and went to her own room.

There she sat down again to think, with the diamonds still upon her and
all her ornaments, and the two letters in her hand. Why should she read
them? She knew exactly what they would be. The one she did open after a
long pause was Clary's. The other--had she any interest in it? it gave
her a sensation of disgust rather: she tossed it on the table. Clary's
note was very short. It ran thus:--

     'DEAR MAMMA,--Feeling sure you never would consent, and as we both
     know we could not live without each other, I have made up my mind
     to leave you. I shall be Mrs Golden when you get this, for he has
     prepared everything. We start immediately for the Lakes, and I will
     write you from there. Of course it would have been nicer to have
     been Lady Somebody; but then I never saw any one who was half so
     nice as he is; and he hopes, and so do I, that you will soon make
     up your mind to it, and forgive us.

     'Your affectionate CLARY.

     'He bids me say it is to be at St James's, Piccadilly, and that if
     you inquire, you will find everything quite right.'

Mrs Burton tossed this from her too on to the same table where the
father's letter lay unopened. The scorn with which they filled her
stopped for a moment the movements of that wonderful machine for
thinking which nothing had yet arrested. It was 'human nature' _pur et
simple_. Clara had taken her jewels, had made sure it was 'all right'
about the wedding; and the father had sent the same message--'all
right.' All right! A smile flitted across the pale, almost stern, little
face of the woman who was left to bear all this, and to bear it alone.
Most other women would have made some passionate attempt to do
something--to pursue the one or the other--to go to their succour. Mrs
Burton had no such impulse. She was like a soldier who has fought to the
last gasp; she stood still upon her span of soil, her sword broken, her
banner taken from her; nothing to fight for any longer, yet still, with
the instinct of battle, holding out, and standing firm. So long as there
was any excuse for keeping up the conflict, she would have borne every
blow like a stoic; what she could not bear was the thought of giving
in; and the hour for giving in had come.

Must it be told? Must she acknowledge before the world that all had been
in vain? that her husband was a fugitive, her daughter the victim of a
scoundrel, her family for ever crushed down and trampled in the dust? To
everything else she could have wound up her high courage. This was the
only thing that was really hard for her, and this was what she had to
do. How much, she wondered, would she have to suffer? Probably Mr Burton
would be taken, tried, share the fate which various men whose names she
knew had already borne. Should she have to go to him? to visit him in
his prison? to read her own name in the papers--'Mrs Burton spent an
hour with the prisoner.' 'His wife was present!' She clasped her small,
thin hands together. For a long time she had wondered whether when it
came she would feel it. She could have answered her own question now.
Ruin, shame, public comment, sudden descent from her high estate,
humiliation, sympathy, even pity--all these were before her; and it
would have been hard for her to say which was the worst.

The young men roused her with their voices as they came up-stairs. It
was not worth while going to bed, she heard one say; a bath, and then a
long walk somewhere before breakfast was the only thing possible. This
called her attention to the clock striking on the mantelpiece. Six
o'clock! No longer night, but day! She rose, and took off her jewels and
her evening dress. It troubled, and tired, and irritated her to do all
this for herself; but she succeeded at last. A nightly vigil, and even
all the emotion through which she had passed did not make the same
difference to her colourless countenance which it would have done to a
more blooming woman. When she knocked at her father's door, and went in
to his bedside to speak to him, he thought her looking very much as
usual. He thought he must have overslept himself, which was likely
enough, considering how late he had been last night; and that she had
come to call him and have a chat with him before all her fine people
came down to breakfast. It was kind of Clara. It showed, what he had
sometimes doubted, that she was still capable of recollecting that she
was his child.

'I have come to tell you of some things that have happened,' she said,
sitting down in the big chair by the bed, 'and to ask your advice and
help. Some strange things have happened to-night. In the first place,
papa, you were a true prophet. Mr Burton has been obliged to go away.'

'To go away?'

'Yes, to escape, to fly--whatever you call it. He is--ruined. I suppose
he must be worse than ruined,' she added quietly; 'for--I hear--the
police----'

'Oh, Clara! Oh, my poor, poor child!'

'Don't be sorry for me, papa. Let us look at it calmly. I am not one to
cry, you know, and get over it in that way. So far as I have heard yet,
he has got off: he reached Turley station this morning, I suppose in
time for the train. Most likely he has money, as he has not asked for
any, and he may get safely off. Stop, papa; that is not all I have to
tell you. There is something more.'

'Clara, my own poor girl! there can be nothing so bad.'

'Some people would think it worse,' she said. 'Papa, don't say any more
than you can help. Clara has--eloped. She has gone off with Mr Golden,
whom you all forgave, whom I hated, who was--her father's friend.'

The old man gave a great cry. Clary was his grandchild, whom he adored.
He loved her with that fond, caressing, irresponsible love which is
sometimes sweeter than even a parent's love for his own child. It was
for others to find fault with, to correct, her; the grandfather had
nothing to do but admire, and pet, and praise. 'Clary!' it was but the
other day that he told her stories as she sat on his knee!

'Yes, Clary. Here is her note, and here is--Mr Burton's. They are both
gone. All this has happened since last night.'

'Clara, what o'clock is it now?'

'Half-past six,' she said, mechanically taking out her watch, 'and
fortunately nobody will be stirring for some time at least. Papa, what
are you going to do?'

'I am going to get up,' he said. 'Clara, there is still time. If I can
get up to town by the first train, I may be in time to stop it yet.'

'To stop--what?'

'The marriage, child, the marriage! Clary's destruction! Go away, my
dear, and let me get up.'

'It would be of no use,' she said. 'Papa, when Clary has made up her
mind, nothing that we can say would stop her. You might do it by law,
perhaps; but she will never come home again--never hear reason. I know
her better. There were a great many things I wanted to ask about----'

'Leave me just now, for heaven's sake, Clara! I must try, at least, to
save the child.'

She rose without another word, and went away. A smile once more stole
upon her face, and stayed there, rigid and fixed. He might have been of
a little help to herself; but he thought of Clary first--Clary, who was
obstinate, and whom nothing could move--who was coaxing and winning to
those who loved her, and would persuade the old man to anything. Well,
Mrs Burton said to herself, she had hoped for his help for a moment; but
now it was clear that she must do everything for herself.

She went down-stairs, and took down a cloak which hung in the hall, and
wrapping it about her, stepped out into the fresh air. That, at least,
might help her, though nothing else would. She walked down to the
avenue, to the skirt of the woods. Like a cordial the soft air breathed
about her, and gave her a certain strength. She was not a woman who
cared about the meaner delights of wealth; all these she would have
given up without a pang. But to exchange this large, free, lofty life
which she had been leading for the restrained and limited existence of
her father's house--to be no longer entire mistress of her own actions,
but to be bound by her father's antiquated notions, by what Aunt
Everett and Aunt Louisa thought proper--that would be hard to bend her
mind to. To give up Dura for Clapham! Even that she could do stoically,
and no one would ever be the wiser. But to bear all the shame, all the
comments, a husband in prison, a story of romance of real life, ruin of
the father, elopement of the daughter, in the newspapers! Mrs Burton
gave no outward sign of the struggle that went on within her, but she
clasped her little thin white hands together, and she recognised at
once, wholly and clearly, without any self-deception, what she would
have to bear.

She waited there till her father came up to her on his way to the
station. He stopped and told her he would come back as soon as he could.

'Most likely I will take Clary to Clapham first,' he said. 'Better than
here, don't you think? She might be frightened to face you after her
folly. My dear, take a little courage, if you can. The innocent child
has given us all the clue that is necessary--St James's, Piccadilly. No
marriage could take place before eight o'clock, and I shall reach there
soon after--in time to prevent that, at least. I will take her to
Clapham, and then, my dear, I will come straight back to you.'

'Very well, papa,' she said.

In her heart she wondered at his simplicity, at the folly of his hopes;
but what was the use of saying anything? If it pleased him to do this,
if this was what he thought best, why, let him do it. Let every one act
as it seemed good in his own eyes.

'And by-the-by, Clara, one thing more,' he said--'Ned's address. Where
is he now? I must telegraph at once for him.'

Then some faint semblance of the tigress guarding her young appeared in
Mrs Burton.

'Ned! Why should Ned be brought home? Why should he be involved in
trouble he has nothing to do with? He is out of it; he, at least, is
safe. No, papa; I will not have him brought back.'

'Clara, you are mad, you are incomprehensible!' cried her father. 'Give
me the boy's address.'

'I will not,' she answered, looking at him.

The woman had come to light in her at last--the woman and something of
the mother. As a daughter she had neglected none of the observances of
respect. She had been dutiful, though she had long been an independent
agent, and had forgotten the very idea of obedience. But never had she
defied her father before. She did it now calmly, as she did everything.
She had upheld her family and its importance as long as mortal strength
could do it; and now when that had failed, she could at least defend her
boy.

'Clara, you astonish me. I could not have believed it of you,' said her
father severely.

But he had no time to remonstrate or to command. He had to hurry away
for his train. And she stood and looked after him, her breath for the
first time quickened with excitement, her resolution bringing a certain
colour to her cheek. Ned was safe, and out of all this trouble. It was
the only gleam of comfort in her clouded sky. He who should bring her
boy back to undergo all this shame and suffering was her enemy, though
it were done on the specious pretence of serving her. To bring her son
back to support and help her would be to do her the last and cruellest
wrong. She could do without the help and support. She was ready to bear
anything, since it must be borne. What relief could it afford her to
know that another suffered too, and that other her son? She went back to
the house with quickened steps under the sway of the thought, that Ned,
at least, was safe and out of it. She was not the kind of woman who
would complain of bearing anything alone.

Breakfast was a very late and straggling meal that day at Dura; but Mrs
Burton was the first at the table--before even the young man who had
proposed a bath and a walk instead of sleep. The breakfast was as
sumptuous, as well served, as usual, and there were the same number of
servants about, the dogs, as usual, on the lawn, the man with the
post-bags, as usual, visible, coming up the avenue. The ordinary eye
would have seen no indication of any change. But Mrs Burton made a calm
little speech to every new group, which had the most curiously
disconcerting effect upon her guests. She said to them that family
circumstances compelled her to make preparations at once for leaving
Dura; that some things had happened which she need not tell them
of--family events--which had changed all her arrangements. She hoped,
under these circumstances, they would pardon her, if she said
plainly----

'Oh, yes, certainly. Not another word,' the visitors cried, dismayed.
They all gazed at each other, and whispered over their teacups when her
back was turned. They heard her say the same thing to one party after
another--even to the Marchioness herself, who had come down fully
primed, meaning to overwhelm Mrs Burton with a theatrical leave-taking.

'Why, why, why!' she cried in her wrath, 'you mean that you want to--get
rid of us, Mrs Burton!' and her hair stood on end upon her noble head.

'I am afraid, without making any mystery of it, that is what I do mean,
Lady Upshire,' said the woman, who was only the wife of a rich City
man--a _parvenue_, one of the _nouveaux riches_--fixing her blue eyes
calmly upon her splendid guest.

'What pluck she has!' the young men said to themselves. They almost
cheered her for her dauntless front. And they were all gone by two
o'clock--Marchioness and maid, guardsman and public servant--every
visitor, gentle and simple. They disappeared as if by magic. What
questions they asked each other, what speculations they entertained
among themselves, Mrs Burton neither knew nor cared. The first thing was
to be free of them; and when the afternoon came, she was alone with the
startled servants and her two aunts, to whom as yet she had given no
explanations, and whose private opinion, stated a hundred times that
morning, was, that at last beyond all controversy Clara must be mad.



CHAPTER X.


Mr Baldwin came back to Dura in the afternoon, worn out and
disappointed--foiled by the simple fact, which had never occurred to the
old man as possible, that Clary--his innocent Clary--had wittingly or
unwittingly given a false indication, and that St James's, Piccadilly,
knew nothing of any such marriage. Mr Baldwin drove to all the hotels,
to all the churches, he could think of, from St James's, Camberwell, to
St James's, Kentish Town, but in vain. Just when it was too late to
follow them further, he discovered an anonymous little chapel which he
must have passed a dozen times in his journeys, where the ceremony had
actually taken place. Charles Golden to Clara Burton. Then he had gone
to the Northern Railway Station, and discovered that they had left by
the eleven o'clock train. All he had done had been to verify their
movements. The poor old man aged ten years during this running to and
fro. He went back to his daughter worn out and miserable. Little Clary,
the pride of the family, with all her beauty, her youth, and the
possibilities that lay before her! 'Now I know that we may go too far in
carrying out the precepts of Christianity,' he groaned, when his
sympathetic sisters came to console him. 'We thought he had repented,
and we took him back to our hearts.' In this, however, poor Mr Baldwin
deceived himself. Golden had been received back into their hearts, not
because he had repented, but because the scandal against him had died
into oblivion, and because in their souls even the honest men admired
the consummate cleverness of the rogue. And in this point, at least, Mr
Golden had not been mercenary; he had actually fallen in love with Clara
Burton, knowing the desperate state of her father's affairs--affairs
which were so desperate, when he was called on to help in regulating
them, that he had been 'obliged to decline' the task. Golden had a
little Sybarite 'place' of his own on the shores of the Mediterranean.
So many scraps of money had adhered to his fingers in his various
commercial adventures, though these adventures were always unfortunate,
that he could afford himself that crowning luxury of a beautiful wife;
and then Mr Baldwin was a rich man and a doting grandfather, who after a
while would be sure to forgive.

As for Mrs Burton, she had expected her father's failure, and was not
surprised or disappointed. She had given her daughter up, not with any
revengeful or vindictive intention, but simply as a matter of fact. 'Oh,
don't curse her, Clara!' Aunt Louisa sobbed in the midst of her tears.
And then indeed Mrs Burton was surprised. 'Curse her! I have no
intention of cursing her,' she said. Clary had taken her own way; she
had pleased herself. What she had done was quite easily to be accounted
for; it was human nature. Mrs Burton was not subject to passions
herself, but she recognised them as a motive-power; and though perhaps
in her inmost heart there was a sense of shame that _her_ child should
be violently moved by those lowest, almost brutal, forces (for so she
deemed them), yet her intelligence understood and allowed the
possibility. Clary had acted according to her nature; that was all that
was to be said. She had laid an additional burden upon her family--or
rather upon her mother, the only one of the family left to bear it; but
then it was not natural to Clary to take account of what other people
might have to bear. Thus Mrs Burton accepted it, making no complaint.
If it gave her any additional individual pang for itself, and not merely
as part of the whole, she at least said little about it, and made no
individual complaint.

But there came a moment when actual feeling, emotion not to be
disguised, broke forth in this self-possessed woman. She had decided to
remain at Dura till further news, and until her husband's affairs could
be fully examined into; and though her aunts went home, her father
remained with her. Two long days passed over without news. On the third,
Tuesday, Mr Baldwin went to town to make what inquiries were possible.
As yet there had been but vague hints in the newspapers--rumours of
changes affecting 'a well-known name in the City'--and the old man had
hesitated to show himself, to ask any questions which might, as he said,
'precipitate matters.' 'While we are in ignorance, quiet is best,' he
had said; but when the third day arrived, though Mrs Burton still bore
the suspense like a stoic, Mr Baldwin could not bear it any longer. When
he was gone, she showed no signs of impatience; she went about her
business as usual, and she had a great deal to do. She had begun at once
to wind up the accounts of the house, to arrange with her servants, to
whom she was a just and not ungenerous mistress, when they should go,
and what would be done to find them places. But when the languid
afternoon came, her energy flagged a little. She did not allow, even to
herself, that she was anxious. She went into the great drawing-room, and
sat down near a window from which she could see the avenue. Perhaps for
the first time, the impulse came into her mind to prefer a smaller room,
to take refuge somewhere else than in this waste of damask and gilding;
but if such was the case, she restrained and condemned the thought. She
was herself so small, almost invisible, in the great, silent place, full
of those mirrors which reflected nothing, those chairs where no one sat.
No marble statue with a finger on its lip was ever so complete an
embodiment of silence as she, seated there all alone, motionless,
looking out upon the road. It might have been hours before any one came.
A summer afternoon, slow, languid, endless, one vast blank of drowsy
calm and blazing sunshine, the wind too listless to blow, the leaves too
heavy to wave, everything still, even the birds. But at last, at last
some one came--not Mr Baldwin's slow, heavy old steps, but rapid young
ones, light and impatient. She gazed at the speck as it gradually
approached, and became recognisable. Then her heart gave a great
unexpected, painful throb. Ned! Her last little gleam of satisfaction,
her last comfort, then, was not to be. He was not out of it, safe, as
she had hoped, but here to bear all the brunt, to share all the shame.
She tried to get up, to go and meet him, but sank back, faint and
incapable, in her chair, trembling, sick to the heart; overwhelmed for
the first time.

He came in, bringing a gust of fresh air (it seemed) with him. He was
dusty, and pale, and eager.

'Mother!' he cried, as he came up to her.

She held up her hand with a gesture which was almost passionate,
repelling him.

'Oh, Ned, Ned! why have you come here?'

'Don't you want me, mamma?'

He kissed her as he spoke, and put his arm round her. If she had been
another kind of woman, he would have sobbed on her breast, for the lad's
heart was very sore.

'No, I do not want you,' she said. 'I thought you were safe. I thought
you were out of it all. I was ready to bear anything--it cannot hurt
me--any more. But you, a boy, a lad, with all your life to come! Oh,
Ned, Ned, why have you come here?' She had never done it before in all
her life. She did not embrace him, but clutched at his arm with her two
hands, and shed passionate, hot tears. 'I do not want you! I do not want
you!' she cried, and clung to him. 'I wish you were at the end of the
world!'

'Oh, mother!' cried the boy.

He was fond of her, though perhaps she had never done anything to
deserve it. And she--loved him. Yes. All at once she found it out, with
a mother's passion. Loved him so that she would have been glad never to
see him again; glad to be cut in pieces for him; glad to suffer shame,
and pain, and misery, and ruin alone, that he might be out of it. This,
which she had scarcely suspected, she found out at last.

But when this moment was over, and the fact that he had come was
indisputable, and had to be made the best of, Mrs Burton recovered her
usual calm. She was ashamed of herself for having 'broken down.' She
said it was fatigue and want of sleep which had made her weak, and then
she told him all the circumstances dispassionately, as was natural to
her. He himself had been summoned by a telegram from Golden. He had been
at Dresden when he received it, and he had travelled night and day. But
why from Golden, he asked, a man whom he hated? 'Your mother wants you
here. There has been a great smash, and your presence is indispensable,'
was what the telegram had said. But I will not attempt to describe how
the little, pale, dispassionate mother told the tale, nor how the young
son, full of youthful passion, indignation, rage, and grief, heard of
his family's downfall, and the ruin of all its prospects and hopes.

When Mr Baldwin came back, he brought news still more overwhelming. The
fact which had made further concealment impossible, and had driven
Burton to flight, was the winding up of a trust account for which he had
been responsible. The property had been invested by him, and he had paid
the interest regularly; but it was found that not a penny of the
original capital remained; he had appropriated all. When it was known
that he had disappeared, other inquiries had been at once set on foot,
but kept carefully out of the papers, lest his escape might be
facilitated; and then such disclosures were made as Mr Baldwin could
only repeat bit by bit, as his strength permitted. The old man cried
like a child; he was utterly broken down. It had even come out about
Rivers's, he said. One of the missing books, which poor Drummond had
been accused of destroying, had been found in a private safe, along with
other damning accounts, which the unhappy man had not been able to
destroy or conceal, so quickly did his fate overtake him. The unhappy
man! Both Mr Baldwin and Mrs Burton remembered the time when Robert
Drummond had been thus described--when all the newspapers had preached
little sermons about him, with many a repetition of this title--articles
which Burton had read, and shaken his head over, and declared were as
good as sermons, warning the ignorant. This flashed upon Mrs Burton's
mind, and it came more dimly to her father. Fortunately, Ned's misery
was not complicated by such recollections; he had enough without that.

'But the general impression is that he has escaped,' said Mr Baldwin;
and he repeated to them the vague account which had been given to him of
the two futile detectives, who had watched the fugitive into a house,
and kept in front of it, putting the inhabitants on their guard, while
he was smuggled out by a side-door. No doubt he had escaped. And it was
known that he had money; for he had drawn a large sum out of the bank
the day before.

'I am glad you have come back, Ned,' the grandfather added. 'It is you
who ought to manage all this, and not your mother. Of course she has
her settlement, which nobody can touch. And I think now, my dear, that
you should leave Dura, and come with me to Clapham. You will have your
aunts' society to make up a little, and it will be more convenient for
Ned.'

Mrs Burton looked at her son almost wistfully.

'Ned, is there any sacrifice I can make that will induce you to go
away?'

'None, mother,' he said, 'none. I will do anything else that you ask me.
But here I must have a will of my own. I cannot go away.'

'Go away!' said Mr Baldwin. 'I don't know how he has got here; for your
mother would not let me send for you, Ned; but of course this is your
proper place. It will be very painful--very painful,' said the old man.
'But you have your settlement, Clara; and we must hope everything will
turn out for the best.'

'My mother will give up her settlement, sir, of course,' said Ned.
'After what has happened, she could not--it would be impossible--What!
you don't see it? Must not those suffer who have done the wrong?'

'Ned, you are a fool,' said Mr Baldwin, 'a hot-headed young fool. I see
your sense now, Clara. That scoundrel, Golden, has sent for him only to
increase our vexation. Give up her settlement! Then pray how is she to
live?'

'With me,' said Ned, rising up, and standing behind his mother's chair.
He would have taken her hand to sustain him, if he could; but she did
not give him her hand. He put his on the back of her chair. That, at
least, was something to give him strength.

'With you!' Mr Baldwin was moved by this absurdity to something of his
former vigour. 'It would be satisfactory, indeed, trusting her to you. I
will have no Quixotical nonsense brought in. This is my affair. I am the
proper person to look after my daughter's settlement. It is the only
comfort in a bad business. Don't let me hear any more of such childish
folly.'

'It is not folly,' said Ned firmly, though his voice trembled. 'I am
sure my mother feels like me. We have no right to keep anything while my
father has been spending other people's money; or if we have a right in
law--'

Mrs Burton put up her hand to stop him. It was the first time in her
life that she had allowed herself to be discussed, what she should or
would do, without taking any share in it. The fact was, the question was
a new one--the problem quite strange to her. She had considered it as
certain up to this moment that her settlement belonged to her
absolutely, and that her husband's conduct one way or other could have
no effect upon her undoubted right. The problem was altogether new. She
put up her hand to interrupt the discussion.

'I have not thought of this,' she said. 'Ned, say no more. I want time
to think. I shall tell you to-morrow what I will do.'

Against this decision there was not a word to say. The old man and the
boy gave up their discussion as suddenly as they had begun it. Let them
argue as they would, it was she who must settle the question; and just
then the great bell rang--the bell which regulated the clock in the
village, and warned all the countryside when the great people at the
great house were going to dine. The ears which were accustomed to it
scarcely noted the sound; but Ned, to whom it had become a novelty, and
as great a mockery as a novelty, started violently, put up his hands to
his ears, and rushed out into the hall, where Simmons stood in all the
splendour of his evening dress.

'Stop that infernal noise!' cried poor Ned, in a sudden outburst of rage
and humiliation. He felt tempted to knock down the solemn spy before
him, who already, he saw, had noted his dusty dress, his agitated face.

'Happy to see you home, sir,' said Simmons. 'Did you speak, sir? Is
there anything as I can do for you?'

'The bell is not to be rung any more,' said Ned, walking gloomily off to
his room. It was the first sign to the general world that the grandeur
of Dura had come to an end.

A mournful dinner followed, carefully cooked, carefully served, an
assiduous, silent servant behind each chair, and eaten as with ashes,
and bitterness, and tears, a few faint remarks now and then, a feeble
attempt, 'for the sake of the servants,' to look as if nothing was the
matter. It was Mr Baldwin chiefly, a man who never could make up his
mind that all was over, who made these attempts. Mrs Burton, for her
part, was above all pretences. Her long stand against approaching ruin
was over; she had laid down her arms, and she no longer cared who knew
it. And as for Ned, he was too miserable, too heart-broken, to look
anything but overwhelmed with sorrow and shame, as he was.

In the evening he strolled out, feeling the air of the house
insupportable. His mother had gone to her room with her new problem
which she had to solve, and Mr Baldwin was tired, and fretful, and
anxious to get to bed early, feeling that there was a certain virtue in
that fact of going early to bed which might redeem the unusually
disturbed, excited life he was leading--a life in which he had been
fatally entangled with ruins, and elopements, and sitting up half the
night. Ned, who had no mind for sleep, and no power of thinking which
could have been of any service to him in the circumstances, went out
disconsolately, saying to himself that a stroll in the woods might do
him good. But when he had reached the top of the avenue, where the path
diverged into the woods, some 'spirit in his feet' led him straight on.
Why, he asked himself, should he go to the village? Why should he go to
the Gatehouse? Yes, that was where he wanted to go--where his foolish
heart had gone before him, courting slight and scorn. Why should he go?
If she had sent him away then with contumely, how much more now? At that
time, if she had but looked upon him kindly, he had thought he had
something to offer her worthy her acceptance. Now he had nothing, and
less than nothing--an empty purse and a dishonoured name. Ned slouched
his hat over his eyes. He would go and look at the house, look at her
window. If he might see her face again, that would be more than he hoped
for. Norah could be nothing--nothing to him now.

So saying, he wandered down the leafy, shadowy way. The sun had set, the
gray of the evening had come on; the moon was past the full, and rose
late; it was one of those soft, tranquil, mournful summer evenings which
fill the heart with wistfulness and longings. The water came unbidden
into poor Ned's eyes. Oh, what ruin, what destruction had overwhelmed
him and his since last he walked down that path! Then everything that
life could offer to make up for the want of Norah (though that was
nothing) lay within his grasp. Now, though Norah was clearly lost,
everything else was lost with her. He saw no hope before him; his very
heart was crushed; a beggar, and more than a beggar; a man who did not
know how to dig or how to work; the son of a father who was disgraced.
These were miserable thoughts to pour through the mind of a young man of
twenty-one. There have been others who have had as much to bear; but
they, perhaps, had no Norah to complicate and increase the burden. As he
drew near the Gatehouse, his heart began to beat louder. Possibly she
would not care to speak to him at all, he thought; how quickly she had
dismissed him last time, when he had no stains upon him, as he had now!

He drew his hat still more over his brows. He walked quickly past the
Gatehouse. The windows were all open, and Stephen Haldane sat within, in
an interior faintly lighted up by the candles which Miss Jane had just
set down upon the table.

'Don't shut my window yet,' he heard the invalid say. 'My poor window!
My chief pleasure!'

It was strange to Ned to hear those words, which seemed to let him into
the very secret of the sick man's life.

'And a capital window it has been too,' said Miss Jane briskly, thinking
of the book, and the money it had brought in.

Ned slackened his steps when he had passed. There had been something at
one of the windows on the other side--something, a shadow, a passing
gleam, as of a pale face pillowed upon two arms. The poor boy turned,
and went back this time more slowly. Yes, surely there was a face at the
window. The arms were withdrawn now; there was no light inside to reveal
who it was; only a something--a pale little face looking out.

Back again--just once more, once more--to have a last look. He would
never see her again, most likely. As far away as if she were a star in
heaven would she be henceforward. He would pass a little more slowly
this time; there was no one about to see him. The road was quieter than
usual; no one in sight; and with his hat so over his eyes, who could
recognise him? He went very softly, lingering over every step. She was
still there, looking out, and in the dark with no one near her! Oh,
Norah! If she could but know how his heart was pulling at him, forcing
him towards that door!

He thought he heard some sound in the silence as of an exclamation, and
the face disappeared from the window. A moment after the door opened
suddenly, and a little figure rushed out.

'Ned!' it said, 'Ned! Is it possible? Can it be you? And, oh, what do
you mean walking about outside like that, as if you knew nobody here?'

'Oh, Norah! I did not know if I might come,' said abject Ned.

'Of course you may come. Why shouldn't you come? Oh, Ned, I was so
lonely! I am so glad to see you! I did not know what to do with myself.
Susan would not bring in the lamp, and I am so afraid of this room when
it is dark!'

'How you once frightened me about it!' he said, as he went in with her.

His heart felt so much lighter, he could not tell how. Insensibly his
spirits rose, and with a sense of infinite refreshment, and even of
having escaped from something, he went back to the recollections of his
youth. Such an innocent, simple recollection, belonging to the time when
all was pleasure, when there was no pain.

'Did I? But never mind. Oh, Ned! poor Ned! have they brought you here
because of all this trouble? I have so much to say to you. My heart is
breaking for you. Oh, you poor, poor, dear boy!'

This was not how he had expected to be spoken to. He could scarcely see
her face, it was so dark, what with the curtains at the windows and the
shadows of the lime leaves; but she had put her hand into his to comfort
him. He did not know what to say; his heart was torn in twain, between
misery and joy. It was so hard to let any gleam of light into that
desperate darkness; and yet it was so hard to keep his heart from
dancing at the sound of her soft, tender voice.

'Norah,' he said, 'oh, Norah! it will not be so very bad if you are
sorry for me. You would not speak to me last time. I thought I might,
perhaps, never see you again.'

'Oh, Ned! I was only a child. How foolish I was! I hoped you would look
back; but you never looked back; and we who have been brought up
together, who have always been--fond of each other!'

'Do you? do you? Oh, Norah! not just because you are sorry? Do you
care--a little for me? Speak the truth.'

'Ned, Ned!--I care for you more than anybody--except mamma.'

There was a little silence after this. They were like two children in
the simplicity of their youth; their hearts beat together, their
burdens--and both the young shoulders were weighed down by premature
burdens--were somehow lightened, they could not tell how.

After a while, Norah, nestling like a little bird in the dark, said
softly, 'Do you mind sitting without the lamp?' and Ned answered, 'No.'
They sat down together, holding each other's hands; they were not afraid
of the dark. They poured out their hearts to each other. All his
sorrows, all his difficulties, Ned poured into Norah's sympathetic
bosom; and she cried, and he consoled her; and she patted his hand or
his sleeve, and said, 'Poor boy! Poor, dear Ned!' It was not much. She
had no advice to give him, not many words of wisdom; but what she did
say was as healing as the leaves of that tree in Paradise. Her touch
stanched all his wounds.

'I have something to tell you too,' she said, trembling a little, when
all his tale had been told. Ned, you have heard of poor papa, my father,
who died before we came here? Oh, Ned! listen. Stoop down, and let me
whisper. Ned, he did not die--'

'Norah!'

'Hush. Yes; it is quite true. Oh, don't be frightened. I can't help
being frightened staying here alone. Mamma went to him yesterday. Oh,
Ned! after seven years! Was there ever anything so strange?'

'Poor Mrs Drummond!' said Ned. Oh, Norah, thank God; my father has not
done so much harm as I thought. Are you all alone, my own darling? I
suppose she was happy to go.'

He said this with a strange accent of blame in his voice. 'For her own
selfish happiness she could leave Norah--my Norah--all alone!' This was
what the young man, in his haste, thought.

'I think she was frightened too,' said Norah, under her breath. 'She did
not understand it. It is as if he had been really dead, and come alive
again. Mamma did not say anything; but I know she was frightened too.'

'Norah, most likely he hates us. If he should try to keep you from me--'

'Oh, Ned, do you mean that this means anything? Do you think it is
right? We are all in such trouble, not knowing what may happen. Do you
mean,' said Norah, faltering and trembling, 'do you mean that this
means--Is it--being engaged?'

'Doesn't it, dear? Oh, Norah, what could it mean else? You would never
have the heart to cast me off now?'

'Cast you off! Oh, no, Ned! Oh, never, Ned! But then that is different.
We are so dreadfully young. We have no money. We are in such trouble.
Oh! do you think it is right?'

'It can't be wrong to be fond of each other, Norah; and you said you
were--a little.'

'Yes; oh, yes! Oh, Ned! do be satisfied. Isn't it enough for us to care
for each other--to be the very best, dearest friends?'

'It is not enough for me,' he said, turning his head aside, and speaking
sternly in the dark.

'Isn't it, Ned?' said Norah timidly. 'Ned, I wish I could see your face.
You are not angry? You poor, dear boy! Oh! you don't think I could have
the heart to cross you? and you in such trouble. Ned, what must we do?'

'You must promise me, Norah, on your true and faithful word, that you
will marry me as soon as we can, whatever anybody may say.'

Norah in her alarm seized at the saving clause which staved off all
immediate terrors.

'When we _can_, Ned.'

'Yes, my own darling. You promise? I shall not mind what happens if I
have your promise--your faithful promise, Norah.'

'I promise you faithfully, Ned--faithfully, dear Ned!--when we can--if
it should not be for years.'

'But it shall be!' he cried; and then they kissed each other, poor
children! and Norah was sitting by herself crying when Susan brought in
the lamp.



CHAPTER XI.


Mrs Burton took her new problem away with her into the quiet of her
room. It was a question which had never occurred to her before. Some few
first principles even an inquiring mind like hers must take for granted,
and this had been one of them. She had no love for money, and no
contempt for it--it was a mere commonplace necessity, not a thing to be
discussed; and though she had a high natural sense of honour and
honesty, in her own person, it had not occurred to her to consider that
in such a matter she had anything to do but to accept the arrangement
which was according to law and common custom, an arrangement which, of
course, had been made (theoretically) in view of a calamity such as had
just happened. It was the intention of her settlement, and of all
settlements, she said to herself, to secure a woman against the chances
of her husband's ruin. She, in most cases, was entirely irresponsible
for that ruin. She had nothing to do with it, and was unable to prevent
it. She had married with the belief that she herself and her children
would be provided for, and the first duty of her friends was to make
sure that it should be so. Up to this point there was no flaw in the
argument. Mrs Burton knew that she had brought her husband a good
fortune; and her future had been secured as an equivalent. It was like
buying a commission--it was like making an investment. She had put in so
much, she had a right to secure to herself absolutely the power of
taking it out again, or recovering what had been hers. Mr Burton had not
incurred his liabilities with her knowledge or consent; he had never
consulted her on the matter. He had never said or even hinted to her
that her expenditure was too great, that he could not afford it. True it
was possible that fastidious persons might blame her for proceeding so
long on her splendid course, after hints and rumours had reached her
about her husband's position; but these were nothing more than rumours.
She had no sort of official information, nothing really to justify her
in making a sudden change in her household, which probably would have
affected Mr Burton's credit more than her extravagance. She was in no
way responsible. She had even protested against the re-introduction of
Golden into his affairs. She could not blame herself for anything she
had done; she had always been ready to hear, always willing to give him
her advice, to second him in any scheme he propounded to her. She put
herself at the bar, and produced all the evidence she knew of, on both
sides of the question, and acquitted herself. The money she could have
saved by economy was not worth considering in the magnitude of Mr
Burton's affairs. She had done nothing which she could feel had made her
his accomplice in his wrong-doing.

And she had no right to balk her father in his care for her--to
establish a bad precedent in regard to the security of marriage
settlements--to put it in the power of any set of creditors to upbraid
some other woman whose view of her duty might be different. She had no
right to do it. She had to think not of herself only, but of all the
married women who slept serenely in the assurance that, whatever
happened, their children's bread was secure. She reflected that such a
step would put an end to all security--that no woman would venture to
marry, that no father would venture to give his child to a man in
business, if this safeguard were broken down. It would be impossible. It
would be a blow aimed at the constitution of the country--at the best
bulwark of families; it would be an injustice. Of all a commercial man's
creditors, surely his wife was the one claimant who had most right to
come first. Others might be partially involved; she had put everything
in his hands. Without this safeguard she would not have married him, she
would not have been permitted to marry him. Going over the question
carefully, Mrs Burton felt, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she had
right on her side.

She had right on her side--but she had not Ned. This was a very
different matter--an argument such as she had scarcely ever taken into
consideration before. Mrs Burton did not disdain the personal argument.
She knew that in the confused state of human affairs, in the intricate
range of human thoughts, it was often impossible to go upon pure reason,
and that personal pleas had to be admitted. But she had never
consciously done this before. She was almost scornful of her own
weakness now. But she could not help herself. She had to suffer the
entrance of this great personal argument, if with a mental pang yet
without resistance. She loved her son. All that reason could do for her,
all the approbation of her own judgment, the sense of right, the feeling
that her position was logically unassailable, would not be enough to
console her for the illogical, unreasoning disapproval of her boy. For
the first time in her life, with a great surprise, this certainty seized
upon her. Up to this time she had gone her own way, she had satisfied
herself that she was right according to her own standard, and she had
not cared what any one said or thought. But now all at once, with
wonder, almost with shame, she found that she had descended from this
high eminence. A whole host of foolish, childish, unreasonable
principles of action, inconsequences, and stupidities were suddenly
imported into her mental world by this apparition of Ned. Not the most
certain sense of right that reasoning creature ever had, would
neutralise, she felt, that pained and wondering look in her son's eyes.
If he disapproved it would be a cold comfort to her that reason was on
her side. If this indignant, impatient, foolish young soul protested
against her that what she did would not bear comparing with some
fantastic visionary standard which he called honour, what would it avail
her that by her own just standard of weight and measure she was not
found wanting? Thus all Mrs Burton's principles and habits, her ways of
thinking, the long-exercised solitary irresponsible power of her
intelligence, which had guided her through life for forty years, were
all at once brought to a sudden stand-still by the touch, by the breath
of that thing called Love, which, she knew not how, had suddenly come in
upon her like a giant. This new influence paralysed the fine, delicate,
exquisite machinery, by which hitherto all her problems had been worked
out. She tried to struggle against it, but the struggle was ineffectual.
It was the first time she had felt herself, acknowledged herself, to be
acting like a fool! What then? She could not help it. Even in the clear,
cold daylight of her mind the entrance of this new force, all shadowy,
mysterious, wonderful, could not be contested. She threw down her arms
once more. She had been beaten terribly, miserably in the battle of her
life--she was beaten sweetly, wonderfully now, in a way which melted her
hardness and made the disused heart beat and tremble strangely within
her, in the other world where reason hitherto had reigned supreme.

But nothing more was said on the subject for some time. Next morning
brought letters, which roused the little party once more into
excitement. There was one from Mr Burton, informing his wife that he had
got safely to France by a way little used, and was now in the small
seaport of St Servan, awaiting letters from his family, and their
advice as to what was best. He had not meant to go there, but a chance
encounter with Golden at the station had driven him to take the
down-train instead of the up-train. He would remain there if he could,
he added, until he heard from home; but if any alarm came would hasten
across the country to Brest, from whence he could get off to America. Mr
Burton did not say a word of apology or explanation, but he begged to
have news 'of all,' to be told 'how people were taking it,' and to have
the newspapers sent him. He added in a P.S. the following question: 'By
the way, what could Golden be doing at Turley Station, seven miles from
Dura, at four o'clock in the morning? And who could the lady be who was
with him? If you hear anything on this subject, let me know.'

Clara's letter was from Windermere. It was full of effusiveness and
enthusiasm, hoping that dearest mamma would forgive them. Papa, Charles
had told her, was not likely to be in a position to forgive any one, but
would want it himself, which was very dreadful; but was it not beautiful
of Charles, and showed how generous and true he was, that papa's ruin
made no difference to his feelings? This reflection, Clara said, made
her so happy, that she felt as if she could even forgive papa--for if he
had not been so rash and so wicked she never would have known how much
her dear Charles loved her. They were coming back to London in a
fortnight from this heavenly lake, and would start then on a roundabout
journey to Charles's delightful 'place' on the Mediterranean. And, oh!
Clara hoped with effusion, dearest mamma would see them, and forgive
them, and believe that she never had been so happy in her life as when
she signed herself dear mamma's ever affectionate Clara Golden. These
were the letters that came to the little party at Dura on the morning
after Ned's arrival. They were received with very different feelings by
the three. Mr Baldwin, on the whole, was pleased. He was pleased with
the 'love to grandpapa,' with which Clara wound up her letter; and he
was glad the child was happy at least. 'What is done cannot be undone,'
he said; 'and that is quite true about there being nothing mercenary in
it, you know.' Mrs Burton gave a faint smile as she laid the letters
down one after another. They were just such letters as she expected. Had
she been alone, perhaps, she would have tossed them from her in scorn,
as she had done with the previous notes; but that had been in a moment
of strong excitement, when she was not full mistress of herself; and
what was the good, Mrs Burton thought, of quarrelling with your own whom
you cannot alter; or of expecting sense and good taste where such
qualities did not exist? From these two, her husband and her daughter,
she did not expect any more.

But poor Ned was utterly cast down by these epistles. He asked himself,
as Norah had done when Mr Rivers left her at the door of the Academy's
Exhibition, was this natural? was this the way of the world? and, like
Norah, felt his own distress doubled by the horrible thought that to
think of your own comfort first and above all, and to be utterly unmoved
by the reflection that you have caused untold misery to others, is the
natural impulse of humanity. He was so sad, and looked so humbled, that
his mother's heart was penetrated in her new enlightenment by a strange
perception of how he was feeling. She was not so feeling herself. The
sight of selfishness, even on so grand a scale, did not surprise nor
shock her; but she felt what he was feeling, which was as strange to her
as a new revelation. The family at Dura during these days were like a
beleaguered city--they lived encircled in a close round, if not of
enemies, yet of observant, watchful spectators, who might become
enemies at any moment, who might note even the postmark on their
letters, and use that against them. Whenever a step was heard
approaching the door, a little thrill went through them. It might be
some one coming to announce deeper misfortune still. It might be some
one who dared to be insolent, some one who had a right to curse and
denounce. The tension of their nerves was terrible, the strain of
watchfulness, and the pain of standing secretly and always on their
defence.

'Let us go, let us go, Clara, I cannot stay here any longer; now that we
know where to write to them, let us go,' cried Mr Baldwin after the
letters had been read and discussed; and then the old man went out to
take a melancholy walk, and ponder what it would be best to do. Should
they go back to Clapham? or should he take his poor child away somewhere
for 'change of air'? If ever any one wanted change of air surely Clara
must.

'Ned, come here,' said Mrs Burton, when they were left alone. He went
and sat down by her, listless, with his hands in his pockets.
Notwithstanding the joy of last night, the letters, the shame and ruin
and misery, had overwhelmed Ned.

'I have been thinking over what you said yesterday about my settlement,'
said his mother. 'Ned, in one way your grandfather was right. It is the
equivalent to my fortune. It was the foundation of our family
life--without that I should not have been permitted to marry; I should
not probably have chosen to marry. To give up that is to make an end of
all the securities of life--I speak as arguing the question.'

'How can _we_ argue the question?' cried Ned. 'What have the securities
of life mattered to the others, who had no connection with--with my
father? He was nothing to them but a man of business. They trusted him,
and they have nothing left.'

'Yes, Ned; but if one of them had been a secured creditor, as it is
called, you would not have expected him to give up his security, in
order to place himself on an equal level with the others. The most
visionary standard of honour would never demand that.'

'We are not secured creditors. We are part of him, sharing his
responsibility,' cried Ned bitterly, 'sharing his shame.'

'But we are the first of all his creditors, all the same, in justice;
and our debt is secured. Ned, I do not say this is what I am going to
do; but I think, according to my judgment, your grandfather is right.'

'Then, mother----' He had risen up, his face had grown very pale, his
nostrils dilated, his eyes shining. She who had never been afraid for
anything in her life was afraid of her son--of his indignation, of his
wrath. She put out her hand, half appealing, half commanding, to stop
him. She caught at him, as it were, before he could say another word.

'Ned, hear me out first! I approve of it as a matter of justice. I think
we have no right to set up a new standard to make a rule for other women
in my position. There will always be such, I suppose. The settlement
itself was simply a precaution against this possible thing--which has
happened. But I do not say I mean to act according to my opinion. That
is different. I have--thought it over, Ned.'

'Mother,' he said, melting almost into tears, and taking her hand into
his, 'mother! you who are so much wiser than I am--you are going to let
yourself be guided by me?'

'Yes,' she said. 'I don't quite make myself out, Ned. I have always
taken my own way. Mine is the right way, the just way; but perhaps yours
is the best.'

'Mother, mother dear! I am awfully miserable; but I feel as if I could
tell you how happy I am, now.'

And, without another word of preface, without a pause to hear her out,
without even observing the bewildered look as of one stopped in
mid-career with which she regarded him, Ned dashed into the story of his
own love, of his despair and his joy. She listened to him with her blue
eyes dilating, looking out of her pale face like stars out of a winter
sky--suddenly stiffened back into a little silent stone-woman. She was
bewildered at first and thrown off her balance. And then gradually,
slowly, the new impatience and faith that had been born of love died in
her, and the old, cold, patient toleration, the faint smile, came back.
It was natural. His own affairs, of course, were the closest to him. He
thought of his private story first, not of hers. She had never subjected
herself to such a shock before, and did not know how hard it was to
bear. Well! but what of that? That was her own folly, not any one
else's. She had put aside her armour, thrown open her breast, for the
first time; and if an arrow, barbed and sharp, was the first thing that
came to it, that was but natural--it was her own fault. She sat,
therefore, and listened with the faint smile even now stealing about
her lips--a smile that was half at herself, half at human nature, thus
once more, once again, proving itself. And Ned, who had felt so bitterly
the absorption of his father and sister in their own affairs, their
indifference to the feelings of others--Ned did the same. He slurred
over the sacrifice which his mother, at no small cost, was bending her
own will to make, and rewarded her by the story of his own boyish
happiness--how Norah had cast him off once, how she loved him now. This
was the best, the only return he could make to her. From her own
serious, weighty purpose, which involved (she felt) so much, he led her
aside to his love-tale, of which, for the moment at least, it was
madness to expect that anything could come.

'But you don't say anything?' he said at last, half offended, when he
had done--or rather when her failure of response had stopped the fulness
of his speech.

'I don't know what I can say,' she answered, with a coldness which he
felt at once. 'This seems scarcely the time--scarcely the moment--'

'Of course,' he said hurriedly, 'I do not expect nor hope that it can be
very soon.'

'No one, I should think, would be so mad as to expect that,' said his
mother; 'and these long, aimless engagements, without any visible
end----'

'I do not see how my engagement can be thought aimless,' he said,
growing hot.

'Not in your own mind, I suppose; but, so far as anything like marriage
is concerned, considering the state of affairs generally, I do not see
much meaning in it,' said Mrs Burton coldly. 'Your prospects are not
brilliant. It was only last night, for instance, that you proposed to
burden yourself with me.'

'Mother!'

'It is quite true. In answer to your grandfather's sensible question how
I was to live, you answered: with you. Did you mean, upon some
hypothetical engagement, whatever you may happen to get, to support a
wife--and me?'

He made no answer. A hot flush of mingled anger and pain came over him;
he was wrong somehow; he did not quite see how. He had missed the right
way of making his announcement, but still it was not his fault. He could
not see how he was to blame.

'You must not be surprised in these circumstances if I cannot make any
very warm congratulations,' she added. 'Make your mind easy, however,
Ned. I never intended to be a burden on you; but even without that----'

'What have I done, mother, that you should speak to me so?' he cried.
'You were so different just now. It is not for Norah's sake? No one
could dislike Norah. What have I done?'

'Nothing,' she said; and then, with that faintest smile, 'you have acted
according to your nature, Ned--like the rest. I have no reason to
complain.'

Then there was a pause. He was a generous, tender-hearted boy, full of
love and sympathy; but he had never so much as imagined, could not
imagine, the state of feeling his mother had been in--and, accordingly,
could not understand where he was wrong. Wrong somehow, unknowingly,
unintentionally--puzzled, affronted, sore at heart--he went away from
her. Was it mere caprice on her part? What was it? So it happened that
the boy put his foot upon his mother's very heart; and then strained all
his faculties, anxiously, affectionately, to find out what had made her
countenance change, and could not, with all his efforts, discover what
it was.

The smile remained on Mrs Burton's face when she was left alone. He had
declined to hear her decision about the settlement. Was it not natural
that she should reconsider it, now that she found how little interest he
took in the matter? But it is easier to let that intruder Love, who
disorders reason, into a woman's heart than to turn him out again. She
did again another novel thing; she made a compromise. She sent for her
father at once, and entered into the matter with him. 'I allow that all
you say is perfectly just,' she said; but this is, partly, a matter of
feeling, papa.' She smiled at herself as she said it, but yet did say
it, without flinching. 'I will keep a portion of my settlement--say
half. It is, as you said, the only thing I have to depend on.'

'My dear,' said poor Mr Baldwin, 'of course you have always me to depend
on. You are my only child. What I have must come to you, Clara.'

'But I don't want it to come to me, papa.'

'No, that I am sure you don't; but what is the use of my money to me,
but to make my child and her children comfortable--that is excepting,
Clara--always excepting what I feel bound to do--what I have always
done--in the cause of--God. But, all the same, I cannot approve of any
sacrifice of your rights.'

'I would rather not say any more about it,' she said.

And thus for the moment the discussion terminated. Ned went down to the
village again, and was made happy, almost quite happy, by a talk with
Norah; and they went over together to the Rectory, and told Mrs Dalton,
as a substitute for the absent mother, and were very wretched and very
happy together over their miserable prospects and their rapture of early
love. Norah, however, was sorry that he had told his mother so
prematurely. 'She will think it heartless of us, Ned, to think of being
happy when she must be so miserable. Oh, I would have broken it to her
very gently. I would have told her how it happened--by accident--that we
did not mean anything. Oh, Ned, boys are always so awkward. You have
gone and made her think!'

'If you were to come and talk to her, Norah--'

'No, indeed. What am I to her? A little upstart thing, thrusting myself
in, taking away her son. Oh, Ned, how could you? Go and give her a kiss,
and say we never meant it. Say I would never, never think of such a
thing while everybody is in such trouble. Say we are so sorry--Oh, Ned!
how can you, you who are only a boy, be half sorry enough?'

With which salutary bringing down Ned went home, and was very humble to
his mother and very anxious to win back her confidence--an attempt in
which he partly succeeded; for, having once begun to open her heart, she
could not altogether close it; and a new necessity, a new want, had
developed in her. But he never made his way back entirely into that
place which had been his for a moment, and which he had forfeited by his
own folly. He never quite brought back the state of mind in which she
had considered that matter of the settlement first. Next day Mrs Burton
left Dura with her father, 'on a visit,' it was said; and Ned went to
town, 'to see after' his father's affairs. Poor boy! there was not much
that he could see after. He worked hard and laboriously, under his
grandfather's directions and under the orders of the people who had the
winding-up of Mr Burton's concerns in hand; but he had not experience
enough to do much out of his own head; and it was in this melancholy way
that his knowledge of business began.

And poor little Norah, alone in the Gatehouse, went and poured out her
heart to Mr Stephen, who listened to her with a heart which throbbed to
every woe of hers. A great woe was hanging over the Haldanes, a trouble
which as yet they but dimly foresaw. Burton had ruined them in his
prosperity, and now, in his downfall, was about to drag them still
lower. Already the estate of Dura was in the market, with its mansion,
and grounds, and woods, and farms--and the Gatehouse. They had got to
feel that the Gatehouse was their home, and all Stephen's happiness was
connected with that window, with the tailor and shoemaker who took their
evening walks on the other side of the way, with the rector and his
morning discussions, even with old Ann in her market cart. And how was
he now to go away and seek another refuge? Heavy were the hearts in the
Gatehouse. Norah, when Ned had gone, was overwhelmed by terrors. Fears
lest her mother should not approve, wondering questions about her
unknown father, doubts of Mrs Burton, fears of Ned and for Ned, came
upon her like a host, and made her miserable. And then Mr Rivers came
down, who had already made several attempts to see her, and this time
made her wretched by succeeding and telling her another love tale, to
which she could make no reply. But for that incident at the Exhibition,
and the pain it had brought about, things might have ended otherwise.
Had Cyril Rivers made up his mind in May instead of delaying till July,
the chances were that Norah, flattered, pleased, and not unwilling to
suppose that she might perhaps love him in time, would have given a
very different answer. And then she asked herself in dismay, what would
have happened when poor Ned came? So that, on the whole, it was for the
best, as people say. The pain and shock of that discovery which she had
made when Lady Rivers drew her son away--and he went--had been for the
best; though it would be hard to believe that Cyril thought so, as he
went back mortified to town, feeling that it had cost him a great deal
to make this sacrifice, and that his sacrifice had been in vain.

Thus Dura changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. The great
house was empty and desolate; the great bell pealed no more through all
the echoes; the noisy comings and goings of the Burtons, the sound of
them as they moved about, the dash of Mr Burton's phaeton and his wife's
fine horses, had all died out into the silence. Miss Jane plodded
wearily about the village, trying to find some cheap cottage where
Stephen could find refuge when the property was sold. And Norah, anxious
and pale, and full of many terrors, lived alone in her end of the house,
and watched for the postman every morning, and wondered, wondered, till
her heart grew sick, why no letters came.

Where was Helen? She had disappeared from them into the unknown, as her
husband had done. Was it into Hades, into the everlasting darkness, that
she had followed her lost, as Orpheus followed Eurydice? A week passed,
and the silent days crept on, and no one could tell.



CHAPTER XII.


Helen Drummond had a tedious voyage from Southampton to St Malo. She was
not a good sailor, nor indeed a good traveller in any way. She was not
rich enough to procure for herself those ameliorations of the weariness
of journeys which are within the reach of everybody who has money. She
had to consult cheapness more than comfort, and when she arrived at last
in the bay, with all its rocky islets rising out of the blue, beautiful
sea, and the little fortress city reigning over it, and all the
white-sailed boats skimming about like so many sea-birds, she would have
been unable to observe the beauty of the scene from sheer weariness, if
anxiety had not already banished from her every thought but one.

Where was he? How should she find him? Was it real? Was it possible?
Could it be true?

The boat was late of arriving; it had been delayed, and was not
expected at the moment when the passengers were ready to land. Helen
looked, with a beating heart, upon all the loungers on shore, wondering
could he be among them; but it was not till almost all her
fellow-passengers had left the vessel that a tattered, grinning
_Commissionaire_ came up to her, and asked if she were Madame Drummond.
When she answered, a voluble explanation followed, which Helen, in her
agitation, and with ears unaccustomed to the voluble Breton-French mixed
with scraps of still less comprehensible English, understood with great
difficulty. Monsieur had been on the pier half the night; he had been
assured by all the officials that the boat could not arrive till noon.
Monsieur had charged himself, François, to be on the watch, and bring
him news as soon as the steamer was in sight; in place of which he, the
delighted François, would have the gratification of leading Madame to
Monsieur. Half dead with excitement and fatigue, Helen followed her
guide. He led her along the rocky shore to where a little steam
ferry-boat puffed and snorted. Then she had to embark again for a five
minutes' passage across the bay. She landed on the other side, so
stupified with suspense, and with the accumulated excitement which was
now coming to a climax, that she felt incapable of uttering a word. Her
body was all one pulse, throbbing wildly; a crimson flush alternated
with dead pallor in her face; her heart choked her, palpitating in her
throat. Whom was she going to meet? What manner of man was it who said
he was her Robert, who wrote as Robert wrote, who had called her to him,
with the force of absolute right? For was not Robert dead, dead, buried
under the cold river, seven years ago? She was not happy, she was
frightened, as Norah said. Her position was incomprehensible to her.
She, Robert's spotless wife, his faithful widow--to whom was she going?
She did not know what the words meant that were being poured into her
ears. The figures she met whirled past her like monsters in a dream. Her
own weary feet obeyed her mechanically; she moved and breathed, and kept
command of herself, she knew not how.

There is a little cottage on the very edge of the cliff, in that village
of Dinard on the Breton coast, which looks across the bay into which the
Rance rushes impetuously meeting the great sea-tides--and from which St
Servan opposite, St Malo with its walls and towers, all the lip of the
bay lined with houses, with fortifications, with bristling masts and
sails, show fair in the sunshine. Coming into it from the dusty road,
so small is it, so light, so close to the water, the traveller feels
that he must have come suddenly into the light poop cabin of some big
ship, lifting its breast high from the sea.

Here it was that Helen came in, her frame all one tremble, breathless,
stupified, carried along in the wild whirl of some dream. She saw some
one get up with a great cry--and then--she saw nothing more. The
excitement, the weariness, the strangeness and terror that possessed
her, were more than she could bear. She fell down at Robert's feet, as
she had done at the foot of the picture in the exhibition. It was
perhaps the easiest, gentlest way of getting over the great shock and
convulsion of the new life that had now to begin.

Helen was conscious after a while of a voice, of two voices talking
vaguely over her, one which she did not know, one----At the sound of
that her brain tried to rally; she tried to recollect. Where was
she?--in St Mary's Road, in the old days before the studio was built?
that was what it felt like. She could not see anything; a whirling,
revolving cloud of darkness went round and round, swallowing her up. She
tried to raise her hand to grasp at something. Now she was sinking,
sinking into that sea which had gleamed upon her for a moment, through
the window--a sea full of ships, yet with no saviour for her. If she
could only move her hand, raise her head, see something beside this
blinding blackness. And then again that voice! She had fallen, fallen
somewhere, and something buzzed loud in her ears, something coming that
was about to crush her--on the steps at St Mary's Road.

'Helen! don't you know me? Look at me, if you can, my own love!'

She gave a long, sobbing cry. She opened her eyes heavily. 'Yes,
Robert,' she said. The wonder and the terror had gone away in her faint,
with the seven years that created them. When the soul loses the common
thread of time and place it comes back to its primal elements, to the
things in it that are everlasting. She answered out of her
unconsciousness as (God send it!) we shall answer our friends in heaven
out of the death-trance, not wondering--restored to the unity of love
which is for ever and ever, not for a time.

She was lying on a little sofa, that window on one side of her, with its
glorious sea and sky and sunshine. On the other, a man, with hair as
white as snow, with Norah's eyes, looking at her in an agony of
tenderness, with a face worn and lined by suffering and toil. The sight
of him startled her so that she came to herself in a moment. It startled
her into the consciousness that she was his wife, and in a manner
responsible for him, for his well-being and comfort. She started up,
wondering how she could think of herself, indignant at herself for
taking up the foreground for a moment. 'Oh, my dear, my dear!' she
cried. 'What have they done to you, Robert?' and drew him to her, taking
him into her arms.

Not frightened now, not wondering, not strange at all. The strangeness
was that he had been kept away from her so long, cruelly kept away, to
make him like this, whitened, worn, old. All at once strength and calm
and self-command came back to Helen. Except for his looks, the harm some
one had done to him, this interval crumpled away like a burnt paper, and
disappeared, and was as if it had never been. She put her arms round
him, drew him to her with an indignant love and tenderness. 'My poor
Robert! my poor Robert! how you have wanted me,' she said, with the
tears in her eyes.

'Ah! wanted you!' he cried; and he too gave in to this impulse of
nature. He was not an impassioned man claiming his own, but a weary one
come back to his natural rest. He put his white head down upon hers,
and in the relief and sudden ease and consolation, wept like a child. It
was more than joy; terrible fears had come to him at the last, terrors
that his appeal might be unwelcome--that his recollection might have
died out of her heart. He knew that she was in the sight of the world
faithful to him; but whether her heart was true, whether the surprise
would be a joy, he did not know.

Let us leave them to tell their mutual story. The reader knows one side
of it. The other had come about thus. It took a long time to tell it so
as to satisfy Helen; but it may be put here into fewer words.

On the night when Robert, as he said, died, he had been picked up by a
tug steamboat, which was on its way down stream to take a vessel going
to America down to the sea. He had been all but dead, and with the
addition of the care, distress, and anxiety through which he had passed
before, partial drowning was no joke to him. How it was that he managed
to get transferred from the little steamer into the ship, he had never
very clearly discovered. Whether he had passionately entreated to be
taken on board, or whether he had dashed himself once more into the
river and been rescued this time by the sea-going vessel, he could not
tell. But, anyhow, he had been taken on board the American; and there,
amid all the discomforts of a merchant ship, where there was no room for
passengers, and where his presence was most unwelcome, he had an
illness, which made his slow passage across the Atlantic look like a
feverish dream to him. He knew nothing about it, except as a horror and
misery which had been. When the ship arrived, he had been transferred to
an hospital, where he lingered until all hope of life had gone out of
him, if indeed any ever existed. And then, all at once, and
unaccountably, he had got well again, as people do over whom no anxious
nurses watch, who are of importance to no one. When he came to life
again he was one of the poorest of the poor, unknown, penniless, an
object of charity. In that position he could never go home, never make
himself known to those whom (he felt) he had ruined, whom he had already
made up his mind to leave free at the cost of his life. Forlorn,
hopeless, and miserable, poor Robert had still the necessity upon him of
maintaining the worthless life which Providence had, as it were, thrust
back upon his hands. He went to the studio of a painter in New
York--that same John Sinclair whose name had been attached to the
'Dives.' He had told his story fully and truly. When a man asserts in a
painter's studio that he is himself a painter, the means are at hand for
the verification of his assertion; and when Robert took the palette in
his hand, Mr Sinclair believed his story. He had begun humbly, under
this kind stranger's help; he had become a portrait-painter, a branch of
art which, in his youth, he had followed for the sake of bread and
butter, as so many do. But Robert, friendless and hopeless, driven out
of everything but art, had, by a mere instinct of self-preservation, to
keep himself alive, taken to his work in a way which made it a very
different thing from the paint which is done for bread and butter. A
very little bread and butter sufficed him. But man does not live by
bread alone; and all the better aliment, the food of his soul, he had to
get somehow out of his portraits. The consequence of this was, that
gradually these portraits became things to talk of, things that people
went far to see, and competed to have. He cared so little for it--was
that why the stream of fortune came to him? But when his languid soul
awoke after a while to a sense of the work he was doing, Robert ceased
to care little for it. He began to care much; and as his portraits kept
their popularity his gains increased. He became hungry for gain; he grew
a miser, and over-worked himself, thinking of his wife, thinking of the
child to whom he was dead, he managed to get some news of them
incidentally through his friend and former patron Sinclair; he heard
where they were, and that they were well. At length, when he had scraped
so much money together that he thought he might venture upon some
communication, his heart went back to the agony of his parting, and the
subject of his last sketch returned to him. Ah! was he not Dives now,
stretching out vain hands, not daring to cry! He could not summon
courage enough to write, but he could paint--he could put all his
despairing soul, which yet had a faint hope in it, into that imploring
face, those beseeching hands. He worked at it night and day, throwing
his whole heart and soul into the canvas. And, with a heart trembling at
his own temerity, after he sent his picture to England he himself had
come back, but not to England--he had not courage for that; he was not
even sufficiently instructed to know whether it would be safe for him to
go back--whether he might bring the law upon him with fresh bugbears and
troubles in its train--but he went to France. He had come to Brest, and
he had wandered to this the nearest point from which communication with
England was easy. He had arrived at St Malo in May, at the very time
when Helen saw the picture in the Exhibition, and received its message
into her very heart. But he had not ventured to send his letter till
months after--not till now.

'Helen!' he said, trembling; 'will you stay with me here? will you go
with me, back to New York? What shall we do?'

'Robert, let us go home.'

'Can I go home? I do not think so. I have a little money, for the child
and you. I made it hardly--after I died. I should not like to give it
once again to satisfy people who suffered no more than we did.'

'Oh, Robert,' she said. 'I have my story to tell you too.' And her story
took as long in telling as his did; for it was difficult to her to
remember that he knew nothing--that he did not know what he had been
accused of; as difficult as it was for him to understand the allusions
she made to the lost books and the censure which had been passed upon
his name. He would stop her and say, 'What does that mean?' a dozen
times in a single sentence. And then, as the story advanced to its
climax, impatience seized him, and a growing excitement. He got up from
his seat beside her, and paced about the little room. Then she saw, for
the first time, that he was lame. How he had suffered! The seven years
had not made much difference to her; her peaceful life had smoothed out
the lines which sorrow had made in her face. There was not a white
thread in her brown hair; she had almost grown younger instead of older,
having upon her wherever she went a reflection of Norah's youth, which
somehow she shared. But Robert was lame, and walked with difficulty, a
consequence of his almost suicide; he was old, thin, white-haired, with
furrows of anxiety and longing and heart-hunger in his face. All this
had been done by the man who had beguiled him into the doomed bank, who
had looked on calmly at his ruin, who had willingly countenanced the
destruction of his good name. Mrs Drummond had lived through it all, had
got over her hot fits of rage and indignation, and at this moment had
her heart softened towards Reginald Burton, whom she had saved. She was
not prepared for the excitement, the suppressed fury, the passionate
indignation of her husband, to whom all this was new. She told him of
the paper she had extorted from her cousin that last night, 'which
clears you entirely--' she said.

'Clears me!' he cried, gnashing his teeth. 'My God! _clears_ me! I who
have done nothing but suffer by him. Clears _me_!'

'I do not quite mean that, Robert. You were cleared before. No one
believed it. But we thought Golden only was to blame. Now this paper is
formal, and explains everything. It makes it all easy for you.'

He did not stop, as if this was anything consolatory; he kept moving up
and down, painfully, with his lameness. 'And that scoundrel has got
off,' he cried between his teeth--'got off! and has the audacity to
clear me.'

Poor Helen was disconcerted. She had forgotten her own fury of
indignation when she first saw the accusation against him. She had long,
long grown used to all that, and used to the reflection that nobody
believed it whose opinion was worth anything. She had insisted upon
Burton's confession and explanation, she scarcely knew why--more as a
punishment to him than as a vindication of Robert. She was confused
about it altogether, not quite knowing what she meant. And now, in the
light of his indignation, she felt almost as if she had done her husband
an injury--insulted him. She faltered, and looked at him wistfully, and
did not know what to say. She had not lost the habit of love, but she
had lost the habit of companionship; she had told her story wrongly; she
did not know how to bring him to her state of feeling, or to transport
herself into his. And this too was the fault of the man who had driven
Robert to despair--the man whom she had saved.

'He has got off,' she said humbly, 'by my means. Robert, I tried revenge
once, but I will never try it again. I could not give him up, however
bad he had been, when he was in my power.'

The sound of trembling in her voice went to his heart. 'My poor Helen!
my sweet Helen!' he cried, coming to her. 'Do you think I blame you? You
could not have done otherwise. For you there was but one course--but if
I had the chance now----'

Just then there was a commotion at the door, and sounds of many voices.
A great many exclamations in French, with one or two broken questions in
English, came to their ears. 'You has you papiers. Domm you papiers. You
say you is Jean--Jean Smiff, et pas----'

'Je me fie à monsieur ici. Monsieur est-il chez lui? C'est un Anglais.
Il nous expliquera tout ça,' said another voice. It was the voice of the
maire, whom Robert had made friends with in his hunger for human
companionship. The parley at the door went on for a few minutes longer,
and then there entered a band of excited Frenchmen. One, a gendarme from
St Malo, carried an open telegram in his hand; another, in a blouse,
kept his hand upon the shoulder of a burly Englishman in a light coat.
The maire brought up the rear. They seemed such a crowd of people as
they entered the little, light room, that it was some moments before the
three English people thus brought face to face recognised each other.
Helen with difficulty suppressed a cry. Robert stood confronting the
party with the flush of his indignation not yet subsided, with a wonder
beyond words in his eyes. As for the other, he showed no sign of
surprise. He was driven back to his last stronghold, forced to use all
his strength to keep himself up and maintain his courage. His eye
dilated and gave a flutter of wonder at the sight of Helen. It was
evident that he did not recognise her companion. He kept his arms
folded, as if for self-preservation, to keep within him all the warmth,
all the courage possible, physically to keep up and support himself.

The three men rushed into explanation all at once. A telegram had been
received at St Malo, describing an Englishman who was supposed to have
gone there, and whose description, which the gendarme held out, in the
telegram, corresponded exactly with that of the prisoner. The prisoner,
however, called himself Smith. Smiff--or Smitt, as his pursuers
pronounced it--and produced papers which were _en règle_; but he could
not explain what he was doing here; he showed no inclination to be taken
to the English consul. On the contrary, he had crossed to Dinard as soon
as he heard that inquiries had been made about him at his hotel. While
all this was being told the stranger stood immovable, with his arms
folded; he did not understand half of it. His French was as deficient as
the French of untravelled Englishmen usually is, and the tumult around
him, at the same time, confused his mind and quickened his outward
senses. He could not make out what his chances of liberation were; but
his eyes were open to any possibility of escape. They were bloodshot and
strained those eyes; now and then that flutter of wonder, of excitement,
of watchfulness, came into them, but he showed no other sign of emotion.
At such a terrible crisis all secondary sensations perish; he had no
time to wonder what Helen, whom he had left behind him in England,
should be doing here. Rather it was natural that everybody connected
with his fate should be here, gathering round him silently to see the
end.

Thus this encounter had but little effect upon Burton; but it would be
impossible to describe the effect it had upon the man who stood opposite
to him, whom he had not recognised. Robert Drummond had suffered as few
men ever suffered. He had died--he had come alive again--he had lived
two separate lives. For some years up to this day his existence had been
that of a man deprived of all the hopes and consolations of life--a man
miserably alone, dead to every one belonging to him. Even the return to
life which he had tried to realise this morning was no more than an
experiment. He might never be able to conquer, to forget those seven
ghosts which stood between him and his wife and child. He could not take
up his life again where he left it--that was impossible. And all this
had been done by the influence of the man before him, who was in his
power, whom he might if he would give over to prison and trial and
punishment. A gleam of fierce joy shot through Drummond's heart, and
then----

They stood facing each other, with the Frenchmen grouped about them. But
Burton had not, beyond the first glance, looked at his judge. His face
confronted him, but his eyes did not; he had escaped as yet the
knowledge who it was.

A thousand and a thousand thoughts whirled through Drummond's mind; he
had only a moment to decide in; he had the past to satisfy, and the
burning, fiery indignation of the present moment, in which for the first
time he had identified and comprehended the past. Give him up! punish
him! Should such a scoundrel get off, when innocent men had so bitterly
suffered? Let him fall, and bring down in his train all who were
concerned--all who made a prey of the ignorant and the poor! This wave
of thought possessed him with a whirl and sweep like the rushing
tide--and then there came the interval of silence, the moment when the
waters fell back and all was still.

Revenge! 'I tried revenge, once, but I will never try it again!' Who was
it that had said this close to him, so that the very air repeated and
repeated it, whispering it in his ear? He had himself been dead, and he
had come alive again. His new life, which had commenced this morning,
was spotless as yet. He had to decide, decide, decide in a moment how it
should be inaugurated, by mercy or by judgment--by the sin (was it not
a sin?) of helping the escape of a criminal, or by the righteous deed
(where was it said that this might be a sin too?) of handing him over to
punishment. How his soul was tossed upon these waves! He stood as in the
midst of a great battle, which raged round him. Fierce arrows tore his
heart, coming from one side and another, he could not tell how. Give up
the accursed thing--punish the unworthy soul--be just! be just! But then
that other, 'Neither have I condemned thee; go, and sin no more.' And
all had to be done in a minute, while those voluble explanations
interlaced each other, and each man expounded his case. Drummond glanced
at his wife for help, but she dared not look at him. She sat on the sofa
against the light, with her hands tightly clasped in her lap. Was she
praying? For so long, out of the depths of his hell, Dives, poor Dives,
had not dared to pray.

He did not know what he said when at length he spoke; it was some
commonplace, some nothing. But it attracted at once the attention of the
prisoner. Burton turned round, and gazed at the man whom he thought
dead. He did not recognise the voice, except that it was a voice he
knew; he did not even recognise the face, which had grown prematurely
old, framed in its white hair, at the first glance; but there crept
over him a shudder of enlightenment, a gleam of perception. His senses
were quickened by his own position. He shook where he stood as if with
cold or palsy. He looked at Helen, he looked at the man by her side.
Then an inarticulate cry came from him; terror of he knew not what
deprived him, fortunately, of all power of speech. He fell back in his
fear, and his attendants thought he meant to escape. They threw
themselves between him and the door. It was then that Drummond spoke in
his haste, scarcely knowing what he said.

'I know him,' he said in French. 'It is a long time since we have met,
and he has just recognised me, you perceive. We are not friends, so you
may trust me. His papers are quite right, and it is a mistake about the
telegram. Look here; this is not his description. "Nez ordinaire;" why,
he has a long nose. "Teint brun;" he is quite fresh-coloured, and his
hair is grey. This is a great mistake. Monsieur le Maire, I know the
man, and I will be responsible for him. You must let him go.'

'I thought so,' said the maire, pleased with his own discrimination. 'Je
l'ai dit. Monsieur nous expliquera tout ça. Voilà que j'ai dit.'

'Mais, monsieur----' began the gendarme.

Helen sat against the light, seeing nothing, and closed her eyes, and
clasped her hands in her lap. Burton, bewildered and terror-stricken,
looked on without showing any emotion. Perhaps the passiveness of his
face was his best safeguard. Five minutes of expostulation and
explanation followed, and then gradually the Frenchmen edged themselves
out of the room. Fortunately Monsieur le Maire had taken this view from
the beginning; he had been sure it was a mistake. When they were got rid
of at last, the three who were left behind looked at each other in a
silence which was more significant than words. Burton dropped into a
chair; he was not able to stand nor to speak, but kept gazing at
Drummond with a pitiful wonder and terror. At last--

'Are you Robert Drummond?' he asked hoarsely. 'Have you come back from
your grave----'

'I am Robert Drummond,' said the other; 'and you are--John Smith, who
must be got out of here as soon as possible. Have you money?'

'Yes.'

'Then I advise you to go away at once. Go up to Dinan by the river-side,
or walk to St Brieuc to get the train. In the one case you are on your
way to Brest, where there are ships always sailing; by the other you
can get to Paris or wherever you please. You may wait here till the
evening, if you choose; but then go.'

'I will go to Brest,' he said humbly.

'I would rather not know where you went; but go you must. My wife and I
met to-day for the first time for seven years; we do not wish for
company, you may suppose.'

Drummond's voice was very stern. He had no compassion for the man who
stood thus humbled and miserable before him; not for him had he done
this. And Burton was too much stupefied, too much bewildered, to make
any direct reply. He looked at Helen with dull wonder, and asked under
his breath--'

'Did you know?'

'No,' she said. 'It came upon me almost as suddenly as upon you.'

Then he pulled some papers out of his pocket.

'These are English papers. I don't know if it is long since you have
left. But you might like to see them.' When he had done this, he made a
few steps towards the door, where the old French bonne was waiting to
show him where to go. Then he paused, and turned round again, facing
them. 'What a man says in my position is very little to anybody,' he
said; 'but--I want to say to you, Forgive me. I have helped to do you
dreadful harm; but I--I did not mean it. I never meant it. I meant to
get gain myself; but I never wished to harm you.'

And then he disappeared, saved again, saved at his uttermost
need--surely this time finally saved--and by those whom he had injured
the most. When he reached the clean little room where he was to stay all
day, it appeared to Reginald Burton that he must be in a dream. The same
feeling had been in his mind ever since he escaped from England. All was
strange to him; and strangest of all was the fact that he could no
longer command or regulate matters by his own will, but was the sport of
circumstances, driven about he knew not how. His bewilderment was so
great that he was not able to think. Saved first by a helpless woman,
whose powers he would have laughed at a month ago; saved now by a ghost
out of the grave!

That night he left Dinard under cover of the darkness, and walked to St
Brieuc, where he got the train for Brest. He arrived there in time to
get on board of a vessel about to sail for America. And thus Reginald
Burton escaped from the immediate penal consequences of his sins. From
the other consequences no man ever escapes. The prison, the trial, the
weary round of punishment he had eluded; but his life was over and
ended, and everything that was worth having in the world had abandoned
him. Love was not his to carry away with him; reputation, honour,
wealth, even comfort were gone. He had to make a miserable new
beginning, to shrink into poverty, obscurity, and dependence. It would
be hard to say whether these were more or less easy to bear than the
prison work, prison life, prison garb from which he had escaped.



CHAPTER XIII.


This was the end of Mr Burton of Dura--Mr Burton, of the great City
firm, he who had been known as one of the greatest of commercial
magnitudes, he who had ruined as many people as if he had been an
emperor. For some time there was a very great deal about it in the
newspapers, and his concerns were exposed to the light of day. He
involved many others with him in his downfall, and some in his shame. If
he had been taken, he would have joined in prison those men whom in our
own day we have seen degraded from a high position in society down to
the picking of oakum in gaol--men whom we all pour our loathing upon at
the moment of their discovery, but of whom we say 'poor souls!' a few
months after, when some clever newspaper correspondent has a peep at
them, disguised in the prison garb, and known as numbers 300 and 301.
Burton missed the prison and the pity; but he did not miss the
punishment. In spite of various attempts that were made to stop it, the
investigation of his affairs was very full and clear. It became apparent
from his own private books, and that one of Rivers's which had been
found in his safe, that the bank had been in reality all but ruined when
it was made into a joint-stock company. Burton and his colleague had
guaranteed the debts, and put the best face possible upon things
generally; and Mr Golden's management, and an unexpected run of good
luck, had all but carried the labouring concern into clear water. It was
at this period that Burton, thanking his stars or his gods, withdrew
from the share in the management which he had held nominally, and left
it to Golden to complete the triumph of daring and good fortune. How
this failed is already known to the reader. The mystery of the lost
books was never cleared up; for Golden was out of the way, enjoying his
honeymoon, when the private affairs of the other conspirator were thus
thrown open to the light of day. But there was enough in the one book
found among Mr Burton's to show how very inconvenient to him the finding
of the others would have been. Thus daylight blazed upon all those
tortuous, gloomy paths, and showed how the desire of self-interest
guided the man through them, with an absolute indifference to the
interests of others. He had not meant any harm, as he said; he had meant
his own gain in the first place, his own recovery when his position was
threatened, his own safety when danger came. He had not set out with a
deliberate intention of ruining others; but this is a thing which nobody
ever does; and he had not cared afterwards how many were ruined, so that
he could hold on his way. Such cases happen now and then, and human
justice cannot touch them; but most generally Nemesis comes sooner or
later. Even at the worst, however, his material punishment was never so
hard as that of some of his victims. The loss of the trust-money, which
had been the immediate cause of his ruin, took the very bread out of the
mouths of a family of orphans; but Mr Burton, at the lowest depths of
his humiliation, had always bread enough, and to spare. He was never
even thrown into such mental anxiety, such stress of painful
calculation, as that into which the inhabitants of the Gatehouse were
cast by his downfall. Miss Jane went painfully all over Dura, looking at
the cottages, to see if by any means something could be found or
contrived to suit Stephen; and her heart sank within her as she
inspected the damp, low-roofed places, which were so very different
from the warm old wainscoted rooms, the comfort of the Gatehouse. When
the property was sold, however, it was found that the Gatehouse had been
made into a separate lot, and had been bought, not by the rich
descendant of the old Harcourts who had got Dura, but by some one whose
name was unknown.

'Somebody who is going to live in the house himself, no doubt,' Miss
Jane said, with a very long face; 'and I am sure I wish him well in it,
whoever he may be,' she added with a struggle. 'But oh, Norah! what a
thing it will be for us to go away!'

'If I knew him, I would go to him, and beg for your rooms for you. He
never would have the heart to turn you out, if he was a good man,' cried
Norah. 'For us it does not matter; but oh, Miss Jane, for you!'

'It cannot be helped, my dear,' said Miss Jane, drying her eyes. 'We
have no right to it, you know. It does seem hard that we should be
ruined by his prosperity, and then, as it were ruined again by his
downfall. It seems hard; but it is not anybody's fault. Of course when
we accepted it we knew the penalty. He might have turned us out at any
time. No, Norah; we have no reason to complain.'

'That makes it worse,' cried impulsive Norah. 'It is always a comfort
when one can think it is somebody's fault. And so it is--Mr Burton's
fault. Oh, how much harm he has done! Oh, what a destroyer he has been!
He has done as much harm as a war or a pestilence,' cried Norah. 'Think
of poor--papa!'

She had always to make a pause before that name, not believing in it
somehow, feeling it hurt her. By this time she had heard all about the
meeting between her father and mother, and the day had been fixed when
she was to join them; but still she had a sore, wounding, jealous sense
that the new father was her rival--that he might be almost her enemy.
Fathers on the whole seemed but an equivocal advantage to Norah. There
was Mr Burton, who had ruined and shamed every one connected with him;
and there was poor--papa, who might, for anything she knew, take all the
gladness out of her own life.

'Oh, hush, my dear!' said Miss Jane. 'Mr Burton has been a bitter
acquaintance to us; but he is Ned's father, and we must not complain.'

Just then there was a knock at the door, and Ned himself came in. He
came from town, as he did often, to spend the evening with his
betrothed. Their days were running very short now, and their prospects
were not encouraging. He had not even time to look for any employment
for himself, so much was he occupied with his father's affairs; and
Norah was going away, and when should they meet again? These evenings
which they spent together were very sweet; but they were growing daily
sadder as they approached more closely to the shadow of the farewell.
But this time Ned came in with a flush of pleasure in his face. His eyes
were so brightened by it, and his colour so much improved, that he
looked 'quite handsome,' Miss Jane thought; and he walked in with
something of the impulsive satisfaction of old days.

'My grandfather is a brick,' he said, 'after all. He has given me my
fortune. He has helped me to do something I had set my heart on. Miss
Jane, don't think any more of leaving the Gatehouse. So long as I live
nobody can turn you out.'

'What do you mean, Ned?'

'I mean that dear old grandpapa has been awfully good to me,' said Ned,
'and the Gatehouse is mine. I love it, Miss Jane. Don't you say
anything. You may think it will be bitter for me to come here after all
that has passed; but I love it. Since ever I was a boy, I have thought
this room the dearest place in the world--ever since Norah sat and
talked rubbish, and frightened me out of my life. How well I remember
that! She has forgotten years ago! but I shall never forget. What are
you crying about, Miss Jane? Now this is very hard upon a fellow, I must
say. I thought it was good news.'

'And so it is--blessed news, you dear, dear, kind boy!' cried Miss Jane.
'Oh, children! what can I say to you? God bless you! And God will bless
you for thinking of the afflicted first, before yourselves.'

'I had nothing to do with it--I knew nothing about it,' cried Norah
proudly; and all at once, without any warning, she threw herself upon
Ned, and gave him a sudden kiss on his brown cheek. For five minutes
after none of the three were very coherent; for to do a good action when
you are young makes you feel very foolish, and ready to cry with any one
who cares to cry. Ned told them all about it between laughing and
sobbing--how his grandfather had given him his portion, and how it was
the best possible investment to buy the Gatehouse. 'For you see,' said
Ned, 'when Norah makes up her mind to marry, we shall have a house all
ready. As for everybody here knowing what has happened, everybody all
over the country knows,' he added, with a hot flush on his cheek; 'and
at Dura people like me--a little, and would not be unkind, as in other
places. And how could I let the place Norah had been brought up in--the
place I love--go to other people? So, Miss Jane, be happy, and set your
brother's mind at rest. Nobody shall disturb you here as long as I live;
and if I should die, it would go to Norah.'

'Oh, Ned, hush!' cried Norah, putting up her hand to his lip.

And then they went out into the garden, and wandered about and talked.
Nothing but this innocent and close association, with no one to think it
might be improper or to call them to account, could have made exactly
such a bond as that which existed between these two innocent young
souls. They were lovers, and yet they were half brother and sister. They
talked of their plans with the wistful certainty and uncertainty of
those who feel that another will may come in to shatter all their
purposes, though in themselves they are so unalterable and sure. There
was this always hanging over them, like the sword in the fable, of which
they were conscious, though they would not say a word about it. To-night
their spirits were raised. The fact that this familiar place was
_theirs_, that Ned was actually its master, that here they might spend
their days together as man and wife, exhilarated them into childish
delight.

'I always think of you as in that room,' he said to her, 'when I picture
my Norah to myself; and there is never half an hour all day long that I
don't do that. I always see the old curtains and the funny old
furniture. And to think it is ours, Norah, and that we shall grow old
here, too!'

'I never mean to grow old,' said Norah. 'Fancy, Ned, mamma is not old,
and she is nineteen years older than me. Nineteen years--twenty years!
It is as good as a century; it will never come to an end!'

'Or if it does come to an end,' said wise Ned, in the additional
discretion of two years' additional age, 'at least we shall have had our
day.'

With this chastened yet delightful consciousness of the life before them
they parted that evening. But next time they met Ned was not equally
bright. He had been very sorely tried by the newspapers, by the shame he
had to bear, by the looks askance which were bestowed on 'Burton's son.'

'I never shall be able to stay there,' he said, pouring out his troubled
heart to Norah. 'I cannot bear it. Fancy having to hear one's father
insulted, and not being able to say a word. I cannot do it; oh, Norah,
I cannot! We must give up the thought of living here. I must go abroad.'

'Where, Ned?'

'Oh, I don't know. America, Australia--anywhere. I cannot stay here.
Anywhere that I can earn my bread.'

'Ned,' said Norah, her happy voice all tuned to tones of weeping,
'remember I am mamma's only child. She has got--some one else now; but,
after all, I am her only child.'

'Do you think I forget that?' he said. 'It is because I am afraid,
because I feel, they will never, never trust you to me--so useless as I
am--my father's son. Oh, Norah, when I think it all over, my heart is
like to break!'

'But, Ned, you were in such good spirits last night.'

'Ah, but last night was different. My own Norah! if they said no, dear,
if they were angry--Oh, Norah! don't hate me for saying it--what would
you do?'

'What could I do?' she said, with her brown eyes blazing, half in
indignation, half in resolution. 'And what do you think they are made
of, Ned, to dare to say such a thing to me? Was mamma ever cruel? I
would do just what I will do now; I would say, 'Ned, please don't! dear
Ned, don't!' But if you would, notwithstanding all I said to you, of
course I must go too.'

'My own Norah! But now they are going to take you away from me, and
when, when shall I see you again?'

'People go to St Malo by the boat,' said Norah demurely. 'It sails from
Southampton, and it gets there in I don't remember how many hours. There
is nothing against people going to St Malo that want to go.'

And thus once more the evening had a more cheerful termination. But none
of the party were cheerful when Norah picked up all her little
belongings, and went up to town to Dr Maurice who was to be her escort.
Probably, of all the party, she herself was the most cheerful; for she
was the one who was going away to novelties which could not but be more
or less agreeable to her imagination, while the others, in the blank of
their daily unchanging existence, were left behind. Miss Jane cried over
her, Mrs Haldane bade God bless her, and as for Stephen, he drew her
close to him, and could not speak.

'I don't know what life will be worth, Norah, without your mother and
you,' he said, looking up to her at last with the patient smile he had
worn since ever Norah could remember--the one thing in the world which
was more pathetic than sorrow itself; for he loved Helen, and missed her
to the bottom of his heart--loved her as a disabled, shipwrecked man may
love a woman altogether out of his reach, most purely, most truly,
without hope or thought of any return--but as no man may justly love a
woman who has her husband by her side. This visionary difference, which
is yet so real, Stephen felt, and it made him very sad; and the loss of
the child gave him full warrant to look as sad as he felt.

'But, oh, Stephen! let us not complain,' said Mrs Haldane; 'for has it
not been shown to us beyond all question that everything is for the
best.'

All for the best! All that had happened--Mr Burton's ruin, the tragical
overthrow of his family, the destruction of poor Ned's hopes and
prospects, the shame and humiliation and misery--had all been so
'overruled,' as Mrs Haldane would have said, that their house was more
firmly secured to them than ever, and was theirs, most likely, as long
as Stephen lived! It was a small matter to be procured at such a cost;
but yet it was a satisfaction to her to feel that so many laws had been
overthrown on her account, and that all was for the best.

As for Ned's parting with Norah, it is a thing which must not be spoken
of. It took place in the cab in which her young lover conveyed her from
the station to Dr Maurice's door. Ah, what rending of the young hearts
there was as they tore themselves asunder! What big, hollow eyes, with
the tears forced back from them, what gulps of choking sorrow swallowed
down, as Ned, looking neither to the right hand nor the left, stalked
away from Dr Maurice's door!

To tell the truth, Dr Maurice himself was not very comfortable either.
He had got a great fright, and he had not recovered it. His brain was
still confused; he felt as if he had been beaten about the head; a dull,
hot colour dwelt upon his cheeks. He tried to explain to himself that he
was feverish; but he was not feverish--or at least it was only his mind,
not his body, which was so. It was partly wonder, but chiefly it was
fright, on account of his own marvellous and hairbreadth escape. At the
time when he had made that proposal to Helen, he believed, as she did,
and everybody else, that her husband had died years ago. And, good
heavens! what if she had not refused? Dr Maurice grew hot and cold all
over, he actually shuddered, at the supposition. And yet such a thing
might have happened. He went reluctantly, yet with curiosity, to see his
old friend. He wondered with a confused and troubled mind whether Helen
would have said anything about it--whether Drummond would take any
notice of it. The doctor was impatient with Drummond, and dissatisfied
altogether as to his conduct. A man, he reflected, cannot do that sort
of thing with impunity. To be for seven years as though he had never
been, and then to come to life again and interfere with everybody's
affairs! It was hard. Drummond had got his full share of sympathy; he
had turned his whole world upside down. Seven years ago he had been
mourned for as few men are mourned; and now it was a mistake, it was
almost an impertinence, that he should come to life again, as if nothing
had happened. But nevertheless Dr Maurice volunteered to take Norah to
St Malo. He was glad to do it--to rub out the recollection of that false
step of his--to show that he bore no malice, and that no thoughts were
in his mind which were inconsistent with his old friendship for Robert
and respect for Robert's wife.

Robert's wife! She had called herself so when she was but Robert's
widow. But nobody understood, nobody thought, what a change it was to
Helen to fish up her old existence again, and resume its habits as if
there had been no break in it. Love had conquered the strangeness at
first; but there were so many strangenesses to be conquered. She had
fallen into so different a channel from that into which his thoughts had
been diverted. They were both unchanged in their affections; but how
different in everything else! They were each other's nearest, closest,
dearest; and yet they had to make acquaintance with each other over
again. Nothing can be more strange than such a close union, accompanied
by such a total ignorance. It was not even as if Helen had remained as
he had known her--had received no new influences into her life. Both had
an existence unknown to the other. Robert in the joy of his recovered
identity, in the happiness of finding that there was still love and
companionship for him in the world, took the reunion more simply than
Helen did, and ignored its difficulties, or did not feel them. He had
always taken things more simply than she. His absolute faith in her, his
simple delight in finding her, his fond admiration of her, revived in
Helen some of her old feelings of suppressed wonder and half doubt. But
that doubt was humbler now than it had been once. In the old life a
ghost of impatience had been in her; she had doubted his powers, and
chafed at his failures. Now she began to doubt whether she had ever
understood him--whether she had done him justice. For once, at least,
Robert had risen to that height of power which passion sometimes forces
almost beyond the reach of genius. He had made alive and put upon a dead
piece of canvas, for all the world to see, one face which was a
revelation out of the worlds unknown. Helen's heart had never wanted any
additional bond to the husband whom she had chosen and clung to through
good and evil; but her mind had wanted something more than his easy
talent, his exquisite skill, the gentle, modest pitch of imagination
which was all that common life moved him to. But on that point she was
satisfied now. The only drawback was, she was no longer sure that it was
Robert. He was himself, and yet another. He was her own by a hundred
tender signs and sureties; and yet he was strange to her--strange!

And it was thus, with a suppressed excitement, which neither told, that
the re-united pair awaited their child's coming. She breathless with
curiosity and anxiety to know what Norah would think of her unknown
father; he eager to make acquaintance with the new creature whom he knew
only as a child. 'The child' he called her, till Helen smiled at his
pertinacity, and ceased to remind him that Norah was no longer a child.
Their excitement rose very high when the steamboat came in. Helen's
feelings were, as usual, by far the most complicated. Norah was her own
creation, if we may say so, framed by her, cultivated by her--not only
flesh of her flesh, but heart of her heart, and mind of her mind; yet
the influence of Norah's opinions, Norah's ways of thinking, was strong
upon her mother, almost more strong than Helen's were on Norah; for the
latter had all the confidence of youth, the former all the hesitation of
middle age. What if Norah should not 'take to' the new father--the
stranger who yet was so truly her own Robert of old? Neither the one nor
the other even so much as recollected Dr Maurice--the poor man who was
bracing up his courage to meet them, wondering what they might think.
And they thought of him simply not at all.

And Norah approached that rocky shore with an unconcealable, almost
avowed, jealousy of her father. A shade of that emotion, half shame,
half pain, with which a young woman regards her mother's second
marriage was in her mind. It was a partial desecration of her idea of
her mother, and she was jealous of the new companion who naturally must
be more to Helen than even she herself could be. She was jealous, though
she had long given her mother a rival more dangerous still in Ned; but
in such feelings no one is reasonable. Dr Maurice had stolen into her
confidence, she knew not how, and, partly out of pure perversity, was
very strenuous in Ned's favour, and had promised to plead his cause. The
wretched man was almost glad that there should be this new complication
coming along with Norah, to perplex from the very beginning her father's
relations with her. Had things been as he once hoped--had he been able
to make Norah his own child, as he had tried to do--then he would have
resisted Ned to his last gasp; but as she was not his, he was wickedly
glad that she should not be altogether Robert's, but that from the first
his should be but a divided proprietorship.

'I will do what I can to make things easy for you, Norah,' he said, as
they drew near St Malo, half out of love, half out of spite. 'I will
give you what I meant to leave you, and that should get over part of the
difficulty.'

'Oh, Dr Maurice, you have always been so good to me!' cried heedless
Norah. 'If it had been you instead of papa----'

She was angry with herself when she had made that foolish, hasty speech;
but, oh! how sweet it was to her companion! What balm it shed upon those
awkward sorenesses of his! He drew her hand through his arm, and bent
over her with the tenderest looks.

'It would be strange if I did not do my best for my little Norah,' he
said, with something like a tear in his eye. Hypocrite! If she had been
his little Norah, then heaven have mercy upon poor Ned!

They landed, and there was all the flutter and agitation of meeting,
which was more confusing, more agitating, than meetings generally are,
though these are always hard enough to manage. They went together across
the bay to the little cottage on the cliff. They took a long time to
settle down. Robert hung about his child as if she had been a new toy,
unable to keep from gazing at her, touching her, recalling what she used
to be, glorying and rejoicing over the possession of her; while Helen,
on her side, watched too with a painful closeness, reading the thoughts
in Norah's eyes before they had come. She wanted to jump into certainty
at once. But they had to eat, and drink, and rest; they had to talk of
all that had happened--of all that might yet happen. And so the first
days passed, and the family unconsciously re-united itself, and the
extraordinary sank, no one knowing how, into the blessed calm of every
day.

And then there occurred an event which took all the company by surprise:
Norah fell in love with her father. She 'took to' him as a girl might be
expected to take to a man whose image she was. She was more like him a
great deal than she was like her mother. Her hasty, impulsive ways, her
fresh simplicity of soul, were all his. She had been thought to resemble
her mother before; but when she was by her father's side, it was
apparent in a moment whom she most resembled. She discovered it herself
with a glow of delight. 'Why, mamma, he is like me!' she cried, with a
delightful youthful reversal of the fact. And poor Helen did not quite
like it. It is terrible, but it is true--for the first moment it gave
her a pang. The child had been all hers; she had almost ceased to
remember that there could be any sharing of her. She had been anxious
about Norah's reception of her father; but she was not quite prepared
for this. Dr Maurice, for his part, was simply furious, and went as
near to hating Robert Drummond as it was possible to do; but then, of
course, that feeling on Maurice's part was simply ludicrous, and
deserved nothing but to be laughed at. This curious event made the most
tragi-comic convulsion in the cottage on the cliff.



CHAPTER XIV.


And now all the threads are shortening in the shuttle, and the web is
nearly woven out. If any one has ever supposed for a moment that Robert
Drummond and his wife would make a last appearance as cruel parents,
interfering with their daughter's happiness, it does not say much for
the historian's success in elucidating their characters. If Norah had
wanted to marry a bad man, they would no doubt have made a terrible
stand, and made themselves very unhappy; but when it was only their own
prejudices, and poverty, and other external disadvantages that had to be
taken into account, nothing but the forecasting imagination of two timid
lovers could have feared for the result. When two people have themselves
married upon nothing, it is so much more easy for them to see how that
can be managed over again; and, heaven save you, good people! so many of
us used to marry upon nothing in the old days.

But a great deal had to happen before this could come to pass. The
Drummonds went home to England late in the autumn, and Robert was
received back by the world with such acclamations as perhaps have not
greeted a man of his profession in England for ages. Of itself the
picture of 'Dives' had made a great impression upon the general mind;
but when his strange story became public, and it was known that the
picture of the year had been painted by a man risen, as it were, out of
the grave, warmer still became the interest in it. The largest sum which
had been given for a picture for years was offered for this to the
resuscitated painter. Helen, always visionary, revolted from the very
thought of selling this picture, which had been the link between herself
and her husband, and which had so many associations to them both; but
Robert had too much practical good sense to yield to this romantic
difficulty. 'I am no longer Dives,' he said, as he drew his wife's arm
through his own, and took her out with him to conclude the bargain. It
increased the income which Robert's American gains brought him, and made
them a great deal more comfortable. But Helen would never visit at the
great house where 'Dives' was, and she would have given half her living
to have possessed the greatest work her husband ever produced--the only
one by which, all the critics said, he would be known to posterity. This
was one of the disappointments of her new life, and it was without doubt
an unreasonable disappointment, as so many are that sting us most
deeply. The Drummonds were so fortunate, after some waiting and
bargaining, as to secure their old house in St Mary's Road, with the
studio in which such happy and such terrible hours had been passed. It
was beyond their means; but yet they made an effort to purchase this
pleasure for themselves. And here for two years the family lived
together unbroken. Now and then they went to the Gatehouse, and made the
hearts of the Haldanes glad. And painters would throng about the studio,
and the old life came back as if it had never had a break. By times
Helen would sit in the familiar room, and ask herself was it _now_--the
present--or was it the past which had come back? The difference was,
there was no child curled against the window, with brown hair about her
shoulders, and a book in her arms, but only that slim, fair, brown-eyed
maiden, who wore a ring of betrothal upon her finger, and had thoughts
which travelled far by times after her distant lover; and that the
master of the house, when he came into the room, was not the
light-footed, youthful-browed Robert of old, but a white-haired man,
growing old before his time. These were the changes; but everything else
was unchanged.

Robert Drummond, however, never painted another picture like that
'Dives;' it was the one passion flower, the single great blossom, of his
life. He painted other pictures as he used to do, which were good
Drummonds, specimens of that master which the picture-dealers were very
willing to have and collectors to add to their treasures, but which
belonged to a world altogether distinct from the other. This Helen felt
too with a gentle pang, but not as she had felt it of old. Once he had
risen above that pleasant, charming level of beautiful mediocrity; once
he had painted, not in common pigments, but in colours mixed with tears
and life-blood. At such a cost even she was glad that no more great
works should be produced. She was satisfied; her craving for genius and
fame had once been fed, almost at the cost of their lives; and now she
was content to descend to the gentler, lower work--the work by which men
earn their daily bread.

Ah! but even then, even now, had it been--not Raphael, perhaps, who was
one of the Shaksperian men, without passion, who do the work of gods as
if they were the humanest, commonest of labourers--but such a fiery soul
as that of Michelangelo whom this woman had mated! But it was not so.
She could have understood the imperfection which is full of genius; what
she was slow to understand was the perfection in which no genius was.
But she was calmed and changed by all she had gone through, and had
learned how dearly such excellence may be bought, and that life is too
feeble to bear so vast a strain. Accordingly, fortified and consoled by
the one gleam of glory which had crowned his brows, Helen smiled upon
her painter, and took pleasure in his work, even when it ceased to be
glorious. That was over; but the dear common life--the quiet, blessed
routine of every day--that ordinary existence, with love to lighten it,
and work to burden it, and care and pleasure intermingled, which, apart
from the great bursts of passion and sorrow and delight that come in
from time to time, is the best blessing God gives to man--that had come
back, and was here in all its fulness, in perfect fellowship and
content.

Norah lived at home with her parents for two years--the reason of which
was, not that they objected to poor Ned, but that Ned was so sick at
heart with all that he had suffered, that he was not capable of settling
down to such work as could be procured for him in England. He was
'Burton's son;' and though even the people who looked cold at him on
account of his parentage would soon have forgotten it, Ned himself could
not forget. There was even a moment of despair in which he had declared
that he would not share his disgrace with the girl he loved, but would
carry it with him to his grave as soon as might be, and trouble no one
any more. This state of mind alarmed Norah dreadfully, but it did not
alarm the more experienced persons, who were aware that the mind at
one-and-twenty has a great many vagaries, and is not always to be taken
at its word. The despair came to a sudden end when Ned found himself
suddenly appointed to a vice-consulship in an Italian seaport, where his
chief made him do all the work, and where he received very little of the
pay. When this serious moment came, and life had to be fairly looked in
the face, Ned came to himself--he became a reasonable creature. Of
course, after his despair, his first idea was to be married instantly;
but finally he consented to wait until something better--something they
could live on--could be procured for him. He bore his banishment
valiantly, and so did Norah. And it did him good; he began to forget
that he was 'Burton's son;' the whole terrible story began to steal out
of his mind with that blessed facility which belongs to youth. His sky
brightened from those early clouds; his mind, which was a very good,
clear, capable intelligence, developed and strengthened; and finally,
the exertions of his mother and grandfather, and those of Drummond, who
had some influence too among great people who were lovers of art,
procured him an appointment at home. Ned would have nothing to do with
business; he shuddered at the very name of it, and rejected the plans
his kind grandfather had formed for him with a repugnance which was
almost horror. Mr Baldwin did not understand how the boy could be so
foolish; but his mother understood, and subdued all opposition. Instead
of taking his chance, therefore, of commerce, with the hope of becoming
in his turn a millionnaire, Ned made himself very happy in the public
service on a few hundreds a year. If he lived long enough, and nobody
was promoted over him, and nothing happened to him or the office, the
chances were that after thirty years or so he might find himself in
enjoyment of a thousand a year. And all the family said to each other,
'That is very good, you know, for a young man without much interest,'
and congratulated Ned as if he had the thousand a year already which was
thirty years off, and subject to all the chances of good and evil
fortune, of economical ministers, and those public crises which demand
the sacrifice of junior clerks. But notwithstanding all these drawbacks,
Ned was very happy in his new appointment, and his marriage day drew
nigh.

Mrs Burton had lived for some time with her father and her aunts at
Clapham--as long, indeed, as she could bear it; then she took a little
house in town. She had given up half of her settlement to her husband's
creditors; and whether she measured her sacrifice by her own knowledge
of human nature, or did it simply in the revulsion of her heart, after
Ned's careless reception of the larger offering which she was willing to
have made for him--certain it is that she got much more honour from her
public renunciation of the half than she would have done had she let the
whole go as she once intended. Her magnanimity was in all the papers,
and everybody commended the modest, unexaggerated sacrifice. And she had
still a very good income of her own, derived from the half she retained.
Her life in London, she thought, was happier than at Clapham. Yet,
perhaps, a doubt may be entertained on this subject; for a life so
limited was hard to her, however luxurious it might be. She did not care
for luxuries; but she did care to watch the secret movements of life, to
penetrate the secrets of human machinery, to note how men met the
different emergencies of their existence. She gathered a little society
round her who were as fond of this pursuit as herself; but unless they
could have provided themselves with cases on which to operate, this
association could not do them much good, and it was dry fare to be
driven to scrutinising each other. She thought she was happier in her
tiny house in Mayfair, where she kept three maids and a man, and was
extremely comfortable; but I believe that in reality her time of highest
enjoyment was also her time of greatest suffering, when she was ruling
her own little world at Dura, and seeing her house tumble to pieces, and
holding out against fate. She had had a chance for a moment of a better
life when her son came back, and touched with a careless, passing hand
those chords of her heart which had never vibrated before. But the touch
was careless, momentary. Before that vibration had done more than thrill
through her, the thoughtless hand was lifted, and the opportunity over,
and Mrs Burton, with her soft cynic smile, her perfect toleration for
the wants and weaknesses of humanity, her self-contained and
self-sufficing character, had returned to herself. She was proud, very
proud, in her way, and she was never betrayed into such weakness again.
Which was to blame, the mother or the son, it would be hard to say; and
yet Ned could hardly be blamed for failing to perceive an opportunity
which he never guessed at nor dreamed of. Some exceptionally sympathetic
natures might perhaps by instinct have felt the power that had been put
into their hands; but it is impossible to say that he was to blame for
not feeling it. Of all human creatures in this chilly universe, Ned
remained the one who most deeply interested his mother. She made no
opposition to his marriage; she even made a distinct effort to like and
to attract Norah, who on her side did her best to be affectionate and
filial to the woman whose cold gentleness and softness of manner were so
unlike her own. It was an experiment which mutually could not be said to
have failed. They were always, as people say, on the best of terms; but
so far as any real _rapprochement_ went, it cannot be said that it
succeeded. Ned's life, however, such as it was, was the one point in her
family to which Mrs Burton could turn without that emotion of
calmly-observant contempt--if the sentiment could be described as
anything so decided or warm as contempt--with which she regarded human
nature in general. Her husband, when he reached America, at once wrote
home to claim a share in the income secured by her settlement, which she
accorded him without hesitation, moved by a certain gentle, unexpressed
disdain. He received his allowance, as she termed it, or his share, as
he called it, with unfailing regularity, and made a hundred ventures
with it in the new field of speculation he had entered on with varying
success. He gained money and he lost it as he moved about from one town
to another; and sometimes in his letters he would tell her of his
successes--successes which made her smile. It was his nature, just as it
was Mr Baldwin's nature to take the chair at meetings, to devote himself
to the interests of the denomination. The one tendency was no more
elevated than the other, when you came to look into them, the student of
human nature thought. Perhaps, on the whole, the commercial gambling on
a small scale which now occupied the ruined merchant was more honest
than the other; for Burton thought of nothing but his own profit or
gain, whereas Mr Baldwin thought he was doing God a service. But this
was not a comparison for a daughter, for a wife, to make.

And then Clara came back from her southern villa, a young mother, with a
husband who was no longer her lover, and of whom she had become aware
that he was growing old. The villa was situated on the shores of the
loveliest sea, in the most beautiful climate in the world; but Clara
tired of it, and found it dull, and with her dulness bored her husband
so that his life became a burden to him. He brought her home at her
urgent desire, with her baby, and they lived about in London for a short
time, now in an hotel, now in a lodging, till it occurred to Clara that
it was her duty to go and live near 'dear grandpapa,' and delight his
old age with the fourth generation of his descendants. It suited her
very well for a time. 'Dear grandpapa' was abject to her; her aunts
became slaves to herself and her baby; she became the centre of all
their thoughts and plans. Clary, who loved all pleasant things, and to
whom luxury and ease were life, made herself at home at Clapham; and Mr
Golden relieved her of his presence, paid visits here and there, lived
at his club--which, strangely enough, had not expelled him--and
returned to all the delights of his old bachelor life. What was to be
the final end of it was hard to prophesy; but already Clary had begun to
be bored at Clapham, and to make scenes with her husband when he paid
her his unfrequent visits. And this was the love-match so romantically
made! Clary, amid all her jealousies and all her dulness, kept so firm a
hold upon the rich old people who could not live for ever, and who could
restore her at their death, if they so pleased, to much of her old
splendour, that her mother derived a certain painful amusement from this
new manifestation of her life. Amusement, I cannot deny,--and painful, I
hope; seeing that the creature who thus showed forth to her once again
the poor motives and self-seeking of humanity was her only daughter. But
with such evidences before her eyes of what human nature could be, was
it wonderful that Mrs Burton should stand more and more by herself, and
harden day by day into a colder toleration, a more disdainful
acquiescence in the evils she could not fight against. What was the good
of fighting against them? What could she do but render herself extremely
unhappy, and spoil the comfort of others without doing them any good? It
was not their fault; they were acting according to their nature. Thus
Mrs Burton's philosophy grew, and thus she spent her diminished life.

It was in the midst of all these varied circumstances that the joy-bells
rang for Norah's wedding. Mrs Burton did not go; for even her philosophy
was not equal to the sight of Dura, where, according to the wish of both
bride and bridegroom, the bridal was; but Clara, eager in the dulness of
Clapham for any change, was present in a toilet which filled her aunts
with compunction, yet admiration, and which one of them had been
wheedled into giving her. Clara took great state upon her as the matron,
the only one of the party who had attained that glory, though she was
the youngest, as she reminded them all. 'But if I don't do better than
Clary has done, I hope I shall never marry at all,' Katie Dalton cried
with natural indignation. The pretty procession went out of the
Gatehouse on foot to the church behind the trees, where Norah, as she
said, had been 'brought up,' and where Mr Dalton blessed the young pair,
while his kind wife stood holding Helen's hand and crying softly, as it
were, under her breath. Helen herself did not cry; and Norah's tears
came amid such an April shining of happiness, that no one could object
to them. The whole village came out to watch the pair whom the whole
village knew. A certain tenderness of respect, such as the crowd seldom
shows, was in the salutations Dura gave to the son of the ruined man who
had so long reigned among them. No one could remember, not the most
tenacious rural memory, an unkind act of Ned's; and the people were so
sorry for him, that their pleasure in his joy was half pathetic. 'Poor
lad!' they said; 'poor fellow! And it was none of his fault.' And the
friendliness that brought him back to hold his high festival and morning
joy of youth among them touched the kindly folks, and went to their
hearts. Stephen Haldane sat at his window, and watched the bride come
and go. Tears came into his eyes, and a pathetic mixture of gladness and
sorrow to his heart. He watched the procession go out, and in his
loneliness folded his hands and prayed for them while they were in
church. It was summer once more, and the blossomed limes were full of
bees, and all the air sweet with scent and sound. While all the goodly
company walked together to the kirk, Stephen, who could not go with
them, sat there in the sunshine with his folded hands. What thoughts
were in his mind! What broken lights of God's meaning and ways gleamed
about him! What strange clouds passed over him through the
sunshine--recollections of his own life, hopes for theirs! And when the
bride went away from the door, away into the world with her husband--in
that all-effectual separation from her father's house which may be but
for a few days, but which is more or less for ever, Stephen once more
looked out upon them from his window. And by his side stood Helen,
escaped there to command herself and to console him. The father leaned
out of the window, waving his hand; but the mother stood behind, with
her hand upon the arm of the invalid's chair. When Robert turned round,
it was with wonder that he perceived in Stephen's eyes a deeper feeling,
a more penetrating emotion, than he himself felt, or had any thought of.
He held out his hand to his friend, and he put his arm round his wife.

'Well, Helen,' he said, with his cheery voice, 'she is gone as you went
from your mother; and there are two of us still, whatever life may have
in store.'

'If there had not been two of us,' the mother cried, with momentary
passion, 'I think I should have died!'

Stephen Haldane took her hand in his, in sign of his sympathy. He held
it tightly, swaying for a moment in his chair. And he said nothing, for
there was no one whose ear was his, to whom his words were precious. But
in his heart he murmured, God hearing him, 'There is but one of me; and
I never die.'


THE END.


JOHN CHILDS AND SON, PRINTERS.





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