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Title: Mirk Abbey, Volume 3(of 3)
Author: Payn, James
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mirk Abbey, Volume 3(of 3)" ***

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MIRK ABBEY

By James Payne

The Author Of "Lost Sir Massengberd;" "The Clyffards Of Clyffe;" &c.,
Ke.

In Three Volumes. Vol. III.

London:

1866.



CHAPTER I. MADAME DE CASTELLAN.

|UPON the fourth day after the reception of her Paris letter, my
Lady had to leave Mirk for town on business connected with Walter's
affairs--for, after all, she cannot permit his elder brother to bear the
whole brunt of these unexpected expenses. Her visit was to the family
lawyer, and she went alone save for the attendance of Mistress Forest.
Under any circumstances, she would rather it were thus, she repeats,
even if the preparations going on at Mirk did not take up so fully Sir
Richard's time, and render his accompanying her out of the question. For
this Coming of Age was a case wherein surely a man might busy himself
even though the whole affair was to be held in his own honour; the very
name of Lisgard being in a manner at stake, and obnoxious to censure, if
everything should not be in a fitting scale and perfect of its kind;
nay (though certainly more remotely), might not the Great Principle of
Territorial Aristocracy have been almost said to be upon its trial
upon the coming occasion? The business must have been pressing indeed,
remarked the baronet a little pointedly, that took the mistress of Mirk
from home at such an important epoch; and he thought in his heart that
his mother might have put off this signature of a few parchments until
after the fête-day. However, it was plain that my Lady considered the
call to town imperative, since she started thither upon the very morning
of the day on which her old friend Madame de Castellan had appointed
to reach Belcomb; and although she hoped to be able to return on the
ensuing afternoon, in company with Walter and his wife, whose marriage
had been in the meantime publicly announced, it was not certain that her
affairs could be transacted within such time as would permit her to do
so. And so it unfortunately turned out. About an hour after luncheon,
the carriage having been despatched from the Abbey to the Dalwynch
station just so long as would admit of its return with its expected
inmates, the sound of wheels was heard in the avenue, and both Sir
Richard and Letty felt the colour come into their cheeks. Each imagined
that it was the Return of the Prodigal (in this case rendered more
embarrassing by the fact of his bringing his wife with him). Suppose
their mother should have been prevented from accompanying Captain
and Mrs Lisgard! How very awkward and disconcerting would this first
interview be; and especially for the poor baronet, who had never seen
Rose, at least to his own knowledge, as a married woman. His brother's
bride, too! Sir Richard rather repented for that minute or two that he
had made such a point of the young couple returning to Mirk so soon. He
felt quite grateful to his sister when she placed her hand upon his arm,
and whispered: "Had we not better go out to meet them, Richard?" At any
other time, he would perhaps have resented her offer to share the duties
of host; for was it not his place, and his alone, to bid guests welcome
to Mirk Abbey? But upon this occasion he accepted it gladly; and it was
lucky for him he did.

Instead of the gay barouche and glistening steeds from his own stables,
he beheld, when he reached the hall steps, the Dalwynch fly--for the
little town only boasted of one such conveyance--a yellow single-seated
machine, which had once been proud to call itself a post-chaise, and
been whirled through the air by panting wheelers and leaders; but it was
now dragged along by animals so melancholy and slow, that but for their
colour and shortness of tail, they might have been hearse-horses; while
the driver had a lugubrious expression too, as befitted one who felt
that he should never buckle on his single spur again, or crack his
whip in triumph, as he came up the street of the county town at
a hand-gallop. But the tenant of this vehicle was a far more
old-world-looking object than itself or its belongings; a very ancient
and silverhaired lady, looking almost double even as she sat, and only
able, painfully, to alight from her carriage by aid of Mr Robert's arm
and a crutched stick. Her complexion was an agreeable gingerbread; she
had not above three teeth, which, however, were very white ones, left
in either jaw; and her head shook from side to side with the palsy of
extreme old age. But despite these disadvantages, she had by no means an
unpleasant expression; and Sir Richard, with his fete-day running in his
head, was somehow reminded of one of those beneficent old fairies, who,
at considerable personal inconvenience, used to make a point of being
present at the christening, marriage, and other important occasions in
the life of the young prince with whose royal mother they had been such
great friends in years gone by. He hurried down the steps to offer his
arm to this strange visitor, and bid her respectful welcome.

"Madame de Castellan, for I think it can be no one else," said he; "it
is most kind of you to treat us thus. We ought to have been at Belcomb
ourselves by this time, instead of your being here, and indeed we should
have been there yesterday, had my mother been at home; but important
business has taken her to London, and I much regret to say that she has
not even yet returned, although we are expecting her every minute."

Either the exertion of alighting, or the reception of this unexpected
news, set the poor old lady shaking to that degree, that it seemed a
wonder that she did not shake to pieces. She fell to kissing Letty,
doubtless partly from affection, but also perhaps as an excuse for not
immediately commencing the ascent of those dreadful stairs.

"You don't either of you remember me, I dare say," mumbled she in the
French tongue.

Sir Richard smiled and bowed, as being the safest reply he could frame
to a question of which he understood nothing.

"Ah, Heaven, he does!" cried the old lady with evident delight. "That is
an excellent young man; and yet he was but a very little boy. And Miss
Letty? No, she does not remember--how should she? she was too young! And
Walter--the pretty boy, so _spirituel_, with his black velvet frock and
short sleeves tied with scarlet ribbon--where was he? What! grown up and
married? Was it possible! How time had flown; alas, alas! And the good
Dr Haldane and his wife, was he here as much as usual? clever, sarcastic
little gentleman!"

Not even the allusions to their own childhood gave Richard and his
sister so vast a notion of the time that had elapsed since Madame de
Castellan's previous visit to the Abbey, as this last remark of hers;
for the occurrence which had shut out the good doctor from the Abbey
had happened so long ago that it was almost legendary; and they were so
accustomed to his absence, that they could not picture to themselves the
state of things to which this patriarchal old lady referred as a matter
of course. As for Mrs Haldane, they had heard of the existence of such a
person, and that was all. That good woman had not made much noise in the
world when she was alive, and she had been among the Silent now for more
than eleven years. How far back were the explanations to begin, thought
Letty and her brother, that would make this female Rip Van Winkle _au
fait_ with the present order of things?

But the old Frenchwoman was fortunately not nearly so anxious to be
answered as she was to talk, a feat which she accomplished with much
more distinctness than could have been expected, notwithstanding that
Sir Richard subsequently ascribed to her paucity of teeth the fact that
he only understood about two words out of her every five.

It was very amusing to watch the poor young baronet listening with
fruitless diligence to her rapid syllables, and then turning an
imploring glance upon his sister and sworn interpreter for aid and
rescue. He was obliged upon two occasions to frame some halting reply
with his own lips; once when Madame openly complimented him upon his
good looks and gallant bearing; and secondly, when she thanked him for
the readiness with which he had placed the cottage at Belcomb at her
disposal; but for the rest, the burden of conversation rested upon
Letty.

"And how is Marie--how is the good Marie, who was to your dear mamma
like a servant and a sister in one?" asked the old lady, when they had
got her with some difficulty into the drawing-room.

"She is well, Madame; but in some trouble about a certain suitor,
whom" (here she pouted a little) "Sir Richard here considers to be
undesirable."

Madame raised her rather shaggy eyebrows, and looked towards the young
baronet as if for an explanation. He knew that they were speaking of
Mistress Forest, and that was all.

"An admirable person," said he earnestly; "most trustworthy in every
way. We have all cause to be more than satisfied."

"Ah, then he does not object after all!" exclaimed Madame triumphantly.
"And Master Walter--what sort of a wife has he got? Beautiful? That is
well; it would be a pity if it were otherwise. And clever? Excellent!
And also good, I hope?"

"Well, Madame, she will be here in a minute, so that you may judge for
yourself," answered Letty smiling, but by no means displeased to hear
the craunch of carriage-wheels upon the gravel of the terraced drive.
These home questions concerning her new sister-in-law were getting
rather difficult to answer, and especially in Richard's presence.

"Will your mother be with them?" inquired Madame, gathering from the
faces of her companions, rather than from any sound which could have
reached her tardy ears, that the arrival of those expected was imminent.

"As I said before, Madame, I cannot promise; but I sincerely trust, for
your sake--as, indeed, for her own--that it may be so. I am sure mamma
will deeply grieve to have missed you."

The next moment, Captain and Mrs Lisgard were announced. Richard walked
straight up to Rose, and taking her hand in his best Sir Roger de
Coverley manner, bade her frank but stately welcome. Then, "How are you,
Walter?" said he, giving his brother's fingers an earnest squeeze, and
simulating cordiality all he could. "Here is a very old friend of our
mother's, Madame de Castellan, who remembers you in a velvet frock with
short sleeves and cherry-coloured ribbons."

For the first time, Sir Richard blessed this old lady's presence,
which was so greatly mitigating to him the difficulties of this dreaded
interview; but Walter appeared to be but little embarrassed; less so,
indeed, than Madame herself, who, overcome, doubtless, by the strong
resemblance to his mother in the young man now presented to her, began
to tremble again almost as much as she had done a while ago.

"And this is Master Walter," said she in broken tones. "I think I should
have known that without any introduction." Here she held him with both
her hands at arms' length. "I suppose, now, you do not remember me at
all?"

"Madame," returned the young man in bad French, but briskly enough, and
with a very pleasant smile, "I cannot say I do. Little folks in velvet
frocks have very bad memories. But I have often heard my dear mother
speak of you most affectionately; indeed, she wrote to me of your
expected arrival at Belcomb with greater pleasure than I have known her
to take in anything for years."

"Except your marriage, Mister the Captain, eh?" returned the old lady
archly. "Come, introduce me to your lovely bride. Ah, Heaven, what
a young couple! Well, I like to see that--I who might be the
great-grandmother of both of you.--How are you, Madame Walter? What do
they call you? Rose! Ah, a charming name."

But though the name was so charming, and the young lady was so lovely,
Madame de Castellan did not take her to her arms and embrace her as
she had taken Letty. Indeed, if it was possible for Rose to look
disconcerted, she would have done so now, as she stood with cast-down
eyes, exposed to the same steady scrutiny as her husband had just been
subjected to; but there was by no means so much affection in the old
lady's gaze on this occasion. When she had regarded her sufficiently,
she dismissed her with a patronising tap upon the head, and once more
addressed herself to Walter. "And what have you done with your mamma,
sir?"

"_I_ have done nothing, Madame," answered he laughing. "She has never
given me the chance of making away with her, if it is of that you
suspect me; for she never came to see us in town at all. We were to
meet at the station this morning, but she was not there. I am afraid,
therefore--for she dislikes travelling at night--that we shall not see
her before this time to-morrow."

Master Walter was in very different cue from that in which we saw him
last. The burden of his difficulties had been lifted from his shoulders,
at all events for the present. He had been saved at least from ruin, and
that, though he might be henceforth compelled to live the life of a
poor man, was a matter of congratulation; just as one is thankful, in
shipwreck upon the desolate seas, to land on even a barren rock. His
spirits were always buoyant, and they were now asserting themselves
after a period of severest pressure. In short, Master Walter was himself
again--good-humoured, graceful, and as desirous as well fitted to please
all with whom he came into contact. It was plain that he had made a
complete conquest of this old Frenchwoman.

"And Marie, have you hidden _her_ anywhere, you naughty boy?"

"Not I, Madame. If you saw her, you would understand that she is not
easily hidden. You remember her plump, I daresay; but plump is now no
word for her. Even love--and she is love-sick, poor thing, at
five-and-forty, or so--does not render her less solid."

"Ah, wicked, to laugh at Love!" replied the old lady, holding up a
reproving finger, of whose shape and whiteness she was evidently proud,
and not altogether without reason; "and worse still, to laugh at Marie.
I love that dear Mistress Forest; and mind you, tell mamma, if ever she
parts with her, that she is to come straight to me. What would I not
give for a waiting-maid like that--devoted, prudent, to whom I could
confide my little love-affairs!--Why do you laugh, rude children? It
is, I see, time that I should go.--Seriously," continued she, when the
chorus of dissatisfaction had died away (for every one except, perhaps,
Rose, was pleased with this sprightly old lady, and all felt her
presence to be, under the circumstances, an immense relief), "I must
be going home at once.--Thank you kindly, Sir Richard, but to stay to
dinner is impossible. The night-air, at my time of life--more even than
'five-or-forty or so, Mister the Captain--is very unwholesome. You must
all come and lunch with me shortly A _fête champêtre_ upon the--what is
it you call it?--Lisgard Folly. You will give this kiss to mamma for me,
Miss Letty, and tell her I must see her to-morrow--no, the day after,
for she will be tired. I will not have any of you young people on that
day. I shall wish to talk to her alone about so many things. Will
you please to ring for my--that droll conveyance which you call
_mouche_--'fly?'--Adieu, Madame Walter; take care of your handsome
husband, for I have fallen in love with him.--Adieu to you, naughty
boy.--Now, Sir Richard, if you will give me your arm, by the time we get
to the front door, and down these dreadful steps, the _mouche_ will be
at the door, though he walk slow, as though he had just escaped out of
treacle."

As the pair made their way to the hall, at the pace of chief-mourners,
Madame de Castellan, to Richard's surprise and joy, began, for the first
time, to speak in broken English. "Your mother is very fond of you all,"
said she; "I hope you are fond of her."

"I hope so indeed, Madame: we should be very ungrateful if we were not."

"That is well, young man. Be good to her, for our mothers are obliged to
leave us, you know, long before we go ourselves."

"God forbid, Madame, that we should lose her these many years," answered
the baronet fervently.

"Yes, yes; but mind this," answered the old lady testily, as she climbed
into the _mouche_, "that if Mistress Forest should want a place--here am
I at Belcomb, very glad to receive her. Good-bye."

Sir Richard, thunder-struck, stared at the slowly-departing vehicle like
one in a dream. "I never heard such a speech," soliloquised he--"never.
Can that old harridan be really calculating upon my mother's death
giving her a new lady's-maid? How selfish is extreme old age! I could
not have believed it possible. How it would have distressed mamma,
could she have heard her. And yet but for that speech, she seemed an
affectionate and kindly old creature enough. I have often heard that
Frenchwomen have no hearts, but only manners--and I suppose that so it
is."



CHAPTER II. THE PARTIE QUARRÉ.

|AS Walter had predicted, my Lady did not return to Mirk by the evening
train, and scarcely under any circumstances could her absence have
been more keenly felt. The four young folks at home were by no means so
socially comfortable as a partie quarré is proverbially said to be. They
felt themselves embarrassed even when all together; but when the couples
were left alone, the gentlemen over the dessert, and the ladies in the
drawing-room, their position was tenfold more awkward. If they had
not been so nearly connected, the one might have taken refuge in
conversation about the weather or politics, and the other in books or
bonnet-shapes; but one of the many disadvantages of near relationship
is, that you are cut off from all havens of that sort The device is too
transparent to be adopted or acquiesced in--each was conscious that the
other was thinking of all sorts of unpleasant things, and wishing his
companion at Jericho--or York at least. The temperature was so mild
that there was not even a fire to poke.

"You remember this claret, Walter, I dare say."

"Yes; did not our father reckon it the next best in his cellar to that
of the Comet year?" &c., &c.

But it struck them both that an absence of a few days from the Abbey was
not likely to produce forgetfulness upon this particular point more than
upon any other. Sir Richard did not venture to propose a cigar in the
smoking-room; they sat on either side of the empty grate making a great
pretence of enjoying their wine (which might have been ginger-beer,
for any gratification it afforded them) and racking their brains for
something to say. At last Walter blurted out with a great show of
frankness: "Richard, you were quite right about that fellow Derrick; I
wish I had taken your view of the man; he has let me in for a good deal
of money this Derby."

"I am sorry for that," returned the other, with genuine pleasure. "Yes,
I knew he was a bad lot. I hope, however, he has now left Mirk for good
and all."

"No; he'll come back after Mary Forest, I have no doubt; and I am afraid
I was partly to blame in helping him in that quarter. But he knows what
I think of him now."

"I am glad of it," said the baronet drily.

"Nice, conciliating, agreeable companion this is," soliloquised Walter:
"I think I see myself making any second admission of having been
wrong where he was right." His self-humiliation, however, had not been
altogether without an object.

"Yes; I lost a considerable sum--that is, considerable for me--through
this gentleman from Cariboo," continued the captain. "It is all in
train for being settled--I am not going to ask you, Richard, for another
shilling. I am sure you have been already extremely generous--very
much so. But the money can't be paid for a few months; and there is one
rascal--an infernal Jew fellow--who, instead of replying to my letter,
offering him very handsome terms, I am sure, has had the impertinence, I
see, to write to mamma."

"A Jew fellow write to _my_ mother!" exclaimed Sir Richard, with an
indignant emphasis upon the personal pronoun.

"I am afraid so. I am almost sure I recognise his horrid handwriting
upon this envelope."

He took down one of several letters upon the mantel-piece that had
arrived that morning for the mistress of the house, and were awaiting
her return.

"You see he knows I'm under age, and he thinks to frighten one's people
into immediate payment by threatening all sorts of things which he
cannot really put into effect, but which will alarm mamma very much
indeed. It's a common trick."

"Oh, indeed; I am not acquainted with the ways of such people myself.
And what is it you propose to do, Walter?"

"Well, I don't think my mother should see that letter at all. He is
not a sort of person--the beggar, you see, spells 'Abbey' without an
_e_--for a lady to have anything to do with."

"Nor a gentleman either, as I should think," observed the baronet
severely. "But I do not perceive how we can prevent this mischief. You
cannot open the letter, nor destroy it, of course."

"No, of course not," assented Walter, though with the air of a person
who had only been very recently convinced of the impossibility.

Sir Richard took the objectionable missive between his finger and thumb.
_To the Honorable Lady Lisgard, Mirk Abby, Dalwynch_.

What a deal of trouble this fellow Walter was causing! Of course, one
did not wish one's brother any harm, but what a nice thing it would be
if one could get him some appointment in the Colonies. New Zealand was
said to be very salubrious, and had an excellently conducted church
establishment: the last mail, too, had brought home (for the eleventh
time) the joyful news that the Maories were finally subjugated.

"A perfect savage," observed Walter, with reference to Mr Moss Welcher
Abrahams.

"And yet with some good points," argued the baronet, his thoughts still
lingering in the antipodes.

"I'm hanged if I ever heard of them, then," replied his brother with
irritation. "He's a black-leg and a usurer. I'd never have bet with such
an infernal scoundrel, only that he offered me half a point more than
the odds."

"Ah," returned Sir Richard, with all the expressiveness that is
attributed to the "Ugh" of the North American Indian. "Suppose we join
the ladies."

I do not pretend to narrate how Rose and Letty had passed their time
since dinner. No grown-up male--with the exception, perhaps, of Mr
Anthony Trollope, whom I have heard ladies say has actually described
the thing--can picture the mysteries that take place in the drawingroom
before the gentlemen come in. Do they tell stories, I wonder, like the
folks in the dining-room? Now and then something incidentally crops up
which induces me to think they do; but there is no absolute proof. When
I was a very little boy, and there chanced to be a dinner-party at home,
after having had my half-glass of wine--"up to the cut," I remember,
was the niggardly phrase--it was my invariable custom to leave the
dining-room when the ladies did; and well I recollect how my
elder brother used playfully to flick my unprotected legs with his
dinner-napkin, as I closed the petticoated procession. But memory often
retains what is least worth keeping, and loses that which is truly
valuable. If I had only known that it would be my future mission to
write stories, I should doubtless have not so neglected my opportunities
in the drawingroom. But at that time I looked forward to be a merchant
engaged in the diamond business, and realising thousands of purses of
sequins by traffic with the natives of Bagdad and Bassorah. Indeed, upon
these very after-dinner occasions I used to be taken upon somebody's
lap, and entertained with anecdotes of that charming profession, the
members of which were exposed to no vulgar bankruptcies; but if they
escaped from the mighty Roc (which was a bird) and from the loadstone
island (which drew all the nails out of their argosies), were certain
to live happy ever afterwards with some beautiful princess, who did not
scorn to ally herself with trade. Alas! the tongue is withered now that
spoke such magic, and the kind hand that fondled my childish curls is
dissolved in dust; and it is like enough that all the rest of the gay
company is dead except that little boy. No; I remember nothing of it,
except that the older ladies, and especially the married ones, used to
herd together, and interchange what I took to be secret and important
communications; and that the young ones seemed to get after a while a
little tired of one another (notwithstanding that they were particularly
civil and affectionate), and turned expectant glances toward the door.

They could not, however, have been more pleased to see the gentlemen
than Rose and Letty were upon that evening in Mirk drawing-room to
welcome the two brothers. Much as women are praised for their superior
tact, it is my humble opinion that they possess less of it than
ourselves. Their gentleness, beauty, and general attractiveness enable
them, it is true, to render certain rough places tolerably smooth--nay,
some almost impregnable passes very practicable; but considering
their great advantages, they often signally fail in a piece of social
engineering, the difficulties of which almost any man would have managed
to evade. They prefer cutting a tunnel through granite to deviating a
hairbreadth from the line they have marked out for themselves. How often
has one sat on tenter-hooks, listening to a woman who raises a domestic
breeze to storm, when anybody but herself (who has yet been married to
the man a score of years) can perceive both drum and cone mast-high in
her husband's face and manner; nay, when you, the spectator, have marked
half-a-dozen openings--only she _will_ charge with her head down in that
foolish manner--by which she could have approached her consort's heart
in the course of discussion, and got all she wanted, and yet let him
keep his temper. When a _Man_ happens to have some feminine gifts,
tenderness, grace, beauty--like Walter Lisgard, for instance--what power
of pleasing, what avoidance of all subjects of _dis_pleasure, he almost
always exhibits, notwithstanding his masculine selfishness. It is very
possible, indeed, that this young dragoon may not have captivated
my readers; but that is because it is not possible to convey, by any
description, the attributes which make such a man so popular. Men talk
of the nameless charm that hangs about some fair one, her unspeakably
winning manners, and the grace "beyond expression" that pervades her
being; but the influence of such a charmer is almost entirely confined
to the other sex.

She cannot compel adoration from her young-lady friends: not solely
because she is their successful rival, but partly because she does not
possess the art of winning them. She has not the tact to conceal her
superiority, to conciliate their prejudices, to win their friendship.
Now, Walter Lisgard, who was of course adored by women, was almost as
popular with men. There were half-a-dozen or so of people--among
whom were Ralph Derrick and Arthur Haldane--who had seen him under
circumstances of extreme annoyance, and had been disenchanted of the
smiling kindly boy. There was Sir Richard too--but there were reasons
enough why Walter should not possess his brother's good-will, and having
failed to win it, it was the nature of such a man to be embarrassed
in his presence. Dislike, nay even want of appreciation, will often
paralyse the most agreeable of our fellow-creatures, and make them
duller than those who are at all times equally tedious. But if Walter
had been in Rose's place, I think he would have managed to get on better
than she did in that _tête-à-tête_ with her peccant sister-in-law. No
woman can conceal her annoyance from its object, if that be a person of
her own sex; she can only be desperately civil.

At all events, husband and brother were received by these two young
ladies as though they had been their lovers; and then the tea came up,
itself a diversion, which they prolonged to an inordinate limit. Who is
so fortunate that he has never been compelled to Tea against Time! The
dinner-hour at the Abbey, however, in consonance with ancient county
habits, was a somewhat early one--six o'clock--and there was a
considerable amount of evening to be got through. Sir Richard, in these
terrible straits, proposed a game at whist; and the four accordingly sat
down at the velvet card-table--scarcely ever used at Mirk--the gentlemen
to contend for shilling points, and the ladies for postage-stamps. Mr
Charles Lamb has informed us that he is inclined to think that there
_may_ be such a thing as _sick whist_; and if that admirable humorist
had witnessed this particular rubber, he would have had his suspicions
confirmed. Poor Walter thought grimly of his last experience in that way
with the _Landrails,_ and could not help making an estimate of how many
cycles of years it would take him, with average luck, to win back the
money lost upon that occasion at the present stakes. Immersed in this
calculation, he made a series of infamous blunders, for which Letty, who
was, of course, his partner, reproved him with that unsparing severity
which this delightful science induces even in an angelic partner: it
is at the whist-table that the trodden worm will turn with the most
energetic writhings. Sir Richard, on the other hand (who scarcely ever
ventured upon any finesse except that of Ace, Queen), was put in the
highest spirits, and became as offensively triumphant as his chivalric
nature would permit. Rose, poor girl, sincerely bewailed her husband's
vanishing shillings, of which she knew he had no superfluity, and would
have trumped her partner's best card half-a-dozen times over, had she
but dared. Altogether, it was the dreariest of domestic evenings.

The morning that followed was not much better; and never did mother
receive a sincerer welcome from her offspring than did Lady Lisgard
upon her return. The love-light danced in her eyes for a little at their
genuine enthusiasm, but it soon died out, and they all observed how
tired and worn she looked, how much more white and wan than when she
had started from home. If Sir Richard had had the opportunity, I almost
think he would have now acted upon his brother's suggestion, and spared
his mother the sight of Mr Moss Abrahams' letter. But it was too late.
Letty had herself taken possession of it; and when the first greetings
were over, and all had had their say about the visitor of the day
before, she put it into her mother's hand along with the other missives.

"I don't know who your correspondents may be, dear mamma, but I should
recommend one of them to apply to that gentleman who promises in
the _Times_ newspaper to teach everybody a legible hand for
four-and-sixpence; and when he has done that, he might learn a little
spelling, such as _A, b, ab; e, y, by---Abbey_."

"I daresay it will wait till I go up stairs," said my Lady with a faint
smile; and she did not even look at it. Nay, when she had reached her
room, and was alone with her maid, although she turned the letter round
and round with hurried, anxious fingers, she did not open it even then,
but gave it to Mistress Forest, saying piteously: "I am not sure about
the handwriting. Is it his, or no, Mary?"

"It is not his, madam."

"Thank Heaven for that!" cried my Lady, breaking the vulgar, sprawling
seal, and rapidly possessing herself of the contents. "More trouble,"
sighed she. "And yet, why should I sigh: this is only another reason to
add to the budget in yonder desk for what I am about to do."

"That is well, dear madam, and bravely said," answered the waiting-maid.
"It is no use to court delay. Sooner or later, the blow must fall; if
not to-day, then to-morrow. If he does not write, be sure, my Lady, that
he will come himself; we must make up our minds for that. He cannot
go to Coveton, and see my father--which is what I feel he intends to
do--without discovering all; and since that must be, the sooner he does
so the better. We are now prepared for the worst--for everything, in
short, except suspense."

"That is true," returned my Lady wearily. "Heaven help us!"

"Amen," exclaimed Mistress Forest encouragingly; "and I both hope and
believe it will."



CHAPTER III. A JOURNEY ON FOOT.

|SOME men, when crossed or "put out," take, like Sir Richard Lisgard, to
whistling melodies--surely a very mild and harmless form of irritation.
Others rap out a thunder-clap of an oath or two, which leaves their
firmament as serene as ever. Nothing, again, can calm the wrath of some
folks but pedestrian exercise; ghost-wise, they take to "walking," and
gradually their angry passions exude. This last was the case with Mr
Ralph Derrick, Mariner and Gold-digger.

When deeply annoyed, and some exceptional barrier existed to his
throwing the weightiest substance that happened to be at hand at the
head of his enemy, or burying some lethal weapon in his vitals, Ralph
took to walking like the Wandering Jew. With the first stage or two, his
thoughts were busy with the insult, real or imaginary, which had been
put upon him; his teeth were set, his fingers clenched, his brows were
corrugated; then he began to swing his loaded stick, not viciously,
but after the manner of an Irishman at a fair; and eventually that
calisthenic exercise, combined with the healthy influence of fresh air,
restored him to that normal state of devil-may-care, which persons
of charity go so far as to term, in folks of the like description,
good-humour. Of course, one cannot help pitying this poor fellow, for
he is one of those persons who always look much better on paper than
in real life, just the reverse of which is the case with the Walter
Lisgards; but as a matter of fact, he is not only a "rough customer,"
but a very dangerous and reckless man. Because we have seen him behave
towards that graceless captain of dragoons in a very generous and
high-flown manner, it is not to be supposed that he was always capable
of magnanimous actions. That young gentleman had been his pet, and it
had suited his mood to spoil him. A man may not only be agreeable to an
individual or two, but an excellent father, or a pattern husband, and
yet be a most offensive fellow-creature to you and to me. But it was
certainly hard upon Ralph that the only man for whom he entertained a
genuine affection, should have turned out such an ungrateful scamp. The
treatment he had lately received at that young man's hands, the knavery
of Mr Jack Withers, and the more than suspected collusion of his late
comrade, Mr Blanquette, united to put him out of humour with the world.
His previous opinions, as imported from Cariboo, before he met with
Walter, that everybody was more or less of a scoundrel, had met with the
amplest confirmation. He was more determined to take his own way than
ever, and let them look to it that crossed him. Bitter, indeed, had been
his thoughts as he had been borne along with that rabble rout on foot
from Epsom Downs. Deceived by those whom he had trusted, insulted by him
whom he had loved, and robbed of three-fourths of that wealth, to which
he now ascribed a greater importance than ever, as the _summum bonum_,
and indeed the _only_ good thing that was worth gaining, he had but
stopped in London a sufficient time to pack up his scanty wardrobe, then
started off again on foot once more, as we have seen. Disgusted with the
Turf, as with all else he had recently had to do with, he was now more
than ever bent upon leading a new life--not, indeed, in a penitential
sense (although some are so audacious as to aver that it _is_ a kind of
mortification), but, in other words, to marry. Mistress Forest was as
fond of him, he thought, and with some justice, as any woman was
ever likely to be; and he was resolved not to be balked of her by the
machinations of Sir Richard Lisgard, or the cajolments of his mother.
After the payment of all his bets, he would yet have left a sum that to
one in Mary's position would seem considerable; for he could sell _Many
Laws_, after his recent performance, for a great deal of money, to the
half of which he rather suspected Mr Blanquette would never venture to
lay claim. Yes; he would go down to the place where she had told him
her father still dwelt, and would dazzle him with such offers as could
scarcely fail to induce him to add the weight of his authority to his
own proposals; and there being no particular hurry about the matter,
and, as I have said, walking being consonant to his feelings when in
wrath, Ralph Derrick had taken the road to Coveton on foot.

It was a long distance, and would have involved several days of such
travel, under any circumstances, and he did not hurry himself at all.
At many a wayside inn, where he stopped to drink, and found the landlord
given that way, and to be good company, he stayed for the day and
night, and even longer. And often he left the high-road, and took
those short-cuts across country which, like "raw haste," are generally
"half-sisters to delay." This was especially the case when he began to
draw near the sea. Those who have passed much of their time upon that
element (voluntarily), the roar of ocean attracts as the trumpet-blast
the _quondam_ charger, and mile after mile did Derrick stride along the
cliff-top wherever it was practicable, and by the shore, notwithstanding
that his indulgence in that fancy doubled his journey. When we are out
of humour with our fellow-creatures, the external aspects of nature,
even though we be no Poets, have often a special attraction for us; the
winds of Spring--since as much has been said of those of Winter--are
certainly not so unkind as man's ingratitude, and we bid them blow with
a sort of soothing scorn; nor does the blue spring sky bite half so nigh
as benefits forgot. It pleased Ralph Derrick to let it do its worst,
and, rain or shine, he never sought shelter save when he needed drink or
rest; and during this last part of his travel, he obtained them as often
at some humble farmhouse as at an inn. The simple folks, who stared at
his great beard, and wondered why he did not shew them what goods he
had in his knapsack, like any other pedler, pleased him hugely; and when
some newly-soaped and carefully-brushed bashful child would steal into
his humble dining-chamber--which was the guidwife's, invariable plan of
getting her dues settled, since we cannot charge for things, you know
(and especially brandy), without a licence--he would take the little
creature upon his knee, and give him or her his newest shilling, in
addition to what was always a liberal settlement of the account. Perhaps
he was practising that _rôle_ of Paterfamilias which he hoped to be
soon called upon to play. At all events, Ralph was by this time in high
spirits; and when he was told that Coveton lay not above a dozen miles
ahead of him even by the coast-line, he threw his cudgel into the air,
and shouted a wild fragment of a diggers' song, to the consternation of
his rustic informant.

His way lay now over a great waste of moorland, elastic to the tread,
and over which the wind swept almost as unresisted as on the ocean from
whence it came. Here and there, it whistled through a hare thorn, but
what few trees there were had hidden themselves in sunken hollows, and
stood therein huddled together, with only their shivering tops above the
surface. Nothing was to be seen inland save "a level waste of rounded
gray," broken now and again by a church spire or a scattered hamlet; but
the seaward view was very fine. From that moorland height, you looked
upon two fair islands spread like a raised map, beneath, with every hut
and quarry distinctly plain, and the small white light-house standing
out on its little hill like a child's toy upon its pedestal. How
picturesque and sequestered they looked: how like two miniature but
independent worlds, to either of which a man who had had enough and to
spare of the turmoil of life might retire with some fitting mate, and
peacefully end his days. Surely, thought Ralph, he had somewhere seen
those two same islands before! As he stood at gaze, his thoughts went
wandering over archipelagoes of garden-ground in tropic seas; over rocky
islets sawn from iron-bound coasts by the jagged waves; and over mounds
of sand, which the ocean had thrust back into the jaws of rivers, and
suffered man to call them Land, and dwell there. But these were none of
those. As he went on more slowly, searching through the long gallery of
his mind for the picture which he knew was there, and half bewildered
by the shifting scenes, he was startled by a noise like distant thunder.
The sky was almost without a cloud, and the sea, although running high,
and dashing with pettish screech against the cliffs, was not so rough
but that the fishing-smacks, of which there was quite a fleet in motion,
carried all sail; moreover, the thunderous sound was not upon the
seaward side, but inland. A few score rapid strides in that direction
made its source apparent. An enormous hole, like half-a-dozen
gravel-pits in one, but deep as a mine, was gaping there; and at the
bottom, whether it had tunnelled through years of patient unremitting
toil, lay the churning sea. It was a gruesome sight to mark the solid
earth--just where a peaceful cornfield met the moorland--thus invaded
by its insidious foe, whose horrid pæan seemed to have something of
malicious greed as well as exultation in it, as though it lusted to eat
the heart of the round world itself away, after the same manner. "The
Devil's Cauldron!" exclaimed Ralph excitedly, and then looked round
him with a half-shudder, as though he had repeated the statement out of
deference to a Great Local Authority, rather than initiated it of his
own free-will. Yes, such was the name by which the place was known;
he felt certain of that fact; but unless in sober seriousness H. S. M.
himself had whispered the information, how did he ever come to be aware
of it? He had certainly never been there before, in all his life; it was
impossible, having once seen it, to have forgotten so abnormal as well
as tremendous a scene. True, there are pits and holes in many cliffs a
few yards from their edge which reach like shafts in a tunnel down to
the sea; but the distance of this place from the shore might be measured
by furlongs, and the pit was so large that it almost resembled a
land-locked bay. A Cauldron it might well be called, where the black
waters were seething and boiling even now, while in storm-time there
would be such wild work as no mere witches could raise, but only the
Fiend himself, their master.

Did the mad waves, finding themselves thus imprisoned, ever leap up?
Yes: now he remembered all. Thirty years ago, last autumn, he had seen
those islands once before from shipboard, and had had them in view for a
whole day. The wind, which was dead against the vessel, had kept her off
and on that dangerous coast, and eventually risen to storm, and sunk her
with all on board save him alone. The last time he had seen that little
light-house, it had flashed in vain its fiery warning through sheets
of blinding foam. The captain had told him, hours before, what sort of
shore awaited them, if ever the _North Star_ should be driven upon those
pitiless cliffs, on which Derrick himself was now standing; and, in
particular, he had mentioned the Devil's Cauldron, which was spouting
foam yonder, he said, like Leviathan, a quarter of a mile inland over
the standing corn. Ralph lay down at full length upon the thymy moor,
and peered over the brink of the abyss with earnest gaze, as though
he could fathom its dark depths, and mark what lay beneath them. Then
rising, with a sigh, he wandered on, no longer with springy tread,
until presently the cliff-top became dotted with white verandaed houses,
looking down upon a little bay, that ran up into the land between steep
banks, well clothed with trees and shrubs; whereby he knew that he had
come to his journey's end, and that this must needs be Coveton.



CHAPTER IV. COVETON

|COVETON--well known to ancient coupled who took their first honeymoons
half a century ago--is one of those old-fashioned sea-side places that
resolutely refuse to be "improved," and the denizens of which affect to
speak of Brighton as Brighthelmstone, and to treat it as a rival
upon equal terms. It has two very pretty inns, but there is so little
competition between them, that there is a shrewd suspicion that they
are under the same management; a few more houses have been built, it is
true, within the last half century, but they are all constructed upon
that same principle of fancy architecture, adopted at Coveton from the
first, and which perhaps I may term the Lowther Arcadian. At least I am
sure that the models of all its dwelling-houses are to be found in that
respectable metropolitan emporium: weather indicators, built for
the accommodation of an unencumbered couple; churches for the
dressing-table, in the front elevation of which you hang your watch
before retiring to rest; villa residences, down whose chimneys you drop
halfpence (or half-crowns, if you are so minded), for the encouragement
of missionary enterprise; and gritty erections for all sorts of
ingenious purposes, but which to the Uninstructed suggest only the means
of lighting a cigarmatch. You have no idea, unless you have been to
Coveton, how odd is the effect of a real village to the construction
of which these Lowther Arcadian principles have been applied; where the
doctors, father and son, live in a Weather Indicator (only, of course,
about five hundred times as big), and the former keeps indoors when it
is wet, and the son goes out in all weathers; where a genuine clergyman
lives in a magnified money-box, and you look up involuntarily at the
upper windows, in the expectation of seeing _Help the Heathen_ running
in a neat scroll between the first and second floors; and where the
gritty church has a real clock in the very place where the hole was left
in the model. The whole place looks, in short, as though some clever
child had built it out of a box of fancy bricks, after the pattern
of what he had seen on nursery mantel-pieces, or suspended from
Christmas-trees.

Not only is the place old-fashioned in itself, and resolute to resist
innovation, but the modern conveniences, which some enthusiasts have
endeavoured to import thither, have suffered by the unnatural coalition.
A branch-railway, for instance, has been attached to this Sleepy Hollow
from a great trunk-line; but the only result is that the railway has
become demoralised, and ceased to perform its functions. It goes no
faster than the four-horse coach, which still continues to run between
Coveton and the nearest provincial town; it is very uncertain in
its times of arrival and departure, and prone to delay, for with
old-fashioned gallantry, its trains never fail to stop to pick up a
lady, if she does but wave her parasol, no matter whether there is
a station on the spot or not. As to the supply of luxuries, or even
necessaries, the railway has been a total failure, and there is just the
same difficulty in obtaining a sufficiency of food in Coveton as in the
good old times--immortalised in a wood-cut at the top of the bills
of the _Royal Marine Hotel_--when his Royal Highness the Duke of Kent
arrived there in a carriage-and-four with outriders, and left a famine
in the flattered hamlet behind him, after a residence of forty-eight
hours. The most artful London bargainer who should take lodgings in
Coveton, and attempt to do her own housekeeping, would infallibly fail
to procure sustenance for herself and family. Nobody but a native can be
certain, for instance, of securing a joint of meat. You have literally
to "get up early," if your ambition extends to anything of that kind. By
9 o'clock A.M. the butcher's shop--the facsimile of those which are
sold in the Lowther Arcade for children to play at "going to market"
with--has disposed of its single sheep, which lies dismembered
and ticketed with the names of its several purchasers, thus: _Miss
Robinson's leg; Mrs Captain Cooper's shoulder; the Rev. Jones' kidneys;_
and so on. No sheep will be killed again till Saturday next. Beef is
only to be looked for once a fortnight. Veal is an accident not to be
counted upon at all. Game--you might just as well ask for Bird's-nest
soup; and all the fish that is ever caught at Coveton goes as direct as
the poor shambling dawdling railway can take it to the great metropolis.

If you stay at either of the hotels, you will not indeed be starved,
because one half of the above-mentioned sheep is always divided between
those two establishments; but you will not find any more variety.
They are principally patronised by newly-married couples, who are too
intoxicated with happiness to be very particular about their comfort.
There are secluded arbours dotted about the pretty gardens expressly for
the accommodation of this class of the community; and when a new
arrival does not walk about the place with its arm round its waist (I am
speaking of course of that mysterious duality which makes one out of two
people), it walks about, hand in hand, like grown-up children. Nobody
minds, in this little village, where honey-mooning is the normal state
of visitors, and discreet behaviour the exception. Coveton itself,
though on a small scale, is lovely, and naturally attracts these
unsophisticated couples as to another Eden; there are a hundred winding
walks--with rather abrupt turnings, however, which I have heard objected
to as bringing folks face to face unexpectedly upon other folks who
are already in that position--and seats provided at the local expense,
commanding most exquisite views of the sea at all times, and of the moon
when there happens to be one; and I do not doubt that as pleasant hours
have been spent at Coveton as at any other place of its age and size
within the four seas. I do not, however, recommend any middle-aged
person, who has lost his taste for the mere vanities of life, and is
particular about having cucumber with his salmon, to put up at either
the _Royal Marine Hotel_ at Coveton, or the other. They are both
perfectly clean, it is true, but cleanliness is not everything, or else
we should all go to prison, or endeavour to obtain situations from the
Trinity House as supernumeraries in Lighthouses. It is not pleasant
to have one's bed and board in _one_ (the mattresses of the R. H. M.
indeed, I think, are of cast iron); and when one does bring a bit of
fish with one from town, one does not like it to be boiled in saltpetre,
through a misunderstanding connected with cooling one's champagne with
the best substitute for ice.

However, Mr Ralph Derrick, who patronised this particular establishment,
found, for his part, nothing to complain of, except that its half-pints
of brandy were exceptionally small; he therefore ordered a second after
his dinner, and inquired of the waiter who brought it where Jacob Forest
lived, and which was the nearest way of getting to his cottage.

"Jacob Forest, sir; yes, sir. You don't mean _William Forest_, perhaps,
sir?" answered the waiter, gently whisking his napkin like a horse's
tail, and with an air of patronage in his tone, as though he would say:
"I am very well aware you have made a mistake, so I do not hesitate to
own it."

"No, I don't mean William Forest, nor yet Nebuchadneser Forest, nor
Beelzebub Forest, if those names happen to run in the family," rejoined
Derrick impatiently. "I mean simply Jacob Forest."

"Beg pardon, sir, I'm sure, sir. But such an exceedingly old person, and
so seldom inquired after; whereas, you see, William, he's a boat or two
to let; and if you are anything in the shell or fossil line, he's quite
an authority.--Mr Jacob's cottage, sir? Well, sir, the fact is, he has
not lived in what you call a cottage for a long time. He has had a snug
little house of his own, ever since my Lady Lisgard----But you know all
about that story, I dare say, sir?"

"Yes, yes," answered Derrick drily; for the very name of Lisgard had
grown distasteful to him, and particularly in connection with
his intended wife. "I know that Jacob's daughter has a very kind
mistress--very; in fact, that she will never part with such a treasure
of a waiting-maid, if she can help it. But let us get on to the house,
if you please, for I want to call there to-night, and it is even now
growing rather dark."

"Yes, sir; it is, sir. I am sorry that the dinner was so unavoidably
delayed. The last train and the last coach having come in, we did not
expect any more gentry this afternoon, or would have made preparation.
But the fact is, sir, there is no hurry with respect to Mr Forest. You
will find him abed now, and you will find him no more than that two
hours hence, for poor old Jacob is bed-_ridden_. Very cheerful though, I
hear, and would like a chat and a glass of grog with any gentleman
like yourself, no matter what time it was; and if you will permit me to
advise, you will wait till the moon is up; for the path across the Cove
is not easy to find after dusk; and then there's the churchyard, which,
somehow, one always dislikes--at least I know _I_ do--to pass through
latish, unless one can see one's way pretty well; and after that,
there's a bit of a spinney before you get to the old man's house;
so although you can see it at top of the hill yonder from this
window--there it is, the white house with a thatched roof--you may judge
that it is a good long step."

"I see," said Derrick nodding. "Then I shall light my pipe, and stroll
down to the sea-shore until the moon rises, if you're sure that the old
man will see me at so late an hour."

"I am quite sure, sir; it will please him above all things, for he
complains he gets no sleep of nights, to speak of. You will go down to
the Cove, of course; that's what all our gentry does when there is a
moon; and I shall sit up for you till you come back--although our hour
for closing _is_ eleven, sir, sharp."

"Thank you, my man," said Derrick, "do so;" and lighting his pipe, he
strolled down thoughtfully towards the shore.

It was dark enough in the wooded Cove, although the trees were as yet
but scantily clothed in their spring garments; but ever and anon, at a
turn of the winding path, he came to some open spot artistically left
there, where the darkling Sea lay stretched before him, waiting for her
tiring-maid the Moon to clasp her jewels on. Even thus unadorned, she
shewed divinely fair as her bosom rose and fell unstirred by passion,
for the winds had lulled since sundown, and her gentle breath came up
to him in even beats. How different must she have looked from hence,
thought he, upon that night of storm which he had expected to be his
last. The gale was taking them inshore, when the vessel sprung her leak;
and doubtless many a fellow-passenger of his had reached this coast,
perchance this very Cove, although not with life. O treacherous sea! you
that can smile and smile, and break into ten thousand smiles, and make
such dainty music on the pebbly shore, who can believe how cruel
your wrath can be, that has not seen you tear man's floating home to
fragments, and whelm him with his dear ones in your gaping depths? Ralph
shuddered, and passed his hand across his brow, as though to erase some
terrible thought within it. The silent sky, crossed by those swift and
secret messengers the clouds, has doubtless a lesson for man's heart,
which it would be well if he would more often study; but even Mr Ruskin,
the great Self-elected Authority upon the subject, must acknowledge that
there are physical difficulties at the outset of this particular system
of spiritual education. Setting aside the fact, that it is only eagles
which can gaze upon the sun with undazzled eyes, the human vertebra is
not fitted for any prolonged investigation of the firmament; and if
one lies on one's back--I don't know whether I am singular in this
apprehension, but I am always afraid of some heavenly body slipping
out of space, and dropping upon one while in that exposed position. But
everybody can look upon the sea (from the vantage-ground at least of the
solid earth), and that is the next best page of nature to the sky.
There is something in its monotonous expanse which strikes most of us,
especially when we watch it alone and at night, with mysterious, and
perhaps religious awe. At all events, it reminds us, if there he any
materials for reflection within us, of the brevity of our span of life,
and of the littleness of its aims; a visible Eternity seeming to lie
before us, in the presence of which we are humbled. Under ordinary
circumstances, it was not likely that Derrick should experience these
feelings, for sea-faring folks, in spite of what has been written
of those who do their business in great waters, are least of all men
subject to such influences: but not only, as we have heard him tell Lady
Lisgard, did the sea at all times shew to him like one great grave, ever
since it had engulfed his Lucy, but upon this occasion he was regarding
it at the very spot, or near it, where the catastrophe had occurred.
Thus, though the moon had risen by this time, and bathed the deep, as
all things else on which it shone, in unutterable calm, Ralph's mental
vision beheld waves mountains high, and one fair fragile form, now
lifted on their foaming tops, now buried in their raging depths, but
always dead and drowned.

"Sorry to disturb you, sir, but will you favour me with half a pipeful
of baccy?" inquired a cheerful voice at his elbow. "Seeing you was
alone, and without your young woman--which is rare in these parts,"
continued the stranger, evidently one of the fishing community of the
place, for notwithstanding the fineness of the night, he was attired in
water-proof overalls--"I made bold, fellow-smokers being always ready to
help one another in that way, if in no other.--Thank you, sir. That will
save me going to the inn to-night, a visit my missis don't approve of."

"Is _that_ the inn?" inquired Derrick, pointing to a little low-roofed
cottage just at the entrance to the Cove, and only raised a few feet
above high-water mark.

"No, sir; that's my own little place, William Forest, at your service.
If you happen to be in want of a boat, or one as can shew you where
to find the fossils and such like, I can do that as well as any man in
Coveton, let him be who he will."

"Then you are old Jacob Forest's nephew, I suppose, for he had no son,
and only one daughter, had he?"

"Just so, sir; my cousin Mary. A precious lucky woman she is. It was
through her I came to have the cottage, for my uncle made it over to me
when he moved to the grand house on the hill yonder, as my Lady Lisgard
gave to him. God bless her Ladyship, and good Sir Robert too, though
he's gone to heaven by this time, and don't want none of our wishes."

"Yes, yes," answered Derrick with irritation; "you Coveton folks can
talk of nothing but these Lisgards. Now, just dismiss them from your
mind while you answer a question I am going to ask you. You are old
enough to remember that terrible storm which took place here in the
September of '32, are you not?"

"Yes, sir, yes. And none of us that saw it is ever likely to forget it.
That was the very time when old Sir Robert"----

"Damn Sir Robert!" interrupted Ralph with energy. "If you would only be
so kind as to forget that respectable baronet, and all belonging to him,
while you answer me a simple question, I shall be greatly obliged to
you. Forgive me, mate--but my temper is not so good as my tobacco. Pray,
take another pipeful. Now, after that same storm in which the _North
Star_--that was the name of the ship, was it not?--was lost yonder, were
there many bodies washed ashore about here?"

"Dead uns, you mean, sir, of course?" answered the man hesitatingly.
"Well, yes, there was. I should think, taking them all together, for
they came in, some of them, weeks afterwards, I should think there was a
dozen or more; many of them lashed to spars, poor things. But it was no
use."

"And where were these unfortunate creatures put to?" inquired Derrick
after a pause.

"They were all buried in the churchyard yonder, sir. Sir Robert
Lisgard--but there, I forgot: you may read some of their names--those
at least as was identified--upon the tombstones. It was a sad sight them
burials. Strangers, and very poor folks mostly, coming from miles and
miles away to see their dead, who had but left home a few days before
for a New World, indeed, as they call it, but little thinking as it was
for _that_. You should hear Uncle Jacob talk of it."

"Ah, sad, indeed," echoed Derrick, rising from his seat. "I am glad to
have met _you_, mate; good-night, and thank you."

"Thank you, sir; I never tasted better baccy."

Derrick waited until his companion had descended to the very bottom of
the Cove; waited until he saw the cottage door open and shut--a mere
streak of light and shadow--and then followed on his steps; but having
reached the foot of the ravine, he took the winding path that led up its
opposite side towards the church and Jacob Forest's high-built dwelling.



CHAPTER V. THE MEMORIAL WINDOW.

|NOTWITHSTANDING that Coveton Church is "gritty," like all the rest of
the architecture in that locality, and presents the appearance of
an ecclesiastical edifice swathed in sand-paper, it is by no means
unpicturesque; while the spot on which it stands can compare for beauty
with any God'sacre in England. It is more than a hundred feet above the
level of the village, and commands a glorious view, which would be a
complete panorama, but for the steep wooded hill, which protects it from
the bitter north, and assists the genial climate to make a flower-garden
of the churchyard three parts of the year round. Even thus early in the
summer, had Ralph's visit been paid in the daytime instead of the night,
he would have seen it bright with bud and blossom, for almost every
grave was itself a little parterre, tended by pious hands. Poor wasted
human forms, but not seldom dearer to others than the handsomest and
healthiest, often come to Coveton to prolong for a little their painful
lives, until they flit away like shadows; indeed, if you read the
grave-stones, you will find three out of four are records of departed
Youth. The newly Married pass their honeymoons at the pleasant little
village, and those who have been sentenced to death by the Doctors come
also thither, and a strange and touching contrast they afford.

The low large moon, was flooding the sacred place with its soft
radiance, so that the inscriptions were as plain to be seen as in broad
noonday. From knoll to knoll, each roofing sacred dust, Ralph wandered,
not unmoved; for he too had lost a dear one by untimely death, and even
now was looking for the place where haply she might lie. He would have
felt it in some sort a comfort to know that her bones rested beneath the
rounded turf, rather than in yonder shifting deep, although, beyond
the wooded village with its scattered lights, it lay as motionless at
present as a silver pall. No less than thrice, he came upon the tombs of
those with whom he had been a fellow-passenger on board that doomed ship
so many years ago. Time had done its work with these, and they were not
easily deciphered; but he carefully spelled them out--_John Robins, mate
of the North Star, which foundered at sea on the night of September
14, 1832._ Poor Robins! Ralph remembered him very well. They had been
fellow-townsmen together at Bleamouth, a circumstance which had troubled
him at first, sailing as he did under a feigned name; but they had met
but once before, and the mate had, as it turned out, no remembrance
of him. But Ralph well remembered what uneasiness the possibility of
recognition had given him at the time, for it might have been supposed
that he had committed some disgraceful crime, which would cause him,
and what was worse, his wife and the Meades, to be looked upon askance
throughout the voyage.

But what did it matter now? What had anything mattered to that great
ship's company, so full of plans and projects for beginning life afresh
under other skies! Death had made sudden and swift provision for them
all.--_Sarah Button, aged 69, and Henry, her son. The bodies of his four
children, and of Helen, his wife, who perished in the same storm, never
came to shore_.--Ralph remembered the gaunt, strong old woman, who did
not hesitate, within a year of man's allotted span, to cross the ocean;
she and her son were as like as difference of age and sex could permit
of likeness; but the children, like the wife, were delicate and sickly.
It seemed somehow fitting enough that these two, though dead, should
have come to land; while the others, poor things, should have succumbed
to the stormy deep. The third inscription was even a more remarkable
one. Upon a huge recumbent slab, which evidently roofed the remains of
more than one person, were engraved these words: _Beneath this stone are
laid the bones of those who were washed on shore from the wreck of the
North Star, but whose remains, from lapse of time, or other causes, have
not been identified. "Requiescant in pace._"

A nameless grave, indeed, with not even the number or the sex of its
Unfortunate inmates specified! The slab bore the date of but a week or
two subsequent to the catastrophe, yet spoke "of lapse of time." How
impossible, therefore, to discover _now_ whose bones had mouldered
beneath it into dust. His Lucy might be there, or she might not. It
was one of the few tombs that exhibited no trace of care; but a tuft of
violets, the sweet breath of which betrayed them, chanced to be growing
at the edge of it, and Derrick plucked them and placed them in
his bosom. He seemed to feel certain now that she had come ashore
_somewhere_; and why not here? How solemn and still it was! The very
air, though odorous and fresh, seemed full of the presence of the dead;
and Ralph's thoughts were with them, so that he quite forgot the purpose
with which he had visited the little village, light after light in which
was being quenched beneath him, for it was growing late.

Was it likely that there would be any record of the perished crew in the
church itself? They had almost all been in humble circumstances, being
emigrants, and therefore it was not probable that any such costly
memorial should have been erected; but still it was just possible.
The oaken door, studded with iron nails, was locked, and also a small
postern that led into a diminutive vestry, an offshot of the main
building. The windows, too, were fastened on the inside, or gave no
promise of opening, either in hinge or handle; but he climbed up to the
sill of one of them, for they were of no great height, and looked
in. The church was small, but very neat and pretty, with carved oaken
sittings, a handsome double pulpit, and a huge brass lectern, of the use
of which the present spectator knew nothing. Ralph had not seen so much
of the inside of a church for many a year, and he was fortunate in the
specimen thus accidentally submitted to his notice. The wealthy visitors
of the place had done their duty, and gratified their tastes at the same
time, by many a pious offering. A small but splendid organ, with
gilded and star-bespangled pipes, adorned the gallery on his left; and
immediately in front of him glowed a memorial window. There were other
smaller ones, erected, doubtless, in tribute to some of those dear ones
who had been laid so prematurely in the graveyard without; but this was
a very large and elaborate specimen of modern art. The designer, in
his admiration of the antique, had carefully reproduced every blemish
peculiar to an age wherein anatomy was never studied save by doctors,
and perspective was utterly unknown. The persons represented were the
four evangelists, all in the most gorgeous dyes, and as large as life;
but with their magnitude ceased almost all similarity to the human form
divine. Their spines were dislocated, their bones were distorted; and
where a limb was bent, it exhibited a sharp angle, like a broken branch.
In the background rose the mountains of Judæa, of the same size and
shape as Christmas plum-puddings, with the sun setting luridly in the
midst of them, like snapdragon. Ralph, however, was quite of the opinion
of the great authorities upon church decoration, and thought this very
fine; he was also perfectly right in coming to the conclusion that such
a work of all must have cost somebody a good bit of money. The moonlight
streamed in behind him full upon it, and lit up all its splendid hues.
Besides the scrolls, with texts upon them, proceeding out of the mouths
of these individuals like ribbons from between the lips of a conjuror at
a fair, there was a gilded inscription underneath the whole, in highly
florid and decorated print. In the case of the texts, when you had
managed to master the first letter, the deciphering of the rest was,
to a person acquainted with the Scriptures, tolerably easy; though poor
Ralph was by no means "edified," and could make nothing of them at all;
but as for the inscription at the base, it looked to him at the first
glance as meaningless as the hieroglyphics on a tea-chest.

"Why cannot these good people write what they have to say in plain
English?" thought Derrick irreverently; "folks as come to church must
need to bring a copy-book of alphabets with them. Never in all my life,
and I've been among strangely-speaking creatures in my time, did I come
upon such queer-looking writing; and yet, one would think, being all
in such resplendent lines, it ought to be something worth reading
too.--Bless my soul and body, what's this?"

This last ejaculation was uttered with excessive vehemence, and the
excitement of the speaker was such that he could scarce keep his balance
on the narrow sill upon which he half knelt, half clung. His hot breath
had dimmed the glass, and as he wiped the moisture from it with his
handkerchief, his fingers trembled so with agitation that they tapped
audibly upon the pane. He glued his face to the window for upwards of a
minute, and when he took it away again, it was white as the marble font
that gleamed within. Had Ralph Derrick seen a ghost, that he slipped
down from that window-sill with such excessive precipitation, and
stood beneath it with his hat off, wiping his cold brow? "Am I awake or
dreaming?" murmured he, striking himself a sounding blow upon the chest.
"Was the brandy at yonder inn so strong that it has drugged me? or has
this moonlight, as some hold it does, been stealing away my wits? or has
the subject of my thoughts suggested names of which I had believed no
record survived?" Once more Ralph took his station at the window, and
this time did not leave it till he had not only made himself master,
although with pain and difficulty, of that part of the inscription which
had so arrested his attention, but had even transferred it, as well as
his position permitted, to his pocket-book, word for word:

[Illustration: 0107]

Some sacred words were added, but they told him nothing more concerning
those three persons, namely, his lost wife's father and mother, and
_himself_. Ralph Gavestone, alias Derrick, had been gazing upon his own
memorial window, set up to commemorate his death more than thirty years
ago!

Who had done it? Who could have had the will to do it? And who the
means? And how was it that he and the Meades were associated together
upon yonder painted glass, and yet not she who was the only bond between
them? Why was not the death of that sweet saint made mention of in a
place so fitting for its record, and where his own unworthy name had
found admittance; and his real name too--not the one which had stood
upon the passenger-list of the _North Star?_ Into his perplexed and
wandering mind there came some half-forgotten tale, heard from he
knew not whom, of some Scotch laird who, gifted with the second-sight,
perceives a funeral pass by--the coffin borne by relatives of his,
and followed by troops of mourning friends--and marvels that among the
woeful crowd he does not recognise himself. Surely, thinks he, he should
be there, to shew respect to the common friend departed, whom he must
have known so well, although he misses no remembered face. Then on a
sudden it strikes him that he himself must be _in_ the coffin--that it
is his own interment of which he is the witness--and his heart fails
within him because he feels that he has had his warning, and stands
indeed within the shadow of black death. Why Ralph should think of such
a tale in such a place may perhaps have been easily accounted for, but
once remembered, he applied it with lightning speed to the subject in
his mind, only in an inverse sense. The reason why his Lucy's name
was not upon that mystic monument, where those of her parents and her
husband were glowing in purple and gold, must be that she herself
was _alive._ Nay, who upon earth could have wished thus piously to
perpetuate their memory except Lucy herself? How she could have had the
power to do so, in so splendid and enduring a manner, would have been of
itself sufficiently miraculous, but that that circumstance was swallowed
up, like Pharaoh's serpents, by the still greater miracle--the fact that
she was among the Living!

For a moment, a sort of ecstasy seemed to possess this world-wearied
Wanderer, and all the moonlit scene to assume an aspect altogether
strange, such as earth and sea, however beautiful, can only shew to the
pure and hopeful; then a sharp thought pierced his brain. She might have
been alive when she caused that window to be set up, and yet not now. He
knew that those gorgeous dyes kept their bright colours for many a year
undimmed: supposing that he allowed five years (in which, by the by,
Ralph was very near the truth) as a reasonable time to have elapsed
between the shipwreck and the time that this memorial was erected--and
in less time, how was it possible she could have saved the money for
such a purpose--that would still leave more than a quarter of a century
between its erection and the present time. A quarter of a century! a
generation of human life! Time enough to die, to marry--but no, his
Lucy would never have done that. This window, shewing so tender a regard
after such a lapse of years, was evidence in some sort to the contrary;
and since he himself had never forgotten _her_, and only now, after
a lonely lifetime, was meditating another marriage, he felt no
apprehension upon that score. No; if his Lucy was alive, she was still
his, and free to welcome him as of old to her loving arms. The only
question with which he had now any real concern was, whether she still
lived? Henceforward, it would be his sole business in the world to find
this matter out. And first, she must certainly have been washed ashore
alive; and somewhere in these parts. Who, then, so fit to give him
information upon that point as old Jacob Forest, who had lived at
Coveton all his life, and at that time, in the very cottage on the beach
where his nephew now resided? So Ralph Derrick (for, like everybody
else, we may still continue to call him so) took the path that he had
originally intended to take after all, notwithstanding his marvellous
discovery, and made straight for Jacob's dwelling on the hill; no longer
with the intention of winning a bride, but of recovering a long-lost
wife.



CHAPTER VI. JACOB'S GUARD-SHIP.

|WHATEVER evils may happen unto me, may Heaven spare my reason," was the
heartfelt prayer of a wise and reverent man. He might have added--for
he was one of those who thought it no harm to ask of Him who watches the
sparrow's fall, for particular blessings--"And however I be racked with
pain by day, by night may I still enjoy my sleep." Next to madness, and
like enough with some folks to end in that, is the want of rest during
that period which should be the season of slumber, and which, if it be
not so, is a dread and dreary time indeed. There is many an honest soul
in the autumn of life who will protest in the morning, in the course
of a very tolerable breakfast, that she has not had a wink of sleep all
night, because she has heard a few consecutive hours recorded by the
church clock; but to lie awake indeed from eve to mom is not, thank God,
a very common experience, and still less often are any of us compelled
to endure it night after night for years. To live an existence the
converse of the rest of their fellow-creatures is the lot of more than
one trade--editors of daily newspapers, for instance, and burglars;
but to _work_ by night is a very different affair from the lying awake
unemployed, but thinking, thinking, while nothing breaks the silence of
the muffled world save the howl of the watchdog and the weird monotony
of the wind. Yet there are some of us doomed to this sad fate, who
scarcely know what it is to spend an easeful night, and who snatch their
scanty dole of sleep by day.

Poor Jacob Forest was one of these. A long life of reckless exposure to
the elements, not, perhaps, unassisted by hard drinking, had brought
him to this sad pass. Thanks to his daughter, he wanted for nothing that
money could give him; but the once hale and venturous mariner was
now bedridden and racked at most times, but especially by night, with
rheumatic twinges. Mary herself never failed to visit him every summer;
and three days out of four some ancient comrade would painfully climb
the hill that led to his cosy little house, and hob and nob with him
by his bedside. But he was still sadly in want of company during the
night-watches; true, a nurse was paid to minister to his comforts during
that season, but she generally "dropped off" into a doze, sooner or
later; and even if she was awake, her gossip was of the tea-and-muffin
sort, rather than that description of talk which goes best with hot
grog, and was more suitable to a seasoned vessel, though laid up in
extra-ordinary, like old Jacob. Therefore it was, as the waiter at the
_Royal Marine_ had observed, that visitors calling at ultrafashionably
late hours at the Guard-ship, as it was the proprietor's fancy to term
his place of residence, were especially welcome.

The home of this old veteran had been built, at his own request, of
wood, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his medical attendant, who
ascribed part of his patient's ailments to the fact, that his cottage
on the shore had been constructed of that material. But Mr Forest had
insisted upon having his way: next to one's own boat, he had argued,
there was nothing like a wooden house to make one feel at home in; nor
could he be moved from that position by the caustic rejoinder, that in
that case he might just as well get into his coffin at once. Nay, the
Guard-ship had been made still less air-tight than it otherwise would
have been by the ingenious introduction of a hinge running along one
side of the old man's bedroom on the ground-floor, the very wall of
which, in summer-time, could thereby be lowered flap-wise, exposing the
whole arrangement of his bower after the maimer of the better class of
doll's houses. With the eccentricity of taste so often exhibited in the
possessors of unexpected wealth, Mr Forest had "gone in," as the
phrase runs, in his prosperous old age, for curious poultry; and up his
slanting shutter (exactly as horses are introduced into a railway train)
used to be driven from the yard for his immediate inspection, as he lay
in bed, every sort of feathered fowl after their kind, as into a poultry
ark. The earliness of the season, combined with the lateness of
the hour, denied this exhibition (afforded to all visitors whenever
practicable) to Ralph Derrick, but the ancient mariner gave him the
heartiest of welcomes, as had been predicted. He had heard of Mr Derrick
more than once from Mary, and was exceedingly pleased to do him
honour; at which hint the nurse at once set forth the "materials" for a
drinking-bout on a little table which stood at the invalid's elbow, and
betook herself to an adjoining cabin, where she instantly went to bed
with her clothes on. Next to the danger from draughts, to which the
captain of the Guard-ship had already succumbed, he lay in nightly peril
of perishing by fire, since he smoked in bed almost unceasingly; and in
case of a spark igniting where it should not, the whole two-decker would
not have taken a quarter of an hour to become a heap of ashes; but this
apprehension, as the old woman was glad to think, was groundless upon
this occasion, when her master had a gentleman to keep him company, and
she left them with an easy conscience to their pipes and grog.

"So I hear you are rather sweet upon my good Mary," observed the old
sailor slyly, as soon as they were left alone. "She writes to me more
than most girls do to their fathers, you see, Mr Derrick, knowing I'm
all alone here, and so pleased to hear any news."

"Very right and very proper," returned Ralph quietly, "and a very good
girl, as you say, she is--although she is not a very young one."

"Young enough for some folks, at all events--eh, eh, sir?" chuckled the
old man. "Come, come--I know all about you, and what you're come here
about; I'm wide awake enough, I can tell you, although I'm abed. You've
run down to Coveton, sir, to 'ask papa.' There, haven't _I_ hit it?"

"Well, the fact is, Mr Forest, the love seems rather more on my side
than hers. I don't deny that I had a great liking for your daughter, but
when a man knows that his love is not returned"----

"Eh, eh," interrupted the old Salt, pursing his lips and giving his
tasselled night-cap a pull upon one side, which gave him an expression
of much aimless intelligence; "but I don't understand this. You must
have done something, sir, to forfeit the good opinion of my Mary; for
certainly, at one time----But there, perhaps I'm saying too much. If it
ain't agreed between you and my Mary, then, may I ask, sir--not but that
I'm uncommon glad to see you, or any other gentleman, from nightfall to
any one of the small-hours, I'm sure--but may I ask what the dickens
brings you here?"

"Well, sir," replied Ralph, forcing a smile, "I happened to find myself
in these parts, and did not like to pass by without looking in upon the
father of Mary Forest, even though all should be off between us; and,
besides, I was told you are the likeliest man to be able to give me some
information about the wreck of the _North Star_, which happened about
thirty years ago, and the particulars of which, for a reason, I want to
know."

"Fill your pipe, then, and mix yourself another glass," cried the old
man, delighted to be called upon for his favourite yarn, "for it's a
story as you can't tell in a five minutes, nor in ten neither. The ship
you speak of, sir, was an emigrant vessel of more than a thousand tons,
as sailed on September 10, 1832"----

"I know all about the ship," interrupted Derrick impatiently, "for I had
a passage in her myself. I want to hear about the bodies that came on
shore."

"_You_ were a passenger by the _North Star_?" ejaculated the old man
with amazement. "Why, it was said that every soul on board her perished
in the storm in which she went to pieces. _Derrick, Derrick!_ Well,
now you mention it, I do remember the name, for I used to have that
passenger-list by heart. I cut it out of one of the papers at the time,
and having been so much concerned in the matter myself, though little
knowing that I should owe this house to that same wreck--built out of
its very timbers, as I might say--and almost all I have in this world.
But you know how all that came about, and what Sir Robert did for me and
mine, I dare say, mate?"

"Yes, yes--I have heard something of that. But can you tell me nothing
of what came ashore? You have said not a soul was saved; I suppose,
then, it was the surviving relatives who put up the gravestones to the
memory of the drowned, which I saw as I came through the churchyard?"

"That was just it. There were five men and three women--poor souls--laid
under the big stone next the yew-tree; nobody knew who they were. Sir
Robert paid for that too, if I remember right--let's see"----

"I hear of nothing but 'Sir Robert' and 'Sir Robert' in this village of
yours," interrupted Ralph impatiently. "Nobody has a story to tell in
Coveton but manages to bring that man's name in by head and shoulders.
Why the deuce do they do it?"

"Because he's been the making of the place--that's why, and because
there's a little gratitude left in our village still, I am glad to say,
sir, although it may have died out in the world," replied the old sailor
firmly. "Why, he not only built the roof that is now sheltering us,
but the village school, and the little pier at the Cove foot that has
sheltered many a fishing-smack since the time when my Lady"----

"Well, he didn't put up that great bit of painted glass in the church,
I suppose," broke in Derrick testily, "to the memory of Frank Meade and
others, did he? for _that's_ what I want to get at, and nothing else."

"Did he not? Then who did it, I should like to know?" answered Mr Forest
sarcastically. "Who but himself and my Lady; and if it had been the
old times as I've heard tell of instead of now, there would have been
priests paid to pray for their poor souls until this day; ay, that there
would. He was never tired of shewing his thankfulness for the joy that
came to himself, and his pity for the woe that befell others upon that
awful night. It's an ill wind that blows nobody good, they say, and the
storm that carried the _North Star_ to the bottom with all on board
save one--or two, I should now say, since I have no reason to doubt your
word, Mr Derrick"----

"Ay, tell me about the storm," said Ralph in an altered voice, and with
a face grown very white and still. "I will not interrupt you again, I
will not indeed. One poor creature came ashore alive, you said?"

"What! do you mean to say my Mary never told you? She must be a good
un to keep a secret even from her sweetheart; not that it's any secret
here, however they may treat it at Mirk; and if I didn't tell you
myself, you would hear it from the first man you met in Coveton, and
asked how Sir Robert Lisgard got his bride."

"Just so," said Derrick in a hoarse whisper; "therefore please to tell
me."

"Then help yourself to grog, mate, for you look cold. Some landlubbers
will have it that this room is cold, because of the hinge yonder; but a
seafaring chap like you----There, that should warm you. Well, on the
10th of September 1832, an emigrant ship of more than a thousand
tons"----

"A thousand devils!" cried Derrick, starting to his feet; "do you wish
to drive me mad? I tell you I was on board of her myself. Tell me about
the woman that came ashore lashed to the spar."

"What! then, you do know about it after all?" grumbled the old man,
removing his pipe from the corner of his mouth, an action which
represented the greatest amount of astonishment of which he was capable.
"Why the deuce did you bother me to spin you the yarn, then? A man at my
time of life ain't got much breath to throw away, I can tell you."

"How was she dressed? What had she on?" inquired Derrick, upon whose
ears his short-winded host's remonstrance had fallen unheeded.

"Devilish little," returned the old fellow gruffly: "nothing but a
petticoat, and what my Mary calls a body--but which I should call a
bust--and a sailor's pea-jacket, and that was not rightly upon her, but
tied between her and the spar, to save her dainty limbs, poor girl; and
it is my opinion that he was an honest-hearted chap as put it there, and
almost deserved to have her for himself. But there they were, brother
and sister, so _that_ couldn't be. Moreover, she couldn't have got
better off than she did, that's certain. Lord, to think that there
poor, friendless, penniless, clotheless creature--as I had thought to
be almost lifeless too, when me and Sir Robert dragged her in from the
hungry waves--should come to be Lady Lisgard of Mirk Abbey---- What's
the matter with the man? Hi, nurse, hi! Confound the woman, how she
sleeps! Where the devil's my stick?"

Mr Jacob Forest's temper was hasty, but he had no intention of
inflicting corporal punishment on the respectable female who was too
deeply plunged in slumber to attend to his cries. He desired his stick
in order that he might smite the battered gong that hung at his bedside,
and upon which (besides using it as a gentle indication of her presence
being required) he was accustomed to execute an imitation of ship's
"bells" throughout the watchful night. Before, however, he could lay his
crippled fingers upon the instrument required, Ralph Derrick, who had
fallen from his chair upon the carpetless floor, began to recover his
senses, and with them his speech.

"Don't be alarmed, sir--don't call your nurse," said he, gathering
himself up; "it is only a sort of fainting-fit to which I am
subject--indeed I was born with them."

"And you'll die with them too, some day," thought old Jacob to himself,
as he stared with undisguised apprehension at his visitor's white face
and shaking limbs. "Don't you think you had better take a little more
rum--or stay, perhaps it's that that's done the mischief?"

"No, it's not that," answered Derrick bitterly, as he filled himself a
wine-glass of the liquor neat. "I'm better now, and I shan't give way
again. But I remember the man that took such care of the woman you speak
of, just before the vessel parted; and your mention of it gave me quite
a turn. _I_ didn't know he was her brother; but he was much more careful
about her safety than his own--God knows."

"Very like," rejoined the old fellow, "and what I should have expected,
even if they had not been so near related. She was just the sort of
woman that any man worth his salt would be willing to lay down his life
for. His Christian name was Ralph, was it not, the same as yours?"

"Yes, it was," answered the other gravely. "Who was it that told you
that? I forgot, though; it is painted in the church-window."

"I found it out for myself," continued the old fellow cunningly, "long
before that there memorial window was put up; for my Lady never talked
about it even to Mary. But there was _Ralph Gavestone_ written inside
the collar of the pea-cot, and I kept it for many a year myself until
the moth got in it, because I thought the sight of it might distress the
poor lady."

"Women soon get over that sort of thing," said Ralph in a grating voice.

"Well, yes; sooner or later, I daresay they do. And a very fortunate
thing it is, in my opinion, that such is the case. It would be very
bad for us all, and particularly for seafaring folk, if we never smiled
again because a party as we liked happened to be drownded, like some
king of England as my Mary once read about to me when I was down with my
first fit of the rheumatiz. Why, _I've_ lost a couple of brothers myself
in that same way, and very good chaps they were; but why should I make
myself wretched because they're gone to Heaven? Take another pipe, man.
Why, you're not going to leave me surely?"

"Yes, I am, Jacob Forest," answered Derrick gloomily. "I have heard all
that I want to know, and more--much more! If you have any message for
your daughter, I'll take it to her. I am going off to Mirk at once."

"You may tell her--but no; I'll tell her myself, and not trouble you,"
answered the old fellow hastily, purple at least as much with rage as
rum. "I don't wish to be under the slightest obligation to a fellow
as looks in upon a poor cripple under pretence of friendship, and then
directly he's heard all he wants, and drank all he can, and had one
of his fits as he was born with, all as snug as can be--Hi, nurse, hi!
Damme, if the fellow hasn't actually left the front-door open!" And the
invalid applied himself to his gong with a fury that would have roused
the Seven Sleepers, had they chanced to have been slumbering (let alone
taking a nap with their clothes on) in the adjacent room. "Push my table
nearer," cried he to his terrified attendant, "and give me paper and
pens. Yes, my Mary particularly begged of me to let her know at once in
case he called, and I will do so; but I will also take leave to tell
her what a selfish scoundrel, in my opinion, he is; and I'll mention his
alarming fits. If she has found any reason to be dissatisfied with the
beggar, I'll give her some more; and mind, Nurse, this is posted before
seven o'clock. He shall find a cool reception at Mirk Abbey, or my name
is not Jacob Forest!"

Epistolary composition was not an accomplishment in which the old sailor
was an adept, and the mechanical part of the operation was a very slow
one with him, by reason of his infirmities; but nevertheless he managed
to indite a missive more or less to his mind, long before the early mail
went out from Coveton, and his faithful attendant did his bidding by
posting the same.



CHAPTER VII. THE TRIUMPHAL ARCH.

|IT is the morning that immediately precedes Sir Richard's fete-day, and
all at the Abbey are as busy as a hive of bees. Mrs Welsh is engaged in
incessant warfare with a "professed cook" of the male sex, who has been
imported from town with an army of myrmidons clad in white aprons and
head-pieces; and Mr Roberts carries the key of the cellar about
his person as religiously as though it were an amulet, exceedingly
regretting that the person who has undertaken to purvey the cold
collation to the tenantry does not also furnish the wine. For three
shillings or three shillings and sixpence the bottle, he argues, as
good a sherry as they have any right to taste might be set before Farmer
Beeves and that sort and yet we are about to give them the old "West
India," as stood old Sir Robert sixty shillings a dozen a quarter of a
century ago; nay, even four dozen of cobweb-bed port, the age of which
is absolutely unknown, have been set aside for the after-dinner tickling
of those rough palates, which would as lief or liever (thinks Mr
Roberts) have gin and whisky-punch. The gentle folks, to be sure, dine
with them, but you never catch _them_ (Mr E. has observed) doing much in
the way of drink at a three o'clock dinner in a marquee. There is to be
dancing in the said tent, which has been boarded for that purpose, later
in the evening; and a ball will take place at the Abbey likewise, to
which all the "county" has been invited, and perhaps a little more.

It was a difficult matter even for Sir Richard, who had a specialty for
such solemn follies, to decide exactly what were "county families" and
what were not, and where the imaginary line that divided the ball-room
from the marquee was to be laid down. The social difference between the
person of the least importance that had the _entrée_ of the former, and
the person of the greatest importance who was consigned to the latter
was, of course, infinitesimally small, and the decision involved all the
difficulties with which the theologians afflict themselves concerning
the future position of the indifferently Good and the tolerably Bad.

What had Mr Jones, M.E.C.S. of Dalwynch, done that he should be admitted
into Paradise, while the crystal bar was obstinately interposed against
the entrance of Mr Jones, M.B.C.S., from the capital of Wheatshire?
Nothing of himself, was the baronet's stern decree; but it could be
proved beyond cavil that the former was remotely related to the Davey
Joneses of Locker Hall, a family of immense antiquity, and distinguished
in our naval annals; whereas the latter had no higher connection to
boast of than Thomas Jones, J.P. of Allworthy Court (himself only
admitted to the higher sphere by reason of a fortunate marriage), and
was therefore, as it were, predestined to sit below the salt.

There were, however, some exceptions even to this Draconian system.
Dr Haldane, for instance, was importuned with an earnestness that Sir
Richard would never have used to any peer of the realm, to honour this
occasion with his presence, and break through his stubborn resolve not
to set foot within Mirk Abbey; but the old man, although greatly moved,
declined the invitation. Madame de Castellan, too, notwithstanding she
was such a new-comer to the county, was called upon at Belcomb by
Sir Richard in person, and though she was not well enough to see him,
expressed herself by letter as hugely gratified by the object of his
visit; albeit at the same time she gave him to understand that all
festivities were just now distasteful to her, and indeed that she had
not the strength for them. "As for his Coming of Age," added the old
Frenchwoman, "she was not at all sure that such an event was a subject
of congratulation, though, if it had been his marriage-day, then indeed
she might have come, if it were only to make his young bride jealous."
Besides these two refusals, there were scarcely any. The popularity
of the Lisgard family, and the gorgeous scale of the promised
entertainment--the engagement of the Coldstream band was ascertained
beyond a doubt, and there was a whisper afloat concerning fireworks,
and even that the ornamental water was to be illuminated--combined to
attract not only everybody who was anybody, but a still vaster throng of
nobodies at all. Every inhabitant of Mirk, from the grandparents to the
babes in arms, for instance, were invited to take their fill of beef and
beer, if their digestion permitted of it, and if not, there was plenty
of rich plum-pudding; for besides the marquee, half the Park had been
put under canvas, in order to make the festivities as much as possible
independent of the weather, and presented the appearance of a miniature
camp, which would be still more the case upon the morrow, when the scene
was enlivened by the uniforms of the "Lisgard's Own," as some of the
"yellows" had wickedly christened the Mirk Volunteer Corps.

Altogether, there was every reason for Sir Richard's being in the best
of spirits. Master Walter, too, secretly conscious of having been a much
worse boy than he was known to be, and feeling that he had met better
luck, if not than he deserved, certainly than he could reasonably have
expected, was in high feather; he was deeply grateful to his mother that
she had abstained from reproaching him with the contents of the letter
written by Mr Abrahams, the settlement of whose claim she had taken upon
herself; and he well knew that the most welcome way in which he could
shew his gratitude would be taking part with a good grace in his
brother's triumphal entrance upon his twenty-first birthday. Rose, who
had obtained her ends, as well as full substantial forgiveness
(which was all she cared for) for the means employed, and foresaw the
prostration of half the young men of the county at her pretty feet upon
the morrow, was in excellent humour with herself, and therefore with the
world. As for Letty, it is unnecessary to say more than that she felt a
measureless content in the society of Mr Arthur Haldane, who passed all
his days just now up at the Abbey, having placed his valuable services
entirely at the disposal of Lady Lisgard, and generally found his duties
led him into the vicinity of her Ladyship's daughter. His taste for
table decoration and floral devices, though newly developed, was
really, Letty affirmed, of a very high order, and as she was perpetually
appealing to it, there can be no doubt that she believed what she
said. All at Mirk Abbey, in short, were, or seemed to be, in a state
of pleasurable excitement and joyous expectation, save its unhappy
mistress. In vain, Sir Richard tried to persuade himself that she was
only suffering from a feeling of responsibility--apprehensive lest
anything should go wrong in the arrangements of the all-important
morrow; in vain, Master Walter endeavoured to pacify his own mind with
the thought, that although a part of his mother's anxieties might have
been caused by his own misdoings, all trace of them would disappear so
soon as she should discover that his intention of divorcing himself from
the turf, as well as all other kinds of gambling, was as sincere as
it really was. Letty did not attempt to gloss over the fact, that her
mother looked both ill and wretched, but rather reproached herself that
though this was the case she could not help feeling happy in the company
of her lover. Perhaps it was the contrast to the festive air worn by
all around her that made my Lady's face look so pinched and woeful; but
certainly, as the fête-day approached, her cheeks grew more and more
pallid, and her eyes sank in deepening hollows.

On the morning in question, the postbag, through some delay on the
railway, did not arrive until the family were at breakfast; my Lady,
with her scarcely touched dry-toast before her, watched Sir Richard open
it, and distribute the contents with an anxiety she could not conceal.

"There is nothing for you, dearest mother," said he, in answer to her
inquiring looks.

"Who, then, is that for?" returned she, pointing to an unappropriated
letter he had placed at his left hand.

"Only a note for Forest, which I daresay will keep till we have left
the table," said he smiling; "although, if you had your way, I know she
would be attended to before everybody. It has the Coveton post-mark, and
doubtless comes from old Jacob."

"Who is ill," said my Lady rising. "I do not see why Mary's
correspondence should be delayed more than that of any one else. I have
finished my breakfast, and will take it to her at once."

When she had left the room, Sir Richard remarked with asperity, that his
mother's kindness really rendered her a slave to "that woman Forest."

"That is so," assented Master Walter; "and I have of late observed that
her spirits are always at the lowest when she has been having a confab
with Mary. Is it possible, I wonder, that being balked of that fellow
Derrick, Mistress Forest can have taken up with any new-fangled
religious notions--I have heard of old maids doing such things--which
are making her miserable, and my mother too?"

"For shame, Walter!" cried Letty. "Do you suppose mamma is capable of
any such folly?"

"I don't believe for a moment that she is a victim to any delusion
herself," explained Walter; "but she sympathises with everybody she has
a liking for, and the society of any such morbid person would be very
bad for her. Between ourselves, I don't think that Madame de Castellan
coming here has done her any good. That's a precious queer old woman,
you may depend upon it. Not only did she decline to permit old Rachel
and her husband to continue to sleep at Belcomb, which, considering
its loneliness, one would have thought she would have been glad to do,
instead of their occupying the lodge a quarter of a mile away; but it
is said that she absolutely dismissed her French maid the day after her
arrival, and therefore lives entirely alone!"

"No wonder, then, she was so uncommonly anxious to get Mary," observed
the baronet; "and I am sure I wish she may, for my mother's sake. I
have no doubt they are now both closeted together over that old dotard's
letter from Coveton. As if there was not enough for my poor dear
mother to do and think of just now, without bothering herself with her
waiting-maid's father's rheumatism."

Sir Richard was right: my Lady and her confidential servant were at
that very moment in the boudoir perusing with locked doors old Jacob's
letter. From it Lady Lisgard gathered what had happened at Coveton as
certainly as though the writer had been aware of it all, and written
expressly to inform his daughter.

"He has found it out," said she with a ghastly look. "He had that fit,
as your father calls it, at the moment when he learned for the first
time that the girl who came ashore alive and myself are one and the
same. Poor Ralph, poor Ralph!"

"Dearest Mistress, I think it is Poor You who are most to be pitied.
Great Heaven, he will be here to-night, or to-morrow at latest!
To-morrow--in the midst of all the merry-making about Sir Richard."

"Yes, Sir Richard!" exclaimed my Lady bitterly. "The poor bastard that
thinks he is a baronet! But let him come, let him come, I say." My Lady
rose from her seat with clenched fingers and flashing eyes. "I will
defend my children with my life--nay, more, with my honour. If I perjure
myself to save them from shame and ruin, will not God pardon me? Who
is there to witness against them save this man alone? And is not my
word--my oath--as good as his?" She stepped to the little bookcase
that ran round the room; and from the corner of it, half-hidden by
the framework, took down a dusty volume--one of a long series, but the
remainder of which were in the library. It was the _Annual Register_
for the year 1832. Under the head of "Shipping Intelligence," where the
tersest but most pregnant of all summaries is always to be found--the
deaths of hundreds of poor souls, the misery of thousands of survivors,
and the sudden extinction of a myriad human hopes, all recorded in a
single sentence--was written: "In the storm of the 14th September, the
emigrant vessel, _North Star_, foundered off the South Headland with all
hands on board--supposed to have sprung a leak." Then a few weeks later,
the following paragraph: "From the _North Star_, emigrant ship, supposed
to have been lost on the night of the 14th of last month, with all hands
on board, there came on shore at Coveton, lashed to a spar, a solitary
survivor, a young woman. Although much exhausted and bruised, she had
received no vital injury, and her recovery is said to be assured. Her
case excites much interest in the locality in question."

The "solitary survivor!" continued my Lady thoughtfully. "Who is there
to gainsay it, save this man?"

"Your own heart, dearest mistress," answered the waiting-maid solemnly.
"That would not permit you to deny him, even if your conscience would.
Could you meet him to-morrow face to face"----

"No, no," exclaimed my Lady shuddering; "I never could. I was mad
to think of such a thing--so mad, that I trust the wickedness of the
thought may be forgiven.--I am to drive into Dalwynch this afternoon
about--what was it, Mary?"

"About your watch, which ought to have come home last evening, my Lady."

"Yes, my watch. There is not any time to lose."

"Indeed not, dear mistress: not an hour, I should say, if I were in your
place. I tremble to look out of window, lest I should see him coming
yonder over the Windmill Hill."

"Yes, fixed as fate, and furious with her who has deceived him. Poor
fellow, who can blame him? I can see him now."

"Heaven forbid!" exclaimed the waiting-maid, fleeing to the window.
"Haste, haste away, or there will be murder done!"

"He is not there," returned my Lady in a low, calm voice, "but I see him
all the same. Pallid with scorn, yet bent on avenging himself. Resolved
to claim his wife at any hazard, even in spite of herself. It will be
terrible that he should be here in any case; but if he found me here,
as you say, there might be murder done. Not that I fear for myself, God
knows: I am too wretched for that."

"Oh, my Lady, had you not better start at once?"

"No, Mary; I must go first to Dr Haldane's, since the time has come. But
if, in the meantime, this--this unhappy man should arrive, be sure you
send the carriage for me at once to the doctor's house. I can escape him
that way for certain. Perhaps, then, I may never cross this threshold
any more--never clasp my dear ones in my arms and call them mine
again--never say: 'My own Walter--Richard--Letty.' How can I bear to
think upon it! Don't cry, Mary, for you see _I_ do not. You know what
to do in case he comes; the carriage to Dr Haldane's instantly: and
afterwards--we have settled that long ago."

"I shall forget nothing, dearest mistress. If I live, all will be done
that you have resolved upon."

"Dear Mary, trusty friend, may Heaven reward you."

My Lady had her bonnet on by this time, but lifted up her veil to kiss
her faithful servant. "If by God's gracious will, somehow or other this
misery should after all have no evil end, Mary, how happy we shall be!
How we shall talk of this with our arms round one another's necks! There
is a friend, says the Scripture, which sticketh closer than a brother;
but I have found a servant better even than such a friend. Good-bye,
dear; if it should chance to be 'Good-bye.' Don't weep, don't speak. See
that my path is clear, that I meet no one----Great Heaven, what is that
knocking? Can he be come already?"

"No, dearest, no," sobbed the poor waiting-maid. "They are putting up
the triumphal archway, that is all."

She left the room to see that there was nobody in the passage, or on the
back-stairs, by which her mistress was about to leave the house.

"The triumphal archway," muttered my Lady with tearless aching eyes. "I
would to Heaven they were putting the nails into my coffin instead."



CHAPTER VIII. FLED.

|MY Lady returned to the Abbey at the usual luncheon-hour, and partook
of that meal (if sitting at the table can be called so doing) with the
rest of the party; while Mary Forest kept watch at the boudoir window,
with her mistress's opera-glasses in her hand, scanning the Windmill
Hill.

There was no likelihood of Derrick's coming for hours yet, since he
had not arrived already by the same train that had brought old Jacob's
letter; but there was just a possibility of this. However, he did not
come. The unfrequented road, which on the morrow would be thronged with
the vehicles of Sir Richard's guests, had not a single passenger. It
was one of the two ways we have spoken of leading to Dalwynch, and
the shorter in point of distance, although not of time, because of the
winding hill; but Derrick, coming from the direction of Coveton (not by
the Dalwynch line, but another railway), could approach Mirk by no other
route.

Immediately after luncheon, the carriage drew up at the door.

"I will not offer to go with you, dearest mother," said Letty, "because
there is so much to do at home, and the more because you will be
absent yourself. But you will come back as soon as you can--there's a
darling!--won't you? Nothing goes on as it should at the Abbey without
you."

"Yes, dear Letty! I will come back as soon as I can."

My Lady cast a wistful look at her three children. She would have given
a thousand pounds to have thrown her arms around their necks, and wept
her fill; but such an indulgence might have cost them and her far more
than that, or anything which money could estimate. What if her strength
should fail her--if she should "break down," as the saying is, at this
supremest moment? She could only trust herself to nod and smile.

The whole party went out to the front door to see her off. The two young
ladies standing on the hall steps with their arms round one another's
waists (although I much doubt if they had grown to be the friends that
they once were); Master Walter kissing his white hand to her with all
the grace and fondness of a lover; Sir Richard handing her into the
carriage with stately but affectionate courtesy. "The lower road--to
Lever's the watchmaker's in High Street," said he to the coachman, "and
don't spare the horses." Then, as the carriage drove away, he observed
to the others: "What a strange freak it is of mamma to be going to
Dalwynch at such a time as this about her watch. However, she ought to
be back by five o'clock at latest."

The carriage did return even before that hour; but it did not contain
my Lady. It only brought back a letter from her, which the footman was
instructed to place at once in the hands of her elder son. The
man, however, had some difficulty in finding Sir Richard, who was
superintending some finishing-touches that were being given to the
interior of the marquee--the arrangement of certain flags over the place
he was to occupy on the morrow. Sir Richard tore open the note, fearing
he knew not what; then uttered a tremendous oath. His people stared,
for unlike some "young masters," the baronet scarcely ever misbehaved
himself in that way. "Where did you leave my Lady, sirrah?" inquired he
roughly of the footman.

"At the railway station, Sir Richard. Her Ladyship took the train for
town."

"Where is Miss Letty? Walter--Walter," cried the baronet, "come here."

"Hollo, what is it?" answered the captain, a little sulkily, for he was
engaged in setting up an emblem composed of various weapons of war
at the other end of the marquée; and pretty Polly, the gatekeeper's
daughter, was handing him up certain highly-polished swords, and he was
playfully accusing her of using them in transit as mirrors. "You haven't
found out a mistake in the almanac, and that you came of age the day
before yesterday, have you?"

"Worse than that," returned poor Sir Richard simply. "Read that, man.
What, in Heaven's name, are we to do now?"

"Let us go in and see Letty," said Walter gravely, after he had read the
note. "Perhaps she knows something about it; and if not, you may take
your oath that Mary Forest does."

"Do _you_, Walter? Don't trifle with me," said the baronet earnestly;
"if any business respecting yourself has taken my mother away, I conjure
you to tell me all."

"No, Richard. I give you my word that I know of no reason for this
extraordinary conduct. It is true that that letter from Moss Abrahams
gave her some annoyance, but that matter was settled long ago. I am as
surprised and dumbfounded as yourself."

"_Dearest Richard!_"--here he again perused my Lady's note--"_urgent
necessity compels me to leave home for a time. You will have the
explanation on the 15th. That there may be many, many happy returns
of to-morrow to you, dear boy, is the heartfelt prayer of your loving
Mother._"--"How extraordinarily strange! When _is_ the 15th? Let's see."

"The day after to-morrow," rejoined Sir Richard gloomily. "What will
tomorrow be without our mother? Good Heaven, how dreadful is all this!
Is it possible, think you, to put the people off?"

"Utterly out of the question, Richard; we should require five hundred
messengers."

They were walking on the lawn, and had now arrived at one of the open
windows of the great ball-room, a splendid apartment, although the
highly-decorated pink ceiling had been likened by a pert young architect
(who wanted to persuade the baronet to let him pull down the Abbey,
and build another one) to the ornaments on a twelfth-cake. Mrs Walter,
Letty, and Arthur Haldane were all very busy here, but the last two
not so entirely occupied with the work in hand as to be unaware of one
another's presence. At another time, Sir Richard would have been annoyed
at seeing them so close together, and obviously so well pleased with
the propinquity, but now he was really glad to meet with the young
barrister, for whose judgment he had a great respect.

"Letty--Arthur," cried he, "read this. Do either of you know, can either
of you guess, what on earth it means?"

"Mamma not to be here to-morrow!" ejaculated the former, when she had
read the note. "I can scarcely believe my eyes." But at the same time
there came into her mind that vague but saddening talk which her mother
had held with her but lately, when my Lady had said her malady was not
one the doctors could cure. Arthur read the note twice over, not so much
to master its contents, perhaps, as to frame his own reply to what had
been asked of him.

"I certainly do not know," said he, "what can have taken your dear mother
at such a time as this. We may be sure, however, it is no mere freak of
fancy, but that it is done for what she believes to be your good."

"Our _good!_" broke forth Sir Richard impatiently. "How can it be
for good that I should be placed to-morrow in a position the most
embarrassing that can be conceived? What am I to say when people ask me
'Where is your mother?' Imagine what they will think of her absence on
such an occasion, the most important"----

"Let us rather imagine, Richard," interrupted Letty, laying her hand
upon his arm, "what our dear mother must be suffering at this moment.
As Arthur says, it can be no trivial matter that takes her thus suddenly
away from us; and although she may have over-estimated its urgency, we
may be sure that it is her anxiety for others--that is, for us--which
has caused her to do so. Mamma is incapable of a selfish action."

"I am not speaking for myself alone, Letty," returned the baronet hotly.

"I did not accuse you of doing so, Richard. What I mean is this, that
however much you may feel this misfortune, mamma has to bear the burden
of its cause--whatever that may be--alone. She is thinking at this
moment of the alarm and sorrow she has excited here, and we maybe sure
is feeling for us at least as much as we feel for ourselves; and in
addition to that, she has this trouble to bear, at even the nature of
which we cannot guess."

Sir Richard frowned, and did not reply; but Arthur unobserved stole
Letty's hand, and pressed it, in token of his loving approval. "And who
is the person who is to give us the explanation on the 15th, think you?"
said Walter. "I'll wager--or at least I would do so, if I hadn't given
up betting--that Mistress Forest can tell us if she would."

"Then let us send for her at once," cried Sir Richard hastily; "anything
is better than this suspense."

When the servant called for this purpose had been despatched: "I do not
presume," said Arthur gravely, "to dictate what is your duty; but if the
case were mine, Sir Richard, and my mother had expressly stated that her
motives would be explained at a certain date, I should hardly like to
extract them beforehand from her confidential servant. Forgive me, for
I know I am addressing one who is himself a man of the most scrupulous
honour."

The baronet bit his lip. "I don't know, I'm sure, Haldane. It is true,
since my mother has gone to town, that nothing we can do can bring her
back in time for----But at all events there can be no harm in asking how
long she is likely to be away.--Ah, here is Mistress Forest. We want to
hear about my Lady, Mary. She has gone to London, it seems, and we are
not to know why until the day after to-morrow. Now, we are not going to
ask you her reasons."

"Thank you, Sir Richard," said Mistress Forest, her puckered eyes
looking really grateful.

"But what we do desire is, that you will tell us how long she will be
away."

"I am sure I can't tell, sir; Heaven knows I wish. I could," answered
the waiting-maid fervently. "She sent a big box over to Dalwynch by the
carrier yesterday: that's all I know about it."

"Then she herself is not going to give us the explanation in person, you
think?" said the baronet gloomily.

"No, Sir Richard: not in person; at least, I believe not. Somebody else
is going to do that for her."

"And you know who that will be?" returned the young man sternly.

"I think--at least; yes, I know, sir; but it's not me," added the
waiting-maid hastily. "I hope I know my place better than that. But my
Lady bade me say nothing about it, and, with all respect, wild horses
should not tear it from me."

Here Mistress Forest, who had always entertained considerable terror of
her austere young master, could not forbear casting a beseeching glance
towards Arthur Haldane.

"We already know from Mr Haldane's own lips," observed Sir Richard
with emphasis, and looking in the same direction, "that he is not in
possession of the secret of my Lady's departure."

"I certainly said as much," returned Arthur haughtily; and with that,
either because he was really annoyed, or did not wish to be further
questioned, he stepped out upon the lawn, and walked away.

"All this is very unsatisfactory, and strange, and bad," said the
baronet, after a considerable pause. "But nothing is to be got,
it seems, by asking questions. We must do then the best we can for
to-morrow without my mother--you Letty, assisted by Mrs Walter here,
must do the honours of the Abbey in her place--and I wish to Heaven,"
added he, as he turned upon his heel, "that the day was well over."

"What a nice agreeable temper Richard has, when anything goes wrong,"
observed Walter, twirling his moustaches. "I'm hanged if I don't think
it's that which has driven my mother away from home. She naturally
enough concludes he will be unbearable when he becomes the master."

"Fie, fie, Walter!" said Letty. "I think it is much more that she can no
longer bear to listen to the cruel things she hears her two sons say
of one another. She has spoken to me of it more than once of late with
tears in her eyes."

"Well, Sir Richard _has_ a bad temper, Letty, there's no doubt about
that," observed Mrs Walter, striking in in defence of her husband.

"Yes; yet there are many things worse than that, Rose, and mamma has
been accustomed to Richard all his life; but she has had trouble upon
trouble for the last six months, _as I am sure you cannot deny_, and it
is likely in the state of health to which I know she is reduced, that
she feels herself totally unequal to the part she would be expected to
play to-morrow."

"I think Mr Haldane knows more of the matter than he chooses to say,"
observed Rose, at once carrying the war into the enemy's camp.

"I don't think you quite understand him," returned Letty, executing the
same strategic movement; "anything like duplicity is altogether foreign
to his character."

"He looks simple enough certainly," remarked Rose quietly. "But I
noticed that when Sir Richard asked him whether he knew, or could
_guess_ what had taken Lady Lisgard from home, he confined himself to
replying that he did not know."

Letty made no answer, but applied herself with heightened colour to
the occupation in which her brothers had interrupted her. Walter smiled
sardonically, thinking of certain female savages he had been reading of
that morning in some paper in the _Field, apropos_ of rifle-grooves, who
were expert in propelling poisoned darts from blow-pipes; then catching
sight of his handsome face in one of the mirrors with which the
ball-room was wainscoted, he nodded, as though he recognised some friend
he was constantly in the habit of meeting, yet was always glad to see,
and sauntered out. At first, he made mechanically for the marquee, but
stopping himself, not as it seemed without some contention in his own
mind, he turned his steps to some other part of the Park. "No," said he
to himself gaily, "I will be a good boy. It is true, I have had devilish
hard lines lately, but then it was partly deserved. How, the poor mother
has had just as hard, and has not deserved them a bit. I will do nothing
that can cause her trouble now--not even run the risk of a bit of
harmless flirtation, for there always _is_ a risk about that, somehow.
I wonder whether Letty was right about her going away; I'm sure I can't
help Richard quarrelling with me--he _will_ do it. And then there was
that matter of Moss Abraham's--upon my life it must have been very
trying to the dear old lady. And then there was my affair with
Rose--humph! Well, I'm very sorry, Heaven knows, if my conduct has in
any way contributed to such a catastrophe; but it's something, my dear
mother, let me tell you, when your troubles are of that sort that you
_can_ run away from them. What an infernal fool I have made of myself in
every way!"



CHAPTER IX. THE UNINVITED GUEST.

|OLD Jacob Forest had made a well-grounded complaint when he cried out
with such vehemence that that fellow Derrick had actually left the front
door open, and the Guard-ship and his rheumatism more exposed to the
rigour of the elements even than usual; but to do his visitor justice,
this rudeness was not committed with intention; Ralph knew not what he
was doing; he was out of his mind with fury and despair.

"Damn her!" screamed he, plucking the little bunch of violets from where
he had placed them so tenderly but an hour before; "so she was false,
too, like the rest of them. She had no more heart in her than a woman
of stone; and I have been worshipping her all my life, just as a savage
worships his idol. No wonder I took to that young son of hers--how like!
how like!--and like, too, in his selfish soul! Why, I was calling
yonder Sea a while ago a cruel smiling traitress--because in her wrath
I thought that she had swallowed this woman up. But the sea is honest
enough compared to her. She puts up painted panes to my memory, does
she, with the money of the very man she has married! Hypocrite! Wonton!
Liar! She has held converse with me, knowing who I was, across that
man's very grave, and let me pour my heart out before her, drop by drop,
when she might have stanched it with a word. How _could_ she do it? How
_dared_ she do it?--she that is a God-fearing woman, forsooth! But I
suppose that all is fair against a castaway. Let her look to it now,
though. Ralph Gavestone is not a man, as I told her then, to be crossed
with impunity--far less to be cajoled, betrayed, insulted,
Wronged! Richard Lisgard, too!--Sir Richard, as the bastard calls
himself!--_your_ hour of bitterness is drawing nigh too, and I will not
spare you. There is no memory now of the beloved Dead to stay my hand;
there is the knowledge of the treacherous living to make the blow all
the surer and the more fatal. Love--nay, even the impress of where I
thought love had lain within me, but it was not so--is cancelled out,
and Mercy with it. Friendship--bah, I have found out what that is worth!
There is nothing left me, nothing in the world, now, except Revenge!
Lord it, Sir Richard, for yet a few hours more, among your truckling
neighbours, your fawning tenants, for your time is short indeed. They
may be your humble and obedient servants still, but what will they think
of you, what will they say of you, behind your back, when they come to
learn who you are? If your mother has the right to rule at Mirk, then
I will rule there too: and you shall serve; and if not--then she is my
wife still, and leaves you for me. There will be a downfall for
your pride! Lady Lisgard of Mirk Abbey to be claimed by a 'drunken
brawler'--do you suppose that I forget such words as those--and forced
to be once more plain Lucy Gavestone, for the wife of a vagabond like
me has scarcely the right to be termed 'madam.' The law will give her to
me: there is no doubt of that. The righteous Law, which is to be
always upheld--remember that, my game-preserving friend--no matter what
hardships it may entail upon individuals, or even what injustice it may
commit in exceptional cases. How sweet it is to remember such words of
wisdom, against which, in my ignorance, I was wont to fight tooth and
nail. You will not forbid me the Abbey, I suppose, when I come thither
to claim my wife. To-morrow, or next day at furthest, will introduce you
to your stepfather; for I have made up my mind to acknowledge you, just
as though you had been born in lawful wedlock."

Breathing forth these cruel threats, and feeding upon their fulfilment
in his mind, Ralph Derrick lay awake for hours in his chamber at the
_Royal Marine_, and had hardly fallen asleep when the omnibus started
for the morning train. The horn, and noise of the wheels aroused him,
and he leaped up out of bed with an oath, because he knew that he had
missed that, his earliest opportunity, of getting to Mirk. However,
having rung his bell, he learned from the waiter that it would be
quite possible yet, by taking a carriage and four horses, to reach the
junction before the Coveton train, which, besides, had to wait there for
the mid-day mail. "Of course," said the waiter, rubbing his hands,
and speaking with a hesitation induced by the contemplation of Ralph's
scanty kit, "it will be a very considerable expense, and perhaps"----

"Curse the expense, and you too!" ejaculated the whilom gold-digger in
his old flaming manner. "Here's a ten-pound note; and let my bill be
settled and the horses put to within five minutes."

"But your breakfast, sir?"

"A glass of brandy and a piece of bread: that's all I want; quick,
quick!"

The waiter departed at full speed--his anxiety to execute Derrick's
orders being at least equalled by his desire to communicate them to his
mistress and the chambermaids. They were only accustomed at the _Royal
Marine_ to the Newly Married, who were rarely in a hurry, and never
broke their fast upon brandy and bread; and to these Ralph certainly
afforded a lively contrast.

The four horses carried him along at a great rate, and the old-fashioned
carriage swung from side to side down every hill, so that if motion
could have soothed his perturbed spirit, on the principle of like to
like, it should have grown calmer with every mile. But fast as he sped,
his thoughts flew on before him--and in them he was already at Mirk
Abbey, denunciating, exposing, Avenging, until physical inaction became
intolerable, and thrusting his head and shoulders out at the window,
he bade the astonished post-boys pull up, and let him out, for that he
would have no more of such travel. Then once more he pursued his way on
foot, and had walked two-score of miles before he put up for the night,
at one of the same inns at which he had stopped upon his way down to
Coveton.

But exercise, even in this violent degree, could now no longer avail
him. He was still consumed with bitterness and anger, and the desire of
vengeance. He could not sleep; and he had lost all appetite for food. He
drank, as he had never drunk since he was in Cariboo; glass after glass
of raw spirits, to the wonder of his tolerably well-seasoned host, who
looked to have him for quite a permanent guest, overtaken, as it seemed
must come to pass, by delirium tremens. Brandy, however, could now
affect him nothing; except perhaps that it added fuel to his rage. On
the third day, he grew impatient of his slow progress, and took the
train upon a line of rails that brought him within a dozen miles of
Mirk. As soon as he got out at the station, he inquired for a vehicle to
take him to his journey's end.

"You wish to go to Mirk Abbey, do you not, sir?" said the porter
respectfully (for Ralph always travelled first class).

"That's my business, and not yours," retorted Derrick angrily, but
without surprise; for it seemed to him natural enough that the purpose
which was consuming his whole being should be recognised in his external
features.

"Nay, sir; I meant no harm. It is not business, but pleasure, that
is taking all the world to Mirk to-day. Everything here that has four
wheels, and even that has two, has been already engaged; but if you
don't mind waiting an hour or so, there will be a return-fly."

But, with a contemptuous oath, Ralph had already resumed his journey
on foot, looking neither to left nor right, but keeping his eyes
steadfastly fixed on the wind-mill, he could even now see afar off,
and which he knew crowned Mirkland Hill. The afternoon was already far
spent, and by the time he reached the spot in question the dusk had
already deepened into dark. On one side of the road lay the white gate
and little hedge belonging to Belcomb; on the other, the great Windmill,
with its dilapidated wall still unrepaired, and over which a young man
was leaning and looking towards the valley with longing eyes. Ralph
followed the direction of his gaze, and perceived the noble outlines
of Mirk Abbey "picked out" in lines of many-coloured flame--its every
window aglow with light, and the shadowy Park itself islanded with two
large shining spots, which old experience taught him at once were walls
of canvas well lit up within.

"What is going on there?" asked he of the miller, for such the young
man's dress proclaimed him to he.

"Why, victuals and drink, to be sure," replied the lad, in a tone that
bespeaks a grievance; "and music and pretty girls to dance to it, and
fireworks, and I don't know what all. And here am I, the only young man
in the parish that is not to enjoy himself at it: just because Master
Hathaway happens to have a pressing order in hand, I am to keep the
mill going all to-night. I don't say I wishes it to rain--for that would
spoil everybody's sport--but if the wind would be so good as to fall,
and stop the mill, why, I wouldn't whistle to try and set it agoing
again."

"Yes, by the by," said Ralph, "I heard something at the station about
some goings-on at Mirk, but I didn't take much heed. What is it, lad?
And why are they all so gay down yonder at the Abbey?"

"Why, it's Sir Richard coming of age, to be sure," answered the lad.
"You must hail from a darned long way off, not to know that; and yet I
seem to know your face. Why, you're Mr Derrick, ain't you, as used to
lodge at the Lisgard Arms? I thought so. Well, you'll find nobody there
now, for Steve has been taken into favour again--thanks to my Lady, I
believe--and is up at the Park with the rest; and they won't let _you_
into the grounds, you know; so you might just as well stop here, and
have a chat with a poor fellow as"----

Striking his stick with violence against the ground, Ralph strode away
down the hill. This, then, was the very time for him to come upon the
inmates of Mirk Abbey, while they were holding their heads highest,
and to cast them down to the very dust. If his determination had needed
strength, if the sharpness of his revenge had wanted an edge, both had
been supplied by the careless words of the miller's boy. Before the
night was out, not only that lad, but all the parish, nay, all the
County, should learn that he, Ralph Derrick, could not only be no longer
forbidden to enter the Lisgards' doors, but would perhaps even rule
within them as the husband of my Lady herself.

The village, as he had been forewarned, was as deserted as Auburn
itself, and the inn fast closed. But the iron gates of the Abbey
were flung back, as though to welcome all comers, and the rheumatic
lodge-keeper and his wife had betaken themselves with their pretty
daughter to the festive scene within. So Ralph strode, undenied, up the
long dense avenue, made darker by the glancing lights at the far end,
like some embodiment of Misfortune, about to paralyse Youth and Hope
with a word. The fairylike splendours of the scene before him seemed to
him like a house of painted cards, which, at his finger-touch, should
collapse in utter ruin; his frown should silence all those melodies that
jarred so on his reluctant ears; that merriment should be turned into
wailing, or still better, into scornful laughter. The scene of pride
should be made a place of shame.

_No_ one of all the crowd of holiday-makers seemed to take notice of
his presence, though he carried with him, from spot to spot, the only
scowling face that was to be seen among them. He stood at the opening
of the great marquee, and watched the dancers; his evil eye scanned each
gay couple as they whirled before him, but settled upon none whom it
had come to wither. Sir Richard and his brother had inaugurated the
proceedings there by taking part in a few dances, but had then withdrawn
themselves to the ball-room within. In the second tent, reserved for
the humblest class of guests, the mirth was already growing somewhat
uproarious; but there was one among the company, who, though he took
two glasses for other folk's one, looked as sober as an undertaker; and
Derrick came behind this man and plucked his arm.

"Steve," said he, "I want a word with you. Come out with me, and leave
these capering idiots."

The landlord of the _Lisgard Arms_ did not even make a pretence of being
glad to recognise his late lodger: he had been received, as Hathaway's
lad had stated, into favour at the Abbey once more, through the
intercession of my Lady, but he was still upon his good-behaviour, and
it excessively annoyed him to see the original cause of Sir Richard's
displeasure with himself once more at Mirk, and intruding where he was
least welcome. However, the two withdrew together apart from the crowd.

"What is it, Derrick? I think it is foolish of you venturing here. I am
sorry to say that I have promised not to receive you again at my inn. I
did not dream of your coming back, or else I would never have done so."

"Don't trouble yourself about that, Steve. If I stay at Mirk at all, it
will be here, at the Abbey."

"At the Abbey! You have been drinking, Derrick. Now, take my advice, and
be off; at all events, for the present. To-day, when everybody is being
entertained by Sir-Richard, folks would resent any insult put upon the
family, I can promise you--it's the worst day you could possibly have
selected to force your way in here."

"No, Steve, the best day--the only day. I would have given ten thousand
pounds, I tell you, rather than have missed it, or have arrived
to-morrow instead."

"I am glad you are so rich, man," returned Steve drily, "for it is the
impression down here that you lost all your money upon that French horse
at the Derby; poor Master Walter, too, you led him into a pretty mess,
it seems."

"Curse Master Walter!" ejaculated Derrick angrily. "He's a mean skunk,
if ever there was one."

"People don't think so hereabouts, Mr Derrick; and I should recommend
you not to express your opinion quite so loudly. If any of these
volunteers heard you speaking of their captain in that way, you would
not escape with a whole skin."

"That's my look-out," answered Derrick roughly. "I want you to tell
me where I can find Sir Richard. I have particular business with him;
something for his private ear.

"It isn't about my Lady, is it?" inquired the other eagerly.

"Yes, it is. How came you to think of that? Eh?"

"How could I be off on it, man? Is she not the uppermost thought of
everybody here? Do you really bring any news of her? And, look you, if
it's bad news, don't tell it. I don't like that ugly look of yours, Mr
Derrick. If you have done any harm to my Lady, I, for one, will help to
wring your neck round."

"Do you mean to say she is not here?" gasped Ralph, without heeding his
last words.

"Of course not; didn't you know that? She's gone away, all of a sudden.
Sir Richard quite broke down when he alluded to it in his speech. He
said that urgent business had compelled her to be in London; but Roberts
told me that the family themselves have no idea why she took herself
off"----

"Ah, but they do though," exclaimed Derrick scornfully. "And _I_ know,
too, or I'm much mistaken. She's trying _that_ dodge on, is she? Not at
home, eh? And she supposes that I shall leave my card, and go away like
any other well-conducted visitor. She'll find me an acquaintance whom
it is not so easy to drop, I fancy. So my Lady has fled, has she?"
continued he. "Hadn't the pluck to blazon it out, eh? She won't,
however, have flown very far from her young chicks, I reckon. And,
perhaps, it's just as well that I should cut the comb of this young
bantam, Sir Richard, while his mother's out of the way; not that I feel
an ounce of pity for her, either."

"You'll feel a horsewhip about your shoulders, Ralph Derrick, before
you're a quarter of an hour older, or else I'm much mistaken," observed
Steve ruefully. "I'll have nothing more to say to you, and that's a
fact. You are not only drunk, but stark mad. I never heard a fellow go
on with such a farrago of rubbish. Look here, if you'll come home with
me at once, you shall have as much brandy as you can drink; but you
shan't kick up a row here. See, one of the ball-room windows is wide
open, and Sir Richard himself, for all you know, may---- Confound the
fellow, it will be only kindness to tell Styles, the policeman, to take
him up."

Derrick had burst away from Steve, and was running across the lawn to
the very place where the Lisgard family had discussed their mother's
departure upon the preceding evening.



CHAPTER X. OUT OF THE CAGE.

|THE immense ball-room was now a blaze of light, and full, though by no
means crowded, with brilliant company. One of the windows, as Steve had
said, had been thrown up, and through it the scene was as distinctly
displayed to Ralph as though he were within.

He stood there alone, for a feeling of respect kept others from the
immediate neighbourhood.

He beheld fair Letty, hostess and belle in one, moving from group to
group, who broke out into smiles at her approach; he beheld dark Rose
whirl by "in gloss of satin and glimmer of pearls"--the self-same
"parure" which had enslaved poor Anne Rees--and followed by many an
admiring eye. He beheld Master Walter's smiling face bent down to
whisper to some blushing girl, who forgot, perhaps, for the moment that
the handsome captain was already married--that he had been entrapped
by that scheming young person with the extremely self-confident
manner. Lastly, he beheld the man he sought talking with a gentleman of
apoplectic habit, and the air of a prosperous licensed victualler,
but who was no less a personage than the Earl of Marrobone, and
Lord-lieutenant of Wheatshire. His Lordship had sought the open window
for fresh air, and the two were conversing upon county matters, in which
Sir Richard, young as he was, already took the keenest interest.

"You will take your seat on the bench at once, Sir Richard, I hope,"
were the first words which Derrick caught. "Your commission is, of
course, already made out, and you will probably receive it to-morrow."

"I thank you, my Lord. Yes, I shall make a point of being a regular
attendant at the petty sessions."

"And you will be wanted, too, at Dalwynch; for between ourselves, the
old general yonder is a little past his work in that way. I don't
wish to prejudice you, I am sure, against a man in such a respectable
position; but the fact is, he and I are not such good friends as we
might be. He wants me to make Mr Chesham--you know, of course, who
that is, the relation in which they stand to one another, and so on--a
magistrate for the county. Now, I do think that that is a distinction
which should never be conferred upon any natural son--that is, unless
the family of the father should be really of mark, which is not the case
with our friend the general, whatever may be said of Lady Theresa. I
don't think, because a man has married into the peerage, that he should
therefore be himself admitted to all the privileges of good birth."

"With all deference, my Lord," returned Sir Richard stiffly, "I consider
that under no circumstances whatever, no matter whether the father be
peer or commoner, should the commission of the peace be conferred upon a
bastard."

"Then Richard Lisgard must never sit upon the bench at Dalwynch!"
exclaimed a malignant voice close beside the speaker.

In an instant, Sir Richard was upon the lawn without, face to face with
his insulter. No one in the ball-room, save the two gentlemen who
had been conversing together, had overheard the exclamation, and his
Lordship had not caught it distinctly. The band was playing on,
as accurately as before, and the dancers were dancing in tune; the
cavaliers were whispering their soft nothings, and the ladies making
their sweet replies, while the two men without--the one so scrupulously
apparelled in the latest fashion, the other dishevelled, travel-stained,
and in all respects what we call "a Rough," but both as brave as
lions--were grappling one another by their throats. Sir Richard, who
never forgot any man's face--a faculty not uncommon with persons of
his class and character--had recognised Ralph Derrick, the turbulent
interloper in his parish, the evil counsellor of his brother, at the
first glance; and enraged at his audacious trespass at such a time,
quite as much as by his late brutal insult to himself, which he set down
as the result of drink, he threw himself upon the gold-digger with the
utmost fury. The Earl of Marrobone stepped outside also, and closed
behind him the ball-room window; the stout old nobleman was one of the
coolest hands in England, and never lost his presence of mind. Even thus
debarred from making that public exposure of the young baronet which
Derrick had promised himself, he might have said something which his
Lordship would not have forgotten--for he was one of those who had
seen too much of the world to believe anything untrue merely because
it seemed impossible--but that, at the first touch of Sir Richard's
fingers, Ralph's fury deprived him of all utterance except a few
desperate imprecations. He would have liked, with folded arms, to
have impeached the young baronet as a base-born impostor (for he felt
convinced that the reason for my Lady's flight was known to him and the
rest of the family), and have stated his own wrongs in a few earnest and
pregnant words before the whole company in yonder room; but now that he
had his enemy so close, "the blind wild beast of force within him, whose
home is in the sinews of a man," was driven to strike and strike
again. So the precious half-minute that elapsed before help came to Sir
Richard, was wasted, and Derrick found himself helpless, and with his
wrongs untold, in the clutch of half-a-dozen men, and one of them the
village policeman, whom Steve had found at last, and despatched for that
very purpose.

"Take him and lock him up," exclaimed Lord Marrobone, perceiving that
Sir Richard was too excited to speak. "A night in the watch-house will
sober the drunken brute, and cool his courage. Take him away, I say,"
for Ralph began to weave afresh his choicest flowers of speech--mere
onion-ropes of the wickedest words--"and put the foulmouthed scoundrel
into quod!" So they bore Ralph forth, not without very rough treatment,
through the gates, and cast him into a small but well-secured tenement,
known as "the Cage," but so seldom used in the orderly little village,
that it was in the occupation of a certain white rabbit and her family
(pets of the constable's children), who had to be ejected, to make room
for this very different tenant.

Sir Richard Lisgard went up stairs to refit, and returned to
the ball-room, where none had even remarked his absence, with an
unimpeachable white cravat concealing an ugly bruise upon his windpipe;
but all smiles had departed from his noble features, and it was observed
by Mrs Walter Lisgard, in confidential conversation with the Honourable
Poppin Jay, that her dear brother-in-law looked more like Don Quixote
de la Mancha even than usual. He had made up his mind that, under
the circumstances, it was impossible he could be upon the bench of
magistrates while Derrick's case was being entered into, and was
disturbed by the apprehension that the old general would not look upon
the matter in a sufficiently important light, or punish the offender
with all the rigour of the law.

By no means quietly, however, had the affair passed off without doors.
There was nothing, according to rumour, which drunken Derrick had not
done in the way of misbehaviour towards the young baronet, from bad
words to the use of a bowie-knife, and nothing which he did not deserve.
The news flew from mouth to mouth like wildfire; the tenantry, the
peasantry, and the household were all in possession of the facts--and
of very much more than the facts, within half an hour of their real or
supposed occurrence. Last of all to hear it was Mistress Forest, for
whom a wholesome respect was entertained by all the domestics, and to
whom, being notoriously the object of Derrick's affections, it was of
course a delicate matter to communicate such intelligence. Little Anne
Rees, however, stole up stairs to Mary's own room, where she knew my
Lady's waiting-maid was sitting, far from all the noise and gaiety, and
thinking sadly of her poor dear mistress and her troubles. "O ma'am,
please ma'am, such a dreadful thing have happened!" said she. "Mr
Derrick have come back again.--Don't ye faint; don't ye take on so"
(for Mistress Forest had turned as white as Anne's own apron); "he's not
dead. But he's gone and pitched into Sir Richard before all the company,
and they fought together dreadful, I don't know how long."

"What did he say, girl?" exclaimed Mistress Forest eagerly; "I mean,
what did they fight about?"

"Well, he did not say much, didn't Mr Derrick, beyond cussing most
uncommon strong. It took six on 'em to carry him away, for all the world
like a corpse, except for his kicking and swearing; and when they said
he would be up before the bench on Thursday, he said 'He wished it was
to-morrow, that was all;' and at the same time he laughed that wicked,
that it went quite cold to the small of my back."

"And where have they put the poor man, after all?"

"In the Cage, ma'am. The key was not to be found, but they've barred him
up just like a wild beast. And oh, Mistress Forest, it isn't my place,
and I ask your pardon, but don't you give him no more encouragement, for
he _is_ a wild beast, and nothing less, if you could only see him."

"That will do, Anne; though I'm obliged to you for coming to tell me.
I must speak to Sir Richard to-morrow, and try and beg him off.
Good-night."

"And aren't you coming down to supper, nor to see the fireworks, nor
nothing?" inquired the little maid in amazement.

"No, Anne; I was not in a humour for such things before, and certainly I
am not so now. I am going to bed."

But no sooner had the grateful little girl--who, though she waited no
longer on Mrs Walter (who had brought her own maid with her), yet always
remembered that she owed her enfranchisement to Mistress Forest--gone
down stairs, than Mary took up her bonnet and cloak, and hurried softly
after her. It was impossible not to meet persons at every turn; but it
was not difficult, in the general hubbub and excitement, to avoid their
observation; and this she did. The night was very dark; and once away
from the gleam and glitter of the house and lawn, Mary had to slacken
her pace even down the avenue she knew so well. When she was half-way
down it, as nearly as she could guess, she heard a noisy throng of men
approaching from the other direction, and shrank on one side, behind a
tree. Some of them carried lanterns, and as they went by, she recognised
Styles, the rural policeman, and also Mr Steve.

"I am as sorry as can be," the latter was saying, "and would much rather
see the poor fellow well away."

"Take care you go no further than wishing, however," responded the
guardian of the law. "It would be a bad night's work for any man who
should let that fellow out, mind you: ordered into custody by the
Lord-lieutenant hisself, and charged with assault and battery of a
baroknight--I never set eyes on such an owdacious scamp."

"He's simply mad, that's all," returned Steve, sadly--"mad with drink.
For whoever heard one in his senses, or even drunk in a natural way, talk
such infernal rubbish! Didn't he say he was 'my Lady's' husband!" The
answer was drowned in a great shout of laughter, and so the men passed
on. Mary waited until she was sure there were no more to come, then
walked on with her arms outstretched before her, as fast as she dared
go. Suddenly there was a sharp and rusty shriek behind her, and a glare
of lurid light which shewed her the gateway right in front.

"They have begun to fire the rockets," muttered she; "so there will be
nobody in the village, that is certain." The little street, much lighter
than the way by which she had hitherto come, was indeed quite empty, but
by no means noiseless; a sound of confused shouting came dully up from
the bottom of the hill, where, as she well knew, the Cage was situated;
and truly, as Anne Rees had said, it struck upon the ear like the
roaring of some angry beast making night hideous. Mary stopped for a
moment to listen; and when she went on, her face was paler, though not
less determined-looking than before.

"Sir Richard is a bastard--a bastard--a bastard! My Lady is not nearly
so good as she should be; and I'm her husband in the lock-up! Down with
the Lisgards--down with them; and down they shall come!"

These were the words, but interspersed with the most hideous
imprecations, with which Mistress Forest's ears were greeted as she
approached the little round house. Taking advantage of a momentary pause
in the stream of denunciation, she knocked with her clenched hand at the
nail-studded door.

"Sir Richard is a bastard! no more Sir Richard than you are!" shrieked
the voice within. "Be sure you go to the magistrates' meeting at
Dalwynch on Thursday, and let all Mirk go with you; then shall you see
pride have a fall, and the Lisgards come down with a run! Down with
them--down with them--and down they shall come!"

"Ralph--Ralph Derrick, it is me."

"Who's me? a woman?" inquired the prisoner eagerly. "Then I'll tell you
about my Lady, because you'll enjoy it. She's _not_ my Lady; she's no
more my Lady than you are."

"Ralph Gavestone, I know that," answered Mistress Forest, with her mouth
glued to a crack in the door.

"Oh, you know that, do you? Then you must be the devil, whom I have
lately suspected to be of the female gender, and am now convinced of it.
You are of course aware, then, that I am her husband?"

"Yes, I am.--Will you be quiet, and go away to Dalwynch, and not try to
enter the Abbey grounds again this night, if I let you out?"

"Certainly. To-day is Tuesday, or it was so before midnight. I shall
therefore have to wait for my revenge till Thursday, if I am not set
free; whereas, if you let me out, I can go to work at once; I can see
an attorney to-morrow morning. That should please you rarely, if you are
indeed the devil. There's another bolt still over the hole through which
I kicked Steve's leg. I left my mark on some of them, mind you--R. G."

Mary Forest had opened the Cage; and behold there stood her whilom
lover, bleeding and ragged, his red beard plucked a thousand ways, his
features haggard, his eyes flaming with rage and hate.

"Oh, it's you, is it?" said he, with something of softness in his
turbid but vehement speech. "I might have known that, if I had thought
a little. But it's no good, my partridge--plump still, though a little
gray. I'm meat for your mistress now; I am the master of Mirk; or at
least I shall be in a day or two. I'm her Ladyship's husband--better
luck than she deserves, you'll think; and I can't be two women's husband
at the same time, any more than my Lady could have two mates. That
was her little mistake, for which she's about to reap the fruits. Sir
Richard is a bastard--a bastard--a bastard!"

"You said that if I unbarred this door, you would start for Dalwynch,"
observed Mistress Forest firmly. "You used to be a man whose word could
be relied on. Why do you not go?"

"I am going at once, my plump one. You have revenged yourself and me
at the same time. There is no kindness in this, I well understand, you
know; there is no such thing as kindness in the world."

"You are wrong there, Ralph Gavestone. It is because I love my mistress,
rather than pity _you_--although I _do_ pity you still--that I have come
hither to save you from a night's lodging in such a place. It would have
grieved my mistress to the heart to think you were so served, I know."

"To the _what?_" returned Ralph with a savage laugh. "To her _heart_,
did you say? Why, the thing doesn't exist, wench! If, however, there
does still cling to her anything of the sort, when I tell them that Sir
Richard's a bastard, that'll wring it."

"Blessed are the Merciful, for they shall receive mercy," cried Mistress
Forest, terrified at the deadly menace of his tone, and uttering her
words as though they were a charm against an evil spirit.

"Blessed are the merciful!" echoed Ralph bitterly. "That may be so, for
I have never known them; but cursed are the treacherous and the false!
You have heard of the avenging angel--well, though my wings are so
tattered and torn just now, that's me. Do you see the mimic lightning
yonder over the Abbey? It will be stricken to-morrow from turret to
basement by a forked shaft. Down with the Lisgards, and down they shall
come!"

Shrieking this to a sort of frenzied measure, he suddenly broke away,
and took the Dalwynch road, up Mirkland Hill. Mary listened with some
feeling of relief to his fading strains, then sighed, and wiped from her
eyes a few honest tears.

"He was not always a bad man, I am sure," soliloquised she pitifully,
"and now God forgive him--he knows not what he's doing! He is mad."



CHAPTER XI. THE RECONCILIATION.

|THE day after a great festivity in a great house is generally a dull
one. It begins late; for both servants and guests are wearied, and
there is nothing about it which is not inferior to other days except
the luncheon, which in the way of "sweets," at all events, is always
exceptionally good. Sir Richard, however, who went through life as
nearly as could be to an automaton, was up at his usual time; and
descending to the empty breakfast-room, beheld, seated in an arm-chair
which he had wheeled to the window, a little wizzened old man, in
brightest Hessian boots, drab breeches, and a cut-away coat with
flap-pockets of the fashion of half a century ago.

"Dr Haldane!" exclaimed the young man in extreme amazement. "God bless
my soul _and_ body!"

"I hope he will, sir," rejoined the visitor drily, extending three
fingers somewhat stiffly.

"No, sir; surely your whole hand!" cried the baronet warmly. "Your face
is the pleasantest sight--save that of my dear mother's--that I could
hope to set eyes on in Mirk Abbey; and I am not going to be fobbed off
with such a salutation as that."

"You get nothing more from me, Richard, unless the business I have come
about--very much against the grain, I can tell you--gets satisfactorily
accomplished."

"Does it relate to my dear mother, sir?"

"Of course it does, young man. What else, do you think, would have had
power to break my resolution--to bring me hither--to this room, in which
I have not set foot these twenty years, and where I last sat, side by
side--with---- But what is that to you? I suppose a man is not very
likely to be moved by the memories of a dead father, who pays no respect
to the feelings of his living mother."

"I am not aware, Dr Haldane," began Sir Richard with some
haughtiness----

"I know _that_, sir," broke in the other impetuously. "You are so
wrapped up in selfishness--you and that scampish brother of yours--that
neither of you have any thought except for your own miserable quarrels.
You were not aware, I dare say, that their constant repetition is
driving your mother into her grave, as they have already driven her from
her once happy home; and it is because you don't know it--because you
won't see it--that I am come hither, once for all, to inform you of the
fact. But perhaps such a little matter has no interest in your eyes: in
which case, I assure you, since it is entirely for her sake, and not at
all for yours, that I have come, I shall be exceedingly glad to go away
again."

"Have you any message to deliver, Dr Haldane," asked the baronet with an
angry flush, "direct from my mother, or are you merely stating your own
doubtless valuable, but quite unasked-for opinions?"

"I have a message from her to deliver to you, and to the rest of you,
young man; and if you think it worth while to send for your brother and
sister, you had better do so."

The young man rang the bell, and gave the necessary orders. Dr Haldane
took up a book of family prayers that lay beside him, and grunted
cynically as he read Sir Richard's name on the title-page. "What a work
for a fellow like this to write his name in, who drives his mother out
of her own house!" muttered he, and then affected to be immersed in the
contents. The baronet did not reply, but occupied himself in opening his
letters, one of which was from Madame de Castellan. That lady expressed
herself as "desolated" at the news of her old friend's departure from
the Abbey, the cause of which she was dying to hear. "If, however," ran
the postscript, "the absence of my Lady was for any reason likely to
continue, might not Mary Forest be despatched, at all events in
the meantime, to Belcomb, where Madame was absolutely without any
waiting-maid at all--with the exception of old Rachel--until another
could be procured from France, to supply the place of wicked Annette,
departed almost without a word of warning."

"Cunning old wretch!" murmured Sir Richard, crumpling up the pale thin
paper with its scratchy foreign caligraphy, and throwing it into the
grate. "She thinks of nothing but herself."

"How odd!" exclaimed the little doctor bitterly. "The lady's case must
be quite unique."

Not a word more was spoken by either until Letty entered, a little pale,
but looking exquisitely lovely.

"Dear Dr Haldane, who would have thought of seeing you _here?_ How
pleased I am!"

The doctor rose with alacrity from his seat, and kissed her
affectionately upon the forehead.

"I am sure," said she with earnest gravity, "that you have brought us
news of dearest mamma."

"So _you_ have thought of her, have you, little one?" answered he
fondly. (Letty was about three inches taller than the doctor.) "I
fancied she would have been no longer missed. Everybody was so happy
here yesterday, I am told; and everything went on so well without her."

"It did not, indeed," returned Letty indignantly. "Nothing seemed to go
right in her absence, notwithstanding all I could do; and as for being
happy, I can answer for myself and my brothers, that not five minutes
elapsed all day without our thinking of her, and grieving for her loss.
And oh, dear Dr Haldane, do you know why she has left us in this sad
manner, and when we shall see her back again?"

"I have her own explanation of why she has left Mirk Abbey," replied the
doctor; "but as for her return, that will depend upon yourselves--I mean
upon Sir Richard and Captain Lisgard. For _you_, Letty, she bids me
say have been at all times what a loving child should be to a
parent.--Master Walter, your servant, sir.--No; I will not shake hands
with a man who ruins his mother by gambling debts, and breaks her heart
with hatred of his own brother."

"That is not true, at least I do hope, Walter?" said Sir Richard
quickly.

"No; false, upon my honour," returned the captain. "My mother never told
you to say that, sir."

"Not quite that--no, she did not," admitted the little old man,
whose eyes had begun to lose their hard and inexorable expression,
notwithstanding his harsh words, from the moment that Walter entered the
room. It was so difficult even for a social philosopher to be severe and
stern with that young man. "Yet I am bound to say, Walter, that it is
you who have been most to blame with respect to that good mother,
who only lives but for her children, and whose very love for them has
compelled her to withdraw herself from beneath this roof. I will not now
dwell upon your clandestine marriage; I leave yourself to imagine how
the want of trust in your best friend as well as parent evinced in that
hasty step must have wounded her loving heart. Nor do I wish--that is
to say, your mother herself requests me not to bear hardly upon you
with respect to your gambling debts. You know the full extent of them
perhaps--yes, I was afraid of that--better than she does even yet;
but she has paid enough of them already to seriously embarrass her own
affairs."

"I have made a solemn promise never to bet or gamble more, Dr Haldane,"
said the captain hoarsely.

"I am glad of it, Walter; but what I was about to say was, that in this
case, as well as in that of your marriage, it was not so much the error
itself, as the want of frankness evidenced by your concealment of the
matter. To be ashamed of having done wrong, is a proper feeling enough;
but if it be not accompanied by the acknowledgment of the offence, it
only shews one to be a coward, not a penitent. However, bad as your
conduct has been in these two particulars, your mother would doubtless
have done her best to forget, as she hastened in both instances to
forgive it. But what she could _not_ forget, since it happened every day
and every hour, were the quarrels between yourself and your brother."
Here the doctor turned sharply round on the young baronet, who had been
hitherto listening, not, perhaps, without complacency, to the catalogue
of his brother's misdeeds.--"I think, from what I have seen myself,
Richard, that it is _you_ who are most in fault here. It is no use your
looking proud and cold on me. I never cared three brass farthings for
such airs, though they now and then misbecame even your poor father,
who was worth a dozen of you. But this ridiculous assumption of
superiority--founded upon mere accident of birth--naturally offends a
high-spirited young man like Walter, who, if he was in your place, would
certainly not make himself _odious_ in that way, however he might fail
in other matters belonging to your position, which suffers nothing,
I readily allow, in your able hands. That you have the administrative
faculty in a high degree, sir, I concede; but this is not Russia, and if
it were, you are not the Czar."

"No man in Mirk ever called me a tyrant, Dr Haldane."

"Perhaps no man ever dared, sir; but _I_ dare to say that a son whose
conduct is such that his mother can no longer bear to witness it, is
something worse than a tyrant. And be sure that if you continue so to
behave, you will never see her face under this roof again."

"My God, but this is very horrible!" cried Sir Richard, striking his
forehead. "I had no idea--I never dreamed that matters were coming to
any such pass as this.--Walter--brother, did it seem to you that we were
so very like to Cain and Abel?"

The two young men embraced, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

"Oh, when you tell her what you have seen, sir, do you think my mother
will come back?" cried Richard, with the tears in his fine eyes.

"I cannot say that; I am sure, however, that she will be greatly
comforted. May I tell her that this is not a mere impulse of the moment,
but that you are resolved from this time forth to be brothers indeed?"

"I will do my very best, Walter."

"And I mine, Richard," answered the other. "Don't reproach yourself like
that"--for the vast frame of his elder brother shook with sobs--"it is
much more my fault than yours: and you have been very good to me
about my debts; kinder than most fellows in your position would have
been--yes, you have, Dick; yes, you have. How very, very long it is
since I have called you Dick; not since we were at school together! You
used to call me Watty, then, you know."

"Yes, Watty; yes. I had almost forgotten it. Let us go to our mother
at once, lad--as we used to do when we made up our quarrels in the old
times--and ask her to come back again, and take her place here, where we
all miss her so much.--Where is she, Dr Haldane?"

"I don't know--that is, I may not tell, my boy," returned the old
gentleman hesitatingly, who, with Letty's hand fast clasped in his, was
staring out of window as hard as he could, but his eyes were very dim.

"Have you nothing more to tell us, sir?" asked Sir Richard humbly.

"Well, no, boys. The letter"----

"The letter!" ejaculated Letty; "I remember now that dear mamma told me
herself that when this very thing should come to pass--although I little
knew at the time to what she was alluding--we should find a letter in
her desk."

"It is not there now: she put it into my hands, and I--I tore it up,"
observed the doctor. "I have told you faithfully all that it contained,
with one exception. I do not choose to speak of that, dear Letty, and I
have your mother's permission not to do so."

"Let me speak of it, then," said Sir Richard, stealing his arm round his
sister's waist, and kissing her very tenderly. "The message the doctor
will not give respects yourself, dear, and his son Arthur. My foolish
pride"----

"Pride, indeed!" broke in the little old man impetuously; "your
confounded impertinence, I call it."

"Very well, doctor," continued the baronet smiling; "let it be so, if
you will. I had the audacity to suppose, Letty, that Mr Arthur Haldane
was not good enough for you."

"Nor is he," contested the little doctor with irritation. "Nobody's good
enough for Letty Lisgard. But he is as good as can be found in England,
that I will say, though the young man is my own son. And if he does not
make you a pattern husband, I'll cut him off with a shilling."

"I shall be glad to give you away to such an honest fellow, Letty," said
the baronet warmly; "so let that matter be considered settled."

It was very pleasant to see the blushing girl hiding her tearful face in
the old man's arms. "O mamma, mamma," murmured she, "how happy I should
be if you were but with us!"

"Well, well, that will be soon, I hope, my dear," said the doctor,
patting her silken head. "I will do all I can on my part to persuade
her: I am sure I shall make her happy with this news."

"Yes; but in the meantime," said Letty, "how terrible it must be for
her to be all alone. If you know where she is, can you not at least send
Forest to be with her?"

"No, no; but, by the by, I have forgotten to do your mother's bidding
with respect to that very person. She expressly desired that until
her own return to Mirk, Mary may be sent to Belcomb, where Madame de
Castellan is just now in saddest need of her."

"Ay, she writes to me that she has lost her French maid," said Sir
Richard, picking up the crumpled note: "in that case, Mary had better go
off at once."

"There is worse trouble at Belcomb than that," remarked the doctor
gravely. "That poor fellow Derrick, who, I hear, made so much
disturbance at the _fête_ yesterday, has met with a sad accident."

"Why, the man was put in the Cage quite safe," said Sir Richard.

"Yes; but unfortunately for himself, he was let out again, and starting
in the dark over Mirkland Hill, whole drunk, and half mad, the poor
wretch wandered into the mill-yard."

"Through that gap in the wall!" exclaimed the baronet with excitement.
"Didn't I say the very last time we went by, that some accident would
happen there, through that man Hathaway's neglect?"

"Well, it has happened now, with a vengeance," pursued the doctor drily.
"I was sent for this morning at two o'clock, to Belcomb, where this poor
fellow had been carried, because it was a better place for him to lie in
than the mill. Hathaway had been working overtime, it seems; the sails
were going till near midnight, and the story is that this poor fellow
strayed beneath them, and was absolutely taken up and carried round;
but, at all events, he lies there, very ill--dying, I think--with
concussion of the brain, and Heaven knows what beside. I dare not-move
him even to examine his ribs."

"Good God! what can we do for him?" exclaimed Sir Richard. "Is there
nothing we can send?"

"He has everything he requires, or that he ever will have need of, poor
fellow, in this world. But old Rachel is not a good hand at nursing,
while Madame de Castellan, although good-natured enough--for a
Frenchwoman--is quite incapable of such a task; so you couldn't do
better than send Mary, as Madame has requested, though little knowing
how much she would have need of her: her assistance will be invaluable,
and indeed some sort of help must be had at once. I am going over there
myself immediately, and will take her in my gig, if you can spare her,
Miss Letty, and will tell her to get ready."

"By all means," cried Letty, hastily leaving the room upon that errand.

"Of course, all notion of prosecuting this poor fellow is now put out of
the question, whatever happens," observed the doctor.

"Quite so--quite so," answered the baronet eagerly. "Poor drunken
wretch; I am sure I'm very sorry. And I tell you what, Dr Haldane, if
this man dies, there should be some sort of deodand laid upon that Mill.
Hathaway ought to be punished for wilful neglect."

"That won't bring the poor man to life again, though," observed the
doctor.

"No, of course not; though, if one may be allowed to say so, he really
led such a sad life, by all accounts, it seems almost as well that he
should end it. It would be a happy release, I mean, if he was to die,
poor fellow; don't you think so?"

"Yes, I do. It would be better for himself, and better for others,"
returned the doctor very gravely.

"Just so," said Sir Richard; "better for all concerned. Poor man!"



CHAPTER XII. RALPH'S APPEAL.

|HOWEVER Dr Haldane, at my Lady's own request, may have misrepresented
to the young folks at the Abbey the motives which had caused her flight,
he told them truth as respected Derrick. That unfortunate man had indeed
met with the frightful mischance described. When he left Mary Forest on
the previous night, his mind confused with vague revengeful passion, and
his brain muddled with blows, as well as with the spirits he had of late
taken in such quantities, and the effects of which were beginning to
tell upon his exhausted frame, he had staggered up Mirkland Hill almost
like one in a dream. The night was pitchy dark, and although ever
and anon a burst of light came forth from the fireworks in the Abbey
grounds, they were of course perfectly useless for his guidance. The top
of the hill being quite bare of trees, was less obscure than the way he
had already come, and in any other circumstances he could scarce have
come to harm; but as it was, stumbling blindly on with his head low, he
entered the mill-yard through that fatal gap in the wall, without even
knowing he had left the highroad. The very roaring of the sails, which
revolved dangerously near the ground, might have warned him, but that
his ears were already occupied with the seething and tumult of his own
brain; and when the terrible thing struck him, before which he went down
upon the instant as the ox falls before the poleaxe, he never so much as
knew from what he had received his hurt. There he lay for more than an
hour, underneath the whirling sails, which one after another came round
to peer over his haggard face, gashed with that frightful wound. The lad
in charge knew nothing of what had happened, being engaged in the top
story watching the fireworks in the park beneath; but about midnight he
stopped the mill, and descending with his lantern, its rays by chance
fell upon Ralph's prostrate body. Some persons returning from the
festivities at the Abbey happened to be going by at that very time, and
with their assistance he was carried across the road to the lodge at
Belcomb (there being no sort of accommodation for one in his condition
at the mill), and from thence to Madame de Castellan's little cottage.

That lady was for the time, as she had stated in her letter to Sir
Richard, the sole inhabitant of Belcomb; but with the injured man, old
Rachel and her husband the gatekeeper of course arrived, and the former
did what she could as sick-nurse until the arrival of Dr Haldane, for
whom a messenger was at once despatched. The old Frenchwoman, who was
aroused with difficulty, and characteristically kept them waiting at
the door while she made herself fit for the reception of company, was so
shocked and terrified by what had happened, that she was at first of no
use at all. She had expressed herself in broken English as being very
glad to be of any service to the poor sufferer while they were bearing
him within, and had even busied herself in procuring hot water and
bandages; but no sooner did she catch sight of his ghastly face, seamed
with that cruel gash, than all her resolution appeared to desert her,
and she swooned away. By the time the doctor arrived, however, she had
established herself in the sick-room, and although he had described
her as incapable of doing much in the way of tendance, she was at least
doing her best.

As for Ralph, he lay breathing stertorously, but quite motionless and
unconscious. His mighty chest rose and fell, but by no means equably;
his large brown hairy hands lay outstretched before him on the white
coverlet; his face washed clean indeed from the recent blood-stains, but
with the tangled beard still clotted with gore. It seemed strange that
that powerful English frame of his should lie there so helplessly,
while Madame, with her snow-white hair and delicate fragile hands, was
ministering to him with such patient care; she that must have been
his senior, one would have thought to look at them, by at least twenty
years. Perhaps it was the sense of this contrast which caused the
doctor to glance from the one to the other so earnestly, even before he
commenced his examination of the wounded man.

"Will he live?" asked Madame in English. "God knows," added she with
trembling accents, "that I have no other wish within my heart but to
hear you say 'Yes.'"

"Of course, Madame," returned the other with meaning, "I do not pay
you so ill a compliment as to suppose you to wish him dead, because he
inconveniences you by his presence here; but I cannot say 'Yes' or 'No,'
He is terribly hurt. The spine is injured; and there are ribs broken
which I cannot even look to now. But it is here"--he pointed to the
forehead--"where the worst danger lies: unhappily, the mischief has been
done when he was--in the worst possible state to bear such a blow in
such a place."

"Does he know, doctor"----

"He knows nothing, Madame; perhaps he may never know. You must not speak
so much, however; or, if so, pray use your native tongue. It is better,
if consciousness does return, that the brain should be kept quite quiet.
I think you had better retire to your room, Madame, and leave myself and
Rachel to manage."

"Yes, yes, we can do very well, lady," assented old Rachel. "This is not
a place for such as Madame, is it, sir? If we could only get Mistress
Forest, now; she is first-rate at nursing; she nursed me for three
whole nights last winter, when I was most uncommon had with the shivers,
caught a-coming from Dalwynch in the spring-cart--and the cover on it,
when it don't rain, is worse than nothing, for there's such a draught
drives right through it"----

"Yes, yes," interrupted the doctor impatiently; "you are quite right,
Rachel. We'll send for Mistress Forest the first thing in the morning:
she can easily be spared from the Abbey, now my Lady's away."

"Ah, the more's the pity!" returned old Rachel. "And this looks almost
like a judgment, don't it, sir, that this poor man, who was so rude to
my dear mistress--or wanted to be, as I have heard--should have been
carried in under her own roof here, feet foremost"----

"Be silent, woman!" broke in Madame de Castellan with severity. "We have
nothing to do with Lady Lisgard's affairs here. This house is my house
for the present; this wounded man is my guest."

"Speak French, speak French, Madame," exclaimed the doctor imploringly.
"Did you not hear me say so before? You had much better return to bed."

"No, no," returned Madame, in her native tongue; "I cannot do it. I will
be prudent, I will be careful for the future; but I cannot leave him,
until, at all events, Mary Forest comes. O send her--send her, and let
this woman go, whose presence is intolerable to me."

Accordingly, in his visit to Belcomb about noon next day, the doctor
brought Mistress Forest over with him, who was at once installed as
Ralph Derrick's sick-nurse; old Rachel being sent home to the lodge.
No change had as yet taken place in the sufferer; but the doctor's
practised eye perceived that one was impending. This time, he made a
long and earnest examination of his patient.

"Will he live?" asked Madame again, when he had finished, with the same,
earnestness, nay, even anguish as before.

"There is hope; yes, I think there is hope," returned the doctor
cautiously.

"Thank God for that; I thank Him for His great mercy!" ejaculated Madame
with clasped hands and upturned eyes.

"Who is that?" inquired a hoarse voice from the bed. The words were
indistinct, and uttered with difficulty, but on every ear within that
room they smote with the most keen significance. The two women turned
deadly pale; and even the doctor's finger shook as he placed it to his
lips, in sign that they should keep silent.

"Hush, my good friend," said he to the wounded man, whose eyes were now
open wide, and staring straight before him: "you must not talk just now;
speaking is very bad for you."

"Who is that who was thanking God because there was hope of my life?"
reiterated Ralph. "Neither man nor woman has any cause to do that, I'm
sure; while some have cause enough to pray that I were dead already,
or at least had lost my wits. Doctor--for I suppose you _are_ a
doctor--have I lost my wits or not? Am I a sane man, or one not in my
right mind?"

"Hush, hush; you are sane enough of course, except to keep on talking
thus when I tell you that to speak is to do yourself the most serious
harm."

"You hear him--all you in the room here," continued the sick man in a
voice which, though low and feeble, had a sort of malignant triumph in
it, which grated on the ear. "This doctor says I am quite sane. He says
also that there is hope of my life--just a shadow of a hope. He is wrong
there, for I shall die. But, anyhow, I lie in peril of death, and yet in
my right mind. Therefore, what I say is to be credited--that, I believe,
is the law; and even the law is right sometimes. What I am about to say
is Truth--every word of it. I wish to make a statement.--No, I will take
no medicines; pen and ink, if I could only write, would be more welcome
than the Elixir of Life, but I cannot." Here a groan was wrung from
his parched and bloodless lips. "O Heaven! the pain I suffer; it is the
foretaste of the hell for which I am bound!"

"O sir," ejaculated Mistress Forest, moving to the bed foot, so as to
shew herself to his staring eyes, "think of heaven, not of hell. Ask for
pardon of God, and not of revenge upon man."

"Ah, it is you, is it, good wench? I thought that no one else could have
wished me well so piously a while ago. You did me an ill turn, although
you did not mean to do so, when you let me out of the Cage last night.
Was it last night, or a week, or a month ago?"

"It was only last night," interposed the doctor gravely. "Now, do not
ask any more questions, or I shall have to forbid them being answered.
It is my duty to tell you that with every word you speak your life is
ebbing away."

"Then there is the less time to lose," answered Derrick obstinately.
"As for answering me, I do not want that. All I ask of you is, that
you shall listen; and what I say, I charge you all, as a dying man,
to remember--to repeat--to proclaim." Here he paused from
weakness.--"Doctor," gasped he, "a glass of brandy--a large glass, for
I am used to it. I _must_ have it.--Good. I feel stronger now. Do you
think, if you took down my words in writing, that I could manage"--here
a shudder seemed to shake his poor bruised and broken frame, as though
with the anticipation of torture--"to set down my name at the bottom of
it?"

"No, my poor fellow--no. You could no more grasp a pen at present than
you could rise and leave this house upon your feet. You must feel that
yourself."

"I do--I do," groaned Ralph. "It is all the more necessary, then, that
you should listen. My real name is not that one by which I have, been
known at Mirk. It is not Derrick, but Gavestone: the same name, good
wench, by which your mistress went before she was married to Sir Robert
Lisgard. But that was not her maiden name--no, no. Do you not wonder
while I tell you this? or did I speak of it last night, when I was mad
with drink and rage?"

"You said something of the sort, sir; but I knew it all before that. You
are my Lady's husband, and Sir Richard and the rest are all her bastard
children--that is, in the eye of the law."

"You knew it, did you?" returned Ralph after a pause. "You were in the
plot with her against me, then? I am glad of that. I should be sorry to
have left the world fooled to the last; for I thought that you at least
were an honest wench, although all the world else were liars. So, after
all, you knew it, did you? Well, at all events, it is news to the doctor
here."

"No, sir," returned the old gentleman, quietly applying some _Eau de
Cologne_ and water to the patient's brow; "I must confess I knew it
also."

"And yet you told nobody!" ejaculated Ralph. "You suffered this
imposture to go on unexposed!"

"I only heard of the facts, you speak of--from Lady Lisgard's own
lips--two days ago at furthest," returned Dr Haldane; "and I certainly
told nobody, since the telling could do no good to any human being--not
even to yourself, for instance--and would bring utter ruin and disgrace
upon several worthy persons."

"Ha, ha!" chuckled the patient hoarsely; "you are right, there. Disgrace
upon that insolent Sir Richard, and on that ungrateful puppy, Master
Walter."

"True," continued the doctor gravely; "and upon Miss Letty, who is dear
to all who know her, but dearest to the poor and friendless."

"I am sorry for her," said Derrick; "but I am not sorry for my Lady--she
that could look me in the face, and hear me tell the story of our early
love, and of her own supposed death, to avert which I so gladly risked
my life, and all without a touch of pity."

"No, sir, with much pity," broke forth Mistress Forest. "I myself know
that her heart bled for you. She never loved Sir Robert as she did
you, ungrateful man! She loved you dead and alive; she loves you now,
although you pursue her with such cruel hate, and would bring shame upon
all her innocent children."

"Ay, why not?" answered Ralph. "Have they not had their day, and is
it not my turn at last? Who is the woman behind the curtains? Let her
stand forth, that I may see her; she, at least, is not a creature of 'my
Lady,' like you and the doctor here, and ready, for her sake, to hide
the truth and perpetuate my wrongs. Let that woman stand forth, I say."



CHAPTER XIII. DYING WORDS.

|THUS adjured, Madame de Castellan stepped forward to the same position
which Mary Forest had occupied at the foot of the bed: nowhere else
could Ralph see her, for he was on his back just as they had first laid
him, and could not turn his face a hairbreadth to left or right.

"Who _are_ you?" asked he bluntly. "I do not remember having seen your
face at Mirk."

"They call me Madame de Castellan," replied the old lady in good
English, "and I live here at Belcomb by favour of Sir Richard Lisgard."

"Ah, you have reason, then, to be friends with him and his," returned
the sick man bitterly. "You will none of you see me righted. Curse you
all!"

"I will not see you wronged, if I can help it, sir," replied the
Frenchwoman solemnly, but keeping her eyes fixed always upon the floor.

"Will you not? Well, you have an honest face, I own; but faces are so
deceptive! Mistress Forest's face yonder, for instance, is pleasant
enough to look upon, but still she plays me false. Master Walter's
again--why, he seems to have robbed an angel of his smile, and yet he
is base-hearted like the rest; and, lastly, there was my Lucy--not mine
now--no, no; but what a sweet look was hers! And there was guile and
untruth for you! But that is what I have to tell you. You have said you
will not see me wronged, and I must believe you, since there is none
else to trust to here. Besides, you are too old to lie; you will be
called to your own account too soon to dare to palter with a dying man.
Yes, I am dying fast.--More brandy, doctor--brandy. Ah, that's life
itself!--And yet, although you are so old, Madame, I dare say you
remember your youthful days, when you were fair--for you _were_ fair, I
see--and courted. You were not without your lover, I warrant?"

"I was loved, sir," returned Madame, in low but steadfast tones.

"And did you marry the man you loved?"

"I did, sir. My husband was very dear to me, God knows, though we did
not live long together."

"He died young, did he?"

"Alas, yes, and I was left alone in the world without a friend or a
home."

"His memory did not fade so quickly that you could love and marry
another man at once, I suppose?"

"His memory never faded," replied the old lady gravely, "for it has not
faded now; but after an interval of three years, I married another man."

"And loved him like the other?"

"No, sir; there is only one true love--at least for a woman. But I was
a dutiful wife for the second time; and there were children born to
me--three children--inexpressibly dear; and when I lost their father,
who loved me, though I could only give him grateful duty in return, I
had something to live for still."

Whether the grief-laden tone of Madame touched him, or the sad story
she was telling, Ralph's accents seemed to lose something of their
bitterness when he again broke silence.

"But if, lady, your first husband and true lover had, by some wondrous
chance, returned, as it might be, from the very grave, and you were
satisfied that it was he indeed, and knew him, although he knew _you_
not, and he was living a bad life among bad company, with no one in all
the world to call him friend, would you not then have held your arms
out to him, and cried: 'Come back, come back!' and told him how you had
loved him all along?"

"No, sir; not so. If I had been alone, like him, with only my own
feelings to consult, I might, indeed, have so behaved; for my heart
would have yearned towards him, as it does, Heaven knows, even now. But,
sir, in such a case there would not only have been Love to be obeyed,
but Duty. If this man were living the wild life you speak of, would he
not have made a bad father to my poor children (left in my sole
charge and guardianship by a just and noble man), an evil ruler of a
well-ordered house, a bad example to all whom I would have had respect
him? Nay, worse, would not my acknowledgment of him--which I should
otherwise be eager to make, and willing to take upon myself the shame
that might accrue to _me_ therefrom--would not that, I say, have brought
disgrace on those who had earned it not--have made my own children,
lawfully begotten, as I had thought, all Bastards, and soiled the memory
of an honest man, their father?"

A long silence here ensued, broken only by the sick man's painful
breathing, and the sobs of Mistress Forest, who strove in vain to
restrain her tears.

"I thank you, Madame," said Ralph very feebly: "you have been pleading
without knowing it for one who---- Do you see these tears? I did not
think to ever weep again. Either your gentle voice--reminding me of the
very woman of whom I had meant to speak so harshly--or perhaps it is
the near approach of death which numbs these fingers, that would else
be clutching for their revenge--I know not; but I now wish no one
harm.--Doctor, you must feed this flame once more; let me but speak a
very few words, and then I shall have no more use for Life.--Mary, good
wench, come here. You will shortly see again that mistress whom you love
so well, and have so honestly served. Tell her--- Nay, don't cry; I
do not need your tears to assure me that you feel for poor Ralph
Gavestone--castaway though he be. I heard your 'Thank God' when the
doctor said (though he was wrong there) that there was hope for me.
Those were very honest words, Mary."

"I did not say them!" ejaculated the waiting-maid earnestly. "O Madame,
tell him who it was that said them."

"It was _I_," murmured Madame de Castellan, coming close to the bedside,
and kneeling down there.

"You, lady! Why should you pray so earnestly that I might live, whose
death would profit many, but whose recovery none?"

"Because I have wronged you, Ralph. Yes, _Ralph!_ You know me now. Do
not ask to see my patched and painted face again, because it is not
mine, but listen to my voice, which you remember. I am your own wife,
Lucy, and I love you, husband mine."

"She loves me still," murmured the dying man: "she owns herself my wife,
thank God, thank God!" The tears rolled down his cheeks, and over his
rough and ghastly face a mellow softness stole, like the last gleam of
sunset upon a rocky hill. Dr Haldane rose and noiselessly left the room,
beckoning Mary to follow. The dying husband and his wife were left to
hold their last interview alone.

"What I have been telling you, Ralph, as the history of another, is my
own. I have never forgotten you. I have loved you all along. Forgive me,
if I seem to have sacrificed you to--to those it was my duty to shield
from shame. I could not hear to see disgrace fall upon my children, and
so I fled from them, in hopes to save them from it. And yet I loved
them so that I could not altogether leave them, but took this cottage in
another name, and under this disguise, in order to be near them. *

     * The author having been informed by a critical friend that
     he has exposed himself to the charge of plagiarism, by
     representing Lady Lisgard as thus assuming the character of
     another person, begs to state--first, that he has never had
     the opportunity of reading the powerful novel, East Lynn
     (wherein, as he understands, a similar device is employed);
     and secondly, that the idea of the metamorphosis is taken
     from a short story (written by himself) which was published
     in Chambers's Journal, under the title of "Change for Gold,"
     so long ago as 1854.

O lover, husband, who saved my life at peril of his own, a mother's
heart was my excuse--be generous and noble as of old--forgive me!"

"Forgive you!" gasped the sick man: "nay, forgive _me!_ How could I ever
have sought to do you wrong! My own dear Lucy!" In an instant she had
plucked away so much of her disguise as was about her face and head, and
was leaning over him with loving eyes.

"How many years ago, wife, is it since you kissed me last?" murmured the
dying man. "My outward sight is growing very dim; I do not recognise
my Lucy's face, although I know 'tis she; but I see her quite clearly
sitting in the cottage-porch beside the shining river. How it roars
among the rounded stones, and how swiftly it is running to the sea!
Round my neck, love, you will presently find the little locket with that
dead sprig of fuchsia in it which you gave me when we plighted troth.
Let that he buried with me; I have had no love or care for sacred
things, but perhaps----They say that God is very merciful; and since He
sees into our inmost thoughts, He will know with what reverence I held
that simple gift, because it was your own, and you were His. I loved you
most, I swear, because you were so pure and good, Lucy. Ah me! I wonder,
in the world to come, if I or _he_"----

A piercing cry broke from my Lady's lips. "Spare me, Ralph--spare me!"

"Yes, yes. It was done for the best, I know. Don't fret, dear heart.
Of course you thought me Dead. For certain, I am dying now--fast, fast.
Thank God for that! It would have been a woeful thing, having thus found
my Own, to have left her straightway, and taken my lone way through the
world again, knowing the thing I know. But I would have done it, never
fear. Are you sure of those two, Lucy--that were here a while ago--quite
sure? My dying curse upon them, if they breathe to human ear our sacred
secret! They love you? That is well. I would have all the world to love
you; and may all those you love repay that priceless gift with tender
duty." Here he paused, as if to gather together his little remaining
strength; and when he spoke again, it was with a voice so low that my
Lady had to place her ear quite close to his pale lips to catch his
words. But she did hear them, every one. "The prayers of a man like me
may avail nothing, Lucy, but at least they can do no harm. God bless Sir
Richard--yes, yes! God bless Master Walter's handsome face! God bless
Miss Letty! That's what I said on Christmas-eve with Steve and the rest
of them, not knowing whom I spoke of, and I say it now, for are they not
my Lucy's dear ones! God bless _you_, my dear wife. Kiss--kiss."

Those were the last words of wild Ralph Gavestone. When the doctor and
Mistress Forest re-entered that silent room, my Lady was upon her knees
beside the pillow; she had closed the dead man's eyes, and folded his
palms together, and taken from his neck the locket, but to be returned
to him by a trusty hand when the time came.



CHAPTER XIV. AND LAST.

|If there had happened to be any one upon whom poor Ralph's wild talk,
on the night of the Abbey festivities, had made any serious impression
whatever, it was destined to be removed by the inquest that followed
upon his death. The very words he had made use of in his fury, his
calling my Lady his wife, and stigmatising Sir Richard as her natural
son, would have been held to be no slight evidence of his insanity,
which, however, was abundantly proved by other testimony. The waiter at
the _Royal Marine_ at Coveton came in all good faith to take his solemn
oath that, to the best of his judgment, the gent, with the beard, who
had scandalised that respectable house by taking brandy for breakfast,
was like no other man alive as he had ever served; or, in other words,
was nothing short of a lunatic. The postboys whom he had commanded to
stop and let him out before his chaise could be whirled over the first
stage, pronounced him mad. The porter at the railway station, to whose
civil inquiry as to whither he was going the angry man had returned so
uncivil an answer, came to the same conclusion. No man nearer home, from
the lord-lieutenant to the parish constable, and (even of his whilom
companions) from Captain Walter Lisgard to landlord Steve, but gave it
as his opinion that the man was mad. And the verdict of the coroner's
jury being in accordance with the evidence, decided that the deceased
had met with his death in the manner with which we are acquainted during
an attack of temporary insanity, induced by Drink.

The nerves of Madame de Castellan had received much too great a shock,
from recent occurrences, to permit her presence at the inquest; and,
indeed, such an effect did they take upon her, that she left not only
Belcomb but England itself almost immediately, declining with many
thanks Sir Richard's offer--notwithstanding that Letty drove over in
person to make it known to her--that she should take up her residence
for the present at the Abbey itself. So Madame went back again to her
native land as suddenly and almost as mysteriously as she had come; and
after a while, wrote to inform her English friends that the domestic
disagreements which had driven her from home were in a fair way to be
healed, and that it was very unlikely that she should have to trespass
upon their kindness any more.

The real history of that lady's coming to Belcomb was never absolutely
known to more than two persons, and perhaps more or less rightly guessed
at by a third. From the moment that my Lady recognised her first husband
in Ralph Derrick, she never concealed from herself the possibility of
her having to leave the Abbey, and become perhaps a lifelong exile from
home and friends for her three children's sakes, but especially for that
of Sir Richard. Perhaps she exaggerated the depth to which family pride
had taken root in the heart of her eldest son; but she honestly believed
that the knowledge of his being illegitimate would have killed him.
Although she could never have possessed the strength of mind, even had
she enjoyed the requisite want of principle, to deny in person Ralph's
claim to her as her lawful husband, she justly argued that he would be
utterly unable to establish his case in her absence. He could summons no
witness whose testimony would go half so far as her own tell-tale face;
while his own character was such, that no credence would be given to
his statement, unless supported by strong and direct evidence. Thus
situated, my Lady turned over in her mind scheme after scheme of flight,
without hitting upon anything that gave much promise, and all of which
entailed a residence abroad, cruelly far from those dear ones from whom
she was about, with such a heavy heart, to flee for their own good; but
when she had, perforce, as we have seen, to take Mistress Forest into
her confidence, something arose out of a conversation between them
concerning their old life together at Dijon, which suggested that
ingenious artifice which she eventually put into effect.

Madame de Castellan had been dead some years, though of that
circumstance my Lady's children were unaware, albeit Sir Richard had
heard a good deal of her when a boy, and had even some dim recollection
of her personal appearance when she was a guest of his father and
mother's at the Abbey.

Of this remembrance, my Lady took advantage. Mary and herself in that
old school-time at Dijon had been used to act charades at Madame's
house, and that circumstance no doubt put into Lady Lisgard's mind the
idea of personating the old Frenchwoman herself. My Lady had
learned from those amateur performances the secrets of "green-room"
metamorphosis; * she was naturally endowed with no small power of
mimicry; and she could speak French like a native.

     * How a few strips of black plaster on the teeth can
     counterfeit age and toothlessness, let any of our fair
     readers experiment for themselves.

Supposing that the desired transformation could be effected, what
securer plan, and one more unlikely to be suspected, could be found than
that secluded cottage of Belcomb, so close to the Abbey, and whither all
news relating to her children could be brought to her at once through
Mary, who, it was arranged, should be transferred to Madame's service in
the manner that was afterwards actually adopted. The letter purporting
to come from Dijon, and taken by Sir Richard's own hand from the
post-bag, had been placed therein by Mary Forest, who had used her
mistress's key at an earlier hour, and found that communication
from Arthur Haldane concerning Ralph's departure for Coveton, which
necessitated such immediate action on the part of my Lady. There was not
one day to be lost in making her preparations, and indeed from that
time she had been ready to start at a moment's notice, though, as it
happened, there was no need for such urgent haste. The counterfeit visit
in person to the Abbey was of course running a considerable risk,
but the establishment of the fact of Madame de Castellan's arrival
at Belcomb, my Lady had rightly judged to be of paramount importance;
indeed, that being effected, it is doubtful even if the unhappy Ralph
had not met with so sudden an end, whether any suspicion of Madame and
my Lady being one and the same person would have ever existed. The most
difficult matter connected with my Lady's flight was in truth, after
all, to find a reason for it sufficient to satisfy the minds of those
she left behind her. The children would have been slow to believe that
she could bring herself to leave home and them, simply because her two
boys did not get on well together, for in that case, absentee mothers
should be considerably more common than they are. But, fortunately,
not only did the flame of discord between Sir Richard and Master Walter
continue to burn, but received plenty of unexpected fuel, such as at any
other time would have caused my Lady unutterable woe, but which, under
present circumstances, were almost welcome to her. Walter's clandestine
marriage with the very girl to whom his brother had offered his own
hand, was an incident so painful as to give my Lady an excuse for almost
anything; but Walter had left the Abbey, and it was important that he
should return thither and make things unpleasant, as he could not fail
to do by the mere fact of his presence there with Rose. Sir Richard,
with his _fête_ in view, was easily persuaded to ask the new-married
couple down, and all things worked together for ill, which for once was
my Lady's "good."

Then, again, Walter's debts--of the full extent of which, however,
his mother was never informed--gave her an additional cause of serious
dissatisfaction; and lastly, Sir Richard's opposition to Letty's
marriage with Arthur Haldane, made up a very respectable bill of
indictment. At all events, as we have seen, it was acknowledged so to be
by the parties against whom it had been filed. The consciences of both
Sir Richard and Walter were really pricked; and, besides, there was the
painful fact of their mother's departure from her own roof, owing to
their conduct, whether it justified such an extreme measure upon her
part or not. Moreover, the delegate to whom my Lady had committed the
disclosure of her motives, had been well chosen. It was necessary that a
third person should be admitted to the knowledge of my Lady's secret, in
order that her affairs might be transacted during an absence which might
be prolonged for years, or even for her lifetime; and where could she
find so tried and trustworthy a friend as Dr Haldane? The fact, too, of
his visiting the Abbey in person, after an interval of so many years,
and even after his so recent refusal to be present on the all-important
occasion of Sir Richard's coming of age, gave additional weight to
the mission upon which he came. It brought about, as has been shewn, a
genuine reconciliation between the brothers, and even exacted from them
a solemn promise that their disagreements should henceforth cease. Nor
was it destined that the good doctor's friendly offices should cease
with this. When the day came to lay Ralph Derrick's body in its coffin,
the old philosopher--nay, cynic, as many held him to be--placed very
reverently with his own hands that little locket around the dead man's
neck, which he had treasured as the most precious thing he owned for
more than half a lifetime. And on the morrow, when they buried him in
Dalwynch churchyard, the doctor followed him to the grave, not only as
the "deceased's medical attendant," but as his chief and only mourner,
with a tender pity for the world-battered and passionful man, who had
thus found rest at last. He stood beside the round black mould, when all
had departed, with that wise, sad smile upon his face, which he always
wore when he was thinking deepest; and though "Poor fellow, poor
fellow!" was all he said, it was a more pregnant epitaph than is often
to be read on tombstones.

After a little, the good news came to Mirk from France, that my Lady,
trusting to what she had heard from her old friend, was coming home
again. The only stipulation she made was, that her withdrawal from the
Abbey was not to be alluded to by any of her family, for which, indeed,
added she, there would be the less necessity, since the principal cause
of it--the ill-feeling between her sons--no longer, as she was delighted
to understand, existed. Of course, Lady Lisgard could not prevent
"the county" from canvassing the matter, any more than she could have
forbidden a general election; and, in truth, her affairs were almost as
much talked about as politics after a dissolution of parliament. She
and her sons had each their partisans, who argued for their respective
clients often with great enthusiasm, and sometimes with an ingenuity
worthy of better premises. But it was the general opinion that Master
Walter's marriage was at the bottom of the whole business, and that that
designing woman, Rose Aynton, had sown dissension in what had once been
one of the best-conducted and most united families in Wheatshire.

An account of the inquest in the local journals, a paragraph in the
_Times_, headed "Curious Catastrophe," and an allusion to Don Quixote's
adventure _apropos_ of the homicidal wind-mill, in a comic print,
exhausted the subject of Ralph Derrick's death.

But my Lady returned to Mirk Abbey in deep mourning, it was understood
in consequence of the sudden death of Madame de Castellan, which
occurred, singularly enough, almost immediately after her leaving
Belcomb.

It was thought very unfortunate that the two old friends should thus
have never been permitted to meet. Madame's demise, however, of course
left Mary Forest free to rejoin her former mistress, in whose company,
indeed, she returned to Mirk.

We have said that besides the two persons in possession of my Lady's
secret, there was a third who had his shrewd suspicions. But if Arthur
Haldane's legal training had really enabled him to come to the right
conclusion in the matter, it also judiciously restrained him from saying
anything about it.

He had never cause to use that memorandum which we saw him set down in
his pocket-book of Miss Letty's opinion. "It seems to me that people
should be taken for what they _are_, let their birth be what it will;"
but we believe that it was not without a reason that he committed it to
paper. Although entirely without ancestral pride, and with a very hearty
contempt for any such folly, as matters stood, Letty was just the sort
of girl who, upon finding herself illegitimate, would have refused to
carry out her engagement, from the apprehension of attaching disgrace
to the man she loved; and therefore Arthur thought it well to record her
own argument against herself, in case any such occasion should arise.
Not many months elapsed, however, before this possible obstruction was
removed, in the pleasantest manner, by the union of these two young
people; and a happier or better assorted couple it is not my fortune to
know.

Sir Richard remains a bachelor, although as staid and decorous in his
conduct as any married man; even more so than some, it is whispered--but
then, who can seriously blame charming Master Walter? The cause of the
young baronet's celibacy is strenuously held by many to be Miss Rose
Aynton's rejection of him long ago, for _that_ has oozed out, somehow or
other, divulged perhaps by the young woman herself in some moment when
her vanity for once overcame her prudence; but, at all events, Sir
Richard has acted very generously towards his brother's wife (that's how
these gossips put it), and her husband Captain Lisgard's debts have been
settled, and he has been entirely "set up" with respect to his pecuniary
affairs; and, moreover, he runs no risk of being again embarrassed.
If it is really true that he occasionally forgets that abrupt ceremony
which took place between himself and Rose at the Register Office (and
somehow the thing does not recur to the memory with such force under
those circumstances as when one is married in the usual way by the
combined endeavours of several clergymen), and indulges in little
flirtations, he has at least forsworn both the turf and the gaming-table.
We do not say that he is given up entirely to his military duties, but
he is in the enjoyment of an excellent staff appointment, and possesses
the fullest confidence both of his commanding officer and of that
functionary's wife; which latter, we all know, is essential to the
position of an aide-decamp. But the fact is, that almost everybody likes
Master Walter, and will continue to do so (although perhaps somewhat
less as he grows older) to his dying day. And why not?

_Dieu l'a jugé. Silence_, sings a true poet upon the death of the first
Napoleon: _Que des faibles mortels la main n'y touche plus! Qui peut
sonder, Seigneur, ta clémence infinie? Et vous, fléau de Dieu, qui sait
si le GÉNIE N'EST PAS UNE DE VOS VERTUS?_ And what has thus been greatly
written of genius, may also surely be said in a less sense of what we
call (for lack of a better word) Manner. England has lately followed
to his grave with weeping eyes, a statesman--both honest, indeed,
and able--but whose chief claim to her affection rested upon this
comparatively humble gift, so precious because so rare. When combined
with youth and personal graces, as in Walter Lisgard's case, it is
well-nigh irresistible, and has always been so from the days of Plato
and Xenophon. Too often worthless in themselves, or rendered so by being
"spoilt" by all who meet them; not seldom empty-headed, or with heads
turned by conceit and flattery; and almost always destitute of reverence
for sacred things, whether divine or human--natural or doctrinal--we yet
prefer the company of those thus dowered to that of the Wise, the
Witty, or the Good. Their smile is a pleasure; their very presence is a
harmony; and prayerless themselves, they evoke the supplications of the
pure in their behalf.

Even Rose herself continues to be to some extent infatuated with Master
Walter--although he is her own husband--a feat surely far more difficult
of accomplishment than for the _valet de chambre_ of a hero to believe
in his master's reputation. At all events, it is beyond question that
she grows very jealous of the captain. Master Walter has never been
jealous of _her_; not, indeed, that he has had any serious reason to be
so, but because such a baleful sentiment is never allowed to enter his
well-contented mind. He is thoroughly persuaded that if his wife loves
anybody else in the world beside herself--that that person is her
husband; and he is right. He, too, has a genuine affection for one other
individual beside Captain Walter Lisgard; and this is for his mother. We
all know that she returns it seventyfold.

My Lady lives a tranquil and not unhappy life in her old home with
dutiful Sir Richard, very pleasantly diversified by frequent visits
from dear Letty and her husband--their last advent being a particularly
grateful one, since they brought with them a little stranger, aged
six weeks, whom it was always a matter of difficulty to extricate from
grandmamma's loving arms. But my Lady's whitest days are those rare ones
which her darling Walter finds it possible--so pressing are his military
duties--to spend at somewhat sombre Mirk. Then she is happy; then she
is almost her old self as we first knew her, before those deep tones,
speaking from the grave, upon Mirk Abbey lawn at Christmas-time, broke
in upon her calm harmonious days. Master Walter has no child. This
troubles her sometimes; but at others she feels very thankful for it;
for if he had a son, or should Sir Richard marry and beget one, would
not a certain, however venial, imposition he perpetuated in the descent
of the title? Even now, when no great harm seems done, my Lady's
conscience is not altogether at ease; nay, once, so disturbed it grew,
that she took secret counsel on the matter with Dr Haldane.

"Dear Lady," said he, "if any human being could be bettered by
the disclosure you hint at, or any human being was wronged by your
reticence, I should be the first to say: 'Tell all;' but as things
stand, it would, in my opinion, not only be Quixotic, but downright
madness to disentomb that woeful secret, which lies buried in Ralph
Gavestone's grave. Moreover, I understood it was his dying wish that his
story should remain untold."

This last observation, delivered with great simplicity, was the best
remedy for my Lady's troubled mind that the good doctor could
have prescribed. But when this moral patient of his had left his
consulting-room quite cured, the radical philosopher permitted himself
a congratulatory chuckle. "Gad," said he (he used the interjections of
half a century ago), "it is lucky my Lady questioned me no further. _My_
difficulty lies in permitting a person of title more than there need
be in this misgoverned country. If the Lisgards had a peerage in their
family, I should think it my duty to explode the whole concern. But I
don't suppose one baronet more than there is any necessity to suffer,
_can do much harm_."

So Sir Richard Lisgard, little dreaming upon how unsatisfactory a tenure
it is held, keeps his title unmolested; and "my Lady" (Heaven bless
her!) is still the honoured mistress of Mirk Abbey.


THE END.





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