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Title: Mirk Abbey, Volume 2(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 2(of 3)" ***

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MIRK ABBEY.

By James Payne

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

In Three Volumes. Vol. II.

London:

1866.



CHAPTER I. MISTRESS AND MAID.

|MARY," said Lady Lisgard gravely, when her attendant had closed
the door behind her, "I want to have a little serious talk with you
to-night."

"As you please, my Lady," returned Mistress Forest, in a tone which
the other, did not fail to mark: it was a very respectful tone--a more
humble one even than she was ordinarily wont to use--but there was a
certain deliberation and set resolve about it too, which expressed as
decidedly, as though she had used the words: "I am ready to listen,
madam; but I know very well what you are going to ask me, and I have
made up my mind already to answer 'No.'"

"Mary," continued my Lady earnestly, but not without a tremor in her
kind soft voice, "come and sit here on the sofa beside me, and let us
not be mistress and maid tonight, but only friends."

"Yes, madam;" and Mary's voice trembled too, for this unlooked-for
arrangement would place her, she knew, at a disadvantage in the argument
which was certainly at hand. "We have known one another many, many
years, Mary--more than half our lives--and I don't think we have had a
single quarrel yet."

"Not one, ma'am, not one," assented the waiting-maid; already, after the
manner of her susceptible kind, beginning to cry.

"I can remember you when quite a child, Mary; not fifteen years old; as
willing and kind-hearted a girl as the sun ever shone upon; and when I
had not a friend in the world, nor even so much as a coin that I could
call my own, and when I was weak and sick at heart, having lost all that
was dear to me, I remember who it was that tended and caressed me as
though I was her own sister."

"Don't ye, don't ye, my Lady; hush, hush!" cried the weeping Mary. "It
was only natural that I should take to a sweet innocent creature cast at
our very door by the raging sea. I often dream of that storm o' nights,
madam, even now; of the thunder, and the lightning, and the rain; and of
the flashes that were not lightning, but signals for help--that, alas!
we could not give--from the poor doomed ship. And how father and the
other fishermen, and many of the visitors themselves--and among them
poor Sir Robert--all crowded down to the Cove, for they could not
get nearer to the shore because of the waves; and I was with them,
sheltering myself in the brushwood as well as I could, and peering
through the branches to see the great white waves lit up for an instant,
and then the darkness shutting all things out except the roaring of the
storm. I mind it just as though it were but yesterday; and ah! my Lady,
shall I ever forget when that one great wave dashed up into the very
Cove itself, wetting us all to the skin, and knocking down young Jack
West, whom it almost carried back with it in its return, and then
the Great Black Spar, which it did carry back, with something white
a-clinging to it; when my father cried out: 'O my God, a woman!' and
all our hearts seemed stricken with a sudden shoot of pain. Lord! how I
cried, for my part, to think that a poor creature should he tossing in
that dreadful foam; and when I heard good Sir Robert's voice, clear and
loud as a bugle: 'One hundred pounds to the man who brings her ashore,
dead or alive!' I do believe I could have run out and kissed him. Ah,
my Lady, what a noble gentleman he was; for though he could not have
known how dear you were to be to him--you might have been an old woman,
for all he could see--how he worked and strove to save you; not by his
money alone, for no mère gain would have tempted men to do what was
done that night, but by risking life and limb. They made a double chain,
holding one another's hands, for there was no time to spare for ropes,
and went down almost among the breakers, where you were: my father and
Sir Robert were the two first men, God bless them!"

Here Mistress Forest paused, interrupted by incipient hysterics, and
my Lady herself cried like a child, but not in agony; her tears were
tribute to the memory of a gallant deed.

"I mind my father had a black shoulder--a place you could not cover with
both your hands--all along of the spar being driven up against him, but
they carried it up with you upon it safe into the Cove, and then there
was a great cry for us women to come down and help. Ah, how beautiful
you looked, my Lady, though we thought you dead, white, and cold, and
wet, with your long black hair dripping like sea-weed, and your tender
limbs all bruised and bleeding. It must have been a kind band as tied
you to the plank, for between your dainty waist and the rough rope there
was bound a sailor's jacket."

My Lady moaned, and held her bands up as though she would say,
"Forbear!" but Mistress Forest could not be stayed.

"There was little enough clothes upon you, poor Lady, just a bodice
and a petticoat, but round your neck there was hung a charm or two, and
perhaps that had some hand in saying you from drowning."

My Lady looked quickly up; how strange it seemed that the comment passed
by Mary Forest upon the locket (and the bundle of letters in their
little waterproof case) should have been so exactly what Derrick had
pointed out it would be. The coincidence reminded her of the task that
lay before her, and of the danger of delaying it.

"Yes, Mary, I indeed owe my life to you and yours, and I am not
forgetful of the debt. Your welfare is, and ever will be only second in
importance to that of my own children, and it is concerning it that I
now wish to speak with you. Your future"----

"You owe me nothing, my dear Lady, that you have not paid again and
again, I am sure," interrupted the waiting-maid hurriedly. "When you
rose to that high station, for which it seems to everybody you were
born, your hand was always held out to me; through good report and evil
report, you have ever stood my friend: it will be a great wrench of my
heart, dearest mistress, when I leave your service--as I shall have to
do, I fear, very soon."

"Mary!"

"Yes, my Lady. You see I'm not a young girl now; and it is not everybody
who has so good a chance as I have now of--of--settling in life. Service
is not inheritance, you know, my Lady, although I am well aware I should
never want for nothing"----

"Whether I live or die, Mary," broke in her mistress eagerly, "I have
taken care of that, good friend; and if I should die tomorrow---- But
you shall see my will itself, for it lies here."

She laid her hand upon the desk before her, but Mary checked her with a
determined "No, my Lady; no. I was never greedy--with all my faults,
you will grant that much, I know--and if I had been like Mrs Welsh,
and others of this household I could name--but that I never was a
mischief-maker--I might long since have put myself beyond all need of
legacies, and you never would have missed it. But Mr Derrick is himself
a person of property; a very rich man indeed for one in my condition of
life--not that I need be a burden upon any man, thank Heaven, for I have
money saved out of my wages--and very handsome they always were--and
that great present of good Sir Robert's still untouched: the most
generous of gentlemen he was. I am sure, my Lady, nobody felt for you as
I did when Sir Robert died; and you have often said how terrible it
was to lose a husband; therefore"--here for a moment her excessive
volubility flagged for the first time; she paused, and reddened,
then added, with the air of a mathematician stating an indisputable
corollary--"therefore, you must allow, dear mistress, that to _find_
one--particularly when one comes to my time of life--is not unpleasant,
nor a chance to be lightly thrown aside."

"That depends entirely upon the sort of husband he may be, Mary,"
observed my Lady gravely.

"Really, dear madam, with all respect, I think I am the best judge of
that," rejoined the waiting-maid tartly; "although, indeed, I never
thought to say such words to you. Sir Richard may have his likes and
dislikes, but I am not his slave; nor yet his servant, for the matter of
that. While Master Walter, who, saving your presence, everybody knows to
be worth a hundred of him, likes Ralph very much."

A pang shot across my Lady's face, and left it crimson, as though she
had received a blow; but the waiting-maid little knew what had brought
the colour there, although she felt that she had pained her mistress
deeply.

"God forgive me," cried she penitently, "if my foolish tongue has hurt
your feelings, my Lady! I did not mean to say aught against Sir Richard,
I am sure. I scarcely knew what I said, for when those are dear to
us--as Ralph has grown to be with me, and I don't deny it--are misjudged
and wronged, why, then, we are apt to say bitter things. This talk was
none of my seeking, my Lady; and although Ralph thinks that you are to
blame because of his being forbidden the Hall, and all the rest of it,
I have always told him you have never said a word to set me against him;
and oh, I am sorry you are doing it now, because what is done cannot be
undone, and"----

"Great Heaven! you are not married to this man?" cried my Lady, rising
from her seat with agitation.

"O no, my Lady--certainly not, my Lady," rejoined the waiting-maid with
a certain demure dignity. "There has been nothing underhand between us
in the matter at all, except, that is, so far as meeting Mr Derrick at
the back gate"----

"Did you go out to meet him _to-night?_" inquired Lady Lisgard sharply,
and keeping her eyes fixed steadily upon her attendant's face. "No,
madam, I did not."

"She is speaking truth," murmured my Lady to herself. "Who, then, could
it be whom I saw upon the churchyard path just now?"

"Although," continued Mrs Forest quietly, "I don't deny that I have
often met him after dusk, no other time being permitted to us; but
to-day he has gone to town."

"And you are to write to him thither to give him your final decision as
to whether you will become his wife or not."

"How on earth do you know that, my Lady?" inquired the waiting-maid with
a curiosity even beyond her indignation.

"I _do_ know it, dear old friend," answered Lady Lisgard tenderly, "and
it is because of that knowledge that I have sent for you to-night, to
strive to persuade you to write 'No,' while there is yet time."

It was very seldom--not once in a year, perhaps--that Mary Forest was
ever out of temper with my Lady; but then such a supreme occasion as
the present had never occurred before. Underneath their mère superficial
relation of mistress and servant, they were more like elder and
younger sister; but then even sisters quarrel when the one wants
the other--generally under some pretence of mère prudence, not to be
listened to by a woman of spirit--to give up the man of her choice.
The ample countenance of Mistress Forest expressed something more than
Decision in the negative; there was an unpleasant smile upon her pale
lips, which seemed to say: "If you knew what I know, you would know that
you are wasting your breath." She sat with her plump hands folded before
her, like a naughty boy that has been put in the corner, but who
does not care--nay, more, who knows that he has got a cracker to put
presently under his master's chair, the results of which will make full
amends for the inconvenience he at present experiences.

"I will say nothing more, Mary, of the mutual esteem and affection
between us two, and of the pain that an eternal parting--such as your
marriage with this Mr Derrick would most undoubtedly entail--needs must
cost us both. I presume that you have weighed that matter in your
mind, and found it--however weighty--insufficient to alter your
determination?"

Mary nodded, sharply enough, but it was doubtful if she could have
spoken. Already her features had lost their rigidity, as though melted
by my Lady's touching tones.

"You have known this person--that is to say, you have met him some
dozen times--during a period of less than four months; yet such is his
influence over you, that you are prepared to sacrifice for him a friend
of thirty years' standing, a comfortable home, and a position in which
you are respected by all who know you. If I was speaking to a young
girl, Mary, I should not advance these arguments; but you are a--a
wise and sensible woman, and yet not of such a mature age that you need
despair of finding a suitable partner for the rest of your life."

Mistress Forest heaved a little sigh of relief, and her cheeks began
to tone down to something like their natural crimson; they _had_ been
purple with the apprehension of what my Lady might have said upon the
subject of age.

"Now, what is it," pursued my Lady, "which has produced this confidence
in an almost entire stranger? Do you know anything of his former life,
which may be a guarantee to you for the stability of your future? Have
you ever met a single individual who is acquainted with it in any way?
For all you know, this man may have been a"----

"My Lady!"

For a moment, the relative position of Mentor and pupil were exchanged;
there was a quiet power about the waiting-maid's rebuke, for which an
archbishop would have given more than his blessing, if he could only
have incorporated it into a "charge."

"You are right, Mary," said my Lady frankly; "let us only speak of what
is within our own knowledge. Does this man's own conduct, then, give any
promise of lasting happiness to the woman who may become his wife? Is he
sober?"

"I believe he is fond of a glass, my Lady, as most men are who have no
home, or people to look after them. If he had a wife, he would never go
to the public-house at all, perhaps--he tells me so himself."

My Lady smiled faintly.

"Is he industrious and provident, Mary?"

"He has earned his money hardly enough, my Lady, and it seems only
natural that he should now spend a little in enjoying himself."

"But not fling his money to left and right--I use your own words, dear
Mary--and treat every chance-companion he comes across to liquor. Do you
suppose that at his age he is likely to change habits of this sort?"

"I am not aware, my Lady, that his age is anything against him," replied
the waiting-maid coldly. "He is not so like to run through his money as
if he were younger, and particularly when he has got some one to provide
for beside himself. And indeed, so far as money goes, he has thousands
of pounds; and if all goes well with him--and something has occurred
to-day about which he has sent me a line by hand, dear fellow, by which
it has been made almost certain that things _will_ go well--he will be
a very rich man indeed after a week or two. There is some great race on
Epsom Downs"----

"O Mary, how can you talk so cheerfully of money acquired in that way.
If it is won to-day, it is lost to-morrow; and even if it were not so,
do you know that it is gained from those who can ill afford to lose it,
and who, having lost it, often turn to wicked ways?"

"I don't know about that, my Lady, I'm sure," responded the waiting-maid
demurely; "I leave all these things to my betters. But, I suppose,
if racing was a crime, Mr Chifney would not be let to have the Abbey
Barn--Sir Richard being so very particular--and Master Walter would not
for ever be up at the stables. Why, he and Mr Derrick are both together,
hand and glove, in this very business--something about a French racer,
it is; although, when you and I were at Dijon, my Lady, we never heard
of there being such a thing in all France, did we?--so my poor Ralph
cannot be so very wicked after all. And please, ma'am, it is no use
saying anything more about it, for I have written him that letter
already which he was to find in London, and put it in the post."

"And did you answer 'Yes,' or 'No,' Mary?"

"I answered 'Yes,' my Lady--that I would marry him--and begging your
pardon, madam, but I mean to stand to it."



CHAPTER II. CONFESSION.

|THERE is one serious disadvantage--which mistresses should do well to
remember--at which waiting-maids are always placed in disputations with
their domestic superiors; they cannot (except they are prepared for
instant dismissal) either quit the room, and hang the door after them,
or leave it open, and run down stairs "saying things" at the top of
their voices. Both these modes of procedure, so natural to the female
when "put out," are denied to them, for the same reason that when on
board ship they can't take champagne for sea-sickness as their employers
do; they cannot afford the indulgence.

Now, although Mary Forest was not debarred by mère pecuniary
considerations from flinging herself out of her mistress's room when
she cried, "And I mean to stand to it," there were other reasons which
prevented her from suiting to her words that very appropriate and
natural action. In all her blinding passion (and she was really very
angry), she never quite lost sight of the respect she owed her mistress.
Her devotion to her was such, that even while she listened to her most
unpalatable arguments against the man she had accepted for her husband,
her heart smote her with a sense of ingratitude towards the long-tried
friend, who, after all, she knew, was anxious for her happiness rather
than for her own mère comfort; and when she seemed most obstinate, she
had often been nearest to throwing herself upon her mistress's neck, and
exclaiming: "You are quite right, my Lady; and I believe I have been an
old fool all along." It was more with the desire of putting a stop
to this most unpleasant dispute, than because her determination was
absolutely adamantine and inflexible, that she once more reiterated:
"Yes, my Lady, I mean to stand to it," and fixed her eyes doggedly upon
the floor, as though she would not even encounter another questioning
glance.

"Mary," said her mistress solemnly, and after a long silence, "I am
grieved beyond all power of words to tell at what you have just said;
but the mischief may not yet be quite past mending. I have seen this--Mr
Derrick--this very night, and therefore he will not receive your letter
till, at earliest, to-morrow evening."

"No, nor then neither, my Lady, so far as that goes, for I was late for
the London post; I put the letter in the box for the very reason that I
might not be persuaded to change my mind by"----

"Then it has not yet left the village postoffice," interrupted my Lady,
hastily snatching up her bonnet from the table on which she had wearily
put it down upon entering the room: "there is time to stop it yet."

"No, my Lady; I heard the postman's horn half an hour ago; and if it
were otherwise, nothing would induce me to alter what I have already
written--nothing--nothing!" repeated Mistress Forest, emphasising her
last two words by beating with her foot upon the carpet.

"Alas, dear friend, you know not what you say," replied my Lady very
gravely. "Give me your hand, Mary; nay, do not withdraw it coldly, for
you will have need of comfort and support, almost as much, alas, as
I----_Mary, Mary, this man is married already!_"

The waiting-maid started from her seat with a shrill scream. "I don't
believe it, I won't believe it; it is false. How dare you tell a lie to
me, Lady Lisgard, only to gain your ends?"

"Hush, hush, Mary; did you ever know me to tell a lie, my friend? It is
true as that yonder moon is rising, that this man has a wife alive. Do
not weep so passionately."

"The perjured villain; the false, bad man; the wicked, wicked wretch!"
cried the waiting-maid, her eyes flashing through their tears.

"Nay, above all, do not blame _him_, Mary, for he knows it not himself;
he does not, indeed."

"What? Not know whether he's married or not!" sobbed the unhappy
bride-elect. "I don't believe that, at all events, even if I believe
you. He has married so many, he doesn't know rightly who is his wife;
that is what you mean, I see. Sailors are all alike. O dear, dear, dear,
when Mrs Welsh comes to know of it! And the monster will have got
my letter by to-morrow night, to shew about! How nearly have I been
committing bi--bi--bigamy!"

"Calm yourself, dear Mary, calm yourself. Your trouble is nothing to
what I suffer, and must continue to endure for my life long."

"Ah, my Lady, I daresay it is very bad to be a widow; but it's much
worse to die an old----leastways, at forty-fi--or forty-four, rather--to
lose---- O dear! what an honest man he looked, and such a beard and
eyes! I will never trust to appearances again. I daresay, it is
very wrong, my Lady, but I fee--fee--feel as though I could tear Mrs
Derrick's eyes out; I do, indeed." Here the bottle of smelling-salts,
which upon a certain occasion we saw used by Mary Forest for the
recovery of her mistress, had to change hands. The unfortunate
waiting-maid was taken with a very genuine fit of hysterics, and not
of the quiet sort either; and if her senses left her, it could not
certainly be said that she also lost the use of her limbs. At last,
exhausted in body, but also more reasonable as to her mind, she
whispered: "Mistress, dearest, tell me all you know." Then my Lady knew
that the time was come for her first self-humiliation. Throughout the
narrative that followed, they were sitting upon the sofa together, hand
in hand, but each had her face averted from the other, and only now and
then, by a convulsive grasp of the fingers, did Mary shew her sympathy
with her unhappy mistress. At first, she was too full of her own trouble
to interrupt by words, but soon the astounding revelation from my Lady's
lips overwhelmed every faculty of speech within her, and she sat like a
child who listens to a horrid story in the darkening twilight.

"We have known one another more than half our lives, Mary, said I, a
while ago, and yet there has been a secret between us all that time. I
have never kept anything else from you, but this was not mine alone to
tell; it was Sir Robert's also. When he asked me to become his wife
at Coveton, and you thought me so mad for first refusing him, and
afterwards for demanding such a long delay, I had a reason for it, which
he knew, but which you have never guessed. I was then the three-weeks'
bride of another man.--You may well start, Mary, but that is the
dreadful truth. The man, Ralph Gavestone, whom I mourned so deeply,
as being drowned with my dear parents, and all the rest of the ship's
company, in that great storm--which I would to Heaven had whelmed me in
its waves--was not my half-brother, as Sir Robert persuaded me to give
out, but my husband."

"You had no wedding-ring, my Lady, when you came ashore," murmured the
waiting-maid half incredulously.

"That is true, Mary. I know not how it was, but perhaps the cold and wet
of that dreadful night made my fingers shrink--you remember how wan and
thin I looked--and the ring must have dropped off; I never saw it after
I reached land. But I was none the less a widow--as I thought; and
although friendless, save for you, Mary--homeless and penniless, I
thought I could never take another husband to my arms, although the
raging sea had worked that rough divorce between us. At first, I
replied: 'No, Sir Robert, never;' you will bear me witness that I did.
Then, when he pressed me still, I bargained for three years. I thought
that he would tire of waiting for me, and get some fitter mate in the
meantime; I did, as Heaven is my judge. I was true to my poor Ralph--he
had saved me upon that spar at the risk, and, as I then believed, at
the sacrifice of his own life--as long as I--nay, I was true to him in
a sense for ever. Sir Robert was well aware of that. I do not need
justification from man or woman; God himself absolved me, I think, so
far. But that was an evil day, Mary, when I married. I was no more Sir
Robert's wife than you were, Mary. Think of that. And he was not
my husband. And our children, of whom he was so proud, are
baseborn--bastards. Sir Richard--is it not terrible? do you not wonder
that I live and am not mad?--he is not Sir Richard. And my dear, dear
Walter, he is baseborn too. And Letty--for whom her eldest brother
thinks nobody too high--she, too, is no Lisgard. If I had waited seven
years instead of three, this would not have been so. There are law-books
in the library which have told me so much; but I have no adviser--none;
no friend--yes, you, Mary, I know--but not one who can help me. Is not
this something worse than death itself which has fallen upon me!"

"And this man Derrick--he was Gavestone?" whispered Mary Forest in a
hoarse grating voice.

"Yes; did I not tell you so? I only found it out last Christmas Eve. I
knew his voice, and I knew the carol that he sang. For one thing only
do I thank Heaven--I who had reason, as I thought, to be thankful for
so many things--that Sir Robert is not alive. His sleep in yonder
churchyard is disturbed by no such ghastly dream. Ah, happy dead!"

"Mistress, beloved mistress," cried the waiting-maid, in an agony of
remorse--"forgive me that I have been thinking of myself these many
weeks, while you have been so burdened and tormented. Henceforth, I am
yours only. As I hope to get to heaven when I die, I will be true to you
whatever happens. Let us think what that may be."

"Nay, let us _not_ think," exclaimed her mistress with a shudder, "or I
shall lose my wits. 'Would you have me picture what this house would
be should _he_ come hither and claim me for his wife? Richard and he
beneath the self-same roof, and he the master! Would Walter--though
he herds with him, you say--brook this man as his equal? Would he not
loathe him rather, and how soon, ah me! unlearn the love he owes to
me--his wretched mother! I cannot hear to think of it, I tell you. Let
us act; let us be doing something--something! How my brain whirls!
Think for me, Mary--pray for me, for Heaven is deaf, alas, to my poor
prayers!"

But even while she spoke, the gracious tears began to fill the furrows
in her cheeks, which until now had been dry throughout her talk; and
having told her friend, the weight about her heart was lifted off a
little, and the tightness round her brow was loosened by the blessed
hand of sympathy.

"I must write to him at once," said Mary thoughtfully. "How fortunate
that he did not leave Mirk until to-night. The two letters will now
reach him at the same time. He cannot write in answer to the one
which--which I wrote first--without having read the other; that will be
something saved."

My Lady shook her head.

"There is but little hope in that, I fear; for he himself has this night
told me--yes, I saw him face to face, Mary, only I was thickly veiled,
thank Heaven--he told me frankly (thinking I did not wish to lose my
waiting-maid) that he should lay it to my charge if your reply was 'No,'
and should not take it as the answer of your heart. How much more, if he
gets a refusal coming so quickly upon the very heels of this acceptance,
will he decline to believe it comes from your own self. More likely,
it would cause him, reckless as he is, to do something rash and
vengeful--perhaps to return hither on the instant, and---- O Mary,
Mary, I would give five thousand pounds this day, if that would stop his
coming to Mirk again!"

"Would that _not_ stop him, mistress?" asked the waiting-maid with
earnest gravity. "Five thousand pounds is a fortune, is it not?"

"It would not stop _him_, Mary," rejoined my Lady sadly. "Ralph
Gavestone, even in his youth-time, never valued money a fillip when
weighed against a whim; and now his will is more a law to him than ever.
I have never known Resolve so fixed as I read it in his eyes this night.
And if he guessed the truth, Mary--oh, if he did but dream that I, his
lawful wife, for whom he had gladly laid his own life down, whose memory
he has kept fresh and green when all else has withered, whose loss has
been his ruin, was playing him false!--he said himself, that on his
reckless soul 'twas like as not there might be murder some day--and,
Mary, I do believe him."

White as the very moonbeams was my Lady's face, and the hand trembled
which held the handkerchief she passed across her damp white brow.

"Not for myself, good Mary, is this fear," gasped she, "but for my
dear ones--do you hear them yonder? is it not sad to listen to
such mirth?--for this unhappy man being wronged, becomes a madman
straightway. Not disgrace alone may fall upon us here, not only
shame--think of that, Mary; not _only_ shame upon Sir Richard and the
rest! but even Crime may visit us. This house of dead Sir Robert--once
the home of peace, and genial ease, and hospitality----But that shall
never be; no, they shall never meet, my sons and he; I will die rather,
and my corpse would part them wide enough."

"O mistress, talk not so; you freeze my very blood. What was it we were
saying before you began to look like this?"

"You talked of bribing this Ralph Gavestone--for how could I offer him
gold save _as_ a bribe! But if a bribe, what need was there to bribe
him? Why should I wish him once more upon the other side of the world?
Why pay him a younger brother's portion, to quit the courtship of my
waiting-maid? No, Mary, this man is no mère rogue, that he should take
his money without question, and be off; he is suspicious, keen--and ah,
if wronged, as implacable as Death itself."

"One moment, my Lady!" cried Mistress Forest leaping to her feet. "I do
believe I have a plan to get that letter back."

"Ah, good Heaven! What is it, wise, kind heart?"

"See, madam," and she began to reckon on her plump fingers, with
her pleasant face aglow with mingled joy and astonishment at her own
sagacity: "the note was put in late for the London post from Dalwynch;
it will therefore remain there, though it has left Mirk, all to-night,
and not be forwarded till the morning mail. If we drive over to-morrow
early--starting, say, at six o'clock--we shall be in plenty of time to
stop its going further. In the meantime, I will write another letter in
its place."

"You have saved me--for this time--I do believe, dear Mary; yes, we can
drive to Dalwynch--I will give orders for the carriage to be ready at
six--and still be back at the Abbey by breakfast-time. If we are pressed
for the reason, we can give the true one--to a certain point, if needs
must be--you had a mind to alter what you have written to your suitor."



CHAPTER III. CONTRARY TO THE REGULATIONS OF HER MAJESTY'S POST-OFFICE.

|SORELY did the fat coachman, who had no neck, inveigh against that
caprice of his mistress which compelled his appearance at the front door
upon the ensuing morning at an hour so altogether unexampled. If he had
but heard that it was all upon the account of Mistress Forest, and the
outlandish fellow who wore little gold rings in his ears, and that curly
heard, so like the door-mat of the servants-hall, it is doubtful whether
he would have obeyed such a premature behest at all; but as it was, he
was sitting on the coach-box with the sleek nags before him, at the foot
of the great steps which led down from the entrance-hall, at six o'clock
to a minute. It was broad daylight of course, so bright that it made him
wink again, as it flashed upon the glittering harness and the shining
skins of the pampered beasts; but still it was not a time for a man of
his years and girth to be hurried up and made to toil. "As late as you
please at night, my Lady, and nobody ever heard Joe Wiggins utter a
murmur," muttered he; "but there's no constitushun as can stand such
wear and tear as _this_."

However that might be with Mr Wiggins, Miss Rose Aynton seemed to make
uncommonly light of early rising, for, much to the astonishment of her
hostess, she was up and dressed and in the breakfast-room when that lady
made her appearance at half-past five.

"I happened to hear that you were going-out betimes, dear Lady Lisgard,"
said she with her sweetest smile; "and getting up in these first summer
mornings is _such_ a treat to a poor London-bred girl like me; so,
without saying a word to dearest Letty, I thought I would just fill her
place for once, and make your coffee for you."

"Thank you, Rose," returned my Lady a little stiffly, for she had not
intended that anybody, and far less one who was not a member of her own
family, should have been a witness to her departure. "I have unpleasant
business on hand which takes me to Dalwynch before the morning train
starts."

"If you are going to London," began Rose hesitatingly, as if intending
to send something by my Lady's hands to her aunt, "if it was not
too much trouble"----"I am not going to London," replied Lady Lisgard
quietly. "I shall be back by the usual breakfast-hour, I have no doubt."

Here my Lady sipped her coffee with the air of a connoisseur, and
perceiving Miss Aynton was about to ask more questions, requested a
little sugar; then a fresh supply of--no, not hot milk--some cream.
Would the carriage never come round, and release her from this
importunate girl.

"How glad the people will be to see you about again once more, Lady
Lisgard," observed Miss Aynton cheerfully. "You can't imagine how
curious they have been to know why you have shut yourself up so long."

"I was not aware that my movements were any business of theirs, Rose,"
returned my Lady with severity, "nor, indeed, of anybody's except
myself."

"Very true," answered Miss Aynton carelessly; "that is what I always
told them. Besides, it is not pleasant to run the chance of meeting a
rude and perhaps half-drunken ruffian like this man Derrick, when
one knows he has made up his mind to address one upon the first
opportunity."

"Indeed!" said my Lady scornfully, "I assure you I was quite unaware of
that dreadful menace." She stole a glance over her cup, to see if there
was anything to read in this strange girl's face; but there was nothing.
As soon as she had finished her duties in connection with the coffeepot,
she had taken a piece of fancy-work in her hands, in the execution of
which she seemed entirely wrapped up.

"O yes; of course it is most ridiculous, but that is what all the
village has been saying for these five months, more or less; and now
that you are going out for the first time, when he has but left the
place overnight, they are sure to say"----

"How do you know, Rose, that this man left Mirk last night?" inquired my
Lady, setting down her cup, and looking at the young girl fixedly.
Could it possibly have been _she_ whom she had beheld lurking about
the churchyard wall, and perhaps listening to the conversation, in the
course of which Derrick had announced his intention of going at that
late hour to Dalwynch, so as to be in time for the first up-train upon
the morrow?

A faint flush stole over Miss Aynton's face, but by no means such a
blush as is called "tell-tale:" it might easily enough have been caused
by the mère directness of the question. "Your son, Mr Walter, told me,"
replied she simply--"he is a great ally of this man's, you know.--Here
is the carriage. I am afraid you will find it very dull, Lady Lisgard,
taking this long drive all alone. If I thought that my company"----

"Thank you, Rose," replied my Lady hastily; "it is most kind of you to
offer it; but the fact is, I am going to take Forest with me. This visit
to Dalwynch is mainly upon her account indeed. If the chariot held more
than two, perhaps I should take you at your word; but as it is----See, I
have a book for my companion.--Come, Forest; we have no time to lose."

Mary had entered the room while she was speaking, and gave quite a start
at seeing Miss Aynton at the breakfast-table. Her mistress was already
cloaked, and had her bonnet on.

"To Dalwynch, my Lady?" said the footman, having put up the steps and
closed the chariot-door.

"Yes; drive fast."

"Which part of the town, my Lady?" for there were two roads to the
post-town, the relative length of which from the Abbey depended upon
what part of the place was to be visited.

Miss Aynton was standing on the last flight of the stone steps, and
could hear every word that was spoken.

"Take the lower road," replied my Lady very distinctly; and the
well-hung chariot--pleasantest invention save the fair-weather Hansom,
which the wit of coachmakers has yet sought out--rolled swiftly along
the gravelled road.

"Then they are not going to the railway station," exclaimed Rose aloud.

"No, miss," assented the butler, as he stood at the open hall-door,
regarding nature as though it were a novelty to him at that hour. "I
should say it must be the postoffice. Perhaps my Lady wishes to get the
letters this morning earlier than the Mirk's man can bring them."

"Very likely, Roberts," returned the young lady, a little disconcerted
at her involuntary remark having been overheard. "Let us hope she will
have good news. But I should scarcely have thought it was necessary to
have gone herself."

"Well, I am not so sure, miss. Mrs Rudd, the post-mistress at Dalwynch,
is a great stickler for forms and that, and she might have made some
difficulty, particularly as she did not obtain her place through our
influence."

"_Whose_ influence, Roberts?"

"Ours, miss, to be sure. The Lisgard interest, you see, was given last
election to the losing side. Although time was, I can well recollect,
when poor Sir Robert had everything of that sort at his disposal that
was vacant in these parts; but them yallers, they have gone and spoilt
it all this time." And with a sigh of regret for the golden age of
patronage, and a shake of the head directed against the levelling
opinions at present in the ascendant, Mr Roberts went off to his
breakfast.

No sooner had the wheels of the chariot began to move, than Lady Lisgard
observed to her companion: "You have the letter with you that I dictated
last night, have you not?"

"Yes, my Lady; here it is, though not sealed down, in case you might
have thought of anything to add."

"No, Mary," said her mistress, perusing it; "there is nothing here that
I can better by thought, although I spent all night in thinking over it.
A refusal could scarce be made shorter or more decided than this; there
is not a trace of vacillation to give the most sanguine suitor hope."
Then, as if some other idea was expressing itself almost in spite of
herself, she added: "Do I not look deadly pale, Mary?"

"Very white and worn, madam, as you well may."

"But bad enough for people to observe who did not know the cause?"

"For some people, madam. _She_ saw it sharp enough, if you mean _her_,
my Lady," and the waiting-maid made a significant gesture in the
direction of Miss Rose Aynton.

"Nothing escapes _her_, bless you--nothing; and the sooner she's out
of the house, under present circumstances--and indeed under every
circumstance, in my opinion--the better."

"You never liked her from the first, Mary," said her mistress in the
tone of one who argues against her own conviction. "We should not be
uncharitable in our judgments of others, and particularly as respects
young folks; we often set down as serious faults what in them is only
thoughtlessness."

"Miss Aynton is none of that sort, my Lady; she always thinks before
she speaks, and takes a good long look before she leaps; and for all
she seems as though butter would not melt in her mouth, she's as full
o' schemes as a cat at a dairy-door. If there's cream to be got in this
world, she'll get it, my Lady, I'll go bail, let the butter-milk fall to
whose share it will."

"I confess that I can't quite understand her," said my Lady musing. "I
am sure, when she first came, she seemed simple and unobtrusive enough;
while, on the other hand, in her manner towards me of late"----

"Downright impudence, I call it, my Lady, in such a chit as she."

"Well, I don't say that; but she is certainly not so respectful as she
might be. I shall be sorry to send her back to London just as the summer
is beginning, to live with her cross old aunt, whom she appears to
dislike so; but I confess I think she has been here long enough."

"Much too long, my Lady, much too long," answered Mrs Forest gravely;
"she has set more people in the house by the ears than you wot of. While
Anne Rees, who used to be Miss Letty's maid, one would think Miss Aynton
was her mistress now, so entirely has she got her under her thumb. She
has ferreted out some folly of Anne's--Heaven knows how she did it, or
what it is; but the girl's her slave. From whom but her did she learn
that you were starting at this hour? And, again, why was not Miss Letty
told as well as Miss Rose? Do you suppose she would have let anybody
else make coffee for her mamma, if she had been aware of your departure?
No, no. Then Miss Aynton will take credit to herself for not permitting
Miss Letty to be called, and fatigue herself by getting up so early.
Nasty, sly young hussy! That's just her way; uncommon civil, kind, and
attentive until she gets the upper hand, and finds you under her thumb;
then you begin to know her. We've found her out in the servants-hall,
although she makes a fool of old Roberts yet. She actually told him,
that at the last dinner-party at the Abbey she thought him the most
distinguished-looking person in the room; but only wait till she catches
him some afternoon at the Madeira! then he'll be her obedient, humble
servant, without having any more pretty speeches. That's a bad, bold
girl, ma'am, let her be ten times a lady born."

Here Mistress Forest, indignantly tossing her head back, without making
due allowance for her bonnet, came into sharp contact with the back of
the chariot, and severely bit her tongue. My Lady was thereby enabled to
interpose a remark.

"But why have you not told me a word of this before, Mary? I would never
have permitted a guest of mine, and particularly a young lady to whom I
stand in the relation of guardian while she is under my roof, first to
ingratiate herself with my servants, and then to tyrannise over them in
the way you describe. I never heard of anything more atrociously
mean, and I think you have been wanting in your duty--let alone your
personal regard for me, Mary--to have concealed the matter so long."

"Begging your pardon, my Lady, you have nobody to blame but yourself for
that," observed the waiting-maid with asperity. "The only harsh words
you ever spoke to me were about certain of Mrs Welsh's doings, of which
I complained with reason, though I do not wish to refer to them now.
What you said was this: 'Never abuse the affectionate relation in
which we two stand, Mary, by causing me to side with you against
your fellow-servants. I can deny you nothing, but do not vex me with
talebearing. I hate all vulgar gossip, and despise those who bring it.'
After a setting-down like that, it was not likely that I should give
tongue about Miss Aynton's ways, nor let you know how she has made Anne
Rees a spy upon us all. No, no; mind your own business, Mary Forest,
says you; and I've minded it, my Lady, ever since."

"Do not be angry with me, friend," returned Lady Lisgard sadly; "I
daresay I was wrong; and even if not, I have no heart to argue with you
now."

"And no wonder, poor dear," assented the waiting-maid, greatly
mollified. "I was a brute to bring it up against you just now in all
this trouble; nor was it the right time, perhaps, to speak about Miss
Aynton's goings on. Only you yourself said her manner was not quite what
it used to be, and I was so afraid that she might be getting _you_, my
Lady, under her thumb."

"How could that possibly be, Mary? She surely cannot have the slightest
suspicion of"--

"She sniffs something, my Lady, or she would not have been making your
coffee this morning. However, let her sniff, only be you very careful to
lock your desk; and when you want to say anything to me about you know
who, come out of earshot of the keyhole of your own door.--Ah, wouldn't
she, though? But I know better. A thief? No, I didn't say a thief,
although, for the matter of that, she has a mind to steal from you, or
I am much mistaken, something you value most on earth--your son. There
now, I've said it."

And the waiting-maid drew a very long breath, as though some oppressive
weight was off her mind at last. She evidently expected her mistress
to express astonishment, if not horror; and it was positively a
disappointment to her when my Lady replied calmly: "I know all about
that, Mary; but you are doing Miss Aynton wrong. She might have been
my daughter-in-law if she liked, and yet, to my certain knowledge, she
refused to be so."

"She _refused?_"

"Most certainly she did. My son made her an offer in my presence, and
she rejected him.--But here we are at Dalwynch. Tell Wiggins to stop at
the post-office. Thank Heaven, there is plenty of time to spare. How my
heart does beat!"

The waiting-maid pulled the check-string, and delivered her mistress's
orders, but quite mechanically, without knowing what she said. In spite
of the importance of what she had now so immediately to do, her mind was
entirely occupied with the wonder of what she had just heard, and she
kept repeating to herself: "And she rejected him? and she rejected him?"
while her heightened eyebrows almost amalgamated with her hair.

Perhaps some of this excessive astonishment was due to poor Mistress
Forest's peculiar position; she thought it so strange that one of her
own sex should reject any man--who was not already married to somebody
else.

"Here is the post-office, Mary. Mind you speak very civilly to the
woman, and make haste; I shall be in a perfect fever till I see you come
back with that dreadful letter safe in your hand."

One minute, two minutes, three minutes--each seeming an hour to my Lady,
shrinking in a corner of the chariot, while the omnibus to the station
passed and repassed, picking up she knew not what passengers, and
bearing Derrick himself, for all she knew, within it. At last Lady
Lisgard could endure the suspense no longer. "John," said she to the
footman standing beside the door, "what is Forest about? Why does she
not return?"

"She is talking to Mrs Rudd, my Lady. I think there is some dispute
about a letter; for they are both in the post-office department."

"Let me out, John," exclaimed my Lady impatiently; and the next instant
she had entered Mrs Rudd's establishment. This was, for the most part, a
grocer's shop; one-fifth of it only being reserved for the reception and
despatch of Her Majesty's mails. There were no customers at that still
early hour; a young man who was sanding the floor with some ostentation,
as though to imply that _all_ the sand went that way, and none into the
sugar, made a respectable pause as my Lady's silk swept by; and another,
who appeared to be washing his hands in tea, assumed that sickly smile
which is supposed by persons of his class to conciliate people of
quality; but Mrs Rudd herself, intrenched behind her little post-office
palisade, gave no sign of gracious welcome, and from out the pigeon-hole
through which she distributed her stamps, her words poured forth in an
undiminished stream of denial and severity; nay, I doubt whether the
presence of my Lady did not intensify the bitterness of its tone.

"Whatever importance it may be to you to get this letter, Mistress
Forest," cried she, addressing poor Mary, who was looking very
disconsolate, and not a little angry also, "it is of much greater moment
to me that I should keep it. It is as much as my place is worth to give
a letter back which has once been given into my charge; and I am not
aware that I owe that place to my Lady Lisgard, and therefore feel
called upon to risk----I beg pardon, your Ladyship--but I did not
catch sight of you before. What your servant has come to ask of me
is something out of the question. I will post this second letter for
her--although it is two minutes past the time, even with an extra stamp,
for _that_--but as for returning her this other: yes, I have no doubt
it's hers--although, for that matter, people's handwriting is often
very like other people's--but directly it reached this box it became the
property of the Postmaster-general. It is no more hers now than it is
mine; and if I was to yield it up, it's a matter, madam, that might be
brought before the assizes."

"Mrs Rudd," said my Lady quietly, "I hope, although your late husband
and my son were not quite of the same way of thinking as to politics,
that you do not look upon me in an unneighbourly light. I do not wish to
insult you by offering you a bribe; but I may say this much, that
nobody ever put me under an obligation yet, without my endeavouring to
recompense them to the best of my power."

"Yes, my Lady--although I can't say as _I_ have ever been overburdened
with favours at your Ladyship's hands--I know what sugar and currants
goes to the Abbey from Simmons' every week--enough for a regiment, I'm
sure, and at such a price, too, and all because he voted blue"----

"Voting blue, Mrs Rudd," interrupted my Lady, "is nothing at all
compared with the good service you would do me, if you could only oblige
my maid in the matter of this letter. Her future happiness, I may say,
is bound up in the mère fact of that little note arriving or not at its
destination."

"_Mr R. Derrick, Turf Hotel, Piccadilly_," muttered Mrs Rudd, looking at
the address over the top of her silver spectacles. "I should like to
have half the Abbey grocery custom very much, of course."

"You shall have it," whispered my Lady in broken tones.

"But I dare not do it," continued the post-mistress. "This might be held
over me--if it ever came to be known--so that I should never be my own
mistress again, which, now that Rudd is gone, I mean to be. When you
have once done an illegal action, my Lady, you may just as well be a
slave--until you have taken your punishment. Somebody is sure to get
wind of it, and to put you under their thumb."

My Lady gave a ghastly smile, for speech was not in her.

"Look here, Mrs Rudd," interposed Mistress Forest softly, "you are not
asked either to destroy or to give up this letter--of the inside of
which, if you please, I will tell you every word. It is written to
my lover--that's the fact; and I am very, very anxious that he should
receive it"--here she trod upon my Lady's foot with unmistakable
emphasis--"should receive it by this night's post."

"Well, so he will," returned the postmistress, "in Piccadilly."

"Yes, but Mr Derrick is _not_ in Piccadilly," urged the waiting-maid.
"The direction should he '_Care of Mr Arthur Haldane_'--what court is
it, my Lady?--Yes; _Pump Court, Temple_. If you would only let me write
_that_, Mrs Rudd, upon the envelope, instead of the present address, all
mischief will be avoided. Would it not, my Lady?"

"There seems no great harm in that," said Mrs Rudd reflectively.

"No harm whatever, and a great deal of good to you," murmured the
waiting-maid, as with a rapid hand she crossed out the words already
written, and substituted for them the address of Mr Haldane's
law-chambers. "Thank you kindly. Now, please to stamp this other. I am
so much obliged."

"And I too," said my Lady graciously. "Be so kind, Mrs Rudd, as to let
me take your list of groceries with me. What nice macaroni that looks--I
find such a difficulty in getting it in the country pure."

Mrs Rudd herself accompanied my Lady to her chariot, and courtesied to
the ground as the chariot whirled away.

No sooner were they alone, than mistress and maid exchanged a hearty
kiss. "Thank you, thank you, dear Mary," cried the former; "without
your presence of mind, what should we have done! I began to feel quite
prostrate with despair, and even now I tremble to think how nearly we
had failed. I could not go through such a scene again, I believe, even
if my life depended upon it."

"Ah, yes, you could, my Lady; and I only trust it may not be necessary
for you to do so. There is nothing more, however, to be done at present,
save to wait and hope--except the telegraph message. I ventured to tell
John, 'To the Railway Station.'"

"Telegraph to whom, and about what, Mary?"

"We must let Mr Arthur know what he is to do with that letter, my Lady;
otherwise, he may endeavour to forward it to the person to whom it is
addressed."

"Very true, dear Mary. I do believe that my wits are leaving me. By all
means telegraph 'Burn it.' I wish I could repay you for your prudent
thought, as easily as I can recompense Mrs Rudd for her complaisance."

"Do not think of repaying me, my dear," replied the waiting-maid fondly.
"It is a heartfelt pleasure to find that I am not altogether useless in
this strait. I am yours--yours--yours--my beloved mistress, and will
be though every friend on earth should stand afar off, and you were
forsaken by your very kith and kin."

"But God forbid that should ever be the case, Mary!" ejaculated Lady
Lisgard solemnly.

"_Amen,_ my Lady--amen, I'm sure; but when the worst happens that can
happen, you will please to remember you have Mary Forest still!"



CHAPTER IV. AN UNCHEERFUL PICNIC.

|BY the time Lady Lisgard returned to the Abbey, notwithstanding that
the sleek bays had devoured the road with all the haste of which their
condition permitted, it was long past the breakfast-hour, and her
absence from that meal provoked no little comment from the members of
her family. Nobody was able to allay their curiosity as to what could
have taken mamma to Dalwynch, but Miss Aynton did her best to stimulate
it.

"She has gone upon Mary Forest's account," said she--"that is all I can
tell you. I never knew any one take such trouble about her maids as dear
Lady Lisgard."

"Yes, Rose," replied Letty warmly; "but it is not every maid who has
lived with her mistress thirty years. I believe Mary would lay down her
very life for dear mamma, and indeed for any of us. Whenever I read
those stupid letters in the papers about there being no good old
servants to be seen now a days, I long to send the editor a list of
our people at the Abbey. Mary, indeed, is quite a new acquisition
in comparison with Wiggins and the gardener; but then she is almost
faultless. I have heard mamma say that there has never been a word
between them."

"Not between them, indeed, Letty," returned Miss Aynton laughing; "for
Mistress Forest has all the talk to herself."

Sir Richard smiled grimly, for Mary had been in his bad books ever since
her attachment to "that vagabond Derrick."

"Good, Miss Rose!" cried Walter--"very good. I wish I could say as much
for this so-called new-laid egg. Why should eggs be of different
degrees of freshness? Why not all fresh? Why are they ever permitted to
accumulate?"

"My egg is very good," observed Sir Richard sententiously; "how is
yours, Miss Aynton?" and he laid an emphasis upon the name, in tacit
reproof to his brother for having been so familiar as to say "Miss
Rose."

"Well, Sir Richard, I am London-bred, you know, and therefore your
country eggs, by comparison, are excellent."

"I wish I could think," said the baronet with stateliness, "that in
other matters we equally gained by contrast with Town, in your opinion."

"I believe London is the place to get everything good," remarked Walter
sharply.

"We are going to-day, Miss Aynton," continued the baronet, without
noticing the interruption, "to offer you something which really
cannot be got in town, and which hitherto the state of the weather has
forbidden even here"----

"Ah, for shame, Richard!" interrupted Letty, holding up her hands. "Now,
that was to be a surprise for Rose.--It's a picnic, my dear. I daresay
now you scarcely know _what_ that is."

"I can tell you, then," ejaculated Walter with acidity: "it's packing
up all the things you would have in the ordinary course at luncheon in
a comfortable manner--except the bread, or something equally necessary,
which is always left behind--and carrying them about six miles to the
top of an unprotected hill--in this particular case, to a tower without
a roof to it--there to be eaten without tables or chairs, and in
positions the most likely to produce indigestion that the human body can
adapt itself to."

"I have always been told that being in a bad humour is the most certain
thing to cause what you eat to disagree with you," observed Letty
demurely.--"Never mind what Walter says. I am sure you will be
delighted, dear Rose; we are going to Belcomb, a sort of shooting-box
belonging to us, about five miles away, and built by grandpapa."

"Commonly termed 'Lisgard's Folly,'" added Master Walter.

"Not by his descendants, however, I should hope, with one exception,"
observed Sir Richard haughtily.--"I will thank you, Walter, not to cut
my newspaper."

Master Walter had seized the paper-knife as though it had been a more
deadly weapon, and was engaged in disembowelling one of a multiplicity
of newspapers which had just arrived by post.

"I did not see it was yours," returned he. "Goodness knows, nobody wants
to read the _Court Journal_ but yourself. The idea of not liking one's
newspaper cut!"

"Yes, I must say, my dear Richard," said Letty, playfully patting her
elder brother, next to whom she sat, upon the shoulder, "that is a most
singular objection of yours, I think it certainly proves that you will
always remain an old bachelor."

Sir Richard maintained a frowning silence. Master Walter twirled his
silken moustache, and looked up at Miss Aynton with a meaning smile.

"What is your opinion upon the subject," said he, "Miss Rose?"

"Insolent!" exclaimed Sir Richard, rising so hastily that he knocked
over the chair on which he had been sitting. "How dare you ask such
questions in my presence?"

"Richard, Richard!" cried a reproving voice; and lo! at the open door
stood my Lady, hollow-eyed and pale, and with such a weariness and
melancholy in her tones as would have touched most hearts.--"Am I ever
to find you and Walter quarrelling thus?--Yes, I have heard all, and
think you both to blame; but nothing can excuse this violence. If I have
any authority in this house at all, not another word, I beg."

Sir Richard bit his lip, but resumed his seat; Walter went on quietly
dissecting the _Illustrated London News_, with an air of intense
interest; Miss Aynton very accurately traced the pattern of her plate
with her fork; Letty, the innocent cause of the outbreak, shed silent
tears. Altogether, the family picture was gloomy, and the situation
embarrassing. My Lady reaped this advantage, however, that nobody asked
her a word about her expedition to Dalwynch.

"Do not let me detain you at table, my dear Letty," said she, breaking
a solemn pause. "Miss Aynton was so good as to make my coffee this
morning, and therefore it is only fair that she should perform the same
kind office now."

Glad enough of this excuse to leave the room--a movement felt by all to
be very difficult of imitation--Letty rushed up stairs to indulge in a
good cry in her own bedroom, "the upper system of fountains" only having
been yet in play. Sir Richard gloomily stalked away towards the stables;
Walter lounged into the hall, lit a cigar, and paced to and fro upon the
terrace beneath the windows of the breakfast-room, with both his hands
in his pockets. Whiffs of his Havana, and scraps of the opera tune which
he was humming, came in at the open window, to those who yet remained.
My Lady had much too good taste to dislike the smell of good tobacco,
and the air which he had chosen was a favourite one with her; perhaps
Master Walter hummed it upon that account. He was to leave the Abbey
next day to join his regiment--although not immediately. It was only
natural he should wish to spend a few days in London after he had had so
much of the quiet of Mirk, and yet my Lady grudged them. How pleasant
everything about him was; how dull the Abbey would be without him; what
a sad pity it was that he and Sir Richard got on so ill. If she were
to die, would they not turn their hacks on one another for ever, and he
brothers no more; and if something worse than Death were to happen to
her----No, she would not think of that. Had not all that could be done
to avert such utter ruin been done that very morning? There was surely
no immediate peril now--no necessity for such excessive caution and
self-restraint as she had been obliged of late months to exercise; it
was something to have breathing-space and liberty.

"I hope you are coming with us to the picnic, Lady Lisgard, now that
that horrid man has gone?" said a cold quiet voice.

My Lady, looking out of window at her favourite son, and lost in gloomy
depths of thought, had entirely forgotten that she had invited Miss
Rose Aynton to bear her company. She did not venture to look upon her
questioner's face, though she felt that it was fixed on hers, reading
Heaven knew what. How had she dared to think of liberty with this
domestic spy under her very roof! What should she answer to this
dreadful question? Something this girl must know, or must suspect, or
she would never have ventured thus to allude a second time to the man
Derrick, after her rebuff in the morning. Above all things, she would
follow Mistress Forest's advice, and get Miss Aynton out of Mirk Abbey.
She had intended to speak to her respecting what had just occurred
at the breakfast-table; that would also offer an opportunity to say
something more.

"Yes, Rose, I am going with you to Belcomb. It is a very favourite spot
of mine--very. It was about that expedition, partly, that I wished
to speak with you. I was about to ask you to be very careful in your
conduct towards my sons this day. It is the last time they will be
together for weeks, perhaps. Be kind to my poor Richard. Of course,
Walter knew nothing of what has passed between you and his brother; but
the bow which he drew at a venture sent home a barbed shot."

Miss Aynton bowed her head.

"You were sorry for that, Rose, I know. You cannot fail to see how
irritable he has lately grown, poor fellow. The fact is, he has
overestimated the strength of his own powers of self-constraint. Your
presence is a perpetual trial to him." My Lady paused, anticipating some
reply to a hint so palpable; but Miss Aynton, who carried her fancy-work
in her pocket, continued to develop a pansy in floss silk; and the
flower opened in silence.

"Under these circumstances, dear Rose," pursued my Lady, "do you not
think it would be better--I know how embarrassing it would be to you to
propose it, and therefore, although your hostess, I relieve you of the
task--do you not think it would, on the whole, be wiser for you to leave
us a little sooner than you had intended?"

The humming of the opera tune, and the odour of the Havana, were growing
more distinct, and the elastic footfall on the gravel was coming very
near.

"If I consulted my own feelings," returned Miss Aynton, in firm, clear
tones, "I should certainly have left Mirk before this, Lady Lisgard."

"Hush, Miss Aynton, for Heaven's sake!" cried my Lady, "the window is
open."

"But unless Sir Richard himself," pursued the girl in more subdued
accents, "releases me from my promise to remain until after his
birthday, I must, with your permission, madam, do so; otherwise, he
might possibly imagine that _his_ presence is too great a trial
for _me_, and I should be loath indeed to have my departure so
misconstrued." There was bitterness in the tone with which she spoke,
but determination too.

"I am to understand, then," returned my Lady flushing, "that contrary to
my advice and wish"----

"Mother, dear, here comes the Break," cried Master Walter, from the
terrace beneath, in his ringing cheerful tones. "I hope you have told
Roberts about the prog."

"Yes, dear, yes," answered my Lady, lovingly even in her haste; then
turning to the young girl, she whispered almost fiercely: "At least,
Miss Aynton, you will shape your behaviour this afternoon as I
requested. There is no time now to discuss the other matter."

And indeed the butler entered the next moment with: "The Break is at the
door, my Lady."

Now, the Break was a very roomy vehicle, with accommodation within it
for three times the party who were now about to occupy it, beside two
seats at the back, like flying buttresses, for footmen. Yet Sir Richard
chose to sit upon the box beside the driver, a place only selected
(unless for smoking purposes) by persons with "horsey" characteristics,
who prefer coachman's talk to that of their equals, and among whom the
baronet could not be justly classed; but the fact was, the young man was
in an evil temper, and desired no companionship but his own. He would
have seen the whole expedition at the bottom of the sea--a metaphor open
to the gravest objections, but which he used while arguing the
matter with himself aloud--if it were not that that fellow Walter was
going--and--and--he was not going to let _him_ have all the talk to
himself, that was all. True, Sir Richard had given up the idea of
transforming Miss Aynton into Lady Lisgard; but still it was not
pleasant to see another man making himself exclusively agreeable to
her. He was annoyed with himself at having exhibited such passion at
the breakfast-table, for the more he thought of it, the more he felt
convinced that Walter's remark, although doubtless intended to be
offensive, had not been made with any knowledge of his own rejected
suit. Still, he was in a very bad temper,-and listened to the
conversation going on behind his back with a moody brow, and every now
and then a parting of the lips, through which escaped something the
reverse of a prayer.

It was Walter, of course, who was talking.

"Inhabited!" said he in answer to some question of Miss Aynton's; "O
dear, no. Belcomb never had a tenant but once, and I should think would
never have another. One Sir Heron Grant and his brother took it two
years for the shooting-season: a brace of Scotchmen whose ancestors
dated from the Deluge, but so dreary a couple, that one wished that the
family had started from a still earlier epoch, and been all washed
away."

"I thought Richard rather liked Sir Heron," observed Letty simply.

"Yes, because he was a baronet; and birds of the same gorgeous plumage
flock together, you know. There was nothing remarkable about him but his
feathers, and he scarcely ever opened his mouth except to put food in
it. It is said that in the old stage-coach times, he and his brother
travelled from Edinburgh to London, and only uttered one sentence
apiece. At York, the younger brother saw a rat come out of a wheat-rick.
'By Jove,' cried he, 'there's a rat!' The next morning, and after an
interval of about eighty miles, Sir Heron replied: 'Ay, if Towser had
seen that rat, he would have made short work of him.'"

"Well, it appears, they agreed, at all events," returned Rose coldly.
"After all, even a foolish remark is better than an ill-natured one."

"The scenery is getting well worth your attention here," observed Sir
Richard, turning graciously round towards Miss Aynton. "Belcomb is a
complete solitude, but for those who are contented with the pleasures of
the country, it is a pleasant spot enough."

"Can we see the house from here, Sir Richard?"

"No, not until we reach this Windmill, on the top of the hill. The
private road branches out from the highway at that spot; and the mill
is the nearest inhabited house to Belcomb.--By the by, mother, Hathaway
must be spoken to about those sails of his--there, you saw how even old
Jenny started at them--it is positively dangerous for horses to pass
by. He must build up that old wall a foot higher, and put a gate up.
Any stray cattle might wander in and get knocked down--the sails are so
close to the ground."

Master Walter had not at all relished Miss Aynton's rejoinder to
his story; still less had he liked his brother's striking into the
conversation; least of all did he approve of this landlord talk about
repairs and alterations, which reminded him of his being a younger son,
and having neither part nor lot in the great Lisgard heritage.

"There's the Folly," cried he suddenly, with a view of changing the
subject; "upon that cliff-like hill yonder, above that belt of trees."

"What, that beautiful ivied tower!" exclaimed Rose.

"Yes; without a roof to it."

"Well, at all events, it's very pretty," said Miss Aynton reprovingly.
"I am sure, Mr Walter, you ought to be grateful to your grandpapa for
building so picturesque an edifice."

"He might have made a road, however, to it," observed Walter
satirically; "a road and a roof, I do consider to be indispensable."

"There's a beautiful winding path through the wood, Rose," said Letty,
"fifty times better than any road; and is not the piece of water
charming? It is the only one with any pretension to be called a Lake in
all the county."

Certainly Belcomb deserved praise. A small but comfortably furnished
house, embosomed in trees, through which were the pleasantest peeps of
hill and dale, and spread before it quite a crystal tarn, with rocky
islands so picturesquely grouped that they almost gave the notion of
being artificial. It was as though a segment of the Lake-country had
been cut off, and inserted into the very midst of Wheatshire.

It was as lonely, too, to all appearance, as any Cumberland mère. An
old man and his wife, who were in charge of the place, came hirpling
out with respectful welcomes, and the latter was about to remove the
shutters of the drawing-room, when my Lady interposed.

"No, Rachel; we will not trouble you to do that. We are going to picnic
at the Tower. You seem quite surprised to see us so early. I suppose
nobody has been here yet upon the same errand."

"Well, no, ma'am; nor is it likely, after your orders"----

"Oh, the fact is, mother," interrupted Sir Richard with a little
stammer, "I forgot to tell you about it; but Rinkel informs me there has
been considerable damage done by parties coming here from Dalwynch and
other places, and therefore he has put up a Notice to prohibit the whole
thing in future."

And, indeed, upon the path leading to "the Folly," which could be
approached by another way than that in front of the house, they
presently came upon a board recently erected, which threatened
Trespassers with all the rigour of the law.

There was a bitter sneer upon Captain Lisgard's handsome face, at this
assumption of authority upon the part of his brother, and it did
not soften when my Lady thoughtfully remarked: "Ah, well; that will
certainly make the place very private."

A curious reply, as Letty thought, at the time, for her mother to make,
who was always so eager to oblige her neighbours, and who well knew how
popular Lisgard's Folly was with the humbler class of townsfolk in the
summer months. But she was destined to be vastly more astonished before
that day was spent.

The little party, so strangely out of accord with one another, took
their lunch, indeed, beneath the shadow of the Tower; but all those
harmonious elements which are so absolutely essential to the success
of a picnic were wanting. There were no high spirits, no good-humoured
badinage, and not the ghost of a laugh. My Lady, singularly silent even
for her, gazed around her on the familiar landscape, or regarded the
shuttered cottage with a mournful interest, as though they reminded her
of happier times. Miss Aynton, careful of what my Lady had enjoined, was
studiously urbane to Sir Richard, but without obtaining the wished-for
result; for while the baronet was thereby only rendered tolerably
gracious, the captain grew intensely irritated. Poor Letty, who was the
only one prepared to be agreeable, or had any expectation of enjoying
herself, felt immensely relieved when the repast was concluded, and the
horses were ordered to be "put to." As for strolling about the grounds,
and pointing out their varied beauties to Rose, as she had counted
upon doing, that was no longer to be thought of. Sir Richard, as usual,
offered his arm in stately fashion to his mother; but Master Walter,
lighting a cigar, stood for a few minutes looking down with knitted brow
upon the lake, then sauntered after them, without saying a word, and
with both hands in his pockets.

"Dear Rose," cried Letty, who watched these proceedings with little
short of terror, "what have you said to make Walter so cross? I never
saw him behave like that in my life. He did not even look at you. Would
it be very wrong if you just ran after him, and said a word or two
before we got into the carriage? I am so dreadfully afraid of a quarrel
between him and Richard."

"Just as you please, Letty," returned Miss Aynton, looking pale, and a
little frightened too; and forcing a laugh, she tripped down the zigzag
path in pursuit of the exasperated captain.

Letty waited a reasonable time, watching the footman collect the débris
of the entertainment, and pack the plate, and then, supposing their
difficulty had been adjusted, followed upon the track of her friend and
Walter. The path was not only of considerable length, but so very steep,
that one little zigzag overhung another; thus, as she descended, she
perceived through the thin Spring foliage the two young people standing
beneath her, although they were quite unconscious of her approach. She
caught the last words of something Rose was saying; those were: "Walter,
dear." She marked the girl stretch her arms towards him, as though
she would have clasped them round his neck; and then she saw Captain
Lisgard, of her Majesty's Light Dragoons, put her roughly by, shake
himself free of her with a movement expressive almost of loathing, and
turn upon his heels with an oath.



CHAPTER V. THE FINESSE IN TRUMPS.

|IT is the Night before the Derby. The West End is thronged with men.
The streets are perceptibly more thronged with well-dressed males
than at any other time in the year. The May meetings brought enough of
parsons and sober-coated laity to dull the living tide--to almost make
us Londoners a mournful people (which we are, naturally, _not_, despite
what Frenchmen say); but those grave ones have either departed from us,
or are now lost and undistinguishable in this influx of gay company. All
the newcomers are in their most gorgeous raiment, for is not this the
great "gaudy" week of the Wicked? Half the officers of cavalry in her
Majesty's sendee have obtained leave of absence for eight-and-forty
hours upon urgent private affairs; and a fourth of the infantry have
done the like; they have come up from every station within the four seas
to see the great race run, which is to put in their pockets from five
pounds to fifty thousand. Over their little books they shake their
shining heads, and stroke their tawny moustaches in a deprecating
manner, but each one has a secret expectation that "he shall pull it
off this once;" for, upon the whole, our military friends have not been
fortunate in turf transactions. There is a fair sprinkling, too, of
respectable country gentlemen, who rarely leave their families to occupy
their old-bachelor quarters at _Long's_ or the _Tavistock,_ except
on this supreme occasion. Every fast university-man who can obtain
an _exeat_ upon any pretence whatever--from sudden mortality in the
domestic circle down to being _subpoenaed_ by a friendly attorney in
the supposititious case of Hookey (a blind man) v. Walker--is up in town
resplendent, confident, Young. Every sporting farmer, save those in the
north, who have a private saturnalia of their own in the mid-autumn, has
left his farm for two nights and a day, and is seeing life in London.
Besides these, an innumerable host of well-dressed scoundrels--for whom
the word "Welcher" is altogether too commendable--have come up from
country quarters, where they have been playing various "little games,"
all more or less discreditable, to work together for evil with their
metropolitan _confreres_ for four days.

Every haunt of dissipation is holding highest holiday. The stupid,
obscene Cider Cellars find, for one night at least, that they have
attractions still; the music-halls are tropical with heat and rankest
human vegetation; Cremorne, after the crowded theatres have disgorged
their steaming crowds, is like a fair. The strangers' room at all the
clubs has been bespoken this night for weeks. In the card-rooms, the
smoking-rooms, the billiard-rooms, there is scarcely space to move, far
less to breathe in; yet there is everywhere a babblement of tongues, and
the words that are most bandied about from feverish mouth to mouth,
are first, _The King_, and secondly, _Menelaus_. The tout had kept his
word--either from fear or nicest honour--until the stipulated week had
elapsed, and then the news of the trial-race began to circulate: from
his outsiders' place, to that of fourth favourite, then of third, and at
last to that of second had "the French horse" gradually risen. A
curious and illogical position enough--but then the turf-people _are_
illogical--for if the news that he had beaten _The King_ was true, he
ought to have been first favourite; and if the news was _not_ true, he
had no reason to find favour at all. As it was, however, _The King_ had
come down half a point as if to meet him, to 9 to 2; while _Menelaus_
stood at 5 to 1.

And had that trial-race really taken place or not? and if so, Was it on
the Square? was the question which was just then agitating the Houses of
Lords and Commons (nay, it was whispered, Marlborough House itself),
and all the mess-tables in her Majesty's service, more than any
other subject in this world. There was also a vague rumour that the
favourite's "understandings" were not as they should be; that there was
a contraction that might be fatal to his prospects; that the idol's feet
were of clay.

Ralph Derrick had "put the pot on" his _Many Laws_, and would be a
millionaire if he won; but Walter Lisgard had put more than the pot.
If the French colours did not shew in front at the winning-post, the
captain, still to use the elegant metaphor of the sporting fraternity,
would be in Queer Street. So infatuated had the young man grown, that
he had absolutely hedged even that one bet which insured him a thousand
pounds in case _The King_ should win the race. Notwithstanding his
coyness in accepting the first offer of a loan from his uncultivated
friend, he had borrowed of him twice since, in each case giving
his I.O.U., whereby he endeavoured to persuade himself that he was
liquidating all obligation; yet, unless he considered his mère autograph
was worth the sums for which it was pledged, I know not how he succeeded
in this. For if _Menelaus_ did not happen to win, he not only would not
have enough to discharge his debts of honour for nearly two years--when
he would come into possession of his patrimony of five thousand
pounds--but even a great portion of _that_ would be bespoken. Thus, of
course, he had placed himself, through mère greed, in a most unpleasant
position; but at the same time it must be allowed that he had yielded
to a great temptation, such as would probably have made the mouth of any
financier water, had the opportunity offered in his particular line; for
with the exception of mère outsiders, _The King_ had beaten every horse
that was to contend with him on the morrow; and _Menelaus_, to Walter's
certain knowledge, had beaten _The King_.

Equinely speaking, then, it was a certainty that the French horse should
win the Derby, in which case the young man's gains would be prodigious;
for not only had he taken advantage of the original position of the
animal in the betting, but as the odds grew less and less, had still
backed him, until his possible winnings reached, on paper, to five
figures; on the other hand, by this last piece of imprudence, his
possible----But no, it was _not_ possible. "Things surely wouldn't go so
devilish cross with a fellow as that or to put the captain's thought
in other words, the Government of the Universe being founded upon just
principles, would never permit such a stupendous misfortune to overwhelm
him; or, it might be, the gallant captain believed that Fortune was
indeed a female, and would therefore hesitate to inflict calamity upon
so pretty a fellow as himself. At the same time, the event of the morrow
was so big with fate, that it was not pleasant to dwell upon it; and
anything which could have prevented his mind from recurring to the same,
would have been welcomed gladly. But there was but one thing that had
the power to do this. His anxiety was far too deep to be flattered away
by the smile of Beauty, or lost in the sparkle of Wine. The homoeopathic
treatment, _similia similibus_, he felt was the only one that could now
give him relief, and he therefore sought for rest from the cares of the
racecourse in the excitement of the gaming-table. Do not, however,
let it be supposed that the captain sought out any of those convenient
establishments for the immediate transfer of property, which are guarded
by iron doors, and always liable to the incursions of the police, who,
upon breaking in, discover four-and-twenty gentlemen (one of whom has
swallowed the dice), sitting round a green baize table in conversation
about Music and the Fine Arts. Master Walter was rash in his
speculations, but he was not madman enough to play chicken-hazard
against foxes.

"I think I shall try my luck with the _Landrails_ to-night," observed
he to his companion Derrick, stopping short in flaring Piccadilly, and
biting-his nails. The two men had been occupying lodgings in the same
house, the _Turf Hotel_ being full; the younger finding a species of
comfort in the society of the part-owner of _Menelaus_, who was even
more confident of the success of that noble quadruped than himself.

"By all means, my lad," returned the gold-finder simply, "although I
don't know what they are; and so as you take me with you, I don't care."

Three weeks ago, such a proposition would have, staggered the captain,
or rather, he would have rejected it point-blank. To be seen in public
with his uncouth and flashily-attired friend, was at that time a
considerable trial to the fastidious light dragoon; but the immense
interest which they had in common, had rendered the familiarity of the
once odious Orson at first tolerable, and eventually welcome, and even
necessary. He had taken him with him into quite exclusive circles, and,
except on one occasion at _the Rag_, where Derrick, having drunk more
champagne than was good for him, had offered to fight Major Pompus of
the Fusiliers _for what he liked_, nothing unpleasant had taken place
in consequence. Men observed: "What a deuced rum fellow Lisgard brought
with him the other night;" but the said stranger had lost his money very
good-naturedly at the whist-table, and it was understood that he had
more to lose.

Under such circumstances, the gentlemen-players were very charitable. Mr
Ralph Derrick did not play a first-rate game at whist; very few persons
who have not been brought up in good society do; but his performance
was not so inferior as to make success impossible for a night or two,
however certain the ruin that would have overtaken him in the long-run.
Moreover, he was never "put off his head" by the largeness of the stake,
his habitual lavishness in money-matters rendering him indifferent to
that matter. Captain Lisgard, on the other hand, though an excellent
player, considering his tender years, was liable to have his nerves
disorganised at any crisis of a rubber upon which an unusual amount
depended.

"Yes," repeated Master Walter, "I'll try my luck at the _Landrails_, and
you shall come, too, Ralph. Any member has a right to introduce whom he
likes."

"Even a miner from Cariboo--eh, Master Walter, provided he's got
money in his pocket? Well, I'm their man, whether it's for whist or
all-fours."

"_All-fours!_" repeated the captain with irritation. "Who ever heard of
a gentleman playing at that game? Do, pray, be particular in what you
say to-night. Whatever you do, call a knave a knave, and not a _Jack_.
The _Landrails_ is a very select place, Ralph, where men who like to
play their whist more quietly than at _the Rag_ look in for an hour or
two rather late."

"Heavier stakes, I suppose?" observed Derrick bluntly.

"Yes, rather. You see, there's always some row with the committee, if
play gets beyond a certain height at the regular clubs. Now, this is
a sort of friendly circle where the points are quite optional, and the
bets too. Yes, I think I shall try my luck for a pony or two."

"I don't think you look quite fit for whist, my lad, to-night," returned
Derrick, gazing gravely into the young man's haggard face. "To-morrow
will be a trying day, remember; I think you had much better get to bed."

"I couldn't do it, man!" replied Walter vehemently--"I dare not. I
should never sleep a wink, and perhaps go mad with thinking before the
morning. Look here, how my hand trembles. I have not nerves of iron,
like you."

"Poor lad, poor lad!" ejaculated the other with affectionate compassion.
"Nothing, as you say, ever makes me tremble--except D. T. Ah, Heaven,
but that is terrible! Never drink, lad, never drink;" and something like
a shudder throbbed through the speaker's brawny frame.

"The _Landrails_ meet here," said Walter, stopping at the door of a
private house in the neighbourhood of St James's Palace; "it is past
eleven, and I daresay play has begun."

"Who owns this house?" asked Derrick carelessly, surveying the
unpretending tenement in question--"or rather, who pays the rent?"

"Well, I hope _we_ shall, Ralph, this evening. The fact is, the hire of
the rooms, the attendance, and even the cost of the refreshments, are
all defrayed each night by the winners in proportion to their gains.
Money does not change hands until the ensuing week, but the secretary
enters all accounts in his ledger, and sees that they are duly squared.
I am answerable for your liabilities to-night, so do you be careful with
the liquors."

As the youthful Mentor administered this wholesome piece of advice
to his senior, the door opened, and they were admitted. It was a most
respectable house, neither very large nor very small, and neatly but
inexpensively furnished. The butler was a man who might have been the
body-servant of an evangelical bishop, and whose conscience was troubled
by the spiritual shortcomings of his right reverend master. To come upon
so grave and sad a man upon the eve of the Derby Day, was quite a homily
in itself. Through the open door of the dining-room could be seen a cold
collation, at which men dropped in from above-stairs if they felt so
disposed; but there were light refreshments in the drawing-room also,
and a great variety of pleasant drinks. The _Landrails_ were thirsty
folks, and imbibed gallons of iced hock and Seltzer water; but they had
not, as a rule, good appetites. There were three tables for whist, and
one dedicated to piquet or écarté. All these had massive candlesticks
screwed into their wood-work--perhaps only to prevent their falling
off; but it also put a stop to any possible use of them as a weapon or
missile, and I think that contingency had been also taken into account.
A candlestick comes uncommonly handy to the fingers when luck has gone
pertinaciously against one, and the man who has won all the money is
personally hateful. Above all things, it was important, in that quiet,
friendly circle, to repress all ebullition of temper, and to steer clear
of all disputes. Nobody, one would hope, who was in a position to be
admitted to that society, would stoop to cheating; but a little strap
was inserted at the opposite corners of each table for the convenience
of marking the score, wherein, when the counters were once placed, they
could not he accidentally removed by the elbow. *

* Persons who are acquainted with the game of whist have informed me,
that it is sometimes better--in the case of holding two by honours, for
instance--to be at three than four.

The spacious room--for it was a double drawing-room--was by no means
brilliantly lit up; a couple of bare wax-candles stood upon the
refreshment-table, where, by the by, there was no attendant, each man
helping himself at pleasure; but the other four pair in the room had
shades over them, which dulled their radiance, although it caused
them to throw a very bright light upon the tables themselves. When the
new-comers entered, which they did quite unannounced, the sight struck
one of them at least as a very strange one: three shining isles of
light--for one whist-table was not in use--amid a sea of gloom; ten
thoughtful faces with a sort of halo round them, and one or two sombre
ones standing by like their evil genii, and watching, the play. There
was not a sound to be heard at first, except the dull fall of the
pieces of pasteboard, but presently a hand being finished in their
neighbourhood, a sort of hushed talk began about what would have
happened if somebody had under-played the diamond.

"What are the points?" whispered Derrick in his companion's ear.

"What are the points to-night, Beamish?" inquired Walter of one of the
four, a very unimpassioned-looking young man, who replied with a most
unpleasant and ghastly smile--as though he had cut his throat a little
too high up: "Fives and fifties, my gallant captain, with the odds
in ponies; so, being a younger son, I advise you to go to some other
table."

"Never mind, I am going to make a good marriage," returned Walter
coolly. Mr Beamish had been a penniless government clerk until he wedded
the widow of an opulent builder with half a town for her jointure. "If
you are not full," added the captain, "I declare in here, for myself and
friend."

All four looked up for an instant at the threatened stranger; for your
good player, intent on gain, detests the introduction of an unknown
hand. Somehow or other, although the odds are two to one, "it's always
his cursed luck to have him for a partner." General Prim, who had been
a martinet in the Peninsula, and as offensive to his fellow-creatures as
less favourable circumstances had permitted ever since, gave a ferocious
grin, and shook his single scalp-lock of gray hair like a malignant
pantaloon. The Hon. Pink Hawthorne, attache at the court at Christiana,
but absent from that lively capital upon sick-leave, wrenched his fair
moustache this way and that, and frowned as gloomily as his foolish
forehead would permit. The dealer, a Mr Roberts, an ancient bencher
of one of the Inns of Court, paused with the trump card in his fingers
still unturned. "Does your friend know what the Blue Peter means,
Lisgard?"

"I've been a sailor half my life, sir, and it's devilish odd if I did
_not_." returned Ralph Derrick grimly.

"What the devil did the fellow mean?" added he to Walter as the game
began, and all the four became at once automatons.

"It's the new system of asking for trumps," answered Walter peevishly.
"The same thing that they called the Pilot the other night. How
ridiculous you have made yourself. See, there's another table up. Bless
the man, not there, that's the piquet place."

Ralph had quietly seated himself next to Major Piccalilli, of the
Irregular Cavalry, Cayenne Station, Upper India, and had already
disturbed his marking-cards, whereby that gallant officer was reduced to
the verge of apoplexy with speechless rage.

"Stay, you shall stick to this one," continued Walter in a low voice;
"that fellow Beamish is hateful to me--and I will cut in yonder. There
is not a muff-table in the room--all these beggars play too well." With
these words, the captain hurried away; and as soon as the rubber he had
been watching was finished, Derrick was admitted of the conclave, to the
exclusion of General Prim, who cursed that circumstance very audibly,
and for a man of his advanced years, with considerable emphasis and
vigour. Derrick fell as a partner to the lot of the gentleman who had
inquired as to his proficiency in the art of asking for trumps.

"If you would only hold your cards a _little_ more on the table, I
should be able to see them myself," remarked Mr Roberts with severity.

"If they look over my hands, sir," returned Derrick reassuringly,
"I'll forgive 'em: that's all.--If you won't take that old gentleman's
bets"--referring to the general, who seemed extremely anxious to back
their adversaries--"then I will;" and he did it--and luck went with
him. There was nothing stronger than champagne to be got at in that
respectable place of business, so Ralph kept his head, and won--a
hundred and fifty pounds or so. Then, the table breaking up, he rose and
stood over his young friend, to see how the cards were going with him.

"Bad," muttered Derrick to himself, as he watched Walter running through
his hand with eager haste, as a woman flirts her fan. His beautiful face
was dark with care, his eyes flashed impatiently upon the man whose turn
it was to lead.

"Our odds are in fifties, eh, Lisgard?" drawled his right-hand
adversary, Captain and Lieutenant Wobegon of the Horse Guards' azure.

"The same as before, I suppose," returned the young man haughtily.

Ralph gave a prolonged whistle. His young friend had a treble up, and
the others nothing, so that he must be betting two hundred and fifty
pounds to one hundred; and "the same as before" too! Within the next
minute, the cards were thrown down upon the table, and the adversaries
scored a treble likewise. "That's been my cursed luck, Ralph, all
to-night!" cried the young man with a little grating laugh. "Four by
honours against one every deal."

"You must have been doing something devilish bad, Lisgard," observed the
Guardsman.

"Yes, I have--playing!" answered Walter bitterly. "But no fellow _can_
play with sixes and sevens; it demoralises one so."

"All cards do, my grandmother says," answered Wobegon, who for a
Guardsman was not without humour. "She made me promise, when she paid
my debts, my first Derby, that I would never back anything again; and I
never have, except my luck and bills."

Captain Lisgard had naturally a keen appreciation of fun, but he did not
vouchsafe a smile to the facetious Guardsman, who himself joked like an
undertaker, and had never been known to laugh in his life. The fact
was, that nothing could just now commend itself to Master Walter except
winning back his money.

Reader, did you ever play for more than you can afford? Pardon me the
inquiry; there is no occasion to be Pharisaical; for it is even possible
to do worse things than that in your line: moreover, the question of
what is more than you can afford is such a large one, and affords such
opportunities for a nimble conscience to escape. I remember in Lord
Houghton's _Life of Keats_, that that gallant nobleman, in defending the
poet from the charge of dissipation and gambling, remarks that it all
arose from his having lost ten pounds upon a certain evening at cards.
How, considering that the author of _Hyperion_ had no income, nor any
bank except his Imagination to apply to--and it was notorious that he
could never put a cheque even upon _that_--I take his Lordship to be a
very charitable peer. Ten pounds must have been, for Keats, a large sum.

But, undoubtedly, the matter is one for a man to decide for himself; the
whole question is relative; and if you are apt to lose your temper, then
remember you play for more than you can afford, although your stakes are
but--penny-stamps. Captain Walter Lisgard had lost his temper and his
money also. There was a numbed sense of misfortune pervading him; it
seemed to him as though he was Predestinated to lose. I am much mistaken
if he had not a sort of humming in his ears. One of the most religious
men whom it has been my fortune to meet, has informed me that, in his
unregenerate days, when he was a gambler and everything else, * he once
_prayed to win_ at cards.----

* "Every sin, sir, in the Decalogue, I am glad to say, have I
committed"--meaning that the present change in him was rendered thereby
all the more satisfactory--"with the sole exception of murder."

"Then it strikes me." said I, "in addition to your other backslidings at
the time you speak of, you were just a trifle blasphemous."

"No, sir," said he; "I think not. All that I possessed in the world was
depending upon the result of a certain game at écarté. If I had lost it,
I should have been a beggar. If I won it, I resolutely resolved never to
touch a card again--never to run the risk of experiencing a second time
the mental agony I was then undergoing. I am not ashamed to confess,
sir, that in such a strait I prayed to win; and I _did_ win."

"All I have to say, sir," replied I, "is this: that it was uncommonly
hard upon the other man."

Good resolutions are indeed by no means uncommon among tolerably
young persons in positions of pecuniary peril, such as that of Captain
Lisgard. They vow their candles to this and that patron saint if they
should but escape shipwreck upon the green baize this once. Master
Walter's bid was confined to a few "dips," if one may use so humble a
metaphor, of which about fifty went to the pound, and even those were
not offered in a penitent spirit. He would never play whist with the
Landrails any more. He would never lay the long odds beyond "couters"--a
foolish word he and his set used for sovereigns. He would never back
himself at all when playing with "that fool Pompus"--his present
partner. He would become, in short, exceedingly wise and prudent, if
he should only "pull off" this present rubber. There was "life in the
Mussel" yet. They were at "three all" when Pompus led his knave instead
of his ten, from ten, knave, king, and only got the trick when he should
have got the game.

"We shall never have another chance now," sighed Walter, as his
left-hand adversary turned up the queen. But privately he thought that
fortune would not be quite so cruel as all that came to; moreover, he
had an excellent hand. His fingers trembled as he arranged the long suit
of clubs, headed by tierce major, and saw that he had four trumps to
bring them in with.

As the game went on, however, Pompus exhibited his usual feebleness, and
things began to look very black indeed. In the third round of trumps,
Master Walter's memory left him sudden as an extinguished taper. It
is sad to have to say it of so excellent a player, but he recollected
nothing whatever, except that, if he lost that rubber, it would be an
addition of three hundred pounds to the sum he already owed Captain
Wobegon. It was his turn to play, and he was third hand. He had the king
and ten of trumps. The ace had been played; ay, he remembered that after
a struggle, and the knave too. Yes, his left-hand adversary had played
the knave. Should he finesse his ten or not? That was the question, upon
the decision of which depended some five hundred pounds. Whist is not
always a game of pleasure. Master Walter finessed the ten. "Thousand
devils!" cried Derrick with a tremendous imprecation, "why, the queen
was _turned up_ on your left, lad: you have thrown away the game." And
it was so. Walter Lisgard did not speak a word; but having compared his
note-book with that of Captain Wobegon, retired into a little office out
of the back drawing-room, where the secretary of the _Landrails_ entered
the members' somewhat complicated little accounts with one another in a
very business-like-looking ledger. "You have had a bad night of it for
_you_, sir," remarked this gentleman quietly; "you generally hold your
own."

"Yes. What is the cursed total?"

"Eighteen hundred."

"Ralph Derrick," said Walter Lisgard, as the two walked up St James's
Street towards their lodgings for bath and breakfasts, but scarcely
for bed, since the morning was already far advanced--"if any horse but
_Menelaus_ wins the race, I am a ruined man."



CHAPTER VI. MR WITHERS WITHDRAWS HIMSELF.

|WHEN Derrick and the captain met at the breakfast-table upon that Derby
morning, there was a note for the latter waiting by his plate. It had
been brought over from the _Turf Hotel_ with apologies, having been
detained there by mistake, "through everybody being so busy," for at
least a week. As he turned it moodily over without opening it, Ralph saw
that it had the Mirk postmark.

"You have a letter from home, I see, lad; lucky dog!"

"Yes, very lucky," replied the young man cynically, as he ran his eye
over the contents; "worse than my infernal luck of last night, and only
less than the misfortune I am looking for to-day is the news in this
letter."

"How is that, lad?"

"Well, you will hear some day."--Here he took the note, and slowly tore
it lengthways into thin strips, and then across, so that it lay in a
hundred fragments.--"But it's a secret, at least it was until a week
ago, but being in a woman's hands, of course she let it slip;" and
Master Walter looked as near to "ugly" as it was possible for his
handsome face to go.

"I fancied your folks at home were unaware of your having intended to
be at the _Turf Hotel_, and rather thought you were with your regiment,
like a good boy."

The captain returned no answer; but Derrick, who was in excellent
spirits notwithstanding the anxieties of the coming day, continued
to address him in that healthy and cheerful strain which is the most
intolerable of all manners to one who is melancholy, and what is worse,
in dread suspense. "Now, for my part, Walter, any letter in a woman's
hand, as I think yours is--nay, you foolish lad, if you hadn't stuffed
it into your breast-pocket so quickly, I protest I should have thought
it had come from your mother or your sister. Why, you don't mean to
say that that pretty little gate-keeper down at Mirk writes letters to
handsome Master Walter?"

"And why not?" asked the captain defiantly. "If it had come from
Mistress Forest, then, indeed, you might have taken upon yourself to
object, although I understand that even there, you have not yet obtained
the position of bridegroom-elect."

"No," returned Derrick drily. "I was about to say that _I_ should have
welcomed any letter in a woman's hand, especially if it began: 'My
dearest '"----

"What the devil do you mean by looking over my letter?" exclaimed Master
Walter, starting up in a fury.

"Nothing," answered the other, purple with laughter and muffin; "I
never dreamed of such a thing. But since you said it came from the
gate-keeper's daughter, I thought I'd make a shot. The idea of my
wanting to read all the pretty things the little fool writes to a wicked
young dog like you; it's no fun to me to watch a moth at a candle. But
what a spoiled lad it is! Why, here I have had no letter at all from
Mirk, and yet I am content. Silence gives consent, they say; and
particularly in this case, when I know nothing but your lady-mother
prevents Mary writing 'My dearest Ralph' to me. Indeed, if she wrote
'Dear sir, I can have no more to do with you,' it would not have the
smallest effect. What I have made up my mind to do, generally comes
to pass. Where there's a _will_--that is, supposing it is strong
enough--there is most times a _way_."

"I know you're a devil of a fellow," sneered Master Walter, rising and
gazing out of window at the bustling street already astir with the Derby
vehicles; "but I am afraid your _will_ can't win me this race."

"It's done a great deal towards it, Captain Lisgard. It brought about
the trial-race with the 'crack,' although my Lord did give himself such
cursed airs, and not only let you in for a good thing, but lent you the
money to take advantage of it to the uttermost."

"That's true," said Walter frankly, and holding out his thin white hand.
"I daresay you think me an ungrateful beast, but I'm worried by a matter
that you know nothing of; besides"----

"Not another word, lad--not another word; I am a rude rough creature,
and I said some unpleasant things myself.--Here is our Hansom, and with
light-green curtains of gauze. I'm cursed if I go down to Epsom with the
colours of _The King_ on my cab. Why, the beggar must have done it to
insult us."

"Stuff and nonsense, Ralph; it's only to keep off the dust. If you have
no curtains, you must wear a veil, that's all. Look there, in yonder
barouche-and-four, every man has a green veil on. By Heaven! that
Wobegon's one of 'em. He's got my I.O.U. for fifteen hundred pounds in
his waistcoat-pocket; and there's that ugly devil Beamish, too.--Well,"
muttered the captain to himself, "I'm glad I didn't go with _that_
party, at all events."

Master Walter, who was as popular in town as elsewhere, had been asked
to take a seat for that day in half-a-dozen "drags" and barouches,
but he had preferred to go alone with Derrick; not that he enjoyed his
companionship, but because, as I have before said, he gathered some
comfort from his society under the present cloud of anxiety and
apprehension.

"I say, Walter, you are a pretty fellow; you forgot all about the
provisions, but see here!" cried Derrick triumphantly, pulling a hamper
from under the sofa; "a pigeon-pie, a fowl, two bottles of champagne,
and one of brandy!"

"What confounded nonsense!" returned the young man peevishly. "There are
dozens of parties who would have given us lunch. The idea of a hamper on
the top of a Hansom!"

"Well, come, you are wrong anyway, _there_, lad, for I have seen a dozen
going by this morning."

"Very likely, and you have also seen plenty of vans, each with a barrel
of ale. However, it's of no consequence. If the Frenchman wins, I
could eat periwinkles out of a hand-barrow with a hair-pin; and if he
loses--why, then, I shall not have much appetite."

"Look here, lad," replied Derrick gravely, "this sort of thing won't do.
Never be down on your luck, until, at all events, your luck is down upon
you. You are not cut out for this work, _I_ can see. A man ought to be
sanguine, yet cool; hopeful of gain--yet quite prepared for loss, who
goes in for such a stake as you have got upon to-day's race. A gambler
should be all brain, and no heart: let me suggest, before we start, that
you should just take a little brandy."

"No, no!" ejaculated the captain impatiently. "If I am a funk, as you so
delicately hint, I am not a fool. Come, let's be off. The next, time I
see this room again, I shall be a made man--or a beggar."

To any man, who risks by betting more than he can conveniently spare,
the going to the Derby is by no means a cheerful expedition, whatever
his coming home may chance to be; and further, it may be observed, that
of all professional persons, those who take up the Turf as their line in
life, are the most sombre and unlively.

Many of them are clever fellows enough, and one or two are honest men,
but there is no such thing as fun among them. The Ring would never take
to the snow-balling one another, as the stock-brokers have been known
to do when 'Change was dull. They have only a certain grim and cruel
humour, such as the Yankees use, the point of which lies always in
overreaching one another.

Derrick was right when he said that Master Walter was not fit for such
a calling, but the same thing might, almost with equal force, have been
said of himself. He was not, indeed, of an anxious disposition, but
his temper, when once roused, was almost demoniacal, and he could never
stand being cheated. Now, Cheating, in some form or other, is the soul
of the turf.

Whenever it is possible to trot in that vast procession down to Epsom,
the appearance of which is so gay, and the pace so funereal, the
large-wheeled Hansom does it. Many a pretentious four-in-hand did the
captain and Derrick pass, and many a wicked-looking brougham with its
high stepping-steeds; and the occupants of each had often a word to say
about "the fellow with the beard that Lisgard had picked up, and was
carrying about with him everywhere." For the manly growth that fringed
Ralph Derrick's chin was something portentous, even in these days of
beards, and his appearance was rendered still more striking from the
fact of his wearing an infinite number of wooden dolls in the band of
his hat, where Louis XI. used to stick the images of his patron saints.
In vain Walter had informed him that this was a weakness only indulged
in by snobs. Ralph rejoined (but not without an extra tinge of red in
his weatherbeaten cheek), that being a snob himself, it was therefore
only natural that he (Ralph) should take pleasure in thus adorning
himself. He had rather be a snob than a nob, by a precious sight; he
knew that. As for making an exhibition of himself, if that was really
the case, it was only right that the public should be advertised of the
matter, so he purchased a penny trumpet, and executed thereon the most
discordant flourishes. "Say another word, lad," added he, with cheerful
malice, "and blessed if I don't buy a false nose!"

Walter made no further remonstrance; he leaned back in the Hansom as far
he could, and as much behind the green gauze curtain, until they reached
the course, when his companion divested himself of the objectionable
ornaments, and made a present of a live tortoise, which he had also
acquired on the way, to an importunate gipsy woman, instead of crossing
her palm as requested "with a piece of silver." They could hear by this
time the hum and the roar of the great human sea which surged about the
railings in front of the Grand Stand, and in a few minutes more they
were within them. They pushed their way through the babbling throng
towards a certain corner that had been agreed upon, and there was Mr
Tite Chifney waiting for them, with a very pale face indeed.

"Nothing wrong with the horse, is there?" cried Ralph in a loud and
menacing voice, which caused not a few sharp eyes to glance cunningly
towards them, and set not a few sharp ears to listen to what might come
next.

"No, sir, nothing," returned the trainer. "For Heaven's sake, speak low.
I never saw him looking better in my life. We will see him now, if you
like."

"Where's Blanquette?" continued Ralph, a little reassured by this, as
they moved away towards the Paddock.

"Mr Blanquette is not here, Mr Derrick."

"Not here? Why, he was to join you the day before yesterday, otherwise I
would have come myself."

"He _has_ been here, sir, but he's gone away again?"

"What! Is he not coming back to-day?"

"I hope so, sir; I most sincerity hope so; but the fact is--now take 'it
quietly, for it's none of my fault--he's gone after Jack Withers."

In an instant, while Walter ejaculated a smothered cry of agony and
wrath, Derrick had seized the trainer by the throat. "You know me, sir,"
cried he. "As I swore to treat that tout on the Downs at Mirk, so will I
treat you, if that jockey"----

But two blue-coated men had thrust themselves between the strong man and
his victim; a gentleman in a tight-buttoned frock-coat was coming up,
too, in plain clothes, with that swift determined stride peculiar to
members of "the force," and the crowd grew very thick about them, and
a thousand eyes were being concentrated upon Ralph's furious face, he
knew. If his temper was lost now, he felt that all was lost. With an
effort that almost cost him a fit of apoplexy--"I am sorry," said he,
"that I laid my hand upon you, Mr Chifney."

"That will do," returned the trainer quietly, arranging his neckcloth.
"Mr Inspector, you know me, and there is no occasion for your services."

"All right, Mr Chifney, but you have got a rummish customer to deal with
there," replied the guardian of the law, stroking his chin, and looking
at Derrick, much as a vice-president of the Zoological Society might
regard a novelty in wild beasts, that had been half-promised to the
establishment, and then withdrawn.

"I have never been treated thus," complained the trainer, as the three
moved away, and the gaping crowd gathered round some other object of
attraction, "and have never deserved such treatment from any employer of
mine, although I have kept racing-stables these thirty years. I can make
some allowance for one who has so much money on this horse, as I know
_you_ have, Mr Derrick, but I give you my honour and word that I was as
astounded as Mr Blanquette himself, when I heard the news that Jack had
skedaddled. He was your own jockey, remember, not mine: no boy in my
stables has ever played such a scurvy trick as this."

"Have you any boy that can take this scoundrel's place?" asked Captain
Lisgard impatiently.

"I have got as good riders as can be got, Master Walter, upon so short a
notice; and _Menelaus_ shall have the pick of them. But you know what a
devil of a temper the horse has; and this Withers was the only lad who
understood him."

"How comes it that Blanquette has gone to look for him?" asked Derrick
thoughtfully. "Does he know where he is likely to be found?"

"Not as I know of, sir," returned the trainer gravely, "He said he would
bring him back Dead or Alive--those were his words."

"Stop a moment, Chifney," ejaculated Ralph. "I can scarcely find breath
to utter even the suspicion of it; and the certainty would, I verily
believe, choke me; but do you think it possible that all is not quite on
the square with Blanquette himself?"

"Well, Mr Derrick, I'd rather not say. Mr Blanquette is as much the
owner of the horse as yourself. He's my employer too--and nobody ever
heard Tite Chifney breathe a word"----

"Thousand devils!" cried Derrick, stamping his foot so that the print
of it was left in the yielding turf; "is this a time for your senseless
scruples? I ask you, do you think it possible that this man--my pal
for years, one that has oftentimes faced death in my company, and once
shared the last scanty meal that stood between us and starvation--do you
think it possible, I say, that this man has sold the race?"

"Well, sir," replied Mr Chifney frankly, "about victuals eaten under the
circumstances you describe, of course I'm no judge; but as to friendship
and that, I've known a son play his own father false upon the turf
before now; and what an Englishman will do in the way of smartness, you
may take your oath a Frenchman will do--and a deuced sight worse too.
Moreover, since you press this question, I may say that your partner has
been seen talking with Wiley--Lord Stonart's agent--more than once."

"And why, in the devil's name, was I not told?"

"That was not my business, Mr Derrick; you might not have thanked me for
interfering with your affairs. I thought that you and Mr Blanquette were
one. Besides, to confess the truth, I thought it was _The King_ who was
being nobbled. And since Lord Stonart has chosen to withdraw his
horses from my keeping--chiefly, by the by, through his disgust at that
trial-race in which his crack was beaten--I, of course, was no longer
bound to look after his interests; no, indeed, quite the reverse," added
the trainer with an offended air.

"Did this Frenchman say he would be here to-day, if he did not find the
boy?" inquired Captain Lisgard sharply, with an unpleasant look in his
fine eyes.

"I can answer that question for him," returned the gold-digger grimly.
"If he has played me false, he will not only not be _here_; he will have
put the sea--and not the narrow one either--between himself and Ralph
Derrick; for he knows me very well. But now"--here he drew a long
breath, and made a motion with his mighty arms as though he would
dismiss that matter for the present, tempting as it was to dwell
upon--"let us see the boy that is to take this rascal's place. We may
pull through still with luck."



CHAPTER VII. AT EPSOM.

|HAVE you ever seen at the beginning of a Great Law Case a certain hush
and stir among the gentlemen of the long robe, and then a young man
rise--not much over forty, that is--and inform "my lud" that his
unfortunate client was placed at a sad disadvantage, for that, through
the unexpected but unavoidable absence of his leader, the whole
case must needs devolve upon his own (the junior's) shoulders? The
circumstance is of course most lamentable, but still the young counsel
(if he is worth a guinea fee) has a certain confident radiance about
him, for he feels that his opportunity has come at last, and that he has
but "to grasp the skirts of happy chance," to be borne from that moment
woolsackwards. So was it with Mr Samuel Hicks, horse-jockey unattached,
when suddenly called upon to fill the vacant seat of Brother Withers,
absent without leave. To ride a Derby at a moment's notice was, to one
in his position, almost what to take the command of the Mediterranean
squadron would be to a young gentleman at the naval school. But not a
trace of indecision was visible on the young centaur's countenance.

"I will do my best, gentlemen," said he modestly; then added, with the
irrepressible assurance of his class, "and I think I know how to ride."

"You know nothing, and are an infernal young fool," returned the trainer
sharply. "You never were outside of such a horse as _Menelaus_ in your
life. If he is in a good temper, a child might steer him; but if he
jibs--if he stands stock-still in that great race an hour hence, as he
is as like to do as not--what will you do then?"

"Bless my soul, sir," cried the boy, his golden Future--not without
"mother in a comfortable cottage, and easy for life," let us hope, in
the foreground--all swept away by this relentless prediction--"Bless my
soul, sir, I think I should cut his throat."

"I like this fellow," cried Derrick, slapping the lad upon the back.
"Look you, here is twenty pounds, which you may keep in any case, and
you had better take it now, for if you lose the race, there will be
plenty of folks to want all my money. But if you win, boy, I will make
it Two Hundred."

"And I will make it Four," added Master Walter fervently.

"So, you see, you will be a made man for life," remarked the trainer
kindly. "But listen to me, Sam, or else all this glitter will be the
merest moonshine. Be sure never touch your horse with whip or spur; for
Withers, I have noticed, never did. But if the beast jibs--I saw Jack do
this at the trial-race, and once before--snatch at his ear. There may be
some secret in the way of handling it, but there is no time for finding
that out. Do you twist it hard."

"O sir, I'll twist it off, but he shall win," returned the jockey
plaintively; and off he went to don his new owner's colours--black and
red--as proudly as an ensign to his first battle-field.

It had got about that there was some hitch about _Menelaus_, and the
odds were rising rapidly against him; and when the large and somewhat
ungainly animal took his preparatory canter in front of the stand under
the guidance of the uncelebrated Hicks, they rose still higher. If any
of his ancient confidence had remained to Captain Lisgard, he could
scarcely have resisted the tempting offers that were being roared out in
harsh and nasal tones from every quarter of the Ring.

"I'll lay 7 to 1 against _Many Laws_" (for most of the racing
fraternity favoured Mr Derrick's pronunciation of that name); "I'll lay
8 to 1."

"I'll take 4 to 1. I name the Winner" (for the relation between _The
King_ and the French horse in the betting was that of buckets in a
well).

"I take odds that _Menelaus_ is not placed," exclaimed a shrill and
sneering voice close beside where the two men most interested in that
depreciated animal were standing.

"What odds will you take, my Lord?" inquired Captain Lisgard, biting
his lip in wrath, for it was Lord Stonart who was offering them, the man
whose confidential agent had been talking with Blanquette, and to whose
machinations it was almost certainly owing that _Menelaus_ had lost his
rider.

"Ah, Lisgard, how are you?" returned he coolly. "How came it that I
missed you just now in the Paddock? Haven't seen you since that morning
on Mirk Down. So we're going to try that race over again, eh?"

"I think you were asking for odds, my Lord, about the black horse being
_placed?_" rejoined the captain, pale with passion at the sarcasm that
lurked in the other's tone.

"Yes, so I was. There has something gone amiss, they say, with him. I'll
take 4 to 1 in fifties--hundreds, if you like."

"Don't do it," whispered Derrick eagerly. "Don't you see what the
scoundrel reckons upon? If the horse runs straight, he will win the
race, but if he jibs, he will be nowhere. He is therefore taking odds
where he ought to give them."

"You don't take me, eh?" continued his Lordship. "Well, I think your
friend advises you wisely. See, the horses are moving towards the hill
Like myself, you have no stall, I conclude. Where are you going to place
yourself? I think I shall remain below here on the green."

"Then I shall see the race from the roof my Lord," answered the
captain savagely, and thither he and his companion betook themselves
accordingly.

To look down from that elevation upon Epsom Downs just before the start
for the Great Race, is to behold a wondrous spectacle. Men--a quarter
of a million or so--as black and thick as bees, and emitting much such a
hum and clangour as attends the swarming of those perilous insects;
and the carriages, twelve deep--dwarfed to much the same proportions
as those chariots which used to be dragged in public by the Industrious
Fleas. But raise your race-glass, and with a single sweep you survey
every social degree of human life; from the duchess to the poor drunken
hag on the look-out for empty bottles; from the peer to the ragged
thief who bides his moment to snatch his booty from his Lordship's
carriage-seat. This rascal's opportunity is coming. If there are five
minutes in an Englishman's life in which he is indifferent to the
preservation of his property, it is those five which are now at hand
when that little jockey rainbow yonder is gathering on the hill.
Thirty of the fleetest horses in the world are about to contend for the
greatest prize that horse can win: it is not that circumstance, however,
which makes so many hearts go pit-a-pat, keeps all lips sealed, and
rivets every eye, except that of the pickpocket and his natural enemy
the policeman, upon that shifting speck of colour. All are aware of the
enormous interests that hang upon the result impending, even if they
have none themselves; vague hut gigantic shadows of loss and gain
forecast themselves upon every mind. In a few seconds more, certain
unknown scoundrels--fellow-creatures, however, with whom we have
indissoluble sympathies--will be enriched beyond the dreams of avarice;
and certain other poor devils will be ruined. A solemn hush pervades all
Pandemonium. The very organ-grinders cease their hateful discord; the
vendors of race-cards give their lungs brief respite; the proprietors of
_Aunt Sallies_ intermit their useless cry of "Three throws a penny," and
stand on tiptoe, with their _fasces_ beneath their arms, as eager as my
Lord who totters insecure erect upon the front seat of his drag. Nervous
folks see all these things because they cannot keep their eyes fixed
where they would. A sudden roar breaks forth, not in the least like
human speech, but it means that They are Off!

"_Are_ they off, Ralph?" inquires Master Walter of his companion, "or
is it a lie?" His small and well-gloved hand is trembling so, that
his race-glass gives him views like a kaleidoscope. Splendour or
Penury--nay, worse, or Shame await him, and are at the threshold. He
knows not yet the foot of which it is that draws so nigh; and he dares
not look forth to see.

"They are not off yet, lad," returned Ralph; and even _he_ has to
swallow something which appears to be in his throat, but is not, before
he can give that assurance.

Master Walter draws a long breath, for this is a reprieve, and
endeavours once more to fix his eyes upon the dancing horses; but it
is the retina of the mind only which presents its image. He beholds his
mother's face, paler and more careworn than ever, sharpened with pain,
through something which she has learned since----

"They're off! they're off!" is again the cry; and this time the great
plane of faces shifts and flashes as it follows the speck of colour now
in rapid motion--at first, a double line, next a lengthening oval, and
then a string of brilliants, knotted here and there. As they approach
Tatten-ham Corner, Walter perceives, for the first time, that they
are horses, and that three are leading all the rest--Green, Black, and
Yellow. The chances are then but two to one against him. How they lag
and crawl, these vaunted coursers of the air! How long is this frightful
suspense to last? "The Yellow's beat--_Mica_ is out of it--the Black
wins--the favourite is beaten, blast him!--_Menelaus wins_"----There is
a thunder of hoofs, a flash of Black and Green, then a cry such as, even
on Epsom Downs, was never before heard. "By Heaven, he's off! The boy is
killed! Was it short of the post? What number's up? The Green has won.
_The King, The King!_ Hurrah, hurrah!" And so the babblement breaks
forth again, and the tumultuous crowd flows in like water upon the fair
green course, save one small space of it kept clear by men with staves,
where lies a poor whitefaced jockey, senseless and motionless, for whose
misfortune everybody is sorry, but especially those who have backed the
Black.

All had gone well with the French horse until within a few strides
of the winning-post; he was leading by half a length, and his victory
seemed certain to all eyes, when suddenly--whether through the devilish
nature of the beast, or whether poor Sam had touched him with the heel
in that overwhelming crisis, can never now be known--but he stopped
stock-still, and shot his rider (snatching at his ear as he flew by) a
dozen yards like cricket-ball from catapult. The uncelebrated Hicks
had actually preceded the rival jockey at the post, but left his horse
behind him; and there the beast was standing yet, with his fore-feet
planted resolutely before him, and his untwisted ears laid level with
his neck, as though he was giving "a hack" at leap-frog.

"Come down, and let us get away from this, lad," broke forth Derrick
impatiently: "it is no use waiting here."

"It is no use waiting here," echoed the young man mechanically, as he
followed his friend through the fast-thinning crowd down to the basement
story.

At the foot of the staircase they met Mr Chifney, looking very white and
disconcerted. He, too, had put more trust than he was wont to place
in horses in _Menelaus_, and had suffered in consequence; and the wily
trainer was not used to losses.

"How is the boy?" inquired Derrick.

"Bad, sir, bad: it is a bad business altogether," muttered the man of
horseflesh, not perhaps wholly thinking of the boy.

"It was not his fault, however," continued Ralph. "No man could have
kept his seat during such a devil's trick. Look you, let him have all he
requires; everything. I will be responsible."

Mr Chifney had expected from this stormy client some terrible outbreak
of wrath and disappointment; and lo, he was all benevolence and charity!
His astonishment exhibited itself significantly enough in his face; but
Ralph mistook the cause.

"Why do you stare so, sir? I suppose I am good for a few pounds yet. The
horse is mine; and I apprehend will be security enough; though I wish I
could afford to shoot him--cursed beast! Where is Lord Stonart?"

"A Great Personage has, I have heard, just sent for him, to offer his
congratulations."

Ralph Derrick uttered a harsh and bitter laugh. "I suppose we couldn't
see this interesting interview, eh?"

"Certainly not, sir," replied the trainer hurriedly, alarmed by
Derrick's tone and air. "I hope you are not thinking of putting us all
in the wrong by any act of violence?"

"Well, no; I thought of conferring the honour of knighthood upon his
Lordship with a horsewhip--that's all."

"Take him away," whispered the trainer to Master Walter; "for Heaven's
sake, take him home."

"Yes, home. Come home, Ralph," repeated the young man, like one in a
dream.

"Ha, Lisgard, how goes it?" drawled Captain Wobegon, sauntering slowly
up to where the three were standing. "I hope you recouped yourself for
last night's misfortunes by _The King_ just now. Devilish near thing,
though. The Frenchman did win by a head, but luckily it was the boy's,
and not his own."

"I backed the wrong horse," returned Master Walter gloomily. "And I owe
you--how much is it?"

"A little over fourteen hundred. If it's any convenience to you, I
can wait a fortnight or so; I would say longer--but Lurline--she
was inquiring after you, only yesterday, by the by; I felt quite
jealous--has a soul above economy. And after the Derby, you know, folks
send in their bills; especially jewellers. They know if they are not
paid _then_, it's a bad look-out. What a lot that fellow Stonart must
have netted! I'm sorry to see you so down in the mouth; you used to be
such a lucky fellow."

"Used to be such a lucky fellow," mused Master Walter, as he and his
companion made their way to the outskirts of the heath, where a place
had been appointed at which their Hansom was to wait for them. "Yes, so
I was. I used to win in a small way, and yet people were always glad to
see me. They won't be so pleasant, I reckon, when they find that I am a
defaulter. I can't get at any money for a year, and who 'll wait a year
without making a row? Even if they do, mine will be a fine coming of
age. How _could_ I have been such a frightful fool?"

"Tell your fortune, my pretty gentleman," observed a gipsy girl, laying
her walnut-coloured fingers upon the young man's coat-sleeve. "You are
born under a lucky star."

"I may have been born there; but I have wandered far away from its
influence," replied Master Walter, shaking her hand off somewhat
roughly. "If you want a shilling, you shall have it; for I have nothing
but other people's money about me, and that one always parts with very
readily. But don't call me lucky, for that's a lie, you jade."

"Bless your handsome face," returned the gipsy humbly, "it's a shame
that it ever should be crossed by the shadow of sorrow. You can't be
unlucky, sir, with eyes like yours--especially," added she, as the two
strode hastily away, "especially among the ladies."

"Do you hear _that_, lad?" laughed Derrick encouragingly; but the young
man was too wrapt up in his own sombre thoughts to heed such things.

"I must sell out," muttered he to himself; "that's the first thing. And
I must run down to Mirk; there is no knowing what that spitfire there
may do else."

"Here's our Hansom, and the fellow not drunk for a wonder!" exclaimed
Derrick. "Where's the horse, man?"

"In this next booth, sir," returned the driver. "I will put him to in no
time.--I am afraid your honours have not won."

"See, Walter, lad," cried Derrick in remonstrance; "that's your fault.
Don't hang out such signals of distress that everybody who meets us
offers their confounded pity. Be a man, lad; be a man. Besides, what did
that gipsy girl say just now? Many a wise word is spoken in jest. She
said, with your good looks, that you must needs he lucky with the women.
I should like to see the heiress who would say 'No' to Captain Walter
Lisgard. A good marriage would mend all this, and"----

"Go to the devil!" exclaimed the young man passionately.

"You are out of temper, lad," returned the other gravely; "but don't say
those sort of things to me, for I have not deserved them."

"Not deserved them! you have been my ruin, curse you!" continued the
other with vehemence. "But for you, you drunken"----

"Take you care, Walter Lisgard!" roared the bearded man in a voice of
thunder. "Do not make me strike you, for I would as soon strike my
son. How can all this be my fault? Do you suppose that I have not lost
also--almost all I have in the world save a few hundreds?"

"Ay, mine, I suppose," exclaimed Walter bitterly. "I know I owe you a
thousand pounds."

"Yes," returned the other, producing his pocket-book, "here are three
I.O.U.s bearing your signature, for two, three, and five hundred
pounds."

"You shall be paid, sir, never fear," rejoined the young man insolently.
"No man but you, however, would have produced them at such a time. But
it serves me right for herding with such people."

"Thank you, young man. At the same time, few of your fine gentlemen
would treat them this way." Thus saying, he tore them into little
strips, and scattered them to the wind.--"All I ask, by way of
repayment, now is, that you will listen to a few words I have to say.
I have loved you, Walter Lisgard, in spite of yourself, and would have
laid down my life for yours. I have concealed from my own heart as well
as I could the selfish baseness that underlies your every act--but that
is over now. Look you, on the coasts where I have come from, there is
many a bay which, if you saw it at high tide, you would say: 'What a
beautiful harbour! what smooth and smiling water! This is a place for
all men to cast anchor.' But when the tide is going out, you see how you
have been deceived. Here is a reef that would wreck a navy; here is a
jagged and cruel rock, and there another and another. With every one,
you say to yourself, surely this is the last. But for this and for that,
there was never a better anchorage; and how beautiful the place is! What
luxuriant foliage--what exquisite verdure fringes the shore--just the
shores, you know. But when the tide is quite out, it is impossible to
like the place any longer. There are nothing _but_ reefs and rocks to
be seen then, and a few loathsome reptiles among the slime. Now, Walter
Lisgard, I have come upon you at dead low-water, and I don't wish to
meet you any more. You will deceive others, of course, who may see you
at the flow, but you will never deceive me. I shall go down to Mirk,
after a little, to bring away my wife. Take my advice, and don't be
there. Above all things, see that your mother does not cross me in that
matter, or it will be worse for all concerned. I have nobody now in the
world who cares for me save Mary Forest, and they shall not rob me of
her. Here is the Hansom in which we can no longer sit together. You are
not used to walking, being what is called a gentleman, so you had better
take it. All I ask you is, to leave our lodgings before I reach them,
since you will arrive there first; or if not--I will take myself off
elsewhere; I should be sorry to be under the same roof, with you again,
young man."

Then pulling his hat forward upon his brow, in place of farewell, Ralph
Derrick turned his back upon Walter Lisgard, and took his way to town on
foot. As the captain, sitting alone in no very enviable frame of mind,
passed him afterwards upon the road, he could not help remarking to
himself how old and bowed the insolent fellow looked.



CHAPTER VIII. MISS AYNTON'S THUMB IS TURNED BACK.

|I SUPPOSE, Mary, that I shall be sure of getting a letter from Mr
Arthur today?" observed my Lady to her maid, as that confidential
domestic was proceeding with the duties--which were by no means
mysteries--of her toilet, upon the morning after the picnic at Belcomb.
He is certain to reply concerning a matter which was important enough
to cause the use of the telegraph."

"I suppose so, my Lady: very like."

Nothing could be more in contrast than the tones in which these two
persons had spoken; the question had been earnest, almost fervent, and
one which evidently was put in order to evoke an affirmative answer; the
reply was given carelessly enough, or rather as though the thoughts of
her who uttered it were absent from the matter altogether.

"'_Very likely_,' Mary! Why, how can it be otherwise? Just run down and
open the letter-bag; you know where to find the key."

"Yes, my Lady."

As Mary Forest left the room, she cast at her beloved mistress, whose
eyes were fixed thoughtfully upon the pattern of the carpet, and
observed her not, a look of unspeakable love and pity; and when the door
was shut between them, she burst into a passion of silent tears.

"It will kill her," murmured she; "she can never survive this second
trouble. Sorrow and shame, sorrow and shame, are all that fall to my
dear mistress now. _How_ shall I tell her? May Heaven give her strength
to bear it; but I wish, for her sake, that she was dead, and already the
angel she deserves to be----Ah, you minx!" ejaculated Mary, interrupting
herself as she passed Miss Aynton's room, and shaking her plump fist at
its unconscious tenant; "you'll go to quite another place, and serve you
right too." And seemingly comforted by this reflection, she wiped her
eyes with the hem of her apron, and hurried down the back-stairs upon
her errand.

"What will Arthur think?" mused my Lady, as she awaited her maid's
return with a beating heart. "He will certainly connect the request to
destroy that letter with what I said to him at the Watersmeet a while
ago, about"--she did not utter the concluding words at all, but only
formed them with her lips--"poor Ralph. If Arthur suspects, it will be
with him the first step to knowledge; and yet he would never use it to
my hurt. If there were anything amiss in the concealment of this matter,
then I should fear him, for he is the soul of honour. But my bastard
son--God help him, if he ever comes to know it--robs nobody even of this
barren title, and my children's money is due to no one else. They might
have been paupers as well as bastards; let their mother comfort herself
with that thought all she can." My Lady's lips were crooked into a
bitter smile: hers was not a cynical face--far from it--and such an
expression misbecame it sadly; it looked more like a contortion of the
mouth induced by bodily pain.--"Well, Mary, is there no letter from Mr
Arthur?"

"No, ma'am; none."

"Then there is one more cause for anxiety added to the rest of my
troubles, that is all. Ah me, how foolishly I used to fret myself in
days when there was no cause! Perhaps he never got the telegraph, and
not understanding why the letter came to him, has transmitted it back
to--to the person to whom it was addressed.--Mary, you had better
presently run over to the _Lisgard Arms_, and see to that. Steve will
give it up, if you explain to him that it is your handwriting. Tell him,
if necessary, that I promise him he shall not lose the inn. I must have
that letter. Mr Arthur could not possibly know the London address of--of
that person, could he?"

"Very likely, my Lady, yes--at least, I don't know."

"Mary!"

"I beg your pardon, madam," replied the waiting-maid, starting like one
aroused from a dream. "I was not thinking what I said; I was thinking of
something else."

"I think you might give me your attention, Mary," returned my Lady
sighing: "you cannot be thinking of anything so momentous as this
matter, which involves sorrow, shame, and perchance utter ruin."

"Alas! but I can, my Lady," answered the other gravely; "and I am doing
it. There has something happened worse than anything you can guess at.
Master Walter"----

"Great Heaven! has any accident happened to my boy? I saw him hut an
hour ago; he came into my room, dear fellow, to bid me good-bye before
he started for the station. The young horse was in the dog-cart----"

"Mary, Mary, do not--do not tell me that my Walter is killed!"

"He is quite well, my Lady, so far as I know--quite well in health."

"Thank Heaven for that! Bless you for that, Mary! Why did you frighten
me so, if there is nothing the matter?"

"There is something the matter, my Lady. Pray, command yourself;
you will have need of all your fortitude. I would never tell it
you--burdened as you are already--only you must know it; _you_, above
all, and no one else, if we can help it."

"More secrets! more deception, Mary! Spare me, if you can, dear friend;
I am sorely tried already."

"I cannot spare you, my Lady, or I would do so, Heaven knows; nay, I
would almost take the shame upon my own shoulders, if that might shield
you from the sorrow it must needs bring with it. Miss Letty"----

"It is not fit that Shame and my daughter should be mentioned in the
same breath," replied my Lady, rising, and speaking with dignity. "Do
not continue; I forbid you to speak. What you were going to say is
false, and I will not listen."

"It is true, my Lady--true as that the sun is shining now. Of course,
Miss Letty has nothing to do with it; but it was through her I learned
it."

"Does she _know_ it, then?" asked my Lady sternly.

"Certainly not, madam; and Heaven grant she never may. She's as
pure-minded as any seraph, and, like Charity, thinketh no evil. But she
told me this afternoon--seeing that you were troubled, and not liking
to pain you, perhaps without reason, and speaking to me as her old nurse
and friend, who loves all the Lisgards, good and bad (for they are not
all good, alas, alas!), and who will love them to the end--she told
me that something which she had overheard between Miss Rose and Master
Walter"----

"You mean Sir Richard," interposed my Lady.

"No, madam--his brother. It was Master Walter that I was speaking of the
other day in the carriage, and whom I understood your Ladyship to
say that Miss Aynton had refused. I knew very well that they were
love-making, flirting and such like upon the sly; but I did not know--I
could not suspect----- O mistress dear, a terrible disgrace has befallen
you, through that infamous young hussy, Miss Rose Aynton--though
what Master Walter could have seen in the Jade, I am sure passes my
comprehension altogether."

"Disgrace! Walter! Rose Aynton! What do you mean, woman?" asked my Lady
angrily. "You must be mad, to say such things. I heard Sir Richard ask
the girl to be his wife with my own ears, and she refused him."

"Did she, my Lady? Well, I'm surprised at that, for I should have
thought she would have stuck at _nothing_.--But let me tell the whole
story. What Miss Letty heard at the picnic was this: she heard Master
Walter cursing Miss Rose. That was an odd thing for a young gentleman
to do to a young lady--although, for that matter, I have no doubt she
_deserved_ it--was it not? Well, that was what Miss Letty thought. She
had never heard such words before, and could scarcely force her innocent
lips to repeat them; but I made her do it. And certainly Master Walter
expressed himself pretty strong. It seems he was angered about the young
woman's behaviour to his brother yesterday"----

"Ay," interrupted my Lady quietly, and still thinking that the prejudice
of her waiting-maid had much exaggerated matters, "that was partly my
fault; I begged Miss Aynton to be more complaisant in her manner to Sir
Richard."

"Well, Master Walter might have been annoyed, madam, but what right had
he to be _jealous!_ and especially what relation could exist between him
and Miss Rose, which justified him in using such dreadful words? Fancy
_swearing_ at her, my Lady!"

"Yes, that is shocking indeed, Mary. Miss Letty, however, must certainly
have misunderstood him."

"That's what I told her, my Lady, in hopes to quiet her a bit; but I did
not believe it myself, no more than you do. We don't suppose that Miss
Letty invented the oaths, do we?"

"That is true," sighed Lady Lisgard. "It makes me very wretched to think
that my boy Walter should have so far forgotten himself as to use such
language to a young girl--a guest, too, in his mother's house. I shall
certainly demand an explanation of it from his own lips."

"Alas, there is no need, madam," returned the waiting-maid. "I can tell
you all--if you can bear to listen to it."

"I am listening," said my Lady wearily; but she sat with her back
towards Mistress Forest, and once, in the course of her recital, she
uttered a piteous moan, and covered her face with her hands.

"When Miss Letty told me what I have just said, my Lady, and had parted
from me a little comforted, trying to persuade herself that she really
might have been mistaken in what she had overheard, I instantly sought
out Anne Rees, and bade her come with me to my room. You wouldn't have
believed it in a girl as you yourself chose out of the village school,
and who has been at the Abbey under my own eye for four years; but she
refused point-blank: very respectful, I must say, but also very firm. 'I
durstn't do it,' said she, all of a twitter--'not till Miss Rose is abed
and asleep; or if I do, you may be certain sure as she will come to know
it, and get out of me every word that may pass between us two.'

"The girl looked as scared as though she had seen a ghost, and yet my
request did not seem to come on her at all unexpected; and, in point of
fact, she knew what she was wanted for well enough. However, I thought
it best to let her have her way; and so it was arranged that she was to
come to my room as soon as she had done with the young ladies--although
'tis little enough, indeed, she has done for Miss Letty of late weeks,
but all for that spiteful little hussy, Miss Rose.

"'Now,' said I when I got her alone, 'Anne Rees, there is nobody to
listen to what we say, and you may speak to me as to your own mother.'

"'Ah, Mistress Forest,' answered she, beginning to whimper,' I only wish
I dared.'

"'This young lady has got you under her thumb, I see, Annie. Now, if
you'll tell me the whole truth of what is going on between her and
Master Walter, I promise you that I'll turn her thumb _back_. It will
hurt her a little--and that you won't be sorry for, perhaps--and it will
set you _free_.'

"'Oh, Mistress Forest, if you could only do _that_, I would be a good
girl all my life, and never try on other people's clothes again, nor be
a spy upon my Lady, and'---- Here she stopped quite short, and looked as
though she would have bitten her tongue off.

"'Now, Anne,' said I, 'you _must_ tell me, whether you will or not:
for you have gone too far to turn back. How did Miss Rose Aynton make a
slave of a well-conducted girl like you--with nothing but vanity, that
I know of, to be said against you--and compel you to do all this dirty
work for her?'

"Well, Mistress Forest, as you truly say, I was always a vain child;
and Heaven has punished me pretty sharp for it. One day, when the young
ladies were out, and I was in Miss Aynton's room a-setting it to rights,
what should I come upon--where, perhaps, I had no right to look for it,
for it was evidently-meant to be hidden--but a queer-shaped leather box
with trinkets in it.'

"'A jewel-case, I suppose you mean, Anne.'

"'Yes, ma'am; but they were none of those as Miss Aynton was in the
habit of wearing--nor had she that box when she first came: she must
have brought it down with her after she went back to London for a week
in the early part of the year. However, all as struck me then was the
beauty of the jewels; and I thought there was no harm in my just trying
them on in the front of the swing mirror. My ears not being pierced, I
couldn't fix the earrings, although I wouldn't a-minded a little pain,
and they sparkled like morning-dew; but I clasped on the pearl necklace
and the bracelets, and stood admiring myself in the looking-glass a
good long time. Then all of a sudden I saw an angry face looking over my
shoulder, and heard a cruel voice whisper: "Thief, thief!" just like the
hiss of a wood-snake. I scarcely recognised Miss Rose, who had always
looked so pleasant, and been such a smooth-spoken young lady.

"I could send you to prison, Anne Eees for this," continued she, very
grave and slow; "and I _will_, too, if you don't do everything I tell
you. I hate a thief."

"Lor, miss," cried I, "have mercy, for Heaven's sake! I never meant to
thieve nothing."

"And I hate a liar," added she, looking so cold and cruel that she made
me shudder. "You break open my drawer--not a word, you had girl, or I'll
send to Dalwynch for a policeman--and I actually find my property on
your very person! You ought to go to jail for this; and perhaps I am
wrong not to send you there. However, remember; from this moment, you
are _my_ servant--only mine; and whatever I tell you to do, whether it
is against your late mistress or not, see that you do it; and dare not
to breathe one word of anything that I do, or speak, or possess--such as
these jewels, for instance--or you will rue it bitterly, Amie Rees."

"'Of course I promised, Mistress Forest, for I was in such a state of
terror that I would have promised anything; but you cannot imagine to
what a slavery I bound myself!'

"'I know all about that, Anne.' said I: 'everybody knows you're become
a spy and a sneak. But there is no occasion for you to follow such
vocations any longer. My Lady would never believe a word of your
intending to steal those things: I can promise you her protection; so
make your mind quite easy upon that point.--But now, what about Master
Walter?'

"'Well, Mistress Forest, the jewels were his present, to begin with.
There have been very wicked goings on. It was quite dreadful to see her
kiss dear good Miss Letty at night, and return her "God bless you!" so
pious like, when she was not blessing her--I mean Miss Rose--at all. Oh,
Mistress Forest, I have known all this for weeks and weeks, and dared
not speak one word; and now the truth is almost too terrible to tell.'

"And then, my Lady," pursued Mistress Forest, "she told me things which
it is not necessary to repeat to you. 'I knew she was telling truth; but
in order to assure myself that it was so, I crept out with naked feet,
and listened at Miss Aynton's door, and I heard _two_ voices"----

"Did you _recognise_ them, woman; are you sure of that?" asked my Lady
sternly.

"Ah, yes, madam--there is no doubt."

"Heaven help us, and forgive us!" murmured my Lady, with bowed head.
"Ah, Walter, Walter, I had expected Shame, but not from deed of yours!
Where is this--Miss Aynton, Mary?"

"At her breakfast, my Lady; and doubtless making an exceedingly good
one. _She_ is not one to let her conscience interfere with her appetite,
bless you! Like the murderer under sentence in Dalwynch jail, as I read
of in the paper yesterday, she 'takes her meals with regularity,'
I warrant; and does not in any way physically deteriorate under the
distressing circumstances of her situation."

"Send her to me, Mary--in the boudoir yonder," said my Lady gravely.
"Tell her I desire to speak with her very particularly. Breakfast? No,
alas! I feel as though a morsel of food would choke me. Send her hither
at once."



CHAPTER IX. THRUST AND COUNTER-THRUST.

|I CANNOT, for my own part, at all agree with the depreciatory
expressions used by Mistress Forest with respect to Miss Rose Aynton's
personal appearance. "What Master Walter could have seen in her," &c.,
it was easy enough for anybody else to see who was not of her own sex.
A magnificent figure, masses of silken hair that, when unbound, would
ripple almost to her dainty feet, and a countenance "bright as light,
and clear as wind;" and indeed this latter was too keen and sharply cut
for my taste. The sort of expression which one likes to see in one's
lawyer, does not so well become the object of our heart's affections.
Of course, there was nothing of steel about Miss Rose, except what might
have been in her crinoline; but I never saw man or woman who gave me so
much the idea of being armed _cap-à-pied_; she seemed to be equipped in
a complete Milan suit of proof, impregnable, invulnerable. Like _Le Noir
Fainéant_ in _Ivanhoe_, she never attacked anybody, although my Lady
fancied she had recently detected signs of aggression about her; and
those who knew her best avoided putting the temptation in her way.
But when she entered her hostess's boudoir by invitation, upon that
particular morning, she looked not only, as usual, on her guard; there
was also a certain slumbrous fire in her dark eyes, which betokened
onslaught--the initiative of battle. My Lady herself remarked it, not
without pity. "How little is this poor lost creature aware," thought
she, "that I know all."

But she was quite wrong in this. Miss Rose had almost gathered the truth
from the trembling fingers and frightened manner of her tiring-maid that
morning; and the thing had been quite confirmed to her by the malicious
triumph with which Mary Forest had delivered her mistress's request to
see her in the boudoir upon very particular business.

"Will you please to sit down, Miss Aynton?"

Yes, it was so. The secret was out. Not even a morning salutation from
her friend and hostess; and the hand only outstretched to point her out
a chair at the other extremity of the room. "Before proceeding with what
I have to say," began my Lady, "I wish to know whether your aunt is in
town."

"I believe so, Lady Lisgard; I think she has come back from
Leamington--although I have not heard from her for the last two days."

"That is well. When I hinted, yesterday morning, that it would be better
for you to return to London, I was unaware of the _necessity_ for your
departure from this roof at once--_immediately_--and for ever."

"Indeed!" Not a muscle moved: confident in the goodness, if not of her
cause, at least of her Milan suit; conscious, too, of the possession
of a Damascus poniard, undreamed of by the foe, and admirable for close
encounters, her right hand nervously opened and shut as though to clutch
the handle--that was all.

"You have disgraced this house and me: yourself and your sex."

"You lie, insolent woman," returned the other; "_and judge others by
yourself_."

Each started to her feet, and looked her enemy in the face as she slung
these words of flame.

"It is worse than useless, girl, thus to brazen it out," continued my
Lady, attaching no importance to the emphasis the other laid upon
her last words. "Outraging not only moral laws, but even the rites of
hospitality, you have intrigued with my own son under my own roof."

"You dare to say so, Lady Lisgard, do you? It is only for his sake, I
swear, that I do not brand _you_ Wanton, for that calumny. I _could_
do it; you know I could, although you wear that look of wonder. Was
not that man Derrick once your lover? Ah! you wince at that. Sir
Robert--good, easy man--he knew nothing, of course"----

Here she stopped, for my Lady's face was terrible to look upon.

"Be silent, bad, bold girl! You shoot your poisoned arrows at a venture,
and aim nothing home. You know not what a wife should be--how should
you? You!"

It is not true that the swan is "born to be the only graceful shape
of Scorn." A fair woman unjustly slandered is its rival therein. Rose
Aynton cowered before that keen contempt--beneath the dropping of those
bitter words---as though they were sword and fire.

"I will never forgive you this, Lady Lisgard," muttered she--"never,
never!"

"_You! you_ forgive! To such as you, it would be idle to protest my
soul is spotless. The man whose name you have soiled by uttering it--my
husband--he, in high heaven, knows right well that never so much as
thought of mine has wronged him. Vile, evil-minded girl, as false as
frail!"

"That is sufficient, madam; almost enough, even if I were indeed the
thing you take me for." Here the girl paused to moisten her dry lips,
and catch her breath, of which passion had almost deprived her. "Now,
look you, I was wrong. I thought my Lady was not so lily-pure as the
world took her to be, and I was wrong. I have seen things with my own
eyes, and through the eyes of others, that might well entitle me to say:
'I still believe it,' I tell you, Lady Lisgard, I have _proofs_--or what
seemed to me to be so, a few minutes back--of the charge that has so
moved you, such as would amply justify my disbelief in your denial. But
I honestly avow that I was wrong."

"I thank you, Miss Rose Aynton, for your charity."

"Spare your scorn, madam. It is no charity that moves me; nay, far
from it. Convinced almost against my will, I own, by your unsupported
assertion--your mère 'No,' I have withdrawn an accusation for which I
have been patiently preparing evidence this long time--not, indeed, for
your hurt, but for my own safety and convenience, and hereby confess it
baseless and unjust. Now, on your part, I do beseech you, make amends to
_me_. You, too, have had your seeming proofs of my disgrace; you, too,
have heard and seen yourself, or through the eyes and ears of others,
certain"----

"Add not, lost, wretched girl," interposed my Lady, "deceit to sin!
All that is left you is to pray to Heaven for pardon, and to leave that
hospitable roof which you have disgraced."

Rose Aynton's gipsy face grew drawn and pale. She had aimed her blow,
and missed; the weapon in which she had put so much trust had proved
utterly good for nothing. All her schemes of the last few months were
rendered fruitless, and the discoveries to which she had attached such
vast importance, and which she had attained to by such mean arts, shewn
to be vain and futile. And now that she had humiliated herself by owning
this, and thrown herself at this woman's feet, she would not extend so
much as a finger-tip to help her.

"Lady Lisgard, as I hope for heaven," cried she in anguish, "I am
innocent of that with which you charge me; I am honest as yourself, or
Letty. Alas, you shudder, because I dare to compare myself with your
pure daughter; you think that I soil that name, too, by uttering it.
What shall I say--by what shall I swear, in order to make you believe
me?"

"I would to Heaven I _could_ believe you, Rose," returned my Lady sadly,
touched in spite of herself by the girl's yearning appeal. "If you could
erase this damning blot upon my son's fair name, and give me back my
Walter--as I deemed him but an hour ago--I would be so grateful, girl,
that you should almost think I loved you."

"You _would!_" cried Rose with eagerness; then added bitterly: "But no;
you mean if I could say: 'Your son has never pressed his lips to these,
has never sworn to be mine, and mine alone.' But you would not thank
me for merely proving that in this, although he did it, he was not to
blame."

"What! Not to blame?"

"No, madam--for even for _his_ sake, I cannot longer bear this burden of
undeserved shame. _Walter Lisgard is my husband_. We were married weeks
ago, when I went to London in the spring."

"Married, married!" gasped my Lady.

"Thank God for that! Far better to deceive _me_, boy, than this poor
girl. I never thought to say: 'I am glad you are my daughter-in-law,
Rose Aynton;' but I do say so now." She took both her hands in hers, and
gazed upon her downcast face, now overspread with blushes, and tinged
for once with genuine tenderness. "It moves you, does it, that I am
thankful to see the honour of my son preserved at some sacrifice of his
prospects. How little do you know me, girl! yet I am glad to move you
anyway. Rose, be a kind wife to him. I will not blame you for what has
happened, although I have much cause. I must blame _him_ rather. Who can
wonder that you yielded when he said: 'Be mine.' So gentle and so loving
as he can be! Now, too, I see it all. When you refused Sir Richard in
the library, you were actually his brother's wife. Ah, Heaven, you must
not remain here longer--not a day. I shall write to Walter"----

"Nay, madam--_mother_," exclaimed Rose beseechingly, "I pray you let
_me_ write. I have broken my plighted word, and disobeyed my husband's
bidding in revealing this. To please him, I had resolved to defend
myself this morning as I best might, by returning thrust for thrust,
without using this shield--my innocence--at all. But your bitter
words--a shower of barbed darts--drove me behind it. He will be very
wrath with me indeed, madam; but far worse if the news comes from you.
He has much just now to make him anxious too."

"Indeed," replied my Lady hastily. "How is it, then, that I have heard
nothing of it? But I forgot; it is _you_ who have his secrets now. Yes,
you shall write, not I. Tell him that I am sorry--sorry that he should
have deceived me above all; but that I forgive him freely. He knows
that, however, right well. He must not come back to Mirk until he hears
from me; and you, Rose, you must join him without delay. Every member
of this household must learn at once that you are Walter's wife; but not
till you have gone--for Richard's sake." My Lady's thoughts, as always,
were for others; even when this great blow had well-nigh stunned her,
she did not permit herself the luxury of selfish grief. She was already
busy with schemes for the benefit of her erring boy; how to contrive and
where to save without prejudice to Sir Richard's interests (for _that_
must be now avoided above everything) so that a respectable allowance
might be meted out to the young couple. She could not respect, and far
less love the girl who had become her Walter's wife in so clandestine
a manner; but still she _was_ his wife, and therefore, in her eyes, a
something precious. Then, bad as matters were, they might have been far
worse; she had fully expected that they were so; and she felt in some
sort grateful to accept this product of rashness and deceit in place
of downright shame. Moreover, she foresaw in her own mind, for ever
dwelling on such contingencies, that out of this evil a certain good
might come, in case of that terrible misfortune befalling her, compared
with which this present sorrow was as the prick of a pin's point.

Rose, upon her part, had certainly cause for congratulation upon the
result of this interview. Although her weapon of offence had failed
her--and she was genuinely convinced of the groundlessness of her late
suspicions concerning Lady Lisgard--she had found in her mother-in-law
a most generous adversary, and one certainly far more forgiving than she
deserved. Even the worst of us, I conclude, are not bad at all times,
and when my Lady, as they parted, touched her brow with her pale lips,
and murmured once more: "Be a kind wife to him, Rose," that young woman
mustered an honest tear or two--of which articles, to do her justice,
she did not keep, like some women, a constant supply on hand for social
emergencies.

Not until she regained her own room did she begin to think that she had
been unnecessarily humble, and had weakly suffered herself to be moved
by the show of forgiveness and good-will which my Lady had doubtless put
on for her own purposes. However, the confession had been made, and
upon the whole, most satisfactorily got over, the thought of which had
oppressed her of late more than she cared to own, and made her bitter
against her mother-in-law, as people generally feel towards those whom
they are conscious of having wronged. And now there was that letter to
write to Walter, which we have seen him peruse with such disfavour at
his hotel in Town, acquainting him with her premature avowal of their
common secret; and many a line of dexterous excuse she wove, and many a
line of affectionate pleading, only to be torn up and recomposed again
and again; for there was one person in the world beside herself whom
Rose loved dearly, and yet of whom she stood in deepest awe; and he whom
she both loved and feared with all the strength of her energetic nature,
was her husband--Walter Lisgard.



CHAPTER X. NO LETTERS.

|UPON the morning after the interview between Rose and Lady Lisgard, the
latter again sent down Mistress Forest for the post-bag, and was once
more disappointed at receiving no news from Arthur Haldane; not only did
the interval of twenty-four hours make this matter additionally serious,
and increase her former apprehensions that he had not received her
telegram, and might find some means of forwarding Derrick's letter to
himself--since it had certainly not come back to the _Lisgard Arms_; but
there was a still graver cause for anxiety in the fact that Mary Forest
also received no reply from Ralph to that rejection so decidedly yet
courteously composed by her mistress, with the view of taking away all
hope, and at the same time of leaving as little sting of anger as was
possible. Lady Lisgard would have almost preferred to have received
from this man a declaration of open warfare--an expressed resolution of
carrying away Mary as his wife, in spite of all obstacles--rather than
this menacing No Answer. Contemptuous silence was not at all the natural
line for one of his violent character to take, if he had decided to
treat her waiting-woman's letter as final. He was more likely in that
case to have penned a tornado of invective, and bidden both mistress and
maid to have gone to the devil. It seemed only too probable, then, that
he was determined--as he had threatened--to take no denial; and that he
would return in person, sooner or later, to Mirk, to prosecute his suit.

My Lady made certain preparations for that extremity--nay, for the worst
that could possibly arise--chief among which was the-composition of a
very long and carefully-conned epistle to her eldest son, that she put
by in her desk undated and unsealed, so that additions could be made to
it at pleasure. Then she waited in agonies of suspense day after day;
and yet no letter came for her maid from Ralph, or for herself from
Arthur Haldane. Moreover, although, in her absorbing anxiety about the
more serious subject, this affected my Lady far less than it did
Rose, no communication came from Walter in answer to her long and
justificatory letter, acquainting him with the disclosure of their
marriage. Our readers are aware that this last circumstance was simply
due to the fact, that it was reposing in the "address-box" of the _Turf
Hotel_, until such time as it caught the eye of the overworked waiter,
and was carried over with apologies to Walter's lodgings, whither he
had given orders that anything addressed to him should be conveyed
forthwith. But he had not particularly expected a letter from that
quarter--or, at all events, felt very anxious to get it--for nobody but
Rose would have written to him to the _Turf Hotel_, all others at Mirk
and elsewhere believing him to be at Canterbury with his regiment,
whence all communications were forwarded to him to his London lodgings.
Thus, from the very deceit to which she had lent herself--to her
peculiar information as to his movements--was this failure of Rose's
letter to reach her husband owing. During this protracted interval, she
suffered agonies of suspense, of mortification, and even of fear. It was
wormwood to have to say to her mother-in-law every morning: "He has
not written yet," and thereby to confess that Walter treated with
indifference the embarrassing position in which she was now placed at
Mirk Abbey; moreover, she surmised that her husband was too much enraged
with her disobedience in betraying their secret, to write at all.

His wife knew--although few others did--that Master Walter was capable
of being "put out" to a very considerable! extent. His very marriage
with herself--although she fortunately did not know _that_--had been
mainly owing to his impatience of opposition, and pique against his
elder brother. Doubtless propinquity and opportunities of flirtation
with a beautiful and accomplished girl, not by any means lavish of her
smiles, but whose devotion to himself had been almost that of a slave
for her master, had carried the handsome captain towards the gulf of
matrimony; but it was the desire to thwart Sir Richard--who, his jealous
eye perceived, was falling seriously in love with Rose long before _she_
saw it--which was the final cause of his rash act. He eagerly snatched
at an occasion at once of self-gratification, and of humiliating his
proud and arrogant brother. He was delighted to let him know that
neither his wealth nor his title could weigh in the balance of a woman's
favour against the gifts and graces which it was his habit to depreciate
or ignore. We have said that he discovered Sir Richard's passion even
before the object of it; but Rose's subtle brain was already preoccupied
with himself. To give that scheming beauty her due, I think that even
had she not been already Walter's wife, she would not have exchanged him
for the baronet, at the period when he made her that dazzling offer in
the Library. She felt that she had let slip a splendid prize, and was
proportionally angry with Sir Richard, whose backwardness and hauteur
had prevented her from recognising the possibility of its falling to
her lot; but the feeling of disappointment was but transient; she was
a bride of only a few weeks, and to get disenchanted of one like Walter
Lisgard is a long process even for a wife. By this time, however, though
she idolised him, still Rose had learned to fear him; and absolutely
dared not pen another letter to inquire the reason of his silence.

Of those who waited, sick at heart, for the coming of the postman every
morning, Lady Lisgard, therefore, was the first to lose patience. She
wrote to Arthur Haldane a few urgent lines, requesting his immediate
presence at Mirk "upon private and particular business and within an
hour of their receipt he took the train, and appeared in person at the
Abbey. My Lady had decided to consult him, in preference to his
father, respecting the arrangements necessary to be made for the future
maintenance of Walter and his wife, since it would be very unwise to
make so much importance of the matter concerning Derrick, about which
she was in reality vastly more concerned, and burned to know the truth.

"What is the matter, _ma mère!_" inquired he tenderly, when, not without
the exercise of some address--for Sir Richard was always hospitable, and
(especially in the absence of his brother) both gracious and attentive
to all guests--Arthur and my Lady had managed to get an hour to
themselves in the boudoir. "You look very pale and anxious."

"Yes, Arthur, I have enough to make me so. Walter has secretly made Rose
Aynton his wife. Ah! you pity me, I see, and perhaps him also. Do not
condole with me, however. I have sent for you hither to help me to make
the best-----Alas, alas, you would not have believed it of my Walter,
would you?" And my Lady, touched by the sympathising look and manner of
the honest young fellow, burst into the first "good cry" which she had
permitted to herself since the calamity had been discovered; for when
confiding the circumstance to Letty, it had been her duty to bear up,
and when alone, a still more serious anxiety consumed her. Even now, her
emotion, though violent, was soon over, and the indulgence in it seemed
to have done her good. "Pardon me, Arthur," said she, with one of her
old smiles; "I won't be foolish any more."

And then, after narrating matters with which we are acquainted, she laid
before him, as concisely as she could, what funds at her own disposal
could be made available to form an income for the young couple, in
addition to the interest which Walter's fortune of five thousand pounds
or so, into the possession of which he would come in some eighteen
months, would yield. She little knew that on that very night--for it was
the eve of the Derby Day--the unworthy boy, for whom she was making
such sacrifices, was about to risk and lose more than a third of his
patrimony, and that upon the next day the remainder was doomed to go,
and much more with it.

"But this will pinch you, _ma mere_," reasoned Arthur kindly, "and
narrow your own already somewhat scanty revenue sadly. Sir Richard will
come into a very fine rent-roll in June, beside thousands----"

"But can we ask him to help Walter and _his wife?_ And could Walter take
it, even if his brother were generous enough to offer it?"

"Sir Richard is quite capable of such magnanimity, _ma mere_, unless
I am much mistaken in his character. He would not like to see his
brother--even were he but a Lisgard, let alone his so near kith and
kin--in a position that would be discreditable to the family; while if
one has really loved a woman, one surely does not wish to see her poor
and struggling, simply because she has preferred some one else. As for
Walter's accepting the help which his brother can so well spare--it may
be a little bitter--but, in my opinion, that would be far preferable to
receiving what would impoverish his mother. The arrangements you propose
would leave you but three hundred pounds a year."

"Yes," answered my Lady hastily, "I require that for a purpose, else
half the sum would easily suffice my present needs."

"It would do nothing of the sort, _ma mère_. Come, let us be reasonable.
If you will leave this matter in my hands, I will endeavour to be the
mediator between your sons. Sir Richard has an honest regard for me, I
think, and Walter also, when he is himself."

"Poor Walter!" murmured my Lady sighing.

"Yes, he is to be pitied," answered the other drily; "but also, between
ourselves--although I shall endeavour, after my lawyer instincts, to
make it appear otherwise to his brother--to be somewhat blamed, _ma
mère_. Since, then, I am prepared, under the cloak of arbitrator, to be
the partisan of your darling----Yes, they are both your darlings, Lady
Lisgard, I know, but with a difference."

"Walter is in trouble," urged my Lady pitifully.

"Yes, that is the reason, of course. However, will you put the case
unreservedly in my own hands? for if so, although it is not an easy
task, I will do my best to make your sons shake hands."

"There is none like you, Arthur, none. Heaven bless you and reward you!"

"There may be none like me, _ma mere_, but there are also, I hope, many
people a great deal better. And now that we have done with this matter
for the present, may I ask, Why letters are directed to another person,
under care to me, which I am at the same time directed by telegram to
put behind the fire?"

"Oh, you got that telegram, did you?" said my Lady quietly. "Mary Forest
entreated me so to send it. The fact was, she accepted that person by
letter---what was his name?--of whom we spoke together some time ago at
the Watersmeet; but afterwards, persuaded by me (acting in accordance
with your suggestion, you remember), she decided to refuse him. But the
first letter was unfortunately posted before the second was written; and
the postmistress at Dalwynch positively refused to give it up, although
I drove over there myself to request it."

"Well, upon my life, _ma mère_, but you're a bold woman," exclaimed the
young lawyer laughing. "Why, of course, she wouldn't give it up. She
would be stealing the property of the Postmaster-general if she had done
so, and you would be the receiver with the guiltiest knowledge."

"Well, at all events, she did not," pursued my Lady simply. "She would
do nothing beyond directing the envelope afresh to your address."

"Honest creature!" interrupted Arthur grimly.

"Under these circumstances, I telegraphed to you, knowing that you would
be good enough to destroy the letter directly it reached you."

"Yes, _ma mere_, and I did so," returned Arthur gravely; "but I feared
it was not right, and now that you have told me this, I know that it was
wrong. You may have had your reasons, dear Lady Lisgard, and doubtless
very urgent ones, to wish the destruction of those letters."

"Those letters!" exclaimed my Lady.

"Yes, I am certain, of course, that you intended no harm to any one, and
that what you did was in ignorance of the law; but so suspicious was I
of your having transgressed it--and at the same time, perhaps, a
little annoyed that you should have chosen _me_, Lady Lisgard, for your
instrument in such a matter--that I purposely omitted to communicate
with you, to put in writing any evidence whatsoever of that
transaction."

"Yes, yes," said my Lady hastily, and taking no notice of the young
man's evident annoyance. "But you speak of _letters_. There was only
_one_ letter directed to Pump Court."

"There were two, Lady Lisgard, and both addressed in the same
handwriting. The words, _Turf Hotel, Piccadilly_, were crossed out also,
in each case, I remember, in red ink. It was the postmistress who did
it, I have no doubt. If you led her to imagine that that was the wrong
address in the one instance, she naturally imagined it to be so in the
other, and probably made the alteration in all good faith."

"Great Heaven, and so it must have been!" exclaimed my Lady, clasping
her hands. "O Arthur, this mischance--if my misconduct does indeed
deserve punishment, has brought, I fear, a very harsh and bitter
one--that is on Mary. The second letter should have reached the
person to whom it was addressed without fail. He will now have heard
nothing--this Derrick; and he will take the woman's silence for consent.
O Arthur, Arthur, you little know what bad news this is."

"I can see, _ma mère_, that it vexes you," answered the young man
kindly; "and that is evil enough for me to know. Some sorrows are
best kept to one's self, I think. Now, look you, this Mr Derrick will
certainly, being a sporting-man, be in town to-morrow night. He will not
have left his hotel before the Derby is over. Now, I will go and seek
him out to-morrow with the letter in my hand that Mary shall re-write.
We have only but a very little time, remember."

"Dear Arthur, counsellor, and friend, and son in one, what comfort do
you not give me in all straits!" She rose and offered him her pale
but comely cheek, which the young man touched with reverent lips; then
holding her hand in his, he said in a firm voice: "And now, _ma mère_,
even that is not fee enough for such an avaricious lawyer as I am. I
have promised myself a talk with Letty."

"Do so, and Heaven bless you, my dear boy--ay, bless you both,"
continued my Lady, when he had left the room, "for you would take her
for your wife even though you knew what I know of her unhappy birth. I
have almost a mind to tell him; but then, with his stern notions of what
is right--although, Heaven knows, I wrong no one by this reticence--he
might---- 'Some sorrows are best kept to one's self, I think,' said
he. And whether he suspects something amiss, and meant the words for my
particular ear or not, it is sound advice. Sufficient for the day is the
evil thereof. If I were always to be thinking of the morrow, I should
soon go mad."



CHAPTER XI. MR ARTHUR HALDANE MAKES HIMSELF USEFUL.

|SOME writers are very fond of describing interviews between betrothed
persons, and there are undoubtedly readers who take a pleasure in
reading such delicate details; and yet it seems strange that this should
be so, with respect to the mère description of what in real life is
undoubtedly tame and stupid to the looker-on; for what can be duller,
or more uninteresting, except to one another, than "an engaged couple."
With what meaningless emphasis they smile; what mysterious secrets
(known to every adult in the company) they interchange; and how they go
blindly feeling after one another's hands under the table, whenever
the opportunity offers. I think it even profane to mention such tender
mysteries. Arthur Haldane and Letty Lisgard were not indeed a betrothed
couple when they met upon the present occasion, but they became so
before they parted. Their subject of conversation being the marriage
of somebody else, it naturally enough strayed to their own. "I am not a
good match for you, Letty, just at present," said the young man frankly,
during a lucid interval, "but I do not despair of removing the disparity
of fortune. I am getting on in my profession better than I could have
hoped for."

"I don't see why 'disparity' of any sort, dear Arthur, should affect
persons who really love one another."

"That's my own sweet Letty," replied the other (relapsing). "But then
your family--no exertions of mine can procure for me such a pedigree as
you can boast of."

"That is a matter of genuine congratulation, Arthur. Dear Richard often
makes me wish that there were no such things as ancestors. I suppose it
is a dreadful heresy, but it seems to me so strange that people are not
taken for what they _are_ let their birth be what it will."

"My Rose of Radicals!" exclaimed the young man with admiration; "your
words deserve to be written in letters of gold." And so saying, he took
out his pocket-book, and, in spite of her opposition, transcribed them
then and there.

"Of what possible good can _that_ be, you dear foolish fellow?"

"I cannot say for certain, Letty," answered he gravely. "But keep a
thing long enough, and its use will come, folks say."

Mr Arthur Haldane had, as we are aware, some other interviews awaiting
him, less agreeable than the one on hand, which perhaps may account for
his prolonging it to an inordinate length. There was no difference of
opinion expressed in this one; and what is unusual in arguments between
the sexes, the lady had not the last word at parting. Strictly speaking,
neither had it. The farewell of each expired almost at the same
instant, and was not breathed into the _ear_ at all: I say "almost"
advisedly, and from a desire to be accurate, for if each imprints a kiss
upon the other's _cheek_, they cannot do it quite coincidently; and it
is certain, if the statistics of the matter could be collected, that
nine engaged couples (for, of course, no couple does it who are _not_
engaged) out of every ten do salute one another in that way, and not
press "lip to lip," as the poets make out; in fact, it requires a
particular and uniform conformation of nose--both must be "snubs"--to
render the thing practicable.

Sir Richard, whom we have been compelled occasionally to represent in
an unfavourable light, did not fall short, in his interview with
Arthur Haldane, of the high estimate which the latter had formed of his
chivalric nature; or perhaps it was through his overweening pride,
that could not permit the woman upon whom his affections had once
condescended to rest, to be inconvenienced by narrow circumstances; but,
actuated by whatever motive, his behaviour towards the rash young couple
was liberal in the extreme. He accepted very willingly the explanation,
given by the young lawyer with great tact, of his refusal by Rose
Aynton. No utterance was given to the remark, that if he had pressed his
suit a little earlier, doubtless no thought of his younger brother would
have entered the girl's brain; but the suggestion was, somehow or other,
delicately conveyed, and in that Gilead there was balm. Strange as
it may appear, the object of his rejected suit seemed to have won
forgiveness not only for herself, but for her husband, to whose faults
he had heretofore shewn himself so unfraternally alive. He certainty did
not request Arthur to offer his congratulations to the young Benedict;
but he sent by him a conciliatory message, and a special request that
Captain and Mrs Lisgard would not fail to visit the Abbey upon the
occasion of the approaching _fête_. The period of his own coming of
age would be a very fitting one for the newly-married pair to introduce
themselves to the people of the country, while their presence at such a
time would evidence that there was no family breach. In all this,
there was doubtless a leaven of selfishness; but there was considerable
magnanimity also, and the manner in which the baronet spoke of Rose
herself would have done honour to Bayard. In this matter, it must be
even conceded that he shewed more nobility of spirit than the ladies of
his household. His mother had forgiven the girl, after a fashion, it is
true; but her feelings towards her were anything but genial. One's heart
cannot be made to yearn towards a sly and deceitful young person, just
because she happens to be one's daughter-in-law. Her pity for Walter was
great, but it did not beget Love for _her_.

With Letty, again, Rose stood even lower, or perhaps seemed to do
so, from the higher eminence which she had previously occupied in the
affections of her school-friend. A young lady who has sworn an eternal
friendship, does not relish the discovery that the other party to that
solemn transaction has been making a fool of her under her own roof for
months; nay, has been systematically deceiving her upon a matter
mutual confidences concerning which form the very basis of such
compacts--namely, the Beloved Object. Young men do not encourage one
another to communicate their honest love-secrets, although some are
boastful enough of their conquests over the sex, where there is no
pretence of the heart being concerned; but with young ladies, this sort
of information is the most prized of all. There is a tacit, if not an
expressed understanding between female friends, that the first genuine
"attachment" formed by either shall at once be revealed to the other.
The expectation of that tender avowal is what is uppermost in their
minds whenever they meet; and when it _has_ been made, what an endless
subject of sympathy does the unconscious swain become between these
devoted young persons! How the qualities of his mind are canvassed, and
the colour of his hair; how his religious principles are eulogised, and
also his small feet; and how, in short, the Betrothed and her faithful
Confidante construct a mental and physical ideal for Jones, out of what
they have read of the Admirable Crichton and the Apollo Belvedere. Betty
Lisgard was as good a girl--in my opinion--as ever drew breath; but she
was human, and when she kissed Rose the first time after she learned she
had become her sister, it was by no means the impassioned salute which
it had used to be, nor had her "my dear," although delivered with
emphasis, at all the genuine ring.

As for the other females at the Abbey, it was fortunate for Rose that
she had not to apply to _them_ for a character; for although Mistress
Forest knew her place better than to circulate scandal, Miss Anne Rees,
no longer restrained by terror of the constabulary, indemnified herself
for previous reticence, by favouring her fellow-servants with some very
curious details indeed with respect to Mrs Walter Lisgard. My Lady's
proposal, that Rose should take advantage of Mr Arthur Haldane's
escort on the morrow to her aunt's house, until she should receive her
husband's directions as to her future place of abode, was, I think, very
generally welcomed, and felt to be a relief by the whole house.

During the long railway journey to town, however, she made herself
agreeable enough to her companion, as she was well able to do, when so
disposed, to all his sex.

The young barrister was prudent and sagacious beyond his years, and what
he knew of the lady's behaviour, did not certainly prepossess him in
her favour; but, nevertheless, he was obliged to confess to himself
(although he omitted to do so to Letty) that Mrs Walter Lisgard was a
very charming person. It is undeniable that a married woman may make
herself twice as pleasant, for any short interval, like a railway
journey, as any single one can do; she is not afraid of being considered
too forward, or of laying herself out to captivate; while, if you are a
bachelor with whose _tendresse_ for any fair one she is acquainted, she
will take you under her patronage, notwithstanding that you may be twice
her age, and so sympathise with you, and identify herself with your
absent intended, that you are half inclined to squeeze her hand, and
cover it with kisses.

Mr Arthur Haldane had much too judicial a mind to give way to any
impulse of that kind, but it was very nice to hear Rose eulogise her
"darling Letty," and protest that the man who married her would find
himself united with an angel. He quite forgot, under this soothing
treatment, that his impression on leaving the Abbey was, that the two
young ladies were not very good friends; nor did it occur to him at all
that this privilege of matronly talk was being exercised by a bride
not two months wedded, and whose surreptitious marriage had only been
discovered about a week ago. When they had reached London, and were
approaching her aunt's residence in the late afternoon, they found
themselves suddenly in a broad stream of vehicles, for the most part
furnished with four horses, but very unlike the usual spick-and-span
London equipages, being covered with white dust, and bearing traces of
recent rapid travel.

"_I_ quite forgot it was the Derby Day," exclaimed Arthur: "these are
the gentlemen of the road, and I daresay your husband is among them."

Rose turned quite pale, and leaning back in the cab, did not again
look out of window until they arrived at her aunt's door, where the two
companions parted very good friends indeed. Rose gave a little sigh
as she thanked him for his escort, which went--not indeed to the young
man's heart, but a good way too.

"I hope Master Walter does not ill-treat that poor girl," soliloquised
Arthur as he drove away; "but I am almost certain that she s afraid of
him."

London after the Derby is more like Pandemonium even than on the night
before; the winners are wild with joy, and inclined for any sort of
dissipation; the losers also crave for the Circean cup, that they may
temporarily forget their misfortunes. With the unusual roar of wheel and
hoof in the streets, there mixes a still more unusual shouting; and from
the open windows of places of entertainment, there streams forth the
tangled talk which is confined within doors at other times. Before
Arthur could reach the _Turf Hotel_, he learned from these sources,
without further inquiry, that _The King_ had won the race, in
consequence of some mischance having happened to the jockey of
_Menelaus_. He knew, therefore, that Walter Lisgard had lost money.
Still, when upon reaching his lodging he first set eyes upon the young
dragoon, moodily stretched upon the sofa, with eyes staring straight
before him, and a face as pale as the tablecloth, on which stood an
untasted meal, he was astonished and shocked. For the moment--such a
rigidity was there about those exquisite features--Arthur thought with a
shudder that he was dead. Even after he entered the room, lit only from
the glaring street, not a limb stirred, not a muscle moved to mark any
consciousness of his presence; but when he exclaimed: "Walter! what's
the matter, man?" the figure leapt up with a cry of pleasure, and took
both his hands in his.

"I am glad to see you, Arthur," cried he.

"This is very kind of you, and I do not deserve it. I thought it was
that infernal scoundrel Derrick."

"He is not here, then?"

"No; he may have come and gone, for all I know, for I believe I have
been in a sort of nightmare; only it was a horse that caused it.
Derrick's partner--or Derrick himself, for what I know--sold the race.
I know what you are going to say, that you always told me how it would
be"----

"No, indeed, Walter," interrupted Arthur kindly. "I am not come hither
to reproach you. I am only the bearer of good news."

"I should like to hear some of that," said the other bitterly. "Where
is it? Have you brought a loaded pistol with you? That would be the most
friendly action you could do me just now, I believe."

"Walter, you should not talk like that," answered Arthur very gravely,
for there was a look in his friend's eyes which seemed to harmonise
only too well with his despairing words. "When we kill ourselves so
philosophically, we forget how we wound others by that selfish act.
Think of your mother, lad."

"Yes. She would be sorry, would she not?"

"It would break her heart, Walter; that's all. And besides, you have
a wife now--yes, we all know it, and you're both forgiven--and why you
have not written to her in answer to the letter she wrote you, none of
us can imagine."

"I only got it this very day," groaned Walter. "Am I in a fit state to
write upon business, think you?"

"Business!" echoed Arthur contemptuously; "you're in a fit state to take
a cab to Mayfair, and ask your poor wife's pardon, I brought her up to
her aunt's house today myself."

"That's well," observed Walter reflectively; "for between you and me,
Arthur Haldane"----

"Well, what?" exclaimed the barrister impatiently.

"Why, I think she'd better stay at her aunt's house altogether. The fact
is, I've got no money to keep her."

"We know all about that, man"----

"The devil you do!" ejaculated Walter grimly; "then bad news must indeed
fly apace. Look here, Haldane--I've lost _everything_. All that I have
at present; all that I was to have when I came of age; all that I can
expect from any human being who is fool enough to leave me anything in
time to come. I am a beggar, and worse than that, for I am a defaulter,
and shall be proclaimed as such in a few days. That is the whole state
of the case. _Now_, do you not think that the kindest office which a
friend could do me, would be to help me with the means of blowing out,
what would be in another man, his brains? For not only do I recognise
myself a scoundrel, but as a senseless dolt and idiot, a fool of the
first quality, and a"----

"You must owe, then, near seven thousand pounds," interrupted Arthur,
with something like a groan.

"Just about that, so far as I have dared to look the thing in the face;
all lost within twenty-four hours--most of it within three minutes."

"We must keep this from your mother somehow, Walter. She has been sadly
tried, and I doubt whether she could bear it."

"She must know it sooner or later, man, even if she doesn't read it in
the papers. When your Turf gentry do not get paid, they make a noise
about it, you see, that being all they can do. I've a precious good mind
to take myself off to Cariboo--that's where this fellow Derrick made his
money--the climate's good, and with a little capital, one may do a good
deal. Why should I not go there, and never let them have a penny? The
law looks upon it as a swindle, _you_ know that well enough; and it
_was_ a swindle, by Jove! Come, you 're a barrister, Haldane; now, what
do you say about it?"

"No, Walter, I cannot advise you to act in that manner, and I am sure
you did not propose it seriously yourself."

"O no, certainly not; I was only having a bit of fun," rejoined the
other bitterly. "I am just in the humour for joking now, and can't
resist it. Thousand devils! would you have me go to the workhouse, man,
or where?"

"Nothing of that sort is at all necessary, Walter," answered the other
quietly. "Of course, I was not prepared for this very unfortunate
position of affairs; I had brought news that, through, I must say, the
very generous behaviour of your elder brother, your income as a married
man would in future be a very tolerable one; it has been made up to
at least double what the interest of the sum you have lost would have
produced. Thus, in addition to your pay, you would have had about six
hundred a year, besides whatever your wife's aunt might think proper
to allow her. Your mother, on the other hand, undertakes, if you should
scruple to accept this kindness at Sir Richard's hands"----

"Scruple? Certainly _not_," ejaculated Walter angrily. "I confess that I
did not think my brother would have had so much proper feeling, and I
am much obliged to him, of course; but, after all, he has only done his
duty. What is three hundred a year out of the Lisgard rent-roll?"

"Still, he was not obliged to do it," observed Arthur drily.

"That is true; and, of course, you take the lawyer's view of it.
Moreover, when he comes to hear of these debts, perhaps his Serene
Highness may think proper to withdraw his gracious assistance."

"You do him very wrong, Walter," answered Arthur with warmth. "Your
trouble makes you say things you ought to be ashamed of--yes, ashamed
of. Your brother, with all his faults, is incapable of committing such
an act of cruelty. He is quite willing that you should both return to
Mirk as soon as you please, but particularly that you should be present
at his Coming of Age, which I am sure you will not fail to be. But if
you will take my advice, you will not make your position known at Mirk,
for, as I have said before, your mother has had enough to trouble her.
You must let your sporting friends understand it, however, and we must
make the best arrangements we can for your paying your debts within
a year; and for the future, till something turns up, instead of six
hundred per annum, you must manage to do on three. Your wife, I am sure,
is a most sensible young lady, and will easily perceive the necessity
for economy."

"Thank you," answered the dragoon coldly. "Perhaps you would like to run
down to Canterbury, and choose our lodging for us; or do you think we
ought to be content to live in barracks? I know that there is a great
temptation to insult a man when he is down; but for giving unpalatable
advice in an offensive manner, I do not know your equal, Mr Arthur
Haldane."

"Well, Walter, I have said what I thought right, and I do not intend to
quarrel with you. I should wish, on the contrary, to remain your friend,
if it were only for your dear mother's sake"----

"And somebody else's," interrupted the captain with a sneer.

"Yes; for your sister Letty's, Walter; I frankly own that. Come, give
us your hand, man.--Well, another time, then, when you are more like
yourself.--But before I go, I want to find this man Derrick, for I have
a letter for him of importance from Mistress Forest."

"You had better ask as you go down stairs, Mr Haldane; I know nothing
about him." And with that, Captain Walter Lisgard deliberately turned
his back upon his visitor, and looked gloomily out of the window;
while his white hand stroked his silken moustaches as though it were a
pumice-stone, and it was his intention to stroke them off.

Arthur made his inquiry of the servant who opened the hall-door to let
him out.

"Mr Derrick--if that was the gentleman with the large beard--had come
and gone within the last quarter of an hour, while he (Haldane) had been
talking with the other gentleman up stairs. He had called for his bill,
and paid it, and packed his portmanteau, and there it was in the passage
at the present moment."

"Then he must come back for _that_," exclaimed Arthur eagerly.

"No. He had left directions that it was to be sent on to him in a week
or so to some place in the South. He had said that he should be walking,
and therefore would not be there himself for several days. He had taken
a knapsack with him as for a regular tour. He was a strange gentleman
altogether."

Arthur Haldane stooped down, and read the address on the
portmanteau--_Mr R. Derrick, Coveton_; then stepped very thoughtfully
into the roaring street. "I don't know exactly why, and I certainly have
no desire to know," muttered the young barrister to himself; "but of
all the bad news I have learned to-night, I fear _ma mère_ will consider
this the worst. Why the deuce should this fellow be going to Coveton,
of all places least calculated to attract such a scampish vagabond?
Coveton, Coveton--yes, that is the place where my Lady came ashore from
the wreck of the _North Star_."



CHAPTER XII. THE LETTER FROM PARIS.

|IT is the morning after the Derby Day, and Sir Richard, who has never
had a shilling upon that national event, yet reads with interest the
prose-poem upon the subject in the _Times_, over the breakfast-table,
and even favours Letty--which is so unusual a piece of graciousness,
that it almost suggests the idea of making amends for something--with
extracts from the same, aloud. He and his sister are alone at the
morning meal, for my Lady, as is often the case now, has had her tea
and dry toast sent up to her in her own room, as also a couple of
letters--one from Arthur Haldane, and one with the Paris post-mark, and
in a foreign hand.

"Lord Stonart is said to have netted forty thousand pounds: just think
of that, Letty."

"Yes, Richard; but then think of the poor people that lost it."

"Poor people should not bet," returned the baronet severely. "I am sorry
for Mr Chifney, since, if he had not quarrelled with his Lordship, the
winner would have come out of his stables. As it was, he very nearly
accomplished it with that French horse _Menclaus_--a success which I
should, as an Englishman, have much deplored."

"Dear me! was not that the horse in which Walter was so much
interested?"

"I am sure I don't know, Letty. I should think my brother had no money
to spare for the race-course, under present circumstances: he could
surely never be such a fool."

"Very likely not, Richard. I never said a word about his risking money;
I only said he was 'interested.'"

"Ah!" rejoined the baronet significantly, "I dare say;" and then
he began to whistle, as was not unusual with him when thoroughly
displeased. Presently, however, recollecting that this was not a
sociable sort of thing to do, Sir Richard abruptly observed: "Mamma had
a letter from Paris this morning, and in a foreign hand; I wonder who
her correspondent is. I do not think she has heard from abroad since
immediately after our poor father's death. Then I remember several of
her old French friends wrote to her."

"I hope it is no ill news of any kind, for I am getting quite anxious
about dear mamma, Richard. Ever since Christmas last, she has seemed to
get more and more depressed."

"I have only observed it lately," answered the baronet, rather stiffly;
"and I am sure we have not far to look for the reason.--By the by, there
was a letter for her from Arthur Haldane also."

"Oh! was there?" said Letty carelessly, but turning a lively pink. Then
after a short pause, during which the baronet resumed his paper: "If you
will not have another cup of coffee, Richard, I think I will go up and
see mamma."

At that moment, the door opened, and my Lady herself entered the room.
Her cheeks were ashy pale, but her eyes were beaming with excitement,
and the hand in which she held an open letter trembled as she spoke.
"Oh, I have got such good news, Richard!"

"What! from Arthur?" cried Letty. "Ah! I thought he would arrange
everything as it should be."

Sir Richard frowned, and seemed about to speak, but did not do so.

"Yes, I have heard from Arthur too," said my Lady; "and very
satisfactorily, although, perhaps, there may be matters which may
require my presence in town for a day or two."

"You may always command my services, mother: I can start at five
minutes' notice," said Sir Richard gravely.

"No, my dear hoy; if I have to go at all--which is not certain--I shall
certainly go alone, or rather with nobody but Mary. You will be full of
preparations for your _fête_, I know, for one only comes of age once in
one's lifetime; and besides, to tell you the truth, you would be of
no use at all." Here she kissed him tenderly, and pushed her fingers
through his brown curls lingeringly, as though she was already wishing
him farewell. "But the good news I speak of is a much more selfish
affair than you dream of. I have had a letter from my dear old friend,
Madame de Castellan, who used to be so good to me when I was no older
than you, Letty, at Dijon."

"I remember her," said Sir Richard. "She came to stay at the Abbey
when I was about nine, did she not, and took such a fancy to dear
old Belcomb? She said that she and I would marry so soon as I got old
enough, and set up an establishment in the little cottage. A charming
old lady, with snow-white hair, but a slight deficiency of teeth."

"Just so," answered my Lady. "She always vowed she would have nothing
false about her, as long as she lived, and she is alive now, and
apparently very hearty. But she has had some money losses, as well as
certain domestic misfortunes, which induce her to seek an entire change
of life. It is a most singular thing that you should have recollected
her passion for Belcomb, for it is about that very place that she has
written. She wishes to know whether she could be our tenant there, at
all events for the summer. The matter is in your hands, Richard, or will
be so in a week or two, but I confess I should like to have her for a
neighbour exceedingly."

"Then by all means write and say 'Come,'" cried the baronet; "and why
not let her have Belcomb rent free? I dare say she would not mind our
having our picnics there occasionally; and it is really no loss to me,
for I don't believe anybody but herself would dream of taking it, except
in the shooting season."

"Then that is arranged," answered my Lady joyfully. "I am to write by
return of post," she says ; "and if the letter says 'Yes,' that then we
may expect her any day. She will bring her own French maid; and I will
drive over to-day, and arrange about old Rachel and her husband, who, of
course, must be no losers, if they have to leave. That must be Madame's
own affair, if she is really to have the place for nothing. See how
affectionately the dear old lady writes, and what a capital hand,
considering her advanced age!"

"Yes, indeed," said Sir Richard, elevating his eyebrows: "only, to say
the truth, I am not good at French manuscript----"

"Although a master of that language, when in printed books," interrupted
Letty.

"Well, the fact is they didn't teach that sort of thing at Eton in my
time," answered the baronet frankly; "or, at all events, they didn't
teach _me_. However, French is not so bad as German, that I will say.
One _can_ pronounce it without speaking from the pit of one's stomach."

"Yes, one can--after a fashion," laughed Letty a little scornfully; but
her elder brother seemed resolved to take all her bantering in good part
that morning, as the imperial lion will sometimes tolerate the gambols
of a companion kitten. "I don't think, however," she continued, "Madame
de Castellan, who comes from Paris, will quite understand _you_,
Richard.--How nicely she speaks of Mary, mamma. Why, how comes she to
know so much about _her?_"

"Why, when I went to Dijon, before my marriage, Mary Forest went with
me, you know, and remained there several years."

"Ah, yes, of course; I had forgotten."

"And when we were at the--the college," continued my Lady, with a slight
tinge of colour, "Madame took pity upon us both, being foreigners, and
was kind to us beyond all measure. Many a happy day have we passed
in her pretty chateau together; and indeed I think I owe my Parisian
pronunciation--of which you seem to make so much, Letty--at least as
much to Madame de Castellan as to my paid teachers. She never could
speak English, if you remember, Richard; everything she addressed to you
had to be translated."

"Dear me," answered the baronet hastily, "I don't like that. I hope
she has learned English since then. It places one in a very humiliating
position to be talked to in a language one does not understand; unless
you can treat the person as a savage, which, to say the truth, I always
feel inclined to do."

"Well, Richard," said my Lady smiling, "if I am not at your elbow when
Madame de Castellan calls, there will be always Letty here, who is
cunning in such tongue-fence, to protect you; but, as a matter of fact,
we shall see my poor old friend but very seldom. She is a good deal
broken, I fear, by time, and still more by trouble"--here my Lady's own
voice began to quaver a little--"and all she seems to desire is quiet
and seclusion, before her day of rest at last shall dawn."

"She will be very welcome," answered Sir Richard tenderly. "I hope that
you will cause everything for her comfort to be looked to at Belcomb,
and I will again repeat my orders to Rinkel that the place is to be kept
quite free from trespassers."

He rose and kissed his mother, then, as he left the room, delayed with
his fingers on the door-handle, saying: "Have Walter and--and his wife
consented to be present at my Coming of Age?"

"Certainly, dear Richard: they will both be very pleased to come--nay,
Arthur thinks that they may return to the Abbey immediately. It is
scarcely worth while for them to take a house, or rather lodgings, at
Canterbury, since they are to be here so soon. Walter has leave now, it
seems, and there will be no difficulty in getting it prolonged almost
indefinitely: he can do anything he likes with his colonel, you know, as
indeed"----

"Exactly," interrupted Sir Richard drily. "Then I suppose they will be
back in a few days." And with that he placed the door between himself
and the threatened eulogy upon Master Walter.

"Was there any particular message for me, mamma?" inquired Letty
demurely.

"From Walter? No, dear. He sent his love to us all; but of course he
feels a little embarrassed, and perhaps scarcely understands that he has
been forgiven. Oh, I forgot: you meant was there any particular message
from Arthur Haldane, you exacting little puss! Why, he only left us
yesterday morning! But don't be vexed, my darling. You have won the love
of a man who knows your worth almost as well as I do. He may not be so
brilliant or so handsome as our darling Walter--and indeed who is?--but
I must say he has shewn much better taste in choosing a wife. He has
both wisdom and goodness, my darling child, and I firmly believe your
future happiness is assured."

"Yes, dearest mother, I do believe it; but"----Here Letty's eyes began
not only to sparkle, but to distil pearls and diamonds in the most
lavish and apparently uncalled-for profusion.

"Why, what is the matter now, my love?" inquired my Lady.

"Nothing, mamma--nothing at least that I should have thought it worth
while to tell you, had I not been overcome by your kind words. I know
you have got troubles enough of your own; I did not mean to tell you,
indeed I did not; I tried to forget it myself. Only last night, after
you had gone to bed, Richard sat up with me talking about his future,
and it seems he has made some plan for mine. He spoke of Mr Charles Vane
as a person he would like to have for a brother-in-law. He bade me be
particularly civil to him at the coming _fête_; and when I said that
I did not very much care about Mr Vane--and, in fact, that I had
already---- O mamma, Richard said some very cruel things. He reminded
me that one member of the family had already made a disreputable
marriage"----

"That was an ungenerous speech, and very unlike my Richard," interposed
my Lady with emphasis. "Why, he would have married Rose himself."

"So I have sometimes thought," replied Letty simply: "but to do him
justice, I think he was referring to the clandestine character of the
marriage rather than to the match itself. However, when he used the word
disreputable in connection with Arthur Haldane, he made me very angry,
I own. I told him that Arthur was worth all the Vanes that had ever been
born, whether there might have been nineteen generations of them (as he
boasted) or a hundred and ninety. And I am afraid, dear mamma, that
I snapped my fingers, and said I did not care _that_, when he accused
dearest Arthur of not having a great-grandfather. At all events, Richard
stalked out of the drawing-room vastly offended; and although he has
been endeavouring to be extra civil to me this morning, I know that it
is only that he may again introduce the very objectionable subject of
Mr Charles Vane; and when I say 'No' with decision, as of course I shall
do, I fear that he may take it upon himself to write to Arthur; and
then, dearest mother, the Haldanes are so proud, you know, that I don't
know what may happen."

Strange as it may seem, there had flitted across my Lady's face during
this recital a look of something like Relief--for it surely could not
have been Satisfaction--but it speedily gave place to that expression of
distress that had become only too habitual to her once serene and comely
features. Perhaps, accustomed to mischance as she now was, she had
expected even more unwelcome news, and had felt momentarily thankful
matters were no worse; but now all was gloom again.

"You were quite right to tell me this, Letty, even though it does give
me a new cause for grief. If I know Arthur Haldane, he will not desert
his betrothed wife on account of any slight that may be put upon him by
any other human being. You may be quite at ease about that, I am very
sure. But these dissensions and disagreements among my own children--I
know it is not your fault, dear Letty--but I feel that I cannot bear up
under them. You will not have me with you here much longer."

"O mamma--dear, dear mamma, how selfish it was of me thus to afflict
you further. But don't, don't talk like that. What should we do without
you--you the sole bond that unites your boys together: and _I_? O
mother, what would become of _me?_ You don't know how I love you."

"Yes, darling, I do. You are tenderhearted as you are dutiful. And my
boys, to do them justice, they love me too; but they are wearing me
into my grave. At least, I feel it would be far better if I were lying
there."

"O mamma, mamma," sighed Letty, covering my Lady's tearful face with
kisses, "you will break my heart if you talk so."

"You will have somebody better able to-take care of you even than I,
dear child, when I am gone. And I will see that it is so. Yes, I will
leave directions behind me--you will find them in my desk, Letty;
remember this, should anything happen to me--about that matter as well
as other things. Richard will respect my wishes in such a case, I know,
and will offer no opposition."

"But, dearest mother, do you feel ill," cried Letty in an agony, "that
you talk of such things as these? Let us send for the doctor from
Dalwynch. How I wish that Arthur's father could be prevailed on to come
and see you! O mamma! I would rather die than you, although I am sure I
am not half so fit for death!"

"Dear child, dear child!" sobbed my Lady. "It will be a bitter parting
indeed for both of us--when the time comes. Perhaps it may not be so
near at hand as I feared. In the meantime, rest assured, love, that if
I feel a doctor can do me any good, he shall be sent for at once. But it
is the mind, and not the body, which has need of medicine.--There, dry
your eyes, and let us hope for the best. You will drive over with me
this afternoon, will you not, to Belcomb? There is no time to lose in
getting things ready there for our new tenant."


END OF VOL. II.





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