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Title: Basil
Author: Collins, Wilkie
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 "Basil" ***

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BASIL

By Wilkie Collins



LETTER OF DEDICATION.

TO CHARLES JAMES WARD, ESQ.

IT has long been one of my pleasantest anticipations to look forward to
the time when I might offer to you, my old and dear friend, some such
acknowledgment of the value I place on your affection for me, and of my
grateful sense of the many acts of kindness by which that affection
has been proved, as I now gladly offer in this place. In dedicating the
present work to you, I fulfil therefore a purpose which, for some time
past, I have sincerely desired to achieve; and, more than that, I gain
for myself the satisfaction of knowing that there is one page, at least,
of my book, on which I shall always look with unalloyed pleasure--the
page that bears your name.

I have founded the main event out of which this story springs, on a
fact within my own knowledge. In afterwards shaping the course of the
narrative thus suggested, I have guided it, as often as I could, where
I knew by my own experience, or by experience related to me by others,
that it would touch on something real and true in its progress. My idea
was, that the more of the Actual I could garner up as a text to speak
from, the more certain I might feel of the genuineness and value of the
Ideal which was sure to spring out of it. Fancy and Imagination, Grace
and Beauty, all those qualities which are to the work of Art what scent
and colour are to the flower, can only grow towards heaven by taking
root in earth. Is not the noblest poetry of prose fiction the poetry of
every-day truth?

Directing my characters and my story, then, towards the light of Reality
wherever I could find it, I have not hesitated to violate some of
the conventionalities of sentimental fiction. For instance, the first
love-meeting of two of the personages in this book, occurs (where the
real love-meeting from which it is drawn, occurred) in the very last
place and under the very last circumstances which the artifices of
sentimental writing would sanction. Will my lovers excite ridicule
instead of interest, because I have truly represented them as seeing
each other where hundreds of other lovers have first seen each other,
as hundreds of people will readily admit when they read the passage to
which I refer? I am sanguine enough to think not.

So again, in certain parts of this book where I have attempted to excite
the suspense or pity of the reader, I have admitted as perfectly fit
accessories to the scene the most ordinary street-sounds that could be
heard, and the most ordinary street-events that could occur, at the time
and in the place represented--believing that by adding to truth, they
were adding to tragedy--adding by all the force of fair contrast--adding
as no artifices of mere writing possibly could add, let them be ever so
cunningly introduced by ever so crafty a hand.

Allow me to dwell a moment longer on the story which these pages
contain.

Believing that the Novel and the Play are twin-sisters in the family
of Fiction; that the one is a drama narrated, as the other is a drama
acted; and that all the strong and deep emotions which the Play-writer
is privileged to excite, the Novel-writer is privileged to excite also,
I have not thought it either politic or necessary, while adhering to
realities, to adhere to every-day realities only. In other words, I have
not stooped so low as to assure myself of the reader’s belief in the
probability of my story, by never once calling on him for the exercise
of his faith. Those extraordinary accidents and events which happen to
few men, seemed to me to be as legitimate materials for fiction to
work with--when there was a good object in using them--as the ordinary
accidents and events which may, and do, happen to us all. By appealing
to genuine sources of interest _within_ the reader’s own experience, I
could certainly gain his attention to begin with; but it would be only
by appealing to other sources (as genuine in their way) _beyond_ his
own experience, that I could hope to fix his interest and excite his
suspense, to occupy his deeper feelings, or to stir his nobler thoughts.

In writing thus--briefly and very generally--(for I must not delay
you too long from the story), I can but repeat, though I hope almost
unnecessarily, that I am now only speaking of what I have tried to do.
Between the purpose hinted at here, and the execution of that purpose
contained in the succeeding pages, lies the broad line of separation
which distinguishes between the will and the deed. How far I may fall
short of another man’s standard, remains to be discovered. How far I
have fallen short of my own, I know painfully well.

One word more on the manner in which the purpose of the following pages
is worked out--and I have done.

Nobody who admits that the business of fiction is to exhibit human life,
can deny that scenes of misery and crime must of necessity, while human
nature remains what it is, form part of that exhibition. Nobody can
assert that such scenes are unproductive of useful results, when they
are turned to a plainly and purely moral purpose. If I am asked why I
have written certain scenes in this book, my answer is to be found in
the universally-accepted truth which the preceding words express. I have
a right to appeal to that truth; for I guided myself by it throughout.
In deriving the lesson which the following pages contain, from those
examples of error and crime which would most strikingly and naturally
teach it, I determined to do justice to the honesty of my object by
speaking out. In drawing the two characters, whose actions bring about
the darker scenes of my story, I did not forget that it was my duty,
while striving to portray them naturally, to put them to a good moral
use; and at some sacrifice, in certain places, of dramatic effect
(though I trust with no sacrifice of truth to Nature), I have shown the
conduct of the vile, as always, in a greater or less degree, associated
with something that is selfish, contemptible, or cruel in motive.
Whether any of my better characters may succeed in endearing themselves
to the reader, I know not: but this I do certainly know:--that I shall
in no instance cheat him out of his sympathies in favour of the bad.

To those persons who dissent from the broad principles here adverted to;
who deny that it is the novelist’s vocation to do more than merely amuse
them; who shrink from all honest and serious reference, in books,
to subjects which they think of in private and talk of in public
everywhere; who see covert implications where nothing is implied, and
improper allusions where nothing improper is alluded to; whose innocence
is in the word, and not in the thought; whose morality stops at the
tongue, and never gets on to the heart--to those persons, I should
consider it loss of time, and worse, to offer any further explanation of
my motives, than the sufficient explanation which I have given already.
I do not address myself to them in this book, and shall never think of
addressing myself to them in any other.

                         *****

Those words formed part of the original introduction to this novel. I
wrote them nearly ten years since; and what I said then, I say now.

“Basil” was the second work of fiction which I produced. On its
appearance, it was condemned off-hand, by a certain class of readers, as
an outrage on their sense of propriety. Conscious of having designed
and written, my story with the strictest regard to true delicacy, as
distinguished from false--I allowed the prurient misinterpretation of
certain perfectly innocent passages in this book to assert itself as
offensively as it pleased, without troubling myself to protest against
an expression of opinion which aroused in me no other feeling than
a feeling of contempt. I knew that “Basil” had nothing to fear from
pure-minded readers; and I left these pages to stand or fall on such
merits as they possessed. Slowly and surely, my story forced its way
through all adverse criticism, to a place in the public favour which
it has never lost since. Some of the most valued friends I now possess,
were made for me by “Basil.” Some of the most gratifying recognitions of
my labours which I have received, from readers personally strangers to
me, have been recognitions of the purity of this story, from the first
page to the last. All the indulgence I need now ask for “Basil,” is
indulgence for literary defects, which are the result of inexperience;
which no correction can wholly remove; and which no one sees more
plainly, after a lapse of ten years, than the writer himself.

I have only to add, that the present edition of this book is the first
which has had the benefit of my careful revision. While the incidents of
the story remain exactly what they were, the language in which they are
told has been, I hope, in many cases greatly altered for the better.


WILKIE COLLINS.

Harley Street, London, July, 1862.



BASIL.



PART I.


I.

WHAT am I now about to write?

The history of little more than the events of one year, out of the
twenty-four years of my life.

Why do I undertake such an employment as this?

Perhaps, because I think that my narrative may do good; because I hope
that, one day, it may be put to some warning use. I am now about to
relate the story of an error, innocent in its beginning, guilty in its
progress, fatal in its results; and I would fain hope that my plain
and true record will show that this error was not committed altogether
without excuse. When these pages are found after my death, they will
perhaps be calmly read and gently judged, as relics solemnized by the
atoning shadows of the grave. Then, the hard sentence against me may
be repented of; the children of the next generation of our house may
be taught to speak charitably of my memory, and may often, of their own
accord, think of me kindly in the thoughtful watches of the night.

Prompted by these motives, and by others which I feel, but cannot
analyse, I now begin my self-imposed occupation. Hidden amid the far
hills of the far West of England, surrounded only by the few simple
inhabitants of a fishing hamlet on the Cornish coast, there is little
fear that my attention will be distracted from my task; and as
little chance that any indolence on my part will delay its speedy
accomplishment. I live under a threat of impending hostility, which may
descend and overwhelm me, I know not how soon, or in what manner. An
enemy, determined and deadly, patient alike to wait days or years for
his opportunity, is ever lurking after me in the dark. In entering on my
new employment, I cannot say of my time, that it may be mine for another
hour; of my life, that it may last till evening.

Thus it is as no leisure work that I begin my narrative--and begin it,
too, on my birthday! On this day I complete my twenty-fourth year; the
first new year of my life which has not been greeted by a single kind
word, or a single loving wish. But one look of welcome can still find me
in my solitude--the lovely morning look of nature, as I now see it from
the casement of my room. Brighter and brighter shines out the lusty sun
from banks of purple, rainy cloud; fishermen are spreading their nets
to dry on the lower declivities of the rocks; children are playing round
the boats drawn up on the beach; the sea-breeze blows fresh and pure
towards the shore----all objects are brilliant to look on, all sounds
are pleasant to hear, as my pen traces the first lines which open the
story of my life.

II.

I am the second son of an English gentleman of large fortune. Our family
is, I believe, one of the most ancient in this country. On my father’s
side, it dates back beyond the Conquest; on my mother’s, it is not so
old, but the pedigree is nobler. Besides my elder brother, I have one
sister, younger than myself. My mother died shortly after giving birth
to her last child.

Circumstances which will appear hereafter, have forced me to abandon my
father’s name. I have been obliged in honour to resign it; and in honour
I abstain from mentioning it here. Accordingly, at the head of these
pages, I have only placed my Christian name--not considering it of any
importance to add the surname which I have assumed; and which I may,
perhaps, be obliged to change for some other, at no very distant period.
It will now, I hope, be understood from the outset, why I never mention
my brother and sister but by their Christian names; why a blank occurs
wherever my father’s name should appear; why my own is kept concealed in
this narrative, as it is kept concealed in the world.

The story of my boyhood and youth has little to interest--nothing that
is new. My education was the education of hundreds of others in my rank
of life. I was first taught at a public school, and then went to college
to complete what is termed “a liberal education.”

My life at college has not left me a single pleasant recollection. I
found sycophancy established there, as a principle of action; flaunting
on the lord’s gold tassel in the street; enthroned on the lord’s dais in
the dining-room. The most learned student in my college--the man whose
life was most exemplary, whose acquirements were most admirable--was
shown me sitting, as a commoner, in the lowest place. The heir to an
Earldom, who had failed at the last examination, was pointed out a few
minutes afterwards, dining in solitary grandeur at a raised table, above
the reverend scholars who had turned him back as a dunce. I had just
arrived at the University, and had just been congratulated on entering
“a venerable seminary of learning and religion.”

Trite and common-place though it be, I mention this circumstance
attending my introduction to college, because it formed the first cause
which tended to diminish my faith in the institution to which I was
attached. I soon grew to regard my university training as a sort of
necessary evil, to be patiently submitted to. I read for no honours,
and joined no particular set of men. I studied the literature of France,
Italy, and Germany; just kept up my classical knowledge sufficiently
to take my degree; and left college with no other reputation than a
reputation for indolence and reserve.

When I returned home, it was thought necessary, as I was a younger son,
and could inherit none of the landed property of the family, except in
the case of my brother’s dying without children, that I should belong
to a profession. My father had the patronage of some valuable “livings,”
 and good interest with more than one member of the government. The
church, the army, the navy, and, in the last instance, the bar, were
offered me to choose from. I selected the last.

My father appeared to be a little astonished at my choice; but he made
no remark on it, except simply telling me not to forget that the bar was
a good stepping-stone to parliament. My real ambition, however, was, not
to make a name in parliament, but a name in literature. I had already
engaged myself in the hard, but glorious service of the pen; and I was
determined to persevere. The profession which offered me the greatest
facilities for pursuing my project, was the profession which I was ready
to prefer. So I chose the bar.

Thus, I entered life under the fairest auspices. Though a younger son, I
knew that my father’s wealth, exclusive of his landed property, secured
me an independent income far beyond my wants. I had no extravagant
habits; no tastes that I could not gratify as soon as formed; no cares
or responsibilities of any kind. I might practise my profession or
not, just as I chose. I could devote myself wholly and unreservedly to
literature, knowing that, in my case, the struggle for fame could never
be identical--terribly, though gloriously identical--with the struggle
for bread. For me, the morning sunshine of life was sunshine without a
cloud!

I might attempt, in this place, to sketch my own character as it was at
that time. But what man can say--I will sound the depth of my own vices,
and measure the height of my own virtues; and be as good as his word? We
can neither know nor judge ourselves; others may judge, but cannot know
us: God alone judges and knows too. Let my character appear--as far as
any human character can appear in its integrity, in this world--in my
actions, when I describe the one eventful passage in my life which forms
the basis of this narrative. In the mean time, it is first necessary
that I should say more about the members of my family. Two of them, at
least, will be found important to the progress of events in these
pages. I make no attempt to judge their characters: I only describe
them--whether rightly or wrongly, I know not--as they appeared to me.

III.

I always considered my father--I speak of him in the past tense, because
we are now separated for ever; because he is henceforth as dead to me
as if the grave had closed over him--I always considered my father to be
the proudest man I ever knew; the proudest man I ever heard of. His
was not that conventional pride, which the popular notions are fond of
characterising by a stiff, stately carriage; by a rigid expression of
features; by a hard, severe intonation of voice; by set speeches of
contempt for poverty and rags, and rhapsodical braggadocio about rank
and breeding. My father’s pride had nothing of this about it. It was
that quiet, negative, courteous, inbred pride, which only the closest
observation could detect; which no ordinary observers ever detected at
all.

Who that observed him in communication with any of the farmers on any of
his estates--who that saw the manner in which he lifted his hat, when
he accidentally met any of those farmers’ wives--who that noticed his
hearty welcome to the man of the people, when that man happened to be a
man of genius--would have thought him proud? On such occasions as these,
if he had any pride, it was impossible to detect it. But seeing him
when, for instance, an author and a new-made peer of no ancestry entered
his house together--observing merely the entirely different manner in
which he shook hands with each--remarking that the polite cordiality
was all for the man of letters, who did not contest his family rank with
him, and the polite formality all for the man of title, who did--you
discovered where and how he was proud in an instant. Here lay his
fretful point. The aristocracy of rank, as separate from the aristocracy
of ancestry, was no aristocracy for _him._ He was jealous of it; he
hated it. Commoner though he was, he considered himself the social
superior of any man, from a baronet up to a duke, whose family was less
ancient than his own.

Among a host of instances of this peculiar pride of his which I could
cite, I remember one, characteristic enough to be taken as a sample of
all the rest. It happened when I was quite a child, and was told me by
one of my uncles now dead--who witnessed the circumstance himself, and
always made a good story of it to the end of his life.

A merchant of enormous wealth, who had recently been raised to the
peerage, was staying at one of our country houses. His daughter, my
uncle, and an Italian Abbe were the only guests besides. The merchant
was a portly, purple-faced man, who bore his new honours with a curious
mixture of assumed pomposity and natural good-humour. The Abbe was
dwarfish and deformed, lean, sallow, sharp-featured, with bright
bird-like eyes, and a low, liquid voice. He was a political refugee,
dependent for the bread he ate, on the money he received for teaching
languages. He might have been a beggar from the streets; and still my
father would have treated him as the principal guest in the house, for
this all-sufficient reason--he was a direct descendant of one of the
oldest of those famous Roman families whose names are part of the
history of the Civil Wars in Italy.

On the first day, the party assembled for dinner comprised the
merchant’s daughter, my mother, an old lady who had once been her
governess, and had always lived with her since her marriage, the new
Lord, the Abbe, my father, and my uncle. When dinner was announced,
the peer advanced in new-blown dignity, to offer his arm as a matter of
course to my mother. My father’s pale face flushed crimson in a moment.
He touched the magnificent merchant-lord on the arm, and pointed
significantly, with a low bow, towards the decrepit old lady who had
once been my mother’s governess. Then walking to the other end of the
room, where the penniless Abbe was looking over a book in a corner,
he gravely and courteously led the little, deformed, limping
language-master, clad in a long, threadbare, black coat, up to my mother
(whose shoulder the Abbe’s head hardly reached), held the door open
for them to pass out first, with his own hand; politely invited the new
nobleman, who stood half-paralysed between confusion and astonishment,
to follow with the tottering old lady on his arm; and then returned to
lead the peer’s daughter down to dinner himself. He only resumed his
wonted expression and manner, when he had seen the little Abbe--the
squalid, half-starved representative of mighty barons of the olden
time--seated at the highest place of the table by my mother’s side.

It was by such accidental circumstances as these that you discovered how
far he was proud. He never boasted of his ancestors; he never even spoke
of them, except when he was questioned on the subject; but he never
forgot them. They were the very breath of his life; the deities of his
social worship: the family treasures to be held precious beyond all
lands and all wealth, all ambitions and all glories, by his children and
his children’s children to the end of their race.

In home-life he performed his duties towards his family honourably,
delicately, and kindly. I believe in his own way he loved us all; but
we, his descendants, had to share his heart with his ancestors--we were
his household property as well as his children. Every fair liberty was
given to us; every fair indulgence was granted to us. He never displayed
any suspicion, or any undue severity. We were taught by his direction,
that to disgrace our family, either by word or action, was the one fatal
crime which could never be forgotten and never be pardoned. We were
formed, under his superintendence, in principles of religion, honour,
and industry; and the rest was left to our own moral sense, to our own
comprehension of the duties and privileges of our station. There was no
one point in his conduct towards any of us that we could complain of;
and yet there was something always incomplete in our domestic relations.

It may seem incomprehensible, even ridiculous, to some persons, but it
is nevertheless true, that we were none of us ever on intimate terms
with him. I mean by this, that he was a father to us, but never a
companion. There was something in his manner, his quiet and unchanging
manner, which kept us almost unconsciously restrained. I never in my
life felt less at my ease--I knew not why at the time--than when I
occasionally dined alone with him. I never confided to him my schemes
for amusement as a boy, or mentioned more than generally my ambitious
hopes, as a young man. It was not that he would have received such
confidences with ridicule or severity, he was incapable of it; but that
he seemed above them, unfitted to enter into them, too far removed by
his own thoughts from such thoughts as ours. Thus, all holiday councils
were held with old servants; thus, my first pages of manuscript, when
I first tried authorship, were read by my sister, and never penetrated
into my father’s study.

Again, his mode of testifying displeasure towards my brother or myself,
had something terrible in its calmness, something that we never forgot,
and always dreaded as the worst calamity that could befall us.

Whenever, as boys, we committed some boyish fault, he never displayed
outwardly any irritation--he simply altered his manner towards us
altogether. We were not soundly lectured, or vehemently threatened, or
positively punished in anyway; but, when we came in contact with him,
we were treated with a cold, contemptuous politeness (especially if our
fault showed a tendency to anything mean or ungentlemanlike) which
cut us to the heart. On these occasions, we were not addressed by our
Christian names; if we accidentally met him out of doors, he was sure to
turn aside and avoid us; if we asked a question, it was answered in the
briefest possible manner, as if we had been strangers. His whole
course of conduct said, as though in so many words--You have rendered
yourselves unfit to associate with your father; and he is now making you
feel that unfitness as deeply as he does. We were left in this domestic
purgatory for days, sometimes for weeks together. To our boyish feelings
(to mine especially) there was no ignominy like it, while it lasted.

I know not on what terms my father lived with my mother. Towards my
sister, his demeanour always exhibited something of the old-fashioned,
affectionate gallantry of a former age. He paid her the same attention
that he would have paid to the highest lady in the land. He led her
into the dining-room, when we were alone, exactly as he would have led a
duchess into a banqueting-hall. He would allow us, as boys, to quit the
breakfast-table before he had risen himself; but never before she had
left it. If a servant failed in duty towards _him,_ the servant was
often forgiven; if towards _her,_ the servant was sent away on the
spot. His daughter was in his eyes the representative of her mother: the
mistress of his house, as well as his child. It was curious to see the
mixture of high-bred courtesy and fatherly love in his manner, as he
just gently touched her forehead with his lips, when he first saw her in
the morning.

In person, my father was of not more than middle height. He was very
slenderly and delicately made; his head small, and well set on his
shoulders--his forehead more broad than lofty--his complexion singularly
pale, except in moments of agitation, when I have already noticed its
tendency to flush all over in an instant. His eyes, large and gray,
had something commanding in their look; they gave a certain unchanging
firmness and dignity to his expression, not often met with. They
betrayed his birth and breeding, his old ancestral prejudices, his
chivalrous sense of honour, in every glance. It required, indeed, all
the masculine energy of look about the upper part of his face, to redeem
the lower part from an appearance of effeminacy, so delicately was it
moulded in its fine Norman outline. His smile was remarkable for its
sweetness--it was almost like a woman’s smile. In speaking, too, his
lips often trembled as women’s do. If he ever laughed, as a young
man, his laugh must have been very clear and musical; but since I can
recollect him, I never heard it. In his happiest moments, in the gayest
society, I have only seen him smile.

There were other characteristics of my father’s disposition and manner,
which I might mention; but they will appear to greater advantage,
perhaps, hereafter, connected with circumstances which especially called
them forth.

IV.

When a family is possessed of large landed property, the individual of
that family who shows least interest in its welfare; who is least fond
of home, least connected by his own sympathies with his relatives, least
ready to learn his duties or admit his responsibilities, is often that
very individual who is to succeed to the family inheritance--the eldest
son.

My brother Ralph was no exception to this remark. We were educated
together. After our education was completed, I never saw him, except
for short periods. He was almost always on the continent, for some years
after he left college. And when he returned definitely to England, he
did not return to live under our roof. Both in town and country he was
our visitor, not our inmate.

I recollect him at school--stronger, taller, handsomer than I was; far
beyond me in popularity among the little community we lived with; the
first to lead a daring exploit, the last to abandon it; now at the
bottom of the class, now at the top--just that sort of gay, boisterous,
fine-looking, dare-devil boy, whom old people would instinctively turn
round and smile after, as they passed him by in a morning walk.

Then, at college, he became illustrious among rowers and cricketers,
renowned as a pistol shot, dreaded as a singlestick player. No wine
parties in the university were such wine parties as his; tradesmen gave
him the first choice of everything that was new; young ladies in the
town fell in love with him by dozens; young tutors with a tendency to
dandyism, copied the cut of his coat and the tie of his cravat; even the
awful heads of houses looked leniently on his delinquencies. The gay,
hearty, handsome young English gentleman carried a charm about him that
subdued everybody. Though I was his favourite butt, both at school
and college, I never quarrelled with him in my life. I always let him
ridicule my dress, manners, and habits in his own reckless, boisterous
way, as if it had been a part of his birthright privilege to laugh at me
as much as he chose.

Thus far, my father had no worse anxieties about him than those
occasioned by his high spirits and his heavy debts. But when he returned
home--when the debts had been paid, and it was next thought necessary
to drill the free, careless energies into something like useful
discipline--then my father’s trials and difficulties began in earnest.

It was impossible to make Ralph comprehend and appreciate his position,
as he was desired to comprehend and appreciate it. The steward gave up
in despair all attempts to enlighten him about the extent, value, and
management of the estates he was to inherit. A vigorous effort was
made to inspire him with ambition; to get him to go into parliament. He
laughed at the idea. A commission in the Guards was next offered to
him. He refused it, because he would never be buttoned up in a red
coat; because he would submit to no restraints, fashionable or military;
because in short, he was determined to be his own master. My father
talked to him by the hour together, about his duties and his prospects,
the cultivation of his mind, and the example of his ancestors; and
talked in vain. He yawned and fidgetted over the emblazoned pages of his
own family pedigree, whenever they were opened before him.

In the country, he cared for nothing but hunting and shooting--it was as
difficult to make him go to a grand county dinner-party, as to make him
go to church. In town, he haunted the theatres, behind the scenes as
well as before; entertained actors and actresses at Richmond; ascended
in balloons at Vauxhall; went about with detective policemen, seeing
life among pickpockets and housebreakers; belonged to a whist club,
a supper club, a catch club, a boxing club, a picnic club, an amateur
theatrical club; and, in short, lived such a careless, convivial life,
that my father, outraged in every one of his family prejudices and
family refinements, almost ceased to speak to him, and saw him as rarely
as possible. Occasionally, my sister’s interference reconciled them
again for a short time; her influence, gentle as it was, was always
powerfully felt for good, but she could not change my brother’s nature.
Persuade and entreat as anxiously as she might, he was always sure to
forfeit the paternal favour again, a few days after he had been restored
to it.

At last, matters were brought to their climax by an awkward love
adventure of Ralph’s with one of our tenants’ daughters. My father
acted with his usual decision on the occasion. He determined to apply
a desperate remedy: to let the refractory eldest son run through his
career in freedom, abroad, until he had well wearied himself, and could
return home a sobered man. Accordingly, he procured for my brother
an attache’s place in a foreign embassy, and insisted on his leaving
England forthwith. For once in a way, Ralph was docile. He knew and
cared nothing about diplomacy; but he liked the idea of living on the
continent, so he took his leave of home with his best grace. My father
saw him depart, with ill-concealed agitation and apprehension; although
he affected to feel satisfied that, flighty and idle as Ralph was, he
was incapable of voluntarily dishonouring his family, even in his most
reckless moods.

After this, we heard little from my brother. His letters were few and
short, and generally ended with petitions for money. The only important
news of him that reached us, reached us through public channels.

He was making quite a continental reputation--a reputation, the bare
mention of which made my father wince. He had fought a duel; he had
imported a new dance from Hungary; he had contrived to get the smallest
groom that ever was seen behind a cabriolet; he had carried off the
reigning beauty among the opera-dancers of the day from all competitors;
a great French cook had composed a great French dish, and christened
it by his name; he was understood to be the “unknown friend,” to whom
a literary Polish countess had dedicated her “Letters against the
restraint of the Marriage Tie;” a female German metaphysician, sixty
years old, had fallen (Platonically) in love with him, and had taken to
writing erotic romances in her old age. Such were some of the rumours
that reached my father’s ears on the subject of his son and heir!

After a long absence, he came home on a visit. How well I remember
the astonishment he produced in the whole household! He had become a
foreigner in manners and appearance. His mustachios were magnificent;
miniature toys in gold and jewellery hung in clusters from his
watch-chain; his shirt-front was a perfect filigree of lace and cambric.
He brought with him his own boxes of choice liqueurs and perfumes; his
own smart, impudent, French valet; his own travelling bookcase of French
novels, which he opened with his own golden key. He drank nothing but
chocolate in the morning; he had long interviews with the cook, and
revolutionized our dinner table. All the French newspapers were sent to
him by a London agent. He altered the arrangements of his bed-room; no
servant but his own valet was permitted to enter it. Family portraits
that hung there, were turned to the walls, and portraits of French
actresses and Italian singers were stuck to the back of the canvasses.
Then he displaced a beautiful little ebony cabinet which had been in the
family three hundred years; and set up in its stead a Cyprian temple of
his own, in miniature, with crystal doors, behind which hung locks
of hair, rings, notes written on blush-coloured paper, and other
love-tokens kept as sentimental relics. His influence became
all-pervading among us. He seemed to communicate to the house the change
that had taken place in himself, from the reckless, racketty young
Englishman to the super-exquisite foreign dandy. It was as if the
fiery, effervescent atmosphere of the Boulevards of Paris had insolently
penetrated into the old English mansion, and ruffled and infected its
quiet native air, to the remotest corners of the place.

My father was even more dismayed than displeased by the alteration in
my brother’s habits and manners--the eldest son was now farther from
his ideal of what an eldest son should be, than ever. As for friends and
neighbours, Ralph was heartily feared and disliked by them, before
he had been in the house a week. He had an ironically patient way of
listening to their conversation; an ironically respectful manner of
demolishing their old-fashioned opinions, and correcting their slightest
mistakes, which secretly aggravated them beyond endurance. It was worse
still, when my father, in despair, tried to tempt him into marriage,
as the one final chance of working his reform; and invited half the
marriageable young ladies of our acquaintance to the house, for his
especial benefit.

Ralph had never shown much fondness at home, for the refinements of
good female society. Abroad, he had lived as exclusively as he possibly
could, among women whose characters ranged downwards by infinitesimal
degrees, from the mysteriously doubtful to the notoriously bad. The
highly-bred, highly-refined, highly-accomplished young English beauties
had no charm for him. He detected at once the domestic conspiracy of
which he was destined to become the victim. He often came up-stairs, at
night, into my bed-room; and while he was amusing himself by derisively
kicking about my simple clothes and simple toilette apparatus; while he
was laughing in his old careless way at my quiet habits and monotonous
life, used to slip in, parenthetically, all sorts of sarcasms about our
young lady guests. To him, their manners were horribly inanimate; their
innocence, hypocrisy of education. Pure complexions and regular features
were very well, he said, as far as they went; but when a girl could not
walk properly, when she shook hands with you with cold fingers, when
having good eyes she could not make a stimulating use of them, then it
was time to sentence the regular features and pure complexions to be
taken back forthwith to the nursery from which they came. For _his_
part, he missed the conversation of his witty Polish Countess, and
longed for another pancake-supper with his favourite _grisettes._

The failure of my father’s last experiment with Ralph soon became
apparent. Watchful and experienced mothers began to suspect that my
brother’s method of flirtation was dangerous, and his style of waltzing
improper. One or two ultra-cautious parents, alarmed by the laxity of
his manners and opinions, removed their daughters out of harm’s way,
by shortening their visits. The rest were spared any such necessity. My
father suddenly discovered that Ralph was devoting himself rather too
significantly to a young married woman who was staying in the house. The
same day he had a long private interview with my brother. What passed
between them, I know not; but it must have been something serious.
Ralph came out of my father’s private study, very pale and very
silent; ordered his luggage to be packed directly; and the next morning
departed, with his French valet, and his multifarious French goods and
chattels, for the continent.

Another interval passed; and then we had another short visit from him.
He was still unaltered. My father’s temper suffered under this second
disappointment. He became more fretful and silent; more apt to take
offence than had been his wont. I particularly mention the change thus
produced in his disposition, because that change was destined, at no
very distant period, to act fatally upon me.

On this last occasion, also, there was another serious disagreement
between father and son; and Ralph left England again in much the same
way that he had left it before.

Shortly after that second departure, we heard that he had altered
his manner of life. He had contracted, what would be termed in the
continental code of morals, a reformatory attachment to a woman older
than himself, who was living separated from her husband, when he met
with her. It was this lady’s lofty ambition to be Mentor and mistress,
both together! And she soon proved herself to be well qualified for her
courageous undertaking. To the astonishment of everyone who knew
him, Ralph suddenly turned economical; and, soon afterwards, actually
resigned his post at the embassy, to be out of the way of temptation!
Since that, he has returned to England; has devoted himself to
collecting snuff-boxes and learning the violin; and is now living
quietly in the suburbs of London, still under the inspection of the
resolute female missionary who first worked his reform.

Whether he will ever become the high-minded, high-principled country
gentleman, that my father has always desired to see him, it is useless
for me to guess. On the domains which he is to inherit, I shall never
perhaps set foot again: in the halls where he will one day preside as
master, I shall never more be sheltered. Let me now quit the subject of
my elder brother, and turn to a theme which is nearer to my heart; dear
to me as the last remembrance left that I can love; precious beyond all
treasures in my solitude and my exile from home.

My sister!--well may I linger over your beloved name in such a record
as this. A little farther on, and the darkness of crime and grief will
encompass me; here, my recollections of you kindle like a pure light
before my eyes--doubly pure by contrast with what lies beyond. May your
kind eyes, love, be the first that fall on these pages, when the writer
has parted from them for ever! May your tender hand be the first that
touches these leaves, when mine is cold! Backward in my narrative,
Clara, wherever I have but casually mentioned my sister, the pen has
trembled and stood still. At this place, where all my remembrances of
you throng upon me unrestrained, the tears gather fast and thick beyond
control; and for the first time since I began my task, my courage and my
calmness fail me.

It is useless to persevere longer. My hand trembles; my eyes grow dimmer
and dimmer. I must close my labours for the day, and go forth to gather
strength and resolution for to-morrow on the hill-tops that overlook the
sea.

V.

My sister Clara is four years younger than I am. In form of face, in
complexion, and--except the eyes--in features, she bears a striking
resemblance to my father. Her expressions however, must be very like
what my mother’s was. Whenever I have looked at her in her silent and
thoughtful moments, she has always appeared to freshen, and even to
increase, my vague, childish recollections of our lost mother. Her
eyes have that slight tinge of melancholy in their tenderness, and that
peculiar softness in their repose, which is only seen in blue eyes. Her
complexion, pale as my father’s when she is neither speaking nor moving,
has in a far greater degree than his the tendency to flush, not merely
in moments of agitation, but even when she is walking, or talking on any
subject that interests her. Without this peculiarity her paleness would
be a defect. With it, the absence of any colour in her complexion but
the fugitive uncertain colour which I have described, would to some eyes
debar her from any claims to beauty. And a beauty perhaps she is not--at
least, in the ordinary acceptation of the term.

The lower part of her face is rather too small for the upper, her figure
is too slight, the sensitiveness of her nervous organization is too
constantly visible in her actions and her looks. She would not fix
attention and admiration in a box at the opera; very few men passing her
in the street would turn round to look after her; very few women
would regard her with that slightingly attentive stare, that steady
depreciating scrutiny, which a dashing decided beauty so often receives
(and so often triumphs in receiving) from her personal inferiors among
her own sex. The greatest charms that my sister has on the surface, come
from beneath it.

When you really knew her, when she spoke to you freely, as to a
friend--then, the attraction of her voice, her smile her manner,
impressed you indescribably. Her slightest words and her commonest
actions interested and delighted you, you knew not why. There was
a beauty about her unassuming simplicity, her natural--exquisitely
natural--kindness of heart, and word, and manner, which preserved
its own unobtrusive influence over you, in spite of all other rival
influences, be they what they might. You missed and thought of her,
when you were fresh from the society of the most beautiful and the most
brilliant women. You remembered a few kind, pleasant words of hers when
you forgot the wit of the wittiest ladies, the learning of the most
learned. The influence thus possessed, and unconsciously possessed,
by my sister over every one with whom she came in contact--over men
especially--may, I think be very simply accounted for, in very few
sentences.

We live in an age when too many women appear to be ambitious of morally
unsexing themselves before society, by aping the language and the
manners of men--especially in reference to that miserable modern
dandyism of demeanour, which aims at repressing all betrayal of warmth
of feeling; which abstains from displaying any enthusiasm on any
subject whatever; which, in short, labours to make the fashionable
imperturbability of the face the faithful reflection of the fashionable
imperturbability of the mind. Women of this exclusively modern
order, like to use slang expressions in their conversation; assume
a bastard-masculine abruptness in their manners, a bastard-masculine
licence in their opinions; affect to ridicule those outward developments
of feeling which pass under the general appellation of “sentiment.”
 Nothing impresses, agitates, amuses, or delights them in a hearty,
natural, womanly way. Sympathy looks ironical, if they ever show it:
love seems to be an affair of calculation, or mockery, or contemptuous
sufferance, if they ever feel it.

To women such as these, my sister Clara presented as complete a contrast
as could well be conceived. In this contrast lay the secret of her
influence, of the voluntary tribute of love and admiration which
followed her wherever she went.

Few men have not their secret moments of deep feeling--moments when,
amid the wretched trivialities and hypocrisies of modern society, the
image will present itself to their minds of some woman, fresh,
innocent, gentle, sincere; some woman whose emotions are still warm and
impressible, whose affections and sympathies can still appear in her
actions, and give the colour to her thoughts; some woman in whom we
could put as perfect faith and trust, as if we were children; whom we
despair of finding near the hardening influences of the world; whom we
could scarcely venture to look for, except in solitary places far away
in the country; in little rural shrines, shut up from society, among
woods and fields, and lonesome boundary-hills. When any women happen to
realise, or nearly to realise, such an image as this, they possess that
universal influence which no rivalry can ever approach. On them really
depends, and by then is really preserved, that claim upon the sincere
respect and admiration of men, on which the power of the whole sex is
based--the power so often assumed by the many, so rarely possessed but
by the few.

It was thus with my sister. Thus, wherever she went, though without
either the inclination, or the ambition to shine, she eclipsed women
who were her superiors in beauty, in accomplishments, in brilliancy of
manners and conversation--conquering by no other weapon than the purely
feminine charm of everything she said, and everything she did.

But it was not amid the gaiety and grandeur of a London season that her
character was displayed to the greatest advantage. It was when she was
living where she loved to live, in the old country-house, among the old
friends and old servants who would every one of them have died a hundred
deaths for her sake, that you could study and love her best. Then, the
charm there was in the mere presence of the kind, gentle, happy young
English girl, who could enter into everybody’s interests, and be
grateful for everybody’s love, possessed its best and brightest
influence. At picnics, lawn-parties, little country gatherings of all
sorts, she was, in her own quiet, natural manner, always the presiding
spirit of general comfort and general friendship. Even the rigid laws
of country punctilio relaxed before her unaffected cheerfulness and
irresistible good-nature. She always contrived--nobody ever knew
how--to lure the most formal people into forgetting their formality,
and becoming natural for the rest of the day. Even a heavy-headed,
lumbering, silent country squire was not too much for her. She managed
to make him feel at his ease, when no one else would undertake the task;
she could listen patiently to his confused speeches about dogs, horses,
and the state of the crops, when other conversations were proceeding in
which she was really interested; she could receive any little
grateful attention that he wished to pay her--no matter how awkward or
ill-timed--as she received attentions from any one else, with a manner
which showed she considered it as a favour granted to her sex, not as a
right accorded to it.

So, again, she always succeeded in diminishing the long list of those
pitiful affronts and offences, which play such important parts in the
social drama of country society. She was a perfect Apostle-errant of
the order of Reconciliation; and wherever she went, cast out the devil
Sulkiness from all his strongholds--the lofty and the lowly alike. Our
good rector used to call her his Volunteer Curate; and declare that
she preached by a timely word, or a persuasive look, the best practical
sermons on the blessings of peace-making that were ever composed.

With all this untiring good-nature, with all this resolute industry
in the task of making every one happy whom she approached, there was
mingled some indescribable influence, which invariably preserved her
from the presumption, even of the most presuming people. I never knew
anybody venturesome enough--either by word or look--to take a liberty
with her. There was something about her which inspired respect as well
as love. My father, following the bent of his peculiar and favourite
ideas, always thought it was the look of her race in her eyes, the
ascendancy of her race in her manners. I believe it to have proceeded
from a simpler and a better cause. There is a goodness of heart, which
carries the shield of its purity over the open hand of its kindness: and
that goodness was hers.

To my father, she was more, I believe, than he himself ever imagined--or
will ever know, unless he should lose her. He was often, in his
intercourse with the world, wounded severely enough in his peculiar
prejudices and peculiar refinements--he was always sure to find the
first respected, and the last partaken by _her._ He could trust in her
implicitly, he could feel assured that she was not only willing, but
able, to share and relieve his domestic troubles and anxieties. If he
had been less fretfully anxious about his eldest son; if he had wisely
distrusted from the first his own powers of persuading and reforming,
and had allowed Clara to exercise her influence over Ralph more
constantly and more completely than he really did, I am persuaded that
the long-expected epoch of my brother’s transformation would have really
arrived by this time, or even before it.

The strong and deep feelings of my sister’s nature lay far below the
surface--for a woman, too far below it. Suffering was, for her, silent,
secret, long enduring; often almost entirely void of outward vent or
development. I never remember seeing her in tears, except on rare and
very serious occasions. Unless you looked at her narrowly, you would
judge her to be little sensitive to ordinary griefs and troubles. At
such times, her eyes only grew dimmer and less animated than usual; the
paleness of her complexion became rather more marked; her lips closed
and trembled involuntarily--but this was all: there was no sighing,
no weeping, no speaking even. And yet she suffered acutely. The very
strength of her emotions was in their silence and their secresy. I, of
all others--I, guilty of infecting with my anguish the pure heart that
loved me--ought to know this best!

How long I might linger over all that she has done for _me!_ As I now
approach nearer and nearer to the pages which are to reveal my fatal
story, so I am more and more tempted to delay over those better and
purer remembrances of my sister which now occupy my mind. The first
little presents--innocent girlish presents--which she secretly sent to
me at school; the first sweet days of our uninterrupted intercourse,
when the close of my college life restored me to home; her first
inestimable sympathies with my first fugitive vanities of embryo
authorship, are thronging back fast and fondly on my thoughts, while I
now write.

But these memories must be calmed and disciplined. I must be collected
and impartial over my narrative--if it be only to make that narrative
show fairly and truly, without suppression or exaggeration, all that I
have owed to her.

Not merely all that I _have_ owed to her; but all that I owe to her
now. Though I may never see her again, but in my thoughts; still she
influences, comforts, cheers me on to hope, as if she were already the
guardian spirit of the cottage where I live. Even in my worst moments of
despair, I can still remember that Clara is thinking of me and sorrowing
for me: I can still feel that remembrance, as an invisible hand of mercy
which supports me, sinking; which raises me, fallen; which may yet lead
me safely and tenderly to my hard journey’s end.

VI.

I have now completed all the preliminary notices of my near relatives,
which it is necessary to present in these pages; and may proceed at once
to the more immediate subject of my narrative.

Imagine to yourself that my father and my sister have been living for
some months at our London residence; and that I have recently joined
them, after having enjoyed a short tour on the continent.

My father is engaged in his parliamentary duties. We see very little of
him. Committees absorb his mornings--debates his evenings. When he has
a day of leisure occasionally, he passes it in his study, devoted to his
own affairs. He goes very little into society--a political dinner, or a
scientific meeting are the only social relaxations that tempt him.

My sister leads a life which is not much in accordance with her simple
tastes. She is wearied of balls, operas, flower-shows, and all other
London gaieties besides; and heartily longs to be driving about the
green lanes again in her own little poney-chaise, and distributing
plum-cake prizes to the good children at the Rector’s Infant School.
But the female friend who happens to be staying with her, is fond of
excitement; my father expects her to accept the invitations which he is
obliged to decline; so she gives up her own tastes and inclinations as
usual, and goes into hot rooms among crowds of fine people, hearing the
same glib compliments, and the same polite inquiries, night after night,
until, patient as she is, she heartily wishes that her fashionable
friends all lived in some opposite quarter of the globe, the farther
away the better.

My arrival from the continent is the most welcome of events to her. It
gives a new object and a new impulse to her London life.

I am engaged in writing a historical romance--indeed, it is principally
to examine the localities in the country where my story is laid, that I
have been abroad. Clara has read the first half-dozen finished chapters,
in manuscript, and augurs wonderful success for my fiction when it is
published. She is determined to arrange my study with her own hands; to
dust my books, and sort my papers herself. She knows that I am already
as fretful and precise about my literary goods and chattels, as
indignant at any interference of housemaids and dusters with my library
treasures, as if I were a veteran author of twenty years’ standing; and
she is resolved to spare me every apprehension on this score, by taking
all the arrangements of my study on herself, and keeping the key of the
door when I am not in need of it.

We have our London amusements, too, as well as our London employments.
But the pleasantest of our relaxations are, after all, procured for
us by our horses. We ride every day--sometimes with friends, sometimes
alone together. On these latter occasions, we generally turn our horses’
heads away from the parks, and seek what country sights we can get
in the neighbourhood of London. The northern roads are generally our
favourite ride.

Sometimes we penetrate so far that we can bait our horses at a little
inn which reminds me of the inns near our country home. I see the same
sanded parlour, decorated with the same old sporting prints, furnished
with the same battered, deep-coloured mahogany table, and polished elm
tree chairs, that I remember in our own village inn. Clara, also, finds
bits of common, out of doors, that look like _our_ common; and trees
that might have been transplanted expressly for her, from _our_ park.

These excursions we keep a secret, we like to enjoy them entirely by
ourselves. Besides, if my father knew that his daughter was drinking
the landlady’s fresh milk, and his son the landlord’s old ale, in the
parlour of a suburban roadside inn, he would, I believe, be apt to
suspect that both his children had fairly taken leave of their senses.

Evening parties I frequent almost as rarely as my father. Clara’s good
nature is called into requisition to do duty for me, as well as for
him. She has little respite in the task. Old lady relatives and friends,
always ready to take care of her, leave her no excuse for staying
at home. Sometimes I am shamed into accompanying her a little more
frequently than usual; but my old indolence in these matters soon
possesses me again. I have contracted a bad habit of writing at night--I
read almost incessantly in the day time. It is only because I am fond of
riding, that I am ever willing to interrupt my studies, and ever ready
to go out at all.

Such were my domestic habits, such my regular occupations and
amusements, when a mere accident changed every purpose of my life, and
altered me irretrievably from what I was then, to what I am now.

It happened thus:

VII.

I had just received my quarter’s allowance of pocket-money, and had gone
into the city to cash the cheque at my father’s bankers.

The money paid, I debated for a moment how I should return homewards.
First I thought of walking: then of taking a cab. While I was
considering this frivolous point, an omnibus passed me, going westward.
In the idle impulse of the moment, I hailed it, and got in.

It was something more than an idle impulse though. If I had at that time
no other qualification for the literary career on which I was entering,
I certainly had this one--an aptitude for discovering points of
character in others: and its natural result, an unfailing delight in
studying characters of all kinds, wherever I could meet with them.

I had often before ridden in omnibuses to amuse myself by observing the
passengers. An omnibus has always appeared to me, to be a perambulatory
exhibition-room of the eccentricities of human nature. I know not any
other sphere in which persons of all classes and all temperaments are so
oddly collected together, and so immediately contrasted and confronted
with each other. To watch merely the different methods of getting into
the vehicle, and taking their seats, adopted by different people, is to
study no incomplete commentary on the infinitesimal varieties of human
character--as various even as the varieties of the human face.

Thus, in addition to the idle impulse, there was the idea of amusement
in my thoughts, as I stopped the public vehicle, and added one to the
number of the conductor’s passengers.

There were five persons in the omnibus when I entered it. Two
middle-aged ladies, dressed with amazing splendour in silks and satins,
wearing straw-coloured kid gloves, and carrying highly-scented pocket
handkerchiefs, sat apart at the end of the vehicle; trying to look as if
they occupied it under protest, and preserving the most stately
gravity and silence. They evidently felt that their magnificent outward
adornments were exhibited in a very unworthy locality, and among a very
uncongenial company.

One side, close to the door, was occupied by a lean, withered old man,
very shabbily dressed in black, who sat eternally mumbling something
between his toothless jaws. Occasionally, to the evident disgust of
the genteel ladies, he wiped his bald head and wrinkled forehead with a
ragged blue cotton handkerchief, which he kept in the crown of his hat.

Opposite to this ancient sat a dignified gentleman and a sickly
vacant-looking little girl. Every event of that day is so indelibly
marked on my memory, that I remember, not only this man’s pompous look
and manner, but even the words he addressed to the poor squalid little
creature by his side. When I entered the omnibus, he was telling her
in a loud voice how she ought to dispose of her frock and her feet when
people got into the vehicle, and when they got out. He then impressed on
her the necessity in future life, when she grew up, of always having
the price of her fare ready before it was wanted, to prevent unnecessary
delay. Having delivered himself of this good advice, he began to hum,
keeping time by drumming with his thick Malacca cane. He was still
proceeding with this amusement--producing some of the most acutely
unmusical sounds I ever heard--when the omnibus stopped to give
admission to two ladies. The first who got in was an elderly
person--pale and depressed--evidently in delicate health. The second was
a young girl.



Among the workings of the hidden life within us which we may experience
but cannot explain, are there any more remarkable than those mysterious
moral influences constantly exercised, either for attraction or
repulsion, by one human being over another? In the simplest, as in the
most important affairs of life, how startling, how irresistible is their
power! How often we feel and know, either pleasurably or painfully, that
another is looking on us, before we have ascertained the fact with our
own eyes! How often we prophesy truly to ourselves the approach of a
friend or enemy, just before either have really appeared! How strangely
and abruptly we become convinced, at a first introduction, that we shall
secretly love this person and loathe that, before experience has guided
us with a single fact in relation to their characters!

I have said that the two additional passengers who entered the vehicle
in which I was riding, were, one of them, an elderly lady; the other, a
young girl. As soon as the latter had seated herself nearly opposite
to me, by her companion’s side, I felt her influence on me directly--an
influence that I cannot describe--an influence which I had never
experienced in my life before, which I shall never experience again.

I had helped to hand her in, as she passed me; merely touching her arm
for a moment. But how the sense of that touch was prolonged! I felt it
thrilling through me--thrilling in every nerve, in every pulsation of my
fast-throbbing heart.

Had I the same influence over her? Or was it I that received, and she
that conferred, only? I was yet destined to discover; but not then--not
for a long, long time.

Her veil was down when I first saw her. Her features and her expression
were but indistinctly visible to me. I could just vaguely perceive that
she was young and beautiful; but, beyond this, though I might imagine
much, I could see little.

From the time when she entered the omnibus, I have no recollection of
anything more that occurred in it. I neither remember what passengers
got out, or what passengers got in. My powers of observation, hitherto
active enough, had now wholly deserted me. Strange! that the capricious
rule of chance should sway the action of our faculties that a trifle
should set in motion the whole complicated machinery of their exercise,
and a trifle suspend it.

We had been moving onward for some little time, when the girl’s
companion addressed an observation to her. She heard it imperfectly,
and lifted her veil while it was being repeated. How painfully my heart
beat! I could almost hear it--as her face was, for the first time,
freely and fairly disclosed!

She was dark. Her hair, eyes, and complexion were darker than usual in
English women. The form, the look altogether, of her face, coupled
with what I could see of her figure, made me guess her age to be about
twenty. There was the appearance of maturity already in the shape of
her features; but their expression still remained girlish, unformed,
unsettled. The fire in her large dark eyes, when she spoke, was latent.
Their languor, when she was silent--that voluptuous languor of black
eyes--was still fugitive and unsteady. The smile about her full lips (to
other eyes, they might have looked _too_ full) struggled to be
eloquent, yet dared not. Among women, there always seems something left
incomplete--a moral creation to be superinduced on the physical--which
love alone can develop, and which maternity perfects still further, when
developed. I thought, as I looked on her, how the passing colour would
fix itself brilliantly on her round, olive cheek; how the expression
that still hesitated to declare itself, would speak out at last, would
shine forth in the full luxury of its beauty, when she heard the first
words, received the first kiss, from the man she loved!

While I still looked at her, as she sat opposite speaking to her
companion, our eyes met. It was only for a moment--but the sensation of
a moment often makes the thought of a life; and that one little instant
made the new life of my heart. She put down her veil again immediately;
her lips moved involuntarily as she lowered it: I thought I could
discern, through the lace, that the slight movement ripened to a smile.

Still there was enough left to see--enough to charm. There was the
little rim of delicate white lace, encircling the lovely, dusky throat;
there was the figure visible, where the shawl had fallen open, slender,
but already well developed in its slenderness, and exquisitely supple;
there was the waist, naturally low, and left to its natural place and
natural size; there were the little millinery and jewellery ornaments
that she wore--simple and common-place enough in themselves--yet each
a beauty, each a treasure, on _her._ There was all this to behold, all
this to dwell on, in spite of the veil. The veil! how little of the
woman does it hide, when the man really loves her!

We had nearly arrived at the last point to which the omnibus would take
us, when she and her companion got out. I followed them, cautiously and
at some distance.

She was tall--tall at least for a woman. There were not many people in
the road along which we were proceeding; but even if there had been,
far behind as I was walking, I should never have lost her--never have
mistaken any one else for her. Already, strangers though we were, I felt
that I should know her, almost at any distance, only by her walk.

They went on, until we reached a suburb of new houses, intermingled with
wretched patches of waste land, half built over. Unfinished streets,
unfinished crescents, unfinished squares, unfinished shops, unfinished
gardens, surrounded us. At last they stopped at a new square, and rang
the bell at one of the newest of the new houses. The door was opened,
and she and her companion disappeared. The house was partly detached.
It bore no number; but was distinguished as North Villa. The
square--unfinished like everything else in the neighbourhood--was called
Hollyoake Square.

I noticed nothing else about the place at that time. Its newness and
desolateness of appearance revolted me, just then. I had satisfied
myself about the locality of the house, and I knew that it was her home;
for I had approached sufficiently near, when the door was opened, to
hear her inquire if anybody had called in her absence. For the present,
this was enough. My sensations wanted repose; my thoughts wanted
collecting. I left Hollyoake Square at once, and walked into the
Regent’s Park, the northern portion of which was close at hand.

Was I in love?--in love with a girl whom I had accidentally met in an
omnibus? Or, was I merely indulging a momentary caprice--merely feeling
a young man’s hot, hasty admiration for a beautiful face? These
were questions which I could not then decide. My ideas were in utter
confusion, all my thoughts ran astray. I walked on, dreaming in full
day--I had no distinct impressions, except of the stranger beauty whom
I had just seen. The more I tried to collect myself, to resume the easy,
equable feelings with which I had set forth in the morning, the less
self-possessed I became. There are two emergencies in which the wisest
man may try to reason himself back from impulse to principle; and try
in vain:--the one when a woman has attracted him for the first time; the
other, when, for the first time, also, she has happened to offend him.

I know not how long I had been walking in the park, thus absorbed yet
not thinking, when the clock of a neighbouring church struck three,
and roused me to the remembrance that I had engaged to ride out with
my sister at two o’clock. It would be nearly half-an-hour more before
I could reach home. Never had any former appointment of mine with Clara
been thus forgotten! Love had not yet turned me selfish, as it turns all
men, and even all women, more or less. I felt both sorrow and shame at
the neglect of which I had been guilty; and hastened homeward.

The groom, looking unutterably weary and discontented, was still leading
my horse up and down before the house. My sister’s horse had been sent
back to the stables. I went in; and heard that, after waiting for me an
hour, Clara had gone out with some friends, and would not be back before
dinner.

No one was in the house but the servants. The place looked dull, empty,
inexpressibly miserable to me; the distant roll of carriages along the
surrounding streets had a heavy boding sound; the opening and shutting
of doors in the domestic offices below, startled and irritated me; the
London air seemed denser to breathe than it had ever seemed before.
I walked up and down one of the rooms, fretful and irresolute. Once
I directed my steps towards my study; but retraced them before I had
entered it. Reading or writing was out of the question at that moment.

I felt the secret inclination strengthening within me to return to
Hollyoake Square; to try to see the girl again, or at least to ascertain
who she was. I strove--yes, I can honestly say, strove to repress the
desire. I tried to laugh it off, as idle and ridiculous; to think of my
sister, of the book I was writing, of anything but the one subject that
pressed stronger and stronger on me, the harder I struggled against
it. The spell of the syren was over me. I went out, hypocritically
persuading myself, that I was only animated by a capricious curiosity
to know the girl’s name, which once satisfied, would leave me at rest on
the matter, and free to laugh at my own idleness and folly as soon as I
got home again.

I arrived at the house. The blinds were all drawn down over the front
windows, to keep out the sun. The little slip of garden was left
solitary--baking and cracking in the heat. The square was silent;
desolately silent, as only a suburban square can be. I walked up and
down the glaring pavement, resolved to find out her name before
I quitted the place. While still undecided how to act, a shrill
whistling--sounding doubly shrill in the silence around--made me look
up.

A tradesman’s boy--one of those town Pucks of the highway; one of those
incarnations of precocious cunning, inveterate mischief, and impudent
humour, which great cities only can produce--was approaching me with his
empty tray under his arm. I called to him to come and speak to me. He
evidently belonged to the neighbourhood, and might be made of some use.

His first answer to my inquiries, showed that his master served the
household at North Villa. A present of a shilling secured his attention
at once to the few questions of any importance which I desired to put
to him. I learned from his replies, that the name of the master of the
house was “Sherwin:” and that the family only consisted of Mr. and Mrs.
Sherwin, and the young lady, their daughter.

My last inquiry addressed to the boy was the most important of all. Did
he know what Mr. Sherwin’s profession or employment was?

His answer startled me into perfect silence. Mr. Sherwin kept a large
linen-draper’s shop in one of the great London thoroughfares! The
boy mentioned the number, and the side of the way on which the house
stood--then asked me if I wanted to know anything more. I could only
tell him by a sign that he might leave me, and that I had heard enough.

Enough? If he had spoken the truth, I had heard too much.

A linen-draper’s shop--a linen-draper’s daughter! Was I still in
love?--I thought of my father; I thought of the name I bore; and this
time, though I might have answered the question, I dared not.

But the boy might be wrong. Perhaps, in mere mischief, he had been
deceiving me throughout. I determined to seek the address he had
mentioned, and ascertain the truth for myself.

I reached the place: there was the shop, and there the name “Sherwin”
 over the door. One chance still remained. This Sherwin and the Sherwin
of Hollyoake Square might not be the same.

I went in and purchased something. While the man was tying up the
parcel, I asked him whether his master lived in Hollyoake Square.
Looking a little astonished at the question, he answered in the
affirmative.

“There was a Mr. Sherwin I once knew,” I said, forging in those words
the first link in the long chain of deceit which was afterwards to
fetter and degrade me--“a Mr. Sherwin who is now, as I have heard,
living somewhere in the Hollyoake Square neighbourhood. He was a
bachelor--I don’t know whether my friend and your master are the same?”

“Oh dear no, Sir! My master is a married man, and has one daughter--Miss
Margaret--who is reckoned a very fine young lady, Sir!” And the man
grinned as he spoke--a grin that sickened and shocked me.

I was answered at last: I had discovered all. Margaret!--I had heard her
name, too. Margaret!--it had never hitherto been a favourite name with
me. Now I felt a sort of terror as I detected myself repeating it, and
finding a new, unimagined poetry in the sound.

Could this be love?--pure, first love for a shopkeeper’s daughter, whom
I had seen for a quarter of an hour in an omnibus, and followed home for
another quarter of an hour? The thing was impossible. And yet, I felt
a strange unwillingness to go back to our house, and see my father and
sister, just at that moment.

I was still walking onward slowly, but not in the direction of home,
when I met an old college friend of my brother’s, and an acquaintance
of mine--a reckless, good-humoured, convivial fellow. He greeted me at
once, with uproarious cordiality; and insisted on my accompanying him to
dine at his club.

If the thoughts that still hung heavy on my mind were only the morbid,
fanciful thoughts of the hour, here was a man whose society would
dissipate them. I resolved to try the experiment, and accepted his
invitation.

At dinner, I tried hard to rival him in jest and joviality; I drank much
more than my usual quantity of wine--but it was useless. The gay words
came fainting from my heart, and fell dead on my lips. The wine fevered,
but did not exhilarate me. Still, the image of the dark beauty of the
morning was the one reigning image of my thoughts--still, the influence
of the morning, at once sinister and seductive, kept its hold on my
heart.

I gave up the struggle. I longed to be alone again. My friend soon found
that my forced spirits were flagging; he tried to rouse me, tried to
talk for two, ordered more wine, but everything failed. Yawning at last,
in undisguised despair, he suggested a visit to the theatre.

I excused myself--professed illness--hinted that the wine had been
too much for me. He laughed, with something of contempt as well as
good-nature in the laugh; and went away to the play by himself evidently
feeling that I was still as bad a companion as he had found me at
college, years ago.

As soon as we parted I felt a sense of relief. I hesitated, walked
backwards and forwards a few paces in the street; and then, silencing
all doubts, leaving my inclinations to guide me as they would--I turned
my steps for the third time in that one day to Hollyoake Square.

The fair summer evening was tending towards twilight; the sun stood
fiery and low in a cloudless horizon; the last loveliness of the last
quietest daylight hour was fading on the violet sky, as I entered the
square.

I approached the house. She was at the window--it was thrown wide open.
A bird-cage hung rather high up, against the shutter-panel. She was
standing opposite to it, making a plaything for the poor captive canary
of a piece of sugar, which she rapidly offered and drew back again,
now at one bar of the cage, and now at another. The bird hopped and
fluttered up and down in his prison after the sugar, chirping as if he
enjoyed playing _his_ part of the game with his mistress. How lovely she
looked! Her dark hair, drawn back over each cheek so as just to leave
the lower part of the ear visible, was gathered up into a thick simple
knot behind, without ornament of any sort. She wore a plain white dress
fastening round the neck, and descending over the bosom in numberless
little wavy plaits. The cage hung just high enough to oblige her to look
up to it. She was laughing with all the glee of a child; darting the
piece of sugar about incessantly from place to place. Every moment, her
head and neck assumed some new and lovely turn--every moment her figure
naturally fell into the position which showed its pliant symmetry best.
The last-left glow of the evening atmosphere was shining on her--the
farewell pause of daylight over the kindred daylight of beauty and
youth.

I kept myself concealed behind a pillar of the garden-gate; I looked,
hardly daring either to move or breathe; for I feared that if she saw or
heard me, she would leave the window. After a lapse of some minutes, the
canary touched the sugar with his beak.

“There, Minnie!” she cried laughingly, “you have caught the runaway
sugar, and now you shall keep it!”

For a moment more, she stood quietly looking at the cage; then raising
herself on tip-toe, pouted her lips caressingly to the bird, and
disappeared in the interior of the room.

The sun went down; the twilight shadows fell over the dreary square;
the gas lamps were lighted far and near; people who had been out for a
breath of fresh air in the fields, came straggling past me by ones and
twos, on their way home--and still I lingered near the house, hoping she
might come to the window again; but she did not re-appear. At last,
a servant brought candles into the room, and drew down the Venetian
blinds. Knowing it would be useless to stay longer, I left the square.

I walked homeward joyfully. That second sight of her completed what the
first meeting had begun. The impressions left by it made me insensible
for the time to all boding reflections, careless of exercising the
smallest self-restraint. I gave myself up to the charm that was at
work on me. Prudence, duty, memories and prejudices of home, were all
absorbed and forgotten in love--love that I encouraged, that I dwelt
over in the first reckless luxury of a new sensation.

I entered our house, thinking of nothing but how to see her, how to
speak to her, on the morrow; murmuring her name to myself; even while my
hand was on the lock of my study door. The instant I was in the room, I
involuntarily shuddered and stopped speechless. Clara was there! I was
not merely startled; a cold, faint sensation came over me. My first look
at my sister made me feel as if I had been detected in a crime.

She was standing at my writing-table, and had just finished stringing
together the loose pages of my manuscript, which had hitherto laid
disconnectedly in a drawer. There was a grand ball somewhere, to which
she was going that night. The dress she wore was of pale blue crape (my
father’s favourite colour, on her). One white flower was placed in her
light brown hair. She stood within the soft steady light of my lamp,
looking up towards the door from the leaves she had just tied together.
Her slight figure appeared slighter than usual, in the delicate material
that now clothed it. Her complexion was at its palest: her face looked
almost statue-like in its purity and repose. What a contrast to the
other living picture which I had seen at sunset!

The remembrance of the engagement that I had broken came back on me
avengingly, as she smiled, and held my manuscript up before me to look
at. With that remembrance there returned, too--darker than ever--the
ominous doubts which had depressed me but a few hours since. I tried to
steady my voice, and felt how I failed in the effort, as I spoke to her:

“Will you forgive me, Clara, for having deprived you of your ride
to-day? I am afraid I have but a bad excuse--”

“Then don’t make it, Basil; or wait till papa can arrange it for you, in
a proper parliamentary way, when he comes back from the House of Commons
to-night. See how I have been meddling with your papers; but they were
in such confusion I was really afraid some of these leaves might have
been lost.”

“Neither the leaves nor the writer deserve half the pains you have taken
with them; but I am really sorry for breaking our engagement. I met an
old college friend--there was business too, in the morning--we dined
together--he would take no denial.”

“Basil, how pale you look! Are you ill?”

“No; the heat has been a little too much for me--nothing more.”

“Has anything happened? I only ask, because if I can be of any use--if
you want me to stay at home--”

“Certainly not, love. I wish you all success and pleasure at the ball.”

For a moment she did not speak; but fixed her clear, kind eyes on me
more gravely and anxiously than usual. Was she searching my heart, and
discovering the new love rising, an usurper already, in the place where
the love of her had reigned before?

Love! love for a shopkeeper’s daughter! That thought came again, as she
looked at me! and, strangely mingled with it, a maxim I had often heard
my father repeat to Ralph--“Never forget that your station is not yours,
to do as you like with. It belongs to us, and belongs to your children.
You must keep it for them, as I have kept it for you.”

“I thought,” resumed Clara, in rather lower tones than before, “that I
would just look into your room before I went to the ball, and see that
everything was properly arranged for you, in case you had any idea of
writing tonight; I had just time to do this while my aunt, who is going
with me, was upstairs altering her toilette. But perhaps you don’t feel
inclined to write?”

“I will try at least.”

“Can I do anything more? Would you like my nosegay left in the
room?--the flowers smell so fresh! I can easily get another. Look at the
roses, my favourite white roses, that always remind me of my own garden
at the dear old Park!”

“Thank you, Clara; but I think the nosegay is fitter for your hand than
my table.”

“Good night, Basil.”

“Good night.”

She walked to the door, then turned round, and smiled as if she were
about to speak again; but checked herself, and merely looked at me for
an instant. In that instant, however, the smile left her face, and the
grave, anxious expression came again. She went out softly. A few minutes
afterwards the roll of the carriage which took her and her companion
to the ball, died away heavily on my ear. I was left alone in the
house--alone for the night.

VIII.

My manuscript lay before me, set in order by Clara’s careful hand.
I slowly turned over the leaves one by one; but my eye only fell
mechanically on the writing. Yet one day since, and how much ambition,
how much hope, how many of my heart’s dearest sensations and my mind’s
highest thoughts dwelt in those poor paper leaves, in those
little crabbed marks of pen and ink! Now I could look on them
indifferently--almost as a stranger would have looked. The days of calm
study, of steady toil of thought, seemed departed for ever. Stirring
ideas; store of knowledge patiently heaped up; visions of better sights
than this world can show, falling freshly and sunnily over the pages
of my first book; all these were past and gone--withered up by the
hot breath of the senses--doomed by a paltry fate, whose germ was the
accident of an idle day!

I hastily put the manuscript aside. My unexpected interview with Clara
had calmed the turbulent sensations of the evening: but the fatal
influence of the dark beauty remained with me still. How could I write?

I sat down at the open window. It was at the back of the house, and
looked out on a strip of garden--London garden--a close-shut dungeon for
nature, where stunted trees and drooping flowers seemed visibly pining
for the free air and sunlight of the country, in their sooty atmosphere,
amid their prison of high brick walls. But the place gave room for the
air to blow in it, and distanced the tumult of the busy streets. The
moon was up, shined round tenderly by a little border-work of pale
yellow light. Elsewhere, the awful void of night was starless; the dark
lustre of space shone without a cloud.

A presentiment arose within me, that in this still and solitary hour
would occur my decisive, my final struggle with myself. I felt that my
heart’s life or death was set on the hazard of the night.

This new love that was in me; this giant sensation of a day’s growth,
was first love. Hitherto, I had been heart-whole. I had known nothing
of the passion, which is the absorbing passion of humanity. No woman
had ever before stood between me and my ambitions, my occupations, my
amusements. No woman had ever before inspired me with the sensations
which I now felt.

In trying to realise my position, there was this one question to
consider; was I still strong enough to resist the temptation which
accident had thrown in my way? I had this one incentive to resistance:
the conviction that, if I succumbed, as far as my family prospects were
concerned, I should be a ruined man.

I knew my father’s character well: I knew how far his affections and
his sympathies might prevail over his prejudices--even over his
principles--in some peculiar cases; and this very knowledge convinced
me that the consequences of a degrading marriage contracted by his son
(degrading in regard to rank), would be terrible: fatal to one, perhaps
to both. Every other irregularity--every other offence even--he
might sooner or later forgive. _This_ irregularity, _this_ offence,
never--never, though his heart broke in the struggle. I was as sure of
it, as I was of my own existence at that moment.

I loved her! All that I felt, all that I knew, was summed up in those
few words! Deteriorating as my passion was in its effect on the
exercise of my mental powers, and on my candour and sense of duty in
my intercourse with home, it was a pure feeling towards _her._ This is
truth. If I lay on my death-bed, at the present moment, and knew that,
at the Judgment Day, I should be tried by the truth or falsehood of the
lines just written, I could say with my last breath: So be it; let them
remain.

But what mattered my love for her? However worthy of it she might be, I
had misplaced it, because chance--the same chance which might have
given her station and family--had placed her in a rank of life far--too
far--below mine. As the daughter of a “gentleman,” my father’s welcome,
my father’s affection, would have been bestowed on her, when I took her
home as my wife. As the daughter of a tradesman, my father’s anger, my
father’s misery, my own ruin perhaps besides, would be the fatal dower
that a marriage would confer on her. What made all this difference? A
social prejudice. Yes: but a prejudice which had been a principle--nay,
more, a religion--in our house, since my birth; and for centuries before
it.

(How strange that foresight of love which precipitates the future into
the present! Here was I thinking of her as my wife, before, perhaps, she
had a suspicion of the passion with which she had inspired me--vexing my
heart, wearying my thoughts, before I had even spoken to her, as if the
perilous discovery of our marriage were already at hand! I have thought
since how unnatural I should have considered this, if I had read it in a
book.)

How could I best crush the desire to see her, to speak to her, on the
morrow? Should I leave London, leave England, fly from the temptation,
no matter where, or at what sacrifice? Or should I take refuge in my
books--the calm, changeless old friends of my earliest fireside hours?
Had I resolution enough to wear my heart out by hard, serious, slaving
study? If I left London on the morrow, could I feel secure, in my own
conscience, that I should not return the day after!

While, throughout the hours of the night, I was thus vainly striving to
hold calm counsel with myself; the base thought never occurred to me,
which might have occurred to some other men, in my position: Why
marry the girl, because I love her? Why, with my money, my station, my
opportunities, obstinately connect love and marriage as one idea; and
make a dilemma and a danger where neither need exist? Had such a thought
as this, in the faintest, the most shadowy form, crossed my mind, I
should have shrunk from it, have shrunk from my self; with horror.
Whatever fresh degradations may be yet in store for me, this one
consoling and sanctifying remembrance must still be mine. My love for
Margaret Sherwin was worthy to be offered to the purest and perfectest
woman that ever God created.

The night advanced--the noises faintly reaching me from the streets,
sank and ceased--my lamp flickered and went out--I heard the carriage
return with Clara from the ball--the first cold clouds of day rose and
hid the waning orb of the moon--the air was cooled with its morning
freshness: the earth was purified with its morning dew--and still I sat
by my open window, striving with my burning love-thoughts of Margaret;
striving to think collectedly and usefully--abandoned to a struggle ever
renewing, yet never changing; and always hour after hour, a struggle in
vain.

At last I began to think less and less distinctly--a few moments more,
and I sank into a restless, feverish slumber. Then began another, and
a more perilous ordeal for me--the ordeal of dreams. Thoughts and
sensations which had been more and more weakly restrained with each
succeeding hour of wakefulness, now rioted within me in perfect
liberation from all control.

This is what I dreamed:

I stood on a wide plain. On one side, it was bounded by thick woods,
whose dark secret depths looked unfathomable to the eye: on the other,
by hills, ever rising higher and higher yet, until they were lost in
bright, beautifully white clouds, gleaming in refulgent sunlight. On
the side above the woods, the sky was dark and vaporous. It seemed as if
some thick exhalation had arisen from beneath the trees, and overspread
the clear firmament throughout this portion of the scene.

As I still stood on the plain and looked around, I saw a woman coming
towards me from the wood. Her stature was tall; her black hair flowed
about her unconfined; her robe was of the dun hue of the vapour and mist
which hung above the trees, and fell to her feet in dark thick folds.
She came on towards me swiftly and softly, passing over the ground like
cloud-shadows over the ripe corn-field or the calm water.

I looked to the other side, towards the hills; and there was another
woman descending from their bright summits; and her robe was white,
and pure, and glistening. Her face was illumined with a light, like
the light of the harvest-moon; and her footsteps, as she descended the
hills, left a long track of brightness, that sparkled far behind her,
like the track of the stars when the winter night is clear and cold. She
came to the place where the hills and the plain were joined together.
Then she stopped, and I knew that she was watching me from afar off.

Meanwhile, the woman from the dark wood still approached; never pausing
on her path, like the woman from the fair hills. And now I could see her
face plainly. Her eyes were lustrous and fascinating, as the eyes of
a serpent--large, dark and soft, as the eyes of the wild doe. Her lips
were parted with a languid smile; and she drew back the long hair, which
lay over her cheeks, her neck, her bosom, while I was gazing on her.

Then, I felt as if a light were shining on me from the other side. I
turned to look, and there was the woman from the hills beckoning me away
to ascend with her towards the bright clouds above. Her arm, as she
held it forth, shone fair, even against the fair hills; and from
her outstretched hand came long thin rays of trembling light, which
penetrated to where I stood, cooling and calming wherever they touched
me.

But the woman from the woods still came nearer and nearer, until I
could feel her hot breath on my face. Her eyes looked into mine, and
fascinated them, as she held out her arms to embrace me. I touched her
hand, and in an instant the touch ran through me like fire, from head to
foot. Then, still looking intently on me with her wild bright eyes, she
clasped her supple arms round my neck, and drew me a few paces away with
her towards the wood.

I felt the rays of light that had touched me from the beckoning hand,
depart; and yet once more I looked towards the woman from the hills.
She was ascending again towards the bright clouds, and ever and anon she
stopped and turned round, wringing her hands and letting her head droop,
as if in bitter grief. The last time I saw her look towards me, she
was near the clouds. She covered her face with her robe, and knelt down
where she stood. After this I discerned no more of her. For now the
woman from the woods clasped me more closely than before, pressing her
warm lips on mine; and it was as if her long hair fell round us
both, spreading over my eyes like a veil, to hide from them the fair
hill-tops, and the woman who was walking onward to the bright clouds
above.

I was drawn along in the arms of the dark woman, with my blood burning
and my breath failing me, until we entered the secret recesses that lay
amid the unfathomable depths of trees. There, she encircled me in the
folds of her dusky robe, and laid her cheek close to mine, and murmured
a mysterious music in my ear, amid the midnight silence and darkness of
all around us. And I had no thought of returning to the plain again; for
I had forgotten the woman from the fair hills, and had given myself up,
heart, and soul, and body, to the woman from the dark woods.

Here the dream ended, and I awoke.

It was broad daylight. The sun shone brilliantly, the sky was cloudless.
I looked at my watch; it had stopped. Shortly afterwards I heard the
hall clock strike six.

My dream was vividly impressed on my memory, especially the latter
part of it. Was it a warning of coming events, foreshadowed in the wild
visions of sleep? But to what purpose could this dream, or indeed any
dream, tend? Why had it remained incomplete, failing to show me the
visionary consequences of my visionary actions? What superstition to
ask! What a waste of attention to bestow it on such a trifle as a dream!

Still, this trifle had produced one abiding result. I knew it not
then; but I know it now. As I looked out on the reviving, re-assuring
sunlight, it was easy enough for me to dismiss as ridiculous from my
mind, or rather from my conscience, the tendency to see in the two
shadowy forms of my dream, the types of two real living beings, whose
names almost trembled into utterance on my lips; but I could not also
dismiss from my heart the love-images which that dream had set up there
for the worship of the senses. Those results of the night still remained
within me, growing and strengthening with every minute.

If I had been told beforehand how the mere sight of the morning would
reanimate and embolden me, I should have scouted the prediction as
too outrageous for consideration; yet so it was. The moody and boding
reflections, the fear and struggle of the hours of darkness were gone
with the daylight. The love-thoughts of Margaret alone remained, and now
remained unquestioned and unopposed. Were my convictions of a few hours
since, like the night-mists that fade before returning sunshine? I knew
not. But I was young; and each new morning is as much the new life of
youth, as the new life of Nature.

So I left my study and went out. Consequences might come how they would,
and when they would; I thought of them no more. It seemed as if I had
cast off every melancholy thought, in leaving my room; as if my heart
had sprung up more elastic than ever, after the burden that had been
laid on it during the night. Enjoyment for the present, hope for the
future, and chance and fortune to trust in to the very last! This was
my creed, as I walked into the street, determined to see Margaret again,
and to tell her of my love before the day was out. In the exhilaration
of the fresh air and the gay sunshine, I turned my steps towards
Hollyoake Square, almost as light-hearted as a boy let loose from
school, joyously repeating Shakespeare’s lines as I went:

            “Hope is a lover’s staff; walk hence with that,
             And manage it against despairing thoughts.”

IX.

London was rousing everywhere into morning activity, as I passed
through the streets. The shutters were being removed from the windows
of public-houses: the drink-vampyres that suck the life of London, were
opening their eyes betimes to look abroad for the new day’s prey!
Small tobacco and provision-shops in poor neighbourhoods; dirty little
eating-houses, exhaling greasy-smelling steam, and displaying a leaf of
yesterday’s paper, stained and fly-blown, hanging in the windows--were
already plying, or making ready to ply, their daily trade. Here,
a labouring man, late for his work, hurried by; there, a hale
old gentleman started for his early walk before breakfast. Now a
market-cart, already unloaded, passed me on its way back to the country;
now, a cab, laden with luggage and carrying pale, sleepy-looking people,
rattled by, bound for the morning train or the morning steamboat. I
saw the mighty vitality of the great city renewing itself in every
direction; and I felt an unwonted interest in the sight. It was as if
all things, on all sides, were reflecting before me the aspect of my own
heart.

But the quiet and torpor of the night still hung over Hollyoake Square.
That dreary neighbourhood seemed to vindicate its dreariness by being
the last to awaken even to a semblance of activity and life. Nothing
was stirring as yet at North Villa. I walked on, beyond the last houses,
into the sooty London fields; and tried to think of the course I ought
to pursue in order to see Margaret, and speak to her, before I turned
homeward again. After the lapse of more than half an hour, I returned
to the square, without plan or project; but resolved, nevertheless, to
carry my point.

The garden-gate of North Villa was now open. One of the female servants
of the house was standing at it, to breathe the fresh air, and look
about her, before the duties of the day began. I advanced; determined,
if money and persuasion could do it, to secure her services.

She was young (that was one chance in my favour!)--plump, florid, and
evidently not by any means careless about her personal appearance (that
gave me another!) As she saw me approaching her, she smiled; and
passed her apron hurriedly over her face--carefully polishing it for my
inspection, much as a broker polishes a piece of furniture when you stop
to look at it.

“Are you in Mr. Sherwin’s service?”--I asked, as I got to the garden
gate.

“As plain cook, Sir,” answered the girl, administering to her face a
final and furious rub of the apron.

“Should you be very much surprised if I asked you to do me a great
favour?”

“Well--really, Sir--you’re quite a stranger to me--I’m _sure_ I don’t
know!” She stopped, and transferred the apron-rubbing to her arms.

“I hope we shall not be strangers long. Suppose I begin our
acquaintance, by telling you that you would look prettier in brighter
cap-ribbons, and asking you to buy some, just to see whether I am not
right?”

“It’s very kind of you to say so, Sir; and thank you. But cap and
ribbons are the last things I can buy while I’m in _this_ place.
Master’s master and missus too, here; and drives us half wild with the
fuss he makes about our caps and ribbons. He’s such an austerious man,
that he will have our caps as he likes ‘em. It’s bad enough when a
missus meddles with a poor servant’s ribbons; but to have master come
down into the kitchen, and--Well, it’s no use telling _you_ of it,
Sir--and--and thank you, Sir, for what you’ve given me, all the same!”

“I hope this is not the last time I shall make you a present. And now I
must come to the favour I want to ask of you: can you keep a secret?”

“That I can, Sir! I’ve kep’ a many secrets since I’ve been out at
service.”

“Well: I want you to find me an opportunity of speaking to your young
lady--”

“To Miss Margaret, Sir?”

“Yes. I want an opportunity of seeing Miss Margaret, and speaking to her
in private--and not a word must be said to her about it, beforehand.”

“Oh Lord, Sir! I couldn’t dare to do it!”

“Come! come! Can’t you guess why I want to see your young lady, and what
I want to say to her?”

The girl smiled, and shook her head archly. “Perhaps you’re in love with
Miss Margaret, Sir!--But I couldn’t do it! I couldn’t dare to do it!”

“Very well; but you can tell me at least, whether Miss Margaret ever
goes out to take a walk?”

“Oh, yes, Sir; mostly every day.”

“Do you ever go out with her?--just to take care of her when no one else
can be spared?”

“Don’t ask me--please, Sir, don’t!” She crumpled her apron between her
fingers, with a very piteous and perplexed air. “I don’t know you;
and Miss Margaret don’t know you, I’m sure--I couldn’t, Sir, I really
couldn’t!”

“Take a good look at me! Do you think I am likely to do you or your
young lady any harm? Am I too dangerous a man to be trusted? Would you
believe me on my promise?”

“Yes, Sir, I’m sure I would!--being so kind and so civil to _me,_ too!”
 (a fresh arrangement of the cap followed this speech.)

“Then suppose I promised, in the first place, not to tell Miss Margaret
that I had spoken to you about her at all. And suppose I promised, in
the second place, that, if you told me when you and Miss Margaret go
out together, I would only speak to her while she was in your sight, and
would leave her the moment you wished me to go away. Don’t you think you
could venture to help me, if I promised all that?”

“Well, Sir, that would make a difference, to be sure. But then, it’s
master I’m so afraid of--couldn’t you speak to master first, Sir?”

“Suppose you were in Miss Margaret’s place, would you like to be made
love to, by your father’s authority, without your own wishes being
consulted first? would you like an offer of marriage, delivered like a
message, by means of your father? Come, tell me honestly, would you?”

She laughed, and shook her head very expressively. I knew the strength
of my last argument, and repeated it: “Suppose you were in Miss
Margaret’s place?”

“Hush! don’t speak so loud,” resumed the girl in a confidential whisper.
“I’m sure you’re a gentleman. I should like to help you--if I could only
dare to do it, I should indeed!”

“That’s a good girl,” I said. “Now tell me, when does Miss Margaret go
out to-day; and who goes with her?”

“Dear! dear!--it’s very wrong to say it; but I must. She’ll go out with
me to market, this morning, at eleven o’clock. She’s done it for the
last week. Master don’t like it; but Missus begged and prayed she might;
for Missus says she won’t be fit to be married, if she knows nothing
about housekeeping, and prices, and what’s good meat, and what isn’t,
and all that, you know.”

“Thank you a thousand times! you have given me all the help I want. I’ll
be here before eleven, waiting for you to come out.”

“Oh, please don’t, Sir--I wish I hadn’t told you--I oughtn’t, indeed I
oughtn’t!”

“No fear--you shall not lose by what you have told me--I promise all I
said I would promise--good bye. And mind, not a word to Miss Margaret
till I see her!”

As I hurried away, I heard the girl run a few paces after me--then
stop--then return, and close the garden gate, softly. She had evidently
put herself once more in Miss Margaret’s place; and had given up all
idea of further resistance as she did so.

How should I occupy the hours until eleven o’clock? Deceit
whispered:--Go home; avoid even the chance of exciting suspicion, by
breakfasting with your family as usual. And as deceit counselled, so I
acted.

I never remember Clara more kind, more ready with all those trifling
little cares and attentions which have so exquisite a grace, when
offered by a woman to a man, and especially by a sister to a brother, as
when she and I and my father assembled together at the breakfast-table.
I now recollect with shame how little I thought about her, or spoke
to her on that morning; with how little hesitation or self-reproach I
excused myself from accepting an engagement which she wished to make
with me for that day. My father was absorbed in some matter of business;
to _him_ she could not speak. It was to me that she addressed all her
wonted questions and remarks of the morning. I hardly listened to them;
I answered them carelessly and briefly. The moment breakfast was over,
without a word of explanation I hastily left the house again.

As I descended the steps, I glanced by accident at the dining-room
window. Clara was looking after me from it. There was the same anxious
expression on her face which it had worn when she left me the evening
before. She smiled as our eyes met--a sad, faint smile that made her
look unlike herself. But it produced no impression on me then: I had no
attention for anything but my approaching interview with Margaret.
My life throbbed and burned within me, in that direction: it was all
coldness, torpor, insensibility, in every other.

I reached Hollyoake Square nearly an hour before the appointed time. In
the suspense and impatience of that long interval, it was impossible to
be a moment in repose. I walked incessantly up and down the square, and
round and round the neighbourhood, hearing each quarter chimed from a
church clock near, and mechanically quickening my pace the nearer the
time came for the hour to strike. At last, I heard the first peal of the
eventful eleven. Before the clock was silent, I had taken up my position
within view of the gate of North Villa.

Five minutes passed--ten--and no one appeared. In my impatience, I could
almost have rung the bell and entered the house, no matter who might
be there, or what might be the result. The first quarter struck; and
at that very moment I heard the door open, and saw Margaret, and the
servant with whom I had spoken, descending the steps.

They passed out slowly through the garden gate, and walked down the
square, away from where I was standing. The servant noticed me by one
significant look, as they went on. Her young mistress did not appear
to see me. At first, my agitation was so violent that I was perfectly
incapable of following them a single step. In a few moments I recovered
myself; and hastened to overtake them, before they arrived at a more
frequented part of the neighbourhood.

As I approached her side, Margaret turned suddenly and looked at me,
with an expression of anger and astonishment in her eyes. The next
instant, her lovely face became tinged all over with a deep, burning
blush; her head drooped a little; she hesitated for a moment; and then
abruptly quickened her pace. Did she remember me? The mere chance that
she did, gave me confidence: I--

--No! I cannot write down the words that I said to her. Recollecting the
end to which our fatal interview led, I recoil at the very thought of
exposing to others, or of preserving in any permanent form, the words
in which I first confessed my love. It may be pride--miserable, useless
pride--which animates me with this feeling: but I cannot overcome it.
Remembering what I do, I am ashamed to write, ashamed to recall, what
I said at my first interview with Margaret Sherwin. I can give no good
reason for the sensations which now influence me; I cannot analyse them;
and I would not if I could.

Let it be enough to say that I risked everything, and spoke to her. My
words, confused as they were, came hotly, eagerly, and eloquently from
my heart. In the space of a few minutes, I confessed to her all, and
more than all, that I have here painfully related in many pages. I made
use of my name and my rank in life--even now, my cheeks burn while I
think of it--to dazzle her girl’s pride, to make her listen to me
for the sake of my station, if she would not for the sake of my suit,
however honourably urged. Never before had I committed the meanness of
trusting to my social advantages, what I feared to trust to myself. It
is true that love soars higher than the other passions; but it can stoop
lower as well.

Her answers to all that I urged were confused, commonplace, and chilling
enough. I had surprised her--frightened her--it was impossible she could
listen to such addresses from a total stranger--it was very wrong of me
to speak, and of her to stop and hear me--I should remember what became
me as a gentleman, and should not make such advances to her again--I
knew nothing of her--it was impossible I could really care about her
in so short a time--she must beg that I would allow her to proceed
unhindered.

Thus she spoke; sometimes standing still, sometimes moving hurriedly
a few steps forward. She might have expressed herself severely, even
angrily; but nothing she could have said would have counteracted
the fascination that her presence exercised over me. I saw her face,
lovelier than ever in its confusion, in its rapid changes of expression;
I saw her eloquent eyes once or twice raised to mine, then instantly
withdrawn again--and so long as I could look at her, I cared not what I
listened to. She was only speaking what she had been educated to speak;
it was not in her words that I sought the clue to her thoughts and
sensations; but in the tone of her voice, in the language of her eyes,
in the whole expression of her face. All these contained indications
which reassured me. I tried everything that respect, that the persuasion
of love could urge, to win her consent to our meeting again; but she
only answered with repetitions of what she had said before, walking
onward rapidly while she spoke. The servant, who had hitherto lingered
a few paces behind, now advanced to her young mistress’s side, with a
significant look, as if to remind me of my promise. Saying a few parting
words, I let them proceed: at this first interview, to have delayed them
longer would have been risking too much.

As they walked away, the servant turned round, nodding her head and
smiling, as if to assure me that I had lost nothing by the forbearance
which I had exercised. Margaret neither lingered nor looked back. This
last proof of modesty and reserve, so far from discouraging, attracted
me to her more powerfully than ever. After a first interview, it was the
most becoming virtue she could have shown. All my love for her before,
seemed as nothing compared with my love for her now that she had left
me, and left me without a parting look.

What course should I next pursue? Could I expect that Margaret, after
what she had said, would go out again at the same hour on the morrow?
No: she would not so soon abandon the modesty and restraint that she had
shown at our first interview. How communicate with her? how manage most
skilfully to make good the first favourable impression which vanity
whispered I had already produced? I determined to write to her.

How different was the writing of that letter, to the writing of those
once-treasured pages of my romance, which I had now abandoned for ever!
How slowly I worked; how cautiously and diffidently I built up sentence
after sentence, and doubtingly set a stop here, and laboriously rounded
off a paragraph there, when I toiled in the service of ambition! Now,
when I had given myself up to the service of love, how rapidly the pen
ran over the paper; how much more freely and smoothly the desires of the
heart flowed into words, than the thoughts of the mind! Composition was
an instinct now, an art no longer. I could write eloquently, and yet
write without pausing for an expression or blotting a word--It was the
slow progress up the hill, in the service of ambition; it was the swift
(too swift) career down it, in the service of love!

There is no need to describe the contents of my letter to Margaret; they
comprised a mere recapitulation of what I had already said to her. I
insisted often and strongly on the honourable purpose of my suit; and
ended by entreating her to write an answer, and consent to allow me
another interview.

The letter was delivered by the servant. Another present, a little more
timely persuasion, and above all, the regard I had shown to my promise,
won the girl with all her heart to my interests. She was ready to help
me in every way, as long as her interference could be kept a secret from
her master.

I waited a day for the reply to my letter; but none came. The servant
could give me no explanation of this silence. Her young mistress had not
said one word to her about me, since the morning when we had met.
Still not discouraged, I wrote again. The letter contained some lover’s
threats this time, as well as lover’s entreaties; and it produced its
effect--an answer came.

It was very short--rather hurriedly and tremblingly written--and simply
said that the difference between my rank and hers made it her duty to
request of me, that neither by word nor by letter should I ever address
her again.

“Difference in rank,”--that was the only objection then! “Her duty”--it
was not from inclination that she refused me! So young a creature; and
yet so noble in self-sacrifice, so firm in her integrity! I resolved to
disobey her injunction, and see her again. My rank! What was my rank?
Something to cast at Margaret’s feet, for Margaret to trample on!

Once more I sought the aid of my faithful ally, the servant. After
delays which half maddened me with impatience, insignificant though
they were, she contrived to fulfil my wishes. One afternoon, while
Mr. Sherwin was away at business, and while his wife had gone out, I
succeeded in gaining admission to the garden at the back of the house,
where Margaret was then occupied in watering some flowers.

She started as she saw me, and attempted to return to the house. I
took her hand to detain her. She withdrew it, but neither abruptly
nor angrily. I seized the opportunity, while she hesitated whether to
persist or not in retiring; and repeated what I had already said to her
at our first interview (what is the language of love but a language of
repetitions?). She answered, as she had answered me in her letter: the
difference in our rank made it her duty to discourage me.

“But if this difference did not exist,” I said: “if we were both living
in the same rank, Margaret--”

She looked up quickly; then moved away a step or two, as I addressed her
by her Christian name.

“Are you offended with me for calling you Margaret so soon? I do not
think of you as Miss Sherwin, but as Margaret--are you offended with me
for speaking as I think?”

No: she ought not to be offended with me, or with anybody, for doing
that.

“Suppose this difference in rank, which you so cruelly insist on, did
not exist, would you tell me not to hope, not to speak then, as coldly
as you tell me now?”

I must not ask her that--it was no use--the difference in rank _did_
exist.

“Perhaps I have met you too late?--perhaps you are already--”

“No! oh, no!”--she stopped abruptly, as the words passed her lips. The
same lovely blush which I had before seen spreading over her face, rose
on it now. She evidently felt that she had unguardedly said too much:
that she had given me an answer in a case where, according to every
established love-law of the female code, I had no right to expect one.
Her next words accused me--but in very low and broken tones--of having
committed an intrusion which she should hardly have expected from a
gentleman in my position.

“I will regain your better opinion,” I said, eagerly catching at the
most favourable interpretation of her last words, “by seeing you for the
next time, and for all times after, with your father’s full permission.
I will write to-day, and ask for a private interview with him. I will
tell him all I have told you: I will tell him that you take a rank in
beauty and goodness, which is the highest rank in the land--a far higher
rank than mine--the only rank I desire.” (A smile, which she vainly
strove to repress, stole charmingly to her lips.) “Yes, I will do this;
I will never leave him till his answer is favourable--and then what
would be yours? One word, Margaret; one word before I go--”

I attempted to take her hand a second time; but she broke from me, and
hurried into the house.

What more could I desire? What more could the modesty and timidity of a
young girl concede to me?

The moment I reached home, I wrote to Mr. Sherwin. The letter was
superscribed “Private;” and simply requested an interview with him on a
subject of importance, at any hour he might mention. Unwilling to trust
what I had written to the post, I sent my note by a messenger--not one
of our own servants, caution forbade that--and instructed the man to
wait for an answer: if Mr. Sherwin was out, to wait till he came home.

After a long delay--long to _me;_ for my impatience would fain have
turned hours into minutes--I received a reply. It was written on
gilt-edged letter-paper, in a handwriting vulgarised by innumerable
flourishes. Mr. Sherwin presented his respectful compliments, and
would be happy to have the honour of seeing me at North Villa, if quite
convenient, at five o’clock to-morrow afternoon.

I folded up the letter carefully: it was almost as precious as a letter
from Margaret herself. That night I passed sleeplessly, revolving in
my mind every possible course that I could take at the interview of the
morrow. It would be a difficult and a delicate business. I knew nothing
of Mr. Sherwin’s character; yet I must trust him with a secret which I
dared not trust to my own father. Any proposals for paying addresses
to his daughter, coming from one in my position, might appear open
to suspicion. What could I say about marriage? A public, acknowledged
marriage was impossible: a private marriage might be a bold, if
not fatal proposal. I could come to no other conclusion, reflect as
anxiously as I might, than that it was best for me to speak candidly at
all hazards. I could be candid enough when it suited my purpose!

It was not till the next day, when the time approached for my interview
with Mr. Sherwin, that I thoroughly roused myself to face the
plain necessities of my position. Determined to try what impression
appearances could make on him, I took unusual pains with my dress; and
more, I applied to a friend whom I could rely on as likely to ask no
questions--I write this in shame and sorrow: I tell truth here, where it
is hard penance to tell it--I applied, I say, to a friend for the loan
of one of his carriages to take me to North Villa; fearing the risk
of borrowing my father’s carriage, or my sister’s--knowing the common
weakness of rank-worship and wealth-worship in men of Mr. Sherwin’s
order, and meanly determining to profit by it to the utmost. My friend’s
carriage was willingly lent me. By my directions, it took me up at the
appointed hour, at a shop where I was a regular customer.

X.

On my arrival at North Villa, I was shown into what I presumed was the
drawing-room.

Everything was oppressively new. The brilliantly-varnished door cracked
with a report like a pistol when it was opened; the paper on the walls,
with its gaudy pattern of birds, trellis-work, and flowers, in gold,
red, and green on a white ground, looked hardly dry yet; the showy
window-curtains of white and sky-blue, and the still showier carpet of
red and yellow, seemed as if they had come out of the shop yesterday;
the round rosewood table was in a painfully high state of polish; the
morocco-bound picture books that lay on it, looked as if they had never
been moved or opened since they had been bought; not one leaf even
of the music on the piano was dogs-eared or worn. Never was a richly
furnished room more thoroughly comfortless than this--the eye ached at
looking round it. There was no repose anywhere. The print of the Queen,
hanging lonely on the wall, in its heavy gilt frame, with a large crown
at the top, glared on you: the paper, the curtains, the carpet glared
on you: the books, the wax-flowers in glass-cases, the chairs in flaring
chintz-covers, the china plates on the door, the blue and pink glass
vases and cups ranged on the chimney-piece, the over-ornamented
chiffoniers with Tonbridge toys and long-necked smelling bottles on
their upper shelves--all glared on you. There was no look of shadow,
shelter, secrecy, or retirement in any one nook or corner of those four
gaudy walls. All surrounding objects seemed startlingly near to the eye;
much nearer than they really were. The room would have given a nervous
man the headache, before he had been in it a quarter of an hour.

I was not kept waiting long. Another violent crack from the new door,
announced the entrance of Mr. Sherwin himself.

He was a tall, thin man: rather round-shouldered; weak at the knees, and
trying to conceal the weakness in the breadth of his trowsers. He wore
a white cravat, and an absurdly high shirt collar. His complexion
was sallow; his eyes were small, black, bright, and incessantly in
motion--indeed, all his features were singularly mobile: they were
affected by nervous contractions and spasms which were constantly
drawing up and down in all directions the brow, the mouth, and the
muscles of the cheek. His hair had been black, but was now turning to a
sort of iron-grey; it was very dry, wiry, and plentiful, and part of
it projected almost horizontally over his forehead. He had a habit of
stretching it in this direction, by irritably combing it out, from time
to time, with his fingers. His lips were thin and colourless, the lines
about them being numerous and strongly marked. Had I seen him under
ordinary circumstances, I should have set him down as a little-minded
man; a small tyrant in his own way over those dependent on him;
a pompous parasite to those above him--a great stickler for the
conventional respectabilities of life, and a great believer in his own
infallibility. But he was Margaret’s father; and I was determined to be
pleased with him.

He made me a low and rather a cringing bow--then looked to the window,
and seeing the carriage waiting for me at his door, made another bow,
and insisted on relieving me of my hat with his own hand. This done, he
coughed, and begged to know what he could do for me.

I felt some difficulty in opening my business to him. It was necessary
to speak, however, at once--I began with an apology.

“I am afraid, Mr. Sherwin, that this intrusion on the part of a perfect
stranger--”

“Not entirely a stranger, Sir, if I may be allowed to say so.”

“Indeed!”

“I had the great pleasure, Sir, and profit, and--and, indeed,
advantage--of being shown over your town residence last year, when the
family were absent from London. A very beautiful house--I happen to be
acquainted with the steward of your respected father: he was kind enough
to allow me to walk through the rooms. A treat; quite an intellectual
treat--the furniture and hangings, and so on, arranged in such a chaste
style--and the pictures, some of the finest pieces I ever saw--I was
delighted--quite delighted, indeed.”

He spoke in under-tones, laying great stress upon particular words that
were evidently favourites with him--such as, “indeed.” Not only his
eyes, but his whole face, seemed to be nervously blinking and winking
all the time he was addressing me, In the embarrassment and anxiety
which I then felt, this peculiarity fidgetted and bewildered me more
than I can describe. I would have given the world to have had his back
turned, before I spoke to him again.

“I am delighted to hear that my family and my name are not unknown to
you, Mr. Sherwin,” I resumed. “Under those circumstances, I shall feel
less hesitation and difficulty in making you acquainted with the object
of my visit.”

“Just so. May I offer you anything?--a glass of sherry, a--”

“Nothing, thank you. In the first place, Mr. Sherwin, I have reasons
for wishing that this interview, whatever results it may lead to, may
be considered strictly confidential. I am sure I can depend on your
favouring me thus far?”

“Certainly--most certainly--the strictest secrecy of course--pray go
on.”

He drew his chair a little nearer to me. Through all his blinking and
winking, I could see a latent expression of cunning and curiosity in his
eyes. My card was in his hand: he was nervously rolling and unrolling
it, without a moment’s cessation, in his anxiety to hear what I had to
say.

“I must also beg you to suspend your judgment until you have heard me
to the end. You may be disposed to view--to view, I say, unfavourably at
first--in short, Mr. Sherwin, without further preface, the object of my
visit is connected with your daughter, with Miss Margaret Sherwin--”

“My daughter! Bless my soul--God bless my soul, I really can’t
imagine--”

He stopped, half-breathless, bending forward towards me, and crumpling
my card between his fingers into the smallest possible dimensions.

“Rather more than a week ago,” I continued, “I accidentally met Miss
Sherwin in an omnibus, accompanied by a lady older than herself--”

“My wife; Mrs. Sherwin,” he said, impatiently motioning with his
hand, as if “Mrs. Sherwin” were some insignificant obstacle to the
conversation, which he wished to clear out of the way as fast as
possible.

“You will not probably be surprised to hear that I was struck by Miss
Sherwin’s extreme beauty. The impression she made on me was something
more, however, than a mere momentary feeling of admiration. To speak
candidly, I felt--You have heard of such a thing as love at first sight,
Mr. Sherwin?”

“In books, Sir.” He tapped one of the morocco-bound volumes on the
table, and smiled--a curious smile, partly deferential and partly
sarcastic.

“You would be inclined to laugh, I dare say, if I asked you to believe
that there is such a thing as love at first sight, _out_ of books. But,
without dwelling further on that, it is my duty to confess to you, in
all candour and honesty, that the impression Miss Sherwin produced on me
was such as to make me desire the privilege of becoming acquainted with
her. In plain words, I discovered her place of residence by following
her to this house.”

“Upon my soul this is the most extraordinary proceeding----!”

“Pray hear me out, Mr. Sherwin: you will not condemn my conduct, I
think, if you hear all I have to say.”

He muttered something unintelligible; his complexion turned yellower; he
dropped my card, which he had by this time crushed into fragments; and
ran his hand rapidly through his hair until he had stretched it out like
a penthouse over his forehead--blinking all the time, and regarding me
with a lowering, sinister expression of countenance. I saw that it
was useless to treat him as I should have treated a gentleman. He had
evidently put the meanest and the foulest construction upon my delicacy
and hesitation in speaking to him: so I altered my plan, and came to the
point abruptly--“came to business,” as he would have called it.

“I ought to have been plainer, Mr. Sherwin; I ought perhaps to have told
you at the outset, in so many words, that I came to--” (I was about
to say, “to ask your daughter’s hand in marriage;” but a thought of my
father moved darkly over my mind at that moment, and the words would not
pass my lips).

“Well, Sir! to what?”

The tone in which he said this was harsh enough to rouse me. It gave me
back my self-possession immediately.

“To ask your permission to pay my addresses to Miss Sherwin--or, to be
plainer still, if you like, to ask of you her hand in marriage.”

The words were spoken. Even if I could have done so, I would not have
recalled what I had just said; but still, I trembled in spite of myself
as I expressed in plain, blunt words what I had only rapturously thought
over, or delicately hinted at to Margaret, up to this time.

“God bless me!” cried Mr. Sherwin, suddenly sitting back bolt upright
in his chair, and staring at me in such surprise, that his restless
features were actually struck with immobility for the moment--“God
bless me, this is quite another story. Most gratifying, most
astonishing--highly flattered I am sure; highly indeed, my dear Sir!
Don’t suppose, for one moment, I ever doubted your honourable feeling.
Young gentlemen in your station of life do sometimes fail in respect
towards the wives and daughters of their--in short, of those who are
not in their rank exactly. But that’s not the question--quite a
misunderstanding--extremely stupid of me, to be sure. _Pray_ let me
offer you a glass of wine!”

“No wine, thank you, Mr. Sherwin. I must beg your attention a little
longer, while I state to you, in confidence, how I am situated with
regard to the proposals I have made. There are certain circumstances--”

“Yes--yes?”

He bent forward again eagerly towards me, as he spoke; looking more
inquisitive and more cunning than ever.

“I have acknowledged to you, Mr. Sherwin, that I have found means
to speak to your daughter--to speak to her twice. I made my advances
honourably. She received them with a modesty and a reluctance worthy of
herself, worthy of any lady, the highest lady in the land.” (Mr. Sherwin
looked round reverentially to his print of the Queen; then looked back
at me, and bowed solemnly.) “Now, although in so many words she directly
discouraged me--it is her due that I should say this--still, I think I
may without vanity venture to hope that she did so as a matter of duty,
more than as a matter of inclination.”

“Ah--yes, yes! I understand. She would do nothing without my authority,
of course?”

“No doubt that was one reason why she received me as she did; but she
had another, which she communicated to me in the plainest terms--the
difference in our rank of life.”

“Ah! she said that, did she? Exactly so--she saw a difficulty there?
Yes--yes! high principles, Sir--high principles, thank God!”

“I need hardly tell you, Mr. Sherwin, how deeply I feel the delicate
sense of honour which this objection shows on your daughter’s part. You
will easily imagine that it is no objection to _me,_ personally. The
happiness of my whole life depends on Miss Sherwin; I desire no
higher honour, as I can conceive no greater happiness, than to be
your daughter’s husband. I told her this: I also told her that I would
explain myself on the subject to you. She made no objection; and I am,
therefore, I think, justified in considering that if you authorised the
removal of scruples which do her honour at present, she would not feel
the delicacy she does now at sanctioning my addresses.”

“Very proper--a very proper way of putting it. Practical, if I may be
allowed to say so. And now, my dear Sir, the next point is: how about
your own honoured family--eh?”

“It is exactly there that the difficulty lies. My father, on whom I am
dependent as the younger son, has very strong prejudices--convictions I
ought perhaps to call them--on the subject of social inequalities.”

“Quite so--most natural; most becoming, indeed, on the part of your
respected father. I honour his convictions, sir. Such estates, such
houses, such a family as his--connected, I believe, with the nobility,
especially on your late lamented mother’s side. My dear Sir, I
emphatically repeat it, your father’s convictions do him honour; I
respect them as much as I respect him; I do, indeed.”

“I am glad you can view my father’s ideas on social subjects in so
favourable a light, Mr. Sherwin. You will be less surprised to hear how
they are likely to affect me in the step I am now taking.”

“He disapproves of it, of course--strongly, perhaps. Well, though
my dear girl is worthy of any station; and a man like me, devoted to
mercantile interests, may hold his head up anywhere as one of the props
of this commercial country,” (he ran his fingers rapidly through his
hair, and tried to look independent), “still I am prepared to admit,
under all the circumstances--I say under all the circumstances--that his
disapproval is very natural, and was very much to be expected--very much
indeed.”

“He has expressed no disapproval, Mr. Sherwin.”

“You don’t say so!”

“I have not given him an opportunity. My meeting with your daughter
has been kept a profound secret from him, and from every member of my
family; and a secret it must remain. I speak from my intimate knowledge
of my father, when I say that I hardly know of any means that he would
not be capable of employing to frustrate the purpose of this visit, if I
had mentioned it to him. He has been the kindest and best of fathers
to me; but I firmly believe, that if I waited for his consent, no
entreaties of mine, or of any one belonging to me, would induce him to
give his sanction to the marriage I have come to you to propose.”

“Bless my soul! this is carrying things rather far, though--dependent as
you are on him, and all that. Why, what on earth can we do--eh?”

“We must keep both the courtship and the marriage secret.”

“Secret! Good gracious, I don’t at all see my way--”

“Yes, secret--a profound secret among ourselves, until I can divulge my
marriage to my father, with the best chance of--”

“But I tell you, Sir, I can’t see my way through it at all. Chance! what
chance would there be, after what you have told me?”

“There might be many chances. For instance, when the marriage
was solemnised, I might introduce your daughter to my father’s
notice--without disclosing who she was--and leave her, gradually and
unsuspectedly, to win his affection and respect (as with her beauty,
elegance, and amiability, she could not fail to do), while I waited
until the occasion was ripe for confessing everything. Then if I said
to him, ‘This young lady, who has so interested and delighted you, is my
wife;’ do you think, with that powerful argument in my favour, he could
fail to give us his pardon? If, on the other hand, I could only say,
‘This young lady is about to become my wife,’ his prejudices would
assuredly induce him to recall his most favourable impressions, and
refuse his consent. In short, Mr. Sherwin, before marriage, it would be
impossible to move him--after marriage, when opposition could no longer
be of any avail, it would be quite a different thing: we might be sure
of producing, sooner or later, the most favourable results. This is why
it would be absolutely necessary to keep our union secret at first.”

I wondered then--I have since wondered more--how it was that I contrived
to speak thus, so smoothly and so unhesitatingly, when my conscience was
giving the lie all the while to every word I uttered.

“Yes, yes; I see--oh, yes, I see!” said Mr. Sherwin, rattling a bunch of
keys in his pocket, with an expression of considerable perplexity;
“but this is a ticklish business, you know--a very queer and ticklish
business indeed. To have a gentleman of your birth and breeding for a
son-in-law, is of course--but then there is the money question.
Suppose you failed with your father after all--_my_ money is out in my
speculations--_I_ can do nothing. Upon my word, you have placed me in a
position that I never was placed in before.”

“I have influential friends, Mr. Sherwin, in many directions--there are
appointments, good appointments, which would be open to me, if I
pushed my interests. I might provide in this way against the chance of
failure.”

“Ah!--well--yes. There’s something in that, certainly.”

“I can only assure you that my attachment to Miss Sherwin is not of a
nature to be overcome by any pecuniary considerations. I speak in all
our interests, when I say that a private marriage gives us a chance for
the future, as opportunities arise of gradually disclosing it. My offer
to you may be made under some disadvantages and difficulties, perhaps;
for, with the exception of a very small independence, left me by my
mother, I have no certain prospects. But I really think my proposals
have some compensating advantages to recommend them--”

“Certainly! most decidedly so! I am not insensible, my dear Sir, to the
great advantage, and honour, and so forth. But there is something so
unusual about the whole affair. What would be my feelings, if your
father should not come round, and my dear girl was disowned by the
family? Well, well! that could hardly happen, I think, with her
accomplishments and education, and manners too, so distinguished--though
perhaps I ought not to say so. Her schooling alone was a hundred a-year,
Sir, without including extras--”

“I am sure, Mr. Sherwin--”

“--A school, Sir, where it was a rule to take in no thing lower than
the daughter of a professional man--they only waived the rule in
my case--the most genteel school, perhaps, in all London! A
drawing-room-deportment day once every week--the girls taught how
to enter a room and leave a room with dignity and ease--a model of a
carriage door and steps, in the back drawing-room, to practise the girls
(with the footman of the establishment in attendance) in getting into
a carriage and getting out again, in a lady-like manner! No duchess has
had a better education than my Margaret!--”

“Permit me to assure you, Mr. Sherwin--”

“And then, her knowledge of languages--her French, and Italian, and
German, not discontinued in holidays, or after she left school (she has
only just left it); but all kept up and improved every evening, by the
kind attention of Mr. Mannion--”

“May I ask who Mr. Mannion is?” The tone in which I put this question,
cooled his enthusiasm about his daughter’s education immediately. He
answered in his former tones, and with one of his former bows:

“Mr. Mannion is my confidential clerk, Sir--a most superior person, most
highly talented, and well read, and all that.”

“Is he a young man?”

“Young! Oh, dear no! Mr. Mannion is forty, or a year or two more, if
he’s a day--an admirable man of business, as well as a great scholar.
He’s at Lyons now, buying silks for me. When he comes back I shall be
delighted to introduce---”

“I beg your pardon, but I think we are wandering away from the point, a
little.”

“I beg _yours_--so we are. Well, my dear Sir, I must be allowed a day or
two--say two days--to ascertain what my daughter’s feelings are, and to
consider your proposals, which have taken me very much by surprise,
as you may in fact see. But I assure you I am most flattered, most
honoured, most anxious--“.

“I hope you will consider my anxieties, Mr. Sherwin, and let me know the
result of your deliberations as soon as possible.”

“Without fail, depend upon it. Let me see: shall we say the second day
from this, at the same time, if you can favour me with a visit?”

“Certainly.”

“And between that time and this, you will engage not to hold any
communication with my daughter?”

“I promise not, Mr. Sherwin--because I believe that your answer will be
favourable.”

“Ah, well--well! lovers, they say, should never despair. A little
consideration, and a little talk with my dear girl--really now, won’t
you change your mind and have a glass of sherry? (No again?) Very well,
then, the day after tomorrow, at five o’clock.”

With a louder crack than ever, the brand-new drawing-room door was
opened to let me out. The noise was instantly succeeded by the rustling
of a silk dress, and the banging of another door, at the opposite end of
the passage. Had anybody been listening? Where was Margaret?

Mr. Sherwin stood at the garden-gate to watch my departure, and to make
his farewell bow. Thick as was the atmosphere of illusion in which I now
lived, I shuddered involuntarily as I returned his parting salute, and
thought of him as my father-in-law!

XI.

The nearer I approached to our own door, the more reluctance I felt to
pass the short interval between my first and second interview with Mr.
Sherwin, at home. When I entered the house, this reluctance increased to
something almost like dread. I felt unwilling and unfit to meet the eyes
of my nearest and dearest relatives. It was a relief to me to hear that
my father was not at home. My sister was in the house: the servant said
she had just gone into the library, and inquired whether he should tell
her that I had come in. I desired him not to disturb her, as it was my
intention to go out again immediately.

I went into my study, and wrote a short note there to Clara; merely
telling her that I should be absent in the country for two days. I had
sealed and laid it on the table for the servant to deliver, and was
about to leave the room, when I heard the library door open. I instantly
drew back, and half-closed my own door again. Clara had got the book she
wanted, and was taking it up to her own sitting-room. I waited till she
was out of sight, and then left the house. It was the first time I had
ever avoided my sister--my sister, who had never in her life asked a
question, or uttered a word that could annoy me; my sister, who had
confided all her own little secrets to my keeping, ever since we had
been children. As I thought on what I had done, I felt a sense of
humiliation which was almost punishment enough for the meanness of which
I had been guilty.

I went round to the stables, and had my horse saddled immediately. No
idea of proceeding in any particular direction occurred to me. I
simply felt resolved to pass my two days’ ordeal of suspense away from
home--far enough away to keep me faithful to my promise not to see
Margaret. Soon after I started, I left my horse to his own guidance, and
gave myself up to my thoughts and recollections, as one by one they rose
within me. The animal took the direction which he had been oftenest used
to take during my residence in London--the northern road.

It was not until I had ridden half a mile beyond the suburbs that I
looked round me, and discovered towards what part of the country I was
proceeding. I drew the rein directly, and turned my horse’s head back
again, towards the south. To follow the favourite road which I had so
often followed with Clara; to stop perhaps at some place where I
had often stopped with her, was more than I had the courage or the
insensibility to do at that moment.

I rode as far as Ewell, and stopped there: the darkness had overtaken
me, and it was useless to tire my horse by going on any greater
distance. The next morning, I was up almost with sunrise; and passed
the greater part of the day in walking about among villages, lanes, and
fields, just as chance led me. During the night, many thoughts that I
had banished for the last week had returned--those thoughts of evil omen
under which the mind seems to ache, just as the body aches under a dull,
heavy pain, to which we can assign no particular place or cause.
Absent from Margaret, I had no resource against the oppression that
now overcame me. I could only endeavour to alleviate it by keeping
incessantly in action; by walking or riding, hour after hour, in the
vain attempt to quiet the mind by wearying out the body. Apprehension of
the failure of my application to Mr. Sherwin had nothing to do with the
vague gloom which now darkened my thoughts; they kept too near home
for that. Besides, what I had observed of Margaret’s father, especially
during the latter part of my interview with him, showed me plainly
enough that he was trying to conceal, under exaggerated surprise and
assumed hesitation, his secret desire to profit at once by my
offer; which, whatever conditions might clog it, was infinitely more
advantageous in a social point of view, than any he could have hoped
for. It was not his delay in accepting my proposals, but the burden
of deceit, the fetters of concealment forced on me by the proposals
themselves, which now hung heavy on my heart.

That evening I left Ewell, and rode towards home again, as far as
Richmond, where I remained for the night and the forepart of the next
day. I reached London in the afternoon; and got to North Villa--without
going home first--about five o’clock.

The oppression was still on my spirits. Even the sight of the house
where Margaret lived failed to invigorate or arouse me.

On this occasion, when I was shown into the drawing-room, both Mr. and
Mrs. Sherwin were awaiting me there. On the table was the sherry which
had been so perseveringly pressed on me at the last interview, and by it
a new pound cake. Mrs. Sherwin was cutting the cake as I came in, while
her husband watched the process with critical eyes. The poor woman’s
weak white fingers trembled as they moved the knife under conjugal
inspection.

“Most happy to see you again--most happy indeed, my dear Sir,” said Mr.
Sherwin, advancing with hospitable smile and outstretched hand. “Allow
me to introduce my better half, Mrs. S.”

His wife rose in a hurry, and curtseyed, leaving the knife sticking
in the cake; upon which Mr. Sherwin, with a stern look at her,
ostentatiously pulled it out, and set it down rather violently on the
dish.

Poor Mrs. Sherwin! I had hardly noticed her on the day when she got into
the omnibus with her daughter--it was as if I now saw her for the first
time. There is a natural communicativeness about women’s emotions. A
happy woman imperceptibly diffuses her happiness around her; she has an
influence that is something akin to the influence of a sunshiny day.
So, again, the melancholy of a melancholy woman is invariably, though
silently, infectious; and Mrs. Sherwin was one of this latter order. Her
pale, sickly, moist-looking skin; her large, mild, watery, light-blue
eyes; the restless timidity of her expression; the mixture of useless
hesitation and involuntary rapidity in every one of her actions--all
furnished the same significant betrayal of a life of incessant fear
and restraint; of a disposition full of modest generosities and meek
sympathies, which had been crushed down past rousing to self-assertion,
past ever seeing the light. There, in that mild, wan face of hers--in
those painful startings and hurryings when she moved; in that tremulous,
faint utterance when she spoke--_there,_ I could see one of those
ghastly heart-tragedies laid open before me, which are acted and
re-acted, scene by scene, and year by year, in the secret theatre of
home; tragedies which are ever shadowed by the slow falling of the black
curtain that drops lower and lower every day--that drops, to hide all at
last, from the hand of death.

“We have had very beautiful weather lately, Sir,” said Mrs. Sherwin,
almost inaudibly; looking as she spoke, with anxious eyes towards her
husband, to see if she was justified in uttering even those piteously
common-place words. “Very beautiful weather to be sure,” continued the
poor woman, as timidly as if she had become a little child again, and
had been ordered to say her first lesson in a stranger’s presence.

“Delightful weather, Mrs. Sherwin. I have been enjoying it for the
last two days in the country--in a part of Surrey (the neighbourhood of
Ewell) that I had not seen before.”

There was a pause. Mr. Sherwin coughed; it was evidently a warning
matrimonial peal that he had often rung before--for Mrs. Sherwin
started, and looked up at him directly.

“As the lady of the house, Mrs. S., it strikes me that you might offer
a visitor, like this gentleman, some cake and wine, without making any
particular hole in your manners!”

“Oh dear me! I beg your pardon! I’m very sorry, I’m sure”--and she
poured out a glass of wine, with such a trembling hand that the decanter
tinkled all the while against the glass. Though I wanted nothing, I
ate and drank something immediately, in common consideration for Mrs.
Sherwin’s embarrassment.

Mr. Sherwin filled himself a glass--held it up admiringly to the
light--said, “Your good health, Sir, your very good health;” and drank
the wine with the air of a connoisseur, and a most expressive smacking
of the lips. His wife (to whom he offered nothing) looked at him all the
time with the most reverential attention.

“You are taking nothing yourself, Mrs. Sherwin,” I said.

“Mrs. Sherwin, Sir,” interposed her husband, “never drinks wine, and
can’t digest cake. A bad stomach--a very bad stomach. Have another glass
yourself. Won’t you, indeed? This sherry stands me in six shillings a
bottle--ought to be first-rate wine at that price: and so it is.
Well, if you won’t have any more, we will proceed to business. Ha! ha!
business as _I_ call it; pleasure I hope it will be to _you_.”

Mrs. Sherwin coughed--a very weak, small cough, half-stifled in its
birth.

“There you are again!” he said, turning fiercely towards her--“Coughing
again! Six months of the doctor--a six months’ bill to come out of my
pocket--and no good done--no good, Mrs. S.”

“Oh, I am much better, thank you--it was only a little--”

“Well, Sir, the evening after you left me, I had what you may call
an explanation with my dear girl. She was naturally a little confused
and--and embarrassed, indeed. A very serious thing of course, to decide
at her age, and at so short a notice, on a point involving the happiness
of her whole life to come.”

Here Mrs. Sherwin put her handkerchief to her eyes--quite noiselessly;
for she had doubtless acquired by long practice the habit of weeping in
silence. Her husband’s quick glance turned on her, however, immediately,
with anything but an expression of sympathy.

“Good God, Mrs. S.! what’s the use of going on in that way?” he said,
indignantly. “What is there to cry about? Margaret isn’t ill, and isn’t
unhappy--what on earth’s the matter now? Upon my soul this is a most
annoying circumstance: and before a visitor too! You had better leave me
to discuss the matter alone--you always _were_ in the way of business,
and it’s my opinion you always will be.”

Mrs. Sherwin prepared, without a word of remonstrance, to leave the
room. I sincerely felt for her; but could say nothing. In the impulse
of the moment, I rose to open the door for her; and immediately repented
having done so. The action added so much to her embarrassment that she
kicked her foot against a chair, and uttered a suppressed exclamation of
pain as she went out.

Mr. Sherwin helped himself to a second glass of wine, without taking the
smallest notice of this.

“I hope Mrs. Sherwin has not hurt herself?” I said. “Oh dear no! not
worth a moment’s thought--awkwardness and nervousness, nothing else--she
always was nervous--the doctors (all humbugs) can do nothing with
her--it’s very sad, very sad indeed; but there’s no help for it.”

By this time (in spite of all my efforts to preserve some respect
for him, as Margaret’s father) he had sunk to his proper place in my
estimation.

“Well, my dear Sir,” he resumed, “to go back to where I was interrupted
by Mrs. S. Let me see: I was saying that my dear girl was a little
confused, and so forth. As a matter of course, I put before her all the
advantages which such a connection as yours promised--and at the same
time, mentioned some of the little embarrassing circumstances--the
private marriage, you know, and all that--besides telling her of certain
restrictions in reference to the marriage, if it came off, which I
should feel it my duty as a father to impose; and which I shall proceed,
in short, to explain to you. As a man of the world, my dear Sir, you
know as well as I do, that young ladies don’t give very straightforward
answers on the subject of their prepossessions in favour of young
gentlemen. But I got enough out of her to show me that you had made
pretty good use of your time--no occasion to despond, you know--I leave
_you_ to make her speak plain; it’s more in your line than mine, more a
good deal. And now let us come to the business part of the transaction.
All I have to say is this:--if you agree to my proposals, then I agree
to yours. I think that’s fair enough--Eh?”

“Quite fair, Mr. Sherwin.”

“Just so. Now, in the first place, my daughter is too young to be
married yet. She was only seventeen last birthday.”

“You astonish me! I should have imagined her three years older at
least.”

“Everybody thinks her older than she is--everybody, my dear Sir--and she
certainly looks it. She’s more formed, more developed I may say, than
most girls at her age. However, that’s not the point. The plain fact is,
she’s too young to be married now--too young in a moral point of view;
too young in an educational point of view; too young altogether. Well:
the upshot of this is, that I could not give my consent to Margaret’s
marrying, until another year is out--say a year from this time. One
year’s courtship for the finishing off of her education, and the
formation of her constitution--you understand me, for the formation of
her constitution.”

A year to wait! At first, this seemed a long trial to endure, a trial
that ought not to be imposed on me. But the next moment, the delay
appeared in a different light. Would it not be the dearest of privileges
to be able to see Margaret, perhaps every day, perhaps for hours at a
time? Would it not be happiness enough to observe each development of
her character, to watch her first maiden love for me, advancing nearer
and nearer towards confidence and maturity the oftener we met? As I
thought on this, I answered Mr. Sherwin without further hesitation.

“It will be some trial,” I said, “to my patience, though none to my
constancy, none to the strength of my affection--I will wait the year.”

“Exactly so,” rejoined Mr. Sherwin; “such candour and such
reasonableness were to be expected from one who is quite the gentleman.
And now comes my grand difficulty in this business--in fact, the little
stipulation I have to make.”

He stopped, and ran his fingers through his hair, in all directions; his
features fidgetting and distorting themselves ominously, while he looked
at me.

“Pray explain yourself, Mr. Sherwin. Your silence gives me some
uneasiness at this particular moment, I assure you.”

“Quite so--I understand. Now, you must promise me not to be
huffed--offended, I should say--at what I am going to propose.”

“Certainly not.”

“Well, then, it may seem odd; but under all the circumstances--that is
to say, as far as the case concerns you personally--I want you and my
dear girl to be married at once, and yet not to be married exactly, for
another year. I don’t know whether you understand me?”

“I must confess I do not.”

He coughed rather uneasily; turned to the table, and poured out another
glass of sherry--his hand trembling a little as he did so. He drank off
the wine at a draught; cleared his throat three or four times after it;
and then spoke again.

“Well, to be still plainer, this is how the matter stands: If you were
a party in our rank of life, coming to court Margaret with your father’s
full approval and permission when once you had consented to the year’s
engagement, everything would be done and settled; the bargain would
have been struck on both sides; and there would be an end of it. But,
situated as you are, I can’t stop here safely--I mean, I can’t end the
agreement exactly in this way.”

He evidently felt that he got fluent on wine; and helped himself, at
this juncture, to another glass.

“You will see what I am driving at, my dear Sir, directly,” he
continued. “Suppose now, you came courting my daughter for a year, as
we settled; and suppose your father found it out--we should keep it a
profound secret of course: but still, secrets are sometimes found out,
nobody knows how. Suppose, I say, your father got scent of the thing,
and the match was broken off; where do you think Margaret’s reputation
would be? If it happened with somebody in her own station, we might
explain it all, and be believed: but happening with somebody in yours,
what would the world say? Would the world believe you had ever intended
to marry her? That’s the point--that’s the point precisely.”

“But the case could not happen--I am astonished you can imagine it
possible. I have told you already, I am of age.”

“Properly urged--very properly, indeed. But you also told me, if you
remember, when I first had the pleasure of seeing you, that your father,
if he knew of this match, would stick at nothing to oppose it--_at
nothing_--I recollect you said so. Now, knowing this, my dear
Sir--though I have the most perfect confidence in _your_ honour, and
_your_ resolution to fulfil your engagement--I can’t have confidence in
your being prepared beforehand to oppose all your father might do if he
found us out; because you can’t tell yourself what he might be up to, or
what influence he might set to work over you. This sort of mess is not
very probable, you will say; but if it’s at all possible--and there’s
a year for it to be possible in--by George, Sir, I must guard against
accidents, for my daughter’s sake--I must indeed!”

“In Heaven’s name, Mr. Sherwin, pass over all these impossible
difficulties of yours! and let me hear what you have finally to
propose.”

“Gently, my dear Sir! gently, gently, gently! I propose to begin with:
that you should marry my daughter--privately marry her--in a week’s
time. Now, pray compose yourself!” (I was looking at him in speechless
astonishment.) “Take it easy; pray take it easy! Supposing, then, you
marry her in this way, I make one stipulation. I require you to give me
your word of honour to leave her at the church door; and for the space
of one year never to attempt to see her, except in the presence of a
third party. At the end of that time, I will engage to give her to you,
as your wife in fact, as well as in name. There! what do you say to
that--eh?”

I was too astounded, too overwhelmed, to say anything at that moment;
Mr. Sherwin went on:

“This plan of mine, you see, reconciles everything. If any accident
_does_ happen, and we are discovered, why your father can do nothing to
stop the match, because the match will have been already made. And,
at the same time, I secure a year’s delay, for the formation of her
constitution, and the finishing of her accomplishments, and so forth.
Besides, what an opportunity this gives of sailing as near the wind as
you choose, in breaking the thing, bit by bit, to your father, without
fear of consequences, in case he should run rough after all. Upon my
honour, my dear Sir, I think I deserve some credit for hitting on this
plan--it makes everything so right and straight, and suits of course
the wishes of all parties! I need hardly say that you shall have
every facility for seeing Margaret, under the restrictions--under the
restrictions, you understand. People may talk about your visits; but
having got the certificate, and knowing it’s all safe and settled, I
shan’t care for that. Well, what do you say? take time to think, if you
wish it--only remember that I have the most perfect confidence in your
honour, and that I act from a fatherly feeling for the interests of my
dear girl!” He stopped, out of breath from the extraordinary volubility
of his long harangue.

Some men more experienced in the world, less mastered by love than I
was, would, in my position, have recognised this proposal an unfair
trial of self-restraint--perhaps, something like an unfair humiliation
as well. Others have detected the selfish motives which suggested it:
the mean distrust of my honour, integrity, and firmness of purpose which
it implied; and the equally mean anxiety on Sherwin’s part to clench
his profitable bargain at once, for fear it might be repented of. I
discerned nothing of this. As soon as I had recovered from the natural
astonishment of the first few moments, I only saw in the strange plan
proposed to me, a certainty of assuring--no matter with what sacrifice,
what hazard, or what delay--the ultimate triumph of my love. When Mr.
Sherwin had ceased speaking, I replied at once:

“I accept your conditions--I accept them with all my heart.”

He was hardly prepared for so complete and so sudden an acquiescence in
his proposal, and looked absolutely startled by it, at first. But
soon resuming his self-possession--his wily, “business-like”
 self-possession--he started up, and shook me vehemently by the hand.

“Delighted--most delighted, my dear Sir, to find how soon we understand
each other, and that we pull together so well. We must have another
glass; hang it, we really must! a toast, you know; a toast you can’t
help drinking--your wife! Ha! ha!--I had you there!--my dear, dear
Margaret, God bless her!”

“We may consider all difficulties finally settled then,” I said, anxious
to close my interview with Mr. Sherwin as speedily as possible.

“Decidedly so. Done, and double done, I may say. There will be a
little insurance on your life, that I shall ask you to effect for dear
Margaret’s sake; and perhaps, a memorandum of agreement, engaging to
settle a certain proportion of any property you may become possessed of,
on her and her children. You see I am looking forward to my grandfather
days already! But this can wait for a future occasion--say in a day or
two.”

“Then I presume there will be no objection to my seeing Miss Sherwin
now?”

“None whatever---at once, if you like. This way, my dear Sir; this way,”
 and he led me across the passage, into the dining-room.

This apartment was furnished with less luxury, but with more bad taste
(if possible) than the room we had just left. Near the window sat
Margaret--it was the same window at which I had seen her, on the evening
when I wandered into the square, after our meeting in the omnibus. The
cage with the canary-bird hung in the same place. I just noticed--with
a momentary surprise--that Mrs. Sherwin was sitting far away from
her daughter, at the other end of the room; and then placed myself by
Margaret’s side. She was dressed in pale yellow--a colour which gave new
splendour to her dark complexion and magnificently dark hair. Once more,
all my doubts, all my self-upbraidings vanished, and gave place to the
exquisite sense of happiness, the glow of joy and hope and love which
seemed to rush over my heart, the moment I looked at her.

After staying in the room about five minutes, Mr. Sherwin whispered to
his wife, and left us. Mrs. Sherwin still kept her place; but she said
nothing, and hardly turned to look round at us more than once or twice.
Perhaps she was occupied by her own thoughts; perhaps, from a motive of
delicacy, she abstained even from an appearance of watching her daughter
or watching me. Whatever feelings influenced her, I cared not to
speculate on them. It was enough that I had the privilege of speaking
to Margaret uninterruptedly; of declaring my love at last, without
hesitation and without reserve.

How much I had to say to her, and how short a time seemed to be left me
that evening to say it in! How short a time to tell her all the thoughts
of the past which she had created in me; all the self-sacrifice to which
I had cheerfully consented for her sake; all the anticipations of future
happiness which were concentrated in her, which drew their very breath
of life, only from the prospect of her rewarding love! She spoke but
little; yet even that little it was a new delight to hear. She smiled
now; she let me take her hand, and made no attempt to withdraw it.
The evening had closed in; the darkness was stealing fast upon us; the
still, dead-still figure of Mrs. Sherwin, always in the same place
and the same attitude, grew fainter and fainter to the eye, across the
distance of the room--but no thought of time, no thought of home ever
once crossed my mind. I could have sat at the window with Margaret
the long night through; without an idea of numbering the hours as they
passed.

Ere long, however, Mr. Sherwin entered the room again, and effectually
roused me by approaching and speaking to us. I saw that I had stayed
long enough, and that we were not to be left together again, that
night. So I rose and took my leave, having first fixed a time for seeing
Margaret on the morrow. Mr. Sherwin accompanied me with great ceremony
to the outer door. Just as I was leaving him, he touched me on the arm,
and said in his most confidential tones:

“Come an hour earlier, to-morrow; and we’ll go and get the licence
together. No objection to that--eh? And the marriage, shall we say this
day week? Just as _you_ like, you know--don’t let me seem to dictate.
Ah! no objection to that, either, I see, and no objection on Margaret’s
side, I’ll warrant! With respect to consents, in the marrying part of
the business, there’s complete mutuality--isn’t there? Good night: God
bless you!”

XII.

That night I went home with none of the reluctance or the apprehension
which I had felt on the last occasion, when I approached our own door.
The assurance of success contained in the events of the afternoon, gave
me a trust in my own self-possession--a confidence in my own capacity
to parry all dangerous questions--which I had not experienced before.
I cared not how soon, or for how long a time, I might find myself in
company with Clara or my father. It was well for the preservation of my
secret that I was in this frame of mind; for, on opening my study door,
I was astonished to see both of them in my room.

Clara was measuring one of my over-crowded book-shelves, with a piece of
string; and was apparently just about to compare the length of it with
a vacant space on the wall close by, when I came in. Seeing me, she
stopped; and looked round significantly at my father, who was standing
near her, with a file of papers in his hand.

“You may well feel surprised, Basil, at this invasion of your
territory,” he said, with peculiar kindness of manner--“you must,
however, apply there, to the prime minister of the household,” pointing
to Clara, “for an explanation. I am only the instrument of a domestic
conspiracy on your sister’s part.”

Clara seemed doubtful whether she should speak. It was the first time I
had ever seen such an expression in her face, when she looked into mine.

“We are discovered, papa,” she said, after a momentary silence, “and we
must explain: but you know I always leave as many explanations as I can
to you.”

“Very well,” said my father smiling; “my task in this instance will be
an easy one. I was intercepted, Basil, on my way to my own room by your
sister, and taken in here to advise about a new set of bookcases for
you, when I ought to have been attending to my own money matters.
Clara’s idea was to have had these new bookcases made in secret, and put
up as a surprise, some day when you were not at home. However, as you
have caught her in the act of measuring spaces, with all the skill of
an experienced carpenter, and all the impetuosity of an arbitrary young
lady who rules supreme over everybody, further concealment is out of the
question. We must make a virtue of necessity, and confess everything.”

Poor Clara! This was her only return for ten days’ utter neglect--and
she had been half afraid to tell me of it herself. I approached and
thanked her; not very gratefully, I am afraid, for I felt too confused
to speak freely. It seemed like a fatality. The more evil I was doing
in secret, evil to family ties and family principles, the more good was
unconsciously returned to me by my family, through my sister’s hands.

“I made no objection, of course, to the bookcase plan,” continued my
father. “More room is really wanted for the volumes on volumes that you
have collected about you; but I certainly suggested a little delay in
the execution of the project. The bookcases will, at all events, not be
required here for five months to come. This day week we return to the
country.”

I could not repress a start of astonishment and dismay. Here was a
difficulty which I ought to have provided for; but which I had most
unaccountably never once thought of, although it was now the period
of the year at which on all former occasions we had been accustomed to
leave London. This day week too! The very day fixed by Mr. Sherwin for
my marriage!

“I am afraid, Sir, I shall not be able to go with you and Clara so soon
as you propose. It was my wish to remain in London some time longer.” I
said this in a low voice, without venturing to look at my sister. But I
could not help hearing her exclamation as I spoke, and the tone in which
she uttered it.

My father moved nearer to me a step or two, and looked in my face
intently, with the firm, penetrating expression which peculiarly
characterized him.

“This seems an extraordinary resolution,” he said, his tones and manner
altering ominously while he spoke. “I thought your sudden absence for
the last two days rather odd; but this plan of remaining in London by
yourself is really incomprehensible. What can you have to do?”

An excuse--no! not an excuse; let me call things by their right names
in these pages--a _lie_ was rising to my lips; but my father checked the
utterance of it. He detected my embarrassment immediately, anxiously as
I strove to conceal it.

“Stop,” he said coldly, while the red flush which meant so much when it
rose on _his_ cheek, began to appear there for the first time. “Stop! If
you must make excuses, Basil, I must ask no questions. You have a secret
which you wish to keep from me; and I beg you _will_ keep it. I have
never been accustomed to treat my sons as I would not treat any other
gentlemen with whom I may happen to be associated. If they have private
affairs, I cannot interfere with those affairs. My trust in their honour
is my only guarantee against their deceiving me; but in the intercourse
of gentlemen that is guarantee enough. Remain here as long as you like:
we shall be happy to see you in the country, when you are able to leave
town.”

He turned to Clara. “I suppose, my love, you want me no longer. While I
settle my own matters of business, you can arrange about the bookcases
with your brother. Whatever you wish, I shall be glad to do.” And he
left the room without speaking to me, or looking at me again. I sank
into a chair, feeling disgraced in my own estimation by the last words
he had spoken to me. His trust in my honour was his only guarantee
against my deceiving him. As I thought over that declaration, every
syllable of it seemed to sear my conscience; to brand Hypocrite on my
heart.

I turned towards my sister. She was standing at a little distance from
me, silent and pale, mechanically twisting the measuring-string, which
she still held between her trembling fingers; and fixing her eyes upon
me so lovingly, so mournfully, that my fortitude gave way when I looked
at her. At that instant, I seemed to forget everything that had passed
since the day when I first met Margaret, and to be restored once more
to my old way of life and my old home-sympathies. My head drooped on my
breast, and I felt the hot tears forcing themselves into my eyes.

Clara stepped quietly to my side; and sitting down by me in silence, put
her arm round my neck.

When I was calmer, she said gently:

“I have been very anxious about you, Basil; and perhaps I have allowed
that anxiety to appear more than I ought. Perhaps I have been accustomed
to exact too much from you--you have been too ready to please me. But I
have been used to it so long; and I have nobody else that I can speak to
as I can to you. Papa is very kind; but he can’t be what you are to me
exactly; and Ralph does not live with us now, and cared little about me,
I am afraid, when he did. I have friends, but friends are not--”

She stopped again; her voice was failing her. For a moment, she
struggled to keep her self-possession--struggled as only women can--and
succeeded in the effort. She pressed her arm closer round my neck; but
her tones were steadier and clearer when she resumed:

“It will not be very easy for me to give up our country rides and walks
together, and the evening talk that we always had at dusk in the old
library at the park. But I think I can resign all this, and go away
alone with papa, for the first time, without making you melancholy by
anything I say or do at parting, if you will only promise that when you
are in any difficulty you will let me be of some use. I think I could
always be of use, because I should always feel an interest in anything
that concerned you. I don’t want to intrude on your secret; but if that
secret should ever bring you trouble or distress (which I hope and pray
it may not), I want you to have confidence in my being able to help you,
in some way, through any mischances. Let me go into the country, Basil,
knowing that you can still put trust in me, even though a time should
come when you can put trust in no one else--let me know this: _do_ let
me!”

I gave her the assurance she desired--gave it with my whole heart. She
seemed to have recovered all her old influence over me by the few simple
words she had spoken. The thought crossed my mind, whether I ought not
in common gratitude to confide my secret to her at once, knowing as I
did, that it would be safe in her keeping, however the disclosure might
startle or pain her, I believe I should have told her all, in another
minute, but for a mere accident--the trifling interruption caused by a
knock at the door.

It came from one of the servants. My father desired to see Clara on some
matter connected with their impending departure for the country. She was
unfit enough to obey such a summons at such a time; but with her usual
courage in disciplining her own feelings into subserviency to the
wishes of any one whom she loved, she determined to obey immediately
the message which had been delivered to her. A few moments of silence;
a slight trembling soon repressed; a parting kiss for me; these few
farewell words of encouragement at the door; “Don’t grieve about what
papa has said; you have made _me_ feel happy about you, Basil; I will
make _him_ feel happy too,” and Clara was gone.

With those few minutes of interruption, the time for the disclosure of
my secret had passed by. As soon as my sister was out of the room, my
former reluctance to trust it to home-keeping returned, and remained
unchanged throughout the whole of the long year’s probation which I had
engaged to pass. But this mattered little. As events turned out, if
I had told Clara all, the end would have come in the same way, the
fatality would have been accomplished by the same means.

I went out shortly after my sister had left me. I could give myself to
no occupation at home, for the rest of that night; and I knew that it
would be useless to attempt to sleep just then. As I walked through
the streets, bitter thoughts against my father rose in my mind--bitter
thoughts against his inexorable family pride, which imposed on me the
concealment and secrecy, under the oppression of which I had already
suffered so much--bitter thoughts against those social tyrannies, which
take no account of human sympathy and human love, and which my father
now impersonated, as it were, to my ideas. Gradually these reflections
merged in others that were better. I thought of Clara again; consoling
myself with the belief, that, however my father might receive the news
of my marriage, I might count upon my sister as certain to love my
wife and be kind to her, for my sake. This thought led my heart back to
Margaret--led it gently and happily. I went home, calmed and reassured
again--at least for the rest of the night.

The events of that week, so fraught with importance for the future of my
life, passed with ominous rapidity.

The marriage license was procured; all remaining preliminaries with Mr.
Sherwin were adjusted; I saw Margaret every day, and gave myself up more
and more unreservedly to the charm that she exercised over me, at each
succeeding interview. At home, the bustle of approaching departure; the
farewell visitings; the multitudinous minor arrangements preceding a
journey to the country, seemed to hurry the hours on faster and faster,
as the parting day for Clara, and the marriage day for me, drew near.
Incessant interruptions prevented any more lengthened or private
conversations with my sister; and my father was hardly ever accessible
for more than five minutes together, even to those who specially wished
to speak with him. Nothing arose to embarrass or alarm me now, out of my
intercourse with home.

The day came. I had not slept during the night that preceded it; so I
rose early to look out on the morning.

It is strange how frequently that instinctive belief in omens and
predestinations, which we flippantly term Superstition, asserts its
natural prerogative even over minds trained to repel it, at the moment
of some great event in our lives. I believe this has happened to many
more men than ever confessed it; and it happened to me. At any former
period of my life, I should have laughed at the bare imputation of a
“superstitious” feeling ever having risen in my mind. But now, as I
looked on the sky, and saw the black clouds that overspread the
whole firmament, and the heavy rain that poured down from them, an
irrepressible sinking of the heart came over me. For the last ten days
the sun had shone almost uninterruptedly--with my marriage-day came
the cloud, the mist and the rain. I tried to laugh myself out of the
forebodings which this suggested, and tried in vain.

The departure for the country was to take place at an early hour. We
all breakfasted together; the meal was hurried over comfortlessly and
silently. My father was either writing notes, or examining the steward’s
accounts, almost the whole time; and Clara was evidently incapable of
uttering a single word, without risking the loss of her self-possession.
The silence was so complete, while we sat together at the table, that
the fall of the rain outside (which had grown softer and thicker as the
morning advanced), and the quick, quiet tread of the servants, as they
moved about the room, were audible with a painful distinctness. The
oppression of our last family breakfast in London, for that year, had
an influence of wretchedness which I cannot describe--which I can never
forget.

At last the hour of starting came. Clara seemed afraid to trust herself
even to look at me now. She hurriedly drew down her veil the moment the
carriage was announced. My father shook hands with me rather coldly. I
had hoped he would have said something at parting; but he only bade me
farewell in the simplest and shortest manner. I had rather he would have
spoken to me in anger than restrained himself as he did, to what the
commonest forms of courtesy required. There was but one more slight,
after this, that he could cast on me; and he did not spare it. While my
sister was taking leave of me, he waited at the door of the room to
lead her down stairs, as if he knew by intuition that this was the last
little parting attention which I had hoped to show her myself.

Clara whispered (in such low, trembling tones that I could hardly hear
her):

“Think of what you promised in your study, Basil, whenever you think of
_me:_ I will write often.”

As she raised her veil for a moment, and kissed me, I felt on my own
cheek the tears that were falling fast over hers. I followed her and
my father down stairs. When they reached the street, she gave me her
hand--it was cold and powerless. I knew that the fortitude she had
promised to show, was giving way, in spite of all her efforts to
preserve it; so I let her hurry into the carriage without detaining
her by any last words. The next instant she and my father were driven
rapidly from the door.

When I re-entered the house, my watch showed me that I had still an hour
to wait, before it was time to go to North Villa.

Between the different emotions produced by my impressions of the scene I
had just passed through, and my anticipations of the scene that was yet
to come, I suffered in that one hour as much mental conflict as most men
suffer in a life. It seemed as if I were living out all my feelings in
this short interval of delay, and must die at heart when it was over.
My restlessness was a torture to me; and yet I could not overcome it. I
wandered through the house from room to room, stopping nowhere. I took
down book after book from the library, opened them to read, and put them
back on the shelves the next instant. Over and over again I walked to
the window to occupy myself with what was passing in the street; and
each time I could not stay there for one minute together. I went into
the picture-gallery, looked along the walls, and yet knew not what I was
looking at. At last I wandered into my father’s study--the only room I
had not yet visited.

A portrait of my mother hung over the fireplace: my eyes turned towards
it, and for the first time I came to a long pause. The picture had an
influence that quieted me; but what influence I hardly knew. Perhaps
it led my spirit up to the spirit that had gone from us--perhaps those
secret voices from the unknown world, which only the soul can listen to,
were loosed at that moment, and spoke within me. While I sat looking up
at the portrait, I grew strangely and suddenly calm before it. My memory
flew back to a long illness that I had suffered from, as a child, when
my little cradle-couch was placed by my mother’s bedside, and she used
to sit by me in the dull evenings and hush me to sleep. The remembrance
of this brought with it a dread imagining that she might now be hushing
my spirit, from her place among the angels of God. A stillness and awe
crept over me; and I hid my face in my hands.

The striking of the hour from a clock in the room, startled me back to
the outer world. I left the house and went at once to North Villa.

Margaret and her father and mother were in the drawing-room when I
entered it. I saw immediately that neither of the two latter had passed
the morning calmly. The impending event of the day had exercised its
agitating influence over them, as well as over me. Mrs. Sherwin’s
face was pale to her very lips: not a word escaped her. Mr. Sherwin
endeavoured to assume the self-possession which he was evidently far
from feeling, by walking briskly up and down the room, and talking
incessantly--asking the most common-place questions, and making the most
common-place jokes. Margaret, to my surprise, showed fewer symptoms of
agitation than either of her parents. Except when the colour came and
went occasionally on her cheek, I could detect no outward evidences of
emotion in her at all.

The church was near at hand. As we proceeded to it, the rain fell
heavily, and the mist of the morning was thickening to a fog. We had
to wait in the vestry for the officiating clergyman. All the gloom and
dampness of the day seemed to be collected in this room--a dark, cold,
melancholy place, with one window which opened on a burial-ground
steaming in the wet. The rain pattered monotonously on the pavement
outside. While Mr. Sherwin exchanged remarks on the weather with the
clerk, (a tall, lean man, arrayed in a black gown), I sat silent, near
Mrs. Sherwin and Margaret, looking with mechanical attention at the
white surplices which hung before me in a half-opened cupboard--at the
bottle of water and tumbler, and the long-shaped books, bound in brown
leather, which were on the table. I was incapable of speaking--incapable
even of thinking--during that interval of expectation.

At length the clergyman arrived, and we went into the church--the
church, with its desolate array of empty pews, and its chill, heavy,
week-day atmosphere. As we ranged ourselves round the altar, a confusion
overspread all my faculties. My sense of the place I was in, and even of
the ceremony in which I took part, grew more and more vague and doubtful
every minute. My attention wandered throughout the whole service. I
stammered and made mistakes in uttering the responses. Once or twice
I detected myself in feeling impatient at the slow progress of the
ceremony--it seemed to be doubly, trebly longer than its usual length.
Mixed up with this impression was another, wild and monstrous as if
it had been produced by a dream--an impression that my father had
discovered my secret, and was watching me from some hidden place in
the church; watching through the service, to denounce and abandon me
publicly at the end. This morbid fancy grew and grew on me until the
termination of the ceremony, until we had left the church and returned
to the vestry once more.

The fees were paid; we wrote our names in the books and on the
certificate; the clergyman quietly wished me happiness; the clerk
solemnly imitated him; the pew-opener smiled and curtseyed; Mr. Sherwin
made congratulatory speeches, kissed his daughter, shook hands with me,
frowned a private rebuke at his wife for shedding tears, and, finally,
led the way with Margaret out of the vestry. The rain was still falling,
as they got into the carriage. The fog was still thickening, as I stood
alone under the portico of the church, and tried to realise to myself
that I was married.

_Married!_ The son of the proudest man in England, the inheritor of a
name written on the roll of Battle Abbey, wedded to a linen-draper’s
daughter! And what a marriage! What a condition weighed on it! What a
probation was now to follow it! Why had I consented so easily to Mr.
Sherwin’s proposals? Would he not have given way, if I had only been
resolute enough to insist on my own conditions?

How useless to inquire! I had made the engagement and must abide by
it--abide by it cheerfully until the year was over, and she was mine
for ever. This must be my all-sufficing thought for the future. No more
reflections on consequences, no more forebodings about the effect of the
disclosure of my secret on my family--the leap into a new life had
been taken, and, lead where it might, it was a leap that could never be
retraced!

Mr. Sherwin had insisted, with the immovable obstinacy which
characterises all feeble-minded people in the management of their
important affairs, that the first clause in our agreement (the leaving
my wife at the church-door) should be performed to the letter. As a due
compensation for this, I was to dine at North Villa that day. How should
I employ the interval that was to elapse before the dinner-hour?

I went home, and had my horse saddled. I was in no mood for remaining in
an empty house, in no mood for calling on any of my friends--I was fit
for nothing but a gallop through the rain. All my wearing and depressing
emotions of the morning, had now merged into a wild excitement of body
and mind. When the horse was brought round, I saw with delight that the
groom could hardly hold him. “Keep him well in hand, Sir,” said the man,
“he’s not been out for three days.” I was just in the humour for such a
ride as the caution promised me.

And what a ride it was, when I fairly got out of London; and the
afternoon brightening of the foggy atmosphere, showed the smooth, empty
high road before me! The dashing through the rain that still fell; the
feel of the long, powerful, regular stride of the horse under me; the
thrill of that physical sympathy which establishes itself between the
man and the steed; the whirling past carts and waggons, saluted by the
frantic barking of dogs inside them; the flying by roadside alehouses,
with the cheering of boys and half-drunken men sounding for an instant
behind me, then lost in the distance--this was indeed to occupy, to
hurry on, to annihilate the tardy hours of solitude on my wedding day,
exactly as my heart desired!

I got home wet through; but with my body in a glow from the exercise,
with my spirits boiling up at fever heat. When I arrived at North Villa,
the change in my manner astonished every one. At dinner, I required no
pressing now to partake of the sherry which Mr. Sherwin was so fond
of extolling, nor of the port which he brought out afterwards, with a
preliminary account of the vintage-date of the wine, and the price of
each bottle. My spirits, factitious as they were, never flagged. Every
time I looked at Margaret, the sight of her stimulated them afresh. She
seemed pre-occupied, and was unusually silent during dinner; but her
beauty was just that voluptuous beauty which is loveliest in repose. I
had never felt its influence so powerful over me as I felt it then.

In the drawing-room, Margaret’s manner grew more familiar, more
confident towards me than it had ever been before. She spoke to me in
warmer tones, looked at me with warmer looks. A hundred little incidents
marked our wedding-evening--trifles that love treasures up--which still
remain in my memory. One among them, at least, will never depart from
it: I first kissed her on that evening.

Mr. Sherwin had gone out of the room; Mrs. Sherwin was at the other end
of it, watering some plants at the window; Margaret, by her father’s
desire, was showing me some rare prints. She handed me a magnifying
glass, through which I was to look at a particular part of one of the
engravings, that was considered a master-piece of delicate workmanship.
Instead of applying the magnifying test to the print, for which I cared
nothing, I laughingly applied it to Margaret’s face. Her lovely lustrous
black eye seemed to flash into mine through the glass; her warm, quick
breathing played on my cheek--it was but for an instant, and in that
instant I kissed her for the first time. What sensations the kiss gave
me then!--what remembrances it has left me now!

It was one more proof how tenderly, how purely I loved her, that, before
this time, I had feared to take the first love-privilege which I had
longed to assert, and might well have asserted, before. Men may not
understand this; women, I believe, will.

The hour of departure arrived; the inexorable hour which was to separate
me from my wife on my wedding evening. Shall I confess what I felt, on
the first performance of my ill-considered promise to Mr. Sherwin? No: I
kept this a secret from Margaret; I will keep it a secret here.

I took leave of her as hurriedly and abruptly as possible--I could not
trust myself to quit her in any other way. She had contrived to slip
aside into the darkest part of the room, so that I only saw her face
dimly at parting.

I went home at once. When I lay down to sleep--then the ordeal which I
had been unconsciously preparing for myself throughout the day, began
to try me. Every nerve in my body, strung up to the extremest point
of tension since the morning, now at last gave way. I felt my limbs
quivering, till the bed shook under me. I was possessed by a gloom and
horror, caused by no thought, and producing no thought: the thinking
faculty seemed paralysed within me, altogether. The physical and mental
reaction, after the fever and agitation of the day, was so sudden and
severe, that the faintest noise from the street now terrified--yes,
literally terrified me. The whistling of the wind--which had risen since
sunset--made me start up in bed, with my heart throbbing, and my blood
all chill. When no sounds were audible, then I listened for them to
come--listened breathlessly, without daring to move. At last, the agony
of nervous prostration grew more than I could bear--grew worse even than
the child’s horror of walking in the darkness, and sleeping alone on the
bed-room floor, which had overcome me, almost from the first moment when
I laid down. I groped my way to the table and lit the candle again; then
wrapped my dressing-gown round me, and sat shuddering near the light, to
watch the weary hours out till morning.

And this was my wedding-night! This was how the day ended which had
begun by my marriage with Margaret Sherwin!



PART II.


I.

AN epoch in my narrative has now arrived. Up to the time of my marriage,
I have appeared as an active agent in the different events I have
described. After that period, and--with one or two exceptional
cases--throughout the whole year of my probation, my position changed
with the change in my life, and became a passive one.

During this interval year, certain events happened, some of which, at
the time, excited my curiosity, but none my apprehension--some affected
me with a temporary disappointment, but none with even a momentary
suspicion. I can now look back on them, as so many timely warnings which
I treated with fatal neglect. It is in these events that the history
of the long year through which I waited to claim my wife as my own,
is really comprised. They marked the lapse of time broadly and
significantly; and to them I must now confine myself, as exclusively as
may be, in the present portion of my narrative.

It will be first necessary, however, that I should describe what was the
nature of my intercourse with Margaret, during the probationary period
which followed our marriage.

Mr. Sherwin’s anxiety was to make my visits to North Villa as few as
possible: he evidently feared the consequences of my seeing his daughter
too often. But on this point, I was resolute enough in asserting my own
interests, to overpower any resistance on his part. I required him
to concede to me the right of seeing Margaret every day--leaving all
arrangements of time to depend on his own convenience. After the due
number of objections, he reluctantly acquiesced in my demand. I was
bound by no engagement whatever, limiting the number of my visits to
Margaret; and I let him see at the outset, that I was now ready in my
turn, to impose conditions on him, as he had already imposed them on me.

Accordingly, it was settled that Margaret and I were to meet every day.
I usually saw her in the evening. When any alteration in the hour of my
visit took place, that alteration was produced by the necessity (which
we all recognised alike) of avoiding a meeting with any of Mr. Sherwin’s
friends.

Those portions of the day or the evening which I spent with Margaret,
were seldom passed altogether in the Elysian idleness of love. Not
content with only enumerating his daughter’s school-accomplishments to
me at our first interview, Mr. Sherwin boastfully referred to them again
and again, on many subsequent occasions; and even obliged Margaret to
display before me, some of her knowledge of languages--which he never
forgot to remind us had been lavishly paid for out of his own pocket. It
was at one of these exhibitions that the idea occurred to me of making
a new pleasure for myself out of Margaret’s society, by teaching her
really to appreciate and enjoy the literature which she had evidently
hitherto only studied as a task. My fancy revelled by anticipation in
all the delights of such an employment as this. It would be like acting
the story of Abelard and Heloise over again--reviving all the poetry and
romance in which those immortal love-studies of old had begun, with none
of the guilt and none of the misery that had darkened their end.

I had a definite purpose, besides, in wishing to assume the direction of
Margaret’s studies. Whenever the secret of my marriage was revealed, my
pride was concerned in being able to show my wife to every one, as the
all-sufficient excuse for any imprudence I might have committed for her
sake. I was determined that my father, especially, should have no other
argument against her than the one ungracious argument of her birth--that
he should see her, fitted by the beauty of her mind, as well as by all
her other beauties, for the highest station that society could offer.
The thought of this gave me fresh ardour in my project; I assumed my new
duties without delay, and continued them with a happiness which never
once suffered even a momentary decrease.

Of all the pleasures which a man finds in the society of a woman whom he
loves, are there any superior, are there many equal, to the pleasure
of reading out of the same book with her? On what other occasion do the
sweet familiarities of the sweetest of all companionships last so long
without cloying, and pass and re-pass so naturally, so delicately, so
inexhaustibly between you and her? When is your face so constantly close
to hers as it is then?--when can your hair mingle with hers, your cheek
touch hers, your eyes meet hers, so often as they can then? That is, of
all times, the only time when you can breathe with her breath for hours
together; feel every little warming of the colour on her cheek marking
its own changes on the temperature of yours; follow every slight
fluttering of her bosom, every faint gradation of her sighs, as if
_her_ heart was beating, _her_ life glowing, within yours. Surely it is
then--if ever--that we realize, almost revive, in ourselves, the love
of the first two of our race, when angels walked with them on the same
garden paths, and their hearts were pure from the pollution of the fatal
tree!

Evening after evening passed away--one more happily than another--in
what Margaret and I called our lessons. Never were lessons of literature
so like lessons of love We read oftenest the lighter Italian poets--we
studied the poetry of love, written in the language of love. But, as for
the steady, utilitarian purpose I had proposed to myself of practically
improving Margaret’s intellect, that was a purpose which insensibly and
deceitfully abandoned me as completely as if it had never existed. The
little serious teaching I tried with her at first, led to very poor
results. Perhaps, the lover interfered too much with the tutor; perhaps,
I had over-estimated the fertility of the faculties I designed to
cultivate--but I cared not, and thought not to inquire where the fault
lay, then. I gave myself up unreservedly to the exquisite sensations
which the mere act of looking on the same page with Margaret procured
for me; and neither detected, nor wished to detect, that it was I
who read the difficult passages, and left only a few even of the very
easiest to be attempted by her.

Happily for my patience under the trial imposed on me by the terms on
which Mr. Sherwin’s restrictions, and my promise to obey them, obliged
me to live with Margaret, it was Mrs. Sherwin who was generally selected
to remain in the room with us. By no one could such ungrateful duties of
supervision as those imposed on her, have been more delicately and more
considerately performed.

She always kept far enough away to be out of hearing when we whispered
to each other. We rarely detected her even in looking at us. She had a
way of sitting for hours together in the same part of the room, without
ever changing her position, without occupation of any kind, without
uttering a word, or breathing a sigh. I soon discovered that she was not
lost in thought, at these periods (as I had at first supposed): but lost
in a strange lethargy of body and mind; a comfortless, waking trance,
into which she fell from sheer physical weakness--it was like the
vacancy and feebleness of a first convalescence, after a long illness.
She never changed: never looked better, never worse. I often spoke
to her: I tried hard to show my sympathy, and win her confidence and
friendship. The poor lady was always thankful, always spoke to me
gratefully and kindly, but very briefly. She never told me what were her
sufferings or her sorrows. The story of that lonely, lingering life
was an impenetrable mystery for her own family--for her husband and her
daughter, as well as for me. It was a secret between her and God.

With Mrs. Sherwin as the guardian to watch over Margaret, it may easily
be imagined that I felt none of the heavier oppressions of restraint.
Her presence, as the third person appointed to remain with us, was not
enough to repress the little endearments to which each evening’s lesson
gave rise; but was just sufficiently perceptible to invest them with the
character of stolen endearments, and to make them all the more precious
on that very account. Mrs. Sherwin never knew, I never thoroughly knew
myself till later, how much of the secret of my patience under my year’s
probation lay in her conduct, while she was sitting in the room with
Margaret and me.

In this solitude where I now write--in the change of life and of all
life’s hopes and enjoyments which has come over me--when I look back to
those evenings at North Villa, I shudder as I look. At this moment,
I see the room again--as in a dream--with the little round table, the
reading lamp, and the open books. Margaret and I are sitting together:
her hand is in mine; my heart is with hers. Love, and Youth, and
Beauty--the mortal Trinity of this world’s worship--are there, in that
quiet softly-lit room; but not alone. Away in the dim light behind, is a
solitary figure, ever mournful and ever still. It is a woman’s form;
but how wasted and how weak!--a woman’s face; but how ghastly and
changeless, with those eyes that are vacant, those lips that are
motionless, those cheeks that the blood never tinges, that the freshness
of health and happiness shall never visit again! Woeful, warning figure
of dumb sorrow and patient pain, to fill the background of a picture of
Love, and Beauty, and Youth!

I am straying from my task. Let me return to my narrative: its course
begins to darken before me apace, while I now write.

The partial restraint and embarrassment, caused at first by the strange
terms on which my wife and I were living together, gradually vanished
before the frequency of my visits to North Villa. We soon began to speak
with all the ease, all the unpremeditated frankness of a long intimacy.
Margaret’s powers of conversation were generally only employed to lead
me to exert mine. She was never tired of inducing me to speak of my
family. She listened with every appearance of interest, while I
talked of my father, my sister, or my elder brother; but whenever she
questioned me directly about any of them, her inquiries invariably
led away from their characters and dispositions, to their personal
appearance, their every-day habits, their dress, their intercourse with
the gay world, the things they spent their money on, and other topics of
a similar nature.

For instance; she always listened, and listened attentively, to what I
told her of my father’s character, and of the principles which regulated
his life. She showed every disposition to profit by the instructions I
gave her beforehand, about how she should treat his peculiarities when
she was introduced to him. But, on all these occasions, what really
interested her most, was to hear how many servants waited on him; how
often he went to Court; how many lords and ladies he knew; what he said
or did to his servants, when they committed mistakes; whether he was
ever angry with his children for asking him for money; and whether he
limited my sister to any given number of dresses in the course of the
year?

Again; whenever our conversation turned on Clara, if I began by
describing her kindness, her gentleness and goodness, her simple winning
manners--I was sure to be led insensibly into a digression about her
height, figure, complexion, and style of dress. The latter subject
especially interested Margaret; she could question me on it, over and
over again. What was Clara’s usual morning dress? How did she wear her
hair? What was her evening dress? Did she make a difference between a
dinner party and a ball? What colours did she prefer? What dressmaker
did she employ? Did she wear much jewellery? Which did she like best in
her hair, and which were most fashionable, flowers or pearls? How many
new dresses did she have in a year; and was there more than one maid
especially to attend on her?

Then, again: Had she a carriage of her own? What ladies took care of
her when she went out? Did she like dancing? What were the fashionable
dances at noblemen’s houses? Did young ladies in the great world
practise the pianoforte much? How many offers had my sister had? Did she
go to Court, as well as my father? What did she talk about to gentlemen,
and what did gentlemen talk about to her? If she were speaking to a
duke, how often would she say “your Grace” to him? and would a duke get
her a chair, or an ice, and wait on her just as gentlemen without titles
waited on ladies, when they met them in society?

My replies to these and hundreds of other questions like them, were
received by Margaret with the most eager attention. On the favourite
subject of Clara’s dresses, my answers were an unending source of
amusement and pleasure to her. She especially enjoyed overcoming the
difficulties of interpreting aright my clumsy, circumlocutory phrases
in attempting to describe shawls, gowns, and bonnets; and taught me the
exact millinery language which I ought to have made use of with an arch
expression of triumph and a burlesque earnestness of manner, that
always enchanted me. At that time, every word she uttered, no matter how
frivolous, was the sweetest of all music to my ears. It was only by the
stern test of after-events that I learnt to analyse her conversation.
Sometimes, when I was away from her, I might think of leading her
girlish curiosity to higher things; but when we met again, the thought
vanished; and it became delight enough for me simply to hear her speak,
without once caring or considering what she spoke of.

Those were the days when I lived happy and unreflecting in the broad
sunshine of joy which love showered round me--my eyes were dazzled; my
mind lay asleep under it. Once or twice, a cloud came threatening, with
chill and shadowy influence; but it passed away, and then the sunshine
returned to me, the same sunshine that it was before.

II.

The first change that passed over the calm uniformity of the life at
North Villa, came in this manner:

One evening, on entering the drawing-room, I missed Mrs. Sherwin; and
found to my great disappointment that her husband was apparently
settled there for the evening. He looked a little flurried, and was more
restless than usual. His first words, as we met, informed me of an event
in which he appeared to take the deepest interest.

“News, my dear sir!” he said. “Mr. Mannion has come back--at least two
days before I expected him!”

At first, I felt inclined to ask who Mr. Mannion was, and what
consequence it could possibly be to me that he had come back. But
immediately afterwards, I remembered that this Mr. Mannion’s name had
been mentioned during my first conversation with Mr. Sherwin; and then
I recalled to mind the description I had heard of him, as “confidential
clerk;” as forty years of age; and as an educated man, who had made his
information of some use to Margaret in keeping up the knowledge she had
acquired at school. I knew no more than this about him, and I felt no
curiosity to discover more from Mr. Sherwin.

Margaret and I sat down as usual with our books about us.

There had been something a little hurried and abrupt in her manner
of receiving me, when I came in. When we began to read, her attention
wandered incessantly; she looked round several times towards the door.
Mr. Sherwin walked about the room without intermission, except when
he once paused on his restless course, to tell me that Mr. Mannion was
coming that evening; and that he hoped I should have no objection to be
introduced to a person who was “quite like one of the family, and well
enough read to be sure to please a great reader like me.” I asked myself
rather impatiently, who was this Mr. Mannion, that his arrival at his
employer’s house should make a sensation? When I whispered something of
this to Margaret, she smiled rather uneasily, and said nothing.

At last the bell was rung. Margaret started a little at the sound.
Mr. Sherwin sat down; composing himself into rather an elaborate
attitude--the door opened, and Mr. Mannion came in.

Mr. Sherwin received his clerk with the assumed superiority of the
master in his words; but his tones and manner flatly contradicted them.
Margaret rose hastily, and then as hastily sat down again, while the
visitor very respectfully took her hand, and made the usual inquiries.
After this, he was introduced to me; and then Margaret was sent away to
summon her mother down stairs. While she was out of the room, there was
nothing to distract my attention from Mr. Mannion. I looked at him with
a curiosity and interest, Which I could hardly account for at first.

If extraordinary regularity of feature were alone sufficient to make
a handsome man, then this confidential clerk of Mr. Sherwin’s was
assuredly one of the handsomest men I ever beheld. Viewed separately
from the head (which was rather large, both in front and behind) his
face exhibited, throughout, an almost perfect symmetry of proportion.
His bald forehead was smooth and massive as marble; his high brow and
thin eyelids had the firmness and immobility of marble, and seemed
as cold; his delicately-formed lips, when he was not speaking, closed
habitually, as changelessly still as if no breath of life ever passed
them. There was not a wrinkle or line anywhere on his face. But for the
baldness in front, and the greyness of the hair at the back and sides
of his head, it would have been impossible from his appearance to have
guessed his age, even within ten years of what it really was.

Such was his countenance in point of form; but in that which is the
outward assertion of our immortality--in expression--it was, as I now
beheld it, an utter void. Never had I before seen any human face
which baffled all inquiry like his. No mask could have been made
expressionless enough to resemble it; and yet it looked like a mask.
It told you nothing of his thoughts, when he spoke: nothing of his
disposition, when he was silent. His cold grey eyes gave you no help in
trying to study him. They never varied from the steady, straightforward
look, which was exactly the same for Margaret as it was for me; for Mrs.
Sherwin as for Mr. Sherwin--exactly the same whether he spoke or whether
he listened; whether he talked of indifferent, or of important matters.
Who was he? What was he? His name and calling were poor replies to those
questions. Was he naturally cold and unimpressible at heart? or had some
fierce passion, some terrible sorrow, ravaged the life within him, and
left it dead for ever after? Impossible to conjecture! There was the
impenetrable face before you, wholly inexpressive--so inexpressive that
it did not even look vacant--a mystery for your eyes and your mind to
dwell on--hiding something; but whether vice or virtue you could not
tell.

He was dressed as unobtrusively as possible, entirely in black; and was
rather above the middle height. His manner was the only part of him that
betrayed anything to the observation of others. Viewed in connection
with his station, his demeanour (unobtrusive though it was) proclaimed
itself as above his position in the world. He had all the quietness and
self-possession of a gentleman. He maintained his respectful bearing,
without the slightest appearance of cringing; and displayed a decision,
both in word and action, that could never be mistaken for obstinacy
or over-confidence. Before I had been in his company five minutes, his
manner assured me that he must have descended to the position he now
occupied.

On his introduction to me, he bowed without saying anything. When he
spoke to Mr. Sherwin, his voice was as void of expression as his face:
it was rather low in tone, but singularly distinct in utterance. He
spoke deliberately, but with no emphasis on particular words, and
without hesitation in choosing his terms.

When Mrs. Sherwin came down, I watched her conduct towards him. She
could not repress a slight nervous shrinking, when he approached and
placed a chair for her. In answering his inquiries after her health, she
never once looked at him; but fixed her eyes all the time on Margaret
and me, with a sad, anxious expression, wholly indescribable, which
often recurred to my memory after that day. She always looked more or
less frightened, poor thing, in her husband’s presence; but she seemed
positively awe-struck before Mr. Mannion.

In truth, my first observation of this so-called clerk, at North Villa,
was enough to convince me that he was master there--master in his own
quiet, unobtrusive way. That man’s character, of whatever elements it
might be composed, was a character that ruled. I could not see this
in his face, or detect it in his words; but I could discover it in the
looks and manners of his employer and his employer’s family, as he now
sat at the same table with them. Margaret’s eyes avoided his countenance
much less frequently than the eyes of her parents; but then he rarely
looked at her in return--rarely looked at her at all, except when common
courtesy obliged him to do so.

If any one had told me beforehand, that I should suspend my ordinary
evening’s occupation with my young wife, for the sake of observing the
very man who had interrupted it, and that man only Mr. Sherwin’s
clerk, I should have laughed at the idea. Yet so it was. Our books lay
neglected on the table--neglected by me, perhaps by Margaret too, for
Mr. Mannion.

His conversation, on this occasion at least, baffled all curiosity as
completely as his face. I tried to lead him to talk. He just answered
me, and that was all; speaking with great respect of manner and phrase,
very intelligibly, but very briefly. Mr. Sherwin--after referring to
the business expedition on which he had been absent, for the purchase
of silks at Lyons--asked him some questions about France and the French,
which evidently proceeded from the most ludicrous ignorance both of the
country and the people. Mr. Mannion just set him right; and did no more.
There was not the smallest inflection of sarcasm in his voice, not the
slightest look of sarcasm in his eye, while he spoke. When we talked
among ourselves, he did not join in the conversation; but sat quietly
waiting until he might be pointedly and personally addressed again. At
these times a suspicion crossed my mind that he might really be studying
my character, as I was vainly trying to study his; and I often turned
suddenly round on him, to see whether he was looking at me. This was
never the case. His hard, chill grey eyes were not on me, and not on
Margaret: they rested most frequently on Mrs. Sherwin, who always shrank
before them.

After staying little more than half an hour, he rose to go away. While
Mr. Sherwin was vainly pressing him to remain longer, I walked to the
round table at the other end of the room, on which the book was placed
that Margaret and I had intended to read during the evening. I was
standing by the table when he came to take leave of me. He just glanced
at the volume under my hand, and said in tones too low to be heard at
the other end of the room:

“I hope my arrival has not interrupted any occupation to-night, Sir.
Mr. Sherwin, aware of the interest I must feel in whatever concerns the
family of an employer whom I have served for years, has informed me in
confidence--a confidence which I know how to respect and preserve--of
your marriage with his daughter, and of the peculiar circumstances
under which the marriage has been contracted. I may at least venture to
congratulate the young lady on a change of life which must procure her
happiness, having begun already by procuring the increase of her mental
resources and pleasures.” He bowed, and pointed to the book on the
table.

“I believe, Mr. Mannion,” I said, “that you have been of great
assistance in laying a foundation for the studies to which I presume you
refer.”

“I endeavoured to make myself useful in that way, Sir, as in all others,
when my employer desired it.” He bowed again, as he said this; and then
went out, followed by Mr. Sherwin, who held a short colloquy with him in
the hall.

What had he said to me? Only a few civil words, spoken in a very
respectful manner. There had been nothing in his tones, nothing in his
looks, to give any peculiar significance to what he uttered. Still, the
moment his back was turned, I found myself speculating whether his words
contained any hidden meaning; trying to recall something in his voice or
manner which might guide me in discovering the real sense he attached
to what he said. It seemed as if the most powerful whet to my curiosity,
were supplied by my own experience of the impossibility of penetrating
beneath the unassailable surface which this man presented to me.

I questioned Margaret about him. She could not tell me more than I knew
already. He had always been very kind and useful; he was a clever man,
and could talk a great deal sometimes, when he chose; and he had taught
her more of foreign languages and foreign literature in a month, than
she had learned at school in a year. While she was telling me this,
I hardly noticed that she spoke in a very hurried manner, and busied
herself in arranging the books and work that lay on the table. My
attention was more closely directed to Mrs. Sherwin. To my surprise, I
saw her eagerly lean forward while Margaret was speaking, and fix her
eyes on her daughter with a look of penetrating scrutiny, of which I
could never have supposed a person usually so feeble and unenergetic
to be capable. I thought of transferring to her my questionings on the
subject of Mr. Mannion; but at that moment her husband entered the room,
and I addressed myself for further enlightenment to him.

“Aha!”--cried Mr. Sherwin, rubbing his hands triumphantly--“I knew
Mannion would please you. I told you so, my dear Sir, if you remember,
before he came. Curious looking person--isn’t he?”

“So curious, that I may safely say I never saw a face in the slightest
degree resembling his in my life. Your clerk, Mr. Sherwin, is a complete
walking mystery that I want to solve. Margaret cannot give me much help,
I am afraid. When you came in, I was about to apply to Mrs. Sherwin for
a little assistance.”

“Don’t do any such thing! You’ll be quite in the wrong box there.
Mrs. S. is as sulky as a bear, whenever Mannion and she are in company
together. Considering her behaviour to him, I wonder he can be so civil
to her as he is.”

“What can you tell me about him yourself, Mr. Sherwin?”

“I can tell you there’s not a house of business in London has such a
managing man as he is: he’s my factotum--my right hand, in short; and
my left too, for the matter of that. He understands my ways of doing
business; and, in fact, carries things out in first-rate style. Why,
he’d be worth his weight in gold, only for the knack he has of keeping
the young men in the shop in order. Poor devils! they don’t know how he
does it; but there’s a particular look of Mr. Mannion’s that’s as bad
as transportation and hanging to them, whenever they see it. I’ll pledge
you my word of honour he’s never had a day’s illness, or made a single
mistake, since he’s been with me. He’s a quiet, steady-going, regular
dragon at his work--he is! And then, so obliging in other things. I’ve
only got to say to him: ‘Here’s Margaret at home for the holidays;’ or,
‘Here’s Margaret a little out of sorts, and going to be nursed at home
for the half-year--what’s to be done about keeping up her lessons? I
can’t pay for a governess (bad lot, governesses!) and school too.’--I’ve
only got to say that; and up gets Mannion from his books and his
fireside at home, in the evening--which begins to be something, you
know, to a man of his time of life--and turns tutor for me, gratis; and
a first-rate tutor, too! That’s what I call having a treasure! And yet,
though he’s been with us for years, Mrs. S. there won’t take to him!--I
defy her or anybody else to say why, or wherefore!”

“Do you know how he was employed before he came to you?”

“Ah! now you’ve hit it--that’s where you’re right in saying he’s a
mystery. What he did before I knew him, is more than I can tell--a good
deal more. He came to me with a capital recommendation and security,
from a gentleman whom I knew to be of the highest respectability. I had
a vacancy in the back office, and tried him, and found out what he was
worth, in no time--I flatter myself I’ve a knack at that with everybody.
Well: before I got used to his curious-looking face, and his quiet
ways, I wanted badly enough to know something about him, and who his
connections were. First, I asked his friend who had recommended
him--the friend wasn’t at liberty to answer for anything but his perfect
trustworthiness. Then I asked Mannion himself point-blank about it, one
day. He just told me that he had reasons for keeping his family affairs
to himself--nothing more--but you know the way he has with him; and,
damn it, he put the stopper on me, from that time to this. I wasn’t
going to risk losing the best clerk that ever man had, by worrying
him about his secrets. They didn’t interfere with business, and didn’t
interfere with me; so I put my curiosity in my pocket. I know nothing
about him, but that he’s my right-hand man, and the honestest fellow
that ever stood in shoes. He may be the Great Mogul himself, in
disguise, for anything I care! In short, you may be able to find out all
about him, my dear Sir; but I can’t.”

“There does not seem much chance for me, Mr. Sherwin, after what you
have said.”

“Well: I’m not so sure of that--plenty of chances here, you know.
You’ll see him often enough: he lives near, and drops in constantly
of evenings. We settle business matters that won’t come into business
hours, in my private snuggery up stairs. In fact, he’s one of the
family; treat him as such, and get anything out of him you can--the more
the better, as far as regards that. Ah! Mrs. S., you may stare, Ma’am;
but I say again, he’s one of the family; may be, he’ll be my partner
some of these days--you’ll have to get used to him then, whether you
like it or not.”

“One more question: is he married or single?”

“Single, to be sure--a regular old bachelor, if ever there was one yet.”

During the whole time we had been speaking, Mrs. Sherwin had looked
at us with far more earnestness and attention than I had ever seen her
display before. Even her languid faculties seemed susceptible of active
curiosity on the subject of Mr. Mannion--the more so, perhaps, from her
very dislike of him. Margaret had moved her chair into the background,
while her father was talking; and was apparently little interested
in the topic under discussion. In the first interval of silence, she
complained of headache, and asked leave to retire to her room.

After she left us, I took my departure: for Mr. Sherwin evidently had
nothing more to tell me about his clerk that was worth hearing. On my
way home, Mr. Mannion occupied no small share of my thoughts. The idea
of trying to penetrate the mystery connected with him was an idea
that pleased me; there was a promise of future excitement in it of no
ordinary kind. I determined to have a little private conversation with
Margaret about him; and to make her an ally in my new project. If there
really had been some romance connected with Mr. Mannion’s early life--if
that strange and striking face of his was indeed a sealed book which
contained a secret story, what a triumph and a pleasure, if Margaret and
I should succeed in discovering it together!

When I woke the next morning, I could hardly believe that this
tradesman’s clerk had so interested my curiosity that he had actually
shared my thoughts with my young wife, during the evening before. And
yet, when I next saw him, he produced exactly the same impression on me
again.

III.

Some weeks passed away; Margaret and I resumed our usual employments and
amusements; the life at North Villa ran on as smoothly and obscurely as
usual--and still I remained ignorant of Mr. Mannion’s history and Mr.
Mannion’s character. He came frequently to the house, in the evening;
but was generally closeted with Mr. Sherwin, and seldom accepted
his employer’s constant invitation to him to join the party in
the drawing-room. At those rare intervals when we did see him, his
appearance and behaviour were exactly the same as on the night when I
had met him for the first time; he spoke just as seldom, and resisted
just as resolutely and respectfully the many attempts made on my part to
lead him into conversation and familiarity. If he had really been trying
to excite my interest, he could not have succeeded more effectually. I
felt towards him much as a man feels in a labyrinth, when every fresh
failure in gaining the centre, only produces fresh obstinacy in renewing
the effort to arrive at it.

From Margaret I gained no sympathy for my newly-aroused curiosity. She
appeared, much to my surprise, to care little about Mr. Mannion; and
always changed the conversation, if it related to him, whenever it
depended upon her to continue the topic or not.

Mrs. Sherwin’s conduct was far from resembling her daughter’s, when I
spoke to her on the same subject. She always listened intently to what
I said; but her answers were invariably brief, confused, and sometimes
absolutely incomprehensible. It was only after great difficulty that I
induced her to confess her dislike of Mr. Mannion. Whence it proceeded
she could never tell. Did she suspect anything? In answering this
question, she always stammered, trembled, and looked away from me. “How
could she suspect anything? If she did suspect, it would be very wrong
without good reason: but she ought not to suspect, and did not, of
course.”

I never obtained any replies from her more intelligible than these.
Attributing their confusion to the nervous agitation which more or less
affected her when she spoke on any subject, I soon ceased making any
efforts to induce her to explain herself; and determined to search for
the clue to Mr. Mannion’s character, without seeking assistance from any
one.

Accident at length gave me an opportunity of knowing something of his
habits and opinions; and so far, therefore, of knowing something about
the man himself.

One night, I met him in the hall at North Villa, about to leave the
house at the same time that I was, after a business-consultation in
private with Mr. Sherwin. We went out together. The sky was unusually
black; the night atmosphere unusually oppressive and still. The roll
of distant thunder sounded faint and dreary all about us. The sheet
lightning, flashing quick and low in the horizon, made the dark
firmament look like a thick veil, rising and falling incessantly, over
a heaven of dazzling light behind it. Such few foot-passengers as passed
us, passed running--for heavy, warning drops were falling already from
the sky. We quickened our pace; but before we had walked more than
two hundred yards, the rain came down, furious and drenching; and the
thunder began to peal fearfully, right over our heads.

“My house is close by,” said my companion, just as quietly and
deliberately as usual--“pray step in, Sir, until the storm is over.”

I followed him down a bye street; he opened a door with his own key; and
the next instant I was sheltered under Mr. Mannion’s roof.

He led me at once into a room on the ground floor. The fire was blazing
in the grate; an arm-chair, with a reading easel attached, was placed by
it; the lamp was ready lit; the tea-things were placed on the table;
the dark, thick curtains were drawn close over the window; and, as if to
complete the picture of comfort before me, a large black cat lay on the
rug, basking luxuriously in the heat of the fire. While Mr. Mannion
went out to give some directions, as he said, to his servant, I had
an opportunity of examining the apartment more in detail. To study the
appearance of a man’s dwelling-room, is very often nearly equivalent to
studying his own character.

The personal contrast between Mr. Sherwin and his clerk was remarkable
enough, but the contrast between the dimensions and furnishing of the
rooms they lived in, was to the full as extraordinary. The apartment I
now surveyed was less than half the size of the sitting-room at North
Villa. The paper on the walls was of a dark red; the curtains were of
the same colour; the carpet was brown, and if it bore any pattern, that
pattern was too quiet and unpretending to be visible by candlelight. One
wall was entirely occupied by rows of dark mahogany shelves, completely
filled with books, most of them cheap editions of the classical works of
ancient and modern literature. The opposite wall was thickly hung with
engravings in maple-wood frames from the works of modern painters,
English and French. All the minor articles of furniture were of the
plainest and neatest order--even the white china tea-pot and tea-cup
on the table, had neither pattern nor colouring of any kind. What a
contrast was this room to the drawing-room at North Villa!

On his return, Mr. Mannion found me looking at his tea-equipage. “I
am afraid, Sir, I must confess myself an epicure and a prodigal in two
things,” he said; “an epicure in tea, and a prodigal (at least for a
person in my situation) in books. However, I receive a liberal salary,
and can satisfy my tastes, such as they are, and save money too. What
can I offer you, Sir?”

Seeing the preparations on the table, I asked for tea. While he was
speaking to me, there was one peculiarity about him that I observed.
Almost all men, when they stand on their own hearths, in their own
homes, instinctively alter more or less from their out-of-door manner:
the stiffest people expand, the coldest thaw a little, by their own
firesides. It was not so with Mr. Mannion. He was exactly the same man
at his own house that he was at Mr. Sherwin’s.

There was no need for him to have told me that he was an epicure in tea;
the manner in which he made it would have betrayed that to anybody. He
put in nearly treble the quantity which would generally be considered
sufficient for two persons; and almost immediately after he had
filled the tea-pot with boiling water, began to pour from it into the
cups--thus preserving all the aroma and delicacy of flavour in the herb,
without the alloy of any of the coarser part of its strength. When we
had finished our first cups, there was no pouring of dregs into a basin,
or of fresh water on the leaves. A middle-aged female servant, neat and
quiet, came up and took away the tray, bringing it to us again with the
tea-pot and tea-cups clean and empty, to receive a fresh infusion from
fresh leaves. These were trifles to notice; but I thought of other
tradesmen’s clerks who were drinking their gin-and-water jovially, at
home or at a tavern, and found Mr. Mannion a more exasperating mystery
to me than ever.

The conversation between us turned at first on trivial subjects, and
was but ill sustained on my part--there were peculiarities in my present
position which made me thoughtful. Once, our talk ceased altogether;
and, just at that moment, the storm began to rise to its height. Hail
mingled with the rain, and rattled heavily against the window. The
thunder, bursting louder and louder with each successive peal, seemed
to shake the house to its foundations. As I listened to the fearful
crashing and roaring that seemed to fill the whole measureless void of
upper air, and then looked round on the calm, dead-calm face of the man
beside me--without one human emotion of any kind even faintly pictured
on it--I felt strange, unutterable sensations creeping over me; our
silence grew oppressive and sinister; I began to wish, I hardly knew
why, for some third person in the room--for somebody else to look at and
to speak to.

He was the first to resume the conversation. I should have imagined it
impossible for any man, in the midst of such thunder as now raged above
our heads, to think or talk of anything but the storm. And yet, when he
spoke, it was merely on a subject connected with his introduction to
me at North Villa. His attention seemed as far from being attracted or
impressed by the mighty elemental tumult without, as if the tranquillity
of the night were uninvaded by the slightest murmur of sound.

“May I inquire, Sir,” he began, “whether I am right in apprehending that
my conduct towards you, since we first met at Mr. Sherwin’s house, may
have appeared strange, and even discourteous, in your eyes?”

“In what respect, Mr. Mannion?” I asked, a little startled by the
abruptness of the question.

“I am perfectly sensible, Sir, that you have kindly set me the example,
on many occasions, in trying to better our acquaintance. When such
advances are made by one in your station to one in mine, they ought to
be immediately and gratefully responded to.”

Why did he pause? Was he about to tell me he had discovered that my
advances sprang from curiosity to know more about him than he was
willing to reveal? I waited for him to proceed.

“I have only failed,” he continued, “in the courtesy and gratitude you
had a right to expect from me, because, knowing how you were situated
with Mr. Sherwin’s daughter, I thought any intrusion on my part, while
you were with the young lady, might not be so acceptable as you, Sir, in
your kindness, were willing to lead me to believe.”

“Let me assure you,” I answered; relieved to find myself unsuspected,
and really impressed by his delicacy--“let me assure you that I fully
appreciate the consideration you have shown--”

Just as the last words passed my lips, the thunder pealed awfully over
the house. I said no more: the sound silenced me.

“As my explanation has satisfied you, Sir,” he went on; his clear
and deliberate utterance rising discordantly audible above the long,
retiring roll of the last burst of thunder--“may I feel justified in
speaking on the subject of your present position in my employer’s house,
with some freedom? I mean, if I may say so without offence, with the
freedom of a friend.”

I begged he would use all the freedom he wished; feeling really desirous
that he should do so, apart from any purpose of leading him to talk
unreservedly on the chance of hearing him talk of himself. The profound
respect of manner and phrase which he had hitherto testified--observed
by a man of his age, to a man of mine--made me feel ill at ease. He was
most probably my equal in acquirements: he had the manners and tastes
of a gentleman, and might have the birth too, for aught I knew to the
contrary. The difference between us was only in our worldly positions.
I had not enough of my father’s pride of caste to think that this
difference alone, made it right that a man whose years nearly doubled
mine, whose knowledge perhaps surpassed mine, should speak to me as Mr.
Mannion had spoken up to this time.

“I may tell you then,” he resumed, “that while I am anxious to commit no
untimely intrusion on your hours at North Villa, I am at the same time
desirous of being something more than merely inoffensive towards you. I
should wish to be positively useful, as far as I can. In my opinion
Mr. Sherwin has held you to rather a hard engagement--he is trying your
discretion a little too severely I think, at your years and in your
situation. Feeling thus, it is my sincere wish to render what connection
and influence I have with the family, useful in making the probation you
have still to pass through, as easy as possible. I have more means of
doing this, Sir, than you might at first imagine.”

His offer took me a little by surprise. I felt with a sort of shame,
that candour and warmth of feeling were what I had not expected from
him. My attention insensibly wandered away from the storm, to attach
itself more and more closely to him, as he went on:

“I am perfectly sensible,” he resumed, “that such a proposition as I
now make to you, proceeding from one little better than a stranger, may
cause surprise and even suspicion, at first. I can only explain it, by
asking you to remember that I have known the young lady since childhood;
and that, having assisted in forming her mind and developing her
character, I feel towards her almost as a second father, and am
therefore naturally interested in the gentleman who has chosen her for a
wife.”

Was there a tremor at last in that changeless voice, as he spoke?
I thought so; and looked anxiously to catch the answering gleam of
expression, which might now, for the first time, be softening his iron
features, animating the blank stillness of his countenance. If any such
expression had been visible, I was too late to detect it. Just as I
looked at him he stooped down to poke the fire. When he turned towards
me again, his face was the same impenetrable face, his eye the same
hard, steady, inexpressive eye as before.

“Besides,” he continued, “a man must have some object in life for his
sympathies to be employed on. I have neither wife nor child; and no near
relations to think of--I have nothing but my routine of business in the
day, and my books here by my lonely fireside, at night. Our life is not
much; but it was made for a little more than this. My former pupil at
North Villa is my pupil no longer. I can’t help feeling that it would
be an object in existence for me to occupy myself with her happiness and
yours; to have two young people, in the heyday of youth and first love,
looking towards me occasionally for the promotion of some of their
pleasures--no matter how trifling. All this will seem odd and
incomprehensible to _you._ If you were of my age, Sir, and in my
position, you would understand it.”

Was it possible that he could speak thus, without his voice faltering,
or his eye softening in the slightest degree? Yes: I looked at him and
listened to him intently; but here was not the faintest change in his
face or his tones--there was nothing to show outwardly whether he
felt what he said, or whether he did not. His words had painted such a
picture of forlornness on my mind, that I had mechanically half raised
my hand to take his, while he was addressing me; but the sight of him
when he ceased, checked the impulse almost as soon as it was formed.
He did not appear to have noticed either my involuntary gesture, or its
immediate repression; and went on speaking.

“I have said perhaps more than I ought,” he resumed. “If I have not
succeeded in making you understand my explanation as I could wish, we
will change the subject, and not return to it again, until you have
known me for a much longer time.”

“On no account change the subject, Mr. Mannion,” I said; unwilling
to let it be implied that I would not put trust in him. “I am deeply
sensible of the kindness of your offer, and the interest you take in
Margaret and me. We shall both, I am sure, accept your good offices--”

I stopped. The storm had decreased a little in violence: but my
attention was now struck by the wind, which had risen as the thunder and
rain had partially lulled. How drearily it was moaning down the street!
It seemed, at that moment, to be wailing over _me;_ to be wailing over
_him;_ to be wailing over all mortal things! The strange sensations I
then felt, moved me to listen in silence; but I checked them, and spoke
again.

“If I have not answered you as I should,” I continued, “you must
attribute it partly to the storm, which I confess rather discomposes
my ideas; and partly to a little surprise--a very foolish surprise, I
own--that you should still be able to feel so strong a sympathy with
interests which are generally only considered of importance to the
young.”

“It is only in their sympathies, that men of my years can, and do,
live their youth over again,” he said. “You may be surprised to hear a
tradesman’s clerk talk in this manner; but I was not always what I am
now. I have gathered knowledge, and suffered in the gathering. I have
grown old before my time--my forty years are like the fifty of other
men--”

My heart beat quicker--was he, unasked, about to disclose the mystery
which evidently hung over his early life? No: he dropped the subject
at once, when he continued. I longed to ask him to resume it, but could
not. I feared the same repulse which Mr. Sherwin had received: and
remained silent.

“What I was,” he proceeded, “matters little; the question is what can
I do for you? Any aid I can give, may be poor enough; but it may be of
some use notwithstanding. For instance, the other day, if I mistake not,
you were a little hurt at Mr. Sherwin’s taking his daughter to a party
to which the family had been invited. This was very natural. You
could not be there to watch over her in your real character, without
disclosing a secret which must be kept safe; and you could not know
what young men she might meet, who would imagine her to be Miss Sherwin
still, and would regulate their conduct accordingly. Now, I think I
might be of use here. I have some influence--perhaps in strict truth I
ought to say great influence--with my employer; and, if you wished it,
I would use that influence to back yours, in inducing him to forego, for
the future, any intention of taking his daughter into society, except
when you desire it. Again: I think I am not wrong in assuming that you
infinitely prefer the company of Mrs. Sherwin to that of Mr. Sherwin,
during your interviews with the young lady?”

How he had found that out? At any rate, he was right; and I told him so
candidly.

“The preference is on many accounts a very natural one,” he said; “but
if you suffered it to appear to Mr. Sherwin, it might, for obvious
reasons, produce a most unfavourable effect. I might interfere in the
matter, however, without suspicion; I should have many opportunities of
keeping him away from the room, in the evening, which I could use if you
wished it. And more than that, if you wanted longer and more frequent
communication with North Villa than you now enjoy, I might be able to
effect this also. I do not mention what I could do in these, and in
other matters, in any disparagement, Sir, of the influence which you
have with Mr. Sherwin, in your own right; but because I know that in
what concerns your intercourse with his daughter, my employer _has_
asked, and _will_ ask my advice, from the habit of doing so in other
things. I have hitherto declined giving him this advice in your affairs;
but I will give it, and in your favour and the young lady’s, if you and
she choose.”

I thanked him--but not in such warm terms as I should have employed, if
I had seen even the faintest smile on his face, or had heard any change
in his steady, deliberate tones, as he spoke. While his words attracted,
his immovable looks repelled me, in spite of myself.

“I must again beg you”--he proceeded--“to remember what I have already
said, in your estimate of the motives of my offer. If I still appear to
be interfering officiously in your affairs, you have only to think that
I have presumed impertinently on the freedom you have allowed me, and
to treat me no longer on the terms of to-night. I shall not complain of
your conduct, and shall try hard not to consider you unjust to me, if
you do.”

Such an appeal as this was not to be resisted: I answered him at once
and unreservedly. What right had I to draw bad inferences from a man’s
face, voice, and manner, merely because they impressed me, as out of the
common? Did I know how much share the influence of natural infirmity,
or the outward traces of unknown sorrow and suffering, might have had in
producing the external peculiarities which had struck me? He would
have every right to upbraid me as unjust--and that in the strongest
terms--unless I spoke out fairly in reply.

“I am quite incapable, Mr. Mannion,” I said, “of viewing your offer with
any other than grateful feelings. You will find I shall prove this by
employing your good offices for Margaret and myself in perfect faith,
and sooner perhaps than you may imagine.”

He bowed and said a few cordial words, which I heard but
imperfectly--for, as I addressed him, a blast of wind fiercer than
usual, rushed down the street, shaking the window shutter violently as
it passed, and dying away in a low, melancholy, dirging swell, like a
spirit-cry of lamentation and despair.

When he spoke again, after a momentary silence, it was to make some
change in the conversation. He talked of Margaret--dwelling in terms of
high praise rather on her moral than on her personal qualities. He
spoke of Mr. Sherwin, referring to solid and attractive points in
his character which I had not detected. What he said of Mrs. Sherwin
appeared to be equally dictated by compassion and respect--he even
hinted at her coolness towards himself, considerately attributing it
to the involuntary caprice of settled nervousness and ill-health. His
language, in touching on these subjects, was just as unaffected, just as
devoid of any peculiarities, as I had hitherto found it when occupied by
other topics.

It was growing late. The thunder still rumbled at long intervals, with
a dull, distant sound; and the wind showed no symptoms of subsiding. But
the pattering of the rain against the window ceased to be audible. There
was little excuse for staying longer; and I wished to find none. I had
acquired quite knowledge enough of Mr. Mannion to assure me, that any
attempt on my part at extracting from him, in spite of his reserve,
the secrets which might be connected with his early life, would prove
perfectly fruitless. If I must judge him at all, I must judge him by
the experience of the present, and not by the history of the past. I had
heard good, and good only, of him from the shrewd master who knew him
best, and had tried him longest. He had shown the greatest delicacy
towards my feelings, and the strongest desire to do me service--it would
be a mean return for those acts of courtesy, to let curiosity tempt me
to pry into his private affairs.

I rose to go. He made no effort to detain me; but, after unbarring the
shutter and looking out of the window, simply remarked that the rain had
almost entirely ceased, and that my umbrella would be quite sufficient
protection against all that remained. He followed me into the passage to
light me out. As I turned round upon his door-step to thank him for his
hospitality, and to bid him good night, the thought came across me, that
my manner must have appeared cold and repelling to him--especially when
he was offering his services to my acceptance. If I had really produced
this impression, he was my inferior in station, and it would be cruel to
leave it. I tried to set myself right at parting.

“Let me assure you again,” I said, “that it will not be my fault if
Margaret and I do not thankfully employ your good offices, as the good
offices of a well-wisher and a friend.”

The lightning was still in the sky, though it only appeared at long
intervals. Strangely enough, at the moment when I addressed him, a flash
came, and seemed to pass right over his face. It gave such a hideously
livid hue, such a spectral look of ghastliness and distortion to his
features, that he absolutely seemed to be glaring and grinning on me
like a fiend, in the one instant of its duration. For the moment, it
required all my knowledge of the settled calmness of his countenance,
to convince me that my eyes must have been only dazzled by an optical
illusion produced by the lightning.

When the darkness had come again, I bade him good night--first
mechanically repeating what I had just said, almost in the same words.

I walked home thoughtful. That night had given me much matter to think
of.

IV.

About the time of my introduction to Mr. Mannion--or, to speak more
correctly, both before and after that period--certain peculiarities in
Margaret’s character and conduct, which came to my knowledge by pure
accident, gave me a little uneasiness and even a little displeasure.
Neither of these feelings lasted very long, it is true; for the
incidents which gave rise to them were of a trifling nature in
themselves. While I now write, however, these domestic occurrences are
all vividly present to my recollection. I will mention two of them as
instances. Subsequent events, yet to be related, will show that they are
not out of place at this part of my narrative.

One lovely autumn morning, I called rather before the appointed time
at North Villa. As the servant opened the front garden-gate, the idea
occurred to me of giving Margaret a surprise, by entering the drawing
room unexpectedly, with a nosegay gathered for her from her own
flower-bed. Telling the servant not to announce me, I went round to the
back garden, by a gate which opened into it at the side of the house.
The progress of my flower-gathering led me on to the lawn under one of
the drawing-room windows, which was left a little open. The voices of my
wife and her mother reached me from the room. It was this part of their
conversation which I unintentionally overheard:--

“I tell you, mamma, I must and will have the dress, whether papa chooses
or not.”

This was spoken loudly and resolutely; in such tones as I had never
heard from Margaret before.

“Pray--pray, my dear, don’t talk so,” answered the weak, faltering voice
of Mrs. Sherwin; “you know you have had more than your year’s allowance
of dresses already.”

“I won’t be allowanced. _His_ sister isn’t allowanced: why should I be?”

“My dear love, surely there is some difference--”

“I’m sure there isn’t, now I am his wife. I shall ride some day in my
carriage, just as his sister does. _He_ gives me my way in everything;
and so ought you.”

“It isn’t _me,_ Margaret: if I could do anything, I’m sure I would; but
I really couldn’t ask your papa for another new dress, after his having
given you so many this year, already.”

“That’s the way it always is with you, mamma--you can’t do this, and
you can’t do that--you are so excessively tiresome! But I will have the
dress, I’m determined. He says his sister wears light blue crape of an
evening; and I’ll have light blue crape, too--see if I don’t! I’ll get
it somehow from the shop, myself. Papa never takes any notice, I’m sure,
what I have on; and he needn’t find out anything about what’s gone out
of the shop, until they ‘take stock,’ or whatever it is he calls it. And
then, if he flies into one of his passions--”

“My dear! my dear! you really ought not to talk so of your papa--it is
very wrong, Margaret, indeed--what would Mr. Basil say if he heard you?”

I determined to go in at once, and tell Margaret that I had heard
her--resolving, at the same time, to exert some firmness, and
remonstrate with her, for her own good, on much of what she had said,
which had really surprised and displeased me. On my unexpected entrance,
Mrs. Sherwin started, and looked more timid than ever. Margaret,
however, came forward to meet me with her wonted smile, and held out
her hand with her wonted grace. I said nothing until we had got into our
accustomed corner, and were talking together in whispers as usual.
Then I began my remonstrance--very tenderly, and in the lowest possible
tones. She took precisely the right way to stop me in full career,
in spite of all my resolution. Her beautiful eyes filled with tears
directly--the first I had ever seen in them: caused, too, by what I had
said!--and she murmured a few plaintive words about the cruelty of being
angry with her for only wanting to please me by being dressed as my
sister was, which upset every intention I had formed but the moment
before. I involuntarily devoted myself to soothing her for the rest
of the morning. Need I say how the matter ended? I never mentioned the
subject more; and I made her a present of the new dress.

Some weeks after the little home-breeze which I have just related, had
died away into a perfect calm, I was accidentally witness of another
domestic dilemma in which Margaret bore a principal share. On this
occasion, as I walked up to the house (in the morning again), I found
the front door open. A pail was on the steps--the servant had evidently
been washing them, had been interrupted in her work, and had forgotten
to close the door when she left it. The nature of the interruption I
soon discovered as I entered the hall.

“For God’s sake, Miss!” cried the housemaid’s voice, from the
dining-room, “for God’s sake, put down the poker! Missus will be here
directly; and it’s _her_ cat!”

“I’ll kill the vile brute! I’ll kill the hateful cat! I don’t care whose
it is!--my poor dear, dear, dear bird!” The voice was Margaret’s. At
first, its tones were tones of fury; they were afterwards broken by
hysterical sobs.

“Poor thing,” continued the servant, soothingly, “I’m sorry for it, and
for you too, Miss! But, oh! do please to remember it was you left the
cage on the table, in the cat’s reach--”

“Hold your tongue, you wretch! How dare you hold me?--let me go!”

“Oh, you mustn’t--you mustn’t indeed! It’s missus’s cat, recollect--poor
missus’s, who’s always ill, and hasn’t got nothing else to amuse her.”

“I don’t care! The cat has killed my bird, and the cat shall be killed
for doing it!--it shall!--it shall!!--it shall!!! I’ll call in the first
boy from the street to catch it, and hang it! Let me go! I _will_ go!”

“I’ll let the cat go first, Miss, as sure as my name’s Susan!”

The next instant, the door was suddenly opened, and puss sprang past
me, out of harm’s way, closely followed by the servant, who stared
breathless and aghast at seeing me in the hall. I went into the
dining-room immediately.

On the floor lay a bird-cage, with the poor canary dead inside (it was
the same canary that I had seen my wife playing with, on the evening of
the day when I first met her). The bird’s head had been nearly dragged
through the bent wires of the cage, by the murderous claws of the cat.
Near the fire-place, with the poker she had just dropped on the floor by
her side, stood Margaret. Never had I seen her look so beautiful as
she now appeared, in the fury of passion which possessed her. Her
large black eyes were flashing grandly through her tears--the blood was
glowing crimson in her cheeks--her lips were parted as she gasped for
breath. One of her hands was clenched, and rested on the mantel-piece;
the other was pressed tight over her bosom, with the fingers
convulsively clasping her dress. Grieved as I was at the paroxysm of
passion into which she had allowed herself to be betrayed, I could not
repress an involuntary feeling of admiration when my eyes first rested
on her. Even anger itself looked lovely in that lovely face!

She never moved when she saw me. As I approached her, she dropped down
on her knees by the cage, sobbing with frightful violence, and pouring
forth a perfect torrent of ejaculations of vengeance against the cat.
Mrs. Sherwin came down; and by her total want of tact and presence
of mind, made matters worse. In brief, the scene ended by a fit of
hysterics.

To speak to Margaret on that day, as I wished to speak to her, was
impossible. To approach the subject of the canary’s death afterwards,
was useless. If I only hinted in the gentlest way, and with the
strongest sympathy for the loss of the bird, at the distress and
astonishment she had caused me by the extremities to which she had
allowed her passion to hurry her, a burst of tears was sure to be her
only reply--just the reply, of all others, which was best calculated to
silence me. If I had been her husband in fact, as well as in name; if I
had been her father, her brother, or her friend, I should have let
her first emotions have their way, and then have expostulated with her
afterwards. But I was her lover still; and, to my eyes, Margaret’s tears
made virtues even of Margaret’s faults.



Such occurrences as these, happening but at rare intervals, formed
the only interruptions to the generally even and happy tenour of our
intercourse. Weeks and weeks glided away, and not a hasty or a hard word
passed between us. Neither, after one preliminary difference had been
adjusted, did any subsequent disagreement take place between Mr. Sherwin
and me. This last element in the domestic tranquillity of North Villa
was, however, less attributable to his forbearance, or to mine, than to
the private interference of Mr. Mannion.

For some days after my interview with the managing clerk, at his
own house, I had abstained from calling his offered services into
requisition. I was not conscious of any reason for this course of
conduct. All that had been said, all that had happened during the night
of the storm, had produced a powerful, though vague impression on me.
Strange as it may appear, I could not determine whether my brief but
extraordinary experience of my new friend had attracted me towards him,
or repelled me from him. I felt an unwillingness to lay myself under an
obligation to him, which was not the result of pride, or false delicacy,
or sullenness, or suspicion--it was an inexplicable unwillingness, that
sprang from the fear of encountering some heavy responsibility; but of
what nature I could not imagine. I delayed and held back, by instinct;
and, on his side, Mr. Mannion made no further advances. He maintained
the same manner, and continued the same habits, during his intercourse
with the family at North Villa, which I had observed as characterising
him before I took shelter from the storm, in his house. He never
referred again to the conversation of that evening, when we now met.

Margaret’s behaviour, when I mentioned to her Mr. Mannion’s willingness
to be useful to us both, rather increased than diminished the vague
uncertainties which perplexed me, on the subject of accepting or
rejecting his overtures.

I could not induce her to show the smallest interest about him. Neither
his house, his personal appearance, his peculiar habits, or his secrecy
in relation to his early life--nothing, in short, connected with
him--appeared to excite her attention or curiosity in the slightest
degree. On the evening of his return from the continent, she had
certainly shown some symptoms of interest in his arrival at North Villa,
and some appearance of attention to him, when he joined our party. Now,
she seemed completely and incomprehensibly changed on this point. Her
manner became almost petulant, if I persisted long in making Mr. Mannion
a topic of conversation--it was as if she resented his sharing my
thoughts with her in the slightest degree. As to the difficult question
whether we should engage him in our interests or not, that was a matter
which she always seemed to think too trifling to be discussed between us
at all.

Ere long, however, circumstances decided me as to the course I should
take with Mr. Mannion.

A ball was given by one of Mr. Sherwin’s rich commercial friends,
to which he announced his intention of taking Margaret. Besides the
jealousy which I felt--naturally enough, in my peculiar situation--at
the idea of my wife going out as Miss Sherwin, and dancing in the
character of a young unmarried lady with any young gentlemen who were
introduced to her, I had also the strongest possible desire to keep
Margaret out of the society of her own class, until my year’s probation
was over, and I could hope to instal her permanently in the society of
my class. I had privately mentioned to her my ideas on this subject, and
found that she fully agreed with them. She was not wanting in ambition
to ascend to the highest degree in the social scale; and had already
begun to look with indifference on the society which was offered to her
by those in her own rank.

To Mr. Sherwin I could confide nothing of this. I could only object,
generally, to his taking Margaret out, when neither she nor I desired
it. He declared that she liked parties--that all girls did--that she
only pretended to dislike them, to please me--and that he had made no
engagement to keep her moping at home a whole year on my account. In the
case of the particular ball now under discussion, he was determined to
have his own way; and he bluntly told me as much.

Irritated by his obstinacy and gross want of consideration for my
defenceless position, I forgot all doubts and scruples; and privately
applied to Mr. Mannion to exert the influence which he had promised to
use, if I wished it, in my behalf.

The result was as immediate as it was conclusive. The very next evening,
Mr. Sherwin came to us with a note which he had just written, and
informed me that it was an excuse for Margaret’s non-appearance at the
ball. He never mentioned Mr. Mannion’s name, but sulkily and shortly
said, that he had reconsidered the matter, and had altered his first
decision for reasons of his own.

Having once taken a first step in the new direction, I soon followed it
up, without hesitation, by taking many others. Whenever I wished to call
oftener than once a-day at North Villa, I had but to tell Mr. Mannion,
and the next morning I found the permission immediately accorded to me
by the ruling power. The same secret machinery enabled me to regulate
Mr. Sherwin’s incomings and outgoings, just as I chose, when Margaret
and I were together in the evening. I could feel almost certain, now,
of never having any one with us, but Mrs. Sherwin, unless I desired
it--which, as may be easily imagined, was seldom enough.

My new ally’s ready interference for my advantage was exerted quietly,
easily, and as a matter of course. I never knew how, or when, he
influenced his employer, and Mr. Sherwin on his part, never breathed a
word of that influence to me. He accorded any extra privilege I might
demand, as if he acted entirely under his own will, little suspecting
how well I knew what was the real motive power which directed him.

I was the more easily reconciled to employing the services of Mr.
Mannion, by the great delicacy with which he performed them. He did
not allow me to think--he did not appear to think himself--that he was
obliging me in the smallest degree. He affected no sudden intimacy with
me; his manners never altered; he still persisted in not joining us in
the evening, but at my express invitation; and if I referred in any way
to the advantages I derived from his devotion to my interests, he always
replied in his brief undemonstrative way, that he considered himself the
favoured person, in being permitted to make his services of some use to
Margaret and me.

I had told Mr. Mannion, when I was leaving him on the night of the
storm, that I would treat his offers as the offers of a friend; and I
had now made good my words, much sooner and much more unreservedly than
I had ever intended, when we parted at his own house-door.

V.

The autumn was now over; the winter--a cold, gloomy winter--had fairly
come. Five months had nearly elapsed since Clara and my father had
departed for the country. What communication did I hold with them,
during that interval?

No personal communication with either--written communication only with
my sister. Clara’s letters to me were frequent. They studiously avoided
anything like a reproach for my long absence; and were confined almost
exclusively to such details of country life as the writer thought likely
to interest me. Their tone was as affectionate--nay, more affectionate,
if possible--than usual; but Clara’s gaiety and quiet humour, as a
correspondent, were gone. My conscience taught me only too easily and
too plainly how to account for this change--my conscience told me
who had altered the tone of my sister’s letters, by altering all the
favourite purposes and favourite pleasures of her country life.

I was selfishly enough devoted to my own passions and my own interests,
at this period of my life; but I was not so totally dead to every one
of the influences which had guided me since childhood, as to lose
all thought of Clara and my father, and the ancient house that was
associated with my earliest and happiest recollections. Sometimes, even
in Margaret’s beloved presence, a thought of Clara put away from me
all other thoughts. And, sometimes, in the lonely London house, I
dreamed--with the strangest sleeping oblivion of my marriage, and of all
the new interests which it had crowded into my life--of country rides
with my sister, and of quiet conversations in the old gothic library
at the Hall. Under such influences as these, I twice resolved to make
amends for my long absence, by joining my father and my sister in the
country, even though it were only for a few days--and, each time, I
failed in my resolution. On the second occasion, I had actually mustered
firmness enough to get as far as the railway station; and only at the
last moment faltered and hung back. The struggle that it cost me to
part for any length of time from Margaret, I had overcome; but the
apprehension, as vivid as it was vague, that something--I knew not
what--might happen to her in my absence, turned my steps backward at
starting. I felt heartily ashamed of my own weakness; but I yielded to
it nevertheless.

At last, a letter arrived from Clara, containing a summons to the
country, which I could not disobey.

“I have never asked you,” she wrote, “to come and see us for my sake;
for I would not interfere with any of your interests or any of your
plans; but I now ask you to come here for your own sake--just for one
week, and no more, unless you like to remain longer. You remember papa
telling you, in your room in London, that he believed you kept some
secret from him. I am afraid this is preying on his mind: your long
absence is making him uneasy about you. He does not say so; but he never
sends any message, when I write; and if I speak about you, he always
changes the subject directly. Pray come here, and show yourself for a
few days--no questions will be asked, you may be sure. It will do so
much good; and will prevent--what I hope and pray may never happen--a
serious estrangement between papa and you. Recollect, Basil, in a month
or six weeks we shall come back to town; and then the opportunity will
be gone.”

As I read these lines, I determined to start for the country at once,
while the effect of them was still fresh on my mind. Margaret, when
I took leave of her, only said that she should like to be going with
me--“it would be such a sight for her, to see a grand country house like
ours!” Mr. Sherwin laughed as coarsely as usual, at the difficulties
I made about only leaving his daughter for a week. Mrs. Sherwin very
earnestly, and very inaccountably as I then thought, recommended me not
to be away any longer than I had proposed. Mr. Mannion privately assured
me, that I might depend on him in my absence from North Villa, exactly
as I had always depended on him, during my presence there. It was
strange that his parting words should be the only words which soothed
and satisfied me on taking leave of London.

The winter afternoon was growing dim with the evening darkness, as I
drove up to the Hall. Snow on the ground, in the country, has always
a cheerful look to me. I could have wished to see it on the day of my
arrival at home; but there had been a thaw for the last week--mud and
water were all about me--a drizzling rain was falling--a raw, damp wind
was blowing--a fog was rising, as the evening stole on--and the ancient
leafless elms in the park avenue groaned and creaked above my head
drearily, as I approached the house.

My father received me with more ceremony than I liked. I had known, from
a boy, what it meant when he chose to be only polite to his own son.
What construction he had put on my long absence and my persistence in
keeping my secret from him, I could not tell; but it was evident that
I had lost my usual place in his estimation, and lost it past regaining
merely by a week’s visit. The estrangement between us, which my sister
had feared, had begun already.

I had been chilled by the desolate aspect of nature, as I approached the
Hall; my father’s reception of me, when I entered the house, increased
the comfortless and melancholy impressions produced on my mind; it
required all the affectionate warmth of Clara’s welcome, all the
pleasure of hearing her whisper her thanks, as she kissed me, for my
readiness in following her advice, to restore my equanimity. But even
then, when the first hurry and excitement of meeting had passed away, in
spite of her kind words and looks, there was something in her face which
depressed me. She seemed thinner, and her constitutional paleness was
more marked than usual. Cares and anxieties had evidently oppressed
her--was I the cause of them?

The dinner that evening proceeded very heavily and gloomily. My father
only talked on general and commonplace topics, as if a mere acquaintance
had been present. When my sister left us, he too quitted the room, to
see some one who had arrived on business. I had no heart for the company
of the wine bottles, so I followed Clara.

At first, we only spoke of her occupations since she had been in the
country; I was unwilling, and she forbore, to touch on my long stay in
London, or on my father’s evident displeasure at my protracted absence.
There was a little restraint between us, which neither had the courage
to break through. Before long, however, an accident, trifling enough
in itself, obliged me to be more candid; and enabled her to speak
unreservedly on the subject nearest to her heart.

I was seated opposite to Clara, at the fire-place, and was playing
with a favourite dog which had followed me into the room. While I was
stooping towards the animal, a locket containing some of Margaret’s
hair, fell out of its place in my waistcoat, and swung towards my sister
by the string which attached it round my neck. I instantly hid it again;
but not before Clara, with a woman’s quickness, had detected the trinket
as something new, and drawn the right inference, as to the use to which
I devoted it.

An expression of surprise and pleasure passed over her face; she rose,
and putting her hands on my shoulders, as if to keep me still in the
place I occupied, looked at me intently.

“Basil!” she exclaimed, “if that is all the secret you have been keeping
from us, how glad I am! When I see a new locket drop out of my brother’s
waistcoat--” she continued, observing that I was too confused to
speak--“and when I find him colouring very deeply, and hiding it again
in a great hurry, I should be no true woman if I did not make my own
discoveries, and begin to talk about them directly.”

I made an effort--a very poor one--to laugh the thing off. Her
expression grew serious and thoughtful, while she still fixed her eyes
on me. She took my hand gently, and whispered in my ear: “Are you going
to be married, Basil? Shall I love my new sister almost as much as I
love you?”

At that moment the servant came in with tea. The interruption gave me
a minute for consideration. Should I tell her all? Impulse answered,
yes--reflection, no. If I disclosed my real situation, I knew that I
must introduce Clara to Margaret. This would necessitate taking her
privately to Mr. Sherwin’s house, and exposing to her the humiliating
terms of dependence and prohibition on which I lived with my own wife. A
strange medley of feelings, in which pride was uppermost, forbade me
to do that. Then again, to involve my sister in my secret, would be to
involve her with me in any consequences which might be produced by
its disclosure to my father. The mere idea of making her a partaker in
responsibilities which I alone ought to bear, was not to be entertained
for a moment. As soon as we were left together again, I said to her:

“Will you not think the worse of me, Clara, if I leave you to draw your
own conclusions from what you have seen? only asking you to keep strict
silence on the subject to every one. I can’t speak yet, love, as I
wish to speak: you will know why, some day, and say that my reserve was
right. In the meantime, can you be satisfied with the assurance, that
when the time comes for making my secret known, you shall be the first
to know it--the first I put trust in?”

“As you have not starved my curiosity altogether,” said Clara, smiling,
“but have given it a little hope to feed on for the present, I think,
woman though I am, I can promise all you wish. Seriously, Basil,” she
continued, “that telltale locket of yours has so pleasantly brightened
some very gloomy thoughts of mine about you, that I can now live happily
on expectation, without once mentioning your secret again, till you give
me leave to do so.”

Here my father entered the room, and we said no more. His manner towards
me had not altered since dinner; and it remained the same during the
week of my stay at the Hall. One morning, when we were alone, I took
courage, and determined to try the dangerous ground a little, with a
view towards my guidance for the future; but I had no sooner begun by
some reference to my stay in London, and some apology for it, than he
stopped me at once.

“I told you,” he said, gravely and coldly, “some months ago, that I had
too much faith in your honour to intrude on affairs which you choose
to keep private. Until you have perfect confidence in me, and can speak
with complete candour, I will hear nothing. You have not that confidence
now--you speak hesitatingly--your eyes do not meet mine fairly and
boldly. I tell you again, I will hear nothing which begins with such
common-place excuses as you have just addressed to me. Excuses lead to
prevarications, and prevarications to--what I will not insult you by
imagining possible in _your_ case. You are of age, and must know your
own responsibilities and mine. Choose at once, between saying nothing,
and saying all.”

He waited a moment after he had spoken, and then quitted the room. If
he could only have known how I suffered, at that instant, under the base
necessities of concealment, I might have confessed everything; and he
must have pitied, though he might not have forgiven me.

This was my first and last attempt at venturing towards the revelation
of my secret to my father, by hints and half-admissions. As to boldly
confessing it, I persuaded myself into a sophistical conviction that
such a course could do no good, but might do much harm. When the wedded
happiness I had already waited for, and was to wait for still, through
so many months, came at last, was it not best to enjoy my married
life in convenient secrecy, as long as I could?--best, to abstain from
disclosing my secret to my father, until necessity absolutely obliged,
or circumstances absolutely invited me to do so? My inclinations
conveniently decided the question in the affirmative; and a decision of
any kind, right or wrong, was enough to tranquillise me at that time.

So far as my father was concerned, my journey to the country did no
good. I might have returned to London the day after my arrival at the
Hall, without altering his opinion of me--but I stayed the whole week
nevertheless, for Clara’s sake.

In spite of the pleasure afforded by my sister’s society, my visit was a
painful one. The selfish longing to be back with Margaret, which I could
not wholly repress; my father’s coldness; and the winter gloom and rain
which confined us almost incessantly within doors, all tended in their
different degrees to prevent my living at ease in the Hall. But, besides
these causes of embarrassment, I had the additional mortification of
feeling, for the first time, as a stranger in my own home.

Nothing in the house looked to me what it used to look in former years.
The rooms, the old servants, the walks and views, the domestic animals,
all appeared to have altered, or to have lost something, since I had
seen them last. Particular rooms that I had once been fond of occupying,
were favourites no longer: particular habits that I had hitherto always
practised in the country, I could only succeed in resuming by an effort
which vexed and fretted me. It was as if my life had run into a new
channel since my last autumn and winter at the Hall, and now refused to
flow back at my bidding into its old course. Home seemed home no longer,
except in name.

As soon as the week was over, my father and I parted exactly as we had
met. When I took leave of Clara, she refrained from making any allusion
to the shortness of my stay; and merely said that we should soon meet
again in London. She evidently saw that my visit had weighed a little
on my spirits, and was determined to give to our short farewell as happy
and hopeful a character as possible. We now thoroughly understood each
other; and that was some consolation on leaving her.

Immediately on my return to London I repaired to North Villa.

Nothing, I was told, had happened in my absence, but I remarked some
change in Margaret. She looked pale and nervous, and was more silent
than I had ever known her to be before, when we met. She accounted
for this, in answer to my inquiries, by saying that confinement to the
house, in consequence of the raw, wintry weather, had a little affected
her; and then changed the subject. In other directions, household
aspects had not deviated from their accustomed monotony. As usual, Mrs.
Sherwin was at her post in the drawing-room; and her husband was reading
the evening paper, over his renowned old port, in the dining-room. After
the first five minutes of my arrival, I adapted myself again to my old
way of life at Mr. Sherwin’s, as easily as if I had never interrupted
it for a single day. Henceforth, wherever my young wife was, there, and
there only, would it be home for _me!_

Late in the evening, Mr. Mannion arrived with some business letters for
Mr. Sherwin’s inspection. I sent for him into the hall to see me, as I
was going away. His hand was never a warm one; but as I now took it, on
greeting him, it was so deadly cold that it literally chilled mine for
the moment. He only congratulated me, in the usual terms, on my safe
return; and said that nothing had taken place in my absence--but in his
utterance of those few words, I discovered, for the first time, a change
in his voice: his tones were lower, and his articulation quicker than
usual. This, joined to the extraordinary coldness of his hand, made
me inquire whether he was unwell. Yes, he too had been ill while I was
away--harassed with hard work, he said. Then apologising for leaving me
abruptly, on account of the letters he had brought with him, he returned
to Mr. Sherwin, in the dining-room, with a greater appearance of hurry
in his manner than I had ever remarked in it on any former occasion.

I had left Margaret and Mr. Mannion both well--I returned, and found
them both ill. Surely this was something that had taken place in my
absence, though they all said that nothing had happened. But trifling
illnesses seemed to be little regarded at North Villa--perhaps, because
serious illness was perpetually present there, in the person of Mrs.
Sherwin.

VI.

About six weeks after I had left the Hall, my father and Clara returned
to London for the season.

It is not my intention to delay over my life either at home or at North
Villa, during the spring and summer. This would be merely to repeat much
of what has been already related. It is better to proceed at once to the
closing period of my probation; to a period which it taxes my resolution
severely to write of at all. A few weeks more of toil at my narrative,
and the penance of this poor task-work will be over.

                       * * * * * *

Imagine then, that the final day of my long year of expectation has
arrived; and that on the morrow, Margaret, for whose sake I have
sacrificed and suffered so much, is at last really to be mine.

On the eve of the great change in my life that was now to take place,
the relative positions in which I, and the different persons with whom I
was associated, stood towards each other, may be sketched thus:--

My father’s coldness of manner had not altered since his return to
London. On my side, I carefully abstained from uttering a word before
him, which bore the smallest reference to my real situation. Although
when we met, we outwardly preserved the usual relations of parent and
child, the estrangement between us had now become complete.

Clara did not fail to perceive this, and grieved over it in secret.
Other and happier feelings, however, became awakened within her, when I
privately hinted that the time for disclosing my secret to my sister was
not far off. She grew almost as much agitated as I was, though by
very different expectations--she could think of nothing else but the
explanation and the surprise in store for her. Sometimes, I almost
feared to keep her any longer in suspense; and half regretted having
said anything on the subject of the new and absorbing interest of my
life, before the period when I could easily have said all.

Mr. Sherwin and I had not latterly met on the most cordial terms. He was
dissatisfied with me for not having boldly approached the subject of my
marriage in my father’s presence; and considered my reasons for still
keeping it secret, as dictated by morbid apprehension, and as showing a
total want of proper firmness. On the other hand, he was obliged to set
against this omission on my part, the readiness I had shown in meeting
his wishes on all remaining points. My life was insured in Margaret’s
favour; and I had arranged to be called to the bar immediately, so as
to qualify myself in good time for every possible place within
place-hunting range. My assiduity in making these preparations for
securing Margaret’s prospects and mine against any evil chances that
might happen, failed in producing the favourable effect on Mr. Sherwin,
which they must assuredly have produced on a less selfish man. But they
obliged him, at least, to stop short at occasional grumblings about
my reserve with my father, and to maintain towards me a sort of
sulky politeness, which was, after all, less offensive than the usual
infliction of his cordiality, with its unfailing accompaniment of dull
stories and duller jokes.

During the spring and summer, Mrs. Sherwin appeared to grow feebler
and feebler, from continued ill-health. Occasionally, her words and
actions--especially in her intercourse with me--suggested fears that her
mind was beginning to give way, as well as her body. For instance, on
one occasion, when Margaret had left the room for a minute or two,
she suddenly hurried up to me, whispering with eager looks and anxious
tones:--“Watch over your wife--mind you watch over her, and keep all bad
people from her! _I’ve_ tried to do it--mind _you_ do it, too!” I asked
immediately for an explanation of this extraordinary injunction; but
she only answered by muttering something about a mother’s anxieties, and
then returned hastily to her place. It was impossible to induce her to
be more explicit, try how I might.

Margaret once or twice occasioned me much perplexity and distress, by
certain inconsistencies and variations in her manner, which began to
appear shortly after my return to North Villa from the country. At one
time, she would become, on a sudden, strangely sullen and silent--at
another, irritable and capricious. Then, again, she would abruptly
change to the most affectionate warmth of speech and demeanour,
anxiously anticipating every wish I could form, eagerly showing her
gratitude for the slightest attentions I paid her. These unaccountable
alterations of manner vexed and irritated me indescribably. I
loved Margaret too well to be able to look philosophically on the
imperfections of her character; I knew of no cause given by me for
the frequent changes in her conduct, and, if they only proceeded
from coquetry, then coquetry, as I once told her, was the last female
accomplishment that could charm me in any woman whom I really loved.
However, these causes of annoyance and regret--her caprices, and my
remonstrances--all passed happily away, as the term of my engagement
with Mr. Sherwin approached its end, Margaret’s better and lovelier
manner returned. Occasionally, she might betray some symptoms of
confusion, some evidences of unusual thoughtfulness--but I remembered
how near was the day of the emancipation of our love, and looked on
her embarrassment as a fresh charm, a new ornament to the beauty of my
maiden wife.

Mr. Mannion continued--as far as attention to my interests went--to be
the same ready and reliable friend as ever; but he was, in some other
respects, an altered man. The illness of which he had complained months
back, when I returned to London, seemed to have increased. His face was
still the same impenetrable face which had so powerfully impressed
me when I first saw him, but his manner, hitherto so quiet and
self-possessed, had now grown abrupt and variable. Sometimes, when he
joined us in the drawing-room at North Villa, he would suddenly stop
before we had exchanged more than three or four words, murmur something,
in a voice unlike his usual voice, about an attack of spasm and
giddiness, and leave the room. These fits of illness had something in
their nature of the same secrecy which distinguished everything else
connected with him: they produced no external signs of distortion,
no unusual paleness in his face--you could not guess what pain he was
suffering, or where he was suffering it. Latterly, I abstained from ever
asking him to join us; for the effect on Margaret of his sudden attacks
of illness was, naturally, such as to discompose her seriously for the
remainder of the evening. Whenever I saw him accidentally, at later
periods of the year, the influence of the genial summer season appeared
to produce no alteration for the better in him. I remarked that his cold
hand, which had chilled me when I took it on the raw winter night of my
return from the country, was as cold as ever, on the warm summer days
which preceded the close of my engagement at North Villa.



Such was the posture of affairs at home, and at Mr. Sherwin’s, when I
went to see Margaret for the last time in my old character, on the last
night which yet remained to separate us from each other.

I had been all day preparing for our reception, on the morrow, in a
cottage which I had taken for a month, in a retired part of the country,
at some distance from London. One month’s unalloyed happiness with
Margaret, away from the world and all worldly considerations, was the
Eden upon earth towards which my dearest hope and anticipations had
pointed for a whole year past--and now, now at last, those aspirations
were to be realized! All my arrangements at the cottage were completed
in time to allow me to return home, just before our usual late dinner
hour. During the meal, I provided for my month’s absence from London, by
informing my father that I proposed visiting one of my country friends.
He heard me as coldly and indifferently as usual; and, as I anticipated,
did not even ask to what friend’s house I was going. After dinner, I
privately informed Clara that on the morrow, before starting, I
would, in accordance with my promise, make her the depositary of my
long-treasured secret--which, as yet, was not to be divulged to any one
besides. This done, I hurried away, between nine and ten o’clock, for
a last half-hour’s visit to North Villa; hardly able to realise my own
situation, or to comprehend the fulness and exaltation of my own joy.

A disappointment was in store for me. Margaret was not in the house; she
had gone out to an evening party, given by a maiden aunt of hers, who
was known to be very rich, and was, accordingly, a person to be courted
and humoured by the family.

I was angry as well as disappointed at what had taken place. To
send Margaret out, on this evening of all others, showed a want of
consideration towards both of us, which revolted me. Mr. and Mrs.
Sherwin were in the room when I entered; and to _him_ I spoke my opinion
on the subject, in no very conciliatory terms. He was suffering from a
bad attack of headache, and a worse attack of ill-temper, and answered
as irritably as he dared.

“My good Sir!” he said, in sharp, querulous tones, “do, for once, allow
me to know what’s best. You’ll have it all _your_ way to-morrow--just
let me have _mine,_ for the last time, to-night. I’m sure you’ve been
humoured often enough about keeping Margaret away from parties--and we
should have humoured you this time, too; but a second letter came from
the old lady, saying she should be affronted if Margaret wasn’t one of
her guests. I couldn’t go and talk her over, because of this infernal
headache of mine--Hang it! it’s your interest that Margaret should keep
in with her aunt; she’ll have all the old girl’s money, if she only
plays her cards decently well. That’s why I sent her to the party--her
going will be worth some thousands to both of you one of these days.
She’ll be back by half-past twelve, or before. Mannion was asked; and
though he’s all out of sorts, he’s gone to take care of her, and bring
her back. I’ll warrant she comes home in good time, when _he’s_ with
her. So you see there’s nothing to make a fuss about, after all.”

It was certainly a relief to hear that Mr. Mannion was taking care of
Margaret. He was, in my opinion, much fitter for such a trust than her
own father. Of all the good services he had done for me, I thought this
the best--but it would have been even better still, if he had prevented
Margaret from going to the party.

“I must say again,” resumed Mr. Sherwin, still more irritably, finding
I did not at once answer him, “there’s nothing that any reasonable
being need make a fuss about. I’ve been doing everything for Margaret’s
interests and yours--and she’ll be back by twelve--and Mr. Mannion takes
care of her--and I don’t know what you would have--and it’s devilish
hard, so ill as I am too, to cut up rough with me like this--devilish
hard!”

“I am sorry for your illness, Mr. Sherwin; and I don’t doubt your good
intentions, or the advantage of Mr. Mannion’s protection for Margaret;
but I feel disappointed, nevertheless, that she should have gone out
to-night.”

“I said she oughtn’t to go at all, whatever her aunt wrote--_I_ said
that.”

This bold speech actually proceeded from Mrs. Sherwin! I had never
before heard her utter an opinion in her husband’s presence--such an
outburst from _her,_ was perfectly inexplicable. She pronounced the
words with desperate rapidity, and unwonted power of tone, fixing her
eyes all the while on me with a very strange expression.

“Damn it, Mrs. S.!” roared her husband in a fury, “will you hold your
tongue? What the devil do you mean by giving _your_ opinion, when nobody
wants it? Upon my soul I begin to think you’re getting a little cracked.
You’ve been meddling and bothering lately, so that I don’t know what
the deuce has come to you! I’ll tell you what it is, Mr. Basil,” he
continued, turning snappishly round upon me, “you had better stop that
fidgetty temper of yours, by going to the party yourself. The old lady
told me she wanted gentlemen; and would be glad to see any friends of
mine I liked to send her. You have only to mention my name: Mannion will
do the civil in the way of introduction. There! there’s an envelope
with the address to it--they won’t know who you are, or what you are, at
Margaret’s aunt’s--you’ve got your black dress things on, all right
and ready--for Heaven’s sake, go to the party yourself, and then I hope
you’ll be satisfied!”

Here he stopped; and vented the rest of his ill-humour by ringing the
bell violently for “his arrow-root,” and abusing the servant when she
brought it.

I hesitated about accepting his proposal. While I was in doubt, Mrs.
Sherwin took the opportunity, when her husband’s eye was off her, of
nodding her head at me significantly. She evidently wished me to join
Margaret at the party--but why? What did her behaviour mean?

It was useless to inquire. Long bodily suffering and weakness had but
too palpably produced a corresponding feebleness in her intellect. What
should I do? I was resolved to see Margaret that night; but to wait for
her between two and three hours, in company with her father and mother
at North Villa, was an infliction not to be endured. I determined to go
to the party. No one there would know anything about me. They would be
all people who lived in a different world from mine; and whose manners
and habits I might find some amusement in studying. At any rate, I
should spend an hour or two with Margaret, and could make it my own
charge to see her safely home. Without further hesitation, therefore
I took up the envelope with the address on it, and bade Mr. and Mrs.
Sherwin good-night.

It struck ten as I left North Villa. The moonlight which was just
beginning to shine brilliantly on my arrival there, now appeared but at
rare intervals; for the clouds were spreading thicker and thicker over
the whole surface of the sky, as the night advanced.

VII.

The address to which I was now proceeding, led me some distance away
from Mr. Sherwin’s place of abode, in the direction of the populous
neighbourhood which lies on the western side of the Edgeware Road. The
house of Margaret’s aunt was plainly enough indicated to me, as soon
as I entered the street where it stood, by the glare of light from the
windows, the sound of dance music, and the nondescript group of cabmen
and linkmen, with their little train of idlers in attendance, assembled
outside the door. It was evidently a very large party. I hesitated about
going in.

My sensations were not those which fit a man for exchanging conventional
civilities with perfect strangers; I felt that I showed outwardly the
fever of joy and expectation within me. Could I preserve my assumed
character of a mere friend of the family, in Margaret’s presence?--and
on this night too, of all others? It was far more probable that my
behaviour, if I went to the party, would betray everything to everybody
assembled. I determined to walk about in the neighbourhood of the house,
until twelve o’clock; and then to go into the hall, and send up my card
to Mr. Mannion, with a message on it, intimating that I was waiting
below to accompany him to North Villa with Margaret.

I crossed the street, and looked up again at the house from the pavement
opposite. Then lingered a little, listening to the music as it reached
me through the windows, and imagining to myself Margaret’s occupation
at that moment. After this, I turned away; and set forth eastward on my
walk, careless in which direction I traced my steps.

I felt little impatience, and no sense of fatigue; for in less than
two hours more I knew that I should see my wife again. Until then,
the present had no existence for me--I lived in the past and future.
I wandered indifferently along lonely bye-streets, and crowded
thoroughfares. Of all the sights which attend a night-walk in a great
city, not one attracted my notice. Uninformed and unobservant, neither
saddened nor startled, I passed through the glittering highways of
London. All sounds were silent to me save the love-music of my own
thoughts; all sights had vanished before the bright form that moved
through my bridal dream. Where was my world, at that moment? Narrowed to
the cottage in the country which was to receive us on the morrow. Where
were the beings in the world? All merged in one--Margaret.

Sometimes, my thoughts glided back, dreamily and voluptuously, to the
day when I first met her. Sometimes, I recalled the summer evenings when
we sat and read together out of the same book; and, once more, it was as
if I breathed with the breath, and hoped with the hopes, and longed with
the old longings of those days. But oftenest it was with the morrow that
my mind was occupied. The first dream of all young men--the dream of
living rapturously with the woman they love, in a secret retirement kept
sacred from friends and from strangers alike, was now my dream; to be
realised in a few hours, to be realised with my waking on the morning
which was already at hand!

For the last quarter of an hour of my walk, I must have been
unconsciously retracing my steps towards the house of Margaret’s aunt. I
came in sight of it again, just as the sound of the neighbouring church
clocks, striking eleven, roused me from my abstraction. More cabs were
in the street; more people were gathered about the door, by this time.
Was all this bustle, the bustle of arrival or of departure? Was the
party about to break up, at an hour when parties usually begin? I
determined to go nearer to the house, and ascertain whether the music
had ceased, or not.

I had approached close enough to hear the notes of the harp and
pianoforte still sounding as gaily as ever, when the house-door was
suddenly flung open for the departure of a lady and gentleman. The light
from the hall-lamps fell on their faces; and showed me Margaret and Mr.
Mannion.

Going home already! An hour and a half before it was time to return!
Why?

There could be but one reason. Margaret was thinking of me, and of what
I should feel if I called at North Villa, and had to wait for her till
past midnight. I ran forward to speak to them, as they descended the
steps; but exactly at the same moment, my voice was overpowered, and my
further progress barred, by a scuffle on the pavement among the people
who stood between us. One man said that his pocket had been picked;
others roared to him that they had caught the thief. There was a
fight--the police came up--I was surrounded on all sides by a shouting,
struggling mob that seemed to have gathered in an instant.

Before I could force myself out of the crowd, and escape into the road,
Margaret and Mr. Mannion had hurried into a cab. I just saw the vehicle
driving off rapidly, as I got free. An empty cab was standing near me--I
jumped into it directly--and told the man to overtake them. After having
waited my time so patiently, to let a mere accident stop me from going
home with them, as I had resolved, was not to be thought of for a
moment. I was hot and angry, after my contest with the crowd; and could
have flogged on the miserable cab-horse with my own hand, rather than
have failed in my purpose.

We were just getting closer behind them: I had just put my head out of
the window to call to them, and to bid the man who was driving me, call,
too--when their cab abruptly turned down a bye-street, in a direction
exactly opposite to the direction which led to North Villa.

What did this mean? Why were they not going straight home?

The cabman asked me whether he should not hail them before they got
farther away from us; frankly confessing, as he put the question,
that his horse was nothing like equal to the pace of the horse ahead.
Mechanically, without assignable purpose or motive, I declined his
offer, and told him simply to follow at any distance he could. While the
words passed my lips, a strange sensation stole over me: I seemed to be
speaking as the mere mouthpiece of some other voice. From feeling hot,
and moving about restlessly the moment before, I felt unaccountably
cold, and sat still now. What caused this?

My cab stopped. I looked out, and saw that the horse had fallen. “We’ve
lots of time, Sir,” said the driver, as he coolly stepped off the box,
“they are just pulling up further down the road.” I gave him some money,
and got out immediately--determined to overtake them on foot.

It was a very lonely place--a colony of half-finished streets, and
half-inhabited houses, which had grown up in the neighbourhood of a
great railway station. I heard the fierce scream of the whistle, and
the heaving, heavy throb of the engine starting on its journey, as I
advanced along the gloomy Square in which I now found myself. The cab
I had been following stood at a turning which led into a long street,
occupied towards the farther end, by shops closed for the night, and at
the end nearest me, apparently by private houses only. Margaret and Mr.
Mannion hastily left the cab, and without looking either to the right
or the left, hurried down the street. They stopped at the ninth house. I
followed just in time to hear the door closed on them, and to count the
number of doors intervening between that door and the Square.

The awful thrill of a suspicion which I hardly knew yet for what it
really was, began to creep over me--to creep like a dead-cold touch
crawling through and through me to the heart. I looked up at the house.
It was an hotel--a neglected, deserted, dreary-looking building.
Still acting mechanically; still with no definite impulse that I could
recognise, even if I felt it, except the instinctive resolution to
follow them into the house, as I had already followed them through the
street--I walked up to the door, and rang the bell.

It was answered by a waiter--a mere lad. As the light in the passage
fell on my face, he paused in the act of addressing me, and drew back
a few steps. Without stopping for any explanations, I closed the door
behind me, and said to him at once:

“A lady and gentleman came into this hotel a little while ago.”

“What may your business be?”--He hesitated, and added in an altered
tone, “I mean, what may you want with them, Sir?”

“I want you to take me where I can hear their voices, and I want nothing
more. Here’s a sovereign for you, if you do what I ask.”

His eyes fastened covetously on the gold, as I held it before them. He
retired a few steps on tiptoe, and listened at the end of the passage.
I heard nothing but the thick, rapid beating of my own heart. He came
back, muttering to himself: “Master’s safe at supper down stairs--I’ll
risk it! You’ll promise to go away directly,” he added, whispering to
me, “and not disturb the house? We are quiet people here, and can’t have
anything like a disturbance. Just say at once, will you promise to step
soft, and not speak a word?”

“I promise.”

“This way then, Sir--and mind you don’t forget to step soft.”

A strange coldness and stillness, an icy insensibility, a
dream-sensation of being impelled by some hidden, irresistible agency,
possessed me, as I followed him upstairs. He showed me softly into an
empty room; pointed to one of the walls, whispering, “It’s only boards
papered over--” and then waited, keeping his eyes anxiously and steadily
fixed upon all my movements.

I listened; and through the thin partition, I heard voices--_her_ voice,
and _his_ voice. _I heard and I knew_--knew my degradation in all its
infamy, knew my wrongs in all their nameless horror. He was exulting
in the patience and secrecy which had brought success to the foul plot,
foully hidden for months on months; foully hidden until the very day
before I was to have claimed as my wife, a wretch as guilty as himself!

I could neither move nor breathe. The blood surged and heaved upward to
my brain; my heart strained and writhed in anguish; the life within me
raged and tore to get free. Whole years of the direst mental and bodily
agony were concentrated in that one moment of helpless, motionless
torment. I never lost the consciousness of suffering. I heard the
waiter say, under his breath, “My God! he’s dying.” I felt him loosen my
cravat--I knew that he dashed cold water over me; dragged me out of the
room; and, opening a window on the landing, held me firmly where the
night-air blew upon my face. I knew all this; and knew when the paroxysm
passed, and nothing remained of it, but a shivering helplessness in
every limb.

Erelong, the power of thinking began to return to me by degrees.

Misery, and shame, and horror, and a vain yearning to hide myself from
all human eyes, and weep out my life in secret, overcame me. Then, these
subsided; and ONE THOUGHT slowly arose in their stead--arose, and
cast down before it every obstacle of conscience, every principle of
education, every care for the future, every remembrance of the past,
every weakening influence of present misery, every repressing tie of
family and home, every anxiety for good fame in this life, and every
idea of the next that was to come. Before the fell poison of that
Thought, all other thoughts--good or evil--died. As it spoke secretly
within me, I felt my bodily strength coming back; a quick vigour leapt
hotly through my frame. I turned, and looked round towards the room we
had just left--my mind was looking at the room beyond it, the room they
were in.

The waiter was still standing by my side, watching me intently. He
suddenly started back; and, with pale face and staring eyes, pointed
down the stairs.

“You go,” he whispered, “go directly! You’re well now--I’m afraid to
have you here any longer. I saw your look, your horrid look at that
room! You’ve heard what you wanted for your money--go at once; or, if
I lose my place for it, I’ll call out Murder, and raise the house. And
mind this: as true as God’s in heaven, I’ll warn them both before they
go outside our door!”

Hearing, but not heeding him, I left the house. No voice that ever
spoke, could have called me back from the course on which I was now
bound. The waiter watched me vigilantly from the door, as I went out.
Seeing this, I made a circuit, before I returned to the spot where, as I
had suspected, the cab they had ridden in was still waiting for them.

The driver was asleep inside. I awoke him; told him I had been sent
to say that he was not wanted again that night: and secured his ready
departure, by at once paying him on his own terms. He drove off; and
the first obstacle on the fatal path which I had resolved to tread
unopposed, was now removed.

As the cab disappeared from my sight, I looked up at the sky. It was
growing very dark. The ragged black clouds, fantastically parted from
each other in island shapes over the whole surface of the heavens, were
fast drawing together into one huge, formless, lowering mass, and
had already hidden the moon for, good. I went back to the street, and
stationed myself in the pitch darkness of a passage which led down a
mews, situated exactly opposite to the hotel.

In the silence and obscurity, in the sudden pause of action while I
now waited and watched, my Thought rose to my lips, and my speech
mechanically formed it into words. I whispered softly to myself: _I will
kill him when he comes out._ My mind never swerved for an instant from
this thought--never swerved towards myself; never swerved towards _her._
Grief was numbed at my heart; and the consciousness of my own misery was
numbed with grief. Death chills all before it--and Death and my Thought
were one.

Once, while I stood on the watch, a sharp agony of suspense tried me
fiercely.

Just as I had calculated that the time was come which would force them
to depart, in order to return to North Villa by the appointed hour, I
heard the slow, heavy, regular tramp of a footstep advancing along the
street. It was the policeman of the district going his round. As he
approached the entrance to the mews he paused, yawned, stretched his
arms, and began to whistle a tune. If Mannion should come out while he
was there! My blood seemed to stagnate on its course, while I thought
that this might well happen. Suddenly, the man ceased whistling, looked
steadily up and down the street, and tried the door of a house near
him--advanced a few steps--then paused again, and tried another
door--then muttered to himself, in drowsy tones--“I’ve seen all safe
here already: it’s the other street I forgot just now.” He turned, and
retraced his way. I fixed my aching eyes vigilantly on the hotel, while
I heard the sound of his footsteps grow fainter and fainter in the
distance. It ceased altogether; and still there was no change--still the
man whose life I was waiting for, never appeared.

Ten minutes after this, so far as I can guess, the door opened; and I
heard Mannion’s voice, and the voice of the lad who had let me in. “Look
about you before you go out,” said the waiter, speaking in the
passage; “the street’s not safe for you.” Disbelieving, or affecting to
disbelieve, what he heard, Mannion interrupted the waiter angrily; and
endeavoured to reassure his companion in guilt, by asserting that the
warning was nothing but an attempt to extort money by way of reward. The
man retorted sulkily, that he cared nothing for the gentleman’s money,
or the gentleman either. Immediately afterwards an inner door in the
house banged violently; and I knew that Mannion had been left to his
fate.

There was a momentary silence; and then I heard him tell his accomplice
that he would go alone to look for the cab, and that she had better
close the door and wait quietly in the passage till he came back. This
was done. He walked out into the street. It was after twelve o’clock. No
sound of a strange footfall was audible--no soul was at hand to witness,
and prevent, the coming struggle. His life was mine. His death followed
him as fast as my feet followed, while I was now walking on his track.

He looked up and down, from the entrance to the street, for the cab.
Then, seeing that it was gone, he hastily turned back. At that instant I
met him face to face. Before a word could be spoken, even before a look
could be exchanged, my hands were on his throat.

He was a taller and heavier man than I was; and struggled with me,
knowing that he was struggling for his life. He never shook my grasp on
him for a moment; but he dragged me out into the road--dragged me away
eight or ten yards from the street. The heavy gasps of approaching
suffocation beat thick on my forehead from his open mouth: he swerved
to and fro furiously, from side to side; and struck at me, swinging his
clenched fists high above his head. I stood firm, and held him away at
arm’s length. As I dug my feet into the ground to steady myself, I heard
the crunching of stones--the road had been newly mended with granite.
Instantly, a savage purpose goaded into fury the deadly resolution by
which I was possessed. I shifted my hold to the back of his neck, and
the collar of his coat, and hurled him, with the whole impetus of the
raging strength that was let loose in me, face downwards, on to the
stones.

In the mad triumph of that moment, I had already stooped towards him, as
he lay insensible beneath me, to lift him again, and beat out of him, on
the granite, not life only, but the semblance of humanity as well; when,
in the blank stillness that followed the struggle, I heard the door of
the hotel in the street open once more. I left him directly, and ran
back from the square--I knew not with what motive, or what idea--to the
spot.

On the steps of the house, on the threshold of that accursed place,
stood the woman whom God’s minister had given to me in the sight of God,
as my wife.

One long pang of shame and despair shot through my heart as I looked at
her, and tortured out of its trance the spirit within me. Thousands on
thousands of thoughts seemed to be whirling in the wildest confusion
through and through my brain--thoughts, whose track was a track of
fire--thoughts that struck me with a hellish torment of dumbness, at
the very time when I would have purchased with my life the power of a
moment’s speech. Voiceless and tearless, I went up to her, and took
her by the arm, and drew her away from the house. There was some vague
purpose in me, as I did this, of never quitting my hold of her, never
letting her stir from me by so much as an inch, until I had spoken
certain words to her. What words they were, and when I should utter
them, I could not tell.

The cry for mercy was on her lips, but the instant our eyes met, it died
away in long, low, hysterical moanings. Her cheeks were ghastly, her
features were rigid, her eyes glared like an idiot’s; guilt and terror
had made her hideous to look upon already.

I drew her onward a few paces towards the Square. Then I stopped,
remembering the body that lay face downwards on the road. The savage
strength of a few moments before, had left me from the time when I first
saw her. I now reeled where I stood, from sheer physical weakness.
The sound of her pantings and shudderings, of her abject inarticulate
murmurings for mercy, struck me with a supernatural terror. My fingers
trembled round her arm, the perspiration dripped down my face, like
rain; I caught at the railings by my side, to keep myself from falling.
As I did so, she snatched her arm from my grasp, as easily as if I had
been a child; and, with a cry for help, fled towards the further end of
the street.

Still, the strange instinct of never losing hold of her, influenced me.
I followed, staggering like a drunken man. In a moment, she was out of
my reach; in another, out of my sight. I went on, nevertheless; on, and
on, and on, I knew not whither. I lost all ideas of time and distance.
Sometimes I went round and round the same streets, over and over again.
Sometimes I hurried in one direction, straight forward. Wherever I went,
it seemed to me that she was still just before; that her track and my
track were one; that I had just lost my hold of her, and that she was
just starting on her flight.

I remember passing two men in this way, in some great thoroughfare. They
both stopped, turned, and walked a few steps after me. One laughed at
me, as a drunkard. The other, in serious tones, told him to be silent;
for I was not drunk, but mad--he had seen my face as I passed under a
gas-lamp, and he knew that I was mad.

“MAD!”--that word, as I heard it, rang after me like a voice of
judgment. “MAD!”--a fear had come over me, which, in all its frightful
complication, was expressed by that one word--a fear which, to the man
who suffers it, is worse even than the fear of death; which no human
language ever has conveyed, or ever will convey, in all its horrible
reality, to others. I had pressed onward, hitherto, because I saw a
vision that led me after it--a beckoning shadow, ahead, darker even
than the night darkness. I still pressed on, now; but only because I was
afraid to stop.

I know not how far I had gone, when my strength utterly failed me, and
I sank down helpless, in a lonely place where the houses were few and
scattered, and trees and fields were dimly discernible in the obscurity
beyond. I hid my face in my hands, and tried to assure myself that I was
still in possession of my senses. I strove hard to separate my thoughts;
to distinguish between my recollections; to extricate from the confusion
within me any one idea, no matter what--and I could not do it. In that
awful struggle for the mastery over my own mind, all that had passed,
all the horror of that horrible night, became as nothing to me. I
raised myself, and looked up again, and tried to steady my reason by
the simplest means--even by endeavouring to count all the houses within
sight. The darkness bewildered me. Darkness?--_Was_ it dark? or was day
breaking yonder, far away in the murky eastern sky? Did I know what I
saw? Did I see the same thing for a few moments together? What was this
under me? Grass? yes! cold, soft, dewy grass. I bent down my forehead
upon it, and tried, for the last time, to steady my faculties by
praying; tried if I could utter the prayer which I had known and
repeated every day from childhood--the Lord’s Prayer. The Divine Words
came not at my call--no! not one of them, from the beginning to the end!
I started up on my knees. A blaze of lurid sunshine flashed before my
eyes; a hell-blaze of brightness, with fiends by millions, raining
down out of it on my head; then a rayless darkness--the darkness of the
blind--then God’s mercy at last--the mercy of utter oblivion.

                        * * * * *

When I recovered my consciousness, I was lying on the couch in my own
study. My father was supporting me on the pillow; the doctor had his
fingers on my pulse; and a policeman was telling them where he had found
me, and how he had brought me home.



PART III.


I.

WHEN the blind are operated on for the restoration of sight, the same
succouring hand which has opened to them the visible world, immediately
shuts out the bright prospect again, for a time. A bandage is passed
over the eyes, lest in the first tenderness of the recovered sense, it
should be fatally affected by the sudden transition from darkness to
light. But between the awful blank of total privation of vision, and
the temporary blank of vision merely veiled, there lies the widest
difference. In the moment of their restoration, the blind have had
one glimpse of light, flashing on them in an overpowering gleam of
brightness, which the thickest, closest veiling cannot extinguish. The
new darkness is not like the void darkness of old; it is filled with
changing visions of brilliant colours and ever-varying forms, rising,
falling, whirling hither and thither with every second. Even when
the handkerchief is passed over them, the once sightless eyes, though
bandaged fast, are yet not blinded as they were before.

It was so with my mental vision. After the utter oblivion and darkness
of a deep swoon, consciousness flashed like light on my mind, when I
found myself in my father’s presence, and in my own home. But, almost
at the very moment when I first awakened to the bewildering influence
of that sight, a new darkness fell upon my faculties--a darkness, this
time, which was not utter oblivion; a peopled darkness, like that which
the bandage casts over the opened eyes of the blind.

I had sensations, I had thoughts, I had visions, now--but they all acted
in the frightful self-concentration of delirium. The lapse of time, the
march of events, the alternation of day and night, the persons who moved
about me, the words they spoke, the offices of kindness they did for
me--all these were annihilated from the period when I closed my eyes
again, after having opened them for an instant on my father, in my own
study.

My first sensation (how soon it came after I had been brought home, I
know not) was of a terrible heat; a steady, blazing heat, which seemed
to have shrivelled and burnt up the whole of the little world around me,
and to have left me alone to suffer, but never to consume in it. After
this, came a quick, restless, unintermittent toiling of obscure thought,
ever in the same darkened sphere, ever on the same impenetrable subject,
ever failing to reach some distant and visionary result. It was as if
something were imprisoned in my mind, and moving always to and fro in
it--moving, but never getting free.

Soon, these thoughts began to take a form that I could recognise.

In the clinging heat and fierce seething fever, to which neither waking
nor sleeping brought a breath of freshness or a dream of change, I
began to act my part over again, in the events that had passed, but in
a strangely altered character. Now, instead of placing implicit trust in
others, as I had done; instead of failing to discover a significance and
a warning in each circumstance as it arose, I was suspicious from the
first--suspicious of Margaret, of her father, of her mother, of Mannion,
of the very servants in the house. In the hideous phantasmagoria of
my own calamity on which I now looked, my position was reversed. Every
event of the doomed year of my probation was revived. But the doom
itself, the night-scene of horror through which I had passed, had
utterly vanished from my memory. This lost recollection, it was the one
unending toil of my wandering mind to recover, and I never got it back.
None who have not suffered as I suffered then, can imagine with what a
burning rage of determination I followed past events in my delirium, one
by one, for days and nights together,--followed, to get to the end which
I knew was beyond, but which I never could see, not even by glimpses,
for a moment at a time.

However my visions might alter in their course of succession, they
always began with the night when Mannion returned from the continent
to North Villa. I stood again in the drawing-room; I saw him enter; I
marked the slight confusion of Margaret; and instantly doubted her.
I noticed his unwillingness to meet her eye or mine; I looked on the
sinister stillness of his face; and suspected him. From that moment,
love vanished, and hatred came in its place. I began to watch; to garner
up slight circumstances which confirmed my suspicions; to wait craftily
for the day when I should discover, judge, and punish them both--the day
of disclosure and retribution that never came.

Sometimes, I was again with Mannion, in his house, on the night of the
storm. I detected in every word he spoke an artful lure to trap me into
trusting him as my second father, more than as my friend. I heard in
the tempest sounds which mysteriously interrupted, or mingled with, my
answers, voices supernaturally warning me of my enemy, each time that I
spoke to him. I saw once more the hideous smile of triumph on his face,
as I took leave of him on the doorstep: and saw it, this time, not as
an illusion produced by a flash of lightning, but as a frightful reality
which the lightning disclosed.

Sometimes, I was again in the garden at North Villa accidentally
overhearing the conversation between Margaret and her
mother--overhearing what deceit she was willing to commit, for the sake
of getting a new dress--then going into the room, and seeing her assume
her usual manner on meeting me, as if no such words as I had listened to
but the moment before, had ever proceeded from her lips. Or, I saw her
on that other morning, when, to revenge the death of her bird, she would
have killed with her own hand the one pet companion that her sick
mother possessed. Now, no generous, trusting love blinded me to the
real meaning of such events as these. Now, instead of regarding them as
little weaknesses of beauty, and little errors of youth, I saw them as
timely warnings, which bade me remember when the day of my vengeance
came, that in the contriving of the iniquity on which they were both
bent, the woman had been as vile as the man.

Sometimes, I was once more on my way to North Villa, after my week’s
absence at our country house. I saw again the change in Margaret since
I had left her--the paleness, the restlessness, the appearance of
agitation. I took the hand of Mannion, and started as I felt its deadly
coldness, and remarked the strange alteration in his manner. When they
accounted for these changes by telling me that both had been ill, in
different ways, since my departure, I detected the miserable lie at
once; I knew that an evil advantage had been taken of my absence; that
the plot against me was fast advancing towards consummation: and that,
at the sight of their victim, even the two wretches who were compassing
my dishonour could not repress all outward manifestation of their guilt.

Sometimes, the figure of Mrs. Sherwin appeared to me, wan and weary, and
mournful with a ghostly mournfulness. Again I watched her, and listened
to her; but now with eager curiosity, with breathless attention. Once
more, I saw her shudder when Mannion’s cold eyes turned on her face--I
marked the anxious, imploring look that she cast on Margaret and on
me--I heard her confused, unwilling answer, when I inquired the cause
of her dislike of the man in whom her husband placed the most implicit
trust--I listened to her abrupt, inexplicable injunction to “watch
continually over my wife, and keep bad people from her.” All these
different circumstances occurred again as vividly as in the reality;
but I did not now account for them, as I had once accounted for them, by
convincing myself that Mrs. Sherwin’s mind was wandering, and that her
bodily sufferings had affected her intellect. I saw immediately, that
she suspected Mannion, and dared not openly confess her suspicions; I
saw, that in the stillness, and abandonment, and self-concentration of
her neglected life, she had been watching more vigilantly than others
had watched; I detected in every one of her despised gestures, and
looks, and halting words, the same concealed warning ever lying beneath
the surface; I knew they had not succeeded in deceiving her; I was
determined they should not succeed in deceiving me.

It was oftenest at this point, that my restless memory recoiled before
the impenetrable darkness which forbade it to see further--to see on
to the last evening, to the fatal night. It was oftenest at this point,
that I toiled and struggled back, over and over again, to seek once more
the lost events of the End, through the events of the Beginning. How
often my wandering thoughts thus incessantly and desperately traced and
retraced their way over their own fever track, I cannot tell: but there
came a time when they suddenly ceased to torment me; when the heavy
burden that was on my mind fell off; when a sudden strength and fury
possessed me, and I plunged down through a vast darkness into a world
whose daylight was all radiant flame. Giant phantoms mustered by
millions, flashing white as lightning in the ruddy air. They rushed on
me with hurricane speed; their wings fanned me with fiery breezes; and
the echo of their thunder-music was like the groaning and rending of an
earthquake, as they tore me away with them on their whirlwind course.

Away! to a City of Palaces, to measureless halls, and arches, and domes,
soaring one above another, till their flashing ruby summits are lost
in the burning void, high overhead. On! through and through these
mountain-piles, into countless, limitless corridors, reared on pillars
lurid and rosy as molten lava. Far down the corridors rise visions
of flying phantoms, ever at the same distance before us--their raving
voices clanging like the hammers of a thousand forges. Still on and
on; faster and faster, for days, years, centuries together, till there
comes, stealing slowly forward to meet us, a shadow--a vast, stealthy,
gliding shadow--the first darkness that has ever been shed over that
world of blazing light! It comes nearer--nearer and nearer softly, till
it touches the front ranks of our phantom troop. Then in an instant, our
rushing progress is checked: the thunder-music of our wild march stops;
the raving voices of the spectres ahead, cease; a horror of blank
stillness is all about us--and as the shadow creeps onward and onward,
until we are enveloped in it from front to rear, we shiver with icy cold
under the fiery air and amid the lurid lava pillars which hem us in on
either side.

A silence, like no silence ever known on earth; a darkening of the
shadow, blacker than the blackest night in the thickest wood--a
pause--then, a sound as of the heavy air being cleft asunder; and then,
an apparition of two figures coming on out of the shadow--two monsters
stretching forth their gnarled yellow talons to grasp at us; leaving
on their track a green decay, oozing and shining with a sickly light.
Beyond and around me, as I stood in the midst of them, the phantom troop
dropped into formless masses, while the monsters advanced. They came
close to me; and I alone, of all the myriads around, changed not at
their approach. Each laid a talon on my shoulder--each raised a veil
which was one hideous net-work of twining worms. I saw through the
ghastly corruption of their faces the look that told me who they
were--the monstrous iniquities incarnate in monstrous forms; the
fiend-souls made visible in fiend-shapes--Margaret and Mannion!

A moment more! and I was alone with those two. Not a wreck of the
phantom-multitude remained; the towering city, the gleaming corridors,
the fire-bright radiance had vanished. We stood on a wilderness--a
still, black lake of dead waters was before us; a white, faint, misty
light shone on us. Outspread over the noisome ground lay the ruins of a
house, rooted up and overthrown to its foundations. The demon figures,
still watching on either side of me, drew me slowly forward to the
fallen stones, and pointed to two dead bodies lying among them.

My father!--my sister!--both cold and still, and whiter than the white
light that showed them to me. The demons at my side stretched out their
crooked talons, and forbade me to kneel before my father, or to kiss
Clara’s wan face, before I went to torment. They struck me motionless
where I stood--and unveiled their hideous faces once more, jeering at me
in triumph. Anon, the lake of black waters heaved up and overflowed,
and noiselessly sucked us away into its central depths--depths that were
endless; depths of rayless darkness, in which we slowly eddied round
and round, deeper and deeper down at every turn. I felt the bodies of
my father and my sister touching me in cold contact: I stretched out my
arms to clasp them and sink with them; and the demon pair glided between
us, and separated me from them. This vain striving to join myself to my
dead kindred when we touched each other in the slow, endless whirlpool,
ever continued and was ever frustrated in the same way. Still we sank
apart, down the black gulphs of the lake; still there was no light,
no sound, no change, no pause of repose--and this was eternity: the
eternity of Hell!

                       * * * * *

Such was one dream-vision out of many that I saw. It must have been at
this time that men were set to watch me day and night (as I afterwards
heard), in order that I might be held down in my bed, when a paroxysm of
convulsive strength made me dangerous to myself and to all about me. The
period too when the doctors announced that the fever had seized on my
brain, and was getting the better of their skill, must have been _this_
period.

But though they gave up my life as lost, I was not to die. There came a
time, at last, when the gnawing fever lost its hold; and I awoke faintly
one morning to a new existence--to a life frail and helpless as the life
of a new-born babe.

I was too weak to move, to speak, to open my eyes, to exert in the
smallest degree any one faculty, bodily or mental, that I possessed. The
first sense of which I regained the use, was the sense of hearing;
and the first sound that I recognised, was of a light footstep which
mysteriously approached, paused, and then retired again gently outside
my door. The hearing of this sound was my first pleasure, the waiting
for its repetition my first source of happy expectation, since I had
been ill. Once more the footsteps approached--paused a moment--then
seemed to retire as before--then returned slowly. A sigh, very faint and
trembling; a whisper of which I could not yet distinguish the import,
caught my ear--and after that, there was silence. Still I waited (oh,
how happily and calmly!) to hear the whisper soon repeated, and to hear
it better when it next came. Ere long, for the third time, the footsteps
advanced, and the whispering accents sounded again. I could now hear
that they pronounced my name--once, twice, three times--very softly and
imploringly, as if to beg the answer which I was still too weak to give.
But I knew the voice: I knew it was Clara’s. Long after it had ceased,
the whisper lingered gently on my ear, like a lullaby that alternately
soothed me to slumber, and welcomed me to wakefulness. It seemed to be
thrilling through my frame with a tender, reviving influence--the same
influence which the sunshine had, weeks afterwards, when I enjoyed it
for the first time out of doors.

The next sound that came to me was audible in my room; audible
sometimes, close at my pillow. It was the simplest sound
imaginable--nothing but the soft rustling of a woman’s dress. And yet,
I heard in it innumerable harmonies, sweet changes, and pauses minute
beyond all definition. I could only open my eyes for a minute at a time,
and even then, could not fix them steadily on anything; but I knew that
the rustling dress was Clara’s; and fresh sensations seemed to throng
upon me, as I listened to the sound which told me that she was in the
room. I felt the soft summer air on my face; I enjoyed the sweet scent
of flowers, wafted on that air; and once, when my door was left open for
a moment, the twittering of birds in the aviary down stairs, rang
with exquisite clearness and sweetness on my ear. It was thus that my
faculties strengthened, hour by hour, always in the same gradual way,
from the time when I first heard the footstep and the whisper outside my
chamber-door.

One evening I awoke from a cool, dreamless sleep; and, seeing Clara
sitting by my bedside, faintly uttered her name, and moved my wasted
hand to take hers. As I saw the calm, familiar face bending over me;
the anxious eyes looking tenderly and lovingly into mine--as the last
melancholy glory of sunset hovered on my bed, and the air, sinking
already into its twilight repose, came softly and more softly into
the room--as my sister took me in her arms, and raising me on my weary
pillow, bade me for her sake lie hushed and patient a little longer--the
memory of the ruin and the shame that had overwhelmed me; the memory of
my love that had become an infamy; and of my brief year’s hope miserably
fulfilled by a life of despair, swelled darkly over my heart. The red,
retiring rays of sunset just lingered at that moment on my face. Clara
knelt down by my pillow, and held up her handkerchief to shade my
eyes--“God has given you back to us, Basil,” she whispered, “to make us
happier than ever.” As she spoke, the springs of the grief so long pent
up within me were loosened; hot tears dropped heavily and quickly from
my eyes; and I wept for the first time since the night of horror which
had stretched me where I now lay--wept in my sister’s arms, at that
quiet evening hour, for the lost honour, the lost hope, the lost
happiness that had gone from me for ever in my youth!

II.

Darkly and wearily the days of my recovery went on. After that first
outburst of sorrow on the evening when I recognised my sister, and
murmured her name as she sat by my side, there sank over all my
faculties a dull, heavy trance of mental pain.

I dare not describe what remembrances of the guilty woman who had
deceived and ruined me, now gnawed unceasingly and poisonously at my
heart. My bodily strength feebly revived; but my mental energies
never showed a sign of recovering with them. My father’s considerate
forbearance, Clara’s sorrowful reserve in touching on the subject of my
long illness, or of the wild words which had escaped me in my delirium,
mutely and gently warned me that the time was come when I owed the tardy
atonement of confession to the family that I had disgraced; and still,
I had no courage to speak, no resolution to endure. The great misery
of the past, shut out from me the present and the future alike--every
active power of my mind seemed to be destroyed hopelessly and for ever.

There were moments--most often at the early morning hours, while
the heaviness of the night’s sleep still hung over me in my
wakefulness--when I could hardly realise the calamity which had
overwhelmed me; when it seemed that I must have dreamt, during the
night, of scenes of crime and woe and heavy trial which had never
actually taken place. What was the secret of the terrible influence
which--let her even be the vilest of the vile--Mannion must have
possessed over Margaret Sherwin, to induce her to sacrifice me to him?
Even the crime itself was not more hideous and more incredible than the
mystery in which its evil motives, and the manner of its evil ripening,
were still impenetrably veiled.

Mannion! It was a strange result of the mental malady under which I
suffered, that, though the thought of Mannion was now inextricably
connected with every thought of Margaret, I never once asked myself, or
had an idea of asking myself, for days together, after my convalescence,
what had been the issue of our struggle, for him. In the despair of
first awakening to a perfect sense of the calamity which had been
hurled on me from the hand of my wife--in the misery of first clearly
connecting together, after the wanderings of delirium, the Margaret to
whom with my hand I had given all my heart, with the Margaret who had
trampled on the gift and ruined the giver--all minor thoughts and
minor feelings, all motives of revengeful curiosity or of personal
apprehension were suppressed. And yet, the time was soon to arrive when
that lost thought of inquiry into Mannion’s fate, was to become the
one master-thought that possessed me--the thought that gave back its
vigilance to my intellect, and its manhood to my heart.

One evening I was sitting alone in my room. My father had taken Clara
out for a little air and exercise, and the servant had gone away at my
own desire. It was in this quiet and solitude, when the darkness was
fast approaching, when the view from my window was at its loneliest,
when my mind was growing listless and confused as the weary day
wore out--it was exactly at this time that the thought suddenly and
mysteriously flashed across me: Had Mannion been taken up from the
stones on which I had hurled him, a living man or a dead?

I instinctively started to my feet with something of the vigour of
my former health; repeating the question to myself; and feeling, as I
unconsciously murmured aloud the few words which expressed it, that my
life had purposes and duties, trials and achievements, which were yet to
be fulfilled. How could I instantly solve the momentous doubt which had
now, for the first time, crossed my mind?

One moment I paused in eager consideration--the next, I descended to the
library. A daily newspaper was kept there, filed for reference. I might
possibly decide the fatal question in a few moments by consulting it.
In my burning anxiety and impatience I could hardly handle the leaves or
see the letters, as I tried to turn back to the right date--the day (oh
anguish of remembrance!) on which I was to have claimed Margaret Sherwin
as my wife!

At last, I found the number I desired; but the closely-printed columns
swam before me as I looked at them. A glass of water stood on a table
near me--I dipped my handkerchief in it, and cooled my throbbing eyes.
The destiny of my future life might be decided by the discovery I was
now about to make!

I locked the door to guard against all intrusion, and then returned to
my task--returned to my momentous search--slowly tracing my way through
the paper, paragraph by paragraph, column by column.

On the last page, and close to the end, I read these lines:

                 “MYSTERIOUS OCCURRENCE.

“About one o’clock this morning, a gentleman was discovered lying on his
face in the middle of the road, in Westwood Square, by the policeman on
duty. The unfortunate man was to all appearance dead. He had fallen on
a part of the road which had been recently macadamised; and his face, we
are informed, is frightfully mutilated by contact with the granite.
The policeman conveyed him to the neighbouring hospital, where it was
discovered that he was still alive, and the promptest attentions were
immediately paid him. We understand that the surgeon in attendance
considers it absolutely impossible that he could have been injured as he
was, except by having been violently thrown down on his face, either
by a vehicle driven at a furious rate, or by a savage attack from some
person or persons unknown. In the latter case, robbery could not have
been the motive; for the unfortunate man’s watch, purse, and ring were
all found about him. No cards of address or letters of any kind were
discovered in his pockets, and his linen and handkerchief were only
marked with the letter M. He was dressed in evening costume--entirely in
black. After what has been already said about the injuries to his
face, any recognisable personal description of him is, for the present,
unfortunately out of the question. We wait with much anxiety to gain
some further insight into this mysterious affair, when the sufferer is
restored to consciousness. The last particulars which our reporter was
able to collect at the hospital were, that the surgeon expected to save
his patient’s life, and the sight of one of his eyes. The sight of the
other is understood to be entirely destroyed.”



With sensations of horror which I could not then, and cannot now
analyse, I turned to the next day’s paper; but found in it no further
reference to the object of my search. In the number for the day after,
however, the subject was resumed in these words:

“The mystery of the accident in Westwood Square thickens. The sufferer
is restored to consciousness; he is perfectly competent to hear and
understand what is said to him, and is able to articulate, but not very
plainly, and only for a moment or so, at a time. The authorities at the
hospital anticipated, as we did, that, on the patient’s regaining his
senses, some information of the manner in which the terrible accident
from which he is suffering was caused, would be obtained from him. But,
to the astonishment of every one, he positively refuses to answer any
questions as to the circumstances under which his frightful injuries
were inflicted. With the same unaccountable secrecy, he declines to tell
his name, his place of abode, or the names of any friends to whom notice
of his situation might be communicated. It is quite in vain to press him
for any reason for this extraordinary course of conduct--he appears
to be a man of very unusual firmness of character; and his refusal to
explain himself in any way, is evidently no mere caprice of the moment.
All this leads to the conjecture that the injuries he has sustained were
inflicted on him from some motive of private vengeance; and that certain
persons are concerned in this disgraceful affair, whom he is unwilling
to expose to public odium, for some secret reason which it is impossible
to guess at. We understand that he bears the severe pain consequent
upon his situation, in such a manner as to astonish every person about
him--no agony draws from him a word or a sigh. He displayed no emotion
even when the surgeons informed him that the sight of one of his eyes
was hopelessly destroyed; and merely asked to be supplied with writing
materials as soon as he could see to use them, when he was told that the
sight of the other would be saved. He further added, we are informed,
that he was in a position to reward the hospital authorities for any
trouble he gave, by making a present to the funds of the charity, as
soon as he should be discharged as cured. His coolness in the midst of
sufferings which would deprive most other men of all power of thinking
or speaking, is as remarkable as his unflinching secrecy--a secrecy
which, for the present at least, we cannot hope to penetrate.”



I closed the newspaper. Even then, a vague forewarning of what Mannion’s
inexplicable reserve boded towards me, crossed my mind. There was yet
more difficulty, danger, and horror to be faced, than I had hitherto
confronted. The slough of degradation and misery into which I had
fallen, had its worst perils yet in store for me.

As I became impressed by this conviction, the enervating remembrance
of the wickedness to which I had been sacrificed, grew weaker in its
influence over me; the bitter tears that I had shed in secret for so
many days past, dried sternly at their sources; and I felt the power
to endure and to resist coming back to me with my sense of the coming
strife. On leaving the library, I ascended again to my own room. In a
basket, on my table, lay several unopened letters, which had arrived
for me during my illness. There were two which I at once suspected,
in hastily turning over the collection, might be all-important in
enlightening me on the vile subject of Mannion’s female accomplice. The
addresses of both these letters were in Mr. Sherwin’s handwriting. The
first that I opened was dated nearly a month back, and ran thus:


                             “North Villa, Hollyoake Square.

“DEAR SIR,

“With agonised feelings which no one but a parent, and I will add, an
affectionate parent, can possibly form an idea of, I address you on
the subject of the act of atrocity committed by that perjured villain,
Mannion. You will find that I and my innocent daughter have been, like
you, victims of the most devilish deceit that ever was practised on
respectable and unsuspecting people.

“Let me ask you, Sir, to imagine the state of my feelings on the night
of that most unfortunate party, when I saw my beloved Margaret, instead
of coming home quietly as usual, rush into the room in a state bordering
on distraction, with a tale the most horrible that ever was addressed
to a father’s ears. The double-faced villain (I really can’t mention his
name again) had, I blush to acknowledge, attempted to take advantage of
her innocence and confidence--all our innocences and confidences, I may
say--but my dear Margaret showed a virtuous courage beyond her years,
the natural result of the pious principles and the moral bringing up
which I have given her from her cradle. Need I say what was the upshot?
Virtue triumphed, as virtue always does, and the villain left her to
herself. It was when she was approaching the door-step to fly to
the bosom of her home that, I am given to understand, you, by a most
remarkable accident, met her. As a man of the world, you will easily
conceive what must have been the feelings of a young female, under such
peculiar and shocking circumstances. Besides this, your manner, as I am
informed, was so terrifying and extraordinary, and my poor Margaret felt
so strongly that deceitful appearances might be against her, that she
lost all heart, and fled at once, as I said before, to the bosom of her
home.

“She is still in a very nervous and unhappy state; she fears that
you may be too ready to believe appearances; but I know better. Her
explanation will be enough for you, as it was for me. We may have our
little differences on minor topics, but we have both the same manly
confidence, I am sure--you in your wife, and me in my daughter.

“I called at your worthy father’s mansion, to have a fuller
explanation with you than I can give here, the morning after this
to-all-parties-most-distressing occurrence happened: and was then
informed of your serious illness, for which pray accept my best
condolences. The next thing I thought of doing was to write to your
respected father, requesting a private interview. But on maturer
consideration, I thought it perhaps slightly injudicious to take such a
step, while you, as the principal party concerned, were ill in bed, and
not able to come forward and back me. I was anxious, you will observe,
to act for your interests, as well as the interests of my darling
girl--of course, knowing at the same time that I had the marriage
certificate in my possession, if needed as a proof, and supposing I was
driven to extremities and obliged to take my own course in the matter.
But, as I said before, I have a fatherly and friendly confidence in your
feeling as convinced of the spotless innocence of my child as I do. So
will write no more on this head.

“Having determined, as best under all circumstances, to wait till your
illness was over, I have kept my dear Margaret in strict retirement
at home (which, as she is your wife, you will acknowledge I had no
obligation to do), until you were well enough to come forward and do her
justice before her family and yours. I have not omitted to make almost
daily inquiries after you, up to the time of penning these lines, and
shall continue so to do until your convalescence, which I sincerely
hope may be speedily at hand; I am unfortunately obliged to ask that our
first interview, when you are able to see me and my daughter, may not
take place at North Villa, but at some other place, any you like to fix
on. The fact is, my wife, whose wretched health has been a trouble and
annoyance to us for years past, has now, I grieve to say, under pressure
of this sad misfortune, quite lost her reason. I am sorry to say that
she would be capable of interrupting us here, in a most undesirable
manner to all parties, and therefore request that our first happy
meeting may not take place at my house.

“Trusting that this letter will quite remove all unpleasant feelings
from your mind, and that I shall hear from you soon, on your
much-to-be-desired recovery,

“I remain, dear Sir,

“Your faithful, obedient servant,

                          “STEPHEN SHERWIN.

“P. S.--I have not been able to find out where that scoundrel Mannion,
has betaken himself to; but if you should know, or suspect, I wish to
tell you, as a proof that my indignation at his villany is as great as
yours, that I am ready and anxious to pursue him with the utmost rigour
of the law, if law can only reach him--paying out of my own pocket all
expenses of punishing him and breaking him for the rest of his life, if
I go through every court in the country to do it!--S. S.”



Hurriedly as I read over this wretched and revolting letter, I detected
immediately how the new plot had been framed to keep me still deceived;
to heap wrong after wrong on me with the same impunity. She was not
aware that I had followed her into the house, and had heard all from
her voice and Mannion’s--she believed that I was still ignorant of
everything, until we met at the door-step; and in this conviction she
had forged the miserable lie which her father’s hand had written down.
Did he really believe it, or was he writing as her accomplice? It was
not worth while to inquire: the worst and darkest discovery which it
concerned me to make, had already proclaimed itself--she was a liar and
a hypocrite to the very last!

And it was this woman’s lightest glance which had once been to me as
the star that my life looked to!---it was for this woman that I had
practised a deceit on my family which it now revolted me to think
of; had braved whatever my father’s anger might inflict; had risked
cheerfully the loss of all that birth and fortune could bestow! Why had
I ever risen from my weary bed of sickness?--it would have been better,
far better, that I had died!

But, while life remained, life had its trials and its toils, from which
it was useless to shrink. There was still another letter to be opened:
there was yet more wickedness which I must know how to confront.

The second of Mr. Sherwin’s letters was much shorter than the first, and
had apparently been written not more than a day or two back. His tone
was changed; he truckled to me no longer--he began to threaten. I
was reminded that the servant’s report pronounced me to have been
convalescent for several days past: and was asked why, under these
circumstances, I had never even written. I was warned that my silence
had been construed greatly to my disadvantage; and that if it continued
longer, the writer would assert his daughter’s cause loudly and
publicly, not to my father only, but to all the world. The letter
ended by according to me three days more of grace, before the fullest
disclosure would be made.

For a moment, my indignation got the better of me. I rose, to go that
instant to North Villa and unmask the wretches who still thought to
make their market of me as easily as ever. But the mere momentary delay
caused by opening the door of my room, restored me to myself. I felt
that my first duty, my paramount obligation, was to confess all to my
father immediately; to know and accept my future position in my own
home, before I went out from it to denounce others. I returned to the
table, and gathered up the letters scattered on it. My heart beat fast,
my head felt confused; but I was resolute in my determination to tell
my father, at all hazards, the tale of degradation which I have told in
these pages.

I waited in the stillness and loneliness, until it grew nearly dark. The
servant brought in candles. Why could I not ask him whether my father
and Clara had come home yet? Was I faltering in my resolution already?

Shortly after this, I heard a step on the stairs and a knock at my
door.--My father? No! Clara. I tried to speak to her unconcernedly, when
she came in.

“Why, you have been walking till it is quite dark, Clara!”

“We have only been in the garden of the Square--neither papa nor I
noticed how late it was. We were talking on a subject of the deepest
interest to us both.”

She paused a moment, and looked down; then hurriedly came nearer to me,
and drew a chair to my side. There was a strange expression of sadness
and anxiety in her face, as she continued:

“Can’t you imagine what the subject was? It was you, Basil. Papa is
coming here directly, to speak to you.”

She stopped once more. Her cheeks reddened a little, and she
mechanically busied herself in arranging some books that lay on the
table. Suddenly, she abandoned this employment; the colour left her
face; it was quite pale when she addressed me again, speaking in very
altered tones; so altered, that I hardly recognised them as hers.

“You know, Basil, that for a long time past, you have kept some secret
from us; and you promised that I should know it first; but I--I have
changed my mind; I have no wish to know it, dear: I would rather we
never said anything about it.” (She coloured, and hesitated a little
again, then proceeded quickly and earnestly:) “But I hope you will tell
it all to papa: he is coming here to ask you--oh, Basil! be candid with
him, and tell him everything; let us all be to one another what we were
before this time last year! You have nothing to fear, if you only speak
openly; for I have begged him to be gentle and forgiving with you, and
you know he refuses me nothing. I only came here to prepare you; to beg
you to be candid and patient. Hush! there is a step on the stairs. Speak
out, Basil, for my sake--pray, pray, speak out, and then leave the rest
to me.”

She hurriedly left the room. The next minute, my father entered it.

Perhaps my guilty conscience deceived me, but I thought he looked at me
more sadly and severely than I had ever seen him look before. His voice,
too, was troubled when he spoke. This was a change, which meant much in
him.

“I have come to speak to you,” he said, “on a subject about which I had
much rather you had spoken to me first.”

“I think, Sir, I know to what subject you refer. I--”

“I must beg you will listen to me as patiently as you can,” he rejoined;
“I have not much to say.”

He paused, and sighed heavily. I thought he looked at me more kindly. My
heart grew very sad; and I yearned to throw my arms round his neck, to
give freedom to the repressed tears which half choked me, to weep out on
his bosom my confession that I was no more worthy to be called his son.
Oh, that I had obeyed the impulse which moved me to do this!

“Basil,” pursued my father, gravely and sadly; “I hope and believe that
I have little to reproach myself with in my conduct towards you. I think
I am justified in saying, that very few fathers would have acted towards
a son as I have acted for the last year or more. I may often have
grieved over the secresy which has estranged you from us; I may even
have shown you by my manner that I resented it; but I have never used my
authority to force you into the explanation of your conduct, which you
have been so uniformly unwilling to volunteer. I rested on that implicit
faith in the honour and integrity of my son, which I will not yet
believe to have been ill-placed, but which, I fear, has led me
to neglect too long the duty of inquiry which I owed to your own
well-being, and to my position towards you. I am now here to atone for
this omission; circumstances have left me no choice. It deeply concerns
my interest as a father, and my honour as the head of our family, to
know what heavy misfortune it was (I can imagine it to be nothing else)
that stretched my son senseless in the open street, and afflicted him
afterwards with an illness which threatened his reason and his life.
You are now sufficiently recovered to reveal this; and I only use my
legitimate authority over my own children, when I tell you that I must
now know all. If you persist in remaining silent, the relations between
us must henceforth change for life.”

“I am ready to make my confession, Sir. I only ask you to believe
beforehand, that if I have sinned grievously against you, I have been
already heavily punished for the sin. I am afraid it is impossible that
your worst forebodings can have prepared you--”

“The words you spoke in your delirium--words which I heard, but will not
judge you by--justified the worst forebodings.”

“My illness has spared me the hardest part of a hard trial, Sir, if it
has prepared you for what I have to confess; if you suspect--”

“I do not _suspect_--I feel but too _sure,_ that you, my second son,
from whom I had expected far better things, have imitated in secret--I
am afraid, outstripped--the worst vices of your elder brother.”

“My brother!--my brother’s faults mine! Ralph!”

“Yes, Ralph. It is my last hope that you will now imitate Ralph’s
candour. Take example from that best part of him, as you have already
taken example from the worst.”

My heart grew faint and cold as he spoke. Ralph’s example! Ralph’s
vices!--vices of the reckless hour, or the idle day!--vices whose stain,
in the world’s eye, was not a stain for life!--convenient, reclaimable
vices, that men were mercifully unwilling to associate with grinning
infamy and irreparable disgrace! How far--how fearfully far, my father
was from the remotest suspicion of what had really happened! I tried to
answer his last words, but the apprehension of the life-long humiliation
and grief which my confession might inflict on him--absolutely
incapable, as he appeared to be, of foreboding even the least degrading
part of it--kept me speechless. When he resumed, after a momentary
silence, his tones were stern, his looks searching--pitilessly
searching, and bent full upon my face.

“A person has been calling, named Sherwin,” he said, “and inquiring
about you every day. What intimate connection between you authorises
this perfect stranger to me to come to the house as frequently as he
does, and to make his inquiries with a familiarity of tone and manner
which has struck every one of the servants who have, on different
occasions, opened the door to him? Who is this Mr. Sherwin?”

“It is not with him, Sir, that I can well begin. I must go back--”

“You must go back farther, I am afraid, than you will be able to return.
You must go back to the time when you had nothing to conceal from me,
and when you could speak to me with the frankness and directness of a
gentleman.”

“Pray be patient with me, Sir; give me a few minutes to collect myself.
I have much need for a little self-possession before I tell you all.”

“All? your tones mean more than your words--_they_ are candid, at least!
Have I feared the worst, and yet not feared as I ought? Basil!--do you
hear me, Basil? You are trembling very strangely; you are growing pale!”

“I shall be better directly, Sir. I am afraid I am not quite so strong
yet as I thought myself. Father! I am heart-broken and spirit-broken: be
patient and kind to me, or I cannot speak to you.”

I thought I saw his eyes moisten. He shaded them a moment with his hand,
and sighed again--the same long, trembling sigh that I had heard before.
I tried to rise from my chair, and throw myself on my knees at his feet.
He mistook the action, and caught me by the arm, believing that I was
fainting.

“No more to-night, Basil,” he said, hurriedly, but very gently; “no more
on this subject till to-morrow.”

“I can speak now, Sir; it is better to speak at once.”

“No: you are too much agitated; you are weaker than I thought.
To-morrow, in the morning, when you are stronger after a night’s rest.
No! I will hear nothing more. Go to bed now; I will tell your sister not
to disturb you to-night. To-morrow, you shall speak to me; and speak in
your own way, without interruption. Good-night, Basil, good-night.”

Without waiting to shake hands with me, he hastened to the door, as if
anxious to hide from my observation the grief and apprehension which had
evidently overcome him. But, just at the moment when he was leaving
the room, he hesitated, turned round, looked sorrowfully at me for an
instant, and then, retracing his steps, gave me his hand, pressed mine
for a moment in silence, and left me.

After the morrow was over, would he ever give me that hand again?

III.

The morning which was to decide all between my father and me, the
morning on whose event hung the future of my home life, was the
brightest and loveliest that my eyes ever looked on. A cloudless sky,
a soft air, sunshine so joyous and dazzling that the commonest objects
looked beautiful in its light, seemed to be mocking at me for my heavy
heart, as I stood at my window, and thought of the hard duty to be
fulfilled, on the harder judgment that might be pronounced, before the
dawning of another day.

During the night, I had arranged no plan on which to conduct the
terrible disclosure which I was now bound to make--the greatness of the
emergency deprived me of all power of preparing myself for it. I thought
on my father’s character, on the inbred principles of honour which ruled
him with the stern influence of a fanaticism: I thought on his pride of
caste, so unobtrusive, so rarely hinted at in words, and yet so firmly
rooted in his nature, so intricately entwined with every one of his
emotions, his aspirations, his simplest feelings and ideas: I thought
on his almost feminine delicacy in shrinking from the barest mention of
impurities which other men could carelessly discuss, or could laugh over
as good material for an after-dinner jest. I thought over all this,
and when I remembered that it was to such a man that I must confess the
infamous marriage which I had contracted in secret, all hope from his
fatherly affection deserted me; all idea of appealing to his chivalrous
generosity became a delusion in which it was madness to put a moment’s
trust.

The faculties of observation are generally sharpened, in proportion
as the faculties of reflection are dulled, under the influence of
an absorbing suspense. While I now waited alone in my room, the most
ordinary sounds and events in the house, which I never remembered
noticing before, absolutely enthralled me. It seemed as if the noise of
a footstep, the echo of a voice, the shutting or opening of doors down
stairs, must, on this momentous day, presage some mysterious calamity,
some strange discovery, some secret project formed against me, I
knew not how, or by whom. Two or three times I found myself listening
intently on the staircase, with what object I could hardly tell. It was
always, however, on those occasions, that a dread, significant quiet
appeared to have fallen suddenly on the house. Clara never came to
me, no message arrived from my father; the door-bell seemed strangely
silent, the servants strangely neglectful of their duties above stairs.
I caught myself returning to my own room softly, as if I expected that
some hidden catastrophe might break forth, if sound of my footsteps were
heard.

Would my father seek me again in my own room, or would he send for me
down stairs? It was not long before the doubt was decided. One of the
servants knocked at my door--the servant whose special duty it had
been to wait on me in my illness. I longed to take the man’s hand, and
implore his sympathy and encouragement while he addressed me.

“My master, Sir, desires me to say that, if you feel well enough, he
wishes to see you in his own room.”

I rose, and immediately followed the servant. On our way, we passed the
door of Clara’s private sitting-room--it opened, and my sister came
out and laid her hand on my arm. She smiled as I looked at her; but the
tears stood thick in her eyes, and her face was deadly pale.

“Think of what I said last night, Basil,” she whispered, “and, if hard
words are spoken to you, think of _me._ All that our mother would have
done for you, if she had been still among us, _I_ will do. Remember
that, and keep heart and hope to the very last.”

She hastily returned to her room, and I went on down stairs. In the
hall, the servant was waiting for me, with a letter in his hand.

“This was left for you, Sir, a little while ago. The messenger who
brought it said he was not to wait for an answer.”

It was no time for reading letters--the interview with my father was too
close at hand. I hastily put the letter into my pocket, barely noticing,
as I did so, that the handwriting on the address was very irregular, and
quite unknown to me.

I went at once into my father’s room.

He was sitting at his table, cutting the leaves of some new books
that lay on it. Pointing to a chair placed opposite to him, he briefly
inquired after my health; and then added, in a lower tone--

“Take any time you like, Basil, to compose and collect yourself. This
morning my time is yours.”

He turned a little away from me, and went on cutting the leaves of the
books placed before him. Still utterly incapable of preparing myself in
any way for the disclosure expected from me; without thought or hope,
or feeling of any kind, except a vague sense of thankfulness for the
reprieve granted me before I was called on to speak--I mechanically
looked round and round the room, as if I expected to see the sentence
to be pronounced against me, already written on the walls, or grimly
foreshadowed in the faces of the old family portraits which hung above
the fireplace.

What man has ever felt that all his thinking powers were absorbed, even
by the most poignant mental misery that could occupy them? In moments
of imminent danger, the mind can still travel of its own accord over the
past, in spite of the present--in moments of bitter affliction, it can
still recur to every-day trifles, in spite of ourselves. While I now
sat silent in my father’s room, long-forgotten associations of childhood
connected with different parts of it, began to rise on my memory in the
strangest and most startling independence of any influence or control,
which my present agitation and suspense might be supposed to exercise
over them. The remembrances that should have been the last to be
awakened at this time of heavy trial, were the very remembrances which
now moved within me.

With burdened heart and aching eyes I looked over the walls around me.
There, in that corner, was the red cloth door which led to the library.
As children, how often Ralph and I had peeped curiously through that
very door, to see what my father was about in his study, to wonder
why he had so many letters to write, and so many books to read. How
frightened we both were, when he discovered us one day, and reproved
us severely! How happy the moment afterwards, when we had begged him
to pardon us, and were sent back to the library again with a great
picture-book to look at, as a token that we were both forgiven! Then,
again, there was the high, old-fashioned, mahogany press before the
window, with the same large illustrated folio about Jewish antiquities
lying on it, which, years and years ago, Clara and I were sometimes
allowed to look at, as a special treat, on Sunday afternoons; and which
we always examined and re-examined with never-ending delight--standing
together on two chairs to reach up to the thick, yellow-looking leaves,
and turn them over with our own hands. And there, in the recess between
two bookcases, still stood the ancient desk-table, with its rows of
little inlaid drawers; and on the bracket above it the old French clock,
which had once belonged to my mother, and which always chimed the hours
so sweetly and merrily. It was at that table that Ralph and I always
bade my father farewell, when we were going back to school after the
holidays, and were receiving our allowance of pocket-money, given to us
out of one of the tiny inlaid drawers, just before we started. Near that
spot, too, Clara--then a little rosy child--used to wait gravely and
anxiously, with her doll in her arms, to say good-bye for the last time,
and to bid us come back soon, and then never go away again. I turned,
and looked abruptly towards the window; for such memories as the room
suggested were more than I could bear.

Outside, in the dreary strip of garden, the few stunted, dusky trees
were now rustling as pleasantly in the air, as if the breeze that
stirred them came serenely over an open meadow, or swept freshly under
their branches from the rippling surface of a brook. Distant, but yet
well within hearing, the mighty murmur from a large thoroughfare--the
great mid-day voice of London--swelled grandly and joyously on the ear.
While, nearer still, in a street that ran past the side of the house,
the notes of an organ rang out shrill and fast; the instrument was
playing its liveliest waltz tune--a tune which I had danced to in
the ball-room over and over again. What mocking memories within, what
mocking sounds without, to herald and accompany such a confession as I
had now to make!

Minute after minute glided on, inexorably fast; and yet I never broke
silence. My eyes turned anxiously and slowly on my father.

He was still looking away from me, still cutting the leaves of the books
before him. Even in that trifling action, the strong emotions which he
was trying to conceal, were plainly and terribly betrayed. His hand,
usually so steady and careful, trembled perceptibly; and the paper-knife
tore through the leaves faster and faster--cutting them awry, rending
them one from another, so as to spoil the appearance of every page.
I believe he _felt_ that I was looking at him; for he suddenly
discontinued his employment, turned round towards me, and spoke--

“I have resolved to give you your own time,” he said, “and from that
resolve I have no wish to depart--I only ask you to remember that every
minute of delay adds to the suffering and suspense which I am enduring
on your account.” He opened the books before him again, adding in lower
and colder tones, as he did so--“In _your_ place, Ralph would have
spoken before this.”

Ralph, and Ralph’s example quoted to me again!--I could remain silent no
longer.

“My brother’s faults towards you, and towards his family, are not such
faults as mine, Sir,” I began. “I have _not_ imitated his vices; I have
acted as he would _not_ have acted. And yet, the result of my error will
appear far more humiliating, and even disgraceful, in your eyes, than
the results of any errors of Ralph’s.”

As I pronounced the word “disgraceful,” he suddenly looked me full in
the face. His eyes lightened up sternly, and the warning red spot rose
on his pale cheeks.

“What do you mean by ‘disgraceful?’” he asked abruptly; “what do you
mean by associating such a word as _disgrace_ with your conduct--with
the conduct of a son of mine?”

“I must reply to your question indirectly, Sir,” I continued. “You asked
me last night who the Mr. Sherwin was who has called here so often--”

“And this morning I ask it again. I have other questions to put to you,
besides--you called constantly on a woman’s name in your delirium. But I
will repeat last night’s question first--who _is_ Mr. Sherwin?”

“He lives--”

“I don’t ask where he lives. Who is he? What is he?”

“Mr. Sherwin is a linen-draper--”

“You owe him money?--you have borrowed money of him? Why did you not
tell me this before? You have degraded my house by letting a man call at
the door--I know it!--in the character of a dun. He has inquired about
you as his ‘friend,’--the servants told me of it. This money-lending
tradesman, your _‘friend!’_ If I had heard that the poorest labourer
on my land called you ‘friend,’ I should have held you honoured by the
attachment and gratitude of an honest man. When I hear that name given
to you by a tradesman and money-lender, I hold you contaminated by
connection with a cheat. You were right, Sir!--this _is_ disgrace; how
much do you owe? Where are your dishonoured acceptances? Where have you
used _my_ name and _my_ credit? Tell me at once--I insist on it!”

He spoke rapidly and contemptuously, and rising from his chair as he
ended, walked impatiently up and down the room.

“I owe no money to Mr. Sherwin, Sir--no money to any one.”

He stopped suddenly:

“No money to any one?” he repeated very slowly, and in very altered
tones. “You spoke of disgrace just now. There is a worse disgrace then
that you have hidden from me, than debts dishonourably contracted?”

At this moment, a step passed across the hall. He instantly turned
round, and locked the door on that side of the room--then continued:

“Speak! and speak honestly if you can. How have you been deceiving me?
A woman’s name escaped you constantly, when your delirium was at its
worst. You used some very strange expressions about her, which it was
impossible altogether to comprehend; but you said enough to show that
her character was one of the most abandoned; that her licentiousness--it
is too revolting to speak of _her_--I return to _you._ I insist on
knowing how far your vices have compromised you with that vicious
woman.”

“She has wronged me--cruelly, horribly, wronged me--” I could say no
more. My head drooped on my breast; my shame overpowered me.

“Who is she? You called her Margaret, in your illness--who is she?”

“She is Mr. Sherwin’s daughter--” The words that I would fain have
spoken next, seemed to suffocate me. I was silent again.

I heard him mutter to himself:

_“That_ man’s daughter!--a worse bait than the bait of money!”

He bent forward, and looked at me searchingly. A frightful paleness flew
over his face in an instant.

“Basil!” he cried, “in God’s name, answer me at once! What is Mr.
Sherwin’s daughter to _you?_”

“She is my wife!”

I heard no answer--not a word, not even a sigh. My eyes were blinded
with tears, my face was bent down; I saw nothing at first. When I raised
my head, and dashed away the blinding tears, and looked up, the blood
chilled at my heart.

My father was leaning against one of the bookcases, with his hands
clasped over his breast. His head was drawn back; his white lips moved,
but no sound came from them. Over his upturned face there had passed
a ghastly change, as indescribable in its awfulness as the change of
death.

I ran horror-stricken to his side, and attempted to take his hand.
He started instantly into an erect position, and thrust me from him
furiously, without uttering a word. At that fearful moment, in that
fearful silence, the sounds out of doors penetrated with harrowing
distinctness and merriment into the room. The pleasant rustling of
the trees mingled musically with the softened, monotonous rolling of
carriages in the distant street, while the organ-tune, now changed to
the lively measure of a song, rang out clear and cheerful above both,
and poured into the room as lightly and happily as the very sunshine
itself.

For a few minutes we stood apart, and neither of us moved or spoke. I
saw him take out his handkerchief, and pass it over his face, breathing
heavily and thickly, and leaning against the bookcase once more. When he
withdrew the handkerchief and looked at me again, I knew that the sharp
pang of agony had passed away, that the last hard struggle between his
parental affection and his family pride was over, and that the great
gulph which was hence-forth to separate father and son, had now opened
between us for ever.

He pointed peremptorily to me to go back to my former place, but did not
return to his own chair. As I obeyed, I saw him unlock the door of the
bookcase against which he had been leaning, and place his hand on one of
the books inside. Without withdrawing it from its place, without turning
or looking towards me, he asked if I had anything more to say to him.

The chilling calmness of his tones, the question itself, and the time at
which he put it, the unnatural repression of a single word of rebuke,
of passion, or of sorrow, after such a confession as I had just made,
struck me speechless. He turned a little away from the bookcase--still
keeping his hand on the book inside--and repeated the question. His
eyes, when they met mine, had a pining, weary look, as if they had been
long condemned to rest on woeful and revolting objects; his expression
had lost its natural refinement, its gentleness of repose, and had
assumed a hard, lowering calmness, under which his whole countenance
appeared to have shrunk and changed--years of old age seemed to have
fallen on it, since I had spoken the last fatal words!

“Have you anything more to say to me?”

On the repetition of that terrible question, I sank down in the chair at
my side, and hid my face in my hands. Unconscious how I spoke, or why I
spoke; with no hope in myself, or in him; with no motive but to invite
and bear the whole penalty of my disgrace, I now disclosed the miserable
story of my marriage, and of all that followed it. I remember nothing of
the words I used---nothing of what I urged in my own defence. The sense
of bewilderment and oppression grew heavier and heavier on my brain;
I spoke more and more rapidly, confusedly, unconsciously, until I was
again silenced and recalled to myself by the sound of my father’s voice.
I believe I had arrived at the last, worst part of my confession, when
he interrupted me.

“Spare me any more details,” he said, bitterly, “you have humiliated me
sufficiently--you have spoken enough.”

He removed the book on which his hand had hitherto rested from the case
behind him, and advanced with it to the table--paused for a moment, pale
and silent--then slowly opened it at the first page, and resumed his
chair.

I recognised the book instantly. It was a biographical history of his
family, from the time of his earliest ancestors down to the date of
the births of his own children. The thick quarto pages were beautifully
illuminated in the manner of the ancient manuscripts; and the narrative,
in written characters, had been produced under his own inspection. This
book had cost him years of research and perseverance. The births and
deaths, the marriages and possessions, the battle achievements and
private feuds of the old Norman barons from whom he traced his descent,
were all enrolled in regular order on every leaf--headed, sometimes
merely by representations of the Knight’s favourite weapon; sometimes by
copies of the Baron’s effigy on his tombstone in a foreign land. As
the history advanced to later dates, beautiful miniature portraits were
inlaid at the top of each leaf; and the illuminations were so managed as
to symbolize the remarkable merits or the peculiar tastes of the subject
of each biography. Thus, the page devoted to my mother was surrounded
by her favourite violets, clustering thickest round the last melancholy
lines of writing which told the story of her death.

Slowly and in silence, my father turned over the leaves of the book
which, next to the Bible, I believe he most reverenced in the world,
until he came to the last-written page but one--the page which I knew,
from its position, to be occupied by my name. At the top, a miniature
portrait of me, when a child, was let into the leaf. Under it, was the
record of my birth and names, of the School and College at which I had
been taught, and of the profession that I had adopted. Below, a large
blank space was left for the entry of future particulars. On this page
my father now looked, still not uttering a word, still with the same
ghastly calmness on his face. The organ-notes sounded no more; but
the trees rustled as pleasantly, and the roar of the distant carriages
swelled as joyously as ever on the ear. Some children had come out to
play in the garden of a neighbouring house. As their voices reached
us, so fresh, and clear, and happy--but another modulation of the
thanksgiving song to God which the trees were singing in the summer
air--I saw my father, while he still looked on the page before him,
clasp his trembling hands over my portrait so as to hide it from sight.

Then he spoke; but without looking up, and more as if he were speaking
to himself than to me. His voice, at other times clear and gentle in its
tones, was now so hard and harsh in its forced calmness and deliberation
of utterance, that it sounded like a stranger’s.

“I came here, this morning,” he began, “prepared to hear of faults and
misfortunes which should pain me to the heart; which I might never,
perhaps, be able to forget, however willing and even predetermined
to forgive. But I did _not_ come prepared to hear, that unutterable
disgrace had been cast on me and mine, by my own child. I have no words
of rebuke or of condemnation for this: the reproach and the punishment
have fallen already where the guilt was--and not there only. My son’s
infamy defiles his brother’s birthright, and puts his father to shame.
Even his sister’s name--”

He stopped, shuddering. When he proceeded, his voice faltered, and his
head drooped low.

“I say it again:--you are below all reproach and all condemnation; but I
have a duty to perform towards my two who are absent, and I have a last
word to say to _you_ when that duty is done. On this page--” (as he
pointed to the family history, his tones strengthened again)--“on this
page there is a blank space left, after the last entry, for writing the
future events of your life. Here, then, if I still acknowledge you to
be my son; if I think your presence and the presence of my daughter
possible in the same house, must be written such a record of dishonour
and degradation as has never yet defiled a single page of this
book--here, the foul stain of your marriage, and its consequences, must
be admitted to spread over all that is pure before it, and to taint to
the last whatever comes after. This shall not be. I have no faith or
hope in you more. I know you now, only as an enemy to me and to my
house--it is mockery and hypocrisy to call you son; it is an insult to
Clara, and even to Ralph, to think of you as my child. In this record
your place is destroyed--and destroyed for ever. Would to God I could
tear the past from my memory, as I tear the leaf from this book!”

As he spoke, the hour struck; and the old French clock rang out gaily
the same little silvery chime which my mother had so often taken me
into her room to listen to, in the bygone time. The shrill, lively peal
mingled awfully with the sharp, tearing sound, as my father rent out
from the book before him the whole of the leaf which contained my name;
tore it into fragments, and cast them on the floor.

He rose abruptly, after he had closed the book again. His cheeks flushed
once more; and when he next spoke, his voice grew louder and louder
with every word he uttered. It seemed as if he still distrusted his
resolution to abandon me; and sought, in his anger, the strength of
purpose which, in his calmer mood, he might even yet have been unable to
command.

“Now, Sir,” he said, “we treat together as strangers. You are Mr.
Sherwin’s son--not mine. You are the husband of his daughter--not a
relation of my family. Rise, as I do: we sit together no longer in the
same room. Write!” (he pushed pen, ink, and paper before me,)
“write your terms there--I shall find means to keep you to a written
engagement--the terms of your absence, for life, from this country;
and of hers: the terms of your silence, and of the silence of your
accomplices; of all of them. Write what you please; I am ready to pay
dearly for your absence, your secrecy, and your abandonment of the name
you have degraded. My God! that I should live to bargain for hushing up
the dishonour of my family, and to bargain for it with _you._”

I had listened to him hitherto without pleading a word in my own behalf;
but his last speech roused me. Some of _his_ pride stirred in my heart
against the bitterness of his contempt. I raised my head, and met his
eye steadily for the first time--then, thrust the writing materials away
from me, and left my place at the table.

“Stop!” he cried. “Do you pretend that you have not understood me?”

“It is _because_ I have understood you, Sir, that I go. I have deserved
your anger, and have submitted without a murmur to all that it could
inflict. If you see in my conduct towards you no mitigation of my
offence; if you cannot view the shame and wrong inflicted on me, with
such grief as may have some pity mixed with it--I have, I think, the
right to ask that your contempt may be silent, and your last words to
me, not words of insult.”

“Insult! After what has happened, is it for _you_ to utter that word in
the tone in which you have just spoken it? I tell you again, I insist
on your written engagement as I would insist on the engagement of a
stranger--I will have it, before you leave this room!”

“All, and more than all, which that degrading engagement could imply, I
will do. But I have not fallen so low yet, as to be bribed to perform
a duty. You may be able to forget that you are my father; I can never
forget that I am your son.”

“The remembrance will avail you nothing as long as I live. I tell you
again, I insist on your written engagement, though it were only to show
that I have ceased to believe in your word. Write at once--do you hear
me?--Write!”

I neither moved nor answered. His face changed again, and grew livid;
his fingers trembled convulsively, and crumpled the sheet of paper, as
he tried to take it up from the table on which it lay.

“You refuse?” he said quickly.

“I have already told you, Sir--”

“Go!” he interrupted, pointing passionately to the door, “go out from
this house, never to return to it again--go, not as a stranger to me,
but as an enemy! I have no faith in a single promise you have made:
there is no baseness which I do not believe you will yet be guilty of.
But I tell you, and the wretches with whom you are leagued, to take
warning: I have wealth, power, and position; and there is no use to
which I will not put them against the man or woman who threatens the
fair fame of this family. Leave me, remembering that--and leave me for
ever!”

Just as he uttered the last word, just as my hand was on the lock of
the door, a faint sound--something between breathing and speaking--was
audible in the direction of the library. He started, and looked round.
Impelled, I know not how, I paused on the point of going out. My eyes
followed his, and fixed on the cloth door which led into the library.

It opened a little--then shut again--then opened wide. Slowly and
noiselessly, Clara came into the room.

The silence and suddenness of her entrance at such a moment; the look
of terror which changed to unnatural vacancy the wonted softness and
gentleness of her eyes, her pale face, her white dress, and slow,
noiseless step, made her first appearance in the room seem almost
supernatural; it was as if an apparition had been walking towards us,
and not Clara herself! As she approached my father, he pronounced her
name in astonishment; but his voice sank to a whisper, while he spoke
it. For an instant, she paused, hesitating--I saw her tremble as her
eyes met his--then, as they turned towards me, the brave girl came on;
and, taking my hand, stood and faced my father, standing by my side.

“Clara!” he exclaimed again, still in the same whispering tones.

I felt her cold hand close fast on mine; the grasp of the chill,
frail fingers was almost painful to me. Her lips moved, but her quick,
hysterical breathing made the few words she uttered inarticulate.

“Clara!” repeated my father, for the third time, his voice rising, but
sinking again immediately--when he spoke his next words, “Clara,” he
resumed, sadly and gently, “let go his hand; this is not a time for
your presence, I beg you to leave us. You must not take his hand! He has
ceased to be my son, or your brother. Clara, do you not hear me?”

“Yes, Sir, I hear you,” she answered. “God grant that my mother in
heaven may not hear you too!”

He was approaching while she replied; but at her last words, he
stopped instantly, and turned his face away from us. Who shall say what
remembrances of other days shook him to the heart?

“You have spoken, Clara, as you should not have spoken,” he went on,
without looking up. “Your mother--” his voice faltered and failed him.
“Can you still hold his hand after what I have said? I tell you
again, he is unworthy to be in your presence; my house is his home no
longer--must I _command_ you to leave him?”

The deeply planted instinct of gentleness and obedience prevailed; she
dropped my hand, but did not move away from me, even yet.

“Now leave us, Clara,” he said. “You were wrong, my love, to be in that
room, and wrong to come in here. I will speak to you up-stairs--you must
remain here no longer.”

She clasped her trembling fingers together, and sighed heavily.

“I cannot go, Sir,” she said quickly and breathlessly.

“Must I tell you for the first time in your life, that you are acting
disobediently?” he asked.

“I cannot go,” she repeated in the same manner, “till you have said you
will let him atone for his offence, and will forgive him.”

“For _his_ offence there is neither atonement nor forgiveness. Clara!
are you so changed, that you can disobey me to my face?”

He walked away from us as he said this.

“Oh, no! no!” She ran towards him; but stopped halfway, and looked back
at me affrightedly, as I stood near the door. “Basil,” she cried, “you
have not done what you promised me; you have not been patient. Oh, Sir,
if I have ever deserved kindness from you, be kind to him for _my_ sake!
Basil! speak, Basil! Ask his pardon on your knees. Father, I promised
him he should be forgiven, if I asked you. Not a word; not a word from
either? Basil! you are not going yet--not going at all! Remember, Sir,
how good and kind he has always been to _me._ My poor mother, (I _must_
speak of her), my poor mother’s favourite son--you have told me so
yourself! and he has always been my favourite brother; I think because
my mother loved him so! His first fault, too! his first grief! And will
you tell him for this, that our home is _his_ home no longer? Punish
_me,_ Sir! I have done wrong like him; when I heard your voices so loud,
I listened in the library. He’s going! No, no, no! not yet!”

She ran to the door as I opened it, and pushed it to again. Overwhelmed
by the violence of her agitation, my father had sunk into a chair while
she was speaking.

“Come back--come back with me to his knees!” she whispered, fixing her
wild, tearless eyes on mine, flinging her arms round my neck, and trying
to lead me with her from the door. “Come back, or you will drive me
mad!” she repeated loudly, drawing me away towards my father.

He rose instantly from his chair.

“Clara,” he said, “I command you, leave him!” He advanced a few steps
towards me. “Go!” he cried; “if you are human in your villany, you will
release me from this!”

I whispered in her ear, “I will write, love--I will write,” and
disengaged her arms from my neck--they were hanging round it weakly,
already! As I passed the door, I turned back, and looked again into the
room for the last time.

Clara was in my father’s arms, her head lay on his shoulder, her face
was as still in its heavenly calmness as if the world and the world’s
looks knew it no more, and the only light that fell on it now, was light
from the angel’s eyes. She had fainted.

He was standing with one arm round her, his disengaged hand was
searching impatiently over the wall behind him for the bell, and his
eyes were fixed in anguish and in love unutterable on the peaceful face,
hushed in its sad repose so close beneath his own. For one moment, I saw
him thus, ere I closed the door--the next, I had left the house.

I never entered it again--I have never seen my father since.

IV.

We are seldom able to discover under any ordinary conditions of
self-knowledge, how intimately that spiritual part of us, which is
undying, can attach to itself and its operations the poorest objects
of that external world around us, which is perishable. In the ravelled
skein, the slightest threads are the hardest to follow. In analysing the
associations and sympathies which regulate the play of our passions, the
simplest and homeliest are the last that we detect. It is only when the
shock comes, and the mind recoils before it--when joy is changed into
sorrow, or sorrow into joy--that we really discern what trifles in the
outer world our noblest mental pleasures, or our severest mental pains,
have made part of themselves; atoms which the whirlpool has drawn into
its vortex, as greedily and as surely as the largest mass.

It was reserved for me to know this, when--after a moment’s pause before
the door of my father’s house, more homeless, then, than the poorest
wretch who passed me on the pavement, and had wife or kindred to shelter
him in a garret that night--my steps turned, as of old, in the direction
of North Villa.

Again I passed over the scene of my daily pilgrimage, always to the same
shrine, for a whole year; and now, for the first time, I knew that
there was hardly a spot along the entire way, which my heart had not
unconsciously made beautiful and beloved to me by some association with
Margaret Sherwin. Here was the friendly, familiar shop-window, filled
with the glittering trinkets which had so often lured me in to buy
presents for her, on my way to the house. There was the noisy street
corner, void of all adornment in itself, but once bright to me with the
fairy-land architecture of a dream, because I knew that at that place
I had passed over half the distance which separated my home from hers.
Farther on, the Park trees came in sight--trees that no autumn decay or
winter nakedness could make dreary, in the bygone time; for she and I
had walked under them together. And further yet, was the turning which
led from the long, suburban road into Hollyoake Square--the lonely,
dust-whitened place, around which my past happiness and my wasted hopes
had flung their golden illusions, like jewels hung round the coarse
wooden image of a Roman saint. Dishonoured and ruined, it was among
such associations as these--too homely to have been recognised by me in
former times--that I journeyed along the well-remembered way to North
Villa.

I went on without hesitating, without even a thought of turning back. I
had said that the honour of my family should not suffer by the calamity
which had fallen on me; and, while life remained, I was determined that
nothing should prevent me from holding to my word. It was from this
resolution that I drew the faith in myself, the confidence in my
endurance, the sustaining calmness under my father’s sentence of
exclusion, which nerved me to go on. I must inevitably see Mr. Sherwin
(perhaps even suffer the humiliation of seeing her!)--must inevitably
speak such words, disclose such truths, as should show him that deceit
was henceforth useless. I must do this and more, I must be prepared to
guard the family to which--though banished from it--I still belonged,
from every conspiracy against them that detected crime or shameless
cupidity could form, whether in the desire of revenge, or in the hope of
gain.. A hard, almost an impossible task--but, nevertheless, a task that
must be done!

I kept the thought of this necessity before my mind unceasingly; not
only as a duty, but as a refuge from another thought, to which I dared
not for a moment turn. The still, pale face which I had seen lying
hushed on my father’s breast--CLARA!--That way, lay the grief that
weakens, the yearning and the terror that are near despair; that way was
not it for _me._

The servant was at the garden-gate of North Villa--the same servant whom
I had seen and questioned in the first days of my fatal delusion. She
was receiving a letter from a man, very poorly dressed, who walked away
the moment I approached. Her confusion and surprise were so great as she
let me in, that she could hardly look at, or speak to me. It was only
when I was ascending the door-steps that she said--

“Miss Margaret”--(she still gave her that name!)--“Miss Margaret is
upstairs, Sir. I suppose you would like--”

“I have no wish to see her: I want to speak to Mr. Sherwin.”

Looking more bewildered, and even frightened, than before, the girl
hurriedly opened one of the doors in the passage. I saw, as I entered,
that she had shown me, in her confusion, into the wrong room. Mr.
Sherwin, who was in the apartment, hastily drew a screen across the
lower end of it, apparently to hide something from me; which, however, I
had not seen as I came in.

He advanced, holding out his hand; but his restless eyes wandered
unsteadily, looking away from me towards the screen.

“So you have come at last, have you? Just let’s step into the
drawing-room: the fact is--I thought I wrote to you about it--?”

He stopped suddenly, and his outstretched arm fell to his side. I had
not said a word. Something in my look and manner must have told him
already on what errand I had come.

“Why don’t you speak?” he said, after a moment’s pause. “What are you
looking at me like that for? Stop! Let’s say our say in the other room.”
 He walked past me towards the door, and half opened it.

Why was he so anxious to get me away? Who, or what, was he hiding behind
the screen? The servant had said his daughter was upstairs; remembering
this, and suspecting every action or word that came from him, I
determined to remain in the room, and discover his secret. It was
evidently connected with me.

“Now then,” he continued, opening the door a little wider, “it’s only
across the hall, you know; and I always receive visitors in the best
room.”

“I have been admitted here,” I replied, “and have neither time nor
inclination to follow you from room to room, just as you like. What
I have to say is not much; and, unless you give me fit reasons to the
contrary, I shall say it here.”

“You will, will you? Let me tell you that’s damned like what we plain
mercantile men call downright incivility. I say it again--incivility;
and rudeness too, if you like it better.” He saw I was determined, and
closed the door as he spoke, his face twitching and working violently,
and his quick, evil eyes turned again in the direction of the screen.

“Well,” he continued, with a sulky defiance of manner and look, “do as
you like; stop here--you’ll wish you hadn’t before long, I’ll be bound!
You don’t seem to hurry yourself much about speaking, so _I_ shall sit
down. _You_ can do as you please. Now then! just let’s cut it short--do
you come here in a friendly way, to ask me to send for _my_ girl
downstairs, and to show yourself the gentleman, or do you not?”

“You have written me two letters, Mr. Sherwin--”

“Yes: and took devilish good care you should get them--I left them
myself.”

“In writing those letters, you were either grossly deceived; and, in
that case, are only to be pitied, or--”

“Pitied! what the devil do you mean by that? Nobody wants your pity
here.”

“Or you have been trying to deceive me; and in that case, I have to
tell you that deceit is henceforth useless. I know all--more than you
suspect: more, I believe, than you would wish me to have known.”

“Oh, that’s your tack, is it? By God, I expected as much the moment you
came in! What! you don’t believe _my_ girl--don’t you? You’re going to
fight shy, and behave like a scamp--are you? Damn your infernal coolness
and your aristocratic airs and graces! You shall see I’ll be even with
you--you shall. Ha! ha! look here!--here’s the marriage certificate safe
in my pocket. You won’t do the honourable by my poor child--won’t you?
Come out! Come away! You’d better--I’m off to your father to blow the
whole business; I am, as sure as my name’s Sherwin!”

He struck his fist on the table, and started up, livid with passion. The
screen trembled a little, and a slight rustling noise was audible behind
it, just as he advanced towards me. He stopped instantly, with an oath,
and looked back.

“I warn you to remain here,” I said. “This morning, my father has heard
all from my lips. He has renounced me as his son, and I have left his
house for ever.”

He turned round quickly, staring at me with a face of mingled fury and
dismay.

“Then you come to me a beggar!” he burst out; “a beggar who has taken
me in about his fine family, and his fine prospects; a beggar who can’t
support my child--Yes! I say it again, a beggar who looks me in the
face, and talks as you do. I don’t care a damn about you or your father!
I know my rights; I’m an Englishman, thank God! I know my rights, and
_my_ Margaret’s rights; and I’ll have them in spite of you both. Yes!
you may stare as angry as you like; staring don’t hurt. I’m an honest
man, and _my_ girl’s an honest girl!”

I was looking at him, at that moment, with the contempt that I really
felt; his rage produced no other sensation in me. All higher and quicker
emotions seemed to have been dried at their sources by the events of the
morning.

“I say _my_ girl’s an honest girl,” he repeated, sitting down again;
“and I dare you, or anybody--I don’t care who--to prove the contrary.
You told me you knew all, just now. What _all?_ Come! we’ll have this
out before we do anything else. She says she’s innocent, and I say she’s
innocent: and if I could find out that damnation scoundrel Mannion, and
get him here, I’d make him say it too. Now, after all that, what have
you got against her?--against your lawful wife; and I’ll make you own
her as such, and keep her as such, I can promise you!”

“I am not here to ask questions, or to answer them,” I replied--“my
errand in this house is simply to tell you, that the miserable
falsehoods contained in your letter, will avail you as little as the
foul insolence of language by which you are now endeavouring to support
them. I told you before, and I now tell you again, I know all. I had
been inside that house, before I saw your daughter at the door; and had
heard, from _her_ voice and _his_ voice, what such shame and misery as
you cannot comprehend forbid me to repeat. To your past duplicity, and
to your present violence, I have but one answer to give:--I will never
see your daughter again.”

“But you _shall_ see her again--yes! and keep her too! Do you think I
can’t see through you and your precious story? Your father’s cut you
off with a shilling; and now you want to curry favour with him again
by trumping up a case against _my_ girl, and trying to get her off your
hands that way. But it won’t do! You’ve married her, my fine gentleman,
and you shall stick to her! Do you think I wouldn’t sooner believe her,
than believe you? Do you think I’ll stand this? Here she is up-stairs,
half heart-broken, on my hands; here’s my wife”--(his voice sank
suddenly as he said this)--“with her mind in such a state that I’m kept
away from business, day after day, to look after her; here’s all this
crying and misery and mad goings-on in my house, because you choose to
behave like a scamp--and do you think I’ll put up with it quietly? I’ll
make you do your duty to _my_ girl, if she goes to the parish to appeal
against you! _Your_ story indeed! Who’ll believe that a young female,
like Margaret, could have taken to a fellow like Mannion? and kept it
all a secret from you? Who believes that, I should like to know?”

_“I believe it!”_

The third voice which pronounced those words was Mrs. Sherwin’s.

But was the figure that now came out from behind the screen, the same
frail, shrinking figure which had so often moved my pity in the past
time? the same wan figure of sickness and sorrow, ever watching in the
background of the fatal love-scenes at North Villa; ever looking like
the same spectre-shadow, when the evenings darkened in as I sat by
Margaret’s side?

Had the grave given up its dead? I stood awe-struck, neither speaking
nor moving while she walked towards me. She was clothed in the white
garments of the sick-room--they looked on _her_ like the raiment of the
tomb. Her figure, which I only remembered as drooping with premature
infirmity, was now straightened convulsively to its proper height; her
arms hung close at her side, like the arms of a corpse; the natural
paleness of her face had turned to an earthy hue; its natural
expression, so meek, so patient, so melancholy in uncomplaining sadness,
was gone; and, in its stead, was left a pining stillness that never
changed; a weary repose of lifeless waking--the awful seal of Death
stamped ghastly on the living face; the awful look of Death staring out
from the chill, shining eyes.

Her husband kept his place, and spoke to her as she stopped opposite to
me. His tones were altered, but his manner showed as little feeling as
ever.

“There now!” he began, “you said you were sure he’d come here, and that
you’d never take to your bed, as the Doctor wanted you, till you’d seen
him and spoken to him. Well, he _has_ come; there he is. He came in
while you were asleep, I rather think; and I let him stop, so that if
you woke up and wanted to see him, you might. You can’t say--nobody can
say--I haven’t given in to your whims and fancies after that. There!
you’ve had your way, and you’ve said you believe him; and now, if I ring
for the nurse, you’ll go upstairs at last, and make no more worry about
it--Eh?”

She moved her head slowly, and looked at him. As those dying eyes met
his, as that face on which the light of life was darkening fast, turned
on him, even _his_ gross nature felt the shock. I saw him shrink--his
sallow cheeks whitened, he moved his chair away, and said no more.

She looked back to me again, and spoke. Her voice was still the same
soft, low voice as ever. It was fearful to hear how little it had
altered, and then to look on the changed face.

“I am dying,” she said to me. “Many nights have passed since that night
when Margaret came home by herself and I felt something moving down into
my heart, when I looked at her, which I knew was death--many nights,
since I have been used to say my prayers, and think I had said them
for the last time, before I dared shut my eyes in the darkness and the
quiet. I have lived on till to-day, very weary of my life ever since
that night when Margaret came in; and yet, I could not die, because I
had an atonement to make to _you,_ and you never came to hear it and
forgive me. I was not fit for God to take me till you came--I know that,
know it to be truth from a dream.”

She paused, still looking at me, but with the same deathly blank of
expression. The eye had ceased to speak already; nothing but the voice
was left.

“My husband has asked, who will believe you?” she went on; her weak
tones gathering strength with every fresh word she uttered. “I have
answered that _I_ will; for you have spoken the truth. Now, when the
light of this world is fading from my eyes; here, in this earthly home
of much sorrow and suffering, which I must soon quit--in the presence of
my husband--under the same roof with my sinful child--I bear you witness
that you have spoken the truth. I, her mother, say it of her: Margaret
Sherwin is guilty; she is no more worthy to be called your wife.”

She pronounced the last words slowly, distinctly, solemnly. Till that
fearful denunciation was spoken, her husband had been looking sullenly
and suspiciously towards us, as we stood together; but while she uttered
it, his eyes fell, and he turned away his head in silence.

He never looked up, never moved, or interrupted her, as she continued,
still addressing me; but now speaking very slowly and painfully, pausing
longer and longer between every sentence.

“From this room I go to my death-bed. The last words I speak in this
world shall be to my husband, and shall change his heart towards you. I
have been weak of purpose,” (as she said this, a strange sweetness and
mournfulness began to steal over her tones,) “miserably, guiltily weak,
all my life. Much sorrow and pain and heavy disappointment, when I was
young, did some great harm to me which I have never recovered since. I
have lived always in fear of others, and doubt of myself; and this has
made me guilty of a great sin towards _you._ Forgive me before I die! I
suspected the guilt that was preparing--I foreboded the shame that was
to come--they hid it from others’ eyes; but, from the first, they could
not hide it from mine--and yet I never warned you as I ought! _That_ man
had the power of Satan over me! I always shuddered before him, as I used
to shudder at the darkness when I was a little child! My life has been
all fear--fear of _him;_ fear of my husband, and even of my daughter;
fear, worse still, of my own thoughts, and of what I had discovered that
should be told to _you._ When I tried to speak, you were too generous
to understand me--I was afraid to think my suspicions were right, long
after they should have been suspicions no longer. It was misery!--oh,
what misery from then till now!”

Her voice died away for a moment, in faint, breathless murmurings. She
struggled to recover it, and repeated in a whisper:

“Forgive me before I die! I have made a terrible atonement; I have borne
witness against the innocence of my own child. My own child! I dare
not bid God bless her, if they bring her to my bedside!--forgive
me!--forgive me before I die!”

She took my hand, and pressed it to her cold lips. The tears gushed into
my eyes, as I tried to speak to her.

“No tears for _me!_” she murmured gently. “Basil!--let me call you as
your mother would call you if she was alive--Basil! pray that I may be
forgiven in the dreadful Eternity to which I go, as _you_ have forgiven
me! And, for _her?_--oh! who will pray for _her_ when I am gone?”

Those words were the last I heard her pronounce. Exhausted beyond the
power of speaking more, though it were only in a whisper, she tried to
take my hand again, and express by a gesture the irrevocable farewell.
But her strength failed her even for this--failed her with awful
suddenness. Her hand moved halfway towards mine; then stopped, and
trembled for a moment in the air; then fell to her side, with the
fingers distorted and clenched together. She reeled where she stood, and
sank helplessly as I stretched out my arms to support her.

Her husband rose fretfully from his chair, and took her from me. When
his eyes met mine, the look of sullen self-restraint in his countenance
was crossed, in an instant, by an expression of triumphant
malignity. He whispered to me: “If you don’t change your tone by
to-morrow!”--paused--and then, without finishing the sentence, moved
away abruptly, and supported his wife to the door.

Just when her face was turned towards where I stood, as he took her out,
I thought I saw the cold, vacant eyes soften as they rested on me, and
change again tenderly to the old look of patience and sadness which I
remembered so well. Was my imagination misleading me? or had the light
of that meek spirit shone out on earth, for the last time at parting, in
token of farewell to mine? She was gone to me, gone for ever--before I
could look nearer, and know.

                * * * * *

I was told, afterwards, how she died.

For the rest of that day, and throughout the night, she lay speechless,
but still alive. The next morning, the faint pulse still fluttered. As
the day wore on, the doctors applied fresh stimulants, and watched her
in astonishment; for they had predicted her death as impending every
moment, at least twelve hours before. When they spoke of this to her
husband, his behaviour was noticed as very altered and unaccountable by
every one. He sulkily refused to believe that her life was in danger; he
roughly accused anybody who spoke of her death, as wanting to fix on
him the imputation of having ill-used her, and so being the cause of her
illness; and more than this, he angrily vindicated himself to every one
about her--even to the servants--by quoting the indulgence he had shown
to her fancy for seeing me when I called, and his patience while she
was (as he termed it) wandering in her mind in trying to talk to me. The
doctors, suspecting how his uneasy conscience was accusing him, forbore
in disgust all expostulation. Except when he was in his daughter’s room,
he was shunned by everybody in the house.

Just before noon, on the second day, Mrs. Sherwin rallied a little under
the stimulants administered to her, and asked to see her husband
alone. Both her words and manner gave the lie to his assertion that her
faculties were impaired--it was observed by all her attendants, that
whenever she had strength to speak, her speech never wandered in the
slightest degree. Her husband quitted her room more fretfully uneasy,
more sullenly suspicious of the words and looks of those about him than
ever--went instantly to seek his daughter--and sent her in alone to her
mother’s bedside. In a few minutes, she hurriedly came out again, pale,
and violently agitated; and was heard to say, that she had been spoken
to so unnaturally, and so shockingly, that she could not, and would not,
enter that room again until her mother was better. Better! the father
and daughter were both agreed in that; both agreed that she was not
dying, but only out of her mind.

During the afternoon, the doctors ordered that Mrs. Sherwin should
not be allowed to see her husband or her child again, without their
permission. There was little need of taking such a precaution to
preserve the tranquillity of her last moments. As the day began to
decline, she sank again into insensibility: her life was just not death,
and that was all. She lingered on in this quiet way, with her eyes
peacefully closed, and her breathing so gentle as to be quite inaudible,
until late in the evening. Just as it grew quite dark, and the candle
was lit in the sick room, the servant who was helping to watch by her,
drew aside the curtain to look at her mistress; and saw that, though
her eyes were still closed, she was smiling. The girl turned round,
and beckoned to the nurse to come to the bedside. When they lifted the
curtains again to look at her, she was dead.

                    * * * * *

Let me return to the day of my last visit to North Villa. More remains
to be recorded, before my narrative can advance to the morrow.

After the door had closed, and I knew that I had looked my last on Mrs.
Sherwin in this world, I remained a few minutes alone in the room, until
I had steadied my mind sufficiently to go out again into the streets. As
I walked down the garden-path to the gate, the servant whom I had seen
on my entrance, ran after me, and eagerly entreated that I would wait
one moment and speak to her.

When I stopped and looked at the girl, she burst into tears. “I’m afraid
I’ve been doing wrong, Sir,” she sobbed out, “and at this dreadful time
too, when my poor mistress is dying! If you please, Sir, I _must_ tell
you about it!”

I gave her a little time to compose herself; and then asked what she had
to say.

“I think you must have seen a man leaving a letter with me, Sir,” she
continued, “just when you came up to the door, a little while ago?”

“Yes: I saw him.”

“It was for Miss Margaret, Sir, that letter; and I was to keep it
secret; and--and--it isn’t the first I’ve taken in for her. It’s weeks
and weeks ago, Sir, that the same man came with a letter, and gave me
money to let nobody see it but Miss Margaret--and that time, Sir, he
waited; and she sent me with an answer to give him, in the same secret
way. And now, here’s this second letter; I don’t know who it comes
from--but I haven’t taken it to her yet; I waited to show it to you,
Sir, as you came out, because--”

“Why, Susan?--tell me candidly why?”

“I hope you won’t take it amiss, Sir, if I say that having lived in the
family so long as I have, I can’t help knowing a little about what
you and Miss Margaret used to be to each other, and that something’s
happened wrong between you lately; and so, Sir, it seems to be very
bad and dishonest in me (after first helping you to come together, as I
did), to be giving her strange letters, unknown to you. They may be bad
letters. I’m sure I wouldn’t wish to say anything disrespectful, or that
didn’t become my place; but--”

“Go on, Susan--speak as freely and as truly to me as ever.”

“Well, Sir, Miss Margaret’s been very much altered, ever since that
night when she came home alone, and frightened us so. She shuts herself
up in her room, and won’t speak to anybody except my master; she doesn’t
seem to care about anything that happens; and sometimes she looks so at
me, when I’m waiting on her, that I’m almost afraid to be in the same
room with her. I’ve never heard her mention your name once, Sir; and I’m
fearful there’s something on her mind that there oughtn’t to be. He’s
a very shabby man that leaves the letters--would you please to look at
this, and say whether you think it’s right in me to take it up-stairs.”

She held out a letter. I hesitated before I looked at it.

“Oh, Sir! please, please do take it!” said the girl earnestly. “I did
wrong, I’m afraid, in giving her the first; but I can’t do wrong again,
when my poor mistress is dying in the house. I can’t keep secrets, Sir,
that may be bad secrets, at such a dreadful time as this; I couldn’t
have laid down in my bed to-night, when there’s likely to be death in
the house, if I hadn’t confessed what I’ve done; and my poor mistress
has always been so kind and good to us servants--better than ever we
deserved.”

Weeping bitterly as she said this, the kind-hearted girl held out the
letter to me once more. This time I took it from her, and looked at the
address.

Though I did not know the handwriting, still there was something in
those unsteady characters which seemed familiar to me. Was it possible
that I had ever seen them before? I tried to consider; but my memory
was confused, my mind wearied out, after all that had happened since the
morning. The effort was fruitless: I gave back the letter.

“I know as little about it, Susan, as you do.”

“But ought I to take it up-stairs, Sir? only tell me that!”

“It is not for me to say. All interest or share on my part, Susan, in
what she--in what your young mistress receives, is at an end.”

“I’m very sorry to hear you say that, Sir; very, very sorry. But what
would you advise me to do?”

“Let me look at the letter once more.”

On a second view, the handwriting produced the same effect on me as
before, ending too with just the same result. I returned the letter
again.

“I respect your scruples, Susan, but I am not the person to remove or
to justify them. Why should you not apply in this difficulty to your
master?”

“I dare not, Sir; I dare not for my life. He’s been worse than ever,
lately; if I said as much to him as I’ve said to you, I believe he’d
kill me!” She hesitated, then continued more composedly; “Well, at any
rate I’ve told _you,_ Sir, and that’s made my mind easier; and--and I’ll
give her the letter this once, and then take in no more--if they come,
unless I hear a proper account of them.”

She curtseyed; and, bidding me farewell very sadly and anxiously,
returned to the house with the letter in her hand. If I had guessed at
that moment who it was written by! If I could only have suspected what
were its contents!

I left Hollyoake Square in a direction which led to some fields a little
distance on. It was very strange; but that unknown handwriting still
occupied my thoughts: that wretched trifle absolutely took possession of
my mind, at such a time as this; in such a position as mine was now.

I stopped wearily in the fields at a lonely spot, away from the
footpath. My eyes ached at the sunlight, and I shaded them with my hand.
Exactly at the same instant, the lost recollection flashed back on me so
vividly that I started almost in terror. The handwriting shown me by the
servant at North Villa, was the same as the handwriting on that unopened
and forgotten letter in my pocket, which I had received from the servant
at home--received in the morning, as I crossed the hall to enter my
father’s room.

I took out the letter, opened it with trembling fingers, and looked
through the cramped, closely-written pages for the signature.

It was “ROBERT MANNION.”

V.

Mannion! I had never suspected that the note shown to me at North Villa
might have come from him. And yet, the secrecy with which it had been
delivered; the person to whom it was addressed; the mystery connected
with it even in the servant’s eyes, all pointed to the discovery which
I had so incomprehensibly failed to make. I had suffered a letter, which
might contain written proof of her guilt, to be taken, from under my own
eyes, to Margaret Sherwin! How had my perceptions become thus strangely
blinded? The confusion of my memory, the listless incapacity of all my
faculties, answered the question but too readily, of themselves.

“Robert Mannion!” I could not take my eyes from that name: I still held
before me the crowded, closely-written lines of his writing, and delayed
to read them. Something of the horror which the presence of the man
himself would have inspired in me, was produced by the mere sight of his
letter, and that letter addressed to _me._ The vengeance which my
own hands had wreaked on him, he was, of all men the surest to repay.
Perhaps, in these lines, the dark future through which his way and mine
might lie, would be already shadowed forth. Margaret too! Could he write
so much, and not write of _her?_ not disclose the mystery in which the
motives of _her_ crime were still hidden? I turned back again to the
first page, and resolved to read the letter. It began abruptly, in the
following terms:--



                                    “St. Helen’s Hospital.

“You may look at the signature when you receive this, and may be tempted
to tear up my letter, and throw it from you unread. I warn you to read
what I have written, and to estimate, if you can, its importance to
yourself. Destroy these pages afterwards if you like--they will have
served their purpose.

“Do you know where I am, and what I suffer? I am one of the patients
of this hospital, hideously mutilated for life by your hand. If I could
have known certainly the day of my dismissal, I should have waited to
tell you with my own lips what I now write--but I am ignorant of this.
At the very point of recovery I have suffered a relapse.

“You will silence any uneasy upbraidings of conscience, should you feel
them, by saying that I have deserved death at your hands. I will tell
you, in answer, what you deserve and shall receive at mine.

“But I will first assume that it was knowledge of your wife’s guilt
which prompted your attack on me. I am well aware that she has declared
herself innocent, and that her father supports her declaration. By the
time you receive this letter (my injuries oblige me to allow myself
a whole fortnight to write it in), I shall have taken measures which
render further concealment unnecessary. Therefore, if my confession
avail you aught, you have it here:--She is guilty: _willingly_ guilty,
remember, whatever she may say to the contrary. You may believe this,
and believe all I write hereafter. Deception between us two is at an
end.

“I have told you Margaret Sherwin is guilty. Why was she guilty? What
was the secret of my influence over her?

“To make you comprehend what I have now to communicate, it is necessary
for me to speak of myself; and of my early life. To-morrow, I will
undertake this disclosure--to-day, I can neither hold the pen, nor see
the paper any longer. If you could look at my face, where I am now laid,
you would know why!”

                         *****

“When we met for the first time at North Villa, I had not been five
minutes in your presence before I detected your curiosity to know
something about me, and perceived that you doubted, from the first,
whether I was born and bred for such a situation as I held under Mr.
Sherwin. Failing--as I knew you would fail--to gain any information
about me from my employer or his family, you tried, at various times,
to draw me into familiarity, to get me to talk unreservedly to you; and
only gave up the attempt to penetrate my secret, whatever it might
be, when we parted after our interview at my house on the night of the
storm. On that night, I determined to baulk your curiosity, and yet to
gain your confidence; and I succeeded. You little thought, when you
bade me farewell at my own door, that you had given your hand and your
friendship to a man, who--long before you met with Margaret Sherwin--had
inherited the right to be the enemy of your father, and of every
descendant of your father’s house.

“Does this declaration surprise you? Read on, and you will understand
it.

“I am the son of a gentleman. My father’s means were miserably limited,
and his family was not an old family, like yours. Nevertheless, he was a
gentleman in anybody’s sense of the word; he knew it, and that knowledge
was his ruin. He was a weak, kind, careless man; a worshipper of
conventionalities; and a great respecter of the wide gaps which lay
between social stations in his time. Thus, he determined to live like
a gentleman, by following a gentleman’s pursuit--a profession, as
distinguished from a trade. Failing in this, he failed to follow out his
principle, and starve like a gentleman. He died the death of a felon;
leaving me no inheritance but the name of a felon’s son.

“While still a young man, he contrived to be introduced to a gentleman
of great family, great position, and great wealth. He interested, or
fancied he interested, this gentleman; and always looked on him as the
patron who was to make his fortune, by getting him the first government
sinecure (they were plenty enough in those days!) which might fall
vacant. In firm and foolish expectation of this, he lived far beyond his
little professional income--lived among rich people without the courage
to make use of them as a poor man. It was the old story: debts and
liabilities of all kinds pressed heavy on him--creditors refused to
wait--exposure and utter ruin threatened him--and the prospect of the
sinecure was still as far off as ever.

“Nevertheless he believed in the advent of this office; and all the more
resolutely now, because he looked to it as his salvation. He was quite
confident of the interest of his patron, and of its speedy exertion
in his behalf. Perhaps, that gentleman had overrated his own
political influence; perhaps, my father had been too sanguine, and had
misinterpreted polite general promises into special engagements. However
it was, the bailiffs came into his house one morning, while help from
a government situation, or any situation, was as unattainable as
ever--came to take him to prison: to seize everything, in execution,
even to the very bed on which my mother (then seriously ill) was lying.
The whole fabric of false prosperity which he had been building up
to make the world respect him, was menaced with instant and shameful
overthrow. He had not the courage to let it go; so he took refuge from
misfortune in a crime.

“He forged a bond, to prop up his credit for a little time longer.
The name he made use of was the name of his patron. In doing this, he
believed--as all men who commit crime believe--that he had the best
possible chance of escaping consequences. In the first place, he might
get the long-expected situation in time to repay the amount of the bond
before detection. In the second place, he had almost the certainty of a
legacy from a rich relative, old and in ill-health, whose death might
be fairly expected from day to day. If both these prospects failed (and
they _did_ fail), there was still a third chance--the chance that his
rich patron would rather pay the money than appear against him. In those
days they hung for forgery. My father believed it to be impossible that
a man at whose table he had sat, whose relatives and friends he had
amused and instructed by his talents, would be the man to give evidence
which should condemn him to be hanged on the public scaffold.

“He was wrong. The wealthy patron held strict principles of honour
which made no allowance for temptations and weaknesses; and was moreover
influenced by high-flown notions of his responsibilities as a legislator
(he was a member of Parliament) to the laws of his country. He appeared
accordingly, and gave evidence against the prisoner; who was found
guilty, and left for execution.

“Then, when it was too late, this man of pitiless honour thought himself
at last justified in leaning to the side of mercy, and employed his
utmost interest, in every direction, to obtain a mitigation of the
sentence to transportation for life. The application failed; even a
reprieve of a few days was denied. At the appointed time, my father died
on the scaffold by the hangman’s hand.

“Have you suspected, while reading this part of my letter, who the
high-born gentleman was whose evidence hung him? If you have not, I
will tell you. That gentleman was _your father._ You will now wonder
no longer how I could have inherited the right to be his enemy, and the
enemy of all who are of his blood.

“The shock of her husband’s horrible death deprived my mother of reason.
She lived a few months after his execution; but never recovered her
faculties. I was their only child; and was left penniless to begin life
as the son of a father who had been hanged, and of a mother who had died
in a public madhouse.

“More of myself to-morrow--my letter will be a long one: I must pause
often over it, as I pause to-day.”

                         *****

“Well: I started in life with the hangman’s mark on me--with the
parent’s shame for the son’s reputation. Wherever I went, whatever
friends I kept, whatever acquaintances I made--people knew how my father
had died: and showed that they knew it. Not so much by shunning or
staring at me (vile as human nature is, there were not many who did
that), as by insulting me with over-acted sympathy, and elaborate
anxiety to sham entire ignorance of my father’s fate. The gallows-brand
was on my forehead; but they were too benevolently blind to see it. The
gallows-infamy was my inheritance; but they were too resolutely generous
to discover it! This was hard to bear. However, I was strong-hearted
even then, when my sensations were quick, and my sympathies young: so I
bore it.

“My only weakness was my father’s weakness--the notion that I was born
to a station ready made for me, and that the great use of my life was to
live up to it. My station! I battled for that with the world for years
and years, before I discovered that the highest of all stations is the
station a man makes for himself: and the lowest, the station that is
made for him by others.

“At starting in life, your father wrote to make me offers of
assistance--assistance, after he had ruined me! Assistance to the child,
from hands which had tied the rope round the parent’s neck! I sent him
back his letter. He knew that I was his enemy, his son’s enemy, and his
son’s son’s enemy, as long as I lived. I never heard from him again.

“Trusting boldly to myself to carve out my own way, and to live down my
undeserved ignominy; resolving in the pride of my integrity to combat
openly and fairly with misfortune, I shrank, at first, from disowning my
parentage and abandoning my father’s name. Standing on my own character,
confiding in my intellect and my perseverance, I tried pursuit after
pursuit, and was beaten afresh at every new effort. Whichever way I
turned, the gallows still rose as the same immovable obstacle between me
and fortune, between me and station, between me and my fellowmen. I
was morbidly sensitive on this point. The slightest references to my
father’s fate, however remote or accidental, curdled my blood. I saw
open insult, or humiliating compassion, or forced forbearance, in the
look and manner of every man about me. So I broke off with old friends,
and tried new; and, in seeking fresh pursuits, sought fresh connections,
where my father’s infamy might be unknown. Wherever I went, the old
stain always broke out afresh, just at the moment when I had deceived
myself into the belief that it was utterly effaced. I had a warm heart
then--it was some time before it turned to stone, and felt nothing.
Those were the days when failure and humiliation could still draw tears
from me: that epoch in my life is marked in my memory as the epoch when
I could weep.

“At last, I gave way before difficulty, and conceded the first step to
the calamity which had stood front to front with me so long. I left the
neighbourhood where I was known, and assumed the name of a schoolfellow
who had died. For some time this succeeded; but the curse of my
father’s death followed me, though I saw it not. After various
employments--still, mind, the employments of a gentleman!--had first
supported, then failed me, I became an usher at a school. It was there
that my false name was detected, and my identity discovered again--I
never knew through whom. The exposure was effected by some enemy,
anonymously. For several days, I thought everybody in the school treated
me in an altered way. The cause came out, first in whispers, then in
reckless jests, while I was taking care of the boys in the playground.
In the fury of the moment I struck one of the most insolent, and the
eldest of them, and hurt him rather seriously. The parents heard of it,
and threatened me with prosecution; the whole neighbourhood was aroused.
I had to leave my situation secretly, by night, or the mob would have
pelted the felon’s son out of the parish.

“I went back to London, bearing another assumed name; and tried, as a
last resource to save me from starvation, the resource of writing. I
served my apprenticeship to literature as a hack-author of the lowest
degree. Knowing I had talents which might be turned to account, I tried
to vindicate them by writing an original work. But my experience of the
world had made me unfit to dress my thoughts in popular costume: I could
only tell bitter truths bitterly; I exposed licenced hypocrisies too
openly; I saw the vicious side of many respectabilities, and said I saw
it--in short, I called things by their right names; and no publisher
would treat with me. So I stuck to my low task-work; my penny-a lining
in third-class newspapers; my translating from Frenchmen and Germans,
and plagiarising from dead authors, to supply the raw material for
bookmongering by more accomplished bookmongers than I. In this life,
there was one advantage which compensated for much misery and meanness,
and bitter, biting disappointment: I could keep my identity securely
concealed. Character was of no consequence to me; nobody cared to know
who I was, or to inquire what I had been--the gallows-mark was smoothed
out at last!

“While I was living thus on the offal of literature, I met with a woman
of good birth, and fair fortune, whose sympathies or whose curiosity
I happened to interest. She and her father and mother received me
favourably, as a gentleman who had known better days, and an author
whom the public had undeservedly neglected. How I managed to gain their
confidence and esteem, without alluding to my parentage, it is not worth
while to stop to describe. That I did so you will easily imagine, when
I tell you that the woman to whom I refer, consented, with her father’s
full approval, to become my wife.

“The very day of the marriage was fixed. I believed I had successfully
parried all perilous inquiries--but I was wrong. A relation of the
family, whom I had never seen, came to town a short time before the
wedding. We disliked each other on our first introduction. He was a
clever, resolute man of the world, and privately inquired about me to
much better purpose in a few days, than his family had done in
several months. Accident favoured him strangely, everything was
discovered--literally everything--and I was contemptuously dismissed the
house. Could a lady of respectability marry a man (no matter how worthy
in _her_ eyes) whose father had been hanged, whose mother had died in a
madhouse, who had lived under assumed names, who had been driven from an
excellent country neighbourhood, for cruelty to a harmless school-boy?
Impossible!

“With this event, my long strife and struggle with the world ended.

“My eyes opened to a new view of life, and the purpose of life. My first
aspirations to live up to my birth-right position, in spite of adversity
and dishonour, to make my name sweet enough in men’s nostrils, to
cleanse away the infamy on my father’s, were now no more. The ambition
which--whether I was a hack-author, a travelling portrait-painter, or
an usher at a school--had once whispered to me: low down as you are in
dark, miry ways, you are on the path which leads upward to high places
in the sunshine afar-off; you are not working to scrape together wealth
for another man; you are independent, self-reliant, labouring in your
own cause--the daring ambition which had once counselled thus, sank
dead within me at last. The strong, stern spirit was beaten by spirits
stronger and sterner yet--Infamy and Want.

“I wrote to a man of character and wealth; one of my friends of early
days, who had ceased to hold communication with me, like other friends,
but, unlike them, had given me up in genuine sorrow: I wrote, and asked
him to meet me privately by night. I was too ragged to go to his house,
too sensitive still (even if I had gone and had been admitted) to risk
encountering people there, who either knew my father, or knew how he
had died. I wished to speak to my former friend, unseen, and made the
appointment accordingly. He kept it.

“When we met, I said to him:--I have a last favour to ask of you. When
we parted years ago, I had high hopes and brave resolutions--both are
worn out. I then believed that I could not only rise superior to my
misfortune, but could make that very misfortune the motive of my rise.
You told me I was too quick of temper, too morbidly sensitive about
the slightest reference to my father’s death, too fierce and changeable
under undeserved trial and disappointment. This might have been true
then; but I am altered now: pride and ambition have been persecuted and
starved out of me. An obscure, monotonous life, in which thought and
spirit may be laid asleep, never to wake again, is the only life I care
for. Help me to lead it. I ask you, first, as a beggar, to give me from
your superfluity, apparel decent enough to bear the daylight. I ask you
next, to help me to some occupation which will just give me my bread, my
shelter, and my hour or two of solitude in the evening. You have plenty
of influence to do this, and you know I am honest. You cannot choose me
too humble and obscure an employment; let me descend low enough to be
lost to sight beneath the world I have lived in; let me go among people
who want to know that I work honestly for them, and want to know nothing
more. Get me a mean hiding-place to conceal myself and my history in for
ever, and then neither attempt to see me nor communicate with me again.
If former friends chance to ask after me, tell them I am dead, or gone
into another country. The wisest life is the life the animals lead: I
want, like them, to serve my master for food, shelter, and liberty to
lie asleep now and then in the sunshine, without being driven away as a
pest or a trespasser. Do you believe in this resolution?--it is my last.

“He _did_ believe in it; and he granted what I asked. Through his
interference and recommendation, I entered the service of Mr. Sherwin.--

“I must stop here for to-day. To-morrow I shall come to disclosures of
vital interest to you. Have you been surprised that I, your enemy by
every cause of enmity that one man can have against another, should
write to you so fully about the secrets of my early life? I have done
so, because I wish the strife between us to be an open strife on my
side; because I desire that you should know thoroughly what you have
to expect from my character, after such a life as I have led. There
was purpose in my deceit, when I deceived you--there is purpose in my
frankness, when I now tell you all.”

                         *****

“I began in Mr. Sherwin’s employment, as the lowest clerk in his office.
Both the master and the men looked a little suspiciously on me, at
first. My account of myself was always the same--simple and credible;
I had entered the counting-house with the best possible recommendation,
and I acted up to it. These circumstances in my favour, joined to a
manner that never varied, and to a steadiness at my work that never
relaxed, soon produced their effect--all curiosity about me gradually
died away: I was left to pursue my avocations in peace. The friend who
had got me my situation, preserved my secret as I had desired him; of
all the people whom I had formerly known, pitiless enemies and lukewarm
adherents, not one ever suspected that my hiding-place was the back
office of a linen-draper’s shop. For the first time in my life, I felt
that the secret of my father’s misfortune was mine, and mine only; that
my security from exposure was at length complete.

“Before long, I rose to the chief place in the counting-house. It was no
very difficult matter for me to discover, that my new master’s character
had other elements besides that of the highest respectability. In plain
terms, I found him to be a pretty equal compound by nature, of the fool,
the tyrant, and the coward. There was only one direction in which what
grovelling sympathies he had, could be touched to some purpose. Save
him waste, or get him profit; and he was really grateful. I succeeded
in working both these marvels. His managing man cheated him; I found
it out; refused to be bribed to collusion; and exposed the fraud to Mr.
Sherwin. This got me his confidence, and the place of chief clerk. In
that position, I discovered a means, which had never occurred to my
employer, of greatly enlarging his business and its profits, with the
least possible risk. He tried my plan, and it succeeded. This gained me
his warmest admiration, an increase of salary, and a firm footing in his
family circle. My projects were more than fulfilled: I had money enough,
and leisure enough; and spent my obscure existence exactly as I had
proposed.

“But my life was still not destined to be altogether devoid of an
animating purpose. When I first knew Margaret Sherwin, she was just
changing from childhood to girlhood. I marked the promise of future
beauty in her face and figure; and secretly formed the resolution which
you afterwards came forward to thwart, but which I have executed, and
will execute, in spite of you.

“The thoughts out of which that resolution sprang, counselled me more
calmly than you can suppose. I said within myself: ‘The best years of my
life have been irrevocably wasted; misery and humiliation and disaster
have followed my steps from my youth; of all the pleasant draughts which
other men drink to sweeten existence, not one has passed my lips. I will
know happiness before I die; and this girl shall confer it. She shall
grow up to maturity for _me:_ I will imperceptibly gain such a hold on
her affections, while they are yet young and impressible, that, when the
time comes, and I speak the word--though my years more than double hers,
though I am dependent on her father for the bread I eat, though parents’
voice and lover’s voice unite to call her back--she shall still come to
my side, and of her own free will put her hand in mine, and follow me
wherever I go; my wife, my mistress, my servant, which I choose.

“This was my project. To execute it, time and opportunity were mine; and
I steadily and warily made use of them, hour by hour, day by day, year
by year. From first to last, the girl’s father never suspected me.
Besides the security which he felt in my age, he had judged me by his
own small commercial standard, and had found me a model of integrity.
A man who had saved him from being cheated, who had so enlarged and
consolidated his business as to place him among the top dignitaries of
the trade; who was the first to come to the desk in the morning, and the
last to remain there in the evening; who had not only never demanded,
but had absolutely refused to take, a single holiday--such a man as
this was, morally and intellectually, a man in ten thousand; a man to be
admired and trusted in every relation of life!

“His confidence in me knew no bounds. He was uneasy if I was not by to
advise him in the simplest matters. My ears were the first to which he
confided his insane ambition on the subject of his daughter--his anxiety
to see her marry above her station--his stupid resolution to give
her the false, flippant, fashionable education which she subsequently
received. I thwarted his plans in nothing, openly--counteracted them in
everything, secretly. The more I strengthened my sources of influence
over Margaret, the more pleased he was. He was delighted to hear her
constantly referring to me about her home-lessons; to see her coming to
me, evening after evening, to learn new occupations and amusements. He
suspected I had been a gentleman; he had been told I spoke pure English;
he felt sure I had received a first-rate education--I was nearly as good
for Margaret as good society itself! When she grew older, and went to
the fashionable school, as her father had declared she should, my offer
to keep up her lessons in the holidays, and to examine what progress she
had made, when she came home regularly every fortnight for the Sunday,
was accepted with greedy readiness, and acknowledged with servile
gratitude. At this time, Mr. Sherwin’s own estimate of me, among his
friends, was, that he had got me for half nothing, and that I was worth
more to him than a thousand a-year.

“But there was one member of the family who suspected my intentions from
the first. Mrs. Sherwin--the weak, timid, sickly woman, whose opinion
nobody regarded, whose character nobody understood--Mrs. Sherwin, of
all those who dwelt in the house, or came to the house, was the only one
whose looks, words, and manner kept me constantly on my guard. The very
first time we saw each other, that woman doubted _me,_ as I doubted
_her;_ and for ever afterwards, when we met, she was on the watch.
This mutual distrust, this antagonism of our two natures, never openly
proclaimed itself, and never wore away. My chance of security lay, not
so much in my own caution, and my perfect command of look and action
under all emergencies, as in the self-distrust and timidity of her
nature; in the helpless inferiority of position to which her husband’s
want of affection, and her daughter’s want of respect, condemned her
in her own house; and in the influence of repulsion--at times, even of
absolute terror--which my presence had the power of communicating to
her. Suspecting what I am assured she suspected--incapable as she was
of rendering her suspicions certainties--knowing beforehand, as she
must have known, that no words she could speak would gain the smallest
respect or credit from her husband or her child--that woman’s life,
while I was at North Villa, must have been a life of the direst mental
suffering to which any human being was ever condemned.

“As time passed, and Margaret grew older, her beauty both of face and
form approached nearer to perfection than I had foreseen, closely as I
watched her. But neither her mind nor her disposition kept pace with
her beauty. I studied her closely, with the same patient, penetrating
observation, which my experience of the world has made it a habit with
me to direct on every one with whom I am brought in contact--I studied
her, I say, intently; and found her worthy of nothing, not even of the
slave-destiny which I had in store for her.

“She had neither heart nor mind, in the higher sense of those words. She
had simply instincts--most of the bad instincts of an animal; none of
the good. The great motive power which really directed her, was
Deceit. I never met with any human being so inherently disingenuous,
so naturally incapable of candour even in the most trifling affairs of
life, as she was. The best training could never have wholly overcome
this vice in her: the education she actually got--an education under
false pretences--encouraged it. Everybody has read, some people
have known, of young girls who have committed the most extraordinary
impostures, or sustained the most infamous false accusations; their
chief motive being often the sheer enjoyment of practising deceit. Of
such characters was the character of Margaret Sherwin.

“She had strong passions, but not their frequent accompaniment--strong
will, and strong intellect. She had some obstinacy, but no firmness.
Appeal in the right way to her vanity, and you could make her do the
thing she had declared she would not do, the minute after she had
made the declaration. As for her mind, it was of the lowest schoolgirl
average. She had a certain knack at learning this thing, and remembering
that; but she understood nothing fairly, felt nothing deeply. If I had
not had my own motive in teaching her, I should have shut the books
again, the first time she and I opened them together, and have given her
up as a fool.

“All, however, that I discovered of bad in her character, never made
me pause in the prosecution of my design; I had carried it too far for
that, before I thoroughly knew her. Besides, what mattered her duplicity
to _me?_--I could see through it. Her strong passions?--I could control
them. Her obstinacy?--I could break it. Her poverty of intellect?--I
cared nothing about her intellect. What I wanted was youth and beauty;
she was young and beautiful and I was sure of her.

“Yes; sure. Her showy person, showy accomplishments, and showy manners
dazzled all eyes but mine--Of all the people about her, I alone found
out what she really was; and in that lay the main secret of my influence
over her. I dreaded no rivalry. Her father, prompted by his ambitious
hopes, kept most young men of her class away from the house; the few who
did come were not dangerous; _they_ were as incapable of inspiring, as
_she_ was of feeling, real love. Her mother still watched me, and
still discovered nothing; still suspected me behind my back, and still
trembled before my face. Months passed on monotonously, year succeeded
to year; and I bided my time as patiently, and kept my secret as
cautiously as at the first. No change occurred, nothing happened to
weaken or alter my influence at North Villa, until the day arrived when
Margaret left school and came home for good.

                         *****

“Exactly at the period to which I have referred, certain business
transactions of great importance required the presence of Mr. Sherwin,
or of some confidential person to represent him, at Lyons. Secretly
distrusting his own capabilities, he proposed to me to go; saying that
it would be a pleasant trip for me, and a good introduction to his
wealthy manufacturing correspondents. After some consideration, I
accepted his offer.

“I had never hinted a word of my intentions towards her to Margaret;
but she understood them well enough--I was certain of that, from many
indications which no man could mistake. For reasons which will presently
appear, I resolved not to explain myself until my return from Lyons. My
private object in going there, was to make interest secretly with Mr.
Sherwin’s correspondents for a situation in their house. I knew that
when I made my proposals to Margaret, I must be prepared to act on them
on the instant; I knew that her father’s fury when he discovered that I
had been helping to educate his daughter only for myself, would lead
him to any extremities; I knew that we must fly to some foreign country;
and, lastly, I knew the importance of securing a provision for our
maintenance, when we got there. I had saved money, it is true--nearly
two-thirds of my salary, every year--but had not saved enough for two.
Accordingly, I left England to push my own interests, as well as my
employer’s; left it, confident that my short absence would not weaken
the result of years of steady influence over Margaret. The sequel showed
that, cautious and calculating as I was, I had nevertheless overlooked
the chances against me, which my own experience of her vanity and
duplicity ought to have enabled me thoroughly to foresee.

“Well: I had been some time at Lyons; had managed my employer’s business
(from first to last, I was faithful, as I had engaged to be, to his
commercial interests); and had arranged my own affairs securely and
privately. Already, I was looking forward, with sensations of happiness
which were new to me, to my return and to the achievement of the
one success, the solitary triumph of my long life of humiliation and
disaster, when a letter arrived from Mr. Sherwin. It contained the news
of your private marriage, and of the extraordinary conditions that had
been attached to it with your consent.

“Other people were in the room with me when I read that letter; but my
manner betrayed nothing to them. My hand never trembled when I folded
the sheet of paper again; I was not a minute late in attending a
business engagement which I had accepted; the slightest duties of
other kinds which I had to do, I rigidly fulfilled. Never did I more
thoroughly and fairly earn the evening’s leisure by the morning’s work,
than I earned it that day.

“Leaving the town at the close of afternoon, I walked on till I came to
a solitary place on the bank of the great river which runs near Lyons.
There I opened the letter for the second time, and read it through again
slowly, with no necessity now for self-control, because no human being
was near to look at me. There I read your name, constantly repeated in
every line of writing; and knew that the man who, in my absence, had
stepped between me and my prize--the man who, in his insolence of youth,
and birth, and fortune, had snatched from me the one long-delayed reward
for twenty years of misery, just as my hands were stretched forth to
grasp it, was the son of that honourable and high-born gentleman who had
given my father to the gallows, and had made me the outcast of my social
privileges for life.

“The sun was setting when I looked up from the letter; flashes of
rose-light leapt on the leaping river; the birds were winging nestward
to the distant trees, and the ghostly stillness of night was sailing
solemnly over earth and sky, as the first thought of the vengeance I
would have on father and son began to burn fiercely at my heart, to move
like a new life within me, to whisper to my spirit--Wait: be patient;
they are both in your power; you can now foul the father’s name as the
father fouled yours--you can yet thwart the son, as the son has thwarted
_you._

“In the few minutes that passed, while I lingered in that lonely
place after reading the letter, I imagined the whole scheme which it
afterwards took a year to execute. I laid the whole plan against you and
your father, the first half of which, through the accident that led you
to your discovery, has alone been carried out. I believed then, as I
believe now, that I stood towards you both in the place of an injured
man, whose right it was, in self-defence and self-assertion, to injure
you. Judged by your ideas, this may read wickedly; but to me, after
having lived and suffered as I have, the modern common-places current
in the world are so many brazen images which society impudently
worships--like the Jews of old--in the face of living Truth.

                         *****

“Let us get back to England.

“That evening, when we met for the first time, did you observe that
Margaret was unusually agitated before I came in? I detected some
change, the moment I saw her. Did you notice that I avoided speaking
to her, or looking at her? it was because I was afraid to do so. I saw
that, with my return, my old influence over her was coming back: and
I still believe that, hypocritical and heartless though she was, and
blinded though you were by your passion for her, she would unconsciously
have betrayed everything to you on that evening, if I had not acted as
I did. Her mother, too! how her mother watched me from the moment when I
came in!

“Afterwards, while you were trying hard to open, undetected, the sealed
history of my early life, I was warily discovering from Margaret all
that I desired to know. I say ‘warily,’ but the word poorly expresses my
consummate caution and patience, at that time. I never put myself in her
power, never risked offending, or frightening, or revolting her;
never lost an opportunity of bringing her back to her old habits
of familiarity; and, more than all, never gave her mother a single
opportunity of detecting me. This was the sum of what I gathered up, bit
by bit, from secret and scattered investigations, persevered in through
many weeks.

“Her vanity had been hurt, her expectations disappointed, at my having
left her for Lyons, with no other parting words than such as I might
have spoken to any other woman whom I looked on merely as a friend. That
she felt any genuine love for me I never have believed, and never shall:
but I had that practical ability, that firmness of will, that obvious
personal ascendancy over most of those with whom I came in contact,
which extorts the respect and admiration of women of all characters,
and even of women of no character at all. As far as her senses, her
instincts, and her pride could take her, I had won her over to me but
no farther--because no farther could she go. I mention pride among her
motives, advisedly. She was proud of being the object of such attentions
as I had now paid to her for years, because she fancied that, through
those attentions, I, who, more or less, ruled everyone else in her
sphere, had yielded to her the power of ruling _me._ The manner of my
departure from England showed her too plainly that she had miscalculated
her influence, and that the power, in her case, as in the case of
others, was all on my side. Hence the wound to her vanity, to which I
have alluded.

“It was while this wound was still fresh that you met her, and appealed
to her self-esteem in a new direction. You must have seen clearly
enough, that such proposals as yours far exceeded the most ambitious
expectations formed by her father. No man’s alliance could have lifted
her much higher out of her own class: she knew this, and from that
knowledge married you--married you for your station, for your name,
for your great friends and connections, for your father’s money, and
carriages, and fine houses; for everything, in short, but yourself.

“Still, in spite of the temptations of youth, wealth, and birth which
your proposals held out to her, she accepted them at first (I made her
confess it herself) with a secret terror and misgiving, produced by
the remembrance of me. These sensations, however, she soon quelled,
or fancied she quelled; and these, it was now my last, best chance to
revive. I had a whole year for the work before me; and I felt certain of
success.

“On your side, you had immense advantages. You had social superiority;
you had her father’s full approbation; and you were married to her. If
she had loved you for yourself, loved you for anything besides her
own sensual interests, her vulgar ambition, her reckless vanity, every
effort I could have made against you would have been defeated from the
first. But, setting this out of the question, in spite of the utter
heartlessness of her attachment to you, if you had not consented to that
condition of waiting a year for her after marriage; or, consenting to
it, if you had broken it long before the year was out--knowing, as you
should have known, that in most women’s eyes a man is not dishonoured by
breaking his promise, so long as he breaks it for a woman’s sake--if,
I say, you had taken either of these courses, I should still have
been powerless against you. But you remained faithful to your promise,
faithful to the condition, faithful to the ill-directed modesty of your
love; and that very fidelity put you in my power. A pure-minded girl
would have loved you a thousand times better for acting as you did--but
Margaret Sherwin was not a pure-minded girl, not a maidenly girl: I have
looked into her thoughts, and I know it.

“Such were your chances against me; and such was the manner in which
you misused them. On _my_ side, I had indefatigable patience; personal
advantages equal, with the exception of birth and age, to yours:
long-established influence; freedom to be familiar; and more than all,
that stealthy, unflagging strength of purpose which only springs from
the desire of revenge. I first thoroughly tested your character, and
discovered on what points it was necessary for me to be on my guard
against you, when you took shelter under my roof from the storm. If your
father had been with you on that night, there were moments, while the
tempest was wrought to its full fury, when, if my voice could have
called the thunder down on the house to crush it and every one in it to
atoms, I would have spoken the word, and ended the strife for all of
us. The wind, the hail, and the lightning maddened my thoughts of your
father and you--I was nearly letting you see it, when that flash came
between us as we parted at my door.

“How I gained your confidence, you know; and you know also, how I
contrived to make you use me, afterwards, as the secret friend who
procured you privileges with Margaret which her father would not grant
at your own request. This, at the outset, secured me from suspicion
on your part; and I had only to leave it to your infatuation to do
the rest. With you my course was easy--with her it was beset by
difficulties; but I overcame them. Your fatal consent to wait through
a year of probation, furnished me with weapons against you, which I
employed to the most unscrupulous purpose. I can picture to myself what
would be your indignation and your horror, if I fully described the use
which I made of the position in which your compliance with her father’s
conditions placed you towards Margaret. I spare you this avowal--it
would be useless now. Consider me what you please; denounce my conduct
in any terms you like: my justification will always be the same. I
was the injured man, you were the aggressor; I was righting myself by
getting back a possession of which you had robbed me, and any means were
sanctified by such an end as that.

“But my success, so far, was of little avail, in itself; against the
all-powerful counter-attraction which you possessed. Contemptible, or
not, you still had this superiority over me--you could make a fine
lady of her. From that fact sprang the ambition which all my influence,
dating as it did from her childhood, could not destroy. There, was
fastened the main-spring which regulated her selfish devotion to you,
and which it was next to impossible to snap asunder. I never made the
attempt.

“The scheme which I proposed to her, when she was fully prepared to hear
it, and to conceal that she had heard it, left her free to enjoy all the
social advantages which your alliance could bestow--free to ride in her
carriage, and go into her father’s shop (that was one of her ambitions!)
as a new customer added to his aristocratic connection--free even to
become one of your family, unsuspected, in case your rash marriage was
forgiven. Your credulity rendered the execution of this scheme easy.
In what manner it was to be carried out, and what object I proposed to
myself in framing it, I abstain from avowing; for the simple reason that
the discovery at which you arrived by following us on the night of the
party, made my plan abortive, and has obliged me since to renounce it. I
need only say, in this place, that it threatened your father as well as
you, and that Margaret recoiled from it at first--not from any horror of
the proposal, but through fear of discovery. Gradually, I overcame her
apprehensions: very gradually, for I was not thoroughly secure of her
devotion to my purpose, until your year of probation was nearly out.

“Through all that year, daily visitor as you were at North Villa,
you never suspected either of us! And yet, had you been one whit less
infatuated, how many warnings you might have discovered, which, in
spite of her duplicity and my caution, would then have shown themselves
plainly enough to put you on your guard! Those abrupt changes in her
manner, those alternate fits of peevish silence and capricious gaiety,
which sometimes displayed themselves even in your presence, had every
one of them their meaning--though you could not discern it. Sometimes,
they meant fear of discovery, sometimes fear of me: now, they might be
traced back to hidden contempt; now, to passions swelling under fancied
outrage; now, to secret remembrance of disclosures I had just made, or
eager anticipation of disclosures I had yet to reveal. There were times
at which every step of the way along which I was advancing was marked,
faintly yet significantly, in her manner and her speech, could you only
have interpreted them aright. My first renewal of my old influence over
her, my first words that degraded you in her eyes, my first successful
pleading of my own cause against yours, my first appeal to those
passions in her which I knew how to move, my first proposal to her
of the whole scheme which I had matured in solitude, in the foreign
country, by the banks of the great river--all these separate and gradual
advances on my part towards the end which I was vowed to achieve, were
outwardly shadowed forth in her, consummate as were her capacities for
deceit, and consummately as she learnt to use them against you.

“Do you remember noticing, on your return from the country, how ill
Margaret looked, and how ill I looked? We had some interviews during
your absence, at which I spoke such words to her as would have left
their mark on the face of a Jezebel, or a Messalina. Have you forgotten
how often, during the latter days of your year of expectation, I
abruptly left the room after you had called me in to bear you company
in your evening readings? My pretext was sudden illness; and illness it
was, but not of the body. As the time approached, I felt less and less
secure of my own caution and patience. With you, indeed, I might still
have considered myself safe: it was the presence of Mrs. Sherwin that
drove me from the room. Under that woman’s fatal eye I shrank, when the
last days drew near--I, who had defied her detection, and stood firmly
on my guard against her sleepless, silent, deadly vigilance, for months
and months--gave way as the end approached! I knew that she had once
or twice spoken strangely to you, and I dreaded lest her wandering,
incoherent words might yet take in time a recognisable direction, a
palpable shape. They did not; the instinct of terror bound her tongue
to the last. Perhaps, even if she had spoken plainly, you would not have
believed her; you would have been still true to yourself and to your
confidence in Margaret. Enemy as I am to you, enemy as I will be to the
day of your death, I will do you justice for the past:--Your love for
that girl was a love which even the purest and best of women could never
have thoroughly deserved.

                         *****

“My letter is nearly done: my retrospect is finished. I have brought
it down to the date of events, about which you know as much as I do.
Accident conducted you to a discovery which, otherwise, you might not
have made, perhaps for months, perhaps not at all, until I had led you
to it of my own accord. I say accident, positively; knowing that from
first to last I trusted no third person. What you know, you knew by
accident alone.

“But for that chance discovery, you would have seen me bring her back to
North Villa at the appointed time, in my care, just as she went out. I
had no dread of her meeting you. But enough of her! I shall dispose of
her future, as I had resolved to dispose of it years ago; careless how
she may be affected when she first sees the hideous alteration which
your attack has wrought in me. Enough, I say, of the Sherwins--father,
mother, and daughter--your destiny lies not with _them,_ but with _me._

“Do you still exult in having deformed me in every feature, in having
given me a face to revolt every human being who looks at me? Do you
triumph in the remembrance of this atrocity, as you triumphed in the
acting of it--believing that you had destroyed my future with Margaret,
in destroying my very identity as a man? I tell you, that with the hour
when I leave this hospital your day of triumph will be over, and your
day of expiation will begin--never to end till the death of one of us.
You shall live--refined educated gentleman as you are--to wish, like a
ruffian, that you had killed me; and your father shall live to wish it
too.

“Am I trying to awe you with the fierce words of a boaster and a bully?
Test me, by looking back a little, and discovering what I have abstained
from for the sake of my purpose, since I have been here. A word or two
from my lips, in answer to the questions with which I have been baited,
day after day, by those about me, would have called you before a
magistrate to answer for an assault--a shocking and a savage assault,
even in this country, where hand to hand brutality is a marketable
commodity between the Prisoner and the Law. Your father’s name might
have been publicly coupled with your dishonour, if I had but spoken; and
I was silent. I kept the secret--kept it, because to avenge myself
on you by a paltry scandal, which you and your family (opposing to it
wealth, position, previous character, and general sympathy) would live
down in a few days, was not my revenge: because to be righted before
magistrates and judges by a beggarman’s exhibition of physical injury,
and a coward’s confession of physical defeat, was not my way of righting
myself. I have a lifelong retaliation in view, which laws and lawgivers
are powerless either to aid or to oppose--the retaliation which set a
mark upon Cain (as I will set a mark on you); and then made his life his
punishment (as I will make your life yours).

“How? Remember what my career has been; and know that I will make
your career like it. As my father’s death by the hangman affected _my_
existence, so the events of that night when you followed me shall affect
_yours._ Your father shall see you living the life to which his evidence
against _my_ father condemned _me_--shall see the foul stain of your
disaster clinging to you wherever you go. The infamy with which I am
determined to pursue you, shall be your own infamy that you cannot get
quit of--for you shall never get quit of me, never get quit of the wife
who has dishonoured you. You may leave your home, and leave England; you
may make new friends, and seek new employments; years and years may pass
away--and still, you shall not escape us: still, you shall never know
when we are near, or when we are distant; when we are ready to appear
before you, or when we are sure to keep out of your sight. My deformed
face and her fatal beauty shall hunt you through the world. The terrible
secret of your dishonour, and of the atrocity by which you avenged it,
shall ooze out through strange channels, in vague shapes, by tortuous
intangible processes; ever changing in the manner of its exposure,
never remediable by your own resistance, and always directed to the same
end--your isolation as a marked man, in every fresh sphere, among every
new community to which you retreat.

“Do you call this a very madness of malignity and revenge? It is the
only occupation in life for which your mutilation of me has left me
fit; and I accept it, as work worthy of my deformity. In the prospect of
watching how you bear this hunting through life, that never quite hunts
you down; how long you resist the poison-influence, as slow as it
is sure, of a crafty tongue that cannot be silenced, of a denouncing
presence that cannot be fled, of a damning secret torn from you and
exposed afresh each time you have hidden it--there is the promise of a
nameless delight which it sometimes fevers, sometimes chills my blood to
think of. Lying in this place at night, in those hours of darkness and
stillness when the surrounding atmosphere of human misery presses heavy
on me in my heavy sleep, prophecies of dread things to come between
us, trouble my spirit in dreams. At those times, I know, and shudder
in knowing, that there is something besides the motive of retaliation,
something less earthly and apparent than that, which urges me horribly
and supernaturally to link myself to you for life; which makes me feel
as the bearer of a curse that shall follow you; as the instrument of a
fatality pronounced against you long ere we met--a fatality beginning
before our fathers were parted by the hangman; perpetuating itself in
you and me; ending who shall say how, or when?

“Beware of comforting yourself with a false security, by despising my
words, as the wild words of a madman, dreaming of the perpetration of
impossible crimes. Throughout this letter I have warned you of what
you may expect; because I will not assail you at disadvantage, as you
assailed me; because it is my pleasure to ruin you, openly resisting
me at every step. I have given you fair play, as the huntsmen give fair
play at starting to the animal they are about to run down. Be warned
against seeking a false hope in the belief that my faculties are shaken,
and that my resolves are visionary--false, because such a hope is only
despair in disguise.

“I have done. The time is not far distant when my words will become
deeds. They cure fast in a public hospital: we shall meet soon!

                                “ROBERT MANNION.”



“We shall meet soon!”

How? Where? I looked back at the last page of writing. But my attention
wandered strangely; I confused one paragraph with another; the longer I
read, the less I was able to grasp the meaning, not of sentences merely,
but even of the simplest words.

From the first lines to the last, the letter had produced no distinct
impressions on my mind. So utterly was I worn out by the previous events
of the day, that even those earlier portions of Mannion’s confession,
which revealed the connection between my father and his, and the
terrible manner of their separation, hardly roused me to more than a
momentary astonishment. I just called to remembrance that I had never
heard the subject mentioned at home, except once or twice in vague hints
dropped mysteriously by an old servant, and little regarded by me at the
time, as referring to matters which had happened before I was born.
I just reflected thus briefly and languidly on the narrative at the
commencement of the letter; and then mechanically read on. Except the
passages which contained the exposure of Margaret’s real character,
and those which described the origin and progress of Mannion’s infamous
plot, nothing in the letter impressed me, as I was afterwards destined
to be impressed by it, on a second reading. The lethargy of all feeling
into which I had now sunk, seemed a very lethargy of death.

I tried to clear and concentrate my faculties by thinking of other
subjects; but without success. All that I had heard and seen since the
morning, now recurred to me more and more vaguely and confusedly. I
could form no plan either for the present or the future. I knew
as little how to meet Mr. Sherwin’s last threat of forcing me to
acknowledge his guilty daughter, as how to defend myself against the
life-long hostility with which I was menaced by Mannion. A feeling of
awe and apprehension, which I could trace to no distinct cause, stole
irresistibly and mysteriously over me. A horror of the searching
brightness of daylight, a suspicion of the loneliness of the place to
which I had retreated, a yearning to be among my fellow-creatures again,
to live where there was life--the busy life of London--overcame me. I
turned hastily, and walked back from the suburbs to the city.

It was growing towards evening as I gained one of the great
thoroughfares. Seeing some of the inhabitants of the houses, as I walked
along, sitting at their open windows to enjoy the evening air, the
thought came to me for the first time that day:--where shall I lay my
head tonight? Home I had none. Friends who would have gladly received me
were not wanting; but to go to them would oblige me to explain myself;
to disclose something of the secret of my calamity; and this I was
determined to keep concealed, as I had told my father I would keep
it. My last-left consolation was my knowledge of still preserving that
resolution, of still honourably holding by it at all hazards, cost what
it might.

So I thought no more of succour or sympathy from any one of my friends.
As a stranger I had been driven from my home, and as a stranger I was
resigned to live, until I had learnt how to conquer my misfortune by
my own vigour and endurance. Firm in this determination, though firm
in nothing else, I now looked around me for the first shelter I could
purchase from strangers--the humbler the better.

I happened to be in the poorest part, and on the poorest side of the
great street along which I was walking--among the inferior shops, and
the houses of few stories. A room to let was not hard to find here. I
took the first I saw; escaped questions about names and references
by paying my week’s rent in advance; and then found myself left in
possession of the one little room which I must be resigned to look on
for the future--perhaps for a long future!--as my home.

Home! A dear and a mournful remembrance was revived in the reflections
suggested by that simple word. Through the darkness that thickened over
my mind, there now passed one faint ray of light which gave promise of
the morning--the light of the calm face that I had last looked on when
it was resting on my father’s breast.

Clara! My parting words to her, when I had unclasped from my neck those
kind arms which would fain have held me to home for ever, had expressed
a promise that was yet unfulfilled. I trembled as I now thought on my
sister’s situation. Not knowing whither I had turned my steps on
leaving home; uncertain to what extremities my despair might hurry me;
absolutely ignorant even whether she might ever see me again--it was
terrible to reflect on the suspense under which she might be suffering,
at this very moment, on my account. My promise to write to her, was of
all promises the most vitally important, and the first that should be
fulfilled.

My letter was very short. I communicated to her the address of the
house in which I was living (well knowing that nothing but positive
information on this point would effectually relieve her anxiety)--I
asked her to write in reply, and let me hear some news of her, the best
that she could give--and I entreated her to believe implicitly in my
patience and courage under every disaster; and to feel assured that,
whatever happened, I should never lose the hope of soon meeting her
again. Of the perils that beset me, of the wrong and injury I might yet
be condemned to endure, I said nothing. Those were truths which I was
determined to conceal from her, to the last. She had suffered for me
more than I dared think of, already!

I sent my letter by hand, so as to ensure its immediate delivery. In
writing those few simple lines, I had no suspicion of the important
results which they were destined to produce. In thinking of to-morrow,
and of all the events which to-morrow might bring with it, I little
thought whose voice would be the first to greet me the next day, whose
hand would be held out to me as the helping hand of a friend.

VI.

It was still early in the morning, when a loud knock sounded at
the house-door, and I heard the landlady calling to the servant: “A
gentleman to see the gentleman who came in last night.” The moment the
words reached me, my thoughts recurred to the letter of yesterday--Had
Mannion found me out in my retreat? As the suspicion crossed my mind,
the door opened, and the visitor entered.

I looked at him in speechless astonishment. It was my elder brother! It
was Ralph himself who now walked into the room!

“Well, Basil! how are you?” he said, with his old off-hand manner and
hearty voice.

“Ralph! You in England!--you here!”

“I came back from Italy last night. Basil, how awfully you’re changed! I
hardly know you again.”

His manner altered as he spoke the last words. The look of sorrow and
alarm which he fixed on me, went to my heart. I thought of holiday-time,
when we were boys; of Ralph’s boisterous ways with me; of his
good-humoured school-frolics, at my expense; of the strong bond of union
between us, so strangely compounded of my weakness and his strength; of
my passive and of his active nature; I saw how little _he_ had changed
since that time, and knew, as I never knew before, how miserably _I_ was
altered. All the shame and grief of my banishment from home came back on
me, at sight of his friendly, familiar face. I struggled hard to keep my
self-possession, and tried to bid him welcome cheerfully; but the effort
was too much for me. I turned away my head, as I took his hand; for the
old school-boy feeling of not letting Ralph see that I was in tears,
influenced me still.

“Basil! Basil! what are you about? This won’t do. Look up, and listen
to me. I have promised Clara to pull you through this wretched mess; and
I’ll do it. Get a chair, and give me a light. I’m going to sit on your
bed, smoke a cigar, and have a long talk with you.”

While he was lighting his cigar, I looked more closely at him than
before. Though he was the same as ever in manner; though his expression
still preserved its reckless levity of former days, I now detected that
he had changed a little in some other respects. His features had become
coarser--dissipation had begun to mark them. His spare, active, muscular
figure had filled out; he was dressed rather carelessly; and of all
his trinkets and chains of early times, not one appeared about him now.
Ralph looked prematurely middle-aged, since I had seen him last.

“Well,” he began, “first of all, about my coming back. The fact is, the
morganatic Mrs. Ralph--” (he referred to his last mistress) “wanted to
see England, and I was tired of being abroad. So I brought her back
with me; and we’re going to live quietly, somewhere in the Brompton
neighbourhood. That woman has been my salvation--you must come and see
her. She has broke me of gaming altogether; I was going to the devil
as fast as I could, when she stopped me--but you know all about it, of
course. Well: we got to London yesterday afternoon; and in the evening
I left her at the hotel, and went to report myself at home. There, the
first thing I heard, was that you had cut me out of my old original
distinction of being the family scamp. Don’t look distressed, Basil; I’m
not laughing at you; I’ve come to do something better than that. Never
mind my talk: nothing in the world ever was serious to _me,_ and nothing
ever will be.”

He stopped to knock the ash off his cigar, and settle himself more
comfortably on my bed; then proceeded.

“It has been my ill-luck to see my father pretty seriously offended on
more than one occasion; but I never saw him so very quiet and so very
dangerous as last night when he was telling me about you. I remember
well enough how he spoke and looked, when he caught me putting away
my trout-flies in the pages of that family history of his; but it was
nothing to see him or hear him then, to what it is now. I can tell you
this, Basil--if I believed in what the poetical people call a broken
heart (which I don’t), I should be almost afraid that _he_ was
broken-hearted. I saw it was no use to say a word for you just yet, so
I sat quiet and listened to him till I got my dismissal for the evening.
My next proceeding was to go up-stairs, and see Clara. Upstairs, I give
you my word of honour, it was worse still. Clara was walking about the
room with your letter in her hand--just reach me the matches: my cigar’s
out. Some men can talk and smoke in equal proportions--I never could.

“You know as well as I do,” he continued when he had relit his cigar,
“that Clara is not usually demonstrative. I always thought her rather a
cold temperament--but the moment I put my head in at the door, I found
I’d been just as great a fool on that point as on most others. Basil,
the scream Clara gave when she first saw me, and the look in her eyes
when she talked about you, positively frightened me. I can’t describe
anything; and I hate descriptions by other men (most likely on that very
account): so I won’t describe what she said and did. I’ll only tell you
that it ended in my promising to come here the first thing this morning;
promising to get you out of the scrape; promising, in short, everything
she asked me. So here I am, ready for your business before my own. The
fair partner of my existence is at the hotel, half-frantic because I
won’t go lodging-hunting with her; but Clara is paramount, Clara is the
first thought. Somebody must be a good boy at home; and now you have
resigned, I’m going to try and succeed you, by way of a change!”

“Ralph! Ralph! can you mention Clara’s name, and that woman’s name, in
the same breath? Did you leave Clara quieter and better! For God’s sake
be serious about that, though serious about nothing else!”

“Gently, Basil! _Doucement mon ami!_ I did leave her quieter: my promise
made her look almost like herself again. As for what you say about
mentioning Clara and Mrs. Ralph in the same breath, I’ve been talking
and smoking till I have no second breaths left to devote to second-rate
virtue. There is an unanswerable reason for you, if you want one! And
now let us get to the business that brings me here. I don’t want to
worry you by raking up this miserable mess again, from beginning to end,
in your presence; but I must make sure at the same time that I have got
hold of the right story, or I can’t be of any use to you. My father
was a little obscure on certain points. He talked enough, and more than
enough, about consequences to the family, about his own affliction,
about his giving you up for ever; and, in short, about everything but
the case itself as it really stands against us. Now that is just what I
ought to be put up to, and must be put up to. Let me tell you in three
words what I was told last night.”

“Go on, Ralph: speak as you please.”

“Very good. First of all, I understand that you took a fancy to some
shopkeeper’s daughter--so far, mind, I don’t blame you: I’ve spent
time very pleasantly among the ladies of the counter myself. But in the
second place, I’m told that you actually married the girl! I don’t
wish to be hard upon you, my good fellow, but there was an unparalleled
insanity about that act, worthier of a patient in Bedlam than of my
brother. I am not quite sure whether I understand exactly what virtuous
behaviour is; but if _that_ was virtuous behaviour--there! there! don’t
look shocked. Let’s have done with the marriage, and get on. Well, you
made the girl your wife; and then innocently consented to a very
queer condition of waiting a year for her (virtuous behaviour again, I
suppose!) At the end of that time--don’t turn away your head, Basil! I
_may_ be a scamp; but I am not blackguard enough to make a joke--either
in your presence, or out of it--of this part of the story. I will pass
it over altogether, if you like; and only ask you a question or two. You
see, my father either could not or would not speak plainly of the worst
part of the business; and you know him well enough to know why. But
somebody must be a little explicit, or I can do nothing. About that man?
You found the scoundrel out? Did you get within arm’s length of him?”

I told my brother of the struggle with Mannion in the Square.

He heard me almost with his former schoolboy delight, when I had
succeeded, to his satisfaction, in a feat of strength or activity. He
jumped off the bed, and seized both my hands in his strong grasp; his
face radiant, his eyes sparkling. “Shake hands, Basil! Shake hands, as
we haven’t shaken hands yet: this makes amends for everything! One word
more, though, about that fellow; where is he now?”

“In the hospital.”

Ralph laughed heartily, and jumped back on the bed. I remembered
Mannion’s letter, and shuddered as I thought of it.

“The next question is about the girl,” said my brother. “What has become
of her? Where was she all the time of your illness?”

“At her father’s house; she is there still.”

“Ah, yes! I see; the old story; innocent, of course. And her father
backs her, doesn’t he? To be sure, that’s the old story too. I have got
at our difficulty now; we are threatened with an exposure, if you don’t
acknowledge her. Wait a minute! Have you any evidence against her,
besides your own?”

“I have a letter, a long letter from her accomplice, containing a
confession of his guilt and hers.”

“She is sure to call that confession a conspiracy. It’s of no use to us,
unless we dared to go to law--and we daren’t. We must hush the thing up
at any price; or it will be the death of my father. This is a case for
money, just as I thought it would be. Mr. and Miss Shopkeeper have got
a large assortment of silence to sell; and we must buy it of them, over
the domestic counter, at so much a yard. Have you been there yet, Basil,
to ask the price and strike the bargain?”

“I was at the house, yesterday.”

“The deuce you were! And who did you see?--The father? Did you bring him
to terms? did you do business with Mr. Shopkeeper?”

“His manner was brutal: his language, the language of a bully--?”

“So much the better. Those men are easiest dealt with: if he will only
fly into a passion with me, I engage for success beforehand. But the
end--how did it end?”

“As it began:--in threats on his part, in endurance on mine.”

“Ah! we’ll see how he likes my endurance next: he’ll find it rather a
different sort of endurance from yours. By-the-bye, Basil, what money
had you to offer him?”

“I made no offer to him then. Circumstances happened which rendered me
incapable of thinking of it. I intended to go there again, to-day; and
if money would bribe him to silence, and save my family from sharing the
dishonour which has fallen on _me,_ to abandon to him the only money I
have of my own--the little income left me by our mother.”

“Do you mean to say that your only resource is in that wretched trifle,
and that you ever really intend to let it go, and start in the world
without a rap? Do you mean to say that my father gave you up without
making the smallest provision for you, in such a mess as your’s? Hang
it! do him justice. He has been hard enough on you, I know; but he can’t
have coolly turned you over to ruin in that way.”

“He offered me money, at parting; but with such words of contempt and
insult that I would have died rather than take it. I told him that,
unaided by his purse, I would preserve him, and preserve his family from
the infamous consequences of my calamity--though I sacrificed my own
happiness and my own honour for ever in doing it. And I go to-day to
make that sacrifice. The loss of the little I have to depend on, is the
least part of it. He may not see his injustice in doubting me, till too
late; but he _shall_ see it.”

“I beg your pardon, Basil; but this is almost as great an insanity,
as the insanity of your marriage. I honour the independence of your
principle, my dear fellow; but, while I am to the fore, I’ll take good
care that you don’t ruin yourself gratuitously, for the sake of any
principles whatever! Just listen to me, now. In the first place,
remember that what my father said to you, he said in a moment of violent
exasperation. You had been trampling the pride of his life in the mud:
no man likes that--my father least of any. And, as for the offer of your
poor little morsel of an income to stop these people’s greedy mouths,
it isn’t a quarter enough for them. They know our family is a wealthy
family; and they will make their demand accordingly. Any other
sacrifice, even to taking the girl back (though you never could bring
yourself to do that!), would be of no earthly use. Nothing but money
will do; money cunningly doled out, under the strongest possible
stipulations. Now, I’m just the man to do that, and I have got the
money--or, rather, my father has, which comes to the same thing. Write
me the fellow’s name and address; there’s no time to be lost--I’m off to
see him at once!”

“I can’t allow you, Ralph, to ask my father for what I would not ask him
myself--”

“Give me the name and address, or you will sour my excellent temper for
the rest of my life. Your obstinacy won’t do with _me,_ Basil--it didn’t
at school, and it won’t now. I shall ask my father for money for myself;
and use as much of it as I think proper for your interests. He’ll
give me anything I want, now I have turned good boy. I don’t owe fifty
pounds, since my last debts were paid off--thanks to Mrs. Ralph, who
is the most managing woman in the world. By-the-bye, when you see her,
don’t seem surprised at her being older than I am. Oh! this is the
address, is it? Hollyoake Square? Where the devil’s that! Never mind,
I’ll take a cab, and shift the responsibility of finding the place on
the driver. Keep up your spirits, and wait here till I come back. You
shall have such news of Mr. Shopkeeper and his daughter as you little
expect! _Au revoir,_ my dear fellow--_au revoir._”

He left the room as rapidly as he had entered it. The minute afterwards,
I remembered that I ought to have warned him of the fatal illness of
Mrs. Sherwin. She might be dying--dead for aught I knew--when he reached
the house. I ran to the window, to call him back: it was too late. Ralph
was gone.

Even if he were admitted at North Villa, would he succeed? I was little
capable of estimating the chances. The unexpectedness of his visit; the
strange mixture of sympathy and levity in his manner, of worldly wisdom
and boyish folly in his conversation, appeared to be still confusing
me in his absence, just as they had confused me in his presence. My
thoughts imperceptibly wandered away from Ralph, and the mission he had
undertaken on my behalf, to a subject which seemed destined, for the
future, to steal on my attention, irresistibly and darkly, in all my
lonely hours. Already, the fatality denounced against me in Mannion’s
letter had begun to act: already, that terrible confession of past
misery and crime, that monstrous declaration of enmity which was to last
with the lasting of life, began to exercise its numbing influence on my
faculties, to cast its blighting shadow over my heart.

I opened the letter again, and re-read the threats against me at its
conclusion. One by one, the questions now arose in my mind: how can I
resist, or how escape the vengeance of this evil spirit? how shun the
dread deformity of that face, which is to appear before me in secret?
how silence that fiend’s tongue, or make harmless the poison which it
will pour drop by drop into my life? When should I first look for that
avenging presence?--now, or not till months hence? Where should I first
see it? in the house?--or in the street? At what time would it steal
to my side? by night--or by day? Should I show the letter to Ralph?--it
would be useless. What would avail any advice or assistance which his
reckless courage could give, against an enemy who combined the ferocious
vigilance of a savage with the far-sighted iniquity of a civilised man?

As this last thought crossed my mind, I hastily closed the letter;
determining (alas! how vainly!) never to open it again. Almost at the
same instant, I heard another knock at the house-door. Could Ralph have
returned already? impossible! Besides, the knock was very different from
his--it was only just loud enough to be audible where I now sat.

Mannion? But would he come thus? openly, fairly, in the broad daylight,
through the populous street?

A light, quick step ascended the stairs--my heart bounded; I started to
my feet. It was the same step which I used to listen for, and love to
hear, in my illness. I ran to the door, and opened it. My instinct had
not deceived me! it was my sister!

“Basil!” she exclaimed, before I could speak--“has Ralph been here?”

“Yes, love--yes.”

“Where has he gone? what has he done for you? He promised me--”

“And he has kept his promise nobly, Clara: he is away helping me now.”

“Thank God! thank God!”

She sank breathless into a chair, as she spoke. Oh, the pang of looking
at her at that moment, and seeing how she was changed!--seeing the
dimness and weariness of the gentle eyes; the fear and the sorrow that
had already overshadowed the bright young face!

“I shall be better directly,” she said, guessing from my expression what
I then felt--“but, seeing you in this strange place, after what happened
yesterday; and having come here so secretly, in terror of my father
finding it out--I can’t help feeling your altered position and mine a
little painfully at first. But we won’t complain, as long as I can get
here sometimes to see you: we will only think of the future now. What a
mercy, what a happiness it is that Ralph has come back! We have always
done him injustice; he is far kinder and far better than we ever thought
him. But, Basil, how worn and ill you are looking! Have you not told
Ralph everything? Are you in any danger?”

“None, Clara--none, indeed!”

“Don’t grieve too deeply about yesterday! Try and forget that horrible
parting, and all that brought it about. He has not spoken of it since,
except to tell me that I must never know more of your fault and your
misfortune, than the little--the very little--I know already. And I have
resolved not to think about it, as well as not to ask about it, for the
future. I have a hope already, Basil--very, very far off fulfilment--but
still a hope. Can you not think what it is?”

“Your hope is far off fulfilment, indeed, Clara, if it is hope from my
father!”

“Hush! don’t say so; I know better. Something occurred, even so soon as
last night--a very trifling event--but enough to show that he thinks of
you, already, in grief far more than in anger.”

“I wish I could believe it, love; but my remembrance of yesterday--”

“Don’t trust that remembrance; don’t recall it! I will tell you what
occurred. Some time after you had gone, and after I had recovered myself
a little in my own room, I went downstairs again to see my father; for
I was too terrified and too miserable at what had happened, to be alone.
He was not in his room when I got there. As I looked round me for a
moment, I saw the pieces of your page in the book about our family,
scattered on the floor; and the miniature likeness of you, when you were
a child, was lying among the other fragments. It had been torn out of
its setting in the paper, but not injured. I picked it up, Basil, and
put it on the table, at the place where he always sits; and laid my own
little locket, with your hair in it, by the side, so that he might know
that the miniature had not been accidentally taken up and put there by
the servant. Then, I gathered together the pieces of the page and took
them away with me, thinking it better that he should not see them again.
Just as I had got through the door that leads into the library, and was
about to close it, I heard the other door, by which you enter the study
from the hall, opening; and he came in, and went directly to the table.
His back was towards me, so I could look at him unperceived. He observed
the miniature directly and stood quite still with it in his hand; then
sighed--sighed so bitterly!--and then took the portrait of our dear
mother from one of the drawers of the table, opened the case in which
it is kept, and put your miniature inside, very gently and tenderly. I
could not trust myself to see any more, so I went up to my room again:
and shortly afterwards he came in with my locket, and gave it me back,
only saying--‘You left this on my table, Clara.’ But if you had seen his
face then, you would have hoped all things from him in the time to come,
as I hope now.”

“And as I _will_ hope, Clara, though it be from no stronger motive than
gratitude to you.”

“Before I left home,” she proceeded, after a moment’s silence, “I
thought of your loneliness in this strange place--knowing that I could
seldom come to see you, and then only by stealth; by committing a fault
which, if my father found it out--but we won’t speak of that! I thought
of your lonely hours here; and I have brought with me an old, forgotten
companion of yours, to bear you company, and to keep you from thinking
too constantly on what you have suffered. Look, Basil! won’t you welcome
this old friend again?”

She gave me a small roll of manuscript, with an effort to resume her
kind smile of former days, even while the tears stood thick in her eyes.
I untied the leaves, glanced at the handwriting, and saw before me, once
more, the first few chapters of my unfinished romance! Again I looked on
the patiently-laboured pages, familiar relics of that earliest and best
ambition which I had abandoned for love; too faithful records of the
tranquil, ennobling pleasures which I had lost for ever! Oh, for one
Thought-Flower now, from the dream-garden of the happy Past!

“I took more care of those leaves of writing, after you had thrown them
aside, than of anything else I had,” said Clara. “I always thought the
time would come, when you would return again to the occupation which it
was once your greatest pleasure to pursue, and my greatest pleasure to
watch. And surely that time has arrived. I am certain, Basil, your book
will help you to wait patiently for happier times, as nothing else can.
This place must seem very strange and lonely; but the sight of those
pages, and the sight of me sometimes (when I can come), may make it look
almost like home to you! The room is not--not very--”

She stopped suddenly. I saw her lip tremble, and her eyes grow dim
again, as she looked round her. When I tried to speak all the
gratitude I felt, she turned away quickly, and began to busy herself
in re-arranging the wretched furniture; in setting in order the glaring
ornaments on the chimney-piece; in hiding the holes in the ragged
window-curtains; in changing, as far as she could, all the tawdry
discomfort of my one miserable little room. She was still absorbed in
this occupation, when the church-clocks of the neighbourhood struck the
hour--the hour that warned her to stay no longer.

“I must go,” she said; “it is later than I thought. Don’t be afraid
about my getting home: old Martha came here with me, and is waiting
downstairs to go back (you know we can trust her). Write to me as often
as you can; I shall hear about you every day, from Ralph; but I should
like a letter sometimes, as well. Be as hopeful and as patient yourself,
dear, under misfortune, as you wish me to be; and I shall despair of
nothing. Don’t tell Ralph I have been here--he might be angry. I will
come again, the first opportunity. Good-bye, Basil! Let us try and part
happily, in the hope of better days. Good-bye, dear--good-bye, only for
the present!”

Her self-possession nearly failed her, as she kissed me, and then turned
to the door. She just signed to me not to follow her down-stairs, and,
without looking round again, hurried from the room.

It was well for the preservation of our secret, that she had so
resolutely refrained from delaying her departure. She had been gone but
for a few minutes--the lovely and consoling influence of her presence
was still fresh in my heart--I was still looking sadly over the once
precious pages of manuscript which she had restored to me--when Ralph
returned from North Villa. I heard him leaping, rather than running, up
the ricketty wooden stairs. He burst into my room more impetuously than
ever.

“All right!” he said, jumping back to his former place on the bed. “We
can buy Mr. Shopkeeper for anything we like--for nothing at all, if
we choose to be stingy. His innocent daughter has made the best of all
confessions, just at the right time. Basil, my boy, she has left her
father’s house!”

“What do you mean?”

“She has eloped to the hospital!”

“Mannion!”

“Yes, Mannion: I have got his letter to her. She is criminated by it,
even past her father’s contradiction--and he doesn’t stick at a trifle!
But I’ll begin at the beginning, and tell you everything. Hang it,
Basil, you look as if I’d brought you bad news instead of good!”

“Never mind how I look, Ralph--pray go on!”

“Well: the first thing I heard, on getting to the house, was that
Sherwin’s wife was dying. The servant took in my name: but I thought of
course I shouldn’t be admitted. No such thing! I was let in at once, and
the first words this fellow, Sherwin, said to me, were, that his wife
was only ill, that the servants were exaggerating, and that he was quite
ready to hear what Mr. Basil’s ‘highly-respected’ brother (fancy calling
_me_ ‘highly-respected!’) had to say to him. The fool, however, as
you see, was cunning enough to try civility to begin with. A more
ill-looking human mongrel I never set eyes on! I took the measure of
my man directly, and in two minutes told him exactly what I came for,
without softening a single word.”

“And how did he answer you?”

“As I anticipated, by beginning to bluster immediately. I took him down,
just as he swore his second oath. ‘Sir,’ I said very politely, ‘if you
mean to make a cursing and a swearing conference of this, I think it
only fair to inform you before-hand that you are likely to get the worst
of it. When the whole collection of British oaths is exhausted, I
can swear fluently in five foreign languages: I have always made it a
principle to pay back abuse at compound interest, and I don’t exaggerate
in saying, that I am quite capable of swearing you out of your senses,
if you persist in setting me the example. And now, if you like to go on,
pray do--I’m ready to hear you.’ While I was speaking, he stared at
me in a state of helpless astonishment; when I had done, he began to
bluster again--but it was a pompous, dignified, parliamentary sort of
bluster, now, ending in his pulling your unlucky marriage-certificate
out of his pocket, asserting for the fiftieth time, that the girl was
innocent, and declaring that he’d make you acknowledge her, if he went
before a magistrate to do it. That’s what he said when you saw him, I
suppose?”

“Yes: almost word for word.”

“I had my answer ready for him, before he could put the certificate back
in his pocket. ‘Now, Mr. Sherwin,’ I said, ‘have the goodness to listen
to me. My father has certain family prejudices and nervous delicacies,
which I do not inherit from him, and which I mean to take good care to
prevent you from working on. At the same time, I beg you to understand
that I have come here without his knowledge. I am not my father’s
ambassador, but my brother’s--who is unfit to deal with you, himself;
because he is not half hard-hearted, or half worldly enough. As my
brother’s envoy, therefore, and out of consideration for my father’s
peculiar feelings, I now offer you, from my own resources, a certain
annual sum of money, far more than sufficient for all your daughter’s
expenses--a sum payable quarterly, on condition that neither you nor she
shall molest us; that you shall never make use of our name anywhere;
and that the fact of my brother’s marriage (hitherto preserved a secret)
shall for the future be consigned to oblivion. _We_ keep our opinion of
your daughter’s guilt--_you_ keep your opinion of her innocence. _We_
have silence to buy, and _you_ have silence to sell, once a quarter; and
if either of us break our conditions, we both have our remedy--_your’s_
the easy remedy, _our’s_ the difficult. This arrangement--a very unfair
and dangerous for us; a very advantageous and safe one for you--I
understand that you finally refuse?’ ‘Sir,’ says he, solemnly, ‘I should
be unworthy the name of a father--’ ‘Thank you’--I remarked, feeling
that he was falling back on paternal sentiment--‘thank you; I quite
understand. We will get on, if you please, to the reverse side of the
question.’”

“The reverse side! What reverse side, Ralph? What could you possibly say
more?”

“You shall hear. ‘Being, on your part, thoroughly determined,’ I said,
‘to permit no compromise, and to make my brother (his family of course
included) acknowledge a woman, of whose guilt they entertain not the
slightest doubt, you think you can gain your object by threatening
an exposure. Don’t threaten any more! Make your exposure! Go to the
magistrate at once, if you like! Gibbet our names in the newspaper
report, as a family connected by marriage with Mr. Sherwin the
linen-draper’s daughter, whom they believe to have disgraced herself
as a woman and a wife for ever. Do your very worst; make public every
shameful particular that you can--what advantage will you get by it?
Revenge, I grant you. But will revenge put a halfpenny into your pocket?
Will revenge pay a farthing towards your daughter’s keep? Will revenge
make us receive her? Not a bit of it! We shall be driven into a corner;
we shall have no exposure to dread after you have exposed us; we
shall have no remedy left, but a desperate remedy, and we’ll go to
law--boldly, openly go to law, and get a divorce. We have written
evidence, which you know nothing about, and can call testimony which you
cannot gag. I am no lawyer, but I’ll bet you five hundred to one (quite
in a friendly way, my dear Sir!) that we get our case. What follows? We
send you back your daughter, without a shred of character left to cover
her; and we comfortably wash our hands of _you_ altogether.’”

“Ralph! Ralph! how could you--”

“Stop! hear the end of it. Of course I knew that we couldn’t carry out
this divorce-threat, without its being the death of my father; but
I thought a little quiet bullying on my part might do Mr. Shopkeeper
Sherwin some good. And I was right. You never saw a man sit sorer on the
sharp edges of a dilemma than he did. I stuck to my point in spite of
everything; silence and money, or exposure and divorce--just which
he pleased. ‘I deny every one of your infamous imputations,’ said he.
‘That’s not the question,’ said I. ‘I’ll go to your father,’ said he.
‘You won’t be let in,’ said I. ‘I’ll write to him,’ said he. ‘He won’t
receive your letter,’ said I. There we came to a pull-up. _He_ began
to stammer, and _I_ refreshed myself with a pinch of snuff. Finding it
wouldn’t do, he threw off the Roman at last, and resumed the Tradesman.
‘Even supposing I consented to this abominable compromise, what is to
become of my daughter?’ he asked. ‘Just what becomes of other people who
have comfortable annuities to live on,’ I answered. ‘Affection for my
deeply-wronged child half inclines me to consult her wishes, before we
settle anything--I’ll go up-stairs,’ said he. ‘And I’ll wait for you
down here,’ said I.”

“Did he object to that?”

“Not he. He went up-stairs, and in a few minutes ran down again, with
an open letter in his hand, looking as if the devil was after him before
his time. At the last three or four stairs, he tripped, caught at the
bannisters, dropped the letter over them in doing so, tumbled into the
passage in such a fury and fright that he looked like a madman, tore his
hat off a peg, and rushed out. I just heard him say his daughter should
come back, if he put a straight waistcoat on her, as he passed the door.
Between his tumble, his passion, and his hurry, he never thought of
coming back for the letter he had dropped over the bannisters. I picked
it up before I went away, suspecting it might be good evidence on our
side; and I was right. Read it yourself; Basil; you have every moral and
legal claim on the precious document--and here it is.”

I took the letter, and read (in Mannion’s handwriting) these words,
dated from the hospital:--



“I have received your last note, and cannot wonder that you are getting
impatient under restraint. But, remember, that if you had not acted as
I warned you beforehand to act in case of accidents--if you had not
protested innocence to your father, and preserved total silence towards
your mother; if you had not kept in close retirement, behaving like
a domestic martyr, and avoiding, in your character of a victim, all
voluntary mention of your husband’s name--your position might have been
a very awkward one. Not being able to help you, the only thing I could
do was to teach you how to help yourself. I gave you the lesson, and you
have been wise enough to profit by it.

“The time has now come for a change in my plans. I have suffered
a relapse; and the date of my discharge from this place is still
uncertain. I doubt the security, both on your account, and on mine, of
still leaving you at your father’s house, to await my cure. Come to
me here, therefore, to-morrow, at any hour when you can get away
unperceived. You will be let in as a visitor, and shown to my bedside,
if you ask for Mr. Turner--the name I have given to the hospital
authorities. Through the help of a friend outside these walls, I have
arranged for a lodging in which you can live undiscovered, until I am
discharged and can join you. You can come here twice a week, if you
like, and you had better do so, to accustom yourself to the sight of
my injuries. I told you in my first letter how and where they had
been inflicted--when you see them with your own eyes, you will be best
prepared to hear what my future purposes are, and how you can aid them.

“R. M.”


This was evidently the letter about which I had been consulted by the
servant at North Villa; the date corresponded with the date of Mannion’s
letter to me. I noticed that the envelope was missing, and asked Ralph
whether he had got it.

“No,” he replied; “Sherwin dropped the letter just in the state in which
I have given it to you. I suspect the girl took away the envelope with
her, thinking that the letter which she left behind her was inside.
But the loss of the envelope doesn’t matter. Look there: the fellow has
written her name at the bottom of the leaf; as coolly as if it was an
ordinary correspondence. She is identified with the letter, and that’s
all we want in our future dealings with her father.”

“But, Ralph, do you think--”

“Do I think her father will get her back? If he’s in time to catch her
at the hospital, he assuredly will. If not, we shall have some little
trouble on our side, I suspect. This seems to me to be how the matter
stands now, Basil:--After that letter, and her running away, Sherwin
will have nothing for it but to hold his tongue about her innocence; we
may consider _him_ as settled and done with. As for the other rascal,
Mannion, he certainly writes as if he meant to do something dangerous.
If he really does attempt to annoy us, we will mark him again (I’ll
do it next time, by way of a little change!); _he_ has no marriage
certificate to shake over our heads, at any rate. What’s the matter
now?--you’re looking pale again.”

I _felt_ that my colour was changing, while he spoke. There was
something ominous in the contrast which, at that moment, I could not
fail to draw between Mannion’s enmity, as Ralph ignorantly estimated it,
and as I really knew it. Already the first step towards the conspiracy
with which I was threatened, had been taken by the departure of
Sherwin’s daughter from her father’s house. Should I, at this earliest
warning of coming events, show my brother the letter I had received from
Mannion? No! such defence against the dangers threatened in it as Ralph
would be sure to counsel, and to put in practice, might only include
_him_ in the life-long persecution which menaced _me._ When he repeated
his remark about my sudden paleness, I merely accounted for it by some
common-place excuse, and begged him to proceed.

“I suppose, Basil,” he said, “the truth is, that you can’t help being a
little shocked--though you could expect nothing better from the girl--at
her boldly following this fellow Mannion, even to the hospital” (Ralph
was right; in spite of myself, this feeling was one among the many which
now influenced me.) “Setting that aside, however, we are quite ready, I
take it, to let her stick to her choice, and live just as she pleases,
so long as she doesn’t live under our name. There is the great fear and
great difficulty now! If Sherwin can’t find her, we must; otherwise, we
can never feel certain that she is not incurring all sorts of debts as
your wife. If her father gets her back, I shall be able to bring her
to terms at North Villa; if not, I must get speech of her, wherever she
happens to be hidden. She’s the only thorn in our side now, and we must
pull her out with gold pincers immediately. Don’t you see that, Basil?”

“I see it, Ralph!”

“Very well. Either to-night or to-morrow morning, I’ll communicate with
Sherwin, and find out whether he has laid hands on her. If he hasn’t,
we must go to the hospital, and see what we can discover for ourselves.
Don’t look miserable and downhearted, Basil, I’ll go with you: you
needn’t see her again, or the man either; but you must come with me,
for I may be obliged to make use of you. And now, I’m off for to-day, in
good earnest. I must get back to Mrs. Ralph (unfortunately she happens
to be one of the most sensitive women in the world), or she will be
sending to advertise me in the newspapers. We shall pull through this,
my dear fellow--you will see we shall! By the bye, you don’t know of a
nice little detached house in the Brompton neighbourhood, do you? Most
of my old theatrical friends live about there--a detached house, mind!
The fact is, I have taken to the violin lately (I wonder what I shall
take to next?); Mrs. Ralph accompanies me on the pianoforte; and we
might be an execrable nuisance to very near neighbours--that’s all! You
don’t know of a house? Never mind; I can go to an agent, or something of
that sort. Clara shall know to-night that we are moving prosperously,
if I can only give the worthiest creature in the world the slip: she’s a
little obstinate, but, I assure you, a really superior woman. Only think
of my dropping down to playing the fiddle, and paying rent and taxes
in a suburban villa! How are the fast men fallen! Good bye, Basil, good
bye!”

VII.

The next morning, Ralph never appeared--the day passed on, and I heard
nothing--at last, when it was evening, a letter came from him.

The letter informed me that my brother had written to Mr. Sherwin,
simply asking whether he had recovered his daughter. The answer to
this question did not arrive till late in the day; and was in the
negative--Mr. Sherwin had not found his daughter. She had left the
hospital before he got there; and no one could tell him whither she
had gone. His language and manner, as he himself admitted, had been so
violent that he was not allowed to enter the ward where Mannion lay.
When he returned home, he found his wife at the point of death; and on
the same evening she expired. Ralph described his letter, as the letter
of a man half out of his senses. He only mentioned his daughter, to
declare, in terms almost of fury, that he would accuse her before his
wife’s surviving relatives, of having been the cause of her mother’s
death; and called down the most terrible denunciations on his own head,
if he ever spoke to his child again, though he should see her starving
before him in the streets. In a postscript, Ralph informed me that he
would call the next morning, and concert measures for tracking Sherwin’s
daughter to her present retreat.

Every sentence in this letter bore warning of the crisis which was now
close at hand; yet I had as little of the desire as of the power to
prepare for it. A superstitious conviction that my actions were governed
by a fatality which no human foresight could alter or avoid, began to
strengthen within me. From this time forth, I awaited events with the
uninquiring patience, the helpless resignation of despair.

My brother came, punctual to his appointment. When he proposed that I
should at once accompany him to the hospital, I never hesitated at doing
as he desired. We reached our destination; and Ralph approached the
gates to make his first enquiries.

He was still speaking to the porter, when a gentleman advanced towards
them, on his way out of the hospital. I saw him recognise my brother,
and heard Ralph exclaim:

“Bernard! Jack Bernard! Have you come to England, of all the men in the
world!”

“Why not?” was the answer. “I got every surgical testimonial the _Hotel
Dieu_ could give me, six months ago; and couldn’t afford to stay
in Paris only for my pleasure. Do you remember calling me a ‘mute,
inglorious Liston,’ long ago, when we last met? Well, I have come to
England to soar out of my obscurity and blaze into a shining light of
the profession. Plenty of practice at the hospital, here--very little
anywhere else, I am sorry to say.”

“You don’t mean that you belong to _this_ hospital?”

“My dear fellow, I am regularly on the staff; I’m here every day of my
life.”

“You’re the very man to enlighten us. Here, Basil, cross over, and
let me introduce you to an old Paris friend of mine. Mr. Bernard--my
brother. You’ve often heard me talk, Basil, of a younger son of old Sir
William Bernard’s, who preferred a cure of bodies to a cure of souls;
and actually insisted on working in a hospital when he might have
idled in a family living. This is the man--the best of doctors and good
fellows.”

“Are you bringing your brother to the hospital to follow my mad
example?” asked Mr. Bernard, as he shook hands with me.

“Not exactly, Jack! But we really have an object in coming here. Can you
give us ten minutes’ talk, somewhere in private? We want to know about
one of your patients.”

He led us into an empty room, on the ground-floor of the building.
“Leave the matter in my hands,” whispered Ralph to me, as we sat down.
“I’ll find out everything.”

“Now, Bernard,” he said, “you have a man here, who calls himself Mr.
Turner?”

“Are _you_ a friend of that mysterious patient? Wonderful! The students
call him ‘The Great Mystery of London;’ and I begin to think the
students are right. Do you want to see him? When he has not got his
green shade on, he’s rather a startling sight, I can tell you, for
unprofessional eyes.”

“No, no--at least, not at present; my brother here, not at all. The fact
is, certain circumstances have happened which oblige us to look after
this man; and which I am sure you won’t inquire into, when I tell you
that it is our interest to keep them secret.”

“Certainly not!”

“Then, without any more words about it, our object here, to-day, is to
find out everything we can about Mr. Turner, and the people who have
been to see him. Did a woman come, the day before yesterday?”

“Yes; and behaved rather oddly, I believe. I was not here when she came,
but was told she asked for Turner, in a very agitated manner. She was
directed to the Victoria Ward, where he is; and when she got there,
looked excessively flurried and excited--seeing the Ward quite full,
and, perhaps, not being used to hospitals. However it was, though the
nurse pointed out the right bed to her, she ran in a mighty hurry to the
wrong one.”

“I understand,” said Ralph; “just as some women run into the wrong
omnibus, when the right one is straight before them.”

“Exactly. Well, she only discovered her mistake (the room being rather
dark), after she had stooped down close over the stranger, who was lying
with his head away from her. By that time, the nurse was at her side,
and led her to the right bed. There, I’m told, another scene happened.
At sight of the patient’s face, which is very frightfully disfigured,
she was on the point (as the nurse thought) of going into a fit; but
Turner stopped her in an instant. He just laid his hand on her arm, and
whispered something to her; and, though she turned as pale as ashes, she
was quiet directly. The next thing they say he did, was to give her a
slip of paper, coolly directing her to go to the address written on
it, and to come back to the hospital again, as soon as she could show a
little more resolution. She went away at once--nobody knows where.”

“Has nobody asked where?”

“Yes; a fellow who said he was her father, and who behaved like a
madman. He came here about an hour after she had left, and wouldn’t
believe that we knew nothing about her (how the deuce _should_ we know
anything!) He threatened Turner (whom, by the bye, he called Manning,
or some such name) in such an outrageous manner, that we were obliged
to refuse him admission. Turner himself will give no information on the
subject; but I suspect that his injuries are the result of a quarrel
with the father about the daughter--a pretty savage quarrel, I must say,
looking to the consequences--I beg your pardon, but your brother seems
ill! I’m afraid,” (turning to me), “you find the room rather close?”

“No, indeed; not at all. I have just recovered from a serious
illness--but pray go on.”

“I have very little more to say. The father went away in a fury, just
as he came; the daughter has not yet made her appearance a second time.
But, after what was reported to me of the first interview, I daresay she
_will_ come. She must, if she wants to see Turner; he won’t be out,
I suspect, for another fortnight. He has been making himself worse by
perpetually writing letters; we were rather afraid of erysipelas, but
he’ll get over that danger, I think.”

“About the woman,” said Ralph; “it is of the greatest importance that we
should know where she is now living. Is there any possibility (we will
pay well for it) of getting some sharp fellow to follow her home from
this place, the next time she comes here?”

Mr. Bernard hesitated a moment, and considered.

“I think I can manage it for you with the porter, after you are gone,”
 he said, “provided you leave me free to give any remuneration I may
think necessary.”

“Anything in the world, my dear fellow. Have you got pen and ink? I’ll
write down my brother’s address; you can communicate results to him, as
soon as they occur.”

While Mr. Bernard went to the opposite end of the room, in search of
writing materials, Ralph whispered to me--

“If he wrote to _my_ address, Mrs. Ralph might see the letter. She is
the most amiable of her sex; but if written information of a woman’s
residence, directed to me, fell into her hands--you understand, Basil!
Besides, it will be easy to let me know, the moment you hear from Jack.
Look up, young one! It’s all right--we are sailing with wind and tide.”

Here Mr. Bernard brought us pen and ink. While Ralph was writing my
address, his friend said to me:

“I hope you will not suspect me of wishing to intrude on your secrets,
if (assuming your interest in Turner to be the reverse of a friendly
interest) I warn you to look sharply after him when he leaves the
hospital. Either there has been madness in his family, or his brain has
suffered from his external injuries. Legally, he may be quite fit to
be at large; for he will be able to maintain the appearance of perfect
self-possession in all the ordinary affairs of life. But, morally, I am
convinced that he is a dangerous monomaniac; his mania being connected
with some fixed idea which evidently never leaves him day or night. I
would lay a heavy wager that he dies in a prison or a madhouse.”

“And I’ll lay another wager, if he’s mad enough to annoy us, that we are
the people to shut him up,” said Ralph. “There is the address. And now,
we needn’t waste your time any longer. I have taken a little place at
Brompton, Jack,--you and Basil must come and dine with me, as soon as
the carpets are down.”

We left the room. As we crossed the hall, a gentleman came forward, and
spoke to Mr. Bernard.

“That man’s fever in the Victoria Ward has declared itself at last,” he
said. “This morning the new symptoms have appeared.”

“And what do they indicate?”

“Typhus of the most malignant character--not a doubt of it. Come up, and
look at him.”

I saw Mr. Bernard start, and glance quickly at my brother. Ralph fixed
his eyes searchingly on his friend’s face; exclaimed: “Victoria Ward!
why you mentioned that--;” and then stopped, with a very strange and
sudden alteration in his expression. The next moment he drew Mr. Bernard
aside, saying: “I want to ask you whether the bed in Victoria Ward,
occupied by this man whose fever has turned to typhus, is the same bed,
or near the bed which--” The rest of the sentence was lost to me as they
walked away.

After talking together in whispers for a few moments, they rejoined me.
Mr. Bernard was explaining the different theories of infection to Ralph.

_“My_ notion,” he said, “is, that infection is taken through the lungs;
one breath inhaled from the infected atmosphere hanging immediately
around the diseased person, and generally extending about a foot from
him, being enough to communicate his malady to the breather--provided
there exists, at the time, in the individual exposed to catch
the malady, a constitutional predisposition to infection. This
predisposition we know to be greatly increased by mental agitation, or
bodily weakness; but, in the case we have been talking of,” (he looked
at me,) “the chances of infection or non-infection may be equally
balanced. At any rate, I can predict nothing about them at this stage of
the discovery.”

“You will write the moment you hear anything?” said Ralph, shaking hands
with him.

“The very moment. I have your brother’s address safe in my pocket.”

We separated. Ralph was unusually silent and serious on our way back.
He took leave of me at the door of my lodging, very abruptly; without
referring again to our visit to the hospital.

A week passed away, and I heard nothing from Mr. Bernard. During this
interval, I saw little of my brother; he was occupied in moving into
his new house. Towards the latter part of the week, he came to inform
me that he was about to leave London for a few days. My father had asked
him to go to the family house, in the country, on business connected
with the local management of the estates. Ralph still retained all his
old dislike of the steward’s accounts and the lawyer’s consultations;
but he felt bound, out of gratitude for my father’s special kindness
to him since his return to England, to put a constraint on his own
inclinations, and go to the country as he was desired. He did not expect
to be absent more than two or three days; but earnestly charged me to
write to him, if I had any news from the hospital while he was away.

During the week, Clara came twice to see me--escaping from home by
stealth, as before. On each occasion, she showed the same affectionate
anxiety to set me an example of cheerfulness, and to sustain me in
hope. I saw, with a sorrow and apprehension which I could not altogether
conceal from her, that the weary look in her face had never changed,
never diminished since I had first observed it. Ralph had, from motives
of delicacy, avoided increasing the hidden anxieties which were but too
evidently preying upon her health, by keeping her in perfect ignorance
of our visit to the hospital, and, indeed, of the particulars of all our
proceedings since his return. I took care to preserve the same secrecy,
during her short interviews with me. She bade me farewell after her
third visit, with a sadness which she vainly endeavoured to hide. I
little thought, then, that the tones of her sweet, clear voice had
fallen on my ear for the last time, before I wandered to the far West of
England where I now write.

At the end of the week--it was on a Saturday, I remember--I left my
lodgings early in the morning, to go into the country; with no intention
of returning before evening. I had felt a sense of oppression, on
rising, which was almost unendurable. The perspiration stood thick on my
forehead, though the day was not unusually hot; the air of London grew
harder and harder to breathe, with every minute; my heart felt tightened
to bursting; my temples throbbed with fever-fury; my very life seemed to
depend on escaping into pure air, into some place where there was shade
from trees, and water that ran cool and refreshing to look on. So I set
forth, careless in what direction I went; and remained in the country
all day. Evening was changing into night as I got back to London.

I inquired of the servant at my lodging, when she let me in, whether any
letter had arrived for me. She answered, that one had come just after I
had gone out in the morning, and that it was lying on my table. My first
glance at it, showed me Mr. Bernard’s name written in the corner of the
envelope. I eagerly opened the letter, and read these words:



“Private.

“Friday.

“My DEAR SIR,

“On the enclosed slip of paper you will find the address of the young
woman, of whom your brother spoke to me when we met at the hospital.
I regret to say, that the circumstances under which I have obtained
information of her residence, are of the most melancholy nature.

“The plan which I arranged for discovering her abode, in accordance with
your brother’s suggestion, proved useless. The young woman never came to
the hospital a second time. Her address was given to me this morning, by
Turner himself; who begged that I would visit her professionally, as he
had no confidence in the medical man who was then in attendance on
her. Many circumstances combined to make my compliance with his request
anything but easy or desirable; but knowing that you--or your brother
I ought, perhaps, rather to say--were interested in the young woman,
I determined to take the very earliest opportunity of seeing her, and
consulting with her medical attendant. I could not get to her till late
in the afternoon. When I arrived, I found her suffering from one of the
worst attacks of Typhus I ever remember to have seen; and I think it
my duty to state candidly, that I believe her life to be in imminent
danger. At the same time, it is right to inform you that the gentleman
in attendance on her does not share my opinion: he still thinks there is
a good chance of saving her.

“There can be no doubt whatever, that she was infected with Typhus
at the hospital. You may remember my telling you, how her agitation
appeared to have deprived her of self-possession, when she entered the
ward; and how she ran to the wrong bed, before the nurse could stop her.
The man whom she thus mistook for Turner, was suffering from fever which
had not then specifically declared itself; but which did so declare
itself, as a Typhus fever, on the morning when you and your brother came
to the hospital. This man’s disorder must have been infectious when the
young woman stooped down close over him, under the impression that he
was the person she had come to see. Although she started back at once,
on discovering her mistake, she had breathed the infection into her
system--her mental agitation at the time, accompanied (as I have since
understood) by some physical weakness, rendering her specially liable to
the danger to which she had accidentally exposed herself.

“Since the first symptoms of her disease appeared, on Saturday last, I
cannot find that any error has been committed in the medical treatment,
as reported to me. I remained some time by her bedside to-day, observing
her. The delirium which is, more or less, an invariable result of
Typhus, is particularly marked in her case, and manifests itself both
by speech and gesture. It has been found impossible to quiet her, by
any means hitherto tried. While I was watching by her, she never ceased
calling on your name, and entreating to see you. I am informed by her
medical attendant, that her wanderings have almost invariably taken this
direction for the last four-and-twenty hours. Occasionally she mixes
other names with yours, and mentions them in terms of abhorrence; but
her persistency in calling for your presence, is so remarkable that I
am tempted, merely from what I have heard myself; to suggest that you
really should go to her, on the bare chance that you might exercise some
tranquillising influence. At the same time, if you fear infection, or
for any private reasons (into which I have neither the right nor the
wish to inquire) feel unwilling to take the course I have pointed out,
do not by any means consider it your duty to accede to my proposal. I
can conscientiously assure you that duty is not involved in it.

“I have, however, another suggestion to make, which is of a positive
nature, and which I am sure will meet with your approval. It is, that
her parents, or some of her other relations, if her parents are not
alive, should be informed of her situation. Possibly, you may know
something of her connections, and can therefore do this good office. She
is dying in a strange place, among people who avoid her as they would
avoid a pestilence. Even though it be only to bury her, some relation
ought to be immediately summoned to her bed-side.

“I shall visit her twice to-morrow, in the morning and at night. If you
are not willing to risk seeing her (and I repeat that it is in no sense
imperative that you should combat such unwillingness), perhaps you will
communicate with me at my private address.

“I remain, dear Sir,

“Faithfully yours,

“JOHN BERNARD.

“P. S.--I open my letter again, to inform you that Turner, acting
against all advice, has left the hospital to-day. He attempted to go
on Tuesday last, when, I believe, he first received information of the
young woman’s serious illness, but was seized with a violent attack of
giddiness, on attempting to walk, and fell down just outside the door of
the ward. On this second occasion, however, he has succeeded in getting
away without any accident--as far, at least, as the persons employed
about the hospital can tell.”



When the letter fell from my trembling hand, when I first asked of my
own heart the fearful question:--“Have I, to whom the mere thought of
ever seeing this woman again has been as a pollution to shrink from, the
strength to stand by her death-bed, the courage to see her die?”--then,
and not till then, did I really know how suffering had fortified, while
it had humbled me; how affliction has the power to purify, as well as to
pain.

All bitter memory of the ill that she had done me, of the misery I had
suffered at her hands, lost its hold on my mind. Once more, her mother’s
last words of earthly lament--“Oh, who will pray for her when I am
gone!” seemed to be murmuring in my ear--murmuring in harmony with
the divine words in which the Voice from the Mount of Olives taught
forgiveness of injuries to all mankind.

She was dying: dying among strangers in the pining madness of fever--and
the one being of all who knew her, whose presence at her bedside
might yet bring calmness to her last moments, and give her quietly and
tenderly to death, was the man whom she had pitilessly deceived and
dishonoured, whose youth she had ruined, whose hopes she had wrecked
for ever. Strangely had destiny brought us together--terribly had it
separated us--awfully would it now unite us again, at the end!

What were my wrongs, heavy as they had been; what my sufferings,
poignant as they still were, that they should stand between this dying
woman, and the last hope of awakening her to the consciousness that
she was going before the throne of God? The sole resource for her which
human skill and human pity could now suggest, embraced the sole chance
that she might still be recovered for repentance, before she was
resigned to death. How did I know, but that in those ceaseless cries
which had uttered my name, there spoke the last earthly anguish of
the tortured spirit, calling upon me for one drop of water to cool its
burning guilt--one drop from the waters of Peace?

I took up Mr. Bernard’s letter from the floor on which it had fallen,
and re-directed it to my brother; simply writing on a blank place in the
inside, “I have gone to soothe her last moments.” Before I departed, I
wrote to her father, and summoned him to her bedside. The guilt of his
absence--if his heartless and hardened nature did not change towards
her--would now rest with him, and not with me. I forbore from thinking
how he would answer my letter; for I remembered his written words to my
brother, declaring that he would accuse his daughter of having caused
her mother’s death; and I suspected him even then, of wishing to shift
the shame of his conduct towards his unhappy wife from himself to his
child.

After writing this second letter, I set forth instantly for the house
to which Mr. Bernard had directed me. No thought of myself; no thought,
even, of the peril suggested by the ominous disclosure about Mannion,
in the postscript to the surgeon’s letter, ever crossed my mind. In the
great stillness, in the heavenly serenity that had come to my spirit,
the wasting fire of every sensation which was only of this world, seemed
quenched for ever.

It was eleven o’clock when I arrived at the house. A slatternly, sulky
woman opened the door to me. “Oh! I suppose you’re another doctor,”
 she muttered, staring at me with scowling eyes. “I wish you were the
undertaker, to get her out of my house before we all catch our deaths of
her! There! there’s the other doctor coming down stairs; he’ll show you
the room--I won’t go near it.”

As I took the candle from her hand, I saw that Mr. Bernard was
approaching me from the stairs.

“You can do no good, I am afraid,” he said, “but I am glad you have
come.”

“There is no hope, then?”

“In my opinion, none. Turner came here this morning, whether she
recognised him, or not, in her delirium, I cannot say; but she grew so
much worse in his presence, that I insisted on his not seeing her
again, except under medical permission. Just now, there is no one in the
room--are you willing to go up stairs at once?”

“Does she still speak of me in her wanderings?”

“Yes, as incessantly as ever.”

“Then I am ready to go to her bedside.”

“Pray believe that I feel deeply what a sacrifice you are making. Since
I wrote to you, much that she has said in her delirium has told me”--(he
hesitated)--“has told me more, I am afraid, than you would wish me to
have known, as a comparative stranger to you. I will only say, that
secrets unconsciously disclosed on the death-bed are secrets sacred
to me, as they are to all who pursue my calling; and that what I have
unavoidably heard above stairs, is doubly sacred in my estimation, as
affecting a near and dear relative of one of my oldest friends.” He
paused, and took my hand very kindly; then added: “I am sure you will
think yourself rewarded for any trial to your feelings to-night, if you
can only remember in years to come, that your presence quieted her in
her last moments!”

I felt his sympathy and delicacy too strongly to thank him in words; I
could only _look_ my gratitude as he asked me to follow him up stairs.

We entered the room softly. Once more, and for the last time in this
world, I stood in the presence of Margaret Sherwin.

Not even to see her, as I had last seen her, was such a sight of misery
as to behold her now, forsaken on her deathbed, to look at her, as she
lay with her head turned from me, fretfully covering and uncovering her
face with the loose tresses of her long black hair, and muttering my
name incessantly in her fever-dream: “Basil! Basil! Basil! I’ll never
leave off calling for him, till he comes. Basil! Basil! Where is he? Oh,
where, where, where!”

“He is here,” said the doctor, taking the candle from my hand, and
holding it, so that the light fell full on my face. “Look at her and
speak to her as usual, when she turns round,” he whispered to me.

Still she never moved; still those hoarse, fierce, quick tones--that
voice, once the music that my heart beat to; now the discord that it
writhed under--muttered faster and faster: “Basil! Basil! Bring him
here! bring me Basil!”

“He is here,” repeated Mr. Bernard loudly. “Look! look up at him!”

She turned in an instant, and tore the hair back from her face. For a
moment, I forced myself to look at her; for a moment, I confronted the
smouldering fever in her cheeks; the glare of the bloodshot eyes;
the distortion of the parched lips; the hideous clutching of the
outstretched fingers at the empty air--but the agony of that sight was
more than I could endure: I turned away my head, and hid my face in
horror.

“Compose yourself,” whispered the doctor. “Now she is quiet, speak to
her; speak to her before she begins again; call her by her name.”

Her name! Could my lips utter it at such a moment as this?

“Quick! quick!” cried Mr. Bernard. “Try her while you have the chance.”

I struggled against the memories of the past, and spoke to her--God
knows as gently, if not as happily, as in the bygone time!

“Margaret,” I said, “Margaret, you asked for me, and I have come.”

She tossed her arms above her head with a shrill scream, frightfully
prolonged till it ended in low moanings and murmurings; then turned her
face from us again, and pulled her hair over it once more.

“I am afraid she is too far gone,” said the doctor; “but make another
trial.”

“Margaret,” I said again, “have you forgotten me? Margaret!”

She looked at me once more. This time, her dry, dull eyes seemed to
soften, and her fingers twined themselves less passionately in her hair.
She began to laugh--a low, vacant, terrible laugh.

“Yes, yes,” she said, “I know he’s come at last; I can make him do
anything. Get me my bonnet and shawl; any shawl will do, but a mourning
shawl is best, because we are going to the funeral of our wedding. Come,
Basil! let’s go back to the church, and get unmarried again; that’s what
I wanted you for. We don’t care about each other. Robert Mannion wants
me more than you do--he’s not ashamed of me because my father’s a
tradesman; he won’t make believe that he’s in love with me, and then
marry me to spite the pride of his family. Come! I’ll tell the clergyman
to read the service backwards; that makes a marriage no marriage at all,
everybody knows.”

As the last wild words escaped her, some one below stairs called to Mr.
Bernard. He went out for a minute, then returned again, telling me that
he was summoned to a case of sudden illness which he must attend without
a moment’s delay.

“The medical man whom I found here when I first came,” he said, “was
sent for this evening into the country, to be consulted about an
operation, I believe. But if anything happens, I shall be at your
service. There is the address of the house to which I am now going”
 (he wrote it down on a card); “you can send, if you want me. I will get
back, however, as soon as possible, and see her again; she seems to be
a little quieter already, and may become quieter still, if you stay
longer. The night-nurse is below--I will send her up as I go downstairs.
Keep the room well ventilated, the windows open as they are now. Don’t
breathe too close to her, and you need fear no infection. Look! her eyes
are still fixed on you. This is the first time I have seen her look in
the same direction for two minutes together; one would think she really
recognised you. Wait till I come back, if you possibly can--I won’t be a
moment longer than I can help.”

He hastily left the room. I turned to the bed, and saw that she was
still looking at me. She had never ceased murmuring to herself while Mr.
Bernard was speaking; and she did not stop when the nurse came in.

The first sight of this woman, on her entrance, sickened and shocked me.
All that was naturally repulsive in her, was made doubly revolting by
the characteristics of the habitual drunkard, lowering and glaring at
me in her purple, bloated face. To see her heavy hands shaking at the
pillow, as they tried mechanically to arrange it; to see her stand,
alternately leering and scowling by the bedside, an incarnate blasphemy
in the sacred chamber of death, was to behold the most horrible of all
mockeries, the most impious of all profanations. No loneliness in the
presence of mortal agony could try me to the quick, as the sight of that
foul old age of degradation and debauchery, defiling the sick room, now
tried me. I determined to wait alone by the bedside till Mr. Bernard
returned.

With some difficulty, I made the wretched drunkard understand that she
might go downstairs again; and that I would call her if she was wanted.
At last, she comprehended my meaning, and slowly quitted the room. The
door closed on her; and I was left alone to watch the last moments of
the woman who had ruined me!

As I sat down near the open window, the sounds outside in the street
told of the waning of the night. There was an echo of many footsteps, a
hoarse murmur of conflicting voices, now near, now afar off. The public
houses were dispersing their drunken crowds--the crowds of a Saturday
night: it was twelve o’clock.

Through those street-sounds of fierce ribaldry and ghastly mirth,
the voice of the dying woman penetrated, speaking more slowly, more
distinctly, more terribly than it had spoken yet.

“I see him,” she said, staring vacantly at me, and moving her hands
slowly to and fro in the air. “I see him! But he’s a long way off; he
can’t hear our secrets, and he does not suspect you as mother does.
Don’t tell me that about him any more; my flesh creeps at it! What are
you looking at me in that way for? You make me feel on fire. You know
I like you, because I _must_ like you; because I can’t help it. It’s no
use saying hush: I tell you he can’t hear us, and can’t see us. He can
see nothing; you make a fool of him, and I make a fool of him. But mind!
I _will_ ride in my own carriage: you must keep things secret enough to
let me do that. I say I _will_ ride in my carriage: and I’ll go where
father walks to business: I don’t care if I splash him with _my_
carriage wheels! I’ll be even with him for some of the passions he’s
been in with me. You see how I’ll go into our shop and order dresses!
(be quiet! I say he can’t hear us). I’ll have velvet where his sister
has silk, and silk where she has muslin: I’m a finer girl than she is,
and I’ll be better dressed. Tell _him_ anything, indeed! What have I
ever let out? It’s not so easy always to make believe I’m in love with
him, after what you have told me. Suppose he found us out?--Rash? I’m
no more rash than you are! Why didn’t you come back from France in time,
and stop it all? Why did you let me marry him? A nice wife I’ve been to
him, and a nice husband he has been to me--a husband who waits a year!
Ha! ha! he calls himself a man, doesn’t he? A husband who waits a year!”

I approached nearer to the bedside, and spoke to her again, in the
hope to win her tenderly towards dreaming of better things. I know not
whether she heard me, but her wild thoughts changed--changed darkly to
later events.

“Beds! beds!” she cried, “beds everywhere, with dying men on them! And
one bed the most terrible of all--look at it! The deformed face, with
the white of the pillow all round it! _His_ face? _his_ face, that
hadn’t a fault in it? Never! It’s the face of a devil; the finger-nails
of the devil are on it! Take me away! drag me out! I can’t move for that
face: it’s always before me: it’s walling me up among the beds: it’s
burning me all over. Water! water! drown me in the sea; drown me deep,
away from the burning face!”

“Hush, Margaret! hush! drink this, and you will be cool again.” I gave
her some lemonade, which stood by the bedside.

“Yes, yes; hush, as you say. Where’s Robert? Robert Mannion? Not here!
then I’ve got a secret for you. When you go home to-night, Basil, and
say your prayers, pray for a storm of thunder and lightning; and pray
that I may be struck dead in it, and Robert too. It’s a fortnight to my
aunt’s party; and in a fortnight you’ll wish us both dead, so you had
better pray for what I tell you in time. We shall make handsome corpses.
Put roses into my coffin--scarlet roses, if you can find any, because
that stands for Scarlet Woman--in the Bible, you know. Scarlet? What do
I care! It’s the boldest colour in the world. Robert will tell you, and
all your family, how many women are as scarlet as I am--virtue wears it
at home, in secret; and vice wears it abroad, in public: that’s the only
difference, he says. Scarlet roses! scarlet roses! throw them into the
coffin by hundreds; smother me up in them; bury me down deep; in the
dark, quiet street--where there’s a broad door-step in front of a house,
and a white, wild face, something like Basil’s, that’s always staring on
the doorstep awfully. Oh, why did I meet him! why did I marry him! oh,
why! why!”

She uttered the last words in slow, measured cadence--the horrible
mockery of a chaunt which she used to play to us at North Villa, on
Sunday evenings. Then her voice sank again; her articulation thickened,
and grew indistinct. It was like the change from darkness to daylight,
in the sight of sleepless eyes, to hear her only murmuring now, after
hearing her last terrible words.

The weary night-time passed on. Longer and longer grew the intervals
of silence between the scattered noises from the streets; less and less
frequent were the sounds of distant carriage-wheels, and the echoing
rapid footsteps of late pleasure-seekers hurrying home. At last, the
heavy tramp of the policeman going his rounds, alone disturbed the
silence of the early morning hours. Still, the voice from the bed
muttered incessantly; but now, in drowsy, languid tones: still, Mr.
Bernard did not return: still the father of the dying girl never came,
never obeyed the letter which summoned him for the last time to her
side.

(There was yet one more among the absent--one from whose approach
the death-bed must be kept sacred; one, whose evil presence was to be
dreaded as a pestilence and a scourge. Mannion!--where was Mannion?)

I sat by the window, resigned to wait in loneliness till the end came,
watching mechanically the vacant eyes that ever watched me--when,
suddenly, the face of Margaret seemed to fade out of my sight. I started
and looked round. The candle, which I had placed at the opposite end of
the room, had burnt down without my noticing it, and was now expiring
in the socket. I ran to light the fresh candle which lay on the table
by its side, but was too late. The wick flickered its last; the room was
left in darkness.

While I felt among the different objects under my hands for a box of
matches: Margaret’s voice strengthened again.

“Innocent! innocent!” I heard her cry mournfully through the darkness.
“I’ll swear I’m innocent, and father is sure to swear it too. Innocent
Margaret! Oh, me! what innocence!”

She repeated these words over and over again, till the hearing them
seemed to bewilder all my senses. I hardly knew what I touched.
Suddenly, my searching hands stopped of themselves, I could not tell
why. Was there some change in the room? Was there more air in it, as if
a door had been opened? Was there something moving over the floor?
Had Margaret left her bed?--No! the mournful voice was speaking
unintermittingly, and speaking from the same distance.

I moved to search for the matches on a chest of drawers, which stood
near the window. Though the morning was at its darkest, and the house
stood midway between two gas-lamps, there was a glimmering of light in
this place. I looked back into the room from the window, and thought
I saw something shadowy moving near the bed. “Take him away!” I heard
Margaret scream in her wildest tones. “His hands are on me: he’s feeling
my face, to feel if I’m dead!”

I ran to her, striking against some piece of furniture in the darkness.
Something passed swiftly between me and the bed, as I got near it. I
thought I heard a door close. Then there was silence for a moment; and
then, as I stretched out my hands, my right hand encountered the
little table placed by Margaret’s side, and the next moment I felt the
match-box that had been left on it.

As I struck a light, her voice repeated close at my ear:

“His hands are on me: he’s feeling my face to feel if I’m dead!”

The match flared up. As I carried it to the candle, I looked round, and
noticed for the first time that there was a second door, at the further
corner of the room, which lighted some inner apartment through glass
panes at the top. When I tried this door, it was locked on the inside,
and the room beyond was dark.

Dark and silent. But was no one there, hidden in that darkness and
silence? Was there any doubt now, that stealthy feet had approached
Margaret, that stealthy hands had touched her, while the room was in
obscurity?--Doubt? There was none on that point, none on any other.
Suspicion shaped itself into conviction in an instant, and identified
the stranger who had passed in the darkness between me and the bedside,
with the man whose presence I had dreaded, as the presence of an evil
spirit in the chamber of death.

He was waiting secretly in the house--waiting for her last moments;
listening for her last words; watching his opportunity, perhaps, to
enter the room again, and openly profane it by his presence! I placed
myself by the door, resolved, if he approached, to thrust him back, at
any hazard, from the bedside. How long I remained absorbed in watching
before the darkness of the inner room, I know not--but some time must
have elapsed before the silence around me forced itself suddenly on my
attention. I turned towards Margaret; and, in an instant, all previous
thoughts were suspended in my mind, by the sight that now met my eyes.

She had altered completely. Her hands, so restless hitherto, lay quite
still over the coverlid; her lips never moved; the whole expression of
her face had changed--the fever-traces remained on every feature, and
yet the fever-look was gone. Her eyes were almost closed; her quick
breathing had grown calm and slow. I touched her pulse; it was beating
with a wayward, fluttering gentleness. What did this striking alteration
indicate? Recovery? Was it possible? As the idea crossed my mind, every
one of my faculties became absorbed in the sole occupation of watching
her face; I could not have stirred an instant from the bed, for worlds.

The earliest dawn of day was glimmering faintly at the window, before
another change appeared--before she drew a long, sighing breath, and
slowly opened her eyes on mine. Their first look was very strange and
startling to behold; for it was the look that was natural to her; the
calm look of consciousness, restored to what it had always been in
the past time. It lasted only for a moment. She recognised me; and,
instantly, an expression of anguish and shame flew over the first terror
and surprise of her face. She struggled vainly to lift her hands--so
busy all through the night; so idle now! A faint moan of supplication
breathed from her lips; and she slowly turned her head on the pillow, so
as to hide her face from my sight.

“Oh, my God! my God!” she murmured, in low, wailing tones, “I’ve broken
his heart, and he still comes here to be kind to me! This is worse than
death! I’m too bad to be forgiven--leave me! leave me!--oh, Basil, leave
me to die!”

I spoke to her; but desisted almost immediately--desisted even from
uttering her name. At the mere sound of my voice, her suffering rose to
agony; the wild despair of the soul wrestling awfully with the writhing
weakness of the body, uttered itself in words and cries horrible, beyond
all imagination, to hear. I sank down on my knees by the bedside; the
strength which had sustained me for hours, gave way in an instant, and
I burst into a passion of tears, as my spirit poured from my lips in
supplication for hers--tears that did not humiliate me; for I knew,
while I shed them, that I had forgiven her!

The dawn brightened. Gradually, as the fair light of the new day flowed
in lovely upon her bed; as the fresh morning breeze lifted tenderly and
playfully the scattered locks of her hair that lay over the pillow--so,
the calmness began to come back to her voice and the stillness of repose
to her limbs. But she never turned her face to me again; never, when the
wild words of her despair grew fewer and fainter; never, when the last
faint supplication to me, to leave her to die forsaken as she deserved,
ended mournfully in a long, moaning gasp for breath. I waited after
this--waited a long time--then spoke to her softly--then waited once
more; hearing her still breathe, but slowly and more slowly with every
minute--then spoke to her for the second time, louder than before. She
never answered, and never moved. Was she sleeping? I could not tell.
Some influence seemed to hold me back from going to the other side of
the bed, to look at her face, as it lay away from me, almost hidden in
the pillow.

The light strengthened faster, and grew mellow with the clear beauty
of the morning sunshine. I heard the sound of rapid footsteps advancing
along the street; they stopped under the window: and a voice which I
recognized, called me by my name. I looked out: Mr. Bernard had returned
at last.

“I could not get back sooner,” he said; “the case was desperate, and I
was afraid to leave it. You will find a key on the chimney-piece--throw
it out to me, and I can let myself in; I told them not to bolt the door
before I went out.”

I obeyed his directions. When he entered the room, I thought Margaret
moved a little, and signed to him with my hand to make no noise. He
looked towards the bed without any appearance of surprise, and asked me
in a whisper when the change had come over her, and how. I told him
very briefly, and inquired whether he had known of such changes in other
cases, like hers.

“Many,” he answered, “many changes just as extraordinary, which have
raised hopes that I never knew realised. Expect the worst from the
change you have witnessed; it is a fatal sign.”

Still, in spite of what he said, it seemed as if he feared to wake her;
for he spoke in his lowest tones, and walked very softly when he went
close to the bedside.

He stopped suddenly, just as he was about to feel her pulse, and looked
in the direction of the glass door--listened attentively--and said, as
if to himself--“I thought I heard some one moving in that room, but I
suppose I am mistaken; nobody can be up in the house yet.” With those
words he looked down at Margaret, and gently parted back her hair from
her forehead.

“Don’t disturb her,” I whispered, “she is asleep; surely she is asleep!”

He paused before he answered me, and placed his hand on her heart. Then
softly drew up the bed-linen, till it hid her face.

“Yes, she is asleep,” he said gravely; “asleep, never to wake again. She
is dead.”

I turned aside my head in silence, for my thoughts, at that moment, were
not the thoughts which can be spoken by man to man.

“This has been a sad scene for any one at your age,” he resumed kindly,
as he left the bedside, “but you have borne it well. I am glad to see
that you can behave so calmly under so hard a trial.”



Calmly?

Yes! at that moment it was fit that I should be calm; for I could
remember that I had forgiven her.

VIII.

On the fourth day from the morning when she had died, I stood alone in
the churchyard by the grave of Margaret Sherwin.

It had been left for me to watch her dying moments; it was left for me
to bestow on her remains the last human charity which the living can
extend to the dead. If I could have looked into the future on our fatal
marriage-day, and could have known that the only home of my giving which
she would ever inhabit, would be the home of the grave!--

Her father had written me a letter, which I destroyed at the time; and
which, if I had it now, I should forbear from copying into these pages.
Let it be enough for me to relate here, that he never forgave the action
by which she thwarted him in his mercenary designs upon me and upon my
family; that he diverted from himself the suspicion and disgust of
his wife’s surviving relatives (whose hostility he had some pecuniary
reasons to fear), by accusing his daughter, as he had declared he would
accuse her, of having been the real cause of her mother’s death; and
that he took care to give the appearance of sincerity to the indignation
which he professed to feel against her, by refusing to follow her
remains to the place of burial.

Ralph had returned to London, as soon as he received the letter from Mr.
Bernard which I had forwarded to him. He offered me his assistance
in performing the last duties left to my care, with an affectionate
earnestness that I had never seen him display towards me before. But Mr.
Bernard had generously undertaken to relieve me of every responsibility
which could be assumed by others; and on this occasion, therefore, I had
no need to put my brother’s ready kindness in helping me to the test.

I stood alone by the grave. Mr. Bernard had taken leave of me; the
workers and the idlers in the churchyard had alike departed. There was
no reason why I should not follow them; and yet I remained, with my eyes
fixed upon the freshly-turned earth at my feet, thinking of the dead.

Some time had passed thus, when the sound of approaching footsteps
attracted my attention. I looked up, and saw a man, clothed in a long
cloak drawn loosely around his neck, and wearing a shade over his eyes,
which hid the whole upper part of his face, advancing slowly towards me,
walking with the help of a stick. He came on straight to the grave, and
stopped at the foot of it--stopped opposite me, as I stood at the head.

“Do you know me again?” he said. “Do you know me for Robert Mannion?” As
he pronounced his name, he raised the shade and looked at me.

The first sight of that appalling face, with its ghastly discolouration
of sickness, its hideous deformity of feature, its fierce and changeless
malignity of expression glaring full on me in the piercing noonday
sunshine--glaring with the same unearthly look of fury and triumph which
I had seen flashing through the flashing lightning, when I parted from
him on the night of the storm--struck me speechless where I stood, and
has never left me since. I must not, I dare not, describe that frightful
sight; though it now rises before my imagination, vivid in its horror
as on the first day when I saw it--though it moves hither and thither
before me fearfully, while I write; though it lowers at my window,
a noisome shadow on the radiant prospect of earth, and sea, and sky,
whenever I look up from the page I am now writing towards the beauties
of my cottage view.

“Do you know me for Robert Mannion?” he repeated. “Do you know the
work of your own hands, now you see it? Or, am I changed to you past
recognition, as _your_ father might have found _my_ father changed,
if he had seen him on the morning of his execution, standing under the
gallows, with the cap over his face?”

Still I could neither speak nor move. I could only look away from him in
horror, and fix my eyes on the ground.

He lowered the shade to its former position on his face, then spoke
again.

“Under this earth that we stand on,” he said, setting his foot on the
grave; “down here, where you are now looking, lies buried with the
buried dead, the last influence which might one day have gained you
respite and mercy at my hands. Did you think of the one, last chance
that you were losing, when you came to see her die? I watched _you,_ and
I watched _her._ I heard as much as you heard; I saw as much as you saw;
I know when she died, and how, as you know it; I shared her last moments
with you, to the very end. It was my fancy not to give her up, as your
sole possession, even on her death-bed: it is my fancy, now, not to let
you stand alone--as if her corpse was your property--over her grave!”

While he uttered the last words, I felt my self-possession returning.
I could not force myself to speak, as I would fain have spoken--I could
only move away, to leave him.

“Stop,” he said, “what I have still to say concerns you. I have to tell
you, face to face, standing with you here, over her dead body, that
what I wrote from the hospital, is what I will do; that I will make your
whole life to come, one long expiation of this deformity;” (he pointed
to his face), “and of that death” (he set his foot once more on the
grave). “Go where you will, this face of mine shall never be turned away
from you; this tongue, which you can never silence but by a crime,
shall awaken against you the sleeping superstitions and cruelties of all
mankind. The noisome secret of that night when you followed us, shall
reek up like a pestilence in the nostrils of your fellow-beings, be
they whom they may. You may shield yourself behind your family and your
friends--I will strike at you through the dearest and the bravest
of them! Now you have heard me, go! The next time we meet, you shall
acknowledge with your own lips that I can act as I speak. Live the free
life which Margaret Sherwin has restored to you by her death--you will
know it soon for the life of Cain!”

He turned from the grave, and left me by the way that he had come;
but the hideous image of him, and the remembrance of the words he had
spoken, never left me. Never for a moment, while I lingered alone in
the churchyard; never, when I quitted it, and walked through the crowded
streets. The horror of the fiend-face was still before my eyes, the
poison of the fiend-words was still in my ears, when I returned to my
lodging, and found Ralph waiting to see me as soon as I entered my room.

“At last you have come back!” he said; “I was determined to stop till
you did, if I stayed all day. Is anything the matter? Have you got into
some worse difficulty than ever?”

“No, Ralph--no. What have you to tell me?”

“Something that will rather surprise you, Basil: I have to tell you to
leave London at once! Leave it for your own interests and for everybody
else’s. My father has found out that Clara has been to see you.”

“Good heavens! how?”

“He won’t tell me. But he has found it out. You know how you stand in
his opinion--I leave you to imagine what he thinks of Clara’s conduct in
coming here.”

“No! no! tell me yourself, Ralph--tell me how she bears his
displeasure!”

“As badly as possible. After having forbidden her ever to enter this
house again, he now only shows how he is offended, by his silence; and
it is exactly that, of course, which distresses her. Between her notions
of implicit obedience to _him,_ and her opposite notions, just as
strong, of her sisterly duties to _you,_ she is made miserable from
morning to night. What she will end in, if things go on like this, I am
really afraid to think; and I’m not easily frightened, as you know.
Now, Basil, listen to me: it is _your_ business to stop this, and _my_
business to tell you how.”

“I will do anything you wish--anything for Clara’s sake!”

“Then leave London; and so cut short the struggle between her duty and
her inclination. If you don’t, my father is quite capable of taking her
at once into the country, though I know he has important business to
keep him in London. Write a letter to her, saying that you have gone
away for your health, for change of scene and peace of mind--gone away,
in short, to come back better some day. Don’t say where you’re going,
and don’t tell me, for she is sure to ask, and sure to get it out of
me if I know. Then she might be writing to you, and that might be found
out, too. She can’t distress herself about your absence, if you
account for it properly, as she distresses herself now--that is one
consideration. And you will serve your own interests, as well as
Clara’s, by going away--that is another.”

“Never mind _my_ interests. Clara! I can only think of Clara!”

“But you _have_ interests, and you must think of them. I told my father
of the death of that unhappy woman, and of your noble behaviour when she
was dying. Don’t interrupt me, Basil--it _was_ noble; I couldn’t have
done what you did, I can tell you! I saw he was more struck by it than
he was willing to confess. An impression has been made on him by the
turn circumstances have taken. Only leave that impression to strengthen,
and you’re safe. But if you destroy it by staying here, after what has
happened, and keeping Clara in this new dilemma--my dear fellow,
you destroy your best chance! There is a sort of defiance of him in
stopping; there is a downright concession to him in going away.”

“I _will_ go, Ralph; you have more than convinced me that I ought! I
will go to-morrow, though where--”

“You have the rest of the day to think where. _I_ should go abroad and
amuse myself; but your ideas of amusement are, most likely, not mine. At
any rate, wherever you go, I can always supply you with money, when you
want it; you can write to me, after you have been away some little time,
and I can write back, as soon as I have good news to tell you. Only
stick to your present determination, Basil, and, I’ll answer for it,
you will be back in your own study at home, before you are many months
older!”

“I will put it out of my power to fail in my resolution, by writing to
Clara at once, and giving you the letter to place in her hands to-morrow
evening, when I shall have left London some hours.”

“That’s right, Basil! that’s acting and speaking like a man!”

I wrote immediately, accounting for my sudden absence as Ralph had
advised me--wrote, with a heavy heart, all that I thought would be most
reassuring and cheering to Clara; and then, without allowing myself time
to hesitate or to think, gave the letter to my brother.

“She shall have it to-morrow night,” he said, “and my father shall know
why you have left town, at the same time. Depend on me in this, as in
everything else. And now, Basil, I must say good bye--unless you’re in
the humour for coming to look at my new house this evening. Ah! I see
that won’t suit you just now, so, good bye, old fellow! Write when you
are in any necessity--get back your spirits and your health--and never
doubt that the step you are now taking will be the best for Clara, and
the best for yourself!”

He hurried out of the room, evidently feeling more at saying farewell
than he was willing to let me discover. I was left alone for the rest of
the day, to think whither I should turn my steps on the morrow.

I knew that it would be best that I should leave England; but there
seemed to have grown within me, suddenly, a yearning towards my own
country that I had never felt before--a home-sickness for the land in
which my sister lived. Not once did my thoughts wander away to foreign
places, while I now tried to consider calmly in what direction I should
depart when I left London.

While I was still in doubt, my earliest impressions of childhood came
back to my memory; and influenced by them, I thought of Cornwall. My
nurse had been a Cornish woman; my first fancies and first feelings of
curiosity had been excited by her Cornish stories, by the descriptions
of the scenery, the customs, and the people of her native land, with
which she was ever ready to amuse me. As I grew older, it had always
been one of my favourite projects to go to Cornwall, to explore the wild
western land, on foot, from hill to hill throughout. And now, when no
motive of pleasure could influence my choice--now, when I was going
forth homeless and alone, in uncertainty, in grief, in peril--the old
fancy of long-past days still kept its influence, and pointed out my new
path to me among the rocky boundaries of the Cornish shore.

My last night in London was a night made terrible by Mannion’s fearful
image in all my dreams--made mournful, in my waking moments, by thoughts
of the morrow which was to separate me from Clara. But I never faltered
in my resolution to leave London for her sake. When the morning came,
I collected my few necessaries, added to them one or two books, and was
ready to depart.

My way through the streets took me near my father’s house. As I passed
by the well-remembered neighbourhood, my self-control so far deserted
me, that I stopped and turned aside into the Square, in the hope of
seeing Clara once more before I went away. Cautiously and doubtfully,
as if I was a trespasser even on the public pavement, I looked up at
the house which was no more my home--at the windows, side by side, of my
sister’s sitting-room and bed-room. She was neither standing near them,
nor passing accidentally from one room to another at that moment. Still
I could not persuade myself to go on. I thought of many and many an
act of kindness that she had done for me, which I seemed never to have
appreciated until now--I thought of what she had suffered, and might yet
suffer, for my sake--and the longing to see her once more, though only
for an instant, still kept me lingering near the house and looking up
vainly at the lonely windows.

It was a bright, cool, autumnal morning; perhaps she might have gone out
into the garden of the square: it used often to be her habit, when I was
at home, to go there and read at this hour. I walked round, outside the
railings, searching for her between gaps in the foliage; and had nearly
made the circuit of the garden thus, before the figure of a lady sitting
alone under one of the trees, attracted my attention. I stopped--looked
intently towards her--and saw that it was Clara.

Her face was almost entirely turned from me; but I knew her by her
dress, by her figure--even by her position, simple as it was. She was
sitting with her hands on a closed book which rested on her knee. A
little spaniel that I had given her lay asleep at her feet: she seemed
to be looking down at the animal, as far as I could tell by the position
of her head. When I moved aside, to try if I could see her face, the
trees hid her from sight. I was obliged to be satisfied with the little
I could discern of her, through the one gap in the foliage which gave
me a clear view of the place where she was sitting. To speak to her, to
risk the misery to both of us of saying farewell, was more than I dared
trust myself to do. I could only stand silent, and look at her--it might
be for the last time!--until the tears gathered in my eyes, so that I
could see nothing more. I resisted the temptation to dash them away.
While they still hid her from me--while I could not see her again, if I
would--I turned from the garden view, and left the Square.

Amid all the thoughts which thronged on me, as I walked farther and
farther away from the neighbourhood of what was once my home; amid all
the remembrances of past events--from the first day when I met Margaret
Sherwin to the day when I stood by her grave--which were recalled by the
mere act of leaving London, there now arose in my mind, for the first
time, a doubt, which from that day to this has never left it; a doubt
whether Mannion might not be tracking me in secret along every step of
my way.

I stopped instinctively, and looked behind me. Many figures were moving
in the distance; but the figure that I had seen in the churchyard was
nowhere visible among them. A little further on, I looked back again,
and still with the same result. After this, I let a longer interval
elapse before I stopped; and then, for the third time, I turned round,
and scanned the busy street-scene behind me, with eager, suspicious
eyes. Some little distance back, on the opposite side of the way, I
caught sight of a man who was standing still (as I was standing), amid
the moving throng. His height was like Mannion’s height; and he wore
a cloak like the cloak I had seen on Mannion, when he approached me at
Margaret’s grave. More than this I could not detect, without crossing
over. The passing vehicles and foot-passengers constantly intercepted my
view, from the position in which I stood.

Was this figure, thus visible only by intervals, the figure of Mannion?
and was he really tracking my steps? As the suspicion strengthened in
my mind that it was so, the remembrance of his threat in the churchyard:
“You may shield yourself behind your family and your friends: I will
strike at you through the dearest and the bravest of them--” suddenly
recurred to me; and brought with it a thought which urged me instantly
to proceed on my way. I never looked behind me again, as I now walked
on; for I said within myself:--“If he is following me, I must not, and
will not avoid him: it will be the best result of my departure, that I
shall draw after me that destroying presence; and thus at least remove
it far and safely away from my family and my home!”

So, I neither turned aside from the straight direction, nor hurried my
steps, nor looked back any more. At the time I had resolved on, I left
London for Cornwall, without making any attempt to conceal my departure.
And though I knew that he must surely be following me, still I never saw
him again: never discovered how close or how far off he was on my track.

                         *****

Two months have passed since that period; and I know no more about him
_now_ than I knew _then._



                        JOURNAL.

October 19th--My retrospect is finished. I have traced the history of
my errors and misfortunes, of the wrong I have done and the punishment I
have suffered for it, from the past to the present time.

The pages of my manuscript (many more than I thought to write at first)
lie piled together on the table before me. I dare not look them over: I
dare not read the lines which my own hand has traced. There may be much
in my manner of writing that wants alteration; but I have no heart to
return to my task, and revise and reconsider as I might if I were intent
on producing a book which was to be published during my lifetime. Others
will be found, when I am no more, to carve, and smooth, and polish to
the popular taste of the day this rugged material of Truth which I shall
leave behind me.

But now, while I collect these leaves, and seal them up, never to be
opened again by my hands, can I feel that I have related all which it is
necessary to tell? No! While Mannion lives--while I am ignorant of
the changes that may yet be wrought in the home from which I am
exiled--there remains for me a future which must be recorded, as the
necessary sequel to the narrative of the past. What may yet happen
worthy of record, I know not: what sufferings I may yet undergo, which
may unfit me for continuing the labour now terminated for a time, I
cannot foresee. I have not hope enough in the future, or in myself; to
believe that I shall have the time or the energy to write hereafter,
as I have written already, from recollection. It is best, then, that I
should note down events daily as they occur; and so ensure, as far as
may be, a continuation of my narrative, fragment by fragment, to the
very last.

But, first, as a fit beginning to the Journal I now propose to keep,
let me briefly reveal something, in this place, of the life that I am
leading in my retirement on the Cornish coast.

The fishing hamlet in which I have written the preceding pages, is on
the southern shore of Cornwall, not more than a few miles distant from
the Land’s End. The cottage I inhabit is built of rough granite, rudely
thatched, and has but two rooms. I possess no furniture but my bed, my
table, and my chair; and some half-dozen fishermen and their families
are my only neighbours. But I feel neither the want of luxuries, nor
the want of society: all that I wished for in coming here, I have--the
completest seclusion.

My arrival produced, at first, both astonishment and suspicion. The
fishermen of Cornwall still preserve almost all the superstitions,
even to the grossest, which were held dear by their humble ancestors,
centuries back. My simple neighbours could not understand why I had no
business to occupy me; could not reconcile my worn, melancholy face with
my youthful years. Such loneliness as mine looked unnatural--especially
to the women. They questioned me curiously; and the very simplicity of
my answer, that I had only come to Cornwall to live in quiet, and regain
my health, perplexed them afresh. They waited, day after day, when I
was first installed in the cottage, to see letters sent to me--and no
letters arrived: to see my friends join me--and no friends came. This
deepened the mystery to their eyes. They began to recall to memory old
Cornish legends of solitary, secret people who had lived, years and
years ago, in certain parts of the county--coming, none knew whence;
existing, none knew by what means; dying and disappearing, none knew
when. They felt half inclined to identify me with these mysterious
visitors--to consider me as some being, a stranger to the whole human
family, who had come to waste away under a curse, and die ominously and
secretly among them. Even the person to whom I first paid money for
my necessaries, questioned, for a moment, the lawfulness and safety of
receiving it!

But these doubts gradually died away; this superstitious curiosity
insensibly wore off, among my poor neighbours. They became used to my
solitary, thoughtful, and (to them) inexplicable mode of existence.
One or two little services of kindness which I rendered, soon after my
arrival, to their children, worked wonders in my favour; and I am
pitied now, rather than distrusted. When the results of the fishing are
abundant, a little present has been often made to me, out of the nets.
Some weeks ago, after I had gone out in the morning, I found on my
return, two or three gulls’ eggs placed in a basket before my door.
They had been left there by the children, as ornaments for my cottage
window--the only ornaments they had to give; the only ornaments they had
ever heard of.

I can now go out unnoticed, directing my steps up the ravine in which
our hamlet is situated, towards the old grey stone church which stands
solitary on the hill-top, surrounded by the lonesome moor. If any
children happen to be playing among the scattered tombs, they do not
start and run away, when they see me sitting on the coffin stone at the
entrance of the churchyard, or wandering round the sturdy granite
tower, reared by hands which have mouldered into dust centuries ago. My
approach has ceased to be of evil omen for my little neighbours. They
just look up at me, for a moment, with bright smiles, and then go on
with their game.

From the churchyard, I look down the ravine, on fine days, towards the
sea. Mighty piles of granite soar above the fishermen’s cottages on each
side; the little strip of white beach which the cliffs shut in, glows
pure in the sunlight; the inland stream that trickles down the bed of
the rocks, sparkles, at places, like a rivulet of silver-fire; the round
white clouds, with their violet shadows and bright wavy edges, roll on
majestically above me; the cries of the sea-birds, the endless, dirging
murmur of the surf, and the far music of the wind among the ocean
caverns, fall, now together, now separately on my ear. Nature’s
voice and Nature’s beauty--God’s soothing and purifying angels of the
soul--speak to me most tenderly and most happily, at such times as
these.

It is when the rain falls, and wind and sea arise together--when,
sheltered among the caverns in the side of the precipice, I look out
upon the dreary waves and the leaping spray--that I feel the unknown
dangers which hang over my head in all the horror of their uncertainty.
Then, the threats of my deadly enemy strengthen their hold fearfully on
all my senses. I see the dim and ghastly personification of a fatality
that is lying in wait for me, in the strange shapes of the mist which
shrouds the sky, and moves, and whirls, and brightens, and darkens in a
weird glory of its own over the heaving waters. Then, the crash of the
breakers on the reef howls upon me with a sound of judgment; and the
voice of the wind, growling and battling behind me in the hollows of the
cave, is, ever and ever, the same thunder-voice of doom and warning in
my ear.

Does this foreboding that Mannion’s eye is always on me, that his
footsteps are always secretly following mine, proceed only from the
weakness of my worn-out energies? Could others in my situation restrain
themselves from fearing, as I do, that he is still incessantly watching
me in secret? It is possible. It may be, that his terrible connection
with all my sufferings of the past, makes me attach credit too easily to
the destroying power which he arrogates to himself in the future. Or
it may be, that all resolution to resist him is paralysed in me, not so
much by my fear of his appearance, as by my uncertainty of the time when
it will take place--not so much by his menaces themselves, as by the
delay in their execution. Still, though I can estimate fairly the value
of these considerations, they exercise over me no lasting influence of
tranquillity. I remember what this man _has_ done; and in spite of
all reasoning, I believe in what he has told me he will yet do. Madman
though he may be, I have no hope of defence or escape from him in any
direction, look where I will.

But for the occupation which the foregoing narrative has given to my
mind; but for the relief which my heart can derive from its thoughts of
Clara, I must have sunk under the torment of suspense and suspicion
in which my life is now passed. My sister! Even in this self-imposed
absence from her, I have still found a means of connecting myself
remotely with something that she loves. I have taken, as the assumed
name under which I live, and shall continue to live until my father has
given me back his confidence and his affection, the name of a little
estate that once belonged to my mother, and that now belongs to
her daughter. Even the most wretched have their caprice, their last
favourite fancy. I possess no memorial of Clara, not even a letter. The
name that I have taken from the place which she was always fondest and
proudest of, is, to me, what a lock of hair, a ring, any little loveable
keepsake, is to others happier than I am.

I have wandered away from the simple details of my life in this place.
Shall I now return to them? Not to-day; my head burns, my hand is weary.
If the morrow should bring with it no event to write of, on the morrow I
can resume the subject from which I now break off.

October 20th.--After laying aside my pen, I went out yesterday for
the purpose of renewing that former friendly intercourse with my poor
neighbours, which has been interrupted for the last three weeks by
unintermitting labour at the latter portions of my narrative.

In the course of my walk among the cottages and up to the old church
on the moor, I saw fewer of the people of the district than usual.
The behaviour of those whom I did chance to meet, seemed unaccountably
altered; perhaps it was mere fancy, but I thought they avoided me. One
woman abruptly shut her cottage door as I approached. A fisherman, when
I wished him good day, hardly answered; and walked on without stopping
to gossip with me as usual. Some children, too, whom I overtook on the
road to the church, ran away from me, making gestures to each other
which I could not understand. Is the first superstitious distrust of
me returning after I thought it had been entirely overcome? Or are my
neighbours only showing their resentment at my involuntary neglect of
them for the last three weeks? I must try to find out to-morrow.

21st--I have discovered all! The truth, which I was strangely slow to
suspect yesterday, has forced itself on me to-day.

I went out this morning, as I had purposed, to discover whether my
neighbours had really changed towards me, or not, since the interval
of my three weeks’ seclusion. At the cottage-door nearest to mine, two
young children were playing, whom I knew I had succeeded in attaching
to me soon after my arrival. I walked up to speak to them; but, as I
approached, their mother came out, and snatched them from me with a
look of anger and alarm. Before I could question her, she had taken them
inside the cottage, and had closed the door.

Almost at the same moment, as if by a preconcerted signal, three or four
other women came out from their abodes at a little distance, warned
me in loud, angry voices not to come near them, or their children; and
disappeared, shutting their doors. Still not suspecting the truth, I
turned back, and walked towards the beach. The lad whom I employ to
serve me with provisions, was lounging there against the side of an old
boat. At seeing me, he started up, and walked away a few steps--then
stopped, and called out--

“I’m not to bring you anything more; father says he won’t sell to you
again, whatever you pay him.”

I asked the boy why his father had said that; but he ran back towards
the village without answering me.

“You had best leave us,” muttered a voice behind me. “If you don’t go of
your own accord, our people will starve you out of the place.”

The man who said these words, had been one of the first to set the
example of friendliness towards me, after my arrival; and to him I now
turned for the explanation which no one else would give me.

“You know what we mean, and why we want you to go, well enough,” was his
reply.

I assured him that I did not; and begged him so earnestly to enlighten
me, that he stopped as he was walking away.

“I’ll tell you about it,” he said; “but not now; I don’t want to be seen
with you.” (As he spoke he looked back at the women, who were appearing
once more in front of their cottages.) “Go home again, and shut yourself
up; I’ll come at dusk.”

And he came as he had promised. But when I asked him to enter my
cottage, he declined, and said he would talk to me outside, at my
window. This disinclination to be under my roof, reminded me that my
supplies of food had, for the last week, been left on the window-ledge,
instead of being brought into my room as usual. I had been too
constantly occupied to pay much attention to the circumstance at the
time; but I thought it very strange now.

“Do you mean to tell me you don’t suspect why we want to get you out of
our place here?” said the man, looking in distrustfully at me through
the window.

I repeated that I could not imagine why they had all changed towards me,
or what wrong they thought I had done them.

“Then I’ll soon let you know it,” he continued. “We want you gone from
here, because--”

“Because,” interrupted another voice behind him, which I recognised
as his wife’s, “because you’re bringing a blight on us, and our
houses--because _we want our children’s faces left as God made them_--”

“Because,” interposed a second woman, who had joined her, “you’re
bringing devil’s vengeances among Christian people! Come back, John!
he’s not safe for a true man to speak to.”

They dragged the fisherman away with them before he could say another
word. I had heard enough. The fatal truth burst at once on my mind.
Mannion _had_ followed me to Cornwall: his threats were executed to the
very letter!



(10 o’clock.)--I have lit my candle for the last time in this cottage,
to add a few lines to my journal. The hamlet is quiet; I hear no
footstep outside--and yet, can I be certain that Mannion is not lurking
near my door at this moment?

I must go when the morning comes; I must leave this quiet retreat, in
which I have lived so calmly until now. There is no hope that I can
reinstate myself in the opinions of my poor neighbours. He has arrayed
against me the pitiless hostility of their superstition. He has found
out the dormant cruelties, even in the hearts of these simple people;
and has awakened them against me, as he said he would. The evil work
must have been begun within the last three weeks, while I was much
within doors, and there was little chance of meeting me in my usual
walks. How that work was accomplished it is useless to inquire; my only
object now, must be to prepare myself at once for departure.

(11 o’clock.)--While I was putting up my few books, a minute ago, a
little embroidered marker fell out of one of them, which I had not
observed in the pages before; and which I recognised as having been
worked for me by Clara. I have a memorial of my sister in my possession,
after all! Trifling as it is, I shall preserve it about me, as a
messenger of consolation in the time of adversity and peril.

(1 o’clock.)--The wind sweeps down on us, from off the moorland, in
fiercer and fiercer gusts; the waves dash heavily against our rock
promontory; the rain drifts wildly past my windows; and the densest
darkness overspreads the whole sky. The storm which has been threatening
for some days, is gathering fast.



(Village of Treen, October 22nd.)--The events of this one day have
changed the whole future of my life. I must force myself to write of
them at once. Something warns me that if I delay, though only till
to-morrow, I shall be incapable of relating them at all.

It was still early in the morning--I think about seven o’clock--when I
closed my cottage door behind me, never to open it again. I met only one
or two of my neighbours as I left the hamlet. They drew aside to let me
advance, without saying a word. With a heavy heart, grieved more than
I could have imagined possible at departing as an enemy from among the
people with whom I had lived as a friend, I passed slowly by the last
cottages, and ascended the cliff path which led to the moor.

The storm had raged at its fiercest some hours back. Soon after daylight
the wind sank; but the majesty of the mighty sea had lost none of
its terror and grandeur as yet. The huge Atlantic waves still hurled
themselves, foaming and furious, against the massive granite of the
Cornish cliffs. Overhead, the sky was hidden in a thick white mist, now
hanging, still and dripping, down to the ground; now rolling in shapes
like vast smoke-wreaths before the light wind which still blew at
intervals. At a distance of more than a few yards, the largest objects
were totally invisible. I had nothing to guide me, as I advanced, but
the ceaseless roaring of the sea on my right hand.

It was my purpose to get to Penzance by night. Beyond that, I had no
project, no thought of what refuge I should seek next. Any hope I might
have formerly felt of escaping from Mannion, had now deserted me for
ever. I could not discover by any outward indications, that he was still
following my footsteps. The mist obscured all objects behind me from
view; the ceaseless crashing of the shore-waves overwhelmed all landward
sounds, but I never doubted for a moment that he was watching me, as I
proceeded along my onward way.

I walked slowly, keeping from the edge of the precipices only by keeping
the sound of the sea always at the same distance from my ear; knowing
that I was advancing in the proper direction, though very circuitously,
as long as I heard the waves on my right hand. To have ventured on the
shorter way, by the moor and the cross-roads beyond it, would have been
only to have lost myself past all chance of extrication, in the mist.

In this tedious manner I had gone on for some time, before it struck
me that the noise of the sea was altering completely to my sense
of hearing. It seemed to be sounding very strangely on each side of
me--both on my right hand and on my left. I stopped and strained my eyes
to look through the mist, but it was useless. Crags only a few yards
off, seemed like shadows in the thick white vapour. Again, I went on a
little; and, ere long, I heard rolling towards me, as it were, under
my own feet, and under the roaring of the sea, a howling, hollow,
intermittent sound--like thunder at a distance. I stopped again, and
rested against a rock. After some time, the mist began to part to
seaward, but remained still as thick as ever on each side of me. I went
on towards the lighter sky in front--the thunder-sound booming louder
and louder, in the very heart, as it seemed, of the great cliff.

The mist brightened yet a little more, and showed me a landmark to
ships, standing on the highest point of the surrounding rocks. I climbed
to it, recognised the glaring red and white pattern in which it was
painted, and knew that I had wandered, in the mist, away from the
regular line of coast, out on one of the great granite promontories
which project into the sea, as natural breakwaters, on the southern
shore of Cornwall.

I had twice penetrated as far as this place, at the earlier period of
my sojourn in the fishing-hamlet, and while I now listened to the
thunder-sound, I knew from what cause it proceeded.

Beyond the spot where I stood, the rocks descended suddenly, and almost
perpendicularly, to the range below them. In one of the highest parts of
the wall-side of granite thus formed, there opened a black, yawning hole
that slanted nearly straight downwards, like a tunnel, to unknown and
unfathomable depths below, into which the waves found entrance through
some subterranean channel. Even at calm times the sea was never silent
in this frightful abyss, but on stormy days its fury was terrific. The
wild waves boiled and thundered in their imprisonment, till they seemed
to convulse the solid cliff about them, like an earthquake. But, high
as they leapt up in the rocky walls of the chasm, they never leapt into
sight from above. Nothing but clouds of spray indicated to the eye, what
must be the horrible tumult of the raging waters below.

With my recognition of the place to which I had now wandered, came
remembrance of the dangers I had left behind me on the rock-track that
led from the mainland to the promontory--dangers of narrow ledges and
treacherous precipices, which I had passed safely, while unconscious
of them in the mist, but which I shrank from tempting again, now that I
recollected them, until the sky had cleared, and I could see my way well
before me. The atmosphere was still brightening slowly over the tossing,
distant waves: I determined to wait until it had lost all its obscurity,
before I ventured to retrace my steps.

I moved down towards the lower range of rocks, to seek a less exposed
position than that which I now occupied. As I neared the chasm, the
terrific howling of the waves inside it was violent enough to drown,
not only the crashing sound of the surf on the outward crags of the
promontory, but even the shrill cries of the hundreds on hundreds
of sea-birds that whirled around me, except when their flight was
immediately over my head. At each side of the abyss, the rocks, though
very precipitous, afforded firm hold for hand and foot. As I descended
them, the morbid longing to look on danger, which has led many a man
to the very brink of a precipice, even while he dreaded it, led me to
advance as near as I durst to the side of the great hole, and to gaze
down into it. I could see but little of its black, shining, interior
walls, or of the fragments of rock which here and there jutted out from
them, crowned with patches of long, lank, sea-weed waving slowly to
and fro in empty space--I could see but little of these things, for the
spray from the bellowing water in the invisible depths below, steamed up
almost incessantly, like smoke, and shot, hissing in clouds out of the
mouth of the chasm, on to a huge flat rock, covered with sea-weed, that
lay beneath and in front of it. The very sight of this smooth, slippery
plane of granite, shelving steeply downward, right into the gaping
depths of the hole, made my head swim; the thundering of the water
bewildered and deafened me--I moved away while I had the power: away,
some thirty or forty yards in a lateral direction, towards the edges of
the promontory which looked down on the sea. Here, the rocks rose again
in wild shapes, forming natural caverns and penthouses. Towards one of
these I now advanced, to shelter myself till the sky had cleared.

I had just entered the place, close to the edge of the cliff, when a
hand was laid suddenly and firmly on my arm; and, through the crashing
of the waves below, the thundering of the water in the abyss behind,
and the shrieking of the seabirds overhead, I heard these words, spoken
close to my ear:--

“Take care of your life. It is not your’s to throw away--it is _mine!_”

I turned, and saw Mannion standing by me. No shade concealed the hideous
distortion of his face. His eye was on me, as he pointed significantly
down to the surf foaming two hundred feet beneath us.

“Suicide!” he said slowly--“I suspected it, and, this time, I followed
close: followed, to fight with death, which should have you.”

As I moved back from the edge of the precipice, and shook him from me,
I marked the vacancy that glared even through the glaring triumph of his
eye, and remembered how I had been warned against him at the hospital.

The mist was thickening again, but thickening now in clouds that parted
and changed minute by minute, under the influence of the light behind
them. I had noticed these sudden transitions before, and knew them to be
the signs which preceded the speedy clearing of the atmosphere.

When I looked up at the sky, Mannion stepped back a few paces, and
pointed in the direction of the fishing-hamlet from which I had
departed.

“Even in that remote place,” he said, “and among those ignorant people,
my deformed face has borne witness against you, and Margaret’s death has
been avenged, as I said it should. You have been expelled as a pest and
a curse, by a community of poor fishermen; you have begun to live your
life of excommunication, as I lived mine. Superstition!--barbarous,
monstrous superstition, which I found ready made to my use, is the
scourge with which I have driven you from that hiding-place. Look at me
now! I have got back my strength; I am no longer the sick refuse of the
hospital. Where you go, I have the limbs and the endurance to go too! I
tell you again, we are linked together for life; I cannot leave you if
I would. The horrible joy of hunting you through the world, leaps in my
blood like fire! Look! look out on those tossing waves. There is no rest
for _them;_ there shall be no rest for _you!_”

The sight of him, standing close by me in that wild solitude; the hoarse
sound of his voice, as he raised it almost to raving in his exultation
over my helplessness; the incessant crashing of the sea on the outer
rocks; the roaring of the tortured waters imprisoned in the depths of
the abyss behind us; the obscurity of the mist, and the strange, wild
shapes it began to take, as it now rolled almost over our heads---all
that I saw, all that I heard, seemed suddenly to madden me, as Mannion
uttered his last words. My brain felt turned to fire; my heart to ice.
A horrible temptation to rid myself for ever of the wretch before me, by
hurling him over the precipice at my feet, seized on me. I felt my hands
stretching themselves out towards him without my willing it--if I
had waited another instant, I should have dashed him or myself to
destruction. But I turned back in time; and, reckless of all danger,
fled from the sight of him, over the rugged and perilous surface of the
cliff.

The shock of a fall among the rocks, before I had advanced more than a
few yards, partly restored my self-possession. Still, I dared not look
back to see if Mannion was following me, so long as the precipice behind
him was within view.

I began to climb to the higher range of rocks almost at the same spot
by which I had descended from them--judging by the close thunder of the
water in the chasm. Halfway up, I stopped at a broad resting-place; and
found that I must proceed a little, either to the right or to the left,
in a horizontal direction, before I could easily get higher. At that
moment, the mist was slowly brightening again. I looked first to the
left, to see where I could get good foothold--then to the right, towards
the outer sides of the riven rocks close at hand.

At the same instant, I caught sight dimly of the figure of Mannion,
moving shadow-like below and beyond me, skirting the farther edge of
the slippery plane of granite that shelved into the gaping mouth of the
hole. The brightening atmosphere showed him that he had risked himself,
in the mist, too near to a dangerous place. He stopped--looked up and
saw me watching him--raised his hand--and shook it threateningly in the
air. The ill-calculated violence of his action, in making that menacing
gesture, destroyed his equilibrium--he staggered--tried to recover
himself--swayed half round where he stood--then fell heavily backward,
right on to the steep shelving rock.

The wet sea-weed slipped through his fingers, as they madly clutched at
it. He struggled frantically to throw himself towards the side of the
declivity; slipping further and further down it at every effort. Close
to the mouth of the abyss, he sprang up as if he had been shot. A
tremendous jet of spray hissed out upon him at the same moment. I heard
a scream, so shrill, so horribly unlike any human cry, that it seemed
to silence the very thundering of the water. The spray fell. For one
instant, I saw two livid and bloody hands tossed up against the black
walls of the hole, as he dropped into it. Then, the waves roared again
fiercely in their hidden depths; the spray flew out once more; and
when it cleared off; nothing was to be seen at the yawning mouth of the
chasm--nothing moved over the shelving granite, but some torn particles
of sea-weed sliding slowly downwards in the running ooze.

The shock of that sight must have paralysed within me the power of
remembering what followed it; for I can recall nothing, after looking
on the emptiness of the rock below, except that I crouched on the ledge
under my feet, to save myself from falling off it--that there was an
interval of oblivion--and that I seemed to awaken again, as it were, to
the thundering of the water in the abyss. When I rose and looked around
me, the seaward sky was lovely in its clearness; the foam of the leaping
waves flashed gloriously in the sunlight: and all that remained of the
mist was one great cloud of purple shadow, hanging afar off over the
whole inland view.

I traced my way back along the promontory feebly and slowly. My weakness
was so great, that I trembled in every limb. A strange uncertainty about
directing myself in the simplest actions, overcame my mind. Sometimes, I
stopped short, hesitating in spite of myself at the slightest obstacles
in my path. Sometimes, I grew confused without any cause, about the
direction in which I was proceeding, and fancied I was going back to the
fishing village.. The sight that I had witnessed, seemed to be affecting
me physically, far more than mentally. As I dragged myself on my weary
way along the coast, there was always the same painful vacancy in
my thoughts: there seemed to be no power in them yet, of realising
Mannion’s appalling death.

By the time I arrived at this village, my strength was so utterly
exhausted, that the people at the inn were obliged to help me upstairs.
Even now, after some hours’ rest, the mere exertion of dipping my pen
in the ink begins to be a labour and a pain to me. There is a strange
fluttering at my heart; my recollections are growing confused again--I
can write no more.

23rd.--The frightful scene that I witnessed yesterday still holds the
same disastrous influence over me. I have vainly endeavoured to think,
not of Mannion’s death, but of the free prospect which that death has
opened to my view. Waking or sleeping, it is as if some fatality kept
all my faculties imprisoned within the black walls of the chasm. I saw
the livid, bleeding hands flying past them again, in my dreams, last
night. And now, while the morning is clear and the breeze is fresh, no
repose, no change comes to my thoughts. Time bright beauty of unclouded
daylight seems to have lost the happy influence over me which it used
formerly to possess.

25th.--All yesterday I had not energy enough even to add a line to this
journal. The strength to control myself seems to have gone from me.
The slightest accidental noise in the house, throws me into a fit of
trembling which I cannot subdue. Surely, if ever the death of one human
being brought release and salvation to another, the death of Mannion has
brought them to me; and yet, the effect left on my mind by the horror of
having seen it, is still not lessened--not even by the knowledge of all
that I have gained by being freed from the deadliest and most determined
enemy that man ever had.

26th.--Visions--half waking, half dreaming--all through the night.
Visions of my last lonely evening in the fishing-hamlet--of Mannion
again--the livid hands whirling to and fro over my head in the
darkness--then, glimpses of home; of Clara reading to me in my
study--then, a change to the room where Margaret died--the sight of her
again, with her long black hair streaming over her face--then, oblivion
for a little while--then, Mannion once more; walking backwards and
forwards by my bedside--his death, seeming like a dream; his watching
me through the night like a reality to which I had just awakened--Clara
walking opposite to him on the other side--Ralph between them, pointing
at me.

27th.--I am afraid my mind is seriously affected; it must have been
fatally weakened before I passed through the terrible scenes among the
rocks of the promontory. My nerves must have suffered far more than I
suspected at the time, under the constant suspense in which I have been
living since I left London, and under the incessant strain and agitation
of writing the narrative of all that has happened to me. Shall I send
a letter to Ralph? No--not yet. It might look like impatience, like not
being able to bear my necessary absence as calmly and resolutely as I
ought.

28th.--A wakeful night--tormented by morbid apprehensions that the
reports about me in the fishing-village may spread to this place; that
inquiries may be made after Mannion; and that I may be suspected of
having caused his death.

29th.--The people at the inn have sent to get me medical advice. The
doctor came to-day. He was kindness itself; but I fell into a fit of
trembling, the moment he entered the room--grew confused in attempting
to tell him what was the matter with me--and, at last, could not
articulate a single word distinctly. He looked very grave as he examined
me and questioned the landlady. I thought I heard him say something
about sending for my friends, but could not be certain.

31st.--Weaker and weaker. I tried in despair, to-day, to write to Ralph;
but knew not how to word the letter. The simplest forms of expression
confused themselves inextricably in my mind. I was obliged to give it
up. It is a surprise to me to find that I can still add with my pencil
to the entries in this Journal! When I am no longer able to continue,
in some sort, the employment to which I have been used for so many weeks
past, what will become of me? Shall I have lost the only safeguard that
keeps me in my senses?

                   * * * * *

Worse! worse! I have forgotten what day of the month it is; and cannot
remember it for a moment together, when they tell me--cannot even
recollect how long I have been confined to my bed. I feel as if my heart
was wasting away. Oh! if I could only see Clara again.

                   * * * * *

The doctor and a strange man have been looking among my papers.

My God! am I dying? dying at the very time when there is a chance of
happiness for my future life?

                   * * * * *

Clara!--far from her--nothing but the little book-marker she worked for
me--leave it round my neck when I--

I can’t move, or breathe, or think--if I could only be taken back--if
my father could see me as I am now! Night again--the dreams that will
come--always of home; sometimes, the untried home in heaven, as well as
the familiar home on earth--

                   * * * * *

Clara! I shall die out of my senses, unless Clara--break the news
gently--it may kill her--

Her face so bright and calm! her watchful, weeping eyes always looking
at me, with a light in them that shines steady through the quivering
tears. While the light lasts, I shall live; when it begins to die out--*


                   NOTE BY THE EDITOR.

     * There are some lines of writing beyond this point; but they are
     illegible.



LETTERS IN CONCLUSION.



LETTER I.

FROM WILLIAM PENHALE, MINER, AT BARTALLOCK, IN CORNWALL, TO HIS WIFE IN
LONDON.

MY DEAR MARY,

I received your letter yesterday, and was more glad than I can say, at
hearing that our darling girl Susan has got such a good place in London,
and likes her new mistress so well. My kind respects to your sister and
her husband, and say I don’t grumble about the money that’s been spent
in sending you with Susan to take care of her. She was too young, poor
child, to be trusted to make the journey alone; and, as I was obliged to
stop at home and work to keep the other children, and pay back what we
borrowed for the trip, of course you were the proper person, after me,
to go with Susan--whose welfare is a more precious possession to us than
any money, I am sure. Besides, when I married you, and took you away
to Cornwall, I always promised you a trip to London to see your friends
again; and now that promise is performed. So, once again, don’t fret
about the money that’s been spent: I shall soon pay it back.

I’ve got some very strange news for you, Mary. You know how bad work
was getting at the mine, before you went away--so bad, that I thought
to myself after you had gone, “Hadn’t I better try what I can do in the
fishing at Treen?” And I went there; and, thank God, have got on well
by it. I can turn my hand to most things; and the fishing has been very
good this year. So I have stuck to my work. And now I come to my news.

The landlady at the inn here, is, as you know, a sort of relation of
mine. Well, the third afternoon after you had gone, I was stopping to
say a word to her at her own door, on my way to the beach, when we saw a
young gentleman, quite a stranger, coming up to us. He looked very pale
and wild-like, I thought, when he asked for a bed; and then got faint
all of a sudden--so faint and ill, that I was obliged to lend a hand in
getting him upstairs. The next morning I heard he was worse: and it was
just the same story the morning after. He quite frightened the landlady,
he was so restless, and talked to himself in such a strange way;
specially at night. He wouldn’t say what was the matter with him, or
who he was: we could only find out that he had been stopping among the
fishing people further west: and that they had not behaved very well to
him at last--more shame for them! I’m sure they could take no hurt from
the poor young fellow, let him be whom he may. Well, the end of it was
that I went and fetched the doctor for him myself, and when we got into
his room, we found him all pale and trembling, and looking at us, poor
soul, as if he thought we meant to murder him. The doctor gave his
complaint some hard names which I don’t know how to write down; but it
seems there’s more the matter with his mind than his body, and that
he must have had some great fright which has shaken his nerves all to
pieces. The only way to do him good, as the doctor said, was to have him
carefully nursed by his relations, and kept quiet among people he knew;
strange faces about him being likely to make him worse. The doctor asked
where his friends lived; but he wouldn’t say, and, lately, he’s got so
much worse that he can’t speak clearly to us at all.

Yesterday evening, he gave us all a fright. The doctor hearing me below,
asking after him, said I was to come up stairs and help to move him to
have his bed made. As soon as I raised him up (though I’m sure I touched
him as gently as I could), he fainted dead away. While he was being
brought to, a little piece of something that looked like card-board,
prettily embroidered with beads and silk, came away from a string that
held it round his neck, and dropped off the bedside. I picked it up;
for I remembered the time, Mary, when you and I were courting, and how
precious the least thing was to me that belonged to you. So I took care
of it for him, thinking it might be a keepsake from his sweetheart.
And sure enough, when he came to, he put up his thin white hands to his
neck, and looked so thankful at me when I tied the little thing again to
the string! Just as I had done that, the doctor beckons me to the other
end of the room.

“This won’t do,” says he to me in a whisper. “If he goes on like this,
he’ll lose his reason, if not his life. I must search his papers, to
find out what friends he has; and you must be my witness.”

So the doctor opens his little bag, and takes out a square sealed packet
first; then two or three letters tied together; the poor soul looking
all the while as if he longed to prevent us from touching them. Well,
the doctor said there was no occasion to open the packet, for the
direction was the same on all the letters, and the name corresponded
with his initials marked on his linen.

“I’m next to certain this is where he lives, or did live; so this is
where I’ll write,” says the doctor.

“Shall my wife take the letter, Sir?” says I. “She’s in London with our
girl, Susan; and, if his friends should be gone away from where you are
writing to, she may be able to trace them.”

“Quite right, Penhale!” says he; “we’ll do that. Write to your wife, and
put my letter inside yours.”

I did as he told me, at once; and his letter is inside this, with the
direction of the house and the street.

Now, Mary, dear, go at once, and see what you can find out. The
direction on the doctor’s letter may be his home; and if it isn’t, there
may be people there who can tell you where it is. So go at once, and
let us know directly what luck you have had, for there is no time to be
lost; and if you saw the young gentleman, you would pity him as much as
we do.

This has got to be such a long letter, that I have no room left to write
any more. God bless you, Mary, and God bless my darling Susan! Give her
a kiss for father’s sake, and believe me, Your loving husband,

                      WILLIAM PENHALE.

                         *****

LETTER II.

FROM MARY PENHALE TO HER HUSBAND

DEAREST WILLIAM,

Susan sends a hundred kisses, and best loves to you and her brothers and
sisters. She’s getting on nicely; and her mistress is as kind and fond
of her as can be. Best respects, too, from my sister Martha, and her
husband. And now I’ve done giving you all my messages, I’ll tell you
some good news for the poor young gentleman who is so bad at Treen.

As soon as I had seen Susan, and read your letter to her, I went to
the place where the doctor’s letter directed me. Such a grand house,
William! I was really afraid to knock at the door. So I plucked up
courage, and gave a pull at the bell; and a very fat, big man, with his
head all plastered over with powder, opened the door, almost before I
had done ringing. “If you please, Sir,” says I, showing him the name on
the doctor’s letter, “do any friends of this gentleman live here?” “To
be sure they do,” says he; “his father and sister live here: but what do
you want to know for?” “I want them to read this letter,” says I. “It’s
to tell them that the young gentleman is very bad in health down in our
country.” “You can’t see my master,” says he, “for he’s confined to his
bed by illness: and Miss Clara is very poorly too--you had better leave
the letter with me.” Just as he said this, an elderly lady crossed the
hall (I found out she was the housekeeper, afterwards), and asked what
I wanted. When I told her, she looked quite startled. “Step this way,
ma’am,” says she; “you will do Miss Clara more good than all the doctors
put together. But you must break the news to her carefully, before she
sees the letter. Please to make it out better news than it is, for
the young lady is in very delicate health.” We went upstairs--such
stair-carpets! I was almost frightened to step on them, after walking
through the dirty streets. The housekeeper opened a door, and said a few
words inside, which I could not hear, and then let me in where the young
lady was.

Oh, William! she had the sweetest, kindest face I ever saw in my life.
But it was so pale, and there was such a sad look in her eyes when she
asked me to sit down, that it went to my heart, when I thought of the
news I had to tell her. I couldn’t speak just at first; and I suppose
she thought I was in some trouble--for she begged me not to tell her
what I wanted, till I was better. She said it with such a voice and
such a look, that, like a great fool, I burst out crying, instead of
answering as I ought. But it did me good, though, and made me able to
tell her about her brother (breaking it as gently as I could) before I
gave her the doctor’s letter. She never opened it; but stood up before
me as if she was turned to stone--not able to cry, or speak, or move. It
frightened me so, to see her in such a dreadful state, that I forgot all
about the grand house, and the difference there was between us; and took
her in my arms, making her sit down on the sofa by me--just as I should
do, if I was consoling our own Susan under some great trouble. Well!
I soon made her look more like herself, comforting her in every way I
could think of: and she laid her poor head on my shoulder, and I took
and kissed her, (not remembering a bit about its being a born lady and
a stranger that I was kissing); and the tears came at last, and did her
good. As soon as she could speak, she thanked God her brother was found,
and had fallen into kind hands. She hadn’t courage to read the doctor’s
letter herself, and asked me to do it. Though he gave a very bad account
of the young gentleman, he said that care and nursing, and getting him
away from a strange place to his own home and among his friends, might
do wonders for him yet. When I came to this part of the letter, she
started up, and asked me to give it to her. Then she inquired when I was
going back to Cornwall; and I said, “as soon as possible,” (for indeed,
it’s time I was home, William). “Wait; pray wait till I have shown this
letter to my father!” says she. And she ran out of the room with it in
her hand.

After some time, she came back with her face all of a flush, like;
looking quite different to what she did before, and saying that I had
done more to make the family happy by coming with that letter, than she
could ever thank me for as she ought. A gentleman followed her in, who
was her eldest brother (she said); the pleasantest, liveliest gentleman
I ever saw. He shook hands as if he had known me all his life; and told
me I was the first person he had ever met with who had done good in a
family by bringing them bad news. Then he asked me whether I was ready
to go to Cornwall the next morning with him, and the young lady, and
a friend of his who was a doctor. I had thought already of getting the
parting over with poor Susan, that very day: so I said, “Yes.” After
that, they wouldn’t let me go away till I had had something to eat and
drink; and the dear, kind young lady asked me all about Susan, and where
she was living, and about you and the children, just as if she had known
us like neighbours. Poor thing! she was so flurried, and so anxious for
the next morning, that it was all the gentleman could do to keep her
quiet, and prevent her falling into a sort of laughing and crying fit,
which it seems she had been liable to lately. At last they let me go
away: and I went and stayed with Susan as long as I could before I bid
her good-bye. She bore the parting bravely--poor, dear child! God in
heaven bless her; and I’m sure he will; for a better daughter no mother
ever had.

My dear husband, I am afraid this letter is very badly written; but
the tears are in my eyes, thinking of Susan; and I feel so wearied and
flurried after what has happened. We are to go off very early to-morrow
morning in a carriage, which is to be put on the railway. Only think
of my riding home in a fine carriage, with gentlefolks!--how surprised
Willie, and Nancy, and the other children will be! I shall get to Treen
almost as soon as my letter; but I thought I would write, so that you
might have the good news, the first moment it could get to you, to tell
the poor young gentleman. I’m sure it must make him better, only to hear
that his brother and sister are coming to fetch him home.

I can’t write any more, dear William, I’m so very tired; except that I
long to see you and the little ones again; and that I am,

                    Your loving and dutiful wife,

MARY PENHALE.



LETTER III.

TO MR. JOHN BERNARD, FROM THE WRITER OF THE FORE-GOING AUTOBIOGRAPHY.

[This letter is nearly nine years later in date than the letters which
precede it.]

                                 Lanreath Cottage, Breconshire.

MY DEAR FRIEND,

I find, by your last letter, that you doubt whether I still remember
the circumstances under which I made a certain promise to you, more than
eight years ago. You are mistaken: not one of those circumstances has
escaped my memory. To satisfy you of this, I will now recapitulate them.
You will own, I think, that I have forgotten nothing.

After my removal from Cornwall (shall I ever forget the first sight of
Clara and Ralph at my bedside!), when the nervous malady from which
I suffered so long, had yielded to the affectionate devotion of my
family--aided by the untiring exercise of your skill--one of my first
anxieties was to show that I could gratefully appreciate your exertions
for my good, by reposing the same confidence in you, which I should
place in my nearest and dearest relatives. From the time when we first
met at the hospital, your services were devoted to me, through much
misery of mind and body, with the delicacy and the self-denial of a true
friend. I felt that it was only your due that you should know by what
trials I had been reduced to the situation in which you found me, when
you accompanied my brother and sister to Cornwall--I felt this; and
placed in your hands, for your own private perusal, the narrative which
I had written of my error and of its terrible consequences. To tell you
all that had happened to me, with my own lips, was more than I could do
then--and even after this lapse of years, would be more than I could do
now.

After you had read the narrative, you urged me, on returning it into my
possession, to permit its publication during my lifetime. I granted the
justness of the reasons which led you to counsel me thus; but I told
you, at the same time, that an obstacle, which I was bound to respect,
would prevent me from following your advice. While my father lived, I
could not suffer a manuscript in which he was represented (no matter
under what excess of provocation) as separating himself in the bitterest
hostility from his own son, to be made public property. I could not
suffer events of which we never afterwards spoke ourselves, to be given
to others in the form of a printed narrative which might perhaps fall
under his own eye. You acknowledged, I remember, the justice of these
considerations and promised, in case I died before him, to keep back
my manuscript from publication as long as my father lived. In binding
yourself to that engagement, however, you stipulated, and I agreed, that
I should reconsider your arguments in case I outlived him. This was my
promise, and these were the circumstances under which it was made.
You will allow, I think, that my memory is more accurate than you had
imagined it to be.

And now, you write to remind me of _my_ part of our
agreement--forbearing, with your accustomed delicacy, to introduce
the subject, until more than six months have elapsed since my father’s
death. You have done well. I have had time to feel all the consolation
afforded to me by the remembrance that, for years past, my life was of
some use in sweetening my father’s; that his death has occurred in the
ordinary course of Nature; and that I never, to my own knowledge, gave
him any cause to repent the full and loving reconciliation which took
place between us, as soon as we could speak together freely after my
return to home.

Still I am not answering your question:--Am I now willing to permit the
publication of my narrative, provided all names and places mentioned in
it remained concealed, and I am known to no one but yourself, Ralph, and
Clara, as the writer of my own story? I reply that I am willing. In a
few days, you will receive the manuscript by a safe hand. Neither my
brother nor my sister object to its being made public on the terms I
have mentioned; and I feel no hesitation in accepting the permission
thus accorded to me. I have not glossed over the flightiness of Ralph’s
character; but the brotherly kindness and manly generosity which lie
beneath it, are as apparent, I hope, in my narrative as they are in
fact. And Clara, dear Clara!--all that I have said of her is only to be
regretted as unworthy of the noblest subject that my pen, or any other
pen, can have to write on.

One difficulty, however, still remains:--How are the pages which I am
about to send you to be concluded? In the novel-reading sense of the
word, my story has no real conclusion. The repose that comes to all
of us after trouble--to _me,_ a repose in life: to others, how often
a repose only in the grave!--is the end which must close this
autobiography: an end, calm, natural, and uneventful; yet not, perhaps,
devoid of all lesson and value. Is it fit that I should set myself, for
the sake of effect, to _make_ a conclusion, and terminate by fiction
what has begun, and thus far, has proceeded in truth? In the interests
of Art, as well as in the interests of Reality, surely not!

Whatever remains to be related after the last entry in my journal, will
be found expressed in the simplest, and therefore, the best form, by the
letters from William and Mary Penhale, which I send you with this. When
I revisited Cornwall, to see the good miner and his wife, I found, in
the course of the inquiries which I made as to the past, that they still
preserved the letters they had written about me, while I lay ill at
Treen. I asked permission to take copies of these two documents,
as containing materials, which I could but ill supply from my own
resources, for filling up a gap in my story. They at once consented;
telling me that they had always kept each other’s letters after
marriage, as carefully as they kept them before, in token that their
first affection remained to the last unchanged. At the same time they
entreated me, with the most earnest simplicity, to polish their own
homely expressions; and turn them, as they phrased, it, into proper
reading. You may easily imagine that I knew better than to do this; and
you will, I am sure, agree with me that both the letters I send should
be printed as literally as they were copied by my hand.

Having now provided for the continuation of my story to the period of my
return home, I have a word or two to say on the subject of preparing the
autobiography for press. Failing in the resolution, even now, to
look over my manuscript again, I leave the corrections it requires to
others--but on one condition. Let none of the passages in which I
have related events, or described characters, be either softened
or suppressed. I am well aware of the tendency, in some readers,
to denounce truth itself as improbable, unless their own personal
experience has borne witness to it; and it is on this very account that
I am firm in my determination to allow of no cringing beforehand to
anticipated incredulities. What I have written is Truth; and it shall go
into the world as Truth should--entirely uncompromised. Let my style
be corrected as completely as you will; but leave characters and events
which are taken from realities, real as they are.

In regard to the surviving persons with whom this narrative associates
me, I have little to say which it can concern the reader to know. The
man whom I have presented in the preceding pages under the name
of Sherwin is, I believe, still alive, and still residing in
France--whither he retreated soon after the date of the last events
mentioned in my autobiography. A new system had been introduced into
his business by his assistant, which, when left to his own unaided
resources, he failed to carry out. His affairs became involved; a
commercial crisis occurred, which he was wholly unable to meet; and
he was made a bankrupt, having first dishonestly secured to himself a
subsistence for life, out of the wreck of his property. I accidentally
heard of him, a few years since, as maintaining among the English
residents of the town he then inhabited, the character of a man who had
undeservedly suffered from severe family misfortunes, and who bore his
afflictions with the most exemplary piety and resignation.

To those once connected with him, who are now no more, I need not and
cannot refer again. That part of the dreary Past with which they are
associated, is the part which I still shrink in terror from thinking on.
There are two names which my lips have not uttered for years; which,
in this life, I shall never pronounce again. The night of Death is over
them: a night to look away from for evermore.

To look away from--but, towards what object? The Future? That way, I see
but dimly even yet. It is on the Present that my thoughts are fixed, in
the contentment which desires no change.

For the last five months I have lived here with Clara--here, on the
little estate which was once her mother’s, which is now hers. Long
before my father’s death we often talked, in the great country house, of
future days which we might pass together, as we pass them now, in this
place. Though we may often leave it for a time, we shall always look
back to Lanreath Cottage as to our home. The years of retirement which
I spent at the Hall, after my recovery, have not awakened in me a single
longing to return to the busy world. Ralph--now the head of our family;
now aroused by his new duties to a sense of his new position--Ralph,
already emancipated from many of the habits which once enthralled and
degraded him, has written, bidding me employ to the utmost the resources
which his position enables him to offer me, if I decide on entering into
public life. But I have no such purpose; I am still resolved to live on
in obscurity, in retirement, in peace. I have suffered too much; I have
been wounded too sadly, to range myself with the heroes of Ambition, and
fight my way upward from the ranks. The glory and the glitter which I
once longed to look on as my own, would dazzle and destroy me, now.
Such shocks as I have endured, leave that behind them which changes the
character and the purpose of a life. The mountain-path of Action is no
longer a path for _me;_ my future hope pauses with my present happiness
in the shadowed valley of Repose.

Not a repose which owns no duty, and is good for no use; not a repose
which Thought cannot ennoble, and Affection cannot sanctify. To serve
the cause of the poor and the ignorant, in the little sphere which now
surrounds me; to smooth the way for pleasure and plenty, where pain and
want have made it rugged too long; to live more and more worthy, with
every day, of the sisterly love which, never tiring, never changing,
watches over me in this last retreat, this dearest home--these are the
purposes, the only purposes left, which I may still cherish. Let me but
live to fulfil them, and life will have given to me all that I can ask!

I may now close my letter. I have communicated to you all the materials
I can supply for the conclusion of my autobiography, and have furnished
you with the only directions I wish to give in reference to its
publication. Present it to the reader in any form, and at any time,
that you think fit. On its reception by the public I have no wish to
speculate. It is enough for me to know that, with all its faults, it has
been written in sincerity and in truth. I shall not feel false shame at
its failure, or false pride at its success.

If there be any further information which you think it necessary to
possess, and which I have forgotten to communicate, write to me on the
subject--or, far better, come here yourself, and ask of me with your own
lips all that you desire to know. Come, and judge of the life I am now
leading, by seeing it as it really is. Though it be only for a few days,
pause long enough in your career of activity and usefulness, of fame and
honour, to find leisure time for a visit to the cottage where we live.
This is as much Clara’s invitation as mine. She will never forget (even
if I could!) all that I have owed to your friendship--will never weary
(even if I should tire!) of showing you that we are capable of deserving
it. Come, then, and see _her_ as well as _me_--see her, once more, my
sister of old times! I remember what you said of Clara, when we last
met, and last talked of her; and I believe you will be almost as happy
to see her again in her old character as I am.

Till then, farewell! Do not judge hastily of my motives for persisting
in the life of retirement which I have led for so many years past. Do
not think that calamity has chilled my heart, or enervated my mind.
Past suffering may have changed, but it has not deteriorated me. It has
fortified my spirit with an abiding strength; it has told me plainly,
much that was but dimly revealed to me before; it has shown me uses to
which I may put my existence, that have their sanction from other voices
than the voices of fame; it has taught me to feel that bravest ambition
which is vigorous enough to overleap the little life here! Is there
no aspiration in the purposes for which I would now live?--Bernard!
whatever we can do of good, in this world, with our affections or our
faculties, rises to the Eternal World above us, as a song of praise from
Humanity to God. Amid the thousand, thousand tones ever joining to
swell the music of that song, are those which sound loudest and grandest
_here,_ the tones which travel sweetest and purest to the Imperishable
Throne; which mingle in the perfectest harmony with the anthem of the
angel-choir! Ask your own heart that question--and then say, may not
the obscurest life--even a life like mine--be dignified by a lasting
aspiration, and dedicated to a noble aim?

I have done. The calm summer evening has stolen on me while I have been
writing to you; and Clara’s voice--now the happy voice of the happy
old times--calls to me from our garden seat to come out and look at the
sunset over the distant sea. Once more--farewell!





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