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Title: A Strange World, Volume 3 (of 3) - A Novel
Author: Braddon, M. E. (Mary Elizabeth)
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.

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                            A STRANGE WORLD

                                A Novel


                            BY THE AUTHOR OF


                         ‘LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET’

                             ETC. ETC. ETC.

                            IN THREE VOLUMES

                               VOL. III.

                    [Illustration: Publisher’s Logo]

                                 LONDON

                          JOHN MAXWELL AND CO.

                       4, SHOE LANE, FLEET STREET

                                  1875

                         [All rights reserved.]


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         CONTENTS TO VOL. III.

                                -------


               CHAP.                                 PAGE

                  I. ‘LOST TO HER PLACE AND NAME’       1

                 II. ‘THOU HAST ALL SEASONS FOR        53
                       THINE OWN, O DEATH!’

                III. FIRE THAT IS CLOSEST KEPT         66
                       BURNS MOST OF ALL

                 IV. FOR THERE’S NO SAFETY IN THE      78
                       REALM FOR ME

                  V. ‘FOR THOU WERT STILL THE POOR     94
                       MAN’S STAY’

                 VI. I FOUND HIM GARROUSLY GIVEN      104

                VII. ‘FULL COLD MY GREETING WAS AND   122
                       DRY’

               VIII. ‘WHEN TIME SHALL SERVE, BE       129
                       THOU NOT SLACK’

                 IX. ‘THE DAYS HAVE VANISHED, TONE    152
                       AND TINT’

                  X. ‘THE SADDEST LOVE HAS SOME       183
                       SWEET MEMORY’

                 XI. ‘STABB’D THROUGH THE HEART’S     193
                       AFFECTIONS TO THE HEART’

                XII. ‘IT IS TIME, O PASSIONATE        215
                       HEART,’ SAID I

               XIII. ‘NOT AS A CHILD SHALL WE AGAIN   227
                       BEHOLD HER’

                XIV. ‘A SOUL AS WHITE AS HEAVEN’      236

                 XV. ENID, THE PILOT, STAR OF MY      259
                       LONE LIFE

                XVI. ‘FOR ALL IS DARK WHERE THOU      282
                       ART NOT’

               XVII. ‘BUT IN SOME WISE ALL THINGS     289
                       WEAR ROUND BETIMES’


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                            A STRANGE WORLD



                               CHAPTER I
                     ‘LOST TO HER PLACE AND NAME.’


Having come to Borcel End to perform a certain duty, Maurice Clissold
gave himself up heart and soul to the task in hand. Pleasant as it might
have been to him to spend the greater part of his time in the agreeable
society of Mrs. Penwyn and her guests—playing croquet on sunny
afternoons, or joining in a match of billiards in the old hall, meeting
the best people to be met in that part of the world, and living that
smooth, smiling life, in which care seems to have no part—pleasant as
this might have been, he gave it up without a sigh, and spent his days
and nights strolling about the farm, or sitting by the hearth where the
sick woman’s presence maintained an unchanging gloom.

Every day showed the swift progress of disease. The malady, which had
made its first approaches with insidious slowness, was now advancing
upon the sufferer with appalling rapidity. Every day the hectic of the
dying woman’s cheek took a more feverish brightness, the glassy eye a
more awful light. Maurice felt that there was no time to be lost. His
eyes, less accustomed to the aspect of the invalid than the eyes of
kindred who had seen her daily throughout the progress of decline,
clearly perceived that the end was not far off. Whatever secrets were
hidden in that proud heart must be speedily revealed, or would remain
buried there till the end of time. Yet how was he, almost a stranger, to
win confidence which had been refused to a son?

He tried his uttermost to conciliate Mrs. Trevanard by small attentions.
He adjusted the window-curtains, so as to temper the light for those
weary eyes. He arranged the invalid’s pillow as tenderly as Martin could
have done. He read to her—sometimes reading passages of Scripture which
she herself selected, and which were frequently of an awful and
denunciatory character, the cry of prophets and holy men against the
iniquities of their age.

Those portions of Holy Writ which he himself chose were of a widely
different tone. He read all that is most consoling, most tender in the
Gospel. The words he chose were verily messengers of peace. And even
that stubborn heart was touched—the woman who had prided herself on her
own righteousness felt that she was a sinner.

One afternoon when Maurice and Mrs. Trevanard were alone by the
fireside—Martin and his father being both at Seacomb market, and old
Mrs. Trevanard being confined to her own room with a sharp attack of
rheumatism—the invalid appeared struck by the young man’s kindness in
remaining with her.

‘I should be dull company for you at the best of times,’ she said, ‘and
it’s worse for you now that I’m so ill. Why don’t you go for a ride or a
drive, and enjoy the country, instead of sitting in this dismal room
with me?’

‘I am very glad to keep you company, Mrs. Trevanard,’ he answered,
kindly. ‘You must find time heavy on market days, when there’s no one
here.’

‘Yes, the hours seem very long. I make one of the girls sit here at her
needlework. But that’s almost worse than loneliness, to hear the click,
click, click of the needle, and see the girl sitting there, with no more
sense in her than a statue, or not so much, for a statue does no harm.
And then one gets thinking of the past, and the things we have done
which we ought not to have done, and the things left undone which we
ought to have done. It’s a dreary thought. When I was well and strong,
and able to bustle about the house, I used to think I had done my duty
in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call me. I knew
that I had never spared myself, or given myself up to the lusts of the
flesh, such as eating, and drinking, and slothfulness. The hardest crust
or the poorest bit off the joint was always good enough for me. I was
always the first up of a morning, summer and winter, and my hands were
never idle. But since I’ve been ill, and sitting here all day, I’ve come
to think myself a sinner. That’s a hard thought, Mr. Clissold, after a
life of care and labour.’

‘Perhaps it is the best thought any of us can have,’ he answered, ‘the
natural conclusion of every Christian who considers how far his highest
endeavours fall short of his Master’s divine example. Remember the story
of the publican.’

And then he read that sublimely simple record of the two men who went up
into the temple to pray.

He had hardly finished when Mrs. Trevanard burst into tears, the first
he had ever seen her shed. The sight shocked him, and yet inspired hope.

‘I have been like the Pharisee, I have trusted in my own righteousness,’
she said at last, drying her tears.

‘Dear Mrs. Trevanard,’ Maurice began, earnestly, ‘there are few of us
altogether blameless—there are few lives in which some wrong has not
been done to others—some mistake made which, perhaps, has gone far to
wreck the happiness of others. The uttermost we can do, the uttermost
God will demand from us, is repentance and atonement—such poor
atonement, at least, as we may be able to offer for the wrong we have
done. But it is a bitter thing to outstand God’s hour, and hold by our
wrong-doing, to appear before Him as obstinate sinners who know their
sin, yet cleave to it.’

The words moved her, for she turned her face away from him, and buried
it on her pillow. He could see the feeble frame shaken by stifled sobs.

‘If you have wronged any one, and seek to atone for that wrong now in
this eleventh hour——’ said Maurice.

Mrs. Trevanard turned quickly round, interrupting him. ‘Eleventh hour,’
she repeated. ‘Then they have all made up their minds that I am to die?’

‘Indeed, no! Your husband and son, and all about you, most earnestly
desire your recovery. But you have been so long suffering from this
trying disease, without improvement, that a natural fear has arisen——’

‘They are right,’ she said, with a gloomy look. ‘I feel that my doom is
upon me.’

‘It will not shorten your days, or lessen your chances of recovery, if
you prepare for the worst, Mrs. Trevanard,’ said Maurice, determined to
push the question to its ultimate issue. ‘Many a man defers making his
will, from a dim notion that to make it is to bring death nearer to him;
and then some day death approaches him unawares, and his wishes remain
unfulfilled. We must all die; so why should we not live prepared for
death?’

‘I thought I was prepared,’ replied Mrs. Trevanard, ‘because I have
clung to the Scriptures.’

‘The Gospel imposes certain duties upon us, and if those duties are
unfulfilled our holding by the Bible will avail us very little. It isn’t
reading the Bible, but living according to its teaching, that will make
us Christians.’

‘You talk to me boldly,’ said the sick woman, ‘as if you knew I was a
sinner.’

‘I know nothing about you, Mrs. Trevanard—except that you seem to have
been a good wife and a good mother.’

At that word mother, Bridget Trevanard winced, as if an old wound had
been touched.

‘But I believe that you have some heavy burden on your mind,’ continued
Maurice, ‘and that you will know neither rest nor peace until that load
has been lightened.’

‘You are a shrewd judge,’ said Mrs. Trevanard, bitterly. ‘And pray how
came you to think this of me?’

‘The conviction has grown out of various circumstances, which I need not
trouble you with. I am a student of mankind, Mrs. Trevanard, a close
observer by habit. Pray do not suppose that I have watched you, or
played the spy at your fireside. Be assured that I have no feeling but
friendship towards you, that my sympathy is ready for your sorrows. And
if you can be induced to trust me——’

‘If I could trust you!’ repeated Mrs. Trevanard. ‘If there was any one
on earth I dared trust, in whose honest friendship I could believe, in
whose word I dare confide the honour of a most unhappy household, heaven
knows I would turn to him gladly enough. My husband is weak and
helpless, a man who would blab a bitter secret to every acquaintance he
has, who would look to others to drag him out of every difficulty, and
make his trouble town-talk. My son is hot-headed and impulsive, would
take trouble too deeply to heart, and would be betrayed into some act of
folly before I was cold in my grave. No, there are none of my own
household I dare trust.’

‘Trust me, Mrs. Trevanard.’

She looked at him earnestly with her melancholy eyes—looked as if she
would fain have pierced the secrets of his heart.

‘You are a man of the world,’ she said, ‘and therefore might be able to
give help and counsel in a difficult matter. You are a gentleman, and
therefore would not betray a family secret. But what reason can you have
for interesting yourself in my affairs? Why should you take any trouble
about me or mine?’

‘First, because I am honestly attached to your son; and secondly,
because I have felt a profound interest in your afflicted daughter.’

At that word the mother started up from her reclining position, and
looked at the speaker fixedly.

‘Muriel!’ she exclaimed, ‘I did not know you had ever seen her.’

‘I have seen her and spoken to her. I met her one evening in the copse
at the bottom of the garden, and talked to her.’

‘What did she talk about?’

‘You—and—her child.’

This was a random shot, but it hit the mark.

‘Great heaven! she spoke to you of that? A secret of years gone by,
which it has been the business of my life to hide; which I have thought
of through many a wakeful night upon my weary pillow. And she told you—a
stranger?’

‘I spoke to her about you, but at the word mother she shrank from me
with a look of horror. “Do not speak to me of my mother,” she cried,
“what has she done with my child?” That speech made a profound
impression upon me, as you may imagine. The remembrance of that speech
emboldens me to ask for your confidence to-day.’

‘I saved that unhappy girl’s good name,’ said Mrs. Trevanard.

‘There you doubtless did a mother’s duty. But was it the maintenance of
her character which occasioned the loss of her reason?’

‘I don’t know. It is a miserable story from first to last. But since you
know so much I may as well trust you with the rest; and if, when you
have heard all, you think there has been a wrong done that needs
redress, you will perhaps help me to bring about that redress.’

‘Be assured of my uttermost help, if you will but trust me fully.’

‘You shall hear all,’ said Mrs. Trevanard, decisively. She took a little
of some cooling drink which always stood ready for her on the table by
her easy chair, and then began the story of a family sorrow.

‘You have seen Muriel,’ she said, ‘and you have perceived in her wasted
countenance some faint traces of former beauty. At eighteen years of age
she was a noble creature. She had a face which pleased and attracted
every one who saw her. Her schoolmistress wrote me letters about the
admiration she had excited on the breaking-up day, when the gentry,
whose daughters attended the school, met to witness the distribution of
prizes. I was weak enough to shed tears of joy over those letters—weak
enough to be proud of gifts which were destined to become a snare of the
evil one. Muriel was clever as well as beautiful. She was always at the
top of her class, always the winner of prizes. Her father and I used to
read her letters again and again, and I think we both worked all the
harder, looking forward to the day when Muriel would marry some
gentleman farmer, and would require a handsome portion. We were quite
content with our own position as simple working people, but we had given
Muriel the education of a lady, and we counted upon her marrying above
her station.’

‘“After all, she’s a Trevanard,” her father used to say, “and the
Trevanards come of as good a stock as any in Cornwall—not even barring
the Penwyns.”

‘Well, the time came for Muriel to come home for good. She had not spent
much of her holidays at home, for there’d almost always been some of her
favourite fellow-pupils that wanted her company, and when she was
invited to stay at gentlefolks’ houses I didn’t like to say no, and her
father said it was a good thing for her to make friends among the
gentry. So most of her holiday time had been spent out visiting, in
spite of old Mrs. Trevanard, who was always grumbling about it, and
saying that no good ever came of people forgetting their position. But
now the time had come for Muriel to take her place beside the family
hearth, and share our plain quiet life.’

The mother paused, with a bitter sigh, vividly recalling that bygone
day, and her daughter’s vanished beauty—the fair young face which had
smiled at her from the other side of the hearth, the happy girlish
laugh, the glad young voice, the atmosphere of youth and brightness
which Muriel’s return had brought to the grave old homestead.

‘Her grandmother had declared that Muriel would be dull and discontented
at home, that we had made a great mistake in having her educated and
brought up among her superiors in station, spoiling her by putting false
notions in her head, and a good deal more of the same kind. But there
was no discontent about Muriel when she came among us. She took her
place as naturally as possible, wanted to help me with the dairy, or
about the house, or to do anything she could to make herself useful. But
I was too proud of her beauty and her cleverness to allow that. “No,
Muriel,” I said, “you’ve been educated as a lady, and you shall not be
the less a lady because you’ve come home. Your life here may be very
dull, there’s no help for that, but it shall be the life of a lady. You
may play the piano, and read your books, and do fancy work, and no one
shall ever call upon you to soil your fingers in dairy work or house
work.” So when she found I was determined, she gave way and lived like a
lady. Her father bought her a piano, which still stands in the best
parlour. Her gave her money to buy all the books she wanted. Indeed,
there’s nothing she could have asked of him that he would have denied
her, he was so proud and fond of his only daughter.’

‘She brought you happiness, then, in the beginning?’ said Maurice.

‘Yes, there couldn’t have been a better girl than Muriel was for the
first year after she left school.

‘She was always the same sweet smiling creature, full of life, never
finding the old house dull, amusing herself day after day with her books
and piano, roaming about the fields, and along the beach for hours
together, sometimes alone, sometimes with her little brother to keep her
company.’

‘She was very fond of her brother, I understand?’

‘Yes, she doted upon Martin. She taught him to read, and write, and
cipher, and used to tell him fairy tales of an evening, between the
lights, sitting in a low chair by the hearth. She sang him to sleep many
a night. In fact, she took all the trouble of him off my hands. She and
her grandmother got on very well together, too, and the old lady having
nothing to do, Muriel and she were often companions. Mrs. Trevanard was
not blind at that time, but her sight was weak, and she was glad to get
Muriel to read to her. Altogether our home seemed brighter and happier
after Muriel came back to us. Perhaps we were not humble enough, or
thankful enough for our happiness. Anyhow, trouble soon came.’

‘How did the evil begin?’

‘As it almost always does. It stole upon us unawares, like a thief in
the night. The Squire’s eldest son, Captain Penwyn, came home on leave,
before going on foreign service with his regiment, and spent a good deal
of his leisure time fly-fishing in the streams about here. It was
splendid summer weather, and we weren’t surprised at his being about the
place so much, especially as folks said that he and his father didn’t
get on well together. Now and again he would come in on a warm afternoon
and take a draught of milk, and sit and talk for half an hour or so. He
was a perfect gentleman, or had the seeming of one. He was grave and
thoughtful in his ways, yet full of kindness and pleasantness. He was
just the last kind of man that any father and mother would have thought
of shutting their door against. His manner to Muriel was as respectful
as if she had been the greatest lady in the land, but he and she
naturally found a good deal to say to each other, she having been
educated as a lady, and being able to understand and appreciate all he
said.’

Mrs. Trevanard paused. She was approaching the painful part of her
story, and had need to nerve herself for the effort.

‘Heaven knows, I had neither fear nor thought of fear at the time our
sorrow came upon us. I had complete confidence in Muriel. If I had seen
her surrounded by a score of admirers I should have felt no anxiety. She
was a Trevanard, and the Trevanards had always been noted for beauty and
pride. No female of the Trevanard family had ever been known to lower
herself, or to forfeit her good name. And she came of as good a race on
her mother’s side. The last thing I should have thought of was that my
daughter would degrade herself by listening to a dishonourable proposal.
Well, time went on, and one day Muriel brought me a letter she had
received from her late schoolmistress, asking her to go and stay at the
school for a week or two at Michaelmas. The school was just outside
Seacomb, a handsome house, standing in its own gardens, and there were
very few of the pupils that were not gentlemen’s daughters, or at any
rate daughters of the richest farmers in the neighbourhood. Altogether,
Miss Barlow’s school stood very high in people’s estimation, and I felt
flattered by Miss Barlow’s asking my daughter to visit her, now that
Muriel’s schooling days were over, and there was no more money to be
expected from us.’

Again a pause and a sigh, and a few minutes of thoughtful silence,
before Mrs. Trevanard resumed.

‘Muriel was very much excited about the invitation. I remember the
bright flush upon her cheeks as she showed me the letter, and her
curious, half-breathless way when she asked if I would let her go, and
if I thought her father would consent to her going. “Why, you’re very
anxious to run away from us, Muriel,” I said, “but that’s only to be
expected: Borcel End must be dull for you.” “No, indeed, mother,” she
answered quickly, “Borcel End is a dear old place, and I’ve been very
happy here; but I should like to accept Miss Barlow’s invitation.”’

‘You consented, I suppose?’ said Maurice.

‘Yes, it wouldn’t have been easy for us to refuse anything she asked, at
that time. And I think both her father and I were proud of her being
made a friend of by such a superior person as Miss Barlow. So one sunny
morning, at the beginning of the Michaelmas holidays, my husband drove
Muriel over to Seacomb in the trap, and left her with Miss Barlow. She
was to stay a fortnight, and her father was to fetch her at the end of
the visit; but before the fortnight was over we had a letter from
Muriel, asking to be allowed to extend her visit to three weeks, and
saying that her father needn’t trouble about fetching her, as Miss
Barlow would arrange for sending her home. This wounded Michael a
little, being so proud of his daughter. “I thought my girl would have
been glad to see her father after a fortnight’s separation,” he said.
“She always used to be glad when I went over to see her on market days;
and if I missed a week she used to call me unkind, and tell me how she
had fretted at not seeing me; but I suppose things are changed now she’s
a young woman.”’

‘Did she come back at the time promised?’

‘No, it was two or three days over the three weeks when she returned.
She came in a hired fly from Seacomb, and I had never seen her look more
beautiful or more a lady than she looked when she stepped out of the
carriage in front of the porch. “Ah,” I thought to myself, “she looks as
if she was born to hold a high position in the county;” and I thought of
Captain Penwyn, and what a match he would be for her. I did not think he
was a bit too good for her. “There’s no knowing what may happen,” I said
to myself. Well, from this time forward she had a strange fitful way
with her, sometimes all brightness and happiness, sometimes
low-spirited. Her grandmother noticed the change, and said it was the
consequence of over-education. “You’ve reared up your child to have all
kinds of wishes and fancies that you can’t understand or satisfy,” she
said, “and have made her unfit for her home.” I wouldn’t believe this;
yet, as time went on, I could see clearly enough that Muriel was not
happy.’

Again a heavy sigh, and a brief pause.

‘Captain Penwyn left Cornwall about this time, to join his regiment in
Canada, and after he had gone, I observed that Muriel’s low spirits,
which had been fitful before, became continual. She evidently struggled
with her grief, tried to amuse herself with her books and piano, tried
to interest herself in little Martin, but it was no use. I have often
gone into the best parlour where she sat, and found her in tears. I have
asked her the cause of her despondency, but she always put me off with
some answer: she had been reading a book that affected her, or she had
been playing a piece of music which always made her cry; and I noticed
that at this time she rarely played any music that was not melancholy.
If she began anything bright and gay, she always broke down in it, and
her father sometimes asked her what had become of all her lively tunes.
All at once it struck me that perhaps she had grown attached to Captain
Penwyn, little as they had seen of each other, and that she was fretting
at his absence. Yet I thought this would be too foolish for our Muriel.
Or perhaps she had been wounded by his indifference to her. A girl
accustomed to so much admiration as she had received might expect to
make conquests. I used to puzzle myself about the cause of her sadness
for hours together as I went about the house, but in all my thoughts of
Muriel, I never imagined anything near the horrible truth.’

She stopped, clasped her hands before her face, and then went on
hurriedly. ‘One night, when Muriel was sitting by this hearth, with her
brother in her arms, singing to him, she broke down suddenly, and began
to sob hysterically. Her father was frightened out of his wits, and came
fussing about her in a way to make her worse, but I put my arm round her
and led her to her own room. When we were together there she flung
herself upon my breast, and then the awful truth came out. A child was
to be born in this house—a child whose birth must be hidden, whose
father’s name was never to be spoken.’

‘Did she tell you all the truth?’

‘She told me nothing. There was a secret, she said—a secret she had
solemnly sworn to keep, come what might. She asked me to trust her, to
believe in her honour, in spite of all that seemed to condemn her. She
asked me to send her away somewhere, to some quiet corner of the earth
where no one need know her name or anything about her. But I told her
there was no corner of the earth so secret that slander and shame would
not follow her, and no hiding-place so safe as her father’s house. “If
you were to go away it would set people talking,” I said.’

‘There may have been a secret marriage,’ suggested Maurice.

‘I asked her that question, but she refused to answer. I cannot believe
that she would have kept back the truth from me, her mother, in that
hour of agony. I asked her if George Penwyn was the villain who had
brought this misery upon us, but this question also she refused to
answer. She had made a promise that sealed her lips, she said. I must
think the worst of her, if I could not trust her.’

‘Would it not have been better and wiser to believe in your daughter’s
honour, even in the face of circumstances that seemed to condemn?’ asked
Maurice, with a touch of reproach.

‘Who can be wise when they see all they have most loved and honoured
suddenly snatched away from them? The discovery of my daughter’s
dishonour was more bitter to me than her sudden death would have been.
When I left her that night my prayer was that she might die, and her
sorrow and her blighted name go down unknown to the grave. A wicked
prayer, you think, no doubt; but you have never passed through such an
agony as I felt that night. I lay awake thinking what was to be done. I
had no doubt in my own mind that George Penwyn was the man who had slain
my daughter’s soul. There was no one else I could suspect. When I rose
at daybreak next morning I had my plan, in some measure, settled.’

Maurice listened breathlessly; he felt that he was on the threshold of
the household mystery—the sacrifice that had been made to the family’s
good name.

‘Whenever any of us were ill, old Mrs. Trevanard used to doctor us. She
has all kinds of recipes for medicines to cure small ailments. It was
only when a case was very bad that we sent for a doctor. Now my first
precaution was to remove Muriel to the room above her grandmother’s, a
room cut off from the rest of the house, as you know, and to place her
under old Mrs. Trevanard’s care, in such a manner that the
house-servant—we had only one then—had no chance of approaching her. To
do this, of course I had to tell Mrs. Trevanard the secret. You may
suppose that went hard with me, but the old lady behaved well throughout
my trouble, and never spoke a reproachful word of Muriel. “Let her come
to me, poor lamb,” she said, “I’ll stand by her, come what may.” So we
moved Muriel to that out-of-the-way room, and I told her father that she
was ill with a slight attack of low fever, and that I thought it wisest
to place her in her grandmother’s care. He was very anxious and fidgety
about her, and a dreadful gloom seemed to fall upon the house. I know
that I went about my daily work with a heart that was ready to break.’

‘It must have been a hard time, indeed,’ said Maurice, compassionately.

‘It was so hard as to try my faith in God’s goodness. My heart rebelled
against His decrees; but just when my despair was deepest, Providence
seemed to come to my help in a most unlooked-for manner. It was winter
at this time, near the end of winter, and very severe weather. The moors
were covered with snow, and no one came near Borcel from one week’s end
to another. One evening about dusk I was leaving the dairy, which is
detached from the house, and crossing the yard to go back to the
kitchen, when I saw a man and woman looking over the yard gate, the snow
beating down upon them—two as miserable objects as you could see. My
heart was hardened against others by my own grief, so I called to them
to go away, I had nothing to give them.

‘“If we go away from here it will be to certain death,” answered the
man. “As you are a Christian, give us a night’s shelter. We left Seacomb
early this morning to walk to Penwyn Manor, having a letter recommending
us to the Squire’s charity; but the walk was longer and more difficult
than we knew, and here we are at dark, just halfway on our journey. I
don’t ask much from you,—only enough to save us from perishing—a night’s
lodging in one of your empty barns.”

‘This was an appeal I could not resist. There was room enough to have
sheltered twenty such wanderers. So I took these two up to a hayloft
that was seldom used, and gave them a truss of old hay for a bed; and I
carried them a loaf and a jug of milk with my own hands. I don’t know
what put it into my head to wait upon them myself, instead of sending
the servant to them, but I think it pleased me to do this humble office,
knowing how low my daughter had fallen, and feeling as if there were
some kind of atonement in my humility.

‘These people were not common wanderers. I soon discovered that they
were very different from the tramps who came prowling about the place in
summer, begging or stealing whenever they had a chance. The woman was a
pretty-looking, gentle creature, who seemed deeply grateful for small
kindnesses. She had not long recovered from a serious illness, the
husband told me, and her delicate looks confirmed his statement. The man
spoke well, if not exactly like a gentleman, and his clothes, though
worn almost to rags, were not the clothes of a working man. I fancied
that he was a lawyer’s clerk, or perhaps, from his fluency of speech, a
broken-down Methodist parson.’

‘He spoke like a man accustomed to speaking in public, then, I
conclude,’ said Maurice.

‘Yes, that was the impression he gave me,’ replied Mrs. Trevanard. ‘I
went back to the house after having made them tolerably comfortable in
the loft,’ she continued, ‘and all that night I lay awake thinking about
these two people. They seemed to have dropped from the skies, somehow,
so suddenly and unexpectedly had they come upon me in the winter dusk;
and it came into my head, in that weary night, that they were
instruments of Providence sent to help me in my trouble. I had no clear
thought of what they would do for me, but I felt that since I should be
compelled to trust some one, by and by, with some part of our fatal
secret, it would be easier and better to trust waifs and strays like
these, who might wander away and carry their knowledge with them, than
anybody else. Neighbour or friend I dared not trust. My sole hope lay
among strangers.’

‘Did none of the farm people know of these wanderers’ arrival?’ asked
Maurice.

‘No. The men were at their supper when I took these people to the loft.
It was a loft over an empty stable, and was only used at odd times for a
surplus supply of fodder. I knew it was safe enough as a hiding-place,
so long as the people kept tolerably quiet. I had warned them against
making their presence known, as my husband was a hard man—heaven forgive
me for so great a falsehood—and might object to their being about the
place. Well, the snow came down thicker than ever next morning, and to
try and find a path across the moor would have been madness. Those most
accustomed to the country round would have been helpless in such
weather. So I took the people in the loft a warm comfortable breakfast
of coffee and bread and bacon, and I told them that they might stay till
the weather changed.’

‘They were grateful, I suppose.’

‘They thanked and blessed me, with tears. I was ashamed to receive their
thanks, knowing my selfish thought had been only of my own trouble, and
how little I had cared for their distress. The man told me that his name
was Eden, and that he was a broken-down gentleman. I think he said he
had been in the army, and had wealthy relations, but they had discarded
him, and after trying to earn his living by the use of his talents, he
had fallen into extreme poverty. He and his wife had come to Cornwall,
having heard that living was cheap in the west of England. I gathered
from him that he had tried to pick up a living by teaching, but had
failed, and was at last compelled to leave his lodgings, and in his
extremity had determined to appeal to Squire Penwyn, whom he had heard
of as a wealthy man. For that purpose he had rashly attempted to walk
across the moor, the snow having held off for a little, with his weakly
wife. “Heaven help you if you had found your way to the old Squire!” I
told him. “He’s not the man to do much for you.” I told them both that
they might stay until the weather was better, or stay till Mrs. Eden had
picked up her strength by means of rest and good plain food, provided
they kept themselves quiet in the loft; and they blessed me again as if
I had been their good angel.’

‘It was a welcome boon, no doubt.’

‘In the course of that day it came out that Mrs. Eden had not long
before lost her first baby, and that she had fretted for it a good deal.
This confirmed my idea that these people were instruments sent me by
Providence, and I laid my plans, and arranged everything clearly in my
own mind. A fortnight went by, and the snow began to melt in the
valleys, and our men had hard work to keep the place from being flooded.
Michael was out all day helping to cut drains to carry the water off the
stackyard. As the weather brightened Mr. Eden seemed to get uneasy in
his mind. “You’ll be wanting to get rid of us, ma’am,” he said. “The
wayfarers must resume their journey through the wilderness of life.” But
I told him he could stay till the weather was milder, on account of his
sickly wife. I was not ready for them to leave yet awhile.’

‘And in all this time no one discovered them?’ asked Maurice.

‘No; that part of the premises lies out of every one’s way. You may go
and look at it to-morrow, if you like, and see what a deserted corner it
is. They had a fright once or twice—heard the men’s voices near, but no
one ever approached the loft. I took care to pay my visits to them at
meal-times, when there was no one about to see me. I always kept my
dairy under lock and key, and I used to put the supplies for my
pensioners in the dairy. It was easy to carry things from the dairy to
the loft without being observed. I fed them well, gave them a few old
books to read, and gave Mrs. Eden working materials, and a piece of
calico to make under-clothes for herself, and a useful gown or two into
the bargain. I had ample stores of all kinds hoarded up, and it was easy
enough for me to be charitable.’

‘Your pensioners did not grow tired of their retreat?’

‘Far from it. They had suffered too much from actual want not to be
thankful for food and shelter which cost them nothing. Mr. Eden told me
that he had never been happier than in that loft. I had contrived to
take them over blankets, and a few old cushions to sit upon, and many
other comforts, by degrees. Mrs. Eden’s health had wonderfully improved.
One day, after she had been talking to me of the child she had lost, I
asked her if she could love and cherish a motherless infant confided to
her care. She said she could, indeed, with all her heart, and her whole
face softened at the thought. It was a kind and gentle face at all
times. I asked her no further questions upon the subject, but I felt
full confidence in her. A week after that I took her a new-born babe in
the dead of the night—a sweet little lily-faced creature dressed in the
baby clothes my own fingers had stitched for my own first born child,
Muriel. Heaven knows what I suffered that night when I laid the innocent
lamb in Mrs. Eden’s arms—she only half wakened, and scared by the
suddenness of my coming. I had meant to tell her that the infant was the
child of one of my servants; but when the time came I could not utter
the lie. I told her only that the child was motherless, and that I
confided it to her care from that hour, and that on consideration of Mr.
Eden and herself taking the babe into their keeping and bringing it up
as their own, I would give them a good sum of money to start them in a
respectable way of life. But before I did this they must pledge
themselves never again to appear at Borcel End, or anywhere in the
neighbourhood of Borcel End, and never to make any application to me on
account of the child. From the hour they left Borcel End the child would
belong wholly to them, and there would be no link to connect it with me.
I said all this hurriedly that night, but I repeated it again next day
in a formal manner, and made them take a solemn oath upon my Bible,
binding them to perform their part of the bond.’

‘Did they stay long at Borcel after the child’s birth?’

‘Only five days, for I dreaded lest the baby’s crying should be heard by
any one about the place. Mrs. Eden took great care of the helpless
little thing, and kept it wonderfully quiet, but the fear of its crying
haunted me day and night. I was always fancying I heard it. I used to
start up from my pillow in the dead of the night, with the sound of that
child’s crying in my ears, and used to wonder my husband was not
awakened by it, although it would not have been possible for the sound
to reach our bedroom if the child had cried its loudest. But though I
knew this, the sound haunted me all the same, and I determined that the
Edens should start directly it was reasonably safe for the infant to be
moved. The weather was now mild and dry, the mornings were light soon
after six o’clock.’

‘How did you get them away secretly?’

‘That was my great difficulty. There was no possibility of going away in
any vehicle. They must go on foot, and make their way back to Seacomb.
At Seacomb they would take the train and get out of the county. After
thinking it over a long time, I decided that the safest thing would be
for them to leave at half-past six o’clock in the morning, when the men
would be all in the fields. I knew exactly what was going forward upon
the farm, and could make my plans accordingly. It would be easy for me
to take care that the maid-servant was safely employed indoors, and
could see nothing of Mr. and Mrs. Eden’s departure.’

‘Did you give these people much money?’

‘All that I possessed in the world—my secret savings of years. Good as
my husband is, and well to do though we were from the beginning, it had
pleased me to save a little money that was quite my own, to dispose of
as I pleased, unquestioned by Michael. I had wronged no one in saving
this money, it was all the result of small economies, and of
self-denial. My husband had given me a five-pound note for a new gown,
and I put the money away, and turned my last silk gown instead of buying
a new one, or I had reared a brood of choice poultry, and sold them to a
neighbouring farmer. The money was honestly come by, and it amounted to
over two hundred pounds, in notes and gold. I gave it to the Edens in a
lump. “Now remember, that this is to start you in life,” I said to them,
finally, “and that on consideration of this you take the responsibility
of this child’s maintenance henceforward, and that she shall be called
by your name, and as you thrive she shall thrive.” This they pledged
themselves to, most solemnly. Mrs. Eden seemed honestly attached to the
desolate baby already, and I had no fear that it would be unkindly
treated. Desperate as my necessities were, I do not think I could have
entrusted that helpless infant to any one of whose kindness I had not
felt confident.’

‘Was the child christened when it left Borcel End?’ asked Maurice.

He had a reason for thinking this question of considerable importance.

‘No. I might have baptized it myself, had it been in danger of death.
But the child was well enough, and seemed in a fair way to live. I told
Mr. and Mrs. Eden to have it christened as soon as they had left
Cornwall, and settled themselves in a new neighbourhood.’

‘Did you tell them what name to call the infant?’

‘No. It was to be their child henceforward. It was their business to
choose its name.’

‘They got safely away, I suppose?’

‘Yes, they left secretly and safely, just as I had planned. I shall
never forget that grey morning, in the chilly spring weather, and the
last glimpse I had of those two wanderers—the woman with the child
nestled to her breast, wrapped in my Muriel’s blue cloak—the cloak it
had been such pleasure to me to quilt when I was a young woman.’

Mrs. Trevanard sighed bitterly.

‘I can remember sitting in this room at work at the beginning of my
married life,’ she said, dreamily, ‘thinking what a grand thing it was
to be married, and the mistress of a large house and a prosperous farm.
I look back upon my life now—nine-and-thirty years of wedded life—and
think how heavily the care of it weighs against the happiness, and what
a life of toil it has been. “Heaping up riches, and ye know not who
shall gather them.”’

‘Did you never hear any more of Mr. and Mrs. Eden, or the child?’ asked
Maurice, most anxious to hear all that was to be told by lips that must
ere long be silent.

‘From that day to this not a word. They have kept their promise. Whether
they prospered or failed, I know not. They were neither of them past the
prime of life, and there seemed to me no reason why they should not get
on pretty well in some small trade, such as I advised them to try,
beginning humbly with a part of their little capital. Heaven knows what
may have become of them. The child may be dead—dead, years ago, taking
that quiet rest which will soon be mine.’

‘Or she may be living. She may have grown up beautiful, good, and
clever; such a grandchild as you would be proud to own.’

‘I should never be proud of a nameless child,’ answered Mrs. Trevanard,
gloomily.

‘The child you banished may not have been without a name. Forgive me if
I speak plainly. Far be it from me to reproach you. I offer you sympathy
and help, if help be possible. But I think you acted precipitately
throughout this sad business. What if there were a secret marriage
between your daughter and Captain Penwyn? Such a marriage might easily
have taken place during the three weeks that your daughter was away from
home, ostensibly on a visit to her late schoolmistress. Did you never
question that lady?’

‘It was not possible for me to do so. Miss Barlow retired from business
very soon after Muriel’s visit, and her school passed into the hands of
strangers. She went abroad to live, and I could never find out where to
communicate with her. But even if I had known where to address her, I
should have feared to write, lest my letter should compromise Muriel. My
one all-absorbing desire was to hide the disgrace that Providence had
been pleased to inflict upon our family, doubtless as a chastisement for
our pride.’

‘What effect upon your daughter had the loss of her child?’

‘Ah, that was terrible! After the baby’s birth Muriel had a fever. It
arose from no want of care or good nursing, for old Mrs. Trevanard
nursed her with unceasing devotion, and there couldn’t be a more skilful
nurse than my mother-in-law. But Muriel missed the child, and the loss
of it preyed upon her mind; and then, in her feverish delirium, she
fancied I had taken the baby away and murdered it. We had a fearful time
with her, old Mrs. Trevanard and I, while that delusion lasted, but by
care we brought her through it all; and as the fever passed off she grew
more reasonable, and understood that I had sent away the child to save
her good name; but she was different in her manner to me from what she
had been. She never kissed me or asked me to kiss her, or seemed to care
to have me near her. I could see that my only daughter was estranged
from me for ever. She clung to her grandmother, and it was as much as I
could do by and by to get her to come downstairs and sit among us. I was
very anxious to do this, if it was only to pacify her father, for he had
been anxious and fidgety all the time she was away from us, and after
the Edens had taken the baby away, I had been obliged to call in a
doctor from Seacomb, just to satisfy Michael. The doctor listened to all
that Mrs. Trevanard told him about Muriel, and just echoed what she
said, and did neither good nor harm by his coming.’

‘And your daughter resumed her place in the family?’

‘She came among us, and sat by the fire, reading, or sometimes singing
to little Martin, but she seemed in all things like the ghost of her
former self, and it was heart-breaking to see her poor pale face. She
would sit, with her melancholy eyes fixed on the burning logs, for half
an hour at a time, lost in thought. You may judge how I felt towards the
wretch who had worked this evil, when I saw his victim sitting there
joyless and hopeless—she, who might have been so bright and glad but for
him. Her father was dreadfully cut up by the change in Muriel. He would
hang over her sometimes, calling her his poor faded child, and asking
her what he could do to make her happy, and to bring the roses back to
her cheeks; and sometimes, to please him, she would brighten up a
little, and pretend to be her old glad self. But any one could see how
hollow her smile was. I never said my prayers, night or morning, without
praying God to avenge my daughter’s great wrongs, and it never seemed to
me that such a prayer was sinful.’

‘Did your daughter ask you what had become of her child?’

‘I saved her the pain of asking that question. As soon as reason
returned, after the fever, I told her that the child was in safe hands,
with kind people, and would be well cared for, and that she need give
herself no anxiety about its fate. “Let that dark interval in your life
be forgotten, Muriel,” I said, “and may God forgive you as freely as I
do now.” She made no answer, except to bow her head gently, as if in
assent.’

‘How was it that her mind again gave way, after this recovery?’

‘I am coming to that presently. That was the heaviest blow of all. Just
when I was beginning to hope time would work her cure, just when I
fancied I could see a glimmer of the old smile brightening her pale face
now and then, the blow fell. We were sitting round this hearth one
evening, Muriel and her grandmother, and little Martin and I, when
Michael came in, looking very much agitated. We asked him what was the
matter. “The saddest thing I have heard of for many a year,” he
answered. “Well, we’ve all got our troubles! There’s been bad news for
the Squire up at Penwyn.” Muriel started up with a faint cry, but I
caught hold of her, and squeezed her hand tight, to warn her against
saying anything that might betray her. “Dreadful news,” Michael went on;
“Captain George, the eldest son, the one we know so well, has been
murdered by the savages. Lord only knows what those red devils did to
him. Scalped him, they say, tied him to a tree, and tortured him——”
Muriel gave one long piercing scream, and dropped upon the stone floor.
We lifted her up and carried her to bed, and the doctor was sent for
post haste. I was sore afraid she would let out her secret, in her
father’s hearing or the doctor’s, when she came round out of that
death-like swoon; but I need not have feared. Her mind was quite gone,
and all her talk was mere disjointed raving. From that day to this she
has been the helpless, hopeless creature you have seen her. We have kept
her out of a madhouse by keeping her close, under old Mrs. Trevanard’s
care. We have done all we could think of to soften the misery of her
state, but she has never, for the briefest interval, recovered her
reason. And now I have told you all, Mr. Clissold—without reserve,
confessing the wrong I have done as freely as when I acknowledge my sins
to my God.’

The sick woman sank back upon the pillows, pale to the lips. That
indomitable strength of will, which had been ever the distinguishing
mark of her character, had sustained her throughout this prolonged
effort. And deeply as he compassionated the sufferer’s state, Maurice
felt that it was vital to obtain from her at once, and without delay,
all the information she could give him.

‘I am grateful to you for having honoured me with your confidence, Mrs.
Trevanard,’ he said, kindly, ‘and now that you have so fully trusted me,
receive once more my solemn promise to do all that may lie in my power
to obtain justice for your daughter, and your daughter’s child. I am
inclined to think that Captain Penwyn may have been less base than you
believe him, and that his unhappy death alone may have prevented his
making some atonement, or revealing the fact of a secret marriage
between himself and your daughter. I can hardly think that a girl
brought up as your daughter was brought up could be so easy a victim as
you imagine her to have been. My endeavour shall be to ascertain the
truth upon this point of marriage or no marriage. A young London
clergyman, a friend of mine, has told me many a curious fact connected
with private marriages—stray leaves of family history,—and I see no
reason why this Captain Penwyn, who impressed you as an honourable and a
well-meaning man, should not have contracted such a union with your
daughter.’

‘God grant that it was so,’ ejaculated Mrs. Trevanard. ‘I should go down
to my grave with an easier mind if I could believe George Penwyn
something less of a villain than I have considered him for the last
twenty years. When I heard of his dreadful death in the Canadian forest,
I said to myself, “The Almighty Avenger of all wrongs has heard my
prayer!”’

‘It shall also be my endeavour to find your granddaughter,’ said
Maurice. ‘I have a curious fancy upon that point, but perhaps a foolish
fancy, and therefore hardly worth speaking about.’

‘Pray tell me what it is.’

‘It is really too foolish, and might only mislead you. All I ask is that
you will give me any detail which may help me in my attempt to discover
the girl you entrusted to Mr. and Mrs. Eden. What kind of man was this
Mr. Eden, for instance?’

The sound of wheels rolling towards the door prevented this question
being answered. In another moment the dog-cart drew up before the porch,
father and son alighted, and came into the room, bringing a gust of
fresh moorland air along with them. The opportunity of obtaining further
detail from Mrs. Trevanard was gone for the time being; and it might be
long before Maurice again found himself alone with her, or found her
inclined to speak. He heartily wished that the attractions of Seacomb
market, or of the homely hostelry where the farmers eat their
substantial two o’clock dinner, had detained Michael Trevanard and his
son just a little longer.

The invalid was more cheerful that evening than she had been for a long
time, and something of the old air of domestic comfort seemed to return
to the homestead parlour, as Maurice and the family sat at tea. Both her
husband and son noticed the improvement.

‘You must be rare good company,’ said the farmer, ‘for Bridget looks
ever so much brighter for spending the afternoon with you.—Cheer up! old
lady, we may cheat the doctors after all,’ he added, bending over his
wife affectionately as he handed her a cup of tea, the only kind of
refreshment she now enjoyed.

‘The doctors may have their own way about me, Michael,’ answered Mrs.
Trevanard, ‘if I can only go down to my grave with my mind pretty easy.’

Her son drew his chair beside hers after tea, and sat with his hand in
hers, clinging to her with melancholy fondness, sadly expectant of the
coming day when there would be nothing on this earth more distant from
him than that motherly hand.

Maurice Clissold had pledged himself to spend the next day at Penwyn,
where there was to be a cottager’s flower show, in which Mrs. Penwyn and
Miss Bellingham were deeply interested. It was the Squire’s wife who had
organized the annual exhibition, and stimulated the love of floriculture
in the peasant mind by the offer of various useful and attractive
prizes—a silver watch, a handsome rosewood tea-caddy, a delf dinner
service, a copper tea-kettle—prizes which were dear to the tastes of the
competing floriculturists, and which were eagerly competed for. The most
gigantic yellow roses, the longest and greenest cucumbers, the finest
bunches of grapes, the most mathematically correct dahlias were produced
within a ten-mile radius of Penwyn; and by this simple means the cottage
gardens and flower-pots in latticed casements which Mrs. Penwyn beheld
in her walks and drives were things, of beauty, and a perennial source
of joy.

The show was held in a vast circular marquee erected in the grounds of
the Manor House. Lady Cheshunt was one of the lady adjudicators, and sat
in state, gorgeously attired in a tea-leaf coloured silk, fearfully and
wonderfully made, by a Regent Street dressmaker, who tyrannized over her
customers, and seemed to gratify a malicious disposition by inflicting
hideous combinations of form and colour upon her too submissive
patronesses.

‘I really can’t say I think it pretty, dear Lady Cheshunt,’ said Madge,
when her friend asked her opinion of this tea-leaf coloured abomination.

‘No more do I, my love,’ replied the dowager, calmly, ‘but it’s
strikingly ugly. All your county people will be blazing in what they
call pretty colours. This dirty greenish brown is _chic_!’

After the cottage flower-show came a German Tea for the gentlefolks, and
croquet, and archery, and the usual amount of indiscriminate flirtation
which accompanies those sports. Maurice found himself amongst pleasant
sunshiny people, and almost enjoyed himself, which seemed, in some-wise,
treason against Justina.

But even in those piney glades, while the click of the croquet balls was
sounding to an accompaniment of silvery laughter, his fancy went back to
the Bloomsbury parlour and the happy hours he had wasted there, and he
longed to sit in his old corner reading Victor Hugo, or sipping tea out
of the dragon china.

It was late when he drove back to Borcel in Michael Trevanard’s
dog-cart, which had been placed at his disposal for the day. When he
came down to breakfast next morning, Mrs. Trevanard’s chair was empty.
This startled him, for, ill as she was, she had been rigidly regular in
her habits, coming downstairs at eight o’clock every morning, and only
retiring when the rest of the family went to bed.

On questioning Mr. Trevanard, he heard that the invalid was much weaker
this morning. She had not been able to rise.

‘It’s a bad sign when Bridget gives way,’ added Michael, despondently.
‘She’s not one to knock under while she has strength to bear up against
her weakness.’

The next day and the next the chair remained empty. Maurice hung about
the farm, hardly knowing what to do with himself in this time of
trouble, yet nowise willing to desert his post. On the third day he was
summoned to Mrs. Trevanard’s room. Phœbe, the housemaid, came in quest
of him to an old orchard, where he was fond of smoking his cigar.

‘Missus is very bad, sir, and I believe she’s asked to see you,’ said
the girl, breathless.

Maurice hurried to the house, and to Mrs. Trevanard’s room. Husband and
son were standing near the bed, and the dying woman lay with her hand
elapsed in Martin’s, her eyes looking with a strangely eager expression
towards the door.

At the sight of Maurice her wan face brightened ever so little, and she
gave a faint choking cry.

‘Want—tell you—something,’ she gasped, half inarticulately.

He went close to the bed and leaned over her.

‘Dear Mrs. Trevanard, I am listening.’

‘A Bible—gave—family Bible.’

That was all. She spoke no more after this; and before nightfall the
windows were darkened at Borcel End, and the careful housewife had gone
to that land where there is no thought of sordid things.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER II
            ‘THOU HAST ALL SEASONS FOR THINE OWN, O DEATH!’


What was it that Mrs. Trevanard would have told when death sealed her
lips for ever? This was the question which Maurice Clissold asked
himself many a time in those dismal days at Borcel End, when the house
was darkened, while he and Martin sat together in friendly silence, full
of sympathy, and for the most part alone, Mr. Trevanard preferring the
solitude of the best parlour in this day of affliction. What was that
circumstance or detail which she would have told him, and what clue to
the mystery was he to discover from those two words, ‘family Bible,’ the
only words that he had been able clearly to gather from the dying
woman’s disjointed speech?

He suffered Martin to give full sway to his grief; staunch in
friendship, prompt with sympathy, but never attempting to strangle
sorrow with set speeches of consolation; and then one evening, when
Michael Trevanard had gone to bed, worn out with grief, and when Martin
was more composed and resigned than he had been since his mother’s
death, Maurice approached the subject which absorbed all his thoughts
just now. He had told Martin that Mrs. Trevanard had given him her
confidence, but he had also told him that the circumstances she had
confided to him must remain a profound secret.

‘She has entrusted me with a hidden page of your family history,
Martin,’ he said. ‘If ever I can set right the wrong that has been
done—not by your mother, she may have been mistaken in her course of
action, but she has deliberately wronged no one—you shall know all; but
if I fail, the secret must remain a secret to the end of my life.’

‘How good you are!’ said Martin. ‘Can I ever be grateful enough for your
interest in our troubles?’

‘My dear Martin, there is less cause for gratitude than you imagine. I
have a reason of my own for being eager in this matter—a foolish reason,
perhaps, and most certainly a selfish one. So let there be no talk of
gratitude on your part.’

This evening, finding Martin in a more comfortable frame of mind,
Maurice deemed it safe to question him.

‘You heard what your poor mother said to me on her death-bed?’ he began.

‘Every word. She was wandering, I think, poor dear soul!’

‘I hardly think that, Martin. There was so much expression in her face
as she looked at me, and she seemed so eager to tell me something. I
feel sure that there was some additional circumstance, some previously
forgotten detail of the story she had told me which she wanted to
communicate in that last hour—something relating to a family Bible. Will
you let me see your family Bible Martin?’

‘Certainly. It is kept where all the world can see it—all the world of
Borcel End, at least. It is on the side table in the best parlour. My
poor father was reading it this afternoon. I’ll go and get it.’

Martin took one of the candles and went into the next room, whence he
speedily returned, carrying a substantial folio bound in brown leather.

This was the family Bible—a goodly volume, profusely garnished with
old-fashioned woodcuts, and printed in a large fat-faced type on thick
ribbed paper, mellowed to a yellowish hue by the passage of years.

On the fly-leaf were recorded the births, marriages, and deaths of the
Trevanards for the last hundred and fifty years, but beyond this plain
straightforward catalogue the page held nothing. There was the first
inscription, in ink of a faded brownish hue, recording the marriage of
Stephen Trevanard of Treworgy, with Justina Penrose, of St. Austell,
July 14, 1773, a marriage from which the Borcel End branch of the
Trevanards had arisen; and the last entry, in Michael Trevanard’s
sprawling penmanship, recording the death of Bridget, the beloved wife,
&c., &c. Maurice read every line of that family catalogue—Muriel’s
birth, Martin’s, but there was nothing here to suggest the faintest clue
to Mrs. Trevanard’s dying words.

Then carefully, and leaf by leaf, he went through the volume, looking
for any stray document which might lurk between the pages. Here he found
a withered flower, with its faint ghost-like odour of departed
sweetness, there a scrap of sacred poetry copied in a girlish hand—such
a pretty graceful penmanship, which he surmised to be Muriel’s. Yes,
here was one half-sheet of note-paper, with an extract from Milton’s
Hymn, signed ‘Muriel Trevanard, Christmas, 1851.’

‘May I keep this scrap of paper, Martin?’ he asked.

It struck him that it might at some future time be well for him to
possess a specimen of Muriel Trevanard’s writing—ready to be compared
with any other document.

‘By all means,’ answered Martin. ‘Poor girl! She used to be so fond of
poetry. Many a quaint old Scottish ballad has she repeated to me,
learned out of some old books my father had picked up for her at a stall
in Seacomb market.’

Beyond those loose leaves of manuscript poetry, and those stray
flowerets, Maurice’s most careful search could discover nothing between
the pages of the family Bible. He began to think that Martin was right,
and that those last words of Mrs. Trevanard were but the meaningless
babble of a mind astray; with no more significance than Falstaff’s dying
talk of fair green fields familiar to his boyhood, or ever he had
learned to find pleasure in midnight carouses, or the company of
Mistress Tearsheet.

‘By-the-bye,’ said Martin suddenly, while his friend sat with his arms
folded on the sacred volume, deep in thought, ‘there’s a Bible somewhere
that belonged to my great-grandmother—a Bible I can just remember when I
was a little chap—before Muriel’s wits went astray, a Bible with queer
old pictures in it, which I was very fond of looking at; not a big folio
like this, but a thick dumpy volume, bound in black leather, with a
brass clasp. My mother generally used it when she read the Scriptures of
a Sunday evening, and it was called Mother’s Bible.’

‘Was there anything written in it?’ asked Maurice.

‘Yes, there was writing upon the first page, I believe.’

‘How long is it since you saw that Bible, Martin?’

‘How long?’ echoed Martin, meditatively. ‘Oh, ever so many years. Why, I
don’t remember having seen that book since I was quite a little lad.’

‘Did you ever see it after your sister’s mind went wrong?’

‘That’s asking too much. I can’t remember so closely as that; and yet,
on reflection, I don’t think I ever did see it after Muriel’s long
illness. I was sent to Helston Grammar School just at that time, and I
certainly don’t remember ever having seen that Bible after I went to
school. However, I dare say it’s somewhere about the house. Nothing is
ever lost at Borcel. That Bible is among my poor mother’s stores, most
likely. She was always a great hand for keeping old things.’

‘I should like very much to see it, if you could find it for me by and
by, Martin.’

By and by meant when that solemn presence of the dead, which set its
seal upon all things at Borcel, had been removed from the old farmhouse.

‘I’ll look for it among mother’s books next week,’ said Martin. ‘There
are a good many books upon the old walnut-wood chest of drawers in her
bedroom.’

                  *       *       *       *       *

Maurice stayed at Borcel all through that dismal week, though he
received a very kind letter from Mrs. Penwyn, begging him to take up his
abode at the Manor House for the rest of his stay in Cornwall. He felt
that it would be a hard thing to leave Martin in that house of gloom,
and he knew that his presence there was some kind of comfort, even to
Michael Trevanard, who had given way to complete despondency since his
wife’s death. The look of the place was so strange to him without
Bridget, he complained. For nine-and-thirty years she had been the chief
person in that house—the prop and stay of all things—the axis upon which
the wheel of life turned. The farmer knew that he owed her the
maintenance and increase of his fortune. It was Bridget’s help,
Bridget’s indefatigable spirit guiding and sustaining him, which had
made him rich enough to buy Borcel, had the Squire been disposed to sell
it. She had taught him to hoard his money—she had held him back from all
share in the boisterous pleasures of his class; but she had kept his
table liberally, provided assiduously for all his creature comforts;
and, in a drowsy monotonous way, had made life very easy to him. He
looked round him now, and seeing her vacant chair, wondered what he was
to do with the remnant of his days.

The silent horror of the house stupefied him. He went in and out of the
rooms in a purposeless manner; he looked into the kitchen where the two
girls sat stitching away at their black gowns, and looking forward to
the funeral as a ceremonial in which it was rather a grand thing to be
concerned. He went into old Mrs. Trevanard’s bedroom, to which apartment
the old lady was still confined by that chronic rheumatic gout which at
times crippled her.

Here he sat himself down by the fireside, drearily, with his elbows on
his knees, looking at the fire, silent for the most of his time, and
shaking his head despondently when his mother essayed some feeble
attempt at consolation—some Scriptural phrase, which had been aired at
all the deaths in the family for the last sixty years.

‘I never thought that she would have gone before me,’ crooned the old
lady, ‘but the Lord’s ways are wonderful, and His paths past finding
out. It’s a sad thing to think that Muriel can’t follow to-morrow. It
will be the first time in our family that a daughter has been absent at
her mother’s funeral.’

‘Ah! poor Muriel,’ said the father, hopelessly.

‘_That_ trouble seems harder to bear now. It would have comforted me in
my loss if I had had a daughter to take my dead wife’s place; some one
to look after the servants and pour my tea out of a morning; some one to
sit opposite me at table, and help me off with my coat when I came in of
a wet evening.’

‘There’s Martin,’ said old Mrs. Trevanard, ‘he ought to be a comfort to
you.’

‘Martin’s a good fellow, but he can’t be what a daughter might have
been. A daughter would put her arms round my neck, and cling to me, and
shed her tears upon my breast; and in trying to comfort her I should
almost forget my own sorrow. A daughter could fill her mother’s empty
place in the house, which Martin can never do. He’ll be wanting to run
away from home, fast enough, you’ll see, now his mother’s gone. She had
a great deal more influence over him than I ever had. Who hadn’t she
influence over, I wonder? Why, the very cowboys thought more of her than
of me. Ah, she was a wonderful woman!’

‘Yes, Michael,’ answered his mother, with a sigh. ‘She was a good and
faithful servant, and in such the Lord is well pleased. She never missed
morning and afternoon service, let the weather be what it might on
Sundays. She read her Bible diligently, and she did her duty to the best
of her knowledge. If ever she was mistaken——’

‘She never was mistaken,’ interrupted the widower, testily; ‘Bridget was
always right. When Martin bought those Kerry cows, and I scolded him for
buying such small mean-looking cattle, Bridget stood by him and said
she’d warrant they were good milch cows. And so they were. I never knew
Bridget out of her reckoning.’

The grandmother sighed. She had been thinking of something wide apart
from the sordid cares of farm or homestead.

Maurice attended the funeral, which took place on a chilly September
afternoon, when autumn’s biting blast swept across the broad moorland,
and over the quiet valleys, and stripped the yellowing leaves from the
orchard trees. The leaves were falling earlier than usual this year,
after the long droughts and heat of the summer.

There were three mourning coaches, in the first of which Michael
Trevanard and his son sat in solemn state. The second was occupied by
Maurice, the doctor, and a neighbouring farmer; the third by three other
farmers, long-standing acquaintances of the Borcel End family. These
people and their households had constituted Mrs. Trevanard’s world. It
was for the maintenance of her respectability in their eyes she had
toiled and striven; to be deemed wealthy, and honourable, and upright
above all other women of her class had been her desire, and she had been
gratified. They followed her to the little churchyard on the brown
hill-side, discoursing of her virtues as they went, and declaring her
the paragon of wives.

They laid her in the family grave of the Trevanards, and left her there
just as the sun declined, and an air of evening solitude crept over the
scene. And then they went back to Borcel End, where the blinds were all
drawn up, and the house had put on a factitious aspect of cheerfulness.
The table was plenteously spread with sirloin and chine, fowls and ham,
decanters of port and sherry, shining tea-tray and silver teapot, all
the best things in the house brought out to do honour to Mrs.
Trevanard’s obsequies. The four farmers and the doctor sat down to this
feast with appetites sharpened by the autumn breezes, and poor Michael
took his place at the head of the table, and did his best to perform the
duties of hospitality; and the funeral guests enjoyed themselves not a
little during the next hour or so, though they studiously preserved the
solemnity of their countenances, and threw in a sigh now and then,
midway between fowl and ham, or murmured some pious commonplace upon the
brevity of life, as they held their plates for a second slice of beef.

‘Ah,’ said the fattest and wealthiest of the farmers, ‘she was a
respectable woman. There’s not her equal within twenty miles of
Seacomb.’

And this was the praise for which Mrs. Trevanard had toiled—this was the
highest honour she had ever desired.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER III
              FIRE THAT IS CLOSEST KEPT BURNS MOST OF ALL.


Maurice did not leave Borcel End for some days after the funeral. He saw
how Martin clung to him in this dark hour, when the sense of bereavement
was still a new and strange pain to the young heart, and, anxious though
he was to return to his library and Justina, he lingered, loth to leave,
since departure might seem unkind. When he told Martin that he had
literary work to do—that young man being aware that his friend was some
manner of author, though not in the least suspecting him to be capable
of poetry—Martin argued that it was just as easy to write at Borcel End
as in London; easier, indeed, since there was so small a chance of
interruption.

‘I’ve heard you say that the great beauty of your trade is, that it
requires no “plant,” except, a ream of paper and a bundle of pens,’ said
Martin.

‘Did I say that? Ah, I forgot one important item—the library of the
British Museum, some millions of books, more or less; I may not want to
refer to them very often, perhaps, but I like to have them at my elbow.’

‘The book you’re writing is something prodigiously learned, then, I
conclude,’ said Martin.

‘Not at all, but it is nice to be able to verify a quotation. But I’ll
tell you what I’ll do with you, Martin. I’ll stop at Borcel a week, if
you’ll promise to go to London with me when I leave. You told me that
your poor mother’s death would set you free.’

‘So it will by and by; but not just yet. It would be unkind to leave
father while his grief is fresh. He’s so completely down.’

‘Upon my word, Martin, I’m afraid you’re right,’ answered Maurice. ‘But,
remember, you must come to me directly you feel at liberty to leave
Borcel—come to me and share my home, just as you would if I were your
elder brother.’

Martin employed the day after the funeral in looking over his dead
mother’s hoards, a painful task, but not a difficult one. Bridget
Trevanard’s possessions had been kept with the most perfect neatness,
every scrap of lace or ribbon folded and laid in its place. All the
old-fashioned trinkets of her girlhood treasured in their various boxes;
the desk and workbox of her school days in perfect order. Strange that
these trifles should be so much less perishable than their owner.

But despite his careful examination of his mother’s drawers and boxes,
Martin failed to find the object of his search, that old family Bible
with the clasps, which he had described to Maurice. The book was nowhere
to be found. Martin distributed his mother’s clothes, the best to old
Mrs. Trevanard, to do what she liked with, the rest to the two
handmaidens, both tolerably faithful after their manner, and honestly
regretful of a mistress who, though sharp and exacting, had been just in
her dealings with them, and careful of their comfort. The trinkets, and
workbox, and desk, and little collection of gift-books, chiefly of a
devotional character, Martin Trevanard put away, under lock and key, in
the old bureau, opposite his mother’s bed. He kept them for Muriel, with
the faint idea that some day the light of reason might return, if only
in some small measure, to that clouded brain.

‘No one else has so good a right to them,’ he said to himself, as he put
away these homely treasures, ‘and no one else shall have them while I
live.’

‘I suppose my dear mother must have given that Bible away,’ he said to
Maurice, after describing his unsuccessful search. ‘And yet it was
hardly like her to give away an old family Bible. She was one who set so
much store by old things, and above all by her religious books.’

At that moment there flashed across Maurice’s recollection one hitherto
forgotten word in the dying woman’s broken sentence.

‘Gave—family Bible—’

That word ‘gave’ confirmed Martin’s idea. The Bible had been given
away—but to whom? and why did it concern Maurice, in his endeavour to
right the wrongs of the past, to know that fact? Why, indeed, unless the
Bible had been given to Mr. and Mrs. Eden, the people who took Muriel’s
infant?

He went over in his note-book the story which Bridget Trevanard had told
him. He had been careful to write down all the facts, recording every
detail as closely as possible, a few hours after he received that story
of the past from the invalid’s lips. Going over it carefully in the
silence of his own room on the second night after the funeral, he came
to this passage—‘I made them take a solemn oath upon my Bible, binding
them to perform their part of the bond.’

It was clear, then, that Mrs. Trevanard had carried her Bible to the
loft—that the oath had been sworn upon her own Bible. Was it not likely
that on so solemn an occasion as her parting with these people, who were
to carry the last of her race—the nameless child she discarded—away with
them, she, a woman of deep religious convictions, might have given them
her Bible, the most sacred gift she could bestow, symbol of good faith
between them?

Now if this Bible had been given, and the name of Martin’s
great-grandmother, Justina Trevanard, was written in it, the fact would
add one more link to that chain of evidence which Maurice Clissold had
been putting together lately.

It had entered into his mind that Justina Elgood was Muriel’s
daughter—the child given into the keeping of strangers, perhaps—ah! too
bitter thought, the child of shame.

The facts in support of this notion were not many, would have made very
little impression, perhaps, in a court of justice, yet, though he
struggled against a notion which appeared to his sober reason absurd and
groundless, his fancy was taken captive, and dwelt upon the idea with a
tormenting persistence.

In the first place he was a poet, and there seemed to him a curious
fatality in all the circumstances connected with his presence at Borcel
End. He had gone there by the merest accident, guided by that
will-o’-the-wisp of a child, tramping miles across a barren moor,
intruding himself on an unwilling hostess. Then on the very first night
of his habitation beneath that lonely roof he had been visited by one
who, if not a wanderer from the shadow-world, was at least a ghost of
the past; one who had outlived life’s joys and hopes, almost its cares
and sorrows. This appearance of Muriel’s had at once awakened his
interest in her. But for this midnight visit, and the chance meeting in
the hazel copse, he might have come and gone a dozen times without being
aware of Muriel Trevanard’s existence.

This idea of Destiny was, of course, a mere fanciful reason.

To-night in the silence, having gone over every word of Mrs. Trevanard’s
story in his note-book, he placed on record those other circumstances
which had impressed him in relation to this question.

   1. The fact that Justina Elgood was said to have been born at
      Seacomb, a curiously out-of-the-way corner of the earth.

   2. Her age exactly corresponded with the age of Muriel’s daughter,
      were she living.

   3. The particularly uncommon name of Justina, a family name of the
      Trevanards.

   4. The description of the man who had called himself Eden; a fluent
      speaker, a man who seemed accustomed to public speaking.

   5. Matthew Elgood had lost an infant daughter at Seacomb. The fact
      stood recorded in the register. These Edens had also lost a child.

Very little certainly, all this, when set down formally upon paper, but
the idea floating in Maurice’s mind seemed to have a stronger foundation
than these meagre facts. Whence the fancy came he knew not, yet it
seemed to him that for a long time he had been sceptical as to Justina’s
relationship to Matthew Elgood. There was so evident a superiority in
the daughter to the supposed father. They were creatures of a different
clay.

‘It is just as if some clumsy delf pitcher were to pretend to be made of
the same paste as Justina’s dragon china tea service,’ he said to
himself.

He remembered how reticent Mr. Elgood had always been upon the subject
of the past—how the little that he had even told had been told somewhat
reluctantly, extorted, in a manner, by Maurice’s questioning. He
remembered Mr. Elgood’s startled look when he, Maurice, had spoken for
the first time of Borcel End.

‘I dare say, after all, the fancy is groundless,’ he said to himself, as
he closed his pocket-book, ‘and that the circumstances which have
impressed me so strongly could be explained in quite a different manner.
A provincial actor’s wandering life may bring him to any corner of the
earth and the name Justina may have been chosen out of some novel of the
day by Mrs. Elgood. But since I have promised to do my uttermost to see
Muriel Trevanard righted, I am bound to sift this matter thoroughly. And
again, it would be hard if I were not allowed to investigate the
pedigree of the woman I hope to win for my wife. The worst or the best
that I can learn of my darling’s parentage will make no difference in my
love for her true self.’

For three or four days after the funeral Maurice gave himself up almost
entirely to friendship, and spent his time strolling about the farm with
Martin, philosophizing, consoling, talking hopefully of the future, when
the young man was to come to London, and carve out some kind of career
for himself. But the last two days of his stay in Cornwall Mr. Clissold
had apportioned to his own business. One day for a farewell visit to
Penwyn Manor, another day for Seacomb, where he had certain inquiries
and researches to make. He had arranged to leave Borcel the morning
after his visit to the Manor House, and to spend the following night at
an hotel in Seacomb. This would give him the whole of the day and
evening in that somewhat melancholy town.

He had written to Mrs. Penwyn, gratefully acknowledging her kind
invitation to make the Manor House his head-quarters, and explaining
that his friendship for Martin obliged him to decline her hospitality.
But in his heart of hearts there was another reason why he did not care
to stay at Penwyn Manor, or increase his intimacy with Churchill Penwyn.
Justina had expressed her antipathy to that gentleman, and Maurice felt
as if it were in some manner treasonable to cultivate the friendship of
any man whom Justina disliked. That large madness, Love, is a
conglomeration of small follies.

Courtesy, however, demanded that he should pay his respects to the
Penwyn family before leaving Cornwall, and he had a lurking curiosity
about that household—a somewhat morbid interest, perhaps, with which
Justina’s vague suspicions, far as they were from any thought of his
own, may have had something to do.

That change in Madge Penwyn—hardly to be described, yet, to his eye,
very palpable—had puzzled him not a little. Was it possible that the
husband and wife, so devoted to each other a little while ago, had
undergone some change of feeling? that one or the other had looked back
upon the sunlit path of love, and perceived that the rose-bloom was
fading from life’s garden? No, Maurice could not for a moment believe in
any lessening of Madge Penwyn’s love of her husband, or Churchill’s
devotion to her. He had seen that ‘little look across the crowd’ which
the poet has sung of—the look of utter trust and sympathy which passes
between a husband and wife now and then in some busy hour of the day,
amidst some friendly circle, a sudden interchange of thought or feeling,
stolen from the throng. And in Madge’s case he had seen a look of
devotion curiously pathetic, love fraught with pity—a look of deepest
melancholy. This dwelt in his memory, and influenced his thoughts of
Churchill Penwyn and his wife. There was some hitch; some dissonant
interval in the harmony of their lives; yet what the jarring notes could
be it was hard for the student of humanity to discover. No life could
seem outwardly more perfect. Churchill’s position was of all positions
most enviable. Just sufficient wealth for all the joys of life; an
estate large enough to give him importance in his neighbourhood, without
the weighty responsibility of a large landowner ambition gratified by
his parliamentary success; the fairest wife that man could desire to
adorn his home. And yet there were shadows on the face of husband and
wife that denoted a secret trouble. In this house which held all things
the skeleton was not wanting.

‘Can there be any ground for Justina’s suspicion?’ Maurice asked
himself. ‘And is a clear conscience the one thing, missing in Churchill
Penwyn’s sum of happiness?’


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER IV
               FOR THERE’S NO SAFETY IN THE REALM FOR ME.


It was a dull autumnal afternoon when Maurice paid his final visit to
the Manor House. That brilliant summer, which had lasted in all its heat
and glory to the end of August, and even extended to September, had
vanished all at once, and had given place to a bleak and early autumn.
Stormy winds by night, and dull grey skies by day, had prevailed of
late; sad stories of disaster at sea filled many a column in the
newspapers—to the relief of editors, who must needs have had recourse to
gigantic gooseberries, or revivified the sea-serpent, but for these
catastrophes.

Even the Manor House had a gloomy look under this leaden sky. Pyramids
of scarlet geraniums, thickets of many-coloured dahlias, lent their
gaudy hues to the scene; but the lack of sunlight made all dull. The
gilded vane pointed persistently northeast. Gardeners and underlings had
laboured in vain to keep the paths and lawns clear of dead leaves. Down
they came, in a crackling shower, with every gust, emblems of decay and
death. Maurice Clissold, sensitive, as the poet must ever be, to
external influences, felt depressed by the altered aspect of the place.

Within, however, all was mirth and brightness. There was the usual
family group in the hall, where a mighty wood fire blazed in the antique
grate, with its massive ironwork, and two burnished brazen globes, on
iron standards—golden orbs that reflected the ruddy glow of the fire.
The billiard-players were at work. A party of young ladies playing pool
industriously, under the leadership of Mr. Tresillian, J.P., who was in
great force in feminine circles where there was not much strain upon a
man’s intellect. Lady Cheshunt was in her pet chair by the fire—her
complexion guarded by a tapestry banner-screen—deeply absorbed in that
very French novel the iniquity whereof she had seen denounced by the
critical journals. Viola Bellingham was working point-lace at a little
table by the central window, and listening with rather a listless air to
Sir Lewis Dallas’s discourse. Neither Madge nor her husband was present.

Lady Cheshunt closed her novel with a faint sigh, leaving a finger
between the pages. Mr. Clissold was not so interesting as the last and
worst of French novelists; yet she felt called upon to be civil to him.

‘How is Mrs. Penwyn?’ he asked, when he had shaken hands with, and duly
informed himself as to the health of, the distinguished dowager.

‘That poor child is not very well,’ replied her ladyship. ‘East wind, I
suppose. I don’t think we were created for a world in which the wind is
perpetually in the east. On such a day as this I always wish myself in
the torrid zone, the centre of Africa, anywhere where one could feel the
sun. To look at that grey sky and those falling leaves is enough to give
one the horrors. It’s as bad as reading Young’s “Night Thoughts,” or
staying at a country house with goody-people, who insist upon reading
one of Blair’s sermons aloud on a wet Sunday afternoon.’

‘I hope it is nothing serious,’ said Maurice, meaning Mrs. Penwyn’s
indisposition.

‘Oh dear no, not in the least. She is only a little out of spirits, and
has been spending the morning in her own room with the baby. I dare say
she will come down presently. I think she worked a little too hard last
season, giving dinners to all the people Mr. Penwyn wanted to
conciliate, and going everywhere he wished. She would make an admirable
Cabinet minister’s wife, I tell her, so devoted and self-sacrificing;
and I suppose, at the rate Mr. Penwyn is going on, he is sure to be in
the Cabinet sooner or later. A very wonderful man—so serious and
self-contained—a man who never wasted a minute of his life, I should
think.’

Madge entered at this moment, a little paler than in the days of old,
but very beautiful. Her flowing grey silk dress, with broad sash and
gimps and fringes of richest violet, became her admirably. Not a jewel
or ornament, except the single amethyst stud which fastened her plain
linen collar, and the triple band of diamonds on her wedding finger. The
plenteous dark hair wound coronet fashion round the small head. A woman
for a new Velasquez to paint, just as she stood before Maurice to-day in
the soft grey light.

‘I am so sorry to hear you have been ill,’ he said, as they shook hands.

‘But you must not be sorry, for I was not really ill. I was a little
tired, perhaps a little idle, too, and I wanted a morning alone with my
boy. What have you done with Churchill, Lady Cheshunt?’ with a little
anxious look round the room—empty for her, lacking that one occupant.

‘What have I done with him?’ ejaculated the dowager. ‘Do you suppose
your husband is a man to be kept indoors by any fascinations of mine? I
should as soon expect to see Brutus, or Cassius, or any of those
dreadful Shakesperian persons in togas, playing the tame cat. I asked
your husband to read aloud to us, thinking that might please him—most
men are proud of their elocution,—but you should have seen his look of
quiet contempt. “I am so sorry I am too busy to allow myself the
pleasure of amusing you,” he said, and then went off to superintend some
new plantation of Norwegian firs. Wonderful man!’

‘You have come to spend the rest of the day with us of course, Mr.
Clissold?’ said Madge, with that pleasant cordial manner which was one
of her charms, and in no wise out of harmony with her somewhat queenly
bearing. Who more delightful than a queenly woman when she desires to
please?

‘I shall be only too happy if I may, and if you will excuse my appearing
at dinner in a frock coat. I reserved this day for my visit here. It is
my last day but one in the west.’

‘I am so sorry,’ said Madge. ‘Well, since we have you for so short a
time we must do our best to amuse you. Perhaps,’ with a happy thought,
‘you would like to go and see Churchill’s new plantation. We might go
for a drive and join him.’

Maurice understood the wife’s desire to be near her husband, a new proof
of that love which had an element of pathos in its quiet intensity.

‘I should like it of all things,’ he answered.

‘But are you sure you have lunched?’ It was between three and four in
the afternoon.

‘Quite sure. I joined Mr. Trevanard at his early dinner.’

‘Clara—Laura, which of you will come for a drive?’ asked Madge,
indiscriminately of the pool-players. ‘I know it would be useless to ask
you, dear Lady Cheshunt.’

‘My love, I would as soon drive across the Neva in a sledge for
pleasure. I never stir from my fireside, except to go out to dinner,
when the wind’s in the east. Setting aside the discomfort, I can’t see
why one should make a horror of one’s self by exposing one’s complexion
to be rasped as the bakers rasp their rolls.’

The pool-players were too deeply involved in their game to care about
leaving it, unless dear Mrs. Penwyn particularly wished them to go out.

‘Let me come, Madge,’ said Viola, ‘and let us take Nugent.—You won’t
mind, will you, Mr. Clissold?’

‘Do you think that I am such a barbarian as to object to that small
individual’s society?’ asked Maurice. ‘He shall sit on my knee, and pull
my beard as hard as he likes.’

Sir Lewis Dallas asked to be allowed to join the party, so the sociable
was ordered, and Mrs. Penwyn and her sister retired to put on their
hats.

‘She is not looking well,’ said Maurice.

‘No, she is not,’ answered Lady Cheshunt, with more earnestness than was
common to that somewhat frivolous dowager. ‘She has never been quite the
same since that burglar business.’

‘Indeed! The alarm caused her a great shock, I suppose.’

‘Well, she knew nothing about the attempt until it was all over; but I
suppose the worry and excitement afterwards were too much for her. The
man turned out to be a son of the lodge-keeper, and the woman came
whining to Mrs. Penwyn to get him let off easily; and Madge, who is the
most tender-hearted creature in the world, persuaded Churchill to use
his influence with that good-natured Mr. Tresillian, whom he can wind
round his finger,’ in a whisper, ‘and the man got off. It was
particularly good of Mrs. Penwyn, for I know she detests that lodge
woman.’

‘Really!’ said Maurice, affecting ignorance. ‘Then I wonder Mr. Penwyn
keeps her on his premises, now that he knows her son to be such a
dangerous character.’

‘Yes, it’s just one of those absurd things men do for the sake of having
their own way. I’ve talked to Mr. Penwyn about it myself ever so many
times. “Why do you annoy your poor wife by keeping a horrid creature
like that?” I have asked him. “Suppose I know your horrid creature to be
deserving of protection and shelter, Lady Cheshunt? Should I not be
unmanly if I were to sacrifice her to a foolish prejudice of Madge’s?”
he retorts. So both Madge and I have left off talking about the
creature; but I must say that it always makes me feel uncomfortable to
see her squatting on the threshold in the sunshine, like an overgrown
toad.’

‘Perhaps I could tell Mr. Penwyn something about his _protégée’s_
antecedents that would make him change his opinion.’

‘Then pray do. But is it anything very dreadful?—murder, or anything of
that kind?’ asked Lady Cheshunt, with a scared look. ‘You make me feel
as if we were all going to have our throats cut.’

‘It is nothing very dreadful. Perhaps hardly enough to cause any change
in Mr. Penwyn’s opinion. I remember that woman plying her trade as a
gipsy fortune-teller at Eborsham, the day before my poor friend, James
Penwyn, was murdered. She in a manner—by the merest accident, of
course—foretold James’s early death.’

‘Dear me, what an extraordinary thing! And you find her, two years
afterwards, in Churchill Penwyn’s service. That is very curious.’

‘The whirligig of time brings many curious things to pass, Lady
Cheshunt. But here are the ladies.’

They went to the porch, where the sociable was waiting for them with a
pair of fine bays, impatient to be gone. It was not an inviting day for
open-air excursions, but just one of those grey afternoons which have a
kind of poetry—a sentiment all their own. The sombre expanse of
moorland, dun colour against the grey, had a fine effect.

They took a longish drive, made a circuit, and came round to the new
plantation, where Churchill was superintending the work, seated on his
favourite, Tarpan, an animal which had of late shown himself
unmanageable by any one except his master, and had been the cause of
more than one groom’s retirement from a service which was in every other
respect admirable. Churchill seemed to have a peculiar fancy for the
somewhat ill-conditioned brute, though he did not often ride him, on
account of Mrs. Penwyn’s apprehensions.

‘My dear love, he will never throw _me_,’ Churchill said, in answer to
his wife’s request that Tarpan should be disposed of. ‘If I were not
thoroughly convinced of that I would part with him. The brute
understands me, and I understand him, which neither of those fellows
did. And I like his pace and action better than those of any other horse
in the stable. Nothing revives me like a gallop on Tarpan.’

Wonderful to see the influence of Madge Penwyn’s presence on her
husband, as Maurice saw it to-day. The moody brow relaxed its
contemplative frown, the thoughtful eye brightened, while a gentle
pressure of the hand and a fondly whispered greeting welcomed the wife.

‘This is an unexpected pleasure, Madge,’ he said. ‘I did not think you
would drive to-day.’

‘I wanted to show Mr. Clissold your new plantation, Churchill.’

They all alighted, and Churchill showed them his newly planted groves,
the graceful feathery Norwegian saplings, a ship-load of them brought
from Norway for his special benefit, rhododendrons planted in between,
and here and there a mountain ash or a copper beech to give colour and
variety.

While they were walking in the plantation, Maurice and Churchill side by
side, the former seized the opportunity of speaking of the gipsy woman
whose presence at Penwyn Manor was a perplexity to him. It might
possibly be an impertinence on his part to call in question Mr. Penwyn’s
domestic arrangements, but Maurice felt that there were circumstances in
this case which fully justified a breach of manners.

‘Do you know that I have made a curious discovery about a person in your
employment, Mr. Penwyn?’ he began.

‘Indeed, and pray who and what is the person?’ asked Churchill, with the
slightest possible change of manner, from cordiality to reserve.

‘Your lodgekeeper,’ replied Maurice; and then he proceeded to relate the
circumstances of his first meeting with Rebecca Mason.

Mr. Penwyn received the information with supreme indifference.

‘Curious,’ he said, carelessly, ‘but I have long since discovered that
life is made up of curious coincidences, and I have lost the faculty of
astonishment. Multitudinous as the inhabitants of this globe are, we
seem to be perpetually moving in circles, and knocking our heads against
some one or other connected with our past lives. If I had wronged a man
in Otaheite twenty years ago, it would not in the least surprise me to
meet him at Seacomb Corn Exchange to-morrow. With regard to the woman
Mason, I found her in circumstances of extreme distress, and offered her
a home. It was one of those rare occasions on which I have indulged in
the luxury of doing good,’ with an ironical laugh. ‘I knew, when I did
this, that Rebecca had gipsy blood in her veins, and had led a roving
life. But I had reason to believe her an honest woman then, and I have
never found any cause for thinking her otherwise since. And this being
so, I have made up my mind to keep her, in spite of the vulgar prejudice
against her tawny skin—in spite even of my wife’s dislike.’

‘You are not alarmed by the idea of her relationship to a burglar?’

‘No. First and foremost, I am not prepared to admit that the man is a
burglar; and secondly, if he be, I am as well able to defend the Manor
House from him as from any other member of his profession.’

‘Except that he would have the advantage of his mother’s lodge as a base
of operations, and his mother’s knowledge of your domestic
arrangements,’ remonstrated Maurice, determined to push the question.

‘I have told you that I know Rebecca to be an honest woman, whatever the
son may be. Come, Mr. Clissold, we may as well drop this subject. You
are not likely to influence me upon a point which I have maintained
against the wish of my wife.’

‘So be it,’ said Maurice, closing the discussion, with the conviction
that there was some hidden link between the gipsy and the Squire of
Penwyn; some influence stronger than philanthropy which secured the
wanderer’s home. The fact that it should be so, that there should be
some secret alliance between the woman who had foretold James Penwyn’s
death and the man who had been so large a gainer by that early death,
impressed him strangely. He was thoughtful and silent throughout the
homeward drive; so thoughtful and so silent as to arouse Madge Penwyn’s
curiosity.

‘I can hardly compliment you upon being the most amusing of companions,
Mr. Clissold,’ she said, with a forced smile, as they approached the
Manor House. ‘There was a time when your conversation used to be amusing
enough to enliven the dullest drive, but to-day you have been the image
of gloom.’

‘Black care sits behind us all, at odd times, Mrs. Penwyn,’ he answered,
gravely. ‘Be assured I must have cause for serious thought when the
charm of your presence does not put me in spirits.’

‘Thanks for the compliment; but you talk rather too much like a Greek
oracle,’ retorted Madge, lightly, but with an uneasy look which did not
escape Maurice’s observation.

‘There is a cloud hanging over this house,’ he said to himself. ‘A
trouble in which husband and wife share. But it can be no such dark
secret as Justina’s suspicions point to, or Mrs. Penwyn would know
nothing about it. No husband would reveal such guilt as _that_ to his
wife.’


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER V
               ‘FOR THOU WERT STILL THE POOR MAN’S STAY.’


Dinner at Penwyn Manor went off gaily enough. Lady Cheshunt, inspirited
by various light wines, a good deal of Maraschino in the ice pudding,
and a glass of Curaçao as a corrective afterwards, was a host in
herself, and talked loud enough, fast enough, recklessly enough, to keep
the dullest dinner party going. Mr. Penwyn was always an excellent host,
starting fresh subjects of conversation with such admirable tact that no
one knew who changed the current of ideas when interest was just
beginning to flag—never taking the lion’s share of the talk, or drifting
into monologue—listening to every one—encouraging the timid—sustaining
the weak—and proving himself a living encycloæpdia whenever dates,
names, or facts were wanted.

The gentlemen left the dining-room about ten minutes after the ladies
had quitted it, to the delight of Sir Lewis Dallas, and the secret
disgust of Mr. Tresillian, who liked to prose about stable and kennel
for an hour or so over his claret.

The assembly being merely a household party, people scattered themselves
in a free and easy manner through the rooms, the ivory balls clicking in
hall and billiard room, as usual, a little group of ladies round the
piano trying that sweet bit of Schumann’s, chiefly remarkable for
syncopation, and little jerky chords meandering up and down the piano,
and demanding no small skill in the executant.

Maurice found himself in the deep embrasure of one of the hall windows,
talking literature with Miss Bellingham, who evidently preferred his
society to that of the devoted Sir Lewis.

‘A good opportunity to find out a little more about George Penwyn,’
thought Maurice. ‘Miss Bellingham must be acquainted with all the
traditions of the house. If I could but discover what manner of man this
Captain Penwyn was, I should be better able to arrive at a just
conclusion about his relations with Muriel Trevanard.’

A little later, when they were talking of libraries and book-collecting,
Viola said, ‘There were hardly fifty books altogether at Penwyn, I
think, when my brother-in-law came into the property. The library here
is entirely Churchill’s collection. The old Squire and his predecessors
must have been strangely deficient of literary taste. Even the few books
there were had most of them belonged to Captain Penwyn, the poor young
man who was killed in Canada.’

‘Ah, poor fellow! I heard of his sad fate from the housekeeper here when
I came to see the Manor House last summer. A tragical end like that
gives a melancholy interest to a man’s history, however commonplace it
may be in other respects. I suppose you have heard a good deal of gossip
about this George Penwyn?’

‘Yes, our old housekeeper is fond of talking about him. He seems to have
been a favourite with people, especially with cottagers and small
tenants on the estate. I have heard old people regret that he never came
to his own, even in my presence, though the speech was hardly civil to
my brother-in-law. I know that by some of the people we are looked upon
as intruders, on Captain Penwyn’s account. He seems to have been
constantly doing kindnesses.’

‘And you have never heard anything against his character—that he was
dissipated—wild, as the world calls it?’

‘Never so much as a word. On the contrary, Mrs. Darvis has often told me
that he was particularly steady—that he was never known to take too much
wine, or anything of that kind. In fact, she talks as if he had been a
paragon.’

‘Ah,’ thought Maurice, ‘these paragons are sometimes viler at bottom
than your open profligate. Few men ever knew the human heart better than
he who gave us Charles and Joseph Surface.’

‘I have an inward conviction that Captain Penwyn must have been nice,’
said Viola.

‘Indeed! On what is that conviction based?’

‘On various grounds. First, there are the praises of people who cannot
flatter, since there is nothing to be gained by speaking well of the
dead. Secondly, there is that shelf full of books with George Penwyn’s
name in them, all nice books, the choice of a man of refinement and good
feeling. Thirdly, there is his portrait, and I like his face. Are those
reasons strong enough, do you think?’

‘Quite, for a woman! His portrait!—ah, by-the-bye, I should like to have
another look at that.’

‘Come and see it at once, then,’ replied Viola, good-naturedly. ‘It is
in the little study, yonder—the old Squire’s room. The books are there
too.’

The study was a little room off the hall. Maurice remembered it well,
though he had never entered it since Mrs. Darvis showed him George
Penwyn’s portrait, on his first visit to the Manor House.

Viola took a candle from the mantelshelf and led the way to the study, a
room which was still used for business interviews with stewards or
tenants, a second door opening into a passage communicating with the
offices, and obscure backways by which such inferior beings were
admitted to the squire’s presence.

Maurice took the candle from Miss Bellingham’s hand and held it up
before the picture over the mantelpiece. His grip tightened on the
bronze candlestick, and his breath came stronger and quicker as he
looked, but he said never a word.

That picture was to him stronger confirmation of his idea about
Justina’s parentage than all the circumstantial evidence in the world.
There, in those pictured lineaments he saw the very lines of Justina’s
face—lines modified in her countenance, it is true, and softened to
feminine beauty, but characteristics too striking to be mistaken even by
a casual observer.

‘Strange that the likeness did not occur to me when I saw that picture
first,’ he thought. ‘But at that time I had only looked at Justina with
the eye of indifference. I did not know her face by heart as I do now.
And I remember that even then the picture struck me as like some one I
knew. Memory only failed to recall the individual.’

Those dark blue-grey eyes, with their somewhat melancholy expression,
were so like the eyes he had seen looking at him mournfully only three
weeks ago, when Justina bade him good-bye; the eyes which he faintly
remembered looking up at him for the first time, in the buttercup meadow
near Eborsham. He put down the candle without a word.

‘I hope you have stared long enough at that picture,’ said Viola,
laughing. ‘You appear to find it remarkably interesting.’

‘It is a very interesting portrait—to me.’

‘Why to you, in particular?’

‘Because it resembles some one very dear to me.’

‘Oh, I understand,’ said Viola, gently. ‘Your poor friend, James
Penwyn!’

Maurice did not attempt to set her right.

‘Now let us look at the books,’ he said, going to the _secretaire_, the
upper shelves of which held about thirty volumes, all well bound. They
were Valpy’s Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, Keats,
Hood, and a few other volumes, chiefly Oxford classics, which Mr. Penwyn
had brought from the University; not by any means the books of a man
wanting in refinement or culture. That they had been well read was
evident to Maurice, on looking into some of the volumes. Many a verse
underlined in pencil marked the reader’s appreciation.

In a volume of Byron, containing ‘Manfred,’ and some of the minor poems,
Maurice found a pencilled note here and there, in a woman’s hand, which
he recognised as Muriel Trevanard’s; words of praise or of criticism,
but in all cases denoting a cultivated mind and a sound judgment. A girl
who could write thus was hardly likely to have been fooled by the first
seducer who came across her path.

‘I wonder who wrote in that book?’ said Viola. ‘George Penwyn had no
sister, and his mother died while he was very young. Perhaps those notes
were written by Miss Morgrave, the young lady his father wanted him to
marry.’

‘I should hardly have thought they were on intimate terms enough for
that kind of thing.’

‘True. One must be very sure of a person’s friendship before one can
venture to scribble one’s opinions in their books,’ returned Viola.

An hour later Maurice left the Manor House. He was glad to be alone, and
free to think over the day’s work.

The idea which had hitherto seemed little better than a baseless fancy,
the filmy weaving of his own romantic dreams, was now conviction. He
held it as a certain fact that Justina was George Penwyn’s daughter, and
that it must be his work to discover the missing link in Muriel
Trevanard’s story, and the nature of that fatal union which had ended in
shattered wits and a broken heart.

‘God grant that I may find evidence to confirm my own belief in the
girl’s purity and the man’s honour,’ he said to himself, as he drove the
dog-cart back to Borcel End. ‘If the popular idea of George Penwyn is
correct, he must have been too good a man to play so base a part as that
of betrayer; too kind to leave his victim to face the storm of parental
wrath unprotected. But he was in his father’s power, and it is possible
that he might have had recourse to a secret marriage rather than forfeit
the old man’s favour and the Penwyn estate. Yet if this were the case,
it is strange that he should have left England without endeavouring to
secure his wife’s safety—that he should have made no provision for his
child’s birth—an event the possibility of which he ought to have
foreseen.’

This was a puzzling point. Indeed, the whole story was involved in
mystery. Either George Penwyn must have deceived everybody who knew him
as to his moral character; or he must have acted honestly towards
Muriel.

‘There is only one person I can think of as likely to know the truth of
the story,’ Maurice said to himself, ‘and that person is Miss Barlow,
the schoolmistress at Seacomb. My first endeavour must be to find Miss
Barlow, if she is still an inhabitant of this lower world.’

He had a good deal to do in Seacomb, yet was anxious, with a lover’s
foolish yearning, to get back to London; so he got Martin to drive him
over to the quiet old market town early next morning, and took care to
put up at the oldest inn in the place—a rambling old house with a
quadrangular yard—a relic of the good old coaching days.

‘There is no better place than an old inn in which to learn the
traditions of a town,’ Maurice told himself. ‘I dare say I shall find
some ancient waiter here who remembers everything that has happened at
Seacomb for the last fifty years.’


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER VI
                     I FOUND HIM GARRULOUSLY GIVEN.


The oldest inn in Seacomb was the ‘New London Inn,’ built upon the site
of a still more ancient hostelry, but itself nearly two hundred years
old. The quadrangular yard, in which the coaches were wont to stand, was
now embellished with a glazed roof, and served for the assembling of
farmers on market days. Here was held the corn exchange and samples of
grain were exhibited, and bargains made, amidst a lively hubbub, while
the odour of roast beef and pastry pervaded the atmosphere.

Here Maurice and Martin parted, the former telling his friend that he
had business to transact in Seacomb, the young Cornishman bidding his
companion a reluctant farewell.

As soon as the dog-cart had driven off, Maurice strolled into the bar,
called for soda and sherry, and surveyed his ground. On the other side
of the shining counter a comfortable-looking elderly matron, in a black
silk gown and a cap with rose-coloured ribbons was engaged in
conversation with a stalwart grey-coated farmer, who had been admitted
to the privileged sanctorum within. ‘The landlady, evidently,’ thought
Maurice.

He sipped his sherry and soda, and asked if he could be accommodated
with an airy bedroom.

‘Certainly, sir. You’d like a room on the first floor, perhaps,
overlooking the street?—Chambermaid, show Number 10.’

‘I won’t trouble to look at the room, thank you, ma’am. I’ve no doubt
it’s all that’s comfortable.’

‘There’s not much fear about that, sir. I look after my bedrooms myself,
and always have done so for the last thirty years. I go into every room
in the house every morning, after the chambermaids have done their
sweeping and dusting; and that’s neither more nor less than a
housekeeper’s duty, in my opinion.’

‘Just so, ma’am. It’s a pity that kind of housekeeping should ever go
out of fashion.’

‘It is indeed, sir. You intend staying for some days at Seacomb,
perhaps? There are a good many objects of interest in the
neighbourhood.’

‘I am sorry to say that I shall have to leave to-morrow.’

‘Well, good morning, Mrs. Chadwick,’ said the farmer, having drained his
glass, and wiped his lips with a flaming orange handkerchief.

Mrs. Chadwick opened the half-door of the bar for him to go out, and
then, holding it open politely, invited Mr. Clissold to enter.

‘You may as well sit down, sir, and take your soda and sherry,’ she
said, nothing averse from a little gossip with the stranger.

‘I shall be very glad to do so,’ answered Maurice. ‘The fact is, I want
a little friendly chat with some one who knows Seacomb, and I dare say
you know pretty well as much as any one else about the town and its
inhabitants.’

The landlady smiled, as with inward satisfaction.

‘It’s my native town, sir. I was born here, and brought up here, and
educated here, and I could count the months I’ve spent away from Seacomb
on my fingers. It isn’t everybody can say as much.’

‘You were educated at Seacomb,’ said Maurice. ‘Then perhaps you may
remember Miss Barlow’s school for young ladies?’

‘Yes, sir. I remember Miss Barlow well, but her school flourished after
my schooling days, and it was above my father’s station. No Seacomb
trades-people ever went to Miss Barlow’s. Their money might be good
enough for most people, but Miss Barlow wouldn’t have it. She set her
face against anything under a rich farmer’s daughter. She had a good
deal of pride—stuckupishness some people went so far as to call it—had
Miss Barlow. And a very pretty show she used to make with her young
ladies at the parish church, in the west gallery, on the left of the
organ.’

‘Do you happen to remember the daughter of a Mr. Trevanard, of Borcel
End?’

‘Remember Miss Trevanard! I should think I did. She was about the
prettiest girl I ever saw, and the Seacomb gentlemen would go out of
their way to get a look at her. I’ve seen them hanging about the church
door to watch Miss Barlow’s young ladies come out, and heard them
whisper, “That’s the belle of the school! That’s Trevanard’s daughter!”
I thought she’d have made a rare good match when she left school; but
she never married, and I believe she went a little queer in her head, or
was bedridden, or some affliction of that kind, while she was quite
young. I haven’t heard anybody mention her name for the last twenty
years—not her own father even, though he dines here every market day.
That was young Mr. Trevanard drove you here, wasn’t it? I just caught a
glimpse of him in the hall.’

‘Yes, Martin and I are great friends.’

‘A very nice young man he is too, and nice-looking, but not a patch upon
his sister.’

‘Do you know what became of Miss Barlow when she left Seacomb?’

‘Well, I’ve heard say that she went to the Continent to cultivate music.
She had a fine finger for the piano, and took a good deal of pride in
her playing, and after she’d lived abroad some years, studying in a
conservatory—I suppose they teach them that way on account of the
climate—I heard that she came back to England, and settled somewhere
near London, and gave lessons to the nobility and gentry, and stood very
high in that way. She had made a nice little fortune at Seacomb before
she retired, so she had no call to work unless she liked. But Miss
Barlow wasn’t the woman to be idle. She had a vast amount of energy.’

A musical professor, and residing in the neighbourhood of London. It
seemed to Maurice that, knowing this much, he ought to be able to find
Miss Barlow. There was only the question of time.

‘How long is it, do you imagine, since you last heard of this lady?’ he
asked, in a purely conversational tone.

‘Well, I can’t take upon myself to say very particularly for a year or
so. But I think it might be about eight or nine years since I heard Dr.
Dorlick, our organist, say that a friend of his in London had told him
Miss Barlow was residing in the neighbourhood of the parks, and doing
wonderfully well.’

‘Could I see Dr. Dorlick, do you think?’ asked Maurice eagerly.

‘Dr. Dorlick is in heaven,’ replied Mrs. Chadwick, with solemnity.

‘I’m sorry for that,’ said Maurice, with reference to his own
disappointment rather than Dr. Dorlick’s elevation.

He passed onto another subject, also an important one in his mind.

‘How is it that you managed to do away with your theatre in Seacomb?’ he
asked.

‘Well, you see, sir,’ returned Mrs. Chadwick, musingly, ‘I don’t think
the theatre ever fairly took with the Seacomb people. Ours is a serious
town, and though there’s plenty of spare room in our old parish church—a
very fine old church, as you may have seen with your own eyes, but
rather in want of repair—there’s always a run upon our chapels, revival
services, and tea meetings, and love feasts, and what not. People must
have excitement of some sort, no doubt, and the Seacomb people like
chapel-going better than play-going; besides which it costs them less.
I’ve no prejudices myself, and I know that a theatrical is a human being
like myself; but I can’t say that I’ve ever cared to see theatricals
inside my doors.’

‘But I suppose you used to go to the theatre sometimes, when there was
one?’

‘Once in a way I have gone to our theatre, when there was a Bespeak
night, or a London star performing, more to please my husband, who was
fond of anything in the way of an entertainment, than for my own
pleasure.’

‘Do you remember the names of the actors whom you saw there?’

‘No, I can’t call to mind one of them. But if you take any interest in
theatricals, go and see Mr. Clipcome, our hairdresser. He’ll talk to you
for the hour together of our theatre, and the people who’ve acted there.
He never cut my hair in his life that he didn’t tell me how he once
curled and powdered a wig for the celebrated Miss Foote to act Lady
Teazle in. It’s his ’obby.’

‘Indeed! Then I shall certainly look in upon Mr. Clipcome. Where does he
live?’

‘In a little court, by the side of Bethlehem Chapel, which was the
theatre.’

‘Thanks, Mrs. Chadwick,’ said Maurice, rising. ‘I’ll step round to Mr.
Clipcome at once, and get him to give me the county crop. I’ve been
running to seed lately. Perhaps you’ll be kind enough to order me a
little bit of dinner in the coffee-room at half-past six.’

‘With pleasure, sir. Any choice?’

‘None whatever. I shall walk about your town for a few hours, and get an
appetite for anything you like to set before me.’

‘A very agreeable gentleman,’ thought Mrs. Chadwick, as Maurice strolled
out of the bar, ‘so chatty and friendly. Doesn’t give himself half the
airs of your commercial gents, yet any one can see he’s altogether
superior to them.’

Mr. Clissold strolled through the quiet old town, with its long
straggling high street, graced here and there by a picturesque gable or
an ancient lattice, but, for the most part, somewhat commonplace. At one
point there was a kind of square, from which two lateral streets
diverged—a square with a pump and police office in the centre, and a
Methodist chapel on each side. One of these chapels, the newest and
smartest, was Bethlehem, as an inscription over its portal made known to
the world at large—Bethlehem, 1853,—and at the side of Bethlehem, once
the Temple of Thespis, there was a clean paved alley, leading to another
street; an alley with a public-house at one corner, and a few decent
shops on one side, facing the blank wall of the chapel. One of these
shops was the emporium of Mr. Clipcome, who was at once tobacconist,
hairdresser, and dealer in fancy and miscellaneous articles too numerous
to mention.

Maurice found Mr. Clipcome standing upon his threshold contemplating
life as exhibited in Playhouse Court, where a small child in a go-cart,
and a woman cheapening bloaters at the greengrocer’s were the only
objects that presented themselves at this particular time to the student
of humanity. But then Mr. Clipcome had an oblique view of the square,
town pump, and police station, and in a general way could see anything
that was going on from the vantage-ground of his door-step.

He was an elderly man, stout, and comfortable looking, but balder than
he ought to have been considering the resources of his art, and that he
was himself the inventor of an infallible cure for baldness. But he may
have preferred that smooth and shining surface as cooler and more
comfortable than capillary embellishment. He wore a clean linen apron,
with a comb or two stuck in the pocket thereof—an apron that was in
itself an invitation to the passing pedestrian to have his hair cut. On
seeing Mr. Clissold making for his door, Mr. Clipcome stepped aside with
a smile and a bow, and made way for the stranger to enter his abode.

It was a very small abode, consisting of a shop and a little slip of a
parlour behind it, both the pink of neatness, and both agreeably
perfumed with hair oil and lavender water. There was a shining arm-chair
with a high back, whereon the patient sat enthroned during the
hair-cutting process. A looking-glass squeezed into an angle of the
parlour reflected patient and operator. A pincushion hung beside it,
balanced by a smart chintz bag, containing a variety of implements. But
the object which most struck Maurice’s eye was an old playbill, smaller
than modern playbills, and yellow with age, framed and glazed, and
hanging against the wall, just as if it had been some choice work of
art.

It was the programme of a performance of ‘Othello’ that had taken place
early in the century. ‘Othello, the Moor of Venice, Mr. Kean.’

‘You remember the great Kean?’ said Maurice.

‘Yes, sir,’ answered Mr. Clipcome, with pride. ‘I remember Edmund Kean,
and I remember Charles Young, and Miss O’Neil, and Miss Foote, and Mrs.
Nesbitt, and Mr. Macready, and a good deal more talent such as you’re
not likely to see in these days. Seacomb Theatre was worth going to in
my boyhood.’

‘And you were an enthusiastic patron of the drama, I imagine?’

‘If spending every sixpence of my pocket-money upon admission to the pit
is a proof of enthusiasm, I was an enthusiast, sir,’ replied Mr.
Clipcome. ‘The sixpences which boys—well, I will venture to say boys of
an inferior mind—would have laid out upon cakes and apples, peg-tops,
and such like, I spent upon the drama. There’s hardly a line of
Shakespeare you could quote that I couldn’t cap with another line. I
used to go to the pit of that theatre twice a week while I was a
youngster, and three or four times a week after my father’s death, when
I was in business for myself and my own master, and used to get a weekly
order for exhibiting the bills. And though there were a good many
opposed to the closing of the theatre for ever, I don’t believe there
was any one in all Seacomb took it to heart as keenly as I did.
“Othello’s occupation was gone.”’

‘Why did they do away with your theatre at last?’ asked Maurice.

‘Well, you see, sir, the town had grown serious-minded, and for some
years before they turned it into a chapel the theatre had been going
down. The great actors and actresses were dead and gone, and the stars
that were left didn’t care about coming to Seacomb. Managers had been
doing worse and worse year after year, business dwindling down to next
to nothing, half salaries, or no salaries towards the end of every
season, and it became a recognised fact in the theatrical profession
that Seacomb was no go. The actors and actresses that came here were
sticks, or if not, they made up in rant what they wanted in talent. The
county families left off coming to the place—there were no Bespeaks, and
the poor old theatre got to have a dilapidated woe-begone look, so that
it gave one the horrors to sit out a play. The actors looked hungry and
out at elbows. It made one uncomfortable to see them. Many a time I
asked one of them in to share my one o’clock dinner, if it was but a
potato pasty, or a squab pie made with scrag of mutton. The stage door
used to be just opposite my shop. It’s walled up now, but you may see
the outline of it in the brickwork. The actors used to be always
lounging about that doorway of a morning, on and off, and whilst the
rehearsal was going on inside. And they were very fond of coming into my
shop for a gossip, or a peep at a newspaper. Papers were dear in those
days. No _Standard_ or _Telegraph_ with all the news of the world for a
penny. And the poor chaps couldn’t afford to lay out fivepence.’

‘You must have been on friendly terms with a good many of them,’ said
Maurice, feeling that from this loquacious barber, if from any one in
Seacomb, he was likely to obtain the information he sought. ‘Do you
happen to remember a man called Elgood?’

‘Elgood! Mat Elgood,’ cried the operator, dropping his scissors in the
vehemence of his exclamation, ‘I should think I did indeed! He was one
who hung on to our Theatre Royal to the very last,—stuck to it like a
barnacle, poor fellow,—when there was not enough sustenance to be got
out of it to keep body and soul together. He lodged in this very court,
the last house on the other side, next door but one to the Theatre—a
tailor’s it was then—and a good little man the tailor was, and a kind
friend to Mat Elgood—as long as he had a crust to share with him, or a
garret to shelter him. But one day, about a month after the theatre had
shut up shop altogether, the manager having bolted—the brokers walked
into poor Jones’s little place and took possession of everything, and
Jones went to prison, so Mat Elgood and his wife, a poor weak thing that
had lost her first baby only a few weeks before that time, were cast
loose upon the world, and what became of them from that hour to this I
never heard. If I’d had an empty room in my house I’d have given it
them, but I hadn’t, and my wife is a prudent woman, who never forgot to
remind me that my first duty was to her and my children, or, in other
words, that charity begins at home.’

‘Do you remember the date of this occurrence—the year and month in which
Matthew Elgood left Seacomb? I may as well tell you that I do not ask
these questions out of idle curiosity. I am personally interested in
knowing all about this Mr. Elgood.’

‘My dear sir,’ exclaimed the barber, swelling with importance at the
idea of giving valuable information, ‘you could not have come to a
better source. If I fail to remember the dates you require, I can
produce documentary evidence which will place the fact beyond all doubt.
For a period of ten years or upwards I made it a rule to keep a copy of
every playbill issued in our town. They were delivered at my door gratis
for exhibition in my window, and instead of throwing them aside as waste
paper, I filed them as interesting records for re-perusal in the leisure
of my later life. I am rather proud of that collection. It contains the
name of many a brilliant light in the dramatic hemisphere, and, indeed,
I look upon it as a history of dramatic art in little. My impression is
that Elgood and his wife left Seacomb nineteen years ago last winter,
but the bills will make matters certain. Matthew Elgood was among that
diminished band which trod the boards of our poor little theatre on that
final night when the green curtain descended on the Seacomb stage, never
to rise again. The theatre remained in abeyance for some two or three
years after that last performance, dismantled, shut up, a refuge for
rats and mice, and such small deer.’

‘Nineteen years ago, you say?’

‘Nor more nor less,’ returned Mr. Clipcome, who was wont to wax
Shakesperian. ‘I remember it was an extraordinary severe winter. We had
frost and snow, a great deal of snow, as late as the end of February,
and even into March. Some of the roads between Seacomb and neighbouring
villages were impassable, and there was a good deal of trouble
generally. I felt all the more for those unfortunate Elgoods on this
account,—it was a hard winter in which to be cast adrift.’

‘Thanks, Mr. Clipcome, you have given me really valuable information. I
should be glad to refer to that file of bills, so as to get the exact
date of the closing of the theatre.’

The hairdresser produced his collection, roughly bound in a ponderous
marble-paper covered tome, of his own manufacture, a triumph in amateur
book-binding. Here Maurice saw the last play bill that had ever been
issued by the manager of the Seacomb theatre. Its date was January 10th,
1849.

‘And Mr. Elgood stayed at the tailor’s for a month after the closing of
the theatre?’ interrogated Maurice.

‘About a month.’

Having jotted down dates and facts in his note-book, and reiterated his
thanks to the good-natured barber, Maurice felt that his business in
Playhouse Alley was concluded. He bought some trifles in the shop, on
his way out, an attention peculiarly pleasing to Mr. Clipcome, from the
rarity of the event, his trade being chiefly confined to
two-penny-worths of hair oil, or three-halfpenny cakes of brown Windsor.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER VII
                  ‘FULL COLD MY GREETING WAS AND DRY.’


A quiet evening at the ‘New London Inn,’ and another confidential chat
with its proprietress convinced Maurice that there was nothing more to
be learned in Seacomb. He led Mrs. Chadwick on to talk of the family at
Penwyn Manor House, the old Squire and his sons, who, sanctified by the
shadows of the past, beautified by old memories and associations—just as
a ruin is beautified by the ivies and lichens that cling to its
crumbling arches—were dearer to the hearts of the elderly Seacombites
than the reigning Squire and his lovely wife.

‘I don’t say but what the present gentleman is better for trade, and has
done more good to the neighbourhood in two years than the old Squire
would have done in ten,’ said Mrs. Chadwick. ‘But the old Squire was
more one of ourselves, as you may say. He’d take his glass of cider—a
very temperate man was the Squire—in my bar parlour, and chat with me as
friendly and familiar as you could do, and it was quite a pleasant thing
to see him, in his Lincoln green coat and brass basket buttons, and
mahogany tops.’

Of George Penwyn Mrs. Chadwick said nothing that was not praise. He had
been everybody’s favourite, she told Maurice, and his death had been
felt like a personal loss throughout the neighbourhood.

Was this a man to betray an innocent girl, and bring disgrace upon an
honest yeoman’s household?

Before leaving Seacomb next morning Mr. Clissold went to the parish
church, looked once more at the register in which he had seen the
baptism of Matthew Elgood’s daughter; and afterwards referred to the
register of burials to assure himself of the child’s death. There was
the entry: ‘Emily Jane, daughter of Matthew Elgood, comedian, and Jane
Elgood, his wife, aged five weeks. January 4th, 1849.’ Just six days
before the closing of the Seacomb Theatre.

Maurice distinctly remembered Justina having told him once, in the
course of their somewhat discursive talk, that her birthday was in
March, and that she had completed her nineteenth year on her last
anniversary. Now, if Mrs. Elgood had had a daughter born in the December
of 1848, it was not possible for her to have been the mother of Justina,
if Justina was born in the March of 1849.

He had now no shadow of doubt that Matthew Elgood, who had left Seacomb
in February in the midst of frost and snow, was the same man who had
sought shelter at Borcel End, and who had called himself Eden. A false
pride had doubtless induced the penniless stroller to hide his poverty
under an assumed name.

‘The plainest, most straightforward way of doing things will be to tax
Elgood himself with the fact,’ thought Maurice. ‘Once sure of my
darling’s identity with Muriel’s daughter, my next duty shall be to
discover the evidence of her mother’s marriage. And if I succeed in
doing that——? Well, I suppose the next thing will be for some clever
lawyers to prove her right to the Penwyn estate, and Churchill Penwyn
and his wife will be ruined, and Justina will be a great heiress, and I
shall retire into the background. Hardly a pleasant picture of the
future, that. Perhaps it would have been wiser, from a purely selfish
point of view, to have left my dear girl Justina Elgood to the end of
the chapter—or at least till I persuaded her to exchange that spurious
surname for the good old name of Clissold. But now having gone so far,
won the confidence of a dying woman, sworn to set right an old wrong, I
am in honour bound to go on, not to the ultimate issue, perhaps, but at
any rate to the assertion of my darling girl’s legitimacy.’

He rejoiced in the swiftness of the express which carried him homewards,
by stubble fields, and yellowing woods, rejoiced at the thought that he
should be in time to see Justina, were it only one half-hour before she
went to the theatre. He took a hansom and drove straight to Hudspeth
Street, told the man to wait, and left his portmanteau and travelling
bag in the cab while he ran upstairs to the second floor sitting-room.

Matthew Elgood was enjoying his afternoon siesta, his amiable
countenance shrouded from the autumnal fly by a crimson silk
handkerchief. Justina was sitting at a little table by the window,
reading.

She looked a shade paler than when he had seen her last, the lover
thought, fondly hoping that she had missed him, but as she started up
from her chair, recognising him with a little cry of gladness, the warm
blood rushed to cheek and brow, and he had no ground for compassionating
her pallor.

For a moment she tried to speak, but could not, and in that moment
Maurice knew that he was beloved.

He would have given worlds to take her to his heart, then and there, to
have kissed the blushes into a deeper glow, to have told her how
supremely dear she was to him, how infinitely deeper, and holier, and
sweeter than his first foolish passion this second love of his had
become. But he put the curb on impulse, remembering the task he had to
accomplish. To woo her now, to win her promise now, knowing what he
knew, would have seemed to him a meanness.

‘To-day I am her superior in fortune,’ he said to himself, ‘a year hence
I may be her inferior—a very pauper compared with the mistress of Penwyn
Manor. I will not win her unawares. If change of fortune does come to
pass I shall not be too proud to share her wealth, so long as I have all
her heart; but if she should change with change of fortune, she shall be
free to follow where her fancy leads, and no old promise, made in her
day of obscurity, shall bind her to me. Free and unfettered she shall
enter upon her new life.’

So instead of taking her to his heart of hearts, and pouring out his
tale of love in a tender whisper—too low to penetrate the crimson
handkerchief which veiled the ears of the sleeper, Maurice greeted
Justina with hearty loudness, talked about his journey—asked how the new
piece at the Albert worked out at rehearsal—inquired about his friend
Flittergilt, the dramatist—and behaved altogether in a commonplace
fashion. There was just time for a cup of tea before Justina started for
the theatre—and a very pleasant tea-drinking it was. Maurice was touched
by Justina’s pretty joyous ways this evening, her bright looks, the
silvery little laugh gushing out at the slightest provocation,—laughter
which told of a soul that was gladdened by his presence.

‘I think I shall come to the theatre to-night,’ he said, as they parted.

‘What, to see “No Cards”? You must be dreadfully tired of it.’

‘No. I believe I have seen it seven times, but I could see it seven
more,’ answered Maurice, and this was the only compliment he paid
Justina that evening. Before parting with Mr. Elgood, he asked that
gentleman to dine with him the next evening, at eight, _en garçon_.

‘We can go to the theatre afterwards to escort Miss Elgood home,’ he
added.

‘My dear Clissold,’ exclaimed the comedian, with effusion, ‘after the
bottle of port you gave me that Sunday evening, Justina and I enjoyed
your hospitality, I should be an ass to refuse such an invitation.’


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER VIII
              ‘WHEN TIME SHALL SERVE, BE THOU NOT SLACK.’


Nothing could be more inviting than the aspect of Maurice Clissold’s
rooms at eight o’clock on the following evening, when their proprietor
stood on his hearth, waiting the arrival of his expected guest. The
weather was by no means warm, and the glass and silver on the
friendly-looking circular table sparkled in the glow of a brightly
burning fire. The spotless damask, the dainty arrangement of the table,
with its old Chelsea ware dessert dishes, filled with amber-tinted
Jersey pears, and dusky-hued filberts, agreeably suggestive of good old
port, indicated a careful landlady and well-trained servants. The
dumb-waiter, with its reserve of glasses and cruets, guaranteed that
luxurious ease which is not dependent on external service.

Mr. Elgood, arriving on the scene as the clocks of Bloomsbury struck the
hour, surveyed these preparations with an eye that glistened with
content—nay, almost brightened to rapture—as it wandered from the table
to the fender, where, in a shadowy corner, reposed the expected bottle
of port, cobweb-wreathed, chalk-marked.

The savoury odour of fried fish, mingled with the appetising fumes of
roasting meat, had greeted the visitor’s nostrils as he ascended the
stairs. Even his nice judgment had failed to divine whether the joint
were beef or mutton, but he opined mutton. No one but a barbarian would
load his table with sirloin for a _tête-à-tête_ dinner when Providence
had created the Welsh hills, doubtless with a view to the necessities of
the dinner-table.

‘Glad to see you so punctual,’ said Maurice, cheerily.

‘My dear Mr. Clissold, to be unpunctual is to insult one’s host and
injure one’s self. What can atone for the ruin of an excellent dinner?
You may remember what Dean Swift said to his cook when she had roasted
the joint to rags, and was fain to confess she could not undo the evil:
“Beware wench, how you commit a fault which cannot be remedied.” A
dinner spoiled is an irremediable loss.’

The soup had been put upon the table while Mr. Elgood thus
philosophized, so the two gentlemen sat down without further delay, and
the comedian gazed blandly upon the amber sherry and the garnet-hued
claret, while Maurice invoked a blessing on the feast, and then the
business of dinner began in good earnest.

The joint was mutton, and Welsh, whereby Mr. Elgood’s soul was at ease,
and he gave himself up to the enjoyment of the table with unaffected
singleness of purpose. A brace of partridges and a Parmesan _fondu_
followed the haunch; and when these had been despatched the comedian
flung himself back in his chair, with a sigh of repletion.

‘Well, my dear Mr. Clissold,’ he said, ‘you are a very accomplished
gentleman in many ways; but this I will say, that I never met the man
yet who was your match in giving a snug little dinner. Brilsby Savory,
or whatever his name was, couldn’t have beat you.’

‘I am glad you have enjoyed your dinner, Mr. Elgood. I am of opinion
that a good dinner is the best prelude to a serious conversation; and I
want to have a little quiet and confidential talk with you this evening
upon a very serious matter.’

‘Behold me at your service,—your slave to command,’ answered Matthew,
whose enthusiasm was not easily to be damped. ‘I bare my bosom to your
view,’ he added, with a dramatic gesture, indicative of throwing open
his waistcoat.

They were alone by this time. The servant had carried away the
dinner-things, and only the decanters and fruit dishes remained on the
table.

‘You speak boldly, Mr. Elgood,’ said Maurice, with sudden gravity, ‘yet,
perhaps, if I were to ask you some questions about your past life you
would draw back a little.’

‘My past life, although full of vicissitude, has been honest,’ answered
the comedian. ‘I fear no man’s scrutiny.’

‘Good. Then you will not be angry if I question you rather closely upon
one period of your chequered career. It is in the interest of your—of
Justina that I do so.’

‘Proceed, sir,’ said Matthew, a troubled look overclouding the
countenance which had just now beamed with serenity.

‘Did you ever hear the name of Eden?’

Mr. Elgood started, more violently than he had done on a previous
occasion at the mention of Borcel End. The silver dessert knife with
which he was pealing a Jersey pear dropped from between his fingers.

‘I see you do know that name,’ said Maurice, passing from interrogation
to affirmation. ‘You bore it once at Borcel End, the old farm house on
the Cornish moors, where you took shelter in bitter winter weather, just
nineteen years ago last February.’

The glow which the good things of this life had kindled in Mr. Elgood’s
visage faded slowly out, and left him very pale.

‘How did you know that?’ he gasped.

‘I had it from the lips of a dying woman—Mrs. Trevanard.’

‘What! is Mrs. Trevanard dead?’

‘Yes; she died a fortnight ago.’

‘And she told you——?’

‘All. The birth of the child she entrusted to your care. The old family
Bible she gave you, from which you took the name of Justina.’

The shrewd guess, stated as a fact, passed uncontradicted. Maurice’s
speculative assertion had hit the truth.

‘The supposed daughter who has borne your name all these years, the girl
who has worked for you, who now maintains you, who has been faithful,
obedient, and devoted to you, has not one drop of your blood in her
veins. She is Muriel Trevanard’s child.’

‘You choose to make a statement,’ said Matthew Elgood, who had somewhat
recovered his self-possession by this time, ‘which I do not feel myself
called upon either to deny or admit. I am willing to acknowledge that in
a time of severe misfortune I took shelter upon Mrs. Trevanard’s
premises; that I called myself by a name that was not my own, rather
than expose my destitution to the world’s contumely. But whatever passed
between Mrs. Trevanard and myself at that period is sacred. I swore to
keep the secret confided to me to my dying day, and it will descend with
me to the tomb of my ancestors,’ added Mr. Elgood, grandly, as if, for
the moment at least, he really believed that he had a family vault at
his disposal.

‘You may consider yourself absolved of your oath,’ said Maurice. ‘Mrs.
Trevanard confided in me during the last days of her life, and I pledged
myself to see her grandchild righted.’

‘Mrs. Trevanard must have changed very much at the last if she expressed
any interest in the fate of her grandchild,’ returned Matthew,
forgetting that he had refused to make any admission. ‘When she gave the
child to me and my wife, she resigned all concern in its future: it was
to fare as we fared, to sink or swim with us.’

‘In that wretched hour she thought the child nameless and fatherless. I
did my best to persuade her that she had been too hasty in her
conclusion. It shall be my business to prove Justina’s legitimacy.’

‘That is to say, you mean to take my daughter away from me,’ exclaimed
the comedian, wrathfully. ‘Little did I know what a snake in the grass I
had been cherishing, warming the adder in my bosom, sheltering the
scorpion on my domestic hearth. This is what your kettle-drums, and snug
little dinners, and port and filberts, are to end in. You would rob a
poor old man of the staff and comfort of his declining years: six pounds
a week, and a certainty of a rise to ten if the next part she plays is a
success.’

‘You are hasty, Mr. Elgood, and unjust. Believe me, if it were a
question of my own happiness, I would leave the dear girl you have
brought up, Justina Elgood, till I had the Archbishop of Canterbury’s
permission to give her my own name. But, having promised to perform a
certain duty, I should be a scoundrel if I left it undone. What if I
tell you that I have reason to believe Justina entitled to a large
estate, an estate of six or seven thousand a year?’

Mr. Elgood sank back in his chair aghast. He had drunk a good many
glasses of wine in the course of that comfortable little dinner, and
there was some slight haziness in his brain. Six thousand a year, six
pounds a week. Six pounds a week, six thousand a year—over a hundred
pounds a week. There was a wide margin for spending in the difference
between the lesser and greater sum. But of the six pounds a week, while
Justina supposed herself his daughter, he was certain. Would she share
her annual six thousand as freely when she knew that he had no claim
upon her filial piety?

He pondered the question for a few moments, and then answered it in the
affirmative. Generous, good, loving, she had ever been. If good fortune
befell her she would not grudge the old man his share of the sunshine.
He had not been a bad father to her, he told himself, take him for all
in all—not over-patient, or considerate, perhaps, in those early days,
before he had discovered any dramatic talent in her; a little prone to
think of his own comfort before hers; but upon the whole, as fathers go,
not a bad kind of parent. And he felt very sure she would stand by him.
Yes, he felt sure of Justina. But he must be on his guard against this
scheming fellow, Clissold, who had contrived to get hold of a secret
that had been kept for nineteen years, and doubtless meant to work it
for his own advantage. It would be Matthew Elgood’s duty to countermarch
him here.

‘So, Mr. Clissold,’ he began, after about five minutes’ reverie, ‘you
are a pretty deep fellow, you are, in spite of your easy, open-handed,
open-hearted, free-spoken ways. You think you can establish my Justina’s
claim to a fine fortune, do you? And I suppose, when the claim is
established, and the girl I have brought up from babyhood, and toiled
for and struggled for many a long year, comes into her six thousand per
annum, you’ll expect to get her for your wife, with the six or seven
thousand at her back. Rather a good stroke of business for you!’

‘I expect nothing,’ answered Maurice, gravely. ‘I love Justina with all
my heart, as truly as ever an honest man loved a fair and noble woman;
but I have refrained from any expression of my heart’s desire, lest I
should bind her by a promise while her position is thus uncertain. Let
her win the station to which I believe she is entitled; and if, when it
is won, she cares to reward my honest affection, I will take her and be
proud of her; but not one whit prouder than I should be to take her for
my wife to-morrow, knowing her to be your daughter.’

‘Spoken like a man and a gentleman,’ exclaimed the comedian. ‘Come, Mr.
Clissold, I couldn’t think badly of you if I tried. I’ll trust you; and
it shall be no fault of mine if Justina is not yours, rich or poor.
She’s worthy of you, and you’re worthy of her, and I believe she has a
sneaking kindness for you.’

Maurice smiled, happy in a conviction which needed no support from
Matthew Elgood’s opinion. That little look of Justina’s yesterday—that
tender look of greeting—had been worth volumes of protestation. He knew
himself beloved.

‘And now tell me what your ideas are; and how Mrs. Trevanard—the
strangest woman, and the closest that I ever met—came to confide in you;
and how it has entered into your mind that our Justina has any legal
right to either name or fortune.’

‘I’ll tell you,’ said Maurice, and forthwith proceeded to relate all
that he had learned at Borcel, a great deal of which was new to Matthew
Elgood, who had been told nothing about the parentage of the child
committed to his care. It was essential to Justina’s interests that her
adopted father should know all, since he was the only witness who could
prove her identity with the child born at Borcel End.

‘It seems tolerably clear that this George Penwyn must have been the
father,’ said Mr. Elgood. ‘But who is to prove a marriage?’

‘If a marriage took place, the proof must exist somewhere, and it must
be for one of us to find it,’ answered Maurice. ‘The first person to
apply to is Miss Barlow, Muriel’s schoolmistress, supposing her to be
still living. The only period of Muriel’s absence from the farm after
she left school was the time she spent with Miss Barlow—three weeks—so
that if any marriage took place it must have happened during that visit.
I have searched the registers of both churches at Seacomb without
result. But it is not likely that George Penwyn would contract a secret
marriage within a few miles of his father’s house. Whatever occurred in
those three weeks Miss Barlow must have been in some measure familiar
with. My first business therefore must be to find her. When last heard
of she was established as a teacher of music in the neighbourhood of
London. A directory ought to help us to her address, if she is still
living within the postal radius.’

‘True,’ said Matthew, glancing at the shelves which lined the room from
floor to ceiling. ‘I suppose among all these books you have the Post
Office Directory?’

‘No, strange to say, it is a branch of literature I am deficient in. I
must wait till to-morrow to look for Miss Barlow’s address.’

‘How did it occur to you that my daughter Justina and that castaway
child were one and the same?’

‘Well, I hardly know how the idea first took possession of me. It was a
kind of instinct. The circumstances that led me to think it seemed
insignificant enough when spoken of, but to my mind they assumed
exaggerated importance; perhaps it was your look of surprise when I
mentioned Borcel End that first awakened my suspicions, not of the
actual truth, but of some mysterious connection between yourself and the
Trevanards.’

‘I certainly was astonished when you spoke of that out-of-the-way farm
house.’

‘Then the name Justina, which I heard of as a family name at Borcel End,
that set me thinking; the fact that your daughter was said to have been
born at Seacomb, within a few miles of that remote farmhouse; the fact
that her age tallied with the age of Muriel’s child. Never mind how I
came by the conviction, since I happily, or unhappily, stumbled on the
truth. But tell me how you fared when you left Borcel End that bleak
spring morning?’

‘Well, it wasn’t the most comfortable kind of departure, certainly—four
miles on foot on a cold March morning, and an infant to carry into the
bargain. But my poor wife and I had gone through too much to be
particular about trifles, and we were both of us sustained by the
thought of a snug little fortune in my breast pocket; for you may
suppose that to us two hundred pounds odd seemed the capital of a future
Rothschild. Mrs. Trevanard had given us some substantial clothing into
the bargain, and my poor Nell wore a good cloth cloak, under which the
baby was kept warm and snug. She was stronger, too, my poor girl, for
the month’s rest and plentiful food that we had enjoyed at
Borcel—indeed, though our lodging there was but a deserted hayloft, I
don’t think either of us was ever happier than when Nell sat at her
needlework and I lay luxuriously reposing on a truss of hay, while I
read an old magazine aloud to her. We were shut out from the world, but
we had peace and rest and plenty; and I think we were pretty much like
the birds of the air as to thought of the morrow in those days. But now
that I had Mrs. Trevanard’s savings in my breast pocket I began to take
a serious view of life, and throughout that walk to Seacomb I was
scheming and contriving, till at last, just as we came in sight of the
town, I cried out in a burst of enthusiasm, “Yes, Nell, I’ve hit it.”
“Hit what?” asked my wife. “Hit upon the surest way to make our
fortunes, my girl,” I answered, all of a glow with the thought. “We’ll
take a theatre.” “Lor’, Mat,” said my wife with a gasp, “and I can play
the leading business!” Managers had been putting other women over her
head in the Juliets and Rosalinds, and she felt it, poor soul. “But
Matthew,” she went on, growing suddenly serious, “we haven’t seen much
good come of taking theatres. Look at Seacomb, for instance.” “Seacomb
isn’t a case in point,” I answered, quite put out by her narrow way of
looking at things. “A psalm-singing place like that was never likely to
support the drama. When I take a theatre it will be in a very different
town from Seacomb.” “But,” remonstrated poor Nell, “don’t you think it
would be breaking faith with Mrs. Trevanard? She gave us the money to
set us up in some nice little business. We were to start with part of
the capital and keep the rest in reserve against a rainy day.” “Well,
isn’t theatrical management a business?” I retorted, “and the only
business that I am fit for. Do you suppose that I can blossom into a
full-blown grocer, or break out all at once into a skilful butcher,
because Mrs. Trevanard wishes it? Why, I shouldn’t know one end of an ox
from the other when his head was off. And as for Mrs. Trevanard,” I went
on, “you ought to have sense enough to know that she cares precious
little what becomes of us now we’ve taken this unfortunate child off her
hands.” “I don’t believe that, Matthew,” answered my wife, “she’s a
Christian, and she wouldn’t like us to starve on the child’s account.”
“Who’s going to starve?” I cried, savagely, for I felt it was in me to
make money as a manager. There never was an actor yet that hadn’t the
same fancy, and many a man has brought ruin upon himself and his family
by the delusion.’

‘You had your own way, of course?’ said Maurice.

‘I had, sir. First and foremost my poor little wife never obstinately
opposed me in anything; and secondly, her foolish heart was longing for
the leading business, and to be a manageress, and cast all the pieces,
and put herself in for the best parts. So we went straight to the
Seacomb station, where we found we should have to wait upwards of an
hour for a train, and I thought I could not make better use of my time
than by buying an _Era_, and finding out what theatres were to let.
There were about half a dozen advertisements of this class, and one of
them struck me as the exact thing. “The Theatre Royal, Slowberry,
Somersetshire, to let for the summer season. Rent moderate. Can be
worked with a small company. Scenery in good condition. Market town;
population twelve thousand.” I made a calculation on the spot,
demonstrating that ten per cent. of those twelve thousand
inhabitants—allowing a wide margin for infants, the aged, and
infirm—were bound to come to the theatre nightly. Now a nightly audience
of twelve hundred was safe to pay. I found that we could get straight to
Slowberry by the Great Western, and accordingly took tickets for that
station, third class, for prudence was to be the order of the day. Well,
Mr. Clissold, I need not trouble you with details. We went to Slowberry,
and established ourselves in humble and inexpensive lodgings, apartments
which I felt were hardly worthy of my managerial position, but prudence
prevailed. I became lessee of the Slowberry theatre, which I am fain to
admit was in architectural pretensions even below the Temple of the
Drama at Seacomb. I engaged my company, cheap and useful. My old man
combined the heavy business and second low comedy; my first
chambermaid—second I need hardly say there was none—danced or sang
between the pieces, and acted in male attire when we ran short of
gentlemen. My wife and I played all the best parts. Nothing could have
been organized upon more rigid principles of economy, yet the financial
result was ruin. For a considerable part of the season I only paid half
salaries, for the concluding portion we became a commonwealth. Yet Mrs.
Trevanard’s savings dribbled away, and, when my poor wife and I left
Slowberry, with Justina—then a fine child of seven months old,—we had
not twenty pounds left out of a capital which had appeared to my mind to
be almost inexhaustible.’

‘The child was christened at Slowberry, I suppose?’

‘Yes, we lost no time in having the baptismal rite performed, lest she
should go off with croup, or red-gum, or vaccination, or any of the
perils which beset the infant traveller on life’s thorny road. The Bible
which Mrs. Trevanard had given to my wife contained in the fly-leaf the
name of Justina Trevanard, doubtless its original possessor. That name
caught my wife’s fancy. It struck me, also, as euphonious and
aristocratic, a name that would look well in the bills by and by, when
our daughter was old enough to make her first juvenile efforts in the
profession, as the child in “Pizarro,” or little William in “The
Stranger.” We were fond of her already, and soon grew to forget that
there was no tie of kindred between us. My wife indeed passionately
adored this nameless orphan, and was never tired of weaving romantic
fancies about her future, how she would turn out to be the daughter of a
nobleman, and we should see her by and by with a coronet on her head,
and owe comfort and wealth to her affection when we grew old. It would
be a curious thing if one of poor Nell’s romantic dreams were to be
realized. How proud that loving heart would have been! but it lies under
the grass and daisies in a Berkshire churchyard, and neither joy nor
sorrow can touch it any more.’

Mr. Elgood checked a rising sigh, and helped himself to another glass of
port.

‘You fared ill, I fear, after your managerial experiment,’ said Maurice.

‘Our life from that point was a series of struggles. If the efforts of
the honest man battling with adversity form a spectacle which the gods
delight in—a fact which I vaguely remember having seen stated
somewhere—my career must have afforded considerable entertainment in
Olympus. We had our brief intervals of sunshine, but cloud prevailed;
and in the course of years my poor wife sank beneath the burden, and
Justina and I were left to jog on together, just as you saw us in the
town of Eborsham two years ago. So far as a struggler can do his duty to
his daughter, I believe I did mine to Justina. I gave her what little
education I could afford, and luckily she was bright enough to make the
most of that little. There never was such a girl for picking up
knowledge. Clever people always seemed to take to her, and she to them,
though for a long time we thought her stupid on the stage. Her talent
for the profession came out all at once. Heaven knows, she has been a
good girl to me, through good and evil fortune, and I love her as well
as if she were twenty times my daughter. It would be a hard thing if any
change of circumstances were to part us.’

‘Have no fear of that,’ said Maurice. ‘Justina is too true a woman to be
changed by changing fortune. I do not hesitate to leave my fate in her
hands. You, who have an older claim upon her love, have even less cause
for fear.’

The little black marble clock on the mantelpiece chimed the half-hour
after ten—time to repair to the theatre. Mr. Flittergilt’s piece ended
at a quarter before eleven, and at a few minutes past the hour Justina
appeared at the stage door, ready to be escorted home.

Maurice and Mr. Elgood went together to the dark little side street in
which the stage door of the Royal Albert was situated, dingy and
repellent of aspect after the manner of stage doors.

It was a starlight autumn night, and that walk back to Bloomsbury with
Justina’s little hand resting on his own arm was very pleasant to
Maurice Clissold. They chose the quietest streets, without reference to
distance, and the walk lasted about a quarter of an hour longer than it
need have done had they gratified Mr. Elgood’s predilection for certain
short cuts, by Wych Street and Drury Lane. But throughout that homeward
walk not one whispered word of Maurice’s betrayed the lover, and when he
and Justina parted at the door of her lodgings, the girl thought
wonderingly of that summer night in Eborsham, more than two years ago,
when James Penwyn told her of his love in the shadow of the old minster.

‘Shall I ever have a second lover as generous and devoted?’ she mused.
‘That was only boy and girl love, I suppose, yet it seemed truer and
brighter than anything that will ever come my way again.’

She had been thinking of Maurice not a little of late, and had decided
that he did not care for her in the least.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER IX
                ‘THE DAYS HAVE VANISHED, TONE AND TINT.’


Maurice Clissold lost no time in setting about his search for Miss
Barlow, the quondam schoolmistress of Seacomb. But the first result of
his endeavours was a failure. The London Post Office Directory for the
current year knew not Miss Barlow. Barlows there were in its pages, but
they were trading Barlows; Barlows who baked, or Barlows who brewed;
Barlows who dealt in upholstery; Barlows who purveyed butcher’s meat; or
professional Barlows, who wrote Rev. before or M.R.C.S. after their
names. A spinster of the musical profession was not to be found among
the London Barlows.

In the face of this disappointment Maurice paused to consider his next
effort. Advertising in the _Times_ he looked upon as a last resource,
and a means of inquiry which he hoped to dispense with. So many spurious
Miss Barlows eager to hear of something to their advantage, would be
conjured into being by any appeal published in the second column of the
_Times_.

There remained to him the detective medium, but Maurice cherished a
prejudice against private inquiry offices, and would not for all the
wealth of this realm have revealed Muriel’s story to a professional
detective. He was resolved to succeed or fail in this business
single-handed.

‘If Miss Barlow is above ground her existence must be known to
somebody,’ he reasoned, ‘to musical people more particularly. I’ll go
down to the Albert Theatre and have a chat with the leader of the
orchestra. Your musical director is generally a man of the world, with a
little more than the average amount of brains. And I have heard Justina
speak very highly of Herr Fisfiz. Flittergilt’s new comedy is in
rehearsal, so I have an excuse for going behind the scenes.’

It was about noon on the day after his little entertainment to Mr.
Elgood that Maurice arrived at this decision. He went straight from his
club, where he had explored the Court Guide and Postal Directory, to the
snug little theatre in the Strand, where, after some parley with the
stage doorkeeper, he obtained admittance, and groped his way through
subterranean regions of outer darkness, and by some breakneck stairs, to
the side scenes, where, in a dim glimmer of daylight and fitful glare of
gas, he beheld the stage on one side of him, and the open door of the
green-room on the other.

Justina was rehearsing. Mr. Flittergilt, in a state of mental fever, sat
by the stage manager’s little table, manuscript and pencil in hand,
underlining here, erasing there, now altering an exit, now suggesting
the proper emphasis to give point to a sparkling sentence, evidently
delighted with his own work, yet as evidently painfully anxious about
the result.

‘I shan’t be satisfied with a moderate success,’ he told Maurice. ‘I
want this piece to make a greater hit than “No Cards.” You remember what
was said of Sheridan when he hung back from writing a new comedy. He was
afraid of the author of “The Rivals.” Now I don’t want that to be said
of _me_.’

‘No fear, dear boy,’ remarked Maurice. But Mr. Flittergilt’s exalted
mind ignored the interjection.

‘I want the public to see that I have not emptied my sack; that “No
Cards” was not my ace of trumps, but only my knave. I’ve queen, king,
and ace to follow! Did you hear the last scene?’ asked the author, with
a self-satisfied smile. ‘It’s rather sparkling, I think; and Elgood hits
the character to the life.’

Mr. Clissold did not approve this familiar allusion to the girl of his
choice.

‘I’ve only just this moment come in,’ he said; ‘I’m glad Miss Elgood
likes her new _rôle_.’

‘Likes it?’ cried Flittergilt, with an injured look. ‘It wouldn’t be
easy for any actress on the boards not to like such a part. “No Cards”
made Miss Elgood; but this piece will place her a step higher on the
ladder.’

‘Don’t you think there may be people weak-minded enough to believe that
Miss Elgood’s acting made “No Cards”?’ asked Maurice, quietly.

‘I can’t help people’s weak-mindedness,’ answered Mr. Flittergilt, with
dignity; ‘but I know this for a fact, that no acting—not of a Macready
or a Faucit—ever made a bad piece run over a hundred nights.’ And with
this assertion of himself Mr. Flittergilt went back to his table and his
manuscript, and began to badger the actors—being possessed by the idea
that because he was able to construct a play from the various foreign
materials at his command, he must necessarily be able to teach
experienced comedians their art.

Justina looked up from her book presently, and espied Mr. Clissold. Her
blush betrayed surprise, her eyes revealed that the surprise was not
unpleasant.

‘Have you come to criticise the new comedy?’ she asked. ‘That’s hardly
fair, though, for a piece loses so much at rehearsal. Mr. Flittergilt is
always calling us back to give us his own peculiar reading of a line. I
never saw such an excitable little man. But I suppose he’ll take things
more coolly when he has written a few more plays.’

‘Yes; he is new to the work as yet. I am glad to hear you have such a
good part.’

‘It is a wonderfully good part, if I can only act it as it ought to be
played.’

‘Is your leader, Herr Fisfiz, here this morning?’ asked Maurice.

‘He is coming presently. There’s a gavotte in the third act.’

‘You dance?’

‘Yes, Mr. Mortimer and I. Herr Fisfiz has written original music for
it—so quaint and pretty. You should stay to hear it, now you are here.’

‘I mean to stay till the rehearsal is over. I should like you to
introduce me to Mr. Fisfiz; I want to ask him a question or two about
some musical people.’

‘I shall be pleased to introduce you to each other. He is a very clever
man, not in music only, but in all kinds of things, and I think you
would like him.’

Maurice seated himself in a dark corner, near the prompter’s box, and
awaited Mr. Fisfiz, amusing himself by listening to the comedy, and
beholding his friend Flittergilt’s frantic exertions in the meanwhile.
He had been thus occupied nearly an hour when Mr. Fisfiz appeared,
attended by his _ame damnée_ in the person of the _repétiteur_. The
director was a little man, with a small delicate face, and a
Shakesperian brow; spoke English perfectly, though with a German accent,
and had no dislike to hearing himself talk, or to wasting a stray
half-hour in the society of a pretty actress, or even bestowing the
sunshine of his presence for a few leisure minutes on a group of
giggling ballet-girls. He was evidently a great admirer of Miss Elgood,
and inclined to be gracious to any one she introduced to him.

‘I think you’ll like the gavotte,’ he said, playing little pizzicato
passages on his violin, with a satisfied smile. ‘It sounds like Bach.’

Justina told him it was charming. The dance began presently, and though
she only walked through it, the grace of her movements charmed that
silent lover of hers, who sat in his corner and made no sign, lest in
uttering the most commonplace compliment he should betray that secret
which he had pledged himself to keep.

When the gavotte was finished, Justina brought Herr Fisfiz to the dark
corner, and left him there with Maurice, while she went on with her
rehearsal.

Mr. Clissold gave the gavotte its meed of praise, said a few words about
things in general, and then came to the question he wanted to ask.

‘There is a lady connected with the musical profession I am trying to
find,’ he said, ‘and it struck me this morning that you might be able to
assist me.’

‘I know most people in the musical world,’ answered Herr Fisfiz. ‘What
is the lady’s name?’

‘Miss Barlow.’

‘Miss Barlow. How do you spell the name?’

Maurice spelt it, and the director shook his head.

‘I know no one of that name. No Miss B-a-r-l-o-w,’ he said. ‘I never
heard of any one so called in the musical profession. Is your Miss
Barlow a concert singer? Young—an amateur, perhaps, who has not yet made
herself known?’

‘She is not a concert singer, and she must be middle-aged—probably
elderly. The last account I have of her goes back to ten years ago. She
may be dead and gone for anything I know to the contrary; but I have
heard that she was living in or near London ten years ago, giving
lessons in music, and that she was doing well. She was a retired
schoolmistress, and had made money, therefore was not likely to go in
for ill-paid drudgery. She must have had some standing in her
profession, I fancy.’

‘I know of a Madame Bâlo—B-â-l-o—who might answer to that description,’
said the leader, thoughtfully, ‘an elderly lady, a very fine pianiste.
She still receives a few pupils—chiefly girls studying for concert
playing; but I believe she does so more from love of her art than from
any necessity to earn money. She lives in considerable comfort, and
appears to be very well off.’

‘She is a foreigner, I suppose, from the name. The lady I mean is—or
was—an Englishwoman.’

‘Madame Bâlo is as British as you are. She may have married a foreigner,
perhaps. But I really don’t know whether she is a widow or a spinster.
She lives alone, in a nice little house in Maida Vale.’

‘I wonder whether she can be the lady I want to find? The description
seems to answer. She may have Italianized the spelling of her name to
make it more attractive to her patrons.’

‘Yes, you English seem to have a small belief in your own musical
abilities, since you prefer to entrust the cultivation of them to a
foreigner.’

‘Do you know this lady well enough to give me a note of introduction to
her?’ asked Maurice; ‘if I may venture to ask such a favour at the
beginning of our acquaintance.’

‘Delighted to oblige a friend of Miss Elgood’s,’ answered Mr. Fisfiz,
politely. ‘Yes, I know Madame Bâlo well enough to scribble a note of
introduction to her. She is a very clever woman, with a passion for
clever people. And I believe you belong to the world of letters, Mr.
Clissold?’

‘Yes, I have dabbled in literature,’ answered Maurice.

‘Just the very man to delight Madame Bâlo. She is a woman of mind. When
do you want the letter?’

‘As soon as ever you can oblige me with it. I dare say a line on one of
your cards would do as well. I merely wish to ask Madame Bâlo a few
questions about a young lady who was once a member of her establishment
at Seacomb; supposing that she is identical with the Miss Barlow I have
spoken of.’

‘I’ll do what you want at once,’ said Mr. Fisfiz.

He seated himself at the prompter’s table, and wrote on the back of a
card, in a neat and minute penmanship,—

    ‘DEAR MADAME,—Mr. Clissold, the bearer of this card, is a literary
    gentleman of some standing, who wishes to make your acquaintance.
    Any favour you may accord him will also oblige,

              ‘Yours very truly,

                   ‘R. F.’

‘I think that will be quite enough for Madame Bâlo,’ he said.

Half an hour later Maurice was in a hansom, bowling along the Edgware
Road towards Maida Vale.

Here, on the banks of the canal, in a somewhat retired and even
picturesque spot, he found the abode of Madame Bâlo, stuccoed and
classical as to its external aspect, with a Corinthian portico, which
almost extinguished the house to which it belonged.

A neat maid-servant opened the iron gate of the small parterre in front
of the portico, and admitted him without question. She ushered him into
a drawing-room handsomely furnished, and much ornamented with divers
specimens of feminine handicraft—water-colour landscapes on the walls;
Berlin-work chair covers; a tapestry screen, whereon industrious hands
had imitated Landseer’s famous Bolton Abbey; fluffy and beady mats on
the tables and chiffoniers; and alabaster baskets of wax fruit and
flowers carefully preserved under glass shades.

A glance at these things told Maurice that he was on the track of the
original Miss Barlow. Such a collection of fancy-work could only belong
to a retired schoolmistress.

A grand piano, open, with a well-filled musicstand beside it, occupied
an important position in the room. Early as it was in the autumn, a
bright little fire burned in the shining steel grate.

Maurice had ample leisure to study the characteristics of the apartment
before Madame Bâlo made her appearance; but after examining all the
works of art, and roaming about the room somewhat impatiently for some
time, he heard an approaching rustle of silk, and Madame Bâlo entered,
splendid in black moire antique, profusely bugled and fringed, and a
delicate structure of pink crape and watered ribbon, which no doubt was
meant for a cap.

She was a smiling, pleasant-looking little woman, short and stout, with
a somewhat rubicund visage, and a mellow voice, nothing prim or
scholastic about her appearance, her distinguishing quality being rather
friendliness and an easy geniality.

‘Delighted to see any friend of Mr. Fisfiz,’ she said, with a gushing
little manner that had something fresh and youthful about it, in spite
of her sixty years; not affected juvenility, but the real thing.
‘Charming man, Mr. Fisfiz—one of the finest quartette players I know. We
have some pleasant evenings here now and then, when his theatre is shut.
I should be happy to see you at my little parties, Mr. Clissold, if you
are fond of chamber music.’

‘You are very kind. I should be pleased to make one of your audience,
however limited my powers of appreciation might be. But my call to-day
is on a matter of business rather than of pleasure, and I fear I am
likely to bore you by asking a good many questions.’

‘Not at all,’ said Madame Bâlo, with a gracious wave of the pink
structure.

‘First and foremost, then, may I venture to ask if you always spelt your
name as it is inscribed on the brass plate on your gate, or whether its
present orthography—the circumflex accent included—is not rather
fanciful than correct? Pray pardon any seeming impertinence in my
inquiry. The lady I am in quest of was proprietress of a school at
Seacomb, in Cornwall, eminently respected by all who knew her. It struck
me that you might be that very Miss Barlow.’

The lady blushed, coughed dubiously, and after a little hesitation,
answered frankly,—

‘Upon my word, Mr. Clissold, I don’t know why I should be ashamed of the
matter,’ she said, smiling. ‘It is a free country, and we are always
taught that we may do as we like with our own. Now nothing can be more
one’s own property than one’s name.’

‘Certainly not.’

‘When I came back to England, after a lengthened sojourn in romantic
Italy—the dream of my life through many a year of toil,—I found that I
was still too young, and of far too energetic a temperament to settle
down to idleness and retirement. I am speaking now of fifteen years ago.
In Italy I had cultivated and improved my powers as an instrumentalist,
and I had made myself mistress of the mellifluous language to which a
Dante and a Tasso have lent renown. In Italy I had been known as the
Signora Bâlo. Gradually I had fallen into the way of writing my name as
my Italian friends preferred to write it; and ultimately, when I
established myself in this modest dwelling, and issued my circulars, I
preferred to appeal to a patrician and fashionable public under the
Italianized name of Bâlo, and with the prefix Madame.’

‘Your explanation is perfect, Madame,’ replied Maurice, ‘and I thank you
sincerely for your candour. And now may I inquire if you remember among
your pupils at Seacomb a young lady of the name of Trevanard?’

Madame Bâlo looked agitated.

‘Remember Muriel Trevanard!’ she exclaimed. ‘I do indeed remember her.
She was my favourite pupil, a lovely girl, full of talent—a charming
creature.’

‘Have you any idea of her fate in after life?’

‘No,’ returned the schoolmistress, with a troubled look. ‘It ought to
have been brilliant, but I fear it was a blighted life.’

‘It was indeed,’ said Maurice, and then, as briefly as he could, told
Madame Bâlo the story of her pupil’s after life.

Madame Bâlo heard him with undisguised agitation. A little cry of
horrified surprise broke from her more than once during his narrative.

‘Now, after considering this case from every point of view, I arrived at
a certain conclusion,’ said Maurice.

‘And that was——’

‘That George Penwyn and Muriel Trevanard were man and wife, and that you
were aware of their marriage.’

It was some moments before Madame Bâlo recovered herself sufficiently to
reply. She sat looking straight before her, with a troubled countenance,
then suddenly rose, and walked up and down the room once or twice—made
as if she would have spoken, yet was dumb—and then as suddenly sat down
again.

‘Mr. Clissold,’ she said abruptly, after these various evidences of a
perturbed spirit, ‘you have made me a very miserable woman.’

‘I am sorry to hear that, Madame Bâlo.’

‘That poor ill-used girl—that martyred girl—condemned by her own
mother—disgraced and exiled in her own home—tortured till her brain gave
way—was as honest a woman as I am—a true and loyal wife, bound to George
Penwyn legally and with my knowledge. Yes, there was a marriage, and I
was present at the ceremony. I foolishly permitted myself to be drawn
into Captain Penwyn’s boyish scheme of a secret marriage. It was to be
the mere legal marriage, only a tie to bind them for ever—but no more
than a tie until George should have won his father’s consent, or been
released by his father’s death, and they should be free to complete
their union. A foolish business, you will say, in the bud, but I was a
foolish woman, and I thought it such a grand thing for my pet pupil—my
bright and beautiful Muriel, whom I loved as if she had been my own
daughter—to win the young Squire of Penwyn.’

Madame Bâlo said all this in little half-incoherent gushes, not strictly
calculated to make things clear.

‘If you would kindly give me a direct and succinct account of this
matter—so far as you were concerned in it or privy to it—you would be
doing me an extreme kindness, Madame Bâlo,’ said Maurice, earnestly.
‘Much wrong has been done that can never be repaired upon this earth;
but there is some part of the wrong that may perhaps be set right, if
you will give me your uttermost aid.’

‘It is yours, Mr. Clissold. Command me. You have no idea how fond I was
of that poor girl—how proud of the talents which it had been my
privilege to develop.’

‘Tell me everything; straightly, simply, fully.’

‘I will,’ replied Madame Bâlo, ‘and if I appear to blame in this unhappy
story, you must remember I erred from want of thought. I believed that I
was acting for the best.’

‘Most of our mistakes in this life are made under that delusion,’ said
Maurice, with his grave smile.

‘You want to know how I came to be mixed up in Muriel’s love affair?
First you must know that before he went to Eton, George Penwyn came to
me to be prepared for a public school. I was a mere girl, and had only
just set up my establishment for young ladies in those days, and I was
very glad to give two hours every morning to the Squire’s little boy,
who used to ride over to Seacomb on his Exmoor pony in the charge of a
groom. A very dear little fellow he was at nine years old. I grounded
him in French and Latin—and even taught him the rudiments of Greek
during the year and a half in which I had him for a pupil, my own dear
father having given me a thorough classical education: and, without
vanity, I do not think many little lads went to Eton that year better
prepared than George Penwyn. He was a grateful, warm-hearted boy, and he
never forgot his old friend, or the old-fashioned garden with the big
yellow egg-plums on the western wall. He came to see me many a time in
his summer holidays, and afterwards when he was in the army. I never
knew him to be three days at home without spending a morning with me. He
was about the only young man I ever let come in and out of my house
without restraint, for I knew he was the soul of honour.’

‘Did he first see Muriel Trevanard in your house?’

‘No, he was abroad at the time Muriel was with me. My first knowledge of
his acquaintance with Muriel, and of his love for her, came from his own
lips, and came to me as a surprise.’

Madame Bâlo paused, with a sigh, and then continued her story.

‘Captain Penwyn came to me one day, just before the Michaelmas
holidays—it was about a year after Muriel had gone home for good—and
asked me for half an hour’s private talk. Well do I remember that calm
September afternoon, and his bright, eager face as he walked up and down
together in the garden at Seacomb, by the sunny wall, where the last of
the figs and plums were ripening. He told me he was madly in love with
Muriel Trevanard—deeper in love than he had ever been in his life—in
fact, it was the one true passion of his life. “I may have fancied
myself in love before,” he said, “but this is reality.” I tried to laugh
him out of his fancy, reminded him of the difference in station between
himself and a tenant farmer’s daughter; asked him what his father would
say to such an infatuation. “That’s what I’m here to talk about,” said
George. “You know what my father is, and that I might just as well try
to turn the course of those two rivers we used to read about when you
were grinding me as to turn my father from his purpose. He has made up
his mind that I am to marry land—he dreams of land, sleeping and
waking—and spends half his time in calculating the number of his acres.
If I refuse to marry land he will disinherit me, and one of my younger
brothers will get Penwyn. Now you know how fond I am of Penwyn, and how
fond all the people round Penwyn are of me; and you may imagine that it
would be rather a hard blow for me to lose an estate which I have always
looked upon as my birthright.”

‘“I should think so, indeed,” said I.

‘“But I love Muriel Trevanard better than house or land,” replied he,
“and I would rather lose all than lose her.”’

‘What did you say to this?’ asked Maurice.

‘I told him that he was simply mad to think about Muriel, except as he
might of a beautiful picture which he had seen in a gallery. But I might
as well have reasoned with the wind. He had made up his mind that life
without Muriel wasn’t worth having. If ever I saw passionate, reckless,
all-absorbing love in my life, I saw it in him. Nothing would content
him but that Muriel and he should be married before he went abroad with
his regiment. He only wanted the tie, the certainty that nothing less
than death could part them. He would ask no more than that she should be
legally his wife, and would wait a fitting time to take her away from
her father’s house, and proclaim his marriage to the world. Nothing
would be gained by my repeating the arguments I used. They were of no
avail. He held to his foolish romantic purpose of calling Muriel his
wife before he left England. “I shall only be away a year or two,” he
said, “and who knows but I may gain a shred of reputation before I come
back—return full major, perhaps, and be able to soften my father’s
flinty heart?” He told me that he wanted my help, but if I refused it
the marriage would take place all the same. He would not leave England
until he had made Muriel his own.’

‘And you consented to help him?’

‘He talked me out of my better reason. Mr. Clissold, I must confess to a
romantic temperament, and that reason is not my strong point. I was
touched by the intensity of his love—the romance of the situation—and
after a long argument, and doing my uttermost to dissuade George from
the step he contemplated, I ultimately promised him my aid—and pledged
myself to the strictest secrecy. Muriel was to be asked to spend the
Michaelmas holidays with me, and then we were to go quietly to a little
watering-place in Devonshire, where no one would know anything about us,
or about George Penwyn. George was to slip up to Exeter for the licence,
and everything was to be managed in such a way as to prevent the
possibility of suspicion on the part of the Squire.’

‘Did Muriel consent readily to such a plan?’

‘I think not. But, however unwillingly, her consent had been given
before she came to me, and when I, as woman to woman, asked her if she
really wished this marriage to take place she told me yes, she wished
all that George wished. He had a foolish idea that her father and mother
would oblige her to marry some one else if he left her unfettered, she
told me, and nothing would satisfy him but that indissoluble bond. Well,
we went to Didmouth, the quietest little seaport town you can well
imagine, and here Muriel and I lived in lodgings, while George had his
quarters at the hotel. I think those were happy days for both of them.
The country round Didmouth is lovely, and they used to wander about
together all day long on the hills, and in the lanes where the
blackberries were ripening, and the ferns beginning to change their
tint. I never saw such innocent, happy lovers. The simplest things
pleased and interested them. They were full of hope for the future, when
the old Squire should relent. I don’t know how they supposed he would be
brought to change his ideas, but they had some vague notion that he
would come round to George’s way of thinking in a year or two. As the
wedding day drew near their spirits drooped a little, for it was an
understood thing that they were to part at the church door, and meet no
more until the Squire’s consent had been won, lest, by any imprudent
meeting, they should betray the secret of their union, and bring about
George’s disinheritance. I made them both promise most solemnly that
they would not meet after the wedding until George had told his father
all, and settled his future fate for good or evil. I stood beside Muriel
at the altar; I signed my name in the parish register. I saw bride and
bridegroom kiss with their parting kiss, and then I took my old pupil
off to the Didmouth coach—there was no rail to Didmouth in those
days—and by nightfall we were back in Seacomb, worn out both of us with
the emotions of that curious wedding day. A few days later Muriel went
back to Borcel End, and I saw no more of her till the following
Christmas, when I drove over to the farm one afternoon to say good-bye
to my old pupil, after having advantageously disposed of my school in
rather a sudden way, and on the eve of my departure for the Continent. I
could only see Muriel in the presence of her mother and father, who
received me with old-fashioned ceremoniousness, and gave me no
opportunity of being alone with my pupil. And thus I left Cornwall
ignorant of any need that Muriel might have of my friendship, counsel,
or aid. I looked upon George Penwyn’s marriage as the foolish whim of a
headstrong young man, passionately in love; but I had no thought that
peril or ruin could come of that act; and I looked forward hopefully to
the time when Captain Penwyn would return and claim his wife before all
the world. Whether the old Squire did or did not forego his threat of an
unjust will, it would be no bad thing for Muriel to be a captain’s or a
major’s wife, I thought, even if her husband were landless, or
fortuneless. Better than marrying trade or agriculture, I told myself.
Very foolish, no doubt; but my dear old father, who taught me the
classics, taught me a good many prejudices into the bargain, and though
I had to get my living as a school-mistress, I always looked down upon
trade. It pleased me to think that the girl, whose mind I had formed,
had a gentleman for her husband, and a gentleman descended from one of
the oldest families in Cornwall. And now, Mr. Clissold, that is the
whole of my story. From the time I left Seacomb I never heard from
Muriel Penwyn, though I had given her my London agent’s address when we
parted, an address from which letters would always be forwarded to me.’

‘You heard of her husband’s death, I suppose?’

‘Not till nearly six months after it happened, when I saw an account of
the poor fellow’s melancholy fate in an Italian newspaper, a paragraph
copied from _Galignani_. You may imagine that my heart bled for Muriel,
yet I dared not write to express my sympathy, fearing to betray a secret
which she might prefer to keep hidden for ever from her parents. The
foolish marriage was now no more than a dream, I thought; a shadow which
had passed across the sunshine of her bright young life, leaving grief
and pain in its track, but exercising no serious influence on her
future. “She will get over her sorrow in a year or so, and marry some
good-looking farmer, or Seacomb shopkeeper, after all,” I thought,
bitterly disappointed at this sad ending to my pretty little romance. I
wrote to a friend at Seacomb soon after to inquire about my old pupil,
putting my questions with assumed carelessness. My friend replied that
Miss Trevanard was still unmarried and with her parents—a dull life for
the poor girl, she feared,—but she understood that Miss Trevanard was
well. This was all I could hear.’

‘The breaking of a heart is a quiet transaction,’ said Maurice, ‘hardly
noticeable to the outward world. Small-pox is a far more obvious
calamity.’

Madame Bâlo sighed. She felt that she had some cause for remorse on the
subject of Muriel Trevanard, that she had taken too little trouble about
the young wife’s after fate—had been too much absorbed by her own
musical studies, her Continental friends and her own interests
generally.

‘What was the name of the church at Didmouth where the marriage took
place?’ asked Maurice.

‘The parish church, St. John’s.’

‘And the date of the marriage?’

‘September 30th, 1847.’

This was all that Madame Bâlo could tell him and all that he wanted to
know. It seemed to him that his course was tolerably clear. He had three
distinct facts to prove. First the marriage, then the birth of the
infant, and finally Justina’s identity with that infant.

His three witnesses would be—

   1. Miss Barlow, to prove the marriage.

   2. Old Mrs. Trevanard, who could testify to the birth of the child.

   3. Matthew Elgood, in whose custody Justina had been from the day of
      her birth, and whose evidence, if held worthy of credence, must
      needs establish her identity with the child born at Borcel End.

On leaving Madame Bâlo, with whom he parted on excellent terms, Maurice
went straight to his solicitors, Messrs. Willgross and Harding, of Old
Square, good old family solicitors,—substantial, reliable, sagacious.
Before the younger partner, his especial friend and counsellor, he laid
his case.

Mr. Harding heard him with a thoughtful countenance, and was in no haste
to commit himself to an opinion.

‘Rather difficult to dispossess such a man as this Mr. Churchill Penwyn,
on the testimony of a strolling player,’ he said. ‘It’s a pity you
haven’t witnesses with better standing in the world. It might look like
a got-up case.’

‘There is the evidence of the parish register at Didmouth Church.’

‘To prove the marriage. Yes; but only an old blind woman to prove the
birth of an heiress, and only this Elgood to show that the infant was
entrusted to him. And on the strength of his evidence you want to claim
an estate worth seven thousand a year for a young actress at the Albert
Theatre. The story is very pretty, very romantic, but, upon my word, Mr.
Clissold, between friends, if I were you, I would not take much trouble
about it.’

‘I will take whatever trouble may be needful to prove Justina’s
legitimacy,’ replied Maurice, with decision. ‘The estate is a secondary
consideration.’

‘Of course, a mere bagatelle. Well, one of our clerks shall go down to
Didmouth to make a copy of the entry in the register.’

‘I’ll go with him,’ said Maurice.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER X
               ‘THE SADDEST LOVE HAS SOME SWEET MEMORY.’


Maurice left London for Didmouth by the mail, accompanied by Mr.
Pointer, a confidential clerk of Messrs. Willgross and Harding. Didmouth
was still off the main line, and they had to drive seven or eight miles
in a jolting little omnibus, very low in the roof, and by no means
luxurious within. They reached Didmouth too late for anything except
supper and bed, but they were at the sexton’s cottage before eight
o’clock next morning, and thence repaired to the church, with the
elderly custodian and his keys in their company.

The registers were produced, and the entry of the marriage found, under
the date supplied by Miss Barlow. A duly certified copy of this entry
being taken by Mr. Pointer, in duplicate, Maurice’s mission at Didmouth
was concluded.

He parted from Mr. Pointer at the railway station, after having endured
another hour of the jolting omnibus; and while the clerk hastened back
to London with one of the two documents, Maurice went down the line to
Seacomb with the other.

He had not been away a week, and yet he had established the one fact he
most desired to prove, Justina’s right to bear her father’s name. He
could now venture to confide Muriel’s story to Martin, or at least so
much of it as might be told without reflecting on his dead mother.

He walked into the old farmhouse at breakfast-time next morning, after
having spent the night at Seacomb, and crossed the moors in the autumnal
mists of earliest morning, not without some hazard of losing his way.

Martin was surprised and delighted.

‘What good wind blows you here, dear old fellow?’ he cried, gladly.

‘The best wind that ever blew, I think,’ answered Maurice.

Mr. Trevanard had gone about his day’s work, he had taken to working
harder than ever, of late, Martin said; so the two young men had the old
hall to themselves.

Here Maurice told his story, Martin listening with profound emotion, and
shedding no unmanly tears at the record of his sister’s sorrows.

‘My poor mother!’ he sobbed out at last. ‘She acted for the best—to save
the honour of our family—but it was hard on Muriel—and she was sinless
all the time—a wife, free from taint of wrong-doing, except that fatal
concealment of her marriage.’

Then, when the first shock was over, the young man inquired eagerly
about his niece, his beloved sister’s only child—the babe that had been
exiled from its birthplace, robbed of its name.

‘How nobly, how wisely, how ably you have acted from first to last,
Clissold!’ he exclaimed. ‘Without your help this tangled web could never
have been unravelled. But how did it ever occur to you that Miss Elgood
and my sister’s daughter could be one and the same person?’

‘Perhaps it was because I have thought so much more of Justina Elgood
lately than any one else,’ answered Maurice; and then he went on to
confess that his old wound was healed, and that he loved Justina with a
deeper and truer love than he had given the doctor’s daughter. Martin
was delighted. This would make a new link between himself and his
friend.

Maurice’s next anxiety was for an interview with old Mrs. Trevanard. He
wanted to test that aged memory, to discover how far the blind
grandmother might be relied upon when the time came for laying this
family secret before the world.

Mrs. Trevanard still kept her room. She was able to move about a
little—able to keep watch and ward upon Muriel, but she preferred the
retirement of her own chamber to her old corner in the family
sitting-room.

‘The place would seem strange to me without Bridget,’ she told Maurice,
when he expressed his regret at finding her still in her own room. ‘It’s
not so much the rheumatics that keep me here as the thought of that.
Bridget was all in all in this house. The old room would seem desolate
without her. So I just keep by my own bit of fire, and knit my stocking,
and think of old times.’

‘I dare say your memory is a better one than many young people can boast
of,’ said Maurice, who had taken the empty chair by the fireplace,
opposite Mrs. Trevanard.

‘Well, I haven’t much to complain of in that respect,’ answered the old
woman, with a sigh. ‘I have sometimes thought that it is better for old
people when their memories are not quite so strong as mine. But then,
perhaps, that’s owing to my blindness. I have nothing left me but
memory, I can’t see to read, not even my Bible, and I haven’t many about
me that care to read to me. So the past is my book, and I’m always
reading the saddest chapters in it. It’s a pity Providence has made us
so that our minds dwell longest on sorrowful things.’

Maurice related his discovery gently and with some preparation to
Muriel’s grandmother. When she heard that Muriel was sinless, that her
marriage with George Penwyn was an established fact, the blind woman
lifted up her voice in thanksgiving to her God.

‘I always thought as much,’ she said, after that first outpouring of
prayer and praise. ‘I always thought my poor lamb was innocent, but
Bridget would not have it so. Bridget hugged the notion of our wrong.
She was always talking of God’s vengeance on the wrong-doer, and when he
met with that cruel death she declared that it was a judgment,
forgetting that the judgment fell heaviest on our poor Muriel.’

They talked long and earnestly of the hapless daughter of the house,
Maurice confiding unreservedly in Mrs. Trevanard, who evinced a shrewd
sense that filled him with hope. Old and blind though she was, this was
not a witness to be brow-beaten by a cross-examining counsel, should the
issue ever be tried in a court of justice.

‘Now from what we know, and from what happened to me on the first night
I ever spent in this house,’ said Maurice, ‘it is clear to my mind that
your granddaughter and her husband were in the habit of meeting secretly
in the room at the end of the corridor at night, when every one else in
the house was asleep.’

He went on to describe his first night at Borcel End; Muriel watching at
the open window, entreating her lover to come back to her. Did not this
conduct indicate that Captain Penwyn had been in the habit of entering
the house secretly by that window? Its height was little over eight feet
from the ground, and the ivy-clad wall would have been easy enough for
any active young man to climb, to say nothing of the ledge and
projecting masonry of the low window, which made the ascent still
easier.

‘My idea is this,’ said Maurice. ‘Your poor granddaughter’s instinct
takes her to that room whenever she is free to ramble about the house at
night when all is still, and she has no fear of interruption. For her
that room is haunted by sad and sweet memories. What more likely than
that if free to go there nightly she would, in the self-communion of a
wandering mind, reveal more of the past than we have yet learned, act
over again her meetings with her lover, say over again the old words?
Will you leave her free to wander to-night, if the fancy seizes her? I
will lie down in my clothes, and keep watch, ready to listen, or to
follow her if need be. The moon is nearly at the full, and the night
will be bright enough to tempt her to wander. Will you let it be so,
Mrs. Trevanard?’

‘I don’t see that any harm could come of it,’ answered the old woman,
dubiously. ‘She is reasonable enough in her way, and I have never known
her attempt to do herself a mischief. But as to what she can reveal in
her wild wandering talk, I don’t see myself how that can be of any
good.’

‘Perhaps not. It is only a fancy of mine at best, but I shall be pleased
if you will indulge it. I shall not be here more than two or three
nights.’

‘I will leave my door unlocked on those nights,’ said Mrs. Trevanard.
‘But I shall not have much rest while that poor child is wandering
about.’

To the grandmother, to whom the past was more real than the present,
Muriel was still the girl of eighteen newly returned from school.

The rest of the day was spent quietly enough by Maurice and Martin in a
ramble on the sea-shore. At dinner Mr. Trevanard appeared, but although
he was surprised to see Maurice so soon after his departure he evinced
no curiosity as to the motive of his return. The master of Borcel farm
seemed to have lost all interest in life in losing the partner of his
joys and cares. He went about his work with a mechanical air, talked
very little, drank more than he eat, and seemed altogether in a bad way.

Maurice observed him with concern.

‘If we could but kindle a glimmer of reason in his daughter’s breast,
she might be a comfort to him in the decline of his life,’ speculated
the poet, ‘and it is just possible that a father’s love might exercise
some healing influence upon that disordered mind. The isolation to which
her mother condemned her was the surest method of deadening mind and
memory.’

He would have given much had he been free to summon Justina to Borcel,
and test the power of a daughter’s love upon Muriel’s brain. But to
bring Justina away from London would be to imperil the prosperity of the
Albert Theatre, and doubtless to incur onerous legal penalties. Nor did
he wish to draw Justina into the business till his chain of evidence was
too complete for the possibility of failure in the establishment of her
rights.

‘No,’ he told himself, ‘for some time to come I must act without
Justina.’

Martin could talk of nothing but his newly discovered niece, and was
full of impatience to see her. It was only by promising to take him to
London in a few days, and introduce him to Justina, that Maurice
succeeded in keeping this young man quiet during his first day at Borcel
End. And thus the day wore itself out, and night, with the full autumn
moonlight, descended upon the old farmhouse.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER XI
         ‘STABB’D THROUGH THE HEART’S AFFECTIONS TO THE HEART.’


It was a clear autumn night, still and cloudless. The mists of evening
had rolled away from moorland and meadow,—from the dark brown fields
where the plough had been busy, and the long line of rippling water. The
moon was as bright and full as on that first night of Maurice Clissold’s
sojourn at Borcel. He had been told that on such a night as this Muriel
was wont to be restless.

‘Now if that poor ghost of days departed will but haunt my room
to-night, I may gather some shred of information from her disjointed
talk,’ he said to himself.

But the night wore away while he lay awake and watchful, and there was
no sound of slippered footfall in the corridor, no opening of the
creaking old door. Mr. Clissold fell asleep at last, when the moon had
vanished, and did not wake till ever so long after the Borcel End
breakfast-hour.

This was disappointing, but he waited another day, and watched another
night, with the same result.

‘If she doesn’t come to-night I give it up,’ he said to himself. ‘After
all, there can be but little for me to gather from her rambling
self-communion.’

He slept for an hour or two on the third afternoon, and thus on the
third night of his watch was more wakeful than before. The nights were
moon-light still, but the moon rose later, and had lost her full
brightness.

He lay awake for three hours on this particular night, and heard not a
sound, save the occasional scufflings, patterings, and squealings of
mice behind the wainscot. But a few minutes after the eight-day clock in
the hall had struck two, the watcher heard the sound that had startled
him at his first coming—the slipshod footfall—the slow, ghost-like tread
on the uncarpeted floor of the corridor.

Muriel was approaching.

She entered slowly—quietly—as before, and went straight to the window,
which she opened noiselessly, taking infinite pains to avoid all sound.
Then, kneeling on the window-seat, she put her head out of the window,
and looked downward, as if she were watching some one below.

‘Be careful, love,’ she exclaimed, in a whisper just loud enough to
reach Maurice’s attentive ear, ‘that root of ivy is loose. I’m afraid
your foot will slip. Be careful!’

For some time she remained thus, holding imaginary communion with some
one below. Then all at once she awoke to a sense of her solitude, and
knew that she had been talking to a phantom. She drew back into the
room, and began to walk up and down rapidly, with a distracted air, her
hands clasped upon her head, as if by that pressure upon her temples she
would have stilled the trouble within her brain.

‘They told me he was dead,’ she said to herself; ‘murdered, barbarously
murdered. But there was no truth in it. They have told me other lies as
well as that. They are all false, all cruel. My mother has made them so.
She has taken away my husband. She has taken away my child. She has left
me nothing but memory. Why did she not take that away? I should be
happy—yes, quite happy, sitting by the fire and singing all day long, or
roaming about among the hazel bushes, and the old apple-trees in the
wilderness, if I did not remember. But I look down at my empty arms and
remember that my blessed child ought to be lying in them, and then I
hate her. Yes, I hate the mother that bore me.’

All this was said in disjointed gushes of quick, eager speech, divided
by intervals of silence.

Suddenly she burst into a shrill laugh.

‘Who says he is dead?’ she cried. ‘Don’t I see him every moonlight night
when I can come here? They shut me up mostly, lock all their doors, and
keep me prisoner. Cruel—cruel—cruel. But he is standing under the window
all the same, whenever the moon shines. He is there, waiting for me to
open my window, like Romeo. Yes, that’s what he said, “like Romeo.”’

Then with an entire change of tone, a change to deepest tenderness,
mingled with a remorseful fear, she went on, as if speaking to her
lover.

‘Love, it was very wrong of us to break our promise. I fear that harm
will come of it. My mind is full of fear.’

After this came a long silence. She went back to the window, knelt upon
the broad wooden seat laid her head upon the sill, and remained
motionless, speechless.

Maurice fancied she was weeping.

This continued for nearly an hour; then with a sudden movement—all her
movements were sudden—she started up and looked about the room, as if in
quest of something.

Maurice had left his extinguished candle on the dressing-table, with a
box of matches in the candlestick. Quick as thought, Muriel seized the
box, struck a match, and lighted the candle, and then hurried from the
room.

The watcher sprang from the bed where he had been lying hidden by the
shadow of the curtains, and followed that retiring figure, full of
apprehension.

A confirmed lunatic rushing about an old timber house with a lighted
candle was not the safest of people, and Maurice held himself
responsible for any harm that might happen in consequence of Muriel’s
liberty.

When he emerged from his room the corridor was empty, but the gleam of
the candle in the distance guided his hurried steps. At the end of the
corridor there was a winding stair—a stair which he had never
ascended—but which he understood to lead to certain disused garrets in
the roof.

It was from this narrow stair that the light came, and hither Maurice
hastened. He was just in time to see the edge of Muriel’s white drapery
flutter for an instant on the topmost stair before it vanished, and the
light with it.

He rushed up the stairs, knocking his head against a heavy cross-beam in
the course of his swift ascent, and almost stunning himself; but even
that blow did not make him pause. He staggered on to the last step, and
found himself in a kind of cavern, which in the dim light of the waning
moon looked to him like the hold of a ship turned upside down. Ponderous
beams crossed each other in every direction—the faint moonshine streamed
through a broken skylight—cobwebs and dust hung all around, and in one
corner of this deserted loft a few articles of furniture were crowded
together, shrouded from the dust by some old patchwork coverlets. Even
this loft had doubtless been kept in good order so long as that vigilant
housewife, Bridget Trevanard had been able to attend to her domestic
duties.

Muriel was kneeling near this shrouded heap of discarded
furniture—kneeling by an old-fashioned basket-work cradle. She held the
candlestick in one hand, and seemed to be searching for something in the
cradle with the other hand. Her head was bent, her brow contracted, and
she was muttering to herself as she groped among the tumbled blankets
and discoloured linen which had once made the warm nest of some idolized
infant. Her own nest, most likely.

Maurice stopped short. To startle her in such a moment might be
dangerous. Better for him to hold his peace, and keep a watch upon her
movements, ready to rush to the rescue, should there be peril.

Presently she seemed to have found what she wanted. It was a letter, in
a sealed envelope, which she looked at and kissed, but made no attempt
to open. She replaced this presently in the cradle, and took out more
letters, two or three together, open, and these she kissed, looking long
and fixedly at the written lines, as if she were trying to read them,
but could not.

‘My love, my love,’ she murmured. ‘Your own true words—nothing but death
could part us. Death has parted us. Yes, death! They told me you were
dead. And yet that can’t be true. The dead are spirits. If you were dead
you would hover near me. I should see your blessed shade. I should——’

Her eyes, wandering slowly from the letter, penetrated that dusky corner
where Maurice stood watching her. She saw him—gave one long, wild
shriek—and sprang towards him.

To her excited imagination that dark and silent form seemed the ghost of
her dead lover.

She had thrown the candlestick from her as she sprang to her feet. The
candle rolled from its socket and fell upon her long night-dress. A
moment, and she stood before Maurice’s affrighted sight a pillar of
flame.

He flew to her, clasped her in his arms, and trampled on the candle,
dragged one of the loose coverings from the furniture, and rolled her in
it tightly, firmly, extinguishing the flames in his vigorous grasp. The
peril, the horror, had been but momentary, yet he feared the shock might
be fatal. The frail form shivered in his arms. The tender flesh had been
scorched.

Even in that moment of terror she still believed him to be her lover.

‘Not a spirit!’ she murmured. ‘Not the shadow of the dead, but living,
and returned to me, to rescue, to cherish! Oh, George, is it really
you?’

It was the first time he had heard her utter George Penwyn’s name.

‘It is one who will protect and cherish you,’ Maurice said, tenderly.
‘One whom you may trust and cling to in all confidence, one who will
restore your daughter to you.’

‘My daughter, my baby girl!’ she cried. ‘No? you can never do that on
earth; in heaven we shall meet again, perhaps, and know each other, but
never in this life. She was taken away from me, and they murdered her.’

‘No; she was given into safe hands, she was loved and cared for. Years
have passed since then, and she has grown up into a beautiful young
woman. You shall see her again, live with her, and she will love and
honour you.’

‘I don’t want her, I want my lovely baby, the little child they took
away from me. The baby that lay in my arms, and clung to my breast for
one short hour before it was taken away.’

She shuddered, and a faint moan broke from her lips.

‘You are in pain,’ said Maurice.

‘Yes, the fire is burning still. It scorches me to the heart.’

He took her up in his arms with infinite tenderness, and carried her
across the loft, and down the narrow stair, making his way amidst those
massive cross-beams, and by those steep steps with extreme caution,
lighted only by the pale glimmer of a fading moon.

Once at the bottom of the stairs, and in the broad corridor, his way was
easy enough. He carried his light burden through the silent house,
across the empty hall, to old Mrs. Trevanard’s room. Here he laid her
gently on the sofa before awaking the blind grandmother. He found a
candle on the table, and a match-box on the mantelpiece, and was soon
provided with a light.

His first look was at Muriel. She had fainted, and lay motionless where
he had placed her—white and death-like.

He went to Mrs. Trevanard’s bedside, and woke her gently.

‘Dear Mrs. Trevanard, there has been an accident. Your granddaughter is
hurt; not seriously, I trust, but the shock has made her faint. Will you
give her some kind of restorative, while I go and call the servants?’

He left the room for this purpose, hurried to the end of the house where
he had been told the servants slept, in a room over the kitchen, knocked
at the door of this room, and told one of the girls to get up and dress
herself as fast as she could, and come to Mrs. Trevanard’s room without
a moment’s loss of time. This done, he hastened back to Muriel, and
found the blind grandmother administering to her—holding a glass
containing some cordial of her own concoction to the white lips of the
sufferer.

‘Why did you persuade me to leave my door open?’ exclaimed Mrs.
Trevanard, reproachfully. ‘See what harm has come of it.’

‘Not much harm, I trust in Providence. There has been a shock, but I
hope no real injury.’

‘What was it? Did she fall?’

‘No, it was worse than a fall.’

He told how the flame had caught Muriel’s thin night-gear, and how
rapidly it had been extinguished.

‘If you will tell me where to find your doctor, I will saddle one of the
farm horses and ride over to fetch him, however far it may be,’ said
Maurice.

‘_You_ ride!’ cried Mrs. Trevanard, contemptuously, ‘and how are you to
find your way from here to Seacomb before daybreak?’

‘I am not afraid. I have driven the road often with Martin.’

‘Let Martin go. He has known the way from childhood.’

This seemed a reasonable suggestion, and Maurice hurried off to wake
Martin, just as Phœbe the housemaid arrived on the scene, sleepy, but
sympathetic. She had expected to find old Mrs. Trevanard ill; in fact,
had made up her mind that the old lady had had ‘a stroke,’ and was at
her last gasp. She was therefore surprised to find the blind woman keen
and active, only needing the aid of some one with eyes, to carry out her
instructions.

Maurice was not sorry to remain on the spot while Martin went for the
doctor, feeling that coolness and nerve might be needful.

Martin was up and dressed in the briefest possible space of time, and
ran out to the stables to saddle the useful hack which was kept for the
dog-cart. Day was beginning to show faint and pale in the east as he
galloped away by the road that led to Seacomb, the same road by which
Matthew Elgood and his wife had gone in the chill March morning, twenty
years before, with Muriel’s child in their custody.

Maurice walked up and down the hall, listening for any sound from that
inner room, and in half an hour had the satisfaction of hearing that she
was sleeping tranquilly, and that she had been very little burned.

‘Thank God!’ he ejaculated fervently. ‘If this accident had been fatal I
should have deemed myself her murderer.’

At seven o’clock the doctor arrived, an old man with a wise, kind face.
He had assisted at Muriel’s birth, and had been in some measure familiar
with the various stages of her life, though never entrusted with the
fatal family secret.

He made light of the accident.

‘A shock to the system, undoubtedly,’ he said, ‘but I trust not
involving any danger. Indeed, I am not without hope that it may have a
beneficial effect in subduing that restlessness which Mrs. Trevanard
tells me is the worst feature of the case. Anything which would induce
repose would be favourable, and, by and by, perhaps, change of air and
scene—a total change of surroundings—might do good in weaning the mind
from old impressions, introducing, if I may say so, a new colour into
the patient’s life. I have often suggested this to our worthy friend the
late Mrs. Trevanard, but without effect. She had her prejudices, good
soul, and she thought her daughter could only be properly cared for at
home.’

‘And do you think your patient might soon be moved?’ asked Maurice, who
had a scheme for bringing mother and daughter together.

‘Well, not immediately. Under present circumstances rest is most to be
desired, but when strength returns I feel assured that change would be
advantageous.’

When he had heard all the doctor had to say and eaten a hasty breakfast,
Maurice went quietly upstairs, and having reconnoitred the corridor, and
assured himself that there was nobody about to watch his movements,
ascended that upper staircase leading to the loft.

It was broad daylight now in that chaotic cavern formed by the roof of
the old house. The sunshine streamed in through the broken skylight,
revealing every cobweb which festooned the old oak rafters. Maurice
stepped cautiously across the creaking timbers which roughly floored the
chamber, and approached the pile of disused furniture, in front of which
stood the little wicker cradle where Muriel had hidden her letters.

Were they actual letters, Maurice wondered, or only scraps of worthless
paper which her distraught fancy had invested with meaning and
importance? Had she hidden her lover’s letters here in the days when her
mind was bright and clear, or had she strayed hither in the cunning of
madness, to secrete the maniac’s treasures of straws and shreds and
discarded scraps of paper? He knelt beside the cradle as she had knelt,
and turned out the little sheets and blankets, the small down pillows.
Yes; there were letters under the mattress, a small packet of letters
written in rusty ink on discoloured paper, tied with a faded ribbon.

‘These may be worth something in the way of evidence,’ he said to
himself.

He read them one after another as he knelt there. They told the old
story of deathless love doomed to die, of bright hopes never to blossom
into reality. They all began ‘My beloved wife,’ they were all signed
‘Your devoted husband, George Penwyn.’ They were all addressed on the
cover, which was an integral part of each letter, ‘Miss Muriel
Trevanard, Borcel End, near Seacomb.’

There could be no doubt as to the identity of the person to whom the
letters had been written. There could be no doubt as to the writer’s
recognition of that person as his lawful wife. ‘My Muriel, my darling
wife,’ occurred many times in the letters. Nor was this all—in these
letters, written in all love and confidence, George Penwyn made frequent
allusion to the motives which had led to his secret marriage. His whole
mind was here laid bare, his hope of the Squire’s relenting in time to
come, his plans for the future, his intention to declare his marriage at
any hazard, immediately upon his return to England, his willingness to
face poverty, if need were, with Muriel.

‘But I am not without the hope,’ he wrote in one of the later letters,
‘that my absence from England for two or three years will have a good
effect upon my father’s feelings towards me. He is sore now on account
of my having neglected what he was pleased to consider a grand
opportunity of enlarging and consolidating the Penwyn Estate. But I know
that in his heart he loves me best of all his sons, and that it would
lacerate that heart to disinherit me. Time will blunt the edge of his
angry feelings, and when I come back, perhaps with some little
distinction as a soldier, he will be inclined to look leniently upon my
choice.’

In another letter he hinted at the possible arising of circumstances
which would oblige Muriel to leave her home.

‘I could not go away without being assured that you have a friend and
counsellor ready to aid you in any difficulty,’ he wrote. ‘I have a
staunch friend in Mr. Tomlin, the lawyer, of Seacomb, and I herewith
enclose a letter which I have written to him, informing him of our
marriage, and enlisting his sympathy and assistance for you, should you
need them. He will do all that friendship and discretion, can inspire,
both to secure your comfort and happiness, your safety and
respectability of surroundings _under all circumstances_, and also to
assure the preservation of our secret. Give your mind no trouble,
darling, whatever may happen, but trust implicitly in Mr. Tomlin’s
wisdom and kindness, and believe that, distant as I may be in the body,
there is no hour of the day or night in which I am not near you in the
spirit.’

The letter, addressed to William Tomlin, Esq., Solicitor, Seacomb, was
here—the seal unbroken.

Maurice had no doubt that the possible difficulty foreseen by the young
husband before he left England, was the difficulty which had actually
arisen in the birth of Justina. But why had this letter been left
undelivered? How came it that this unhappy wife—finding herself in the
most miserable position a woman could be placed in—her honour doubted
even by her own mother—should have refrained from applying to the friend
and adviser to whom her husband had recommended her, and to whose
allegiance he had confided her future?

Had she deliberately chosen to endure unmerited disgrace in her own
home, rather than avail herself of Mr. Tomlin’s aid—or had her brain
already begun to fail at the time when her trouble fell upon her,
rendering her incapable of taking the most obvious as well as the most
rational course?

This question sorely puzzled Maurice, and was for the time unanswerable.
He put the letters in his breast pocket, feeling that with this
documentary evidence to strengthen Justina’s case, there must be little
doubt as to the issue. The only question open to dispute in the face of
the marriage register, and of these letters, would be the identity of
Justina. He went downstairs, and out of the house, and took a long
ramble across the upland fields, with the Atlantic before him—his
favourite walk at all times, these bleak fields of turnip or mangold,
high above the roaring waves and wild romantic coast, with its jagged
peaks and natural arches and obelisks of serpentine.

There were a family of cormorants disporting themselves among the
rocks—one solitary herring-boat bobbing up and down in the distance, a
man shovelling up seaweed into a cart on the beach; and this, save for
the flash of a sea-gull’s silver wing now and then, was all the life
visible from the turnip-field on the cliff. Here Martin came presently,
refreshed by a couple of hours’ sleep after his long ride.

‘I thought I should find you here,’ he said, ‘when I missed you in the
house. Poor Muriel is going on very comfortably. I was with her just now
when she awoke. She knew me, for a wonder, and was more gentle than I
have found her for a long time, but the shock seems to have weakened her
very much.’

‘One could hardly expect it could be otherwise. A few days’ rest will
restore her, I trust. Believe me, Martin, no one could be more anxious
about her than I.’

‘I am sure of that, dear fellow.’

‘And now answer me a question. Did you ever hear the name of Tomlin?’

‘Yes, there is a solicitor of that name at Seacomb.’

‘An old man?’

‘No, middle-aged, at most. I should think him barely forty.’

‘Then he is not the man I want. He had a father before him, I suppose?’

‘Yes, old Mr. Tomlin was a wonderful fellow, I believe, universally
respected. I never saw him to my knowledge, for he died when I was a
youngster, but I have often heard my father talk of him.’

Half an hour afterwards, when they were seated at the farmer’s early
dinner, Maurice took occasion to question Michael Trevanard on the same
subject.

‘Old Mr. Tomlin?’ said the farmer. ‘Yes, I remember him well, though he
never did any business for me. A very worthy man, everybody liked him; a
lawyer in a thousand, a thoroughly honest man. He died suddenly, poor
fellow. Left his house one morning in excellent health to attend the
petty sessions, and was seized with a stroke of apoplexy in the court
and never spoke again. His funeral was one of the grandest I ever saw in
Seacomb.’

‘Do you happen to remember the year of his death?’

‘Yes, I remember it well, for it occurred in the winter, before Muriel’s
long illness. He died in December, 1847. This explained Muriel’s
conduct. Death had snatched away the one friend to whom she could have
made her appeal.’


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XII
               ‘IT IS TIME, O PASSIONATE HEART,’ SAID I.


The reason of Muriel’s conduct was fully explained by the fact of Mr.
Tomlin’s death. The one friend whom her husband’s forethought had
provided for her had been snatched away before the hour of her need, and
she had found herself alone, without help, counsel, or shelter.
Doubtless an overstrained respect for her promise—perhaps a latent fear
of Bridget Trevanard’s severe nature—had withheld her from revealing the
fact of her marriage and the manner of it. She had borne the deep agony
of shame rather than endanger her husband’s future. She had perhaps
argued that if her mother and father had been told the truth, nothing
would have prevented their communicating it to the Squire, and then
George would have been disinherited through her broken promise.
Woman-like, she had deemed her own peace—her own fair fame even—a
lighter sacrifice than her husband’s welfare, and she had kept silence.

With this additional evidence of George Penwyn’s letters, fully
acknowledging Muriel as his wife, Maurice felt that there was no further
cause for delay. The law could not be too soon set in motion, if the law
were needed to secure Muriel and Justina their rights. But before
appealing to the law he resolved upon submitting the whole case to
Churchill Penwyn and to Justina, in order to discover the possibility of
compromise. It would be a hard thing to reduce Churchill and his wife to
beggary. They had spent their money wisely, and done good in the land.
An equitable division of the estate would be better pleasing to
Maurice’s idea of justice than a strict exaction of legal rights, and he
had little doubt that Justina would think with him.

His first duty was to go to her and tell her all the truth, and he lost
no time in performing that duty. It was on Saturday morning that he
found the letters in the loft, and on Saturday evening he was in London,
with the quiet of Sunday before him in which to make his revelation.

He left a note for Justina at her lodgings,—

    ‘DEAR MISS ELGOOD,

    ‘Please do not go to church to-morrow morning, as I want to have a
    long talk with you on a serious business matter, and will call at
    eleven for that purpose.

                   ‘Yours always,

                        ‘MAURICE CLISSOLD.’

    ‘SATURDAY EVENING.’

He found her ready to receive him next morning at eleven, fresh and fair
in her simple autumn dress of fawn-coloured cashmere, with neat linen
collar and cuffs, a blue ribbon and silver locket, her sole ornaments.

His letter had filled her with vague apprehensions which Matthew
Elgood’s arguments had not been able to dispel.

‘What business can you have to talk about with me?’ she asked,
nervously, as she and Maurice shook hands. ‘I hope it is nothing
dreadful. Your letter has kept me in a fever ever since I received it.’

‘I am sorry to hear that. I ought to have said less, or more. It is a
serious business, but I hope not one that need give you pain, except so
far as your tenderness and compassion may be concerned for others. The
story I am going to tell you is a sad one, and has to do with your own
infancy.’

‘I can’t understand,’ she said, with a perplexed look.

‘Don’t try to understand until I have told you more. I shall make
everything very clear to you in due time.’

‘Papa may hear, I suppose?’ said she, with a glance at the comedian, who
had laid down his after-breakfast pipe, and was looking far from
comfortable.

‘Yes, I see no reason why Mr. Elgood should not hear all I have to say.
He will be able to confirm some of my statements.’

Matthew Elgood moved uneasily in his chair, emptied the ashes from his
pipe with a shaking hand, wiped his forehead with an enormous bandanna,
and then burst out suddenly:

‘Justina, Mr. Clissold is about to make a revelation. I know enough of
its nature to know that it will be startling. I think I’ve done my duty
by you, my girl; urged you on in your profession; taught you how to walk
the stage, how to make a point; taught you Miss Farren’s original
business in Lady Teazle. We’ve shared and shared alike, through good and
foul weather. Lear and his Fool couldn’t have stuck better by each
other. We’ve tramped the barren heath of life through storm and tempest,
and if you’ve had to wear leaky shoes sometimes, why, so have I. And if
you discover from Mr. Clissold,’ pointing his pipe at Maurice with
tremulous hand, ‘that I am not so much your father as I might have been
had nature intended me for that position, I hope your heart will speak
for me, and confess that I have done a father’s duty.’

With this closing appeal Mr. Elgood laid down his pipe, buried his face
in the big bandanna, and sobbed aloud.

Justina was on her knees at his feet in a moment, her arms around him,
his grizzled head drawn down upon her shoulder, soothing, caressing him.

‘Dear papa, what can you mean! Not my father?’

‘No, my love,’ sobbed the comedian. ‘Legally, actually, as a matter of
fact, I have no claim to that title. Morally, it is another pair of
shoes. I held you at the baptismal font—I have fed you many a time when
your sole refreshment was alike insipid and sloppy,—these hands have
guided your infantine steps, yet, I am not your father. Legally I have
no authority over you—or your salary.’

‘You are my father all the same,’ answered Justina, emphatically. ‘What
other father have I?’

‘Your legal parent has certainly been conspicuous by his absence, my
love. You were placed in my wife’s arms on the day of your birth—an
abandoned child—and from that hour to her death she honestly performed a
mother’s part.’

‘And never had less than a mother’s love!’ cried Justina. ‘Do not fear,
dear papa, that anything I may hear to-day can ever lessen my affection
for you. We have borne too much misfortune together not to love each
other dearly,’ she added, with a touch of sadness.

‘Say on, sir!’ exclaimed the actor, with an oratorical flourish of his
bandanna; ‘she is staunch, and I fear not the issue.’

Maurice told his story in plainest words—the story of Muriel’s marriage
and Muriel’s sorrow. Justina heard him with tears of tenderness and
pity.

‘Now, Justina,’ he said, after having explained everything, ‘you
understand that you have a legal claim to the Penwyn estate. Your
grandfather’s will bequeathed the property to George Penwyn, your
father, or his issue, male or female. If a daughter inherited, her
husband, whomsoever she married, was to assume the name of Penwyn. I
have taken the trouble to read the will, and I have no doubt as to your
position. You can file a bill in chancery—or your next friend for
you—to-morrow, and you can oust Churchill Penwyn from house and land,
wealth and social status. It will be rather hard upon his wife, who is a
very sweet woman, and has done much good in her neighbourhood.’

‘Do you think I want his money or his land?’ cried Justina, indignantly.
‘Not a sixpence—not a rood. I only want the name you say I have a right
to bear—James Penwyn’s name. To think that we were cousins! Poor James!’

‘You dislike Churchill Penwyn. This would be a grand revenge for you.’

‘I dislike him because I have never been able to rid myself of the idea
that he had some hand, directly or indirectly, in his cousin’s death.
But I do not wish to injure him. I leave him to God and his own
conscience. If he has sinned as I believe he has, life must be bitter to
him—in spite of wealth and position.’

‘Are you not intoxicated by the notion of being Lady of Penwyn Manor?’
asked Maurice.

‘No. I am content to be what I am—to earn my own bread, and live happily
with poor old papa,’ laying her hand lovingly on the comedian’s
shoulder.

A welcome hearing this for Maurice Clissold, who had feared lest change
of fortune should work a fatal change in the girl he loved. But he
suppressed all emotion, and went on in his business-like tone.

‘Well, Justina, since you seem to regard your right to the Penwyn estate
with supreme indifference, you will be the more likely to fall into my
way of thinking. Looking at the case from an equitable standpoint, it
does certainly appear to me that, although by the old Squire’s will you
are entitled to the whole of the property, it would be not the less an
injustice were you to claim all. It would seem a hard thing to deprive
Churchill Penwyn altogether of an estate which he has administered with
judgment and benevolence. My idea, therefore, is that I, as your next
friend, if you will allow me the privilege of that position, should
state the case to Mr. Penwyn, and propose a compromise, namely, that he
should mortgage the estate for a sum of money amounting to half its
value, and should deliver that money to you. His income would in this
manner be reduced by one-half, by the interest on this sum, and it would
be at his discretion to save money, even with that smaller income, and
lessen the amount of the mortgage out of his accumulations, as the years
went on. I think this would be at once a fair and liberal proposal,
making his change of fortune as light as possible.’

‘I do not want any of his money,’ said Justina, impetuously.

‘My love, that is simply childish,’ exclaimed Mr. Elgood.

‘Let me act for you, Justina; trust me to deal generously with the
Squire and his wife.’

‘I will trust you,’ she answered, looking up at him with perfect faith
and love.

‘Trust me in this and in all things. You shall not find me unworthy of
your confidence.’

And this was all that was said about the Penwyn estate. Maurice spent
the rest of the day with Justina, took her to Westminster Abbey in the
afternoon to hear a great preacher, and walked with her afterwards in
the misty groves of St. James’s Park, and then and there, feeling that
he was now free to open his heart to her, told her in truest, tenderest
words, how the happiness of his future life was bound up in her; how,
rich or poor, she was dearer to him than all the world beside.

And so, in the London fog and gloom, under the smoky metropolitan trees,
they plighted their troth—Justina ineffably happy.

‘I thought you did not care for me,’ she said, when all had been told.

‘I thought you only cared for James Penwyn’s memory,’ answered Maurice.

‘Poor James! That love was like a midsummer night’s dream.’

‘And this is reality?’

‘Yes.’

He held her to his beating heart under the autumnal trees, and kissed
her with the kiss of betrothal.

‘My love! my dearest! my truest! my best!—what is wealth or position, or
all this bitter world can give and take away, measured against love like
ours?’ And after this homily, which Justina remembered a great deal
better than the great preacher’s sermon, they turned their faces
homewards, and arrived just in time to prevent the utter ruin of the
dinner, which their tardiness had imperilled.

‘You wouldn’t have liked to see a pretty little bit of beef like that
reduced to the condition of a deal board, now, would you?’ asked Mr.
Elgood, pointing to the miniature sirloin.

Maurice and Justina interchanged smiles. They were thinking that they
would be content to dine upon deal boards henceforward, so long as they
dined together.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XIII
              ‘NOT AS A CHILD SHALL WE AGAIN BEHOLD HER.’


Maurice Clissold went back to Cornwall next day, with full powers, so
far as Justina’s interests were concerned. Her greatest anxiety was to
see the unhappy mother from whom she had been severed since the hour of
her birth; but to bring about a meeting between these two was not the
easiest thing in the world. Other interests were at stake. The Albert
Theatre could not get on without Justina, or so the manager affirmed;
and Justina’s engagement was for the entire season. No breaking it, save
by forfeiture of reputation with the public, and at the hazard of a
lawsuit.

The only thing to be done was to bring Muriel nearer London so soon as
she should be strong enough to bear the journey. Maurice hoped much from
the daughter’s influence upon the mother’s disordered brain. He was at
Borcel End by eight o’clock in the evening—neither Mr. Trevanard nor his
son suspecting that their erratic guest had been further than
Seacomb—and found the aspect of things improving. Muriel was calmer; the
burns had proved of the slightest, and all was going on favourably. He
went in and sat by her bedside for a few minutes, and talked to her. The
wan eyes looked at him calmly enough, but with a curious wonder. He
found that she remembered nothing of the fire, and had no idea why she
had been ill and in pain. But she did remember the promise he had made
her about her daughter.

‘Some one told me I should see my baby again,’ she said. ‘I don’t know
who it was, but some one told me so, and I know that I shall see
her—when we meet our friends in heaven.’

‘You shall see her here, on this earth,’ said Maurice.

‘Is that true?’

‘Quite true.’

‘Then let me go to sleep till she comes. Lay her here beside me, and let
me find her here when I open my eyes—my sweet baby!’

‘Consider how many years have come and gone since you saw her. She is an
infant no longer, but a beautiful young woman.’

Muriel stared at him with a puzzled look. ‘I don’t want to see any young
women; I want my baby again—the little baby my mother stole from me.’

This made things difficult. Maurice saw in this a fond clinging to the
past, memory strong enough to make the lapse of years as nothing. He
made no attempt to argue the point, but left Muriel to the devoted
grandmother’s care.

The blind woman sat in her easy chair by the bed, knitting
industriously, and murmuring a soothing word now and then. No voice had
such power to comfort Muriel.

‘When shall I see my niece, and when will you tell father?’ Martin
asked, eagerly, directly he and Maurice were alone together.

‘You shall see your niece as soon as your sister is strong enough to
bear a journey, when you can bring her up to some quiet little place in
the neighbourhood of London. As for your father, I think my chain of
evidence is now so complete that I cannot tell him too soon. I will get
a quiet hour with him to-morrow after breakfast, if I can. Later I am
going to the Manor House to examine my ground and discover if there is
any chance of a friendly compromise.’

‘I hope you’ll be able to settle things pleasantly,’ said Martin. ‘I
can’t bear the idea of those poor young ladies—Mrs. Penwyn and Miss
Bellingham—being turned out of house and home.’

‘It shall not be so bad as that, depend upon it,’ replied Maurice.

He was down early next morning, and asked Mr. Trevanard for half an
hour’s conversation after breakfast.

‘An hour, if you like,’ answered Michael, in his listless way. ‘There’s
not much for me to do upon the farm. I only potter about; the men would
get on quite as well without me, I dare say.’

‘I can’t believe that, Mr. Trevanard,’ said Maurice, cheerily. ‘The
master’s eye—you know the old adage?’

‘Bridget was the ruling mind, sir. Bridget was worth twenty of me!’

It was a cold and blusterous morning—the dead leaves falling fast from
the few trees about Borcel, but Michael and his companion were fond of
the open air, so they went out into the neglected garden, a wilderness
where Muriel had been wont to range alone and at liberty for the last
twenty years.

Here, in a narrow path screened by hazel bushes, the farmer and Maurice
Clissold paced up and down while Maurice told his story, taking care to
soften Bridget Trevanard’s part in the domestic tragedy, and to
demonstrate that, when erring most, she had been actuated only by regard
for the family honour, and a mistaken family pride.

Michael heard him with deepest emotion.

‘My poor girl!—my beautiful Muriel! You don’t know how proud I was of
her—how I doted on her and to think that I should never have suspected
that all was not well, that my poor child was being ill-used in her own
home.’

‘Not ill-used,’ remonstrated Maurice, pleading for the dead wife who had
trusted him with her secret. ‘There was no unkindness.’

‘No unkindness? They made her suffer shame, they refused to believe in
her purity; was that no unkindness? They robbed her of her child! For
what? The world’s good word! I would have stood between my darling and
the world. None should have dared to slander her while I was near. What
right had my wife to take this matter into her own hands—to hoodwink me
with her secrecies and suppressions? I would have stood by my child.
Muriel would have trusted me. Yes, she would have trusted her indulgent
old father, even if she feared to confide in her mother. Bridget was
always too severe.’

‘Remember that your wife erred in her anxiety for your good name.’

‘Yes, yes, I know that. God knows, it goes hard with me to speak against
her in her grave—poor faithful soul! She was faithful according to her
notion of right. But she took too much heed of the world—her world—half
a dozen families within five miles of Borcel. The sun, and moon, and
heaven, and all God’s angels were not so much account to her. Poor soul!
She must have suffered. I’ve seen the lines of trouble growing deeper in
her face, and never knew why they came there. My poor, trampled-upon
Muriel! It was a cruel thing to send away the child. I could have loved
it dearly!’

‘You will love her dearly still, when I bring her to you.’

‘Yes, but not as I could have loved her twenty years ago—when she was a
helpless infant. My firstborn grandchild.’

The idea that this grandchild of his was the rightful owner of the
Penwyn estate, Borcel End included, moved Michael Trevanard but
slightly. He was not calm enough to consider this business from a
worldly point of view. He could only think of the grandchild that was
born under his roof, and spirited away while he lay in his bed,
unsuspecting of the evil that was being wrought for love of his good
name. He could only think of the persecuted daughter whose life had been
made so bitter—of the husband who had never lived to acknowledge his
wife—the father who had never known of his child’s birth. The thought of
these things altogether absorbed his mind, and he scarcely realized the
fact of his grandchild’s claim to wealth and position.

‘And where is she? What is she doing now—Muriel’s daughter—my
grandchild?’ he asked.

Maurice explained Justina’s position.

‘What!’ cried the old man, with a wry face, ‘a play actress? Raddled red
and white, and in short petticoats all over tinsel stars, capering
outside a show?’ his only notion of actresses was founded on his
experiences at Seacomb cattle fair—‘do you mean to say that my flesh and
blood has come to that?’

Maurice hastened to correct the farmer’s idea of the dramatic
profession, and to assure him that his granddaughter was to all intents
and purposes a lady; modest, refined in feeling and in manner, beautiful
in mind and person, a grandchild of whom he had ample reason to be
proud.

‘A London theatre is not in the least like those itinerant playhouses
you have seen at Seacomb fair,’ he said.

‘Humph! They don’t dance outside, I suppose? or play the Pandean pipes,
and beat a gong?’

‘Nothing approaching it. You might mistake a London theatre for a
church, looking at its outside.’

‘And they don’t raddle their faces, eh?’

‘Oh dear no!’ Maurice replied, with a faint twinge in that region of his
sensorium which phrenologists appropriate to conscientiousness. ‘Not in
the least. In short, acting in London is high art.’

‘And no short petticoats and tinsel stars, eh?’

‘No tinsel stars! Nor does your granddaughter ever appear in short
petticoats. She is a most refined and elegant actress, and I know that
whether you see her on or off the stage, you will be equally charmed
with her.’

‘I shall love her for Muriel’s sake,’ answered Michael Trevanard,
tenderly. ‘Yes, I should love her dearly; even if she raddled her cheeks
and danced outside a show at a fair!’


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XIV
                      ‘A SOUL AS WHITE AS HEAVEN.’


Two hours later Maurice Clissold was at the gate of Penwyn Manor. The
girl Elspeth admitted him. She had bound up her coarse black hair, which
had been rough and wild as a mustang’s mane when he last saw her, and
wore a neat stuff gown and a clean white muslin cap, instead of the
picturesque half gipsy costume she had worn on that former occasion.
This at least was a concession to Mrs. Penwyn’s tastes, and argued that
even Elspeth’s impish nature had been at last brought under Madge’s
softening influence.

‘Anything amiss with your grandmother?’ asked Maurice, surprised at not
seeing that specimen of the Meg Merrilies tribe.

‘Yes, sir, she’s very ill.’

‘What is the matter with her?’

‘Bilious fever,’ answered the girl, curtly; and Maurice passed on. He
had no leisure now to concern himself about Rebecca Mason, though he had
in no wise forgotten those curious facts which made her presence at
Penwyn Manor a mystery.

There were more dead leaves drifting about than on his last visit, and
the advance of Autumn had made itself obvious in decay, which all the
industry of gardeners could not conceal. The pine groves were strewn
with fallen cones. The chestnuts were dropping their prickly green
balls, the chrysanthemums and China asters had a ragged look, the glory
of the geranium tribe was over, and even those combinations of colour
which modern gardeners contrive from flowerless plants seemed to lose
all glow and brightness under the dull grey sky. To Maurice’s mind,
knowing that he was a messenger of trouble, the Manor House had a gloomy
look.

He asked to see the Squire, and was ushered at once into the library, a
room which Churchill had built. It was lighted from the top by a large
ground-glass dome, and was lined from floor to ceiling with bookcases of
ebonized wood, relieved with narrow lines of gold. In each of the four
angles stood a pedestal of dark green serpentine, surmounted by a marble
bust—Dante, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Goethe, the four great
representatives of European literature. A noble room, filled with the
noblest books. Such a room as a man, having made for himself, would love
as if it were a sentient thing. These books, looking down upon him on
every side, were as the souls of the mighty dead. Here, shut in from the
outer world, he could never be companionless.

Churchill was seated at a table reading. He started up at Maurice’s
entrance, and received him courteously, cordially even, so far as words
may express cordiality, but with a sudden troubled look which did not
escape Maurice, transient as it was.

‘Glad to see you here again, Clissold; but why didn’t you go straight to
the ladies? You’ll find them in the hall. Most of our friends have left
us, so you’ll be quite an acquisition this dull weather.’

‘You are very good, but I regret to say that the business which brings
me here to-day denies me the right to approach Mrs. Penwyn. I come as a
harbinger of trouble.’

Churchill’s face whitened to the lips, and his thin nervous hand
fastened with a tight grip upon the edge of the table against which he
stood, as if he could scarcely have held himself erect without that
support.

‘How frightened he looks!’ thought Maurice. ‘A man of his type oughtn’t
to be wanting in moral courage.’

‘And pray what is the nature of your evil tidings?’ Churchill asked,
recovering self-control. His resolute nature speedily asserted itself. A
faint tinge of colour came back to his sunken cheeks; his eyes lost
their look of sudden horror, and assumed a hard, defiant expression.

‘This property—the Penwyn estate—is very dear to you, I think?’
interrogated Maurice.

‘It is as dear to me as a man’s birthright should naturally be to him;
and it has been the happy home of my married life.’ This with a touch of
tenderness. In no moment of his existence, however troubled, could he
speak of Madge without tenderness.

‘Yet Penwyn can be hardly called your birthright, since you inherit it
by an accident,’ said Maurice, nervously, anxious to take the edge off
his unpleasant communication.

‘What is the drift of these remarks, Mr. Clissold? They seem to me
entirely purposeless, and pardon me if I add, somewhat impertinent.’

‘Mr. Penwyn, I am here to inform you that there is a member of your
family in existence who possesses a prior claim to this estate.’

‘You are dreaming, sir, or you are deceived by some impostor. I and my
child are the sole representatives of the Penwyn family.’

‘There are secrets in every family, Mr. Penwyn. There has been a secret
in your family, religiously kept for more than twenty years, but lately
brought to light; in some part by my agency.’

‘What, sir, you have come into this house as a spy, while you have been
secretly assailing my position as inheritor of my cousin’s estate?’

‘I have not entered your house since I made the discovery I speak of.’

‘Your discovery has come about with marvellous rapidity, then, for it is
not long since you were my guest.’

‘My discovery has been arrived at quickly.’

‘Pray acquaint me with the nature of this mare’s-nest.’

‘I have to inform you that your uncle, George Penwyn, before leaving
England for the last time, privately married the daughter of his
father’s tenant, Michael Trevanard, of Borcel End.’

Churchill Penwyn laughed contemptuously.

‘I congratulate you upon having hit upon about the most improbable story
I ever heard of!’ he said. ‘My uncle, George Penwyn, married to old
Trevanard’s daughter! and nobody upon earth aware of the fact till you,
a stranger, unearthed it? A likely story, Mr. Clissold!’

‘Likely or unlikely, it is true, and I have sufficient evidence to prove
it, or I should not have broached the subject to you. I have in my
possession a certified copy of the entry in the marriage register at St.
John’s Church, Didmouth, Devonshire; and five letters in your uncle’s
hand, acknowledging Muriel Trevanard as his wife; also a sealed letter
from the same, committing her to the care of the late Mr. Tomlin,
solicitor, of Seacomb, in the event of her needing that gentleman’s
protection during her husband’s absence. Nor do I rely upon documentary
evidence alone. The vicar of Didmouth, who married your uncle to Miss
Trevanard, is still alive; and the principal witness of the marriage,
Muriel’s friend and confidante, is ready to support the claim of
Muriel’s daughter should you force her to appeal to the law, instead of
seeing, as I hope you will see, the advisability of an equitable
compromise. Miss Penwyn has no desire to exact her legal rights. She has
empowered me to suggest a fair and honourable alternative.’

Maurice proceeded to give a brief outline of Justina’s case, and to
suggest his own idea of an equitable settlement.

Churchill sat with folded arms, and gloomy face bent downward listening.
This story of Maurice Clissold’s seemed to him, so far, hardly worth
serious thought. It was so wildly improbable, so like the dream of a
fevered brain, that any claimant should come forward to dispute his hold
of wealth and station. Yet he told himself that Clissold was no fool,
and would hardly talk of documentary evidence which he was unprepared to
produce. On the other hand, this Clissold might be a villain, and the
whole business a conspiracy.

‘Let me see your copy of the register, sir,’ Churchill said,
authoritatively.

Maurice took a paper from his breast-pocket, and laid it on Mr. Penwyn’s
desk. Yes. It was formal enough.

‘George Penwyn, bachelor, gentleman, of Penwyn Manor, to Muriel
Trevanard, spinster, daughter of Michael Trevanard, farmer, of Borcel
End. The witnesses, Maria Barlow, spinster, school-mistress, of Seacomb;
and James Pope, clerk, Didmouth.’ If this were a genuine copy of an
existing entry there would be no doubt as to the fact of George Penwyn’s
marriage.

Both gentlemen were too much engrossed at this moment—Churchill
pondering the significance of the document in his hand, Maurice watching
his countenance as he meditated—to be aware of the opening of a door
near the fireplace, a door which fitted into the bookcase, and was
masked with dummy books. This door was gently opened, a woman’s face
looked in for an instant, and was quickly withdrawn. But the door,
although apparently closed, was not shut again.

‘And you pretend that there was issue to this marriage?’ said Churchill.

‘The lady whose claim I am here to assert is the daughter of Mr. George
Penwyn, by that marriage.’

‘And pray where has this young lady been hiding herself all her life,
and how is it that she has suffered her rights to be in abeyance all
this time?’

‘She was brought up in ignorance of her parentage.’

‘Oh! I understand,’ cried Churchill, scornfully. ‘Some Miss Jones, or
Smith, who has taken it into her wise young head—inspired doubtless by
some astute friend—that she may as well prove herself a Penwyn, if she
can. And you come to me with this liberal offer of a compromise to take
half my estate in the most off-hand way. Upon my word, Mr. Clissold, you
and this scheme of yours are a little too absurd. I can’t even allow
myself to be angry with you. That would be taking the thing too
seriously.’

‘Remember, Mr. Penwyn, if I leave this house without arriving at some
kind of understanding with you I shall place the matter in the hands of
my solicitors without delay, and the law must take its course. However
protracted or costly the process by which Miss Penwyn may obtain her
rights, I have no doubt as to the ultimate issue. She would have been
contented with half your fortune. The law, if it give her anything will
give her all.’

‘So be it. I will fight her to the bitter end. First and foremost, this
marriage, supposing this document to be genuine,’ bringing down his
clenched fist upon the paper, and with an evil upward look at Maurice,
‘is no marriage!’

‘What do you mean?’

‘A marriage with a person of unsound mind is no marriage. It is void in
law. There is Blackstone to refer to if you doubt me,’ pointing to a set
of volumes in dark brown Russia. ‘Now, Muriel, the daughter of Michael
Trevanard, has been deranged for the last twenty years. It is a
notorious fact to everybody in the neighbourhood.’

‘When that marriage took place, and for a year after the marriage,
Muriel was as sane as you or I. Her brain was turned by the shock she
experienced upon being informed suddenly of her husband’s awful death. I
can bring forward sufficient witnesses to prove the state of her mind up
to that time. And again you are to remember that the same authority you
have just quoted tells you that no marriage is voidable after the death
of either of the contracting parties.’

‘And you are prepared to prove that this young woman—this waif and
stray, brought up without the knowledge of her name or parentage—is the
legitimate daughter of my uncle, George Penwyn, and Muriel, his wife. Go
your ways, Mr. Clissold, and make the best use of your evidence,
documentary or otherwise. I will stand by my rights against you, and
would stand by them against a stronger cause than yours.’

He touched a spring bell, which stood on his desk,—a summons answered
with extreme promptitude.

‘The door,’ said the Squire, resuming his book, without so much as a
parting glance at his visitor.

Maurice was conducted to the porch, and left the house without having
seen Mrs. Penwyn or her sister. He was bitterly disappointed by the
result of his morning’s work, which had proved compromise impossible,
and left no course open to him save the letter of the law.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Scarcely had the library door closed on Maurice Clissold, when the other
door, which had been left ajar during the latter part of the interview,
was quietly opened, and Madge Penwyn stole to her husband’s side, knelt
down by him, and wound her arms round his neck. He had been sitting with
his face buried in his hands, trying to think out his position, when he
found her arms about him, his head drawn gently against her shoulder.

‘Dearest! I have heard all,’ she said, quietly.

‘You heard! Madge?’ he exclaimed, with a startled look. ‘Well, my love,
it matters very little. It is all the merest folly. There is no
possibility of what this man threatens.’

‘Churchill—husband—my beloved,’ she began with deepest feeling. ‘You do
not mean to oppose this claim?’

‘To the death.’

‘What? Surely you will accept the truth—if it is the truth—and surrender
fortune and estate. Oh! welcome change of fortune, love, that brings
some measure of atonement. I have never told you how hateful, how
horrible all our wealth and luxury has been to me since I have known——’

‘Hush, Madge! You know so much that you should know enough to be wise.
Do you think I am going to surrender these things? Do you think I am the
kind of man to sit down tamely and let a rogue hatch a conspiracy to rob
me of wealth and status? They have cost me too dear.’

‘They have cost you so dear that you can never have joy or peace with
them, Churchill. God shows us this way of getting rid of our burden. If
you have any hope of mercy, any desire to be forgiven, resign this
fortune. It is the price of iniquity. You can know no true repentance
while you retain it. If I had seen any way of your surrendering this
estate before now without exciting suspicion of the dreadful truth, I
should have urged the sacrifice upon you. I urge it now, with all the
strength of my love.’

‘It is useless, Madge. I could not go back to poverty, laborious days
and nights, the struggle for daily bread. I could not lead that kind of
life again.’

‘Not with me, Churchill? We could go away, to the other end of the
world. To Australia, where life is simpler and easier than in England.
We could know peace again; for you might dare to hope, if your sacrifice
were freely made, that God had accepted it as an atonement.’

‘Can I atone to the dead? Will James Penwyn, in his untimely grave, be
any better off because some impostor riots in the wealth that ought to
have been his? A left-handed atonement that!’

‘But if you find that this girl is no impostor?’

‘The lawyers will have to decide that. If she can establish her right,
you and I, and our boy, will have to say good-bye to Penwyn.’

‘Happy loss if it lighten the burden of your sin. Do you think that I
shall be sorry to leave this place, Churchill? I have never known peace
here since——’

She threw herself upon his breast with a shuddering sigh.

‘Madge, my dearest, my angel of love and compassion, be content to abide
the issue of events. Leave all to me.’

‘No, Churchill,’ she answered, raising her head, and looking at him with
grave and earnest eyes, ‘I am not content. You know that since that
bitter day I have left you in peace. I have not wearied you with my
tears. I have suffered in secret, and have made it the chief duty of my
life to lighten your burden, so far as in me lay. But I can be content
no longer. The wealth that has weighed upon my soul can now be given up,
with honour. The world can find no subject for slander in your quiet
surrender of an estate for which a new claimant has arisen. And we can
begin life afresh together, love, your soul purified by sacrifice, your
conscience lightened, your peace made with God. We can begin life anew
in some distant land, humbly, toilfully; so far away from all past
cares, that your wrong-doing may seem no more than the memory of an evil
dream, and all the future open for manifold good deeds that shall weigh
against that one dreadful sin.’

She seemed like an angel pleading with him for the salvation of his
soul, yet he resisted her.

‘It is useless, Madge. You do not know what you are talking about. I
could not live a life of obscurity. It would be moral suicide.’

‘Will you choose between me and fortune, Churchill?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘That unless you give up this estate you must give up me. I will live
here no longer, share your ill-gotten wealth no longer!’

‘Think of your boy.’

‘I do think of him. God forbid that my son should ever inherit Penwyn.
There is the curse of blood upon every rood of land. Let it pass into
other hands—guiltless hands!’

‘Give me time to think, Madge; you bewilder me by this sudden attack.’

‘Think as long as you like, dearest; only decide rightly at last.’ And
with one long kiss upon his pale forehead, she left him.

Once alone, he set himself to think out his position—to face this new
aspect of things.

Could this alleged heiress—impostor or not—rob him of his estate? Was it
possible for George Penwyn’s marriage, and the identity of George
Penwyn’s child, to be proved in a court of law; proved so indisputably
as to dislodge him from his position as possessor of the estate?

‘No,’ he told himself, ‘the strength will be all on my side. The law
does not encourage claimants of this stamp. If it did, no man’s estate
would be secure, no real property would be worth ten years purchase.’

He had taken a high tone with Maurice Clissold; had affected to regard
the whole matter as an absurdity, but now, face to face with the facts
that had been put before him, he felt that the question was serious, and
that he could not be too prompt in action.

He looked at a railway time-table, and found that he would have just
time enough to catch the next up train from Seacomb, a slowish train,
not reaching London till late in the evening.

‘I will go up to town and see Pergament,’ he said to himself, as he
touched the bell.

‘Tell them to bring round the dog-cart at once. I shall want Hunter.’

‘Any particular horse, sir?’

‘Yes, Wallace.’

Wallace was the fastest horse in the stable—always excepting the
Squire’s favourite, Tarpan, which had never been degraded by harness.

While the dog-cart was being got ready, Churchill wrote to his wife,

    ‘MY DEAREST,

    ‘I am going to London to inquire into this business. Be calm, be
    brave, as befits my noble wife.

                   ‘Your own till death,

                        ‘C. P.’

This brief note addressed and sealed, the Squire went upstairs to his
dressing-room, crammed a few things into his travelling bag, and went
down to the porch with the bag in his hand, just as the dog-cart drove
up. Wallace, a big, deep-chested bay, in admirable condition, fresh and
eager for the start; the groom breathless, having dressed himself
against time.

Churchill took the reins, and the light vehicle was soon spinning along
that well-made road with which the Squire of Penwyn had improved his
property. Less than an hour, and Mr. Penwyn was seated in a railway
carriage on his way to London.

He was at Mr. Pergament’s office early next morning; indeed, more than
half an hour before the arrival of that gentleman, who came in at ten
o’clock, fresh and sleek of aspect, with a late tea-rosebud in the
buttonhole of his glossy blue coat.

Great was the solicitor’s astonishment at beholding Churchill.

‘My dear Mr. Penwyn, this _is_ a surprise. One does not expect to see a
man of your standing in town in the dead season. Indeed, even I, a
humble working bee in the great hive, have been thinking of getting as
far as Aix-les-Bains, or Spa. But you are not looking well. You look
careworn—fagged.’

‘I have reason to look so,’ answered Churchill; and then explained the
motive of his journey.

He told Mr. Pergament all that Clissold had told him, without reserve,
with a wonderful precision and clearness. The lawyer listened intently,
and with gravest concern.

But before he said a word in reply, Mr. Pergament unlocked a tin case
inscribed ‘Penwyn,’ took out a document, and read it from the first line
to the last.

‘What is that?’ asked Churchill.

‘A copy of your grandfather’s will. I want to be quite sure how you
stand as regards this claimant.’

‘Well?’

‘I am sorry to say that the will is dead against you. If this person can
be proved to be the daughter of George Penwyn, she would take the
estate, under your grandfather’s will. There is no doubt of that.’

‘But how is she to prove her identity with the child said to be born at
Borcel End, and whose birth was made such a secret?’

‘Difficult, perhaps; but if she has been in the charge of the same
people all her life, and those people are credible witnesses——’

‘Credible witnesses!’ cried Churchill, contemptuously. ‘The man who has
brought up this girl belongs to the dregs of society, and if, by a
little hard swearing he can foist this stray adoption of his upon
society as the rightful owner of the Penwyn estate, do you suppose he
will shrink from a little more or less perjury? Credible witnesses! No
man’s property in the land is secure if claimants such as this can arise
“to push us from our stools.”’

‘This Mr. Clissold is a gentleman, and a man of good family, is he not?’

‘He belongs to decent people, I believe, but that is no reason why he
should not be an adventurer. There are plenty of well-born adventurers
in the world.’

‘No doubt, no doubt,’ replied Mr. Pergament, blandly. In his private
capacity, as a Christian and a gentleman, he was benevolently
sympathetic; but the idea of a contested estate was not altogether
unpleasing to his professional mind.

‘Who are Mr. Clissold’s lawyers?’

‘Messrs. Willgross and Harding.’

‘A highly respectable firm—old established—in every way reputable. I do
not think they would take up a speculative case.’

‘I do not feel sure that they will take up this case, though Mr.
Clissold appeared to think so,’ answered Churchill. ‘However, your
business is to be prepared. Remember, I shall fight this to the bitter
end. Let them prove the marriage if they can. It will be for our side to
deny that there was ever any issue of that marriage.’

‘Humph,’ mused the lawyer. ‘There, assuredly, lies the weakness of their
case. Child’s birth not registered, child brought up by strolling
player. Yes, we will fight, Mr. Penwyn. Pray keep your mind easy. I will
get counsel’s opinion without delay if you desire it, and I suppose in a
case so nearly affecting your interests you would prefer an unprejudiced
opinion to being your own adviser. The best men shall be secured for our
side.’

‘Which do you call the best men?’

Mr. Pergament named three of the most illustrious lights of the equity
bar.

‘Very good men in their way, no doubt,’ said Churchill, ‘but I would
rather have Shinebarr, Shandrish, and—say, McStinger.’

Mr. Pergament looked horrified.

‘My dear sir, clever men, but unscrupulous, notoriously unscrupulous.’

‘My dear Pergament, when a gang of swindlers hatch a conspiracy to
deprive me of house and home, I don’t want my rights defended by
scrupulous men.’

‘But, really, Shandrish, a man I never gave a brief to in my life,’
remonstrated the solicitor.

‘What does that signify? It is my battle we have to fight, and you must
let me choose my weapons.’


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                               CHAPTER XV
                ‘ENID, THE PILOT STAR OF MY LONE LIFE.’


Having seen the chief representative of Pergament and Pergament, placed
his interests in the hands of that respectable house, and chosen the
advocates who were to defend his cause, should this pretended cousin of
his dare to assert her rights in a court of law, Churchill Penwyn felt
himself free to go back to Cornwall by the mid-day train. He had an
uneasy feeling in being away from home at this juncture—a vague sense of
impending peril on all sides—a passionate desire to be near his wife and
child.

He had ample time for thought during that long journey westward; time to
contemplate his position in all its bearings, to wonder whether his
wisdom might not, after all, be folly, beside Madge’s clear-sighted
sense of right.

‘She spoke the bitter truth,’ he thought. ‘Wealth and estate have not
brought me happiness. They have gratified my self-esteem, satisfied my
ambition, but they have not given me restful nights or peaceful dreams.
Would it be better for me to please Madge, throw up the sponge, and go
to the other end of the world, to begin life afresh, remote from all old
associations, out of reach of the memory of the past?’

‘No!’ he told himself, after a pause. ‘There is no new life for me. I am
too old for beginning again.’

He thought of his triumphs of last session, those bursts of fervid
eloquence which had startled the House into the admission that a new
orator had arisen, as when the younger Pitt first demonstrated to the
doubtful senate that he was a worthy son of the great Commoner.

He was just at the beginning of a brilliant Parliamentary career, and
with him ambition was an all-powerful passion. To let these things go,
even for Madge’s sake, would be too great a sacrifice. And his boy, was
he to bequeath nothing to that beloved son? Neither fortune nor name?

‘I could more easily surrender Penwyn than my chances of personal
distinction,’ he said to himself.

It was nine o’clock in the evening when he arrived at Seacomb. He had
telegraphed for his groom to meet him with the dog-cart; and, as the
train steamed slowly into the station, he saw the lamps of that
well-appointed vehicle shining across the low rail which divided the
platform from the road. A dark night for a drive by that wild moorland
way.

‘Shall I drive, sir?’ asked the groom.

‘No,’ Churchill answered shortly; and the next minute they were flying
through the darkness. The light vehicle swayed from side to side on the
stony road.

‘It would be a short cut out of all my difficulties if I were to come to
grief somewhere between this and the Manor House,’ thought Churchill. ‘A
sudden fall upon a heap of stones, a splintered skull, an inquest, and
all over. Poor Madge! It would be bad for her, but a relief perhaps—who
can tell? She has owned that her life has been bitterness since that
fatal day! Her very love for me is a kind of martyrdom. Poor Madge! If
it was not a cowardly thing to give up all at the first alarm, I very
believe I could bring myself to turn my back upon Penwyn Manor, take my
wife and child out to Sydney, and try my luck as a barrister in a
colonial court. For her sake—for her sake! Would not the humblest life
be happiness with her?’

Things seemed to take a new shape to him during that swift homeward
drive. He passed the shadowy plantations—the trees of his
planting—bowled smoothly along the well-made road that crossed his own
estate, and thought with a curious wonder, how little actual happiness
his possessions had given him—how small a matter it would be, after all,
to lose them.

The lighted windows of the north lodge shone out upon him as he mounted
the crest of the last hill, and saw Manor House and gardens, pine groves
and shrubberies, before him.

‘Rebecca is keeping later hours than usual, isn’t she?’ he asked.

‘She’s very ill, sir, at death’s door, they do say,’ answered the groom,
‘but that queer young granddaughter of hers has kept it dark, as long as
she could, on account of the drink being at the bottom of it, begging
your pardon sir.’

‘Do you mean that Rebecca drinks?’

‘Well, yes, sir, on the quiet; I believe she have always been inclined
that way. Excuse me for mentioning it, sir, but you see a master is
always the last to hear of these things.’

They were at the gates by this time. Elspeth came out of the lodge as
they drove up.

‘Take the dog-cart round to the stables, Hunter,’ said Churchill,
alighting. ‘I am going in to see Rebecca.’

‘Oh, sir, your dear lady is here—with grandmother,’ said Elspeth.

‘My wife?’

‘Yes, sir. She came down this afternoon, hearing grandmother was so bad.
And Mrs. Penwyn wouldn’t have any one else to nurse her, though she’s
been raving and going on awful.’

Churchill answered not a word, but snatched the candle from the girl’s
hand, and went up the narrow staircase. A wild, hoarse scream told him
where the sick woman was lying. He opened the door, and there, in a
close room, whose fever-tainted atmosphere seemed stifling and poisonous
after the fresh night air, he saw his wife kneeling by a narrow iron
bedstead, holding the gipsy’s bony frame in her arms. He flung open the
casement as wide as it would go. The cold night breeze rushed into the
little room, almost extinguishing the candle.

‘Madge! are you mad? Do you know the danger of being in this
fever-poisoned room?’

‘I know that there would have been danger for you had I not been here,
Churchill,’ his wife answered gently. ‘I have been able to keep others
out, which nothing less than my influence would have done. Half the
gossips of Penwyn village would have been round this wretched creature’s
bed but for me. And her ravings have been dreadful,’ with a shudder.

‘What has she talked about?’

‘All that happened—at Eborsham—that night,’ answered Madge, in an
awe-stricken whisper. ‘She has forgotten no detail. Again and again,
again and again, she has repeated the same words. But Mr. Price says she
cannot last many hours—life is ebbing fast.’

‘Did Price hear her raving?’

‘Not much. She was quieter while he was here, and I was trying to engage
his attention, to prevent his taking much notice of her wild talk.’

‘Oh, Madge, Madge, what have you not borne for me! And now you expose
yourself to the risk of typhoid fever for my sake.’

‘There is no risk of typhoid. This poor creature is dying of
delirium-tremens, Mr. Price assured me. She has lived on brandy for ever
so long, and brain and body are alike exhausted.’

A wild scream broke from Rebecca’s pale lips, and then, with an awful
distinctness, Churchill heard her tell the story of his crime.

‘Drunk was I?’ cried the gipsy, with a wild laugh. ‘Not so drunk but I
could see—not so drunk but I could hear. I heard him fire the shot. I
saw him creep out from behind the hedge. I saw him wipe his
blood-stained hands. I have the handkerchief still. It’s worth more to
me than a love-token—it’s helped me to a comfortable home. Brandy—give
me some brandy, my throat is like a lime-kiln!’

Madge took a glass of weak brandy and water from the table, and held it
to the tremulous lips. The gipsy drank eagerly, but frowningly, and then
struggled to free herself from Madge Penwyn’s embrace.

‘Let me get at the bottle,’ she gasped. ‘I don’t want the cat-lap you
give me!’

‘Let me hold her,’ said Churchill. ‘Go home, dearest, I will stop to the
end.’

‘No, Churchill, you would be less patient than I. And if you nursed her
it would set people talking, while it is only natural for me to be with
her.’

Elspeth opened the door a little way and peeped in, asking if she could
be useful.

‘No, Elspeth, there is nothing for you to do. I have done all Mr. Price
directed. Go to bed, child, and sleep if you can. There is nothing more
to be done.’

‘And she’ll die before the night is out, perhaps,’ said the girl, with a
horror-stricken look at the emaciated figure on the bed. ‘Mr. Price told
me there was no hope.’

‘You should not have let her drink so much, Elspeth,’ said Madge gently.

‘How could I help it? If I’d refused to fetch her the brandy she would
have turned me out of doors, and I should have had to go on the tramp;
and that would have been hard after I’d got used to sleeping in a house,
and having my victuals regular. I daren’t refuse to do anything she
asked me for fear of the strap. She wouldn’t hesitate about laying in to
me.’

‘Poor, unhappy child. There, go to your room and lie down. I will take
care of you henceforward, Elspeth.’

The girl said not a word, but came gently in to the room, knelt down by
Mrs. Penwyn, and took up the hem of her dress and kissed it, an almost
Oriental expression of gratitude and submission.

‘I’ve heard tell about angels, but I never believed in ’em till I came
to know you,’ she said tearfully, and then left the room.

Rebecca had sunk back upon the pillow exhausted. Madge sat beside her,
prepared for the next interval of delirium. Churchill stood by the
window, looking out at the pine grove, and the dark sea beyond.

And thus the night wore on, and at daybreak, just when the
slate-coloured sea looked coldest, and the east wind blew sharp and
chill, and the shrill cry of chanticleer rang loud from the distant
farmyard, Rebecca Mason’s troubled spirit passed to the land of rest,
and Churchill Penwyn knew that the one voice which could denounce him
was silenced for ever.

Before breath had departed from that wasted frame the Squire had
examined all boxes and drawers in the room—they were not many—lest any
record of his secret should lurk among the gipsy’s few possessions. He
had gone downstairs to the sitting-room for the same purpose, and had
found nothing. Afterwards, when all was over, he found a little bundle
rolled up in a tattered old bird’s-eye neckerchief under the dead
woman’s pillow. It contained a few odd coins, and the handkerchief with
which James Penwyn’s murderer had wiped his ensanguined hand. All
Churchill’s influence had been too little to extort this hideous memento
from the gipsy while life remained to her. Madge was kneeling by the
open window, her face hidden, absorbed in silent prayer, when her
husband discovered this hoarded treasure. He took it down to the room
below, thrust it among the smouldering ashes of the wood fire, and
watched it burn to a grey scrap of tinder which fluttered away from the
hearth.

A little after daybreak, Elspeth was up and dressed, and had sped off to
the village in search of a friendly gossip, who was wont to perform the
last offices for poor humanity. To this woman Madge resigned her charge.

‘Lord bless you, ma’am!’ cried the village dame, lost in admiration. ‘To
think that a sweet young creature like you should leave your beautiful
home to nurse a poor old woman!’

Madge and her husband went home in the cold autumn dawn—grave and silent
both—with faces that looked wan and worn in the clear grey light. Some
of the household had sat up all night. Churchill’s body servant, Mrs.
Penwyn’s maid, and an underling to wait upon those important personages.

‘There is a fire in your dressing-room, ma’am,’ said Mills, the maid.
‘Shall I get you tea or coffee?’

‘You can bring me some tea presently.’ And to the dressing-room Mr. and
Mrs. Penwyn went.

‘Madge,’ said Churchill, when Mills had brought the tea-tray, and been
told she would be rung for when her services were required, and husband
and wife were alone together,—‘if I had needed to be assured of your
devotion, to-night would have proved it to me. But I had no need of such
assurance, and to-night is but one more act of self-sacrificing love—one
more bond between us. It shall be as you wish, dearest. I will resign
fortune and status, and lead the life you bid me lead. If I sinned for
your sake—and I at least believed that I so sinned,—I will repent for
your sake, and whatever atonement there may be in the sacrifice of this
estate, it shall be made.’

‘Churchill, my own true husband.’

She was on her knees by his side, her head lying against his breast, her
eyes looking up at him with love unspeakable.

‘Will this sacrifice set your heart at rest, Madge?’

‘It will, dear love, for I believe that Heaven will accept your
atonement.’

‘Remember, it is in my option, however strong these people’s case may
be, to compromise matters, to retain the estate, and only surrender half
the income—to hold my place in the county—to be to all effects and
purposes Squire of Penwyn, to have the estate and something over three
thousand a year to live upon. That course is open to us. These people
will take half our fortune and be content. If I surrender what they are
willing to leave me it is tantamount to throwing three thousand a year
into the gutter. Shall I do that, Madge?’

‘If you wish me to know rest or peace, love. I can know neither while we
retain one sixpence of James Penwyn’s money.’

‘It shall be done then, my dearest. But remember that in making this
sacrifice you perhaps doom your son to a life of poverty. And poverty is
bitter, Madge. We have both felt its sting.’

‘Providence will take care of my son.’

‘So be it, Madge. You have chosen.’

She put her arms round his neck and kissed him.

‘My dearest, now I am sure that you love me,’ she said, gently.

‘Madge, you are shivering. The morning air has chilled you,’ exclaimed
her husband, anxiously. And then turning her face towards him, he looked
at her long and earnestly.

The vivid morning light, clear and cold, showed him every line in that
expressive face. He scrutinized it with sharpest pain. Never till this
moment had he been fully aware of the change which secret anguish had
wrought in his wife’s beauty, the gradual decay which had been going on
before his eyes, unobserved in the pre-occupation of his mind.

‘My love, how ill you are looking!’ he said, anxiously.

‘I am not ill, Churchill. I have been unhappy, but that is all past now.
That woman’s presence at our gates was a perpetual horror to me. She is
gone, and I seem to breathe more freely. This sacrifice of yours will
bring peace to us both. I feel assured of that. In a new world, among
new faces, we shall forget, and God will be good to us. He will
forgive——’ A burst of hysterical sobs interrupted her words, and for
once in her life Madge Penwyn lost all power of self-control. Her
weakness did not last long. Before Churchill could summon Mills his wife
had recovered herself, and smiled at him, even with a pale wan smile.

‘I am a little tired, dear, that is all. I will go to bed for an hour or
two.’

‘Rest as long as you can, dear. I will write to Pergament while you are
sleeping, and ask him to make immediate arrangements for our voyage to
Sydney. That Mills seems a faithful girl,’ speaking of his wife’s maid,
‘she might go with us, as Nugent’s nurse.’

‘No, dear. I shall take no nurse. I am quite able to wait upon my pet.
We must begin life in a very humble way, and I am not going to burden
you with a servant.’

‘It shall be as you please, dear. Perhaps, after all, I may not do so
badly in the new country. I shall take my parliamentary reputation as a
recommendation.’

Madge left him. She looked white and weak as some pale flower that had
been beaten down by wind and rain. Churchill went to his dressing-room,
refreshed his energies with a shower bath, dressed in his usual careful
style, and went down to the dining-room at the sound of the
breakfast-bell. Viola was there when he entered, playing with Nugent,
which small personage was the unfailing resource of the ladies of the
household in all intervals of _ennui_.

The little fellow screamed with delight at sight of his father.
Churchill took him in his arms, and kissed him fondly, while Viola rang
for the nurse.

‘Good morning, Churchill. I did not know you had come back. What a rapid
piece of business your London expedition must have been!’

‘Yes, I did not care about wasting much time. What were you doing
yesterday, Viola?’

‘I spent the day with the Vyvyans, at the Hall. They had a wind-up
croquet match. It was great fun.’

‘And you were not home till late, I suppose?’

‘Not so very late. It was only half-past nine o’clock, but Madge had
retired. What makes her so late this morning?’

Viola evidently knew nothing of her sister’s visit to the lodge.

‘She was engaged in a work of charity last night, and is worn out with
fatigue.’

He told Viola how Madge had nursed the dying woman.

‘That woman she disliked so much! Was there ever such a noble heart as
my sister’s?’ cried Viola.

The form of breakfast gone through, and appearances thus maintained,
Churchill went up to his dressing-room, where he had a neat,
business-like oak Davenport, and a small iron safe let into the wall, in
which he kept his bankers’ book and all important papers.

He had been spending very nearly up to his income during his reign at
Penwyn. His improvements had absorbed a good deal of money, and he had
spared nothing that would embellish or substantially improve the estate.
The half-year’s rents had not long been got in, however, and he had a
balance of over two thousand pounds at his bankers. This, which he could
draw out at once, would make a decent beginning for his new life. His
wife’s jewels were worth at least two thousand more, exclusive of those
gems which he had inherited under the old Squire’s will, and which would
naturally be transferred with the estate. It was a hard thing for
Churchill to write to Mr. Pergament, formally surrendering the estate,
and leaving it to the lawyer to investigate the claim of Justina Penwyn,
_alias_ Elgood, and—if that claim were a just one—to effect the transfer
of the property to that lady, without any litigation whatsoever.

‘Pergament will think me mad,’ he said to himself, as he signed this
letter. ‘However, I have kept my promise to Madge. My poor girl! I did
not know till I looked in her face this morning what hard lines care had
written there.’

He wrote a second letter to his bankers, directing them to invest
sixteen hundred in Grand Trunk of Canada First Preference Bonds, a
security of which the interest was not always immediately to be relied
upon, but which could be realized without trouble at any moment. He told
them also to send him four hundred pounds in notes—tens, twenties,
fifties.

His third letter was to the agents of a famous Australian line, telling
them to reserve a state cabin for himself and wife, in the _Merlin_,
which was to sail in a week, and enclosing a cheque for fifty pounds on
account of the passage money.

‘I have left no time for repentance, or change of plans,’ he said to
himself.

His letters despatched by the messenger who was wont to carry the
postbag to Penwyn village, Churchill went to his wife’s room. The blinds
were closely drawn, shutting out the sunlight. Madge was sleeping
soundly, but heavily—and the anxious husband fancied that her breathing
was more laboured than usual. Her cheek, so pale when he had seen her
last, was now flushed to a vivid crimson, and the hand he gently touched
as he bent over her was dry and burning.

He went downstairs and out to the stables, where he told Hunter, the
groom, to put Wallace in the dog-cart and drive over to Seacomb to fetch
Dr. Hillyard, the most important medical man in that quiet little town.

‘Wallace is not so fresh as he might be, sir; you drove him rather fast
last night.’

‘Take Tarpan, then.’

This was a wonderful concession on the Squire’s part. But Tarpan was the
fastest horse in the stable, and Churchill was nervously anxious for the
coming of the doctor. That heavy breathing might mean nothing—or it
might——! He dared not think of coming ill—now—when he had built his life
on new lines,—content to accept a future shorn of all that glorifies
life, in the minds of worldings, so that he kept Madge, and Madge’s fond
and faithful heart.

Tarpan was brought out, a fine upstanding horse, as Hunter called him,
head and neck full of power, eye a trifle more fiery than a timid
horseman might have cared to see it.

‘He’s likely to go rather wild in harness, isn’t he, sir?’ asked Hunter,
contemplating the bay dubiously.

‘Not if you know how to drive,’ answered the Squire. ‘The man I bought
him from used to drive him tandem. Ask Dr. Hillyard to come back with
you at once. You can say that I am anxious about Mrs. Penwyn.’

‘Yes, sir. Very sorry to hear your lady is not well, sir. Nothing
serious, I hope?’

‘I hope not, but you can tell Dr. Hillyard I am anxious.’

‘Yes, sir.’

Churchill saw the man drive away—the bright harness and Tarpan’s shining
coat glancing gaily between the pine trees as the dog-cart spun along
the avenue—and then went back to his wife’s room and sat by the bedside,
and never left his post till Dr. Hillyard arrived, three hours later.
Madge had slept all the time, but still with that heavy laboured
breathing which had alarmed her husband.

Dr. Hillyard came quietly into the room, a small, grey-headed old man,
whose opinion had weight in Seacomb and for miles round. He sat by the
bed, felt the patient’s wrist, lifted the heavy eyelids, prolonged his
examination, with a serious aspect.

‘There has been mental disturbance, has there not?’ he asked.

‘My wife has been anxious, and over-fatigued, I fear, attending a dying
servant.’

‘There is a good deal of fever. I fear the attack may be somewhat
serious. You must get an experienced nurse without delay. It will be a
case for good nursing. I don’t want to alarm you needlessly,’ added the
doctor, seeing Churchill’s terror. ‘Mrs. Penwyn’s youth and fine
constitution are strong points in our favour; but, from indications I
perceive, I imagine that her health must have been impaired for some
time past. There has been a gradual decay. An attack so sudden as this
of to-day would not account for the care worn look of the countenance,
or for this attenuation,’ gently raising the sleeper’s arm, from which
the cambric sleeve had fallen back, the wasted wrist which Churchill
remembered so round and plump.

‘Tell me the truth,’ said Churchill, in accents strangely unlike his
customary clear and measured tones. ‘You think there is danger?’

‘Oh dear no, my dear sir, there is no immediate danger. With
watchfulness and care we shall defeat that tendency towards death which
has been described as symptomatic of all fever cases. I only regret that
Mrs. Penwyn should have allowed her physical strength to sink to so low
a point without taking remedial measures. That makes the fight harder in
a sudden derangement of this kind.’

‘Do you imagine that it is a case of contagious fever—that my wife has
taken the poison from the woman she nursed last night?’

‘Was Mrs. Penwyn with the woman before last night—some days ago, for
instance?’

‘No; only last night.’

‘Then there can be no question of contagion. The fever would not declare
itself so quickly. This feverish condition, in which I find your dear
lady to-day, must have been creeping upon her for a week or ten days.
The system has been out of order for a long time, I imagine, and some
sudden chill may have developed the symptoms we have to regret to-day.’


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XVI
                 ‘FOR ALL IS DARK WHERE THOU ART NOT.’


Before the week was out Muriel was so far recovered as to be able to
bear a long journey, and so tranquil as to render that journey possible.
Her couch had been wheeled into a corner of the family sitting-room—she
had been brought back into the household life, and her father had
devoted himself to her with a quiet tenderness which went far to soothe
her troubled mind.

The old hallucinations still remained. She spoke of George Penwyn as
living, and she could not be brought to understand that the child who
had been taken from her an infant was now a woman. She had little
memory—no thought of the past or of the future—but she clung to her
father affectionately, and was grateful for his love.

Maurice had made all arrangements for Muriel’s journey before leaving
Cornwall, after his interview with Churchill. It had been settled that
Martin should bring his sister to the neighbourhood of London,
accompanied by Phœbe, as her attendant. This Phœbe was a bright active
girl, quite able to manage Muriel. Maurice was to find pleasant
apartments in the suburbs, where Muriel might be comfortably lodged. In
less than twenty-four hours after his departure from Borcel he had
telegraphed Martin to the effect that he had found pleasant lodgings in
a house between Kentish Town and Highgate, a house with a good garden.

Three days later Muriel came to take possession of these lodgings, worn
out with the long journey, but very tranquil. Her daughter was waiting
to receive her on the threshold of this new home.

Very sad, very strange was that meeting. The mother could not be made to
comprehend that this noble-looking girl who held her in her arms, and
sustained her feeble steps, was verily the child she had been robbed of
years ago. Her darling was to her mind still an infant. If they had
placed some feeble, wailing babe in her arms and called it hers, she
would have believed them, and hugged the impostor to her breast and been
happy; but she did not believe in Justina.

‘You are very kind to come,’ she said, gently, ‘and I like you; but it
is foolish of them to say you are my child. I am a little wrong in my
head, I know, but not so foolish as to believe that.’

On one occasion she was suddenly struck by Justina’s likeness to her
father.

‘You are like George,’ she said. ‘Are you his sister?’

Martin brought a famous doctor from Cavendish Square, one of the kindest
of men, to see Muriel. He talked to her for some time, inquired into the
history of her malady, and considered her attentively. His verdict was
that her case was hopeless.

‘I do not fear that her case will ever be otherwise than gentle,’ he
said, ‘nor do I recommend any more restraint than she has been
accustomed to, but I have no hope of cure. The shock which broke her
heart shattered her mind for ever.’

Justina heard this with deepest sorrow. All that filial love could offer
to this gentle sufferer she freely gave, devoting her days to her
mother, while her nights were given to the public. None could have
guessed how the brilliant actress—all sparkle and vivacity, living in
the character her art had created—spent the quiet hours of her daily
life. But she had Maurice always near her, and his presence brightened
every hour of her life.

He had laid his case before his lawyers, and even the cautious family
solicitor had been compelled to own that it was not altogether a bad
case. What was his astonishment, however, when, three days later, he was
told that Messrs. Pergament and Pergament had met his solicitors,
examined documents, discussed the merits of the case, and finally
pronounced their client’s willingness to surrender the estate, in its
entirety, without litigation.

‘But I told Mr. Penwyn of his cousin’s willingness to accept a
compromise, to take half the value of the estate, and leave him in
possession of the land,’ said Maurice.

‘Mr. Penwyn elects to surrender the estate altogether. An eccentric
gentleman, evidently.’

‘Then the whole business is settled; there will be no law suit.’

‘Apparently not,’ said the solicitor, drily.

Lawyers could hardly live if people were in the habit of surrendering
their possessions so quickly.

Maurice called on Messrs. Pergament and Pergament, and explained to the
head of that firm that the young lady for whom he was acting had no
desire to exact her full claim under Squire Penwyn’s will, that she
would prefer a compromise to depriving Mr. Penwyn and his wife of house
and home.

‘Very generous, very proper,’ replied Mr. Pergament. ‘I will communicate
that desire to my client.’

Justina was horrified at the idea of Churchill Penwyn’s renunciation.
All her old distrust of him vanished out of her mind—she thought of him
as generous, disinterested—abandoning estate and position from an
exalted sense of justice.

‘But it is not justice,’ she argued, ‘though it may be right according
to my grandfather’s will. It is not just that the child of the
elder-born should take all. Maurice, you must make some one explain my
wishes to Mr. Penwyn. I will not rob him and his wife of house and home.
I cannot have such a sin upon my head.’

‘My dearest, I fully explained your views to Mr. Penwyn. He treated me
with scornful indifference, and declared that he would fight for his
rights to the last. He has chosen to see things in a new light since
then. His line of conduct is beyond my comprehension.’

‘There must be some mistake, some misapprehension on his part. You must
see him again, Maurice, for my sake.’

‘My dear love, I don’t mind oscillating between London and Penwyn Manor
for the next six weeks if my so doing will in the smallest degree
enhance your happiness; but I do not believe I can make your views any
clearer to Mr. Penwyn than I made them at our last interview.’

‘My dear Justina,’ interposed Mr. Elgood, pompously, ‘the estate is
yours, and why should you hesitate to take possession of it? Think of
the proud position you will hold in the county; your brilliant table, at
which the humble comedian may occupy his unobtrusive corner. And I
think,’ he added, with a conciliatory glance at Maurice, ‘there is some
consideration due to your future husband in this matter.’

‘Her future husband would be as well pleased to take her without a
shilling as with Penwyn Manor,’ said Maurice, with his arm round
Justina.

‘Of course, my dear boy,—

                        “Love is not love
                When it mingled with respects that stand
                    Aloof from the entire point.”

Shakespeare. You would take your Cordelia without a rood of her father’s
kingdom; but that is no reason why she should not have all she can get.
And if this Mr. Churchill Penwyn chooses to be Quixotic, let him have
his way.’

‘I will write to him,’ said Justina. ‘I am his kinswoman, and I will
write to him from my heart, as cousin to cousin. He shall not be reduced
to beggary because my grandfather’s will gives me power to claim his
estate. God’s right and man’s right are wide apart.’


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                              CHAPTER XVII
           ‘BUT IN SOME WISE ALL THINGS WEAR ROUND BETIMES.’


For fifteen days and nights Churchill Penwyn watched beside his wife’s
bed with only such brief intervals of rest as exhausted nature demanded;
an occasional hour, when he allowed himself to fall into a troubled
slumber, on the sofa at the foot of the bed, from which he would start
into sudden wakefulness, unrefreshed, but with no power to sleep longer.
Even in sleep he did not lose consciousness. One awful idea for ever
pursued him, the expectation of an inevitable end. She, for whom he
could have been content to sacrifice all that earth can give of fame or
fortune, she with whom it would have been sweet to him to begin a life
of care and toil, his idolized wife, was to be taken from him.

London physicians had been summoned, two of the greatest. There had been
solemn consultations in Madge’s pretty dressing-room, the room where she
had been so utterly happy in the first bright years of her wedded life;
and after each counsel of medical authorities, Churchill had gone in to
hear their verdict, gravely, vaguely delivered,—a verdict which left him
at sea, tempest-tossed by alternate waves of hope and fear.

There had come one awful morning, after a fortnight’s uncertainty, when
the great London physician and Dr. Hillyard received him in absolute
silence. The little grey-haired Seacomb doctor turned away his face, and
shuffled over to the window; the London physician grasped Churchill’s
hand without a word.

‘I understand you,’ said Churchill. ‘All is over.’

His calm tone surprised the two medical men; but the man of wider
experience was not deceived by it. He had seen that quiet manner, heard
that passionless tone too often before.

‘All has been done that could be done,’ he said kindly. ‘It may be a
comfort for you to remember that in days to come, however little it
lessens your loss now.’

‘Comfort!’ echoed Churchill, drearily. ‘There is no comfort for me
without her. I thank you for having done your uttermost, gentlemen. I
will go back to her.’

He left them without another word, and returned to the darkened room
where Madge Penwyn’s brief life was drifting fast to its untimely close,
under the despairing eyes of her sister Viola, who from first to last
had shared Churchill’s watch.

But seldom had either of these two won a recognising glance from those
clouded eyes,—a word of greeting from those parched lips. Only in
delirium had Madge called her husband by his name, but in all her
wanderings his name was ever on her lips, her broken thoughts were of
him.

At the last, some hours after the doctors had spoken their final
sentence and departed, those tender eyes were raised to Churchill’s
face, with one long, penetrating look, love ineffable in death. The
wasted arms were feebly raised. He understood the unexpressed desire,
and drew them gently round his neck. The lovely head sank upon his
breast, the lips parted in a happy smile, and with a faint sigh of
contentment, bade farewell to earthly care.

Tearless, and with his calm, every-day manner, Churchill Penwyn made all
arrangements for his wife’s funeral. The smallest details were not too
insignificant for his attention. He opened all letters of condolence,
arranged who, of the many who loved his wife, should be permitted to
accompany her in that last solemn journey. He chose the grave where she
was to lie—not in the stony vault of the Penwyns—but on the sunny slope
of the hill, where summer breezes and summer birds should flit across
her grave, and all the varying lights and colours of sky and cloud
glorify and adorn it. Yet, in those few solemn days between death and
burial, he contrived to spend the greater part of his time near that
beloved clay. His only rest—or pretence of rest—was taken on a sofa in
his wife’s dressing-room adjoining the spacious chamber, where, beneath
whitest draperies, strewn with late roses and autumn violets, lay that
marble form.

In the dead of night he spent long hours alone in that taper-lit
bedchamber, kneeling beside the snowy bed—kneeling, and holding such
commune as he might with that dear spirit hovering near him, and
wondering dimly whether the dream of philosophers, the pious hope of
Christians, were true, and there were verily a world where they two
might see and know each other again.

Sir Nugent Bellingham had been telegraphed to at divers places, but
having wandered into inaccessible regions on the borders of Hungary, to
shoot big game with an Hungarian noble of vast wealth and almost regal
surroundings, the only message that reached him had arrived on the very
day of his daughter’s death. He reached Penwyn Manor, after travelling
with all possible speed, in time for the funeral, altogether broken down
by the shock which greeted him on his arrival. It had been a pleasant
thing for him to lapse back into his old easy-going bachelor life—to
feel himself a young man again—when his two daughters were safely
provided for; but it was not the less a grief to lose the noble girl he
had been at once proud and fond of.

The funeral train was longer than Churchill had planned, for his
arrangements had included only the elect of the neighbourhood. All the
poor whom Madge had cared for,—strong men and matrons, feeble old men
and women, and little children,—came to swell the ranks of her mourners,
dressed in rusty black—decent, tearful, reverent as at the shrine of a
saint.

‘We have lost a friend such as we never had before and shall never see
again.’ That was the cry which went up from Penwyn village, and many a
hamlet far afield, whither Madge’s bounty had penetrated—where the sound
of her carriage wheels had been the harbinger of joy.

Churchill had a strange pleasure, near akin to sharpest pain, as he
stood in his place by the open grave on a sunless autumn morning, and
saw the churchyard filled with that mournful crowd. She had been
honoured and beloved. It was something to have won this for her—for her
who had died for love of him. Yes, of that he had no doubt. His sin had
slain her. Care for him, remorse for his crime, had sapped that young
life.

A curious smile, cold as winter, flitted across Churchill’s face as he
turned away from the grave, after throwing a shower of violets on the
coffin. Some among the crowd noticed that faint smile, wondered at it.

‘Before another week has come, I shall be lying in my darling’s grave.’

That was what the smile meant.

When he went back to the Manor House, Viola, deeply compassionating his
quiet grief, brought his son to him, thinking there might be some
consolation in the little one’s love. Churchill kissed the boy gently,
but somewhat coldly, and gave him back to his aunt.

‘My dear,’ he said, ‘you meant kindly by bringing him to me, but it only
pains me to see him.’

‘Dear Churchill, I understand,’ answered Viola, pityingly, ‘but it will
be different by and by.’

‘Yes,’ said Churchill, with a wintry smile, ‘it will be different by and
by.’

He had received Justina’s letter—a noble letter, assuring him of her
unwillingness to impoverish him or to lessen his position as lord of the
manor.

‘Give me any share of your fortune which you think right and just,’ she
wrote. ‘I have no desire for wealth or social importance. The duties of
a large estate would be a burden to me; give me just sufficient to
secure an independent future for myself and the gentleman who is to be
my husband, and keep all the rest.’

Churchill re-read this letter to-day, calmly, deliberately. It had
reached him at a time when Madge’s life still trembled in the balance,
when there was still hope in his heart. He had not been able to give the
letter a thought. To-day he answered it. He wrote briefly, but firmly,—

‘Your letter convinces me that you are good and generous,’ he began,
‘and though I ask, and can accept nothing for myself, it emboldens me to
commit the future of my only son to your care. I surrender Penwyn Manor
to you freely. Be as generous as you choose to my boy. He is the last
male representative of the family to which you claim to belong, and he
has good blood on both sides. Give him the portion of a younger son, if
you like, but give him enough to secure him the status of a gentleman.
His grandfather, Sir Nugent Bellingham, and his aunt, Miss Bellingham,
will be his natural guardians.’

This was all. It was growing dusk as Churchill sealed this letter in its
black-bordered envelope—soft grey autumn dusk. He went down to the hall,
put the letter in the postbag, and went out into the shrubbery which
screened the stables from the house.

There had been gentle showers in the afternoon, and arbutus and laurel
were shining with raindrops. The balmy odour of the pines perfumed the
cool evening air. Those showers had fallen upon her grave, he thought,
that grave which should soon be reopened.

He opened a little gate leading into the stable yard. The place had a
deserted look. Grooms and coachmen were in the house eating and
drinking, and taking their dismal enjoyment out of this time of
mourning. No one expected horses or carriages to be wanted on the day of
a funeral. A solitary underling was lolling across the half-door of the
harness-room smoking the pipe of discontent. He recognised Churchill and
came over to him.

‘Shall I call Hunter, sir?’

‘No, I want to get a mouthful of fresh air on the moor, that’s all. You
can saddle Tarpan.’

A gallop across the moor was known to be the Squire’s favourite
recreation, as Tarpan was his favourite steed.

‘He’s very fresh, sir. You haven’t ridden him for a good bit, you see,
sir,’ remonstrated the underling, apologetically.

‘I don’t think he’ll be too fresh for me. He has been exercised, I
suppose?’

‘Oh, yes, sir,’ replied the underling, sacrificing his love of truth to
his fidelity as a subordinate.

‘You can saddle him, then. You know my saddle?’

‘Yes, sir. There’s the label hangs over it.’

Churchill went into the harness-room, and while the man was bringing out
Tarpan, put on a pair of hunting spurs, an unnecessary proceeding, it
would seem, with such a horse as Tarpan, which was more prone to need a
heavy hand on the curb than the stimulus of the spur. The bay came out
of his loose box looking slightly mischievous, ears vibrating, head
restless, and a disposition to take objection to the pavement of the
yard, made manifest by his legs. The Squire paid no attention to these
small indications of temper, but swung himself into the saddle and rode
out of the yard, after divers attempts on Tarpan’s side to back into one
of the coachhouses, or do himself a mischief against the pump.

‘I never seed such a beast for trying to spile his money value,’ mused
the underling when horse and rider had vanished from his ken. ‘He seems
as if he’d take a spiteful pleasure in laming his-self, or taking the
bark off to the tune of a pony.’

Away over the broad free expanse of grey moorland rode Churchill Penwyn.
There had been plenty of rain of late, and the soft turf was soft and
springy. The horse’s rapture burst forth in a series of joyful snorts as
he felt the fresh breeze from the broad salt sea and stretched his
strong limbs to a thundering gallop.

Past the trees that he had planted, far away from the roads that he had
made, went the Squire of Penwyn, up to the open moorland above the sea
the wide grey waters facing him with their fringe of surf, the darkening
evening sky above him, and just one narrow line of palest saffron yonder
where the sun had gone down.

Even at that wild pace, earth and sea flying past him like the shadows
of a magic lantern, Churchill Penwyn had time for thought.

He surveyed his life, and wondered what he might have made of it had he
been wiser. Yes, for the crime by which he had leaped at once into
possession of his heart’s desires seemed to him now an act of folly;
like one of those moves at chess which, lightly considered, point the
way to speedy triumph, and whereby the rash player wrecks his game.

He had won wife, fortune, position; and lo! in little more than two
years, the knowledge of his crime had slain that idolized wife, and an
undreamed-of claimant had arisen to dispute his fortune.

The things he had grasped at were shadows, and like shadows had
departed.

‘After all,’ he said to himself, summing up the experience of his days,
‘a man has but one power over his destiny—power to make an end of the
struggle at his own time.’

He had ridden within a few yards of the cliff. His horse turned, and
pulled landwards desperately, scenting danger.

‘Very well, Tarpan, we’ll have another stretch upon the turf.’

Another gallop, wilder than the last, across the undulating moor, a
sudden turn seaward again, a plunge of the spurs deep into the quivering
sides, and Tarpan is thundering over the turf like a mad thing, heedless
where he goes, unconscious of the precipice before him, the rough
rock-bound shore below, the wild breath of the air that meets his own
panting breath, and almost strangles him.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Sir Nugent Bellingham waited dinner for his son-in-law, sorely
indifferent whether he eat or fasted, but making a feeble show of
customary hours, and household observances. Eight o’clock, nine o’clock,
ten o’clock, and no sign of Churchill Penwyn. Sir Nugent went up to
Viola’s room. It was empty, but he found his daughter in the room which
had so lately been tenanted by the dead, found her weeping upon the
pillow where that placid face had lain.

‘My dear, it is so wrong of you to give way like this.’

A stifled sob, and a kiss upon the father’s trembling lips.

‘Dear papa, you can never know how I loved her.’

‘Every one loved her, my dear. Do you think I do not feel her loss? I
have seen so little of her since her marriage. If I had but known! I’m
afraid I’ve been a bad father.’

‘No, no, dear. You were always kind, and she loved you dearly. She liked
to think that you were happy among pleasant people. She never had a
selfish thought.’

‘I know it, Viola. And she was happy with her husband. You are quite
sure of that?’

‘I never saw two people so utterly united, so happy in each other’s
devotion.’

‘And yet Churchill takes his loss very quietly.’

‘His grief is all the deeper for being undemonstrative.’

‘Well, I suppose so,’ sighed Sir Nugent. ‘But I should have expected to
see him more cut up. Oh, by the way, I came to you to ask about him.
Have you any idea where he has gone? He may have told you?’

‘Where he has gone, papa? Isn’t he at home?’

‘No. I waited dinner for an hour and a half, and went in alone (learning
that you were too ill to come down) and ate a cutlet. It was not very
polite of him to walk off without leaving any information as to his
intentions.’

‘I can’t understand it, papa. He may have gone to town on business,
perhaps. He went away suddenly just before—before my dearest was taken
ill—went one day and came back the next.’

‘Humph,’ muttered Sir Nugent. ‘Rather unmannerly.’

There was wonderment in the house that night, as the hours wore on, and
the master was still absent, wonderment most of all in the stables where
Tarpan’s various vices were commented upon.

Scouts were sent across the moors—but the night was dark, the moors
wide, and the scouts discovered no trace of horse or rider.

Sir Nugent rose early next morning, and was not a little alarmed at
hearing that his son-in-law had not returned, and had gone out the
previous evening for a ride on the moor.

It was just possible that he had changed his mind, ridden into Seacomb,
and left Tarpan at one of the hotels while he went on by the train which
left Seacomb for Exeter at seven o’clock in the evening. He might have
taken it into his head to sleep at Exeter, and go on to London next
morning. A man distraught with grief might be pardoned for eccentricity
or restlessness.

The day wore on, as the night had done, slowly. Viola roamed about the
silent house, full of dreariest thoughts, going to the nursery about
once every half-hour to smother her little nephew with tearful kisses.
His black frock and his artless questions about ‘Mamma, who had gone to
heaven,’ smote her to the heart every time she saw him.

Sir Nugent telegraphed to his son-in-law at three clubs, thinking to
catch him at one of the three if he were in London.

The day wore on to dusk, and it was just about the time when Churchill
had gone to the stables in quest of Tarpan yesterday afternoon. Viola
was standing at one of the nursery windows looking idly down the drive,
when she saw a group of men come round the curve of the road, carrying a
burden. That one glance was enough. She had heard of the bringing home
of such burdens from the hunting-field, or from some pleasure-jaunt on
sea or river.

There was no doubt in her mind, only a dreadful certainty. She rushed
from the room without a word, and down to the hall, where her father
appeared at the same moment, summoned by the loud peal of the bell.

Some farm-labourers, collecting seaweed on the beach had found the
Squire of Penwyn, crushed to death among the jagged rocks, rider and
horse lying together in one mangled mass.

The trampled and broken ground above showed the force of the shock when
horse and rider went down over the sharp edge of the cliff.

A fate so obvious seemed to require no explanation. Mr. Penwyn had gone
for his gallop across the moor, as he had announced his intention of
doing, and betrayed by the thickening mists of an autumnal evening, his
brain more or less confused by the grief and agitation he had undergone,
he had lost ken of that familiar ground and had galloped straight at the
cliff. This was the conclusion of Sir Nugent and Viola, and subsequently
of the world in general. The only curious circumstance in the whole
business was the Squire’s use of his spur, a punishment he had never
been known to inflict upon Tarpan before that fatal ride. This was
commented upon in the stable, and formed the subject of various nods and
significant shoulder shrugs, finally resulting in the dictum that the
Squire had been off his head, poor chap, after losing his pretty wife.

So, after an inquest and verdict of accidental death, Madge Penwyn’s
early grave was opened, and he who had loved her with an unmeasured love
was laid beside her in that peaceful restingplace.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Justina did not deprive little Nugent of his too early inherited estate.
A compromise was effected between the infant’s next friend, Sir Nugent
Bellingham, and Justina’s next friend, Maurice Clissold, and the
baby-squire kept his land and state, while Justina became proprietress
of the mines, the royalties, upon which, according to Messrs. Pergament,
were worth three thousand a year. Great was the excitement in the Royal
Albert Theatre when the young lady who had made so successful a _debut_
in ‘No Cards’ retired, on her inheritance of a fortune.

There was a quiet wedding, one November morning, in one of the
Bloomsbury churches—a wedding at which Matthew Elgood gave the bride
away, and Martin Trevanard was best man—a quiet, but not less enjoyable,
wedding breakfast in the Bloomsbury lodging, and then a parting, at
which Mr. Elgood, affected at once by grief and Moselle, wept copiously.

‘It’s the first time you’ve been parted from your adopted father, my
love,’ he sobbed; ‘and he’ll find it a hard thing to live without you.
Take her, Clissold; there never was a better daughter—and as the
daughter, so the wife. She’s a girl in a thousand. “Ay, the most
peerless piece of earth, I think, that e’er the sun shone bright on.”
God bless you both. Excuse an old man’s tears. They won’t hurt you.’

And so, with much tenderness on Justina’s side, they parted, the bride
and bridegroom driving away to the Charing Cross Station, on the first
stage of their journey to Rome, where they were to stay till the end of
January. There had been a still sadder parting for Justina that morning
in the quiet house between Kentish Town and Highgate, where the bride
had spent the hour before her wedding. Muriel had kissed her, and
blessed her, and admired her in her pretty white dress, and so they had
parted, between smiles and tears.

When bride and bridegroom were comfortably seated in the railway
carriage, travelling express to Dover, Maurice took an oblong parcel out
of his pocket, and laid it in Justina’s lap.

‘Your wedding present, love.’

‘Not jewels I hope, Maurice.’

‘Jewels!’ he cried, with a laugh. ‘How should a pauper give jewels to
the proprietress of flourishing tin mines? That would be taking diamonds
to Golconda.’

She tore open the package with a puzzled look.

It was a small octavo volume, bound in ivory, with an antique silver
clasp, and Justina’s monogram in silver set with rubies—a perfect gem in
the way of bookbinding.

‘Do not suppose that I esteem the contents worthy the cover,’ said
Maurice, laughing. ‘The cover is a tribute to you.’

‘What is it, Maurice?’ asked Justina, turning the book over and over,
too fascinated with its outward seeming to open it hastily. ‘A Church
Service?’

‘When one wants to know the contents of a book one generally looks
inside.’

She opened it eagerly.

‘A Life Picture! Oh, how good of you to remember that I liked this
poem!’ cried Justina.

‘It would be strange if I forgot your liking for it, dearest. Do you
remember your speculations about the poet?’

‘Yes, dear, I remember wondering what he was like.’

‘Would you be very much surprised if you heard that he is the image of
me?’

‘Maurice!’

‘I have given you the only wedding gift I had to offer, love—the first
fruits of my pen.’

‘Oh, Maurice, is it really me? Have I married a poet?’

‘You have married something better, dear; an honest man, who loves you
with all his strength, and heart, and mind.’

                  *       *       *       *       *

Three years later and Maurice’s fame as a poet is an established fact, a
fact that grows and widens with time. Mr. and Mrs. Clissold have built
themselves a summer residence, a house of the Swiss châlet order, near
Borcel End, where Muriel lives her quiet life, her father’s placid
companion, harmless, tranquil, only what Phœbe the housemaid calls ‘a
little odd in her ways.’

Justina and Viola Bellingham are fast friends, much to the delight of
Martin Trevanard, who contrives somehow to be always at hand during
Viola’s visits to the châlet. He breaks in a pair of Iceland ponies for
that lady’s phaeton, and makes himself generally useful. He is Viola’s
adviser upon all agricultural matters, and has quite given up that old
idea of establishing himself in London. He rides to hounds every season,
and sometimes has the honour of showing Miss Bellingham the way—an easy
way, for the most part, through gates, and convenient gaps in hedges.

The old-fashioned neighbours who admired Martin’s mother as the model of
housewives, indulge in sundry animadversions upon the young man’s
scarlet coat and Plymouth-made top-boots, and predict that Martin will
never be so good a farmer as his father: a prophecy hardly justified by
facts, for Martin has wrought many improvements at Borcel by a judicious
outlay. The trustees of the estate have renewed Michael’s tenancy on a
lease of three lives, which will in all probability secure the farm to
the house of Trevanard for the next half-century.

‘Mr. and Mrs. Clissold have set up their nursery by this time, an
institution people set up with far less consideration than they give to
the establishment of a carriage and pair, but which is the more costly
luxury of the two; and nurses and ladies at the châlet are sworn allies
with the young Squire and his nurse from the Manor House, where Viola is
mistress. Sir Nugent Bellingham comes to Cornwall once in three months
for a week or so, yawns tremendously all the time, looks at accounts
which he doesn’t in the least understand, and goes back to his clubs and
the stony-hearted streets with infinite relief.

Happy summer-tides for the young married people, for the children, for
the lovers! Sweet time of youth and love and deep content, when the
glory and the freshness of a dream shineth verily upon his work-a-day
world.

THE END.

J. AND W. RIDER, PRINTERS, LONDON.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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